A House With a Home
- by Jon Mayo -
Twenty-three Pinecrest Road was the fifth house they checked out that day, and the only one that Arturo had spoken to. Lester thought it was a good sign but still felt embarrassed. The real estate agent grinned and nodded toward Arturo, standing at the other side of the living room, whispering to the walls.
“It’s his thing,” said Lester. “He once talked to my parents’ oak tree in their backyard, told them to spill some booze on the roots once in a while.”
“We all have our quirks,” said the agent. “I talk to the flowers in my garden. It helps their growth, or so they say.”
Lester smiled. From where he stood, he could see the road leading down to the main road. The front lawn was covered in snow that glowed bright white in the sun. The living room was spacious and had wooden floors. He imagined himself writing his novel there.
He turned and saw Arturo grinning at him, motioning him to come closer. Lester excused himself, and the real estate agent stepped away to give them some privacy.
“Don’t look too excited or else we won’t get a good deal,” said Lester.
“Sorry,” said Arturo. “But this is it. This is the house we’re getting.”
“Did the house tell you that? You’ve been chatting it up since we got here.”
“Would you believe me if I said yes?”
Lester snickered and shook his head. “If the house can negotiate on our behalf, that would be great.”
“So you’re on board?”
“It’s a bit out of our price range, don’t you think?”
Lester sighed. “I gotta admit, the other houses didn’t do it for me. At all. But this one? There’s something to it. Must be the view.”
“I’ll do the talking, but back me up. Okay?”
Lester kissed him. “I always got your back.”
After some verbal judo, they negotiated the price down to their original budget. The next day, they made it official and signed the paperwork. One line for Mr. Arturo Balicao-McGinty and another for Mr. Lester Balicao-McGinty.
They hired a moving company to transport most of their belongings from the city to their new home, and some furniture they had to buy new from the town close by. After five days of moving, unpacking, and settling, they celebrated with some drinks: a glass of wine for Arturo, and a six-pack for Lester.
They woke up early the next day for Arturo’s first day at work. Lester ironed Arturo’s dress shirt and pants. He cooked breakfast, a plate of scrambled eggs and Filipino longganisa—Arturo’s favourite food growing up and which Lester was growing to love. He also reheated the rice from the previous night, which Arturo couldn’t live without.
“Breakfast is ready!” said Lester after setting the table.
When he didn’t get a response, he went upstairs to investigate. He checked their room, but Arturo wasn’t there. Lester headed for the guest room and heard whispering inside. Arturo was talking to the empty walls again. Normally, Lester didn’t mind, but this time it was creeping him out, the hairs on his arms raised.
“. . . a good person,” said Arturo to the wall.
“Does the house have a name?” asked Lester. Arturo yelped, startled by his voice. “Sorry. Breakfast is ready.”
At the dining table a short time later, Lester asked his question again.
“Sam,” said Arturo, finishing up his plate.
“The house’s name is Sam? Did it tell you that?”
“Okay,” Lester shrugged, not prying any further.
Lester kissed his husband before Arturo left for work. “You’re okay with this picture, Mr. Director of Nursing?” he asked, holding up Arturo’s ID.
“It’s my resting bitch face, so of course I’m okay with it.” He switched his expression, appearing bored yet stern, getting a chuckle out of Lester. “If you need anything, call me, okay?”
“I'll be fine. The house will take care of me.” Lester gave the living room a thumbs up. “Right? You’ll take care of me, won’t you?”
Arturo smirked. “Seriously. If something happens, call me. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
They kissed again, and Lester watched Arturo get in their car and drive off to work. Now that he had the house to himself, he could finally begin his life’s work: the next great American novel. His writing desk was pushed against the wall of the living room. If he needed to take his eyes away from the computer, he could rest them with a view of the pine trees in the backyard.
