Open The Door
I knew I shouldn't have bought that house. The neighbors warned me, told me it had gone through numerous owners, that it was just plain creepy. The realtor chuckled nervously when I inquired about its eerie rumors, and assured me that most rural Texan houses were like that. I found this weak, as the surrounding residences appeared perfectly well kept. Still, I was a law grad student drowning in student loans and the house came cheap. So I chose to ignore the ominous mutterings of the people around me and completed the purchase.
Other than being cold and dreary, nothing stuck out to me about the house. It had two bedrooms, one and a half bath, a basement, kitchen, and no AC. Summer approached and I groaned thinking about a heat streak outside of Austin. Budget, I reminded myself. Stupid finances. After unpacking my meager belongings and fixing the broken sink tap as best I could, I resigned my 24-year-old body to the heat and fell asleep on the lumpy mattress.
The next day I spent getting acquainted with my "new" home. Its idiosyncrasies appeared sporadically as I searched, and even more so when I wasn't expecting it. Besides the finicky tap, the doors required a certain amount of force to open, every lock in the place was faulty except the one on the basement door, which refused to budge, and the lights, which were unpredictable at best. I usually found everything by flashlight because of it. Nothing unusual, considering the house's unkempt condition. I battled an infiltration of nasty fly maggots on the second day, and no matter how hard I tried to fix anything, it wouldn't stay functional, as though the house itself fought back. You might think it's weird, personifying the house as though it were a militant belligerent, but I haven't even started on the weird factor. The house is merely part of it.
After a week of futile ferocity, I left the house to scout out some local bars. Typical of Texas, every third structure turned out a tavern. I'd been searching for a job waitressing, and men frequenting bars tipped nicely, in my experience. Then again, in Oregon, the guys were relatively calm and the land unsullied; Texas seemed wild in comparison.
I'd stopped at my fourth tavern when I met him. I waded through the ocean of drunk hicks, some of whom wolf-whistled at me as I passed, and seated myself at the bar. Both seats on either side of me were empty. I was about to ask the barkeep for the least expensive beer he carried when a man's voice from my left popped up, "Long Island Iced Tea, please."
I nearly jumped off my stool and onto the stained, sticky floor. There had definitely not been someone there before, literally a second ago. My heart pounded as I turned my head to glance at the newcomer.
As soon as I laid eyes on him, my mind went blank. Unlike the other men here, this stranger smiled at me with clear, friendly eyes and smelled of vanilla candles, not alcohol. I specifically recall the vanilla scent. He noticed me staring, and addressed me. His voice was sweet, kind, and slightly feminine. "I'm sorry, miss it seems I've startled you quite badly." His words carried an almost rhythmic quality, and at first I couldn't quite formulate an intelligible response.
"I-it's alright," I finally stammered, unable to draw my eyes away from his clear blue gaze. "I just didn't see you there."
He chuckled, a pleasant, tinkling laugh that put me at least. "I'll make it up to you, let me buy you a drink."
Declining didn't even occur to me. I was, for lack of a better word, captivated by the total contrast between this cleanly gentleman and the rowdy kooks around us. Nodding my consent, I upgraded from Schafers to a Heineken (I wasn't paying, after all), and wondered if he would make conversation. He seemed perfectly content to consume his beverage in relaxed silence, but after a few moments, I caved. Questions about him arose and I needed to ask, and try to place the covert accent he carried.
"Are you from around here?" I inquired, taking a sip of my drink. "Your accent is different."
He shook his head. Even though it was dark, his white-blonde hair caught the yellow lamplight, which gave it a phosphorescent glow. "I just moved here," he answered, "from New Mexico."
I personally thought his skin too pale to be from New Mexico and assumed he'd lived there but had been born elsewhere. "Did you like it there?" I finished my beer but hardly noticed the glass was empt—
I did a double-take. The glass wasn't empty, after all. Instead, the amber liquid half-filled its container. Maybe I hadn't consumed as much as I'd thought. The stranger's melodic voice returned me to reality.
"It was alright," he replied, swirling his glass in a dignified manner. "I prefer the Northwest, though. Where are you from?"
"Portland Oregon." Again, I reached the bottom of the glass and again found it half full. Odd. I attributed it to the fact I wasn't paying attention to anything except the man and let it go. "But I went to school at UT, for law. Now I'm just too poor to move back."
