The house was to become more of a tourist attraction than anything that should have actually worried anyone. The rumours that spread around our little town made their way out and into the surrounding towns and into the bigger cities. People used to not care about our town. Suddenly, after a viral video and a few memes, people flocked to Hollowshire to see the house at the end of town.
On first glance, you’d think nothing of the house. Most people who drove past figured it was just an abandoned old house that could be a decent fixer-upper if the right investor came to town. No one around town cane quite pinpoint when the house was built, town hall doesn’t even have any records on the place.
When I first started investigating the house, I remember asking the one of the record keepers at the town hall why there was no record of the house being built. He shrugged and pushed his glasses back up from the tip of his nose. “It might be because it’s technically outside of the town limits,” he said. “A lot of the farms around here have no records either. Unless the city annexed the land when the property was built, there would be no record.”
Despite Hollowshire’s borders still not reaching all the way to the house, it was still close enough to the town that a quick bike ride north would see you landing in front of its door in about twenty minutes. I still remember the first time I rode to the house. I was maybe ten years old. I rode on my bike to the house, hearing the odd few rumours around school about it. We were maybe two weeks into the new school year, the leaves on the trees had just started turning gold and red and a few trickled down slowly as if dancing in the wind as I rode past on my bike.
I stopped at the bottom of the front porch. My bike fell to its side as my eyes fixed on the front door. I stepped towards the house, daring myself to climb that first step on the porch. The wood under my foot creaked loudly as I pushed myself further towards the door. I looked down and saw the step was rotting and the paint had almost completely chipped away. I planted my second foot on the first step and held the pillar that held up the porch’s overhang. A gust of wind blew by and I started shaking. The cold tingle of the autumn air crept along the back of my neck, standing the hairs along my arms on end. I stared at the front door. Then my eyes moved to each window on either side of the front door. The drapes swayed slowly, as if a draft was moving through the house. I couldn’t see into the rooms, though I leaned forward thinking even an inch of a closer glance might give me a better view inside.
A small hand then reached between the drapes and the fingers ran up and down the sheer fabric, as if to test how soft it was. The hand pulled one of the drapes aside and a woman wearing white stepped to the window. She was pale, blonde, very pretty. Her white dress covered her shoulders and hung loose all the way down her sleeves and well below her waist. She spotted me standing on the first step of the porch. She smiled and held her finger to her lips, beckoning my continued silence. Then she let go of the drape and she vanished behind it. I ran to my bike and rode home without stopping once and without looking behind me. There was a terror that shot all through my body that someone was following me. I didn’t dare look behind to see who, or what, it was.
Small town rumours tend to evolve into legends and the legends around the house lasted a long time, well past when I was in school. I left Hollowshire when I got accepted into journalism school in Toronto, but came back when the Hollowshire Gazette was the only paper that would give me a regular writing job. I lived with my parents for a few months when I returned to Hollowshire, moving out of province and back again is a tough ordeal even on a young college graduate. I was still living at home when the viral video exploded and was assigned to talk with the kid responsible for uploading the video and with house’s new owner.
My research started at the town hall trying to find any record of the house and coming out with nothing. The next part of my research was watching the viral video. It was filmed like most of the ghost hunting shows on TV. It was shot in the middle of the night, everything was dark and all the images had a green glow from the camera’s night-vision setting. The kid who filmed the video was alone. The video felt like you were watching everything unfold through his eyes. He walked through the house, explaining each room as he walked through, taking short guesses at what each room might be used for. The first few minutes ran pretty slow. He explored the main level and the upstairs, giving his brief impressions of each room. “This looks like it would probably be a bedroom,” he would say. “I think this is probably the master bedroom… Um, yeah,” the camera panned around the room. “Yeah, this room is bigger, so I think it’s the master.”
It wasn’t until the basement did anything interesting happen. The basement door was just off the kitchen, towards the back end of the house. The video shows the kid’s arm reach down and open the door. It swung open and the rickety, wooden steps glowed green, but the rest of the shot was completely black. He took one step on the stairs to the basement, moving slowly and carefully. The stairs creaked loudly and camera shook as the kid lost a bit of his balance. He quickly regained it and stepped down to the second step, with an even louder creak.
The camera was looking down when he made it to the third step, then quickly panned up to see a woman standing in the darkness. Her long, flowing white gown glowed green under the night vision. Her eyes looked like they had no colour in them, just beaming white orbs in her face. She smiled at the camera, held a finger to her face, and gave a long, slow, gentle shush before stepping backward and disappearing in the darkness. The cameraman screamed and ran out of the house, cursing and gasping heavily as he ran across the house and made it outside. He dropped the camera once he was standing by his car. The camera captured him as he leaned over, heaving and swearing. He threw up a bit before finally grabbing the camera and shutting it off.
Most people suspected the video was a hoax. The whole reason he video went viral was because people thought his panicked reaction was funny. But I recognized the woman. A decade and a half later, she looked the exact same and she was still in that house.
