Ella I.

The Old William's Place

Ghosts lurk in the woods. They wander the hills around the graveyard, a tiny fenced in thing nestled in the trees. Most in their right mind never wander the graveyard after dark, for fear that the Lady on the Gray will come for them, and the dead will rise. Most every human has once feared Death and the ghosts that follow on his heels. Yes, Death scares many, but it has never scared one girl in particular…

Until she walked the very floors of Death's house.

***

Martha laughed, throwing back her head, her dark eyes gleaming with delight. "Max, there are no ghosts in the old William's house, we all know that!" Poor little Max winced.

"Martha… I'd be careful what you say. Maybe it isn't haunted, but the whole family disappeared not all that long ago. Anything could have happened. People have heard -"

"There are no ghosts in the old William's place. I'll prove it. I'm not scared." Martha said firmly. "I never get scared."

Pride comes before a fall. Max thought. He was wiser than people thought.

Martha began to walk, her long stride making it hard for her little brother to keep up. "But Martha, Old Lady Lane says-"

"Lady Lane is crazy, Max. Everybody says she snapped when her granddaughter, Hestia, died."

"The ghosts took Hestia." Max said, shivering despite the unnaturally warm Spring air. Martha shot him a look. "No, they didn't, Max. She got sick."

 

They walked in silence until they reached the old William's place. It was a small house, with boarded over windows and a sagging porch. According to rumor, the William's family had been wealthy once, but they hadn't flaunted it, and nobody knew where the money, if there ever had been any, had gone. Martha jumped up onto the first step, and took off her finely wrought old watch (one that had been her mother's, and her mother's before her, before the prestigious actress had died) and gave it to her little brother. "If I’m not back in twenty minutes, then run down to the Mitchell's home, and call the police from there."

"Because the ghosts will have gotten you?" Max asked fearfully.

"No, Max, because I'll have fallen through the rotten floorboards." she said, even though below her cool exterior she was trembling inside. This was the William's house. An infamous place. A house that had reportedly swallowed up its inhabitants, spiriting them away without a trace. Even the police couldn't find a trace of the family. The family hadn't left a single clue to where they had gone, Except a bloodstain at the top of the staircase. Many thought that they had all been murdered by a madman. Maybe the old hermit who lived nearby here, deep in the woods.

Closing her eyes, Martha pushed open the front door. It's rusted hinges creaked ominously, and the wooden floor groaned as she stepped in.

She could never admit that the old house did scare her. She had to keep up her brave face, for her brothers sake, and convince him that there was nothing to fear. She just had to wander the old house for a while, wave down from an upper story window or something -

The door slammed shut behind her. All on its own. A chill began to creep down her spine.

"Hello?" Martha whispered hesitantly, squinting into the bowels of the old house. The wind whistled around the house (Was there a wind when she entered?), and in it she thought that she could hear the wailing of so many voices.

"Please, please, no, not the baby too! PLEASE!"

"Who are you and what-"

"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"

"Daddy? DADDY!"

"There's no escaping me… I have come for the kill."

Martha clapped her hands over her ears, and she sank to the floor, trying to shut out the plaintive voices. Had it been twenty minutes yet? Where was Max?

Suddenly, the wind stopped as soon as it had come. Martha stood, her body shaking, her breath coming in gasps, her hands over her eyes, trying to forget about all the voices, the screams, the smooth voice of the murderer…

She opened her eyes, and stifled a gasp. The floor… The floor… The wooden boards were splattered with a dried, reddish brown substance - Blood.

Dried blood splattered the floor with a horrible, gruesome pattern. Martha looked down at her hands. Her palms, her fingers, they were caked with the red substance, dried and already flaking away. Her knees, her hands, the soles of her shoes, the places she had touched her face, all covered in the dust. The dried blood that coated the floor.

Martha put a hand over her mouth, trying not to to throw up, but that didn’t help. She could taste it and smell it now, the metallic tang. She stumbled back, to the wall, trying the windows, the door - Locked. The windows were boarded shut, the door locked tight.

