By Jonathan Daniel
Darkness surrounded her still form, cool against her skin like satin sheets. Around her, the mansion was still, as if holding its breath in anticipation of a horror to come. She could feel the approaching terror, the screams, the death. It was unavoidable. The heaviness of it pressed down on her, not uncomfortably, but like a lover resting atop her. It felt good now, and would feel better when the blood came.
She breathed evenly, allowing her body’s rhythms to slow and her energy to condense to a single point. Like ink billowing through water her mind reached beyond the house, feeling along the fringes of the property; searching. The gardens to the rear of the lay silent and unmoving, the bushes and trees looking grotesque and deformed in the soft light.
Overhead the night sky’s infinite darkness reminded anyone who looked upon it that God’s sun would not shine over the Marsten house. The woman shifted her mind to the front of the house where the grey cobblestone path gleamed dully in the dirty moonlight like a perverse tongue lolling from a dead mouth. Shadows traced across the lawn, the grass unwavering even in the soft breeze. The shadows undulated and pulsed, shifting into a nightmare kaleidoscope. She could sense them out there, waiting in the darkness. There were three of them, just inside the trees that ringed the sprawling estate. They had come for her. That was fine, she thought. Let them come. She had the means to accommodate them. And after them, the one closest to her. In the blackness her eyes opened, milky orbs marred by cataracts. Her lips peeled back in a smile, then slowly she began to mumble.
The job was going to be easy, Tyler thought to himself. He stood next to a large pine tree, the bark flaking off onto his shirt as he leaned against it. A soft rustle to his right caught his attention. He turned his head and saw Lisa behind another large pine. Her hair was drawn back in a ponytail and she chewed on the filtered end of a cigarette with nervous energy.
Both of them turned when Dale approached, his face red in the moonlight that filtered through the trees. His long brown hair hung in dark wet clumps to his forehead and cheeks. Tyler chuckled inwardly at the other man’s clumsy exertion. Tyler’s eyes moved to the larger man’s shoulders. He saw behind them the hulk of a backpack.
“You got everything?” he asked Dale.
Dale shrugged one shoulder to indicate the bag. “Yeah, everything we need. These fuckers go off and even God’s dentist won’t be able to ID this bitch. Talk about a crispy fucking critter.” The man grinned at his own humor.
Tyler looked at the backpack again. The devices were a homemade invention of his and Lisa’s. When placed in an electrical socket and fired off by a remote controlled device, they would trigger a fire that to even the most seasoned Fire Marshall would look just like an accidental electrical spark. The blaze would be hot enough to destroy all evidence of a device having been present.
Tyler looked briefly at Lisa then back to the house. The Masten house was a large estate that sat on a fifteen acre lot. The house sat in the middle of the large clearing, encircled by heavy woods. As he shifted his position next to the tree, Tyler looked across the front yard to the house and marveled at its size. Bradley Masten hadn’t fully described the house, at least not its immensity, when he first contacted Tyler about killing the old woman. He had simply said that it sat on a large piece of property and was well secluded. Well, the boy had been right on both counts, Tyler thought. The front yard was flat and open. Three quarters of the way from the woods to the house two large oak trees flanked the driveway. Tyler could see small benches at the base of each tree. Beyond the trees was the parking area, which was devoid of any cars.
The house was ugly, a very gothic looking mansion. It reminded Tyler of the kind of house that would be seen in an old vampire movie. It was a large brick structure, odd angles and jutting ledges. Four large columns flanked the front doorway. Low bushes crouched like hulking beasts along the foot of the walls. Spaced evenly along the ground, dirty yellow lights shone upward, illuminating small sections of the house. Tyler looked along the shafts of light, expecting to see the hideous features of gargoyles.
He checked his watch. Fifteen after midnight. According to Masten, the old woman went to bed early. Again Tyler adjusted his position against the tree and felt more bark rub off.
Brad Masten had wanted them to kill his mother. Tyler and Lisa met him at a small pizza joint, an hour from Tyler’s house. He was young, dressed the part of a rich kid. He was exactly the kind of guy that made Tyler sick to even look at. But thirty thousand dollars was enough of a reason for Tyler to stomach the meeting. Bradley explained to the two that his mother was near death yet the two of them had grown apart.
Brad explained that his mother had lost her faith in God, blaming Him for her inevitable, painful end. Her son feared that she had taken to witchcraft as a last hope for physical salvation. One night as he had brought her dinner, she told him that she would be leaving the entirety of her fortune to a local coven of witches. She further stipulated that the house would become property of the coven and they were to use it for anything they needed. Tyler and Lisa had listened to the story incredulously. This man wanted his mother dead because of a family fortune and witchcraft? Lisa asked him if his mother truly was a witch. “No more than I’m President of the United States,” he answered.
