Pay Up

Gregory Jackson

Copyright 2004 by Gregory Jackson


Photo of birds in bare tree (c) 2004 by Richard Loller.
Photo (c) 2004 by Richard Loller.

Do you dream when you sleep? Are your dreams manifestations of your sub-consciousness or do they take on a life of their very own? Down the block from me, there stands a house that is haunted. Its story came to on the twenty-eighth day of October. It was as if I were sleep walking within a nightmare. And this is how it went. Walking along the sidewalk of my Petworth neighborhood, while torrents of raindrops pounded about me relentlessly, I felt the crisp cold wind slice through the stitching of my black hooded parka. Oddly enough the sun shone shyly. Peaking out here and there amongst the clouds of gray. It would peek occasionally at the earth below. Afraid and unwilling to be a part of a developing scenario occurring underneath it. Right then, a large black rat ran towards me, navigating its way blindly towards my path. Unable to dodge the rodent, it slammed itself into my shin. I fell to the ground trying to dodge it and it ran over me. It’s paws slamming themselves against the skin of my face as it ran abreast of my upper body. Fleeing hysterically from me as if in a terror of it’s own. And I heard a distant child like greeting reverberating within my ear. " Hello.’’ Like tiny fingers on the keys of a finely tuned piano, it was a boy’s voice. Eerie yet all together pleasant. Stirring me by demanding my concentrated attention. Except for the sound of wind rustling the foliage along the sidewalks, all sounds of nature remained silent. And the child’s voice, greeted me again. " Hello." Gaining my composure and shaking with fear, I wiped feverously at my parka and began go make my way along the sidewalk. Upon which I felt the moist clasp of a small hand onto mine. Holding it securely was the hand of a young boy of seven or eight years of age. Holding my hand tightly as he led me along the sidewalk, he was my guide. Tenacious as he was, I obliged myself to his nonverbal demand. I began to study him. Trying to make out the small frame of a child ahead of me. For his continence was that of determination, yet his features began a kaleidoscope of many different children’s faces. At this I blamed the inclement weather then my dream state until young face took shape, causing me to sigh. And through it all, he had not said a word.

His close grip upon my hand gave an uneasy security. That somehow trusting him would not be my default. But maybe my way of understanding what was to lay before me. It was then that he began to whisper to me what he thought about birds and what it felt like to be able to fly as they do. But no birds at this time made any sounds. They perched and shuddered in the freezing rain watching us, their tiny heads turning upon their puffy bodies following us as we walked by the trees where they monitored our trek. Remaining quiet all the while we walked passed them as they shivered in the rain. The boy did not look up at them as I did. He walked with a determination of one on predestined mission.

Like all children, what is important to them may seem minuscule to an adult, but to him what he had to say was of the utmost significance. I could sense this by his expression and by the way his eyes met mine when he stopped once to look into my face as if searching for a weakness that would not have been afforded by him. He wanted to resign his secret upon me. I was a captive in this uncomfortable world of events, unable to walk away or awaken myself from this surrealistic state. He held my hand and halted me as another rodent ran past us. I surrendered to him my undivided attention. The world around us moved in circular motions with all the colors bleeding together slowly as if the world around us moved in a slow motion.

We walked until facing the front of gray stone corner home of Gothic architecture. Resting behind the shade of two large oak trees, I had not ever taken notice of this house before. A feeling of terror swept fast into my conscience and I felt petrified to the depth my soul.

