THE STONE HOUSE
copyright 2011 johnny carlson
copyright 2011 johnny carlson
She walked against the wind toward the unpainted barn. Her long hair blew out behind her like a tattered flag as she made her way across the field. Wind, dust and heat -- an Indian summer for sure. She was dressed in tight jeans and blue tank and her boots. She always wore those boots.
The tractor had overheated when a cooling belt broke. She thought there was an extra one hanging in the barn. If there was, she would replace it and continue plowing over the spent garden crops. By the time she spied Trenton’s blue truck bumping down the long drive, she was finished with the field. Just as she pulled the tractor into the barn, the truck halted right behind her.
She jumped off the tractor seat and walked to the truck, smiling. She brushed strands of hair from her face with the back of her forearm. “How about a dip?” she asked.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Let me get out of these work clothes and I’ll join you.”
She unlaced and pulled off her boots, slipped out of her jeans and stepped into the cool water. She waded out to the center of the natural cistern they called “the pool.” Even at this depth she could see her white feet against the smooth stone. The water distorted her long legs into short squat ones.
Trenton entered the water with an appreciative “Ahh.”
“Hard day, huh?”
“Yep,” he answered.
“Me too. But I got a lot done.”
Trent smiled. Teresa was a hard working and independent woman and he admired her for it. She had worked this tiny farm by herselfor a few years before he arrived. They’d met in a juke box tavern, liked each other’s company, and two months later he moved in. She wanted him and loved him, but didn’t need him -- a perfect situation for a free spirit like himself.
“What are you smiling at?” she asked.
“You’re amazing,” he answered. “And beautiful.”
They came together in the middle of the pool and embraced. She wanted to make love, he could feel it, and she wouldn’t wait until they left the water. That suited him just fine. Sex and cool water always melted away stress. He imagined them growing old and gray together and still meeting like this -- to ease the aches and pains of age. But he couldn’t imagine her uncompromising spirit and boundless energy would allow age to dictate what she could or couldn’t do. She was one determined woman.
They dried off and went inside. They ate dinner in silence. Then Trenton sat on the couch to watch TV.
“Did you notice that we have new neighbors, or one new neighbor?” Teresa asked.
“Uh, the closest house is half a mile away. So, no, I guess I didn’t.”
“That old stone house that’s been empty so long. I saw lights last night.”
“That could be anyone -- the property owner or a real estate agent, maybe just someone wanting to get a closer look at the old place.”
“Yeah,” she said, plopping down on the other end of the sofa. “But I drove by today when I went to Home Depot. There was a U-haul truck backed up to the door.”
Neither Teresa or Trenton were particularly nosey or interested in other people’s business, but before they went to bed they walked out to the driveway and, sure enough, lights from the stone house illuminated the night.
* * * * *
Now that the small field was plowed over for winter, there wasn’t much for Teresa to do outside, except maybe play with the barn cats. She did spend some time out in the barn straightening and cleaning. Today she gave herself a choice of canning or making art.
She was a wonderful artists in oils, acrylic or pastel. She had not started anything during the summer mostly because she had so much to do, and it was hard to walk away from a painting once started. So it was best to wait for the idle months. She did realistic portraiture, still life, or landscape, but lately she’d been anxious to try a looser style -- a new technique -- not exactly modern art but something close.
The day was wet and sloppy and she couldn’t really set up her easel outside. She decided to go out, though, and take some photos to work from. She liked the old stone farmhouse and the silo behind it. She had a pretty good telephoto lens but it was still too far away for what she wanted. So she walked across her field and stepped over the rusted barbed wire and continued across the empty land, tripping over the uneven ground and long tangled grasses. The dark overcast sky made it seem like December, but it gave the photos the moodiness she liked. When she was close enough, she took a few shots and walked back home to import and print the pics.
Acrylic was much faster drying but she liked the wet on wet oil painting. She put a medium size canvas on her easel and clipped the best photo to the side. “That’s funny,” she said aloud as she blocked in an under painting. There were two small figures between the house and the silo. They stood under a huge old oak. She had not noticed them when she took the pictures. The more she painted, the more uneasy she became over the obviously human but somewhat haunting figures in dark clothes. What looked to be their faces, staring directly at the camera, appeared as vague white smudges.
