I guess everyone has heard about a Craigslist horror story, but no one expects to end up in one.
I’d been thinking about leaving the city life behind for a while now. I guess I couldn’t stand the bustle of the city anymore and longed for a more remote life.
I’d saved up quite a bit of money over the years and decided to buy a house. When I saw the prices though, my jaw dropped. I’d expected that buying a house was expensive, but I’d never thought THAT expensive.
In my desperation, I opened Craigslist. I didn’t expect to find anything there, but that’s exactly what I did.
The ad was as simple as it could be.
‘Small house for sale, way below market value’
I clicked on it in an instant. When I saw the price though, I was sure the seller had made a mistake. There was no way someone would sell a house that cheap.
The place looked decent from what I saw in the pictures. Eventually, I found the seller’s phone number and called him. I honestly expected the price to be a mistake. Hell, maybe it was all a scam.
Instead, I found myself on a call with a man named Wilbert Johnson. When he told me the place was still available, the first thing I asked about was the price. The old man assured me there was no mistake. It was an old house, he said, in the middle of nowhere and he wanted to get the sale over with as soon as possible.
There was a catch, though. He wanted the payment in cash only because he didn’t trust the banks or any of the real estate agents. Some other people had shown interest before me, he said, but they’d all gotten cold feet at the mention of this. I didn’t see a problem with it. Hell, things would be way quicker that way.
I guess that was my first mistake.
To make a long story short, a week later, on a Saturday morning, I found myself on the three-hour drive to Old Wilbert’s house. Which, I hoped, would soon be mine.
When I arrived, the old man greeted me with a bright smile.
He was a sturdy, hard man in his late fifties, from what I could tell.
“You Mark?” he asked as he reached out to greet me.
I nodded. “Yes, sir!”
“Well, that’s the place,” he said and stepped aside to allow me a better view of the small house.
I had a look around for a bit before I stepped inside. The moment I did, the old floorboards welcomed me with aloud creak. The moment it happened, an anxious expression washed over the man’s face.
“Guess you were right,” I said laughing, “the place’s pretty old. It sure has character though.”
When he heard that relief flooded over his face and his smile returned.
“Oh, that it has. Been living here for over thirty-odd years.”
“Now then, how come you’re selling it that cheap?”
The old man was quiet for a bit. His eyes wandered for a bit before he sighed.
“Tell you what, there’s no reason to keep it to myself. It’s because of Lisa’s disappearance.”
Another sigh followed.
“My wife, Elisabeth. Been almost two months now since she vanished. Walked right out that door over there and never returned. No one’s seen her, no one’s heard a thing. Just like that, vanished without a trace.”
“Shit, I’m so sorry. I’d no idea-“
“Nothing to do with you,” he cut me off. “Did everything I could, talked to the neighbors, then the cops. Hell, they searched half the dammed county, but they found nothing. I kept searching, but by now…”
His voice trailed off as he shook his head.
“Can’t keep living here. Everything reminds me off her. That painting over there, she drew it a good twenty years ago. See that table cloth? She bought it at a flea market a couple of years back. ‘Isn’t it beautiful, Wilbert?’ she asked. Been stuck with the ugly thing ever since. Whenever I see it, I can’t help but wonder where she went and what happened to her. It’s just too much,” he broke up, his voice trailing off.
I stood there, shuffling around, not sure what to say. I was never good at those things, people things, I mean.
After a few moments, I opened my mouth when I heard something. It was a small quiet sound, like scratching.
In a moment, Old Wilbert stepped up to an old radio and turned it on.
I stared at him as the music drowned out the sound.
“Sir, what are you-?”
When he noticed my stares, he looked embarrassed and turned the radio back off again.
“Well, that’s another reason the place’s so cheap.”
“So what’s causing it?”
I stared at him, but his expression didn’t change. I opened my mouth to enquire what the hell was up with that when he burst out laughing.
“Goddammit, I’m pulling your leg! Its rodents! We’ve had problems with the damned beasts for half a decade now. Dunno where the buggers come from, but they sure are persistent. They’re digging through the dirt outside and crawl into the walls. Never been able to figure out how they do it. Might as well be a cat in there, too. Heard they sometimes crawl after mice or cat and end up getting stuck.”
I shrugged. “Well, I planned on renovating the place, anyway.”
“Remember you telling me about that. I’ve got quite a bit of junk stored up. Been planning to give the place a good old once-over myself, but with Lisa going missing and all that, I never had time to do it.”
With that, he led me to his garage and presented me with an assortment of tools and materials.
“Tell you what, I’ll add all of it to the house for free. God knows, I can’t take it with me anyway and I sure as hell won’t need it anymore. Take it as an apology for not telling you about the rodents beforehand.”
I thanked the old man wholeheartedly. Looking at the amount of stuff here, I might well be looking at half a grand, hell, maybe even more.