“We going to do this or what?” Lisa whispered harshly. Tyler glanced at her, the pale moonlight falling across her face. Jesus, she looked like a ghost, he thought. Tyler nodded and checked his watch again.
“Yeah. The bitch should be asleep now. All we have to do is get in through the basement door that the kid said would be unlocked. We have to be silent though. Get in, place the devices and get out. I don’t want any chances of her waking up and calling the cops.”
“And we’ll get five grand each for this?” Dale asked. Tyler looked at the man. He was good at his craft, but not so quick on the uptake.
“Yeah, Dale. Five thou each. Not bad for about thirty minutes worth of work, eh?” In the dark, Dale’s teeth flashed in a smile. Tyler motioned them forward and as one, the three began to creep out of the woods and across the expanse of the yard.
Tyler had never felt so exposed in his life as he crossed the grass. Every muscle in his body was tensed in anticipation of an army of police officers led by the yuppie Brad, his finger pointed accusatorily at the thugs he had hired. “Yes, officer, these are the people I overheard plotting to rob and kill my mother.”
Beside him Lisa and Dale kept pace, their legs moving them ever forward while their heads and eyes moved around constantly in surveillance. They paused that the large oak trees and crouched, listening. The house loomed high into the sky, a massive beast that seemed to be holding its breath in ravenous anticipation. When no sound of alarm came, the three continued the rest of the way, angling to the right of the house.
The door, recessed in a small alcove down a flight of four stairs, was unlocked just as Brad had said it would be. Tyler pushed it open gently, bracing himself for a loud protest from the hinges but the door moved silently.
Inside the basement was cool and as silent as a tomb. The floor was bare concrete and the space held dark shapes of objects in the stasis of storage. The air was slightly pungent, a sharp sour smell that made his nose wrinkle in disgust. He turned to the others.
“Okay. The bitch is sleeping upstairs on the third floor. According to the kid, she’s in a bedroom on the far end of the house.”
“Tyler.” Lisa looked at him with hard, eager eyes. Tyler loved it when she took on that look, like an animal deep into the hunt, bloodlust coursing through its veins.
The woman looked around. The sprig of her pony tail jiggled with the motion. “We’re going to burn this place to the ground with her in it, what do you say we take a few extra things for our troubles? Who’s going to know? The way these things burn, especially with that accelerator, there won’t be much left for the insurance company to identify. So we should be able to pick up a few extra, ah, souvenirs before we set it off, right?”
Fearful excitement tickled Tyler’s chest then rippled through the rest of his body. “Take whatever you want. Just be quiet doing it. Try not to break glass or anything unless you absolutely have to.” He looked around. The basement was cluttered and probably held little of interest. Besides, it would require flashlights or full interior lighting in order to navigate the stuff to get to the goods.
He looked at his watch. Twelve thirty. “I’m giving you guys thirty minutes from right now to meet me back where we started in the woods. Set your shit, get your goods and haul ass.”
Dale pulled the devices from the bag and passed them around. Then they moved to the staircase that led to the ground floor where they split up.
Lisa breathed out quietly through her mouth and followed the carpeted hallway. The entire house had a musty, acerbic smell that left a bad taste in her mouth. Christ she hated old people, their stink. The corridor turned left and stopped a few feet further on. Two doors were set into the walls, one directly in front of her, the other to the left. She went straight, the door opening with a hushed click.
Inside was a large library. Bookshelves filled with gold edged leather bound volumes stretched from the floor to the ceiling on two walls. There were several leather chairs positioned throughout the room and a large stone fireplace along the left wall. Heavy curtains were drawn over massive windows. The only light came from two small lamps mounted on tables next to a chair. In the dim light her eyes scanned the walls for electrical outlets. She found one near the floor opposite the
door. From a cargo pocket in her pants she pulled a multi-tool and engaged the screwdriver bit. Installing the incendiary device took only five seconds. Satisfied with her work she turned to leave.
A soft thump made her spin rapidly, her heart moving up near her throat as it beat wildly. Lisa froze in a crouch as she gazed about the room.
“Tyler?” she whispered. No response came and slowly she began to relax. She shook her head and mentally scolded herself for getting so spooked. Exhaling through her mouth again, Lisa started to the door.
The thump sounded again, followed by a wet scrape, like someone pulling a wet mop across a stone floor. Lisa froze in her tracks. The noise came again, from behind her. Slowly Lisa turned towards the fireplace. Her mouth worked in horror but no sound would come forth.
