A Darkness Within
Fiction by Alexander Z. Kautz
The morning of the third day had been darker than most. With a storm blowing in from the north and bitter cold winds, the news forecast had warned of possible flurries through the night.
None of this had really mattered much as my thoughts were focused more upon finding some history on the old place. I had called Linda Carmichael, a business associate and dear friend of my sister's, whom remembering the purchase of the place, promised to see what she could find out for me.
I had not really been expecting too much to be honest, so you can imagine my surprise when she had called me back later that very same afternoon.
"Linda--hello! That was a lot faster than I would have expected?" I thanked her for her time and swift response, saying,
"Veronica never mentioned the place to me before and to be honest, it's really not her style?"
"You are more than welcome Andrew!" She sighed, sounding disappointed as she said,
"I only wish that I could have done more for you."
"I'm grateful for your time and consideration." I paused in thought before quietly saying,
"As you can imagine--none of this has been easy."
"I understand." She clared her throat, the sound of rusting pages as she exmained documents and said,
"And I agree. This house is definitely not something that I would ever have expected Veronica to take an interest. Much less owning? As a property investment it was a good move for the price. The house itself is worth a small fortune. But with the upkeep and maintenance, for something that size with property and over the past ten years. It's simply just not worth it."
"The antiques must be worth a small fortune?" I peered around, admiring the beautiful European craftsmanship, saying,
"I don't know why she didn't send it all to auction and just sell the place off, years ago?"
"Your guess is better than mine?" She flipped through paperwork, saying,
"To tell you the truth--I wouldn't touch the place with someone else's ten foot pole. Unless it was a real quick flip."
"I'm assuming that you found a little information about the place?" I prodded her curiously, picking up a pen and tapping it onto pad of paper, asked,
"And, I'm guessing that it's not the best--from your tone?"
"Well--let me just share what I found for you." Linda began, while obviously reading from notes, said,
"All that I had to do, was access an already existing file on the place. We keep things like this in the system. It's easier than chasing down old paper records. Okay, we start at the beginning. The place was built in eighteen eighty nine by a man by the name of Jeremiah Rawlings. He lived there with eight children and his wife Esther for almost ten years."
"Almost ten years?" I found it odd that someone would build such a lavish home and then abandon the place so soon?
"Sorry, I wish that I could tell you more. But we don't have any records as to what happened?" She sighed, saying,
"All that we have here is a notice of purchase in nineteen twenty one by a family by the name of Larson, William and Henrietta. They had four children and lived there for the better part of twenty years."
Sipping at a cup of tea, I tapped the pen on the pad, taking notes while saying,
"I suppose that not too many people can afford to keep larger homes, for long?”
"Um, that's not it." She became distant, her voice cold as she related the information, asking,
"Are you sure that you really want to hear this?"
"Yes--I really do." I responded quickly having suspected that, like so many other old giants, somewhere along it's history there may have been a slightly, darker edge.
"Alright then, here we go." Clearing her throat, she sipped at some water before saying,
"I did a little background check, library archives, old newspaper online resources. It appears that William Larson died in action during World War Two. There's an article here from a local paper that says he was killed in action, leaving wife Henrietta, 7 year old son Avery, and three daughters, Theresa, Caroline, and Heather, ages five, three and eleven months old, behind..."
"Now that's--truly, heart-breaking..." Even through distance and time I felt for the family's loss.
"It didn't end there/" Linda groaned, adding,
"There’s another newspaper article here, dates less than a month later. Apparently, stricken by grief, Henrietta--drowned all four children in the tub and then hung herself from the light fixture in the master bedroom."
"Ohh--she did?" I swallowed hard, moving up in my seat, having not expected anything quite so morbid.
"This gets worse." She warned, asking.
"Are you still sure that you want me to continue?"
"Yes, please." The words came out in little more than a croak, as clearing my voice, I said,
"Alright--oh, here we are--," She thought aloud, while reading from her notes, said,
"The house remained empty for several years. And then, in nineteen fifty two, was purchased by a Mr. and Mrs. Calvin and Martha Thornton. One daughter, Angela, aged fourteen."
"Longtime residents?" I asked, the question more hopeful than anything else.
