DISCLAIMER: This is an original work of fiction. All characters are the property of the author and cannot be used without permission
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a very dark piece and warning is given to those who are sensitive to such issues.
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© October 2013
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Abandoned. Afraid. Alone. These three words repeat over and over in my head. Darkness surrounds me, flows through me, consumes me, voraciously feeding on my soul like a starving lion. I cannot see and I silently beg God for something to light my way. As if answering my plea jagged bolts of lightning cross the sky, casting an eerie ghostly light over the surrounding area.
Before me is an old house, dilapidated and broken. The wet, decaying wood assaults my senses, its smell reminiscent of death, like a rotting corpse left to time and the elements to become dust. The building stands against them, defying nature itself to end its misery.
There is life here, I can feel it. Wood, paint and metal, all breathing in an out like a living entity. It is calling to me I know, enticing me to enter its portal. I am hesitant, but only for a moment. Its pull is too strong for me to resist.
My feet move without my knowledge, shuffling steps towards the unknown. I try to stop myself and I cry to the heavens. Where is my will? My savior? I have no will but the will to comply. I am so, so tired, having no memory of how I came to this place, yet I am drawn to it.
My hand reaches out and touches the railing, cold wet wood sitting under my fingertips. It feels like an electrical shock, sending me back a step or two in reaction. Sharp tingles leave my hand numb for a minute or two, making be re-think my course of action. Yet still I have to go. I cannot ignore the call. My second attempt is less painful, as if I have already imprinted myself on it and it recognizes me. A strange thought, but it is a strange house.
Shards of bright light cross the night sky, lighting my way as I ascend the stairs. Stark terror has flooded me. Every step I take is one step closer to my fear. It is all-encompassing and I am barely holding onto my last shred of sanity. Why can I not turn away? What hold does this house have over me?
I watch silently as my hand reaches for the doorknob, for that is all I am able to do. My mind and my body no longer have control over the events taking place and I am bound to helplessly follow whatever will transpire.
The door gives way to me, allowing me entrance. A cool breeze touches my face, as if the house is exhaling, its rancid breath smelling of stale air, stagnant dust and old history. The darkness unsettles me and I wish for some light. As if answering my call, the oil lamps along the wall spring into life, flickering flames burning brightly as if they had done so for centuries.
My skin is bitterly cold, as much from the unnerving feeling I am getting from the old house as the coolness of the air. And yet… yet… my heart is ablaze, burning with an unquenchable fire that is slowly melting my exterior of ice.
The rain is pouring down outside and I am grateful to be out of it. A friendly fire would help but the house is empty. I venture in further, not sure what I will find but knowing that I am stuck here until the weather improves. Perhaps I will be lucky and find something to eat. After a few steps down the hallway I hear muted voices and the sounds of cutlery on ceramic. This is not possible. I had stepped into a dead house.
I am fearful to step further but I am strangely drawn to the dining room, almost as if I am being pushed against my will. How can I stop myself? My reasoning has been negated and I am a slave to my body‘s commands. Instinctively my eyes close as I approach the entrance to the room, apprehensive about what I will find inside. All noise stops at my arrival and curiosity sparks within me.
I am really not sure what I was expecting but seated around a large cherry wood table are six people, dressed in clothes from different time periods. They look up at me with no sign of annoyance or surprise, only quiet acceptance.
“I’m sorry to disturb you.” An inane statement I know, but a customary one. “The rain…”
“No need to apologize, young woman.” The deep timbre of the dark haired woman sets my heart a flutter.
I look at the other guests, all dressed in differing costumes. “Are you having a Halloween party?”
“All Hallows Eve. Yes, we are celebrating.”
A cheerful fire is burning in the hearth. “May I?” indicating the flickering flame. “I could use a bit of warmth.”
“Please, help yourself.”
