Pulling up the gravel driveway, Eric looked out his windshield at the towering monstrosity the manor posed as and shivered, not for the first time. The place was an eyesore and a general pain in his neck as he was the caretaker of it for some rich snob up in New England. Pressing the button to open the gates surrounding the plot of twisted land, he waited as the rusted gates creaked their way open to allow his station wagon to slip past them. Shaking his head as he caught a fraction of movement in his side view mirror, he cautioned himself.
“Don’t let them get to you,” he said, keeping his hands on their proper places on the wheel, turning slowly to edge around the verdigris-encrusted statue of a marble fairy spitting water into the surrounding cistern. The water, once bright and clear, was now dark and algae ridden; Eric had turned off the pump for the fountain nearly three years ago, seeing as the owners didn’t want the bills to be any higher than necessary.
Stepping out of the car, Eric massaged his leg, an injury from his tour in Vietnam. It still ached now and again, forcing the older man to limp about as he did his grounds keeping for the manor. He reached into his front pocket and withdrew two small blue pills, before throwing them back in his mouth and swallowing them.
A giggle behind him caused him to jump though he didn’t turn. No, that never ended well. He just went and opened up the back of the station wagon, pulling out a palette of flowers to be planted in the front planter, after trimming back the bushes. He brought the palate over to the front bushes, setting it down gently on the ground, before turning to go and get his shears for the bushes. Imagine his surprise when his shears were embedded in the gravel, not a foot from where he was standing. Standing with his hands on his hips, he shook his head.
“Thank you,” he said aloud. To his surprise he felt as if something preened under his attention, happy to have helped him. He knew what that something was, and he wanted nothing to do with it.
Taking the next half hour to shear back the overgrown bushes, trimming them into respectable rectangular shapes, he listened to the creaking and the groaning of the house as it shifted in the wind. He ignored the cold faces that presented themselves in the bay window and hummed to a merry tune when he heard the whispering. When the bushes started to bleed from his pruning, he stopped and moved back, waiting for them to stop. It only took a few moments for him not showing a reaction for the hallucination to clear up, but the spirits of the manor were quite insistent on him knowing something about this house.
For years, they’d tried to entice him inside. The only thing keeping him from looking in on the strange events was the fact that the last three caretakers had committed suicide on the very premises on which he worked. One went to the library and hung himself while another went into the master bathroom and slit his wrists. The third quaffed enough rat poison to send him into a painful, vomit-ridden shock. All of them had been discovered by police, who routinely kept up with the caretakers of Charleston Lane, at least after the second suicide. Eric had coffee with a detective every Wednesday in a small café not far from the old Charleston place. Nice guy, that Inspector Thomas Morrin. Maybe he’d be interested in a game of pool after duty sometime?
A loud shriek brought him back to reality, causing him to shudder and look to his left at the origin of the cry. A young girl, dressed in white with blood red stains over her chest and stomach stood close by, her black eyes staring piteously into Eric’s soul.
“Oh God no, I didn’t mean to… go away, leave me be!” He said, taking his eyes off of the girl and moving back to the bushes.
Sticking out of the bushes was a young boy, horribly emaciated, with sandy blonde hair and equally black eyes. He took a step, rustling through the leaves to reveal a gunshot wound just over his heart, and that he was wearing nothing but stained underwear.
“What is it you kids want?” Eric asked, heaving a sigh.
“We want you to play a game with us,” they answered in unison.
“No games, not with me. But look!” He said, turning to head back to his station wagon, going to the back to pull out brand new plastic wrapped game board. “I brought you guys a board game, huh? Doesn’t that sound fun?”
The little boy vanished, only to reappear at Eric’s elbow, looking at the game with interest. Eric practically shoved the game into the boy’s hands. “Go inside and play, I have a lot of work to do out here to make the house presentable.”
The little girl appeared in front of him, the air turning cold. “Why? Is someone coming to pay a visit?”
“Someone’s moving in,” Eric said with a smile. “That’s right, you’ll have a family here soon enough. And from what I understand they have children of their own, so you’ll have friends to play with!”
“Are they related to him?” She asked ice in her tone.
“Cousins I believe, but you shouldn’t hold that against them. I’m sure they’re nice people,” Eric said, praying that this conversation would soon end, with him intact.
The front door clicked open, creaking a tad. “Come in and play with us Eric,” the little girl said.
“Really, I’d love to but I have a lot of work to do out here…” Eric said, holding up his hands before he noticed his skin shifting.
Bubbling hot, his skin began melting off of him like wax from a candle, great globs falling to the ground as his bones stuck out from the openings in his arms. “No…” he muttered to himself, shaking his head. “This isn’t real… you’re not real!”
“Come play with us, and it will stop.” The little girl said.
Opening his eyes, he saw that his hands were now nothing but slickened bone, his forearms dribbling bloody wax all over his work clothes. He dropped down to his knees, shaking his head, claw–like appendages gripping his head as he chanted “No” over and over again. Opening his eyes, all he saw were the pitiless black eyes of the little girl.
And then he screamed as the true pain began.