This Old House - 26
Dim candlelight filled the room they sought refuge in. As they caught their breath, they saw the soft glowing light glimmer off the faces of the porcelain dolls that lined the walls. The sight sent a shiver down their spines.
“Oh my,” Gary spoke in a whisper while glancing nervously around the room. “Welp, that’s it. No need to see the rest. This is definitely the creepiest room in the house.”
At the comment, the sheets of the bed, they now noticed, had lifted as though something sat beneath them. Then the flower-patterned sheets lit up the room in a pink hue as a flashlight shone out from within them. Kali and Gary drew closer to one another.
“Are you dead?” a girl's voice spoke in a soft whimper.
Kali took in a breath and steadied herself. The little girl sounded frightened. “Oh, no, sweetie. We aren’t dead.”
She paused, then rustled beneath the sheets. The girl spoke again with a voice that now sounded cold and distant. “Well, that just will not do, now will it?”
Kali and Gary looked at each other in terror and confusion. Gary reached for the doorknob, but it wouldn’t turn. Frantically, he twisted and tugged.
“We can help you, though.” The girl under the sheets growled, her flashlight clicking off.
Gary stopped struggling with the door and looked at Kali. “Did she say we? What did she mean, ‘we’?”
Kali just shook her head, her eyes open wide. In an instant, the sheets flew up, and something that looked like a little girl came flying toward them. Without thinking, Kali batted it down to the floor, where it lay motionless.
It was a porcelain doll whose face, half at least, had broken away upon impact. Shards were strewn across the hardwood floor. It jerked its face quickly toward Kali. One lifeless porcelain eye stared directly at her. In the newly formed hole on the other half of its face was a sunken eye surrounded by withered old flesh accompanied by a menacing grin whose small teeth shone bright white in the darkness around it.
“The door. Get the door!” Kali shouted as Gary went back to jiggling the handle and bumping his shoulder up against it.
The doll, or girl, or whatever it was, moved again. It worked its feet up under itself to stand, but its head and arms remained lifeless on the floor. Still, it scuttled away, under the bed, dragging its heavy porcelain head behind it, eyes locked on Kali the entire time. It giggled as it vanished into the darkness.
“Come on, Gary,” Kali said nervously as she saw the other dolls moving their heads to get a better look at the two of them.
Gary took two steps back then a run at the door. It burst open, nearly sending him to the floor as he stumbled down the hall trying to regain his balance. Kali went running after him, but when Gary looked back, she was gone. All he saw was a broken door and an empty room.
“Kali?” Gary called out.
“Gaaaary,” a voice replied in a soft, childish whisper.
Gary froze instantly. He knew that voice without having to think. It was a part of him long dead. He knew it was dead because he had killed her many times now.
As Kali ran out of the room, she felt something grab her by her hair, sending her feet flying out from under her. She fell backward, further than she thought she should have, and slowly came to a stop before she began falling forward. It was only a short distance before she landed on her stomach on a solid bed of dirt.
She took a moment to try and sort out what had just happened, then jolted upright, preparing herself for whatever fresh horror was lurking in the dark corners of this new room. She dusted off her clothes as she looked around. In front of her was the door, but before she could take a step, a gentle voice from behind came calling.
“My dear, are you hurt? Turn around. Let’s have a look at you.”
Kali began to turn but stopped short.
“Come on then, it’s okay, I won’t bite. Let’s have a good look now. Make sure you are okay.”
She turned her head back to the door in front of her in a sharp jerk as a poem, rather short, came instantly to the front of her mind.
It wants you to look, but don’t.
It says you’ll be fine; you won’t.
Kali started to walk to the door as the voice called out again, this time less kind, less patient. A warm breath washed over her with the words and caused the tools, she now noticed hanging from the ceiling, to sway and clatter in the soft breeze.
“Come on now, dear. Turn around so I can see you.”
Kali kept walking, but the floor, something was wrong with the floor. Her feet slid back a little with each step as they struggled for traction on the dirt floor.
“Gary, can you hear me?” the voice called out again from down the hall.
“Oh, I remember that voice,” a gruff voice rang out from inside Gary’s head. “That’s our Rosey, isn’t it?”
Gary became incensed. His voice was a low growl. “She wasn’t ours. She was mine, and you took her from me!”
“I didn’t do anything, Gary. I can’t even hold a knife. No, sir. We took her,” it trailed off into a bitter laugh.
Gary’s anger faded quickly as it was pushed aside by guilt. His eyes began to well up as he approached the end of the hall.
“Rose?” he muttered aloud. His voice was trembling.
“Gary,” she said, her voice was inches from his ear.
Arms wrapped around him and pulled him into the last room before the hall turned around the corner. The door slammed shut, and Gary stood there, terrified. Arms were no longer wrapped around him as he turned to survey the room. It was unmistakably her room, but he didn’t understand how it was in this house. Standing at the foot of the bed, staring right back at him, was little Rose.
