The Overstay

When Sonya moves in to her self-restored home, she finds that her new abode would rather cling to the past. Swelling with suspense and dread, this tale continues traditional tales of haunting.

Sonya inspected the house that uninhibitedly announced its wisdom. Its knowing wrinkles set out in the wood, which peeped through chipped eggshell paint. In that way, oddly statelier than the two dark brick houses that enclosed it but somehow, cryptic, discerning. More significantly, it was as if the house had pleaded to her to acknowledge its worn image. So, three months ago, she had chosen it to live her childhood dream home of restoring a decades-old house.

Letting out an extended yawn, she wiped her palms on her denim jeans. The day, indeed, had been a long one—a tiresome process of unpacking and shoving furniture into the house’s mouth, which would have been sealed for a ninetieth year. Sonya walked toward the steps. When she stood on the wide, country porch, she looked out at her Uncle Elroy’s dark brown face and fuzzy, light grey beard. He climbed in that old, rattly Chevy truck and she chuckled at its sound. The sharp November breeze (biting for Mississippi) pierced her sweater, as she called out into the growing dusk.

“I think that’s all, Unc.”

His raspy voice called back, “Alright, let me know how that faucet does. Ha, ha, I know you’re tough, still be safe, now!” All week, he had tremendously helped with the handiwork, but Sonya was going to miss his company the most, after he left out for the South side of town. His late night drinking binges with incessant, incoherent chatter, (bless his heart) she would not miss.

“Okay. You take it easy, and I sure do thank you for everything.”

“You know it’s no problem.” As she nodded, he spoke again, “Hey, did I ever tell you about…? Er, um, well. He paused, then slowly continued, “Well, maybe another time.”

“Alright, then. You have a good one—and, please, save the drinking for the house!”

“Aw, sweetheart, look, ha, ha, you know your old uncle can’t help it!”

The front door groaned, as Sonya entered; the wooden floorboards, too, sounded. The contrast of fresh paint and aged wood pricked at her nose. A single lamp feverishly beamed on the floor, in what would be the entertainment room; mint-colored walls were bare. To the far left, a gas heater stood. And, next to it, there was her stereo; she turned it on, hearing only crackly static on all the stations. She shrugged: Problem with the antenna, maybe. Tomorrow, Sonya would spend the day decorating. “Can’t wait to get started,” she murmured.

Sonya crossed the spacious floor to get to the kitchen, which was tucked away on the right side of the house. The darkness swallowed her, while she fished for the light that was fixated somewhere on the ceiling. Soon, she located it and tugged the hanging switch. Click. Clack.

Sonya froze in bewilderment. “Wanda, how’d you get out of your kennel?” Meow. Meow. Wanda purred and agilely rubbed her dark gray fur on the wooden cabinets, making her way to Sonya. Showing razor teeth, she weaved between her ankles. Meow. Sonya could not figure how the cat had gotten out—remembering she had secured it hours ago. Being her logical self, she tried to gather some sanity: Maybe I didn’t fasten it. After all, being tired’ll do that to you. 

The hallway, leading directly to Sonya’s bedroom was icy. As good as uncle said that gas heater would be, it had not reached the house’s rear. Her eyes settled on stacked boxes, and in the middle of the mess was the neatest item, her made-up bed of evergreen sheets. Sonya sat, opened some bulky ones and began to explore the contents: Books, figurines, folders, random clothing, papers and more books. At the bottom of one box, there was a tarnished gold locket; combating bitter temptation to open it, she let the locket lie, as her heart sank with fading memories of some school-age heartache. She rose to open another box and another floorboard squeaked beneath her; this one, though, creaked louder than all the others. Looking closely the piece, it appeared to be some kind of hideaway. With effort, sure enough, she ended up lifting it. Reaching down into darkness, dirt caked her hands before she pulled out a weathered, shoe-box-sized lead case. Again, she wrestled with a heightened urge. Now, what could be in there? I shouldn’t open it, but what if it’s something I should return to the previous owners? I wonder.

