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A gregarious cheer warmed the wide living room as we all sat ’round the fireplace, the soothing flames suffusing throughout and thoroughly staving the Winter chill frosted over the window panes. The decrepit mansion we decided to bide our night in was weathered, the floorboards rotten and the walls home to fat mice, though upon what they fed in such an isolated place, I was not sure.
A small gathering, we had decided upon, for a nights stay at the local haunted house. Of course it wasn’t haunted, but then, every structure that looked like the building we were in seemed haunted. We brought the essentials: bologna sandwiches, intoxicants, a portable speaker for music, pillows, and the firewood. It was simple, a concise, basic form of relaxation, but it was sure to become one of those resplendent memories. There was Matt, asking me where I got the scabbed cut on my wrist after he took a huge hit of his e-cig, exhaling the thick plume upon our group, then Jasmine, mentioning again the gaudiness of my dyed blond hair. Maddison was there as well, carelessly dropping bread crumbs upon her gray shirt.
We had not taken to exploring the vast stretches of hallway and myriad labyrinthine winds that composed the innards of the once-grand house, choosing instead to center our merrymaking in the decayed opulence of the living room, with its wide arches and flaking paint, chipped to reveal a red-rusted hypodermis. Many of the ancient stuffed couches and chairs were moth-eaten and now a far cry from the comfort they once beheld, but the wooden chairs provided well enough, and so we formed a circle around the fire out of them.
Some hours must have passed after we arrived, for an ornate window revealed the Sun sundered beneath the skyline, and the Moon in midst of its ascent, casting a silver, phantasmagorical sea upon the desolate surroundings. The edges of the dead trees caught it, casting long, black shadows that appeared to have an impossible depth, like an inky sea, like a flytrap waiting for a victim to swallow, to never let return to the breathing world. The snow that sheeted the grounds reflected the silver, and though the countryside was dark, it glowed in faint moonlight. Silhouettes clung to the horizon, marking surreal corpses of forests and once-green verdure.
More time passed, and I broke abruptly from the darkness that had clouded over my mind. I realized I had fallen asleep, and as I gazed around, I discovered that my friends were missing. I suspected they had taken to wandering the house without me, the bastards. I got up and began my search, taking the hallway through which we had entered the living room.
The carpet here was eclectic, origin unknown, though very intricate and beautiful, despite the stains of various substances, dried and crusted after the many years of neglect. Dust fell from the ceiling as the house creaked, moaned the way a living corpse might when realizing it should be dead and done away with, yet beholding itself still standing. Chips and pockmarks disfigured the bare wooden walls, and while a clean lacquer was present on parts of it, its absence on most conveyed it as in disrepair, like that of a condemned building, long past its use to human inhabitants.
Fuck. Shit. I only now thought about it, that perhaps the klonopin would be flushed out of my system, and that I should have brought more. I feared that state, when I grew anxious, the distraught place when I began writhing inside, like an insect being slurped into a leech’s maw. But, with effort, I dismissed the thought, calming my heartbeat. This would surely be a stress-free night. Surely.
I was in the opening atrium, flanked to the left by the doors we had kicked in, and a massive staircase to the right, a red carpet with dull gold trim resting upon the steps. I was preparing to proceed down the hallway across from me, when I heard footsteps. Faint, light, quick, there and then not, coming from upstairs. I looked towards the source, but could discern no presence. Must’ve been my friends.
I began ascending the stairwell, my own footsteps loud in the deathly silence, causing me to stop for a moment, wincing at the sacrilege of such sound. After a moment, I continued on, reached the top floor, and peered around. This place was absent of life. The hallway stretched, branching off at periodic intervals like long, withered veins. There were a few closed doors, the wood tarnished and rotted in some spots, and a little ways down, I could see a dark, brownish-red splatter, dried in a stream on the wall. Windows provided enough light to traverse, the lunar silver shining strongly. It was a full Moon tonight. A desk sat to the right of me, and a painting overhead. I approached, intrigued by the thick layer of dust obscuring the portrait. I wiped it off.