The kid who filmed the video’s name was Lessard Cormac. He was an eighteen year old aspiring filmmaker who was ecstatic that his short video had gone viral so quickly and figured this was his ticket to making movies for a living without having to go to school for it.
“It’s funny, I just saved myself like four years of my life a few thousand dollars,” Lessard said as we began our interview. “Maybe I’ll start getting paid to go into creepy places and filming it.”
Through most of the interview, he talked about what inspired him to try and go into the house and film around the inside. He said he wanted to expose the local mystery and figured maybe he would hear a sound or two in the distance but didn’t at all expect to see the woman in the basement.
“So you didn’t set up the scare at the end of the video?” I asked.
“I know that’s what everyone is saying,” Lessard continued. “But I swear I did not set that up.”
“Have you ever heard about anyone seeing the woman around the house before?” I asked. “Like, in local legend or anything like that.”
“No never,” he replied. “Even when anyone local leaves a note in the comments section, they never write anything about her. I even asked in the video’s description for any information on anyone who might have lived in the house and no one seems to know anything. Have you ever heard anything about her before?”
“No,” I shook my head and stared down at my notepad. “No, never heard anything like that before.”
I tried continuing our conversation, but the kid sat silent slowly shaking his head and not even blinking. “You’ve seen her too, haven’t you?” he asked.
There was no convincing this kid otherwise. He knew what he saw in the basement and he immediately knew I saw it once as well. There was no point in even trying to dance around the fact that when I watched the video I immediately recognized the woman.
“It was a long time ago,” I began. “I was a kid and – ”
“I knew it!” Lessard jumped up. “I knew someone else somewhere had to have seen what I saw. Were you in the basement too?”
“No,” I answered. “No, I was outside. She came to the window. She did the exact same thing as on the video. She locked eyes with mine, held her finger to her lips, and then just vanished in the darkness behind her.”
“How long ago was this?” he asked.
“I was maybe ten,” I answered. “So, probably fifteen years ago.”
“What did she look like?” he pressed on.
“The exact same,” I said.
“You’re sure there’s nothing different?” he leaned forward.
“You don’t forget something like that, even if you are only a kid,” I continued. “The face, the eyes, even the gown she’s wearing is all the exact same.”
His jaw hung open and he sat frozen in place. I don’t know if he was trying to believe what I was telling him or if he was trying to collect his thoughts. He finally blinked and looked up at me.
“It has to be a ghost,” he said. “Why else would she be the exact same? And hiding in that creepy house. And – ”
“Let’s not jump to any rash conclusions,” I interrupted. “Let’s think about it. She could be the daughter f who I saw when I was a kid. They could be squatters living in that house. Her mother could have given her that dress – ”
“You said yourself that she was the exact same,” he stopped my rambling. “You said you never forget an image like that and even after fifteen years you still remember every last thing about what you saw. Why is this so hard to believe?”
I shrugged. “It seems so unbelievable,” I said. “When I was a kid, I’d always hear about other kids going there and walking around on the grounds. You’re the first I ever heard of actually going into the house. But of all the kids I’ve known to go to that place, why are we the only ones who ever saw anything there?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But a lot of other people are seeing it now. And there’s a lot more interest in Hollowshire House than there ever was before.”
“Hollowshire House?” I questioned.
“Yeah, that’s what it’s being called now,” he explained. “Suitable name, I think.”
“Even though it’s technically outside of the town bounds?” I chuckled.
“It’s putting us on the map,” he smiled. “It even got someone to buy that creepy house.”
“I heard about that,” I said. “How was it bought? I thought no one technically owned it.”
“Don’t know,” Lessard smiled. “All I know is she’s turning it into some tourist money trap now. Are you talking to her for your story?”
“She’s my next interview,” I said. “Know anything about her?”
“No,” Lessard shook his head. “Just some anglo-dreadlocked chick. I saw her moving some stuff into the house the other day. Doesn’t look too old. Maybe a little older than you.
“Hey,” Lessard’s eyes suddenly widened. “Can I come with you to the interview? I think it would be pretty cool to meet her. After all, she’s about to make a ton of money because of my movie. And it would be awesome for your story too. Imagine getting the exclusive first look at the viral filmmaker meeting the new home owner. I could give her some spooky advice about the house or something. Get some cool quotes, it’d sell a ton of papers. What do you think?”
If it was any other kid I was interviewing for any other story, I would have instantly said no. The kid had a point about being able to tell the story of the viral video maker meeting the new homeowner. He was off about the story selling papers. Small community papers like the Hollowshire Gazette were put in everyone’s mailboxes every week and given away for free at local grocery stores and gas stations. But the more people open the papers, the more advertisers will pay for space. A good story like this could get a lot of people opening the papers, and could up my salary.
Not to mention this is the only other person who, on record, will ever admit they saw the same woman I saw at the house. I wanted to know he saw her too. Was she selecting people? Was there a connection between me and Lessard that neither of us knew about? I didn’t know how to find answers to these questions, but bringing Lessardm with me to the house might have given me some answers. It was worth whatever risk may have accompanied bringing the kid along with me.
