The Wallingford House 5/23 '23
oh lord. I just realized this is a repost.
leaving it up though because I'm trying to figure out how to edit it down for the Moth and this is a better version than the one I posted a few years ago.
After Sharon and I split up a few years ago, we gave notice to our landlord that we'd both be moving out before the end of February. As it turned out, Sharon found a new place almost immediately and was fully moved out by Candlemas. I took a week or two longer but eventually found myself an interesting house near Northgate - a rental property owned by a couple I had known socially for a few years.
They initially told me the place would be available March 1 but, being amateurish landlords, they were caught flatfooted when their would- be-former tenant decided around Valentine's Day that they didn't want to become former for another month. Housing in Seattle being what it is, I figured it would be easier to find an interim place for a few weeks (even if it meant staying in a hotel or something) than it would be to start the housing search over again from zero with only a week or two of runway left.
So I told them I still wanted the place and that I'd be fine with a lease starting in April - and then I was off to Craigslist where, almost immediately, I found a sublet: room in a shared house, available February 23 through April 5, VERY reasonably priced, and walking distance from work and from some pubs I liked (an important consideration, see above re: relationship just ending).
It seemed too good to be true - especially since housing scams were (as I suppose they still are) rife on Seattle craigslist at the time. But I dropped a note anyway and got a response almost immediately from some cat named Carl Kinch [name changed to protect the presumed innocent].
I naturally got right to googling and found a person by that name who was the keyboardist for Northwest indie band <<redacted>>. This was non-dispositive information with regard to on-the-up-and-upness of the housing offer, because 1. it could very well be identity theft, 2. it's an uncommon name but not impossible there could be a 2nd guy called that, and 3. northwest indie band members are almost certainly less trustworthy than the average person.
So I needed more research.
My next step was to Facestalk the fellow. His profile there seemed legit - locations visited seemed like a match for the house's ostensible location - and we had a friend in common. I dropped my pal Dagmar a note and said "hey, I see you're Facefriends with Carl Kinch. I'm thinking of subletting a room from him. Do you have any information that might make me want to decide against that?"
She replied and said "the only thing I really know about Carl Kinch is that he once punched my ex-boyfriend in the face."
Evidently, Dagmar's ex-boyfriend had, after their time together, begun an affair of some sort with Carl's then-girlfriend. Carl must have gotten wind of it somehow because D'sXBF was sitting at home one day, heard a knock at the door, went and answered it, and there - standing in the doorway - was one Carl Kinch, who wordlessly punched him right in the face, turned, and walked away.
This was entertaining but didn't strike me as a deal-breaker in the sublet department, so I made an appointment to stop and look at the house after work the next day.
Carl seemed nice (if a little more full of himself than the keyboardist for a mid-level Northwest indie band has any business being) and the house was lovely. Worn down, but lovely. It was an old place - probably built in the 20s - situated at the top of steep front yard on the once-most-charming, now-least-charming side of Seattle's overall- highly-charming Wallingford neighborhood. There were great hardwood floors - an overgrown and muddy but attractive garden out back - a nice porch out front with wicker chairs and all - and two other occupants of the house, neither of whom were home at the time.
Carl was headed out of town for a 5-6 week trip to Thailand with his girlfriend (a new one he'd met after he punched Dagmar's ex) and wanted to defray his travel costs by renting out his bedroom (and full use of the house's common areas) while he was away.
I made out a deposit check and signed a sublet agreement on the spot.
That weekend, I moved all of my non-essential stuff into a storage unit, brought about 8 boxes and 2 suitcases over to the Wallingford House and picked up the keys. Carl introduced me to one of the other occupants whom he said would be the main decision-maker and point of landlord contact in his absence. The room was to be mine the following morning. I went back to the old place, cleaned the carpets, and sacked out on a camping pad. The next day, it was Wallingford for me.
