Danial James was a paranormal researcher, it was something he had done since his twenties. He walked away five years earlier not because he no longer believed, many who worked in that trade became so sceptical that they give it up. The optimism of youth telling them they will be the one, you’ll be the one who proves it all. Then the realisation of mid-life that you can’t prove it, and maybe it does not actually exist. It was not the notoriety that had once seduced him, it was not the idea of fame – relative though it may be – it was the question. It was the idea of knowing that something else was out there. The thought of being able to say, definitively say, that there was something after death and here was the proof. That was what had driven him, that was what had pushed him forwards for all those years. So, the question remains, why did he stop? What made him give up when he hit his mid-thirties? Well, he had found what he was looking for, and it had terrified him.
Daniel sits waiting in his car, eyes scanning through the latest discoveries on his phone. It was the daily ritual, he has to know this stuff. He would check for any new ideas, new tricks that could be used to con the gullible into parting with their money in exchange for a “visit” with the deceased. The trick levitating tables, the smoke machines and mirrors used to create effects. The practice was always trying to stay one step ahead, so he also has to continually read, learn, and modernise his methods. Trying to keep one step ahead, or at worse, to be level pegging. Answering a question with “I do not know how they did it” would lead to the death-knell in his profession. This job was different though, this one would be easy. A haunted house, haunted being a term he used loosely.
Two thoughts would travel his mind whenever a ‘Haunted House’ casefile dropped. Firstly, the obvious one, ha this will be easy. Secondly, a long drawn out moan of boring would echo the halls of his mind. Bouncing from side to side and up and down as he rolls his eyes. Dripping pipes, wind seeping through fractures in window frames, creaking floorboards and all other non-supernatural events.
The most intriguing case he had investigated had been the Burke house. Once again, it had not been supernatural, but at least it was unconventional. A noise that could be heard occasionally in one wall. It could be heard mostly at night, but not only at night. It was never clear enough to make out precisely what was being said, never quite sure if anything truly was being said. The mind has a way of seeing patterns in things, faces in objects and voices in noises. Without fail though it would reoccur and finally he was assigned the case. Two hours later, and with a smartphone app’s help, the issue was solved. The most supernatural element was how batteries had lasted so long without any corrosion. The best two quid he had ever spent was on the “Architecture of Radio” app. It is capable of visualising radio signals and giving you a visual reference. It is mostly useful for seances (a term used loosely), but it also has other uses. Before he was called, the usual cranks had been, saying that it was most definitely a sign of some otherworldly presence. Within two hours, a sheet of plasterboard had been cut away and the culprit identified. A previous tenant or owner had lost a baby monitor down inside the wall. It had been chewed, possibly my a rodent and by pure chance had shorted and turned itself on. It was picking up a signal from somewhere nearby, where it was from was not relevant as cross chat on these things was not an uncommon occurrence. Monitor removed, wall patched back up once more, and the problem was resolved. Once again being filed into the depths of his mind and office filing cabinet. Mission accomplished, thank you for tuning in.
As Daniel sits in his car looking at the house, something niggles at him. A thought that is reaching from the depths but sinking back underwater the second he tries to grab hold. Something is not right, and the fact that he cannot but his finger upon it unnerves him. People have in the past mistook this for a sixth sense, it is nothing of the sort. What he has is just the ability to notice things, nothing more and nothing less. Linking two things and coming up with a solution. He did not realise it at the time, but the baby monitor was just his mind doing that. His sister had bought the same model monitor a decade earlier and experienced a similar problem with interference. It was the static in the background that had set his mind searching for the link, not the noise it was picking up but the static that it was not. There was a familiarity, the connection, and it was not until some weeks later that it finally clicked. As he taps his fingers on the steering wheel, something is wrong, and he can’t quite clutch at it. Annoyed with himself, he opens the car door, steps out and slams the door shut.
Having had to park away from the house, Daniel surveys what he can from a distance. He stands looking down the road at the closed gates, a short driveway beyond that leads to the detached house. A road crossing just before the gates, the house standing alone in the distance. The trees that lead up either side of the driveway neatly pruned, clipped and in places pinned back. Then it hits him, a mental barrier crumbling, that is what was wrong. So obvious now that he looks at it, but it took him longer than he would usually expect. The house has been empty for years, it has nobody to maintain it. The family had once tried, but nobody would stay for long, in the end, falling like dominos the family line was broken, the house and grounds all that was left. So who has been maintaining the trees? It couldn’t be squatters, or the homeless, garden maintenance was not something they were known for. Besides had they taken over then being spotted would be the last thing they would have wanted. Checking his pocket for his tools and a padlock, he heads towards the house. He reaches the road that intersects, looks both ways and crosses. Daniel looks at the gate, it is locked and secured as it should be.
Daniel pulls the lockpicking set from his pocket and slides the guide into the bottom of the padlock. He has permission from the solicitors that now deal with the grounds and house. He has no need to worry about being discovered. Nobody knows what has happened to the original keys, it has been so long since the house was inhabited. He could have employed a locksmith, but he liked to work alone, why hire someone to do a job that he could do himself? Slowly he clicks the picks into place, turning and the lock falls open. He removes the lock, discarding it on the ground and takes the fresh one from his pocket. He opens the gate, the metal creaking with age as he does so, and then pushes it closed behind him. He slips the new lock into place, pockets the key and then pulls the gate closed. He is alone, and it is just the way that he likes it. He walks the drive, again looking at the trees and the pristine condition they are in, how did he miss that. As he gets closer, the house seems in good condition as well, something is not as it seems. He mulls over going back to the car, searching the boot for the jack handle or lug wrench but decides against it. So what if homeless people live here, they have looked after the place and need help, not violence and threats. He looks at the steps leading to the front door, expecting to see some dereliction, a sign of age and no maintenance. Still, they are as reliable as they would have been on the day they were built. He places his foot on one, pushing hard, not wanting to be deceived. It does not budge, it is as strong as it ever was. He takes a step and makes his way to the front door.
The door stands before him at an impressive eight feet, houses built with height, space, and grounds, a long-forgotten commodity. Daniel turns and takes another look at the front garden, they’d fit ten homes here in today’s world he thinks to himself. Were things better in the past, or is it just a fondness for an imagined world that did not really exist? Maybe a little of both he decides. He reaches for the lockpicking set once more but then chooses against it. If someone is living here, he does not want to alarm them, he comes in peace. He reaches up and knocks on the door, then listens. He expects to hear a shuffling of feet, the sound of movement, something, anything, he hears nothing. Daniel places his hand upon the door handle, a solid brass handle, and it feels unexpectedly warm like someone had stood holding it for a period. He pushes downwards, and the handle moves smoothly, the door swings open with ease.
