The house stood empty, dark and forboding...But if the house was empty, who was watching Erica with dead, vacant eyes...
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The house stood empty, dark and foreboding, but it was the answer to all of Erica Walsh's dreams--a place to raise her kids, a home of her own for the rest of her natural life. But if the house was empty, who was watching Erica with dead, vacant eyes...calling her name in the night with foul, fetid breath...caressing and arousing her with rough, probing hands?
The Gatekeeper by Dana Reed
The stairs were empty and yet the noise continued. Step after step, slowly and deliberately, someone was climbing towards her. Someone she couldn’t see!
She was stunned for a moment. A chill started at the base of her skull and notched its way down her spine. She wasn’t crazy, someone was there; she’d heard him.
A foul, acrid odor stung her nostrils and turned her stomach. There were harsh whisperings assault¬ing her ears, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Hands were touching her, lots of them--cold, monstrous hands; they violated her sanity, aroused her in an erotic manner. Someone whispered. No! Someone screamed her name. Then she was falling…into an endless void in time . . . just falling.
Father, Son, and Holy Beast
Amelio Rodriguez lay in bed and tried to remember when it was that things had gone sour. It was close to impossible though; the room was noisy, full of sounds that didn’t belong. After all, he was in the privacy of his own home, with the cold, motionless body of his wife beside him. It should’ve been quiet!
Night had fallen hours before, bringing a terrible amount of activity; the house was alive with mad¬ness. Furniture moved. No! It slammed across the altar room with fury. But no one was present in that room. And there were noises, all sorts of noises. The low-throated groans of an enraged beast had filled him with dread at first until something far worse assaulted his senses.
It started with heartbeats—several of them—letting Amelio know they were there. And the whisperings—a chorus of creatures with harsh, gravelly voices told him about death, promised him pain, and took the breath from his wife!
He shuddered spasmodically when the door to his bedroom opened—locked and bolted though it was—and a black, swirling mass of raging hatred drifted in to greet him.
Julio! This was his father Julio’s fault. Julio—master of the Black Arts—turning his only son into a prodigy. Bu in all fairness, Julio had seen the error of his ways. He became enlightened when daemons from the lower order of Acheron gouged an inverted crucifix an inch deep into his chest, leaving a raw, painful wound. Then they wrote the name of their master, Mephisto, over the altar with Julio’s blood.
And to think the altar had been placed in a room with blue walls and blue carpeting to pay homage to the beast because blue is the color of evil. But the Beast turned, the Beast demanded payment for past favors, and Julio ran back to Puerto Rico.
The black, swirling mass floated in a dizzying pattern until it reached the foot of Amelio’s bed. He was frightened beyond belief; these were his friends, but they were turning . . . turning on him. Then perhaps, he thought, it was only fitting and fair if he did the same. But where would he begin? The words were stuck in his throat. He had never used them before.
“Dear Lord,” he moaned--
An arm reached for him from the core of the black mass; an arm rippled with muscles and edged with claws that glistened like steel in the dark. His heart went into spasms as his life passed before him in tiny vignettes muddled with confusion. These creatures had once catered to him, had sung whispers of praise in his ears. Now those same whispers were angry, filled with intentions of destruction.
They told him plainly, in an open display of defiance, that despite their former allegiance he had been created in the image of a God they hated above all else. And what was created in that image must not be allowed to survive! Then they filled his head with frighteningly sadistic descriptions of revenge.
“Oh, Jesus, Lord,” he choked. “Help me!”
“FUCK HIM!” came the whispered answer. “SATAN IS SAVIOR!”