We talked more while the old man led me through the house. Here and there he stopped me and told me what sort of renovations he’d planned and gave me detailed advice. Start with the second floor, use this and that material, do this that way and so on. It sounded like solid advice and I could tell the old man knew what he was talking about.
Once the tour was over, we shook on the sale and I arranged to be back in a few days to finalize everything. The old man, in turn, told me he’d put together a little write up of all his renovation advice.
Once I was back, and I handed him the money, he sighed again.
“Guess there’s one last thing I’ve got to tell you. This place, well, it’s got a history.”
I looked up. First the rodents and now… what?
“It’s probably all nonsense,” he started shaking his head. “But Lisa always talked about that stuff. She said back in the day when folks still owned slaves, there’s been a lynching out here. Never gave much of a damn about those old tales, but…”
This time I couldn’t help but laugh. Was he pulling my leg again?
“Tell you what, I never believed in any of it, but Lisa swore she heard wailing and crying in the middle of the night. To be honest, I think it’s just those damned kids down by the creek?”
“There’s this old shack down by the creek, not too far from here. Some local kids, teenagers mostly, hang out there, getting drunk and causing all kinds of trouble during the night.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like anything I can’t handle.”
It was a few minutes later that we shock on the deal. The old man handed me his notes and told me he’d written down his phone number. If I had questions about the renovations, I should call him.
Once he’d driven off, I stared at what would be my new home.
Quite the place, I thought. Sure, I’d have to put in quite a bit of work, but there was no way I’d get a cheap property anywhere.
For the first couple of nights, I didn’t sleep in the place. There was still all the old man’s furniture in there. No, to feel comfortable here, I’d have to get rid of his stuff first.
To be honest, it felt weird, disposing of someone’s entire life and memories like that. Even worse was the dammed scratching. It was there again and again. Sometimes it was quiet, sometimes it was more frantic. Maybe there really was a cat stuck somewhere. I shuddered a bit. I liked cats, and I didn’t want to think about one of them suffocating in my walls.
The next day my friend Mike arrived. I’d told him about the house I was buying and he said he’d be happy to help me out with the renovations. To be honest, I think he wanted to get away from his wife and kids for a bit. Do some good old handy work and share a couple of cool ones with an old buddy.
“Well, it’s quite the place. You really got it that cheap?”
“Yeah, it’s because the place is haunted and there are mice in the walls… and rats and cats.”
Mike gave me a weird look.
“Come on in, I tell you all about it over a beer or two.”
As the two of us sat on the floor in what would one day be my kitchen, I told him all about Old Wilbert and the stories he’d told me.
As if to prove that I wasn’t bullshitting him, the frantic scratching started again for a moment. He listened intently.
“Doesn’t sound like mice to me. Could be rats, though. We’re better of getting some poison or call an exterminator.”
I considered it for a moment, but then I shook my head.
“If we get an exterminator, they’ll cover the entire place in chemicals or god knows what. I’d rather get started on the renovations.”
Mike shrugged. “Well, I warned you, don’t blame me if we find some giant rat colony in one of the walls here.”
We shared another beer before we started on the work.
There was a lot to do. The floorboards were old and rotten in many places. The wallpaper was stained and old-fashioned and some partition walls had to go, I decided. Either way, we had a busy few days ahead of us, hell maybe even a week.
It wasn’t long before we retorted to the old man’s method of turning on the radio. The scratching, while quiet, was still somewhat distracting.
Mike and I made some decent progress the first day. At first, he wanted to get himself a hotel room in the nearby town, but after a bit of back and force, he agreed to stay.
We spent the evenings talking about old stories from high school and college, and often Mike would tell me about his wife and kids. As much as he told me he was happy to have some time away, I could tell he missed them already.
During our third night at the place, he woke me up in the middle of the night.
“Dude, you hearing this?” he asked me in a quiet, hushed voice.
As I listened, I could hear the scratching, but there was something else. It was quiet, coming from quite a distance, but I was sure I heard it. It sounded as if someone was wailing or crying.
I thought back to the old man’s story about the lynching and what his wife had heard. Then I shook my head and remembered what he’d told me about the kids out here.
“Probably some drunk kids fucking around. The old dude told me they’re gathering down by the creek to get drunk. Maybe they thought it was fun to mess with the new guy.”
Mike nodded, but he still looked unnerved.
“Yeah, guess you’re right. Want to go out and teach them a lesson?”
I laughed but shook my head. There was no way I’d go out in the middle of the night to chase some teenagers. I also didn’t want to become known as the local crazy guy.
Eventually, we got back to sleep. Still, somehow my mind lingered on the story. That scratching, that wailing, there was… something about it that didn’t seem to fit.
The next day, busy with renovations again, I’d already pushed all those thoughts away.
Guess that was my second mistake.
