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Four pairs of feet stomped across my verandah. I groaned. Scents of sweat and desire aroused my hunger. My walls ached in anticipation. Fools! Walk through that door and you enter my world, my rules. Don’t know what they are? Well, that’s the risk you take. I’d like to say enjoy the game. You won’t. But I will.
Four pairs of feet trudged up the rickety stairs and stomped onto the porch. The roof at one end had crumbled into a mess of lumber and vines, but the portico over the stairs, while mildewed and rotting in places, held strong.
“I’m having second thoughts about this, Roger,” said Margot, one hand twirling her ponytail in that nervous habit they all teased her about. She hung back from the others, one foot still on a step, as if ready to turn and run. “It looks even scarier up close.”
“Don’t be a wuss, Margot,” Roger turned and something inside the plastic bag he carried clinked. “It’s just a house.”
Another girl, her chestnut hair bouncing around her shoulders as she walked the length of the porch, leaned over the railing to peer around the corner of the house.
“Hey, Mark, come look at this,” Anna called. “There’s a busted-up greenhouse over here. It’d be perfect for you to grow your weed. Nobody’d think to look here.”
Mark trotted the length of the porch and leaned on the railing next to Anna. It gave slightly, and they both jumped back. Mark took Anna’s hand. “You better hold on to me, pretty lady. You seem to court danger.”
Anna cocked her head and blinked her eyes repeatedly. “And are you the big man who’s gonna keep me safe?”
“Um…you guys…,” Margot interrupted. She was pointing to the gate they’d just walked through. It was barely visible. “It’s weirdly dark over there. There’s a full moon tonight. It shouldn’t be so dark.”
“What are you, a fucking astronomer now, Margot?” Roger sneered. “Come on, let’s get inside. I need a drink.” Margot cast one more look at the gate, then walked to a nearby window. She cupped her hands around her eyes and peered inside as Roger moved to the door. Its weathered wood was splintered in a few places and splotched with various shades of faded ochre. One of the inlaid panels looked as if it had been attacked with an axe. But the door stood strong on its hinges and didn’t budge when he pushed on it.
“Did you seriously think you’d be able to just walk in?” Mark laughed, pushing the brim of his baseball cap up and looking around at the others. His laugh withered when no one joined in.
Margot shrieked and ducked below the window ledge. “Are you sure no one’s inside? I swear I just saw movement in there.”
“Man, I thought you were up for this.” Roger pulled from his bag a bottle of whisky and passed it to Mark. “This place has been abandoned for as long as I’ve lived in this shit-hole town. Here, have a swig. Maybe this’ll give you a little courage to face the big, bad house.” Each of the four took a turn at the bottle.
Margot looked through the window again. Moonlight shone on a piano and sofa, but the rest of the room lay in utter darkness. “I guess you’re right. It’s just…you know, the rumors, the disappearances, and…I don’t know…there’s furniture in there…the windows are unbroken…something just doesn’t seem right, that’s all.”
Roger took her hand and drew her away from the window. “They’re just that, Margot, rumors. Those people who disappeared probably just got the hell out of this town. I came by here yesterday to check things out. And the door was wide open. There’s this big entranceway, a couple of rooms off to either side, and one of those stairs like in Titanic. That’s all I saw…and I made it out alive!” He’d lowered his voice, leaned in close to Margot, then growled the last words before laughing.
Margot smiled but glanced back to where shadows now obscured the gate, then back to the window.
Anna rolled her eyes, then whispered to Mark, “I told you we shouldn’t have let her come with us. She’s such a downer.”
“Yeah…well, not always. And Roger likes her. Besides, she’s got the car. That means we can party as much as want.”
“Well, I’m not scared,” Anna said to the group. “Are we going in or not?”
“I’m not scared. It’s just weird.”
Anna giggled. Margot glared at her.
“Come on, Margot,” Roger held up the bottle. “I have two bottles of whiskey and a couple of joints. Let’s get this party started.”
He took another swig, then offered it to the others. Only Mark accepted. When the bottle was safely stowed again in the bag, the four gathered in front of the door and pushed hard. It creaked open.
“Whoa! What happened to this place?” Roger spun slowly in place, his mouth agape. “It’s beautiful!”
A candelabra sprinkled light onto a black and white parquet floor. Piano music and laughter wafted from a room off to the left, and a woman, whose gown sparkled under the candelabra's light shower, stood in the foyer, a glass of champagne held high. “Look everyone!” she called. “They’re here!”
