No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there walked alone.
Schitt's Creek, Ontario
David heard the scream before he realized it came from his mouth. The sound was loud and shrill, and it vibrated around in his ears like feedback from a microphone at his family’s annual Christmas party. He watched the edge of his bed, but there was nothing there. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing there.
Alexis bounded over within seconds, abandoning her bed to jump onto David’s like she planned to tackle whatever he was staring down single-handedly. Despite being five years younger, she was the braver of the Rose siblings — sometimes, David wondered if she was literally fearless (while he was anxious enough for the both of them).
Next came Adelina, who walked through the door like he’d called for her specifically — though, considering her job description, it was not a stretch to say he did. She looked around the room, then sat opposite Alexis on the edge of David’s bed.
“Him again?” she asked, and David nodded.
The ‘Man With the Trench Coat’ had appeared at the foot of David’s bed almost every night since they’d moved in. The figure hadn't said a word, not once; it just stared, dark eyes boring down on David like it was waiting for him to do something… but, every time, David froze. He couldn't so much as wiggle his fingers until it evaporated— always just as quickly as it'd appeared, leaving nothing but fear in his wake.
“You remember what we talked about before?” Adelina asked gently. “About dreams?”
David chewed on his bottom lip. “They can spill.”
His nanny nodded, reaching over to pat his tiny hand. “That’s right, mijo. Just like a cup of water can spill sometimes. But kids’ dreams are special, remember? They’re like…”
“…An ocean!” Alexis chimed from her side of the bed.
“Right, mija, an ocean,” Adelina agreed. “And the big dreams can spill out sometimes.”
David looked at her hand, covering his, and he frowned; it didn't feel like a dream. Sometimes, the man in the trench coat felt more real than anything else in the house.
“When can we go home?” he asked.
Adelina sighed, gently coaxing him back under the blankets. “In September, mijo — in time for school next year.” She tucked the comforter up around his chin, then kissed his head. “Go back to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
As she scooped Alexis up and tucked her back in, David curled up beneath his blankets. Even as he drifted off to sleep, it didn't feel like a dream. He could hear the house breathing, its lungs creaking into the steady silence of the night.
Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
David’s Uber pulls up to the driveway at the Hill House Hotel, and his stomach twists itself into a knot just at the sight of it. Not for the first time since getting the news, he considers homelessness as an alternative to walking back into that monster masquerading itself as a house.
“You, uh, gonna get out, dude?” his driver asks after a moment, and David realizes he hasn’t moved. “I got a gig to get to. Y’know, I’m a part-time DJ, so—”
With a clipped, “Sorry, I’m going,” David unbuckles his seatbelt and exits the car to avoid hearing the rest of that sentence. (He’s already in a horror story, thankyouverymuch.) Once he’s retrieved the two suitcases that carry his only remaining belongings, the driver shifts into reverse and backs away, leaving David alone with the house that has literally haunted his dreams since he was a kid.
He’d expected it to be less imposing now. That’s what Dr. Lee had told him during one of their last sessions at the center. Everything looks big when you’re small, right? A bunch of bricks can’t possibly be as scary as he described. Standing here now, though, David can confidently say that Hill House is just as intimidating now as it was back then — maybe even more so, now that he knows what waits for him inside. It towers over him, blocking the light from the sun and covering him in shadow. If that isn’t a metaphor for something, he doesn’t know what is.
As he stands, frozen, the porch light begins to flicker slowly — on, off, on, off. And it’s with a sharp ache in his chest that David remembers Adelina’s rule. He can hear her voice in his head saying, “Porch light means it’s time to come home.”
Well, now he’s home.
Clenching his jaw, David takes a sharp breath through his nose and walks up the drive, dragging his suitcases behind him. He’s halfway to the door when he hears a quiet tapping sound, like a fingernail against the glass. He stops and scans the windows he can see on the first floor, but… nope, no one. Fuck. Already. He hasn’t even gone inside, and this place is trying to drive him —
A cold hand wraps around his wrist.
David yelps, jumping halfway out of his skin and jerking his arm away… only to see Alexis, the fucking menace, standing with her hands in the air.
“Fuck!” he half-yells. “Fuck!”
Alexis looks like she’s trying not to laugh at him. “Okay, relax, David, it’s me,” she says, raising her brows as David tries to stop himself from going into cardiac arrest or whatever. “God, you’re already so jumpy.”
“Of course I’m jumpy! I’m—” he cuts himself off, then takes a deep breath through his nose. (In — 1, 2, 3, 4. Out — 1, 2, 3 4.) "Never mind."
He looks behind her to see their parents stepping out of — what he assumes is — their Uber. Including Alexis, they all seem to have about the same amount of luggage he does. However, movers will supposedly be showing up tomorrow with whatever the government isn't seizing, which (thankfully) will include the bulk of his wardrobe.
“David, my darling,” comes his mother’s greeting as she approaches. She pats his cheek twice. “You’re looking much better.”
He cringes a bit. That isn’t as much of a compliment as his mother thinks it is — the last time she saw him, he was a strung-out mess as she dropped him off at the rehab center.
Still, he says, “Thanks,” through his teeth.
His father pats his arm in greeting. “Hello, David.”
David nods at him.
