The Sick House by Michael C. Keith

The story about that creepy old house goes something like this. Almost two years ago all,the kids that lived there got polio and one, a little girl named Sara, died. This drove her,parents crazy and they disappeared with their two other kids, who were crippled by themdisease. No one has heard from them since, and some say they went out into thenNarragansett Bay on their dad’s small fishing boat and drowned during a storm, but no bodies have ever been found. So the place is haunted. At least that’s what I believe, and most of my friends think so, too, except Henry, who thinks that idea is a bunch of baloney.

He might be right, but I don’t think so.

I’m going to move my bed, because where it is now I go to sleep looking at that abandoned building across the street, and I swear to God it’s looking back at me. The second-floor windows are like eyes that stare at me in my attic bedroom. If I had a shade on my window, I’d pull it down. My dad is supposed to put one up but he never seems to get around to it. Sometimes I hang my clothes over the empty curtain rod but my mom says it looks bad from the street and takes them down when I forget to do it. Then I end up with nothing to keep what we call the Polio House from gawking in at me.

When I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago I saw lights on in one of the windows, and there was a shadow moving in the room. It was small and I could tell it was her . . . the dead girl, Sara. When I told my parents they said it was impossible, because not only did no one live there anymore, but the electricity was shut off. They said I was just dreaming and letting my imagination go wild. My mother shrugged it off, saying I should focus on other things, like my school work. But my father seemed irritated by my account and mumbled something about the house being the neighborhood curse.

“Don’t let your imagination get the best of you, son," my dad said. “That train only goes one place --the nuthouse."

Actually, that wasn’t the first time I saw something inside that house. Last winter when I had to really pee, I did so -- but out of my window because our bathroom is way down on the first floor. And I swear I heard voices coming from that place. Well, not exactly voices, more like moans and groans. As I was standing at the window trying to pee as fast as I could because the cold air was blowing in on me, the sound got louder. It made my pee stop mid-stream and for a minute I couldn’ t even move even though I was freezing.

Suddenly a light flickered on inside the house and the moaning stopped and then everything was quiet. The wind wasn’ t even moving, and even though I had not finished peeing I sprang back under the covers and stayed there until I could hardly breathe and got all sweaty. Then I only poked my face out of the covers so I could get some air, and there was that old house staring in at me, and it looked angry and sad at the same time.

When I told all this to my parents the next morning they said the same thing about my having a bad dream, so I decided that that was the last time I was going to tell them about the weird stuff going on in the Polio House. My friends Corey and Bob don’ t think I’m making things up or having nightmares as my folks claim.

Corey had his own scary experience with the house when he cut across its backyard on the way to my house. He said he had just climbed over the fence when he heard someone call his name from inside the house. It wasn’ t a little girl’s voice but a boy’s.

Probably belonged to the oldest son, we figured.

Anyway, as he ran across the yard to the driveway, he heard more voices coming from inside the place. Corey said there was screaming, too, and then a man’s voice kept shouting, “Not to us! Jesus almighty, not to us!" When Corey got to the street, the voices stopped like they had suddenly been turned off. The whole thing ran chills up his back.

After that, he never stopped by my house but ran directly back home to tell his mom, who told him that his imagination was getting the most of him also.

“You kids are just dreaming things up and letting it get the best of you. You’re just making too much of that abandoned house," she said, adding “It was a sad thing what happened to that poor family and to make any more of it is just adding to the terrible sorrow that already exists."

What Corey’s mom said to him was almost word for word what mine said to me. As usual my father just cursed the place, calling it a damn eyesore and complaining that it was dragging down the neighborhood, which was already on the slide because so many different races were moving in.

“Maybe some decent white folks will buy the place and clean it up," he said, adding that more than likely it would just go empty because it was falling apart. “Looks like it’s going to topple over. It’s a real blight, and with all the nutty talk about it being infected by polio and haunted by the Clayburgh family nobody will ever buy it, except maybe some coloreds. Hey, then it really will be filled with spooks," he joked, and I gave him an angry look because of my friend, Henry, being colored. “Well that’s all we need living across the street from us. Maybe you’ ll feel differently if that happens, kiddo."

Sometimes when it’s windy the Polio House seems to wail like it’s in pain and the harder the wind blows the louder and more horrible it gets. Swear to God there are times its sobbing keeps me awake late at night. Everything it does seems more intense in my room than anywhere else in the house. It’s like it’s chosen to bother me more than anyone else.

But I’m not going to let it chase me out of my loft --that’s what my father calls it. Even though Henry thinks the whole thing about the house is pretty stupid, he says that there’s no way he would get up in the middle of the night to take a leak out of the window with that old house looking at his ding-a-ling.

Henry is one of the funniest kids I have ever known, even if my dad says I should stay
away from people like him. Sometimes I think our house is just as sick as the Polio House.

Michael C. Keith is the author of numerous books, articles, and stories. He teaches
communication at Boston College.

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