It was true, Gloria thought, that childhood places you returned to as an adult seemed smaller. But they didn’t seem any less haunted. A breeze raised the hairs on her arms, but she kept her face neutral for her phone’s camera. “Here it is, the Parrish House. I haven’t been back here for years. No, I won’t tell you how many!” She laughed and was pleased that she sounded confident. None of the dread was coming out in her voice. “If you’re from northern California, you’ve heard of it, and you probably have an opinion about whether it’s cursed, haunted, or both—or if the whole thing is a hoax. You’ve come along with me on a few short paranormal investigations since I launched Gloria’s Hauntings, but this is going to be an in-depth, real-time look into the true nature of a notorious house. I tracked down the company that owns it and made an offer. I bought it sight unseen, as-is, so you’re getting the first look right along with me.”
She switched from selfie mode to pan the outside of the long-abandoned Victorian. It had been surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire since she’d last been here. “It’s been empty for decades, ever since the Parrish family disappeared one chilly night in January, 1959. I tried to track down remaining family members, but I had no luck. Some say they fled in the middle of the night, but others believe some part of them is still…right here.”
Gloria’s fourteen seasons as the host on the Real Life Channel’s Let’s Get Haunted! had helped her develop a flair for the dramatic, even if the ungrateful assholes had replaced her with a younger model, chosen for looks rather than heightened perception. She still had a loyal following, and she had been steadily building her online subscription service, billed as “Real & Unfiltered” as an NDA-skirting nod to the fakery LGH! had used for ratings, over her protests. Snagging the Parrish House had doubled the income from her solo project, and she hoped that was just the beginning.
Deep breath. Time to go in. “Okay, here we are. Wow, that cherub over the mirror looks pissed. I guess he doesn’t like chintz.” She sneezed. “These dust covers are going to have to go to the dumpster. Let’s do a quick walk-through to see what condition the house is in, get some light in here, and place some sensors. I plan to sleep here tonight. Premium subscribers will get live updates if anything unexplained happens in the wee hours. Everyone else will wait until the morning report.”
The large fireplace dominated the front room. Little porcelain figures decorated the dusty mantelpiece: a shepherdess, a goatherd, a girl with a basket of vegetables.The dust was thick. She’d have to tackle that later or she’d be coughing up a lung. There were no overhead lights, but she’d prepared for that, bringing several standing lamps so she’d have some light in each room. She plugged one in and crossed her fingers. “Yes! The electric company came through!” She’d been tempted to check out the house before the on-air walkthrough, to make sure she didn’t have flashbacks and freak out, but she had integrity, unlike some producers she could name. When she stepped onto the third stair, it creaked, and the memory of that night came rushing back.
“Wow, the last time I was in this house, I came flying down these stairs. A group of us had broken in and set up a Ouija board in the attic. I think we contacted…something.” She didn’t have to fake the shiver. “At that time, I couldn’t sense spirits. It was just a game. After that night, otherworldly energy was always with me, and I got used to its presence, but then—it was terrifying. When this stair creaked, I thought it had caught up with me. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was, and I didn’t look back. I sensed something back there, and I just kept moving, straight out the front door. I was the first one out. The others met me outside and we waited for Monica. And waited. And waited. Eventually, we went home before we could get in trouble. Monica was always playing pranks, so we thought, we hoped, that this was one of her jokes. Maybe she’d even rigged something in the attic to make us think the Ouija board had done something real. But she was gone. She’d been planning to run off with her older boyfriend, and we told ourselves she’d seen an opportunity that night. But we’ll never really know, unless the house gives us some clue during this investigation.”
The other bedrooms were unremarkable, but the nursery gave her pause. “I guess there was a baby when the Parrishes disappeared. That baby would be, what, sixty? if he or she was still…” She picked up a porcelain doll from the crib. “Probably she, I guess. If anyone has any idea of her whereabouts or identity, send me clues. I’d love to find out why they left that night. If they left.”
Gloria felt colder and colder as she pulled down the ladder for the attic. “Someone must have replaced the ladder sometime since my little adventure here. Of course, the police must have looked in this house as part of the investigation into Monica’s disappearance.” Her feet felt heavy as she climbed up, but all of a sudden, her head was above the floor level, and there it was. “Wow, our Ouija board is still here.” She scrambled the rest of the way up, pulling a lamp up behind her. When she switched it on, dust danced in the puddle of light. “Oh, the planchette is way over here. We ran out pretty quickly. One of us probably tripped on the board.” She moved the board and planchette to the top of a stack of boxes. “I don’t feel anything in particular here, just the low-level emanations from the whole house.”
