A Haunted House
The Master Bedroom
Not the heart of the House, but its crimson mouth. The undone belt droops like a skein of slobber over the bloodred cilia of the shag carpet, the cracked-open geode of a bad lung. Faerie lights gestate in the Negroni-colored teardrops of sick lamps. Spread across a dark wood dresser are pen knives & sleek dark glass cars full of aftershave, a faux bronze of a coupling man & woman, but nothing like what happens here. A cheap silver mirror reflects the maggot-ridden arcs on the low ceiling that lows & lowers & lowers. What is conceived here is not so much the spawn of the struggling bodies on the bed, but the thrashing drastic shadows on the ceiling, the House itself sloughing off & into its own fetid hollows. It happens without a sound, every noise swallowed by the terrible silence of the place, the closed circuit of the House’s head, the quiet cavern of the ear underwater, the light swirling that can never be reached. Beside the bed a skeleton ship is adrift on a sea of black velvet, pinpricks of witch-fire aglow on the arms of its masts.
The closet accordions & clatters like a ribcage; what is within unthinkable & lost: the severed head of a cat in a hatbox, a rusted hacksaw a tuning fork for shrieks. No books. None can live here; letters lift off pages & circle the drains of the empty eyes that alight on the corpulent bed, its headboard alive with pounding fists like every other one in the House. The bedroom window is yellow eye in on the flat face of the House, looking out on the tiny, oblivious coil of the neighborhood that can only weep & persist.
Within the armoire, nothing but tireless shadows & writhing bodiless limbs. It explodes open & sucks shut all the endless night, a metronome for the still dance of the heavy House settling into the molten center of the earth, a sty in the rheumy eye of time, the magnetic rock shelves on which it sits lapping at the ionosphere like deer at a poison pool. The House is not large, a little feral thing, curled in on itself like a dead sowbug, segmented & hard & dimly luminous—nothing but a skin-tag, a scab, a cancerous welt.
It breeds once & goes on dying, just as once it strained to live—not even an idea, but a copy of a copy of a copy; whatever’s cheapest—it is infernal in its insignificance. It is to be forgotten, cast out, better left unsaid. It claims its pointless lives, does its pitiless harm in the margins. No light escapes from its vast indifference, but a Boy does. He is spit out like a fruit pit onto the cave-white trunks of its lap; the House holds him up to the not-light & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs & laughs.
The Boy’s Room
Where the boy sleeps in his bed. The space between the wall & headboard is infested with hands; they shoot up when the Boy closes his eyes; they point & poke & worry & prod & shrivel like summer irises in the light. It’s like they come up from the ground, but there is only the basement below.
There is a hole cut in the wall to the kitchen, where a plastic dog is glued to a pedestal & writhes & writhes the segments of his legs. Things look in at him sleeping, twirling their mustaches, high-pillared hats & hooded wives & eyeless things & mouthless. What do you want? It’s just a boy sleeping. The Father fumbles in the small hours, dead drunk; the Father does not look in at the Boy, but makes his way into the endless hall & disappears.
There are posters on the wall & sometimes the letters are turned the wrong way around, like in a mirror. Sometimes the letters don’t say anything at all. The posters open out into worlds of neon colors & polyps. The Boy’s books are lined up on yellow plastic shelves. The shelves shiver with the weight of the words. The House hates words; the House cannot be described. The carpet is flat & brown & there are stains underneath. The Boy doesn’t know where the stains came from. Sometimes the Boy humps an orange stuffed horse on the carpet. A mass moves & quivers under the carpet like an Adam’s apple. It belches & wails. Sometimes the Mother emerges from a green bean-bag chair, soft & weeping. She won’t let the Boy sleep. The spaceships hung from the roof twirl in all different directions in a wind that’s not there.
The closet here is a chipped tooth. It eats toys & clothes. Does the Boy have any clothes? The ecru-colored dresser is filled with Styrofoam peanuts that wiggle like a finger in a box.
There is a window to the outside. Things peer in here, too. Things with curling horns that frame the stars, things with stars for eyes; their finger pads squeak at the panes like gerbil voices. There are heaps of dead gerbils in glass aquarium tanks & aquarium tanks filled with dead fish that still swim. An empty-eyed pirate still paws at his chest & bubbles burst forth from his pert red mouth. The only air in the House. The fish swim around in the tank, but their shadows don’t move on the walls.
Sometimes the silver Manx cat slips in through the hole to the kitchen & sits at the foot of the bed. The silver cat with bright green eyes. The silver cat hops like a hare & leads the Boy’s soul away to someplace else. Its purring is the only sound in the House.
Moves through both time & space, every inch connected to an epoch of the House’s terrible history. If you step here, you may see lavender crayon arcs looping along its expanse, there, slashes of red blood, somewhere else, the Boy frozen in a moment in time, in a spot where he said to himself, I will remember this moment forever.
The doors in the hallway open onto a thousand different rooms, doors creaking shut or slamming in time with the tachycardiac beat of the House’s diseased heart. If you walk quickly, the hallway will telescope & extend to a tiny pinpoint, glowing like the lit tip of a lit cigarette. If you walk slow, the life of the House will flash by like a dream before death. Run.
In the night, a shape paces the hall, draped in a sheet, a walking cliché. But those white arms can still grab & squeeze until the nightmares dribble out of the Boy’s mouth. It looks in through the doors with the holes of its eyes. Who’s under there? Everyone who’s ever lived in the house. Even the Boy; when he tries to throw off the sheet, it sticks to his face like a smell.
