A Fixer Upper

About four years ago my husband and I began restoring a home in an up and coming historical district. Vaulted ceilings, detailed mouldings, hand carved handrails and mantle. They were all painted over, but fortunately the paint came off to reveal beautiful old wood. Under the old, trampled carpets were gorgeous wood floors. We were ecstatic with our purchase.

The trouble began a year or two into the renovation. My son, 10 or 11 at the time, wouldn’t look at the mantle. He wouldn’t say a word to me about it, but I saw him changing his gate and turning to avoid even a short glimpse of it. Finally, I sat him down and asked him about it.

“Matt, what’s wrong with the mantle?”


His shoulders heaved and his gaze swept across the floor, “I don’t know, did dad scrape it up when he was talking the paint off?”

I squinted at him and tensed my lips, “You know what I mean. Why won’t you even look at it?”

“Don’t you see the face, mom?”

“What face?”

“It’s on the corner, by the dining room side.”

“I never noticed a face, and I’ve been in that room more than anyone else.”

“It’s there!”

He got up and drug me over, pointing at the corner.

“Can’t you see him? He has pointy eyes and a sharp chin!”

“I don’t see anything.”

He took a deep breath, he forced himself to look, and he traced the features of the face with his pointer finger. I still couldn’t see a thing. He walked away, shaking his head in disbelief. I studied it over and over, every grain dozens of times to try to see his tormentor. I had no such luck.

It was months of him walking with his head turned and purposely rerouting around the family room before we were used to it. It was odd, but nothing life shattering. As we stripped more paint and pulled more carpet, he started seeing more faces in the wood grains. An awkwardly placed pot here, an off center throw rug there, and it was good enough. For awhile.

Eventually, the day came when these faces would follow him along the surfaces he saw them on. He said they’d begun to scowl and laugh at him, instead of staying still and watching. The first day or two my husband carried him through the house to get him from A to B. It was terrible for us, but we painted over the mouldings and mantle. My son would walk through the house with his nose held high in the air to avoid the hardwood floors.

I asked him if the faces were in other places. He wasn’t sure, so my husband took him down to the local Home Improvement center. He was shaky, his eyes moved erratically around the hardwood floors on display. After he had carefully examined every display, he was fine. No faces, nothing that bothered him in the slightest.

The night following our experiment at the hardware store, I heard a thud from across the house. The thud was followed by crying, then hurried footsteps. I wandered up to the upstairs hallway. Where the hall turned before reaching the bathroom, there was crack in the drywall and a dripping blood spot. There was a trail of blood, barely noticeable, barely there, leading to my sons room.

I peeked in the door. He was bawling on his bed.

“Matt, what’s wrong honey?”

He looked up, he’d busted his nose running into the wall.

“It was another one! It came out of the ceiling!”

“You mean you saw it in the patterns on the ceiling?”

“No, like, it popped out like someone pushing their face through a sheet.”

I sat on his bed with him. Embraced him. I wiped his bloodied nose with the sleeve of my robe. He slept with a pillow over his head. I couldn’t calm him down, he was shaking, his breathing was labored. He started sleeping with a blindfold in an attempt to avoid more of these faces. The blindfold worked well for bedtime.

I was scrubbing the floors when I noticed that it looked like termites had been eating at our floors. I didn’t think anything of it. I noticed it happened in an… isolated way. It always happened near a rug, or something we’d placed to hide one of those faces. That very night, my son was complaining about splinters in his feet. I took a look.

It was like staring down a porcupine. Tiny, deep and countless. I stopped counting after twenty five splinters in his left foot. I spent hours digging them out.

“Matt, what happened?”

“I was just walking, and every step felt like I was stepping on a bunch of tacks.”

We sent him to my mother’s house across town for a week. No mystery injuries, no faces. During his week away, everything was quiet. I couldn’t even find the termite damage. As the weekend neared, I started hearing a sharp creaking sound up and down my hallway.

I peaked out of my door to see if it was something. Waves of tiny splinters were popping up and settling back down like a chipmunk was burrowing through my floors. The house was silent, then the light in the hall went out. My screaming woke up my husband. I told him what I saw, and he inspected the floor. Undamaged. He went back to sleep, I wasn’t so lucky.

