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Burning Sage

“OK,” the woman screeched, her eyes the size of plates, a grin the size of a banana strained to provoke some kind of reaction from her client. “So, that’s the house, I know it’s listed at 275,” she lowered her head a little and dropped her tone, “which is a little out of your price range,” her voice shot up in enthusiasm in the same manner that an over eager phone salesman, (who is way too old to be working at Verizon), would when he tells you about the new iPhone’s features, “but I think you loved it and I KNOW you want to buy it, riiiiight?”

Andy, or Andrea as her boss called her, was quietly irritated by the real estate agent, but she knew that she could expect a subpar salesperson from the cheapest real estate agency in the tristate area. She also didn’t like that the woman’s name was Peggy. It seemed cliché to her on some level, as if it were the perfect saleswoman name. Regardless of this irritation, she was interested in the house. The house had been on the market for over 14 months, which in real estate time might as well have been six millennia, so, through what her boss sarcastically called her ‘acute deductive powers’, she determined that in order for house to be on the market that long there could be two reasons. Reason one: mold and water damage, of which there was none. Reason two: something unpleasant occurred at this house and it left lasting repercussions.

Andy reopened the dialogue, “275 you said?”

“Yeeeeessssss that’s right!” Peggy so eagerly responded.

“Uh huh. So how long has the house been on the market?”

“Ohhhhh, not too looooong…” Peggy’s insistent drawing out of words was becoming more irritating to Andy.

“Uh huh. And how long would that be?”

“…fourteen months.” She pursed her lips.

“Ok. What happened here to leave the house on the market that long?”

Peggy sighed. She obviously knew, and even more obviously didn’t want to say.

“Peggy, you know what happened here, and I would very much like to know.” Andy was fairly certain that Peggy wasn’t actually under any obligation to tell her what happened, but she also, over the last two hours, determined that Peggy was not a particularly intelligent woman and would most likely tell her because she probably simply didn’t remember, or didn’t know, that she had no obligation.

“I’m not supposed to tell you.”

“Ok, first, you just admitted that something happened here. Second, I’m not going to buy this thing if I don’t get a little history.”

Peggy was excited to see that she might actually close a deal, and that broke her.

“Ok, a little over a year ago a boy shot himself in the house. He was only 16 I think.” Andy raised her eyebrows. “The mother went a little crazy afterwards. It was just her and her son, so it makes sense I think… it’s kinda sad really.”
Andy felt marginally shitty for what she did next.

“Ok, I’ll take the house. Drop the price to 253.”

Peggy was not pleased by this. Really, she was more sad than anything else. Not getting full price meant a reduced commission on the sale, but if she didn’t close, she would get no commission at all. She pursed her lips again and held up her finger to Andy. Then she whipped out her phone so she could get confirmation from her boss. She did.

“Alright you have the house. Let’s go back to the office and sign some paperwork.”

***

Three weeks later Andy had moved into her house. It was a rather hectic day, but she had managed to get most of her things unpacked in the last couple weeks so today was just box removal. By the end of the day she was markedly tired. Luckily for her she had taken the next day off work to finish up her move in process. Around 11:45 in the evening she went to bed.

At 2:34 in the morning the house was very quiet. Andy’s blinds were shut. The lights were off. Her door began to open, slowly. The movement was almost imperceptible. Andy woke up and sat straight up in bed and looked over at her door. She didn’t know why she was suddenly awakened. She noticed the door opening very slightly.

“Is anyone there?”

The door flew open and more darkness leaked into the room and a sub zero blast of air coursed past her body.

Then from behind her a whisper hissed into her ear, “I love you mom,” and the door slammed shut.

Andy did not fall asleep for the rest of the night. She laid down in her bed and shook violently for the rest of the night, her mind was totally blank.

The next day she got out of bed, completely sleep deprived, and looked up the previous owner of the house. The owner was a woman in her mid forties who was committed to a mental asylum against her own will about two months ago. She called the mental hospital and asked for a meeting with the woman. It was scheduled for two pm.

