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The Wolf at the DoorI was going through The Globe one morning and came across a fantastic bargain for a house in the Berkshires. Any house going for that price must surely be nothing more than a crumbling shack, though of course the realtor assured me that it was not. So there was nothing for it but to see for myself, and two hours later found me standing with the realtor before a quaint old house in need of attention. The grounds were overgrown and the house weathered gray by the sun. Good, I thought, I might knock down the price a bit because of it.
"A bit long in the tooth, don't you think?" I said.
"Oh, nothing that a Saturday afternoon with a lawnmower and hedge clippers won't take care of. Put on a fresh coat of paint and you've got yourself a nice little house there."
The gate was made of rusty wrought iron that creaked when the realtor swung it wide for me.
"Got to oil this," he laughed depreciatingly, and I smiled in return.
"They say there is an indian burial ground somewhere on the property," he continued.
"Is there a house in New England that doesn't have an old indian burial ground? Listen, someone from down south may find that piece of news full of quaint New England charm, but I'm not going to pay a cent more than the price you advertised in the Boston papers."
"Oh no, I didn't mean anything like that. I was just trying to give you some history of the place. Some say the first owner of this house was a witch who moved here from Salem. That's what they say, at least. We do know for certain that this house was built in the late 1600's."
"I don't care if the ghost of Paul Revere and John Adams roamed the place, just so I didn't drive two hours under false pretenses."
"Of course not, sir. Shall we go in?"
He led the way onto the porch and unlocked the pad-lock on the door. The door creaked open. Probably full of dust and mice, I said to myself. Best to avoid brushing up against anything.
"The furniture was left by the last occupant. It comes with the house, if you wish."
The furniture was old-fashioned, but nice in its way. If it was included in the purchase price I would take it, certainly. I could always sell it.
An odd feeling of contentment swept over me. This was indeed a remarkably charming house. I led the way through the very tasteful parlor, and into the kitchen.
"This is the original pump, you see," the realtor pointed out. "The house is also hooked up to the main water lines. And isn't that a nice old flagstone fireplace?"
"Yes, wonderful fireplace. They don't build them this large these days, no. A wonderful fireplace."
"And here, this closet was converted into a bathroom. Somewhat small, I'm afraid."
"But in the house," I countered. "At least it's in the house."
We laughed together over that. I felt marvelous! A coat of paint, some wood polish for the floors, and this place would be a mansion, a castle! What a terrific buy. We wandered upstairs through big airy bedrooms. I looked out of all the windows, we chatted on about little things, I almost wished I had already bought the place so I could make us up some tea.
"Oh yes, I must have this house. Quite remarkable, really. Like finding a diamond lying in the gutter on your way to work. How is it that no one else has snapped it up first?"
"It was just listed today, sir. Yours was the first inquiry I'd received. I found the listing buried in a file cabinet at the office. Did you notice..."
"Yes, nice choice of wallpaper. A little faded, but one can't have everything," I chuckled. At length we found ourselves outside on the porch again. I didn't realize how the time had flown. I didn't even notice we had stepped back outside.
"Well, bring out the papers, I'm ready to sign."
"Oh, I'm sorry sir. I didn't bring them. We'll have to return to the office and sign there. You might want to have the well water tested, and--"
"No no, my mind is made up. Are you sure you didn't bring them with you...?" I felt overcome with remorse. I didn't want to drive to this numskull's office. I didn't want to fool around with tests and papers. Any fool could see this special old house was a bargain. I wanted to immediately get to work with paint and mop, and get my old beauty back into the grand shape she once was.
"Get the papers, then. I'll wait here."
"But sir, your car..."
"Oh, all right. I need paint and supplies, too. Well, quickly now. Let's go."
So I found myself the proud owner of a dream. I had called my employer from the realtor's office, telling him of my find and that I would need to take my vacation immediately so that I could fix up the place. He balked, but what could he do? Fire me if he must, I had work to do on my house.
I had returned by nightfall. As I approached the creaky gate I found myself feeling the house had lost some of its charm. Perhaps it was the moonlight. It seemed dark and ominous. However, with every trip, arms full of supplies, I found the house growing as quaint and charming as ever, even more so. I couldn't get over it. What a singular bargain. Why, a man living here was blessed. How could I have been so lucky? Peace and contentment filled me, radiated from me. I walked around and sang and chuckled all night.
