Valerie stood on the front porch of the house, shaken and rattled. In the dim light of nightfall, she held her cell phone in her right hand. She flipped it open and reluctantly punched in a number. She listened as the call rang three times then connected. She heard the critical click of receipt and began stammering hysterically when, “Hi. This is John. I’m not able to take your call, but please leave a message . . ."
“Shoot!" see cried and flipped the phone shut.
She looked around for utilizable resources and realized for the first time the disadvantage of her rural locale. The nearest contact was so distant all she could make out were the tiny, twinkling lights of town. They sparkled optimistically promising civilization, but no cars or houses were immediately accessible on foot.
She peered out from under the canopy of the porch and considered her car sitting in the open driveway. Its chrome glinted in the moonlight, and it resembled a chariot poised for escape at her beck and call.
“Where would I go?" she thought out loud. Her decisions of the previous weeks flooded her mind in unwelcome rebuke for her current circumstances. As she processed her options, she began to calm. She contemplated her state of mind and it seemed absurd, almost comical. Her calm grew into resolve as she remembered how long she had waited for this. Nothing was going to deny her that dream.
She turned back and faced the front door. After a very long second she inhaled deeply, turned the doorknob, and stepped back inside her mammoth home.
Her first task was to relocate her keys. They were still there on the counter, exactly where they were when she was overcome by panic just moments earlier.
The light in the hall struggled desperately to illuminate her surroundings as she stepped inside, moving from wall to wall finding switches and flipping them to the “on" position. She rambled the ground floor and turned on every lamp she could find. Once she had located all possible light sources, she searched for something to break the silence. She found a radio and turned it on. She dialed the tuning knob until she locked onto a viable channel and likewise rotated the volume knob. She set the level high in an effort to shatter the vacuum of silence that blanketed the space.
With the radio on she felt much more comfortable and perceived a wash of friendly ambiance pass over as sounds of The Beatles and The Beach Boys filled the air.
Next on her list was to conquer the second floor. But first, a good stiff drink was in order.
Returning to the kitchen, she pulled the vodka out of the freezer and located a tumbler. She poured two fingers worth and took a long sip from the glass. The burn on her tongue and throat made her grimace. She exhaled the vapors as she placed the glass back on the counter.
She felt the heat of the liquor making its way to her extremities and welcomed the subsequent heaviness as it numbed her nerves and evoked her courage. She tapped her nails on the counter and looked around at the kitchen. She appraised the cupboards and their hardware, and studied the outline of utensils and appliances.
The radio was now blaring a familiar tune and she began to tap her foot. “California Dreamin. . . “ it recited harmonically. Reinitiating her search of the kitchen, she tried to find a flashlight. Opening and closing drawers did not produce her objective, but she did find some candles and a box of kitchen matches. She snatched them, sliding the matches into the pocket that contained her cell phone.
Returning to her glass, she placed the candle down on the counter in front of her. She downed the last finger of alcohol, less shocking than the first, and then emphatically placed the glass on the counter. She picked up the vodka and poured another two fingers into the glass.
“ . . . on such a winter’s day. . . “ chanted the radio and she downed the entire portion in one gulp.
Retrieving the candle from the counter, she turned in the direction of the hallway and clutched it firmly in her left hand just in case. She forced herself to move her feet in the direction of the massive mahogany staircase. “Take the last train to Clarksville. . ." sang her electronic ally as she placed her right foot on the bottom step.
Her right hand gripped the balustrade as she began her ascent. Moving slowly, one step at a time she eventually reached the landing on the second floor. At the left of the stairs she found a light switch and flipped it up. Across the landing was another switch, which she also flipped. The entire hall on the top floor was now brightly lit. She could still hear The Monkees cheerfully singing their hit song and turned to the right, still clutching the candle.
A bedroom was on the left. Reluctantly, she poked her head inside, using her free hand to grope the wall inside the door. Another switch was located and she flipped it. Light flooded the room. She looked around and everything appeared to be normal. It was just a beautifully furnished room. She pulled herself out and into the hall. She moved slowly in the same direction and approached the next bedroom on the left. Similarly, she poked her head inside, found the switch and flicked it. Light filled that room.
She repeated this several more times until every room on the top floor was lit. The house was so brightly illuminated, there wasn’t a shadow to be found.
The liquor was warming her belly and elevating her mood to the point that she began to doubt she had encountered anything frightening at all. Her courage was mounting so she began to take time examining the object d’art that adorned the side table and filled the curio cabinets in the halls and bedrooms. With an appreciative eye she explored the art on the walls. So plentiful were oil paintings and sculptures that she guessed she could spend days discovering and appraising them all. Locked in concentration, she didn’t notice that the music had stopped.
When the pounding began, it was so rhythmic that it initially sounded like another tune on the radio. But the rhythm quickly escalated to such an earsplitting frenzy that the pounding overshadowed the subsequent scream—
Like a brick, her heart sank, pierced by fear. She stood motionless, afraid to turn her head. Reflexively, her hand flew to her mouth stifling a scream. Consequently she dropped the candle to the floor. It made a rumbling sound as it rolled towards the banister falling silent as it slipped through the gap and over the edge of the second floor landing.
With a low moan, the house exhaled resoundingly as the power failed, snuffing out all sources of security, both light and sound.
The candle clinked as it hit the floor below and shattered.
Valerie was wrapped in blackness.
Suddenly the air got very cold and Valerie felt something brush up against her.