The October House

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Set your story in a haunted house.... view prompt



This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Beneath the carpeted floors, the marble surfaces, the Alpine beams, behind the paint and dry wall and game rooms and mancaves and 80-inch OLEDs, before the Nordic furniture and open concept and smart hubs and multi-hued LED lighting and powerful wireless mesh systems, a house once stood.

This house had once been full of life, full of noises and creaks, of dark corners and dangerous crawl spaces. Of wandering halls, moody rooms, and a thousand different kinds of dust, each housing its own room full of memories and stories and odors. Before all the pesticides and exterminators, critters crawled through the veins of the house, enervating it with a pulse. The foundation was firmly rooted in rich soil. In short, the house had been built as an extension of the earth it was built upon. Out of reverence for the ancient architects that had built the rocks and the trees around it.

When the wind blew outside, the house responded. Its joints whispered and moaned, its halls breathed in deeply and exhaled. It spoke with the outside, gossiped with the air, about the increasingly populated world, about the felled forests, expanding city, and encroaching neighborhoods. The house stretched and nodded, squeaked and bristled in anticipation. This meant its first owners would be arriving soon.

The house fire warmed the souls of its first inhabitants, its walls embraced them with love for many years. It watched over this family like a caring mother, watched its children grow, and wept when that same family lost its mind and began to murder.

The family had moved in with so much mirth. The father had secured an executive position at the bank, and this house was to be his trophy. Over time, however, each family member seemed to have degraded into something sinister, monstrous versions of themselves. They polluted the house’s love by stuffing its hidden spaces with bloated victims, used the kitchens to brew poisons, twisted the house's rich oaken facade to lure its prey into traps.

False walls, trick doors, hidden vents, secret chutes. This wicked family had installed a host of ways to ensnare its guests. And the house protected them as long as it could, because it loved them.

It was a gray day when the father decided he’d had enough of it all. At once, all the love, the warmth the house felt toward the family had been sucked right out the moment the father turned on his wife and children, pulled out his worn 45-caliber Colt revolver, and shot them stone-dead in the foyer. The wind blowing through the chimney flue carried upon its back the wail of police sirens, and the windows shuddered when the house heard one final gunshot from the father. Soon men in uniforms arrived and began groping and poking around the house’s under-bits, like sexual aggressors eager to finger its secrets. What they found had sickened many of the officers that day, and it took weeks of work to exhume all the family’s victims from the house’s traps and tunnels.

Heartbroken, the house had been condemned, its windows boarded up. Tarnished by the family it thought it had loved and sullied by the hostile search and seizure of the authorities. Damaged beyond repair, the house was merely a pile of lumber awkwardly creaking in the night.

The wind no longer visited the old house, the soil around it grew acidic and barren. The earth wanted nothing more to do with the accursed grounds. The murders were too much of a reminder of Nature’s original failure to shelter Man in the Garden.

Cursed and forgotten, this house simply stood still for over a century. Eventually the city, like a living beast, sprawled and writhed its way up the old hill and right to the house’s front yard. It chewed through the two-hundred-year-old oaks with sickening efficiency, razed the cursed earth, and rolled out rows of green lawns. The house’s foundation and framework was spared the destruction of this living growth, as developers decided it was worth remodeling.    

So, this luddite, this analog relic and its history were gutted of its original contents, its walls covered up neatly with carbon fiber construction and plastic tubing, all of its character insulated with electronics and a Teflon coating. Like a funerary shroud over a corpse, this modern surfacing hid away the house’s old faults, put veneer over its cursed wood, and gassed out any life it may have once had.

Now, forever chemicals pumped into its veins day and night, compressors blasted filtered air through its passageways. Dangerous crawl spaces were boarded up and painted over, and the new insulation kept all the elements of outside—bugs, heat, cold, dust, noise—where it belonged. Out. Essentially, the house’s guts were all discarded and its surfaces painted with cheap makeup. The house’s exposed viscera had effectively been embalmed.

The fateful day had arrived. After over a century of waiting, of heartbreak and stewing depression, the house detected an old friend’s return. The wind gathered itself around the home, searched for cracks in the weather-proof roof, tickled the new fiber cement walls, dragged its knuckles along the double-pane windows, seeking entry. Eventually it found a slit where the chimney flue had once been and squeezed its way through the filters to tell the house some exciting news.

A new family was moving in.

A father, a mother, two young children, and a puppy. If the house had a heart, it was beating furiously. Its disconnected copper pipes clanked and clacked, its oak bones groaned with delight. The house had owners once again.

It soon became apparent, however, that this family was not like the previous. In the first few months of moving in, they hardly spoke to each other. The mother was too busy with her work, and the father was preoccupied with external interests. The children sat in front of the TV most of the time, and the puppy, ignored, wandered from room to room, enticed by phantom aromas too faint to tell a story.

