An Unhaunted House

Welcome to Miliwata, Florida! The hauntedest city in the USA!

Boyd Fester was a man who loved quiet and cherished the moments when he could find it. Early mornings at the real estate office, before anyone arrived, were his favorite time of the day. He drank his coffee, looked out the window, and listened to the distant thrum of cars on the highway. When he heard the door slam he sighed. Quiet time was over.

Country Rose Wiley marched into her boss’s office without knocking. Boyd could judge her progress precisely by the sound of her heavy walk. Everything about Country Rose was loud, including her clothes, her hair, and her footsteps. And her voice. Especially her voice. “Boyd, I want the Miller house.”

“Good morning, Country Rose. Why would you want that, Country Rose? Nobody can sell that house, it’s unhaunted.” Boyd was by nature a nervous fellow. Working with Country Rose meant he was nervous anytime she was in the same building.

“I’m getting married! I realized that the bonus for selling that house is enough to pay for my wedding dress.”

Boyd carefully monitored his response, and gingerly set his coffee mug on his desk. Country Rose missed most things in life, but he knew his natural inclination to drop his jaw and open his eyes wide would be noticed, and she might not accept his shock gracefully. “Congratulations, Country Rose. Who’s the lucky fella?” he managed in an even, non-shocked voice. He didn’t know Country Rose dated, much less was engaged.

Country Rose (she was not fond of diminutives of her name) rolled her eyes. “My boyfriend,” she explained impatiently. When she saw that that description didn’t alter the blank look on Boyd Fester’s face she elaborated. “Price Swearingen. You remember Price. He twisted his ankle at the company picnic.”

The light went on in Boyd’s eyes. He did remember Price. All this time he thought Price was her brother because of their remarkably similar facial features. He’d also, given the amount of howling and weeping over what turned out to be a slightly sprained ankle, jumped to the conclusion that Price wasn’t interested in ladies. It all goes to show the dangers of stereotyping, Boyd thought.

“Of course, of course.” He gave her his famous (at least he told himself it was famous; at least famous-ish) half-cocked grin. It was his most ingratiating real estate agent smile. One thing everyone agreed on was Boyd had a stellar set of choppers. “Brain fart.” He pointed to his head as if to remind her where he kept his brain. “So, what makes you think you can sell the Miller house?”

“I’m the best realtor this town’s ever seen. If I can’t sell it, no one can. Plus, I have determination on my side. Determination and love.” Boyd admired Country Rose’s unflagging self-confidence. She, in fact, was not the best realtor in their small town. She was not even the best realtor in Boyd’s small firm.

“That sounds like an unbeatable combination, Country Rose. As far as I’m concerned the Miller house is yours. You go sell it.” She didn’t really need his permission, but Boyd learned long ago that it was best to simply go along when Country Rose made her mind up about something.

“Thanks, Boyd! I knew you’d see it my way. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a house to sell.” Country Rose pivoted on her toe and marched out of Boyd’s office. She smiled slyly as she closed the door behind her. ‘And a wicked plan for how to sell it,’ she thought.

***

“I don’t know Country Rose. It sounds dangerous.” Price held the rope as Country Rose attached one end to a metal hook attached to a wedge-shaped piece of wood.

“There’s nothing dangerous about it, Price. It will look like an accident. We’ll prep the house with binding spell to keep the spirit in the house, and the house will be haunted. Then I’ll be able to sell it. Then the money will be mine.” Country Rose moved her attention between the big book of knots she checked out of the county public library and the rope she attempted to attach to the hook. She was having a hard time following the diagram. It looked like a lot of arrows telling her to wrap the rope around itself, but that didn’t seem to create a knot.

“But, Country Rose, we don’t need a lot of money…”

“And with that attitude we won’t,” Country Rose interrupted.

“Country Rose I’m trying to tell you I love you. You don’t need a big bonus for our wedding to be special. It will be special because we’ll be getting married.” Price fidgeted nervously with the other end of the rope. “I just wonder if starting off our life together with a murder is such a good idea.”

