Thriller Suspense Horror

They pulled down the long drive beneath the grove of pecan trees lining the road. Beads of sweat rolled down their faces as they neared their new home deep in the heart of Alabama. An old Victorian building with sprawling land covered in old growth oak trees. Anywhere else in the country this would cost a fortune, but not here. The local town had absolutely nothing going for it aside from an old leather shop and a restaurant that boasted the “best barbecue in the world”. Henry doubted that. He looked over at his wife, Carol, a quiet beauty with dark eyes and a mischievous smile. They had spent their whole lives working for “the man”, him as an engineer at a large firm in San Diego, and her as a copywriter for a well-respected advertisement company. The realization that they would have to work for approximately 30 years (he did the math) to pay for a house outright in San Diego led them to Zillow, where to their absolute delight, a beautiful home appeared at a price that made them jump at the opportunity.

They applied for new jobs before the move, her as a remote author for the newspaper in the neighboring town, and him with the forest service, researching the newly developing bark beetle infestation affecting the nests of local owl populations. As a gift for their new life, he bought her an old typewriter, not for efficiency, but as a symbol of her dedication to the craft and the onset of their new lives together.

The tires crackled along the white cobblestone drive, as Henry pulled around the large fountain with a cherub soaking in what had become a pool of green algae. “I’ll fix that”, he thought to himself. For years they had listened to white noise coming from a machine emulating the flow of water to fall asleep at night and mask the sounds of traffic in the small condominium from which they had escaped. This would be the real thing for a change. Something genuine. Something their own.

Carol got out of the car and reached into the back seat to scoop up the cat that had behaved so well given the distance of the journey, Rajah. On the drive he had nothing but lizards to chase at rest stops while the young couple made out in the grass to the disgust of the conservative folks that inhabited the unfamiliar state. A key emerged from the inside pocket of Henry’s shirt, now drenched in sweat, and the couple shared a passionate kiss on the threshold of the porch while Rajah meowed angrily in between them.

He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open to the whine of loud rusted hinges. A damp smell met his nose, and something scampered across the flow, pursued promptly by Rajah, who escaped his wife’s reluctant grasp. Carol stepped inside to explore while Henry returned to the car to collect their things. Starting with the typewriter in the back seat he walked up the steps and into the kitchen where the only furniture left behind was a red refrigerator and a sturdy wooden table with a set of four matching chairs. He placed the typewriter down on the table and wondered how many pies and memories had been stored in the old red refrigerator in days past.

From the next room he heard Carol descending the stairs, made obvious by the creak of each step on the way down. She walked out to the car and gathered her makeup and bathroom bag to start her claim on the large master bathroom upstairs.

Henry brought the remaining bags into the large living room with old but sturdy hardwood floors. It was like stepping into a time capsule, a polaroid portrait of a time long gone. There was a large white hearth above the fireplace with small angel figurines that looked eerily clean given the duration of vacancy of the household. From upstairs he heard a shriek. He ascended the steps three at a time to make sure his wife was safe. As he rounded the corner, he found her with a hand over her mouth staring wide eyed into a closet in the hallway. Dolls. Hundreds of them. Large porcelain eyes staring out them from the gloom of the dark recesses of the closet.

Henry sighed, “Maybe there was a reason it was so cheap. Don’t worry, we’ll have a bonfire in the yard tomorrow and take care of anything we don’t want in here.” “Is it safe to just pile up weird stuff we find and burn it outside?” “Why not? There’s not a police or fire station for miles, I’m sure people burn invasive trees around here all the time.” Carol closed the door and retuned to unpacking her wardrobe in the large walk-in closet. The dolls put Henry on edge. In this rural setting the pair was going to have to get used to the quiet gloom of inanimate objects and ominous presence of things that go creak in the night.

Within the closet of porcelain eyes, one pair blinked.

They spent the day unpacking, and when the sun began to set behind the tree line into a flaming abyss, they shared their first meal in their new home, right on the floor of the living room. As they ate the Little Ceasar’s pizza they had purchased on the drive, they listened to the cicadas and crickets outside battling for the attention of the southern skies. Exhausted, they brought in the air mattress they were going to sleep on until their furniture arrived and fell into a deep sleep in the master bedroom upstairs without a care in the world.

Carol’s dreams were haunted. She tossed and turned and rearranged so many times that Henry had to take his blanket and sleep in the car to give her space. She dreamed of eyes. The dolls in the closet next to them and the creaking of old tree limbs left her in a deep state of unrest. The night was restless for Henry as well, alone in the sweltering heat of the car. Multiple times he woke up in a cold sweat and once, looking into the house he swore he saw a flickering light from the kitchen and wondered what snack his wife might be choosing from the old refrigerator.

