The Wailing by Bruce Costello

A real estate bargain turns out to include some unwelcome extras in Bruce Costello's creepy tale.

First impressions are far from good. A macrocarpa hedge, grown into trees, shadows the whole property. The house has rotting timbers, sagging spouting, dog's leg downpipes and lichen-covered cream paintwork, stained ginger from a rusty roof.

The only tidy thing about the place is the diminutive real estate agent. Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and wide tie, he waits on the ramshackle veranda, watching the prospective buyer negotiate the broken path to the front door.

"She's a bit rough," the agent says, looking up at the client, who's tall and upright with a scarred forehead, "but a good doer-upper with heaps of potential. Feel free to wander around. There's nobody living here."

The client starts with the kitchen, which has a coal range, a bench with peeling green formica and walls stained nicotine-yellow. Cobwebs dangle from the ceiling and dead blowflies litter the one small windowsill. Revulsion rises in the client's throat and a tremor runs up his spine. He peers around and sees a heavy drape covering what may be a doorway.

Pushing it aside, he enters a kind of alcove, where an old man is sitting at a table, eyes towards the ceiling. His mouth is moving but his voice is not heard. And there is an unseen woman, nowhere and everywhere. Her wailing fills the air, echoing off walls and ceiling, ever more loudly. The old man's fist strikes the table and the voice stops abruptly. Running footsteps are heard, then the sound of a door slamming. The old man leaps to his feet, as if to give chase, but falls back onto his chair. His face bears the horrified expression of a man just awoken from a nightmare in which he was about to commit a murder. The woman's presence lingers in the room.

"Are you alright? The real estate agent stares up at the client, who has run from the kitchen, closing the door with a bang. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Why do you say that? Is the house haunted?" the client asks, voice trembling

"Not that I know of, but I wouldn't be surprised," laughs the agent. "It hasn't been lived in for ages and was neglected by the last owners, who were old. It's still in original condition, as you can see."

The client blows his nose and wipes his face. "It's very creepy, not what I expected." He makes an effort to smile. "Sorry, I'm very jumpy today. I've been sick, not long out of hospital. The place just isn't what I'm looking for, can't think why I thought I'd be interested." He stops talking, and continues with wrinkled brow. "But there was something about the street address that leapt out at me when I saw your advertisement. Seemed strangely familiar to me."

The agent is staring up at him, seriously. "In the interests of full disclosure, I am obliged to tell you there was a murder suicide here which may have an impact on the market value. It was in all the newspapers."

The client stares down at him, open mouthed.

"That's why the price is so low," continues the real estate agent. "But for anybody who can overlook the history and glimpse the potential, it's a very good buy. Would make an excellent renter."

"A murder suicide?"

"It was big news in the area about two years ago. The couple settled here after the man returned from Vietnam, a shadow of the man he'd been before he went away, shell-shocked, I guess. His wife never let up on him, apparently. He was terribly moody, never spoke to her, and wouldn't look for a job. They eked out a miserable existence together for 40 years or so. One day something broke inside him and he strangled her, then blew his brains out."

The client looks shocked.

"Anyway, it's a real bargain. An investor's dream," the agent smiles, giving a little skip. "You might as well have a good look around while you're here." He motions towards the hallway.

"Were there any children?" the client asks. He seems rooted to the spot.

"Three boys. The oldest crashed a red light and got killed when he was 19. The middle boy became a tattooist, took up bee keeping, and then hung himself. The youngest boy ran away when he was 15 and simply vanished. There's a rumor he joined the army. A local lad reckoned he met up with him in Iraq, said he took a blast in the head and got total amnesia, completely forgot who he was, but was physically okay. Then he disappeared. The police tried to find him to tell him about his parents, but there was no army record of anyone by the name." The agent shakes his head. "Anyway, that's the lounge over there," he says, pointing. "Take a look around. Just needs a tidy up and lick of paint."

"Okay," says the client, and goes to the room, where a man and a boy are sitting on a sofa together, holding hands.

"Dunno, Dad," the boy is saying. "But I've gotta go. I've packed my bags."

"Better scarper then. Before she gets home."

"How will you tell her?"

"I stood up to the Viet Cong. I think I can face your mother." He smiles sadly and embraces the boy. "Awful to see you go like this. I know you'll be back. We'll see other again. Somewhere. Sometime."

Then the man and the boy vanish. The client clutches his chest, as if trying to stop his heart from exploding.

Lost dead time hangs in the air. The same sofa. The varnished corner cabinet with nothing in it. The hole punched in the wall. The stained carpet. And now everywhere, like an incessant siren, the wailing voice of his mother.

Hands pressed to his ears, the client stumbles from the room, shoves the real estate agent aside and runs from the house.

8 comments:

  1. Nice to read a haunted house story this time of year. Written with restraint, not overwrought. Well done.

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  2. Indeed, a creepy story for the season, good plot... Best to look at another house, son.

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  3. A picture of a family’s life, destroyed by a war nobody wanted to fight.
    Not sure if the agent can see and hear the family, as well as the client.

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  4. Amazing insight, Bruce. It's as if you were there at that time!! Mmmm! Maybe you were!!?🤭🌻

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  5. Really excellent, just enough descriptive detail. These kinds of stories usually get drawn out - but this was very well balanced with terrific characters and action. Fast paced and compelling - super entertaining!

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  6. Thanks for the comments, folk

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  7. The house sets a good atmosphere. I had to think about the ending a bit but finally got
    it.

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