“It’s a great idea!” Country Rose stopped looking at the Big Book of Knots and turned her attention to Price. She wore her serious face, the look that let Price know she was Not Kidding Around and would Brook No Argument. She spoke slowly. “Every girl dreams of that special day, a day when she is the center of attention. A day when everyone is there just for her. Part of that dream is to have a dress that makes her the most beautiful girl in the world, at least for that one moment in time. I didn’t think I would ever find that dress, the dress that spoke to me, the dress I want seared into my memory, and everybody’s memory, forever. But, I found it, Price. I really did find it. It’s not my fault it’s so damned expensive. But, I can’t let something foolish like cost keep me from living my dream. I have to reach for my dream, Price. What have I always told you?”

“Stop picking my nose?” Price pulled his finger away from his nose guiltily.

“Reach for your dream, Price. I always tell you you’ve got to reach for your dreams.”

“I understand, Country Rose. Still… murder.”

“First, it’s not like anybody will know it’s murder. Everyone will think it’s an accident. So, it’s not so much murder as an intentional accident. Second, no one likes the old biddy anyway. We’ll be doing the world a favor. And, frankly, we’ll be doing her a favor. She’s entering that time of life when she’s going to be sick a lot, and she’s got no one to take care of her. We’re doing her a kindness, Price. Do you really want to stand by and do nothing while her quality of life rapidly diminishes? That’s like torture, Price. Do you really want to torture Aunt Clara?”

Price pondered Country Rose’s logic. It was true, he was opposed to torture, but there was something about her reasoning that he just couldn’t quite put his finger on. His nose wrinkled, A booger inside was distracting him. He wished Country Rose would go back to reading her book so he could sneak a quick pick.

“I suppose you’re right, Country Rose.”

“Of course I’m right. Now give me a little more slack.” Country Rose went back to tying her knot and Price slipped the annoying booger out of his nose.

***

The Miller house was a nondescript little bungalow in a neighborhood that had seen better days. The Millers raised a family and never seemed concerned that they had the only unhaunted house in Miliwata. Two years ago they retired to Arizona and put their house up for sale. Since Miliwata didn’t have much going for it other than the hauntedness of its homes, the Miller house stood un-sold.

Country Rose saw herself as the kind of woman that Got Things Done. If no one was buying the Miller house because it wasn’t haunted, she reasoned, she would find a way to make it haunted. If that meant someone had to die, well… so be it.

The original scheme occurred to her years ago, but she couldn’t imagine who she might find to haunt the house, so she had put the idea away. Finding her perfect wedding dress brought the idea of haunting the house to the forefront of her mind, and serendipity provided her with the perfect candidate.

Country Rose’s great uncle Geep Valerie died the day after she found her dress. Among her and her extended family many phone calls and emails were exchanged deciding what to do with her great aunt Clara Valerie. Clara had the misfortune of being an opinionated iconoclast in a family that preferred traditional values. Clara shunned the conventional and nicely filled the role of the eccentric bohemian in the family.

Because of her eccentricities no one wanted to open their homes to Aunt Clara. Her bohemian life left her with little money, and she couldn’t afford and vehemently refused to live in an assisted living facility. One thing was certain to all concerned, she couldn’t live in the house she shared with Uncle Geep for decades. The thing was on the edge of collapse.

Clara and Country Rose had a particularly strained relationship. For one thing, Clara thought Country Rose was the most hilarious name she’d ever heard. She could never say it with a straight face. For another, she was always arguing with everybody. The rest of the family just chalked it up to Clara’s idiosyncrasies and managed to ignore her. But, Country Rose was not the sort who could lose an argument. She knew that even a brief interaction with Aunt Clara would have her scouring the Internet for days afterwards piecing together the information she needed to back up her points.

In retrospect, given their history, she probably shouldn’t have tried to be so sweet to Aunt Clara when she showed her the house.

It was a brutally hot day in August when Price, Country Rose, and Aunt Clara pulled in front of the unhaunted bungalow in Price’s bright orange PT Cruiser. Country Rose was already drenched in sweat and no amount of air conditioning seemed to be able to cool her down. Price was similarly soaked, but Aunt Clara didn’t show a single sweat stain or bead of sweat.

“I think this is going to be the perfect house for you, Aunt Clara.” Country Rose forced herself to smile as broadly as she knew how.

