“Mrs. Amy Crawford?”
A woman in a red dress looked up at the bespectacled young man wearing white coveralls. He was holding a folder.
She was sitting in a waiting room with creamy white walls. The floor was tiled with green and white marble. There was a desk in the corner and rows of brown chairs like the one she was sitting on, but she was alone in the room.
There was a huge window with a clear view of the gardens. Outside, she could see people dressed in blue jumpsuits. Some sat in cane chairs, while others were ambling around slowly. Close to them were a few men and women dressed in white coveralls, just like the man standing before her.
He smiled. “Dr. Conway will see you now. Come with me please?”
She nodded and picked up her handbag. “Thank you.”
He led her through a wide corridor lined with brown doors, and more green and white marble tiles. He stopped at a door with a bold nameplate that read ‘Dr. R. Conway’.
The young man knocked twice. He didn’t wait for a response before turning the handle and entering. Inside, Amy saw an elderly man sitting in a leather armchair behind a desk. She guessed that he must have been in his early seventies because of the white and grey hair on his head, and in his beard and moustache. For a man of his age, she was surprised to find that he was not wearing glasses.
As they came in, the old man stood up. He left his seat behind his table and approached her with an outstretched hand. “Good day, Mrs. Crawford,” he said in a clear voice.
Amy shook his hand. He had a strong grip, which again surprised her.
“I’m glad that you could make it on such short notice,” he said, before waving at the leather sofa close to his desk. “Please, sit down.” He nodded at the young bespectacled assistant, who went to stand to the side of the room.
Once they had both settled into the sofa, he turned to face her. “First, I have to thank you for coming here so quickly.”
Amy nodded. “Once I saw your message, I came as quickly as I could.”
“Yes, I appreciate that. I know how busy your work at the bank can be. I will do my best not to take up much of your time.”
“Does this have to do with my husband, John?”
“Mrs. Crawford, I’ll get to that in a moment. I just want you to—”
“Please don’t avoid the question,” Amy interrupted. “I’d appreciate if you could just tell me what I need to know, Doctor. Does this have to do with my husband?”
“Mrs. Crawford,” the doctor began, placing both hands neatly in his lap. “You can rest assured that our clinic is going to give you the best service possible. We don’t want—”
“Is it about him?” Amy repeated.
He hesitated. “Yes.”
Dr. Conway searched her face. He could see the lines of worry etched into it. He cleared his throat. “The last time you were here was when your husband was admitted.”
“Yes, two weeks ago. They wouldn’t let me come visit him!”
“It wasn’t safe for him to receive visitors, I’m afraid. But since then, I have been giving you regular updates on his condition.”
“You haven’t been telling me much,” Amy quipped. “All I’ve heard from you is the same old response—he’ll be okay, he’ll be fine. Nothing tangible or concrete.”
Dr. Conway nodded. “That’s because there hadn’t been any remarkable improvements. Until now.”
Amy sat up on the sofa. “Improvements? Did you just say there have been remarkable improvements?”
“Mrs. Crawford, please I need you to understand that—”
“For goodness sake, Doctor, answer me!” Amy cut in. “Why are you sitting on the fence like this?”
Amy couldn’t say what it was that she saw in his eyes. Perhaps it was a glint of surprise or a brief wave of embarrassment. “I’m not Mrs. Crawford.”
“Then go ahead and give me the details. I need to get back to work as soon as possible. I don’t have time to waste here listening to your excuses.”
The doctor nodded hastily. “Yes, yes, I understand. I’ll cut to the chase.”
“As I was saying, we have noticed some remarkable improvement. Your husband can now communicate with us.”
“Really? Can I see him?”
“All in good time. I need to clarify a few matters with you first.”
Amy jumped up off the sofa. “What? What do you want to clarify? You said he’s showing remarkable improvement, didn’t you? What’s going on here?”
The assistant took a couple of steps forward, but the doctor raised a hand. The doctor then rose to his feet. “Okay, Mrs. Crawford. We’ll take you to see him.”
“Finally,” Amy huffed. If the doctor had noticed the hint of sarcasm, he didn’t show it. Rather, he led the way out of his office, followed closely by Amy and the assistant.
They walked down the corridor until they reached an unmarked door. The assistant brought out a key-card and swiped it over a small screen on the wall. The screen flashed white before turning green. There was a short buzz, then a click. The assistant opened the door and they all went inside.
On a bed lay a man. Amy saw that he had restraints on his wrists and ankles.
She turned to the doctor. “What’s this? I thought you said he’d improved? Why is he still restrained?”
“His improvement doesn’t mean that he’s fit to have his restraints removed, Mrs. Crawford,” the doctor explained. “We have to leave them on for his own safety.”
