|THE HOUSE ON THE BAY|
By Jillian Diblasio
There is a house that sits in the middle of the bay. It is old and decrypt, having stood there for as long as I can remember. For as long as anyone can remember. I have heard stories that it was built when settlers first set foot on American soil, that it was built by a couple in the early 1900s before the husband went to war and died, and that it was built by a cult in the fifties. Every time I have asked about the house on the bay I have gotten a different answer.
So I stand on the dock in the middle of November, my teeth chattering as the cold wind penetrates every bone in my body. I pull up my neck warmer to keep the cold air from hitting my face. But that only does so much.
The sound of waves splashing erratically not far off tells me my ride is here and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Not because of the anxiety starting to creep in as I embark on something that might land me in prison for the night or worse, a lecture from my parents, but because of who I’m forced to rely on for transportation.
The voice is loud and obnoxious and if this wasn’t off season, all the residents nearby would have heard it. But these homes are closed for the winter and it is just me and the idiot out in the boat.
Callum Hooper throws me a line and I reel him in. The boat is small, very small. It is so small it could easily be mistaken for those training rowboats parents buy for children to practice on before they buy them a real boat. Upon closer inspection and with the light fading fast, I can see it is pink. There’s no mistaking it.
“What the hell is that?” I whisper harshly.
“Hey, it was the best I could do on such short notice. I don’t see your boat anywhere.” I flip Callum the bird only because I know there is no way he can see the disgusted look on my face. He holds his hand out to me. I do not take it. Not right away.
Callum groans and although I cannot see it, I’m pretty sure he’s rolling his eyes.
“Are you coming or what?” I take his hand reluctantly. The boat rocks unsteadily and for a moment it looks as though it will not hold the two of us as we push the boat closer to the water’s edge. But the boat remains safely above the water.
When I feel as though it is safe enough to move around again, I take my position on the extremely small bench and grab an oar. Callum does the same. Our bodies press tightly against one another and still I feel as though I might fall off this toy we are trying to pass off as a boat. I want to curse under my breath but we are so close together I know Callum will hear every word I say.
“Oh, and for fuck’s sake Lily, wear your disguise properly.” He briefly takes his hood off then immediately puts it back on as if I am a toddler that needs a demonstration. I start to contemplate just how much trouble I would get in if I were to come clean to my parents right then and there, just a speed dial away. But then I think about the house on the bay and the secrets it holds.
I swallow my pride and place my black hood up. With my black neck warmer and hood now up, I look like a cross between a burglar and a ninja. Either that, or some sixteen-year-old girl who is clearly up to no good.
We start to row our way out of the harbor. If this had been our first rodeo, we would be bumping into the other boats that lay peacefully in their place, cursing at each other under our breaths. But we know better and we have learned. Even the darkest of dark is no obstacle when it comes to getting out of the harbor.
When our boat is free and officially out in the open sea I pull out my phone and turn on the dim flashlight. It is bright enough for us to navigate and dim enough so no one will notice. Unless they are really looking. Which no one ever is.
Although every story I have heard regarding the house that sits on the bay has been different, there is one part of the story that always remains the same. The house once stood on its rocky formation with blue flowers growing like weeds in between the crevices. Blue flowers that on the darkest of nights would glow like a beacon of hope. But then a storm came, sweeping the blue flowers away, lost forever. The bay never went back to its normal height, leaving the house on its little plot of rocks. Or so the story goes. Whether it was the witch that once lived in the house and used the flowers for her spells or the cult who believed the flowers were a gift from extraterrestrial beings, the glowing blue flowers remain in every story.
As we continue to row, I think perhaps our parents and our grandparents had done the same thing one night just like this one. Gil, who was my first option when undergoing this expedition, suspects his older sister had visited the house one night. He had caught her sneaking out when he was younger and she had told him that’s where she was going. But the next morning, she told Gil her friends had decided to do something else.
They never talked about the house again. Mostly because she wouldn’t allow it. I get the impression Gil and his sister have not been close since and I suspect that is probably why he refused to come with me; he was afraid. Afraid of knowing what she had discovered in the house. That house in the middle of the bay that always seemed to plague everyone’s childhood with its tale of glowing blue flowers.
I can now feel the chill of the oncoming winter air and I am grateful my neck warmer was no longer just a fashion accessory. I can hear Callum beginning to shiver. I say nothing.
