Virginia ghost story of a frustrated writer haunted by a odd and creepy yard sale find. Written by K.E. Moore.
I believe that your home is your sanctuary. It doesn’t matter how bad the world outside gets; once you get home, that’s it. You’re safe. Maybe you live in a bad neighborhood and you need to have iron bars and burglar alarms and a gun in the night stand drawer. It doesn’t matter. You do what you have to, and you do it because you have to have that one place you can call home.
And if my home is my sanctuary, the inner sanctum, that most holy of all holy places, is my room. It’s not just about where I lay my head down for the night, although that’s part of it. It’s more like, this is your most private of places, that place where you can be the most vulnerable, the most honest with yourself. When the rest of the world has gone mad, you should at least have your room to escape to.
If you don’t have that, you’re lost.
My room is exactly that place for me—a collection of childhood memories and adulthood creature comforts that are closest to my heart. If the zombie apocalypse started tomorrow, all I would need is a mini fridge and a toilet, and I could happily spend the rest of my days in this room while the rest of the world has its flesh gnawed off by the walking dead. See, my room is my place, my special place, my little outpost against all the crap that is constantly raging in the world outside.
Now, I’m a cheap skate. I buy generic groceries, and if I have to buy furniture, I usually go for cheap and functional. I’m not saying I have a home furnished by milk crates, but Mrs. Thomas taught her boy about the virtues of frugality. That said, when it comes to my bedroom, all bets are off. I spent a grand on my pillow top mattress, and the 500 thread count sheets I keep on it weren’t cheap either. It feels like being swaddled in sunshine and kisses when I go to sleep, and I like that.
On the walls of my room hang little shards of my past like the first issue of Spawn, the first and only comic book I collected as a kid. Next to the image of the cape and chain clad hellspawn is an original poster from Final Fantasy VII, the greatest video game ever to be released. The spikey blond hero, Cloud, is staring up at the Shinra headquarters in all of its steampunk/techno-fantasy glory with his iconic sword slung on his back. Next to that, a signed photo of Joe Montana about to throw yet another touchdown for the 49ers has its own place of honor. Even my curtains were done in a black and blue Pac-Man pattern, salvaged when my mom tried to scrap the quilt she made for me back when I thought Pac-Man was the single coolest thing in the world. These are scraps of home that I could never leave behind.
Not everything here is a relic from my past, though. Little treasures I picked up from garage sales serve as artifacts from the pasts of strangers in lawn chairs and sweatpants. Garage-sailing is something I inherited from my mother. I remember my mom packing me up in the car early on Saturday mornings, the chill from the night before still lingering in the air, with her coffee cup (this was before coffee cups were designed to sit in car cup holders) crowned in a corona of wafting steam. We would cruise the neighborhoods looking for bits of junk that could be polished and refurbished and, with a little luck, turned into reclaimed treasure.
The giant clunky desk with the roll top was a fifty dollar find upon which my laptop sits. It was one of those numbers that could have been on the TV series “Antiques Roadshow,” some unsuspecting old woman shocked nearly into a heart attack to learn it was made by some famed designer and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Except the roll top was permanently stuck open, one drawer was missing completely, leaving a gaping maw of space in its absence, and the drawer below it was locked permanently shut, the key lost years before I found it on some blue-haired octogenarian’s driveway.
Next to my laptop is a clunky old typewriter, a twenty-five dollar steal amazingly still in possession of all of its keys and with ribbon that still had plenty of life left. When I got it, I had these fantasies that I would type my first great novel on it, and couldn’t hold back the anticipation as I fed the first sheet of crisp white paper into its metallic bowels, only to discover that I couldn’t type on the thing. I hadn’t used one of these old hunks of metal since I took a typing class back in high school, and the decades since (well, a decade and more change than I really like to think about anyway) using computer keyboards made me forget about how far you have to press the keys in or the fact that if you screwed up just once, you had to pull out the correcting fluid and fiddle with some knobs, and then there was more fiddling to try and line everything up just right only to wait until the gobs of gunk dried or you turn everything into a smeared mess when you eventually got back to typing again.
