This story was long ago published in a number of publications I can't recall....enjoy! I'd love to hear your comments; good or bad. Cheers!! :)
THE RED HOUSE
A Short Story by
The women gathered in the upstairs sitting room: Twelve of them and one man. Rich, spoiled, catty, beautiful, and he tall, dark and handsome and wealthy. All were without respect for anyone or anything. Making fun of things and people they knew nothing about.
The old cathouse was no exception. Psychics were brought in to feel out the house and find the lost spirits. All done just so the girls could have fun.
A classic beauty with delicate features, Sarah hated it. “And you, Miss Bible Thumper,” She yelled at the eldest woman present, the leader of the pack and impeccable in every way right up to her perfect nose and unblemished skin. “You should know better than to antagonize the dead.”
The buxom blonde was not to be intimidated by the new girl. Everyone knew that Sarah was not raised in their town. She was from
and all they
knew about there was cattle. “You should
talk. Why are you here?” Colorado
“To be with my niece. No other reason.” Sarah felt sorry for the lonely spirits who were said to wander aimlessly about the house. For some strange reason that she couldn’t fathom she felt a strong desire to somehow protect them.
The college women joked in their enjoyment of making fun of the dead. The psychics located the lost souls in a closet down the hall and joined in the laughter and made fun with sex noises.
Sarah had enough, got up and aimed to stop them.
“So,” Rich stood up and announced in his southern drawl, aiming to put an end to a catfight before one could start. “Who’s with me this weekend? We’ll pop the top off this old place.” When he spoke the women couldn’t help but listen. He was gorgeous and single and they all wanted the playboy and practically drooled all over themselves.
But no one wanted him more than Sarah did. She loved him. It was a deep intense yearning she felt. She somehow knew they belonged together. It was fate.
Everyone was in for the party but Sarah. She stormed out of the room, down the stairs and slammed the old crumbling door behind her without a glance back. Rick was concerned and over the cackling of the other women, he ran after her.
Across the railroad tracks and down toward
Street with a safe distance between the house and
her, she stopped and turned to face it.
It looked so sad to her somehow and she felt strange for feeling empathy
for an old abandoned building, but so many had died there that she couldn’t
help but feel sorrow toward it.
A tear fell from her eye and she felt an ache in her heart for those who had perished so long ago. Slowly she moved to wipe her face when she noticed the slight tremble of her hand. Why should I cry for an old house?
Rick was beside her now. His deep blue eyes hid pain and sorrow, but also held a glint of mischievousness she had come to appreciate. He was the silence before the storm. The storm being her pretentious friends. At least he wasn’t serious and arrogance wasn’t his way, though, how startling gorgeous he was, he should have been. He was intelligent, kind and caring, and she found it difficult to understand why he was involved in such an idiotic game.
“Don’t be angry with them. They’re only having fun.” He said flashing his pearly whites.
“You should know better. They all should. You know what happened to the women in that house. It was awful. How can you be so cruel?” she admonished, her anger pushing through though not particularly at him.
She stared at the fire-scarred remnants of a once beautiful, but faded Victorian house now boarded up and discarded. Rumor was that after the fire it was painted bright red by the townspeople in order to curse it. The Red House.
He averted her gaze and scraped his cowboy boots along the street. “Yeah so.”
“Those women were raped and tortured then burned alive. And this town called it justice.” The history incensed her.
He placed his hands in the back pocket of his jeans determined not to let the past get to him. He couldn’t. He had a job to do. A promise to fulfill and he aimed to keep it. He hated to deceive Sarah but it was all part of the plan. “They’re dead now.” He corrected. “So what’s the harm? These girls are rich. Their daddies have more money than God.”
“You’re messing with things you shouldn’t.” And she just knew that nothing good would come of it. Somehow she felt that bloodshed and horror would return-all because of that blasted house.
“You coming.” He asked hoping fervently that she would. She had to.
“If my niece does.” Just a few years apart in age, her niece was one of the spoiled ones and Sarah did not approve of her participation but she would protect her from harm if need be. Damn fool girl.
“She seems pretty interested.”
Led about by the nose by a bunch of prissies was what her niece was. Sarah nodded.
“We’ll see you then.” He told her as he moved in to kiss her gently on the cheek.
She grasped his arm and held him desperate for more than he would give. “Rick.” Her eyes pleaded.
“I’m sorry honey. Nothings changed.” He told her softly-apologetically.
“Why do you have to be gay anyway?” It perplexed her. He could have any woman he wanted and instead he liked men and the thought of it repulsed her.
“Just am. Can’t explain it.” He stepped back. “See you Friday night. Dress the period.” And down the road he went to return home.
Dress the period meant clothes circa early 19th century. One hundred years past: The days of hoop skirts, frills and lace and not exactly her cup of tea. But for Rick she would relent.
