My apologes for not doing all the things I’ve said I would do. Someday my tiny human will be very disappointed in me. For now, I have to deal with you folks. Here’s something I’ve taken forever to finish. Enjoy. –
Curiosity. That was the soul reason why she agreed to housesit. She liked scary movies, she kept telling herself, so this should be no big deal. But then those were movies. This, on the other hand, was something else entirely.
The house had stood in the neighborhood for as long as Jennifer Wilson could remember. During her childhood its grounds had been the setting for many nightmares. When she passed by it, she was always afraid to look too long. Now an adult, it was just an interesting, if not foreboding, presence. She had often found herself wondering about it’s past.
For decades it had stood empty. Even the neighborhood strays tended to avoid the property. Children were scared of it, teenaged boys with nothing better to do than make mischief dared each other to enter, despite or in spite of the “NO TRESPASSING signs. But just a few months before, a mysterious stranger came to town bearing proof of ownership of the house and the land it stood on. Within weeks, an ad was placed in the local newspaper for a caretaker.
The ad simply requested that someone stay in the home to discourage trespassers and such. It required that the hired help stay overnight in the house, but come daylight, the individual was free to leave. The contract also stated, “No guests after dark.” Jennifer thought that somehow, there wouldn’t be a problem with that.
She didn’t tell anyone when she inquired about the position, she told only a few when she actually applied. She only told her immediate family that she’d gotten the job. Her mother didn’t like the idea, and made sure her daughter promised to keep her cell on her person and turned on at all times.
This was her first night in the place. Inside it seemed more well kept than she’d imagined, and aside from being a little drafty, it was fine. And, you know, the creepy part.
It wasn’t quite dark yet, the sun was still lingering above the horizon, and the red orange glow of late afternoon oozed in through the dusty window panes. The owner’s representative, whom she’d met a few days prior to get the keys, had said she need do nothing to the house but sit inside it. But Jennifer was now wishing she had some glass cleaner and some paper towels. Or maybe some industrial strength cleaner and a scraper.
Giving herself a tour of the massive estate, Jennifer quickly realized that she should have left a trail of bread crumbs to find her way back to the front door. The house was indeed as huge as it appeared, and it seemed to have had additions upon additions when it was still being lived in.
She’d started by heading upstairs, finding massive suites. These bedrooms had sitting rooms in their sitting rooms. Jennifer counted at least four of the suites, and hadn’t reached the back of the house yet.
Turning a corner twenty minutes and what felt like two miles into her tour, she found a second staircase, leading back down and up. Deciding it was time to see what’s downstairs in this branch of the house, she turned toward the steps leading that way, when she heard a creak. She stopped in her tracks, telling herself it had likely been her. Looking behind her, she saw nothing, and went back to her chosen path. But instead of continuing on, she took a deep breath and turned to look up the stairs to the third floor.
As she turned her head, and just as her eyes began to adjust to the darkness that shrouded the top of the stairs she thought she saw something move.
Logic would tell some people to just turn around, go back downstairs where there was light and where your mind would not play tricks on you. Curiosity would tell other people to wonder. Straight up madness tells a few others to actually investigate. Decades of scary movies should have told Jennifer Wilson, “this is where the killer jumps out at you with a machete”.
But decades of scary movies have desensitized Jennifer. She pulled out her handy-dandy cell phone and turned on the flashlight function. Pointing it to the stairs, she shined the light up the staircase and swept it around the area.
“Well, couldn’t have seen anything,” she thought. “It’s just a closed door.” At this point, any other person would have turned around and gone back downstairs. Jennifer is not any other person. Jennifer is curious.
The steps leading up to the door creaked, the same creak she’d heard moments before. Pushing this thought aside, she stepped up to the landing, and reached for the knob of the door, and turned it. The door wouldn’t open. “Must be locked.” Looking at the knob, it seemed to have an old fashioned skeleton key lock. She thought of turning around and heading downstairs, she was beginning to get hungry, and she was sure her mysterious boss wouldn’t appreciate a snooping stranger.