Amelio felt himself rising, being sucked into the swirling mass in front of him as though it were a deadly cyclone. He grabbed the frame of his bed and tried to hold o, but it was useless, the force was stronger. This was it! Payback was a bitch! He screamed, but the sound died in his throat and fear knotted the base of his skull. The arm was in motion, its claws tearing his clothes, slicing through the tender flesh of his body, shredding his face
Why hadn’t he stopped when Julio begged him to? Why had he allowed stupidity and conceit to dominate his senses? ‘You’re old,’ he’d said to his father Julio. ‘When you cannot control the Beast or its emissaries, it’s time to pack it in’. So fucking cool he was, standing there surveying the angry, bleeding ridges of his father’s body and acting so fucking cool! Well, he wasn’t cool now. Hell no! Now it was his turn to pay the price and he was terrified.
“Oh, God, Jesus, help me!” he raged as the razor-sharp claws sliced through his body in layers, shredding his flesh, searing his skull with agony. And the heartbeats increased in rhythm, and the whispers turned to mocking laughter in the face of his helplessness.
“JULIO THE FATHER; AMELIO THE SON, AND MEPHISTO THE HOLY BEAST.” They chas¬tised him with their words, and declared that no form of aid could be expected from a God he had forsaken years before. Then they reveled in the thought that victory was theirs, this house was theirs, along with any future inhabitants.
“Jesus, Lord,” Amelio pleaded. His vision was gone; a steady stream of blood ran from two empty sockets in his face. He was blind and half-mad with pain, half-mad with the knowledge of his own destruction. His ears were ringing with blas¬phemies, vile, filthy, frightening blasphemies.
“FUCK JESUS AND HIS MOTHER MARY! WHORE BITCH! AND FUCK YOU TOO, AMELLO!”
Henry Wittaker reread the last few pages of the novel and shuddered. The story, especially the ending, ran on a plain parallel to what he had recently experienced.
Particularly the part about the house being theirs—
Erica Walsh felt a warm shaft of sun caressing her bare back. The weather forecaster had promised clear skies. At least there was no mention of snow in his predictions. She rolled on her side; stared through her bedroom window and saw that it was a real spring day for a change, a house-hunting day!
She reached for her cigarettes and listened to the usual sounds of morning around her; the children down the halt, Mike by her side, all were snoring softly. She rolled onto her back and threw off her covers, exposing her nakedness. She felt wonderful, wonderful and warm and sexy. Her dream was coming true—a house, her own house.
She puffed on her cigarette, then exhaled while the sun wedging in through a window caressed her body. But deep inside there was an uneasiness casting a pall over her positive emotions. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been smoking so early in the day. Would her dream really come true? Knowing Mike, she felt a sense of urgency at this point, a need to confirm a promise.
She shook Mike and whispered to him, "You awake?”
Mike mumbled and started to snore again.
She shook him harder this time. “Mike, are we still looking at houses today?”
“Don’t be so friggin’ insecure,” he mumbled.
But it wasn’t her fault that she was insecure. Mike wasn’t always a man of his word; he’d broken promises before. After a minute she heard his shallow breathing. No use asking any more questions, she thought, and watched him while he slept. There was something about this man that stirred her to a pitch at times and she had to wonder why. He was far from being handsome, and he wasn’t rich. In fact, he was downright cruel when he wanted to be, which was often enough. So why did she stay?
For more reasons than she cared to dwell on at present.
She stared down at the slight scar on his face that ran along one cheek; then at the rise and fall of his chest; her gaze scanning the length of his long, sinewy body, thick with black, curly hair, her atten¬tion finally coming to rest on the mound of his briefs where his manhood lay hidden. She quickly ditched her cigarette and wondered if there was time to show Mike how much she loved him. The children were still sleeping.
She rolled towards him and laid her leg gently across his while her hand made small, circular motions on his chest before moving downwards with determination. Yes, there was time; she’d make time.
Mike opened his eyes, glared at her dazedly at first then smiled when he felt her hand connect with his groin. He flipped on his side to face her. "You’re so beautiful, baby.”
Her platinum hair, caught by darts of sunlight at her back, had an almost halo-like effect. Her deep blue eyes still had a natural innocence. He sucked in his breath while her fingers wove their magic on his body, moving in gentle swirls, yet with urgency for fulfillment.