A girl, perhaps a woman, sitting in front of a lake as the Sun shone overhead, long, dark hair with a peculiar sheen, wearing a white dress that clung close to her emaciated frame, her flesh ghostly pale, a hemp-laced locket ’round her throat with an obscured portrait inside, her face looking away, a pretty, aquiline nose, eyebrows contorted in rage, her eyes gone, flesh pulled over them, flesh pulled over her mouth, sewn shut without a thread.
I stepped back, creeped out. The girl was painted with stunning realism, more a photograph than a painting. Who would keep this kinda thing in their home? But I began to digress, instead contemplating its value. I decided I would take it when we left. A slight shudder groaned from within the walls.
Continuing on, without sight of a single soul, I wound my way through the entrails of the upper floor, choosing at random a branching path. The house seemed much bigger on the inside than the out, the layout monotonous and confusing, and though I knew I was lost, I did not heed my sense of foresight, deciding I would eventually find my way back. My footsteps echoed, the acoustics distorting the sound, and I realized the footsteps I heard earlier could’ve come from anywhere.
After some searching, I thought I heard something, like something scraping, though it was nearly subliminal. I chose a door, determining it to be the most likely source of the noise, and entered. The window here shed less light in than those of the hallway, but the hazy outlines distinguished a bedroom, furnished modestly and without creativity, and the darkness washed over what appeared to be a closed closet door. It was like a hotel room; you could feel that many people had lived in it, yet it was clean, immaculate, any evidence that might have once existed wiped away. It had an old-fashioned feel, from the antiquated bed to the simple browned chair in the corner, and then the small, oval mirror that sat on a dresser.
The room conjured vague associations in my mind. I am not sure from whence they came, though they had a familiarity, a de ja vu, a feeling as if I knew something but the neurons just couldn’t transmit the information. But it also held a foreign connotation, almost xenophobic, as if encoded within the DNA of humans, an inherited memory from an ancestor, like fear of insects. My mind whispered dissimulation as I peered across the room, a diaphanous wariness clawing up my spine.
I decided I was not particularly perturbed, however, and not sure if I was merely overthinking things inside a creepy, ancient house, so I firmly dismissed the strange, spiraling thoughts.
I walked towards the dresser, noting a drawer not fully closed, and found it empty save a silk-laced locket. I lifted it up, opened it, to find a blurry portrait of a blond-haired man. Wasn’t this the locket the woman in the painting had been wearing? I shuddered at the feeling of the old jewelry, but its age might make it valuable, and I pocketed it. I looked into the mirror, checking myself out, twiddling with my hair. As my night vision became more accustomed to the room, I began to notice the darkness inside the closet behind me as it swirled, folding, floating, collapsing in on itself, until the door shuddered. I turned around, senses heightened, watching, trying to perceive any difference. After some deliberation, I walked up to the closet, and stared for a moment.
The door was wide open, jittering ever so slightly. The darkness was whole, complete, insurmountable to the straining light pouring through the window. It moved like static, and though it was utterly silent, I could still hear something in the silence, akin to static, as well. As I had no secondary light source and could not properly see, I decided to leave the room and the subtle teeming anxiety it was inciting.
I grew slightly unnerved. I could not tell what it was, but the faint feeling of a tenebrific oppression pushed itself down upon me, from every angle, constricting not my body, but the thing that I was, the very consciousness, I was squirming inside, like an etherized patient still awake on the operating table. Uneasiness crept in tremors up my neck, discomforting me in a primal, survivalistic sense, the sense of a sheep before slaughter, before the sheep could even see the murderer’s face.
As my pulse trembled erratically, I remembered I was in an old, creepy house, I was ok, free from harm, my friends a shout away, but as for right now, alone. Completely alone. Absolutely alone. This was the thought I clung to, and it calmed me down.
I closed the door behind me, shaking myself internally to try and loosen up, and continued my journey. A few deep breaths, and a promise to stay out of the rooms now, to go back downstairs, brought me back down to a comfortable state. I should head downstairs anyways, as there was no sign of my friends. Perhaps they were back in the living room by now.
