Daniel looked around the room once again, looking for an escape. He scanned the four walls, he jumped for the door. Hoping that he could reach it, knowing that it was far too high. Daniel slumped into the corner of the room. Not wanting to look, he heard the noise of it as it burrowed free. What was once slow was now moving at speed. The scraping, scratching and shifting of the mud seemed to be amplified in his ears. Daniel pushed his back against the wall, turning as he did to face this demon. He heard a mocking voice in his head that rebounded at speed in the cavities of his brain; it hopped and bounced from side to side. It made it feel like his head was going to explode.
Well, you wanted proof, so come now, come and see it.
Daniel scuttled up in the corner of the room, in a fetal position. Knees high up around his neck. He pushed himself to the back wall. Hoping the wall would take more of him, maybe absorb him fully. Feet digging into the ground, causing the rubble of the dirt to move away. The sound was eerily familiar to the noise the bones had made. Now he had looked; he could not look away. The skeleton was now halfway out, digging itself free. The fingers digging into the ground like a garden fork, pulling itself from its grave. Its mouth fell open as it looked at Daniel. Is it trying to speak? No noise escaped the hollow of the mouth. It just continued its release as Daniel cowered in the corner.
Faster now that the skeleton was at its knees, it was pulling itself from the empty makeshift grave it had once inhabited. It was free; the mouth still moved as if trying to communicate, trying to voice some unspeakable evil. Then it was entirely out, on all fours, and it looked at Daniel. The black, dark, empty, bowled sockets seemed to stare right through him. Staring into the nothingness that was not for human eyes. The arms clicked, turned ninety degrees, bending at angles that would be unnatural for any human body. Muscles and tendons would have stopped it, or torn. The whole creature lurched over sideways in one quick bony action. It was now upside down. The arms now supported the body’s front, holding it up. The legs clicked around as the supporting arms had done, lifting the body’s rear; it was almost crab-like. The head upside down twisted slowly, clicking and snapping as it does so. Finally, it all stopped, and everything fell quiet once again.
The crab-like skeleton watched Daniel with its eyeless sockets. It felt like an age of nothing, then the monster lurched forwards, pinning Daniel against the wall. The creature leaned forward, bones clacked and rattled back into place. Grinding as they pushed together as it moved. The skull was an inch from Daniel’s face, and he was frozen with fear. He could smell a sweet flavour, something that had maybe once been flesh still lingered. Pinned or not, everything about this situation was shouting run, but his body just would not respond. Paralysed by fear, crippled by shock, he can only watch and stare like a deer caught in headlights waiting for the oncoming radiator that will end its days.
The creature’s skull pushed against Daniel’s head and forced his head back against the wall. At that moment, images flashed before him, a person being burnt alive, tortured and burned to death as they were pinned to a stake. The skin peeled as the flames crackled, the blood cauterised and then flaked away, like dust. The victim was being kept alive while all this happened, dark black magic at work. Then suddenly, it stopped. The body fell forward to the floor and convulsed in the soil and dirt. The flames died out unnaturally quickly. Scurrying away like a naughty child trying to hide what they had done. Daniel saw the room from above now. He could see six people standing over the body. He can’t make out their faces; they were all hooded.
Black cloaks for a black mass in a black basement.
“Get the girl”, one of the men said; another followed the command and walked to the charred body. He grabbed hold of the arm, the body groaned as the person pulled it towards the centre of the room, towards the well. “Good, now throw her in”, the man commanded. Following orders, the body is thrown into the well. It didn’t splash or smash; the drop is soundless, never-ending. The shaft of darkness swallowing the body whole in one large gulp.
The man who had been speaking looked up and Daniel then got a good look at his face. He recognised the face straight away from pictures at the Institute, Faustus McGovern, but how? Faustus looked at Daniel, right at him; Faustus could see him. “Be-gone”, he shouted and waved his arm, like a magician performing a trick. The room suddenly became dark, pitch black. Daniel fell to the ground with a thud; he moaned as he landed. He looked to his side, and he could see his phone lying on the floor, torchlight still active and shining up, lighting the staircase.
Daniel grabbed his phone from the floor and quickly pointed the light around the room. He didn’t want to look; he had to look; he couldn’t not. It was who he was. The room was empty, nothing to be seen; even the wells shaft was now capped, the dust long settled on the wooden planks that covered it. It had made itself at home. The house has an aged scent now, the dank, musty smell escaping from every crevice. The smell of age and rot twisted its way up around the hairs in his nose. He moved to the stairs, placing a foot on one and pushing. A force of habit. It whined under his weight but felt stable enough. Fuck it, he was not staying down here a moment longer. He surged forwards, taking two steps at once and made it to the top.