Daniel steps inside. The temperature changes as he does so, not cooler as you may expect but warmer. A handful of degrees but a noticeable difference, he runs his hand along the top of hallway’s radiator. It is stone cold. He lifts his hand, looking at it, not a speck of dust. Daniel looks around the hallways, and everything is immaculate, spotlessly clean. He had expected to see dust covers over any items still remaining here, but this looked like the house has just been tidied, awaiting his arrival. His mind ticks over joining the dots, adding it together to find a logical conclusion. He kneels, his right knee on the ground. There it is, he thinks, placing his hand down on the floor just to double-check. The mystery of the cleanliness can come later, for now, he has found the source of the heat. Heat rises, it is coming from below. He grabs his phone and looks at the plans he has of the house. Zooming in and out, trying to find the basement. The master staircase’s left-hand side, into, and through, the kitchen and then to the left.
The kitchen is as clean and tidy as the hallway. The house should have been empty, looted or consumed by time and neglect. Instead, it looks like someone has been loving and caring for it all this whole time. Daniel shakes his head, this isn’t right, something is wrong here. Once again, he has an urge to turn around and leave, he suppresses it, pushing it back. He has never been a coward, he would not allow himself to be. Monsters under the bed, creepy crawling shadows from the closet, these were all bollocks, inventions of an overactive imagination. The scariest thing in the world was your own mind, once you let it run riot and take over you are leaving yourself wide open. Here be nightmares, do not enter if you scare easily.
Daniel places his hand on the door to the basement and pushes it open, he looks down the wooden stairs into the blackness below. Daniel flicks the light switch, of course, there is no power. Daniel flicks the torch app on his phone on and lights the stairway. Secure and stable, he starts the descent. One step, then two, then three, one hand gripping the bannister, the other holding the phone. The light on the torchlight flickers and suddenly the ground, or steps, beneath his feet give. They don’t just give from age or structural weakness. One moment they are there, the next, they are gone along with the bannister, and Danial finds himself falling into the darkness below.
Daniel lies on the floor, his eyes closed. What the fuck just happened, he thinks to himself. He was half step, even if one had given out he should have been able to balance his weight on the other. It was as if they had just vanished. Luckily the fall had not been that far, and as it was straight down, he had landed feet first. It could have been much worse. Just as he is about to open his eyes, he hears it, a noise, a slight movement. Something is in the room with him, it could just be critters. Daniel keeps quiet, subconsciously holding his breath, eyes stuck like glue, he tries to listen and hopes to go unnoticed. The shuffling stops and he takes a peek, just a little slide of an eyelid. Enough to see, but – hopefully – not enough to be seen. The room is now light, unnatural light engulfing every angle. Daniel listens once more, trying to hear anything out of the ordinary. Still, he hears nothing, the room has fallen silent. Daniel opens his eyes and looks around the room. He sees nothing out of the ordinary.
The room is empty, a square box room with a well at its centre. No windows, no doors, no lighting to be seen and nothing – that Daniel can see – scuttering around in the corners. He looks up, the door is there, but it is too high to reach, the stairs are nowhere to be seen. Vanished from sight as if they had never been, consumed by the light that now floods the room. Daniel looks around the room, there must be another exit somewhere. He tentatively walks to the corners of the room, checking before every step for something lurking. Daniel finds nothing: just the four corners, the four walls and the well. Anger overtakes fear, and he is suddenly annoyed, this must be someone’s idea of a practical joke. The hows and whys never crossing his usually logical mind. ‘Okay, you got me’ Daniel shouts, muttering ‘you fuckers’ under his breath. Standing and waiting, he taps his foot. Hope rather than an expectation that the door will fly open and some of his younger, more exuberant colleagues will be there laughing at him. Standing there a little longer than is needed his imagination then takes over, what if this is not a prank? What if this is something else?
Daniel edges closer to the well, it is all he has left. He is aware that his mind decided to check the things he could already see at first. Knowing that looking down the well is like looking into the unknown, gazing into the mouth of madness. It is, though, his only choice. Placing his hands on the stones around the well, he can feel the heat from below. ‘I found the heat source’ he mutters to himself. Almost daring himself to do so he leans over the well, a blast of hot air hits his face, forcing him to turn away. Daniel holds his hand out, feeling the room’s temperature, it is warm but not hot. He dangles his hand over the well feeling the hot, heated air. The closer to the centre the warmer it gets, too hot to touch at three-quarters of the way. He withdraws his arm, his hand shivering at the sudden temperature change. Daniel suddenly feels something under his foot, something different, something that wasn’t there before. He takes a step backwards.
Daniel had not noticed at first, but the ground beneath his feet is just soil. Poking up through the earth is a small, ivory, coloured, tiny triangle-shaped object. It cannot have been there before, he would have felt it as he stood next to the well. It does nothing as he looks at it, just there where it was not before, sprouting from nothing. Daniel moves his foot towards it, he is not going to touch it. Something in his mind warns him not to reach out and handle it. He pushes the rubble slightly with the end of his shoe, as he does so the object moves. He thought it was his mind playing tricks at first, but then it moves again. Twitching slightly, wiggling like a worm appearing from below, pushing its way to the surface. It is slow at first, fascinatingly slow. Daniel is mesmerised by it, that is until he realises what it is. It was the notch that gave it away, the object pushed through becoming taller. The join though, he knows then it was a skeletal hand pushing through. Only one finger now, but it is moving faster.
Daniel looks around the room once again, looking for an escape. Scanning the four walls, jumping for the door. Hoping that he can reach it, knowing that it is far too high. Daniel slumps in the corner of the room, not wanting to look, he can hear the noise of it tunnelling free. What was at first slow is now moving at speed. Daniel pushes himself back against the wall, turning as he does so to face this demon. He can hear a mocking voice in his head, echoing in the hallways of his brain. ‘Well you wanted proof, so come and see it’. Daniel scrunches up in the corner of the room, in a fetal position. Pushing himself to the back wall. Now he has looked he cannot look away. The skeleton is now halfway out, digging itself free. Its skeletal fingers digging into the ground like a garden fork, pulling itself from its grave. Its mouth falls open as it looks at Daniel, is it trying to speak? No noise escapes it. It just continues its release as Daniel cowers in the corner.
