It was the sort of place you’d expect to find littered with crushed, empty beer cans and discarded condoms, with crumpled Marlboro hard packs and Bic lighters tossed away. It was the sort of place where you knew what the graffiti on the walls would say before you saw it, the faded red and black words spray-painted two feet high, chronicling multiple generations of teenage parties and teenage gropings, drunken humpings and stoned fumblings, variations of KEVIN RULES and STACY BLOWS and CLASS OF 84 ROCKS in every room, recording each wave of high school kids who had sought a place to get high and get laid and feel like adults or just not feel, one after the other, year after year.


Oneida House was the sort of place where you’d expect all that, so much that when you walked in and found none of it—not a matchbook on the floor nor one crude word scrawled on the walls, nothing to indicate that a single teenager had ever lit a single joint here—the absence came so abruptly that all that detritus, all those discarded artifacts of traditional American youth, all that stuff, seemed to actually exist in the space between what should have been and what was; a history that never happened seemed to break through for just a second, and then it was gone.

No one had lived in the house for years, not officially, not since 1971, when the college shut it down. Even so, it looked worse than that. The weather off the lake had stripped the back of the house down to wood, without a hint that it had ever been painted, and the pier back there was off kilter and missing planks. The porch in front, facing the trees that stood between the house and Route 9, had caved in, as had the veranda above it, and dense, moist mosses had emerged from the darkness beneath the house and spread across the rotting wood and halfway up the columns that framed the doorway.

The contractor who did the renovation had moved to Seneca a few years earlier from Rochester, an hour’s drive north; he was doing pretty well fixing up summerhouses along the lake, and didn’t have to take the job. But when he met the buyer and his wife—he was the one with the money, a writer, and she was an architect, it turned out, but not the pushy, know-it-all kind, at least—to do a walkthrough and come up with an estimate to make the old Greek Revival house habitable, it was the first time he’d seen the property, and he saw no reason not to.

He took the job, and the job got done, because that was the kind of man he was, but if there was ever a job he wanted to walk away from, this was it. He just could not keep a crew. He’d never seen anything like it. Workers kept quitting, and the ones that stayed wanted to leave as soon as the sun started going down, wouldn’t work past dark even for overtime pay.

There were noises upstairs, one of them would say in newly acquired English, over the excited Spanish of the other day laborers, and some of them had seen things. Nobody wanted to disappoint the new jefe, but they hadn’t traveled so far from their homes and families and churches for this.

He’d heard the noises, too, and he’d gone up there looking , but he never told any of them about it.

The first time, he’d followed the thumpings and indistinct voices to the first bedroom right by the stairs. Bracing himself with the thought that he was a practical man who did not believe in superstitious twaddle, he’d thrown the door open. In the bright light of the full moon that shined in on the bare white walls and newly polyurethaned floor, it took him a moment to see the spill of water. It wasn’t until he played his flashlight over it–the electrician hadn’t gotten to the bedrooms yet–that he saw the wet footprints that led from the puddle straight into a wall.

The time after that, the thumping was louder, and when he followed it upstairs to the master bedroom he was almost certain that he heard a girl crying, too. There was no moon that night, but the wiring was done and the lights were on, at least until the moment he opened the door. Something blew and the whole house went dark. He froze in the doorway, blinking, his retinas turned camera by the abrupt darkness, a negative afterimage floating in front of him. A mound of bodies, naked, long-haired, the blank and uncurious faces of the young men on top turned to look his way.

He backed away, fumbling for the Mag-lite on his tool belt, tripped and landed on his ass, and when he’d finally turned it on, he found nothing there but another pool of water.

After that, he left before the sun set, too.

It took three months longer than planned and went over budget, and the client had been calling weekly from New York, self-important and demanding, to whine and grouse the entire time, but the job finally got done. On the last day he’d painted all the trim on the first floor himself. From then on, though, he always drove down the other side of the lake, even when he was jammed up in a hurry, and it was going to make him late.

from Age of Consent, 2007