Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
“Lucy said I wouldn’t even make it to the front door,” I mumbled as I retrieved my sleeping bag and flashlight from the back seat of my car. “Well I’m here now, I’ll stay here ‘til morning, and I’ll be at her house bright and early to pick up my 100 bucks.” With sleeping bag in one hand and flashlight in the other, I entered through the grand front doors of Storey Mansion. Adorned with only the corniest of big, ugly knocker/ handle thingies, I thought and rolled my eyes as I stepped into the foyer.
I tried to play it cool but I couldn’t ignore the dull panic starting to rise up in my belly. I thought about that song from The King and I—the one mom used to sing to me when I had nightmares. “Make believe you’re brave, and the truth will take you far. . .” I sang under my breath as I walked around the foyer. I jumped as the clock stuck nine. Then I heard something else: the sound of a crying child.
For some reason I found myself bounding up the stairs toward the source of the noise—maybe some mothering instinct I developed from taking care of my little sister. When I reached the top I saw a dim light shining in the east hall as though a light were on in one of the rooms. I made her way down the hall stopping at the second room on the left. Inside a little girl stood crying by a dimly lit fireplace. “Who. . . who are you?” I asked, bewildered and frightened.
“I’m sad,” wailed the little girl as turned around to face me. She was the most gorgeous child I had ever seen, almost inhuman—like an angel. At not quite three feet tall, I guessed the little girl to be about six, the same age as my sister Norah. Her eyes were an impossibly deep midnight blue, so deep that in the dim light of the fireplace her pupils were almost indistinguishable. Her skin was pale and smooth like an Easter lily, her cheeks like rosebuds, her mouth like a sweet little rosebud, too.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I whispered, my fearfulness overshadowed by my maternal nature. She lifted her head slightly, allowing her golden spiral curls to catch the light. She looked like a Victorian baby doll—her hair was tied back slightly by a black silk ribbon and she had bangs which covered her forehead. Her navy blue dress came to her knees and was fluffed up by layers of petticoats.
“I’m very sad. You ought not to be here. You are going to die if you don’t go away,” she sniffled as she tenderly took my hand in both of hers.
“What. . . what do you mean, sweetheart? Nobody is going to die.”
“Yes you are. You have to go away before the little hand is on the ten and the big hand is on the twelve or else you can’t get out!” she flung herself into my arms and cried, her little face pressed against my stomach.
I leaned down to her level and rubbed her back as her shoulders heaved up and down. When I began to smooth the hair on the back of her head I felt something like a thin paste tangled in her curls. “What’s this then, hmm?” I asked her. Suddenly she rose up from my lap angrily and took my hands, placing one on her forehead and one on the back of her head.
“It’s blood!” she screamed as blood started to pour from her head and tears tracked angrily down her cheeks. One hole in the back. One in the front. A gunshot wound.
“This is what papa did! He’ll hurt you too! Go away!” I tore my hands away from her head in horror just in time for her to disappear, leaving the sound of a gunshot and the smell of a recently fired pistol behind her. I stood staring at the spot where the little girl was, mouth open in what felt like an expression of mock horror. My knees gave out underneath me and I fell in a heap.
I sat there motionless for some time, paralyzed with fear. By the time I was able to process the events that had just unfolded it was almost. . . almost 10:00. You have to go away before the little hand is on the ten and the big hand is on the twelve or else you can’t get out.
I bolted for the door, quickly grabbing my flashlight and not caring about my sleeping bag. The door was mercifully unlocked. I ran down the hallway, down the stairs, and had my hand of the doorknob when the clock struck 10:00. Frantically I jiggled the doorknob. Nothing. I kicked the door, pounded on it with my fists, screamed in terror and frustration. Nothing.
I am going to die.
Crying, sniveling, panicking, I collapsed on the floor as the clock struck its final toll. I held my head in my hands while I wept. While I did this I heard a terrible thudding down the stairs and I jerked my head up. There was no way I could’ve been prepared for what I saw in front of me.
A teenage girl, maybe a year older than me, stood before me in a powder blue, tattered, Victorian dress. A delicate cameo was pinned at her throat; lovely white ruffles went from the neck of the gown to the waist. I could tell that the sleeves once billowed slightly and tapered to a cuff at the wrist, but the fabric was ripped in multiple places in both sleeves. I turned my flashlight on her and screamed, almost screeched, in terror.
Everywhere I could see her skin it was bruised, bloody, or both. Her lovely dress was covered in splotches of blood. The gashes in her sleeves revealed injuries on her arms. Bruises, scratches, peeled skin. But worse, far worse than any of that, was her neck. Her head was cocked to the side as though in a cartoonish look of confusion but it was clear that it couldn’t be lifted up—her neck was broken. She gazed at me with deep brown eyes set in a porcelain white face that was covered in gashes and bruises. In all of my terror I still couldn’t help but think that she must have been very beautiful once.
“Who are you and what the fuck is going on?” I screamed.
