Authors: Abigail Boyd
Tags: #new adult paranormal
"This is it." My dad swoops his car into the long, gravel driveway of our new house and shuts off the ignition. "This is home."
"It's purple," I comment, staring up at the building. Lavender, to be precise.
"Yeah, I forgot to mention that."
We've been in the car for hours, making the trek from Indiana to Illinois. I undo my seatbelt and step out beneath the shade of a nearby tree. Our new house is a timeworn Victorian that's forgotten its better days. The lavender paint is peeling away and the gray shutters are crooked. A tall, red privacy fence runs around the property, hiding us away from the neighbors. My car is already parked in front of the garage, from when he drove it up to complete the sale. It looks strange parked here instead of at home.
This is home,
I remind myself.
I follow my dad up the walk to the covered porch, and he digs his keys out, fiddling with the lock.
"I promise you'll like it here, Ash," he says as the door unlocks. "This house reminds me of you."
This dusty old place?
I think but don't say. I glance up, and a huge window on the top floor glares down at me like a suspicious eye.
Shadows fill the space inside the house, but Dad flicks on a switch and a round globe light hanging from a stalk comes on above.
He turns around and rubs his hands nervously as he starts to explain. "The Realtor took care of the grass and gave everything a good polish, but it still needs a lot of love." He adjusts his glasses. More and more, he looks as though the world is slowly compressing him. His shirt and tie seem looser and his bald spot has expanded.
"My new office is only a few streets over," he continues. "It has a lot of possibility, doesn't it? We could really make it our own."
What it probably has is a lot of termites.
But I return his weak smile. He rushes into the living room and yanks the curtains back from all the windows, which cast rain-filtered light in. There's a fireplace and built-in bookshelves along the wall. My footsteps echo as I follow him.
"There, not so bad," he says, and stops to put his hands on his hips.
"Mom would have hated having to clean all this wood." I glance up at the peaked, dusty ceiling. The smell of wood polish hangs heavy in the air. When I look back, I see my dad has the look of a little boy who has just been scolded and my stomach twists.
The moving van rolls up out front, honking its horn, and the doors spring open.
"Head upstairs, you can take your pick of the bedrooms." Dad hurries outside to supervise.
The banister wobbles under my hand as I jog up the creaky wooden stairs. Two doors line either side of the upstairs hallway.
I step into the first bedroom. The floor is covered in plush, bright blue carpet, and little yellow sailboats float across the pale blue wallpaper. A bumpy, plain blue square of paint marks a spot that was once repaired. I run my fingers over the hasty plaster.
The second bedroom has a brand new, big window, but the walls are painted in bright, Pepto Bismol pink. I grimace and yank the door shut. The master bedroom is bigger, but nothing special.
At the end of the hall, I glance to my right and notice another door concealed in an alcove. I reach out and tug on the brass knob, but it's stuck. I put my hand on the wall for leverage and yank harder, and the door cracks open. A puff of dust swirls up like it's upset I disturbed its final resting place.
At the top is a long, narrow attic. An empty wooden bed frame sits next to a dresser on the back wall. The large window I saw from outside casts a misty blue glow on the room. Double doors lead to a decent closet. Black, delicate trees have been painted on the right wall, the carefully stroked branches almost touching the ceiling.
The window looks out over the side yard, and the tree line is identical to the one painted up here. Autumn leaves cling to stark branches below. On the window seat, words are carved into the wood. I trace my finger into the grooves.
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most must mourn the deepest.
Footsteps clomp up the stairs. "What are you doing all the way up here?" my dad asks as he walks in.
I sit down on the window seat next to the writing. "Just checking it out."
"Did you pick out your room? The movers are ready to bring up the beds."
"Yeah, I want this one."
He glances around with a displeased expression, his hands on his hips. "In the attic?"
"It was somebody's bedroom," I point out.
Conflicted emotions flit across his face, but he smooths it into a mask. "How are we going to get your stuff up here?"
"We'll figure it out. Just have them bring up the mattress."
He stands by the painted trees and tilts his head, tracing the branches with his fingers. "Why this moldy old room?"
I stare up at the ceiling, searching for an answer myself. "Well, I hate pink and sailboats aren't my style. And this room has history."
He turns back to the stairs, not hiding how tired he is because he thinks I'm not looking. "Everything does."
My new school is gigantic compared to my old one, but the parking lot is just as small and crammed. The school year started a month ago, but I don't care about the social stuff. I'm a senior and I'm more than ready to graduate.
My new teachers introduce me, but otherwise I swim anonymously through my classes. In study hall, the teacher exits the room and the girl next to me whips out her phone and starts tweeting. She has curly brown hair with streaks of red through it, and a rhinestone nose stud.
"New girl, huh? Liking Fairhope?" she asks, not glancing up.
She's the first student to address me. I lift my chin off of the hand it's perched on. "Yeah, it's fine."
"That's what they all think. I'm Carla, resident bitch. Need anything, feel free to ask. I'm always looking for extra cash."
"Uh, thanks. I'm Ash. I'm from Indiana."
"Where did you move to?" Her eyes flick up to me and back down. She's not really interested, she's just fishing for enough info to drop me into a category.
"Just this old Victorian on Oak Street. It's purple. My dad thinks it's going to need a lot of work."
