Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Note: The following was written as part of ISLF friend Eric Douglas’ Halloween-themed story challenge. Please visit Books By Eric for more tales.

It was an unenviable listing—but not on paper. At least Marty had that much going for him.

Martin MacMasterson, newest and youngest broker associate with the King Group, understood the politics of the situation. When an older broker offered you a listing, you took it. And when the broker was none other than Ms. King herself, you took it and smiled.

Five bedrooms, four baths. Vaulted ceilings. Beautifully restored terrazzo floors. An infinity-edge pool seeming to spill into the gated-community's lake. Price per square foot in the double digits. A recently repainted master bedroom.

When Marty had hesitantly voiced his concerns in a hushed whisper, Ms. King had taken him by his upper arm and led him out of the back entrance where the trash cans were. She'd lit a cigarette and taken a deep drag before beginning her lecture, the too-tight, too-smooth skin of her face filmed with the lightest sheen of sweat.

"Look, kid," she'd said, a hint of Brooklyn sliding into the manicured purr of her voice. "It's a luxury listing. King Group does luxury listings. Have for two decades. Treat it like any other. You write up the property details. You stick to the property details. You don't have to disclose the rest." She dragged at the cigarette, a Marlboro of all things, fine lines springing out around the puckered clasp of her lips. "You don't have to disclose any of it. Now go get the mints out of my desk."

Marty went. He always did what Ms. King said. He set the sign in the listing's yard. Called other brokers. Placed ads. Arranged open houses.

The open houses were the worst. They produced almost an electric anxiety in Marty. Nothing noticeable seemed to happen with a second or third person in the property. But when the front door would snick shut, anything could happen.

The first time the curved-screen television lit with the image of a swaying body dangling from the living room's tastefully polished beams, an extension cord knotted around its neck, Marty screamed. When he went to pour himself a glass of water, the sink disgorged a viscous, black stream, blood thick and dark as motor oil. The mirrors sometimes refused to show his reflection. Six-inch-deep divots kept appearing in the drywall of the master bedroom, the imprint of a body hurled against a wall.

Yet it was the voices Marty couldn't stand.

He'd needed to buy a four-and-a-half gallon jug of drywall mud, so often did those divots appear. That and several gallons of paint. He might be sanding or smoothing on a second coat when he'd feel a breath of air on the back of his neck. Then the whispering would start. Sometimes it was a woman's voice. Sometimes a man's. They murmured incessantly, and Marty suspected that, if he listened long enough, he would be able to discern the words.

He started perusing the want ads. Created a profile on and Career Builder. Revised his résumé, expunging any mention of his short time in real estate.

His salvation (if you could call it that) arrived wearing Crocs and denim shorts. He had a spray of acne scars across his cheeks, glasses thick as the proverbial Coke bottles, and an unnerving habit of staring just to the left or right of Marty's face rather than directly at it. His name was Clarence Dundee.

"As you can see," Marty explained, "the terrazzo buffed right up. It would cost you hundreds of thousands to have a fresh floor like this poured."

"Hmmm," Clarence said.

"This pool was grandfathered in. The covenants and ordinances now require fencing, so you won't find any other property here with a feature like this."

"Huh," Clarence said.

"And the master bedroom is quite spacious. Plenty of room for yourself and, uh, Mrs. Dundee?"

That was one of only two times that Clarence would ever meet Marty's eye. And the lonely desolation in his stare would send the blood rushing to the broker associate's cheeks.

"Well, then, as you can see, this room has been recently repainted. Repainted … multiple times." A lump seemed to coalesce in Marty's throat. "Look, man, I … I just have to … I mean, do you know about—"

"I can pay cash," Clarence interrupted. "How fast can you close?"

They managed it in three days. Ms. King threw a little party for Marty, a relish tray and several bottles of decent Chablis set up in one of the firm's conference rooms. He began to get other listings. He decided it was time to update his tiny condo. The busyness began to erase the imaged of blood-filled glasses and swinging bodies.

But not the voices. Those urgent, insistent voices.

He saw Clarence only one more time. It was about six months after the closing. A day later, Marty would put his condo on the market, send Ms. King a perfunctory email announcing his resignation, and call his parents in Anderson, Indiana, to announce that he was coming home. For good.

Marty's disposal had finally died, so he'd gone to the nearest Lowe's for a replacement. While waiting in line at the register, he'd heard someone clear his throat and felt a tentative tap on his shoulder. It was Clarence.

"Hello," Clarence had said.

"Oh. Hi, Mr. Dundee," Marty had answered, taken aback. "How are you enjoying the, uh, property?" He'd then glanced down at the contents of Clarence's shopping cart. A paint tray. Brushes. Two gallons of semi-gloss. Four-and-a-half gallons of drywall patch.

"It's wonderful," Clarence had replied, his voice utterly sincere. "I just wanted to thank you."

He'd proffered his hand, and as Marty shook it, he'd looked into the man's eyes—eyes that seemed, as if for the first time, utterly devoid of isolation.


Patrick N. said...

Very, very cool, Loren!

I enjoy stories like this.

It reminds me of an Eddie Murphy skit. It's one of my faves, and I'm including the link below. It is definitely NSFW, so listen with caution.

Loren Eaton said...

Thanks, Patrick. Nothing more frightening than utter loneliness, eh?

I'm going to put my headphone on and give Murphy a listen. Definitely with the headphones on.

Loren Eaton said...

Oh, my that's horrible--and utterly hilarious. I love it, particular the part about Poltergeist.