That Gothic-style mansion with its ivy-covered pillars looks like something out of Amityville Horror, only creepier, if you can believe that, and in a lot worse shape. No one believed I’d seen a girl’s face peeking out of the little round window of the attic, and that’s why I’m standing not twenty feet from the house, pointing a camera at the upper stories, hoping the girl will make a reappearance while at the same time wondering what the hell I’m doing.
I mean the place has a reputation, for god’s sake, and it isn’t a good one. Just a year ago there was this neighborhood dog that went missing. It was a husky, a real pretty dog, and the owner went all out to find it. I mean everywhere you went you saw this dog’s picture on a telephone pole. A week goes by and no sign of the dog, and then out of the blue all those faded color printouts of the dog have been replaced by pictures of the dog hanging by its neck on the porch of that house, its head twisted sideways like a hook and its tongue all black and spilling out between its teeth. I still clench my stomach when I think about that picture. I mean it was disturbing.
And then there’s that newspaper story from fifty-some years ago that everybody around here knows about, the one where the owner of the house thought an atomic bomb had fallen and it wasn’t safe to come outside. He was starving so he started chopping off bits of his own body to eat. They say he started with his ear lobes and then moved on to some of his toes and then graduated to bigger body parts, so when they found him dead he only had one foot, no nose, and there were strips carved out of his side like he was some kind of rib roast for god’s sake. Anyway, they found him in the kitchen of that house in the act of sawing off his other foot with a bread knife. That was the picture they printed in the paper if you can believe that. Ever since then the house has been empty and no surprise.
But it’s not empty now. I swear I saw a girl’s face in that window, and she didn’t look like she was a prisoner. She looked like she lived there and was just taking a peek out the window to see about the weather. That was about an hour ago when I saw her, so I ran home to get my camera and here I am standing in front of the house looking up at that window and thinking I must be insane.
I mean that too because there’s no way I’m seeing what I’m seeing. That dead husky is on the porch barking at me and the girl is looking out at me from the other side of the screen door. I find myself moving closer and then I remember about the camera and I stop to take a picture of her and the dog both.
The girl waves to me, and I’m curious as hell so I jog up to her and step onto the porch. The dog comes up and licks my hand and I pat its head and look at the girl.
“Nice dog,” I say.
“He likes you.”
I study her and notice that her dress is real old-fashioned, like something out of Little House on the Prairie. “You live here?” I ask.
“I used to.”
“But not now?”
“I died here.” She looks fondly at the dog. “Me and Canook both.”
Jeez Louise, I think.
“I see you brought your camera,” she says.
I lift it and look at it like I don’t know what it is, and for a second, I don’t because I’m so scared that I’m only thinking Ohmygod.
“Let me take a picture of you,” she says and reaches for the camera.
Screw that, I think, and that’s when I run. I don’t even realize the camera’s in her hands until I trip over the dog and hear the camera’s shutter go off just as I smack my face into one of those ivy-covered pillars. My nose explodes like a squished bug and my tongue feels like someone cut it off with shears, and as the pain blooms to maximum intensity I realize I’ve bitten off my tongue. The girl picks up the piece of tongue and says, “Fred will like this,” and I have enough sense to wonder, “Who’s Fred?” before the dog starts licking the blood off my face while the girl takes another picture of me.
The screen door opens and out comes a man who must be Fred and though he still has a nose and a foot I know this is the guy from the newspaper. I’m laying on the porch trying to crawl down the steps but the dog’s all over me and then Fred grabs me by one leg and starts dragging me into the house. I kick and grab onto one of the pillars, but my fingers are slick with blood and I feel myself being dragged through the entryway. The girl’s holding the door open and looking down at me with a smile and I try to scream but it comes out more like a gurgle.
Inside the house, the flash goes off, and I see myself the way the camera sees me, my body sprawled on the dusty floor like one of those homicide chalk drawings. There’s a mess of bloody meat where my throat should be and the dog’s hunkered over me chewing something and gulping. My face is covered with blood, which is just as well because I don’t want to see what I look like. And then the dog licks the blood clean and I see my face and I realize it doesn’t look that bad even though I know I’m dead.