There once was a time when folks would willingly enter the home of Ingrid Claudette. That sounds crazy now, sure, but it’s the gospel truth.
Some say it was because the landing wasn’t in such a sorry state back then. The pair of railings that lined the sides of the front porch weren’t quite so jagged and toothy. The windows seemed friendlier somehow, more inviting and less like a pair of eyes glaring out over a gaping maw.
Theories as to why so many people could have been fooled into staying on the unhallowed grounds are as plentiful as they are varied. It’s not hard to imagine they all have a speck of truth to them, either. In the end, it doesn’t matter too much, the why of it all. No amount of speculation will change what took place.
Nothing could ever heal the wounds inflicted by the Devil of Delilah.
While the world around me slumbers peacefully during the dark June evening, I’m slouched against the arm of the bench outside of our town’s lone bus depot. A single bulb dangling by the main entrance keeps us from being enveloped in the hastening darkness. My younger brother is sitting beside me, his little legs kicking in the air like he’s some cyclist in the Tour de France. You’d think he’d get tired after a few hours, but you’d be wrong. There’s no stopping those feet.
It’s the steroids, surely.
With every kick, the boy’s wavy locks bounce in the air before falling perfectly back into place. Mick looks so much like our mother it makes me nauseous. He has another ten years before he’ll even start to appreciate the blessing sprouting out of his big head. I feel my hand drift towards my own flat, boring hair as I think about it, but force it back to my side.
“Thanks a lot, Mom,” I grumble under my breath.
“What’d you say, Jamie?” Mick asks, his eyes blanker than the desolate Delilah streets.
“Nothing,” I shoot back, looking away.
“Oh,” Mick says before returning to his kicking.
My cheeks begin feeling warm as my head droops. I’m being childish and I know it. I just wish I looked more like her. All I got were her freckles, the rest of my features come from Dad. If he’d been the one we’d lost, I’m sure I’d be comforted by that fact, but he wasn’t and I’m not.
Somewhere in the tiny brick building behind us, our dad is hard at work loading up the last bus bound for the city. It’s his third double this week, but he seems grateful for the distraction.
“Do we gotta go back to Miss Ingrid’s tonight?” Mick asks, a frown burgeoning across his cherub face.
“You know we do, Mickey,” I say with a sigh.
“I hate that place,” he says, pooching out his lower lip, “I wanna go home.”
“Don’t be a brat, you know we can’t go home. We’ve talked about this.”
“But, it’s so creepy there!” he moans, his eyes begin welling up with tears and my face softens.
He’s not wrong about that.
When Mom—left, the house went with her. The church took her body, the bank took the rest. For the past month we’ve been staying in Ingrid Claudette’s spare bedroom while Dad saves up come money to get us a new place.
“Hey, hey. C’mon, it’s going to be okay. Just remember what Dad said, we’re lucky to have a roof over our heads,” I say, sounding so much like my mother it startles me. Huh, I guess I got something from her after all.
"We’ll be out of there before you know it, alright?”
I take his hand and give it a little squeeze.
“You’ve seen how much Dad has been working, haven’t you?” I say nudging him with my shoulder.
“Yeah,” he says, his head tilting further down as a tear streaks down his cheek.
“Well, that’s to get us out of there as quick as he can, okay?”
We’ve been spending most of our time either in school or planted on this bench, waiting for him to get off of work. I don’t think he likes Ingrid’s house any more than Mick does. Thinking about having to go back to that house and all of its creaks and groans makes me shudder.
“Fine,” he says, though it’s obvious to anyone with ears that he’s still not thrilled, “I’m not talking to her shadow people anymore, though. They’re too scary.”
God, shadow people. As if that place wasn’t creepy enough on its own, Mick has to go and add that little nugget to the mix. I know he’s just being a kid, but putting that in my head isn’t doing me any favors. I withdraw my hand and sit back up with a quiet grunt. Mick wipes his face with the sleeve of his hoodie before going back to kicking his legs and we stay silent for a long while.
