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Authors: Michael Richan

1 The Bank of the River

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The Bank of the
River

 

 

 

By Michael Richan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By
the author:

The
Bank of the River

A
Haunting in Oregon

Ghosts
of Our Fathers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright
2013 by Michael Richan

All
Rights Reserved.

All characters appearing in this work are
fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

www.michaelrichan.com

ISNB-13:
978-1490425207 / ISNB-10: 1490425209

ASIN: B00DC1RTCQ

Published
by Dantull (1479263)

 

 

 

 

 

 

For
Max and Thomas

Chapter One

 

 

 

Steven Hall
slowed down his Accord as he approached the trailer court. It was dark and
rainy and a little difficult to make out directions. He noticed reflective
numbers on stakes near the ground by each trailer. Seven, eight…he was headed
to 56, the trailer of John and Debra Peterson. He turned a tight corner, and no
less than four signs encouraged him to slow down (“Children play here!”). He
tapped the brakes and let the car slowly idle forward over the first of many
speed bumps.

The time on
the car’s display read 7:20. He was too early. He didn’t want to get there
before 7:30, the time Debra had said she would meet him. Seven-thirty was after
John left for work, an evening shift. Originally Steven had wanted to talk to
John. Earlier that day Steven had called him, asking if he would meet with him
to discuss John’s father.  John had hung up on him, but Debra had called him
back later to say she would talk with him – but only after John had left for
work.

Surely it wouldn’t
take ten minutes to drive through this trailer court, but as the car inched
along past empty lot 15 he was beginning to wonder. Up ahead he had to turn
either left or right, but he couldn’t make out which direction the numbers ran.
He chose right and drifted until the next reflective number appeared. If he had
to backtrack, no problem – better to be a little late in this case than too
early.

John’s
father used to own the house where Steven now lived.  Fifteen years earlier, he
committed suicide in the house; since that time, the house had gone through a
succession of owners, ending with Steven.  Steven bought the house two months
ago. He was fully aware of its history (no thanks to the agent) and fully
discounted the idea that it was, as a previous owner had described it,
unlivable.

Just after
he moved in, Steven received notice from his company that their office was
shutting down and relocating overseas. Steven was too highly paid to be offered
a transfer – overseas, all costs would be cut, especially labor. So he found
himself in a new house with a moderate severance, time on his hands, and a
desire to relax and enjoy a sabbatical before entering the next phase of his
life.

But the
relaxation never happened. The first few weeks he was in the house, he wrote
off most of the occurrences (he hated that word, it made things sound supernatural,
but he didn’t know what else to call them) as normal adjustments to a new house.
Every house makes noises. This house, built in the 1950s, creaked and popped
throughout the day as the temperature changed. Plumbing could make banging
noises for a variety of reasons. There were sounds from the neighborhood that
he wasn’t accustomed to yet. None of this was unusual, and Steven adjusted to
the idiosyncrasies of the place. But recently there had been some occurrences
(ugh) that he hadn’t been able to adjust to.

The worst was
last night, and it had spurred him to make phone calls this morning to try and
find out if there was more about the house than he knew from the research he
had conducted before he bought it.

From the
first night he’d lived there, Steven had endured the sound of someone knocking
in the middle of the night. When it happened, it was loud enough to wake him
up, and for a moment he’d think he must have dreamt it. But then it would come
again: four distant raps, muffled, as though coming from the front door of the
house. The first time it happened he went to the door, expecting someone to be
there. When he found no one, he inspected the house thoroughly and went back to
bed. When it happened the next night, he began to suspect neighbor kids, so he
set up a webcam and let it run for several days. It showed nothing. The
knocking continued every night. It always woke him up, even if he tried to sleep
through it. Four knocks, twice in a row, separated by about ten seconds.

A week ago
he had the old galvanized pipes in the house replaced with new plastic ones.
The plumber assured him this would resolve the problem. Galvanized pipes slowly
corrode inside, and his were sixty years old, constricting the water flow and
likely creating a banging sound now and again. Eight thousand dollars and four
days later he went to bed hoping he’d solved the problem, but at three a.m. the
knocking came again. Steven had, for weeks, convinced himself that whatever was
causing the knockings was something structural about the house, and that if he
could find the problem and fix it, it would stop. But now he was running out of
options. And, being honest with himself, the knocking had never really sounded
like pipes. It wasn’t a banging sound, it was a knocking. It sounded like a
human hand knocking on a door when someone is announcing their presence or
wants to be let in.

