This piece is dedicated to the lovely and talented Deborah Mitton (@DeborahMitton), author of “Ten for the Devil” Thank you so much, Deborah!
I shoved the crusted key into the lock, heedless to the unnatural smoothness with which the decrepit machinery admitted me, flung the door wide and raced inside, fully expecting to come face to face with whomever’s, or whatever’s, footsteps I had heard from without. I found myself standing in utter darkness. I fumbled my torch out of my pocket and flicked the blade of light this way and that. There was no one. I stood alone in the midst of the ancient entryway, the slanted supports of the house jutting above me, draped in cobwebs, with moonlight from the narrow windows behind me and the tall, thin window that sat over the landing of the main staircase in front of me, the only source of illumination in the moldering space.
Or so I thought. After a moment I could discern a faint glow coming from somewhere on the floor above me. Wary of falling through any rotted wood or plaster, I crept forward, testing each step of the wide staircase before trusting it with my weight, the sound of my pounding heart the only noise meeting my ears. As I turned the corner on the landing, I could see with frightening clarity where the glow was coming from. Under the closed door of the upstairs room at the top of the stairs, I spied the dim, flickering light of a candle.
Would that I had turned back then and remained ignorant of my folly! But things had progressed too far to retreat now and I was determined to unravel the mystery which had presented itself to me, convinced that whoever might lie on the other side of that door held the answers. Silent as a shadow, I mounted the final steps, crossed the hall to the closed portal in one long stride and leaned against the wood, straining my senses for any indication of occupancy from within.
Hearing nothing, I eased the door open with my shoulder, for no knob or handle remained to work the entrance. Inside there was no one. A candle, burned down to little more than a stump, drowning in the quagmire of its own waxy remains, sputtered on a worm-eaten desk on the far side of the room. Books, little more than dust filled shells, lined the walls. As I advanced I discerned that beside the candle lay a piece of parchment, yellowed and curled just like the paper upon which the deed had been written. A quill pen lay across the page, its tip shining too brightly to be old or dry, evidence of its recent use. I picked up the feather with the end of my fingers. A drop of thick red liquid, smelling fouler than any man-made ink could, seeped from the point. The smell of rancid blood was horrendous to my senses and I flung the wretched thing to the ground in disgust.
That was when my eyes happened to fall upon the parchment itself. At the very top was a passage written in shaky, intersecting lines and shapes similar to the ones that sat over the front door. I carefully removed this section and was placing it in my coat pocket when a familiar name beneath it caught my attention. The first in a series of names, Jedidiah Ripton’s signature had faded to a brown color no ink could mimic. The names of his wife and children followed him, as included on the deed. Below them were others, some bearing the Ripton name, some that were strangers to me.
I stifled a cry when I read the second to last name on the list. Here, written in the same scrawl I had come to recognize, was my father’s name. He had been to this horrid place before his death after all. With a growing sense of dread and almost against my will, I read the final name on the page.
After that moment, I can be certain of very little of what actually took place. That I screamed seems a certainty. I lost consciousness, or at the very least lost any sense of myself and my thoughts, only to wake some four hours later, lying across my childhood bed, my tattered clothes covered in dust, mud, and leaves.
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