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the moon climbs high over the dead oak tree

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The old house on the end of Juniper Lane, well past the town limits, sat far from the road. The rusted iron fence that bordered the property was the only thing visible from the street. The juniper trees blocked the house from view, the only thing visible was the singular spiral tower that breached the treeline.

Even without the house in full view Maria could see it in her mind. The house wasn’t as old as some of the structures in New Mexico, but it stood for at least one hundred and fifty years. It once belonged to an eccentric man who moved west and brought his east-coast aesthetics with it. When Maria closed her eyes she could see the Victorian building, the ornate spirals and unnecessary molding. She could see the way the porch was in disrepair, the paint faded from the wood shingles. It looked like Hollywood’s idea of a haunted house.

Hollywood wouldn’t have been far off.

Maria had dreamed of the house for weeks, nightmares and pleasant dreams and those mundane dreams that fell somewhere in between. The house called to her. Even now, awake and the middle of the morning, she felt the pull of the house. 

She drove her pickup across town and parked at the empty lot across from the property. Blocked by trees, kept out by a fence, she kept her eyes on the lone iron gate that allowed entry.

There were rumors, of course there were, that the house was haunted. They said that a man killed his wife in the house, a woman wandered in to shelter from a storm and never left, a brother and sister went in and neither came out. No one agreed, really, on the specifics, but everyone agreed that the house was full of something evil.

From her view, Maria had to disagree. There were spirits there, a lot more than she had anticipated when she first got the dream, but none were malicious.

Maria had just about steeled herself up to cross the street and enter the house when a shadow fell across the gate. She saw the outline of a man, far back on the lawn, carrying a ladder.

She got back into her truck and drove away.

Spiritual channellings were better done alone.

-

That night Maria dreams about a woman who wandered in through a winter storm and the handsome man who welcomed her in. She had been lovely, a fire burned in her brown eyes and her spirit could be seen in her every movement.

He had been enamored from the start.

The storm had come out of nowhere, the usual warning signs had not been there. She had been walking into town, her art and her wares in a basket on her hip, when the snow had started. She had pushed on, closer to town than to her home, but the snow was too heavy and the wind too strong. She had walked up to the gates of the odd house, one she had walked by often. She entered through the gates, the wind blew so that she could barely get the gate open and a loud clang that occured as soon as she was through. She could barely see the house in front of her, the snow obscured the house. She could see the dark outline, the line of trees which surrounded it.

She made her way to the front porch. She fought the wind and fought to keep her basket at her side.

The porch gave a reprieve to the wind but did nothing to protect from the cold. She thought that it would be enough for her to survive this. She set her basket down and moved to huddle in a corner.

The door opened, a warm orange glow escaped the crack in the door. Even that small glow filled her with warmth. The door opened further.

The man at the door was slim, taller than her. Even with that she did not feel afraid, did not feel that he was a threat. His eyes were as warm as the warm, deep and dark in its depth. His skin was dark, not the tan of a working man but a natural hue. His smile was charming.

She quite liked looking at it.

“Come in,” he said as he stepped back into the house. “It’s cold and you’ll catch your death.”

She smiled and stepped inside.

-

Maria did not walk from her apartment in town to the old house on Juniper Lane. The distance was too far and she had no desire to get hot and sweaty over a restless spirit. Especially when the spirit from the night before seemed fine, even content.

She parked her truck in the same spot as the day before, across the street and with a perfect view of the front gate. It was open today, propped with a brick so that it would not close in the wind. She watched as a young man with curly hair worked on the hinges of the gate. The sun gleamed off his hair, dark in spots and almost honey gold in others. His clothes were thin, patched, and obviously dirty.

He doesn’t notice her as she approaches. He barely looks up even when Maria is less than a foot away. He only acknowledged her once she was at the gate.

“You can’t go in there,” he said, not looking up from his work. He had a screwdriver in hand and he seemed to be fixing a hinge. “It’s private property.”

“Oh,” Maria replied as she stopped. “Yes, I know. I thought it was held in trust by a bank though. And that no one lived here.”

“It’s not,” the man replied, still focused on the hinge.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any harm. It’s just, well…” Maria trailed off, unsure if she should continue.

The man finally looked up at her hesitation. He was handsome, with a strong jaw and a smear of grease on his face. The sun hit his hazel eyes and Maria still wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to say.

“It’s just what?” The man asked, still crouched at the gate.

