25 Jan Grey Michael
“Grey Michael”Written by Micah Edwards Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 14 minutes
It started out like any other work day. I had houses to sell and people who wanted to buy them. Honestly, I’ve always found being a realtor embarrassingly easy. People seek you out and ask you to sell them incredibly high-ticket items. I’ve done other sales jobs, and you always have to talk the buyers into extras, into upgrades, all for a tiny commission.
With houses, it’s so much easier. Your customers walk in already prepared to sign their life away for the next thirty years, so it’s easy to convince them to go for the nicer house, the better neighborhood, the higher price tag. The bigger commission, from my point of view.
Obviously, it’s not always completely smooth. I’ve had some real nightmare clients. Who hasn’t? I’ve been yelled at, talked down to, insulted, even physically threatened on a couple of occasions. But 90% of my job was just about keeping a smile on my face and saying empty phrases like “Okay, I hear you” or “Let’s keep looking!” Easy as pie.
So I didn’t expect this day to be anything out of the ordinary. Houses had been selling well lately and I’d just gotten several new ones added to my roster. If I kept my numbers up, I was on track to have the most sales of the quarter, so I was pretty motivated to get out there and get folks into a new house.
I usually like to go do a walkthrough beforehand to make sure that there aren’t any surprises, but I hadn’t had a chance to do that with my upcoming afternoon showing. If I had, maybe it would have turned out a lot better for the Hubers. Then again, maybe it would have turned out a lot worse for me, so…I don’t know.
The house looked fine from the outside. It was a California split-level, a little under two thousand square feet, a classy mix of brick and wood siding. The house and land were well-maintained, and I could see that Mrs. Huber, Marilyn, was already charmed by it. It was within their price range, in the school district they were looking for, and basically everything was just falling into place.
I could smell an easy sale. I was going to be able to knock this one off on day one, and then it’d just be a matter of paperwork. I refrained from rubbing my hands together in glee as I walked the Hubers up to the front door, but only barely. That’s how good I was feeling about this.
Inside was great, too, at least at first. Hardwood floors in the entry hall, big windows letting the whole place glow in the afternoon sun, nice neutral colors on the walls and a pleasant smell in the air. It was picture-perfect staging, and the Hubers were eating it up. Irving was pointing out fancy features in the kitchen, Marilyn was talking about having people over for parties, and I just followed along pretending they needed me there. I didn’t have to do a thing. The house was selling itself.
Everything went perfectly right up until we were leaving. We’d finished touring the top floor and they’d both gushed about how perfect the view from the master bedroom was. I was leading the way down the stairs, chatting over my shoulder with the Hubers and keeping one hand on the railing to guide myself along. I wasn’t really paying much attention. How much attention does anyone ever pay to stairs? These were carpeted, they didn’t squeak and the wooden posts and railings were solid and attractive. They successfully connected the floors of the house. That’s all you can really say about stairs.
Suddenly, Marilyn broke in to my patter. “Sorry, this is a strange question, but…how many floors does this house have?”
“Three including the finished basement,” I told her, wondering why she was asking. We’d just finished walking through them all.
“Right, that’s what I thought. Only…this is the second flight of stairs. And we’re still heading to the front hallway.”
I honestly had no idea what she meant at first. Obviously, it wasn’t the second flight of stairs, or we would be on our way to the basement. These weren’t the basement stairs. Therefore, we hadn’t gone down two flights.
I tried to think of a way to say “you have not successfully counted to one” that didn’t sound patronizing or rude. Finding nothing, instead I said, “Well, we’re here now, at least. We can—”
I stopped dead on a small landing where the stairs made a right turn. It should have been just a couple more stairs to the entryway. Instead, I was looking at the hallway leading to the bedrooms. The one on the top floor of the house.
I looked behind me. At the top of the stairs I could see the hallway we’d just left. My mind lurched, trying to find some sense to seize onto. It was a three-level house. I was at the base of some stairs. I could see other stairs ahead of me, leading down. Therefore, I must be on the middle level, where the entryway was. It’s just that I wasn’t. I was on the top level. Having taken stairs down to get there.
“Something’s wrong,” I said stupidly. Irving and Marilyn reached out and held each other’s hands. They looked around nervously. I realized that they were waiting for me to do something. I was in charge here, after all.
“Let’s just…let’s just take the stairs down,” I suggested, suiting action to word. This time, I kept my eyes focused ahead, watching every step. I could hear the Hubers walking along behind me, their paired treads only a stair away. Ordinarily, I would have been annoyed to have a client stepping on my heels like that, but right now I didn’t blame them at all.
Eleven stairs down brought us to a right-turn landing. With trepidation, I made the turn, hoping that somehow I’d just misunderstood something before, that I’d somehow failed to use stairs correctly. My hopes were dashed as I stepped out into the same carpeted hallway leading to the bedrooms. The ground floor was still somehow below us.