Pulling himself out of the fireplace was a man. He moved only with his arms, dragging deformed stumps that were his legs behind him. Lisa’s feet took a tentative, unbidden step towards him. She caught herself and stopped short. The man was pale, his skin luminescent with an unearthly glow in the dim amber light. His skin was wet with blood and other fluids, and the flesh looked to be ripped, even chewed. He had no hair on his body; his head looked like a mold covered grapefruit. A section of his scalp bulged with movement and a long black centipede pushed its way from under the skin and down his shoulder.
The room tilted crazily as the man turned his head upward and looked at Lisa with black eyes that seeped blood. He opened and closed his mouth, opened it larger than any person should ever be able to. On legs that felt filled with helium Lisa staggered back towards what she thought was the door. Her legs hit the edge of a chaise lounge and she toppled over it, slid off the far side and landed with a thump. As she scrambled to regain her feet she heard a fast rustling. Her head whipped around to the spot where the man had been. The room was empty. She looked around, her breath coming in gasps.
“What the hell?” she asked softly. A shiver ran through her body and she convulsed with it. Imagination, she told herself. That’s all that it was, her imagination. The house was creepy in itself, and they were there to kill an old lady, so naturally her brain was running rampant. She looked at her watch. She had wasted almost fifteen minutes in the room. Cursing she started for the door.
Something small and wet hit her skin on the nape of her neck. Lisa stopped and waited for her heart to regain its rhythm. It’s behind you. Don’t turn around, whatever you do. Don’t turn around and see it, standing impossibly behind you on
those deformed legs, bugs crawling out of it and all that wet blood and yellow fluid on it. Don’t let it touch you.
She felt soft, hot breath on her neck as if someone were panting mere inches behind her, yet the room was silent. God, don’t turn around, don’t turn around, don’t don’t don’t.
She turned. The multi-tool fell from her hand and a strangled scream tumbled over her lips as a hoarse croak.
Dale wiped sweat from his brow with a meaty palm and adjusted the bag on his shoulder. Damn thing was getting heavy with everything he had found to take. He had gone through the kitchen, taking several pieces of silverware, and now into a bedroom that looked like it hadn’t been used in twenty years. A thick mantle of dust coated everything in the room and cobwebs draped across most of the furniture. Old bitch had way more than she needed, he thought as his footsteps echoed dully in the space.
Dale wrinkled his nose at the smell that permeated the entire house. Smelled like week old shit. Lousy smell to put up with for a simple five grand. He was sure that Tyler was stiffing him on his cut of the money. The older man had always thought Dale was a dim-witted idiot. Dale’s fingers found a sterling silver hairbrush on a dresser and placed it in the backpack. So dim witted that I’ve been screwing your woman for
two years and you don’t know about it. Dale smiled at the thought. He couldn’t wait to get out of here and back to his apartment. Lisa would come over early the next morning, having told Tyler some bullshit lie about an errand, or just having snuck out while the man slept off the hangover he was sure to have.
He looked around the room. Nothing else seemed to grip his fancy. He left the room thinking that it would be good to find something for Lisa. A small gift to let her know he appreciated her affections. Outside in the hallway he looked in both directions. He had placed four of his five devices and needed to get his bearings before getting seriously lost. His eyes followed an invisible trail until he was sure that he knew where he was. He was on the back side of the house, still on the first floor. Tyler was on the top floor, where the old woman was sleeping. Lisa was somewhere near the front of the house. A brief stirring in his libido suggested that he find her and pull her into an empty room for a quick session, her bent over a bed or chair, his hands on her waist.
No. Dale shook the thought from his head and walked off the stiffness that had started in his jeans. Focus on the task. His path took him along a carpeted hallway and, selecting a door at random he found himself standing in a large room with a hardwood floor. The room seemed to be a display room of sorts, with glass encased display shelves on every wall. The objects behind the glass were smoky grey lumps in the dark. Dale couldn’t see a window in the room so he risked snaking a hand along the wall and flipping the light switch.
Dirty light flared from overhead. Dale squinted until his eyes adjusted and then he moved further into the room. The shelves were full of old artifacts, Indian war hammers, arrow heads, books, plates with gold inlay. He saw two old Civil War era pistols and a saber in a scabbard. He grinned stupidly, like a child in a toy store after closing. The door was unlocked and he quickly searched for a trip wire that would activate an alarm. Seeing none, he cautiously lifted one of the guns. Dale let out a heavy breath when it came away quietly.
