A Haunted House 

Brittany always said that anybody who did not believe in ghosts had obviously never worked in Hollywood, because the place was crawling with them. Obviously, the ghosts were girls; obviously, all of them were either actresses or singers, or they would at one time or another have described themselves as both these things. Almost always, she would see them and immediately feel that something terrible might happen—maybe there and then, or maybe some time later, once she’d let herself sink comfortably into her growing fame as if it were a heart-shaped tub in a hotel, adjusting fully to its heat. She saw ghosts in restaurant booths and limousines, and in the bungalow she stayed in at the Chateau, number thirty—which she chose because the thirtieth was her wedding anniversary, a secret she kept hidden from the press—and in the changing rooms at Kitson. Once, when she was being fitted for a cast, her bare breasts covered in a layer of something blue, she had seen one in the mirror that had frightened her so horribly that she had vomited straight down her chest, ruining several hours’ work and making everybody furious. How could Brittany say that this had nothing to do with the fact that she had come to work a little drunk, and that it was not unusual for a girl to be at least a little drunk when she anticipated being asked to strip down in the workplace, anyway? How could she describe a thing that did not lend itself to rational explanation?

For as long as she remembered, she had been a little more than other people: funnier, prettier, more luminous, more elastic, possessed of a quality that people said put them in mind of Lucille Ball or Carole Lombard. It made sense that she might have a greater aptitude for speaking to the dead. Stephanie, her yoga teacher, had once said that anything insoluble by normal logic was the universe’s will, a twist of fate. Brittany generally thought that Stephanie talked shit—still, how else to explain the way that such things showed themselves to her with such startling regularity, if not because they wanted to impart an urgent message? All of this had led up to the day she’d moved into the house, a curious cluster of white boxes on a vertiginous hillside that looked from the outside as if everything within them might be at an angle. She remembered thinking, looking at the picture on the listing, that the hill looked like a dark mouth full of strange, impacted teeth. When she’d told her husband this, he’d stared at her the way everyone stared at her when she said something strange or funny, as if she were the most dazzling girl on earth, and she had suddenly felt so tired of being charming.

It had taken her three nights of sleeping there without her husband to decide that there was rot spreading inside it. “There’s a cavity in our tooth-house,” she had told him on the phone, wrapping the cord around her finger and trying to put a smile into her voice even though she felt more like crying. On the third night, she had heard a noise outside that had probably been a juvenile coyote, but which sounded so much like a woman’s scream—like Brittany’s scream specifically, she had realised with a jolt—that she’d had to take an Ambien to sleep. At all times, she felt a presence in the house that was not frightening because of its alien nature, but frightening because it was so familiar, as if she were somehow living with her double. She spent more and more time in the tiny en-suite off the bedroom, which she liked because it had so many mirrors that the chances of somebody sneaking up on her were nil; she liked, too, that it was small enough to make her feel like she was barricaded in. (“Your Brittany-sized room,” her husband called it, as if it were specifically built to house her like a tomb.) Often, she would obsessively reapply her make-up, sitting at the counter for what felt like minutes but would turn out to be hours, surprised to discover that her skin was raw and irritated by the time the sun had set. She would scrawl things in her journal, and then notice that some details—certain letters, certain words—did not look right, as if she’d written with her left hand.

It was not just what had happened to the girl she bought it from, although this did not help exactly. She knew B., who bought the multi-dollar mansion on Glen Rise believing it to be her dream home, had eventually succumbed to something strange and inexplicable, which might have been her father’s influence or the attention of the media or the dark and jagged hormones that came sometimes after pregnancy, but might as easily have been the evil house. Brittany’s husband, who otherwise humoured her whenever she behaved brattily or eccentrically, failed to understand why she was now so frightened of the house, to say nothing of the way her brightness seemed to dim with every night they spent there. Without fail, as they swung into the drive after a trip on which she would have been behaving like her usual, sunny self, she would darken, begging him to turn around—to rent a room at the Chateau, or at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “Honey,” he would tell her softly, sounding wearier and wearier, “this is our house. We have to stay in it.” What Brittany struggled to explain was that she felt that if they did stay in the house, they’d never leave—that somehow they would be consumed by it, its terrible teeth and mouth, and in being swallowed end up being part of it forever.

Philippa Snow is a writer, based in Norwich. Her reviews and essays have appeared in publications including Artforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, ArtReview, Frieze, The White Review, Vogue, The New Statesman, The Financial Times, The TLS, and The New Republic. She is currently working on a book about pain for Repeater Books.
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