He chuckled again. "Money rules our lives," he joked. "I recently finished my degree as a literature major with a minor in religious studies, myself." Smiling, he added, "I know what it's like to be strangled by financial difficulties." He looked thoughtful for a second, then continued; "I don't believe I asked your name, miss?"
"I'm Lucy," I told him, offering my hand for him to shake. "And you are?"
"You may call me Bel." What an unusual name, I thought, but perhaps it was his exotic history. Anyway, he took my hand, but instead of shaking it, brought it to his face and kissed it, his demeanor completely casual. My face flooded with color, but he made nothing of it. "Lucy, hm? Such a beautiful name. Saint Lucia was Dante Alighieri's patron saint and a favorite of the Lord's."
"Interesting," I commented, still blushing. "I stopped liking it when I turned 16. Such a little girl's name."
Bel took a swallow and rested his glass on the counter. "Very pretty, nonetheless."
I don't remember what we talked about next, only that he demonstrated extensive knowledge of literature, especially religious texts, mostly the Bible. I do recall him recommending a work of poetry, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. I'm not much of a reader (I prefer magazines and the internet) so most of what he talked about shot 40 stories over my head. We must have talked for hours and still, my glass never fully emptied. Eventually, my head started aching, and the feeling I associated with inebriation crept over me. I needed to start back to the house. Oh God, that house. Imagine having a hangover in a house that wanted to devour you. Yeah.
Bel's words began blurring. At some point, Bel asked me something, and I mumbled a response. I don't remember what he said, but he had an odd expression that I still can't name. He took me by the arm and led me out of the tavern. Suddenly, upon breathing the cold night air, my vision went completely black.
The smell of black coffee brought me back to my senses. The soreness riddling my body was the first thing I became conscious of. After five attempts and a groan, I managed to sit up, clutching my pounding head in my hand. This had to have been the worst hangover I'd ever experienced. It took me a little while to get my gears running again, but as I regained a bit of awareness I wondered exactly how I'd managed to get back to the house.
My bedroom door opened, and the handsome stranger from last night strode in, a bright smile on his face and a steaming cup of coffee in his pale hands. "What a night," he laughed, handing me the mug and seating himself on the end of the bed. "I guess you can't hold liquor very well."
I leaned against the wall and wrinkled my nose at the coffee's bitter taste. It was spruced up with a bit of sugar, but not enough to make much of a difference. "How did you know where I lived?" I asked him, still feeling groggy.
"You were surprisingly lucid, for someone so drunk," he replied. "Maybe you don't remember directing me here. One of your neighbors was kind enough to point out the exact house."
"Oh." I ruffled my hair and looked back at him. "Did you stay here all night?" He nodded in confirmation, and I felt a bit weirded out by this. The gesture was nice, but he remained a complete stranger to me. But somehow, the discomfort faded, and I was glad he stayed. "Well… thanks, I guess."
He smiled at me again. "There are some nights when you just shouldn't have to be alone," he said quietly, and stood up. "Well, now that you're awake and I'm sure you're not going to injure yourself, I suppose I should head out." I crawled out of bed, my bare feet detesting the cold floor, and followed him into the hallway, coffee in hand. He reached the door, and as he pushed open the door with ease he fumbled around in his back pocket for a small slip of paper. He slipped it into my free hand and said, "It's my phone number, in case you need some company." Looking around the hallway, he added, "nice place."
I wasn't sure whether or not he was serious.
I closed the door behind him. Once I was again alone, just me and that monstrous structure, my mind returned to the sore achiness plaguing my body. Why did my legs hurt so much? I could understand my stomach pains, but… oh well. I had never experienced a hangover before then (I drank in small amounts, not really enjoying the taste of alcohol except in social occasions), so perhaps this was just my body hating my overconsumption.
Sighing, I made my way back towards the kitchen and set the now empty coffee cup on the scratched marble table. A few boxes still rested unpacked near the dripping sink, and contained the few sets of silverware I had from high school graduation, well loved and worn. My head was beginning to feel a bit better, and I resigned myself to the fact I'd have to settle in sooner or later. I needed to find a job and get enough money to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. Muttering under my breath, I opened the boxes and pulled out a few plastic camping plate sets (that's how in the hole I was; couldn't even afford real silverware). It was time to go through the drawers and figure out where to set them. The first two drawers were empty, and in went the forks, knives, and spoons. The top cabinet held my glasses and measuring cups. The bottom cupboard was to hold plates and bowls, but just as I reached to slip the first stack inside, something nicked the dry skin of my right hand.
