Willow Grove 

November, 1980

First, there were the letters. No identification, no stamp. The content inside was a single sheet of stark white paper and a single line which said, ‘Own up before it’s too late.’ 

Taking it as a prank by the neighborhood kids, Drake would tear them into shreds and toss them into the trash bin.

And then, the spate of harassment began. The letters wouldn’t stop. As much as he ignored them, they arrived daily. The same single line, in every letter. The houses here in Willow Grove were few and far between. Taking angry strides while fuming at the letter in hand, he faced the desolate, winding road in front of his gate, hurling abuses at no one in particular.

He didn’t dare go to the authorities, for fear that they would in turn, question him and dig up his past to see what he was supposed to ‘own up’ to. The letters were always hand delivered and that was worrying. 

Returning to this country after decades, buying a house in Willow Grove… proved to be a jinx after all! Who knows me here? Why would anyone send me these letters?

He decided to skip town and stay at his parents’ for a few days, in the hope that these pranksters would stop haranguing him.

****

On a late evening, the ride to Kingsthorpe house a few miles away, was hardly uneventful. Bad luck seemed to follow him everywhere. As he neared his destination, his car swerved on the road, slick with sleet and ice. Running aground, the wheels lodged in mounds of deep snow and they wouldn’t yield. Cursing his ill luck, he thought it wise to leave his car behind, walk the remaining short distance to the house and get it picked up in the morning. 

While trudging in the ankle deep snow, a thick fog rolled out of nowhere. Drake squinted his eyes but all he saw were silhouettes of bare trees. Taking cautious steps, he wrapped his arms around himself and regretted getting out of the heated interiors of his car. He got to a fork in the road and wasn’t really sure which one to take, with visibility limited to a close range. 

The signboards too were missing! 

The fog draped him in swirls and tendrils. It seemed to nudge him forward and his feet moved as if led by an unseen force. He couldn’t see clearly through the wall of heavy, white haze.

Walking through the snow-blanketed trees,  he spotted an open glade. And there was the house, a ginormous structure of three stories. The outline rose before him, grim and formidable. He couldn’t wait to rush inside, out of the biting cold. He was certain that he would turn into a block of ice himself if he didn’t find warmth soon.

His feet cold and wet, his breath steaming in the frosty air, he shivered uncontrollably. The keys didn’t work at first. His fingers were almost stiff from the cold. With trembling hands, he tried again. No luck! 

Coming here was a mistake! What a worthless piece of junk I’ve inherited! Swearing in exasperation, he kicked the door. His eyes widened as the door swung inward, effortlessly. He entered the foyer and reached for the light switch on the left wall. There wasn’t any! 

What on earth! Had they made some changes here? Where is the darn light switch!

Groping about for the light switch in the semi darkness with only a watered down moonlight streaming in, he finally found it! The hallway was finally bathed in bright light. He gasped in horror! This wasn’t his parents’ house! 

I must have taken that wrong fork in the road. Why did all these ancestral manors look similar on the outside? No wonder the key to the door didn’t work! This house looks vaguely familiar though… Have I been here before?…

The room was bare of any furniture except for a faded red, high backed leather chair and a footstool in front of the fireplace. The walls were devoid of any photographs and he couldn’t exactly place how and why he found this place familiar. 

I need to get out of here fast…

But with the icy weather outside, he had second thoughts and common sense prevailed that his chances of survival were better in here. Might as well make myself at home…

Luckily, everything he needed to get the fireplace working was well stocked. Soon, he had a roaring fire going and he basked in the welcoming, toasty warmth. 

Exploring the house, he found the kitchen. On opening the cabinets for a much needed hot cocoa or a spot of tea, he found it bare of even basic essentials. Not surprising, since the house didn’t look like it was lived in for ages now. The doors to all the rooms were open. The  yawning darkness inside and the creaking floorboards gave him the creeps. Resignedly, he made his way back to the hall and sat in front of the fireplace. No sooner had he stretched his legs on the footstool, than he found a folded piece of paper on it. It looked quite fresh and new in this otherwise abandoned and empty house!

Going pale, he choked on his terrified scream and no sound escaped his throat. In dark ink and in an aggressive handwriting, “OWN UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE” was thundering at him as if it was the very last warning. 

Momentarily paralysed, it seemed like ages before his reflexes kicked in. He dashed for the front door. The door which was unlocked and barely on its hinges a while ago, wouldn’t budge an inch! The windows too had sealed themselves shut. 

Gasping and nearly going out of his mind, his eyes darted in a frenzy in the eerie silence. There was no sound except for the thudding of his own heartbeat. Suddenly, he jumped out of his skin and swore, clutching at his heart as a telephone started ringing. It sounded as if it came from one of the floors  above.

Taking shallow breaths, he made his way up the swirling staircase to the third floor, following the shrill, echoing sound. As he gingerly placed his hand on the door, it creaked open and a draft of musty air hit his nostrils. Running his fingers along the walls for a light switch, he finally found one. This windowless room seemed to be a storeroom. The ringing emanated from a corner. There is the blasted thing, ringing! Why on earth is a telephone in good order, in the storeroom?! Who could be calling a number of an unoccupied house?

He answered it hesitatingly. Silence! As soon as he slammed it down in annoyance, it rang again. This time, he was hysterical as he answered. 

“Own up before it’s too late!” A voice chanted hauntingly in the background. It stirred a distant memory…

This voice…How could it be her? Amanda…?! No!

A sudden realization dawned on him. This is it! This is Amanda’s house! He had been here once…They went to the same college…and then… 

And then this quiet hometown was abuzz with the news of Amanda having gone missing and her mangled body was found over the cliff on the craggy boulders below. The post mortem reports had declared it as a violation and a foul play. Her bereaved family had relocated after several failed trials and court cases and nobody knew where.

The telephone was insistent on ringing. It sounded unusually high in volume this time. Drake clamped his ears to block out the ear-splitting noise. High-strung, he lifted the phone off the shelf to smash it to the floor only to realize that the wires were dangling off it! Even before he could react, the chanting was now in the room…behind him! 

Drake turned around to see a thick wall of fog barricading the doorway. What was happening! The fog approached him menacingly and he took a few hurried steps back, stumbling on the clutter on the floor.

As he steadied himself, a faint, wispy outline of Amanda took shape in the swirling mist! Eyes popping out in horror, Drake clutched at air as the rotting floorboards gave way. His blood-curdling shrieks went unheard as he hurtled three stories down into the basement. 

His neck snapped like a dry twig and there was a sickening crunch of his skull and bones as he hit the concrete floor.

Amanda hadn’t seen it coming either when he had committed the heinous crime and had thrown her over the cliff even when there was a sign of a pulse inside her…

                                                                                  *******

Pic Courtesy: Pixabay

 

 

 


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