I had promised that during October I would release some fiction writing. My plan is to finish this story in October, but if it goes a bit longer I will still make sure to finish it before the end of the year. For a bit of a prologue I wanted to say that I have been trying to figure out how to write a story inspired by the H.P. Lovecraft story, The Dreams in the Witch House. I hope you enjoy this attempt at some adapted horror writing.
Essex Community College hadn’t been Ari’s first choice, but when Arkham University hadn’t come through on the financial aid front she thougth she could at least get her pre-rec classes out of the way without having to pay too much out of pocket. After doing some intense online hunting she’d managed to track down a place to stay for the year that wouldn’t force her to eat only instant mac and ramen every day. The Manor looked almost like it should be a bed and breakfast, but with barely any tourist trade in Essex County the owner had decided to rent it out to students. By the time she had enrolled and gotten in touch with Mrs. Smith, possibly the most generic sounding name ever, there had only been one room left and it was in the attic. While having to treck up three flights of stairs wasn’t ideal at least the place came furnished so she wouldn’t have to worry about lugging anything heavier than her books up the stairs. Even just those seemed like a daunting task, but she’d figure it out once she got there.
The only thing Ari really knew about the Essex area was that there were a few colleges, the major one being Arkham University. While she had really planned to start there in the fall, her folks had convinced her that ECC would be a fine start and admittedly she did know some people who would be going there. Her cousin Elsie had started there the year before and raved about their history program. Apparently there was one professor who would did this local history course that was basically independent study. You got to pick a topic and then only had to come to a total of three physical classes where you really just gave some quick updates on how your project was going. It turned out that this particular class was always taught in the fall so Ari thought she’d sign up and give herself the chance at an easy A. With that and a some basic intro courses thrown in she hoped the semester wouldn’t be too awful and maybe she could use the local history project as a basis for some sort of thesis once she transferred. AU was really into undergraduate research and she heard that if you transferred in with a topic in mind that helped to get you into classes you wanted more easily and ensured you wouldn’t have to delay graduation.
With just a week before classes started Ari and Elsie had a road trip planned, which was great for Ari because she still didn’t drive. Her town was easy to bike and with the money she’d saved from her part-time job at the library she’d been able to put together a decent savings that would help her make it through her first semester of college at least without having to try and find a job right away. With her bike, boxed up books, and two giant duffel bags full of stuff Ari felt mostly ready for this new adventure. The whole ride into Essex her cousin kept telling how great the school was and that there was tons of quirky stuff in the town, Ari had sort of been tuning her out until she happened to catch the word ghost. After a couple attempts to interrupt Elise, Ari finally managed to get her to stop talking about the wonders of maple trees in fall and asked, “what was that about a ghost?”
“Oh yeah, I thought you might want to know I heard that Manor place is haunted.”
“What do you mean haunted?!”
Ari spent the rest of the ride to Essex fixated on Elsie’s casual mention of The Manor being haunted. She hadn’t been able to tell her much of anything. Apparently some girl at a party last year had said she swore she saw something creepy when she spent the night at the Manor. Ari wasn’t sure she should believe the passing comment of a girl at a party who’d been in her third round of beer pong and losing pretty badly to Elsie when she decided to share this tidbit. With no reception for a majority of the drive she didn’t have any way to try and find out more about a possible ghost. No matter what else she tried to think about, she even asked Elsie to talk about the parties ECC students threw last year, nothing really worked to get the idea of a ghost in her new place out of her head. Ari decided that once she got moved in she’d sit down and do some research, that should help her stop picturing creepy things attacking her while she slept, she hoped.
When Elsie pulled into The Manor’s driveway Ari felt a sense of ease wash over her. After hours of fixating on ghosts the surprising normalcy of the house made the entire idea seem ridiculous. It sort of reminded her of the house from Charmed, which made her chuckle. The idea of actual ghosts being inside a house that looked like a house owned by witches seemed absolutely impossible. Mrs. Smith had told her that the three other residents would already be moved in by the time Ari got there and that one of them would be able to let her in. Apparently even though she owned the place Mrs. Smith very rarely came by the house, if they ran into any issues she had said that her nephew would be the one to take care of it. With Elsie’s help she managed to get everything out of the back of her truck and just as she was wondering whether someone was actually home to let her in the front door swung open to reveal three people who seemed remarkably excited, especially for this late on a Sunday.
“Hi!!” yelled the tallest person on the porch, “sorry we heard you were coming today and we thought we’d all give you a big welcome since you are a freshman and all. I’m Parker, they/them, and this is Becca, my girlfriend, we share the second floor. She uses she/her by the way.”
Becca leaned past Parker and waved, causing a collection of metal bracelets to chime with the motion.
“Hiya, Parker really likes making sure people feel welcome. One of the things I love about them. We are here to help, thought you might need some since you are all the way up in the attic.”
“Oh wow, year that would be great. I guess you all already know who I am, but Ari, umm she/her, and this is my cousin Elsie, same pronouns. Sorry if that sounded odd I’ve never really said pronouns out loud before.’