The words were slow in the first hour, but after his second cup of coffee the sentences started writing themselves, his fingers tapping furiously on the keyboard to keep up. He finished two chapters before he stretched his arms and stopped to take a break. When he got up from his desk to get a third cup of coffee, the tv suddenly turned on. Looney Tunes was playing, showing Foghorn Leghorn about to assault a dog. Lester assumed the timer had just glitched. Or Arturo was playing a prank on him, trying to give him a scare.
“Is that you, Sam?” Lester joked, and switched the tv off. He went to the kitchen and filled his mug again.
The tv blinked back on. Lester went to turn it off and jumped. In the tv’s reflection, he saw someone sitting on the couch. Coffee spilled on his hand, but it didn’t burn since he’d cooled it down with soy milk. When he looked, there was no one on the couch. Lester checked the black surface of the tv, seeing if it had warped the light in a way that made him see things.
Lester eyed his third cup of coffee and set it down on the table. Too much caffeine, maybe? He wasn’t sure if caffeine could trigger a hallucination, but it was an option. Then the tv turned on again.
Lester shook his head, said “No,” to the empty air, and took his coat from the rack and donned his boots in a hurry before grabbing his keys to the house. He locked the door behind him, and walked, then power walked away.
Lester went to get lunch.
The local place—a ten-minute walk—had the design of a traditional American diner, with red neon lights outlining: “Ray’s Diner.” Broken cement led up to the front door, and large window panes showing a handful of patrons inside nestled between stretches of aluminum siding.
Inside, Lester was greeted by the smell of grease and a smile from the waitress. “I’ll be right with you, honey. Go ahead and take a seat somewhere,” she said.
Lester made for the far corner, and an old man smiled and nodded at him as he passed. Not long after, the waitress came to his booth and handed him a menu.
“Oh, honey, you don’t look good. Everything all right?”
“I’m fine. Just a bit jacked up with caffeine.”
“Mmm-hmmm. So we sticking with water.”
“You from out of town?”
“We just moved in the neighbourhood.”
“Oooh, that’s nice. Where at?”
“Twenty-three Pinecrest Road.”
The waitress screwed up her face. “You know that place is haunted, right?”
“Come on, Amy. Don’t do that to the nice gentleman,” said the old man, cutting in.
“What? I’m just telling the truth,” said the waitress. “When I was a kid, me and my friends went to that house before someone bought it. All of us felt something weird, like someone was watching us or making us feel unwelcome, you know. Then my friend Lisa went to the rooms upstairs all by herself. Sure ’nough, she came back down screaming and crying and running outta the house.”
“Ridiculous,” said the old man.
“When we caught up with her and asked what she saw, she said there was a ghost hiding in one of them closets. You can ask her yourself if you want proof. Lisa works at Chic’ Lady down at the strip mall near Kensington.”
“If it’s haunted, then why did the Greenes never mention anything about a ghost?” asked the old man. Then he turned to Lester. “I knew the Greenes for years before they moved out of that house, and not one mention of any ghost.”
“Maybe they got Jesus by their side. I don’t know,” said Amy. “You believe in Jesus, hon?”
“Don’t ask him that,” said the old man.
“My spouse does,” said Lester.
“Well, if you need some exorcism or something, my uncle Derek can come by and bless them walls,” said Amy. “Know what you’re getting for lunch?”
By three o’clock, he’d finished up and paid his bill. Lester got to know Amy the waitress and promised her he’d bring his husband by on the weekend. He thought about going back to the house, but was afraid that Amy was right—that it was haunted. Then again, the old man did point out that the previous owners had never complained or mentioned any hauntings. The tv turning itself on could just be a software glitch, and the face he’d seen was probably from too much caffeine.
He headed home, unlocking the door slowly, and peeked inside. The tv was off. He walked in quietly, as if any kind of noise might trigger . . . something. It occurred to him then that he looked stupid: a man tiptoeing inside his own house because he thought it was haunted.
“I’m losing it,” he said, shaking his head. “Just a glitch, or a prank. There are no ghosts. But . . . if you really exist, show me a sign.”