But instead of heading down, she tried the knob once more. “It’s probably just the attic,” she tried to tell herself, tried to convince herself to turn right around and give up. “It’s locked for a reason.” After another try, getting frustrated, she said, “Fine!” aloud, and turned around.
The set of stairs she took led her to another door, this time not locked, that opened into a pantry, servants stairs, she assumed. The pantry led her into the kitchen, which she’d seen earlier. She had placed a bag of food her mother had sent her with in the retro refrigerator earlier that afternoon. This is what she grabbed when she entered the kitchen.
She spread out a cloth on the dusty table and put together her meal, which consisted of vegetables and dip, sandwiches and chips. No way to heat anything in the house yet. As she ate, she contemplated the door. She had a friend who collected skeleton keys for some reason. If she had the right one…
”Don’t be ridiculous,” she told herself. “It’s just a door.” A closed door, closed to her. In a big empty house that hasn’t been lived in for as long as she could remember, at least. She really wanted to know what was up there. She continued to eat, barely registering the food she put in her mouth, thinking about that door.
When she finished she quickly threw her leftovers back in the bag and tossed them in the fridge. Then she began to rifle through the drawers. Trying to ignore how silly it seemed to be that anyone would just throw a key to a locked door in a drawer in the kitchen, she looked though each drawer, coming across cooking utensils, candles and matches, a few rodent droppings and some dried out cockroach carcasses. Before she opened the final drawer, she told herself, “If I don’t find what I’m looking for in here, I’ll stop.” She sighed, as if to psych herself for defeat, and pulled on the drawer handle.
The face of the drawer came with the handle, just not the rest of the drawer, she reached in, slid the rest of the drawer out, and searched though the few objects that had been left in what appeared to have been a junk drawer that had seen better days.
Amidst the old bottle caps, empty glass vials, and what she hoped were lose seeds, there it was, a tiny, tarnished silver skeleton key. She held it up to the fading light from the kitchen window and resisted the urge to do a happy dance.
Moments later she was climbing the stairs once again. At the second floor landing, she turned on the cell phone flashlight, and shined it in the direction of her destination. This time, however, the light from the phone did not land on a door. It seemed to land on nothing. It reached as far as it could and gave up. She looked at the key in her hand and thought not how odd it was that the door had opened on its own, but instead how crazy she must have looked riffling through drawers.
She climbed the stairs once more, this time noticing how they didn’t creak as they had before. Still shining her light into the distance, she reached the landing where the door had once blocked her way.
Touching the previously locked door handle as she passed through, she slowly ventured into the darkness.
When she crossed threshold she swept the bright light across the room. It shined briefly on a white object that seemed to dart away once the light touched it. Floorboards creaked across the room as the not insubstantial weight moved quickly along them.
Trying not to look as addled as she felt, though she was alone, Jennifer continued to light portions of the obviously large room. Advancing slowly and stepping gingerly to make as little noise as possible, she walked in the direction of the mysterious movement. She allowed herself no thoughts or assumptions of what it may or may not have been.
Following the line of the wall, she advanced slowly, keeping as much solid surface to her back as possible. The last thing she wanted was to be snuck up on. Whatever it had been, imagination or not, there was no more movement, no other noise save from the pounding of her own heart in her ears.
She came across numerous crates and boxes and chests, begging to be explored. She’d do it another day. If she didn’t pay enough attention to her surroundings she would trip over the stored items. She thought of the possibility of tripping and injuring herself badly, leaving her to be found after the thing in white had gotten to her.
“That is enough of that kind of thinking, Jennifer.” She thought. “Better yet, don’t think at all.”
After what seemed forever in the cold darkness, she came to a corner. She shined the light in the area, putting her back to the perpendicular joint in the walls. The light of her cell phone flashlight landed in something much to unexpected. A small bed.