“No worries,” said the third person on the porch,” ECC made it part of orientation last year and we wanted to get you comfortable with it. Introducing ourselves with them felt like the best way to prep you. My name’s Claudia, I’m on the first floor, ze/zir are my pronouns. Oh and the nephew that Mrs. Smith mentioned is my partner. He lives in the carriage house around back. You’ll probably see him around, if you need anything fixed or set up in your room you can let me know and I can pass the message along.”
During all of the introductions Ari’s new roommates helped her lug her things up the two flights of stairs and into the attic. Her bike they told her could be tucked inside the garage space attached to the carriage house. Only Damon, the nephew, had a car in Essex so the garage had plenty of space for storage and he left it unlocked so they could pop in and grab whatever they might need, even if he wasn’t home. After a quick tour of the house, Elsie headed out, letting Ari know she’d check in with her later in the week, and her new roommates let her know they’d be around, but that they thought she might want some time to get settled. She thanked everyone for their help and then set to getting as much of her stuff put away as she could. Until she unpacked she never be able to relax.
After a couple hours the attic space felt homier and Ari finally gave herself some time to just relax. Laying on her bed she stared at a picture from the last day of high school. She and her friends had all crowded around this picnic table outside the library and made the goofiest faces they could think of. It was probably the most unflattering thing any of them had ever done, but they had all promised to print a copy out and put it somewhere they could see it. She missed them all already, but she knew she’d see them over breaks and she could always text. Her best friend Liz had insisted that they do at least a weekly video call. She’d text her to set one up sometime tomorrow. As her mind started to wander she felt herself drifting off to sleep, she knew there was something she was going to, but she was just too tired to remember what that was.
Ari found herself standing in the middle of her room, though now that she thought about it this didn’t really seem like her room. There were drying plants hanging from the beams in the ceiling and as she walked forward she felt the brittle leaves lightly graze her cheeks. She felt drawn to the long table against the wall in front of her. It it was covered in multiple books, some opened to certain pages while others were marked with ribbons that trailed over the edge of the table. Scattered around the books were dried herbs and bits of the plants that Ari had noticed earlier, but as she drew closer she noticed something moving. Near the table leg was a small brown shape that seemed to grow larger as she drew closer. As she bent down she gasped as something that looked like a brown rat skittered past her. With that minor shock she felt herself falling backwards, suddenly unsteady on her legs, and in that moment she felt herself wake up.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark she realized she was in her room, though she had apparently fallen asleep on top of the covers. Everything seemed normal, her empty boxes lay folded on the floor and her books were also safely tucked into the bookcases that were tucked against the wall across from her bed. As she continued to scan the room she thought she saw something moving in the shadows, but she brushed it off as her tired mind paying tricks on her. After quickly changing into a sleep shirt she curled up under the covers and tried to stop thinking about the possibility of rats in her new room.
After a mostly restful night’s sleep, Ari only remembered waking up once worried that some sort of rodent might have made it into her bed. It turned out it was just a rogue sock that she’d missed when putting her clothes away, so she’d managed to relax once she’d tucked it into the correct drawer. Throwing on her favorite oversized black hoody and a pair of jeans she made her way downstairs. It was still a little early, but as she made her way downstairs she could thankfully smell that someone had made coffee. On the counter she saw what looked like an ancient Mr. Coffee that looked like it could make enough for an entire apartment complex worth of people. She’d been told not to worry about bringing any kitchen things, the house came with a fully set up kitchen, but she had brought a handful of mugs that she didn’t want to leave at home. After tracking down her well loved almost soup bowl sized mug with the phrase, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m under caffeinated” on it she grabbed a seat on one of the stools at the bar style island in the center of the room and checked through her phone. She responded to some texts, deleted some spam, and finally remembered what she’d planned to do last night. With a quick tab she opened up Google and started looking for anything related to ghosts and Essex County.
Most of the sites were just sort of generic pages that listed all of the possible ghosts that people insisted were around the area. Ari was about to call it quits when she saw a picture that looked almost like The Manor with the words Witch House underneath it. Tapping the picture pulled up a site that mentioned a legend being tied to a property in town that was known for years as the Witch House. Before she could get to far she heard a yawning sound that sort of sounded like Morning coming from nearby. Pulling her head away from her phone she saw Parker trudging into the kitchen. Their short hair was sticking up at odd angles and they were still wearing what Ari assumed were pajamas, the oversized white t-shirt and plaid boxers seemed like they’d been slept in.
“Oh thank Claud, coffee!”
“Did you just say Claud?”
As Parker grabbed a mug they turned to Ari and said, “I did, Claudia, sometimes Claud though it depends on zir mood if the nickname applies, gets up super early to go do productive adulty things. Ze does yoga at dawn in the park. It is pretty close to the house and ze says it helps set the tone for the week. Becca sometimes tags along, but I’m not realy into yoga. Coffee though that sets the tone for my week, well day.”
Ari chuckled, “yeah I’m not huge into yoga either. I tried it with my friend Liz and she loved it, but I felt like I was just making a fool of myself. Coffee I can totally agree with you on.”
