For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Head Ant challenged me with "You are lost in an abandoned mansion. Doors are locked at every turn and nothing is what it seems."; I challenged Jordan with "You have been made ruler of the UNIVERSE. Not just the Earth, not just our galaxy--the UNIVERSE. In a limerick."
"Just face facts, will you? We're lost!"
"Not lost. Just... The road less traveled. That is the phrase, isn't it?" She paused. "Yes, that is the phrase." She laughed in delight and peered around the next corner. "Oooohhh..."
"Ruth, please, can we just get out of here?" But she wasn't listening. He saw the light of her flashlight fading around the corner. "Dammit!" He raced down the hall, eager to catch up, fleeing the shadows that encroached.
"Oomph!" He ran into her back, dropping his own flashlight.
"Please. There's no one around. It's the middle of the fucking night. Can we just--"
She placed a single finger to his lips, then raised her light to the ceiling.
His eyes followed the path of light, through the floating dust fairies, the beam scattering across a thousand facets of colored glass above them.
He shook his head as if coming out of a trance. "Ruth! Goddammit! You shine a light out the windows, we'll be caught for sure!"
She laughed again, a carefree sound, light and airy in the depressing darkness that surrounded them. "James, I swear, you wouldn't know a good time if it blew you." She started wandering away from him again, her light catching seven hundred other minute mysteries in the depths of the shadows.
He ran a hand through his unkempt hair, thoroughly exasperated. Picking his flashlight up from off the ground, he trailed after her, feeling glum and nervous.
A small breeze wafted through the room, tickling the hairs on the back of his neck. He whipped around--
"James! Oh, James, you just have to see this!"
He rotated his light left and right, eying the pockets of darkness suspiciously before turning back to Ruth. "What now?"
"Look at this chandelier! Isn't it magnificent? All gold and silver, jewel embedded! Can you imagine the beauty when the candles are lit? Oh, I'm swooning, James, simply swooning!"
"I don't know how you talk me into this shit. Seriously, Ruth, who talks like that anyway? Now look, we came, we saw, we got lost--can we just climb out a window and-- Ruth? Ruth? Goddammit! Where are you?"
He swept the beam around, then clicked it off, hoping to catch the faint glow of her own flashlight. "Ruth?" Aw, hell, why am I whispering? "Ruth!"
He flicked his light back on--
"Ach!" He dropped the flashlight, reeling backward, falling into a table.
Her heard her laughter.
"Yeah, very fucking funny, Ruth!"
"You should have seen... Oh my... Your face was priceless!" Her laughter continued to echo above to the great ceilings, down empty hallways, through long-forgotten corridors.
His menacing look was lost on her, in no small part due to the fact that his flashlight had rolled away somewhere and hers was directed at a large wooden door. "I wonder what's in there?" she half-whispered to herself.
"Help me find my light, will ya?"
"My flashlight? I dropped it when you went all Poltergeist on me?"
"We'll just use mine, no big deal."
"No, really, it's my dad's military-issued--"
"Hmm... It's locked. Who locks doors in abandoned mansions?"
"Ruth, seriously, we need to find--"
"What-- Ruth, wait-- Shit! My old man's gonna kill me if I don't--"
But she was already climbing the stairs. Cursing yet again, he quickly caught up--only to stumble into her once again.
"Jesus Christ, James! Watch where you're going!"
"Maybe if I had a flash-- Oh, wait, that's right! Someone made me lose it! What--"
"'Shh!' my ass. Look, I--"
"Oh, very fucking scary, Ruth. You found a squeaky floorboard."
"No, James, that--"
"Oh, I'm so scared I almost dropped my flashlight-- Oh, wait, that's right, I already did that. Ha-ha, funny, funny, let's go. We're leaving."
They both jumped, and Ruth's flashlight flew out of her hands, over the banister, shattering on the floor below. They looked up to see a very, very old woman, holding a single candlestick, standing at the top of the stairs.
"I, uh--" James stammered.
"You know, for burglars, you two seem very disorganized."
"No, no, no, we're not--" James started, nervously laughing in spite of himself.