Despite my sour mood, I can’t help but sigh a little as a gentle breeze caresses my face. Aside from a gentle rustling sound coming from the woodlands surrounding the town of Delilah are abnormally quiet, allowing for the distant rumbling of the Greyhound bus’s idling engine to fill my ears. A small sigh escapes my lips as I close my eyes and drink in the sound, something about it is so soothing to me. Maybe it’s the white noise, or the idea of escape.
I can’t say for sure which it is.
Could be both, I guess.
That rumbling sound begins to grow louder as the telltale hiss of the airbrakes releasing bounces off the nearby brick and into my ears, causing me to jerk a little in my seat. The trees across the road are then bathed in a dull yellow as the bus creeps out from behind the station, coming up along the building’s side as it begins the long journey out of the sticks and onto the interstate. I’m unable to see much more than a couple of silhouettes behind the darkened windows, even still, I envy them. They get to leave here.
Not long after that I catch some movement from inside the depot, and see Dad gingerly slipping his arms through his old jean jacket before pushing open the heavy glass door. The light from the outside lamp causes the short, graying hair around his temples to shimmer as he exits. His face seems like its aged a decade over the past few weeks, the few minor wrinkles that had lined his forehead are now deep and distinct, like the dark circles beneath his eyes.
As he looks at us, he manages a smile, but it’s hollow. His eyes expose how he really feels. Even in the low light, I can tell he’s been crying again. He tries to hide it, but Mick is the only one who seems to buy the ‘allergy’ excuse he always gives us whenever we ask if he’s okay.
“You kids ready?” he asks as the door slowly closes behind him.
“Nooo—” Mick says, starting to whine, but I nudge his arm with my elbow, stopping him before he can get started.
“Yeah, Dad. Let’s go,” I interrupt. I may not sound thrilled, but at least I’m cooperative.
Dad nods and beckons us from our seats as we make for the nearby sidewalk lining the road. I reach down and take Mick’s hand as we begin walking. He groans, but complies all the same. He knows better than to give me a hard time. After all, I’m the one who can actually reach the freezer to get his precious blue Icee Pops.
The only good thing about staying at Ingrid’s house is it isn’t far from the depot. It takes less than seven minutes to reach on foot if we don’t lollygag. Most of the other people rooming there have to walk clear across town to get to their jobs, some further. The buses don’t run local like they do in the city. No stops, no routes, nothing like that. They just spirit you away to anywhere other than here.
Maybe that’s why everyone seems to vanish about as abruptly as they arrive. We’ve been there the longest of any of them, and that’s only been a month or so. I’ve gotten to where I don’t bother befriending any of the other families that show up anymore. What’s the point if they never bother to even say goodbye? It hurts less to keep to myself. Mick still tries, but he’s too hardheaded to know any better.
Before we reach the hill leading up to Ingrid’s townhouse, it’s obvious that something’s off. Bright flashes of blue and red coat the horizon, causing me to wince. Disembodied voices carry across the way, their fretful murmurings too garbled to make out what’s being said.
I glance over to Dad and notice his eyes have grown wider than I’ve ever seen them. He presses his trembling fist against the side of his hip, his thumb tracing anxious loops along the side of his finger. I want to stop, but I can’t. I feel like I’m being drawn into those strobing lights like some kind of moth, my feet propelling me forward as if they have a mind of their own.
Cresting the hill, I shield my eyes from the police lights and bear witness to the carnage.
At first, I'm too far to really make out what is happening. All I can make out is several vague, foreign shapes dotting the front yard. The egg-white house reflects the glow of cruiser's light bar, flashing blue, then red, then blue again, distracting my eyes as I struggle to peer through the abrasive glare.
My blood turns to ice as the shapes finally take form.
Wait, those aren’t...they couldn’t be...
Those are bodies.
