The Attraction

Stuart R. Wahlin
31 min readSep 28, 2022


In the spirit of the Halloween season, I’m sharing my short story, The Attraction, which was originally published in The Black Book horror anthology. If you enjoy the story, please consider purchasing the book. It includes a second horror short of mine called Giving Up the Ghost, which was featured in the screen version of The Black Book.

The following tale is inspired by the 1978 murders of six children by their father, Simon Peter Nelson, in Rockford, Ill. The home in which the family lived, only half-a-block from my own, has seen many inhabitants in the years since, mostly renters, but one former owner I spoke with reported paranormal activity in the house.

The second inspiration for the story is the Villisca (Iowa) Ax Murder House, where an unknown assailant, or assailants, killed two adults and six children in their beds in 1912. The site has since become a “museum” that offers overnight stays. I was one such visitor who spent a night in the house, and the experience changed me forever.

I’m including a trailer for the story below in order to get you in the mood. Enjoy.

See the trailer for the story you’re about to read.

Chapter 1: The Steal

It was dim in the slumbering home, and a father of six crept from room to room at 2 a.m. with a head full of bad ideas. “This is my house,” Isaac asserted silently, angrily to himself. He couldn’t wait for his cheating-whore wife to find out what she’d left him no choice but to carry out.

His black outline appeared in a bedroom doorway, but remained invisible to the children’s sleeping eyes inside. He hesitated there, savoring the moment — taking a deep breath, releasing it slowly, quietly. Now poised, he would set in motion what he’d come to do. There was a sickening, repeating thud and crunching of bone in the darkness to which his eyes had adjusted. Next door, a neighbor was stirred from sleep by a pounding noise. But a moment later, it was gone. She rolled onto her other side, and sleep retook her.

He stepped from the bedroom and into the hallway. Blood and other grisly matter dripped from the hammer gripped in his tight fist. It seemed to bristle with electricity. He was under its control now. “It has begun,” Isaac thought, knowing there would be more bedrooms to visit before it was finished.

Even his shadow seemed different now, but the moon still knew him. His was no longer the likeness of a man silhouetted in silver moonlight. No, this shadow stretched grotesquely down the hallway, advancing for the next bedroom before he’d even taken a step. It beckoned him, and a madman advanced to follow its lead.

The next morning, a dreary, snow-blanketed Saturday in February, more pounding came from the Abramson house, but this time it was police officers who’d returned to perform a second welfare check at the three-story Cape Cod. No one had responded to the doorbell during the first visit, but this time officers were determined to gain entry after Isaac’s estranged wife, Dolores, made a frantic call from out-of-state to report she feared Isaac may have harmed their children.

Officers gained entry through an unlocked window, and rookie Junior Bonilla immediately sensed that something was terribly wrong. He could simply feel it in the eerie stillness. But he could also smell it, and it was death. He and fellow officers would find six children, ranging from three to twelve years of age, bludgeoned beyond recognition in their beds, with little or no sign of having awakened before the overkill, blitz-style attack. Not even the family’s cat, Sushi, had been spared.

The property was roped off with police tape, and officers swarmed the scene. Curious neighbors of the tight-knit community, still sipping their coffee, wandered out into the street, asking one another what had happened. No one seemed to know, and the officers guarding the perimeter remained tight-lipped, silently bearing the horrible burden of knowing what had occurred inside — protecting the quaint neighborhood’s innocence for one last futile moment.

Then there was the arrival of vehicles from the coroner’s office, producing multiple stretchers that were wheeled into the house. Out of earshot, a police chaplain whispered with the family’s own pastor. Now neighbors were speechless, fingers crossed, praying that somehow everything was still going to be OK.

That was until the first little body, wrapped in a blanket, was removed from the house. Gasps and sobs filled the air once the unspeakable was confirmed. Despite the winter chill, residents stood vigil in the street as five more blanketed stretchers were eventually removed from the scene. Many concluded there must have been a gas leak, but the less-comfortable truth would soon come. Isaac would be taken into custody the same day, never to breathe freedom’s air again.

It had been a mass murder from which the Alastor’s Grove neighborhood had never fully recovered. Neighbors only whispered about it, if they could bring themselves to speak of it at all. The fortieth anniversary of the unspeakable had come and passed quietly without acknowledgement.

Alastor’s Grove was a charming little piece of tree-lined heaven, seemingly exempt from the crime plaguing other neighborhoods not-so-far away in the city of 150,000. The neighborhood was a place where the American Dream still lived. It was a place where neighbors still talked and watched out for one another. It was a place where you might meet the neighbor for a beer in the driveway after mowing the lawn, and talk about how good the Cubs or Sox were looking that year. It was a place to raise kids — to build a life.

