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A Few Words From the New Tenant of ____ House

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to inform you that I have recently moved into ____ House. I apologize for being circumspect about the name. I should probably just spit it out to make all of this easier, but what with copyright laws being as they are, it feels safer if I leave that to you to assume. I don’t want to be sued for infringement! Besides, I’m fairly certain you are familiar enough with this particular house to discern its identity pretty easily on your own. It’s rather famous, after all. If you haven’t read the book, you’ve surely seen one of the films or the recent television series. Hint: it’s that forsaken house on a hill made iconic by the phantom hand in the night, the bloody writing on the walls, the thing that walks alone there.

Except now, that thing has me for company.

Not that I ever dreamed I’d make ____ House my home. All I wanted when I opened the book was a change of scenery, you understand? A few hours refuge from the purgatory of this interminable quarantine and Mother’s vicious sniping, especially if I could spend that time at a place with the spine-chilling reputation ____ House has. You see, I’ve always had an appetite for the macabre. Even when I was small, I was the sort of boy who pulled wings off of butterflies and incinerated ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass. I’ve spent my whole life rooting for the ghosts, ghouls, and monsters in my favorite novels.

For example, when I was eleven, I stole a paperback copy of The Shining from our local Goodwill and spent an entire weekend in delicious terror wishing I had my very own roque mallet, so that I could join Jack Torrance rampaging through the halls of the Overlook Hotel.

At thirteen, I sold my soul to the boy next door in exchange for an actual kiss, open-mouthed and with tongue, though when I pressed my luck and copped a feel between his legs, he slugged me in the gut so hard I saw stars. Then he tore to shreds the little slip of paper I’d given him with my name written out in my own blood.

That’s what really broke my heart.

Then, on my seventeenth birthday, I got arrested for reciting Poe by candlelight in the middle of the Salem Hill Cemetery. I’d dressed all in black, of course, and painted my fingernails especially for the occasion in a shade of blood-red called “Tell-Tale Heart.” The cops didn’t know what to make of me. They asked if I was there to smoke weed or kick over headstones, sacrifice kittens or to blow some old creeper I’d hooked up with on Grindr. How could I explain to them that I simply felt more at ease reading to the dead than skulking in the shadows of the Homecoming dance like some impotent Carrie White?

The dead do not laugh at me.

They listen.

Go ahead: call me a freak if you like. Everyone else does, including Mother, but I enjoy that word very much. Freak: One who is markedly unusual or abnormal. That’s from the Websters definition, although when Mother screeches “FREAK!” at the top of her lungs as she clutches her rosary, I get a flame-in-the-belly satisfaction knowing I’m the one in our little nuclear meltdown of a family who’s considered “markedly unusual and abnormal.”

When she claims to pray for my soul’s salvation, I don’t even believe her.

Dear old Mother, with her pink fleece slippers and acid wash jeans. Her “Hang In There” calendars marked up with monthly novenas. Her jugs of Ernest & Julio Zinfandel stowed beneath the elastic-waist skirts in her closet where Jesus can’t see. And the endless chain of her Merit Menthols, which, when I was smaller, somehow managed to find themselves occasionally snuffed out on my arms and back.

Ah, memories.

Every now and then I wonder if she misses me, now that I’m living here full-time at ____ House. I doubt it. We’re so little alike, after all. Me, with my books and dark thoughts, and her, with her parish suppers and 24-hour Fox News. Two atonal chords striking against each other in shrill cacophony, especially since the lockdowns began. Her life must seem so much more harmonious now without me trapped in it with her. Choirs of imaginary angels no doubt sing her to sleep each night.

I’d much prefer silence.

I have no friends who’ll miss me here at ____ House, and while the WiFi is non-existent, it’s not as if I pine for human connection anyway. I am not that kind of person. The enforced isolation of these past few months was never really a problem for me. Books are all the company I’ve ever desired. Besides, the Internet is just a mosh pit of nobodies brawling with each other to get noticed by a world that genuinely doesn’t give a shit whether they live or die. That they all seem to know this and yet still endlessly bleat their thoughts and outrage into the void of cyberspace strikes me as rather pathetic. What’s even worse is that with all of their selfies and tweets and posts, they’ve managed to squeeze nearly every drop of mystery out of living. Nothing is left sacred now, nothing private or unknown. There are no secret places on earth left to hide, nowhere one can become truly lost, though ever since I can remember, that’s all I’ve really wanted out of life: to lose myself.

To hide.

So that’s why I came here, to ____ House, where the doors still refuse to remain sensibly shut. Sure, the place isn’t particularly homey. It’s stood empty for so long now the plumbing is perhaps the biggest nightmare of all. There are layers of dust on the furniture so thick they’ve congealed into gum paste. No matter how many logs I burn in the fireplaces, the rooms remain inhumanly cold, so much so I can usually see my breath. The halls are as dark and gloomy as you’d imagine, only enlivened by the occasional bloody scrawl. Even the floors, though solid enough, creak and groan beneath the weightless footsteps of figures seen only as a flash in the mirror or a flutter in the corner of an eye. Phantom fists pound on my bedroom door at all hours, while disembodied cries rouse the hairs on my neck. I am even awoken each midnight to the strains of the loneliest music in the world only.

