Belinda, as an adult, would try to recall clearly what happened to her in the bathtub when she was six years old. Over the years, she would forget the details, only remembering how scared she was.
She had been old enough to wash herself in the bathtub, although her mother or Gramma Ed would help her wash her long, think hair; difficult to comb out when wet. Molly had spoken of getting her hair cut short, but Belinda did not want some stranger cutting her hair, making her look like a boy.
She was rinsing the soap off her bare shoulders and arms in the steamy bathroom that evening. She was alone, and sometimes she would sing or hum to herself. She liked being alone most of the time, because no one seemed to like what she had to say.
Gramma Ed, Molly, and Will told her she could not talk about the house to other people, they would misunderstand, so she stopped talking about it. If she stopped talking all together, she did not think anyone would notice.
She also did not speak of the changes she noticed on her body; the growth of hair between her legs, even the way she smelled was changing. Puberty had come too early for her; not a cause for celebration, but something she would have to watch carefully. Belinda saw her body as something uncontrollable, frightening, so she ignored it in her own childish way, along
with everyone else, including her mother.
Belinda felt the bathroom become cold underneath the steam from the bath. The chill seemed to land on her damp hair, down her wet neck and shoulders. She suddenly shivered, goose pimples covering her. The nipples on her bee-sting breasts had become more sensitive, and puckered from the invading cold.
A man’s hard touch brushed against them.
The movement was swift, making her gasp. She looked up, and saw the shadow through the steam, which was quickly
evaporating. The shadow was not against the wall, but to her left side, near the rim of the bathtub.
The buzzing sound was all around her as the shadow took on a more definite shape, forming into a man’s head and shoulders.
She felt his hand against her small chest, pushing her, keeping her in the water. She was too shocked to call out to anyone. She felt another hand on her plump thigh, and its firm grip was moving upward, to her belly. Then it started moving
downward, past her belly button.
The man’s hand brushed past her emerging pubic hair to her vagina, and Belinda could feel that icy-coldness spreading between her legs as those dead fingers penetrated her gently, seeking out her pleasure underneath her fear, a back and
forth stroking as light as a feather.
The nauseating dread Belinda felt was undermined by the shock from her body‘s response. Many years later, she would realize she had been traumatized.
She did not experience anything like an orgasm, the touching stopped before her body could react that strongly. The buzzing sound just stopped, the shadow was gone.
She jumped fast out of the bathtub, the water now completely cold. She grabbed a towel, covering herself, wanting only to be clothed and safe in her room.
She dressed in her blue flannel pajamas after drying off, getting under the covers of her canopy bed. When she stopped shivering, she reached for the stuffed animals around her; the beat-up teddy bears; the old toy stuffed dog. She surrounded herself with their comforting presence, reminding herself that she was still a child. She fell asleep, not allowing him entrance into her dreams.
Molly was on the phone when the children came downstairs, Will bringing the tape recorder. Edna had gone upstairs to take a nap, after putting the twins down for their afternoon rest.
Shawn Rush, who was one of two full-time writers for the Sentinel, met Molly that morning when she visited the offices. The secretary had referred her to the library, but she bumped into Shawn on her way out. He thought she resembled some kind of hippie housewife, wearing her old multi-colored sweater, her long hair hanging in her face.
Molly explained what was going on in her house, and he did not laugh at her or seem offended. He gave her his card, and told her he wanted to help, as long as he could write an article about the house in the future.
Molly felt she had to explain who she was from the beginning, telling Shawn about her family and John‘s family, her father and Nedra. She knew this would spark his interest, no matter what John thought.
Shawn told her, when she called, that he was going to set up an interview with one of the Degan descendants. Molly was ending her conversation with Shawn when Will and Belinda entered the kitchen.
Molly hung up the gold-colored phone on the wall, which matched the gold and avocado-green patterned wallpaper. Belinda, many years later, would shudder at the memory of that seventies design.
Molly shook her head at them; she was too tired to deal with her children lately. “Your Gramma Ed told me what you two
did, and you’re both grounded!”
“Okay, Mom,” Will said. “Do you want to hear the tape?”
“You were taping down there?”
