Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2278325-The-Shroud
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #2278325
For my introductory post, I'd like to share with you a nightmare I had as a child.

The Shroud

By Father Savage McKiligan

Leaves crunch beneath heavy footfalls, branches battering your face as you sprint through the dark forest. How long have you been out there? How much longer before you find salvation? The panic set in long ago, like a beast stalking your very shadow, mere inches away from striking. The light of your modest flashlight begins to dim, the battery fading. It's been so long since you've changed it, and now you pay the price for your complacency.

A flash of lightning illuminates the sinister wood, a thunderclap following the static glow almost immediately. What's that in the distance? Is that a house? A ranger's station?! Have you found the road?!?! Racing ahead, the flashlight is all but dead as you push your way through scraggly scrub, which cuts and batters your body, face and arms. Emerging from the forest, clothes torn and damp with haze, you find yourself standing in a clearing and looking upon an old colonial manor.

The home is two stories tall and rectangular; it's slender but quite long. The exterior is a dirty and faded white, the paint chipping away to reveal the clapboards rotting beneath. A roof of old tiles and smeared in black tar is cracked and badly weathered. There are no lights or even electrical lines running toward the structure. Is it abandoned? It certainly appears so. Considering the age and condition of the structure, it surprises you that you hadn't heard of it before.

Another flash of lightning and the booming of thunder causes you to jump. Turning back, the fear of the unknown swells within your very core. What a horrid sensation. A strong gust sends a shiver up your spine and blows through your flesh, freezing your very bones. Turning toward the old manor, it becomes clear that this is your only hope. If no one lives there then at the very least you can at squat for the night, and if someone does inhabit the decaying structure - perhaps a kindly old woman with the mannerisms of your grandmother - they will give you respite.

Trudging ahead, your footfalls echo uncomfortably atop the wooden stoop as you climb to the front door. Exclaiming "hello" and crying out for help earns you no response. With a nervous sigh, you jiggle the doorknob. It doesn't budge; the home is locked. With what's left of the power in your dying flashlight, you scan the frame and discover no nails or boards on the outside, nor are the ends of any nails protruding from within.

Moving down from the stoop and peaking into a tall, rectangular window reveals a well-furnished but antiquated home. It certainly doesn't appear to have been vandalized or even abandoned for a great span of time. Perhaps someone vacations here? A wingback chair with faded, red fabric sits beside an oil lamp perched atop a small, round table. A book and an ashtray are nearby, along with a book of matches.

Leaning over, you peer through the grimy glass to see the end of the foyer, a staircase almost directly in front of the entranceway and leading up to the second floor. The other rooms are obscured by doors. They're those old sliding doors you often see in Victorian homes, and the renovations that the newer generation of homeowners like to use. If it wasn't so dark, it might be an inviting place.

You cry out once again for help, your voice ready to crack, but to no avail. Another gust of wind, stronger than the last, makes you shudder. A crunching sound causes you to whirl around, facing the darkness. The lightning stops and so does your flashlight, leaving you at the mercy of only the reflective face of a waning moon. So thick is the darkness that you can barely see your hand in front of your face.

You turn and race back up the stoop and hastily grab the doorknob. Something in those woods unsettles you. With a sharp twist, you prepare to push the door in with your shoulder, to break it down and take shelter in the old manor. An inexplicable panic sets in. However, before you can bash your weight against the door, the knob turns. With a loud clunk, the door is no longer an obstacle.

With brow furled, you push it with your fingertips and it moves with ease, only for the creaking of the aged hinges to grate against your ears. Lightning and thunder return; it's almost simultaneous. The storm is very close, now. Stepping into the home, you push the front door closed, to keep out the chill. Looking at the knob, you see that there isn't a lock at all. Why then did it not open earlier? Perhaps it was simply stuck.

Shrugging it off, you look around the pitch darkness for any signs of life. Only the flashes of lightning illuminate the home, as your flashlight now decides when and for how long it will function, if at all. You make your way toward the small table, beside the old wingback chair, moving only when the lightning provides enough light. After three flashes, you've reached the table and collect the book of matches. Striking one, you examine the oil lamp.

Shockingly, there's oil left in the basin, though not much. When was the last time someone was here? For some oil to remain unevaporated, it mustn't have been terribly long. Striking another match, you adjust the wick and set alight the oil lamp, returning the glass chimney before the flame burns you. The matchbook finds its way into your pocket, beside your small folding knife, while the oil lamp, complete with a handle molded into the antiquated but colorful glass, makes itself at home in your weak hand.

It amazes you just how thoroughly such a simple device as an oil lamp can brighten up what would otherwise be celestial darkness. A glance around the room, which floods with amber light, reveals some sort of sitting area, perhaps even a study. Walking slowly around the house, your feet thump atop the hardwood floors quite loudly. How did you not notice that before?

