Every time NPR has a 3-Minute Fiction contest I do my best to enter. Before I got lucky and was selected for my story to appear on their website, this was one of my rejections. The story had to begin with “Some people swore that the house was haunted.” And it had to end with “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” – 600 words or less.
The House on the Water
by Susanna Hartigan
Some people swore that the house was haunted. The houseboat sat barely afloat on the Florida waters for almost seven years, leaving a mystery of several theories about its history. An old man who resembled a pirate got drunk and fell overboard, drowned by his own negligence. A serial killer abandoned it after having used it as a source of a kill site. Drug lords were executed on it when they didn’t meet their quota, their remains used as bait. A man killed his family on it before taking off into the Atlantic never to be seen again. No one really knew the story about the house on the water.
Many of the small town’s residents were quiet, distant ancestors of the Salem witch trials. They knew that hauntings were real-life occurrences, not just some fictional ghost stories. They knew that water was a great conductor of those from the otherworld and since the surrounding land contained a bed of limestone, there was a great possibility that the houseboat was in fact haunted. And they knew that the best option was to allow whatever paranormal that might occupy it to remain at rest. But there was one woman determined to be rid of the demons encircling it.
“It’s the town menace,” scowled Chatty Patty, nicknamed for being the town’s gossip and outspoken nuisance. “I want it gone. The Lord does not want evil spirits filthing up our community.”
Chatty Patty was known for exercising the demons out of everything, including food from the local health food store that happened to be owned by a pagan. People went out of their way in order to avoid the henpecker and her incessant ranting and insistence that Satan lived among the town. Although the town loathed the middle-aged woman’s presence, Patty was someone who would bring assistance to a family in need.
“Just because they are witches doesn’t mean that the Lord Jesus can’t change their ways through my influence,” she was heard saying one day at the library. Patty considered anyone a witch if they celebrated Halloween, including her own church members.
Despite her overbearing influence, Chatty Patty’s effort to get the houseboat removed from the Mosquito Lagoon was unsuccessful. The town’s mayor told her it wasn’t in the budget. Her frequent trips to the police department went unheeded. “There’s nothing we can do about it. Not our jurisdiction,” she was told.
“We don’t handle boat removal. You’ll have to call a tow company,” the Coast Guard station informed her.
“Fine,” Patty informed the town. “Then I am going to be rid of this evil presence once and for all, even if I have to do it myself.”
For Patty, the disposal of the boat was a simple recipe: a canoe, Holy Bible verses, holy water, and olive oil. She would use the canoe to transport herself to the house on the water, drenching it in holy water upon her arrival. She would read all of the appropriate verses that were intended to strike any remaining form of immorality, as she doused the house on the water in olive oil. Patty told the townspeople of her plan. No one objected. Some were glad it would be the last time they would have to hear Chatty Patty complain about it ever again.
Patty set out to perform her duty the night before Halloween, knowing that it would deter from bringing more demonic influences to her town on such a blasphemous date.
Halloween arrived. The house on the water had disappeared. A canoe took its place. Nothing was ever the same again after that.