“I was just telling your father how fortuitous it is that he’d purchased this place all those years ago,” Moira says, and David tries not to scoff. “We can live in one of our Rose hotels whilst we get back on our feet.”
“The last Rose hotel,” David hums, while Alexis nods.
“Yeah, it’s, like, super fortuitous,” she says, then places a hand on David’s shoulder; he only flinches a little this time. “David is just a liiittle jumpy.”
Johnny frowns. “I know, son. This is all very disorienting,” he says, “but we’ll get it sorted out and be back on our feet in no time, you’ll see.”
“Yes, and in the meantime,” Moria says, “Just be grateful they missed out on what a gem this place is. Imagine if we were forced to hole up in something as horrendous as a roadside motel!”
David shakes his head. “I would literally rather share a motel room with Alexis than live in this fucking monstrosity again.”
“Oh... you’ll still be sharing a room with Alexis,” Johnny says, and another flare of panic shoots through David’s chest like an arrow.
Johnny looks back and forth between his stunned children. “Well,” he says, “We need to reserve as few rooms as possible for ourselves — We don’t want to turn away guests.”
“Yes,” David says, “because we’ve got a line of people chomping at the bit to stay here — that’s why the D.O.R. told us it wasn’t worth seizing.”
“I don’t think they quite said that, David.”
“They did. They literally said that.”
Alexis smacks his arm lightly. “Aww, David, come on, it’ll be just like old times!” She thinks she’s funny, and he knows it, but he’s not laughing.
“There are like a billion rooms in this place!”
Moira clicks her tongue. “All right, David, that’s quite enough of your dramatics,” she says. “You’ll listen to your father.”
David hasn’t felt more like a child since… well since he was a child.
His mother should be on his side, but she hardly remembers their first stay here — apparently, she’d taken so many sleeping pills that summer, her terrifying encounters just… disappeared from her memory. Either that or she’d simply dismissed them into oblivion. Okay, and it's not that David wishes his mother had spent the last twenty years tormented by their ghosts or whatever, but…
No, actually, he kind of does, a little bit.
Once upon a time, they'd been in this together, but he’d ended up alone.
Somehow, David always ends up alone.
Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
The old Cadillac rocked a bit as it pulled into the dirt drive, wobbling over the pebbles scattered on the uneven ground. It followed the long path, past the towering metal gate, and through the curve that led to a shaded car park. Brakes squeaked as the car came to a stop, as if in warning — but the passengers didn't know to be afraid.
First out of the car was Johnny Rose, who happened to be the newest owner of the imposing mansion looming before him. Hill House was just one of several dozen properties with his name on the deed. He'd made quite the career for himself in real estate; Forbes even went so far as to call him a mogul when they'd featured him the previous year… not that he found any and all opportunities to bring that up in conversation.
He did like to brag that the Rose empire was one of the world's most popular luxury hotel brands — often mentioned in the same breath as Ritz Carlton, Waldorf, or the Four Seasons… but not even Johnny Rose had ever owned anything like Hill House.
Hill House — a house of such magnitude, it needed a name — sprawled over 9,000 square feet on an entire acre of otherwise empty property. With neat bricks stacked for three stories, it reared up into the sky and cast a shadow over the Rose family — one they didn't know to read as foreboding. As they pulled suitcases from the car and ushered moving vans to the front of the drive, the menacing visage watched their every move…
Someone might hear all of this and think, “But it was a house, not a person,” because that’s what any reasonable person would say.
However, things like reason and fairness ceased to exist within the gates of Hill House, along with hope and kindness. Perhaps it hadn't always been that way, but the house itself had become inseparable from the ghosts that haunted it. Evil itself lived in the walls.
And the Rose family was poised to step right into its mouth.
“This place is hu-uge!”
The backseat door slammed, and Alexis Rose stood next to her father, clutching a blue teddy bear in her hands.
“This isn’t a house,” she said, rocking on her feet. “It’s a castle.”
Behind her came a scoff — the particularly bitter kind that could only come from the lips of a moody ten-year-old. “Nope,” came next. “It’s just a really big house.”
David’s feet crunched against the gravel a little harder than necessary, and Johnny turned to see his son standing with his arms folded over his chest — though that was his default pose at this point. David had made it very clear that he was not happy about their summer getaway, nor… happy about much of anything at all lately.
“I still don’t know why I can’t have my own room,” he grumbled. “There’s, like, a bazillion rooms here.”
Johnny sighed. “Bazillion isn’t a word, son.”
Their nanny — a young woman named Adelina — came around from behind the car with a suitcase in hand. The Rose family had employed her since David was an infant and, while neither Johnny nor Moira would willingly admit it, she might've been more bonded to the children than they were.
See, Johnny was often traveling, and Moira flew between L.A. and Vancouver for filming so regularly… Let’s just say they weren't the most present parents. It didn't help that their bedrooms back home were in entirely different wings, nor that Rose Manor was so large they could easily go days without so much as passing each other in the hallway, even when they were all at home…
Adelina saw them every day, and she had a natural caretaking instinct that Moira and Johnny simply didn't have. The kids listened to Adelina. Respected her. Loved her, even.