He passed
trailer 32.
Maybe I should just rent a trailer and leave the house
, he
thought. A rent payment in addition to a mortgage payment doesn’t make sense
when you’re unemployed. Steven’s house had quickly gone underwater after he
closed, so he knew if he tried to list it he wouldn’t get what he owed. And it would
be a hard sell. Its history was the reason he’d been able to buy it so cheaply
in the first place. For some reason, people don’t like living in houses that
have experienced death, or worse, suicide. This seemed completely irrational to
Steven at the time he bought the place. Now he was beginning to wonder.

Steven was
always rational, circumspect, skeptical.  It was the thing that had, at first,
attracted but eventually repelled his wife. They divorced seven years ago in
what had seemed to Steven a completely ridiculous way; suddenly, with a barrage
of complaints from left field that left him bewildered, and no willingness to
explore solutions. Jason, his son, was now in college learning to be levelheaded
like his dad. He was a busy student, and Steven saw him only occasionally when Jason
could fit him in between his studies, part-time job, and friends. He knew Jason
loved him, but at twenty he was enjoying life on his own with friends and
roommates, and his priorities were his own. He often missed appointments they
made, just forgetting about them. Steven felt that leaving him with his
independence for a while was the best thing.

He was now
deep in the trailer park. The trailers back here were newer than the ones up
front. At the entrance the trailers looked fenced in with little patches of
grass, as though they were trying to be houses with permanence. Back here they
looked ready to leave on a moment’s notice.  Trailer 48 on the left, and it was
7:28. He was fine.

Debra had
seemed friendly on the phone, the opposite of John. She told him that John had
received similar calls over the years and had developed a method for handling
them. Sometimes he saved the “fuck off” until after he hung up on them,
sometimes not. But she always felt sorry for them and had called a few of them
back, as she had done with Steven. Her voice seemed full of pity. He quickly
agreed to meet her that night, and she warned him not to come before John left
for work.

Number 56. Seven-thirty,
right on the dot. No car next to the trailer, but the lights were on. He pulled
his car into the short driveway.

He couldn’t
be sure, but as he stepped out of the car he thought he saw people peeking
through the blinds from neighboring trailers.
This is like living in a
fishbowl
, he thought. He walked to the door and knocked. There was nothing
outside except a few children’s toys scattered around the cement slab that
extended from the trailer to form a small porch.

This has
to work,
he thought.
I don’t know what else I can try. She has to have some answers.

Chapter Two

 

 

 

“Debra?”

“Hi, come
in,” Debra said, stepping back from the door. Steven stepped up twice into the
trailer and was assaulted by the smell of cat urine.

“Well, have
a seat over there,” she said, motioning to a small couch that was half occupied
by Walmart bags. Steven noticed how crammed the place was – stacks of papers, boxes,
storage tubs. The living room held the couch and a television which was tuned
to
Jeopardy
.  Debra pulled a chair out from under a kitchen table about
six feet away from Steven and sat. She lit a cigarette.

“I hope you
don’t mind if I smoke,” she said. “It is my house.”

“Of course. 
No, I don’t mind,” Steven said. “Thank you for calling me back.”

“Well, as I
said, John just doesn’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. He’s tired
of it, and I understand. It’s bad enough to lose your father let alone a
suicide. Not to mention the shame. But I spent some time in that house, so I
have some idea.” She picked up a remote from the table and turned off the
television.

Steven
swallowed. The cat piss smell stuck in his throat. The cigarette smoke was
preferable. “What did you hear there?” he asked.

“Hear? I
never heard anything. It’s what I felt. We’d go over to help Ben, John’s dad.
He was getting worse and worse, dying slowly. He had a nurse come in and visit
him each day, but John was real close with him, and wanted to visit every day
too. At first I would go with him, but after a while I stayed home. It got to
be too much.”

“I imagine
watching him die would be difficult,” Steven said.

“Well, yes, it
was, but that wasn’t the reason. I liked Ben. And I wanted to help. But every
time I’d walk in that house, especially those last few weeks, it felt miserable.
Not because Ben was dying,” she paused. “It was something else. In the house
with him. You could feel it in the air, like a thickness. Very dark, very
evil.”

