There was always something off about the house. Phantom noises and slamming doors. Creaks and groans rattled the walls and sometimes, just sometimes, there were voices in those terrible sounds. A shadow would pass if you looked in time and, if you didn’t, a bony caress would travel along your spine.

Susan had gotten used to the oddities over the years she’d lived in the old townhome. It wasn’t pleasant, but she couldn’t afford to move. There simply wasn’t any opportunity to leave the place.

The quick tip-type of the keyboard as Susan wrote her latest novel was the only noise currently present. It was a calming one. Much better, she thought, than the footsteps and thumps that came with nightfall. She was so near to completing the book. So close. A few more chapters and maybe she could finally afford to leave.

A rapping on the wall startled her from her harmony—a sound that made the hollow wood thrum even after the force was gone. She sighed. It had been almost peaceful without the noises.

“I don’t have time for this,” she grumbled and closed the laptop with a huff. Her fingers twitched as she realized she had put a little too much force into it. She couldn’t afford another one.

Maybe a cup of tea would help take her mind off the noises. Yes, a nice warm cup of tea always helped her relax.

Making her way into the kitchen, Susan set about finding her favorite mug. It was rather old and had a few nicks in the ceramic, but it was precious all the same. A gift, she couldn’t recall from whom, but it was someone who’d been important to her.

There wasn’t much tea in the jar when she pulled it down. Hadn’t she just bought this? What now? Were the foul things not satisfied with their ruckus? Did they have to steal one of the only things she still enjoyed?

Putting her bitterness aside, Susan brought a kettle to boil and poured her drink. The smell made her relax. Such a heady aroma. She lifted the mug and was about to take a sip of the steaming liquid when there was a piercing shriek behind her.

Startled, she spun, and not thinking, doused herself with the scalding water. Her gaze fell upon the form of a small child. Her burns didn’t pain her nearly as much as the open-mouthed horror that stared at her.

It flickered for a moment before it seemed to advance forward with such speed she didn’t see it move at first. A scream of her own rented the air and she dropped her favored mug as she fell away from the ghostly child, who looked at the shattered cup for a moment before vanishing.

Susan wasted no time fleeing the kitchen. Sounds were one thing, but that? That was something she couldn’t handle.

She made it all the way to her car before realizing she didn’t have her keys.

Not willing, or physically able yet, to go back inside, she huddled in her car, crying and praying that it had merely been her stressed mind and not what she thought it was. Yes. Stress. She had been under a lot of it lately. Trying to finish her novel. Losing the house if she didn’t manage to scrape up enough to pay for it. The isolation from her family. So much on her shoulders. No wonder she was cracking.

A soft, broken, laugh brushed her lips as she came to her conclusion. She was fine. Fine and dandy. Better than fine. She just needed to finish that book.

Finding her steel, Susan stood and carefully returned inside. The house was quiet. It was also clean. There was no spilt tea. No broken mug. No evidence that she’d even been in there at all. Had she made the tea? She was pretty sure she had. Hadn’t she?

Her stress was making her crazy, she decided. She needed rest. That would help. A nap. A nice long nap in the living room with the television on would help. It always did.

Nothing more happened as she went into the family room. It was sparsely furnished—she’d never liked a crowded room—and there were only a few bits and bobs for decoration.

She settled down onto her old but cushy couch and tugged her afghan down from its perch on the sofa’s back. Clicking on the television, she scanned the channels before settling on a nice soap opera. She dozed off quickly.

Susan opened her eyes to find herself submerged. Water covered her face and chest and she couldn’t breathe as the freezing liquid invaded her nose and mouth, stabbing its way into her lungs. Her wrists stung. The water above and around her grew pink. Then red. So much red. She tried to scream, but that only made it easier for the blood-colored water to consume her.

Sputtering and gasping, she sat bolt upright from her prone position on the couch. A nightmare? Had to have been. She looked around. No water. No blood. She checked herself. Not even damp save for the cold sweat on her brow. She was fine.

There was a growl—a deep and heart-stopping snarl Susan had only heard from an angry hound once. She looked around hoping she was still dreaming. But there was nothing. The television, perhaps. No, the soap opera was still going and there were no animals in the current promiscuous scene. No animals at all.

Shaken, but trying her best to keep her wits about her, Susan rose from the couch to look around the house. The last thing she needed was for some wild dog to get inside and attack her when she wasn’t looking.

She found nothing. Nothing but the cold grey walls and the hard, wooden floors. Alone in her old creepy house, she wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not.

Distracted. She didn’t need to be distracted. Having upset herself enough, she returned to her laptop and began to type out her story once more.

So close, so close. She just needed to figure out the ending…to tie up the loose ends and it would all be done.

The sound of the back-door opening stopped Susan’s progress again. Heavy footsteps sounded as something large walked into the kitchen. It was coming toward her and she panicked.

She closed the laptop quickly and hid in the small closet by the laundry door. Surely whatever was here now wouldn’t notice her.

A hulking figure moved by the closed door. Susan could see it through the wooden slats. It was dark and hunched and carried something that looked like an axe. It didn’t pay her any mind, which was an immense relief, and simply went out the side door of the laundry. She didn’t hear that door open though.

Several minutes passed and nothing more happened. Not even a tiny noise. Taking a risk, she peeked out of the closet to see where the shadow had gone. There was nothing there.

Shaking, she hurried back to her computer and snatched it up. There was no way she could finish her work here—no way she was imagining this.

She ran toward the front door, this time grabbing her keys as she went, the house be damned.

There was already someone at the door when she got there. Well, something. It was dressed all in white and had a face so pale it shone brightly in the dim hall light. It looked at her…looked at her hands…then her face. Opening its mouth wide, it screamed a sound so loud Susan dropped her laptop to cover her ears as she turned and sprinted for the stairs. She could escape from the balcony.

Tears streamed down her face as she ran. Why? Why! What did they want? Her house had been so peaceful once. Such a nice place to write. Why did they have to come? Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? Why? Why had they chosen her house? Was this hell? Was this because of what she had done? Why couldn’t the living let her rest in peace?

A.E. Rhose