Faster now as the skeleton is at its knees, patella held on by nothing but digging itself into the earthy ground anyway. It is pulling itself from the empty grave it had once inhabited. It is free, the mouth still moving as if trying to communicate, trying to voice some unspeakable evil. Then it is out, on all fours and looking at Daniel. The deep pits that once housed its eyes looking straight at him, just staring, the lifeless dark. The arms click, turning ninety degrees, bending at angles that would be unnatural for any human. The whole creature lurches over sideways, so it is now upside down, the arms now supporting the body’s front, holding it up. The legs click around as the creature’s arms had done, lifting the rear of the body, it is almost crab-like. The head upside down twists slowly clicking and snapping as it does so. Finally, it all stops, and everything falls quiet once again. It feels like an age of nothing, then the creature lurches forwards, pinning Daniel down. Skeletal hands holding Daniel in place, the crab skeleton starts to lean forward. The skull is an inch from Daniel’s face, and he is frozen with fear. Everything about this situation is shouting ‘run’, but his body just won’t respond. Paralysed by fear, crippled by shock, and pinned by the beast, he can only sit and stare like a deer caught in headlights.
The skull of the creature pushes against Daniel’s head, forcing his head back against the wall. At that moment, images flash before him, a person being burnt alive, tortured and burned to death. The skin peeling as the flames crackle, the blood cauterising then flaking away. The victim being kept alive while all this happens, dark black magic at work. Then suddenly it stops, the body has compulsions on the floor, the flames dying out unnaturally quickly, black and charred, lying on the floor all that remains. Daniel sees the room from above, he can see six people stood around the body. He can’t make out their faces, they are all hooded. “Get the girl,” a man says, another follows the command and walks to the scorched body. Grabbing hold of the arm, the body groans as the person pulls it towards the centre of the room, towards the well. “Good, now throw her in” the man commands. Following orders the body is thrown into the well, it doesn’t splash or smash, the drop is soundless, never-ending.
The man who had been speaking looks up, Daniel gets a good look at his face. He recognises it from a picture straight away, Faustus McGovern, but how? Faustus looks at Daniel, Faustus can see him. “Be-gone” he shouts and waves his arm, like a magician performing a trick. The room suddenly becomes dark, pitch black. Daniel falls to the ground with a thud, moaning as he lands. He looks to his side, and he can see his phone lying on the floor, torchlight still active and shining up lighting the staircase.
Daniel grabs his phone from the floor and quickly shines the light around the room. The room is empty, nothing to be seen, even the well is now capped, the dust settled on the wooden planks that cover it. The house has an aged scent now, the dank, musty smell escaping from every crevice. He heads for the stairs, placing a foot on one and pushing. It creaks under his weight but feels stable enough. Fuck it, he is not staying down here. He surges forwards taking two steps at once and makes it to the top, the door is opened in a flash, and he dashes into the kitchen, slamming the door behind. The kitchen, like a basement, is now aged and ragged, dirt and grime covering everything. Daniel rushes to the door slamming against it, locked! He uses his shoulder, trying to barge the door open, he checks it for a lock but sees nothing, just a handle that will not move. ‘You can’t go through there yet sweetheart’, a voice says from behind.
Daniel turns instinctively quickly, his nerves are on edge, and he does not want to be blindsided. An elderly lady sits at a table in the centre of the kitchen, neither were there before. She is pouring two cups of tea from a china teapot, never once taking her eyes from Daniel. With the cups full, she puts the teapot down. Then she reaches into her lap and places a pistol on the table. She leaves her hand resting upon it. “Milk or sugar?” she asks, a smile forming on her lips as she does so. Daniel standing firm and not moving from the spot, asks “Who are you?”.
The woman shakes her head a little, rolling her eyes ‘My dear, I am Meredith, the housekeeper’. She takes a sip of her tea, the heat seeming not to bother her ‘Why don’t you sit down dear, you look like you’ve had quite the shock’. Daniel stands and says nothing, his mind is racing to explain the illogical with the logical, but he fails. He knows what he is seeing is real, he just can’t yet admit it to himself. Daniel looks at the windows, considering it, if the front door isn’t an option, then desperate measures may be needed. The rear door is at the other side of the room, he’d never reach it. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t try that’, Meredith says ‘I may be old, but I only need one of the six bullets in this pistol’. She takes another sip before continuing. ‘I only have to make sure you get through that door, I do not have to make sure you do so unharmed. So please, try the window or door. I would rather enjoy shooting you’. She places her cup down and puts a finger inside the trigger guard on the gun with her other hand. Daniel thinks about rushing her, he is sure he can get there before she can aim and fire, but stopping her from firing a wild shot? Of that, he is not so sure. ‘So what now?’ he asks, and this time she says nothing, she just sits in silence. She laughs abruptly, not a laugh building, this is a full-throttled laugh from the start. Her head jerks to the side and then backwards as she continues the laughter.
Daniel edges closer to the windows, thinking that he can’t be seen. Still, she raises the gun and points it right at him, laughter continuing throughout. There is a tear as she leans her head back more, the tear of fabric or leather. Her lips start to tear along the cheeks as her head flops backwards, almost coming completely free. Impossibly hanging by the muscle and skin that remains. The gargling of laughter continues the head swinging back, exposing the insides, tongue waggling in the air. She stands quickly, knocking the table as she does so, teacups and pot spilling and crashing to the floor. The crashing of the china shakes Daniel from staring at the woman, and he reaches for the door handle. He does not hold out any hope, but as the woman shuffles towards him, he pushes it, and this time it moves. He opens the door, runs through and slams it shut, not looking back the whole time. The hallway is silent, not a sound to be heard. He keeps his back pressed against the door and then he hears a single gunshot and a thud. He thinks about peeking, but he does not need too, he knows what has just happened in the kitchen, now he only has to face what awaits in the hallway.
