Boys and Ghouls!
Welcome to the Pen & Muse Haunt!
The Haunted House looms before you, threatening to swallow you up. It’s larger up close, isn’t it? You know that you shouldn’t really be here. In fact, now that you’re here, you want to leave.
But you chose to come inside. Even though you knew something felt a little off. All you can really do now is try…try to stay alive.
You can see the live list of participants and their post dates on this link.
Good luck. You’ll need it. Muahahahahaha!
In the Room Next to Mine
by Sia Marion
This is a true story. God’s honest. No, I’m dead serious.
You’re thinking everybody says that, aren’t you? Well, this time it’s true. But, I don’t blame you for not believing me. I don’t believe it either, and it’s happening to me.
I think the whole thing would be a lot easier if I hadn’t woken up with a broken leg. Because then I probably wouldn’t have fallen out of bed–which is how I ended up hitting my head so hard. Now I’m having fuzzy blanks in my memory.
Upside, I did wake up in a nursing home, so my leg is being well-tended to and I got an ice pack for my head right away. Problem, I don’t know how I got here, here being Italy. Yeah, that’s sorta a problem. Upside, this…castle…is really lovely—ancient, moss-covered, cool, and quiet–tucked away, you know?
Just sometimes—I hear them whispering.
Hey! Another thing—who told me I’m not perky, anyway? I was sitting here at my little window in my wheelchair made of reeds or something native like that and it dawned on me that somebody had once told me that I don’t have a very cheerful demeanor. I want it stated for the record that that is emphatically not true.
Reference the above positive outlook and wry humor in the face of certain death.
My attitude does need adjustment, though—again I direct your attention to the above certainty of impending doom. I figure I must have really p-to-the-freaking-o’d somebody, even though I can’t remember it, because they keep calling me by the wrong name, like- they’re doing it on purpose. Like-just right now, see that nun coming? She’s called me Ms. Lowry three times already! How much you got she does it again?
I think she stuffs her bra.
I don’t know why she looks at me like that- with that look on her face like she doesn’t trust me. I want to say something, but I don’t.
When I first woke up, I asked her to please make the whispering stop. I said that lady in the room next to mine just won’t stop talking. She acted like I was talking about showing my panties to boys, that’s how appalled she was. She is pretty old, though. I hope I didn’t hurt her feelings.
I hate it when they give you a shot and when you wake up, you’re in a completely different room, don’t you? They’ve changed my nightie and my bandage, less bulky by half now, and moved me back into my wheelchair.
This time the view outside my window is of the front lawn. It rolls away in this green, never-reaching sort of way. After dinner, a priest comes to my room to sit with me, a young one. I suppose he’s sort of cute. He looks at my view and says the Italian landscape is bella per sempre. I reach my finger to stroke the lavender growing in a pot on the sill and almost miss the look he throws me when I say I don’t speak Italian.
When the nun comes to take my tray away, she leaves my meds on the table between us. I don’t like the way they make me feel so I just leave them there. Father sees and tries cajoling me with a sweet smile. Twin dimples appear in his sun-browned cheeks and a golden lock of hair falls across his Mediterranean eyes. I want my leg to get better, even though I hate how dizzy and out of sorts the pills make me feel, so I pretend not to notice him dissolve them into a glass of water. He sits the glass at my elbow and winks when he sees my grimace of pure distaste. When he places his hand on the arm of my chair, lifts his finger under my chin to urge me to drink the whole glass, I feel my heartbeat pick up.
Outside the window the sun is setting. It’s an Italian sun, so it sinks slowly and with a lot of sizzle. I feel my jaw pop on a yawn I can’t hold inside anymore. He tells me that I should call him Father Ben because we’re friends now and Father Benedetto is what his boss calls him. Then he says that he’ll see me tomorrow and pauses over my name- like he’s testing the weight of it on his tongue. His eyebrow lifts in a very Italian way-a manway. My mouth goes dry at the way he’s looking at me. When I don’t speak, he twists his mouth into that smile again.
As he walks away, I finally reach down to give my healing leg a good scratch and wonder how hard can it be to say Evangeline?
I had an awful night. I don’t get much sleep when it storms. Don’t know why, never used to bother me.
I could hear the woman in the room next to mine. I was in a deep sleep—coma deep, but I could still hear her crying. Her voice went in and out of my head like an echo through fog. She must not like storms, either. The priest was in there with her. I could hear her talking to him about an accident she was in. She would moan Mi dispiace, Mi dispiace, Mi dispiace. Then I’d hear Help me, Father, help me.
