There is a saying that comes to mind, something from an old movie that I’d seen as a kid all those years ago, and it spoke to me still, ‘I was ninety-nine point nine five percent parched, and I needed a drink.’
Clambering to my feet, after giving a wary look towards the silent darkened windows above me, I struck out in search of a well, that or a water faucet. Right now I’d take anything. (In my mind I was really hoping to find an old garden hose and twist knob faucet. For those of you who have never experienced the sweet goodness that can only come from a garden hose on a blistering hot day, crystal refreshment just begging to be tasted, just a hint of the hose, the crisp tongue-biting tease of wetness that can parch even the staunchest of souls, there are simply no other terms or words to describe it, other than absolutely heavenly. In fact, I’m sure that heaven will have its fair share of garden hoses as well, if for no other reason than to relive the sensation, the absolute joy of quenching ones thirsts from one.)
Upon entering the backyard, the first thing that I noticed, other than the overgrown patch where a garden would have been but only weeds ran riot now, was a dull gray pipe sticking up out of the ground next to a wooden pole, both wound in dark green ivy. Topping the gray pipe was a sun-bleached red-handled pull faucet. (Sadly, no hose though.) It took two yanks on the handle, the second yank more desperate then the first when it seemed the damn thing wasn’t going to work- to come so close, yet be denied –but finally I managed to draw forth a stuttering stream of rusty, then running clear, water.
Needless to say, I immersed my head twice, before I could no longer resist, shoving my face fully into the stream where I simply opened my mouth and allowed the crisp wetness to drown the fire ragging within my throat and soul.
Timeless moments later, my thirst quenched, or should I say slackened as it would take some time to replenish what mother nature and the sun had so callously stripped, I stood, wiped off the excess water and took a good long look around. (I didn’t leave however, for now the faucet and the water was my friends, long lost friends.)
As before, the farmhouse was a two-storied structure sporting a three-quarter wrap-around porch, complete with white-washed columns and a porch swing. Jutting out on the backside, where I currently stood, was a cracked and much-stained concrete pad. The pad acted as a patio, per se, and was dominated by a series of rusty-green lawn chairs with seashell backs; which in turn seemed to be standing sentry to a screened-in back porch, its door closed.
Just to the left of the patio stood another door, the basement door, wooden and sagging on its hinges. A bricked-lined path led from the patio to its darkened threshold. Unlike the back door, the basement door was wide open, not invitingly though. Darkness seemed to pour from the opened doorway like ink from a spilled inkwell.
Needless to say, I decided to investigate the upstairs first.
Something about darkened basements made my skin want to crawl. Despite the coolness, which I’m sure would be welling up from darkness below, basements usually smelled of rotten potatoes and rusting metal cans. Not only that, but did I mention how much I hated spiders.
The screen door leading into the house was about as stubborn as the front gate had been to open, squalling hideously as I yanked on it. The weathered and swollen inner door was just as bad, requiring two good shouldering’s and a shower of rotten wood and paint before it too, finally let go and lurched open. The only difference being, the inner one would skid to a stop about halfway through, prompting me to worm my way around it.
It was obvious the farmhouse had been abandoned for quite some time.
The first room I entered was the kitchen, with its pale-yellow walls and green linoleum floors. Floors that were warped and buckled in many places, hence the door stopping halfway. It was obvious that the ravages of time, moisture and humidity had rotted the subfloor, as it had the plaster and lathe walls. Simply put, the house was a mess of rot and mold.
Cabinets of darkened cherry barely clung to the walls, many with their doors hanging wide open and askew. A gas stove and refrigerator, (I could only imagine the horrors contained therein) and a battered three-legged kitchen table, dominated the rest of the room. All were covered in thick layers of dust, debris and mouse droppings. Layers of tattered spider webs completed the picture of a farmhouse long in the tooth, and abandoned to both time and the elements. Three wooden chairs set tucked up under the kitchen table, the fourth, currently on its back like its owner had been in a hurry to leave, lay near the head.