“This is the only way to wake up,” he husked, especially when his dreams had been overtaken with painful flashbacks, tiny vignettes of an ugly childhood. And Mother was in it as usual.
He was drawn then to the curving allure of Erica’s mouth and slipped his tongue between her lips to taste the sweetness of her flesh. He kissed her softly at first, but his lust soon became rough and cruel, the way he imagined Erica liked it. Erica never wanted to be pampered, in his opinion, setting her apart from the other women he’d known over the years. Besides, Erica drove him crazy when they made love. Her body was so soft and so yielding that she deserved his acts of bestiality.
He stopped kissing her and slid his tongue hungrily across her neck, her shoulders, working his way down until he connected with the rigid nipple of one breast. He toyed with it gently at first, but soon became bored. Opening his mouth, he took in a good portion of her breast and clamped down hard with his teeth.
Erica moaned and tried to push him away. Mike felt she was ready, that she wanted it now! He released her breast, then shed his briefs and mounted her.
* * *
Erica was relieved; he hadn’t really hurt her this time. But she found herself wondering again why she stayed with him, and why she insisted on making love with a man who had absolutely no idea of the meaning of the word love.
Erica was sitting at the table in the kitchen when Mike stormed in, naked except for a towel around his waist. She knew he was angry by the way his lips were drawn into a tight grimace. She stared straight ahead to avoid looking directly into his eyes, her gaze focused on the hair on his chest, all glistening wet and curly from the shower. Whatever his problem, she didn’t want to face it now. Not today when they were supposed to be hunting for a house. Why spoil the mood? But Mike didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“Tell them boys to straighten up,” he ordered. “Get them pillows and blankets and the rest of the shit off the couch!”
“That’s where they sleep. If they had their own bedroom like the girls do--”
“Don’t start your shit again! In other words, ‘Buy me a house, Mike’.” The mocking tone in his voice matched his twisted expression.
She knew there was more.
“Why ain’t you fixing breakfast?”
Erica shot a weary look at the stove, then back at Mike. Her silence said it all.
“The friggin’ stove’s not working again?” His voice rose to an angry pitch in the stillness around her, shattering her nerves. She stifled the urge to scream.
“We gotta get outta here,” he bellowed. “This fucking place’s driving me nuts!”
“Tell me about it!” she shot back. “What the hell do you think it’s doing to me?”
But Mike never heard a word she said. He was already halfway through the door, dismissing her opinion as though she had none worth hearing.
Mike treated her like her mother did at times, which was ironic because she’d left home to escape this same sort of treatment. Hell, she wasn’t a child. She sighed and lit a cigarette and fought the urge to follow Mike and really tell him off. If she did, that would surely turn his anger to rage. Then she could just as well forget about buying a house. And Erica had to get out of this dump before she went crazy.
The kitchen alone threw her into helpless fits of despair; the torn and faded linoleum, the heavily marred cabinets over the sink with the new handles she’d bought at the hardware store. And hell, if she hadn’t bought those handles herself, there was no way the landlord was about to. He did shit around here. She and Mike were always putting their hands into their pockets for repair money.
Like the day they moved in, it was a nightmare.
There were cavernous holes in every wall in the house, the roof leaked; puddles of water coated the floor. But, like it or not, they had no choice other than to take this place. Up until then she’d been renting an apartment near her mother. It was small and cramped, but it was a palace compared to this. Then there was a fire, a bad one, and they needed a roof over their heads.
It was either take this place or move in with Mama.
Both she and Mike had chosen to move in here!
Erica was startled when a small, moist hand touched her. She looked down and saw Sam, her youngest son, still in pajamas, a shock of blond hair almost covering his eyes. She lifted him to her lap and brushed her lips against his forehead.
“The stove’s not working, honey. You’ll have to eat cold cereal. No eggs.”
