By Eden Zorne, Staff Writer
The old house creaked in the night, swaying and cracking as the wind howled outside, whistling through the shattered windows and splintered paneling. The once elegant palatial Victorian home now sagged and drooped, barely even able to stand anymore. The once elegant palatial Victorian home that fostered warmth was now nothing but a dilapidated ruin that sagged and drooped.
Vines snaked along the walls, penetrating the house through its many orifices created by years of neglect and decay. Water dripped from the roof, which groaned under the weight of the fallen leaves. The front porch, once filled with rocking chairs and flowerpots, now boasted nothing but a gaping hole, punched by wood rot and the foot of an impish teen. The hole yawned, its damp, dark maw laying in wait, aching from hunger. The front door, once painted bright yellow and always affixed with a colorful wreath, now dangled from its rusted hinges, barely held in place by rotting boards hastily nailing it to the frame. The yellow paint, now faded and moldy, peeled off the once elegant oakwood, falling listlessly to the addled stoop, where it lay as a dim memory of what once was. The wiring of a once vibrant faux autumn wreath which had adorned the door was barren, save for a single orange plastic leaf, which barely clung by its remaining glue to the frame. An abrupt, unusually strong gust of wind was exhaled from the sky. The little plastic leaf tore free of the wire, and swirled away into the screaming night.
The inside of the house hadn’t fared much better. With its once luxurious rooms exposed to the harsh cruelty of the elements and nobody to tend to them, the grand mansion was now damp and riddled with mold, the walls rotting from the inside out, faded wallpaper peeling and settling onto perpetually soaked Turkish rugs and partially disintegrated mahogany floors. Millions of pieces of a shattered crystal chandelier lay there too, the ceiling having caved in under the weight of the water that had found itself there, by way of burst pipes and the endless rain that assaulted the village day in and day out.
A rotting grand piano stood in the corner, its ivory keys splintered and cracked, its broken leg pitching it violently towards the poorly boarded up bay window, whose once ornate stained glass now lay in a multicolored layer of dust on the damp sill, and coated the piano in a dull shimmering cloak. One with a particularly keen ear could hear a faint, haunting tune emitting from it. Around the great room spread an inordinate amount of puddles, some green as the Acheron, murky from mixing with their decaying environment, yet others a still mirrored jet black, as if directly from the Styx. One with particularly keen senses could almost hear the wailing of tortured souls, as if the water truly had come from the Greek Underworld.
A sudden brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the great, gloomy, deteriorating room. In its center lay the last denizen of the house. A young man, barely more than skin and bones, draped in a waterlogged coat raised his head at the sudden illumination of his environment. His once handsome face was framed by equally waterlogged jet black hair, with its sunken azure eyes, straight nose, and proud, high cheekbones, was devoid of any expression. His skin was free of creases. His eyes, though bright in color, were glazed and dull. His pale, cracked lips revealing not even the ghost of a smile or grimace, were parted to allow his slow, mechanical breaths to come and go. As if in a trance, he pushed himself to his knees, then to his feet. His movements were eerily mechanical, as if he were merely a marionette controlled by an invisible puppetmaster. He took several slow, jerky steps towards the decrepit piano, his eyes fixed on the shimmering layer of dust coating it. He reached his hand, his arm trembling under the weight of the coat, towards the piano. No sooner had his fingertips grazed the surface of the dusty blanket, a low growl could be heard from upstairs, and the remaining ceiling shook, more plaster cascading down, settling on the young man’s head, which had jerked towards the source of the noise. His face contorted, and a brief flicker of…something flashed in his eyes, which were temporarily freed of the oppressive glaze that had dulled them. The wailing and the screams of pain from the water he could tolerate. They had become meaningless noise to him after the first week. But the growling…this was new, and this he could not tolerate. His legs, acting under a will not his own, brought him to the base of the stairs. He knelt again, picking up a discarded poker from the cracked and pallid marble fireplace. He ascended the stairs rhythmically, methodically, as if he were a well-oiled machine. He passed a mildewed portrait of an old woman, which winked at him. He used the poker to stab out its eyes. The paintings in the great room didn’t have eyes either. They too hadn’t stopped winking at the young man, and he had grown tired of it. The stairs creaked under his feet, bowing in the middle, not used to any amount of weight on them. The low growl came again, louder, as the young man reached the second landing.