I walked through the dusky corridors, my breath and footsteps my only companions. Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. Isolation. My heart hit harder. My sense of direction was absent, each hallway was identical to the last, each door the same tarnished color, the Moon beaming the same sullen silver. My lungs constricted. The wooden panels on the walls, of the floor, composing the ceiling, all marked and chipped and stained and weathered, they all whispered in solidarity the same word: alone. I was completely and absolutely alone, dreadfully and disdainfully alone, my hands palsying, lost, wandering in an amaranthine maze. I grew nervous, sick, vision swaying, what if I were lost forever-
Nonsense, it’s a finite house, not some haunted mansion in a horror movie. Besides, your friends will come find you when-
What if it’s not what it appears? What if this IS the horror movie? What if they get lost? What if they’re dead? What if-
Horror movies aren’t real. The supernatural isn’t real. The house is limited in physical space, as all things are, no matter how vast or intricate. There’s no one here to kill them, or you, so get a fucking grip you crazy-
It’s been hours since I’ve seen them, I’ve been gone forever, what if they’ve left? How do I get out of here? All I want to do is get out. I can’t breathe. Let me out. LET ME OUT-
Take a breath. What direction was the Moon when you were downstairs and looked out the window?
To the… East?
Where is it right now?
I looked out the window on my immediate left, and then the one behind me where the hallway cornered off. A murder of crows flew by. No Moon over here, or back there.
So go away from the direction it’s not in.
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. The stairwell is on the East side, I’ll find the general way back. My breath slowed back down. I felt ok. I swerved slightly to the right in the last bout of nausea, abrading my arm against the coarse, gelid wood.
“It’s cold.” A small, soft, feminine voice, almost below the threshold of hearing. Footsteps for a moment, ceasing suddenly. I listened.
“Hey?” I asked, vocal chords wavering, suddenly constricted as the trepidation materialized again.
Silence. Teeming, ululating, cacophonous, abysmal silence. It beckoned for me.
“Yo, is that one of you guys? I’m a bit lost.” Was that breathing I could hear, or just a draft of the Winter gale moving through the house? Did the floorboards creak under the weight of feet, or was the wizened mansion just settling? Are those shadows draped over an observer? Was someone hiding beside the corner behind me, watching? Was I the only one listening to the thundering of my heart?
I indulged my paranoia, turning around. Nothing. After a breath, I crept slowly towards what I believed to be the source of the footsteps, of that disembodied, ethereal voice, noticing crumbs on the floor and then forgetting, the air growing frigid, trying to listen acutely to every variance and nuance. I peeked around a corner, willing myself to investigate. A hallway stretched distantly, seemingly longer than the house itself, a door cracked at the end, and it slammed shut in an instant, a glimpse of gray fabric and pale arms flashing for just a moment. I stood in the middle of the hall, shivering as a cold air blew hard against my back. I turned around to find the window open, unsure as to why, and just stood there. The moonlight appeared to have changed color, now casting a dark, depressing gray across everything. I looked down, feeling a sensation upon my arm. A deep red was blotted across my wrist, the wound dripping. Where had this mark come from? I hadn’t even felt it, who had done this to me, when?
I was fearful now. I felt like prey, I felt the eyes burning upon me, though their location was obscured. I was not alone on this floor, I knew that now, knew some presence had been here the whole time, ever since I came up the stairs, ever since we broke open the doors, waiting, watching, feasting its eyes upon us in the rooms adjacent to us, looking under the cracks of doors and false eyes of paintings, studying our faces, deciding how exactly its hands should bring about our deaths, the order in which we would die, whether to use its teeth or silverware, where to bury our bodies, how much could be spared to the rats, what kind of cooking method for each of the limbs, the fantasy of tasting our flesh, my skull discarded amongst the hundreds others.
