An experimental horror story. Joint winner SCREAMS!!!, July 15 2020.
I won’t make this long. After all, when you live in a horror story, you have no idea how long you have to live and I do want to see how this pans out. Let me set the scene then, quickly.
When I look through my windows, I see a gloomy day. Heavy clouds crowd the sky and colour is leached from the land beneath without sunlight to bring its light touch to the world. The clouds race across the sky but, down here, the air is still and ponderous. Cue ominous music.
In just one direction there is another house. Otherwise the landscape is one of bare trees, dark in silhouette and the branches scratching at the air with withered talons. In open areas the grass has grown long and bends over as though weary with the effort to live. Deep shadow has fallen on this land.
The house I mentioned is clearly gothic in style, just as you’d expect in a story such as this. It is old and its timbers are warped so that it seems to bend before a wind that must be from hell, so stagnant is the air over here. The windows are dark but not broken; there are no small boys in this world to throw stones at such places. One must be grateful for small mercies, I guess.
I could go on to describe the house for it was once a fine example of the detail that went into such houses. But the story tugs at me, insisting that I move on before some awful thing from another world arrives to bring this tale to a truncated end. With luck, all will be revealed in time and you can all sleep tonight in the knowledge that your world is not so cursed as mine.
I mentioned the way I am being pulled by the story towards the house. It would seem sheer idiocy to surrender to this compulsion; we have all read about such places and how curiosity never brings the protagonist anything but terror and fright. But I am a creature of the words and my fate is not in my hands. It is not voluntarily that I rise and leave my own house. The story dictates and I must bow to its greater need.
Which is how I find myself stumbling across the rough ground that separates my house from the gothic edifice I have mentioned. It is not a case of being unwilling to make this short journey. Will is not something I have been acquainted with of late.
As I near the old house and can hear its frame creaking with the effort to remain upright, dead leaves play at my feet as though confused by a wind that I cannot feel. All that I can see bends or skitters in this non-existent wind and I am the only thing that lives in a still, silent backdraught of the atmosphere’s mourning for the past. No breeze tickles the upraised hairs on my arm, my face is touched only by turgid air bereft of life.
I mount the two rickety steps to the front porch. There are gaps between the boards of the porch where they have shrunk in the desiccated air. Unsure of how much I can trust them, I step forward to the front door. Its paint is peeling with age; the door handle and its brass plate are dull from lack of use. I turn the handle reluctantly and the door opens, its lower edge scraping across the floor and leaving a trail in the dust of the interior.
Now would be a good time to turn away, to leave this accursed place, never to return. And certainly, I would not blame you if you were to stop reading now. Nothing about this house promises anything but some very unpleasant experiences indeed. But I am without option and must proceed. Your company would be some comfort to me at least.
I enter the house and you, since you’re still reading, stay with me. We are in an imposing lobby, dusty, with cobwebs gracing anything projecting into the room, stag heads and paintings decorating the walls and two closed doors on either side. Directly ahead rises a grand staircase, bifurcating at the far wall and becoming two sets of stairs that wind up beyond our vision.
With greater confidence, I proceed to the foot of the staircase and look upward. Now I can see the stairs end by entering two doorways in the side walls. Above the separation of the stairs into two, a tall window allows some grey light to penetrate the gloom. I begin to climb, not touching the dust-laden bannisters.
I turn right at the choice point and continue my ascent. The stairs seem steeper now and I am soon panting slightly with the effort of climbing. It occurs to me that we never read of fictional characters being as out of shape as I, so obviously, am. This must be just one more degrading point sent to humiliate me in my misery.
Eventually I reach the top of the stairs and can rest while I regain my breath. I see now that it mattered not which stairs I chose because the landing joins both options. Nevertheless, I decide to continue my choice and I enter the closest doorway. This becomes a long, dark passageway leading off into the furthest reaches of the house. There are doors all along this passage and they are all open so that light can battle its way through to the passage, creating an effect of a shadowed street with intermittent, weak streetlights its only illumination.
On my journey along the passage, I have to look into each room I pass, for fear of whatever may be lurking in them. Each proves empty until I reach the last door. This is closed and I can barely discern the door handle in the gloom. I reach out and turn it.
The door opens to reveal a bed and a window in the far wall. The panes of the window are filthy with dust and they allow only the faintest of beams to bathe the room in a grey and despondent light. I move further into the room before I realise that there is someone in the bed.
Many would, at this point, run screaming from the house, I have no doubt. But I do not have that option, as I have already explained. I move closer to inspect the occupant of the bed.
I can see only his face, his body being covered by the bedclothes. He is wearing one of those pointed nightcaps seen in films of Dickens’ tales of Victorian adventures. His skin is leathery and wrinkled, his hair, what I can see of it, grey and matted where it emerges from the cap. I have assumed that he is dead but his eyes open, not suddenly but as if the effort of raising the lids were almost too much to be borne. He regards me through those watery, milky eyes and I am transfixed by their gaze.
Then there is movement under the blankets and an arm emerges to point at me. A finger beckons, leaving no doubt that he wants me to approach closer. I do so, standing right by the bed and looking down at him. He does not seem able to speak for he signals that he wants me to look even closer into his eyes. Unable to disobey, I bend over until our faces are close together.
Suddenly I see it and understand what is happening. With a terrible flash of recognition, I know who the old man is. Don’t get me wrong, I have so resigned myself to my fate that I am prepared to be devoured by demons, to be tortured by vampires, set upon by zombies, anything but this. What kind of a mind, a mind so sick and hateful, would devise a fate like this for me? To steal my youth and have me instantly transported to a lingering death beyond saving?
One more look confirms it. The man in the bed is me.
Word Count: 1,365
For SCREAMS!!!, July 15 2020
Prompt: Partly the Second Chance Tuesday thing but mostly the second, open choice. In other words, much of it has appeared in a rather different story I wrote a while back but the idea is entirely new. And the style. A bit of experimentation never hurt anyone.