The Remodel

For Round Five of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

An old empty room. iStockphoto.com
iStockphoto.com

Some people swore that the house was haunted.  Me,  I've seen everything.  Toilets installed in living rooms, balconies you have to climb out the window to reach, even a moat with a drawbridge to the carport — must have cost the idiot 50 grand.  Haunting, now that doesn't scare me.  I can retrofit anything.

I low-balled and picked up the place for $14,000 under market.  I was glad the dead owner's story had been played up well in the disclosure documents.  You make your money when you buy, and this one was going to pay for a year of private school, once I gave it a makeover.

But where do you begin?  How do you demo a ghost?

The old man had keeled in the kitchen, I was told, so that was my first line of attack.  The counters and appliances were genuine 1960s; gutting them just left wiring and plumbing hookups.  So I lost the room  and with clever rearranging and a new bay window, the garage became the new kitchen.  Viking range, Sub-Zero fridge.  The old kitchen vanished, became a gazebo over an outdoor patio.  If the old guy wanted to lurk over his falling place, he'd have to do it outside.

But my dreams were troubled.  I hadn't done enough.

The paramedics had dragged him to the living room, I learned, tried to resuscitate him there.  That was 230 square feet I wasn't about to put out to pasture.  I ran two walls of mirrors  — ghosts hate looking at themselves, I hear — and the room filled with new light.  Repainted the trim, new Pergo, and in sudden inspiration, I vaulted the ceiling, put in skylights.  The old guy would never recognize the place.

I couldn't sleep.

I replaced the exterior siding, put faux columns on a new entryway that came in unexpectedly from the side.  I peaked the roof, spent eight grand on terra cotta tile.  The place was unrecognizable.  Spent my profit and more, did everything short of turning the place upside down.  I don't believe in ghosts, and yet others do.  And I'd never flip this turkey if others felt that shiver.

I hired an exorcist.  They're in the yellow pages, I'd just never looked.  Even had workman's comp.  Chanted some gibberish, burned a pallet of incense.  I had to replace the bedroom carpets.  Finally I felt like I could breathe in there.  Whatever sense I'd felt was sent away.  I re-coated the walls with low VOC primer and two coats of caramel breeze.  Got my realtor to list it, and what the hell, asked 20 grand more than I should have.  Specifically labeled it spiritually cleaned and feng-shui certified. Another subcontractor, he had me move a staircase.

The house went for its asking price.  And they say the market's crap!  My kid's paid up through third grade.  

But houses speak to me now.  Tell me their stories.  I almost bought an old Queen Anne, but could feel four generations growing feeble there, fading to dust.  I could smell it.  A bank-owned ranch reeked with contemplated suicide, never actually undertaken, I was told, yet still.  A three-flat that would have been a steal at $50K below market made me ill to stand in the foyer.  Find me a home where something bad hasn't happened or had some crisis, some decay.

I've taken to day-trading these days.  The stock market's coming back, and I never have to visit any of the companies I buy or sell.  Commodities are sterile, and I like it that way.  I wish I'd never bought a haunted house, for nothing was ever the same again after that.

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