Asher Acker loaded the last of the bags into the car. A couple changes of clothing, flashlights, emergency candles, petrol for the portable generator in case there were any issues with the power, random supplies, and three-days’ worth of instant food and water—he was most certainly not looking forward to the weekend.
“You sure we got the last of them, right?” Bastian Acker said as he came around the car. “Because I just locked the house. Whatever we forget, we won’t be back to get.”
“Or, better idea: we could just stay home this weekend.” Asher says, pulling him in for a quick kiss, “I can watch my Netflix, you can read your comic books, we order some Thai and chill, and let your lazy cousin take care of that place.”
“Sorry, handsome, but that’s not happening.” He smirked. “I offered to do this, in case you forgot. I love that house. I used to stay there every summer. My cousins and I would run around the grounds and do all sorts of crap. We would bathe in the brook and eat from the wild berry bushes. I mean, Christ, Ash, that house was—is—a paradise. I always said I wanted the place for myself, but I can’t afford to repair it.”
Yeah, Asher thought, thank-freaking-God. “It’s a shame,”
“Don’t even.” Bastian chuckled, “You have a terrible poker face. You can’t lie to me.”
“Bass,” I took out the picture of the ‘house’ he gave me last night from my jacket pocket showing the ‘house’ in its current state. “Look at it. Look. This is not a paradise, love. This is a creepy, old, murderer-living, monster-brewing, nightmare-inducing hellish abomination. And you’re making me stay there for three days.”
“It’s only two nights, you drama queen,” Bastian retorted.
“I’m counting every single second.” Asher relented. “Now let’s go. The earlier we get there, the faster I can come back home.”
I should have stayed home, Asher thought. But that is not how marriage works and he knew it. You don’t want to help your partner with something? That’s fine, but expect many headaches in the near future for an undiscerned period of time. Marriage was a pain in the ass.
They had been driving for six hours, and they still had another hour and a half to go. Bastian had driven the whole time, stopping only once at the start of the trip to fill up gas. Asher was not completely useless though, he kept Bastian awake and entertained with his off-key singing.
Looking at the picture again, and imagining the horrifying things they would find there, Asher asked, “What’s the story of the house?”
“Nothing special really,” Bastian shrugged, “My great-grandfather built it to raise his children in. His name was Bastian as well. I was named after him, all firstborn sons in my family are. He was not a fan of the city-folk. Full of sin and all that, so he bought all that land and built the house. He was a mean son of a bitch, according to my father. He was a great believer in that old saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. After he died, all of the children moved away, except the eldest, my grandfather. The house was willed to him.”
“And he died ten years ago. When’s the last time anyone’s been up there?”
Bastian looked away, “No one has been to the house since. I think everyone in the family is still a little bit sensitive about grandpa’s death. He was loved by everyone. At the same time though, since grandpa didn’t will it to anyone in specific, and my uncles and aunts can’t come to an accord, it will be sold and divided among them. I just volunteered to pack everything up because I love that place. I wanted to see it one last time.”
“You’re a saint.” Asher’s sarcasm wasn’t missed.
“I told you that you could stay home.”
“What and let you go off and enjoy this horror incarnate all by your lonesome? What kind of husband would that make me?”
Asher scoffed at me, “A sarcastic one.”
“Oh, poppycock. Just know that you are putting a rather large payment down on that perfect cabin we unfortunately haven’t been able to find yet with your share.”
“Of course,” Bastian reassured him. “And you should really give the house a chance. It’s really not that bad.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” Asher sighed, caving in. “I’m sure it can’t be worse than the picture I have painted in my head.” He joked.
Every single prejudice Asher had against the house was not only supported by the decaying structure that stood before him, but against all odds, they exceeded all expectations. The worn paint exposing the rotting wood underneath. The overgrow that surrounded the place like devilish claws rising from the pits of Hell.
Asher could imagine the history that took place in the structure before him, but its only legacy now is sure to be the colonies of termites and the generations of rodents that inhabited that house. The ceiling looked like it would cave in at any moment; the cracked windows hid century and a half-old rooms that hadn’t been dusted in at least ten years.
Bastian embraces Asher from behind, giving him a wet kiss on the back of his neck. “Welcome home!” Bastian said, joyfully.
Asher laughed loud and heavy with sarcasm.
They each grabbed a bag and made their way in.
Inside, it was no better. Barely any furniture stood in one piece. There was a thick layer of dust and grime throughout the wooden floors. The pictures on the walls were barely visible underneath the gray layers of heavy dust that stuck to them. The very air in the house stank of age. To the left of the entrance was a staircase that took you to the second floor.
