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The drive had been long, and her Dad seemed to be taking them into the middle of nowhere. She couldn’t remember the last time they had seen a living soul. Finally, they turned off into the longest driveway she had ever seen, and as they slowly trundled towards the house, the long arms of ivy reached out and menacingly clawed at the roof, and the thick hedges on either side played the part of a car wash that only cleaned your car of paint.
Her Dad told her the place was early nineteenth-century and, to Annie, it certainly looked as though that was the last time anyone had done any gardening. She wound the window down, but the musty smell of overgrowth began to seep through the window, an unpleasant and oppressive odour that made her screw her face up and shut the window so quickly she rapped her knuckles on the door and winced.
“Are you okay, love?” her Mum asked.
“Didn’t hurt,” she replied.
The light had changed since they turned in, the sky blocked out by the sprawling bushes that lined the driveway, and the place had that stereotypical haunted house feel, the only thing missing was thunder and lightning and perhaps a few crows lining up on either side. Annie let out a little shiver of nervous excitement as the house came into view and gave out a little “caw” and giggled to herself.
The car pulled up, and she looked out the window and could see a few pebbles scattered in between all the weeds. She took in the surroundings and imagined it back in its day, how grand it would have been, and turned to face the house and noted the decaying and slightly misshapen windows and eroding brickwork, victims of age and the elements. She felt sad for how neglected it looked but was pleased they were going to breathe new life into it.
“So what do you think, Annie?” her Dad asked.
“I like it, Dad. It’s even older than you eh?” she laughed.
He dropped the suitcase and started to run towards her, and she laughed and set off towards the house and passed an old fountain that looked like it had been there since the beginning of time. She noted how old and green it looked and she caught that damp smell of rotting vegetation again that was starting to make her gag. They arrived at the front door together, and they both pushed it open. The place was huge, high ceilings and a massive hallway leading into the kitchen and living areas and it looked just as sad and neglected inside. “Christ, what have we done Annie?” he asked smiling at her.
He picked up the white envelope on the hallway table next to a bottle of champagne.
Jim and family, welcome.
The envelope gave way, and the keys spilled out, and the subsequent clatter echoed through the hallway. Made of some form of metal, Annie immediately thought how ancient and purposeful they looked.
“It’s okay Annie, I’ve always liked heavy metal,” Jim gleefully joked.
“Dad joke alert,” she replied.
“Liz, champers! Annie, you’ve got a ten-second head start, and I’m coming for you,” Jim said and pretended to claw at her face.
Annie giggled and ran upstairs, her footsteps were thunderous on the wooden floor, and the high ceilings served only to provide the perfect acoustics for noise.
“Liz, we are going to need some more rugs,” Jim commented.
Annie flung open the first few doors of the hallway until she found a room with a large dark brown wardrobe in. As with the fountain it looked as though it had been there for eternity, heavy and old, with a huge ornate metal lock across its front. She tried the door, and it opened. Even more spacious inside than it looked; it was empty and had a strong musty smell that she could only put down to age. She cautiously checked inside for old vampires having a midday snooze but of course, found nothing, and stepped in and closed the door. She shuffled into the storage space to the left of the doors and waited.
Annie had already seen quite a few horror films; unbeknownst to her parents, but they could never get across the smell of the old buildings and the thick taste of history in the air. The wardrobe creaked as she shuffled to try and get comfortable and the feel of the cold wood on her skin was only slightly unpleasant, but the smell was oppressively present, and it was dark, no light got through at all, and she became gradually nervous.
She heard her Dad slowly and noisily coming up the stairs, most likely carrying one of the heavy suitcases, or perhaps it was a monster, making its way up and dragging a huge sledgehammer behind. She scared herself and reached her hands out to open the doors and momentarily forgot she’d shuffled to the left, and when she pushed the wood, nothing happened, just another ominous creak. She felt something under her left palm as she started to panic and flail and finally, she managed to throw the doors open, and was relieved to see her Dad stood at the entrance to the room with her suitcase.
“You’re mine now!” her Dad shouted and grabbed her and swung her around by the arms.
As she spun around, she noticed the mark of the cross on each of the walls, where the previous owners had obviously suspended them, and the surrounding wallpaper had yellowed over time. They gave her an uneasy feeling, as far as she could recall none of the movies she watched that contained crucifixes had a happy ending.
“It’s going to keep us busy this place,” her Dad uttered as he gently put her down and trundled back downstairs.
