For as far back as I can remember, my family has always lived in and around Innsbrook. This peaceful little suburb outside of Richmond has a lot of history and charm. With a population of less than 10,000, this is a place where you are only a degree or two of separation away from anyone else in this town. That old adage rings true here, everyone knows everyone.
My husband, our two adopted children, and myself lived in a two story colonial, red brick, white trim. Having a well manicured and maintained yard near Cox Road; one of the two main roads that went through the small slice of heaven. While it is rare for any homes to come up for sale, the family across the street from us moved due to work relocation, and a higher salary.
In this housing market, and the desirable location that this is of single family homes far enough away from the crazy city, but close enough to be connected, once the Marsh’s put their home up for sale, it sold in less than a week. In no time, a large moving truck pulled up and began filling the empty house, making it a home for the new owner. My husband Sam was working on site at his office today, and I happened to be taking the week off from my stressful consulting job. Being the friendly, across the street neighbor, I baked up a dozen double chocolate cookies to take over to introduce myself.
As I approached the house, I could see four individuals wearing ‘Nightfall Transit’ shirts, a company I’d not heard of before. I approached one of them. He was tall, had dark red hair, looking like he could use a little bit of sunlight. “Interesting company name you work for,” the mover stops and acknowledges my presence.
“Absolutely, it is a small family owned business, named for the fact that day or night, we are here to perform. Some individuals need to move at the drop of a dime, could be at 8 in the morning, or 11 at night.” He smiles, it feels unnatural. The teeth look a bit too white, the smile a little too wide. “Here are a couple of business cards, my name is Amon Alucard Crowley, owner of Nightfall. If you ever require effective, fast, and easy moving solutions, reach out to us any time day or night.” While the other three movers continued moving furniture and boxes from the back of the truck, Amon locked eyes with me, reaching out a slender, long hand. His eyes rippled, looking to be a deep crimson.
‘That couldn’t be right as that’s not a natural color, what an odd color for contacts,’ I thought to myself as I reached out with my free hand and grasped his hand. It feels cold to the touch, not too strange as it is a bit chilly out for a late winter afternoon. After letting go, I take the business cards and pocket them. Feeling a bit uneasy, I quickly divert attention to the plate of cookies, “are the new owners here, already? I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and bring a welcome gift.”
Amon shakes his head, “unfortunately not. Mr. Mortimer Ashcroft has not arrived yet, though he did provide explicit permission and instruction to deliver and set up his belongings whether he was here or not.” Amon turns and starts making his way to the back of the truck so that he can get back to work. “I am sure that Mr. Ashcroft would not be bothered if you were to leave your gift on his kitchen counter.”
“Yeah, ok, that sounds good. I think I will do just that, thank you.” I excused myself from the moving crew and walked up the few steps to the front door. I step inside and a certain indescribable heaviness sets on my shoulders. The air felt thick, dark even, considering the windows were wide open without any curtains set up yet. I can see the kitchen from the front door, thanks to the open floor plan and take a few steps across the living room. A feeling of being watched stops me in my tracks, there is no one inside here, Amon even telling me that the owner is not here yet.
I look around, a dark, unlit hallway to one side, an open staircase on the other, a shift in movement in the corner of my eye catches my attention and I look up to the upstairs landing, nothing is there. Must have just been a shift in the light from a cloud crossing the sun or something. I shiver with a bit of paranoia and quickly walk into the kitchen, placing the plate of cookies down on the dark granite countertop on the kitchen island. Seeing a small pad of paper and a pen on the ornate mahogany dinner table about 10 feet away, I wrote a quick note with my name and phone number on it, welcoming the Ashcroft family to the neighborhood.
I haphazardly placed the piece of paper on top of the saran wrap covered baked delights and started to beeline towards the front door to make my exit. Two of the movers carried in an impressively large framed painting, making me pause to allow them in and past me. The artwork was impressive, to say the least. It looked to be quite old, with deep, dark hues of blue on the edges with a portrait of a very charismatic male figure. I am no history buff, but based on the styling of the subject, he looked to be a middle aged man from the 1600’s. ‘Must be a family heirloom passed down through the generations,’ I thought to myself. Once the pathway was clear and the team of movers were busy at work hanging this huge painting, I stepped out the front door and quickly made my way across the street back into the safety of my own home.
