When my father told me, we’d be moving to Aurelia, I assumed it was just an excuse to get away from the pain of losing my mother. It was always her dream to move out of the city to live the small, quiet town life here in Aurelia. It was the home of her childhood and carried meaning for her. Nearly a year after she had passed, my father – still coping with her absence – decided it was best for the two of us to make the move. He was convinced it would bring him closer to his only daughter. But, as for me, it was simply a chance to belay the grief and, in turn, only pushed me farther from him. What young teenage girl just starting her high school career wants to be the new kid in a town full of strangers? I didn’t expect my father to understand, but showing some compassion or any spark of life would’ve gone a long way in healing our own relationship that had since suffered from my mother’s passing.
There is nothing exciting about being the new kid at a high school. It’s much more difficult after experiencing a family tragedy. You’re put on display before the class to give the other students a chance to criticize and judge you. The boys all wonder whether or not you’ll put out and the girls just want to make sure you join the right clique. It is social stratification at its finest. What makes it even more difficult on a personal level is when I take my seat and draw back my hair behind my ears, revealing the hearing aids. Now, that attention the boys were quick to give has all but disappeared and replaced with glaring looks and whispers. My mother strived to make me the perfect student and had me believe that, despite the disease that had taken my hearing, I’d still fit in. But that all went out the window when she died, and my father did nothing to comfort me in that regard. Now, I’m here in some redneck town attending high school with a bunch of hillbillies and cow-tippers because my father couldn’t get a handle on his emotions. My mother’s dream was my waking nightmare.
Aurelia did not account for much by way of commerce. It was its own little world that did not lend itself to the social norms or the zeitgeist of the nation. But, one thing that it did expect year round, especially during the fall, was the influx of tourists – wayward travelers from all around looking to catch a glimpse of the one thing that familiarized everyone with the town of Aurelia: the house of the Hag. I never lent any credibility to such urban legends. In fact, I prided myself on not falling prey to such fairy tales and bedtime stories. Regardless, the house of the Hag was a hometown favorite. It was so popular that the welcome sign when entering town read: Welcome to Aurelia, home to the House of the Hag.
I walked home from school that day and caught my first glimpse of what everyone called the house of the Hag. It carried all the stereotypes of a witch’s domain; old, decrepit, and run down. It stood in heavy contrast to the town’s lush landscape. The house was certainly foreboding but seemed nothing more than an amusement for the Halloween season. As I admired the building, I was startled by a voice that spoke out from behind me.
“Creepy, isn’t it?”
I turned to see a boy near my age sitting on a bike. He had four other friends on their own bikes sitting behind him. It was a very disparate group of friends with each of them dressed as if they were from a different time period.
“Not really,” I answered. “Isn’t it a little early for Halloween?”
“It’s Halloween year-round in Aurelia. I’m Tommy. This is Lena, George, Bo, and Ellen.”
“I’m Laura,” I greeted. “My dad and I just moved here.”
“Welcome to the neighborhood. So, trying to catch a glimpse of the Hag?”
“Not really, just figured I’d check out what it is that everyone seems to be so obsessed with.”
“You don’t believe the story about the Hag?” Bo asked.
“I can’t really say I’m familiar with the story to even believe in it.”
All the kids looked at one another in disbelief as if I was the only person they ever met that didn’t know the story.
“She doesn’t know the story?” Lena whispered to the others.
“Maybe we should tell her,” George muttered.
“That’s okay, I actually have to get home,” I responded, trying to dismiss myself from the conversation.
“It’s alright guys, some people are just too afraid,” Tommy goaded.
He was calling me out, so I stepped up to his challenge.
“Alright kid, you think I’m afraid of a ghost story? Humor me.”