Straight ahead, on the opposite side of the room, lay a darkened hallway with a full-length mirror on one side, and a closed wooden door on the other.
Far off to the right stood a small shelving unit holding the desiccated remains of moldering cardboard boxes and rusted cans, what had once been a pantry, and beyond that an opening showing angled stairs leading upward to the second story.
For the moment I decided to continue my investigation of the farmhouse downstairs.
The smell of disuse and rot seemed to permeate the entire house, with motes of dust drifting lazily across shafts of brilliant sunlight.
I sneezed twice before making it to the hallway- allergies.
The closed door across from the full-length mirror was locked and all the tugging in the world would not open it. This was a good thing, because I think it led to the basement- the last place I wanted to be at the moment.
For some reason I ignored the mirror.
Beyond this, and straight ahead, lay a large living room of darkly paneled walls. One wall was hung with countless pictures in a variety of dust and cob-web covered frames, the images they contained and the faces therein, of people, places and things, now faded to jaundiced ghostly images trapped forever behind glass.
In the far corner, across from a sagging and much-rotted divan, its course multi-colored weave faded and heavy with clumps of wind-driven leaves, set an old console television set, its darkened screen long since shattered, remnants of straw and dried grass poking from within its broken confines.
The only other objects in the room, besides the patchy shag carpeting rotting underfoot, and an old wicker shelving unit its shelves collapsed in a heap at its base, along with the shattered and dust-covered remains of what they once held, were two openings leading off to my right. Both of these ended in bedrooms, now nothing more than rat’s nests of shredded clothing, sagging bedsprings, broken-down headboards and the collapsed remains of a couple of dressers and a nightstand. The pictures hanging in these two rooms were just as bad and indecipherable as the ones hanging in the living room.
This left me with a dilemma of sorts, if I wanted to continue exploring the house, which didn’t seem half as ominous from the inside as it had from the outside then I’d have to go either upstairs, and possibly fall through rotted floorboards, or downstairs and wade into the basement.
Upstairs it would be.
The stairs leading up from the kitchen were choked with leaves and the remains of tattered clothing. It was here that I discovered a shattered baseball bat, a Little Slugger. It had been wedged between the third step and the cracked and weathered handrail of the stairwell. Stepping over this, my eyes continued to travel upward, into the dim darkness overhead.
Reaching the top of the stairs I was confronted by a long hallway stretching away from me the length of the house. Behind me was a long window, nearly floor to ceiling, its eight panes covered by a cracked and yellow blind. Unlike the windows downstairs, this window, as well as the other one at the opposite end, had their blinds pulled, casting the entire hallway in a darkened pall, a brownish glow that seemed to absorb even sound. The carpet up here, though dusty and strewn with bits of leaves and grass, seemed intact, its softness muffling my footsteps.
Curiously, the hallway stank of recently mowed grass and gasoline. It reminded me of a time when-
We had just moved for the third time in as many years. (This would have been about a year or so after the whole Richard getting punched in the nose, incident.) My father was still a police officer, still had his temper, but in a light bulb moment, figured out that us leaving the trailer park was by far, better than Mom leaving him. So, instead of pushing his luck, and her buttons any further, he had decided we needed to move into a more stable environment.
The house we moved into was an old two-story unit that sat across from the city’s ball park. It too, was a rambling ramshackle of a place, with hollow wooden floors, plenty of plaster and lathe walls and rooms filled with cheap wood paneling. But it had a temperament about it, a stubborn, in your face hatred.
That and it was haunted as well.
My strongest memory of the place, and the reason I thought it was haunted, became clear the night we first moved in.
For some reason that night, while my brother and I lay upstairs on a temporary mattress dad had thrown down on the floor; we both began to feel ill. Whether it was the smell of the place, with its mold and general stink of disuse and neglect, or whether it was something we ate for dinner that night, we both ended up spending most of the night downstairs in the bathroom throwing up this orange chunky bile, bitter and acidic. (I can still remember how it burned the hairs in my nose and the back of my throat.) According to Mom, we threw up most of the night, just me and my brother. Mom and our new baby brother never did get sick.