With the rising of lid, the radio began to blast the mournful sounds of “St. James Infirmary” from the front of the house, and total shock, terror funneled through her being. Let her go, let her go, God bless her. Wherever she may be.  Fumbling in her grasp, the case fell on the floor, unleashing dozens of newspaper clippings. Startled, she dashed out the door, but she was determined not to be disoriented as she reached the entertainment room. When I die, I want you to dress me in straight laced shoes. A box-back coat and a Stetson hat…She turned down the volume. Turning to face the hallway, she could see Wanda facing her bedroom doorway; the cat was looking upward, moving her head from side to side, as if watching something. “Wanda?,” she said while releasing some soft laughter. That crazy kitty and her antics.  Wanda turned to Sonya, meowed, arched her back and plopped down at the end of the hallway, lurking. 

Bleep. Beep. Sonya reached her back pocket for her cellphone. It was her Aunt Edna.

“Hi, Aunt Edna.” The hesitation on the line, told Sonya that she was not her chattering self.

She spoke in broken phrases, “Sweetie. Something…something’s happened.”

“Well, what’s wrong? Is it your back again? If you need money for your medicine, you know I can help yo—.”

Her aunt interjected, “It’s your uncle.” Crackle. Crick. Beep. 

Concerned about the both of them, she spent the next fifteen minutes dialing and redialing and dialing again, but her aunt did not answer. Darn signal. Having raised her, Sonya cared for her aunt and uncle and hoped there was nothing too serious going on. She hoped it was merely one of her uncle’s drunken misadventures.

With a troubled spirit, Sonya headed for the bathroom to freshen herself. Pulling the dangling switch, the small room brightened. She put the phone on the counter top but kept an eye on it, waiting for a call. She washed her face with warm water, trying to ease the anxiety; taking deep breaths at the mirror, she was met by her round, dark brown head and the twists that spilled out of it; she returned to her bedroom. Her watch read eight o’clock. Still early. She sat on the floor to look through what had fallen from that mysterious little box. Before she could pluck the first piece from the floor. She stopped right in the midst. For a fleeting second, something announced itself from her peripheral vision. It’s nothing. Just a  trick of the mind. She quickly turned to face whatever was there. No. This was no product of the imagination. A tall, ghastly-looking woman clothed in what looked like a black woolen dress stood; no head capped the figure. Sonya’s eyes widened as she loudly gasped. Terrified yet confused, she slammed the door and violently punched numbers on the cell. No signal. No signal. No Godforsaken signal. Silence.

The room was filled with no sound for several minutes, except for Sonya’s heavy breathing. She finally whispered to herself, “I have got to get my tail out of here…and, Wanda! We gotta get out of here! Where’s Wanda?! Oh, my dirty turtles. She’s out there with…with…”

She gathered some strength and slowly, very cautiously opened the door. Nothing. Nothing but some overplayed radio tune. In the same spot she found Wanda and scooped her up, as she softly purred. Relief beamed from somewhere in her soul. Sigh.

Wham. The bedroom door shut. Sonya shuffled up the hallway, with fright pulsing in her chest. She snatched her keys, and out the door she carried herself and the cat into the clear, nippy November night. Sonya sprinted to the side of the house, where her Jeep was parked. Ramming her key in the door, it didn’t open. From a faint light in the window, she could see that it was the wrong key and went for another attempt. Under her breath, she muttered, “Come on, come on.”  Success. Sonya cranked the vehicle up, backed up and drove out with thoughts of never returning.

Morning innocently arrived, but its sunrise was more cunning; it beamed and reached on, on and on into the home’s secrecy. Spilling a strange light into that one particular room, where a 45-year-old, wilted black and white photo of a woman was attached to a paper—yellowed with age; it illuminated certain words: Ruby B. Jackson. Found dead two days later. Suicide.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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