There were two things for which the rest of the city descended on Alastor’s Grove every year: the neighborhood garage sale and Halloween. But every Halloween, parents would shoo their children past the house on Brennan Street, while some kids would dare one another to ring the doorbell, hoping to catch a closer look at where it had really happened back in the seventies.

But Wallace Wolcott didn’t know any of this. All he knew was that the house on Brennan Street, by all accounts, should be worth at least $120,000, and after a long series of price-drops to less than half of that, Wallace felt a $30,000 offer might be received favorably. Twelve dollars per square foot would be a hell of a deal. He’d seen photos of the house on the usual real estate websites. It appeared to have been a rental property for some time, and there would undoubtedly be need for some fixing-up, but if they welcomed Wallace’s offer, he’d be stealing the place. He’d just accepted a buyout offer from his longtime employer out-of-state, and this would be the perfect opportunity to not only be closer to his daughter, Emma, but to try his hand at flipping as his first retirement endeavor.

Emma had just gotten a job in the suburbs after graduating from college, and living within an hour of her just made Wallace feel more at ease. Her mother, Wallace’s ex-wife, had passed away three years earlier, and he wanted to be closer in order to fill that void. Emma had picked him up at O’hare on a cool, rainy night, and he’d borrowed her car for an arranged viewing of the house on Brennan Street the following day. He was always early, and this was no exception. Parked at the curb in front of the 110-year-old Cape Cod, he sipped gas station coffee and listened to news radio, waiting for listing agent Velia Blanchard to arrive.

It was autumn, and Wallace found the turning of the leaves there in Alastor’s Grove to be especially vibrant. This was a place he wouldn’t mind living. A car crept toward him from the opposite direction, as though the driver might be searching for an address. Velia, he figured. But when the car drew closer and the windshield was no longer obscured by the reflection of the street’s rusty tree canopy, Wallace could make out the figures of four twenty-somethings gawking at the Cape Cod as they passed in their faded-green Volvo wagon. When the young man driving the car saw Wallace looking back at him, he stepped on the brake and rolled down his window. Wallace was just stepping from his own car to see what he wanted when a horn sounded impatiently from behind the Volvo. The young man and his friends drove off, and Velia parked her Cadillac, emerging with impossibly-red hair that did little to hide her years.

Velia had been selling homes throughout the city for decades, but this stigmatized property had been a thorn in her side for too long. Everyone throughout the region knew the house. If they hadn’t been alive to witness the news reports back in the seventies, they’d surely heard all about it from someone who had. Those stories would usually be told around Halloween, of course, and Velia would often have to chase off morbid curiosity-seekers during October.

But this out-of-towner, Wallace Wolcott, probably didn’t know a thing about it, and she wasn’t about to bring it up. There are plenty of things an agent has a duty to disclose when it comes to the structure itself. But if, say, a man had slaughtered his family in the home, the onus was on the buyer to be aware of that. She couldn’t sell the place to a local at any price, and she was tired of ghost-hunters posing as buyers in order to get a free tour. Renters had been a high-turnover disaster, and by now she was ready to trade the place for a pack of gum. If Wolcott was even half a rube, Velia could finally be rid of the murder house. She wasn’t a superstitious woman, but she never liked lingering there after home-seekers had left.

“Hi, Wallace?” Her drawn-on eyebrows and crocodile smile greeted him enthusiastically. “Velia,” she shook his hand. Her wrinkled lips sucked from a long, thin cigarette as Wallace followed her up the porch steps to the front door. She opened the lockbox and handed Wallace the key. “Just gonna finish my smoke, and I’ll be right in,” she rasped. “You go ahead.”

Wallace entered, and the afternoon sun danced warmly off the glossy hardwood flooring and white walls. This was a home. The main floor had been remodeled recently, and he loved it already, but he couldn’t let Velia know that. The walls and carpet in the four upstairs bedrooms, however, left more to be desired, but he could do all that work himself. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, Wallace marveled, caressing the dark banister on the landing to the finished attic, imagining a more idyllic history than the house had actually been dealt forty years prior.

This was perfect, Wallace thought. He almost regretted that it was too much house for a single retiree, but he could fix it up for a young family, and at a healthy profit, given the comparables. When he descended to meet Velia in the kitchen, he hemmed and hawed about how the house had potential, but that he wasn’t sure he was up to the task. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

Chapter 2: The Deal

Velia had wasted no time letting herself out of the house once Wallace had departed, but by the time she’d returned to her office, the offer was in. Ten days after the $30,000 cash offer, he arrived in a U-Haul and began moving in. Because the bulk of the work would be on the upper floors, he made himself at home on the main floor, turning it into a suitable, albeit temporary, apartment for himself.

