The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
In the House of the Raven King
by Suzanne Madron
His voice echoed in the emptiness the way the ring of the old phone must have when he would call. There was a click and his voice stopped abruptly, followed by a metallic female voice.
“End of messages.”
She pressed the play button again and the two women sat in silence as they listened to the bass male voice crackling on the old audio tape. When it finished, Kristen Long turned to her client.
“You’re sure this is him on the tape?”
The middle-aged woman beside her nodded. “Positive.”
“And these messages are recent?”
Again, the woman nodded. “Within the last year, yes.”
Kristen shook her head. “I guess I don’t understand how this is even possible, Mrs. Smith.”
They both winced at the name’s lie. Kristen’s client had demanded privacy and had offered enough money to ensure it.
Mrs. Smith sighed and looked around them. Dust coated every exposed surface that wasn’t covered like a ghost beneath a dust cover. “It will sound ridiculous. Crazy, really. But… I couldn’t let him go.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
Mrs. Smith wiped at a tear. “This was his house.” Before Kristen could ask, she continued with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Yes, I lived here when we were married but it was always his house. It was never mine. After….” She paused, struggling to keep the hitch out of the word. “After – I couldn’t sell it. I should have. I should have just sold it or disconnected everything and left it to rot, but I couldn’t. There was so much of him here, you see.”
She ran a hand over the handset of the phone with a sad smile. “I believed I could come here any time and it would be like he wasn’t gone. That I would just keep everything ready for him and he would be here waiting for me when I came.” She traced a heart shape in the dust with the tip of her finger. “But I never came back. Not until this week. And then I called you when I -” She shrugged, indicating the phone and old answering machine.
Kristen nodded. “What made you come back after all this time? It’s been, what? A year?”
Mrs. Smith nodded. “Yes, a year this week. I came back because it is a year this week.”
Kristen looked at the older woman. “Have you been staying in the house while you’re here?”
“I tried. That first night was hell. The house was so quiet I could hear every creak of the floorboards and scratch of a branch at the windows. The next day I heard the phone ring and the answering machine picked up.” She laughed bitterly. “I forgot there was even a phone here and still hooked up, much less an answering machine. Damned thing scared me half to death.” She looked down at the answering machine and caressed it. “And then the message started. After it was done, I noticed there were other messages, all from him, but I had only been here for the last one.”
“And you’re sure that nothing else has been happening? Just normal creaks and noises from an old house?”
Her client nodded. “I haven’t seen any shadows or devils, if that is what you’re asking, Ms. Long.”
Kristen smiled. “I was getting around to those questions, as a matter of fact. I usually save them for last.”
Mrs. Smith relaxed and chuckled. “I must sound ridiculous.”
Kristen shook her head. “Not at all. Grief can play tricks on us, so focusing on the solid evidence we have on this tape rather than jumping at shadows is important. If you don’t mind my asking, what do you hope to get from having me here?”
Mrs. Smith twisted her fingers together and looked away. “I don’t know, honestly. I suppose I would like to know if he is here and if he is, why he’s here.”
Kristen nodded. “I’m sure we’ll discover there is a logical explanation.”
Looking back at that simple conversation, Kristen realized she had been naive. There was nothing simple about the case and what should have been a peaceful night was filled with chaos. She shook her head at her own hubris.
Beside her, the K-II meter lit up like Christmas lights. She glanced at her video camera and prepared the third set of batteries as she watched the charge indicator flashing red. She checked her cellphone to make sure it was still at full power in case she ran out of batteries before sunrise. The screen said 3am momentarily before the flickering overhead lighting showed the reflection of a man’s face staring back at her.
She dropped the cellphone and jumped as the landline rang beside her. Reflexively, she answered.
The crackle of static in dead air tickled her ear and she shuddered as the temperature dropped.
“Mr. Smith, is that you?” She took a shaking breath. “Peter?”
She furrowed her brow. “Mrs. Smith? Is that you?” She jumped as a cold hand touched her shoulder.
Mrs. Smith smiled apologetically. “I apologize, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Kristen forced a smile full of confidence she didn’t feel. “It’s fine. I see what you mean about the creaky old house. I think there might be a shorted wire in your phone, too, which explains why the phone rings.”
Mrs. Smith leaned over the phone and Kristen watched the K-II light up again. She picked it up to inspect it then looked to her client.
“Do you have a cellphone on you, by chance?”
The older woman shook her head and smiled at the device in Kristen’s hand. “Your services are appreciated, Ms. Long, but as you can see, they’re no longer needed.” She passed a hand through the K-II and it lit into the red. “Your payment is in an envelope on the table by the door. You are welcome to stay here for the rest of the night. We will try to be quiet.”
Kristen stared at her. “I don’t understand why you called me here. Was it just to mess with me?”
Mrs. Smith shook her head. “Not at all. I needed someone impartial to hear those tapes, to know I wasn’t the only one hearing them. Once I knew he was still here, I knew we could be together again.” She smiled at Kristen. “There is extra included in the envelope. I would appreciate it if you would call the appropriate people to collect me when you are ready to leave.”
Kristen clutched her phone as she ran from the room and up the stairs. When she reached Mrs. Smith’s room, she knocked on the door. “Mrs. Smith? Are you in there?” She searched for an explanation should her client open the door. She would tell her she had fallen asleep for a moment and had a vivid dream.
The door creaked inward under her blows and she stared into the darkness of the bedroom. A single candle was lit on a table next to the bed, illuminating the peaceful form of her client.
From behind her, Mrs. Smith said, “I’m glad we can now move past this part. Again, your fee is in an envelope by the door with instructions and contact information….”
Fiction © Copyright Suzanne Madron
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Suzanne Madron:
The house across the street seems to go on the market every few months, but this time nothing about the sale is normal, including the new owners. No sooner has the for sale sign come down and the neighborhood is thrown into a Lovecraftian nightmare and the only way to find out is to attend the house warming party.
Suzanne, congrats on a story that chills the imagination, yet warms the heart!
A superb ghost story.
Really clever ghost story – loved it.
Gave me chills!!