Margot took in the ripped wallpaper and trash-strewn floor, then kicked aside a single sneaker someone had left behind. “Are you out of your mind, Roger? This place is a dump.”
The woman rushed to Roger, arms wide, a smile that exuded delight at seeing him. “We’ve been waiting for you since you stopped by yesterday! But what is that awful bag you’re carrying? Edward!” she turned to a man in a tuxedo who stepped out from the shadows. “Be a dear, Roger, and give this thing to Edward,” she said.
Roger held out his bag. “Here you go, Edward.”
“What? Whose Edward?” Mark said, holding out his hand to take the bag, which Roger just dropped to the floor. “Hey, man! What are you doing?” Mark yelled. A puddle had already formed and the sour smell of cheap whiskey filled the air. “They’re fucking broken!”
The woman hooked her arm through Roger’s and leaned in close. One leg, exposed from a slit that ran the length of her dress, rubbed against his. He grinned.
Roger had that shit-eating grin that Mark had seen so often before, but it was usually reserved for some girl he was trying to screw. It didn’t make sense in this situation.
“It’s not funny, man. That’s our entertainment for the night. We may as well go home now.” No one paid him a bit of attention. They were transfixed on Roger, who held out his arm as if escorting a prom date.
“Come with me, darling, there’s someone you absolutely must meet!” The woman guided him into another room.
Roger walked toward a room off to the left.
“Um…ok, I guess we’re going this way,” Margot said, glancing behind her to check if Anna and Mark were following.
“Welcome, young man,” said a man at the piano. He stood and grasped Roger’s hand in both of his and shook it vigorously. “And just look at those clothes, everyone. If I didn’t know better, I would think he was attending a costume party! But what in the world is he dressed as? Guesses, please!” The guests in the room laughed. Roger joined in.
“This is starting to freak me out,” Anna said when Roger walked directly to the piano, moonlight settling on its blanket of dust, then shook his hand up and down. A moment later, he laughed.
“And you brought your friends. We’re going to have so much fun tonight, aren’t we?” Piano man turned to the crowd and grinned.
“My friends?” Roger looked at the people assembled around the room. Their dresses and tuxedos dazzled him, but he was pretty sure they weren’t his friends. “I don’t know anybody here.”
“Well, I believe you have one friend here,” the man said. The woman in the sparkly dress rubbed her leg harder against Roger’s and draped one arm over his shoulder.
“Roger…” she whispered in his ear. He turned from the leering crowd. She pushed a leg between his and placed his hand on her breast. Its softness contrasted with the sharpness of the dress’ sequins. His moan of excitement floated through the crowd. They moaned in return.
“Hey Buddy, are you okay?” Roger was standing with his arm raised, his hand squeezing and kneading something that only he could see. Mark tried to push down Roger’s hand and turn him around, but his friend just lowered his head and stuck out his tongue, as if licking ice cream.
“Oh, Roger,…” she sang, swaying her hips against his. She ran her fingers through his hair and pressed his head down, encouraging him when he pushed her dress aside and ran his tongue along her cleavage before taking her nipple in his teeth.
“Well, two can play at that game, my little beast…” Her voice was gravelly and lustful. She grabbed his hair and pulled his head up, then traced her finger lightly along his chest, stopping at the edge of his sweat pants. Desire followed her finger all the way down.
“Why is it so dark in this room, you guys?” Margot said, as if oblivious to Roger’s antics. “I mean, the moonlight just seems to stop. How can it be so bright over the piano and so dark over there?”
“God, Margot. What’s up with you and the light?” Anna sneered. “Roger over here is acting bat-shit crazy, and all you can think about is the fucking light in the room?”
“Fuck off, Anna! You said it. It’s all an act. Ok, Roger, ha, ha, ha. You got us!” Margot said as she peered into the dark section of the room.
“I don’t know, Margot,” Mark said. “I don’t think he’s faking it. I think he’s tripping.”
The woman breathed a kiss across Roger’s lips, then stepped aside. Roger stood amid the watchful crowd. The moonlight spotlighted his erection.
“He’s game!” Piano man announced to the crowd. He opened his arms wide.“Let the entertainment begin.”
“Oh God,” Margot groaned at the bulge in Roger’s sweatpants spotlighted by the moonlight. “Your getting off on this, Roger? Look, I’ve had enough. Whether he’s tripping or not, I’m getting out of here. I’ll meet you in the car.”
