Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Mansion in the Woods - 2013 Halloween Story #2

By Roger A Wilbanks

Edgar struggled to keep up. Don was always the faster of the two brothers and he had the additional challenge of helping his fiance Angela.
“Don't get too far ahead of us, Don! We have to stay together!”
“I'm going as slow as I am willing, Ed. You guys gotta keep up! I'm not about to let whatever the Hell is chasing us catch me just because I slowed down for your slow ass!” Don leapt over a rotted log with Edgar and Angela right on his heels.

“Did any of you see it?” Angela asked. She gasped for a breath as she cleared the log.
“No and I don't want to. Hearing it was enough for me to know that I don't want to be introduced.”
“Ed! Keep up!” Don barked.
“I'm running as fast as I can, Don. Not all of us are Marines. I can still hear it behind us, but it doesn't sound like it's running. It's just...moving. It's like it's tied to us. But that Cracking noise is there too and I'll be damned if I want to see what's making it.”

The camping trip took a turn South exactly one hour ago as the trio sat around the campfire exchanging Ghost Stories. Ed heard it first, the wet crack of popping knuckles in the distance. His attention diverted from Angela's story of her stay in the Lizzy Borden house, he strained his eyes into the darkness to locate the source of the sound.

“Pay attention to your fiance, asshole.” Don chided.

Ed gave no reaction to his brother.

“I know you heard this before, but you don't have to be such an ass...”Angela stopped. She heard it too.

“What the Hell was that?” she asked.

A howl from nothing that walked this Earth answered her.

“What the Fuck?” Don ran and scanned the treeline across the pond where they were camped. He spotted movement movement and then saw the eyes. They were cold, green lights, like a TV remote, but there were more than two of them. They filled the space where a head should only have two and they were locked on the three of them.

“We gotta go. NOW!”

It took no argument from the others. A tangible cloud of inexplicable panic stuck to them like sweat on an August Noon. No one needed convincing and the trio bolted for the woods that surrounds their clearing in the direction of the truck. Though it was a half a mile South of their location, they ran as if it were in eyesight. Ed knew the way, having camped these woods since his childhood. When he got lost, Don began to panic. It takes a lot to rattle a Marine, even more to rattle a battle hardened one just returned from service where the desert mountain ghosts are tangible and show no mercy.

Six years of Leadership Training focused on keeping 18yr olds alive kicked in and Staff Sgt Collins emerged from his retirement.

“Move It! The truck is 5 minutes away from us!”

Ed knew better though he would refuse to admit it.

“We're off the map now, Little Brother.” he said.

“Then we keep moving. The forest is surrounded by Highways. We keep moving till we hit one and then we get help.” The loud wet crack behind them answered him.

“I can't keep up.” Angela cried. “I just can't.”

“You have to, kid. This ain't the time to let yourself get in your own way. We gotta keep moving now!” He looked behind them and saw trees fly apart like Lincoln Logs before an angry child. “Whatever that is...” Don stopped talking.
“Railroad Tracks?” Ed said. “There are no railroad tracks in these woods. I would swear to that.”

This statement was contradicted by the rusty railroad tracks 50 feet away from them.

“We follow them to the Highway.” Don said. “The footing will be better on the gravel and we'll make better time and we won't have to jump over any goddamn dead trees anymore.” The others agreed with him and within seconds, the trio began running again.

They ran another mile at full gallop through twists and turns in the old railroad track before they came to a trellised bridge that spanned a gaping canyon.

“There isn't a canyon here, either! What the Hell is going on?”

“No time to examine shit, bro. We gotta get across that. Watch your step, guys. This wood's old. Stay close to the outside edge where the wood'll be strongest.” Angela stepped on the rail and lost her balance. Ed helped her up and looked behind them. The entity pursuing them had come to a stop at the edge of the canyon.

“It's not following us anymore.” he said.

Don also noticed this. “Well, let's not give it a reason to change its mind. Move it!” he barked.

The trio made it to the other side of the ancient bridge without further injury. It had held its position at the edge of the canyon just at the bridge's end and watched them now. The woods on this side of the canyon had an older feel to them than those on the beast's side. The trees were all broken and barren and the ground was littered with death. Dead leaves, dead branches and the remains of dead animals crowded each other for space as they walked on into the woods.

“I see a light.” Don said.

