The McClintock place stood at the very edge of the world, at the corner of Durante and 122nd. It stood, yellow paint peeling, shattered glass in the windows, lawn over run with thistles and vines for as long as Mallory could remember. She asked her mother about it once, while Mrs. Cho was chopping onions.
“Oh that dump has been there forever,” she said, wiping tears away with the back of her hand. “No one’s ever lived in it, at least not that I can remember. Who’d want to? They keep saying they’re gonna tear it down but they never do. It’s an eyesore is what it is.”
“Nothing has been anywhere forever,” Grandma Johnson said when Mallory asked her about the McClintock place. “Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. Learn that now and remember it.”
“So when did the McClintock place begin?” Mallory asked.
“Years ago,” Grandma said, “Maybe centuries. I only remember what I was told and all I was ever told was gossip and speculation so don’t go spreading this around like its gospel.”
Mallory promised she wouldn’t. Grandma Johnson closed her eyes and fiddled quietly with the green beads of her bracelet. “It used to be that there was nothing out here but sand and grass and a few hills with a few trees. Somebody built a road out here and people started settling in. One of the first settling in was a man named McClintock. I don’t remember his first name but the stories all said that he was rich. He moved out here to build a mansion for his new wife, that’s the McClintock place.”
Mallory frowned. “McClintock’s is too small to be a mansion.” The house was little more than two stories with a basement and a balcony in the back that Mallory always worried would fall down when it stormed.
“They had different standards for mansion then.” Grandma Johnson shrugged. “Anyway, it was the only house on the block then so it was the best one too. McClintock built the place and moved him and his new wife in there. They had a big Welcome Home party with every big shot in town, politicians, actors, even a couple of war heroes thrown in for good measure. Then, in six months time, they were moving out again, getting divorced. McClintock spent the rest of his life trying to sell the place and his wife died just a few years after she divorced him.”
Mallory blinked and raised her eyebrows. “Because of the house?”
Grandma Johnson shrugged again and stopped playing with the beads on her bracelet. “That’s what people said. No one could ever agree as to exactly why but most everybody blamed the house. They thought there was something unnatural inside that drove the McClintock’s out.
“Like?” Mallory leaned forward eagerly. Grandma rolled her eyes.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mallory,” she bit her thin pink lips in concentration and began to count on her withered fingers. “Some one said McClintock broke ground on an old Tongva holy site and the ghosts of their warriors nearly killed them for it. Other people said it was the immigrants who died building the rail road that got McClintock his fortune, coming for revenge. One kid thought it was just an evil house, that the barrier between hell and earth was just a little bit thinner than it was everywhere else.”
“What do you think?”
Grandma Johnson rolled her wheelchair back just a hair and stared out the window on to the busy street below. “I don’t think about it much, if I can help it. If you think about it too much, you remember than everyone of us is standing on stolen land, land people killed and died for. I imagine if haunting happened, it would be happening all over the world, not just one run down old house. It’s never just one house, one family that has to pay for that kind of thing.”
“Okay,” Mallory said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. Grandma Johnson arched a snow white eyebrow at her and glared hard.
“Don’t hang around the McClintock place,” she warned. “Even if there’s no such thing as ghosts, there’s broken glass and rusty nails and a bunch of crap you could hurt yourself on. Don’t you ever go in there, understand?”
“Understood, grandma,” Mallory said, slipping out the door.
That night Mallory stood in front of the McClintock place wearing her pink hoodie, gripping a kitchen knife in her pocket. Nobody saw her as she pushed past the brambles and the garbage people left on the lawn. Someone long ago kicked in the door and stole the knobs from out of their sockets. Mallory stepped into the house carefully, using the light of her phone to guide her way.
Grandma Johnson was right. There was broken glass everywhere. The walls had been stripped bare, only the vague tatters of dirty pink wall paper remained. Someone spray painted the N word just above the foyer. Mallory wished she had something to cover it up.
She walked slowly threw the house, waiting for something to show itself. She could hear it creak and moan around her, hear the scurrying of rats and mice and any number of bugs behind old broken furniture. There was a nest of pigeons in the window about the staircase but nothing she’d call “unnatural”.
Mallory hesitated at the stairs. Perhaps the ghosts of Tongva warriors and murdered railway works liked a view. Demons definitely would, having spent most of their lives beneath the earth. Perhaps the stairs would collapse right when she got to the middle and drag her down into the basement and no one would ever find her body because she promised her grandmother she wouldn’t mess around in the McClintock place.
Swallowing, Mallory jumped up the stairs as quick as she could, clinging to the first door way she reached. She looked back over her shoulder to see the stairs still in place, only the dust disturbed by her movement. The room whose door she clung to was empty as the others, filled only with moonlight and scraps of trash, candy wrappers and needles and dead leaves. Mallory turned and wandered through the long hallway. She looked in on every room and found much of the same. Maybe there were a few blankets in one, or broken furniture or a pile of bottles but no ghosts or demons.
She found a bed in the room with the balcony that looked like it had been slept on recently. There was also a bright pink bra on the floor and a crust covered spoon.
Mallory didn’t look to see what was in the basement. She leapt down the stairs again, out of the door and back into her own apartment where her mother and grandmother laid still asleep in their beds.
She looked at the McClintock place again, weeks later, years later, for the rest of her life. She never went inside again though. She never stood outside the yard with the other children to debate what she did not wish to know.
If you liked this and help support my writing, please download To Move On, an original short story I wrote for a contest where winning is determined by downloads! It’s fun! It’s FREE! It deals in the nature of loss and what it means to be an independent person!