“It’s okay, Mommy. It’s not yer fault.”
Sam became quiet at that point and followed Erica’s gaze. There was a pan under the sink to catch the leak. The water in it was rust colored and coated with scum.
“Did hippies wreck this place?” Sam had the biggest eyes when he was curious.
“You’ve been listening to the landlord again.” Erica nearly smiled despite her anxiety.
“Well, he had to call the police to put ‘em out, didn’t he?”
“That’s what he said.” She did smile this time.
“And he hadda hire a terminator to kill the roaches and mice.” Sam had faith in the wrong people.
“It’s called an exterminator, Sam. And I figure the landlord wasted his money. The roaches and mice still have the run of the place.”
She put him down and started to plug in the electric coffee pot, but Sam stopped her. “Mom, you gotta pull the plug on the fridge first. You wanna lose the ‘lectricity?”
“Oh, Christ. I almost blew the circuit breakers again.” She wiped her face with her hands. “Mommy forgets sometimes. Or maybe she wants to forget what a dump we’re living in."
“It’s okay. Daddy’s buying us a house, right?”
Thinking about a new house made her feel wonderful inside. “And, Sam…the house we’re looking at it has three bedrooms.” Her words sounded apologetic.
“You mean we don’t hafta sleep on the coach any¬more? Yippee!” Sam jumped in the air and skipped around the table in wide circles.
“And it has new kitchen appliances.”
She suddenly wanted to skip along beside Sam but for one fleeting second she stopped to reflect on how they had moved in here because of a deep sense of urgency. Then she found herself hoping she wasn’t making the same mistake twice. They were buying a new house for the same reason--a sense of urgency.
* * *
Henry Wittaker was in the kitchen when the lid on the mailbox out front clapped shut. It was a horrible sound and it caused the blood in his veins to congeal into knots. They never missed a day, them lawyers, with their son-of-a-bitch letters that just as well called him a deadbeat. Pay up or else, the bastards said in them letters as if he had piles of money hidden away somewhere and was saving it for better things. Send a check for this amount within ten days or we’ll see you in court, they said, as if they’d get the money with their threats alone.
Well, the way Henry saw it, he’d damned well be spending every single day of the next two years in court if they all kept their word. The most absurd thing about those letters was that the bastards never gave a thought to reality. Like each one must have imagined his letter was the first and only. But whenever Henry called them and told them the full story, then it was different; then their attitudes changed, only not by a whole lot.
It was always, “We’re sorry to hear about your situation, Mr. Wittaker, but Dr. So and So wants his money now!” And Henry invariably wound up telling them to stand in line and wait their turn. And now, as if he wasn’t depressed enough, his son Buddy was selling his Corvette to help out. Jesus, what a blow to the balls that was.
Buddy was barely eighteen and already learning the cold facts of life. It wasn’t fair, especially since Henry had vowed years ago that things would be different for his kids. Henry, himself, had grown up holes-in-the-shoes-poor, and had sworn an oath on his mother’s grave when he was Buddy’s age that life wouldn’t repeat itself. In other words, he would make it where his own father had failed. He was going to be the best damned provider the world had ever seen, and he almost had been.
But he was fired—
From his dream job—
Through no fault of his own—
And now he was earning shit—
And the burner on the stove was flickering—
Henry felt sweat running between his legs and wondered if he’d peed himself. Maybe he had. His nerves were shot lately, ever since he’d run into that listing in Monroe, the one he was showing today. Strange house. He knew that for a fact.
Henry was an occult buff who prided himself on his knowledge as well as his senses. He had the ability to feel unseen presences when nobody else could. Hell, he could feel a spook in a house big as a mansion with his eyes closed and blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. What’s more, he felt something in that house in Monroe, and it made his nerves do the Dance of the Seven Veils. It happened as soon as he crossed over the threshold and entered the living room. Zingo, his senses went wild, picking up one here and one there, one on the staircase, one in the kitchen, a few in the bedrooms upstairs… correction, a few in the closets in those bedrooms.