In the morning he stretched his sore back and stumbled into the kitchen where Carol was wrapped up in a yellow blanket at the table. “Rough night huh?” Henry asked. “That’s an understatement. What were you doing playing with the typewriter last night?” she asked him. “What do you mean? I went straight to the car when you were spinning around trying to escape your sleep demons.” Carol furrowed her brow and looked down at the typewriter at the end of the table. Where it had been empty the night before, a single piece of paper now rested clutched within the metal prongs. She walked over to it and pulled it out, rolling the sides of the machine to set it free.

Upon the page was a single word. “Leave”

She glared at him. “You’re not funny, you do realize that?” “Trust me I know,” he joked and took the page out of her hands. “Did you write this when you came into the kitchen last night?” but she was already halfway up the stairs, upset that he had chosen to spend their first night together messing with her.

They spent the day exploring the property and discovered an old shed hidden by brush with a large padlock on the door. Not having the key, Henry returned to the car and used his drill on the core until the tumbler fell out of the lock completely. He winked at Carol, who rolled her eyes at him, clearly still sulking from the alleged typewriter prank. Henry removed the chain on the door and the pair stepped inside. Old hand tools from years passed lined the walls, rusted with age, and coated in dust. “This is really more of a Henry endeavor; I’ll be inside collecting creepy dolls to burn if you need me.” Henry moved around the shed, dodging cobwebs and axe handles in the dreary space.

An old, fixed blade knife caught his eye. There was something odd though. It was… clean. Everything else was brown and rusted with age and here on the workbench sat a functional tool. Upon closer inspection of the blade, Henry found the initials P.R. He loosened his belt and fastened it to his waist, which made him feel like Clint Eastwood in an old western. 

Looking around the room then, he noticed something else, a large roll in the corner covered in dust. He recognized it instantly. In his old life he was afforded the luxury of digging through the city archives for hours looking at old building plans with blue ink and frayed yellow pages. He took the plans under his arm and ducked out of the shed towards the house.

Carol sat in the kitchen, humming songs from The Little Mermaid, and reading stories from the newspaper she would be working for to get an idea of what people in the town wanted to hear about. Rajah hissed at a small crack in the walls, presumably at an innocent lizard that had taken refuge therein. “Check this out.” Henry took the large roll and uncorked the end revealing the set of plans he had uncovered in the shed. The familiar blue ink gave him war flashbacks to loud cubicles and his boss telling him he might not be “cut out” for consulting. “Wonderful, old blue papers,” She mused. “I think these are the as-built drawings for the house.” With practiced diligence he scanned the page index for the architectural sheets, then turned to the first-floor layout and was surprised at the level of detail given the pre-AutoCAD development. “These guys knew how to detail by hand, it’s pretty incredible.” The eyes of his wife glazed over, and she took her newspaper to retreat to the comfort of the air mattress upstairs.

Henry scanned the first floor. The entryway, the kitchen, one bedroom facing the fountain outside, and the small half bathroom under the stairs. Boring, he thought to himself, he turned the page, expecting to find the second floor then froze. M. Mezzanine? Was there an intermediate level in the house between the first and second floors? Impossible. He scanned the layout. Halfway up the staircase a symbol for a door was shown, leading to an octagonal room suspended in between the two floors. Following the grid lines, he found another entrance to the space… denoted by a detail number found on a separate sheet, he turned frantically to the referenced page. Searching the details, he matched the numbers; it was a hatch. Turning back to the second level he checked the same grid lines to see where it opened onto the level above and went cold when the connection was made. The closet of the dolls. Out of habit, he looked at the title block of the drawings. “Prepared for mister Preston Riley, by Brick-and-Mortar architecture, 1885”. PR. His limbs felt numb. In a panic he dashed upstairs to find Carol.

In the hall she had already started to collect the creepy dolls that inhabited the closet. Not wanting to alarm her, he sternly asked her if she could give him a hand in the kitchen. She made a noise as if this was an extreme inconvenience and followed him. Once into the kitchen, he gathered the plans and led her by the hand through the front door. It was not until they were both safely inside the car that he begin to speak again. She looked at him concerned and asked, “Are you good? Did sleeping in the car alone get to you last night?” He looked into her eyes and whispered, “There’s a secret room in the stairs.” Carol laughed nervously. “What do you mean?” she asked. “On the plans, I found an intermediate level, in the closet you were cleaning there is a hatch that opens into a room that we didn’t know about.” Talking fast now, he felt for the knife on his hip for comfort. Carol looked as if she had seen a ghost as one word escaped her lips “Rajah.”

