Bogleech.com's 2014 Horror Write-off:
" MAGIC NUMBER "
He sat in an office, waiting.
"Mr. Martin Fletcher?"
He stood and shook hands with his host.
"I'm Tom Murgatroyd."
Niceties were exchanged, the offer of refreshments politely declined.
"Now Mr. Fletcher, it seems you are here for Murgatroyd's Haunted House!"
He chuckled, but seeing the look on the face of his visitor he quickly added:
"No offense meant, it's just what I call it. I mean, you contacted me about it, right?"
Martin hesitated, then said: "Yes."
"You've got impressive credentials. Yes, I've looked you up, but I'm still a little fuzzy on what exactly you are. May I ask? Paranormal researcher, ghost hunter, or horror writer?"
Murgatroyd spoke carefully in a neutral tone and without a hint of jest.
Martin relaxed. "Two out of three. Paranormal researcher and horror writer."
Martin had been researching ideas for a new book, when he came across the tale of this so-called "Haunted House". It was something of a misnomer, for technically there had been no records of hauntings.
But there had been a long, long history of gruesome killings, dating back almost 200 years. No wonder superstitions sprang up around the house. Stories of demonic possession and summoning.
But despite that, its infamy never spread far beyond this town. It was not a famed hotspot, nor one with a particularly storied personage. When he first came across it, he dismissed it as some urban legend. But he looked into it anyway; pickings were slim recently, and his latest book wasn't coming along well.
What he found surprised him. Strange, bizarre deaths going back two centuries. Although the earlier records were spotty, the more recent decades were well documented.
A man had disemboweled himself, seemingly with his bare hands. Another had strangled his wife, then stabbed himself in both eyes. A married couple had beaten their three children to death, then turned on each other. A woman had filled her bathtub with water, lied down in it, and stayed like that until she drowned. No one could commit suicide like that.
There was a disturbingly common theme of mutilation; most victims had torn at their faces and hair. One apparently skinned himself, dying eventually of blood loss.
Of course, there were some outliers. Deaths that comparatively mundane; heart attack, stroke, traffic accident. But these were few and far between.
And as he studied the records, he noticed a pattern. Eliminating the seemingly natural deaths, he noticed the aberrant deaths all occurred within one specific week of the year. Even stranger, he noticed that no incident ever occurred within less than 19 years of each other. The time between incidents was always 19 years, or multiples of 19.
It didn't matter how long the tenants lived in the house, but every 19 years, if the house was occupied, when that week came to pass an atrocity would occur.
It was telling that one particular tenant had lived in the house for a stretch of 30 years, but had been absent on a trip during the deadly week. He then sold the property and continued to live on happily until his death at the age of 95. He had survived the house.
And now the latest incident, a man who hammered nails into his head until he died, was almost exactly 19 years ago.
"I suppose you've done your research, the suicides, the deadly week, and so on?"
"You're not a believer, Mr. Murgatroyd?"
"Afraid not. You see, I've been to that house, actually lived in it for a while, and there is nothing out of the ordinary. I keep it in good repair. It's just a plain old house with an unfortunate history."
"Ah, but you see..."
Mr. Murgatroyd raised an eyebrow.
"I suppose you mean the 19 year cycle?"
"You are hardly the first one to ask about this house. Why, these past few months I've been getting offers from some sort of TV show to do an episode at the house. There must be a hundred people who came and asked about this house the past week. All because it has been 19 years since the last incident, and the "deadly week" is coming up. I turned them all down, but a few are still staying in town, hoping to be present when the action occurs. I have half a mind to simply keep the house empty for the week and have them wait another 19 years."
"So how do explain the cycle, the narrow window of time?"