A dark mass sits silently a few leagues in front of us. We row faster now, the end of our journey in sight. I can feel my heart racing with each paddle and I also grow more and more sick with anticipation. The closer we reach the lonely island with the lonely house, the more it looms over us and for a moment I think it might swallow us whole.
We slow down before our boat even comes near the rocky edge. It glides quietly along the bay until it taps the slippery edge of sea rocks. The boat jerks upon contact but it does not surprise either of us.
Callum’s tall silhouette slowly climbs to the edge of the boat. He teeters along as careful as can be, rope in hand. The boat nearly capsizes and now more than ever I wish we had a bigger boat. We do not know how deep the water is beneath us and although we are both capable swimmers, no one wants to deal with the shock of cold water surging through their body. He waits for the boat to have its fun before taking the last steps that separate him from land. I tie my end of the rope around our carrying handle while Callum gingerly ties the other end to the safest looking rock.
Carefully, I follow Callum’s lead and slowly climb out of the boat. I am tempted to say something but I know it is foolish at this point. Neither of us will feel safe of unwanted ears until we are safe in the house. Or, at least, I won’t.
Callum takes the lead as we fumble through the dark rocks that can easily send us into the waters below. The path is narrow and the way the rocks come together creates a slope with signs reading “No Trespassing” all along the way. I play as though I have done this a million times and could do it in my sleep. It is the only way I am able to cope as we scale the rocks. My arms ache as I pull myself up a group of tall, stubborn rocks before gently sliding down on the other side.
There’s a rock that sticks out above the rest directly in front of me. I do not see it but I feel my foot pressing against it as I am about to trip. But before I can face plant onto the cold hard ground, Callum grabs my arm just as my other hand brushes lightly against the rocks. We stumble before I can get my bearings again. His grip around my arm lingers more than I would like but he eventually lets go.
I can still feel the remnants of water beneath my fingertips in addition to something else. It was only for a moment, but the soft, smooth texture that graced my fingers was undeniably a plant of some kind. Callum has continued the trek up the rocks but I stay behind, fumbling for my phone. I turn the flashlight on and aim it towards the ground.
The plant is nothing but a weed with most of it already dead. I shine the light further along against the surrounding rocks. But there is no sign of a blue flower or any plant that might host such a thing.
“What are you doing?” a low hiss brings me back to reality. My body jolts until I realize it is just Callum. “Turn it off.”
I turn off my phone and just as I am about to defend my actions, I stop and realize how stupid I’ve been. Why the fuck would flowers be growing in the middle of November? Callum says no more and we continue our journey. Only now, I can’t help but to curse myself and I feel my face growing redder by the minute from embarrassment.
The house is larger up close. As the wind blows, I can hear the wood creaking and the windows rattling above. Callum turns his flashlight on towards the doorknob which is a rusted gold that has long faded over time. He reaches for the door and I can’t help but to be a little jealous at the fact that he will be the first one in the house and I will not.
The knob nearly brakes off as he opens the door. We enter the house single file. I gingerly close the door behind us, the doorknob rattling underneath my fingers. If I had tugged even just a little bit more, I know the doorknob would have fallen clean off.
Once the door is closed we both breathe a sigh of relief and, for the first time, a small laugh escapes us. But we are quiet almost immediately.
“By the way, what the hell were you doing back there?” Callum asks. He stares at me with a skeptical air. I suck at lying so I know the only way out of this with minimal damage is to just be honest.
“I was…just looking for the blue flowers.”
“Yeah, well, you could have gotten us both caught.” I am about to say something, anything to defend my actions. But nothing comes out. As much as I hate to admit it, he was right. While the police wouldn’t be doing rounds nearly as thorough in the winter, that didn’t mean the waters were completely safe.
“Look, can we just move passed this already?” I say this with a bit more attitude than I intended but as long as it gets the job done and gets Callum off my back, so be it.
“Whatever.” He pretends to shrug it off but I can tell that he’s angry. I ignore it.
I swing my small black backpack off my shoulders and place it on the ground. As I kneel in front of it, fumbling through the small amount of things that I deemed necessary for this trip, I can see out of the corner of my eye Callum is way ahead of me in terms of exploring what the house has to offer. The small point and shoot blue camera has found its way to the bottom of the bag. I desperately fish it out and turn the power on.
