The House

The house was haunted.

“Haunted” might not be the correct word. The house wasn’t filled with evil spirits. Bad things never happened there. There was something about the house, however. It had an energy to it. It wasn’t alive exactly, not in the sense that people could understand, but anyone who lived there long enough could agree that it definitely had a personality. It wanted good things for those who lived there. If they treated the house well.

The Andersens were first. The house was built in 1952 near one of the many orange orchards that still scattered the San Fernando Valley. In those days, a single income family could easily afford a two bedroom house, even in California. Jack and Kay were high school sweethearts and were looking forward to settling down and starting a family. Kay’s father, who was a banker, insisted on buying them the nicest house he could find, but they both knew it would have to be in Pasadena. That’s where Kay’s parents lived, and it was perfectly fine for the young couple to live as far away from the overbearing family as possible.

Fortunately, Jack had taken over his father’s florist business after his folks retired and moved to Phoenix. He was hardly raking in the dough, but it was a living. Plus, he loved gardening, so when they found the house, it was love at first sight.

The house was not like the other houses in the neighborhood, which were cleanly lined up in row after row of this slowly growing suburbia of perfectly manicured lawns. This house was at the end of a block, squeezed oddly between two much bigger properties. It was small and didn’t seem like much, but it had personality. The biggest draw was the orange tree in the background, which the builder had almost cut down, but Jack was relieved they had not. Kay enjoyed the aroma of the blossoms as she gardened, and Jack made fresh squeezed orange juice every day.

They were barely in the house a year when they welcomed their first child, Mimi. A couple years later, she was followed by the twins, Frank and Ollie. The florist shop continued to be successful. In fact, it was more successful than Jack ever counted on, and when the kids were old enough, he would have them run deliveries.

And so they stayed in the house for years until the kids grew up, moved out, went to college. Before Jack and Kay knew it, it was time for them to retire to Phoenix. The house was good to them. They had a good life, but it was time to move on. Nothing lasts forever.

It was around this time that Frank inherited the house, and the house did not like that. It would have preferred Mimi to stay with it, but she ran off to San Francisco in the 70’s. Ollie would’ve been much better too. Frank, on the other hand—well, Frank didn’t much like the house, and the house didn’t like Frank much either.

Frank had allergies. At least, he claimed to have allergies, but the house was sure that was just an excuse he came up with as a child to keep from helping his mother in the garden. He hated that garden. Most of all, he hated that orange tree. He hated the way it smelled. He hated how it took up a corner of the yard. Most of all, he hated how much everyone else in the family loved it.

Frank planned to cut the tree down, dig up the garden, and add an extension to the house. The house did not like that at all.

Frank got as far as digging up the garden. Well, he hired someone to dig up the garden. They didn’t get as far as the tree, though. On the first day of the landscaping, it began to rain. No one expected the rain to last for long, as it never did in L.A., but it lasted this time. It lasted for days. In fact, it was almost 2 weeks of straight rain before finally subsiding.

The biggest rain Southern California had seen in years. There were floods. A landslide in the Hollywood Hills closed Laurel Canyon for weeks. It was a nightmare. Especially for Frank, who lived up Laurel Canyon and made it home one day to find his living room flooded with mud.

After that rain, Frank had better things to do than worry about the house, so the house sat there. The house was pleased to not have Frank around to mess with it anymore, but the house also got lonely. And dirty.
Frank left the house empty and abandoned for a few years after that. Squatters came, but they never lasted. The house might have been content for anyone to stay here as long as they treated it with respect, but something always happened—either a broken window or jammed door or some object through the drywall. The worst was a squatter who left the sink running, and it started to flood the kitchen.

In the end, the house always found a way to get rid of them. Raccoons or screeching cats from the neighborhood usually did the trick. Occasionally, a gas leak would alert the fire department. Once, there was even a stray roman candle on the 4th of July that was set off down the street to a patrolling police cruiser, and that was the end of that.
After a while, the house got a reputation for being haunted. No one squatted there anymore. And the house was so filthy, Frank never had any hope of renting it out. Finally, suffering a bad decade of financial failure one after the other, Frank turned to his twin brother Ollie to help him unload the house. Ollie had fond memories of the house, but he hardly knew what to do with it. Fortunately, he knew Roberto.

