Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Short Fiction: A Pennsylvania Haunting, Part One

Part One

     They were all alike, so why should she hate them any differently? Men had defiled her, taken her life, and doomed her to an eternity of torment. She had been young and beautiful and raped and murdered, and for what? Because her cretinous buffoon of a father had chosen nebulous colonial liberty over solid English nobility? If Heaven had opened its gates to the likes of him, she preferred Hell in this house.
For years she prowled the halls, slamming doors and kicking cabinets as if such petty tantrums could scratch the surface of her fury. It was she who had overturned the lamp that burned the first manor to the ground. What did it matter if children lay abed upstairs, with their stupid cow of a mother choking on fumes mere feet from their door? Where were they when King George’s men ravished her first with their cocks and thence with their bayonets? ‘Twould have been better for the woman if she hadn’t married at all.
The very notion of cleaving oneself to a man forever chilled the ectoplasm in her veins. Innocents aside, she’d only killed a boy and his disgusting, oafish father. Hardly a settling of the account. So even with the house charred to ruin and her lonely corpse blackened to sticks in the cellar, she remained.
Oh, the fun she’d had with the foolish man who’d sought to rebuild, a German with dull blue eyes and fishbelly pale skin. He’d styled himself a mason, and while his family lived in Reading, he cleared the debris and dug a new foundation, tossing away her bones with the refuse. She watched him for days, getting to know his habits, and then slowly drove him mad with misplaced tools, spoiled mortar, and hours of whispered obscenities in his ear. She would caress him while he slept and punch his stones before he finished, making every night an agony. Finally, exhausted, he fell off the ladder one morning and broke his back on a heap of bricks. As he writhed and screamed and begged for help, she let herself be seen, flaunting the bloody horror King George’s men had made of her sex. It was his last sight on this Earth.
Eventually, though, the house was rebuilt.
Unwilling to endure years of boredom with nothing to feed her hatred but the recollection of past evils, she learned a form of subtlety. It would be foolish to destroy the house when she could simply ruin the men who lived inside it. Years passed, and she became expert at inflicting a thousand invisible cuts, licking the blood for nourishment. A twist of the faucet to make baby John’s bath a scalding cauldron here, a close of the flue during a snowstorm’s roaring fire there. Impotence was an easy thing to inflict: the smell of rotting flesh in bed, a terrible sobbing only he could hear, the sight of her furious, loathly face before his eyes at every stir of his manhood. Some of the men took their frustrations out on their wives, others on their children, but none felt a moment’s comfort.
The house went through a dozen owners, each determined to raise a family, make a home, live a dream. All failed. Breads never rose, milk always curdled. As the men wept and raged and finally fled from her invisible, endless mischief, she laughed, fulfilled. Why murder when she could torment?
The piano left with one family, its owner made elderly in his forties through a year’s worth of petty tortures. With the new family came a radio, which she made certain could emit only crackling hisses. They had been stubborn, and she wound up pushing their youngest boy down the stairs in a fit of rage at their stupid faith in a God who had never shown His face. When they’d brought in a priest to exorcize her, she cleverly hid, giving no indication of her presence.
Soon enough a new family arrived, replacing the radio with a large box that showed colorless images on an oval screen. That was when she learned how to draw out her tortures, allowing the men to experience occasional moments of pleasure rather than unremitting misery. He could watch his stupid baseball games, but never without frustrating moments of static. She allowed him to cook his meat on the outdoor grill during the summer months, but when his back was turned she fanned the flames to scorching.
She also discovered that men were quick to assign blame if an obvious culprit was offered. Thumbtacks in his shoes could be easily traced to his son, who endured beatings as a result. A roach in his food three dinners running could only be the malicious work of his wife. Drinking followed. Screaming fights. Infidelity. Divorce.
And now, what was this? After three years of emptiness, workmen had arrived with cans of paint and bundles of lumber. Another family to ruin? Though every fiber of her insubstantial body ached to push them off their ladders, she held off to let them finish their work.
It was worth the wait. The new man who’d come to live in her house was weak. A soft midsection and heavy glasses. Receding hairline. In tow, a fragile-looking wife and two teenage daughters with their faces stuck in looks of perpetual disapproval. Perfect.
By next winter she’d have them cutting his throat.

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