Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls – When I’d Move Out of This Haunted House

It’s time once again to look at the age-old question of the haunted house genre – Why don’t they just move?  Sure, sometimes you’re snowed in at the Overlook and there’s no conceivable way to get out but most times, if I was in the protagonist’s shoes, I’d just up and move.  I don’t care if I was in debt and didn’t have the money or means to sell and buy again.  That’s what bankruptcy’s for!  Getting away from ghosts!  In fact, imagining when I’d move and the alternate story it would lead to as I watch/read a scary haunted house story is one of my horror coping mechanisms.  So, in honor of Halloween and all things scary and spooky, haunted and horrific, macabre and malevolent, I’m doing a li’l series about this.  In each installment I consider a haunted house novel and ruminate on when, if I were living within the events of the novel, I’d move the heck outta that house.  This time I’m looking at Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls which managed to freak me out in two horrible, particularly unfair ways! 

This piece contains minor spoilers for certain incidents in the novel but the ending and all major twists are left out of the discussion.  So read on based on your comfort with such spoiler territory ;D.

By nature, this piece isn’t a review or a deconstruction or analysis so much as it is a stream of consciousness look at how I’d fair if I was living the events of Within These Walls and I’m only pointing out moments when I really considered if I’d move out.  With that being said, here’s the Publisher’s Synopsis of the novel:

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed.  His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell.  With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners – runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love.  There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful.  Except that he’s not alone.  For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Ok.  So.  This one wasn’t quite as clearcut as my usual experience of haunted house stories.  Because in this story, he didn’t just move into a house that happens to be haunted.  He is living in a haunted house for the chance at a bestselling true crime book that can relaunch his career.  I have not had the best experience with my job over the last three-to-four years.  On more than one occasion I’ve considered quitting.  I’ve written about that often here so there’s no need to go into it all again.  But I’ve been doing a lot of work in therapy to try and manage all the soul-starving shit that comes with my job and rediscover some of the joy.  It’s working…but it’s the beginning of a very long journey.

All this is to say, if I had the shot at a bestselling book which could move me comfortably into the “fulltime writer” category, it would be a lot harder to walk away, even if there were ghosts abounding.  Now, writing is hard.  It’s so much fun! But it’s hard. Writing my book last year took a lot of work and I’m still not done.  It’s in peer review at the mo’ and then comes formal editing.  So it’s not that fulltime writer would be an easy job…but the appeal of having a shot like that would be hard to shake.

However, on the other side of this equation (which isn’t mentioned in the book’s official summary), when Lucas moves to Washington State to live in this murder house so he can interview a cult leader/serial killer, he takes his twelve-year-old daughter, Vee, with him.  When it comes to horror stories, that’s my worst trigger.  Anything happening to children – especially babies – and/or pregnant women I can’t do.  It just doesn’t seem “fair”!  An adult can make their own choices but a child?  Nope.  FUCK THAT.  Those are the stories which mess me up the most.

So on the one hand here, if I was living in the plot of this story, I’d have a shot at a bestselling book and a career as a fulltime writer.  On the other hand, there’s my child’s life and safety.  So, let’s see where this book gave me pause and if/when I decided to move out, huh?   

Ok, so to be clear, this Jeffrey Halcomb guy?  In the beginning of the novel it setups the fact that his followers committed suicide while he murdered a pregnant woman, cut the child out of her, and killed the child, too.  So this guy is really fucked up.  This is the house Lucas is moving into it (or I am, or you…if you’re putting yourself in this story, too). 

Given how fucked up that is, and as these posts deal with creepy stuff, I like to toss in a few Ryan George videos to lighten the mood.  If you need a humor break from the spoooooooooooooooky stuff in this piece, here you go:

Page 113-114 – “Vee [Lucas’ daughter], blinked a few times, but the weird furniture refused to go away.  She shot a look across the living room toward the kitchen.  She couldn’t see it from where she was standing, but she was almost positive it would be as foreign to her as the stuff that had taken over the living room….And then there was the shadow figure in the corner, still as marble and dark as midnight.  The curve of a shoulder, the delicate line of an arm.”

