Sunday, January 5, 2020

Fiction: 'Quiet Old Places' by Alexander Kautz

Quiet Old Places
Fiction by Alexander Kautz

There are places in this world, quiet old places that many of us would not even notice within passing. But it was on a sunny afternoon in the late fall that Glenn Boyd noticed just such a place. The property was old, the spiked gates of black iron and overgrown with withered blackberry vines. The trees, once majestic oaks, were now gnarled sentinels, guarding over little more than the ruins of what once was.
Glenn had little interest in such things and having passed this place many times on his walk home from work, had never bothered to look before? So, it was on this day, that oddly amused for reasons beyond explanation, he paused near the tall fence to gaze within. The growth had become so wild that the sun could not pierce certain areas within the brambles, the tall lilac preventing view to whatever lay beyond. Placing down his briefcase, he climbed up and stood upon the ancient cement foundation, gripping and peering upward and over the fence and to where, above lilac hedge, he could make out the roof of what was most certainly a house.
"What are you doing?" He scoffed at himself, chuckling and shaking his head as climbing back down, he retrieved his briefcase and paused in thought to look back. At forty eight years of age, he suddenly felt like a naughty child and for the first time in his dull life, a strange fascination peaked within him. More than just amusement, it was a burning desire, an, absolute need, to know what lay behind that hedge? Peering up and down the empty street, he watched to see if anyone from any number of ancient homes that lined that street. Might have noticed his interest in the old place? Not a single soul. The homes along Hampton Street were all very old as were most of the surviving owners. For as long as he could remember, it had always been a very quiet place...
Without so much as another thought, he walked to the front gate and struggling briefly with the old and rusted hinge, tore the gate free from the many years of growth, pausing to look within. Where once a cobblestone path had led to the front steps of a home, nature had reclaimed everything, both blocking and concealing any entrance. Moving cautiously, he closed the gate behind himself and walked across the immense front yard, working his way around bushes and over the twisting and gnarled blackberry vines. Several times he yelped as hidden within the tall grass, those nasty blackberry thorns pieced through his suit pants, biting into his flesh as he became entangled and was forced to stop, cursing as he carefully freed himself. Finally, he stood within some twenty yards of the old mansion. Over the years, saplings had grown close together, forming a natural wall that seemed to protectively embrace the old manor. Frustrated by this, Glenn worked his way around and between them, losing several buttons from his suit vest in one effort, as squeezing between two trees, he cursed, almost falling to the damp earth with the effort.
"So, this is what has been hiding in here for all of these years?" He paused, gazing upon the ancient white Victorian mansion. Within the shadows of the growth, it moldered black in places, it's large, ancient windows gazing out, dark and empty like the eyes of some long dead thing. It was not much different than any of the other old structures that stood along this street, except for the fact that it had remained empty for some sixty years or more. Glenn remembered passing the place as a young boy on his way to school, it had always looked the same. Just another place avoided by the neighborhood kids and never spoken of by residents. As he stood and looked upon its silent and decaying form in the shadows, it had a certainty mystique, perhaps even, a kind of dark charm. It was this odd, even slightly disturbing, fascination that now drove his curiosity, compelling him to find a way inside...
A veranda surrounded the front of the house, offering access to double oak doors, which Glenn now found to be sealed tightly, as turning the knob, he forced his weight upon them. It was hopeless. Cautiously making his way around the porch, he discovered a window that was partially open. It was just a crack, but enough to get his finger under and then, with some effort, managed to slide the heavy pane upward. Success! A second thought caused him to hesitate, thinking briefly as he considered the possible threat of being caught?
"I suppose this would be considered forced entry -- breaking and entering?" He said slowly and with great deliberation,
"But this place has been empty forever. No one would even notice -- or really care. Oh, come on, one little peek around won't hurt."
Placing his briefcase down upon an old wicker chair, he parted the heavy and moldering curtains and proceeded to climb through the window. The stench of ancient decay assaulted him as having been sealed for an age, the air within lay heavy with dust and mold, disturbed as he moved the curtains. For a moment, he paused to glance back at his briefcase, laying upon the chair just beyond the window.
"It should be fine--," he thought aloud,
"There hasn't been anyone around here in a lifetime."
It was dark within the parlor as enclosed by thick curtains, only a golden beam of light entered from behind Glenn, the dust shimmering like a million stars within the gaze of the setting sun. Glenn could only stare as he looked about the room, fully furnished, it had stood the test of time. With exception to a thick layer of dust that blanketed and dulled everything, the room had remained unmolested. Moving across the immense Persian carpet, he stood before the fireplace, his attention drawn to portrait's upon the ornately carved, pale, marble mantel. Hesitantly, he picked one up, noticing the sterling silver frame and blowing dust from the black and white image. It was a young couple, the woman seated and the man standing proudly beside his wife with the body of a lion displayed before them. The beast was huge, nothing like what one might expect to see in the modern age. Looking around the parlor, Glenn noticed several trophy heads in the deep shadows, obviously taken on safari in Africa. He had always disliked the thought of anyone hunting for sport... Turning the photograph over, he read the hand written inscription upon the back,
"Ronald and Anna Merriweather, August sixteenth, nineteen hundred and thirty nine."
Placing the photograph back upon the mantel, he wiped the dust from his hands, his eyes skimming around the room as he slowly turned in the dimming light.
"Oh--that should do nicely!" He snapped his fingers, making his way across the room and taking a large candelabrum from one of the end tables, retrieved a lighter from a breast pocket and proceeded to light all six candles. They flickered and crackled a little, but then shone brightly as he turned his attention toward the adjoining hallway. As he moved into the corridor and the candle-light shone into the blackness, he stumbled over something, almost dropping the candelabrum, cursing as he turned to look down at the object.