She poked her head inside the wardrobe to find someone had carved the letter H roughly into the wood, and just as she leaned inside to inspect, something hit the window behind her. She turned quickly in fright and emitted a strange gurgling noise that she would laugh about later, but not right now. Heart thumping, she slowly edged over to the other side of the room and nervously peeked through the window but could see nobody on the sprawling driveway below. When her Dad called out lunch, she didn’t hesitate and ran downstairs.
“So what do you think to your room?” her Mum asked and then finished the glass of champagne.
“That one is mine, is it?”
“Sure is, we gave you the biggest so you can get all your Chinese plastic in there,” said her Dad.
“Funny, Dad, you should do stand up.”
“ Liz, pass the bottle would you please?” asked Jim. “I could get used to this.”
“So how can we afford this, Dad? I mean our last house was tiny in comparison.”
Jim looked across at Liz; Liz shook her head and poured herself another glass.
“We just got lucky with our house Annie, and this came on at a bargain. The right time, the right place really,” he said.
Annie went across to a cupboard in the kitchen and pulled at the heavy oak door to unveil a huge pantry. “This is the size of our old living room,” she commented with glee.
She walked inside and ran her fingers on the shelves, “You could get about a million cans of baked beans in here.”
“Jeez, we would need a million cans of air freshener though, sport!”
Annie and Liz laughed, and Jim asked them to guess what was for lunch. They were both right as he slammed the can on the table and got a loaf out one of the bags.
Annie walked back to the table and started rifling through the rest of the stuff. “Dad, how come there are still lots of their furniture in the house? There are old wardrobes, cupboards, chests of drawers, and some beautiful rugs, like the one I am stood on, and look there is still cutlery in the drawer. Don’t they want their stuff?”
“You are too smart for your own good,” he said and looked across at Liz and shrugged, “the previous owners died, sweetheart. The bank had to sell the house to repay the loan, and it meant we could buy the house as is, with all the furnishings. Our poxy collection on its own wouldn’t come close to filling this place. So there you have it, Sherlock.”
There was no sign of a can opener in the cutlery drawer, everything but, so she went through some of the other drawers and cupboards.
“No good, Dad.”
Jim walked over to the kitchen and looked in the same places she had and then took a knife from the wooden block next to the sink. Annie noticed there was one missing from the set as her Dad started ferociously stabbing the can of beans with the knife. Tomato sauce started spluttering everywhere.
“Dad, you’re killing it, stop!”
He put the knife blade under the lid and eventually forced it enough to get the contents out. They noticed an absence of a toaster, so they put the grill on and waited for what seemed an eternity for it to warm up.
“So how did they die, Dad?”
“Accident,” he replied, and too quickly for her liking.
“Dad, come on, really, how did they die?”
“They asked too many questions,” he replied.
After lunch, she explored more of the house before returning to her room, and to find the cupboard door closed. She was sure she had left it open and tentatively walked towards the door, grabbed the heavy metal handle and pulled it towards her. The heavy door creaked open, and Annie made a note to ask her Dad to oil the hinge. She was happy to find nobody behind it but put her hand in first just in case; she traced the now familiar H but gasped when she felt the other marking next to it.
She looked behind her nervously with a fleeting feeling someone was watching but, of course, there was nobody there. She could hear her parents talking downstairs, and with that comforting sound in the background, she quickly stuck her head around the cupboard door and then immediately back out again. There was a letter e, and she would bet her granny it wasn’t there before.
The cobblestones crunched outside as someone pulled up the driveway and Annie rushed across to the window. The furniture van had arrived.
“Please no, Mum, not again!”
“Get in,” the burly woman shouted, grinding the rosary beads in her hand as though they were coffee beans.
“Mum, I didn’t do anything!”
“Do you want me to get your Dad up here? You know what will happen,” she said menacingly.
The girl without a name stepped into the cupboard, and the heavy doors were shut behind her and locked. She cried for a while but not for long, she had been here many times before, and the crying never helped. She didn’t want to give that asshole Frank a reason.
When they let her out last time, she could hardly walk. God knows how long she was in there for but she had finally come to the conclusion that God didn’t care anyway.
She hoped it wouldn’t be as long this time.
Her life for as long as she could remember, was this normal?
She knew the bible back to front, a perk of God-fearing parents. If she ever did get passages wrong, they would beat her, but there was never anything in the bible about being treated like that or doing those kinds of things to kin. She gripped the handle of the knife and imagined doing things, acts of violence that God would not approve of, and lifted it to the cupboard door and clumsily carved the letter H into the wood.
