New Bones

📅 Published on July 16, 2022

“New Bones”

Written by P.D. Williams
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 19 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Ryan and Nicole Sullivan parked their SUV in front of the badly weathered Victorian house. They had purchased the old home sight unseen at a bank auction for pennies on the dollar. Unbeknownst to them, the price reflected the house’s curious history, but as successful home-flippers, they knew a good investment when they saw one.

The Haycock House had been painstakingly planted almost a century before by an eccentric painter named Reynolds Haycock and his wife, Abigail.  Unlike the other homes in the area, the house had exuded no charm, warmth, or life.  Because the newly planted vegetation had yet to take root, the yard was devoid of color and form, accentuating the bleakness of the property.  At the house’s peak were two red-stained attic windows that resembled a pair of fiery eyes: always open, always burning.  The home’s ominous presence unnerved anyone who walked near it.  It was like a spider’s web disguised as a house.  It didn’t welcome—it beckoned.

From the start, the Haycocks had kept to themselves.  They’d offered their neighbors little more than harsh glares and unreturned waves.  Their window shades remained drawn day and night as if they were trying to keep secrets in.  The neighbors seldom saw them anywhere beyond their property.  The couple had milk and groceries delivered once a week and left on their front porch.  To maintain the upkeep of the property, they hired transients via an ad that they posted at the rail yard offering free room and board.  Several months elapsed before anyone noticed that no one could recall seeing any of them come out of all the hired hands who had entered the house.

Rumors of foul play began to circulate about the odd and mysterious couple regarding the disappearances.  Then, amidst the growing threat of police scrutiny, the Haycocks inexplicably vanished.  No one noticed them moving out.  They told no one where they were going, and no one saw or heard from them again.  Their belongings, too, had vanished.  The authorities had found an oil painting of the couple left hanging in the drawing-room.  A subsequent investigation had turned up no evidence regarding the vagrants.

Over the years, at least a dozen people had purchased the house to sell or to inhabit.  None stayed there for more than a month.  Like the original owners, they simply up and left, each leaving the vacated house to fall into foreclosure.

And now, here were the Sullivans, the enterprising young couple who believed more in a reasonable return rate than they did in scary stories.

***

Ryan and Nicole leaned against the side of their SUV and stared up at the house for a moment, taking in its full measure.

Ryan was grinning like a big kid, full of excitement.  He marveled at the imposing house with its period architecture, ornate wrought iron fencing, and fully matured yard.

Nicole was wary.  She saw an abandoned property with peeling paint and a battered roof that was going to suck their budget dry.  “I don’t know, babe.  I’m starting to think we might’ve bitten off more than we can chew with this one.  Something feels off about it.  We may have just bought ourselves nothin’ but a big ol’ headache.”

“Well, you know what they say, shug: Go big or go home.  Speaking of big, let’s hitch up our big kid pants and go see what we’re dealing with.” Ryan gave Nicole a quick peck on her cheek before bounding up the walkway to check out his newest toy.

***

The sun-cracked, wrap-around porch creaked in time with their steps.  Cobwebs and wasp nests hung down like warped chandeliers.  Nicole put the key into the lock and pushed open the heavy front door.

Dust motes danced in a brilliant sunray that was concentrated through a window like a theater spotlight.  A musty odor greeted them.  It smelled like an old trunk that had been opened after many years.

“Hell’s bells on an Easter bonnet,” Ryan remarked as he surveyed the old-fashioned grandeur of the aged house.  He craned his neck to take in the fifteen-foot tall ceiling that topped the spacious entrance.  Dark mahogany floors flowed as far as they could see.

Ahead on the left, Ryan and Nicole admired a spectacular winding staircase.  It resembled a decorative vine as it snaked its way along the wall.  Its carpeted steps paused at a small landing before winding their way upward again.

The neglected floors that had welcomed them continued beyond a solid oak archway that looked as if it’d been pulled from an artisan’s dream.  Nicole couldn’t resist running her fingertips over the masterful carvings.  “Hell’s bells, indeed,” she muttered to herself.  She turned to Ryan and said, “I’m gonna go check out the rest of this level.  You take the other ones.”

“Roger that.”

