Have you ever purchased a house, fixed it up, and made it into a home? I’m sure you watch those HGTV shows Fixer Upper and Flip or Flop. Those shows are laughable to me; you see this foreclosed wreck of a house get fixed up into this cute, livable home. That stuff is easy to do.
You know what’s hard to sell? A haunted house.
I’m a real estate agent who specializes in stigmatized homes, which are what you call “haunted houses.” A stigmatized home is any home where violence occurred or paranormal activity has been reported. In several states, we must legally disclose what happened in these homes. I don’t believe in ghosts, so to me, it is easy money to take on these cases. A little bit of burnt sage in the corners and tap water sprinkled around the house, and you have yourself a cleansed home.
This was my gig, and it worked. All I had to do was Google how to get rid of ghosts. People fell for it every time, too, and I’d be laughing all the way to the bank. You want me to light a candle and do a séance for you to buy this $300,000 house? Deal! You want me to put my hand on a Bible and pray with you before you buy this $450,000 home? Sold!
I always thought that people were so gullible to believe in such silly things; ghosts aren’t real. I wouldn’t even call myself a skeptic; I flat-out didn’t believe in the afterlife. This is what I believed until I had the unfortunate opportunity of selling a house where a murder took place.
As soon as I saw the listing, I knew I had to help. When you have one killing, a house can be hard to sell, but five killings? You have yourself a deal-breaker. Some lunatic had killed the whole family. I didn’t press the bank for details, since that never seems to help. The less I know, the better. I don’t want to get caught up in the stories because I feel like that knowledge lingers in my words as I try and sell to the borrowers that come through the house.
The first thing I do when I arrive at a house like this is open all the windows. You would be surprised by what a breath of fresh air can do to a home that has been sitting for quite some time. I’ll usually wipe everything down with a lemon-scented cleanser, then put out fresh flowers on all the tables. Honestly, those tricks really seem to help the house sell. The whole idea is to erase the uneasy vibe. If my client is superstitious, I’ll whip out the sage and “holy” water.
So, as you can imagine, as soon as I got to this house I went straight to work. I went to open the window above the kitchen sink. My fingers slid underneath the hinges as I pulled up, but it wouldn’t budge. Again, I tried the living room windows, yet they were stuck, almost as if they were cemented shut. I even double-checked the locks and looked around the frame for any nails, but there was nothing. I knew that would be my first problem in selling the house.
I went on to job number two: cleaning. I looked under the kitchen sink and the owner had lemon-scented cleaner already—perfect. The lemon scent filled the room as I squirted it all over the counter tops, my paper towel glided across the counter as I wiped away the last bit of past life this house held. Next, I picked some fresh flowers from around the house and put them in a vase of water; daisies and daffodils, the perfect welcoming eye candy. I opened the back door to let some fresh air in. The house was starting to feel as good as new. I smiled inside as I thought about another successful sell.
I fumbled through the drawers for a pen and notepad to make a list of everything I would need for the open house the next day: fresh baked cookies, brochures, and business cards from local banks. I decided to stay the night in the house so I could wake up bright and early to get ready.
Boy, was that a mistake.
The eeriness began as soon as dusk hit. I was reading a book in the living room when I heard laughter coming from outside. I immediately got up to investigate. I walked up to the window, pulled back the curtains, and peeked into the front yard. A group of three boys stood in the yard with flashlights in hand.
Annoyed, I headed outside to scare them off. Another reason I wanted to stay the night here is that haunted houses make a great attraction for teenagers. Vandalism is the last thing I need to sell this house. I opened the door and shouted. “Get out of here! There is nothing to see here!” The kids froze, flashlights falling to the ground. They looked at me as if they had just seen a ghost. “Get! Before I call the cops for trespassing!” With not a second to spare, the kids whipped around and ran off as fast as their scrawny 14-year-old chicken legs could carry them.
