Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Three (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here and part two here.

Over the next few weeks, Cora heard nothing strange in her new home beyond the usual creaks associated with older houses.  With her father gone on the road during the weekdays, he had hired contractors to begin work on the house.

Among the people who were in and out of the house was an exterminator.  He’d set traps and poison down for the rats and mice.  (“Rats and mice!” Marcy had exclaimed, nearly fainting when the infestation was confirmed.)  The bill for the exterminator grew about as fat as the man himself, for Mr. Rue also planted a bug bomb for cockroaches toward what Marcy hoped was the end of his frequent visits.  Cora tried not to snicker when the robust man flirted with her mother.  As for Marcy, she was relieved when Mr. Rue finished up on a Friday evening. Tom pulled into the winding gravel driveway, and she darted out of the house to her knight come to rescue her.  Cora followed at a slower pace.

“Should all be taken care off, but you’ll need to stay outta the place for the next day to let it air out from the bomb,” Mr. Rue informed Tom the moment he stepped out of his car.  His eyes shifted to Marcy and he winked.

Tom shook the man’s hand.  “Thanks a million, Mr. Rue.”  He kissed Marcy and said, “That should take care of the smell, darlin’.”

Marcy stepped closer to Tom, took his hand, and smiled.  “A weekend away will be welcome after all the work we’ve been doing.  More than a day, Mr. Rue.  Now, if you’re all done…”

Tom’s phone beeped, and he reached into his pocket.  “Sorry, gotta take this,” he murmured, stepping away from his wife.

Marcy frowned.

Cora couldn’t agree more about getting away.  The hotel would have WiFi.  She’d used up her month’s allotment of data on her phone, and her signal was weak and the connection slow.

“I told Erin we’d be over at 8:00 to pick her up,” Cora said.  “She hasn’t been to Cedar Point since she was ten.”  She cast her mom a meaningful look.  Erin was the one friend she had in the northeast Ohio farm town, a place she couldn’t yet call home.  She’d met Erin while working at the one screen cinema.

“All right, Cora,” Marcy said, forcing a smile.  “As long as we’re finished up here…”  She tried not to sigh as she glanced at Tom, who was busy tapping away on his phone.

“All good to go, Mrs. Marson,” said Mr. Rue, winking again.  “You’re paid up.  Just let me know if there’s any problems.”

“Yes, we’ll be sure to do just that,” Marcy murmured as the exterminator got into his truck and pulled out.

Tom was suddenly at his wife’s side as he watched the pickup pull out of the driveway.  “Problem, honey bunny?”

“So long as that man’s done with his job, there’s no problem.  Important work stuff?”

“Yep.  Well… Lemme just take a quick shower,” Tom said, tugging at his pants along his groin.  “Ev’rything packed?”

“The car’s loaded,” Marcy said, eyeing Tom with a strange look.  “I’ll do a sweep through the house to make sure.”

Cora followed her parents inside, wishing she could erase the last couple of minutes from her mind.  After wading through drop cloths and dust from sanding, she went upstairs.  Upon reaching the landing, Cora was about to turn to the right like she always did to go to her bedroom, but the air to her left was cool in the August humidity.  She pivoted in that direction.  The hallway was shorter that way and only boasted a single unoccupied bedroom.  But at the end of the hallway rested another door.  

“Just goes to the attic,” Tom told Cora weeks ago.

Cora shrugged it off until that moment.  The chill in the air seemed to brush past her, and she shivered.  Goose bumps covered her arms and exposed neck and shoulders.  She wondered if she ought to change out of her tank top into something with sleeves.  Shaking her head, Cora marched down the corridor with determination and stopped when she came to the attic door.  She tried the handle.  Locked.

With a scoff, she turned away and went to her room to grab her phone before they left this dingy pit of depression.  The attic doorknob jiggled an eighth of an inch, counter-clockwise.

 

Excerpt from Latent Infection (continued) – Short Story

You can read the first part here.

The first floor had a living room with furniture covered in sheets, the perfect hiding place if Cora had been ten years younger.  When Tom pulled open the heavy dark green drapes covering the large front window that overlooked the front lawn of weeds and overgrown grass, dust particles swarmed in the air for several seconds, causing the family to erupt in fits of coughing.

Marcy glared at her husband as she fanned the air in front of her face.  “It smells like something died in here.”

Tom chuckled.  “Probably just mice…or rats…maybe something larger.”

“Something larger?”  Marcy glanced toward the front door after her eyes shifted about the room.

“We’ll call an exterminator.  Pest removal.  It’s not the end of the world, darlin’.”

Cora rolled her eyes and walked over to the winding staircase.  Spilling out into the front entrance, the wooden balustrade ended with the head of a lion with its mouth open, its canine teeth like vampiric fangs.  She brought a finger tip to one of the teeth and smiled, marvelling at the decor.  Cora swung her head upward to gaze upon a chandelier hanging from the second storey ceiling.  In another time, it would have been beautiful with its thousands of crystal prisms, each an icicle reflecting the artificial light.  She tried the light switch.  Nothing.  