The second floor of the house resembled the first. Peeling wallpaper, and puddles of screaming water. The young man’s eye twitched; he had caught another portrait winking at him. The old man’s eyes were swiftly removed, but he didn’t stop tormenting the young man there. He began waggling his fingers, and the young man’s face flashed an expression of pure terror, then rage, as the glaze vanished from his eyes as he charged towards the portrait, assaulting it with his poker until all that remained of the old man was strips of canvas in a puddle of jet black water filled with wails of misery.
The placid glaze came back over the young man’s eyes, and he jerkily pivoted himself towards the source of the low growling. The bedroom was dark, with the same peeling wallpaper, rotting furniture and Turkish rugs as downstairs. However, this bedroom was characterized by a gaping hole, the result of the chandelier downstairs ripping out of the ceiling. This hole wasn’t the gaping maw that yawned on the front porch. This hole was that of a mouth with bared teeth, the rotting support beams intact. Why hadn’t that chandelier been fastened there? Across the hole from the door stood an imposing four-poster bed, made up with faded crimson bedsheets, their blood cascading into the jet black pools surrounding the bed. Three paces from the bed stood an ornate golden mirror, its sheen long gone, the lusterless frame now flecked with black. The growling was coming from under the bed, behind the waterfall of blood from the sheets. No, the growling was coming from the rotting oak dresser. No, from behind the mirror. No, from the ceiling. No, from the walls. The young man whirled around and around in the entryway to the room, unable to locate the source.
Then, the screams from the Acheron and Styx water joined in, a cacophony of sound assaulting the young man’s ears. Then, the wailing damned began to rise from the water. Their faces were without eyes, their mouths opened wide in screams of anguish. Growling dog-like creatures emerged from under the bed and dresser, and from behind the mirror. The eyeless portraits, freed from their frames downstairs, advanced towards the young man. The glaze had disappeared from his eyes, his face contorted in horror. The screams and growls reverberated in his skull. A piece of rope lay across the doorway. He seized it in his poker-free hand, just as the eyeless old man, reanimated from his shreds of canvas, blocked the only exit.
The young man was now completely surrounded by his tormentors, which circled him, reaching for him, pulling on his coat, caressing his face. His arms hung uselessly at his sides, unable to move of their own will. The eyeless figures winked at him, their wails echoing around the ruined bedroom. A snarling creature seized onto the young man’s leg, pulling him towards the ornate mirror. The eyeless old man seized the rope still dangling limply from the young man’s hand. A screaming tortured soul seized the poker. The young man was assaulted with the whips of the rope, the stabs of the poker. Blood pooled around him, his own mixing with the crimson bedsheets. He screamed in pain and terror, his mixing with theirs. A clawed hand grabbed the back of his coat, bringing him face to face with the mirror, maniacal laughter echoing from its owner’s fanged mouth.
The young man, whose eyes had been closed while laying face down on a decaying Turkish rug, opened them. There was nothing. Nothing holding him up. Nothing surrounding him. The screams and growls came from his own mouth. He held the poker and rope in his own hands. The laughter had come from him too. But it didn’t stop. The screams, growls, and laughs still echoed loudly in the ruined house. But there was nobody else. He didn’t even recognize himself. His once handsome face was now sunken, skin stretched taut over bone. His once sparkling and emotion-filled eyes were now dull, yet filled with a wild panic that terrified him. His once fit body was nothing more than skin and bone. He was nothing but a shell of his former self, consumed by the house which he had dared to explore.