That afternoon we visited the Hollowshire House and met its new owner. Lessard was right about the dreadlocks. Her roots were graying and the small black tattoos on her shoulders were faded from spending too much time in the sun. All this told me she was well into her forties but still trying to hold on to her alternative lifestyle from her twenties. She met me at the door, we scheduled the interview a few days back and was expecting me. She wasn’t expecting to see Lessard.
“You’re the kid who filmed the video?” she asked. “Very interesting. I’m glad you’re here. I had no idea this house even existed, I have you to thank for putting it online.”
She introduced herself as Miss Penny Abigail and walked us through the house. The smell of dust and dried out wood filled the air and was complemented by the sounds of the creaking floor beneath our feet. Light shot through the opened windows, illuminating the house like it hadn’t seen sunlight since it was last inhabited. I still don’t know when would have been the last time the curtains had been pulled away from the windows, letting the house absorb the full sunshine. Even with all the sun pouring in, the house still felt more like a graveyard than it did a home. Something about it felt dead.
She led us into the living room first. Boxes littered the ground all over. She smiled and shrugged, saying she was still just getting everything in order. I expected some evidence of whoever last lived in the house to still be present but there wasn’t even a picture on any of the walls. I asked Penny about what was in the house when she arrived. She said there was nothing and that even the representative from the city mentioned that after the house was annexed by the city, they were all shocked that there wasn’t a single thing in the house, aside from the curtains.
“Pretty much what I saw too,” Lessard piped up. I had completely forgotten he was there for a second. If he didn’t say anything at that moment, I may have left him at the house. “I thought it was pretty weird that there wasn’t any, like, furniture or like a fridge in the kitchen or anything.”
Penny chuckled. “A house this old wouldn’t have had a fridge,” she said. “But what I immediately noticed as oddest of all was that there wasn’t a stove. A house even this old would have had a stove. It’s how whoever was inside would have kept warm.”
“Know a lot about the house already?” I smiled. “Practicing your guided tour script already?”
“A little bit,” her dreadlocks bounced as she nodded her head. “I’m actually hoping to start tours in a couple of weeks. Get the Halloween tourists while they have ghosts on the mind.”
“So that’s all this is to you?” I asked. “Just a grab for a quick tourist buck?”
“No, that’s not all,” she answered. “Believe it or not, I am quite sensitive to the spirit world. I just decided to use my special gifts and interests to help me pay for the mortgage, that’s all. I have to ask, why such an evident non-believer in ghosts and the beyond would be so interested in writing a story on this place and my buying it? For a quick buck, obviously. You’re no different than me.”
Lessard chuckled. “This guy isn’t a non-believer,” he said. “He saw the ghost like fifteen years before I got to film it. Isn’t that right?”
“Wait, you saw it too?” Penny asked. “So the kid’s video really wasn’t a fake? I mean, I could feel a ghostly presence here, I knew something was haunting this house, but they don’t usually pop up on film so clearly. You usually get an energy orb, sometime a faint sound recording, but never a picture of a full on person.”
“Wait, if you thought the video was doctored, why buy the house?” I asked.
“Like I said, I could feel something, and I need to pay the mortgage somehow,” she said. “Unowned haunts are hard to find. I figured it was my turn to cash in, even if the viral vid was a fake.”
“It wasn’t a fake” Lessard chimed in. “I bet we’ll see her in the basement again right now.”
Penny looked over to me. “Did you see her in the basement too?”
“No,” I said. “She was standing in the front window.”
Penny looked back toward the kitchen area. “Well, I haven’t been down to the basement since I got my stuff in here,” she said. “Why don’t we all take a look?”
The living room connected directly to the kitchen, which was as empty as all the other rooms were. A few boxes were stacked on the counter space but that was the extent of anything present in the room. It had the same dried out and cracked wooden floor and same yellowed white walls as the rest of the house. On the far end of the kitchen was a door to the back yard. On the wall adjacent to the back door was another door, which led to the basement.
Penny opened the door and all I could see through the door was a set of old, rickety wooden stairs and cramped looking walls surrounding the walkway. As we walked down the stairs, it felt like the walls and roof around me were getting smaller and smaller. We finally reached the bottom of the steps and Lessard and Penny both walked forward with their eyes glued to whatever it was in front of them. I quickly saw what had them so enthralled.
In short, the dimensions of the basement simply were not possible. I counted an even dozen steps to the basement, but as I looked up above me, I could see the ceiling reached up maybe fifty feet. I looked down to my feet and saw the ground was dirt and rocks. The only light all around us came from the stairwell we just walked in from. I looked back and saw the stairs through a doorway surrounded by what looked like dark rock, like we were inside of a mountain.
I finally put my attention forward and walked out to where Penny and Lessard were standing. It was on the edge of what I could only describe as a cliff. The dirt and rock ground simply ended. Below it was what looked like and endless blackness. I picked up a fairly large rock and dropped it down, and waited for the echoes of it landing. But I heard nothing.
