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I was inspired to write this piece after reading some of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige MacKenzie. The horror genre just seemed like it would be fun to write, so I gave it a try.
It was a Saturday afternoon, but I wasn't out at the local nightclub or on an outing with friends. My red Toyota wasn't heavily stocked with shopping bags or screaming little children. In my opinion, I was even luckier. I, Noelle Dime Hamilton, was perched on a lush red chair in what was probably the biggest, grandest building in Marleigh. Its lightly washed stone and clear glass windows were nothing that illuminated in the night, but something about it contrasted with everything else against the slowly darkening sky. Most people had a place that felt like home to them, and mine had to be the Official Headquarters of the Marleigh Post. Its beauty and splendor lifted my spirits more than most, but that wasn't even half of the reason why it meant so much to me.
Just a week ago, I had started work at the Marleigh Post. Things seemed a bit sketchy when the company first contacted me, mostly because they wanted me to come at midnight precisely. When I arrived at the headquarters, I was immediately relieved of all stress and the days went by much quicker. After a brief but important chat with my sugar-high boss, Gary Cooper, I learned that I was working one of the night shifts. My degree was in Journalism, so the company decided to put me to use interviewing horror authors. Those types of people typically preferred to stay up late at night, so my hours were logical. Although Marleigh was a popular place for horror novels to be published, there were no opportunities for my first few days of service. To pass the time and earn my paycheck, I assisted Gary. Massaging his feet and bringing him plain coffee were what I got by on, but the time with him gave me valuable insight into what it was like to run a magazine.
He got to talk to all sorts of fresh, lively local personalities on the phone. They would tell him about new product releases, upcoming movies or books, popular stories, etc. Of course, he was constantly jotting down phone numbers and email addresses to contact sources and arrange interviews. Quite often, while I was organizing papers in the filing cabinet, Gary would call reporters in. When they arrived, he would assign them with a task to "get cracking" on. I was secretly jealous of the beaming journalists for the first few days, but that feeling eventually went away when I got the honor of being called in for my first assignment.
I held my breath as I sat across from Gary at the freshly polished desk. His hair was nicely combed in a little ring around his head, and his forehead seemed shiner than ever. I decided not to comment on that. He smiled at me as I sat up straight in the chair, eager to hear what was coming next. "Dearest lively Noelle, it is with the greatest joy that I provide you with your first assignment. It won't be on the headlining webpage, that's for sure, but it's a start." I nodded, my big brown eyes prodding for more information. "As you know, we've decided to use you for interviewing authors. More specifically, horror authors. Unfortunately, many of our new journalists who have worked your specific job chose to quit after their first interview..." he paused for a moment to sigh. "and some don't make it back. Horror writers in Marleigh are known to be quite eccentric and...uh...mysterious." I raised my eyebrows, questioning the safety of the job, but he quickly assured me. "However, I have faith in you. You've proven yourself as my assistant, so I can't wait to see what you'll do with this job. Want to hear about it?" I nodded, quickly forgetting about what he mentioned earlier.
"Great. So Noelle, you'll be working on interviewing the son of the author, a man who lives on the western side of town, near the wooded area. His father's written several books which I have copies of for you right here," Garry said. I could hear him opening a creaky drawer in his desk before he pulled out several old novels. In fact, they were so old that I could barely see the titles. "The man's name is Warren Manchester, and he died several years ago. You'll have to interview his son, Peter. Peter did not have any part in creating the books, but he was around for all of Warren's writing process when he created them." I nodded in understanding once more, although I was starting to become a little bit nervous. I'd never heard of Warren Manchester, so I hoped Gary did his research on him before giving me the assignment. However, my excitement for the job outweighed my fear of some creepy man near the woods.
