's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Oddities Collection "

Submitted by Scarvexx

You might call us “urban explorers” but we don’t. In fact we don’t call each other by our real names; I don’t even know some of them but we have nick names, a girl we call ‘Know-it-all’ who is a living encyclopaedia. ‘Wailer’ called so because the first outing with us he brought a ridiculous device for detecting ghosts which shrieked at random intervals. I’m ‘Mars’ for my talent of getting sunburns every summer. Then there was ‘Khaki’ who got his name before I joined so I don’t know what it means but he is the one who usually found the places or had final say over what was safe to enter, he was at least five years older than me and I was old enough to buy beer or rather old enough that no one looked to closely at the fake I.D. anymore.

Khaki set it out like this “the owner has been dead for six months and his relatives have already stripped the place of everything valuable” which was fine, we hardly ever took anything “the house is huge and they won’t put it up for sale even though no one lives there. The dead man was an entomologist so it’s going to be full of butterflies pinned to walls and beetle carapaces, I looked in the window and they left all his research alone” at this point I sent my fingers running up Know-it-all’s back like a spider and she jumped before punching me, I had a crush on her ever since the time she brought her girlfriend along; I know that makes no sense but that’s when I got it.

We drove in my car for at least three hours to the old place and from the outside it looked like the set of a haunted mansion movie, it had big metal gates and a brick wall around it and I shit you not it was covered in ivy. I have never been more in love with a building; it must be at least 200 years old and if it had gargoyles I would have moved in right then and there, these were the days before Wi-Fi.

We were all master fence hoppers but Wailer must have been a pole-vaulter in another life or I suppose that could really be something he does, I never saw him outside the group. He was first on the grounds and first to suggest we leave, he really does believe in ghosts even if he stopped bringing an EMF reader but he would never have waited in the car even if he thought we were walking into a death trap, perhaps he was loyal; perhaps I had the only set of car keys, who’s to say?

I hate broken glass, I can’t stand to be in a room where a glass has been dropped, if we have to break a window to get in than I’m not going in, that’s my rule and the others respected it even if they called me a pussy. It was my job to get a door open seeing as I “thought every precious window belonged in fucking Chartres or something” as Know-it-all put it before having to explain what Chartres was. I lucked out because the valuables removed from the property apparently included the doorhandles, the others were looking over the garden to pass the time and didn’t notice so I whistled for attention and casually elbowed the door open in a fonzie-esque mauver that made it look like I had beaten my record for fastest picked lock.

We turned on our flashlights and spotted a centipede on the wall the length and width of a surfboard and thankfully made of plaster, Know-it-all called it “Arthropleura” and said it was an extinct relative of a centipede, Khaki had the wherewithal to ask if she meant “dodo extinct” wherein they hadn’t found one for a really long time or “dinosaur extinct” where they were certainly all dead? It was thankfully the latter. Jars filled shelves alongside thick leather bound books which ironically had been partially eaten by insects. It was the jars we marvelled at preserved within were giant grubs and chrysalis, on the wall was an endless gallery of pinned flies and mantises and spiders which Know-it-all said would mean the man was an arthropodologist which studies spiders and crustaceans as well as insects. We didn’t see any crabs on the wall which lead Khaki to share the sentiment that he was a specialist but was also a rule breaker and therefore a “man after our own hearts” and we had a moment of silence for the deceased adventurer.

There was nowhere to sit in the whole place, the furniture was long gone but there was a deck chair in the car and we took turns sitting while the others explored in teams. I was the one who found the door leading to the basement but it was Know-it-all who spotted the sign over the door which read “Oddities Collection” and that piqued everyone’s interest.

