“We’ve been on this road for almost an hour.”
Reeves snorted at his complaint. “You’re even drunker you look. It’s only been twenty minutes since we left the bar.”
The old pot-holed, cracked tarmac road winds through a large field of dead, yet tall grasses, unwilling to surrender the surrounding dryness. Maurice kept his eyes bulging as he stared wordlessly at the road ahead which appeared to be whirling.
“These damn grasses are getting in the way.” Reeves cursed under his breath, eyes on the road. “Heck, how can they be this damn tall?”
Maurice was finally certain about something, they were lost –or so it appears, and it scared him. “Maybe we should have slept the night off at the bar.” He pressed his temple, wincing from the sudden headache.
How much of that did I take in?
He turned to Reeves and saw that he was driving just fine. The alcohol seemed to have no effect on him, or maybe it did and he was struggling hard to get his act together. Either ways Reeves was clearly drunk too.
Maurice felt an unpleasant rush of adrenaline after a thud sounded beside the car, awakening his five senses. The bump jarred his entire body, making him feel the impact to the depth of his bone. Then he felt the car move over something.
“I think we hit something.”
The headlights which bated the long, steep driveway revealed nothing in its path.
“Prolly a stupid cat that’d refused to get out of the way.” Reeves grunted in annoyance.
That was quit a bump. Maurice knew it wasn’t a cat. It couldn’t be.
“Shouldn’t we stop to check it?”
“Not sure that would be such a great idea, and, besides we’re already nearing the house. We’ll check it at dusk.” Reeves was obviously exhausted.
Within minutes, the road emptied into a broad highway, though well-lighted, yet silent and devoid of life. At least they were no longer surrounded by tall, dead grasses, but proper residential houses just a few blocks away, and for this Maurice was grateful.
Reeves drove ahead, not towards any of those buildings, but down a labyrinth track off the highway. At the end lies a desolate manor house. The Gothic style is the staple of many medieval churches and castle. He then parked in a deserted lot and approached the ramshackled rusty gate on foot.
Reeves gave it a gentle push. The screech of the gate echoed through the endless skeletal forest.
Maurice stepped in tentatively, quickly following behind Reeves as they approached the grand, arched, old oak front door. Although no lights were on inside or outside the house, the light from the street bathed the facade of a georgian manor condo.
“This is where you live?”
Reeves didn’t answer, unsure of what to say. When he turned the key in the front door, he found that it was already unlocked. He knew he had locked it when he left, unless…
He turned the knob back down and shifted his weight against the door. While Reeves quickly got into the house, Maurice stood outside, distracted by something in the dark. Beside the garden(now overgrown with insect threatening plants), where the light from the street couldn’t penetrate, he thought he saw something –or someone, watching him. He stepped into the house and closed the door gently behind, unwilling to give his subconscious the satisfaction of a second glance.
Then clang, the wooden door, having a will of its own, suddenly shut, sealing them inside. Maurice was startled by this. And much to his dismay, he found that the room inside was eerie and filled with dead light. If not for the street light which illuminated the room partially, they would have both been in absolute darkness. Even so, it was difficult to move around without bumping into something.
How can anybody live in a place like this, he wondered but kept his comment to himself.
Reeves walked across the room to a door hidden behind tattered curtains. That’s his aged mother’s room. Maybe she’d been waiting for him to come home that she forgot to lock the door. He folded his fist to knock on the door but then hesitated.
What if she’s already asleep?
He wouldn’t want to disturb her. Cobwebs wrapped his face after he backed away from the door and he quickly pulled them off. His footsteps creaked on the old, mouldy floorboard. He stopped moving and remained still, but the footsteps didn’t. It didn’t bother him though, for he was already used to it.
Maurice took out his phone and turned on his flash. The light illuminated the room and he glanced around, his eyes darting in all direction. He stared at the peeling wallpapers, then at the chandelier with broken strings of crystals suspended from the ceiling.
A photograph high up on the cinderblock wall caught his attention and he neared for a good look. In the picture was an odd-looking child, her smile somewhat abnormal, and condescending.
He turned to Reeves, unintentionally bathing his face with the light. “Your daughter?”
Reeves winced, shielding his face from the light. “She died two years. Car accident.”
Concern grew over his face. “I’m really sorry man. I never knew you had a daughter. I feel so retarded.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. I never really told anyone about it.”
Maurice then realised he was holding the flash directly to his face and quickly pulled away. “Sorry about that.”
The light found a guitar sitting across the room, leaning at the corner. Just then, he was hit by a realisation. “You stopped playing two years ago. Is it because of your---“
“N-No, it is not.” He tried to avoid his gaze. “It’s something else. I’d rather we don’t talk about it.”