Callum is in the other room and although I can hear his footsteps, the eerie feeling of being alone in an abandoned house sinks in. Every small creak, every blow of the wind, even the sound of the ocean’s waves outside sends a shiver down my spine. I hesitantly force myself to take a few photos for the school newspaper but the echo of the shutter feels wrong and instead I am entranced by the house. My eyes scan every inch of the old room while my feet carry me to an unknown destination.
The room is rather large and I guess it’s a foyer of some kind. There’s a small, rectangular ratty rug on the ground. It looks to have been red at one point in time but it is so old for all I know it could have been orange or pink or even blue. Not wanting to think about what might have discolored it, I turn my attention towards the broken mirror on the wall. There is only one small triangle left in the mirror and I think I can make out one of my eyes in the reflection. A dark brown dresser with one drawer lies just under the mirror, the wood rotting from mildew. The musty smell of the mold fills my nostrils. But I step closer to it.
I am hesitant but I force myself to open the drawer. My heart leaps at the sight of it: a flower resting alone in the drawer. But I am immediately met with disappointment as I register the dried dark red petals.
The pungent smell of mold and mildew forces me to step as far away as possible. My eyes shift to the ceiling which is higher than I expected it to be and I realize this is probably due to the staircase and open hallway above. I can’t help but to wonder just what might be lurking upstairs, what sort of secrets it may hide.
The wood creaks above. My heart stops at the sound. I wait, thinking it must be my imagination. But then I hear the sound again, more distinct this time.
“Callum?” My voice is cracked and quiet like a mouse. I hear no answer. There was no way Callum could have gone up the stairs without my knowing.
If there is anything I have learned from horror movies it is this: never split up. I am already failing at that and I know going up the stairs to investigate the noise is beyond stupid. Still, I slowly make my way for the stairs. The railing shakes upon contact, dust and debris falling to the ground. I take my first step on the stairs.
That’s as far as I get.
I stay on the first step for what feels like an eternity. A part of my mind tells me to move my left leg, the other part tells me not to even think about it. So I stay stuck in this never ending cycle of conflict, my eyes fixated on the darkness above.
A hand touches my shoulder as I see a shadow pass across the hallway above. I let out a scream as I spin around, my camera falling to the ground in the process. Callum puts his hands up as he backs away from me. But I scream again because if Callum is standing right in front of me, then what was that shadow?
“Relax, it’s just me.” He then starts to laugh.
“There’s something up there!” I point to the stairs and look back. There is no shadow. “I saw it!” But Callum is unwavered.
“It was probably just in your head.” He tries to stop laughing but small fits are still escaping him.
“I heard the floor creaking upstairs,” I say with persistence. My heart is still beating rapidly, my breathing is loud and uncontrollable.
“Floors creak all the time in a shitty house like this.” He takes a step back seeing that I clearly need some air. “You know, I never took you for the easily scared type. Is that why you wanted a chaperone?” His comment sends me straight to my normal self. My breathing becomes normal, my heart beating its usual pace. I bend down to pick up my camera and examine the damage mostly because I do not want to look at Callum now. There are only a few scratches but nothing my brick of a camera can’t handle.
“I know what I saw.” Callum smirks.
“Okay, then why don’t we check out the upstairs next?” He moves past me and climbs the first few set of stairs. I pause.
“But I haven’t even seen the downstairs.”
“Eh, you didn’t miss much. Just some broken beer bottles, graffiti, litter, old furniture. Nothing unusual.” He lets out something between a huff and a sigh. “I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of disappointed.” He speaks with sarcasm but I can’t help but to think that he is being completely serious. Still, my face contorts to disgust with each jab he takes. And I know he’s not done yet. “But if you want to look at the downstairs alone, be my guest. I’ll be upstairs looking for your shadow.”
He doesn’t say any more and begins to ascend the stairs. I watch him but only for a brief moment before my fear takes over and I follow.
The railing shakes even more the closer we get to the top and chunks of the deteriorating wood fall to the ground with a thud that echoes throughout the room. When we reach the top, I make sure to stay closer to the wall.
The hallway is darker up ahead. I grew out of my fear of the dark pretty quickly as a child but this darkness that engulfs the hall scares me. And it’s not because of the shadow I saw earlier. Callum doesn’t hesitate as he lets the dark embrace him and that is the only thing that makes me feel any sort of safe as I too step into the darkness.
The first room we enter fits Callum’s previous description perfectly: nothing but a pile of old beer cans and bottles, some lewd graffiti, and old furniture. With a grand gesture, Callum walks to the center of the room.
