A Halloween story
This is a short story I wrote back in 2002. I was relatively new at writing fictions and my English was still very green, but I did my best to make it decent. I had never made an illustration for it, until now. If you really want to feel it I recommend reading it late at night, all alone, and with just a dim lamp or candle light.
The Haunted House
It was tall and big, old and dirty. The walls had lost most of the painting, and now were covered in dust, ashes and weeds. The roof had several leaks and the four chimneys were stuffed with accumulated cinder.
Around it, the garden had been neglected for years; the tall bushes grew in disorder like a jungle, the grass, reaching high above the fence, like a deep sea one could dive in. No flowers survived and no tree gave fruits anymore. The weeds covered the first two steps that led to the main door, extending halfway across the porch, climbing up the thin wood columns that supported the entrance roof. All the wood was half rotten, eaten by mold and insects, from the tricky steps of the front door to the broad beams of the attic. The rusty locks had been untouched for decades, all doors being ajar, but the knobs remained unmoved, since there were no beings entering or leaving.
The house was neither protected nor attacked: there was nothing to steal from it. All the family goods had been removed long ago, the jewels of the past owners had gone with them, the remaining furniture being worn out and damaged. The humidity and cold had grown mushrooms inside the living room, popping from the corners of what used to be a colored carpeted floor, extending up the walls, all the way to the high ceiling.
White clothes hid the few pieces of furniture that lay still, abandoned within these silent walls. A thick layer of dust covered the entire picture, from basement to attic, from garden to chimney.
Nobody ever trespassed the gate.
Beyond the fence it was safe to stroll, but within the family’s property neighbors did not set foot.
After almost twenty years of advertisement nobody had yet ventured to buy the forsaken house. It needed too much repairing, too much money and effort to fix the marks of time, the wounds of the past, and too much courage to chase the ghosts away.
The spirit of Great Grandpa wandered the place. Thus the town called him. In life he had been known as Ben. He had been the oldest member of the family, the one who had put together the house, with his own hands, over a century ago.
In that house he had raised three children and had seen them go. In the great red room, which had been his own bedroom, he had spent most of his life.
He had ceased to sleep in it after mourning his wife in the very same bed they had shared for so long, on the very same red covers that had warmed them both since their wedding night.
For years, the room had been kept exactly the same, without moving any of his late wife’s belongings.
He would only enter each morning to place some fresh flowers in the vase, by the window, as he had done since their honeymoon.
On that same bed with red covers, his own daughter had spent her wedding night, after Ben had given her away, with half joy and half fear, to a man he hardly knew, as she wore her mother’s veil and embroidered handckerchief.
In that very same room he had kept his grandkids when his daughter filed divorce and needed to send them away “to keep them safe”, while she straightened out her broken marriage.
In that very same room, his daughter had closed her eyes, the first time she went to visit her children, and was brought into the house by a strange man who had found her on the road inside her crashed car, while she desperately begged to be taken home to Papa and the kids, instead of the hospital, claiming she could not rest in peace without seeing her family one last time.
Her angels were asleep when old Ben had carried her upstairs to the room and placed her on the red covers of the great red bed, where she had caressed their little heads for the last time.
In that great red bed the kids had slept through their childhood, after Ben was granted custody, due to his son-in-law’s criminal records.
The entire town had seen the kids grow up, playing in the garden, running around the neighborhood, calling after Grandpa, who accompanied them everywhere.
But the ungrateful kids grew up and flew, leaving the old man alone once more, alone in the great house that no longer carried the laughter of young voices. And for ten more years he was bound to stay alone, forgotten, until his granddaughter returned one day, ill, depressed, worn out, carrying a new born child in one arm and a small suitcase in the other.
He took them both in, with no questions, no hesitation, no scorn and no resent. He looked after her during her last days of her illness and watched the third generation die before his eyes. The young woman lied on the red bed that had nestled her childhood until her last breath.
In spite of his age, he took care of the baby, being the last trace of family he still had left.
She was raised in the same room that had belonged to her mother; lulled in the great bed where she heard the stories her great grandpa told her every night. The room had been kept through the years exactly as it was, with its red carpet, the red velvet curtains, rosewood chairs and carved night table. The little girl found even her mother’s old toys still lying in the closet.
The red room was the best in the house.
It had the finest furniture, the softest covers, the most beautiful mirrors that reflected the pink walls, bathed in sunshine.
Old Ben never forgot to bring a fresh flower for the red vase on the table, and, each day, as his little girl would wake up, she would feel the morning breeze coming in through the window mixed with the perfume of a red blossom by her bed.
But one morning, after a prolonged fever, the little eyes did not open anymore.
She had not yet seen her fifth spring but Ben’s old eyes had witnessed four generations of loved ones leave him without good-bye, and this was more than any human heart can take.
