some places are just born bad
aaron albright had it all.
great job, loving wife, nice paycheck, good kids. he was living the good old-fashioned goddamned american dream.
after his second raise, he decided to buy some land in the adirondacks and build a summer home, precisely to his specifications. there would be a big office for him, a spacious garden for judith. there was a lake just through the woods for jonathan, who had just announced – aged six – that he was going to start training for the olympics. “i’ll show michael phelps what’s what,” he said.
and for bethany there would be the entire attic. she had always wanted a windowseat, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and a nook just big enough for a loveseat with a built-in shelf for cups of tea. at fifteen, she had begun to talk about boys and late night parties; aaron wasn’t above bribing her for just a bit more time with his little girl.
the house was beautiful finished. the crew worked so fast, it seemed to grow up from the ground in a matter of days. the interior decorator fluffed the last pillow and the family moved immediately in for a well-deserved relaxing summer.
the first morning, bethany said she heard groaning coming from the walls in the night.
“that was just the house settling,” aaron told her, sipping his coffee. “new timbers need time to adjust, you know.”
“it didn’t sound like settling, it sounded like voices,” bethany insisted. “whispering to me…”
“nonsense,” said her mother. “it was probably sounds from the woods. you’re just not used to them yet.”
the next day, as aaron sat in his new office with a book of crosswords, bethany started to scream. he knocked his chair over in his haste, chipping the dark varnish on the hardwood floor. the attic door was closed. the knob turned in his hand, but only halfway. and still she screamed.
“bethany! bethany, what’s wrong?!”
“help, daddy! oh god, daddy!”
he kicked the door in, shattering the frame. a bookcase lay across the floor. lay over her leg. there was blood. bright, crimson, vicious blood. all over the floor.
“it just fell from the wall,” she sobbed at the hospital an hour later as the nurse wheeled her into the x-ray department. “i was walking to the window and it just leaped away from the wall. it was like it was waiting for me.”
he had no explanation. the bookcases had been screwed into the wall. in several places. and there had been no crash as it fell—the only sound had been bethany’s screams for help. he was thankful that the leg was not broken, and though the cut was deep enough to warrant stitches, the doctor assured him that it was a superficial wound.
she begged to stay the night at a hotel in town. started to shout that the house was evil, that the house wanted her. he refused her in a rare fit of pique, annoyed and embarrassed by her childish outburst in the middle of a hospital.
she grew quiet on the ride home. a change came over her. after dinner, she pushed in her chair and looked solemnly across the table at them. “i love you,” she said, looking from baby brother to mother to father, lingering on aaron the longest. “i’m sorry.”
next morning, she didn’t come down to breakfast. jonathan was sent upstairs to chide her for being such a lazybones and sleeping in so late. he returned confused and alone.
“she’s not in her room,” he said.
aaron took the steps two at a time, anger burning in the back of his throat. he expected to find drawers hanging open and a bag of clothes missing; it would have been no hard thing for her, in a fit of teenaged rebellion, to slip out the front door after everyone was asleep. to take her bike and ride back into town, to catch a bus back home—but then he hesitated on the top step. her leg. she couldn’t have ridden or walked back the twenty miles on that leg.
he pushed open the door jonathan had left ajar. the room was perfect. seemingly untouched. the closet was shut, the drawers were closed, the bed was made as if it had never been slept in.
then his eye was drawn to where the nook should be, the nook just big enough for a loveseat and a shelf for her teacups and books. it wasn’t there. a blank, smooth, seamless wall met his stare.
he became aware of a noise. a faint, murmured, whispered, tinny sound over the vague white noise of an empty room. he stepped closer to the wall, pressed his ear against it.
the room had been made just for bethany albright.