"No, they only stayed two years." She paused in thought, suddenly speaking in a colder, more calculated tone, said,
"Another article from the local paper states that sixteen year old Angela fell down the basement stairs. She died from a broken neck. The family of course, sold and left. The house remained empty from June nineteen fifty five until September, nineteen fifty nine. It was purchased by Daniel and Judy Lockhart, no children."
"And?" I almost dreaded the answer.
"Well?" She flipped through several documents, saying,
"It seems that they lived there until nineteen seventy two. Unlike the others, they sold and went their own way. Nothing here to show different?"
"Is that the extent of the nasty bits?" I was almost afraid to ask.
"I wish that I could say yes." Linda sipped at a drink and clearing her throat, read aloud, saying,
"The McMillan & Price Realty company assumed ownership of the place in nineteen seventy two. They maintained it until nineteen seventy eight when Robert and Ellen McMurtry, one son, six year old Eric and three year old daughter Amanda, bought the place. They were there three years..."
"Linda?" I listened to the line as it became deathly silent.
"Sorry--this one is a little hard to take." She swallowed hard, saying,
"Their daughter Amanda, now six years of age." she choked on the words, almost whispering as she said,
"Was crushed to death under her father's car when he backed out and failed to see her on her bicycle. They sold the place back to the same Realty company and it stayed empty until nineteen eighty nine when a retired couple, Mr. and Mrs. Carl and Marilyn Niemeyer bought it. They lived there until he passed away in two thousand nine and she stayed on, dying from a heart attack in her bed in two thousand two."
"And then?" I felt my heart flutter as nervously sipping at my tea, listened as she spoke, saying,
"Your sister bought the place in September of two thousand five. And now--it's yours..."
"Um, I'm assuming that before buying this place, she had known all the details too? I mean, you know what a stickler for detail she always was." I felt compelled to ask, still horrified by the ghastly history and shocked as to why my sister would have ever considered buying the place?
"Oh, there's no doubt about that. She knew all about it." Linda swallowed hard, saying,
"She was the person who compiled all this information and created the file that I just shared with you...."
"I get the impression that she never intended anyone to live here?" It had finally dawned on me as to why she had never rented the old place or mentioned it to me...
"Well Andrew, I don't know about you?" She sipped at her drink and said,
"But if it were me? I would not set foot within a hundred yards of that place."
"It's a little late for that now. I moved in a few days ago...." My nerves had reached a bitter edge as peering about, I said
"But Linda? Would you mind doing me another favor?"
"As long as you’re not going to invite me over--sure." She choked out a nervous giggle, asking,
"What’s on your mind?"
"Keep this between us, okay?" I felt deceitful even suggesting it, but did it more out of concern than anything else, adding,
"If Keiko ever heard about any of this--she would go right off the deep end."
"You’re not going to tell her? I mean--it's not really my business. But this isn't like you?" Linda sounded startled, saying,
"It's not the kind of thing that you should really hide from your other half?"
"I'm going to tell her, just as soon as she gets back from her business trip." I promised, saying,
"I just wouldn't want her to find out before I have the chance to speak to her in person. You know how she worries."
Although I knew that she and Linda had become close friends and that Linda was far from one to carelessly blurt private matters. I could not chance the wrong thing being said during a telephone call.
Keiko had a habit of having others check up on me when she was away. After the heart attack I really could'nt blame her. But being superstitious to begin with, something like this, could explode quickly....
"Fair enough." She agreed,
"But honey, do yourself a huge favor? That place makes Amityville look like a Boy Scout meeting. With a track record like that--you should be moving out of that place before anything else goes wrong. And I mean, grabbing a bag as soon as you drop this phone and making for the door, you know?"
"I might just do that?" I chuckled at the thought, saying,
"Thanks again for everything Linda, you’re an angel."
"Any time hun." She sighed, sounding anxious as she said,
"Andrew, I know that this will sound a little paranoid? But please--watch yourself, okay?"
"I will." Turning to look around the large room, I felt a cold greasy lump form within the pit of my stomach, saying,
"Thanks again--I mean, for everything.”
"Anytime." She sounded a million miles away as she said,
"Take good care of yourself, talk soon."
It was the late afternoon upon the fourth day that as while cleaning the master bedroom on the second floor, I had discovered a small wooden box in the bottom of a closet.
