This House is Haunted, Let’s Drink Beer
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Sentiment"
Originally featured on 11-20-2008
As part of our series "Holiday Fiction Drive (The Things Holidays Drive People To, The Things Holiday People Drive)"

By the third night in the Old Priest house, Lisa and Desiree had trouble sleeping. They called it the Old Priest house because their favorite beer was called Old Priest, and they had brought along four six-packs of Old Priest in a duffle bag to make their stay at the house more enjoyable. And because they had to give it a name. The house was built around the beginning of the nineteenth century, and that was all Lisa and Desiree knew about its history. Their ignorance was an ingredient in this.

The joke of the evening was “Shhh, did you just hear something?” followed by a tensed silence and then one of the girls lunging and pouncing on the other girl’s shoulder, and then screaming and laughing and cussing. They alternated. The more routine the joke became, the funnier it became. And the scarier.

Lisa was flossing her teeth with the bathroom door cracked open when the ghost surfaced from the bathroom mirror and floated up to the ceiling, its bloated, cracked white face big like a balloon.

Lisa hated the sensation of shivering. She couldn’t remember whether she hated it because someone in her childhood had told her that it meant poisonous ants were rushing into her body to colonize her insides, or if her reasons for abhorring it were more arcane, implying sophistication. She hated shivering more than she hated the sting of a hypodermic needle, and receiving shots still made her cry at the age of thirty-three. She hated shivering more than she hated to vomit.

Lisa shivered, not in a manner that she had ever shivered previously. The shiver was prolonged, and did not seem to end at any moment. It began both on the surface of her shoulders and inside her chest, where her bones were. Her chest was only the movement of air and the rush of heat out of her body. Her arms vanished inside the shiver, one muscle at a time, and then it moved into her stomach and she though she would fall.

The ghost remained calmly leaning against the ceiling with its peeling, yellow eyes.

“Leese?” Desiree called from the stairwell with levity in her voice.

The sagging white balloon face with contracting eyes was not just on the ceiling. It was in Lisa’s knees and lower torso, sucking the air out of her spine. Its vacant eye sockets and yellow lips enveloped her.

Desiree found Lisa curled over the bathtub lip with purple, dotty skin, a splotch of white toothpaste sliding across her left knee. Shaking. Not responsive. Eyes turned up.

Desiree wrapped her friend in a towel and an hour later they were kicking back Old Priests and laughing at nonsense.

Desiree asked Lisa what the hell had happened to her face. From her forehead extending down to the nape of her neck, her skin was freckled with glassy red globules the size of grains of salt. Every couple minutes, several of them would flicker out and reappear somewhere else on her face, like a cartoon of the solar system. Lisa shrugged, not knowing what Desiree was talking about and refusing to look in a mirror.

The house sunk into the ground. It happened overnight. Neither girl noticed it happen. When they woke up, they were buried beneath a mile of earth.

All electricity was out. Red bubbles flew around the hallway and bedrooms like flies, and they shone enough light to see where the floor was. They were not insects. They were no bigger than constituent blisters of a minor sunburn from a day at the beach. The red bubbles of light had undoubtedly been born on Lisa’s face and detached themselves during the night. The light was not enough to locate the walls. Or the ceiling.

Lisa and Desiree walked elbow in elbow down the stairs, one at a time. Both ladies uttered in unison, “Shhh, did you just hear something?”

Lisa’s first objective was to find their way to the refrigerator and take stock of their provisions. Desiree’s first destination was the front door to prove to herself that they were, in actuality, underground. Their elbows would not disengage.

“I mean to ask, why did you pass out in the bathroom?” said Desiree.

Lisa said nothing.

A red bubble flew between their faces for only an instant. The instant was not enough time for them to both see each other and establish eye contact. Lisa saw Desiree’s face, and Desiree searched the whites of Lisa’s eyes, and then there was only the floor.

Their forearms clenched, small bones and tendons grinding against each other, pulling in opposing directions, and then both intents softened to a consensus. If another red speck were to fly between them, they would both register a shared smile.

Their elbows pointed in the same direction.

A priestly confession was in order.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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