More To The Story by Maggie Nerz Iribarne | Art by Caitlyn Grabenstein

Adjusting The Moon by Caitlyn Grabenstein aka Cult Class

More To The Story
By Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Art by Caitlyn Grabenstein aka Cult Class
Published in Issue 117, September 2023

He’d never seen it, but Ken Colby heard about the house his entire life. In the early 1920s, his grandparents, Patrick and Lucy Colby, traveled upstate to create a summer home for their soon-to-be family. Patrick was tall, strong, a successful banker, a self-made man with an eye for architecture. Lucy was known for her calm demeanor, charitable works and green thumb. Their turreted, gabled house, surrounded by Lucy’s vegetable and flower gardens, boasted a wide porch overlooking Loon Lake. They had two babies and hired a maid/nanny, and a caretaker. The place seethed with bourgeoning life.

The year Ken’s father was born, the sister drowned and the Colbys closed up the house, sold the property, never returned.

The divorce papers were still unsigned when Ken called the real estate agent, offered fifty grand over the asking price, sight unseen, no inspection, cash. The seller accepted.

“The owner died, some crazy lady supposedly. Lived in filth. The seller’s some niece in North Carolina,” the agent said.

Ken felt compelled to fix things, restore something, his legacy perhaps.

He admired his grandfather, self-made, strong.

Through yellow haze Ken approached the old house, now his property. He walked around the house’s edges toward the water, dark windows watching. Flies swarmed, hovering in dusty air above the lake. Summer heat pressed down, prompting him to strip off his clothing and wade, swim out to the dock. After the shock of icy water, the weeds’ abundance surprised, clinging, dragging at his legs. He pressed on, determined. As a young man he’d been on the swim team. The ropey weeds grew thicker, more insistent, like tentacles, or worse, fingers. Ken pulled himself out, gasping. He lay there on the dock’s tilted surface.

“Jesus!” The dock jolted, dipped down. He rolled off, legs furiously treading water. He gaped in disbelief as the wooden slab sunk into the depths.

He never expected it to be easy.

Undeterred, he began clearing out the house.

The owner had been a hoarder, but there was nothing unusual until the bird carcassed basement. A multitude of feeders indicated that at one time they were kept there, alive. Ken’s supple denial muscle kicked in. He dismissed a bad image, the birds trapped, flapping, desperate for air, sky, escape.

“So, so weird,” the young hired helper, Seth, said, a shadow in the darkened space.

Ken stood there speechless, gloved hands hanging.

In another basement room they found a carriage holding a swaddled figure. Seth uncovered the old-fashioned baby doll, dangled it by a hand, chucked it at Ken.

Ken threw it on the heap, turned away.

His wife often said he was too black and white, lacking spirituality, depth.

“Just give me work,” he said to her, himself, anyone. When she and their son were at church, Ken mowed the lawn, weeded the beds, swept the garage. 

He had no patience for hocus pocus, nonsense.

The place needed a new roof, re-plastered walls and ceilings, refinished floors. Seth brought some others to the work site, and Ken began to fall into a steady routine of workdays, beers and meals at the local diner before crashing, exhausted each night in his motel room.

He received the occasional message from his wife, a cold shaft of emotional moonlight shoved into the heat of labor. He hadn’t told her of the house purchase. She didn’t even know where he was.

“I went to the cemetery today,” she wrote in a text on what would have been Ryan’s nineteenth birthday. “It would have been nice if you were with me. I miss you.”

Right before Christmas, Ken moved into the house.

In January, icicles pointed down from the eaves like knives. Ken knocked them from the space above the back entrance, fearing they’d fall, gore him.

One night he awoke to a terrifying crash from above. He ran to the attic, found a huge ice shard had splintered the new roof. A gust of frigid air blew through the house. He and Seth worked the entire next day patching the hole. Ken forced a laugh.

“Remember that movie The Money Pit? This house is like that, “ he said.

“You think?” Seth said, pale-faced, gripping a hammer.

One cold April day, Ken picked the lock on a metal box he’d found during the clean out, exposing a pile of old letters.

My dear Amelia

Our boy is growing up. Your sacrifice has given us so much.

Amelia, you know I cannot bring the boy. 

Amelia, we gave you the house. You gave us the boy.

The letters fell to the floor. Ken looked at the family picture he’d hung. The maid standing to the side. The maid, Amelia? Amelia, his grandmother?

He burned the letters. Pounded the tin box with a hammer. Gulped himself sick with whiskey, passed out.

That night, the temperature plummeted.

The porch cracked, snapped, broke clean off the house.

During summer, Ken turned his waning energy and shaking hands to the remnants of Lucy’s garden, picked strawberries by the bowlful, harvested corn and a truckload of tomatoes. Then the pumpkin vines reappeared, glorious in their flowering. He remembered last year when he first arrived, the hope they’d signified. He awoke one morning choking, flailing, the vine, entered through an open window, wrapped around his neck.

Ken moved back into the motel.

“It must have been kids, maybe they came up here on a dare. They’ve always thought this place was haunted,” the fireman said, hands busily undoing straps, pulling off gear.

“Huh,” all Ken could muster, dumbstruck by the charred house.

“Someone’ll snap this property up, on the lake and all,” the fireman said, “If you plan on selling, that is.”

Ken waited for him to leave before dragging himself to his truck.

He drove west to his sister, slashing along the interstate, repeating his father’s adage, attributed to his grandfather,

“The less said, the better.” 

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, lives in Syracuse, NY, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work on her website.

Caitlyn Grabenstein, a.k.a. Cult Class, is a collage artist, sketch artist, and designer out of Connecticut. She started doing art at a very young age and has pursued it in different forms throughout her life. While working in the music industry and running her own charitable business, BANDADE, she began creating websites, ultimately hosting more than 50 charitable shows with over 60 different artists including Imagine Dragons, Jason Isbell, Maren Morris, Ingrid Michaelson, the Goo Goo Dolls, Alabama Shakes, Florence Welch and more. During this time, Caitlyn started collaging out of necessity to create concert posters. She fell in love with the process and began collaging regularly. Caitlyn now runs her own design business, CLG Design Co.. Her work can be found in buildings around Philadelphia. Caitlyn’s pieces have been commissioned by individuals, musicians, businesses, and real estate companies from Chile to Germany to Los Angeles. Check out more of her art on Instagram.

Check out Maggie’s August piece, Lost At Sea, and Caitlyn’s August art install, Solitude, or head to our Explore section to see more of their work.

1 thought on “More To The Story by Maggie Nerz Iribarne | Art by Caitlyn Grabenstein”

  1. Pingback: Hunger Unto Him by Joel Tagert | Art by Caitlyn Grabenstein - BIRDY MAGAZINE

Comments are closed.