After the tragic death of his wife, a man begins to suspect that all is not as it appears to be inside his beloved home.
I used to love this house. She always wanted a house like it, you see. A Victorian, with large arabesque archways on the wide veranda, unusual by today’s standards, but she always took a liking to unique things. So I bought the house as a valentines day present, the look on her face when we first walked through the old door! We spent the rest of our marriage in this house, Helen and I did. And by all means we lived the good life…for a time. She was one to have dinner parties, basking in the comments made about the house.
“Yes, it is an old house, Martha.” She would say with a childish grin. “One-hundred years to be exact!” Helen asked me not to change too much of the house when I renovated the place. She was especially fond of the staircase. Oak with a spiraling floral pattern carved into every second step. It took two weeks to restore them, all twenty-four steps, even today they still glimmer in the sunlight. We made sure the closets and nooks and crannies were tidy.
“So the children will have places for their games.” Two bedrooms of equal size were designated as nurseries; each of them with large windows that allowed for plenty of sun.
But no children came. The night the doctor delivered the news, news we had heard three times already, (that she carried a dead child) Helen wept bitterly. Spending the early mornings alone in the rocking chair of one of the nurseries, signing a lullaby she had written especially for a daughter. I tried my best to give her comfort, suggesting she go to a quiet retreat for a couple weeks, and eventually, she went. Through her letters, she assured me she was beginning to feel well again, and had even given thought to adopting. It was the valentines day of that same year (four years after we bought this house) that she was driving home. I had invited our dearest friends to surprise her when she came home, a cake was prepared, and banners were hung.
The car that entered the driveway was that of the sheriff. He walked up to the door of the house with a slow and sullen gait. He invited me onto the veranda and we spoke only a few words. Helen’s car had been struck by a semi. I remember sitting on the steps for a long time. More than an hour at least, Martha sensed what had happened, and did her best to console me. When everyone had left the house, the sheriff returned to take me to the coroner. What transpired then is a blur; perhaps I have purposely forgotten what happened. I can scarcely remember the funeral; only that it was small and short. I could not bear to leave the house that held so many memories. The thought of selling it disturbed me to the point of almost madness.
After a time, I began to try to move on. My career as a renovator was beginning to pick up again. Of course, there were things that would bring back memories, which would in turn lead to my isolating myself from my peers. It was only when I began seeing Martha that the strange occurrences began. Call me a fool, or a mad man; for perhaps it is better that I am mad. The house began to moan, very quietly at first, and I didn’t pay much mind. These old houses, they creak in age, you see. I lay in bed one night, and the house heaved a great and dolorous groan. So much so that I fell out of bed in fright, and the moaning only became louder and stronger that the house seemed to bend and shake as if it were under extreme stress. The next few days were quiet, and I could put it out of my mind. Then, one day in the autumn, the walls seemed to change. They became convex, then concave, warm and then hostile. I could not spend the night, not for a few days. I dared not to see a doctor; I knew what they would say. But I didn’t yet think I was going mad. Returning to the house after finishing a contract out of town, I thought that things would calm down. All seemed fine, the walls remained the same, and the house was quiet.
Once again, I began to resume my life. Just when things seemed to be picking up in the right direction, the strangeness resumed. I could hear her signing that lullaby, muffled though, through the walls of the bedroom. I did not feel it was odd at first; on the contrary, it soothed the pain to a degree. But it went on night after night, and it became tiresome. I checked the nursery, and to no surprise, it was vacant. I had had enough. I went to the doctor, and was given a prescription of an anti-psychotic. Maybe it was only a placebo effect, but for the first week, it seemed to help. Eventually, I felt well enough to abandon the medicine altogether. All was quiet for a few months, whatever brief episode of insanity I had, well… I was convinced it was done with.