“He must have taken something before we met up. What gives you hallucinations and an erection?” Mark laughed. “I want some.”
“I hate to say it, but Margot’s right. I’m going, too,” Anna said.
“Anna, don’t go,” Mark pleaded. “I need your help. Let’s sit him down on that couch thing.”
“No. Fucking. Way. I’m not going anywhere near him in that state,” Anna said.
“Let’s get more comfortable,” the woman said, drawing him onto the sofa.
“He sat down on the couch, just like you said,” Anna said. “Do you think he can hear us? Tell him to get up. See if he does it.”
Mark held out his hand. “Here Roger, let’s go. I’ll help you up.”
Roger reached out and pulled the woman into his lap. As she brushed his lips with hers, he moaned with pleasure. He shoved his tongue into her mouth and rubbed himself against her, grinding, thrusting, focused only on the growing fullness between his legs.
“Eww! Stop it. Let me go!” Mark tried to get away from Roger, who had pulled Mark into his lap and was trying to kiss him while pressing his erection against Mark’s leg.
“Get off me! Get off me! Anna! Get him off me, goddammit!”
“Mark! Something’s moving!”
The darkness Margot had been curious about oozed and billowed toward the sofa.
The woman pushed Roger against the back of the divan, then inched her fingers under the band of his sweat pants. He relaxed deeper into the divan, setting his arms along its back, moaning when her hand wrapped around his dick.
Mark pushed himself away when Roger let him go. Something black slipped over Roger’s arm, like a sleeve.
Roger’s arm began to burn. He tried to see why, but the woman was flicking the tip of his dick, rhythmically, squeezing, rubbing… He groaned. He grew harder, as hard as he’d ever been, energy, ecstasy surging with every flick. “Oh my god, I’m co--
“He’s ready,” the woman said. The crowd attacked.
Agony slammed into him.
Roger’s eyes sprang open. He saw Mark.
“Help me!” he wailed.
Piano man flipped his tuxedo tails and sat down, his fingers dancing across the piano keys.
Music exploded the silence. Mark and Anna shrieked in surprise.
The black ooze ripped open Roger’s neck, but before blood could spurt, it wrapped around the wound. Roger’s scream was muffled.
Anna’s was not.
The Black now covered Roger’s right side. Even as Mark reached to pull his friend away from whatever was attacking him, he noticed how odd it was to be able to see only half a person.
“Come on, Roger!” Mark begged, pulling at his friend’s leg.
A drop of the ooze leapt onto Mark’s hand. He screamed and dropped to his knees. “My God! Something bit me!” Three fingers hung loose, nearly ripped off.
The Black covered the rest of Roger’s body. Only his face was visible. Anna ran to Mark and tried pulling him away as the ooze slid inside Roger’s open mouth. His muffled screams turned to gurgles, then a hiccup, then nothing.
The music stopped. Blackness filled the space where Roger had been. Moonlight rested on the soft blanket of dust covering the now quiet piano.
“Mark, stand up! We have to get out of here.”
Margot ran into the room. “Guys, I can’t find a way out.”
“Help me get him up, Margot. We have to get out of this room.”
The two girls dragged Mark to his feet and to the door. “Where’s Roger?”
“I…He…I…,” Anna stuttered.
Piano man kissed the woman’s hand, then turned to the audience.
“A round of applause for our seductive beast and her tantalizing hunt.” The woman bowed; the crowd roared.
But, that, my dear friends, was just the opening act. You saw the quarry—and you had a little taste of one,” he winked as the crowd guffawed. “So, which of them is next? Step up and place your bets!”
They slammed the door behind them. Anna gulped in air, trying to calm her nerves.
“What happened in there? Why is Mark’s hand bleeding?”
“What do you care? You left us in there,” Anna could barely get the words out. Something seemed to be pressing on her chest, stopping her from breathing. “Oh my God! I think I’m having a heart attack.”
“You’re not having a heart attack. Get yourself under control or I’ll have to slap you out of your shock.” Margot smiled at the thought. She had taken the bow from her ponytail and was wrapping it around Mark’s hand, but blood had already soaked through the thin material and was dripping onto the floor.
“We have to get out of this house,” Anna said. “We have to get out of here! Where are we? How’d we get in this room? Where’s the door outside?”
They were in a library. Candles filled every corner with light, and the dark wood of the bookshelves, coupled with the mahogany tones of the carpet and curtains, exuded warmth, comfort, and an invitation to relax.