The next few days were pure joy for me. I spackled here, I dabbed paint here. None of it was work. Every task was a labor of love. I suppose I found time to eat; I don't quite remember. Never before had I pursued a job with such relish! I found myself talking out loud, these days. I said things like: `Here you are, door, just a little more green here and you're as good as new.' 'Ah, Mr. Banister, I used to slide down you once upon a time. Never fear, I shall not tax you now...' 'Good morning windows, time for a wash and a rinse. That feels good now, doesn't it?"
I suppose I had been working too hard those days. Not sleeping enough, you know, nor taking regular meals. I wasn't concerned at the time. I was filled with purpose. There weren't enough hours in the day. And I was happy. How many living in the city can say that? I couldn't. Now, in this wonderful old ramshackle of a house, I could truly say: my soul was at peace.
It was after the first week, roughly, that the dreams began. Maybe I had had them all along, but hadn't been awakened by them. They were terrible, ugly dreams. I felt monstrous in them, full of terror and violence. I dreamed I killed and tore and slashed. I saw images of blood and teeth and yellow eyes. Shrieks and screams filled the night, rising with intensity until I felt my head must burst. It was at this point, with screams of horror still ringing in my ears, that I awoke. I knew now what they meant by cold sweat; my skin was clammy, my hands like ice.
I would lay awake until morning, listening to the noises of my safe old house. At least I had that comfort to get me through the nights. My beautiful old house soon soothed and calmed me with whispers and soft creaks. I didn't mind the dreams. I didn't want to sleep anyway.
After two weeks, every night an orgy of hate and terror, every day a pure joy, I found myself forced to leave the house. I had to call my employer. I was out of food, and wax and polish. I should have had a phone installed, but the thought of those clods from the phone company drilling into my precious wood, and hanging stays and wires and supports to my main frame... No, I just could not have it. I could not! Loathing rose within me, anger at the thought, which just as quickly faded away again. My old house wasn't going to have me get upset over nothing. I should have known better. I didn't need a phone. Really, I didn't. And I could go for food tomorrow.
I was afraid to fall asleep. I feared what waited for me there. Why was this happening, just now, when my life had finally taken a turn for the better? The irony of it all. Now my life had meaning, I had purpose, I had never felt so whole nor complete. So, of course I had to have some fever come along and disturb my sleep. God was not content to leave me alone in peace. Not once could I get a break. God always threw some obstacle in my path. I had known it all along. My skating accident? It was God. My divorce? God. That time I was tripped at the Senior Prom and spilled the punch over the dance floor? It was God who did it. I know this now. I curse God. I hate God. I just wanted to be left alone, but no, no, God couldn't have that. He just couldn't bear to see me content for once in my life. So he sent a fever to haunt my dreams and disturb my sleep. If it weren't for this house of mine I'd go mad. Yes, mad I tell you. Stark raving foaming slashing mad. I just couldn't bear to go to sleep. I saw myself do horrible things, ugly violent things. Why? My house makes me feel so good during the day. Why can't she soothe me at night?
That was when I began to realize the truth. My house was my only friend. When I was asleep, I was away from her. The dark passions of my soul had a chance to roam then. Cruel, ugly animal that man is, she could keep that side away while I was awake, but asleep she had no defense for me. I must help her all I can. I must never sleep. I must sing and yell and pace--- anything to stay awake. My house would help me then. She would save me. She would keep the wolf at bay. Man, wonderful man. Man and his mean, petty, stupid little passions. Man, created in the image of God. I should have known! God sent the dreams! God was to blame! But I could fool Him. I wasn't going to be a plaything for God. No, I would beat God. Together with my house, we would win.
I rushed downstairs to the kitchen. I knew sleep was coming. I could barely fight it off now, even with the help of my loving house. I dozed, and awoke. I drifted again, becoming that ugly creature of my dreams. No!!! My house pulled me back. I tasted the savageness of my ancestors. It was the final spur I needed. I would fool God. I would be his tool no longer. I grabbed the long kitchen knife and plunged it into my belly. Again. And again. The house took away the sting. I laughed, rejoiced. We had won. We had beaten God. And now I would stay with my precious house, forever.