The Dark Room

This Week’s Prompt:  103. Sealed room—or at least no lamp allowed there. Shadow on wall.

The Prior Research:A Lightless Room At Night

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4/20/2017

First day in the new apartment. Man, moving in never really get’s easier—but this should be the last time for a while. It’s a nice spot—I can walk to Uni. but I’m not being priced out too badly. Seems like most people around here have been here for a while. Met the landlord and my roommate—I think it was the landlord anyway. Same last name as on the ad, but he looked a little out of it. Excited to get everything done, but kinda zoned out.

Jim’s nice though. He’s working on some sort of photography masters or something, so he’s got some darkroom set up. Which makes the place a bit more cramped, but its not like I need more than a bed and bathroom at this point anyway. The photos look good though, and he’s been in some gallery’s nearby or something.

So, landed on my feet, got a decent gig starting tomorrow, things are looking up all in all.

The Dark Room

5/07/2017

God my knees are killing me. Three flights, without a working elevator, isn’t too bad but it hits hard after walking a mile a day. I’m sure it’ll level out though, build some strong leg muscles or something. Builds character, right?

Guy at the bagel place knows my name and preference now though, which is…well, a bit nice and a bit awkward. Will make it hard to change things up I think, but hey, its nice to have a somewhat friendly face outside the house. Work’s been a bit of a pain, to be honest, but data entry’s never exciting. I think I’m developing a hunch and staring at a screen all day isn’t helping me get sleep. Eye strains real I guess.

Oh yeah, there was some sort of…rally thing on campus today. Wasn’t clear about what, kinda focused on getting home and it was late, but there was someone taking signatures and stuff outside for volunteer work.  Kinda weird, I’d think college kids had less time than most to volunteer. God knows I didn’t have time to go door to door, but maybe the internet’s made that faster too.

5/13/2017

So I don’t know how to say this. But I think there’s something…weird about this apartment. I was walking home, a bit buzzed, but like. Attentive buzzed. And I think—okay, I did the layout of the apartment, and who has a darkroom facing the outside? That seems…weird. But okay, focus. So I’m walking home, checking every now and then because I’m sure there’s a coyote somewhere around here. And I see—the windows open to the darkroom—there’s a bit of red light peeking out from the curtains. Bright red light, in the middle of the night? Yeah, that got my attention. So I’m squinting at this weird red spot, and I swear something tugged the curtain.

And at first, okay, at first I was like you know what? Maybe there’s some secret to like. Fresh air helping photo’s develop. I don’t know, there’s all sorts of weird stuff in arts schools. Like once people made paint out of mummies—there were enough mummies you had a whole color made out of ground up mummy. I shrugged it off, even if it bugged me for a bit. But then I got up here.

And I had this thought. I’ll go see if Jim can tell me about how fresh air helps photos. He’s smart. And he’s kinda into talking about how photos work, what this and that thing does. I mean, I think he is. So I stumble up three flights of stairs, walk into the room—and its all dark. Whole house has it’s lights off. And I figure, maybe he needs it extra dark.

I knock on the door, and nothing. Nothing from the dark room, except a dim red light on the bottom. Which I shrug off and go back to slump down. But then I start thinking…And I start writing this. What is going on in there? I don’t know maybe it’s just like. A bird got stuck in there or something. But that doesn’t seem right. There aren’t owls here… Maybe a rat or something.

Keep having weird dreams of like…cattle being melted into guts and sausages. Somethings in the house, I think. Must be a rat, there’s this weird clicking tick sound in the walls, keeps waking me up.

Apartment Windows Exterior At Night

5/15/2017

Okay, I finally finally got a hold of Jim about the window thing. Finally. He said that yeah, the curtain gets caught on stuff sometimes, and that was it! That was all he’d say about it, nothing to worry about, but he was developing photos there tonight so fuck off basically. Such a headache.

And if that wasn’t enough, I passed another busted up building today. Cop cars and an ambulance outside. Don’t know if someone shot up the place or what, the glass door was shot up though. I don’t usually see cops that spooked either, and the guys in the ambulance were bringing out some buckets. I don’t think it has anything to do with the curtain, probably. I mean, the window was open when I got home. The curtains were shut tight though. I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking—I mean, nothing really going wrong in that room. Just some twitching curtains and ominous red light—which I think is normal? They have red lights there in the movies all the time.

5/20/2017

I know I’m supposed to be keeping this daily now. It helps keep things focused, right? Like a long anchor, or a memory back up or something. But I’ve been so tired lately, just utterly worn out. There was a weird noise Tuesday, kept waking me up. Not all the way up, but enough to just sort shamble around, meant I got like no sleep Wednesday. Someone’s doing some piping or something, it was this weird sucking sound. Like a drain or a garbage disposal left on. Maybe someone’s making some shitty new electronica or something, I don’t know.

I went into the kitchen, and there wasn’t anything. Then I thought I saw a big spider or something hanging from the ceiling…but that was just the fan. Still. Couldn’t sleep, kept thinking of giant spiders. And course finding a door back lit by red is comforting when your half way to dream land already.

Although I’m pretty sure the cats and coyotes would have gotten one by now. Last two days I’ve seen like…a dozen stray cats. They gave me the stink eye. I mean. More than cats normally do.

Haven’t seen those volunteer folks around uni lately…wonder what happened to them. I chatted with one of the kids that signed up—he said they wanted like, a full time jobs worth. Can’t afford that sort of volunteer work these days. Sounds exhausting, and with my sleep problems, can’t lose any rest.

Red Room Door 2

5/19/2017

Something lives in the room. I saw it. I saw it’s shadow on the curtain walking home. It was raining heavy and hard today, but there was a lighting bolt. A big flash—and I saw it. I saw it, just swaying there. I locked the door to write this. What else is Jim hiding in there? Why do the cats keep staring at me, watching me, all of them are watching me when I walk down the street I can feel it.

I’ve got to see what’s in there, right? I’ve got to see what—it had big wings. Big wings, like that spanned the window, but a fat body I think. Like some sort of owl bat thing. I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to get out of here.

6/11/2017

It found me. I woke up and I couldn’t move all night—and that thing…it only comes out at night. I can’t get a good look—big wings, and a long tongue. It stays in the dark, flicking it’s tongue on my chest or down my throat. When I had energy, I’d grab that fucking tongue, but it’s like it’s made of needles, its worse than a fucking cat.

I’ve tried running away during the day, I’ve tried, but my legs don’t seem to move right. Well, that’s not right. I’m so tired. I’m so tired, I forget it’s there. I just slump home and fall into bed. Sometimes I forget to eat. Jim doesn’t believe me when I remember to tell him—bastard’s probably in with it. He’s making dinner now, he makes most of the food now. I can barely sit up right and write.

