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37
Issue 37, April-June 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
An Incident in Brief
by Connor Ferguson
Followed by Q&A

Inklings

This house is wicked. And I don’t mean wicked in the sense people here use it, but in the traditional sense, something wicked this way comes. Something truly wicked.

This is the beginning of Louise Katz’s diary entry marked August 10, six days after moving into the house at 14 Everett Road. 

It can easily be said that Louise had a flair for the dramatic when writing her diary. In the months leading up to the move, she mentions on repeated occasions that she believed her marriage was “haunted,” for example.

Marc and Louise Katz moved in almost a year after the death of their only daughter at the age of three years and four months. They determined that they needed to get out of the two-bedroom suburban house they had lived in for five years, the house that had been the site of Julia’s conception, the happiness surrounding her birth, the two agonizing years of her illness, and finally the site of Marc and Louise’s grief following her death. In Louise’s words, they “fell in love with the house [at 14 Everett Road] instantly” and bought it after only two visits, one to see the house, and the other to see the town, which Louise described in June of that year as “nondescript but perfect.” “I know I usually like to take more time with things, but I have a feeling about this place,” she wrote in her diary just before they made an offer.

Reviewing her diary entries from the Katzes’ first six days in the house, subtle portents of what is to come reveal themselves almost immediately. In the entry marked August 5, describing their initial arrival the day before, Louise specifically mentions feeling “not at home, almost unwelcome,” a feeling she ascribes to simply not having moved in completely, with most of their possessions still in boxes stacked in the center of each room.

Convinced that “the purpose of moving here, the whole reason we’re here [i.e. to heal from their daughter’s death] can’t begin until we’re fully moved in,” Louise becomes obsessed with unpacking and getting rid of all the boxes as quickly as possible. At this point, Marc had yet to finalize his transfer to a local office and was still planning on making the drive to Boston every day. He had only managed to finagle three days off for the move. Louise expresses her frustration with his “uncharacteristic laziness” during those days. He is not working with her same fervor, and this seems to agitate her further. “To make matters worse,” he goes to bed early each night, “even though he spent what seems like all day sitting on his ass.” She writes that the half-unpacked state of the house makes her “uneasy” and she “just want[s] the place to feel like a home as quickly as possible.”

On the morning of August 7, Marc’s first day back at work, Louise says she’s “almost glad he’s gone” because it will give her a chance to work at her own pace without feeling as though she has to “constantly get him up out of another chair every time I turn around.” The length of time it’s taking to get everything unpacked is “making [her] nervous.” 

She works through the morning, and then, as her second entry later that day tells us, she starts to feel “overwhelmed” and takes a break, makes herself a cup of tea, and goes out on the back deck. Her handwriting becomes feverish and sloppy at this point, clearly written very quickly. While out on the deck, Louise feels “suddenly afraid” looking into the woods that surround the property. She writes:

It was as if I was being watched, but not like there was something in the woods watching me, but that the woods themselves, the trees themselves were watching me. I felt like I was going to have a panic attack, my heart started pounding and I felt like I couldn’t escape, even though I didn’t know what it was I wanted to escape from.

This is when Louise first considers the possibility that her state of anxiety might not be entirely due to the still-packed boxes. “Maybe there’s something strange about this place,” she says.


Shadows

There is a third, very brief entry on August 7, which Louise informs us was written “sitting on a little bench under a lovely poplar in front of the library, with the late afternoon sun streaming through the leaves onto my back.” After the ominous feeling on the deck, Louise goes back inside to assess her situation. As she notes in this entry, Louise has “never been especially superstitious,” but nevertheless she is overcome with a sense of foreboding and for the first time mentions “a presence” in reference to the house, or rather the property in general.

She leaves the remaining boxes and drives to the library that day to look for some kind of town records and learn a bit more about her house’s history. Louise reports that she found “nothing weird” in any of the records.