Then the strangest thing occurred. He had the sensation of being followed when he left the house. The feeling was strong enough to cause him to turn and glance over his shoulder, which was silly because you only saw them when they wanted you to, so he saw nothing. But he sensed plenty, felt it following him, right out to his car. He felt it sitting in the back seat when he drove home too. At one point, he went so far as to look in the rear view mirror, half expecting to see a face staring back at him. But again, that was silly shit; you only saw them when they wanted you to. And obviously, this thing wasn’t ready to be seen yet.
But it was here, in his house. And now the stove burner was flickering.
Henry rose and poured fresh coffee into a silver server, then placed the server gently onto a silver tray: leftovers from his better days. Still, his mind wasn’t on the task at hand; it was on that flickering burner…and the sudden chill in the kitchen even though he had the heat running on high to keep the house warm for Bess.
That fucking thing was energizing itself!
Henry knew from studying these matters that invisible entities sucked energy from different sources whenever they wanted to materialize. They stole wattage from lights, drew the heat from a room, and filled their ‘devilified’ veins to the over¬flowing with stolen energy so that you could see them and hear them. Energy heightened their powers.
Well now, Henry thought to himself, fuck this bastard. He hadn’t time for this nonsense, and he was scared besides. He took the tray and left the kitchen.
* * *
Bess Wittaker ran until she thought her lungs would burst. The ground was soft and warm beneath her bare feet; wild crocus and snow-on-the¬ mount caressed her ankles. She was laughing. Henry was behind her, running in the slow motion of her dream. They were young again, both of them. She glanced back at Henry with his muscled chest and virile body and felt proud that she hadn’t let herself go. Henry was a man’s man, envied by most of the men in town and desired by most of the women. But it was her supple breasts and slim-waist that had him on the hook and kept him there. .
She turned to look ahead and at that point, as always, Henry caught her from behind. She felt his strong, muscle-knotted arms encircle her waist, felt his hands reach up to fondle her breasts. She stopped running and swung around to press her body against his, to feel the heat of his manhood as it rose with desire.
“Henry,” she whispered hoarsely, “take me now.”
But Henry was a tease; he wanted it to last. He started with the buttons on her blouse, then her underclothing until she was naked from the waist up. He played maddening games with his tongue and the nipples of her breasts, while his hands traveled down her body, drawing her lower torso against his.
It lasted a long while as Henry had wanted, and by the time he was finally ready for penetration she was screaming with desire. Those screams woke her and she found herself alone in bed as usual, and as usual, she cried.
But she abruptly stopped when she heard Henry coming up the steps and prayed for death. She knew it was he by the slight hesitation of his footsteps every third step. Bess had been confined to bed for so many years that she’d developed a finely honed sense of hearing; a gift from God, she imagined, to compen¬sate for her illness. Big deal, she thought, she would’ve traded it in at any time for a month’s worth of good health.
At any rate, she could damn well recognize the footsteps of nearly everyone who came to see her. Mainly it was her doctors who came up those stairs, her friends had stopped coming a while back. Long illnesses scared most people, especially when you stayed sick longer than they expected you to. It kind of made them think about death and their own lack of immortality.
So other than Henry and her children, Buddy and Patricia, only the doctors came. And not so many of them came anymore.
She heard Henry struggling with the knob moments before he came in carrying her breakfast tray. “Poor, Henry,” she mumbled. Then she inhaled deeply several times and fought the urge to cry. She was no longer useful to him. She was no longer a wife or a mother. She was a frail, dying, thing: an albatross around his neck.
She forced a smile and lied when he spoke to her.
“How do you feel?” he’d asked.
“Oh much better,” was her answer, the lie rolling off her tongue with ease while pain throbbed in her kidneys. The truth was that the pain was excruciat¬ing and she wanted to die.