“Look at me!” the voice growled angrily now. Kali realized, as she marched fruitlessly, that the room was tilting, and she was walking up an ever-steepening hill. The dirt loosened under each step and her feet slid back as far as she stepped forward. Inches from the door, the room rumbled.
“TURN AROUND AND FACE ME! I SAID I WOULDN’T HURT YOU!” the voice bellowed.
Kali lost her footing and fell to her stomach. Tools above her shook and fell from their hooks around her. As she slid back and away from the door, she managed to grab a small pair of gardening shears and stab them into the dirt.
The room continued to tilt, but the door was mere feet away. As she hung there helpless, she spied a screwdriver sliding past and grabbed it with her left hand. Then she managed to swing herself up and jab it into the dirt above her.
“LOOK AT ME, YOU COWARD!” the voice cried out again as Kali hung there against the dirt floor that was now a dirt wall.
Gary took a step toward Rose. His mouth hung open in disbelief. Rose took a step toward him.
“This can’t be happening. You’re…” Gary couldn’t say it aloud. It hurt too much.
Rose smiled back at him. “It’s okay, Gary. It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” Gary argued as he knelt before her, “it’s not okay, Rose. I killed you.”
“It’s okay, Gary, because I forgive you,” she responded. Rose opened her arms up to Gary, who, with only a second's hesitation, rushed into them and knelt, burying his tear-stricken face into her neck. She smelled the way he’d remembered, and he wept as she held him tight.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to squeak out between sniffling moans. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I left you there, I’m sorry for what I did when I came back.”
“Shhh. It’s okay.” Rose stroked his hair. “I’m the one who is sorry.”
Gary stopped crying and stood back so he could look Rose in the eyes. Her arms fell away as he spoke to her in a commanding voice. “No, you have nothing to apologize for. You hear me? Nothing.”
“But I just made you so angry, Gary. Just like Dad. I shouldn’t have made you so angry.”
Gary shook his head. “No, you didn’t do this. I did this, and I’m so sorry. I love you, Rose!”
Rose lifted her hand up between them, and Gary let go of her as she took a step back. Rose held out a knife. No, it wasn’t just a knife. Gary knew this knife. It was the knife.
Rose handed it to him. “Do it again, Gary. Go ahead. I know you want to. It was fun, actually! Really, it was!”
The smile on her face was more than unsettling as fresh tears rolled down Gary’s face. He took the knife from her. He didn’t know why, but he took it. He knew the weight and the feel of the wooden grip. He’d never forget.
“No, no, I won’t,” he mumbled as he handed the knife back to Rose. His eyes closed as the tears continued to run. “I won’t do it, Rose.”
When Gary opened his eyes, he was on top of her. Both his hands gripped the knife tight and were soaked red with blood. The blade was deep in her chest and stuck firmly in the bone. He remembered now how hard it was to take the knife out and stab her over and over. Something he didn’t expect.
“How could you, Gary?” Rose gurgled out the words through a mouth full of blood.
Gary broke down weeping, his hands still firm on the knife, when the voice in his head came slithering through his ear. “So nice you did it twice, huh, Gary?”
“No!” Gary yelled back at it, but only the sound of Rose, struggling to catch a breath she couldn’t seem to find, was all Gary heard in return. He closed his eyes and cried just as he had so long ago.
As Kali hung there, she felt something moving up her leg. It wrapped slowly around, and she resisted every urge to look as she tried to shake it off her. Then the thing, wet and warm, constricted and pulled. Her fingers nearly lost their grip as the tension around her leg strengthened.
Kali reaffirmed her grip and yelled out in pain as the thing pulled harder. That’s when she decided to go for it, as she knew it was only a matter of time before she lost her grip completely. She took a deep breath and yanked the screwdriver out from the floor. She couldn’t look that much she knew, so she would have to guess where to strike. She aimed just above her own knee, closed her eyes, then swung with all the force she could summon.
The screwdriver landed with a satisfying squish and stuck into its target. Kali felt only the tip of the screwdriver against her leg as it drove through the thing that felt like, against her hand, rough and bumpy, like a tongue. The thing screamed, and the tongue released its grip. Kali lost her grip on the sheers and started to fall back. The air in the room pulsated from the force of the creature’s scream, and the ground rumbled as the room righted itself once more. Kali slid to a stop only a couple of feet further from the door. She didn’t hesitate, couldn’t hesitate, as she jumped to her feet and ran to the exit.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING? LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!” the thing bellowed at her.
The floor began to tilt again as Kali flung the door open. She gripped the inside door frame tight just as the room went vertical again. She made quick work of getting her feet up on the frame, then hoisted the rest of her body through the doorway and rolled to the side where she lay on top of the open door. Before she caught her breath, she saw that tongue, now bloody, slither up through the doorway. She rolled off the door, grabbed the brass knob, and slammed the door shut, putting all her weight behind it. The floor righted itself again as she leaned against the door, panting and out of breath from the adrenaline that rushed through her.
