House of Madness - Tells the story of Teal Barrett, a young and very normal woman, who during a visit to her younger sister encounters an unfortunate accident that leaves her a member of the living dead. Seeking answers, she comes to stay at a peculiar out dated hotel proudly christened the 'House of Fun', the staff and guests of which are not so different from herself, and have a few problems of their own. This is life after death, without the drama.

There's a saying; what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. It's true, but for us... it was death that defined us. Welcome to the dead.

Please Note! This story is rated 'T' for violent themes, and rape. This chapter contains a scene which may be uncomfortable for some readers. It isn't too bad, it's not exactly explicit, but if you're not comfortable with the idea of rape, please don't take it out on me. You were warned. Thank you.

Chapter One

Arriving at that hotel was one of the single most precious moments of my life. It was a starting point for many of the important moments to follow, and was to become a dear place to me.

That day, however, it was intended as merely a place to sleep that night. When I actually clapped eyes on the building however… I had half a mind to turn the car and drive straight back the way I came. Bluntly, it didn't look stable, all precarious turrets and towers. The other half of my mind protested that I was just too damn tired to care, and in the end I pulled up in the driveway and hesitantly emerged from the metal shell.

My second appraisal of the hotel cheerfully titled, 'House of Fun' wasn't much improved. I grimaced, almost certain I saw it teeter to the side another millimetre even from where I stood. How could it not? There was a relatively small first floor, and then extensions had been made all over the place on the four floors above that. Swallowing, I tugged my travel bag from the boot and locked the car with one hand, trekking up the gravel path and hearing at the back of my consciousness the sound of the wheels on my bag trundling across the ground.

It reminded me of something out of a horror novel. One of those old 19th century ones though, like Frankenstein or Dracula. I frowned; even the way I was approaching the swaying building was reminiscent of such novels. I sighed, and shifted the bag to my other hand. The comparison should have ended with the design of the building.

I heaved my bag up the cracked and worn stone steps to the large wooden doors. Multi-coloured stained glass was set into both doors, which were uneven and oddly shaped, but it wasn't of something specific. It conjured up images of jesters and old royal courts, the colours splashed in vibrant patterns.

I knocked with the large hand shaped knocker and noted with some amusement that it was carved as if it were gloved. Was this the home of a delusional comedian? But no, the sign on the road had proudly proclaimed House of Fun, Hotel, Vacancies.

The door opened with a loud buzz and I stepped inside, almost dropping my bag at once. The walls were decorated with lurid paintings and old black and white photographs, painted bright colours and the floor was a black and white checked pattern. I frowned, immediately thinking of the 80s and shaking it out of my system, gaze fixing on the reception desk. A tall woman with long black hair and a red streak swept out of a door behind the desk and sat down, glancing at me with shining black eyes. It was somewhat unnerving, and I shuffled forward reluctantly. She reminded me of a spider, preparing to attack with her long pale limbs and wicked smirk.

'Hello,' I greeted.

She gave me a closed eyed smile and I was faintly grateful that I'd been given a reprieve from that powerful gaze. 'I'll just fetch the manager for you,' she said charmingly, her voice more sensual than I'd expected; the image of the spider almost vanished at once, as I'd been waiting on a hissing, cackling kind of voice. She stood up, long black dress trailing on the horrible linoleum floor as she hurried out the back again and a man stumbled out, her black nail polished hands shoving him behind the desk before she disappeared again.

I took in the new player. His hair was in complete disarray, untidy and black, sticking up in two places just as if he had cat ears. I caught myself for making so many comparisons to animals, but couldn't help myself. His entire being screamed feline, from the narrow angle of his jaw to the slightly slanted, incredulous green eyes set behind a pair of small spectacles nestled on his long nose; long, but not sharp.

He was dressed in a white lab coat, red, blue and black pens sitting neatly in the breast pocket. I didn't bother to question at the time why a hotel manager was wearing such a thing, more intent on getting a room for just one night. 'Hello,' I repeated myself and he nodded, fishing a packet from another pocket, presumably in his pants and offering it. It contained small round chocolates.

'Would you like one?' he said, his voice even more pleasing than the woman from before. Smooth, a touch high for a man his age and the accent was British, though I couldn't place exactly where just yet.

I shook my head once. 'No, thank you.'

'Are you sure?' he persisted, 'I understand women in particular are very fond of chocolate. It has a satisfying effect on them.'