The first morning, he found himself inching the thermostat up to combat a draft he hadn’t noticed before. He added weatherization to his mental list of chores for the house as he stood in his robe and slippers sipping his coffee before the window looking out onto leaf-strewn Brennan Street. The Halloween decor on each parcel reminded him he’d need to buy candy for tomorrow night’s trick-or-treaters.

Today, he thought, I’ll start tearing out the upstairs carpet and see what kind of shape the hardwood is in. Outside the window, children were walking to their corner bus stop when two stopped on the sidewalk in front of the Cape Cod. They squinted in the crisp morning sun at the house, each wondering if what they’d heard was really true, and why anyone would want to live there. But Wallace assumed they were probably just curious about whether whomever had moved in might have kids. He shrugged it off and began his day.

Once he’d assessed the condition of the upstairs flooring — it would need some work — he set to doing some fall cleanup out in the yard. The sun was rich that day, and he wouldn’t need a jacket over his wool flannel. He’d have to get a lawnmower, Wallace made a mental note as he raked leaves from grass he felt was too long. An older gentleman across the street stepped out onto his porch to fetch mail when he saw the new neighbor. He shuffled across the street donning a Korean War Veteran cap and a khaki jacket.

“It’s sure nice to have someone living here again,” he said to Wallace with an outstretched hand. “Ward Moyer.” Wallace introduced himself and they shook hands. “Just you then?” the old man asked. Wallace nodded.

Ward wondered if the new neighbor was aware of the home’s past, but managed to avoid broaching the subject directly. “Where ya’ from?” he prodded gently.

“Minneapolis,” Wallace responded, resting the rake against his shoulder. “Just retired.”

Ah, maybe he was a local after all then, Ward hoped, so he must know. “So, why here?” Ward pressed.

“Why Alastor’s Grove?” Wallace responded curiously.

“No,” Ward shook his head, tipping his face toward the house, “Why here?”

Wallace turned to the house behind him. Whadya mean, why here? Why not here?

“Rehab project,” he responded curtly, and resumed raking.

Ward nodded, realizing the new neighbor wouldn’t be there long enough for any of it to matter. He was just a flipper who’d be stuck with the property like Velia had after she’d inherited the listing from another Realtor who’d died after a short battle with cancer. No point telling him now, Ward figured. He wished him luck and shuffled back across through the leaves in the street to his home.

By the next afternoon, rolls of torn-out carpet lined Wallace’s alley driveway, and he’d had just enough time to run to Wal-Mart for candy to hand out that night. When the doorbell rang at 4:45, Wallace was prepared to greet the first little visitors with a plastic pumpkin full of miniature candy bars. When he opened the door, though, there stood a conservatively-dressed young woman, clearly not in costume.

“Hi,” she began with a broad smile, “Brinly Chandler, News 18. How are you doing today?”

“Fine,” Wallace laughed. “Thought you were a trick-or-treater.”

“Well that’s kinda why we’re here,” she explained, turning to the running SUV with TV-news logo graphics parked at the curb. “We’re doing a story on allegedly-haunted houses in the city, and we’re wondering if…”

“What do you mean, haunted houses?” Wallace interrupted.

“I just mean,” she hesitated, “You know, the murders that happened here.”

Murders? Wallace’s heart began pounding in his angry head. Fucking Velia!

“We just wanted to ask what it’s like living here, and if, you know,” she trailed off.

What the fuck did Velia get me into?

“It’s not haunted,” Wallace told the young woman as he closed the door on her and shut off the porch light. He pulled the drapes shut and dimmed the lights, determined not to answer the door again that night, no matter how many times the bell rang.

Furious, he sat down on the couch, unfolding the laptop on the coffee table in front of him. He typed in his Brennan Street address, along with “murder,” into the search engine, and there it was in black-and-white archival newspaper photos. It was his house, all right. Photos showed residents lining the street, watching in disbelief as stretcher after stretcher was loaded into coroner station wagons. And there was Ward Moyer observing the scene from across the street. He was much younger, of course, but Wallace recognized him immediately, and now the old man’s line of questioning had made sense.

There’s got to be some sort of disclosure requirement, Wallace demanded, now searching Illinois real estate laws. But no. There was no such requirement, and Wallace felt angry, both at himself and with Velia for allowing him to be duped. Despite the extinguished porch light, the trick-or-treaters rang the bell for the next two-and-a-half hours, during which time Wallace tried dowsing his fury with bourbon before turning in for the night. Lying in bed, Wallace was determined to see the work through, then hope for the best once the house was back on the market.

By the time three months had passed, he was satisfied with his work, and the house was ready for a family now. He’d succeeded in guilt-tripping Velia into listing the home once again, knowing she’d be motivated to sell. But he understood the reality of stigmatized properties now, and would be happy to break even after the tens of thousands he’d invested in the makeover since purchasing it. Still, he hoped there’d be enough meat left on the bone to move on to the next project.