She waited for a moment and just as she was about to turn, she saw his red Ferrari pull out from a side street and as it sped by he waved and beeped his horn at her. She waved back and smiled sorry that he left so soon. Friday. Three days away. Should she go or not? She sensed trouble brewing and had to attend if for nothing else to keep her niece safe.
Come Friday evening found all twelve girls in the old creaky house and Rick was the ecstatic host. Help was hired and present, some seen and some not and sound effects were added to liven the mood of the gloomy old house. Rick had friends hide in the dark corners and the basement of the house, set up CD machines then leave. He knew what he was doing and needed no help after that.
The prima donnas brought dates: their college sweethearts. The eerie sounds and screams of special effects filled the house and permeated the walls and they all couldn’t help laughing at the sordidness of it all. If only their parents knew what they were doing, they’d all be in trouble for sure. The older folks hated the red house. The whole town did and with it the memories that festered there. Hated it with an intense passion but the young ones, the college students that visited it tonight found it a haven and a great place to make out.
Sarah’s limousine arrived at the tracks and slowly she got out and hesitantly she walked up to the front door. When she knocked she felt an eerie cold surround her then shoot through her and tried to ignore it. Sarah was a sensible soul and unlike the other girls that night she did not believe in ghosts.
Mrs. Ingram, the elderly village librarian answered the door.
“I’m surprised to find you here.” Sarah said in a startled voice.
The librarian was aloof but polite. “I’m always willing to help out with a bit of history.” And history was sure to repeat itself tonight; she wanted to say but bided her time. Sarah would know things soon enough.
Sarah entered the cold dark hall. Laughter was heard throughout. Catcalls were also heard and she wandered about determined not to get caught up in the stupidity. Something didn’t feel right to her. Her hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
She finally found her half cousin related by marriage kissing her date in a dark corner. “Where’s Kelly?” she inquired about her niece.
“She’s not coming.” Sapphire, the debutante responded matter-of-factly. There was no love lost between the two women but Sarah tried her best, as always to be civil for family’s sake.
“I don’t understand.” Kelly had been so intrigued and so adamant when Sarah had begged her not to go.
“I told her not to come back. She’s such a baby.” And with that the younger woman moved to leave.
“You had no right.” Sarah snapped. “She’s my niece.” And the years of built up tension in the family overwhelmed her and she slapped Sapphire in reflex.
Sapphire returned the anger in turn to which Sarah responded by shoving her forcefully to the ground and was only halted by the intervention of the powerful butler.
Against his bulk they backed down. Embarrassed, Sarah backed up into an alcove and down a chute she fell and landed in the basement. Terrified of the dark, she shot to her feet and ran up the stairs toward the speck of what little light she saw shining from beneath the cellar door.
It was eleven fifty: ten minutes to twelve. The couples in her view looked at her, their flesh decimated, their clothes torn and she thought she was dreaming and shut her eyes tightly and shook her head. When she opened her eyes they were gone from her sight but not from the house.
They waited for this night. At midnight they would return. And all would be set right.
Sarah ran to the front door. “Where’s Mister Rick?” She asked a maid who was leaving with Mrs. Ingram and the butler.
“Out around back.” The elderly lady replied.
“You’re not staying.” Sarah asked startled by it all.
“We were just here for the preparations. No need to stay.” The butler told her as they exited the front door and headed across to their cars and she didn’t notice them waiting.
She didn’t know what to make of any of it and leaned against the front door for support then slowly closed it behind her as she made her way through the centuries old brush and found Rick sneaking into a broken basement window.
“Don’t go down there.” She grabbed his arm desperate to stop him but not knowing why the feeling of terror was so strong in her throat.
“Why aren’t you inside?” She should be. To fully experience what happened she had to be but no matter. She’d learn the truth soon enough. It was almost time.
“Sapphire told Kelly to stay away and I don’t feel right about this. There’s something wrong here Rick.”
He wanted to tell her everything but he couldn’t. It wasn’t time yet. “It’s just a house.” He assured her.
“Don’t go in.” She ordered.
He grinned to reassure her. “I’ll always love you Sarah.” More than you could ever know.
“Say you’ll be back and we’ll be together. Like before. Like a brother and sister.”
“Okay.” He relented. “I promise.”
She grabbed his arm tightly. “No!” she scolded. “Say it like you mean it.”
The old grandfather clock inside the grand hallway struck midnight. One chime. He grinned at her and his eyes turned terribly dark and for an instant she saw something evil. It was cold, dark and forbidding. Then his eyes warmed up and she sensed a familiarity that she never felt before.
“Promise.” She repeated.
“I promise.” Then he disappeared through the window.
She peered in. It was dark but there was nothing wrong that she could see. Satisfied he was safe; she glanced over her shoulder. The librarian and servants watched and waited from their cars.
The grandfather clock inside the house chimed a second time.
