It took me almost six months to realize there was a monster living in my house.

It was a fairly cheap house. Kind of a grungy area of town, two-bedroom, one bath, with a shower so small you couldn’t turn around without your elbows knocking into the walls. There was a small kitchen with too many cabinets and not enough counter space, a living room with no window, and an attic so small that you had to just shove boxes up into it because you couldn’t actually climb all the way up into it. No front yard, a sorry excuse of a strip of grass for the backyard, no garage, and no air conditioning. But it was in one piece, and it was fairly inexpensive to rent, and I had college debt, so I paid my six hundred bucks a month, signed a two-year lease, and promised the landlord that I wouldn’t have any parties.

My landlord was a curious character. She was a tall, willowy woman with blonde ringlets that seemed to literally glow, even when it wasn’t bright outside. Her sky-blue eyes were in sharp contrast to the deep redness of her lips. They were youthful in contrast to the wrinkles and creases in her skin, and her expression was perpetually guarded and suspicious. But she’d seemed to believe my insistence that I lived a quiet life.

She had some odd stipulations, though.

“You must not dig up the herbs,” she pointed a crooked finger at the flower boxes outside the kitchen window. “They’ll keep growing and stay healthy as long as you water them. If they start to wilt, you call me.” She raised an eyebrow and gave me a stink-eye.

“Got it,” I nodded. “Leave the herbs.”

“You must leave this cabinet empty, and locked at all times!” she continued, pointing to a small cabinet at the far end of the kitchen. It was in a very strange location anyway; right over the fridge, where I’d have to climb up onto the counter in order to reach. Not very convenient for me, considering I was five-foot-one. Even a chair wouldn’t get me high enough to reach it.

“No problem.”

“And, this is very important.” She caught my elbow with strong bony fingers and dragged me to the back of the house, opening the back door to where the trash can sat chained to the metal fence.

She pointed up at the tree growing at the edge of the property. It looked old, twisted, slightly rotted, and bent out of shape. For the trunk looking so beat up, the branches were surprisingly full, though they were gnarly and twisted. Not a single leaf, acorn, or flower sat on the tree. It looked like it was ready to fall over.

“Don’t ever do anything to that tree. Don’t trim it, don’t climb it, don’t hang a rope from it.” She turned and looked me in the eye, glaring down at me with conviction. “It is very important.”

“I promise,” I smiled, trying to look confident. “I won’t do anything to it. Uh… what if there is a storm, and a branch falls?”

“It won’t.”

She turned and bustled back through the tiny house before I had a chance to argue with her.

Well, it’s her house. If that tree falls on it, it’s on her, not me.

The next few months, I settled into my new city and my new job. I was fairly introverted and didn’t make friends very well, so I found myself spending most of my downtime in my new little house. It was old, but in pretty good condition all things considered. Occasionally a leak would spring up during a rainstorm, or a floorboard would creak, but before I got a chance to report it to the old woman, the issue would be remedied, seemingly on it’s own.

There were a few things that were a little… strange.

The first was the trash. I found that my trashcan took significantly longer to fill up than it ever had before, which was odd because I was eating a lot more takeout than I ever had. And I’m ashamed to admit, it took me a few months to notice it.

One day I lazily looked over from my spot on the couch and realized I’d thrown away half of an old pizza the night before, setting the box on top of the trash can because it didn’t quite fit. But when I looked, the box had been crushed, folded over on itself, and shoved in the trash can. Upon inspection, the box was empty, and the two pieces of pizza I’d left in the box were gone.

I wrote it off as having been too tired to remember eating them. But then a few weeks later, I had some chicken go bad, and I wrapped it in plastic and threw it away, promising myself I’d take it out the next day, because there was a horrible thunderstorm outside and I didn’t want to get wet. I’d ordered some wings and french fries instead, and the restaurant had misread my order and gave me way too much food. I’d thrown half of it away because, let’s be honest, nobody likes day-old french fries.

The next afternoon, at work, I remembered that I’d never taken my stinky trash out, and knew my whole house would probably smell like rotten meat and greasy fries when I got home. But when I hurried into the kitchen with a plugged nose, I realized that the trash didn’t stink.

