Out Are the Lights
The Vampire movie came first - the girl died in a welter of blood as the vampire bit clean through her jugular…
The Inquisition came next - the victim confessed all as the spider crawled over her naked body…
Then came the story of the Ax-man…
This was the horror-movie series to end them all. Cinema buffs particularly admired the grainy, amateurish camera work - it suggested the action was the real thing. But it couldn't be - could it?
Scaning & primary formating:
Secondary formating & proofing:
Out - out are the lights - out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall
Comes down with the rush of a storm.
While the angels, all pallid and wan.
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy 'Man',
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
-Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Conqueror Worm'
'You sure it's not haunted?' Ray asked.
The weathered, Victorian house cast a shadow over its weedy yard and Ray's Trans Am.
'Wouldn't that be rich?' Tina said. 'I've never seen a ghost.'
'This may be your big opportunity.' Ray reached for the door handle, but hesitated and looked again out the windshield. He gnawed his lower lip.
'Would you rather not stay here?' Tina asked. 'I mean, just because Todd offered to let us use it, we aren't obliged to stay. We could go someplace else if you want. A motel or something.'
'I guess this is all right,' Ray said.
'It's just old. He told me not to expect too much. He bought it as a fixer-upper.'
'When's he planning to start?'
Tina smiled. 'It might be wonderful, once we get inside.'
'I don't like those bars in the windows.'
'He's had a few problems with vandals.'
'So remote, out here I hope there's not a fire. An old place like this, it'd go up like paper. And those bars… I don't know, Tina. The place rubs me wrong.'
'You've seen too many movies, that's your problem.'
'Let's at least have a look inside.'
They climbed from the car. In the shade, the breeze from the ocean felt chilly on Tina's bare skin. She pulled the back of the seat forward, and leaned into the car.
'Let's just leave the groceries and stuff till we've had a chance to look around.'
'I'm getting my blouse,' Tina said. She found it wadded behind the picnic basket they used at the beach, and tugged it free.
Ray made a mocking pout as she put it on.
She grinned. 'I don't want the ghosts to see me in my bikini,' she said.
'Nothing worse than a horny ghost,' Ray agreed.
As she buttoned the blouse, Ray slipped a hand inside the seat of her bikini shorts. Her skin was moist from the damp swimsuit. His warm, dry hand felt good.
He started to take it out.
'Oooo, don't stop.'
He removed his hand, and patted her rump. 'Tempis is fighting. Let's have that look inside, and get going, it's a long drive to the nearest motel.'
'Maybe you'll just love it here.'
'Well, the price is certainly right. Have you got the key?'
'Right here.' She lifted her handbag off the car floor, and slung the strap over her shoulder.
They started across the overgrown yard.
'I think it's rather quaint,' Tina said.
'It is that, I suppose.'
They climbed half a dozen stairs to a roofed porch that extended along the entire front of the house. As Tina reached into her handbag, she saw the door's heavy brass knocker-a skull.
'That's Todd for you,' she said, grinning. 'It's no wonder he bought the place. It's so him.'
Ray didn't look amused. 'What's Todd; a ghoul?'
'He's really rather nice.'
She hunted for the key, face toward the door to hide her grin. Ray could be so childish, sometimes. It was fun to bait him, but she knew she'd better back off. If she went too far, he might start his silent treatment.
She found the key. 'Ready?'
'As I'll ever be.'
She pushed it into the keyhole, and turned it. A bolt clacked back. She pushed the door open, enjoying the groan of its hinges.
'Naturally they squeak,' Ray muttered.
'We oughtta spray this sucker with WD-40 before we go. That's fix his wagon.'
That brought a grin from Ray.
It's all right now,
She stepped into the dim foyer, glimpsed someone beside her, and lurched back. She collided with Ray.
Laughing, he caught her in his arms. 'So who's the nervous one?' he asked, and nodded toward the wall mirror. 'Jumping at your own reflection.'
She snapped the waistband of his swimming trunks.
'Big deal,' she said. Then she turned away from him, and looked around. 'The place is rather dismal,' she admitted.
Ray flicked a switch. A ceiling light came on. 'At least there's electricity.'
Tina moved to the front of the staircase. The steps were narrow and steep. At a landing, halfway up, they angled to the right and vanished. 'The bedroom's probably up there.' she said.
'You go ahead. I'll wait here.'
'Ha, ha, ha.'
'Do you want me to lead the way?'
'If you please.'
He shut the front door, and started up the stairs ahead of her. 'Watch out,' he warned. 'Mirror ahead.'
She yanked his trunks.
'Don't!' He grabbed them at his knees. 'Want me to trip?'
'Then don't be such a wiseguy.'
'Sorry, sorry,' he said, pulling them up.
'Nice ass,' Tina remarked.