"A question of statistics. Did you know there are two men, completely unrelated, who not only share the same name and surname, but also age and birthdates? Even the names of their wives and children are identical. Yet it's nothing more than a matter of coincidence. I share the same birthday as my brother and sister, it's of no significance, although highly convenient for my parents. Look hard enough, and you'll find a pattern somewhere. Right now I'm sure there are houses out there where murders or suicides happen every 5, 10, 30 or 777 years, or only every leap year, or they occur only on a Tuesday or something."
Martin leaned back in his seat. "Did they offer to pay you? The TV show I mean."
"Yes. Quite a substantial sum for something that requires no effort on my part."
"So why did you agree to see me?"
Murgatroyd sighed, and clasped his hands.
"You are different. I checked your credentials, you're more of a paranormal debunker, and that's exactly what I need. Everything nowadays runs on sensationalism, and I despise sensationalism; I'm pretty sure if the film crew didn't get anything they'd just edit in a ghost. Same with those ghost hunters; frauds and hoaxers, the lot of them. Oh it was fun at first, charging these guys huge sums of money to spend the night. But as time went on, and I saw the sort of people that would always show up, and it sickened me. There were people utterly obsessed with this sort of thing, and I grew sick and tired of them showing up year after year."
"But you, Mr. Fletcher, are different. You are level-headed, scientific in method even. A critical mind. You don't HOPE it's real, you want to KNOW if it's real. You have disproved many a ghost story. I wish for that service now."
"And what if the opposite happens? What happens if I find proof that there really is something supernatural?"
"I shall eat my computer, then put the house on the market for thirty times the market price."
Mr. Murgatroyd drove Martin down to the house for a look the next day.
The week began.
It was quite an ordinary-looking house, nothing sinister or malignant about it. It was situated a good way away from town, and the trees clustered thickly around the back.
It was in quite good shape; running water, electricity, and the furnishings were sparse but adequate.
Mr. Murgatroyd had said he usually charged a high fee in order to stay in the house for a night, but decided that for Martin, he could have the first night for free.
Martin stocked up on groceries, brought in his camera and laptop, and settled for the night.
He let his mind wander.
Perhaps the vengeful ghost of a woman who died on her nineteenth birthday?
Or maybe a couple that died together after nineteen years of marriage.
Nah. Far too romantic for a horror story nowadays. Something more morbid.
Maybe someone murdered on their nineteenth birthday. Now that was an idea.
Absolutely nothing happened.
Not a murmur, creak or squeak.
No sudden drops in temperature.
No strange shadows or visions.
All in all, Martin had a quiet night.
The next day Murgatroyd called, asking whether he was still alive before roaring with laughter at his own joke. Martin grimaced as he held the phone away from his ear until the cacophony had died down.
"So, what do you think of my establishment? The view's not good, but at least the water's hot. Will you be staying for the week?"
Martin suppressed a yawn.
"I'm not sure. Maybe not the whole week."
"Sure, stay as long as you need. I'll even give you a discount, and no deposit needed!"
Two nights had passed, and Martin admitted this was extremely boring.
There was simply no atmosphere to this house. It was well lit and in good repair.
No inspiration for fiction, and certainly no material for nonfiction.
He yawned. There was no point to staying the whole week. Tom Murgatroyd was going to get his wish.
Maybe he should just sleep...
Then it happened, and he nearly shrieked out loud.
A sharp piercing trill.
It seemed to coming from the outside. It was soon joined by another. And another.
Intense, whining sirens, slowly increasing in number and intensity.
He tried to approach the window, to see what it was, but was hit a nauseating bolt of pain as the sound intensified even more, harsh and piercing.
He fell to his knees, hands over ears. But the sound still seeped through. It drilled, excruciating and intense, right through his head.
It tore at him from inside like an animal struggling in a trap. He felt that his head was about to explode, as hundreds of sirens continued to shriek at him.
He crawled to the front door on elbows and knees, thinking of running away from this place. Getting away from the noise.
But as he approached the crack at the bottom he could hear the noise becoming even louder.
Thousands of dentist drills whining in his head.
Hundred of firecrackers exploding.
Sirens shrieking nonstop.