Going back to the computer, she brought up the photo and enlarged the area where the two mysterious people stood. The faces were looking up toward the camera, that was obvious, but there was still no definition. It was as if she’d made the shots in time-lapse. A man and a woman. The woman was holding what looked like a shovel and at the man’s feet something (or someone?) was stretched out in the long grass. The more she stared at it the more she thought she could make out a green shirt and blue jeans.
Her heart beat a little faster. The watching, ogling faces were unnerving to say the least, even if it was only a photo she was studying. She shivered and went back to her easel. She wouldn’t paint the figures. In fact, she dabbed some paint over them so they’d stop staring at her -- it was eerie.
When Trenton got home early, he suggested they drive to town and eat out. Anxious to get out of the house for a while, Teresa agreed. She cleaned up her painting mess and changed clothes.
When they got in the truck, she told Trent about the photos and how bothered she was by what the enlargement showed.
“Sweetheart, I’m sure it wasn’t a body. Probably some old clothes or rubbish they were going to bury for some reason.”
“Okay, but I want you to look when we get home,” she said. “Just the fact that I didn’t notice them when I clicked the camera gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah, that is kind of strange.”
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll go over there and look around, or if they’re home, introduce myself.”
Trenton glanced away from the road and gave her a dubious look. “That doesn’t sound like a very good idea.” But he knew if Teresa decided that she was gonna do something, she probably wouldn’t take anyone else’s advice. She took her time making decisions and he figured she’d thought about this most of the day.
“I’ll be okay,” she said, “but I won’t relax about this until I at least take a look around.”
By the time they entered the restaurant the subject had been put on the back burner. Nevertheless, it was bouncing around in Teresa’s brain. They ordered their meals and a couple of beers. By the time Teresa was on her third beer she was feeling much more relaxed. Trent had only one with his meal -- he was driving.
Trent’s peace of mind was shaken before he got a chance to look at the photos. When they were close to home, he noticed they’d forgotten to leave the porch light on. There were no street lights this far out either. So when they started down the long driveway, it was very near dark. The headlights swept across the house and the garage as they pulled in. Just as the headlights shone on the left side of the place, he saw someone duck behind the house. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He slammed on the breaks, causing Teresa to curse as he jumped out of the truck. He ran around the back of the house, his boots crunching loudly in the gravel. As Teresa followed him, she heard him swear.
“What’s going on Trent?”
“I saw someone dodge behind the house here. And look at this,” he said, pointing down to the patio. “One of the cats has been killed! Look at the neck -- it’s throat.”
“Oh my god,” she said, “how could someone do that?”
“I don’t know,” he said angrily, “and I don’t know how the guy got away.”
“It was a man?”
“I don’t know. I just assume that a woman wouldn’t be running around by herself in the dark.” Then he smiled at Teresa. “Well, not most women.”
They looked toward the neighbors’ far off in the blackness and they could see a couple of lights.
Both Teresa and Trenton had trouble sleeping and ended up sitting at the kitchen table together with just a candle between them -- and a bottle of wine, which was the worst thing for insomnia.
* * * * *
Teresa worked on her painting until about ten o’clock in the morning. Then she laced up her boots and slipped into a jacket for the walk up the road. The walk she’d been planning since yesterday.
She walked over to the tree where the couple had been. There was some lightly packed soil a few feet from the tree which had obviously been freshly turned. Oh my gosh, she thought. Had they actually buried someone there? She contemplated what to do. She couldn’t dig it up -- even if she had a shovel, it would be a completely illegal act of trespassing, and that wasn’t even addressing the fact that whoever moved in to the house might come out at any moment.
She thought she heard a noise and quickly ran over to the silo and hid behind it. “Oooh,” she whispered to herself, angrily. “How stupid are you, Teresa?” She waited for almost five minutes -- an eternity. Nothing happened, no more signs of life. She opened a door in the old silo -- a beautiful old building that outshone the house itself. She peered into the darkness. All she had was a lighter in her pocket and she flicked it on. Her mind went completely blank trying to understand what she was seeing. She’d seen the inside of many silos both empty and full of grain. What she saw now made no sense to her at all. She shut the door, shook her head and quickly padded back to the road.
