Fiction | Romeo and Juliet II: Haunted rentals

The hauntings are actually quite flamboyant here, though. Yeah, come in, come in. Not like my friend Moya’s house—it just has a tool shed that sometimes isn’t there and that’s it. So boring. Yes, you can keep your shoes on.

So, as you can see, it’s a nice little duplex, a short walk from the main strip. Most of the time it’s just like what you can see now—two-tone green walls, mint green below the picture rails and this beautiful forest green above. Oh, and the scent, the smell of roses—that’s not potpourri or anything, the house just smells like that. You get used to it.

And it has this amazing fireplace, which wasn’t always there, but we love it. And there are—well, there are always two bedrooms at least, so your stuff will be safe, don’t worry. And there’s one big wall in the main bedroom, my room, that has the most amazing wallpaper—flying ducks on an eggshell-blue background. Oh, and the floorboards—really dark wood floorboards, just like today. Usually.

So, all this, what you’re seeing now, is sort of the default, but I get all kinds of things. Probably the most common haunting happens if I wake up early on a clear morning on the weekend, feeling virtuous and ready for action. It’s rare but it can happen. I’ll wake up, the sun is still low in the sky, and everything is just grey. Like all of it, the whole house, different shades of grey. It all looks similar to how it normally is, like the walls are still two-tone, but it’s two tones of grey. No roses, no ducks. All just very turn of the century,, that whole aesthetic. You might see it too if you’re an early riser. In any case, the colour and detail usually fade back in around midday. Usually.

We’ll routinely get a third bedroom, sometimes even a fourth. Always with a feature wall—like three white walls and then a splash of colour. Pretty often it’s bright blue and it’s got this suede texture, even though it’s just paint. ’Oh, probably the worst thing was one time when I opened one of the new bedroom doors and there was a cot in there. That was pretty not okay. But like. It wasn’t decorated like a baby’s room, it was literally just half of one wall painted lemon yellow, and then a cot, and that was it. Oh, and a smell. Not a good smell, not new-baby smell. And it felt like the room was full of shadows, like the light from the window was filtering through something thick. I freaked. I just yelled ‘DO NOT MANIFEST THIS SHIT IN MY HOUSE’ and slammed the door, and it was gone pretty quick. Wish I’d taken a picture, probably could have got a rent reduction out of it.

But mostly it’s harmless. I don’t have any of the really fucked-up stuff like when people get gaps in the floor or pipes or walls go missing, that kind of thing hasn’t happened pretty much at all. I don’t know of anyone who has the same haunting patterns as me. I have two friends who live right across the city from one another but they both get haunted with the same fancy chandeliers any time one of them has a dinner party. How good would that be? Wish I had hauntings like that. Although there was the one time, with the fireplace. That wasn’t always there.

It was after a big night, a friend’s housewarming, actually. She’d been told by the people who had the lease before her that everything was fine in the house so long as you didn’t have too many people over. This friend of mine is kind of chaos, so she decided she’d have a raging house party and, suffice to say, the floor disappeared and we all dropped about half a metre into the crawl space beneath the house. Which was infested with spiders and just generally not a good time. Most of the people there seemed to actually think it was a vibe, they started sorting through the foundations of the house like it was an archaeological dig. Not me, I was outta there. As I was trying to climb up out of the foundations onto the front step, this guy leaned down and reached out his hand. He had a tattoo on his wrist, I remember—a rose, I think, but weirdly small. He was wearing a black leather jacket that seemed too hot for the weather, and long straight hair that hung a little over his face as he leaned down.

‘Not your vibe?’ he asked as he pulled me up.

I dusted myself off. ‘How is this anyone’s vibe?’ He smirked and we walked out into the night together.

It was around that September-October time, one of the first nights that you can be outside at night without turning blue, and all the ornamental pears are making the air smell like fucking. I don’t remember talking to him on the walk, almost at all, but he played all these games with me. With very few words, he would conjure playgrounds for us—silly little things, like not stepping on the cracks, or racing to the top of a hill. At one point, there was a low log fence at the edge of a park, and he pulled me up so we were both balancing on the log. Holding hands, we took it in turns to each step around the other person, while staying balanced. We wobbled and cackled, and every time we fell off—which was a lot—we fell into each other’s arms, risking glances into each other’s eyes. I remember oscillating between enjoyment and panic. Like, in one moment I was sure he—I really can’t remember his name—but I was sure he must be a creep and that I was going to wind up dead in an alley. Then the next moment, I’d be so thrilled by his weird, quietly playful company. But throughout the fear and the excitement, there was a steady thrum, some kind of momentum. I remember being shocked when we arrived home, like the ninety-minute walk had passed in ten.

We arrived at my place, and we both went inside—I don’t remember inviting him in, it was just like this had always been the agreement. It was as though he—what was his name?—it was like he lived here. I liked that feeling. Once we were inside, my fear ebbed away. Somehow I trusted he was gentle. He walked into the living room, here, and he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. It’s not uncommon, people do literally stop and smell the roses in this house sometimes. But he was really lingering with it. I got us some water and we sank into the couch—yeah, this one we’re sitting on now. The walk had taken it out of me and the sun was already threatening to come up. It was still pitch-black but there were morning bird songs. That dumb scene from Romeo and Juliet came into my mind, where there’s birdsong, and Juliet is like, ‘don’t worry, those are night birds, it’s not morning yet,’ and Romeo’s like, ‘nah that was a lark,’ and in the end time prevails and Romeo climbs out a window, I think. Anyway, the birdsong reminded me of that but this moment wasn’t really like that. We were just strangers, drinking water on the couch.