Over the following few weeks, the house itself turned out to be more or less as advertised. The occupants, however, were a little peculiar. Housemate #1 (let us call him Taciturn) was...well...taciturn. He spent almost all of his time in his bedroom with the door closed. Once in a while, I'd bump into him in the kitchen and he would kind of reluctantly say hello and then go on about his business. I had temporarily resumed a long dormant habit of having an occasional cigarette at night (see above re: relationship just ending) and Taciturn evidently had the same habit so sometimes we'd find ourselves on the front porch at the same time. He would sometimes have brief conversations with me at such times - but, just as often, he would come out, spot me there, and go around the corner of the house to the backyard so that he could have his smoke without having to talk. This was the entire extent of all of my interactions with Taciturn for the first 3 weeks I lived there.
The OTHER guy (let us call him Taciturner) never spoke to me at all. In fact, it was probably a week of living there before I ever saw the motherfucker at all. He seemed to ALWAYS be home though - in his bedroom - with the door closed and the light on. I mean, 24/7. He was in his room with the door closed and the light on. I'd get up at 8 to go to work - dude's door was closed and light was on. I'd come home from work at 5 or 6 - dude's door was closed and light was on. I'd go to bed at 11 or 12 or 1 - door closed, light on. I'd get up to pee at 4 AM - same same same. It was one one of those last occasions (4 AM pee trip) that I actually saw him for the first time. I passed him in the hall as he was leaving the bathroom. He looked startled to see me - grunted something non-verbal - and went back into his room and closed the door (with the light on). And THAT was the entire extent of all of my interactions with Taciturner for the first 3 weeks I lived there.
"Wait!" one may well ask, "are you trying to imply that something different happened at around the 3 week mark?"
Yes I am.
And I will now describe with, hand to God, no exaggeration or fabrication whatsoever, exactly what happened then.
The weekend after my third week there, I headed out of town on a Friday night for a quick one day trip to the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula. My pal Rick Elsmere [name also changed because reasons] owned a cabin out there on the south fork of the Hoh River and, on a visit a couple months earlier, we had accidentally locked the cabin and truck keys inside the place. The only way to get to them or get home was to break a window, so that's what we did - and, with keys retrieved, we patched the window with the tried and true method of nailing a big piece of plywood over it. The piece of plywood we used was, in fact, one that we had set up the former summer as a shooting target down at the old abandoned quarry where people up there go to do their target shooting, so it had a big orange bullseye spraypainted on it. I commented at the time that it seemed like a clear invitation to the users of the couple other nearby cabins to pump the Elsmere cabin full of lead, but it's a really remote area and really ugly in the winter, so most of the neighbors don't make any trips out there until spring. By the time March rolled around however, we figured we'd better get out there and fix that window pretty darn soon.
So I took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island Friday night and spent the night at Elsmere's place in Poulsbo(tique). I think we went out and had Italian. I'm pretty sure I got the eggplant parm. I guess that's not important. In any case, we wanted to make our repair trip an out-and- back-in-one-day type of thing - which is a little challenging because it's a good 3 hours each way from Poulsbo...assuming no detours because of the forest service roads being washed out, no situations where we have to chainsaw our way through toppled trees across the road, etc. And we didn't know how long it was going to take us to install the new window.
So away we went at 9 AM and everything went off without a hitch. We made the trip in record time, the cabin was intact with no new bullet holes, and we got the window replaced in under an hour. We were back on the road by 1 PM and were in Poulsbo by late afternoon. I got a quick shower chez Elsmere because I had plans to meet a couple pals for Cheap Wine and All You Can Eat Cheese Night at one of the fancy downtown hotel bars, and indeed those plans shortly came to pass. I had a jolly good time (and a jolly good helping of cheese) with my pals and didn't head back toward the Wallingford House until 11ish. The whole way home, I was thinking what a wonderful and very full day it had been. But it was far from over.
I knew as soon as I started up the front walk that something felt off. The first (and only, as far as I knew at that point) indication of offness was that I happened to arrive at the long stairs up to the front yard from the street at the exact same time as Taciturn. This was strange because I had never seen him actually go anywhere in the evening before. But there he was, looking like he might be about to have a facial expression, and saying a comparatively polite hello to me as we headed up toward the porch.
