Dark ends a horror colle.., p.1
Dark Ends: A Horror Collection, page 1
A Horror Collection
Table of Contents
Things That Go Bump in the Night Series:
The Rake and the Researcher
"It's really mine?" I asked with complete astonishment.
"Free and clear." The overpriced lawyer in a suit that cost more than I made in a year said. "Vivian even set aside ten years’ worth of tax payments for you."
"I still don't understand." I said. "My Aunt Vivian hated me, and now you're telling me that she left me her house and some money too."
"Your aunt was a stern woman with high expectations, but I doubt she hated you."
The way Johnathan, my Aunt's lawyer, spoke about her made me wonder if there was something going on between the two of them. It was, at best, a completely gross thought, but judging by the opulence of his office and fine craftsmanship of his perfectly tailored suit, I guessed he'd done worse things for money. Attorneys didn't rise to this level without getting their hands dirty.
"How well did you know Vivian?" I couldn't help myself, but when I saw the slight blush creep across his cheeks, I knew I'd hit a nerve.
"She was one of my first clients when I started at the firm after law school. I'd also call her a friend." Johnathan said without making eye contact.
"Gross. Just give me the keys. Where do I sign?" I bit my lip as soon as I'd said it. Something about Johnathan Sabre both drew me in and repulsed me at the same time. I'd just met him, but I didn't feel the need to behave with any sort of pretense despite the overly-formal surroundings.
He actually chuckled.
"Wow. I can see a lot of her in you." He said and pushed a stack of papers across the desk to me. "For the record, it was never like that. Not in the way that I think you're thinking." He said and handed me a fountain pen. "Sign page thirty-seven and again on the final page of the document."
"That's none of my business anyway." I said as I signed the paperwork that made a multi-million-dollar house mine.
It still made me smile, but I tried to hide it. At least there was something in this world that Aunt Vivian's money couldn't buy. From what I could remember of her, I was sure she'd tried. Johnathan wasn't bad to look at in any sense of the word. I could tell by the cut of his suit that he took his physique seriously or that he had amazing genetics. Given the way his trousers stretched across the chiseled muscles of his thighs, I'd guess a little of both.
His eyes were something entirely different. I'd never seen anyone with that particular shade of emerald green irises before. Perhaps in a magazine, but those had to be Photoshopped. Johnathan's eyes had a light behind them that was unnerving if you looked into them too long. There was mayhem in that man. So much so that I guessed he was only a lawyer to keep himself on this side of the law. Everything about him screamed that he did bad things for horrible people.
How he'd ended up as Vivian's attorney was a mystery that I wasn't going to inquire about. She'd inherited all of her money from Grandfather. Good old Grandpa had cut my mother out of the will entirely for marrying my father. Now, everybody was dead, and I got the family estate. Yay?
"What about the rest?" I asked as I pushed the papers back at him. "Can I ask who inherited the rest?"
"There is no rest." Johnathan said flatly. "After my fees, what's left of the estate is the house and the money she left you for taxes."
"That's impossible." I said and stood up. I'm not sure how I'd managed to get myself so worked up, but one look at Johnathan's hooded expression, and I sat back down. "You have to know how ludicrous that sounds. Vivian was insanely rich. What happened?"
"Some people just aren't good with money, Vi."
"Please call me Violet. I get the feeling that Vi was a pet name you had for my Aunt. Please don't." I said without looking at him.
"You really are so much like her."
I rolled my eyes, and yes, I was aware that made me look like a petulant teenager. "I should go. I'd like to get to the house before dark." Even if he knew what had happened to the rest of our family money, I got the feeling Johnathan wasn't going to say anything. There was no point in engaging him further.
"I'll drive you." Johnathan said. "That way I can show you around the house."
"No thanks." I said and started for the door.
"Violet, do you know where the fuse box is at your new home? We're expecting storms later. Do you know where Vivian kept the candles and flashlights?"
"Fine." I said. "I'll accept a ride."
I was a child and my mother was still alive the last time I'd visited Stonebridge Manor. The visit hadn't ended well, and it was one of the big reasons that Vivian had been her father's sole beneficiary.
The indigo clouds on the horizon reminded me of the that day even more. It was most likely a trick of my imagination, but it seemed that the same storm welcomed me back. This time, I was moving into the house instead of running away from it.
If I closed my eyes, I could still feel my mother's hand wrapped around mine. "Don't look back." She said as the cold rain soaked us to the bone. "We'll just walk to town and get a taxi."
I wished I could remember why we'd fled the house and my Grandfather. I knew it was bad, but for the life of me, I can't recall that specific memory.
Mom hadn't wanted to go visit, but we needed money. She thought that enough time had passed that her father might help us. She was wrong.