Of course, the Roses loved each other too, but it was the kind of love that wasn't really detectable — not even amongst themselves — which was part of the problem. It buzzed in the background like radio static, easy to tune out, but it was there. It could be tuned, if anyone bothered to try. So, it's no coincidence the kids would grow up to feel just as unacknowledged. Their love for Adelina (and her love for them), on the other hand, was a melody they knew by heart: steady and dependable.
“Mijo, you and Alexis need to stick together,” she said. “Other people will come and go, but you two will always be family. Don’t take that for granted.”
Alexis poked her brother’s arm. “Yeah, David, don’t take me for granite.”
“She said granted, dummy,” David said. “Granite is, like, a rock or something.”
“Da-aa-d, tell David to stop being mean to me!”
Johnny didn't look away from the bag he was lifting from the trunk. “No name-calling, David,” he said.
“Well, if she wouldn’t say such du—”
“—That’s enough.” Their father released a sigh as he slammed the trunk closed. “Why don’t you let Adelina show you the room we set aside for you kids, huh?”
David rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
The younger Rose was much less apathetic, however. She took off like a shot, running up the porch steps like her life depended on it. “I pick my bed first!” she chirped.
David chased after her. “Nuh-uh, I’m oldest!”
“And I’m the cutest!”
Johnny and Adelina exchanged a glance before she patted his shoulder and followed the bickering children with a click of her tongue. Johnny watched as she led them into the house.
“No running, please!” he called after them.
(Someday, when Johnny Rose looks back on this day, he’ll wish that he’d told his kids to run — far away from Hill House and the horrors within it.)
For the moment, he turned his attention back to the movers, who were pulling furniture and boxes from the several UHaul trucks parked in the drive. While Johnny hadn’t done manual labor in many, many years, he was excellent at delegating. He gave tasks to his employees, assigned things like cleaning, cooking, and unpacking to home staff… Hell, he delegated his parenting, even (to Adelina)… though he’d never put it that way. It was what made him such a successful businessman, after all.
“John, dearest,”—he was interrupted by his wife’s distinct timbre—“Will you bring my cases up to our bed-chamber? The girls shouldn’t be exposed to this heat.”
‘The girls’ that Moira refers to were her wigs, of course, not additional children — heaven and hell forbid. The Roses could hardly handle the kids they did have… emotionally, anyway.
(Financially, they could probably sustain an entire orphanage.)
Moira just wouldn't travel without at least a week’s worth of options, lest she ran out and wore the same hairstyle twice in seven days. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with her natural hair; it was perfectly fine (if maybe a little stringy). One style just wasn't enough for a larger-than-life woman like Moira Rose. And, if loving his children was radio static, Johnny’s love for his wife was the air itself: essential, ever-present, and enveloping. Despite their differences (of which there were many), Moira loved him just the same.
So, he smiled fondly. “Of course, sweetheart.”
Inside, Hill House was all dark wood and detailed carving, punctuated with a large staircase in the very center of the foyer. It met a landing about halfway to the second floor, then split into two separate stairwells that birthed their own hallways in either direction. Above them, a wide landing overlooked the entryway.
Here on the first floor, Johnny could see a small conservatory behind the stairwell and long hallways on either side. Already, he could envision the front desk, bellhop carts, a sitting room… All of it. He could already feel the eyes of their future guests on him from the moment they walked through the doors.
“Oh, Mr. Rose, you’re here.” A disembodied voice got his attention, and he watched as a young woman rounded the corner into view. She was relatively tall, with mousy brown hair and ripped jeans — that is, jeans that had ripped, not jeans that were manufactured with rips. “I’m Maureen. We spoke on the phone?”
Johnny set the boxes down and met her halfway, extending his hand. Maureen Budd was the woman he’d hired to manage the hotel, both during its renovation and once it opened. From what Johnny gathered over the phone, she and a small group had already started some basic repairs and painting.
“Of course,” he said. “It’s, ah, great to meet you in person. This is my wife, Moira.”
They made brief small talk, and Maureen told the Roses — her new employers — about the progress she and the construction team had made. Walking them through the house, she also casually mentioned a niece, Stevie, who was nine. Apparently, she'd come by on occasion, and both Moira and Johnny were pleased to know David had someone around his age to spend time with — maybe a friend was what he needed.
However, Maureen decidedly did not tell him that she and Stevie would always leave promptly at five-o-clock, never within even a mile of Hill House after dark.
Schitt’s Creek, Ontario
When they walk inside, David sees a young woman sitting at the front desk, hunched over a bit and very concentrated on whatever she's doing on her computer (just in a side-long glance, David is pretty sure it's Sudoku). When she turns, though, David is met with a familiar pair of dark brown eyes. The hair framing her face is longer than it'd been when they were kids, and she's tragically taken after her aunt when it comes to the flannel, but… it's unmistakably Stevie Budd.
Every once in a while, when his subconscious is feeling kind, the young Stevie from his memories will show up in a nightmare just to pull him out. Always to pull him out.
And here she is.
He should ask her what the fuck she's still doing here, but he's too relieved to care at this particular moment. He's suddenly grateful that the single good thing about this place is here.
Except, then she tilts her head and says, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
It stings. It really stings, actually, until a little smirk tugs at her lips.
“You kind of remind me of this friend I used to have,” she says, “but he disappeared a long time ago. See, he told me that he would write—”
“—but he didn’t," she continues. "Now that guy… he'd really have to do something pretty big to convince me not to hate him. But. I'm pretty sure he must be dead or something.”