As Ryan ascended the handsome, wooden staircase, Nicole walked forward under the archway and into a large dining room.

The big, open area was surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows, which allowed the entire space to be bathed in rich sunlight.  A posh wrought iron light fixture dangled from the ceiling’s center.  Its many curled arms supported frosted globes, making it look somewhat like an elegant octopus juggling bright orbs of light.  Despite the chamber’s shabbiness, Nicole pondered its promising potential.

The dirty worksite currently surrounding Nicole was incongruous among her mental pictures of a sophisticated setting.  Tools and building materials that the last flipper and his crew had left behind were strewn everywhere.  The scene resembled a worksite where the crew had left for lunch and never returned.

From there, she entered a kitchen painted a dreary gray.  Nicole figured it was probably the original color, judging by its sad condition.  The gritty floor crunched under her feet as she inspected the cracked and faded cabinetry.  A cold blast of air kissed the back of Nicole’s bare neck out of nowhere.  She touched the spot and turned around.  When she didn’t see an obvious source for the draft, such as an open window or air duct, she shrugged it off and moved on from the kitchen.

The last room she visited was a drawing-room.  It was the most opulent space yet, with its hand-carved oak wall panels and an intricately patterned tin ceiling, from which hung a beveled glass chandelier fit for a castle.  Six stained glass windows were divided evenly among three walls.

A pair of French doors opened out to the back portion of the wrap-around porch, giving a view of the unkempt backyard.  The long-neglected area was thick with grass and saplings.  Nicole thought it looked like a dying cornfield that someone had left to fend for itself.

The room’s focal point was a large stone fireplace.  It was crowned with a sturdy, hand-hewed wood plank, adding to its grandiosity.  Nicole imagined the powerful fires that had filled the stately room with great light and warmth.  Then she noticed the picture hanging above it.  Its majestic presence enthralled her.

It was a large oil painting of an older man and woman.  The signature on the bottom right-hand corner indicated that it was a self-portrait.  They were dressed in period clothes that looked to Nicole to be from the early 1900s.  They sat stiffly in two beautifully upholstered wingback chairs.  The duo exuded an austere countenance with facial expressions that lacked any sense of love or joy.  At the woman’s feet laid a fluffy, white cat that looked as indifferent as the couple.

“So you’re the infamous art freaks,” Nicole said.  “Ain’t you the party animals?” Upstairs, Ryan discovered similar scenes of abandonment.  There were wooden floors that had been sanded but never finished.  He found several doors stacked neatly in the hall.

Ryan entered one of the bedrooms to look for damage.  As he poked at a deep hole in one of the walls, a shadow of a man appeared beside it, causing him to jump back.  He turned.  No one.  When he looked at the wall again, the silhouette was gone.  Ryan’s arm hairs stood on end.  “Easy does it, dude; lots of shadows in this old place.  Let’s just get outta here.”

Ryan trotted out of the room and into the hallway.  Suddenly, another form stepped in front of him, causing him to skid to a halt.

“Cripes, Nicole!  You scared the Keebler Fudge out of me!” He was breathing hard and sweating.

“I scared you?  Good Lord, Ryan, you nearly steamrolled me.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re whiter than an albino in a snowstorm.”

Ryan took a few seconds to recover.  Once he regained his composure, he became embarrassed and defensive.  “Nothing’s wrong with me.  I was trying to get away from a couple of wasps.” He quickly changed the subject.  “What’d you find downstairs, or should I even ask?”

“Well, we’ll have to check the basement, the foundation, the plumbing, and the wiring.  But as far as I can tell, it’s got good bones; it just needs a few new ones.  I have to tell you, though, it looks like one of those Wild West ghost towns down there.  This place was bustling with construction, and then poof, it’s deserted.”

“Yeah, same thing up here.  Guess the guy ran out of money—no pay, no workers.” “Okay, but if the construction crew isn’t getting paid, why would they leave their tools and building supplies behind?  Those things ain’t cheap.” “Who knows?  Wanna check out the rest?” he asked.

“That seems only proper,” Nicole replied with a hokey, old west accent.

As they headed downstairs, Ryan cast a nervous glance over his shoulder.