Henry laid the tray on her lap, then bent over and kissed her. But the kiss was too quickly over and done with to suit her. She longed for the days when there had been more, before those damned renal scans proved she was finished!
“Where to today?” she asked, wanting so desper¬ately to remain a part of his active life.
“I’m showing a couple of houses this morning. Won’t be in the office at least until noon.” Henry wiped his palms on his shirt—a grease stain darkened the pocket. He glanced down at it absently and took a tie from the closet. He was trying desper¬ately not to think about showing those houses, especially the one in Monroe. It had him bothered to hell and back.
Bess sipped her coffee, never taking her eyes off Henry. The healthy, virile body had long given way to middle age. His feet shuffled heavily when he walked. She watched him putting on a wrinkled tie and slipping into a soiled jacket like a man in a trance. This wasn’t Henry; normally he was very meticulous about his appearance. “What is it?” she asked. “What’s eating you?”
"Nothing much. I’m just tired.” He turned his back before she could look at his face. Bess was good at reading faces. She was equally good at seeing what was written in your eyes. Eyes told the truth, and his said that he was beaten, stomped into the ground.
Henry had gotten the mail from the box on his way upstairs. Today’s mail had contained the usual collection notices. One was from her urologist, along with a note telling Henry to find another doctor. The others remained unopened. What the hell was the use, he reasoned, his insurance coverage was gone, and now they were starting to pick his pockets. Only the pockets were as empty as the cupboard was bare.
And he had to show that damned house today because they needed the money from his commis¬sions so badly.
“Henry? Are you sure there’s nothing else bother¬ing you?” Bess was smart. She was waiting for an answer, one he could not truthfully provide without hurting her deeply. She had no idea just how tight the money situation was.
He forced a smile and turned. “I just realized I’m walking out of here looking like a bum. There are stains all over my jacket. Tie’s wrinkled—”
“Well, it’s nothing to brood over,” she joked.
And, I have to show that Goddamn house, he wanted to scream, but he swallowed and took a deep breath instead. No use taking it out on her.
“Come on, baby,” he said in a silly way. “How’s about a big, juicy kiss before I leave.”
The house in Monroe looked different in the light of day; there was no threat. It was a white two-story dwelling, nothing more, nothing less. Of course it was in dire need of a paint job and could have used some grass seed out front. Otherwise, everything was cool. Henry Wittaker laughed at his choice of words. At the moment, his children seemed to be dominating his deepest thoughts. Their crude diction had become the norm for him.
But then they were part of his reason for existing, part of the reason he was here today trying to make a buck selling this...house to an unsuspecting couple. Buddy had that damned FOR SALE sign on his Cor¬vette. Buddy wanted to help out because of the doctors’ bills. Henry had to sell this house whether he wanted to or not. But it was haunted!
He was tempted momentarily to call the Walsh’s’ and confess all. And yet, somewhere in his mind he was telling himself to grow up! The house was per¬fectly normal. Hell, here he was in the yard and nothing had happened yet. He’d gotten this far without feeling anything. And he was able to stare up at the windows on the second floor with no one staring back. Nothing wrong with this house, he reiterated to himself, and glanced at his watch. It was 9:45. The Walsh’s' were due at 10:00. He had fifteen minutes to air out the place. He approached the front door with determination, but hesitated when the stench hit him full force. This time it smelled like acid poured over rotted meat.
What a hell of a way to make a living, he thought bitterly, because it hadn’t always been this way. Henry could remember the good old days when he lived in Nassau County and worked for a prestigious insurance firm in Valley Stream. He really had the world by the short hairs then--a big office, a private secretary, a company car. He was a hotshot insurance executive on his way to the top. Money was no object. Hell, he threw the stuff around as if it grew in the dust under his bed. Bought both his kids brand new cars: Corvettes, nothing cheap. Bought a house on a large estate for Bess.
