SEARCH THE SITE
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Title: "This House is Cursed" 1/3
Nick Carter walked alone through the entry, closing the massive wooden door firmly shut behind him. Shoving the large door shut had actually taken an effort--he could feel sweat standing out on his brow.
The keyhole looked large enough to stick his hand inside. He was relieved he had no key and wasn't required to lock the door. As far as Nick knew, there was no key--and why did there need to be? The door was hard to move and fell firmly in place when closed. It was what could only be called a 'snug' fit. He sincerely hoped he'd have no reason to want to open that door quickly. Nick doubted such an act was even possible--locked or no.
The walls of the dwelling were stone, created from huge rough-hewn blocks. This place pre-dated the days of cement and rebar--it relied on clever design to hold the walls and roof intact. Nick stroked the surface of the entrance wall, expecting to find it clammy to the touch. The stone was smoother than it looked--and perfectly dry. But it was cold. 'Cold as the tomb' jumped into Nick's head and he immediately shook off the thought.
The entry was circular and the ceiling was high. Nick glanced upward, but with only the beam of his flashlight for illumination the blackness seemed to rise forever. He thought briefly of directing the light toward the ceiling, but something made him reluctant to do so. Nick wasn't sure he wanted to see what was hidden in the heavy shadows above.
There was an archway directly in front of him, with what appeared to be a long hallway behind it. To his left was a narrow stairwell. He glanced up and saw the steps were worn and steep. The walls seemed impossibly close together--he couldn't image trying to climb up the staircase.
To Nick's right was another door--not as massive as the one he just entered, but still quite large. He wondered if the hinges would be set as tight as those on the main doorway. He wondered if the fit was equally snug in the broad opening. Flashing the beam of light around the edges of the door convinced Nick this was another well cut and hung door.
As the light caught a large section of the wall, Nick realized there was an old rotting tapestry hanging against it. He moved closer to examine the cloth and found that this portion of the entry seemed warmer. Apparently the hanging was still providing the comfort it was designed for, small as that was.
The image was blurred by years of dust and a multitude of cobwebs. Large tattered pieces hung loose here and there, making it difficult to see the carefully woven picture. But Nick felt his heart begin to pound harder as he saw the story portrayed here.
A young man in what must have been the accepted dress of this past era was running through a stone hallway. His blonde hair was longer than Nick's own, but Nick was struck by how much the youth resembled him. There was a look of terror on the handsome features of the sprinting man.
Behind the youth, Nick could make out a large figure, dressed entirely in black. There was the slightest hint of what might have been red lining, though the image was hard to make out through the grime of years of neglect.
Nick took a step to his left and flashed the beam again at the pursuer. He had one quick impression of some horrible face, but when he looked again he saw nothing but blackness where the man's hooded head should have been.
In one corner an older woman sat in a chair and held a crying girl to her breast. In the opposite corner the older woman sat on the ground and held the body of the limp youth in her arms as she cried over him.
It was probably the story of some family disaster--or maybe of a mythical monster, Nick decided, turning away from the tapestry and glancing around him. He suppressed a shiver as he moved toward the high arch. He was already beginning to regret accepting the challenge to spend the night here.
"Hey, I'm sure it's perfectly safe," A.J. had said, grinning. "But who wants to be anywhere near a place that's supposedly haunted during October?" A.J. had chuckled in an evil way as he'd stared into Nick's face.
"I'm not afraid to spend a night there. What's the big deal?" Nick asked, wondering even then what he was getting himself into.
"They'll let two people go in at time--but no more. There's some curse that's supposedly attached to the deal. Two--but that's it. You wouldn't have to go alone if you could talk somebody else into going with you..."
Nick had felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe he could talk Aaron--or even Howie--into going along. He decided to give A.J. a try first, though. "Do you wanna go?" Nick asked, already sure of the answer.
"Nope. Not me. I'm not sure I believe in ghosts or curses--on the other hand, I've had enough shit for one year, thanks much."