You wince and stop, fearful that someone may in fact be home and asleep. If they're elderly, perhaps they're hard of hearing? The last thing you want is to frighten a poor, innocent elder to death; all you want to do is find the campground you lost, and to hastily return home. Walking slowly and as quietly as you can, you begin to explore the ground floor.

Suddenly, you hear a tapping on window glass. A glance to your left reveals three windows, slender and tall and wrapping around a corner. This room, whatever it is, spans nearly the entire length of the house, and is quite large. Lightning strikes nearby, the boom of the thunder now shaking the house. What was that? Was that a figure standing outside?! You feel your blood run cold, turning to crimson ice in your veins. Your skin tingles as you wait for another flash.

Tap, tap, tap. The lightning flashes and now you see; the branch of a crabapple tree leans in, caressing the window glass. The diminutive trunk is just barely visible. Catching your breath, you try your best to shake off the fear but it won't go away entirely. Something keeps you on edge, something instinctual, something primal.

Entering the hallway from the other end, you hear a shuffling sound, like a clump of paper being dragged along the floor by someone's foot. You turn and face the direction of the sound. At the rear of the stairs leading up to the second floor is a door ajar. It's built into the paneling that hides the framework. The shuffling continues, growing distant. You can tell that it comes from behind this door.

Shaky fingertips reach into the crack, which you slowly pull open. Thankfully, these hinges don't squeak as loudly as the others did. Peering inside, you find the dark abyss of a root cellar. The earthen floor, illuminated only by antiquated light, stares back from the darkness. The shuffling continues, growing louder. There's weight behind it, like paper wrapped around something heavy as it rolls along.

A strange smell begins to fill your nostrils, an unpleasant aroma that straddles the line between putrid and sour, perhaps even tangy. A fear unlike anything you've ever experienced floods your body, and with nose crinkled, you grab the door and push it closed. As you do, the shuffling moves faster and grows louder. Whatever it is, you've sealed it behind the door.

With your shoulder against the barrier, you look at the knob. An antique deadbolt sits just above it. You turn the bolt with a satisfying clunk. The hardwood door blocks the unsettling sound, just as the wood masks the unpleasant odor; the scent of old cedar fills your nose. It's the first soothing sensation you've had all night.

Moving around to the next set of rooms reveals an antiquated kitchen, which was state-of-the-art in the 1910s or 1920s. Dusty glass jars of unknown foodstuffs line shelves. There is nothing that looks appetizing or even palatable, nor are there any drinks to quench your growing thirst; the sink doesn't work. With a heavy sigh of frustration, you continue your exploration.

Another room, the room beside the staircase and leading toward the foyer, is void of all furnishings and holds only a single easel. A frame with canvas appears to show the unfinished portrait of a person, their skin as white as freshly fallen snow, their eyes and mouth open and revealing only the background of the painting. The lightning flash only enhances the eerie appearance of the being, and with a sickened shudder, you turn away and enter the hall.

You glance to your left, toward the foyer. Though this isn't your home, you feel unsettled that the door has no lock. Beside the door is a tall, thin canister made of pewter or tin, an old umbrella and a few canes stuffed inside. You grab the oversized tin can and slide it before the front door, pressing the mouth of the can against the knob and wedging it as best as you can.

Looking back at the stairs, you wonder what's on the second floor. The floor creaks quite loudly as you ascend, the lightning flashes and your oil lamp revealing a handful of rooms. Either the doors are open or they have no doors at all, being merely archways. There are four openings, one to the right, one directly in front of you and two to your left. Of the entrances to the left, one is near the front of the house and one beside you, directly across from the right entrance.

You poke your head into the room in front of you only to find a modest bedroom. The bed frame is thin brass, tarnished and dusty. It looks like those old beds you've seen in photographs from hospitals of the 1930s. A hard, spring mattress is covered in the grime of ages. You contort your face in disgust and back away. You may be desperate, but not that desperate, or at least not yet.

Peering into the room to your right reveals another hall, slender but long, much like the windows. Walking down it and turning a corner reveals an old bathroom at the rear of the house, complete with a truly ancient toilet, the tank near the ceiling and a chain hanging down. Returning from whence you came reveals yet another bedroom, though this one is much nicer and with a larger bed, obviously built for two.

As you suspected, there is no one here. Perhaps you could rest in this home for the night? The larger bed and it's cherry wood frame are much more inviting than the dingy bedroom you'd first explored. Returning to the staircase, you walk around the shaft and down the narrow hall, toward the front of the house. Your hand rubs against the filthy banister, collecting grime, which you promptly wipe onto your own clothes.

Stepping inside of this room, you find a library. The entire inner wall is covered with antique books, their colorful cloth spines and gilded lettering as faded as the rest of the house. They sit neatly atop shelves built into the wall, which wraps around the far end of the room. An archway, seemingly made of bookshelves, leads to yet another room.

