The Haunting at Juniper Lane
I live in a dying town. It’s the type of place where headlines are hard to come by. I should know. I work at the city’s only local newspaper. The majority of our print edition features real estate ads and puff pieces about wildlife or politics. I always hoped to write about something bigger, and better, but never really knew what. I never wanted my career to change. I never wanted to leave home. I never wanted to seek out any change whatsoever. Even the word ‘change’ felt like an allergen. Then, one cold night in the Winter of 2017, change found me.
I was alone in the news station that night. A bad storm had drifted through the day before and dropped over a foot of snow onto the roads. My boss offered to try to make it into the office. We didn’t usually leave people alone on shifts. But his four wheel drive was stuck in the shop, and his wife was sick, so I told him I could handle it.
The night shift, truthfully, entailed nothing more than listening to the police scanner and finishing up whatever articles I had for the next day. With a whopping population of five hundred, not much happens here after twelve PM, so things usually kept quiet in the evenings. I kept a rotating pot of coffee brewing and did my best to stay awake with the aid of online articles and neck-beard debates. But, as per usual, my attempts failed somewhere around four in the morning.
Static from the radio kicked in from under my desk. It shook me from an hours long trance of silence. I woke up panicked and scatter brained.
Dispatch. Reporting on that earlier call over at Juniper.
Go for it.
‘I went downstairs in my jammies and saw a boy who should not be there.’
Can you repeat that? Do we have a 10-66?
That’s what the kid said, dispatch. Word for word. The seven year old saw someone in the house. Parents called us immediately. Worried about a possible B&E.
Understood. Did you investigate in your jammies, MT56?
Hilarious. The boy sustained injuries, dispatch. The one that lives there. Other suspicious noises were reported by family members as well… flashing lights, opening doors, that kind of thing.
I am going to stay behind a bit. No other calls?
The transmission cut out with the storm, but I didn’t need to hear much more. I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door. Juniper Lane sat in between my house and the station, which made it a short five minute drive. I hustled out the door and into the snow.
The cold weather bit through my coat as I sprinted through still falling waves of sleet. My car hummed reluctance and struggled to defog the windows. I almost got stuck pulling out of the driveway. It sputtered a bit in reverse. But eventually, I made it onto the highway, and my SUV cruised down the lightly salted streets. I pulled up to 221 Juniper Street to find a very obvious cop car parked in front of the house.
He flashed his lights at me. There was no one else on the street. I probably looked suspicious. And so I parked the van on a side street, got out, and raised my arms; as if it to indicate I came in peace. The officer opened his door and stepped out to take a long look at me.
I recognized his voice from the radio.
“Hi, sorry, Sir. My name is Matt, and I am with Springfield News.“
He didn’t look impressed.
“So? That’s why you’re here? Did not know local news was so Johnny on the spot. I thought we switched the radios…“
The middle aged officer offered a second long stare at me, then turned back to the dark house. It was a colonial – built in a time that predated either of our lives. The four stories and endless bedrooms dwarfed the small decorations that lined random windows and lattices outside.
“Well, maybe you can figure this one out for me, because I’m stumped. Do you believe in ghosts, kid?“
I tried not to laugh outright. I never considered myself a believer in the paranormal at the time. And the fact that a dressed officer of the law was staring at me, at four in the morning, considering the fact as a possible cause of the attack…. it just seemed absurd.
“Didn’t think so. But I got a terrified mother. I got four kids near shock, so scared that they refuse to sleep in separate rooms, even. I got a sectioned off house with locked doors and a boy with six fresh scratches running down his arm. I got a shit show, kid, for lack of a better literary term. Now, tell me again, do you believe in ghosts?“
The officer snorted. Then he removed the glove from his hand and stuck it out awkwardly.
“Jim Brady.” I smiled awkwardly and shook his hand. “Tell you what, Matt. Hang out with me tonight. You might see something that changes your mind.“
I tried to resist the snark in my voice. Maybe it was my impatience the town’s annoyingly small problems. Maybe it was just my tired and shitty attitude. Maybe it was just the hour of four o’clock in the fucking morning.
“Yeah. Like what?“
“Like, those lights have flickered three times since I’ve been sitting out here.“
The seriousness in his tone made me reconsider my feelings. There is something strange about seeing a figure of authority behave so sternly about something as artificial as that.
Before either of us could say another word, the dark house lit up like a Christmas tree, and bathed the quiet suburban street in a sea of light.
“What did I tell you? That shit is not normal.“
I snorted at the officer as the shape of a woman descended from a magnificent staircase visible from the street.
“Look. She’s just getting some water.“
Her picturesque figured drifted down the red carpeted stairs and disappeared somewhere into the adjacent kitchen. I turned to gloat at Brady. But his pale face made me reconsider. He raised a lazy arm to point back towards the house. I followed his gaze to see the woman now staring through a small front window. At us.