After breaking off the tiny lock and cracking open the hinged lid, I was delighted to find it filled with old black and white photographs!
Having always been fascinated by such things, I took it downstairs, placing it beside my chair near the hearth for later examination.
It wasn't until several hours later that having completed the cleaning of the second floor and feeling exhausted, I had decided to eat dinner and investigate this new found treasure!
Dinner was a green salad with sliced, baked chicken breast and Flax seed toast on the side. No dressing with exception to pepper and apple cider vinegar.
In all truth, the meal was far less interesting than the contents of the box. As sitting in my chair, I slowly went through the images while using an old magnifying glass that I had found in a desk drawer.
This was something that I knew that Keiko would absolutely love! We had acquired a fine collection of antique photograph's over the years. All carefully placed into albums and archived according to age.
That collection was still at Keiko's rented apartment. I paused to wonder how she would react when I informed her of it's ghastly history?
There was no doubt within my mind that it would trouble her deeply. So much in fact that she would likely insist that I pack and leave on a moment's notice. To this I would not argue as for some reason, something dark, even now begun to gnaw upon my nerves?
Turning my attention back to the box upon my lap, I looked closely upon the figures in the faded images. These were all quite obviously family pictures taken at the turn of the century,
Many of them large group photo's shot in front of the house.
As I slowly went through the pictures, I shivered as a chilling draft caressed the back of my neck. This was nothing out of the ordinary as the cost of heating such a large place was rather expensive. So, I tended to heating the main floor in the evening and the others during the day.
Pulling a woolen throw blanket about my shoulders with a shudder, I continued looking through the photographs. That was when I heard it... From somewhere in the darkness of the hallway beyond the main room.
The sound of what can only be explained as wooden wind chimes or sticks, being gently struck together. I knew that we had nothing of the sort. So, placing down the box, turned curiously toward the sound?
I had made it a habit of not leaving lights on unnecessarily to avoid added electrical costs. It was something that I now felt myself regretting as the sound grew louder, advancing through the hall from out of the blackness.
It came as a steady clicking, grinding and scraping as though someone were attempting to shove a pile of dried sticks across the wooden floors.
My eyes widened as faintly, I could make out what almost looked like a pale blue mist among the deep shadows. Without realizing what I was doing, I slowly began rising from the seat, my grip firm and white knuckled upon the back of the chair.
My eyes fixed upon the darkness, I could do little more than gaze in horror upon what now slowly came at me from out of the darkness.
Enveloped within that pale blue mist, creeping, crawling and stumbling. Now came the withered, wet and oozing corpses of what had once been children!
The floor at their feet was a steaming, putrid mass of rotting human decay. Ever forward they crept, crawling, sliding through that steaming, ghastly puddle of putrefying flesh and gore!
A seething mass of twisted, ghastly and shambling death! I struggled with the hideous sight, torn between pity and utter terror as numbering maybe seven or eight, they groaned, wept, whispering, horrible things!
The putrid, sickly, sweet stench of death filled my every sense, choked me, caused me to fight back the hot bile in my throat!
My heart pounded furiously! I gasped in mind numbing horror, frozen in fear, helplessly watching as from out of that blue haze, they stared upon me with empty, blackened sockets!
Their deathly leathery grins stretched tightly over moldering bones! Beckoning with outstretched and claw-like hands, they came at me!
Frozen in terror, it was all that I could do! One last effort within this life! One last breath cast out within a single, mind shattering and ear piercing scream!
The phone rang, awakening me from where I had fallen asleep in my chair! As dropping the box of photo's, I leapt up, staring down the empty hall in horror! A dream! A nightmare! Oh dear God!
Rushing across the room and into the kitchen, I grabbed at the phone, holding it tightly within trembling hand's as Keiko's loving voice broke the dark spell,
"Andrew? Oh my God--what's going on over there?" She sensed my fear and reacted immediately,
"Are you alright?"
"I fell asleep in my chair--had the worst nightmare." I replied, saying,
"Yes--I'm fine now, dear. The phone scared me half to death." I reassured her, though still shaken myself, saying,
"Too many horror films as a kid. It's an old house, I'm alone, you shouldn't be too surprised?"