“Have you considered ghost-hunters?” Velia had asked him.

“I’ve lived here for three months,” he countered. “If the place was haunted, don’t you think I’d know it?”

There had been a couple things, though, that made Wallace wonder. There was that feeling of being watched whenever he was in the basement, but he’d convinced himself that made no sense, because none of the murders had been committed down there. And there were those times he’d sworn he left his keys in the basket by the front door, only to find them elsewhere. Or, how he’d sometimes feel disoriented while working in the attic. Just getting to be an old fart, he told himself.

Velia had suggested that, if he was so sure there were no ghosts, then he should be happy to welcome an investigation that would vindicate his assertion. It made sense to Wallace, though he doubted how much weight any certification by amateur spirit-sleuths would carry with buyers. But he’d agreed, and Velia had reached out to one of the paranormal investigators that had wasted her time posing as a buyer for a walkthrough. She assured Wallace that Wendell Ambler seemed to be the real deal, having seen him interviewed by News 18 regarding local hauntings months earlier.

By phone, Wallace had instructed Wendell and his team to park in his detached garage off the alley, hoping not be be embarrassed by loud vinyl decals of crossed-out ghosts on whatever abomination they’d pull up in. To his surprise, though, he recognized the faded-green Volvo that had passed the house while Wallace had first waited to meet Velia. And he knew Wendell was the young man who’d appeared eager to speak with him before being chased off by Velia’s horn.

The deal was that Wallace would be required to spend the night elsewhere while the team did, well, whatever the hell it is they do. Wallace used the opportunity to visit Emma, who’d agreed to put him up for the night after he’d explained contractors would be working on his property until morning. They weren’t exactly contractors, of course, as their services were pro bono, but as Wallace laid down to sleep on Emma’s couch, he dreaded whatever half-baked conclusions these bumbling investigators might have jumped to when he would meet with them a week later.

Chapter 3: The Reveal

Wallace was impressed by their digs. It had clearly been a building with an industrial past, but the upper floor had been converted into a wide-open loft. It was clean, tastefully-decorated, and comfortable. There were no horror movie posters, or empty pizza boxes. These folks seemed to take their work seriously.

Wendell invited Wallace to sit on a sofa facing an ample projection screen. He sat beside his guest and activated the projector with his laptop. “Now, we did reach out to some former owners,” he prefaced. “One that lived in your house with her family in the nineties, in particular, seemed to think there was something going on there.”

Oh, boy. Here we go.

“But,” a chubby, bearded team member interjected, “We think we can explain it.”

The projection screen showed some kind of night-vision video of the team in Wallace’s basement. “Those are EMF meters we’re holding,” Wendell explained. “They measure electromagnetic fields.” The analog meters were jumping into the red and squealing loudly on the recording of the team as they approached the house’s breaker box. “Now, some paranormal investigators will tell you these spikes are indicative of the presence of a ghost.”

Oh, God, no.

“But elevated EMF levels are believed to produce myriad neuropsychiatric effects,” the chubby one added. “The former owner reported encounters in the basement on a number of occasions.”

“What are you saying?” Wallace wondered aloud.

“We’re saying you need an electrician,” Wendell responded with a wide grin. “That beaker box is a mess that could potentially induce feelings of anxiety, paranoia, even hallucinations.”

Electrician, Wallace sighed with relief. I can handle that.

Wendell clicked to the next video, which showed the team exploring the attic, this time with digital meters. “Here we’re measuring sound. Those are basically decibel meters. The former owner said she’d always feel uneasy up there.”

Wallace’s heart sank. Maybe he wasn’t getting as old as he thought, and he’d definitely gotten creeped-out up there, too.

“We’re measuring infrasound,” Wendell specified as the camera and meters seemed to focus on the ceiling fan. Wallace wasn’t sure what the numbers on the meter meant. “Now watch what happens when we turn the fan off.” The blades of the fan slowed, and the meter levels dropped. “Infrasound,” Wendell concluded. “You don’t even hear it, but it can result in a variety of psychological effects, just like EMF.”

A new ceiling fan, Wallace chuckled. I can handle that.

“Congratulations,” said Wendell, walking the relieved guest to the freight elevator, “You’re house isn’t haunted.”

“Can I get that in writing?” Wallace asked. “You know, to help sell the place.”

“Of course,” the young man responded. “But you know, a house that’s been certified haunted will probably sell for more.”

“Yeah, but it’s not haunted,” Wallace countered.

Wendell hesitated, biting his lip. “Would you like it to be?”

