“This is your last chance. You can still back out.” James shook my hands in farewell, but held on, reluctant to leave. The advice was well meant but I could detect the hidden fear in the words. I shook my head.
“Are you scared? I am too, a little bit. This seems different from our usual haunts. But I have to do this. It is time the world knew the truth.” It was always better to color your materialistic purpose with shades of altruism. The audience lapped it up.
James nodded. “OK. I will leave you here then. I will be back after 48 hours. Try not to prove the rumors true.” He finally let go of my hand. I tried to smile to allay his fears, but I couldn’t. Instead, I pulled him into a hug, something I hadn’t done ever before in our more than a decade of partnership. He was probably as surprised at the unexpected gesture as I was.
“Call Lily and let her know you dropped me safely. She would have come with us but Angela is sick. I don’t want her to worry about two instead of one.” I asked him to inform my wife. We were almost a family. James was as close to Lily as he was to me and sometimes I wondered if Angela actually liked her godfather more than her father. He spoiled her rotten. He could afford to. With no wife or girlfriend, he had all the time in the world.
I climbed the few stairs to the entrance of the Hotel Matusita with barely veiled excitement. Would this hotel prove to be what it was rumored to be?
Hotel Matusita or Le Casa de Matusita, was reportedly one of the most haunted buildings in the whole of South America. Its grisly past was replete with tales of horrendous murders and inexplicable suicides, and the present was coloured with fear, distrust and unnerving tales of screams in the night and the undead walking its cursed hallways at all times of day. The perfect location for roping in the audience of our haunted houses podcast, Chills and Thrills.
James and I had been delivering the said goods successfully for almost five years. However, the home country had exhausted its list of scary places. After all, there are only so many haunted places in the USA, even if it was the greatest country on earth and interest in the podcasts had been flagging in recent times. James had hit upon the brilliant idea of doing a tour of other countries and featuring their most haunted places. We had begun with Mexico and kept heading south. Lima, Peru seemed to call us with its grand claims about the Casa Matusita and here we stood presently.
What we learnt about the place was enough to unnerve us. The building stood before us flamboyantly, its yellow walls screaming for attention. The residents ignored it to the best of their capacity. Of the two floors, the ground floor was innocent enough but the second floor was a hotbed of the macabre. No one set foot into the premises. No one with sense, at least.
The last person to enter the building had been a journalist, who had boasted he could stay within the house for a week. He had run out into the streets, screaming and out of his senses, after four hours. Just four f***** hours. Made you wonder, didn’t it? He spent two years in an asylum and later claimed he hadn’t ever entered the building.
It was cursed! Literally cursed.
The woman who cursed the site of the building for eternity had been burnt right there for practicing witchcraft. Though she died claiming her innocence, her curse lingered on.
A houseful of guests went mad and ripped each other to shreds in that same house in one of the earliest tragedies it had witnessed. The servants who, in a bid to get revenge had mixed hallucinogens in the dishes, later hanged themselves to escape the repercussions of their dastardly act.
The house was later inhabited by a Japanese family which set up a business there. The businessman came home early one day and discovered the infidelity of his wife. In a fit of rage he shot the erring couple, killed his two kids, then turned the gun on himself.
It was almost as if the house instigated its residents to commit unspeakable and violent crimes! It would make for a great story.
I hauled the camera, recorder and the other necessary gear inside after James left. A sleeping bag, a folding table and chair and a gas stove made up my meager belongings. I was to set up the first floor as a makeshift center. However, the house needed a proper round of cleaning before anything could be attempted in that dust laden interior.
I dropped my things in a corner and went in search of a broom. Dust covered the floor in thick layers like those of a delicate french pastry. With each step, the long undisturbed particles rose like some spirit awakening from the grave and swirled around me, making my eyes water and nose tickle. The initial trickle turned into an assault. It became difficult to keep my eyes open. My throat started to burn. I felt cocooned in a blanket of swirling dust with a mind of its own. I never realized when I reached the staircase leading to the second floor.
The stairs looked relatively clean. The air was also undisturbed and I mounted the steps in an attempt to escape the dirt and grime in my pursuit. The carpet, which absorbed some of the dust here, looked well worn as I proceeded on to the first floor. The staircase ended in a gallery with rooms on both sides. The walls were papered in gray and a deeper shade of yellow, almost orange. The swirling patterns seemed to move with each breath and I could see that they had not been chosen with a thought of comforting any visitor. Instead of making the place light and inviting, the owners had chosen to make it dark and unsettling.