A misstep there, Asher thought, and your neck would become an accordion.
From the moment he came into the house, Asher felt uneasy. Not only did the place look like it came straight out of a Hollywood horror set, the atmosphere was off. Hairs on the back of his neck standing on end, running down his arms; chills that made their way throughout his body; clammy palms and a rushing heartbeat…his body told him this place was not safe. But he was here for Bastian and he would be brave.
“There’s water here, right?”
“Not potable, but yeah.”
“Good. I need to take a leak.”
“Up the stairs to the left, second door to the left. Turn the water switch on first, behind the toilet. Give it a minute or two to fill up and you’re good to go.”
Asher shot an incredulous look at him. “You’re not coming with?”
“You want me to stand guard outside the bathroom door?” Bastian chuckled, “Come on, you’re a big boy.”
“If I die here, I’m haunting you.”
Asher made his way up the creaky stairs.
At least he found solace in the fact that if anything creepy was making their way around the house, he would hear it from every room. At the top of the stairs, there was a green door immediately to his right. Is this a bedroom? Asher thought. Or maybe the door to the attic? He went left, ignoring the mysterious door for now.
There was a small waiting room right at the top of the stairs. Two love seats and a coffee table with decade-old magazines covered in dust. There were picture frames on the walls. Asher could barely see the faces on the pictures inside. One of them though, stood out. It was of a young Bastian sitting on an old man’s lap. Grandfather Bastian, Asher thought to himself. They both seemed quite happy. Ever since Bastian told him why the house was being sold off, Asher wondered why it hadn’t been willed to him. After all, it was no secret that his grandfather favored Bastian above the rest. Firstborn son favoritism, Asher guessed. So, why hadn’t his grandfather left the house to him? Or to Bastian’s father, his own firstborn?
Moving on, Asher passed the waiting room to a hallway. There were five doors here: three to the right side of the hallway and two to the left. The first door to the left was the bathroom, but he first had to pass the first two doors on the right.
The first door to the left was open to a clattered room. There were fabrics hanging on the walls and opened boxes of threads and patterns all over the place. From the door, you could clearly see a sewing machine in the middle of the room. With nothing else to see, he turned to leave when—
…the hell was that? Asher thought. It had been impossible. A trick of the mind, he was sure. Asher was simply tired from the long drive and hungry—he was always delirious when he was hungry. There was simply no other explanation for why the sewing machine would have worked by itself for a second.
Asher wanted to go to the machine and inspect it; but he didn’t dare. I should eat, he reassured himself. Leaving the room, he heard it again: the screeching sound of the rusted sewing machine. But this was impossible and so he ignored it.
Small steps carried him further into the hallway. The second door to the left was locked with a large and thick lock from the outside.
Why would it be locked from the outside? Asher touched the lock, his finger taking away some of the dust collected on it after the long decade hanging unlocked as he trailed down. The lock was almost comical. There wouldn’t be any instance Asher could think of that would demand a lock that large and thick. The door would give away long before the lock ever did.
Asher kept on to the first door to the left, the bathroom; not noticing the large lock coming unlocked as he walked off.
There was no power in the bathroom. Bastian had yet to try on the power. They brought a generator in case the main power lines were damaged after the long years, but that wouldn’t help him in the bathroom. Using the flashlight setting on his phone, Asher could see the old bathroom.
Spider webs, an obscenely amount of dust bunnies, and hundreds of dried exoskeletons belonging to the victims of the spiders that lived there. A yelp almost escaped him. Jesus Christ, he thought to himself, I’m glad this place is being sold off. I can’t imagine spending any leisure time here. The reminder of having to spend the next three days here caused Asher to shiver all over in disgust.
Making his way down to the toilet, he shone the light to come face to face with the carcass of a dead rat. Asher covered his mouth to stop from heaving. He would not touch a single thing in this bathroom.
Holding the phone between his teeth with the light shining upwards to light the room as much as possible, Asher relieved himself in the sink. There was no amount of regret or shame. He would do anything to not have to touch a single thing in this room. The creeping sound of a door opening slowly caused him to pause and freeze. Shivers were running from the tip of his fingers to the back of his ears.
…am I hearing things again? He thought.
The sound of the creaking door stopped just in time for the loud sound of a shutting door to ring throughout the hallway. Asher dropped his phone on the sink in shock and tucked himself away.
“Bastian?” He finally said. There was no answer. Asher shouted his name again.
“I’m in the kitchen!” Asher heard from afar. “I opened some of the windows so the draft might have shut some of the doors don’t worry!”