She took a deep breath and coughed. She was surprised that only the dust was bothering her up here. “Well, that was anticlimactic.” She moved to the charred portion of the wall and reached toward the large crucifix hanging there. “You can see here where the fire was. There’s a cupola and a widow’s walk up on the roof, but the cupola burned years before the Parrishes moved in. It was said to be boys playing up there who started the fire. I couldn’t find anything about the boys, so we may have another mysterious disappearance linked to the house, or it may have just been an accident. At any rate, the family living there at the time just boarded up the access point and left it with no attempt to repair, which makes me think something unpleasant happened, especially since they hung a crucifix here. Huh, I wonder if an exorcism was ever attempted. I’ll have to check local church records.”
“We’ll look more closely up here, since at least two strange experiences are linked to this particular part of the house, but I need to get things set up so I can actually sleep in the house tonight, so we’ll save that until later. I expect to spend weeks, if not months, investigating this house. I will travel to conduct some shorter investigations during that time as well, but this is my primary project for the time being. We’ll dig into the history of the house, try to track down former residents, and look for evidence of hauntings, curses, or other paranormal phenomena. In a house like this, there may be several things going on.”
The dust covers were in the dumpster, she’d vacuumed pounds of dust from the large rug and hardwood floor of the front room, and she’d pushed back the furniture to make room for her camp bed. Gloria sat cross-legged on the floor and opened her laptop. She liked to end the day with some interactive content. The fans really liked being able to contact her directly, and having their questions answered in real-time boosted engagement and popularity. “This is Gloria Birch, reporting live from the Parrish House in Brentcliff, California, where I once had a seance that ended with a friend disappearing. There are weird occurrences connected to this house, and we’re here to investigate for as long as it takes to uncover all the mysteries. You can check out the first-look tour we did earlier today in the video section, and don’t forget to tip. If you want to be first on hand if anything weird happens in the wee hours, hit the ‘premium subscription’ button. I’m ready to take your questions.”
There were always a few creeps making suggestive comments. If they were free accounts, she blocked their access, but if they paid a subscription fee, she contented herself with taking their money and ignoring them. She read through the questions pouring in, and fielded a few about the house’s history, her past experiences, and her methods. “Ah, Bobby from Humboldt, I’ve set up motion-sensor cameras, vibration detectors, and voice recording in each room. I’m not a fan of electromagnetic detection for paranormal investigations, though that was big on Let’s Get Haunted!, because I expect a house like this is awash in abnormal electromagnetic energy. I want to first focus on sound and images that might show up overnight. I have an instant-read thermometer at hand to check for temperature drops. And yes, Leah from San Antonio, I have my Spidey-sense, though I don’t usually call it that. And I try to back up my feelings with objective measurements and recordings. Let’s call it a night. I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens! Otherwise, see you in the morning.”
She’d started to close her laptop when a message caught her eye: “Do you really think you’ll get out of there alive?”
Gloria tried to sit up, but she was trapped, flailing around in the dark, heart pounding, until she remembered she was in a sleeping bag and extracted her arms. What had woken her up? She listened closely but didn’t hear anything unusual. A breeze cooled her bare arms and she shivered. Wait—breeze? Why was there a breeze? She switched on the light, but nothing looked out of place. The breeze was coming from the fireplace. The flue must be open. She checked her phone: 3:20 a.m.
She flipped open her laptop and sent a push notification to the premium subscribers. “Anyone up? I was just awakened by a gust of wind coming from the direction of the fireplace. The room is chilly.” She held up the instant-read thermometer. “Temperature in the room is 58 degrees. Outside temp is 61. All windows are closed. Today’s high was 72 degrees. No way the house should be this cold.” She watched a few insomniacs and East Coast fans express their excitement. “I’m going to check out the fireplace. I guess it’s possible the flue has been open all these years, or maybe something jogged it open, but I didn’t notice the house being cold before now.”
Gloria wasn’t really afraid of ghosts. Except for the occasional poltergeist who threw things around, they mostly just wanted to be noticed. But she still felt a creeping dread as she approached the fireplace. She jumped as a gust of wind blew around her feet, swishing the t-shirt she wore as pajamas. “Let’s check the flue.”
She shined the flashlight up the chimney. “I’m hoping I’ll see more when I review the recording. It’s mostly just dark up here.” She coughed. “And dusty. The cupola that burned so many years ago is beside this chimney on the rooftop. I wonder if the spirit energy is concentrated in this—” Clunk. Clunk. She reached up slowly with her hand. “The flue is closed, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a gap letting in a draft.” Clunk. The flue vibrated above her fingers. “Something is hitting the flue from above. I can feel it. Maybe a trapped bird?” She was concentrating too hard to feel terrified when the flue gave way under another clunk, flinging her hand against the sooty bricks of the chimney. She scrambled out just as something fell into the fireplace. It looked like a pile of dirty cloth, but sounded heavier.