I think it’s watching me in the corner. I think I saw the apartment listed again. God.

I’m going to die here.



I like this story. The idea of a dark room, as in one to develop photographs, seemed like an easier approach than the thunder storm. I struggled with how to end it, and I hope it’s not too sudden. If I was going to change anything, I’d try to play in the weirdness of the goings on around town more instead of just offhand messages.

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The Last Will

This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.

The Prior Research:The Testimony of the Dead

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The first two cars arrived for the reading of Mr. Melane’s will at eight o’clock am. The last of the four cars arrived at half past eight. I was obliged, by prior arrangement, to wait until all six surviving members had all the gathered to read the will in full.

“Can’t you just…you know, skip to what’s mine and get it over with?” Mr. Melane’s son, Arthur Melane, said, peaking over the podium.

“I’m afraid not.” I said, shaking my head. I had taken the liberty of reading Mr. Melane’s will ahead of time—at his request, a number of things had been prepared. A pile of envelopes, labeled for each item on the will or collection of items. His own cascket, which lay next to me, his’ feet towards the audience. And a list of photos with names, in case I got confused.

“I just don’t see why we have to wait—listen she’s always late, no need for the rest of us to wait along for her nonse—” Arthur said, his cousin Shelia squirming in her seat a little. And then the eponymous she arrived, Katrina Melane. Not the same hair style as the photo, but the same color and face. And her associate, Mr. Leonard Alphonse. I was fairly certain that Alphonse was a first name, but who am I to ask.

There was grumbling as they sat. The wife of the deceased, Georgia Melane, and the last of the relations Jordy Melane, had stayed silent and upright the entire time. Patient and somewhat cold gazes.

As they took there seats in the chapel. I started to read the will.

Chapel Exterior 1.png

“Dear my remaining family and friends. As you know, during my life I devoted myself to true and honest virtues. A portion of my estate has been set aside already for the furthering of knowledge and understanding among mankind, in the form of donations and contributions to scientific research across Windgift proper—”

There was another small set of grumbles.

“However, I have not forgotten the most timeless and nurturing bonds of kinship—”

There was a suppressed cough, I believe from Katrina.

“And as such have appropriated the remainder of my estate for my relations, with a caveat. As a believer in the value of merit first and foremost, and of the importance of great deeds, I have allocated these to the most worthy—those who have achieved things that are in needing of such reparations. My executor has been given all the evidence I have for my suppositions of who preformed these deeds—however, he has been asked to not hand over the property until the perpetrators stand forward for their own actions.”

More shifting. I peered over them, and steeled my heart.

“A sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was, over the course of three years, misplaced from the family funds. In particular, a considerable amount of scholarship money set aside for Katrina’s art classes and collegiate studies went missing. At the time of its disappearance, I was greatly ill and not able to correct the imbalance. I am sure you all suspect as much. Whoever, however, removed the funds and confesses as such—to you I bequeath the estate on the moor, which I am sure you are all familiar with. The one with the lovely grove of trees.”

“I knew it.” Katrina muttered, frowning. “I knew someone was making off with—oh just give it to mother dearest. I’m sure she knows where it’s all scattered.”

“I didn’t touch those funds and you know it.” Geogria said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

“It isn’t mother’s fault you drank away half your fund.” Jordy cut in, leaning to look at Katrina.

“Do you think I failed my math classes?” Katrina growled, her hands balling into fists. Mr. Alphonese rested his hand on her shoulder.

“A grudge that long ago isn’t worth a house, Kat…” Sophia muttered. “Just fess up and take it.”

“No, no its fine. If she’s so insistent to throw away her father’s last gift, than its fine. Yes, I misplaced the fund. It wasn’t like it was doing much good at university anyway.” Georgia said. I tapped the envelop with the peach grove on it, and cut it open, pouring out the first letter, and nodded slightly.

“Very well. Onto the second matter. As some of you are aware, as my health declined, my esteemed wife Georgia became close to a man by the name Ludwig Birding. Mr. Birding was a charming man, by all accounts, and quite the successful businessman. His import and export operations were growing rather well, and my accountant Roger suggests they will be valued at over a million pounds or more within the year. “

Georgia sharply inhaled. Katrina looked to the aside. Sophia muttered something to Arthur.

Chapel-LudwigPortrait.png

“An exceptional man, who’s life was tragically cut short by his own bottled demons according to a police report filed the 3rd of November. While none of my family drew the knife on the man—certainly, confessing to murder would be improper at a funeral. But who was it that gave him that poisoned cup? To them I leave my associated properties in Windgift, the dozen tenanted houses and associated businesses.”

“Always so long winded, even past the grave.” Arthur sighed and looking over. “Well, that’s two I can’t take. I never met old Lud until his face was plastered over the dining room hall.”

“He was…infuriating.” Katrian muttered. “But that’s just Mother’s taste. I didn’t even think he was pushed off the wagon instead of fell.”

“I thought he was quite kind.” Sophia said, tapping her chin. “He seemed a bit too friendly though.”

Georgia was silent.

“I knew Ludwig took…But still. Pushed off…” She said, tears running down her cheek.

“Well, that is the way of the city sometimes.” Jordy said, giving his mother a comforting hug.

“Pushed off by my own kin though!” She hissed, glaring around. “Which one of you did it? He’d been fighting for years to get off that damned drink. Years!”

“Mother, you knew him scant nine months…”  Katrina said a bit softly. Mr. Alphones stroked his mustache.

“I think I knew Ludwig…he wasn’t too uncommon back in the day…a shame his abstinence didn’t last too long. The man seemed pleasant.”

“Well, that’s all good morning a man dead for half a decade.” Sophia said a bit louder. “But we still don’t know who gets the property.”

“…Jordy.” Georgia said, turning to the youngest of the Melane’s and pushing off his hand. “What’s this about the way of the city?”

“Sometimes charming men fall back on their vices.” Jordy said, shrugging.

“Oh God in heaven Jordy…” Georgia gasped. Katrina clicked her tongue.

“Charming men sometimes fall, hm?” She said. “Sometimes favorites get jealous?”

“Nothing of the sort.” Jordy said, looking down at his feet. “I-I didn’t know he had a problem. I was being…friendly? Hospitable.”

“Oh that’s bull, you hate the drink like a cat hates water.” Arthur said, sitting upright.

“I knew he liked it, I didn’t know he was an alcoholic.” Jordy said. “Perhaps it was for the best then.”

“You killed him…” Georgia muttered, moving a seat.

“I didn’t kill him! I didn’t trust him.” Jordy said, shaking his head. “He was too kind, and I knew he was hiding something. I got him drunk, to let the truth come out—find out whether he was dangerous. To find out if he was taking advantage of you.”

“I am your mother.” Georgia said standing. “Since when do you look out for  me?”

