Ze’ev Shaheen


“The house was built in 1884, a lovely Victorian with some unique stylistic choices,” the realtor said walking backward to face her new clients. The gravel of the pathway crunched under their shoes. The house towered over and transcended the other houses at the bottom of the hill. It was angular and rigid. Its high-vaulted windows were tipped with spires like teeth. The black trim against the decaying yellow paint accentuated its bony exterior.

“It’s a Queen Anne Victorian,” Agnes mused to her husband. She had her arms looped in his as they strode up the driveway.

“Good eye,” Walter whispered back. He turned back to the realtor. “Is the porch original?”

“The porch itself is part of the original building, but the actual wood was replaced by the first owners.”

The red cherry-wood front steps lolled out of the mouth of the doorway. Each step leading up to the front door howled and whimpered under the weight of the group’s feet. The realtor fumbled with her set of keys for a second before the hinges creaked open, welcoming them inside. The foyer was a yawning maw, larger than any home needed to be.

“It’s a little chilly,” Walter said.

“You’re always chilly,” Agnes teased.

Two staircases slithered like snakes around a massive marble fireplace that looked out of place amongst the rotting wood. The mantel itself was as intricate as the exterior of the house.

“The mantel and fireplace are—” the Realtor began.

“French Rococo!” Agnes said with excitement.

“You know your stuff,” noted the realtor.

“I went to school for architecture and interior design,” she said.

“I’m a contractor,” Walter added, looking at the deep sunken relief at the center of the mantel. The marble was chiseled away to reveal the portrait of a man whose face was contorted in sorrow as a spear plowed through his chest. Walter made a note to replace the grotesque image with something nicer.

“We flip houses on occasion,” he continued. “Thought we might try our hand at something more than just raised ranches and Baltimore rowhouses,”

Agnes was practically dancing through the room, admiring each and every detail of the home. She saw the perfection in every little grain of the wood, in how the floral friezes accented the peeling wallpaper, how every piece of the house worked together to keep itself standing.

“Well, then I hope this house treats you well. If you’ll follow me, I can show you the rest of the house.” The realtor beckoned the couple up the stairs. The arches stood like open mouths, the corridors stretched for ages and the stained=glass windows crept colorful shadows onto the walls.

She droned on about the few things she knew about the house. It was initially built as a family retreat. The family was almost inseparable from the foundation, passing it down to the next generation for eighty years. In the mid-60s, the house was suddenly abandoned with no record of the family’s evacuation. While the rest of the town down the hill submitted to urbanization, the house was left to rot alone. It was subjected to the elements and became the house that the town’s children dared each other to venture to. 

After the tour was over, the realtor got a phone call.

“I have to take this, but I’ll leave you two to think about pulling the trigger on this place,” she said. As the sound of the realtor’s clicking heels faded away, Walter turned to look at Agnes. She was staring out over the banister at nothing in particular.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

She looked at him and smiled. “I’m thinking velvet couches, mahogany dining tables, and…” she scrunched her face in concentration, “a branched chandelier.” She started to lean on the railing but it started to crack and threatened to fall to the floor below. Walter placed a hand on her shoulder, loosely tugging her back.

“Maybe we think about safety before chandeliers.” He laughed. He ran his hand along the teetering railing.

“We’re definitely going to have to replace this.” As he said this he felt a sudden prick in his hand, making him yelp. He turned his hand over to see a small jagged splinter lodged in his palm. He tugged at it but it didn’t budge. Agnes took his hand and gently plucked it out with ease. She wrapped her arms around Walter’s shoulders and leaned her head on him. He placed a kiss on the top of her head and then rested his head on hers. “This house will be good for us.” She sighed. And as she sighed, the house sighed with her. Inhabited, at last, the house relaxed its muscles. Its heart beat silently under the floorboards and the locks tightened just a bit more.

A few weeks after signing every contract, waiting for every paper to be processed, and agonizing over every little detail of the sale, the house finally belonged to Agnes and Walter.

One day after moving in Agnes was hard at work in one of the house’s wings pouring all her energy into the arrangement of its decor. She felt a bit overwhelmed by the decision of where to place a couple of paintings. She had found them in the attic, hidden under molding sheets. She thought that the paintings would appreciate the sight of the sun.

