The House of Daria Vane
I've been scared before, but never so terrified as I am now, watching them pound the ghastly For Sale sign in by the house of Daria Vane.
I could tell you what's wrong with that house. I could tell you about the noises I hear in the middle of the night when the neighborhood should be asleep, the low moaning like creaking walls, the barking no dog could ever make. How the wind echoes through the trees on that lot, the way my footsteps sound on the sidewalk as I walk past it. I could tell you about the smell, like dust and lavender, and under it all the enduring sense of decay that delves deep into the timbers of old houses. Sure, I could tell you about the shiver that runs down my spine every time I walk past the place, and the feeling like eyes burrowing into the back of my head, and the cold...But I won't. I don't need to tell you. You'll see for yourself before the end.
Sybil says that she's known Daria Vane for all the seven years they've been in the same neighborhood. She laughed when I pointed out everything Daria's done to the house--how the siding came loose at the same time Vane should have been getting her first wrinkle, and the shingles lost their color when her hair might have turned gray. The windows faded beside her eyesight. And now, when the house is looking like a woman of centuries, Daria doesn't look a day over thirty.
Of course, Sybil laughs. At least, she did, right up until Jonas Knightly body turned up in Daria's yard, mauled and mutilated, surrounded by paw prints that looked far too much like human hands.
I don't know what the investigation into Jonas ever found. I just remember sitting out on the front lawn, watching for hours as Daria walked round and round her yard, not touching anything, just staring at it like she'd never seen her house before. She didn't take care of her house, and wouldn't stand for other people offering too. I remember when my father offered to apply a fresh coat of paint to her siding, and she'd turned six shades of gray. I don't know, maybe she's just an eccentric. But that doesn't explain everything, and it sure doesn't explain the bodies.
Jonas was the only one at her house: at least, at her current house: but at places all over the area, people were turning up dead. And not just dead: decapitated, dismembered, shredded like paper. And--now listen carefully, I'm the only one who knows this--the bodies only showed up at houses where Daria used to live.
Sure, it sounds crazy. To anyone who doesn't know better, it sounds impossible. One woman, barely thirty years old, has lived in three different houses around the area for fifty years each? But that's not the worst. No, not by a long run.
Because Daria's lived in twelve different houses over the years. That's right: six hundred years, she's been moving, leaving her houses fall into amazing states of disrepair, but moving on in her eternal youth. And each time she leaves, you know what happens? Of course you do. Some new people move in, and they start fixing things up. And then they die.
I'm the only one who knows this. I found it in legal records, in diaries, from Daria Vane herself. My search has taken me four years, and in that time I've uncovered things that no one will ever, ever believe. But they'll have to believe me now.
Because there's another house for sale. Daria's going to move on, suck the life out of a new house, and let the house suck the life out of its next owner. That's how its been for six centuries, that's how it will be forever.
Thud, scrape, thud, scrape. It sounds like men digging a grave. But they aren't. They're putting up the For Sale sign in front of the thirteenth house of Daria Vane.
To clam my nerves, I decide to go on a bike ride. No destination in mind, really, but after a half hour of riding, I realize where it is I'm about to end up. The Veller house, built in 1860--by one Daria Vane.
I've been here before, though not quite this early in the morning, and not on such a cloudy day. A bit of heat lightening snakes across the sky above the caving roof. The house hasn't been repaired since a few years after Daria lived there, at least not that I can tell, and the walls look like they're about to buckle. There's still a single blue shudder clinging to one of the front windows, and as I walk past the wind bangs it against the house.
I wish I knew what exactly happened to the people who bought the Veller house from Daria, but the publiclibrary only keeps records through 1926. They must have died soon after their purchase. Looking through the glass windows, I can see why: the rooms have layers of beautiful hand-painted wall-paper, something Daria never would have bought. Improvements made by the new owners, then, and little did they know...they might as well have used coffin linings.
I park my bike out in back by the run-down shed and try the front door. It isn't locked. Strange, because I disticintly remember locking it behind me last time I left, about six months ago...but maybe some other kids found the house and dared each other to spend the night in it, or something else stupid. I look down at the floor, through the layers of dust. My footprints are there, and hand prints from when I tried to pry up the floorboards looking for a way downstairs. Though I don't remember trying in quite so many places. Strange. I'm not ashamed to say that if it were any later than three in the afternoon, I would run home right now.
The stairs are right to my left, covered in heavily worn green carpet, with regular red splotches that look like small puddles of blood. I start up them. There's a large golden mirror on the second-story landing, with a large crack down the middle, which I widened considerably on my last visit by falling down the second flight of stairs. I take a quick glance at my reflection, loosen my red hair from its pony tail, and move on to the third floor.
It's up here that things start to get interesting. I don't know if the library was Daria's or her buyer's, but it fills most of the top story. The shelves are the floor-to-ceiling kind you can only find in really old libraries, complete with a rolling ladder to reach the books on top. I climb the ladder now, testing each rung to see if it will hold my weight. It won't. One of the rungs breaks off in my hand, and I drop back to the persian rug on the floor.
I leave the library and go to the other room on the third story.It's empty now.I think it was a bedroom, but its strange, almost horse-shoe shape won't allow a large bed in. This room is the darkest in the house, because the crown of the maple tree in the side yard blocks the only window. I walk in carefully. This is the room that reminds me most of Daria, because it has her smell: lavender, very faint, but strong enough to cover the dust. I go over to stand beside the window when I hear a noise.
It isn't the sort you can expect from an old house, and trust me on that, I'm an expert. It sounds almost animal, like a wolf growling low in its throat. I turn slowly, but I have nothing to worry about: from this room, I can see the entire third story landing and the door to the library. Anything that might be in this house will have to get past me...
You and what army? That's a phrase I picked up from my dad, back before he and Sybil married, when I promised him that with God as my witness that I would stop him from marrying her! Well, he did, and now I'm starting to worry that my presence is not as effective as I once thought.
I hear the noise again, and this time, I can tell for sure that it's some kind of animal. But the tapping on the stairs, that's definitely human.
No one answers, but the climbing stops, and I hear the growling coming from far closer than it was before. "Hello?" I call again, stepping towards the door. "If someone's in here, I'd like to know--" I break off in a scream, tripping out onto the landing. Because I heard the wolf-noise again, and this time, it was coming from right behind me.
There's a gray shape in the bedroom, too dark for me to make out, except for its paws...or hands, I should say. Little black hands, with long nails like claws, but certainly human. I scream again, and run down the stairs, no longer caring about whoever was in the house with me because I know, for sure, that it's no one I want to know.
I don't stop running until I reach my bike, and I would scream again, if it weren't for the fact that I'm all out of breath. There are strange prints in the dirt around my bike--the dry dirt--with a human palm and deep, deep nail marks at the ends. And by the time the creature barks for the fourth time, I'm shaking so hard I don't even care.
"Shut up, I'm going!" I shout. "Shut up, shut up! I'm going!"
"Good," a voice says, too cold to be either male or female. "And don't come back."