Again, this entry is very brief—more of a nothing-to-report than anything else. She doesn’t actually retell any of the house’s history, although presumably she did read the basic narrative in the library. The house was built in 1850 by Ezra Hamlin, who owned the house and the adjacent farm until his death in 1869, at which point it passed to his son, Jacob. Jacob was chiefly notable for an unsuccessful mayoral campaign in 1876, after which he moved to Cambridge to practice law, claiming that he “did not have the constitution” for agrarian life. The house and the farm were rented to the Fitzgibbon family, but Jacob Hamlin was apparently dissatisfied with their management of the farm and in 1879 decided to divide the property into separate lots and sell. The estate’s main drive became a public road, and the houses now occupied by Louise’s neighbors began to crop up over the years. The Hamlin family retained ownership of the house and small yard until 1902. The infamous woods were in fact relatively young, planted in the mid-1920s. There is no mention of any criminal or suspicious incidents in the house or the surrounding woods, either in official records or in popular memory.

Her single entry the following day is revealing in its unusual brevity—barely longer than the final August 7 entry written under the poplar. She reflects on her experience at the library the day before and says that she “doesn’t feel any better today.” In this entry, written on the morning of August 8, she vows to finish all the unpacking that day. She also quite uncharacteristically details her breakfast that morning—rye toast, coffee, and three spoonfuls of greek yogurt with a squirt of honey and a handful of raspberries.

An explanation for her concision is found in her entry the next day, August 9. Here, two days later, she describes her experience on the evening of August 7 after returning from the library. It was on that night that she first saw the shadows. 

She came home, made herself dinner, and ate alone, as Marc was not due back for some time. After eating, she cleaned the kitchen and, now that night had fallen, crossed the living room to the stairs. She says there was a “prickly feeling” on the back of her neck as she entered the room, and when she was almost at the stairs, she saw, “just outside [her] field of vision,” a shadow in the corner.

Now I’ve heard of how people can see things out of the corner of their eye, how your peripheral vision can be tricked and such, but in all those stories, whatever it is is gone by the time the person looks at it. But I was staring right at the corner of the room and a huge shadow, like a big, round hill was there. It didn’t go away no matter how long I looked at it. It was unmistakably the shadow of something real.

Understandably frightened, Louise followed the shadow to the vicinity of the stairs and—incredibly—found nothing that could possibly have been casting it. She moved her body, watching her own shadow slip across the wall, until she was standing right where the hypothetical object would have to be. Her shadow disappeared within the girth of the other, but she was standing in an otherwise completely empty part of the room. “It was,” she concludes, “a shadow of nothing.” The word “nothing” is underlined three times, and her pen pierced the page at the end of the last line.

Louise goes on to say that she turned on every light in the room, but this was somehow worse. In the darkness, she could see the shadow clearly, but in the light it of course disappeared, “which only drew attention to the fact that there was nothing that could have possibly made it.” (Single underline on “nothing” this time.) Not seeing the shadow, but knowing that somehow it—or whatever was inexplicably casting it—was still there, was even more terrifying than looking right at it. Finally she turned off the lights and ran upstairs, where she locked herself in her bedroom. She waited there until Marc arrived home. She says she debated whether or not to tell him what had happened to her, but when he came upstairs, he fell into bed with all of his clothes on and didn’t stir all night.

The next morning—August 8, the day of the short entry—Louise felt uneasier and more nervous still. It was a windy day, and she could hear the trees whispering all morning long. She wrote the short entry about her breakfast, “out of some sense of duty,” but left out any mention of the shadow. “Marc just fell asleep so suddenly that night and it was almost too frightening to admit it had actually happened, and so for some reason I left it out of my diary yesterday.” She was in no state to finish the unpacking, as she had vowed to do in that entry. She invented reasons to leave the house, making no fewer than four trips to the grocery store. She called Marc at work and told him she loved him, “just to hear another person’s voice, to know that I wasn’t alone in the world.” As the day wound down and the sun grew heavy and red, she found herself literally shaking with fear.