Put that way, Nick had found he couldn't blame him. "Well, I'll ask my bro."
Aaron had been all for the idea--but he was held up by family plans. "Wait and go when I'm free," Aaron had pleaded, wanting to share the fun of a truly haunted house.
"Can't bro. I've only got a few days when I can get in there. Sorry."
Howie had been entirely opposite Aaron. "A haunted house? Is the place kept up?"
Nick had shook his head and known immediately that Howie wouldn't be interested.
"I don't really want to traipse around some filthy old house in the dark, Nick. It could be dangerous. In fact, I don't think you should go, either."
Nick had nodded--but mainly to quiet Howie. He wasn't actually agreeing not to go, but he didn't want to get his friend worked up about the subject. Interestingly enough, he'd learned that little lesson from Howie. If someone asked Howie to do something he didn't want to do, Howie usually just dropped the matter--said not another word. Then he went along and did exactly as he pleased. It was slick--and usually worked quite well.
So Nick had told A.J. he'd go in alone. A.J. had set up the meeting with the peculiar caretaker--an old man who was apparently descended from the original higher level servants of the place.
The caretaker had looked at Nick with a pair of close set, suspicious eyes and had shook his head. "You'll never last the night," he'd said in a grim monotone. The man's hair was pure white and rather long, brushed back from his face in a wispy frame that fell to his highly starched collar. His pallor was so pale he'd seemed almost ghostly himself.
"But I can go?" Nick asked, wondering if he should hope the man would say no.
"Of course. We're always hopeful someone will find a way to lift the curse. The place would make a fine home or museum if more than two people could enter it again."
Nick had forced himself to laugh. "You're kidding, right? You don't really believe it's cursed, do you?"
The man hadn't bothered to answer--he'd simply tapped his wrinkled fingers on the document spread out before him. Nick had noticed the long yellowed fingernails with a small shudder of revulsion. He'd stood up and circled the broad desk, leaning down to examine the page. It was apparently written on actual parchment. A cigarette was lying smoking in a huge glass ashtray next to the paper. Nick had stared down at the words, but hadn't been able to make them out. He'd decided it must be a different language.
"What's this written in? French? Spanish?" he'd queried.
"English, my boy," the man's solemn voice had replied. "Back then, they didn't space out words the way we do now. And spelling was quite different. But I know what it says. I know it by heart. I first learned it as a boy."
Nick had continued to stare, fascinated by several odd letters he couldn't identify. It had made absolutely no sense to him. "What does it say?" he'd asked, almost afraid to hear the answer. The man's office had been large, but the walls were of dark wood with heavy draperies hanging over the windows. There had been a small fire in the grill and one lamp lit on the desk. Gloomy was a perfect description for the room, even in the middle of the day.
The man had shared a portion of the document's contents with Nick, but not all. He'd said that some of it was 'private.' Surely Mr. Carter could understand that?
Nick had nodded and had been surprised to find he'd folded his hands together in front of him. He had been amazingly calm, given the fact this old man with dry, nicotine-stained fingers seemed so convinced the house was actually both haunted and cursed.
There was some 'reward' attached to spending the night. A gift of some sort. There was a larger and more valuable reward attached to breaking the curse. Nick had pondered what these might be, but the caretaker had been very vague.
Still, he'd handed Nick a detailed map and directions that had been obviously pulled up via the internet and printed out in color and neat type by a modern printer. The house and the caregiver might be old, but these directions certainly were not.
The old man had also given Nick two large iron keys. "That one is for the gate. You'll need it to get inside the walls," he'd said, pointing to the smaller of the two keys.
"And this one is to the house?" Nick had asked, jumping in.
The man had shot him an icy look. "No, sir, no indeed. There's never been a need to lock the house. Frankly, no one goes near it."
"But-t-t-t, vandals..." Nick had stammered, before the man broke in again.
"There have been no incidents ever, Mr. Carter. None. I can't say why, for sure. But I think the house is guarded."
