A long short story provided in response to the writing prompt for September 8, 2013: Friday the 13th Horror! And being that this is a story of horror, expect some bloody violence.
The weather-worn gray house sat lonely on a great expanse of land, bordered on one side by acres of cornfields and on the other, the lazy curve of the Glenville River as it caressed the edge of the tall grass. The house looked deserted, and it was. It had sat vacant for over two decades, but it had been much, much longer since a family had lived in it. A real family similar to the Kindfellows, who were its original inhabitants: two doting parents, a bunch of noisy, playful kids. Back in that day the house was painted a brilliant white, none of its boards out of place, no shingles missing from the roof. The windows were lined with flower boxes holding cherry red impatiens; even the solitary window on the third floor attic had a flower box. The grass was meticulously cut to within two inches of the soil, making a comfortable place for the children to lay and watch the clouds passing by overhead. Sometimes on a summer night, when the moon was full, they would all lay on the grass and watch bats fly about. The bats had first been discovered to come from the attic and since the Kindfellows wanted to use the attic for living space, the father put together a bat house of hardwood and cedar, and the bats moved there and seemed content.
The house loved this family. In fact, it had been built by Mr. Kindfellow himself, his father and his brothers and uncles. It’s what they did back then. Families would help each other. When one married, the others pitched in to build a home for the new couple, a home large enough to hold a large family. The house could feel itself become strong with each pound of the hammer and soft with each pass of the sand paper on its rough skin. In return the house kept the Kindfellows well insulated against the icy cold of winter and the stagnant heat of summer.
Everyone in the family helped to keep the house looking as new as the day it was built. The exterior was painted after every winter and every Saturday Mr. Kindfellow and his sons—Jacob, Joshua, and John—went through the house looking for small repairs that needed to be done. They even gave the outhouse the same amount of attention, which pleased the house since it thought of the outhouse as its own. Can houses have offspring? Well, this house seemed to think so. There was something territorial about the way the house leaned toward the outhouse. Maybe an optical illusion to the untrained eye, but the children knew.
It’s funny how children always seem to sense things that adults simply cannot. They sensed that the house was alive, that it protected them not just from the weather but also intruders. If a stranger came by the back kitchen door, which was hidden from the road, the door would stick and refuse to open. Only if the stranger was invited to come around to the front, could he or she get into the house. It was an oddity of the house. Mr. Kindfellow sanded and oiled the back kitchen door time and again, and it would appear to be fine, until another stranger appeared. Then it would be stuck again.
What the house didn’t anticipate was that harm would come from a friend, someone who frequently visited the Kindfellows, often spending whole weekends with them. The house sensed some disquietude between the friend and Mr. Kindfellow and his wife. The friend was always coming upon Mrs. Kindfellow when she was alone, and she would start to cry and he would try to comfort her and then she would run away. The more this happened, the more icy the air between Mr. Kindfellow and the friend. And yet the visits continued and the children still loved to have the friend around. There were five children altogether: three boys and two girls. About the time of tragedy, the children ranged in age from three to fifteen. The boys were in the middle: Jacob, then twelve years old; Joshua, eleven years old; and John, ten years old. All but the youngest boy had his father’s silky black hair with the same cowlick over their forehead. Their skin was tawny like their father’s, and they would get quite dark in the summer while their sisters freckled. The girls were Mariah, the oldest at fifteen, and Rebekka, the baby at three-and-a-half years old. The house thought they were quite beautiful. Both had their mother’s long strawberry blond hair and crystalline blue eyes. Their skin was almost as pale as alabaster except for the dusting of freckles that would pop up during the warm months when they were out of doors much of the time.
They were good children, never disobeying their parents, always smiling and laughing, full of love for each other and their parents. Mariah was a little mother hen and took as much responsibility for her siblings as her mother did. She might have even passed for her siblings’ mother, maturing as she did rather early in her life. She was very modest and never showed a bit of neck or wrist, but the house could feel tension growing between her and the friend.
The friend was in fact Mr. Kindfellow’s best friend from their school days. He had married Mrs. Kindfellow’s sister soon after Mr. Kindfellow and his wife had wed, but she later died after delivering a stillborn baby. The house remembered the sudden quiet and loneliness as the whole family left to spend a few weeks comforting the friend. Some months after the Kindfellows returned, the friend started showing up, usually unannounced but always welcomed. He acted cheery and played with the children, but the house could hear him at night weeping in the attic guest room. His sobs were so plaintive that the house itself wanted to weep, but all it could do was darken the windows.
It was in the attic guest room that the horror began. Mariah had come up to change the bed linens after breakfast. Through the one window she saw the friend and her father sharing a pipe out by the apple trees. She took her time making the bed back up, smoothing the sheets and folding the corners until the bed looked a like smooth piece of ivory. She was languidly stuffing the soiled linens into a duffle to carry to the laundry room, when the friend suddenly walked in. They stared at each other for a moment, the friend started to speak, and Mariah turned away from him and headed toward the door. He grabbed her shoulders and forced her back into the room. The house felt Mariah’s fear, her trembling. An unfamiliar feeling came from the friend; the house didn’t recognize it, had never experienced it before, but it was dark and heavy and evil. The only part it recognized was the underlying anger. But it was a more volatile anger than the simple, fleeting anger of a child being told to do something it doesn’t want to do and then forgetting all about it with the distraction of a toy or favorite book.