Roberto Hernandez was a carpenter whom Ollie had initially worked with in the old flower shop and had since done work for Ollie. Ollie didn’t know much about carpentry, but he (unlike Frank) did know money. The house was a financial ruin, and it needed to be fixed up, pronto. Ollie bought out Frank’s share in the house, which really meant paying off the extra mortgage Frank had taken out on it to fun his failed endeavors. Then, Ollie immediately hired Roberto to get to work cleaning up the house.

For the most part, the house didn’t need a lot of work on the structure. It looked a lot worse than anything, so Roberto was thrilled with the job. The back yard was the worst of it. Frank had really gone above when he dug up the garden. Half the yard was even filled in with cement. Sadly, there was no helping that, at least at the moment, but at least the orange tree was still standing. Roberto really liked that tree.

So, Roberto and his boys spent the next few months patching up where they could and rebuilding where they needed. New doors and windows came in. Hard wood floor was repaired. Several new coats of paint later, and the house looked as good as new. Better even. Ollie found it remarkable how the house looked even better than he remembered.

However, Ollie still didn’t know what to do with the house. He supposed he could rent it out, but he didn’t really have the patience to deal with a tenant. Then, the house took care of that for him too.

Roberto Hernandez loved this house, especially after all this work he’d put into it. And the house liked him as well. It just so happened that Roberto and his wife were expecting their second child, and they were desperate to find a place bigger than the 1-bedroom duplex they were renting out of. As soon as Ollie realized that, he wondered if Roberto would like the place.

The Hernandez’s could hardly afford to buy their own house at the moment, but Ollie didn’t see why that should be a problem. He would rent to them at a perfectly fair rate. And as long as they maintained the house, he foresaw no reason why he would ever raise the rent on them, even if they stayed for years.

It was a deal. The Hernandez family moved in, paid Ollie the best deal on rent that could be found in the 80’s, and they were better than their word. Over the years Roberto continued to improve on the house—painting, refurbishing, even putting in a pack porch to cover that awful concrete—and the longer they stayed there, the more the house liked them. The more the house liked Roberto, the more successful he became.

Before long, Roberto had saved up enough that they could finally afford to buy a home of their own. They loved the house, but he knew land wasn’t getting any cheaper, and who knew how long Ollie would really keep renting to them. He approached Ollie first, of course, on the off chance that he would sell the house to them. The house hoped he would, but Ollie had no interest in selling. He might not have lived there, but it was still his childhood home. Also, he had to be honest, if the Hernandez’s really moved out, he could charge the next tenants that much more.

So, the Hernandez family moved out. They continued to be prosperous—maybe not as prosperous as they had been when they lived in the house, but they did well for themselves. They found a perfect new house up in Sun Valley, had many happy years, and all the kids—eventually 4 in all—went to college.

Ollie never found renters like the Hernandez family again. He didn’t always get bad renters, but he didn’t always get good renters. The house liked some of them just fine, but none of them treated the house the way Roberto and his family treated the house. This was just a place to live for most of them. For some of them, they didn’t show the house any respect. None of them lasted more than a couple years. Some didn’t even last the full year. The Los Angeles rental market was such that Ollie never had a hard time finding renters. He just had a hard time keeping them.

Ollie was finally over it by the time the new millennium rolled around. He liked the idea of keeping the house in the family, but it had gotten to be too much of a hassle maintaining the house and maintaining the tenants. So it was, in the summer of 2007, at the height of the housing market, Ollie turned the biggest profit of his life by selling the house. And the house hated him for it.

The buyer was some hotshot kid who fancied himself a budding real estate tycoon. That’s what the kid thought, anyway. To be honest, the house could never remember this kid’s name, but boy oh boy was this kid a slime ball. The kid wasn’t an actual real estate developer, of course. He was just some trust fund baby who thought he could turn a big profit by flipping the house. And so he got to work on it—“it” being “losing all his money in the biggest real estate crash since the Depression.”