She stood up then stepped back to look at the house and thought how beautiful it must have been at one time. What a grand old house.
Three times she heard the chimes then she turned away.
Midnight. Then it happened. Screams-blood curdling. Yells from Rick. Crackling. She glanced toward the servants and without a beat they slowly vanished before her eyes as they waved at her.
When she turned back, the house was engulfed in flames.
In the basement window she could see Rick being groped by the dead couple she had seen earlier. He screamed and tried to get out through the window, but the scarred pairs of hands held onto him and wouldn’t let go.
She rushed to help him but a wrinkled hand shoved her away and slammed shut the window. She saw Rick’s terrified face. She watched the lifeless faces as they pulled him down.
A hand pulled her back across the tracks and to the safety of the other side as she watched the girls-friends- and their dates scream and try to escape from the many windows but couldn’t get out. The dead held onto them.
Outside below in front of the old house were the ghosts of the townspeople who had gathered at the house with torches and had watched it burn with smug satisfaction so many years before.
She watched in horror as the house was burned to the ground and then all was gone. Not a sound was heard and not a trace of the old house was left. She couldn’t even hear the sound of her own heart.
Kelly was behind her now and took her hand into hers and Sarah nearly died from the fright. “What happened?” A perplexed aunt asked of her niece.
Kelly’s voice was strained into a gentle whisper and her eyes were vacant. “They’re all at peace now.”
“I don’t understand.”
Kelly lifted a thin finger and pointed to the back yard of the house then guided her toward it. Sarah shook her head and fear gripped her throat.
“Don’t be afraid child,” Mrs. Ingram stated.
When Sarah turned Kelly was gone and she began to tremble uncontrollably and her hands went cold and clammy but the librarian took her hand and led her over to the ashes.
It was a small patch of greenery. Small rocks were used as grave markers. One large one stood in the center and Sarah was led to it and eyed it with bemusement.
Kelly Grant: Gentle soul and beloved mother. Her life cut down too short the marker said.
“She was your mother child,” The librarian told her. “She was the Madam of this house.”
Sarah eyed her and shook her head in disbelief, but sensed that the words were true.
Mrs. Ingram nodded and spoke. “She loved you more than life itself. She came back to protect you. You have no niece, Sarah. No family to speak of. Sapphire wasn’t blood, but she killed your father for his money.”
Sarah felt a loss surround her as the librarian went on, “Her mother was married to your father.” She squeezed Sarah’s hand and faced the empty spot of ground. “Your father came here often, as so many men in the town did. He fell in love with your mother and you were born.”
Mrs. Ingram faced her and her eyes were gentle and opened to her soul. “They were going to be married once the divorce was granted, but his wife wouldn’t allow it.” Her words were full of pain and deep loss as she remembered her best friend’s death.
“Especially when she learned of your existence. She grew enraged, rallied the townspeople into a fury and burned the house down.” Her voice lost its emotion and her eyes turned cold. “They never made it out of the house.”
Her voice made shivers run up and down Sarah’s spine but she had to know, “But… my friends… why?”
“Descendants of the townspeople: Every last one of them. It was such a long time; Your mother rests now.”
“And Rick?” she couldn’t bear of her life without him. They had been friends for so long. Or were they?
The librarian faced her with a glint of joy and her eyes warmed up, “He was your brother.”
Sarah stepped back in horror. “No.” It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be not when she felt such strong feelings toward him.
Mrs. Ingram nodded. “That was the connection you felt.”
“But why kill him?” It made no sense.
“Hey sis. Whooee!” He walked out of the ashes wiping his hands on his jeans and there wasn’t a mark on him. “Some shin dig, huh?”
Sarah was stunned into silence.
“You tell her?” he asked the older woman.
He extended his hand. “Mom and your dad wanted it this way.” Rick loved the older man and admired him, respected him like he did no other. A fatherless boy himself at one time, he took Rick into his heart as his own son.
This was all too much. Her eyes played tricks with her. “No. You’re dead. I saw it.”
“It’s time to go home.” He took her hand into his.
“Huh? What?” She shook her head in objection. What was he talking about? Home? Where? In the ashes? If what was said was true that was all that was left.
He placed his hands around hers and pulled her toward him. “Neither one of us survived the fire that night. We had to come back and set things straight.”
“No.” she shook her head wildly. “No.”
He took her face into his hands and held her tight. His eyes revealed to her the painful truth and still she couldn’t believe. “You’re dead, Sarah. You have to go home now. We all do.”
She pulled from him and stepped back in shock. She eyed herself, her hands and touched her face then brought her hands up across her chest. The absence of a heart beat confirmed it all. She glanced up and saw the couple behind him, silently waiting, but didn’t recognize them.
“You grew up here but you can’t stay,” Rick told her stepping toward her.
Kelly released her husband’s hand and stepped forward with outstretched arms.
“Come home, darling.”
And Sarah did.