***

After completing the initial inspection, their next task was to set up a temporary camp upstairs in the main bedroom.  With a project of this magnitude, they preferred to stay onsite because it saved them the expense of a lengthy hotel stay and allowed them to keep the place secure.

It only took them a couple of days to bring in a contractor familiar with projects such as theirs. Todd Blake came highly recommended by some of the top-tier realtors from the area.  After meeting with Ryan and Nicole, he agreed to take on the lengthy and arduous renovation.  He explained that he was at least two weeks out of his current job.  Still, he offered up some suggestions for easy tasks that they could knock out in the meantime.

Nicole had a group of chores already nestled in her head.  For herself, she planned some mowing, pruning, and planting a colorful flower bed along the front of the porch.  She decided to place Ryan in charge of doing something about the awful gray paint that made the kitchen look like a monochrome monstrosity.  Nicole had something perky in mind, such as a vibrant yellow.

Ryan obeyed Sergeant Nicole’s order to paint the kitchen.  The following day, he drove to Pinehurst to check out a newly foreclosed property on a parkland golf course.  Such premium real estate didn’t come on the market often, so he wanted to get first dibs.

Nicole stayed behind to keep an eye on things at the Haycock House.  With Ryan gone, the place was too quiet.  The air felt cold and thick, and many of the rooms were dark, despite their oversized windows.  Also, seeing the rough condition of the house’s interior left her feeling overwhelmed and defeated.  The pall over the place made Nicole’s decision to work outside an easy one.

***

The anxiety that Nicole had experienced inside of the foreboding residence dissipated once she stepped outside into the fresh air of the peaceful morning.  The sounds of the birds and the swishes of the undulating tree limbs filled her ears.  The day was warm, the ground was moist, and the shade felt exquisite.  It was early morning, so she had most of the day to work on the new flowerbed before the summer sun worked its way around to the front of the house.  As she enjoyed its peacefulness, Nicole became lost in the motion of the work.  She checked her watch and realized that she had been toiling for hours.  Geez, Louise; no wonder I’m hungry.

Nicole stood, bent her achy knees, and dusted the potting soil off the front of her shorts.  As she rose, there was a flash of something in the corner of her eye.  She glanced back toward the house.  A large cat perched on the porch’s top step was leering at her.

“Hey there, pussy cat.”  The cat narrowed its eyes and hissed at her like an angry cobra. “Shoo!”  Nicole yelled.  The cat rose and snarled at her.  Suddenly, it turned and ran through the open front door of the house.  Nicole took off after it.

Once inside, she proceeded through some of the first-floor rooms, watching and listening for the furry intruder.  “Where’d you go, you little jerk?” Nicole heard a growl nearby.

She stepped cautiously through the freshly painted kitchen.  She stopped to peek into one of the open cabinets.

“Here, kitty, kitty.”

Nicole froze at the voice, the cabinet door half-open.  Its tone was distinctly feminine.  It had echoed from the drawing-room.  Nicole hoped that the call was from the cat’s owner, who’d tracked it into the house.  Please, don’t be an intruder; of all the times for Ryan to be gone.

Nicole’s jaw quaked with nervousness.  “Who’s there?  Hello?” The lack of response made her fearful that someone might be lying in wait for her.  Realizing that she couldn’t hide out in the kitchen indefinitely, she worked up the courage to go and investigate the sound.

Nicole followed the haunting call into the drawing-room and found it empty.  Despite being alone, she was skittish, as if someone might attack her out of thin air.  She trembled.  The porch, she reasoned.  Maybe the backyard.  She tiptoed to the doors that led out to the porch. Cautiously opening them, she leaned out and looked around.  Seeing no signs of the interloper, she relaxed a bit.  She hoped that whoever had been in the room when she called out from the kitchen had fled.  Her adrenaline ebbing, Nicole blew out a cleansing breath.  As she was doing so, she glanced up at the portrait of the Haycocks.  Something about it looked different, but she couldn’t quite—

YOAR!  Nicole jumped a foot as a streak of screaming fur blurred past her feet, heading straight for the front door.

