Fiction

Rent to Own – A Short Story in One Part

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I don’t know what possessed me to rent the old house. That, friend, is a fact. At the time, as I recall, I was in no need of such a dank old place full of cobwebs and mice, lonely and desolate as it was, third from the last house at the end of that long road. Truth be told, the entire thing is extremely predictable.

As I said, the old house stood third last at the end of a long road. Though only three miles from the town proper, the neighborhood was somehow very out of the way and it had been inhabited in haphazard manner for as many years as the Realtor could remember. She was a kind woman, late sixties; warned me that the landlord could be a bit of a jerk, if not understood. “Gruff, very brash and sometimes rude,” she’d said, “but all in all, amenable to most things. At least he fixes things soon enough.” Upon having met the man, I agreed with her feelings concerning him.

Truly, I do not know what to call the style of the architecture of the old place. Call it Southern Smattering of Everything. What had started as clearly one style had been added to until the point the place had no particular voice at all, save one of dank misery and hard times and even worse decades. As it goes with this sort of thing, I was drawn to the old place and still do not know why.

I don’t suppose I much care anymore, really.

For the first several months, I can recall that all was fine. Until a relative had reminded me, I’d forgotten entirely what had begun the end. A book. Such a simple thing, really. Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs; pages bound, without power other than those of the reader’s imagination. But a friend had stopped by one night with a book containing the sort of quiet magick that one should never deal lightly with. As I found out, there is no clause for ignorance. I took the book with excitement, for I had been wanting to read it for several weeks. I’d read about the book, that it contained stories only those with a somewhat morbid fascination for esoterica and the Old World would find interesting.

I read the book and all seemed innocuous enough, at first. It was, indeed, fascinating. The stories in it were full of the sort of spellcasting that is woven into the narrative. The book spoke no immediate incantations but rather drew me in slowly, wanting my attention concerning a dark matter it intended to communicate to me with as much detail as I was willing to allow.

Unfortunately, during that time in my life, I was harboring gloom and doom, a mood I now confess entirely to be driven by self-pity over a few catastrophes in my life. The mood, mind you, was perhaps understandable and even forgivable, but as I found out, forgiveness does not absolve one of consequences.

I reached a story in this book concerning a demonic entity of some charm and magnificent power, and soon realized that I was obsessed with the story. To the point that I read and re-read the tale that night many times. I soon realized it was not the story I was in fact obsessed with but the entity itself. Before I knew it, I was researching this entity, attempting to find its proper name, and one night found myself in a haze attempting to conjure the damnable thing with an incantation, which I had somehow found by taking the third letter of every seventeenth word for nine pages until I’d found the key.

The next day, I did not go to work but instead set about building a fire behind the old house and I burned the book. I knew that I had made a serious mistake but I could not remember precisely when that previous night I had done it nor what I had actually done. I knew that I had brought something on myself, however. That was all that I knew. I said some sort of perfunctory prayer and, you can of course imagine, made the wildest attempts to pretend the entire thing done.

For several weeks, nothing seemed to come of my book burning. I spent most of my time, when at home, in the den of the old house. There was a large couch in the room when I took the place and I found it comfortable from day one. That, aside from the occasional trip to the kitchen and, eventually, my bedroom, was where I stayed. There were quite a few more rooms in the house, both on the first and the second floor, including a large attic and, unusual for a home in the Deep South of America, a sizable basement. I never opened those doors for many months, at times completely forgetting the rest of the house entirely.

A night in early November, I sat watching a fire die; one that I’d been trying to build for what seemed an hour or more. The wood was dry, the kindling fine, and the matches hot. There seemed no reasonable explanation. The fireplace was massive, so I felt no fear in dousing the entire structure I’d built, taking up only a portion of the stone space, with kerosene. The flames burned bright and hot for a few minutes, then settled to a reasonable burn. The crackling set my mind at ease and I found a book and opened it to the last page I’d read. While reading, I dozed.

What woke me was the sound of popping, buzzing and little things rolling out from the stone fireplace, right up to my feet. Hornets. Hundreds of hornets were diving into the fire, popping like corns, and cooking instantly. More than once, the bugs nearly conquered the flames. I fanned them more and eventually brought the kerosene back out. I was thankful not to need the fuel again, as soon the hornets slowed, finally stopping. The stench was palpable.

