Michael C. Keith

The Sick House

"Infantile paralysis empties house of family."

Providence Tribune, August 4, 1953


The story about that creepy old house across the street goes something like this. Almost two years ago all the kids that lived there got polio and one, a little girl named Sara, died. This drove her parents crazy and they disappeared with their two other kids, who were crippled by the disease. No one has heard from them since, and some say they went out into Narragansett Bay on their dad's small fishing boat and drowned during a storm, but no bodies have ever been found. So the place is haunted. At least that's what I believe, and most of my friends think so, too, except Henry, who thinks that idea is a bunch of baloney. He might be right, but I don't think so.

I'm going to move my bed, because where it is now I go to sleep looking at that empty place, and I swear to God it's looking back at me. The second-floor windows are like eyes that stare at me in my attic bedroom. If I had a shade on my window, I'd pull it down. My dad is supposed to put one up but he never seems to get around to it. Sometimes I hang my clothes over the empty curtain rod but my mom says it looks bad from the street and takes them down when I forget to do it. Then I end up with nothing to keep what we call the Polio House from gawking in at me.

When I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago I saw lights on in one of the windows, and there was a shadow moving in the room. It was small and I could tell it was her . . . the dead girl, Sara. When I told my parents they said it was impossible, because no one lived there anymore and the electricity was shut off. They said I was just dreaming and letting my imagination go wild. My mother shrugged it off, saying I should focus on other things, like my schoolwork.

As usual my father just cursed the place, calling it a damn eyesore and complaining that it was dragging down the neighborhood, which was already on the slide because so many undesirables were moving in.

"Maybe some decent white folks will buy the place and clean it up," he said, adding that more than likely it would just go empty because it was falling apart. "Looks like it's going to topple over. It's a real blight, and with all the nutty talk about it being full of polio and haunted nobody will ever buy it, except maybe some coons. Hey, then it really will be filled with spooks," he joked, and I gave him a hard look because of my friend, Henry, being colored. "Well that's all we need living across the street from us. Maybe you'll feel differently if that happens, kiddo. Those people turn everything bad. They're like a disease."

Sometimes when it's windy the Polio House seems to wail like it's in pain and the harder the wind blows the louder and more horrible it gets. I'm not kidding, lots of times its sobbing keeps me awake late at night. Everything it does seems scarier in my room than anywhere else in the house. It's like it's chosen to bother me more than anyone else. But I'm not going to let it chase me out of my room. Even though Henry thinks the whole thing about the house is pretty stupid, he says that there's no way he would get up in the middle of the night to take a leak out of the window with that old place looking at his ding-a-ling.

Henry is one of the funniest kids I have ever known, even if my dad says I should stay away from people like him. Sometimes I think our house is just as sick as the Polio House.

—Michael C. Keith

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