"To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. 'I shall perish,' said he, 'I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect - in terror. In this unnerved - in this pitiable condition - I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.'
-Edgar Allan Poe "The Fall of the House of Usher"
It was late fall that day I walked past Sam's house. It was oppressively cloudy. The fog hung lower in the sky than normal and there was no break from it, not a bit of blue could be seen. The house was unbearably morbid. Set back into the trees, it obstructed the natural growth like an abscess. The trees grew in twisted shapes around it, conforming to the wall and rooflines. The shade and moisture had covered the roof in a layer of earthy green moss. The wood shingle siding was warped and pieces were missing at intervals. The porch hung off the face of the house like an expression of a wary brow. Two big dark windows beneath the porch were entrancing and eerie. Like eyes looking into the soul of the house they were large and black – like a vacuum.
I couldn't decide what made this house so creepy to me, now. I remembered a time when the roof was new and the wood shingles shone with the life of the trees they came from. The lawn had been green and the trees framed the house, instead of growing around it like it was slowing being consumed by the forest.
I side-stepped the swampy mire that had begun accumulating in the yard thanks to bad drainage and made for the door. I hadn't talked to Sam in a really long time. But one day he'd called me – out of the blue – and told me he needed help. I really had nothing better to do, and I wasn't about to hold a grudge for all eternity. Apparently something was wrong. He'd told me I was the only one who'd bother to come. How could I say no to that?
Sam came from an old family and we had been friends for a long time before we dated. He'd always been really quiet about his family – mostly due to his father – but he came from a very old and very respected family. The Uley name carried significant weight. However, unlike other families that branched out countless different ways with every generation, his had been entirely self-contained. He came from a long line of only children, meaning that he was the last of the Uleys and that the duty of carrying on the family name rested entirely with him.
The house only weirded me out the closer I got. I paused a moment, blinked, and shook my head to clear my mind. I looked again at the house as objectively as possible. The house was old – had been in the family for years. It was one of the few on the reservation set on a permanent foundation. And even though small bits and pieces – like those spare few wood shingles – were missing, the house was overall sound and looked solid, though neglected. There was a single tree in the yard's mire – the rest were relegated to simply growing dome-like around the property. This one pine tree was tall and ancient. It grew in a twisted sort of spiral like it was forced to curl around a pole as a sapling. Or maybe it'd been hit by lightening. I didn't know; I didn't remember it much from childhood. It's curled branches matched its gnarled trunk and formed a jagged line that descended into the swampy water that had gathered in the yard.
As I climbed the porch, a beleaguered old man passed me on the way out. The tweed and black bag lead me to assume he was a doctor. He offered only a curt nod before stepping around the mire, getting into his car, and leaving. I let myself inside. I'd known this house since childhood, and yet everything seemed so remarkable different in the unnatural dark. The wallpaper, the wide wood floors, the wall hangings, the local artwork was all familiar. I could have given a blue print of the entire house without even a point of reference.
Sam was in the living room and only a few shafts of light penetrated the drawn shades. He stood up and greeted me the moment he saw me. I sat down in the chair next to the sofa and we just sat in silence for a few moments. I was struck by both pity and awe. He looked awful. He was pale and wan. His cheeks were sunk and accentuated his bone structure in an unhealthy way. His eyes were big – like he was eternally shocked – and his hair was a mess. It was an impossible sight to forget and I wasn't quite sure this man was the same Sam I had known.
He finally spoke, telling me why he'd called me over. He himself was sick with something genetic. Apparently it passed down through generations. The last time it had been seen was in great-grandfather – Levi Uley. But the bigger issue was the injuries Emily had sustained in an accident. I could see that must've worn on his reserves, making him anxious and fidgety.
"If she dies, I'll die," he told me. "She'll kill me. I'll kill her."
None of the doctors knew what to do with Emily, apparently. Sam couldn't find a doctor that had the skill to help her.
I stood up, looking around for something to do. I had no idea what the hell was going on, but there was a lot I could certainly try to help fix. I started by opening the shades. Fat lotta good it did, the sky was so cloudy and the house so surrounded by trees it only proved that the house actually possessed windows as they offered no additional light. I attempted some small talk as I picked up the scattered belongings – shoes, plates, newspapers – from around the living room. However the more I talked the more I realized the futility of my being able to talk him back to normalcy.
I'll remember forever the following few hours I spent there, trying to engage Sam in something that wasn't simply sitting on the couch and staring into the abyss. He'd be quiet for long stretches, but then there were times where he'd just rant – about topics I couldn't even get a hold of. I volunteered to turn the radio on as I picked up, but he flipped out telling me the music gave him a headache, though he did finally settle on a station that played a mix of classical and oldies. Florent Schmitt's Le Palais Hanté echoed out of the crackly old radio. The Haunted Palace. How fitting.
He said something as we listened, and I can't quite remember how he phrased it, but he commented on the living and conscious nature of some inanimate objects. He talked about how a bunch of lumber and nails and shingles didn't exactly seem alive, but once you slapped them all together into the shape of a house, the new shape – made of the same old materials – seemed to breathe its own life. He said you could tell the house was alive because it had its own character separate from the landscape surrounding it.
