(This is a scary story that I wrote. It’s one of my hobbies. I welcome all comments and hope you enjoy it.)
January 14th, 1984
I have never heard of mandatory therapy. Even stranger is Dr. Joe’s insistence that I keep a diary every day. When your house is infested with demons, you can’t really blame the family that lives there for the death on the property. None of that was my fault. There are forces greater than yourself that work in ways you barely understand. Even the most terrible thing you have ever done might be for the good. Mother taught me that nothing is as it seems; the best in us has a dark side, and the worst has a silver lining.
My job here is to convince Dr. Joe that I am blameless, because I don’t think he understands what Mother understood. He assumes that everything works a certain way, that there are healthy people who see time and events as linear and coherent, progressing towards something perfected; on the flip side, he thinks those who see time and events as jumbled, senseless and circular, belong in a cage, hidden from the world. I have to convince him with these words that I belong where I am, on the outside, where healthy people shop, eat out, fix up their houses, buy cars, raise kids and work most of the day. In order to do that, I have to tell my story, and I have to start here:
January 15th, 1984
Dr. Joe knows some things about me, but he doesn’t know everything. He knows I’m 16, very pretty, blonde and blue eyed. I listen to K-ROQ non-stop. I have a great tan from my afternoons at the beach. I work at a bakery and I dropped out of school. My mom is (was) an addict who spends all day locked in her room, and my dad took off a long time ago. My mom’s psycho boyfriend stays with us most of the time. I can’t remember his name. They come and go every few months . . . her boyfriends, I mean. My brother is 19 and a total nut job. He’s been in and out of a state hospital whose name I am supposed to keep secret. They say he’s moderately schizophrenic and has some personality disorder that makes him potentially dangerous. No kidding (read that in a sarcastic manner, Dr. Joe).
I like to spend my abundant free time reading about the survival of the soul after death. I always thought that religion was useless because it can’t prove anything; how am I supposed to believe in Heaven, when I can’t even imagine it? I used to ask Mother what Heaven was. She said, ‘imagine how you felt when you picked up Puddy Tat for the first time, and he cuddled with you and fell asleep in your arms. Heaven feels just like that, all of the time.’ I wanted to go to Heaven right then and there, but I didn’t understand that you had to die first.
Now I want proof for everything. Leonora Piper was a very famous medium, and she said the afterlife was a big reunion with all your loved ones who died before you, and other people say you have lots of lives and you live them all at once, even though you really only perceive one life at a time. Thinking about all this hurts my head, but I have to think about it. It’s important to know where you are, and where you are going, and why you are here. I am still very confused about the ‘why’ question.
I read about one book a day. I don’t have much else to do and no one to talk to. For the last few years, Mother has been totally useless and mostly absent, and my brother is either locked up or about to be locked up because he’s raving about Armageddon on some street corner and intimidating passers-by, or he’s begging for money on the freeway on-ramp holding a sign that says he needs to support four kids and a wife with cancer. That’s one thing I can say: we’re all liars in this family.
January ? 1984
I like starting paragraphs with the sentence “the trouble started on a Tuesday . . .” because it sounds so official and cool. The really awesome thing is that the trouble really did start on a Tuesday. I left Dairy Queen after a fight started in the parking lot between the surf Nazis and some Mexican rocker kids from the Valley. I headed home that day, because the Santa Ana winds were throwing sand in my face at the beach and it hurt. Not only that, but the waves were spitting sea foam and stuff was flying down the beach and it was freaking me out.
Our house is an old Craftsman, built in 1927 and on the Register of Historic Places. We got to live there because we are the official ‘caretakers’ and my dad, before he took off, was a member of the Historical Resources Board. The agreement was that we keep the place vintage and don’t do anything stupid like install vinyl windows or ‘update’ the bathrooms with the latest crap from Angel’s Hardware. Every now and then, we’re supposed to open up the house to the public—on Tuesdays, to be precise—and let them wander through to see what a real Craftsman looks like. There’s like hundreds of them in this crappy beach town, but whatever, I guess ours is special. Our house backs to an alley and behind the alley is a field dotted with trash and transients. I always wonder who is going to scale the fire escape behind Mother’s window and commit unmentionable crimes. The houses around us are old and falling apart. They just peel and rust under the beach sun and the salt air, and from behind the bars the occupants watch the weeds grow in the front yards while they smoke, drink and wait for the beach report.