Suddenly every head in the seats around me pivots in my direction, phones and work forgotten. Blood boils in my cheeks and I shrink against the chair.
"You moved into the Moss house?" Carla asks, tossing her phone in her purse. Uh oh. Suddenly I'm interesting.
"I-I don't know. What's the Moss house? We moved into 225 Oak Street," I explain.
A few people gasp. Their intrigued expressions are weirding me out.
"Don't you know what happened there?" asks another girl in front of us in a gossipy tone. "I heard there's still blood stains they couldn't get out of the carpet."
Carla rolls her eyes, but she's smirking. "Lotte, don't be a fucking dolt. I'm sure they replaced the carpet. Nobody's going to buy a house with bloodstains, dumbass."
Lotte shrinks back, properly chastised. I still have no idea what's going on.
"Can somebody clue me in here?" I twist my pencil nervously through my fingers.
Carla leans forward, raising her brows over heavily made up hazel eyes. "A long time ago the dude living there, Seth Moss, murdered his family. Shot them in their sleep."
"Holy shit," I whisper.
"Yeah, holy shit. Then he just disappeared and no one ever saw him again. The police searched for him for months, but he didn't leave a trace."
"What happened to him?"
She sits back, moving her hands dramatically. "Nobody knows. Everybody assumed he just fled to Vegas or Mexico or something."
I'm completely shocked, but interested.
"It's like, the legend of our town," a guy next to us with a pink bandanna tied around bleached, spiky hair says. "They even made a TV special and a Lifetime movie."
"Of course you would know that, Paul," Carla snipes. He rolls his eyes and pushes her, then she glances back at me. "Now everybody says the house is haunted and accidents happen there. It's hard to sell and no one ever stays there for longer than six months."
"Good luck sleeping under that roof," Paul teases. None of them seem particularly friendly as I glance at their eager expressions.
"What do you think the ghosts want?" I ask.
They laugh. "You actually believe in ghosts?" Lotte asks, raising one eyebrow.
I feel like I'm being set up. "I don't know. I want to believe there's
after this. You were the one—"
"I've never seen a blonde goth before." Carla smirks knowingly and I instantly dislike her for her assumptions.
I look down at my black clothes. It's not intentional—I've just been wearing a lot of black this year. "I'm not goth, I'm just pale."
"Sure, whatever," she says acidly. "Let me tell you something—once you're dead, you're worm food. That's it."
The teacher comes back in and shuts the door. I have the fleeting urge to stab my pencil into Carla's forehead but luckily I can curb my violet impulses. And now my thoughts are fixed on my new house, the crime scene.
"They said he shot them and just skipped town, isn't that insane?" I tell my dad over dinner. It's our third straight night of take out.
"Yeah, insane," he repeats as he eats another slice of pizza and scrolls through his phone with his free hand. He doesn't seem surprised.
I search his expression and frown. "You already knew, didn't you?"
He sits back and wipes his mouth with a napkin, then crumples it on the table. "Yes. The Realtor had to disclose it by law. It's part of why the house was so cheap—apparently there's a stigma attached. But it was a long time ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I frown.
"I didn't think you needed to know."
"Oh, yeah, of course." I sit up, glaring at him incredulously. "Some asshole went nuts and murdered his whole family, just a blip in the time line."
My sarcasm seems to sting him. I don't think he has any sense of humor left.
"Apparently you already know all about it." He reaches his hand out for mine, hesitates, and then clenches his fingers together instead. "I didn't want you to be scared."
I let out a deep breath through my nose. "The past doesn't scare me. The future does. It can still happen. The past is already buried."
He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, then gets up and shuts the pizza box, taking it toward the kitchen. I throw my napkin on the table in exasperation and drop my head into my hands, rubbing my eyes. I want to ask him why we never talk anymore, but the empty chair across from me answers that question.
I was in the car with my mom when it crashed. We were in the middle of arguing about my grades, and all of a sudden, a pair of headlights blinded us through the windshield. I remember the sound of the impact—metal on metal, squealing brakes—but nothing else.
I woke up in the hospital a day later. She never woke up. That was almost a year ago now, but the pain is still fresh. I can't stop blaming myself—if only I hadn't been distracting her. If only I had gotten my head out of my ass sooner and realized I wasn't the center of the universe.
We all have our ways of coping—my dad's is to only pretend I exist when it's convenient. Sometimes I wonder if it's because he wishes she was here instead.
I take a shower after dinner to clean off the day. I rub my body scrub over my left arm, where a long, ragged scar marks the skin. Glass from the windshield cut into me during the accident. The scar is white and shiny now, but it's still a painful reminder, once I hide under cardigans and sweaters even when it's too warm.
I shut the shower off and dry my feet on the bathmat, wrapping a towel around my body. When I look up, I see a single hand print standing out in the condensation on the mirror. My heart jumps in my chest. Did I touch the mirror? I must have. I follow the outlines of the fingers, causing beads of moisture to roll down over the hand, then smear the print away. I can see the foggy reflection of my blonde hair and green eyes in reverse. It's like the mirror is actually a window into a different world.
I pause, feeling the hairs on my neck stand up. Someone is behind me. Cool breath tickles my shoulder. I tilt my head slightly. The sensation intensifies.
I whip around, clutching at my towel, but I'm alone in the bathroom.