"Don't be afraid," the boy said. " He can’t get to you." "Look." I said. "I don’t want to go on. Let me go. I have had enough of this shit. “ "Its all right Teddy,” was his intuitive reply. How did this kid know my name? I had to question myself. "Let me tell you this, then if you wish, you can take your leave. But for now, stay with me … please." Begrudgingly, I agreed. Formal introductions were made and he told me his name was Billy. He had lived on the same block years before death had stolen him away from the mother he loved. The house is one of a bygone era, where its steeples are adorned with weather vanes of rotating rust colored roosters. With talons directed towards the skies in defiance of some persistent enemy. Built of immense gray slabs of quarry stone the house's facade was immense. I was impressed by the uniqueness of what was to me the most impressive house on my block. But why had I not ever noticed it before? It stands like a ghost, shrouded by a dark mystery. Save for only a bright yellow "for rent" sign at the end of its porch steps with black lettering and phone number. We made our way up the massive porch steps. Its railings, which lined the porch, were made of the same slabs of stone. Iron trimmings separated the plate glass windows of the house as well as that of its heavy paneled oak doors. Looking into these windows, I saw that the furniture were of a Victorian design. Heavy woods and strong legs supported the chairs and couches upholstered in dark burgundy and blue velvets. "Why are we here?" I asked. "I want you to hear the of the awfulness of this house. Together, you and I can stop him and I can leave this realm to be with my mother. You don’t understand now, but you will." He put his finger to his lips. Headlines of the Washington Post appeared before my drowsing eyes. With no date, only the bold print of an article. "Wife of Local merchant and eighteen, year old daughter, Disappears. Feared Dead" Voices and sounds of a quarrel emit from a distant past. I hear the voice of a man, woman and young girl. "I’ll kill you!" The man screams. "Don’t Daddy! "Willie, you put down that knife!" A woman’s defiant voice yells in anger. I then hear the sound of what I believe could be bodies fall to the floor. The first, heavier than the second. " Local Merchant Found Innocent of Double Slaying" (Collects

10,000.00 on life insurance policies.)

As told by the neighbors whenever the subject came up, was that the old man, after the case was dismissed and he was cleared of any foul play of the disappearances of his wife and daughter, Mr. Berger remained in the house alone for the rest of his life. Only to be visited by his nephew at distant periods of time. He only brought food stock and beer, and then would leave as quickly as he had arrived, chauffeured away in a shiny black limousine. That was before the old man had mysteriously died alone in the house. When his nephew found the remains of Mr. Berger’s body, he had been dead for three days. The smell of Mr. Berger’s decaying corpse was so strong, the coroner’s office insisted on delousing be made mandatory after leaving the old house. One paramedic was seen tearing away his uniform as he ran out of the house falling on the ground if he were caught in a tornado of swarming hornets. The odor seemed to cling itself to whatever object entered into the interior of it’s dwelling.

In the aftermath of Mr. Berger’s passing, his soul at unrest, roamed the house whispering the names of the late Mrs. Berger and her daughter. Hands out stretched, walking through the darkness. Still having ownership of an old wood cane, he’d tap along the banisters to lead his way down the hallways of the old house in search of the love ones he had murdered years before. So lonely was that of Mr. Berger’s soul that he beseeched his nephew through the haunting of the young man’s dreams and thoughts to keep tenants in the house. This purgatory confused and depressed the old man’s spirit, which was left to remain in the old house to ramble amongst its lonesome corridors. Left himself to die of hatred and an insurmountable bitterness prevented his soul from everlasting peace. This was the past, present and future for the old man now in death. So he would kill others in defiance of the great heavens to whence his late wife’s spirit had gone.

Because his wife, who he now desperately missed, was not with him, his deviant soul continued its massacre in the guise of short-term tenants. Disappearing without family or trace until one day, one fateful day, one was left to ramble along the hallways of the old house with him, one who’s spirit remained, to sit and talk of the death that encompassed what had become an eternity. He had the compunction to destroy. But his plan didn’t ever seem to work. House for Rent, NW Fully Furnished, 4 Bdr’s, 2bth’s