“Did you pick up something?”
“Maybe. A woman’s voice.”
“We think it might be April’s,” Belinda said.
Will played the tape on the dining room table while his mother finished her coffee. The buzzing sound filled all their ears, along with the voices of Belinda, Will, the woman’s murmurings, then Edna yelling at them to come out of there.
“She sounded mad,” Molly said.
“Are you all right, Bel?”
Will played the tape several times for his mother. Rewind, play. Rewind, play. He is ashamed, Mom. He killed her, Mom.
“But why would he want her dead?” Molly asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What about the reporter...Shawn?” Belinda asked.
Molly ignored the question, knowing she had not told either child about Shawn Rush yet. “I didn’t find anything in the old Sentinels,” Molly said. “No murders of a wife by her husband.”
“Maybe he got away with it,” Will said.
Shawn Rush visited the Harts in their home that summer, in June of 1980. The weather had been humid and rainy, with the window air conditioner in the living room broken.
Shawn, a young reporter in his early thirties, was close in age to John and Molly. He was unmarried, so the sight of four children watching television, toys scattered about, with their tall, handsome grandmother sitting in a rocking chair in the corner, was a touching scene.
Shawn did not know what to expect at 1225 Gable Road, although he had written a few articles about haunted houses in the past. When he was living in Georgia, he followed local paranormal researchers, a married couple, into a haunted plantation house, partially burned down during the Civil War. He spent the night in the place, bored and getting attacked by mosquitoes. The wife, who claimed to be a medium, made contact with the spirit of a black man who died in slavery before the War. Nothing dramatic happened, except for the creaking noises on the ancient staircase. The overall rot of the place aggravated Shawn’s asthma. He could not wait to leave that morning.
Shawn was a skeptic, but even he was a little taken aback by the calmness of the family. Molly made a point of cleaning the house, her first attempt in months, and all Shawn saw were clean surfaces and the smell of tonight’s dinner, pork chops. The boy, Will, a tall kid with gray eyes, had greeted him at the door. He politely let Shawn in, whose jacket was sprinkled with rain.
He followed the boy to the dining room.
John Hart, the adult embodiment of Will, sat at the table with a cup of coffee. He wore a white shirt with his tie loosened. Molly had said her husband sold insurance for a living through Oracle Insurance, a company that had been around forever.
Shawn, whose father was an alcoholic, could see that Hart wanted a drink. He was not fooling anyone with his coffee. He had the desperate look around his tired eyes and on his mouth. The whites of his eyes were slightly yellow, uncommon for such a young man. His hands were small, the hands of an artist, a gentle person. This was not a man who yelled at his wife and kids; he beat at them gently with his unhappiness, drowning them in guilt and self-reproach.
“Mr. Hart?” Shawn asked.
“Call me John. Molly’s in the kitchen. Please, sit down.”
John took in this young man, who seemed younger than him. His brown hair was cut short, his eyes a hazel-green and, along with his corduroy jacket, he gave off the air of the yuppie. John found the young man’s vulnerabilities easily; he was ambitious, but feared himself. He had a rough childhood, an alcoholic father and a mother who was frequently ill. Like John, he was a man of order who favored being in control. He was a good journalist, wanting to write books that would make him famous, but he suffered from self-doubt. “Molly tells me you are quite interested in our crazy house here.”
“She tells me there have been frightening disturbances, that this house is haunted.”
“Yes, it is.” John paused a moment, looked down at his coffee cup. “Did she tell you about our families?”
Shawn nodded. “She did. The Harts and Murdochs are famous. Nedra Hart was your grandmother, right?”
“She certainly was. She had a gift, so did Molly’s father, Samuel Murdoch.”
“Mr. Murdoch did publish many books. There is also a Pauline Murdoch, she wrote a book in the early fifties, about reincarnation. She was living in Scotland at the time...”
John could feel his right hand squeeze into a fist underneath the table. Why did Molly do this? he thought. Didn’t she know this man would dig into every bad thing?
John kept his voice cool and pleasant. “Pauline is Molly’s sister.”
“Does she still publish?”
“No. Pauline has been ill.” John rose from the table. “I’ll go get Molly.”