I hate accidents. I won’t even ride in cars anymore.
I heard her tell him she’d come to Italy because her doctors thought it would help, but it doesn’t. She wonders why she can’t forget. Why she still sees that girl’s face everywhere.
I feel her sorrow in my own heart and I can’t help but wonder what she did. She sounds so broken.
I wake up to late morning sun streaming like yellow ribbons through wide open windows. The air smells crisp after the rainy night. I have my wash in an old-fashioned basin and let the breeze dry my skin. I feel faded and limp from my sleepless night, not my usual perky self at all, and as I dress, I notice that I’ve carved my palms with deep bloody crescents and my nails are chipped. My sigh sounds tired, so I decide to wait for breakfast to find me rather than to go in search of it.
After a while, an orderly comes with arms like a lumberjack and absolutely no English. We work out a system of hand gestures that I think mean he’s telling me I’m to eat outside. He bends as if to lift me and a look crosses his face, is it fear? But how could a strong man like him be afraid of a girl like me?
He murmurs in Italian, and I see his hand shift to smooth the worry beads he wears on his wrist. Then he lifts me and I realize he’s about to carry me down the hall. I feel a thrill of anticipation at the thought that I may catch a glimpse of the woman in the room next to mine.
I have to confess that I feel a bit of a buzz when I think of her. I mean, my gosh, what could she have done to get herself locked up in a place like this? And the way she’s always sobbing into the night-like a train whistle or a mourning dove, I have to confess. When she cries like that I feel my heart break too. I wonder about her. I hope that’s not creepy.
The orderly takes me out to the veranda, finds me a chaise and leaves me in a shady spot, which is fine until I smell fresh coffee and scones.
I’m feeling pretty good about my chances of getting to the kitchen while breakfast is still being served when I see Father Ben out on the lawn. I stick out my arm and wave at his reflection in the skinny French doors and laugh when he smiles and waves back at me.
This next part, you have to believe me, because it’s true even though it sounds like I made it up. The priest is waving and I see his reflection and I can see the lacy white curtains floating on the breeze. I can even see the clouds drifting across the glass panes…and then-suddenly I see her, standing with her lips curved frozen into a smile.
I know it’s her, the woman in the room next to mine, even though we’ve never met. There’s something in her, a madness that echoes with the screams I hear while lying in my bed every night. I feel like I’m staring eye-to-eye with her soul, and I want to run until my wounds won’t let me anymore.
I only have time to see that she’s wearing a loose white dressing gown, same as mine. Her hair is a long tumble of white blonde curls and, together with the lack of color in her cheeks, she looks as pale as a ghost. Even though the sight of her terrifies me, I can’t move. I feel the heat of Father’s breath on my cheek as he grabs me and shakes me hard. He drags my gaze from where it’s locked in mindless fright on the horrible apparition in the glass, then he stares straight into my eyes. I know his lips are moving, that he’s saying something to soothe me, and in a tiny little corner of what used to be my brain, I want to put my fingers to his lips and whisper to him –shhh, shhh… I don’t speak Italian.
But a scream rips its way up my throat and I vomit it out, an uncontrollable spewing of sound. That’s all I remember.
I’ve decided it’s time for me to do a little exploring. After what happened yesterday, I’m not just going to take this place on trust anymore. I mean, something’s just not right here. I can’t explain it. It’s just that-after seeing her yesterday-I’m not sure that the woman in the room next to mine is even…alive.
I grab a box of matches from the fireplace mantle and stuff a couple of rolls in my pocket from my breakfast tray-like I’m gonna need to leave breadcrumbs or something. For some reason, when I think about the breadcrumbs, it reminds me of my mom. I have a memory of her laughing in the car, saying that we should leave breadcrumbs in case we got lost in the storm and needed to find our way home again. I’m not a baby, promise, but it makes me weep like one.
I’m going to use my crutches, can’t get down the stairs in a wheelchair. I’ve decided to explore first, then check out the room next to mine. Later in the day, it’ll be cooler and I’ll have a better chance of her being out walking in the gardens.
Let me just tell you this one thing, nothing’s creepier than an Italian castle. That’s the God’s honest. Even in the middle of the day, it’s gloomy. The hall is a long maze of wooden doors and ugly pictures in heavy frames. At the end is a long, draped mystery I’ve wanted to solve ever since that orderly carted me downstairs the other day. When I reach it, I give the cloth a twitch and reveal one corner of a huge mirror. Why even have a mirror that big if you’re just going to cover it up? I ask myself if it’s because the nuns want to spare us poor patients the sight of our disfigured, gruesome selves or, more likely, is it because they’re old poopy nuns and they don’t want to be accused of vanity and all that?
