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Fiction Horror

‘We’re leaving this house over my dead body without a contract in hand,’ Ruby said. She turned to face the Australian westerly zephyr head-on. Though stifling, the result was still cooling and therapeutic against her flushed sweaty cheeks. She ran her palms over her ginger hair in a less effective attempt to fight the rising humidity, which usually peaked around midday in the sugar cane district.

‘At this price you won’t be the only willing human sacrifice today,’ Nate replied and winked beneath dripping brow. He laced his clammy fingers through Ruby’s.

‘Ready to buy another house?’ he asked.

‘Do or die, baby,’ Ruby replied with a grin.

An open house was an exciting concept for the townsfolk of Drownbridge that summer. Despite the morbidity in its name, people were born, grew old and died in Drownbridge. At least, up until that time they did. It had appeared as if people were suddenly leaving in droves. Some said the recent drought was to blame, others Mayor Darcy’s abandonment when the people needed him most. Whatever the cause, the old northern Queensland region was fast becoming a ghost town.

It was around that time Collective Realty emerged as the leading brokerage in Drownbridge. The trending desertion had increased supply and reduced demand, resulting in a house affordability not seen in decades. The remaining residents flocked to opens in the hopes of obtaining their dream starter, an upsize, or even a second home - a previously inconceivable notion for most. Those were indeed unsettling yet rousing times for the lingering community.

Number eighteen Alarum Street was the latest offering. Prospective purchasers trudged purposefully toward the house ahead of Nate and Ruby, who hastened their steps in response.

Opposite the house, a heat blaze blanketed the cane field and merged with the mirage rising from the bitumen. The cane stalks resembled disjointed limbs in the crisp static air and Ruby stopped to admire the illusion.

‘It’s like we’re standing in a house of mirrors,’ she said.

‘Come on,’ Nate said as he pulled Ruby up the drive. ‘You can stare at it all day long after we’ve bought the place.’

The dilapidated porch stairs groaned in protest with every step that took them closer to the door. They crossed the threshold into a grimly quiet house. Light prints flashed before their eyes each time they blinked from the contrast between the post-noon sun and the dank dimness inside.

‘Everyone must be outside looking at the backyard. I wonder where the realtor is?’ Ruby asked.

‘Collective represents every house on the market in Drownbridge,’ Nate said. ‘For each sold they list another dozen, so don’t expect too much attention.’

A towering, gangly man with cheeks pocked like the moon sidled up beside them.

‘Quite the contrary,’ the man said in an old-worldly foreign accent never before spoken or heard in the town’s history.

‘Collective ensures absolutely everyone receives the attention they deserve. My name is Reuben,’ he continued with his clipped tone.

Reuben’s pinstripe suit was inappropriate for the climate yet he appeared immune to the oppressive heat. Nate glanced at Ruby, communicating his commitment to impersonating Reuben for entertainment in private later on.

‘Please fill in the visitor profile before inspecting the property,’ Reuben said as he held out a clipboard with talon nails.

Ruby eyed the form. ‘Is it necessary to provide our current address and homeowner status?’ she asked.

‘It is Collective’s protocol that potential buyers extend the courtesy in exchange for entering sellers’ properties.’ Reuben’s black expressionless stare forced Ruby to avert her own eyes back to the clipboard. She scrawled down their address on Mill Street and an immediately jubilant Reuben waved them down the hall.

‘You simply must inspect the parlour at the end of the hallway, it is exquisite!’ he called out as the pair made their way down the corridor, which seemed impossibly darker than the entrance.

‘Since when do houses in Drownbridge have parlours?’ Ruby whispered.

‘Since Count Dracula started selling them!’ Nate snorted loudly.

‘Shhh!’ Ruby hushed and glared at Nate futilely in the dark.

Ruby reached for the light switch she could barely make out on the wall and flicked the button down and back up again.

‘Looks like they’ve already disconnected the power,’ she said.

They both came to a halt when their noses met what was presumedly the door to the highly anticipated parlour. Ruby sniffed and her head recoiled. It reminded her of the smell of a dead kangaroo they had passed roadside on the way to the open house.

‘Do you smell that?’ she asked.

Nate pushed the door open and its hinges moaned. They stepped into the pitch-black room.

‘What kind of parlour doesn’t even have a window—'

A long agonising squeal announced the door slamming shut behind them. Ruby’s ears rang with a deafening silence as she stood in utter darkness, the air suffocatingly thick. The hair prickled on her arms and her mouth salivated against tingling teeth.

‘Nate,’ Ruby whimpered.

He did not respond.

‘Nate!’ she cried more urgently. ‘Stop mucking around. Answer me!’

Nothing.

Ruby flailed her arms around blindly in an attempt to feel Nate standing close by. She sighed with relief when her hands found an arm.

‘Not funny at all, jerk,’ she said and lifted her hand to slap the back of Nate’s head playfully.

Ruby’s blood turned cold as her fingers slid against a sweaty, bald scalp instead of Nate’s thick black mop. There was no time to scream before a hand, rancid with the smell of rotten meat, clasped Ruby’s mouth shut.

#

A van emblazoned with Collective Realty reversed along the road and the driver stepped out to collect the sandwich board outside number eighteen Alarum Street. The van reversed higher up the drive as Reuben locked the door and skulked down the steps. He straightened his tie before opening the van door.

‘Successful open?’ the driver asked.

‘Yes, sir,’ Reuben replied.

‘Numbers?’

‘Twelve groups, sir.’

‘The number of new listings obtained?’

‘Nine, sir.’

The driver raised his eyebrows.

‘The remaining were renting, sir.’

The driver stared vacantly ahead.

‘And the location of the next open this afternoon?’ he asked.

Reuben reached into his satchel for the clipboard and scanned the form.

‘We will now be heading to number six Mill Street, sir.’

March 05, 2024 00:45

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9 comments

Kristian Godin
18:54 Mar 14, 2024

Ugh! Creepy. I didn't want to read because these kind of stories aren't for me, but I kept reading on because I needed to see the end. Yeesh! Lol

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Ingrid Barclay
08:44 Mar 15, 2024

Haha thanks Kristian, I actually love that my story encouraged you to push through a genre you don’t normally like. Thanks for your comment!

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Kristi Gott
04:49 Mar 13, 2024

Very chilling and a cleverly diabolical plot! Dialogue very skiĺlfully moves the plot along. Lots of sinister atmosphere and suggestions build suspence. Engaging, good pace, descriptions vivid and sensory details drew me in. Well done!

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Ingrid Barclay
02:36 Mar 14, 2024

Thank you for taking the time in leaving such a positive comment, I really appreciate it Kristi!

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Mariana Aguirre
03:45 Mar 13, 2024

Love it 👏

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Ingrid Barclay
04:41 Mar 13, 2024

Thanks so much, Mariana!

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Mariana Aguirre
05:03 Mar 13, 2024

Ofc 😁

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Alexis Araneta
08:58 Mar 12, 2024

Wow ! What a first entry on the site. Beautiful use of description to set the scene for horror. As soon as you introduced Reuben, I went "Oh no !" Lovely job !

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Ingrid Barclay
10:13 Mar 12, 2024

Thank you so much for your encouraging comment!

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