For decades, everyone in town believed the house was haunted. By the time the millennium rolled around, the Calder place wasn’t a house anymore, more a collection of rotted beams and jagged sheets of dirty glass, carpeted in thrown rocks and crabapples. In the 1950s, local legend claimed Willy Calder did something horrible to his wife and children, and scampered off in the moonlight. No bodies were ever found, which was proof enough. Angela, Willy’s wife and member of the town’s other founding family, would never leave town on her own, so the town gossips said.
Decades saw the house grow in power over the townsfolk. Kids dared each other to spend a minute, an hour, a night inside its collapsing grandeur, steal a shred of tapestry from the sprawling library. Adults passed by in daylight, wondering when the law would get around to searching the place. Generations of sheriffs scratched their heads at the question every Halloween, the anniversary of the Calders’ disappearance: why haven’t the grounds and the house been searched? Every sheriff gave the same truth: nobody was officially reported missing, so there was no crime to act on, and the family trustees wouldn’t allow a search without a warrant.
Official truths didn’t matter. When nine kids went missing in the fall of 1967, the Calder house was the first place townspeople searched. It was still mostly standing then, the unlocked oaken doors weathered but solid. Searching from basement to attic revealed nothing, save a small handprint in the dust coating a rear window facing the woods. As the search fanned out from there, more than one in the party looked back at the Calder house thinking of fire, but no one put torch to timbers.
Other crimes were laid at the house’s front step: a trio of rapes at knifepoint in 1974, two robberies gone murderous in 1982, a homicide scored for hammer and ratchet in 1990. Children disappeared, forgotten women erased, lonely men turned the thicket around the house into a wood of suicides, and the Calder house grew in stature as it disintegrated. The end of the century came and went, but the house remained.
Fifty years of the house’s existence went unmarked, not unnoticed. Markets fell, careers withered, and the Calder rot spread outward in ripples and jags, painting the town slowly in its own image. Economics trumped time, and unpaid taxes turned the Calder house into public property. Demanding truth, a great-niece of Angela Calder spearheaded a town-wide drive to search the grounds exhaustively, seeking answers to unasked questions.
More than 200 people showed up the first day, another 100 the next. Eager hands rose up against the Calder home, wall and floor and support and ceiling, shredded into ever-smaller pieces. The house was scored to its beams, scoured to the foundations and swallowed in an expanding excavation by volunteers scared by its nearness, exhilarated by its fall. Trees and thorned bushes were chopped down, trimmed to extinction.
When the search ended, the Calder house was gone, razed to a vast bare patch of dirt and stone open to the sky like a cataract, all the gnarled trees and hedges that once hemmed the Calder house devoured by long-denied tools. Across a space feared for decades, townsfolk stared at each other, bewildered at finding nothing. No bodies, no bones, no clothes or bloodied tools, no trace for cadaver dogs or ground-penetrating radar to find. Whatever crime committed in—or by—the Calder house went with it to oblivion, and all those things the townspeople were afraid to find remained lost.
Brandon Nolta lives in north Idaho with his wife and two children. He works as a freelance writer and editor from home, when his kids let him. His poetry and fiction have appeared in New Myths, Third Order, Lynx Eye and a handful of other publications.
This story is sponsored by
Debi Blood — Live the magic. The Glendale Witch.