As I was saying, the trouble started on a Tuesday. I was alone or with Mother, which is really a way to say the same thing. It was highly unlikely that any random strangers would want to see our historic house, because in the last year we had precisely three people show up on a Tuesday, and they showed up together the week before Christmas. I headed to my room at the top of the stairs. Even though I’m a teenager and you would probably expect my room to be covered in Miami Vice posters, you would be wrong. I have an Eastlake bedroom set and my walls have Victorian prints of ladies of leisure enjoying English gardens. I keep my room spotless. My Persian rug is clean and I vacuum the draperies once a week. How many other teenagers can say that?
Mother’s room, on the other hand, is a complete disaster. She sleeps on a mattress on the floor and covers her windows in towels. She has bottles of cheap wine and drug paraphernalia spread out all over the entire room, and for some reason, she sawed the legs off of a lovely side table from the 1940s. We don’t live in the rest of the house. It looks like a museum and it creeps me out. We don’t even use the kitchen except to microwave popcorn or make a ham sandwich. Everything in the kitchen is from the 1930s, and when I’m in there, I feel confused about living in a 1920s home with a 1930s kitchen in the 1980s with furnishings from the turn of the century and a blue-ray player in the common area. It scares me.
Mother came running into my room screaming about something. She had bruises on her face and arms, and her hair was literally standing on end. “It shook my bed and scratched me!” were the only words I could make out. She pulled up her shirt and showed me three, long, jagged scratches down her lower back. She was so thin that I could make out the topography of her spine and ribs as if she were an anatomical model. “It’s talking to me all the time, telling me terrible things, it’s going to kill your brother, just wait!” she wailed on, making a bit more sense as she continued. “You brought it here, this is YOUR fault, you have that damned Ouija board in your closet, don’t you?”
I do have a Ouija board in my closet, but I was eleven the last time I used it. I highly doubt that demons wait around five years before they decide to torture an old alcoholic and her loser kid. But I have to say, something had changed in the house and things started happening. Bad things. Before, this house was filled with light and was always quiet, like a church. After Mother’s breakdown, the house filled up with shadows that moved around from the corner of my eyes. It was cold in the living room, freezing cold, and sometimes that cold would travel to other parts of the house. Old houses make noises, I know, but do they growl? Sometimes I heard what sounded like a cocktail party or something coming from the dining room, with clinking glasses, women laughing in a delicate way, and men telling stories or giving instructions to the servants. Do I really have to tell you that nothing was ever there when I wandered halfway down the staircase?
I started losing things. I never lose things. My keys disappear at least once a day, and I would find them in the strangest places. Yesterday, I left them on my nightstand and I found them later on top of a burner. My latest copy of Cosmo vanished from my room and ended up in the freezer. I swear. I am not making this up. What really freaks me out, though, are the scratches on my back. Just like Mother, they appear in threes. I don’t like to think about things like devils, but I’m really not sure what else to blame. Why us, though? We barely have a life here.
My brother came back from wherever he was yesterday. His eyes were both wild and glazed over, giving him a weird, Manson look. He’s skinny and bony like Mother, and it looks like he’s worn the same green tee shirt and ratty jeans for the last several weeks. He wears these brown leather sandals and his hair is long and messy, all blonde curls that smell like the beach. He looks like Jesus from a kid’s play at school. His nose seems thinner and kind of beaked, and his lips are chapped, like he’s dehydrated. He has cheekbones now and his eyes are hollow, so he looks older than 20. Or 23; honestly, I have no idea how old he is. He reminds me a little of Mother’s boyfriend, who hasn’t shown up—as far as I know—since she freaked out.
“I hear you guys are under demonic attack,” he smirks, turning every sentence into a joke or a weapon. I remind him that he preaches about Armageddon on a regular basis, so who is he to make fun of us? He laughs, tilting back in a very expensive chair in our very formal dining room, and says he doesn’t remember his preaching, but that other people do. “Shit, I don’t remember half of what I do or say. That’s why I keep ending up at . . .” Shut up! I yell at him, “don’t say it.” And he doesn’t, but he keeps winking at me and making me feel really uncomfortable. “What are you going to do about Mother? Are you going to move her off the shelf?” he whispers, as if she could hear us from upstairs behind a closed and locked door. My brother says things like that, designed to throw you off and make you wonder what’s happening in his head. “Nothing,” I say, because there is nothing to do. Demons or no demons, we can’t afford to move.
“Actually,” he whispers, “No joke. I see them everywhere, all over this house. It’s serious, this time. They’re not joking around anymore. They want your soul. They already have Mother’s, and they took mine years ago.” He starts laughing, and it’s a jarring, crazy sound, something out of a Halloween maze where they try to scare you at every turn in the labyrinth.