The hallway lies ominously soundless, Daniel knows there must be something up ahead, but he can hear or see nothing. He almost tiptoes his way towards the front door, hairs standing on the back of his neck twitching, sensing for anything that should not be. Yet, the hallway stands still and quiet. Edging closer to the door he finally makes it and grasps the handle tightly, he tries to open it, and for just a moment he thinks it is locked, but then it opens. Daniel pulls the door fully open and steps outside. Standing outside the front door, his heartbeat starts to slow to a more regular speed. What had happened? What had he seen? He looks over at the trees, all of them are overgrown now, the driveway mostly covered. Daniel steps forward, ready to run for the gate when a figure steps out in front of him. ‘Going somewhere?’ the hooded figure asks. ‘Faustus’ Daniel grows, ‘But, you’re dead’.
‘It is all a matter of perspective, you say dead, but I would say waiting and educating myself’. Daniel edges back towards the door as Faustus moves towards the steps, pulling the hood down to reveal his face. Does he go back into the house, or does he stay and stand his ground? Daniel pushes the door with his foot, testing to see if it is still open, and it is. ‘We can go inside if you would like’, Faustus says, ‘or, we can talk here’. Faustus holds his hands up, trying to indicate that he means Daniel no harm. ‘Back away’ Daniel orders, not expecting anything to come from it, but Faustus takes a step back. ‘What do you want with me?’
‘You?’ Faustus laughs, ‘Oh, it is not you. You are just’ he pauses for a moment, trying to find the correct word. ‘You are just, shall we say a spark, a means to an end’. Faustus steps forward quickly, one hand out grabbing for Daniel. Daniel pushes the door with his foot and turns to run inside the house. Meredith stands in the doorway, head still half flopped back. Her insane giggling crone-like laughter starts again. The bullet that has ripped through her lower jaw and destroyed her tongue, not stopping the noise. Daniel looks down and sees the pistol in her hand, he reaches for it expecting her to pull away, but she does not. He pulls the gun from her with ease, he turns the gun and holds it, pointing it at Meredith. Pulling the trigger twice, bang bang, but the bullets just sink into her, she stands as if nothing has happened, just laughing the insane cackling laughter. Daniel turns, pointing the gun at Faustus. ‘Stand back, or I’ll shoot’ he demands. Faustus says nothing, he just stands waiting. Daniel pulls the trigger once, bang, and the bullet just sinks as it had done with Meredith. Daniel’s heart sinks, smashing to the bottom of his stomach. He has no choice, no other options, he puts the gun to his head. ‘You need me? Well, you can’t have me if I am dead’ he screams at Faustus. This works, Faustus hesitates, and it is all the encouragement that Daniel needs. ‘Back off’ Daniel shouts, more composed this time. ‘I think not’, Faustus says, taking a step forward. ‘I don’t think you will do it’.
Pulling the trigger was the easy part, recovering was harder. Daniel has tried to piece together what happened, he is still unsure. His head wound implies that the gun was pushed forward, grazing his forehead and luckily not seeming to have damaged his brain. He does not remember it that way though, he remembers the gun going off and then blackness, a void of nothingness. He remembers dying in front of the door, yet a week later he woke in the hospital.
Daniel sits at his desk, it has been over five years. Four and a half since he had left the hospital and now they ask him this?
He had been found gibbering the in gardens, ranting about long-dead black magic preachers, skeletons in the basement and walking dead housekeepers. Telling everyone that would listen that he had killed himself, blown his brains all over the porch and watched himself die. It was true that he has a large cut across his forehead and his skull has been chipped open, but brains across the porch? Impossible. Yet he knew it to be true. Spend enough time in a hospital, with people telling you that what you know happened is actually impossible. You will eventually just decide to agree with them, it just makes life easier. You do, after all, want to get out in the end. So you lie, and the lie becomes the truth. It is the lie that you tell everyone, and the reality would usually drift into darkness. Only this one never did, this truth still haunts him.
Lisa and her brother Martin were the only ones who had believed him. In his moments of doubt, he wondered at their sincerity, but he knew better than that, he knew them better. They were after all his employers, they had handed the case file over to him. The visits had started in unison and then trickled off so that only Lisa came, she was his shining light in the worse of times, his guardian angel. She sat there when he was rambling, she sat through the ranting, and she sat through the silence. Finally, when he had been considered well enough, Lisa had been the one to take him home. Pulling up in her ruby red mid-nineties Ford Escort Cosworth, she called it her pride and joy, he called her a glutton of punishment. She had dropped him at home promising to visit the following day, which she had kept.
Days had passed, and finally, Danial found himself asking the question. A question that he wanted to ask, but, did not really want to know the answer. In the end, curiosity got the better of him. Daniel almost blurted it out, throwing it out quickly to save him the embarrassment of choking. ‘So what did you find in the house?’ he asked. Lisa too had been dreading this question, she knew it would be coming, but she still feared it. She trusted Daniel, she believed what he had told her. In his most vulnerable moments, she even loved him, loved what he had become, seeing a different side to him, a weakness he kept well hidden. Lisa had always known him as a driven loner, doing everything his way. Daniel was machine-like in her eyes, brilliant at what he did but robotic and inflexible. Lisa believed in the supernatural, Martin believed in the paranormal. Daniel wanted to believe. He wanted to see the world through their eyes, but he was too stubborn, too realistic. Daniel could not take that leap of faith into the unknown, a practical solution was always involved. In Daniels defence, he had – until now – never failed to find one. Daniel has stared into the abyss, what looked back had not just stared into him, it had shaken everything that he believed in.
Lisa and Martin discussed how they would cross this bridge and deal with the problem she now faced. They had not reached any kind of consensus, both having differing views and opinions, neither knowing the answer if indeed there was an answer. Her love for him made her want to lie, not to hurt but to protect. Her respect for him made her want to tell him the truth. Daniel was a man of reason, he would have the facts dished out as they were. Complete, as they came, with no fancy extras. She just hoped he could handle them. ‘Nothing, we found nothing’ she paused, waiting for a reaction. When Daniel just sat there, she continued. ‘The house was in better shape than you would have thought, they don’t make them like that any more I suppose, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary’. Daniel considers this for a moment, it was what he expected, but hearing it aloud for the first time made him pause. ‘So what now?’ he asked, but to that question, Lisa had no answer.
Romance had ensued, a healing process for Daniel, perhaps, maybe even a Nightingale effect for both Daniel and Lisa, who can know for sure. They were both adults, and when the flames of passion fizzled into embers, they knew it was over. Walking away from each other, as friends, knowing that things had burnt hot and fast, wondering what may have been, but never regretting what had been. That had been thirteen months ago, the visits stopped and soon after the phone calls ceased. Then this letter, the first correspondence in months and it was about that damned house.
