The ground crunched under Cassandra’s feet as she marched across the thick layer of frost spread over the grass, deeply settled from the hard freeze the night before. As she kneeled into its unforgiving chill, she hears it again. It is an ungodly sound, something she would imagine hearing while burning in the fires of hell. With everything in her, she wishes to ignore this sound; yet she cannot. A six-month-old little girl sleeps soundly inside, and she needs a protector. If not for her daughter, she could never be this brave.
Turning on the flashlight she had dug through countless moving boxes to find, she shines it through the opening in the crawl space of what she knows she should start referring to as her home. It flickers for a few beats, then cuts off entirely. She smacks the end of it with her barehand, wishing now that she had bothered to find her gloves as the cold metal stings against her skin. A strong stream of light bursts from it now just in time for a black object to come bounding directly from the far corner of the house. Screaming, she falls back in the grass, landing hard on the crackling baby monitor in her back pocket as a scraggly black cat disappears down the dead-end road.
There is little time to compose herself before a voice calls out from the darkness behind her. “Don’t mind him. He follows me on my morning walks, always been attracted to that spot. We’re just not used to having a house there anymore.”
Whipping around, Cassandra waves the area wildly with her flashlight until the beam lands on a figure standing next to the stop sign leading out to the main road. A middle-aged woman with long black hair, equally as scraggly as the cat’s, stands before her as if nailed to the pavement.
Quickly Cassandra points the flashlight down at the ground, though the woman had seemed unaffected by the intense light burning straight into her eyes. “Sorry, you startled me!” she calls back to the woman, cautiously approaching the edge of the road. “Do you always walk this early? I can’t see a foot in front of me.”
The woman chuckled in a way that felt borderline condescending. “I see very well in the dark. This is my favorite time to roam, while everyone else is still.”
Frowning, Cassandra struggles to find a response to these eerie words. Trying to pretend this was a normal way to meet a neighbor, she begins to default to introductions when something suddenly replays in her mind. “Did you say you aren’t used to having a house here anymore? I thought we were the first to build here.”
Another laugh comes from the woman, this one more insulting than the first. “No, my dear girl. This is where the Murphy’s lived,” she said, pointing up at the street sign. “This whole road belonged to them, most of it made up of farmland during their time. Were you never told your house was being built on a burial ground?”
Cassandra stares at her, trying to unhear what she has just heard. Too many questions arise to speak at first. She wants to flee from this strange woman, but in the same moment she has a plaguing need to know more. “W-what do you mean?” she stammers, her breath coming out in rapid white puffs.
“Mr. Murphy went insane. No one can say for sure what brought it on, but one day he woke up with the sole purpose to kill every living thing that was unfortunate enough to reside on this road. He left his house before daybreak, slaying his field hands and livestock first. Then, he returned home for his wife. He stabbed her straight through the heart while she was still asleep in their bed before lighting the house on fire with himself inside,” the woman informed her hauntingly, her mouth turning downwards. “It was a mystery what happened to the son until they started putting your house up. They found a suitcase in your backyard. Inside was the little boy along with the family’s cat.”
Nausea rose from within Cassandra’s gut, traveling up to the back of her throat. There was every intention in her to curse this woman for spouting out lies to a young mother frightened after her first night alone in a new house, but then a cry echoed loudly from her back pocket. Shooting her a damnable look, Cassandra jogged back up to the house. As she closed the door behind her, she locked the dead bolt.
“Don’t let that crazy lady get to you, Cassandra. You know she probably made up that whole story because she’s bitter about finally having some neighbors to deal with,” her husband pleaded in that exasperated tone he adopted whenever she bothered him with something he did not want to deal with.
“She was convincing,” Cassandra huffed into her cell phone as she tried to hold a smile for her daughter sitting in her highchair smearing baby food across the tray. “I’m freaked out, Tom.”
“I’ll be there by tomorrow afternoon, okay?” he promised. “Just one more night.”
As she lay her daughter down that evening, she held on to his words. All she had to do was shut off her overactive mind and get some rest, then her husband could take back over his courageous role of protector of their realm. She would gladly admit to anyone she was not cut out for the position. Truth be told, most everything scared her. She lay back in her bed, jumping at every gust of wind from outside as a storm began to make its way towards them. Finally, she gave in. Unable to bear the sound of her own beating heart anymore, she popped a sleeping pill into her mouth.
When she awoke it was still pitch-black outside, the night sky covered in patchwork clouds from the passing rain. She realized instantly she had not been out long, for she carried an overwhelming drowsiness in her skull from the drug still hard at work. Through the dense fog in her head, she did not notice the shape of a young boy no more than six standing at the end of her bed.
She rolled over, preparing to drift away again, when she heard something over the baby monitor on the bedside table that made her eyes fly wide open. There was a voice coming through the static, not the cooing, babbling of her innocent baby girl, but a man’s voice. Skyrocketing from bed, she barely felt her feet touch the ground as she ran down the hall to her room.