Molly had been detained while looking for the audiotape Will recorded from the cellar. She wanted to play the tape for Shawn. She also dug up the photographs. John found her in Will’s room, letting her know Shawn Rush was here. As they were walking down the staircase, he whispered, ”I didn’t know your sister had a book published.”
Molly abruptly stopped walking, making John almost bump into her. “I forgot about that book. It was only published overseas. She wrote it almost thirty years ago. She was in her early twenties, living with James—”
“Shawn Rush must have found that book.”
“Really? I’ve never read it.”
“We can talk about this later. He’s waiting.”
Molly wanted to take Shawn to the cellar, and had purchased several flashlights and had purchased a 35mm camera for this occasion. Before going outside, Molly had presented Shawn with the photographs and played the audiotape in the dining room.
However, Shawn did not see anything in the photos, light or shapes, which would suggest an apparition, including the plume above Belinda’s head, or any flaws in the photos of the twins. John and Molly looked at each other, shocked. The flaws were plain to them; Edna and Colleen had seen these flaws as well. Molly played the tape on her son’s tape recorder, but all Shawn could hear were the voices of Will and Belinda and Edna. Towards the end of the tape, where Molly could swear were the murmurings of a woman, John’s head snapped up from the table, his face burning red, as he looked over at his wife.
Shawn was feeling quite awkward by this time, with Molly’s angry exclamations and her husband’s nervousness. He began to
feel sorry for Molly, he noticed she had taken extra care with her appearance; her hair cut in a short, layered style, with makeup and a new sweater and jeans. John had also seen this, but failed to make any connection between his wife’s new friend and her sudden, revived interest in her looks.
John Hart sat quietly at the dining room table. “Molly, maybe you can take Shawn into the cellar. I need to sit for a
Molly knew something was wrong with him. It was not like John to resort to any dramatic maneuvers around strangers. She noticed he was struggling to stay sober all evening, drinking coffee. The voice from the tape had disturbed him.
“Okay, honey,” she said. “I’ll take Shawn to the cellar, we won’t be long.”
John waited for them to go outside before he replayed the tape. He waited to hear her voice again.
John knew that voice did not belong to April Degan, as he was expecting. He had not heard the tape until tonight; he believed the voice to be April’s due to Molly and the children’s excited chatter, but he only needed to hear three words, in that Irish lilt, to recognize the voice of his grandmother, Nedra Hart.
Nedra died when John was in his early twenties; he and Molly had only been married a few years. She always knew she would live to be in her eighties, live a long life, and die a sudden death. Nedra and her husband, Dr. William Hart, had raised three sons, with Robert, John’s father, as the oldest. After the boys were born, Nedra more or less retired from using her psychic gifts in public, although she did write a few books on the subject of life after death. She wrote of the tunnel and the light
fifty years before anyone else started to believe in those things. She had a spirit guide/control named Tomah, who she spoke of at length. Nedra had been tested, as a young woman, by a psychologist friend of Dr. Hart‘s, who diagnosed her as schizophrenic with delusional tendencies, but highly functional. She laughed about that for years, as she grew more reclusive, preferring the life of a wife and mother to that of a famous freak.
Nedra had been small and dark, with the gray eyes John and Will had inherited. She wore her brown hair in a single
braid, her skin fair and freckled. She was always a little plump, no taller than five feet. John owned a framed photograph of her, taken around 1912, when she was in her twenties, wearing a high-necked, dark dress, and boots that buttoned on the sides. The photograph had been taken in a parlor, with Nedra standing, looking off to the left, a serious, distracted look on her face.
John wanted a martini, but he played the tape again. He was convinced he heard his grandmother. Each time he played
the tape, the voice became louder in his head. Nedra had been born and raised in Ireland, spent some time in England, and moved to the states when she was nineteen. She traveled with her brother throughout the country; she was already famous as a psychic back home.
Nedra had believed in reincarnation, but she was raised a Catholic in Ireland. She did not speak of reincarnation publicly or mentioned it in her books.
He is ashamed, John thought. Who is 'he’, Grandma? Why are you on this tape?
