Short Story of the Day
The House At Sunset Point Harbor
"Babe? Are you all packed yet?" Martha called from the bathroom as she brushed her hair in front of the mirror. She and her husband Sam had known each other since the third grade, and if Sam was known for anything, it was for being a slowpoke. She even volunteered to finish his notes for him a couple of times because he wrote so slow that before he could finished, their teacher had already moved on and erased the previous notes on the board. How he ever became a journalist, she would never know nor understand.
"In a minute, nae sarang," Sam answered. "I'm just about done."
Martha poked her head through the open bathroom door and saw that her husband was just in socks, presumably boxers, an undershirt, and his favorite plaid button down shirt.
"Dude, what the heck?" Martha exclaimed with an exasperated sigh. "You're not even dressed yet? We're going to be late! You know how bad LA traffic is."
It was their honeymoon and Sam and Martha were going to North Carolina for two weeks before they both dive back into work after their wedding. They were both excited and looking forward to this trip, especially Sam, who was going to take scuba diving classes while there. One of his New Year's resolutions was to start living more fearlessly, and what better way to start than to conquer your fear of the deep? Ever since Sam almost drowned in an unused dirty pool filled with waterlilies, he'd been afraid of water. Specifically, the deep end. When he would swim with his friends, he would always stick to the shallower parts—be it a public pool, a friend's private pool in the backyard, a river, a lake, or at the beach. If they were going deeper, he would immediately grab onto any available floatie. It was time to deal with those childhood fears and face them head on. Martha was excited to see new places, try new food, and meet new people. The last part would certainly be a cakewalk for her. She was quite the charmer, even in the third grade. The only person who didn't fall for her charms was Sam himself, who was too oblivious to notice her crush on him until many years later.
There was one other thing that the couple was excited for—starting a family of their own. This uninterrupted trip would give them that opportunity. Sam was especially excited because he was an only child and he had always wanted a big family. His mom always asked him when he would give her some grandkids to hold and spoil.
"Babe, hurry up," Martha insisted, pulling Sam out of his reverie. "We're going to be late for our flight."
"Almost done, babe. Just a minute," Sam said, buttoning up his shirt and putting on his jeans. Then he finished up packing for their trip. "Shaver? Check. Shaver charger? Check. Phone charger? Check. Camera? Check. Clothes? Check. Gone Girl? And check!"
"Don't forget our toothbrushes and toothpaste, just in case," Martha reminded Sam. "I know the owner said the house was well-stocked, even personalized toiletries for us, but…"
"Just to be on the safe side," Sam said, nodding. "I know. I got you. Let's go."
"Finally," Martha said, relieved.
Sam and Martha hauled their luggage out of the room, turned off all the lights, closed the door, and walked down the hotel corridor, into an elevator, and down to the lobby, where they checked out. Their Uber driver parked out front and the two hopped into the backseat of the car, ready to start their two-week adventure. Little did they know that they had signed up for a real-life horror movie.
"Are you excited about this whole trip?" Sam asked, squeezing Martha's hand.
"Super excited!" Martha answered. "Also, a little nervous. I don't know what to expect. I've never been to any other city except the five I've been to—and that includes LA."
Her whole life, Martha had only been to five cities—her hometown of Seoul, Busan, Manila, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. She'd never traveled beyond that. She told herself it was because of her studies. After college, it was because of her work.
"Well?" Sam said. "How did you feel when you first moved from Seoul to Busan? Or from Busan to Manila?"
"Nervous," Martha said. "Terrified, mortified even."
"But after you'd adjusted?" Sam asked. "How was it?"
"I found my groove and was able to enjoy it very much," Martha answered.
"Well, North Carolina will be just like that, you'll see," Sam said, comfortingly wrapping Martha in his arms.
"I hope you're right, Sam," Martha said, kissing Sam's cheek.
"You know I'm always right, nae sarang," Sam said with a smirk.
"Shut up," Martha said with a roll of her eyes, swatting Sam playfully on the arm. "You've been wrong a couple of times."
"What? When have I ever been wrong?" Sam asked. "Pray tell."
