Authors: James Renner
Tags: #horror, #weird, #computer, #creepy, #scary, #google, #ohio, #akron, #glitch
Alan creased his brow, thinking.
“So there’s not even a window there now?” asked
“No,” said Trish. “It’s just siding.”
“But, I mean, what’s there? What’s there where the
window is? What’s there now?”
“It’s a linen closet.”
They climbed the creaky old stairs to the second
floor, various drinks in hand.
Across the landing from the topmost step was a wall
with two doors that opened out. Trish crossed to it and with a look
back to her audience opened the doors with a flourish, half
expecting some hysterical little girl to come tumbling out. But
inside there were only towels and toilet paper, various
over-the-counter remedies for cough and cold, and a box of
“You know,” said Henry, sipping his beer, “it is a
rather thin closet.”
In fact there was only enough room for the towels if
you double-folded them before placing them inside. Yes, it was a
thin closet. A very thin closet, come to think of it. And that
really didn’t make any sense considering how their adjacent bedroom
and the bathroom on the other side of the closet both extended all
the way to the front eaves of the old house.
Without explaining, Alan walked into their bedroom.
Everyone followed a few steps behind.
“Give me hand,” Alan said to Henry. The two men
pushed a low dresser away from the wall. Behind it was a little
wooden door, the kind of handmade door one might find in a
playhouse or some Grimm’s Fairy Tail.
“Where does that go?” asked Sara.
“Plumbing access for the bathroom,” said Alan.
“That’s what I thought, anyway. But that window, if it was ever
here, it would have to be between the bathroom and this bedroom and
the only thing in-between is whatever is behind this door.”
“What do you mean, ‘if it was ever here?’” said Sara.
“It was in the photo. Clear as anything.”
Alan sighed. He’d never liked Sara. She was a very
black-and-white type of person, the sort of person who missed the
subtle beauty of the world because she was always too busy putting
on her mascara in the car on her way to work. She never thought to
question what she knew to be true.
“You know what Google Earth is?” he asked her. “It’s
just a collection of pictures taken from that truck that goes by.
It looks like one seamless kind of reality because they have a
computer that takes the photos and lays them on top of each other
and then polishes out the seams.”
“I don’t get it,” said Sara.
“Well, like with any computer program, sometimes
there are glitches. Sometimes the seams don’t get polished right
and you get a picture of a man walking down the street without a
head. The part of the photo where his head should be was taken a
few seconds later and so it doesn’t match up right. And sometimes a
glitch might cause a photograph from one area to overlap on a scene
somewhere else if the coding isn’t right.”
“Henry,” said Sara, “do you understand what he’s
“I’m saying,” said Alan, his voice beginning to take on a hard edge
that caused Trish to shake her head at him, “that perhaps the
picture of that girl at the window was misplaced from a series of
pictures of another home and mistakenly overlaid on top of our
Sara crinkled her eyebrows. She didn’t have to say
anything. Clearly, she would not consider the possibility that
Google, of all things, was fallible. Not when being afraid of it
was the foundation of half her life.
“Open the door,” said Trish.
But suddenly Alan didn’t want to. Sara was part of
it, sure. Some part of him really felt that whatever was behind the
door, and most probably it was just a bunch of pipes and mouse
turds, whatever was back there, she didn’t deserve to see it. Also
it was cold in here, again, even though it was at least sixty-eight
outside in the sun. It felt like fifty in here all of a sudden. The
air bit at his exposed neck and made him want to go back downstairs
where it was always warm. Anywhere but here. Anywhere but with
In the end, Henry was the one who knelt down and
opened the wooden door. It held for a second, then popped open,
sending a puff of plaster into the air around it. Henry coughed
dramatically and patted the dust away with one hand. On the other
side of the door was a brick wall. And on the wall was written:
“What do you think it means?” asked Sara.
“I think its meaning is fairly clear,” said Alan.
“Yes, well,” said Henry, setting down his glass and
crossing his thick arms. “It’s an odd thing to write.”
“And why did they seal it off in the first place? I
mean if it is an access to the bathroom or whatever.”
Alan stood and raked his fingers through his
“I don’t like it at all,” said Trish. “Your father he
warned us there might be something wrong with the house and
obviously whatever made the Heslops drop the price so low is behind
that wall and we really should have known before we bought the
place and they shouldn’t have closed it off just to forget about
the problem, which is probably a leaky pipe, a pipe that has been
leaking ever since…”
Alan raised his hand and extended his first finger to
quiet her. “I’ll be back,” he said.