Alexis makes a tutting sound, reminding David of her presence. "Sounds like that guy's a real dick, Stevie."
"I'm confused," Moira says. "Do you know this young woman?"
David starts to answer, but Johnny's brain seems to buffer because he blurts, "Stevie!" His arms fly out in front of him. "Right, yes, of course. You're Maureen's niece. You and David were actually quite close." Buffering, buffering… "Oh." There it is.
Johnny clears his throat. "Where is your aunt, by the way? We'd love to say hello."
Stevie looks uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rose, but she, um. Died. Two years ago."
Johnny says the more diplomatic version of that: "I'm so sorry to hear that, Stevie." He sounds genuinely mournful, which surprises David a bit. Stevie looks surprised too.
"Yeah, she… left me her job at the hotel—"
David startles. "And you took it?" Alexis pinches his arm, which gets a loud, flinching, "Ow!"
"She wanted it to stay in the family." Stevie shrugs.
David wants to push it — why would she stay here willingly? — but Moira speaks first.
"Well, that is very admirable of you, Stevie. One's family legacy is very important."
Johnny nods. "Very admirable," he agrees. "Well, I'm glad this hotel has been in… what I'm sure are, um, very capable hands."
Visibly uncomfortable with the attention, Stevie turns back to her computer and starts typing without another word, then swivels around on her chair to grab two sets of keys from the wall.
"Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Rose," she says pleasantly, handing one set to Johnny, "you'll be in one of the master suites on the second floor, up the stairs to the left. Follow the hall down."
"Alexis," she says next, and David seethes as his sister grins in delight. "You and... your brother will be in your old room — it's the second room on the right."
Alexis takes the keys, then reaches over the desk to tap Stevie on the nose. "Thank you so much, Stevie," she chirps as the brunette scrunches up her face. "It's, like, so good to see you. You're super pretty now, bee-tee-dubs — you know, in a down-to-earth, non-threatening sort of way."
"...Thanks?" She looks over at David, but her eyes dart right back to Alexis as if she suddenly remembered she's too mad at him to commiserate. David rolls his eyes.
"Um, I'm going to bring these upstairs now," he says, gesturing to his suitcases, "but I'll, um. Yeah. I will… be right back."
Stevie smirks. "Sure, I have no reason to doubt that."
He sees Alexis bounce a bit in the corner of his eye. "Ooh, burn, David."
"Fall off the balcony, Alexis."
* * *
"Stevie's, like, suuuper mad at you."
After clunking his three suitcases up the stairs (with zero help, just Stevie's amused gaze), David is breathing heavily as he unlocks the door to their bedroom. Meanwhile, Alexis has barely broken a sweat with one duffle over her shoulder and a single suitcase dragging behind her; a second duffle strap is looped over the handle.
"And you should really get some cardio in more often. You look, like, faint."
David grits his teeth as Alexis brushes past him into the room, and he trips over himself to get himself and his luggage through the door. Immediately, Alexis drops her suitcase onto the bed furthest from him, but David shakes his head.
“Mmkay, I’m going to need that bed,” he says.
The blonde blinks. “Why?”
“Because I need it.”
“Why?” she repeats.
David takes a deep breath. “Well, first of all, it was my bed when we were kids,” he replies. “Also, if one of those ghosts were to break in here in the middle of the night wanting to murder us, they would attack that bed first. So I need this bed.”
Alexis’s jaw goes slack as she gapes at him. “Oh my god. So, you’re saying that you want me to get murdered first? In front of you?” She waves her arm, bangles clinking at her wrist. “And then what would you do? Would you just run away and leave me to bleed out... On the floor?”
“Uh,” David says, cringing. “Sort of, that was the plan, yeah.”
Of course, that is not the plan and would never be the plan. David remembers dragging Alexis across the hall when they were in danger as children, and he wouldn’t do things any differently now… but he’s obviously not going to say that.
“Kay, well, you can have the bed when I leave,” she says, sitting on his bed.
Now it’s David’s turn to balk. “Wait, where the fuck are you going?”
“Stavros is flying in to get me,” she says, absently typing on her phone. “I told you that.”
David drops his hands to his hips. “Mmkay, one: no, you did not tell me that. And two… What? When? When is he doing that?”
“Like, whenever stupid Mary-Kate stops hogging his plane.”
David chokes on a humorless laugh — of course. Of course, Stavros is coming to get her, and of course, she’s leaving them behind. Good to know that she’s the same selfish, self-centered Alexis she’s always been. If anyone's going to leave anyone bleeding to death on the floor, it's her.
“What kind of sociopath,”—he gestures somewhat wildly—“abandons her family in some ghost-infested hell house to gallivant around the world with her dumb, shipping heir, loser boyfriend that she’s only known for three months?”
Alexis looks up from her phone. “Um, David, it will be four months next month.”
“Oh my God!”
“And,” she says, “he just told me that he could potentially see himself considering saying ‘I love you' at some point sometime soon, so...”
David covers his face with his hands. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” he groans. “I’m telling mom. I’m telling mom and dad, have you told them?”