A sense of dread filled them both, but their furry son would not be abandoned. He paused, “You really didn’t type that note last night?” “No! I thought you did it on the way to the car to scare me.”

Without talking it through, Carol got out of the car and circled back to the shed they had broken into earlier. She emerged with a rusty axe and the look of determination in her eyes made Henry forget the panic for a moment to appreciate the love he had for his new wife. He took out the knife and they entered the back door together. Remembering the location of the hatch on the stairs, Henry poked and prodded until he found a loose stair. He lifted with both hands to reveal a small corridor. He placed the knife in his teeth like a pirate and felt his way along the passage until it opened into a clearing.

The room they found was eerie and disheveled. Old floral wallpaper hung above a half height decorative wall. An old bed with a canopy of clean white silk sat with the covers crumpled and sheets exposed. Someone was clearly still sleeping there. On the floor were scattered cans of miscellaneous food, tuna, soup, beans. It smelled rancid. Licking a can of tuna as if nothing had happened, Rajah sat on the floor and looked up excitedly when the pair entered the room as if playing some twisted version of hide and seek. "Some creeper is still living here." It was hard for Carol to keep an even tone in her voice. "But where are they now?" As if in answer to her question, the stairs began to creak as someone descended them. Slow, deliberate steps, and if the unwanted resident wanted them to hear every movement. 

Carol scooped up Rajah and Henry scanned the room for a ladder leading to the hatch he had found on the plans. It stood in the corner of the room, next to a portrait of a man in an old southern suit with the initials P.R on his lapel. Ascending seemed like the best plan, as the footsteps from the other side of the house indicated that their assailant was a safe distance away, assuming there was just one.... He sent Carol first so he could stand guard. He sheathed the knife and picked up the axe that Carol left on the floor to pick up Rajah. Listening intently, the stairs continued to creak, and then the metal hinges on the door were slammed shut with authority. Henry jumped, and from above Carol quietly beckoned him up. With one hand on the axe, and the other on the ladder he made his way into the room of dolls, which silently sat watching them, unphased by the tension that struck everyone else in the household.

Henry jammed the axe handle against the opening to the hatch so that they could not be pursued from below. Carol ran to the bedroom door and locked the deadbolt. For now, they were safe. “I knew something was wrong, I had the most vivid dreams about someone watching us last night.” “We need to call the police.” Henry pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911. He was met with a slow southern drawl on the other line. “911 what’s your emergency?” the operator asked lackadaisically. “There’s someone in our house, we heard them on the stairs, and we are trapped in a room.” “We’ll have a squad car right over, what’s your address?” the operated asked as if almost disinterested. “31555 Willow Lane.” There was a pause on the line. “Hmm,” the operator seemed amused. Growing angry, Henry asked, “What? Have you been here before?” “Not to worry sir, we’ll have a squad car right over, I’m happy to stay on the line in the meantime if you want.” “No, we’ll be ok.” Henry hung up the phone.

Carol saw the worry line that formed between his eyes appear like it had so many times before when he was stressed about his old job. “What did he say?” she asked, trying to appear calm. “They’re sending someone over.” They sat down on the air mattress with Rajah and tried to calm their nerves. For what seemed like hours they sat talking about all that had happened, trying to comfort each other with the promise that all would be well and assigning funny voices to porcelain dolls in the hall.

When the sun began to dip below the horizon and the same flaming sunset from the night before appeared, it was accompanied by flashing blue and red lights. Looking out the window they felt a sense of relief. A single squad car was now pulling into the drive around the cherub in his lonely green pool. “Henry…” Carol sounded flustered. “Who is that in the woods?” Henry looked over to the tree line and saw a clean-cut man with his hair brushed perfectly to the side. He wore an old southern suit, and on the lapel, though he could not discern them, Henry knew the letters P.R. were sewn. The man smiled, only one side of his mouth turning upward as he did so and left them with one final wave before disappearing into the trees. 

November 04, 2022 18:36

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Liv Chocolate
03:47 Jan 11, 2023

Is this story about me?


Henry Azure
05:39 Jan 11, 2023

You know it is Liv. Grab our little orange son, we'll disappear in the night.


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Liv Chocolate
19:05 Nov 08, 2022

This is the best story I've ever read. I wish it weren't fiction.


Henry Azure
01:04 Nov 09, 2022

Thank you Liv, while some parts of the story are in fact fictitious, the three main characters are very real. Unfortunately they are still working for "the man" and listening to white noise to emulate their future fountain, but every once in awhile Henry likes to remind Carol that a dream for their future is still alive. Life has thrown them some curveballs, but the old Victorian house lies waiting for the day they come to claim it and fill the halls with laughter and the footsteps of small furry animals and perhaps a child in a bear onesie....


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