* * * * *
“What?” Trenton said when she told him. “that’s bizarre”
“I’m not kidding, it was some sort of round brick staircase that led underground! -- to who-knows-where, or what!”
“It couldn’t have been excavated without anyone seeing it. All the sand, soil, rubble and rock produced by that kind of work had to go somewhere. It must have been dug a long time ago.”
“I know,” she said. “I could only see about ten feet down, but it sure looked recently done. The mortar was fresh and clean is if the brick had just been laid.”
“That’s weird,” Trent said, shaking his head. “What would be the point?”
“Ha! A dark, windowless guest house?”
* * * * *
Teresa had been organizing garden tools and machinery in the barn. It was about four o’clock and she was just leaving the barn when she noticed them. Two figures walking up the road toward her little farm. They were still quite a way off, but her stomach flipped. She wanted to know who they were but, at the same time, she was afraid. She went into the house and washed her hands of the grime. Then she went back outside and sauntered out to the mailbox hoping to get there before the strangers.
They were close enough now that she could see them very clearly. A man and a woman dressed in dark clothes and tennis shows -- as if they’d changed their shoes to walk home from a funeral.
The man raised his arm in an odd unnatural movement. Was he waving? The way they moved frightened her, but she stood her ground and waited until they were only a few feet away. The woman smiled. The man looked like a masculine version of the woman.
“Hello,” Teresa said, struggling to smile. Her hand trembled as she reached out to shake with the woman. “Teresa Hedges,” she said.
“My name is Emily and this is my brother Henry. We’ve just moved into Stonybrook.”
Teresa had not known the old house had a name, but she pretended to. “Oh, well, welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Neighborhood?” Henry commented. “Not much of a neighborhood.” He didn’t smile.
Teresa smiled just the same. “Yes, I guess it’s just us two on this road, but welcome anyway.”
They were brother and sister, but they made a striking couple. It would be hard to pass them on the street and not notice their presence. But their complexions were sallow and gray. They looked tired and worn out. Henry, especially, had dark circles under his eyes. Even his clothes looked old -- dull and drab. Emily was probably the younger of the two -- at least she tried to brighten her appearance by wearing red lipstick.
“Thank you,” Emily said. “It is a beautiful house and a beautiful area. We thought we should make ourselves known to you.”
Teresa suddenly felt dizzy as a strange thought entered her mind. She was talking to walking corpses! She shook her head trying to banish the bizarre thought. Just at that moment they all turned their heads. Trenton’s truck was making its way toward them.
“Your husband!” Henry said in an oddly accusatory tone.
“No.” Teresa answered. “We’re not married.”
“I should have guessed,” he spat out.
Teresa was taken aback by his rudeness. “Excuse me?”
Emily laughed. “Don’t pay any attention to my brother. He’s old fashioned. And he hasn’t been himself lately.” Then she turned to her brother, “Henry, please!”
Trenton stopped his truck at the mailbox and rolled down his window. “Hello,” he said without smiling.
“Trent, this is Emily and Henry.”
“You’re the ones who moved in down the road?”
“Yes,” Emily smiled. “We thought we’d better come and say hello.” She turned away abruptly and started walking back. “Nice to meet you. Come on Henry.”
Teresa and Trent watched them go and didn’t say a word. Then they looked at each other and Trent shrugged. When Teresa was overwhelmed by emotion, she would often tear up. Her eyes were moist now. “I don’t want them there,” she said. “Oh, god, anyone but those two.”
“I bet it was that freak who killed our cat.”
A few days passed. Teresa contemplated calling the police to check out the possible grave, but ultimately did not. She watched the house. There was never any activity in the daytime, but a light could be seen every night. Her concern did not lessen with time.
On a Friday night, she suggested to Trent that Saturday morning they should go check out that silo. Trenton’s sense of adventure was still strong and he agreed.
