John and Mary had been saving money for a long time to make the initial payment to buy their own house. By their calculation, they were still a few years away from having enough money to buy the house of their dreams; a small unit with two floors in a quiet neighborhood of San Jose. They could not believe when their real estate agent friend told them that because of the housing crash, they already had enough money to buy a house.Now. Not years from now, but now. In fact Estella had a house she could show to them. It was one of those abandoned properties that was now some bank’s liability and the bank had put the house on the market on a throwaway price. They went to see the house and fell in love with it on the first sight. Like all abandoned properties, it needed some fixing to do but it wasn’t that bad. They did not have to wait anymore.
Mary, being a stay home wife, started the fixing and decorating as they moved in and within a few days, they had made that house a perfect home for them to live and have kids and raise them.
But there was something that was not so right with the house.
There was a night when John was working the night shift when he received a call from Mary’s cell phone. It was very early the morning and John wondered why Mary was using the cell phone and not the home phone. When he answered the call, he heard a terrified Mary asking him to come home immediately. She wouldn’t tell him what was wrong. She just kept crying and pleading John to come home. John drove home that was only a few miles away. When he got home, he saw Mary sitting on the steps outside the house in her nightgown shivering in a perfectly warm night. John ran to her and took Mary in her arms.
“What’s the matter honey? Are you alright?”
“I’m scared, “answered Mary, “I was sleeping and I was woken up by the sound from the other bedroom. The sound…”
“All houses make sounds honey,” John said cutting her off.
“No, no, not that kind of sound.”
“What did you hear?”
“I heard…I heard a baby crying.” Mary said and broke into tears.
“You were sleeping. Maybe you dreamed about it and woke up.” John said consolingly while rubbing her back with his hand.
“No. It wasn’t a dream. It continued after I woke up. It continued for a long time. I could hear it so clearly. I was frozen with fear and couldn’t move. And then when the sound stopped, I grabbed my phone and ran out and called you.” She said, sobbing.
John helped Mary inside the house assuring her that it was just a hallucination.
But strange things kept happening. One night, John could swear that he too heard a baby crying but he dismissed it again as his mind playing tricks on him, something caused by Mary’s episode. Then there were other sounds, people talking to each other, whispering, and sometimes giggling. John kept reassuring Mary that they were just paranoid due to what happened when Mary hallucinated about hearing a child crying.
It only took John a few days to realize that he was wrong. That was the night of the party.
They, John and Mary, were not the ones who were having a party. They were sleeping in their bed. This time it was John who woke up, not because he heard any noises, but because he was thirsty.
John went downstairs to the kitchen to get water. The kitchen was part of the living area and it had a big window through which you could see the backyard. The window was covered with drapes and as John entered the kitchen, he saw flickering lights filtering in to the kitchen through the slits of the drapes. Curiously, John parted the drapes and what he saw sent a chill through his spine. There were people, backyard full of people, dressed for a party, drinking, laughing, dancing. The backyard was lit with different colors of lights. At the center of the crowd was a young man donning a black gown and he seemed like the center of attraction of the whole crowd. He had a big grin on his face. John kept looking at the scene thinking that he was just having a dream and he is going to wake up any moment now. He actually made a conscious effort, trying to make his mind wake him up, to no avail. He stood there for a long time mesmerized. The strangest thing was that there were a lot of people who looked like talking and laughing loudly but John couldn’t hear a thing. The scene was completely silent. The first sound he heard didn’t come from the party going on in the backyard. It came from behind him, the sound of a loud intake of breath, a big gasp. He turned around and saw Mary who was standing with wide eyes fixated on the scene in the backyard with her hands on her mouth. All blood had drained from her face. John hurriedly put the drapes back and hugged Mary who was shaking violently.
That night, they checked into a motel.
The first thing John did the next morning was to call Estella to find out who were the previous owners of their house.
“I don’t know. You bought this property from a bank since it was an abandoned property. I can check with the bank to find out. Why? Why do you want to know?”
“We want to know why they abandoned the house.” John replied.
Estella had the information in a couple of hours. Previous owners: David and Tiffany Rodriguez, current address: unknown.
John picked the phone book up and started calling every David Rodriguez. He had little hope to find the one he was looking for. The first five people he called told him that they had never lived at that address. It was the sixth one who said, “Why? Who wants to know?” John explained to him calmly that he wasn’t calling from any bank or any sort of similar organization. He was calling because they had bought David’s old house and they wanted to know a few things, some unusual things. After some hesitation, David agreed to meet them but refused to give John his address. Instead, he gave John the name of a coffee shop in a small town some 20 miles from San Jose and told him that he would meet them the next day at the coffee shop.