"When we met again years later," Martha said. "You said I thought I was just friendly. Turns out you were dead wrong."
"That is true," Sam said with a laugh. "I can't believe I never saw that."
"Well, you did see it, eventually," Martha said. "And we ended up where I always dreamed we would."
"Wait," Sam said. "You've had dreams about us since the third grade?"
Martha nodded, then inched closer to Sam, their lips almost touching. Sam couldn't help but lean in and kiss his beautiful bride. Before that kiss could happen, however, their joyous moment was cut short when their driver suddenly swerved to the left, seemingly to avoid someone or something, and slammed straight into a lamppost. Shattered glass flew everywhere from the impact and Martha screamed. Sam pulled her down with him just in time. Nearby bystanders proceeded to call 9-1-1 and the cops. Thankfully, they all survived the crash, but the driver was bloody. Martha and Sam had minor scrapes and bruises but were understandably shaken. While the cops were interviewing the Uber driver, Sam caught some of his words.
"I… she… But… She was…right there," the driver said, pointing to the middle of the road with a trembling bloody hand.
"Sir, we have witnesses," one of the officers said. "There was no girl there."
"Have you been drinking?" the other officer questioned. "How much have you had to drink?"
"I… Saw her," the driver said before losing consciousness.
That should have been the couple's first clue that their honeymoon in Paradise was actually going to be a honeymoon in Hell.
Because of their unfortunate accident, Sam and Martha missed their flight and had to go back to the Roosevelt and book a room for one more night. Sam couldn't sleep that night, however. He'd almost lost Martha and that thought scared him to death. Martha, on the other hand, lay beside him on the bed, sleeping soundly. It must've been all the adrenaline from the day's events draining out of her. Sam should have taken that opportunity to sleep as well because it would be the last time he and Martha would sleep peacefully. For two weeks, at least.
North Carolina, Night 1
After a day's delay and a 4-hour flight, Sam and Martha finally reached the sleepy seaside town of Sunset Point Harbor, North Carolina. Smiling, Sam scooped Martha up in his arms, just like on their wedding night, and stepped across the threshold with her. Martha squealed and giggled.
"You just relax, nae sarang," Sam said. "I'll bring our stuff upstairs."
"Alright," Martha said, giving Sam a quick kiss. "I'll be right here."
Sam proceeded to walk up the stairs, their luggage in both of his hands. After he placed their bags on the bed, he decided to check out the master bathroom. On the marble sink was their own personal towels, beautifully monogramed in gold thread. Their toothbrushes were also monogramed. The owner of the beach house apparently did this for every guest to make them feel welcome and at home. Sam turned the faucet on, bent down, cupped his hands under the running water, and washed his face. While he was washing up, he heard footsteps. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Sam furrowed his brow in confusion.
"I thought I told you to relax and stay downstairs?" he said, turning the water off. He straightened up and turned around, expecting to see Martha, but was shocked and confused to find absolutely no one there. When he turned back to the mirror, his heart jumped into his mouth. In it, he could see the reflection of a little girl, probably around eight years old. She was wearing a white dress and had long, black hair and black eyes. Sam blinked and shook his head. When he opened them again, there was no one there. The only reflection he could see was his own.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Martha sat on a beach chair on the back porch, watching the sky and the waves change colors. She jumped right out of her seat when her phone rang. She fished for her phone in her purse to see who was calling her. The caller ID read Mary Kim. It was her very worried little sister. From the day their parents brought Mary home from the hospital, the two sisters were attached at the hip. They were inseparable. Their was no jealousy or sibling rivalry between them and they got along, most of the time. When they didn't, they'd apologize to each other at the same time and laugh about it like nothing ever happened. They were the best of friends and Mary always worried about her sister, even though Martha had said countless times that it was her job to worry about Mary and not the other way around. By the way she worried about her, you'd think that Mary was older.
"Hey, sis," Martha said, picking up her phone. "Yeah, don't worry, we're just fine. A few cuts and bruises here and there, nothing life-threatening or life-altering, promise. We're fine, I swear! Sam pulled me out of the way just in time. By the way, this place is gorgeous. I definitely recommend it. I'll send you some pictures. Yeah, I'll send you the deets, too, later. Talk to you soon! Bye!"