“What about that man in Belgrade! Where did all that money for his charming little business go, mother?” Jordy said, standing up. “Or the dress maker from Paris, who was going to give you a career as a model and muse? Where did all of his funds go?”

A silence hung in the air. I reached over the sarcophagus, and took the letter up, and held it out. Jordy snatched it from my hand.

“At least father appreciates my service.” He muttered.

I took up the final section.

Chapel Interior 1.png

“And the final section of my will and testament, given in my right and aware mind, I allocate to the member of my family that perhaps has preformed the most grievous and influential act upon my livelihood, perhaps barring my death. Two summers before the writing of this will, there was a dispute between two persons in my library, in the summer home on the coast. Neither of you were permitted on the premise at the time, but such things are marginal compared to what happened after. I was informed, that evening, that a fire had broken out in my library—and that several key items to my research, my truth seeking, and my works. To whoever confesses the cause of the fire, I will relinquish the rest of the estate.”

Arthur laughed.

“Of course. That’s what he’s shaking his fist at from beyond the grave. Not murder, not undermining the family name, not affairs…” Arthur gasped for breath. “No. For burning some books of long forgotten lore. Of course.”

“Well who—” Georgia began.

“I did.” Sophia sighed. “Me and Arthur were visiting to find some old books and…and we found some writings from Uncle Melane’s private life.”

“Some writings? Yes, well. We found quiet a few writing, by my memory. Father had gone deep into things that were too deep for me to let stand.”

“It was a bit extreme but we did not expect the fire to spread.” Sophia protested.

“Yes, fine. But we confess to—” Arthur began—until there was a loud scraping sound. A hand, long thin skeletal hand, reached from the sarcophagus, open a jar. It reached up and seized the final envelope. And slowly, to the horror of us gathered, retracted back down into the coffin. And the coffin was sealed shut, the last will of Mr. Melane trapped within.

I wonder if they dared open it later.



This story needs more room, I think. The idea, the conceit of a will dependent on confessions, seems appropriate. But I think peppering it with revealing flashbacks–I’ve heard the movie Knives Out has done something like this–or by expanding the conflicts between the family members some. I think the middle one, with Jordy, is my favorite. I think at the end, the characters aren’t…set up enough for this plot. Not in this version anyway.

Of course, if you like the idea of seeing a revision of this story and others, you can join our Patreon here.

My Father’s House

This Week’s prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.

The Prior Research:Conspiracy!

After the fifth surveyor refused to go down to Elderbir, I just accepted I had to do it. I’d been down there already once this year—my pa insisted in being buried in the cemetery down there, with the rest of the Bulric family. It had been a bit harrowing, a lot of unfamiliar faces among the stones. Mom and I never really came back home. But they all knew me too—apparently my dad was proud of my practice. Talked all about it all the time.

That sort of reception made the first surveyor’s response a bit odd. They said they wouldn’t be able to complete the survey do to unexpected hazards. The next two just wouldn’t go out that far. Fourth sent me a bill for their trouble, and said it wasn’t possible to fully inspect the house without further payments. And number five just came clean with it.

“Yeah, listen, Bobby, listen. We went out there, started doing some measurements and such. And these guys—these guys started poking around. Asking questions. One of them was leaning against a truck, patting a hunting rifle. Another had a hammer—no a mallet, and was talking about some big holes they had dug to find a broken pipe. I’m not saying it was a dangerous situation. But I’m not heading back out there, no way no how.”

Which…okay. To be honest, as I pulled up outside the house, I had to admit. It was an isolated big house, atop a hill, nothing for a good half a mile. Not exactly a welcoming place. The survey info I did have—which was a bit old—said the entire place was on a limestone shelf. Which…well. Not a great place, all things considered.

I ran into Joe while I was going out for my second suitcase trip.

“So, finally moving back in?” Joe said, leaning over the wooden fence. “It’d be nice to have a Bulric back in the neighborhood.”

“For now, for now.” I said, sighing. “Just getting a feel for the place you know? Before I decide anything.”

“Decide anything…you’re not really thinking of selling it, are you? I thought those guys that came down worked for the bank.”

“Well, glad to know you gave them the Elderbir welcome.” I said, lifting the trunk out. “But I figure I’ll give it a try for a bit—I can work from home well enough, take a good hard look at it all you know?”

“C’mon Bob, wasn’t seven years a good enough look.” Joe said, laughing. “Remember that time you snuck into the cupboard and it fell down? Your dad and I had to both lift it all back up again.”

“Twenty years makes it tricky to remember.” I said.  And I was four at the time, Joe.

“You know, if your looking to sell…I think old Mr. Joneson would give a decent price.” Joe said, scratching his head. “Keep it in town you know.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, raising an eyebrow. Mr. Joneson wasn’t exactly known for his generosity—I’d rather not sell to a miser.

HouseLimestone.png

 

The lights and gas and water were all still on—good for this brief habitation, although I wondered where the money was coming from. I hadn’t done the leg work of calling banks about…well. There was a few cable bills and advertisements in the mail. More awkward phone calls.

The wind battered at the window panes, and it was a bit hard to see outside. Most of the area was a field—the limestone around it meant the roots didn’t go too deep. Not great for farming, I understand, and even a brief walk around had found some sink holes and dips.  The entire house seemed to creak and moan under the weight of the storm. It was so bad, I could barely see the fence—and too loud to sleep well. An empty house is already far too loud.

The only thing I could make out that night was a small shape at the edge of the property—looked like a big dog poking at the fence. Too tired to really read, I focused on the shape for a bit as it prodded around. Poor thing was probably looking for shelter. I was sad the thunder scared it off.

 

I met with Mr. Joneson about his offer—about 15k for the whole place, which I politely said I’d consider. I mean, it was better than literally nothing. But a large quaint country house? I figured I could get more. Wasn’t like Mr. Joneson needed another house anyway. He and his owned like half the town even when I was growing up. I could cut down the price for someone needy but, well, he could do better.

Given the rain last night, I thought now was a time to get to know the land better. To walk about and see the newly formed lakes and dips that formed in the field. Not stuff to include when you sell a place, but you never know what you’ll need to know. Before I got far, however, I spotted a weird…color on the hill behind the house.

Not that weird, but…leaning down, it was a dull grey. The dirt had washed away to reveal a smooth gray—cement. I dug a little with my hands. Whatever it was, it was pretty big. I came back with a shovel and started clearing it out. It was a misshapen lump—about eight feet tall at the tallest. Tapping it, there wasn’t anything on the other side. There was a…well, something drawn on the front with faded chalk. I still have no clue what it means.

And well. Something beneath the house? That was something I needed to know more about.

“Doing some home improvement?” Joe asked as I took the heavy tool box out of the garage.