Martha began to panic. In a daze, she ran. She didn't care where to, she just ran.

Up the stairs she went, trying the windows, banging on the boards, praying that somehow she could get out… Somehow.

Martha threw open the doors that lined the upstairs hallway, leaping over a puddle of dried blood that lay at the top of the stairs, revulsion and fear roiling in her gut.

There was one door left, one at the end of the hall. She stumbled towards it, praying that there was an open window in the room. Praying that she could yell down to her brother.

Martha reached for the handle, her fingers closing around the cold metal. Rust scraped her fingers. Desperate, she wrenched the doorknob. The door did not move. She hurled herself at the door, turning the knob.

The door opened with a screeching, heart-wrenching wail. Martha tumbled to the floor, her body collapsing onto the rough boards. She whimpered dejectedly.

Slowly, she raised her head, knelt, took a deep breath, and stood on trembling legs. She looked around, and choked on a scream.

An old-fashioned canopy bed stood in the center of the room and, lying on the bed there was a woman. A woman, but not a woman. Even from the door, Martha could see that her skin was yellowed. It wasn't moldering, not visibly, just terribly preserved. The room stank of rot. Martha tried to turn away, wanting to leave, but her body would not cooperate. She was pulled toward the corpse in the bed.

Soon she pulled close enough to see the awful details. The sunken eyes, the papery hands with their slim fingers folded on the woman's chest. The white nightdress, whose collar was stained brownish-red with blood that had dried there, streaming from a gaping wound hacked into her throat. A cat lay beside the woman in the bed, it's fur coming away from it's loose skin. The animal was just a sack of bones. Martha’s body leaned over the bed, the stench of decay hitting her in the face.

She was close enough to brush noses with the dead woman. Away. Martha wanted to get away. She wanted to scream for Max. She wanted to yell she wanted to run, she wanted to - the dead woman's eyes snapped open. They were as black as night. No iris. No white. Martha did scream then, as the corpse smiled, baring yellowed teeth, and grabbed her arm, clutching at the fabric of Martha's sweater.

Martha pulled away, screaming bloody murder. And she ran. She ran to the door, which slammed shut before her, and as she wrenched at the knob, the cat sprang from the bed, limping towards her, it's yellow eyes tracking her every move. Through some terrible phenomenon, music began to play, a haunting violin's wail spilling into the room. Martha was crying now, fat tears welling in her eyes and coursing down her cheeks, as the violin grew louder and the cat drew nearer.

She shoved the door with her hip, begging to God, to the gods, to someone, to open the door!

The door collapsed. It fell from its hinges with a crash, spooking the cat, who sprang back, slinking back towards his mistresses bed. And Martha fell again, her body hitting the door hard, the suddenly rotten wood giving way beneath her, leaving her legs and arms scraped up. All she wanted was away from here. The violin music grew louder and louder. Martha scrambled to her feet, and practically fell down the stairs. Perhaps the front door…

She was running so fast that she tripped over something on the stairs, and she fell into the banister. Suddenly there was a boy standing in front of her, his black eyes staring at her, studying her face. He smiled, baring yellowed teeth, the stench of death and decay pouring off of him. There was a knife stuck handle deep in his heart. He clutched a book under his arm. The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Martha felt sick. So sick. She turned away from him. On the staircase above, there was a massive dog, just lying there, its mottled pelt reddened. Blood. So much blood. She had tripped over the dog. The dead dog. She turned and flew down the stairs, past the little boy with the book, who stared down at her as she fled. The music grew louder, a piano joining in. She turned sideways just before she hit the front door at full tilt. Now she was staring into the houses living room, watching two people play their instruments. A girl sat at the piano, laughing and playing, and a man fingered the violin. A woman stood towards the back, cradling a baby in her strong arms, smiling at the music. All four had bloody wounds in their throats, their sides, their chests.

The music grew louder, the baby wailed, and the smell of rot grew ever stronger.

Martha leaned over and threw up, retching all over the floor. The dead were everywhere. The mother, the father, the son, the two daughters, one only a baby, and the cook. She knew the story. She had fallen to her knees somehow, and she stood again, she always stood up again.

