“Eleanor, I heard screaming, are you okay? N-not again…”
Sharp gleams of light cut through the trees, creating soft sunbeams that landed delicately on the unkempt lawn. A light gust blew through the grass softly causing the shutters to clang against the walls. The old, lime green house seemed to be swaying in even this slight breeze as Eleanor’s car pulled in to the driveway of her new home on this a cool autumn morning.
The house was a wreck. The derelict wooden planks that were nailed to the sides of the home seemed to be rotting away, the ancient coat of lime green paint peeling and chipping away from wood. The home looked as if it had never been in any better condition. The layers of filth and grime on the house seemed to have been there since time immemorial. Small patches of wildflowers dotted the lawn along with other much less pleasant patches of crabgrass. The house was three stories, each story having a few windows whose glass was thick and cloudy. The first floor had an old porch, one of the columns supporting said porch was broken, propped against the railing surrounding the front of the porch. Two rickety rocking chairs were set on the deck; they looked as though they would disintegrate if someone sat in them. There was a large chimney jetting from the left side of the home’s roof, the bricks on it were chipped and cracking and the mortar must’ve been dust by now. The large oak tree in front of the home, if possible, looked even more ancient than the house itself.
Eleanor opened her car door. She grabbed nothing but the set of large, iron keys given to her by the home’s previous owner. As she walked apprehensively up to the front door, her foot nearly went through the two rotting steps that came off the front porch. She grabbed the small screen door’s handle and opened it; it gave Eleanor a start because it was not attached to the hinges. It almost fell on top of her as she grabbed it by its sides and slid the door out of her way. She then inserted the largest key on the old keyring into the door’s lock. She turned the key and heard a loud thud. The gears inside the door’s lock mechanism had clearly not been used for what must’ve been decades. She pulled out the keys and put them in her pocket. She then reached her hand out, grasped the doorknob, and pulled the door open.
It was as if a brick wall of odor had stuck Eleanor in the face. It smelled as if there were a hundred animals decaying in the very foundation of the old house. It was so bad that she lifted the collar of her sweater over her nose and mouth. She moved towards the windows immediately and began to pry them open, it took a little bit of strength, but the windows eventually slid upwards. The cool autumn air breezed into the window and she knew the smell would soon be gone. Noticing the heavy layer of dust on the window, she grabbed the sleeve of her sweater and rubbed it on the thick pane of glass; as she rubbed in circles the ancient layer of dust was smeared across the pane, so it almost made it worse. ‘I’ll use some proper glass cleaner later’ thought Eleanor as she began opening the other windows.
The inside of the house was possibly worse than the outside. The walls were plastered with a dingy yellow wallpaper, stained with water that must’ve leaked through the walls. There was little furniture in the home; all that remained from its previous owners was a small sofa, a few wooden chairs, and two beds. A shabby door lead to the basement in the living room. She decided to go check out how bad the basement must inevitably be, she opened the door with a scrape, feeling an instant breath of freezing wind, she stepped down the stairs. After she emerged back from the basement, she was so tired that she decided that if she did not find the bedroom, she would collapse onto the couch. The beds were so dusty that, as Eleanor sat down on its edge, a small poof of dust erupted from the mattress. Eleanor knew she would have to sleep in this disgusting old thing tonight, and maybe even tomorrow night too because her furniture was scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, and it might take more time, considering the house was in the middle of nowhere.
Just as Eleanor was about to ready herself for bed, she heard a knock at the door. Wondering what time it was, she checked her watch, it was only 8:00 pm. Eleanor was perplexed by this, how had she already spent an entire day here? She had arrived in the morning and all she had done was attempt to clean the windows, how had she been there for hours? She brushed off the strange feeling of missing time, figuring she was just tired and must’ve dozed off without realizing it. Another knock came as she ascended the basement stairs, closing the door behind her. She walked through her new living room and answered the door. A young couple, in their mid-twenties were standing on the front porch, the boards creaking under their feet.
“Hi, we saw you just moved in!” said the young woman in a startlingly happy voice. “I’m Clair, and this is my husband; Eric.” The woman gestured to the man standing next to her. He was smiling just as brightly as his wife, it startled Eleanor a bit, how could they be so happy when they were standing on the threshold of such a miserable old house? “We live just down the street from you, I thought we’d stop and introduce ourselves” continued the woman, ignoring the puzzled look on Eleanor’s face. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, I-I’m Eleanor”, she said, introducing herself.