We doubled down on our efforts. Me trying to find a hint of those damned rodents and Mike most likely wanting to get out of here. He’d always been the superstitious type.
When the wailing started again on the fourth night, Mike told me he’d get a hotel room if it would persist. I retorted that it was those kids again, but this time he wouldn’t have it.
“Yeah, so you’re telling me there’s some group of kids out there that got nothing better to do in the middle of the night? Two times in a row?”
“Fuck man, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cat stuck somewhere. I sure as hell don’t believe there are any freaking ghosts!”
Mike grunted but said nothing. For a while, I considered going out there to figure out who or what was causing it, but not long after I drifted off to sleep again.
At this point, we were on the fifth day of renovations. The place was almost barren by now. We’d started on the upper floor first. After that, we’d taken down the partition walls and had stripped down the old wallpaper.
Not knowing too much about renovations myself, I’d followed the old man’s guidelines almost to the letter.
That was my third mistake.
“So, what else you want me to take care of?”
“Well, you could clean the garage for starters and that lawn looks like it hasn’t been cut in months.”
“All right, hilarious Mark,” he said when he saw the enormous grin on my face.
“Tell you what,” I started, “how about we take a bit of a break for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we take care of the floorboards down here and that’s it. God knows those need to be replaced.”
As if to prove what I’d said, I switched my balance a bit, and the floorboards creaked in answer.
“Sounds good, but if we hear any weird noises again, I’m out of here!”
I sighed but nodded. Then I realized something. I had heard none of the scratching today. Maybe our ruckus had driven off whatever rodents had infested the place. I didn’t know a damned thing about mice or rats.
That night we sat together until long after midnight. I’d brought out my old laptop, and we spent the time with some old movies and a bottle of whiskey. Not a sound was heard all night. No more scratching and sure as hell no wailing.
“Told you there are no ghosts here,” I slurred.
“Yeah, whatever,” Mike said laughing.
Taking care of the old floorboards was much tougher than I’d imagined, with a hangover that is. Still, somehow we made decent enough progress and by noon we were done with the first half of the house.
“Guess those rats really are gone, aren’t they?”
I shrugged. “Guess so, not a sound. To be honest, I half expected them to linger below those old boards. Sure hope they stay the hell away!”
We continued joking around and having a good time. It all changed when we found the basement.
As we removed the floorboards in the old man’s storage room, we stumbled upon an old hatch. Once our initial surprise was over we pried it open, revealing a staircase.
“All right man, what the hell.”
“The basement, I guess,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, I ain’t blind, but why the hell’s it hidden like that?”
Things still hadn’t clicked.
“Who knows, maybe he just didn’t use it? Hell, maybe it was infested by rodents so he sealed it off?”
“Yeah, or it’s his secret serial killer basement.”
“Dude, not funny,” I cursed.
“All right, all right. You want to check it out?”
As I looked down the dark stairs that led… somewhere below a feeling of apprehension washed over me. I didn’t feel so sure about my words anymore. Finally, I nodded. We each got a hold of a flashlight and started our descent.
There was no light down there and for a moment I half expected the old hatch to be thrown shut by no other than Old Wilbert himself.
“Shit man, this is creepy,” I mumbled.
“Will you stop? I don’t like this any more than you do.”
Once we’d made it down the stairs, we found ourselves in a small, damp room. It was empty.
“Small, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” I said.
The entire basement was no bigger than one of the rooms above. Wasn’t a basement usually the same size as the house?
“At least there are no rats,” I said.
“Yeah, but this wall here’s kinda weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he started, “look at the moss and the dirt on all the others, this one’s different. Looks kinda new to me.”
Now that he’d said it, I noticed it too. Sure, the wall was as damp as the rest, but there was no moss on it or anything.
I watched as Mike reached out his hand and knocked against the wall.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Shh,” he shushed me.
He went to one of the other walls and knocked there, then came back and knocked again.
We both stared at each other.
“You think that’s where the rodents came from?”
A minute later we were down there again, starting to tear down the wall.
After a few heavy hits, the first of the bricks collapsed inwards. I instinctively took a step back, expecting rats or mice to pour from the hole, but there was nothing.
We inched forward, peeking into the hole, and that’s when we realized what this was. The second half of the basement.
Mike had already gotten his flashlight and beamed inside. At first, we saw nothing, but then we saw something on the floor. No, not something.
“There’s someone inside,” I pressed out.
We redoubled our efforts and soon we’d broken down enough of the wall to enter.
The person inside had long grey hair, wore a dirty nightgown and was female. The old woman’s face was frozen into a mask of perpetual terror and she was without a doubt dead.
When I saw the long, bloody scratch marks all over the walls, it finally clicked.
A moment later I was back upstairs and called to police, telling them what I’d found. There was no need for them to tell me the woman’s name. The moment I’d understood what was going on here, I knew who she was.
It was Elizabeth Johnson, the old man’s wife.