What Lurks in Shadows

This is a three part, collaborative writing project based on a writing prompt from Chuck Wendig.  One writer wrote Part I of a scary story, then a second writer wrote Part II, and finally, a third writer finished it up with Part III.  For this particular story, I wrote Part III.  Links to the Part I and Part II authors’ pages are below.  I thoroughly enjoyed this particular Flash Fiction Challenge.  I hope you enjoy the story.

Part I–by Matthew Gomez

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Leah asked, holding her arms tight around her body to ward off the autumnal chill. She and her friends, Jim and Fiona stood outside the old McMillian house. The house, one of those old classic Victorian structures, loomed out in the dark, thick ivy clutching its walls. The ground around it were overgrown and choked with brambles,  A light rain fell, pattering off the roof of the car.

“Don’t tell me you’re scared,” Jim said, turning around from the driver seat. “Come on, we’ve talked about doing this for years.”

“I know, I know, but how long has it been abandoned? Who knows what’s living in there.”

Fiona looked up from fixing her make-up in the rear view mirror. “Look, at most it’s a couple of homeless guys. We get a hint of something wrong, well, we’ll leave, okay? But how cool would it be to spend the night? We’ve got to do this.”

Leah sighed. “Okay, okay. But if my parents ask I was at your place all night, okay?”

Fiona rolled her eyes. “What are you, twelve?”

Leah smiled. “Only if you ask my dad. So we’re really doing this?”

Jim nodded. “Yeah. Get your bags. I’ve got a couple of things to grab out of the trunk. See if you can find an open door, okay?”

“What if we can’t?” Leah asked.

Jim chuckled. “Then we might just have to break a window. Let’s hurry.”

Leah grabbed her bag from next to her and ran to the house, Fiona following close behind her, the rain falling on them cold and soaking. They reached the sanctuary of the house, rain still dripping down from cracked, weather beaten eaves. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Hell of a night to break into a haunted house,” Leah said.

“Shut up and try the door.”

Leah grabbed the door handle and pushed, the door swinging open with some resistance from swollen wood and rusted hinges. “You’d think it would be locked.”

“What are the odds someone’s broken in before?”

Leah shook her head. “I’m more worried about the odds that someone is in here now.”

“You think?” Fiona reached into her pocket, pulling out a penlight. She twisted it on and shone the narrow beam inside, letting it play off the cobwebbed walls and bare floors. “Doesn’t look like anyone has been in here for a while.”

“Or they are being really quiet,” Jim said, coming up behind them.

“Christ, Jim!” Fiona said, slapping him on the arm. “Scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry, sorry. Look will you go in already? I’ve got to put these bags down and I still have to go back and get the beer. I told you, no one is in here, all right? The most we’ve got to worry about is maybe a raccoon or two. Maybe some bats.”

“You didn’t say anything about bats.” Leah and Fiona stepped out his way so he could drop two duffel bags inside along with the backpack on his back in the front hall.

“Easy, Leah. It’ll be fine. It’s night so they’ll all be out anyway. You, uh, might want to watch your step though.”

Leah blinked at Jim. “Why?”

Jim smiled and shook his head. “Well, wouldn’t want you stepping in any guano.”

“You are sick, you know that?” Fiona asked, wrinkling her nose.

Jim smiled back. “Yep. Anyway, the beer isn’t going to carry itself. I’ll be right back. Don’t get lost okay.”

“I still don’t see how you convinced me to come along with you,” Leah said.

“What else were you going to do on a Friday night? Sit in your pajamas in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn?”

“What’s so wrong with that?”

Fiona rolled her eyes and moved deeper into the house, Leah following in her wake. A thick layer of dust covered everything, hinting that no one had been even squatting in the old place for years.

“You know why it’s abandoned right?” Fiona asked.