Sorry, Doc Joe, I know you wanted this a long time ago—three years ago, right?—but I just couldn’t keep going after the Incident. I know you know all about the Incident, because that’s what keeps me in mandated therapy. It’s fine, I know there’s no rush. My life is much better now than it was back then. It’s much easier to be 19 and independent than 16 and still hoping for guidance and care from your Mother! But, as you know, Mother has been very hard to find these days. In fact, I can’t say when I saw her last. I try to remember, but it’s like pulling a car out of the mud or trying to remember what Rocky Road tastes like after 43 years of vanilla pudding.
I don’t miss her. My brother doesn’t miss her, either. He is still battling the mental health system, and losing most of the time. He kept a job for six months, making something in a shop, I forget what, but eventually even that required too much discipline for him. He shaved his head and gained twenty pounds, and I guess decided to go full-on white supremacist or something, judging by his Nazi tattoos and general aggressive vibe. He traded out the Jesus sandals and green tees for jack boots with studs and tight, white tee shirts that outline his little gut. His shredded jeans are probably the same ones he was wearing three years ago. OK, I know, this isn’t supposed to be about David. It’s supposed to be about me.
Me. Well, the last time I wrote, there was that demon problem. They might have chased her out of the house; I’m not too sure about that. She was delicate already, with that shady boyfriend who was such a loser that he wouldn’t use the front door. He used to come up the fire escape stairs and crawl into Mother’s window. I would see him and throw food or balls of paper at him and call him names. I know that wasn’t very mature, but what kind of guy doesn’t care enough about his girlfriend to actually knock at the front door? Plus, he looked kind of like a really ugly Fonzie and brought her drugs; so there was nothing to like.
Mother didn’t come out much as it was, but after the scratches, the whispers, the shadows and the eerie conversations taking place at 3:00 AM in the living room and dining room, she hardly ever cracked open that door. It didn’t make any difference, though; they still attacked her, scratching pentagrams into the skin on her back, throwing items around her room, laughing like hyenas, and worst of all, sending her into fits that made her arch her back and foam at the mouth. I saw all of this, and a couple times I ran away, but sleeping on the beach, freezing cold, and fighting off the meth heads and perverted bums was even worse than dealing with demons. So I always went back.
I told Mother not to react to them so much, not to talk to them, argue with them, scream at them or curse them out. She just couldn’t help it, though; and pretty soon her relationship with them became so all-consuming that her skanky boyfriend finally flew the coop and never came back. David watched us with amused detachment. That’s what I hate the most about David, to be honest. He just doesn’t care about anything. He used to take Polaroid pictures of Mother’s terrible fits (we eventually started to call them by their real name, possessions) and stick them on the fridge with magnets. The photos had strange foggy areas in them, and on some of them, I swear you could see faces. David called it his art project, and pretty soon he was recording the voices as well, and playing them back for Mother and me to hear. We didn’t want to hear those voices from Hell, but neither one of us had the courage to tell David to stop. People can be scarier than demons, you know?
I suppose that I started to hate David at that point. He was always in control of the house. He never cleaned up after himself or made his bed. He came and went at all hours of the day and night, never sticking to any kind of schedule. He didn’t bother to look for work or go to school. He just used the house as a rest stop between his stints at the State Hospital. He became obsessed with the demons in the house, and started to call them by name, which I knew was dangerous. He said that they talked to him on audio and through the Ouija board, but who’s to say they weren’t just voices in his head. How would David ever know the difference?
The Ouija board was his biggest mistake. As soon as he brought it out, I knew something terrible was going to happen. OK, Dr. Joe, here’s the part you really wanted to hear: it was Tuesday night, the worst night of the week. It had been cloudy for fourteen days in a row; I know, because I counted. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Mother was kind of there and not there, if you know what I mean. I was the only one cleaning up the house and fixing the little things that go wrong on a weekly basis in old houses. I had that fuzzy, angry feeling that can’t find any direction or outlet. I tried redecorating the living room with the funds we had from the Historical Resources Board, thinking that just maybe that would clear out the ghosts downstairs. I tried writing some poetry, walking around the neighborhood, even taking a couple of art classes at the local college. It was better than nothing, but it didn’t erase the hum in my head, the nervous energy, the uninvited, dark thoughts that I blame on the demons. No, that I blame on David for bring in to the house.
David was playing with the damn board on the dining room table. He put a big class of Coke right on the wood and didn’t care that he was going to leave a ring on the Louis XV walnut table that I had spent hours polishing and waxing. Instead, he started calling out words that the demons were spelling out. I won’t repeat what they said, because that gives them power, and that’s the last thing that they need. David stopped eating and showering and barely had the will to get up and use the bathroom. He was spending almost the entire day playing with it, listening to the voices on his audio clips, organizing his creepy Polaroid photos and writing in his journal. Who knows what he was writing; it was probably the story of his pathetic life with the paranormal. I tried telling him to stop, but he ignored me. Finally, I started yelling. That I do remember; I could hear my own voice, but it sounded distant and metallic, like something from outer space.
