“She thought it would be a fresh start for both of them.”
This is an EXCERPT from Lot 149, a paranormal story about Keira, a recently divorced woman who purchases a decaying old farmhouse with a spectacular history. When Keira and her son Tad, and their Rottweiler Zeus move into the farmhouse, strange things begin to happen. In this excerpt, Keira discovers some of the downfalls of rural bathrooms and plumbing.
Morning sunlight filled the house, pushing shadows back into the corners. Last night seemed unreal – it was nerves, that’s all it was. Adjusting to a new place sometimes plays tricks with your mind.
Her hair tucked up in a bandana and ponytail and armed with her box of cleaning supplies, Keira opened the bathroom door.
Pink bathroom fixtures, all coated under a thick layer of grime. Everything screamed update. She smiled at the Victorian clawfoot tub, with a little refinishing, it’d be a real showcase.
But right now, clean was all she could hope for.
Wadding up paper towels, Keira shot spray cleaner at the tub and scrubbed, coughing at harsh chemical smells. Years of grime were slowly scoured away, she sprayed, and scrubbed, and sprayed again, tossing used paper towels into the black garbage bag.
Still not perfect, but a heck of a lot better. Standing up, she stretched her aching back, and turned toward the toilet.
A black lump sat in the bowl, half buried in the water. It looked furry.
Her stomach dropped, suddenly imagining the dog inside the toilet. Panic struck, her mind seized on her black and tan dog suddenly dead, drowned, and his cramped body twisted around ceramic. But that’s impossible, she thought, and leaning forward, prodded the lump with the toilet brush.
Black feathers jutted upward, a crumpled body rolled slowly inside the ceramic bowl, broad beak still submerged beneath the water.
She stared at it. A crow. Its broken wing feathers stretched upward.
Glancing at the torn screen on the bathroom window, Keira guessed it must of got it somehow, and gotten trapped. Drowned while trying to drink or something.
Nagging thoughts pulled at her. But why didn’t she or the real estate agent see it before?
Wrapping both hands in a black garbage bag, Keira reached for it, shocked by sudden coolness against her fingers as water pressed against the plastic. Grasping the bird, she lifted the broken body, water poured off in streams and fell back into the toilet.
Suddenly she knew – the thought struck her, she knew, her mind filled with the image of a dark bird in flight, careening around the tiny room, smashing itself against the mirror and window, battering itself to death.
It died here. And there were others.
The thought rang through her head with absolute certainty – there were others. Many of them.
She stared down at the body still held in her hands, its head lolling sideways, glossy feathers now faded and waterlogged; and waited, as though it would come back to life, twisting and cawing, struggling to break free of her grasp.
She didn’t know how long she stood there, waiting expectantly until the sharp bark of the dog shook her from her thoughts.
Keira glanced out the window, and smiled at Tad and Zeus racing across the fields, then looked back down at the bundle in her hands. She was surprised at how light it was, and hurriedly twisted the bag around the crow, tying it into a knot.
Shaking her head, she walked out of the bathroom, cradling the black bundle in her arms. She’d have to put it out with the trash.
Stepping outside, Keira squinted in the sunlight, looking for Tad. She didn’t want him to see the black bag and start asking questions.
A sharp bark rang out, followed by Tad’s laughter, muffled in the distance. Good. As long as he was out of the way for this –
Keira opened the door to the garden shed, and recoiled from the stench. Garbage, rotten in the heat, the sweet sickly odour of decay and maggots.
She circled around a black bag left lying on the floor, its plastic sides inflated softly as toxic gases were trapped inside. A colony of maggots scurried beneath it, suddenly exposed to bright sunlight, the fled to darker corners.
Her stomach rolling, Keira reached toward the nearest garbage can, and hesitated. Unsure as to what she’d find there.
Maggots, and garbage, sure but –
Pasty skin, sunken on a bony face flashed through her mind – doughy flesh hanging loose, sagging over dark eye sockets – and that smile, when it smiled, it revealed blackened teeth ground to bloody stumps. She could feel the evil coming off it in waves, a presence reaching for her –
“Hey Mommy, where are you?” Tad’s voice broke through her thoughts.
Crap. Gotta hurry.
Hastily, she lifted the lid of the garbage can in midair, and paused still holding the black bag. Stared at it, her mind drifting.
Suddenly, the bag twisted around itself, fluttering, and became a feathered body, held in her hands and coming to life. Heart pounding beneath her fingertips. The scene shifted to back inside the bathroom, the bird flapping around and striking glass and mirror, cawing riotously, before crashing through the window screen and soaring over the fields and into the forests beyond.
“Hey Mommy, when’s lunch?” Tad called across the yard. “I’m starving!”
“Uh,” blinking, Keira shut the lid on the garbage can, “I’ll have something ready in about ten minutes, sweetie. Tuna sandwiches OK?”
What the heck was in that bathroom cleaner, she wondered, and headed back into the house.
Balancing precariously on a chair, Keira pushed open the attic hatch. A shower of dust fell down, covering her arms and shoulders. Inside the attic, a grey haze floated in the gloom.
At least it was daytime; faint sunlight crept through the attic window, burying everything in a soft fog. Taking a deep breath, Keira popped her head through the attic hatch. Dust and cobwebs covered the floor, thick enough to be a greyish snowfall. Cardboard boxes sat stacked in corners, some burst open, crumpled newspaper spilled out.