Nicole braked when she got to the top step of the porch.  The cat had vanished.  She left the porch and searched the yard but saw no sign of it.  Once she was satisfied that the cat had moved on, she decided to go back in and dig up some lunch.

Despite the heat of the day, Nicole shivered.  When she reached the foot of the porch steps, she saw that all of the new flowers were dead.  It was as if the soil had poisoned them. Although she’d rationalized the phantom voice, she had no answer for the inexplicable demise of the once colorful blooms.  The implications chilled her.  What’s happening around this place?

***

Ryan had gotten back earlier than expected, much to Nicole’s relief.  He’d picked up a pizza, two salads, and a bottle of pinot grigio on the way home, so they wouldn’t have to go out and leave the house unattended.  On his way in, he noticed the wilted flowers.  “Who planted these? The Angel of Death?”

As they stood over the makeshift sawhorse table eating their dinner, Ryan brought Nicole up to date on the property in Pinehurst.  Nicole typically asked a host of questions, but she was shaken and distracted tonight.

“Somethin’ up, hon?” he inquired.  “You’re not saying much.  Did anything happen while I was gone?”

Nicole picked at her salad and considered the question.

“Nicole?”

“Uh, yeah…I mean, no.” She paused.  “Okay, maybe something weird did happen.  It’s probably nothing—nothing worth talking about anyway.”

Ryan set the slice of pizza down and then took a sip of his wine.  “I think it might be worth talking about.  I’ve never seen you this quiet and tense.  Talk to me.  What happened today?”

Nicole related the entire cat incident to Ryan.  She could tell by the way he was staring at her that he wasn’t taking her seriously at first.  But could he be blamed?  As she spoke, even she became increasingly unsure of her story.  To Ryan’s credit, he listened to everything she was sharing.  It gave her hope that, even if he thought she was beginning to get spooked in the shadowy, old house, at least he might try to work through the events with her and make some sense of them.

“Are you sure you heard someone speaking?” he asked.

“As clear as I’m hearing you now.  And then, there are the flowers I spent the morning planting.” “Yeah, I caught sight of ‘em on the way in.  What happened there?” “When I couldn’t find the cat, I walked back to the porch.  I found them looking the same way you did.  It totally freaked me out.  So, what do you think?  Am I starting to lose it here?” “That’s a weird one, all right.  I might walk around and talk to some of the neighbors and find out who owns the cat.  What’d it look like?” “It was all white and fluffy; a Persian, I think.”

“Oh, like the one in the painting.”

Nicole’s face slackened as it came to her why the portrait had looked different.

She left the dining room and went directly to the drawing-room, ignoring Ryan calling behind her.  There, above the fireplace, was the portrait, with the white Persian properly in its place.

***

The mid-July heat in the Carolinas was relentless, the night air stifling and humid.  The Sullivans’ bedroom windows were wide open, and they’d set the ceiling fan to STOMP!

Nicole was lying in bed, replaying the events of the day.  Each recollection was like a ghostly hand trying to pull her down into a dark lake.  But even as the disturbing thoughts kept threatening to overwhelm her, Nicole remained emotionally tethered to her intense feeling of annoyance with Ryan.  Despite everything, he’d still somehow managed to fall asleep effortlessly.  It reminded her that he always got to play the charming, laid-back role, forcing her to be the hardline negotiator.  “That’s right.  You sleep well like you always do.  I’ll just keep on lying awake nearly every night, worrying about what’ll happen when one of these investments blows up in our faces—that and ghost cats.”

As the night flowed onward, her resentment gave way to envy.  “How the heck can he sleep on this crappy air mattress, in this sauna, with that ancient ceiling fan, while I lie here sweating like a whore in church?” She flipped back and forth on the mattress as if she were a strip of meat, trying to be cooked evenly on both sides.  But it meant that she wasn’t dreaming when she heard the footsteps downstairs.  “Oh, dear God!  There’s a crackhead in the house!” The sounds seemed to be coming from the foot of the stairs.  She nudged Ryan.  “Ryan,” she whispered.  When he didn’t respond, she shook him.  “Ryan, wake up.”  Nicole could tell when the intruder had made it as far as the landing by the creak of the third floorboard.

“Ryan?  Ryan!  Get the hell up!”  At this point, she didn’t care if the prowler heard her or not.