We came through the front door together and holy shit. The downstairs, normally dark and chilly, was lit up like a goddamn Christmas tree and there was an almost merry heat coming from the kitchen. We proceeded on into said kitchen and there was Taciturner...cooking away at something in a pot on the stove.
This was unheard of, in my experience.
I had NEVER seen Taciturner even enter the kitchen before - nor any signs of cooking activity or food consumption on his part anywhere at any time.
But there he was. And whatever was in his pot smelled pretty good.
He looked up at us and said, in a thrusty sort of tone that could have been either anger or ebuliance, "Look! I made chili! Do you want some?"
"Shit yeah" I thought, having had nothing to eat so far that day other than an english muffin and a mound of free cheese. I grabbed myself a bowl.
Taciturn made no motion toward any sort of container, but continued to stand in the kitchen watching us and saying nothing.
Taciturner ladeled me out a nice couple of scoops of chili into my bowl and then picked up his own bowl that had already been sitting on the island counter. He didn't make any move to eat anything from it...but he held it.
I took a couple bites and it was pretty good, but the feeling of offness was growing. Mainly, it was the fact that both of them - Taciturn and Taciturner - were just standing there staring at me - watching me eat - but doing nothing themselves - and they had lapsed back into their customary silence.
"Hey," I said, "this is pretty good chili. What's in it? Is this chicken?"
No reaction. No response.
Stare stare stare.
"Hmm," I said, "and this looks like a piece of pork. Is this some sort of multi-meat kind of recipe?"
No reaction. No response. Continued staring.
"Alright. Fine," I thought, "I'm not gonna play with these fuckers. You wanna play Stare in Silence - let's dance, assholes. I can stare silently like a fucking PRO. I'm a SCORPIO."
So there we were. All staring. None talking. Me picking at my chili but by now feeling an strong, uneasy prickling which made me slow my rate of consumption, then stop. I put my 1/4 finished bowl down on the counter island and went back to staring. (Taciturner had put his bowl down by then as well.)
Long pause. Long stares. Then
All of a sudden
Taciturner made a strange jerking, twitching sort of movement from side to side with his jaw...
and a stream of vomit came welling up out of his mouth and dripping down his chin onto his chest and the floor.
I've seen my share of vomiting (as have, I'm sure, we all). This was unlike any other vomiting I've ever seen. He wasn't heaving. He wasn't coughing. He wasn't gagging or retching or any of those other great evocative emesis words.
He was just standing there.
And the vomit was welling up out of him. Or maybe oozing. It had an oozing sort of quality as well. Have you ever seen one of those cat drinking fountains? Where there's a water reservoir at the bottom and a slow bubbling at the top where the pump pushes the water out without a ton of real tinkling or splashing or anything? Have you ever seen what they're like when the pump gets a little clogged with cat hair and the slow bubbling becomes more of a sluggish ooze?
Well, like that. Furthermore...
There are several things that a regular person might do when they find vomit starting to come out of their mouth. They might run to the nearest toilet (there was a toilet right upstairs). They might try to get to a sink (there was a sink 5 feet from this guy). They might grab a bowl (this dude had LITERALLY just been holding a bowl 2 minutes earlier - it was WITHIN ARM'S REACH) and pull it forward to catch the vomit. They might, oh I don't fucking know, LEAN OVER so that the vomit is going onto the floor directly rather than making its way there via their chin, shirt, and pants.
But not this guy.
He just stands there, motionless, still staring at me, not breaking eye contact even, as vomit just oozes right out of his mouth and all down his front.
AND IT GOES ON - it just keeps coming out.
Take how long you think is probably a reasonable amount of time for a vomiting session to last, then take how long you'd probably guess I'm talking about when I say it went on longer than that - then add those two numbers and that's probably pretty close to how long it actually went on.
We're not talking a quick little yack. This was a gusher. A slow motion, oozing gusher.
After a goodly while of this, it finally subsides and stops bubbling out.
There's a short awkward silence broken only by the drip drip of vomit off his shirt and face onto the floor around his feet.