“It’s just, well, I’m a psychic and I’ve been dreaming about this house.”

“Well psychic,” the man said as he stood up. He took a step back into the yard. He reached forward to the gate. “This house has nothing for you. Go away, forget about it.” He closed the gate and latched it. “Just don’t come back.”

From her spot at the front gate Maria could see a basket of art on the porch, faded front the sun and the unforgiving passing of time. She swore she could still see snow on the art, snow and something that looked flecked with red.

-

Maria dreams of siblings, one that stayed behind and the two who were trapped. They lived not far from town, on one of the closest ranches. The twins and their brother were inseparable, but she and the younger brother would get up to mischief and her twin brother always tried to reign them in.

They craved adventure and they went to find it one night. She would have dreams about the old house down the road, their closest neighbor, and would often complain to her brothers that she only needed to see it and her dreams would stop.

She tried to convince her brothers to go with her. Her twin refused, afraid of the rumors surrounding the house. Her younger brother just nodded and accepted his fate. He would do anything for her and he would never leave her behind.

They left the house during the night, their parents in bed and their brother worried in his bedroom. They walked from the ranch, down the long drive to the small road lined with juniper trees. They walked down the road, each shivering but determined.

A coyote howled in the distance. Her younger brother jumped. She held his hand while they made their way down the road, path lit by the moon and the stars. The house grew in the distance. It wasn’t foreboding, even with the moon low behind the house casting a shadow.

Another coyote howled. Her brother squeezed her hand.

The front gate creaked as it opened, the hinge old and in need of repair.

They approached the house slowly, the brother in fear but she walked with a sense of awe. Her dreams were real. The house lay in front of her and she felt as if she knew every hallway, every door. She knew which floorboards to avoid and which window offered her the best view of the rose garden out back.

A light was on in the front window when they made their way to the porch. They could hear creaks from inside the house. In the near distance a coyote howled again. The door cracked open and a warm orange light cut through the darkness. The door opened further to reveal a man. He looked warm and cozy in his patterned sweater, a soft smile on his face.

“Come in,” he said as he stepped back into the house. “It’s dangerous at this time of night, you’ll meet your death.”

She returned the smile and moved toward the door. She felt a tug on her hand as her brother stayed still.

“Come on Michael,” she said with a smile as his grip faltered and she walked to the threshold. “We’ll call mom and dad.”

The orange light glowed in his honey gold curls. His hazel eyes were wide with fear. He nodded. He would never leave his sister behind.

-

Maria parked down the road from the house on Juniper Lane. The house in the distance looked the same as it had the day before, blocked by trees with a spiral just peeking out of the treeline with the full moon rising in the distance. It still didn’t feel haunted in the way she was used to, unhappy and unsettled. No, it felt full of light. She wanted to talk to the people there, wanted to understand why they never left.

She saw the man from the day before pruning the trees. She may not be able to enter the house, but she could ask at least person why he remained.

She left her truck and made her way down the street. She purposely walked along the gate until she was in front of the man.

“I thought I told you not to come back.” He put down his gardening shearers. 

Maria did not hesitate before she said, “I know you don’t want me at your house-”

“It’s not my house,” the man interrupted. Maria looked at him curiously. “It’s not my house, I just work here. I live in the caretakers house.”

“Oh,” Maria said. Her eyes drifted behind the man, towards the house, as if she could see through the trees and into the front door. “Oh, then can I talk to the owner? If I explain I’m sure he’ll let me in.”

“Oh he’ll let you in,” he said, tone bitter and pained. “And he’ll never let you back out again. I’m not joking here. You say you’re a psychic? Well, then you believe in all this shit. The rumors are true. This place is haunted. You go in and you never come out. The spirits don’t want you to talk to them, they want you to stay.” He picked up his shearers and snapped off a branch.

Maria looked at him fully. He was wearing the same clothes as the day before, just as threadbare, just as dirty. His handsome face was set in a scowl as he snapped at the tree.

She wasn’t sure what to say, didn’t know what could convince this man to let her through the gates. She settled on the truth.

“I know this place is haunted. I know that souls are trapped here. I’m not some girl playing a game. I know what I’m doing. I’m not some two-bit hack. I’m a real psychic.”

“So was my sister,” he said, eyes downcast and voice sad. “My sister had visions and she saw this house. She went in one night and never came out.”

