Mysterious People Seem to Be Living in My House

“Addition,” a short story by Ben Hoffman

Mysterious People Seem to Be Living in My House

Addition

I began to hear funny noises coming from the addition we had built on our house: some whimpers, groans, some clattering. I did not investigate; in general I tried to avoid the addition. I was never clear on its purpose or what it had added. Then one afternoon an old man in a robe emerged from our laundry room carrying a basket. He nodded courteously, said “Excuse me,” and continued back down the hall to the addition, leaving a trail of white dust behind him.

This all happened while my wife was away. My wife was often away. While she was away I visited a medium. We lived in an area where this practice was not only accepted but popular, and living here I’d gotten the idea I should be more connected. The medium told me with little fanfare and much certainty that a man had once been killed in the very spot where we’d built our addition. The problem, she said, was that he didn’t know he was dead. If I informed him, he would leave, but I was no fan of confrontation and thus not in favor of this course of action.

My wife returned, as she always did, and I informed her of the trouble in our house. I felt she ought to know about trouble in her house. She frowned at me, then told me the man was her father, it was only her parents, did I not remember they were living with us now? In truth I did not. There had been some discussion, perhaps, that at some point in time we might consider… I seemed to recall them arriving at some point, a very long time ago, but only for a visit, though they’d had many bags. In any event, this cleared up why I had not responded to my father-in-law, if that’s who he was, but instead drew back in horror. He had been wondering.

I reported these developments to the medium. They disturbed her. She was a disturbed woman, generally speaking. These new developments suggested only that the murder was more depraved than previously suspected. Quite possibly a woman had also been killed, and in unimaginable fashion. “You cannot imagine it,” the medium said, though I tried.

In truth I was not sure my wife was telling me everything. I had thought maybe we’d built the addition for children we were maybe going to have; now I could not recall. As I said there had been some discussion, perhaps, that at some point in time we might consider… Always we had discussions. This part was certain. Though now it was certain there would be no children, because I did not want our children to live above where a man and possibly a woman had been murdered, and more importantly because my wife did not want to have children with me. This now was settled, and without any discussion.

As for the ghost of my father-in-law, he did not go away, and I hesitated to ask him to. I’d been successful once in asking him a question, the most important question, and I didn’t want to press my luck. I remembered how hopeful his face had been, so scrubbed of doubt, when I requested permission to marry his daughter. How different it looked now when this version of him stumbled past me in the hall. After my wife and I married, we’d moved across the country. Over time her parents grew ill, especially her mother. So my wife said. We hadn’t seen them in so long. I could barely recall where they lived, or had lived. Some snow-buried state where people trudged and hurried all at once. And now, here: Was this the same man? It was but it wasn’t. This ghost spilling laundry detergent on our floor could never have danced at our wedding like her father had. He lacked the same hip power. A haunting indeed. I wondered where his wife was. Supposedly she too lived with us now but I hadn’t seen her; perhaps she stayed in the addition.

I asked my wife: Hadn’t her parents grown ill? Hadn’t they died, hadn’t we flown back across the country to their funerals? Didn’t they know they were already gone? She told me those were the funerals of my own parents. Oh. We’d been to so many funerals, all cut from the same cloth. I hadn’t seen my own parents in so long either. I thought I’d been meaning to call, and perhaps I had been. It was hard to keep track.

I returned to the medium to impress upon her the reality of my situation, how it was better than suspected but also worse. The medium remained certain there’d been a murder under the addition, or, when pressed, a murder under some addition somewhere. “It’s why all the pyramids and monuments are haunted; men were murdered in the making.” Once more she told me to tell the man that he was dead, that he should leave, that he did not belong there.

And at last I did. I returned home and told the man that he was dead and should leave. And he did. So did his wife. So did my wife. They all left together in one car. My wife drove because the dead/elderly shouldn’t drive. My mother-in-law lay down in the back because she would die soon, if she hadn’t already. She looked very ill, as the dead/elderly do. She would not be my mother-in-law for long, for several reasons. This family turned the corner and vanished. I stayed behind. Sometimes I see them still, in the hall, the garden, the addition I ought to rent to some poor grad student. “Excuse me.” Funny noises. I know not to be scared. No one was murdered beneath this house; they are not really ghosts. Then again they are. It is funny how that works.

About the Author

Ben Hoffman’s fiction has won the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award and Zoetrope: All-Story’s Short Fiction Contest. The recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he now lives in Chicago.

“Addition” is published here by permission of the author, Ben Hoffman. Copyright © Ben Hoffman 2018. All rights reserved.

More Like This

Dad’s Gone and the Lice Is Here to Stay

"Remedies" by Kali Fajardo-Anstine recommended by Mat Johnson

Apr 17 - Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Crying on the Floor and Other Ways to Get Through It

Two sonnets by debut poet Elliott Vanskike

Apr 7 - Elliott Vanskike

“The Old Drift” Is the Great Zambian Novel We Didn’t Know We Needed

Namwali Serpell's multigenerational novel tracks the effects of colonization from the 19th century through the near future

Mar 27 - Jennifer Baker