Daniel reads through the letter again, it does not make any sense. He rereads it, and once more just to be sure, before picking up the telephone and calling the Institute. Daniel keys in the number without a second thought, old habits and muscle memory at work, and waits for it to be answered. If luck is on his side, the phone would be answered by Martin, if not… Lisa answers the phone, and he pauses. Taking a second longer than he should, Daniel finally speaks. ‘Hi Lisa, its Daniel. Look, I just got this letter’. Lisa stops him, butting in as he talks an impatience in her voice. ‘How could you not have told me?’ she asks. Daniel flicks the letter in his fingers, how can I tell someone what I do not know? He thinks to himself. ‘I had no idea’ he tells Lisa.
‘You had no idea?’ Lisa scoffs, ‘no idea that you owned the house?’ It was the unsaid that had hurt, for the first time, Daniel had sensed that Lisa didn’t believe him. ‘Lisa, I would not lie to you, I had no idea! How the fuck could I have, I had the same information that you had’. Daniel pulls the phone from his ear, angry at himself for cursing, angrier because he had sworn at Lisa. Daniel takes a breath and tries once more. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to swear’ he says. It is not the swearing that bothers him, it was the temper. He just did not want to admit that she, she of all people, did not believe him. ‘Daniel just call the solicitors and get this sorted, I have had this case file for too long now, I just want it finished’. That was how the call ended, that was how he and Lisa parted ways this time. They would meet again, but this left Daniel feeling empty and alone. Sat alone at his desk, alone in his flat, alone in the world.
Daniel had called the solicitors, and sure enough, the house was now in his name. Left, apparently, by a father, he had never met nor ever known. ‘But’ Daniel said ‘I’ve never known my father’.
‘Well, he had known you’ came the unhelpful reply. A thought catches alight in Daniels mind, like a piece of furniture from days gone by it is soon aflame. ‘Don’t tell me his name was Faustus’ Daniel asks, hoping beyond hope that the answer is no. Daniel hears the shuffling of pages over the phone, the voice on the other end looking it up. ‘No, no. The name we have is Stephen Johnson’ the voice replies. Unravelling quickly, everything Daniel had crossed uncrosses at speed, the relief lifting and leaving him feeling lighter. Stephen, not an anagram, not a known pseudonym just a plain, boring Stephen. ‘So, what do you want to do with the place?’ the voice asked. ‘Let it fucking rot’ Daniel replied, ending the call. He wanted nothing to do with it.
Then the nightmares resurfaced. Nightmares and terrors of old finding the way back to the surface, and this time Lisa was nowhere to be seen. When they happened before she had been by his side in the hospital or, later, in his bed. Now he woke alone in a sweat, reaching for the bedside lamp, checking every corner of the room for shadows that should not be, a darkness where there should have been light. The nightmares were different now, they had the same core, but something was edging in from the side. It was always the same, the visions and nightmares, just an old rerun of what he had experienced in the house. Now though, his mind was adding things, changing the experience. He could not be sure, was he actually remembering something that had happened? A memory so repressed it had stayed hidden for all this time, resurfacing only upon the discovery of new information? No, he pushes that to one side. The shadowy figure he had seen in his nightmares had been just that, a nightmare vision conjured from the darkest parts of his brain. He knew then what he had to do, knew what he wanted to do.
The following morning Daniel watches as the clock ticks forward, a clock that is observed goes slower, but he does not mind. He has set his mind to something, the time it takes does not concern him, he has always been a patient man. The clock tocks nine and he grabs the phone, reading the number from the letter he dials it and waits. He is transferred and gets the same talking voice as the last time, Mr Richardson. ‘Bulldoze the fucking thing’ was what he said, no reasons given that was his order, his command as it were. ‘Knock the fucking thing to the ground and be done with it. Sell the land and donate the money to charity’. The problem, something that he has not considered, was going to be the cost. ‘It’s not going to be cheap’ Richardson replied. Daniel could ill afford to say ‘donate the money to charity’. He just wanted nothing to do with that house, he could certainly not afford the kind of prices being spoken about now. ‘Fuck, so what can I do?’ Daniel asked.
‘Sell up, flog it and forget it’ was the advice given, but Daniel couldn’t do that. He did not want to take the risk of the house falling into the wrong hands. He did not know why, but it felt like destiny like a fate had intervened and placed the house in his hands, his only choice now was what he should do with it.
Daniel found himself sat in his car, five years on, the house and grounds unchanged. The nightmares he has been having a perfect recreation of what he was now seeing. A mirage of the imaginary drawn over the reality it may have been, Daniel could not help feeling that he was drawn to this place. Predestination on a journey he has no idea about, nor any way to escape, just along for the ride without any control, a passenger in his own life. Daniel shakes the thought from his mind, stepping from the car and into the moonlight. He heads for the boot and opens it, swinging up in the air, and he looks inside. Two full containers await him there, Daniel takes them from the boot and places them behind the car. He slams the boot shut not caring about the noise, there will be time for explanations later. Daniel grabs the containers and heads for the gate, it lies just before him and is unlocked. Fate once again intervening? Or just coincidence. He has the key for the padlock still, a collection from his past ready to be used when ready. He kicks the gate, and it swings open. The trees hang as he walks through them, the memories of years scattered in the leaves. The stories they could tell, maybe this is one that they will remember, perhaps it is not. Time would be the judge, as it often is. Daniel felt a calmness as he walks the driveway, he should have been on edge. This was the place where his nightmares fermented; instead, he just felt peace. The house looms large before him, begging him to enter. He could feel that the house held no fear, he had planned to work from outside, but as he drew closer, his confidence soared.
Daniel approaches the front door, fear has wholly escaped him. Running away towards the trees and the gates, what will be will be, he knows deep down that he has to do this, that this is what has to be. As he kicks the front door, he expects resistance, a fightback from the house or a force within, yet nothing happens. The door creaks but gives in quickly enough, the wood-rotting with age, the lock breaking with ease, snapping the wood in the frame. Daniel looks inside, seeing the hallway of his tormenter. He shudders and then steps inside, expecting all of hell to break loose at once. Nothing happens.