On the drive over to the hospital Andy couldn’t honestly say what was going through her head. For some reason she thought speaking with the woman who had owned the house would bring her some kind of explanation.

When she walked into the meeting room she took good long look at the woman in front of her. She didn’t look good. Her nails were long and yellowed, the bags under her eyes were deep and violet. Her hair had turned completely gray and was notably disheveled.

Andy sat down and began to speak, “Hello ma’am, you don’t know me but I asked to see you because I wanted to ask you about something.”

The woman sat and stared at the floor in front of her. Andy assumed she was heavily medicated.

“Ma’am, I bought your old house-“

Before Andy could finish her thought she glanced up and noticed the woman had suddenly moved and was now on all fours on the table staring at her intensely.

“He’s still there.” She said. Her voice was shaky. “He’s still in the house.” She was getting louder.

“He’s still in the house. He’s still in the house. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE. HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE.” She started laughing hysterically and tears began to stream down her face.

“HE’S STILL IN THE HOUSE.” She screamed.

She continued to scream it as the orderlies dragged her out of the room and down the hall, her gnarled hands grasping at the air trying to reach Andy and she clenched her hands so hard that her long nails dug into her palms and she began to bleed as she was dragged away.

***

At 2:34am two weeks later Andy was asleep. The lights were off, the entire house was silent and dark. Not even the street lights were managing to slip through the cracks in her windows. The door of her bathroom opened slowly, arcing inwards towards the blackness that was her bathroom and from the bathroom tile emerged a black smoke that curled along to floor into her bedroom. Andrea awoke suddenly but she didn’t move hardly at all. She felt like something was wrong. She rolled over in her bed as quietly as she could and turned her eyes towards the open bathroom. It took her a moment to notice the smoke, and as her eyes trailed down the inner edge of the door she noticed something in the darkness shift. There was something in the bathroom, it was alive. She could hear it breathe.

The room temperature began to lower. As the temperature lowered she could see steam blowing out of an invisible open mouth. Andrea breathed visible steam out of her open mouth, her eyes wide, but she didn’t feel the cold. She was staring at the pale human foot that had just emerged from the blackness of the tiled chamber. Then a second foot. Moving silently across the creaky floor. It was a boy. He was wearing a t-shirt with a nondescript logo on it, shaggy hair, and a pair of flannel pants. HIs eyes were open. He had beautiful blue eyes. Andrea couldn’t move. She was paralyzed.

The boy moved across the room and paid her no mind. He walked up to the door and it opened without him touching it. Then he walked out of the room and across the hall into the guest bedroom where Andrea had set up a small bed and nightstand for when her sister came into town.

Andrea suddenly found the will in herself to get out of the bed, she placed her feet on the ground into a thick layer of ice cold black smoke and she began to stand up, her eyes glued to the open doorway where the boy had exited the room. She craned her neck around the doorway only to see that nothing was there. The boy was gone. The mist on the ground was sinking into the floor, being absorbed as though the house itself was inhaling the black smoke into its concrete lungs.

***

It had been two weeks since she last saw the boy. His visage was locked into her mind. His beautiful eyes were stained upon her thoughts as though they had been branded onto the back of her eyelids.

It was 2:34 in the morning.

Andy was not asleep, but she was not awake either. Her consciousness had drifted into the realm between sleep and lucidity. Her mind was on the precipice of losing itself to dreams when she heard something in the background.

The sound seemed distant, as if it had come from outside her window… a branch scraping against the siding of her domicile, perhaps a stray leaf grazing upon her window pane. She thought nothing of the occurrence for a moment.

Yet, suddenly she found herself uncomfortable in her position. She was resting on her side, facing away from the door. And, as is with entering the dream world, with even waking second of discomfort she found herself growing more and more awake, and so, she rolled to her other side.

Her eyes were only open for a moment, but there, standing next to her dresser was a hunched figure.

She closed her eyes involuntarily.

Then with only a short interlude of darkness she reopened them only to see a being on the ground by her door. Its arms were in front of it, gently placing something on the ground. It was the boy, Andy could feel his presence. The black mist was leeching from her hallway under her closed door into her room.