I quit before finishing the first page, not even bothering to take the paper out but instead leaving it there to stand as some sort of souvenir or memorial, of what, I was never really sure. To this day it still reads:
He stood there, in the dark, letting the icy shards of rain stab into his skin and roll down unnoticed. The weight of the knife in his left hand cold and yet electric, sending trills of anticipation shooting up his arm, bypassing his heart, and swirling around in his bran with an exotic euphoria. He…
There is something about that page and the grey-black beast that forever keeps it clutched in its metal fanged jaws that fills me with pride and despair and comfort and fear. Something that has made it a permanent resident here in my place of places. If nothing else, typewriter and aborted story stand as a constant reminder that one day I will leave the mindless slog of cubicle work to be a writer.
Another yard sale yielded that one black and white card of Bo Jackson in a nice frame. You know the one, where he is wearing shoulder pads and has a baseball bat slung across them. This brought me back to the time when the card was first printed, a celebration of the fact that Bo was one of the highest profile players to play two major league sports at the same time. For a time, that card had everyone thinking they were some sort of high-powered baseball card collector until most of the amateur wannabes realized that really collecting cards took time and effort and patience. People tracked that card down to the point where it was almost worthless, but I framed it anyway because it reminded me of the few hours I spent with my then stepdad, no yelling, no fighting, the both of us in honest good temper as we drove from one card shop to the next, trying to find pieces of cardboard gold until he finally gave up, and I moved on to things like video games and horror novels.
And then there is the Girl of Cliff House, my newest addition, hanging cattty-corner to my window so it catches the light slipping through the Pac-Man curtains. Now, let’s get this straight; I’m not the kind of guy that goes in much for cheap road side paintings. I don’t just go and buy paintings of stupid bowls of fruit or birds or whatever so that my walls aren’t bare. Hell, I usually don’t even look through the random wall hangings of the blue hairs that peddle them at their yard sales. But this one… this one had something.
The picture itself is a simple one, if not expertly painted at least competently so, with even brush strokes and a decent sense of color and composition. Dominating the painting is a giant house, three stories, with verandas and gables, rendered in rusty browns and murky grays. It reminds me of an old-time radio show I listened to once (another gift from my mom who had a whole library of tapes from the golden age of radio). It was from a show called “Suspense!,” the episode titled “Ghost Hunt!” In it a radio disc jockey describes his next radio stunt—an overnight trip in an authentic haunted house where a number of people were reputed to have committed suicide. The morning after, when the jock’s boss goes to check on him, all they can find is his wire recorder chronicling his decent into madness until finally, goaded by some spectral presence, he gleefully runs off the cliff to his death.
This could have been that house, complete with the tall sweeping grass in front, and the back drop of a raging ocean behind it far, far below.
But the thing that grabbed me about the painting was the image of the little girl. She wore a blue dress with red ribbons, her back to the viewer as she played with some unseen toy. It was almost as though she didn’t belong there, her golden locks swaying in the sea breeze an alien splash of color in the bleak setting.
It only cost me ten dollars.
I had to move my Spider-Man movie poster to give her the spot she now inhabits, but it was worth it. Besides, the sun was beginning to fade the colors of the image of the web crawler and that would have been a shame.
This is my room, almost cluttered, especially compared to the rest of my apartment which is best characterized as spartan. In this, my safest of safe places, I sleep surrounded by the security blanket of my youth, and the rich, time-worn, lost treasures of other people’s life stories. Here is where I sleep, tucked in between high dollar sheets atop a high dollar bed, safe, where nothing can get me. At least, that’s what I thought.
It was a week ago when I woke up and had… that feeling. I don’t even know if you have ever had that feeling, but have you ever just entered a room, a room you have been in every day of your life for years and years, and everything looks exactly the same, but something is still… wrong? And you can’t put your finger on it either, like probing the inside of your mouth for that bit of food that you can feel in between your teeth, but no matter how much you explore, even when you start digging in with your fingernails, you can’t seem to find it? That feeling.
As I padded my way to the closet, I scanned my room. Spawn was still lurking in the shadows, the House in the painting still loomed, Cloud still stared at the Shinra building, and Spider-Man still stared out from his poster. No strange sounds, no eerie visitors, or notes, or nothing. Just my room, as it always had been.
I shrugged it off as just the kind of paranoia we all feel from time to time as I slipped a pair of slacks and a button up from their hangers and pulled them on, donning my armor for another day in parking lot thick traffic and boring cubicle work. As I left my inner sanctum, I took one last scan around, but the alarm clock next to my bed telling me it was half past eight told me I didn’t have time to be paranoid, so I took one last glance at the painting and strode out to meet the day.