The Hubers exchanged wide-eyed glances.
“I don’t understand this,” said Marilyn.
“Well, look,” said Irving, trying to be reasonable. “If ‘down’ doesn’t work, maybe ‘up’ will?”
He turned and began to walk back up the stairs. Struck by a sudden curiosity, I moved across the hall to look at the stairs leading down. Marilyn kept her position on the landing so she could see both of us.
When the stairs came into view, I saw exactly what I’d feared. Although Irving had gone up the stairs behind me, I was now ahead of him on the floor he was climbing to.
His face blanched when he saw me. “This—this is impossible.”
He looked back at Marilyn below him. “How is this happening?”
“I can see you,” Marilyn called weakly to me. “From both directions. I can see you at the top of the stairs—” She pointed. “—and at the bottom over here.”
She turned her head and gestured. Suddenly feeling weak, I sat down against the wall, taking solace in its solidity. I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples, willing this all to be some sort of fever dream.
“Are you all right?” Irving called. I heard his footsteps start toward me. He was only four or five steps from the top. Somehow, though, they kept going.
I opened my eyes. Irving was climbing the stairs, a look of terror on his face. He scrambled faster and faster, yet he never moved forward. Marilyn screamed. I leapt to my feet. Behind Irving, the staircase was lengthening, adding a stair beneath his feet for every step he took.
I lunged forward, my hand extended for him to grab, but as I reached for him a dozen new stairs appeared, dragging him away from me.
“Go back down!” I shouted. Irving turned and tried to run, but it was too late. The stairs stretched away at a frightening rate, a corridor reaching out to infinity. Irving was reduced to a tiny speck somewhere in the middle, and although I could hear Marilyn screaming right behind me, I could also hear a tiny version echoing faintly up the walls of what had been the staircase in front of me.
Less than a second later, the staircase snapped back into place, the same eleven steps there should always have been. Irving was gone.
Marilyn was shrieking. She had collapsed onto the landing and was clinging to the railing like it was a lifeline. She sobbed Irving’s name over and over, but there was no response.
Her total breakdown helped bring me back to myself. I took her by the arm and attempted to tug her to her feet.
“Mrs. Huber. Marilyn. Come on, please. We have to get out of here.”
“How?” she wailed, a question for which I have no answer.
“I don’t know. One of the rooms, maybe? There must be—” I opened the door to one of the bedrooms. Fear gripped my stomach. The door now led to another set of stairs. Or, more probably, the same ones.
“Come on! That isn’t helping. Let’s…I don’t know, let’s try going down the stairs with our eyes closed. Maybe it’s an illusion.” That didn’t make any sense, but it was all I could come up with.
It was good enough for Marilyn, at least. She closed her eyes and, still clinging to my hand, allowed me to lead her to the stairs.
“Okay, here’s the rail. Put your hand on it. I’m not going to let go of you,” I assured her. “Just hold the rail for safety. I’m going to have my eyes closed, too. Ready? Stay close. Here we go.”
My right hand on the railing, my left hand bent awkwardly behind me, I shuffled forward and felt my way onto the first step. I stepped down and felt Marilyn move into position behind me.
Step, step. Down the stairs, one shuffling movement at a time. I kept my eyes squeezed shut, letting my feet guide me. Slow though I went, though, after a few steps Marilyn began to fall behind.
“Come on, you’ve got to keep up.”
“I’m trying! You’re going too fast.”
I’m barely moving, I thought, but did not say. I bit my tongue and took another step. From behind me, I heard Marilyn’s muffled footsteps hitting the carpeted stairs. Once, twice. Three times. My left hand, still gripped tightly in her fist, began to get pulled slowly backward.
“Slow down,” she begged me. “You’re getting too far ahead. Stop moving!”
Fully stationary, I risked opening my eyes. I saw what I already knew had to be true: just as it had with Irving, the staircase was beginning to lengthen.
“Marilyn,” I said, my voice catching in my throat. Her eyes popped open, widening in fear as she realized what was happening.
Her palm started to slide through my grasp, and I did the only thing I could do. I pulled as hard as I could, yanking her off of the stairs and sending her tumbling onto me.
We fell down the last four stairs together, crashing into the wall of the landing hard enough to crack the plaster. I saw stars and tasted blood. Shaking my head, I struggled to a standing position and found that I was now looking at the entryway, its gleaming wooden floors a shining beacon of hope.
Marilyn was still sobbing on the ground, her arms wrapped around my leg. I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t have bolted for the door and left her there in any case, but I certainly wasn’t going to with the death grip she had on me.
“Marilyn. Marilyn, we made it. We’re here. We can get out.”
She looked up, fearful and disbelieving.
“Come on,” I coaxed, lifting her to her feet once more. “Look, there’s the door. We can go.”
