Howard Thomas was a Social Studies high school teacher who lived in Manhattan with his wife Susan and their 15- year- old twins Brian and Arnold. When Howard got his certification to become a principal, he started looking for a position in Upstate New York. In that area, the family could enjoy plenty of space and fresh air after living in a crowded, polluted city.
Always giving an excellent impression at interviews, Howard was hired as the high school principal at Winfield, a town in the Mohawk Valley near the Adirondack Mountains, starting the next school season in the fall.
A local real-estate agent was hired and quickly found the family an old yellow painted Cedar wood Italianate farmhouse with a stream at the eastern section of a two-acre property. True, the house was built in 1890, but its condition was good and the place maintained a certain charm.
The family settled in Winfield about a month before the school term began. Susan suggested they purchase a portable above ground swimming pool for the boys, but Howard decided first to get a decent tractor first to mow the grounds and keep it from becoming an overgrown field of tall grass, weeds, and wildflowers.
Having lived in Manhattan, Brian and Arnold’s new friends admired them for their trendy way of doing things. The twins liked this admiration and quickly adjusted to their new surroundings. As for their parents, it took a bit longer, although Howard personally enjoyed the prestigious role of being a high school principal.
The first time Howard experienced something strange happening was five months after moving to Winfield. Unable to sleep one evening, he lay restlessly tossing and turning in the dark for hours until finally deciding to get dressed and take a stroll in the back of the house.
Most of the trees were bare by now, and the full moon cast an eerie blue light on the grounds. Nearing the stream, Howard saw a figure staring at him from the other side. The man had long blond hair that framed a pale young face. When he called out to him, the stranger disappeared. Thinking that perhaps his imagination was playing tricks and no one was really there, Howard returned home. Once getting into bed, he was able to fall asleep until the morning.
Busy at his new job and adjusting to his new life, Howard soon forgot the incident. However, one snowy winter night when he was at the desk in the den, he saw the same man staring at him from the window. Getting up, he ran outside, but no one was there
What does this fellow want? he wondered, becoming more angry than fearful.
For the next few days, Howard searched the entire neighborhood to see if the man might just be some nosy neighbor without any success. Yet, from that time on, he began to constantly see this stranger looking into the first-floor windows in his house or somewhere on the grounds. Oddly enough, none of the other family saw him.
Eventually able to get a bit closer to this figure when outside, Howard guessed him to be in his early twenties. Tall, thin, and dressed in something reminiscent of what men wore in the late nineteenth century, he attempted to speak to this strange person, but all the young man did was respond with an unnerving smile, turn, and walk away.
Naming this weirdo “The Stalker,” Howard became determined to stop him snooping around the premises. The following afternoon he went to the local police precinct and filled out a report on this prowler and asked for their assistance to apprehend him. He was assured they would get right on the case if he would be willing to press charges when the person was caught. Of course, Howard agreed to do this.
For the next few months, the Stalker stopped appearing again, and Howard thought the problem was over. During the Easter weekend, Susan and the twins went to visit her folks in Connecticut. Since Howard had one of his bad migraine headaches, he stayed at home.
The first evening alone, it rained. There was a short in one of the lamps when he tried switching it on and the house when dark. Unplugging the wire, Howard went down to the cellar to turn on the breakers. Reaching the box, he suddenly felt a cold hand touching his shoulder. Startled, he stepped back and tripped over something and fell to the floor. Standing over him was the stalker, only this time he glowed in a purplish haze that began fading when he started to speak in a steady deep voice.
“At last, we are able to communicate. This is going to be a glorious night for me!”
Frightened and starting to panic, Howard tried to rise from the floor, but was unable to do so.
“You’ll get up when I am ready to allow you, the specter shouted, frowning with anger.
“My gracious, am I under his control?” Howard thought nervously.
The specter bent down and looked him with large light- blue eyes that seem to pierce into Howard’s soul.
“If you are thinking that I have you under my control, you are absolutely correct.”
“But why choose me?” the frightened man asked.
“You will find that out when I get my wish. In the meantime, if you promise to cooperate and don’t try escaping, we can go upstairs where it will be more comfortable while I tell you my story.”
Howard nodded. The cellar was so damp and dingy.
Upstairs, the phantom looked around and rubbed his hands gleefully
“My house has held up well.”
“What do you mean your house? This place is mine; lock, stock, and barrel,” Howard replied indignantly. “In any case, just who are you anyway?”
“Better you should ask who I once was,” replied the phantom. “My name is Cort Van Tassel. I designed and built this house for myself back in 1890. I was quite a successful young architect then and had everything to live for; youth, wealth, and recently engaged to one of the most beautiful women in this state. Unfortunately, in my time, we did not have the advancement in medicine as you have now. A flu epidemic suddenly struck the town of Winfield shortly after I moved into this house and I was one of the first persons to succumb from the sickness. After my death, the estate could not bear to keep this house and sold it.
My restless soul could find no peace and kept wandering this vicinity, wishing to try and find a way of living again. It seemed so unfair to be so unjustly cut off from the prime of life. Especially since I had always tried doing good deeds by helping aid the poor and other unfortunates who passed my way. I never missed a church service, praying for peace on earth to which I now have come to a conclusion is an uncaring and unjust god. Then one midnight, not too long ago, a hooded figure known as the supreme master of the underworld appeared before me. He promised to help me if I would be loyal to him and find a soul that would become his once I decided to take over that person’s physical body.”
Howard was aghast. “Why would you make a pact with such evil that spreads unmitigated suffering throughout the universe?”
Cort moved closer to Howard and clasped his shoulders. “Because I will get what I most want!”
“Just what has this to do with you haunting me?” the doomed man asked, in denial of his fate.
The phantom began to lose patience and become annoyed.
“Is your mind so slow as not to understand? After carefully observing those now living, you sir, are the person I want to take over. Now, brace yourself, for in a few moments my soul will enter your body and yours will become the property of the master.”
Howard only had time to give one blood-curdling scream as the transformation between the body and their souls took place.
When Susan and the twins came home a couple of days later, they did not notice at first how Howard was glancing at them with such an evil expression. Working for the master as a living entity on earth had begun.
The town of Winfield had always been a pleasant place to live in, but then during the following spring a series of terrible accidents began to occur. The first took the lives of Howard’s wife and sons when his family went rowing on a lake near their home and the boat’s capsized. Howard valiantly tried saving the others, but failing, just about managed to swim back to safety. Despite his grief, people admired how he put even more effort into his job than before. A year later, while accompanying the most outstanding students in his high school on a bus trip to the city, the vehicle lost control and veered into oncoming traffic, exploding as it crashed into a number of vehicles. Many souls were lost, but luck was with Howard again, and he was the only one there to survive the tragedy.
Continuing to remain focused on his job, Howard gained many influential friends in the county, and was asked if he would run as state senator.
“Ah, yes, I would like to do that. I can be so much more effective when serving in that capacity,” he said enthusiastically, an unholy glare coming from his eyes.
Writing Prompt: I’m curious what other writers would do with this story. Has a build up for something sinister right before the epilogue. Send me what you come up with. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org