There is only one story. It always takes place in a haunted house. Terrible things happen to the unlucky people who find themselves in this house, but sometimes one of them gets away, which could be considered a happy ending of sorts. Whenever she lets one of them get away she worries there might be a soft kernel of compassion hidden inside her that prevents her from properly excavating the darkness this job requires.
“It’s an allegory,” a boyfriend told her once. “The houses are your psyche and the victims are the thoughts you won’t own up to.”
The boyfriend was smart but mean. She remembers his words because he had an enviable way with them. That was the only sexy thing about him. He told her he was going to take her for a holiday to a place that meant a lot to him, some country in Central America, she can’t remember which one now.
“You’ll love it,” he insisted. “It’s a place where the birds sound like cats and the cats sound like children.”
“What do the children sound like?”
He gave her a look like she was the weird one. “Like children, of course.”
She did like the sound of that, a place where creatures spoke with the wrong voices. It sounded like her kind of fucked-up scene.
She’s thinking about killing some new people, but in a different kind of house this time. Not the usual spooky old Victorian rife with dank basements and claustrophobic attics, but an anodyne brick suburban home from the 1980s. An innocuous dwelling where you’d never expect horror to come calling. There’s a website for people who rent their spaces out short-term, no questions asked as long as you leave the place the way you found it.
The guy who shows the house appraises her, quick flickerings up and down her body.
“What do you want this place for, anyway?”
“Making it yourself?” He’s interested now, imagining a porno.
“I’m the writer director, if that’s what you mean.”
“You don’t look old enough to direct a film. No offense. But if you need extras, I’m free next week…”
She takes her time in appraising him back. He stands still and stiff like he’s posing for a class photo, suddenly nervous about whether he’ll measure up. He’s average-looking, with nice teeth and a full head of hair. Nothing special. Utterly disposable.
“Actually, I’m looking for a leading man. The other guy dropped out. If you’re serious, come by on Monday and audition.”
He’s excited now, already imagining telling his friends about his big break with a porn star. Not that she looks like your average porn star, more like the pretty girl next door you used to spy on, but that makes it better in a way.
She gives him her card and he drives off all cocky, his arm hanging out the window like he’s steering with dick power alone. She can’t wait to murder him.
Emma Sloley is a journalist and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Catapult, Yemassee, the Tishman Review, Lunch Ticket, and Structo, among many others. She is a MacDowell fellow and her debut novel, DISASTER’S CHILDREN, will be published by Little A books in Fall 2019. You can find her on Twitter @Emma_Sloley and www.emmasloley.com.
Image: Frank Okay