Clara simply grunted. She missed Geep and didn’t want to spend the afternoon with her ridiculous niece Country Rose and her deep-in-denial effete boyfriend Price. Though she could tell they were sincerely in love, and Price wasn’t a bad sort once you got to know him. And, even though she didn’t want to admit it, the house was lovely. Though it seemed weird to live in Miliwata without a ghost. At least a ghost would keep her company and help stave off the loneliness. Nonetheless, perhaps Country Rose could get something right once in her life.

Country Rose led them to the top of the steps. The house had a nice front porch, thought Clara. She liked porches. She could already see where she’d put the rocking chair. The front yard needed some work, but it wasn’t too big. She’d probably be able to manage it herself. Especially if she carved out some room from the lawn for some flower beds.

“I think it’s the perfect size for you, Aunt Clara,” said Country Rose as they walked inside. “Not too big, and not too small. And,” she moved deliberately to the air conditioning control and turned it down as far as it would go, “the air conditioning was replaced just before the Miller’s moved out. It should be able to keep this place as cool as you like.”

Clara waved her hand dismissively as she moved around the living room. “I hate air conditioning. It’s a tool of the oppressors. I never use it.”

Country Rose fanned herself and smiled faintly. She was going to ignore that. “Let me show you the bedrooms. I think you’re especially going to like the kitchen and the back yard.”

Surprisingly, Country Rose was right. The small bedrooms were adequate, but the sunny kitchen opened onto a backyard deck, and there was a patch of sunshine that Aunt Clara saw as the perfect spot for a garden.

As Aunt Clara stood on the deck admiring the towering oak tree in a neighbor’s yard, Country Rose motioned to Price behind Clara’s back. It was hard to get Price’s attention. The man was obsessed with his nose.

Country Rose began motioning with more vigor. When she finally stamped her foot, she meant to give a light tap on the deck, but instead struck the deck with enough force to put her murderous scheme into motion. What happened next unfolded so quickly no one could remember the exact sequence of events, but it went something like this:

The resounding thump set three things into motion at the same time. Clara startled and stepped off the deck. Price pulled his finger out of his nose, noticed Clara moving away from the target spot and moved to grab her, thereby putting himself on the target spot. The wedge he was supposed to pull away with the rope shifted loose at the percussion of Country Rose’s stomp allowing the substantial number of heavy roofing shingle packages to avalanche onto Price.

Country Rose and Clara would later agree that Price’s final words were “Oh, shit.”

Seeing her paramour crushed beneath the weight of the shingles caused a singular occurrence. Country Rose fainted.

***

When Country Rose came to her senses she heard the wail of the sirens. Aunt Clara knelt beside her holding a wet compress to Country Rose’s forehead. Price lay clearly and inarguably dead, under a great pile of shingles. Country Rose panicked and looked for the rope. She had a sinking feeling in her gut she was about to be arrested for manslaughter.

“I put it away,” said Aunt Clara.

Country Rose looked at her with a baffled look on her face.

“You’re as transparent as mountain air, Country Rose. I’m just surprised I didn’t recognize your plan from the beginning. I must be slipping in my old age.” Looking at the prone and befuddled Country Rose, Clara remembered her as a little girl. “You may not realize this, but I’ve always had a soft spot for you, Rosie.” Country Rose frowned at the diminutive. “One thing that happens when you’re my age is you can remember how some people’s childhood shapes them. I remember you when you were just born. You were such a delightful child. I thought you had the chance to be something special. But, I could see it, every time I visited with you and your folks, how they were screwing you up. You never had a chance. I always thought it was something of a tragedy. But, there’s still hope, Country Rose. I still believe in you.”

“Price…”

“Price is dead, honey. But, he’ll always be here. I assume you did a binding spell to keep the spirit of the deceased attached to the house?”

Country Rose nodded. She didn’t want to, but she felt compelled to look at Price’s corpse. His finger was lodged in his nose. In death as in life.

“Well, you’ll always have Price, then. And, Country Rose?”

The paramedics came through the kitchen. Country Rose felt the hot tears sliding down her cheeks.

“I’ll take the house.”

THE END
Tampa, Florida
March 2017