Rules are made to be broken.
The door is opened in a flash, and he dashed into the kitchen, slamming the door behind. Dust rattled with the doorframe and fell to the floor. The kitchen, like a basement, was aged and ragged; dirt and grime covered everything. Daniel rushed to the door to the hallway and slammed against it, locked! He used his shoulder and tried to barge the door open; it would not move. It was like a wall disguised as a door, rock-solid. He checked it for a lock but saw nothing, just a handle that would not budge. “Well, you can’t go through there yet, sweetheart”, a cheerful voice said from behind.
Daniel turned instinctively quickly, his nerves were on edge, and he did not want to be blindsided. An elderly lady sat at a table in the centre of the kitchen; neither were there before. She was pouring two cups of tea from a china teapot, never once taking her eyes from Daniel. Her blouse of white silk swayed slightly in the breeze. She poured the cups of tea, put the teapot down, and then reached into her lap. She pulls a pistol from her skirted lap and placed it upon the table. She leaves her hand resting upon it. “Milk or sugar?” she asked, a smile forming on her lips as she did so. She just ignored the pistol and acted as if it was not there. “Who are you?” Daniel asked her. He stood firm, rooted to the spot. The woman shook her head as if this was a silly thing to ask. “My dear, I am Meredith, the housekeeper”. She took a sip of her tea, “Why don’t you sit down dear, you look like you’ve had quite the shock”. Her voice was laced with playfulness. Daniel stood and said nothing, his mind was racing to explain the illogical with the logical, somehow trying to make two and two add up to four. Still, it failed; he kept rolling five. He knew what he was seeing is real; he just couldn’t yet admit it to himself.
There must be something that makes sense, something that can explain this, he thought. Daniel looked at the windows, considering it; if he can’t make the front door, desperate measures may be needed. They now looked fragile enough to break in a strong wind, nevermind a fully grown man charging them. The rear door was on the other side of the room; he’d never reach it. “Oh, I wouldn’t try that”, Meredith said knowingly. “I may be old, but I only need one of the six bullets in this pistol”. She patted the pistol and then took 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 will rather enjoy shooting you”. She placed her cup down and put a finger inside the trigger guard on the gun. Her grey eyes watched everything. Daniel thought about rushing her; he was sure he could have got to her before she can aim and fire, but stopping her from firing a wild shot? Of that, he was not so sure. “So what now?” he asked her, and this time she said nothing; she just sat in silence and watched. She started to laugh abruptly, not a laugh that built. This is a burst of full-throttled laughter from the start. Her head jerked to the side quickly and suddenly and then backward as she continues to laugh, staring at the hanging light above.
Daniel edged closer to the windows, thinking that he could not be seen. Meredith is looking at the ceiling, chortling with laughter, her eyes watching the light as it swung. She raised the gun and pointed it right at him. Her laughter continued throughout, heckling him. There was a tear as she leant her head back further, the tearing of old fabric or leather. Her lips started to tear along the cheeks as her head flopped backwards, almost coming completely free. A smile all the way back to her ears to match the laugh. It was impossibly hanging by the muscle and skin that remained. The gargling of laughter continued. The head now hanging back, insides exposed, tongue waggled in the air. Opened like a book of gossip with the tongue flopping like a bookmark. She got to her feet quickly, in one swift movement. Her long brown skirt fell to cover her feet. The table got knocked as she did so, teacups and pot spilt and crashed to the floor. The noise from the shattered china shook Daniel from staring at the woman’s head, and he reached, once again, for the door handle.
Daniel did not hold out any hope, but as the woman hobbled towards him, he pushed it, and this time it opened. Meradeth staggered forwards, wobbling from side to side with her errant tongue swaying in tune with the laughter. He shoved the door open and crashed it shut. He dared not look back. Not even a double dare would have worked this time. The hallway was quiet, with not a sound to be heard. It was as dead as he had been when he had first arrived. The remnants of the old furniture scattered around, with dust covering everything like a thick layer of grey paint. He kept his back pressed against the door, and then he heard a single gunshot and a thud. He thought about peeking, triple dare ya, but he did not need too. He knew what had just happened in the kitchen. He knew it as well as he had known the Burke house was not a haunting, and now he only had to face what, if anything, awaited him in the rest of the hallway.
The hallway lay ominously silent, Daniel knew that there must be something up ahead, but he could hear or see nothing. Dust swirled in the air. It danced its dance, where it at been disturbed by the opening and closing of long-forgotten doors. He almost tiptoed his way towards the front door. Creaking floorboards as he walked, ready to alert the idle dead. Hairs stood on the back of his neck and twitched, shivering along with the dance of the dust. His senses were checking out everything, looking for something that should be. Daniel eased closer to the door, one step at a time. He was alert to everything. He expected something to jump, hop, drop or slop out at any moment and finish him off. He finally made it and grasped the handle tightly; this time, it was cold to the touch. He tried to open it, and for just the briefest moment, he thought it would be locked, but then it opened. Daniel pulled the door fully open and stepped outside; he took in a deep breath of the fresh, clean air. Dust, dirt, mud, skeleton, and Meradeth free air. Standing outside the front door, his heartbeat had started to slow to a more regular speed.
What had happened? What had he seen?
He looked over at the trees; all of them were now overgrown, the driveway mostly covered. The flower beds now crawling with weeds. The grass would be almost to his knees. Daniel moved forward, ready to run for the gate, when a figure stepped out in front of him. “Going somewhere?” the hooded figure asked him. “Faustus”, Daniel growled, the disgust in his voice not disguised in the slightest, “But, you’re dead”.
“It is all a matter of perspective, you say dead, but I would say waiting and learning”. Daniel took a step back towards the doorway as Faustus moved towards the steps. He pulled the hood down to reveal his face as he did so. The face was withered and worn from the years, but there was more than that. With the scaring on his left cheek and the fatigue in his eyes, the man was tired. Tired and the eyes had the look of a man who was doing as he was ordered, not as he wanted. They looked unhappy to be here. A green with a hint of fear mixed together with the dot of a pupil.
Should Daniel go back into the house? Or should he stay and stand his ground?
Daniel pushed the door with the back of his foot, testing to see if it was still open, and it was. He’d feared that somehow the door had closed behind him. Swinging shut when he was not paying attention, the house itself laughing and playing games with him. “We can go inside if you would like”, Faustus said, “or, we can talk here”. Faustus held his hands up in front of himself. He was trying to indicate that he meant Daniel no harm; Daniel didn’t buy it. “Back away”, Daniel ordered, he did not expect anything to come from it, but Faustus took a step back. “What do you want with me?” Daniel asked. “You?” Faustus laughed, “Oh, it is not you. You are just”, he paused for a moment like he was awaiting instruction or a direction. “You are just, shall we say a spark, a means to an end”. Faustus stepped forward quickly, one hand out. He grabbed at Daniel. Faustus’s hand was quickly pushed away. Daniel pushed the door with his foot and turned to run back inside the house.
Meredith stood in the doorway, head still half flopped back. Her insane giggling crone-like laughter started again. The bullet had ripped through her lower jaw and destroyed her tongue, splitting it in two. It looked like the split in a serpent tongue; even the parting could not stop the noise that laughed and hacked from inside her throat. Daniel looked down and saw the pistol in her hand, he reached for it, expecting her to pull away, but she did not. She just stood swaying like an old drunk that was oblivious to what was really going on. He pulled the gun away from her with ease. He turned the gun and held it out, pointing it at Meredith. Pulling the trigger twice, bang bang, but the bullets just sank into her; she just stood as if nothing has happened, just laughing. The bullets vanished into her ample bosom, no blood showing only small black holes in her blouse. Daniel turned this time he pointed the gun at Faustus. “Stand back, or I’ll shoot”, he shouted coldly. Faustus said nothing. He just stood and waited.
Daniel pulled the trigger once, bang, and the bullet just sunk as it had done with Meredith. The only evidence of it a small hole in the black cloak Faustus wore. Daniel’s heart fell, smashing against the bottom of his stomach. He had no choice, no other options. He put the gun to his head. “You need me? Well, you can’t have me if I am dead,” he screamed at Faustus. This worked, Faustus hesitated, and it is all the encouragement that Daniel needed. “Back off”, Daniel shouted once more, more composed this time. “I think not”, Faustus said as he takes a step forward. “I don’t think you will do it”. Daniel heard a voice. Only that is wrong. He did not hear it; he felt it. Felt it as strongly as any voice he had ever heard. Not a voice that you can hear, not a voice from inside your head. This one came from the pit where his heart had just dropped to, the very bottom of his stomach. This feeling spoke to him from there, a female feeling. An amused, giggling and laughing female feeling. “Ohhh, this is great!” it felt with great amusement. “I dare you! I triple super quadruple mega dare you!” it felt like an overexcited schoolgirl.
Pulling the trigger was the easy part. Recovering was harder. Daniel had 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 did not remember it that way though, he remembered the gun going off and then blackness, a void of nothingness. He remembered dying in front of the door. Meradeth and Faustus laughing as he lay on the ground bleeding out. Yet, a week later, he woke in the hospital.