12 Apr The Fontenot House
“The Fontenot House”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 — 13 minutes
New Orleans is a city alive with death. Things have a way of coming back from beyond. There’s something about the city that gives everything an extra spark. That sort of force can interact with the world in strange ways.
One of those ways was the Fontenot house. It was a small, unremarkable place, just one four-room shotgun shack among many. No one owned it, as far as anyone knew. No one knew which Fontenots the house had belonged to. It was just there. And it was very haunted.
Or so the story went, anyway. As was so often the case, no one telling the story had actually seen any strange goings-ons at the house themselves. They hadn’t personally seen the flickering lights in the windows at night, or felt the unnatural warmth in the walls, or heard the sounds of a faraway gathering. No one knew anyone who had disappeared. But they knew someone who knew someone who had, and anyway, there was no reason to believe that it wasn’t haunted. Why else would there be stories about it if it wasn’t true?
There were doubters, of course. There always were. One such was René Landry. He had spent all of his seventeen years of life in New Orleans, and although he was not so bold as to disbelieve all of the stories of the city, he certainly felt that many of them were simple tales to lure tourists. He made the mistake of saying so to a group of friends one night, and was challenged to put his money where his mouth was.
The bet was simple: spend the night in the Fontenot house. René was given a GoPro camera, a mildly drunken sendoff and a strict ultimatum not to leave before sunup. There was no prize on the line, only pride, but that was more than enough. The camera was set to take pictures every minute, easy enough to flip through afterward to get a complete picture of the night.
“Maybe you’ll get a picture of a ghost!” they told him, laughing.
“The ghost of peeling wallpaper, more like.” René held the camera up, gesturing for his friends to lean in for a photo. They smiled and waved as the camera snapped a picture.
“First one down,” René said. “See you three hundred and fifty-nine photos from now.”
“When you find out the truth, don’t be too proud to run, René! We’ll let you live it down. Eventually.”
“Like I need your approval,” he told them. “I don’t see any of you going in here at all.”
The old wooden door shut behind him. René clicked on his flashlight to supplement the moonlight filtering in through the grimy windows. He could hear his friends doing ghost impressions on the porch. He smiled and shook his head as he looked around to determine the best place to spend the night.
The front porch opened onto the bedroom, but the floor was thick with dust and René shuddered to think what sorts of things might be living in the decayed padding of the bed. The leather chair in the corner was no better. It had a musty odor that he could smell from across the room. It stood out even among the overarching smell of dampness that arose from the house in general. René began to think that it would have been wise to have brought a sleeping bag.
He moved on to the living room. His light illuminated a corduroy couch that must have been at least three times his age, and showed every year of it. It was a faded orange that clashed riotously with the boldly-patterned green rug covering most of the floor, while also taking up arms against the mildewed mustard-yellow wallpaper. Empty curio shelves painted in various bright hues lined the walls. Even in the dim light, the room’s colors were an assault.
The dining room was a stark contrast. It was dominated by a large mahogany table and matching chairs, the dark wood standing out like a three-dimensional hole against the cream-colored walls. A towering china cabinet stood against one wall, still filled with dishes.
As René tilted his head back to take in all of the cabinet, he noted with curiosity that he could no longer touch the ceiling. In the previous two rooms, he had been able to tap it with the flashlight. Now his hand swung freely, with at least a foot of free space remaining. The floor felt even, so he concluded that the ceiling must have been constructed on a slant. It was an oddity, but not when compared to a corduroy couch.
The final room was the kitchen. The cabinets stood open and bare, their doors reaching outward in mute pleas to be filled. A large iron stove squatted in one corner. A small alcove opposite it led to a tiny bathroom. A sink, toilet and rusted metal tub were all crammed into a space that looked like it was intended for a pantry.
René took a desultory look through the cupboards and rattled the drawers, but found nothing but a few pieces of discarded cutlery. Something was off about the room, but it took several minutes until he realized what it was: there was no back door.
There wasn’t even a space for one. The cabinets lined the back wall entirely, with the counter running in an unbroken line beneath them. But who had ever heard of a shotgun shack without a back door? It would trap all of the heat from the kitchen inside, making for a miserable summer. Besides which, René could see the back porch through one of the kitchen windows. No one would have a porch you couldn’t get to from the inside of the house. The slanted ceiling was weird, but this was just plain crazy.