Lester waited with bated breath, readying himself for any ghastly sightings—decapitated bodies or floating ectoplasms. When nothing happened, he laughed, went to the kitchen, and threw out the coffee he’d bought online that contained an absurd amount of caffeine. Then went about his day.
As the designated “house husband,” Lester took the pork chops from the freezer and left them in the sink to thaw. Then turned on the tv to play Mario Kart. Hours later, he prepared dinner, frying up the chops and steaming vegetables while he set the timer on the rice cooker.
By six o’clock the skies had turned dark red and the sun was halfway through the horizon. Headlights shined through the living room, and Lester sighed in relief—Arturo was home.
“How was work?” asked Lester, giving Arturo a kiss as he came inside.
“Fine. Orientation felt like I was in high school again. Can’t wait to get to work, you know? How was your day?”
“Did you set the timer on the tv?”
“It was glitching out this morning. Kept turning on by itself. Probably needs replacing.”
“What else happened?”
“Nothing. Oh, I threw out that coffee. You were right about the caffeine level—it was making me see things.”
Arturo exhaled through his nose. “Remember when I told you I have a third eye? That I can see things other people can’t. Like spirits?”
“I thought you were joking. Or just trying to sound cool and edgy.”
Arturo playfully slapped his arm. “I didn’t know how to bring this up. Was thinking of the next full moon, but that would be more confusing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Whatever you see, don’t freak out, okay?” Arturo turned to his right and spoke to the empty floor. “Go ahead. You can show yourself to him.”
Lester was about to tell him to stop talking to the walls, to the floor, to anything that couldn’t talk back—it was childish and, to be perfectly honest, creepy. Then he blinked. Then he screamed.
A boy stood in the middle of their living room, staring up at him. Arturo held Lester close, keeping him from falling on his ass or running out of the house shrieking. Seconds later, the boy was gone.
“Wh-what was that?” asked Lester.
“His name is Sam. He’s the spirit of this house.”
“Spirit? Sam? What?!”
It took a while for Lester to calm down. When he did, they talked it out over dinner and several drinks. Arturo explained that Sam had hid from Mr. and Mrs. Greene when they lived in the house. Sam would try to make his presence felt, but the Greenes retaliated with negative emotions.
“He’s still a child,” said Arturo. “Negative emotions scare him. I think it’s related to how he died.”
Lester had barely touched his food. He took a long gulp of his beer—his third bottle. “How’d he die?”
“I don’t know. And he doesn’t remember. All he knows is he’s stuck in the house. But thanks to us, he can finally roam around.”
“So you were telling the truth when you said you can see spirits, huh?”
“Since I was a young kid. Scared the crap out of me at first, but my lola taught me that there’s nothing to be afraid of—they’re alone and in need of good company.”
“Won’t we have any privacy?”
“We do. I’ve placed some anting-anting in our bedroom and bathrooms. Sam can’t enter those rooms unless I disable them.”
“I’m still weirded out by this. Can’t you do an exorcism?”
Arturo glared at him. “Never. I’ll never let that happen to him. A spirit must move on naturally. Forcing them out could land them in Limbo. Or somewhere worse.”
Lester flinched at Arturo’s tone. “Sorry. So we’re stuck with him?”
“We can help him move on to a better place. Usually it means fulfilling unfinished business or burying their bones. I very much doubt his bones are unburied.”
After his sixth beer, Lester headed for the bedroom while Arturo talked to Sam. Thankfully, the boy didn’t show up while Lester was drunk. Otherwise he would have thrown up. Lester passed out as soon as he hit the bed.
Loud footsteps pulled Lester out of sleep. Sunlight filtered through the window, and he grimaced at the mild hangover weighing down his head. Arturo was getting ready for work. Lester checked the time and cursed himself for not waking up first.
“Sorry, babe. I’ll make breakfast,” said Lester, struggling to right himself.
“It’s fine. I’ll get something from the cafeteria. You rest.”
“I had the weirdest dream last night. The house was haunted by a ghost, and . . .”
Arturo gave him a look.
“It wasn’t a dream, was it?”