Martha just wanted out. Away from the walking corpses, the houses ghosts. She wanted away. The ghosts were real, she knew that. All she wanted was away.

With the last ounces of her strength she hurled herself at the front door, clawing at the knob.

She scrabbled helplessly at the wooden door, feeling the dead eyes of six dead creatures on her, hearing again the sound of voices.

She almost cried when the door opened, and for the third time that day she fell to the floor. The sagging porch finally collapsed under her sudden weight, and the door blew shut. She fell through the rotten floorboards to rest on the cold earth beneath. Her body felt bruised and battered, and her millions of tiny scrapes and cuts stung.

Martha thought she could hear a soft, smooth voice whispering in her ear: "The whole family dead! Do you believe in ghosts now? They never caught the murderer, you know… They never even suspected murder. I hid the bodies well."

Martha screamed. The murderer! She tossed and flailed on the cold earth under the porch, the lattice casting shadows over her as her sides heaved. Her face was soon muddied, her tears wetting the soil. The murderers voice and the eyes of the dead haunting her.

She didn't know how long she lay there, the memories overcoming her. When she heard a voice again, the voice? She screamed again, curling into a ball, her arms wrapped tight around her body. The voice came again, and soon she could understand words. She didn't recognize the voice.

"Hello? Little girl? Are you alright? The porch… How did this happen?" She looked up, still sobbing, into a face that seemed oddly familiar. The man looked like he was twenty, maybe. He reminded her of her father.

"I just want to go home." She whispered softly.

The man went pale. He stammered something, and she heard him sit down hard. Then she heard her name. "Martha?" he murmured. "But-"

There was a pause, then she saw his face again, leaning over the hole in the porch. A hand, rough, warm and calloused from hard work, reached out for hers. Shaking, she placed hers in his. Something about him…

He lifted her from the hole, murmuring unintelligible things under his breath. He sounded hopeful. Hopeful for what? He carried her down the porch steps and set her gently in the tall, wild grass. The trees seemed bigger here now, the underbrush wilder.. The path was overgrown. What had happened?

The man leaned over her, his dark eyes twinkling. The sun was setting behind him, leaving the details of his face cast in deep shadow. He started looking her over, searching for broken bones.

"I tried running and calling the police when you didn’t come back." He said gently. "I've been waiting."

His words didn't make sense to her. They just didn't make sense. She had been in the William's old house for around fifteen to twenty-five minutes. Where was Max?

"My brother." She croaked softly. The man smiled wryly. "He's fine. He's led a good life, missing his sister. He learned how to work wood, and served as the best carpenter this town has ever seen, according to his wife. He just turned twenty-two, so young for marriage, according to his mother. He still comes back here every day before getting started on a new project, just to check on the old place and see if his sister Martha would ever show her face again. He misses her. Martha's friends, now grown and married or moved away to big old cities miss her. They still contact Max regularly asking after her." He laughed humorlessly. "What’s your name, dear?" He asked softly. He seemed to already know the answer, his voice, the tone of it told her that.

None of this made sense. Only the question. She suddenly felt very, very young.

"My name is Martha Brown." she whispered, wiping at her tears. The man's eyes widened a bit, but he hid it well. He smiled as if something he had expected had come true.

"Well, Martha, you may not believe me, but… My name is Maxwell Brown. My nickname is Max. It’s been a very, very long time since you have been outside, dear."

Martha reeled back. Max. This was Max? Her baby brother Max? She retched dryly. "I - Max?" She asked softly, again.

"I'm here, little sister." Max said. "I'm going to carry you home now. Mother and my wife, Carrie, and the kids, Martha and Ben, they're going to be very surprised." He lifted her in his strong arms again.

This was her brother. Twelve years had passed. Her eight-year-old little brother was now twenty-two, and she was still eleven.

"I missed you." Her brother whispered into her hair. The nightmare was over.

"I love you, Max." She whispered, softly enough that he wouldn't hear, "Little brother."

THE END