Then a positive reading on a renal scan shattered his world beyond repair. Time off, that’s what killed him, time off for doctors’ visits, in-hospital tests, dialysis. He literally committed occupational suicide. But, other than his kids, there was no one else to see that Bess had proper care. Then too, he had to be honest with himself. It was his responsibility. Hadn’t he taken her hand in marriage for better or worse?
He could still recall the day he was terminated! He’d missed a meeting, one that had taken months to set up. It was for a group package for a large corpor¬ation; life insurance, health, disability; thousands of small commissions on each and every corporate soul all adding up to a very comfortable sum. Not to mention the referrals he would’ve gotten. And he missed it. And the corporation, whose business he so desperately desired, bought elsewhere. But it wasn’t his fault.
Still his own company had fired him for not caring. But he did care. He cared about Bess! She was bad that day, spasmodic pain racking her kidneys, her sweat-drenched body huddled into a ball, scaring hell out of his kids when she screamed. He had to stay with her, and at what a cost. Now he was in Suffolk County where it was cheaper to live, working for a real estate firm on a commission only basis, forced to hustle to make ends meet, forced to sell haunted houses for those doctors’ bills.
Henry forced himself to smile at the last part. He had to be able to effectively deal with what he was doing. He had to forget those hundreds of books he’d read on occult phenomena. Besides, everyone knew there was no such thing as a haunted house, right? Some were a bit stranger than others, which meant they had character. Keeping that thought in mind he was able to turn the key in the lock and open the front door. But the house was ready for him.
It was cold inside: a cryptic, paralyzing, silent cold. They were drawing energy from the room, had sucked heat from the air. Oh God, he wanted to run. He felt his body shiver; his joints ached. And the walls were still blue. How many coats of paint would it take to cover it? The blue was a dominant force, meant to pay homage?
Henry forced himself to move, made his feet carry him to the nearest window, made his hands undo the lock. The place had to be aired. There was an imprint of a hand pressed against the glass, but he ignored it because it was too large to be…human. And the fingernails--
No, he cursed inwardly, no beasts, no demons here. He would not allow himself to think or feel or sense anything this time around, especially since he was here to make money and nothing else. But there were movements upstairs; doors were closing. Slowly. Deliberately. The hairs on his neck bristled. Character, he thought. But it was cold in here: they were energized.
The first window offered resistance as though it had a mind of its own and could tell him no, don’t open me! But Henry knew that the window was not human, so he blamed his inability to open it on fear, forced himself to think this way. Fear hampered his movements. Right! The window was just that, a window--wood, metal, glass--no mind to think with.
Henry tugged at the damn thing until he swore he was ruptured. It finally gave way. He then walked to the next. What a hell of a way to make a living, he thought again, his nerves rumbling beneath his skin when the first window slammed shut behind his back.
He ignored it, had to ignore it. He opened the second and the third and stood mutely by and watched them close in rapid succession. He wanted to run, but running wasn’t cool, as Buddy would’ve put it. Besides, these were just windows, nothing else: no brain to think with, to be purposely defiant. He opened the windows again and saw them slam shut in front of him.
Sweat beaded his forehead as the banging and slamming echoed in his ears. And someone approached the landing at the top of the steps. He heard him, felt him. He wanted to turn and look, and at the same time he felt it would be safer for him to ignore the noises in this house and to forget those books he’d read as well. Ignore it and it will surely go away, he told himself. And yet, would it?
He crossed to the kitchen thinking perhaps he’d open the windows in there. He put his hand to the door to push it open and saw a streak of white, some¬thing that maybe wasn’t really there, flash in the corner of his eye. It was upstairs and it had sub¬stance. It was a solid form. He shuddered, closed his eyes and reminded himself that the house had charac¬ter. Isn’t that what he’d thought outside? It had character. No ghosts! No spirits!