“I didn’t look like this when I came down,” Lessard said. “It was a normal basement. Like, wooden floors and I could see the studs in the walls and I could tell the roof was only like a foot from my head. It wasn’t like this. How did we end up here?”
“Did it look like this when the city rep showed you around?” I asked.
“No,” Penny shook her head. “It sure as hell wasn’t like this.”
“Do we tell someone about this?” Lessard asked.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I don’t think there are any city officials that handle anything like this.”
We turned and headed back out the way we came in. Through the narrow stairway, through the kitchen and living room, and out the front door. We stood at the bottom of the front steps, staring back at the house. I don’t know what Lessard and Penny were thinking, but I know I was completely lost at what to do next. The logical part of my brain kept telling me to turn tail and run, that nothing good to come of what we just saw in that basement. There was another part of me that wanted to go back down, look around and figure out exactly what it was I just saw.
“Neither of you set this up, right?” Lessard asked. He was breathing heavily and his eyes shot back and forth between us, like he was waiting for one of us to make a move against him. “Like, this isn’t some elaborate lesson because I snuck into this house?”
“No, not at all,” Penny said. “I swear on my own life that basement was not like that yesterday. I don’t know what the hell that was.”
Then they both looked at me. I realized I was far too quiet. Most people panic outwards. They talk and they pace and they swear and they sweat. I panic inside. The quieter I am, the more I’m panicking. I just get lost in my own head, trying to rationalize and reason with whatever I’m panicking about. I know it’s hard to read and when other people are panicking they get suspicious of the quiet one.
“I had nothing to do with this either,” I said.
“You’re a fucking liar!” Penny screamed.
“How? How am I a lair?” I yelled back. “When would I have come here to open a giant cavern in your basement?”
“I don’t know,” Penny shook her head. “But you’re the only one who said he’d never been down there before. You had something to do with that.”
“I seriously had nothing to do with that,” I tried to reassure them, but I knew the more I talked, the worse I would look. Instead I looked over to the house, and saw her again.
She stood at the window, just like she did the first time I saw her. She looked exactly like how I remembered her. White dress, long blonde hair, skin so pale it was almost translucent. She stood completely still at the window and stared at us, not moving. It took a couple of seconds for Penny and Lessard to read the expression on my face and loom toward the house as well.
“Holy shit,” Penny said. “You really didn’t make that video up. There she is.”
The woman in the window then looked over to her right. We followed suit and looked in the direction she was staring. All we saw was a hill covered in dead grass and fallen leaves. It wasn’t a very tall hill, maybe six or seven feet with a steady incline up, the kind of hill you could run up to the top in about thirty seconds. There were a couple of trees at the top of the hill, both almost completely bare of any leaves now. We watched the hill for a moment, then looked back to her.
She pressed her finger up to her lips and mimed a gentle “sshhh,” before disappearing back behind the curtains again.
“What was she looking at?” Penny asked.
I didn’t delay to try and answer. I just marched toward the hill and in half a dozen solid lunges I made it to the top and looked down the other side. Beyond the hill was a field, vacant of any housing or development. A few trees jutted out from the ground and the yellowed grass was covered in fallen leaves, but there weren’t enough trees to call the area a woods or a forest. It was just empty land.
The sounds of stomping and crushed leaves crept up behind me and I looked back to see Penny and Lessard catching up to me. They were both out of breath from the short sprint up the hill and they looked down to the empty land.
“See anything down there at all?” Lessard asked.
“Nothing,” I answered. “Nothing that jumps out at me right away.”
“Should we take a closer look?” he asked.
“That’s my gut feeling,” I answered. “Something down here caught the attention of whatever’s in that house. And I need to find out what.”
“I think I see something,” Penny piped up and started her jog down the hill toward one of the trees. She stopped and knelt over to inspect the tree’s bark. From where I stood, it looked just like an old tree. But Penny saw something.
I followed her down the hill and Lessard followed after me. I stopped in front of the tree that caught Penny’s attention and looked down to see what she was inspecting. I quickly saw it. Something was carved into the bark, but I couldn’t tell what. It looked like an X with a cross drawn through it and an arrow sticking out of the bottom.
“I found another one over here!” Lessard yelled out. I followed Lessard to the next tree and saw the same symbol, only with arrows pointing in different directions.
“I have no idea what we’re looking at,” Penny said. “I have a lot of books on different symbols and in the occult, but I have never seen anything like this before.”
“What makes you think it’s occult?” I asked.
“Markings in trees near a haunted house?” she listed off. “If the shoe fits, I guess. All this screams occult to me.”
“Even though you don’t recognize any of these symbols?” I asked.
“There are a lot of cultures we know nothing about,” she continued. “Could be from an undiscovered aboriginal tribe, foreign settlers we didn’t know landed here, any of which could have practices western culture would consider occult.”
“Can you tell how old these carvings are?” I asked.
