by Sam Creed
The horror begins with the steel-haired man in the never-ending, disappearing mansion.
|My mother decided that the way I should spend my time was helping her "find" her long-dead sister.
My aunt had been reported missing in St. Louis a year before I was born, fifteen years ago. A week later, she was found dead in an old tree on the top of a hill in the small town of Wooster, Arkansas. My mother had only recently decided to investigate, and had been following "clues" that eventually led her to the town.
She'd gone crazy, was what I thought.
But what I didn't realize was that there was more to my aunt's death than I realized, and my mother, had recently received a call from a VERY old friend.
And this road trip would be the thing to drive me crazy.
The town of Wooster was very small, but it was seated at the base of a very large hill, which my mother insisted on driving up in the car, in the middle of the largest rainstorm this town had ever seen. The road was, of course, dirt, which had been reduced to deep, sticky mud in that weather.
Our old Jeep went an inch a minute, and Mother had to press down the pedal to get the tires to free themselves from each new clump of mud. When we finally reached the top, a massive old oak tree, the size of a redwood, loomed in front of us.
This was, of course, the tree my aunt had been found in.
My mother shut down the car and leaped out of the vehicle instantly, wind and rain splattering her seat. Sighing in annoyance, I looked blindly out the windshield, wondering if I could just stay in the car for once.
I could see her vague silhouette stumbling around the tree, and I reluctantly unbuckled my seat belt. I couldn't let my mother stay out there, on a night like this. She'd fall down the hill and break her neck.
I grabbed the flashlight from the glove compartment, zipped up my wind breaker and pulled the hood up tight, and braced myself for the weather. Then I opened the door.
The funny thing about windbreakers is that they don't actually break the wind, or block it. They don't do much to help the rain either. After only a minute of being out of the car, I was soaked, shivering, and fighting for balance with the wind. I turned on the flashlight and saw mother standing amid the curtain of rain, facing the tree. I stumbled up beside her and saw something very strange.
There was a door in the tree.
Nestled in the wide trunk, was a door, its wood the same kind as the tree. The only things that made it noticeable were the knob, and the grooved outline. The door was shorter than both Mother and me, and the thick tree roots made a crude sort of porch.
Mother gasped and rushed forward. Grabbing the knob, she pulled, then pushed, then pulled again, until finally the door popped open, squealing loudly on unseen hinges. Stepping closer, I saw a spiral staircase leading from the doorway down into darkness.
Squealing with the delight of a child finding a new toy, she burst down the stairs without hesitation. "Mom!" I called after her, but she didn't stop.
Just as I stepped forward to follow her, a howling gust of wind came and slammed the door shut. As I turned my face against the wind, I saw something that shocked me even more than the door in the tree.
There was a mansion behind me. A great, big, stone mansion, windows and porch all lit up.
I was sure it had not been there when we first arrived. I would have seen it.
But it was there.
How is it possible?
"Mom," I called, and again, louder, "MOM!"
Without looking away from the mansion, I walked back and felt along the tree trunk for the door handle. I found nothing, only normal, scratchy tree bark.
Turning, I gasped.
The door was gone. It was just a normal tree trunk.
I blinked, but the door did not return, I spun around, and the mansion was still there.
I turned back around and slammed my palm against the hard bark. "Hey!" I called, but my voice was whipped away in the wind.
Flashlight bobbing, I ran all around the tree, but while the mansion stayed in place, the door was nowhere to be found. Finally, I stopped, staring at the now normal tree in shock.
I had to face it. The doorway - and my mother - was gone.
I stared at the tree, barely even noticing the rain pounding on my already waterlogged body. She was gone. The door was gone. The tree was just that: a plain old tree.
There was only one thing I could think to do, and that was see if I could get help from whoever was in the mansion. I approached it on unsteady legs. I was no longer certain of what was happening, what was real and what was not. As I climbed up the porch steps, the rainwas blocked by the roof, and I became horribly aware of how alone I really was. Shaking my head, I knocked on the door.
I might have expected that the knock would be loud, or echoey, or just a normal knock, but it wasn't. The sound of the knock seemed to be sucked away into the wood, to the point where it was completely silent. I knocked harder, but it refused to get any louder than a dull, muted tap.