The sofa in our house was neutral. Not neutral as in beige — the thing was a mid-’70s assault on the early ’90s, any color welcome as long as it began with burnt, a hideous palette to those of us aspiring to Esprit pastels — but neutral as in untouched by evil. If you woke in the morning to find a parent on the sofa, it meant they had been kicked out of the waterbed for coming home a little too loaded up on G&Ts from the duckpin bowling lane. But if you woke to a kid on the sofa, it meant something malevolent had come for them in their sleep.
Connecticut is thick with houses destined to serve as sets for horror films: old farmsteads and colonials on roads with names like Witches Rock and Satans Kingdom. But my family lived in a late-1960s rectangle constructed of hollow-core everything and held together with matted carpeting that may or may not have begun its life the soul-deep brown it was by the time we arrived in 1990. It was a structure that resembled military housing in its nothingness, not the kind of thing likely to be narrated about by Robert Stack on Unsolved Mysteries, but it was without a doubt infected with evil. And Michael — Michael with glasses like safety goggles, Michael who called soda pop and couldn’t ride a bike without the neighborhood kids humming the Miss Gulch theme from The Wizard of Oz — was naturally its primary target, because he was naturally everyone’s.
Michael was ripe for haunting. He was the first of my mom’s boyfriend’s four kids to move in (he had been kicked out of his own mother’s house after trying to protect his sisters from their mom’s boyfriends — men equally violent when strung out or jonesing), and when he first arrived, totally unaccustomed to rules or order, he was as feral as a raccoon, the only kid I knew who’d been suspended from school for fighting a teacher. But once he realized he was no longer being chased by the Department of Children and Families, which was threatening foster placement, or his mom’s boyfriends, who somehow saw a skinny nine-year-old as competition for his mother’s limited care, he actually found that the relative domestication of his new home suited him just fine, and he grew into the kind of southern–New England kid who lived his life in Umbros and various shades of chino. Trauma wasn’t a thing back then, not in our world, anyway; bad things happened, and then hopefully bad things stopped, and you were supposed to be grateful if they did — and that was called recovery. If you got a new wardrobe and the top bunk out of it, all the better.
So I was confused when I found him asleep on the sofa instead of in the safest bed he’d been tucked into in years.
“I heard horses,” he said, when I asked him what he was doing out there. “Horses running past the window all night.”
My siblings and I — Michael’s three sisters moved in not long after him, joining me and my biological brother in a house barely big enough for four — considered the dinky town we’d moved to fairly Little House on the Prairie compared to the industrial-Connecticut cities we’d been raised in, but really it was just a fledgling suburb. The only horses for miles were plastic and balanced on rusted springs in neglected front yards.
“It had to be deer,” I suggested, and I’m sure we spent the next several days convincing ourselves that that was more likely than the undead cavalry it obviously was.