I swore and jerked my hand up, dropping the plastic plates to the ground, where they clanged and spun away from me. After a bit of cursing, I brought my hand to my face and examined it. A paper cut? There wasn't any paper in there. Or so I had thought. I took another peek inside, and the source of my new mini-injury made itself evident. It looked like an envelope, stuffed hastily in the crack between where the cabinet door was screwed to the counter. My interest piqued. I plucked the rather thick envelope from the junction and turned it over. Scrawled in red ink were the words; "to whom it may concern; the current owner of this property."
Fascinated, I slit the letter open with my thumb and peered inside. Its contents were faded and stained notebook papers. I settled myself down on the floor, crossed my legs underneath me, and pulled out the papers. On the back of each page was a date, and a number of days; the one nearest to me said "July 3, 1912, Day 1" and kept going from there.
They all seemed to be in order of days, so I picked the outermost page and started reading. It was done in beautiful cursive writing, but yet there was a harried sense to the sharp turns of the writer's script.
July 3, 1912
I've only been here a day and already I wish to leave. The man who sold it to me seemed overjoyed to have the place off his hands. I can feel there's something going on here… something not right… maybe I'm just paranoid. I've tried cleaning it up to make it look presentable, but no matter what the dust won't go away and the sink won't run properly. I stopped with my attempts; after all, it's not as though I have anyone to visit me anyway.
July 4, 1912
Don't ask me why I've started writing this journal. I guess it's best to keep your thoughts recorded when you're alone. It helps my sanity. Or at least, what little of it I have after a sleepless night in this monstrous building.
I went out for a drink today. Nearly got into a fight with a bigger guy, but a nice stranger pulled me out of it, bought me a drink. He was handsome, with blonde hair and blue eyes…
A chill ran almost unnoticed down my spine. There was something eerie about this letter. The handwriting was a woman's, that much I could tell. The second day petered out after that last sentence, and moved on to the next day.
July 5, 1912
I don't remember anything that happened last night. I must have been really drunk. I woke up in my own bed though, and there was warm coffee ready for me. I never did get the name of that stranger. God, my legs and stomach are so sore…
July 6, 1912
This house… I can hardly take it anymore. I jump every time the lights flicker, and the constant dripping of the tap is driving me crazy. It won't take long before I become utterly insane.
The strange boy came calling again. He wanted to know how I was feeling after last night. Apparently, he was the one who took me home. I'm not sure how he knew where I lived but I didn't ask. There's something about him that is self-explanatory… so I don't ask questions.
I stared at the letters in my hand, and slowly turned to look at the slip of paper on the counter. His number. But there were many blue-eyed and blonde-haired guys in this world. It was impractical to even think they were the same. That would make Bel over one hundred years old if he was a young adult in 1912. Shaking the thought from my mind, I returned my attention to the letters.
Nothing of interest must have happened between the 6th and the 12th, because there were no entries. On the 12th, however, was one sentence:
July 12, 1912
The basement was locked for a reason
I hadn't given any attention to the basement since moving in. I figured I didn't want to put the effort into opening it and it was fine enough alone. But just like it always did, reverse psychology made me wonder…what was in that basement that the former owner of this house wished they'd kept it closed? I kept reading.
July 13, 1912
They've been here since the beginning
They need me to become real
I have made them real, and it's my fault they
"My fault they…what?" I muttered, trying to find the rest of the entry. But that was simply how it ended. There were more entries, but they were so hastily written and choppy I could barely understand the words. Apparently, the writer seemed to have lost their nerve for a while, because the next intelligible entry was two weeks later.
I don't know the date. I stopped paying attention. But I can feel my energy going. I randomly bleed in odd places and I can't seem to locate the source. My will to fight is dwindling. He can feel my weakness… they … can feel my weakness…
My head began to spin again. The aches were coming back, and my legs were asleep from sitting on them. But the letters absorbed me and I couldn't stop reading. The writer's cursive became scribbled print, and at times looked like the lines on a heart monitor. Crimson stains littered a few pages. Genuinely creeped out, I looked over the letters again, finding nothing new. I knew something was up about this place, and according to what I'd read, the basement was the cause of the troubles.
If I left it alone, perhaps it would leave me alone. I resolved to find a good job as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. Just when I shifted my position to stand, a scrap of crumpled notebook paper dropped from the envelope. I barely made out the writing on it, done in a neat, loopy cursive:
You signed the deal. The house is yours— and you cannot escape it.