“Did you know Mr. Anderson?” asked Clair.
“N-no, I didn’t” replied Eleanor, not having the faintest clue to whom the happy woman was referring to.
“He lived here before you” chimed in Eric, “he was such a nice old man, such a shame he passed away.” Eleanor paused; she couldn’t imagine someone actually living in this squalor without cleaning it.
Eleanor and the couple made conversation for a few more minutes, with each moment passing she grew more and more annoyed by their joviality. What gave them the right to be so happy? She thought as Clair handed her a box of cookies she had baked. After the couple had finally left the front porch, Eleanor sighed in relief. They were finally gone and she could go to sleep.
Eleanor lay awake in bed that night, creaking and settling noises kept her mind racing. She could see dust falling from the ceiling every few seconds through the darkness. Her husband would have been appalled to know she was now living in these conditions, but she didn’t care. She did not have the money to buy a new home, or even a nice home. She just had to leave. It didn’t matter to where, but she just had to leave that old house where she and her husband had lived. As the house settled some more, she dozed off into sleep…
“Eleanor, you need to get some help. The same thing happens with every new house! Please, let me help!”
The next day, Eleanor woke early, ready to conquer her new home. After coming up the steps from the basement, she brought some cleaning supplies in from her car and began to work. The first thing she did was use some glass cleaning spray and a rag to finally rid the windows of the thick coating of dust and dirt. It took her multiple rags, but finally the windows were clean. She breathed a small sigh of relief. It was as if she had had her first triumph over the old house. It was slowly becoming more habitable. She decided that the next task to undertake was to be the removal of the old yellow wallpaper. She found a corner that had already begun to peel off and stuck a small chisel underneath it. She scraped roughly back and the wallpaper began pulling from the crumbling walls.
She scraped harder and harder, the old wallpaper glue should have been dust by now, but it was stubbornly sticking to the wall. The chisel was making slow but definite progress against the hard walls. Just as she broke through a particularly difficult patch of glue, she felt a shiver go through her. It was as if the entire house had just shook! She looked around, expecting to see that a bulldozer had just slammed through her living room, but there was nothing. She decided that the house had just, rather violently, settled. The wallpaper continued to scrape off until Eleanor could grasp the edge of a section of paper and began to pull it off with her hands. As the paper slid down from the wall, Eleanor noticed what looked like an eighth of a circle, the rest hidden under another section of paper.
The circle was drawn on the crumbling rock in red paint, a scratch divided the red line in half, she must’ve scraped it and broken the circle with the chisel. She stepped back from the wall and gazed in exhaustion. She had only gotten one section of paper from the wall, yet she was so tired already. The old sofa beckoned to her tired legs as she sat down in it, another puff of dust, similar to her bed, arose from the dirty old piece of furniture. She gazed at the wall, relaxing, until she realized something she had not noticed before: The house had a chimney, but there was no fireplace.
Later that day, the truck carrying some of Eleanor’s belongings arrived at the old house’s driveway, contained in the moving truck was Eleanor’s clothes, some of her most prized antiques, and the few relics she had kept from her late husband. Sadly, for her, no bed or mattress was in that moving van. She walked up from the basement and began unpacking her clothes, she moved on to the antiques. Ever since her husband ran out on her in the middle of the night, Eleanor had begun collecting old antiques that reminded her of her childhood, among them were a few music boxes, most of them did not work, some lovely framed pictures depicting flowers or landscapes, and her most prized possessions: six beautiful antique porcelain dolls. The dolls’ faces were as white as snow with beautiful dresses lined with lace and silk. She placed the dolls carefully on top of a shelf in the living room; they looked perfect, as if the shelf had been tailor made for the dolls themselves... Eleanor was hopeful, for another time, she felt that this house had potential to be something else, something better…
That night, as Eleanor again lay awake in the previous owner’s dusty bed, her mind racing, she could not help but wonder what other strange discoveries she would make about this house. It must have been about three in the morning when it started, a faint noise, like music from a passing car’s radio, which is exactly what Eleanor thought it must have been, until it persisted for more than five minutes. She could not recognize the song, but it sounded choppy and scratchy, as though it was being played on a dusty, scratched vinyl record. Wearily, she arose from her half-sleep and put on her housecoat and walked along the dark hallway outside of the bedroom, she searched with her fingers for a light switch but she found none. She walked cautiously, still listening for the strange music, which began to grow dimmer.