Trish called after him as he descended the stairs:
“Alan, where are you going?”
He didn’t respond but she could hear him clunking
down the stairs to the basement and then after another minute he
returned. In his right hand was a sledgehammer, the kind with the
thick red metal grip. He wielded it like Mjolnir.
“Now, are you sure you want to make a mess?” asked
“Jesus, Alan,” said Sara.
But Alan had known them all long enough to understand
a few things. Firstly, if he didn’t do this, if he didn’t find out
what was in there and why it should never be opened, it would be
all they talked about for the rest of the night. The conversation
would never end. It would be another one of Sara’s pointless and
banal debates. Also he knew his wife. Eventually her curiosity
would get the better of her. She would convince herself that
something, some leak or fire hazard or mold, was slowly destroying
the house from inside that little room beyond and they would have
to do this anyway.
“Excuse me, Henry,” he said. And the facile mortgage
broker backed away as he brought the hammer around in an arc, like
a little league slugger chasing a ball that was too low.
Linda Collier, insurance agent for Hilow Realty,
pulled the pictures up on her computer. Two story Tudor. Original
windows. Nice back yard. Plus, it was right smack in the middle of
Merriman Hills, probably the best place to raise a family within
Akron city limits. She could sell this house. Great Recession be
damned. One by one she uploaded the photographs she’d taken on her
digital camera to HilowRealty.com.
It was another one of Randy Richter’s flips. Half her
homes were Richter properties. Ten years ago Richter had been a
History teacher at John Kennedy High School in Franklin Mills. Now
he snatched up cheap homes he could rehab quickly and turn for
profit. This was his best find so far. Richter said he’d picked the
Tudor up at auction for $68,000. He was probably exaggerating a
bit. Linda figured she could sell this house for around $145,000,
as long as he wasn’t in a hurry. He hadn’t even put that much sweat
equity into fixing it up for sale. Just patched a hole in one of
Then again, the story about the previous homeowners
was a bit… well, it was strange. And it didn’t take much to scare
aware prospective buyers, Linda had learned. She once had to sell a
home in Kenmore where a murder/suicide had gone down. Guy shot up
his ex and then put the Colt 45 to his temple. Lots of work, there.
The history of the house slashed the price by fifty percent. This
one, though. It wasn’t
bad. Not much of a story
actually. So the previous homeowners, the Murphys, had disappeared.
So what? Walking away wasn’t a crime. People did all sorts of crazy
things in this economy. Still, it was just creepy enough to
frighten off some of the more superstitious clients.
The neighborhood made up for its odd history.
Merriman Hills was nestled into a crook of the Ohio Valley
foothills and commanded a stunning view of the Cuyahoga River in
the Fall, after the leaves turned. Richter claimed the area was
once the center of civilization for the Shawnee Indians who
believed the valley was a “thin” spot between this world and the
next, a good place to communicate with God. She had asked him not
to broadcast that bit of trivia.
As she reviewed the pictures one more time before
publishing the listing, Linda paused at one in particular. This
photograph showed the house from the street, head-on. Strange. She
hadn’t noticed the window above the front door before. Obviously,
it must be there but, in her mind, she could only recall smooth
A second later, she saw the faces.
A red flush came over her. She looked around the
office. General Hilow was sitting back there in his office,
watching a rerun of the Hills. Other than that, she was alone.
She had gone all through the house, using the key in
the combination catch Richter had left hooked to the doorknob.
Every room, just to make sure it was ready to sell. Of course,
there’d been nobody in there. Linda used the mouse to zoom in a
Five faces were scrunched around the oblong window,
looking out. Two men. Two women. And a young girl in a red
Some weird camera glitch, she told herself. Some
digital bleed-through from some long-deleted photograph.
Quickly, Linda used the paint tool to smooth the
siding pixels over the window. In a moment, it was gone, along with
the pale faces behind the glass, the pale faces that seemed to be
calling out to her as if they had watched her standing in the yard
taking the pictures.
Once it was gone, she found it easier to believe it
had been a hiccup in the digital code, some random transposition of
old frames. Without allowing herself time to hesitate, Linda
clicked on the ‘publish’ icon and the listing appeared on the
Tomorrow she would send the link to her contact list.
Someone would want this house. After all, at $145,000, it was quite
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