“Something was up in the flue. It looks like a pile of clothes or a wadded up sheet or something. It’s dirty from the chimney. It’s now 68 degrees in here. Maybe whatever was trying to get my attention with the cold wind just wanted me to find this.” She was strangely reluctant to approach the bundle. She touched it and her hand came away sooty. “It feels like a sheet and looks like it had a flower pattern on it. It’s pretty faded. There’s something hard inside, but not one large solid object, more like a bunch of little things.” Bones, she thought. Monica’s bones. The baby’s bones. She slowly unwrapped the bundle, and little porcelain figures like the ones on the mantel fell to the floor.
“Huh,” she said, trying to sound casually amused. “What are these doing up here? Whether it’s human or spirit mischief remains to be seen. A ghost might cause a draft and use this to get my attention. Are the figures a clue to the weird occurrences in this house? Or did some human stuff them up there? I assume no fire has been lit since the Parrishes left, so they must have been placed there before then. Are they valuable and someone wanted to hide them?”
“Antiques Roadshow crossover!” someone commented. She laughed and read it aloud. “Maybe I can pay off the mortgage with these. Who knows.” She lined the little figures up on the mantel, unconsciously switching them around into an order that seemed right. She stared at the apple-cheeked little girl holding a doll and wondered if she was in over her head.
“Well, I’m going to get some more sleep now that it’s warmed up in here and I’ll look around more when I wake up. Thanks for keeping me company, guys!”
She shut the laptop and got back in the sleeping bag. She felt uneasy and confused. What was the purpose of this? Teenagers playing pranks? One of the Parrishes keeping valuables safe? A workman stowing them to steal later? Was it a clue to the disappearances and the fire? She felt suddenly exhausted and fell into a dreamless sleep.
Gloria felt better in the morning. One of her fans had live-tweeted his excitement over the late-night ghost update, and it had gained traction while she slept. Several of the content-farm sites were running stories about her. Her subscriptions were up, and she’d pulled in quite a bit in tips from the lucky people who’d watched the livestream. The Let’s Get Haunted! producers hadn’t thought she could still bring in the viewers, and here she was, popular even without chairs flying around the room or creepy whispers piped in. Real haunting was even more dramatic than the faked stuff. You didn’t need to embellish.
“Good morning, everyone, and welcome to my new members. After the excitement with the fireplace last night, nothing else happened. I slept like a baby.” Baby. The baby upstairs, clutching her doll, she thought, shaking her head to erase the image. “Anyway, today in boring tasks, I have to get the rest of the dust out of the front room so I can breathe in there. I don’t want to have the furniture removed because it’s been here so long it’s almost part of the house, but I’ve rented a steam cleaner to attack it, and I’ve got a particle mask and eye protection for dusting the surfaces. I’ll spare you the live footage of that process. Before I get to that, though, let’s see if any of our sensors recorded anything during last night’s event.”
Gloria opened the program she used to collect data from her sensors. “Nothing from the motion sensors, except of course in this room. Let’s see if it picked up any motion that wasn’t me tromping around. It doesn’t look like it, but the vibration detector picked something up near the fireplace when the bundle dropped down onto the flue in the chimney. It didn’t occur to me to put a camera or recording equipment in the chimney. If there was something to see, that’s probably where it was. I can move some equipment from one of the other rooms in case that’s the focal point of any other incidents. The attic equipment picked up some sound. Don’t get too excited. It’s often squirrels or bats or something in attics. I’ll pull up the footage the motion-sensor cameras picked up and play it along with the sound.”
The screen filled with the image of the dim attic. A shimmer appeared in front of the boarded-up area, and expanded and thickened into a white fog, roughly spherical in shape. Gloria had seen ghosts before, but she still gasped. Comments began to flow in, mostly in all caps and many R-rated. “This is bigger than the usual ghost form. It may not be a single spirit, but a concentration of energy. Look! It’s sort of flattening against the wall.” It was still silent, so she checked the sound. “It’s not talking, whatever it is. It just disappeared behind the chimney wall! This is 3:20 a.m. exactly, the moment I was woken up by the gust of wind down the chimney.” She went back a few frames and hit pause. Whatever this was, it was trying to get her attention. There was a whooshing sound and a couple of distant clunks that must have been the bundle falling down the chimney. She watched to the end, but the fog didn’t reappear before the camera turned back off.