It wasn’t until that afternoon, after listening to Jason tell the same story about him and his girlfriend’s most recent date for the eighth time, and getting stuck on the same off ramp for fifteen minutes as other drivers debated the existential meaning of a green light that I finally made it back to my apartment, went straight to my room, and booted up my laptop.
I might have given up on the story that remained in the clutches of the ancient typewriter, but I never gave up on writing in general, and I was currently at work on another story, this one about a psychotic killer that believed he lived in a land of rainbows and unicorns and was completely unaware that he was really prancing about in the inner city and carving people up with a razor blade. It wasn’t a great story, I’ll admit. Pedestrian even, but I had grown fond of the juxtaposition between fantasy and reality, and was having fun with the disparity between what the killer thought he was experiencing, and the gruesome reality of what he was actually doing.
I’d gotten a few pages in when I stopped and leaned back, lacing my fingers behind my head as I prepared to visualize the next scene when I felt that feeling again. This was crazy. This was my inner sanctum, nothing dangerous could cross here. But there it was, something out-of-place, something uncanny, just on the boundary of my perception.
I rose, and started to pace my room, my eyes scrutinizing every detail.
Nothing had changed. Every picture and comic book and trinket was in its place. Wasn’t it?
Just then I stopped and stared at the painting of the Girl of Cliff House.
The waves were still frozen in their eternal tempest, the house, as gloomy as ever as the tall grass whipped in the wind. But the girl herself was standing up–
–Which was strange because I was almost positive she had been hunched over, almost concealed by the gray-green grass.
But it was plain that she was standing in the picture. I ran my finger over the hardened paint, my fingertips grazing over the rough textures, feeling the brush strokes (I’m not that kind of guy either. You know the kind, the one that claims he wants to feel the brush strokes on the masterpieces of the world. That’s such bullshit, and a line I think guys try to float to make themselves seem sensitive and artistic to the kinds of girls that would fall for that kind of thing). The paint there was as hard and aged as the rest of the painting.
I shook my head and actually laughed. I mean, really, she was such a small part of the painting, it was an easy detail to miss. Crouched or standing, we’re talking about only a few strokes of color. Hell, that close, she didn’t even look like a girl at all, but a few swaths of color. A few dabs from a paint brush from an artist, A.J. Kenneth according to the signature in the bottom left corner, who had never really gone on to do anything else of interest, I’m sure.
Mocking my own paranoia, I ignored the painting, and sat back down to my laptop to write, but nothing would come. I couldn’t think about what my murderer, Christian, was going to do next. I couldn’t get the words to flow. I knew he thought he was off in a field of candy-canes and lollipops, and he was using his special knife to peel the rind off of a piece of magic fruit, when in reality, he was using his razor to take the skin off the face of his most recent victim. I knew the technicalities of it, but I couldn’t get the images to line up in my head, or the words to line up in the right order to describe them.
Sighing, I saved my work, closed my story, and started puttering about on the internet. I skimmed a few blogs and got caught up with my favorite YouTubers until I could feel sleepiness creep in. I punched out my laptop, ate, showered, and went to bed, still half laughing at myself for being so stupid, while underneath, that uncanny feeling refused to leave me.
The morning after, she was still standing there, and still under the shadow of Cliff House. I was being stupid, I was sure of it. Without giving her another thought, I slipped into another pair of slacks, and another button up, and began yet another day that was pretty much exactly like the last one, and the one before that.
I never wanted a nine to five job. I always felt like I was better than that. Once you found yourself in one of those kinds of jobs, you have just doomed yourself to yet another meaningless existence like most of the billions of other people who live on this planet and will never see their name written in a history book or talked about on a late night talk show. But here I am, a certified member of the rat race, almost guaranteed to neither win nor lose, but simply run it until I run out.
The only thing that keeps me sane is my writing, that glimmer of a dream I keep chasing from within my inner sanctum. That and the chunks of memory hanging on my bedroom walls that speak to adventures and dreams that remind me that maybe life is worth living, even from within the lanes of the rat race.
That night, the writing was good. Very good. I didn’t pay the Girl of Cliff House any mind as I sat down and booted up my laptop. My fingers, twitching after a day of glossing over spreadsheets and mind numbing office chatter, danced over the keys. Christian’s special knife finally tore into the magic fruit, its sticky sweet red juices bubbling to the surface, even as he failed to hear the tortured screams of his victim as the girl’s face was slowly peeled away. Christian wiped some of the goo off of what he thought were wizard’s clothes, really just a flower print sundress, until the fresh, delicious meat of the fruit was exposed and he ate heartily, unaware of what he was really eating.