Maria felt her heart stop. She couldn’t help the soft gasp that escaped. 

“So it’s true then,” she whispered. “You’re the boy from my dream. Michael.” 

Michael’s head snapped up at that. His gaze met hers. “If no one leaves, how are you here? I saw you enter the house.” 

“He let me go,” he said with a shrug.

“Who let you go? Why?”

He shrugged again. “I’ve already got my foot in the grave,” he said, avoiding the first question. “And he knows.”

“He knows what?”

“That I would never leave my sister.”

His small, broken smile at those words almost brought her to tears.

“Don’t you have anyone else?” She didn’t think before she asked.

Somehow, his smile cracked even more. “No one alive, not anymore.” His voice cracked.

Maria raised her arm to offer even the bare minimum of comfort. The man flinched back.

“Don’t cross the threshold,” he said as he stepped back. He kept talking as he moved further into the trees. “Don’t come back. Please.”

He disappeared behind the tree cover.

Maria stood there for a few minutes longer. She could still see his movements, vaguely. She could still feel the pull of the house. Finally, she sighed and turned. 

Somehow, the walk back to her truck felt like a lifetime.

-

Maria dreams of a man who bought a house, who believed everyone should follow his rules, who hurt his child, who killed his wife. She had four sons, three a spitting image of their father and one who was too sweet, too soft, too much like her.

They had moved to a large house surrounded by juniper trees on the edge of town, an easy drive to the military base and a perfect view of the odd Victorian manor next door. There was plenty of room for the boys to run around and plenty for her to do in the house. She wandered through the house daily, picking up after her boys, cleaning the dust off the windows, caring for her youngest son when he turned up with cuts and bruises.

She knew where they came from. She said nothing.

She never said anything. She watched her son limp around the house, watched his face bruise. She brought him ice and tucked him into bed and never said a word to him.

A black eye turned into a broken wrist turned into a bruised and swollen neck.

She ignored it until it was her sun dragged by the hair from the shed into the yard and to the porch, an anguished cry from the shed echoed through the night. She ignored it until her son was thrown down to the cement steps. She ignored it until his head bled.

She grabbed her husband’s hunting knife and ran outside. He blocked her easily and stole the knife.

The stab to the chest knocked her down with her son. She could barely hear his gasps. He grabbed her hand and they ran. They ran out the front gate. They ran to their neighbors house. They ran and her husband followed them, faster than them, stronger than them, not half dead like them.

He was at their backs when they reached the neighbor’s porch. The front door opened and a crack of orange light streamed through.

“Come in,” a man’s voice said from behind the door. “Come in and find peace as you flee from death.”

They fell through the front door, bloody and pale and gasping.

Her husband came in behind him.

He was met with a man with a charming smile and delight in his eyes.

“Hello Jesse,” the man said. “I think we’re going to have fun together.”

-

Maria left her truck at her apartment in the middle of the night and walked towards the old house on Juniper Lane. Her dreams had left her shaken, this was not the content ghosts or even the confused ones of the previous nights. This was not a haunted house that needed guidance so that the ghosts could move on. This was something bigger, something worse, something that was pulling her towards the house just after the witching hour.

Michael was not at the gate, not at this time of night. Maria felt odd at his absence, as if this now was the first sign that something was wrong.

The gate creaked on a damaged hinge as she opened it. 

The wind through the trees howled, high pitched and awful. It sounded like a scream on the wind. It sounded like pain and suffering and futility.

She made her way to the front porch. As she walked she felt as if someone was behind her, in pursuit and waiting in the shadows to attack. Her chest ached. She could see the basket flecked with blood, the light through the window as is silhouetted a long-haired figure.

She climbed the first step, the second. She stood in front of the front door as it creaked open, orange light spilling out.

“I told you not to,” Michael said, voice creaking. She could see his curly head as it laid on the floor of the emtry-way. She could make out his gaunt features, the gray hint to his skin. The orange light did nothing to add depth to his blank stare.

“Come in,” said the man who opened the door. Maria hadn’t seen him, too focused on the figure at his feet. His eyes were dark, deep and fathomless, consuming any and all light that touched it. He was thin, more skeletal than man. He was insubstantial. He was what had been calling to her, the voice telling stories, whispered lies and half-truths. “I hear you wish to speak to me. My name is Noah,” he smiled a cruel smile. “Come in. We’ll speak of the dead.”

The door shut behind her.