Cuzco in an ancient city and so has its share of ghosts and unusual goings on that make for wonderful stories. As a result it has many buildings that are haunted, but there is one house in particular that is simply called “the haunted house” (la casa embrujada.)
Not an ancient house, where Incas and dangerous vapor live below ground, nor one with Spaniards, shields, and swords, this house looks like something from the time Queen Victoria’s minions built a commercial Empire that even made its way to Cuzco with the train tracks.
Made of brick, with three stories above and a requisite attic and gabled roof, this home suggests so many from film where the drama of Queen Victoria’s style and ghosts go together like hand and glove.
It stands empty and peeled, stucco falling like rotting bandages from a movie mummy, window glass long gone, a relatively young skeleton in a city where the ancient go fully clothed and protected by law.
A taxi driver said the house is stuck in litigation among the siblings who inherited it. None of them supposedly wants any of the others to have it and succeed in restoring it or selling it. Instead it decays, day by day, a testament to families that do not get along and annually feed the house that is a family’s shrine.
People say the souls of the troubled dead frequent the house. One can often hear crying and screams of pain coming from it, they say. One cannot tell if the souls are male or female because in their pain they sound the same.
Rising from an important street that at night sees little traffic, the haunted house reminds people of all the stories of condenados, those souls who for one reason or another, sin or desire, cannot leave this world and journey to the next. They are stuck and simply suffer, naked pain at night without the mitigation of life and sharing with others.
Condenados are an old theme in the Andes and over chicha with friends or at night in homes people tell stories of their own encounters with almas, souls, and condenados. They people the city on the flipside of its life, visible and audible in moments of in between. If nothing else they keep discipline by warning people of how life should be and how they should act.
Not only the souls of the troubled dead who won’t completely die haunt the house, by night young people who by day flit through the city’s streets and do not or cannot go home, come to this haunted shell.
Because adults fear the house and its ghosts, young people can go there and be alone; they can party without fear of grownups or discipline. It is a place beyond the norm, a wild zone in the city, where youth outside the norm can go to play, or simply to be and sleep.
Like outlaw places in other cities, such as the squats of European and some North American cities where anarchism thrives, it has become a hidden and living museum of graffiti.
Though the floor has filled with rotted wood from above and trash from its nightly host, still there are beams and enough intact planks to make it a multileveled place, with many corners, for the alienated young to live, party, and spray.
Every room and every wall is covered in paint, from simply scrawled claims to being to more elaborate compositions.
Just a few blocks from Cuzco’s main square, and yet a world apart, Cuzco’s young and old know where the house stands.
It is open and yet closed, locked by fear of the not completely dead and inhabited by the unruly and not completely domesticated young, not in the day when discipline and order prevail, but at night when ancestors can come out to the light of the moon and even cultivate Cuzco’s fields.
It is there, stuck betwixt and between like a portal from which one cannot enter somewhere else or exit where you are.
Here we put photos of it and its walls, but we do not supply an address, deliberately. It does not need daytime traffic to see it and its art, nor nighttime increase in trade. If you know the kids of Cuzco’s streets you might get a nocturnal invite, or by day find your way. But if the trickle became a flood the ghosts would likely depart.
We have chosen to respect its silence by day and cries at night, like something you can only see at the moment when your eyelids close, just before they fully descend, and the world seems different, or like all that lies in the corner of your gaze, fuzzy, imprecise and yet there. We do not disclose its address or location. Yet, it is part of Cuzco too but will not survive moving from the corner of the eye to the center of its sight.