She felt a sharp pain pulse through her foot and up her leg along with the sound of shattering. Eleanor walked back to her bedroom with the appearance of a wounded animal, clutching her leg as she walked. Sitting down on her bed, she grabbed the flashlight she had stored next to her bed and turned it on. She grabbed her foot and pulled it up onto her lap, the first thing she saw was blood. She had stepped on a shard of porcelain that had splintered and stuck into her heel. She winced as she slowly withdrew the shard from her foot; a small trickle of blood hit the floor with a tapping noise. Eleanor entered her room and bandaged her foot tightly. She then drifted to sleep.
“I can’t take it anymore Eleanor! If you don’t stop this, I’m going to turn you in!”
Eleanor emerged from her bedroom the next morning; her foot bandaged, and scanned the floor diligently for more dangerous debris. Completely forgetting about the music, the entire reason she had originally got up from her bed, she went downstairs to start her day early. It was an old house, she thought, a bit of debris is to be expected. Then, as she walked downstairs, she saw one of her beloved porcelain dolls, facedown, smashed on the hard, wooden floor. Its face was shattered, ceramic shrapnel scattered across the room. It was as if a small explosion had taken place inside the doll’s head! Eleanor stood at the bottom stair, shocked, no fall could have caused this, it had to have been thrown by someone with great force down onto the ground.
Exiting the basement once more, she limped across the room to retrieve the broom and dustpan, making very sure to avoid any more splinters of porcelain, a whoosh of air went past behind her head! She turned around just in time to see another of her dolls rocketing towards her face; it had luckily missed and slammed with the force of a cannonball into the wall just past her head! As the doll collided with the wall, its head exploded, sending sharp daggers of the face out in all directions! Eleanor stood awestruck, staring down at the remains of her other doll, the doll that she had just seen erupt itself into midair and jettison itself at her head!
Just as she was about to broom up the debris, another knock came to her door. She dropped the broom in frustration and limped towards the door. She swung it open, clearly annoyed by the intrusion. It was Eric; he stood on the doorstep with the same overly joyous look on his face and a toolbox in his hands. Eleanor internally wretched at his happy face. Eric tilted his head and looked past Eleanor, no doubt at the mess of porcelain scattered across her house.
“Hi Eleanor!” said Eric in a sickeningly sweet voice. “I just came by to see if you needed any help with the old place, Mr. Anderson got kind of messy toward the end and I thought I could help, considering it’s my day off.” Eleanor just stared blankly at him. Then a small smirk appeared over her face.
“Sure.” She said as sweetly as possible. “There is one thing you could help me with,” said Eleanor. “Just over here.” She directed Eric towards the door to the basement.
“That’s it! I’m done! If you won’t stop this, I’ll stop you!”
A few days passed of more mundane renovations, after emerging from the basement again and cleaning up the shattered porcelain that lay strewn across her floors, Eleanor continued to work on the wallpaper, its sickly yellow color making her angrier and more disgusted the more she was forced to look at it. She angrily scraped under the paper, she was scraping so hard, and plaster from the very wall was scraping away as well as the glue. It was almost as if she was in a trance, the next time she looked up at the walls, the putrid yellow wallpaper was gone. All that remained was the gray drywall and plaster, along with the fully uncovered red circle. The circle, which had a small scratch through the right side, was as red as fire. Inside it was an assortment of symbols Eleanor had never seen before. A strange looking language that must be of some religious significance to somebody, maybe to Mr. Anderson, thought Eleanor. It was almost as if she had seen these symbols before, but she just could not place them in her mind.
Another knock at the door. Eleanor was irate. She had had enough interruptions today. She lumbered over towards the door, her foot aching. On the porch stood Clair, but there was no sugary smile on her face, instead it was morose.
“Eleanor, have you seen Eric?” she asked, a tinge of fear in her voice, “It’s been a few days since I saw him. He was supposed to be over here helping you.”
“No,” said Eleanor, feigning concern, “I haven’t seen him since the first day I moved in.” Clair’s face grew more sullen.
