welcome, fans of horror and fright. halloween is coming and these terrifying tales are sure to get you in the spooky spirit.
We were trapped.
Jennifer couldn’t recall the room where she had stashed the totems, but whatever connection I had made with the single, oozing figurine had led me straight to its brothers and sisters in stone. As convoluted and unfamiliar as this house was to me, the tingle of their existence steered my every turn and guided me through every door. The only problem was it seemed I shared this navigational gift with the cat.
Jennifer and I had reached the room with the totems. She was piling them into my folded arms like a litter of blind kittens when their ‘momma’ showed up, and she was instantly pissed. The cat swelled in size, shoulders broadening, paws elongating, and its mouth stretched beyond the limitations of tendons and skin. It was a damned monster, and it stared me down like my kids eyeing the dessert tray.
This room had two exits though. I scooped Jennifer up like a yoga mat, dropping totems in a trail behind us as we ran. I heard the sharp crack of stone breaking against the floor and the shriek of something terrible escaping, but I didn’t need any more motivation to flee. We slammed the door behind us.
Outside the room was a slender hallway surrounded by doors. It took no time to discover the rooms off the claustrophobic hall were dead ends, no second exits, no windows, no secret tunnels revealed through tilted sconces. Believe me, I tried. (The next owner of this house will need to call an electrician and a brilliant drywall guy.)
We couldn’t tell what was happening behind the closed door of that first room. The shrill noises were countered by incredible thuds. Whether those things were fighting or mating, their relentless altercation was rooted in violence, and I didn’t know which supernatural beast to root for.
We barricaded ourselves into what appeared to be an abandoned space, reserved for storage and unintentional mold experimentation. (This wasn’t on the tour.) When time ticked by with no discernable winner in the ghoul squabble, Jennifer and I started searching for weapons. The faded floral wallpaper appeared wilted, its colors drained. Knickknacks filled every corner and shelf of forgotten furniture, from clown ceramics to tiny spoons of the states. Piles of clothes from bodices to poodle skirts were stacked overtop boxes. As I shifted items, one of the boxes tipped.
Photo albums spilled from the cardboard. Old pictures were a trivial find in the moment, yet as I hastily returned the albums and loose frames into the box, I saw Mr. Liu, the caretaker. The picture was a few years old, though recent enough that I recognized the man and what appeared to be his family. Generations of Lius stood in a tight group: Wife, kids, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc., and they were posing in front of the house.
I pulled the box over and settled on a dusty chaise. The rowdy neighbors were still arguing, but the rumble had abated somewhat. Maybe even demons get tired. There were more family photos, all in front of their homes, all with very serious expressions. From their clothes, the style of home, and the regression into black and white, each photo I viewed was like a step back in time.
After Mr. Liu, the families were mostly white and well-to-do, but none of them seemed overjoyed by their prosperity. At first glance I saw no connection between the people or the setting. It was Jennifer, the ‘Spot the Difference’ champion, who noticed the similarities.
“That’s our house.”
“What?” I looked at the picture of the Victorian home and the regal family gathered in front and did not see our house.
“In all of them.” She scattered the pictures on the floor and pointed to all the clues. “See. These windows are all in the same place, and the door stays the same in a lot of them.” She pointed from the Victorian to the Edwardian to the Art Deco. “It’s our house,” she said. “It just looks a little different in each one.”
“Huh.” Before I could begin my face palm, Jennifer made the second connection.
“And there’s Mr. Liu again,” but instead of pointing to the caretaker in the more recent photo, she pointed to a boy.
I looked closely at the many faces, then I began to slide the photographs around on my own. There was a story being told here, a story about a house with many faces and the people that lived in it through the ages. The oldest photo featured an English family, finely dressed with a young Asian man slightly off to the side. He looked a little like Mr. Liu, but not quite. In the next photo the white family was older, the kids grown and the house altered. The Asian man held an Asian woman at his side, small children of their own planted in front.
In the next photo the white patriarch and matriarch were gone, their sons and daughters now middle-aged and just as unimpressed by their inherited fortune. The Asian couple was old now, their children grown. One of them was a youthful Mr. Liu, and the house had changed again.
What continued from there was a shift in the family dynamic. The numbers of the wealthy whites dwindled while what I assumed to be the home’s Asian staff had begun to thrive. Eventually a skeletal, wheelchair-bound woman (just a toddler a few pictures before) was the last of the original home-owner lineage. In the next picture, the first one I had seen from the bunch, she was gone. It was all Lius.
“If they had inherited their employers’ wealth, why sell the house to us?”
“Maybe Mr. Liu didn’t want it anymore.”
The fight next door had regained its original strength and fury.
“I can see why.”
The walls shook and the cobwebbed chandelier overhead danced, sprinkling dust into the air. We hadn’t found any weapons in our storage room, and we hadn’t found a way out. Jennifer and I were still trapped. What we needed now was an exorcist or a Ghostbuster. What we got was a Dan.
To be continued …
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