“Yeah, found some old planks that need to replaced.” I said, nodding a bit, and looking towards the cement.  “That and some rocks that need moving—hey, did pa mention anyone else living here? Do any improvements or the like since I left?”

There was something about Joe that had me a bit on edge. Something vaguely menacing about his stops…Maybe it was just this house putting me on edge.

“Not that I remember—I mean, he wasn’t toolsy, you know?” He said, shrugging. “Figure you’d know more than me, you know?”

“Yeah, well, he wasn’t always the quickest to talk about things.” I said, shrugging and heading back around the house. “Chat later, want to get this done while there’s still daylight.”

CaveEntranceHill1

 

It took twenty minutes of hammering—I’m sure someone noticed or heard the cement cracking as I hammered away. It two and a half inches thick, and I didn’t even clear out all of it. Just enough to get in and under, into an old limestone cave.

I remembered this, from when me and mom still lived here. I vaguely remember old caves in the hills, that I thought were full of dragons and treasure. I didn’t remember one beneath the house.

 

Taking a step in, I saw the remains of a wooden scaffold—probably what was used to hold the cement when dad poured it. But why seal up an old cave? I get filling it, I guess. You know, prevent a sink hole from forming right under the house. But this was…not that.

A bit of that childhood wonder took hold of me. Maybe there was treasure down here. Maybe some inheritance that had waited long forgotten. Maybe some old film reels covered in salt or books promising land somewhere far away. Who knows?

So I clicked on the flashlight, and began to go down deep. The tunnel was wide—and carved out in places, to keep it wider. Eventually the curves and almost organic appearance of the cave was chiseled away—and eventually, maybe five minutes of walking down the dark passages, I came across the arch.

The top was hewed from the rock—maybe from some huge broke stalagmite. The sides, though, were heavier and stronger—granite blocks. Carved on them were two great serpents, one uncoiling top to bottom, the other bottom to top. The snakes both ultimately emerged from the Janus like head at the top of the arch—a three-eyed figure, with a third eye between the two faces’ ears.

And from the room came strange smells, of burnt hair and alcohol. Walking through, I found wooden chairs arranged, and broken bottles of wine—mostly pushed or swept to the side. There was…a stone something there. I think. It was…porous to the touch. Felt almost like a big stone sponge…and as I touched it, I felt something sticky stained on it. Red…wine maybe?

Drawing Eyes

There were other tunnels from the big room—other carved arches. Along the walls were drawings in chalk—a few I think were portraits but others were just elaborate fractal shapes. So many looked like eyes…eyes in the great, dark, quiet place. I coughed a little—and heard it echo in all directions, bouncing around. It sounded like something growling in the dark.

This wasn’t old stuff. That meant someone had been here recently. And that therefore, someone had been beneath my house recently, and that someone couldn’t have left through concrete. So. Down into the echoing tunnels I went. Just me and the stone and the terrible echoes of my own footsteps. Always just behind me.

Two went nowhere. They went to just—more concrete…But the third. The third went to a big metal door. A big metal door that I heard sounds from the other side of. I think I heard Joe say something. I think it was Joe. It was hard to make out. It didn’t sound happy.

I heard something clatter behind me. Down back where I came. Some…maybe some wind had knocked something over. I slowly walked back down that cavernous route. I heard the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, echoing out again. Echoing back, echoes in echoes. As I came back into the main chamber, with it’s  walls crowded in eyes and the sticky smell of alcohol and burnt hair. And there was…just a knocked over candle, dripping wax.

Dripping wax down…onto some squirming small shape. Something like a spider beneath the wax. A bunch of unfurling legs, pushing up against the wax. A breath of warm air in the deep…Something was here with me. Something was here, just out of sight, in one of the corridors, in the echoing. Something.

I don’t remember running out of the tunnel and pushing the concrete back into a crude covering. I just found myself forcing the layers of dirt onto the shards and chunks of concrete that I had piled at the exit. I locked the doors that night, locked the windows as best I could.

*

I turned all the house lights on. I couldn’t stand the dark. I still…there were these little patterns in the wall at night, that looked like they were eyes. They weren’t, just wears in the wall paper or tiles that had an odd crack. Just the normal shapes of an old house, that looked and felt like eyes.

I couldn’t sleep, so I just paced the halls that night. Still keeping all the lights on. I’d say I was going through some things if I was asked. I just couldn’t sleep. The storming outside had continued with earnest that night, rain pelting the roof and thunder shaking the walls.

It was while I was pacing, checking the window locks, that I saw something out back. There were five or six people down there, huddling at the bottom of the hill, around the concrete. That damned dog was with them too. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and rain. I could see one had a baseball bat slung over his back. He occasionally tested it’s weight.

They split up after a bit, and started walking around the house. I followed the one with the bat. He tested some of the windows, tapping them a bit. They marked a few spots with chalk. I followed them all the way around to the front, where they piled up into a truck. I think it was a red truck—maybe it was Joe’s? It was parked behind a big tree, branches and leaves covering their exit.

HouseLimestone2

I was at the local diner early that morning. I didn’t sleep after that little visit. I didn’t bother. I had showered, stretched, and in a haze made my way to get some food to ground me and some coffee to replace the lack of rest. As the waitress left, I heard the door chime open. In walked Joe, Mr. Joneson, and another guy wearing a black hoodie. I opened the menu to cover my face as they ordered—but I heard the other guy murmur something and some shuffling.

Sure enough, their they were in the booth across from me.

“Hey, Bobby. How’s the house going?” Joe said, smiling. His hair was still wet. Maybe he’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Going fine.” I said slowly, eyeing the other two for a moment.

“Yeah, Peter here says you were doing some digging out back.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding to the mystery man. “You gotta be careful doing that. Dig up too much, and you’ll hit the old limestone.”

“Dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Peter said, shaking his head. “Storms lately, that’ll wear down fast.”

“Might even open up a sinkhole or something beneath the house.”  Mr. Joneson said, nodding. “That’d be a damn shame really, costly too. Real costly, and a historic house gone too. Got to be careful what you start digging around town.”

I nodded slowly, bridging my fingers. I was too tired for this. Too tired to deal with any of this.

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Yeah. You know, I can’t be here keeping up with it constantly. And…well. Maybe it’d be best to leave it with someone who knew it as well as you do.”

“That quick a turn around?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged as I sipped my coffee.

“Fifteen thousand, it’s yours.” I said, waving my hand. “Can’t really sleep there anyway, and it might be falling apart. Sinkhole underneath the place would shatter the value. Take it off my hands, and were’ in the clear.”

*

I don’t know why Pa left it to me—maybe he didn’t know about what was going down there. Maybe he thought I’d never check…or maybe he thought I’d be thrilled. Maybe it was some sort of attempt at a patch up. I don’t know. It was a nice house. But frankly, I think if  I was there another week, I’d have gone missing. Hell, no wonder half the surveyors ran off.

