The Story Behind the Story | In a House of Sorrow & Pain

DENNIS LOWERY - In A House of Sorrow and Pain - Short Fiction

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 I 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 did overseas, I explored on my own. Night had fallen, and I sat at an outdoor café drinking wine and getting 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 woman, how she looked—oh, how she looked; I can still remember—and her invitation… is (was then) real. I was drunk, at first from the wine then on how she looked at me. We climbed on my rented Vespa, and I followed her directions miles out of town until she motioned me to take a side road that ended at the entrance of an old house (as depicted in the story). Pulling the gate open, we entered a large courtyard and sat at an old fountain for a while and some… you know… (no biting, at least not the kind in the story).

She told me the house had been a brothel, abandoned for years but believed haunted. And about what she called the ‘ladies of the sorrows and pain’ that worked there. We walked to the front entry, she stepped inside and beckoned. 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 followed, 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 jumped down 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 and learned it had been a brothel that catered to Nazi officers in World War II and then switched to welcome Americans as the Nazis were kicked out. And one night in October 1948, someone killed all nine ladies that worked there. The bartender talked of the many men that had gone missing in that area ever since.

That dormant memory stuck in my mind for years, and Sarah’s question woke it. And so, a story was born.

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