The house is starting to decay, filled with sweet rot and peeling wallpaper. The ghosts don't notice it right away because they have their own drama keeping them busy. First it's just learning to coexist as a small leak starts in the attic with every summer shower, then it's banishing Hayden to the basement so that the new baby is safe even as the clay tiles of the roof begin to fall like autumn leaves. The Harmons have been dead for three years when Violet draws everyone's attention to the bulging wall in an upstairs bedroom.
"Mold," her father says with a grim frown. "There must be a leak somewhere above us. I'd better fix it."
"What's it matter," Patrick asks. He's leaning in the doorway and staring boredly at the swollen wall. From his position, it looks like a grape that's been squeezed between a child's fingers, purple and wet. "A little mold isn't going to kill us." Ben's lips press into a thin line and his glare might have been threatening if Patrick was still alive.
"It needs to be dealt with." Patrick shrugs and leaves the room, but he joins Ben in the attic the next morning to find the leak. It takes them all day and another rainstorm, but they find it and mark it with a red Sharpie before retiring downstairs to wait for the rain to stop. They may be dead, but there's no reason for one of them to fall off the roof or get struck by lightning if they can avoid it.
It's two days before the rain stops and by then they've recruited Constance's ex, the three of them climbing up on the roof and setting to work. They tear off old shingles and damaged tiles, repairing the roof as best they can and leaving a bald patch on the roof where there were no new shingles to replace the broken ones.
Three months later, Chad notices that a section of the living room floor is dipping slightly and they discover a termite infestation. They get the murdered exterminator on that, though he's hesitant to go into any crawlspaces. Behind the man, Tate laughs and stalks away.
The work never seems to end once they start looking for it, more and more of the ghosts joining in to help fix the old place up. If new owners move in, the ghosts whisper in their ears at night to buy supplies and leave them in the attic. It usually doesn't take much with the house whispering too, sweet pleas to be returned to its former glory.
The owners come and go, each of them leaving building supplies behind as they tear out of the driveway and down the street. Marcy, the real estate agent, says nothing when she notices the repairs. She knows there's something wrong with the house, but she's not going to burn sage if it means the door hinges are well oiled and the upstairs window is repaired. One day, Marcy vanishes and the ghosts don't even notice until a new woman shows up with a thousand watt smile and a pair of potential homeowners.
Vivien sees an article in that morning's paper about Marcy's death at some hotel downtown. She doesn't shed a tear or pretend to be sad; she has furniture to restore and that's more pressing than some woman who's never been any help. She sets the paper aside for whoever else wants to read it and returns to the sitting room.
"Does it feel weird to be in here," Chad asks. He's eyeing the space where a leather armchair and ottoman had sat, the wood floor showing no trace of where Vivien had bled out. She still feels pangs in her stomach, phantom contractions that make her ache for the life that might have been.
"No," she says, and moves on.
The new owners are Hispanic, Patrick thinks they might be Cuban but he's not sure. They're a friendly couple who laugh at the dinner table and don't fight. Patrick likes to eavesdrop, to watch the normalcy of a healthy relationship. They have fights on occasion, but it's nothing like the ones he and Chad have had.
"How do you think they'll die," Tate asks.
"Who cares? They'll either be dead or gone within the month." Patrick pushes off the wall and heads out of the dining room. He goes for the attic and sets to work on insulating it to offset the electric bill come summer. Tate joins him after a while and they knock the chore out before midnight.
"I'm sorry, you know." Patrick doesn't look at him, smoothing down the insulation that would have made a living person itch. "I don't…. I don't feel those dark things anymore, not since Michael was born." Patrick's shoulders are a tense line as he remembers the panic of dying, the confusion of waking up afterward.
"I know," he says. He turns to face Tate, feeling raw and hollow and so, so empty. He wants to lash out and feel his knuckles crack against Tate's perfect cheekbones, feel pain lancing through his hand and up to his elbow, but he doesn't. All the deaths laid at Tate's feet are no more his fault than Patrick's compulsive adultery. It's this fucking house.
"I think one of the stairs leading to the basement is fucked up if you wanna check it out with me."
