The old house was easy enough to find off of Interstate 70. The language used to describe this particular Air BnB was “secluded” or “semi-secluded. I hadn’t questioned my choice much until I was driving earlier and the thought occurred, Do I really want to be semi-secluded by myself in Kansas City?
I arrived, tired…, after eight, just as the evening light turned blue The drive from Bloomington, while manageable, was long and the summer heat made impressions on my skin, hours of time over 100 degrees. The house was advertised as cozy, just off the interstate, all accurate. The front drive was on a slope, with an old fashioned clothes line stuck crookedly in the lawn. I walked through a screened-in porch housing a wet ‘smoking couch’ and used the key pad to retrieve the key from the lock box. As I opened the first door, a second door to my left with an opened combination locked blew open. Behind a flimsy bead curtain the opened combination lock door revealed a pathway of paint-chipped wood stairs down to a basement crammed with old junk. A turned over wooden dresser, a white baby carriage, trunks, old lamps…, the rest was left up to my imagination as I hurried up the second set of stairs into the house.
I stood, back in time, next to the lime green stove and fridge and wood paneled cabinets. The furniture clock above the sink was no longer working and two glass roosters stared at me, each out of one eye. I knew at that moment I was not going to sleep that night. On the white board next to a broken rotary phone, written in black marker “Welcome, Allison,” followed by some scrolled symbology-little doodles that looked like diamonds and triangles with eyes in them. The hosts also wrote, “let us know when you arrive.”
All logic in me knew that I would not be killed this evening, only haunted by the unlatched door. And a little spooked by the other locked door at the end of the living room…, and the way the ceiling fans were not regular-size but miniature and rainbow colored, like each of the bedrooms were for children and never changed. A rainbow sticky horse lined one wall, dust bunnies collected under the bed. And each room had large metal floor grates with eye views directly down to the basement.
I called the owner to let her know I arrived, and let her know the basement door was open. In less than ten minutes she arrived, rapped her hand on the outside door. I answered her knock, said hello. She moved fast past me, slid in and clicked the lock on the basement door. Her long grey hair smelled of smoke and old water.
“Sorry,” she says, “that basement is really creepy, all of my grandmother’s eleven-room farmhouse is stored down there.”
As quickly as she slid in, she slid out, waving to me from her car parked at the end of the driveway. I stood blank in the doorway next to the locked basement, still feeling that eerie energy, now with the picture in my mind that this woman’s grandmother is trapped down there. I don’t know if it was better knowing what this house was sitting on top of, or not. But all night, all I could picture is the ghost of this woman’s grandmother floating around in the basement running into old wooden chests and bureaus, knocking them over, begging to be recognized and out let out of the rotting basement. Maybe I should have left the door unlocked.
Allison for the Poplar Grove Muse