The sounds of supper return. Hushed voices, a tinkle of glasses and the clatter of cutlery all drown out the creaking of the rotting timbers. Tiny wisps of steam rise from my clothes as the heat seeps into the wet cloth. It will be nice to be dry again. Slowly my blue skin regains its healthy glow, absorbing the life-giving flame to warm me.
A quiet chuckle is heard as I sigh in relief. I look over to eyes black as night watching me, boring into me as if looking deep into my soul. I cannot hold her gaze, my eyes returning to the burning flame for comfort.
A tall body has crept up behind me and her low voice in my ear causes me to jump. “Feeling better?”
“Yes,” I whisper. I am unnerved by her closeness but I have nowhere to go.
“Come. Join us for some food.” She has read my mind, or perhaps it is the grumble of my stomach that has spurred on her statement.
“Thank you.” Seated at the opposite end of the table from my dark-haired woman, I finally take in the costumed guests. “Interesting time periods you have chosen. I would have thought you would have settled for more traditional Halloween garb.”
Eyes swivel from one person to the next in question. A young Civil War Confederate infantryman spoke. “Kind lady, these are not costumes. I am very proud to wear the uniform of the glorious South. Long may they be victorious!” A clearing of a throat stopped his tirade, and he was suitably humbled. “My apologies, ma’am, I tend to go on so.”
“Please, help yourself to our humble fare.” I will never tire hearing that low melodious voice. Long fingers grab a large bowl of mashed potatoes, passing to the young woman in a flapper dress sitting next to her. And so it passes up the line to me. Strangely, the food is still hot and yet it has not been re-heated since my arrival in the room.
“So, tell me. Do you meet here every Halloween night?”
“Aye, lassie, we do.” A middle-aged sailor sits hunched over his plate, taking a moment from his eating to answer my question. “Every All Hallows Eve we meet to share a meal and a night of friendship.”
“Friendship?” I do not miss eyes shifting from one to another as if sharing some deep, dark secret.
“For one night a year we enjoy each other’s company however we see fit.”
I know the dark-haired woman sees my confusion, for she elaborates. “We have known each other for many a year…” She looks to me for a name.
“Rebecca,” I reply quietly
“…Miss Rebecca. We have a reunion on this special night each year. There is little time for niceties in so short a time. We eat, we drink, we talk and reminisce and seek out company if we so wish. But never fear Miss Rebecca that part rarely happens. We are friends, not heathen.” Gentle laughter travels around the table, verbally agreeing with the tall woman’s conclusions. “Now, eat up. There is plenty of food here to share.”
And so there is. I am pleasantly filled by the end of the meal, sitting quietly in the chair sipping my wine. I watch the interaction around the table, envious of the easy familiarity that resides here. Close friends sharing a good meal and good wine, catching up on news from the past year. And yet… yet there is something that bothers me. I cannot put my finger on it. Eyes dark as the night silently watch me and I can feel the heat of them on my skin.
My eyes wander over to the young Confederate. “Yes…?”
“You have a question, Billy?”
“When are you from, Miss Rebecca?”
When? Did he just say when? It must be a mistake. “I’m from Chicago.”
“But what year do you come from?”
No, he meant when… strange. “Errr… 2013.” Heated whispers pass around the table at the news. “What’s going on here?”
All eyes turn to the tall brunette. “As you can see we come from different time periods. It is a game we play.” Frantically dark eyes seek out those around the table. “Who won?”
There was a moment’s hesitation before the old sailor answered. “I guessed 2000. Anyone closer?” No one claimed the prize. “Looks like it is me. Thank ye, lass.”
This is no game, even I could tell that. What is going on? My eyes find the tall woman’s but she will not oblige me with an answer to my silent question.
I study the woman. Midnight black hair sits perched on top of her head in a mass of ringlets, apparently held in place by some invisible force. A beautiful red beaded gown adorns her long body, the hem gently brushing the floor. Her arms are covered by long white gloves, ending above her elbows. Flawless white skin is on display with the sleeveless dress, the décolletage dipping to reveal the gentle swell of her breasts. She is a stunning woman.
