Exile – act – banishment from a place; punishment through expulsion
The houses of the Laetha were only properly holy and made when blood had been spilled across the entryway, and it was said that if ever there were an incomplete house, the spirit of the place would find some way, no matter how, to finish the work.
“I’d run if I were you,” I say to Macy, lifting up the gun. Her breathing is erratic, her chest heaving, and there’s a small splatter of blood on the right side of her shocked face. She gasps, shuddering.
I shoot her as she runs through the door, her straw blonde hair spilling out of the house in an elegant wave.
A year earlier, we were buying a house. Dane had decided that he was sick of Macy and Jake bitching about their parents, and, through his infinite cunning and charisma, had convinced me that leaving my studio apartment to room with the three of them was a Good Idea. Admittedly, my apartment had been small and smelled slightly of mold, but as the four of us crammed together in Jake’s shoddy excuse of a car, I felt a twinge of regret.
Living alone was nice. Better than nice.
As we drove up to the house Dane had found though, my reservations dried up. An ash tree was nestled almost too snugly against the Victorian styled house, the roof of the home angling upward with pride. Jake gawked at the building, and I knew my own jaw was hanging open a little.
“We can afford this?” Macy asked, her nasal voice going even higher than usual. Dane’s lips curled, pleased, and he nodded.
“Place is cheaper than you’d expect.”
“I’d hope so,” Jake murmured, finally collecting himself enough to pull the car into the parking spot and shut the engine off. The soft, too pleasant sound of birds greeted us. There was no chug of industry, like in the middle of the city. There was no clamor of cars or buses. We stepped out and breathed.
Clean, clean air. The gentle sound of leaves in the breeze. A damn lawn.
“What’s wrong with it?” Jake asked. His question brought us all down, back to reality and the concrete driveway. We turned to Dane, who was busy pulling out ruffled papers from his shoulder bag and pushing his bright sunglasses away from his eyes.
He hummed noncommittally and then, “You know. What you’d expect.”
We waited, and the silence eventually forced him to twitch and stutter and blurt, “Okay so some people were murdered here. Is all.”
I reached into my purse, ready to commit another murder right there in the driveway, when Macy laid her hand on my wrist. Her fingers were cold, like they always were, and the touch distracted me enough that I forgot about Dane entirely. All I could see were her pale fingers against my skin. My heartbeat skyrocketed.
“Well. I guess that’s manageable,” Macy said. Her voice snapped me out of my trance, and I shifted back from her. She didn’t even look at me. Her hazel eyes were piercing Dane, obviously frustrated but not as frightened as Jake and I. “Isn’t it, Anne Marie?”
“…Yeah, sure,” I said.
Her ploy worked, though, because all I could think as we shuffled inside was why she wouldn’t call me by anything other than my full name.
The houses of the Laetha were always sprawling, either into the sky or across the ground or deep within the earth. They had the unfortunate tendency to stretch out over time.
Dane is hanging onto the wall of the long hallway when I find him. He’s panting and sobbing, fat tears slipping from his cheeks. His eyes are white, blinded by some sight I’ve already seen, but his ears are keen. He holds out his hand toward me.
“Anna, help me,” he begs.
Macy steps out of my bedroom right as I shoot him down. The flinch of her shoulders almost brings me back.
Six months earlier, the house seemed perfect. We had room to spread out and separate. The kitchen was striking and modern and with Macy’s slow food involvement the place always smelled like heaven. We were able to shove our collection of fantasy and sci fi into a room dedicated to our books, and soon we had novels spilling off our shelves. We had an actual library. Jake had an entire office so he could work from home. Macy could cultivate a garden. I had a space for my art.
And Dane, like always, flitted from room to room, preferring the kitchen and its endless food.
Living together was better than living alone could ever be.
Except, of course, when Macy came out of her room in nothing but underwear, walking through the house as if it were perfectly normal. Dane and Jake didn’t even blink, but I always turned away. I always left the room.
I wanted to stop thinking of her that way, but when she would step out of her bedroom in clothes that barely hung on her body and hair ruffled from sleep, my mind spiraled down.
Sometimes, her eyes would fall onto me and stick me like a needle, pressuring and questioning and poking.
Fuck you, I would think before stealing one of Dane’s cigarettes and slipping out of the house.
Macy and her skimpy clothes were a tiny detail, though. Living together was still better. We never went hungry. Our finances were never in danger of going under. The house was like a damn good luck charm, and there were occasions when I snuggled up in my blankets and wondered if maybe the blood that had been spilled in the house had done more good in the end. If maybe all those scary stories were wrong.