No, the friend’s anger had an element to it that the house could not place, and that made the house nervous. The friend then grabbed Mariah and tried to kiss her. She screamed and pushed at him. The house carried the scream down to the kitchen where Mrs. Kindfellow was, and she heard it. While she ran up the stairs, the house carried the scream still further, outside the house to where Mr. Kindfellow was starting to work on a fence. Without hesitation, he dropped his hammer and ran toward the house and his daughter.
He found his wife struggling with his friend, and Mariah trembling in a far corner, the sleeve of her starched white shirt torn at the seam. The other children were coming from all over the house and crowded the doorway with their father, stunned at the sight of their friend, their dearest friend, tearing at their mother’s bosom. Rebekka, the three-year-old, squeezed between her brothers and ran to Mariah, screaming as she did.
Possibly only a second had passed, for how long could a man stand by and watch his wife being ravished, but for the house it felt like an eternity before Mr. Kindfellow rushed forward and pulled his friend away from his wife. He yelled for the children to clear the doorway as he dragged his friend from the room, down the three flights of stairs and out onto the porch, from where he threw his friend onto the stepping stones that led away from the house. He shouted at him, threatened to kill him if he ever showed himself there again. He was so angry, the house felt, but he was also crying, as if over a great loss.
Strangely, the friend wasn’t crying. He just glared at Mr. Kindfellow, and his hate was palpable even to the house. Without saying a word, he got up and limped over to his horse, which was ready for travel for the friend had planned on leaving that day. If he hadn’t returned to his room, perhaps none of this would have happened. If he had just left Mariah alone, if he had just left Mrs. Kindfellow alone. It was almost as if he had wanted to ruin the both of them, destroy Mr. Kindfellow’s pride and joy in his wife and daughter.
Mr. Kindfellow watched until his friend disappeared behind the line of evergreens at the far end of the dirt road. Then he returned to his family, everyone sad and quiet, the youngest children tentatively reaching for his hands, his fingers to hold. Mariah and her mother had changed their shirts and smoothed their hair before coming down. They couldn’t meet his eyes at first. Mariah began to weep and one by one each of the other children started to cry, and they all gathered around Mr. Kindfellow and tried to comfort him. He was suffering the most; although Mariah and his wife had been frightened and assaulted, he had lost his best and dearest friend, someone he had known and loved long before he knew his wife.
After a few minutes, he asked to go back to his work on the fence. They let him go, and then everyone went back to what they had been doing before they heard Mariah’s scream, everyone, that is, except Mariah, who was loathe to go back up to the guest room. Her mother agreed that the room could wait indefinitely and it would be better for her to mend her torn shirt.
The day passed on quietly enough, and the house started to relax. It had been caught quite off guard by the friend’s behavior and now it was exhausted. Such complexity of emotions the Kindfellows had. The house simply wasn’t old enough to understand. After nightfall and the customary reading from the Bible, the whole family went to bed early. They were eager for a new day, a day on which they could start over, maybe even convince themselves that the friend hadn’t been there at all, that he didn’t even exist. The slumber of the Kindfellows was so deep that even the house dozed off, darkening its windows as one might close his eyes.
So the house did not see the dark shadowy figure cross the dirt road toward the shed where it slipped in and then re-emerged carrying a newly sharpened axe. The house did not feel the slow, stealthy footsteps of the figure on the porch nor the soft, tentative twist of the doorknob. The house did not hear the almost imperceptible groan of the doors’ hinges or the delicate creak of the stairs as the dark figure moved up to the second floor where the Kindfellows slept.
He started with the bedroom farthest down the carpeted hall, where Mariah and her little sister slept. He couldn’t have positioned them better. They were “spooning”: Rebekka was folded into Mariah as they both lay on their sides, their hair pinned up in nightcaps leaving their necks well exposed. It took only one chop to kill them both, to free the heads. It was so sudden, so quickly done, that the girls never woke and the house slept on.
The three boys shared a room but each with his own bed. Being typical boys, they were all sound asleep, each one dreaming of fishing in the river with their father and how best he could make the others fall in and get all wet. The axe sliced through the air three times, and through each boys’ neck.
He laid down the axe and gathered up the heads of the children. Still, the house slept on, so unaware of the evil taking place within it. Unaware of the dark figure opening the door to the parents’ bedroom and the careful placing of the heads at the foot of the four-posted bed. He retrieved the axe, lit a lamp kept by the door, and waited. He was in no hurry. The longer it took them to wake, the longer he had to live. He just wanted to see their faces when they woke and recognized the heads facing them. He wanted to see their pain and know that they would finally understand the anguish he had been living with all these years.