“If everyone has finished the meal, let us adjourn to the parlor.” I seriously doubt her statement. I have seen this house and there cannot possibly be that many habitable rooms in this dilapidated structure. The mystery deepens.
One by one the guests rise, following the woman in red out the door. “Come on then lass. Join in the fun.” The squat sailor places his hand on my lower back as he ushers me out of the room. If I do not want to be alone I must also follow. As I leave the room darkens as he extinguishes the candles one by one, the glowing coals of the fire the only sign of life in the now empty room.
“And what is your name, kind sir?” I can play this game.
“Jeremiah, Miss Rebecca.”
“Jeremiah? A good biblical name. How long have you been at sea?”
“Since I was a lad, miss. The sea is… was my home.” His saddened eyes are barely visible in the low light.
“Why are you so sad? You can return tomorrow.”
“Now that’s the problem, Miss Rebecca. I can never return to the sea.”
“Sure you can. The party finishes at sun up. Tomorrow is another day.”
“As you say, miss.” He dismisses the conversation and for now I am left floundering. All this hint and innuendo has me confused.
As before, light can be seen along the hallway and the sound of raucous laughter becomes louder as we approach the door. The décor is elegant and reminiscent of days gone by, filling me with an eerie sensation of stepping back in time. The young woman in the flapper dress is standing by the roaring fire, her hands moving in an animated fashion.
“Is it a book by Mr. Dickens?” My raven-haired woman asks in that molten deep voice of hers.
“Naturally.” The lighter voice of the flapper girl holds a hint of an American accent.
“Oliver Twist?” The young Confederate offers.
“No, Billy. You say that every time.”
“It’s the only one I know, Miss Minnie.” Where’s Mickey? My mind cannot help but ask the question.
“I believe it is Great Expectations, Miss Minnie.” A tall, dark-haired gentleman seated in an overstuffed armchair answered, a brandy balloon cupped in one large hand.
“Your turn, Sir Reginald.” He stands, straightening his dinner jacket with a flourish. Muddy gray eyes survey the room with a certain amount of snobbery, stopping momentarily on my tall woman and raking over her tall form. So, he has plans for her tonight…
“How about we let our guest do the next charade?” He looks at me in challenge.
“I suppose I can…” I hate charades, but it looks like I am cornered. “You don’t play twister?”
“Twister? That sounds intriguing. How you do play that?” Billy’s interest is piqued.
“There are colored dots on a plastic sheet on the floor. Two people have to put a hand or a foot on the assigned color and after a while they are tied up in knots.”
“Sounds most inappropriate,” Sir Reginald mutters, showing his distaste with a sneer.
An elegant head turns towards me, those eyes looking deep into mine. “It may be a little difficult in these clothes.” The deep vibration echoes through me. Why does she affect me so?
“But not in these…” I indicate my jeans and T-shirt. I feel the heat of her unwavering gaze slowly gliding over me. I have never ever been affected by a man like this, and yet this woman is setting me afire. My suggestion is met by blank expressions so I now have to play charades. Who hasn’t heard of twister?
“Fine.” I make the circular motion for a movie. Let the game begin.
“What is that?” Billy is perplexed I know because his eyes are wide in confusion.
“You don’t know what that is?” What is the matter with these people? “It means movie.”
“Movie?” Billy turns his attention to Minnie. “What is a movie?”
The petite woman thinks for a moment. “Ahhh. I think she means motion picture. Are you referring to the films of Charlie Chaplin?”
“Errr… I was thinking a little bit more modern than that. Hang on.” My mind shifts to something a bit older and I opt to use the works of Charles Dickens since it seems to be what they know. I go through the motions, eagerly wanting for my turn to be over.
“Methinks you are being condescending, Miss Rebecca.” Sir Reginald is beginning to get on my nerves. “We are not dolts.”
Dolts? How quaint. “Sir, anything I can think of you seem not to know. What would you have me do?”
