They finalized their plans through the week. If the house was accessible, they would stay overnight, or at least till the early hours, and record any evidence of the phantom door or other phenomena.
Shannon examined the photos repeatedly, obtaining what she considered a reasonable layout of the house. March’s video didn’t work on her computer or mobile phone. Rainey had the same issue.
Her car’s GPS would direct them to Wolviston Farm. She also placed Rainey’s address in the GPS ahead of time.
Preparation is the key, she thought, putting her gear into her car that Saturday evening.
The Dictaphone, lock picks, and video camera were packed in a black fabric shoulder bag. She placed the MEL-8704R Mel Meter beside the rucksack. It resembled a walkie-talkie for the most part, but in place of an antenna, it had a USB port.
She closed the trunk and returned home.
Saturday night brought the strangest dreams. Many she only recalled as fragments. One dream remained clear in her head, however.
Shannon had dreamed she entered the Wolviston house on a dull, misty day. A sinister quietude hung over the place, as if the house stood in stasis, waiting to revive. She went inside and explored each room in search of Rainey.
The rooms were different from her waking world observations. Less cluttered, and in the way dreams have that make the fantastical appear like the everyday, each was filled with motion.
Broken dolls and soft toys marched and crawled over the stained floors. This was their domain, their time. As she moved from room to room, Shannon wanted to question them over Rainey’s whereabouts, but felt hesitant about interrupting their work. The house held far more rooms than its dimensions could account for. She seemed to search for hours, entering and leaving door after door.
At one point, she encountered a hatch in the floor. This, she knew, led to the basement Yillen March had been unable to find.
The creaking steps descended to a distant point of light. Upon reaching the bottom, she stepped through a doorway into a brightly illuminated room. The walls, ceiling, and floor were layered with dark wooden panels.
Pink, worm-like tendrils protruded from the floor and ceiling, suspending a figure in the room’s center. It was Rainey hanging there, his head slumped against his shoulder.
She recalled wanting to rush inside and untangle him from the trap. But stepping forward would’ve provoked an attack from the organic ropes. As she stood, half in, half out of the room, Rainey raised his head, his blinking, confused gaze finding her.
His face dripped with sweat as he said, “We’re all ghosts now.”
And then she’d awoken.
She was still getting ready when her phone alarm reminded her it was time to set off. The journey to Rainey’s would take fifteen minutes, depending on traffic. Sunday traffic? Should not be a problem.
Before leaving, Shannon ensured the plugs were switched off in every socket. This safety ritual completed, she locked the house. She felt excited about today, and also a little frightened. The dream reinforced the latter, and as she departed her driveway, and steered onto the street, she wondered if she should tell Rainey about it.
No, she decided after further driving and deliberation. Why scare him? Perhaps later, after they’d completed the exploration, when they were back safely in their homes.
Familiar streets and roads led to a motorway. The GPS soon took her off this, and onto a rural route of trees and houses.
The location was unfamiliar. Nice in its way. Less congested than her area, with wide swaths of lawns and trees on every street.
The GPS instructed her to turn right. Here she found more of the same scenery.
The road consisted of large, detached houses, the grassy beds between them sloping down to the pavement. Halfway down its length, she spied Rainey at the curb. All smiles, he raised his thumb. He wore khaki trousers and a red puffer jacket. A camouflage-patterned rucksack stood at his feet.
Shannon steered towards the curb. She pulled up, turned the passenger window down.
“Sorry, there’s a sign I just passed that said, ‘Lunatic asylum nearby. Do not pick up hitchhikers.’”
“Oh, dammit.” He laughed and opened the door. Leaning over, he placed his rucksack on the back seat. He sat, closing the door behind him.
“All set?” he asked with a grin.
She nodded. “Seatbelt.”
“Ah yeah, sorry.” Rainey pulled the seatbelt over his chest. It locked with a click.
Shannon leaned over, set the GPS to her next destination. She pressed the gas pedal, returning them to the road proper.
“Excited?” he asked.
“Damn straight,” Shannon replied.
They left his road and re-entered the motorway. While she drove, they talked of general things—politics, celebrity gossip, the war in Ukraine. The television shows they were both watching.
She re-entered the motorway and after a short while, the GPS directed them onto a narrow country lane. Soon enough, thick foliage surrounded the car on both sides.
Shannon switched on the heater as the temperature dropped.
“We really are in the sticks here, aren’t we?”
