I don’t read a lot of horror. But it impresses me that what I have read and seen frequently centers the real darkness of the tale on the human heart. It’s not the dark basements or creaks in the night or vicious ghosts that are truly evil–it’s the greed, corruption and malice in the human heart. Like G. K. Chesterton, characters in good horror stories often respond to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” by answering, “I am.”
“I didn’t believe in you, so it doesn’t count, okay?”
When she spoke, the house muted her words, swallowing them up in muffled swathes of furniture covers, moth-eaten velvet, brocades covered in dust.
“He deserved it!” She shouted louder, insistent that this house that had passed judgement on her would listen. “Or deserved something, anyway. It went further than I wanted it to. You went further than I wanted you to! I never…” she trailed off and tried again. “I mean, I thought about what all the legends said, but I didn’t really want…”
A voice spoke behind her, familiar, calm. “What did happen that night, Diana?”
“Detective Pearsons.” She said, and her voice wobbled. Of course, he’d followed her. Well, she’d known he would find out, hadn’t she? She didn’t look at him, kept staring up the dark stairs, but she started talking. “Two weeks before it happened, I found him—my fiancé—in bed with my roommate. On our anniversary. I loved him like I’d never loved anybody or anything else and he threw me away like I was trash.” Her hands worked by her sides. “So I decided to make use of the family legends.”
It was 9:20 October 31st, 1987. Diana sat in her car, waiting for the signal. Inside, her Grandpa, a stately figure easily recognizable by his black velvet suit, passed by a brightly lit window and lowered the blind six inches.
Her fiancé, lolling in the passenger seat, grinned at her vacantly. “Why are we sitting here?”
“Shh,” she said, getting out of the car. She scampered around to the other side and pulled him up by the hand. He lurched forward, heavy against her, his face inches from hers. He tried to kiss her but she twisted away, pulling him along with a tug of the hand and a teasing glance over her shoulder. “We’ll just sneak up the back way so Grandpa doesn’t know we’re here.”
“Okay.” He giggled, lolling drunkenly after her. “I’m so glad you’re understanding, Di—it didn’t mean anything, you’re really the one I love.”
She turned back to him, running a thumb down the edge of his face and smiling down at him. “Of course, I understand Daniel. Now let’s get inside and,” she cocked an eyebrow at him, “I’ll show you exactly what I think about your love.”
They ran across the parking lot holding hands. She was silent but a trail of drunken giggles bubbled out from him. From the window, Grandpa watched them go and raised a glass in a silent toast.
All the Warfalls knew about the back bedroom in 97 Blinkwell Court. They didn’t talk about it. They tried not to think about it. It wasn’t the kind of thing modern people believed in, so they convinced themselves he was joking—another tasteless joke played on the world at large by their larger than life patriarch. And because they knew how he made his money but depended on him for cash anyway, they were already quite good at ignoring unpleasant realities.
The unpleasant reality, in this case, was half a dozen obituaries scattered over two decades. All those people had died in the back bedroom. The circumstances differed wildly; one was one of Grandpa’s “girls” who went where she’d been forbidden, one was a drunken man who stumbled in accidentally and tried to nap on the bed; and twice couples decided like it looked like a nice place for a tryst.
Grandpa’s money kept the details of their deaths underreported, but the little bits of truth that did slip out were so bizarre they were easily disbelieved—decapitations, pools of blood, burned corpses in an untouched room. Grandpa, with his characteristic unreserve about his career told the family: “I don’t kill ‘em. The house carries on its own business. That’s where it leads the ones it doesn’t like. I’ll end up in there someday.”
In the haze of rage and grief that followed Diana’s discovery of Daniel’s infidelity, one moment stood out with clarity: her Grandpa, his sardonic half smile on his lips, his watery blue eyes alight with malice.
“If you want revenge, just take him up to the back bedroom for a romantic night.” He made an expansive gesture. “I offer it to you on the house, compliments of your doting Grandpa.”
So now, after weeks of deliberation and inner debate, she tugged her inebriated former fiancé up the stairs, reasoning through her argument again. She couldn’t be expected to believe that there was something truly unsafe about the legendary back bedroom. Her only crime if something happened to Daniel was that she hadn’t fully believed a monster story she’d learned at her Granpda’s knee. And that was hardly a crime. Nobody could blame her.
But as she ushered him through the back bedroom door, she stopped to look at the room, and her lip curled in distaste. The whole room was a melodrama. A black trunk stood at the end of a bed hung with red velvet curtains. A massive painting of Lovis Corinth’s In the Slaughterhouse dominated one wall, the streaked reds, blacks and creams of the painting calling to mind raw meat, echoed in the dried blood color of the carpet under the bed. An axe, glittering in the low lamplight, hung over the fireplace.