Swinging open the door, she hit the light switch. Nothing happens. Flipping it up and down, she curses loudly. The power is out. Begging for her eyes to adjust faster, she scans the room blindly. As far as she can tell no one else is there, but an alarming stench invades her nostrils. It is the smell of death. Gagging, she swallows back vomit as she rushes to her daughter’s crib. Expecting to see her baby swaddled safely next to her teddy bear, Cassandra is instead met by a pair of glowing green eyes.
A menacing snarl fills the room as the black cat lunges up at her. It drags it’s claws down the side of her face before taking off into the open closet. The warmth of blood trickles down her cheek as she tries to steady herself. Searching for a weapon, she snatches the only thing with edges in the room: a family picture taken right before their move of them all dressed in matching Halloween pajamas. It was one of the only things she had unpacked, hoping it would provide comfort for her daughter in this strange new place. It is then she hears the closet door creak open further. Preparing for the cat to attack again, her breath halts as the woman from that morning steps out.
“Where is my baby?!” Cassandra cry outs, shaking so intensely she can hear the glass from the picture frame rattling in her hands.
“He took her,” the woman replies, her voice now knowing nothing aside from sorrow. “I tried to warn you. You must leave, or he’ll come for you next.”
“I’m not leaving without her!” Cassandra shrieks back in an animalistic way unrecognizable to her own ears. She bores into the dead eyes of the woman, suddenly noticing a growing stain forming across the left side of her chest. In seconds the woman’s dress is fully saturated, a slow drip beginning onto the carpet. All at once she knows who this woman is.
“Then you are already dead,” Mrs. Murphy murmurs, fading into the shadows as an unforgettable wail travels up to them from outside.
Racing through the backdoor, Cassandra yells out for her daughter in panicked desperation. Surveying the backyard, a large square that had been empty of anything but dying grass closed in by a chain fence since they had arrived, she now notices a box in the very center. She realizes in horror this is where the crying is coming from.
The family picture she had been gripping with white knuckles, too in shock to even remember picking it up, now slips from her hands. Glass cracks across their happy faces as it hits the ground, but she barely hears it. She is too focused on saving her baby and making it past that stop sign. If she could run them as far away from here as possible, then they would be okay. She tells herself this repeatedly as she sprints for the box.
It is not until she is sliding into the dirt in front of it, moving faster than she knew herself possible, she figures out this is not any box. It is a suitcase, old fashioned leather and covered in fresh black earth. She is fear itself as she unlatches the top with trembling hands. The crying ceases the second it snaps open, leaving her gaping down into the emptiness in defeat.
She turns on her knees, knowing he is behind her. She can feel the enjoyment he is getting from her despair; he absorbs it, feeds from it. This is what evil is. At first, he appears only as a smoky apparition, almost as black as the night that frames him. It is not until he smiles cruelly down on her, his teeth shining a bright white, that the rest of him slowly manifests as he moves closer.
Mr. Murphy would not look like a bad man, just the run of the mill, overly tired farming man, if it was not for that smile. It gives him away. There is no hint of good intention inside it. The second he bends down face to face with her, Cassandra knows she is not making it off Murphy Road.
The sun makes its way for the horizon as Tom pulls up to his new home. He is on edge. Cassandra has not answered a single call or replied to any of his texts since they had spoken the day before. She was probably mad he had not taken her more seriously about their creepy neighbor or maybe it was for him taking an extra day to get things settled at work before he had joined them. Still, it was not like her to ignore him.
When he did not get the big welcoming in the driveway from his wife and daughter like he had hoped for, he assumed they were busy inside finishing up dinner or taking care of a diaper change; yet he entered total silence. Cassandra’s car was in the drive. No way she would have walked anywhere. She did not know anyone here, not to mention she knew he would be here by now. He searched the rooms, the only explanation left in his mind was them taking a late nap together.
After going over every square inch of the house twice, his mild concern flew into total hysteria. He finally ended up in the backyard, hands cupped around his mouth as he hollered out for his wife, when something cracked under his foot. Immediately jumping back, he reached down and slowly pulled the picture of his family from the shards of broken glass. In the same instant he was overcome with dread, feeling as if he were being devoured by it.
He had been told about the murders on the property, about the boy’s body being found here, but he moved forward with construction anyways. His heart had been set on this land. Determined to keep Cassandra none the wiser since she was the superstitious type, he had planned to simply keep the past buried where it belonged. That is why it had been so irritating for her to hear the stories the very day she got there. Only now that he stood there alone with her and their daughter missing, he wondered if he had made a grave mistake.
Tom spun around, convinced it was time to go inside and call the police. He froze mid step, quaking as his fears were confirmed. In the kitchen window, there was Mr. Murphy smiling sinisterly down on him.
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