“Oh, perfect. Do you think she would want to come outside? I know it’s late, but maybe if she’s interested, we could do an interview… This would be a really cool story if the Wallaces were up for it. We could print tomorrow.“
“That is not Mrs. Wallace.“
The woman waved from behind the glass pane. She had long blonde hair and a pretty white night gown. She reached up and fumbled with the latch for the window before raising it up slowly.
“What are you talking about? She’s right there. Maybe she recognizes me. We’ve never met…. but, small town, and all.“
The window opened. The blonde lady stuck the upper half of her body through to wave at us. I tried to wave back, and even cupped my hands to holler at her, but her voice seemed too quiet. over the growing din from the wind. I called out one last time, and when I did, she leaned forward further; presumably to try and reach me.
Then she fell from the second story.
I screamed and tried to rush forward. I could see from the street that the poor lady’s body looked like a helpless heap of bones and blood buried in the snow sheets. But Officer Brady held me back. He wrapped powerful arms around my waist, opened the door to his car, and threw me in the back seat. I tried to get out, but he pushed his way beside me.
“What the fuck man? What are we doing? We have to help her!“
“Listen to me, you fucking idiot, that is not Mrs. Wallace. Mrs. Wallace is an African American woman in her late forties. She sleeps on the other side of the house.“
I looked outside. The blonde woman was still in the same spot by the bottom of the window. Brady locked the doors and tried to climb into his front seat. He punched the radio a few times. But it only returned static. I looked back out the window again. I tried to find the pitiful shape that had just sat outside the house a moment earlier. But she disappeared.
The lights to the house went out again. Brady threw his car in reverse and attempted to hit the area with his front headlights. That was when we saw the figure approaching our car through the snow.
The blonde hair told me that it had to be the same woman. But her face appeared to age in front of my eyes. Her skin melted into a pancake of wrinkles. Her eyes morphed into empty pits of black so dark they stuck out against the snow and matched the night. The most disturbing part of all was the way she dragged herself. Bits and pieces of glass still stuck out from her blood covered legs. Even still, she pushed forward; groaning, grunting, and reaching towards us with an absurdly bruised and hanging arm.
Officer Brady and I fled the scene in his cruiser like a couple cowards. Part of me knew we had to go back. We left the family all alone in their home on Juniper. But between fight or flight, the latter won out that first night.
“Do you have any evidence of this encounter?“
Sheriff Wilcox glowered across the brightly lit room. Like he expected an ordinary fucking explanation for the extraordinary. It was such a loaded question. How could we have evidence? Should we swab the dead body that chased us out of the neighborhood? Should we ask her for a DNA sample? Maybe we could check the cameras in the cop car that didn’t catch shit. Brady gaped at his boss incredulously. He had just finished relaying every bit of what we saw on Juniper Lane. Right down to the disturbing, gory details. In retrospect, I guess, you can’t blame him for being suspicious. Most of you are. And half of our story sounded insane.
“Sir, I know what I saw. Matt saw it too. A woman fell…“
The sheriff cut off his employee, Brady, immediately.
“Matt is not a police officer. I don’t even understand why the fuck Matt is here, frankly.“
I stared at the tile floors of the station house and tried to count the squares. I could explain that my interest was tied to this being the only thing interesting to happen in our town in years. I could say that I was only here for backup, to verify everything Brady said. But I think he understood both facts perfectly well. The man stood tall, with arms folded over his pot belly, and a thorough look of unimpressed admonishment in his dark eyes.
“Media,” was all I added.
“Uh-huh. Look, Brady, I am not going to call in the National Guard because you and your new buddy saw ghosts on Juniper Street. If you are worried about the family, you can continue the stake out. I think that’s fair to say. But you are not getting anymore help. We have resource problems as it is.“
“Gotta go pay bills by pulling over tourists on the highway, right?“
There went my mouth again. The Sheriff laughed in my face before he walked away. Brady grabbed my shoulder and pushed me back out into the cold winter air. The snow turned to drops of freezing rain as we headed back towards his Crown Vic.
“Where do you think you’re going?“
“My car is still there. I need a ride.“
I sat in the backseat like an awkward prisoner. We drove in silence as the sun crept up over the hills. Rain continued to dart through fog well throughout the morning. When we made it to Juniper Street, I pointed out my car on a nearby side road, and Brady pulled his cruiser to the spot.
“I’ll be back here tonight. You should stay away, kid.“
I nodded and thanked him for the ride and adventure. Brady chuckled and gave a wave before clicking on the police lights and heading for the highway. Dick.