The boy noticed her shift in the bed. He began to stir. He pulled his arms back to his torso, clutching something in his hands. His head then began to pivot. It moved in small jerks, as though powered by misaligned gears. With every jerk his face got closer to being revealed. With every tiny jerk his icy eyes would grow closer to meeting hers.

Andy could hear him breathing. He was breathing slowly, out his mouth. They were deep, wet, breaths, more heaving of air than anything else. In and out. In and out.

Then he was facing her. His face was obscured by his hair. It hung in waves before his facade. With one hand he reached up to touch his hair. HIs breathing got louder and more ragged.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

Andy clenched her eyes closed, afraid to watch him anymore.

His breathing got louder. It got closer.

With each breath she could feel him getting closer to her.

In. Out.

In. Out.

In. Out.

Then she could feel his breath on her face. She clenched her eyes shut even more. She could not see anything. She could just feel his frigid breath piercing into her skin, flecks of spit landing on her cheek.

She opened her eyes.

He was gone.

He was not in the room. She did not see him. She did not feel him. Her cheek was still icy with his breath.

She felt her eyes drawn to the floor in front of her door. Sitting on the mist covered ground was a piece of paper. It was a piece of of folded notebook paper. From her bed she could see that something was written on that piece of paper.

Andy found herself standing, drawn to the note. She did not remember standing up, she didn’t know she had even sat up in her bed.

From outside her door she heard a creak. It was the creak of a footstep. They were pacing slowly in the other bedroom. They moved back and forth across the room. Someone was pacing back and forth.

Andy took a step towards the note.

Creak.

She took another step.

Creak.

She took another step. This time not noticing the creak. She was focused on the note. She stepped again, never hearing the footstep from the other room. The black mist was congregating on the note. In one more step she was standing over the note.

Then she bent slowly at the waist and touched the piece of paper. She grasped it gently in between her fingers and raised it up to her face. She moved her hand to the other side to open the note.

Creeeeeeeeeak.

The sound was from right outside her bedroom. The being was standing less than a foot away from her, separated by a two inch thick door. His breathing was audible and heavy.

Andy opened the note and read its message. In the scrawl of a teenaged hand it read, “I love you mommy.” From outside her door there was a snarl, more like a beast than a boy, and the breathing stopped. It was silent.

Andy began to reach for the doorknob when the silence was broken.

BANG

BANG

BANG

BANG

Four gunshots.

Andy stopped in her tracks, eyes wide, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go into the other room. Her fear almost outweighed her instinct to find out what happened, although she was already certain of what she’d find. Then with a force of will unparalleled she made herself walk into the hallway. The hallway was colder than her bedroom, there was a slight air current being sucked into the spare bedroom. Then she saw inside the room. There were three bullet holes in the ceiling above the corner of the bed, and in the corner was the boy. He was sitting int he corner, his arms laying still on the ground, his legs splayed in front of him. There were small driblets of black liquid leaking from between his slightly open lips, and there was a spatter of the black liquid behind him on the wall. His striking blue eyes were open, but lifeless. Andrea couldn’t help but feel incredibly sad about what just happened. She walked over to the boy, forgetting for a moment what he was. She was thinking about calling the police. There was no gun with him.

Then from behind her there was a crack and the sound of crumbling drywall. She turned to see the the ceiling was sagging. A water spot was appearing where the bullet holes were. Then black ooze began to fall from the ceiling and it shattered, drywall pieces bouncing off the bed, and on the corner of the bed fell a snub-nosed revolver. She stood and walked over to the gun and picked it up. The tip was covered in a dried black liquid, there were two bullets still waiting to be fired.

A hand grabbed her ponytail and yanked her head back. Then a chin thrust itself upon her shoulder. Then, in a voice octaves lower than anything a 16 year old could produce spat, “That belongs to ME!”

