This story is based on a forum topic I participated in with my friend Dandielion. Sadly, the forum is no longer there, but it will never be forgotten. Lily is Dandielion's OC.
"Welcome to Ghost Town!"
Jack looked nervously at the sky as he drove towards the old town. The sky was a dull grey, clouds obscuring the sun, so that it was growing dark even though it was still early in the afternoon. Jack's car was an old one, not in the best shape, and he wasn't sure how well it would do on the old dirt road if it began to rain. He wouldn't even be out there if it hadn't been for the message he'd received the day before yesterday. He wondered if it was worth it, coming to this out of the way place just to look at an old house he had no interest in keeping. Maybe it would be in pretty good condition, and he'd be able to sell it. He could use the money. He hadn't been making much lately with his writings. He was a horror writer, but his stories and books kept coming back with notes stating they weren't original or scary enough for publication. Then again, if he couldn't sell it, maybe living in an old town by the sea, in a crumbling old mansion, he'd be able to come up with some original and more frightening ideas for his work.
At last he reached a road sign. Five more miles. He had hoped to reach town before the rain reached him. But as the old town grew more distinct, his windshield was suddenly spotted with dark, murky drops. Pollution, Jack thought, although the town seemed far too primitive for that.
Jack's initial view of the town proved correct. The buildings were old, weather beaten. Many needed paint. The roofs swayed as if the architects had been drunk while building them. Jack looked about him. As far as he could see, the town appeared unoccupied. No children played in their yards. No men mowed the overgrown, weed-filled lawns. Dogs didn't run about here. It was like a ghost town.
Jack drove to a large open square in the town. He parked his car and got out. It had stopped raining, but the overcast sky and approaching thunder and lightning told him there was a lot more to follow. He started towards one large building, hoping to ask for directions to the town hall, but stopped as he heard someone cry out. He turned to see an old yellow cab with a dented fender. The taxi suddenly pulled away, leaving behind a very upset and angry-looking young woman.
"Hey!" she cried at the cab, which was already vanishing in the distance. "What do you think you're doing?!? Why are you leaving me here?"
Jack hurried over to her. "Excuse me, Miss? Can I help you?"
The girl turned towards Jack. She took a step back. "Who are you? What do you want?"
Jack stopped. "Sorry," he said, holding up his hands to show her he wasn't armed. "I heard you yelling at the taxi driver, and I was wondering if something's wrong?"
"I'll say there's something wrong!" the young woman said. "I was going to a resort hotel, and that driver said he knew a short cut. Then he stops here, and makes me get out!" She looked back down the road. The cab was already gone. "And he's still got my luggage!"
"That's terrible!" Jack cried. "I'm so sorry. Do you have someone you can call to come pick you up?"
The girl shook her head. "No. No, I…I don't have anybody," she admitted.
"You're all alone too, huh?" Jack asked. "Well, I wish I could help you, but I don't live around here. I just came to see a lawyer."
"Oh?" the girl said. "Are you suing somebody?" She looked down the road again.
"No," Jack said. "I just inherited an old house around here someplace. I'm Jack, by the way."
"Lily," the girl said. "I guess I need to see a lawyer. That cab driver took everything I have!"
"Well, I'm sure somebody can help you at town hall," Jack said reassuringly. He looked around at the old, unmarked buildings. "If we can find it, that is."
They started walking. There didn't seem to be anyone to ask directions from..
"It's awfully quiet here, isn't it, Jack?" Lily asked. She hugged herself as a cold breeze blew past them. Jack took off his coat and wrapped it around her. "Thanks," she said, putting her arms into the sleeves, "but won't you be cold now?"
"I have a sweater in the car," Jack said, smiling at Lily. It was good to have company in a place like this. The quiet and the condition of the buildings had been giving him the willies. "But I'm fine right now. Don't worry about me."
At last Lily spotted a large building with a badly damaged sign: City Hall. Actually, it read it all. Like everything else in the town, it was old and slightly crooked, and, as they came closer, had what appeared to be mildew growing on one side. Lily moved carefully away from the greenish-grey stains.
"This place is disgusting!" she told Jack. "I hope we don't have to stay here long."
Jack started up the steps to the front door. "You and me both, Lily," he said. He opened the door for her. "Ladies first."
"Thanks," Lily said, stepping into the building. It looked just as old and weather beaten on the inside as it had on the outside.
Inside, Jack walked up to the front desk. The man behind the desk seemed to be writing a letter, using an old quill pen and a bottle of ink. Just how backward is this place? Jack wondered.
While Jack waited for the clerk to notice him, Lily looked about her. There were a few tables with chairs scattered about the room. A back door was marked "PRIVATE." The carpet was old and frayed in more than one place. Lily made a face as she noticed another patch of that mold she'd seen outside, against the far wall near the floor.
