William held the old photo tightly with his trembling hand, unable to let go of his grip, and unable to look away, not even his eyes managing to veer in a new direction. His brain had completely frozen on him in that moment, offering nothing in the way of answers as to what he was looking at in front of him. There was nothing he could think to do that would alleviate his current discomfort, not even leaving the eerie attic space would offer a reprieve from his experience. The same attic space that was too dark, too clouded with dust, and yet so inviting, like the beckoning of an unwanted sin; wrong, but calling to be satisfied.
The beguiling house was now an antique, dating back to October of 1858, truly a work of art and an unexpected accomplishment, both in it’s day and in the current year, having survived over one hundred and fifty years. William had bought the house for his quickly growing family, his wife having recently given birth to twins, bringing their total to five beautiful children. Finding a house that could comfortably fit seven souls, while also provide them the desired space to host and offer staying rooms for friends and family was a difficult task. They settled on their new home after having their lower-than-expected offer be accepted, and promptly at that. Despite the house being as ancient and beautiful as it was, it had sat empty for nearly twenty-two years, a desolate corpse, waiting to be possessed as soon as it could find itself a new and unsuspecting host. Those living in the surrounding neighborhood had informed William and his wife that every family to have ever lived in the home had experienced a death on the property, not always immediately, and sometimes more than one family member. The couple had seriously considered whether they would allow that fact to get in their way, not knowing how superstitious or spiritual they needed to be before letting the house’s history prevent them from making what felt like the best purchase of their lives.
A total of nine families had lived in the home prior, each experiencing no less than one death on the property, always someone who lived there, and always within the bounds of the property. The house had gone through dormant spells with no one living in it, the most recent 22-year stent being the longest. The previous owner was a wealthy man who enjoyed keeping the property preserved and well kept, hosting occasional tours to town folk or visitors, usually during popular holiday weekends. His wife had died while giving birth to the couple’s third child, which had been the family’s first home birth, leading the man to finally believe in the stories of death that came with the home. Soon after his family experienced their deaths, he moved himself and his two living children out of the home to a smaller estate nearby. The man had originally planned to never sell the home, but instead keep it vacant, a way for him to protect any other families who may be tempted by its calling. As the man grew older, he increasingly felt a desire to not risk his family wanting the home, or worse, inheriting it and moving in. So, he chose to sell, and he was grateful to find William, though he underplayed the house’s horrific history.
William’s hand was still tight on the photograph, which was old, having been captured on the same day that construction had finished, and the first family had moved in. Despite being over one-hundred and fifty years old, the photograph looked impeccable, to the degree that, had it not been for the obviously outdated photographic material, one could have thought it was a staged photo taken in the modern day. There was a slight sepia tone to the photograph, making it feel somewhat disconnected to the reality of when it was taken, assuming the house and family were more vibrant than the image suggested. The original nine-member family was centered in the photo, the house occupying the background. On either side of the family were twelve other individuals, a number that nearly matched the number of deaths since the first family’s initial death and departure. Eleven people had died since the original owners, but there was a twelfth person occupying the far-left side of what seemed like only a large and happy family. He stared in continued horror and disbelief at the uncomfortably recognizable face that was on the twelfth person. It was him.
William saw himself, smiling, as if he enjoyed having his picture taken. There was no way of denying the image, not with its pristine condition. He knew it was him, having recognized himself instantaneously, but how could this be? He had to practically break into the attic and had to literally break into the chest to access all the antique items within. It wasn’t possible for this image to exist the way it did. He couldn’t really be in the image.
Thoughts continued racing through William’s mind, and he tried as much as he could to remember the details of the house’s previous deaths, but he could barely remember the number of people who had died. It almost didn’t matter though, because there was something else speaking to William, not his memory, but something at his core, something confirming to him the fear that was present: those were, without a doubt, the people who had died in the house over the last one hundred and fifty years, and somehow, he was now included in their image.
William finally found himself able to move, deciding to turn the photograph over and see if there were any dates or writings on the back side, anything to take away the fear and discomfort. To his dismay, any hope for comfort or peace was lost immediately when his eyes read the one and only sentence on the back of the photograph. He dropped the photo and backed away from it, now knowing what to do, the photo falling backside up, exposing its ominous message: We can’t wait for you to join our family, William.