2000: Who’s There?

“…it was just something that happened…I had a feeling the whole time I was there cleaning that something was watching me. It was there in the room, a real kinda strong feeling. But this is a house my kids and I have never been in…it didn’t feel demonic, I just felt it there strongly. And I wasn’t going to let it take the house from the kids.”

– Mom

Close to two decades had been spent calling this historic town of Kentucky Hills home. For nearly twenty years, a large city with over 100,000 residents had seemed like a small community of about a fourth of that.

There were only three stores Deborah shopped at in town: one for groceries, one for clothing, and one for all the items in between. There was a gas station on the corner that you only ever stopped at if your car was on E. Superstores were an adventure into another dimension, and the mall felt like an alternative realm of city folk that you had never seen before, even though those same people could very well be your neighbors.

Only two main roads took Deborah where she wanted to go, and those roads avoided the highway at all costs. The Miracle Mile was always crammed bumper-to-bumper whereas Route 24 carried cars lucidly. Coming up on the light intersecting those two roads, Deborah switched her blinker to turn right. Deborah had never turned left to get home. For over twenty years, it had always been right.

The high school remained on the right for some time. Glancing there, Deborah remembered years ago when Brandy and Sal attended. She remembered that as a brief period of time in their lives as they were both drop outs now. Brandy with a child and Sal who had stayed to help with baby Ari.

The stop sign came and Deborah nearly missed it reminiscing. Her green van squealed to a stop. Where she normally would turn right again, she switched her blinker down to turn left. New house. New way home now.

Deborah followed the short road down to the fork. She dreaded turning right onto the arcade road that never ended. This time, instead of rolling through the stop sign at the fork like Paul, Deborah indulged the sight of grand Victorian mansion that had been staggering beyond all the residential houses. Towering against the cloudy, late summer sky, the historic mansion was ghoulish with its sharp, black rails and its maroon-colored paint. Despite what might be perceived as malicious at night, the structure of the house and the flawless landscape only put off positive vibes. Danny would fall head over heels for the history of the house, Deborah just knew it.

The Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri.

Middle of the day and there still wasn’t another car in sight. Deborah had lingered far too long at the stop sign gaping with no horn of a raging roadster to blare her onward.

Deborah turned at the pike, right again onto the forever road. The more she wanted to get to the house, the longer the road seemed to stretch. Seven days after that remedial lunch with Paul and the indigestible buffet food, and Deborah was finally moving her children into their new home.

Up ahead next to Danny and Sara’s new elementary school was a nearly all-glass house. Deborah wouldn’t get close enough to the glass house because turning left at the island was the next direction to her new house. There was an abandoned auto garage on the right and then a nice house with a trailer and a large SUV on the corner. She turned right again.

A strange street, Deborah thought. Every other house it seemed would be trashed followed by a house that had undergone an expensive face lift. Right after a dumpster of a house was the richest property on the block. The glamorous house with the Cadillac in the driveway was probably owned by a woman who tanned too often and had a royally spoiled daughter named Tiffany.

Across the street from it was a house with tropical bushes lining the path to the front door, and a shining black sedan in the driveway next to the convertible Mazda Miata. The neighbors that owned the house were of Asian decent. For some reason, the tank tops and gold chains gave Deborah the impression they were in a drug dealing gang. Deborah decided not to be so judgmental and gave her tongue a bite.

The house next door to Deborah’s was built with red brick, and every time she looked at it she thought of the three little pigs for some reason. She didn’t want to say it was related to the size of the woman that rented the house or her son who followed her trail of cookie crumbs all the way to the sofa where they awaited that check every month. Deborah gave another firm bite for her judgments. The neighbor was a nice lady, and her eldest son was a polite young man. Deborah, a three-time divorced woman raising five kids, was in no place to judge.

Home.

Home was the bluish-gray house at the peak of the hill. The house was not quite as appealing as the furbished house with the pool and the Cadillac down the street, or even as remotely as approachable as the beach house across the way. The house had virtues, though, that Deborah was determined to bring out. The small patio just off the front door she already had plans for, and the garage would easily be converted into a game room that would draw all the kids in where they were safe.

Deborah stood before the front door. Key in one hand, Shop Vac in the other. She knew this cleaning day was bound to be eight of the best hours of her life. She had never been much of a feather-dusting, skirt-wearing, all-American maid. If it wasn’t jeans and a raggedy thrift store tee with her Shop Vac, power tools, and her Temptations in tow, it wasn’t straightening up a home. It was playing pretend.

Deborah had already dropped cleaning supplies off before the girls went to school. She swiftly and thoroughly moved from one room to the next cleaning the cobwebs of vacancy and wiping away the dirt of carelessness. She was determined to love this home properly.

Once the upstairs bathroom was clean, Deborah decided the room across from it would belong to Danny. She was still leery about giving the room to one of the girls with it being so close to the stairs. A dozen scenarios of a possible break-in plagued Deborah’s mind. Deborah shook them all off. Everything would be fine. The house was fine, the kids would be fine, the family would be fine.

BANG! Thump, thump, thump, thump.

Deborah switched off the Shop Vac. Was that the front door? Paul hadn’t said anything about stopping by, though it did seem expected within this imaginary relationship he thought he had with her.

The window betrayed Deborah, though. Paul’s yellow work van wasn’t in the driveway. The only car there was hers. So who…?

Deborah stepped into the hall. She knew she had heard the front door close and the footsteps cross the hardwood floor of the living room into the kitchen. But how? How had she heard that over the Shop Vac? The vacuum that sounded like a never ending air horn blowing at your side.

Deborah stepped down and into the hall. The moment she was exposed, an utter vulnerability swarmed her as though the dust in the Shop Vac had exploded in a cloud around her. She found it heavy to breathe, and there was a static along her skin that drew up goosebumps. Deborah knew she shouldn’t, but she called out the landlord’s name, “Paul?”

No response.

Deborah worked her way down the stairs. The house was so large, perhaps Paul were further back and hadn’t heard her call. She reluctantly approached the kitchen. Every square inch of her body was telling her to run out that front door and worry about it when she had someone else in the house with her. But she knew that the only people coming home here were her children, and she couldn’t let this slip by if it were an intruder.

“Paul?” she called again hopefully.

She stretched her neck around the corner of the front room wall to the kitchen.

Empty.

She ventured in. The instant her foot was there on that tile, she knew there was no intruder. The prickles of a nearby chill had only grown stronger. Whoever it was stood right next to her. Watching. But only standing and watching. It was eerie, she wasn’t denying it. Nor was she about to let it control her. She had a job to do, a family to move in, and a house to make a home. No ghost was about to frighten her away on the first day.

Odd, though, how they would appear to her on the first day. Was it that she had missed all the first day paranormal activity in her previous houses or that she had imagined this incident altogether? Was her mind secretly warning her not to move in, manifesting this wild supernatural occurrence to freak herself out of this deal?

Deborah checked the front door. Yep, it was still locked. No one could have entered the house. Then she realized one of the things on her to-do list: Replace dirty, gray carpet.

Carpet.

She had heard footsteps on hardwood floor.

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