“That’s what I tried to tell you. When I left you guys, I ended up in a different room—not even this one—and I couldn’t find the foyer. I kept opening the door to find you guys, but, every time, I was in a different room. I’m not sure how I found you.”
“Well, you must have gotten twisted around. And us, too. We must have gone out through a different door.”
“Fine. You find the way out, Anna.” She jerked the knot of Mark’s bandage tight.
“Oww!” Mark wailed.
“None of this is possible,” Anna’s breath came in short gasps. “I need some air.”
She rushed to a wall of curtains and pulled them open, hands shaking, to reveal floor-to-ceiling French doors overlooking a moonlit verandah decorated with stone sculptures. The door swung open.
Margot guided Mark to the sofa, but he refused to sit on it. Instead, he plopped onto the floor and leaned against a wall. Margot set his injured hand on his lap.
“We’ll get you to a hospital, Mark. OK? You’re in shock but you’ll be ok.” Blood spread across his jeans where his hand rested. “Damn, your hand won’t stop bleeding. Anna, do you have anything I can use to make a tourniquet?… Anna? Anna!”
“She was over there,” Mark said, “by those curtains.”
“Typical Anna, to just leave without saying anything.”
“Anna wouldn’t leave us. She must be outside.”
“I’ll go find her. You okay now?”
“No, I’m not ok,” Mark whined, “Something tried to eat my finger and my hand is throbbing.” He noticed the flash of hurt that crossed Margot’s face. “Oh god! I’m sorry. Look, thank you. No, I’m not ok, but thank you for helping me.”
“That’s okay.” Margot patted his shoulder, then went to the French doors. The handle didn’t move. She put her face to a glass panel, hands around her eyes to block out the light.
“The door’s locked. I don’t see Anna, but there’s something dark moving around out there—”
“GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR!” Mark yelled. Margot instinctively leapt backward.
“That’s what got me…I mean…got my hand. The dark. Remember, you saw it. In the piano room. It…it…I know this sounds crazy, but…it bit me!”
“Right…, Um, Mark, I saw some shadows in a dark room. There weren’t any monsters. I don’t know what you think you saw, but…I think you’re just in shock.” She examined the handle and found a small lever, which she pushed before trying the handle again. The door swung open. She turned to Mark. “I’m gonna go see if Anna is outside.”
“Don’t go out there, Margot! Don’t leave me alone in here.”
Margot sighed, then stuck her head out the door. “That’s weird, there’s nothing out here. Look. The door opens onto a wall. It’s so dark.” She leaned out and craned her neck up. “I can’t see how tall it is…or how far down it goes.”
“Great, another weird thing to go with the hungry shadows and rooms that go nowhere.” Mark stood up.
“Who designs a house with French doors opening to a wall?” Margot asked. She reached out to touch the wall but pulled her hand away at the last moment. She was sure something inside the wall had moved toward her hand.
“Is Anna out there?” Mark asked.
“Gather round, ladies and gentlemen.” Piano man waved the crowd forward.
“Your bets are made, the stage is set,
“What’s in store for our little duet?
“Let’s play with them a little first,
“Then it’ll be time to quench our thirst.”
The crowd snickered.
“There’s nowhere for her to have gone, Mark. The wall’s— Did you hear that?”
“It sounded like people laughing. Like at a party.”
“Hello! Hello! Is someone there?” Margot called.
“It sounded like it was on the other side of this wall.” Margot grabbed a book and pressed it against the black wall. Before she knew it, she was jerked forward. Her arm sunk up to her elbow into the wall before she could pull it out.
Black goo, like congealed blood, covered her arm. Within the goo, maggots wriggled and squirmed.
“Get’em off! Get ‘em off!” she screamed, batting at her arm and grabbing a nearby curtain to wipe them off.
“What if Anna went out there?” Mark said when Margot had calmed down.
Margot looked at the maggots that writhed on the floor and curtain. She shivered. “I don’t know, Mark.”
“Knowing Anna, she found a way over the wall. Maybe she’s looking for the door to let us out.” Margot’s blank stare shut him up.
The crowd sniggered again.
They both glanced around the room.
Margot moved one foot near a lump of maggots. “You know, Mark, I never go out at night. My mom is sick, and I have to care for her when the caregiver goes home.”
“I said ‘no’ so many times that no one even asks me to go out anymore.” She lifted the sole of one shoe and slid her heel toward the maggots.