Black flecks of licking misted her face. She yelped and pulled away from the malevolent being and turned to see the boy standing behind her. He was smiling and staring at her, his blue irises had turned blacker than the void. Then he leaned back his head, his mouth opened to be eight inches wide and he began to laugh hysterically, his voice deepening with every bone shaking utterance. Andrea stood totally still, she could see the unobstructed hole leading from the roof of his mouth to the back of his skull and through to the wall. She ran out of the room and shut her bedroom door, pointing the gun at the wooden frame for the rest of the night.

The next day she called a psychic. The psychic arrived at a quarter past ten the next morning. Andrea had not slept, showered, or eaten in two and a half days. In her right hand she was still gripping the revolver. Before the psychic walked into the house she put the gun in her bedside table.

The psychic was a woman in her mid forties, although she looked about a decade older than that because of the experiences she had. Her name was Cheryl. When she stepped into the house she jerked back, like someone had lightly pushed her back.

“There’s something in this house,” said Cheryl.

“I know,” Andy responded, “what is going on here? I haven’t slept in two days, and I don’t even know what to think.”

Cheryl walked into the foyer. She looked around for a moment and seemed to become chilled by the air in the room. “There is a spirit that lives in this house. It has not passed on…” She was very quiet while she spoke. “Do you know how long it has been here?”

“I don’t know for sure. I think maybe a year and a half or so,” her voice was shaky.

“Mmmmhmm.” Cheryl was an elderly black woman who seemed to have a bit of attitude when it came to these issues.

“So what do we do know? Do we do like a seance or something? Like toss rice in the air or speak latin?” Andy inquired.

Cheryl raised her left eyebrow at Andy. “No hon, no we won’t be doing that. Aside from what you may have seen in the movies there isn’t much we can do if this ghost doesn’t want to communicate with you. I think that it does want to do things to you, but communicate, I’m not sure. The best we can do is ask it right now if it wants something.”

Andy was quiet. She didn’t know really what to do, she especially didn’t want to be the first one to speak.

“Do you know the spirits name?”

“No. I don’t.”

Cheryl sighed and went on with her business, “Spirit, hear me call you, is there anything you want of us? What would you have us do to put you at ease?”

Cheryl waited for a moment and surveyed the room, waiting for some sort of sign that the spirit wanted to communicate with them. She turned to see Andy watching her very closely, whilst also occasionally flicking her eyes around the room, watching for the boy. She was waiting earnestly.

Cheryl blinked. And when her lids raised she saw two white hands reaching around Andy’s neck, blackened fingertips and grown out nails were reaching to strangle her. In an instant she grabbed Andy and yanked her away form the hands, only to reveal that there was nothing behind her. She stood for a moment looking at the empty space, failing to note Andy’s confusion, before realizing that she forgot something.

“Andy. There is something I forgot to ask you… How did this boy die?”

Andy paused for a moment, considering the inquiry, “Why does it matter?”

“Some spirits who died in violent ways have trouble leaving this world… things can go wrong.”

Andy started to shake slightly, “He shot himself.” Her eyes were as big as plates and she searched Cheryl’s face for some comforting sign. Cheryl did not give her this. Her face was stone.

“Andrea,” she said, suddenly using her full name, “sometimes when a spirit dies in a violent way it can become corrupt. The longer it exists in this world the more corrupt it can become. They lose who they used to be. They become no more human than a rabid dog. This ghost hasn’t been here long, but for some spirits the corruption can be sudden, and move very quickly. The more corrupt it becomes, the more powerful it becomes. As it grows in strength it will become more tangible. It will be able to act on the physical world more and more. It may even try to make physical contact with you.”

Andy remembered the ceiling and was visibly shaken by it.

“What can you do?” Andy asked.

Cheryl pulled out a small pouch from her purse. There were branches of seem kind of herb in there. It had small leaves on it and through the bag she could smell it. It had a pungent but not unpleasant odor, it was something commonly used in Italian food she thought.

“What’re those?” Andy asked.

“These are just a couple of herbs. Some sage, a mix of a few others. They are cleansing herbs. We put them in the four corners of the house and that should protect the house from any malevolent spirits. As long as you don’t remove them or somehow destroy them you should be safe. They should protect you and your home from this boy.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

It took about fifteen minutes to get the herbs into the best spots in the house. Andy didn’t feel any change once they were in place, but Cheryl looked more relaxed. Then Cheryl left, reminding Andy to call if there was anything at all that she needed, and on that note, Cheryl was gone.