“I know. I know. We’ll come back for him,” I lied. There was no chance I was ever setting foot in that house again. “We can get help. We’ve just got to go.”
I half-dragged her to the door. I was certain that it was going to be another trick, that the hallway would begin to stretch or the outside door would open to more stairs, but I had no idea what else to do. When I opened the front door and it actually led to the outside, I burst into tears.
Eyes streaming, I raced down the brick steps. Marilyn kept pace with me, both of us running as fast as we could until we collapsed against our cars, chests heaving. Her hair was wild, her knees were skinned, her blouse was torn. I was certain I looked no better. I could feel a painful wetness on the back of my head where I’d banged it into the wall, but my hair seemed to be keeping most of the blood in place. And if that was what it took to get out of that nightmare, I counted it a small price to pay.
We stared at each other for several minutes. My heart rate gradually slowed. My mind attempted to tell me that I couldn’t have seen what I thought I had. It was a bright, sunny, suburban day. Houses didn’t unfold into impossible geometries. Not in a nice neighborhood like this.
If Irving had been there with us, I might have even convinced myself it was some sort of hallucination. But he wasn’t. The house had him.
“We have to go back in,” Marilyn said, but her voice lacked conviction.
I shook my head, eliciting a stab of pain. “No way. Sorry, no way.”
“But Irving’s in there!”
“We’ll get him. We’ll get help. We can—I don’t know, tie a rope to the outside. Or make a human chain or something. Something. But we can’t go back in there like this.”
“I can’t just leave him!”
“We’ll come—” My response was interrupted by a loud slam! from the house. Our heads both jerked up to see the front door standing wide open. Irving stood in the doorframe, gripping the edges like his life depended on it. He gave a cry that was half a yell of triumph and half a sob, and then he fell bonelessly down the brick steps to the pathway below.
Marilyn and I raced over. Irving was in bad shape, and not just from the fall. His clothes were tattered and filthy. His hands were bloody and blistered. His hair was ragged, and although he had been clean-shaven when we stepped into the house, he now had what appeared to be several days’ growth of beard.
“Irving! Irv? Irv!” Marilyn cradled his head in her arms, but Irving did not move. I checked his pulse and was relieved to find it present. I let Marilyn attempt to wake him up for another minute, and then I took out my cell and called 911.
I lied to the dispatchers. I said he’d had some sort of an attack, that I thought maybe it was blood sugar related. I said his wife was here and would hopefully be calmed down enough when they arrived to give them better information. I gave them the address and told them we would meet them at the street. They said not to move him, and I told them that that was where he had collapsed. Then I hung up the phone so I could drag him to the curb. The open door of the house gaped mockingly behind me, challenging me to come back inside. It scared me to look into it, but it scared me more to have my back to it, so I simply got as far away as I could and waited for the EMTs.
The ambulance took the Hubers away, leaving me alone. With no idea what else to do, I got into my car and drove back to the office. It wasn’t even really a conscious decision. I was in shock and running on autopilot.
I wandered into the office looking like I’d been mugged in the parking lot. I stumbled to my desk, ignoring my coworkers’ questions, and fell into my chair. I stared at my reflection in the blank monitor as their chatter passed over my head.
After a few minutes, a hand fell onto my shoulder. I looked up to see my coworker Maryann.
“He just—I just—he, um. There was an attack. He had an attack, I mean.”
Keeping her voice low, her eyes darting around to see who was listening, she asked, “Was it a house?”
“A house. Did something go…wrong…in the house?”
I stared at her dumbly. She pressed on.
“Monsters. Bent space. Distortions of reality?”
She passed me a business card, one from our agency. The name on it was GREY MICHAEL. It wasn’t anyone I knew.
“Gre—” I started. Maryann frantically shushed me.
“Do not say his name until you’re ready to talk to him! Go get cleaned up first. Take a moment. Don’t stumble into this.”
“Who is this?”
She glanced furtively around again. “He’s…a coworker. He specializes in…difficult houses. He can help you here.”
I looked around the office. It wasn’t that large of a space. “Okay, but…who is he?”
“When you’re ready, go out into the hallway. His office is right there.”
“I’ve never seen it.”
“You will once you say his name.”
Maryann moved off into the office, spreading a cover story about a client fainting and dragging me with him down some steps. I turned the card over in my hands a few times, then tucked it into my pocket and went to wash up.
I wasn’t wholly successful at getting all of the blood out of my hair, but by the time I was done I looked fairly presentable and felt a whole lot more awake. My brain was working overtime trying to convince me that I’d imagined the whole thing, that I’d fallen and hit my head and made the rest of it up. But there was still a 911 call in my “recent calls” log and I knew that if I called the local hospitals, I’d be able to find out where the Hubers had been admitted pretty easily.
