For the first time that day, an apparition grabbed Walter Hutchens. Unfortunately, it would not be the last.
Walter wheeled around, discovering a translucent glimmer of an older woman in a dingy ebony dress with lengthy sleeves buttoned up to her throat. Despite her feeble body and gaunt cheeks, she had the gaze of a predator.
He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. “You aren’t real, only a lie.”
The older woman shifted her wiry silvery hair out of her eyes, but the hatred stayed. “Lies are a peculiar thing. You can try to conceal them, but the more you do, the more the truth becomes clearer.”
With all his might, Walter yanked his arm from her grasp and plummeted to the ground. She dissipated as an unsettling mist fell to the earth.
After hurrying to his feet, he massaged his neck, staring at the Blackthorne house. This place ain’t for the weak-minded, he reminded himself.
A howling March wind echoed through the surrounding woodlands as voices of the past filled the air. Walter trudged up the stairs to the mouth of the beast.
Uncertainty transfixed him at the vivid red door as his body shuddered with horror before pushing it open. His nose wrinkled as a wretched stench leaked out, almost gagging him. In the doorway, he replayed the appalling and intolerable horrors from the Blackthorne murders, which he hoped to forget soon. Undaunted, he went ahead through the archway into the unknown, prepared to appease Joseph Blackthorne’s last wishes.
Blood sloshed under his feet as an industrial-size mop struggled to absorb the remnants of Joseph and his wife, Francis.
Walter laid two unzipped body bags on the floor. First, he dragged Francis’s body across the floor as her hair left a trail of blood. Once at the body bag, he put her feet in, crossed her arms on her chest, and zipped it up. Next, Walter—with a morose expression—gripped Joseph by the ankles and dragged him over to the next body bag. He tucked him in and crossed his arms on his chest. His eyes pooled as a tear dropped on Joseph’s cheek.
Joseph’s hands were rigid and cold. “I’m goin’ to miss ya old friend,” Walter said in a sepulchral tone.
The cadaver grasped Walter’s hand as he tried wrestling it away. A voice echoed in front of him and then behind him. But instantaneously, the unintelligible sound came from every direction, getting closer, louder, and frantic. “Help me, Walter. I am trapped. We’re all trapped.” A chilling presence passed through his body, leaving his fingertips and toes numb as the cadaver released its grip.
Walter’s heart pounded against his rib cage while struggling to breathe. His body at once shook. He went to zip up the body bag but realized the zipper was already at the top.
Walter fell backward on his ass. “Was it zipped up the whole time?” he asked himself. “Did anything even grab me?”
He drew his knees to his chest and rocked. Nothing grabbed me, he thought repeatedly.
Meanwhile, a stone throws away, Robert Thompson—a childhood friend of Walter—pulled up to the house. He leaned over the steering wheel and gazed up at its roof’s crooked lines against the drab sky. The place unnerved and freaked him out. As much as he wanted to leave forever, a darkness in the pit of his stomach told him one thing. He would be back.
Unwilling to move, it took an act of a moral force to lift his foot on the bottom stair leading to the front door. To continue up the stairs, it took a higher power, God.
A knock on the door jamb startled Walter. He wheeled around, “Robert, you scared the bejesus out of me.” He scurried to Robert, patting his face. “Is that you?”
Robert removed Walter’s hands from his face. “Yeah, buddy. I am here. You do not look so good. How are you holding up?”
“All right, I guess. I am worryin’ about Elliott and his psyche. Blackwater rips apart people with sound minds.”
“Where is Elliott?”
Walter pulled out a rag, wiping the sweat from his brow. “Elliott is stayin’ with some friends until I can make things normal again, or at least the new normal.”
“Walter, where’s another mop so that I can pitch in?”
“Sorry, I only have one, but you can grab that bucket of soap water and a sponge to clean the blood off the wall.”
Robert picked up the bucket and walked over to the wall. He set the pail down while reading the wall in his head. Bobbie did it. Instead of asking any questions, he dipped the sponge in the soapy water and scrubbed away.
Walter dumped the blood-stained water in the kitchen sink and refilled the mop bucket with clean water. He rinsed the mop before returning to cleaning the floor.
Robert pulled out a chair and sat down. “I’m done. Someone needs to paint because the blood discolored the wall,” he said while shuffling through a pile of drawings on the table.
“I’ll have to get some paint. Did ya buy the lumber?” Walter asked.
“Yeah, I got twenty sheets of plywood in my truck.”
“That should be enough for now.”
“Walter, did you see any of these drawings?”
“You need to see this drawing.”
Walter leaned the mop against the wall and walked over to Elliott. “What do ya want to show me?”
Robert held up a piece of paper. “Is this the Blackthorne house?”
“I reckon. Why?”
“There are bodies under the house with an ‘X’ for each eye. Are they dead?”
Annoyance took control of Walter’s voice. “Hell, I don’t know. A kid’s imagination can run wild.” A fake smile masked his frustration.
Robert tossed the drawing on the table. “I just find this one strange.”
“Whenever Elliott gets back, I’ll ask him. Now, can you stop all this poppycock so that I can get back to work?”
Robert stared at the next sketch in awe. It showed the water well with a blueish beam reaching to the heavens. “Sure.”
“Whenever you are ready, I can use some fresh air, and we can stage the wood by the windows. This house can twist your psyche until getting what it wants.”
“No arguments from me. This place freaks me out.” His eyes bounced around the room as he scratched his head. On the way to the door, a voice entered his head, saying, “You are welcome back anytime.” He turned towards Walter, befuddled. “Did you say something?”
“Never mind, I’ll meet you at my truck,” Robert said before leaving abruptly.
Walter watched Robert darting out the front door understanding it was a privilege leaving this house. People assumed Blackwater was the netherworld, but it was no closer to the nethermost of Hell than the pearly gates of Heaven.
Although his mind was unstable, Walter suddenly understood the darkness of Blackwater. He would never fall victim to the perpetual horror of this house. It could never betray him again.
Because this home was not for a family but a stockpile for the dead, a charnel house. And Walter would feed it plenty.