As I slink in a sneaky fashion towards the stairs (I’m secretly having a lot of fun sneaking around this old place), it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any mirrors the whole time I’ve been here. Not even in the one bathroom they’ve let me use. I vow to myself that before I leave I will take down that drape!
When I get to the bottom of the stairs, I pause to look around. As far as I know, there’re only two, maybe three other patients, besides me and the woman in the room next to mine, in this whole huge place. And the others are more the drool-cup and canasta types. Which is why, when I spot all the security cameras, I feel the hair on my arms rise up.
So, it hadn’t been my imagination then, the orderly had looked frightened. But it hadn’t been of me. I tried a door and found it locked. There was something here- those voices I thought I heard in the room next to mine, they were real. I shook another knob…locked.
Yesterday, what had I seen? A woman dressed all in white- she’d seemed to float in the wavy glass-her hand held out to me.
Now I remember what I’ve let myself forget—that I’m here because they brought me here. I have no memory of agreeing to come. I have no memory of the injury I assumed I was brought here to recover from. I know only what they’ve told me, what I can piece together from my tattered mind. My hand shakes as I reach for the third knob, and I recall through a haze the image of Father Benedetto as he dissolves drugs into my water and teases me until I drink it all.
Then the library door opens.
So beautiful-books everywhere-french doors open to the late summer sunshine spilling across the parquet floor like honey from a jar. Sweet lavender blowing in on a warm, fragrant breeze that lifts the diaphanous curtains-a drowsy reed pipe wandering slowly into the room and across my skin.
There are moments…like butterfly wings that flit across your mind so that you can’t hold them but you can’t let them go, either. This moment is one of those for me. I know what I’ll find lying on the desk in front of me, but I have to look anyway. I wish Father were here. I’d tell him that I have become a butterfly, new born from my cocoon and that he shouldn’t try to hold me.
Leather creaks and the chair spins as I lower myself behind the old, worn desk. The breeze ruffles through the ends of my hair and I vaguely think I need a hair tie. I’m alarmed to find myself by the desk. I’m alarmed by these blanks that keep ripping apart my memory. But something inside compels me. I reach my fingers to touch the scattered pages that lie across the desk’s surface.
The exposure to sunlight, although charming, has turned the pages yellow and brittle. I hear myself think how beneficial it would be to have a tissue, something to protect the fragile paper from the corrupting oils in my touch.
I scan through the loose pages. I find some that seem more recent, notes jotted in casual Italian. I feel a heavy sense of relief when I remind myself that I don’t speak Italian and have no idea what they might say.
But when I’ve shuffled all of the pages, absently set them all aside in tidy little piles- I discover that my distracted hands have left a book out…a book with a title.
I trace the outline-the pretty swirls that make up each letter-with the very tip of my finger. I don’t want to read it-know absolutely that I cannot-and yet somehow my eyes find the pattern in the incomprehensible and follow it until it whispers to me and I’m caught in the secret like a fly in a web-L’Anima Errante…
The pain in my head will surely cause my brain to explode. I stumble from my seat and forget to grab my crutches. I wish I could describe to you what I did next-what I felt, but I can’t. It’s all a blur of stumbling steps and missed heartbeats.
I do know that I climbed the stairs and that when I reached the top, the orderly was coming out of the room next to mine. For some reason, I felt a frantic urgency to see into that room. It became a contest to see which one of us would pass our mutual median line first. I remember watching the shiny black leather of his shoes inch across the room’s threshold and the hollow ring of my own uneven steps as I rushed down the carpet. My breaths gushed from my lungs even as I fisted my eyes clear of tears.
And then I was there, and I could see for myself what was inside that room…a clearly unoccupied room- that held nothing but rolled up carpets and a chest with the drawers pulled out for airing. Airing because the room was clearly dusty and the orderly was obviously sent in to pull the mattresses from the bed as he had them slung across his shoulder.
And finally-an uncovered mirror–she is beautiful-with her long, white-blonde curls and skin pale as death.
I pretty much passed out at that point. Too much adrenaline, I think. Upside, cute priest is bending over me when I wake.
He fusses over the way my sheets cover me and sends me that wink of his when he sees my eyes blink. He chaffs my hand. I watch him pour me a glass of water. He looks at me so concerned, right in my face, and brushes my hair back with the tips of his fingers so he can check my head when I tell him it aches. So gentle, right up until he calls me Paige. I can’t help myself.
