A Preview of A Voice Calling

Written By Sean Markey

Sean lives in an old farmhouse in northern Vermont, and is pretty sure the house isn’t very haunted… He works as a marketer during the day and is also the publisher of The Deadlands, a little magazine about beginnings and endings you may or may not have heard of.

Today is the release day for our very first novella–Christopher Barzak’s A Voice Calling.

We’re sharing the first three chapters of this unique take on haunted houses.

The links to purchase (available in our Grave Goods store or on Amazon) are at the bottom of this preview.

Please enjoy!

I. But Is The House Truly Haunted?

Of course the house is haunted. If a door is closed on the first floor, another on the second floor will squeal open out of contrariness. If wine is spilled on the living room carpet and scrubbed at furiously and quickly so that a stain does not set, another stain, possibly darker, will appear somewhere else in the house. A favorite room in which the supernatural quietly occurs is the bathroom. Many speculate as to why this room draws so much attention. One might think that in a bathroom, where the most private of acts are committed, that any damned inhabitants could let down their hair, or allow a tired sigh to pass through their doomed lips, that things would be more carefree.

Perhaps this is exactly what they are doing in the bathroom, though, and we have misunderstood them. They turn on the shower and write letters in the steam gathered on the mirror (usually the letter “B” but sometimes a “Be” which seems appropriate given the existential circumstance of whoever writes these vague missives). They tip perfume bottles over, squeeze the last of the toothpaste out of its tube; they leave curls of red hair in the sink. And no one who lives in the house—no one living, that is—has red hair. What’s worse is when they leave the toilet seat up. They’ll flush the toilet over and over, as though entranced by the sound of the water being sucked out. This is what these restless inhabitants are endlessly committing: private acts.

II. The Latest Victims

 There has always been a family subject to the house’s torture. For nearly eighty years, it was the Addlesons. Before that, it was the Oliver family. No one in town, not even our oldest residents, can remember who lived in the house before the Olivers. We have stories, of course, oral recountings of the family who built what we all refer to now as Button House, but their name has been lost to history. 

If anyone is curious, there is the library with town records ready to be opened, but unfortunately barely any documentation remains regarding Button House, other than that it was noted in one history of the town to have appeared in quite an odd fashion. By that, the historian was referring to the order in which Button House and its surrounding orchards and fields had been built and cultivated. 

It was odd, the writer noted, that it was first the orchard that had been seeded and grown to full fruit-bearing capacity prior to the house itself having been built later. This was odd, because in those days it had been tradition for a home to be erected, and then the land around it to be cultivated. 

Some of our eldest community members even speculate that the orchard of Button House must have been one of those planted by Johnny Appleseed himself, as he worked his way from his first orchards across the border in Allegheny Valley, Pennsylvania at the turn of the century, traveling westward through Ohio, seeding as he went to make settling the land easier for those who eventually followed. 

They suspect this due to the randomness of the orchard’s origin, but also due to the fact that the kind of apples those trees grew were the kind the legendary Appleseed was known to plant. Not the type to be plucked and eaten, these were small, tart apples people used to make brandy and hard cider. 

Regardless, a hole in the house’s history gapes in the town records until the first family, whoever they were, had already moved on, gone missing, or died, leaving the place open for the Olivers to settle in. In the absence of that knowledge, we have filled in the blanks with oral history, speculation, rumor, and gossip, much the same as some birds will make their nests out of mud, twigs, pine needles, straw, and random pieces of glittering plastic.

Rose Addleson believed the house was trying to communicate something. She told her husband women know houses better than men, and this is one thing Rose said that many of us in town agree with. There is, after all, what is called “women’s intuition.” What exactly the house was saying eluded Rose, as it eludes the rest of us. Where Rose wanted to determine its motivations, the rest of us wanted it burned to cinders.

“Communicate? Through all these years?” her husband, Jonas, said. 

It was not Rose Addleson who grew up in the house after all, as he had, it was not Rose Addleson who experienced the closeness to these events, the fits the house threw, these fits that her husband had suffered through since childhood. 

“If the house is trying to communicate,” he told Rose, “it has a sad idea of conversation.”

Rose and Jonas have no children. Well, to be precise, no living children. Once there had been a beautiful little girl named Emily, with cheeks that blushed a red to match her mother’s, but she did not take to this world. She died when she was only a year old. On a cold winter’s night, when the house was frosted with ice, she stopped breathing. It wasn’t until the next morning that they found her, already off and soaring to the afterlife.

“A hole in her heart,” the doctor said after examining her, pinching his forefinger and thumb together. “A tiny hole.” They had never known it was there.

After their first few months of marriage, Rose and Jonas had become a bit reclusive. Out of shame? Out of guilt? Fear? Delusion? No one was really able to supply a satisfactory reason for their self-imposed isolation. After all, we don’t live in that house, and frankly, none of us ever would.

If walls could talk, though—and some believe the walls of Button House do talk—perhaps we’d understand that Jonas and Rose Addleson had good reason not to go out or to talk to neighbors. Even Rose’s mother, Mary Kay Billings, didn’t hear from her daughter except when Mary Kay called on the phone, or showed up on the front porch of Button House, something she rarely did.

“That house gives me the creeps,” Mary Kay Billings often told us. “All those stories? Well, I believe them. Why Rose wanted to marry into that family is beyond me.”

Mary Kay has told us this in her own home, in her own kitchen. In a chair by her old landline telephone, with us across the table from her. Once, she said, “Just you wait and see,” then dialed her daughter’s number. A few rings later, Rose answered, and they started talking. “Yes, well, I understand, Rose. Yes, you’re busy, of course. Well, I wanted to ask how you and Jonas are getting along. Good. Mm-hmm. Good. All right, then. I’ll talk to you later. Bye now.”