The loss of his wife and his only child, a daughter. A daughter that might have grown up to look like Mariah, given that her mother and his wife had been identical twins. He could not believe that his best and dearest friend was oblivious to the pain he felt every time he set eyes on Mariah and her mother. The pain became so unbearable that he at last decided that either he possess them, and in that way regained his own wife and daughter, or he destroy them.
Both Mariah and her mother had rejected him, neither apparently had enough pity to give themselves to him and ease his ever-present pain. So he had no choice. He must destroy them, all of them. Their happiness was an insult to his grief and he would abide it no longer.
They began to stir as he turned up the wick in the lamp, making the small room glow with its flame. Mrs. Kindfellow to open her eyes and it was her scream that woke Mr. Kindfellow and the house. The house shook with her anguish and her husband’s rage and pain as they reached for the heads of their children. When Rebekka’s head toppled off and rolled underneath the bed, Mrs. Kindfellow sprang up and flew at the friend as he stood in the doorway. He brought the axe down on her shoulder with such force that he cleaved right through to the soft downy hair between her breasts. As she fell away, her blood splattered over him and pooled on the floor, he saw Mr. Kindfellow lunge and saw in his eyes what he had been waiting for: a deep black void which only anger and hate would now fill. Mr. Kindfellow had nothing left to live for, but to kill the murderer of his wife and children.
The friend brought the axe across Mr. Kindfellow’s torso, opening a wound so wide and deep that his insides started to fall out of him. He looked up at his friend in horror, his nightshirt soaked in blood, his hands clutching his wound, and then at his wife. He moved to lay himself beside her and as he knelt down, his best and dearest friend raised the axe again and cut off Mr. Kindfellow’s head.
The house shook with anguish, like a mother whose children have been slaughtered before her eyes. The friend fell back against the bedroom in horror, and stumbled out onto the carpeted hallway, now stained and soaked with blood. He started to run toward the staircase, but fell face down onto the carpet. Grabbing the banister, he pulled himself up, a blood-red specter that would make even the bravest of soldiers to die from terror. The house filled with its own rage against the friend, throwing him off balance as he tried to negotiate the stairs, the carpet loosened from its nails and began to buckle and flay like wet wool hanging from a clothesline on a windy day. Halfway down the long staircase, the friend slipped as the carpet buckled underneath him. Crying out in surprise, he fell and rolled head over heels, landing at the foot of the staircase, moaning in pain, and folding into a fetal position.
The house began to cry, droplets of blood falling from the vaulted ceiling of the foyer, sliding down the walls, and a hot wind began to blow throughout the grieving house. The friend was wild-eyed and struggled to get up, but his legs collapsed underneath him.
Desperately he dragged his body across the bloody floor toward the front door. The housing continued to shake and with the dripping blood and hot wind, the friend thought that he already was in hell. Above him the chandelier that he had given the Kindfellows as a wedding gift swayed erratically. The chandelier was made of thousands of finely chiseled crystal. It has been an extremely generous gift, given while the love of his life was still alive. On sunny days, the chandelier turned the foyer into a kaleidoscope of colors that delighted the children especially.
The friend was at the front door, heaving up his twisted body when it suddenly blew open with such force that he was knocked over on this back. He saw the chandelier swaying above him, reflecting the blood streaming down the walls, creating a red haze that struck the friend with awe. The sight was at once beautiful and terrifying.
And then the house stopped shaking, the chandelier stopped swaying. All became quiet, expect for the guttural breathing of the friend. He let out a long sigh of relief and relaxed his body, closing his eyes against the horror he had created. A reverberating, wrenching sound came from above him. He slowly opened his eyes, his face tensing with fear. There was a loud pop and then another. The cluster of wires that were holding the chandelier aloft began to break, one by one. The friend murmured, “no, no” with each pop. At the last, his screams mingled with the music of a thousand crystals clinking together as the chandelier fell toward the friend. He was silenced as the crystals crashed down, smashing through his face, hundreds of thousands of glass splinters piercing his eyes, shredding his skin and filling his mouth. The frame of the chandelier encircled his head, the heavy weight of the brass crushing his neck. He died slowly, conscious of each moment slipping away from him, as the horror of the night played over and over in his mind.
As the friend died, the house itself began a kind of suicide: it commenced with peeling wallpaper, fraying carpets, shredding curtains, choking the chimney, throwing pictures aslant, throwing pillows of dust everywhere. Outside the once brilliant white paint splintered into bits of chip and the wood underneath was a dour grey. The windows became opaque, the screen around the porch grew holes big enough for a swarm of bees to fly through, the floorboards buckled. Grass grew tall in among the now cracked stone steps, and the outhouse … that quaint cozy privy that the house had stood watch over, collapsed into a sad heap of shingles and boards, the children’s magazines and the parents’ newspapers clogged the privy.
The orchard and gardens responded in kind, shredding their fruits and flowers, growing old and spindly. Weeds spread rampantly till no one would recognize that once there stood a bountiful orchard of apples and thick rows of pink tea roses, purple pansies, and yellow mums. By daylight, the house and the land surrounding it had so transformed into a derelict representation of its former self, that no once-frequent visitor would ever recognize it.