Bear with me, people, it's about to get fucking weird up in here.
So I put my super duper gloves on and started cleaning the oven again. I was almost done, really just needed to get the last little bits of burned on crud from the bottom under the heating element. I'll admit to not being the best oven cleaner in my own home...but I'd never seen anything in all my years of cleaning other people's ovens to rival this. Big globs of black charred fat and what looked for all the world like hunks of burned paper. Given the atmosphere of the house and the weirdness I'd already experienced, my imagination was bubbling at the implication of burned paper in the bottom of an oven. Was it a murder confession? Kiddie porn? A scorned lover turning love letters to ash? There was nothing readable on any of the pieces of paper, however, so it will forever be a mystery.
I used a hunk of paper towels to wipe down the inside of the oven, and by god that fucker was as clean as it was going to get. Honestly, if I were the person buying the house, I'd get a new one anyway. At least for the moment, no strange disembodied voice was whispering "no" in my ear.
I turned to get the last black plastic trash bag so I could toss my paper towels and my now ruined green scrubby, and that's when I saw him in the living room. There was a short half wall bar separating the kitchen from the living room, and next to that was a wide arched doorway through which I could see the long bank of windows on the far wall of the living room. The late afternoon sun shone brightly through the glass, and there under the windows in a floating haze of dust motes was what looked like a midget in some sort of ethnic German costume. He wore little brown shorts with gold suspenders and little black shoes with big silver buckles and white knee socks. His head was caved in at the top, as if he'd been smashed in the skull with a sledge hammer; it was such a deep, wide divot that it forced his eyes wide apart and bugged them out in a particularly grotesque manner, and he was smiling a mouth full of yellowed, worn down teeth.
I screamed. There was nothing else a sane person might do in such a situation, other than perhaps shit their pants, which I thankfully did not do. When I screamed, he bounced straight up in the air in a really awkward sort of way, like Donkey Kong or Mario in an old 8 bit video game, and dissipated. Popped, actually, like a soap bubble.
For a minute I just sat there, shaking my head. I think I probably drooled a little out my wide open mouth. Every single hair on my entire body stood at attention. I felt like I wanted to get up and run away, but I was paralyzed. My legs were asleep from kneeling in front of the stove and my spine felt like cold liquid, not capable of supporting my weight if I tried to stand.
The human mind is a funny thing, though. It's almost as if we have some kind of built in survival reset switch that shields us from things too disturbing to process, things that are so unbelievable that if we were to actually acknowledge their existence our entire reality would unravel to a catastrophic degree. One moment I was slack jawed with fear, wringing my hands in their yellow rubber gloves. The next, I was fine. No way I saw that. Just no way. Didn't happen. It was gone like that, gone from my mind; it wouldn't come back until I was out of that house and safe in my own bed that night, and then it would appear in my dreams periodically for years after. But that day, in that house, it was like it didn't happen. What I experienced at that moment was one of those "Wait, what was I doing?" feelings of disjointedness, followed by, "Oh, yeah. Done with the oven. Now I just have to do the fridge."
And that's what I did. I hauled all the plastic drawers out of the fridge, soaped them up in the sink, rinsed them squeaky clean, wiped out the inside of the fridge, put it all back together again, swept the floor, ran a bucket of hot soapy water and started mopping the linoleum. I even hummed a happy little song while I was doing it.
That was what I was doing when the voice called out "Hello?" from the garage, and to my credit I didn't scream. A woman appeared in the doorway. She was a real person, not any sort of apparition, with poofy frosted hair and mom jeans and a mickey mouse t-shirt. She smiled at me and I smiled back.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
"This was my house," She said with a wistful sort of expression. "We're moving to Washington and we're closing on Monday. The realtor said someone would be here today cleaning, that it would be OK for me to take just one last look around?"
"Um, sure..." I said. She didn't look anything like someone I'd imagine living in this house. Not with the level of filth she'd obviously left behind her, not with all the assorted weirdness. She looked like the mom everyone wanted to carpool with. And she blew my "the house is this dirty because the previous owner was elderly and infirm" theory right out of the water.
"We lived here for 20 years," She said, running her ringed hands along the door frame where she stood. "Raised two kids here."
"Oh yeah?" Something about her, mom jeans or not, made me fairly uncomfortable. The more I was around her, the more her dreamy smile seemed medicated. She came on into the kitchen and a smell like stale perfume and sour milk followed her. It was an effort not to wrinkle my nose.
"Yes." She said. "I won't bother you. I just want to walk around for a bit."