“Alright,” said Clair sadly. “If you see him, let me know” She took out a piece of paper from her purse along with a pen. She scribbled down something and handed the paper to Eleanor. “Here’s my phone number, call me please if you see him.” Eleanor simply nodded and, with that, Clair left the home and proceeded back to her own. Eleanor closed the door slowly behind her and leaned against the back of the door. As she leaned against the door, looking out into her living room, she noticed something that she hadn’t noticed before. There was a shabby wooden door in the corner of the room, next to the strange symbol unearthed behind the wallpaper. She thought to herself that the door looked familiar, she was sure she had seen it, been through it before, but she couldn’t remember… she couldn’t remember much at all, actually.
She slowly picked up her feet and began moving herself slowly and warily towards the door. As she approached it, a strange noise began to sound: music. A faint, scratchy melody was emanating from the door. She moved herself closer… closer… the music grew louder.
“I used to be a rambler, I stayed around this town…”
The song sounded vaguely familiar, like the door. The memory of this song felt like it was hidden in the mist of her confused and aging mind… the gentle banjo chords, the old folk tune played both from the door and in her mind.
“Oh where is Pretty Polly, oh yonder she stands…”
She was drawn to the door, but still kept her slow pace. It was as if the ethereal music had thrown a rope around her waist and was lifting her from her feet and slowly towards the abyss behind the door. As she drew closer and closer to the door, another sound echoed between the music, a creaking. The door was opening from the inside… slowly the door creaked on its hinges as Eleanor approached. The door was drawn fully back as the music grew even louder now that it was unobstructed by the wood.
“I dug on your grave two-thirds of last night…”
The song became like a siren’s call, she couldn’t resist any longer, Eleanor walked a little brisker as she neared the first step down into the darkness. She slowly climbed down the stairs, one by one, as the creaked beneath her feet. As her heel hit the dirt floor of the basement, all sound stopped. In total darkness, Eleanor couldn’t even see her hands in front of her face. Just then, a small, early twentieth century lightbulb began to flicker to life in the center of the room. The weak strands of pale light mixed with the smell of burning circuitry and what smelled like a dead animal wafted through the still, hot air. Situated beneath the flickering bulb was an old phonograph; it must’ve been at least a hundred years old! It was covered in dust and grime from years upon years of neglect. She looked down at her feet; in front of her were fresh footprints, many of them. They all seemed to belong to the same barefoot person. That’s impossible, thought Eleanor, she had just discovered this room, how could anyone else have been down here?
She looked around cautiously and curiously, the smell of dead animal growing more and more pungent by the second. She looked on the crumbling brick wall before her: a circle; a circle drawn in red, like a perimeter of fire. Inside the circle there were the same strange inscriptions that she had found under the yellow wallpaper. She walked slowly towards the wall, unsure why she was drawn to it. Reaching out her hand, she slowly grazed the red symbols with the tips of her fingers. As she ran her hand down the wall, over the markings, her fingers seemed to burn like the wall was made of hot coals. She looked to her left and saw, on the opposite wall, a fireplace, its hearth overflowing with ashes, as she began to approach it; she was interrupted by what sounded like a battering ram bashing into her front door! She could hear a woman’s voice faintly from the front porch:
“Eleanor!” The voice screamed, “I know you’re there, open up now!” Eleanor angrily turned heel and stomped out of the basement, the wooden steps creaking violently as she stormed up them. She stamped through the living room, past the shards of porcelain from all of her dolls’ smashed forms, and to the front door. Eleanor opened the door to see an irate looking Clair standing inches from the threshold of Eleanor’s house. Her eyes were bloodshot, as if she had been crying, her nostrils flared, her fists clenched.
“What did you do to Eric, you old witch?” roared Clair in a voice most unlike her previously, and sickeningly, happy demeanor. “I know you know where he is!” She tore through the front door, pushing Eleanor out of the way, nearly knocking her over.
“How dare you barge into my house?” said Eleanor in a surprisingly calm tone. “I told you already, I haven’t seen your wretched husband since you disgraced my porch with your presence a few days ago...”
“Don’t lie to me! I’ve done some research on you,” Clair said in a loud, accusatory tone, “Why didn’t you tell me you were related to Mr. Anderson?”
“I’m not,” replied Eleanor
“Liar!” shouted Clair, “He was your father, I found your birth certificate!”
“How could you have done research in the last ten minutes?” said Eleanor, puzzled.
“What?” said Clair, looking disbelieving.
“You were just here not ten minutes ago, you hysterical woman!” snapped Eleanor.
