Little House of Horrors

By Geri Chrein

    This hair-raising Halloween tale is set in a comfortable house on the East End of Long Island that is inhabited by assaultive demons. A huge black garden spider has been spinning a gauzy net on the front porch, but the real evil lies within.

    It started with a musty odor that at first didn’t cause the lady too much concern. A strong sense of smell and denial are her gifts, so she rationalized it away as garden odor. Her husband, who is even better at denial, didn’t smell anything. It ripened when they left the house and closed all the windows. The demons played when left alone. When the innocent couple returned after a day away, even the husband finally had to admit that he smelled the malevolent odor.

    Every house has at least one tragic flaw, and so it was with this seemingly lovely waterfront house. Underneath the heart-of-pine flooring covering the first floor was a crawl space appropriately named for its low ceiling, which forces all who dare enter to crawl — a dark, damp space that attracted vermin like mice and long-legged crickets. And mold.

    The husband and wife loved their home. They worked to keep it pleasant and safe, dealing with each invading evil in its turn.

    The mice could have lived undetected in the crawl space, but like most mice they got greedy and found their way to the kitchen, where they nibbled on fruit and crumbs, which wasn’t the worst of their intrusions. Mice do not obey that silver rule that human mothers teach their children: “Do not soil where you eat!”

    They had to go. Glue traps seemed cruel, as the stuck mouse squeals for its life. The husband decided on those blue poison pellets, but the mice seemed to think they were dessert. They ate the pellets and came back for more the next night. Finally the wife agreed to the cruel but effective traps.

    The husband and wife never knew long-legged crickets were multiplying by the hundreds below in that damp, dark space. They remain undetected because they are quiet, harmless, and purposeful. Their mission is to breed.

    The mystery odor was growing more noxious; finally it totally replaced the fresh-smelling air in the house. Low tide was more fragrant. Even the odor of garlic couldn’t kill it. It was time to get help.

    Brad, a sweet, fatherly environmental specialist, came to the house, fearlessly descending into the dank crawl space in his pressed pants and stylish shirt. Husband and wife waited anxiously as Brad inspected the space.

    He finally emerged with news no homeowner wants to hear: “Mold, yes, mold is invading your crawl space, covering the floor joists and feasting on the insulation paper. It seems that your dehumidifier is in a comatose state and probably hasn’t been working for a long time.” He couldn’t say what kind of mold, but mold nevertheless.

    “And by the way, the walls are covered with long-legged camel crickets who like the mold, love damp, dark spaces.”

    The wife asked Brad hopefully, “Do they eat mold?”

    “No such luck,” chuckled Brad.

    A mold is to a house what a malignant tumor is to a body. It is scary, potentially life-threatening, and can be cured if caught early enough, but that involves toxic chemicals, surgery, and a lot of money. Neither the husband nor the wife was coping well with the idea of this cancerous invader slowly digesting their house. They were frightened of what could be seen, but terrified of the invisible: airborne fungal spores possibly spreading all over the house.

    They took the advice of ancient wise men who said, “If it smells bad, it is bad for you!” They could feel this unseen enemy invading their aging lungs with every breath.

    They had seen horror movies where prime real estate is plagued by hostile spirits determined to kill all those who would dare to share their space. While the audience sits in the theater nervously eating buttered popcorn, spirits erode the well-being of the naive homeowners. Husband and wife decided to spare no expense to rid their beloved home of this voracious invader polluting the air they breathe.

    This Halloween neither husband nor wife will buy any scary decorations. No need, since they will have men in white suits slipping in and out of their crawl space like a scene from “Ghostbusters” — only these are mold busters. Until their work is done, beware all ye fools who would trespass on this forbidden ground.

    Geri Chrein has several essays in the book “Stringing Words” by the Windmill Writers group. She lives in North Sea.