"No, no, not crooks, Ah-ha-ha!" Ruth stammered in reply.
"Oh, I see. Just two teenage hooligans out to explore the great Abbey Mansion, then?" She raised her candle higher, spreading more light on their guilt-ridden faces. "Hmm, yes, I see. And, are we having fun, children?"
Ruth began stammering an excuse, "Well, er, we thought the house was empty, you see..."
"Yes! Right! Empty! Yes!" James chimed in enthusiastically.
Ruth elbowed him. "We meant no harm, honestly! I've just always admired this lovely home from the street, and--"
"And you figured since it was Halloween, you two would take a little 'ghost walk' of your own, eh?" The old woman cackled. "Ah, yes, yes. You two aren't the first, laws, no." She began to take some shuffling steps down toward them, free hand gripping the banister while the other, still clinging to the candle, lifted her nightgown just above her toes to keep from tripping. "Why, if I had a dime for every time some ragamuffins decided to waltz in..."
Ruth smiled tentatively at the old woman while James's frown deepened.
"We honestly are sorry," Ruth said. "We never would have-- I mean, we did think the house was empty--"
"It's all right, dearies. You aren't the first," she said, shuffling past them to continue down the stairs. "Lost, too, I'd bet my knickers," she cackled.
Their cheeks bloomed pink simultaneously as she turned to bring the light of the candle once more to bear upon their faces. She cackled again. "I thought as much." She turned again and shuffled down the last few stairs, Ruth and James hesitantly beginning to follow her down.
"Oh!" Ruth jumped back into James's arms. "Oh, sorry. Is there uh-- Is someone else at home?"
"House goblins, dearies. Nothing but house goblins," she said as she shuffled down one of the halls. She beckoned them to follow. "Come along, come along. Are you hungry? I know I get hungry wandering about..."
Ruth turned to James as they followed the weak glow, whispering, "Do you think she's going to call the police?"
"... get lost myself sometimes..."
He whispered back, "I told you we shouldn't have done this! My old man's gonna kill me!"
"... one hundred seventy-five rooms at last count..."
"She seems nice enough, though. Maybe she'll just laugh it off, let us out the back?" Ruth said quietly.
"... nephew tries to get me to use this electricity thing, but why bother...?"
"I'll never get into a good school now..." James mumbled aloud.
"James, please! She's not even upset about this!"
"Ah! Here we are. Now let's see if we can rustle you two kids up something nice to eat, yes?" She wandered about, lighting candles in different areas of the room, allowing the kitchen--such as it was--to come into sight.
The soft flames revealed a very 1950s looking fridge, a cast iron stove, pots hanging just above. Flower-print curtains fluttered in a slight breeze coming through the cracked windows, which were framed by yellowish cabinets. The wooden floors moaned as Ruth and James entered through the low arched doorway. The old woman was already digging through the insides of the fridge. "Are you kids familiar with pot pie? Of course, what am I thinking? I'll just heat these up on the stove, won't be but a minute." She lifted two tin pans out of the fridge and placed them on the large, heavy oak table that dominated the center of the kitchen, then turned to the stove.
"No, really, although it's very kind of you, we should just--" Ruth started.
"Yes, yes, we've been such a bother!" James jumped in. "We really should just be on our way. If you could just show us the door?"
"And we truly are very, very sorry--"
"Nonsense! You young kids, always in a rush," she said, waving her arms at them. She turned an ancient knob and flames whooshed up from the pilot light. "Won't take but a minute. Sit, sit! Keep a lonely old woman company, won't you? Sit a spell, I'll pour you both some fresh lemonade! Made it just this morning!"
James gave Ruth the evil eye. Ruth shrugged as if to say, "What do you want me to do? She has lemonade!" then made herself comfortable at the table. "That's very kind of you, Mrs...?"
"Oh, it's nothing, dearies. Half the time it spoils before I can even finish it all, so it's nice to have someone else here to drink some." She placed the large glass pitcher on the table, and pointed to James. "You, tall one. Reach up there and grab a few glasses and plates from the cupboard, won't you? Yes, right there. Careful now! That's my wedding china!"