Amy opened her mouth to comment but then decided against it. She turned to look at her husband instead. John had stubble on his face and his hair looked uncombed. He was wide awake and staring at them with eyes that were unusually large.
Amy stretched out her hands as she stepped towards him. The assistant hurried to intervene, but the doctor held him back. “It’s alright, Thomas,” the doctor said quietly. “Let her go to him.”
Amy moved forward. Her hands were still outstretched. She was smiling. “Baby, honey, it’s me, Amy.”
John stared at her for a while before he replied, “Amy.”
She smiled and nodded. She took another step closer to him. “Yes, it’s Amy.”
“Amy,” John repeated.
She turned to Dr. Conway and Thomas. “He can talk. He can talk!”
Dr. Conway nodded.
Amy approached her husband’s bed. “Yes, yes, it’s me. You’re talking, honey!”
Amy looked back at the doctor. “Doctor, can he be released now?”
The doctor shook his head. “Not yet, I’m afraid.”
She felt her body grow hot. “Not yet? But he’s fine, Doctor. He’s doing okay!”
Dr. Conway shook his head firmly. “He only came out of his hallucinations today, Mrs. Crawford. We need to keep him under observation for a little while longer.”
“Doctor, you should let him—” Amy stopped when she heard her name.
She turned to see her husband staring at her. “Yes, darling, I’m right here!”
“Are you still in that house?”
“You mean our house? Of course I am. I’m there with our kids. We—”
“Leave that house now,” John cut her short. “Leave, take the kids, find somewhere else to stay. Leave now before it’s too late.”
Amy stared at her husband. “But where do we go?”
“Find anywhere else to stay, Amy,” John said. “Do whatever you can to get out. Leave that house now.”
Amy was distraught and confused. “But I don’t understand, darling. Why should we leave? It’s our house.”
“Just do as I’ve said, Amy. Leave that house immediately. Do you hear me?”
“But where else can we go?”
“Just do it,” John insisted. “Leave that house now!”
Amy felt a hand on her arm. She jumped and turned. It was Dr. Conway. “Do you know the house he’s referring to?”
Amy nodded. But before she could respond, John called out. “Doctor, of course my wife knows the house I’m referring to. It’s the same house I worked so hard to buy for my family.”
“But the kids, John,” Amy said. “And all our belongings. How can we move out just like that?”
“Amy,” John pleaded. “Just look at me. I’m here because of that house and whatever’s in it. Leave now before it’s too late.”
“But John,” Amy said. “All our life savings are in that house. And the mortgage! How can we abandon all that?”
“Forget about life savings, Amy, and forget about the mortgage as well. Take the kids and leave quickly.”
“John, you can’t be serious! Just think for a while. That isn’t just any house—it’s our house, with all our savings tied into it. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
John shouted. “Do as I say and leave it all behind!”
“But John,” Amy frowned in confusion.
All of a sudden, John started screaming in anger. “Leave! Leave the house, leave!”
“Please, Mrs. Crawford,” Dr. Conway grabbed her arm. “We have to leave. Please.”
“Just wait,” Amy protested, trying to take her arm back. She tried to pull out of his grip but the doctor held on tightly.
“We have to leave now,” the doctor insisted.
As she was being led away, Amy turned to look back at her husband.
“Do as I’ve said, darling,” John begged. “Please, leave that house.”
Amy was shaking her head as the three of them returned to the doctor’s office. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I swear.”
“Are you sure?” Dr. Conway asked as he led her to the sofa. “Are you really sure about that, Mrs. Crawford?”
“Sure? Of course I’m sure. That house is where John has always wanted us to live as a family. How can he suddenly decide that we should leave it?”
“That is one of the questions I had wanted to ask you earlier,” the doctor said. “You see, he was very insistent that we contact you, immediately.”
“What did he say exactly?”
“The same thing he just told you, Mrs. Crawford—that you should vacate your house straight away.”
Amy sighed. “I don’t know what to say. It was never supposed to turn out like this.”
Dr. Conway leaned forwards. “You remember the state your husband was in when he was brought here, don’t you?”
“And now he’s talking, begging. Surely, there’s something you can do about his demands.”
Amy hesitated. “I don’t know how to say this, but if John wants us to leave the house, then that means he’s given up on his dream.”
“It’s the house, Doctor. That house has always been his dream.”
“What do you mean?”
“John was just a little boy when he first saw that house. He told me that he must have been seven or eight years old. He would look at it every day on his way to and from school. He told me later that even at that young age, he was convinced that it was the house he wanted to buy and live in.”
