The house had been abandoned years ago, but it was never truly empty. Some said it was rats in the walls, others guessed termites. None of them were right.
In 1908, when the original couple moved in, they lasted eight months. Arguing and screaming and ceramic vases could be heard from the winding stretch of asphalt. The scratching in the walls wore on their minds like bore drills. The wife tore the walls down to find the rats or the termites but she never found those pests. More elusive creatures infested this home.
The autopsy report listed her cause of death as “cardiac arrest” though she had no history of heart trouble. The husband went mad and the house on Knotter’s Hill became the stuff of folklore, a tale parents told their children late at night to scare them away from bad behavior.
When Jack Porter and his wife Grace moved in, they didn’t believe the campfire stories. They laughed, joked, like any newlywed couple do wrapped up in each other to notice what was really going on. After all, Grace was taught in Sunday School that no evil could ever harm her while Jack believed all “evil” could be explained away through logic and common sense.
“Maybe the stories are real, Jack,” Grace whispers into the night.
“What are you saying?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she says, “it’s probably nothing.” She tightens her grip against the bed sheet, as if it could protect her. He yawns, rolls over to face her.
“Tell me,” he says.
“Oh, goodness,” she says. “Well, last night, while you were sleeping, I walked into the kitchen to grab a snack.”
“Oh, Jack, promise me you won’t laugh.”
“I placed my hand on the handle to open the door, and Jack, I swear to you,” she says, transferring her grip from the bed sheet to his hand, “I felt something on the other side of the pantry twist the handle.”
For a moment, the two stay silent. Then.
“The air,” he says.
“It must’ve been the air, suctioning when the pressure changed.”
“No, Jack. You must believe me. It felt the same exact way as if you were reaching for a car door and someone on the inside had went to open it at the same moment.”
“The air pressure,” he mumbles, flips back over, pretends to fall back asleep. She sighs, pretends to fall asleep, too. Together, they pretend to sleep for the rest of the night until the sun disperses a few of their fears.
Air pressure might have explained away the door handle, but it couldn’t explain away everything.
“I’m going to stay with my mother for the weekend,” Grace says, rolling her luggage out to her car in the garage.
“You’re leaving me here? Alone?”
“You’re not scared, are you, Jack? It’s only for the weekend. I just need to calm my nerves.”
“Of course I’m not afraid, why would you ask me that?”
Sunlight beams in through the stained glass door, illuminating Grace’s small brown fox eyes. She leans over her luggage, kisses Jack, kisses him again, then departs.
Jack stands, alone. There’s something about being alone, a quote, a man and his thoughts. It’s not that it’s too quiet—rather, the noises Jack hears are just foreign enough that he can’t identify their origin. A faint high-pitched squeal comes from the bathroom, like air deflating from a tire, but there aren’t any tires in there. A few moments later, he hears what sounds like metal clanking against metal, coming from the living room.
Boredom. That’s all it is. His mind has nothing to do, so it has started inventing noises. He needs to busy himself. “If you’re bored, there’s a mop and bucket in the washroom,” his father’s voice plays back in his mind.
The yellow wallpaper is flaking, revealing the home’s original, birchwood foundation, making Jack’s isolation somehow more unsettling. Dust blankets the stagnant furniture. The air smells of mildew. Gotta freshen up.
The bathroom is small, suffocating. Marble tiles fill the walls. A standing shower faces opposite the porcelain toilet, tucked into a corner like it’s hiding from something. The sink and mirror take up the majority of the already small room, so Jack squeezes between the door and the front corner of the wooden cabinet. He pushes the door closed, keeping himself inside and the encroaching darkness out.
Splashing his face with water, he almost expects to see something in the mirror as he lifts his head from the sink, but all he sees is his own tired raccoon eyes. Then, marble. He notices suddenly how much marble is in the room—the countertop, the walls, all swirling, yellow-ish tiles streaked with random strips of paint like tributaries of a great lake that stretches across the bathroom.
Water begins to seep through the tiles, trickling down in slow drips then faster, like a stream. It pools at Jack’s feet and he inspects the water, the red water, the blood red water, covering his feet, up to his ankles now. In the reflection of the water he sees the distorted whirlpool of faces he expected to see in the mirror. He rushes for the door, yanks it, but something on the other side twists the handle at the same time. His feet slide from beneath him, his head smacks into the corner of the counter, then against the tile floor, blood mixing with blood water.
His pulse pounds in his ears. The blood water continues to rise, drowning him. He doesn’t notice at first. Stunned, like a squirrel fallen from a tree. He gurgles, struggles to breathe, bubbles. Then, the water forces its way in through every orifice—mouth, nostrils, tear ducts, filling his ear canals until it bursts through the ear drums.
As he fades, Grace’s delicate songbird voice calls to him from downstairs.
“Jack,” she sings, “you were wrong.”
The autopsy reads “death by drowning” though they find no trace of water near his body. It’s pooled inside of him, filling his lungs and alveoli, his stomach, liver, and kidneys, all of his organs filled entirely with liquid. When his organs were filled, the leftover water returned to the walls.
“Unknown liquid found in lungs,” the coroner writes, “sending to labs for testing.”
Kaleb Tutt spends his time playing video games, writing, and taking candid shots of his dog, Sookie (follow her on Insta @sookiethepuppy). He has been published before on Moonchild Magazine, WhoWritesShortShorts, and has two pieces upcoming - a flash fiction in Ellipsis Zine and a poem in the Cabinet of Heed. Find him on Twitter @KalebT96.