After an hour or so of us worshipping the porcelain throne, Mom decided she’d better call dad and ask him to stop by during his shift, to take a look at us.
Which he did, even if begrudgingly so…
I can distinctly remember that through it all, he never really showed us too much concern, and in the end chalked it all up to something we must have eaten the day before.
By daybreak the barfing had quit, thank god, and we were left feeling weak and puny, pale and sweaty.
And that’s pretty much it.
So why have I told you this story, and when do we get to the haunted part?
Since that night, and many nights since, I have often wondered whether it was really food poisoning we had suffered from, or just us being kids and picking up some weird bug. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would develop another theory, however.
Like I said, dad had chalked it all up to something we must have eaten earlier in the day, but now I’m beginning to think it was simply the house hating us.
I know, sounds crazy, how can something inanimate like a house hate?
Because it was cursed from the very beginning, since its conception- first board cut. Houses can do that, people can do that. Houses, like people, have personalities. They can hate, become jealous, scheme even.
I seriously believe, even to this day, even with the general lack of evidence, that that house, across from the ballpark, rumored to be haunted, hated us, and what the house hated, it wanted out. This puking we suffered was simply its way of trying to get us to leave.
Needless to say, it didn’t work then, and it sure as heck wouldn’t work now. Even though that same ‘sick to my stomach’ feeling was returning, that acidic, orange, chunky I just can’t wait to throw up, feeling’. When the spit in your mouth gets all stringy and your legs turn to water, and you feel like somebody has just reached down your throat and grabbed you by the guts and was busy twisting them into knots. This was the exact same feeling I was getting now, here, in this farmhouse, stranded at the top of the stairs. Whether it was from lack of water, the heat, or that I’d drank too much water too fast because of the heat, some small part of me, the part that still remained a kid, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this house was like that one before, it hated me being here and it wanted me gone.
The only difference being, this time I was grown. I was an adult, and I could do what I want.
It occurred to me then, even as I choked back the nearly overwhelming urge to hurl, that I’d almost fallen into ‘day trip’ mode again, the absolute last thing I needed to be doing right now.
I needed to stay put.
I needed to remain grounded in the here and now, not the once upon a time. Mainly, because I needed answers, and the answers I needed, could only be gotten by me staying put for once.
Granted, there for a moment the world had gotten fuzzy around its edges, but in the end I remained- despite the fact that I was holding back enough nausea to power a small city
Along the hallway before me were three doors, two on my left and one on my right. The doors on my left were both closed. The door on my right, however, was open just a crack, not a lot, but enough to allow one stabbing beam of sunlight to cut its way through the gloominess of the upstairs hall and illuminate what looked to be a flowered pattern worked into the hallway carpet.
Pausing, I gathered my wits. (Why was I so nervous, so scared? After all, what could really happen to me, I was already dead… right? Besides, nothing has happened so far to make me scared, other than being completely confused. One would think that after having faced the absolute last act of living and breathing and coming through it alive, I would have at least a smidgen more of courage.)
But I didn’t. I was afraid- enough for a half dozen people.
My goose bumps had goose bumps.
In fact, the last time I felt this scared I must have been around five or six-
We were living in Darton, in a little pink house situated on the very outskirts of town just off the curve of a highway. (This would have been just prior to the two-storied hating house and the trailer park.) Darton would be our new beginning, another starting point, one we desperately needed. The house, however, despite the newness of the town, needed a lot of work, the yard especially. Dad was still working construction in the city, so my parents were still able to pay the bills, something dad would later remedy. For now, though, we were the consummate picture of an American family.
Mom, dad, my brother and I had just finished working in the yard outside, chopping down the roof-high weeds surrounding the house, and clearing out most of the brush in the yard. My brother and I were completely worn-out from helping dad mow. Being just liddel-in’s we were put down for naps.
