The House on Juniper Street

Tonight, I had a fantastic tour with Rye Country Day School and since I finished writing this story before their tour I wanted to dedicate this to them.  Particularly to the girl in the blue sweatshirt with all the great stories about Savannah Georgia and the haunted hotels she has stayed in.  You were a fantastic storyteller; I hope you keep dreaming, writing, and sharing your short stories.

The House on Juniper Street

 

                        My stepmother slew me./ My dear father ate me.

                        Little brother whom I love/ Sits below. I sing above.

                        And I will sing my little song/ To soothe my brother’s tears away

                        To ring in my step-mother’s ear/ Until she turns into the clay.

                                    – Stick Stock by Emily Portman

Death is disorienting.

Time drifts and I forget things.  Forget things like names. And faces.

I don’t, for example, remember my name.

So it’s annoying when the living girl who happens to sleep and eat and keep all her things here at 228 Juniper Street, asks me about it.  She wants to communicate she says. Just wants to talk.

What the hell does anyone want to talk to the dead?

* * * * *

I remember my little brother’s name.  It was Eric.  Just like the little boy who sleeps and eats and… lives here at 228 Juniper Street now.

It hurt my heart watching them together.  Reminds me of my Eric. They play cards.  He gets in her way.  She helps him with his homework.

Just like me and my little brother.

He talks all the time, chatters to her.

My brother stopped talking after I died.  He had to.

* * * * *

The living girl asks me how I died.  Asks the open room.  She senses me, in the cold places and the darkest shadows but she doesn’t look there when she asked her questions.  She seems to think I haunt the ceiling.

She’s doing all this stupid stuff.  Talking to candles, scribbling on notepaper with her eyes closed.  All it’s accomplished so far is wax on the carpet and a notepad full of squiggles.

Did I ever do anything that silly and childish?  I don’t remember.

I suppose I’ll indulge her eventually.

Knock over a doll or something. It will scare her and maybe she’ll leave 228 Juniper Street.

But I won’t answer her question.  The dead prefer not to think about how they died. At least, I do.

Death is peaceful. But getting dead is not.

* * * * *

The living girl had a fight with her mother.  Beautiful woman, the mother, long blonde hair with highlights in chestnut brown.  Seems kind.

My stepmother was beautiful.  She was not kind.

I don’t like it when the living fight.  It makes me think of my family. My brother screaming until he lost his voice.  My stepmother scowling; her hair was also chestnut and blonde. It makes the table tremble and a china dish shatter.

Okay, that was me, actually, but I did it because of the fighting.

Eric gets blamed for the broken dishes.  But it’s my fault.  He was just coloring in his book across the room, but since only the girl and her little brother believe in ghosts, he gets in trouble.

* * * * *

The girl found something on the… what’s they call it, internet, about our house. 228 Juniper St.

Apparent, I remembered wrong.  My little brother’s name was Ron.  My name was Amanda.  I believe that though neither name seems familiar to me. There’s a picture of all of us and no one looks like I remembered.  For example, stepmother had curly black hair.  She was still beautiful.  My Eric… I mean Ron. He had hair like hers, dark and untamed. I’m legitimately shocked by my own face.  I didn’t realize how childish I looked. I forgot I had such fair hair.  I was a natural blonde. I had started thinking I was a brunette with straight mousy hair like the girl who lives here now.

The newspaper says I ran away from him when I was 12.  Says I was a disturbed child.  Says I had strained relations with my step-mother.

Strained doesn’t quite cover it.

The rest is lies.

* * * * *

Since this living girl is so interested in knowing about me.  Since she gave me back my face.  I will tell her my story.  I’ll do her one better.  Why tell when you can show?

* * * * *

My stepmother hates me.

This I know for a fact.

I think she is trying to kill me, but I am not certain about this.

I’m also aware that I miss my mother.  That not all step-mothers are evil no matter what Disney tells me.  That the divorce is not my fault, or Dad’s fault. They say it’s especially not her fault. Not to hate her because my father loves her, or because she’s beautiful.

My step-mother is beautiful, especially the highlights in her hair.  She had dark hair, a rich brown, and get blond highlights in. When I first met her I thought she was an angel and she let me touch her soft, wonderful hair.

The doctors tell me I’m being a frightened child.  They say I need to spend time with my stepmother, get to know her, talk to my mother and my father about the nice things my stepmother does.  The doctors say I am adjusting.  They say I think she is replacing my mother.  I don’t think she is replacing my mother.  I think she hates me and is trying to kill me.

