Across the street there's a dim light flickering, an electric bulb pretending it's a candle. It won't be long before the shadows chew off enough of the waning glow to swallow the whole room. Every now and again a silhouette passes the window as someone inside paces. In all likelihood it's Mr. Williams who owns the house. He lives alone. There used to be a Mrs. Williams, but she's been gone close to twenty years.
Every so often Mr. Williams goes to the window to peer out. His face pale and cracked. Time enjoyed sculpting it, yet one can't help feeling Mr. Williams doesn't care for the outcome. Perhaps the reasons for each and every crag irritate him. Like a necessity one can't avoid but still hates, he accepts being the gargoyle glowering through the window.
That face, glancing with a single evil eye, has scared children off his lawn for decades. The oldest neighborhood residents claim there used to be a time Mr. Williams smiled. The kind of grin that infected even the most glum person. He didn't find the silver lining, Mr. Williams was the silver lining. But things changed.
Glaring out the window Mr. Williams looks at his watch. Something is on its way. Though it has no sense of time, not the way humans understand the concept, something is late.
Mrs. Williams died. It was quick, but still painful, and nothing could be done to stop it. The doctors didn't even seem to try.
The local priest stopped by to tell Mr. Williams about Job. The neighbors came to tell Mr. Williams everything would be all right. He found both kinds of visits peculiar. The priest telling him god didn't mind killing to win a bet, and the neighbors, young couples sitting next to each other, saying everything would be fine without any idea how he felt. Of course it could be fine, if he wanted it to be fine. But he didn't. He only wanted Ellen.
The rain is coming down, a light drizzle. Lightning flashes and thunder on the horizon suggest this is the advance guard. A deluge is coming. The light across the street grows a bit dimmer.
For two years Mr. Williams kept his wife's garden going. He lacked her green thumb, yet the flowers managed to bloom. He threw a few parties, and though his smile seemed a tad weaker than usual, he appeared convivial. It wasn't until around Christmas the rumors started. Soon after the neighbors stopped coming.
Down the block a figure in a trench coat is walking through the rain. Moving so quickly the person seems to be gliding along, a long red scarf trailing behind fluttering in the wind, up turned collar and a low slouch hat helping the scarf keep the face hid. The figure stops in front of Mr. Williams house, consults a slip of paper then advances up the walk to the front door.
It was the third year following Ellen Willaims' passing. Mr. Williams was the last to arrive at the annual Fosters' Christmas party. He came in breathless, his old smile spread wide. People felt relieved to see him so genial. He appeared revitalized. He cracked jokes, came across as charming, even danced a bit with Glenn Haugh's pretty cousin. Things seemed to be on the upswing for the widower. But then someone -- Toby Fitch, who would never admit to it despite everyone remembering it was him -- made the mistake of remarking: "Good to see you're your old self Pete. Whatever's made the change, it's for the better."
Pete Williams just smiled. He suspected he shouldn't say anything, yet felt compelled. Four Rob Roys will do that.
Grinning from ear to ear Pete said, "She's back."
"Who's back?" Toby asked.
The figure knocks at the front door. Mr. Williams silhouette passes across the window. The door opens. The figure goes inside. Mr. Williams glances up and down the street. Seeing nothing to worry him, he closes the door.
The party shifted gears after that statement. People wanted to be accommodating, however, there are certain things which polite society refuses to endure. One in particular is the declaration a man's deceased wife has been visiting him in the night.
Pete tried to put their minds at ease saying he thought the same as them. Grief had finally won out, cracked his mind, and he was seeing things. But she was real. He felt her hand pass through his when she tried to touch him. She felt like cold vapor; the chilly cloud that sometimes escaped the freezer. The more he talked about his wife the more uncomfortable the others became. When a few tried to humor him -- "Pete, if you say it's true then it is." -- Mr. Williams got angry.
He didn't need them to believe him for what he said to be true. And it hurt in a way he couldn't describe for years -- like the marrow started to boil in his bones -- that his friends and neighbors saw his happiness as a sign of sickness. Sure, he understood their hesitation, but still, when had he ever seemed inclined to spiritualist nonsense? He never entirely believed in god let alone ghosts. He went so far as to tell them all the ways he tried to disprove what was happening; and how such endeavors put such a look on Ellen's ethereal face that each time he tried to show himself she wasn't real he felt a knife twist in his stomach. She was real. So very real.
The light goes out across the street. Well, the electric light. Somewhere in the living room a vague purplish iridescence sparkles at irregular intervals. It moves from one side of the window to another as if wandering the room. Then a great flash of purple light goes off, and if one is watching in that moment it's clear there are three figures standing in the living room. A man, a woman, and something vaguely human.
Upon realizing no one would believe him Mr. Williams stormed out of the party. A few of the neighbors tried to talk to him over the next few days, but he ignored them. Glenn Haugh even went so far as to knock on the front door, and ask if there was a chance he might see Ellen. Pete invited him in. The fact Glenn died of a heart attack that night doesn't necessarily prove anything. He was overweight, drank too much, smoked too much, and yet... all it proved was that something unhealthy was beginning to pervade the Williams' home.