“No, that’s one thing that’s not in any of the books I have,” she said. “I don’t know who would be able to tell how old these carvings are. Maybe an anthropologist? Or a plant scientist? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t have a good feeling about these carvings.”
I inspected a few other trees and noticed the same symbol all with different pointing arrows. The directions the arrows were pointing were all in different directions, but followed a logical path. I followed a few different ideas on the arrows and quickly realized that these weren’t just symbols, they were directions back to the house. I ran back up the hill and checked the two trees. And there they were, the symbols again both pointing directly to the house. I felt stupid for a moment for not seeing something so obvious and sitting right beside me, but I realized I wasn’t looking at the trees when I went up the hill, I was looking down on the other side.
“What do you think this means?” Lessard asked. “Why point toward the house?”
“Something over there,” I pointed out toward the other side of the hill, “needs to find its way over here, but why would it need reminders? Why not just memorize the path?”
“Maybe it’s not one it but many,” Penny suggested. “And some memorize the path while others have to learn it fresh and new. And these markings help them learn the path.”
“Like a multi-generational thing?” Lessard asked. “I heard about some of that kind of stuff in school. Like how some elders in tribes taught younger people how to hunt and where to find the nest fishing. Maybe whoever carved that stuff is long dead but they have, like, successors who need to follow the same path now.”
What Lessard was saying made an odd amount of sense. The symbols on each of the trees did make a mind of map that went directly to the house. But what were they looking for in the house? And how was the woman we saw connected to all of it? And what we saw in the basement? I kept trying to put the pieces together, but I knew I didn’t have enough. Part of me also knew we weren’t safe where we stood.
I trekked back down the hill and straight for my car, not telling Penny or Lessard where I was going. I’m sure they knew I didn’t care where I went as long as it was far away from this house. My curiosity quickly turned to fear and I needed to get away and never look back.
“Wait!” Penny called out. “Wait, goddamnit!”
Waiting wasn’t an option for me. There was only one option, and that was run. Run and forget all about this house, pretend I was never here, pretend I never saw the woman or the cavern in the basement, it was becoming too much and too weird and I couldn’t handle it. I came back to Hollowshire to get a grip on my life again and figure out where I was going wrong and why I had to live at my parent’s house again. This was supposed to be an easy community newspaper job that barely paid my bills, made a dent in my student loans, and built me some sort of cushion so I could leave again and feel secure that I wasn’t about to drop an atomic bomb on my entire life. I never signed up for this bullshit.
“Where are you going?” Penny yelled. “What about the story you’re writing?”
“Fuck the story!” I yelled back. “And fuck this! I don’t want to write about any of this. I’ll do a short piece on the viral video, on the house becoming a tourist spot, handing it in, getting my paycheque, and never thinking about this fucking place again.”
“Look, there’s something seriously wrong with this place and I can’t handle this shit on my own,” Penny said.
“Not my fucking problem,” I spat back. “If I knew there was actually a ghost in that house and there was some crazy fucking occult shit going on I never would have come here. Burn the house down, get some insurance money, and fucking move on. There, I helped you out. Now get away from me and never contact me. I want nothing to do with this shit.”
“Fuck you and bullshit!” Lessard yelled. “You told me in our interview that you saw her too. I know you need to know who she is and why is she in this house. That’s why you took this story, that’s why you wanted to interview Penny, don’t try to bullshit me or yourself into thinking you just want to do a quick story and be done. You wouldn’t have even needed to talk to us if that’s all you wanted. You want to know as much as I do and as much as she does what the fuck is going on. We all have a stake in this. My video, her house, your past. Now come on.”
I let what Lessard said sink in for a moment.
“Fuck off and die,” I broke the silence. “Not my problem. I don’t fucking care. Leave me alone.”
My keys were in my hand and I was one step away from my car when I heard Penny say, “Oh shit.”
Her voice was trembling. Something had her terrified. I looked back and saw Penny staring up the hill. My eyes travelled up and I spotted what she spotted. Three people, two men and one woman. The woman was in white, but she wasn’t the woman we saw in the house. She had long dark hair and the sleeves to her dress were loose at the cuff and laced all through the collar and shoulders. Her dress was more modern than the dress on the woman inside the house. She was darker too. If the woman inside the house was a ghost, then this woman was most definitely alive.
The two men with her were both big. One was tall and broad with thick arms. The other slouched and had a gut that jutted out. Both were wearing green aprons over their white tanks tops and blue jeans. Both had pig face masks on, and I wasn’t sure whether the masks were made from real pig’s heads or not. Each man had a cleaver in their hands. The one with the huge gut was breathing heavily, his shoulders raised and dropped violently with each breath.
“What do we do?” Lessard whispered.
I pulled out my cellphone and only realized for the first time that where we were had no reception. We were running out of options fast and as little as I wanted to do with any of this right now, I knew I was knee deep in it and I couldn’t leave these two behind.
“Get in the car,” I said, my heart racing and palms beginning to sweat as the panic finally sets in. “Get in the car!”
