Farnell wondered if his long drive from the city had been for nothing.
The old residence, two stories, an attic, and a basement, certainly fit the description for a haunted house. The ancient colonials in the area were iconic, and this one, steeped in white clapboard and a gabled roof, was no exception. But he’d searched the house thoroughly, tramping up and down the creaking stairs, peering into empty rooms and poking at the cobwebs above and below the living area.
And he’d found absolutely no indication of a ghost.
He turned to Mrs. Drake, the realtor burdened with the stewardship of the house, a slight, elderly woman with white hair and a woebegone expression, and shook his head.
“I don’t doubt the newspaper reports,” Farnell said, referencing the stories he’d found describing the deaths of two or three previous residents and one or two of his unfortunate peers. “But I can’t find any indication of supernatural activity in this house.”
“Are you certain?” Mrs. Drake said, her aged voice echoing in the silence of the room.
They stood in the barren front room by the entry door bathed in the uneven sunlight shining through the curtainless windows. He’d asked her to keep the door open for the extra light, but she’d insisted that insects would intrude. Her mannerisms were of another generation’s, so he indulged her eccentricities despite the shadows.
“It’s claimed five lives, you know,” she said.
“A house as old as this one is bound to see its share of deaths,” he said as he began closing the cases at his feet; sensors that had sensed nothing, infrared scopes through which he’d seen only moths, audio recorders that had recorded only an embarrassing silence—
“Two people died of heart attacks,” she said, tapping a mottled finger into her palm. “That may seem normal enough, but two died from falling down the stairs. And one poor gentleman suffocated. Now, does that sound natural?”
“Just because a house has seen its share of tragedy doesn’t mean it’s haunted.”
“I think this spirit is insidious!” Mrs. Drake insisted, shaking her finger. “This house will never sell until its reputation is restored, and how can it be when a demon is running loose inside it?”
“That may be so,” Farnell said, trying to reassure the elderly woman with a smile, “but if I can’t find a demon to exorcise, then the point is moot.”
The old realtor turned and stood staring from the front window.
“Insidious,” she said again.
As Farnell finished closing the latches on all the equipment cases he’d pointlessly lugged up the porch steps, he wondered what had made Mrs. Drake think the old house was haunted in the first place. Local legend? Had she seen too many scary movies? Or perhaps it was the location and asking price that frightened everyone to death.
In any case, he’d found absolutely no evidence to support the claim. He’d seen the news reports, but only one seemed remarkable; an amateur ghost hunter who’d stayed overnight alone and ended up dying of an asthma attack. While the man technically ‘suffocated’, his death could hardly be called supernatural.
“Would you mind getting the door for me?” he said to Mrs. Drake as he lifted the heavy cases by their handles.
She seemed not to hear him.
“Mrs. Drake?” he said. “Are you all right?”
She still didn’t turn; she seemed perfectly frozen in place.
Then he realized he couldn’t feel the handles of the cases any longer; it seemed as if cases were made of air.
“Mrs. Drake?” he said again. “Could you open the door?”
Lawrence Buentello has published over 80 short stories in a variety of genres, and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. His fiction has appeared in Murky Depths, Cover of Darkness, Bete Noire, and several other publications. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.