I’ll be glad if I never hear about the house again. I’ll be glad if it never rains again—and I never think, for half a second, I see someone at the door on a rainy night. And those eyes…those eyes.



I’m mixed on this end to the decade story. On the one hand, I like the build up to the discovery of the cave–and I even like parts of the cave. I think the ending, however, is far too sudden and anti-climatic. If I had an appropraite second prompt, I might follow up the ending, and have the horror follow Robert home or trap him in the town–just walking away is simply a bad ending. But the story had been delayed long enough…Perhaps next year for Patreon, I’ll come back to Elderbir a fourth time. Speaking of:

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Out Through The Back

This Week’s Prompt: 100. Subterranean region beneath placid New England village, inhabited by (living or extinct) creatures of prehistoric antiquity and strangeness.

The Prior Research:In The Depths of the Earth

Tonight was the big night. After breaking curfew three times, tonight we’d finally have a go at the underground. I’d packed everything I’d need in my backpack: some saved up rations, a metal water bottle, a knife and another set of clothes. I’d stuffed some other stuff in my jacket—flashlight, health mask, keys and phone if I ever decided to come back. Which, I wouldn’t. But just in case something went more wrong then we expected.

Officially there’s no one out after lock down. Well, no one who’s not supposed to be. The streets go quiet, the only noise the gently roar of the Atlantic. The whirr of a patrol car or cycle. The occasional shout of someone else getting caught out and scattering. Sometimes a gunshot.

Everyone around town knew one way below.  Our parents showed us when we were kids, or our friends showed us if we were new in town. The caves ran through the entirety of the underground, layers and layers of curved stone.

“They haven’t found this one yet—probably will soon though.” Jake had told me. “It’s now or never if we wanna make a run for it.”

They started just putting patrols outside the big one in the center of town. Then there were outposts watching all of them, especially on the coast. Big tunnels into and out of town were a hazard, a security concern. We were still allowed in, and they ignored the smaller ones. We could visit the old skeletal halls, the looming caverns where my parents said spirits walked.

Then, a month in, they covered it with concrete. There was a riot, there was a lot of noise—and a lot of gunshots. Even today, I can hear them pounding from the other side. Less now than before.

And then they started just dynamiting the rest. I watched one, as the carved statues crumbled down over the entrance.

Cave 4 Back

Of course, tunnels under the town are a hazard. Spies could get in through them, or even enemy combatants. An entire fifth column could be built down there. And folks could get out.

This one was near the edge of town, a twenty minutes’ walk from the old railroad tracks. There was a big tree nearby, and the roots had covered most of it. It was…it wasn’t actually that big. Maybe four feet tall, and it down to three feet tall pretty quick. It was only three feet wide.

“Your sure this leads to the exit?” I said, gulping and looking down into the darkness. “Like, this actually connects with the rest?”

“Yeah.” Jake said, checking his own pack. “I did a test run—didn’t get all the way to the end, but hit tunnels I recognized. We’ll be fine.”

There isn’t much wind coming out of the tunnel—but there is some. I breath in, breath out, and look up at the searchlights.

“Alright.”

I have to bend my back pretty low to get anywhere—its cramped, and cold, and wet. Its miserable for a bit, before at last the cave opens up. I’d say how long, but I wasn’t counting steps. And time seems strange down there anyway. I don’t breathe easily till we get to the deep cave.

Cave1Back.png

The deep caves are the ones with the strange stones—they look like those terrible lizard things I see in text books. Not exactly like that, but long fingers in the stone. Small carvings rising from the ground Rib cages just poking out of the wall. And of course, this is where they are. We called them the friendly folk. They have their own name, but its—well, its not easy to say right, so they settled with friendly folk.

I’d grown up right next to them—but still seeing one out of now where in a dark cave was terrifying. Long limbs holding onto the wall, and its paper white face with red eyes smiled at me. It clicked and drummed its fingers. It thought all the ways in were closed.

“Not all of them.” I said, shaking my head. It clicked again, its fingers playing on the stone like drums. Sealing the doors was a breach of old laws.

“It—I mean, it doesn’t really matter if it’s legal does it?” Jake said shrugging. “They don’t care, they’ll drop a landmine down here if they get the chance. We need to get out while we can.”

“They’ll bury us all.” I said, shaking my head. “Look, we—we’re just looking to pass through, get out, before it gets too bad.”

It held out a hand, bending it’s face into a smile. I sighed and handed over one of those assembling cubes puzzles. They get bored in the dark, and puzzles that are more…kinetic are easier when you don’t have light.

It let out a high pitched giggle and drew an arrow on the wall, hovering just above the stone. Directions. Faintly glowing fungi grew from the wall—a glimmering trail out to the sea. Once we got to the beach, we could find a ship.

“You think they’ll demolish all this?” I asked, walking side by side now that the cave allowed it, careful to have the lights on the floor and ceiling. “I mean, these caves have been here longer than we have.”

“Probably not.” Jake said, frowning. “Probably expensive right? Loading up that much dynamite to smash out the foundations of an entire town.”

“Right, probably.” I said,  turning to look at one of the more elaborate drawings on the wall. Friendly folk had drawn it. You could tell, with the bumps and rivets—no light meant most of the meaning was in the feeling. You could see additions from later visitors. Fudgier lines from thicker fingers, but more color shining in the light. It was a wonderful sunset. Running a hand along it, you could almost feel the warmth on the water.

“Bet they just concrete over all of it, and call that that.” Jake said, nodding. “And when the war’s done, everyone will take sledgehammers to it, break it open, and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

“What if they win the war?”

Cave2Back

Then there was a boom. Then a crash of stones crumbling. The world shook.

We started running. Another boom shook and this time some stones fell down. I caught myself mid trip, as the small dark place began falling in.

“Not much farther!” I heard Jake shout. He wasn’t that far ahead, but he wasn’t slowing down—I needed to catch up. I needed to keep going, as I pulled myself and ran. I could smell the sea, and saw Jake round a corner—and then the ground shook again. The boom was ahead of me.

There were more lights. I heard Jake shout, and held myself against the wall. There weren’t any gun shots. But Jake didn’t come back around.  I turned my flashlight off. Sirens. Another loud boom from behind. I turned into the echoing dark—where could I run now? I stepped back towards the boom. Where could I—

And then I saw those old pallid faces, leaning from the cave. Long fingers parting the stone of the wall—a third path I ran down. As they closed it behind me, I heard the thud of boots running by.

I started to breath again in the dark. The boots passed, again and again. I could see them, huddled around. Pale faces of the friendly folk, looking up at me. Not smiling, not angry. Blank and waiting. Their fingers were curled, clutching objects. One crawled along the edge, holding that old puzzle box. And held out its free hand.