She nodded. The lane they traveled grew narrower. The rows of trees reached across their heads to touch. Only the barest minimum of light seeped through the branches. At this rate, she’d have to switch on the headlights.
Shannon felt glad of the GPS. Without it, she’d be lost by now. The red line on the screen turned right a little way ahead. She released the gas pedal. A few seconds later, the GPS said, “Turn left onto Marshwood Road.”
Shannon flicked on the indicator, and followed the GPS’s instructions.
This brought them to another road flanked by thick foliage. Marshwood Road took many twists and turns.
The GPS directed her towards a right turn, onto an unnamed lane.
A “No Service,” message appeared on the screen.
Oh shit, she thought. “What the heck?”
“I guess we really are out in the sticks, aren’t we?” Rainey said.
Shannon slowed the car, took the right turn.
Rainey tutted. “You know, I considered printing off a map. I should have.”
“I’ve got this,” she replied. “The house should be at the end of this lane.”
The lane was nothing but potholes and bumps. Incredibly overgrown, branches assailed the windows with scratching persistence. There was only darkness ahead.
“No reception on my phone either,” said Rainey.
Shannon leaned forward, looked right. As far as she could recall, a path should be somewhere along this route, leading to the house.
“Ah, here we go,” she spotted it, and pulled over.
Turning to Rainey, she grinned.
“Should be about twenty feet away, give or take.”
Her excitement had returned. She left and locked the car, Rainey quick behind her.
A strong but not unpleasant smell of foliage filled her nostrils. If only it were a bit lighter.
“Never mind a crowbar,” Rainey said. “I should’ve brought a machete.”
She opened the trunk, retrieved her bag, and slung it over her shoulder. The MEL-8704R went into her coat pocket.
Shannon closed the trunk and paused. True, they were in the middle of nowhere, but she had reservations about leaving her car.
She shook her head. It would be safe here. Stepping around the car, she found and entered the path.
Earth and leaf matter covered the stony trail. As she pressed on through clinging branches, more than a few scratched her face. Rainey’s machete would be perfectly suited to this part of their journey.
From the way he grumbled and swore behind her, he suffered the same trouble.
At least we’re the first ones here in a while, she thought. If anyone else had recently traveled the path, it wouldn’t be so overgrown.
A few moments later they reached a clearing.
It felt surreal, seeing the front yard she’d studied so carefully online. An uncomfortable sensation of déjà vu followed. The photographs really didn’t do the place justice.
The right side of the house stood concealed behind a towering tree. The visible section looked cold and unwelcoming. The quietness reminded her uncomfortably of her dream.
Rainey, having rustled out behind her, halted before the mulch-covered yard.
They stood in silence. A reverence, she guessed, for this place of strange unknowns.
Rainey broke it.
“Well, here it is,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
“A little hesitant,” she replied.
The area smelled of rotten leaves. There were no signs of recent entry.
Rainey stepped forward and crossed the mulch.
Green mold rimed the window to the porch’s left. Dark, gloomy shapes were visible beyond the glass. It reminded her of an abandoned aquarium she’d seen online. Fish rotting in their tanks. Filthy, stagnant water.
The footing proved slippery, so she followed with caution. Rainey had to lower his head at the porch because of a low-hanging branch. A rustling followed, brittle leaves breaking off from his, then her, progress. A few leaves hit her face. Shannon brushed them away.
Rainey walked through the porch with her close behind. Low shelves beneath the porch windows held pots of dry soil, the desiccated remnants of flowers. Rusty tools and jars of muddy green water stood between the pots.
“Fancy a kale smoothie?” Rainey asked and continued into the house.
No need for picks or a crowbar here. The doorframe gaped empty.
Beyond the porch stood gloom. And smell. Ripe, rotten with an undercurrent of mildew, it really was as foul as she’d imagined.
“Ugh, this is not nice,” she said. It felt like an understatement.
She stepped inside. Loose floorboards lay beneath her feet, grimy with dirt.
Rainey poked her with his elbow as he felt around in his jacket pocket. He produced a small metal flashlight, which illuminated the foyer.
“There we go. Better?” The wide beam revealed a white wooden staircase, the carpet covering it red, and mold infested. The damask wallpaper lining the walls hung in damp ribbons, gouges ripped out for good measure.
“It’s certainly the experience, in the flesh, so to speak,” Rainey said.