“No!” Alexis all-but-shrieks. She jumps to her feet. “No, David, I’m waiting for the right opportunity, okay? Otherwise, dad’s gonna cry, and mom’s gonna do that thing where she pretends nothing’s wrong but then doesn’t talk to me for five months. And I don’t want that.”
Ah, yes. Nothing like their unhealthy family dynamic to guilt David into compliance.
Not this time.
“Well, I need this bed,” David says coldly. He takes a deep breath. “I need it, so.”
“You need it? Really?" Alexis pushes her suitcase further onto his bed. “You know what, David? You get murdered first for once!”
For once? Is he not the one this house has tormented for the last two decades?
“No,” David’s voice is stern as he crosses into her space; he lifts her suitcase and drops it roughly onto the other bed. “You get murdered first.”
Alexis groans. “David,” She stomps over to grab her suitcase again, then practically throws it onto the second bed. “You get murdered first!”
“No, you!” he yells, lunging to take it back. “You do it! You get murdered first.”
“OhmygodDavid!” Alexis mashes it into one word. “What does it matter if you think ghosts are gonna get us? What ghost uses a door, hmm? Maybe he comes right through that wall and smothers you in your sleep first, anyway.”
Frankly, it sickens him. David grabs onto the footboard closest to him and pulls a long breath through his nose. Exhale — 1, 2, 3, 4.
“You know what?” he says when he’s calm enough to. “Fuck you, Alexis.”
For perhaps the first time, he walks away first.
New York City, New York
There's something about holding a paintbrush that makes David Rose feel powerful.
He'd always liked feeling in control — more than liked, really. David liked designer sweaters. He liked bagels, and pizza, and wine, and any dessert that uses the words "molten" and "chocolate" as descriptors. But David needed control in the same way he needed food, and water, and sleep. That is, he thrived best when he had a lot of it, and there was a minimum amount that he needed even to function.
Maybe that's why he'd struggled so much with the serenity prayer. It'd been repeated in so many meetings and written on so many motivational posters that he could recite it in his sleep:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Accepting things he cannot change? Courage? Wisdom?
Literally none of those were his forte.
With a paintbrush in his hand, though… David was in complete control. He could take something empty and fill it with color. He could sketch something from memory in charcoal or pencil and breathe life into things that otherwise only existed in his mind. Sometimes, he pretended the emptiness of the canvas was his own, as he filled the liminal space with broad strokes of color — or, more often, monochrome. He created his own reality. And, sure, people could interpret it however they liked, but they did see it. They saw him, in a sense... but only what he allowed them to see.
His mother told him once, "When you're little, you learn how to see things that aren't there. And when you grow up, you learn how to make them real."
Maybe that's all art was — everyone scrambling to bring their monsters into the light.
Ugh, okay. That got too deep for eleven in the morning.
Shaking it off, David nudged his palette over, and a headline jumped out from the layer of newspaper protecting the table:
Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Rose Gallery Debuts Powerful New Exhibit
So much for feeling powerful... David dipped his brush into the glob of black paint and smeared it across the header with a scowl. It was a great review (he'd read it), but it was hard to be happy about a success that had been pre-arranged — a.k.a., bought — for him. Or not even for him, but for the name above the door. Regardless, David should've been grateful that the gallery was open at all, and he was on some level.
The thought of it closing, of proving everyone right when they'd said he was nothing but a socialite living off his parents' money and could never make something of his own…
He didn't need to add that to his multi-page tag on TMZ.
Perez and the gang had been slamming him for his 'partying,' drugs, and public intoxication since he was, like, eighteen or something. More recently, they'd gotten their hands on some pictures David hadn't known about — and let's just say that whatever hadn't already been laid bare at the public's feet for either entertainment value or a cautionary tale… It was out there now.
It'd just gotten out of control, you know?
Because Rose Gallery had been a dream come true when he’d opened it several years ago. At the time, David had been sober for two years (the longest he'd ever been clean since he was sixteen), and even Alexis showed up to the unveiling. Sure, she’d had a lot of unsolicited opinions for someone who had no idea what she was talking about, and that’d been irritating, but she’d shown up, and he’d die before he admitted how much it’d meant to him.
And, at the time, the gallery had been thoroughly primed for success, in the perfect location, and with the Rose name proudly displayed in red lettering. He’d even gotten the illustrious Sebastien Raine to contribute several photos to one of the gallery’s earliest shows.
That’d turned out to be a huge mistake and the first tip of the wagon, so to speak.
His sobriety had survived the heartbreak when the 'Illustrious' Sebastien Raine had been too much of an ‘artistic spirit’ for monogamy (or photographic consent laws... or consent in general). But it'd crumbled under the nightmares that followed. Suddenly, a ghost that hadn't visited him in years watched from the corner of his bedroom or the other side of the street.
Much, much later, his therapist would blame it on stress… but that wouldn't happen until after David went on a bender that could’ve impressed a young Robert Downey Jr. He would've totally tanked the gallery if his parents hadn’t stepped in and 1) found someone to run the place while he spiraled, and 2) replaced the funds he’d started siphoning to sustain his habit.
They'd paid to keep the gallery afloat and for his extended rehab program. They paid for his penthouse now, for his credit cards, and they continued to pay patrons to show up for the sake of the gallery’s reputation — though, he wasn't convinced that wasn't strictly because it was their name above the door too. Johnny and Moira Rose couldn't have the failure of their dramatic, “hysterical” mess of a son stain the Rose name in the business world. He’d done enough of that in his personal life, might as well have maintained the illusion that his professional life was a success, right?