Next day, John and Mary drove to the small town David had told them about. It was a poorly maintained neighborhood with old buildings, some looking like they would fall down any moment, and streets in a bad need of repair. The coffee shop David had agreed to meet at was on the main street and the coffee shop itself looked like it existed in the early part of the previous century. When they entered the coffee shop, a young man behind the counter, who, for some reason, looked familiar to John, asked, “Are you here to see David?” When John said yes, the young man pointed to the corner table where a middle aged couple sat side by side. John and Mary walked to the table, shook hands with the couple and sat down on the opposite side of the table. The couple seemed to be in their late fifties and they were wearing cheap but clean clothes. After a few pleasantries, David asked John why he wanted to meet them.
“I wanted to know why you abandoned that house?” said John.
“Well, why do you think we abandoned it?”
“To be honest, I think you abandoned it because it is haunted and you couldn’t sell a haunted house. Maybe people in the area knew about that but we didn’t.”
“Haunted?” asked David with a curious look at his face, “No, it wasn’t haunted.”
“Then why did you leave it.” This time it was Mary’s turn to ask a question.
“I will tell you,” said David, “but first, I want to know why do you think it’s haunted?”
“We don’t think,” John said a bit aggressively, “we know it is haunted. We see and hear ghosts in the house.”
“Ghosts?” asked David and him and his wife looked at each other with puzzled looks on their faces.
“Yes, we keep hearing a baby cry in the smaller bedroom upstairs,” said Mary.
As soon as she said it, Tiffany’s facial expression changed. She looked like she was about to start crying. She was looking in the distance. Then, with quivering lips and wet eyes, she lowered her head and said, almost whispered “Jenny coming home to have the baby.” Two droplets of tears fell from her eyes.
“And the night before the last, we saw some sort of a party going on with a young man in a black gown,” said John.
David, who was also looking in the distance, said, as he was in some sort of trance, “Ed’s college graduation party.”
They were all silent for a few moments that felt like hours. John, finally broke the silence, and said,
“Who are Jenny and Ed?”
It was as if his question broke some sort of spell.
“Well, “said David, leaning forward and laying his arms on the table as if getting ready to tell a long story, “you know, Tiffany here, my wife, and I grew up in this very neighborhood. As you can see, it is a poor neighborhood mostly populated by Mexican immigrants. Our own folks came from Mexico. Tiffany and I married young, very young. But we decided not to have kids while we lived here. You see, we grew up in poverty and we didn’t want the same for our kids. Neither of us is very highly educated but we decided to work hard, do as many jobs as we can in a day, work over weekends so we can get out of this town to some nicer place and then have kids so they can go to nice schools and don’t have to live the life we did. And we did all that. We worked and worked and worked. It was tough, very tough, but the hope that one day we will get out of this town and have kids kept us going. After a few years, we had enough money to make the initial payment on a house, the house that belongs to you now. We had kids there, Jenny and Ed. We lived there for a long time but then the economy started going south. First Tiffany and then I lost our jobs. We could not find good jobs anymore. We tried to make ends meet by doing odd jobs but we couldn’t earn enough every month to pay the bank. So we started missing loan payments.”
Mary almost stopped David thinking something didn’t make sense but she didn’t because she couldn’t really understand what it was that didn’t make sense.
“So, “David continued, “we decided to foreclose the house so we could at least get our loan written off and try to make a fresh start somehow. We went to the foreclosure court. We could not afford a good lawyer but the banks can. We tried our best but the judge ruled that we could not foreclose since we had the ability to earn. Ability. What a word! We were old now. We could not work anymore like we did when we were young. We are honest people and wanted to do the right the right way but the bank wanted us to work three jobs a day to pay them. We tried but could not do that. After that, we had no other choice but to abandon the house and come back to the obscurity of our hometown. The bank chased us but we had nothing of value left for them to take so they decided that we were not worth wasting time on. And, that’s the answer to your question.”
And it was at that moment that it hit Mary what didn’t make sense. “Wait,” she said, “I don’t understand. You said you worked in this town for a long time and then you moved to the new house and had kids there. That should make you a lot older than you look to have two adult children, one becoming a mother and the other graduating from college. And you haven’t told us what happened to Jenny and Ed. How did they …?” Mary couldn’t say the word.
“Die, you want to say?” asked David, “No. They did not die. The boy at the counter who talked to you as you entered is Ed and he could not go to college. He works here at this coffee shop. As for Jenny, Lord knows where she is. She got mixed up with the wrong sort of folks and fled town. I don’t know where she is but I sure hope she is still alive. ”
“Then whose ghosts do we have in the house?” asked Mary, bewildered, to no one in particular.
David stood up to leave, as did his wife, and said, “Miss, you don’t have ghosts of people in your house. What you are seeing and hearing are ghosts of our dreams and hopes. If that house is haunted, it is only haunted by our dreams that didn’t come true. The dreams that we could not pack into our suitcases when we left. We did not have another home to take them to. We had to leave them behind.”
David and Tiffany left the coffee shop, hand in hand, dragging their feet heavy with the weights of their lives tied to them.