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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Short Story in a Lovecraftian Mode

Outside of a small Massachusetts industrial town among the rolling hills and vales of the Essex River valley is a shabby non-descript and thoroughly haunted house. This house, a small single storey pile with asbestos siding and sagging roof lines, occupies the corner of a major highway and a narrow and barely used alleyway. There is nothing about the property to attract the attention of the passer by. It lacks the scale and grandeur of the large colonials or Victorians one expects in the realm of hauntings and it utterly fails at being surrounded by cemeteries, churches or abandon insane asylums. In fact, the only thing close to this house that could possibly elicit even mild curiosity is an abandon barn of the Dutch style.

My experience with this house came about due to a young boy’s natural need for self-reliance. I was about fourteen I would guess. I could do the math but it is not relevant to the story at hand. It was early spring as I recall, that time of year when its warm enough that the snows of winter have gone and the north east is bursting with new life so powerful that you expect the grass to rip through the road ways and break up the foundations of houses. The world feels so alive that just breathing in the heady air produces a cloying madness. It was in this fevered time of year, longing for independence and the spending money independence required that I sought employment with the local widows and house wives cutting back the ever encroaching tide of grass.

The owner of the house in question was an ancient of eastern European extraction; one of those women whose age is unknowable and whose life and motives are inscrutable to a young boy. I only knew her as ‘that old woman who lives over the way’. I was employed to cut the grass through an unknown chain of communication involving my mother grandmother and probably half of the women in the parish; the result being that a fourteen year old boy with a head full of spring, eager to earn spending money, was dispatched to the seemingly ordinary house to perform an ordinary task.

The results, as I will disclose were anything but ordinary.

I arrived at the house early when the morning air still bit and the dew lay thick on the grass. Spider webs woven the night before and silvered with fine dew drops gleamed upon the lawn. I was annoyed by the wetness of the grass, knowing full well that it was too wet to cut but I set about preparing for the task regardless. The old woman kept an aged and battered push mower in her basement, a poorly lit stone-walled edifice accessed via two heavy metal doors set against the front edge of the foundation. Lifting these heavy door to reveal hand-laid stone stairs that must have pre-dated the house by at least fifty years, I descended to the basement. It occurred to me later that the house must have been built on an existing foundation from some earlier house; probably one of the many grand colonials built here in the years after the hardships of settlement had given way to affluence.

The basement was hopelessly cluttered and in the poor light it was impossible to immediately collect the needed mower, gas can, trimmers et cetera. Had I been any but a fourteen year old youth on a mission, I probably would have noticed that all of the copious clutter was concentrated in the first few yards of the room as though for years, people had merely dropped their burdens and hurried from the room with no attempt to straighten. The net result of this arrangement was a clear arc with the rear left corner of the basement as the center point of a large circle three quarters of which lay invisible beyond the walls. I may have also noticed that the circle was oddly clean compared to the rest of the basement. Even the spiders and the ever-present white mold fungus avoided this area. I however saw nothing odd about any of this. I only saw the mess keeping me from immediately moving the mower buried beneath six months of hastily dropped items.

What I did notice, and attributed to my annoyance about having to shift a bunch of junk to get the mower, was that my mood, almost euphoric upon arrival, fell and turned dark as I worked. I was only down in the basement a few minutes fetching the mower and various items but by the time I returned to the yard my mood was all anger and bitter rage. The old woman, now sitting on her porch only barked her course smoke ruined laugh at me when I demonstrated my mood with inappropriate language directed at the hard-starting mower. The laugh, a guttural cackle caught me up short and sobered me but did not lift my mood. I turned to look at her but she just lit a cigarette and stared out across the highway and its constant flowing river of traffic.

I mowed the lawn despite the over wet grass, returning to the basement twice for supplies. Each time I returned I became more agitated and angry. I was particularly frustrated in my attempt to cut the grass around the left rear of the house. The grass grew in this region with a special tenacity. The stalks grew thick and course with an almost wood like quality, sending me back to the basement for an old fashioned swing stick.

At the end of my ordeal with the grass, I made to return the mower to its place in the basement. In my haste I knocked several of the piled boxes over into the place where the mower belonged. To clear the area I climbed over the lowest point in the debris intending to move behind the mess and clear the spot for the mower. It was upon stepping over the debris that I first registered the completely clear area in the rear corner. My anger being near boiling point, I threw furious insults at the air and moved forward intending to throw the fallen boxes into the back corner. It was in the fractional second that my foot touched down on the clear stone inside the arc that it happened.
I was no longer in a basement. I stood in a large parlor of the sort one would expect to find in a stately New England home of the late nineteenth century. The room had large pane glass windows with dark wood trim and green brocade drapes embroidered and trimmed with gold. The wallpaper was a horrid green paisley arranged in vertical stripes and crowned with gold and black on green border. The furnishings were typical late Victorian claw and ball foot chairs and settee. Off white lace doilies adorned the furnishings. Light shone soft and yellow from two oil lamps and from the sunset past the paned windows, reflecting off the pools of blood on the floor. The curtains, wallpaper and furnishings displayed the glistening red black stains of recent arterial lettings.