“The story goes that the Hag was the spirit of an alleged witch who lived on the outskirts of town. She had been marked by the town as an outcast; believed to have been preying upon the townsfolk for years, no one would dare acknowledge her. One day, a grifter came through town and attempted to swindle the hag of the few belongings she had. She took her revenge on him by locking him up and torturing him to death. His screams were so loud that she could not stand his voice, so she sewed his mouth shut, stifling his painful cries until he finally died. When the town caught wind of what she had done to the man, a mob of townsfolk armed with torches and pitchforks encircled her house, dragged her out from her house and hung her from a nearby tree. After she died, a ritual was performed to keep her spirit confined within the walls of her home so she could not continue to wreak havoc on Aurelia. The house remained abandoned and anyone that’s entered has never been seen again. Some nights the house glows red from the inside, most likely a sign to let the town know she still exists. They say the only way she can be stopped is to call her by her real name. But nobody knows her name.”
“Is that it?” I asked. “Is that the whole fairy tale?”
Tommy looked at me confused.
“Well, if you’re so brave, then why don’t you go inside and get a look at her?”
“I’ve entertained enough of your spooky stories for sleepovers and campfires, but I have homework to do.”
“You know,” he called out as I walked away. “You may not believe in her, but she believes in you.”
It was an odd thing to say. What could he have meant by that? That evening, I looked out my bedroom window at the small town nestled outside. If it wasn’t all so foreign to me, it would have seemed like a quaint, peaceful town. Just a couple blocks over, I could see the roof of the Hag’s house peering over the line of neighborhood houses. Though allegedly older than the town itself, Hag’s house towered over the rest of the houses in town. I had clear view of the window at the top of Hag’s house in the light of the moon from my attic bedroom. I pondered the whole legend of the Hag, wondering where the story of the witch really originated. I couldn’t have been staring out my window more than two minutes when I suddenly witnessed the window at the top of Hag’s house light up red, then burn out immediately. From where I stood, it looked as though the entire room had been bathed in a solid red light that abruptly went out. As I stood astounded, I began to hear commotion down on street level. I lowered my gaze down to the street to see young Tommy and his gang of friends riding and running around the neighborhood as if it were the middle of the day. What kind of parents would let their children go out to play in the neighborhood in the middle of the night? What I found to be even more peculiar was the fact that if the people of this town actually believed in the legend of the Hag, would you, as a parent, really be that cavalier as to let your kid out at such a late hour?
A week had gone by and I came to learn that everybody in town was intimate with the story of the Hag, speaking of it proudly as if it were some sort of historical landmark. There was something very strange about the town’s relationship with the abandoned house. People who had lived in Aurelia their entire lives still gawked at the house in awe. Several times, I had witnessed neighborhood families pass by the house with their children waving toward the house. The Hag had been more and more on my mind as of late. Not that my attitude towards it had changed – I still believed it was all just a bedtime story – but I could not stop thinking about seeing the window light up red that evening. To my mind, it looked as though the house came alive in that moment. One afternoon, I walked my usual route home which brought me past the house of the Hag once again. Looking up at the window that once lit up red, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Just then, I was startled by the presence of Tommy and his gang, who seemed to have snuck up behind me in an attempt to scare me.
“Jesus, where the hell did you come from?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” answered Tommy coyly. “You seem pretty jumpy today. I guess you’re not as brave as you say you are.”
“Is this all you guys do? Just hang around outside an abandoned house trying to goad people into trespassing?”
“Why not?” sneered Tommy. “We’ve all seen her, so we’re not afraid. What’s it to you anyways?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You said it yourself, no one who’s entered has been seen again.”
“We all have and we’re all still here.”
“Fine,” I responded angrily, finally caving. “You want me to go inside the stupid house? I’ll do it as long as it shuts you up.”
Tommy and the other kids grew elated.
“I knew you couldn’t say no. Meet us here tonight at 9pm. Devil’s Night will be the perfect night for a visit.”