“But my mom’s sister is visiting right now. I heard you guys were coming out here and I asked Roger if I could go with you. I thought I could finally have some fun.” She lowered the tip of her shoe onto a few maggots and pressed down, hard.
“I thought I could have one night. One night of fun. That was all I wanted.” She lifted her foot.
“But this house,” she stomped on the maggots, “had to ruin even that!”
Oh, she has no idea, Piano man whispered.
“Not. Even. One. Fucking. Night!” She stomped on another pile of maggots. Mark took her hand.
“Margot, we’ll get out of here. Okay? And we’ll all go out again, to the fucking beach or something. As far away as we can from this place.”
“These things are real,” Margot said, looking at the white streaks on the wood floor. “We aren’t imagining them.” She wiped the bottom of her shoe on the carpet.
“No, we aren’t,” Mark said, holding up his hand. “Come on. If Anna isn’t outside, let’s go find where she went, then we’ll find a way out of here.”
With his good hand, Mark opened the door. They stepped through together.
Moonlight tumbled through a small window at the top of a wall. Mark and Margot stood in a bathroom, its floor littered with fallen tiles. Half a small sink hung on the wall, but the other half lay in pieces on the floor. Dominating the room was a clawfoot tub, its porcelain glowing in the moonlight.
The room was silent but for the drip, drip, drip of water leaking from the tub’s tap.
“This isn’t the way out,” Mark said. “Let’s just go.” He turned to the door they’d just walked through.
It was gone.
“No!” Mark howled and kicked a piece of the broken sink. It smashed into the wall and shattered.
“Ow!” Margot cried. A shard of porcelain had sliced her wrist.
“Oh God, I”m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Because we can’t get out of this room, because—”
“What do you mean we can’t get out of this room? We were about to until you had a tantrum.”
“Margot! The fucking door is—-”
The door was just where it should be. “I…I…don’t understand…The door was…”
“It’s okay, Mark, you’re in shock. But now, I’m losing blood, too. We have to—Oh god, no!” She watched blood drip from her wrist onto the floor. But the floor was dry. Each drop was sucked up the moment it hit the floor.
Another sound appeared behind the drip, drip, drip.
“Do you hear that?” Mark asked.
“No…it sounds like breathing.”
A tile fell off the wall and smashed against the floor. They jumped.
Mark placed his hand on the spot from where the tile had fallen. The wall expanded; cool air swept passed his hand. The wall contracted; warm air brushed his palm.
“Margot,” Mark struggled to speak, “the walls are… br… breathing.”
“It’s drinking my blood.” She was fixated on the floor, watching her blood disappear, drip by drip.
Excitement flowed through the crowd.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“That’s impossible…I mean, houses don’t drink.”
They collectively sniggered. Their breathing quickened.
The walls moved faster. Another tile dropped to the floor.
Mark took Margot’s arm and drew her toward the door. “Let’s go.”
“No, not yet. We need to think, Mark. You say something bit you? Something got Roger?” She shook her arm, spraying blood on the floor. It was slurped up immediately. “What if it can smell our blood? What if it’s, like, hunting us?”
Mark shook his head, mouth slightly open, eyes wide.
“I have to wash my wrist.”
“No. Don’t touch anything, Margot. Let’s just get out of here.”
“I have to wash off the blood.” She opened the tap over the tub and stuck her hand in the stream of water. Blood colored the water pooling around the drain. More blood than she expected.
Margot’s scream pounded against the walls, knocking a few more tiles to the floor. Her hand was gone, her forearm had become a turgid stream of blood pouring into the tub. She struggled against the pull of the water but could feel her liquid hand and arm coursing through the pipes, drawing her down, down toward the drain, with it.
“Help! Help me!” she screamed, pushing against the tub with her free hand as her elbow liquified and flowed down the drain.
Mark hesitated a moment, then grabbed Margot around the waist. He put all his weight into pulling her away from the tub as if he were in a game of tug-of-war with him on the losing end. Margot’s shoulder had turned into a stream of bloody water, and her chest, a roiling, crimson mess. A drop fell from Margot’s chest onto his arm and began burrowing into his flesh. He looked down to see his skin liquifying, then…jumping, as if trying to leap into the tub. He let go of Margot to push the bottom of his t-shirt over it, pressing it down until the drilling feeling stopped. He looked up in time to see the rest of Margot form into a wave that cascaded into the tub. A gurgle echoed from the drain. Then, only the drip, drip, drip cut the silence.
