I saw her at a gas station just off the interstate. Michelle and I had been friends on social media for almost 2 years. We talked, we hugged and took a quick selfie and parted ways. Just like most couples in this modern tech age, there was a lot of texting that followed. Maybe more so with Michelle than others. With Michelle being deaf, texting would be our primary source of communicating when we’re not together.
We messaged into the late hours and again in the morning. It was her daughter’s birthday and both of our schedules were pretty busy. I told her I could come by her place and give her daughter a quick birthday present and say hello. I went by The Lizard Thicket at The Summit (an area I typically avoid altogether) and I bought a gift card.
It was dark by the time I pulled into her place. Honestly, my first impressions of the older farm-styled house were positive. That wouldn’t last long. Her house was especially dark, as I would later learn… none of the outside floodlights had working bulbs. Months later, I would remedy this. Immediately upon walking to the side door from the driveway, I felt a lingering presence. It was odd, and to this day I still find it difficult to explain. Simply put, I didn’t feel welcome. It had nothing to do with Michelle or her daughter, I hadn’t even made it to the door yet. It was almost as though something was telegraphing a message into my soul. It seemed to whisper as I knocked on the door, “Take care of whatever you came here for and be gone.”
I met her daughter for the first time, she was ecstatic about the gift card. I’m assuming any tween girl loves a gift card to trendy overpriced clothing stores. I wouldn’t know, since I have two boys. I can’t take full credit for the gift idea, since Michelle told me Alyssa’s favorite store. I stayed for a little bit, but never lost that feeling of being unwelcome. After 15 minutes, I was backing out of the driveway in the darkness. Even in the glow of my headlights… the house still seemed dark.
A misting rain was steady and Highway 145 had a blanket of fog in the valleys and dips. I was listening to the radio when I passed a soaking wet woman walking with a sense of urgency along the highway. She was carrying a duffel bag and almost looked panicked. This was no weather to be walking in… especially alone. I pulled over, and she ran to my passenger’s side window as I rolled it down.
“Do you need help? Are you okay?”, I asked.
“Oh Thank God! Yes, I need help. Can you take me to my mother’s?” She opened the door, flopped down and placed the bag on her lap. I pulled off the shoulder and continued driving.
“I ain’t been home since Daddy died”, she murmured.
“How long has that been?”, I asked.
I turned the heat up a little, assuming she was cold and then I accelerated down the highway. I was scoping her out. Something was off with her and I couldn’t quite decide. She was either terrified, high, or mentally ill.
“It’s just a little further”, she said. She actually said this at least three separate times. “It’s been about 4 years since Daddy died”.
“Just let me know where to turn… it’s kinda hard to see with this fog and rain”, I said.
A few turns and a few dips into the valleys of what is known as the Refuge community, and I arrived. As we pulled into the driveway, I was surprised that the home was actually quite nice. Okay… so I was stereotyping I admit. As she got out of the car, she asked me to wait for her. I noticed she left the door open, taking care to hold it for a split second… as though to make sure it didn’t close behind her. That’s when a thought occurred to me. What if she’s certifiably crazy? What if she is totally off her rocker and she doesn’t even know these people? What if she robs them at gunpoint and comes running back to the car?
I could see her at the door, and whoever she was talking with, apparently wasn’t letting her inside. I heard voices get louder. Were they arguing? I couldn’t tell, it was at least 30 yards away. I got out and closed the passenger’s side door and then walked toward the front door. As I did this, a younger woman walked around the older woman who was talking with my hitchhiker.
“Hey, is everything okay?”, I asked.
“Yeah, she’s my sister. She’s not supposed to be here though… my mom’s not happy about her showing up”, she replied.
“Is she okay… is she mentally stable?”
“No… she needs help but she never stays anywhere long enough to get help”, the sister replied.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bring trouble to your doorstep… honestly I was just trying to help someone who looked like they were in trouble.”