"You'll be traveling to the Manchester home in three days, and I have a couple of things I want you to do first. Before anything, you should read these." He pushed the stack of books across the desk to me. "I wrote up a sheet with the titles and quick summaries so you won't have to bother with the scratched covers. I can assure you the print on the inside is much more legible." I opened up a greenish-looking novel to reveal clear black print on crisp white paper. I awkwardly sniffed the inside of the book. Gary let out a chuckle and continued. "After you're done reading all three of the books, you'll have to do some research on Warren. If you mix the information you have about him with what you've read, you should have a fresh set of questions." I took notes as he spoke, absorbing everything he threw at me. "A few quick reminders. On the day of the interview with Peter, remember to dress nicely and look presentable. The recorded video will be put up on our website, which is considerably more popular than our magazine itself."
After a few more quick tidbits and reminders, Gary finished his speech. "I'm assuming you want to accept it, correct?" I pushed a strand of auburn hair behind my ear and gave an energetic nod. "Of course I'll do it."
Gary gave me three days to complete all of the preparation work, and those three days were packed. I figured I'd get the easy stuff out of the way by researching Warren first, but much to my dismay, there was almost nothing about him online. I tried looking for him in a few dusty books in the sitting area (if anything, that's where he'd be), but those were just old collections of Marleigh history. Five hours wasted. With only three hours left in the workday, I decided to start on one of his books. Since the greenish one smelled the best, I decided to start with it. After looking over the list Warren had printed out for me, I discovered its name was Pine Tree Mountain. It started with a boring description of the scenery (surprisingly a mountain covered in pine trees), and it quickly got gory. I was only five pages in when fifty men got slaughtered.
I was a horror fanatic and a supernatural enthusiast, so I thought I could handle anything. Before even finishing the first chapter, I realized I was wrong. Gore in TV shows and most books was tastefully placed, but in Pine Tree Mountain, it seemed like the slaughter was thoughtless. Hanging, stabbing, and drowning were the craziest parts in the least violent scenes. I looked at the sheet to find out how many others I had to read, and there were two more. Two more. So I patiently read in the grimy sitting area until the day was over, drove home, and read some more. In fact, I stayed up all night reading. I didn't even get tired because of the change in sleeping schedule my new job brought me. I was slowly growing into a nocturnal literature-consuming bat, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
By the next morning, I'd devoured all three books (even if the task was quite laborious). I quickly brushed my teeth, put a clean set of pajamas on, and hopped back into bed. In just a few hours, I'd have to wake up once more.
That task repeated for the next two days, and in that time, I was able to complete all of my preparatory work. It was time to go.
On the night of the interview, I did just as Gary said. I put on a black knee-length skirt, white blouse, and tan flats. My hair was pulled into a neat bun, which I tied back with a crimson ribbon. Once my hipster glasses were on, I was ready to go. I stepped out the door of my tiny apartment and to my car. Once I was in, I immediately felt an eery silence. It was the perfect night to interview Peter Manchester, son of the thoughtless horror novel writer. As I drove, I thought about what I had to do next.
Once I arrived, I would meet up with the camera man, Patrick. I'd been introduced to him a few days ago when I was reading one of the books and he leaned over my shoulder. I'd noticed his unusual cheesy aroma and the fact that his braided beard slapped me in the face. His pudgy figure could have led some to think he wasn't into exercising, but on the contrary, he was always up and moving in the office. In fact, I started to wonder why he even had a desk if he never used it.
Once I arrived at the office, I hopped into the metal elevator. In comparison to the rest of the building, it was relatively new. When I stepped out, the first thing I noticed was Patrick getting set up. He adjusted a few things on his camera, but being an old-fashioned person, I had no idea what. When he saw me walking over, he immediately perked up. "You excited, Hamilton? Tonight's going to be motherfreaking EPIC!" I ignored his outburst. "I'm very excited, Patrick. I'll be doing my first interview since arriving here. I don't think I ever bothered to ask you, but how long have you been employed as a camera man?" Patrick gave a cheeky grin up at me and chuckled. "I started long ago, Hamilton. I think the old man wanted us to partner up or something. You know, things like this always lead to dates in the TV shows." I sighed, a bit uncomfortable at both the use of my last name to refer to me and the suggestion of dating. "I'm...uh...taken, but I'm sure working with you on the interview will be quite fantastic." Both of those statements were lies.