At last the clerk looked up. "Can I help you?"
Jack resisted the urge to say "It's about time!" Out loud, he said, "Yes, my name is Jack Tanner. I'm here about a property I just inherited in this area."
The clerk looked at him strangely. "Most people are interested in moving out of this place, not moving in, friend!"
Jack laughed. "I'm not really sure about moving in, but I have to at least claim this place and look it over before I can sell it."
The clerk nodded his head. "Sure, sure…" He got up from his chair and went to a filing cabinet. "Tanner, you say?" He started to open the bottom drawer, which was marked "R-Z."
"Uh, the property belonged to my mother's father," Jack said, "so you won't find it under 'T.' It would be under 'G' for 'Graymoor.'"
"The old Graymoor house?" the clerk said, staring at Jack. "Inherited or not, you don't want to go there! Nobody goes to the Graymoor house!"
"Is it unsafe?" Jack asked. "Floors about to give way?" If the house was falling apart, he wouldn't be able to sell it, or even live there if he needed to do so.
Lily, still looking around the building, had noticed an old grandfather clock in the far corner. She walked over to it to get a closer look. It was made of ebony, and decorated with strange creatures that looked like they'd come from nightmares.
The clerk shook his head. "Not what I meant," he assured Jack. "You must have noticed this town isn't a very friendly place."
"Yeah, how could I help it?" Jack said, laughing nervously. "I was kind of wondering about that."
The clerk leaned over his desk and said softly, "It ain't safe to be out at night." He looked around nervously. "Sometimes, it ain't even safe to be about in broad daylight!"
Jack blinked in surprise. "Street gang trouble? I didn't see anyone like that, did you, Lily?"
"No," Lily said, still staring at the clock. One of the carven figures had seemed to move, a long, sinewy dragon that had shifted from side to side. As Lily watched, the other figures began to subtly move as well. It was slow, only a fraction of an inch at a time, but definitely moving.
"Not what I meant," the clerk told him. "There are…things about here you'd really want to avoid."
Jack was still facing the clerk and hadn't noticed either the clock or Lily's fascination with it. He grinned at the clerk. "Don't tell me the house is haunted." He meant it as a joke, but the clerk jumped at the last word.
"We don't use that word around here, young fellow," he said hoarsely. "You take my advice, you and your lady friend will leave here the same way you came. Now."
Jack clenched his fists. "Now see here, I don't want any trouble, but I have a right to that house! It's mine, after all!"
The clerk shook his head. "You're a fool, buddy," he said, shrugging, "but it's your funeral. Just go down Main Street and keep driving until you reach a small grove of trees just outside of town. The Graymoor house is right in the middle of them. But don't say I never warned you." The clerk had Jack sign a few legal papers, then gave him the keys to the house. The clerk crossed himself, then turned away.
"Jack…" Lily said, still staring at the shifting carvings. "Jack, come look at this!"
Jack crossed the room and looked at the clock. The figures had stopped moving. "I can see it's very old," he said. "I didn't know you were interested in clocks."
"I'm not," Lily told him. She lowered her voice. "They were moving just now!"
Jack looked at her, then back to the clock. "What was moving?"
Lily pointed at the dragon carving. "The creatures on the clock," she whispered. "They were moving just before you came over here."
"Come on, Lily," Jack said softly, taking her hand. "I know this place is creepy, but don't let it get to you. We're getting out of here." Outside, it had begun to rain again.
They walked to Jack's car in silence. Jack shivered, but didn't mention the cold to Lily. Once at his vehicle, he opened the door and fished his sweater from the back seat. Lily made a face as he pulled it over his head.
"Jack, if you're cold, you should have said something," she told him. "You don't know me, and you don't owe me anything."
"Sorry," Jack said, straightening his shirt collar. "My mother didn't raise me to leave damsels in distress."
Lily shook her head. "I hope you're joking," she said. "I'm not helpless, and certainly don't need a white knight riding to my rescue."
"Sorry," Jack said again. "Just the way I was raised, I guess."
"So what was your grandfather like?" Lily asked as the old car moved slowly through the seemingly deserted town.
"I was scared to death of him," Jack admitted, wishing the windshield wipers worked better. All they were doing was smearing the murky rain. "He was always yelling orders at people. 'Where's my beer?' 'Where's my cigar?' He had a cane he'd strike on the floor when he wanted something. I used to hear the tapping in my nightmares."
"How awful!" Lily said. "But he must have liked you if he left you his house."
"I don't know about that," Jack said, peering through the windshield. It was pouring now. He could barely see anything. "Had no idea he left me anything until I was going through the garage to see what could be tossed out, and what could be put in storage. I checked with an attorney, and then drove out here."
"In storage?" Lily repeated. "Were you getting kicked out of your home? Is that why you need this old house?"