I was a little annoyed by his manner of speaking, however. Stifling my irritation, I denied him again. 'I'm just here for a room for the night.'

'I see,' he muttered, putting the chocolate away. I was a bit disappointed, but scolded myself; sometimes one couldn't be too careful. 'Well then you're lucky. We've a few vacancies. Single bed?'

'Yes. Just for one night; I'll leave tomorrow. How much would that be?'

He glanced up, appraising me for a moment, and then the corner of his lips tweaked upwards ever so slightly in what I would later learn was his natural smile. 'We can settle that in the morning,' he told me, 'it depends you see, on your conduct.'

'I'm just going to sleep,' I informed him. 'I don't even think I need a meal.'

'Of course,' he replied evasively, 'don't worry I am sure you can afford our expenses. I need a name though.' He retrieved a folder from a drawer under the desk and set it down, opening it up and scribbling down information as I gave it.

'Teal,' I said, 'Teal Barrett.'

He tossed me a key and directed me up the stairs. He also slipped me a piece of paper with a number on it. 'For any enquiries you may have and for room service if you do need it.' I thanked him briefly and approached the stairs, turning back at the foot for a moment.

'Just a moment, can you tell me where the bathroom is?'

'There's a bathroom with your room,' he tossed over his shoulder, starting for the door he'd emerged from before. I noted an old 80s poster on it and recalled my earlier thoughts. I also raised an eyebrow at his legs clad in a pair of denim jeans. With the white lab coat, it was an unusual combination. I tore my eyes from the peculiar man and hurried up the stairs, barely taking in the odd structure of the building or the spiralling of the staircase, being too exhausted now to care.

I fumbled a bit with the small key in the tiny keyhole, frustrated by the ridiculously large doorknob, and cluttered in, dropping my bag by the door, kicking off my shoes and collapsing on the quite simple bed. White sheets. White cover. White pillows… with black spots. Polka dots now?

Oh well. It might have been ok if it weren't for the dark purple walls and the red carpet. I groaned, rolling onto my back. 'I suppose it's alright,' I grunted. I was only going to sleep there and then I'd be off the next day.

I sat up, peering out the window. The view was of the beautiful country side, and the town nestled a ten minute walk away from this hotel. A church rose on the hill side opposite the hotel through the other window, an alarmingly large cemetery sprawling beside it, though this was mostly obscured by greenery.

Flopping back again, I closed my eyes and prayed for sleep. The trouble was, knowing I was surrounded by such colourful walls was driving me mad. I felt my stomach rumble and tried to ignore it but gave up. I might as well eat. Snatching the scrap of paper from my pocket, I picked up the rather ancient looking phone and dialled the number written on it in the manager's scratchy scrawl.

'Yeah?'

I blinked, recognising the voice as the woman from before. 'Hi,' I said, 'Can you tell me what kind of things you've got to eat around here?'

I heard a small laugh, as if the woman was trying to stifle her amusement. 'Honey, we've got a feast tonight. You're welcome to join us and see for yourself, if you like. I can send someone up to get you when it's ready.'

I mulled it over. 'How long will that take?'

'Won't be long now.'

Satisfied, I nodded. 'Yeah, ok I'll do that.' Quickly I hung up and pocketed the number again.

True to her word, the woman sent someone to collect me. There was a loud knock on my door, made by a solid sounding hand. 'Hey,' a soft voice said, though it was clearly male, 'Dinner's done. Meet you at the bottom of the stairs.'

I ran my fingers through my shoulder length black hair and hurried down to meet this man. He startled me with his appearance; the voice matched better now. I'd expected someone stronger and more solid, from what I'd heard of his footsteps. Like the woman I'd already met, he had long thin limbs, but if the woman was similar to a spider than this man was, in fact, a spider. He had slightly too long wispy silver hair, the tips white when they caught the light, and his smile was a bit creepy, his incisors rather like little fangs. His eyes were also a very solid black, and I glanced at his fingers; slender, delicate, long and pale. 'Hello,' he said, smile widening, 'I'm Keith.'

'Teal,' I said automatically, following him and unable to shake the thoughts comparing him to an arachnid away. His movements were purposeful and light, but although he didn't hike his knees up like a spider, I couldn't help but think he still looked like he was walking in a manner like they do. 'Are you related to that woman I met earlier?' I enquired before I could help myself.