We went down the stairs and opened a thick iron door that gave a whoosh of cold air that nearly sent Wailer out of the building. What was on the other side did the same to me, dozens of display cases with glass cracked to hell, not broken but very close with scattered gaps here and there. The room was small and had two other doors with glass windows in them; we looked into the terrariums which seemed empty but with just flashlights it was hard to tell, on the wall beside it I saw a placard that read “Petriflys: Nephrotoma Capturam” I was just about to point it out when I heard a loud slap, my flashlight turned immediately to Wailer who’s hand was on his neck, he said he was bitten by something and I took him seriously, despite his name and his belief in the supernatural he was not someone who complained a lot, I took a look and dollar bill size patch of his skin on his shoulder was grey, he said it hurt badly when it bit him but now he couldn’t feel anything there, to my horror when I touched it lightly my finger dug into it like he was made of cigarette ash. Khaki said we had to go and we knew tonight was over, or we did before we turned our lights toward the door and saw it swarming with the large mosquito like insects, the lights upset them or attracted the because they took flight and came for us, most of us covered up our lights but Wailer didn’t, I don’t know if the others saw the look on his face, he knew there was no cure for what it had done to his shoulder, he waved his light to draw them, Khaki said he panicked but I believe he was buying us time. We fled into the next room and I looked through the window in the door; Wailer’s flashlight had fallen onto the floor and it illuminated him as those things drained every ounce of moisture out if him till he was a mummified husk. The others didn’t look but it was clear to us all that this was not the way out.

This room was unlike the other one, it had a large circular glass case with a dead animal inside which might have been a sheep, it had no hair and its skin was riddled with strange holes, but it wasn’t a mummy which meant those things couldn’t get inside. For some odd reason I thought the best thing to do right now is lose my head and blame Khaki for everything, maybe he was more mature than me or maybe he was just stunned but he took every terrible thing I said without flinching before embracing me crying, Wailer was gone, Wailer was gone and we were trapped. Know-it-all had occupied herself by inspecting the rooms one feature, the she pointed out that there was food for the animal in the case, it was clearly alive when it was on display “unless sheep are fucking crustacean let’s assume it has a parasite” khaki said pulling together and he went to look “Dermites” he read of the placard “does he mean termites?” I tell him about the placard in the other room and he exclaims with grim amusement “Petriflys, as in flies that petrify, who names these?” then Know-it-all interrupted “which would make Dermites: termites of the dermis” I asked if dermis meant sheep and she said “it means skin, skin termites” we decided to leave the room despite none of the creatures in evidence. The next room had an iron door without a window, and that was a good as an exit sign to us. There were no terrariums; just mesh boxes with sticks in them “can anyone find a placard?” said Khaki, when no one could I said it was probably invisible crickets or something and I needed someone to hold the light while I picked the lock and got us out, Know-it-all held it and Khaki had our backs.

I heard screaming and I turned to Know-it-all thinking she had found a new horror but she wasn’t screaming, Khaki wasn’t screaming. For a brief second I seriously considered that Wailer had risen from the dead just to prove he wasn’t wrong about ghosts, but I realised the one screaming was me. Tolls still in hand a swung my fist out and knocked Know-it-all to the ground like a ragdoll, I was moving against my will, I had no control like I was standing behind my eyes looking out. Khaki tried to overpower me but quickly fell to the floor writhing; the red heads of the burrowing insects just visible under his skin, his bare legs now visible and covered in the crawling white ants which disappeared one by one into weeping blisters. As horrible as that was: beating a woman I considered my fried to death could not compare in the slightest, of all the things that happened that night this is the part I have nightmares about, her nose deforming under my vicious blows. I regained control to late, there was a spider bite in my shoulder and the I spied the paper placard on the floor fallen from some case and it said “Jack Widows: Phalangium Opprimendos” god fucking damn it that one wasn’t even clever. My hands were almost broken from what I had done, from what the spider’s venom made me do. But I opened the door and I left shutting it behind me.

I didn’t know their real names, or at least not their last names, I couldn’t tell their families because I had no idea who they were. I attempted suicide but I couldn’t manage it, the police never came to ask questions. I never stopped exploring old buildings, I tried but our group was a little infamous, people showed up to our meeting place wanting to join, drawn here by word of mouth from long-dead mouths. I became the leader like Khaki had been, I wasn’t very good at it and people left as often as they came but you can be damn sure I never took the anywhere near that house with the brick fence and the iron gate and the ivy, and if you know a building like that let me give you this advice: don’t go in, don’t stay near for long because for the life of me I can’t remember if we closed that cellar door.