René tapped his hand along the back wall below the cabinets, searching for a weak spot, a seam, anything to show where a door had once been. The wall was oddly warm under his hand, the plaster uncomfortably soft. It felt like putty under his fingertips, though it did not yield.
He leaned in, holding the flashlight close to concentrate the light. The textured pattern of the plaster crawled away from the light, wriggling away like there was something live beneath it. René jerked backward, taking several brisk steps away from the wall. The room was darker than he remembered. The windows were higher and smaller. As he watched they shrank away, closing down to a pinhole and then vanishing entirely. The only light in the room came from his flashlight, and it was somehow no longer enough to illuminate the far side of the tiny space. Darkness stretched out all around René, engulfing him and his tiny cone of light.
In panic, he turned his light to the floor, desperate to see anything. The wooden planks were still there, but instead of the regular, sensible lines, they now spread outward in complex, interlocking butterfly patterns. The patterns continued on past the edge of his light, fifty feet or more. The walls were gone. The stove was gone. René stood alone in a barren desert of wood, trembling.
He told himself that it was impossible, a hallucination. He closed his eyes, reached outward with his hand, and walked slowly toward the back wall. He took two steps, three, four, and reached nothing. He squeezed his eyes and continued walking. Five steps, ten, enough to have walked half the length of the house, and still he encountered nothing. When he opened his eyes, he was still alone in that wooden desert, intricate butterflies under his feet.
Far away, René could hear a quiet clattering. He trained the light in the direction the sound was coming from, but could see nothing. After a moment, he began walking toward the noise. He recognized that it might be a poor idea, but nothing else was coming to mind as a valid option right now.
He walked for several minutes, the clattering growing steadily louder as he approached. Other sounds became clear in the background as well, the quiet creak and groan of hinges, the whispering of wood being drawn across other wood. The sound broadened, seeming to come from everywhere in front of him. René wondered if he was heading toward some manner of forest, if what he was hearing was branches rustling. He could feel no wind, though.
A part of his brain screamed that this was crazy, that he was inside a small house, that none of this could be happening. René carefully closed that part away. If he paid too much attention to those thoughts, he knew he would start to panic. This was insane, but it was better not to think too much about it right now. Later, he could assess this. For now, simply reacting was best.
Something glimmered at the edge of the light, something moving. The clattering was everywhere now, a continuous roar. René moved cautiously forward until he could fully see what was before him, but although his light illuminated it, his mind refused to believe.
Stretching out in either direction was an ocean of cabinets and drawers. Wooden doors lifted and fell in gentle waves, clacking and clattering as they went. René continued walking, unable to comprehend what he was looking at. There was no end he could see, millions of hinges moving millions of panels, nothing but cabinetry forever.
René reached down and gently touched the lid of the cabinet in front of him. It pushed against his hand, raised by the ones pressed up against it. René could not see what caused their movement. Something out in that impossible ocean must be the source, but whatever it was lay far beyond his light.
He stared at the cabinet sea for several minutes. His brain refused to generate any coherent sense. The doors rose and fell, clattering and whispering.
The thought that finally jarred him back into action was humorously prosaic. It occurred to him that the GoPro had been taking essentially the same photo every minute that he’d been standing there. Somehow, this was what he needed to restore mobility to his limbs, to restart his mind.
Whatever the way out of here was, it wasn’t across that sea, at least not on foot. René turned his back on it and traveled back the way he’d come, hoping to find something more reasonable in the other direction.
He walked for an indeterminate amount of time. The clacking of the ocean faded behind him, and for a while there was nothing but the sound of his own footsteps. The butterflies beneath him were unvaried and seemingly infinite. René began to wonder if there was any end to this at all. The dust ahead of him was undisturbed, so he knew he was not walking in circles, but beyond that he had no guidance at all.
Finally something broke the unending sameness of the paneled desert. A structure rose up before him, a towering ziggurat constructed from wooden beams. It reached high into the sky, and as René craned his neck up he realized that there was indeed a sky up there. Faint light filtered down from somewhere, too little to see by yet, but enough to give hope that he was making progress, that he would not be trapped in infinite darkness when his flashlight gave out.