The house shivered when it stared too long at the children’s dead eyes, shook in fear at how the father seemed to float past them all, unseeing, uncaring, his attention fixated on the screen of his phone. When the mother was home from work, she would disappear into the bedroom and not come out until it was time to put the kids to bed. The dog howled for attention but no one seemed to hear him.

The house sensed no warmth here. It still felt the gnawing desperation of its loneliness despite the warm bodies inhabiting its rooms. It wanted more than ever to be a home, a place meant to generate an unbreakable bond among its occupants, to inspire unconditional love. With this new family, the house had a difficult time communicating these tenets with them. And it was afraid this family would leave if the house didn’t nurture a loving, caring atmosphere.

After its failure with its previous occupants, the house was doubly determined to keep its new family for as long as it could. And the only way to do this was to let them know just how much it loved them.

It started with a creak.

The house knew that if it could guide the family a bit closer to each other every day, then eventually they might be forced to talk with one another. Maybe even connect and bond like a family should. So it twisted and writhed its old oak bones against all the modern material coating it like a madman in a strait jacket. Eventually a crack formed in the insulation beneath the padded carpeting of a main walkway, allowing a single creak to escape each time someone stepped upon it. The first to do so was the dog.

Absolutely baffled by this new noise, the dog, Cuddles, began to investigate. He perked his ears and stooped low, sniffing for clues. He fanned out his investigation and heard another creak, and another, until he was led to a wall. Day after day the dog found himself staring at this wall, sniffing for something until it decided to start scratching at it.

The house began guiding the children as well by flickering the TV on and off, draining their portable devices. Scared, they would run to their father, who would complain to his wife about the Wi-Fi signal dropping randomly throughout the day.

This worked to get them to communicate with one another, but it was hardly enough. So the house pushed further. It opened cupboard doors, pulled the blankets off the parents’ bed at night, and skimmed its phantom fingers along the children’s shelves of toys and books, dropping things in a crash.

Meanwhile, Cuddles continued to scrape at this wall with the interesting scent until its paws broke through. The father found this hole and, curious, decided to tear it down. What he found was the house’s old hearth, a colonial fireplace with intricate stonework scrolling along the mantelpiece. A fire bloomed before him, bathing him in its warm, rich, organic glow. Transfixed, he called the rest of his family to gaze upon this natural wonder. The house poured the depth of its love and longing out through the flickering flame.

The family gaped in awe. Surrounded by dust, ancient smells of a past long forgotten, the family huddled together, their shadows thrown out over this hidden room. They hugged each other tightly, and the house absorbed their newfound bond.

Each night, just before the children went to bed, the parents would take turns reading them stories before the hearth. But it wasn’t enough.

The house, determined to keep them close, found ways to get them together before the fire. With its strength revitalized, it pressed its walls inward, shrank the empty spaces between each family member, forced them to share space. It moaned and shrieked in dark rooms, to keep one of them from going in alone. It bolted the front doors, sent visions of apparitions around the windows, drew outlines of corpses floating in the bathwater. After weeks of this, the family was pressed firmly before the hearth, so very close that Cuddles’ tail caught on fire.

The dog tried to escape, but the house refused. It sent a loud roar back at the dog, who jumped into the fire to burn up in a crisp. The house was pleased when the family had huddled ever tighter. What it didn’t notice was the abject terror on every member’s face.

The father screamed for the house to stop, and the house responded by smashing all the electronics. The family heard the echoes of shattering screens down the corridors, and this seemed like the final straw for them. Collectively, they escaped the hearth and ran toward the front doors. The father bashed the end of his phone on the padlock, but it wouldn’t give. The kids cried, the mother trembled. Like a matriarch, the house gazed upon its new family and squeezed them tightly. It shifted its wooden bones, shattered the modern façade around the four until the house heard a loud Pop!

Drawing back its joints and beams, the house regarded a familiar scene, one that conjured a revelation regarding a connection between its first and second families. The foyer was covered in blood—blood from a family it had loved just a bit too much. 

September 15, 2023 18:32

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Marty B
22:08 Sep 20, 2023

A paternalistic and possessive house! To lock the doors and squeeze the walls in is one thing, but to turn off the wi-fi! The Horror! :) I feel bad for the hose, it just wanted some nice inhabitants, and it got cold blooded killers, then a dysfunctional family that wouldn't talk to each other! I really liked the imagery in these lines 'Eventually the city, like a living beast, sprawled and writhed its way up the old hill and right to the house’s front yard. It chewed through the two-hundred-year-old oaks with sickening effi...


Peter Gaskin
22:59 Sep 20, 2023

Ha! It's a sad murder house, with too much love in its heart and zero self-awareness. Thanks so much for the comment! :)


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