Jack sighed. "Pretty much, yeah," he admitted.
Jack drove down Main Street until he reached a dirt road. He followed it several miles to a grove of trees. As the clerk had said, the mansion was in the middle of them.
Graymoor Mansion was a large, two stories high with an attic that sagged on one side. Whatever color it might have been painted, it was now a dull grey. The curtains they could see were a dark brownish-orange.
"It does look haunted," Lily said, crossing her arms as she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature.
"It's just old," Jack said reassuringly, "nothing to be afraid of."
"I didn't say I was afraid," Lily pointed out. "I just said it looks haunted."
"Yeah, you're right there," Jack admitted, stopping the car near a garage. The door swayed drunkenly, as if it had been slammed violently many, many times. Jack opened the door and stepped out into the downpour. He tried a key in the garage door. Then another. The third key turned in the lock. He opened the garage door, to find it full of moldy old boxes. He sighed and closed and relocked it. He returned to the car.
"So much for parking the car in the garage," he said, opening the passenger seat. "I'll go through everything tomorrow or the next day and see if I can just toss it all out. Right now, we'd better get inside. It doesn't look like the rain's going to slacken anytime soon!"
Lily pulled Jack's coat up over her head. She climbed out of the car and pushed it shut, then started towards the old house.
"Oh, wait!" she said, turning back. "You should lock your door, Jack!"
Jack shook his head as he took her hand. "I seriously doubt anybody's going to come way out here to steal an old heap! Come on! I don't know about you, but I'm getting soaked!"
They raced to the front steps. They were slick with the dirty rain water. Lily grabbed onto the wooden banister and started up the steps. The banister let out a large creaking sound. "Great," she muttered. "Jack, I think your house is falling apart!"
Jack nodded, following her very slowly. "Yeah, this is a real fixer upper. It just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?"
At the front door, Jack tried the keys again. This time, it was the last key that worked. "Figured," he muttered. "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!"
"Don't say that, Jack," Lily said, pushing the door open. Again, there was a loud creaking noise.
"Going to need to buy a lot of oil," Jack muttered, looking around.
At least, they tried to look around. The curtains blocked out whatever light might have entered the small windows. Jack reached into his pocket. "Good thing I had the sense to pack a flashlight." He turned it on and played the beam around the room.
There were several large, white objects that turned out to be sheets covering old furniture. A clock stood against the far wall, similar in workmanship to the one in the town hall, but lacking in the weird carvings that had moved about in front of Lily's eyes. Across from the clock, a flight of stairs led to the second floor. It was a large living room, taking up perhaps half of the ground floor. The kitchen contained sagging wooden cupboards, a discolored sink with a pump, an old stove, and an antique ice box. Several large bags of grain were found in the pantry, but holes showed mice had gotten to them.
"I'll throw those out as soon as it stops raining," Jack said.
"Be careful nothing bites you when you do that," Lily said.
"Don't worry, I will," Jack assured her, closing the pantry door.
Jack tested the stairs carefully. "Looks like whoever was here last took better care of this part of the house," he said.
"Didn't your grandfather live here?" Lily asked, following him.
"Not for many years," Jack said, reaching the top of the staircase. "He moved in with my parents when I was little. Health problems. He had somebody come in once in awhile to take care of this place, but from the looks of everything, I'd say they stopped coming years ago."
Lily made a face at the peeling wallpaper. "Yeah, I'd say so. This house is going to need major renovating, Jack."
"Which I can't afford," Jack said unhappily.
Jack opened the first door on the second floor. Lily's nose wrinkled at the smell of tobacco and alcohol. Pipes hung on the walls. Cigars sat in jars on a desk. Against the wall sat a wine cabinet.
"Yuck!" Lily said, backing away. "I hope you haven't picked up those bad habits, Jack!"
Jack shook his head. "No way," he said, shutting the door. "Smoking and drinking were what killed him. Besides, I never wanted to be anything like him. Used to hide when I'd hear his cane tapping on the floor. He hit me with it once when I was about five years old."
Lily gasped. "That's terrible! I can't believe he'd do something like that to a little boy! His own grandson!"
"Yeah, he was a real piece of work," Jack said. "I did pick up one habit from him. He used to scare me at night with ghost stories. After awhile, I decided to use that fear to write my own. Unfortunately, I haven't been doing that well at it." He opened the next door. Something stood in front of them, fangs bared. Lily screamed.
"Just a stuffed bear," Jack said, his hand shaking a bit as he played his light around the room. A number of animal heads were mounted on the wall. "He was a hunter in his youth."
"How barbaric!" Lily said, backing away from the room.
Jack shut the door and checked the rest of the second floor. Four bedrooms. The first and third were dingy and had a bad odor to them. The second room wasn't too bad. Jack opened the window and he and Lily dusted it a little.