She did, and I followed under pretense of sweeping the hardwoods in the living room and the bedrooms. I was fascinated. The house was bad. I could feel that beyond a shadow of a doubt now. The very atmosphere inside was oppressive, and being there left a feeling of filth on my skin that was only partially due to the condition of the place. That lady, though, beamed at each and every nook and cranny like it was a spotless mansion laid out for a Better Homes and Gardens shoot. She ran her hands along walls and windowsills, and a few times she even stopped and pressed herself to the wall in a way that was disturbingly sensual. A couple of times, it seemed like she was cooing, to herself or god knows what. Finally, she made a circuit of the house and came back into the living room, where I was now using ammonia and a newspaper to clean the film off the windows. Her eyes were brimming with tears.
"Don't use water on the hardwoods, OK?" she sniffled. "It's not good for them. Just use a dry mop and furniture polish."
"Sure," I said. As if she were in any position to be giving cleaning advice, at least from the evidence on the scene.
"Well, I guess I'll go." She said.
"OK. Bye." She waved and I waved back and she was gone, leaving me reeling from the surreality of the entire exchange.
All I had to do was dust the fans and baseboards, wash down the walls, clean the bathroom and I was out of there. Suddenly, though, with the sun starting to set and the atmosphere of the house beating down on me again, as if it had grown stronger somehow from the presence of the former owner, the task seemed too much. I could just leave, leave the job undone and not get paid, but my pride and my poverty wouldn't let me. I'd done some hard work and I couldn't see letting it go unrewarded.
The humming was back, though. This time there were no words, just a low guttural grinding that I could feel in my molars. It made my jaw ache and my eyes burn. I decided that what I would do is go outside and sit on that picnic table and smoke cigarettes and wait on my husband, with his mockery of anything supernatural and his bottles of bleach, to arrive. A glance at my watch told me he should be there any minute.
Two cigarettes in, I watched the trash can, which I'd left propping open the garage door, move a good two feet, grinding loudly across the concrete patio. There was no wind. Even if there were, it couldn't have moved that can. The door slammed shut and the sound echoed off the trees behind me. The entire thing was so much a poor horror movie cliche that it frankly pissed me off. As I said before, I was no ghost novice. And I was a firm believer in the idea that ghosts might sometimes be obnoxious, but otherwise harmless. And, I'm not the smartest person sometimes, either, I'll admit. My balls sometimes outweigh my brains.
I was mad. The whole thing made me mad. Wasting my afternoon cleaning that gratuitous filth. Being fucked with by something that I couldn't really see and didn't understand. I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and I was shaking with rage when I jumped off the table and headed for the door.
"Motherfucker!" I screamed as I jammed the key into the lock. "I want this motherfucking door OPEN!"
I jerked it open. There in the doorway, for just a second, maybe two, was what looked like a three foot diameter shifting black mass of hair, teeth and eyeballs. It hovered in the dying light like something out of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign on acid. And then it, too, popped like a soap bubble and fled my consciousness for the time being.
I shoved the trash can in place and this time it stayed. I pulled the lid off and looked inside, and the clown doll was gone. Creepy bitch had probably taken it with her when she finished her farewell tour. Probably she would sleep with it at night now.
My husband pulled into the driveway then, all smiles in his fancy work clothes holding two bottles of Clorox.
"Yeah, you're going to get dirty," I told him, and we went back inside.
We started washing the walls at opposite ends of the house. I didn't say anything to him about the house being haunted. He wouldn't believe it anyway, and I was frankly curious to see his reaction to the place. I used big towels on the end of my mop handle, and I was finished with the living room and starting on the middle bedroom by the time he was half done with the big bedroom, the one where the last cleaning lady had bailed in the middle of the job.
It was pink under the grime, and there were little Hello Kitty stickers stuck to the windowsill. A girl's room. I dusted the fan with a damp cloth, feeling the whole time I was up on the stepladder that a pair of hands was hovering at my back waiting to push me off, but nothing happened. Before I left the room, I opened the closet to make sure there were no more creepy dolls waiting to fall on the new owners. The floor on the right side of the closet was pocked with little black burns, and when I flicked the light on I could see that the wall around that area was decorated with little rows of penciled hash marks with lines through them, the way prisoners count days in old movies. For a moment, I was filled with the vision of a teenaged girl, huddled in the bottom of the closet, smoking cigarettes and counting the days till...what? 18? I wondered what mental institution was her home now.
My husband met me in the hallway, a dripping rag in his hand.
"This house is creepy." He said. "It feels wrong. I don't like it."
For him, this was a great admission. I just shrugged.
"Yeah, it's icky. I don't like it either."
"We have to get it clean, though," He said. "I promised Lisa we'd get it done."