'Mm. I'm her brother,' he answered casually, his tone bored suggesting he'd heard it many times before. 'Her name's Alanna. She handles finances around here.'

'What do you do?' Creepy as he was, he seemed nice, and I was starting to kind of like his lilting voice. 'Not to appear nosy.'

He shrugged. 'This is just a roof over my head.'

'Oh… and the… manager, is he… a little, you know…' I didn't want to be too blunt but I finished lamely, 'well, crazy?'

'He certainly does his best to convince everyone,' Keith said, 'But after a while, you realise he's just very lost and confused. That's Theo.'

I didn't respond, following him into a large room with a long table. Once again, I thought of a royal court being entertained by a jester with little bells on his colourful hat. The tapestries on the walls between the numerous windows did little to alleviate the image.

'Hey,' the woman called Alanna said glancing up from where she was setting a platter down on the table. 'Take your pick of what you like. Have as much as you want.'

Also in the room was a young bright eyed girl with honey brown hair tied in pigtails, adding to her youthful appearance. Apparently she was seventeen, and her name was Mel. She wore a pastel yellow dress, lilac ribbons in her hair, and a pastel green shirt beneath the see through top of the dress which was also quite low cut. Matching the shirt were the pastel ballooning pants beneath the skirt and the pastel blue slippers on her feet.

I gathered she liked pastel colours. I didn't, myself, but she pulled them off. I flashed her a smile as I sat opposite her. No one else was in the room until Alanna suddenly glanced at her watch, yelped and hurriedly finished setting the plates.

The manager, Theo, swept into the room just as she took her seat and sat at his place. 'Alanna,' he said calmly, 'You were behind schedule again, weren't you?'

She glared. 'I had a phone call. These things happen. You must stop being so rigid with routines.'

He returned her glare tenfold and focused on taking small bites of his meal. I wasn't as hungry as I had been a moment ago, and hate quickly, leaving with a short thank you and rushed back to my room, able to fall asleep much faster this time.

And when morning came, I thanked them for their good service, paid a surprisingly small bill, and drove into the town and beyond. I was going to visit my sister, Raven. It had been such a long time.

My cries and pleas fall on deaf ears. It hurts. My body burns and he laughs delightedly, bearing down on me and I scream and bite his hands when they caress my cheeks, but he pays me no heed except to moan; he liked it. I fight the urge to vomit tasting blood when he bites my lips. Hands, all over my body where no one should touch me.

He won't stop.

His hunger seems to never satiate. I haven't cried so hard in so long, but it hurts too much and my mind is in turmoil, I feel so violated.

And he takes my neck into his hands and twists.

Crunch.

My eyes open and there are dry trails of tears splitting on my cheeks. I take a shuddering breath and suddenly feel it; the ache all over, the searing pain in my neck... and then it's all over. I'm completely damage free.

Physically at least, for emotionally I'm a train wreck. I can see an inky black above me, dotted with pinpoints of light. Entering the sides of my view are tall grimy buildings and I can hear police sirens in the distance. I tilt my head and cry out, but the pain is brief, a memory of pain I'd already felt. I sat up and looked around me; an alley with dumpsters and graffiti. I grimace as my hand lands in something wet and sticky. I look and see there is blood on the ground, and that my clothes are stained red with it. There are holes in my t-shirt ringed with the liquid but there is no wound on my body.

Confused, I stand shakily and take an uncertain step, stumbling and crashing to the ground again. My hands shake and I study them; they seem thinner, bonier than I remember them being, and my nails are painted black though I have no recollection of doing so – black didn't go with what I was wearing. I close my eyes and take an uneasy breath. I feel something is different about me; something in my basic integral structure has changed entirely.

The sirens are getting louder, and frightened I shoot to my feet and run down the alley tugging my jacket around my body so that the blood stains are not visible. I can't think how I got so bloody, I think it's nonsense to believe I'd done something terrible but the sirens and blood confuse me and I run all the same.

My skirt is torn and my face feels sticky from crying. I try to remember what had happened to me, flickers of horror licking at my skin as I recall it; I'd left my sister's house just to get some groceries and stayed out to have a few drinks with a friend. I'd probably been a little tipsy when I left the bar, it was still early in the night.

He'd grabbed me. I'd never seen him before in my life, never spoken to him or wronged him, yet he wronged me in the worst way. Once he'd done what he wanted to me, destroyed me, he snapped my neck. I don't know what happened next, I was already dead…

Dead?