The house had already been through this with Frank. It knew exactly what the kid intended to do. So, the crash came about at just the right time. The kid was so immediately broke, he couldn’t even afford to start planning all the revamps that would “improve” the house. So, again, the house remained empty, and within a year, the kid put the house back on the market.

Then came Ellie. The house knew as soon as it saw her that Ellie Kim was its favorite. Ellie was single but successful. She was approaching her 30’s and was over going from roommate to roommate in various apartments, and she wanted something of her own. If she was being honest with herself, Ellie did not think she wanted to buy a house. A nice condo or townhome would do. Some place nice and secure but homey. She could afford something but she didn’t think she could afford much. And then her realtor took her to the house. She fell in love. And so did the house.

The house could sense that the kid wanted to sell the house to a developer, thinking that he’d get a better deal than if he sold to an individual, but the developers that bid on the house low-balled him, which pissed the kid off. Ellie’s offer was good, it was at list price, and she could put down twenty percent. So, the house made sure the kid picked Ellie’s offer.

Within a month, escrow closed, Ellie moved in, and so began the next best years of the house’s life.

Ellie loved the house, and the house loved her. They took care of each other. Ellie landscaped the back yard and put a garden back in. She painted and even redid the master bathroom with that claw-foot tub she always wanted. The house was there to shelter the stray kitten Ellie adopted. It was there to protect her console her when her grandfather died. And it really liked when she met Sam.

The house witnessed all the years. It was there for Ellie when Sam moved in and when they were married; when the rare seven day storm came and flooded the street and the power went out but they stayed cozy; when they fostered and then adopted Xander; when Xander caught his first cold and took his first steps; and when she got that perfect new job she was after.

But the house knew, not everything could last forever.

The job Ellie had worked so hard to get was what people called “too perfect.” She loved it, she was respected, and within a year she was promoted. However, that promotion came with a big catch. They had to move to Seattle. Sam was supportive, of course, and started reaching out to head-hunters immediately. Xander had lived here his whole life, but he was still young and would get used to it. He would enter Kindergarten next year, so the timing was perfect.

The only thing that wasn’t perfect was, Ellie would have to leave the house.

Ellie loved the house, and the house still loved her. They had been through a lot, but the house knew it had to be time to move on. Ellie would continue to live a wonderful life, but she couldn’t be with the house forever. And Ellie would always remember this house.

She wanted to keep it, maybe rent it out, but Ellie knew that was a pipe dream. They needed the equity. She wanted to sell it to someone who would treat the house right, but as hot as the Los Angeles real estate market was, they needed to move quickly. And with a young boy and an old cat, no less.

It went better than expected. The young couple they sold the house to seemed nice enough. They certainly liked the house. But the house was never sure of them. They were high rollers, and the house knew it was just a stepping stone for them, something to build equity on till they could afford some place better, more hip. It wasn’t anything malicious. They took care of the house well enough, even made some improvements, but in the end it was all only to turn a profit. The house knew this was the end.

Before long, the house was back on the market, and this time the developers looking for properties in the area were aggressive. It was easy for them to outbid anyone who could only afford list price or couldn’t quite make twenty percent down. The developer who bought the house knew what they were doing. And so did the house.

After escrow closed, the house sat vacant for a couple months while plans were drawn up and permits were applied for. The neighbors even wondered what was happening with that house. No one ever knew what was really happening with the house, but it was a hidden little gem of the neighborhood. Concern grew.

So when the demolition crew arrived, it was not without shock and mourning.

But the house knew. It had been expecting it. The house only wanted to keep its occupants safe and happy. It hoped whatever would be built in its place would do the same. The house had seen a good life. It would live in the memories of those that loved it, even as they lived in its own. So when the neighbors witnessed with horror when the house was torn down, even they knew the neighborhood would never be the same.

After all, nothing lasted forever.

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All stories by Peter Di Cicco

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