How do you define horror, dear reader? I mean true horror, the kind that rips a mind and soul apart. Is your horror supernatural, with extraordinary creatures lurking in the shadows and mystifying forces overwhelming us, but beyond our ability to comprehend? Or is horror more banal in its origin, stemming from human weaknesses and failings, from generations of damaged people handing down their ways? Maybe your flavor of horror comes suddenly, with dramatic and deadly confrontations or from devastating secrets revealed. Or perhaps your nightmare unfolds over time creating a momentum of its own, finally reaching a threshold past which there is no escape. And certainly no discussion of horror should be bereft of the concept of evil and its effect on a man.
I've kept well informed of the occupants of the house since I moved out those many years ago and it has been intriguing, if nothing else. So if you have the time and inclination, dear reader, I've a story to tell. It is not pleasant and does not end well, so do not hold out that hope. No, this tale is about a tragedy in the truest sense of the word. So sit back and relax, if you can, dear reader, and I will tell you of the Maxwell's doom.
The house was large and rambling, set well back from the road as were all the houses in this neighborhood. Tucked into one side of the city, the development essentially consisted of small estates with homes separated by dozens if not tens of dozens of yards.
It was here that the Maxwell's moved, into a house that had been long abandoned after the last murder-suicide. Several years ago an attorney's wife went mad and killed her three young children. Covered in her children's blood she waited until her husband came through the garage door into the kitchen and then butchered him. The autopsy concluded that she must have waited some hours before hanging herself. No one could fathom why she made obscure markings on the walls throughout the house during those long hours surrounded by her dead family, drenched in their blood.
The Maxwell's were not superstitious. No, they were pragmatic. They got an excellent deal on the house that nobody wanted. Were there rumors of the house being haunted? Oh, I'm quite certain of it. Everybody knew somebody who had a friend or a cousin that knew someone who had experienced something when sneaking through the house during the day or night. But no one who had directly experienced anything ever came forth and nobody could say for sure exactly how the house was haunted. If it was. Certainly the Maxwell's never said anything about ghosts or bumps in the night during the short year they lived there.
The Maxwell family was well off and could easily afford this neighborhood. Dante was a surgeon and Catherine a stay at home mother. Seven year old Matt and ten year old Sarah attended local public schools rather than private ones, as the Maxwell's did not feel privileged, could not strive beyond an invisible ceiling. Not with their past.
Maybe events would not have evolved as they did if another couple had lived in the house, though I suspect not. Or maybe it would have happened no matter where the Maxwell's lived, though again, I suspect not. By outward appearances they were a happy family. But they did have flaws, and maybe it was upon these flaws the house preyed. If it did.
Dante was a big, strong man who did delicate work with his hands. While his body was strong, perhaps he had a susceptible mind. He grew up in a western state with seven siblings, a passive mother and a distant, yet abusive father. He joined the military at first chance and took out his aggression there. Dante was an infantry medic in first Iraq war and found he excelled at both killing and healing. He considered a military life, but had enough insight to question how long he would remain human in such a setting. And if you saw his eyes in the heat of anger, you too might believe it likely he would one day succumb to bloodlust and not take heed of who he slaughtered in battle.
Dante was an intelligent man and after college went on to medical school where he considered forensic pathology, but found a greater solace cutting open the living. Thanks to his genes and the lessons learned at his father's knee the world was not a safe place for Dante. He saw evidence of threats everywhere and was ever planning how to survive and to protect his beloved Catherine.
Catherine's mother was addicted to prescription medicine and alcohol. She goaded Catherine to hide and retrieve her drugs and drink and made her promise not to tell her father, who paid her money to keep quiet about his own brand of abuse. The unfortunate Catherine was also sexually abused by her older brother, who held certain threats over her timid head. When her parents found out she had been fondled by a neighbor she was questioned then punished and told never to speak of it again. And in this way Catherine was groomed to be submissive and secretive. No one would ever really know her, or the depths of her true pain.
Dante and Catherine met in college. He adored her and put her on a pedestal, was maybe even obsessed with her. He made love to her often. Multiple times a day in fact, whether she was in the mood or not. He would tell you it was to keep her happy, to keep her satisfied so she wouldn't "go looking for some strange."
But reality held a different truth. At a level closer to awareness the frequent sex was about control, and Dante was certainly in control of the family. When Catherine or the kids questioned him he reminded them with fist or foot whose will was to be obeyed. On a deeper level, a level glimpsed only fleetingly and inadequately, the sex was about security. Or insecurity. His fucking Catherine, and I use that word deliberately dear reader, was to reassure his frail ego and tenuous grip on reality that she was real and loved him and was his.
Catherine would tell you that he was not always a compassionate lover. No, Dante was often not gentle and took his pleasure whenever and however he pleased. She would tell you he was mostly rough, indifferent to her desires and would angrily pound against her until he got his release, only then becoming tender. She devised ways to avoid him, surprising and delighting herself with her ingenuity. But his onslaught was never deterred for more than a day or two.
Was Dante abusive? Was Catherine's role in life to be a victim? I can't answer that, but I can tell you that once, when an injury kept Dante from pursuing her for several weeks Catherine began to think he didn't love her. She found herself wanting things back the way they had been, which they were by the time they moved into their new home. So I say, dear reader, that whatever drove the Maxwell's needs their issues dovetailed nicely and that their marriage was as stable as such a marriage can be.
After a week or so in the new house in that upscale neighborhood Dante began to complain of headaches and of unpleasant odors. He said it felt like there was a band around his head, that his thinking seemed sluggish. He sometimes thought he saw darting shadows at the corners of his vision. Extensive medical testing could find nothing wrong physically so Dante began taking prescription and over the counter medicine often and in large amounts.
Dante finally got around to mounting and placing his swords on walls and on any available flat surface: crossed swords on the wall over the couch, samurai swords on the mantle, katana swords on the coffee table. Scottish broadswords and Celtic swords adorned the hallway walls. His gun collection was locked in a gun safe, except for the loaded M-9 semiautomatic from his Army days, which he kept in his bedside drawer.
Two months after the Maxwell's moved in Catherine began having panic attacks. She couldn't have told you why, just that an untold terror filled her in certain parts of the house, at certain times of the day.
The kids seemed largely unaffected, but as the days stretched into weeks then months they became quieter, seemed on edge and withdrew from their parents more than was usual for children their age.