I have often wondered why, across every community in the contiguous United States there is this one constant that is… inescapable. Undeniable. Perhaps it is a mark of Western society, something embedded in our culture. Or maybe it extends to towns and villages all across the world, drawing from the much deeper well of human nature.
Maybe it doesn’t matter either way. But this much is true: no matter where you go – the town, the state, the population, the diversity don’t matter a bit – you will find a haunted house.
As a child, I always bought into stories about ghosts and ghouls. I was particularly susceptible to urban legends, and all they entailed – especially the one about the house just two streets down, the one with wooden slats over the windows and an overgrown yard.
But this story isn’t about that house, haunted though it may be.
This story is about Lilac House.
As I said, I used to be a believer, just like any child. But one day I grew up, all of a sudden, it seemed, and I didn’t believe anymore. After all, these stories spring from two places: the over-active imaginations of children; or the sadistic minds of the adults who surround them and seek to teach them of the dangers of the world through storytelling. Most often, it is a combination of the two.
I never thought that I could believe in such foolishness again.
But then my mother passed away, an old woman surrounded by family and friends, and left for me a hefty chunk of change, her favorite china plates, and a key to Lilac House.
The key came to me attached to a letter on old, crumbling paper. It didn’t say much, just my mother’s prim handwriting with the address to the house. She wrote that it had been left to her by an aunt and that she’d always meant to get rid of it, but never had. She closed the letter by telling me to have it torn down and be done with it – it was an old wreck anyway.
I intended to do just that.
Of course, you don’t tear down a house without checking to see if there’s anything inside first. I figured it might have some old papers, belongings that my mother hadn’t removed. The address pointed me to a town about a hundred miles west, so one day a few weeks after the funeral I packed an overnight bag and made my way to Lilac House, intent on divesting it of its secrets.
The drive took me deep into the country, where corn reigns supreme and people keep to themselves. There were no hotels in town, but there was a little bed and breakfast that managed to put me up on short notice. I’d left early, so I arrived at about eight in the morning. The elderly woman who ran the B&B, Gertrude, was surprised at my arrival, even more so when I told her I didn’t have any family or friends in the town.
“Then what brings you to a tiny place like Little Rock?” She asked as she showed me to my room. It was on the second floor of the Victorian era house, a place with wooden floors and creaky hinges. I wondered if Lilac House looked a little like this.
I decided to ask her, after I told her my business.
Her face turned a little sour as she said, “What would you want with that old place?”
I thought I might as well give her the truth. “It belongs to my mother. When she passed away, she asked me to tear it down.”
The woman cocked her head at that. “Is that what you plan to do?”
“I guess,” I shrugged. “Figured I’d check it out first, then decide what to do.”
She nodded slowly. “Let me know what you decide,” she said, which I thought was a little presumptive, considering that it was none of her business. After informing me that breakfast was at ten in the morning, she left me to settle in, which took me all of two minutes. I promptly returned to my car to find my way to Lilac House.
It wasn’t hard to locate, even without my GPS, which had failed me about two miles from Little Rock – apparently little towns like that don’t need to be placed on a digital map.
Lilac House was situated on a hill overlooking the town. Hills were rare in such normally flat country, so the house stuck out like a sore thumb.
Even from the bottom of the hill, I could tell something was strange about that place.
It was bursting with color – with a variety of purples and whites. It stained the sky like a giant flower. I supposed that’s why they called it Lilac House.
As I got closer, I saw that the name was much more literal.
Lilacs covered every inch of the house. Not only did they dominate the yard, but they also sprouted from between windows, from underneath the porch, from the very wood itself.
It seemed impossible, and contradicted everything I thought I knew about lilacs. As I got out of my car and walked towards the porch, I found that I had to fight through their overwhelming thickness. Their cloying scent had firmly seeped its way into my clothing as I reached the front door.
Well, the doorway. The actual door had long since rotted off and been replaced by a wall of… well, by now you can probably guess.
It was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to find anything through this maze of flowers, but I still found myself compelled to try. It was, I suppose, a poor excuse to explore this strange place just a little. I’d never seen a flower behave like this. Yes, flowers will grow wherever they are able, and with time nature will overtake the abandoned vestiges of mankind. But these flowers hadn’t simply overtaken the house – they had imprisoned it, holding its long-since rotted wood aloft by the virtue of their blooms.
The further I traveled into the house, the more confused and bewildered I became.
All of a sudden, I felt something hard crunch under my sneaker and I stumbled forward onto the floor, falling onto a bed of lilacs. I reached underneath the blossoms trying to find what it was my foot had just destroyed. Once I finally pulled it up into my line of sight, I saw that it was a picture frame. Or it had been, once upon a time. The picture inside had long since faded into pale shapes that only vaguely suggested a possible family portrait.
So there were still belongings in here – whether or not I could get to them was another matter entirely.
I couldn’t see anything but lilacs in front of me, lilacs behind me, and that’s what caused the accident. I put one foot in front of the other, only to realize that, all of a sudden, there was nothing underneath it. I disappeared into a haze of purple, falling down the stairs to what must have been the basement.