Nick had grasped the man's hand to shake goodbye, feeling a crawly sensation at the touch of the caretaker's papery skin against his. Then he'd departed, the date of the 'acceptable' night for his visit written in bold script across the top of his map in black--circled in blood-red ink.
The question, Nick supposed, was what part of the house to explore first. Should he even consider climbing the steep and claustrophobically narrow staircase? Should he head down the 'never-ending' hallway? Should he try the door on his right?
Nick moved to the door and yanked at the handle. It opened rather easily, though the hinges cried out loudly in rusty anger at being disturbed. There was an attached room, which was also circular in design. Nick swung the heavy door wide, wanting to make certain it wouldn't suddenly close on him and trap him inside.
Nick noticed an odd 'statue' sitting on the floor against the wall near the door. He touched it and realized it was some kind of ornate doorstop. He wedged it carefully in place, securing the door in the open position. Feeling more comfortable now, Nick entered the second room and swung the flashlight beam in a wide arch around him.
It seemed strange that he wasn't ending up walking through more cobwebs. Did that mean that someone had recently been inside the dwelling? It was a question he probably should have asked the caretaker. Too late now, he thought, grimacing. He took another step and noted that the only windows in this room were set high above his head on the wall--and omitted little light.
Nick suddenly saw movement in the corner and he spun around quickly, feeling his heart pounding wildly in his chest. Relief flooded through Nick. It was a mirror! Covered in years of grime so that the silvery surface was only barely visible, but a mirror, even so. The beam from his flashlight had obviously bounced on some portion, giving Nick the impression of movement.
Nick sighed and glanced toward the wall, where he could suddenly make out a much smaller door set in the stone. Nick crouched beside the door. It was so tiny it looked as if it had been built for children. An adult would have to bend very low--or perhaps even crawl--to get through this small opening.
Nick started as he heard a loud creak and then a reverberating thud behind him. He moved quickly to the main door to the room, but found it had, indeed, slammed shut. Someone else had to be inside this house! The idea made Nick's stomach churn.
Nick rose and quickly moved to the door, immediately trying the handle. It appeared to be locked. Damn it! He was locked inside this room....
Nick returned to the smaller door and knelt down. He moved the handle and the door swung open without a sound. How was that possible? Why weren't the hinges to this door rusted? Nick was pleased by the ease in opening this door. He flashed his light into the opening and saw that the space beyond the door rose to a normal height. Once through the door he'd be able to stand upright again.
Nick felt claustrophobia rising in his chest as he glanced around the room. He knew the door would be a squeeze, but felt he could make it through. But what if he got stuck in this opening? The idea was somehow terrifying. Yes, people knew where he was--he'd be found if he didn't show up the following day. But to spend the night stuck in the stone doorway? What would that be like?
Nick swallowed thickly and got down on all fours. Then he carefully edged his body through the opening. He began to grin wildly and had to suppress the urge to jump up and down when he was through and once again standing upright in this new corridor.
Nick jiggled his pocket, grateful he'd decided to bring along spare batteries. He couldn't imagine how awful it would be to move around inside this house without the small warmth of the friendly flashlight.
Nick shot the light around him and discovered the hall was fairly narrow and seemed to curve off toward the left. There were no windows at all here--and no wall hangings that he could see. It was some barren path inside the house--perhaps for the children or servants to use, Nick surmised.
He sucked in a deep breath and started forward, carefully watching the beam of light as it revealed the flagstones of the floor and the curving of the wall.
Finally Nick saw a tapestry hanging on one wall, and he moved toward it. He was surprised to see the condition of the piece. It wasn't rotting apart as the first one had been, though it was certainly somewhat musty and slightly covered by cobwebs. As with the first hanging, there was a design--but it took Nick a moment to realize that he was viewing the back of the tapestry.