“It’s not your fault. I appreciate it. We’ll probably end up calling the police so maybe they’ll get her some help. We haven’t seen her in years.”
I walked back to the car, cranked it and left. I wanted to feel good about helping someone, but somehow I didn’t. I felt like I stomped a fire out only to have the cindering ashes shoot somewhere else and spark another fire. I also had this instinctive feeling that something was following behind me. I didn’t realize it at the time… but looking back… something was. The following morning, I got the call from my youngest son, G.T.
“Mom’s dead”, he said through tears.
Things had ended badly in my 20 year marriage, but we had learned to reconcile our differences and find common ground. Sure, there were the occasional arguments and of course certain topics that we completely avoided… but for the most part we were on great terms. In fact, we had been in frequent contact over this time because she had been sick with the flu for probably a week.
“Are you feeling better?”, I had texted her.
“No, I’m throwing up again”, she had responded back.
“Do you need me to send Eason back to take care of you?”
“No”, she said. She was probably worried that he would catch it also. And now my boys had lost their mom. It was devastating.
Over the next couple months, Michelle and I grew closer. We learned a lot about each other. I learned of her late husband’s battle with alcoholism that he eventually lost. One night in June of 2015, he got up from the bed and drove the Can-Am into a wooded area not too far from the house. With a handgun, he took his own life.
“I woke up from a dream”, Michelle told me. “I had a dream that he was covered in blood and standing by the bed.” She woke up to find him gone. She says she knew something bad had happened. The next morning when they told her the news, she fainted.
Michelle went on to tell me that when he drank heavily, he would see things. That he would stand up and swing at things that weren’t there. He would say that demons were trying to get them and he would place her behind him while he fought imaginary spirits in the living room.
One night, while he was working, Michelle told me she was reading in the living room. She wasn’t wearing her Cochlear Implant. She felt the entire house shake… and when she looked up… she saw what she described as an evil spirit glide across the room. She messaged her husband who was working the overnight shift. She was so distraught and terrified that she couldn’t sleep. Later, when he arrived home, they drove to a bridge where he took his Free Mason’s ring and threw it into the Cahaba River.
“I don’t like your house”, I told Michelle… and I meant it. It’s one of the only places I’ve been where I truly felt uncomfortable. It’s hard to explain. In fact, I never once spent the night in that house. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I ever spent more than an hour at one time in that place. Call me crazy, but something was lingering there.
“My mom says it’s haunted”, Michelle told me. “And a guy I was seeing came over to pressure wash my deck while I was working. He said he got really bad vibes here.”
“The guy you dated that died just a short while after y’all broke up?”, I asked.
“Yeah, he died around Thanksgiving… from a heart attack”, Michelle said.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Michelle went on to tell me that the guy who remodeled the master bath had voiced serious concerns about the house as well. Michelle explained it in the same manner as she had explained the other guy’s reaction. “He said he got bad vibes being in this house alone… he was glad to be finished.”
Michelle’s house had been on the market before. But the deal fell through when mold was discovered underneath the house on the underside of the foundation and floor. She spent thousands on the repair, only to have it mysteriously return. It appeared to finally be under control again. She put it back on the market and got an offer relatively soon. The offer was contingent on the buyers selling their home. After 6 weeks with no offer on the prospective buyer’s house, it appeared this deal might fall through as well.
“Do you want to meet me and Alyssa for dinner tonight”, she texted.
“Sure… I’ll meet y’all at Longhorn’s in Alabaster.”
As we waited for our table, Michelle proceeded to tell me that the buyer’s had gone ahead and secured financing even without their house selling.
“I close on Wednesday and I have to be out by Friday.”
“That’s not much notice”, I said.
Then Michelle made a pouty face and said, “I have no place to live.”
Of course this was all in fun, because she knew she had a place with me if she needed it. But she had her work cut out for her. Her dad rented a construction dumpster and she took off a few days from work and packed up everything practically by herself. She filled up the dumpster and boxed up all the things she was keeping. She hired movers and rented a storage unit. I came by to help when I was back in town.