Dark grey clouds began rolling in, so I made myself a hot cup of black tea and got lost in some relaxation time. Getting distracted in my novel, I forgot entirely about the feeling of being watched and the strange ambiance that was inside of the Ashcroft home across the street.
Nested in my comfortable armchair by the stone fireplace, the kids got home from school first. Our daughters, Beth and Naomi, came into the family room where I was lost in my book, giving me a kiss on the cheek and excitedly filling me in on their school playground gossip. By the time I was done hearing all of the drama about Jill’s bloody nose and Mary being expelled from the circle because she ALSO has a crush on Will, that Jasmine already likes, my husband Sam pulled into the driveway. Saved by the husband.
Since it was Friday, Sam and I decided to order a pizza from one of our family’s favorite Italian restaurants, Mama Cucina. We had it delivered through Doordash, and we all settled down in front of the television to decide on a movie to watch together that is friendly for an 11 and 9 year old. We settled on that newer Disney-Pixar flick, ‘Elemental.’
Shortly after the opening credits displayed on the tube, and the movie got started, I was alerted that our unhealthy, but delicious pizza had arrived by the chime of the doorbell. I volunteered to retrieve the dinner for our movie, tossing the throw blanket covering my legs to the side and hightailed it to the front door. I opened the door and retrieved the box from the delivery driver, thanking them and began closing the door. Before I could latch the door closed, a flash of dull red caught my attention. I looked past the Dasher, making their way back to their car, and noticed that the moving truck was gone, and now a midnight black Rolls Royce Phantom was parked in the driveway and an odd, deep red glow was spilling out of the front windows.
I stared for a minute, seeing if my eyes would adjust to see inside, trying to understand what was happening. I decided it was best to mind my own business, closing the door and taking dinner into the family room to watch the movie.
After the movie ended and the kids retired to their rooms for the night, Sam and I got to have some quality time to ourselves. He filled me in about a big project that his boss assigned him, a new potential client that would be bringing in big dollars to the firm. His boss has alluded that if Sam is successful in wrangling this client, that it would lead to a promotion and raise. He finished getting changed into his pajamas, “how was your day, Theo? Have you seen our new neighbors yet?”
I shook my head, my smile melted into a more stoic look, “No, I haven’t. I baked a tray of cookies and took it over there hoping to meet them, but they weren’t there yet. The movers said that the last name is Ashcroft, I left the plate of cookies and a note welcoming them to the neighborhood. It looks like they have since arrived. When the pizza arrived there was a car parked in the driveway and looked like some lights inside the house. Maybe we can catch them tomorrow!”
“Hopefully they are nice, maybe they have some kids Naomi and Beth’s age so that they can have some new friends. As if they need some more.” Sam grinned wide, his sarcastic nature always peeking through.
“Exactly what we need, Sam, MORE kids coming in and out of our house, emptying our pantry and making messes.” I started to chuckle a bit, getting under the comforter and making myself cozy. We got settled into bed, and I turned the lights off. Before closing my eyes, I noticed that the soft red glow I noticed coming out from the windows across the street was bleeding into our bedroom. I stretched my legs out, laid on my side, and closed my eyes, falling into a deep sleep.
I opened my eyes suddenly and sat up with a feeling of dread and panic. A flash of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder quickly illuminated the bedroom. I noticed Sam was not in bed, just me. With my senses heightened, I sat and listened, trying to allow time for my eyes to adjust to the dark. A chilling breeze drafts across my back, followed by what sounds like muffled crying. “Sam?” I call out, “are you alright?” The bedroom door creaks open, a dull red glow pulsing from the hallway.
I slip my feet in my slippers and wrap my fleece robe around myself to counteract the freezing air that has invaded our home. I hear the quiet sobbing turn into borderline wailing. I walk to the doorway and peek my head out, looking both left and right down the hallway corridors. “Sam? Where are you? What’s wrong?” To me it looks as though the hallway stretches out, with the dim crimson illumination only being bright enough for me to see about 20-30 feet ahead of me, then pitch darkness.