I say, “My name is Evangeline.”
I watch the smooth glow of good humor slide off his face like I just said fuck in church or something. Then, he pats me. He puts on a reassuring “let’s not stir up the crazy girl” smile and tells me I need a nap. I see him gesture to one of the nuns and she brings me another blanket. He covers me up with it. I think that’s when he did it- I tell him I’m not tired, but already I’m feeling the effects of the drugs he’s spiked my water with.
I had the strangest dream, though. It started out with me driving down a long, shiny black road. It was a dark night, not a lot of moonlight, and I was going fast but not too fast. Just sort of`like I knew where I was going. Then it started to rain. Just enough to narrow the road to only what my headlamps could part from the darkness. I didn’t feel any worry about it and I didn’t slow down. Why would I? I know the roads and I haven’t passed another car in miles. So I keep going.
Is the hollow drum that is my aching head, then or now? I can’t tell! I hear music playing, a reed pipe. It’s lovely. The quiet road and the almost total darkness lull me and I let them. The rhythmic swish of the wiper blades as they whisk the raindrops forming rivulets on my windshield off into the oblivion of the empty landscape sends me deeper inside myself. My life has been a flurry of activity at school. And my heart could best be described as a disappointed bruise. I let myself rest. I let myself drift, like one of the rivulets flowing on whatever random path chance and nature has set for it. Honestly, it’s a relief to let go.
I think of my work as a TA but in a slow, soft way and the argument I had with my boyfriend that pretty much ended things between us. I think about how sore my feet are and what a relief it will be to have my shoes off for the weekend. I think of a million gauzy things and starlight and feather mattresses. What I don’t think about as I drift and rest on the woodsy notes are the headlights and the squealing tires and the crunching, white-hot metal of the tiny car full of tiny people that I blindly plow into with my SUV.
I don’t think of the pain I cause or how it will drown me or of the screams that replace the music and become the thing my body drifts on so razor sharp it pierces until it can burrow under my skin with hungry teeth and rip at all my sinews to make a more comfortable nest for its ravenous needs.
Upside, I’m not fuzzy anymore. This time when I wake up, I know exactly who I am and how I got to this place—this place where sinners come to find redemption.
I know you, house. I see you. But you can’t have me. I’m only eighteen and I want to live!
In the room next to mine the woman sleeps and there are no more whispers- just muffled murmurs and shaking hands that check on my bandages and try not to disturb me but… I’m awake now.
And this time I know what to do.
I don’t let them see me stir. I just slit my eyes enough to watch as Father Benedetto removes the stopper from a bottle with a simple gold cross engraved on the front. He measures a dose into a glass and then re-stoppers the bottle. I watch as he reaches for a decanter and pours the liquid from that into the glass until it’s full.
Then he presses it to my lips and he says,”Drink this, Paige. It will make you feel better.”
I shiver as he makes the sign of the cross and paints my forehead with holy oil, I can’t help it. I feel the bite of it down to my soul. Is it the oil or the shock of his betrayal? I don’t know, but when he turns to me, I pretend I’ve just woken and force myself to smile.
Father urges the glass closer to my lips. He asks me to tell him what day it is, so I do. He asks me my name and I say, Paige, and pretend to take a small sip from the water. For a moment, I doubt that he believes me, but then he seems satisfied. I pretend to yawn and settle down under the white cotton sheets. I pull them up to my chin, waiting until the time I’ll be alone.
I know what secret this house holds now. God’s honest. I remember it all. I know it’s haunted by the ghost of an 18-year-old, American girl. And I know that she was killed, along with her mother, one rainy night, coming home from a day trip spent visiting colleges together outside Boston. I know that the woman who killed her, Paige Lowry, was a twenty-six-year-old Chemistry graduate student who fell asleep behind the wheel driving home for the weekend after fighting with her boyfriend.
I didn’t die, though. I’m right here. Maybe I’m what that book said. Maybe I am L’Anima Errante-A Wandering Soul, but…true story- God’s honest? I didn’t kill two people- Paige Lowry did, so why should I be the one who has to go?
I leave the lights off when I slip out of bed. The floor is cold and hard after so long in a wheelchair. I pull on my clothes and a warm coat. Winter in Italy can get very cold. I have a long walk in front of me. And I have to hurry, it’s late, and I don’t want to miss the last train to Rome.
My name is Evangeline. I recently turned twenty-six years old. I was raised by my mom and we were very close until she was killed in a car accident one dark, rainy night.