It's only fair to admit that everyone warned me it was a bad idea to spend the week alone at the Body House. But I have a deadline, I told them. You're spending the week at a secluded, New England mansion where a family was murdered, among other things, and it's rumored to be haunted, they said. They said, This is not the best way to meet a deadline. You've never met my editor, I told them.
At first I was able to get a lot of work done and the house was quiet and peaceful. It is my understanding that this is the way of things. On the second day, though, on my walk through the woods I saw an apparition of a hanged man, eyes bulging, tongue lolling, swinging in the trail in front of me. That was inconvenient. I shrugged and decided that I'd have to skip the morning walks from now on. It was more time to write, anyway.
The problem was I was out of ideas. The story wasn't going anywhere. For five months solid I'd been hammering out chapters about the Smith family tragedy. They were losing the family farm, John was an alcoholic, Shawna was seized by wanderlust, Lydia was estranged, and Simon sat at the window all day drinking chamomile tea speaking to no one. It's boring, they told me. But I knew better. Even so, the sixth month of the endeavor came and I hit a wall when Shawna asked for a divorce and John sat at the kitchen table speechless. That's what I couldn't get past. That was the trouble, the divorce.
That and the blood curdling screams from the basement that started at 10:37 exactly every night and lasted until dawn. On the fourth day I improvised ear plugs from Q-tips, but that only helped so much. I've never been a sound sleeper.
On the third day, no progress made, I started reading some old journals that the last occupant had left behind. It all started out very normal, all about the life of a secluded heiress in New England. The longer I read, though, the more intelligible the writing became and it was frequently interrupted by archaic symbols and abstract drawings of death and destruction. Some of it was written in blood. The diarist wrote of nightmares that haunted her through the day, of a Dark one that feeds on pain and anguish that would consume the world. I wasn't impressed. Clearly a wanna-be hack or cartoonist. No Anne Frank's diary to be found in that house.
I made good progress on the fourth day. John spoke up and told Shawna to leave and then went on a binge. Lydia, the prodigal, finally revealed that while she was away in Europe she became romantically involved with a woman, had a breakdown due to her Christian upbringing, and returned home out of an act of desperation. Simon was still sitting at the window with his tea, but you couldn't have everything.
I was feeling pretty good about myself and felt the urge to masturbate. Just then, though, the door to the study creaked open and in the gloom of the cellar I saw two blood red eyes staring at me. There were things watching me all over the house, I realized. I've never been an exhibitionist and masturbation is really a private act so I just decided to call it an early night.
On the fifth night the screaming stopped. This was a welcome relief for all of five minutes until I heard someone tramping, ostentatiously up the stairs. A moment later a slender woman as pale as death flung open my door. She then proceeded, in a shrill, scratchy voice to tell me how her twin brother had raped her and then locked her in the basement, telling everyone that she was mad and then, after years of seclusion and psychological torture, he killed her.
I listened as best I could. After you get published, people do this to you all the time. They tell you sob stories hoping you'll write about it so they can brag to their friends that such and scuh book was based on them. Ridiculous. Anyway, the pale girls' story wasn't worth the lost sleep. No one believes stories like that because that's not life.
On the sixth and last day I was able to finish the draft despite untenable circumstances. Just after I started working, blood began to drip from the walls. It started as a trickle and then a steady stream. It wasn't long before the house was flooded and I had to use the desk as a work space and ad hoc life boat. I kept telling myself I didn't deserve this and powered through.
The family had called an emotional armistice in order to get through the business of selling the farm. In cleaning out all the family possessions they slowly began to remember good times, but it wasn't enough to heal old wounds. In the final chapter, the family is staying in the empty house one last night when an electrical fire starts. They all get out safely, and the story ends with all the family watching their home and financial security burn to cinders.
It was a day early, but I decided that staying another night at the Body House would just mean another night of lost sleep so I drove back to Iowa. My editor, when she got the novel, sent me a dubious email. When I asked her for clarification she said it was boring and I told her she could fuck herself.
A week passed and the bills came. My bag was empty and after some desperate pleading I got my editor to talk to me again. How do you feel about horror? I asked her. She said that I should stay out of her personal life. I told her I was bored and angry and frustrated and haunted. I told her how a tornado took my house when I was sixteen, every woman I've ever dated was named Sarah, I lived as a woman for a year, I declared bankruptcy once, I am a rock-paper-scissors international champion, and how could life be so unbelievable?
She asked, Have you ever considered writing nonficiton?