Neighbors stopped coming by. Their children learned by their parents example to shun the decaying house. Once upon a time he might've become Uncle Pete to some of the neighborhood kids. Now he was just Mr. Williams. Crazy old Mr. Williams.
In the summer time kids watched the house, especially the way lights never went off at night. Sleepovers in Max Foster's treehouse often devoted whole stretches to rumors about what went on in there. Stories of witchcraft, devil worship, and grim experiments on dead things. Any pet that went missing was presumed to be in Mr. Williams clutches. Its blood used to summon up ghosts, or electrodes run throughout its body to see what got twitching. And often these tales of the macabre ended with a round of dares to see who was brave enough to sneak up to the house and peer through a window. The few who dared never really saw anything, though always came back with something to tell:
"Too dark to see much, but I think that's cuz there's a couple people in there. They don't want to be seen. Man, I don't think he's alone."
"Some record was playing, but I heard him talking to somebody."
"He was eating dinner. I never saw a steak looked like that."
"That place is too clean for him to be human."
"I didn't see anything, but I smelled something weird."
The light comes back on across the street. The front door opens soon after. The figure departs, leaving with the rain. Two weeks later an odor forces the neighbors to call the authorities. The door is forced open, and Mr. Williams is found dead on the couch. Smiling.
Years vanished. The neighborhood went on without Pete Williams, treating him like an unwanted birth mark, or scar. Always there, but easily ignored. The few who did try to bring him back into the fold rarely tried for very long. When people waved he gave them the finger. This became a game with the now teenage neighborhood kids -- wave at Williams. His once charming wit now went to making cutting remarks. His infectious smile metastasized into a contagious frown. He brought the worst out in every situation, and reveled in the miserable state he produced in others. The only time he appeared even remotely content was on his way home as if the only thing that still made him happy was in there.
He spent most of his time inside. The lights never went out at night, and people did truly wonder if the man ever slept. Sometimes the teens, stoned and drunk, still played daring games, sneaking up to the house to peer inside. However, even twisted on weed the kids no longer believed the wild stories they told one another. Mr. Williams was just an old crank who hated people. As far they knew that's all he'd ever been. The fact he was a weirdo was easily inferred from the strange visitors he sometimes entertained.
Infrequently people would stop by the house. They looked like academics bewildered by a reality outside of libraries; wild haired bookworms in mismatched clothes with thick glasses; gypsy fortune tellers straight out of the silver screen. Some came with bizarre scientific equipment, others with thick leather books, and always they left with self satisfied smirks as something in the house made them more sure of themselves.
That said, the one good thing about the suburbs is that people tend to mind their own business. Sure the gossips debated what all those visitors were about, but no one ever thought to directly ask Mr. Williams. The neighborhood left him to his own devices so long as his peculiarities stayed indoors -- contained.
A few neighbors go to Pete Williams funeral. He doesn't really have much family, and they hope he's found a peace in death he lost in life. The usual regrets come to the surface. Folks wonder if perhaps more could've been done for the mad widower. Hell, he experienced a loss none of them have had to endure. Death is hypothetical to so many people. There's no telling how one will react. Still, what's done is done.
Around nine that evening, the light goes on across the street. The record player turns on. Neighbors figure some teens have broken into the house. Mr. Foster marches across the street to set them straight -- "Dman kids. No respect." He has a spare key, has had one almost since the Williams first moved in, so he let himself inside.
"What the hell is going on in here?" he bellows at... no one. The house is empty.
The last conversation anyone ever had with Pete Williams was close to a week before his death. Rita Miller, formerly Mrs. Haugh, saw him at the grocery store picking out a bottle of wine. Despite the years, Pete's smile still looked the same. Rita never blamed Pete for what happened to Glenn. She always thought it was bad timing. Perhaps if Glenn hadn't died there, well, maybe people wouldn't've thought such dark thoughts about Pete's house.
"Pete? Pete Williams?"
A smile inviting to all, "Rita Haugh."
"Yes, though it's Miller now."
"Heavens no. I remarried about, oh, seven years after Glenn passed."
"That was such a shame Rita. I really am so sorry."
Rita cast a dismissive wave, "It was nobody's fault."
"Ellen did startle him."
Rita's face sank. She moved away shortly after Glenn's funeral. She kept in touch with few people from the block. Although no one really mentioned Pete, she'd hoped he'd dropped the silly notion of Ellen's ghost as time passed.
Trying to change the subject Rita pointed at the wine, "Getting ready for a special occasion?"
Pete nodded, "Rita, I'm going to let you in on a little secret." -- Pete leaned in close to whisper -- "People waste their time trying to bring the dead back to life when it's easier to go to them. The trick is dying the right way."
Rita asked, "Pete, how are things? Really."
Pete smiled, and Rita felt a grin spread on her own face, "My dear, sweet, Mrs. Miller, everything is splendid."
No one lives in the Williams house for very long. Anyone who does complains about certain occurrences. The furniture is always being rearranged. The television won't stay off even when unplugged. Lights turn themselves on. Doors open and shut. Voices are heard chatting in empty rooms. Footsteps in vacant halls, or the radio plays on its own followed by the sound of two people are dancing.
Though no one has ever complained that the presence in the building is anything close to malevolent, it's clear something already calls the place home.