What was freaking me out the most, though, was that I didn’t know what I was afraid of. I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person whose [sic] afraid of things only with good reason, and never just because they’re mysterious or unknown. But all yesterday afternoon, I had, I still have, this awful sense that I’m not even actually as afraid as I should be.


Breaking Point

A sudden change in Louise’s hand separates this last sentence from what follows. Her handwriting had been, up until this point, increasingly agitated and angular. Her prose, as well, was becoming disjointed, her sentences unraveling from each other. But when she begins the description of her experience the night of August 8, her handwriting is smooth and in places very light, as if her hand were slowly being lifted off the page by a balloon tied to her wrist. She appends elaborate, calligraphic loops to the ends of words, and her narrative style (as noted above, usually peppered with dramatic flourishes) turns stilted and journalistic, almost clinically detached.

When night falls, Louise is upstairs in the hall with all the lights on, comforted by the long, straight walls and lack of furniture; in other words, the absence of anything that could make a shadow. She sits on the floor, staring at the brilliantly lit ceiling, to wait for Marc. As the evening progresses and her gaze remains fixed on the ceiling, she fears everything outside her field of vision. She imagines that the whole house, with the exception of the square of ceiling she’s looking at, is covered in darkness, and she too will be consumed by it if she looks away from the light.

This feeling seems to pass, however, and for the first time in the whole ordeal, she starts to reason with herself. She tells herself there’s no way she could only be protected by looking at the light, that the only reason she is suddenly so afraid of everything she can’t see is precisely for that reason—she can’t see it. If she turns away and looks at the rest of the hallway, it will be filled with light and it will no longer seem frightening.

But what if it’s not? The question starts pounding in her brain. What if she breaks the spell, looks away, and finds she is consumed? All she knows for certain is she is still staring at the ceiling and she is still safe. She continues back and forth in this vein for quite a while, and she almost seems to have hypnotized herself relating her struggle, bouncing rhythmically between her two minds. Her writing devolves into a long strand of curls that goes on steadily until it drops off the edge of the page. 

“So I decided to look down the hall,” she picks up at last, as if it were something exceptionally mundane. She looks down the hall, and of course it is lit. No shadows.
But the door to the spare bedroom, at the end of the hall, is wide open. The quick moment of relief she felt upon seeing the fully lit, shadowless hall, is immediately replaced with a dreadful need to close the door. “I’ve never been really OCD or superstitious or anything, but that must be sort of what it feels like. It was as if a voice was screaming in my head telling me that the door had to be closed that instant.”

She gets up and, making sure not to look down into the living room as she crosses in front of the stairs, walks down the hall to the dark doorway. “Did it want to be seen? Is that why I couldn’t help going to the door to close it?” A fan of light spills into the spare bedroom from the hall, and splitting it from side to side is a thin shadow, “like there was one of those pull-up bars like Marc used to have in his office in the doorway.” She walks forward until the clarity of her shadow matches that of the bar. It passes straight through her neck. She finds she can’t move and she stares at the two dark marks converging on the floor in front of her. There is, of course, nothing casting the shadow. “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”

After this litany, she almost cheerily proceeds to describe her confession of the shadows to Marc when he arrives home. This leaves probably close to an hour unaccounted for after seeing the bar shadow. Unlike her failure to describe her experience the previous night in her August 8 entry (which she later recounts in this entry on August 9), Louise remains completely silent on what happened during this time. It may be that something unspeakable occurred before Marc arrived home. Even if, as is more likely, nothing of note happened, the absence of her usual thoroughness in recounting events is odd.