They fix it together.
The sweet Cuban couple don't erupt into arguments or fights that get physical, but they do succumb. Mister Cabrera comes home from work late one night to find Mrs. Cabrera dead in the kitchen; she'd had a fatal heart attack while cooking dinner and Mister Cabrera drags her to the basement before shooting himself with his service weapon.
The entire house smells of burnt tamales for two weeks.
There isn't another couple for nearly six years, a pair of lesbians that have barely signed the deed. They're still surrounded by boxes when Michael comes home and murders them. He does something that sends a dark pulse through the house, the spirits burning away without leaving a trace of ash behind. They don't reappear and Michael is herded away soon after by a trio of Satanists.
That's when the ghosts start growing lax in their duties. The house keeps whispering, but soon the yard is overgrown and the mold has set in again. Without constant upkeep, the roof starts to sag and the termites find a new home, the gazebo collapsing into a pile of rotted wood.
The new realtor doesn't understand the sudden decline, but she moves on to new houses and passes Murder House on to a man. The man doesn't care either, he doesn't heat up vanilla extract in the oven to make the house smell like fresh cookies or buy fresh flowers to fend off the smell of decay.
The ghosts have come to a decision, a rare thing considering how they all like to argue with one another. They won't do any more repairs; the iron gate can rust, rain can warp the floors, woodland creatures can chew through the wooden support beams until the whole house collapses. "If there's no house," Constance says," then maybe we can all leave."
They grow content with the smell of old things, collapsing furniture and a flooded basement after a family of mice chew through a water pipe. They lounge around outside because the sun doesn't burn them and mosquitos don't notice them.
When the apocalypse happens—skies turning a violent red, nuclear missiles tearing through white clouds and turning the neighborhood to ruins—the Murder House remains standing. No other spirits remain aside from the ghosts who have died on the property, no real changes to be observed amongst the devastation. They still can't leave except on Halloween.
The ghosts all give small sighs and turn to face the house again, their house.
"We're going to be stuck here for eternity," Patrick says with the hollow ring of realization in his voice. Beside him, Ben scrubs his hands over his face in kicks some of the splintered wood that litters the ground, throwing a baseball-sized chunk of Mister Henderson's windmill at the house across the street. Once the tantrum is over, Ben looks at their family and nods at the house.
"If we're going to be stuck here, then we might as well fix it up." They aren't free, they'll never move on, but at least the place they live in will look nice. They start at the foundation and work their way up, moving through the old stores come Halloween to take the materials they need and a few they don't. The twins and Violet dress up like a gaggle of vampires, which makes for a funny sight as they try to navigate a large cart through Lowes.
They get the house back up to code and then some, making it shine. Constance laughs one summer afternoon, looking around at the wreckage at the edge of the property line and confidently states that they would have won that stupid nicest house award the HOA hands out in the spring.
"Damn straight," Vivien agrees, a glass of iced tea in her hand. Nora, her eyes no longer red and raw from crying, actually laughs at the prospect. It's a nice sound and a nicer sight as she leans against Vivien's side. Vivien and Ben may not be an item anymore, but it's nice to see that she's moved on to someone more worth her time.
One day they wake up and the neighborhood has been set to rights, the sun reflecting brightly off Mister Henderson's garish windmill. There's a squeal of tires that draws all the ghosts out onto the front porch in time to see an SUV back over Michael and run over him again before speeding off.
Constance stands over him and there are tears on her cheeks but very little mercy left in her heart. He's blubbering something and gesturing at the Murder House, but Constance straightens her back and stalks away. Michael dies in the street, covered in his own blood and snot and the ghosts continue to exist on the property.
The house no longer whispers, but they keep it looking nice and Constance accepts the award from the HOA on their behalf. It's placed on the mantle of the sitting room, surrounded by family photos. The whole house is filled with photos that Constance has developed and framed; Nora and Vivien on their second anniversary, Violet and Tate after they finally make up, Ben's angry expression when he catches Violet and Tate in the act of making up.
The house is no longer decaying or filled with sweet rot and peeling wallpaper.
The ghosts can't move on, but they've got each other and that's good enough.