As soon as she hung up, she heard footsteps. Tap. Tap. Tap. She stood up and walked over to the open French doors, peering in. She couldn't see anyone.
"Hello?" she called out. "Sam? Sam, is that you?"
No reply. No Sam. There was absolutely nobody there. The living room, kitchen, and dining room was empty. Sam was upstairs, unpacking.
Huh, Martha though. That is so weird. Well, I'd better start dinner. It's not gonna start itself and I know for sure Sam can't cook.
Martha rummaged through the kitchen and found a cookbook. Inside was a note that read, "Please feel free to use this while you're here. This is for you. We hope you enjoy your stay!"
Flipping through the cookbook, Martha found a recipe she'd always wanted to try but hadn't yet. Parmesan shrimp risotto. Sam was a shrimp kind of guy. It was one of his favorite things to eat. After looking for and gathering the ingredients, which were readily available (oh, thank God!), Martha started cooking. That's when she heard it again. Those footsteps. Tap. Tap. Tap.
"Dinner's not ready yet, babe!" Martha said, turning around when she didn't hear any response. She nearly dropped the spatula in her fright. "Babe?"
"Yeah?" Sam answered. "I'm coming, just a second!"
"Were you down here just now?" Martha asked.
"What? No!" Sam said, poking his head from around the corner. He'd only just come down. "I was upstairs, unpacking and fixing our stuff. Why'd you ask?"
"Nothing," Martha said. "It's probably nothing."
"Alright," Sam said with a shrug. "If you say so. Wait! Is that shrimp?"
"You could smell it from upstairs, couldn't you?" Martha said with a smile.
"I could smell shrimp from 500 miles away," Sam said with a laugh. "One of my superpowers."
During dinner, Sam and Martha talked about the previous day's events and today's events. Sam told Martha about what their Uber driver had said while he was being interrogated by the police.
"He said there was a little girl standing in the middle of the road," Sam recounted. "He said that's why he swerved and hit the streetlamp."
"You think that the girl you saw in the mirror earlier was the same girl the driver saw?" Martha asked.
"It could be," Sam said. "I don't know. It's too weird to be a coincidence."
"Could she have attached herself to us and we unknowingly brought her here?" Martha thought out loud.
"No, I don't think so," Sam said. "Maybe she was warning us not to come here."
"Well, we're already here and we're not leaving," Martha said. "Not in two weeks, at least. No ghost is going to ruin this honeymoon for us."
"Or maybe there's another sensible, more logical answer," Sam said. "Maybe we're just tired and seeing things.
But they weren't just seeing things. Were they? That night, the dreams started. After a night of postprandial lovemaking, Martha and Sam both fell asleep. In her dream, Martha could hear creepy horror movie music playing, coming from an unseen music box. It would play every time something bad would happen in her dream. This would repeatedly happen over the course of their 2-week stay at the beach house in Sunset Point Harbor. That night, she dreamed they were living in an apartment in Seoul and the North Koreans were attacking. The city was being bombed and creepy horror movie music was playing in the background. As she held on tight to Sam, she could see his face slowly melting away, being ripped to shreds due to the radioactive blast from the bomb. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the silhouette of a man with antlers standing in the apartment hallway. She couldn't make out any of his features except for those huge antlers. The creature was all shadow, as black as the night sky just before the dawn. Martha and Sam woke up at the same time.
"What?" Sam asked, concerned. "Babe, what is it?"
"I dreamed Seoul was being bombed and I was watching your face melt away," Martha cried.
"That's odd," Sam said. "I had the same exact dream. But instead, it was me watching your face melt away from the blast."
Suddenly, without any warning, a series of lightning flashes ripped across the sky and Martha briefly caught a glimpse of the Antlered Man during the second flash before it vanished. She screamed and held on tightly to Sam, burying her face in his naked chest to avoid seeing anymore shadow creatures. An earsplitting boom followed the lightning strike and Martha screamed all the louder. Sam wrapped her in his arms, assuring her that he was there and that she was safe. Sam thought he heard the footsteps again. Tap. Tap. Tap. But this time, there were five instead of three. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. He decided it was just the rain pelting the windowpane in its fury.