I shook my head. I had nothing to give.

It drummed on the cave and chirped like a bird. It wasn’t asking for something. It was offering. Something it wanted me to take away from here, before the thunder got any closer.

“Take where?” I asked, looking around. Anywhere, it said. Anywhere but here.

“If you can get me out of here, I can get it out.”

It presented a stone box, maybe six inches long and four inches wide. When I took it, I felt the waves and faces carved on its exterior. Friendly faces. The friendly folk rushed around, and deeper and deeper down we went. I’d never seen these caves. They were blur of moss and mold, green and red things, pale things hanging from the ceiling, laughing noises.

They took me down further and further.

Until, I heard the sound of the ocean’s tide, coming in. The dull roar of the waves.

The harbor stretched out for ages—a small boat sat there, piled high with boxes. No sails, but a number of little fins along the bottom. As I got aboard, the crowd retreated. They left little gifts, and shoved it off.

And that’s when the shock started to fade, as I drifted out to sea, colorful mosaics on the cave walls illuminated by my flashlight. Eventually the tide and fins would take me to open see, with a gift from the friendly folk—and who knows where to. Just not here.



 

100 stories. 100 research articles. I feel like I should have something more to say than that. I’m just boggled at the amount of work this website represents—over four years of work and 320,000 words. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog, retweeted it, and even supported our patreon!  This project isn’t even half way done  (that’s still a few months away), and yet it’s already grown so much. And I even wrote a story I’m kinda proud of for the occasion! I think with some of these prompts, just starting with the supernatural makes the consequences of the story more impactful—sort of the reverse of the cat story, that I also really enjoyed.

To another 100 posts and another 4 years!

And if you do want to support the site, for more content (3000~ words a month of stories or research, at least! Plus new RPG content as it’s done!) check out our Patreon! $1 dollar for new stories, $5 for new research, and at $10 you get to add a bit to the regularly stories here!

The House of Witchs

This Week’s Prompt: 99. Salem story—the cottage of an aged witch—wherein after her death are found sundry terrible things.

The Prior Research:Salem

I’d been house hunting for the last four days, when Alex finally agreed to take me to the house on 35th and Main. He grumbled and sighed the entire drive, before we pulled up to the slightly overrun yard. It was a nice, two story house—clean windows, nice door, fresh wallpaper.

“It’s just a bit pricey, you know, and there are better places.” He said, sighing as we walked through the house. “I mean, and you know, it’s got a history.”

“And that’s why we’ve got to check it out!” I said. The house was the exact same, top to bottom—okay, not quiet the same. The kitchen down stairs was the exact shape of the guest room right above it, the bedroom and living room perfectly mirrored each other.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the same house they hanged her in.” I said, flicking a light switch on.

“No…Okay, no it’s not.” Alex admitted. “Got rebuilt a few times after fires and the like. Last time was back in the 70s I think. Some freak earthquake or something broke the foundation and they had to fix it. And then there was a wave of renovations.”

I walked through the halls. I wonder how much of this place had actually stayed the same after three centuries—were the rooms always like this? Did they shift and change? The attic upstairs was entirely empty except some boxes—what had they once held? Was the living room the same one where they tried her, searched her entire body for where the creatures of the night drank blood?

“I think it’s the one.” I said, smiling as we left.

“Of course you do.” Alex sighed. “Of course the witch house halfway out of town is the perfect one—no, can’t be any of the ones down town or near a train station, nope, crazy house.”

Apartment Floor A.png

“So it really is the same, top to bottom?” Cheryl asked. She was at the desk across from me, peering over the screen.

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t that get…confusing?” She said, clattering away at the keyboard.

“Not as bad as you’d think—I mean, I’ve gotten mixed up once or twice when putting stuff away.” I said with a shrug. “You know, I’ll come home, get ready for shower and whoops! Walked into the walk in closet, bathrooms on the other floor.”

“Wow. I mean, that’s not too bad.”

“No, like—unless it’s late at night, it’s pretty easy to navigate around. When I’m like half asleep, it gets worse.” If I’m drunk it is an actual nightmare. I once spent an hour racing up and down the stairs, trying to figure out which one had the living room and which one had the bedroom, before just sleeping on the couch.

“Seen any…” Cheryl, pausing mid type. “You know. Last people that had the house left after a month.”

“No, nothing.” I said, clattering along. “I mean, I might ask someone to look at the walls.”

“What, blood leaking from them already?” Cheryl said with a nervous laugh. I didn’t mention that the walls had made a clicking sound at night—not loud enough to wake me up, but enough to keep me awake. Everything was so quiet out there.

Apartment Floor B.png

It wasn’t much of a conversation, really. I had a few like that, people surprised I was living in the old haunted house. Which—okay, yeah, a few people it turns out had gone missing in the place. But like, of the past owners—I checked, out of curiousity—none of them ‘mysteriously’ vanished, and even the ones that had a bad time were like, fifty to sixty years apart. The stories get wilder around the 1700s—everyone’s grandma has a story about my old house it seems.

It was kinda thrilling to live somewhere famous. I even gave tours to a few friends—some of them joked about breaking into it when they were teens. Looked different, back then. Run down, but same double floors.

“Yeah, its always been like that.” Jermey said, pointing at the ceiling as we walked down the stairs. “I mean, you know, when I was here it was like. Graffiti’d up and shag carpeted.”

“Shag carpeting?”

“Yeah, it was gross as hell. But the same, top to bottom. Weird that they didn’t like—like the bathrooms weren’t.” He said looking it over. “I mean, they kinda are—we figured that since they were on top of each  other, we’d drop stuff down one pipe and it’d go down the other but nope. Just pissed off the handy man.”

“Thought it was abandoned?” I asked, frowning.

Jeremey shrugged.

“I mean, no one lived here. But I remember once we got wasted and tore up one of the walls—freaked out, thinking we’d get caught.” He said, gesturing. “But it was all put together in like. A day. Someone had to do it. Never heard of ghosts patching up brickwork.”

Apartment Floor C.png

I did get used to the noise after a while. The little creaks and dings and shifting of moving papers stopped bothering me.  I dreamed about getting lost in repeating hallways more than once. I know I came home drunk and went to bed in my room, and woke up in the living room at least once.

I kinda got used to just staring ahead and counting whenever I saw someone on the sidewalk, a shape I couldn’t quite make out until the last moment. Once or twice, I caught someone following me—or well. I thought they were following me. They just lived nearby and I hadn’t seen them yet. No one was following me.

At least—well there was one time. I woke up in the middle of the night in the bedroom down stairs. I walked around, trying to get my bearings again, and looked out the window—and I thought I saw Cheryl. She was just walking…to the bus station, which was weird because I swear she lived on the other side of town. No reason for her to be around her.

