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The Nightmare House

Sam Ruddick


We live in a haunted house. It is unusual in that it is haunted by the living. Multiple moments occur at the same time in the same place, past iterations of ourselves overlapping. We are making love in the center of the bed, our chests sweaty, while we stand on opposite sides of the bed, arguing about the mortgage, about my mother, your sister, the child, and who subverts who and how. And just as multiple moments can exist at the same time, multiple spaces can exist in the same place, so as we shout at each other across the bed, we can feel our daughter’s bedroom superimposed on our own, see her awake in the dark in her own dark room, in the same spot where we make love. She’s not there when we begin to fight. Only as the lovemaking intensifies, as the fight intensifies, does she begin to materialize. We can see her eyes, wide and terrified, listening eyes, the window in her bedroom now the window in our bedroom, complete with the spooky tree, the big white moon so perfectly round it doesn’t look real, the symphony of crickets, which I had mistakenly called creatures one night: what’s that sound? the child had asked, and I’d said, oh, those are just creatures. And now her mother and I are fighting and there are creatures outside her window. She’s aware of them as creatures, aware of us fighting, aware of all those things without being aware of the fact that her mother and I are making love at the same time. She lays there listening to us fight, feeling the floor drop from beneath her, and we know she’s there, we know it and we just don’t care, and I hate us so much in that moment and yet there it is, the two of us making love right in the middle of it, because we are the ghosts who haunt our house. We would do almost anything to get out. But the child breathes inside our lovemaking. We do not go.


Sam Ruddick is an O. Henry Prize-winning fiction writer. His work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, and dozens of other literary publications. He lives in Alabama, where he teaches creative writing and literature at Auburn University.


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