He moved around the room, selecting items at random, mentally noting the ones he’d give Lisa. In the far corner of the room, he came across a small hallway that had more shelves. He fingered another wall switch and moved down the space, his eyes brushing across the objects.
Halfway down the aisle he stopped. Had he really seen that, or was it a trick of his mind? Dale blinked and refocused on the item in front of him.
“Holy son of a shit,” he breathed. A severed human hand rested on a small blue velvet box inside the case. The hand belonged to a woman, rings on slender feminine fingers told him as much. But the hand was black, decayed. Ragged meat hung limply from the stump and he could see the dirty bone protruding from the wrist. Next to it was a foot, then a snake head, then a human scalp.
“This bitch is perverted,” he said and moved back down the hall and into the display room. As he entered, movement caught his periphery. Dale froze and squinted out into the dark hallway. Christ, he was standing in a lit room. He was a target for anyone. Tyler had said that there would be nobody else in the house, but Tyler could have been wrong. Or lied. Dale quickly crossed the room and slapped off the light. He stood still, waiting for his eyes to find their way in the gloom. A soft sound of motion came from down the hallway in the direction he had been traveling.
Slowly, making sure his steps fell smooth and silent, Dale crept to the doorway and peered out. There was nothing. He took a tentative step out into the hall, every nerve in his body screaming in anticipation of a gunshot or cry of alarm. As his second foot landed on the carpet, he relaxed. The sound had been nothing.
With lightning speed, something large and rough pushed past his left side, moving from behind him. Dale spun, felt a searing pain in his neck and caught himself against the wall. One hand shot to his neck and he felt hot wetness. His hand came away black. Blood. Holy shit, someone cut my throat, he thought. But despite the pain, he felt no suffocating weight on his chest. He was able to draw breath and swallow. His eyes scanned the dark, looking for his assailant.
He heard the growling before he saw the green glowing eyes float a few feet above the ground. It sounded like a cat mixed with a wolf mixed with something not of this world. And the eyes, the eyes….
Dale opened his mouth to cry out, but only a cracked whisper escaped. The creature moved closer and Dale could see its crouched hulk, a black shadow in the dark hall. Was that the thing that hit me he wondered. Again he tried to make a sound and again was rewarded with only a weak whisper.
His vocal cords had been severed. Whatever had hit him hadn’t cut his throat to kill him; it had done it to shut him up. Dale began retreating down the hall, one hand clutched atthe opening in his neck, the other sliding along the wall. He never turned his back on the beast, even when it began to follow him with the soft flutter of many legs.
Finally his brain could take it no more. He had to get out of the house. It was a mistake coming here, he knew it. Panicked, he turned and ran down the hallway, desperate to find an exit. He ran and ran, not comprehending that the hallway now seemed to stretch on into infinity with no turns or end. Like a soundtrack to his soft footfalls, he heard the fluttering behind him and knew the beast was close at hand.
He ran for what felt like forever. When his muscles could take no more, weakened by the loss of blood, he stumbled and collapsed to his knees. Tears ran down his large cheeks, and his breath came in jerky gasps. Numbly he looked around. The hallway looked just as it had outside the display room. Paintings still hung on the walls, the occasional mirror. But ahead the corridor stretched into blackness.
The beast was behind him. He felt it before he heard its unearthly growling. The hulk of it took up an immense space over his shoulders. Beneath the growling he heard a sound like the whispering of a hundred people, a soft buzzing in his ear.
God forgive me, he thought as he cried. He heard the jaws open behind him, felt the thick drop of saliva hit his shoulder and braced himself for the end.
When it came, it came with the pain of eternity.
Tyler was lost. With every step, he cursed himself for blindly walking through the house and not trying to remember how to get the hell out. He scowled and looked around in the thick darkness. Goddamn this place was huge inside. Hallways ran everywhere, taking a person into depths that most often led nowhere. Doors opened into room after room, bedrooms, dining rooms – how many places did the bitch need to eat in? Some of the rooms were completely empty. He had seen one that held what looked like an old sewing machine with the large spinning wheel, and another room that had nothing but farming tools hanging from the walls.
Tyler looked along the passageway. The old woman’s bedroom was down there somewhere he knew. He started walking, not bothering with moving slow and quiet. He was getting so frustrated that he didn’t give a damn if she woke up and saw him. She was as good as dead anyway. The watch on his wrist read twenty minutes after one in the morning. Tyler stopped in his tracks. How was that possible? There was no way he had been wandering through the house for almost an hour.
Rage building within him like a rising bubble, Tyler stormed down the hallway, past tall silent doors. “Where are you, bitch?” he mumbled to himself as he walked. Several yards ahead of him, the hallway ended at a wooden door. Large vertical wood planks held together with massive iron bands, the door looked like it belonged in a castle rather than a modern house.
