Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
The Old Howling House, or: A Carol
Submitted by Ellen Spacelizards (email)
That house on the corner always scared him.
When Everett was a child, his friends would dare him to get close to it; dare him under moonlight; dare him to touch its shaking walls. He could withstand the tremors - but the howls made his blood run cold. A house howling like a rabid, starving wolf. He always ran; his friends always laughed.
But now he was the one laughing. Everett had left his little town and invested in land; now he was as dusty as that terrible home - and wealthy enough to do whatever he liked.
He bought the house and the land, and fully planned to knock it down. Put up something shining and new and profitable in its place. But he was curious. He couldn't let the old house pass into oblivion without discovering what made those walls howl.
The house was quiet when he first entered: he heard creaking floorboards, distant knocking, and a ghastly draft in the foyer. It was when he slept that the howls began: the whole house locked in tremors, like the most intense earthquake. His bed jumped, tossing Everett onto a pile of freshly shredded books.
He shook his fist in anger. "Think you'll stop me? Think I'll run again? Well, forget it! Forget it, you hear?"
Somehow, the house did not respond.
There were other problems. In a corner of the basement, itself choked with pipes and wires, there was a door Everett couldn't open; even the seller didn't know where the key was. None of the faucets and drains worked; fearing a problem with the water, he hired a man to look at the pipes.
The plumber first noted rusty-red stains; he told Everett he'd have to open up the pipes to check. Everett kept a tight watch as the plumber worked.
The length of pipe came free - and the tsunami began.
Gushing red liquid pelted the plumber and Everett; drenched them in crimson. The two ran, stumbling and blind, their mouths tasting iron both indigenous and introduced.
When the door closed behind them, Everett gripped the plumber tightly by the shoulder.
"You idiot! You said you turned off the water!"
"I did! That was not-"
"You aren't getting paid. In fact, I'll do all I can to get you terminated."
"It's Christmas. My family-"
"-wouldn't be happy to see you in jail, would they? Get out of MY house before I call the cops."
The plumber fled like a wounded dog; Everett enjoyed his shuffling retreat. He picked up his phone and made a little call to the company. The owner assured him that employee would be dealt with. Everett fixed himself a drink in the dust-choked, barely-lit kitchen; smiled a private smile.
"Merry Christmas," he said to himself.
The tremors ceased after that - the house only offered tiny groans, and breezes like whispers through the foyer and attic. Everett was certain he'd conquered the house that one scared him so; certain he was its new master, and it was his to destroy.
There was only the matter of the basement.
When he worked up the courage to go back down, he found concrete stained dark red-brown. But more importantly, his eye were drawn to a key. A glittering, silver key, itself encrusted with a thin red stain.
He tried it on the locked door. It clicked open. And he stopped to take in what he saw.
"The Silver Street Club?" he said in amazement.
It was one of his old properties; a nightclub that was always more trouble than it was worth. It burnt down. An electrical fire, he thought. Or maybe pyrotechnics gone wrong. He felt nothing at his inability to remember; after all, it wasn't his job to pick through the ashes. It was his job to collect the insurance and deal with any stupid settlements.
The club was as he remembered it; a band strummed some tepid song on the stage. There were patrons all around him; the club was packed, in fact.
When a patron passed under a stagelight, Everett noticed something wrong.
Their flesh was burnt: not by old scars, but by fresh wounds. Charred and blistered their faces were, and yet still they danced. Others had bootprints on their faces and bodies: broken noses, bruises and bloody marks.
And still they danced.
Everett pushed his way through the crowd, buffeted by bodies, crushed by their mass. He found the door. He turned the knob.
In the middle of the basement sat a man. He was old, and grey and completely still. Frozen, Everett could see as he drew closer: frozen in both frost and death.
"Do you feel anything?" asked a woman.
She was behind him, and his eyes were immediately drawn to her wrists: bloody with newly made cuts. She looked almost familiar, though that was of no matter to Everett. She stared him right in his eyes.
"He lived in one of your buildings. You evicted him in the middle of winter. He-"
"-didn't pay the rent." Everett crossed his arms. "So I evicted him. What are you getting at?"
"I...I was hoping you'd feel some guilt actually seeing..." She sighed. "Do you remember me?"
"I remember that this land is mine. That you have no right to be here."
"My name was Diane. I worked with you, remember? You fired me."
"I remember now. Hmm, did you steal office supplies?"
"No." She said sternly. "I turned you down. You didn't just fire me. You wanted me to be punished. You made sure I was blacklisted. Made everyone think I was trouble-"
"But you were." Everett said. "Anyone who doesn't play along-"
She took on a deep, ghostly voice that reached down into Everett's fundamental timber, shook his ears and mind with the revelation of what lay beyond the boundaries of human. His heart exploded. His body fell slack. His mind, his soul, the essence of who he was sobbed in futile, fumbling comprehension. What did the voice say?