* * * * *
They crept along the base of the hill and tried to keep out of sight. It would have been easier to stay hidden at night, but this peculiar couple, it seemed, were awake all night and gone or sleeping during the day. Unbelievably when they were close to the Stonybrook property, they came upon a dead cow! The throat of the beast was torn open, but there were no other obvious wounds. There was a shovel in the grass near the murdered cow. Trent shook his head. “Sick bastards.”
“We don’t know that they did this,” Teresa uncharacteristically snapped.
“Well, who else, Teresa?”
“Still,” she said. “maybe we can hold off on the knee-jerk reactions.”
They continued until they were hidden by the silo. Trent opened the door and flipped on his flashlight. “Wow! This is beautiful work,” he said.
“Creepy, if you ask me.”
They stepped inside and began down the long circular staircase. No handrail. Trent stopped and held his light to a spot on the brick wall. “That looks like blood,” he said. There were red-black splotches of some sticky substance. They descended nearly thirty feet below ground when they came to a door. It was dark, but they went through and entered a large room. It, too, looked to be recently made. There was nothing in the place except for two large wooden boxes. They looked like a cross between coffins and those huge old stereo cabinets from the fifties and sixties. “Wanna play some music,” Trent grinned into the dark.
Teresa ignored his little joke. “Okay!” she whispered frantically. “Let’s get out of here NOW.” She was truly disturbed -- terrified in fact. She didn’t have to talk Trent into it. Deep down he was as freaked out as she was.
But then Trent saw something. “Wait. What about that door?”
“Forget it. Let’s go.” They headed quickly back up the stairs. They stepped outside and quickly made there way back. When they got home, Trent said, “No wonder they’re never out during the day. Shit!”
“What? What are you saying? You don’t think they were in the coffins do you. I mean, I figured they put somebody they’ve killed into the . . .”
“Teresa,” he sighed impatiently. “If those coffins were for murder victims, they certainly wouldn’t have placed them in some weird silo-crypt. They’d be buried in the yard. These coffins have a special purpose.”
“No. I mean . . . I’m confused. Maybe there are relatives interred there. Are you trying to say they’re . . . what are getting at?”
“The coffins are for Emily and Henry. They are undead.”
She started to laugh, but her hands were shaking and she broke into a cold sweat. “That’s ridiculous. There is no such thing, Trent! Are you crazy?”
“No, I am not. And they’re animal killers too! -- for the blood. Bastards.” Teresa stared at him in disbelief as he continued talking. “Teresa, I’ve seen a lot of weird things in my life. Especially when I was in Asia. I’m talking REALLY weird. There are things out there in the world that you can’t imagine -- things you couldn’t dream up.”
“Let’s stop talking and just go somewhere. Let’s get out of here.” So, just like that, they jumped in the truck and drove away. They drove up to the mountains and tried to relax and stop thinking about the intense creepiness they’d exposed themselves to. They were pretty successful, too, until they were almost home and drove by the stone house.
That night they were yanked out of sound sleep by a ruckus out in the barn. Trent ran out the door in his pajama bottoms and bare feet. Teresa followed on his heels. Trenton flipped on the lights in the barn. Nothing. Then Teresa pointed up and said, “Trent, look!”
Up in the rafters the cats sat looking down at them. One’s back was arched and they were all making frightening noises. Their body language showed them to be defensive and full of fear -- their fur standing on end. Outside there was a thud and the sound of running feet. Trent ran outside, but the sound had stopped and he didn’t know which way to go.
“That’s it,” he said, as they went back into the house. “We’ve got to go down there tomorrow and kill them.”
Teresa chuckled despite her fear. “We should go and check out the house in the morning. But lets not kill anyone just yet.”
Teresa climbed in bed, but Trenton said he was going to stay up and read. Teresa had a hard time getting back to sleep, but finally drifted off. When she finally got up that morning, Trent was gone. No matter how little sleep he got, he wouldn’t miss work. As she brewed a pot of coffee she stood by the sink and blindly looked out the window. She got a shock when she saw Trent’s truck was still sitting in the driveway! She looked everywhere, frantically calling and running around the little farm. He was nowhere. Nowhere!