I planted my hands on the bathroom counter and stared at myself in the mirror, trying to decide if I was looking into the eyes of a crazy person. In the end, I shrugged and turned away without an answer.
“All right,” I said to myself. “Let’s go find Grey Michael.”
His office, as Maryann had said, was right there. The name was on a plaque on the door. It was impossible to miss, yet I’d somehow walked past it every day. I knocked lightly on the door.
“Come in,” called a mild voice. I opened the door and met Grey Michael.
He was normal. Aggressively normal. If I told you to picture a generic white male, you’d be thinking of him. His smile was pleasant and professional, a perfect stock-image look. He gestured to a chair in front of his desk.
“Come in. Close the door, have a seat. So you have a problem?”
I followed his instructions. “How do you know I have a problem?”
“You have my card,” he said, as if that explained everything. “Tell me what happened.”
I started to speak, but he quickly held up one thin finger. “Not what you think happened. Not what must have happened because what you remember can’t possibly be true. Tell me what happened, in order, without apology or prevarication.”
Something in his voice made his words less of an instruction and more of an unassailable command. I opened my mouth and let the words fall out.
When I had finished, Grey Michael nodded his head. “Simple enough.”
“Yes. This is small, a fledgling. One trick, very little power. Shall we go?”
“Go where?” I was totally lost in this conversation.
“To the house. To remove it.”
I started to refuse, but Grey Michael stood up from his desk and brushed invisible dust from his suit. “Drive. It will give you something to do.”
Without thinking, my keys were in my hand and I was heading for the door. We were out of the parking lot before I even realized he was riding in my passenger seat.
“I can’t go back in there,” I told him.
“You won’t have to. Only one step, so that you can declare your request for assistance.”
“You need to say the following phrase, as exactly as you can: I, as the duly appointed representative tasked with the preservation of this home and its contents, hereby invite Grey Michael inside.” Only he didn’t say “Grey Michael.” His lips said “Grey Michael.” The sound said “Grey Michael.” But what I felt was something dark and broken, words of tortured malice.
We passed the rest of the drive in silence. Grey Michael seemed content to watch the scenery, while I was simply trying to calm my panicked brain.
When we pulled up outside, the front door was closed.
“I left that open,” I told Grey Michael.
“It’s not important,” he said, getting out of the car. “This will all be over soon.”
My courage failed me as I approached the front door. If it had still been open, I think I could have stepped inside. But to grasp the handle and open it myself was beyond me.
“I can’t. I can’t do this.”
“Hm,” said Grey Michael. “Are you saying that you’ve wasted my time?”
I took an immediate step backward from the look he gave me, banging my back against the house’s front door. “No! No.”
“Then open the door and invite me inside.”
I opened it without hesitation. My fear of the house hadn’t lessened, but I’d found something I feared more. I took a single step inside.
“That’s far enough,” said Grey Michael. “Now. Invite me.”
I cleared my throat. “I, as the duly appointed representative tasked with the preservation of this home and its contents, hereby invite Grey Michael inside.”
His name twisted like burned rope in my throat. It felt like nails on bone, carving secret messages on my skeleton, words that would never leave me.
“Thank you,” he said, stepping past me into the house. “Now. Please remain on the porch and hold this door closed. Do not open it for anything. It could be very dangerous for you if you do.”
He closed the door in my face. I took hold of the handle and exerted a gentle pull. I wondered how long I was going to have to stand like this, and what I would say to anyone who asked what I was doing.
Those thoughts were driven from my mind when the screaming started. I jumped, nearly losing my grip on the door handle, but fear of Grey Michael kept me in place.
The screams seemed to come from the house itself, as if the bricks and boards were crying out. They ranged up and down in pitch, sounding sometimes human but always terrified.
Then the scratching started, desperate clawing against the door. I felt tugging against the handle and I leaned my weight back, heedless of the steps behind me. Not for anything, Grey Michael had said, and I would not open it for anything.
My blood ran cold as voices began pleading with me. Children, old folks, family members. They begged and cried to get out. I stood fast. They slowly died away.
“Thank you,” said Grey Michael from behind me. I spun around to find him standing at the bottom of the steps, not a hair out of place. “You can release the door now. The house has been cleansed.”
“What do we do now?”
“By preference, you take me back to the office. You have a house to sell, after all. And I have other work to do.”
We were silent again on the drive back. At one point, he yawned. I glanced over and caught a glimpse into his mouth. It opened up like a cave. Distant lights glittered inside.
He saw me watching and raised an eyebrow. I said nothing.
We shook hands back at the office. “I’ll be seeing you around,” Grey Michael said. I’ve been trying not to think too hard about what that might mean.
In the meantime…anyone looking to buy a house? I can guarantee with absolute certainty that it is not haunted. Grey Michael made sure of that.
(Want more? Check out the sequel to Grey Michael, entitled House Hunting, available now)
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available