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."
Some people swore that the house was haunted.
My sister and I were thrilled by the vague details we overheard about our distressed, soon-to-be-new-home. My parents less so. Not because of their skepticism toward unscientific claims of the supernatural. My father put it bluntly for his 8-year-old twins to understand: it was us they feared. We would be the first to live on Erwin Drive. And that was truly frightening for our neighbors, named Borden and Krautzman and Julianno and Cautington.
We still didn't understand.
The day we first saw it, we'd gone house-hunting in my fathers '66 Mustang (over 10 years old, but still his darling "Red Delicious"). Our mother stayed home. Feet up. Swollen, grumpy and listless with the weight of my brother, restless inside her. We'd been busy hand-surfing with the windows down, when my father slowed the car to a stop in front of an empty, two-story house. The weathered dullness of the For Sale sign suggested the house had been on the market awhile.
A green picket fence sprouted from its sides and my sister and I dashed toward it. Luckily, it wasn't too high to prevent us from assessing the backyard. We weren't disappointed. Huge with a hill, it would later endure gentle erosion from years of sledding in winter and slip-n-sliding through summers.
And there was the tree.
In the middle of the vast yard was a magnificent weeping willow. It seemed to thrust its way up from the ground with the defiance of a clenched fist. Its knotty limbs tensed, supporting the drapery of heavy leaves. My father was also captivated. I caught him smiling.
That's when Mr. Cautington approached us.
He introduced himself but did not extend his hand. He knew how to smile without smiling and squinted at my father.
"Yep. Everyone loves that tree. Wreaks havoc on the plumbing, though. And the windows," he said, pointing to the stained glass windows on the second floor. "Mighty fancy. The thing is, this used to be a church. Up there is where they'd have service. Are you all Christian folk?"
My father didn't answer, still staring up at the stained glass windows.
"You know, some people'd swear this house is haunted."
My father looked away from the windows, assessing Mr. Cautington. "Interesting. And this was a church?"
"Yep. 'N fact, the last family that moved in was about two years ago. But they left soon after. No explanation. We figured something musta spooked 'em."
"Is that right," My father said flatly, in a way that wasn't really a question.
"Yep. 'N fact. This family was not unlike your own."
"Is that right." This time my father whispered it.
They stared straight at each other. Mr. Cautington wasn't squinting any more.
"Girls, get in the car."
We wanted to explore more of the house, especially now, knowing that it could be haunted. My father patted his belt with his right hand. This meant punishment would be swift and painful if we did not comply quickly.
From the backseat of the car, we watched as he and Mr. Cautington continued to talk. There were no wild gesticulations, but something began to seethe inside of my father. He kept his hands fixed at his side. Then, he focused on the tree, ignoring Mr. Cautington altogether.
Mr. Cautington was still yelling something we couldn't hear as my father revved-up Red Delicious and drove away.
My parents closed on the house one month later, a week after my brother was born.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.