The panic shot through me, the neurotransmitter incendiary, molten, my veins cauterized with it. Anxiety built in my lungs until I was suffocating, drowning in imaginary inundation, the tendrils snaking through the bronchi. All I could do was stand still as every single synapse fired the same message, as my nervous system flushed adrenals through my system, as my heart increased with painful celerity into an arrhythmic dirge. Then I ran. Sprinted. Screamed. The murderer was here, something spectral, unnatural, unsatisfied with death yet malcontent to bask in it alone. I convulsed inside, an eerie sensation, my consciousness seizuring, unconsciously struggling to get out as if manacled to my body. I was positively writhing.
“Matt! Jasmine! Maddison! We need to leave, now!” I yelled, hoping it was not in vain.
I ran, twisting through the turns of hallways that seemed to bleed in to each other, and then voices sounded, a low, collective murmur that seemed to rise up from within the house itself, non-corporeal and echoing. The walls congealed, dark patterns formed eyeless faces, jaws dropped in agony, outlines shuddering into one another, melding, cleaving, edges in the walls vibrating, ceiling bellowing and bending, darkness stretching its fingertips across the walls and floors, ever consuming. Consuming me.
“You guys! Can you hear me? We gotta go!” I shouted, unsure as to where my friends could be, whether they were even still alive.
After I took a corner, I became elated when I saw the stairwell at the end of the hall. The hallucinatory anomalies ceased. Finally, I could get out of here, I could find my friends and get somewhere safe. I became wary, however, when I noticed a bright crimson streak on the wall, like an artery had gushed down it, splatters dripped along the floor. I became distracted, afraid my friends were already dead, and then it felt as if I had been tripped, and I was rolling down the stairs. A rib cracked, my temple began to gush, and various other injuries were sustained. The pain was fresh, vivid, causing me to forget all about the thing stalking me. I cussed out loud, laying at the foot of the steps, breathing stertorously, trying to ignore the pain. I was disorientated, immersed in my pain receptors.
My friends must’ve heard me, and came to my aid, rushing down the stairs. I was surprised and ecstatic to see their faces.
“What the hell? Are you ok, man?” Matt asked.
“Yeaaaaah.” I said, succinct. I faded in and out of consciousness, clutching my temple. They all ran to my side.
“Listen, guys. We, we gotta roll, we- we gotta head out. There’suh som’in’ ‘n here. The wind- window was open, someone slammed the door, voices, feetsteps, my wrisd is red. Someone up there.” I said.
“That was us, we were up there, I opened the window because it was real warm, but I guess no one else felt that way.” Matt said.
“Yeah, ‘cause it’s the middle of fuckin’ December!” Maddison said.
“Whateverrr, but yeah man, we were the only ones up there. We called out for you when we heard you yell, but you didn’t reply, and your voice was all echoey, so it was difficult to find you. Until you made that loud ass racket when you fell down the stairs.” Matt continued.
“You look tripped out, you didn’t take your meds, did you? You know how fucked up you get when you don’t take it, remember that time at the lake? Are you sure-” Jasmine said, but I began to ignore her. The relief I felt upon realizing there was nothing in the house, nothing but my friends and my own illusioned mind, lulled me into the dark.
Suddenly, I was clear, lucid, immediately present, the darkness dispersed.
“Hello?” I called.
“Yeah, hey man, you cool?” Matt asked from up the stairs.
“Yea-yeah, yeah man. What’re you doing? Where’d everyone else go?”
“Come up here. They went to try and get some cell phone reception to see about getting you a doctor.” I staggered up the staircase. What an asshole, making me walk up the steps I just fell down.
“This is a spooky house.” I said, as the stairwell shuddered.
“Tell me about it. Did you go in these rooms? And check this painting out!”
“Rooms? What are you talking about? And yeah, I’ve already seen it, it’s weird.”
“Dude, these teeth are crazy!”
“Teeth?” I asked as I reached the top of the stairwell.
Every single door in the hallway was wide open.
I murmured as I stared at the portrait, my face and blonde hair now painted in her locket, at the thousands of bloody, spiny needles piercing haphazardly through the woman’s lipless mouth.
The necklace in my pocket began to burn.
Credit To – Lightbringer