I opened the trash can. Inside, the bag of french fries I couldn’t finish sat on the top. And it was empty.

Maybe they fell out and ended up down in the bottom of the can, I thought. I moved the bag aside.

The plastic bag that I’d used to tie up the stinky chicken was gone.

Someone is stealing my trash. My nasty, rotten, stinky trash.

Homeless guy? I wondered. Animal? Unlikely. And why? Why would someone steal old, half-eaten, rotten food? It was just very strange, and I didn’t have an answer.

Then there were the herbs outside.

I didn’t cook that often, because I was tired all the time, and I kind of sucked at cooking. But my mother always told me that every man and woman alike needed to know how to roast a chicken. So sometimes on Sunday afternoons I would pick some fresh rosemary, and thyme, and sage and roast a chicken, saving the carcass and bones for soup as one was supposed to do (although I usually ended up throwing it away after a few weeks in the freezer because, honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of soup).

And every time when I went out to pick the herbs, I found they looked exactly the same.

I’d pluck from the same place every time; the rosemary a stem on the left, the thyme a few stems in the back, and the sage a few leaves from the right side. It took me a few months to realize that I never saw a single wilted stem or leaf, and that it all grew back exactly as it was, with little to no variation in the plant size or shape that I could tell. One day, instead of cutting a stem of rosemary, I just pulled some of the leaves off, leaving an empty stick behind. The next afternoon, the empty stick was nowhere to be found.

There were also some herbs I didn’t recognize or know how to use. I was pretty sure one was catnip, because there was a family of glossy black cats that came by every once in a while and nibbled on them. They would run off when I saw them, but I never scared them away because I thought they were kind of cute.

It was five months after I moved in that the first huge rainstorm hit. I generally didn’t mind thunderstorms, but this one was so loud that I couldn’t ignore the rain, wind, and cracks of thunder. The wind was horrible, and it felt like the house was groaning. I was snuggled up in my bed with my most comfortable blankets pulled around me, a cup of tea, and my newest novel by Kitty Thomas. The power went out, and a few moments later, a leak sprung up in the ceiling of my bedroom.

I sighed, went to the kitchen to get a bucket and one of my favorite scented candles, and returned to the location of the leak, but it was gone.

“What the hell is up with this house,” I muttered. I set the bucket down where I thought the leak had been, hoping if it started again I wouldn’t get flooded out. Then I lit my candle, placed it on my dresser next to my mirror, and snuggled back up in my blankets.

Tap-tap. Tap-tap.

My eyes left the page for only a moment, glancing up to the window. That big ugly tree outside had grown since I’d moved in, and one of the branches was tapping on the glass. I looked back at my page.


I looked back up at the window. That was weird, I thought. That didn’t sound like a tree branch. That sounded intentional. Like someone knocking.


The candle on my dresser flickered out.

I was too warm and comfy to get up and light it again, so I just closed my book, set my alarm on my phone, and went to sleep.

A few weeks after that, the really weird shit started.


I noticed more and more oddities happening after the night of the thunderstorm. I’d roasted another chicken and frozen the bones, telling myself this time I was absolutely going to make soup stock. When I went to dig the bones out of the freezer, they were gone.

Then there were the footprints outside. As far as I could tell, they were from a very large dog. Maybe a German shepherd or a husky? Because those paw prints were big, and they had claws. I did also occasionally hear some howling outside. But none of the neighbors had dogs, so I wasn’t sure where the footprints were coming from, and why they were in my yard.

Then there was a creaking in the attic. Unfortunately I couldn’t get up there, but I was pretty sure there were rats, or maybe raccoons. Maybe they were stealing my trash?

But then why would the trash be so nice and neat and folded up?

The last straw was my scented candles.

I had a huge collection from when I’d been a teacher’s assistant. Kids loved giving candles to their TAs as Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, new years gifts, end-of-year gifts, and pretty much every other event you can think of, so I had literal boxes of them. Luckily, I enjoyed them. Once the weather got cooler, I started lighting them in the evenings. But there must have been some air current in my room because sometimes, one would blow out randomly. I usually re-lit it, but it often blew out again quickly afterwards. After a few times, I’d give up.