"So go finish the walls in there." I said. I was completely, irrationally angry at him all of a sudden. Like, I wanted to punch his teeth out the back of his head.
"Yeah yeah," He said, and turned his back on me and went back to it.
I went into the living room and washed the fan in there. The grinding noise was still in my head; it had never stopped. If anything, it got worse and with it came thoughts that were not mine. I thought about going in there and clubbing my husband over the head with the mop for getting me into this mess. I thought about carving out a thick chunk of meat from his white, chubby throat. My heart raced. I was so scared that I wanted to cry, suddenly. It was August, but suddenly it was so cold in the house that my breath was like steam in the air. I thought about babies with hollow rotten eye sockets and food crawling with maggots and blood on the walls. The step ladder that I was on shifted itself three inches back and I barely managed not to fall off. The grinding noise was all I could hear. It filled my head, made my ears ring.
In the back bedroom, my husband began to sing, loudly. "I'm Henry the VIII I am, Henry the VIII I am, I am."
He could hear it, too, I realized. It wasn't just me, having some sort of episode, some sick hallucination. He was aware of the noise, and god knows what it was making him think of. The step ladder slid from one end of the living room to the other, came to rest against the far wall. I started to sing, too.
"I got married to the widow next door, she's been married seven times before!"
It was loud, tuneless, desperate singing, both of us at the top of our lungs. Something started pounding on the walls and the ceiling, and I actually thought it might be my husband until he ran out into the hallway and cried;
"What the fuck was that?"
"I don't know. Why are you singing?"
"Because...I don't know why. There's a sound here. It's the air conditioner or something. It's annoying. It must be broken. Are you running water? Why are the pipes knocking?"
They stopped when he said it. I shook my head.
"Listen," I said. "I want to get out of here. Fuck washing the walls in that last bedroom. I'm going to bleach bomb the bathroom and we're going the hell home."
"Lisa might..." He said
"Fuck that bitch." I said. "She's seen this house. She knows how nasty it is. 200 bucks is a bargain. If she stiffs me, I'll drive down to that office and stab her in the goddamn neck."
His eyes widened and he didn't argue.
I leaned into the bathroom. Thank god it was small. There WAS shit grimed deep into the grooves between the tile. I could smell it. I flushed the toilet, dumped some of the bleach into the bowl and flushed again. More bleach in the sink, some in the tub. The stains were so deep that I was pretty sure they would never come out anyway. I ran water down the tub drain, still with my feet in the hallway, my body contorted to reach the faucet without putting my feet or knees on the shit stained floor. Finally, I dumped the second bottle of bleach on the floor. The fumes were nearly blinding. The shower curtain was black with mold. I jerked it down off the rings and balled it up under my arm. When we left, it went into the metal trash can.
"Good enough." I said.
My husband opened his mouth as if to argue.
"If you want to stay and finish it better, you're welcome." I said. His eyes widened in fear and I knew that he knew that something was bad in the house. He would never admit it, but he knew.
We left all the lights on. I didn't want to think about walking through that house in the dark, and it was full night now. Actually, it was close to midnight, though it didn't seem possible that we'd been there that long. I threw away every towel and rag I'd used inside, and my rubber gloves too. I didn't feel like any amount of hot water and Tide could get them clean again. I shoved everything into that metal trash can, and then pulled it away from the door and let the door slam shut and lock.
As we walked away, he to his car me to my truck, I looked back one last time. I did not turn into a pillar of salt. But I did see the clown doll, perched proudly on top of the metal trash can, where it had not been just a moment earlier. As we drove away, the lights went out in the house, one by one.
I drove home and when I got there I scrubbed myself in the shower for an hour like I'd been crawling around inside a nuclear reactor. I barely slept that night, and when I did my dreams were unmentionable.
We never talked about it, not really. My husband informed the realtor, Lisa, that the house had been exceptionally dirty, which could not have been a surprise to her, and she tipped me an extra 50. He never mentioned anything other than the filth, not the grinding, not the pounding, not the frantic singing to drown out whatever he was hearing, and I never brought it up. I did make him promise never to commit me to cleaning anything else until I had a chance to see the place for myself, and he never did.
In fact, I have never told a living soul all the details that I've given in this little narrative. It's too crazy, too unbelievable. I've started, a few times, to talk about it with people I trust, but the idea of them thinking I'm crazy always stops me. I think about that house still, and wonder what the story was behind it, what was living in it, and what it might have done to the people who bought the house. Not very often, but sometimes, I dream about it.
I'd be interested to hear ideas and to open up a dialogue with folks about what they think and if there are any similar experiences out there I'd like to hear them. We're all anonymous strangers on the internet, after all, so where better to air our fantastic supernatural dirty laundry?