At the top of the stairs, they came to a narrow hallway. The only windows, at each end, were hung with heavy red drapes.
'Charming,' Tina said.
'Your friend's a great decorator.' Ray found a light switch. Dim bulbs came alive in sconces along the walls.
He tried a door. It was locked. 'Great,' he muttered. 'Hope that isn't the john.'
He tried a door on the other side of the hall, and glanced at Tina as the knob turned. He pushed the door open. The room was bare.
Tina shrugged. 'He's got an austere taste in furniture.'
They found two more empty rooms, then the bathroom.
'We're in luck,' Tina said.
They stepped inside. When she saw the enormous tub, she smiled with delight. 'Oh, this is great.'
'But look at the size of that! Look, it's even got legs. Must be a real antique. Boy, I can't wait!'
'You don't really want to stay here!'
'Let's see if there's a bedroom.'
'If there's no bedroom, can we leave?'
'Then we can leave.'
They left the bathroom. Tina hurried ahead of Ray and opened the last door on the right. 'Voila!'
'Shit,' Ray muttered. He came up the hall, and looked in.
'Now this isn't so shabby, is it?'
'It's all right,' Ray admitted.
Tina kicked off her sandals and walked across the soft thickness of the carpet. 'Ain't shabby at all.' She hopped onto the king-sized bed and marched on its mattress, surveying the long dresser, the armoire, and her own image in the big wall mirrors.
Ray watched her, a grin slowly coming to his face.
'I think this'll do just fine,' she said. 'Don't you?'
'It's not bad.'
'Better than some dippy motel, right?'
She flopped backwards and sprawled on the mattress.
Smiling languidly, she opened the buttons of her blouse.
'Maybe we'd better take a look downstairs,' Ray said.
'Right now?' Slipping off the blouse, she rolled onto her belly. She pressed herself against the soft quilt. Reaching back, she untied her bikini top.
'Right this moment?' she drawled.
And grinned at the warm touch of Ray's hands.
Tina eased away from Ray's warm, sleeping body. She was reluctant to leave the bed but the room was nearly dark and she was hungry. Ray would probably wake up famished. It'd be nice if she had supper on the stove when he got up.
If there is a stove.
She slipped out of bed, picked up her blouse, and stepped silently over to a window. Through the grill-work, she looked down at Ray's car. She could just bring in the grocery bags, and let the luggage wait.
They'd better bring in the suitcases soon, though.
A thick, gray bank of fog was rolling in from the coast. It already hung in the trees near the highway. When it got here, they would want heavier clothes.
She stepped away from the window and glanced at Ray. He was still asleep, his tanned back dark against the white sheets. She slipped into her sandals. Carrying her blouse, she went to the door.
Before stepping into the hallway, she looked both ways. She caught herself doing it, and rolled her eyes. What'd she expect,
She started down the hall toward the stairs. Ray had left the lights on. The candle-like bulbs in the wall sconces weren't very bright. They made a menagerie of dim shadows as she walked down the hall, shadows within shadows, overlapping and chasing one another along both walls. Watching them, she flapped her arms and twirled. The shadows went crazy. She kicked and spun, swinging her blouse wildly overhead.
A low, moaning sound jerked her to a stop. She stood motionless near the stairway, listening.
had come from behind the door
-the first door at the top of the stairs, the one they'd found locked.
Feeling suddenly timid and vulnerable, she put on her blouse. She buttoned it, her eyes fixed on the door.
Her hand tightened around the knob.
What if it's not locked now?
She pulled her hand away.
She backed up, watching the door, a tightness clutching her stomach as she half expected it to swing open. Then she turned from it and rushed to the bedroom.
'Ray?' she called into the darkness. Her hand searched the inside wall for a light. 'Ray!'
She found it, and snapped it. A bright light came on above the bed. Ray sat up, squinting.
'What're you doing?' he asked.
She hurried forward. 'Let's get out of here.'
'I heard something.'
He threw aside the sheet, sat on the edge of the bed, and reached for his swimming trunks on the floor. 'What'd you hear?' he asked, pulling them on.
'Sounded like a moan.'
'Could've been my imagination, I guess.'
'But what if it wasn't?'
'I know.' Flinging through the sheets and blankets, she found her bikini. She climbed off the bed and stepped quickly into the brief pants. She stuffed the top into her handbag, and hurried after Ray.
He stopped in the doorway.
'Where'd you hear it?' he asked.
'The end of the hall. By the stairs. I think it's in the room with the locked door.'
'Christ, that means we've gotta go past it!'
'Maybe it was nothing.'
'Let's run. We'll run right by, and down the stairs, and out.' He took his car keys from the small, side pocket of his trunks. 'Ready?'
'Okay, let's go!'
He burst ahead of her into the hallway. Tina ran hard, trying to catch up, but Ray was a dozen feet in front of her when the door near the stairway flew open.