I’m always amazed at how people can fall down stairs in a movie and be totally fine when they reach the bottom, spring back up on their feet with a few theatrical groans.
That did not happen to me. I hit the bottom and my head slammed into the concrete floor – hard. Everything went black and when I opened my eyes, I could sense that time had passed me by, although I couldn’t see any light to give me an indication that it had.
Shit – I passed out? That can’t be good. I need to get out of here… maybe get checked at a hospital.
Sick of the enveloping darkness, I pulled out my phone – it had survived the fall only slightly worse for the wear – and turned on my flashlight app. I would have about twenty minutes before it drained my battery, so I knew I had to get moving. Up the stairs and slightly to the left, out the front door. I could do it. I could do it.
Except that, before I did, something caught my eye. It was a white glimmer, white in a way that was different from the white of some of the lilacs. It was cold and… hard.
My hand drifted out towards it, a little shaky and blurring in and out of focus. Shit. I definitely had a concussion.
My hand finally made contact and I grasped the item, pulling it through the haze of flowers.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. The hard whiteness unfurled in front of me, bit by bit to reveal a hand – a plump, white hand that was as cold as snow and about as dead.
My breath caught in my throat as an arm came into view, revealing a wrist covered in a thin gold bracelet with a small key dangling from the end.
That was all I got to see before it was sucked back into the darkness, gripped by the very flowers that I had pulled it from.
I sat there for a full minute, watching the flowers close around the hand, encasing it in their makeshift prison.
And then I ran.
There’s a hole in my memory from taking that first step back up the stairs to sitting in the living room at the bed and breakfast, Gertrude setting a cup of tea in front of me as I trembled.
“Sweetie? Can you talk to me? What happened? You’ve got a nasty bump on the back of your head – do you need to see a doctor? Should I drive you?”
“What happened at Lilac House?” I asked, my voice just shy of breathless.
Her eyes flickered with something, but she didn’t let on.“That’s what I was going to ask you…”
“What happened. At Lilac House?” I repeated, a bit of anger beginning to creep into my words.
She sighed as she settled in the chair across from me.
“Do you really want to know?” She asked.
I wasn’t sure, but I nodded anyway.
It was a long few minutes before she finally told me.
“Nobody knows what happened at Lilac House, and yet… everybody knows what happened. A lot of folks nowadays, they don’t believe it, but I still remember it. I remember what happened like it was yesterday.
“When Henrietta and her younger sister, Thelma, moved into that house, we all knew that something was off. I was only about thirteen at the time, but even I could see it. Thelma was… well, she was odd. I know you youngsters don’t like the term, but she was retarded. She didn’t do much of anything… other than sit out in front of the lilac bush in the front yard.”
“Bush? As in… singular?” I asked.
She nodded.“Back then, there was one bush, with light purple blooms. And she loved it.
“But Henrietta… she didn’t seem to like Thelma very much. She was always so short with her poor little sister. As time went on we all began to suspect that they weren’t on the best of terms… not that Thelma noticed. Thelma didn’t notice much of anything.
“Well, one day, Thelma disappeared. Just up and ran away, was the story. Maybe got snatched up one night, sitting out there under the lilac bush.”
Gertrude paused there, as though for effect, before she leaned in and said, “But I knew. We all knew. We all saw how Henrietta hated Thelma. How she wanted her gone. How she wanted her… dead.
“Soon after the disappearance, the lilacs began to grow. Like weeds, almost. They quickly took over the yard. Oh, and did Henrietta hate them. She tried to cut them down, but as fast as she took them down, they sprung right back up.
“And then, one morning, the milkman went up to the house and it was… covered. Inside and out with those damn flowers. The townsfolk, you know, some of them went into the house to try to look for Henrietta, but none of them could find her. Hell, they only went a few paces into the house before they couldn’t get any further.
“Most people said that she abandoned the house, ran off with the guilt of killing her sister. But, of course, that’s not what happened at all. You know what did happen? Thelma. Thelma happened. And the lilacs? Those are her revenge.”
Gertrude did end up driving me to the hospital, when all was said and done. As I’d guessed, I had a pretty nasty concussion, and that fact alone almost gave me an excuse to believe that I had imagined the whole thing. The flowers, the story, the… hand.
Except, the thing is, I know I didn’t.
Because I have a good imagination. A damn good imagination. But I didn’t know that Henrietta was my great aunt’s name until after I got back home and dug through our family records.
For these last few weeks, I’ve stayed far away from Lilac House. But I know that I can’t, not forever. There are still too many unanswered questions – whose body did I find in that house? Was it Henrietta’s? Why was it… preserved so well? Did Thelma really die, and did Henrietta really kill her? And what of the key around the corpse’s wrist?
That’s the thing about haunted houses, you know. That’s their secret power. They get under your skin, writhing down deep to your bones, settling there until you’re obsessed with solving the mysteries, finding the ghosts.
Lilac House is mine, now, and so are its ghosts. One thing is for sure, I have to go back inside.
The thing is, I don’t know what else I might find when I do.