'That means I'm behind it,' Nick decided, and he gave the edge of the cloth a small shove. It moved slightly, and Nick found himself peering inside a room lit by candles with a large fire roaring inside the fireplace. 'God,' Nick thought, letting the cloth quickly drop, 'someone's in that room!'
Nick reluctantly switched off his flashlight before putting his head close to the edge of the tapestry and glancing inside the room. He could see a large room with a rectangular table. The room appeared spotlessly clean. Nick could feel the heat of the huge fire warming the space beyond the tapestry.
There was no sign of people, but Nick realized that from this spot he couldn't really make out the entire room. Then he noticed a tiny shaft of light entering the blackness of the corridor from a tiny hole near the center of the large tapestry. He moved to the hole and put his eye against it and saw that it was designed to reveal the entire room.
The table was set with sparkling gold plates which were designed to hold the more traditional dinner plates. There was large sparkling silverware and tall fluted glasses. There were tiny crystal boxes in front of each place--Nick wondered briefly what use they were designed for. Above the table was a huge chandelier where scones held lit candles.
The chairs seemed large and Nick imagined they'd be heavy to move. The floor was still of stone, but here it looked far smooth and well-scrubbed. It was as if a huge party was about to begin. 'Someone is in here,' Nick thought. 'I'm not alone.'
But who could it be? The caretaker hadn't mentioned anyone else. And he'd been emphatic about the danger of allowing more than two persons in the house at any given time. The table looked as if it were set for 20 guests, easily.
Nick didn't notice any food on the table--nor did he smell the aromas of cooking. But he figured the kitchen might be behind some large door that would block the smells from entering here.
Nick strained to hear sounds as he continued to peer through the hole and examine the room. A large clock sitting on the huge mantle began to bong and suddenly Nick saw a form enter through the door.
Or, rather he saw some 'thing' enter. At first Nick had the impression that a woman was standing in the large arched doorway. But he blinked and that impression faded--leaving only a small curling mist that moved forward into the room.
God, it had to be a ghost! Nick could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. He prayed fervently that 'she' didn't realize he was hiding here behind this wall hanging.
When he blinked again the mist had disappeared and a woman walked toward the fire, her long graying hair caught neatly inside the jeweled strands of a webbed coif. Her face was pale, but as real as any person Nick had ever seen. Her gown was long and swept the floor as she moved. Was she real? Had his eyes been playing tricks on him? Or was she a ghost, who only appeared to be real?
The woman moved to a tall-backed chair beside the fireplace and sat down, staring into the flames. Nick felt as if he's seen her before somewhere. Then he realized--she was the older woman from the tapestry in the entry hall!
There was no sound, but the woman started and quickly stood, staring toward the door. Suddenly there was another mist there--but this one was larger and darker in color. Then when Nick blinked again, he saw a large burly man with a thick black beard standing there, his fits clenching and unclenching. His face was a study of anger and Nick almost gasped out as fear coursed through him.
These were ghosts--no doubt about it. There were manifestations of some past time--and not the manufacturing of movie 'magic.' Nick could even feel the chill that grew in the air as the man entered the room.
The man gestured broadly at the woman, who bit her lip but managed not to cringe away. She pointed toward the corner of the room and the man and Nick both followed her guiding finger with their eyes. There was a door there that Nick had failed to notice before. The man moved to it and flung it open, then marched boldly through it.
'Why bother?' Nick wondered, thinking the ghost surely could simply walk right through. The man had wavered between flesh and mist as he'd walked toward the corner. When he departed, the woman sat down and buried her face in her hands.
Nick couldn't decide what to do. He could return to the small locked room, he supposed. Maybe he'd even be 'safe' there. He could continue down the long black corridor and discover where it led. Or he could enter the dining room and square off with the poor woman seated inside.
Nick decided to try entering the room. His stomach felt full of butterflies, the way it sometimes did before a performance. There was gooseflesh crawling over his arms as he pushed aside the tapestry.
