An old house holds more secrets than they suspect.
|Written for the "Into The Darkness " contest.
Prompt: “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
Word Count: 3,564
The ghoul mask reflected Christina's hot breath back in her face. Her left hand rested on the handle of the machete tucked in her belt. Her right hand felt along the wall of the almost pitch black passageway. Her soft moccasins lightly brushed the rough wooden floor as she crept toward the sound of voices. Her efforts earlier that evening had paid off, and the three teenagers were in the exact room she needed them in. The secret passage she was now in would lead her directly to where they were. There would be no escape. She was the musician, and their screams would be her symphony.
Occasionally a floorboard creaked under her foot, but that didn’t slow her down. Instead, she hoped they heard the sporadic sounds. If they thought something might be approaching them, the final moments would be even sweeter. She grinned in anticipation and quickened her pace.
Their voices grew louder. The end of the passage was near. She saw the light through tiny gaps in the crumbling plaster wall. When she reached the wall at the end, she found the peephole she had carved and put her eye to it. She saw them sitting around an electric lantern on the floor. She couldn’t see their faces, but they kept glancing around into the darkness of the large room. The long shadows cast by the lantern almost reached her hiding place.
She stepped back from the wall quietly. Bending down, she felt around until her hand grasped the handle of the sledge hammer she had placed there earlier that morning. The wall dividing the secret passage from the great room where her targets sat was mostly rotting wood and brittle plaster. The sledge hammer would make easy work of it.
The passage was narrow so she would have to swing vertically instead of horizontally. Even with both hands, it was a struggle to lift the hammer's head just above her shoulder. She was grateful as she heaved it forward and gravity took over. Slamming into the wall, the hammer carved a gaping hole down to waste height.
The teens screamed.
She smashed the hammer into the lower wall, clearing enough space to step through. She dropped the hammer with a thud and stepped into the great room.
The plaster dust filling the air obscured her vision, but she drew her machete and charged towards the shouting teens. Suddenly she broke free from the dust and came face to face with them. Their wide eyes stared at her in shock. She pointed the machete at them threateningly and made a growling noise in her throat. They screamed and ran. Christina gave chase. She didn’t bother trying to overtake them. She knew the door ahead of them, which opened to the entryway of the house, was locked. She knew that because she had locked it some time after they entered the room. She saw them reach the door and struggle with the handle, but it was no use. They turned to face her with fear in their eyes. One of the three put up his fists as if ready to fight. The other guy started begging for his life while clinging to the girl.
Christina stopped a few paces away from them, watching their faces, machete held ready. After a few tense moments, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. She slid the machete back into her belt and burst out laughing. Their looks of fear gradually changed to confusion as she doubled over in laughter.
“That laugh… it sounds like Christina…” stated the guy who had stood his ground. At that, Christina grabbed the mask covering her face and yanked it off.
“You guys…” Christina gasped out between fits of laughter, “you all scream like little girls!” She doubled over again. The girl, Drucilla, just stared at her impassively, as usual. The guy who had begged for his life, Jake, glared at her, clearly not amused by the prank. The other guy, Melvin, started laughing with her.
“Oh man, you got us good! I thought for sure our time was up! Whew!” Melvin laughed. Christina and Melvin shared a few more laughs before they calmed down.
“Well, that was fun!” Christina said. “Thanks for playing Christina’s Happy House of Horrors!”
“Haha, it sure was fun,” replied Melvin. “I especially liked how you made those creepy noises come from upstairs. That was impressive and really freaky.”
“From upstairs?” Christina cocked her head in confusion. “I was never upstairs….” All four of them slowly turned their heads toward the huge curved staircase leading up into an opening in the vaulted ceiling.
“We should leave. Now.” Jake declared. “I’ve been almost murdered once tonight, I’m not looking to make it a reality.”
