The Haunted House Next Door

An abandoned scout shack in Texon, TX #vignettes

Our next-door neighbors died six months apart last year, and their daughter inherited their house. A few months ago, the daughter sold the house to some investors, who have renovated the house and thrown a For Sale sign in the front yard. Now our street is occupied by the cars of hopeful buyers creeping along and asking—Is this the one? Oh, there it is, with the sign!—and when they realize they've passed it, they pull into my driveway and shine their headlights through my curtains and blinds, and then they turn around for another look at the house.

The mature thing would be to internalize the offenses and accept the temporary inconveniences, so that's what I do. But that doesn't mean I don't daydream otherwise.

I imagine a young couple parking along the curb and getting out to gaze at the front of the house while waiting for the realtor to arrive for their tour. I imagine the wife with her hand rubbing her pregnant belly as she remembers the pictures from the online listing and envisions their family growing within this starter home. The husband will be frustrated, on the verge of defeat, praying to the universe and all the gods and anyone else who may be able to help that this house is the house, the one that will make his wife happy and stop her ordering him to every corner of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in search of the four walls worth twenty percent down and thirty years of sweat and curses and weekends lost on unfinished projects.

And I imagine our encounter will begin with me walking out to check my mailbox. I'll walk inexplicably hunched even though I'm in my mid thirties and in decent physical shape—and then I'll turn to head back toward my home and I'll see them and they'll wave and I'll return the gesture to be neighborly and they'll sigh collective relief that their first interaction with a potential neighbor has gone well.

“It seems peaceful and quiet around here,” the wife will say, a warm smile on her face.

“Oh, it is,” I'll say, my usually deep voice now a high-pitched screechy whisper. “Especially this house here.” I make eye contact with the wife. “Of course, it's easy to be quiet when ain't nobody lived in it for over ten years.”

“Why has it been vacant for so long?” the husband will ask.

“Haunted,” I'll answer. A feral cat will cry out from the back yard. The couple will look at each other. “Old man who lived here went crazy,” I'll say, “and he killed his wife with a paperclip and a baking sheet.”

“How did he manage that?” the wife will ask as she holds herself and slides her hands up and down between her elbows and her shoulders, as if a chill has blown in despite the summer heat.

“Honey,” I'll tell her,“you're better off not knowing.” We'll stand there in silence as their discomfort grows. “Sometimes at night, you can still hear the wife calling out to her husband, 'Can you at least use cooking spray, Jimmy?'”

I'll clear my throat and spit a huge disgusting loogie into the street. “That house sat there untouched for years until some know-it-all from Austin decided to pretty it up for a profit.” I'll chuckle, and they won't ask me to continue, but I'll know deep down they want me to. “But now, after a series of unexplained setbacks, they're selling the house at a loss.” I'll take a long look at the house. “A bit peculiar, don't you think?”

“Yeah,” the husband will say more to himself than to either of us.

“Maybe we should skip this house,” the wife will say. “I'm pretty sure the master closet was too small in the pictures.”

The husband will agree and they'll say it was nice talking to me and I'll wish them luck on their search and I'll cackle as I hobble back to the house. And later that night, when I'm watering the front yard, I'll drag my water hose into the yard of the haunted house next door and hook it up to the spigot and marvel at the quiet of the neighborhood.