Haunted house for sale by owner, scary furnace in the basement included! Alabama ghost story written by Kenneth Gage Gary.
Are there no traces of our lives in the walls of our abode, in the tools we use, on the Earth we tread?
– A spiritual investigator.
Once Upon a Time…
The plane ride was smooth enough. The security lines had been short enough. The entire ‘before your flight trauma’ had been mild enough. Why this intractable discomfort?
As Pilmer Holmes sat in his preferred window seat, exit row, looking out the window into total nighttime blackness, he relished the comfort of familiarity; this is the way he liked his flights. The window had that familiar duality where you could focus on the city lights below, or, adjusting your sight, you could see your own reflection in the window against the night.
Pilmer was flying from Texas back to Birmingham, Alabama where he was from. He was going to make the last adjustments regarding the sale of their property in Birmingham. His wife had managed most of the arrangements these past six months, but these last few arrangements had a portentous sense of finality to them. The house would be sold, its fate now in the hands of new owners, with new spirits, new habits, and new life. It actually left him mildly sad.
The first thing to be done was to complete an exhaustive walk through; make sure that every item cited in the pending deal was in fact addressed.
He started in the basement.
He never really liked the basement. Well, he never felt completely comfortable in the basement, almost as if it belonged to someone else…
Yessss…this we know, and remember…
And this time was really no different. He checked the furnace; a huge converted coal-burning iron monstrosity that now burned oil, creating steam that filled the radiators on the floors above. The huge ‘arms’ that carried the steam from its source to the upstairs radiators gave this system the image of a subterranean creature with tentacles that writhed throughout the entire building.
He checked the water level, the oil level, checked the whole system for leaks or any other anomaly that could be perceived. No apparent problems.
Having completed this check, but fully aware that he had not completed a check of the entire basement; Pilmer began his ascent up the stairway. Seldom do we admit the whispers we detect at the very edge of our being, and Pilmer, was quite satisfied to be climbing the stairs back into the familiar world that could be reached by the Sun.
Upstairs, while an improvement over the basement, it did not wash the traces of concern away completely. There was still a faintly persistent buzz, of some kind, not within the house, but deep within Pilmer himself.
Having conducted a cursory review of the premises, because, that is really all he could stand; Pilmer decided to prepare to go to the local restaurant for dinner. In the bathroom, his bathroom, he brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and in that last instant, where we always take an overview of our general appearance, turning our head right, now left; Pilmer saw with complete earth shattering horror that it was not him in the mirror at all: he was being observed!
As he turned to flee the bathroom, his soul was filled with screeching terror and unbelief at what he had just seen (had he screamed aloud?). What had he seen? Only himself in the mirror, but, unmistakably, the reflection was trying hard to imitate him without being detected!!!!
The door slammed shut of its own volition.
This gave Pilmer a freight that he first thought would just end his life. His heart pounded and his stomach turned – something within him even felt the floor move. But, in spite of limbs weak from fear, he managed to open the door and sprint into the dark hallway.
Amazingly, because the mind seems to surface concerns on its own schedule at times, the thought of planning to stay in this house for three days was already out of the question (why am I thinking about this now?). How would he explain this to others? “Well, the house just did not want me in it…” right now, he did not care. He knew he had to get out before that thing in the mirror climbed out and…the conclusion was too horrific to imagine.
Pilmer nearly fell down the stairs, throwing open the door, and escaping to the outside, hoping that the insanity he just witnessed was somehow confined to the house.
Standing on the sidewalk, in the full brightness of a perfect summer day, he looked back upon the building that he just now noticed, had caused his entire body to sweat so that his suit clung to his arms and legs.
How do I proceed now? How do I show this house to prospects? How could I ever enter this abode again?