“What? No.” Christina protested. “We should check it out. Maybe this house really is haunted!” She grabbed her flashlight from where it was hanging at her belt and started walking toward the stairs. Melvin immediately followed her, but Drucilla and Jake hung back. Christina looked back at them. “You coming Dru?” Dru stared back at her, her face blank. “I can tell you are intrigued Dru, that face doesn’t fool me. Leave Scaredy-Jake here. Alone.” She gave Jake a wicked grin. Without any change of expression, Dru jogged over to the lantern that was sitting on the floor, picked it up, and joined Christina and Melvin at the bottom of the stairs. Jake rushed over to them yelling,
“Hey, don’t leave me alone!” The other three laughed and started up the stairs with Jake trailing behind. As they ascended, Jake said, “Christina, this better not be another one of your games.”
“No games. I swear, I never went upstairs.” Christina replied.
With that statement, the group fell silent. The stairs creaked and groaned under their feet. Their passage sent particles of dust floating through the air which obscured the light from their flashlights. Christina reached the top of the stairs first and came face to face with a wall. She flashed her light to the left and right and saw she was standing in a long hallway that stretched far in both directions. A multitude of doors lined the hallway at irregular intervals.
“What the-, what is that?” Melvin gasped from just behind her right shoulder. She looked where his flashlight was pointed and saw a grotesque statue set in an alcove in the wall just to the right of her. She wasn’t sure how she had missed it, it was so hideous. She walked up to it to take a closer look. Wow, who would want this in their house? she thought. It was vaguely humanoid in shape, but there the resemblance ended. Instead of hands it had clusters of what looked like tentacles protruding from the ends of its arms. It was hunched over, with a large, bulging back. Its legs were short and thick, and ended in feet that were somewhat bird-like, wicked claws and all. It didn’t really have a head. Instead it had something that might have been eye-holes all around the top of its torso. There was no recognizable mouth or nose.
“Someone had really poor taste in art,” Jake said with a shiver. “Can we keep moving? That thing gives me the creeps.” Christina looked down the right hallway. She saw several holes in the floor about ten feet away, so she decided to go left instead. She led the way again, the others following close behind. After passing a few doors, Christina heard a low moaning, groaning sound ripple down the hallway. After it passed, she could hear a low, breathy whispering sound, but she couldn’t make out any words.
“That’s the sound we heard before!” exclaimed Melvin. “That moaning sound followed by these whispers. They seem to be coming from ahead of us.”
Christina peered down the hallway. Melvin is right, the whispers do seem to be coming from down there. Could it really be a ghost? She glanced back at the others. Melvin looked cautious but excited. Jake was white as a sheet, as if he had already seen a ghost. Drucilla was still in the back and wore the same expression she always did. She was pushing Jake from behind in order to get him moving again.
Christina continued forward. She stepped more carefully now, aware of every creak of the aged flooring. At one spot the wall and floor was stained with water damage. She quietly motioned to the others to show them where the floor might not be safe and led them around the edge of the damaged area. The whispering continued coming from ahead of them, so they continued forward.
At last they arrived at the last door. The whispers were louder and definitely came from inside that door. Christina glanced back at the others. Melvin motioned her toward the door. Thanks Melvin, such a gentleman, she thought. She flashed him a brave smile, then slowly turned the doorknob. She opened the door part way and eased into the room, swinging her flashlight back and forth to try to spot anything that might be moving. She gave a short squeal as her light passed across a dark, towering form to the right. She breathed a sigh of relief. Just another one of those awful statues.
Something grabbed her shoulder and she whirled to bash it with her flashlight, but stopped when she saw it was only Melvin.
“Melvin, don’t scare me like that,” she gasped. Ignoring her protest, he asked,
“What happened? It sounded like something scared you.”
“Just another statue like the one in the hallway.” She pointed her light at it to show him. Then she put her head outside the door and motioned for Jake and Dru to come inside. “No ghosts, it’s safe. Come check it out.” Jake wasn’t convinced, but Dru pushed him inside past Christina. Dru took the lantern from Jake’s shaking hand and set it down in the middle of the room. It wasn’t very big and had very little in it. The main object was the statue that had startled Christina. It was definitely the same type of creature as the first statue, but it wasn’t an exact copy. The positioning of the limbs was different, and it was much larger. It’s “head” nearly touched the ceiling. There were also a few broken chairs leaning against the far wall, and what looked like an old gas lantern turned on its side between the statue and the right wall. Cobwebs were in every corner and crevice, including all over the statue, and dust lay over everything.