“Right…” Shannon’s steps and attention moved her right, towards a coatrack full of dirty jackets.
Beneath the rack stood a low table. Almost collapsed with damp, its surface held similar miscellany to the website photos.
“Look at this,” she said.
Rainey appeared at her side. He placed the flashlight’s full strength on the table. Cigarette burns and grit spotted the white vinyl surface. Atop the vinyl: a brown rotary telephone, a pair of glasses with greasy lenses, and various Polaroid snapshots. In the corner, a naked black baby doll sat on a stack of warped phone directories.
Beneath the table were dozens of mismatched, well-worn shoes, everything from high heels to combat boots.
“I’m going to head in further. Coming?”
Shannon nodded. Examining the Polaroids, she wondered who the smiling faces belonged to, whether the people were still alive, and if they’d lived in this house.
“Coming,” she replied.
Two doors stood along the foyer’s west wall facing the staircase. Rainey headed to the nearest one, pushed it open.
He leaned on the frame and whistled. “Come see this.”
She squeezed in between the doorframe and his broad form.
“Yes,” he replied.
Diaphanous light, from a window on the south wall, revealed a seriously cluttered room.
Rainey added the flashlight’s beam, illuminating the mess starkly.
The floor, filthy concrete dotted in unrecognizable debris, led to bookshelves, a bureau, old gas fires ripped from some wall or other. Junk covered every available surface. Books, picture frames, old clocks…rotting teddy bears and dismembered dolls.
A sour smell made her nostrils tingle.
“I’m going in.” Rainey stepped inside.
Shannon remained at the door, scanning the room.
The west wall held a dresser, probably the one she’d examined in the photos. Rainey’s shadowy reflection moved in its grimy mirror.
Beneath the window stood a broken desk, the drawers hanging out to reveal stationery and warped note pads.
The flashlight beam touched her eyes: Rainey turning his attention to the dresser.
Her curiosity piqued, Shannon went to join him.
The floor crunched noisily beneath her feet.
Rainey turned at her approach.
“Hey, look at all this.”
She halted at his side. The dresser’s surface held a row of photographs. Each had the guttered remnants of a candle before it. The candles varied in color: black, white, red… A vintage camera sat behind them, beside a couple of smoking pipes.
The whole layout appeared a little ritualistic.
“What an odd array,” Rainey said. He reached for the camera, retrieved it gently.
“Bantam Colorsnap. I know a little about cameras. This is from the fifties. I think.”
Shannon watched him turn the camera around in his hand.
“Well, what do you know. It still has film! Six photos remaining.”
He wound a dial and adjusted the lens.
“For posterity?” Rainey asked.
Shannon blushed, shook her head.
“Oh, go on!”
“Okay then,” she acquiesced, and turned to face him.
Rainey backed off till his rucksack touched the wall. He said, “Smile,” and pressed the shutter button. The camera issued a dry click. He wound the dial and lowered it.
Her attention returned to the dresser. “You know, there’s something odd about these photos. Don’t you think?”
She’d only given them a cursory examination. Even this told her something was amiss.
A closer look proved it.
One photo depicted a family scene. A woman seated with a small boy beside her. Two men and a woman stood in the background. All were smiling, their clothes, and the women’s hats, giving the picture a 1940s vibe. The seated woman cradled something covered in coarse hair.
“This one too,” said Rainey.
He placed the camera down and went to retrieve a photo. It appeared stuck to the dresser.
The photo held an image of a boy wearing a waistcoat, shirt and bow tie. He had a ragged girl’s dress in his hand, exhibiting it like some kind of trophy.
The photo beside it depicted a hand touching its reflection in water. Beside this, a blurred black-and-white Polaroid featuring an oversized, leering face atop a small body.
“These are all very odd,” Rainey said, tapping his fingers on another photograph. The black-and-white image displayed a towering Asian man stood beside a smaller woman. The man looked at least eight feet tall.
Rainey must have sensed her discomfort, for he added, “From what I saw, there’re loads of photographs in this house. Someone must have collated the odd ones.”
But who, and why? Except to freak out a visitor.
“We have lots to see anyway. Let’s check the other rooms.”
Shannon nodded. “Good plan.”
Rainey shrugged the rucksack off his shoulders, placed it on the grimy floor and kneeled. She followed suit with her shoulder bag.
“I’m thinking you video cam the rooms, I’ll take readings? We can use my spirit box after?”
“Let’s get to it,” she agreed.