There is that seldom acknowledged phenomenon of things that can only happen when you are alone. Why is it that the shadow, which just pulled back from sight only does so when one is alone? The unmistakable footsteps, upstairs, when you know you are alone in the house; who makes them? We have all heard them, but no one knows…
We sssseee… and we will show thisssssss …
Okay. The answer is to not be alone next time. I will only enter this house when it is time to show it to prospective buyers. Since I have to conclude this deal, this is how it will be done. After all, I cannot tell them it is haunted!
But, Pilmer could not deny those eyes! The mirror did not hold a reflection, but an attempt to convince him that it was a reflection. And eyes show intent. Pilmer could actually see that the reflection also understood that it had been discovered. Like a promise from some immortal source, this revelation attached a permanent grasp upon his heart; one he knew would never yield.
Even by mistake, the worst thing a human could ever do is witness the workings of the creatures of the night as they prepare, as they practice their ancient rituals, as they worship their eternal role of entrancing humans. They must then stalk and subdue you, so that you cannot reveal your discovery, their secrets…it is all about secrets! And the thing in the mirror had caught him looking through it’s secret!
Okay, I will not go into the bathroom at all next time.
Pilmer finally met two lovely young ladies that seemed as innocent as the colorful leaves that blessed the Alabama countryside in autumn. Better yet, they were seriously interested in the house. If he had to guess, Pilmer thought the two young women, teachers, by all appearances, were very dedicated to their trade.
Though offering the ‘salesman’s smile’, still, he could hear in the distant corners of his soul, an instrument that played in negative, discordant tones. Though it had not reached the surface of his consciousness, he was betraying himself, and these two young ladies, by showing them the house at all.
Soon he will be with ussss again…
The showing of the house was uneventful enough. Pilmer hoped not to evince any signs of how nervous, actually, terrified, he really was. The entirety of his sanity depended upon their very presence. He nearly revealed himself in the basement, where, they began to ascend the stairs as he was occupied with replacing several large boxes to their proper positions. Upon noticing that he was nearly alone in the cellar, his instincts propelled him, madly, towards the stairs nearly knocking his potential clients to the floor!
In their clear, sunshine begotten minds, by all appearances they mistook his insanity for mere haste, and patience prevailed. They did not really attend the incident at all. After all, it was rather dark.
Careful, lest he knowssss we are here…
Once back upstairs, where the late afternoon sun blessed the house through the windows, the two young teachers took those last, long looks at their surroundings, under the common misconception that they would be able to distinguish this house from several others they had visited that day. Pilmer, employed exemplary sales skills by his silence; not by design, but rather, because he hoped that no other anomaly would emerge to prolong his agony with this house.
Suddenly, with the speed of fright, the taller of the two women thrust a huge knife, gleaming in the afternoon sun, towards Pilmer’s vital organs before he could respond. But, in reality, the young lady only offered her hand for a common handshake, which, after recovering from his vision, Pilmer accepted, and in fact returned, heartily. Fortunately, all this occurred within the speed of expanding eyes only.
Just then, the other woman mentioned the light that was left on in the kitchen, at the back of the house. Pilmer felt as though he had been delivered a death sentence in the highest court of the land! Yet, he could not reveal a perceivable sign of reluctance: He had to go to the back and turn off this ill begotten light! Any other behavior would raise questions about the consistency of maintenance…
Pilmer slowly, reluctantly walked back towards the kitchen. He felt like turning around and walking backwards to the kitchen, to make sure they did not go outside, leaving him alone in this house that was quickly becoming no more than a tomb. But that would leave him vulnerable to whatever was in the kitchen awaiting him. Forwards, backwards; there was no good answer.
He satisfied himself with frequent glances over his shoulder during what seemed to be a marathon progression from the front door, where they were, to the kitchen in the back of the house. On the way, there was an unmistakable ‘bump’ in an empty broom closet that he had to pass.
It is near impossible for a man to control his instincts: and for good reason; instincts have a more direct perception of certain phenomenon than cognition does. Cognition requires logic; instinct does not. The latter will save your life to figure things out later.