* * * * *

I think it started in the apartment.  Right after she got pregnant with my little brother.  I think she set the apartment on fire. It makes sense.  She never liked living there.  She was trying to clear out the nest.  Like I was something infectious that would corrupt the life inside her.

The whole apartment block was destroyed.  I would have burned alive if I hadn’t been able to climb out the window and jump down and over to the neighbor’s balcony.  I broke my leg, but a fireman saw me, heard me screaming and because I had access to fresh air, I was alive when he saved me.

I didn’t even think about it at the time.  Didn’t realize how deliberate the attempt on my life had been.

Then when we moved to 288 Juniper Street.

And the real fun started.

* * * * *

I have no proof she started the fire.  Just like I have no proof that I’m not especially prone to stomach bugs; she poisons me.  Just like I have no proof that I don’t have a couch; she blows aerosol in my face.

If I were allergic to peanuts, she’s bake me peanut butter blossoms every day.  If I had asthma, she’d hide my inhaler.  If I were diabetic, she’d push candy down my throat and prick the blood from my fingers until she was sure I would die.

No one listens to kid though.  Not even when they get sick and nearly die in house fires.

But I’m nothing if not persistent.

* * * * *

Once, I saw her pouring something from under the sink into my orange juice.  She said it was medicine, but I don’t believe her.  It was poison. Dad doesn’t drink orange juice so, process of elimination, I was the one she was trying to eliminate.

She tried to run me over with her car when she dropped me off at school.  I saw it coming and dodged.  She played it off like an accident.  Came out running and picked me off the pavement and cried and asked me to forgive her and promised me an ice cream after school if I didn’t tell my dad.

I didn’t tell my dad.  It was a vanilla cone with chocolate sprinkles.

* * * * *

For a while after Eric -that’s my little brother- was born, things kinda calmed down.  She was too tired, too busy to hate me.  I was an extra pair of hands, helping throw out diapers or clean bottles.  I was not allowed to touch him.  She’d hit me across the head if I tried when Dad wasn’t there.

Then one night, when Eric was about two years old, she came into my room at night. If she’d been stronger, or bolder.  If she’s used a knife or a gun, or dropped poison into my mouth while I slept, she would have won.  But she tried to smother me with a pillow and I woke up.  I kicked and screamed and knocked the lamp off the table.  When she let me go I screamed good and loud and long and my dad came running.

Dad came into the room to see her hugging me tight, pressing my arms to my body, crushing me in a fierce hug.  I tried to say she was killing me, but she pat my hair and soothed me and told my father about my awful nightmare and how her mothering instincts must have woken her when she heard me kicking in my sleep.

No matter what I said, my dad insisted, I had been having a nightmare.  And I was.  But it wasn’t the kind of nightmare you could wake up from.

* * * * *

I told my mother about my evil step-mother, since Dad doesn’t even believe me when I tell him she makes me clean the toilet for hours or when she won’t let me eat dinner or packs me an empty lunch.

And that’s why I have to see the doctors, because I told my mom.  I tried to catch my stepmother in the act but I’m not… clever enough.

I just wish I could live with my mom.

* * * * *

Now Dad is going on this trip.  It’s something stupid.  Golf, maybe.  Business, sort of.  He’s looking forward to going to a beach though, even though it’s winter.  Eric and I beg him to take us.  Me more than him.  And not just because I’ve never been to Florida.

I’m scared.  I beg to stay with Mom, with Grandma, with my friends.  This only makes Dad more adamant that I stay with her.  That I get over this foolish fear of my stepmother and stay in our house.  He lectures me about how I’m getting too old for this kind of foolishness.

Even Eric thinks I’m being silly.  I don’t blame him.  I love him.  I don’t blame him for anything.  He’s the only good thing in my life really.

* * * * *

My stepmother and I fight. I forget what started it. I didn’t do homework or I was playing too much with Eric.  I don’t know.  She’s crazy; it could have been anything. But it’s a big fight.  I threaten to run away.  I shout at her that I would never come back. I make Eric cry.

Then her beautiful face breaks into a smile and she presses a button on a tape recorder she’s had behind her back.

It scares me to see her smile.  To know she’s planning something. She baited me and I walked right into her trap.  I shiver and then run up to my room.  I hear a door slam behind me and get the feeling that’s on her tape too.

I sit upstairs trying to think my way out of her trap.  The Harpers our neighbors next door are not home, their car is out of the driveway and I briefly think about stealing the bike chained to their porch and just running away.

But I’m old enough to know I can’t just run away.

* * * * *

I stay behind the door trembling, because she has not yelled at me like that in a long time.  It makes me remember the smell of ammonia and the taste of cleaning chemicals.  Eric comes and sits with me.

I ask him to promise that if anything happens to me, he’ll know the truth.  He’ll remember that it was his mother and he’ll tell the police.  He does not promise.  Just looks ashamed at the waxy stain the candles have left on the carpet.

* * * * *

Eric runs after us when his mother grabs me by my hair.  I hate my hair.  Hate that I let it grow so long.  It was stupid and straight and plain and shit brown and I should have loped it off years ago.

She drags me to the basement.

I’m tall for my age, almost as tall as she is, but she’s stronger.  She pulls out tufts of my brown hair pulling me down the stairs.  She throws me the last few steps.

And goes back up the stairs.

There’s no way out of the basement but the stairs, but I think that’s the worst of it.  She’ll leave me down here until Dad gets back.  Then tell him I refused to go to school.  She won’t feed me, but a person can go for weeks without food if there’s water.  I look for a faucet.

There’s an old tub down here.  We use it to wash the dog; it came with the house and I’ve always wondered about how cold everything seems around it.  I go over to inspect the spigot when I hear her coming down the stairs again.

Actually, I hear Eric.  Eric running down after her.  Eric begging her to stop.  Crying again.  Saying something about evil spirits and murdered girls.

My stepmother does not look beautiful.  She is carrying two knife and looking at the world with wild eyes.  Her hair is tangled and she looks possessed.

Then my stepmother does something I didn’t even think even she was evil enough to do. She grabs Eric’s shoulder and puts on of the knives to his throat.

“Go stand in the tub,” she says.

“You won’t hurt him.”

“You sure?” She asks.

When I have no reply, she repeats. “Go stand in the tub.”

I stood in the tub.

She threw me the other knife and told me to cut.

* * * * *

My step-mother could have called the police.  I had a history.  I had killed small animals and lashed out and now I had killed myself.  How awful. But she wanted it differently.

So after I had bled to death, she got out dad’s carving knife.  She’d bought it for him years ago, when he thought he might pick up cooking.  We’d all forgotten it existed.  Well, not her.

She used it to separate skin from muscle and fat and then muscle and fat from bone.  I wasn’t really there for it, but I know she wrapped it all in big zip-lock bags and put it in the freezer.  It looked like venison. It was there months later when the police came investigating my disappearance.

My dad particularly likes me as a meat pie.

* * * * *

Death has not been so bad.  Better than life in some ways.  No homework.  No bullies.  I don’t have to update my Facebook, though people still post things on there about me and how said it was that I killed myself like that.

Nothing embarrassing will ever happen to me again.  I won’t ever have a bad break up or a broken heart. The worst that could happen has already happened.

The only thing is my little brother.  He hasn’t spoken in weeks. Not since my stepmother gave me the knife and told me to cut.

But let’s not talk about that.  Let’s talk about my little brother.

Eric was a good kid.  A lot like you, actually.  Did okay in school, had a couple friends, got along well with others, most of the time.  I think that was the hardest thing for him, when I “ran away”.  All the attention.  And missing me, I’m sure, but like a year or so after he was basically over the death and the trauma, after he couldn’t tell the difference between nightmares and the truth.  Everyone asked him about it, what it was like to have a run-away sister and not knowing, how he felt, what he was thought, if he was okay.

* * * * *

Eric is taking well to the doctors.  Not the same ones I saw.  He eventually talked to them.  Told them how I ran away.  How he missed me.  How he was a vegetarian for humane reasons. Told them he loved his mother and his step-dad and hoped I came home someday.

He know I’ve never left.

* * * * *

Revenge is not a thing you plan.  Birthday parties, weddings, funerals those are things you plan.

Revenge is an obsession.  Revenge becomes all.

It’s hard on Eric. And I’m sorry, I have to do it the way I do, but there was no other way.  She has to die.  She has to pay for me death.

So Eric pours cleaning chemicals in her coffee creamer.  He’s ready to set the house on fire, but the creamer does the trick.

* * * * *

Now the house is quiet.  Free of the sounds of an annoying girl with pestering questions and a crying boy afraid.

Once again, my death is restful.

Time drifts.  I begin to forget things.

* * * * *

Then a new family comes.

The woman is beautiful.  So hatefully beautiful. With rich dark skin and lovely curly black hair.  Just like my stepmother.  There’s a few children and I like watching them.

They remind me of my little sister.  Her name was Tanya, too.

I don’t remember my own name… Maybe Rick.

I don’t know.  Death is disorienting.

And the living keep asking questions.

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