Chapter 4: Grabber Of The Heel

Blind to the constant presence of police and cleaning crews, and relatives removing keepsakes, weeks had passed before Marcus, the eldest Abramson child, began to realize he was no longer alive. There had been no blinding tunnel, or loved ones to welcome him at the other side. Had he and the other children somehow missed that opportunity simply by being unaware they were dead? Marcus could see his reflection in mirrors throughout the home, though he didn’t realize most of those mirrors had been removed by now from the premises. To him, everything appeared as it always had. He’d spend much of his time in his bedroom, lying on a bed that wasn’t there, looking out his window and thinking how strange it was that he never saw anyone outside in Alastor’s Grove. No children were playing, and no adults were coming and going. But at least he and his siblings could see and hear one another. They could sit on the same furniture, play with the same toys, and watch reruns on TV.

The realization began to come to Marcus while wandering the house and finding himself in the basement. When he’d advance in the direction of the breaker box, he’d noticed, he could see the basement as it truly was. Boxes of the family’s belongings faded away, leaving only the bare limestone behind. When he looked down, though, his torso and limbs had similarly dissolved, leaving only a faint shadow for a body. Here by the breaker box, he learned, he could no longer touch imagined objects like he could upstairs in the imagined life shared with his siblings. He reached for the breaker box door, but his hand passed into it, unable to make physical contact. It frustrated him, but he often returned to try and try again, eventually honing an ability, albeit slight, to move very small objects that had been left behind on the workbench that still remained. It was an ability he could take with him upstairs now. He found that if he squinted his mind’s eye just right, he could see the home as it truly was — cold and empty with bloodstained bedroom floors. But he kept this from his brothers and sisters for the time being. No need to frighten them, he thought, trying to make sense of it all in the meantime.

Shortly after acquiring these new insights, Marcus caught a glimpse of a well-dressed man standing on the sidewalk below his window, smiling and waving up at him. By now Marcus could, of course, see the living when he looked out his window, or when they came into the house on police or real-estate business. But they couldn’t see him. So how was it that this man was going out of his way to make sure Marcus knew he could see him? He raced downstairs and tried to throw open the front door. It was too large and heavy for his meager abilities to move, so he instead stepped through it out onto the porch. The man stood at the base of the steps. As the man warmly removed his trilby, Marcus could now see the man’s face was but a featureless blur.

“I am Jaakobah,” the man said clearly, though there was a sense English was not his first language.

“I-I’m Marcus,” came there boy’s response, unsure whether the man would even hear him.

“Do your brothers and sisters know, Marcus?” Jaakobah asked, the blur of his face almost forming a smile.

Marcus looked toward the house and shook his head. “Do you wanna come in?” he almost begged, longing for company other than his young siblings.

The blur in the fine suit formed a pantomime of a man looking at his watch. “Not yet,” Jaakobah responded, tapping the watch. He began stepping backward from the house and down the block until falling from Marcus’s sight. What a queer thing, he thought, that anyone — living or dead — would walk down the street backwards.

Marcus often watched out the windows all day, but Jaakobah did not return. The others spent their days much as they always had. Marcus had simply told them that Mom and Dad were out of town. And the lack of physical bodies meant there’d be no need to prepare meals for them. Should they be fooled into feeling hunger out of habit, the refrigerator and pantry were full to their eyes, and they never had to go to bed or school. Mom and Dad would only be away for a couple days, and the children never seemed to notice that nearly two years had come and gone, or that that none had aged.

A Realtor was downstairs showing the house one day, and Marcus didn’t want any part of that. It was then that Marcus ventured into the attic. He didn’t visit it often because it had been his father’s office, and he felt certain his dad was somehow responsible for the deaths of he and his siblings, though he had no memory of how. At the landing, he squinted his mind’s eye, and all his father’s things disappeared. Beside him was a light switch, and Marcus reached for it, trying with all his supernatural might to flip it.

Flip. The overhead light and ceiling fan came on. It produced a vibration in him that made him feel as if his astral body would liquefy. But it gave him a great sense of being part of the physical world around him. Marcus stood at the top of the stairs as the Realtor and a young couple ascended. And though he tried, holding out his arms out stiffly against them, they passed through him. Frustration, anger. Marcus balled his fists and screamed, “Get out!” The living didn’t hear him, of course, but they could feel his intent. The three had noticeably, suddenly become uncomfortable. The young couple shivered subtly, and Marcus knew they’d felt him. When the Realtor flipped the light switch off as they descended the stairs a moment later, Marcus felt his power diminish. But he’d learned a great deal about existing beyond the lie he shared with his siblings, and it made the passing of decades tolerable.

Chapter 5: Making It Real

This was absurd. Wendell had told Wallace of a house in Iowa where an entire family had been slaughtered in their sleep by an axe-wielding assailant more than a hundred years ago — and that people actually paid hundreds of dollars per night to stay there!