Christina suddenly noticed the whispers had gone silent. She walked around the room slowly. She wanted to find a cause for the whispers, as well as a cause for them stopping, but she saw nothing obvious. She really didn’t know what she was looking for. She saw Dru and Melvin looking around the room too, but they didn’t seem to be having any better luck than she was. Jake was just standing where Dru had left him, staring at some writing on the wall. Writing on the wall? She focused her light past Jake at the wall and the strange characters written in a single line at about eye level. She followed the line left to right. It continued all the way to the corner and onto the next wall, then the next, and the next, and ended back where it started. A complete circle, or rather square, of writing. What could that mean? She looked back at Jake and felt sorry for him. We shouldn’t have dragged him in here. The poor guy is so scared he can’t even move anymore. Maybe… maybe we shouldn’t have come here either. A chill ran through her as she looked back at the writing. Maybe we should go.
“Maybe we should go,” she said aloud. “I-I’m getting a really bad feeling about this place.” Melvin glanced over at her.
“You gonna chicken out? Come on, those weird whispers stopped, and all that’s in here is some stupid statue and some gibberish written on the wall.” Christina didn’t reply. Instead, she glanced over at Dru. Dru seemed focused on something at the base of the statue. Something was very faintly glowing there, but Christina couldn’t see what it was. Christina felt another chill settle on her. This time it didn’t leave.
“Dru, hey Dru, get away from ther-” she called, but she was cut off when Dru reached down and touched the base of the statue. The faint glow erupted into a burning light that made her wince. She staggered back and covered her eyes with her arm. As suddenly as it had come, the light faded. Christina tried to blink away the spots in her eyes while she looked for Dru. “Dru, are you okay? Dru, answer me, please!” Out of the darkness, Dru spoke. Her words were strange, a language Christina had never heard before.
“ATI ME PETA BABKA!” The words felt heavy, old, and powerful. “Dru, stop it, you’re freaking me out!” Dru continued speaking in the strange language. The spots began to fade from Christina’s eyes, and she could make out Dru in her flashlight beam. Dru was standing ramrod straight, the flashlight in her hand pointed at the wall in front of her. She was rotating slowly in place as she spoke. Suddenly, Christina’s chill became an icy hand squeezing her heart, filling her with an indescribable dread. She followed Dru’s flashlight beam with her own and saw her suspicions were confirmed. Dru’s light illuminated the writing on the wall. Dru was reading the writing on the walls.
Christina wasn’t sure what would happen when Dru finished reading it all, but she didn’t want to find out. She rushed at Dru, calling for Melvin to help. They each grabbed an arm and tried to pull her toward the door, but they couldn’t move her. It was like she was a statue, solid and unyielding.
“Why. Won’t. She. Move!” Christina grunted as she used all her strength to pull on Dru. Nothing they did had any effect. Dru was now facing the last wall, so she had almost read the entire circle of writing. Christina let go of Dru and stood back. Her mind raced. What do we do? What do we do? Should we leave Dru and run? No, we can’t leave Dru! She’s my best friend! I’ll never leave her. As she panicked, Dru read the final phrase.
“USELLA MITUTI IKKALU BALTUTI!” The room shook violently, throwing them all to the floor. All except for Drucilla. Christina looked up at her and saw her looking back. Her eyes were full of fear and she seemed to be trying to say something.
“L-le-leave. Me.” A single tear rolled down her face. Suddenly her head jerked upward so she was facing the ceiling and she screamed. Christina covered her ears and added her own scream, a scream of anguish for her friend.
“Druuuuuuuuuuu!!!” She watched in horror as her friend’s body began to bulge and stretch into unnatural shapes. Something began pushing up out of Dru’s mouth, wriggling and squirming in the light of the lantern. It was long and glistening, like a worm or tentacle. Then several more joined the first one. Christina put her head down and retched. She heard a sickening ripping, squishing sound and felt a spray of liquid on her head and arms. She retched again, then looked up. The shape that stood before her resembled the statue it was standing next to, except it was bigger. It had to crouch down so it would fit in the room. Some of its many eyes focused on her and she froze. A shrill, piercing voice cut through her mind like a scythe. She screamed and grabbed her head. She covered her ears, but the voice was inside her head, cutting and ripping through her thoughts into tiny fragments. There were no discernible words in the voice, just pain, indescribable pain.