Ebony coloured doors stood at regular intervals like the gaping maw of darkness itself. Sunlight was fast fading outside, and I would soon need a torch to keep exploring. I hadn’t even settled my things. Yet I longed to open the doors and see what was inside.
Finally curiosity won. I decided I would open the door nearest to the stairs, just take a peep inside and then go and bring my torch and electric lantern.
I crossed the landing and reached the door nearest to me. The sleek shine of the ebony surface belied it years of disuse. The brass of the handle was shiny and smooth under my palm. I pulled it down, expecting a screech from the door hinges to fill my ears. The door opened with the least bit of resistance. A gust of air, stale and dry escaped the room like a prisoner escaping its confines.
I pushed the door fully open. It opened gradually, grappling with the seemingly thickened atmosphere inside. I stood in a huge hall with high ceilings and shuttered windows, light escaping the slats and illuminating the rooms in ragged strips. A luxurious persian carpet the color of blood, covered the floor from one end to the other. The mahogany wainscoting absorbed light like some hungry beast. I took a few steps inside the room. Huge tables dominated the center and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling above them. This was a banquet hall. My feet came across a different texture in the carpet and I stopped. I moved around a little and found the smooth satiny feel of the wool was interspersed in places with a different rougher feel. Why was that?
It hit me like a hammer. The blood! It was the congealed blood. From the massacre that had happened in this very room. I retraced my steps in disgust. On reaching the door, I could discern faded brown stains on the walls above the wainscoting. God, what had taken place in this room!! I scrambled out and pulled the door after me. It refused to budge. Try as I might, I couldn’t close it. A whiff of cold air blew around me and chill ran down my spine. Goosebumps erupted on the nape of my neck as a sensation of being watched tingled my body. I left the door open and made my way down in haste.
The dust had settled by the time I reached the bottom but so had darkness, since it was already dusk. There would hardly be time to clean up the floor and settle things. Reluctantly I decided to take my gear upstairs. Whatever forces lived up there, at least they cared for cleanliness. It was not part of our original plan for today. I was only to settle down and make a study of the premises and judge if there were any basis to the rumors. However it now seemed I was going to land bang in the middle of things.
I hauled my gear over to the first floor in the dim light of a torch. Dust motes swirled like a thousand tiny sparks in its dancing beam. The first thing I did on reaching there was to set up a proper lamp. I laid out my bag and set up the table and chair. Then I set out to rig up the equipment. Might as well make use of the time in something constructive.
The open door of the hall stared at me as I went about. The silence was complete and any noise I made setting up my things was magnified many times to almost seem deafening. I carried on with my work when my ears detected some sound. Someone was laughing. No, not someone…
It seemed as if a lot of people were talking and laughing in the huge hall. The laughter was accompanied by strains of some musical instruments. I stopped what I was doing and cocked an ear. The tune seemed familiar, like a forgotten song from childhood. I frantically set up the recorder to catch the sounds, but when I played the thing back, nothing could be heard on it. I was too far away. I needed to enter the room if I wanted to record the strange phenomenon. I picked up the camera and recorder and went inside, humming the tune which had somehow stuck in my brain
The door closed behind me soundlessly.
The music swelled. I could feel people milling around, their ghostly footsteps making no sound on the plush carpet. That little whoosh of air every time some bygone spirit whizzed past me sent cold chills down my spine. I could soon discern the phantom forms of the guests and the servers moving between them, handling out appetizers and drinks.
In a moment the general feeling of bonhomie that thronged through the room metamorphosed into something else. I could feel fear and anger pulsing through the air as the spirit forms turned on each other, pulling hairs, clothes and running around pell mell. Was I witnessing a reenactment of the long ago doomed party?
I was quite engrossed in watching what was happening when I felt a hand land on my shoulder. The camera which I was going to fix on the wall fell down without a sound from my fingers. I turned around and found myself surrounded by a mist, a swirling miasma of eyes, ears, and searching fingers. The eyes looked venomous and full of glee at the same time. Cold fingers raked my hair and cheeks and as I looked down, they turned into claws. Dozens of claws ready to tear out my flesh and make me one of them. I screamed but found I could not make a sound. The song reached a crescendo and I almost suffocated in that mist of centuries old ether.