Annie woke up to the sun pouring through the moth-eaten curtains, and for a moment forgot where she was and then looked around and admired her work from the day before. Her old room had felt so cluttered with stuff, but it didn’t touch the sides in the new one. She spotted the key on the pillow next to her and did a nervous sweep of her room; someone had been in while she was asleep. The thought lingered for a while and gave an uneasy feeling. She knew there was no such thing as ghosts, no good or evil spirits, no God, no Devil. Her Dad said that there is enough evil in the world already, even if there was a Devil he would be holidaying in the Bahamas year-round.
Her attention turned to the key, and the nervous feeling slowly subsided with admiration of its ornate beauty. She picked it up and slowly twisted it around between her fingers, and thought it so beautifully intricate that it must open something incredibly precious.
Who are you? Where are you?
She jumped out of bed and put on her dressing gown. She tried the key in the wardrobe door, but it wasn’t a fit and had no luck in the other rooms. Downstairs, she thought.
“What are you up to chick?” Liz asked as she came out of the bathroom.
“Just playing,” she said, wanting to keep the key her little secret.
“Okay, can you be extra quiet? We are both tired after yesterday and want some more shut-eye.”
Annie slid down the bannister, “Yeehaw!”
She landed gracefully. From now, Mum, sorry.
She looked around downstairs but could only find locks on the front and back doors, and there were several on those, but the key didn’t fit in any of them; she would pause for breakfast and continue the hunt later.
Even with their furniture in place, her footsteps still echoed loudly, so she started to tiptoe, and headed over to the pantry with the intention of filling a bowl with as many Cheerios as would fit. When she opened the door, she found the box already open. Her parents hated sugary cereals. Unless they secretly didn’t, and it was just an act she momentarily thought. It was then that she heard a faint noise that sounded like someone crying, and she immediately took a deep breath and held it and listened intently. When no further noise came, she slowly breathed out and then thought she heard more noises that sounded like movement. They were faint but present, and coming from deep within the pantry.
“Rats don’t cry,” she whispered to herself.
She moved some of the boxes out the way, some were light, but others had to be shoved aside as they were heavy and full of pots and pans. Finally, she reached the back of the pantry but could no longer hear any noise. She traced her hand around the panels and under the shelving, and then she felt an indent and bent down and saw the unmistakable shape of a keyhole and the outline of the white door, camouflaged against the rest of the plasterboard. There were some scuff marks near the keyhole itself as though someone had tried to get through in a hurry.
“Gotta be,” she whispered.
She heard her Dad running downstairs, and she pushed some of the boxes back and grabbed the Cheerios and rushed back to the table.
“Thanks for being so quiet, Miss Thunderfoot,” he said sarcastically, and reached into the pantry for the muesli and poured some into two bowls.
“What are you going to do today?”
“Probably just explore,” she replied.
“Okay, we are going to pop out later to pick up some paint, and a can opener. Any idea what colour you want for your room?”
“I don’t need a can opener for my room, Dad,” she said smiling, “can I borrow your laptop to get some ideas for paint though please?”
“Sure, make sure you are ready to go soon though.”
Annie picked up the laptop from his room and took it into hers. She typed up their new address into the search bar and found a news report of a murder-suicide from two months ago. The bodies discovered were at least a month old. She read on. Frank, and Melissa, blah blah blah, people never saw them apart from at church, and even then they didn’t speak to anyone, just sat on the back pew. No family, no kids, no friends, and lived an isolated life. Both found upstairs. Frank with multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest, face, and Melissa a single stab wound to the chest.
No wonder they got a good deal on the house!
“You ready, love?” her Mum shouted.
Annie quickly closed the page and deleted the search history. She put on a pair of jeans and her red t-shirt on and ran downstairs, “Red, I want red.”
“Anything but red, Annie,” Liz replied.
They left the house and didn’t get back until dark, the car full of pots of paint, wallpaper, flat pack furniture, and a can opener.
Annie carried the paint to her room and found the cupboard door wide open again. Once again she cautiously poked her head inside and saw another letter, an l. Hel now carved into the inside of the wardrobe.
She started to go through some of the possibilities, Helen, Helga, perhaps not Helga.
As she glanced down, she noticed the hairs on the bottom of the wardrobe and carefully picked some of them up and held them against the light from the window. They weren’t hers, they were a different colour, dark brown and long, and as she rolled the hair between her fingers, she thought how dry it was. She put it in her Jeans pocket and went down for supper and thought only fleetingly about telling her parents. They seemed happy though, and since Mum lost the baby they needed this, and she wouldn’t ruin this new start for them.
She ate her food, said goodnight and ran upstairs.
Frank came into the room; he brought with him some bread and a can of soup and put the tray down at the end of her bed. He put his hand on her leg just above the chain, and she immediately stiffened.
She had a plan, but he was strong, and he would kill her for sure if she didn’t get it right. Sometimes she wondered if that might be the best thing that could happen.
