Authors: Eric Hobbs
This story contains brief moments of terror and mild violence. It could be too intense for some children under the age of twelve. It may be best to read Open House as a family, preferably with the lights turned low, right before bed...
1. Sunday, 2:07 pm
Shaken, Scott and Linda stumbled out of the house and hurried down the walk. He strode toward the pick-up parked near the curb, and she was close behind, nearly running to keep up with Scott's determined pace. All the while, Linda kept eyeing the red sign in the home's front yard: Open House, This Sunday, 1-3. It had seemed so inviting when she saw it before. Now? Now it seemed to be laughing at her.
They quickly climbed into the truck, both doors slamming in unison. A moment later, the engine screamed, and the wheels screeched with fury, kicking up dust and leaving long ribbons of black rubber on the street behind them as they sped away.
Neither spoke. Finally, when the house was little more than a speck in their rearview, a shaky sigh escaped Linda's lips. It was all that was left of the scream she'd been biting back since they'd seen what was waiting inside the house at 51 South Taylor.
Scott merged onto the freeway before turning to see if Linda was okay. She was doing better, it seemed. Her color was slowly returning. There was life in her eyes again. It seemed to have done her some good, that ghostly wheeze.
Their eyes met, and the corner of Linda's mouth twisted into a silent question.
What was that?
That wasn't real, right? It... it couldn't be.
That was all Linda could think to call what they'd seen.
Scott grinned, trying to show her everything was going to be okay. Instead, Linda felt her stomach sink. Scott was changing right before her eyes, morphing into something else. His grin turned thin and hollow. His eyes filled with a swirl of darkness that left them looking like tiny orbs of black glass. This wasn't the man she was going to marry. This was the monster she'd met while touring the Taylor house. It had clawed its way inside of Scott and was still there as they started across the bridge toward their side of town.
Linda watched as his dark eyes fell on the road ahead of them.
His empty grin grew. She followed his gaze and saw where his eyes had landed.
"No! Scott, baby! Don't
Scott jerked the wheel, and his Chevy went through the bridge railing so easily he felt a slight tinge of pride. His boys would talk about it over a drink tomorrow night
how strong the big block under Scott Robinson's hood had been to knock the railing free like it did. They would raise a bottle for him. His eyes were cold and dark, but he warmed to the idea of a night in his honor. The thought consumed him so thoroughly that he didn't even hear Linda screaming from the seat beside him.
He wasn't even worried about the water waiting a hundred feet below.
2. Sunday, 2:38 pm
Isaiah spotted the red sign and pulled into the driveway.
He'd already seen a number of houses, but from the car, Isaiah was feeling pretty good about this one. In fact, the old Cape Cod home almost seemed too good to be true. He quickly grabbed his copy of the Sunday paper and checked the listing to make sure it was something he could really afford.
The yard was a good size. There'd be plenty of room for Brian and him to toss the ball around once the weather improved. The shrubs that circled the house were already blooming in a cascade of pastels that appeared incredibly vibrant on the white backdrop the house provided. He thought the picket fence was a bit much but knew others would love it on sight. The owners had done their due diligence. The home had curb appeal to spare and would suit even the most critical eye.
Isaiah got out of his car, grinning sadly when he saw the home's wraparound porch.
, he thought.
Brian's mom would love that.
He'd spent a lot of nights fantasizing about a day when he and Brian's mother would finally be able to leave his tiny apartment behind for the house of their dreams. A big, wooden porch was always right at the top of her list. Seeing this one brought back memories: dreams and wishes the two had shared.
Even now, trying so hard to move on, Isaiah missed her.
He entered the house and found a slender man waiting in the foyer.
"Come on in," the man said warmly. "Make yourself at home. Who knows? It might be yours one day soon."
Isaiah extended his hand, wondering quietly if the man knew he was already coming off like a used car salesman. "Thanks," he said. "Hope I'm not too late. I saw the sign a few days ago. Wanted to make sure I added yours to my list."
"Sure," the man said. "I'm here 'til three so there's plenty of time. The place is empty, so what you see is pretty much what you get. My name's Andrew, so if you have any questions..." His voice trailed off.
Isaiah took it all in: the hardwood floors, the antique windows, the oak staircase that led to the old home's second floor. It was a gorgeous entry, the old-world craftsmanship masterfully restored. Somehow the interior was even more impressive than the view from outside. Someone had put a lot of time and money into this place. And love, a lot of love.
"How many bedrooms?"
"Three," Andrew answered. "Two and a half baths."
Nodding a quick reply, Isaiah opened a closet just inside the front door and found himself overcome by an icy pocket of air that escaped from inside. It caught him off guard, the way it washed over him. It was so cold it left him strangely unsettled. The sun had been beating down on the house for hours, and yet, here he was, feeling like he'd just opened a meat locker. His mind was playing tricks on him, too. For a moment, he actually thought he smelled the stink of rotting meat.