The body of a woman most gruesomely murdered hung crucified in front of the fire place, wrists spiked to the mantle with long iron nails. The hammer used to commit this outrage still lay at her feet. Deep slashes at her neck gave explanation to the sanguine gouts adorning the walls.

The victims entrails had been loosed by a cruel slash and lay piled at her feet. The knife, a long kitchen blade used for slicing meat had, after working its fell artistry upon the woman, been thrust through her chest with such force as to bury it in the wood behind. Her head, unnaturally aloft for one in her condition stared with wide eyes across the room.

I took in the details of the horror of the envisioned room in a fractional second much as one punched in the stomach convulsively sucks in air. As I staggered back in terror my foot lifted from the floor and I was back in the cold dark basement. My anger forgotten, displaced by a horror and revulsion the likes of which I had never known, I fled the basement and the property. I ran in a blind panic. The old woman laughed her barking laugh again and again as I ran stumbling across the road and away. Her laughter still rang in my ears when I arrived home and locked myself in my bedroom.

My story does not end here as I wish it did. My grim experience with the house was not through. The old woman telephoned my mother to complain that I had not put her mower away properly and I was ordered back to complete the job. All of my protestations fell on deaf ears. The old woman’s place in the parish and my family’s long standing in the community proved a wall un-breachable by the protests of a fourteen year old boy. My mother threatened to make me cut her grass for free all summer if I did not put the mower away and my father, too impatient after long work days to suffer the terrified complaints of a mere boy proved that fourteen was not too big to whip. In the end, with all arguments exhausted, I was cornered into returning. Two days had elapsed and in that time I had convinced myself that my experience had been less that it was; the work of a fevered imagination or momentary madness.

With the new found courage of a stinging backside and the cool rational mind of one determined to root out one’s own weakness, I headed into the basement. Upon entering I stopped and examined the room marking the exactness of the arc of clear floor. Determined not to have a repeat performance of my previous flight, I retraced my steps over the obstructing debris and stopped at the edge of the clear area. Steeling myself, I stepped forward. Once again I found myself in the blood splattered green room. Terror stricken, I wrenched my foot back and stopped myself in mid turn toward the door. I had to clear the area if the mower was going back inside and my still raw backside said it was. Slowly turning, I planted my foot back inside the arc while throwing my weight forward, thus forcing myself to take a full step into the clear corner. The green room flashed around me and I took in the ghastly scene in all its detail. My stomach turned at the metallic odor of blood and viscera but I held my ground. I began walking to my right along what I knew to be the edge of the arc. About two paces on, I felt more than heard movement. Whipping around to face the fireplace and its wretched occupant, I saw it. The dead woman turned her blank staring face to me and cried out a single word. “Run.”

I didn’t have to be told twice. The mower be damned. I nearly broke a knee stumbling up the stone stairs and threw myself gasping and sobbing on the grass. As I regained my breath all I could hear over my drumming hear beats was the old woman laughing.

Terrified and humiliated I ran around the house to the left. I intended to head down hill away from the house and take refuge in a patch of woods that I frequented in those days but as I rounded the house I noticed something that stopped me dead in my tracks.
The thick tufted grass around the rear corner of the building, where I had resorted to a swing stick, formed three quarters of a circle; the last quarter being clear floor inside the basement.

I stood there staring for a few minutes and then I acted. I don’t know to this day what made me do it. Maybe it was spring fever blended with fear, anger and humiliation but I turn around and marched right back past the terrible laughter and back down the steps.
Reaching into the mass of debris to the right of the door I extracted a shovel and a long iron bar. With hastily selected tools I headed back around to the back corner of the house. With a manic effort I began digging, clearing a way through the deep course grass.

Once into the dirt below I dug with a fury and speed I am surprised that my fourteen year old body was able to achieve. About three feet down the earth turned cold and hard and showed signs of frost though the snows of winter were long gone. With the change in soil, my anger returned with a fury and I abandoned the shovel. I turned to the iron bar to loosen the earth. I drove the bar down with both arms into the ground again and again and again. On one such thrust the bar broke into some hidden void deep in the earth and dropped a full foot where it stuck fast with a squeaking thump like an axe going into punky rotted wood. I pulled and wrenched but the bar would not come free. I was twisting the bar with all my strength when I noticed then that the earth was turning black about the bar and the grass was wilting and turning from its lush green to brown before my eyes. The old woman’s laughter that was still audible as I dug turned to screams, the anguished shrieks of the torture victim. I ran. Without looking back, I ran. Oh God I ran.

Two days later my mother mentioned over dinner that the old woman who lived across the way had died. She said that a police man had stopped to check on her because he had noticed her basement doors standing open. She was dead in her chair on the porch.
My mother said that she had apparently suffered a heart attack.
Although she looked meaningfully at me when the told about the open basement doors, she never asked my about the mower.

My family moved away from that town and state before the year was out and I never looked back. Some things are best left buried in the past. And some things should be buried deeper than they are.

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About Me

I am a husband and a father of two. I work as a network administrator. I am interested in religion and philosophy, though mostly from an external perspective.