Well, keep on thinking like that and ignore the goddamn thing, he screamed inside! He turned the knob on the kitchen door and pushed at it. The door swung halfway open before he felt a resistance, like something was leaning against it from the other side, using weight as leverage to keep it half¬way closed. Henry couldn’t see what it was and didn’t want to. He knew it was a large, immovable object and the knowledge suited him fine, scant though it was. Any more and he would’ve been forced to leave the house for sure.
He was still holding the knob when it spun between his fingers, but Henry wasn’t the one doing the spinning. And a click, he heard the tumbler click just before the door slammed shut in his face. He didn’t try the knob again because the door was locked, no doubt about it.
He turned and scanned the interior of the house. It was dim and eerie. He could feel a blanket of death creeping across the floor like mist on a moor, and there were things creeping along with it, only he couldn’t see them, but he felt their presence just the same. Ancient beasts. Henry wondered if they craved his flesh or were they just curious. Oh, God, he wanted to run, but where to?
He was trapped; the doors, windows, everything, all shut tight and bolted. He was a prisoner in a two-story tomb, in a great Sphinx, in a breathing entity. Sand had dribbled from its pores setting off a chain reaction, and huge granite blocks, each weighing several tons, had been released and slid into place. Now the tomb was sealed! With him inside.
And someone was watching him from the top of the steps. Henry was trapped in a place full of character with a beast that had been energized and now was materialized so that Henry could see him. And he was perhaps the most dangerous of them all, this one who had solid form.
“They reveled in the thought that victory was theirs, this house was theirs, along with any future inhabitants.”
When Henry had first read those words in that awful book, he knew it was so. The house in that cursed book was real and ran on a plain parallel to this one. The book could’ve been written there for all he knew. Even the walls were the same.
The walls were still blue out of a hateful defiance. They refused to be painted over because blue was the color of evil and had been purposely chosen to pay homage to the beast, to honor the beast. The beast! The alleged king of kings: he who reigns over a throne in the strange outer world of the occult: he who hides in the farthest recesses of the human mind, who rises in the night to torment our dreams, who lurks in the shadows of darkness on stormy nights.
Henry swore he saw him once…hiding in the blackest corner of his basement. Henry was in the basement checking out the boiler, and something had moved in a corner near the stairs. Something had knocked over a mop and had caught his attention, and it had red eyes. A rat maybe? Of course, Henry smiled, his lips a thin line of fear. A rat had been foraging for food and had knocked over a mop. Simple. And as long as he was in this house he wouldn’t allow himself to think otherwise.
But truth is a funny thing. One can only hide it and distort it until it yearns to be free like a bird in a cage because eventually it struggles to spread its wings, to take flight out in the open, to escape the entrapment of lies.
Henry could no longer lie to himself about the incident in his basement. The truth was it couldn’t have been a rat. Henry remembered that he’d been scared enough to run for his life when he heard heavy footsteps coming after him out of the darkness. And they were much too loud for a small animal like a rat.
No, that thing was big and it moved with determin¬ation. Big as a beast should be?
He suddenly felt his heart thumping wildly in his chest. This was no time to dwell on his past, especially when it scared hell out of him, especially when he already had a good start in that direction to begin with. Don’t let your mind wander, he thought. But it was too late. He choked on his fear, gagged actually. Out! He had to get out. And away. Eyes were watching him, voices were whispering.
A solid form was coming down the stairs!
He ran to the front door, the blanket of death, the fog, hugging his ankles, invisible ancient beasts brushing against his body, whispering threats. He twisted the knob on the door but it wouldn’t turn; it was frozen, atrophied, cemented by unseen hands. They wouldn’t allow him to open the door! He pounded against it with his fists and cringed when laughter assaulted his senses.
Out! He had to get out. The voices were telling him to GET OUT! And yet, they were holding him prisoner, entombing his body, threatening his sanity. He felt wetness and touched his face--tears, he was crying. “Men don’t cry,” he raged and crumpled to the floor, his eyes roaming to the figure on the stairs.
Someone was coming…for him--