Dead bodies everywhere, strewn across Ingrid Claudette’s perfectly manicured lawn like a bunch of twisted ornaments.
The first I see is a boy who’d only just arrived to the house yesterday. His vacant, unblinking eyes stare up at the night sky, his mouth hanging agape as if still screaming. The other body nearest us is a police officer, her face and neck coated in a smattering of what I can only assume is blood. It glistens in the lights of her idle patrol car, parked half mounted on the curb. Several others lie near the bushes towards the side of the house, but it's hard to see them without getting closer.
The screen door slams against its frame as a disheveled woman stumbles forward, launching herself through the doorway, and halfway down the set of dark brick steps. I hear a crack all the way from here. She must have broken something.
Wait, I know her.
My stomach drops as I remember that she’s the boy’s mother, the dead boy on the lawn. Her legs seem to have been ripped to meaty shreds. It honestly looks as if she’d leapt feet first into a starving pit of tigers, but that doesn’t stop her from dragging herself down the remaining steps and onto the sidewalk. That look of determination flees from her face as she catches sight of the boy on the lawn, her son, dead as Dixie.
“No, no, no, no, NOOOO!” she bellows out in a heartbreaking shriek, her elbows now frantically digging into the bricks as she crawls towards his body, “David!”
I feel my guts tense as a tall figure in a black dress slowly emerges from the dark interior and onto the porch behind the wounded woman, looking like some ghostly apparition ripped from some 19th century horror novel.
In her gloved hands is an ax, its metal head gleaming beneath the viscera of its victims. As she calmly descends the steps, I see her pale, smirking face and feel my breath catch in my throat.
It’s our host, Ingrid Claudette.
The sobbing mother pays Ingrid no mind. She continues her struggle to reach her son, reaching a shaky hand out to him.
"David," she moans.
Her trembling fingers are mere inches from her boy's face before Ingrid’s ax burrows deep into her skull, silencing her cries for good.
The killer stands there looking down at the woman for some time, I can’t say for sure why.
Is she just watching her die?
What is going on?
After a moment, she plants the heel of her boot onto the back of her victim’s neck and rips the ax free with a sickening squelch.
Ingrid’s head then jerks up, her cold eyes locking on mine as an impossibly wide smile creeps across her hollow cheeks. She begins to beckon us toward her. With each curl of her finger, my stomach tightens. My throat feels like it’s closing up with my every breath.
She sees us...
She sees me.
Why aren’t we running?
I want to look at Dad, at Mick. I want to escape, but I can’t move my body. My neck is fused together. My feet are slabs of concrete.
Dad begins walking ahead of us as if in a trance. I try to call out, to stop him, but I can’t help him. I can’t do anything.
“Jamieeeeee,” Ingrid says, her voice unsettlingly gentle and singsongy.
Despite the distance, I hear her as clear as if she were standing right beside me. The hair on the back of my neck and arms bristle up, threatening to flee my skin.
“Come here, Jamie.”
I can’t speak. It's like I’m suffocating. I feel Mick’s hand pulling away from mine and it takes all of my strength to hold on to him. Dad continues ahead, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, drawn in by the siren’s call.
“Mickkkeyyyy, come along. Mind me and I’ll take y’all to see your momma.”
“W—what?” I hear Mick reply.
“You miss her, don't you? You don't have to. Come to me, boy,” Ingrid says sweetly, her smile is somehow even wider now. Her cheeks seem as though they are on the verge of ripping apart.
“Mick, don’t listen to her,” I try to say, but my voice is little more than a gust of wind.
I feel him starting to slip away from me and I want to scream. I try to grip him tighter around his, but it’s pointless.
He wrenches free all the same.
Tears pour down my cheeks as he joins our dad on his slow march towards Ingrid Claudette.
“Please, stop...she’s lying!” I beg silently.
They continue walking towards her all the same. She readies her ax, looking on at my family with hungry eyes.
“Don’t leave me,” I whimper as they reach her.