It was a ramshackle, seven bedroom Victorian house that clung to the side of a small hill. The front porch pitched ever so slightly to the right, and the paint flaked off the attic cupola in snow-like tufts. But it had beautiful bones, this house…both literally and metaphorically. Decades ago, as the tale went, a young boy died of tuberculosis in a first floor bedroom. His parents, heartbroken, hung themselves in the attic.
When I was in college, eight of us inhabited the Earlham House, as it came to be known. One night, the roommates and I were sitting in the parlor watching Beverly Hills 90210 (that’s right, I’m not ashamed!) when…
The noise came from the first floor bedroom. Another followed: BANG! Another: BANG! As Kelly Taylor squealed, “Dylannnn!”, we raced to the bedroom to discover all of the framed photos, previously hanging on the walls, face down in the middle of the floor.
Someone actually gasped, and the terror was palpable. A week ago, the girl who inhabited the same room had told us how she woke to find a small, child-sized figure at the foot of her bed. We brushed it off to the previous evening spent with her friend Jose Cuervo, but now we believed. There was no explanation for the pictures… or the cold spots on the back staircase… or the feeling that someone was always watching… waiting…
(Insert funereal organ music here.)
In honor of Earlham House, here’s a list of some of the creepiest abodes in literature - eschewing obvious contenders like 112 Ocean Avenue (aka “The Amityville house”; everyone knows that place sucked) and Hill House (because was it really the house that was haunted?)
The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story by Horace Walpole (1764)
When something calls itself “a gothic story” right in the title, you better believe it’s a quintessential gothic novel with a quintessential haunted castle. While Otranto’s creepiness may feel a bit dated nowadays, would you spend the night there? Helmets falling from high places, portraits that walk away by themselves, secret passageways, apparitions…Otranto is O.O.G.: Original Olde Gothic.
Dr. Sam Hatch’s house
The Mourning House, Ronald Malfi (DarkFuse, 2012)
The dilapidated house overlooking the Chesapeake Bay sang its siren song to Dr. Sam Hatch after an accident wiped out his entire family. Despite warnings from the locals (like, “Quite literally, it bites”), Sam buys it (because, of course) and starts to renovate with a single-minded focus born out of his despair. Soon the house is taunting him with mysterious noises; small, strange objects turn up in unlikely places, and Sam finds it almost impossible to leave the property. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, agoraphobic, all the -phobics.
“The Jolly Corner”, Henry James (1908)
James is a master of ambiguity, of atmosphere, of “strange and sinister.” He’s a master, as most writers working in this genre are, of the unreliable narrator. See: Spencer Brydon, the subject of this particular short story. Brydon returns to his vacant childhood home in New York City, nicknamed “Jolly Corner”, only to encounter a very strange ghost: the one of the unlived life. I tried to ponder the possibly of “me haunting me”, and – well, let’s just say I would never, ever want to move into Jolly Corner. Even with its prime Fifth Avenue location.
“The Rats in the Walls” by H.P. Lovecraft (1923)
Once upon a time, a rat lived in my wall (as is par for the course when your city apartment is above a restaurant). One night, the sound of its rustling, its scratching, its GNAWING was so loud it woke me, and I, in turn, woke my boyfriend by screeching, “It’s in the walls! It’s coming inside! For god’s sake, it’s like a horror movie!”
That’s Exham Priory. Except instead of rats, our accursed hero Delapore finds much, much worse.
The Navidson House
House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Born online, House of Leaves has achieved cult status among horror fans. Like the bad, bad child of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Koji Suzuki’s Ring, the house – actually, all houses – in this complicated, experimental novel will you leave you second guessing your reality and the concept of home as a “safe space”. Is it a portal to hell? Hell itself? Or is it all in the characters’ – and your - minds?
“Dive in Me”, Jesse Bullington and S.J. Chambers (The New Gothic, 2013)
While not technically abodes, the mythical, isolated swimming holes in this creepy short story act as the final resting place for numerous bored Florida teens who attempt to dive them. Part urban legend, part it-could-really-happen, try to forget the last three pages. C’mon, it’s just like diving Suicide Sinks…I dare you.