While this should have stood out as odd to me, seeing as the hallways in our house are not that long, I was more determined to find Sam and help him out. I hear the sobbing again, it sounds as though it is coming from the right side so I start softly walking to the right to find him. This direction is where the kids rooms are, why would he be in either Beth or Naomi’s room? As I make my way down the passageway, the sanguine colored lighting throbs in and out. Finally, after what feels like a solid 10 minutes of walking, I can see the doors to both Beth and Naomi’s chambers.
Their rooms are positioned at the end of the hallway, Naomi’s on the left and Beth’s on the right with a third wall with a picture window to look out into the side yard. Perched underneath the console table that sits in front of and underneath the window, I can see a very pale, gangly person curled up in fetal position, their chest heaving in and out like they are hyperventilating. I can’t make out who it is, it doesn’t look like anyone in our family. I approach the figure, kneeling down and reaching out to touch them on the shoulder. Before my fingertips connect with their body, the creature whips itself around and positions itself on its knees, getting right in my face and screams an ear shattering scream. This creature is as white as a ghost, no eyes, and as its face elongates to scream, the skin breaks apart from where a mouth should be, tearing holes that open up into a pitch black void in its alabaster skin.
I stumble backwards in surprise, catching myself and standing up I turn around to flee. As I get turned around, I am now in our older daughter, Naomi’s bedroom, only the bed and bedside table illuminated. Naomi is laying in the bed, looking perfect like a porcelain doll, and Sam is on his knees at her bedside. He is bent over, head laying on the bed next to her, bawling. “Sam? What is happening?”
In between racking sobs, he responds with a very scratchy sounding voice, “you did this. You brought this into our house, into our family.” Sam grabs a handful of the blanket covering Naomi, squeezing it in anguish.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, what did I do? What did I bring…?” Before I could finish asking, Sam bolted rigid straight. He sat there, still and silent for about 5 seconds before bending straight back, the sound of bones popping making my stomach crawl.
“YOU DID THIS! YOU DID THIS! YOU DID THIS! YOU DID THIS!” Sam kept shrieking over and over again, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, the only thing that I could see was the whites of his eyes. Blood began streaming out of his nose, ears, and mouth. I reached up and clasped my hands over my ears, turning around to exit the room. I found myself now standing in front of a fireplace with a dramatic high backed velvet chair. In the blink of an eye, the pyre inside ignited to life. The radiant warmth felt nice, casting shadows from the chair and myself across the floor.
I took a step closer to the fire, trying to peek around the back of the chair to see who, if anyone, was sitting in it. I was startled by a deep, smooth voice, “what is the one thing in this world that you want the most?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I responded,
“Whatever you want most can be yours, you know what you need to do.” The mysterious voice stated. I walked forward and looked over the side of the chair, met by the shrieking, blood oozing face of Sam, mere inches from my own, “YOU DID THIS!”
I awoke terrified, drenched in a cold sweat, heart pounding. It was still dark out, I grabbed my phone and looked at it to see the time, 3:13 AM. I talked myself down, realizing it was just a nightmare. I laid myself back down, trying to get some more sleep, which ended up being a big failure.
After another few hours, I resigned myself to being tired through the day, getting out of bed and making coffee for Sam and myself. He and the kids stumbled into the kitchen over the next hour and a half. They were bright and rested, myself being quiet and reserved, still admittedly shaken from the nightmare.
The kids stomached a small breakfast, then disappeared into the family room to play, keeping themselves occupied for a while. Sam asks me, “Theo, what’s wrong, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Taking the opportunity, I explained my nightmare to him. Sam wrapped an arm around me, giving me a side hug, and made the effort to comfort me. He gets me distracted from thinking about it, suggesting we get dressed and go across the street to meet our new neighbors. I get out of my night clothes and changed into some casual jeans and a hoodie.
Together we slip out the front door, walk down our driveway, and start crossing the street. Before we reach the other side, a man opens the door and comes outside, waving and greeting us, “good morning, gentlemen! I am Mort Ashcroft.” I stop dead in my tracks, as his voice matches the one I heard in my nightmare before Sam popped around the side of the chair screaming into my face. He meets us at the end of his driveway, extending out a hand, Sam reaches out and takes it, I can’t help but stare in a surreal disbelief. I take in the details of Mort’s stature, tall, he had to have stood at 6’6”, salt and pepper hair, very strong facial bone structure. He was as pale as paper with piercing emerald eyes. Time dilated, I can see Sam’s mouth moving very slowly, no sound coming from his direction as their clasped hands move at a snails pace up and down.
