The story itself is:
One of my followers/readers—Sarah—shared a picture of a haunted-looking house and posed the question: Would you spend the night in one?
It brought back the memory of something experienced when I was 21 years old. I shared a bit about that with Sarah and others, and they thought it fascinating, worth writing into a full story. Which I did, but here is the story behind the story:
When I was in the U.S. Navy, my ship visited La Spezia, Italy, and as I frequently did overseas, I explored on my own. Night had fallen, and I sat at an outdoor café drinking wine and getting pleasantly buzzed when a voice behind me said: “They follow the ships.…”
I turned, and it was a woman. The scene I describe in the story about what she said in disdain about the other women, how she looked—god, how she looked, I can still remember—and her invitation… is (was then) real. We climbed on my rented Vespa, and I followed her directions miles out of town. We stopped at the entrance of a crumbling mansion (as described in the story). We entered the large courtyard and sat at an old fountain.
She told me the house had been a brothel, abandoned for years, but believed to be haunted. And about what she called the ‘ladies of the sorrows and pain’ that worked there. We walked to the front entry, she stepped in and beckoned. Inside I saw what had once been a beautiful foyer and grand stairway. I walked to it and took six or seven steps up. Each one moaned… creeped the shit out of me. I turned to look for the girl to see if she was following, and she wasn’t there. As I had my back turned to the higher steps, something or someone ran a cold hand down the back of my neck and across my shoulder. A caress. I literally jumped from the steps and headed out the door.
Outside, I looked for the girl but never saw her again. I got on my Vespa and headed back to town. At the café where I’d been drinking, I asked about the place. I was told it had been a brothel that catered to German officers in WWII and then switched to welcome Americans as they kicked out the Nazis. And one night, in 1948, someone killed all nine ladies that worked there. The bartender talked of men that had gone missing in that area ever since.
That dormant memory stuck in my mind for years, and Sarah’s question about haunted houses woke it. And so, a story was born.
Approaching from the sea, you witness traces of history in the fragments of carved stone and columns in 14th-century sandstone, double lancet windows that hint of a renaissance style and other decorations adorning the crumbling portals of palaces once belonging to ruling families and princes. It is a land of ancient city-states, morto e sepolto… the dead and gone. Remnants of forgotten and abandoned houses and estates sprinkle the countryside. Once thriving and vital, now no one lives in them, and the keening of the winds through the ruins is their only sound. Even for towns and cities that live, in almost all, there is a legend sometimes distorted far from its origin of a casa stregata… a haunted house. Some are deathly still, lonely cenotaphs, mere empty markers of a tragic past. Others contain souls that sleep awhile and awake… hungry.
Some reader comments:
“Well that story just gave me a lovely chill up the back of my neck. Haha. Perfect.” –Dan Syes
“If you haven’t read it, here’s another great story by Dennis Lowery. I love it.” –Sarah Odendahl
“Fantastic story, Dennis. Kind of in the O. Henry vein.” –Jim Zumwalt
“Wow! A spooky but awesome provenance…” –Fay Handstock
“As with all of your stories Dennis Lowery, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down til I finished.” –Regina Dollar Castleberry
“Like an unpardonable sin your words read so sweet. 🙂 I like this very much, Dennis. Very nicely written.” –Michael Koontz, Sweden
“Fantastic!!!! Love it. It is really good and the chills went all the way to me in Norway.” –Sylvia Sotuyo
“Yes, this definitely was felt in Colorado, too. Intriguing and intense.” –Margie Casados