House Haunters

Lauren Sklarz '22
The entire world was out of order. 
This had happened before, but it never failed to catch Isabel off guard. For ten months, she had dealt with the mysterious destruction of expensive art and appliances and the god awful stench of smoke that lingered in the back of her throat. The agency had sent in top-level servicemen to watch for squatters, vandals, anything. But they had come up empty. An unlucky property, they declared. For years, it had been juggled between the arms of top realtors, all of whom tried to sell the home. All of whom failed. Isabel, however, had never failed anything in her life. 
She paused in the doorway, sighing. The only thing standing between her and one billion dollars in sales--an achievement bigger than Realtor Magazine or HGTV or Forbes’ 30 Under 30--was this home. 14,620 square feet. Six beds. Nine baths. Market price: 30 million dollars. It reeked of new money and cigarettes, with deep-red walls and paintings of nude ladies with tigers, contradicting itself in a way that Isabel advertised as unique or avant garde. It was ugly, but it was Beverly Hills ugly.
Somebody had died here, eleven years ago, but that part hadn’t been as important.
Until the hauntings began. They started out as simple, small things: the frequent breakage of pipes and toasters and display flowers, power shortages, or creaks in the attic. And then Isabel had seen the uncanny form of Courtney Wolk in the doorway, watched the way she appeared and disappeared. 
A ghost. She was a ghost. 
Isabel didn’t tell anyone this, because she had a job, and a life. Women like Isabel did not see ghosts. 
In the past week, the kitchen had been destroyed, a parting gift left by Courtney in preparation for tomorrow’s possible sale. Isabel had done everything in her power to sell this house. To prove that she could sell this house. But Courtney had done everything to not sell it. Consequently, this had been going on far longer than Isabel had expected. 
“You suck Wolk,” Isabel said. There was no answer. She took a broom from the supply closet and swept glass shards into a grocery bag. 
“I don’t have time for your crap today.” The sun had begun to set at a horrible angle, and Isabel shut the huge black drapes to keep it out of her eyes.
The sink shut on and off. One moment, Courtney Anne Wolk was nowhere. The next, she sat on the counter. “Izzy,” she spat, “you look rested.”
Her pasty legs dangled off the edge of the granite. She looked the same as she always did. Wore what she always wore--what she died in: a nine thousand dollar dress, expensive heels. Somehow, she managed to make both look as disreputable as possible.
“Nice blouse.”
“Means the world coming from you.”
It had been a while since this had happened. Courtney liked to plan her fits of destruction in Isabel’s absence, only materializing as a last resort after doing everything else imaginable to be a pain. Isabel groaned, glared at Courtney, placed her coffee down onto the kitchen table. 
“Cappuccino?” Courtney asked.
Isabel nodded.
“Soy milk?”
“Oat. No one drinks soy milk anymore.”
“Lame,” Courtney said, and then hurled the coffee to the ground. 
“God,” Isabel spat, watching the coffee seep between the green floortiles. “That was seven dollars.”
“L.A.” Courtney sneered.
Isabel did not have time for spilled coffee. She did not have time to clean up this house. And she certainly did not have time for Courtney’s little performances. Isabel had tried everything to get rid of her, but it was almost as exhausting to scare her off as it was to have her there in the first place.
“For once in your life,” Isabel said, “can you behave?”
Courtney upended the living room display, its contents flying to the ground.
“I hate you!” Isabel shouted. “I hate you!”
“You don’t hate me,” Courtney was calm.
“Oh, don’t even.” Isabel seized Courtney’s wrist, trying to drag her to the floor. Her skin was slippery like blood under her fingers. Courtney sent something else clattering to the floor.
“Look at you,” Isabel spat, “You’re a jerk . You died a jerk, and everyone knows it.”
Courtney laughed at that--an empty, petulant thing. “You have such a way with words, Isabel.”
Isabel could kill her again. “Even now, you’re insufferable!” She heaved in a breath. “Wanna know what everyone thought when they heard you were dead? That you had it coming! You- You’re a mess! This mortgage wasn’t even paid off. Do you realize how much you’ve made my life a living hell? And here you are rotting, in your giant house in your Louboutins,” She gestured to Courtney. “Maybe if you spent less time worrying about how you looked, you wouldn’t’ve died junkie trash!”
“Don’t talk to me about how I look,” Courtney had been several feet away from Isabel, and then she was gone. Moments later, she reappeared, close enough that Isabel could smell her breath--listerine and menthols. “As if you’re some sort of saint!” She sent Isabel’s pocketbook flying from where it rested on the counter. “Oh, I’m the jerk, sure! But you had a camera crew in here just last week! Don’t talk to me about how I look.”
Isabel remembered when she first found out about Courtney’s death. Everyone was sad; nobody was surprised. Wolk was a grown up child star, another Disney girl turned pop singer. In 2009, she hosted a party in her home. Later that night, she died from a lethal mixture of cocaine, alcohol, and antidepressants. It was all over the news for weeks. 
Isabel felt sick to her stomach. Leaning against the wet bar, she threaded her fingers through her hair. When she looked at Courtney, she looked less like a person and more like a cadaver, an empty soul wrapped in skin.
“You did it on purpose, didn’t you.” 
“Did what?”
“You wanted to die.”
Keeling back, Courtney stared at Isabel, pursed her lips. “I didn’t kill myself.” 
A very long time passed before Isabel willed herself to look at Courtney, sullen and shrunken and heaving. She had thrown open the drapes, staring out into the Los Angeles skyline. The sun had nearly set, painting the city gold. 
Everything was quiet.
“You’re not junkie, uh, trash. I didn’t mean that.”
“Not anymore,” Courtney said. Isabel slipped closer to her, despite the chill. “I’ve been sober for eleven years.”
When Isabel looked up at Courtney, she was smiling. Isabel scrubbed her hands across her face, “Why are you doing all of this?”
“Because you’re selling my house.”
“I can’t change that.”
Courtney paced, but she was soundless, even in stilettos. Because she was dead. She was dead.
She had settled against the windowsill. “I don’t care about the house. I hated it. I hate living in it. It’s like prison. I can’t leave. I can’t do anything.” She looked at her hands. “The things I’d give to be in standstill traffic right now. Shopping. Anything. Just not in this house.”
Isabel couldn’t look at her.
Courtney’s face softened. “You’re the first person I’ve talked to in years, Isabel. And it’s like- everyday is so lonely. And I know that when you sell it, it’s like, I don’t know where I go. But I can’t die. I just go away. And, like, everyone who’s tried to sell this dump just quit. And you still didn’t quit. You’re like me. You’re a jerk. You just keep trying and trying over and over again, until you die.”
Something burned the back of Isabel’s throat. Sighing, she glanced at the floor, then at Courtney, “Do you have a cigarette?”
Courtney smiled. 

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