I hear Mort’s voice in my own head, “what is the one thing in the world that you want the most?” I am immediately snapped out of my fugue state as their hands detach and I hear Sam introduce me, “and this is my husband Theo, we’re the DuBois’,” I pull myself together and act as normal as possible, reaching out my hand and exchange greetings with Mort.
“Yes, I am Theo, and we have two girls, Beth and Naomi who are wasting their Saturday on television. Do you have any kids, Mr. Ashcroft?” I inquire, keeping the conversation momentum going.
“Regrettably not, it is just myself. Maybe one day, though. I hope to be around for a while longer, only time will tell. Would you both please come in for a moment? I have a pitcher of mimosas ready to enjoy, and your devilishly wonderful cookies you left yesterday.” Mort gestures to his front door, a perfectly pearly smile adorns his charismatic face. Sam accepts the invitation for the both of us and begins walking up the driveway to Mr. Ashcroft’s door, I am left behind, still not sure I know what is reality anymore. Am I still dreaming? I don’t think so. I pinch myself and come to the conclusion that I am very much awake. I must be letting my imagination run wild, so to be polite, I follow Sam and Mort into the home.
Mort Ashcroft is an entirely charming individual, throwing out jokes at the appropriate times while being a splendid host with refreshments. We drink through a pitcher of mimosas and finish the cookies before we are interrupted by a shrill scream coming from our home. The girls! I immediately get up and look out the front window, Beth is out front screaming her head off, pointing inside of the house. Sam and I bolt out of Mort’s home and get to her in a flash. She is to the point of hyperventilating, relaying to us that her and Naomi saw a snake in the house.
Ok, yeah, that is alarming, but I thought so much worse could have happened. We thank Mr. Ashcroft for being so hospitable and excuse ourselves to take care of the home. He heads back to his own house, waving courteously as he enters his own house and closes the front door. Sam and I go into our own home, find, catch and remove the snake out into the yard. Strange enough that it is out in the middle of the cold season, but weirder things have happened.
The rest of the day went fairly routine for a Saturday; Naomi got into a fight with Beth because Beth had taken Naomi’s hairbrush, Sam made a succulent roast which I had to tease him and say it was dry, the kids went to their rooms to talk to and text their friends about the woes of weekend homework. Night time came, and slumber took over the neighborhood.
I am awakened to a familiar sounding voice, “you can have your deepest desire for a small cost.” My eyes popped open, I immediately recognized that I was not in our bed. I was laying on the floor in the living room in front of the couch. I sit up, looking for the source of the voice that awakened me. It sounded too real, my rattled brain taking a moment to realize that I am not in bed, where I fell asleep.
I heard the sound of glass breaking, making me stand up quickly. I notice in my rigid position, the symbol that I was laying on. A flash of lightning illuminates the living room, I am quickly made aware that this symbol is everywhere. On the walls, all over the floor, on the furniture, even. It looks, and smells like, it was drawn in blood of some sort. As the light dies out from the lightning, five candles erupt into flame, positioned around the symbol I happen to be standing in the middle of.
I hear Beth shriek an ear shattering scream, in dad mode, I bolt out of the living room and push my way into Beth’s room. I am met with an office space. Dramatic blood red curtains frame a large picture window with an oversized oak desk in front of it. Mort Ashcroft sat in a chair on the other side of the desk from me, motioning for me to take a seat in the vacant seat. “Where is Beth?!”
Mort chuckles, “worry not, she is safe and sound, asleep like a little babe. She is merely having a bad dream, that was why she screamed out.”
“Why are you here? In her room?” I choke out, tears starting to fill my eyes.
Mort stares into my soul, his poker face unnerving, he blinks, his eyes changing from a bright violet into a matching blood red to the curtains. “You did this. You have a desire, I have an answer. It is a simple quid pro quo. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“WHAT DID I DO?!” I lose my control, screaming out, I want to jump over the desk and start shaking Mort. I start shaking, and decide to slump down into the chair right next to me.