“Whuh…what?” he mumbled.

“Don’t you hear that?”

The footsteps were coming down the hall toward them.  It didn’t sound as if the burglar was in a hurry to get to their bedroom—there was at least a full second between each plodding step.  As he drew closer, they heard his shoes squeaking.

“What in hell?” Ryan said as he awoke to the realization that they were in danger.  He propelled himself off the air mattress and rushed to lock their bedroom door.  Then he ran back to Nicole, who was now on her feet.

The footsteps arrived at their door.  “I have a gun in here!” Ryan shouted.  Leave, or I will shoot. You. Dead!”  All he heard was the squeal of the ceiling fan.  “Hey!  I’m counting to

three, and then I’m coming out blazing!”

“What should we do?” Nicole whispered.

“Grab the phone and go lock yourself in the bathroom.  Call 9-1-1.  I’m gonna go check things out.”

“Are you insane?” Nicole asked, punching him on his shoulder for emphasis.  “Stay here with me.  He may still be outside that door.”

“Babe, if I don’t hold this guy off, the only thing that the cops are gonna find is the two of us dead.  Now go hide in the bathroom.”

Nicole started to cry.  “Ryan, baby, please stay here with me.” “Nicole, for once, let me handle this.  Now go.”

Nicole grabbed the phone and tiptoed to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.  Her hands were shaking, making it difficult to press the numbers.  As soon as someone answered the call, she said, “Hi.  I’m calling to report an intruder.  He’s just outside our bedroom door.” She waited for the dispatcher to ask for her name and address, but the person didn’t say anything.  Nicole was anxious and impatient.  “Hello?  Is this 9-1-1?”  She tried twice more and got the same response.  The only sound she heard on the other end was raspy breathing.  She gasped and hung up.

Meanwhile, Ryan looked around for something to use as a weapon.  The only thing he saw with any heft was the large flashlight by the air mattress.

Weapon in hand, Ryan crept to the door and put his ear against it.  His spine tingled as he listened to the gruff wheezing on the other side.  The sound reminded him of his uncle, Jerry, who had struggled with emphysema.  It was how he had sounded at the end: like dry death.

Ryan stepped back and braced himself for a confrontation.  He took a couple of deep breaths, raised the flashlight, and yanked the door open.  The doorway was empty.  He stuck his neck out, looked up and down the dimly lit hall, and found it equally empty.  Like a vanishing cat, he thought.

“Ryan?  What’s happening out there?”

Ryan had never heard such terror in anyone’s voice before.  “It’s okay, hon.  Just stay put.” Then, for the benefit of the trespasser, he added, “I think the cops are nearly here!”  His proclamation yielded no results: no running, no crashing, no sound.

Ryan turned on the flashlight and shined it up and down the passageway but still saw nothing. His head drooped as he let out a shaky sigh.  He lowered his eyes and caught a quick shimmer on the floor near his feet.  He stared.  Footprints.  They led from the top of the stairs to the bedroom door.  Ryan stooped to touch the light-colored tracks and found them sticky.  He stood and began tracing them, following them down the hallway to the stairs.

Ryan descended the dark staircase.  The powerful beam from the flashlight illuminated the phantom imprints.  The more he tracked them, the more slippery the flashlight became in his hand.

He continued following the trail down to the main entrance.  From there, he worked his way through the dining room, then the pitch-black kitchen, before ending up in the drawing-room.

The point of origin was the fireplace hearth.  Goosebumps sprang from Ryan’s flesh, and his teeth began chattering.  He slid his socked feet across the floor until he was standing in front of the fireplace.  He lifted the flashlight’s ray to the portrait.  At first glance, the painting looked as it always had.  He wanted to get a better look, so he inched forward until he was standing directly under it.  That’s when he saw the yellow paint around Reynolds Haycock’s shoes.

I need a drink.  Ryan shuffled to the lightless kitchen.  He groped around until he located the wall switch and flipped it on.  Someone had somehow removed the fresh yellow paint from the kitchen walls.

***

The series of macabre events left Ryan feeling rattled.  It took some time for him to collect his thoughts.

“Ryan, where are you?”