Except one night, it was my birthday, and so I lit my favorite candle. It was a birthday-cake scent, and reminded me of my mom. I sat it on my dresser and lit it, and sighed as I felt the gentle heat warm my face. I closed my eyes, letting the delicate scent of vanilla and sugar fill the room.


I rolled my eyes and looked out the window. “Damn tree,” I muttered. I needed to call the landlord about that tree, because sometimes it tapped on the window all night and annoyed the crap out of me.

I turned back to my candle right as I watched it blow out. A tiny wisp of smoke trailed up and danced in the air, dissipating a moment later.

Opening the matchbox, I struck another match to relight the candle, but the match blew out before I even got it down to the candle.

“What on earth?”. I struck another match and lit the candle again, waiting.


“Okay. That’s—”


That time, it was not just a soft gust of air. No. That sounded, and felt, like someone blowing it out intentionally.

“Okay, haunted house, it’s my birthday and I want to light my candle!” I said, laughing at the sheer stupidity of the fact that I was talking to my house.

I heard something shift behind me, and warning bells went off in my head. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. Was there… someone… here?

I looked straight ahead in the mirror, but saw nothing. Using my reflection to guide me and staring in the mirror the whole time, I took another match… struck it… lit the candle… and blew out the match and set it down. I stared in the mirror the whole time, waiting, daring my wacky house to blow it out one more time.

A creak behind me. A low rumble… was that a growl?

My stomach twisted in fear, and I felt myself freeze. Something isn’t right. This isn’t just weird, this is… scary. I was barely breathing, feeling sweat roll down my back and pool under my breasts. My hands were sitting flat on the top of the dresser, but I felt myself grip and roll them into a fist to keep from shaking.

Another growl. It was low, almost a vibration. The candle blew out again with a gust. And then, in the corner of my eye, I saw movement right beside my hand, daring me to look away from my reflection.

Tentatively, I looked down at my hand. I couldn’t process what I was seeing right beside it. Was it… a paw? A fist? A tree branch? Something scary, gnarly, twisted and dark. And it was right next to my hand.

I whirled around, pressing my back against the drawers of the dresser, both terrified and determined to face whatever was in my house with me… only to find nothing. But as I turned, the candle on my dresser went flying like someone had swept it away, and it smashed against the wall, shattering the glass and spilling hot wax onto the wood floors.

I stared at it in horror, my eyes welling up with tears. I ran to the mess, hoping some of it was salvageable.

It was, but not by much. Not knowing what else to do, I plucked out the pieces of glass from the wax, and carried what was left of it to the kitchen, and set it in a plastic bowl, staring at it sadly.

Memories from my sixteenth birthday came back, the year I couldn’t have a birthday cake because my mom couldn’t bake because she was in the hospital. She’d given me a scented candle from the gift shop instead. I felt the tears burn my eyes and roll down my face as I stared at the mess.

What am I going to do with a broken candle, I thought. This isn’t even the one she gave me. That one burned down years ago. But this one had been pretty close in smell, which was why I’d bought it to begin with.

It didn’t matter. Tomorrow, I’d go out and find myself some actual cake. Or maybe a new candle, and I’d burn it at the office. At least my office wasn’t haunted.

I splashed some cold water on my face and neck, dug through my closet until I found a broom and dustpan, and went back to my room to sweep up the glass, but I stopped short in the doorway.

The glass was gone, cleaned up and in the trash can. The wax that had pooled on the ground was gone. And on the dresser, flickering happily, was my second-favorite candle. Lush Forest, the scent of fir, amber, cedarwood, and petrichor filling my room and making it smell like a camping trip.

That’s when I realized there was something living in my house with me.

Something with big, gnarly, claw-like hands, that I couldn’t see in the reflection of a mirror. It was stealing my stinky trash, and fixing the leaks in my roof. And it was really picky about my candles.


That was only the beginning of the drama between me and my monster. It was a lot less subtle about telling me things now that I knew it was around. I still never caught an actual glimpse of the thing, but I could sense when it was out and about.

The creaking of the old house? That was it’s footsteps. The rustling of wind unexpectedly? No, that was my monster, sifting through my trash for whatever goodies I’d left it. It even washed its hands afterwards, which was counterintuitive as hell considering the fact that it was eating rotten food.