“What are we dealing with here? Is this what contacted us through the Ouija board years ago? If it’s not a single spirit, that might explain why we didn’t get a coherent message, just a rush of energy. But what is it?”
Her notifications were pinging again and subscriptions and tips rolled in. Someone major must be live-tweeting. She had a sudden thought that she should leave. Just walk away from the house, the money, ghosts in general. Get out while she still could. Was this the part in the horror movie where the audience would be yelling, “Just leave! Run away!” as the main character made stupid choice after stupid choice until something killed her in a horrible way? She shivered. Time to ground herself with some errands and dusting.
The living room was almost inhabitable when Gloria stopped to shower, eat lunch, and check messages. Nothing strange had happened during the morning, but last night’s demonstration had taken serious energy. The spirits might be exhausted today. People thought that ghosts were more active at night, but really that’s the only time humans weren’t too busy to notice them. If you were tuned in to the ghost world, you’d see them at all times of day.
Her notifications were exploding again. Someone had posted a screenshot of the white entity on Instagram, a clear violation of her terms of service, but since it had gone viral and expanded her subscriber base yet again, she would overlook it. Just some fan mail, and…oh. “Hey, Gloria. It was weird to open Twitter and see you back in that house after all these years. Be safe, okay?” It was signed Benjamin. Her high school boyfriend. She’d lost touch with the kids she’d broken into this house with, and even if it had occurred to her to give them a heads-up about her plans, she wouldn’t have known how to track them down. It was strange to think of Ben watching her from afar, but oddly comforting. She hit ‘reply’ but had no idea what to say. Well, it could wait.
She was distracted by Ben’s message as she started the afternoon update. She could ask him what he remembered from that night, and whether he knew how to reach the others. They might have valuable insights about what they’d experienced. Sure, they’d talked about it as teenagers, but maybe their views of events had changed over the years. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She was strangely reluctant to involve them. What if she invited them all to the house? They could have another go at the Ouija board. She grimaced at the idea. Was it repellent because it was tacky and exploitative, or because it was dangerous? Maybe both.
“This morning, I dropped off the crucifix at a local antique store to see if I could get an idea of when it was put up on the attic wall. I was curious if the original owners of the house boarded up the roof access and hung it up there, or if some supernatural occurrence had prompted the Parrishes to hang it, or someone else. I don’t remember if it was there when I was last in the attic, but then, we weren’t looking closely at the walls, and we only had flashlights then.
“I just got a call back from Savoy’s Fine Antiques”—she’d traded an on-air mention and a social media post for a free appraisal—“and Geoff Savoy tells me the crucifix definitely dates from the 1920s, so this crucifix could have been here when the Parrishes moved in, and they chose to leave it there. Why? They clearly used the attic. It’s still cluttered with boxes from the 1950s. It’s hard to imagine how they could have overlooked it for so many years. Were they religious? Superstitious? Or had they been warned about the house and didn’t want to tempt fate?
“When I looked through the church records for an exorcism—there’s no record, but the current priest tells me that one may have been performed but not recorded—I also checked and found that the Parrishes were not members of the Catholic church, so leaving up the crucifix seems strange. Okay, this afternoon we’re headed back up to the attic to see how we can reopen the roof access.”
The comments were a mixture of thrilled and apprehensive, with several people suggesting that she should leave it the way it was, especially since she’d taken down the crucifix. She was privately nervous, which was part of the reason she was checking it out during the day and not after dark. She was citing better lighting and visibility as her reason, and, well, that was partly true.
Back to the attic. “You know, the brick behind where the crucifix was doesn’t look burned at all, but the surrounding wall is covered in soot. I wonder if it was hanging up here before the fire. Huh.” She rested her hand against the brick and felt a pulsing energy. She jerked her hand back. “Something is concentrated in the chimney. Okay, now for the boarded-up roof access. Let’s pry off these boards that were nailed over it.” She’d brought a tool box and several power tools, but the rotten wood crumbled when she dug into it with the prying end of her hammer. “Oh, this is going to be easier than I thought.” She quickly removed the boards and peered inside. “Lots of ash.”
She came back with a broom and dustpan and a ladder. “Let’s sweep some of this ash out so I can set up the ladder safely.” As she swept, something clunked against the wall. “Another surprise, huh? This house is full of them. Let’s see what we have here.” She stirred the ash around with her broom and found two more porcelain figures. She wiped off the ash and saw a boy pulling up a bucket from a well and a boy fishing. “Ah, more of these. I’m getting quite a collection. I’ll have to take these to the antique store too. They remind me of something my grandmother had, but there’s no artist’s mark or anything. Well, I’ll bring them downstairs and put them with the others until I can take them in tomorrow.”