I get the doors unlocked all three of us climb in. I get the doors locked and jammed the keys into the ignition. I don’t have a chance to try and turn the engine before I hear the passenger side window crash and a giant arm wrap around Penny as she’s pulled out from my car. I lean across and grab her legs, trying to pull her back in, but I look up and see the man pull a ten-inch butcher’s knife and thrust it into Penny’s chest. He dragged the knife down through her torso, like he was carving a pattern into her body. She screamed and wailed and started to choke as the blood filled her mouth and shoot all over her face with each hard heave. I let go of her leg and go for the engine again, twisting the key and bringing my car to life as the window beside me smashed and I felt an arm wrap around me and pull me out of the car. I slip out from the arm’s grip and fall hard on the ground head first.
The pain from my landing shot through my body and blurred my vision. As it cleared, I saw Penny from underneath my car. She wasn’t moving and the blood had pooled up all around her as she laid on the yellow grass and dead leaves. Through the dreadlocks that fell in front of her face, I could see her eyes, still open and staring at me.
The vomit flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to roll onto my stomach. I rolled and let the chunks from inside my stomach drip off my face and heaved twice more before my stomach simply had nothing left to spill. A hand grabbed my hair pulled me. I crawled along on my hands and knees to wherever I was being pulled and stopped by the front steps of the house. I fell back and looked up, finally seeing the man’s pig mask was actually made from a real pig’s head. The smell of the meat in the pig’s face rotting filled my nostrils and made my head pound worse than it already was. He was breathing heavily. Either his attack ran him out of breath or he was excited at the prospect of me lying helpless in front of him.
He was the broad shouldered one. He wasn’t breathing heavily before like the fat one was. Pulling me out of the car wouldn’t have exerted him. He was excited. He slid his knife back into his belt with the other knives that surrounded his waist, grabbed a handful of my hair, and reached far back with a closed fist.
I woke up lying in the kitchen in front of the door to the basement. I was alone. I could hear some talking in the basement but couldn’t make out any voices or words. The sound of loud shrieks shot up the stairs but were abruptly silenced. That must have been Lessard screaming and now he was probably dead like Penny.
My arms and legs weren’t tied up, they probably weren’t expecting me to wake up so soon. I slid my arms under my body and pushed myself up to my knees. The sounds of the voices were getting louder now. It was my turn next.
“Ssshhhhh…” I hear a voice beside me whisper. I look over to see the pale woman. Our eyes meet and she smiles and with one hand she gestures for me to follow her. I push myself to my feet and creep behind her, trying not to make a sound.
She leads me to the living room and stops next to a wall near the window. “I have a hiding spot,” she says. “It’s safe. They don’t know about it.” She places her hands against the wall and tries to push, but nothing happens. “You push,” she continued. “I can’t. I feel so weak.”
“How long have you been hiding?” I ask her.
“A long time,” she nodded. “They haven’t found me yet.”
I press my hand against the wall where she had her hands and push. The wall slid open, revealing a hiding compartment. It was shallow. Just deep enough to fit a person with their back against the wall. We slid into the compartment and I slid the wall back into place. And we waited silently.
“Do you see him?” the voice of a man yelled from the kitchen.
“No, he must have run off,” another man’s voice called back. “Car’s still outside, he couldn’t have gone far.”
Heavy boots stomped through the living room and the front door swung open and shut again. In the distance, I could hear the back door do the same. There was no sound all around the house for a few moments when I finally broke the silence.
“How did you find this spot?” I whispered. I waited a moment for an answer, but was met only with more silence. I look beside me to where the woman was and saw her looking down. There was just enough light creeping through the hidden doorway that I could make out what she was looking at. A full skeleton was sitting up in the corner, arms wrapped around itself. It wore a tattered floral dress that looked just like the one she was wearing. She just kept staring at it.
“No one else has been in here,” she said. “Just me.”
“Could have been from before,” I said.
“No, no,” she shook her head. “This spot was empty when I first found it. No one else has been in this house since I started hiding. Just the kid and then that woman. I tried warning them both, tried to get them to hide too. I knew they would be hunted just like I was.”
“This happened to you too?” I asked.
She nodded. “My friends and I came here to camp. We lived a few provinces over. Didn’t tell anyone. We just wanted to vanish for a bit. Figure things out, you know? It was supposed to be our trip of enlightenment. Get our lives together and go home not afraid of our futures anymore. All my friends were killed right in front of me. I hid.” She looked down at the pile of bones. “I guess I’m still hiding.”
“Why are they doing this?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” she answered. “Whoever they didn’t kill outside of the house they dragged inside and to the basement. That’s the last I saw of any of my friends.”
The front door swings open again and boots stomp through the living room. The woman and I both stop talking and I move in close against the sliding door to listen.
“Where the hell could he have gone?” one man’s voice says. It’s rough sounding, like a smoker’s voice with a dry throat. When you live in a small town like Hollowshire, you can identify anyone in the town by voice alone, especially a voice as distinctive as the one I was listening to talk. When everyone knows everyone in a tiny community, anyone can be identified in one sentence. I had no idea who the hell this person was.