Then the hallways started getting longer.
If what the movies said was true, the descent would have started with creaks, or pots rattling, or Dane deciding an Ouija board was an awesome idea. If I’m completely honest, this started with the endlessly supplied kitchen. But who would question an extra apple or especially delicious pot pie? Why question the good signs?
It was the hallways that we noticed.
Admittedly, even that took us a while. Dane was high the first time the hallways stretched out, a usually ten second walk turning into ten minutes. Macy brushed her experience off as a strange dream, waking in the middle of the night and searching for a bathroom. And I was as high as Dane when the hallway elongated, the end leading toward the living room falling farther and farther from me until it snapped back into place.
It wasn’t until Jake started screaming that we realized there was a problem.
Jake didn’t scream. Of all of us, he was the most down to earth, the most sensible. He was the repair man, climbing up on the roof to check out any leaks or damage. He was our plumber, fixing our pipes and toilets. His fear was the quiet kind. So when we heard him screaming, we ran to his side.
He was standing in the middle of the hallway where each of our bedrooms were, shoulders and knees shaking. We stared at him, expecting blood or serious bodily injury, but he just stood there and shook.
“The hallway,” he said, voice cracking and stammering along with his body. He gulped, fists clenching, and his voice was more stable when he spoke again. “There’s something wrong with the hallway.”
Dane’s lips pulled downward, eyes turning hard. “The hallway looks fine, dude.”
And it did, then. It was the exact length it had always been, and the lights were functioning perfectly. There were no wraiths of red and white circling about, there were no sudden shrieks or cries. All was normal in our wonderful, woeful house.
Jake shook his head adamantly. The shakes that had been wracking his body subsided, and he slowly walked toward us. “It was all…wrong. It was stretching out. I couldn’t get to the end of it. I kept walking and walking, but I couldn’t get out. And – that’s why I yelled. I thought…I thought I’d be stuck there.”
Dane rolled his eyes, but Macy stepped forward.
“You said the hallway stretched out?” she asked.
“Oh, come on,” Dane huffed. “The same shit happened to me when I was high.”
“I’m not high!” Jake yelled, stepping into Dane’s space and practically shoving his chest against our friend’s. Macy and I leaned back. Slowly, Jake’s breathing evened out and he stepped away, but there was still fire in both their eyes. “I’m not high,” he repeated. “And there is something wrong with this house.”
Macy inserted herself, just slightly, between both men. Her hand reached out, and I assumed she would place it against Dane’s arm, but suddenly her cold fingers were brushing my wrist and she was tugging me closer.
I didn’t care that she was using me as a possible shield. My heartbeat picked up as she held onto me.
“I thought I had a dream where the hallway spread out,” Macy said. She tugs me even closer. “I bet the hallway did the same to you, Anne Marie?”
“Anna,” I correct her softly, not for the first time. I nod. “Yeah. I was high though.”
I see Jake’s jaw clench before he breathes out very loudly and purposefully. “I’m not high. I wasn’t asleep. I’m telling you right now, there is something wrong.”
The four of us stood and looked. The hallway didn’t shift or shake.
The longer we stood, the less anything changed. Dane sighed and shoved away. Jake opened his mouth in protest, but Dane just held his hand up.
“What do you want to do, huh? I get it, something weird is going on, but so what?”
“We could move,” Jake offered.
His offer was met with a resounding no from the rest of us.
But Macy and I still stared down the hallway long after the men had left, and her fingers remained wrapped around my wrist.
The houses of the Laetha were known, on occasion, to speak. It was only through great frustration and great desire that their voices ever broke their blood-stained walls.
I don’t kill Jake.
The house kills Jake. Jake barricades himself in his office, his once soft voice escalating into sobs and cries. I slam my foot against the door, kicking and kicking and kicking. I yell at him to let me inside.
But the house kills him, the sound of cords and wires snapping from the outlets audible even through the wood door. I yell for him to open the door and get out. He doesn’t notice the living wires at first. When he does, he starts screaming. His voice goes shrill. There’s the shuffle and slide as he shoves chairs away from the door.
By the time he opens the door and falls at my feet, it’s too late.
Three months earlier, I had no idea the house was planning homicide. I had no idea I was planning homicide. In between shifts at the hospital, transporting gurneys and patients, my mind was falling into the creaks of the house. Into the soft noises of the hallways as they stretched for miles.
The house couldn’t speak with words, so she found another way to talk.