The two chatted a bit about ECC, what Parker was looking forward to as a junior, and discussed some house businesss like the chore schedule and grocery shopping. Ari then realized this would make the perfect opportunity to ask about the ghost Elsie had mentioned. They seemed so chill that she kept thinking they’d just brush it off, but as soon as she mentioned ghost Parker put down their coffee.
“I wondered when you’d ask.”
“Wait, so this is a real thing?”
“Well it depends on your opinion of ghosts, but there is a sort of local legend that ties into the property the house is built on. I’ve admittedly never seen or experienced anything, but Becca did say that when she first moved in she could have sworn she kept seeing some sort of rat thing that fit with what she’d heard about the house.”
“What does a rat have to do with a ghost? That seems more like something you need to worry about just in any old house.”
“I should probably start at the beginning, grab some more coffee and I’ll tell you the whole story.”
Essex County found itself drawn into the fever of witch persecution that struck the East Coast in the 1692. While not often mentioned alongside those who persecuted in Salem, there was a woman named Keziah Mason. Not much was known about her, but it had been rumored that she was involved with things that were less than normal. She had never married and lived alone in a small house that was on the plot of land that The Manor is on now. For years she had lived alone and unbothered. One night a group of men came to her home demanding that she come with them to be questioned. Keziah, having heard what had been happening in Salem, attempted to hide, but the men stormed into her home and pulled her outside. She was then charged with having committed acts of witchcraft against the people of Essex and in particular she was charged with leading other women into devilry. While Keziah attempted to refute these charges, but the men continued to yell over her and bring up moments when she had been seen with women and seemed to be giving them small items. They also called into question a creature that was often seen with her, a brown rat. This being they insisted had to be her familiar and when she was forcibly examined by the court they stated that a mark on her neck was where this familiar fed. Keziah insisted this was a scar from when she was burned as a child while tending a fire, but the men did not listen. During this the men had raided her home and found books, herbs, and also the brown rat that they insisted was her familiar. They killed this animal in front of her, insisting that it must be destroyed.
Keziah was then thrown in jail and in two days time was brought to the town square to be hung. As her charges were read she stood completely still and stared out at the crowd. When they asked if she wished to speak to the crowd she raised her chin and in a calm voice stated, “I feel pity for you and for the guilt you will carry. You killed an innocent being before today and now you will kill an innocent woman. I have merely lived my life and have only tried to help those that I have met. Today you commit an act that will haunt you for the rest of your days and I will leave this world knowing that I have done only good.” After this speech the hangman tightened the noose around her neck and Keziah Mason was no more.
After her death the home of Keziah Mason was dismantled and other houses were built on the land, but no one seemed to live there very long. At one point another boarding type style house was built on the property and in 1931 a man named Walter Gilman insisted that he was being driven mad by the spirit of Keziah Mason. He stated he saw a monstrous rat-like creature and was constantly visted by a crone-like presence that kept him from sleeping. The stories he told were so frightening that the author H.P. Lovecraft even adapted them into a story known as Dreams in the Witch House. He though altered the story a bit and killed poor Walter Gilman in the retelling, which apparently the man who shared his ghost stories with the writer did not appreciate. Walter at some point bought the boarding house, but instead of turning it into some sort of museum or tourist attraction he instead refused to allow visitors and slowly let the house fall into disrepair. After his death the building was torn down and eventually the Smiths purchased it and began work on building their dream home on the lot. While the house was beautiful the couple was rarely there. They were well known travelers and had planned to retire in the home, but when Mr. Smith died unexpectedly his wife couldn’t bare to live there. She placed her sister, then later her nephew in charge of the home and reduced her time in Essex to once a year to visit near the holidays.
The legend of Keziah had once been something the town tried to promote, but with so little known about the woman and with only one trial they did not have much they could go on. After a few failed attempts in recent years to try and sway Salem tourists the Essex had stopped trying to turn the sad story of a murdered woman into something they could profit off of. The Manor occassionally received sporadic visitors asking whether this was the home mentioned in the Witch House story, but they were never invited inside and always told that the owner did not appreciate tourists. This normally resulted in some grumbling, but recently if anyone came by Becca would give them a baked good or some sort of little thanks for stopping by gift. No one had really seen anything tied to the legend, beyond Becca who at one point thought she say a slightly large brown something, but she was sure it was just part of her having read too much about the legend before bed one night.
After the explanation Ari felt a bit better and admittedly a lot less jumpy about the possiblity of a ghost being in the house. Parker assured her that no one had ever really seen anything and that if someone mentioned it, normally they were drunk and hadn’t even been inside the house before. Becca arrived at the tail end of the story and agreed that really that wasn’t anything to be afraid of and that the worst thing that Ari might run into was a little brown field mouse in the colder months in the garage. They always spotted one or two trying to find food and keep warm after the first frost hit. Ari maid a mental note to try to avoid the garage when it got cold and headed up to her room with what was left of her coffee to try and finish up getting her room organized before she went out to explore the town.
End of part one.
Keep an eye out next week for another installment of Witch House! If you are looking for more Halloween content check out my recent articles on The Nerdy Girl Express.