"Sssshhh…" Sam whispered soothingly. "Sssshhh… I'm here, nae sarang. I love you. Saranghae. I'm here. You're safe."
But she wasn't safe. Not even during the day. When morning came, Sam got out of bed, freshened up, got dressed, then went down to the local diner to buy some breakfast for the two of them. He couldn't cook if his life depended on it. He'd never learned to cook. When he was single, he either went out to eat or bought TV dinners. Martha was the chef on their little team. But he did know how to make coffee. After setting the table, Sam proceeded to start the pot, letting the coffee drip until it was filled. Then he went upstairs to wake Martha up.
"Rise and shine, nae sarang," Sam whispered in Martha's ear. "Breakfast is ready."
Martha groaned and stretched groggily, raising an eyebrow.
"You cooked? This I gotta see," she teased.
"Very funny," Sam said with a chuckle. "Now, come on. Breakfast is gonna get cold."
"Alright, alright, I'm coming," Martha said, putting on her clothes. "Hold your horses! Sheesh."
"Remember that guy we met when we arrived yesterday?" Sam asked. "Tony Philipps?"
"Black guy, former high school PE teacher?" Martha said. "Lives in the house across the street?"
"Yeah, him," Sam said. "Turns out he's also a certified diving instructor and he offered to give me lessons while we're here."
"Babe, that's great!" Martha said, squeezing Sam's hand. "You'll finally be able to conquer your fear of the water."
"I know," Sam said, beaming. "I can't wait. You wanna come with me and watch?"
"As much as I'd love to, I think I'll sit this one out," Martha said with a sigh. "I got very little sleep last night. I think I'll just stay here and sleep."
"Are you sure?" Sam asked, worry in his voice. "You'll be okay here?"
"Who do you think you are? Mary?" Martha said. "Please! I can handle myself. Don't worry about me. I'm a big girl. Besides, it's daylight. Maybe the weird things happen only at night."
"Alright," Sam said with a nod, kissing Martha's forehead. "If you insist."
After breakfast, Sam showered and brushed his teeth while Martha cleared the table and washed the dishes. He got dressed and was back downstairs in five minutes.
"That's the fastest I've seen you move," Martha said in awe. "Did you even shower?"
"Three minutes," Sam said with a smile. "One minute rinse, one minute lather, one minute final rinse. Then I brushed my teeth for two minutes."
"You really must be excited," Martha teased.
"Of course!" Sam said. "It's a new chapter of my life. And I'm ready for it."
"I know you can do it, babe," Martha said, kissing Sam on the cheek. "I believe in you."
"Thank you," Sam said, kissing Martha's nose. "Saranghae."
"Saranghae," Martha said, giving Sam a quick kiss on the lips.
After Sam left, Martha cleaned the house for a bit then decided to grab a book and read. She brought it upstairs to read in bed. However, she was so sleepy that she couldn't even finish the book. Halfway through chapter two, her eyelids drooped and the book crashed to the floor with a loud thud. Martha slept soundly—a peaceful dreamless sleep. But that peaceful dreamless sleep would be interrupted by yet another bone-chilling experience. She had no idea how long she'd been asleep for or how long Sam was out but she felt someone's presence in the room. She tried to ignore it and went back to sleep. That's when she heard and eerie whisper at her side.
"He shotted me," the voice said.
Martha screamed, sitting bolt upright, breathing in large gulps of air. When she turned to see who it was, whoever or whatever was in the room disappeared. It was nowhere to be seen. With a trembling hand, she called Sam, asking him to come home as soon as possible.
The next to have nightmares was Sam. In his dream, he could feel his spirit leaving his body. He would then travel, zooming through the air, over the water, and into a cave on an island with a large piece of rotting driftwood. In the sand, growing just under that piece of driftwood, was a mushroom. Surely it was a weird place for a mushroom to grow. There was a low humming in Sam's ear, like a bullfrog chirping, or like an idle lightsaber that had just been ignited. Behind the rotting log was a little girl's doll, half buried in sand. Suddenly, there was something else in Sam's ear. A voice.