At that point, I was watching myself yelling at David. I wondered if I was my own ghost. Mother appeared at the top of the stairs, and I screamed at her to get back in the room or the demons would kill her. She made an ‘O’ with her mouth and turned around; she walked back into her room and I heard the sound of the door locking. My second me, the one that had moved back into the living room, was watching the original me gesticulating and pushing David, who stood up and poured his Coke all over the Louis XV dining room table, smiling at me with those infernal eyes. Then he slapped me. I don’t remember anything else for awhile. I was in the kitchen, drinking glass after glass of tepid water and then throwing it up.
It’s hard to know who walked back into the dining room, because I had been two people, and I wasn’t sure if I was back to just one yet. The first thing I saw was the scarlet, blood-soaked white tee shirt and then the disjointed position my brother had assumed in death, because I knew he was dead. Dead people, as it turns out, have their own body language. You know that there’s no soul left from across the room. He was a stiff, awkward shell of David, covered in blood and bits of something gooey.
It situations like that, it’s hard to know what a normal reaction is. I wanted my Mother more than anything, I wanted her to tell me that it was OK, that we could live without him, but her door was locked and she wouldn’t answer. I ran to my room and looked out the window. She must have disappeared down the fire escape. She didn’t come back. To this day, I don’t know where she is; she has never once visited me or even called. I know she’s alive, but I guess she’s too scared to look for me. She didn’t love David, so I don’t know why she would be so upset that he’s dead. All she did was complain about him, and she agreed that he was a loser that needed to get a life.
I kinda found God after that. We were all sinners in that house, and the Bible tells us that Satan loves sinners. He finds your weak spot and exploits it until you have no energy left to fight him off. The he does whatever he wants with you. Mother and David are responsible for bringing in the demons. Satan loves alcoholics and crazy people. He is also a liar, of course, and on some level, so am I. When we’re forced to tell our stories, we all lie. Not on purpose, but because we think that if people really knew us, we would spend eternity alone. That’s why the demons picked on me. They like scared people most of all. David used to say he didn’t believe in demons or Satan or God or anything that had more powers than he did. I bet David believes now that he’s burning in Hell.
August or October, 1989
Dr. Joe will let me out sooner if I tell the truth. He says it doesn’t matter how many years I need to tell it; because, as he always repeats in every therapy session, “the truth shall set you free.” I don’t think time is what we think it is. Sometimes years seem to pass, but it’s only been a few hours. Sometimes we think that something just happened, and it was thirty years ago. When you’re stuck at the State Hospital, time is completely meaningless. The routines, the repetitions, they destroy any notion of forward progress. Here, all we do is go in circles. When Dr. Joe says that I can leave as soon as I tell the truth, my hope is that time will start moving forward again. Maybe, that way, I will get the old Craftsman with the picket fence by the beach. Maybe then, I’ll have beautiful things and a family that loves me. Maybe then, people will have forgotten what I did to David in a fit of rage over that stupid Ouija board. It was my turn, and he wouldn’t let me play. He wouldn’t let me talk to Mother.
I just wanted my turn. The ghosts had started to talk to me, they were letting me into their secret world . . . they let me talk to Mother sometimes, and that was all I wanted, so that she could tell me that she loved me, that she was OK, and that it didn’t hurt when the car hit the tree and sunk in the lake. I don’t even remember what Mother looks like anymore. I keep seeing her under water, her hair like sea grass, her eyes open, cloudy and fixed on nothing, her mouth frozen in a little ‘O’, like death caught her by surprise.
Dr. Joe tells me that drugs and alcohol can make a person violent and irrational. He tells me that I don’t need to blame demons or ghosts for what I did to David. He wants me to be free of guilt. Even if he lets me out tomorrow, even if I confess that’s it’s 2015 and I’m fifty years old, even if I, as he says, ‘accept reality,’ it doesn’t change one, very important fact.
David talks to me every day. How they allowed a Ouija board in here is something of a mystery, but I guess he wants me to finally have my turn. David is waiting for Dr. Joe to let me out. The ghosts swear that I’m talking to Mother, but I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t think Mother would want me to hurt anyone. David says that as soon as I get my pretty house and sit down to have quail at my Louis XV walnut dining table, he’s going to dash my brains out with the jar of his ashes. He says that‘s what I deserve for covering him in Mother’s remains and keeping him forever from the Light.
He’s probably right. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to tell Dr. Joe that it’s 1965, and as it turns out, I died a long, long time ago. That’s the only truth that can set me free.
Kirsten A. Thorne