"Andrew? What did you dream?" She demanded, sounding as though she were truly frightened of something.
"It was silly really." I tried to make light of things as upsetting her was the last thing that we needed right now. I chuckled, feeling rather foolish as I explained, saying,
"I dreamed that I saw some--well, ghosts in our house." I forced a laugh while nervously looking over my shoulder and back into the dark hall behind me.
"Andrew--listen to me please, okay?" There was an urgency in her voice that now bothered me as she said,
"You can't afford to get upset or overly excited about things. We don't need you suffering another heart attack. Especially alone in that old place. And besides, knowing you? You are over-working yourself again."
"Well--I'm just dusting really and doing light tasks." I had barely uttered the word's when she cut me off. Her voice harsh, full of a fear that I had never before heard from her as cursing, she said,
"Sweetheart, listen please. When you answered the phone just now. You sounded almost the same as that day just before the heart attack. When we had spoken and you told me that you were fine."
"Alright dear." Understanding the sudden fear and panic in her, I replied, saying,
"I promise to slow down." I became increasingly unsettled by her urgency, adding,
"But seriously, everything is fine here."
"I don't care." She cleared her throat and said,
"We have been through a lot in the past two years and I do not want to lose you now. I knew that I should not have taken this job and left you alone to do everything. I feel like crap! Can you go to a motel for the night and call to let me know where you are?"
"A motel?" I knew that things had already gotten out of hand, saying,
"Now sweetheart, don't you think your blowing this a little out of proportion? I'll be fine here--I told you. I promised to take it easy. You know that I never break a promise"
"I'm very worried about you." She whimpered, saying,
"What if something goes wrong? You're all alone there. In a hotel you have people around you. Help if you need it..."
"Dear, please listen, there is no need to get hysterical over this." Attempting to calm her down, I spoke quietly and with as much confidence as possible, said,
"I will just sit around, drink tea, maybe do a little dusting. But nothing physically demanding or hard on me, okay?"
"I just don't feel good about you being there--alone." She argued, saying,
"I bet your sneaking donuts and junk food again too?"
"Listen, darling." I sighed, rubbing at my eyes and saying,
"No dear, honestly--I'm behaving on my diet. So, okay, maybe I was pushing the cleaning a little too much? But other than that everything is just fine."
"Are you sure that you're going to be okay?" There was certain panic in her voice. The heart attack and rushed surgery to save my life had been hard enough on her. So this, although nothing to someone else, put her on the very edge of her nerves.
“I can come home right now?" She offered, saying,
"To Hell with the stupid shoot."
"It's going to be just fine." After my discussion with Linda, there was a little hesitation in both my mind and voice, just enough that Keiko sensed it and said,
"From now on--I'm not going to accept any more international contracts." She cursed under her breath, saying,
"I belong near you, not thousand's of miles away."
At this particular moment I had reasons to be glad that she was nowhere near the old place. But all the same, I missed her dearly, saying,
"Dear, you just take care of the shoot--everything will be okay. Things are just a little hard right now because of the new place and us being so far apart."
"Are you sure my love? Because, I can catch the next flight home?" She was calming down.
"I am absolutely sure that there is nothing to worry about." Speaking in a quiet and calm tone, I asked,
"Have I ever lied to you about my health?" I was momentarily slipping through the net wherein the details of the house were concerned.
"No--but I will be calling to check up." She was determined as always, saying,
"So make sure you are near the phone, so I don't worry?"
"You got it my love." I sighed and said,
"Play safe out there, okay?"
"Yes sir." She blew kisses, saying,
"I love you so very much, see you soon."
"Love you--see you soon, sweetheart." I replied, listening as the phone went dead in my hand.
I stood there speechless. For reasons beyond explanation, I was feeling just as terrified as she had sounded? Attempting to shake it off, I made a cup of tea and taking a seat at the kitchen table, stared into the living room.
I'm not sure as to how long I had been sitting there, pondering the entire affair, but suddenly, there came a loud knocking at what I assumed to have been the front door?
Switching on the lights as I moved, I quickly made my way to the front door, opening it and gazing out into the darkness of the empty stone steps?
Though I saw nothing, I sensed that whatever had stood there, now passed me, swiftly traveling into the darkness.