“Play the game properly, miss.”
“I am playing the game properly.” My voice is getting edgier, drawing a response from the tall woman.
“Sir Reginald, please…”
“Miss Constance, our guest is being most impolite.”
“Sir, she is not aware of our rules of propriety.”
“That is no excuse!”
“Sir! Please show some courtesy.”
“No! She has come into our circle and thereby abides by our rules.”
“Yeah right! Abide by rules I don’t even know about. You are a real asshole mister!” I have had enough of this self-righteous, self-absorbed prick.
“Asshole? What… what word is that?”
“Let’s just say it isn’t flattering.” I glare at him, taking in his hostile posture. “For someone who is supposed to be from the gentry…” I chuckle that I have lowered my language to his level. “…you, sir, do not inspire them.”
Miss Constance moves next to me, tacitly supporting me. “Sir Reginald, we have but one night. Can you not put aside class distinctions for once?”
“Why should I? It is my station in life and all of you should respect that.”
“So the fact that you probably had some friend in Court who had the King or Queen’s ear that got you your title. If you had earned it, sir, your manners would be more complimentary.” By the look on his face I know that I have hit my mark.
Angry eyes turn to the tall brunette. “Miss Constance. Now!” In my peripheral vision I see her shoulders slump. The arrogant Knight of the Realm stands, fully expecting the woman to follow.
I also follow but I am held back. “Don’t go there, Miss Rebecca.” Stubby fingers encircle my arm holding me fast.
“Just… don’t.” It takes a moment or two for me to realize the hidden message.
“And that is an invitation? ‘Now!’ He makes my blood boil.”
“We all feel the same, miss.” The salty sailor whispers. “But he is who he is and his word is Law tonight.”
“Why do you care what he thinks or wants? It is one night a year. Ignore him.”
“That is easier said than done, miss. Most of us have grown up around this class separation. We have lived with it all our lives and it is not so easily forgotten.”
Two minutes later Sir Reginald comes down the stairs, his eyes searching out mine in triumph.
“And where is Miss Constance?”
“Upstairs.” He has dismissed her already.
I look around the room to the others, watching as their eyes drop to the floor. They will not fight him on this. “So, you satisfy your needs and leave, is that it? Do you not even think about your partner?”
“Partner? I think you assume too much Rebecca.” A collective gasp echoes around the room. He has insulted me by not using my proper title.
“Well, Reggie boy…” I cannot help but laugh at an even louder collective gasp as I throw the insult back at him, “… you are a cold-hearted selfish bastard, and I hope you die in Hell.”
“Hell?” He laughs. “I’ve been in Hell for many years woman. It doesn’t frighten me any more.”
“Are none of you going to help her?” The silence is deathly. “Arrgghhh…” I leave the room, climbing the rickety stairs to a door barely illuminated by the lamp behind it.
“Miss Constance?” There is nothing. “Please. Let me come in.” I rap gently on the dry wood but it sounds hollow and dead. There is still no answer but I cannot stay outside any longer. The hinges creak as the door slowly swings open. “Madam, are you alright?”
She sits fully dressed on a chair in front of a mirrored table, immobile and blank-faced. “Constance?” I move quickly to her side. “Are you alright?” I can see her dark eyes glistening but she is refusing to let the tears fall. “I’m so sorry.”
“Why?” Her voice is hoarse with emotion.
“I got him mad and he took it out on you. I am to blame.”
“No, Miss Rebecca. He is to blame.”
“He flaunts his title over us every time we meet. It is bad enough when I am bound to his wishes but now he demeans me by rejecting me at the last moment. I am worthless in his eyes. He wants to break me, miss.”
“Please, drop the miss. Just call me Rebecca.”
“As you wish, Mi… Rebecca.” A tiny smile crosses her face and I live in hope that she has turned the corner.
“No, I would prefer to stay here until light. It is not much longer.”
“No, you will show him that he hasn’t won yet.”
“I’m so tired of all his games.”
