I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s story, because here comes the end of it! Feedback, likes and shares are always much appreciated (though if you’re going to share this one, I suggest sharing the previous post to avoid spoiling it for other readers).
It must have been nothing more than a warm draft. I swallowed hard and began to make my way upstairs; the higher windows had seemed more intact from outside, so perhaps the old abandoned bedrooms might offer some much-needed warmth.
As I reached the top of the stairs, I heard an inhuman shriek.
Stay the Night (Part 2)
by Eleanor Musgrove
Hearing that wretched, awful squeal, my heart almost stopped, and all my thoughts clarified into one desperate motive: Get out. Run, just run, and never look back. My instincts, however, betrayed me; perhaps I’ve spent too long wading into battles I’m unlikely to win and trying to be the rescuing type. Perhaps I just knew I still needed that money. Whatever mad impulse I was obeying, it propelled me up the stairs and towards the source of the noise. Given the situation, you may have already worked out that my sense of self-preservation is not the best available model on the market. In any case, I rushed up the stairs, seeking the person or creature who’d made such a horrifying sound, terrified of what I might find.
Reaching the top, I was confronted with an empty landing, darkened doorways, and no sign of anything capable of making that noise. Perhaps it had been louder than I’d originally thought, had come from further upstairs? I still thought I could hear movement overhead. But turning to the next flight soon disabused me of that notion; the stairs up to the next floor seemed to have collapsed many years ago – no wonder they were having trouble selling it – and there was at least an eight-foot gap that dropped straight down into what seemed to be a rubble-strewn study below. Nobody could be upstairs; the scuffling noises I’d heard must have been birds settling under the eaves for the night. It seemed I would have to search each unlit room individually; I didn’t dare risk testing the old electrical circuits for the sake of illumination, let alone alarming anyone who might be hiding up here.
“Hello,” I called softly, to be on the safe side, “is anyone here? I’m not trying to make any trouble for you…” But there was no reply and so I stepped cautiously over the threshold of the first room to my right.
Ugh. Is there anything creepier than an abandoned nursery in the dark? An old, worn clown doll lay slumped on a dresser; the mobile hanging above the empty cot seemed to be covered in some vile sort of mould, and a velvet rabbit stared solemnly down at me from a little quilt that must have been left by the window to dry. There was a small bed, too, still covered in cuddly toys and with pillows that looked freshly plumped but were covered in dust. Stepping further into the room to get a proper look round – I forced myself to check behind the door before leaving, though for what I still don’t know – my foot caught on something; an old jack-in-the-box, it seemed. It rattled as my shoe made impact; I glanced into the empty shadows before the door and backed out into the equally dark hallway with some haste, pulling the door to behind me.
The next doorway led into a plain, nondescript bedroom. A guest room, if I had to put a label on it, but I didn’t. The only thing that mattered to me was that there was nobody in it, and nothing I wanted to steal as a trophy. The room had no personality to it at all; I’ve stayed in Travelodge rooms with more of an individual stamp than that place. Backing out, I moved towards the third door, but before I could get there I heard that unearthly squeal again, right behind me.
I whirled round to see the door to the nursery complete its slow swing back to a wide open position. There was nobody there; I’d just seen that there was nobody there. There’d been nowhere to hide in that room full of toys. It must just be an old, creaky door that didn’t stay shut anymore. Nothing to be afraid of at all. There was still one room to check up here, and then I thought I might dust off the bed in that cold, impersonal room and settle there for the night. It was barely warmer up here than it had been downstairs, but it seemed as good a place as any to hole up, just as long as there was nobody waiting to leap out at me from the last remaining doorway. I turned back towards it and took a step forwards, then jumped as something tugged at the back of my shirt.
“You don’t live here,” said a confused little voice, clear as a bell in the empty hallway behind me. When I looked over my shoulder, there was nobody there. Where would a child – it had sounded like a child – have come from anyway? I figured I must have been concussed in the fight at my flat after all, or drunk way more than I thought. Shake it off, Jules. One more room to check, and then you can try to catch some sleep.
The third doorway loomed up before me, and I stepped inside to find a much larger room than the others. Without seeing what was upstairs, it was impossible to say whether it was the master bedroom or not, but the additional door set into one of the other walls suggested that it was the main access point to a bathroom of some sort. If it was the master bedroom, however, it was sorely lacking in bed. As I moved further into the room, I noticed a huge pile of abandoned canvases and paper, an easel knocked to the floor, streaks of paint on the walls. I could see the appeal, I supposed, of using this particular room as a sort of artist’s studio; the shadows cast on the walls in the moonlight had a particular sort of magic to them, and artists do love to have the right light. The shadows chased across the painted plaster and formed clawed hands on the ceiling. It was beautiful, entrancing even… and then something snapped into place in my mind. I looked up, only to have my fears confirmed. The window here had heavy wooden shutters, tightly closed.
There was no light source to cast shadows – there was no explanation of them. Except – perhaps in the bathroom, there might be a window, perhaps some refraction of light… I didn’t dare to check. Bathrooms tend to have mirrors, and since I was a kid I’ve had a fear of dark mirrors, of what might be reflected when there is no light. Instead, I moved towards the pile of canvases, meaning to take a look at what had been left behind by whichever erstwhile painter had abandoned his work.