Steven
cleared his throat and adjusted a little on the couch. He was never comfortable
when people brought up irrational things like the word evil, or the word God,
or anything supernatural, and he was a little self-conscious of how he appeared
to people when they did. He was sure they could see his reaction, his
discomfort, and this bothered him. He noticed a few other things in the
trailer: a cross over the door, little pictures of Jesus here and there.
Religious tracts on the table next to the couch. His comfort level was falling
rapidly.

“Oh, you
don’t believe, I take it?” Debra asked.

“It’s that
obvious?”

“Like I
sprayed you with vinegar,” she replied.

“I guess
not. I mean, I respect that you do, and —”

“Yeah,” she
cut him off. “You don’t gotta do that. You don’t believe, that’s fine, I don’t
care. I didn’t used to believe either, so I know exactly how you feel.”

“Something
changed your mind?”

“Yeah,” she
snorted. “That house.” She stood and crushed her cigarette. “Look, I’m gonna
tell you the same things I told the other two who came to see John about that
place. And I can’t pretend it was something it wasn’t. There’s something
seriously wrong with that house. And I don’t mean it’s built wrong, or the
electric don’t work right. It’s an evil in the air inside, you can feel it. And
it’s still there. I felt it even after Ben died. If there’s anything that qualifies
in your book as evil, you need to apply it to that house.” She walked to the
refrigerator. “You want something to drink? I got lemonade or beers.”

“A beer
would be nice.”

Debra pulled
two beers, popped one for Steven, and handed him the can. She sat back down and
started another cigarette. Steven took a sip and asked, “You never saw
anything? Heard anything, like knocking?”

“Never heard
any knocking. But I didn’t need to. The sound of Ben gasping for air was enough
to send chills down your spine, make you realize how awful dying can be. All
you had to do was look at him to know something was wrong. The doctors couldn’t
figure it out. They tested him for everything, but in the end they said he just
lost his will to live, that’s what was causing him to deteriorate, to kill
himself,” she scoffed.

“You don’t
think that was true?” Steven asked.

“Mister, he
took a spoon from the kitchen drawer and gouged out his eyes before he killed
himself. Bet the real estate agent didn’t tell you about
that
,” she
said, flicking an ash into the tray beside her. “Does that sound like
depression to you?”

“Maybe. Or maybe
psychosis,” Steven replied.

“Or maybe
there was something he didn’t want to see anymore,” she said, becoming a little
irritated. “Something that drove him to blind himself, so he wouldn’t have to
see it. And when that didn’t end it, he took a steak knife from the same drawer
and cut through his own throat. And I’ll tell you something. Ben wasn’t crazy
at the end. At that point he knew what he was doing. No dementia, no weird
behavior, nothing like that. You could tell. The longer I stayed in that house,
visiting him, the more I understood it. It didn’t surprise me that he did it.”

“Honestly,
that seems a little crazy,” Steven said. “I mean, I understand how the doctors
would think that.”

This approach
didn’t seem to sit very well with Debra. She stood again, this time a little
more quickly. “Listen, I’ve told you. I’ve warned you, that’s what I felt I
should do when you called, ‘cause I know what that house is like and I’m
sympathetic, even if John isn’t. So there, I’ve done right by you. Whether or
not you believe me is up to you, but I’ve done my part, told you what I thought
you should know. So I guess we’re done now.” She moved toward the door.

Steven
stood, a little surprised at the sudden end to the discussion. He regretted
that his rationality clashed enough with her superstition that it was angering
her, but he didn’t know any other way to approach it, and it seemed she didn’t
have much else to offer. He sat the beer down on the table next to hers and
followed her. She opened the door for him, and he stepped through.

“Look, if
I’ve offended you, I’m very…”

“I’m not
offended, I’m just not very patient. What are you gonna do?” she asked him as
he stepped down to the cement slab.

“I don’t
know what I’m going to do,” he replied.

She sighed.
“Listen, do you have a priest, or a pastor?”

“No,” he
replied. “I don’t go to church.”

“That’s too
bad,” she said, grabbing the door handle. “It’s like they said in the movie.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

 Then she
shut the door.

BOOK: 1 The Bank of the River
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