An Exorcism of Sorts

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In my dreams, my father’s house speaks — whispers, screams.

The haunted house persists in horror media for a reason. It’s entrancing, in a way — the idea that something can be so full it runs over. That things do not, simply, fade when they die, but instead stick around, whether you want them or not.

I thought, before moving back to the so-called “Early Death Capital of the World,” that I had a handle on this. I left my MFA program (physically) in March because I was in an untenable, dangerous housing situation I never could have predicted. I finished remotely, had my thesis defense in the near-dark. My lamp never quite working, the lights in my father’s house flickering on and off.

I thought I could make a safe haven there, in the place I hadn’t lived since I was a newborn, this place my father trashed. The place he died.

You can start laughing now.

In my dreams, the house will not let me go. Either I think I narrowly escape, panting, desperate, screaming, sometimes, only to find myself right back where I started. Or the door won’t open at all. No matter how much I struggle. Sometimes I am a little girl in these dreams, little being a relative term, of course, for even in the Waking World at that age I was already much bigger than my peers. I am a little girl and I am terrified and something is coming for me.

Before it gets to me, though — I wake, sweaty, a shout caught in my throat. I am in my bed. I am covered in a quilt. I am in the new house, for it will always be the new house, no matter where in time I find myself. I turn on my bedside lamp and run my fingers over my face, to make sure I have not scratched myself beyond recognition, that I know who I am.

It only sometimes works.

My half-sister, whose house it actually is, as it went into her name when our shared father died, lets me live there. At the time, I was so desperate and frightened for a place to land that I would have done anything for it. Anything.

I did not know what I was going to do besides not go get my doctorate, which feels like an admission of something I still haven’t processed. I wanted to be a writer. I want to be a writer.

Mostly, though, I wanted to die without any consequences. By my own hand… or, more conveniently, by a ghostly one.

About the house — if you have been to Oklahoma, if you have been to a reservation, you will know it well. It is an Indian home. It reeks of poverty. I can say that. Being there was a constant psychic assault, even after weeks of cleansing. I can say that.

Any moments of peace were had when a visitor came, when the spirits were, for a moment, very quiet.

Otherwise, they clamored for my attention. What sounded like a screaming woman in the night. Hands pulling through the steam on the bathroom mirror. A gentle hand in my hair. Though never my father — because he couldn’t stand my presence there, or, I hoped, because he was somewhere else. Even in my sleep, I never saw him, though my jaw remained tight with the possibility.

When I finally escaped, I lost my voice for two weeks and was so sick I thought I’d keel over. Something moved through me then. An exorcism of sorts. And to think I thought my career would have nothing to do with the mysticism that had clung to me since I was a child. Oh, to think.

I hope you don’t feel unconsidered. I know I’ve dragged you, perhaps unwillingly, through the ether and the cornfields, the creek and the trees, the —

I’m always considering you. I hope you know that I am leaning against that colonized part of my brain, the one that wants to question if this is worthy, if it’s literary. I am constantly thinking that I’ve missed my chance, because people like me don’t get second chances, because the powers that be might be done with Indian stories, that all versions of this where things go alright after all have already vanished before I could even let myself imagine them. It’s not fair, of course, but —

My house psychic says that in a life before this one, among many, I was in Malta. I think all psychics should have a psychic, though I wouldn’t call myself a psychic. I am tapped in, yes, I am more ghost than girl, yes, I am —

Do you know where Malta is? I thought it was in far Eastern Europe, dark and foggy, but apparently, it’s in the Mediterranean. I like that idea. Me, in the sun. Me, in the warm sea. Dreams, ghosts, spirits, prophecy, sadness (mine), sadness (the collective), are cold water, like the bottom of a lake in a landlocked state. Maybe one day, I’ll go back. I’ve never been out of the country. It frightens me, but not for the reasons you’d think. I am afraid if I leave this place, this island on a turtle’s back, that I will forget. My past will rush forward, it will take me in its milky tendrils and the softness, the familiarity, will finally silence the urge to bolt, to run, to cut the ties that bind and never look back.