And the candle thing? Oh, that was just a whole drama-fest. I was tired of my monster blowing my candles out at night, so I decided to have a chat with it.

“Look, I know you don’t hate all of them,” I said out loud one evening when my Apple Pumpkin Spice candle had gone out for the third time. “So, how about you tell me which ones you hate and which ones you like, okay?”

No answer.

“Fine,” I snapped, and dragged myself out of bed. “We’ll do it your way.”

I stood in front of my mirror with my box of candles and a lighter. I lit one, and waited. If it blew out, I set it aside to bring to the office. If it stayed lit for a few moments, I blew it out myself and left it on my dresser.

I began to see a pattern. The monster liked earthy scents, like amber and cedarwood, and some delicate floral scents like jasmine and lavender. But it hated anything that smelled like fruit, or sweet candy, or really strong scents.

It preferred subtlety. Which I guess I understood. It was in it’s character.

“Great,” I yawned. “Glad we got that sorted out.” I lit a random candle and climbed into bed, wrapping back up in my blankets and trying to ignore the fact that I’d just had a one-sided conversation with an invisible entity that hated half my candle collection.

The very next day, I got home from work a little early. I knew that the last chicken breast in my fridge would probably go bad soon, so I’d planned to make some fettuccine and grilled chicken to go on top. But when I opened my fridge, I couldn’t find the damn chicken breast anywhere.

I checked the trash. Sure enough, the empty bag I’d stored it in was sitting right on top.

“Oh, so now you’re stealing my good food, not just the expired food? Great. Well,” I slammed the fridge door shut. “I’ll just order myself some pasta. And I’m going to eat it all, you know that? There won’t be any leftovers for you!”

I did so, but of course, Italian restaurants have this nasty habit of giving you massive portions, multiple sides, and tons of fresh, hot, chewy bread to dip into olive oil, so I only ate a third of the chicken and pasta.

I put it in the fridge, and said out loud, “This is my lunch tomorrow, don’t eat it!”

Of course, I forgot to take it to lunch. When I got home that night, it was gone. But… on my bedside table was a new book, and a new candle. It was vanilla scented. I knew my monster didn’t like vanilla. It felt like an apology.

“That’s pretty close to birthday cake,” I said softly.

No answer.

“I’ll take it to the office… thank you.”

Tap. Tap-tap. Tap.

I glanced up and jumped in surprise when I saw one of the neighborhood black cats sitting on the branch of the tree outside my bedroom window. It’s bright yellow eyes stared right at me.

“Monster? Are you friends with the tree and the cat,” I asked offhandedly. Outside, the cat licked its paw, cleaned it’s ear, stretched languidly, and hopped down from the tree. It trotted purposefully away.

I put the vanilla candle in my purse for tomorrow, curled up with a cup of tea, and opened the new book on my bedside table.

One Hundred Nights in Paradise, by S. L. Baker. I’d never heard of her, but I was hooked after the first page. The monster knew my taste in books.

I felt guilty for my taste in books sometimes. I liked dark, scary, dirty stuff. Stuff that made people’s eyebrows go up if they found out. Stuff that made you want to tear the cover of the paperback off for fear of someone knowing what you were reading. Stuff that you kept in a box under your bed in case anyone ever stopped by unexpectedly, or your mom burst into your room.

I hadn’t experimented sexually much in high school or college. There were a few people, a few fun times, even a few great times, but nothing like what I read. Nothing like what I wanted. And since most of my free time was spent in my haunted house, I doubted I’d ever really find what I wanted. For now, I was content to read my books and enjoy the warm fuzzy desire that came along with the dirty fantasies, daydreaming of what might be in my future if I was ever brave enough to go out and look for it.

In this particular story, a young girl was groomed and brainwashed, gaslighted, and eventually forced into sexual slavery. Over time, her master fell in love with her, and slowly she began manipulating him and using him, until the power-exchange had completely switched, and he was at her mercy. I stayed up far too late that night, devouring every word, squeezing my thighs together and eventually caving to the desire to stroke and tease myself between my legs.