Soon enough, all of his equipment was assembled and cleaned. I noticed he took an exceptionally long time to clean the dust off his lens, but didn't judge him for it. The smallest details went a long way in our field. As Patrick slid his camera into a large black bag, I noticed his shirt. It was all navy except for a few letters that looked like they had come straight out of a vintage typewriter. They spelled Warren Manchester Enthusiast. I had to go through ten Google pages to find a single link to a site about him, but he had enthusiasts? I was in utter shock. "So you know who Warren Manchester is? I had the hardest time finding information on him, but it's good to know I have an enthusiast on my side," I said. He looked up at me with glassy eyes.
"My dad read me Warren Manchester books when I was just a kid, and I never outgrew it, you know? I don't say this about many old bearded men, but his work is timeless. TIMELESS..." He looked off into the distance before snapping back to reality. For some reason, it didn't surprise me that he'd read Manchester's work as a child. It quite clearly shaped him to be the adult he was.
After descending on the unusually modern elevator, we walked out to a van with giant letters printed across the side that said The Marleigh Post. Patrick quickly opened up the door to the trunk of the van and shoved his camera bag into the back seat. After practically slamming it, he got into the car on the driver's side. I saw him pull out a tiny folded piece of paper and slowly unfold it until it covered the entire front seat. A sweaty arm whacked across my face as he pointed to the upper right corner of the small-scale map. "That is where we are," he stated. He traced the roads with his finger until he came to another point. "And that's where Peter lives," he finished. I noticed that he was pointing at the lower left corner of the map, which made me realize we probably had hours before we got there. The timing of the excursion seemed at first to be inconsiderate on the magazine's part, but then I realized the mood would be much creepier on a night than it would in an afternoon or morning. It was a genius plan for our employer, but not for our scared little imaginations.
Once Patrick began to steer out of the parking lot, I came to a sudden, life-altering realization. I would have to spend the next two or so hours in close proximity to a sweaty, exuberant giant. I quickly turned my head to the window and the ride seemed to go by quickly after that. I made a bit of small talk with him before he went into an hour-long spiel about Warren Manchester and the great life works he left behind after passing. Eventually, we rolled into the countryside and I could see a distant light near a line of great pine trees. Patrick noticed it too, and began to tap his elbow against the side of the van impatiently. However, he didn't have to wait much longer. We pulled up between two pine trees about twenty yards away from the house. Patrick let out a little squeal, jumped outside, and ran to the back to get his camera. With a roll of the eyes, I stepped out and looked around.
There was a full moon out, and the sky seemed to be speckled with an unusually large amount of stars. To the right of me was a vast countryside, and to the left of me was the line of pine trees. I looked at the house once more. It was much larger than I'd first anticipated, and it was a beautiful structure. It was a two-story brick building with large white columns connecting the roof to the porch. I couldn't see too much, but there seemed to be quite a few glass windows and a large staircase leading up to the front. Before I could get lost in thinking about what was inside, I noticed a small figure approach one window on the first story. Thinking it was Peter, I hesitantly waved. The figure didn't wave back, but instead turned to the left and darted away. Before I had much time to ponder what had just happened, I noticed Patrick squealing enthusiastically and running toward the door. With a quiet yet sincere laugh, I followed him like a mother would follow her adventurous toddler in the park.
Once we arrived at the top of the patio, I noticed the massive wood doors. They had golden swirls rising out of them and spiraling around, which I soon discovered were letters. After giving them a quick glance, I realized the words were Latin. One of the few languages I hadn't mastered.
With crossed eyes, Dominic separated his pointer finger from the rest and raised it to his mouth. Before I could catch on to what he was doing, he gave it an enormous lick and pressed it to the doorbell. I gave him a look of disgust, but he was too star struck to notice. "At least Peter has a piece of me now..." he whispered softly. I decided to look forward and try my best to forget what I'd seen. After what seemed like an hour, the door finally opened to reveal a tiny old man. When he saw us, his face immediately lit up.