She looked across the field at the neighbor’s. She ran into the house and put on her boots, fumbling with the laces and cursing under her breath as she struggled to tie them. Then she grabbed a flashlight and left the house. She started running down the road. “They must have him,” she thought. Had they killed him? She ran as fast as she could. Her legs felt like lead and she was breathing hard. She was in good physical shape but fear and panic had stolen her breath. Still, she struggled and ran in her boots and a short negligee which flew behind her.
At last she reached the house and in her hurry to try the doorknob, she smashed into the porch pillar. “Ouch!” She pulled at the door. Locked. She let out an angry scream and ran to the silo. She flung open the door and called Trenton’s name. Silence. She ran down the steps and into the chamber with the coffins. She had to slow down, the floor felt wet and slippery, but it was too late. She slid and fell hard on her tailbone. The flashlight revealed the slick floor was dark crimson.
She put her hand against the wall of the chamber to steady herself. She stood. The pain in her backside was as sharp as a knife, but it was no match for her love of Trent and her anguish in the knowledge that he may be dead. The adrenaline must have kicked in. She didn’t care about herself. What would her world be without him?
Teresa steeled herself against the pain and inched her way to the small doorway, so as not to fall again. Her light showed a narrow passage which she followed as fast as she could move. The passage ended at a stairway which she ascended. It opened to the house.
It was dim in the room and she heard movement. Her hair stood on end. It could only be Emily or her horrible brother Henry. She pointed the light in the general direction of the noise. Her eyes grew wide and she gasped. She was standing near a window and she ripped the drapes and blinds away, letting sunlight in.
There in the hell-hole of a house, three huge cages stood. In one, a naked woman cowered in the corner against the bars. Her neck and thighs were wounded and scabbed over. The other cage was empty. She moved between the two in order to see the third cage. She let out a single sob. Trent was there looking at her. He stood and with obvious relief and joy said, “Teresa! Thank God.”
She wasted no time. “Where are the keys?” she asked through her tears.
“Over there.” He pointed to the fireplace mantle. She opened his cage and then opened the other. The woman inside just stared and curled even tighter into herself. Trent embraced Teresa and they held each other for a long minute.
But all was not okay -- yet. She heard a hiss and looked toward what was probably a bedroom. There, a few feet into the room, stood Emily. She bared her teeth and growled.
Thinking quickly, Trent pulled open the front door of the house. The light poured in. Teresa and Trent opened all the shades they could reach. Now the vampire was trapped in the bedroom.
Even in the near darkness of the bedroom, Teresa could see that the window was covered only with blinds. Over that was a see through curtain. She looked at Trent. “I’ll take care of this.”
She exited the front door and ran to the outside of the bedroom window. She looked around the ground for something heavy. There! A large stone was half burred in the flowerbed. She picked it up and hurled it through the glass. Then carefully reached through the hole in the glass and grabbed hold of the blinds . Grabbing them with both hands she pulled. She pulled as hard as she could and ripped the entire rigging out onto the ground and the rest of the glass shattered and fell.
The sunlight streamed into the window and from the room came hideous screams and moans.
They searched the rest of the house for the remains of Henry but were unsuccessful. The woman in the cage had vanished.
Trenton said, “There’s only one other place that Henry could be.”
“I’m not going down in the silo again,” Teresa answered.
Trent went alone, but found both coffins empty. Both Trent and Teresa were in emotional shambles -- probably in shock, but they did not know it. They simply went home, Teresa limping along beside.
* * * * *
That evening Trent paced around the property. When it was dark Teresa went to the barn looking for him. She heard a noise in the hay loft. Probably one of the cat’s but she was jumpy from the morning’s events. She climbed up just far enough to see the empty loft. Empty, that is, except for the figure of a man in the corner who sat on a pile of something. He grinned an awful grin at her.
“Henry!” she breathed. Then she screamed for Trent. Trent did not come. Henry chuckled and that is when she noticed the lifeless heap that Henry sat upon wore Trent’s shoes! Teresa’s scream could be heard for miles. But, alas, there was no one to hear it.