I loved those days, when parents actually scheduled naps and kids were required to sleep during them. Though back then, I don’t think we truly appreciated them like we should have. Years later, especially during my early teenage years, I would have killed for a nap-
I can remember laying there in bed, in what would later become our bedroom but for now remained a storage room. My brother snuggled up against me, his forehead and hair matted with sweat. Smudges of dirt surrounded his mouth and marked his left cheek.
It’s a couple of minutes in and I’m already half-in half-out of ‘it’- not really awake but not all that asleep. (At least I didn’t think so.) That’s when I begin having this dream… this ‘day trip’ sort of thing.
The room was dark except for a back-lit doorway immediately in front of me. Through it I can see my parents, still up and working in the living room, moving things about- furniture and such- that and this brilliant light shining in from above, illuminating this single thread of crystal-like web above me.
Normally I’d be freaking out, but I’m not. For you see, I’m not afraid of spiders… yet. So, instead of freaking out, I just lay there and watched this web, the way it shimmered in the sunlight, especially the way its brilliance outshined the rest of the room, redefining what darkness could be.
After a couple minutes/hours of lying there, I begin to notice this tiny little figure working its way along the webs length, making its way from my left to my right. (Remember, this web is really no more than a foot or so above the bed, so if I set up it gets destroyed.) This tiny little figure is a spider, its legs and body just as crystal clear as the thread it weaves. Located in the middle of this spider’s little bitty body, is this tiny blue shimmering flame, kind of pulsing along like a heartbeat, but this tiny blue light beats really fast. (The most amazing thing about this whole experience is the way the sunlight seems to shimmer off the spider and its web, diamond-like glitter, cutting across the room, as well as my vision, and absorbing all my interest, all my mind.)
So once again here I am, absorbed by this mesmerizing sight, a singular strand of web cut horizontal to my world, which is mystery enough, for how could a spider this small, or of any size for that matter, spin a web horizontally? Where was gravity and why wasn’t it working? And then there’s this tiny crystal spider working its way across it, like a tiny blue flame flickering diamond bright, a lit fuse slowly burning down.
Looking beyond the web I could see my dad. At the moment he was watching me, this most amazing look on his face, like he’s so proud of me. Immediately I smile back, and then, in a moment of absolute love, I ask him to come in here and witness this sight I’m seeing, that he would surely love it more than anything in the whole wide world, that, and I wanted to give him a great big hug for being the best-est Father in the whole wide world.
And that’s when I notice the ‘other’ spider
The bigger spider
The reason I’m so afraid of spiders to begin with, spider.
This thing here in the room with me, with us, has to be the size of a small dog, I’m not kidding you. Its eight glittering eyes look like flickering red flames, flames that are watching me, have been the entire time, probably. And worst of all, it’s crouched just this side of the wall next to the open door, just waiting to pounce on the first thing foolish enough to come through.
I’m literally frozen in place, as still and as sure as if I’d been wrapped up in silken thread and caught in a trap. I was nothing more than bait; I realize that now, and my father would turn out to be its next victim.
Unless I did something
Much to my horror, much to my surprise, here he comes though, this man I call Father, that same look of love and pride on his face. He’s coming to get his oldest son. To pick him up and kiss him on the cheek; tell him that he loves his oldest boy more than anything in the world.
Possibly ‘whole wide world’
That his boy did an awesome job out there this morning, helping his Dad rescue their new home from the ravages of time and decay-
And all the while, there it waited, the spider, crouched just inside the doorway, its eight legs quivering in anticipation. Venom dripped from its fangs, striking a thin vaporous line as it scarred the filthy hardwood floors.
And all the while I can’t say a thing! I can’t even scream. All I can do is lie there, mouth open, face frozen, too terrified to even move.
I can’t even wake my little brother up, tell him.
And my Dad is almost here, almost to our room, and there the spider is, waiting, waiting to pounce, waiting to bite- waiting to trap.