*

“Oh, just went home and binged some shows.” She said when I asked what she’d been up to last night. “How about you?”

“Not much. Read a book.” I muttered.  I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I’d been reading some documents. The crew that came over couldn’t find anything causing the clicking sound,  probably something the construction crew before left in there. So I went digging for the construction crew for the current house—and couldn’t find one.

I couldn’t find the last one either. Not like, a shell company or anything, but like—there’s a newspaper article from 1970 about a fire destroying the house. It’s listed for sale in 1972. That’s the house I’m in. But no one built the house. The listing is in a newspaper, it doesn’t mention the company. And I don’t even know how to start finding that in a public record.

“I think it was built by OMN?” Alex said. I hadn’t given him a ring in a while. “Can’t really…huh. Can’t find a specific record, but they did a lot of construction back then. Hey, don’t worry about it too much. It’s probably just settling or something—get an exterminator if your worried its rats in the walls I guess?”

Or move out of the creepy house, like I said to was the unspoken bit there. But whatever. I couldn’t leave—unless I found another buyer, I didn’t have the cash for that. So exterminator it was.

*

“And he found nothing.” I muttered. I could feel the bags under my eyes, even if they weren’t there yet.

“Well, that’s good right?” Jeremey said, printing another few copies of…something. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention.

“I just…It’s been getting louder I think. More frequent for sure. He heard it, said there’s no animal he’d heard make that sound—left out some traps.” I waved it away. Just when I got used to the little noises, this one comes in insistent.

“I mean—maybe a plumber or something? Might be something rattling in the pipes.” Jermey said, tapping the papers. “Loose coin or something.”

“I don’t…maybe?” I said throwing my hands up. “I’ve got to figure out what it is—I swear, I’d never have bought the place if I’d known it was this much of a pain. Supposedly haunted historical house is one thing, this is…This is just maddening.”

Apartment Floor D.png

I just didn’t sleep that night. It was the first night I stayed awake all night—cup of coffee and ears listening for any sounds. I’d just, I’d catch this thing.

The ticking started earlier than I remember it starting before. One of the old paintings ticked up a few inches. As I watched, the face on the old woman’s painting peeled off. A small plate there, of some fibrous material, rotated.

I got up slowly…and the floor swam beneath me. I fell back down. The room rotated. The walls fell away, a labyrinth of crystal and glass shimmering in the moonlight. My bed fell through the liquid floor. I screamed and waited for a crash.

None came.

I looked up at the old house—shimmering like moonlight on the water. New stars shone down through the transparent roof. When I got up this time, I was on solid ground. I saw hundreds of miles beneath the house—hundreds of fractal rooms. Perfectly shaped, all with glowing like stars. Except one—down at the very bottom, there was something…something dull. Some small blob, a hundred feet away. The ticking was coming from down in the depths, and I was sure it was from that strange shape.

There was a shout form the window. Looking up, I saw such…wonderful places. I saw hills of sunlight, I saw sable sands with red rivers. I saw moons, I saw worlds outside. I saw them tearing and bending and wonder turned to horror. The ticking turned to skipping—the house…whatever it was, something was wrong. I looked down again, at the shape sitting their listless.

It was like a bug trapped in amber. A small shape but I saw the whole house struggling to break free  of it. It shook and seemed to crack. The floor gave in beneath me, and I went tumbling down. Before I could get up, it cracked and fell again.

Bruised and exhausted, I fell. I fell through house after house. I fell down centuries, down to the very bottom. I looked up, struggling a bit to catch my breath. The light was dim down here—I could barely see my fingers.

I looked up and saw her. Hanging there—not really her. Not her body, that was long gone. Her shadow? Something that was there but wasn’t. It wasn’t really there. It was there though. It was…the house was broken. It yearned up.

But she was there. Her body was there, jammed in the gears and light. She was glowing like a dim moon, soft and cold. The windows down here were all black seas and forgotten woods. The house shook and quaked. It glowed and ticked.

Apartment Floor A
I next remember waking up in the hospital. The doctor said there’d been an accident—freak fire while I was asleep. Most of the house was burned down—not all of it, but most. The fire department was just glad to have contained it—there were lots of old homes down there.  It could have spread uphill, caught some of the others.

It was really lucky it just burned mine. I guess.

Just like that earthquake back in the 70s, I guess. Or the flash flood that tore out the foundations in 1922. It’s a very lucky house, in a way.



 

I’m still unhappy with this story. I liked the idea of the house as some sort of mechanism, which was stuck trying to complete its task by the crime committed in the past. But I couldn’t find a strong A-plot to go in with, and interweave with, the haunted house. I think there might be some burn out on houses for now–and looking a head, we’ll be away from them for at least a few weeks! Thank you for your patience.

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The Bowen Street House

This Week’s Prompt:98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Prior Research:Rhode Island Ghosts

Bowen Street was a bit nicer than I rememberd. The old pot hole was fixed—the bigger one, not the little ones—and the fences weren’t as rusty. Uncle Rodney had been a bit of a nutter towards the end. There were three locks, and a keypad. I remember when I was fifteen him showing off his security room—I’m still not sure if it’s legal to have that many security cameras peering out in all directions from your house. I’m sure it isn’t healthy to stare at monitors all night.

It was a stroke that got him.

Opening up the house, even with the keys and the passcodes, felt like breaking into some giant vault. There was a layer of dust covering everything inisde, and that was before I started going through the locked doors. Most of them were double locked, and the windows had bars on the inside. I don’t know what Uncle Rodney was worried about—he was just generally nervous it seemed—but he had made one amazing cage.

It really shouldn’t go to waste, I thought. It was his life’s work. And I admit, I didn’t feel like sleeping any time soon. The layers of dust made the air heavy, and I didn’t have time to clean. One night, with some beers, seeing what the old man was looking at all night. I’ll toss it out tomorrow, I thought.

CameraB.png

The house clicked to life at eight o’clock exactly. Camera’s whirred to life, screens flickered, lights shone down. And that was the visible parts. Webs of motion sensors were spontaneously woven over the yard, and I’m pretty sure the fence gained life electric. And I sat, drinking from a can, watching the screens. Trying to figure out what had made Uncle Rodney so afraid.

There was a bobcat that walked across the street, right up to the gate. I held my breath as it looked at the fence. It reached out a paw—I stared intently as it considered the jump.

And then, suddenly, it ran off. Scapered back where it came. I glanced across the screens, following the little angry furball until it got to a side walk and went down the street.

I mean, at that point, I kinda thought it lived across the street. There was another house there, although I didn’t give it much attention before. I mean, it was barely a house.