“No.” Arturo sat on the edge of the bed. “I can call in sick if this is too much.”
Having had, until now, zero experience with ghosts and spooky stuff, Lester considered it. But if Arturo missed out on his second day at work it wouldn’t look good, and might jeopardize his position.
“Just tell me what I need to do, or what to expect,” said Lester.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call in?”
“If we’re gonna live with this ghost kid, I might as well learn how to deal with it.”
Arturo finished dressing and they went down to the living room where the tv was tuned to Nickelodeon.
“Sam, I’m going to work, so it will be just you and Lester in the house,” said Arturo to the empty couch. “He can see you only if you want to. Don’t be afraid of him. He’s a kind and loving man. In fact, he’s also afraid of you, but he wants to learn and not be afraid. Isn’t that right, Lester?”
“Uh, yup,” said Lester, feeling a bit ridiculous for talking to the empty couch. Yet part of him knew there was a spirit staring back at him.
“Talk to one another, get to know each other, and be good, okay?” Arturo nodded toward the couch and then Lester.
Arturo kissed him on the lips and left for work. Lester stood in the middle of the room while Hey Arnold! played on the tv. He expected Sam to reveal himself and start a conversation, but after a while there were no signs that Sam wanted to begin anything.
“So, you like cartoons?” Lester asked the empty couch. Things would’ve been a lot easier if he could see the ghost child. That way, he could read his facial expression and body language. “Can you . . . can you show yourself to me?”
Lester waited. Seconds later, he yelled and looked away as Sam suddenly appeared on the couch. When he turned back to look again, the child was gone.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean to scare you. I'm not . . . used to this. Maybe if you can peek out from the corner instead of showing up out of nowhere—so I don’t get startled?”
Lester waited for Sam to do just that, to slowly step into view and formally introduce himself, maybe in a classically ghostly British accent. Nothing happened. And it took a while before Lester realized that he had scared a ghost.
“I’m going to start working, okay? You just stay there and watch tv.”
He sat at his desk and opened up his laptop. Usually the words flowed from his fingertips. Today, he was writing empty. At times he’d feel Sam watching from behind him, or peeking from the archway connected to the living room. He’d quickly glance over to check, but Sam was never there. Distracted, Lester took his laptop and went upstairs to the bedroom.
Arturo had said their room was protected with an anting-anting, a charm imbued with magic. There was one hanging on the bedroom door, a bronze triangle with some inscriptions on it. Lester wasn’t sure if it worked, but he took his husband’s word for it. He sat cross-legged on the bed, flipped his laptop open, and began typing.
Compared to his good days, he did terrible. At least he got some words in—a total of four hundred words in a span of two hours. He blamed the strain on his knees from sitting cross-legged and the caffeine deprivation. He blamed the ghost haunting his living room, watching cartoons all by himself. He blamed Arturo for not telling him they were buying this house solely to adopt a ghost child. Then again, even if he had told him, Lester would have brushed it off as one of Arturo’s quirks. Still, he could have given him a heads-up.
His stomach grumbled. He dreaded the journey downstairs to fix himself lunch, but hungry and coffee-starved, Lester braved the trek to the kitchen. The tv was still playing, so at least he knew Sam was there. He managed to make himself a sandwich and a cup of coffee without incident.
His moment of peace was soon interrupted by sudden silence from the living room. Part of him wanted to go back upstairs and continue working. Another part was curious about why the tv had gone quiet. He left his cup of coffee on the counter. Just in case.
The tv showed the menu for his Nintendo Switch. Both controllers lay on the floor.
“Did you want to play?” asked Lester, picking up the controllers.
The hairs on his arms stood on ends at the sudden chill.
“I’ll take that as a yes. I’m gonna close my eyes, and when I open them, I want you to be here, okay?”
He closed his eyes and told himself repeatedly not to freak out. Slowly, he opened his eyes and saw a small, blurred figure. Then Sam was in full view, a child no older than eight. Thin, pale, and gaunt.