With no interest in exploring the first floor with her annoying parents, Cora took the first step.  The wood shifted and moaned.  With every step, she kept her left hand on the smooth surface of the rail, a security her subconscious desired.  When Cora reached the second floor, she glanced down the steps from the balcony.  The drop was at least fifteen feet — the perfect place for the desperate degenerate to end it all.

The hallway afforded little light, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  When Cora flicked the switch, she was awarded with the faint buzz of the old bulbs in the cobweb-laden sconces lining the walls.  Even then, only about half of the sconces worked, their lights flickering, as if protesting having to do the work of illuminating a stale corridor.  

“So the electricity isn’t completely out in this oversized shack,” Cora murmured.

As she walked down the hall, her right hand trailed along the raised contours of the wallpaper — some hideous floral design from at least eighty years earlier.  She stopped when she arrived at the first door.  An easy turn of the tea house doorknob revealed a stagnant room filled with crates.  Cora’s nose wrinkled at the mustiness as she clicked the door shut.  That room would definitely not be hers.  A vision of peering into an off-limits room at the funeral parlor when she was eight surfaced — boxes of bodies.

She tried the next door and discovered the bathroom, which could be rendered charming if cleaned and restored.  A claw foot bathtub sat opposite the door in the oblong room with black and white tiles on the floor.  A pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink covered the wall to the right, both ringed with grime.

Cora left the bathroom door open and proceeded farther down the hall.  She found her room — plenty of space for her bed and dressers.  No leftovers from previous owners and two large windows that let in light.  She could watch the sunset.

Every footstep reverberated across the floorboards and up the walls in Cora’s new bedroom.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Cora stomped on the floor with her sneaker three times just to hear the sound again.  After the echo faded, in the silence of this closed up house, she heard it…

Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.

Barely there, like an imprint.  A faded picture.  A vague memory.

Cora’s heart skipped a beat and then sped up.  

She shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Don’t be stupid.”

Yet she dared not stomp her foot again.

Excerpt from Latent Infection (Short Story)

The infection in the house’s rickety bones began as a latent virus.  Buried in the deepest marrow, the first stirrings were creaks, like a joint popping and settling.  Age hid secrets with wrinkles of peeling paint and a history forgotten by a foregone mind.  The disease was dismissed as the consequence of being time-worn, the house a skeleton, a dead thing sealed in a tomb.

Until the Marson family moved in.

“Ain’t she a beauty,” Tom Marson boomed in that Kentucky backroad twang he’d used to charm eighteen-year-old city gal Marcy twenty years earlier.  He removed his ball cap and ran a hand through sweaty, thinning salt and pepper.

“She’s a fixer-up, more likely,” Marcy replied, her pouty lips saturated in the newest striking red her daughter so detested.  She smoothed down her freshly trimmed brown bob.

Cora popped her gum and rolled her eyes.  “It’s a piece of sh–”

The three-storey house was large.  Cora would give it that much, but the faded yellow paint was flaking off in huge chunks on the wooden siding, revealing a non-virgin white underneath.  It reminded her of a stained toilet seat.  Black shutters hung on like a mountain climber clutching the edge of a cliff for dear life.  The roof was balding as much as her father.

“Language, young lady,” Marcy scolded.  She glanced toward her husband in the hope he’d have something to say about their only daughter’s choice of vocabulary.  Ever since getting her license to kill by driving on roads without adult supervision, the entitled child had developed a larger cup size and a fully-loaded arsenal of trucker language.

But Tom was ogling the 1830s house like a scantily-clad pole dancer.  He’d certainly be forking over enough dollar bills for her welfare.

Cora groaned.  She thought she saw something like drool on her dad’s week-long unshaven chin.

“When are you going to have time to fix this dump?” Marcy asked.  “You’re gone five days a week.”

“That’s what weekends are for, honey bunny.”  Tom wrapped a thick arm around his wife and pulled her toward him, planting a juicy one on her cheek.

Maybe in spite of herself, Marcy laughed.

“So are we just gonna stand around here all day, or are we going in?” asked Cora, twirling her purple hair about her finger.  Her middle finger, which was aimed at her parents.

“Let’s check her out,” Tom said.

“How about this, honey?  You can pick any room you like for your bedroom.  It’s a big house.  There are plenty.”  Marcy coated every word like maple sugar candy in the mouth.

“Yeah, whatever.  Sure.”  Cora followed her parents to the front porch.  The railing shook when she went to hold onto it, and when she released it, she nearly stepped into a rotted place on one of the boards.

Tom fiddled with the lock and began swearing under his breath as the July sun beat down on him.  Marcy knew where Cora had picked up her choice words.  The door opened with a sigh, a groan.

They entered.

Two storeys above, the eyes opened.