“It’s the real deal,” Wendell had said. “Well, sorta.” He explained that he and his team had documented activity there that defied rational explanation. Team members had been scratched, and they’d recorded objects moving. Supposedly. Wallace wasn’t asking to see more grainy, shaky, handheld videos, but he now knew Wendell to be a someone who knew his shit.

It was a stigmatized property, to be sure, and Wendell rattled off a condensed history of the house’s ownership and rental woes that had followed the tragedy. “I’ve researched the hell out of the place, and there’s nothing to suggest the house ever had paranormal activity before it was opened up to dark tourists.”

What did this mean, Wallace wondered. “So, what, you think they’re cranking up EMF and infrasound in the place?”

“No,” Wendell shook his head. “I think the visitors have, inadvertently or not, actually manufactured paranormal activity by what they do in there.”

What had they done in there? Wallace couldn’t begin to guess, but if his stigmatized property could generate 400 bucks a night from dark tourism, he’d gladly take their money. Again, he’d been instructed to stay elsewhere that night, while Wendell would perform his magic. While Wallace and Emma dined at her favorite sushi bar that night, Wendell had gotten to work within the house. He’d arrived armed only with a flat, rectangular box under his arm.

“I don’t like them,” he’d told Wallace. “It’s marketed as a game, and people think they can talk to different spirits with them.”

Now Wendell had found himself removing a spirit board from its box, placing it on the floor approximately where the youngest Abramson’s body had been discovered by police.

“But it’s all the same spirit,” he’d warned Wallace. “It just claims to be different ones. It knows things.”

Wendell had told him he supposed all sorts of nastiness had been unleashed in that house in Iowa by the careless use of these boards. There’s no telling how other guests may have spent their time there. Black masses? Sacrifices? Summoning God-knows-what? These, Wendell proposed, were why that house in Iowa seldom failed to leave an impression on its overnight visitors. And he felt confident that he could reproduce those results in Alastor’s Grove.

He closed his eyes, placing his fingers on the planchette, and began a long night’s work. Though the board is traditionally used by more than one person at a time, it was a temptation Wendell wouldn’t indulge — not only out of secrecy, but to protect his teammates from whatever might otherwise attach itself to them. But for the $5,000 Wallace would pay him on the condition that people actually showed up to rent the place, it was a chance he was willing to take for himself.

“Is anyone here with me?” Wendell asked aloud, eyes closed. As he began to ask a second time, the planchette began to pull beneath his fingertips, and he opened his eyes.

It spelled IAMJAAKOBAH. Wendell would never reveal what he and this spirit discussed during the hours that followed, but by morning he felt certain a presence had manifested itself within the house.

Driving home that morning, Wallace sipped his paper-cup coffee and flipped on news radio: “The Portentville man convicted of brutally slaying his six children in 1979 has died, according to Department of Corrections officials. Isaac Henry Abramson reportedly passed away in his sleep after a long illness.”

“Pfft,” Wallace nearly spat his coffee. “Good riddance, shitbag.” He wondered whether Wendell had heard, but could ask for himself momentarily when he took back the keys, just around the corner on Brennan Street. When he pulled up, Wendell was sitting in his running car outside the house, and they each stepped out into the cold to meet. Wendell looked tired, but he had been up all night. He dropped the keys into Wallace’s hand.

“Everything go as planned?”

Wendell nodded and turned gravely to the house. “I think so.” With no further utterance, the weary young man got into his car and drove off down the snow-lined street.

By nightfall, Wallace had packed his belongings into boxes, and now it was time to skedaddle so he could start collecting all those Benjamins the dark destinations website would send his way in the form of ghost-hunters, devil-worshippers, or whoever the hell these idiots were. He’d opted to stay in a local hotel meantime, where he’d be close enough to welcome each night’s guests, and collect their money, before turning them loose inside. The first group was booked for the following evening.

He walked through the house, documenting its good condition on his smart phone’s camera — just in case of any incidentals, which he hoped the $200 deposit would cover. It wasn’t what he’d wanted for the house, but he hadn’t known at the time that no one would ever buy it. This was a compromise he could live with. While there’d be no lump-sum sale, the house would earn him nearly $3,000 a week, and that wasn’t bad.

I can handle that.

He climbed the stairs to the second floor, shooting every pristine detail of the turd-of-a-house he’d polished for months. On the landing, he snapped a pic down the hall. He tapped his finger on the thumbnail to expand the image for inspection. There in the nearest bedroom doorway, eyes, about waist-high, appeared to be looking back at the camera from the darkened room. He framed the hallway again with his phone and fired the shutter, and this time there were no anomalous eyes. Satisfied, he stepped into the bedroom and flipped on the light to shoot another photo. It felt colder than it should have after all that weatherproofing, Wallace thought, now concerned overnight visitors would be cranking up the thermostat, and eating into his profit margin.

