The room was dusty, graceful sweeps of cobwebs decorated the ceiling and windows in ghostly garlands. Dancing, glittering motes streamed down as Kitty tiptoed through. Her wake caused more flurries of dust to rise like translucent blooming winds and it swirled around her, sneaking into her eyes and nose, tickling her throat. Kitty’s chest seized, covering her mouth, she surrendered to the fit.
The house was ancient to her twelve-year-old eyes. The decrepit, rambling Victorian with a sagging roof and missing shingles sat on the outskirts of town, near the end of Gambol Street where the pavement ended and the road became dirt. Outside, the summer evening was hastily advancing, the sky a dreamy violet and vibrant magenta. Kitty stalked silently through the house, her sneakered feet padding across softly creaking floorboards and musty carpets, rousing plumes of dust from their slumber. She passed a bank of windows, the glass broken and jagged. Shining pieces lay on the floor, catching the last bits of sunlight. A breeze stirred the sun bleached curtains; the moth eaten lace lunged for her. Squeaking with surprise, Kitty jerked away, skittering out of reach.
She found the staircase, her first goal accomplished and with a racing heart, she ascended, her hand gliding on the grimy railing. The steps moaned under her weight and she passed through curtains of cobwebs. Strands of the webs stuck to her face and arms, getting into her mouth and snagging in her eyelashes. She ignored the rising disgust and tried to rid herself of the silvery threads but they refused to be dislodged, nestling in around her neck and graying her ponytail. Cold fear tingled through her, raising goose bumps on her skin as she remembered stories she heard of this house and its occupant. Stories that inspired her derision, they weren’t so funny now.
The house had been abandoned long before Kitty was born, and from the questions she had pestered her parents with, it was empty before their time as well.
According to the stories told, the house had been home to the wealthy Markham family; their sole child was a daughter of great beauty and therefore had been widely courted. It was not a young, dashing heir that had captured Isabella Markham’s heart but the lowly clerk in her father’s store. They had made a pact to elope but on the night of their meeting, Isabella was left standing alone in the dark forest on the edge of town. The next morning, riddled with anger and despair, the heiress discovered her love had abandoned her. She had hung herself from the rafters of her bedroom. Still, Isabella was believed to roam the halls of the house. Kitty skepticism had spurred the dare. A dare that brought her inside the house.
She reached the landing, finding it dark. A murky twilight filtered in through the dirty windows. Kitty put a hand to the wall to help guide her down the hallway and to the bedroom. It was there that she was to go to the window and wave down to her waiting friends. She opened the door. The hinges protested, warning her with a rusty symphony.
The bedroom was a ghost of a once beautiful chamber. The walls were yellowed and smeared with some brown substance, dingy landscape paintings hung askew. Kitty stepped forward on the faded rug, intent on the two windows covered in moth eaten lace. The bed, a dark wooden, four poster creation with velvet hangings lay to her right. Something moved in her periphery and Kitty cried out, jumping. Her grimy hands went to her mouth and her heart thundered in her throat. She couldn’t see much past the foot of the bed, only shadows but something had moved.
As she slowly advanced, her eyes darting to the bed every other step, Kitty found herself wondering if the story was true. Something was there; she could feel its eyes on her, an icy fire danced along her skin. Kitty could hear nothing but the sound of her heart beating within her and sweat beaded along her brow, rolling down her face and leaving tracks in the grime she had acquired in her trespass. She wiped at her skin as the sweat stung her eyes. More than anything, Kitty wanted to complete her task and flee.
Kitty emitted a strangled shriek as the mattress springs groaned. She abandoned the dare, not caring whether she’d be branded a coward and bolted for the door. Freedom was only feet away when something yanked her back with violent force. The breath was knocked from her and her vision grayed, marred by bright, dancing sparks as her head hit the solid floor. She blinked rapidly, trying to regain her sight and wished she hadn’t when a face appeared over her.
Leathery skin was stretched taut over sharp bones. Hollowed eyes bored into her, deep darkness that held the glittering fire of life and intelligence in their centers. It grinned at her, sharp, jagged yellow teeth bared. Thin, ghostly wisps of gray hair clung to its skull, falling like cobwebs around the weathered visage. They tickled at Kitty’s nose as the creature knelt over her. She gagged, the smell wafting from it was foul, a dry mustiness combined with a deep earthiness.
Kitty opened her mouth to scream, help was only feet below her, but the creature’s hands wound about her throat. It squeezed and fire erupted along the skin of Kitty’s neck. She struggled, trying to escape but the creature slid atop her, pinning her firmly to floor. As the pressure turned into pain, Kitty’s vision waned, blackness encroached, narrowing her sight. It leaned in, closing the distance between them until the creature’s face was only inches above her. The creature began to lose tangibility, blurring around the edges. At first Kitty believed it was due to her failing sight but as she watched, helpless and terrified, she discovered that the creature was actually disappearing. The pressure eased and Kitty gulped in the musty air, the creature smiled, becoming evanescent as Kitty breathed it in.
It had been ages; decades even, since she had last ate. Her ancient body had thirsted beyond sanity for a vessel. Too long had she waited, and she had feared that the house she had been summoned into would be forever her crypt. How nice it was that such a foolish child had strode into her lair. She felt Kitty’s soul, her consciousness battle against oblivion as she overtook the child’s body. Possession was never a comfortable transition. She thrust the squirming soul back into the darkness of the subconscious and locked Kitty away.
She strode out of the room, the promise of freedom thrumming through her veins. Even though she knew that her time was already fleeing, could feel it tugging like a river’s persistent current, she was nonetheless eager to be once more about the cattle. She had only the vessel for protection; once the body was gone she’d be dragged back to this house. It had been Isabella’s ineptitude at dark magic that had created the curse and sealed her in the house unless she had a human host. For a decade, she had lived as Isabella Markham, had murdered the girl’s parents and roamed the country feasting upon flesh until she had been caught and killed.
She’d be careful this time, she promised herself. This body was young and she had decades of life she could live. The vow, a moment before made of iron resolve, wavered as Kitty opened the door and walked out into the dreamy purple haze of the summer twilight. Two children stood there, faces mirror images of anxiety. She grinned, her stomach growling.
“You were supposed to wave,” the boy said. Kitty tapped into the well of memories and pulled forth a name. Bobby.
“I got distracted. It’s scary up there,” Kitty said, laughing. Bobby’s face paled as she took a step toward him. He backed away.
“You lost the dare.”
“Fine by me,” Kitty said. “I want to go home.”
She turned away and began walking up the long dirt driveway. She heard the girl, Mina, race to catch up, her sneakered feet crunching on the loose pebbles hidden just under the soil.
“I think it should count that you went in at all,” Mina said, matching Kitty’s stride.
“I’m just glad to be out of that house,” Kitty said as they turned, reaching the mouth of the long drive, their feet scuffing plumes of dirt along the rural road.
Kitty knew she’d have to be careful out in the world; too easily would it be for her to be frivolous with her chance at freedom, especially when there were so many warm bodies to tempt her and she was so hungry. She grasped Mina’s hand in hers, relishing the feel of the girl’s pulse. Kitty grinned; perhaps she’d have a snack before going home to her loving parents.