“You better be here,” I warned as they rode off.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to get rid of those kids and prove them wrong. That night, I snuck out to meet Tommy and his friends outside the house of the Hag. My father, as per usual, was none the wiser as he steeped himself into his nightly routine of vegetating on the couch in front of the television. I arrived outside the abandoned house and, to no surprise of mine, the neighborhood kids were nowhere to be found. I stood outside the house for several minutes, but no sign of Tommy or any of his friends materialized. As I waited, my eyes wandered to the Hag’s abandoned house. The very soil on which it sat looked as though it was poisoned. Then, I heard a tap at one of the windows, like a pebble striking the glass. I shot my gaze up to the attic window and saw the cloth shades moving. I felt my heart flutter, but before I could react, a heavy object struck me over the back of the head and everything went black.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself inside the house of the Hag, unaware of how I got inside. I climbed to my feet to discover a note stuffed into my hand which read:
“Stay quiet! She waits…”
Tommy. It had to be. Contemplating what kind of sick individual would do such a thing, I noticed that my hearing aids were gone. That bastard must have removed my hearing aids before ditching me in the abandoned house. Though dark as it was inside, the streetlights from outside provided enough illumination to move about the house. A layer of cobwebs and dust covered the entire house. It was obvious that nothing had been touched in over a hundred years, causing me to wonder if the stories of other people entering were ever true. Lethargic from a throbbing headache, I slowly made my way around the main hall of the house. All that remained within the house was the bare structure and pieces of the furniture and décor that previously existed. There were several paintings that still hung on the walls. The images were rather disturbing to say the least; Paintings of torture victims on mechanical devices carried out by what looked like members of the clergy, people being hung upside down by their feet, scenes of eternal torment. Looking at them gave me chills.
The staircase to the second floor was to the right and to the left, a large fireplace with a shattered mirror above the mantle. I squinted into the mirror catching small reflections of myself in the shards that still remained. Suddenly, I caught the faint reflection of a shadow appearing from the hall of the second floor. I turned and gasped, but just as I did, the creature stopped in its tracks momentarily. As it resumed, it walked toward the top of the staircase. Getting a better look, I noticed the creature took the form of an old woman who seemed very frail and harmless. She looked directly at me, then turned away and continued to descend the stairs. At first, I felt genuinely scared, finally having learned that the famous “Hag” was actually real and that I was truly staring at a ghost. But, after sharing a brief silence of disbelief with the shadow in the same room, I actually felt relief, for nothing about the ghost of an old woman felt threatening.
“So you’re the big bad Hag, aren’t you?” I asked. As the words left my mouth, the Hag moved toward me at blinding speed and appeared standing before me. Frightened, I fell back against the mantle, causing more noise as the mirror shards fell to the floor. The noise further agitated the Hag, causing her to become more menacing. I stared into her hollow eyes as her face briefly shifted from an old woman to a hideous demon, all the while shushing me like some kind of librarian to stay quiet. Returning to her frail, elder form, she turned away and began to hobble back through the house. She walked around the corner to the back of the house, but not before looking back at me, as if signaling me to follow. I walked after her and as I rounded the corner she was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a door that seemed to lead to the basement swung open. I glanced down the stairs to see a pulsing glow of red light growing from deep within the basement. It was no room at the bottom of the stairs, but an entrance to what looked like a cave under the foundation of the house. It was at this moment I began to admit my fear. I turned to make my way for the front door but was confronted by the monstrous face of the Hag keening at me. Terrified, I fell backwards down the stairs. The door behind me slammed shut and despite my every effort, would not open again. I had no choice, but to press onward toward the glowing red light. There was no basement, but a simple rocky corridor lit with torches that winded deeper into the ground below the house. As I got closer to source of the light, I began to feel a humming sound beat against my ears. I felt panic begin to consume me. The corridor then opened up to an underground chamber. In the center of the chamber stood a large, black-stone monolith etched with runes of unknown origins. The pulsing red light originated from the monolith itself, seeping out of the cracks and etchings in the stone. How anything like this ever came to be in the small town of Aurelia, I could never be sure. I lifted my hand to touch the stone but could feel the heavy vibrations as well as an immense energy radiating from the monolith. I abruptly pulled my hand away. In the rear of the chamber, I noticed several shadows against the walls. Five figures stood motionless in the recesses of the darkened room. I moved in closer and, to my amazement, recognized the figures to be Tommy, Lena, George, Bo, and Ellen. They were bound in barbed wire with their mouths and eyes sewn shut. I could feel myself crying out in horror, though I could not hear myself. The vibrations grew like an earthquake and the red pulsing light stopped blinking and instead lit up the room. At Tommy’s feet were my hearing aids. I put them back in just in time to hear a voice speak out.
