Consumed

I guess I subliminally pick up the subject of ghouls and blood from the Halloween preparations this time of year, since they don’t normally crop up in my regular writing.  This year’s ghost story is a little less cheery than last year’s though (Incorporeal Estate, if you’re interested) and a two part story.

If a house could be imagined eating people, this would be it. Dark stains leaked down the brown brick and the windows glinted out across the park like a predator sighting prey. The door swung open with the silent ease of spreading mandibles; chandeliers twinkled inside like snake’s fangs hung from the ceiling.

Its original owners, a family named Warfall, vacated it suddenly. For a while, it was rented by a steady succession of people who bore certain similarities. Their mouths were open in loud laughter, and their eyes were sad and tired. They dove into life with zest and enthusiasm—and they popped pills before bed so they didn’t lay awake crying through the night. They never stayed long. “It’s a gorgeous house,” they’d say, with wide white smiles, “just not for us.”

But stories escape their hiding places easily, and before long, everyone had heard tales of the nights spent at their house, and disturbing mentions of mysterious accidents and near-death escapes. Eventually, the stream of renters dried up entirely. The windows were boarded up so they could no longer leer out over the lawn, and the door was bolted shut.

For ten years, it sat, abandoned.

And then one morning, Diana Warfall received a call.

“Ma’am? This is Detective Pearsons. There was a break-in at your house last night, and three young men are dead.”

“My house?” Diana stared around her intact living room in surprise. The electronics were undisturbed, the family’s original Gauguin hung exactly where it had always been hung, the china cabinet didn’t have so much as a fingerprint on it. “My house is fine.”

“Your property. 87 Blinkwell Court.”

“Oh.” She sat down on the edge of the couch with a thump. “That place. I hadn’t even thought about it in years.”

She shut her eyes. She didn’t want to think about 87 Blinkwell Court; no one in her family did. It hates us. She thought, somewhat hysterically. We thought it would be happy if we left it alone, but it hates us and now it’s going to get us on murder charges, and I had to be the one Daddy willed it to. He always liked me least…Oh, I don’t want to go anywhere near that place. I don’t want to see it.

“Ms. Warfall?”

“Excuse me?” The detective had been talking and she had been woolgathering.

“As the current owner, we’d like you to come down and tell us some about this house.”

—-

Two hours later, Detective Pearsons met a well-dressed woman outside of 87 Blinkwell Court. Diana Warfall was an attractive woman in her late forties with chestnut hair in a loose bun and in the detective’s opinion, a little too much rattling jewelry. She smiled at him, but he saw fear in her eyes as she looked over his shoulder at the looming brown house.

“H-how did they die?” She said, without preamble, her large eyes darting back at him, bracelets clattering as her hands clutched together. “I don’t want all the gory details, but…”

Pearsons frowned. She was expecting something unusual. She would get it. “One drowned in a keg of beer. One appears to have fallen down the stairs and broke his neck. One…was found half inside a closet, half outside, cut neatly in two.”

Diana’s lips trembled. “I see.”

“Apparently,” the detective continued, “a few frat boys thought they’d found a particularly rich place to party, broke in and invited all their friends. As far as we can tell from interviews and from the state of the house, the party ended unusually early. We’re interviewed some of the other party goers, and oddly enough, they said they all left shortly after dark. Out of fear. Though none of them could explain exactly why they were afraid.”

Diana took a deep breath and clutched her hands together again. “Detective, we boarded this house up because…because it’s a monster. I don’t know how else to say it, but it hates people. We’re not good enough for it. Grandpa built it. He was a…um,” she blushed, “not, perhaps a very moral man…”

Pearsons’ face registered no emotion. Grandpa Warfall had been a pimp and a drug dealer in a large way. He also had the mayor and the police commissioner as clients, so he had been quite flagrant in his excesses. Grandpa Warfall’s legacy had given the surrounding town of Bickerstaff such a bad reputation it survived the decade and a half since Grandpa Warfall’s death. Pearsons wasn’t too fond of the family that had quietly allowed their patriarch to destroy half the town.