It’s what they’d always done; the eldest Roses seemed to think they could fix him from their side of the globe if they threw enough money in his general direction.
David only realized he'd been absently painting back and forth over the headline when his phone rang and snapped him out of the trance. He dropped the brush like it'd bit him before digging his phone out of the pocket of his painting apron: it was Shannon, the receptionist at the gallery.
How he'd managed to get an application from a brilliant student at NYU's veterinary program was beyond him, but, apparently, people who loved animals could also love art, and they might've even sought out a part-time gallery job to help get them through school. Who knew?
"Shannon," he said, after swiping to unlock his phone with the knuckle of his index finger. "Hey, what's up? If that asshole is asking about that sculpture piece again—"
"—No! No, I told you I had that covered," she said. "It's, um. The department of revenue, actually? I think you should get over here. They've got a warrant to seize, uh... everything."
David stared at his phone for entirely too long.
Was that a good idea?
It didn't happen often, but… he really, really hated when Alexis was right. Not a single one of his "friends" would be NA-approved. Not one.
They also say you shouldn't make any "significant life changes" in your first year… and, fuck, he wasn't really sure which was more significant: becoming homeless or going back to the haunted house that had literally drove him to drugs in the first place .
Okay, no. Dr. Lee would make him rephrase that.
Hill House hadn't made him do anything. It'd caused significant trauma that'd led him to make many poor decisions, which had led him to addiction. He owned that now.
The point kinda still stood, though.
His phone buzzed again.
He sighed. Alexis was… let's say, 'more attentive' since seeing David in rehab — which, by the way, had been a total coincidence, not a deliberate visit on her part.
Stavros had apparently been in the same program, and she'd shown up to see him. The resort-like facility that the Roses paid for was big enough that David never had to see him, thank god, but… Alexis had stood in the back when he'd gotten his 90-day chip, and that was more than David could say for their parents, even though her being there had been nothing more than a happy accident. And, regardless, it was obvious she was worried about him now. Worried enough to say 'please.'
He groaned and typed out a reply.
At the end of the day, she was right. What choice did he really have?
It might've been different if he'd actually cultivated some real friends… but David's ideal friend had been as simple as 'someone hot, cool enough to be seen with at a club, and has (or knows someone who has) a connect.' They weren't a supportive bunch, and they expected nothing from him except to pick up the check. (David used to think it was a symbiotic relationship; it turns out he'd been covered in parasites.)
Ironically, he was pretty sure the last time he'd made a real friend was when he'd lived at Hill House, but… Stevie wouldn't still be there. She'd been intelligent, brave, and David had no doubt she was drop-dead gorgeous by now.
No way she'd still be in that hell hole.
Schitt's Creek, Ontario
Over the first couple of days, David learned one crucial lesson about Hill House:
It was a different place in the daylight.
During the day, sunlight streamed through the big picture windows, and it seemed… normal. When you held it up to the light, it was easy to see the beauty in the old place. That’s because Hill House was an angler fish; as long as its prey kept its eyes on the light, they wouldn't see the sharp teeth lurking in the shadows.
Even David could be distracted by the glow. He was especially drawn to the ‘movie room’ (or so he called it). So much so, it had become his favorite in the house.
A plain, white screen dropped from the ceiling against the furthest wall, light shining onto it from a projector across the room. It was connected to an old-fashioned film reel and a small library of tapes along the back. It was almost odd how perfect this room was for him, but he wouldn't complain about having one space he felt safe. Thanks to his mom, he’d always had a soft spot for the classics. David also loved having a place that he could keep to himself…
Well, most of the time.
Today, Stevie followed David's heels as they headed to the movie room. She was carrying a comically large bowl of popcorn and kicked the door shut behind her.
Because, as the Roses and Maureen had hoped, David and Stevie had been spending a lot of time together.
They grew very attached to each other, very quickly, in fact, which made perfect sense to anyone who watched them for more than a few minutes. They were too young to know it, but David and Stevie were kindred spirits, cut from the same cloth, and their guardians might've been more concerned about their matching attitudes if it weren’t for the fact that both David and Stevie were smiling more than their parents (and aunt) had ever seen.
David didn't think about that as he set up Singing in the Rain, then plopped down on one of the couches, popcorn resting between them.
“Do you ever… see things?" he asks. "When you’re over here?”
David dug through the bowl of popcorn for a handful, trying to be nonchalant.
Stevie furrowed her brow. “See what?”
“I dunno,” he replied, although he did know. “Stuff. Stuff nobody else sees.”
“Oh, you mean like the ghosts?”
David looked up, and Stevie looked back with a completely calm, unruffled look on her face. Though, unruffled was a reasonably good word to describe Stevie in general. Despite having grown up in a broken, supremely fucked up home — or perhaps because she grew up in such a broken, supremely fucked up home — it took a lot to ruffle her feathers.
But she had yet to see Hill House in the dark.
David perked up, though. “You’ve seen them?” he asked.
“No,” she shook her head. “Not me. My mom did.”
Stevie nodded. “She used to work here,” she said. “Gave her the creeps.”