"Looks like I won't be playing golf after work." Johnathan's attempt at small talk felt weird.
"How late do the buses run? I'll need to pick up some groceries." I said without acknowledging his comment about the impending storm.
"I'll take you. We can swing by the nearest market before I drop you off."
I was tempted to tell him no thanks, but it would be much easier to suppress my pride and accept. Otherwise, I'd end up on a city bus with a couple of days' worth of food at most. At least with a ride, I knew I could set myself up for a week.
"Fine." I said and quickly realized I was being an asshole. "Thank you. I appreciate it."
Johnathan's demeanor lifted a little when I said it. I wondered how often anyone praised him and meant it. He probably spent his days surrounded by sycophants who secretly hated him. His choice, and he got paid handsomely for it.
"Do you mind if I park far out?" Johnathan asked as we pulled into the parking lot of the overpriced upscale supermarket.
"I wouldn't want you to get a ding in your baby." I said sarcastically.
"Thanks." He said without acknowledging my jab and pulled into a lonely spot in the far corner of the lot.
"I've never been in one of these stores before. They don't have them where I came from." I said sheepishly.
"Never fear, madam. I'll be your trusty guide."
I knew one thing for sure after our little shopping trip. I was going to have to find a cheaper market somewhere on the bus line. There was no way that I could afford to buy my groceries at that place regularly without dipping into the money Vivian left me for taxes.
We pulled into the driveway at Stonebridge Manor, and I felt my heart clench in my chest. One of the upstairs lights was on, and it gave the impression of the house peering down at me.
"That's strange. I wonder who left a light on?" Johnathan said, but he sounded unbothered by it. "You'll have to excuse the yard. The gardener and housekeeper were let go
"I still can't wrap my head around the fact that she had money problems." I said as we made our way up the front steps.
"Watch the fifth step. It's a little saggy in the middle."
"Are the utilities on?" I asked and then bit my lip when I remembered the light upstairs was on. "I mean other than the electric."
"Yes, ma'am." Johnathan said as he took a step back from the front door and waited for me to open it with the key he'd given me back at the office. "I never turned the electricity off because it's almost impossible to get the electric company out here in a timely manner. The gas and water were off until two days ago. I know it seems silly to shut them off for a month, but I didn't want to eat into your inheritance any more than I had to."
"I appreciate that." I said and turned the key in the deadbolt.
As best as I could remember, the house hadn't changed a bit. Well, that's not true. The decor and furnishings were the same, but everything was worn around the edges.
"She didn't invest a lot in maintenance." Johnathan said from behind me. "But, everything works. The kitchen is this way. The appliances are all very dated, but they work." He said as he led me into the kitchen."
"I know where the kitchen is." I said sarcastically. "I've been here before, but what I don't know is where Vivian kept things. Also, as a child I wasn't concerned about the fuse box." I wanted to remind him of why we were there.
"Why don't you put your cold stuff away, and then we'll go down to the basement."
Other than everything being faded and even more out of date, the kitchen looked the same. The avocado appliances had been high-end when Grandpa redid the kitchen in the ‘70s. Someone had cared for them meticulously over the years. Otherwise, how on earth could they still work?
"The gardener did maintenance too." Johnathan said as if he could read my mind. "The housekeeper also took meticulous care of things as well. I guess stuff was built to last back then. Vivian didn't cook, so as long as everything worked, she saw no need to redo the kitchen."
"Are you sure it's safe for me to keep food in here?" I asked as I stood a foot away from the double-doored avocado green monstrosity that was my refrigerator.
"Beggars can't be choosers." Johnathan said with a shrug.
"How do you know I can't afford a new refrigerator?" I couldn't, but I acted indignant anyway.
"Well, you arrived in town this morning on a Greyhound. I don't know anyone who would do that unless they absolutely had to." He said. "Also, your aunt had me fully vet you before she signed her will leaving you everything."
"I should have known."
The ‘70s kitchen was both modern and an oasis compared to the basement. To call it creepy and old would have been a serious understatement.
"The basement has never been updated." Johnathan said.
"Wow, not even a room with some nice wood paneling and a leather upholstered bar?"
"That's on the second floor." Johnathan said just as the lights went out.
I let out a frightened squeak and grabbed on to Johnathan's arm. "What the fuck?"
Seconds later the lights flickered and then came back on. It happened just as Johnathan turned on his flashlight.
"Oh yeah, the lights do that down here. Don't ever come into the basement without a flashlight. They don't usually stay off for long, but you just never know."
"What's wrong with the lights?" I asked.
"We don't know. Vivian had several electricians out here. All of the wiring that we can get to has been updated and upgraded."
"That you can get to?"