“When he’d throw parties, people would die in strange ways.” Diana whispered, miserable to be revealing family secrets. “He hushed it up and kept having them. And then we found Grandpa, dead on the lawn one morning, flung out of his own window.”

“Flung?”

“Oh, we said it was suicide because there wasn’t any evidence, but…we knew. The house kicked him out. It’s not safe. It’s…” she searched for words and then simply repeated, “it’s a monster.” She darted a glance at him, her fingers now wrapped around each other so tightly they were leaving white marks on her skin. “Am I going to be held responsible for those boys, Detective? Because my house killed them?”

Pearsons blinked. “I…doubt that would hold up in a court of law. However, we’re going to need to see if you can assist us for a few days, though. Identifications and so forth.”

Diana stared at him, eyes glassy with fear as she read the suspicion in his face. It didn’t matter what he said, the house wouldn’t have killed people if it weren’t going to pin them on her. The police might not have evidence now, but the house would change that. She remembered the last time she’d been to the house. Behind her, its boarded windows like gouged out eyes, she saw it watching and she knew it had not forgotten. She had escaped that time, and it remembered.

—-

She stayed in nearby Bickerstaff for the next three days, living in an empty hunting lodge owned by the family—hunting lodge being a gross simplification for the luxuries and elaborate architecture of their temporary house. But the Jacuzzi tubs and loft bedrooms did nothing to ease her fear. Pearsons suspected something; she knew it every time she caught him watching her, chewing thoughtfully on the corner of his mustache, insisting she go over her nonexistent alibi yet again.  He always managed to arrange meeting her by the house, or driving past it, and she saw him eyeing her as she clutched at her bangles or wrung her hands—but, miserable, she couldn’t help it. The house was watching her. There would be no escape from it this time.

One afternoon Pearsons had her sit beside him across a table from a frat boy whose initial shaky responses to Pearson’s questions eventually reduced to repeating over and over, his voicing rising to a shrill shriek: “I don’t know, man, it was freaky. I can’t explain it. It was freaky, man, freaky, and, I didn’t do what they did! I don’t even know what they did! I didn’t stay!”

At that point, Diana excused herself, claiming a need to use the ladies’ room. She stood in the police bathroom, staring at her own face in the mirror. It was rounder, plumper, than it had been twenty three years ago, and at the moment it was an unpleasant sickly color.

I’m not a bad person, she told the reflection in the mirror. I did a lot of good. Daddy had always said that as the most wealthy family around they had a responsibility to give back to their communities, to bring others up to their level, and she had. She funded charities, she bought books for schools, she even had her name on a plaque at the Bickerstaff Community Park if anybody cared to go look.  Why couldn’t it ever be enough for that stupid house? She was dimly aware of the countertop edge cutting into the palms of her hands as she gripped it. I shouldn’t be afraid.. She said to herself. I don’t deserve to be afraid.  It’s just a stupid house. In fact, I don’t know why we’ve kept it all these years. I’m going to go out there and put a for sale sign on the lawn.

She left the police station lit with determination, so focused she didn’t see Pearsons watching her leave.

The wind of doubt did not flutter her resolve until she turned onto the drive and started down the long, silent corridor of pine trees. But before she could reconsider, there it was: 87 Blinkwell Court, the dark stains leaking down its face, the mold creeping up its foundation—the door that had been boarded over standing wide open.

Diana slammed on the brakes and sat there halfway up the drive, trying to swallow, trying to ignore the cold fear creeping up her limbs. The house was smiling at her, open mouthed, inviting her inside.

She got out of the car, her eyes fixed on the dark doorway, barely aware of the for sale sign dropping limply from her fingers. She didn’t hear the quiet crunch of footsteps on gravel behind her as she climbed the steps, walked across the porch, and into the open doorway.