The Ghosts of Houses

[What, another flash fiction? Why, yes. Yes it is. What can I say? I can’t resist a good challenge. Also, I really enjoy writing these things. They’re a great opportunity to accomplish something without spending weeks and months of time before you can even come close to a finished product. Chuck Wendig’s challenge this week was to write a story of less than a thousand words inspired by the following picture. This is what I came up with.]

“I’m here to confess,” John said. “Or..turn myself in. Is that what you call it?”

The policeman behind the desk leaned forward. “You saying you’ve committed a crime?”

John didn’t answer right away. He looked around the room as if there might be someone else there. Then he asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Like haunted houses? Look pal, this is the police. You want ghosts, you go to a psychic or something. It’s not my-”

“No, please! Hear me out. I have committed a crime. I’ve been running so long…but I can’t get away. I have to confess.”

“So. Confess.”

“It was the eyes,” John said. “All those eyes. I wouldn’t have done it except…they were looking at me. Every day and…I couldn’t help it. I had to be rid of that place.”

“Listen pal-”

“No, please. I’m not crazy. Well, maybe I am. But this is the truth. I burned down the Safe Street Hotel.”

“Never heard of it.”

“No. No I don’t imagine you would. It was…quite some time ago. Me and my mother moved into the apartment across the way, and the hotel was empty, run down and abandoned. It gave me the shivers. I tried to tell mother. I tried to tell her…all those windows…like eyes…they were watching me. But she said it was just a building. Just a building.

Only it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t. It had a soul. Just like you and I have a soul. I know that now. I know that places can have souls just like people. Maybe everyone knows it in a way.

There’s no place like home. That’s what they say. And they’re right. Every house, every convenience store, maybe even telephone booths. They all have souls of their own, ghosts of the things we make them.”

“You say you burned this place down. How long back are we talking here?”

“Time? I’d have to say about twenty-five years. It seems longer. But I can still remember. I remember how the gasoline sloshed in the can. I remember climbing through the broken window and cutting my hand on the glass. I remember the flame of the match and the sudden inferno. And I remember standing outside and watching the Safe Street Hotel burn to the ground and thinking it was all over.”

“Wasn’t it?” The officer’s voice took on a strange new tone and her leaned forward across his desk toward John.

“No,” John said, and there were tears in his eyes. “No, it was only…only just beginning. They came and put the fire out and knocked down the gutted old walls, and I thought I would be happy. Only that night, I woke up out of a nightmare and looked across the way and I saw…it was there, as real as ever. All the windows were eyes, and they were watching me. They knew what I had done. Every day and every night I saw it. And it saw me. And when the day came that mom said we were going to move, I was so happy. So happy…”

“And did it get better then?”

The tears fell fresh from Johns eyes and this time he wept with his face in his hands. “No! Because it was haunting me, don’t you see? I didn’t see. Not at first at least. I was so glad to throw my bags in the trunk and leave Safe Street once and for all. And when we got to the next town, everything seemed normal for a while.”


“But it was there. I saw it on the third night, sitting there across the street in the place where the Chinese takeout restaurant should have been. And it was looking at me. Accusing me.

Every night I couldn’t sleep. Mom thought I was love-sick over some girl, but what did she know?”

John paused a moment and then went on. “I was seventeen,” he said. “I had my whole life ahead of me. But I ran. I took forty bucks out of mother’s wallet and hopped the first Greyhound I could find.” There was a long pause. Then John said, “I never saw her again.”

“And the hotel?”

“I saw it lots of times. I survived somehow. I got tough and learned how to live on the streets. But it didn’t matter. It followed me. Every town, every city, every godforsaken dot on the map; they all had their own Safe Street Hotel. I didn’t matter where I went, it was there. It was haunting me.”

“You’re not making any kind of sense.”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to understand. You just have to believe me. I did it. I did it officer. I burned down the Safe Street Hotel, and I’m turning myself in. I’m going to put it all right.”

The policeman leaned back in his chair, “Listen, even if I believed your story, and I ain’t sayin’ I do, it wouldn’t matter. Statute of limitations on arson is twenty years. Nothing I could do if I wanted to.”

“No, please. You have to help me! I have to make amends!”

“Not my problem. Now get out of my office. You’re wasting my time.”

John walked out of the door in a daze. Dark clouds were rolling in from the east and, he smelled rain on the air. He wished for the rain, wished for it to come and drown out his tears.

He stood there on the sidewalk for a long time while the thunder rolled in the distance. But then a chill came over him, the barest hint of a premonition. He turned and looked back at the building behind him, and it wasn’t a police station at all.

And all the eyes were watching him.

[For those who happen to be interested the challenge is open till Friday, so if you think you can do better than me (and let’s be honest, you totally can) write it up and post it on your blog. If you do decide to participate, leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to see what some of you guys come up with.]


8 responses to “The Ghosts of Houses

  1. Now I’m wondering what’s going to happen to poor John…how can he make things right again!!

    Not sure about phone booths and stores, but hotles yes. I mean the thousands of people that walk through a hotel door, the thousands that spend a fes days of their life there, what do we leave behind when we leave the room?

    Thanks to you I tried the challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog about irregular creatures and this one as well!!

    It’s fun for me to see what I come up with but the best for me is to read all the other contributions – because they are all just that awesome!!!

  2. Great story! I wish I could write. Well, I wish I had the imagination to come up with a story to write, and then write it. Well done, and a pleasure to read. Thanks for posting it.

  3. I too am wondering what will happen to John, although my gut feeling is that there is no atoning for what he’s done, by which I mean no appeasing the ghost building, in my mind he’s going to be haunted by it until he dies, and it might not stop then. Maybe that wasn’t what you intended but I just kind of get that vibe of the ending.
    Bleak, but interesting, and completely different to what I did, or what any of the others I’ve read so far did.

    • Your impression is generally correct. When writing this, I got the impression that the story could cover a much longer work if done right. I don’t know if John will ever get his own book or not, but if he does maybe he’ll get a better ending. No promises though.

  4. In addition to enjoying this story, I have developed an appreciation for flash fiction. I tried that idea on a story of 750 words – loads of fun!

  5. I do so like your ending. Lovely and terrifying and despairing all at once.

  6. This was great. While it can stand on its own, it could also be the start of a bigger story. I would love to see where this goes and how John conquers this, or if the eyes get the better of him. You’ve already got some backstory in this, it would be neat if you could just move it foward. This has such a sinister quality about it and it carries all the way through. Vivid images and a wonderful character. He’s at his wits’ end and no one seems to be able to help him though this. Where does he go from there? I’d sure love to know. Thanks for this!

  7. Sweet. I tend to think buildings and houses have “souls” as well. Or at least distinct personalities. And I agree with the others- this story could be the basis of a series.

    I did this flash fiction challenge too. Great fun, huh?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s