The Death of Elgin Whitney and His Subsequent Haunting

Elgin Whitney woke early on a sunny spring morning and knew that he was going to die that day. He was ninety-three, so it wasn’t a particularly astounding revelation, but he was healthy for his age. He didn’t have cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or any of the myriad of other ailments one might die from. It was simply his time. To die of nothing, simply because it was your time, seemed like a good way to go.

For breakfast he had bacon, sausage, fried eggs, and a slice of chocolate cake he had bought at the grocery store the week before. It felt wrong to let it spoil in the fridge after he was gone. Most of it went to the old grey terrier he kept around for company. Elgin set his plate on the floor and watched as the dog gobbled up the scraps of meat and licked away the egg and grease. He had never bothered to give the dog a name. “You wolfed that down, you know,” he said. “Maybe I should have named you wolf, but you always looked like a rat to me.” The dog did not appear to be offended by this comparison.

After breakfast he climbed the ladder to the attic. I was cool up there in the dark, and smelled sharp and dusty. He supposed it was the smell of rat droppings and bird droppings. Hanging on to the rafters for support, he walked the length of the attic, stopping at intervals to remove slips of cardboard from thin slots in the walls. No light shone through the gaps, but he felt a slight breeze when he held his hand right against them.

Before descending the ladder he brushed aside the insulation to examine the long, thin iron bar that had been bolted to one of the joists. When the temperature changed quickly, usually just before a storm, the bar would shrink or expand and the house would be filled with creaks and groans. It was a classic effect.

In the bedroom, hidden behind the headboard of his bed, was a grey stain in the shape of a snarling demonic face. No matter how many times the face was painted over, it would always return. Elgin had tested it several times. The face had come from a nightmare he had, many years ago. He didn’t remember the dream, only that face. He had sketched it on a pad of paper, after he had gone around the house and turned on all the lights. Even now he didn’t like looking at it. He supposed that over time the face would fade as the mineral oil spread and mixed with fresh paint, but he thought it would last a long time.

The air outside was wonderful. Elgin paused at his front door, closing his eyes and breathing it in. Clean dew, fresh grass, hay, the manure smell of farm fields across the road. Birds were singing. It really was a lovely morning. But there were clouds building up in the south. A storm would be rolling in later. Elgin opened the plastic bin next to the door and removed an electrical cord. The insulation was stripped away at the end, exposing bare wires. The dog squeezed between his legs to watch. “You get on out of here,” he said. He was firm, but not harsh. “You don’t need to be sticking your nose into the electrics.” He crudely spliced the cord to the grounding wire that ran from the lightning rod on the roof, and plugged it in to the nearby outlet. There was a flash and crackle of electricity, and Elgin’s heart jumped and bucked inside his chest. Inside the house, hidden electromagnets in each of the cabinets flashed to life, repelling magnets hidden in the cabinet doors. Elgin peeked through the door, blinking at the purple spots in his vision, and saw that all the cabinets in the kitchen were now standing wide open. He nodded once, tossed the blackened cord into the trashcan. “You go on now,” he wheezed at the dog. “Go chase squirrels or something. I ain’t having you eating on me after I’m dead.” Elgin went in and sat down in the recliner. His ticker just wasn’t what it used to be.

There was a loose floorboard in the mud room. Just under it, wrapped in red velvet cloth, was a heavy leather bound book written in some foreign language. Handwritten by the look of it, in brownish-red ink. He had found it in an estate sale, tucked away in a closet and had snatched it up right away. The cover had all kinds of monsters and demons carved into it. The man running the sale had told him it was a magic book written by some Arab guy that was meant for summoning monsters and demons and such. Elgin didn’t believe in such things, of course, but he had seen plenty of haunted house movies, and there was usually some secret room or hidden object in the house that was the focus of the haunting. It was expected.

Elgin rocked slowly in his chair and listened to the storm approach. It was getting harder for him to breathe. The wind whipped around the eaves of the old house and a low unearthly moan called down from the attic. Elgin smiled to himself. He thought maybe he should have called his daughter in Boston. “Hello, Kathy. I’m going to die today. Just thought you should know.” It was too late now. At least he had put the dog out.

The house groaned and creaked like a beast rousing itself from a long slumber. Elgin nodded once, satisfied with a job well done, and died.

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