In a nutshell: Ghosts can’t be real.
Kenzie Sampson is home on Christmas break during her first year in college. She’s had more than the usual trouble adjusting to her new environment away from home, but she’s not about to tell her family, who have had enough to worry about, including plenty they haven’t told her. Worse yet, Kenzie discovers that just because you don’t believe in ghosts doesn’t mean they don’t exist…and she doesn’t know how to deal with them or her own demons as she adjusts to the old house that’s her family’s new home.
Trivia: I started writing this book a long time ago but then set it down when certain elements in it weren’t working. I came back to it again when I was working on my MFA, wrote a couple of really strong chapters, and then set it down yet again. In 2012, I made Old House my NaNoWriMo project and it’s finally done. It’s also better than I’d hoped, because the original story was just going to be straight horror. This time, I figured out a great twist!
Kenzie Sampson: A college freshman who comes home for Christmas break to live in her parents’ new home…that she is fairly certain is haunted.
Melody: Kenzie’s younger sister, Melody is free-spirited and fun, a breath of fresh air–just what Kenzie needs.
Mike: Kenzie’s younger brother.
Ellie: Kenzie’s mother, whom Kenzie suspects is–along with her father–hiding a secret.
Robert: Kenzie’s father.
Adam: Kenzie’s old high school friend, Adam and Kenzie have a lot in common, and Kenzie realizes spending some time with him would do her mental state a lot of good.
Kenzie dipped her brush in a couple of different colors and swirled them together a little, then placed them on the canvas and started moving the brush in tight circles at first, then in larger, looser arcs around the surface. She then picked up more paint on her brush and tried it again. And as she continued, she felt inspiration hit. She saw a face in her mind, and suddenly, that face needed to be painted.
It wasn’t a face she’d ever seen before, and yet it felt so familiar. As she continued painting, she could see the face more clearly. It was the visage of a young woman. She was probably seventeen or eighteen, but she looked older. She was a lovely dark-skinned young lady with a perfect complexion and soft, smooth cheeks, dark eyes, and wearing a…hat? No, Kenzie had to keep painting. Her hair was covered but it was by…a bonnet? She didn’t know why a bonnet, but she had to paint it just the same. It belonged on the woman.
As she continued painting the details, she saw that the girl had anger in her eyes, but it was mixed with overwhelming sadness…and something else, something Kenzie couldn’t identify. What was it? She had to keep painting.
The woman’s face ate up the entire canvas. There was no background. It was like when a photographer takes an extreme close up–the picture was all face, nothing else. Kenzie didn’t even realize that her heart rate had increased, her breathing had turned shallow, her blood pressure had risen. She was painting furiously, unaware of anything else. She wasn’t in the zone–she was way past it.
But she kept painting. As the young woman’s face became clearer and clearer, Kenzie imagined who this girl was. And as her features became more defined, so did her story, and–for some strange reason Kenzie couldn’t explain–she knew what she was finding out wasn’t fiction. It was real.
The anger and sadness in the girl’s eyes made more sense as Kenzie kept moving her hand up and down and around the canvas, her brushes loaded with paint that she’d deposit on the canvas in just the right places with just the right strokes. Kenzie somehow knew that this girl had been kidnapped and then kept as a…slave? Well, no… maybe. No, not just a slave. A sex slave. She’d been locked in a room and forced to be nothing but a warm hole for some disgusting man, and she had to do it day after day, night after night, for months, years untold. The girl had gone a bit crazy, and who wouldn’t?
Kenzie felt hot tears trailing down her cheeks, but she was still unaware. She now had an obligation, a need to tell this woman’s story through her painting, and minutes became hours as she laid one brush stroke after another upon the canvas, shaping and defining this picture, but would everyone else be able to interpret the pain Kenzie felt in the bottom of her soul for this poor young woman?
And even though she was operating on autopilot, some still rational part of her brain was analyzing the process. And that part of her brain knew exactly what was happening. Kenzie was connecting with this girl on some level, because they’d both experienced something similar. Kenzie hadn’t experienced anything nearly as horrifying as this young woman had, but she knew what it was like to be violated, used like trash, and all for a man’s sick perverted pleasure. She knew. So were they connecting somehow through the collective unconscious, uninhibited by both time and space, not to mention backgrounds and other commonalities? Kenzie had no idea how it was happening, but it was. She couldn’t explain it, but she was afraid to let it end. So she kept painting.
She didn’t know how long she’d been painting, but the albums she’d chosen on her iPod ended and Metallica started playing, pulling her out of her trance. That’s when she realized her room was dark. And as she adjusted to her surroundings, she saw that it was snowing outside her window. In fact, it was almost light outside from the glow of the clouds. Huge flakes drifted down furiously as the wind bashed them about.
Kenzie took a deep breath and realized her forehead was damp with cool sweat. Her neck was stiff. She got up off the stool and then placed her palette and the brush in her other hand on the dresser, then walked across the room so she could turn on the light switch.
Part of her was afraid to see the painting, because she knew she’d managed to capture the nuances of the girl’s face. She knew people would look at it and be immediately struck by the profound sadness in the girl’s eyes. They’d instantly feel the pain the girl had felt. Kenzie knew this had to be her best painting yet.
So when she turned on the light, she felt confused. Her eyes couldn’t make out what she was looking at. She cocked her head, inching toward the painting. It was dark, lots of blacks and dark blues but grays and a little white defining areas here and there, a reverse shading of sorts. As she got closer, she saw it was a face all right. But it certainly wasn’t the face she’d seen in her head.
The painting was…horrifying.
The face, really just a blur against a frenetic, dark background, reminded Kenzie of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, with its face absent of hair but with a look of terror in the eyes, accompanied by a mouth that could do nothing but form an O through which to release an emotion of fear so overwhelming, words could not describe it.
Kenzie sat back on her bed, wanting to put some distance between herself and the painting she hadn’t painted. And yet she had. Her fingers were covered in globs of acrylic colors. She’d been there the entire time. But how could she have seen herself paint one thing yet paint another? Or had she had some kind of blackout, and during that blackout created this creepy, disturbing image?
She knew she had.
She knew because when she stared at that face, that ghost-like alien face, she could see the woman’s eyes, the young girl whose face she’d been trying to capture. Those were her eyes. But how they’d made it on canvas in this form, Kenzie would never know.