By Michael Bray
It was supposed to be a fresh start, a place for Steve & Melody Samson to start their new life together away from the noise and crime of the city. However, their new home – an idyllic cottage nestled deep within the dense solitude of Oakwell Forest has a disturbing history, hidden for generations by the local villagers, who are desperate to keep their sleepy town free from potential media attention. As Steve and Melody begin to notice the strange and bizarre things that are happening to them, they begin to unravel the complex web of lies and deceit perpetrated by the locals.
Told both in a modern day narrative and flashbacks to the Buildings construction in the 1800s, we learn of the terrible things that reside within Hope House, and the reasons for the history of murder, suicide and insanity for the previous owners of the house.
As Steve and Melody delve ever deeper, they are plagued not only the malevolent forces that reside within the house, but also the very real attention of the increasingly unstable realtor Donovan, who has horrific secrets of his own that he will go to any lengths to keep a secret.
Copyright © Michael Bray 2013
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THE SMELL OF DEATH hung heavy in the morning air. The child ran through the forest, snatching quick glances over her shoulder as the Gogoku elder followed, crashing through the undergrowth in pursuit. She veered to the left, ducking under a gnarled, overhanging branch, and hopped over a protruding root as she tried to put some distance between herself and the elder. Her bare feet were bleeding, but in her fear, the child barely noticed. Her only concern was her pursuer, and ensuring that he didn’t catch her. She angled back towards the village, her instincts driving her back toward her home, even though she knew it was now a place for the dead. The elder was closer now; she could hear him grunting as he drew closer. She snatched another quick look over her shoulder, and as she did, her foot twisted under her, sending her sprawling to the ground. The pain from her twisted ankle was explosive, and although the child tried to scramble to her feet, it was too late.
He had found her.
The Gogoku elder stood above her, breathing heavily, and streaked with the blood of his fellow people. His eyes glared with fury from behind his painted face. The frightened child scrambled backwards, for the time being, the agonising pain in her ankle forgotten, her eyes were instead fixated on the spiked club held in the muscular Elder’s hand, which was matted with sinewy clumps of flesh and slick with blood.
He followed her gaze and unleashed a bloody grin, his yellowed teeth filed to points as was customary for Gogoku elders. They were supposed to be the village protectors, guardians and hunters, but something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. A shallow breeze pushed through the trees and the elder blinked, casting his eyes to the dense canopy, his brow furrowed as he listened.
The child also looked, the fear within her for the time being replaced with curiosity at the absolute silence which had fallen over the forest. She glanced back to the elder, her brown eyes full of fear, horror and betrayal. The elder looked back, and smiled.
He had done as they had asked of him, and now all apart from this one child were now dead. Another breeze moved the trees, and this time, both child and Elder heard it. The trembling child closed her eyes and waited, as the elder reared back and brought the club down hard with a guttural roar of rage.
THE HOUSE WAS CALLED Hope, and Melody loved it as soon as she saw it. She threw her arms around Steve’s neck, in the way she always did when there was something she really, really wanted. He smiled awkwardly as she released her grip and grinned at him.
“It’s perfect. It’s exactly what we were looking for,” she said, turning back towards the building.
Steve was not convinced. He wrinkled his nose, and gave the place a cautious once-over. The agents had said the house was early eighteenth century, and to Steve, it appeared that it hadn’t been repaired or renovated since. It stood like a faded white slab against a backdrop of orange and brown autumn leaves, which had left the surrounding trees looking bare and gnarled. The house looked tired and grubby, and Steve wondered when it was last given a bit of TLC..
The single lane private road which led to the house snaked through the trees, and as it winded its way deeper into the depths of Oakwell Forest, it narrowed so that eventually the overhanging canopy was close enough to brush against the roof of their blue Passat.
As they neared their destination, the road had opened up and gave into a driveway of sorts, which in turn opened to the front yard area of the property.
The house was set a little further back behind an overgrown garden abundant with weeds, which like the house itself looked tired, unloved, and in some way forgotten. At the periphery of where the forest and the boundaries of their property began stood a rickety awning which was somehow still standing despite its dilapidated appearance. A sign hung limply from its underside and bore just a singular word carved in an old, swirling script.