“Everyone knows that story,” Jim said, appearing from the shadows and setting two six packs of beer down. “Old man McMillan and his wife were the only two left of the old family. One night a couple of burglars broke in. Something went wrong, and about a week later the police arrived to find four bodies. Looked like the burglars had killed the wife, but the old man still had his shotgun. Managed to kill the two burglars, but not before he got shot himself. I hear he lasted three days before he died.”

“You really need to stop doing that,” Leah said. “Nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Sorry. Hey, is that a fireplace? We totally could get a fire going in here.”

“With what?” Fiona asked.

“I’m sure there’s some old furniture around we could break up. Might be some old newspapers lying around. Worse comes to worse, I’m pretty sure I saw a wood pile out there. Some of that might still be good.”

“After fifteen years?”

“Have a little faith, babe.”

Leah hugged her arms around herself, the stopped, ears, straining. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Fiona asked.

Leah shook her head. “I’m not sure. It sounded like… I don’t know. Voices maybe?”

Jim frowned. “Probably just the wind. I’m sure this old house has all sorts of holes in it. If nothing else, most of the windows are broken as it is. Anyway, come help me get the bags, okay? We can camp out in the old living room.”

Leah and Fiona helped Jim bring the bags in. They set up their sleeping bags. Jim opened a beer, but the girls refused.

“Okay, I’m going to go see about getting some wood for a fire,” Jim said. “Want to come with me?”

“No, Leah and I are going to check upstairs. See if we can find anything.”

“We are?” Leah asked. “Uh, sure, okay.”

“All right, just be careful, okay?”

“Sure, come on Leah, let’s go.”

Part II–by Skye

“Just a sec,” Leah replied, reaching for her bag. “I have a flashlight in here somewhere.” She rummaged through the bag, digging under some extra clothing until her fingers touched the Maglite at the bottom. She grabbed it and raised her hand to show Fiona.

“Found it.”

“Okay,” Fiona said. While Leah searched, Fiona had already reached the landing of the stairs and was tapping her foot impatiently. “Let’s go.”

Leah joined Fiona and they slowly ascended the stairs, using the flashlight to see. The wooden stairs were probably beautifully polished in their day, but now they were half-rotten and rickety. The girls had to test each step to make sure it would hold their weight so it seemed to take forever. Leah held on to the banister tightly, in case one of the stairs broke, but they both made it to the second floor without incident.

At the top, there were two hallways, to the left and right. Leah shone the flashlight down both of them, but it was too dark to see there they led.

“Which way?”

“I don’t care. Pick one.”

Leah slowly made her way down the right hallway, moving the flashlight around the walls, and Fiona followed. She saw there were two doors down each side, and a door at the very end. Between the doors, the walls were lined with paintings and old photographs. The first painting was faded, but it appeared to be the house when it was newer. Leah paused to study it a bit further, but Fiona tugged at her arm.

“Come on. We’re not here for art appreciation.” Fiona grabbed the doorknob of the first door and tried it. Locked. She let go of Leah’s sleeve and crossed the hallway to the other door. Also locked.

“Well, this is exciting. Are any of these going to open?” She snatched the flashlight from Leah’s hand and stalked towards the next set of doors. Leah hurried to keep up with her, not wanting to be stuck standing in the dark. She reached Fiona just as she was trying the next door on their left. To the surprise of both girls, it swung open easily, revealing a decrepit bathroom. Fiona moved the flashlight around the room, revealing a clawfoot tub that was covered in mold, a pedestal sink that was cracked almost in two, and a mirror so badly oxidized that most of the reflective surface was black.

Suddenly, there was a loud thud from behind them. Both girls jumped and cried out in surprise, and Fiona dropped the flashlight on the floor, plunging them into near darkness. Leah spun around towards the other door, her heart hammering in her chest, her hands icy cold. She could hear Fiona move behind her, and then could see the door as Fiona shone the now-recovered flashlight on it.

“What do you think that was? Wanna go look?”

“No,” Leah replied.