“At such a young age?” Dr. Conway asked. “That’s quite an unusual behaviour for a young child.”
“It was an obsession.”
“Maybe he was too mature for his age, or something might have piqued his interest.”
Amy nodded. “Later on, I discovered that the house had a name.”
“A name—the house had a name.”
“How does a house have a name?”
“That house was the talk of the town. They called it the ‘The Demon’s House’.”
Dr. Conway exchanged glances with Thomas, who opened his folder and retrieved a pen from his pocket to start taking notes. “The Demon’s House? That’s pretty odd, don’t you think? I mean, giving a house that sort of name.”
“I know. Everyone knows that demons haunt people, only ghosts haunt places—but this was a different case. Apparently, the house was haunted by a demon.”
“A haunted house, Mrs. Crawford?”
“Yes, that was what people believed. But you know that nothing people say can drive away a man on a mission—especially not a man like John. When John was a young man—before all this—he joined the army. Much later, he became a county commissioner.”
“Your husband was in the military? He must have been well-disciplined and diligent.”
Amy nodded with a smile. “Yes, Doctor. John is all that and more. In fact, that was one of the reasons why he went for the house, despite its reputation. He’s not the type who buys into stories about spirits, ghosts or demons. Never.”
In the background, Thomas seemed surprised and quickly scribbled something down.
“He is and has always been a trustworthy man who spent a lot of time being responsible for others. At one point, he had as many as seven hundred people reporting to him. You can’t successfully lead that many people if your beliefs are skewed around the supernatural and superstition.”
“No, you’re right. There’d be the risk of making decisions for the wrong reasons and losing the respect of his colleagues and subordinates.”
“That never happened to John. He was always in charge and never disappointed his superiors, colleagues and subordinates. Because of the nature of his assignments and postings, John had to move around a lot—he was often away from this town, even outside the country. But he never forgot that house he loved. And when we moved back here to Brentwood, it was as if the stars had aligned themselves for his sake.”
“It was like fate was working for John. In a stroke of luck, the house was put up for sale. That was it, Doctor—the house he had always wanted was now finally going to be his.”
“Like a dream come true?”
“Yes, just like a dream come true. In fact, John said he was sure that it was fate. He bought the house and we moved in, with our three boys. We sank all our life savings into it and still needed a mortgage to buy it. But John was living his dream, the American dream—before it turned into a nightmare.”
“How could the house be the stuff of nightmares? You said it was John’s dream house, so surely it was beautiful?”
“Yes, it is. But we didn’t realise that it had something living inside it—something much older than the house, something not from this world.”
“You mean a ghost?”
“No, much worse than a ghost, Doctor. A demon.”
“I see. And who was the first to notice this evil spirit—you or John?”
“John,” Amy replied. “Funny, isn’t it? He’s the one who first sees the house, falls in love with it, and does everything to buy it. Then he’s the first one to notice something is wrong with it.”
“When did he notice this?”
“According to John, it started shortly after we moved in. In the beginning, the strange incidents happened so quickly that only a keen mind would observe them—a keen and trained mind like John’s. He didn’t want to frighten us, so he kept it to himself, perhaps hoping to find a logical explanation.”
“What sort of strange incidents?”
“Well, he started to hear noises when he was alone in the house. I’d be out at work whenever it happened, and the kids would be at school. He’d hear the doors swing open, and the floorboards creak as if someone was stepping on them—then he even heard footsteps, all giving the impression that someone else was there when the house was supposed to be empty. John simply rationalised that those noises were common for an old house like that, especially a three-storey wooden building.”
“He didn’t suspect anything, like haunting?”
Amy shook her head. “Not at first, no. But after a while, it was more than just noises. Things became more sinister. John said he couldn’t just explain what was happening, as much as he tried. He couldn’t blame it on a sudden gust of wind or century-old timber expanding and contracting in the harsh Pittsburgh weather.”
“What about you and the kids?” Dr. Conway asked. “Did any of you notice anything unusual?”
“Yes, we began to notice strange things too. That was when John opened up and finally told us about the things that he had seen too.”
“What else was happening?”
“Objects would move on their own. Things were no longer where we left them. I recall one time when we woke up to find all the lights on and the radio downstairs on full blast. It was as if somebody was playing mischievous games with us.”
“And this time, you and the kids saw this too?”
“Yes, but we found it more peculiar rather than terrifying. Then it went on like that for several weeks. I guess we thought that somehow they would simply go away. But we were so wrong. The disturbances never stopped. With each recurring incident, we started getting the distinct impression that we were not alone in that house.”
“Yet you couldn’t just leave, could you? Not with all your savings gone.” the doctor quipped.