“Oh my god. Are you hungry? Do you want to eat?”
Sam smiled and shook his head. He pointed at the controllers in Lester’s hands.
“Right.” Lester handed him one of the controllers. “Ghosts don’t eat, do they?”
Sam shrugged, then tilted his head toward the tv.
Lester showed Sam how to use the controller and let him play through a couple of courses in Mario Kart. Then he introduced him to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest in a series that had captured Lester’s imagination as a child. That same sense of awe and wonder filled Sam’s expression as he moved the analogue stick left and right, making Link slash the baddies with his sword. They played other games for Sam to experience, but by the time Arturo came home from work, Lester and Sam were once more playing Mario Kart together.
“If I could take a picture right now . . .” said Arturo.
It took a while for Lester to get used to Sam appearing and disappearing into thin air. Eventually he got the hang of it. If he felt a sudden, unexplained chill, it meant that Sam was nearby.
On the first full moon since they moved in, Arturo was excited.
“It’s the only time spirits can materialize and roam beyond their place of rest. And the only time they can eat. Let’s have dinner somewhere.”
Lester and Arturo got ready. Sam got ready as well, showering and dressing with the clothes Arturo had bought him the day before. Sam stepped out of his room, dressed in khakis and a clean polo shirt, an improvement from the dingy white shirt and tattered jeans he’d been cursed with.
For the first time, Sam held their hands as they walked to the car. Lester was surprised at how warm his hand felt. Goosebumps broke out on his skin, but not because of a ghostly chill.
They drove, searching for a place to eat in town. But Sam decided for them. Upon seeing the golden arches, Sam tapped on the window, glee in his face, hopping in his seat.
“That place is bad for you. Their food is processed and not organic. It doesn’t—”
Arturo shushed Lester. “Let the boy indulge.”
And so they went to McDonald’s. Lester hated the place, but he set his feelings aside so he could enjoy the moment with Sam, who feasted on a cheeseburger, fries, six pieces of chicken nuggets, and a cone of vanilla soft serve. The smile on Sam’s face made Lester teary-eyed. It was a smile that overflowed with gratitude, that said a thousand thanks. A smile that was full of life.
Next, they went to the movies. With a tub of popcorn and an oversized cup of soda, they watched the latest superhero movie, Captain Marvel, which had only come out that week.
Sam was still eating popcorn on their way home.
By morning, Sam had returned to his immaterial state, but his new clothes stayed with him. He also had a lively glow in his cheeks, no longer sickly nor pale.
They lived as a family. It was easier since Sam didn’t have to eat every day, but they did spoil the boy during full moons, eating at restaurants (it took three full moons to finally convince Sam that there were better places than McDonald’s), watching movies, playing at arcades, skating around the roller rink, exploring the nighttime fair, living in the moment. By the fifteenth full moon, Lester and Arturo tucked Sam in his bed, a routine they had picked up on the second full moon.
They kissed him goodnight. Before they could turn and leave, Sam reached out to them and grabbed their hands. No words left his mouth, but Lester and Arturo felt what he wanted to express. It brought them to tears.
“We love you, too,” they said, hugging him tight. It warmed their souls.
The next morning, Sam was gone. Arturo sensed it. He called out to him, searching all over the house. Lester joined in, and despite not having a third eye, he used his heart to reach out to him. He waited for the goosebumps to come. He turned on a video game, hoping it would bring him back. They promised to do whatever he wanted on the next full moon. They waited for an answer. But the house was silent.
Unfinished business finally fulfilled, Sam had moved on.
They cried in each other’s arms, grieving for the child who had passed twice. Though he was gone, he had left a loving home behind. And the child they would eventually adopt would be in good hands.
© 2019 by Jon Mayo
Jon Mayo is an accountant by day, and an aspiring writer by lunchtime and after dinnertime. He lives with his husband and plucky cat, Tala. He has a short story published at Wild Musette Journal, and has a self-published book on Amazon. You can find him at https://jonmayo.blogspot.com.