As René drew even with the massive tower, he realized that it was made of doorframes stacked together, each one sized for a normal house and all of them alike. He pushed on one tentatively, ready to run in case of collapse, but it appeared firmly rooted to the ground. He reached up and pulled on the header, lifting himself off of the ground and swinging briefly before releasing.
He looked speculatively upward, fighting a strange desire to climb it. It looked fairly simple, with wide footing and solid places to grip. Maybe at the top he could see more of what was around him.
Or maybe you could fall to your death, the sane part of his mind whispered. René clamped down on it once more, still unwilling to let it resume control. But he did skirt around the ziggurat, superstitiously refraining from passing through any of its myriad doorframes.
The blackness around René relaxed into a deep gloom. He could not make out the light source, but he began to see shapes ahead of him, tall oblong stripes darker than the areas around them. They stood silent and still, unbothered by the interloper coming toward them.
When he was close enough to catch them in the beam of his flashlight, René saw that they were trees, of a sort. They were mahogany, but their trunks were smooth and polished, their bases carved with intricate scrollwork. The branches spreading out high over his head were equally detailed, and the leaves growing from the trees were thick and carved of the same dark wood as the rest of it. They were utterly motionless, and strain his ears though he might, René could detect no sound.
Darkness descended again as he entered the carved forest. The interlocking leaves blocked out the little light that had filtered down. The sound of his footsteps echoed back at him from strange angles, giving the impression that others walked with him, close by but unseen. They never drew closer, though, and whenever René stopped, the echoed footsteps stopped immediately after.
There was a strange beauty to the dark forest. René turned off his flashlight, closed his eyes and let himself walk forward by feel. The thick trunks slipped by under his hands, cool and marble-smooth. He moved gently from one tree to the next, oddly calmed by the touch of the trees.
Suddenly, there was no next tree ahead of him. He opened his eyes and was surprised to find it bright enough to see by, still clearly night but now navigable without the flashlight. He could make out the landscape ahead, rising into hills that went on for what seemed to be miles.
The forest stood behind him, a bulwark against the rising land. A few dozen feet ahead, set into the wooden floor, were a series of dark rectangles, a patterned line continuing as far as he could see.
René approached curiously. The rectangles were doorframes again, horizontal this time. Each one limned the edge of a pit that stretched down past where he could see. There were handholds carved into the walls of each pit, a rough ladder that suggested they led somewhere that was intended to be reached. René hesitated, looking at the empty, yawning doorframes, before stepping carefully along the floor between two of them and continuing on through whatever the house had become.
The wooden floor gave way to textured ground, a field of tightly woven green fabric. It brushed up against René’s calves as he walked, silencing his footsteps and replacing them with a soft, continuous shushing. An enormous moon hung off to one side, trapped in the square of a titanic window set into a spotted, yellowed cliff. Its glow was what illuminated the land around him.
As René walked, orange ridges began to show beneath the stands of green fabric. They grew more frequent, gathering together and rising higher and higher, until the green was far below him and he was clambering up a steep orange hill. The incline was intense, but the ridges kept his footing secure. René tucked his flashlight into his back pocket to allow him to grip with his hands as he climbed, and he made swift progress.
At some point, he felt the flashlight slip from his pocket. He turned and made a grab for it, but it was tumbling away, bouncing and rolling back down the hill he had spent so much effort ascending. He watched it go, then looked to the crest of the hill. It was close, beckoning him, and the room was bright. He climbed onward.
The crest of the hill butted up against the yellowed cliff. It was pitted and decayed, offering plenty of options to climb. The window containing the moon was not so far above, all things considered. He could reach it if he tried.
And then what? his sanity asked. You can’t escape through the glass.
He had not been thinking about escape. He had been thinking about sitting on the sill and basking in the moon. He had been thinking about diving from the edge and knowing that the orange hill hundreds of feet below would catch him safely, that he was not meant to be hurt in this place.
You’ll die, his mind insisted, and reluctantly René agreed that he had no reason to believe that he would not. Tearing his gaze from the cliff, he looked ahead, down the far side of the hill.