“That was two weeks ago…” said Clair blankly. Eleanor stared just as blankly back at Clair, who was holding a piece of paper in her hands. Eleanor noticed the paper and grabbed for it! Caught off guard, Eleanor seized the paper from Clair’s hands, she looked down at it: “Eleanor Margaret Anderson, born on April 11th, 1910, to Anne and Robert Anderson”
Eleanor’s mind seemed as if stricken by an eighteen-wheeler, her brain began to burn as if she had just heard something equivalent to a bullet ringing in her ear. She stumbled backwards, grasping her head with both hands! Clair noticed small trickles of blood beginning to from in the corners of Eleanor’s sunken, tired eyes.
“What’s wrong?” asked Clair frantically, still with the accusatory tone in her voice. It began to rush back to Eleanor, memories so distant they seemed to be of a past life.
“What did you do to Anne?”
Eleanor screamed so loudly that the newly cleaned windows might’ve shattered, Clair backed towards the open door, but just before she reached an acceptable distance to run, the door slammed shut behind her! Clair panicked and began to pound on the door with her fists; the door was unmoving. Eleanor was writhing on the floor, still clutching her burning head, memories, violent, awful memories releasing into her subconscious mind, as if the floodgates on a dam had been opened.
Eleanor was standing in her living room, the door to the basement visible behind a man standing in front of her. The man looked terrified, his face was pale, his eyes were watering, his whole body was quivering.
“Get away from me! Who are you? You are not Eleanor! You aren’t my daughter!” the man feebly spoke as he backed away from Eleanor. She looked around and saw that the house was no longer in disrepair, but in pristine condition, her collection of polished dolls were sitting beautifully on the same top shelf they were on before they had all been shattered to bits. Two paintings, the same ones Eleanor had brought from her old house, landscapes and flowers, hung up on the walls. The windows were spotless and new. Her collections of music boxes from her childhood were placed neatly inside a bureau sitting in the corner across from the basement door. The yellow wallpaper was vibrant and freshly installed.
Eleanor, apparently having no control of her body, walked slowly towards the trembling man. The man shuddered and pulled out what looked like a large kitchen knife from his pocket.
“Please, Eleanor,” he begged, “Don’t make me do this!” He brandished the knife at his daughter, clearly fearing for his life. Eleanor seemed unfazed by the weapon and continued slowly towards the man, “Get Away!” yelled the man, Robert Anderson. Eleanor laughed, but the voice that erupted from her mouth was the farthest thing from human Eleanor had ever heard; it sounded deep, raspy, as if a hundred voices were speaking at once! Robert cowered backwards; Eleanor could hear the same music coming from behind the basement door.
“A new-dug grave and spade lying by…”
The door began to creak open, just as it had done for Eleanor previously, the man screamed as he seemed to be lifting off his feet, the knife clattering to the ground. Eleanor laughed that awful, demonic laugh as Robert was hoisted from his feet and dragged through the air into the basement, the door slamming behind him. How many times had Eleanor done this before? Did it start with Robert? How many times would she forget? Who… what was making her do this? Anne… Robert… her husband… Clair’s husband… Clair…
Eleanor suddenly woke up, she was lying on the floor in her decrepit living room, porcelain shards all around her, dirt and grime layering the home once more. Clair was shaking her. Eleanor began to laugh. The same ghastly laugh from what she thought must’ve been a memory unlocked by Clair’s research. Clair jumped back and cringed away from Eleanor; she fell on her back and crawled backwards against the front door.
“He’s in the basement.” Said Eleanor, in her deep, foreboding voice,
“What?” stammered Clair weekly…
“Your husband is waiting for you in the basement.”
Clair, as if she were attached to puppet strings, rose to her feet and began to walk towards the basement…
“In here?” muttered Clair, almost in a trance.
“Yes,” hissed Eleanor, her voice booming with a thousand voices. Clair looked at Eleanor over her shoulder, and then back at the basement door, which began slowly creaking open and the music began to stream from within…
“Threw the dirt over her, and turned away to go…”
As Clair stood on the precipice of the basement, staring down into the dark abyss below, she felt a sharp kick to her back! Eleanor was standing behind her, watching as Clair tumbled down the steps. Just as Clair looked back up from the ground, her eyes meeting the inhuman eyes of Eleanor, the door closed. Faint music was still resonating from behind the door as Eleanor calmly walked away and back upstairs… she was so tired.
“Down to the river where the deep water flow…”