He moved his hand up her thigh and smiled down at her.
“It’s wrong, Dad, you know that.”
“Child, you don’t exist. Nobody knows you are alive, you are invisible, an accident, and a bug to bear and I will have what’s mine,” he replied.
He knocked the bible off her table. She closed her eyes and bit her lip and fantasised about sticking the blade into his neck, eyes, and chest. She would feel no guilt. She was locked in the chains, though; she would have to wait until they moved her.
No guilt, would that make me evil?
She had seen Melissa looking at her too recently, with envy possibly and perhaps she wanted some of it. Frank had been relentless since she started bleeding, he said it’s because she is bad and she’s bleeding out all the evil inside her.
Next time, she thought.
Annie woke up after hearing a loud creak and saw the wardrobe door wide open. There were rushed footsteps on her floor, but it was too dark to see. She quickly got out of bed and turned on the light. The bedroom door was ajar, but the hallway was pitch-black, and she was still squinting from the light. She couldn’t make anything or anyone out. She glanced back at the inside of the wardrobe door and when her eyes finally settled she saw the word Hell.
She stepped into the hallway, slid down the stairs and ran into the kitchen and heard a door shut.
“Annie? What’s going on?” her Dad shouted after her.
She stared at the pantry and then said, “Nothing, I think I can hear rats in the house.”
“All I heard was one big rat! You woke us both, go back to bed.”
She thought about telling him but didn’t. She was thirteen now, and she could handle it.
She surprised herself and slept through until late morning, and when she awoke found a scrunched up piece of paper on the side of her pillow. She straightened it out and read the text.
John 3:20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
Above the text in red pen, written very clumsily was HelP, somebody had written Hell first but changed the last l to a P.
They dragged her out of bed, and Frank slapped her across the face. Before she knew where she was, Frank hit her again, hard, and she fell against the bed. She knew something was coming and quickly grabbed the knife from under the mattress and slid it into the right pocket of the gown and out of sight.
The knife was a small victory.
She had bided her time and waited for the right moment, and as Frank led her out of the pantry one day, she had quickly turned around and grabbed the knife and slid it into her bible.
“Get upstairs now! You have sins to repent!” Frank screamed at her.
She wanted to do it right then and felt her hands tremble at the thought. Hell terrified her though.
If this is normal, what is Hell?
She walked upstairs with Frank closely following, “You are going back in the cupboard, we might leave you there for some time,” he said.
Frank pushed her into the room, and she saw Melissa in the bed, and some relief set in when Frank unlocked the cupboard and shoved her in. She could hear them in bed, and they moaned and groaned. The same noises Frank made when he was on top of her.
“Can you hear us?” Melissa shouted.
“Do you want to join in?” Frank said and laughed.
She heard whispering.
She prayed that if there was a God for it not to happen. She clenched her fists and held her breath. Someone fumbled at the lock with the key, and then the doors were opened.
“Okay, as a treat,” Melissa shouted, “come, join us.”
Frank got back into bed and smiled and beckoned her with his finger.
“If you don’t come here right now, I will slit your throat.”
She edged closer to the bed and put her hand in the right pocket and wrapped her hand around the blade. She eyed the crosses on each wall of the room, the rosary beads hanging from the dresser and the bibles on the tables either side of the bed. Judgement was everywhere, but she could not control the rage that surged through her body. She rushed at Frank and before he could even try and defend himself the blade sank into his neck, driven by years of stale hatred.
He stared at her in disbelief with wide eyes and put his hand to his neck to stem the bleeding. She ripped the blade out, and the fountain of red followed. As she subsequently drove the knife down hard into his chest, she screamed until there was nothing left to exhale and her lungs were empty of all the festering hate. Melissa screamed then too, finally finding her voice, and then Frank’s arms started flailing and almost knocked the knife from her grip. She stabbed him again, this time between the legs and then through the eye.
“AND THESE WILL GO AWAY INTO ETERNAL PUNISHMENT, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS INTO ETERNAL LIFE,” she screamed as she brought the knife down again.
“Where is God now?” she asked as she turned her attention to Melissa, Frank now a gurgling mess.
Melissa started to beg, “D … Don-”
She slammed the knife into her Mum’s chest with both hands and screamed, “WOE TO THOSE WHO CALL EVIL GOOD AND GOOD EVIL, WHO PUT DARKNESS FOR LIGHT AND LIGHT FOR DARKNESS, WHO PUT BITTER FOR SWEET AND SWEET FOR BITTER!”
