Not long after Dad died, Mom told us we had to go live with Gramma. She said we couldn’t afford our house anymore.
Gramma lived in a big, old house in a far off village I had never heard of called Orchard Hills. Gray—just like in an old photograph—two stories tall, big windows that looked like giant eyes, and a foundation of mortar and stone, it was the creepiest house I had ever seen. Just something about it made me think there was something strange lurking behind every window, things even older and creepier than Gramma herself.
We weren’t that close to Gramma. In fact, my six-year-old sister, Lori, and I had never even met her. Mom always said she had a few screws loose, that maybe she wasn’t all there in the head, perhaps suffering from dementia and was possibly dangerous.
But we had nowhere else to go.
Coming into Orchard Hills on our moving day, the first thing I noticed was there didn’t seem to be anything in this village that was separate from the cemetery. There were tombstones as far as the eye could see.
“Mom,” I asked from the passenger seat, “is this entire town just one big grave yard?”
She began crying, but didn’t answer me. I assumed she was thinking about Dad. This was going to be tough. I really missed Dad, and I was going to miss all of my friends. I could feel the tears beginning to well in my eyes. I looked away to hide my face.
“Mom,” Lori said from the backseat, “Amanda’s crying.” Sometimes I just wanted to punch her little face in.
“I’m going to kill you!” I screamed, unbuckled my seatbelt, and turned around. Tears were streaming down my face, my eyes, swollen. I couldn’t see, but that fact didn’t stop me from trying to land a punch.
“Help me! Help me!” Lori cried and undid her own seatbelt. She was trying to open the backdoor.
“You’re not going anywhere!” I screamed.
And then I was flung against the dashboard, my head cracking into the windshield.
“Listen, both of you!” Mom yelled, crying. “I am not having this. You two will behave yourselves or else. You got it?”
We never pushed Mom to be specific with her “or else” threats. It used to mean “or else Dad is getting involved.” Now it meant “or else you’ll have to live with the fact you made me cry.” Both Lori and I shut up, turned around, and sat back in our seats.
We continued going up the road in silence. This road seemed to be as close to Main Street as anything, in fact, I think it was probably the only road in this entire town. According to a sign we passed, it was called Sharp Road.
Eventually we came to the house as the gravestones thinned out. “Ninety-one eleven Sharp Road,” I said, reading the house number. “That’s our new address. Sounds creepy.”
The day was stormy, with rain threatening to wash us out as we ran our stuff from the car to the house. The lawn appeared as though it hadn’t been mowed in decades, perhaps centuries, making the trek between the car and the house difficult. The weeds literally reached up to my chest.
The front door opened up into a dining room with wooden floors and white, plaster walls. Directly to my left, I saw something most peculiar. There was a toilet and an old-fashioned bathtub in what looked like a closet not ten feet from the dining room table. How odd. The thought of an open bathroom next to where we were expected to eat our meals made me want to hurl.
“Come in, come in,” the woman I assumed was my gramma greeted us, wearing, strangely enough, what looked like sheepskin died pink. She grabbed me in a tight squeeze, pushing the breath from my lungs. The perfume she wore stunk worse than anything I had ever smelled before. I tried to push her away, but my hands just pushed into rolls of fat and sweat.
“Nice to meet you, Gramma,” I grunted through a flabby arm.
She finally released me and looked at me in the queerest fashion. “Amanda, you look just like your father.” Everyone said that. I had long brown hair just like my father.
“Mom, what room is mine?” Lori shouted from behind me. She was carrying a pile of pillows and blankets that were taller than she was.
“Whoa, Lori, what are you doing?” Mom said, rushing in from behind her. She managed to save the falling tower of pillows just before they spilled over everywhere.
“Good save, Mom,” I said, finally managing to pull away from Gramma. I immediately went to her aid. Not because I wanted to help her, but because I just needed an excuse to get away.
“What room is mine?” Lori asked again.
Before we could venture off to find bedrooms, Gramma bounded upon us with arms wide open, “Come here. I wanna hug you both. How are my grandbabies?”
Get ready for round two, I thought as I braced myself.
She swept us both into a fanatical hug, squeezing tightly, and seeming to offer no hope she would ever let go. “I could just eat you both up.”
For a second, I thought she was actually going to make good on her “threat.” Maybe my mind was just playing tricks on me, but for a second, I was sure she had my entire ear in her mouth.
“We’re good,” I grunted. Mom wasn’t exaggerating. This woman was loony tunes.
She squeezed us a bit harder, pushing my face into her armpit. It was disgusting. All that flab with its disgusting taste of sweat laced with salt and bacteria. I couldn’t breathe. Lori struggled too, but she was smaller, so she managed to duck out from under Gramma’s beefy arms. I cried for help, but my voice was muffled by jelly rolls.