Though every nerve tingled and sense screamed for me to turn and run from that place, logic compelled me to retain my composure.
This I did as while standing there in the sobering bitter night air, struggling with the immediate sense of flight or fight.
The wind played in the withered branches of the tall, surrounding trees, casting down the remaining dead leaves.
I watched as slowly spiralling downward, they rested to decay upon the damp earth. The moldering scent of which now whispered of the grave.
My attention was drawn down the long gravel driveway and onto the dark and distant street. All was within utter blackness as even the houses beyond were silently taken by the night.
I was utterly alone....
Ever so slowly I closed and carefully locked the door. The sound of the latch like thunder echoing within the stillness behind me.
Leaving the hallway light burning, I made my way back into the living room, pausing to look around.
Keiko's words filling my every thought as swallowing hard, I now felt like a prisoner within that place.
It were almost as though, even with lights, I dreaded moving from that single room? In truth, I now questioned myself as to why I had never gone to the second floor master bedroom to sleep?
Considering this, I soon realized that from the very beginning there was something about the place that had kept me close to the hearth, near the light.
The pounding came again! Startling me from thought as I slowly walked the distance to the front door, cautiously opening it and peering out.
Once more I was greeted by nothing but the night’s bitter cold breath and that endless darkness...
It was at that moment that I found myself suddenly laughing. A reckless, almost maniacal type of uncontrolled madness!
How I could have found humor within that moment, I could not say? But to some extent, I suppose that I felt as though I had fallen victim to my own imagination?
There was little relief within the act itself, but it did give me the courage to return to my chair in the living room, quickly stoking the hearth.
It was then and as while I chuckled over frightening myself so badly, that I came up with an idea of how to spend my waking hours before the morning light?
Certain that there would be little or no sleep upon this night, I resolved to write the experience down. I would dictate the facts and events in the greatest of detail. If nothing else, this would occupy my mind and the time until dawn.
Once more the telephone rang and answering it, I was surprised to hear Linda's voice greet me from the other end as she said,
"Andrew, sorry, did I wake you?"
"Linda, hello! No, you know me." I took a seat at the kitchen table, scratching at the stubble upon my chin and saying,
"I'm a night owl--always was and will always be."
"Alright then." She hesitated again before slowly saying,
"Um, after our talk, I got curious? About the Rawlings family, you know, the original owners?
"Oh--yes! The one with all the children." My grin swiftly faded, my attention turning back into the living room behind me and into that dark corridor as I asked,
"What about them?"
"Well, this isn't exactly a great bed-time story?" She became apprehensive, but then spoke with a sudden urgency, saying.
"But I thought that you would like to know?"
"As awful as it may all be? I really do appreciate all your help on this." The words came out within a bit of a stutter as I felt my heart creeping into my throat.
"Most of it was just done on my computer in the office--not a problem." She spoke as though one lost within a dream. Almost absent minded, saying,
"I did a little more digging online--in the old newspaper archives. I tried to find some details on the original owners, Jeremiah and Esther Rawlings?"
"I would have tried that myself." I groaned, saying,
"But as you know, Keiko cut off the TV and Internet. It's her way of bringing us closer together."
"More people should do that." Linda sipped at a drink, asking,
"Are you sitting down for this one?" She hesitated briefly, listening to my grunt within response before continuing, said,
"Well, when I couldn't find any information on Jeremiah and Esther Rawlings in the registries, they told me to try a town parish. They kept birth and death records on pretty much everyone. So, I contacted Father McIntyre at St. Michael's, the local Catholic parish. Now, although they don't have personal information about the family, they did have records of death."
"Oh--so we do know where they moved to?" I felt a strange relief with the thought.
"Andrew?” She paused, swallowing hard before saying,
"Jeremiah and Esther Rawlings never left the property. Neither did any of their eight children."
The comment having caught me completely off guard, I coughed up a mouthful of tea, using a dish towel to clean the mess while asking.
"What? What do you mean, never left the property?"
"Well--," She spoke sternly as though forcing the words, said,
"According to Father McIntyre, the church records show that the whole family died there during a tuberculosis out-break in November of eighteen, ninety nine. After the death of his children, Rawlings denounced the church and refused Christian burial... Andrew--they were all buried--on the property..."