“That’s right,” Amy agreed. “But aside from that, it was John’s pride and joy. How could he walk away from his dream house because of what we couldn’t explain? That isn’t to say there weren’t any plausible explanations. Trust John, the ever-analytical man he is—there always had to be a logical explanation. It wasn’t until much later that we saw things we couldn’t dismiss or explain away.”
“Did the incidents become more frequent or more severe?” the doctor asked.
“I think both, because the spirit suddenly became bolder and more vicious.”
“Bolder and more vicious?”
“Yes. The first member of our family to be attacked was our youngest son, Robin. He was only eleven years old at the time. Robin was always such a happy and playful boy, but suddenly he had become withdrawn and would no longer sleep in his bed. No matter how much we pressed him, he wouldn’t tell us what was wrong. When he started insisting on sleeping in the closet, John decided to take drastic measures.”
“It was drastic for John—it went against everything he’d always stood for. John called his family’s priest. He invited him over to come and bless Robin’s room and the closet.”
“So, he believed that there was something behind Robin’s abnormal behaviour?”
“Yes, and he wasn’t going to take any chances. But when the priest came to bless his room, Robin grew furious and refused to let the priest in—he even blocked the doorway and wouldn’t budge. Then things got worse.”
“Well, all our mirrors shattered at the same time. Then the smell of sulphur came from out of nowhere, and a thick black fog started seeping throughout the house.”
“Do you mean smoke?”
“No, Doctor, it was black fog. If it was smoke, there would have been a fire. But there was never a flame in sight. The fog would simply appear in the house, then disappear so mysteriously.”
“That is very unusual, Mrs. Crawford. Very unusual indeed.”
“Yes, it was very unusual—but that was not all. Sometimes we’d feel something or someone scratch us while we slept. When we woke up in the mornings, we’d have marks all over our bodies. I think it was around that same time that we first saw the foul-smelling black liquid on the walls.”
“Yes, splashed all over our walls. John took a sample of it to a lab to have it analysed.”
“And you got a rational and logical explanation?”
“That’s what we hoped for. But the lab technicians couldn’t determine the origin of the liquid; it was unlike anything they had ever seen before.”
The doctor shifted in his seat. “You mean that it doesn’t exist, this black liquid?”
“Possibly, Doctor—or maybe it was not from this world. Anyway, we eventually forgot about the liquid. And just like other mysterious things that were happening in the house, we never mentioned it to anyone. But over time, the attacks were so unbearable that I had to be admitted to your psychiatric care unit.”
Dr. Conway sat up straight. “You remember your time here as a patient?”
Amy smiled sadly, then nodded. “Yes, Doctor, I remember. The demon had messed up my mind so badly that I could no longer concentrate on anything. It was so bad that I couldn’t go to work anymore. And my three boys? They had to drop out of school while I got help. But when I was admitted, the psychiatrists discovered nothing was wrong with me. I was in perfect condition.”
Dr. Conway rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s pretty much the same thing that happened to your husband here. Even though he was brought in delusional, incoherent and paranoid, we couldn’t find anything wrong with him.”
“How would you, Doctor? Whatever is in that house messes with your mind and your soul. You medical experts aren’t trained to understand such things, are you?”
“Demons and spirit possessions?” Dr. Conway shook his head. “No, that’s not our forte.”
“And that is precisely why we had to contact a demonologist.”
“Yes, right after I was discharged. John couldn’t stand it anymore. The attacks had taken such a terrible toll on our family. Do you know what that does to a man who loves his family as much as John does? John didn’t care about his logic or principles anymore. His family was being threatened and needed a solution fast.”
“So he went for a demonologist?”
“Yes, a friend of his recommended a demonologist to him. His name was Adrian Bain. It was only when Adrian came into the picture that we seemed to have found some respite.”
“How was that possible?”
“With Adrian’s help, we discovered a small crawl space that was full of objects that had been taken from each of us after moving in.”
“What sort of objects?”
“The demon had stolen from all of us—toy cars, old books, pairs of shoes, old socks, even a couple toothbrushes.”
“So you were grateful for Adrian’s assistance?”
“Yes, in some ways.”
“Why? Didn’t he help you with the demon in the house?”
“He did the best he could. But things didn’t end there. Over the course of two years, the spirit had grown even more violent. We had to arrange an exorcism for the entire house.”
“Yes—in fact not just one, but several.”
“That must have been very tasking on you all.”
“You can say that again. An exorcism isn’t something that is easily granted by the Catholic church. Before one is performed, they insist on a thorough examination of the building—and even after the examination, they investigate the validity of your claims.”
“All to establish whether the house was haunted in the first place?”