Without warning, the door shattered and dropped out from behind her, and she began to fall back among its splintered remains. She quickly stretched out her arms and legs to stop herself from falling. The hot breath of the thing beneath blew past her with another horrifying scream. Kali, wide-eyed, flung herself from the doorway and rolled along the wall beside it. She didn’t stop this time. She ran. As the scream faded behind her, the world righted itself again, and she called out for Gary as she ascended an old wooden staircase at the end of the empty, concrete passageway.
When Gary opened his eyes again, there beneath his blade, lay Kali. Confused now and more distraught, Gary let go of the knife and brought his bloodied hands up to his face.
“No, no, no,” he stammered, then he carefully caressed Kali’s cheeks and hair. His voice was low and somber. “No, Kali, no. I’m so sorry.”
Kali summoned a smile that bled fresh beneath her tentacles. “It’s okay. Gary, you’ve saved me. Saved me from a lifetime of pain.”
Her right hand raised up to meet his cheek, and Gary leaned into it. And just as she touched him, her hand fell away, lifeless. Gary could no longer feel the slow beat of her fading heart beneath him. Then he heard her voice, screaming out for him, far in the distance before he passed out.
Kali blew through the foyer once more as she emerged from the basement and rushed upstairs with no hesitation. The broken man lay writhing on the floor as his severed arm reached out for her. She ran past without so much as a glance. She only hoped Gary was still upstairs. Still waiting for her.
“Gary!” she cried out, just once, before she bumped into him as she rounded a corner at the end of the hall.
She let out a loud squeak of a scream and put her hand on her chest in relief. “Oh, thank God, it’s just you. Come on, let’s go!” she grabbed his hand and moved, but he didn’t. When Kali looked back to ask him what the holdup was, she saw his face. A hard scowl ran across it, and anger filled his eyes.
“Gary?” Kali called cautiously as she stepped back.
“Kali,” he replied in kind with a twisted sort of smile stretched across his face.
Then she saw his hand, the one she hadn’t grabbed, in which he held a knife dripping with blood.
“No, Gary,” she said as she shook her head.
“Yes,” was all he growled as he took a step toward her. Kali wasted no time and ran. Gary followed quickly after.
For Kali, the halls seemed impossible, and when she finally reached the end of one, Gary’s heavy breath was always one step behind her. There would be a turn that led to another hall. Then another turn to yet another hall. A maze, she thought. Four right turns, then a left? She counted them. It wasn’t possible.
When she glanced back, there was Gary, always running after her knife in hand. Then a staircase. Kali scrambled up as Gary tripped, chasing after her. She didn’t have time to appreciate his clumsy misstep. She kept running, and after the second hall, she noticed he wasn’t there. She slowed as she rounded another corner. To her shock, on the floor before her, Gary lay there face down.
“That’s not possible,” Kali whispered to herself. She thought for only a moment and realized it couldn’t have been him chasing her, so she ran over to help.
“Gary,” Kali said as she shook him. Careful to keep checking around them for any more surprises. “Gary, wake up.”
Gary moved and could lift his head. “Kali? Kali, I’m sorry,” he muttered with his eyes still shut.
“Gary, come on. Wake up.”
Gary’s eyes shot open, and he rolled over and grabbed Kali, pulling her to the floor.
“Kali, you’re okay. Thank goodness!” he said, relieved to see her alive. He wrapped his arms around her in an embrace.
Kali, shocked at first, hugged him back. “Come on, Gary, we gotta find the attic in this horrible place.”
“Right,” Gary replied and let her go. As he sat up, he noticed something on the ceiling above them. “Oh, well then. Would you look at that?”
“What is it?”
Gary lay propped on his elbows and pointed to the ceiling. “The attic.”
Kali stood and looked up. “Great! Let’s get out of here!”
Gary worked himself onto his feet with Kali’s help. He held his head and winced once he was upright. After taking a moment to shake it off, he reached up to pull the door open. The ladder unfolded quickly, nearly slamming right into Gary. He was quicker and managed to dodge its unexpected advance. “Okay, I’ll go first,” his resolve hardened.
He went up to climb the steps but stopped to turn back to Kali. “Maybe we ought to hold hands this time, so I don’t lose you.”
Kali nodded and grabbed his outstretched hands. They climbed together slowly. Gary had a difficult time having to reach back as he ascended, but he refused to let her go. Once he got to the top, he was able to pull her up the rest of the way. Kali felt weightless as she left the final rung and hung in the air for a moment before landing in the attic beside Gary.
The attic was old and dusty and cluttered. Just as you’d expect an old attic to be. At the end, they saw a thin fog and a round window, through which they saw the fog was thick and white. The rain was still coming down hard, and the attic made it sound more like a roar. The roof was leaking near the window, and a stream of water was flowing slowly from the puddle beneath it.
“I say we make a run for it. I don’t want to spend much time here,” Gary said, his eyes locked onto the window.
“Agreed,” Kali replied. “Run and jump it is.”
“One,” Gary began.
“Two,” Kali replied.
“Three,” they said together and ran through the attic and, at the end, leaped through the old window, sending the glass out into the fog and the rain alongside the two of them.