I chuckled. They probably thought this house was vacant. I must have scared the heebie-jeebies out of them. I shut the door and got back to my reading. I awoke a few hours later with my book across my chest; a tapping sound had taken me from my slumber. I rubbed my eyes in a daze as I tried to remember where I was at. Again, a light tap, tap, tap filled my ears. It sounded as if a big bug kept hitting the window. I got up to see what was causing the ruckus; if there was a bug splattered on the window, I would need to wipe that down before tomorrow.
A part of me fully expected to see teenage kids daring one another to go into the house in a classic test of who was the bravest. I rolled my eyes and without thinking twice pulled open the curtains.
To my bewilderment, a demonic creature stood staring back at me. My body felt like it nearly got electrocuted as fear ran through me. Everything in the house was still, and I felt like I had tunnel vision, only being able to focus in on the creature standing before me. The arm of the creature was bent up to the window, pointer finger just inches away from the glass, then it grinned. I fell backwards as a scream croaked out of my throat. I blinked and the creature was gone.
I felt the cold sweat break through my pores as I pulled myself from the floor. I tried to rationalize with myself that ghosts aren’t real, which means demons aren’t real, either. I repeated this in my head over and over until I calmed down enough to shut the curtains. As I pulled the curtains shut, I inched my head toward the glass and peeked through the window cautiously. My eyes darted side to side—was that thing lurking around the house? The coast was clear; I slapped the curtains shut.
Wide awake now, I paced back and forth along the hardwood floors as I tried to make sense of what I had just seen. For a second, I almost believed that I had actually seen a demon. I thought back to what I was told about this house: A murder happened, so if there was anything haunting this house, it would be ghosts not a demon.
I tried to calm down, but I kept having visions of the demon in the window. That atrocious grin that was slapped on that evil face made me weak at the knees. Was I losing my mind? No. I saw something staring at me. I awoke to a tapping of the window. I knew it. I felt spooked, but surely there was a rational explanation for what was happening. I pulled myself together and started to think. I pressed my fingertips into my temples as I tried to make sense of what I had just seen.
What if this house really was haunted—would I last until the morning? I slapped my hand to my forehead as I realized how crazy I was starting to sound. Jeez I’m just as bad as my clients. Since when do I get wrapped up in ghost stories? I reminded myself that I sell “haunted” houses for a living.
What was happening to me should have a rational explanation. I laughed at the absurdity of the situation and immediately started to feel better. As I rationally walked through each moment that led up to seeing the demon in the window, it clicked. The kids! I scared off those kids, and they probably got mad and came back dressed as a demon to scare me. I chuckled as I realized how I almost fell for the whole thing. In a sprint, I ran out the front door and stood in the lawn as I shouted into the night, “You kids got me good! You almost had me there for a minute!”
I heard a whisper of laughter behind me. It wasn’t a spooky type of laughter; it was an innocent, playful sort of laughter. I turned around and saw a little girl standing in the doorway of the house. She had to be about eight years old. She had a big smile glued to her face. I glanced at my watch. It was midnight—way too late for such a young girl to be out. “You need to get home. Do your parents know where you are?” She started laughing a little louder this time. “I’ll walk you home if you tell me where you live. Your parents must be worried.” She covered her mouth with both of her hands as she giggled even harder this time.
I thought about the kids who had come back to scare me. She must be one of their little sisters. I found her behavior to be very peculiar, and the other kids were nowhere in sight. I took a few steps toward her and she stopped laughing, then took off running in the house. I went to chase her, but as soon as I got inside, she had vanished. I checked the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room—nothing. I even shouted for her, “Little girl! Come out! You aren’t in trouble, we just need to get you home!” Still, nothing.
I ran back downstairs after checking the bedrooms. I was a few steps away from entering the kitchen when I heard heavy, raspy breathing coming from around the corner. A part of me started to panic. It was one odd thing after another; could all these odd happenings have a simple explanation? Feeling totally spooked at this point, I cautiously made my way toward the noise. As each foot stepped closer, I felt like I could just sink into the floor and die.