A condescending, yet wicked looking smile crosses his face, “well, that’s the $100,000 question, isn’t it? You were a good neighbor, you were. You got my attention, which is fortunate for you, unfortunate for… someone else.” Mr. Ashcroft reaches his hand into his jacket pocket and pulls out a black remote control. He presses a button and the floor opens. Howls and screams fill the room, making me sick to my stomach. A wave of heat hits me in the face as I realize that I am looking into a pit to Hell.
Flames lick up into the air from the pit, I am able to make out tortured faces in the flames. I can even start hearing individual pleas for help. “You’re dying, Mr. DuBois, you know it but haven’t told anyone in your family yet. You’re afraid that this is where you will end up, which I do say, the chances are looking mighty good. So many skeletons in your closet.” He snaps his fingers, the hole in the ground closes up with the sound of an earthquake. “I know what you want, already, you just need to ask for it.”
I feel a hand on my shoulder, turning my head, I am shaken to see Beth standing there, her eyes are missing, mouth sewn shut, and her chest a hollow cavity with the ribs cracked open and spread out. Boils and blisters cover her skin and half of her hair is singed off.
I wake up in reality, I am standing in Naomi’s room, right at the side of her bed. My nose started to bleed, I could feel the warm moisture dribbling down my face and soaking the front of my pajamas. I collapse and everything blacks out.
I wake up again, in a hospital bed, Sam half asleep in a chair beside me. I groan as I try to move, I definitely must have bruised something as my body is sore. Sam realizes that I am alert so he stands up and comes over to the bed and gives me a big hug, “what were you doing in Naomi’s room at 3 in the morning, Theo? You woke us all up! You scared us all!” I told him I must have started sleepwalking, that I came to in her room and then immediately collapsed. I apologized profusely, not wanting to scare him or my family. That’s why I haven’t told any of them about the terminal diagnosis of my pancreatic cancer.
The doctor came in, while we were embracing each other, after asking me several questions of my symptoms and what led up to me being here at St. Mary’s. After I explained to her my story, she ordered a CT scan of my brain, just to make sure there was nothing off, and a panel of blood work.
A few hours later, she came back in and sat down, announcing she had some news. The cat was out of the bag now, as she announced that the cancer has spread to my brain. Sam learned that the cancer was terminal, and that I was looking at only a year, maybe two, left to live. Both of us were beside ourselves in tears, we discussed addressing this with our kids, and how we were going to proceed the rest of our lives together. Shortly thereafter, I got discharged and sent home, by this point it was already getting late again, so we picked up some fast food to take home to the kids for dinner, as neither of us had the energy to prepare anything for them today after that bombshell.
The kids ate, and went up to bed. Sam had his emotions get the best of him, and he started screaming at me, wondering how I knew and didn’t trust him enough to tell him, “were you just waiting to drop dead for me to find out?”, he asked.
“Well, no, I just didn’t know when would be the right time or even how…” I began answering.
He cut me off, going hysterical, “WHEN YOU FOUND OUT WOULD BE THE RIGHT TIME!” The screaming went on for what felt like forever, we decided that I would sleep on the couch tonight, just to give us some healthy space to process feelings. Even though he was hurt, he still told me he loved me before locking himself in our bedroom. I could hear him sobbing from our room. After a couple of hours of laying there, stuck in my own thoughts, I fell asleep.
My eyes opened, and I was inside Mort Ashcroft’s living room, the sun was out, birds were chirping, everything felt phenomenal. I saw a serving tray with two mimosas on it, so I walked over and grabbed one. I found a seat on a very comfortable leather sofa, I take a sip of my mimosa and I hear, “are you ready to ask for what you desire the most?” I look around, and don’t see Mort. That was very much his voice, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Up here.” The voice chimes in again. I look up and notice the regal painting I saw when the movers were unloading the truck.
My eyes widened with fear as the painting was what was talking to me, “this will be your last chance to ask. After my third attempt, I don’t bother anymore.” It said, the colors on the canvas swirling in a hypnotic fashion, it was captivating but intimidating.
“I don’t know, I mean, yes, I do know, but I don’t.” I managed to stammer out.