But he stepped back into the hall, where it was noticeably warmer. There was a short creak of wooden flooring from another bedroom down the hall, and Wallace followed it. He flipped the light on, seeing nothing amiss but a slightly-ajar closet door. He pushed it shut, jiggling the cold knob to make sure it had latched. He positioned himself back in the doorway to frame a shot of the room with his camera when the door popped open again — just about an inch, as he’d found it when he entered the room, but he was certain it had latched when he closed it. He stepped toward it again, but stopped when the door glided further open by several more inches. A draft, he thought. There was probably a hole in the closet ceiling he’d missed, and it must have been enabling airflow. He advanced toward the closet door once more when it pulled itself gently closed. Wallace threw open the door, peering up the ceiling. No hole, but it was damned cold in that closet.

I’ll have to put some kind of lockbox over the thermostat, he decided, and the bastards can just wear long sleeves.

Somewhere beyond the far wall, there was a scratching sound. Fucking squirrel, Wallace muttered to himself. It was followed by three distinct knocks, and now the chill was racing up Wallace’s spine. Whatever Wendell had done seemed to have given the house a different feel. That much was certain as Wallace hurriedly finished snapping photos throughout the upper floors. He regretted what he’d been forced to do with the house, and there was a sinking feeling it’d never be a home again.

But it was getting late, and Wallace looked at the time on his phone — 1:51 a.m. Time to haul the last of the boxes out to the car, and get back to the hotel to hit the hay. Tomorrow the money would start rolling in.

Meantime, Marcus had been staring out his bedroom window when he saw Jaakobah approaching for the first time in — Marcus didn’t know how many years it had been. Jaakobah stopped beneath the street light and looked up at Marcus, removing his trilby to reveal not a blur, but the face of his own father. Marcus filled with panic when his father’s figure advanced up the porch steps. Isaac Henry Abramson had finally returned home.

Wallace placed the last box in the bed of the pickup and returned to the house to turn off lights and lock up. He’d already turned the upstairs lights off when he’d come down, but now he could hear footsteps coming from up there. Though the steps themselves were almost inaudible, the sneaking paces were betrayed by the familiar creaking of the upstairs flooring. Had someone slipped into the house while Wallace was taking out the last of his belongings?

He flipped the light on at the base of the staircase. “Hello?” No response. Then a series of loud, hard, desperate thumps. Wallace raced up the stairs, pausing in the hallway to try and determine from which room the sound had come. He crept to the nearest bedroom, reaching inside to activate the light switch. In that microsecond it took for light to fill the room, Wallace saw a flash of the grisly aftermath left there in 1979 — somehow briefly perceptible in that sliver of a moment when darkness is swallowed by electrical light, but now it was all Wallace could see in his mind as he retreated.

Chapter 6: The Seal

When the first guests arrived that evening, they found Wallace splayed at the bottom of the stairs. At first they thought it was a joke, or part of the attraction. But he was dead and cold, all right, having tumbled down the stairs and breaking his neck while suffering a heart attack. The coroner had determined it was likely the heart attack that had killed him, and that he was probably dead before be hit the first step.

The neighbors in Alastor’s Grove shuddered when they learned the house had claimed another life, and they resented Wendell greeting new guests there every night with a smile. There’d been a brief delay in admitting guests to the attraction, of course, until Wallace was in the ground at least. It was at the funeral that Wendell introduced himself to Emma. The house would be going to her, and Wendell felt he was still owed his $5,000. The only way he’d ever see it, he was determined, was if he could convince Emma to allow him to run the house as a business, as her father had planned. Her dad had never told her about any of it, so it did take some convincing. In the end, knowing she’d never have to set foot in the place, and that it would be a wellspring of money, she agreed.

In the moments Wendell would be alone in the house, waiting for the night’s guests to arrive, Marcus glared at him spitefully, screaming in his face just to get a little shiver out of him. It was all he could really do. Now that his father had returned to the house, even his brothers and sisters were aware that, while they could play safely in the light of day, they’d be hunted down by night — every night — and brutalized all over again.

Now that they knew they were dead, Marcus had shared with them the tricks he’d learned, and the eternal-youngsters delighted in the strange abilities the basement breaker box and attic fan afforded them. During the summer months, when there was far more day than night, Marcus would watch his younger siblings interact in small ways with guests. The visitors would marvel at their cell phone screens as they recorded balls rolling across the floor, then changing directions, or at the closet door that would open and close on command. But once darkness descended, there was no mistake, the house belonged to Isaac. Even the guests could sense the oppression there after dark. But when they posted their videos to Youtube, it only ensured the gravy train would march on for Emma and Wendell.