"Something's coming," it said. Sam woke up, instinctively reaching over and feeling for the switch on the lamp on the bedside table. Something told him he had to turn the light on before whatever it is came into the room. The sudden flood of light woke Martha up and she groaned, squinting.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Sorry to wake you up," Sam said. "I had a really weird dream."
"What was it about?" Martha asked, concerned.
"I felt my spirit leave my body," Sam said. "Then I was flying over the water and into this cave."
"That tiny little island out there?" Martha asked.
"Yeah," Sam said. "And in that cave, there was this huge chunk of driftwood. Underneath it, there was this mushroom, which is really weird."
"Are you freaking kidding me?!" Martha said in alarm. "Was there a doll? Please tell me there was a doll and I'm not going crazy."
"How the Hell did you know?" Sam said, surprised. "Oh, right. Shared dreams. Just like last night."
"Seriously," Martha said. "What is going on?"
"I don't know," Sam said, holding Martha close. "But whatever it is, it's not good."
"Were there bullfrogs?" Martha asked. Sam nodded.
In the morning, after breakfast, Sam and Martha rented a rowboat and made for the little island across the shore. Sure enough, to their shock and horror, there was a piece of driftwood inside the cave, with a mushroom growing underneath it. Martha walked around to the other side and let out a surprised squeak, covering her mouth with her hands. There in the sand, half buried, was the doll they had seen in their shared nightmare. As soon as they got back to the beach house, Sam picked up the phone and contacted the owner to ask him if he knew the house he'd been renting out was haunted. Apparently, nothing strange had happened in all the years he'd been living there. The haunting only started at the beginning of the year when the owner decided to turn his house into an Airbnb. Whatever spirit was attached to that house didn't like it, not one bit.
This time, Sam dreamed that he, Martha, and his sister-in-law, Mary, were walking along the beach. Suddenly, Mary pointed straight ahead to a sand dune at the far end of the beach.
"Who's that girl over there?" she asked.
"I don't know," Martha answered. "Think we should go ask her who she is and what she's doing here?"
"It's up to you," Mary said with a shrug. With that, they marched on toward the dune with purpose. Sam was walking a few feet behind the sisters. Suddenly, Mary and Martha stopped, looked at each other with horror clear on their faces, and turned tail, running in the opposite direction. In that moment, Sam decided that whoever or whatever was on that dune wasn't worth the risk. He hightailed it out of there, running after his wife and sister-in-law. When they reached the beach house Sam asked what had happened but could get no answer from Mary. She was sullen and refused to speak.
"What was that all about?" Sam asked Martha instead. "What happened back there?"
"We heard a scream," Martha said. "A bloodcurdling scream. Right. In. Our. Ears."
"What scream?" Sam asked, more confused than ever before. "I didn't hear a scream and I was behind you two."
"I don't know, Sam," Martha cried. "I don't know!"
Sam and Martha both woke up at the same time, with Martha screaming bloody murder. She was sweating all over and so was Sam, but it wasn't post-coital sweat that covered their bodies. It was a product of sheer, utter terror. Just then, Sam turned the bedside lamp on like a flash. This time, so did Martha. They both turned the lamps on at the same time.
"What did you hear?" Sam asked, turning to her.
"It said something's coming," Martha replied. "Sam, I'm scared."
"I know, nae sarang," Sam said. "Me too."
When they turned the lights on, however, they didn't feel anyone's presence in the room. It was as if the entity could not come into the room with the light on. They decided to leave it like that and sleep with the light on until morning. From then on, Martha went with Sam to every one of his scuba diving lessons. She didn't want to be alone in that accursed house, not anymore.
