Your father’s house was a huge cream bungalow nestled amidst yellow bell trees. It was built by your great-grandfather, who had passed it to your grandfather, who eventually passed it down to your father. The house was originally meant to go to your aunt, Papa’s older sister, whom you called Big Mummy, but she got married to a wealthy man who had already acquired a number of properties in her name. And so, the house became Papa’s.

To make it his own, Papa repainted the outer walls in a drab shade of grey and outlined the edges with stark white accents. But one quiet evening, he breezed out of the house in a sleepy haze, and in a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “This looks unwelcoming and uninviting.” And so, he got the cream-colored paint and covered the dull grey. Upon completing this transformation, Papa gave a satisfactory nod and seemed to be at peace within himself again. But you knew that your home rarely saw visitors. The only regular guest was Papa’s barber, who came by on the last Sunday of every month.

You thought the house looked perfect on the outside; the vibrant yellow bell trees went well with the bright cream-colored painting. It looked warm and cheerful. The inside told a different tale. You knew there was another reason Big Mummy passed off the house. Papa’s house had secrets; you knew the house was occupied by spirits who only revealed themselves in moments of sombre resignation. You were just twelve years old when you encountered one of them. It was a night that felt surreal, like a dream within a dream, yet your eyes were wide open. Darkness had descended, so Papa had placed a lantern in the hallway connecting your room to his. Your bedroom door was left wide open, allowing the light to trickle in, the lantern’s glow so vivid that you felt it behind your closed eyelids. As you drifted off to sleep, a soft tinkling sound pierced the air. The lantern’s light dimmed and brightened, like someone was tampering with it. You thought it was Papa adjusting the lantern. However, the tinkling persisted, and that was when you sensed it, a growing uneasiness that seemed to soak through your pores. It was as though an unseen presence had taken an interest in your side of the world. And so, you opened your eyes.

A crouching shadow loomed over the lantern, its head twisting in confusion, as if trying to figure out the lantern’s inner workings. You could not suppress the gasp of terror that escaped your throat, leaving your entire body covered in goosebumps and your head swollen to an immeasurable size. The entity slowly raised its head from the lantern and glided towards your room’s entrance, still maintaining its eerie crouched posture. Then, a muffled, unearthly groan rose from within the entity, a haunting cry that could not be explained, for there was no mouth for it to come from. And then it vanished. You let out a scream that jolted Papa awake. He came running into your room, his face a mix of confusion and worry, questions poured from his mouth, questions that you had no answers to, there was no explanation for what had happened. And so, he tucked you back in and urged you back to sleep.

The following morning, you woke up with a fever. You shivered under the blanket as beads of sweat rolled down your face. It was noon. You were about to drift off into a restless sleep when you felt it again — the growing uneasiness that coursed through your body. Your eyes darted open, they moved wildly about your room, scanning for anything strange. And then you saw it. This time, it was a small mass of something that looked unusual in appearance. It had arms and legs that seemed to bulge out of its body in disproportionate ways, and eyes that were abnormally large. It looked like a toddler. You were going to scream for Papa, but you realized that your lips were sealed shut, like someone had layered glue and mashed them together. Your body was locked in place, you could not even lift a finger. The spirit wobbled over to your bed and gazed out at you for minutes that seemed to stretch. And then a stubby arm reached forward and delicately pulled the blanket to your chin. Then it hobbled off your bed and disappeared into the wall. Your fever broke.

Papa’s barber came that evening, a tall bald headed man with wide shoulders. You sat close by and watched quietly as clumps of hair fell from papa’s head until only a little remained. Just as you were about to sweep up the hair on the floor, a shadow darted by. You paused, wondering if Papa or the barber had noticed it too, but neither of them showed any sign of having seen the figure. You found yourself growing increasingly afraid of sleeping, even during the day time. This constant fear left you in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Sometimes, your mind played tricks on you, it made you see spirits dangling from the ceiling, and shadowy figures roaming the house. You were not sure if they were real or a product of your tiredness. So, one day, you mustered up enough courage to tell Papa.

He was tucked into his bed, lost in a book, it took him some time to register your presence. When his eyes finally focused on you, he asked in his quiet voice if you needed something or if something was troubling you. You hesitated, you feared that he might not believe your experiences.
“There are things in this house.”
“Spirits. There are spirits in the house.”
Papa watched you in silence; his eyes shimmering with a certain light. Then, the tiniest of smiles flitted across his face so quickly that it might have gone unnoticed if one weren’t paying attention. You went on to recount all your encounters up until that very moment, and Papa listened to you. You were relieved that he did not immediately dismiss your words. After you finished speaking, a sense of relief washed over you as if a heavy burden had been lifted from your chest. Papa remained silent, his gaze fixed on you. His lips parted, but no words escaped. He tilted his head, deep in contemplation. And then it dawned on you that your experiences were not strange to Papa. You remembered that he lived in this house as a boy, so he too must have encountered these spirits.