He rested on the red bed that night, embracing the little rag doll which he had not had the heart to bury along with the child, and wept the entire night, before he died, quietly, in his sleep.
There was no will, and no relatives to take possession, nobody to occupy the space where the unhappy family had crumbled.
And so, for years, the house remained empty and forgotten.
Only a few kids had broken in sometime to steal peached from the garden, but they had ran off as they spotted a pale bearded face watching them from the window, from behind the red curtains. Ever since, nobody had dared to cross the garden gates. The red room grew a sinister legend because every single member of the family had died on the same bed.
Those that passed by claimed they heard the old man weeping in the garden, or saw shadows moving inside, always in the same room, or climbing the stairs in that direction. Sometimes the windows were open in the morning, and some said they climbed on a tree to peek inside, from afar, and saw a fresh cut flower in the red vase on the night table. But nobody stayed long enough to have a better look, always afraid of spotting the pale face appear at the window.
It was a small town where people liked to talk and legends grew fast. But foreigners didn’t believe those gossips, and Amy laughed them off when the café waitress told her the story.
Amy was a city girl, passing by on her way to visit some country folks, and had scared everybody to death when she had walked in the main store to buy some snacks for the road.
The owner had stared in disbelief at her brown hair and round cheeks, deep eyes and thin nose. She looked exactly like the picture in the local cemetery –the picture of old Ben’s wife, placed on her grave, beside the picture of her daughter, who looked exactly like her, only a few years younger –the exact face her granddaughter would have had at her age, the same age the great granddaughter would be by then.
A couple of women screamed when they saw her on the street. Amy thought them all ridiculous.
She had planned to drive all night, after she had left the café, but she was already exhausted from a very long trip, and it was getting late. She had bravely started on the wheels, but after a couple of minutes, she had to admit to herself that she would not make it without a nap.
There was no hotel in town, and while she was considering slipping in the back seat for a nap, she passed the town border where the old house was.
Since she had been told that nobody lived there and the place was unlocked, Amy made up her mind to rest a little there.
A smart city girl like herself would not be frightened by silly rural ghost tales.
It was a bit creepy to make her way through the high grass that tangled around her ankles, like invisible hands emerging from the ground to hold her back and prevent her from reaching the door. The door hinges made a moaning sound as she pushed carefully. Feeling a twinge of cold fear as she stepped into the living room, her mind advised her to leave the door open, just in case a quick escape was needed.
Not that she believed in spooky stuff, but her practical brain warned her against the living, that were a much more solid danger than the dead. A deserted, isolated house was a perfect hiding place for any criminal or murderer. And, even if she was not expecting to see any specter around, the thought of sleeping alone in a strange house where so many people had died, was a bit unsettling.
As Amy had expected, the electricity was out, so she lit a match and looked around to make sure there were no rats or similar life forms to crawl over her body while she slept. Then she crunched on the sofa, and wrapped herself in the white cloth that covered the furniture, after brushing the dust off.
As the last match went out she glanced around, with an uneasy feeling.
It was big and empty, with a very high ceiling and black staircase. She was relieved the paintings were covered, but she could almost feel the portraits observing her from behind the dusty clothes.
The sofa was rather hard, but she did not bring herself to go upstairs to find a bed, preferring to stay close to the door, where she could hear the sound of the street, and reach it fast in the event of a getaway.
There was something about that place that made her stomach whine. Sounds coming from here and there, (which she attributed to old piping, dry wood, insects, wind…) made her heart jump from time to time.
The light of the full moon peeked in, giving the entire living room a pale blue shade. A bright light shone on the ceiling, moving from side to side, reflecting on the crystal candelabra above her head. It was a car, passing by, she told herself, to still her rushing heart.
Amy brushed away any ghostly thoughts and closed her eyes, determined to sleep.
When she opened them again the morning sun was shining through the curtains and the silence had been replaced by the chirping of birds.
She felt great relief that the night was over and that she was free to go.
It had been quite a refreshing night, actually and she had slept a lot better than she had expected to. Now she felt renewed and full of energy.
Stretching hard she pushed the cover aside and, still stretching, walked to the mirror to fix her hair a little.
As she looked at the reflection on the glass, her sleepy eyes caught sight of the image behind her and opened wide in disbelief. All her limbs went cold in a second and she had to hold on to the wall to keep from falling on the floor like a melted candle. Trembling from head to toe she slowly turned around to confirm the picture on the mirror.
There it was:
The bed with the red cover, the red pillow wrinkled where she had laid her head, the little rag doll next to it, the rosewood night table, with a fresh flower in the vase, the red curtains swaying gently in the morning breeze…
She had woken up in the red room.
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