Nevertheless, Pilmer did jump, in a contained way, when he heard the sound.
Be sssstill, he is paying attention to us…Ashanti, Kamala…
Then he heard an even more ominous shuffling as something seemed to be moving away from the door, towards the back of the closet as he passed. Of course, to escape my notice should I throw the door open. I am beginning to see what is going on here… Pilmer said to himself with false bravado: He was consumed with the terror that he may not be able to return back past this door in order to leave this house! Ever!
All because of a light left on in the kitchen; children, when your parents tell you to turn off lights, you really should do so.
It was a straight line from the front of the house, where his young guests were waiting, down a long uninterrupted corridor to the kitchen where he had to address the delinquent light. But the kitchen, unlike the rooms towards the front of the house, had the stove, refrigerator and cabinets on the west wall – and no windows. So, when Pilmer turned off the kitchen light, as it was late in the day, the room was sent reeling into an abysmal darkness far beyond what could really occur in the middle of a sunny afternoon. It is still daytime! No, this darkness was born of some other, far more menacing origin…No sooner had he quenched the light than he heard one of the women from the front of the house “We will meet you outside. We want to take in the neighborhood!”
No more mortifying sentence could have been spoken to Pilmer at this time. Pilmer managed to not scream. He tried to answer and could not; only mist, like dry ice in water, issued forth from his mouth – did I just hear them laughing as they left?. In fact, he realized he was becoming surrounded by mist. The hallway to the front of the house looked to be a mile long. And there was the closet on the way…who knows what horror it barely held within.
There is that moment in life where, after applying the brakes, the car skids anyways, and quickly adjusting the wheel, the body simply braces itself for the inevitable impact…
Surely that impact was imminent. Strangely, there was a small measure of release in his stomach as Pilmer submitted to this understanding. But in the very next instant, the survival instinct immediately regained the wheel. All the sweat and tension returned – throwing off what was really a sedating effect of the thick mist that now snaked across the floor and up the walls of the kitchen.
Now Pilmer could see her.
With her head thrust back, arms stretched out sideways, mouth agape in clear agony, this woman, who seemed to be made of this mist, appeared in a far corner of the kitchen: In front of a large dark tree.
Pilmer was no longer in the kitchen at all.
Others, closed in around the lady of the mist, grabbing her, shoving her backwards into the tree behind her. Waving some of the ever-increasing mist away from his face with his hands, Pilmer could make out, that it was not really a tree at all, but a very large ‘container’ of some kind, with a nearly human sized opening in it.
No sooner had she tumbled backwards through the door, with unmistakable terror on her face, Pilmer could see the inside of the container burst into ghastly flames.
Just like staring at a light source, then closing one’s eyes: Pilmer could still see the silent scream written upon her face when she was – ‘cast into Hell…’ – forced into the furnace… Why, that’s it! What seemed to be a container was actually a large cast iron furnace. Not unlike the one in his basement????
At that very moment, the furnace in his basement had exploded, with the door flying open welcoming the escape of livid, hungry flames. With his consciousness barely emerging above the scene swirling around him, Pilmer turned his head to look down the hallway only to see the two young ladies, still as statues, until one of them raised her hand, bending her fingers solemnly several times to wave a fateful goodbye. The two turned and simply walked through the wall behind them.
It seemed the crowd before him in the mist had not noticed Pilmer standing behind them, and he wasted no more time. He glanced quickly left and right, only to find himself surrounded by a dense forest on both sides that was also invaded by the gossamer mist, which seemed to bubble and twist between the trees in a way that made it clear not to enter.
These sinsss belong to you…..
Gripped by a commanding fear, Pilmer spun around to take his chances and just run in the opposite direction from what had become a ghostly crowd in front of him who had also seemed to have chosen their next victim. As if from very far away, he could even hear the familiar, fervent, animal inspired rantings that people only make when they are in a crowd; the accusations that will acknowledge no explanations; the incriminations that entertain no defense.