A shrill sound pierced Agnes’s ears. The shriek seemed to bounce around the room, becoming louder and louder until it suddenly stopped.

When Agnes walked into the foyer she could hear what sounded like a hunter skinning an animal of its precious hide. A slow and agonizing ripping came from just outside the front door. Walter was on the porch, surrounded by nails and hammers, measuring tapes, and crowbars. He was digging his hands under the boards trying to pry them away from their familiar place.

“Morning, Agnes,” he said, smiling at her.

“Since when did you want to replace the porch?” Agnes asked.

“Since I first saw it? It’s way too old to be safe.” He let go of the wood and looked side to side like he was trying to see if anyone else was around. “And between you and me, the wood’s kind of ugly. But don’t tell the house I said that,” he said with a wink. Agnes did not laugh, she just watched as he reached for a crowbar and jabbed it between the boards. Agnes winced at the aggression of the movement. Walter snapped off a piece of wood and the porch beneath their feet let out a groan. Walter didn’t seem to hear it. He continued to dig his fingers into the skin of the porch and yanked and peeled. As he slowly decorticated the porch Agnes heard the shriek again. It drilled into her head, yelling louder than her thoughts until her entire mind was encompassed with the human-like scream.

“You’re hurting it,” she mumbled. Walter tossed away the piece of wood he was holding.

“You say something?”he asked.

“Um, can you just come and look at these paintings I found? I’m not sure where I want to put them.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something here.” He grabbed a sharp-looking multitool, and Agnes’s heart skipped a beat.

“It’ll only take a second,” she said urgently. She did not want to hear the house’s scream again.

Walter let out an exasperated sigh. “Sure, show me,” he said, dusting his hands on his pants. Agnes let go of the tension in her shoulders. He got up to follow Agnes, but his foot caught on a floorboard, causing him to trip. He extended his hand to catch himself, but as he did he felt a sting of pain in his wrist. Agnes looked at the board he tripped on. It was not one of the ones he had been working on. She saw the wood rumble slightly and then lower itself into place. Dumbfounded, she turned back to Walter.

“Are you okay?” she asked, helping him up.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled. “I think I just hurt my wrist.”

“Let’s get some ice on that,” Agnes said, leading him inside. She turned once around for a second to look back at the floorboards before closing the massive door.

Walter, now wearing a wrist splint, was standing in the main hall, looking up at the vile wallpaper.

“Whoever picked this had no sense of taste,” he said to no one in particular. The pipes that snaked through the house hissed at his comment. He heard the door open and saw Agnes walking in with supplies to repaint and replace the walls. He ran to help her unpack the stuff.

“What patterns did you get?” he wondered, sifting through the bags.

“I was just thinking what if we kept it?” Agnes proposed. “We’ll still take the old paper down but what if we just got that same pattern again?”

“I thought the idea was to spruce up the place, not restore it like a museum,” Walter said. Agnes scoffed at him.

“All I’m saying is that the original wallpaper works really well here. It wouldn’t hurt to keep some things the same if it works,” she tried to explain. “Do you want me to go back to the warehouse and find something else?”

“No, no, it’s fine. We’ll do whatever you want,” Walter said without looking at her. Agnes rolled her eyes at him. They got to work and used the long paint roller to plaster the wallpaper onto the impossibly tall walls. They worked in silence for a while until Walter made an unwarranted comment.

“This house is kind of ugly,”

“Walter!” Agnes sounded offended. She saw the smallest crack form above his head in the wall.

“What? It’s just an observation. It’s a terrible house.” He was unaware that the crack was slowly crawling its way up the wall.

“It is not,” Agnes was visibly upset but Walter was laughing.

“Whoever built this house first was probably insane.” With that comment, they both heard a crack from above and watched as the fissure twisted up the wall and reached the friezes. One of the heavy marble pieces cascaded down from its place on the wall and landed unceremoniously on Walter’s foot.

“Son of a—” Walter yelled. He fell to the ground, cradling his foot as best he could. Agnes didn’t move, she just watched as he rocked in pain for a bit. She let him marinate in the searing pain, reveling in the idea that he got what he deserved.

“Why are you just standing there?” Walter said through gritted teeth. Agnes blinked and went to help him up.