Impossible… I was walking right now. But how could I have lived? There is evidence, all over my body, evidence of what happened. Can I assume he took a gun and proceeded to shoot me, to be sure I was dead? If not a gun, surely a blade of some kind. How else did my clothes come to be as they are? I shudder. I must have died, but I was clearly alive. I am not a superstitious person and yet…

I see my car, parked neatly where I'd left it. I had one hell of a fine to pay for staying too long. It was a shock that the car hadn't been towed yet. Swallowing, I climb into the front seat and pull out, drive to the highway and turn the volume on my CD up high, slamming my foot onto the pedal and not looking back.

I was driving down the high way. I was sure I was dead, and that all this was impossible. Even if I was still alive, the memories of whatever nightmare that had been haunted me. I couldn't shake the feeling of rotten hands on my skin. I felt isolated from other people I passed, all going the other way.

There it was. The gaudy sign cheerfully proclaiming House of Fun, Hotel, Vacancies and I didn't think twice about flicking the indicator on and turning up that gravel driveway.

Trees obscured the ridiculously unstable structure for some time, but then I saw it and for some reason it seemed so much more welcoming this time. I had felt nothing before for this place, but this time I felt a surge of warmth when I saw it, a safe place where people would hopefully not question me. And hadn't they seemed odd before? Didn't they all remind me of animals? Right now, I felt animal as well. This was the perfect place for me to be.

I parked in the same place I did before. I haven't got a suitcase to tug from the boot this time; I'd left in such a hurry. Raven was going to be worried, but until I could recover I couldn't speak to her. Nothing I would say would make any sense, and besides that I was afraid that if I spoke to my sister now, someone I'd always been so close to, I would feel that distance I'd been feeling throughout that night. It was now the very early hours of the morning, and I hoped I wasn't going to disturb them.

Zipping my jacket to my chin I hurried up the stairs and knocked with the knocker feeling an odd sensation of déjà vu. The door swung open with a buzz as it had before, and I hastened in, rushed to the reception desk and blinked hopefully, deflating when I saw no one there. A small bell was sitting on the desk and I pressed my palm on it three times in quick succession.

I must have looked a mess, I could only guess that my expression was wild and frightened, but at last the same woman from last time whose name I'd since forgotten emerged from the back room and gasped, taking in my appearance. 'Good lord, what happened to you?'

'I need a room,' I said bluntly, 'I don't know how long for.'

Her expression shifted subtly then, and she tilted her head examining me in a new light. 'Oh,' she said, 'I'll fetch the manager.'

I wondered if she remembered me, but I found that the manager did as she pushed him out again and he blinked at me in mild surprise. 'Oh, hello again.'

I nodded in acknowledgement, tapping my nails on the desk impatiently. The woman leaned in to whisper in the manager's ear and he rolled his eyes, glaring at her.

'I know,' he said, 'I can actually sense these things too you know.'

'Should we tell her?' the woman asked, not bothering to whisper anymore. He shrugged. 'Well we'll at least be gentle.' She looked to me again and with a grimace began, 'The thing is, miss, you've um… you've undergone a slight change… I can't help but notice that erm…'

Again, the manager rolled his eyes, looked directly at me and said clearly, 'You're dead.'

I scowled. 'I think I realized that. What I don't understand is why I am still here, or what happened.'

The woman glowered at the manager, scolding him under her breath for being insensitive, and turned to me in wonder. 'It's unusual; people don't often take it so well. I can explain everything to you, if you want…'

'He can tell me,' I said because I wanted someone to just tell me the truth without beating about the bush. I didn't need comfort, even though I was unnerved, I was stronger than all that. Right now I merely felt a boiling anger towards the man who'd done this to me, though I had no intention of trying to enact revenge or something ridiculous like that. 'Also, I need a room. Perhaps indefinitely.'

They exchanged a glance. 'Very well. Come this way.'

Author's Note: And that's chapter one of House of Madness. As with anything I write, I am scouring my brain for an alternative (and better) title, but for now this stands. This is a re-do of a previous idea, A Reason To Live, using most (but not all) of the same characters, and the original concept, but changing the plot and setting as well as the personalities somewhat, and also changing the main character to one who was originally a side character. The story is dramatically different but I'm glad because the original story just wasn't working. Let's see if this one goes any better, and please tell me what you think.

I'd also like to make note that this new concept was largely inspired by the song: House of Fun by Madness (hence the name of the hotel).