Will had painstakingly described, for an eight-year-old, his experience with his sister in the cellar. He mentioned the jar, how he saw the twin fetuses, remembering this image from his dreams. When the jar fell on the ground, he said a liquid spilled that smelled like death. John knew what the boy meant–the scent of rotting flowers and spoiled milk.
We only moved into this house because of the twins, John thought. That’s when everything went downhill. The twins have been the focus from the beginning, for all of us, the ghost included. Molly said she saw the ghost in the cellar with Mom and Colleen. Will and Belinda saw something down there, Belinda talked endlessly about the cold grip on her wrist. He is ashamed. I am ashamed. I have no control. Molly thinks she does, but she‘s wrong.
Shawn Rush was not the reason John had stayed sober today. Will had told his father about when he was almost suffocated in his bed and what happened to Belinda in the bathtub. The ghost came with the sound of buzzing, like a swarm of bees. John had heard that sound at night when he was trying to go to sleep, or whenever he was alone. He thought the sound could be coming from the furnace, in the vents, but that excuse could not be used in the summer, and he had checked for bee‘s nests in and around the house.
John hated bees. When he was six years old, he had accidentally stepped on a collapsed cardboard box in the woods behind his home and was attacked by a small swarm of yellow jackets that lived inside. Edna saw him running and screaming up to the house, which would be bypassed by the tornado weeks later. She sprayed him with the garden hose, later counting at least twenty bee stings on his body.
Belinda was now six. Will followed his father to Belinda’s room. John asked about the ghost touching her. He sat on her bed and looked around. This was maybe the second time he had been in her room since moving into the house. He remembered Molly painting this room, Belinda sharing Will’s room then. Molly had also painted the hallway and the twins’ nursery. She accomplished a lot of work before her bed-rest, although the place had been slowly turning her into a nervous wreck.
John felt so awkward around Belinda, the child he was the least close to, but he had to know what happened to her. “Will said the ghost wouldn’t stop...touching you...in the tub?”
John wanted a martini now more than ever. “Where were you touched?”
She did not look him or Will in the eye, she just looked down as she sat at the bed, one leg hanging down from the edge, the other curled under her.
“Did he...touch your privates?”
Her eyes, so much like his, shifted to the left, then right. “Yes.”
“Between your legs?”
“How come you didn’t tell me, Belinda? Why have you kept it to yourself?”
She gave her father that blank look, which he would misinterpret for a lack of intelligence but, in fact, was really despair. She thought her father and mother were hopeless and this despondency would dog her until that day in Las Vegas, over twenty years later. John would blame himself. He was supposed to have been the father, the protector, but he had failed.
Belinda shrugged her shoulders. “I told Will. Besides, the ghost hates the twins, not me. If he kills the twins, he’ll leave the rest of us alone.”
“Sam and Sarah are only babies,” Will said.
“He killed the other twins,” his sister replied. “April’s babies.”
Shawn Rush could feel the icy coldness in the cellar, but not any odor. Maybe a little mildew, the smell of earth, but nothing unusual. “I’m sorry, Molly, but I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary for a cellar.”
Molly had only been in the cellar once since the children were terrorized. She had not touched anything, including the jar on the cellar floor. Whenever she came close to the jar, still resting in its fetid puddle, the rotted flower smell assaulted her nose,
making her nauseous.
Shawn can’t smell it because he is an outsider, Molly thought. He’s not a member of the family.
“You know,” Shawn said, “I managed to find a descendant of John and April Degan’s in town. Her name is Jean Larabee. April and John were her grandparents. She’s a very large woman and a recluse. I visited with her for a little while, but she didn’t really want to talk to me. I think she would rather speak with you. I don’t know why, maybe she trusts women more. Maybe she would tell you something she wouldn’t tell me.”
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No, I don‘t think you‘re crazy, but the disturbances have only been witnessed by yourself and family members. No one outside the family has seen anything in or outside the house. Maybe Jean would be of more help right now. In the meantime, I’ll keep researching.”
“I was hoping for a book.”
“Me, too. But there has to be some sound evidence to put in a book, hearsay isn’t enough.”
Thank you for reading :)