Screamscapes: Tales of Terror (25 page)

BOOK: Screamscapes: Tales of Terror
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Are you sure? It doesn’t feel like we’ve gotten anything done.”

“Just come lay with me,” she said, stroking her fingertips softly along the sheets on his side of the bed.

“Okay, but just for a minute,” James said, slipping off his shoes. He plopped onto the mattress beside her and let out a loud sigh of relief.

“Oh my god, this feels so good,” he moaned. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get back up again.”

Claire gently pulled his face towards hers and kissed him.

“Oh no, you’ve uncovered my evil master plan,” she laughed and started unbuttoning his shirt. She kissed him again, harder this time.

He pretended to struggle to get away and she jumped on top of him, pinning him down to the bed by his wrists.

“You’re not going anywhere, mister,” she breathed into his ear as she nibbled down the side of his neck.

He felt a burst of energy surge through him. He wrestled her onto her back before kissing her deeply - tasting her lips, feeling her tongue on his. She arched her back, pushing herself towards him as he worked on slipping her blouse off over her head.

A loud knocking sound from somewhere outside the bedroom broke the mood. Claire jolted up, alarmed.

“Did you hear that?” she asked James. “I think somebody’s at the door.”

He moaned softly and continued kissing down the side of her breast, ignoring her.

“James, stop!” She shoved him away with her feet to get his attention.

“What?” he said.

“I think somebody’s at the door.”

“I didn’t hear anything.”

Just then the knocking began again, harder than before; after a few seconds, it stopped.

“There. See?” Claire said.

“So what? I don’t want to answer it.”

She crossed her arms and frowned at him.

“Please go see who it is – what if it’s important?” she said earnestly.

The knocking resumed, this time so loudly it sounded like someone was trying to break the door in. Claire shoved him hard towards the edge of the bed with her feet, eyes wide as saucers.

“Okay, fine, I’ll go,” he grumbled as he slipped on a pair of jeans. “It had better be Ed McMahon with a giant million dollar check, though, or I’m going to be pissed.”

The knocking continued unabated as he ran into the dark hallway barefoot, zipping his pants as he went.

“I’m coming, hold on a minute,” he yelled down the stairs, and the knocking stopped, mercifully.

He ran down the curved grand staircase into the foyer, flipped on the porch light and opened the door. He stuck his head out into the night, fully expecting to find an overeager neighbor clutching a fruitcake, but the front porch was empty.

“Hello?” he called into the darkness.

Then the knocking began anew, furious and violent. It was coming from somewhere in the house, somewhere behind him.

, he thought.

He slammed the front door closed with his foot and raced back up the stairs, stopping when he reached the alcove by the spiral staircase to listen. The knocking was coming from up there - the tower room – and it was urgent, insistent.

He grabbed the handrail and sprinted up the stairs, the banging sound growing louder with each step. The door to the tower room stood open wide.

Inside, the large windows had all been flung open wide, except for the one with the stained glass heart in the middle. The long curtains sparkled, iridescent with ghastly beauty in the moonlight, and swirled in the gale wind that howled through the window, as though straining to break free from the rods that held them captive.

In the dim light, James spotted the source of the racket. It was a solitary picture frame that smacked loudly back and forth against the wall as it was buffeted by the breeze.

James pushed his way through the tangle of flying curtains to close the windows, hoping to shut out the wind and silence the din. The curtains assaulted him from all sides, wrapping around his arms, brushing his legs, the silky softness of fabric sliding against his skin. The cloth was smooth, sensual as it caressed him, embraced him.

As he reached up to close the first window a strangely warm gust of spring air scented with jasmine and honeysuckle rushed in, tousling his hair. He thought he heard his name softly spoken, almost imperceptible, as the wind whistled in his ears. He hesitated before closing the window.

the wind seemed to say in an ethereal voice as light and wispy as the curtains themselves. He hadn’t heard that name since he was a child, not since he moved away and insisted new friends address him as “James”, which was much more grown-up.

The curtains billowed around him like whirling dervishes in the wind, the picture frame loud and unrelenting in its pounding against the wall.

He felt a presence behind him, moving stealthily into the room in the darkness behind him, and he spun around to find a dark silhouette framed in the tower room doorway.

“James!” the shadowy figure shouted, and in that instant a light fixture burst into brilliant bloom overhead, revealing a panicked Claire panting in the doorway. James jumped back, startled, the back of his knees slamming against the window sill. His legs buckled under him, causing him to pitch backwards, out of the open window. He grabbed onto the side of the frame just in time to stop himself from falling three stories to the lawn below.

“Dammit, Claire, you almost killed me!” he gasped as he pulled himself carefully back into the room. He stepped away from the open window and let out a loud sigh of relief.

“You didn’t come back and I was worried,” Claire said. “Are you okay?”

The instant she spoke, the wind that had been howling through the room died away, and the flowing curtains fell sullenly into place over the windows.

The picture frame that had been causing the commotion smacked loudly against the wall one final time and came to rest. For a moment, everything in the room was quiet and still.

“Is that where the knocking was coming from?” Claire asked, pointing at the framed photo. James nodded in silent agreement.

“I must have forgotten to close the windows,” he said, shaking his head in bewilderment. “I could have sworn I closed them,” he said as he shut and locked the windows one by one.

As he slid the last window closed, the picture on the wall behind him broke free from its hook and fell to the floor, breaking the silence of the tower room as it landed with a shattering crash.

Claire jumped into James’ arms for comfort, both of them still jittery from the unexpected commotion.

They both stared, wide-eyed and incredulous for a moment, at the frame that lay face-down on the floor, before looking at each other and laughing.