David hummed, tossing a piece of popcorn into his mouth. “Gives me the creeps too,” he admitted. “I hate it here.”
Stevie promptly threw a piece of popcorn at his face.
“Gee, thanks,” she snarked, and David laughed.
“Except you, Stevie,” he said. “You’re not so bad.”
She clutched her heart in faux surprise, trying to look as emotionally touched as a ten-year-old was capable of.
“That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me.”
David didn't know — maybe Stevie didn't even know — how close to true that was.
Schitt's Creek, Ontario
David takes a moment to compose himself before he starts down the stairs. Seeing him approach, Stevie smirks and props her feet up on the desk.
“So,” she says. “Convince me not to hate you.”
“You were serious about that?”
Stevie blinks 'innocently.' “I’m always serious, David.”
He tilts his head back, staring at the ceiling as he takes a deep breath. “Look,” he tries, turning back to her. “I… am… sorry… that I didn’t keep in touch. I… was a kid, and I was, um, traumatized, and I just never wanted to think about this place again, which… didn’t even work, anyway, so…” He sighs. “You… were... the only thing that... made this house bearable, and I…” His voice quiets. “I really need you to not hate me right now.”
Stevie looks at him, her face completely unreadable. It’s so blank that it makes him uncomfortable, and he starts picking at his cuticles. Because this is going to be hell. Being here is going to be hell if she’s going to be like this, and—
Suddenly, she cracks an easy smile and sets her feet back down on the floor.
“Okay,” she says, suddenly so cavalier.
David’s brows pull together. “I.. Um..” he stammers. “Wait, okay? Just like that?”
“Yeah, I get it.” She hops up to her feet. “I just wanted to see you beg.”
“I—Oh.” Well, fuck.
“I've also heard that your life really sucked without me, so.”
David pulls his lips into his mouth. “Wow, I forgot how much I hate you.”
“Oh, I think we’ve established that’s not true,” she says, a glint of mischief in her eyes. “What was it that you just said? I was the only good thing in your life?”
David squints. “I don’t think that’s what I said.”
“I think it is.”
David tries so fucking hard to fight the smile threatening to break across his face, so he tucks it off to the side as if Stevie won't notice it over there.
“Fine,” he says. “You… might’ve made it a little... more than bearable.”
She nods, lips still curved in entirely too much enjoyment for David's comfort. “C’mere,” She says, walking around the desk. “I’ve got something to show you.”
David raises a brow. “Don’t you need to watch the—” Stevie rolls her eyes at this and turns, walking off in the direction of the stairs. “Oh,” David says, “Oh-okay.”
He knows where they’re going as soon as they turn left on the second floor. They have to pause as Stevie pulls a key out of her pocket and unlocks it, but then they’re standing in the movie room — and it's exactly how they’d left it.
“H-how?” He asks. “You didn’t… turn this into a bedroom or something?”
Stevie shakes her head. “Nah. I asked Maureen to keep it after you guys left, and she told everyone not to touch it, so they didn't.” She shrugs. “Now, I’m the only one with the key.”
"I can't believe you kept it," he says, looking around.
He catches her rolling her eyes. "Okay, don't get sappy about it," she tells him, plopping back on one of the cozy couches.
"I'm not getting sappy!"
"Okay good, because… I really just kept it so I'd have somewhere cool to bring guys in high school."
David whirls. "Wait, you brought your little boyfriends into my room?"
That makes him feel… something. It swirls around his chest — whatever it is — strongly enough to be uncomfortable. And he's not jealous. David can't be jealous because they were literally kids when he left… but he feels… fuck, he feels something, thinking about Stevie bringing people into his space. David thinks about what it'd be like if he'd kept in touch. Would that have been them sneaking off to the movie room in high school?
Except, then Stevie laughs at him.
She laughs, and David realizes she's messing with him again.
"No," she says, waving her hand. "Fuck no. I wasn't bringing anyone to Hill House. Are you kidding me?"
He disguises his relief with a scoff. "Okay…"
He's not sure if Stevie buys it. If she doesn't, she shows him mercy by not pushing it.
"I got new movies for the reel," she says instead. "I found some really old horror movies — the original Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Blob… the classics."
David gives her a look. "Okay, well, we won't be watching any of that," he says with chagrin. He almost feels nostalgic as he picks up Singin' in the Rain and loads it into the projector. "This is a classic, Stevie. It needs to have 'class' to be a 'classic.'"
"Ugh, said like such a former rich dude."
He groans. "Don't remind me."
When he walks around to the front of the couch again, Stevie is sprawled across it, taking up the whole damn thing.
"Scoot over," he says.
Instead of getting up, Stevie lifts her legs juuust high enough in the air that David can sit, then drops them into his lap once he's settled. It's like he's ten years old again, sitting in this exact position — in the only part of this place that ever felt like home.
David doesn't start walking back to his room until close to midnight.
Stevie left hours ago (at five, that rule hasn't changed), but he'd stayed behind in the movie room for as long as he could, just to avoid his sister.
As soon as he reaches the landing, however, he hears something he doesn't expect.
David looks up to see his mother wandering the hall in her lengthy, silk robe. She looks particularly unhinged like this: flowing robe, bare feet, lips moving imperceptibly as she mutters to herself. Based on the slow way she's moving, he'd think she was sleep-walking if he didn't know better — but David does know better. As a matter of fact, he's pretty sure he knows Hill House better than any of them (except maybe Stevie).