No ghosts and no visions. No knockback, not even a temperature change. Just a long-dead house sat alone in its grounds. The wind whistles through the hallway, coming from a room to the right. Something left open, a window rotted to nothing, Daniel does not care, he has no concern about the house. He makes his way along the hallway heading for the kitchen, the door at the far end on the left swinging open in a breeze. The kitchen is as empty as he had expected it to be, no Meredith haunting it, just the smell of a long-dead past lingering to the walls. The door to the basement is missing, just a gaping hole remains. Daniel thinks about using the staircase and then decides against it, he does not want to push his luck. He unscrews the top of one of the cans and pours the petrol from within on the steps. Daniel can hear it dripping to the ground below, much of it being swallowed by the wooden stairs. He backs out, leaving a steady stream as he does so covering the kitchen floor. Liberally covering the doorway and walls walking back into the hallway. One can empty he just throws is aside and opens the second, continuing from where the first has emptied. He backs up covering everything in the fuel, if he can’t knock the place down, he will burn the bastard to the ground. To hell with it. He steps onto the porch and finishes emptying the can.
Daniel reaches into his pocket and pulls his Zippo lighter from it. A relic of the past from the days when he used to smoke. Daniel sparks the Zippo, and after the third attempt it lights, Daniel looks into the hallway. ‘Fuck you’ he says to the house before throwing the lighter. It was just as the hallway was bursting aflame that he heard the voice in his head. ‘Shall we say a spark’ echoing throughout his head. The fire rips through the walls of the house, a hot wave descending to the basement steps. It is too late to stop it now, the damage is done. He grabs his phone, calling the fire brigade, but knowing it is too late. The flames turn from yellow to orange, eventually settling on a crimson red. He feels it deep in his bowels, he has unleashed a hell, he has made such a terrible mistake.
Fire brigade led to paperwork. The police led to paperwork. Who could know that burning down a house you owned, a building standing on the grounds you owned could be so complicated? He should have known, had he thought about it for more than thirty seconds he would have known. You can’t just go around burning down houses, even ones you own, without questions being raised. A mountain of paperwork and questioning led to one single question that Daniel did not want to answer. Why? He could have answered. ‘Well, you see, the house is haunted, and I had a terrifying experience there, as you are no doubt aware. So after discovering it would cost too much to bulldoze it, I thought I would burn the fucker to the ground. That was the plan, I think it was a mistake though’. He could not even claim it was an insurance job, heck that would have been something. Instead, he just clammed up and said nothing or next to nothing. He wanted the grounds but did not want and could not afford the house’s upkeep, it was the best excuse he could find. It was nothing good, it was hardly even adequate, but it was something, and they had let him return home in the end. Further enquiries pending.
A white cloud formed above the house, going unnoticed by everyone. It was not a cloud formed by vapours of water; this was created from the mists of despair. Trapped for so long by the trickery, the skulduggery of the man Johnson. Trapped for what had felt an eternity, but now it was released, now it was free.
Graham placed the china doll outside his bedroom door and returned to bed. He lay his head back on the pillow and returned to counting sheep. He was twelve, nearly thirteen and that doll still scared him. The dead glass eyes reflecting the light back at him maybe, or the cracked white skin revealing nothing underneath. His parents had told him not to be so silly, well he did not care about silliness, he only cared about what he felt, and the doll frightened him.
It had been so long, trapped for what was a timeless moment. Years may have passed in the world, but for them, it was ageless. That was why it did not understand the feeling at first. It was a feeling long forgotten, lost in the ages of death. It was a hunger, not for food, but for something else. It needed something more.
Greg dropped the condom down the toilet, plop. He flushed and then cursed when the thing didn’t disappear. The only thing that Greg hated more than condoms was children, so the condom was a happy trade-off. He loved Graham, of course, he just hated the idea of having another. Molly had talked about the idea. In her own unsubtle way, Greg was having none of it. He enjoyed the screwing, but not the screaming. Second flush and the bastards were gone. Ha, so long fuckers, enjoy purgatory in your rubber jail. He turns his back on the toilet, forgetting to shut the lid. Greg leaves the bathroom and looks at Graham’s door, he sees the doll sitting outside, shuddering slightly, he returns to the master bedroom.
Greg walks into the bedroom and looks at Molly. Molly is lying on the bed as he left her, breast exposed and smoking a cigarette. She flicks the ash into the ashtray without looking, some of it missing and scattering on the bedside table. ‘He’s put that damn Doll outside the door again’ Greg says as he crawls up into bed. ‘The thing gives me the creeps’. Molly stubs out the cigarette and shuffles over, placing her head on Greg’s chest. ‘Your mother bought it for him. You know I can’t stand it either’ Molly replies.
‘Can’t we just get rid of it?’ Greg asks, knowing the answer already, they have been over it a few times before. ‘If we give in to him on this, then where does it stop?’ Molly answers. ‘Next we’ll be checking under his bed for monsters, He is almost thirteen for goodness sake’.
The cloud hovered and waited, knowing that its moment would come. It was learning, learning everything anew. It has to be wary, it was still young and could not risk anything going wrong, but it also has the confidence to strike. An arrogance built up from years of waiting. It watched the windows as the lights went out, plunging the house into darkness. Its time had come. Entering the house would not be a problem. In times gone by, it would have used caution and tools of the trade. Now it could just drift under the doorway, the smallest of gaps providing an opening. Had the door not been wooden, it would have found another entrance, it always will.
The house inside was clean and tidy without being fastidiously neat, everything has a place, and everything was in it. The cloud looked around, looking for something it could use. Reckless it was not, careless was something it would never be. Nothing in the porch or front room, so it floats onwards towards the kitchen. A knife on the kitchen side holds its interest for a moment, can it lift it? It is not so sure. It looks at the handle, taking its time, concentrating all its energy upon it. The knife wobbles, being pulled by pure will from the block. It can do this, for it is legion, it is many. The knife suddenly shoots from the knife block, it has to concentrate everything on controlling it, so it stops before it can clatter and fall. It wills the knife back to the kitchen side, placing it carefully. It needs something more familiar, something it had more in common with, something it can relate too. The cloud floats from the kitchen, making its way up the stairs towards the bedrooms.
Like the downstairs the upstairs landing is clear of clutter and mess, the only thing in the hallway is a single doll propped against the wall. It takes a moment for it to recognise what it is looking at. Its first thought was that a small child was looming on the landing. This is perfect; it thinks to itself as it hovers the hallway, better than perfect, it is excellent. It lets itself be pulled into the doll; it is as if the cracks on the face are taking a drag on some virtual cigarette. The white smoke being inhaled through every fracture. Then the doll twitches. Slowly at first, it finds its feet, wobbly but steadying itself with an arm against the wall. The arms and legs move freely, the stuffing long past its use-by date. The head bobbles from side to side as the doll moves and makes its way along the hall.