And I say "holy shit. what the hell was that? are you ok?" Silence. Staring.
"No...seriously man...that looked really messed up! Are you ok?" Silence. Staring.
Then Taciturner speaks.
And he says, slow and deliberate, but with this creepy confrontational intensity:
Are YOU ok?"
I blink a little and say "uh. yeah, I'm fine. thanks for asking. but then, I didn't just ooze vomit out of my mouth for a couple minutes nonstop like a goddamn hair-clogged cat fountain. so...like...are you actually ok? what's going on here?"
And there's a long pause.
And then he just walks out of the kitchen, goes up the stairs and into this room, and closes the door (with the light on)...leaving a dripping trail of vomit all the way.
The stove is still on, the chili pot still bubbling away, and I'm seriously losing my shit.
I look over at Taciturn, who has just been standing there watching the entire incident in silence, and I say "what the hell just happened here? what's up with that guy? is he ok?"
Taciturn says, with almost no hesitation, and in a tone like he's exchanging pleasantries at a bus stop, says "he seems fine to me"...
and walks out of the room...goes upstairs and into his room... and closes the door.
I pick up my bowl of chili and am like "NOPE!" and dump it right back into the pot. Then I turn off the stove and go up to MY room and close the door...leaving the steaming pot cooling on the stove and the LARGE POOL OF STEAMING VOMIT cooling on the floor.
It was at this point in one prior telling of this story that my pal Dr John interrupted me to say "welp. that's it. you ate human flesh."
And I know others who read this might have had the same thought flicker around the edges of their mind, as indeed did it flicker around mine on the very night of the incident.
And I'm not going to say I definitely DID eat human flesh. I mean. It was probably chicken and pork.
But I will say this: if there were an afterlife (there's not) and some divine or semi-divine figure existed there (they don't) and they were to say to me "you had a pretty good life - except for that time you inadvertantly ate human flesh", I'D HAVE NO DOUBT IN MY MIND WHICH OCCASION THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT.
And I'm not sure many people can say that.
I didn't sleep very well at night in that house for my remaining couple weeks there. I kept having these thoughts as I went to sleep "what if the whole sublet thing is just some honeypot that these people use to lure in next month's chili ingredient?" etc. I kept my door closed and latched at night, usually sleeping in a half-awake sort of hypervigilant state...listening for the door knob to rattle or the latch to move.
Nothing of the sort ended up happening. Perhaps my vigilance paid off.
I went downstairs the morning after the first of these nights - the initial incident - and someone had cleaned up the kitchen - no idea who or when.
I only saw Taciturner once more.
My next to last day, I packed up all my shit and moved a few boxes I had stashed in the basement up into the front hallway. As I was finishing up, Taciturner came in from outside. I had never seen him leave the house and hadn't seen him at all since Barfpurgisnacht, but somehow, I had lost my capacity to be surprised or impressed by anything these lunatics did.
"Hey, what are you up to?" he asked, like a friendly normal person would.
"I'm packing up my shit to get going. Carl comes back tomorrow night and my new house at Northgate is ready for me, so I'm headed out tomorrow morning."
"NO!" dude says. "You should STAY!" um.
"Sorry. I can't. It's been nice being here. See you around perhaps." I didn't want to get into a whole big thing - I just wanted to get out without being turned into stew.
I saw Taciturn a few more times, coming and going and smoking and heading to or from peeing, but we never spoke again. Except on my last morning there.
I had just carried the first of my boxes out to my car when he passed through the downstairs hallway.
"Moving out?" he asked.
"Need a hand?"
"Uh. Yeah. Sure. That would be really nice actually."
I was frankly a little surprised at the offer, but my knee was sore and there were a lot of steps down to the street from the front door.
But then there was a pause. "Oh" he said, "you mean now?"
"uh. yeah. I'm hauling this stuff out now. So if you want to help, now is the time."
"Ok. Cool." he said, "I'll be right back."
And he went charging up the stairs toward his bedroom - I assumed to put on shoes or something.
He never came back.