“He’s probably running back for Hollowshire,” a woman’s voice said. I didn’t recognize this voice either. She sounded young, no older than Penny was. Whoever was walking around Hollowhsire House wasn’t from Hollowshire. “The address on the kid’s license was in Hollowshire. Our missing man is probably from there too.”
“Should we clear out?” the man asked. “He might come back with cops.”
“I want that gate open,” the woman answered. “I don’t care whose blood opens it.”
A loud pop followed by a hard thud rings out and I realize that I just heard my first gunshot. I hear the man’s voice weeping and cursing, complaining about his leg.
“Drag this tub of shit to the basement,” the woman barks.
Another set of heavy boots marched into the living room and the man howled harder and louder as I heard him get dragged away. A moment later, I could hear more loud thumps coming from the kitchen, and one final crushing sounding landing. It was followed by the second gunshot I ever heard.
I pressed against the sliding door, preparing to open it, when the woman beside me who saved my life with her permanent hiding spot said to me, “Are you going to run?”
The question bothered me. I did want to run. They already thought I was gone. Their attention is in the basement now. It would be easy for me to run and not look back. I decided not to. Penny and Lessard were right. I wanted to know what I saw in that basement. I wanted to know why this poor girl died hiding in an empty house. I wanted to know why Penny and Lessard were both murdered. This time my curiosity was overtaking my fear.
Without looking around, I walked through the living room, through the kitchen, and back to the stairs to the basement. I stand in the opening for a moment before making myself take the first step down. And then the next, and then my legs did the rest without the tight feeling in my stomach slowing me down.
The basement opened up to a room with low ceilings and concrete floors. The wooden studs in the walls were exposed, just like how Lessard described it. Three bodies laid on the ground: Lessard and the two men who wore the pig’s faces. Lessard’s back was carved open, exposing his spine and his ribs connected back. He was drenched in blood everywhere except his face. His eyes were still open, staring out into nothing.
Around Lessard were the bodies of the two other men. Both with gunshot wounds in their legs and long gashes across their chests. Both men’s mouths were still filled with blood and the fat man still had a long butcher’s knife still stuck into his gut. It was the same knife he used to carve Penny.
The woman stood in the middle of the basement, her gun still in her hand, and she slowly turned and spotted me. She aimed her gun at me and pulled the trigger. Only a light click noise came from the gun. She quickly realized it was empty. This was the luckiest I had ever been in my life.
She chuckled. “Well, I guess you want to know what the hell is going on,” she said.
I looked around quickly. “The basement didn’t look like this when I came down earlier,” I said. “What the hell did I walk into before?”
“It was open?” her eyes bulged open. “How did you get it open?”
“I didn’t open it,” I said. “It was already open.”
“The woman who bought the house must have opened it then,” she continued.
“She was as clueless as I am,” I said.
“No, no no no no,” she rambled. “No, my father’s book said that bloodspill here would open it up. You had to kill a wanderer, someone who wasn’t from around the towns so no one would notice they were dead, and when the blood hit the ground, it would open the gate to the next world. He did it once. He said it worked. He killed some kids, he and his brothers. Their blood opened it. It’s how it works.”
She looked down at the floor. I can only imagine she was looking at all the blood and then around the room, trying to figure out where she went wrong.
I don’t know if I stood there for an hour or if it was only a fraction of a second, but all I remember is blinking and suddenly we were in the cavern. My eyes only left the woman for a second to take in my surroundings and let my brain process where I was. I looked back to her and she was smiling like she was about to dance in freshly fallen snow.
Neither of us had any time to say anything before we felt the ground rumble. I lost my balance and fell to my knees, my hands dug into the rock covered ground as I dropped hard and I felt stones dig into my palms. Along with the rumbling ground was a low moaning noise that echoed all around the enormous cavern and filled my ears until I completely lost all balance and fell over onto my side. I felt nauseous and started throwing up what little was left in my gut. I couldn’t get my eyes to focus and figure out where the woman went.
Something wrapped itself around my leg and gripped me hard and started pulling me toward where the cavern dropped into nothing. I don’t know if my ears adjusted or my body’s equilibrium kicked in, but my vision started to focus and I saw what was wrapped around my leg. It was black and long, its end came to a point and got wider and wider the further down it went. It felt wet and sticky against my leg. The smell of something putrid filled my nostrils. Like rotting meat left out in the sun for weeks. Or rotting fish.
What should have been suction cups along this tentacle acted more like fingers, grasping my leg all around and holding on as it tried to pull me down. I caught a glimpse of the woman, who had a tentacle completely wrapped around her. One of its grabbers had a grip on her face. She flailed, trying to break herself loose, but I knew it had her and it wasn’t going to let go. And I wasn’t about to let it grasp me completely and pull me into whatever netherworld it came from.