The tiny metal frame sported a thin stained mattress that was barely covered by a stained and well worn blanket and pillow. “Of all the rooms in this house, why is there a bed here?” She thought, and moved closer for further inspection. She knew she’d gotten much too close when the smell engulfed her.
A putrid rotten ammonia scent permeated the bed and its surrounding area. The smell made the air in that space heavy like the air on a humid, balmy July day, hard to breathe. Seeking a window and with it access to the fresh night air, Jennifer stepped away from the bed and once again swept the room with her flashlight beam. When she stepped forward something crunched beneath her shoe. Aiming the light down, it revealed what seems to be a partially intact rodent skeleton.
Jennifer shuddered in disgust, trying not to picture the implication of the skeleton within reach of the bedside. Instead of contemplating the meaning, she proceeded in the search for a window. Sending the light in a quick wide arch around her body, the light passed over the opposite side of the room from where she stood.
Then, gone just as quickly as she’d revealed it, she saw what must have been the white flash that had moved across the room before. Though it was gone by the time she’d went back in its direction it appeared to be… A face. A pale white face with a thundercloud of grey hair around her face and head.
A sharp intake of breath into her lungs, she nearly released it in the form of a scream. She quickly darted the light back to where the face had seemed to float in mid air. She saw nothing, but knew it’d been something, for she once again heard the sound of what she assumed was feet racing across the expanse of the darkened attic.
That was enough for her. Instead of continuing the search, Jennifer had had enough. She turned back they way she came and headed in search of the exit. Keeping along the wall she walked as quickly as the cluttered darkness would allow, attempting to aim the light at the path ahead of her.
The creak of the floorboards matched the rapid movement of her own feet around the room, all sound she heard was hers. Feeling as though she’d neared the place where the door opened onto the landing she lifted the light and pointed it at the wall. Seeing the open door just a few yards in front of her she sighed, relieved to be getting away.
Jennifer shined the light on the open door and focused on her exit. She picked up speed as she neared, but within a few feet the door slammed closed with a sound that reverberated through the deteriorating attic walls. Behind the door stood the figure with the pale face.
Surprised, Jennifer stopped suddenly, skidding and stumbling backwards. She dropped the phone when she hit the floor, head smacking the rickety wooden floorboards. She groaned, touching gently the tender spot where her head had hit, she groaned again, and opened her eyes.
When she looked around her phone was several feet away, the light shining uselessly to the ceiling. She groaned again as she stood, painfully, intending to go for her phone.
Before she could reach it, the frightening figure from before appeared suddenly before her and she called out in surprise.
“Where are you going, Jennifer?” it whispered. “You can’t leave. You’re our caretaker now.”
Shocked, with fear making her legs weak, she backed away slowly as the figure advanced. Stumbling once more over bowed and broken floorboards, she turned for only a brief moment. When she looked back, not one but two figures, both with a similar ghostly pallor, stood before her, keeping pace as she backed away.
“You have to take care of us now,” they whispered in unison. “You’re our caretaker.”
“No,” she finally managed to utter, “no, please!” She turned to run once again, but she was surrounded by figures, pale, demanding she stay.
From the corner of her eye she saw the light from her phone. “If I could just reach it.” She thought, believing, hoping, salvation rested in it cold flat form. She sidestepped closer to it, attempting to avoid the figures once more. Somehow they got closer, brushing against her with icy fingers.
Shivering, she moved toward the light, ever in her periphery. Trying to keep her eyes on the growing mob while trying to move for her phone, she made a large step toward its estimated location.
Jennifer felt her foot touch something, but before she realized it, she felt and heard the crunch of her phone under her foot, as the light it shined was snuffed.
In fear and despair, she moaned and fell to her knees. She reached for the shattered remains of her cellphone as she felt the icy grip of many hands close around her.
The sun rose vibrantly on another beautiful summer morning. It penetrated the once dusty windows of a cold and long abandoned house. It warned the rooms and brought life back into a once dead home.