Gloria climbed up the ladder and poked her head up over the roof. Very little of the wooden cupola remained, just a few charred posts. “I really don’t feel anything in particular up here. Maybe this was just an accidental fire and the family closed off the roof afterward.” She looked uneasily at the chimney. “That was anticlimactic, but it’s like that sometimes. Now we don’t have to wonder what’s up here.”
Once downstairs, she added the boys to the lineup of porcelain figures. “I could have sworn the goose girl was lined up with the rest, but it’s off to the right now. Weird. I’ve spent too much time looking at these things, I guess.”
Before she went to bed, she did a last chat session with her audience. She answered a few questions before stopping short. “Candace from Castle Rock, Maine, are you positive the goose girl was on the other side?” Gloria looked at the attached screenshot. Of course, it could have been photoshopped. But then more screenshots and comments came flooding in. She sat back and thought. She did keep looking at the figures whenever she passed them. Maybe she’d been moving them around without realizing it. She suggested this but one of her fans was able to show that the goose girl had been on the left when Gloria went back upstairs with the ladder and broom. When she’d returned, it was on the right.
She got up and studied the piece. It looked just like the others. Apple-cheeked girl in a bonnet, holding a goose. Gloria had been chased by nesting geese before, so she felt this was unwise on the girl’s part, but there was nothing else remarkable about the figure. “I’m not sure what moving this one figure is supposed to tell me, but they’ll all go to the antique dealer tomorrow. Maybe he can give us some insight about these. More information on where they came from, who made them, all that might be helpful. Well, good night. See you in the morning, if not before then.”
Gloria was suddenly wide awake. She opened the laptop and checked the monitors. “Something woke me up. Let’s see…it’s 1:22, and the temperature is normal. No sounds, motion, or vibrations picked up by the equipment. I don’t hear anything now. Wait! A knocking? It’s coming from the direction of the fireplace, upstairs maybe? Let’s go check it out.”
She forgot to step over the creaky stair and startled herself on the way up. “I need to have that thing fixed before it gives me a heart attack,” she muttered. On the landing, she listened closely. “No, it’s still above me. I guess we’re going into the attic.” Her feet felt heavy as she trudged to the trapdoor. One foot after the other up the ladder. The white fog she’d seen in the video was even more impressive in person. She walked toward the sphere, mesmerized. It was bright enough that she didn’t need to turn on a light.
She tripped over something. “The Ouija board. I moved this and something moved it back.” Gloria laughed. “Well, I wanted a clearer message. I was too dense to figure out whatever the figurines mean, so it—or they—decided to make it obvious.” She walked over to the fog and reached out her hand. “It’s like being in cold water.”
She set her phone down so it had a view of both the Ouija board and the fog. She slowly sank to the floor, touching the planchette lightly. Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought the fog swirled in approval. She’d have to check the recording later. “I feel like I should say I always knew I’d end up back here or something, but this is a surprise. I honestly don’t know what will happen. Maybe nothing. But maybe I’ll find the answers we’re looking for.” She moved the planchette to the starting point and took a deep breath.
“Welcome to a Very Special Episode of Let’s Get Haunted! This is Ellie Costa, reporting live from the Parrish House in Brentcliff, California, where a former host went missing during either a publicity stunt or a tragic paranormal occurrence one year ago today. We’ve been trying to get access to this house ever since Gloria Birch disappeared under mysterious circumstances that she live-streamed as part of a paranormal investigation. We’ve all seen the footage and analyzed it frame by frame, trying to detect any doctoring or spot some trick Gloria used to make herself appear to vanish, but there’s been no sighting of her in all this time, so it’s pretty far-fetched to think it was a publicity stunt. Tonight, on the anniversary of her disappearance, we’re going to spend the night in the house and get to the bottom of this mystery.”
She entered the front room and sneezed. “We’ll have to get a cleaning crew in. This is some serious dust. Look! Here are the little porcelain figurines that featured so heavily in Gloria’s story. She claimed to have found some of them in the chimney, others in the attic.”
Ellie touched the figures one by one, leaving little finger marks in the dust. “I think my grandmother had some of these. Shepherdess, goatherd, girl with vegetables, goose girl, girl with a doll, boy at a well, boy fishing, girl sitting in a tree. I don’t remember that one from the footage. Anyway, did Gloria plant the figurines to add some spice to a boring investigation? Was the light show in the attic rigged? What went wrong the night that Gloria disappeared? Are you ready? Let’s get haunted!”