James lifted out two plates and blew the dust off of them, coughed. "Um..."
"Now, now, just place them there. I'll grab some forks. You'll like this pot pie, yes! Used vegetables from my own gardens, I did!"
James placed the dusty plates on the table with a grimace and passed a look to Ruth, who simply shrugged again. The old woman bustled and fussed over the stove, stirring the contents of the tin pans occasionally.
"Oh, dear, I'm out of garlic!" she exclaimed. She shuffled over to a door in one corner of the ancient kitchen.
Thump! Creeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaak... Thump-thump!
"Young man, come here. Can you reach that up there?"
James moved around the table and stood beside her, peering into the blackness beyond.
"I'm not sure I see--"
"Just up there, dearie. You see?" A withered hand pointed beyond the gloom.
He shuffled deeper into the doorway, shrugging around the woman's frail body, eyes squinted. "Where-- Ahh!"
Thump! Crack! Crash! Thump-thump!
The woman gasped, and Ruth raced around to the doorway. "James! James! Oh my god, James!"
"Oh, dear, he seems to have fallen down the stairs!"
"You have to call the police!"
"I don't have a phone!"
"Oh, dear, oh, dear... That won't do at all!"
Ruth spun around to face the old woman and--
Was she smiling?
"You're next, dear!"
The old woman shoved, and Ruth went tumbling down into the blackness.
A groan. She heard a groan. "James?" she whispered frantically. "James, is that you?"
She listened, but heard nothing further. She reached out, feeling, fumbling.
And then light...
She peered up at it, seemingly so distant, at a shadowy figure at the top of the stairs. "Hello?"
"Okay down there, dearie?" the old crone asked.
"Wha--" She turned, spotted James crumpled in a heap just a few feet in front of her in the meager light. "James!" She--pain! pain!--tried to get up, settled for crawling over, turning his limp body over.
"No broken bones, I hope?" came the voice from the top of the stairs.
"You-- You need to get help! He's.... Sweet Jesus, he's breathing! Oh, thank god!"
"Yes, very good. Very good."
Ruth tried once again to stand, but settled for turning her upper torso to face the stairs. "You have to get help! I think I broke my leg, and James is--"
Ruth's brain was fuzzy, a faint humming in her ears. She scrambled to put it all together, but came up empty. "Yes, yes, he's alive, but--"
"Oh, good, very good. Spoiled meat is never good, you know."
"What? Please, you need..."
"Take a look around you, dearie."
"What? No, I need--"
Thump. Thump. Slither...
She glanced up the stairs, but the old woman hadn't moved.
No, behind her. The sound was coming from over there, where the light didn't quite reach...
Thump. Thump. Thump-thump-thump.
The figure that came into view...
Empty eye sockets... Blood-stained cheeks... Only one arm... No legs...
The old woman closed the cellar door, smiling to herself. No need to run to the butcher's this week after all.
Clicking the locks into place, she then helped herself to a piping hot tin plate from off her stove.
Previous Challenges I have answered:
- [Week 1: All of Me]
- [Week 2: Child's End]
- [Week 3: Seeking Bonds]
- [Week 4: Just So You Know]
- [Week 5: Justice & Mercy]
- [Week 6: Tale of a Fateful Flick]
- [Week 7: Hell or High Water]
- [Week 8: Streaming Summer]
- [Week 9: Piss & Vinegar]
- [Week 10: Set It Free]
- [Week 11: Four Horsemen, Three Gods, a Transgendered Devil, and Lazarus Under a Pear Tree...]
- [Week 12: Worth a Thousand Words...]
- [Week 13: On the Down...]
- [Week 14: Hey Mister, Can You Spare Some Love?]
- [Week 15: Forever Is...]
- [Week 16: Death of a Betsy...]
- [Week 17: Big Bad]
- [Week 18: Coffee: Hot, Black, & Strong]
- [Week 19: The Queen's Confession]
- [Week 20: The Witch of Picassoid]
- [Week 21: Me, Mouse-self and I...]
- [Week 22: "O, Great Genie..."]
- [Week 23: A Funeral for Sven]
- [Week 24: Priceless]