I reached out and grabbed a rock, the biggest one I could find within my reaching distance, and with both hands I drove the rock down into the tentacle that grasped my leg. The moan raised to a high shriek with strike I gave it. I hammered as hard as I could, even bruising my own leg in the process, but nothing was loosening its grip. It pulled me closer to the edge and I could see down the pit, into what still looked like complete blackness. But then something moved in the black. Something shifted and then something opened because suddenly an enormous eye was staring up at me.
An arm reached underneath my arms and around my torso and began pulling me back, away from the pit and toward the door out of the basement. I looked up to see the woman in white, the one saved me with her clever hiding spot in the wall, was pulling me to safety. She grunted and moaned, pulling with all of her strength. She then reached across and from somewhere pulled out a jagged edged rock and threw it down into the pit and directly into its eye.
The shriek screamed even higher and I was the eye close again and the grip around my leg loosen. I scrambled to my feet and ran to the basement door. The woman who saved me from whatever was in the cavern was close behind me. I looked into the cavern one last time to see the woman who wanted to see my death still gripped by the tentacle and pulled down into the pit. Once I couldn’t see her anymore, I ran back up the stairs and out of the house.
I didn’t stop until I was at my car. I stood by the driver side window with my keys in my hand, waiting to open the door. I waited for the woman who saved me.
She came through the front door and walked down the steps. She stepped slowly and carefully, like she was trying to walk across a room with shards of broken glass on the floor. Her final step was in front of me, and she hesitantly looked up and into my eyes.
“You’re not dead,” I said. “You wouldn’t have been able to save me if you were.”
She looked around confused. It was getting dark outside. The night was silent and still. Not even the leaves rustling made a sound around us.
“Come with me,” I said. “I can get you out of here. I can get you home. I can get you far away from here. You can start your life again. You don’t have to hide anymore.”
“I remember you,” she said. “You didn’t look like you do now. You were smaller, on a bike. I was still hiding. I thought they would find you too.”
Like ashes falling from a burning tree, small bits and pieces began falling off of her. One small flake after another, she decomposed in front of me. First her face wasted away to nothing. Then down her arms turned grey, rotted, and fell away. She reached out to me and the tips of her fingers wilted and fluttered away, dancing off in the wind. She rotted until she was nothing but bones standing in front of me, then the bones dropped away and all that was left in front of me was a pile of dust and ash floating in the wind.
The police investigated the house after I told them what happened. I didn’t tell them about the basement or what I saw in the cavern. Just that some people from the other side of the hill came across and murdered Lessard and Penny. The police’s investigation found four bodies: Penny, Lessard, and the town men wearing the pig’s faces. The men were identified as a couple of farmer’s from a few miles outside of Hollowshire. The story around the precinct was that the farmer’s were mad about some of their land being annexed by the town and blamed the online fame of the house for their loss and tried to take it out on whoever was there when they just happened to walk over for revenge.
I asked if they found a fifth and sixth body belonging to two other women. I told them about the hiding spot in the wall and about the other woman who was responsible for the deaths at the house. The police reassured me that they checked all over the house and only found the four bodies. I then asked about the basement and they said that it was gruesome down there and those two men didn’t deserve to die that way. Nothing about a cavern or a pit. Whatever appeared in front of me, tried to kill me or pull me into whatever plain of existence it was from, was gone. At least for the time being.
I never got to write a story about Hollowshire House. My editors told me I was too close to the story now and that they had a freelancer coming in from out of province to cover it. They said he would be covering the whole incident for a few different magazines and that he was interested in interviewing me. I didn’t know what to tell him, whether I should stick with the official story from police, or tell him what I really saw. In the end, I told him nothing. I told him it was too traumatic of an experience for me to relive so soon. I didn’t want to lie and no one else was ready to hear about what really went on there. Either that or everyone would think I was nuts, that the murders brought on some psychotic break and I created an elaborate story to somehow deal with what happened. Either way, it was for the best I didn’t say anything.
I did go back to the house. I walked through the living room and the kitchen, not taking in anything from either room, and went right for the basement door. I ducked my head a little as I took the steps down into the darkness underneath the house. Through the doorway I stepped into the massive cavern again. Here it was, present without any bloodshed or sacrifices. Just here for seemingly no discernible reason. Just like so many freak accidents in nature, from existence to evolution, it was just here and it didn’t need to explain itself to anyone.
My footsteps echoed through the wide open cavern with each step I took to the edge of the platform. The same dusty dirt and rock ground beneath my feet. I found another rock, bigger than my fist and difficult for me to pick up with on hand. But I lifted it and I hung it over the seemingly endless empty chasm, for just a second. It felt like a thousand thoughts ran through my head, all questions about what was in front of me. Is it still there? Does it care that I’m here? Does it have a concept that I escaped it? Does it only appear sometimes, like the cavern itself? I thought about the woman in the wall, hiding until she wasted away to nothing. I didn’t want to hide. I didn’t want to run away to figure something out. I wanted to face this and ask my questions and get my answers.
I let the rock go and watched it drop down into the nothingness and waited to hear it land.