A sense of victory washed over me as I completed the scene, and I leaned back in my chair and finally took in the surroundings of my room for the first time that evening. It was like that buzz you get when you’ve downed the perfect number of beers, just before you cross over into the territory of being stupid drunk, and I reveled in it until my eyes fell upon the painting.
What I saw there made me fall over, sending my second-hand chair skittering out from under me.
It didn’t matter, not when I saw her.
Everything else in the painting remained exactly the same, and considering how closely I inspected the painting over the course of the previous twenty-four hours, I felt I knew every weather worn board in the house and every wind-whipped reed of grass. But the girl… she was not only standing up, but had now turned to face me.
This wasn’t a trick of memory, or of the light, or whatever tricks that make you think you’re going insane at a time like this. It wasn’t a misread of the brush strokes. I knew when I looked at that painting the day before that she was facing away. But now, there she was, her face, or what should have been her face, was pointed directly at me.
There were no eyes, no mouth, just a clean white oval, maybe too small for the artist’s hands. At this point, I still believed that somehow, this was by the artist’s design. I don’t know why I believed this beyond some strange need to make normal something that was clearly not. And yet, despite the eerie blankness of that face beneath the golden curls, I got the distinct feeling that I was being looked at from that field of empty white.
What the hell was I supposed to do? Call the cops? Yeah, that conversation would go over well, I could just imagine. “Hi, I think my painting is coming to life and stalking me,” I might say. Sure, they might send a squad car over, if for no other reason than to put me through every drug test they could imagine and find some reason to lock me up forever.
So I did what I thought was the only thing a reasonably sane person could do. I took the painting off the wall, carried it gingerly into the kitchen, taking extra care not to let any part of the painted side of the canvas touch me, and I slashed the hell out of it with a butcher knife, shredding it until I could safely cram it into the trash, breaking the cheap frame over my knee for good measure. I hauled the trash out to the industrial trash bin outside the complex, and then went back up to my apartment.
But I couldn’t go back into my room, even with that painting gone. It felt violated, dirty, no longer my safe place. So, for at least that night, I opted to sleep on the couch. Or at least try, except every time I tried to close my eyes, all I could see was that white, oval non-face, glaring at me.
With nothing else left to do, I switched on my rarely used TV, put on Netflix, and looked for something safe to watch. Usually, when I sleep on the couch, I like to do so to old horror movies. I don’t know, I like the nightmare fuel; I think it helps my writing. But I just wanted something safe, so I flicked on one of the few sitcoms I could stomach, and tried to get lost in one of those until I was physically too tired to stay awake.
It was starting to work, too. And then I found myself watching this one scene. I’d watched it at least a dozen times; it was one of my favorites, where the big mean doctor is berating the main character, screaming, “Help me help you help me help you!” And while I thought that was just the funniest thing I have ever seen, this time, the only thing I could see was the painting hanging on the wall just over his shoulder.
I recognized the house and the crashing ocean behind it. And there she was, in a sitcom that had been off the air for years, staring straight at me with her white oval face, the Girl of Cliff House.
I cut off my TV and charged straight into my room, ignoring the walls, ignoring my Pac-Man curtains and the baseball card of Bo, and the framed Spawn #1. My skin prickled and crawled, it felt like someone was pouring cold oil down my back and across my arms, and I didn’t care. I went straight for my laptop and brought the browser up.
Even though she had been ripped from my walls, it was clear the girl wasn’t going to let me off that easy, so I did a search for A.J. Kenneth.
It took a while to find him. He wasn’t on Wikipedia. Hell, he didn’t even have a Deviant Art page, and I thought everybody had one of those if they did something creative these days.
But no, nothing. I had to swim through Facebook pages and third tier college ball players, small business men, and a guy on craigslist offering spankings (why I even bothered clicking on the craigslist page, I will never know), until I found what I was looking for.
A.J. Kenneth was a local artist, born in Hampton Roads, Virginia around the same time as me. Art teachers had said he showed a great deal of promise, and he even managed to make a few dollars off some adequate still lifes for local businesses looking to hang something off of their walls. But he never really took off as an artist that could carve his own niche.