Here’s the thing, no matter how exciting a bestselling book would be, I’d never leave a child in danger for any reason, much less a fucking book.  So I’d be the hell out of there as soon as I was aware my daughter was in danger.  However, Vee doesn’t tell Lucas the entire house is warping around her and she’s seeing ominous figures.  So while this was messed up, I wouldn’t know so I wouldn’t be moving…yet.

Page 158-159 – “Lucas froze and listened as he stood in the mouth of the kitchen.  He held his breath, trying to make out where the sound had originated.  His first thought was that it could have been Jeanie watching some late-night TV, but there was no television in her room.  When he had glanced upstairs on his way to get coffee, her door was closed….He stepped into the kitchen, still listening for what he swore he had heard – you didn’t hear a damn thing, Lou – and stuck the small glass coffee pitcher beneath the faucet.  That was when he saw her; a blonde-haired woman running through the cherry orchard.  It seemed as though someone was chasing her.  She looked panicked, half-tripping over her feet as she darted between the trees.”

Now he goes out to check and finds no one and nothing…naturally.  That’s how ghosts work!  So…do I move here?  I guess you could chalk it up to an overactive imagination, researching such horrific material. 

Here’s what made this so difficult to read though.  Here’s how Withing These Walls scared me in two completely unfair (though, of course, completely coincidental on the author’s part) ways.  First, the way she describes Vee, Vee looks just like the daughter of a friend of mine.  With this not being my first experience of the horror genre, I knew this was A SERIOUS PROBLEM and I worked AS HARD AS I COULD to imagine a completely different kid.  Second, Halcomb’s cult always give people new names and, when it’s clear their remnants are circling Vee, they give her a nickname that another friend of mine uses with her daughter.  THIS WASN’T COOL EITHER.  I was all kinds of freaked the fuck out reading this because it became too personal.

Having to actively work to try and not picture two of my friends’ daughters in this already terrifying story about a father who makes all the worst choices, made the move out choice even easier than it normally is.

Ok, time for more Ryan George.  Incidentally, this is exactly how I feel about paper straws XD.

Page 203-204 – “Lucas ducked out of his study and glanced up the stairs.  Jeannie’s door was still shut.  He frowned and crossed the living room to the kitchen, his stomach rumbling at the thought of a few slices of cold pizza.  But he stopped just before climbing the brick steps that would take him into the kitchen.  There, hanging on the wall, was a framed family photograph, taken when Lucas and Caroline [his wife] still lived in the big colonial in Port Washington.  It remained Lucas’ favorite family photo, taken when Jeanie was two or three years old.  The three of them sat on the brown front lawn, crispy autumn leaves surrounding them in shades of red and gold.  Caroline’s dream home was behind them, out of focus but still dominating the background.  He’d hung it to remind himself of what was important, to keep his motivations in check.  Except that, now, he gave the picture a perplexed look.  He would have passed it by without a second glance had the fucking thing not been hanging upside down.”

So Lucas tries to rationalize this away by blaming Vee, thinking she was probably messing with him.  Given the sounds he’s heard and the phantom girl running through the yard, I don’t think anyone could actually believe that was the case.  He just wants to believe it is.  I can’t imagine – even with the promise of a bestseller – that I’d stay after this.  But, on the off chance I made all the terrible choices, I’d be out with this next passage:

Page 250 – “Lucas crossed the living room, paused beside the front door.  It was shut tight, dead bolted in place.  Pressing his hands flat against the wood, he looked out the peephole.  Nothing.

“Except for the sound of two girls laughing behind his back.

“Lucas’s eyes widened.  He veered around, his gaze immediately darting to the upstairs hall.  It was dark.  Jeanie’s door was closed.  She’s asleep.  You know she’s asleep.  But before he could make a move to the kitchen to investigate the laughter, it was gone.  There one second, gone the next, as quick and disjointed as a momentary hallucination.

“And what he was seeing had the be a hallucination, because he found himself standing at the top of the two brick foyer steps, his attention transfixed.

