They were only looking for a place where they could rest awhile in peace.
|"Darling, I think I'm going to freeze!" Susan's words were almost lost in the chatter of her teeth; her feet squelched with every step, leaving sodden footprints in the grass.
Bill pulled her closer to his side.
"The road is bound to go somewhere," he said. He glanced back down the country highway along which they had been gaily barreling in their coupe, despite the evening storms and the switchbacks. "And somewhere there's bound to be houses."
It had been raining when they pulled themselves from the smashup. But the low, hurrying clouds were now breaking up, and a bright, full moon shone down.
"But it's so cold," Susan repeated, and she hugged herself.
"We'll find someplace cozy. Would you rather be back in the city? I say it's lucky. We were thinking of taking a country place anyway."
"This wasn't the kind of house-hunting I was imagining," Susan grumbled, but she pulled closer to her husband.
For a mile or so they walked, until a dark shape loomed up before them. It was a high wall of crumbling brick, but they didn't hesitate to squeeze past the sagging gate and up the carriage drive. The house at its top was tall and narrow, and looked taller and narrower still for its gables and steeply pitched roofs; a tower anchored one end.
"Not my idea of cozy," Susan murmured, but Bill hushed her as a figure stepped from the porch to greet them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" it said in a deep, rolling voice. "I'm Mortimer. I was afraid you were going to be late."
Bill and Susan both started. He was a very tall, very thin man, and his white hair was shaved so close to his dome-like skull that he looked bald. His eyes were sunk deeply in their sockets, and the skin of his face was stretched so tight that every tooth showed when he smiled.
"Yes, well, we had an accident," Bill stammered, and he squeezed his wife so she wouldn't speak. "Going too fast, drove into a ditch." He didn't mention the deep pond at the bottom of the ditch, and that he and Susan had had to swim for it.
"I'm so sorry to hear that," Mortimer said through his grin. "Leave it to me. Leave everything to me. The house, as you see, is ready for you. You will, I believe, find that it suits you admirably."
"Well, thank you, Mortimer," Bill said after an uncomfortable silence. "Excuse me if we don't shake on it." He didn't like to think of the man's white, bony fingers closing about his own. "We might change our minds still, you know."
"I doubt you'll be doing that." Mortimer gasped as though holding back a fit of laughter. "I bid you a good rest." Turning, he went down the walk, his footsteps rattling on the gravel.
"Strange that he seemed to be waiting for us," Susan said.
"Stranger still that he was waiting for a couple named Smith. I wonder if we'll have to share when they show up."
The door was already open, so Bill and Susan drifted in. They sniffed a bit at the moldy air, and Susan clucked mournfully at the dust. The drapes in the parlor hung like shrouds. But the stairs didn't creak under their feet as they went upstairs.
After Susan retired, Bill watched out the window with an idle curiosity as some police cruisers, a tow truck, and an ambulance went screaming down the highway. It was mid-morning before he saw any more traffic, though, and it was by purest chance that he was looking down from the tower when Mortimer stopped by. The realtor didn't come to the door, though, and just stood gawping at the house with his jaw hanging open. Bill waved at him, but the man didn't wave back.
No other couples, named Smith or otherwise, appeared.
"I must say, whatsisname was right," Susan said some days later. The damp was still in her clothes, but she had nothing else to change into. "The house does grow on one. Hasn't it grown on you?"
"Yes," Bill said. They were in the sun room, and he shifted his chair a few inches so as to keep his feet out of the light that was streaming in; the hot beams left him feeling insubstantial. "Shabby, but restful." He put his head back. "I'm so glad you haven't tried to set up housekeeping."
"And I'm glad we came out here to look around. Can you imagine taking a rest in the city? Everybody squeezed in, like in a hotel."
"We should scrounge up some food, one of these days," Bill murmured. But his eyes were shut. It was much easier sleeping all day, and moving just enough to keep out of the sunlight.
A month later they heard voices on the porch, and the door opened. Bill and Susan looked down the stairs as Mortimer ushered a well-dressed couple inside. For awhile they were hopeful, for the realtor kept darting nervous glances about, and the woman sniffed and shuddered. Then, to their dismay, they saw the house working its charms upon her.
"I suppose it's back to the city now," Susan sighed. "And the graveyard. Ugh. It will be like a hotel, won't it? I wonder which one they put us in."
"We don't have to go back if you don't want to," Bill said. He shot straight into the air and through the ceiling, into the attic beyond. Susan followed.
"Sheets and chains are too old-fashioned," Bill muttered as he drifted through the cobwebs. "But they suit the house."
"It suits us," Susan sighed. "I'm glad I was wrong."
"About what?" Bill asked as he rummaged through an old trunk.
She smiled dreamily. "What I said to myself that night, when I looked back and saw us still in the coupe. That it was too much to hope we'd find a sweet little spot to haunt."
Writing Prompt: The cover image.