"What's this?" he leaned closer for a better look,
"A running shoe?"
Indeed it was. A white, high-top runner belonging to a youth, likely something from the late nineteen eighties? It appeared so out of place that Glenn kicked it off to the side, refusing to touch it.
"Must have belonged to one of the grandchildren?" he whispered the thought with a hidden uncertainty, bordering dread,
"Let’s just have a quick look around--then we'll get out of here..."
Passing a large dining room, he halted in the corridor, whistling to himself as he paused to examine what was obviously a study. Lined on either side with enormous bookcases, a large round table with several chairs graced the center of the library. Making his way into the room, he frowned, noticing the fading light that shone from behind the closed curtains of the enormous windows. Holding the candelabrum before himself, he began examining the numerous volumes, many of which consisted of old encyclopedic volumes on the sciences, medicine and oddly enough, witchcraft and the occult... This disturbed him to some extent, but he forced a nervous chuckle, noticing several in particular, concerning the practice of Voodoo. Pulling the old black book from the shelf, he flipped through the moldering pages, scoffing as he glanced at the chapter title,
"Resurrecting the dead--wonderful. Nothing like a little black magic to spice up a boring weekend," he laughed.
"I wonder if zombies make good maids."
A sound caused him to stop suddenly, listening intently as he stared into the shadows. Several moments passed, nothing but the sound of his own breathing and the rapid pounding of his heart. Slipping the book back into its place on the shelf, he moved from the room, peering out into the hallways.
The corridor was dark, the shadows dancing upon the ceilings in the candle's glow. Waiting for several moments, he watched the darkness as though half expecting someone or something to move from out of the stillness? He stood there for what seemed an eternity, then, content that the sound had been nothing more than some creak of ancient wood or groan of old plumbing, he began making his way through the hallway. With each room that he passed, Glenn felt his heart grow heavier, his breath come quicker and the air seem to become denser with each step. But still, curiosity forced him onward as room by room and turn after turn, he finally came to the stairwell, pausing to look upward. The candles reflected like a million stars within an enormous chandelier that hung midway up the staircase. The one red carpet, faded by a century of dust, ran like blood between the ornately carved, oak bannisters. Upon the foremost rail on either side of the bannisters stood carved wooden maidens. African beauties, arms raised high, they each held a snake wrapped around one hand and a lantern in the other of which had once shone upon the steps. Glenn touched the base of one of the figures, his eyes absorbing every detail,
"Such a waste to leave this all here -- to just rot."
With the candelabrum held before him, he cautiously ascended the stairs as with each creaking and groaning step, he gripped the bannister tightly with his other hand. Large family portraits lined either side of the walls. The old and dust covered eyes staring back at him as feeling an odd chill, he hesitated at the top of the stairs. It was as though someone or something, now watched him from somewhere in the surrounding darkness? His eyes darting from side to side, he swallowed hard, making his way into the upper hallway and pausing to hold the candelabrum aloft. Nothing, just the stillness. That ever pressing silence, the absence of sound one might expect to encounter within ancient tombs or hidden graves...
Shaking the thought from his mind he chuckled to himself,
"Silly bugger -- just finish the tour and be on your way."
A cold chill caught him by surprise and turning toward the end of the corridor, he noticed the closed door to a room? There were several on either side as barren of windows, this hallway obviously led to the master bedroom.
"Okay, we take one quick look and it's time to go."
Having said this, he gathered his wits about himself and marching down the hallway, reached for the door handle, swallowing hard as it was ice cold to the touch.
"It's always dark in here --," he reasoned out loud,
"One should expect such things."
With that thought, he turned the knob and opened the door wide. The huge room lay within utter blackness, the light from the candles barely piercing the shadows. There was an odd smell here, something very different than the rest of the mansion? It smelled of dampness and sulphur. Glenn felt his heart race as frozen just a few steps within the room, he raised the candelabrum high and stared into the blackness. A large Persian carpet lay at the center of the room, the usual bed chamber furniture and that immense, carved oak headboard of a twin bed at the furthest reaches of the room. It was there, that Glenn now saw the thing that sat crouched at the bed's edge, gazing back at him through huge, translucent and hungry eyes... The echo of a window slamming closed, the thunder of the bedroom door slamming shut behind him! The candles went out and the last thing Glenn did was utter one shrill, blood curdling scream...

Darin Smythe had always been interested in the old place, but never ventured further than those black iron, spiked gates. For a moment he paused as the sun set behind him. Had he heard a sound from somewhere beyond the huge lilac’s that concealed the old mansion? With the greatest of hesitation, he opened the gate, noticing it had been recently disturbed. Looking over his shoulder as the sun drifted down behind the distant mountains, he swallowed hard, moving inside and closing the gate behind himself. The trek through the dense overgrowth having been made simpler by a recent intruder, he quickly found his way onto the front porch and then, in the fading light, discovered a briefcase upon a wicker chair before a window. It seemed so out of place? Why would anyone just leave something like this laying here? Maybe, the intruder was another curious soul like himself and was somehow confronted by some unseen danger? Perhaps, he had fallen through old floorboards and now lay within desperate need of medical attention? Greatly concerned, Darin turned toward the window, noticing that it was open just a crack, enough for him to get his fingers under. Raising the old pane, he parted the curtains looking into the darkness, the hair on the nape of his neck standing on end as he swallowed hard. Even as a child this place had scared him for reasons beyond explanation. And now at age twenty seven, he was still terrified of quiet old places... Climbing in through the window, he stared into the growing darkness, coughing with the sudden stench of sulfur and something wet...

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