Directly behind him, now face-to-face as he spun around, was the stark expression of death itself etched in the face of who he recognized to be the woman they had just thrown into the furnace.
As she gazed at him, her face changed. Her expression now wore the smooth countenance of certainty, of something being eternally finalized. He instinctively equated that with peace, in contrast with the anxious uncertainty that commonly rules our lives.
Instantly she grabbed him by the shoulders, his hopes of peace immediately evaporating, she was spinning him back around to face the scene at the furnace, and slowly forcing him forward to the very edge of the crowd, which still all had their backs to him. All except for the one standing next to the furnace addressing them.
Although he could not make out the words their leader spoke; that it was rhetoric and religious dogma, absent of all reason and light, was unmistakable. Pilmer was experiencing the essence of communication, that without which mere words do not matter anyway.
She violently grasped Pilmer by the hair from behind and forced him through the crowd into the front where he was, once again, face to face with this man, who, like a skillful musical conductor, elicited all the hate and fear necessary for them to commit their atrocities.
To his complete horror, Pilmer could see that this was the face from the mirror! It looked like him, but it was not a mere reflection, which, after all is what a mirror is supposed to offer.
Clearly, the man in front of his face could not even see him. None of them could, except this woman who had a superhuman grip on his body, forcing him in the direction of her intent.
Soon he will remember, and it will be finissshed…
And slowly Pilmer did remember. It was 1906, in a small town in Alabama. He, the vaunted Pilmer Westchester, had decided to resurrect the lifestyle of the Puritans. He felt strongly that their staunch regulation of life was all that was necessary to return man to the path of salvation. Pilmer, as has been common to most recorded religious historical figures, assumed that salvation could be secured on a scale that is wholesale.
Pilmer, with his outstanding sales abilities, influenced a small number of families to cohabitate in the woods outside the city limits. However, ‘of mice and men’, while documented in fiction, is an eternal human reality; things took on a far more fervent tone than Pilmer ever anticipated, even from himself.
The two young girls that were finally openly charged with witchcraft, after having long been suspected of lesbianism, were taken into ‘custody’ by the mob one night. That was the scene that Pilmer was witnessing in his ‘Kitchen’. Needless to say, the girls were not witches, although they were lesbians. It was in fact the Puritans insult with the latter that lead to the formulation of the former. Pilmer had actually always known the truth, but refused to look at this simple fact. He only fanned the flames.
Now Pilmer was recalling everything. The ghost woman behind him even released her grasp; she too knew that his fate had finally caught up with him. He no longer struggled, he knew the inescapable nature of what was unfolding.
Pilmer was doubly damned by the fact that he did know real witches, with whom he had conspired to sacrifice these two girls, in order to allay suspicions in the true direction of the eternal evil that did exist. And this in return for the promise of lasting influence over the commune he had collected.
An essential part of his deal with the witches was that should he return to life again, reincarnated, he would never have a memory, nor dream, nor suspicion about the crimes he was committing on their behalf. They had agreed.
His escape was well designed: If you cannot remember, you really are not hiding at all. It in fact did not even occur as far as you know. How could Pilmer ever suspect that he would walk the earth again in close proximity to a simple, inanimate instrument of torture that absorbed the agony all unto itself. How could Pilmer ever suspect that the innocent girls he condemned could possibly leave a ‘residue’ within the iron chamber? So strong as to resurface and wreak their revenge?
The furnace …was silent witness to the entire atrocity. And, after all; the witches told him he himself would not remember; they did not promise him he could not be made to remember by others.
With the inevitability of the setting sun, Pilmer was already walking towards the furnace himself. The flames within were not so much damaging to the flesh as they were searing to the soul. The two ladies within the flames beckoned him with outstretched arms. Pilmer was beginning to know the abysmal pain that was his fate in every life he would ever lead.
And so it would seem that, if not the mundane in our existence, at least the extraordinary is etched into whatever surroundings exist at the time.