"Air conditioning?" he asked.
"I'm sorry," Andrew began. "I was planning to put it in this summer, but... well... something happened... it doesn't look like I'm going to be around that long."
Isaiah looked over at Andrew and saw the man's gaze had fallen to the floor. "Oh well," he said. "I've been living without air for a while now. I ever want it bad enough I suppose I can put it in myself."
He turned, ready to close the closet door and move deeper into the house when something occurred to him...
I could wait in this closet
, he thought.
They'd never expect it. They'd come in without knocking
only I'd be waiting for them: her and her new man
Isaiah pushed the heinous thought from his mind with as much force as his consciousness would allow. He clenched his jaw in the cold, beads of sweat forming on his upper lip. He couldn't take his eyes from the deep recesses of the closet, watching as the tiny room turned darker and darker and
"Is it just you, then?"
Isaiah shook from his trance, finally closing the closet door.
"Most the time," Andrew explained. "My son will be with me on weekends. A few days during the week, too."
"Ah," Andrew began. "Divorce?" He tried to be delicate with his question.
"Yeah. Well, no. We were never married. Lived together a while, just never took the plunge." Isaiah put his hands into the air and wiggled his fingers. "Lucky me."
"It's tough when kids are involved."
Andrew's eyes narrowed as Isaiah passed beneath the entry's archway and into the living room. Isaiah was studying the ceiling and didn't notice.
"Yeah, well, my ex seems to be doing
Isaiah said it with a bitterness that surprised even him. Theirs was an ugly break-up, no question, but Isaiah had done a remarkable job staying positive through it all. He was proud to have navigated those waters without getting lost in the ugly whirlpools that suck so many down when they decide to go their separate ways. Still, all at once he was feeling differently about things. Cynical. Hateful, even.
"Anyway, she's moving on so I figure it's probably time I do the same." He stabbed a finger into the next room. "Kitchen through there?"
Andrew led Isaiah through the house, sure to mention any amenities of interest. It seemed a little rehearsed, but Isaiah played his part, asking questions when it was appropriate so Andrew wouldn't feel like he had wasted his time.
They went upstairs together, the old wood of the staircase yielding a moan of protest beneath their feet.
"Master bedroom's at the end of the hall," Andrew explained.
"You aren't coming?"
"W-what?" Andrew stammered. "No. I should stay by the front door... in case... well... in case anyone else should come."
Isaiah studied his expression. His attitude had changed, it seemed. He was quiet now. Subdued. Andrew had ditched the salesman shtick. When he talked about the master bedroom he almost seemed to be asking a question. Like,
Is the master at the end of the hall?
Do you really want to go into the master?
All at once, Isaiah was curious to know exactly
Andrew was selling but felt it was probably rude to ask.
He went through the motions, poking his head into one of the bedrooms before stepping into another and eyeing a closet he had no intentions of opening
not after the last one. He continued on, stopping to spend an appropriate amount of time in the hall's bathroom before turning his attention to the bedroom Andrew had mentioned.
The master bedroom wasn't empty like the rest of the house. In fact, it had the cluttered look of a room that was very well lived in. The bed was unmade. Last night's dirty clothes were piled near a cluttered dresser. Isaiah found it curious Andrew had left the room in such a state, but he was thrown completely off balance by something else.
The cherry bedroom suite looked just like his.
"I thought you said the place was empty?"
Isaiah turned to find Andrew was no longer standing atop the staircase. He'd retreated down the stairs just as he promised.
Isaiah stepped through the doorway, and his stomach knotted. He couldn't understand why the sight of a bedroom suite had left him in such a state. But it was more than the furniture. It was everything. The clothes, the clutter, the way only one side of the bed had been slept in
it all seemed a bit too familiar.
The room was particularly large for a house this age, its main feature a cozy reading nook that looked out on the wooded backyard. A huge maple tree stood just outside the window. Too close, really. Its gnarled branches reached for the house in a way that was sure to scare Brian in the darkness of night. Isaiah guessed it was older than the neighborhood and assumed no one felt they could chop the relic down when they settled in the area more than a century ago. So it stayed, for a hundred years, looming at the window like an ancient custodian of the property.
Isaiah was ready to leave when another gruesome thought tried to take over. This time, though, Isaiah was ready, latching the door of his mind before the idea was able to kick it down and come inside. He forced his eyes from the knotted tree and moved them to a cracked door that led into the last room of the house: the master bath.
There was a thick stench of mold hanging in the air, almost more than Isaiah could stomach. A toothbrush broke under his foot as he entered the dark room, flipping a switch on the wall to no avail. His eyes adjusted quicker than he expected, and he saw all the drawers had been pulled open in the vanity beneath the sink. The mirror above the sink had shatter-lines that worked together in creating a spiderweb effect, splitting the mirror into a dozen puzzle pieces, each offering its own reflection of Isaiah, the bathroom... and the small boy standing in the doorway behind him.