Through the fog of pain, she saw the monster’s tentacles reach out and wrap around Jake and Melvin. Their faces showed the same pain and horror that she felt. Her jumbled thoughts couldn’t form anything coherent. Her instinct was to try to help them, but her body wouldn’t move. She stayed on her hands and knees, looking on helplessly. The screams of her friends mingled with her own screaming in her mind. Finally, a single coherent thought coalesced in her mind: run! Run! RUN!
This time, her limbs responded. She clambered to her feet, snatching up her fallen flashlight, and stumbled through the door into the hallway. She staggered down the hallway as if she were drunk, preventing herself from falling by leaning against the wall. The pain in her head lessened as she put some distance between herself and the monster. Her friends’ screams were now muffled and faint. When she reached the staircase, she took a few teetering steps down it before pitching forward and bashing her face on the rickety handrail. Her flashlight flew from her hand and clattered to the steps below. Catching hold of the rail, she watched as her flashlight rolled and bounced down the steps to the floor below. Blood mixed with spit oozed from her mouth where it had hit the wood railing. She spat to clear away the blood, but her mouth still tasted of copper. Gripping the railing with both hands, she continued down the stairs more carefully, feeling her way in the darkness.
At the bottom she found her flashlight lying there still lit, so she picked it up and used it to search around for the exit. She spotted it and moved toward it as quickly as she could. It was still locked from when she had locked it earlier. As she felt in her pockets for the key, tears filled her eyes. They’re dead and it’s all my fault. I brought them here and now they are gone. Me and my stupid games. She sank to the floor, sobbing, the key and door forgotten. Her heart felt like it would burst.
She heard a tremendous crashing from across the room and looked over to see splinters of the stairs drift down around the hideous monster. Apparently the stairs had given out under its weight and it had crashed down through them to the floor. In that grand room it was able to unfold to its full, monstrous height. It was immense. She grimaced, bracing herself for the mind torture she was sure was coming, but it never did. The creature stomped toward her and stopped in front of her. She fumbled for her machete but was too slow. One tentacled arm reached out and wrapped around her, trapping her arms to her sides and lifting her up toward the creature’s awful eyes. This is it. This is when I die. Good, I deserve this. I brought this on my friends and I deserve to die this horrific death. The voice came into her mind again, but this time there was barely any pain, and it spoke words she understood.
“You have brought me back after thousands of years. For that, I am grateful. You have also given me your language and knowledge of your people. Your reward would be a swift death, but I have need of you. From your mind I discerned that you are descended from the great betrayers of old. You are your kind shall pay for your ancestors’ sins. Go, tell the others of your kind that I, Shulgath-Ur, have returned. Tell them there will be a reckoning for the wrongs they have wrought against me and my brethren. I must go now and regain my full strength, but the day of reckoning shall come, and sooner than you think. Go!”
Shulgath-Ur lowered her until her feet touched the floor, then let go of her. She stood in shock as it moved past her, smashed through the wall where the door stood, and continued out through the front wall of the house. She rushed after it, screaming,
“Come back here and kill me! Wait, you have to kill me!” She scrambled through the rubble the creature left in its wake and out into the open air. She stopped dead in shock. The creature, Shulgath-Ur, was gone. No sight of it, no footprints, nothing. She felt the adrenaline leave her body and she began to shake. Her rubbery legs buckled under her and she sat down hard on the front porch. I don’t want to live. I don’t deserve to live. She stared vacantly ahead, the night’s events replaying randomly in her mind. Tears came and went as the night wore on. Gradually, the night sky began to turn gray. Still she sat. The eastern sky brightened with a yellow glow, and around it the gray sky turned blue.
As the sun rose over the horizon, Christina’s misery, pain, and loss hardened into anger and determination. The monster said it would be back, she thought. Well, I’ll be ready. I’ll learn all I can about it and find a way to kill it. She stood up and faced the dawn with a tear-streaked face and a grim expression. She broke the silence with a whisper.
“Jake. Melvin. Drucilla,“ her voice caught. “You will be avenged.”