's 2016 Horror Write-off:

Rental House

Submitted by Erin Drinnon

Up until I was about eleven years old, my family had lived in Metro Detroit. My mom was a registered nurse and my dad worked at a Ford plant in Livonia. My dad eventually got laid off, though, and my mom's income wasn't enough to support a family of four. After a few weeks of searching, my dad finally found a new job in a mattress factory in northwest Ohio. The town was in the middle of nowhere - one of those parts of the state with nothing but cornfields and "Hell is Real" billboards - but they had an emergency room with an open nursing position. At that time, my parents' credit was too bad to buy a house. Luckily, one of my dad's friends had a cousin who knew a guy in the area who was a landlord, and he was able to pull a few strings and get us a small rental house out in the county at a discounted rate.

There was a certain amount of culture shock when we first moved to Shadow Valley, Ohio. I don't know what you call the opposite of claustrophobia, but there's something absolutely terrifying about flat land. To this day, it makes me feel... vulnerable. Like anything could come over the horizon and there would be nowhere to hide. No skyscrapers, no hills, no trees, just miles and miles of open, exposed fields. It didn't help that there was a wind farm off in the distance; it wasn't close enough that we could hear any noise or anything like that, but we could see a couple of windmills just poking over the horizon, their arms twirling like the legs of a beetle stuck on its back. In the midst of a sea of flat, static ground, you could see that movement from miles away, and it scared me. I still can't really explain it better than that. Sometimes I have nightmares about it. I dream I'm standing in an empty field, no buildings or roads for miles around, and something, a massive, dark thing with glowing eyes and arms too long, is approaching, slowly but surely. I run, but there are no markers to tell me how far. Every time I look back, it's closer. I always wake up before it catches up to me.

We never actually met the landlord. He lived out in Carey, where he owned a couple of apartment buildings, and he had a busy schedule. My parents spoke with him over the phone a few times, and he seemed nice enough. He always managed to schedule repairs for when nobody was home. He was good about getting things repaired quickly, too. If something was broken, my mom would call before she left for work, and when we got back from school, it would be fixed, with a coffee-stained note detailing the work that was done left on the table.

Our house had an extra door. It was locked, and we didn't have a key for it. The landlord told us that behind it, there was a stairwell that led down to an old storm cellar underground. We weren't allowed to go in it because, according to the landlord, the storm cellar had the tendency to flood when it rained, and it had to be repaired before it could be used. My little sister and I used to entertain ourselves for hours making up stories about what might really be behind that door. They usually involved lost underground cities, of which we would be the lost princesses, and one day we would be whisked away behind the door and take our rightful place as their rulers. If only that had been the case. I wish we had never found out.

My parents worked long hours. My father worked twelve-hour days at the factory, and my mom worked evening shifts at the hospital. We made ends meet, but they were almost never home on weekdays after school. My mom would always make dinner before she went to work and leave it in the fridge for me to reheat in the microwave for my sister and myself. We would ride the bus home from school, and get there at almost 4:00. From there, I cared for my sister until around 8:30, when my dad got home. That quickly became our routine. It never changed. At least, until that day.

April 22nd was different. We came home from school that day as usual, reheated dinner - instant macaroni and cheese - and sat in front of the TV watching cartoons. It changed, however, when our show was interrupted by a blue screen and a deafening alarm tone, followed by a static-drenched male voice: We interrupt this program to activate the Emergency Alert System. The National Weather Service of Carey has issued a tornado warning for the following counties: Emerald County. Residents are advised to seek shelter indoors. This concludes this Emergency Alert System message. I ran to the phone to call my mother, but she didn't answer. My eleven-year-old brain frantically tried to come up with a solution based on the things I had learned about emergency preparedness at school. The bathroom had a window, and there were no interior closets big enough in which to safely hide two children. The only option I could see was to try to break into the storm cellar, flood or no flood. The sky was darkening. My sister had started crying. I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a bobby pin from the drawer under the sink. I dashed back out and stuck the pin in the lock and wiggled the knob, trying to get the door to open. The wind was picking up outside. I wiggled the bobby pin in the keyhole harder, until the bobby pin broke off in the lock. I slumped back against the wall on the other side of the hallway and started to cry alongside my sister. We heard a low rumbling sound outside. It was then that the door, with no provocation, creaked open. Without question, we ran inside, slamming it behind us. We found ourselves in the darkness - in my panic, I had forgotten to grab a flashlight. I held my sister's hand, and we felt our way down the creaking wooden stairs.

When our feet finally hit the dirt floor at the bottom, we breathed a sigh of relief. We sat on the bottom step, hugging each other as the wind howled above us. At the time, I could have sworn I heard the structure of the house being ripped apart overhead, but I can't be sure anymore. Our attention had turned from the tornado to a gradually-brightening glow emanating from what looked like a puddle in the center of the floor. We could just barely see our way across the floor to the edge of the puddle. I exchanged a look with my sister in the dim light before we got up and tiptoed carefully to the edge. The puddle was more like a deep hole in the ground, filled to the brim with dark, murky water. A glow floated up from the bottom of the pool in the shape of two eyes, moving closer and closer to the surface. We turned and ran back up the stairs, but the door had locked behind us. Upstairs, we were locked out, but now we were locked inside with the eyes in the water. We heard a splashing noise, and turned around slowly to see a... being, somewhat humanoid, dripping with viscous, black fluid, eyes glowing and arms disproportionately long, rising out of the hole in the floor.

Our backs plastered to the door and our eyes widened in shock, I shielded my little sister and she clung to me for dear life. The light from its eyes glowed brighter, pulsating a bit, before we began to hear a noise like television snow, and it spoke:



We stood, shaking, listening to the thing, for there was nowhere to run.



Terrified, I kept silent, but my sister replied, "There's a tornado. We were scared."



A moment passed in silence.



I screamed as the thing extended an arm past us, carefully twisted the doorknob with its index finger and thumb, and pushed the door open to reveal an open field, full of debris. My sister and I stepped outside, to see that the door was the only part of the house left standing after the tornado had dissipated. There was nothing on either side of it, just a door in its frame standing in an open field, except, from one side, you could see into the cellar.



I jumped, startled, as a bunch of black tendrils emerged through the door and expanded, surrounding us with walls of black. A glow pulsed through them before they shrunk, revealing the walls, floor, and ceiling of the house that had been there before the tornado. The tendrils moved, formed vague blob shapes, and shrunk again, retreating into the cellar and revealing our furniture, same as it had always been, except with a coffee-stained note on the table, which read, 4/22 - ENTIRE HOUSE REBUILT AFTER BEING DESTROYED BY TORNADO. PLEASE KEEP YOUR KIDS OUT OF THE BASEMENT. THANKS.


We moved out not long after that.