“And here Miss, you’ll find this house has all the necessary style for the ‘trashy yet mysterious’ look it conveys. ‘Trashy yet mysterious’ is all the rage these days.” He kicks a beer can off to the side where it collides with the rest of the cans and an old rubber shark chew toy.
“Ha ha ha. Very funny.” I shine my flashlight towards the graffiti to get a better look, hoping they may reveal the house’s secrets to me. I see the usual lewd phrases that stick out like a sore thumb, a few satanic symbols here or there with melted candles beneath them on the floor, and names. Lots of names. I’ll never understand the point of marking your name in a no trespassing zone.
My eyes catch the site of a crudely drawn flower. There is no mistaking it and though there is no indication, I know it is meant to be the blue flowers. A set of names are written next to it. Gil’s sister’s name sticks out above the rest along with another name that is scribbled out. I linger on the scribbled name in an attempt to make it out. An unsettling chill fills my body and it’s not from the cold.
“Maybe you should take a picture and give it to Gil as a souvenir.” Callum stands behind me, looking over my shoulder at the list of names. I walk away from the names, annoyed. “Why’d he bail on you anyway?”
“I don’t know,” the lie rolls off my tongue so fast I can’t believe it actually happened.
“Interesting.” I raise a brow at his comment but Callum fails to delve any further. He ends the conversation by stepping out of the room.
As we explore the rest of the upstairs, it becomes clear that they all possess the same basic formula as the first: graffiti, trash, booze. The chilly sensation follows me wherever we go, hanging on my shoulders as if someone is pushing me along. I have the urge to turn around every so often but I am too afraid of what might be behind me. The shadow still lingers in my mind as I enter every room with caution.
Although Callum doesn’t say anything as we move from room to room, I can tell he is becoming more and more agitated and I can’t help but to think he is looking for something. His eyes dart towards everything in the room: a broken chair here, a torn up curtain there. His snarky remarks decrease and that is when I start to worry.
There’s an old bed frame in the largest room upstairs and a rotting wardrobe. I stare at the wardrobe and although I want to open it, I don’t. The chilly sensation creeps further into my gut as I think of all the horrible things I might find in there if I open it.
Callum doesn’t hesitate. He opens the wardrobe and the door falls clean off and onto the floor. It is empty.
The door to the master bedroom shuts on its own. I jump at the sound.
“Calm the fuck down Lily, it’s just the wind.” Callum walks to the door and tries to open it. But the door won’t budge. He tries again but with more force. Still, nothing.
Just as panic is about to sink in and I start to think about how we are going to die locked forever in this god forsaken house, the door flies free.
“The knob was stuck.” And that was that for Callum. He was satisfied.
“That’s it, I’m leaving.” I walk out the door and head for the stairs. I’ve had enough of this house, of this chill that won’t leave me alone, of these weird things happening, and of Callum ignoring them all.
“Come on Lily.”
He calls after me but I keep going. I’m careful as I descend the stairs.
“I’ll be waiting outside until you’re done.”
Only I don’t head outside. My eyes fixate on the room directly ahead of the stairs. The doors are large and closed. Something beckons me to open them. I know deep down I shouldn’t listen to whatever it is that is calling me but I follow like a puppet.
The room is larger than the previous ones we’ve seen. There are a few chairs and a long, old couch. All in mint condition and not a spec of dust on them. There isn’t a spec of dust anywhere. And the room is a freshly painted white with small blue flowers painted along the trims. But the thing that sticks out most is the large window pane that stretches across the far end of the room. I try to imagine how this room must look on sunny summer days.
I hear Callum’s footsteps behind me.
“Interesting how you forgot to mention this.” I turn around.
Callum isn’t there. A girl who appears to be my age with wet blonde hair stands in his place. I’m pretty sure my heart stops beating because there is a tightness in my chest I can’t explain. I want to scream but I can’t. My throat is tightly shut. So instead my body instinctively moves away and I trip on something before hitting the ground.
A tennis ball rolls across the floor. Suddenly, the room is no longer in mint condition. The furniture is old and worn, the paint is chipped, the girl is gone. I feel the wind brushing against my back and realize the windows behind me must be broken.
Callum rushes in.
“Are you okay?” He helps me to my feet as I’m too dumbfounded to get up on my own. But then Callum’s words register and I snap.