"There, not too shabby," Jack said.
"The problem is, the air's not too good in here, and the rain's coming in, so you can't leave the window open too long," Lily pointed out.
Jack shrugged. "A little rain's not going to hurt this dump," he said. "I'm just relieved the roof isn't leaking. Knock wood." He tapped on the wall.
"Superstitious?" Lily asked.
"Not really," Jack said sheepishly. "But it can't hurt."
Finally, there was the master bedroom. This appeared to have actually been kept up not too long ago.
"This room doesn't look too bad," Jack said, looking around. "You can use this one, Lily."
"This is your house, Jack," Lily pointed out. "You should have the nicest room in it."
Jack shook his head. "I'll be fine," he insisted. "I'll take the one at the end of the hall. Get some rest, Lily. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted."
"Yeah, me too," Lily said, yawning. "Good night, Jack."
"Good night, Lily." Jack walked down the hall to the last room. Not as nice as the one he'd given Lily, but better than the other rooms. He closed the door and placed his candle holder on the dresser. He removed his shirt and shoes, blew out the candle, then climbed into bed. He shut his eyes and tried to fall asleep.
In her room, Lily got into bed and looked up at the ceiling. This place gave her the creeps. She'd be glad to be out of there.
Jack finally fell asleep. He began to dream. Once again, he was a little boy, cringing in a corner as his grandfather beat his cane on the floor and yelled orders. Tap! Tap! Tap!
"Where's my beer?" the old man yelled. "Somebody bring me a pipe!" Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lily rolled over, trying to get to sleep. Then she heard something. A tapping sound. Not the rain. A branch hitting the window? She sat up in bed. Tap! Tap! Tap!
"Jack?" she called softly. "Jack, are you making that sound?" No, that was silly. Why would he be doing something like that? Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lily got up and put on her shoes. She went to the door. She started to open it, then stopped. The sound was now right outside her room! Tap! Tap! Tap!
"Who's there?" she demanded. "What do you want?" The tapping paused for awhile in front of her door, then went on down the hall. Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lily pushed the chair against the door, then turned on Jack's flashlight. She looked around the room for a weapon. Nothing in sight. Maybe there was something in the closet.
Jack tossed and turned restlessly as the tapping moved in front of his door. He could hear it, although it had become a part of his dream. His grandfather was pounding his cane hard on the floor, cursing. Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lily had managed to find an umbrella in the closet. It was a poor weapon, but better than her bare hands. She hurried back to the door just as the tapping returned. Tap! Tap! Tap!
"I'm not afraid of you, whoever you are!" Lily said. "Get away from here!" Tap! Tap! Tap!
After what seemed like hours, Lily heard the tapping moving away. It moved down the hall, then seemed to rise into the air. She realized it was going up the attic steps. Then she heard the creaking of the attic door being closed. The tapping continued overhead. Tap! Tap! Tap!
Lily threw open her door and ran to Jack's room. If he was behind this, she'd kill him! If he wasn't…
Jack moaned as the tapping in his dream was joined by a knocking sound. The tapping faded, but the knocking grew louder. Jack finally awoke, to realize the knock was real. He got out of bed and went to the door. He opened it, covering his face as Lily's light shined in his eyes. "What's going on?"
"Didn't you hear that tapping sound, Jack?" Lily asked, moving the light out of his face.
"Huh?" Jack said. "I dreamed about my grandfather tapping his cane on the ground, but how could you know about that?"
"It wasn't a dream," Lily insisted, shining her light up and down the corridor. "I definitely heard it too!"
Jack shook his head. "It's an old, dark, spooky house," he pointed out. "I told you about my grandfather tapping his cane in this place. We must have both been thinking about him and had pretty much the same dream. It's an odd coincidence, but I'm sure that's all it is."
Lily made a face. "I wasn't dreaming, Jack! I was wide awake when I heard that sound!"
"Maybe it's the plumbing, only that should have been shut off," Jack said, trying to reassure her. "I'm sure it's nothing. Just go back to bed. I promise, I'll do my best to help you get to that place you were headed for."
Lily started to say something, then shook her head. "Good night, Jack," she said, turning and walking back to her room.
Jack shook his head. He hadn't wanted to worry her since he could see she was pretty badly shook up, but he'd had a weird, creepy feeling since he'd entered the house. Well, it was bound to be good for his writing. He went back to bed and struggled to go back to sleep. He finally dozed off, to find himself having the same dream of his grandfather and his tapping cane.
Once again, the sound came. Tap! Tap! Tap! It came down the hall, towards Jack's room. This time, it began to knock on Jack's door. Jack tossed and turned in his sleep. "Come in, Grandpa!" he muttered. His door opened. The tapping sound entered his room.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
To be continued…