He could actually feel it, feel the vibrations as it emanated from beneath the door.
He couldn't go outside. Not that way. He could barely bring himself to go an inch closer.
Pain shot through his teeth. His vision grew blurry. He gasped under the intensity of the pain, but struggled towards the back door.
It was even worse back there.
It surrounded the whole house.
The noise was coming from everywhere.
The pain was a white hot jet stream of excruciating agony.
He was seeing spots in front of his eyes.
He couldn't take it anymore.
But he had an idea.
He stumbled over to the desk.
He saw his pencils next to his notebook.
He steeled himself.
He'll do it quickly, then run right out the door.
It occurred to him that might be running right into danger, but he didn't care. All he wanted was a way to get away from the noise.
Anything to stop the noise.
The harsh, grating shrieking noise.
As he snatched up the pencils, he was hit by the sound at full volume as he uncovered his ears.
For a moment he blacked out.
But somehow he managed to do it.
He plunged a pencil into each ear.
Blood started pouring out.
But there was no relief.
He could still hear it, through his bones, through his teeth, through his skull, that wailing, metallic cacophony. As if all his bones were rusted metal and rubbing against each other. A thousand voices shrieking directly into his brain. And covering his ears did not help anymore.
He could still hear it.
And now the walls were melting, blistering in huge tar-filled bubbles.
Cracks gaped open in every surface. Cracks that appeared to be full of eyes and sharp teeth.
Blackened globs dripped down from the ceiling as if it was melting wax.
The furniture appeared to be dissolving into soot.
He looked up.
No no no.
He could not die to that.
Anything but that.
He won't let it take him.
He plucked a pencil from his ear, and jabbed it into his throat.
Tom Murgatroyd sighed.
He looked at the yellow tape crisscrossing the property.
The coroner still wasn't here, but the CSI experts were already gathering every scrap that looked remotely like evidence and bagging it up.
There was a curious, pushy crowd held back by harrassed-looking policemen. Some were locals. But most were the outsiders, people who stayed in town even after they were denied entry to the house. A murder of crows waiting for a corpse.
And they got one.
When Murgatroyd called at 9 and Martin didn't reply, he assumed the man was snoozing off a massive sleep debt.
When he called at 12 noon and got no answer, he didn't think much of it.
He dropped by with lunch to see how he was doing, and to discuss payment.
When he knocked and no one answered, he just let himself in with his spare key.
There was blood everywhere.
The face of Martin Fletcher twisted into a horrible paroxysm of agony, one pencil sticking comically out his left ear.
Martin had torn open his own throat with a pencil.
The police had questioned him thoroughly but considerately, and for the time being he was free to wander the premises.
He sighed. How did it come to this?
There were no signs of a struggle. Martin's laptop was still on.
The furniture unbroken. Nothing had been taken away.
The windows were unbroken, the doors intact and locked.
Everything was as he left it. Save for Martin Fletcher.
He sighed again. He couldn't help but feel guilty. In a way, he was responsible.
He had planned to stay in the house himself for the whole week, to put a rest to the stories once and for all. But then Fletcher called.
He knew Fletcher's name, saw some of his articles on the paranormal websites.
Fletcher was being coy, but Murgatroyd knew exactly what he wanted.
Well, why not?
Fletcher seemed to have less of the crazy than the others.
And when he looked him up later, he had become convinced that this guy could do it.
Maybe Fletcher could convince the lunatics that nothing supernatural was here.
Those freaks would listen to one of their own, he had thought.
"Murgatroyd's Haunted House", he muttered.
He walked towards the back, where the trees brushed up against the house.
Strange, he thought.
He never saw these before.
There were bugs all over the place.
Big brown wingless bugs all over the trees and bushes. A few were on the wall of the house.
Brown crispy-looking hunchbacked things.
And completely still. Deathly still.
He took a closer look.
Nothing but empty husks, each with a gaping slit in its back.