I even found a small blurb on the Girl of Cliff House, which was supposed to be Kenneth’s big departure from bland corporate art. It never found a market, and eventually sold at a local festival for fifty bucks. A year later, A. J. Kenneth killed himself.
I couldn’t find out how he killed himself, but one page I found did at least reference his suicide note. It declared that since he couldn’t make his paintings come alive, he didn’t himself deserve to live.
If only A. J. was able to see what I had seen…
I looked over at my alarm clock, and the bright red numbers told me it was one in the morning. Shit. I still had to go to work in the morning, and I was tired. But even as my eyes kept trying to close on me, that blank white oval was there, taunting me, every time my lids clamped shut.
I’m not sure exactly when I finally fell asleep that night, or even how. I know the first time I tried to lay down after glancing at my clock, all I could do was glare at the blank spot on the wall where Cliff House once hung. That emptiness made me feel dirty, and wrong, like the way you feel as a kid when you accidentally walk in on your parents.
What was worse, though, was the nagging feeling like all that emptiness meant was that I had delayed something inevitable, that the Girl of Cliff House was gone, but not forever. That cream-colored void, cast in night-time shadow and illuminated by the eggshell blue of the laptop monitor’s glow, was this glaring, hungry thing, waiting to be filled.
I remember going back to the laptop, and trying to find more about the painting itself, but that was fruitless. It just wasn’t a remarkable painting until some idiot found it at a garage sale and thought it was just spooky enough, just weird enough, to fit into my strange little sanctuary. There wasn’t any kind of creepypasta-esque following on the internet, no forums warning others to watch out for it and stay away, no crazy tinfoil hat-wearing YouTube vids doing a piece on it with ominous music playing in the background.
I distinctly remember two-thirty coming and going, but that was the last time I recall noting the time.
The morning after jogged me awake with bright yellow sunlight pouring in between my Pac-Man curtains. Through cracked eyelids I saw that it was half past ten, and my cell phone was flashing repeatedly, letting me know I had both texts and voicemails.
Shit shit shit, I was late for work. Real late. I’m never late. Not that I didn’t have an excuse, but I’m pretty sure my boss Steve wouldn’t really be very fond of hearing, “Yeah, the reason I slept through my alarm was because this painting I bought turned out to be haunted or started coming to life or something, so I freaked out a little bit and…”
Letting my eyes drift shut, I reached for the phone, and called into the office. I lied. I don’t like lying to work, but we’ve already established that the truth wasn’t getting me anywhere this morning. So I told Steve I was up all night vomiting.
Steve understood. He likes me, thinks I’m a hard worker, and very professional. He doesn’t know that I go home and write stories about serial killers and hack second-rate paintings up to pieces because I might be mentally unbalanced. He just sees the guy who wears slacks and a button up every day, even on casual days, and gets his reports done on time every time.
As I lay there, the bit about feeling sick didn’t seem quite so much a lie. My head was pounding, my nerves were shaking like dangling car keys, and my stomach felt like it was poised over the eject button. But I knew I wasn’t sick, it was just anxiety, and who could really blame me, right? I mean, if you had seen the things I had seen over the previous few days, how well do you think you would handle it? Are you sitting there all smug, thinking how you would have maybe gotten rid of the painting at the first sign of trouble, or called a shrink, or whatever? Yeah, go ahead and try to armchair quarterback your way through this one, buddy, but I say you got to live it first.
So I felt like crap, but I also knew I wasn’t sick. What’s more, I knew there shouldn’t have been anything to be worried about. I did tear the painting up, after all. And even if I didn’t, what the hell could it possibly do to me? Jump off the wall and throw itself at me?
I decided it was time to stop being crazy and stupid, and instead time to start making some use of the day. Nothing bad had happened, nor was going to happen, so I decided to open my eyes.
The painting had returned. Only this time the girl was a few steps closer to the frame, her oval face now showing some features. Warily, I crept toward the painting, dreading every step that brought me nearer but unable to resist inspecting it more closely. Her new-found facial features were crude, little more than half-hearted dabs of paint, a couple of sloppy blue dots for eyes and a slapdash swatch of red for lips. There was something horrific and grotesque about that face when viewed from up close, something clown-like with its basic shapes and primary colors, but twisted too, an aberration. No face, real or imagined, could be contorted in just that way.
She was smiling.