She pulled the knife out and watched crossed legged as her Mum’s life drained until she finally stopped breathing. Annie then threw herself to the floor and on all fours and wept and heaved as though vomiting out the evil within and seeking redemption for her sins.
Finally, she stopped and looked at the bloodshed around her. They were her parents, yet she felt no remorse, just relief. She guessed she was going to Hell, but questioned how it could be any worse than what she had already experienced.
She spent the next few hours cleaning the blood away. She wiped the blade of the knife and wrapped Frank and Melissa’s fingers around it, and then placed it between them on the bed.
The tears came, a mixture of relief and terror, and she had no idea how long she had been a prisoner or why her parents thought her evil or did those horrible things. They were the only people she had ever known or even remembered setting eyes on, and now she was on her own and wondered how she would survive. She had killed people, broken a commandment, and surely there was no way back from that in the outside world.
Why did God let me suffer through this?
She wandered around the house for a while and tried the windows and doors and, of course, they were all locked. The thought crossed her mind to smash the glass with a chair or some other heavy object but the plan stopped after that, she was a murderer with nowhere to go. Before long she was soon drawn back to the room where she had been held captive for most of her life, harrowing but familiar, sickening but home.
Thanks to her parents zero tolerance for other people, the pantry was full, and after that, she would be in God’s hands.
She grabbed some dried noodles and closed the door behind her and said a prayer.
Lunch was spread out on the table, an assortment of bread, cheeses, and meats. Annie thought they were finally getting their act together. She helped with the dishes and went to put the remaining crackers and bread in the pantry and checked the Cheerios to find nearly half the packet was gone. She put the leftover food on the same shelf next to the box and closed the door behind her.
Liz got out the Monopoly board, and Annie and Jim moaned in unison.
“It always ends in tears,” Jim said.
“Normally yours,” Liz laughed, and he nodded and shrugged.
The game lasted four hours, and in between, they ate pasta, and her Mum and Dad drank lots of wine. Jim won by a mile, and he let them know about it frequently, at one point doing a lap of honour around the living room with his t-shirt over his head and singing the words from Sweetest Victory.
As they packed up, Annie told them she was tired and wanted to go to bed, and they both had looked stunned but gave her a kiss goodnight and said they would be up soon anyway.
Annie went up to her room and grabbed the torch from the hallway cupboard and waited. She played for a while and read a few pages of her book, and when she finally heard her parents coming up the stairs and giggling like children, turned the torch off and ducked under the covers. They both came in and kissed her goodnight, and it was all she could do not to break out into a nervous giggle. A few minutes after they left, she grabbed the torch and stuck her head out the door, and heard more giggling and then the light finally went out, accompanied by more laughter. She took her chance and slid down the bannister to avoid the creaking floorboards.
Annie picked out some leftover cheese and ham from the fridge. She flicked on the torch and opened the pantry door and noted the crackers were gone, and there were crumbs from the bread leading to the back of the room. She closed the door behind her and took the key from her dressing gown pocket and slid it into the keyhole and turned, and heard the mechanism unlock, and she pushed the panel inwards.
She shone the torch into the makeshift doorway, and then slid herself in and closed the door behind her. She was in a new room, one that shouldn’t be there and one with a very unpleasant odour. The torch was shaking in her hand, and she felt she had become the stupid protagonist in one of those silly horror films she had seen, the one that made all the silly decisions.
Get a grip, Annie!
As she started to move the torch from the left side of the room to the right, she stopped mid-sweep and almost dropped it. In the middle of the bleak and very bare room there was a bed, furnished with dirty yellow sheets that were possibly once white, and then her eyes were drawn to the chains.
She moved closer and heard a noise from behind the bed and gasped as a head popped up, a dirty face underneath a flurry of auburn hair, matted in places but erratic in others. Her eyes were just as wild, nervously darting from side to side as if watching for predators from both sides.
“Who are you?” Annie asked.
“I don’t know,” was the answer.
“Why are you in our house?”
“This is my house,” the girl replied.
Annie knew she was out of her depth but didn’t feel in danger; she edged over to the girl and held out the food and placed it on top of the mattress. She noticed the bucket underneath the bed and the nasty yellow sheets speckled with dark red spots. The smell was overpowering, but she stood her ground. She saw the empty cans of food and empty packets everywhere and then spotted the elusive can opener.
The girl stood up and grabbed the cheese; she broke huge pieces off and shoved them in her mouth.
“Jeez, you are hungry,” Annie commented.
As the girl slowly stepped from behind the bed and edged toward her, Annie noticed the out of place looking bump for a belly on the otherwise skinny frame.
I guess it might be okay now, the nameless girl thought.
“I’ve stopped bleeding. The evil has left me,” she told Annie.