The Haunting at 9 Woodland Close - Chap 2
I sat on the bed next to my sleeping daughter. Eventually, I began to move.
I put the sleeping Addie in her cot and walked down the stairs slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible. I didn’t know what to expect as I descended, only that during my wife’s prison break, I had heard, but largely ignored, the unmistakable sound of items crashing to the floor in a frenzy, had seen the shadows of things flying about in the kitchen.
You know it’s been a rough day when there’s some sort of poltergeist tantrum occurring in your house, and the event is eclipsed by another drama entirely.
I reached the bottom of the stairs and found the kitchen in complete disarray. Cupboard doors and drawers hung open and the floor was littered with broken dishes, cutlery and a variety of cookware. I surveyed the dining and living rooms; nothing was amiss anywhere else, no lurking figures, no more debris, doors all locked. It was just the kitchen that had been ransacked and the culprit appeared to have vanished. I was in the process of making sure nobody was hiding in the laundry when I heard a car roll up the driveway. The police.
What, you think I wouldn’t call the cops? Please. I’m not the protagonist of a Michael Bay film; I need help here. Plus, I know it sounds cruel, but I’d rather see Clara sectioned off to the psych ward than for me to wake up to find that I’m sharing our marital bed with a decapitated horse head.
Can’t be too careful.
The police officers were cautiously polite, both male, both roughly in their late thirties, like me. They introduced themselves as Officer Riccardo and Officer Daniels, and they explained that they needed to ask me a few questions before they began to look for Clara. I found their lack of urgency odd, but I figured that the quicker I dealt with them, the quicker we could find her. As I recounted the peculiar events of the evening, I cringed internally when I explained the presence of Gigi the Ghosthunter, but the Officers seemed as though their attention was directed elsewhere. I could see their eyes roving over the trashed kitchen. They exchanged a glance.
“So, just to clarify”, Officer Daniels said, “while you were locked out of the bedroom, someone came into your house and did this?”. Daniels gestured into the kitchen. “Nobody else was in the house?”.
“I know it sounds weird, I can’t explain it. Clara says there’s always odd things happening here”. I shrugged.
Officer Daniels gave me a strange look, as if to say: Yes, idiot, your wife probably says that because she’s having a mental breakdown.
I took them upstairs to show them how Clara had escaped and I saw them look at each other again when we came across the bedroom door hanging off a single hinge, like a tooth knocked from the socket, hanging on by a thread.
“I had to do that. The baby was screaming”, I told them. It sounded feeble, even to my own ears.
I had begun to realize, too late, how this all looked to an outsider. The broken door, the upheaved kitchen, the weird story about a kooky medium who had conveniently disappeared before all hell broke loose. It looked like Clara and I had fought in the kitchen and that I had chased upstairs like a scene out of The Shining. That she was so desperate to escape from me that she’d scaled a two-storey house and left on foot to get away. That she abandoned her kid, even.
The silence hung heavily as we went back downstairs.
“Is there anywhere Clara might go?”, Ricardo asked me in the dining room. “A friend or relative’s house?”. He was a serious looking man, his eyebrows thick, dark slashes that moved expressively as he spoke.
I shook my head. Clara’s family are all gone; absent father, dead mother and sister, and she doesn’t really have any friends. There’s mother’s group, but Clara struggles there. She’s only twenty-three, and being a young mother makes her feel like an outsider at times. She can’t relate to most women her own age, and she feels patronized by older women. There was a girl, Polly, or Penny or something, who she used to hang around when we first started dating, but I haven’t heard her name mentioned in a while.
“No close friends that I can think of, and she has no family”, I said. “I mean, there might be someone, but nobody springs to mind. Anyway, she went into the forest. We should look for her there”.
“Did you and your wife have some sort of disagreement before all of this happened?”, Officer Daniels ventured, ignoring what I had said.
“No argument”. I shook my head.
When the officers were satisfied with their autopsy of my private life, they began to leave so that they could search for Clara.
“I should come too”, I told them.
“You should stay here”, Ricardo said. “In case your wife comes home”.
“Right”. I tried to look neutral; it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that Clara might actually return tonight. She had looked alien and feral as she melted into the darkness of the forest, as though she were a wild creature returning to its home.
