The Red Hand Part 1
By Shane Migliavacca
Part One: The Money Pit
"Hello, Serena Van Allen," I say extending my hand. "Pleased to meet you." No. Won't work. Sounds too glib. I take a deep breath and try again. "Hello, Serena Van Allen." And now I sound too low. How long have I been sitting in the car? I should just get it over with. But there's a few factors keeping me in the car: it’s hotter than hell out and the AC feels so damn good. The other is I hate meeting people I don't know. Guess being The City Assessor was the wrong career choice. A loud knock on the car window makes me almost jump out of my business casuals. A heavyset older women in thick glasses stands by the passenger side door waving at me.
"Miss. Miss are you okay?"
"Oh, hi. Yeah. All fine here."
"Are you the city person?"
Yeah. That's me, city person. I turn the wonderful AC off and get out of the car. I smile. Hoping it doesn't look to forced and extend the old hand. "Hello, Serena Van Allen." I say. "Pleased to meet you." Better. I didn't sound too much like a young jerk.
"I like your hair miss." The older woman says.
I touch my long, slightly curled blonde hair. "Thanks." Wasn't expecting that. Somebody just felt pretty this morning.
"I'm Betty Rosen. I called about the house at the end of the block."
"Which house is…?” I started to say, before I saw it. A large four story monstrosity. Something The Munsters would run screaming from. "Oh yeah."
I follow her down the street towards the dilapidated old monster of a house.
"You can see it's quite the eyesore Miss Van Allen."
She was right about that. The house was surrounded by a large stone wall that was overgrown with vines. A large black metal gate lead into the property. One side of the house sat next to an empty lot. The other a large hill. Nobody in their right mind would want to live next door to this...thing.
"Any…any idea where the owner is?" I say.
"No. If he comes around, nobody’s seen him."
I walk over to the front gate and peer in. The lawn is overcome with weeds. A small stone path leads through the forest that used to be a lawn. I put my hand on the gate. The metal bars are cold to the touch. In this heat it should be hot. I pulled my hand as a chill ran through me. My hand felt prickly, numb.
I back away from the gate. "Has anybody else around here seen the owner?"
"Not that I've heard."
"Well, I'm have to do a little research and get back to you, okay?"
"If we can't track down the owner, there's no real way I can help you."
"It's weird." Betty says. She looks up at the house. "All the years I've lived here and I never have heard even a name uttered in relation to this house. Never seen anybody come or go. Nothing."
Over the next week I did some digging. The house belongs to Hagen Semenchko. Roughly twenty years ago. Hagen died in a fire in the house's attic. The place was then inherited by his son. Waylon. Waylon mortgaged the house and then disappeared about nine years ago. The house then fell into foreclosure and the bank became the owner. So far Citi-Bank has failed to do anything with the house. They want the property, but not the house. And taking down the house would cost quite a bit more then they want to spend.
I could have just called her, but I felt I should tell Betty in person. She seemed like a nice old lady. Reminded me of my grandmother. Betty invited me, insisting I have some juice and a piece of cake whilst I told her what I'd found out. I could see the disappoint play across her face.
"There's nothing you can do?"
"I'm sorry." I mutter. I feel a little bad having to tell her this when she's being so nice to me. "The bank owns it. They've been paying the bills on it. It would cost too much to take it down. So, they're just letting it sit there."
"Would you like more cake?"
"No, thanks. I should get going."
I stood. As Betty led me out, I wondered if she lived here all by herself. Maybe she didn't have many people to talk to. I felt some guilt for not staying longer. I said "bye" and thanked her. Betty smiled. Thanking me for taking the time to look into it.
I decided to take one last look at the place. Not really sure why. I just needed some kind of closure on it maybe. I walked to the front gate. I hesitated. Remembering the cold metal. I touched the metal. Felt that unnatural cold again. I wanted to flinch. Pull my hand away like before. Instead I pushed the gate open. It swung inward with a loud grating noise. I looked around. Suddenly nervous one of the neighbors would be watching me. But, I was all alone on the street. I could see the headlines, City worker arrested for trespassing. I stepped through the gate. The grass and weeds form a sort of hallway along the path. I shuddered, thinking that something could be living in this overgrown mess.
I focus on the house. Not wanting to think what could be lurking in the weeds around me. I look up, seeing scorch marks near the boarded up attic windows where Hagen died. I stop at the foot of the porch steps. The front of the porch, looked like a large grinning dragon like mouth. The broken wood beams like large jagged fangs. And I was the house's next meal.