“Mom, can you let her go, please?” Mom asked.
Gramma held on to me for another few seconds and then finally let go. I breathed heavily, as if I had just finished a five-mile sprint. “What a couple of lovely, delicious children you have here.” Her choice of the word “delicious” concerned me a bit, especially when I looked into those crazed eyes.
Mom and Gramma began talking about things I had no idea, nor any interest in learning, about. While they talked, I walked in the family room off to the left of the dining room. There was what looked like a wood-burning stove to my left, with a couple of rocking chairs in front of it, and a rack full of logs beside it.
There were at least fifteen deer and coyote heads mounted on the walls. Disgusting.
“Mom,” I called back to her, “this place is weird.”
“Honey, your gramma and I are talking.” Her voice was somber and lonely. I really wished Dad were here.
Across from the stove was a doorway that led to a set of stairs heading up to the second floor. Mom had said on the way here that our rooms would be on the second floor.
There really wasn’t any point in going up to my room empty-handed. “I, uh, need to go get more stuff,” I said under my breath and headed out the front door.
The car didn’t have a lot in it. Moving into a house where someone already lives creates the issue of excess furniture. Mom insisted we leave most of the stuff at our old house, so there were mainly just boxes of books, some video games, and clothes.
Gramma and Mom were still talking as I came back in. Lori was standing there with pillows and blankets in hand, having recovered them after hugging Gramma. She looked like she was waiting for directions to our bedrooms.
I told Lori to just follow me upstairs, that we would just choose our own rooms, since I was sure Mom wouldn’t be in the mood to help us, and I wanted to stay as far away from Gramma as possible.
We went up the staircase. Walking up those steps produced the most amazing sort of echo; the sound of light, but heavy-sounding steps down an empty hall.
It just sounded so cool, yet it made me a little uneasy.
The upstairs was a rather large, L-shaped corridor with five rooms off of it. It looked as though Gramma hadn’t been up there in years, if ever. Cobwebs filled every corner; dust coated the floor. There was even a door that led directly outside, not onto a balcony, just outside to a thirty-foot fall and a broken leg or two.
“Is that the door to the hospital?” Lori asked, dead serious.
“What? No, it’s….” And then I realized she was joking. Door to the hospital, ha, very funny, Lori.
“Yeah, because if you walk through it, you’re going to the hospital.”
“I know, Lori, I get it.” I had to admit that it was a pretty funny joke, especially for a six-year-old. “I guess we’ll just have to call this ‘the door to the hospital, eh?’”
“Never mind. It was your joke. If I lost you, that’s your own fault. Hey, why don’t you take that room down there?” I pointed to our left past what must have been the smokestack from the wood-burning stove.
The room I chose was at junction of the L, just past that “door to the hospital,” or as I would think of it, “the door to nowhere.” It had green wall paper covering broken plaster. I had never seen a house this old, and I had no idea before moving in there just how strange old houses could be. The windows, too, were strange. Everything looked wavy, as if the glass was defective.
I threw down my bag of clothes. There was a bed set up in the room already, and by the looks of it, it had been in there for quite a while. The covers were neat, the pillows fluffed, but a cloud of dust billowed into the air as I sat on the bed. Gross, but tolerable, I supposed. I laughed out loud as I thought about how disgustingly awful it was.
I could hear footsteps coming to my door. They were a bit lighter, so naturally, I assumed they were Lori’s. “Lori, check this out.” I stood and went to the door, but there was nobody there.
Strange. I felt hairs sticking up on my head and my neck, and my heart started beating faster. I wouldn’t exactly say I was scared, but….
“Amanda, hey look at this!” Lori said, jumping out of her room directly to my right. The smokestack blocked most of my view of her room.
“Lori, you scared the bejeebies out of me. Is there anyone else up here?”
“I don’t know, but you gotta look at what I got in my room!”
My heart-rate slowed a bit as I entered her room. It was a lot like mine, except with pink walls instead of green. But most noticeably, there was a white pipe running from the floor to the ceiling. Lori jumped on it as if it were a fireman’s pole and attempted to climb it. She managed only a foot or two, but then slid back down. “Isn’t this awesome?”
“I wonder what it is,” I said. “Looks like some sort of plumbing.” I thought for a second. What room was directly below this one, where that pipe might have come from? Being so new to this house, it took me a second to remember that it was the bathroom. “Lori, you know what that is?”
“It’s the main pipe for the bathroom.”
“It is? Ew. Does that mean there’s poop and pee in it?”