"Come inside Mrs. Hamilton, Mr. Vincent. I hope you've had a pleasant journey." He opened the door a bit wider and we both stepped in. The first thing I noticed was the oddly glowing crystal chandelier above me. It was the hugest chandelier I'd ever seen. As I looked around, I noticed the pure precision in the furniture placement. The dark, green velvet furniture pieces were tilted at expertly exact angles and the flower arrangements were all placed in the exact centers of the tables. Many odd objects hung on the burgundy walls such as mermaid engravings and dated portraits of men and women dressed for the Victorian era, but I chose to ignore those. The home was magnificent for the son of an author that could barely get a mention in a webpage.
My fascination snapped out of focus when Peter spoke up. "It's wonderful to meet both of you. I am Peter Manchester, son of the late Warren Manchester." When he stuck his hand out to shake Patrick's, he got no response. He just got a really obsessive stare. After a moment of holding his hand out, he awkwardly took it down. I decided to fill the void. "Mr. Manchester, I must say you have a lovely home. You must enjoy it so much out here." Surprisingly, he broke his formal demeanor with a dismissive laugh. "I'm not as fortunate as you may think, Mrs. Hamilton. However, that isn't what we're here to discuss. Before we start, would you like some water?" he asked.
"YES!" Patrick yelled. We both looked at him with confused expressions and he shrugged. He seemed to have gained his composure (somewhat). After a moment of silence, Peter turned away and walked to another doorway with smooth strides. Once he was gone, I noticed the temperature drop a few degrees. Having dismissed it as a draft, I quickly pulled my notepad out of my pocket and reviewed the questions I prepared. They all seemed to be relatively shallow, and I immediately regretted the lack of time I spent preparing them. Maybe I should have spent more time on the research.
Before I could fall into one of my frequent spirals of worry, Patrick jumped up with a yelp. I immediately took my gaze away from my notes and turned to him. He was staring at his foot in utter shock. It looked like he was about to say something smart before he promptly fell over, hitting his head on the corner of a side table. Without a word, I darted over to check on him. He looked like he'd fainted, but I couldn't figure out why. That was when I saw the red dots on his ankle. They were in a tiny pattern that almost resembled footprints from a rodent, but that didn't make sense. There weren't any rodents around. I scanned the room to make sure, and almost instantly realized I was wrong. In the wall closest to me, there was a small hole. What was coming out of it rendered me speechless for a moment.
One ugly, tattered rat after another was pouring out of it. They scurried in various directions all over the room, but a few of the beady-eyed pests were headed right for us. It took me a moment to absorb the situation, but when I did, I reacted. With a huge scream, I took hold of Patrick's ankles and dragged him up to the couch. My adrenaline was racing, so in the moment I felt almost invincible. With the grace of a swan, I leaped onto a chair and tucked my knees to my chest. "Peter!" I screamed. "PETER!" When no response came, I glanced back at the ground. Gray, balding rats were running psychotically through the room, darting under tables and through the legs of the couch. I decided to try screaming one more time. The sheer size of Peter's house probably made it hard for him to hear me, so there was no telling how long it would take for him to get back.
I'd been in poverty-stricken homes where rats were common, but this was insane. Why did they want to come in? There wasn't even any food or odd smells. They circled around my chair, almost targeting me, which was an extremely unusual practice for rats to engage in. One after another, they made attempts to jump at me. It was as if they had minds of their own, and I'd never seen anything like it. That was when another door opened. Thinking it was someone who could help us, I screamed once more to get their attention. When I screamed, the door flung open with unbelievable force. A little boy walked out and looked me dead in the eyes. I didn't think much of it first, waving him away frantically. "GET PETER! PLEASE!" I pleaded. The boy's expression was blank.
"Why should I? He's just a stupid old man," the boy responded. That was when I noticed the unusual whitish-blue tint to his face. His eyes were either very dark or empty sockets and his whole body seemed to be transparent. In an even quieter voice, I tried to reason with him. "There are rats scurrying all over the floor. You need to find Peter so he can make them go away." The boy smiled to reveal sharp teeth and I closed my eyes, hoping I was just imagining what I saw in front of me. "No. He's not the one who controls them. I am, and I can control you too." My breathing grew rapid and I felt my stomach turn around. Maybe I was still in my shabby little apartment, dreaming...maybe...