Steve’s hope—as he eyed the sagging, patchy roof and rotten window frames—was that it wouldn’t cost a fortune to cover the repairs and to keep the place warm in the winter months— if they decided to make an offer on it at all. He supposed he could do a lot of the work himself, but by the state of apparent disrepair (evident even from some distance away), he could see it being more trouble than it was worth and perhaps now understood why the asking price had been so low.
A gust of wind made the trees whisper in unison, and he shuddered involuntarily. It was certainly a unique selling point— a house in the middle of the forest— but as a city boy through and through he wasn’t quite sure that he was ready to make such a huge leap from the concrete jungle to the literal one. The trees continued to sway in unison, leaving mottles of diffused mid-morning sunlight skittering across the ground. Melody turned to Steve and grinned, and he knew then by the excitement which shone in her eyes that he would be fighting an uphill battle to talk her out of making an offer on the place right there on the spot. He felt a pang of discomfort, a strange unease that stirred him as he looked beyond the house at the dense tangle of oaks and birches, which seemed to stretch ever upwards in their quest for sunlight. He suddenly felt very small and insignificant.
The Estate agent, a greasy, bird-like fellow by the name of Donovan saw Steve’s discomfort and with the graceful ease of a serpent, slithered his way over and leaned in close, invading Steve’s personal space.
“Don’t worry about the trees. They just take a bit of getting used to,” he said, nodding towards where Steve was staring, “The last couple who lived here were in this house for many happy years before they decided to sell up and move to Australia.” He flashed his wide, salesman grin.
Steve didn’t like Donovan, and only hid his contempt for the horrible little man for the sake of Melody, who he loved more than anything. He chose not to respond for fear of putting the gangly idiot in his place, and without missing a beat; Donovan saw this as his signal to continue his pitch.
“It has everything a young couple could need, Mr. Samson. And of course, needless to say you won’t have any noise from the neighbours”
Donovan said it with a chuckle, which he quickly killed when he saw that Steve wasn’t joining in. He cleared his throat and reverted to what he knew, which appeared to be grinning at Steve with a mouth which seemed to contain too many teeth. Melody called out from behind the house; her disembodied voice carried on the wind towards them.
“Steve, come take a look at this.” She yelled excitedly.
Donovan rolled his eyes in a clumsy attempt to build some rapport. Two guys together, best pals to the end. Steve's disdain for the man grew a little more as he walked towards the back of the house to look for his wife.
The rear of the house was bathed in blazing sunshine, causing him to squint as he rounded the corner. Donovan had produced some cheap looking sunglasses from the pocket of his even cheaper looking suit, which only served to add to the general ridiculousness of his appearance. Steve saw the reason for Melody’s excitement and felt a dull gnawing in his gut which he couldn’t quite explain. Maybe it was just anxiety or the fact that he was out of his comfort zone. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Melody would have laughed at him and called it the heebie jeebies, which was as good a description as any that he could muster up. Although he hadn’t been able to tell as they approached by car due to the impenetrable density of the trees, it was now clear that Hope House sat on the lip of a gentle sloping hill. The back of the house led on to a long, narrow garden at the end of which was a wide, gently flowing stream which cut directly across the bottom of the boundary to the property. The view from the house was stunning, giving the three of them a beautiful panorama of the immense forest which seemed to have swallowed the house some years ago as it had spread outwards. Steve was not one to be easily impressed, but even he couldn’t help but draw breath at the view.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Donovan said as he removed his idiotic sunglasses and slipped them into his breast pocket. Steve chose not to reply, but Melody could barely contain herself.
“I love it!” she said, as Donovan flashed his salesman’s grin at her. Steve also noticed that their slimy host helped himself to a quick glance at her chest before continuing with his pitch.
“Your wife has impeccable taste Mr. Samson,” Donovan said around the grin that seemed glued to his face.
And lovely tits,
Steve imagined the smarmy salesman adding, but Donovan said nothing. Instead, he helped himself to a second lingering glance at Melody’s tight T-shirt.
“We haven’t even seen the inside of the house yet.” Steve said, for the time being, content to ignore Donovan’s ogling.
