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.

Rate this story:
 average 4 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Loved the way you built it up to the unexpected ending. Great atmosphere too! Five!

  • derangedmilk

    Beautiful prose! An excellent commitment to voice. The ending might let some people down, but I liked it. Didn’t love it, but I liked it.

  • Halloween around the corner, wondered when the spooky stories would start…love ’em.

    This one almost read like a newspaper or magazine story. Told in a “reporting” sort of style, and it worked. Just facts about a place with a reputation, deserved or not, left to the imagination with lots of supporting, but not necessarily damning information.

    Nicely done. A strong three star read…

  • This is the kind of story that could have been true, except that quite a large number of crimes were laid at the house’s door.

    It’s written in a journalistic style that adds to its credulity.
    I like the last sentence.

  • I really liked this. The house’s identity and impact come from the collective expectations and suppositions of the people around it … while the house itself sits in the middle of the story, not speaking.

  • ajcap

    Another one that was just all right with me. How big was this town? Nine kids missing in one year? If nine children disappeared in my home town in 1967, pitchforks would have sold out at the nearest Canadian Tire, and there would have been a fire.

    Appreciated the writing but I do like dialogue. Three stars.

  • I really didn’t care for this one the first read. It just seemed like a listing of events and then a sort of let down when nothing was solved at the end.

    However, on second read, I found there was some nice writing here, and some subtlety as well. I think the real story here is in the town’s reaction to events beyond their control. Crimes are committed and go unsolved, and there is need of a scapegoat. The house gets the blame–-just rumors at first, but then outright anger as the house is torn apart. On that first read, I was disappointed that nothing was found. But on the second read, I found it gave the story more power. It left ambiguous whether the house was actually supernaturally responsible for the crimes or not, and moved the story toward touching upon the senselessness of mob violence. I almost felt sorry for the house at the end.

    Good job.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Revenge upon the fabric of a building for things people didn’t really want to find – I like it. Well written too. Nicely spooky.

  • JenM

    A great history of a house and the town who believed in it. Five stars.

  • fishlovesca

    Well I have mixed feelings about this story. For one thing it could have used at least one more careful revision, a bit more editing. So the technical aspects were a problem for me. Like ajcap, I saw a lot of flaws in the logic. So many crimes in a small town. However, the actual core of the story is absolutely solid, and the ending is so perfect it totally won me over. This is the sort of scary story that works because, like the movie The Birds, one has a sense that there are forces at work that are only hinted at, and it is that subtle menace that enthralls the reader and engages their subconscious. To me that is far more interesting than any bloody hatchets or rampaging demons. Excellent work. Despite the technical deficiencies, five stars.

  • Beautiful lyrical writing, I enjoyed it very much. I’d like to read more of it. The ending was nearly as disappointing as “The Lady or the Tiger”, but it does haunt. I especially like the way the house becomes the main protagonist, at the mercy of the human foibles that surround it.

  • To me, this reads like a piece of reportage, and while that’s no bad thing, my preference is for stories with a clear protagonist.

    I was a bit confused by the crimes – were the robberies and rapes committed inside the house? Otherwise, why would it get the blame?

    On the whole, though, this is a good piece of writing and taps into the collective fear of a population with something they don’t fully understand in their midst.

  • Gerald Lutz

    Nicely done, Brandon! Seems like a great allegory to how we sometimes negatively perceive the people and situations around us. Investigating them generally removes their power but sometimes leaves an even greater void.

    …more? 🙂

  • Couldn’t the family trustees report the Calders as missing? “When nine kids went missing in the fall of 1967, the Calder house was the first place townspeople searched.” It was the FIRST place. Were the kids found in other places later? The story legend starts in the 1950’s but when was the Calder crime considered to have been committed; long before? It just sounds like a lot of gossip to me, fun to tell to visitors of this quaint town and there are too many inquiries avoided in the telling of the story.

  • I liked this take on the hunted house. Why are some places “evil”? Is it possible for a place to be inherently “bad,” or do we make them that way ourselves? Good grist for the horror mill–worked despite being all narration (in fact because of it). Felt like a good old-fashioned ghost story.

    This also had me thinking of the Aokighara forest in Japan, aka The Suicide Woods: I suspect Willy Calder would feel right at home.

  • I suspect “a wood of suicides” is an allusion to Dante, not to the Aokighara forest in Japan.

  • I’m afraid I found that the uniformly long paragraphs made this a bit of a monotononous read.

  • #16 I meant the character of the Old Calder Place in general, not that phrase in particular. Regardless the Dante allusion had gone right over my head 😉

  • Gretchen Bassier

    Fully agree with Chris’ (#7) second paragraph. A haunting read.

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