I took in the coldness that was radiating from the kitchen and kept repeating in my head, ghosts aren’t real, ghosts aren’t real. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that there was a perfectly rational explanation for all the odd behavior, but still, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was going to find in the kitchen. Every ounce of adrenaline I had left was pulsing through my veins. I turned into the kitchen and saw an old man with an oxygen tank staring at me; heavy breathing being his signature trait. He just stared at me, wheezing and breathing as he held his oxygen tank.
“Can I help you, sir?”
He slowly lifted his free arm to show a water bottle in his hand. His arm shook as he laid his oxygen tank against the wall. He then proceeded to unscrew the cap on the water bottle, fingers shaking slightly. I cocked my head to the side as I watched intently. Perhaps he was the little girl’s grandpa, and he had lost her during a late-night walk? He held the water bottle out toward me, arm parallel to the ground. Then with one hard jerk, he splashed the water on me.
“Hocus pocus! Oh, wait. It didn’t make you disappear!”
I stood soaking-wet as the old man let out a raspy laugh. His smile held each yellowed tooth in place as his wrinkled grey skin reached wide from cheek to cheek.
“Sir, you need to leave. I’m not sure how you got in or why you think you can just come in here.”
“I can’t leave. I’m dead.”
I felt my heart flutter in my chest.
Another raspy laugh escaped him. “You remember Wanda Smith?”
I thought back to a few months ago; I did remember her. She was a sweet old lady who had just lost her husband. She needed my help selling her home because nobody wanted to buy the house after word got out that her husband died in the bedroom.
“That was my wife. I’ve seen what you do. You mock the dead.”
Panic washed over me. If this old man standing in front of me was a ghost, did that mean the little girl was a ghost, too? Which means the demon….
The old man interrupted my thoughts.
“Karma is a bitch, isn’t it, Jackson?”
“What do you mean? Why are you here? Are you trying to haunt me?”
The old man let out another raspy laugh and slowly faded away.
I heard the faint giggle of the little girl once again. I turned around but didn’t see anything. A cold sweat broke down my back as I started to wonder if I was going crazy. Ghosts aren’t real, but mental illness is. I’m becoming delusional. A light tap on my back side distracted me from my panic. I spun around to see the little girl just inches away, standing right behind me.
“What do you want? Is this all a dream? Are you a hallucination?”
The little girl didn’t say a word. She used her pointer finger to tell me to lean in closer. I bent over to get a little closer. She just kept bending her pointer finger as if to say come closer, closer, the grin on her face spreading. I bent my knees and hovered at her level. She leaned in to cup her hands around my ear and whispered, “He told me to distract you.”
My spine stiffened as I shot up and looked down at the little girl in disbelief. Who told her to distract me? She started laughing as loud as she could to where it was almost an ear-piercing scream. The louder she laughed, the more deformed her face started to appear. Her skin started to look like plastic melting, like if you were to hold a baby doll up to a fire. She kept laughing as her skin and muscle sloshed off onto the ground; laughter rang in my ears until she was nothing but a skeletal head. I stood horrified, looking at the little girl’s skull. There was a hollowed hole where there was once a nose that sat as cute as a button on her face. Deep dark sockets sunk into the skull where her little green eyes once were. With one last burst of laughter, her skeletal jaw fell to the floor and rolled toward my feet.
I knew I had to get out of this house, this house truly was haunted. I made a straight line for the front door. The rubber on my shoes squeaked against the hardwood floors as my legs carried me faster than my body could keep up.
I could hear laughter following me from upstairs. It sounded like hundreds of children laughing. The laughter grew louder and louder as I inched closer to the front door. The laughter quickly turned demonic as the sound contorted into petrified moans. My sweaty palm hit the knob on the door as I twisted it and threw the door open.
I immediately fell back as I felt my heart nearly stop.