My tape recorder shifted uncomfortably in my pocket. I would have a lot of writing to do and not that much sleep to do it on. I fumbled for my keys and started to plan out the introduction when a pretty voice broke my train of thought.
“Hello? Excuse me?“
A woman waited on the porch. She waved in front of the open front door and seemed to beckon me closer. She wore a house coat over a long, light skirt that that accentuated her dark hair and features. I smiled and waved back cautiously.
“Sounds like you two had a night last night. We appreciate the help. Can I make you some coffee?“
I checked my watch and looked back up. I knew that my story required an interview. No one would believe it, otherwise. The woman seemed friendly enough. Two small children darted by the bay window in the living room. She yelled back, telling them to calm down, and go upstairs.
“Absolutely! I don’t want to intrude, though…“
Mrs. Weaver waved me on inside and called out over her shoulder to make myself at home. The path to the front door felt longer than it looked. I remembered feeling out of my breath by the time I made it to the porch. I stepped inside the house and found it to be freezing. That did nothing to make me feel better.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was the boxes. Hundreds of them lay stacked on top of one another in haphazard patterns across the room. Thick layers of dust indicated that they had been that way for a while. I tried to read the labels printed neatly on the side, but the handwriting looked disjointed.
“Forgive the mess!” Mrs. Weaver said as she appeared in the door frame. “Come, sit down, stay awhile!“
I smiled and followed her lead towards the kitchen table. She placed the hot cup of coffee in front of me and putzed her way back towards the stove. The room contained a number of antique appliances in perfect working order. An old cuckoo clock ticked away happily over a bedazzled crucifix tilted slightly to the side.
“I am so sorry, I never even introduced myself, I am rude. My name is Janet Weaver. I met your partner yesterday… James, I think?“
“He’s not my partner,” I clarified with a chuckle. “I am actually just a journalist. I am hoping to do a story about some of the things you and your family have experienced in this house.“
“Oh,” Janet grabbed the seat in front of me and pulled it out with a cup of coffee of her own. “I see.“
“Would you be open to talking about it?“
She stared at me for a little while. The children ran around noisily upstairs, and she shouted for them to be quiet, then stared at me a little longer.
“Will you keep my name out of it?“
The following is a transcribed recording of Janet Weaver’s recollection.
“We moved here after my husband passed away. The kids didn’t like it. As you can imagine. They lost their friends, cousins, school, sports… all in a period of two weeks. Too much change in too short a time.“
“So you can chalk it up to stress, or mania, or woman’s intuition. Whatever. My visions started soon after that.“
“We had.. one of those old style phones in the house. You know, the type with the receiver and speaker. They sold them about twenty years ago. They reminded me of when I was a little girl, so we kept it.“
“One night, I had just tucked the kids into bed, and I was in the living room reading. And I hear this… scratching sound… that appears to be coming out of the phone. So I go over to it, I unplug it, take it off the dresser, and then I threw it into an empty box. I go back to my book and chalk the whole thing up to a defective piece of crap technology.“
“But five minutes later, the phone starts scratching again.“
“I thought it could be my kids playing a prank. So I went up the stairs and checked on each of them. But both were fast asleep. Not even a snore or a peep. And so I shut the doors, went down stairs, and this time… I could hear a voice.“
“It was a woman. She was singing. I walked over to find my phone in the box completely unplugged from anything. But, sure as shit, a woman sung through that receiver. The song sounded like something in another language. Hard to understand, you know? But it was breathtakingly sad. Like, a song of longing, or something.“
“I stood there and listened to it for a while. It was the middle of the night. My skin was covered in goosebumps. But the song felt so transfixing. I could not stop listening.“
“And then something broke my concentration.“
“There was a crash in the living room. Some glass show piece must have fallen off the mantle. The woman on the phone started to sing louder. She sounded frightened, concerned, or foreboding. I went to check the dining room for the source of the sound. I did not have anything to protect myself. I was all alone.“
“That was when I saw him.“
At this point, the front door handle started to turn slowly. I could hear the voice of a woman outside. She had children with her. I turned to Janet, suddenly confused, and tried to ask her who was here.
But her face started to change. The skin warped and melted. Pieces of it fell off and hit the tiled floor with sickening smacks. I stared dumbly. She said one last thing;
“Please. Stay a while.“
And then her mouth fell apart as well.
I screamed for her to stop. The coffee in front of my hands disappeared. The cuckoo clock and appliances started to blur and fade in a wave of fog as the entire room itself seemed to enter an entirely different reality. I fell to the floor with a disgusting pile of blood, bone, and sinew sitting inches from my feet. A voice called out from the hallway. I must have been a sight; curled into a ball and cowering under the table like a child. I didn’t recognize the tone. But I reached out towards the sounds of normalcy blindly.
“Excuse me? What the fuck are you doing in my house?”