Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
“You really do like my collection, don’t you?”
Those words were among the most terrifying I had heard in my entire life. Not because of the words themselves, but because of the man saying them. The man who had me tied up in his living room, of his freaky old house, who sat calmly and collected on a couch that had last been reupholstered probably a century before I was born.
Before I get too far, you can probably guess I’m still around to tell this story. Well, yeah, sorry to break the suspense there. But that’s not the point. This is not a story I am telling proudly, because the reason I was in his house was to steal things. I’m not normally a thief by trade; I’m just a guy who ran into financial problems and needed money. I was out of work for six months, and my bills were racking up, and it looked like no one in the world wanted to hire me.
I would have never even considered robbing anyone, except…well, he started it.
My neighborhood would never be mistaken for upper class, but it’s not crime-ridden, either. The house a couple of doors down has a guy who I’m sure has done some time for assault, the way he screams at people who mow their lawn while he’s sleeping, and one the neighborhood outdoor cats gets into scrapes with my neighbor’s dog from time to time, but other than that it’s pretty quiet. The hovel at the end of the street, though, has always been a little off-putting.
The owner was rarely seen, but when he did, he was always gruff, unpleasant, and kept to himself. Thing is, though his colonial had peeling paint and his lawn was overgrown and nearly impassable, he had an immaculate 1930s Airflow. I recognized the car from that L.A. Noire game that came out a few years ago; I always liked the look of it and wished I could have one of my own someday, if I ever had the money to buy a classic car. But that car was so out of place compared to the rest of the house that it struck me, and quite a few other people in the neighborhood, as odd.
We all just assumed he was some lonely old miser who liked to spend time on his car and ignored the rest of the world. The thing that changed my mind was when he almost ran me over with it.
And I don’t mean I just stepped out into the road at the wrong time and didn’t see him. The asshole actually tried to kill me and missed.
There was no way he didn’t see me. He was pulling out of his driveway to go who knows where, and I went to go cross the street on my way back home from the convenience store. As I got in the middle of the road, he hit the accelerator, and I had to dive for the gutter before he hit me. He ran over my bag of stuff. I lost an energy drink and a bag of chips, but thankfully that was all I lost.
I started shouting at him as he went off. I was hoping another neighbor would have seen it and reported him to the cops, but unfortunately since it was the middle of the day most of them were probably at work.
I went home and called the cops myself, and while they said I could come down and file a report, if there were no witnesses it would be hard to press charges. I could tell the cop was sympathetic; I’m pretty sure he lived nearby and knew exactly who I was talking about, but there just wasn’t much that could be done.
It just made me seethe more. I wanted to teach him a lesson of some kind, get back at him. The best I could think to do, though, was write an angry note. I was going to put it in his mailbox or front door, or maybe shove it right in his face if I actually got to see him.
It was already night when I went to go drop it off. Lights were on in everyone’s houses, and even with curtains drawn you could see the warm glow of lamps around the edges.
But his house…no light came from it at all. I stumbled through his front lawn to his porch, about to hang the note, when I looked at his front window.
I don’t know what kind of curtains they were, but they were jet black, and no light came around them at all. It seemed like it was too early at night for someone to be asleep, but it could’ve been the case. And then I noticed the window itself was broken in one corner. I could reach in and touch it.
I did. It was cold, and heavy. I tried to move it to one side. I could just barely see into the room, but could tell it was a living room of some kind. I pulled out my phone, shook it to turn on the flashlight, and pointed it in.
I don’t like the expression my jaw dropped, but…yeah, my jaw dropped. Despite the overall mustiness and ill-kept look of the room, the stuff in it looked priceless. There was a vase in one corner that was almost as big as I was, some kind of marble statue in another corner, old paintings hanging up on the worn wallpaper, and a fireplace mantel covered with knickknacks.
The guy was loaded. I would have bet anything in that room could have been auctioned for a fortune.
I suddenly had a better idea of exacting my revenge. Screw the note. If the rich old bastard felt like running people over with his car and got away with it, I was going to make off with something of his. He’d probably never even miss it.
I wanted to see if he was home. I first tried the doorbell, but the button was hanging to one side and didn’t look like it could’ve rung if it wanted to. I tried knocking at the door, several times, even banging on it once or twice, but I never got an answer.
I looked around for cameras, but didn’t see any of those, either. A little weird, considering what he owned, but I guess he thought his house and attitude alone would be enough to deter people. Satisfied, I reached through the crack in the window to see if I could pry it open. I couldn’t quite reach, but I found a rock that allowed me bash out enough the window to try it.
I opened it and climbed through into the living room. I turned on my cellphone light again, covering most of it with my hand to keep it from shining around too much. Most of the stuff in the room would have been too big to carry off with me, so I went over to the mantel to see what was up there.
There was a clock that looked like it was solid gold…it wasn’t heavy enough to be, but it probably had enough in it to purchase half the block. A candlestick set was next, but it was too wide to hide anywhere. Next was a little jewelry or snuff box that didn’t have anything in it, but was probably silver.