The master bedroom door creaks open, a quiet creaking, but a noise none the less. The doll makes its way into the bedroom, a lightness of foot as it steps on to the plush carpet. It can feel every touch, it had not realised it before, but it had lost all sense of feeling. It was funny how it has not missed that feeling until noticing that it was gone. It thought about the knife, was that why it could not handle it? A lack of feeling as it lifted, unable to judge how hard to pull to release it from its block? It seemed likely, it would have to experiment in the future. For now, it has other plans.
Greg and Molly lay asleep, unaware of the doll creeping the room, and why should they be. Molly dreams of a life without Greg, Greg dreams of a life where he can do what he wants, carrying Molly as an accessory of sorts. Something to be there when he needs it, but not when he wants to have fun. Graham barely registers with either of them. The doll sneaks to the side of the bed and arches its head backwards. Two wisps of cloud escape its mouth, drifting upwards to the ceiling and then back down, a single puff for each. The bodies contort upwards for a moment and then lie still, breathing stops, and they lay motionless. Then Molly sits up suddenly, a flash of action, and she is upright. She rolls over straddling Greg, Greg lies unmoving, still and dead. Molly tries to stimulate him, trying to wake him from his eternal death. She runs her hand down the front of her body, sliding it between her legs. Writhing and squirming as she does so, Greg springs to life, grabbing her by the hips as they twist together.
The headboard crashes against the wall, hitting it so hard that the ashtray falls from the bedside table, smashing on the floor below. Graham wakes startled at the noise, he is shaken from his dreams unsure of what is real, and what is still a waking dream. Bang! Again, continuous rapping of noise. Graham has heard his parents making love before, this though, he is not sure what this is! Crashing, banging and groaning once more. Graham moves towards his bedroom door, taking it slow, not really wanting to know what lies beyond, but having to know. He opens the door gingerly and looks into the hallway, flicking on the light as he does so. It does not occur to him to look down and look at where the doll had been placed. Had he done so, he may have lived to tell his tale, the story of his parents death. Walking the hallway, he can feel every bang in the floor, a vibration flowing from his feet up through his body and eclipsing in his head. Every bang screaming stop, yet every crash also egging him forwards, pushing and pulling him towards that door. He stands before the door with a hand outstretched, he places the hand upon the door and pushes.
Graham steps into the bedroom. He blinks repeatedly trying to give his eyes time to adjust to the darkened room. The room seems unnaturally dark, the light from the hallway should be shining through. He blinks some more, knowing deep down that it will make no difference, yet still he tries. One of the bedside lights suddenly switches on, Molly has leant over and flicked the switch. She still straddles Greg, but the first thing Graham notices is the colour. Red, a blood-red that would be burnt into his mind. Molly leans forward towards Greg and bites him on the chest, she lifts back up, pulling and ripping at his skin, yanking it upwards with her teeth. She chews on the skin, eating some and spitting more. The sheets soak up more of the blood.
Graham stands dumbstruck, unable to move, not knowing what to do. Greg looks over ‘come join us son’, he says. It is more disturbing as the voice is the most loving his father has sounded in years. Graham stands and just stares, stupified by it all, his immature brain unable to take it all in. Molly flops back, her head by Greg’s feet. She lies there, Graham can see where chunks have been ripped from her breasts, chewed or eaten, he does not care. ‘Yes Graham, come be with us’ Molly says, no emotion in her face, her eyes dead. Graham finally releases, something gives both up top and down below. He pisses himself and at the same moment starts to scream. A curdling scream from the pit of his stomach. Graham turns to run, and that is when he sees the Doll standing, watching him. Looking straight at him, head at an angle that would have been impossible before.
The doll looks at him, and then the mouth cracks open. Porcelain shards imitating teeth, an opening where there should have been just painted lips. It stutters a croaky voice at first, before managing to speak. ‘Yes Graham, come join us’ it says, multiple voices wrapped and speaking as one. Instinct takes over, and Graham runs for the door, he can’t stay here. He makes it through the doorway, but he feels pain deep in his ankle just as he thinks he is free. Graham collapses on the floor and looks down, the doll has bitten into his ankle, it is now climbing up his leg. He struggles to free himself, but the dolls grip is too strong, too unnatural. It crawls the length of Graham, all the time holding on as he pushes away using his uninjured leg, trying to escape. The doll is relentless, just crawling working its way up. It reaches Graham’s neck and lunges for it, ripping into it. Thankfully for Graham, the rip severed the carotid artery and death came quickly. His body lay limp on the floor as the banging restarted.
Daniel slept, and unlike the sleep that had plagued him for years, this was a good sleep. This was sleep where he did not wake sweating, he did not wake to feel his heart beating in his neck. Did Daniel dream? He supposed he must have, he could not – for the first time in an age – remember. He sits up and flops his legs over the side of the bed, slipping his slippers on, he really can’t remember the last time he had a dreamless night. Daniel stands and grabs his dressing gown, wrapping it around himself, shutting out the cool morning air. He makes his way to the kitchen, his daily caffeine intake was needed and needed quickly. Daniel turns the radio on, switches to the local station, and listens for the news. He waits to hear if anything interesting has happened, wondering if his torching of the house would make it, it didn’t. The usual gossip and nonsense, nothing more, just regurgitated crap to feed the few who listen. It was the same most mornings. Daniel turned on the radio to add some noise to the day. After listening for 10 minutes, hearing more adverts than anything else, he turns it off. Tomorrow would be the same, as was yesterday. Like many relationships, a vicious circle of love and hate, though not the one he and Lisa had shared. That thought reminded him of his plans for the day, he had to call the Institute, but he did not want to speak to Lisa.
Daniel heads down the hallway, and then to the shelf that holds the telephone and a few books. Daniel looks through the pile of books, looking for one particular book, he finds it, opens it and flicks the pages stopping halfway through. Daniel runs his finger down the list of names in his contact book and stops upon reaching the name Martin, ‘Bingo’ Daniel says to himself. Keeping the book open at the page, he walks back to the kitchen and sits at the table. Daniel grabs his mobile and keys in the number. The phone rings, and he puts it on speaker, placing the phone on the table. Martin answers the phone much to Daniels delight, he had feared Lisa would answer. Lisa and Martin worked in the same office, at the same desk. It would not have been impossible for her to have seen his name flash upon Martins phone, maybe she had, he thought. ‘Martin, Daniel’ he says, ‘I am calling about the house, I’ve sorted it’.