You look back at the outer wall and the corner behind you. Windows line these two sides. Odd. You didn't seem to notice these windows when you were outside. Perhaps you weren't looking closely? As you make your way toward the arch, eager to explore, you step on something and stumble, only to see the very edge of an opened book lying atop the floor.

It'd been there for so long that even in the light of your oil lamp, it didn't stand out against the hardwood. Kneeling down, you blow the dust from the cover to see a leather-bound book. An old pencil lies nearby. It was fashioned before they began placing erasers onto the back. Collecting the book and standing to your feet, you turn it over to find that you've ripped a portion of the page. It's a journal.

You search for the torn section, but your weight has pushed it into the floorboards. It's wedged too deeply to remove without ripping the fragile paper. With a frustrated sigh, you begin reading what's left. The script is a large and ornate cursive, the writing of a person familiar with the runny ink of fountain pens.

"Five days... It hasn't even been five days. I cannot believe this is happening. I didn't realize that this would occur. I should've left well-enough alone, but I couldn't. How could I? I am not above reproach, but who could blame me? Except myself... All I have ever wanted since that fateful day was to have her return to me.

I did all that I could, everything possible and still I've fail-

Was it ever real, or was I merely deceived? Did they ever t-

to give me my heart's desire or am I but a foolish mor-

Nothing matters now, not after the horrors I've com-

their unholy name... It comes for me. It comes a-

can do to stop it. I hear it in the darkness, wh-

understand the powers I wielded and for th-

I am guilty. Guilty of so many terrible dee-

underestimating them, of summoning th-

blackest darkness... I see it in the wood-

peering through empty eyes. It stalk-

It wants to claim my body for its ow-

I've painted the terrible visage of-

How much longer until it comes?

How much longer before it-"

With a chill running up your spine, the lightning and thunder give you a fright. You drop the book, just as the author likely had done. Your weary eyes scan the room, which now has a sinister air to it, a still air. It's the uncirculating void of the blackest abyss, a choking stillness that makes it hard to even breathe. You move toward a window, hoping to bring life into the sudden and unsettling quiet of the old, decrepit manor.

You set the oil lamp aside and grab the window ledge, searching for a latch as it appears to be stuck. Perhaps, like the rest of the old house, it simply hasn't had its fair share of use? As you grunt through a firm push, you see another bolt of lightning. You pause, your heart sinking. What was that?! You stare into the darkness, toward the edge of the forest where you emerged from your mad dash.

The tension is palpable as you wait in earnest for another good look. The flash and thunder reveal the horror. There's a person outside! The form all but makes you reel in absolute terror. Skin so white it could be mistaken for a hospital bed sheet, on a hairless body that wears no clothes and yet has no discernable sex. What is that thing?!

It stands like a statue, arms at their sides. The pale flesh now seems to glow in the darkness. You now see that it sways from side-to-side, as if it was one of those old movies being played unnervingly fast. Left and right it sways, only to dart a little closer. Look how fast and inhumanly it moves! You take a step back, hoping that this thing, whatever it is, cannot see you standing before the window.

Another flash of lightning and you get an even better look. Your blood runs cold for the second time, but this time it stays that way. Petrifying fear unlike anything you've ever felt before! The swaying, spasming corpse of a person turns its head toward you. It moves so quickly that you would've thought it'd have broken its neck! The eyes are opened wide, the mouth slightly agape. A flash of lightning reveals... Nothing!

The being is but a shroud of flesh, hollowed out from behind! A red interior is visible from your diagonal viewpoint. Are those ribs you see, peeking out from the creature's back?! The creature swings about, as though it was blown over by a strong wind, only to realign itself like a marionette, and tremor in a most inhuman fashion. It moves so swiftly, racing for the front door. You see the blob of pale flesh shambling quiet violently as it moves toward the entrance.

What is that thing?! Is that the creature the journal's author had feared?! What does it want?! You turn to grab your oil lamp while another hand reaches into your pocket, retrieving your little knife. It's better than nothing. What was that noise?! Your heart stops. The tin with the umbrella and canes has just fallen over! A sickening shuffling clambers up the staircase, like bloody meat wrapped in wax paper.

The shuffling thing moves closer, the nightmarish creature approaching the archway at the other end of the room! Your heart beats so loudly in your chest; it's downright painful. A knot in your throat makes it hard to breathe or swallow, despite the urge to do both. The shuffling abruptly stops just beyond the arch. Holding the little knife in your hand, you see yourself shaking, much like the amber glow of the antiquated lamp you clutch in your weak hand.

What's that creaking? Is that the floorboards?! A pale thing slowly moves beyond the veil. It's a hand! As white as a sheet and with fingers that crack like little twigs as they bend, it grips the wooden frame of the archway. Slowly, menacingly, the creature's head comes into view, empty eyes staring at you. You can see through its head! Quick! Get up! Get up and run! Run before it's too la-

© Copyright 2022 Father Savage McKiligan (fathersavage at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2278325-The-Shroud