Claire turned the fallen picture over carefully. Behind jagged lines of freshly shattered glass was a faded photograph, two children - a freckled boy with thick messy hair, and a smiling girl with dark raven hair and bright blue eyes. In one hand, the girl grasped a bouquet of wildflowers and with the other she clutched the boy’s hand. She wore a ring of daisies in her hair.

Claire held up the picture for him to see, careful not to knock the glass out of the frame.

“Aren’t they cute?” she exclaimed, “I wonder who they are?”

James examined the picture for a moment.

“That’s me, when I was a boy,” he said. “I’m surprised I didn’t notice that picture when we were up here earlier.”

“That’s you? Really? You were a handsome little devil,” Claire said. “A hit with the ladies, too, if the crush in that little girl’s eyes is any indication. She looks like she’s head over heels in love with my man. Do I need to find her grown-up self and kick her ass?” Claire asked jokingly.

“No, I don’t think any grudge matches will be needed,” he said with a wink. “I haven’t seen her for years. That little girl lived here a long time ago, back when I lived across the street. I moved away not long after this picture was taken, actually – I’m sure she’s long gone as well.”

“Well you better keep it that way, mister,” Claire laughed. “I don’t need some long lost love of yours trying to steal you away, now that you’re back in the old neighborhood.”

“Well, nobody could ever steal me away from you,” James said, as he pulled her body tightly against his, kissing her deeply.

A little later that evening, James finally fell asleep, with Claire snuggled against him, her head resting on his chest.

Long moonbeams streamed through the windows, stretching like ghostly arms through the darkness to the dresser across from the mattress where they slept. James had placed the faded photo from the tower room there, and the moonlight bathed it in a pale glow, illuminating the young faces, captured as they smiled through the cracked glass, frozen in a state of eternal childhood bliss.

Then James began to dream.

In his dream he was ten years old again, living across the street in the run-down single story ranch. He was walking out the front door of his old house, down the sidewalk, heading towards the big house at 1517 Downing Street.

His dream was like an old home movie; the colors were faded, the picture was a little warped, but it felt real. The afternoon sun was hot on his skin as it browned his freckles.

In the dream, James looked across the street and saw Sophie, waiting for him in her front yard. The colors of everything around her were washed out like an old photo, but she radiated light - especially her eyes. They burned brilliant and blue.

Sophie looked sad.

He waved to her and she waved back, her expression brightening when she saw him. Her beauty was so stunning it made him dizzy. He felt a longing rise inside him that he didn’t understand, perhaps the gentle tug of prepubescent lust, a vague desire to hold her, to have her.

He waited for a shiny new El Camino to pass before he crossed the street to where Sophie waited for him.

“Where have you been, Jamie? I’ve been so lonely,” Sophie said as he ran up to her. He was confused.

“What do you mean? I haven’t been anywhere,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting for you for so long,” she said, with a plaintive sigh. “For a while I thought maybe you were never coming back.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I’ve just been at my house. Come on, let’s go play.”

He nodded towards her back yard, but she had more questions.

“Who was that girl with you? Do you have family visiting?” she asked.

Ten-year-old James turned and looked at his house across the street. He scrunched his face up, still confused.

“Are you going cuckoo?” he asked playfully. “There’s no girl at my house except for my mom.”

She smiled and stuck her tongue out at him like he was a meanie.

“I missed you, Jamie,” she said and took his hand in hers. Her touch caused his heart to start pounding. “You better never leave me again.”

She smiled at him so sweetly it made him want to kiss her right there and then, but he didn’t.

“Come on, I want to show you something,” Sophie said, tugging his arm eagerly.

Laughing, they ran through his dream world, hand in hand; around the big house to the back yard they went, through rows of trellised ivy and her father’s neatly manicured garden. They ran all the way to the woods at the edge of the yard, where the lush green grass gave way to fallen pine needles and scrub.

Sophie led James along a footpath that wound through the woods. It was a path they had worn into the soft peat with thousands of footfalls, as they had run through the trees and underbrush, playing.

At the end of the path stood the playhouse they had built, the summer before, using discarded pieces of plywood and fallen branches. They had furnished it with stools and overturned buckets, and created a thatched roof with thick layers of pine straw. It was a little house, nestled in the woods, just for them.

Its appearance had changed from the way James remembered it. Its roof was decorated with dozens of brilliantly colored flowers. Pine cones had been lined up in two neat parallel rows, creating a walkway that led up to a cloth door made of red gingham, remnants of a baby blanket, tattered from years of being cherished.

Sophie led him to a spot she had chosen in front of the playhouse, then stopped and turned to face him. James noticed that they were standing in the middle of a ring of white stones, arranged around them in the shape of a heart on the ground.

She took his hands in hers and looked up at him, her bright blue eyes shining with love.

“Jamie, will you marry me?” she asked. Nervousness crackled in the edges of her voice.

James was unprepared for this question, and he simply stared at her for a moment without saying a word, stunned. He could feel love radiating from her, like prickly heat on his skin. It felt so good that he thought he might die happy, right there and then.

“Of course I would marry you,” he said.

“I love you so much, Jamie!” she squealed and kissed him.

Like any ten-year-old boy, he reflexively wiped the kiss away, but she kissed him again. This time he returned it, putting his arms around her, pulling her close.

“Promise you’ll never leave me again?” she whispered.

“Promise,” he swore.

In his dream they spent an imaginary afternoon lying about in the sun, wondering about their future, talking how they would raise a family together in her big house someday, laughing about what names they would give their children.

Later, Sophie sang a lullaby to her baby doll while Jamie braided a ring of daisies for her. After a while, tired from playing, they curled up together in a cozy corner of the playhouse, her head nestled in the crook of his arm.

Then James fell even deeper into sleep, into that dark place where dreams dare not follow.

In the morning James was awakened by Claire, who was calling him from somewhere in the house.

BOOK: Screamscapes: Tales of Terror
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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