My impulse was to again rip the damn thing off the wall, but even as I reached up for the painting something else caught my eye, and I froze. Slowly I turned around to survey the rest of my room, my safe place, bits of my youth preserved and posted along the walls. Except those memories were no longer preserved so much as perverted now.
Spawn remained crouched on the cover of his first issue, but now his mask was removed and his charred head was buried in his hands as though he was crying. Cloud no longer faced the Shinra building, but instead was on his knees, his face contorted into horror and grief as he held his giant sword aloft and downward as though he was about to commit seppuku. Bo Jackson traded his shoulder pads and baseball bat for the stocks of a guillotine, the fatally sharp blade just barely hovering at the edge of the card. Spider-Man was falling, grasping at an empty sky, while Joe Montana’s sure footed throwing stance was replaced by the image of him scurrying away in fear as three demonic linebackers with no faces, just cold hungry eyes, bore down on him.
When I glanced at the typewriter, the paper was still fed into it, but the half-finished paragraph was gone, replaced by an almost full sheet of text:
LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY! LET’S PLAY!
I tore the page out of the typewriter, the hidden gears and teeth letting out a metallic roar as I ripped it free. I balled it up and threw it in the waste basket before plunging into the closet for clothes. Only it was empty.
I even forgot to do the fucking laundry.
Now listen, I’m not that kind of bachelor, the one that mixes colors with whites, or habitually goes so long without doing the wash that I find myself sniffing the seats of my pants to find which is clean enough to wear again before laundry day.
It didn’t even matter. I just needed out of that apartment, away from that grotesque clown face, and the abomination my childhood mementos had become. I dug some clothes out of the hamper, pulled them on, not even registering whether they smelled half-way clean or not, and I left my apartment.
The sun hit my face warm and inviting, and it felt like, for the first time, I could really breathe. You ever notice that? How you can go months and weeks without really paying attention to what your lungs are doing and then all of a sudden you’re aware? You can feel the air rushing inside of you, and the little life-sustaining tingle as the oxygen is pulled into your blood and all that used air comes billowing out.
That’s what leaving my apartment felt like, like taking off a pair of sunglasses to find out that the sun wasn’t too harsh, and that the green of the leaves on the trees is particularly brilliant, and the air is that right level of cool that it doesn’t raise goose bumps, but still feels like diving into a pool on a hot summer day.
The insanity of my apartment quickly began to melt away and my feet idly took me in the direction of the local park. This was so much better.
I had just started to calm down and really think about what to do about my apartment when one of the big white HRT buses roared by me, belching plumes of brown-black diesel smoke behind it. The noise, so harsh compared to the sounds of singing birds and tree leaves whispering in the wind, made me look up and stare.
On the back of the slowly receding bus was one of those perfume ads. It was awash in those satiny brown and red colors usually reserved solely for those perfumes with one pretentious word for a name. In this case the perfume on sale was “desperation,” just like that, without capital letters.
It was the kind of perfume ad that you wouldn’t have noticed, despite the underwear model giving the viewer her most practiced plastic look of carnal desire. Except for this ad, where the Victoria’s Secret hopeful should have been, I saw instead that familiar white oval with golden locks and that horrific, misshapen clown face.
I looked up, and there she was on a billboard, trying to sell me a Big Mac.
The further I walked, the more I saw her. She was on park benches, and storefronts. As I numbly stumbled my way into the Ghent subdivision, I even saw some college kid doing a sidewalk chalk drawing of her.
Horror doesn’t describe what I felt. Desperation comes close, but the word doesn’t quite get you all the way there. What single word can explain what it feels like when you can feel the fear as a physical presence, running in your blood stream and twisting in your stomach? What single word can convey the feel of suffocation and claustrophobia even as you walk in the open air. That’s what this was like; every image of the girl felt like a wall, all of them silently pressing in on me until I could almost feel them crushing me, the sounds of my crunching bones filling my ears as I could feel the blood dribbling out of every orifice.
There was no safe place I could go, I realized. No place she wouldn’t chase me. Nearly drowning in terror, I headed to the only place that carried even a memory of safety for me.
I only sort of remember making my way back home, my head ringing, crammed in a vise of dread and anxiety. Time got blurry as the perpetual fear that seemed pumped into the now alien apartment via the central air system kept me from sleeping until my body finally gave up due to adrenaline withdrawal and exhaustion. I only just noticed the passing of day into night and vice versa just as I registered but ignored the calls from Steve, no doubt wondering where I was.