Nicole’s loud voice startled him.  “In the kitchen, hon.” She was about to walk in when Ryan stopped her.  “Babe, I want you to prepare yourself.  Please, try not to freak out.” “I’ll do my best,” she promised.

Nicole said nothing during her tour of the kitchen and the drawing-room.  She walked as if she were trudging through mud.  When she finally spoke, she said, “Oh my God, Ryan, what have we gotten ourselves into?  I’m really, truly terrified.  We have to get out of this house.  I can’t stay here another second.  Let’s go to a hotel or rent an apartment; I don’t care which.”

“Nicole, honey, we can’t afford that.  We’ve got everything tied up in this house.  Outside of living in the SUV, we have zero options.  And there is no way we’re living out of that stupid SUV!”

“Like hell, we’re not!” Nicole grabbed Ryan by his wrist, led him outside, and directed him into the SUV.  Ryan’s pride was slightly sore, but at least Nicole had gotten them out of the house of horrors.

A short time later, Ryan attempted to appeal to Nicole’s sense of reason.  “Babe, what are we supposed to do now?  That surprise real estate I checked out in Pinehurst looks really promising.  But you know this business: we can’t grab hold of any other opportunities while we’re still holding on to this one.  We’ll get our heads kicked in if we unload this house now. Nicole, I know we’re scared, but we have no choice; we have to make this work.”

“Ryan, how bad will this get?  This isn’t some elaborate prank.  All of the terrifying things that have happened to us are real.  Think about it: the contractors, the work crews, previous owners. Why do you think we got this house so cheap?  Everyone else took the loss and got as far away from this place as possible.”

“Look, I’m no expert on the paranormal, okay?  But maybe we can find a priest, or a shaman, or even a voodoo doctor who’ll come and bless the place.  Ooh, ooh, how ‘bout a TV show that’ll send some crackpots out here to stink up the house with loser sweat while they pretend to gab with ghosts?”

Her emotional temperature was rising.  She resented Ryan’s condescending tone, so she decided to give him a taste of his own medicine.  “Just to make sure that an idiot like me can understand you, you’re saying we should advertise that we have ghosts in this house?  Oh, yeah—that’ll prompt some genius to buy it!”

“All right, Nicole.  What do you suggest?”

She mulled the question over.  “Everything that’s happened has a common denominator: that creepy portrait, right?  Why don’t we just try getting rid of it?  Let’s burn the S.O.B. like they do in the movies.  If nothing else, at least we won’t have to look at it anymore.”

Ryan perked up.  “I’ve got the matches if you’ve got the fuel.  You go around back and find a safe place to burn it.  I’ll be the hero and go in and get it.”

“Works for me, Sir Dunderhead.”

“And she’s back,” he said.

“Just go ahead and get it, already.”

Nicole retrieved the two-gallon gas can from the rear of the SUV and hurried toward the backyard.

When she got there, she waded through the knee-high grass until she got to a worn-down area that someone had used as a scrap pile.  She picked through the trash for something to use as a digging instrument.  Eventually, she found a jagged piece of two-by-four that she used to dig a shallow hole.

Ryan emerged from the drawing-room and onto the back porch.  He was holding the sinister portrait as if it were covered in poison ivy.

“Hurry!  Bring it!” Nicole instructed.

Ryan used the picture frame to push through the overgrown yard.  As soon as he arrived at the impromptu fire pit, he plopped the painting down into it and soaked it with the gasoline.  Then he tossed in a lit book of matches.

As the picture burned, they could feel the stress gradually leaving their bodies.  They watched the cursed object curl up at the edges as the ravenous flames consumed it.  Once the fire had reduced the portrait to glowing ash, they took hold of each other’s hand and reluctantly returned to the house.

***

As soon as Ryan and Nicole stepped inside, they sensed a change.  The air that used to press down on them felt lighter, and everything looked sharper, as if someone had adjusted an unfocused lens.

“Do you think it’s finally over?” Nicole asked.  “I have to say something feels right about this place now.  It’s different from before, don’t you think?  It feels…healed.”