“Oh come on. The wind probably just knocked something over.” Fiona moved past Leah and reached for the door. “Besides, ghosts don’t make any noise.”

This door also opened easily, to Leah’s dismay. Fiona didn’t stop to look around but stepped right inside. Leah crept reluctantly behind her, walking into what appeared to be a guest bedroom. There was a large window that didn’t provide much light, but Leah could hear the rain pounding outside. Fiona roved the flashlight around the room from the center, revealing a small, four-poster bed with tattered bedding, an antique dresser still in decent shape, and a bookshelf half-filled with old books, their spines unreadable. On the floor, just beside Fiona, was a brass candlestick that had obviously dropped to the floor from the dresser.

“See? There’s your monster,” said Fiona, pointing the flashlight to the candlestick.

“But how did it fall?” Leah asked, calmer now. “The window is closed. It couldn’t have been the wind.”

“It’s an old house and old houses are drafty.” Fiona shrugged, and then walked back toward Leah. “Let’s keep looking. If we can’t find anything else, I guess we could burn some of those old books.”

Fiona took Leah’s wrist and towed her back into the hallway and toward the room at the end. The door had an old skeleton key still sitting in the lock, so Fiona turned it and opened the door into what had to have been the master bedroom. The first thing the girls noticed was the giant bed opposite the door. It was also a four-poster, with yellowed gauzy drapes billowing wildly around it. Leah’s heart once again leapt into her throat and she froze.

“Oh my God you’re such a scaredy-cat!” Fiona pulled Leah into the room, shining the light around. This room had two large windows, one on each wall to the left and right, and the right window was broken. The wind whistled through the hole, blowing Leah’s hair across her face, the noise of the rain much louder than in the guest room.

Leah pushed her hair out of the way, still feeling a bit jumpy. Fiona let go of her and wandered around the large room, shining the light as she moved. She approached an old wardrobe to the left.

“Ooh, maybe there’s a body in here,” she joked, pulling it open. “Nope. Just some old clothes. C’mon. Let’s go back and get some of those books and head downstairs. Maybe Jim found some firewood.”

Just then, a flash of lightning outside startled Leah, blinding her for a moment. She blinked a few times to get re-accustomed to the darkness, noticing that Fiona must have dropped the flashlight again. After a moment, once she realized Fiona wasn’t picking it up, she walked over and grabbed it, shining it around the room, her panic rising. Fiona was gone. The wardrobe was closed again and when Leah frantically grabbed at the doors, they wouldn’t budge. Leah pulled at them with all her strength, yelling Fiona’s name, tears of fear and frustration burning her eyes.

It seemed like hours but it was only a few minutes before Leah gave up, letting go of the wardrobe doors and sinking to the floor in defeat. She put her head in her hands, unsure what to do next. Then she heard a muffled scream coming from downstairs.

Part III-by Me

Seconds later, Leah heard the sounds of a struggle: boots straining for leverage against old wood floors and the toppling of furniture as bodies crash into them.  The noise seemed to start in the living room before slowly creeping upstairs, growing louder and louder until it was just outside the bedroom door.

Leah stared at the door, unable to breath, when it suddenly flung open. The worn out hinges strained as the heavy door bounced loudly against the wall.

Jim toppled into the room unable to control his own body, as if he was being propelled by something or someone behind him.  His foot caught on a raised floorboard, tripping him up and sending him face-first into the closest bed post.  Jim grunted as his nose exploded in red and he fell back onto the floor.

Leah could see that Jim’s hands were tied behind him and his mouth was gagged by a red bandanna.  He was starting to cry.  Those wimpy screams came from Jim?  Some protector he is.

A second figure stepped calmly through the bedroom door.  It was an old man wearing a green flannel shirt. One side of the shirt was tucked into heavily worn blue jeans.  The other side was pulled free and had a small hole, surrounded by dark red stains, just above the belt line.  The man’s wrinkled hands held a two barrel shotgun.  Old man McMillian.