Is perhaps the most dreadful room of the house, even though it is small. It is so small the Boy must stoop down to get in. It is so small he must hold his knees up to his chin when he sits on the toilet. The toilet is a tunnel to a bad place. In the small hours of the morning, it erupts with Gordian knots of shit, vomit & putrid flesh. Nothing that goes down the toilet stays down for long. The house keeps everything.
When the Boy looks in the mirrored door of medicine cabinet, he sees the Father’s face—hollow-eyed & dead. Inside the medicine cabinet are enormous pills the color of poisonous plants, rusted, blood-flecked razor blades & used condoms caked with tufts of frazzled hair like dead alien insects.
The shower spurts icy water from its broken swan’s neck; the tub is striated with red & brown, the residue of a thousand murders, a thousand suicides. The icy water burns the Boy’s skin when the Mother forces him in & shuts the sliding door. On the other side of the door are scrawled strings & strings & strings of words that mean nothing. The Boy’s skin & hair & slough off & disappear down the drain & are coughed back up again in the sink.
In the closet are wigs on Styrofoam heads made up to look like the Mother. The wigs are cheap, artificial looking. Red lipsticks melt into pools like blood. Once, the boy found a magazine full of pictures of naked women draped on the beds & sofas & chairs of the House, smiling, in triplicate, because they all had leering mouths where their eyes should have been.
The trees that grow too close to the house die. The rest crowd around it like bystanders around a heart-attack victim. They grow tall, stretch out their wide black arms to blot out the House. The trees would like to reach down & seize it, break its neck & toss it into the blur of the woods. The woods where the Boy goes to escape. But the trees are slow, slow & old. The House glows & glowers. The trees shudder & wait.
The Robot stands guard outside the Boy’s door. It is white & chrome & shining—the cleanest thing in the house. Its enormous sword glints, even in the darkness & silence of the House. Its shield is a mirror, reflecting the malevolent eyes that surround it. It feints & slashes, dodging & weaving & severing the tentacles & the grasping hands that rise from the floor & descend from the ceiling. It creaks & whirs & the fetid limbs of night things pile up around it as it fights, tirelessly, against the excretions of the House. Finally, it watches the Boy leave. For the last time. The prying & fingers & writhing proboscises curl around its legs, its arms, its flashing sword. They tear the Robot limb from limb & the vacant, sparking fragments are swallowed by the House.
The Father’s Study
The Father doesn’t even go in here. The Father doesn’t study anything. There are shelves holding fancy, empty bottles of liquor: a porcelain beefeater who bleeds from the mouth & ears, a cannon that explodes with a terrible crash, a figurehead lashed to the prow of a ship who screams & screams.
A plaster of Paris model of the Father’s head rests on a plank on a desk in the study. It has the same empty eyes & long eyelashes like the hairs on the legs of a fly. The Father’s head is made up with the Grandmother’s make-up. Bedroom eyes, the Mother said. The Father’s head speaks to the Boy. Get the hell out of here you’re not wanted.
There is a tan globe that shows the world outside the house, beige & brown mountains raised like rashes. The Boy doesn’t quite believe there’s a world outside of the house. Countries whose names don’t have a U after the Q, houses that are not like this one. Houses filled with love & light & sound.
There is a painting of soldiers with pikes & swords & axes & conical helms. The war party extends into the Renaissance vanishing point. They are suspended in white space. At night, the painting comes alive with the screams of war. Ghosts breathe across the empty bottles & make a syrinx of hollow trills.
In the closet a body is hanged. It kicks & kicks its legs against the brittle plywood doors. Someday the doors will break. The Boy knows the body will have his face.
Smells of rancid bacon & cheap bourbon. Cupboards filled with off-brand boxes of cereal & dented cans & loaves of bread that rot within hours of being brought into the house. Drawers swollen with cutting things, old, serrated knives, snaggle-toothed can openers, mysteriously tarnished scissors. Nothing here can be eaten; the House will not allow it.
The refrigerator is trussed shut with bungie cords; an acrid mist is released when the door is cracked just slightly & slams back again with a squish like a tenderizer on meat. The table is piled high with papers: eviction notices, overdue bills, death certificates, Dear John letters, lousy report cards, incriminating photographs, aborted poems. Pulsing maggots make their home there among the sheaves, dropping sometimes to the warped floor to be eaten by feral furry things that scurry & disappear just at the lip of vision.
What sounds like a heartbeat is the thud of small birds against the vast, pocked picture window looking out at a barbed tangle of vicious plants littered with feathers & down. The sound waxes and wanes like rain. Sometimes something big hits—a thud like a prayer that shakes the whole room. Another soul that could not escape.
The oven is mottled & gaping—inviting. The stovetop crackles & flames, the dust in the air ignites like fireworks below the greasy mesh of the fan. Things scratch & scritch inside the fan, occasionally poking a corpulent face or tongue up against the mesh.
Dishes topple & shatter on the floor in heaps. Years of sherds—casseroles, brown-ringed coffee mugs, baby bottles, fondue pots & cracked loaf pans ground to dust beneath the feet of the shadows that go in & out, in & out through the back door, screen door slapping & slamming, encrusted with insects with human faces. Strange old cars idle in the drive sometimes, their searching headlights causing drastic shadows through the bloody window, amoebic splotches like eye-floaters on the flaking ceiling.
Mark Lamoureux lives in New Haven, CT. His work has been published in print and online in Elderly, Denver Quarterly, Jacket, Fourteen Hills and many others. He is the author of 5 full-length collections of poems: Horologion (Poet Republik, Ltd., 2020) It’ll Never Be Over For Me (Black Radish Books, 2016), 29 Cheeseburgers + 39 Years (Pressed Wafer, 2013), Spectre (Black Radish Books, 2010) and Astrometry Organon (BlazeVOX Books, 2008).