1000.00 per month

A new tenant is shown the house. " I think this home will suit me Mr. Bergman. So… where is the thermostat? " Just right of the mantle." The younger Bergman answered unaffected. His hands clasped one upon the other in front of his tailored black suit with white cuffs extended to their proper length; he nodded his head in the direction of the thermostat only. Walking in a calculated pace, the younger Bergman made his way to the dining room adjacent to the spacious living room to the dining room table where the lease papers lay. "My late uncle kept the home in fine shape. You will notice that there is no dry rot or cracks within the foundation or walls. It has been well preserved. I request you maintain the integrity of the home while you are a tenant here. `` Excited to be approved for the lease, the prospective tenant was eagerly agreeable. "I will take very good care of this home. You have not a worry for that matter." The tenant walked into the dining room, clicking the head of his retractable pen. "The lease papers were blown in front of the tenant. He noticed the occurrence and summed it up to a coincidence. "Be quiet, you old fool." The young Bergman whispered. "Did you say something Mr. Bergman?" "No. Please, sign here and here. I‘d better close a window." There was no open window. "Great!" The tenant signed and looked well with his decision. The younger Bergman filed the papers in to his leather brief case as headed for the door. Once outside, his chauffeur opened the rear door of the limousine. By the time the tenant had reach the outside of the house, the limousine had pulled away. "Why is it so damn cold in here? I’d better get some heat going in here." The thermostat had been moved slightly to increase the heat. He was puzzled. He wondered if Mr. Bergman had set it before leaving.

The boy’s hand in mine, I stand before this house. In front I focus on the for rent sign. The young man who rented the house has long since gone. As quiet as he moved in his absence caused no stir. The boy began to speak. He saw wonderment in my eyes. And continued his tale. "The young man only lived here for six months before his demise." "What happened?" "He suffered from acute depression. No one knew this. He had never sought help for his condition. Come, we’ll walk along the side of the house. One night, the man had an episode of his condition. He drank heavily and became disoriented. Earlier he had gotten fired from a job he really loved. He felt rejected and destitute. Seeing this the horrible ghost of Mr. Bergman was delighted. The old man‘s ghost took form and his voice became audible." Thinking to himself, the young man considered suicide. "I should fucking kill myself." The tenant was not thinking rationally and decided to take his own life. He facilitated his premeditated demise by taking a complete bottle of sleeping pills. Chasing them all with bourbon, he began to loose his balance and became disoriented. The house began to spin in turbulent swifts, circumventing his consciousness. His temples began to pound and he began to suffer brief blackouts. Regaining conscience he found himself on the steps, which lead to the basement. He then began to hear a tapping along the edge of the wooden floors of the old house. The sound was getting nearer until it stopped. He began to feel cold breathing down the nape of his neck.

The tenant knew that he was in the throws of death’s reach. Realizing this, the pain of suicide was beginning to be too hard to handle. He then felt a chill hiss of wind around his neck. And a voice of darkness spoke to him. "Let go my young friend. I can show you the way to the comfort you seek. You will be blanketed in the sweet comfort of the dead forever. Join me, and we will talk of the hatred of the living together. They have hurt you. Don’t you want your revenge? I can show you. Follow me to the darkness." In his state teetering on the brink of death, the tenant began to feel the strength of revenge for the betrayal he felt. He felt the power of hatred. The uniqueness of being able to exact harm on those who had hurt him. "What is it you want me to do?" "Go to the basement." The tenant took one step, stumbled then fell to the basement floor. The concrete felt cold against his face and he tasted the blood, which sprang, from his dislodged tooth. A big band version of "Blues in the Night" began to play on the stereo and he vaguely saw the form of an old man dancing alone. The face smiled at him. Then pointed to the rear of the basement. "See there, at the end of the wall there is a window which leads to a sealed compartment of the of the basement. Go to it." And the tenant did. There, a small window which lead into what was a walled off space of the subbasement. Climbing through the passageway that leads to the pit of darkness, the disoriented tenant fell upon a plastic drop cloth covering the entire space within. The music's volume rose pounding in his head and he heard the laughter of an octogenarian. It then coughed, spit and began to laugh again. Then stopped abruptly. "I want you to dig." The old man said.