Every sense-able thing inside me said turn back. But there was a part that wanted to know what a house like this looked like inside. Just a quick look, I told myself. I walked up the steps, the boards straining under my feet. I'd no more stepped onto the porch and one of the boards cracked underneath. I jumped back, landing on my ass. Knocking the wind out of me along with my pride. I sit there for a minute. Then thinking about how absurd I must look, start laughing. I get up, rubbing my rear. At least I had the good sense not to wear heels today.
I gingerly make my way over to the large double doors. Trying not to go crashing through any more boards. I tried the doors. Locked, to no one’s surprise. I walked along the porch, looking in the windows. I could see furniture, sitting untouched for god knows how long. Perhaps patiently waiting for their owner to return. I followed the porch towards the rear of the house. Old metal chairs sat on the side rotting away, covered in a thick layer of rust. Through a partially broken window I spied a large player piano. The window has a large jagged hole at its center either due to the elements or maybe somebody throwing something through it.
I felt drawn inside this decrepit old house. I can't explain why, much less why I pick up a broken branch and smash the rest of the glass in the window. Afterwards I feel more than a little ashamed. I climb in. Despite my best efforts at breaking and entering, I didn't get all the glass in the window. A little shard pokes my finger. I look down at the little glass sliver and pull it out. A droplet of blood forms on my skin. Karma I suppose for breaking in.
The wallpaper of the room is water stained. Large sections of it hang down exposing the plaster walls underneath. An old looking wood ladder leans against one wall. Perhaps someone considered fixing this place up? On the piano sit some sheet music, too faded in the sunlight to tell what song they were for. Sitting next to them in a metal frame is a picture of a family. It looked to like one of those Civil War era photos. There was an oddness to it. The expressions of the people were off, fake looking. Most of the family were looking forward, towards the camera. But there was one, a man standing at the group’s center, who seemed to be staring off to the side. Upwards at something only he could see. He had long shoulder length hair and a large dark beard. Then there were his eyes. I don't quite know how to describe them other than...beautiful.
I leave the room and walk into a long hallway, passing by a dining room, a large kitchen, and some kind of study. The bookcases in the study are overstuffed with old hardbound books. A cozy looking fireplace sits long unused. A painter's easel is propped against one of the bookcases. A creepy looking half-finished painting sits on it, covered in dust. I enter, curious about the painting. I brush some of the dust off it. A little bit of my blood from the cut smears across it, leaving a bloody trail. The painting is of a withered landscape. Large skeletal trees reaching towards a blood red sky. Made redder by my blood. A lone robed figure walks among the trees. Though I can't see the figure's face I can tell it's a woman. I lean in closer, noticing my blood has vanished from the painting. It was there. I'm sure of it. I back away, time to leave.
From somewhere deep in the house I hear a great metal clicking. Followed by a winding sound. Like one of those old alarm clocks. This is followed by the sound of a large door opening somewhere nearby.
"No lookie loos." A voice. Metallic sounding. Rings out through the house.
I run from the study, frantic to escape whatever said that. Too late! Large metal shudders slide down. Covering the windows. I ran down the hall towards what I think is the front of the house.
He? It? Steps out of one of the rooms. I narrowly avoid crashing into it. A large mannequin. He's dressed in a black tuxedo. His pale white face has a spider web crack on one cheek. A large Clark Gable grin on its inhuman face.
I fall to the floor, landing on my knees.
It turns towards me. First it's head. Turning as if on a dial. Then the rest of its body. Its head tilts, looking at me.
"No lookie loos."
It reaches for me like one of those old mummy movies. I half crawl, half run away. Till I manage to get upright. I sprint through rooms, not paying attention to anything except the next doorway. I can hear it shambling along behind me.
"No lookie loos."
I got to foyer of the house. A metal grate barred the door from inside.
I pound on the bars in frustration. How can this be happening? This house? That thing? While down the street Betty is sitting there going about her life? The insanity of it threatens to overturn my mind. It's coming. I can hear the mechanisms in it.
I turn from the barred door. There's the side doorway I came through and there's another large double doors. I run towards them just as Mr. Lookie Loo enters. Arms out stretched.
"No lookie loos."
I slam through the double doors. On the other side is a big elegant looking room. Something you'd hold a party in. The room was bare. The tiled floor covered in dust. In the far right corner of the room was a large metal spiral staircase. I wonder if this robot asshole can handle stairs. I head up the staircase. My robo-stalker traipses into the room. It looks up at me as I climb the stairs.