"Oh, look at this. You're already dead. Ugh, that does complicate things," said the unearthly voice.
Everett looked at his feet; his body lay there, wide-eyed, pale. There was no fighting it: he understood that he really was dead. "What are you talking about?"
"We've pulled that routine with war criminals who showed more regret than you!" Her voice returned to Diane's: "Can I go now?" The ghostly voice resumed: "Yes, of course. Thanks, Diane."
Diane faded, and in her place appeared an entity made of sloping flesh and eyes: headless, rubbery and slimy, every square inch covered in open eyes. The multitude of the front-facing eyes snapped to face Everett.
"Get out! This is my-"
"You're dead!" the ghostly voice spoke from somewhere deep within the eye-creature. "You're a bit beyond property rights right now."
"What are you? W-what?"
"I'm a representative of the Gods. My job, that can wait. But now you may be wondering - hey, what religion is correct?"
"I'm not wondering that."
"Of course not. Not you!" The eye-creature slithered closer to Everett, the eyes tracking him instantly as they came into range. "But the answer is, the first religion. None of you know about it. Just some cavemen who got the revelation...they died out, and their language went with them."
"Interesting." Everett rolled his eyes.
The eye-creature drew closer; it began to tremble, and for a moment Everett could hear the same groaning as the old, settling house. From within its mounds of flesh popped two bones: they grew outward, bending at joints, until they were like two wings on the creature's back. Their bones were that of an arm - several skeletal arms joined together - and from them drooped a number of long, multi-jointed fingers - the creature's makeshift feathers. The wings gave one tremendous flap outward, and Everett fell hard against the cold, sticky concrete.
"Now, you may be wondering where this leaves you." The eye-creature loomed over Everett. "Diane, the man you made homeless, most of the people in that club-"
"Most?" Everett asked.
"The bartender was into some shit. But the rest of them, they went to the Mountains of Solace. Rivers of honey, trees of cakes, that sort of thing. Peaceful." The creature brushed one of its wings over Everett's face; the finger-wings twinged as they ran over his forehead. "You, you're going to the Pits of Gla'Sarb."
"Is...is that good?"
"No, not really." The creature's eyes blinked in unison. "Not unless you enjoy being dissolved forever in...well, that's not the point right now. The point is, I'm here for a reason."
"To scare me? To destroy my life?"
"No. Though, yes, on both counts. But typically they're more...alive for this bit, sorry." The creature's wings swung up high. "The Gods task me with giving people a final chance. I go to people who did terrible things, and tell them the truth. And sometimes they listen. Of course, most did something too terrible to ever see the Mountain's Golden Sunsets. But at least they can make amends enough to reach the Plains of Avrag, where the river is water, and the trees are...trees."
"What terrible things did I do?" Everett picked himself up off the floor, then dusted off his suit. "Of what crimes am I to be...'dissolved' for?"
"You still don't know? The nightclub fire, the man who died, all the people you hurt...?"
"Nothing would have happened if they had just followed the rules. It was their own stupid fault what happened."
"Even the nightclub fire? The burn victims weren't the ones who bribed the building inspector."
"Not my fault." Everett snapped. "It wasn't my job to keep them safe, now was it?"
"No, your job was to make money, no matter the cost." The creature flapped its wings, knocking Everett down once more. "And you were great at it! Good for you."
"So I'm dead. You murdered me. Good job, you." Everett sneered. "So, onto the Pits?"
"Not quite. Now, normally, you'd still be alive. You'd have a chance to redeem yourself, or at least get your moral balance to neutralish." The creature slithered to Everett's side. "But even though you're dead, I can offer you one last chance."
"One last chance to redeem myself for crimes I didn't even do."
"And I know it won't work. But I have to at least offer you the chance."
"Whatever it is, get on with it already!"
The creature's wings sagged. "Alright..."
"Come on, Ev!"
"Don't be a wuss!"
Everett watched the house for a while. Okay. He couldn't wimp out now. His friends were counting on him.
Everett walked up to the house. He reached out a hand. Shook a bit. Brushed it with his fingers. And-
The howls began. The house quaked and shrieked, and Everett ran away to a chorus of laughter.
No, no. The old man thought to himself. He pressed on the walls. Screamed at the top of his voice. "Everett! Don't-!"
The boy was gone. And he was there: in the walls, in the pipes, in the floorboards. The house was him and he was the house, and he wished more than anything to warn his young self. He wished to watch him listen, watch him turn away from everything he became, watch him change. How he wished.