Tyler stopped at it and stood there, breathing hard. A door like this could only lead into the master bedroom, he thought. His lips parted in a sadistic smile. This was going to be fun. He’d put a device on her and let it burn right through her skin and bone, a little ‘fuck you’ for making him wander lost through the house. His hand reached out and touched the large black knob. As he gripped it, he felt one of the muscles in his upper shoulder spasm; a quick lurch of the tissue, moving the length of the muscle. It felt like a bug crawling heavily on his skin and he rubbed his free hand on it to brush away the feeling.
The door opened smoothly and Tyler stepped inside. The door glided along its hinges more easily than its immense size suggested. Tyler turned on a light switch and the room was bathed in a soft yellow glow.
Moments later he erupted from the room. He sprinted down the hallway trying to catch up with rapidly fading reality.
“Nothing’s wrong with me, nothing’s wrong with me,” he stammered as his feet pounded the carpet. Holy God in Heaven, how could he have seen what he just did? How could one person –
Tyler shook his head as he ran. No. He wouldn’t think about that, ever again. However, the image would be forever burned into his mind, so he knew that denying it would be uesless. Instead, he concentrated on finding his way out of the maze of hallways and doors. Downstairs, I have to get downstairs.
He turned left on a whim and cried in relief at the vision of dark wooden handrails at the farthest end of the hallway. He felt a surge of energy and increased his speed. As he neared it, he felt a tickling on his neck and slapped at it. The tickling turned hot, to a buzzing, scratching pain. He slapped it again. The feeling surfaced in other places almost immediately. His face and shoulders crawled with the burning feeling. Abruptly, Tyler stopped. He stood panting in the center of the hallway; Jesus, had he only ran half the distance to the stairs? The burning feeling was multiplying along his skin. He felt it on his arms, legs, and chest. Grunting, he slapped at every spot, scratched in the areas that it burned the worst.
“Fuck it,” he said, his voice weak and scared. He started walking towards the stairs, forcing himself to calm down and to ignore the feeling that now covered his body. “Lisa?” he called out. Silence be dammed at this point. “Dale?” His voice was answered with the thick silence of the house and the burning sensation just under his skin. Again, Tyler lurched to a stop. He stood motionless, his head cocked. Had he just felt something crawling on him? He waited, concentrating through the all encompassing pain. There it was again. The feeling of a many legged insect crawling on the skin of his arm.
Tyler pushed up his shirt sleeve and searched for the culprit. His arm was bare except… In the muddied light of the hallway his arm seemed to be moving on its own. The skin of his forearm bulged slightly, the bulge rolling along the length of his arm, then curving back up towards the elbow.
“Holy shit,” he mumbled. Pain, sharp, hot pain, burned through the skin just below his elbow. He watched with a grimace as the flesh pushed up once, twice, then split open. Blood surged up then ran down either side of his arm. From within the rip in his skin, a long smoke grey centipede emerged. From the head jutted two long bull-like horns. It crawled out of his arm and fell to the floor where it scurried for the stairs. Tyler stepped on it and felt it die with a tangible crunch.
The bulging started in three other places. His cheek, abdomen and shoulder blade all fell victim to the pushing, then tearing of skin. He felt each centipede climb out of his body, two of them getting caught in his shirt. Their bodies flailed in the entangling folds.
Tyler bolted for the stairs. With each step he felt more of the insects crawling beneath his skin and burrowing to the surface. His blood ran freely from open wounds. As the centipedes became trapped within his clothing, he felt them stabbing into his flesh with the horns and then begin chewing back into him as they searched for a way out. They were everywhere, his stomach, back, legs. He felt one crawling around his scrotum just before it bit in and began chewing. Tyler screamed and screamed as he ran and ran.
The staircase never seemed so far away.
Silence reclaimed the Masten house again, settling over it like a thick blanket over a sleeping child. The hallways were empty, the carpets spotless. Not a sound could be heard in any of the dozens of rooms. The dust lay unspoiled across furniture and paintings, the paper thin carcasses of insects unmolested along the baseboards. In the darkness of her room, the old lady stopped mumbling and slowly closed her eyes. A slight smile brushed across her lips as she settled back into sleep. The three had come and had equally been dispatched. She had felt their anguish, tasted their fear and pain. The work had been more exhausting than she had anticipated. She would need her rest. There would be time for her recovery, time for preparations. The next one would be most special. Her son would be coming to visit her soon, she knew. She had to be ready to receive him, too.