Whatever killed Reeves’ daughter, Maurice was now convinced it wasn’t a car, but something else, something less conspicuous. He decided to question him no further, making a mental note to find out the truth when the night is past.
A knock came to the door and both men quickly turn to gaze at it. The light which leaked underneath the door carried no shadow along with it which seemed abnormal. Then came the second knock.
Unlike Reeves who was totally overwhelmed with anxiety, Maurice was totally calm. He gave a half smile. “Are you expecting someone at this hour?”
Their eyes locked in shared understanding. “If by someone you mean a call girl, then you still don’t know me. The new me, I mean. The old habit died after I moved in with my mom.”
Who then is at the door? Maurice felt himself getting disturbed. Even though he knew little about Reeves, the new Reeves, he knew for sure he would never call in a whore now he's staying together with his aged mother. Even though he’d called a whore over, no girl in her right mind would step foot anywhere near the manor no matter how desperate she might seem.
After a moment was past, there came no knock. Reeves surmised that whoever was knocking was now gone. But Maurice on the other hand thought otherwise, for he’d heard no sound of footsteps leaving, just deafening silence.
Reeves, wanting to be certain his uninvited guest was truly gone, moved towards the lancet window festooned with mouldy green gargoyles and pushed the ripped curtains to the side. He stole a peak outside through the old dusty glass.
The midnight appeared deadly still.
His wondering gaze caught a glimpse of an old woman, covered in black overall clothing which reached up to her face, standing outside the door. He arched an eyebrow to give her a once over. Recognition crossed his face.
He wasn’t sure. She had a vaguely similar body size as his mother.
“How much longer do I have to wait out here before you open the damn door?” came the gravelly voice outside.
It was truly his mom, his ever bossy mom. He could tell from the tone in her voice.
Without hesitation, he unlatched the heavy wooden door and threw it open. “Golly! You were outside the whole time? I really thought you were fast asleep in your room.”
An old woman, pitch black hair, wearing filthy nightgown, stood at the entrance. “Do you know I was up late just waiting for you to come home?” She was very crossed and she made it obvious. “How could you stay out until past midnight? You almost gave me a heart attack. I thought something bad had happened.”
A yeasty beer smell that hung in the air found its way into her sniffing nose.
“I’m fine mom.” As much as he tried to sound as sober as possible, his stench had betrayed this intension.
She pretended not to notice the odd smell. “Still, what if something bad had happened---“
“I said I’m fine.” he said, almost raising his voice.
She shot him a venomous glance, and then finally stepped in. “I spotted the light from afar, that’s how I knew someone was home.”
The old woman stopped in her path when she saw that the light wasn’t in Reeves’ possession, but was being held by someone unfamiliar. “Who is this?” She gazed upon Maurice in displeasure.
Maurice was taken aback by her abruptness. She seemed rather rude, than friendly.
“T-this is my friend.” he slurred, jabbing a finger into his chest. He lives very far away, and seemed stranded and a little bit drunk at the time I met him at the bar.
Little bit drunk? Reeves glanced up at Maurice. His bleary, red, watery eyes were visible under the light. Not quite so. Maurice was heavily drunk, and still is. But of course he couldn’t let her find out.
“Iamlettinghimsleepitoffatthehouse.” He was mentally congratulating himself for getting his act together, oblivious to him that his tone had already given him out.
The old woman, uninterested in his explanation, watched in silence as the words were tumbling from his mouth in a rush of barely distinguishable syllables. And without a word, she retired to her room. She would have to deal with him the following morning. For now she is exhausted.
Soon after she was gone, they collapsed on the floorboard, and exhausted, they fell into a restless sleep.
Barely an hour after they’d gone to sleep, Maurice came awake to a sharp cry which drifted through the unholy night. It was a bird. When he glanced down at his watch, only fifty minutes had passed. It was a long night, he observed. Each second seemed to go by as though they were minute, and each minute like hour.
He turned to Reeves who was lying on his stomach, apparently fast asleep. The amount of light pouring into the room became suspicious, and Maurice glanced up and found that the window was open; Reeves forgot to return the curtain. Too tired to get up, he decided to lie on his back and gaze at the street light pouring its light over the lonely highway. He smiled at the sight. Then a feminine figure sitting on top smiled broadly back at him.
His heart shot up as he quickly rose. He looked closely again and saw that there was no figure sitting up there. Maybe it was just his imagination. He hoped.
He trotted towards the window. The moonlight crept deeper into the room as if locked in some strength contest of might with the street lights. Yet, without much effort the street lights always seemed to get the upper hand with every increasing glare of the moon.