For a long moment, Papa continued to study you, his eyes locked on your face. Then, his gaze shifted, focusing on the doorway behind you. You sensed it before you saw it. You dared to turn around, there it was — the same entity you encountered on that night. Only this time, it wasn’t crouching; it stood at its full height, stretching beyond the doorframe, with its head almost brushing the ceiling. The same haunting cry came from the entity. That was when you scrambled in fear to Papa’s side, your body trembling uncontrollably. Papa stood from the bed and walked up to the entity, he said a few words to it in his quiet voice that you did not hear, and then it vanished. The curiosity chewed at you, Papa’s words were able to make it go away, you wanted to know what he said, and so you asked him.
“He is just hungry,” Papa said.

That night, you watched as Papa prepared rice and made stew with fish scattered in it, he went into the storeroom and came out with a set of plates that you had never seen before, he filled a cup with water and set everything on the dining table, then you both went to sleep. In the morning, the plates and the cup were empty. The days that followed were filled with a sense of wonder that slowly replaced the fear you once felt. You became more curious; a part of you hoped to see more of these spirits. You started to observe the house more. Sometimes, you would sit and stare at the walls for long moments, always expecting to see a shadow or any other strange entity appear. But for a long time, nothing showed up. It felt like you only dreamt the past couple of weeks. You would wake up abruptly in the middle of the night, peering at your doorway. When you saw nothing, you would heave a sigh of disappointment or relief. The lines were starting to blur; you were not quite sure about how you felt towards these strange inhabitants. The cycle went on for days until one quiet morning. With your head still clouded with remnants of a dream, you stood up from your bed while simultaneously rubbing the sleep from your eyes. A sudden chill swept over your body, and you stopped in your tracks — there was someone else in the room with you.

It was a little boy. He wore blue knickers and a dirtied singlet that was once white, his feet were caked in mud, as if he had embarked on a long journey in the rain. You could not help but notice the dried tear-tracks and the splotches of mud on his face.
You stared at him in apprehension, but you soon realized that he did not look threatening. His eyes looked sad and tired, you wondered if he was hungry too.
“No,” he softly replied. Your eyes widened in shock, both because he had seemingly heard your thoughts and because of the fragility in his voice. After all, he was just a little boy, you were not much older.
“What do you want?” you asked.
“I want to go home,” he murmured.
“Where is that?” He remained silent, confusion clouding his eyes. It became clear to you that he might not remember. You wondered how long ago he had passed away. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he tried to wipe them away with his small hands, but they kept streaming down his face. He sobbed quietly while you watched in pity. And then, he vanished.

One evening, you sat outside with Papa. A gentle breeze rustled the yellow bell trees, casting dancing shadows on the house. You could hear quiet footfalls coming from inside, and it did not surprise you. Papa stood up to get his mentholatum; his fingers were starting to ache. He knocked on the door before he went in and came back outside a few minutes later.
“Why did you knock?” you asked.
“They do not like to be startled.” Papa never spoke much about the spirits, but he seemed to have a deep understanding of them. Unlike you, he moved about the house like there was nothing amiss, taking in all the strange sounds and occurrences without being bothered by any of it. You wanted to ask him about his first encounter with them, but you found yourself talking about the little boy instead. “Do you know what keeps them here?” Papa asked.

You had never thought about it before; all this time, you had simply concluded that you lived in a house haunted by spirits, and that there was nothing more to it. But Papa explained that some of these spirits were bound either to the house or the land it was built upon. He said some of them probably passed away centuries ago, but they were unable to move on because they were trapped by the weight of their memories or unfulfilled desires. It struck you – this house belonged to the spirits as much as it belonged to you and Papa. The little boy searching for his home crossed your mind. You wondered if he would ever find peace or move on. His crying had left a gaping wound in your chest. You could see his muddy feet and tear-streaked face in your mind’s eye, you pictured him roaming the house, confused about the whereabouts of his home.


You are twenty-three years old now, the house is no longer shrouded in fear or mystery. You have grown to understand its inhabitants, and have formed a connection with them, just like Papa. You still see the little boy, frozen in his little body, unable to remember his home. You try to converse with him but he only manages to utter a few words, sometimes you contemplate the weight of his sorrow, you wonder what it must be like to feel such an infinite sadness.

Over the years, you noticed new inhabitants, the lost ones that were drawn by the allure of the yellow bell trees and the bright cream-colored paint. Papa continued to set the dining table, and each morning, there were empty plates and cups. Every day, you silently hope and pray that these lost souls would find peace or some semblance of it. Amidst these thoughts, your mind wanders to your own eventual death. You wonder if you’ll join those lingering in the house, tethered to it by memories or unfulfilled desires. You imagine yourself roaming its rooms, gradually forgetting that you once slept in your bed, that it was once your home. In this uncertainty, you long for acceptance, you hope that whatever fate befalls you, you’ll be met with the same normalcy and kindness that you once extended to the others who found solace within these walls.













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