The House of the Spirits

Haunted room

In the colonial center of a small city in Ecuador, there is a house, more than a hundred years old. The house is beautiful, with gardens, patios, and rooms of all shapes and sizes. Guests arrive, charmed by the colorful flora & antiquity.

However, the house has its secrets. There was a family that owned the house before, and they had a son, a junkie, who would lose control. They locked him up in a giant bird cage, left alone to his addiction and his torment. When my family moved in, the cage was ther; used needles were scattered inside. Today, the cage still stands in the courtyard; we’ve stuffed it with plants and flowers. There was another rumor, of murder and abuse, sometime long ago. A woman’s soul was left to wander to the rooms. This house, like this city, was built on the bloody grounds of colonization, genocide, subjection of an entire race followed by centuries of servitude.

At 3 A.M. guests wake up, the warm pressure of hands wrapped around their necks. They can hear a woman screaming for help. Footsteps walk up and down the long hall. There’s a knock at reception; the boy at the desk opens the door to find no one is there. He believes it is the devil.

Spirits live in this place. You can feel their gaze on the back of your neck when you wake up to get water. Whispers float out of empty rooms.

One time, I woke up in the middle of the night; a humming sound was coming from the kitchen. I walked out, bare feet on cold floors, and noticed the freezer was open. I didn’t think twice–just closed it as my eyes adjusted to the dark. I turned around, the humming sound still coming from across the room and my eyes found flames. Every burner on the kitchen stovetop was lit. Someone had turned on the gas. I was the only one home.

I turned off the stove and recited my saving grace mantra: lyrics from the song “Soul Meets Body.” I don’t know any prayers. When I was much younger, growing up in this house, I would repeat these same lyrics over and over until I fell asleep. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, so I lulled my eyes to exhaustion as I poured through pages and pages of books. Always, I felt that I wasn’t alone.

Hauntings in a hostel are not ideal, so we called someone who had a reputation as a cleanser. She was a witch woman. She arrived with copper sticks; she spun them around in panic. Three times, she had to return. She refused to tell us what she felt; she only told us that the spirits wouldn’t be swayed.

Time has passed. The spirits hide, and they emerge, whenever they see fit. When they hide, we rest in the lulling calm, waiting. When they arrive, the house rattles to life. Guests leave frantically in the middle of the night. Receptionists quit. Doors are locked. Chairs appear next to my bed, waiting for me when I wake up. The spirits don’t care how we respond. They are here to stay. To them, we are the intruders, the ones invading their space. They’re just doing their own cleansing–on us.


Artist, teacher, traveler, and enthusiast for all things dark and all things colorful. Emma currently lives in Ecuador where she's coordinating and teaching at a school, painting murals, and living with spirits.

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