The draft, he thought, of course.
His own grandfather’s house was drafty as well. Asher remembered the long sleepless nights of creeping noises coming from outside his room. His mother had told him the same thing then. Drafts were the single biggest cause of ghost scares around the world. Sometimes people hear things and automatically place causes on them. When nervous or alone, those causes almost always tended to be paranormal in nature. This was exactly what was happening here.
It has to be.
Grabbing his wet phone, Asher groaned as he left the hallway and made his way down, rushing past and not noticing the now-unlocked lock hanging from the second door and the sewing room.
The thought was there in his mind, but he ignored it. He couldn’t deal with it right now. The draft had closed a door. Of that he was sure. Even Bastian had heard that one. And yet…the only door open when he went up was the one leading to the sewing room. The same door which was open as he ran past it.
Downstairs, Asher passed through a rather large living room with a fireplace before finding himself in the kitchen were Bastian was.
“Whoa, what happened to you?” Bastian joked. “You look like you saw a demon.”
“Nah,” the thought of a demon being in the house did not help his mind settle, “Just a decomposing rat behind the toilet.”
Bastian groaned in disgust, “I’m cleaning the bathroom then. That’s what the bleach was for.”
“And the power?”
“You didn’t see it?” Bastian pointed upstairs. “It should have been up there in the waiting room. Maybe they put up one of the pictures in front of it again.”
“You fix that and I’ll bring in the rest of the bags.”
It took all of three trips to bring all of the bags inside. There was still no sign of power. The thought of having to spend the next three days here without power was more than Asher could handle.
At the very least there has to be power.
Asher took a moment to take in the sight of the kitchen. It was large, unusually large for the time period. In the center of the kitchen was an island with six benches all around, the bags were on top. Were kitchen islands even popular one hundred and fifty years ago? Or was it a new addition to the house only a couple of decades old?
Reaching into one of the bags, he took out a jar of Nutella. Before he realized what he was doing, Asher opened one of the drawers in search of a spoon. Habit. That damn habit was to blame for the disgusting sight he saw now. Utensils covered in black grime. Rusted beyond use. The damage looked much older than ten years’ worth of abandonment.
The old man did live alone, Asher thought, how did he survive so long in this place alone?
The putrid sight was not enough to stop his hunger, so he ate from the jar using his fingers. As he rested himself on the kitchen island, his mind fell back to the wonder of what they would find in this house. Everyone has heard stories about people who find valuable things in old houses. But the fact that the whole family trusted just one of them to come here alone and pack them all up reassured him that at the very least, there would be no surprises.
And then the light bulbs above the island blew. Asher screamed in shock, choking on the chocolate goodness he was enjoying. The sound of Bastian running down the stairs was barely audible to Asher who coughed loudly as he chocked. With a hard slap on his back, Asher spit the chocolate paste. His throat aching, Asher thanked him, his voice a little hoarse.
“I better not die in this house,”
Bastian laughed at this, “Try not to be a glutton and that won’t happen.”
Through teary eyes, Asher could see some of the lamps and kitchen lights were on. At least there would be no horrifying darkness. In this, Asher found solace.
A couple of hours later, the bathroom had been completely bleached by Bastian and the food and drinks put away in the coolers by Asher. There were two hours left before sundown. The plan was to leave the treasure hunting for the morning, and use today to recuperate from the long drive and the settling in the house. Board games would keep them occupied for a couple of more hours until they called it a night. The events that took place had made Asher curious about the house.
“It’s the courteous thing to do. What if I find myself lost in this place?”
“It’s a big house, Ash, I grant you that, but not big enough to get lost in, babe.” Bastian obliged in the end. He always did.
Going up the stairs, Bastian pointed to the green door at the right of the top of the stairs. “This door leads to the attic. I don’t know why he painted it green. All the other doors are white, but this one, it’s the only one painted in a different color. I never thought to ask him why, and now, it’s made me curious.” Bastian went on to single out every single person in the pictures hung on the walls of the waiting room. The people in the pictures were Bastian’s cousins, (he was an only child), uncles and aunts, and two family friends. There was one child that Bastian missed in one of the photographs, but Asher didn’t think enough of it to ask him. Leaving the waiting room, Bastian pointed to the sewing room Asher had already come across. “I never liked the sewing room,” Bastian confessed.
“I don’t know. Something about needles. I never liked them. I used to have recurring nightmares when I stayed here about my grandfather making me sew a shirt for him and having my fingers sewn into the fabric by mistake. It was a messed up nightmare.”
