Short Fiction [in installments each Halloween] by Dennis Lowery
DISCLAIMER: No cats, small boys or Realtors were harmed while writing this story.
Early morning — 5:22 AM (according to the time stamp on my file) — October 29, 2015, while drinking my coffee I came across a public domain picture that begged to have a scene for Halloween written about it. I wrote the first piece in about 15 minutes and used that image as a cover. Almost a year later, on October 20, 2016, I revisited it — again with my morning coffee — and wrote the second part. October2017, I added more to the story. Now, 2018 has been added.
[Written in October 2015]
1313 Fairmont, October 2015
Strange things had been going on since Timmy had come home from the hospital after his accident. The first day he was quiet, sat and just stared at me. When I put him to bed, no “Goodnight, Mommy,” came from him. Then Princess, our cat, went missing in the night. She’d been asleep at the foot of his bed and was gone the next morning.
All that day Timmy stayed in his room, sitting in the middle of his bed, staring at the closet door. At bedtime, again, no hug or kiss. Wearing the robe from the hospital, he lay on his back with his head turned so he could watch the closet that the contractor had unsealed in the renovation when we moved in. “It’s okay, Timmy” I reassured him. “There’s nothing in there,” I opened its door “see… nothing to hurt you.” Silence… just that gaze locked on the closet. I smoothed the bandage on the back of his head, turned out the light and shut the bedroom door behind me. The doctors said it would take time, but I still worried.
* * *
The red numbers projected on the ceiling told me it was 2:06 AM. I had been sleeping only an hour—it took longer and longer for me to finally fall asleep—when I woke to the sound of my bedroom door opening.
He stood in the doorway, the hall light shining behind him. His eyes were empty sockets but with an eerie glow and I heard a soft mewling sound come from him. Princess’s body dangled from one hand. I came wide awake and knew that wasn’t my Timmy anymore!
~ ~ ~
[Written in October 2016]
The Brokerage, October 2017
“I’m done.” Elaine leaned the ‘For Sale’ signs against the wall behind her desk. She looked at her partner. “The estate will have to find another Realtor.”
“We need this listing and those old houses, especially if they’re already reno’d, sell.” Carmen had never seen Elaine rattled like this. Even with the ugliest property or most extreme asshole buyer or seller. “It happened again?”
“Yes.” Elaine rubbed her face with the palms of her hands then leaned back in her chair. “They kept hearing it as I took them through the house.” She looked at Carmen. “Finally, one woman literally ran out the door.”
“Like before, you still didn’t hear anything?” Carmen put two folders in her briefcase and rose. She walked over and sat on the corner of Elaine’s desk. Her friend’s face still had that pale, makeup-less look. “Hey, are you okay?”
Elaine looked up. “No. I didn’t hear it when they did. But—” she stopped and rubbed her face again. Shaking her head, she reached for her purse and stood. “I’m going home.” She walked toward the door.
Following, Carmen touched her on the shoulder. “But what?”
“I went through the house to make sure it was locked up. Windows down and latched… you know the drill.” Elaine took a deep breath, the kind when you are trying to quell some strong emotion or when you are about to say or do something you’re not sure of. “When I went down the stairs, at the foot was a small boy.” They had both stepped through the office door, and Elaine watched as Carmen locked it and set the security alarm. “He stared up at me and asked, ‘Are you going to spend the night?’” Elaine paused wondering if she should keep going, then continued. “I looked down right into his eyes, and…” she shuddered. “Then I noticed he was holding a cat, large yellow eyes in its black face.” She hesitated again. “The cat was looking at me, Carmen. I mean staring. Something… they… seemed wrong. The boy didn’t move as I stepped off the stairs, so I pushed past him through the entryway to open the door and step outside. When I turned to have him leave so I could lock the door behind me, he was gone. I didn’t want to but went back inside to see if I could find him, but couldn’t. I left again wondering why he was out on the street, wearing a bathrobe, and wandering into houses. And as I locked the door…” she turned to go down the steps to the sidewalk.
Carmen hurried after her, heels clicking on concrete, “What happened? Elaine, what–”
“Then I heard the cat’s scream.” Left hand on her car door she turned to Carmen. “And a child laughing.”
* * *
[Written in October 2017]
The Brokerage, October 2018
“Hey, did that old listing on Fairmont finally sell while I was on vacation?”
Carmen looked up at Ernie who had just set on the table his grease-soaked paper bag with two sausage and egg biscuits and hash browns from Martha’s Diner down the block. How can someone eat those every single-frickin’ day? She wondered if he ate them each morning while on vacation. She sure missed Elaine. After her breakdown—she kept seeing, so she claimed, that boy—she had read the history of the house. Terrible how that woman—the owner—had died… and her son, she shook her head. But she had heard Elaine was still resting well at that facility in the Adirondacks. “Not that I know of… why do you ask?” she answered him pulling her papers away from the seeping bag.
“Kinda funny, then.” He was already chomping through the first breakfast sandwich. “I drove right by it last night on my way home from the airport and saw a light on.” He brought out a handful of napkins, peeled one off and wiped his chin.
She shrugged, “It’s been a while since it’s been shown—at least as far as I know, now that it’s an open listing with the bank. But I think they kept the power on for it, maybe someone showed the property and left a switch on.”