“Don’t touch that,” came a cold male hiss from the darkness near my ear. “Don’t!”
There had been nobody there – I stumbled backwards, fumbling my way back towards the door and out into the hallway. Surely I’d imagined that? Surely… perhaps it had come from somewhere else, another room? No. I’d checked the other rooms. It was just my mind playing tricks on me, of course it was. I wasn’t going to let myself jump at shadows and do myself out of an easy two hundred pounds. That was my food budget – my everything budget – until I got myself sorted out in the wake of the burglary. I could stay in this house and not panic for a few more hours, until morning, for that if not for my pride.
I made my way back to the impersonal bedroom – it still had a dusty, but serviceable, bed in it, and it wasn’t as cluttered with someone else’s personal detritus as the others. It would do as a hideout of sorts, and perhaps under those dusty blankets it would be warm. They looked thick enough, at any rate. I couldn’t believe I was doing it, but I ran a hand cautiously over the top sheet before lifting it and shaking off the worst of the dust, coughing as I did. Then I plumped the pillows – turning them dust-side-down – and sat on the edge of the mattress, humming absently along with the record playing on the gramophone downstairs as I lowered myself down and pulled the covers up to my chin.
This wasn’t so bad, really, I thought as I closed my eyes, and the music was oddly soothing – who was playing the records? There hadn’t even been any records downstairs. Even as the thought entered my mind and my eyes sprung open, I heard a woman’s voice, somewhere close.
“This isn’t your home. It’s mine!”
I leapt up, ran from the room – stopped. I couldn’t face going downstairs, with all its new rooms to explore and the gramophone still impossibly playing, and I couldn’t face going home, to my ruined flat, without even the two hundred pounds I’d braved this nightmare for.
“OK,” I muttered, as much to myself as to… anybody else who might be listening. “OK, this isn’t my home. I get that. But I’ve gotta stay here, so… Maybe if there are no objections I can just stay here on the landing for tonight?” There was no response, just a strange thickening sensation in the air – I can’t explain it, even now, but it felt as if the house was thinking – and I took a few deep breaths to steady myself. I was being ridiculous, I told myself. I was imagining things because I was tipsy and suggestible and they’d said the house was haunted.
Perhaps there were squatters, upstairs, laughing at me. They might have had a rope ladder, might have pulled it up when they heard the window open. Perhaps a whole family was crouched up there even as I stood, dithering, in the hallway. Another of their number could have set up the gramophone while I was distracted… It must be almost midnight by now. If I could just stick it out for a few more hours…
Curious, I approached the broken staircase, took a firm hold of the remaining banister rail, and leant forward slightly, craning my neck in an attempt to see the next landing. I felt something impact my back, jolted forwards, barely managed to save myself from falling into the rubble of the room below.
“GET OUT!” It was a scream of outrage, a jumble of voices in one; a frightened child, an angry woman, a man on the verge of a fight… and it was coming from directly behind me. It was coming from the empty hallway.
I threw myself towards the other flight of stairs, the one leading down, and half-charged, half-tumbled to the bottom. As my foot slipped on the last step, the broken grandfather clock began to strike the hour – midnight – and I didn’t stop to look at it more closely before rushing into the room I’d originally entered and flinging the window open as fast as I could. Scrambling through the garden, I realised that the gramophone hadn’t moved, but music was still definitely issuing from its battered old horn. I didn’t even close the window behind me, setting off in a dead sprint for the fence.
Home – invaded and wrecked as it had been – didn’t seem such an unwelcoming place as I let myself in a few minutes later. I wasn’t afraid of any living thing, that night, just the disembodied voices that might have been the dead or might have been demons. I’d never believed in any of those things before, but now… Now they were all too terrifyingly real.
It wasn’t until three days later that I got up the courage to use Roxie’s bar phone to call Stephen – that was the name on the card he’d given me – and he laughed when I told him who I was.
“Yeah, you legged it big time at midnight. What, were there rats?” The amusement in his voice gradually faded from his responses as I explained what had happened, and when I finished he let out a low whistle.
“Dan’s gonna be insufferable about this. He’s been smug enough about you bailing… So, you’re gonna hold up your side of the bet, right?” Dan could afford to be smug; he’d been right. He’d been safe. He hadn’t been there that night.
So, that’s my story, such as it is. All profits from its sale are the property of Stephen Blake, who’s more than welcome to it, I guess. No amount of money could ever make up for the nightmares, or the growing suspicion that something else left that house with me that night. At least this may serve as a warning to other would-be daredevils. That’s all I can hope. Don’t mess with empty houses, kids. The worst night of your life could be waiting inside.
I hope you enjoyed that! Please do let me know, as I’m trying to work on my spooky stories ready for NaNoWriMo. Look out for something new tomorrow!
Please note: All characters and events in the above story are purely fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This also means that if your name just so happens to be Stephen Blake or Jules Austin, you in no way own this story. Sorry, them’s the breaks!