“Sure thing. Also has farts.” I heard from Mom later that day that it was a vent stack, sometimes called a stink pipe, that carries gases from the septic system to the outside so that it doesn’t back up into the house. These pipes were usually in the walls, not jutting up from the floor in the middle of the room.
“That’s gross. I don’t think I want this room anymore.”
“Tough luck, chum. You gotta play the hand you’re dealt.”
“Huh?” she said with an exaggerated look of confusion.
“I don’t know. Just sounded good.”
I turned to leave Lori’s room but paused as I saw a dark shape walk past the door. “Lori, did you see that?” I cried. It wasn’t your regular shadow. This had more substance to it. “It was like a—”
“Ghost!” Lori screamed, finishing my sentence.
I don’t know what came over me, but before I knew it, I was rushing out into the hall to get a better look at whatever it was. There was a man walking away from me, toward that strange door to nowhere, as if he aimed to walk through it. He was dark, almost impossible to see, but I could barely make out his clothing. He was wearing one of those hats you see all the men wearing in old movies, as well as a matching suit.
And then he was gone.
I had trouble sleeping that night. This was a large adjustment for Lori and me. First of all, we were in a strange, new place, but also, and more importantly, our father was gone. Mom never told us how he died, saying it wasn’t something we should have to think about. I was to take the fact of my dad’s death as a matter of faith, that he was no longer around because he no longer existed, that he was dead. It hurt, and what was worse, I wasn’t even sure if I fully understood what death was. The fact that he wasn’t here with us anymore made me think every day and night about him, and how much I missed him.
The moonlight coming through the wavy glass of the windows created strange shadows on the walls. I lay in my bed, thinking about the meaning of life, what it meant to die, and where my dad fit into all of that.
In a way, I took Dad’s death a lot harder than Lori. I knew him better. Sometimes, she acted as if he were just a name, a faceless figure that had never actually been there.
He was dead, but did that mean he was truly gone forever?
I was at Dad’s funeral. Mom, Lori, and I stood there at the graveside as the casket was lowered into the ground. A part of me didn’t really believe he was dead. I needed proof. I needed to see for myself.
“He’s not really dead!” I screamed, rushing toward the open grave. I leapt on top of the casket and tried to pry it open, but before I could, a set of strong arms pulled me back and pushed me to the ground.
It was the man in the old-fashioned suit and hat. “Who are you?” I shouted. He only smiled in response and then disappeared.
Mom grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the group of family and friends, all of them looking at me with a mixture of disdain and sympathy. I could almost read their thoughts through those hurtful looks: I feel so sorry for that pathetic child.
I woke with a start. Nothing but moonlight greeted me as I sat up in bed. Shadows danced on the walls and across the floor, creating weird shapes across the walls. The sound of wind gusting outside made me think of The Wizard of OZ. I imagined I could look outside the window and discover that the house—or just the room I was in—was blowing away to some far-off land.
In reality, the east-facing window just above my bed showcased a large pine tree with its limbs blowing in the wind. The limbs shook ever more violently as the gusts increased.
The long grass swayed in the wind as well, but there was something else out there. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like people walking around, people in dark clothing.
I pressed my face against the glass. It was cold to the touch. Who were those people? Or were they people at all? They certainly had humanoid shapes, but I could make out what looked like wings on their backs, as well as glowing red eyes.
There were at least five of them, but less than ten. They seemed to be running about, chasing each other, then before my eyes, they seemed to multiply. Before, there were less than ten. Now, there had to be no less than several hundred, if not more.
After several minutes, they gathered in a circle around the tree. They started chanting something that sounded like a combination of animalistic screeches. It was hard to hear over the wind. I leaned closer to the window, the side of my face pressing against the cool glass.
Then the bed moved, and I slipped, knocking my head against the window. Boy, did that ever hurt. I lay on the floor for a moment. Stars danced across my vision.
I didn’t immediately get up. Something was telling me to stay down, to stay out of the sight of the window. A moment later, I realized the screeching—the chants—had stopped. My window face-plant seemed to have gotten their attention—attention I most definitely didn’t want.
And then I heard something, a tapping at the window just above my head.
I looked up and screamed.
Staring in at me was a pair of bright red eyes sunken deep within an inhuman face. I closed my eyes. Please go away, please go away. But I could hear the breathing, the tapping at the window. The thing that was out there wanted in. It wanted me.
Then I heard a cracking sound. Was the window cracking? As I looked, instead of cracks, I saw the spreading of ice across the glass.
My heart raced. What do I do? I rolled away, to the other side of the room against the wall that I shared with Lori. What I wouldn’t give to be in her room right then, to be far away from this being staring in at me.