“Yeah,” with another wipe of his chin Ernie stood and pulled his phone out. “That’s what I thought but… I pulled over and took this.” He tapped the screen and flicked to find what he wanted her to see. “That’s the third-floor bedroom window that looks over the street.” He slid the phone over to her. Carmen had pivoted it to face her and stopped, jerking her hand away. “Shit!”
[Written October 31, 2018]
The Brokerage, A Week Later
“Okay, here’s what I found out.”
Ernie looked up at Sarah then at the slim manila folder in her hand. He moved his listing binder to one side of the table, he couldn’t finish it anyway until the photographer delivered the Carmichael property photos. “So, what you got?”
“I visited the historical society and…” she reached a hand toward the plate of cookies, “can I have one?”
He nodded as she took two and stuffed one in her mouth, orange icing flaked off onto the table.
“Okay… I found out a little about 1313 Fairmont. It’s one of the oldest houses in the state, and the property—the land—has had an occupied structure dating back to when only Native Americans lived here. It seems as long as people have inhabited the area, someone has built there and lived… but…” A wary look came in her eyes, and she paused.
Ernie took a jack-o’-lantern cookie for himself and rocked back in his chair, “But what Sarah?”
“Why did Carmen go there that night?”
“What?” The non sequitur only slightly threw him as that question had been on his mind a lot lately.
“I mean, we—she—didn’t have that listing… the bank still owns it. Though you’d think someone would’ve bought it by now, it is a prime spot and all… but…”
“Any more buts, Sarah or can you tell me what you found out?”
“Did you ask me to check into it because of what happened to Carmen? And what happened before to that other agent Elaine?”
Ernie wasn’t sure why; he had not known Carmen for long, but the reason didn’t matter. All he knew was that the house on Fairmont felt wrong and God only knows why Carmen stopped there one evening after he had shown her the picture of the boy in the third-floor window. Last week she had been found dead on the ground outside the house at the entrance steps. The third-floor window’s glass had been shattered from the inside as if she’d run and jumped through it. Had to be awful fast to clear the second-floor balcony, he thought, and Carmen wasn’t built for sprinting. But there had been no evidence of anyone else in the house. He had kept that picture on his phone—someone, a boy had been in the house just a week ago—though a thousand times his fingers had danced over deleting it before he had changed his mind. And now he had heard from Davis at the First National’s Real Estate Owned department that they had found a buyer… a British couple.
“What else did you learn Sarah?”
“Okay… okay,” her eyes slid from his to the folder she held. She took a deep breath, “It’s a bad luck house. Whoever lives there has accidents… and there’s been two murders.”
Ernie sat forward, the front two legs of his chair clicking on the tile floor. “Other than the woman back in 2015?”
Sarah took a large photo from the folder in her hand. “1943… a married couple, stabbed to death,” and handed it to him.
The house looked almost the same. Hannah Bennett’s contractor, back in 2014, had done a great job restoring the structure to the original design and architecture. She had barely moved in October 2015 when someone had killed her and taken her son Timothy. He shook his head and held the photo to the light. It was a picture of a photo of the property with a note attached to it. “I can’t quite read this,” he squinted.
“The woman at the society wouldn’t let me borrow it–it’s their only scan of a photo from police archives–not even touch it or re-scan it, so I snapped a pic with my iPhone. The light was a bit off,” Sarah pulled a slip of paper from the folder, “so I wrote what it said.”
Ernie took it from her and read aloud: “October 31, 1943… 1313 Fairmont, case number SFPD-43-9278821. Carl Dulatch must’ve been the homicide detective. This part,” he pointed at her photo, the Fairmont house’s photo and note in it, “is that this?” He ran a finger along the last of her scribble on the piece of paper she’d given him. Sarah nodded, and he read it: “Two dead — parents — one missing — daughter, named Susan… eight years old.” He set the paper down on the photo. A girl disappeared in 1943, her parents found murdered and then 72 years later, another parent is killed in the same house, and their child is gone. Sarah must’ve seen the look on his face.
“Yeah, the last two owners died — murdered — and their only child was taken, never found.” She pulled a sheet of paper, a printout of a property tax sheet, “Some organization—D’Arkane Investments, Ltd.—paid the real estate taxes, acquired the property in a tax sale and owned it from 1947 until 2014 when it was bought by Hannah Bennett.”
Ernie blinked, “And now the bank has a new buyer…” He reached for the phone to call Davis at First National, he had to find out if this British couple had any children.
* * *
September 2015 | 1313 Fairmont
It came from the top of the stairs. With each step, the walls became more stained and worn, wooden treads more splintered and scored. A reversal of efforts in remodeling and modernization. The cold followed, it always did. The malevolence that possessed not just the home and its occupant—there had been many—but the soil and stone beneath, cast off bitter radiation.
She—as if gender mattered—enjoyed the chill and the aroma of decay, the eventual state of things that die. Stopping half-way down, she set her doll—the girl’s when she had lived—Betty at her feet. She heard the new people moving in below, the laughter of a young boy, and looked forward to playing with… others. It had been such a long time.
Though the unnatural was eternal, it liked the young. They were such fine vessels.
TO BE CONTINUED—HALLOWEEN 2019