“Not just haunted, but possessed by a wicked spirit. But we weren’t really bothered. You see, we felt like having priests visit the house several times would help our reputation. People were already gossiping that we had made it all up to seek attention. Can you imagine that, Doctor? Seeking attention?”
“Well, you can’t blame them.”
“But we had a lot of concrete evidence to back us up! And beyond the evidence, John deserved to be heard. He has certainly earned a great deal of respect from all his years of public service. His word should be taken as genuine and honest.”
“Should be, Mrs. Crawford, but it might not always be,” Dr. Conway observed. “The public can be a funny place to air such views, you know?”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“But how did the exorcisms turn out? Did any of them work?”
“Well, I can’t say anymore. I assumed that everything was okay after the last exorcism was performed—only for John to break down two weeks ago. That was why I had to rush him here.”
Dr. Conway nodded. “Yes, I know. He was really in a terrible state when he came in, but thankfully he’s much better now.”
“Is he? Do you think he might relapse?”
“No, I see no evidence to suggest that, Mrs. Crawford. You did want him to be released earlier, why are you suddenly hesitant?”
“I’m not, I just don’t know what to think anymore. Maybe John is right. We might have to leave that house, since that’s where the problem lies. But I can’t help wondering how we could even manage that financially. We’re deep in debt and have no savings left. I just can’t figure out what would be best for our family.”
“Well, that’s a decision you and your husband will have to think about carefully. I really can’t advise you on what to do in that regard.”
“Of course, I understand.” Amy nodded. “Are we done here?”
“Yes, I think so, Mrs. Crawford. Thomas here has noted your full story. That will help me and my team make the necessary evaluations of your husband. Once we have monitored him for another couple of day, we will decide if he is fit to return home.”
Amy stood up. “Thank you. So, you’ll call me once you’ve made a decision?”
“Of course, Mrs. Crawford.”
“Then I’ll be expecting your call. I have to be running along now,” Amy said and headed for the exit.
After Amy had left, Thomas finally spoke up. “Doctor, about what Mrs. Crawford was saying—do you really think it’s possible that a demon could be responsible for her husband’s present condition?”
Dr. Conway shrugged. “I don’t know what to say. But from a professional point of view, I don’t believe a word she said. All I know is that something happened that brought the head of the Crawford family to our psych ward. We still have our jobs to do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see the signs? She’s in a far worse mental state than her husband!”
“Absolutely. She is delusional and paranoid. She was once a psychiatric patient here, after all.”
“I reviewed her file this morning, and they said she kept repeating that their house was demon-infested, screaming that her husband should get them out of there.”
“Yet somehow, she and her husband have switched places! Now he’s the one under observation and he’s the one pushing for them to leave the house.” The doctor sighed heavily while shaking his head in disdain. “Demon-possessed house indeed! It’s only a matter of time before her work at the bank begins to suffer. And trust me, such an organisation will soon notice a change in her performance, especially when she starts acting disoriented and turning up late.”
Thomas ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m confused here, Doctor. What do we do now?”
“First things first, we call child services to take custody of their sons. Those innocent children must be protected. Once that is done, we can arrange for Mrs. Crawford to be brought in for treatment as well.”
Thomas shook his head. “What a pity. Such a nice family surrounded by such delusion and paranoia.”
Outside, Amy had gotten into her car. She thought of John and her children for a while. Then she thought about their house.
We have to leave that house quickly, before the demon harasses us again, she decided, finally.
She turned on the engine and started driving out of the car park.
Suddenly, she heard a noise behind her. It sounded like someone giggling. Shocked, she stepped on the brake and looked behind, only to see her bag slide down from the seat and onto the floor.
There was no one else in the car.
She continued driving, then heard another giggle and a loud cough. She stopped the car abruptly and spun around, her eyes wide with confusion and fear.
Again, there was no one there.
She cautiously turned around and kept driving. Every now and then, she glanced into the rear-view mirror, as if expecting to see someone in the backseat.
Amy was approaching an intersection when she noticed that the handle of her door was moving, like someone was trying to open it from the outside. She furrowed her brow in disbelief. Suddenly the door burst open.
Amy shrieked. In her shock, she didn’t realise that she had slammed down on the accelerator, sending her car hurtling forward. She didn’t see that the traffic lights had turned red. Nor did she see the heavy truck driving into the intersection.
The accident that followed was fatal.
By the time the paramedics arrived, it was already too late. Amy lay lifeless, bleeding behind her steering wheel. Her car was a mangled wreck.
The few eyewitnesses could not understand what had happened.
What had made her suddenly accelerate without warning?
Was she trying to run away from someone?