I pinched my eyes closed as much as possible, wishing the nightmare away. The sounds of the rats' claws tapping against the floor ceased and I no longer felt the presence of the little boy standing by the doorway. My mind wandered off, and I felt myself drift away as well. The soft chimes of the wind lulled me to sleep and my feet tickled the cool floor beneath me. Any amount of time could have passed before two large hands gripped my shoulders and swung me around wildly. I slowly came back to consciousness, my eyes testing the light before fully opening. For a moment of blissful silence, I forgot all about the rats and the boy. Everything seemed to be peaceful for a bit before I heard the heavy breathing of a figure above me.
With a yelp, I jumped away from the figure and backed up against the wall. After about half a second, I realized the figure was Patrick. I was safe. However, his expression didn't support that idea. I looked around to notice that we were in a different room, a bedroom in fact. An ornately decorated crimson bedcover lay on top of a great wooden frame. The same precision and attention to detail that were exhibited in the living room were used in the bedroom. After scanning my surroundings, I decided I was most likely in the master suite. Many doors branched off from it, probably leading to various sitting rooms and storage places. A scuffle near the door closest to me alerted me to the fact that Peter was shoving a lengthy wooden plank under it. Patrick lay against one of the legs of the bed, seemingly exasperated.
In an instant, it all came back to me. I remembered the little boy and the odd amount of rats. "Did you see what was going on out there? It was insane!" I exclaimed. Peter looked at me with a finger to his lips and shushed me quietly. With a raised eyebrow, I glanced at Patrick. "We won't be able to do the interview tonight, dear," Peter whispered.
"Because there are quite obvious complications in my home. You'd best leave whenever things die down." Patrick shuddered. "What happened?" I asked. When no one responded, I piped up again. "If Patrick knows, I can as well. We're all adults here. Just tell me," I said. Once again, no response came.
Finally, Peter decided to pipe up. "I'm assuming you've seen the rats and the little boy. You both have, correct?" Patrick gave a bob of his head and I agreed as well. With a shiver, I pulled myself into the fetal position once more. "You have a sick, sick head if you think this is what's supposed to happen at a professional interview. Save your pranks for later." Peter balled his fists, but then let out a sigh and released them. "It may seem like I want this to happen, but be LOGICAL. If I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn't let this happen. The little ghost has a mind of his own, anyway."
On most ordinary days, I would have dismissed that as a silly lie. However, I was not having an ordinary day. With hesitation, I asked my next question. "Who is he?"
"Remington Manchester. My brother. He died when he was eight because of a science experiment that went so terribly wrong." My journalist instincts kicked in, and I immediately felt compelled to ask more questions. "What was he experimenting with? Rats?" Peter shook his head, but then thought about it. "Well...yes. He did experiment with rats quite frequently, but that wasn't what killed him. The tiger was." It was Patrick's turn to be shocked. "If you have crazy little rats running around your house, does that...uh...mean you have a tiger?" Peter nodded, and Patrick curled into a fetal position that matched mine.
In that moment, it all clicked for me. "Gary! He was right!" I exclaimed. Patrick looked at me with curiosity, so I continued. "Gary told me that many journalists who go out for jobs like this don't make it back. I wonder if it's because Marleigh is haunted..." Peter let out a big guffaw. "You didn't know that? How long have you been holding a residence here?" I thought about it. "Three months to this day. I could be considered relatively new."
"No kidding you're awfully new to Marleigh. You haven't even realized what you've gotten yourself into. A ghost town. Literally everyone here is dead...you just don't fit in yet." I laughed, thinking he was making some kind of morbid joke. That was when Patrick pulled the knife out of his pocket and Peter stood guard against the nearest door. "We can help you fit in, Hamilton," Patrick whispered. Suddenly, I realized the biggest danger was no longer the boy with the rats. It was the two men right in front of me.
Let's just say they helped me fit in.