I tell myself to start a paragraph and finish it, so I will. This is a common directive in my life. Sometimes the words pour out of me like they’ll never stop. When I feel like that, I end the story.

Money is the real specter that runs through my life. That gives me headaches. That makes me nauseous.

Now I live in an apartment I can’t afford. But hey, at least I’m alive… right?

In my dreams, I have lost my best thing. What that thing is, I do not know. It is on the forest floor, among the stag’s antlers, cupped in my mother’s palms. I prick my hands on the briars looking for it and my blood seeps into the tree bark. I do not notice I am crying until the tears run into my mouth. Someone is saying something, aren’t they? But what, but what.

In Dept. of Speculation — this quote won’t be the right one, and I refuse to check, as I have already quoted this book in an essay you see — the daughter says, how could you ruin my best thing?

How, Autumn? How?

I dream of seven earthen pots, a sky full of fire, all my teeth falling out and shattering, a phantom kiss, ▬▬▬▬▬ and ▬▬▬▬▬, smoking cigarettes in the Country House’s bathroom. In these dreams, I am something else, or exactly myself. I am already dead. I’ve always been dead, but no one knew it. Well — most people. I am comforted by this and terrified of everything else.

Before I leave the South forever, I hear, through the grapevine, which I have been almost, almost removed from for nearly two and a half years, that someone has called me a compulsive liar. I’m not sure why. I think this is an awfully extreme thing to say about someone you barely know, or don’t know at all, really. But it doesn’t hurt my feelings — not like it would have before. I think, actually, all this is extreme honesty. I think, what a funny way to start this journey.

I don’t think being removed makes me better than anyone else, only that I am so unsuited to life that it feels more natural this way. I wake up to someone, or rather, something standing behind me. I cannot see them; my eyes are still closed. They are speaking in a language that I cannot understand. Perhaps it’s not another language at all, but a projection, a different time, a different place. I do not try to see them, I don’t even turn over, but when they are gone, I miss their ▬▬▬ touch.

Dreams. My gift. Interpreting them, seeing them, tasting them, slipping into them like water through a sieve. Not just the ones I had myself, the constant, pulsing pressure of the —

I dream of a lost not quite lover, a tent pitched at the edge of the Buffalo River in Arkansas, a joint burning the end of my lips, Cornflake tonguing an edible into my mouth just because he could, my mother in another life, with a better husband, and two children with green eyes.

My great-grandmother was named Sylvia Glee Fain. We called her Grandma Fain. I was the grandchild willing to visit, to sit while the adults chatted, to listen, so I saw her often. She was very beautiful, and smoked like a freight train, and cussed like a sailor. Only when she was about to die did I see her without red lipstick and costume jewelry. She wore velour matching sets and loved hot toddies. She set out cream for the Fair Folk, don’t I remember that? She was not my first teaching in regard to premonition, nor was she my last. Her husband, birthed the year the Titanic sunk, was born with the caul over him.

This, in many cultures, speaks to a kind of psychic power, a sixth sense.

I ask my grandmother — your dad was the one with caul, right?

And she says the second face? Yes.

And I say — was he psychic?

And she doesn’t even pause before she says yes, again, and when I ask what kind, she says he knew when bad things were going to happen and that one day, he kept her home from school because he had a nightmare she had drowned in the creek alongside their house. Picture it — rural Arkansas in the 50s, a rising tide, a teal raincoat, a tiny child floating in —

Grandma Fain had a stroke, several. She went to hospice. My mother shook me awake and I said — Grandma Fain died, didn’t she and she said —

Don’t get the wrong idea. My mother thinks I have the spiritual gift of discernment. I think that this is a beautiful way to tell her Baptist sensibilities that I am not a child already lost.