I couldn't think of a single damn thing to say.
I mostly kept moseying about the living room, trying to decide if Sam was really losing his mind or maybe he needed some fresh air and sunshine. I paused at the bookshelf on the edge of the room. I noted all the familiar classics. Sam had always been a junkie for sci-fi and fantasy. Ever since we were kids we'd read the newest tome we could get our hands on, later totally convinced we'd know where to find elves, or how to travel to another dimension. The Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Animal Farm, Dracula, Enders Game, Fahrenheit 451, 1984. All these classics from years past and more packed the shelves. Their spines worn from use. Some were so well-read their spines were illegible.
As kids, they were great. But now I couldn't help think how much they encouraged what appeared to be a growing paranoia in Sam. I heard him get up and leave while I looked over the bookshelf. He returned a few moments later, and asked me to help him move Emily's body to the simple pine casket. I hadn't realized she was already dead. I nodded mechanically after he told me the doctor had called for a hearse.
We lifted her together - already wrapped tightly in a quilt - and carried her down the hall to the back of the house where the coffin lay on the floor of the back porch. We placed her inside and then Sam fastened on the lid. I then stumbled inside, in a bit of a daze.
After that, things got even weirder. Instead of sitting and watching me pick up or even engaging in sporadic small talk, Sam took to pacing about the house muttering to himself. What the hell had I gotten myself into? It seemed like he wanted to tell me something. When he would pass the kitchen, he'd occasionally glance up at me – never seeing me, though – before continuing on his crazy way. I felt his own insanity starting to creep up on me. Like bugs on flesh, or a dark cloak, I felt it begin to cover me.
Sam went to take a shower, and I took to staring out the living room window waiting for the doctor, the coroner, a messenger from God – anyone. It was getting stormy outside and the rain began to fall in earnest. I found I couldn't stand still – the house and all everything within it was doing that enough for everyone. I found myself frantically pacing the living room floor. Beyond pacing, I think it may have constituted doing laps.
I hadn't been pacing long when Sam finally emerged from the bathroom looking absolutely manic. In complete opposition to his earlier zombie-like state, he looked hysterical. "Have you seen it? You will!" And he rushed towards the front window I'd been staring out and forced it open.
The brunt of the storm whirled into the house. The rain was falling at extreme angles and we must've been at the center of some cyclone, because the wind tore into the house, blowing spare belongings over and about the room. I looked outside and noted how foggy it had become. The only thing I could see was the strange glowing mire of the swamp that occupied the front yard.
"Sam," I encouraged, tugging at his arm and trying to pull him from the window. "It's nothing. I promise. It's just a trick of the light. A reflection from the setting sun, or the rising moon on all the water. Please, why don't we come have a seat and just calm down?"
I sat on the couch next to him and flicked on the TV. Jurassic Park. That ought to be distracting enough. The movie was part of the way through and already the cast of characters was being chased through the main exhibition building by raptors. Those kids couldn't help but make as much noise as possible in that kitchen. As a mess of spoons clattered around the blonde girl I twitched, hearing the noise from the TV echo around the house, I assumed.
Her brother scrambled around and I flinched again at the way the sound reverberated. This time my head snapped back behind me towards the kitchen and the hallway to look. As the raptor on the screen keened and the storm outside raged, I heard the distinct noise of a muffled human scream. I couldn't be making that up.
"Don't you hear it?" Sam bellowed as he stood. "Because I hear it! I've been listening to it for hours – ever since we bound her in that quilt! Because we buried her alive! I could feel her feeble pulse, and I can hear her now – walking! Making her way in here to berate me for trying to get rid of her! I can hear the horrible beating of her heart!"
The horror I felt was unmatched. Nothing from that evening's prior events matched my terror as Sam shouted, leaning closer and closer towards me with every word. I stood and backed slightly away towards the wall.
"She's here now!" he insisted, looking now as if he had completely lost his mind and I was fully assured he had. "She's right outside the door!"
He pointed towards kitchen door. It swung open slow and loud. The figure's shadow cast in the strange light was horrid. Hunched and ragged, the long black hair hung down over her face. It was tangled and matted and I could see her back rise and fall with the effort of having run a mile. She was small, thin, and gaunt. A lightening flash illuminated her front. She rocked a bit back and forth, like it took great effort not to topple over. I saw beneath her hair that her face was cut and torn open on one side. Small ribbons of skin peeled away from her once beautiful face, taking away her eyebrow, and exposing some muscle and bone of her cheek. Partially dried, the still oozing wound bled down the front of her nightgown. Her teeth were bared the blood also reached up her fingers and up to her knuckles. I watched as she summoned the last energy of one in their death throes and she leapt upon Sam, forcing him to the floor and killing him along with herself.
I stumbled out of the house, nearly tearing the door off the hinges. The storm outside continued to rage and I didn't give a fuck anymore. I made it to the street before some flash of light landed behind me. I fell butt first into a puddle in time to see the lightening strike having run down the course of the tall, twisted pine. The tree split in two and the larger half fell with a crack onto the building just behind it, sending into the mire the fragments of the House of Uley.