In this dream, Martha and Sam were on the back porch, lounging on the beach chairs, and watching the moon rise over the water. They each had a glass of Chardonnay in their hand. Slowly, a figure materialized on the beach. The girl. That same girl in white. The girl that the driver saw. The girl in the mirror. The girl in the previous dream. Her back was turned to them so they could only see her long hair. She let out a banshee-like shriek that shattered Martha and Sam's wineglasses. A red spot slowly spread across the back of her dress and she fell facedown into the water.
Martha and Sam woke up at the same time, both screaming.
These dreams and many other weird things continued happening during the duration of their stay at Sunset Point Harbor, repeating themselves over and over again each night like a broken record. One time, when Martha was in the bathroom, Sam heard it. That voice. He was reading on the back porch when he heard it in his ear, clear as day.
"He shotted me," the voice whispered. Then it moved from his left to his right ear. "He shotted me."
Then there were the footsteps as usual. They were multiplying, getting louder. It was seven this time. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Once, when Martha was out grocery shopping, Sam stayed at the beach house. He was trying to be much braver than she was. At that time, he was watching TV in the basement when he heard the garage door open and their rental car's engine being killed. Then he heard some rustling like plastic bags, and then Martha's voice calling him. He climbed up the stairs to the ground floor but found no one. She wasn't in the kitchen. He checked the garage to see if she was there. No Martha, no rental car. He called her immediately.
"Sam?" Martha answered on the first ring.
"Did you…go back to the store?" Sam asked. "Did you forget to buy something?"
"No, I'm at the checkout line," Martha answered. "I'm just leaving the store right now. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Why?"
"Nothing," Sam said, trying not to sound spooked. "Just checking on you. I'll see you in a bit, nae sarang. Saranghae."
"Saranghae," Martha said, before hanging up.
Sam let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and checked his pulse. It was racing. Soon, they'd had had enough. With the owner's permission, they contacted the local priest and told him everything that had been going on, everything they'd been experiencing. Martha asked if it was the ghost of a little girl.
"Child, from what you've told me," Father Quinn answered. "That is not a ghost. That is a demon in the guise of a ghost."
"Is it possible to bless the beach house, Father?" Sam asked.
"I would be more than happy to oblige," Father Quinn answered. "If it is alright with Mr. Swan."
"We've talked it over with him and he agrees," Martha said. "How soon can we expect you?"
"Very well, child," Father Quinn said. "I will come over tonight to bless the house."
Before he could enter the house, however, Father Quinn's face contorted in pain and terror and he clutched his left wrist, promptly falling over on his face on the front porch. To this day, no one knows how or why a healthy man with no family history of heart disease died of a sudden heart attack. It defies any explanation. And so the nightmares continued. On their last night in the beach house at Sunset Point Harbor, Sam had one final dream. This time, it was his and his alone. He dreamed he heard screaming. The same scream they'd been hearing in their dreams. The scream from the girl. Or the demon, as Father Quinn called it. Sam sat up in bed but in a slow manner, as though he were sleepwalking. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and shuffled out of the bedroom, down the hall, down the stairs, into the kitchen, and then down into the basement. All the while, the footsteps followed him. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Once he was in the basement, he grabbed a shovel that was resting against the wall in the corner. Then he slowly approached the girl, raising the shovel over his head and bringing it down as though to strike her dead. As his shovel hit the floor, he discovered that one section was hollow. He hammered at the planks with his shovel until it began to chip and break apart. When they were loose enough, he proceeded to pry them open. And then he began digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig. Dig. There, in the sandy soil beneath the basement floorboards was buried the bones of a 5-year-old child. It opened wide its skeletal maw to let out a fearsome bloodcurdling screech. The light in the basement turned on and Sam heard more screaming. There, at the foot of the stairs stood Martha. The sight of her seemed to shake Sam out of his hypnosis-like stupor and he dropped his shovel to the ground, panting. That's when he saw it.
The next day, the beach house was swarming with cops, detectives, FBI agents, and the press. Papers and television news networks told the story of the couple who stayed for two weeks at Sunset Point Harbor and the body of a dead girl they found there. Sam was one of the initial suspects but was eventually released as he and Martha had just arrived recently and the bones were from eight years ago.
And then the hauntings stopped. So did the dreams.