I dream of all my hair falling out of my head, screaming and violence, blood, the way that days after a panic attack it feels like I can’t step or stand properly, that I can feel all my bones settling inside the soles of my feet like knives.

Perhaps you were misled here, perhaps you thought I was going to teach you something. There’s still so long a road to travel. Close your eyes. I’ll give you a dream, but you probably won’t like it.

This is your first lesson.

Grief alters the narrative. Moby Dick is a thousand times too long because Ishmael has experienced tragedy, he cannot bring himself to speak it. Catch-22 becomes convoluted. Mulan stops being a musical. I walk into the woods one day with a pack of cigarettes after kissing my white girl goodbye to find —

I was sick a lot as a kid. Not the kind of sick I am now. Well, not completely. My hands ache like his once did, like they are going to contort right off my body. Imagine that pain for a moment. One day you’ll have to transcribe for me, and I will be awful about it, like I am about everything. I am a nag, and a double Virgo, and I love to be right, and I live my life just so despite the all-consuming sorrow and being fucking crazy, and chaos and fun irritate me to the point of hatefulness.

But if I can’t write, how can I live?

I was sick a lot as a kid, with problems of the lung variety. I got bronchitis every summer and pneumonia every winter until I was nearly 17. The sickest I ever was when I was a baby, and my mother saw —

Sometimes I will cough, from allergies, or the constant dry mouth my medications produce, or what I suspect is a latent weed hack, and my chest will ache. Your brain doesn’t remember pain, not physically. You can recreate a moment and say, this hurt, but you will not feel as you once did. I am no walking wound, but in my more pitiful moments I pretend I am.

I am going to close my eyes, but you have to stay awake. Don’t let me scream, or cry, or prophesize. There is nothing to fear, I am not my father. I promised I wouldn’t mention how haunted your house was anymore. I’m so tired. The ghosts think I’m hilarious. Okay, I’m sorry, I knew what I was doing, I always do.

In my dreams, the house will not let me go. But I am a child no longer. I refuse to run. I refuse to cower. I say, you have no power here. I say, I have seen worse things. I say, no, no, actually you should be afraid of me. I say, I am —

In my hands, a knife. In my hands, yes, yes, the motion, the tether, the silence, then, finally, release.

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Autumn Fourkiller

Autumn Fourkiller is a writer and mystic from the “Early Death Capital of the World.” She is currently at work on a novel about Indigeneity, the Olympics, and climate change. A 2022 Ann Friedman Weekly Fellow, her work can be found in Atlas Obscura, Majuscule, Longreads, and elsewhere. You can follow her newsletter, Dream Interpretation for Dummies, on Substack.

Autumn has written 7 articles for us.


  1. Autumn, you are an incredible writer! I have just read this after reading your newsletter and the first piece I’ve read by you. I am enchanted by your writing style and your redacting and your unfinished sentences and your mysteries and your speaking of your struggles and your trauma and your life. Money. Hauntedness. Overcoming. Not quite overcoming. All of it. Yes, your writing is important and needed and unique and I personally am engrossed in Indian writing these days and I am reading everything by Louise Erdrich and I am hungry for more. I ordered everything she ever wrote and I am systematically reading all of it. Then I will read your book when it is ready. I am so glad you are writing. I am so sorry for your pain and struggle. It is the truth and it resonates deeply with me. I was young and estranged from my dangerous family and had limited money and didn’t feel safe turning to my dangerous family for help and I was dreaming nightmares and feeling persecuted by my memories and just trying to get through each day and working and paying bills and writing songs and singing them when people let me and going to support groups every night and therapy when I could find someone I could trust and hanging out with my best friend every day and journaling like my hand was on fire.
    So please keep writing all of it and I will read it all.

    • Amy!!! This is so generous. I can’t thank you enough. I am sorry for your struggles, too, and hope you are in a better place now. Thank you for reading my words. I’ve always wanted a constant reader!!! This really buoys me. Please submit a dream to the newsletter if you ever feel inclined!

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