She put the phone down in its cradle and smirked. “As predicted,” she told us. “Rose has no time to talk. The house, Mother, I’m so busy. Can you call back later? Of course, I’ll call back later, but it’ll be the same conversation, let me tell you. I know my daughter, and Rose can’t be pried away from that house.”

We all feel a bit sad for Mary Kay Billings. She did not gain a son through marriage, but lost a daughter. This is not the way it’s supposed to happen. Marriage should bring people together. We all believe this to be true.

III. The Beginning of the End of Her

Rose has heard voices since she was a little girl. Rose Addleson, née Rose Billings, was always a dear girl in our hearts, but touched with something otherworldly. If her mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s gravitation to Button House, the rest of us understand it all too well. 

Our Rose was the first child to speak in tongues at church. Once, Jesus spoke through her. The voice that came through her mouth never named itself, but it did sound an awful lot like Jesus. It was definitely a male voice, and he kept saying how much he loved us and how we needed to love each other better. It was Jesus all over, and from our own sweet Rose.

We do not understand why, at the age of twelve, she stopped attending services. 

But Rose also heard voices other than the Lord’s. Several of us have overheard her speaking to nothing, or nothing any of us could see. She’s hung her head, chin tucked into breastbone, at the grocery store, near the ketchup and mustard and pickles, murmuring, “Yes. Of course. Yes, I understand. Please don’t be angry.”

Rose heard the voices in Button House, too. This is why she married Jonas: The house called her to come to it.

It was winter when it happened. Rose was eighteen then, just half a year out of high school. She worked in Hettie’s Flower Shop. She could arrange flowers better than anyone in town. She had a way of listening to our needs and desires and understanding them completely, even better than some of us understood ourselves. When the mayor’s daughter asked for centerpieces at her wedding reception that would look magical yet reserved, Rose put together bouquets of white roses, crystals, and pearl drops that, in the hazy dimmed lights of the reception hall, seemed to grow from the tablecloths like strange, flowering trees, and glowed. We all always requested Rose to make our bouquets instead of Hettie, but Hettie didn’t mind. She owned the place, after all.

On her way home from work one evening, Rose’s car stalled a half-mile from Button House. She walked there to get out of the cold, and to call her mother, since her phone wasn’t getting a signal. We can all only imagine how desperate she must have felt as she approached that place, climbed the stairs of its front porch, and rapped the old brass, lion-headed knocker three times. Then the door seemed to swing open on its own, and wind rushed past her like a sigh. She smelled dust and medicine and old people. Something musty and sweet and earthy. Jonas stood in front of her, his brown hair flopping over one of his dark blue eyes, a frown on his sad young face. He was already an orphan in his mid-thirties. 

“Yes?” he asked in a tone that implied that he couldn’t possibly be interested in any reason why Rose was appearing before him. “Can I help you?”

Rose was about to ask if she could use his phone when she heard a voice calling from inside. 

“Rose,” the voice called, rustling like leaves in a breeze. “Rose, please help,” the house pleaded. And then she thought she heard it say, “Need, need, need.” Or perhaps it had said something altogether different. She couldn’t be sure. The walls swelled behind Jonas’s shoulder, inhaling, exhaling, and then the sound of a heartbeat could be heard.      

“Are you all right?” Jonas asked. “Rose Billings, right? I haven’t seen you since you were a little girl.”

“Yes,” said Rose, but she didn’t know if she was saying yes to his question or to the house’s plea. She shook her head, winced, then looked up at Jonas again. Light, silvery and stringy as webs, cocooned his body.

“Come in,” he offered, moving aside for her to enter, and Rose went in, looking around for the source of the voice as she cautiously moved forward, looking into the corners of the shadow-dusted foyer, cocking her head to the side as she tried to get a look at the rooms that lay beyond.

Mary Kay Billings didn’t hear from her daughter for three days after that snowstorm. That night, she called the police and spoke to Sheriff Dawson. He’d found Rose’s car stuck in a drift; the still-falling snow had obscured her footprints. They called Hettie’s Flower Shop, but it was already closed. Then they phoned the pharmacy, because Rose was supposed to pick up cold medicine for Mary Kay on her way home from work. Eventually, after three days of hearing nothing from her, the phone rang, and when Mary Kay picked up, it was Rose calling. “I’m okay,” Rose said, after Mary Kay barraged her with questions. “But I’m not coming home. Can you pack my things and send them to me?”

“Where are you?” Mary Kay demanded.

“Have someone bring my things to Button House,” Rose said.

“Button House?!” Mary Kay shook her head, confused. Clearly Sherriff Dawson hadn’t checked in at Button House during his search. But then, who would have guessed anyone would seek shelter at Button House, when we teach our children to avoid it at all costs?

“Why on earth are you there, Rose?” Mary Kay asked.

“I’m a married woman now, Mother,” Rose explained. 

And that was the beginning of the end of her.

But is the house truly haunted?

Of course the house is haunted.

Button House has stood for centuries, digging its roots and its rot deeper and deeper, consuming all who approach: twin brothers, a child bride, an innocent baby, four young factory workers.

And then came Rose Billings, who had an affinity with the house like no other. Rose, who could hear the house and the pleas of its many ghosts. Rose, who would attempt to solve the mysteries of Button House, or die trying.

From Shirley Jackson award winning author Christopher Barzak comes an obsessive tale of a family haunted by a very terrible house.