“We’ll call you as soon as we find something”, Daniels added.
As I watched the officers leave, despite their accusatory nature, I felt a sense of relief cascading through me, warm and narcotic as I was reassured of the world’s status quo. For a moment there, I had really considered the possibility that Gigi had been right, that my wife is some sort of ethereal harbinger of evil spirits, but after talking to the police officers, I felt quite sure that she is simply fucking cuckoo.
I mean, it’s a small win, but I’ll take what I can get.
I began to restore the kitchen to its normal state, lethargic in my movements. The adrenaline had drained from my body like water drawing back from the shore, leaving my limbs bereft, my whole body racked with exhaustion. I swept the last shards of ceramic into the bin and returned the cleaning supplies to the laundry. On my way, I noticed something odd.
A gleaming butcher’s knife, sitting on the kitchen table.
That certainly hadn’t been moments earlier there when the two officers had been in my house, had it? It wasn’t one of ours. Where the hell had it come from? I looked around, but the house was empty. There’s nowhere to hide in a place this small.
I stared at the knife for a moment, feeling numb. I was going to drop it into the sink, but I thought better of it and I took it upstairs with me, sliding it under my side of the bed.
Just in case.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
As soon as the sky began to lighten, I strapped Addie into the baby carrier and took to the forest to search for Clara.
We found nothing.
Ricardo called me at midday and informed me that there was no news on Clara’s whereabouts, and they needed me to come and answer some more questions.
I left Adeline with my mother. I lied, and said that Clara was sick, and she needed a break. My mother has never fully trusted my wife, and I didn’t want her to know what had happened to Clara until it was absolutely necessary. She thinks that Clara’s after my money, even though I’ve told her a million times that Clara doesn’t even know about the money Dad left me.
At the police station, Ricardo and Daniels led me into a sterile room and sat on one side of a white desk. Everything about this room was pale and institutional. I sat to face them, feeling as though I was in a dream.
“First things first. We’ve spoken to your neighbors and apparently there was screaming coming from your house last night. Do you know about that?”, Daniels asked me.
“Yeah, that was Clara. She had a bit of a meltdown after Gigi left”.
“You might have told us that last night”, Daniels said flatly. “We did ask you if you’d argued”.
I frowned. “That wasn’t an argument”. Just my wife spiraling into madness. There’s a difference.
Ricardo scanned his notes. “So, we verified your version of events with Gigi. As much as she could verify, anyway. She said that your wife is, ah, quite spiritual?”.
I shrugged. “She’s been talking to Gigi a bit. I don’t know if it’s been the best thing for her, mentally speaking”.
“There’s something else”. Ricardo surveyed me for a moment, looking solemn. “John, you didn’t tell us that you have a criminal record. You were convicted of domestic assault in 2018”.
My head jerked up. Crap. “Oh. That. It’s been sorted”. I could feel sweat start to bead my face. Do they turn the heat up in these fucking places on purpose to make you look as guilty as possible?
“Good behavior bond, two years”, Ricardo read out. “Not exactly what I’d call sorted, but not the worst outcome. You got lucky”.
“I had a good lawyer”, I told him. “It was all a big misunderstanding”.
“A misunderstanding?”, Ricardo questioned. His eyes were cold. “How was it a misunderstanding?”. Never before was so much contempt placed on one word.
I sighed heavily. I knew how the story sounded, but I told them anyway. “I had this ex who used to get physical with me when we argued, punching me, throwing things. I would laugh at her, rile her up, so maybe I deserved it. I don’t know. She was tiny so it never really hurt, but one day she threw my Dad’s urn across the room. I pinned her arms to her side and held her still. She went ballistic. Screamed the apartment down. The police were called, and she claimed that I was the one who had beaten her, even though I had the black eye”.
Anger, white-hot, flared within me as I recounted the story. I hate thinking about Kristina. The only silver lining of the whole fiasco was that my father had died before it had happened, because me being accused of hitting Kristina would probably have killed him anyway. He had left me a sizable amount of money, which had allowed me to hire a good lawyer. Ironically, that’s what this particular fight had started over; Kristina had found out about the money and had been furious that I kept it from her. I had used the excuse that we didn’t have enough money to get married, and there I had this small fortune, and still no shiny diamond ring. She got the cops called and then she spun a better story than Charlotte spins a web. Based on zero evidence, she ruined my life and I had never wanted to look at another woman again, but just a few months later I met Clara at a bar. She was just my type and seemed like an angel.