Meanwhile, it seemed every time I blinked my room kept changing. Eventually, Cloud had fallen on his sword, blood caking the iconic blade with the Shinra building in the backdrop. Bo’s baseball card now only showed a headless corpse, and Spider-Man was a barely visible speck surrounded by flashing ambulance and police lights.
One of the things that scared me the most was the typewriter which had filled another page with “LET’S PLAY!” written over and over again, except halfway down the page the ink had turned a dark, rusty, red.
And through it all, the Girl of Cliff House drew closer to the frame, the pleats in her blue dress growing slightly larger each time I turned around, the details of her flowing hair coming into sharper focus. Yet her face never grew any more detailed. No matter how much bigger she became in the painting, it always remained that white oval with gobs of bright blue and red sloppily splashed on in a maniacal, twisted, smile.
I retreated to my laptop. At first, I spent my time flailing around for more information on the Girl of Cliff House, trying to find some key to unlock whatever the hell had started happening to me. When that proved fruitless, I panicked until I started researching the occult, demonic possession, exorcisms, something, anything to make whatever is happening just fucking stop.
Last night (I think it was night, I’m not even sure anymore) I found something about cursed items. It’s the internet, so you have to treat everything with skepticism, but this didn’t strike me as bogus. But by the time I stumbled across it, I had grown so tired my eyes were closing all on their own.
So I climbed into bed. I don’t know what time it was; my alarm clock had taken to flashing gibberish symbols that made me queasy if I tried to make sense out of them, so I unplugged. I’m not sure how long I slept.
All I know is that when I woke up, the room was dark, the only light the eggshell blue glow from the laptop. Something was different. Granted, over the past week, I had gotten used to different as the images in my once safe place decayed and tortured me. But this was a new kind of different, something that filled each molecule of air around me.
The room now felt hot, and stuffy, like when you try hiding under the covers from the thing that lurks under your bed, and no matter how cold it is outside, you soon feel like you are slowly baking in an oven. This is Virginia, so we’re used to hot nights here, but not this early in the year. On top of the oppressing heat, there was also a dead stillness that I could feel even as I sucked the air into my lungs. It was like just the act of breathing had become more difficult, like the air had turned into a warm, sticky, sludge.
I almost ignored the scenes of gore that covered my bedroom walls as I absent-mindedly made my way to the Pac-Man curtained window, ready to push the pane up and let some fresh air in. But when my fingers reached for the window, they didn’t brush past curtain to feel the cool slick feel of glass. What I felt was instead rough and yet strangely regular, a feeling I have felt before, the feeling of oil on canvas.
My hands scrabbled at the window to a hollow thumping sound. As I watched with surreal horror, the entire image of my window, curtains and all, lurched with every movement of my hands. I clawed with even more fury, blind panic taking over, that strange survivalist instinct that leads animals to gnaw off limbs to escape a trap.
There was a loud crash as I watched the entire window fall to the floor. It bounced, and collided with my shin with sparks of shooting pain. I didn’t even wince, entranced by the sight of watching my now two-dimensional window lurch and skid before coming to rest face up on the floor.
Before me, where the window should have been, was nothing but blank wall. The paint was smooth and uninterrupted, not even showing a clean spot like when you remove a painting after it had been hanging for years. There was no sign that there had been anything there but wall.
I ran for the door. Fuck this. Fuck this place, fuck the goddamn painting, and the childhood crap and the stupid fucking window. I was done. I’ll just get a ticket to somewhere without perfume ads or billboards or yard sale fucking paintings.
Except when I hit the door, my shoulder thudded hard against it as my fingers collapsed against a flat, painted door knob. I could hear the wobble of the frame and watched, defeated, as the canvas painting of the door shifted under my weight.
I slid down and collapsed onto the floor. Behind me, the painting that stood where my door once was slowly slid and fell on its side, taking with it the Spider-Man poster with the ambulances and police cars flashing their flashers around the corpse of the web-slinger far down below.
I looked up, and in the glow of the laptop, I saw the painting of the Girl of Cliff House, her head now consuming the entire frame, globs of blue staring blankly yet maliciously down at me. Below those strange blue eyes, cast in a slash of red, the Girl of Cliff House smiled hungrily at me with her wretched clown’s smile.
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