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Hell’s Landlord



Estimated reading time — 5 minutes

It is 1894. Fog hangs heavy on this cold, still, San Francisco night.

Madame Grace, a young woman of African descent, stands before the door of a dark, three-story, Victorian-style house. The turban atop her head to the jeweled anklets draped above her feet, speak of a spiritualist.

Charles, her white manservant, is best described by his impeccably pressed black suit and polished shoes.

Gathering his nerve, Charles offers Madame Grace a reassuring nod before knocking.

Crisp footfalls advance until finally, a pair of stiff locks reluctantly give way and the large, black door groans unsealed. Clutching a sizable candle, a mustached man in his 30’s, Geoffrey, inspects the two without a word and then nods, stiffly.

Charles grins and nods in return while peeking with interest into the dimly lit abode.

Geoffrey escorts them through a dark hallway adorned with fine oil paintings and various trinkets. “Such finery, indeed!” Charles exclaims with a London accent, squinting about.

Entering the parlor, he is abruptly taken aback. “Great Scott! Bit toasty in here!” He rushes to assist Madame Grace in removing her coat.

The two are then startled by a young, blonde woman wearing an elegant yellow dress emerging from the darkness.

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“Emma,” Geoffrey states with a stern tone, “she’s always cold.”

Emma’s response is biting. “Which brings us to why you’re here. Did Geoffrey mention it was a carbon monoxide leak from his own elegant heating system that killed every single tenant?”

Charles and Madame Grace glance about and give pause.

“Worry not,” Geoffrey calmly responds. “Fixed it myself.”

“Anything to save a penny!” Emma fires back. “And you really think a séance will fix our haunted reputation so anyone will actually want to live here again?”

Hanging the spiritualist’s coat, Geoffrey returns an icy stare.

Madame Grace steps forward. Drawing a deep breath, her fluttering eyes roll back into her head.

The others show worry. Emma covers her mouth with a scarf.

“A trail of death ends here,” Madame Grace declares in an odd accent. “For weeks it has plagued this city and eluded me. I will bring to light its dark root.”

Everyone relaxes and lets out a breath.

“But those were killings,” Geoffrey contends. “Ours was an unfortunate accident.”

Emma interjects. “You don’t suspect we… Well, as long as you don’t see any trails of death in our near future!”

Madame Grace’s expression droops, subtly, when Charles coughs and grows faint. Concern overtakes them as Geoffrey reaches for a window. “No, no,” Charles assures them, “It’s just my—”

“Let me get you some water,” Emma asserts.

With a tired smile, he tells her, “Please. I would not dream of it.” He then bows to Madame Grace and tells her, “Pardon me, my Lady.”

Charles wanders toward the kitchen past a round table. Emma goes to its closest chair but is blocked by Madame Grace who asserts herself there.

The mildly confused couple sit with their backs to Charles. Emma turns to catch him sending Grace a subtle nod, causing Emma to crack a smile.

From a satchel, Madame Grace removes a pencil and some paper. “Both hands on the table,” she instructs. “Palms down. Close your eyes and focus on my every word.”

She holds the pencil above the paper’s surface. “I call on you, restless, wronged and molested souls of this unholy place!”

Geoffrey takes exception.

Emma peeks suspiciously and faintly shakes her head.

“You are no match for me, I decree!” she continues. “Come forth, dark spirits! Speak! Speak!”

There is a low thud and a whoosh as a subtle distortion ripples through the room.

Emma shrinks and shivers.

“What just happened?” Geoffrey asks.

Madame Grace appears disoriented. Her eyes squint open, glimpsing Charles’s blurred form slipping in behind Geoffrey and Emma. “Eyes shut!” she orders. “Focus!”

Swirling her pencil, she lowers it onto the paper.

“What do they say?” Emma asks. “Are they mad?”

“Charles will translate,” the spiritualist responds.

With eyes open, Emma reveals, “Charles isn’t here.”

The medium’s eyes burst open and dart about. Her gaze shifts to the paper, dumbfounded, as she tells them, “Yes, he is.”

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The words, “MY LADY” are scribbled onto the sheet.

Geoffrey looks to the kitchen. “God. Poor fellow.”

Bewildered, Madame Grace begins scribbling onto a fresh sheet. It reads, “COME BACK PLEASE.” Her face goes cold. “Charles isn’t dead. We are.”

Geoffrey looks about and shouts, “Oh, damn!”

Emma smacks him on the arm. “See? You’re a terrible handyman! This is what happens!”

Emma’s attention then shifts to the contorted frame of a shadowy figure with reflecting eyes staggering in from the kitchen. “Charles?” she speaks weakly. Realizing that it isn’t him, she gasps and points blame at her husband.

Geoffrey turns to Madame Grace. “What now?” he sharply asks. Overwhelmed, she only shakes her head. Geoffrey returns a frown.

Emma mutters to herself, “Is this real? This isn’t real.”

From another room, a silhouetted woman holding hands with a small child lurch forward.

“So, do your thing, Medium!” Geoffrey demands.

“It was an accident!” Emma blurts.

Geoffrey freezes. “What?”

“I closed the vent!” she confesses. “It was letting the heat out! I don’t know how all this stuff works! I’m sorry! Sorry, Mrs. Zukowski!” The twisted form of an old woman hobbles closer.

Geoffrey glares, dumbfounded. “So, you—”

“I just wanted everyone to be warm!” Emma shouts. “You always leave it so cold. You are so stingy!”

Geoffrey looks to the encroaching ghosts. “I am a bit frugal, but I’m not a bad handyman!”

Emma snaps back. “Then why are we all dead right now?”

Geoffrey holds his tongue.

Surrounding them are many deranged human shapes with reflecting eyes emerging from the shadows.

Geoffrey slams his hand on the table. “Madame Grace!”

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She remains seated, frozen in terror.

Initially indecisive, Geoffrey then bursts to his feet and shields his wife from the many clutching hands extending from the darkness.

Seized by the undead horde, Madame Grace screeches.

An abrupt jolt snaps her back to the realm of the living where Charles shakes her awake. “Gracie! Gracie! Hey!” he shouts with a Bronx accent.

Disoriented, she looks over to an open window. Realizing that her arm is still in motion, she raises the pencil to her eyes. Disturbed, she drops it.

“Jesus!” he blurts. “You scared the shit out of me!”

She looks to Geoffrey and Emma, slumped on the table. With a Bronx accent of her own, she asks, “Charlie? Shouldn’t we—”

He cuts her off. “You kidd’n? This is perfect! Carbon monoxide got ’em before we could!” He twirls a large knife and stuffs it into their satchel. “Nobody’s gonna hang this one on us!”

“Did that really happen, Charlie?”

“What are you—” He gives her a comforting kiss on the forehead. “Hey, you almost died there, babe. God knows what that stuff does to your brains.”

“No, Charlie. When I was writing, I swear I could actually sense—”

“Come on, ‘My Lady’! We still gotta clean this place out and scram!”

He pulls two sacks from their satchel and hands her one. Hooting and hollering with delight, he stuffs items into his sack while dancing out of the room.

Slowly, she stands, gazing upon the bodies and then to the paper beside them as she steps away. Onto it is scribbled, “OH GOD DON’T LEAVE US HERE.”

She looks back to the corpses at the table. With misgiving, she departs.

Credit : Steven Aguilera

Twitter : @stevenaguilera

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