And Mark’s whimpering.
His hand throbbed from the bite, and the spot on his arm, where the water had touched him, was on fire. Hyperventilating, he ran to the door, slipping on loose tiles. Another gurgle from the drain. He tore open the door and ran…
…outside. Into a garden. Rose bushes lined a stone pathway that led to the house and a verandah where Anna was walking among life-sized statues.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you tonight’s climax adventure. Will you hear declarations of love—booooooo!— or screams of terror—applause—? Will you be titillated by a gruesome fate for our star-crossed lovers, or will they make it out alive? Pull up a seat…ha, ha, ha…and get ready to eat!
“Anna! Anna! Over here!” Mark ran to her and up the steps. A pair of French doors stood open. Anna looked confused.
“What are you doing out there? You were…,” she turned to the house, then back to Mark.
“We looked for you! Margot and me—”
“Ugh! What did Margot do this time?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You weren’t outside. We looked for you—”
“Well, you must not have looked very hard. I’ve been out here the whole time.”
“Margot and me—we went into another room and we—”
“You mean you left without me? You left me out here?”
“SHUT UP! Just shut up and let me finish!” His head ached, and he wanted to slap her.
“We looked for you,” he continued, “none of this was there. Just a wall. And it tried to eat Margot’s arm,” he gulped, then the words flowed out of him, faster than he could control them, “so we went looking for that room we first saw when we entered the house, but, we were in a bathroom somehow and Margot…I don’t know, she, she, she disappeared. She turned to water and disappeared.”
Anna’s cheeks burned red. She glared at him.
“No one tells me to shut up. And I didn’t take you for a liar, Mark. I’ve been out here for, like, two minutes, so whatever you think you saw, you didn’t.”
Mark sighed. “Anna, look at my arm. What got her attacked me, too.”
Anna glared at him. “I can’t believe you left me out here. You at least have an excuse. You’re probably delirious from blood loss. But Margot? I’ll never forgive her. I’m going inside.”
“Margot’s—” Mark stopped trying to explain. He followed Anna. They passed statues of people in twisted and grotesque positions: a woman on her knees, head tilted back, mouth wide, eyes bulging; a man, his torso bent, head bowed, hands laced behind him like in a yoga pose; another man crawling. The verandah was full of them.
“We looked outside. None of this was out here.” Movement caught Mark’s eye. The kneeling statue was now standing. The crawling man reached one arm toward them.
“I’m so hungry,” the statue said.
“Anna, we need to get inside. NOW!”
But Anna was bent over a statue of a man seated on a sofa, his arms held out as if in an embrace. His mouth was open, but twisted to one side, as if hit by something heavy.
“It’s Roger,” she whispered, just as the statue turned its head to her.
“Hello, bitch!” he said.
Anna screamed, “Run! Around the house! To the front!”
They sprinted past the open French doors and around the corner. A branch whipped against Anna’s face. Mark tripped and fell.
“Ouch!” She rubbed the welt that burned her forehead. “Watch out for that branch.”
“It’s got my leg!” A vine from the greenhouse they’d joked about had wrapped around his ankle.
Anna pulled Mark free of the vine. “Hurry up! The front of the house is around the next corner!”
Except it wasn’t. They were in a garden of flowering plants that glowed under the moonlight.
“This should be the front of the house. We saw the greenhouse,” Anna said. Her voice was higher than usual. “The verandah should be—” She sniffed. “Do you smell that? It’s heavenly.” She stepped toward the flowers.
“Oh, no you don’t! You’re not getting anywhere near those things,” Mark grabbed her hand and yanked her back.
She looked up at him, eyes glazed. “Ow! Why’d you do that?”
“You were walking towards those flowers? One thing I’ve learned is don’t touch anything in this house.”
“I’m getting real fucking sick of this place. Come on.”
They ran around the next corner and were again at the verandah, where the sculptures had gathered around the open French doors.
Mark stopped in his tracks at the sight of the statues, but Anna pulled him forward, urging him to keep running. They took the next corner. Tangles of vines reached out from the greenhouse windows and doors as if the plants had expected their return. Barbed tendrils clawed at them, scratched their faces, and grabbed at their legs before the pair broke free. They ran around the next corner into the garden with the flowers.
“Ok, it’ll be the next corner,” Anna said as they gathered their breath, but she didn’t sound quite as certain as before.