Somehow, if the room had been done in clean modern lines she might have believed in it. But this—this was only her Grandpa’s twisted sense of humor. And even though she’d convinced herself she didn’t want real harm to come to Daniel, the discovery that he was in no danger whatsoever made her tremble with anger.
Snorting in disgust she half heaved her boyfriend onto the bed, where he lay, sprawled and gurgling happily. She surveyed him, hands on her hips. She might have overdone the drugs.
“Come on baby,” he said, holding up his arms. “You said you’d forgive me.”
This room was a fraud. It wouldn’t kill him. It wouldn’t even scare him. There was only one person left who could do that.
In moments, she’d crossed to the fireplace and snatched the axe down from the wall hanging. She didn’t notice at the time that it came easily off the hangar, that it was dust free and polished.
“I think you misunderstood,” she hissed, advancing on him. “I’m sure you misunderstood.” A thrill of pleasure ran through her when she saw the fear on his face. “Do you really think I’m so stupid as to take you back after you cheated on me? You didn’t even apologize!”
She was almost over the bed, the axe poised over her head, when a movement distracted her. The curtain hangings of the bed shifted, red and…wet? It was hard to tell in the dim light, but it seemed like the curtains were pulsing.
Over the pound of her own adrenaline and rage she was suddenly aware of breathing, so slow and deep it couldn’t come from normal human lungs. Daniel, who had half scrambled upright at the sight of the axe, suddenly yelped, drawing up his hand off the coverlet, soaked red.
“It’s blood!” He shrieked, staring at her. “Blood!”
That’s when they both saw the teeth sliding out of the roof of the bed, brutish knife-like triangles, shark’s teeth. Daniel screamed, scrambling to get off the bed which suddenly seemed muscled and alive, writhing under him to keep him in place.
Diana threw back her head and laughed. It was true! She could commit the perfect murder, give this cretin exactly what he deserved, and she would be free!
Daniel made it to the edge of the bed. The teeth descended. A roar, a crunch, and Daniel was on his knees in front of her, covered in his own blood, staring at the stump of his arm.
It wouldn’t be the perfect murder if she left covered in blood, so she smirked at his stupid, dazed expression. “Well, sorry I can’t stick around, Daniel. Hope you have a nice night.”
In the dusty darkness of the house Diana stopped telling her story, her breath ragged.
Pearson’s voice spoke from behind her. “The Daniel Palozza case is still in the police files. A particularly bloody cold case.”
“Yeah, well that wasn’t the end. You police maybe didn’t get justice, but the house…the house knows…” And she continued her story.
She turned to leave and found that the deep plush carpet had grown up over her feet, tendrils and branches made of carpet fiber wound up her legs, pinning her in place. And the carpet was slowly, slowly, creeping her towards the bed; the bed with its big, bloody teeth still clenched shut on Daniel’s dismembered arm. She struggled, clawing at the carpet that held her fast.
The carpet had edged her past Daniel now, and a different section of carpet had wrapped red cords around him, dragging him down, pressing him flat into the floor.
The teeth were an arm’s length away from her, smelling of raw meat. As she was drawn closer, they parted, letting out a deep, hot breath, and began to open, wider and wider.
Diana screamed. Remembering the axe in her hands, she hacked at the vines, leaving huge gouges in her legs in her haste, but slicing through them. Stumbling, she threw herself off the carpet even as it jerked her towards the teeth. She landed on her elbows, rolling away as fast as possible.
Daniel was screaming somewhere inside a carpet that was rolling him towards the teeth.
She threw herself at the door. Locked. The axe was sliding away from her, being pulled back into the thicket of carpet, and she grabbed at it, heaved, and slammed it into the door again and again.
Pearsons, still calm and quiet at her back, said, “You got out.”
“Barely.” She laughed, bitterly. “And I always knew it would get me some day.”
“That’s almost right.” Said the calm voice. “It always has had you. You thought getting away with murder was the same as freedom, but you haven’t been free. Not for decades. You could have turned yourself in. Given up the money, the clothes, the status, and then you might have gotten free. After all, what human isn’t corrupted? But you didn’t even look for an escape. You’d rather have what you want and live in debt.”
“Like you’re not human, too?” Diana half laughed. “You’re just as culpable, by that standard!”
Even as she said it she realized the voice had been changing, growing larger, shifting out of Pearson’s quiet tones. And then the voice rang out, impossibly large, completely inhuman, an alien judge pronouncing sentence: “Today you will pay your bill.”
Diana swung around.
The foyer behind her was empty. Only one set of muddy footprints, her own, had walked into the house. Then the door swung shut. The lock clicked in place. Diana began to scream.