I tried to go back to sleep. I tossed. I turned. Nothing felt right, even my blankets just wouldn’t lay right. Every creepy night time cliche came to visit. Tree branch scraping window, check. Shadows dancing across the room, check. Closet door I don’t remember leaving open, check. Then, I looked at my alarm clock. At first the numbers were jumbled, like my brain refused to process them. I looked to my husband. He was out cold again. Back to the clock. Gone.

I couldn’t see it from my bed. I stood up, my stomach sank. I didn’t see my clock anywhere. I knelt down and lifted up the dust skirt. There was the clock. I reached under, but the clock seemed to move just out of reach. I kept reaching further and further for it. Before I knew what was happening I had both shoulders under the bed. I looked up.

There was a hand coming out of my floor, pulling the alarm clock just out of reach. I started to scream, another hand grabbed my mouth. My husband slept through the thrashing under the bed. The hand pulled my gaze down to the floor. I fought harder, but couldn’t escape its grasp. Then a face started rising up out of the wood grains.

I couldn’t pick the face out or help a sketch artist, but I remember the eyes. White, veiny, distinctly… human. They rolled around without purpose in the wooden sockets. They suddenly stopped and locked with my eyes. I heard the sound of wood cracking. I struggled to look around. I saw it’s mouth opening wide, with thin strands of wood like stitches stretching between the wooden lips. A long, twisting and swirling tongue came out towards me. It had the sounds of an old house “settling” that I use to hear at night. It was cold and slimy against my cheek.

I lost my shit. My thrashing and attempted screaming under the bed must have woken my husband up again. When I caught a glimpse of his legs getting out of bed, whatever had me disappeared. I couldn’t muster an explanation. Neither of us understood what was happening, but when I finally told him what had happened he believed me. Mostly because of the handprint over my mouth.

Matt come back home after school that Monday. He was ecstatic. He didn’t see any of the faces. My husband wanted to pick up all of the covers we’d put down. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but he still wasn’t completely sold. I drug him aside.

“Mark, don’t you remember what happened this weekend?”

“Maryanne, I think we should give it a shot. I think it was all just stress and overreaction. Matt seems fine now.”

Everything was quiet for weeks, maybe even months. One night the creaks and cracks started again. No faces, but the noises were loud enough that they woke up the whole house. My husband and I followed the creaking down the hall, and down the stairs. It started moving closer to us. It was in the ceiling, then in the floor, and then in the walls, too.

I stumbled forward from a hard smack to my back. I jerked around to see what it was. A dusty arm retreated back into the plaster wall. I checked the wall, it was undamaged. I looked up and down the hall. Thump. Thump. It was like there were hands hitting walls all around us. My husband hit the wall back. The hole he left flexed and gnashed. The jagged edges arranged into human like teeth. The wall smiled and laughed at us.

Arms stretched from the walls, leaving chalky dust in the air as they flexed and grabbed at thin air. They managed to snag one of my arms. Then the other, then my legs. I thought it was going to rip me in half on the spot. My son and my husband grabbed and jerked at the arms to no avail. After what felt like an eternity of fighting, my husband jerked it out the wall. It fell to the floor in a flow of dust.

All three of us ran. Hands coming out of the floor tried to grab us. Faces scowled or laughed. They pinched us, smacked us, and tried to trip us as ran for we the door. We scrambled for the front door, through the hands and feet, through the faces and deafening creaking. We tried to jerk the door opened. It wouldn’t budge. The lock was gone, the door seemed to just turn into wall with no jamb or edge.

“Nooooooooo…” a voice groaned, “Stay with all of us…”

My husband kept jerking at the door. He hit it, he kicked it.

“We want your company.” the voice said.

Holes opened up in the door between punches. Rows of old crooked nails came down, two old marbles filled holes above it. It stretched out towards us in a deformed head. It shook it’s head no.

“You will stay!” it boomed, “You belong here now!”

My son was at a window in the living room. He smashed it with a small table. We ran for the window. My husband grabbed an antique oil lamp on his way out. He lit it on the porch, and threw it through the window.

We watched the house go up in flame that night. We all had some minor burns, the flames spread faster than they ever normally would. We stood in the street and watched everything go, and through the flames I saw a toothy smile of nails.

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