The crystal spider that was above me is gone now; having vanished off to my left, vanishing once more into darkness. Its little blue flame, now a flicker of brilliant blue stars all around me, hundreds… no thousands, of flickering blue heartbeats, all crouched in anticipation within the warm still darkness of the room. It was then that I realized we had entered her lair, her home, the place where she kept her young, where she put her young down for naps, possibly after feasting on stray cats, kittens and a rabbit or two… anything foolish enough to enter- and we had entered.
We were going to be next.
The entire house was a trap, her web in disguise. Instead of using leaves and bits of twigs and things like most hunting spiders, she had used windows and siding, pieces of wood, hardwood floors and carpeting, furniture and drapes…
“What is it son, are you ready for Daddy to come get you out of bed?”
He was here, it was too late. The fingers of his left hand were mere inches from the spider’s front legs- and I still couldn’t say a thing. All I could do was sit there and whimper, peeing myself under the blankets, my brother snoring softly beside me, his forehead all matted and sweaty, his cheeks dirty.
This is what she wanted me to do all along, she wanted me to lay there silent and afraid, whimpering like a baby, because that way my dad would have to come in and get me.
She was always such a devious little bitch, that one.
With his eyes focused on mine, his smile still evident, Dad stepped into the room… and in that instant the fear was gone, my paralysis vanquished. I immediately began to scream, even as she struck, even as her fangs sank deep in his side and filled him full of poison.
And then, like that, she was gone, shriveling back into the darkness to hide deep within her lair.
As she struck, Dad flinched to the right, lines of anguish striking across his features, his mouth opening in a silent scream, aware for the first time of the trap that had been set and successfully sprung by his oldest son, a willing and silent participant-
And I saw it, even as the love left his face, drained from his eyes, and in its place a new darkness fell, a flattening. I can still see him standing there, even today, right hand gripping where he had been bite, staring at me accusingly, even as the last visages of my true father fell away and were replaced by something else, something evil, a venomous black stare, a darkness her venom had introduced into the world.
And I knew then, even as I knew now, that because of my silence, my inaction, I’d murdered my dad, as clear and as clean as if I’d pulled the trigger on a gun myself. For in those eyes stood Cain, and on his forehead for the whole world to see, was that black spidery blotch, the mark that God had so righteously put there after Cain had murdered his own brother in cold blood.
The love of my father died that day, even as I ran to him, now freed from my paralysis, and threw my arms around him, and sobbed to him that I was sorry, that I didn’t mean for this to happen, to forgive me… and yet, even as I pled and begged, even as that old bitch crept out of the room, out of our house and out of our lives- even as the coldness of my father’s limbs surrounded me and lifted me up to his face to be kissed, I knew, as sure as I could no longer look at him for fear of what I might see reflected in his face, the flatness of his eyes, that my father was gone for good, and that no amount of childhood wishing, or tears or regret, would ever bring him back to me or to my family, again.
I wrapped my arms around me, willed myself to return, to shake off this feeling of cold creepiness stealing through me-
This time I’d been ‘day tripping’ and then some. Though, unlike all the other times, this time I remained in the farmhouse.
But why here, why now?
What was so different this time around?
What was so different about this place?
Every other time ‘day tripping’ meant movement, travel- frequent flier miles. Never once did I just ‘hang around’ afterwards.
Then again, I was still new to this, maybe the rules didn’t apply here. Maybe they had changed somehow…
Check that, I had moved after all, not so much in miles but in feet. To my horror I found myself standing halfway between the first and second doorways along the hall. And the first door, much to my chagrin, was now open, the darkness leaking from it looking like spilled ink.
Gazing down and back, I could see clearly, as plain as day, my footsteps leading from the top of the stairway, on down the hallway, only to stop before the now-open first door. Once there, however, they simply stopped, and did not pick back up again until now, directly beneath where I was currently standing.
But how? Between that place and here was a gap of about five feet- five undisturbed not a footprint in sight, feet.