Every exterior light around her house was fried or needed bulbs. At night, it was pitch black. According to Michelle, it had been that way for years. Part of the inspection list had included repairing all the exterior lights, which I took care of personally. I paid special attention to my footing on top of the ladder as I replaced fixtures and bulbs just underneath her gutter. As I finished the last set, I felt relieved. I knew what was lingering around that damn house. I wasn’t going to give it the opportunity.
“Here’s some cool stuff we found in the rear of the property”, she said. She handed me a bayonet, and some antique irons. The type of irons that you opened up and dumped hot coals into. To be honest, I didn’t want them. I didn’t want anything from that house. I took them nonetheless. I left… I had some work to do. I had not taken the day off due to things that were scheduled before we learned of the closing on her house.
As I drove, Michelle sent me a text and a picture of the original owners of the house. It was given to her when she had bought the place some 15 years before. I’m a history buff and I am fully aware that older pictures and family portraits taken many many years ago are a lot different than portraits today. Even so… the couple in the photograph looked eerily spooky. It was painful for me to even look at the photograph.
It was the last day of her move, she had to have everything out. I came by with my oldest son to give her a hand. Her dad was there also. She asked me if I would accompany her to an old shed in the back of her acreage. It was hidden in thick brush and she wanted to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything valuable in it. It was borderline inaccessible. It almost required a machete to get to. That eerie lingering sense was there… even a hundred yards away from the house. I stepped over dozens of old beer cans and a bucket turned upside down. It dawned on me this is where her late husband must have struggled with his alcoholism. I had a sense of sorrow and sadness. The door creaked open.
“Well there’s nothing in here but empty beer cans and boxes… no tools or anything worth keeping”, I said.
“Look in that box”, Michelle said from a distance. She avoided stepping up into the shed.
“There’s nothing in here either”, I replied.
We left and walked back toward the house. The movers were loading the truck. Michelle gave Eason a hug and he got into his pick-up and left. I was not far behind him. I felt a sense of relief about her leaving this house and that I would never have to return here myself. It was the last day! I was excited… but kept it mostly to myself. I kissed her goodbye and left. I hadn’t been gone 5 minutes when I got a text from Michelle. I could actually feel her tears in the text. “OMG… come back.”
The news was bad. One of her dearest and oldest friends was gone. A close friend who had battled with depression and grief. I was shocked and Michelle was distraught beyond words. I know things happen… but I was pissed. I blamed the fucking house! To me… it appeared that the house was lashing out one more time. That it was angry that she was leaving it behind. It had to throw one more punch… one more twisting of the knife… as the movers loaded the last of the furniture into the moving truck. Of course this was crazy talk… and one thing had nothing to do with the other… or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. I held Michelle on the back porch as she cried on my shoulder.
It’s been several months now. Things have settled down. Michelle and I married not long after she moved in. Just the other night, she was going through some boxes and came across a pirate coin from 1790. She had spent hundreds of dollars for it while visiting St. Thomas.
“I gave this to him. He wore it all the time. The night he died, he left it by the bed.”
“If you want to put it in the safe, go ahead”, I told her. As she walked past the end table on her way toward the safe… the light flickered. It kept flickering like a strobe light until I got up and tapped the lamp, then moved the shade and tightened the bulb. Odd, it had never done it before or since. Michelle panicked.
“The dogs knocked the lamp over the other day… remember?”, I said. Of course this was true and she knew this. But it was odd that it would wait until that moment to flicker.
This DID NOT want to be written. I’m not just saying this for dramatic effect. I’ve been writing this for more than 2 weeks and that same lingering sense seemed to be preventing me from completing this. There were times I questioned myself in even attempting to write this. All of the events described above are true. I’m not blaming the house for the unfortunate events that have occurred and I’m most certainly not blaming Michelle. I personally believe faith is strength. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad to have finally completed this.