Cobwebs spanned floor to ceiling, burying wooden beams under grey mist. Cobwebs and dust, that’s it, she said to herself. Nothing to be afraid of.
Poking her head in further, she froze. She felt watched, as though disturbing something. Or someone. An animal on alert.
An image flashed through her head; a picture from Tad’s bug books, only bigger than ever thought possible – eight furry legs, each ending in a claw. Pincer-jaws.
She’d heard stories of venomous spiders nesting in abandoned homes. Black widow and brown recluse. Tad had pictures of them in his bug books, brown furry bodies and swollen red abdomens. One bite –
She ducked down, slamming the attic hatch.
Tad stood waiting beside the chair; his earnest face staring up at her. Keira forced a smile, “OK Tad, time to go outside.”
From overhead, she thought she heard scuffling.
They walked to the edge of the property; deep ditches filled with daylilies lined the gravel road. Late afternoon sunlight angled through overhanging apple trees, backlighting the wildflowers. Everything seemed sharper, crisper.
Keira breathed deeply. Fresh country air. Clichéd, but true.
She squeezed Tad’s hand and pointed at the wildflowers. “Look honey, when I was a little girl I used to pick those. Lilies and Queen Anne’s Lace. I’d pretend I was a princess with a bouquet of flowers.” She didn’t mention she used to play wedding too, a bride marching down the aisle; she knew where that one ended up.
Tad inched down the slope, picking orange flowers while Zeus plodded behind him. Keira smiled watching the boy and his dog – that’s why she’s moving here. Fresh air, fresh start. Following her dream. And if the house has some quirks, she can deal with it.
She checked her phone. Good, she got a signal here. She called the agent and left a voicemail describing the noises at night, weird sounds from the basement and attic. Did not say she was scared.
Tad wandered through the flowers, picking sweet peas and white daisies. She tickled Tad under the chin with a buttercup and played “She loves me, she loves me not,” with the daisies.
Tad cheered with a yellow stump in his hand, “She loves me!”
Impulsively, Keira wrapped her arms around him, “Yes sweetie, I do. I love you sooo much.”
He wriggled out of her grasp. “Look Mommy, a praying mantis.”
Her phone beeped. Text message from the agent, with a contact for an exterminator.
Coughing, Keira struggled to pry open a window, screeching wood on wood and scattering paint chips across the floor.
Maybe she went overboard with the bug spray – ushering Tad and the dog outside while she blasted each room, paper dust mask dripping with sweat as she sprayed floorboards. Time to air the place out. She left the windows open, tattered screens hopefully stopping more bugs from entering.
It was almost done. Days of scrubbing and mopping, grey sweat dripping down her back while she power-cleaned. If only their furniture would arrive soon, the place would feel more like home. Her footsteps echoed off bare walls.
Keira rubbed her greasy hair. The pony tail and bandana weren’t helping. Time for a shower, and get the grime and bug spray off her.
Cautiously stepping into the bathroom, she peered into the toilet. Nothing but clean.
The pink toilet and sink shone dully, red rust stains blossomed around the drains. Add buy stain remover to her list of stuff to do. And eventually hire a contractor to replace them. Now, with a bit of work the tub could be nice; an old Victorian clawfoot, a huge soaker tub, scrubbed clean, but still grimy looking.
Keira rubbed her stiff shoulders. No matter, a bath would be perfect.
She turned on the faucet, and waited for the tub to fill; staring at herself in the mirror, dark streaks of grime stared back. This house was a lot of work, that’s for sure.
Movement at the window caught her eye.
A fly circled lazily, bumping against the screen.
It buzzed – sounding irritated. She waited for it to fly off.
Must have short memory, it kept bumping, trying to get in.
It was joined by another. Then another. And another.
Now a cluster of flies circled lazily, bumping against the screen again and again; the droning grew louder. A couple flies crawled over the mesh, their antenna probing. Dumb creatures, seeking something.
She slammed the window shut and pulled the curtains closed. Enough of that.
Keira turned toward the tub and her stomach dropped. Sagging against the sink, she felt the blood rush from her head, and stood, wavering. Don’t faint, don’t faint.
Red water poured from the bathtub faucet. Red.
The water was red.
Not orangey rust-coloured. Red. Like blood.
The water slowed to a thick sludge, slimy chunks spattering into the tub and splashing crimson against the edges of the bath. Like clots of blood, vicious fluid still pulsating –
Keira held her breath. This can’t be happening.
Then, almost imperceptibly, the water turned clear.
Water inside the tub slowly changed to faded pink. Like it never happened, save for a few reddish lumps slowly sinking to the bottom.
Keira reached over and grabbed the chain on the tub stopper, yanking hard. The stopper flew out, and water spiraled in the tub. She twisted the taps, hard.
The water stopped. Keira stood staring as faded streaks of crimson swirled down the drain.
— END OF EXCERPT
Liz McAdams is a short, sharp, writer living in the wilds of Canada who spends far too much time in creepy old houses. We have another excerpt from Lot 149 over here, where Kiera and the exterminator go into the basement.
Liz’s work appears in the usual places, including Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama and Shotgun Honey. You can check her out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/