All round me were gathered the charred bodies of the insects. What I’d witnessed was impossible and completely unheard of and yet there the evidence lay all around, the flames still popping with the few more bodies that fell, likely already dead. My heart was beating nearly out of my chest.

When the footsteps began above me, I jumped from the couch and looked up, much to my dismay. A black shadow walked across the ceiling high above, laughing at me with no face. The thing pointed at me and howled inside my mind. I remember screaming and the thing was gone but the footsteps pounded on the floor above me. The flames in the fire grew, taking up the whole of the huge, stone hearth, until I had to back away from the heat.

The moment I regained some sense to me, I ran for the front door. When it slammed shut I shouted in frustration. Of course it slammed shut. I had rented an old house and set about to haunt it my own self.

My mind threatened to leave me entirely. The whole of the house had erupted into a din of Hellspeake. Chanting and murmuring one moment, buzzing after that into a crescendo of clicks and screams, to the point my brain could barely sort the sounds from the cacophony, the whole symphony shattered my senses. I put my hands over my ears and began to shout, dropping to the floor onto my knees. Force of will held my sanity there inside my head, like seven stalks left on a dandelion and the whole world a hurricane.

I ran hard for the closest window and kicked it and nearly broke my foot. With no other choice, I took my hands from my ears and picked up a large chunk of wood. This I hurled at the window with all I had, only to watch it be bounced back to the floor with a dull thud.

With no warning the din died to an immediate hush. Then there was no fire, no light. Darkness. That was the closest I’d come to crying like a small child in many decades. Silence. Nothing but the blackest quiet surrounded me, pushing in on me. I did the only thing my being would allow and that was to stand stock still.

A warm breeze on my left arm. Cold breath on my neck. My whole body shook despite all of my effort. In that darkness was Something. I wanted to think that it was the landlord–stark, raving and mad. A killer no one suspected. I knew better. This was something much worse. I wondered how I could have been so idiotic. Perhaps something had possessed me.

I knew when I heard the voice that it was only audible in my mind, yet it was everywhere nonetheless. Avarice. Anguish. Hubris. Insane and twisted things. The voice was that and Legion.

At first the words were blunt objects with no shape to my ears. The sound was rhythmic and ugly. After it had spoken for a moment, I began to understand.

…Never have I seen an incarnation of your kind as easily controlled.

I could actually detect fascination in the thing’s voice. There was nothing in my eyes but pitch black and the tricks the mind will play with the eyes in such darkness. As the thing continued to speak, I felt myself becoming lightheaded. Colors darted in rings in front of me. My body wanted to black out, as did all of my being but the demon would not allow it to happen.

You call me from that place onto yours, then you regret your decision. 

I could feel the thing directly in front of my face. Without seeing or touching anything of the demon, I knew that it was leaning down from a great height. The air twisted ice and fire around me, stirring up the hornet bodies, sending them flying around me.

But you have no honor, descendant of Man, for you have fallen. You are a coward.You simply burned my home, yes? Without thought. I suspect you slept well that night, thinking that you had rid yourself of me.

My feet lifted from the floor. I started to scream but something took hold of my throat and nearly crushed it. There was nothing for me to do save attempt to prevent my bladder from voiding.

Well, the demon continued, now this is my home. Fret not, I do not wish you here. You may leave. But do what you must to keep this my home, or I will find you.

Higher I was lifted into the air.

Do you understand?

I squeaked out, ‘Yes.’

I was dropped to the floor. When I landed, the fire roared into life. The whole of the room was lit. Things stood all around me. Twisted things. The flames rose higher and I could see the house itself had changed and malformed. The stairs were wrong, the sofa a coiled mangle of something else entirely, and the walls and floors stained with colors my gut understood.

When the front door flew open, I ran out the door.

I bought the house. I took the loan out at a terrible interest rate and, my friend, I did not care. I took out another line of credit and boarded up the entire house. One year later, I borrowed more money and built a large fence around it. As far as I was concerned, the damned demon could have the rotting old sod. Until I died, that house was where I left that dark thing. I moved two years later, to where we are now.

It’s nice to have met you today, friend. I am learning to enjoy the cold up here.

Copyright © 2015 Carey L. Henderson

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