“No, no I’m not okay! There was a girl and the room was painted and new. Oh yeah, and there was a girl who appeared and then disappeared. And let’s not forget the shadow and the chill and the door. So no, no I’m not okay!” I realize that I must sound like a mad woman but I have lost all sense of dignity at this point.
Callum’s brows furrow.
“Oh for fuck’s sake Lily. I’m not in the mood.” He sighs. I expect an apology or at least an explanation. I get neither. He stands straighter and grits his teeth. “This whole thing might be just one big fucking game to you but it’s not for me. Okay?”
Now I’m angry. And offended. But mostly angry.
“Excuse me? This isn’t a game for me either genius. You think I just made all this shit up? Fuck you.” I feel my face getting redder and redder. But I’m not done yet. “Not to mention, this whole trip was my idea. Or maybe you forgot that part. Asshole.” Although I don’t say it, my mind is racing, reviewing all the things I’ve seen tonight, the conception of this scheme with the school newspaper, the trips I made encircling the house, and the eventual day when my boat collided with Callum’s, forcing us where we are now. I think of it all. And I wish Gil had come instead.
Callum laughs. But it is not a playful laugh. He digs into his coat pocket and for a split second I think about the pepper spray in my backpack. To my relief, he pulls out a piece of paper and hands it towards me.
“You know, for someone who claims to be an aspiring journalist, you really don’t know how to do your fucking research.” He turns to the open window as I look at the paper. It is an old newspaper clipping. An obituary.
Chrissie Hooper, 16, died June 20th, 2009 in a tragic boating accident.
I recognize the last name immediately.
“But…I don’t understand what this—”
“Oh for fuck’s sake Lily. It wasn’t a boating accident!” He takes a deep breath.
“She was coming here with your little friend, Gil’s, sister. But the town covered it up so the house didn’t seem like an endangerment for the summer season.”
I think of the little pink boat that waits outside alone in the dark, the name scribbled out in the room upstairs, and the girl with wet blonde hair.
“Callum, I’m sorry.” I don’t know what else I can say and I know no matter what, it’s too late to offer any sort of comfort. I can see that clearly.
“But there’s nothing here! It’s just a fucking empty house! What was the fucking point?”
Angrily, he pushes a nearby chair with enough force that sends it flying to the floor. A loud crack echoes throughout the house, a spindle broken on the floor. There’s a brief, stiff stillness that hangs between us. For a moment, I’m too scared to move or say anything as I see a flaring anger in his eyes. He breathes heavily for a few minutes until the anger subsides and the tension in the room has died down. It is then I realize that no matter what I say about the house, no matter what reassurance that I give him that there is something here, he will never see it.
“I…I think we should go.”
We walk in silence along the rocky path towards the pink boat. Although I know I should take it slow, my pace is faster than last time as I dream of the comfort of my bed and the covers that can hide me. My eagerness to feel safe and leave this place behind me, to leave this night behind me is getting the better of me. So much so that I forget about that one rock that sticks out above the rest, the one I had tripped on before.
Callum isn’t here to grab me this time as I fall. It happens fast: my entire body hitting the cold hard surface of the rocks, my lip slicing open and my knees banging into the sharp rocks as I am sent tumbling down towards the water.
The only thing I am able to register at first is the cold that is surging throughout my body as I hit the water. I do not hear a splash or even feel the water hitting my skin. A gasp of air escapes me and is quickly replaced by water filling my lungs. I keep my mouth closed, trying not to let anymore water in. But my lungs are already full and I can feel them burning now. I try not to panic but I already know I am panicking as I let more air bubbles escape. This is futile and I know it.
My vision is blurred but I can still see Callum’s mouth moving frantically. He must be calling for me. I do not know how I can see such a detail so vividly in the dark but then I remember I dropped my phone before hitting the water. A hand breaks through the ripples of the sea and attempts to pull me to safety.
As I am about to grab the hand, I feel the softness of a velvet petal brush against my fingertips. It floats past me and towards the surface; a blue petal.
Callum’s hand is still in the water, still reaching out for me. He shouts at me as his hand manages to touch the top of my hood. But I do not take his hand and his grip fails him. I let myself fall further and further into the abyss; I have to know. And as I look below, my vision becoming more and more blurry, the water filling my lungs, I see them: blue flowers growing in between the rocks. And they are all glowing a white, pulsating glow.
And then…and then there was nothing.