“Would it be easier if you said it to me, instead of myself?” A voice to my left filled my ears. I looked over and saw Mort sitting right next to me, while still feeling the watchful glare of the painting. “Either way you are talking to me, that painting is just a little something I had commissioned by a certain Leonardo DaVinci. I may be old, but I am still proud of how I age so well.” Ashcroft chuckles.
“Wait, are you…” My mind couldn’t think of the word I was actually thinking, instead what came out was, “… an angel?”
He looks side to side, as if looking if anyone were here with us, listening, then smiles and responds, “something like that. What do you want?”
I start crying, knowing my time is limited, “I don’t want to die. I want to live. I have cancer and they are only giving me…”
Mort raises his hand, stopping me from going into a rambling tirade, “you want to beat cancer. You want to live. Well, I can give that to you, for a small cost. Nothing is free Mr. DuBois.”
“Wh-what does it c-c-cost?” I manage to get out, wiping the tears from my eyes. Feeling a little bit of hope.
“Don’t worry, Mr. DuBois, you have paid for your desire while we have been here talking. You paid in your sleep. Isn’t that wonderful?” He grins, reaching out his hand to shake mine.
I reluctantly reach out and take his hand, a moment of hesitation taking me over in the last second. “All I needed to do to pay for it was sleep?”
“Absolutely Mr. DuBois. Now, when you wake up, you will be cancer free. Congratulations and welcome to the rest of your life.” He stood up, and walked to his doorway. He opened the door and motioned for me to exit. “Now, if you will excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but I happen to have another engagement to take care of this day.”
I gather myself, get up and walk out of the house. I am surrounded by bright, warm sunlight. It feels amazing on my skin. I hear the door close behind me, I turn around…
It has been a week since I woke up in our room, I was standing by the side of the bed, Sam lay dead under my hands. I had strangled him to death, blood was running out of his eyes from the pressure I put on his throat. I screamed the most blood curdling scream I could muster. I was covered in blood, with no recollection of what happened. I saw the clock, the time was 3:30 AM. I ran out of our room, and saw that the girls bedroom doors were open. I found Beth folded up in her closet, her eyes cut out and chest sliced open, an empty cavity gaping at me with her heart and lungs making a trail of blood and gore from her bed to the closet. Naomi was in her bed, her throat slit, laying in a pool of her own blood.
I grabbed the keys to my vehicle and got out of there with just my wallet and a pair of clothes. I needed to get my story out before they caught me. I need people to know the truth. I am not a killer, it was not me, it was something controlling my body while I slept.
It has been five days since I left our home. I am in deep mourning, and have not decided if I should end my own life, or take prison time. The story has been all over the news, reports of police and state marshals looking for me.
I called in a tip to the local police that I am hiding out in this seedy little motel outside of Philadelphia. I can see the lights coming down the road and hear the sirens. Please be careful of new neighbors, sometimes they are not quite as they seem.
“It’s 8:57 PM and we are getting reports that the suspect from the DuBois homicide case has been apprehended in a No-Tel Motel north of Philadelphia. Police and Sheriff’s arrived shortly after 8 PM to Theo DuBois locked in one of the rooms at this den of iniquity.” The reporter, a woman in her 40’s looking coiffed and caked with makeup to try to improve her appearance on HDTV, continued to recite.
“The suspect threatened to take his own life if his demands were not met, he went on to scream incoherent things about the devil and a man named Mort Ashcroft. Our affiliates in Virginia will continue looking into this, as this is a new detail to the case. Allegedly, this Mr. Ashcroft just moved in across the street from the DuBois family and is being identified as a person of interest. As of now, there is no record of anyone purchasing the house in question, as it is still listed on the market.” She turns her head to look at another camera before continuing the report.
“Theo DuBois did attempt to end his own life, using a firearm to shoot himself in the head. The suspect did survive, miraculously, and is expected to recover fully. Stay tuned with us here at WDVL as this story continues to develop.” She finished up before passing the torch to her co anchor for the next story of the night.
With a sinister chuckle, Mort turns off the television that is mounted in his new home as he sees his new neighbors walking up the driveway to introduce themselves in a warm, tropical Miami suburb.
Credit: Maximilian Alexander
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