‘Sorted it?’ Martin replies ‘damn that was quick, what did you do? Find a buyer?’
‘I burnt the fucking place to the ground, its done, gone. fuck it’
‘You did what!’ Martin laughs, ‘it’s a bit unconventional, but I suppose if it works. It did work, didn’t it?’
‘I didn’t have a nightmare last night, so it’s a start’ Daniel replies.
‘No nightmares, that’s wonderful’ Lisa adds. Daniel realising he is obviously on speakerphone too, it would have been nice to have been told he thinks, without thinking that he had done the same. ‘Hi, Lisa, uh yeah. No nightmare, singular. It is a start though’ Daniel says, wanting the call to be ended quickly now.
‘So what happened’ Martin asks, ‘anything unusual?’
‘Other than you becoming an arsonist’ Lisa adds.
‘It was unusual to spend the night between the fire service and police station, but no, other than that nothing strange’ Daniel says. ‘It was strange, almost like the house was willing me to do it. I did not intend to go inside at first, just to burn it from outside. When I got there, I just felt a pull and ended up starting with the kitchen and covering the hallway in petrol’.
‘You really did go for it!’ Martin says ‘How did the police feel about it?’
‘Unimpressed would be the word I’d use, the fire service felt the same’ Daniel answered sheepishly.
‘I’m not surprised’ Lisa says, ‘and you should not be surprised either if they lumber you with the bill!’ Daniel groans inwardly, another cost he could not afford, he hoped it would not come to that. ‘I don’t want to be a downer here’ Martin adds ‘but, do you really think it was a good idea to burn what we do not understand?’
‘Fuck it, it’s done. I couldn’t give a shite about the rest, I am just glad it is out of my life’ Daniel says, meaning it. Daniel ends the call saying goodbye and promising to keep in touch. Martins’ question concerned him. He would have usually agreed, and it went against his nature to want to destroy what he didn’t understand. Daniel thought about it for a second, or two, then decided that he was right, fuck it. He clicked the kettle and put the radio back on, another coffee was in order.
The radio playing and his coffee made Daniel sits back down. Mindless, beatless drivel plays first ending in a monotonous noise that seems to defy songwriting basics. Taste, he thought, he’d never had any, and he still didn’t understand the trends. Adverts came next, come to our car wash, buy your beds here. The usual shite, nothing of any interest, just alleged bargain after bargain, then the news begins. The news report was what Daniel was waiting for, he didn’t know why something just told him he had to listen.
The cloud hovered, dormant. It was fed and satisfied. Something unexpected had happened, unpredictable, but most welcome. When it had killed the three before – for it did not think of its victims as human – they had merged with it, become one with it. It felt it had more strength, more control, was that because of the three or because it was fed? It could not be sure, there was said to be much power in innocents, maybe the youngest of the three held the key, maybe innocents were vital. No, something told it that was wrong, it was not the innocence that mattered. It was the corrupting of them, degrading them until they were no more. Ripping their souls apart until they were no longer welcome in either Heaven or Hell, they were the unwanted, unwelcome, all outcasts.
Martin and Lisa sat at the desk they shared. Martin one side and Lisa the other. There is a split almost right down the middle that separates the two sides, Lisas was chaotic, and Martins was not. Lisa just didn’t need systems for everything, she could find order in chaos, Martin needed order. Though both good at what they did and either chaotic or ordered, they would very much work in sync without much effort. ‘I’m concerned about this’ Martin says, looking across the desk at his sister. ‘About the house’ she says, glancing up from her paperwork, ‘I agree, burning it down was not a good idea’. Martin leans forward, his elbows on the desk. ‘The house is haunted, we know that. So why didn’t it put up a fight? Why did it let Daniel burn it to the ground?’
‘Do you think it could have stopped him?’ Lisa asks. ‘He seems to have been pretty determined to go through with it’.
‘It does not feel right, it feels too easy’ Marting says. ‘We know the house was haunted, we know that it was not linked to any event like a lunar cycle, or any pattern we could see, right?’
‘Right, nothing we could see’ Lisa replies.
‘So then why, did it die? Did it move on? Can it do any of those things? If it can’t, and I certainly don’t think it could, why did it not fight back?’
‘It has been troubling me too’ Lisa says, ‘You know that’.
David stands outside the police station, file in one hand and cigarette in the other. He takes a drag, he’s older now and if smoking kills him then so be it. David opens the file once more and flicks through the pages, shaking his head and closing the file. What really is the point he thinks to himself as he throws the cigarette to the floor. David worked as a policeman, worked his way through the ranks, closer to retirement now than when David had first joined the force. David shakes his head once more, he has never seen anything like this. Boy killed with china doll, parents screw, eat each other while fucking, literally fucked and ate each other to death. ‘Jesus Christ’ David says to nobody but himself, ‘Jesus fucking Christ’. David lights another cigarette, taking a long hard drag as he does so.
Crystal, not her real name, sat dealing the tarot cards. The cards were not needed, she’d no idea how to read them properly. They were, like her name, a prop, part of the act. They had mocked her when she was known as Grace, Grace with the crystals telling the future. So she had changed her name to Crystal, Crystal with the crystals. If you can’t beat them, join them, besides now when they took the piss it was good for business. The crystals didn’t matter, the tarot meant nothing. Glass balls were okay as doorstops and palmistry, well there were better things to do with your hands.
Crystal though was not a fraud, she did have a gift. She could not tell the future, but she could read people and speak to spirits. She had been able to do both and discovered a talent for the theatrical at the time of puberty. Like many people with gifts, it was both a blessing and a curse, she came to hate what she was. The sadness of it all was the scourge, people would visit, and she would hear the most distressing stories from both the living and the dead. She never charged anyone, the services she gave were free, given willingly and freely. It was how she had been able to lay low and never get involved with any of the groups that wanted to test the people like her. Crystal flicked the final tarot card and saw death staring back at her, now she would have to seek them out. The boy had come to her in the early hours, pleading for help, begging to be saved. There was nothing that she could have done for him, but she may be able to help others, and, after all, isn’t that what having a gift is all about?