She was everything that Kristina wasn’t.
“When’s your good behavior bond up, exactly?”, Daniels asked.
“Just under two months”. If only Clara could have timed her breakdown a bit better.
Ricardo let out a low whistle. “What does your wife think about this Kristina situation?”.
“Nothing. I met Clara after I was convicted”. I held his gaze.
Ricardo frowned. “What, she doesn’t know? How long have you two been married?”.
Something flickered in Ricardo’s expression. “How old’s that kid of yours?”.
“Eight months”. I resisted the urge to give a cartoonlike gulp. The age gap, the shotgun marriage. A domestic assault charge, a secret ex, a trashed house, a missing wife. Who knows what Gigi told them. It looked bad. I knew it looked bad.
Ricardo nodded slowly, appraisingly; his eyes bored into mine. “One last thing. There will be an announcement about Clara’s disappearance on the state-wide news this evening. Just a generic statement describing your wife, that she’s been gone since last night and that there are fears for her wellbeing. These announcements are somewhat common, but generally resolved quickly when it’s simply a case of a person who is going through a bit of a personal crisis. They tend to turn up. Others don’t. You should be ready for increasing media attention over the next few days if your wife isn’t found”.
Ricardo leaned back, suddenly relaxed. All trace of intensity was gone from his face as he and Daniels stood. “Well, that’s all for now, John. We’ll call you with any updates”. His expression was unreadable as the officers walked me out, but I knew what he was thinking.
Holy shit. Clara, where are you?
I picked up Adeline from my Mother’s and took her home. It was a rough afternoon; nothing would settle her, and she cried and cried. She’s teething and she misses her Mom, I told myself, gritting my teeth. I tried to stay calm as she refused sleep, food, bottles, and any attempt of mine to move away from her for a second.
I’ve never been good at this stuff, but Clara is. Clara will rock Addie for two hours and still be smiling. My chest ached; I missed her.
The sun was low in the sky, casting lean streaks of gold that pierced through the windows and stretched across the house, casting my surroundings in a honeyed glow. I sat on the couch with Addie, bouncing her on my knee while Peppa Pig played on the television, staring out at the garden. Guilt permeated me. I thought about how I should have been out looking for Clara. I should have left Addie at my Mother’s. I was deep in thought when I heard it.
A voice upstairs. A woman’s voice.
“John?”. The voice was sweet and lilting, like birdsong. I sprinted up the stairs, Addie bouncing on my hip.
“Clara!”, I shouted. My mind was racing, and for some reason I thought that she must have been coming in the way that she went out, back through the bedroom window.
I glanced around the bedroom; no sign of her.
“John?”. There was a muffled bang, then a scrabbling noise, like sharp nails on drywall.
It was coming from the attic.
Oh, hell no. But I had to check. What choice did I have?
Much to Addie’s displeasure, I put her in her crib. She instantly burst into tears. “Addie, it’s okay”, I told her, but my strained tone probably indicated otherwise. “Daddy will be right back, sweetheart”. I pulled up the cot rail and dashed to the attic opening. I yanked the attic door open, wrenching the ladder down.
“John?”. The voice was right above my head, the odd clawing noise growing louder. Hairs raised all over my entire body. The sensation was acute, almost painful. That was my wife’s voice, it was unmistakable, and she was standing so close. I heard the groan of the floorboards shifting under her weight.
“Clara?”, I called back. I clambered up the stairs. The soft, purple light of dusk spilled in from the single window to illuminate the attic. I looked around, frantic.
There was nobody there, just wall-to-wall emptiness. Nowhere to hide. No footprints in the dust. Nothing.
I moved slowly down the ladder, a dejected man.
What the hell is happening to me?
I went back to Addie’s room and stopped cold as my eyes fell upon her empty cot, the railing still in place. Addie hadn’t gone far, though; a split second later I spied her up on top of the closet, swaddled in her blanket.
She was lying there, staring at me, her wide blue eyes two shiny beacons in the fading light.