“Told you you’d be afraid.”
Behind me stood none other than Tommy, Lena, George, Bo and Ellen, alive and well.
“Tommy?” I gasped in utter confusion. “What the hell is going on? What is this? What are you guys?”
“It’s like I said, no one comes out alive.”
I collapsed to my knees, crippled by an incapacitating fear. Praying for a swift and painless death, I lifted my head to see the Hag step out from behind the monolith. But as she moved closer to me, her form changed once more – not into the demonic essence I had previously witnessed, but a young and beautiful woman who looked exactly like my mother.
“No harm shall come to you, my child,” whispered the Hag in a soft, sweet voice.
“Close, but not quite,” interjected Tommy. “She is your ancestor, a blood descendant. Part of her has lived on through your mother’s lineage. But her spirit has been trapped in this house ever since, yearning to be returned to her true form. Only a blood descendant can free her from this prison. She has waited centuries for the right one to come so that she can be whole again.”
“No,” I denied. “It can’t be true.”
“Look to the monolith and you’ll see the truth.”
The Hag extended her hand to me, offering to help me to my feet. I stood and looked into the rocky surface of the monolith. I began to see images of the past – a mob of angry people dragging a beautiful woman to a tree and tying a noose around her neck. The woman was the Hag, but before she became what she is. As they prepared her hanging, the woman muttered incantations while she looked upon a young girl with love. The young girl was her sister, forced to watch her sister hang. Afterwards, the young girl returned to where her sister’s body hung. She cut down her body and laid it to rest next to the monolith where she spoke the same incantation. Inside her, there existed a blood vengeance that would carry on through generations all the way to myself. I saw it with my own eyes; though I could hardly believe it.
“Your mother always knew of your family origins,” Tommy explained. “She embraced it. It was her dream to move here where you and your family would be reunited with the past so that you could assume your place as the chosen vessel.”
“A vessel for what?”
“For her return.”
The images within the monolith faded and in its place appeared my reflection. Behind me stood the Hag, transformed into the hideous banshee. Her reflection merged with mine and I felt compelled to touch the monolith once more. As I did, it exploded with energy like a bomb going off, bathing the entire chamber in blinding red light. After a brief spell, the light abruptly went out. The Hag was gone, but Tommy, Lena, George, Bo, and Ellen remained. I felt a sense of calm wash over me.
“Well,” Tommy began. “How do you feel?”
I took my hearing out of my ear, crushed it under my foot and smiled.
“Wonderful,” Tommy answered. “The town is yours.”
I left the underground chamber and casually returned to the surface. As I stepped out of the front door, members of the town began to gather outside. It would seem that the entire town was under the influence of the Hag. They arrived to welcome the reincarnation of their leader. Armed with silence, I moved to make my mark on the world.
Zach Ellenberger is a writer based in Chicago where he lives with his wife, daughter and two dogs. Zach has previously published a handful of short stories with Spillwords including "Misanthrope" and "House of the Hag." He recently released his debut novel "Potato Kingdom" and is currently hard at work finishing his next novel. As a lover of history, Zach writes a weekly blog called "History Never Forgets" which provides highlights into historical figures as well as events and the impacts that they had on their time periods.