She talked in so many ways. She even spoke to Jake.
Jake had been the only one of us to notice that the hallways were wrong, to not brush off the occurrence as a strange trip. He spent the most time in the house, holed away in his office, typing away at his computers and organizing our overflowing library. And his quiet, simmering fear tried to speak to us all.
He carried a tiny black journal with him at all times. Dates appeared in the margins each time the hallways stretched, and then more dates and symbols as the lights began to flicker or cut out completely.
Jake’s office, though, never powered off. Not once during our entire time there.
When he brought up the lights, the near constant stretch of the hallways, Dane and Macy brushed him off easily. As far as strange or haunted places went, that phenomenon was tame. Jake would turn to me, sweat breaking out along the back of his neck, but I was becoming lost already.
When I came home from shifts at the hospital, I would wander the stretching hallways, amazed. The lights seemed to flicker in patterns that captivated my mind. I watched as the walls contorted, as doors popped into sudden existence.
I braved the new rooms and found plain extensions to the house. Bedrooms with simple small beds shoved into the corner, windows that peered out at endless gardens, carpeting and closets that were full of the debris of life.
The house was a maze, and with each breath I breathed out a little bit more of myself. I breathed in more of the house.
I touched her wood paneling and felt kinship. I walked barefoot on her cold tiles and let the chill seep in.
“I’ve been researching this place,” Jake would say when we all gathered to rest together in the living room, a fire lit in the fireplace to keep us warm and comfortable (lit by who, we never knew). “The past owners – they died in the basement.”
“Ugh, dude. Morbid,” Dane complained.
Jake frowned. “Our house is breaking the laws of physics. I know I’m the only one worried, but at least listen to me?”
The two men stared between each other, as if butting horns, before Dane shrugged and pressed himself deeper into his seat. Macy glanced between them, her hands twisting her frilly dress, before lifting her legs onto the couch and sliding them on top of mine. I gulped but tried to focus on Jake’s words.
“So. The past owners, they both died in the basement. And, the cops, detectives, whatever? They said it was murder. They thought it was murder-suicide at first, right? But they never found a weapon. This couple, though, they…they were dragged down the stairs into the basement. Their blood was all smeared on the steps, right? Except, people say it was like the blood was meant to be there, and that their blood was all smeared around their bodies like someone had drawn with it, and – “
“Okay,” Macy said, shivering, moving closer to me. I could barely breathe. “We get it, Jake. Creepy murders.”
“Yeah. Aren’t you freaked out?” he asked, leaning forward.
Macy grimaced. “I’m freaked out by you. Not by the house. Dead people don’t explain the hallways.”
“I just can’t believe you’re willing to stay here – “ he protested.
“You can leave,” I pointed out, wrapping an arm around Macy as inconspicuously as I could. A low, pleased sound rumbled from her throat. “You can find somewhere else.”
Dane nodded, standing from his chair. “Look. It’s weird, yeah. We all agreed it was weird when we moved in. But you’re the one being creepy. The house doesn’t give me the creeps. So, can you like, stop?”
Jake looked between us, eyes wide. He seemed on the verge of protesting. He seemed so close, sweat popping up all along his face and neck.
He hung his head and nodded. “I’ll find somewhere else to go.”
Macy disentangled herself from me, and I spent that night wandering the halls, unsure if I wanted to be brushing my fingers against the cold walls or against Macy’s cold skin.
That’s when I started dreaming.
Macy came to me first in the dreams, of course. I dreamt of the day months earlier when I had told her about how I felt. I dreamt of her hair as it was caught by the seaside breeze. I dreamt of her gaze as she turned to me and said she just didn’t understand how I could feel that way. Said she just didn’t feel the same. She had been wearing a swimsuit in blue, a bracelet of seashells hanging from her wrist, and she had left me on the beach to look at the sunset.
In the dream the seaside became the pond in the yard, became the gardens of the house, and Macy walked back to me. She grabbed my hips and kissed my lips and said she understood now. There was urgency and heat, and I sucked her fingers until they were warm and wet, and as I leaned in to kiss down her chest, her entire body turned into ash and air.
When I looked up at her, she was a wraith. She was skin and bones and glowing red eyes, and I leapt away from her. She advanced, her skeleton hands wrapping around me, her clattering breath falling against my ear.
She kissed me, all teeth and death, and I woke.
I didn’t talk about my dreams.
I didn’t mention them to Macy, even as she cuddled up to me in the living room, even as she pressed against me in the kitchen. I didn’t mention them to Dane when we brought out the weed and relaxed on the porch. I didn’t mention them to Jake, who seemed frustrated enough with his inability to find a new living situation.