“By some dark magic, the kitchen table was now dead center in the living room.  Four chairs arranged perfectly around it.  His pizza plate and beer bottle exactly where he had left it.  Only, somehow, halfway across the house.”

No job is worth this and I’d be gone the next morning.  That night I’d take Vee and go stay with his friends, Mark and Selma, who live about an hour away.  Then the next day I’d come back, pack up, and get the hell outta there!  And, to be clear, I’m moving out on page 250 when the novel is 449 pages long.  So things get much, much worse before there’s any sort of plot resolution.

That being said, the novel was fascinating!  I really became frustrated with Lucas as a character, putting Vee in danger because he didn’t want to give up being a writer.  But, at the same time, you could feel his desperation.  So it made for an engaging story.  Also, the tale of Jeffrey Halcomb was one of the most twisted things I’ve ever read and it totally fits with and explores our fascination with serial killers as a culture.  So I loved the novel…while also kind of hating it, too XD.

It’s a great Halloween read, if you’re looking for one.  May your night be more peaceful, dear reader, and may all your furniture always stay where you place it.  And, as per last time, I’ll end with a picture of my unicorn, Justin.  Here he is sitting on the couch, patiently waiting for me to finish writing so we can get back to watching Doctor Who.

Haunted House 6 (2)

He looks sweet but he’s actually guilting me HARDCORE to finish up so we can get back to our Thirteenth Doctor rewatch.


4 thoughts on “Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls – When I’d Move Out of This Haunted House

  1. I think I agree with you on this one too! I’d be out at page 250 when the table moved across the house! The other stuff is weird, but I might think someone knocked the picture off the wall and accidentally put it back the wrong way, etc. But I were positive the furniture was moving around by itself, I would be gone. Especially with a kid! Though one hopes the ghosts aren’t bad/dangerous ghosts at least since they sound like victims. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See? This shows how jaded I’ve become by my exposure to the horror genre. Because as I read and saw the furniture moving and the disembodied laughter I just FREAKED OUT. But you’re right! The odds would point to the ghosts themselves being victims AND as a theologian, I can tell you personally I don’t believe all – or even the majority of – ghosts/spirits/souls are bad or malevolent or evil. AND there was this really interesting Ghostbusters comic (it was called ‘Ghostbusters International’) where they talked about this, too – how there are spirits all around us but most of them are benign. So it’s only my chronic exposure to the horror genre and the fear-based cynicism it’s given me that makes me scared of these events at go XD.

      Incidentally, in our local mall there’s several areas with little collections of rides for kids. One of these sections has a little “rollercoaster” where the child sits in the car and it rocks back and forth as the screen shows them going up and down hills. For SOME UNKNOWN REASON, the ride designer thought it would be a good idea to have THE DISEMBODIED LAUGHTER OF CHILDREN rising from the ride when no one’s in it and it freaks me out whenever I walk by and hear it.


      1. To be fair, I would be terrified even by a neutral or friendly ghost. No ghosts for me at all, thank you. I do not want one that mostly leaves me alone but is still there or one that helpfully finds my keys. If someone I know died and wanted to contact me from the afterlife or something, I will pass. If they really liked me, they would know to just leave me alone! :p

        Ha ha! That’s kind of funny! (Since I don’t have to hear the weird disembodied laughter!)

        One interesting (not scary!) thing that happened to me is for a couple years I lived right across the street from where my town would have their annual carnival. And sitting in my house it sounded EXACTLY like I was listening to the Roller Coaster Tycoon background sounds with all the random laughter and screaming! I felt like I was living in a video game.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That would be fantastic! Although, I had one experience with Roller Coaster Tycoon where, long story short, the computer and game wasn’t turned off and, you guessed it, I awoke in the middle of the night to the unsettling sounds of disembodied amusement park sounds coming downstairs. It was actually a little freaked out as I walked down to the kitchen to see what it was!

        I guess the moral of the story is you have better luck with ambient amusement park sounds than I do.

        I also guess that moral isn’t really applicable in many ways for many people’s lives.


        It would be SO FUN to live right across the street from the carnival, too!


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