And the fellow began to dig. Clawing his hands into the darkness. The black earth became danker and more putrid with each handful of earth he removed. The tenant did not notice the smell as he continued to dig. Fumbling deep into the mass of soil, his fingers fell upon tattered cloth clinging to what were the remains of a human skeleton. And as he pushed more dirt aside, a breastplate was revealed. Gasping, the tenant began to vomit. "Keep digging!" The old man screamed into the young manes ear. The tenant began sobbing. The salt of his tears falling upon his quivering lips. "I cant." He cried. "Think of your revenge my boy. Think of your ability to get back at all those who have wronged you." The old man tried to convince the tenant. But seeing the tenant’s regret, he pounded the young man’s head into the damp earth and commanded him to finish what he had started. Frustrated in his attempts to free himself from punishing grip of the old man’s ghost, the tenant continued to separate the soiled earth. The cuff of his robe caught the jagged edge of what was a broken collarbone. Pushing away the remaining skeletal bones, he landed his hand on what was a nametag. It read Josephine. It was Mr. Bergman’s late wife. Having decayed over the years, what was left visible of her uniform was her nametag. Digging more and more, he then began to realize that it was his own grave he was digging. He came upon a plastic trash bag. Fearful for his life, he tried to remove the bag as he felt the old man’s presence hover over him in the dank room hidden in the basement. The bag tore and the remains of a small child were exposed. I now know why the young boy has made me stay with him through this macabre journey. He had been the child buried in morbid place. Realizing that the body was that of a child, the tenant screamed and his heart could endure no more. He pleaded with God to forgive him for what he had done. Whereupon fatally collapsed into the stench of earth, which lay, hidden in that deathly compartment of the old house. My morose conscience was pierced by the shrieking sound of the old man’s cry as he came to realize another had escaped his eternal damnation in the confines of this house. And there he stood among the fetid human remains for which he had been influential for their making. The mixture of sweat and rain running down my face, the young boy looked up at me. He began to tell me of his connection to this house and how he met one of death’s agents in the basement of this house.

In the early nineteen eighties, Billy lived with his mother and stepfather across the street. He rarely saw the old man and was scolded by his mother to never bother the old man across the street. Even though he was an obedient child, the loud arguments and throwing of furniture, sometime mad him seek solace in often-secret places. Billy’s home was not a very pleasant one. He stepfather drank and became violent. This was only fueled by the fact that Billy’s mother was quite beautiful and would attract the attention of many men. When things were really bad between her and her husband, would adhere to other men’s advances. During a heated argument Billy’s mother threatened to leave with Billy in tow. Trying to stop her, Billy’s stepfather missed his aim and struck Billy into living room door, he was holding his mother’s hand at the time. The force of the blow had knocked Billy unconscious. When he came to, he was in the hospital. The doctors explained to his mother that that the blow to the head had caused permanent brain damage. He would remain in a child like state for the rest of his life. His stepfather was dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Billy‘s mother was charged with the crime of murder. She had wrestled the gun from her husband and acted in self-defense.

Years of abuse had allowed Billy’s mother her freedom to return home and devote herself to becoming a better mother. Care for her son took on a greater task now due to his altered state. He had become distant and non-sociable with other children. A pleasant child in his appearance and presentation, he had become sullen and aloof. Peddling his bike one day outside of the old gray stone house, he heard voice of the old man. "Hello Billy." "Who called me?" "I did. I know who you are. Your Momma killed your Daddy. Come here inside my house. I’ve got toys for you to play with." There was something about this house and the inhabitants that Billy could not quite remember. Was it a warning? His mind seemed to not quantify what it all meant, but the toys sounded were an attraction. So he placed his bike along the railing of the fence and opened the gate and walked toward the stone steps of the house. Into the yard, he suddenly froze. He was sure he heard screaming. Cries of terror that were carried in the breeze. He looked all around him. To interrupt his sensing fear, a red ball bounced down the steps towards him. Leaning over to pick it up, the bouncing ball brought a smile to his face. And he looked at the doors again. "Come on in Billy, there are lots of toys in here for you to play with." It was a quiet and steely voice. He took the next step towards the heavy oak doors then a second and by the forth step, he was on the porch. The red ball still in his hands, the old doors opened. In the foyer there lay a train set. Along the tracks were toys such as Lego building blocks assorted toy soldiers and candies. Following the tracks led Billy past the living room area to the steps of the basement. The red ball jumped from Billy’s hands and bounced down the steps that lead into the semi darkness of the basement. Billy ran after the ball where he saw the horrific shape of the old man materialize before him. Before he could escape, a plastic bag was wrapped securely around his head and he felt the cold fingers squeeze around his neck, suffocating him. And then, complete darkness.