“Me too. Let's go.” Ed followed his younger brother to the clearing that cradled the light source. Angela followed with a subtle limp but managed to keep up with no problem. They saw it as they entered the clearing. It was an old 4 story Victorian mansion in the middle of a dead forest. The light was a single gas lamp burning above the mansion's portico-ed corner entrance. The house had a gabled roof that was more hole than roof and each glassless window watched the approaching trio like a lonely soul crying for help. The exterior of the house was sheathed in an ancient skin of whitewashed pine coated in ageless grime.

Don approached the corner porch of the house under the glow of the gas lamp. It flickered as he approached it. He stopped and turned to Ed.

“I'm not going into this place.” he said. “It feels...” he stopped and looked at the massive door and lost the words he searched for.

“We're already here. We may as well go on in and see what's up here.” Ed answered. He and Angela stepped onto the splintered porch and approached the door. Ed knocked on the door and it answered with a hollow, soundless echo.

“Why did you knock?” Don asked.

“Seemed like the polite thing to do.” Ed said. “Lights are on, and someone has to be here. Imagine how you would react if three strangers barged into your...” he looked up and noticed movement in one of the glassless windows. He maintained his gaze and saw nothing further.

He looked at the door's handle. It was massive, much like the door itself and covered in a green patina. He reached for the handle and as his hand made contact, the door flung open, almost pulling Ed out of his shoes. A gaunt, old man held the door open. His hair as white as the pine siding on the house and his face just as pitted and wrinkled. He was dressed in a dirty old suit many sizes too large for him. His pants so long they hid his feet from view.

“Welcome. Come in, please.” the old man said.

“You were expecting us?” Ed asked.

“Not at all. I heard the commotion outside from my window and assumed you were lost and wished to welcome you.”

“Where are we?” Ed asked. The old man had already turned on his heel and began walking back into the house..

Ed repeated himself, “Sir? Where are we?”

“You are in my house.” the old man answered. “You are welcome to satay as long as necessary.”

“We were in a camping ground...” Don said as he looked around at the ancient decorations that doted the walls. “over on Turner Pond. Something...” He didn't have the words to finish the sentence. “Do you have a phone?”

The old man laughed.

“No. I doubt the phone company even knows I am here.” he said “I was about to make a sandwich. Would you like one as well?”

“We haven't eaten yet. We're famished.” Don answered. Angela agreed and Ed could find no fault with that. The old man smiled and nodded. He led them to a cavernous dining room with a table large enough to seat an entire football team. It had a moth eaten table cloth as its cover but had places set for 6 people. Most of the settings looked as if they had been used recently.

“Looks like you have had company.” Angela said.

The old man looked at the settings and laughed. “Oh...those? Those others have moved on.” He said and then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the three alone.

“I don't like this. It feels.....wrong. We should leave. Now.”
“No shit, Don. We should be at our camp eating ribs and swapping stories, but that...thing...had other ideas so we're here. We'll eat a sandwich, wait till dawn and find the highway. Then we'll get back to my truck and get out of this mess.”

“Yeah...sure.” Don surveyed the room like a Marine. “This looks like something from a Vincent Price movie bro.” Angela corrected him. “More like Edgar Allen Poe.” He agreed.

The paintings on the walls depicted a bygone era long since past. None of the fashions had seen the light of day in over a century and nothing in the room was of t he modern world. The caretaker shuffled back into the room with a tray laden with sandwiches and a teapot.

“Please. Help yourself.” he pleaded.

“Sir. Could you please explain something to us? Where exactly ARE we?” Angela asked.

The Caretaker was caught short by her question but composed himself enough to tilt his withered head back and laugh. “Dear. You” He motioned to the area they now occupied.

“Where is here?' She asked, cautioned by his avoidance of the question.

“You are in my mansion. You are in the middle of the woods. You are in the middle of the Dead Woods and you stand in my dining room. Does that answer your question, dear?”

“Where is the highway?” Don asked.

“Why do you need a highway?” he asked.

“We need to find the highway so that we can get help.”

“Help from what, exactly?” The old man was beginning to frighten him with his ignorance of their situation.

“Look.” Don said. “Something is chasing us. We ran for miles and found your house. It's still out there and we need help to get back to...” The old man began to laugh hysterically.

“Back?” he asked. “Back to where, exactly?”

“”Back to my truck. Back to our camp. Back to our lives.”

The old man threw his head back again and let out a shriek of maniacal laughter. He grasped his sides as if they were about to burst and struggled to contain himself. When he regained his composure he held up a finger and looked all three in the eye at the same time.

He said, “You have been dead for five hours.”

The finality with which his words broke the silence struck them dumb. They looked at the old man as if seeing him for the first time as a knowing smile crept up the sides of his face.

“Where EXACTLY do you think you are NOW?”