Nick moved softly across the floor, glad to be wearing rubber-soled sneakers. He couldn't quite make himself step close to the woman, but the heat of the fire felt good against his clammy skin. The fire was real--that was for sure.
Nick didn't make a sound, but the woman lifted her head and stared directly into his face. Her face lit up and she smiled. The brightness of her expression made Nick's heart feel lighter. He took another step toward her. She lifted both arms and stretched them toward Nick. Before he knew what he was doing, Nick moved to kneel beside her chair and let her wrap her arms around him.
Her touch was solid. It was no different than feeling any woman touch him, he decided. But there was something more. He heard her humming lightly and the sound was layered with emotion. He could feel joy a tiny sorrow--then joy and laughter directed toward him. The small sound reflected far more than normal, and it was eerie to hear it.
Still, Nick allowed the woman to rock him against her bosom, knowing it made her happy to do so. He could feel the thick cloth of her gown and the heat of the fire. He could hear her humming the sweet song and felt a peacefulness drift over him.
Finally she withdrew her arms and Nick pulled back, staring into her face. "Can you hear me?" he asked in a dry voice.
She smiled, but didn't answer him. Finally she lowered her thick lashes for a moment and gave a brief nod of her head. Her fine hands with long tapering fingers were lying calmly in her lap. Her face reminded Nick of all the pictures he'd seen of woman in Medieval times--long, pale, oval and serene.
Somehow it was as if the woman knew him--was pleased to see him. No, not merely pleased--she was delighted. She thinks I'm someone else, Nick decided. She thinks I'm... her son? It seemed reasonable...
The ghost tilted her head as if listening and then reached out a hand. Nick took it and kissed it. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. Then he turned and ducked quickly back behind the tapestry.
The man was back and his glowering face seemed even more frightening. Nick waited and watched. The woman rose and took the man's arm and the two of them moved back to the door through which they'd entered the room. As they departed the candles all suddenly went out. The fire was still burning, barely. It was almost entirely composed of glowing embers. The room was dim now, and Nick felt it was time to move on.
He snapped the flashlight back on and headed further down the corridor. He was surprised to find that actually encountering a ghost hadn't been nearly as bad as he might have imagined. The older woman ghost was kindly and loving--he sensed that. But the man--who Nick felt must have been her husband--appeared to be both cruel and nasty. Nick really didn't want to come face to face with that ghost!
The hallway curved off again, and Nick moved quietly through it, wondering why these people were haunting this house. How long had they been here? What horrible thing bound them to this dwelling?
Nick watched more carefully now, waiting to see another tapestry. Soon his eyes caught sight of one and he watched for the tiny beam of light that would indicate the hole placed there to peek through. He moved to the cloth and glanced in.
This room was equally clean and contained plush chairs and small tables, pleasantly arranged. Inside was a young woman, done up in cloak and bonnet and holding a closed parasol in one hand and the ribbon of a small bag in the other. He could see a mass of red curls peeping out from under the bonnet and her large eyes seemed luminous as she gazed toward the open doorway. Nick could just barely make out her pale green gown under the large cloak.
A mist appeared there, and then the older woman entered and approached the younger one. She sat on a settee in front of the girl and gently took her hand. They didn't speak, but something passed between them. Nick saw the girl begin to weep. The older woman pulled at her hand and the girl rose and collapsed into the woman's arms. They were both crying now, Nick could see it--though there was no sound.
Nick started at the sound of laughter somewhere behind him. He twirled around and briefly saw the face of a young boy grinning up at him. Then there was mist where the boy had stood. The mist moved to the tapestry and the boy stood gazing through. His face grew sad.
"Mother told her what happened. They're sad."
Nick could hear the boy's whisper clearly. Here was another ghost, but for some reason, this ghost could communicate with words, not just gestures and humming--or emotions.
"What happened?" Nick whispered back, hoping the ghost would actually hear him.
"Well Father killed you, of course. He was in such a rage. You shouldn't have let him catch you out. You shouldn't have agreed to marry. You should have taken your man to your bed and let Father go to hell--where he belongs."