Slowly, the idea that something was living underneath the floorboards of the house entered my mind. I resumed my medication, but it was no help. It became almost like an itch, to look at what was there…and the only way to remove an itch, is to scratch. So, one Saturday, I began to chip out a section of the floor. As I had suspected, there was nothing. But the same night, the singing returned. Only, it wasn’t coming from the nursery. I wandered down the stairs and to the hole I had made in the floor. My palms began to sweat and my heart beat quickened as I got onto my hands and knees and lowered my face to the floor. Her voice sounded clear as day through the floor, stealing what breath I had. I knew it was foolish, but I frantically began ripping out the floor, my fingers sore and bleeding. A glimpse of her face caught my eye, spurring me on further in my endeavor. I had torn a good portion of the floor now, so much that I could place my arm inside. I felt nothing, though I could see that something was there!
I collapsed from exhaustion minutes later. When I awoke late the next morning, I was furious at what I had done. I hastily repaired the floor; Martha would be coming for dinner tonight. I spent the day preparing dinner, making sure the table was set, the house was spotless, and my clothes pressed. Martha arrived at precisely seven o’clock that night, wearing a simple blue summer dress.
“Evening.” Martha said cheerfully. No sooner had she stepped over the threshold of the house when a curious expression crossed her face. “I…think I ought to be leaving.” She whispered, turning from me and proceeded towards the door. I placed a hand on her arm, and pleaded.
“But Martha!” I smiled. “You’ve barely arrived, and I’ve made soup!” But she wasn’t listening and continued along the hall and out into the night. “Martha!” I called after her, I tried to follow but the front door had closed of its own accord. No matter how much force I applied, I could not pry it open. I hurried to the sitting room window, and watched as she wandered down the street, eventually moving out of sight.
Growling with frustration, I kicked the nearest chair, which only resulted in my having a sore foot.
“Why’d you have to do that, Helen?” I muttered. I didn’t think it strange, you see. It was as though she was the house, and the house was her; I knew she could hear me.
I continued to curse the house under my breath while I finished eating dinner alone. Even as I climbed into bed for the night, I grumbled. In fact, I think I continued to bemoan my circumstances even in my sleep. It felt like it had only been mere seconds when the earthquake had hit. The house was shaking like it had never shook, pictures flew off their hooks and crashed onto the floor, chairs were turned over, and plates shattered. I fell out of bed, and curled into a fetal position, sore afraid for myself.
“Stop it, Helen!” I cried as the lamp rolled off of the nightstand. “I’m sorry!” At those words, the quaking ceased. I lay on the floor, my eyes still firmly closed. It was only when I heard Helen’s soft singing voice that I opened them. The room was a disaster; shards of glass were strewn about the floor, the contents of the dresser had spilled out, and one of the legs from the armchair had been broken off. Mustering what courage I could, I pulled myself to my unsteady feet, grasping a bed knob for support, and carefully walked into the hallway.
Much like the bedroom, it looked as though a twister had just occurred inside. Taking care so as to not step on any of the glass, I followed the sound of Helen’s voice down the stairs and to the spot where I had made the hole in the floor the previous night. I returned to my knees and started to tear the floorboards apart. Ignoring the pain in my fingers as they began to bleed. I had torn a good deal of the floor by now, and the song grew louder and clearer, and I could see a sliver of Helen’s face somewhere beneath me. When I had made the hole large enough for me to put my face into, I could now see her blue eyes.
“Oh Helen.” I whispered, a mix of joy and horror in my voice. She looked younger than I remember, and happier. I was possessed with a desire to join her, and I nearly would have if it were not for the fact that I started to doubt my mind. I had gone insane, I was sure of it. And yet, somehow, this felt more real than anything. Her song beckoned me to join her beneath the house, and soon I felt myself agreeing. “Yes, I’ll go with you.” I said, surprised at the surety in my voice.
I saw her hand reach up through the floor and find my own. And soon she was pulling me down, I slipped through the floor easier than I thought possible, and continued to fall downwards, ever downwards, with Helen’s hand clasped tightly in my own.