The old man’s eyes scanned the bedroom as he entered, but they floated harmlessly above where Leah sat, landing back on Jim who had curled up against the wall.  Leah could see his tears mix with blood from his nose as a lighting strike flashed in the broken window above him.

“You stealin’ bastard gonna get what you deserve,” the old man shouted as he stood over the intruder.

The old man had just started to raise the shotgun at Jim when he suddenly turned toward Leah.  But he still didn’t look directly at her.  He was looking at the wardrobe.  She hadn’t noticed that it had started to tremble.

There was rustling inside before the wardrobe doors flung open.  Fiona was thrown back into the bedroom, landing on the floor between Jim and the billowing bed.  Fiona wasn’t gagged like Jim, but she didn’t say a word.

An old woman dressed in a long flowing nightgown followed Fiona out of the wardrobe.  There was a huge red stain in the center of the nightgown.  Leah could see dried blood on her calf and foot as she stepped down onto the bedroom floor, right in front of where Leah was crouched in the shadows. The crusty blood started to flake off onto the rotten floors as the old woman walked toward the others.  Mesmerized, Leah missed the first few words the old woman spoke. “… trying to steal my expensive dresses,” she said, pointing at Fiona.

It seemed neither of the house’s inhabitants had taken notice of Leah.  Should she run?

“That little shit of a coward was trying to make off with the divan when I found him,” the old man said.  “The divan, of all things!  I’m tired of these theivin’ hellions.  Time to give ‘em what they deserve.”  The old man continued to raise the shotgun and point it at Jim.

Jim started squirming frantically, his shoes slipping against the floor, a futile attempt to regain control. His head turned rapidly side-to-side as he was finally able to loosen the bandanna just enough.  He shouted, “she made me do it. I swear!” as he pointed to Fiona.

The old man’s eyes narrowed as the corners of his lips curled downward in disgust.  “Save it for St. Peter, bastard,” was all he said before the crash of thunder echoed through the room.

Fiona held her mouth open as if she was screaming but Leah couldn’t hear anything.  Fiona’s hands and face were spotted with blood as she clinched her hands into fists and drove her perfectly manicured nails deep into the skin of her face.  Small beads of black blood emerged from under her nails before mixing with Jim’s as they ran down her cheeks.

Leah turned from Fiona to Jim.  The blast had hit him in the neck.  His head, eyes open and staring back at Leah, dangled strangely on the left side of his chest, completely separated from his body save for a few intact strands of sinew and skin keeping it from rolling away.

The old man turned the shotgun on Fiona and Leah jumped to her feet, too late to make any difference. Another explosion filled the room.  Blood oozed from a thousand holes in Fiona’s chest as her right arm slowly reached toward Leah.  Gurgling sounds bubbled up in Fiona’s throat as she pointed her outstretched finger helplessly toward her friend.  Finally, Fiona’s eyes closed and her arm fell lifeless beside her body.

The old man and old woman turned, looking to where Fiona had pointed.  Leah balled her fists and gritted her teeth but the couple just looked past her before turning back to each other.

“Alright honey, we dealt the thieves what they deserved.  Let’s go back to bed,” the old man said, voice now calm and soothing.  He set the shotgun down against the dresser and the two of them crawled into bed, yellow drapes still dancing in the storm.

Leah stood watching the old couple sleep, looking from them to her dead friends lying on the floor beside the bed, unsure of what to do.  The storm slowly subsided and the soft light of morning began to creep through the windows.  The distant crowing of a rooster in woke Leah from her trance.

Leah took a deep breath as she walked over to the shotgun, picked it up, and fired it—first into the old woman’s chest, then into the old man’s gut.  She dropped the gun and calmly walked out of the old house, never hesitating and never looking back towards the old man’s groans.

A week later, Sgt Echo’s squad car came to a stop at the base of the driveway.  “Dispatch, this is Echo.  I think I see that missing sedan parked outside the old McMillian place.  I’m going to check it out.”