“Such vulgarity,” replied the girl calmly. “There’s really no need.”
“It’s quite simple. You didn’t get it out in time. You are going to die. Accept your fate and death will be quick, possibly even painless. Unlike mine.” She looked in the direction of her neck. “I tried to run from papa. When papa has his fits he can be quite dangerous. After he shot Violet he chased after me hoping to do me in as well. He’s mad, you see. But he never shot me. Instead I fell down the stairs and perished after a few agonizing hours.”
“Is Violet. . .?”
“Yes, your first visitor. I am your second. My name is Margaret Storey. Violet Storey is my sister.”
“What do you mean ‘visitors’?”
“You picked a terrible night to visit us. It was on this night many years ago that Violet, mama, papa and I all died. We relive this night every year. Now that you’re here, papa won’t let you go. He thinks that you must die, too.”
“So what. . . you’re ghosts? Then you’re already dead! He can’t kill you again!”
“No. But he can kill you. . . what did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. Esther. It’s Esther.”
“Well, I suppose it matters little. Goodbye, Esther.”
With that she moved backward up the stairs as though pulled by some invisible rope around her waist until she was out of my sight. As maddening as it was to sit and wait like a caged animal, I had no other choice. I made my way up to the room where I first saw Violet and snuggled into my sleeping bag so that I could at least keep warm while waiting for my inevitable death.
As the clock struck 11:00 I was blinded by a bright, fiery light and immediately felt a sweltering heat. The door of the room burst open and in walked—I could only guess—the mother of the household… if Margaret hadn’t told me the mother was coming, the only thing I could tell you about what I saw before me was that it was human.
The woman was literally burning from head to toe, her body and clothing engulfed in flames. The smell of burning hair, fabric and skin invaded my nostrils which caused me to wretch and nearly vomit. Pieces of skin constantly shriveled and floated to the ground like tiny black moths. How is she still standing? I thought incredulously, and as I did the fire began rapidly dying down until the woman was glowing like a piece of coal and she was no longer covered in flame.
“Don’t come near me!” I screeched as she stepped toward me.
“Oh darling, I don’t mean to hurt you!” she said, as though hurt by the idea that I was afraid of her.
“What. . . what happened to you?” I managed.
“I passed away after Margaret did. Caleb, my husband, was intent on my destruction. I couldn’t tell you why—I’m sure Peggy explained it to you?”
I nodded stupidly. How could this woman be so calm while smoldering like a dying ember? She seemed to sense my thoughts as she continued.
“I’m a ghost, dear. I feel no pain. As a matter of fact, I didn’t feel as much pain as you would think when I died. You see I was running away from Caleb as fast as I could, but I am so very clumsy. I tripped on the dining room chair, bringing down the linens, candles, and open bottle of wine from supper. He came rushing in after me, but then he just stood in the doorway. Staring. My screams were less from pain than they were from the agony of watching my husband watching me die.” A tear drizzled down her cheek causing a hiss of steam to rise.
“What can I do to get out of here?” I asked gravely.
“Darling I’m afraid that you can’t. Caleb always had a rule that all the doors and windows in the house must be locked at 10:00 precisely, and that time has passed.”
“Can’t I break open a window?”
“Our windows are all barred, dear. Caleb was a paranoid man near the end of his days. He wasn’t always. I don’t know what led him to madness. No matter now, I suppose,” she heaved a resigned sigh. “Goodbye, my dear, and best of luck!” She disappeared in a tower of flame, leaving me alone and on the brink of insanity.
Time must fly when you’re losing your mind because in what seemed like moments the clock struck 12:00. Heavy footsteps echoed down the hall, signaling the approach of my killer. Caleb Storey. The Madman of Storey Manor. He threw open the door so forcefully that it slammed into the wall.
I really am going to die.
He stood an imposing 6’ 4”, so tall that I had to duck under the doorframe designed for the typical Victorian man who would have been less than 6’ tall. His messily tousled hair was chestnut brown like Margaret’s. Scratches covered his pale face; a trickle of blood issued from the corner of his mouth and gathered in his short beard. He carried a pistol in one hand and a bottle of laudanum wine in the other—the sort of wine that causes hallucinations. I looked directly into his eyes for a fleeting second because I couldn’t look any longer; they were deep midnight blue, just like Violet’s.
“Please, please don’t kill me, sir! Please! I’m sorry for. . . for. . .” For what?
“Don’t bother sniveling and groveling, demon. I already killed your unholy kin which came in the guise of my family. I will happily send you back to hell where you belong.” His gravelly voice sent a jolt of terror through my heart that nearly stopped it—I wish it had.
“I’m not a demon! You’re hallucinating! I’m hallucinating! This isn’t real, all of it!” I cried.
“It is very real indeed.” He took a swig from his bottle. “Too real.” He raised his pistol.
“Oh Jesus help me, Our Father who art in heaven. . .!” I rambled.
The last thing I remember is the look of surprise that crossed his face as he shot me in the heart.
Credit To: Josie Schave