Romeo was looking around—I’ll just call him Romeo, why not. He said, ‘This place reminds me of my great gran. Something about it… the smell, maybe. And she had a fireplace just like this one in her house.’ I was about to protest that I don’t have a fireplace, but then I followed Romeo’s gaze, and sure enough, there was a fireplace, right across from the couch. Yes, that same one you’re looking at now. ‘Even down to the grate,’ he said, ‘and the poker. This is exactly like my great gran’s house.’ It felt like things were materialising as Romeo mentioned them. I did not see them popping into existence—you never do, of course—but Romeo’s words drew my attention to these new details—the concertina iron grate, the ornate black-and-gold poker.

‘None of that is usually there,’ I said.

He just nodded, still staring at the fireplace, which was now lit with a gentle fire.

I waited for him to say something. He turned to look at me. His hair hung over his eyes and cast the top half of his face in flickering shadow. And yet I felt him looking. The fire was roaring now, and the room was hot. I looked around and saw the room anew in the glow of the fire. The washed-out mint and forest green of the walls seemed vibrant, warm avocado and emerald. The glossy white picture-rails shone, looking freshly cleaned, without any of their usual scuffs and chips. All the windows were open, the flyscreens keeping the bugs out but letting the sweet night air in. I got up from the couch and walked back towards the bedroom. Through the door I could see the duck wallpaper. It looked brand new, a brilliant, sky-blue. Somehow, this suddenly all felt like another of Romeo’s brilliant games; like he was making things be the most light they could be. ‘It’s never like this,’ I said, excited. ‘It’s beautiful!’ Turning back to Romeo, I saw he had stood up too, but seemed a bit abashed.

‘Do you get other hauntings?’ he asked.

I nodded. ‘Never the fireplace, though.’

Romeo looked into the fire. ‘I used to love the look of that ornate poker,’ he said. ‘So did my Dad, when he was young. But then, when he was older, and my great-Gran was dying, Grandpa told Dad, and eventually Dad told me, what the poker was really used for, when Grandpa was a child.’ He paused. He made this horrible gesture, like a baseball bat or a cricket bat. It was a terrible thing to be telling me. But also an intimate thing. I felt I knew this story somehow. It was familiar.

‘Anyway,’ he said, after a while, ‘Grandpa got away. Got away from his parents. Got rich. In the end he made amends with my great gran, and he had six children and six houses. And he was happy.’

That part of the story was less familiar to me. We don’t have six houses in my family. The penny dropped—or I thought it did—and I asked, ‘Is this one of your Grandpa’s houses?’

But Romeo shook his head, which surprised me. I’d always thought the hauntings were really cut and dried. They’re meant to come from the landlord, the dead landlord—their memories or their aspirations, or how they maintained or didn’t maintain their properties for their tenants when they were alive. But now there’s this detail from Romeo’s Great-gran’s house, in this house which seems to have nothing to do with her. A haunting at the confluence of two streams, two bloodlines, and us in the middle, in the current.

‘I’ve never seen a haunting like this one,’ he said with a little laugh, like he was trying to shrug it off. That annoyed me.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘Neither have I.’ I could feel the tug of something, a wrenching feeling, like being pulled under by that current, that riptide of merging histories. I looked around and everything seemed exactly as it should be. Exactly like the home I deserved. Clean. Light. Warm. New. I had a fireplace with a perfect little fire, and I had company. But all this comfort and warmth was uncanny.

Somehow, over the course of a couple of minutes, this perfect stranger had become entwined in my home. And here I’d been thinking he was just a bit of fun for the night. Fear crept back in but not the same fear as before. Not a standard strange-man-in-your-house fear. The fear of possibility. All this warmth, comfort. To have more in your hands than you can hold. I felt dizzy. And he must’ve seen something. He walked towards me, gently, like I was a wounded animal, and gently took both of my hands in his, just as I would want someone to do. ‘I think you should go,’ I said. I looked up at him just in time to catch a flicker but it passed in an instant. Steady once more, he looked into my eyes and gave my hands a squeeze. And then he walked out the front door, closing it gently behind him, and he was gone.

Nothing changed in the house when he walked out. The fire crackled. The picture rails shone. It suddenly seemed impossible that he was gone. Is this how the house would stay, now? I felt like I had to stay awake, that if I fell asleep, I’d wake up and the house would be back to normal. I sat back down on the couch. I stared into the fire. It warmed my face, pleasantly at first, and then like sunburn. I leaned back, checked my phone. It was after five am, I think. Where did he go? I lay down on the couch. I opened Google, typed ‘Where did you go?’ The first result was a music video for what looked like a rap song called ‘Where’d you go?’ I put it on. It sucked. But there was footage in the music video of houses just like this one, mostly empty, with a woman waiting for a man to come home, and then the man was rapping—something like that. And at the end of the video, the man, of course, comes home. Anyway, I put the video on loop on YouTube and settled into the couch, propping my phone up on a pillow. The looping imagery in the video of the man returning to the house seemed like a spell, something that would keep the house warm and ready for Romeo. And yet, as I drifted to sleep, I presumed I’d never see him again. Probably for the best, really. Romeo and Juliet, they end up killing each other. Sometimes you can just tell that it’s going to be too much, right from the beginning. Romeo and Juliet couldn’t tell and that cost them everything. But we could tell, this guy and me, and we nipped it in the bud. I was grateful for the haunting, then. And I decided that I didn’t even mind if the house went back to normal. Which, of course, it did. Mostly. The fireplace stayed, as you can see. But I never light it. I’m always worried I’ll burn the whole house down.

Anyway, as you will have seen in the ad, rent is three hundred a week for the room. Plus bills. But we don’t get charged for water, which is pretty neat. No pets. What do you think?


Georgia Symons

Georgia Symons is a writer of prose, theatre and video games, and a union organiser, living on Wurundjeri country. She enjoys cooking, riding her bike, conversations with friends, and contributing to the dismantling of oppressive systems.

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