“It will be perfect. I just know it!” Melody said over her shoulder as she walked down the garden towards the stream for a closer look.
“You hear that Steve," said Donovan, clapping his hands together. “It seems your lovely wife approves.”
Steve nodded, noting that Donovan seemed to think they had now switched to first-name terms.
He smells the sale. Steve thought to himself as he watched his wife explore the garden. He had a sudden desire to take her in his arms and hold her close. To protect her from— from what? Donovan? No. Donovan was an asshole all right, but he was harmless and certainly not Melody’s type. He couldn’t place it but something bristled within him to shield her, to protect her. He watched as she brushed her hair away from her face, and he knew without doubt that she wanted the house, and if that was the case, he would go with it. Not because she would kick up a fuss if he didn’t—he knew that she wouldn’t force him into the decision—he would agree to it because she wanted it more than anything, and if he could give her something that made her so happy, then he would do it without question. As if reading Steve’s thoughts, Donovan leaned close.
“How about we go and see the rest of the house and fill out some paperwork?” he said smugly, walking away before Steve could protest.
Steve glanced up at the house and couldn’t shake the feeling that it was watching him. Shrugging it off, he waited for Melody to join him. Then arm in arm they followed Donovan as he led them to see the inside of the house.
September 16th, 1813
WIND AND RAIN HAD been assaulting Hope House all afternoon and into the evening. The fire was now no more than softly glowing embers in the huge stone hearth, and although it was cold, the man still did not move. Upstairs his wife toiled with the pains of childbearing. He could hear her calling to him to attend her in her need, and yet he didn’t move.
He was a good man and proud, and knew that he should be assisting her in her time of need, but he couldn’t. Not yet. The man scratched his orange beard with a massive, calloused hand and tried to block out the screams of his wife, who he loved dearly.
He listened instead to the other sound, the one that was subtle; carried on the edge of the wind, and relayed by the house as it swayed and creaked and moaned.
It was speaking to him.
He had not been certain at first, but the longer his hearing attuned itself to those subtle creaks and whispers, the more he understood. Sometimes the words were soothing and sweet and loving and kept him company as he cut wood for the fire. But on other occasions, like today the whispers were cruel and dark, saying things which were twisted and frighteningly explicit.
His wife screamed for him again, and he knew that he should go to her, and he would—just as soon as he had heard what the house was trying to tell him.
He felt a sharp stab of rage towards her for her incessant screams, which made the task of listening to those subtle voices harder even than it was before. Concentrating all of his efforts on blocking out all but the noise of the house, he began to hear snatches of words as he sat in the rocker by the fire. Words that told him what he needed to do.
More screams rolled from the upstairs bedroom, and his half lidded eyes flicked to the staircase. He concentrated all of his efforts into listening to those words but his concentration was repeatedly broken by the noise from upstairs. Anger surged through him, and the whispers of the house encouraged him and coaxed him, telling him what to do and how to do it. And he nodded, for they were right. He would be able to hear them better if his wife would silence her screams.
Even though he was a big man, he was very quiet, any noise that he made masked by the raging storm as it barraged the house.
Still the voices spoke, soothed, and coaxed him. They told him that they could speak to him more clearly if only they could make themselves heard.
As if to prove their point, a second sound had joined his wife’s from upstairs, this time the cries of their newborn child. He shook his head, wondering how he could ever hear himself think when he was constantly surrounded with such noise.
Encouraged by the whispers, he moved to the staircase, pausing only to pick up his axe. He had freshly sharpened it earlier in the day, and was sure that it would do the job of at least affording him a little quiet time to allow him to decipher those secret whispers of the house. He quietly ascended the stairs as the storm raged and the house continued to whisper and creak in the wind.
Michael Bray is a Horror author based in Leeds, England. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, and the trashy pulp TV shows like Tales From The Crypt & The Twilight Zone, he started to work on his own fiction, and spent many years developing his style. After completing his debut novel in May 2012, he signed a deal with the highly reputable Dark Hall Press to print and distribute the book, which was released in September 2012.
A brand new anthology titled FUNHOUSE is scheduled for a 2013 release.