When Marc comes home, he insists that he is “exhausted beyond belief,” but Louise says she has something important to tell him, and she begins to tearfully confess everything, starting with the feelings of unease, the ominous woods, and finally coming to the shadows. He listens calmly, which surprised her at the time, but upon further reflection, “when you just spelled it all out, feeling kind of uneasy and seeing weird shadows, it really didn’t sound all that bad.” She tries, desperately, to communicate her distress to him. He reluctantly says he’ll go check out the shadows, but as he shuffles out of the bedroom, “it was like he was humoring a little kid by checking the closet for monsters. He doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.”

Marc calls for her from the hall, saying he needs her to come point out the shadow to him. She tells him he doesn’t need her to point it out, that “it’s there, plain as day, plain as plain can be.” She refuses to come to him, saying she can’t be near the shadow again. She hears him go downstairs, and the next thing she’s aware of, the lights are out and Marc is sleeping soundly by her side.

This brings us to the entry of August 10, which she opens by asserting that the house is “wicked.” She says that neither she, “nor the house” can take any more. There are few details about the night before. Marc came home and once again fell asleep immediately, “without even saying a word to me.” She characterizes the previous day as “torture” and “exponentially worse than it’s been.” 

It doesn’t want us, this house. The shadows are multiplying. I saw two more, two different ones last night. I feel like I’m being watched, not just that I’m being watched but that there’s someone standing right behind me right now as I write this. Always right there, just beyond what I can actually perceive with my senses, is this presence, this wicked presence. It doesn’t want us. He [Marc] doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t want us. I don’t know if he can’t see the shadows or won’t see the shadows or if something’s gotten into his head, but if we stay here we’re—I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s right behind me. I don’t know what it is, but it’s right behind me and if I go someplace else it’ll be right there too because it’s everywhere it’s everywhere it’s in this house and in the woods.


Final Remarks

It’s hard not to wonder why Louise still remained in the house even as she came to this conclusion. It would be safe to characterize her as a relatively cautious person, and yet, with the exception of her trip to the library and the one day in which she went to the grocery store numerous times, she spent a great deal of time in the house even while formalizing her anxieties in her diary. A complete and thorough interpretation of these events is confounded by the fact that this is the final entry of her meticulously detailed yet highly enigmatic journal. The rest of the book is blank, except for the page immediately following the last entry, which is entirely shaded from edge to edge by her pen.

Louise Katz was, of course, never seen again. Her husband reported her missing immediately upon arriving home the night of August 10. All of the glass from every window in the house had been smashed from the inside, with some shards found in excess of twenty feet from the windows. Her car was locked in the garage. A thorough search of the surrounding woods resulted in absolutely no sign of Louise, and the trail turned immediately cold. Although the authorities were unable to produce any conclusive evidence pointing toward it, the possibility of foul play could not be ruled out. 

Marc Katz continued to live at 14 Everett Road for two more years. According to neighbors, he had very few visitors and never turned on any lights in the house, even after arriving home late in the evening. He sold the house, along with all of its contents, and left no forwarding address. After his departure, it was discovered that the remaining moving boxes had never been unpacked.





Connor Ferguson grew up in the mountains of Southern California and graduated from Tufts University. His short fiction has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine and Squawk Back. He lives outside of Boston. www.connorferguson.com

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this story?
A: The more you know about something—anything—the less frightening it becomes. It's the unknown that unsettles us. This story has very few answered questions for that very reason.

Q: Besides Prime Number, what are some of your favorite literary magazines?
A: I read a lot of the classics—PloughsharesTin House—but I'm also a big fan of newer places that are really trying (and in my opinion, largely succeeding) to do something different and original, places like BULL: Men's Fiction.

Q: What would your ideal writing day be? 
A: Every day is an ideal writing day for me. I'm writing all the time, even when I'm not actually putting words on paper (or screen, as the case may be).

Q: What’s happening outside your window right now?
A: Given this story, I'd like to say I'm looking out on some foggy, threatening gothic moor, but really it's quite beautiful and sunny. I just had pancakes for breakfast, and it's shaping up to be a thoroughly un-frightening day.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a novel more long term, but I've always got a few shorts stories bouncing around in my head.