The descent looked to be as steep as the way up had been. Beyond it the green fabric fields resumed briefly, before fading away into some sort of terrain made of smoothed lumps. And beyond that, far beyond, was another cliff. The moonlight barely reached it. It seemed to have an odd geometric texture, but René could not make out the details from where he was. The only way to find out, he thought, was to go forward.
His first steps down the hill were slow and cautious. The angle was perilous, the footing uncertain. He turned around and began to back down, using his hands to stabilize himself, but it was slow and arduous work. After a few minutes, he sat down to catch his breath.
The first slide was accidental, a small slip. He caught himself before he had gone more than a few feet. As he steadied himself, though, he looked at the slope ahead of him and considered the distance. Sliding would be so much easier. If he was careful, he would surely be able to control it.
He slid again, braking with his hands, going twenty feet or more. He stopped only to confirm that he could, then released his grip and allowed gravity to pull him along once more. Down he went, faster and faster. The friction heated up the seat of his pants and he lay down on his back to distribute the heat. He was afraid that if he tried to stop himself, he would sear the skin from his hands, and so he continued his pell-mell plunge down the hill.
He crashed into the fabric fibers at the bottom, rolling over and over until he came to a stop dozens of feet away, dizzy and exhilarated. He stood slowly and waited with his hands on his knees for the world to stop spinning before straightening up completely.
Ahead of him stood a single wooden doorframe. It was not connected to anything. René could easily have walked around, had he so chosen. Instead he stepped boldly through, his sights set on the distant blocky cliff.
The lumpen ground he had seen from the top of the hill was made of a smooth, tan leather, soft and well-worn. It rose and fell in small hummocks and was studded with tunnels, some no bigger than his arm, some large enough to walk inside. René peered inside one and called out. The distant echoes suggested caverns below of great depth and complexity.
The cliff, his mind insisted, and René pressed onward, walking steadfastly past the tunnels.
As he reached the base, René saw at last what gave the cliff its blocky shape. It was made of doors, countless identical doors set haphazardly together, stretching upward in a cyclopean nightmare. He rattled the closest knob, but it was firmly locked, as were the ones on either side.
One of these has to lead out, insisted his sanity. One has to be real. And at last René let that part of his mind out, let it gibber and roil and insist that this was wrong, that this was fake, that this was not how reality worked. He watched it with a detached sense of wonder, like watching a strange animal through the glass walls of a zoo. It was interesting, but it was not relevant. And it was certainly not him.
René reached up, seizing hold of the top of a doorframe. He stepped lightly onto a doorknob and hoisted himself up. He climbed following a pattern that was perfectly clear, although he could not possibly have explained it. One door was right, that was all. One door led out.
With certainty and direction, René moved quickly and easily up the vertical surface, stepping from knob to knob with the grace of a mountain goat. Some doors swung open, and he used them to maneuver sideways, heading toward his goal. He did not look to see where they went. He knew they were not his.
Finally he reached a door that, when it opened, revealed a moonlit porch and a city beyond. The sky was touched with grey, but the street was empty and the surrounding areas still asleep. René looked at the porch where he had been drinking with his friends only hours before. It seemed unfamiliar, alien. The idea of even setting foot on it was unpleasant.
He removed the GoPro from his forehead and hung it carefully from the doorknob, then closed the door. It latched with a sense of finality.
René dropped swiftly down the cliff, his hands and feet finding holds without conscious thought. His mind was on the windowsill high above the orange hill. If he hurried, there would still be time to sit beneath the face of the moon.
His friends returned well after dawn, laughing and joking. They were surprised not to see René waiting for them on the porch.
“Maybe the ghosts got him after all,” one offered, but the laughter at that comment died out when they saw the GoPro hanging from the doorknob.
They searched the house from front porch to back, but it was empty. They called his phone and checked his house, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally, they downloaded the pictures from the GoPro, hoping it would provide some answers.
What they saw was nightmarish, impossible. The sea of cabinetry, the dour mahogany forest, the threatening leather landscape—it shook every one of them, rattling a core belief that they had not understood that they held.
They deleted the photos and never spoke of them again.
René was never found.
The Fontenot house still stands.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available