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House On The Edge Of Town

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EST. READING TIME

9 minutes
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It was a place people forgot about. In the end I was never sure what brought me to this place or where all the people I met came from. But in this place I did stay and these people I did meet. It was a dusty old joint, chairs of hard wood; dark mantels over unused fireplaces; flat mattresses strung up with rope; rusty kitchen sink, a small toilet room with a collapsed floor, and an outhouse in the back. It was said a poet lived here for twenty years until he met his end in the outhouse. The locals didn’t find him for over a month, no one thought to look in the shitter, yet, there he was with a roll of tissue clamped in his hand and the death mask on his face. He had mountains of paper stacked up in the main parlor, all with his poems written on them. It was said the next occupant used them all for kindling when lighting fires. Now that occupant was another story. He was the local constable. Pay for the position depended on how many people you brought into the local justice who had warrants out for them and how many people you threw out their homes for landlords who couldn’t collect rent. He was a bit in limbo as far as his status was concerned, he wasn’t law enforcement but fed off those at the bottom of the ladder incarcerating them or taking their possessions after he threw them out of their homes. Residents didn’t like them, cops didn’t respect them but they were elected to office every six years or so, often with no opposition. He bought his own uniform with a constable badge and all, carried a gun although he never learned how to use it. The constable never married, had no family left, and lived mostly alone. The great irony of it all was when the Sheriff showed up and posted a notice on his house, he hadn’t paid his taxes the whole time he was preying upon other folks. The Sheriff knocked on the door but no one answered. He went around back and found the Constable with the local undertaker having a good old time laying there naked in the grass.  The Sheriff looked at them, shook his head in amazement and went on his way. The next morning the constable took that gun he didn’t know how to use, sat on a chair in the parlor and put it in his mouth. He didn’t have to do that as the Sheriff never told anyone of what he saw, frankly, he didn’t care. The undertaker picked his body up and put on a grand funeral that no one attended.

Soon after the Constable was buried the house went up for Sheriffs sale and a man from out of town purchased the place. He painted the outside white and green, his wife planted flowers and a small garden that she kept up with quite well. Times were tough and a few town girls went missing, many thought they took off in search of a better life. No one saw them again nor did they ever write home to let their worried families know where they were. So overtime the man in the house began to seal off the old fireplaces and had a modern heater installed. The place was transformed. Two years went by and the couple seemed content in the place, he did odd jobs around town and made a name for himself as a trusted handyman. One day he showed up at the local police station and told the cops his wife had run off. He couldn’t tell them why, just that she was gone and he wanted to report her missing. Town folk searched far and wide in farm fields and woods and she was not found. Soon the flowers and gardens were overrun with weeds, grass a foot high around the place. He put the place up for sale and when it sold he never came back.

The local undertaker, John Underwood, purchased the place. Now you may remember he was a bit taken with the Constable back in the day. He lived in the place alone, closed his funeral parlor and spent the day bird watching and cultivating the garden during the summer. Neighbors would stop by and check on him, he was always in the back of the house and seemed to be talking to the air, smiling and on occasion was seen dancing. Underwood had become what was then known as a character in town. One day he was searching the attic and found a black book with over sixty poems written by the poet who once lived there.

He purchased a typewriter and put those poems in book form and out of his own pocket published the poems. In my Twilight by Jason Gibson became a good seller at the local market, almost a hundred copies sold. I am inclined to believe it was out of curiosity more than a love of poetry that the locals bought up the books. In some way, Underwood, had made the old poet immortal. The town folk were caught up in the poems, they were about the town and people in the town. They read about their ancestors and a few who were left alive. Underwood lived to be eighty years old, alone all of his life. The town folk looked upon him with favor and believed his eccentric behavior led a little color to the bland town. After he passed away the house stood empty for over a decade. Legend grew that the house was haunted by the Constable, the Poet, the Undertaker and at night some neighbors swore they could see young girls running around the outside of the house I tell you this because this is the reason I came to this house.

I grew up in this town and heard the stories of the house on the edge of town. After much thought I came to the conclusion that I should spend a night there. Time had passed the place by and I figured I had better do a little research instead of going by town legend. The local paper had its depository in the basement of the building they were located in. I spent a few days a week there researching. I found articles dating back to the first owner and the house was always referred to as the house on the edge of town. The house was built by an artist who furnished it sparingly in order to have studio room. Word leaked out to the local preacher that his daughter was spending much time at the artist’s house and one day he went to the house to check things out. He entered without knocking and to his anger witnessed his nineteen year old daughter posing naked on the floor and a nearly completed painting of her. According to the newspaper account he beat the artist with his walking stick so severely that he cracked the artist skull, broke his eye sockets and nose and kept on beating him till he was dead. Just a month later the preacher was hanged and his daughter married a young missionary man and moved away. Shortly thereafter the poet purchased the house and lived there with no apparent problems until he died in the outhouse. According to county records his cause of death was a heart attack. I have already spoke of the Constable and Underwood. There were reports of three missing girls and a missing wife about the time the handyman lived in the house. No record of him or his wife ever turned up again and all three girls were considered runaways.  Now the two things that intrigued me the most were the sightings of the three girls and the Undertaker talking to the wind and dancing about the yard. I figured that if I spent a night there and witnessed anything I could write an article for the local paper about the house on the edge of town.

Upon my arrival at the house I found the front door unlocked and entered right away. The floors and old wooden furniture were covered in dust. I checked out the two bedrooms, both with beds tied up in rope and I decided right off I wouldn’t sleep on those beds that probably contained creatures I didn’t want on my body.

I climbed up to the attic and dug around a bit. Mostly odds and ends of the folks who had lived here. Sitting atop a small chest was a book, In My Twilight by Jason Gibson. Credit was given to Underwood for compiling the poems and the dedication page was a bit odd. Thanks to Jason who told me where to find them. No one in town had mentioned that dedication page but it may be why the book sold out. I went back downstairs and dusted off two chairs, sat down propped my feet up and began to read the book. Eight hours passed while I read that book and walked the back yard. I didn’t see anything at all. I didn’t talk to the wind or dance or see the three girls or any other things that might be considered ghosts. The verse of the poet did haunt me.

In My Twilight

It is in the twilight
I see those things
That don’t seem right.

As sunlight passes through
Windows and door
He paints the naked woman
Who sits on the floor.

As the sky turns black
He rushes through the door
His stick cracks cracks

In my twilight
It happens everyday
I know I will also never go away.

The house moaned in the wind and as the sun set I decided to leave this place. I hadn’t seen a dam thing. I put the book in my satchel and stepped out the front door when I heard a girl giggle. I turned and saw her on the floor and him painting her and as quick as I saw them three girls and a woman ran past me and around the house. An angry man with a rope around his neck ran into the house, I ran around back to see where the girls had gone. I didn’t see them, but I did see a middle aged man in a uniform dancing with an old man in the rear yard. I returned to the front porch and listened as a poet read his poem as if he was in front of a large audience. As twilight turned to darkness they all faded like the evening mist on a river. I never did write that article. I do believe some things are best left to legend.  

g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA. Nine collections of his poetry and fiction have been published.

Published on June 8th, 2018.