A mysterious and abandoned octangular house, hidden in the woods, a mysterious disappearance, and tales of hauntings. A scary and spooky place indeed and one that attracts—no make that lures—Clare and Abby, two young friends, into taking a peek inside.
Or rewind even further, into the memories of author Jennifer Fawcett, a playwright who worked with a theater company in Canada before moving to upstate New York to teach at Skidmore College. Fawcett, the author of the just released Beneath the Stairs, accepted a dare from a friend to participate in NaNoWriMo about a decade ago. Short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s a way for writers to jumpstart the process by setting a goal of completing a 50,000=page book within a month.
Make that a decade for Fawcett. That’s how long it took her to complete Beneath the Stairs as there were plays to write, a baby that came along, a move to upstate New York, and classes to teach. But what emerged was a story based upon her own experience when she was 13 of riding bikes with three friends to explore an old decrepit octangular home.
“We didn’t stay inside for long,” says Fawcett, who has an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. “I remember it being very cold.”
Decades later, that short visit and the feelings of cold and creepiness flowed into Fawcett’s story about the aftermath of Clare and Abby’s visits. Long estranged from her childhood friend, Clare is living in Chicago when she receives a call that Abby is hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide in the basement of the octangular house. Clare, who has had a miscarriage and is seeing her relationship dissolve, reluctantly returns home. There are all sorts of reasons why she wants to avoid the place where she grew up and one of them is Abby’s older handsome brother.
Trying to understand what happened to Abby leads Clare back to the octangular house. As she remembers from all those years ago, there is an icy chill to the house and a feeling of unseen beings. Almost irresistibly, she’s drawn to the basement where the distilled evil of the house seems centered. The door to the basement is an animate object, opening on its own, and more frightening, occasionally locking in someone who has walked down the stairs into the basement.
In the book, Fawcett added a widow’s walk to the top though there wasn’t one when she and her friends visited when they were 13. She recently found out that home originally had one. She also came to discover, after the book was published, that the names she used for characters were the actual names of people associated with the home. It was almost as if the house was channeling its history through Fawcett when she was writing. Spooky stuff indeed.
Fawcett isn’t necessarily a believer in the supernatural but we both get a slight shiver when I ask her if she would go into the house, which is located in Canada, now if she had the chance.
“I can’t,” she says. “It burned down a few years ago. On Halloween.”
This book story previous ran in the Northwest Indiana Times.