“Yeah, I suppose so.  I just hope that Gomez and Morticia have moved on.” “Guess they just didn’t want strangers changing their house around,” she said.  “I can’t say as I blame them.  After all, they meant this house for themselves.  They poured their souls into it: every nail, every brick.  That painting was probably all that was left to anchor them here.” Then Nicole looked at Ryan, who had suddenly become lost in thought.

“I can’t help but wonder,” he said, “if anyone else ever thought of destroying the painting.” “If they did, they sure didn’t stick around long enough to try it.  So, whadaya say?  Should we try another night?” “Are you sure?  An hour ago, you wanted out of here.” “I know what I said, but I just want to know if this nightmare is finally over, so we can move on.” “Agreed,” Ryan said.

***

Though the night had been uneventful, neither slept very well.  Every minor noise had sounded to them as if it were heralding another march of the undead.  They’d been glad when the sun had finally risen to rescue them.

“We better get started on the cleanup.  Todd’s work crew’ll be here next week,” Nicole said.

“Why don’t we just let them fix it?” Ryan asked, yawning.

“Money, sweetheart.  Money.  We can do this.  Listen, I think we still have some cereal downstairs.  Grab the milk from the cooler, why don’t cha?” Ryan and Nicole got dressed and then followed the ghostly road map downstairs.  They checked out the drawing-room, hoping and praying not to find the painting there waiting for them.  Notwithstanding the yellow footprints, they were relieved to see that the portrait was still out of their lives, unlike in the movies.

They entered the kitchen and enjoyed a relaxed breakfast.

“I’ll be so happy once we get all that paint off the floor,” Nicole said.  “It’s what’s creeped me out the most.  Oh, and speaking of paint, you know that you’re going to have to paint this entire

kitchen.  All. Over.  Agaaain.  Any thoughts on color?” “I think I might go with yellow.  It stands out so well, don’t cha think?” “You do, and I’ll be repainting it with your brain matter, wise guy.  Now come on, let’s get this knocked out.  We’ve got a lot to get done today.” They had only walked a few feet into the drawing-room before they stopped cold.  They were astonished to see that the footprints were gone.

“Where’d they go?” Ryan asked.

Frigid sweat slid down Nicole’s bare back like cold, skeletal fingers.  She was pale, her body limp.  “Ryan?” Her voice quivered.  “Do you see it?”

“Oh my God,” he whispered.

With great trepidation, they walked further into the room.  Ryan took hold of Nicole’s moist hand. “I’m right here, babe.” His breathing was fast and irregular.  He could feel his heartbeat through his temples as if it were keeping time with a funeral dirge with each pant.

They turned together and faced the imposing fireplace, the source of their blind terror.

The painting was hanging over the mantle, and it had changed.  The Haycocks were posed in a standing position by their respective chairs.  Each of their faces was a horrifying rictus of rage.  In a blink, they were closer to the frame.  Their cracked lips were pulled back grotesquely, baring small, jagged teeth.  Then, like a flash of lightning, the savage creatures were at the very edge of the frame.  Their eyes were crimson red, just like those belonging to the white Persian hunched up behind Ryan and Nicole, snarling.

***

The front door opened, and the real estate agent led Frank and Helen Morganstern into the vestibule of the musty house.  “And here we are,” the agent announced with a grand flourish.

“Wow,” Frank said.

“I hope the rest of the house has this much potential,” added Helen.

The agent took that as her cue.  “Now, as I told you, there have been some attempts at renovations over the years, but it’s still in need of some T.L.C.  Nevertheless, with what the bank’s willing to let it go for, it would make a terrific investment for folks like you, who are thinking about converting it into a bed and breakfast.  Now, follow me.  I want you to check out the focal point of the whole downstairs.”

The couple strolled around the impressive drawing room, taking in its regal décor’s richness and its exquisite fireplace.

“So, who’s this?” Helen asked as she stood before the long, rustic mantle.

“Oh, them.  Yes, I believe that’s the Haycocks, the people for whom this house was built.  Now then, let’s see if I can remember their names.  That’s Reynolds sitting on the left and Abigail on the right.  As for that young couple holding the cat, I don’t know who they are, but they sure don’t look very thrilled to be there.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by P.D. Williams
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: P.D. Williams


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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