"Oh my God." I swallowed hard, the words coming without thought, I said,
"A loss like that--would be enough to drive any parent insane with grief..."
"Well?" Linda spoke in little more than a whisper, saying,
"I can't say as I have ever believed in ghosts or haunting's. But if there were ever a reason for a place to be haunted, you have it all--rolled into one big, nasty ball of wax... Andrew, just take my advice, please? Take Keiko and go to Hawaii or something. But seriously, drop that place like a hot potato before you become another statistic."
"Jesus, Linda!" I shuddered with her words, uttering a nervous chuckle within reply as I said.
"You’re really scaring the crap out of me here!"
"Andrew--I loved your sister, she was a very dear friend." She swallowed hard, saying,
"But, you and Keiko are all that we have left. Ghosts or not, that place is full of bad vibes and spells trouble in my book. Just get out of there. The two of you can go on a vacation until you sell the place. I'd be happy to list it and take care of the whole sale for you. Then find a cozy studio apartment for you guy's, somewhere nice."
"After everything that we talked about--," I tapped my pen upon the pad, having sub-consciously been making notes as we had spoken, circling certain points of interest, said,
"Can you honestly tell me that you could look into some young couples smiling faces. Their kid's--and sell this place too them?"
There was dead silence on the other end of the line and I knew that I had struck deep into her very heart and soul, as she quietly replied,
"No, I could never do that... But--the world is full of rotten old greedy bastards who would jump on a good deal and deserve that place."
"I just don't know?" I felt absolutely lost within the entire affair.
"Let me just run this past you--okay?" She halted me before I could reply, saying.
"We rent a couple of storage lockers. You sort the antiques and furniture out. Keep the things that you want in one locker for the new place--and we send the second locker to auction. Then you and Keiko take a nice trip down the coast. I list the place and when you get back, we find you something nice?"
"I'm sure that you're right. But we should really wait for Keiko." I felt hesitant, having promised to never decide upon anything without her, said,
"I'm sure that once she hears about all of this--we will be out of here like a shot."
"Well, you let me know the minute that you're both ready. I'm here for you, any time." She sniffled, holding back certain tears and saying,
"I still don't have any idea why your sister--knowing all of this, bought the place? I've been an insurance agent for over thirty years, heard and seen a lot of things. But this place--it's a sad story right from the start--one that hasn't ended..."
"Maybe that's why she bought it?" It seemed to make some sort of twisted sense as I said,
"She kept it safely hidden away from the world. Locked up tight so that no one else would ever live here."
"And now--you're there..." Linda's voice seemed distant, filled with certain dread.
"Linda." Attempting to reassure her, I spoke calmly, saying,
"Keiko will be back soon. You know her. Once she get a drift of this, we might not even have time to pack our bags? As a matter of fact, we might even end up knocking on your door?"
As always, I tried to make light of things with a little humor, but Linda was not buying it on this night.
"I truly hope so Andrew." She hesitated, asking,
"You will call me--and let me know the minute Keiko gets home?"
"Sure thing." I sensed a strange fear in Linda that I had never known before, asking,
"Are you going to be alright?"
"I'll be fine." She replied, saying,
"But, I'll feel a lot better when I know the two of you are as far away from that place as possible. And, I really don't like the idea of you being alone in that place..."
"You're an angel Linda." I felt all choked up, remembering how she had wept, broken down at my sister's funeral. It had all been so very hard on all of us, I sniffled, saying
"She really loved you, my dear friend. And so do we."
"I love you too. Please take care, be careful with your heart." I could hear the tears within her parting words as she said,
"You’re all that we have left now--and we don't want to lose you too."
"I'm a tough cookie, kiddo." Attempting to lighten the moment, I said,
"It'll take more than a spook story to take me down."
"Night night." She said, slowly hanging up.
I listened for several moments before finally hanging up the reciever. Although I had tried to offer her a little comfort, the story had really unnernved me. So much in fact that every nerve tingled.
Slamming an open palm down upon the table and scattering tea cup, pen and notes upon the floor, I coveed my face with a trembling hand.
Truly, the devil was at work in this ancient, dark house on Crowley Street. This wood and stone beast that devoured children....