Standing in the doorway was the demon. The burnt red skin hung from its face as the horns sharpened to a point on top of its head. A snake-like tongue slithered out of its mouth as it began to talk to me: “Keep staring.” Shaken, I crawled backward like a crab as I tried to escape the evil standing before me.
“What do you want?”
The moans and groans grew louder from upstairs. I almost couldn’t hear what the demon was saying. I felt as if the demonic sounds were engulfing my soul. I looked to my left and saw the old man once again, laughing a dry raspy laugh.
“He’s telling you to stay, Jackson. In other words, you can’t leave.”
“But why? What have I done?”
The old man laughed once again, then threw a rolled-up newspaper at me which landed at the bottom of my feet.
“Look at it, you, sick son of a bitch. Did you ever wonder why you couldn’t step foot off this property?”
I pulled open the newspaper, frantically flipping through the pages and thumbing my finger down the pages as I scanned through the images. I felt electricity run through every muscle as my eyes scanned over my picture. In big bold letters above my name, it read, “CRAZY HUSBAND KILLS ENTIRE FAMILY, THEN SHOOTS HIMSELF.”
I let the newspaper fall to the floor. This couldn’t be real; I had to be in a nightmare right now. I would never hurt my family. I didn’t remember doing this. Tears streamed down my cheeks and onto the newspaper as I tried to think back to what had happened.
I got up and started to run around the house in a frenzy as the horrific details started to piece together.
This was my house.
I started to scream as I fell to my knees. “What have I done? I have ruined my life!”
Everything had come back to me now. I sat on my knees staring at the front door as the vision flooded my memory.
I had just walked through the door, my wife and three kids sat at the dinner table waiting for me patiently. “How was your day, honey?” My wife smiled at me, my kids ran up and hugged me. Something in me just snapped; I can’t tell you what it was. It was like some sort of evil got in my brain and took the steering wheel. I went and got the gun out of our safe, then I just shot them all. I watched their dead bodies bleed out as relief washed over me; it felt good. The blood that puddled on the floor shot my reflection back up to me, the reflection of a murderer. I stomped my shoe in the puddle as the realization of what I had done finally hit me. I did the only thing I knew to do next—shoot myself.
I stared up at the demon, the old man, and the little girl who were all staring at me, surrounding me in a circle. The old man piped up again.
“This is your version of hell, Jackson. This will be the 103rd time you have relived this. Each day is a little different; we always think of new ways to scare you. Fun, isn’t it?”
I started bawling. Was this how I was going to spend eternity? I wept and called out to see if anyone out there could hear me. Was there a God out there? I never really took practice to religion when I was alive, but perhaps he could have mercy on my soul.
“Please! Please, give me one more chance! Oh, please! I’m sick in the head, I’ll get help! I’ll go get help before it gets out of hand next time! Please give me another chance, I won’t do it again!”
I awoke the next day to find myself in my bedroom. I rolled over and saw my wife sleeping peacefully in bed. Wow, what a nightmare, I thought to myself. Visibly shaken, I decided to take the day off work and spend some time at home. I walked by our closet and peered in at the safe, which held a handgun, the item we kept for protection from intruders; funny how thought works. I thought back to my horrifying dream and decided that I’m going to get rid of the guns, every single one of them—today. I headed into the bathroom to brush my teeth, then went down to make breakfast for my family, the family I was ever so thankful to have.
I fired up the griddle to make French toast, poured myself a cup of coffee, then peered out the window. I stared out at the beautiful day, then took in a deep breath. The smell of coffee was amazing. I took a sip as it slightly burned my lip. I closed my eyes and thought about how thankful I was to have this life I have. I couldn’t imagine giving it up for anything. Thoughts of my kids growing up to be doctors and lawyers danced through my head when a tap on my shoulder pulled me from my daydream. I opened my eyes to see a reflection of an old man standing behind me in the window. My heart skipped a beat as the old man let out a raspy laugh.