He's never told anyone, but he thinks that they — he and the house, that is — have a connection. He thinks it's been there since he was a kid. Because he's always seen the house for what it is. He sees its teeth in the dark. The thing is, the house sees him too. From that very first night, it's learned his fears, his desires… He knows it sounds impossible, but he's always felt like the spirit of the house (or the spirits in the house) somehow followed him back to Vancouver, then New York. David's never been able to shake it because… Well, those teeth he mentioned? They'd sunk into his neck and never let go.
They'd gotten to his mother too, but she'd never opened her eyes enough to look back. Seeing her fall into the same trap… Something in David's brain screams at him to get out. He could run to Stevie's, beg to sleep on her couch until he figures himself out — fuck it. Alexis is running off with Stavros, anyway. If she can do it, why can't he?
After all, how often have they really been there for him — other than shoving money into his hand (or, indirectly, his bloodstream)? Where were his parents when he was a teenager stealing his mother's pills, or when Alexis traveled around the world, getting into god knows what with god knows who? Where were they when he was drowning? Where were they when Alexis was literally kidnapped? What does he owe them?
David takes a breath. The truth is, he doesn't owe them anything.
But none of that could actually convince him to walk out that door. His family may be inconsiderate and selfish, and they may have missed a million signs, but he genuinely doesn't believe that they'd knowingly walk out on him. If they knew what he did — if they'd just fucking believe what he was telling them about this house — they'd have his back. He has to believe that. And, honestly, even if it weren't true… he's not half as good at abandoning people as he is getting abandoned.
So, he doesn't run. He crosses the hall to his mother.
"Hey," he says, grabbing her upper arms before she wanders too close to the stairs. He carefully spins her around. "Mom, look at me."
This jolts her, and she jumps as if being snapped out of hypnosis. "David?" she says. "What are you doing in our suite?"
"Noo-ope, definitely not in your suite," he tells her, sighing as she looks around in confusion. "C'mon. It's back here."
Gently, he starts to lead her down the corridor. Moira seems somewhat reluctant, still a little dazed, but she follows along.
"I am having the strangest dream," she says.
And, all at once, David understands: "You really think you're dreaming."
"Of course I'm dreaming, darling," she replies like it's obvious.
All of these years, he's wondered why she doesn't carry the same memories of this place that he did. How could she, out of all people, not understand him? He'd just assumed it was denial or too many sleeping pills… but it's neither and both of those things, isn't it? That's the catch. It's never been real for her. The horrors of Hill House are neatly packed into a series of bad dreams.
David doesn't have the heart to wake her up.
"Right, yeah," he says with a sigh. "You'll wake up in the morning, and it'll… be fine."
When they're halfway to the suite, Johnny stumbles out the bedroom door, looking concerned... until he spots them. David nods at him, still steering Moira down the hall.
"Sweetheart, there you are," Johnny says. "And… David?"
David gently nudges his mother into his hands. "I believe this belongs to you."
"Don't worry, dear," Moira says, patting her husband's cheek. "It's just a nightmare, that's all. Just a screaming meemie. Everything will be right in the morning." She squeezes David's arm. "Goodnight, my darling."
If anyone asks, he will vehemently deny it, but… his heart clenches just a little as his mother turns and slips through the open door of her suite.
"Sleepwalking again, huh?" Johnny says. "Haven't seen her do that since..."
David gives him a look. "Since we were here?" he says, barely succeeding at keeping his voice low as it lilts. "Gee. I wonder what the common denominator could be."
Johnny sighs. "Not this again, David — I thought we were past this." He looks to make sure Moira isn't wandering back out. "What would your therapist say?"
"Oh, we're doing this?" he asks, taking a deep breath through his nose. "My therapist would probably say to get the fuck out of the creepy house because she actually listens to me," he snaps. "And I doubt she'd deny what's right in front of her face."
Dr. Lee treated his ghosts as a metaphor, that's true, but… he's pretty fucking sure she'd run for the hills — no pun intended — if she saw this place. But his father recoils like he'd slapped him.
"Son," he starts, but David holds up his hands.
"Look, just keep a better eye on mom this time, okay? I don't care if you have to put a bell on her neck. She can't…" He shakes out his hands, at a loss for words. For as much as he wants to say he doesn't give a shit, the sight of his mother so close to the edge of those stairs really shook something loose inside him. "Just watch her."
He knew it the moment they got here, but he's even more sure about it now. He needs to get them the fuck out of this hotel. Preferably before it kills someone.
David slips into their bedroom quietly, careful not to wake his sister — not out of concern for her, obviously, but because he doesn’t think he can take another fight today. As it is, he’s already planning to find a meeting somewhere in town tomorrow.
There have got to be plenty of alcoholics and drug addicts in a place like Schitt's Creek, right? Who (other than a recovering addict) can stand living here completely sober?
David walks straight to their small bathroom to go through the soothing motions of his skincare routine, so he doesn’t notice until he walks back out:
Alexis is fast asleep in the bed closest to the door, and there's a small note on his pillow.
NO ONE is getting murdered.
P.S. Stavros isn't coming.