“Well, I don’t like it either,” Asher chuckled, “It’s a creepy-ass room.”
Closing the door behind them, Bastian continued on to the next door. The locked room that Asher had seen before, except that—
“This lock was locked when I last came here.” Asher pointed out.
“Was it? That’s odd. The lock is supposed to be on, always. Even as a child, I’ve never been in this room. Grandpa always had it locked. He forbade all the children from going in. I actually can’t recall my parents ever going in this room either. To be honest, this is where I expected to find all the treasures, if any.”
…this was locked. Asher thought to himself. I know it was. I touched the damn lock. It was locked.
Another shiver went down Asher’s spine as he saw Bastian reach for the door handle. “We should leave this one for now.” He said, taking hold of Bastian’s hand. “I don’t really want any more surprises today. Tomorrow morning, I promise.”
“No worries,” Bastian said with a smile. “There’re plenty more rooms to see.”
Past the locked room was the bathroom to the left. Asher was overjoyed at the look of the bathroom. Almost three hours spent cleaning by Bastian, and the bathroom looked almost brand new. There was little he could have done to fix the molding walls. The toilet, shower, and the sink, however, were white as could be. There was a thick stench of chlorine and some other strong chemical Bastian used for the rust. Whatever it was, Bastian had worked magic here. There were also no traces of bugs or decomposing rodents. With a quick peck from Asher for a job well done, they moved on to the second door to the left just past the bathroom.
“A game room?”
“Yeah. My cousins and I spent most of our time here. There’s dozens of board games, some you have never even heard about. There’s even a game here from when my grandfather was a small boy.”
The room was well-lit with natural light. Almost the entire wall facing straight from the entrance was made of windows. There were boxes around the room, some of the games had spilled over the floor. There were a couple of chairs and sofas in the room. There were six lamps hanging from the walls. They were not needed right now.
Moving on, the last door on this floor was the third to the right, the one next to the locked room. This room turned out to be Grandfather Bastian’s bedroom. It was mostly empty save for the bed and a couple of nightstands. There were four windows in this room, but with the sun setting in the opposite direction, very little could be seen without the lamps—which were not working in this room.
“And the third floor?”
“Four more bedrooms and two bathrooms.”
“That can wait then,” Asher said with a wave of his hand. “Dinner calls me.”
Dinner turned out to be instant ramen with a side of saltine crackers. Asher’s attempt at a romantic dinner in front of the fireplace came to a halt when they discovered the chimney had been blocked by debris from years back. Any attempt at a fire would surely burn the whole house down.
Oh, sweet fantasy. Asher thought to himself, imagining the scene.
After some deliberation, Asher decided dinner would be eaten on the hood of the car, watching the sunset.
“How did your grandfather died?” It was a question Asher instantly knew he shouldn’t have asked. Bastian’s demeanor turned grim. “Sorry, love. You don’t have to tell me. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s ok, really. It’s been a long time, but it still creeps me out. I was staying here one summer with him, just me and him. We were having a good time. I loved coming here for summer break. Then one day, I woke up and noticed he was still asleep. I didn’t think anything of it so I started my day. Even when I was alone, I used to play by myself in the woods near the house. Being a kid, the whole day passed me by. It was almost sundown when I made my way back to the house. It had been a hell of a day, hottest one I had seen that summer yet, so I took a shower, realized I was hungry and that there was still no sign of him being up. So I thought he probably didn’t feel good and made dinner for myself. An hour later, I feel asleep in the living room waiting for him to come down. I didn’t get up until almost noon the next day. I was drenched in sweat. And then came the stench. I almost threw up right then and there. I had never smelled something like that before. In my life. I ran up to grandpa’s room, screaming for him but there was no answer. I opened the door and as the stench came at me, I keeled over and heaved. It was early noon, which meant his whole room was completely clear with the late morning light. The way he looked,” Bastian paused, “It looked like something out of a horror movie. His whole body was bloated. Like a whale. I was told he died during the night on the day before, when he never came out. I didn’t know what happened to his body then, but later on, thanks to a rather disgusting Google search, I learned that the summer heat caused gases in his body to expand. And after two days in this process, he was barely recognizable.”
Asher had stopped eating halfway through the story, and found himself without appetite now. He was right though, he shouldn’t have asked Bastian. Asher could see that it was a painful memory for him.
“I’m sorry that happened to you and to him,”
“That’s life, Ash. It doesn’t affect me much anymore, but at the same time, it’s not something I like remembering.”
