I stood in the driveway as I watched my client, Arthur Acton, walk towards me in a smart business suit. The man said he wanted to live in one of the town’s more rustic residences, not in any of the new developments. He chose this as the first house he wanted to visit; it has been on my roster for as long as I’ve shown houses in this town. I tried to steer him towards others, but he was adamant about the place.
“People don’t usually ask to see this house, Mr. Acton. They don’t like the fact that the entire family died just after the Ethylor summer from brain cancer.”
“Then it would be very beneficial to you if I take this place off your hands,” Mr. Acton said as he put his hands into his pockets and smiled. Even though I knew he was right, I still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of someone living here.
“All righty,” I said as I fumbled with my key ring until I found the correct one. The door unlocked with a barely audible click and the door drifted inwards. The mist that clung to the town hadn’t been kind to this house over the years. The faded wallpaper was peeling in more places than not, and from the sounds of the scratching in the walls, a nest of rats had taken up residence. Even the floorboards seemed to be warped from the moisture. I’d lost countless parties at this point — I was sure he was going to walk out on me, but I turned to see him practically beaming.
“How about we start with the living room?” I asked.
“That would be wonderful.” Actual interest wasn’t something I’d anticipated, but I conducted the tour as I always do. We walked around as I tried to be enthusiastic about the still-functional aspects of the house. Running water! Heat! Electricity! I tried to make each of them sound like amenities.
As I was demonstrating that the water still worked, the floorboards above us shifted with a loud crack. “Is there someone else here, Ben?” Mr. Acton asked.
I almost cursed myself for being so careless. It had been years since I was last here, and I hadn’t checked the place for squatters. I ran towards the stairs and yelled, “If there’s anyone here show yourself!” No answer. I continued climbing the stairs. Unease began settling in around me just like the fog that had settled in this valley untold centuries ago.
Apparently not wanting to miss a second of the action, Acton was hot on my heels. We did a thorough sweep of the upstairs and found nothing other than more rotted flooring and more peeling, filthy paint. “I’m really sorry to have worried you like this, Mr. Acton. I should have checked to make sure everything here was in order before you arrived. It must have just been the house settling.”
“Nonsense, Ben. I couldn’t think of a more exciting way to tour the upstairs,” he smiled. “Now I believe the only place left is the basement, correct?” How did he know about the basement? It wasn’t advertised and I sure as hell hadn’t told him.
“Uh, yes. It’s not very exciting though. Very small, just bare concrete. The water heater isn’t even down there. We can skip it if you’d like.”
His smile seemed to diminish a bit. “I’d better have a look at it.”
We made our way downstairs and out the back. Whoever built this place decided that being able to access the basement only from external cellar doors was a good idea. I opened them with some difficulty — the hinges had rusted over — and at once the thick smell of must poured out. The place obviously hadn’t seen fresh air in decades.
I went first and carefully made my way down the rickety wooden steps. When I got to the solid concrete floor, I realized there was no electric lighting. The only illumination was the meager shaft of daylight coming down the stairs.
“How did the original residents die?” Mr. Acton asked, startling me with both the question and his proximity.
“Cancer,” I replied. “I’m sure you’ve heard those stories.”
“I don’t think so.” He walked deeper into the basement, all the while running his hand along one of the ragged wooden beams in the ceiling. “Can you see that this beam is sagging, just here? It’s almost as if it carried a weight other than this house. And the concrete floor isn’t nearly as old as the rest of the house. Can you tell me why that is, dear boy?” He was leading me along. I had a feeling this Mr. Acton already knew the truth; he just wanted to hear it come from my mouth.
“The husband of the family that lived here hung himself.”
“Why would he do that?”
“He didn’t have cancer. The rest of his family did. This used to be just a dirt floor. He buried them down here when they died, and then hung himself. I’m sorry I wasn’t open about this. The house is a hard enough sell as it is without the ghost stories. I can show you another property if you’d like.”
He was standing very close to me at this point. His hand clapped my shoulder. “Nonsense. This house will do perfectly.” In the dim light, I could still make out his smile.
I mumbled some word of agreement to meet back at my office in a few days, something about finishing the paperwork, and turned and ran out of that dark place. I jumped into my car and sped off. When I looked in the rear-view mirror I could see Mr. Acton standing on the front lawn, waving at me.
I really hope he doesn’t keep that appointment.