It didn't make sense to Nick, but at least he knew that these ghosts actually believed he was one of them. Maybe not a ghost himself--but they believed him to be a member of their family, for certain.
"But you've come back! Now you can change it. Change it all. Mother's curse and Father's mistake and Deborah's sorrow. And take your lover to your bed, as you said you would. We've prayed you'd return and set it right."
How? How could he, Nick Carter, 'do' these things. He had no idea.
The boy took Nick's hand and began to guide him through the corridor. Nick hadn't realized previously that it moved off in different directions. But the boy--the ghost--obviously knew it well.
Sometimes the boy glimmered and turned to mist before becoming solid again. But Nick could feel his hand the entire time, as real as real could be.
"When will he come?" the boy was asking in a louder voice, now that they'd moved away.
"Who?" Nick asked. He felt confused.
"You know who I mean," the boy said, his ghostly voice exasperated.
They moved past a tapestry and into another room. This room was dirty and Nick walked through a thick cobweb, cursing as he pulled the gummy strands from his hair and arms. He inhaled dust and sneezed loudly. The boy didn't seem to notice.
"This is my room," he said with pride. "You remember it, don't you?"
The ghost had moved to a corner and was patting a very old rocking horse that stood there. He bent and chuckled over some toy he found there, completely ignoring Nick. Nick needed to know more. The room was abnormally cold--and Nick realized it was the boy. Somehow the odd chilliness followed the ghosts--especially when they 'forgot' or simply didn't notice him.
The boy glanced out the window. "He's here!" the ghost cried out, jumping up and down with glee.
Nick moved to the window and gazed out. He saw Howie Dorough standing on the overgrown lawn, gazing at the house. What was Howie doing here?
"Shall I go and bring him to you?" the boy asked, staring into Nick's face.
Nick shook his head. "No, that's not a good idea," he answered, trying to imagine how Howie would feel if suddenly confronted by this misty boy ghost!
"Just take me to where I can get him, will you?"
"You've forgotten the secret way again, haven't you?" the boy asked, grinning. "I'm glad I never did."
The ghost dropped his toy to the floor and took up Nick's hand. Nick felt a shudder pass through him as the boy directed him back into the corridor.
They moved quickly, Nick panting as he tried to keep up with the boy. Then they reached a small door and the boy shoved it open. Nick passed through and found himself standing within feet of Howie.
"Hey, Howie," he said softly, hoping not to startle his friend.
Howie smiled. "Nick! I couldn't get the door to open. I was trying to find another way in. I felt bad about letting you come here all alone."
"Come on. You're not going to believe this place, Howie," Nick said, taking his friend's hand and guiding him back to the small door. He was surprised to see that because of an outcropping in the stone wall it was barely visible to the naked eye. Had that been true of that first small door, too? Nick didn't think so, but perhaps he'd just happened on it somehow through luck...
They entered the corridor and Nick quickly gazed around to see if the boy was still there. He could hear a small giggle and he guided Howie in the direction of the sound.
"It's really dark in here," Howie said.
"Yeah, I guess I'm kind of getting used to it."
Nick pushed against a wall and fell through it. It was another tapestry that he hadn't noticed as his eyes adjusted once again to the change in light.
Nick had pulled Howie through with him, and found they were in a room full of plants (some dying or dead) with multiple paintings hanging from the high walls. Obviously a conservatory of some kind.
"Weird," Howie breathed, glancing around him. He, too, had a flashlight--one with a very powerful beam--that he was guiding around the room.
Nick heard a sound. He couldn't place it, but it was somehow bad. He glanced at the door and could see the handle moving. He felt a terrible coldness filling the room.
"It's really cold in here," Howie murmured.
Nick knew it was the man. The father. The murderer. He grasped Howie's hand tightly and tried to swallow the huge lump in his throat. He felt frozen to the spot.
What was going to happen now?
-the end part one--back to top of page-