After the sunset, they both retreated back into the house. Board games, music from Bastian’s mobile, and snacks lightened the mood Asher had inadvertently ruined before.
"This is nice, babe." Bastian said, nibbling at the sweet treat.
"I know. Imagine how much better it would be if we were not in Satan's holiday cabin at the moment."
They both laughed at the dialogue, exchanging a loving look.
Both Asher and Bastian were the kind of people who rather enjoy a quiet evening together than any social gathering outside. It’s what attracted them to each other in the first place, ironically meeting for the first time in one of these social gatherings they both detested, which they in turn had both been forced to come to by their respective friends.
Sometime later, tired, they found themselves cuddling under a blanket in the sofa facing the dead fireplace. Outside he could see complete and utter darkness. It was a new moon night. Inside, almost every light on the first floor was on. “It’s not as romantic, but it’s something.” Asher joked.
It was moments like these which made whatever he had to do for Bastian worth it. His embrace was worth a thousand nights in this abomination of a house.
A kiss on the head from Bastian, turned to a snuggle, which turned to a kiss, which evolved into—
Being drowned in pitch black darkness as all the lights in the house went off.
“You have got to be freaking kidding me,”
“Calm down, it’s probably just a fuse.”
“But it was so nice and I was finally forgetting the fact that I was spending the night in the Haunted Mansion.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bastian kissed him, “We don’t need lights.”
“Oh, yes. We. Do. Go.”
With an annoyed grunt, Bastian got up, picking up his mobile, turning off the music and turning on the flashlight setting. “I’ll be back.” He said mimicking The Terminator. Asher would have laughed had they not been surrounded by chilling darkness.
As Bastian started going up the stairs, Asher remembered his mobile was somewhere in the kitchen and he wouldn’t be able to find it until Bastian fixed the fuse or came back. Laying down, Asher could see a faint glimmer of light being reflected in the windows coming from the second floor. It was Bastian’s mobile.
A couple of minutes passed by, which seemed like an eternity to Asher who kept moving around the sofa trying to find a comfortable spot. The creeping darkness was making him feel uneasy. The feeling that he felt when he first came into the house was clawing its way back into his mind.
And then came the pitter-patter sound of Bastian’s steps rushing down the stairs. His mobile was off, but Asher could still hear him. Before Asher could say anything, Bastian jumped on the sofa and pulled him in for a kiss.
Asher broke away, “No lights?”
Kissing Asher again, Bastian shook his head no.
Asher broke away yet again, annoyed. “Stop. Is there no other way to fix it? I don’t want to be here in the dark, Bass.”
Bastian pulled Asher’s feet towards him, causing Asher to lay on the armrest as he was before. And then Bastian kissed him again.
This time, Asher gave up. There was no point in arguing about the lights if they could not be fixed and he was too cold to not want to do this. Finding himself in this empty house in the middle of nowhere, Asher took liberties he could not take living in the wall-to-wall apartments in the city.
And as Bastian kissed his neck and caressed him, Asher caught a glimpse of a glimmer of light coming from the second floor. Reflected in the window like before. He chuckled, imagining it to be a little Casper the Friendly Ghost, when it was most surely a flash of moonlight.
Then the glimmer got brighter. And Asher remembered it was a new moon outside. No moonlight.
“Starting without me, are we?” Bastian said.
The light was his mobile.
The alien feeling that crept over Asher could only be described as pure, unadulterated fear. Every hair on his body stood on end, every neuron in his head shot off at the same time, his blood boiled, and for a moment, his whole body went into a sort of stiffness as he inhaled. And then came the bellowing cries of horror. They came from Asher. He knew this because his throat burned.
Using all of his effort, Asher tried pushing whoever was on him off, but it was useless. Whoever this was, was stronger than Asher. The person no longer felt like Bastian, he was different now. Worse. Asher was holding on to layers of pulled flesh. Like a morbidly obese person who lost all their weight in a moment. Wrinkly, and sticky like a slug.
Asher could feel the thing's body slither away from him. He felt raped.
Asher heard Bastian scream for him from upstairs and there was a loud crash.
All the lights in the house came back on.
Asher stood up in a flash, pulling his pants up. He ran for Bastian, but he didn’t have to run far.
When he first got to the house and saw the old stairs, Asher joked about how his neck would look like an accordion if he fell from the top. His assumption was not far off.
His body contorted in an inhuman way, Bastian was most certainly lying dead at the foot of the stairs.
Someone embraced Asher from behind, giving him a wet kiss on the back of his neck, followed by the loud sounds of locks locking into place reverberating all throughout the house and the power going out again.