It tapped the glass again. The ice was now gone, only having been there for a few brief moments. From my new vantage point, I saw the red eyes reflecting off the glass and back into its face. The sharp angles of its nose, the long, drawn-out knives of its teeth, its leathery skin, and the bat-like snout reminded me of some sort of vampire-like creature.
It cracked its head into the glass, and then pushed itself off the side of the house, and in the light of its glowing eyes, I could clearly make out wings measuring at least twenty feet in total span.
The gusting wind couldn’t dampen the sound of the creature’s screeches as it flew away. The others that had been standing outside appeared to fly away as well, for I could see the glow from their eyes lift into the air.
I had no curtains, no blinds. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep, especially not in this room, where there were two windows—one on the east wall and the other on the north wall—and nowhere to hide.
But somehow I did. Somehow I drifted off to sleep without even getting back onto the bed.
In the early hours of morning, just before sunrise, I was awoken by the creaking of a door, possibly the door out in the hallway, the one that led to pain and suffering, as if it were opening and closing.
And then I heard the voices, voices calling my name. “Amanda…Amanda…Let us out.”
I don’t know if I was just hearing things, letting my mind run wild. Maybe my mind was playing tricks, but why did the voices sound so real, so clear?
I could barely eat my breakfast. Picking at my pancakes, I could not gather the strength or desire to lift a single bite to my mouth. Those red eyes burned through my memory, searing my mind, ruining any semblance of appetite I may have had.
Lori seemed to be doing the same, looking as though she had some huge, foreboding weight on her shoulders, and picking at her food.
Gramma came in from the kitchen, carrying a steaming plate of sausage and hash browns. “Who wants sausage?” she said with an abnormally cheery manner. Well, not abnormal for her, I supposed. Her hair was done up in giant pink curlers, her bright red lipstick smeared messily across her lips in a way that made her resemble The Joker from Batman, and her light blue nightgown left little of what was underneath to the imagination.
I could feel the urge to throw up, to vomit all over my pancakes.
But I somehow managed to calm the urge and say, “No thanks, Gramma. I’m really not that hungry.”
“Me neither,” Lori said.
Gramma smiled, looking ever more like an insane clown, and shoveled a mixture of sausage and hash browns right on top of my uneaten pancakes. “You two should eat. You’re both too thin. Eat up.” Then she went back to the kitchen.
I couldn’t even imagine eating any more, especially not when all my food was mixed together like that. It was a bit disgusting to say the least.
“Gramma?” Lori asked as she pushed her plate away. Gramma had piled the disgusting mixture onto her pancakes as well.
“Yes, dear?” she said as she returned from the kitchen with a plate of something green and blue and possibly deadly. I breathed a sigh of relief as she sat down and started eating it without offering it to either me or Lori.
“What were those things at my window last night?”
Gramma stopped, suddenly choking on the “food” she had been shoveling into her mouth.
“Gramma, do you need me to get you something to drink?” I asked, getting up.
“No, no, dear,” she managed through several sharp coughs. Then she turned to Lori, staring at her with a worried expression, “What do you mean?” she asked even though it was obvious she knew exactly what Lori meant.
“They had glowing red eyes…and their faces looked…I don’t know, like—”
My mind flashed back to the night before, to what I saw. The red eyes. The bat-like form. “It was like a bat, a giant bat,” I finished Lori’s sentence.
Lori shivered in what looked like a mixture of disgust and dread.
So it wasn’t just a dream, a figment of my imagination. Lori had seen those creatures as well, and something about this made Gramma uncomfortable.
She knew something.
“Gramma what are they? I saw them too,” I said. “And I think they wanted me to....” I thought back to the voice I had heard in my sleep. “Amanda…Let us out.”
“They called to me too,” Lori said. “That pipe in my room, they were talking through that…and it was glowing red.”
Gramma stood, taking her plate to the kitchen and dropping it so hard in the sink that I thought for sure it would shatter. Was she crying? I couldn’t tell for sure. She had her back turned to us, but I could clearly see her shoulders moving up and down, as well as hear her sniffles.
“Gramma, are you all right?” I asked. I stood up and walked over to her. When I put a hand on her shoulder, she swiped her hand around and nearly took my head off. I ducked just in time. “Gramma? What’s going on?”
She rushed away from me, never uttering a word, ran through the dining room, into the family room, and into the bedroom just past the wood-burning stove and slammed the door.
“What’s wrong with Gramma?” Lori asked.
“I don’t know. We should leave her alone. Where’s Mom?”
I didn’t realize at the time that the answer to that question would be just as frightening as that creature at the window.
Look for the full novel, 9111 Sharp Road
Novels by Eric R.Johnston
An Inner Darkness
A Light in the Dark
Harvester: Ascension (with Andrew Utley)