The dreams were constant. And the wraith appeared each time, but each time she was less bones. She was less ash.
She would kiss me and I would be less afraid.
Macy caught cold and was bedridden for a week.
The wraith started wandering the halls then. In the late night, when I explored the endless twisting hallways and ever increasing rooms, I saw her drifting.
When she looked at me, out of a dream, when I was awake and conscious and clutching a doorknob as if it were a lifeline, I expected her to look like Macy. But the figure that greeted me was – ethereal. She had no feet that touched the floor, and her arms faded into transparent hands. Her eyes were glowing gold and red, and her hair was dark like the wood paneling of the house.
“Did you die here?” I asked her.
She kissed me, just like in my dreams.
“I’ve always been here,” she answered.
She was always in the halls after that, just as she was always in my dreams.
No one else saw her.
It was like the house was sharing a secret with me, and I’d die before sharing it with anyone else.
Even Macy, sweet Macy who knocked on my door at night and said, “I understand now,” before slipping into my bed. I held her hips and grabbed her thighs, and she kissed my shoulders and breasts and down down down, and the house was a blessing.
The house gave us food, and she gave us shelter, and she gave us endless exploration. Macy captivated me in evenings and the house entranced me at night, and the sounds of the expanding, flooding house were a symphony that sang me to sleep.
And the house didn’t want us to leave.
Jake was pale and drawn and quiet, no apartment or housing found except for our lovely abode, and Dane was stoned enough that his eyelids were drooping at different levels that night. Macy was curled up in my room, napping under the covers.
The wraith leaned down to where I sat against the couch, her cold breath hitting my neck, and whispered to me.
Jake, almost consumed with worry, saw her. For the first time, for the only time, he glanced up and saw her, and his already pale face turned sheet white.
“What – what is that?” he stammered. I looked up from my book, a cover I had picked up on for when the wraith spoke to me. She was gone already, but Jake had seen enough. His whole body was shaking. He was standing, his laptop falling onto the ground and shattering, and then he turned his huge eyes onto me.
“She was talking to you,” he muttered.
Dane sat up just enough to look at Jake clearly. “What are you talking about, dude?”
“A ghost was talking to Anna!” Jake snapped, waving at me.
Dane rolled his eyes. “Okay. Look, you’re just seeing things. Calm down.”
“Fuck you,” Jake hissed. He stepped backward, walking away, his whole body twitching as I stood. “Fuck you. I know what I saw.”
I fumbled for my purse where it rested on the couch until my fingers curled around cold metal. Dane was standing, slow and drugged. I waited just a moment.
“I’m going to bed,” Dane announced before turning on his heel and walking toward the bedrooms.
And I didn’t need a moment more before drawing out my gun.
Jake stared at me, unbreathing.
“Yeah, you saw,” I said quietly.
“What did you do?” Jake asked, his whole body suddenly, shockingly still.
“Nothing,” I replied.
He ran. He sprinted to his office, and that was when I heard the first great shriek from the house. He slammed chairs and desks and shelves against the door, each thwack of furniture earning a louder cry from the house.
She came beside me and hissed, “I don’t want to have to kill another human.”
But, in the end, she snapped the cords and threaded the wires into his body, sending blood dripping slowly from his veins, sending electricity shooting into his brain. His body tumbled onto my feet, and the wraith stood there, her hair whirling with unfelt wind, her eyes glowing pure molten red.
She vanished, and it was only Dane’s screams that led me to her again.
I knew what he had seen. He had seen her, on fire and burning, blackened bone and holy fire, and when I saw him I knew she had touched him. She had blinded him. The house was prowling, stretching the hallways to painful lengths, bursting light bulbs, screaming and shaking the very foundation.
I wouldn’t make her kill another person.
Shooting Dane was easy.
Shooting Macy was different.
She was sick, the cold never having really left. The sickness had leeched her color from her, her vibrancy, her life. But she was still Macy, my friend, the girl I had loved that day at the beach. She was still the lover I had taken to bed.
She had Dane’s blood splattered on her cheek.
She was gasping and frightened.
Even at her best, she couldn’t compare to the house.
Shooting her was different than killing Dane, but when her blood seeped across the threshold, it seemed just as easy.
The houses of the Laetha, infrequently, took lovers of their inhabitants. It was largely unknown what became of those souls lost in the foundations of the homes, apart from the scorch marks they left behind.