I ran around, looking for another outlet, the spirits screeching all around me. It was like moving in a fog, with nothing visible. One corner seemed darker than others. I reached it to find it was another of those ebony doors. It opened under my desperate fingers and I blindly tumbled into the other room.
The mist was left behind. I could see. It was a private room, with a double bed one side and a love-seat before the hearth. Embers from a dying fire illuminated the room in a faint tangerine glow. Something moved on the seat. There was a couple there.
“Tell me how much you love me once more, James!” A woman moaned. It was Lily! I moved for a better view. Oh, how I wished I hadn’t.
Lily lay on the sofa, her dress in disarray. Her body arched as a thrill of passion ran through her body. James kneeled at her feet, his head lost in the folds of her dresses. I closed my eyes as I heard him say,
“Vincent is a fool. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. You are divinely beautiful and make me feel alive after dealing with all the horrors. I love you, Lily. I hate sharing you with that idiot.”
I clenched my hands and my fingers closed on something. It felt cool, smooth and heavy. I opened my eyes. James had divested himself of his clothes by now, and together the two moved in an all too familiar rhythm. I raised my hands and found I held a pistol.
“Kill them. They are cheaters. They deserve nothing but death.”
A voice whispered in my brain, low and insistent. My fingers tightened on the handle and my hand raised. What was happening? I lowered my hand. It resisted. As if it followed the directions of some other entity instead of my own. I spied another door and ran to it.
It opened into another smaller room. A metal cot dominated the confines. A small girl in a nightgown kneeled for her prayers. Her curly hair fell on her shoulders and obscured her face from my view but I could recognize my Angela anywhere. What was she doing here in this house of horrors? She needed to be away from here. I would take her and leave this place. I took a step and stopped as she began praying in a low whisper.
“God, today I have been a good kid. I did my homework and helped that little hurt kitty too. Now please make uncle James my daddy. I don’t love my daddy. He doesn’t love me at all. He only loves the ghosts he chases. Make him die, so that mummy can marry Uncle James and he can be my new father. He loves me much more and I love him with all my heart.”
I turned and ran out of the room and found myself on the landing. Laughter spilled from the hall across. It had assumed maniacal proportions by now. Something demonic was laughing at me. The wife I adored was cheating on me and my little girl was praying for my death. I had failed in my professional field. There seemed nothing worth going on for now. I fell to the ground. The orange whorls on the wall paper around me moved in strange patterns, flickering like flames. The ground felt warm. Amber light suffused the walls. It got hotter and I could hear whispers all around me baying for my blood.
I could feel something move towards me from the darkness of the gallery. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to see it. It was a monstrosity too huge for the human brain to comprehend. I squeezed my eyes close. The sounds of music rode the air all around me. A stench, foul as the pits of hell filled the corridor. I gagged and puked. I knew I must not see the thing. Something sharp materialized in my hands. I felt a haft and a blade under my searching fingers. A knife. I would slit my throat before I open my clenched eyes. I put the knife to my throat.
“Vincent, stop! What are you doing?” It was James. But why would James stop me from killing myself? He wanted everything I had. He had everything I had. I would kill him. Which James would it be? The one from here inside the building or the one from outside, one who was my friend and Angela’s godfather, who had never looked at Lily in any way other than as a friend?
Whoever it is, I would kill him. No James, no one to take away everything I had. I lunged. Two strong arms held me in a vice-like grip and another pair of hands twisted the knife from my hands.
‘I was convinced by a couple of men to come and get you out, Vincent. They told me it was not at all safe for you alone in the dark inside the Casa Matusita. It seems they were right. We will leave now. You can fill me in tomorrow.”
They carried me down and out of the building, where I must have fainted. When I woke I was in a hospital with scratch marks and no memory of where I had been. I was discharged a few days later, but I never set foot into a haunted house again. James took over that side of the podcast. He always asked me about that time at the Casa Matusita but I always told him I didn’t remember anything from that night.
Well, I lied a bit there. I guess you can understand why. Some truths are better left unsaid.