"Yeah, I know! No lookie loos!" I scream at him.
I head up further past what I'm guessing is the second and third floor landings. To the attic. Where Hagen Semenchko died. Still bearing the marks of fire damage. Maybe. Maybe I could break through those boarded up window. Yell for help. Or jump. Below me I can hear him doggedly trailing me. Anything is better then what ever that thing has in store for me. I reach the top of the stairs. A large black door stands before me. The blackest metal I've ever seen. I touch the handle. Ice cold like the front gate. But far worse. My hand wants to pull away, but I force myself to turn the knob. Digging my feet into the floor. Willing up every bit of strength I have. An energy rises from the door. I can hear something coming from the door itself.
I feel it travel through my being.
Like some great heart of the house it beats.
Making my whole body shudder.
I muster up everything I can. Willing myself, I push open the door. I can see wisps of energy crackle in the air around me. I hear Mr. Lookie Loo clamoring up the stairs behind me. I step through, crossing the threshold of the door. Feeling the energy dance over me. Feeling like tiny needle pricks on my skin. I can see moments of my life come and go. Come and go. Over and over. A life on repeat. My hair stands up on end. The room beyond is made of the same black metal as the door. There's no windows. At the far end is a large painting, taking up the whole wall. This can’t be the attic, there's no way. It's too large. The shape is wrong. There no way out. I'm trapped here. With that thing on its way here. Strange instruments line the walls. Like nothing I'd ever seen before. Weird blades that curve in ways they shouldn't. Ancient looking medical instruments that look far too painful. Devices that look like they were created by beings with two hands. Made to calculate things not of this Earth.
But it's that painting. It shows an orange desert like landscape. Two large purple twin planets hang in the sky overhead, while a battle takes place. A large army of blue skinned armor clad warriors fight a great beast. The beast towers over them. The beast itself is in flux. It's appearance changing every few seconds. Sometimes it has large tentacles. Other times large clawed hands. And yet other times spider like legs. Standing on a rocky hill overseeing the battle is a man in robes. The man with the beautiful eyes from the photograph. This time clean shaven. He seemed to be staring out of the painting. Right at me.
"No lookie loos."
I turn from the painting to see my new best friend walking into the room.
"Took you long enough."
I scan the walls looking for something to cave its robot head in with. I grab the first imposing thing I can find, a large metal staff. Its tip was vaguely phallic like. Studded with metal spikes. Unsuccessfully I tried to block the images of what this was used for from my head.
I swing at Mr. Lookie Loo. Catching him in the side of his stupid smiling face. His head tilts to the side. I swing again. This time cracking the whole one side of his face off. Revealing gears and machinery underneath.
I swing a third time. It was once too many as he stops the staff with one hand and takes it from my hands. Tossing it aside. I back away looking to the one side of him, hoping he follows my gaze. When he does, I dart to the other side trying to run past. Moving faster than I thought he could, Mr. Lookie Loo grabs me by the arm and throws me roughly in the direction of the large painting. I skid to a stop right in front it. I stand up a bit wobbly. Noticing bloody finger prints on the floor. The cut on my finger is bleeding again. This was it. He lumbered forward. Ready to do god knows what to me. But, I was fairly certain it didn't involve a tea party.
I lean back against the large painting of an alien world. Nowhere else to go. I feel a sharp pain in one finger and pull away from the painting. I look down and see a tendril of paint wrapped around the finger with the cut. The painting's surface ripples. Like a once peaceful lake, now disturbed. The painting starts to shimmer as more tendrils of paint shoot out of it. The wrap around me pulling me towards it as behind me my robot pal tries to grab me. I feel his hand trying to dig into my shoulder, but he's too late as he only rips some of the fabric of by blouse. The painting pulls me into and the world around me changes. There's bright colored lights in and black void. I'm falling, but moving forward at the same time. I fall for minutes? Maybe hours? Till I stop suddenly and the void around me explodes in a great bright flame. And then darkness.
I wake to the taste of dirt in my mouth. The whole of my body aches and I can barely mange to sit up. Rubbing dirt from my eyes, I slowly open them. The light is almost too much for them and they tear up. After a couple minutes they start to adjust. I take in my new surroundings. But I instantly regret doing so. I'm in the middle of a large desert. All alone. Orange sand and rocks as far as the eye can see. And hanging in the sky two large identical planets.
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