Andy spent the next few days on alert, but nothing happened. She didn’t see anything. Nothing was out of place, no voices, no breathing, no chills, no nothing. Everything in the house seemed normal. In fact, things stayed normal for four months. Andy had all but forgotten her experiences. Her only reminders were the herbs in the corners of the house and the still loaded gun in her nightstand drawer.

Then on one morning she woke up to a somewhat muted sunrise. Light was edging its way through the clouds in beams, shining through like it was illuminating just a few special spots. There was a dense layer of cloud in the sky. It was very dark outside. She looked at her clock, it read 8:30 in the morning. She fretted for a moment before realizing that it was Saturday, and she need not go to work the particular morning. Then, as she usually did she went to her front door to pick up the paper. She was one of the few people in the city who still actually bought a paper, not that she was a luddite, but she did enjoy the printed word over the pixelated. She opened the door to find that the tip of her paper appeared blackened. Like it had been burned. she stepped outside for a moment and observed her surroundings. The sky was particularly ominous, it looks like it was going to rain. She picked up her paper and turned around to see the severed head of a crow sitting off to the left of her door. Her initial reaction was irritation, ‘just a stupid neighborhood cat’ she thought. Then she walked back inside and resumed her day.

She ate breakfast slower than usual, reading her paper leisurely and accidentally cracking off bits of the singed paper. Behind her one of the cabinet doors managed to loosen itself and it slowly creaked open. Andy paid it no mind. It had begun to do that more frequently. she figured its hinges just had to be replaced.

After breakfast she rose form her seat and retreated to her bedroom. Halfway down the hall she stopped at the thermostat and cranked up the heat a couple degrees. While she was in the kitchen she felt a slight draft coming from behind her.

Then she walked into her bedroom and grabbed some clothes from her closet before exiting to the bathroom to take her morning shower. Her nightstand drawer was opened slightly, and it was empty. She didn’t notice.

Andy took her shower, right as she turned off the water there was a crack of thunder and the lights in the house went out. Andy sighed and felt her way into the bedroom, grabbed her phone, and turned on the flashlight before returning to her bathroom to finish her morning routine.

She stood in front of the mirror and brushed her hair out for a moment before tying it back into a ponytail. Then she went down to the sink and splashed some water on her face before rising again and noticing a strange odor was emanating from somewhere in the house. It was leaking into the bathroom through the open door. It smelled sort of good, but also like something was burning. Specifically it smelled like someone was seriously burning Italian food in the oven or over a stove.

Then she felt a cold breeze roll across the back of her neck, making all the hairs on her skin stand on edge. Suddenly a black mist covered the mirror’s surface. Tiny droplets of liquid had formed a thin black barrier on the glass. In the light of her phone’s flashlight she wiped some of the already thickening liquid away from the area where her face would appear. She stared in confusion at the glass for a moment. Her mind slowly coming to the realization of what was going on. She was frozen in place. Something behind her was heaving breaths into and out of its lungs.

Then he appeared behind her in the shower. White skin. Mostly hairless. He was wrinkled and his eyes are black. His teeth yellow and sharpened, and with his right hand he was scratching holes into his face. He smiled at her and tilted his head to the side. He was no longer a boy, he was a beast.

Andy stood motionless, staring into the pits that were his eyes. They held no light in them. They were pure darkness. Her mouth gaped open.

She was paralyzed. She could not speak. She could not scream. She could not think. All she could see were his eyes. All she could hear was his breathing. All she could feel was the freezing air that surrounded her.

His left arm slowly raised and his hand moved behind her head. She couldn’t see what he was holding.

In a whisper he spoke, “I love you mommy,” his voice dropped, “I’m never leaving you again… and you’re never leaving me.”

Then from right behind her head there was a loud bang and a red mist sprang onto the mirror in front of her eyes.

Then everything went black.

Credit: Pablo Swaurez

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