That’s how I found myself dancing in the icy embrace of my new daemon lover.

We’re a little family of two here at ___ House, he and I.

Journey’s end in lovers meeting.

“Your mother is glad you have disappeared, you know?” This is what my daemon lover whispers into my ear while he ravishes me in the impenetrable gloom of a ____ House night. “She has always wished for you to be gone. Even before you were born, she was ashamed. Ashamed of her weakness. Ashamed she did not know the name of your father. Ashamed to be burdened with his bastard child. Though she prayed night and day for a miscarriage, she was too afraid of her church to end you herself. But now that you have disappeared, she is glad of your absence and longs for you never to return.”

He’s a bit of a stick in the mud, my daemon lover, what with his Victorian diction and reticence to share his softer side. But what does one expect from a tortured soul more than a century dead?

“Do you know how greatly she despises you?” he demands, and then howls his answer into the echo chamber of my skull with my very own voice: “Not nearly as much as I do!”

He says these hateful things to me as if I didn’t already know them myself. But that’s just his way. He had a hard life when he was still alive, what with his dead wives, sickly children, and questionable taste in home decor. I’ve made my allowances for the way he treats me now. If he’s a tad cruel and takes pleasure in inflicting pain, it’s only because life was cruel and painful to him back then. I understand this. I’ve lived through it myself. And though his words, like his caress, can be as bone-chilling as the grave, when we dance I nevertheless feel his hunger for me pressed hard against my body, as burning hot as the Devil’s own prick.

What more could I ask from a daemon lover?

Besides, unlike the living, he doesn’t seem to mind that I’m overweight and unattractive, nor that I have a blaze of acne like a rain of brimstone down my back. It doesn’t concern him that I hold a special communion with the darkness, nor does it embarrass him that I’d rather curl up with Lovecraft or Le Fanu than play football or drink beer and piss into a bonfire with my “buds.” He’s ambivalent to my sexuality, obviously, but also to my wardrobe choices and fondness for nail polish, and he would never, ever threaten to kick me out or disown me. I’m all he has here, and he means to keep me with him forever and ever. After all, what good is a daemon lover without a mortal’s soul to possess and torment for all eternity?

Thus, our arrangement suits me fine: I’d rather be desired than not any day.

So, I’ve settled in rather nicely, though it can be rather frightful here from time to time. But trust me, I’m not aiming for sympathy. It’s merely the way things are these days. The world itself has become a frightful place. Death stalks the land. Evil reigns on high. Rage walks the streets. Holding onto some sort of stability, no matter how brutal or unwholesome it may be, seems far better to me than grasping at the sad tatters of nothing. If Mother’s example has taught me anything, it’s taught me that.

God is a dry tap.

No glorious new dawn awaits us at the turn of the calendar.

Jesus can’t make me cum like Vesuvius, night after night after night.

Sometimes though, I wonder if Mother still thinks of me. Does she speculate where I’ve gone, if I’m succumbed to the virus, whether I’m safe or even happy? Has she noticed yet that I’m not even there? I occasionally imagine her pounding on my bedroom door, calling out my name over and over again. Would she—in what I eagerly imagine as a thrill of hopeful panic at the possibility of finding me dangling from the rod in my closet—break down the door to discover nothing but my empty bed and the public library’s well-fingered copy of The Haunting of *This Particular* House cracked open on my pillow?

Or does she merely walk past my room, the door left untouched and unopened?

Perhaps all that’s still to come. It’s hard to know how long I’ve been here. Time does funny things in ____ House. It jolts and freezes, leaps forward and scurries backwards like something demented, unhinged. Like a madman in our shared cell, time refuses to cooperate with me, though it whispers sometimes, confuses. Even if it seems as if I might have been here weeks or months already, I suppose it could just as easily be a few frozen moments between wakefulness and sleep. But then, what does time matter in a place like ____ House? I’d rather ignore it altogether, since it’s the only human thing besides my disgust still binding me to the ugliness of the world I left behind.

Not that I don’t wonder sometime if I might return there someday—to that reality, I mean—though I wouldn’t know how to find my way back if I tried. And I’m certain I don’t wish to try. The truth is, I didn’t so much get lost inside this book, as I was found by it. I’ve made a home here. I have a place, which is more than I can say for what I left behind. Out there is so callous and disappointing. Out there is hateful, sick, sickening. Out there is the only true horror story I know, though that’s something most people are still too frightened to admit.

But me, I’m not scared of anything anymore, not really, because within the stone and mortar, darkness and menace of ___ House, I’ve found my own little corner of belonging.

Why would I ever choose to leave that behind?

Yours truly,

The New Tenant of ____ House

About the Author

Rob Costello (he/him) is a queer man who writes dark speculative fiction with a queer bent. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an alumnus of the Millay Colony for the Arts. His stories have appeared in The Dark, Hunger Mountain, Stone Canoe, Narrative, and in Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America. Please visit www.cloudbusterpress.com to find out more.