“Come on, I’ll drive you to urgent care,” she said and she smiled at the house as they left.

Agnes was staring out over the banister at nothing in particular. She had been working for months to help the house reclaim its former beauty. She put every bit of herself into the work, she devoted every moment to the house. Agnes loved the house more than anything, and she knew that if she loved it enough, it would love her in return. Agnes heard a small thumping coming from behind her. She turned to see Walter walking by in a walking cast with a mallet resting on his shoulder and a few other tools tucked into his belt.

“Where are you going with all that stuff?” she questioned. Walter stopped to look at her.

“I’m getting rid of that terrifying mantelpiece,” he said as if it were obvious.

“Why? There’s nothing wrong with it,”

“Have you seen that thing? No one’s gonna want to buy it with that stupid carving as the first thing they see.” Walter made a move to go down the stairs but Agnes stepped in front of him.

“You can’t destroy it,” she pleaded.

“Agnes, please move,” Walter said in a stern tone.

“No, I won’t let you hurt it!”

“What is going on with you lately? I thought working on this house was supposed to bring us together, but you just keep questioning my every decision!”

“I just want what’s best for the house,” Agnes said.

“You know, I’ve put a lot of work into this house too. I’ve been bending over backward trying to keep this place up to code. I’ve been dealing with splinters, a sprained wrist, and a broken foot, and for what? For you to just go galavanting off doing God knows what!”

“You aren’t listening to what it wants,” Agnes snarled.

“Jesus, Agnes, do you even hear yourself? This house isn’t alive. It doesn’t have feelings. It can’t hear you. It’s just a stupid house!”

Agnes felt a rage inside her that did not feel like it belonged to her. It bubbled in her chest and boiled her blood. The house made a grinding churning noise as a roar and Agnes roared with it. She quickly tried to snatch the mallet out of Walter’s hand.

“What are you—” Walter started to say. The two pulled back and forth on the mallet, trying to wrench it from the other’s grasp. As they stumbled over each other’s feet, Agnes felt her hands slipping on the mallet until she could hold it no longer. She let go, but Walter kept pulling the mallet towards him. There was a crunch as the head of the mallet met Walter’s skull. Agnes gasped at the realization of what she had done. Walter dropped the mallet at his feet, leaving a dent in the floor. He staggered backward for a minute, gripping his head where he had been hit. He looked up in Agnes’s general direction. His eyes were unfocused and he was breathing heavily. Blood trickled down from his hairline and into his eyebrow.

“You bitch,” he spat out his words like poison. He reached his hand back to support himself on the railing. But the railing gave way almost instantly. It snapped under his weight and Walter went careening down to the floor below him. He screamed on his way down but it was cut short by the squelching flesh on the ancient tile. Agnes shook herself out of her angry stupor and tentatively walked over to the now missing section of the railing.

“No no no no,” she sobbed. “Walter?” But he did not respond.

She looked to the bottom floor and saw that Walter was lying on the ground with his eyes and mouth open but he was unmoving. A beam of the railing had speared itself through his chest. He looked like he was drowning in the blood that oozed from his heart.

Agnes did not tell anyone about what truly happened to Walter.

“He walked out on me,” she said to some. “He went home to see his parents for a bit,” she said to others. She said whatever she needed to keep people from trying to make her leave the house.

Agnes would remain in the house for years. Decorating and redecorating, until she could come up with no more ideas. And then she would just repeat the designs she had done before. The house never rose from its status in the town. The children still played games around it, trying to scare each other into catching a glimpse of the witch who lived inside.

Agnes did not even notice when the floors started to rot and the wallpaper peeled once more. She didn’t notice the “for sale” sign plastered on the windows. She didn’t even notice when her body gave out and she could no longer feel her heartbeat. Yet despite her demise, she remained in the house. She did, however, notice the new couple that strolled through the house with hope in their eyes. She noticed their discussion of what walls to take out and what to paint over the walls with. She heard their agreement to remove the hideous mantel. The house whispered in Agnes’s ears, muttering about how to remove the new threat as they had done to Walter.

Ze’ev Shaheen is a rising junior at Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA. He is majoring in English and Media & Communications in hopes of one day understanding basic grammar. He would like to thank his roommate’s cat, Kimchi, for all his love and support.

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