Peer Review by Jeremy Houle (United States)

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The Creature House

By: Jenneth LeeD

The house was a silent creature, quietly sitting on the street corner as always, and nestled comfortably in its massive nest of rotting fall leaves of years past. Broken windows stared out at the quiet neighborhood road, as if amused by the busy time period that it was so far removed from. The slanted roof sagged, hunched, and its porch was cracked in a deep frown. Maybe it wasn’t amused after all.

Tony noticed I'd stopped keeping pace. He back-peddled to where I stood staring at the wrecked home with my nose inches from the rusty chain-linked fence that ran around the premises.

My eyes flicked to where the upstairs room had appeared when I was five-years-old, where the face had lit up in the frame of the mysterious window. The window was gone now. It hadn’t returned since that single, awful night, but I still wondered if something was living up there.

“Normally I go home another way,” Tony admitted, coming up beside me to stare at the house too. “I forgot this creepy place was on Jillan.”

“It’s around the corner from mine,” I said, pointing to one house over around the bend.

“Bet that’s exciting,” Tony said without conviction. “You know they say it’s haunted, right?”

I looked at him quickly. “They do?”

He shrugged, his eyes lingering on the front door and the two-foot-tall pile of leaves packed against it. “So I’ve heard. I mean, it’s a fire hazard and taking up space, but they won’t vaporize it like the other old houses. They just throw a six-foot fence around it.”

I stuffed my hands deep into my sweatshirt, warding off the chill of the house. If the demolition crew did take it down, would I sleep better at night, knowing the ghost wouldn’t bother me again? Or would the dread only deepen because I would never get answers to my questions?

“Well, you’ve heard right,” I heard myself say.

“What's that supposed to mean?” Tony asked quickly. “Have you seen something?”

I bit my lip and shifted my weight from one foot to the other. I wasn’t sure about divulging my childhood experiences to a guy in my class, no matter how nice he was. Talking about what I saw that night as a five-year-old had always ended badly, usually making me feel stupid afterwards.

“Nothing,” I lied, not meeting his gaze. “It’s just creepy. There’s something wrong with it.”

Tony fell silent next to me as we both took in the sad, dilapidated sight. A gust of cold air pushed against us, blowing my tangled hair in front of my face and chilling my ears. The autumn wind bit my cheeks and pinched my nose and did nothing for the Halloween-like atmosphere settling over us like a thick, witchy mist.

“Well,” Tony said in a new tone, “since you’ve never seen anything that proves it’s haunted….” He moved forward to grab the chain-link, hoisted himself up a couple inches, and stuck a sneaker through a gap at the bottom. He began climbing, the links rattling against support poles.

My gut clenched. “What are you doing?”

Tony perched himself on the top of the fence, half sitting, half squatting on the uneven peak. He grinned down at me. “Checking it out, obviously.”

“We aren’t allowed.” I rarely cared for rules, but the thought of actually going into the house that traumatized me as a kid was not at all appealing.

Tony widened his eyes and looked around, mockingly searching. “Don’t see any signs.”

I pointed to a faded plaque hanging a little way’s away on the fence. “That used to say ‘no trespassing’ on it.”

“Well, it doesn’t say that now. If the owners really cared, they would keep their signs in good condition.” He kicked the fence twice, so the metal rattled again, then swung one leg over to the other side and stood with his feet wedged in the gaps. He rested his arms across the top and watched me for a moment, trying to read me.

He smiled. “I see what’s going on here.” He jut his thumb over his shoulder towards the house. “You’ve been freaked out by this house all your life because more than likely, some teenagers have done the same thing I’m doing and explored it—at night. And, more than likely, you’ve heard or seen them and thought they were ghosts.”

He wasn’t that far off. Part of me briefly wondered if I had seen just a teenager snooping around on the property, but then I replayed the scene in my head, the one I had been trying to bury for ten years, and decided it was impossible. That face was ghostly white. It had blood on it. It’s hair was bleached with spectral light.

The fence rattled again and I looked up to see Tony leaning back then pulling himself forward with his arms. Back and forth. Back and forth. Waiting for my decision.

“Look, River,” he said, laying out the cards again, “teens have been here before. You can see the graffiti on the door. Nobody’s been reported missing or dead after they went in. Nobody’s even seen a ghost. It’s fine.”

I’ve seen a ghost, I thought, biting my lip.

“Don’t you want to find out what’s inside?”

He let the question hang in the air, like a heavy cloud. I glanced over his shoulder to the side of the house. No room. No window. No ghost.

I always wanted to know what actually went on in there. Sometimes I wondered if the face was just a vivid dream. Maybe if I went inside I would find something that could prove—or disprove—my fear. Maybe exploring it with Tony would make the house seem less…supernatural.

I stood there for a long time, worried that if I moved one way or another, it would decide my fate forever. To know or not to know. To learn or to fear.

My hand grasped a link in the fence.

Message to Readers

I need the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on this one. What do you think of the characters? The house? The environment? The description? Did you read faster at the end because of tension?

Peer Review

This story has a unique conflict. not the classic good guys vs bad guys. I like it. The conflict is between the character and his past, his peace and his memory...

Lots of internal reflection! very nice introverted character. I would like to know when they left the house, and under what conditions. Did they tell their parents about their spectral visitor? Did they leave the house in terror to live somewhere on the other side of town?

It took a satisfying while to figure out just why there characters were there. (walking home from school) great job describing the fence. Very imposing and old looking.

I think a little more about our spectral friend here would hook the reader even more.

I think this is a great piece that is very satisfying to read! This is exactly what I would like to read on a stormy winter night with my favorite blanket. It has a lot of elements in it: the main characters new friend, his old house, the ghost person. Sneaking. Finding peace. And the whole mystery of "who is this ethereal being?"

Reviewer Comments

I thought that you created Tony very well. A character who knows how to work his angles. A guy who is willing to sacrifice others to do what he wants. Doesn't sound like a friend I would want. Perhaps choosing this person as a friend shows that the main character was very affected by their childhood and has yet to choose who they want to become? I like this piece very much, and I have only 1 regret: I might never get to read the rest of it.