Wallace was still there, too, but unlike the children before him, he’d immediately known he was dead. And though it would be years before he, too, could begin to interact with physical surroundings in the house, he would bear witness each night as Isaac Henry Abramson carried out his horrific task. His own death didn’t replay every night like the children’s did, but for Wallace, this was not unlike how he’d imagined hell. Or was this only purgatory? Would he ever be freed from this perdition, or would it be eternal? In either case, it was unendurable, like being burned alive each night in a terrible, inescapable loop.

But Jaakobah, always appearing as Isaac, treated Wallace like a royal guest. Wallace had after all, through Wendell’s efforts, made it possible for Jaakobah to claim Isaac’s spirit, and allowed him the depraved pleasure of murdering dead children over and over each night. Marcus, having often eavesdropped on their conversations, pitied Wallace, but hated Wendell for allowing it — no, for inviting it. Marcus now knew Jaakobah for what he was — not a kindly stranger who’d stopped by to reassure Marcus that he still existed, but as some ancient, wicked traveller passing by in the aether who’d happened to stumble upon a unique opportunity to inflict his barbarous will on lost, earthbound souls. And the fiend had been welcomed into the home by the living — by Wendell, who knew exactly what could happen.

Despite urging by Marcus, Wallace couldn’t bring himself to despise Wendell, though. He’d only done what had been asked. Well, he’d never been asked exactly, but Wendell had proposed the idea, and it had worked after all. In time, Wallace, too, would eventually be able to contribute to the astounding of guests, ensuring a stable financial future for Emma. It was enough to get him through the next 62 years of enduring nightly mass murder, until Emma finally passed away peacefully in her sleep.

The brightly-lit tunnel had come for her, and loved ones were waiting to greet her. But Wallace was not among them, of course. By now, grandchildren he’d never known were aging, too. Would he ever break the house’s bonds in order to one day welcome them at the end of that tunnel when their time came? It seemed unlikely. Or had it been Jaakobah’s chains that had always kept he and the Abramson children from crossing over, even before the demon could take complete control within the home? Had Jaakobah been responsible for planting those murderous, vengeful thoughts in Isaac’s head that winter night in 1979? It seemed likely.

Wendell had, by now, also become quite elderly. Only after Emma died, her eldest sons had learned of the income from the stigmatized property, and had no need of worrying about maintaining a rental house hundreds of miles away from they lived. Wendell was off the payroll now, though he’d built a significant nest egg from books, lectures, and TV appearances about the house on Brennan Street. He’d die of natural causes a short time later, too, and the tunnel came for him. Emma’s sons opted to put the house on the market well before Wendell’s passing, and it was purchased by a TV personality who’d made his living pretending to make demons and ghosts his bitches. The house would continue to be run as an attraction, and the circus atmosphere would wear on for Marcus and Wallace.

Marcus’s brothers and sisters never seemed bothered by any of it — except when Jaakobah, now at-home in their father’s visage, would bludgeon their long-gone skulls each night. Even that would seem to be forgotten every morning by the children, but not by Marcus or Wallace, and it enervated them. But the TV personality would also be claimed by advanced age before long, and the house returned to the market it seemed so comfortable with.

This time, there’d be no new ringmaster, and the dark tourism had finally come to an end. While Marcus’s brothers and sisters watched the same cartoons that were already old in 1979, he and Wallace watched with great interest as a middle-aged couple were led through the Cape Cod by a Realtor. The couple talked about how their family was outgrowing their present digs, and the woman’s bump indicated there was clearly one more child on the way. Would the house become a home again, Wallace wondered.

But no one was more pleased than Jaakobah when the family had closed on the house and began moving in. Nights were quieter now, and the beast seldom turned its attention to the Abramson children anymore. In fact, it no longer resembled their father, reverting instead to a blurred form once again as it whispered doubt into the minds of the husband and wife inhabiting the home. The couple fought more and more often, and it delighted the fallen spirit to alienate them from one another. Soon Jaakobah would drive the woman from her husband’s arms, and he, too, would have to exact revenge accordingly — on their children.

I can’t handle this, Wallace despaired, searching the sky frantically for the tunnel that had been denied him and the others in what seemed sure to become a very crowded house.

Shortly after the baby was born, the couple separated. Temporary, she’d said, arguing she just needed some time and space to think. But by then, she’d fallen out-of-love with her husband, and was emotionally cheating with a coworker whose advances were persistent.

It was around 2 a.m. on a frigid February morning when a jilted husband and father of five began pacing his house on Brennan Street with a head full of bad ideas while his children slept.



Stuart R. Wahlin

Former print journalist, published author and ghostwriter, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, tragic figure.