Billy had become a disappearance. Distraught, his mother was soon institutionalized, not be heard from again. The tragedy haunted the community for years after that. Two other children disappeared that same year, never to be heard from again. Still hand in hand we walked to the rear of the old house. In Billy’s other hand I see that he is a small paper bag. Inside of the bag, he tells me he has possessed alchemy to rid the demon from it’s dwelling. Looking in the direction of the basement window, I know what it is he wants me to do. With my foot I kick through the glass and we enter the basement. What was the portal to where the remains of dead bodies lay, the window to the subbasement was slightly ajar. I crawled through it‘s opening and was disgusted by the feeling of sinking into the earth which lay underneath the plastic covering. "Close the window and turn the latch." Billy told me. And I heard the moaning of the old man. I quickly slammed the window shut trying in vain to cease the sounds of the old man’s ghost as it became more audible and the irritating tapping of a cane against the baseboards yielding closer to where we hid. Suddenly, Mr. Bergman’s face appeared at the window of the subbasement. His face contorted into a maddening smile and his eyes, wild with insanity, gleaming into mine. With the flats of his hands he slammed the window shut and spit at the glass. It slowly slid down the panes and he laughed loudly as he felt my strength weakening as I held the latch to not let him in. "No!" Billy shouted and forced loose my grip. The window gave and Mr. Bergman flew in with a rush. Billy then rubbed the earth along the windows and placed the herbs along the crevices of the window. We both jump out of the compartment and I then held the window shut. Trapping the ghost in the compartment. Understanding that he had been tricked, the ghost of Mr. Bergman tried to escape. This time his flattened hands were pushing out instead of in. His old man’s strength was becoming unbearable and I felt he was about to force me from my stance. His spirit began to slip between the crevices of the window its frame. Billy met this with the contents he had stored in the bag. The old man screamed and fell back onto the black earth. After sealing the windows and spreading the rest over the window, Billy pulled me down to the floor where he began to chant in a language unfamiliar to me. Over and over again he chanted. Objects around us began to vibrate. Center blocks began to crack and I stood to see what the old man was doing. To make sure he was still trapped inside. I thought he was breaking free through the walls. But he was not. What I saw was seven dark hooded figures pulling the old ghost into the dark earth. He fought them off as best he could. Throwing them into walls of concrete blocks. One turned to look at me. It possessed a mouth of fangs jagged and rotting. It snapped at me then turned with the others to collapse the old man into earth. Which then began to swirl around them like in a drain and the struggle was over as they all perished into the abyss.

When I awoke, I was in the back yard of the old house and a young woman was kneeling above me touching my face. Her smile was beautiful and sweet. "Thank you" was all that she had said. She stood and holding her hand was Billy. "Thank you for all your help. This is my Mommy. We are going home now and you should to." Billy said, as he looked kindly into my eyes.

I stood and watched the two of them fade away together hand in hand. Before they completely disappeared, they both turned and waved good-bye. The sun now shone and I walked to the front of the old house. Still in my parka, I now see that the house is for sale. A black limousine is parked and running on the street. A young man smiles at me. He introduces himself as Mr. Bergman. The nephew of the late Mr. Bergman and tells me the house had been in his family too long. And although he hates to part with it, for him it is the best thing to do. I explain to him that I live two doors down. "Well, that’s nice." He says to me. "Have a blessed day." He enters the rear of his limousine and it slowly drives away.

Standing with the warmth of the autumn sun caressing my weary body I hear the sounds of birds and the barking of dogs. Children are playing catch at the playground nearby. The spell, which had enlisted me for my help, is broken and I am walking back to my own porch. I check my mailbox and see there are the cable bill, telephone bill and electric bill. The mail man passes by. "Yep, its that time of the month isn’t it. Ya‘ gotta pay up." "Yeah." I say. "Some time ya‘ gotta pay up." I smile and look to the sky.

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