“Anna, it’s clear we’re not going to be allowed to run to the front of the house.”
Anna’s chest heaved. Mark wiped away a streak of blood mixed with sweat.
“This can’t be happening,” Anna mumbled.
“It is happening, though. We don’t understand how, but something’s…I don’t know…Margot thought something's…hunting us.”
“Fuck you!” Anna screamed at the house. “Fuck you! You can’t get us. We’ll just stay outside until daylight you mother fucker!”
Mark shook his head no. He pointed behind her.
The flowers and vines had combined and formed into a writhing mass that slithered toward them like a knot of snakes, twisting around and through each other. Black ooze dripped from the flowers. The drops found each other, then congealed into claws that dug into the ground and dragged the mass forward.
Mark and Anna raced around the corner of the house again only to find themselves back in the sculpture garden.
“We can’t fight it, Anna.”
“Yes, we can. It’s not real, Mark. We can—”
“It’s not real? Not REAL?” Mark’s face contorted with rage. “LOOK AT MY HAND. LET ME TELL YOU, THIS IS FUCKING REAL. ROGER IS GONE. THAT’S REAL. MARGOT IS GONE. THAT’S REAL. THE BLOOD ON OUR FACES FROM THOSE PLANTS IS REAL!”
“I’m sorry, Mark,” Anna wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. “You’re right. It is real. But we have to find a way to fight it.”
“I don’t know how to fight this, Anna.”
“We’ll figure it out.” She looked around the sculpture garden. The sculptures had returned to their original places.
“That thing is coming, Mark.”
“It wants us to go inside,” Mark said. “The open doors, the statues not moving, and now the vines coming around the corner. It wants us inside.”
“Then we fight it. Come on. We’re not going to do what it wants.”
They ran around the corner again into…
…an empty room with a single, glass door. Moonlight cast odd shadows on otherwise plain walls.
“So. The house gets what it wants,” Mark said. He sounded defeated.
“No, it doesn’t. We’re not going to stop long enough for it to do anything.”
“Where are these shadows from? They’re on all the walls, but, there aren’t any windows.”
“You know things don’t make sense in this house. Come on, let’s keep moving,” Anna walked to the door and peered through the glass. “I see a light. Oh my God! Mark! It’s the door! The door to outside! And it’s open!”
She pulled open the door and raced into the next room. The door slammed shut. Lights flashed on, blinding her.
Pounding. Something was pounding behind her. Shielding her eyes from the light, she saw Mark banging on the door she’d just walked through. Just open the fucking door, Mark, she thought, but she went back and turned the handle. The door didn’t budge. She tried again, turning the handle harder. Nothing. She looked around the room for something to break the glass, but the room was empty. She slowly raised her eyes to Mark’s. His were teary.
They leaned into each other, foreheads separated only by the glass. The blood from Mark’s hand marked one side, her breath clouded the other.
“I’ll get help, Mark. Just hold on.”
Mark bit his lower lip, then nodded. He walked to the wall opposite the door and slumped to sitting. He smiled at her, raised his good hand in a wave, then leaned back and mouthed, “Go.”
Anna saw it before Mark understood what was happening. She screamed and banged her fists against the glass as the shadows on the wall converged to where Mark sat. The arms from one shadow reached out from the wall and encircled Mark’s chest. Another set of arms wrapped around his stomach, while yet another pair grabbed the sides of his head and face. Anna cried and screamed and kicked at the door as she watched the arms slowly pull Mark into the wall. His hand twitched, as if reaching out to her, but the shadows held him tight. His head and torso were the first to disappear, leaving his legs and feet sticking out of the wall and kicking wildly, his red Chuck Taylors like two cardinals trying to escape the clutches of a cat. The kicking stopped. The wall closed in on the brown soles of Mark’s shoes. A new shadow decorated the wall where he had been.
Anna spun around to race to the door, to escape.
She stopped cold. The door was gone.
No way in. No way out. She dropped to the floor.
A floor now piled with mutilated corpses.
The lights flickered, then went out.
I lay under the moonlight's caress and nestled into the calm satisfaction that comes after a successful feast. The game had been challenging, the players entertaining. I settled deeper into my foundation and prepared for sleep. Looking forward to the next game. I’ll be ready.
Lon Sanders lives in Delaware and spends much of their time lurking in graveyards, listening to the stories of the ghosts who reside there, and casting spells on people they really don’t like or trust.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.