So many things I could’ve taken. But there was one thing on the mantel that was strange. It was the only thing that was old, but didn’t look like it was worth anything.
It was one of those Russian dolls, the ones that pop open and have more inside. I wish I could remember the real name, but there was nothing spectacular about it. Just a painted doll, with a man wearing a fur hat on the outside. It reminded me of a nutcracker, only in painted form.
I couldn’t decide what to take, but while I thought about it I glanced around the rest of the room. It was then that the paintings caught my eye.
The guy who lived here was definitely older, probably in his early sixties, graying hair and beard. The guy in the paintings looked awfully similar to him, but with much younger features. One was a portrait, with what looked like a Napoleon outfit. One showed him in something from the Revolutionary war.
And yet another one, of a much younger man, standing on the Globe theater stage. I recognized it from an old class project I did about Shakespeare.
The paint on that one was flaking pretty badly. It made me think it was either a poor job, or it was old. Genuinely old.
But it was the same guy in all the pictures. Unless it was some weird vanity project, either there was a lot of very similar relatives, or something really strange was going on.
I turned around to go back to the mantel. In front of me was another face. An older man, probably in his early sixties. I thought for a minute that he looked really happy. But then something hit me in the face. It smelled strange, but I didn’t know much after that.
When I woke back up, the living room lights were on, and I was tied to a chair that hadn’t been in the room before. And the man was sitting on the couch, hands folded, dressed in a smoking jacket. And the first thing out of his mouth was that question.
I was petrified. Trespassing and trying to steal something, sure, I could’ve gotten shot and killed if he was armed. He could have had me arrested. But the way he was acting told me he hadn’t called the cops. There was something deeply wrong with this guy.
I gulped. “It’s…it’s very…old, I guess.”
“Yes, it is.” He looked at the paintings, and then the mantel. “You know, I’ve found over time that the easiest way to judge someone is not by their outside, but what they hide away. Like the little doll over there.”
He didn’t move from the couch, but I had the strangest feeling that he had moved closer to me. He stared right into my eyes. “I can tell your house is fairly good-looking on the outside, but inside…you’re struggling. Needing more money, more hope, more…meaning. And even more than that. In your house is you. Peel that away, and there’s resentment, fear, anger…and revenge.”
This time he stood up, and smiled again. “We all have things we don’t anyone to see. I’m no different.” He went to another room, and I heard him digging around for something. “You’re not the first person to break into my house. You won’t be the last.”
I didn’t try to wait it out. I fought the ties on my hands and ankles, but everything was too tight and I couldn’t do anything with them. I scooted the chair backwards on the rug, scooting towards the mantel, hoping something on there would help.
There was nothing I could reach. With my tiptoes, I tried to lift myself forward and stand up just a little bit.
As I did, the chair creaked, and I felt it shift. Like everything else in here, it was old. And even if it worth good money, it wasn’t worth my life.
I rocked forward, and then pushed back with all my might. I hit the floor hard, but the chair flew apart. I was still tied to parts of the chair, but I could move.
I looked to the window to escape, but I saw while I was out, he had put some kind of bar against the heavy black curtains, and padlocked it. I would have had to undo the lock to free myself. I heard him coming from the other room, and knew I had to try and defend myself.
I grabbed the candlestick, and in the process, I knocked the Russian doll on the floor.
The man came back in. He was carrying a knife, but it was strange…the blade was crooked and bent, like a snake. His eyes were wide, but I realized he wasn’t looking at me.
He was looking at the doll.
I don’t know why, but I reached down and grabbed it.
In that moment, his wife eyed look turned to sheer anger, and he lunged at me.
I pulled off the top of the doll with a pop. And what happened next still haunts me.
When I pulled the top, the man’s top half just seemed to peel away, but his skin just vanished. Underneath was something not human. It was wizened, and pale, and drawn, and its eyes stared at me…or where eyes should have been were two blue dots, like stars. Little horns came from the top of its skull.
It roared an inhuman roar.
I pulled another layer from the doll.
The monster became little more than slimy, rotted muscle hanging from bone. It took another step forward, but stumbled and fell.
I pulled once more.
The skeleton and sinew crawled towards me, unable to do much more but move at a slow pace.
I pulled the final layer.
In the midst of a pile of organs lay a large, gray stone, in the shape of a heart. Even as stone, it beat and twitched.
Inside the final layer of the doll was a small jar, and inside there lay a small, mummified heart.
I dropped the jar on the floor and crushed it under my foot.
The stone heart stopped beating.
I didn’t actually steal anything from the house. I left it all there, because I didn’t want to touch anything more that the…creature touched. But as luck would have it, I did manage to find a job only a week or so later, and my life has improved a lot since then.
I know that the house at the end of the street has finally been razed, and a new, much nicer home is in its spot. I don’t know what happened to its contents, or what remained of the man inside.
But if he was someone who had beaten death itself and had lived through centuries as that thing, I’m glad he’s gone. If living like that is what immortality offers, I did him a favor.