© 2020, Jori Hanna
A note from J. J.:
I normally reserve this sort of insight only for my Patreon family, but for this story I must give credit where credit is due. When I wrote this story, I had just engaged with an interesting tweet on Twitter from J. Federle (@JFedereleWrites). The tweet read:
You inherit a mansion… if you live in it 1 month alone. (Day 4) Whispers emit from faucets. (Day 11) Your shadow is crooked. (Day 21) Your reflection blinks. (Day 28) After 3 min. Any room, you hear soft breathing behind you. Do you own a mansion?
Naturally, I answered that yes, I’d have a mansion, and I’d have befriended the ghost or creature or spirit living there and invited it and my friends over for tea.
Later that night, as I told my friends of my response, they told me I was absolutely right.
And, of course, a short story spawned from that thought. Because what if someone was living in a haunted mansion nowadays? And what if that person was a recent college graduate?
- J. J. Hanna
The mansion sat in disarray on the hill, my proudest acquisition. I never expected to own a house this soon out of college—not in this culture of graduate, move back home, move out with roommates, move back home, meet a nice guy, settle down, get married, live in an apartment for four years, move into a “five year starter house” and spend the rest of your life there. So when this house came up for sale in my price range with no visible issues, I had to buy it. Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course I wondered why it had been sold in the first place.
The previous owners were a young couple, only a few steps ahead of me in the current life cycle of a college graduate. So they’d bought a house together. And for reasons I couldn’t understand—there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the building itself, and the problem couldn’t be neighbors given the miles between me and the next house. And it was a mansion. Not just a house, but a twelve bedroom, eighteen bathroom, built on beautiful if unkempt property. There was no way I should have been able to afford this place. Yet here I was, having just signed the deed, about to start moving in.
Nothing showed itself for the first few days as I finished unpacking. I took my time setting up my bookshelf and the kitchen and my bedroom—I’d chosen the big one at the far end of the house, in an effort to avoid the tendency to only live in three rooms. I bought the whole thing, I may as well live in all of it, right?
That’s when things started to get weird.
I started to feel cold spots throughout the house, and very occasionally it smelled like rotten eggs. Windows were open when I didn’t remember opening them. The breeze slammed doors at night. I started sleeping with a baseball bat under my bed, hoping the bad weather would go away.
Then I started to hear things moving in the night. Footsteps, I thought. But as I swept the house with my baseball bat in hand, I saw nothing. The only thing out of place were the windows. And the cold spots. So I turned up the thermostat, shut the windows and went back to sleep.
You’re probably starting to wonder why on earth I didn’t leave. After all, a cursory search of Google would suggest that this house was haunted or cursed. Cold spots? Ghosts. Rotten eggs? Sulfur. A sign of demons.
But I’d bought this house with my hard earned money. There was no way I was selling. So what if there was a ghost problem? I figured I’d take a hint from the Irish and let be what there was, pay it it’s respect and try to live in harmony with it.
Things got weirder though. Not dangerous. Just—odd, I guess. One day I swear I saw my reflection blink at me. My shadow from the window moved without prompting. I tried to write these off as tricks of my mind. There had been a cloud passing over the sun. I hadn’t slept well the night before. I was imagining it.
So I bought myself a cat. Because there’s no better way to write off strange happenings than having a young cat in the house. I’d hear crashes and footsteps and creaks, and now my brain had a logical place to let those things land. That cat helped me get through the first month.
By that point, the cat was starting to act strange as well. Sometimes, I was certain I could hear it talking. Not meowing, the way it ought to, but asking me about my day from the other room.
By the third day this happened I started answering, telling my cat about everything—the guy I had a crush on at work, the coworker pissing me off, the customers I didn’t want to deal with anymore. There was usually silence after that, and I called my cat to the kitchen to make dinner with me.
The day the walls started breathing was the day I finally admitted this house was haunted.
“What’s your name?” I asked, chopping an onion for my dinner.
There was a creak, and the house seemed to groan. My cat meowed and started purring, rubbing up against the wall. The soft breathing continued, but no voice spoke. No matter. It wasn’t causing me any harm, and anyway, being in this big of a house alone was enough to drive anyone mad.
Before you ask, yes, I did go see a shrink. They thought I may be dealing with loneliness—the only logical answer for my expected circumstances. But after determining that I wasn’t losing my mind and after confirming that this was not a bad thing to deal with—it should be fixed by getting out more and making some friends—I returned home and told my cat (and my walls) all about it.
Finally, two months in, the wall spoke back.
“Why aren’t you gone yet?”
I laughed, stirring the noodles for my spaghetti. “Why should I leave? This is a beautiful place, and you haven’t done anything to try to harm me.”
I waited for it to respond, but it was silent for a while. So long I wondered if it had spoken at all.
“You’re not . . . scared of me?”
“Of course not. I just got a roommate with my house, is all. There’s space enough for both of us.”
I strained the noodles and warmed up the sauce.
“Most people leave.”
“I’m not most people. Would you like some tea?”
I really must have gone crazy if I was inviting my walls for tea. Oh well. The words were out. And there was no way I was going to rescind my offer to this ghost or whatever it was. I valued living, and while I didn’t think it was hostile, I didn’t want to risk it, either.
“What kind of tea?”
“Earl Grey,” I replied, pouring the sauce over my noodles and starting the water boiling.
“My favorite. Do you have sugar cubes?”
“No . . . Unfortunately.”
“Ah well. Just . . . throw it at the wall.”
I looked at my cat, curled up in the corner. It’s not like I ever had guests over, anyway. Why not?
I steeped the tea, took a sip of mine, wondered for the hundredth time if I was crazy, and chucked the other cup of tea at the wall. For a moment, there was silence. Then a slight chortling laugh from deep in the bowels of the mansion. Then the wall seemed to join it. I smiled and laughed as well.
“Ah, it has been so long since anyone has offered me tea.”
“Did you enjoy it?” I asked, watching the tea drip down into the floor boards.
“Oh yes indeed. Have you asked your beau out yet?”
I felt the heat rise in my face. “No . . .”
“You really ought to. I bet he’d say yes.”
“But what if he doesn’t?”
The house creaked and the stove lit on fire. “Then he has another thing coming.”
I laughed, harder than I’d laughed for a very long time.
“No, there’s no need for that. I think I’ll just keep loving him from a distance.”
“Ah well. I guess I can’t force love.”
I finished my tea and went to sleep that night, with the sound of soft breathing from the walls of my bedroom.
* * *
Four years later, I got married in that house to the only other person in the world who hadn’t run when they’d seen their reflection in the mirror blink and heard the walls speak.
The house had been right.
He had said yes.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in anyway. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her cuddling with a cat, drinking a caffeinated beverage, and watching one of her favorite shows. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.