Directly in front of me was a single shaft of sunlight, its golden bloom illuminating one tiny yellow flower woven into the carpet at my feet. For a moment I found myself wanting to fall into that light, to dance within its midst, revel in its warmth, for I had suddenly grown cold, and all the miles and miles and hours and hours of traveling life’s highways and byways had fallen heavily upon me. I didn’t though, because as far as I was concerned, this little adventure was over.
As in right now.
Instead of finding answers within the farmhouse, I’d only found questions, disturbingly dark questions. Questions I felt had no answers- because in the end, they dealt with me.
And at the moment I was an enigma wrapped in a mystery, just like this place I was in.
So I did the next best thing. I ran.
I turned to go, but not before catching a glimpse of what lay beyond the open doorway of the room. Mind you, I didn’t catch all of what lay beyond its threshold, but I did catch a glimpse, and a glimpse was more than enough to send me sprinting towards the stairwell like a madman. With a cry more whimper then words; I stumbled down the stairs, throwing myself down them three at a time, tripping over the broken baseball bat and sprawling out on the kitchen floor. Getting up I sprinted through the kitchen, arms wind-milling, stumbled into the table, sending it crashing to the floor, and out the back door.
As I rounded the farmhouse I found myself back under the sun, beyond the elder American elms reach, beyond even, the lilacs intoxicating coolness and scent.
I would take my chances on the road. I deserved the road. I deserved the sun.
I deserved to run till the end of time.
I would end up sprinting almost all the way to town, never once looking back for fear of what I might see, for fear of what I might behold, for fear of what might be watching me from those damnable upstairs windows on the second floor, from behind that damnable open door halfway down the hall.
In a room without drapes, a room whose windows had been papered over except for one tiny tear, one tiny hole allowing just enough light in to illuminate the darkness of hell, light enough to outline a figure that shouldn’t have been setting there but was.
Or was he?
What the hell do you think! Of course he had been there. Why else would I be running, breath ragged and tears streaming down my face, with all my fears, all my terrors, coming in sobs, great ragged cries, screaming like a man who had lost his mind, whose very sanity seemed perched on the brink of oblivion and madness.
Why else would I be running from the visage of a man I’d known since childhood, loved all my life, but feared from the very first time he picked me up in his arms that fateful Darton day so many years ago? The very individual who had gifted me with ‘red’, had bet me fifty cents that I couldn’t punch some kid’s lights out… the very architect of who I would later become in life?
My mind refused to believe it though, accept the truth, or at least the truth I thought I had glimpsed just beyond that door setting in his chair waiting for me to enter, wearing his blue jeans, cowboy boots, red western-shirt and brown leather vest, his dark hair sparse and slicked back, his arms tanned and scarred.
Father… surely not!
Why not, though? Why not my father, the very man I’d betrayed? The very man who’d lost his soul to a spiders bite? Even when all else failed to make sense, with all this craziness going on around me spinning out of control- everything I’d witnessed up to this point, the vision of him setting there, smiling at me, his eyes no longer flat and dark but worse, flaming red, the eyes of the bitch reflecting from his, and his words, an otherworldly rasp, welcoming me home, welcoming me back, thanking me for bringing him here and that more than anything, he wanted to return the favor I had so graciously bestowed upon him all those many years ago.
And yet, even as I stumbled out into the light and heat of the highway, away from that house, even as I discounted such visions as mere hallucinations, my fear remained.
I made up my mind, right then and there; I was never going back to that farmhouse, not for any reason. Whatever lay before me had to be worlds better then what lay behind, and more often than not, within me.
It just had to be.
Salvation shouldn’t come from the barrel of a gun. Neither should it come from the hand of an angel.
Salvation needs to be earned.
Some books refuse to be categorized, Fata Morgana is one such book. Part autobiographic, part fantasy, both horrific and exhilarating, Fata Morgana will leave you breathless and wanting more. You simply have to read this book to experience it.
Also by S.M. Muse:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2009 by S.M. Muse
Second Printing- Revised 2014
Chapter-art copyright © 2014 by FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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