The roof was intact, and the doors, and the—I frowned as I looked at the windows. I guess the lights were off? They were completely dark—actually, zooming closer, it looked like the blinds were closed? No, not even that. They were tinted black. I sat back a bit. Was this whole neighborhood paranoid? I zoomed the camera back out, taking in the crumbling wreck. The porch had fallen in, the door looked worn and someone had stolen the door knocker, and–

There was beeping on one of the motion sensors. I frowned, and looked over at the other camera. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw a pale shape—some kid in a grey hoodie or with a blanket around their back—squeezing at the gate. I couldn’t quite make out what he was…I mean the gate was high voltage, maybe he had wire cutters or something.

I had dialed two digits before he was gone. I looked up as the phone rang, and saw him slip across and into the old house, turning back for only a second. I thought he looked into the camera.

*

“Mr. Barthet?” The voice came through on the other end after a minute of silence. “I don’t know how often we have to answer these calls before it becomes a crime, Mr. Barthet.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, blinking. “This is the first time I’ve called.”

“Don’t tell me your memory’s going to, Rodney.” The officer sighed. “So what was it this time? Some rave across the street that no one else can here?”

“I’m—I’m not Rodney.” I said slowly. “My names Roger Barthet.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for your loss Roger.” The voice said slowly. “Uh, well, alright—Your uncle had a habit of reporting on the old house. Don’t lose to much sleep over it. The place is condemned, should be bulldozed any day now. No one living there but some rats.”

“But I saw–”

“Probably some teen hiding there for a few days or something, you know how kids are.” the officer continued. “If he mucked up your fence too much, that might be something, but, well, we aren’t going out in the middle of the night to chase a kid down in a ghost house.”

And that was it. He told me to get some sleep, see if I felt better in the morning. I sighed, hung up, and went to bed. It rained that night, helped me sleep some.

CameraA.png

Not that I woke up feeling any better. If anything, it felt like someone had reached down my throat and dropped a bunch of needles in my stomach. I kinda staggered around most of the day. Took a walk down to the river, did some exploring.

The house across the street was definitely abandoned looking. I mean, the porch was rotting and missing all its paint—it had turned a weird grey brown of dead trees. A bunch of small live ones were growing in the yard. The old fence was pointy and green-black—I can’t quite tell with those old iron fences that have like, the tips you know?–and broken in a few places. The only really intact bits were the windows, which during the day seemed all the more strange. Seriously, why does an abandoned building have tinted windows?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, walking down the riverside. Someone definitely still used that house for…for something, I don’t know what. Maybe it was just a teen sex and drugs den or something. No wonder Uncle Rodney had cameras pointed at, must have been convinced they were going to try and rush his place in the night. I’m surprised I didn’t find a bigger gun-locker in the house. Yeah, I still hadn’t figured out how to get rid of that, I’m pretty sure Rhode Island’s strict about that sort of thing.

I didn’t go to bed that night. I stayed tuned in—the guy I called over said it’d be costly pulling out the all the wires, and he needed to check the house more, so I had a few more days. And I knew what I saw. If I could just see it again—If I could catch that kid—I think it was a kid. That thing in the night, I’d be able to sleep. I spent the afternoon after the work practicing the shutter function on the camera—a quick photo with a click. And so I waited. And waited. I waited as cars passed by, as drunk teenagers stumbled across the side walk, I wait until three in the morning, eyes fixed to the screens, staring out in all directions from this house.

I was almost falling asleep, despite the caffeinated heartbeat. And then I saw it. My finger moved before I did, clicking rapidly on camera six, the one facing the house. There it was—some pale ship leaning against the black windows.

It was pointing at the camera.

No. It was pointing at me. It held up a finger, a thin spidery finger, and curled it back and forth. Closer it said. Closer.

*

The police weren’t pleased to hear from me again. I swear I heard them mutter something about running in the family. But I know what I saw. And I brought the photos. Didn’t do a ton of good—they looked like photoshop or something. I don’t know. But they agreed, at least, to send someone over. Show me around the other house. Show me no one lived there.

“See, doors not even locked.” Officer Jones said, pushing the rotten wooden door open with one hand. “No one leaves doors open down here. Alright, lets look around, see if there’s any sign of a squatter.”

I grumbled at that—that wasn’t a squatter last night. But whatever. They didn’t believe me, that’s fine. They’d see. He clicked his flashlight on—the house was dark with the tinted windows, but not as empty dark as it was at night.

“Now, we’ll go quick. This place isn’t exactly hospitable.”

The wallpaper was peeling. There was almost half an inch of dust on the entire floor—hell, the carpet on the second floor seemed to be more dust then carpet. There weren’t any dishes, and only a few bits of silver ware. Most were to busted to be used. The walls upstairs had several gouges– “Twenty years ago someone looted all the copper they could,” Officer Jones explained—and most of the light bulbs had been smashed on the ground. There was a bathtub, stained and moldy. A bed. A few picture frames, although there had been more before. You could still see the marks on the wall were they used to be.

There was a chair by the window, where the figure had stood. I walked right up to the tinted window and squinted out—my house was nothing but a shadow from here, an inky blob you could barely call a home.

“Right, see? Nothing’s here.” Officer Jones said, gesturing around. “Nothing but cold damp floor boards, and broken things.”

I frowned and looked around. There was nothing but some broken things, some mold, and some dust. Why wasn’t there more? An old house like this, why not—why wasn’t there any graffiti? Why was no one living in this abandoned but…but stable house? Why hadn’t they for…who knows how long? What was keeping them out?

“Right. Nothing.” I said, as we walked out. What was beckoning me to stay, even in daylight hours?

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I stared out the window. No need for cameras this time. I could see that blasted house. I had seen something before. I know it, I know the cameras don’t lie. I’d locked all the doors, I turned on all the sensors. I had a hundred eyes wide open to see it again.

It was so small—behind the tinted windows, a breeze. It pushed gently against the door, pushing it open and outward. I stood and watched as the door opened, the trees rustled. It didn’t speak—it didn’t even seem..there. But the door slammed against the house wall. No breeze moved anywhere else. It slammed again. And I felt it’s eyes staring up into mine.

The police didn’t even give me a minute to explain. There was shouting, and a frustrated “then just stay inside!”. But I couldn’t. There was something there. Something in the house, that was watching me, that wanted something from me—or was offering something. I couldn’t tell. So I went out, into the night. I crossed the street, and went through the door.



This story is a bit rushed, but I like the pacing and I think the general idea of security and observation leading to paranoia. That both houses are in a way haunted.  That’s all for this Halloween–apologies for the delay, but things have been hectic.

Next week, we visit another very famous New England town. See you then!

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

Demon Tree One.png

And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

Demon Tree3.png

And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

Demon Tree 2.png

“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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