"There are parts of the house that are sealed off." Johnathan said as we continued toward the bowels of the house. "Unless you want to spend a lot of money, they're probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Anyway, there might be problems with the wiring in those parts of the house. That's what the last electrician said. Fortunately, it only affects the lighting down here."
"Oh yeah. Totally fortunate." I said just as the lights flickered again.
"Are you paying attention to where we're going?" Johnathan asked, and I realized that I'd been keeping my eyes glued to him. "You don't want to get turned around down here when the lights go out."
"No shit." I said.
"No, really, Vi. There's a small concrete staircase that leads to a sub-basement. You don't want to fall down that in the dark."
"Oh, Jesus. This just keeps getting better." I said. "What's in the sub-basement?"
"Don't know. Vivian said she didn't know either. It's locked and nobody has the key."
"I want to go back upstairs." I said feeling suddenly cold and exposed. "I don't want to be down here anymore."
The truth was, I wasn't sure if I wanted the house either. But, what choice did I have? I'd been days away from being evicted from my apartment when I got on the bus to come to Loburn. I had nowhere else to go. In that moment, Stonebridge Manor felt more like a prison than an inheritance.
"We're almost there." Johnathan soothed. "You need to know where it is. Can you imagine having to come down here and fumble around in the dark? Please, Vi, pay attention."
I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up when he called me Vi again. It wasn't so much that I really believed it was a pet name for my aunt, but it was more about the sudden familiarity of it. When he called me that, it struck something inside of me. Johnathan calling me Vi made me feel like we'd known each other our whole lives, but it set me off balance because we'd literally just met hours ago.
Just before we turned down a corridor made of old brick, I saw something that gave me a bit of hope. On an old workbench was a role of duct tape. I snatched it up and held it to my chest as if it were salvation itself.
"You going to bind me up and murder me?" Johnathan asked with an awkward chuckle.
"The thought has crossed my mind." I said and punched his arm playfully. Again, the familiarity between us gave me vertigo.
"Call me Pierce" He said and stopped abruptly. "We're here."
"It's my middle name. My friends call me Pierce. You should too." He said and clicked on his flashlight.
And that is how Johnathan became Pierce in less than a day. It was as if everything about him was designed to set me off balance. Suddenly, in the dark bowels of my new home the guy who was showing me around changed his name. I figured I'd unpack that later when I wasn't somewhere so dungeony.
Before us was a wall. The bottom half was dilapidated bricks while the top was newer and yet still decaying plaster. His light shone on a rusted metal box. I didn't want to open it, but I had no idea why I was so irrationally afraid of it. I wasn't normally prone to hysterics, but it felt like something waited to jump out from the box.
"So, this is it." Pierce said and flipped the box open unceremoniously. Inside was nothing but fuses. "The spares are in that workbench where you got that duct tape. In one of the drawers. So, are you going to tell me what the tape is for?"
"How do you know so much about this house?" I asked, but I wanted to kick myself. It was not the place for a conversation. I wanted out of the basement.
"You answered a question with a question, Violet. I think that means you're up to no good." I should have been relieved that he finally called me by my name, but I felt a little let down instead. For some stupid reason, I already craved the accelerated friendly intimacy that had bloomed between us.
"It's to mark a path back to the stairs. Like breadcrumbs in the forest. That way, if I ever have to come down here to the fuse box, I can just follow the tape. Now, are you going to answer my question?"
"I do my job well no matter what it is. I promised Vivian that I would make sure yo
"Let's go upstairs." I didn't feel like commenting on what he'd said. Instead, I unrolled a bit of the tape, squatted down, and affixed the end to the floor. "I'm going to have to walk backward. I assume you won't let me walk into anything."
"Or, you could just walk with your hand behind your back." Pierce said with a chuckle.
We walked back through the basement much more quickly than when we were going to the fuse box. About halfway back, the lights went out again.
"Shit." I heard him grumble. It made me nervous. "I set the flashlight down when you were starting the tape." He growled in the dark. "Don't worry, there are more upstairs. I can find the way back in the dark."
It didn't inspire a great deal of confidence, and I felt a bead of cold sweat run down my back. "Are you sure? What about the sub-basement stairs?"
"We're nowhere near those. Come on, let's keep moving." He said and took my free hand.
Pierce pulled me hard and fast through the rest of the basement. That he was spooked was obvious.
The lights came back on about the time we made it to the bottom of the steps. Because of how fast he'd been pulling me, I hadn't realized that the duct tape had ripped a while back. A line of it was just fluttering behind us as we walked.
"How did that happen?" I asked.
"Probably just got caught on something in the rush. Come on, let's go upstairs. I've still got other things to show you." He said and began to pull me up the stairs.
by Sara Bourgeois have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes