Trigger warning: child death, sexual abuse, suicide
This time the house made the headlines. It’s gone too far, I thought.
They found the body of a woman. The purple marks on her throat blended with the light falling through the stained-glass window—green on her cheeks, red on her forehead. She was lying on her back a few steps from the heavy, wooden front door, arms outstretched on the porcelain tiles with an elaborate geometrical pattern—black diamonds, orange squares, and blue florettes matching the irises of her open, bloodshot eyes.
That’s how the ghosts welcomed her.
The title read Unexplained Death at Site of Gruesome Family Tragedy. Below the first paragraph, there was a top of her head—a selfie she posted before going to the house. I scrolled down. Shit. I’ve seen her before. Of course, I did.
It’s none of my business—none, I told myself, not believing that for a second. There was nothing I could do, sitting in a tiny restaurant in Brussels, chewing on a luscious piece of grilled fennel, a glass of white wine in hand, with my phone ringing—perhaps a hearing in Paris, a summit in London, a conference in Rome—anything, anywhere. At last, I was in demand.
“How are you holding up?” It was just Iona, actually.
“Oh, don’t give me that!”
“We’ve made some excellent progress with that dick, Richards.”
“Dick Richards? Like Richard Richards?”
“What? N—no, Iona, are you just being a pain now?” I chewed a little, knowing she hated the sound. “We’ll push through. He’ll sign on. We’ll have an official consultant, and Mary will win her case.” I chewed some more. “Maybe.”
“Yeah, not what I was asking about.”
“Oh, sorry. You don’t care that Mary will put her piece-of-shit husband behind bars?”
“No, that’s great, hun, more power to you. I’ve seen the articles, though. You know, about the house?” She paused and the sounds of the restaurant around me grew louder for a moment. “I—um. I talked to Mark, and he says there’s more the press hasn’t gotten a hold of yet. They—eh—found a child too, a girl in the—”
“Yeah, yeah.” I waved at the waiter, squeezing the phone between my chin and shoulder and finishing up the wine. “Gotta go.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Bye, miss you,” I drawled. “Take care.”
I hung up. A child. Perhaps that was inevitable. I should have known. Her mother should have known. What the fuck was she thinking?
It was on them, I told myself. It was on them.
It was strange that I hadn’t thought about the house in days, but this morning, I woke up remembering the warm light flooding the bedroom in May, the leaves dancing behind the glass. There was that armchair in the corner, a perfect spot by a bookcase. It was hard to believe that sitting there on the day, you could see his body hanging from the beam by the door—head tilted, muscles loose, a ragdoll of a man.
I blame photographers—they make cursed moments last.
And the girls were beautiful—feet light on the wooden floors, laughter filling the rooms. That’s how they should be remembered. But he stuffed them into the large chest in the corridor like an old pair of shoes. That sight was impossible to forget—always the first image that came to mind.
I looked up at the waiter. “I’m just—just paying?” I said, voice breaking. I cleared my throat and pushed the card towards the man.
“Yes, that’s a—” he leaned forwards to take a closer look “—a subway card. Glasgow, I believe?”
I blinked and stared. “Ah, so it is. Sorry.” I reached into my bag. “I’m—”
“That’s perfectly fine,” he said in warm tones.
“Is it? So you don’t actually need to be paid?” I chuckled, but the gasp on the inhale was sharp and wet. Maybe with a better delivery the joke would have worked. “Sorry.”
“Should I come back later?”
“No, it’s alright.” I found the bank card and tried to hand it to him. “Some bad news.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He motioned me to tap the card on the machine.
“Yeah, well—nothing much, really.” I tapped, heard it beep, and really wanted to shut up. “I’m—well—I guess I’m—” The right word eluded me. “—done.” I let out a nervous laugh. “It’s all fun and games until people start dying.”
He began to look distressed.
“It’s fine, you know. If you—when you—live with something long enough, it becomes a part of you and it’s alright. Fine, to a point.” What? “It’s—”
I stared at him. “Yeah. Yeah, sure, why not?”
He handed it to me with a polite smile, and tears started to prickle my eyes.
I scratched my forehead to hide my face. “Th—this?” I pointed at the empty plate. “Delicious, by the way. One of the best meals I’ve ever had.”
“Oh, thank you.” He nodded.
I was doing great. “Yeah,” I said, reaching for a napkin to wipe my eyes. “I—I love Brussels. That square? A fucking delight.”
“Sure,” he said, tone measured, gaze flicking around the restaurant—only four tables around us, some people already staring.
“Sure, yeah.” My eyes burned again, and I let out a few pathetic wheezes. “All good, uh.” I raised my hand to reassure him. “I’m leaving, don’t worry. You don’t have to—” I wasn’t sure what he didn’t have to do. “Almost ready, I swear.”
Back at the hotel, I scrolled through the forum again. The photo of the dead woman on the floor was still on top. The number of responses tripled. Some stupid kid set up the page after staying at the house for the night years ago. That was while the place was first empty—before it was sold, resold, and resold again. Before it was left alone—again, because it had to be. His story went almost-viral—viral enough for Iona to send me a panicky text when she came across it, anyway.
A surreal experience, to read his description of the hall—the bare, wooden steps, the iron balusters, a broken key sitting in the door of the old cupboard—exactly where I left it. My hand shook as I scrolled down to the bunch of images he uploaded—old furniture, dimly lit rooms, time standing still. And then there was the story itself. When the sun began to set and the low, orange light drifted down the handrail until the darkness settled in, he heard little feet running down the stairs—light, then louder. “Mum, Mum’s here,” my children sang, as if they expected me where he stood. Two tiny shadows froze halfway down the stairs, heads tilting at the sight of him. The sound of them crying kept him awake all night.
The speculations about “the mother” kept the forum alive—a mysterious disappearance, a victim of unusual circumstances, a selfish monster, whatever they liked. “He probably offed the girls after the missus left his sorry ass,” GhostWhlore23 wrote under the photos she found in the attic—my husband in the armchair, my girls under a blanket by the fireplace, and me, planting new bulbs amongst a bunch of daffodils. My smiling face featured in top posts for months.
“Why won’t you do something?” Iona asked back then.
I was sick every time I opened the page, yes. But I soaked up every word. I read and reread every story. I liked to pretend they were made up. That’s what ghost stories are, after all—pure fiction.
A dark-haired woman reported seeing a little girl in the garden—a shadow over the grass, nothing more. But then, as she walked along the path, a cold, tiny hand slipped into hers.
“Come back home,” the girl pleaded. “Come with me.”
What woke her up at night was not a sound, nor a feeling of somebody being in the room, as was commonly the case, but a hand running up her thigh, a movement underneath the duvet, a freezing tongue sliding into her mouth, muffling her scream.
She tried to fight him off, pushing against an unmoving chest, a hard weight pressing down on her. He moved away, an outline of a man sitting on the bed.
“There were no eyes,” she wrote. “He was nothing but a dark stain. But I knew he was staring at me. His shoulders dropped. He wanted her. But it was just me. A stranger.”
“What we’re doing here is no better than playing a tourist at somebody’s funeral,” she wrote later. “Actual people died. Let them be.”
“Or not be,” Cursed_Starburst_69 added in his reply.
Those posts sure made rounds. They attracted even more visitors.
The police shut down the forum after the murder. They found the photo of the woman on the floor—uploaded before any emergency numbers were called. The woman, a frequent poster, was wearing my clothes and make-up, whatever was still left at the house. Everybody felt like children caught smoking at the back of the school.
If other groups started, I couldn’t find them. The house stood there—unobserved, alone.
More would come. More would always come.
And that meant one thing.
“You’re going back there, aren’t you?” Iona asked when I showed up at the door. It was early. My bag weighed on my shoulder. “You won’t even stay?”
“No, I—” I peeked at our bright, Glasgow flat, the tall bay windows blinking at me from behind her wavy hair.
“You want to say goodbye?” Her jaw was clenched, chest pushed forward—ready for battle. I appreciated that.
“What can I say?” I shrugged. “It’s—it’s unfortunate. Mary deserves better, for once.”
“Yeah, she does.” She nodded with suppressed fury. “And what about you? Not to mention—I don’t know—me?”
“You’ll be fine,” I said, looking away. “Keep track of her for me, ok?”
“Yeah, I know.” I moved closer, expecting her to step back, but she didn’t. I hugged her—a fluffy jumper, the smell of morning coffee—and held on. And then I kissed her, with feeling, as someone who considered staying with her surely would. And, for a second, I did consider it. Staying with her would have been so, so easy. I fought hard to hold back the tears. “We had a good run,” I managed to say.
“Fuck you. Seriously, fuck you,” she whispered into my ear.
The winding path was overgrown, but not unlike what I remembered. The gate was broken. That’s how they got in, through a narrow gap between the iron bars, then blocked by the council with a fence panel, soon ripped off again. Police tape waved in the wind.
Behind another turn, the house emerged—granite shimmering in the evening light, three steps leading to the door, barren stone urn planters on each side.
A deep breath. My legs refused to climb, throat dry, heart pounding. Whispers behind the door grew louder. I squeezed the round handle, hand slippery with sweat.
The door opened with a creak—the corridor shrouded in darkness, windows covered by thick curtains, air heavy with dust. The light from the stained-glass window was shining bright, colours changing at the back of my hand—red, green, red. My shoes clicked on the porcelain tiles with an elaborate geometrical pattern—black diamonds, orange squares, and blue florettes. I pushed a strand of my dark hair behind my ear and waited as the sound of small, running feet grew louder—on the floor above me, then down the stairs.
“Mum!” they shouted. “Mum’s here.”
And the heavy steps of a man followed, a dark stain in a slow descent.
I smiled with effort, wondering if it even made a difference at this point.
My children grabbed onto my legs, and my husband stepped towards me, hugged me so hard—hands squeezing, the hall shrinking—I could no longer breathe.
At last, we were at peace.
Hana Carolina is a pseudonym of an Edinburgh-based creative and academic writer. She studied Scottish and English literature, Film and Television for many years, and wrote a thesis about the psychology of emotional responses to fictional characters. In love with the gothic atmosphere of Scotland, she moved out of Poland as a teen and now balances her old and tired Polish identity with a messy mix of Scottish and British. She worked as a tutor, interpreter, researcher, and published academically while dreaming of writing dark stories about horrible people.