“Don’t turn up next year then.”
“I have no choice, Rebecca. We must all attend.”
“I have said too much. We need to hurry.” Suddenly she stands.
“What haven’t you told me?”
“It is not my place to tell you Rebecca.”
“Then whose place is it?” I could see by the look on her face who it was. “Oh no, not him.”
“I am afraid so.”
“That won’t happen until Hell freezes over.”
“That may happen sooner than you think, Rebecca.”
Riddles and word play. I am really not in the mood for hidden agendas. Why can’t they say what they mean?
“You are right, Rebecca. I will not let him break me, the insufferable prig.”
I have got to teach her some more colorful expressions to insult him. This thought slips past my reason. Past tonight they will no longer be my problem. I am here to take refuge from the rain, aren’t I? Speaking of which, I can no longer hear the raindrops hitting the roof. When sunrise comes, I am gone.
We descend the stairs, taking in the concerned looks of all but one. He will not look, instead content to sip his snifter of brandy. Constance is welcomed back into the arms of her friends and I face the insufferable man sitting in the leather-bound armchair. Without a thought I grab the brandy balloon and throw the liquid in his face.
“You do that again and I’ll kill you.” I have had enough.
He laughs. Had I said something funny? I think not, but he laughs. “You don’t believe me? You treat any one of these people like chattel…” I cannot seem to stop myself using these quaint words, “… and I will make sure you never hurt them again.”
“Try your hardest, young lady. I do not think you are strong enough to do that.” He sits there benevolently, mopping his face with a large white laced handkerchief, looking like I said I was putting down a favorite hound of his. He seriously doubts my threat and I was so eager to wipe that sickly grin off his handsome face.
“Well, at dawn I am out of here. You can play all the sick games you want.” Again, he chuckles. “What are you not telling me?” He sits there smiling at me like I was about to receive some bad news that was going to amuse him.
“She has to know sooner or later.”
“And sooner for you so you can enjoy her pain.” Constance finally speaks up, her comment drawing a narrow look from her tormenter.
“Of course.” He doesn’t even deny it. “So Rebecca, why do you think you are here?”
“It was raining and I was taking shelter.”
“No, why did you arrive outside the house?” He can see that I can not answer. “You don’t remember, do you?”
“How did you know that?”
“Because that is how we got here the first time.”
“The first time?” Now I am getting nervous. I have an ominous feeling that what he is about to tell me is going to change my life.
“And here is where you will remain.” He laughs loudly and with great gusto.
“No way. I’m not staying here with you.” I rush to the front door, the first rays of a new day tinting the frosted glass inserts. I reach for the knob but it will not stay in my hand. Behind me, the rest of the group have emerged and are standing in the hallway. “What’s going on?”
Constance steps forward, speaking as she moves. “Rebecca, it was not coincidence that brought you to this house.” I turn to face her, gasping as her form has now become transparent.
“No. No! Get away from me.”
“Don’t be afraid, child.” The stout sailor also steps forward, his ghostly form fading with the onset of day.
Quickly, the tall woman imparts the rest of their story before day has broken the spell. “We live in another plane of existence, Rebecca. I think you call it Limbo. We have been granted one special night to experience life again, All Hallow’s Eve. It is not something to be wasted but to be enjoyed to the fullest. Some of us have forgotten that.” She looks over her shoulder to the tall aristocrat.
“One night a year we are allowed the gift of life. We breathe and blood flows through our veins. For one night we are able to eat, drink, and laugh and if we wish, make love. It is a very precious gift that we have been granted. It makes our existence elsewhere more bearable knowing that we have this concession from God.”
“I’ve got to get out of here! This is crazy. I must be dreaming.” I reach again for the handle, my hand slipping through the metal. “Why can’t I leave?”
“Because you are now one of us.”
“Welcome to your own personal Hell!” Sir Reginald utters with devilish glee.
The sun’s rays touch the dead structure, erasing the timber from the landscape for another year.
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