Peering through the window, he stared sightlessly at the top of the street light, then at the lonely road and finally at the front porch of the building. The empty night, devoid of life, stared back at him, whispering with the hollow tone.
After he released the curtains from where they hung suspended by the side of the window, they returned to their original position, sealing out partial trace of light. Only little portion of it penetrated the translucent curtain.
Then he returned, not to the floor where he’d laid, but to a beat-up wooden table far across the room. He took the chair beside it and reached for the guitar few inches from where he sat. He couldn’t get his mind off the figure he saw just a few minutes ago.
Had it been watching me the whole time?
The more he thought about it, the more his worries grew. He felt his anxiety being drained away with string noise the guitar gave off. Then he started to strike the strings more rapidly until an ear-worthy noise was formed. And soon he was lost in the sweat rhythm.
His finger suddenly missed a string when he felt something brush his ankles. He thought a rodent must have walk past him. He kept playing, and felt it again. He looked under the chair and saw nothing.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over him, and he froze. A shiver curled through the hairs on the back of his neck then cascaded down his backbone. He looked up saw the silhouette of a strange figure standing beyond the window quickly moving away to the side. Fear swelled inside him. He gently placed the guitar atop the table and started towards the window, again.
As he inched towards it, he thought of waking Reeves but then decided against it. Reaching the window, he pulled the curtain away and the frigid tendrils of the cold morning air found his face. He saw nothing. The eeriness of the dark lonely street sent shiver travelling down the length of his spine.
A sound of a twig snapping behind him echoed and he quickly turned, coming nose-to-nose with an ungodly creature. Gasping, he backed away, into the wall, his chest heaving rapidly. When he opened his mouth, to scream, to wake Reeves from his slumber, his voice had abandoned him; only the slightest breath escaped his trembling lips. The room had grown colder, filled with a numbing chill.
And when he took a second glance at the creature, he saw that it wasn't a ghost, as he thought, but Reeves mother.
“When I heard the guitar play, I thought it was my son.” Her words were calm, and sad, totally different from what it was barely an hour ago. “I haven’t seen him play in two years.”
Maurice, still recovering from the fright, watched in silence, unable to move from the window. She walked to the table and picked the guitar. Examining it, she turned towards him. “Do you mind?”
He hesitated for a moment, but her sad eyes were begging him. They compelled him to walk towards her, not of his own will though. Collecting the guitar, he sat on the chair. Carefully rehearsing the notes in his head, he set his finger to start playing, but then stopped. He turned to her, then gestured towards the photograph on the wall.
“How did she die?”
She looked up at the photograph. “Actually, Reeves killed her. Accidentally.”
“How did it happen?”
He sat in silence, watching her contemplate within herself. The dark room silenced too, desperate to hear the tale. It was a story she wasn’t eager to tell. He could see that the distressed woman was doing her best to leave what had happened in the past.
She let out a heavy sign, her sad eyes filled with defeat. “This time of the night, two years ago, on that same stool, Reeve sat, playing his guitar. And then, little Janie around two at the time, playful as she was, crawled underneath and grabbed his ankle. He thought it was some rodent, and quickly brought down his heavy boot, cracking the little girl's head open.”
She heard him gasp. The attentive walls too, in a creak. Maurice was filled with horror. He quickly ran to wake Reeves.
“Reeves, you have to get up.” He shook him hard.
W-w-what… is it morning yet?” He slurred, still drowsy.
When he turned, the old woman was gone. “Something is very wrong with this house. We have to get out now.”
But his cries fell on sleepy ears.
With little over an hour of daytime left, Maurice yanked him up and dragged him towards the door. Unfastening the door, they stepped into the chilly waft of the early morning, towards the gate. The surrounding scanty trees was bent almost double by gusts of icy winds. The streetlights which sat at the side of the highway fought the darkness from taking total control of the hour.
Reeves, barely awake, asked, “Where the hell are you taking me?”
“You hit something on our way down here, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a cat. We have to check it out.”
“Can’t we wait until daylight to check it?”
“We would already be dead by then. Trust me.”
They ran past the car, and took a sharp turn into the thin road, away from the protective gaze of the streetlight. Taking out his phone, Maurice turned on the light. The uneasy breeze slashed at his face with every step he took, grasping him with chilly touch.
Several inches away, he could already spot something lying dead at the side of the road. It was too big to be a cat. As they neared, Maurice could now see that it was definitely not a cat, but mistily human-like. His eyes found the form lurking among the shadows at the side of the road and quickly ignored it. Only fear anchored his feet in the darkness.
Soon, they got to where the body lay. It was truly human. They stood over the dead human covered on black garment. Reeves recognized her.
His spirit sank.