It’s just an old house. That’s what my mother used to tell me. It had been somewhat of a ritual of ours when I was a child. She would come in and see that I had hardly slept and explain away my fear by saying It’s just an old house. The fear caused by the creaking and groaning, the thuds and whistling, was whisked away by such a simple statement. It was the truth, of course, but they say the best lies are layered within the truth. It never explained the whispers I would hear. This house was rather isolated. We lived atop a hill. It was far enough away from town to make any voices that weren’t ours suspicious. And yet, nothing ever happened. So, as I grew older, I doubted my memory. There couldn’t have ever been someone other than us here. And that’s true, it was only ever us.
I remember my first night in that house as well as I remember my last. I was eight when my mother brought me home from the orphanage. She was quite a generous woman and had rescued many children from foster homes over the years. She was old and single; you see. Her hair was greying yet still full, and her smile would make even the most distrustful person allow her possession of something they held dear. I was the third child she had adopted, the first of which went out of state to study law. The second was my older sister, Phoebe. We were quite close, me and sis, despite the four-year age gap. She had helped me that first night and kept me from running to find my mother. And I’m thankful to her for that to this day. If I had left my room that night, I wouldn’t have been able to put my experiences down on this page.
That first night was when the oldest of us, Hailey, came back to visit. She came later into the evening after dinner had already been served and Phoebe had gone to our room. Hailey had wanted to meet me. She was a nice girl, full of life and happiness. Her blonde hair was tied in a ponytail, and intelligent blue eyes were studying me from behind black-rimmed reading glasses. “You must be Ellie,” she said. “It’s lovely to meet you.”
“H-hi.” I have always been shy. Even at the age I am now, I feel uncomfortable meeting new people. “Who are you?”
“I’m Hailey, I’m your oldest sister. You won’t be able to see me much since I’m at school a lot, but here,” she reached into her red leather handbag and handed me some chocolate, “I wasn’t sure what you’d like, and I was in a rush to catch my flight so I grabbed what I could fast.”
“It’s good.” I said, “Thank you.” I peeled open the chocolate and pulled off a square, it was good. I gestured it back to Hailey “Would you like some?”
“No thank you, dear,” She said, smiling. “I hope you like it here; this old place is quite cosy. Me and mother are going to try and get a good look at the blood moon, and it’s already late so why don’t you go on up to bed? Do you know where your bedroom is?”
“No,” I said
“How about I show you? It used to be my room, you know.” She held out her tanned hand, and I took it. I had squeezed it too tight. My nails made her grimace, but she said nothing. We walked up the old oaken staircase, every step causing a drawn-out groan, as though the stairs didn’t appreciate being stepped on. We reached the top and stood facing a door, which I came to learn was the bathroom. Hailey led me to the right. I playfully let my hand dance across the bannister of the balcony, from which I could see the living room and the antique wooden furniture below. We came to a stop, and I turned to my left to face the door Hailey had led us to.
“Is this my room?” I said, looking at the door. Its ageing bronze handle contrasted with the fresh coat of white paint that lay upon it.
“Yes, dear. Now go on in, I’ll see you in the morning before my flight. Hopefully.” She said, patting me affectionately on the head. “You’ll love it here.” She turned to leave, I watched as she went down the stairs. She looked back, flashed me a smile and waved before her head disappeared beneath the bannister.
That was the first and last time I had ever seen Hailey.
My mother told us that Hailey had to go back to school earlier than expected. Any time we mentioned Hailey after that, it was met solemnly. Mother would tell us Hailey had moved away and couldn’t visit due to work, but she still sent us letters and treats every so often. Now I know my mother orchestrated those things, and considering the events of that first night, I now understand what had happened.
Hailey was dead.
I stood in the bedroom Hailey had led me to, it was comfortable. Two beds lay on either side of the room, both had matching lilac bedsheets. The bed close to the door was occupied by a brunette twelve-year-old, my sister Phoebe. She was scribbling away on some paper and hadn’t noticed me come in. She was decent at drawing for her age, pictures of princesses and knights took up most of the wall space next to her bed. She looked up and noticed me. “Oh, hey.” She said, in a neutral tone, “Your bed is over there.” She pointed with her pencil towards the bed below the window and went back to doodling.
“H-hey,” I said, “D-do you like chocolate?” I held the bar with both hands and gingerly offered it to her.
“Chocolate?” She said, looking down at the bar I was extending forward, “Oh yes, thank you! Come sit next to me.” She patted the space next to her.
I walked over and climbed up onto the bed, handing the chocolate to Phoebe as she snapped off a row and passed it back. We sat there in silence for a few minutes, only the sound of an occasional snap from chocolate being broken breaking the silence. I plucked up the courage to ask, “What are you drawing?”
“Oh uh,” She said, surprised, “Just stuff.” She picked up the picture she was working on. It was a door. A plain, white door. But at the crack towards the bottom, it was shaded slightly red, blood red with black lines sprouting through. Phoebe pointed at the bedroom door and said, “We’re not allowed out at night.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know, mother won’t say. She just tells me to stay in bed no matter what, so I do. You get used to it.”
“Used to what?”
“Mother always says the house is pretty old,” She said, “so the noises are normal.”
“You know,” She said as she went back to doodling, “like the noises the stairs make and stuff. Mother tells me not to be scared and I’m your big sister so I’m telling you it is all okay. Though you cannot leave.”
“Oh. Okay.” I said, not understanding what was going on. “I’m sleepy.” I got off her bed and walked across to my own. Climbing in I turned to Phoebe and said, “Can we turn off the light?”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll be using my nightlight to draw for a bit longer though.”
And with that, the big light went off, and unnatural darkness filled the room. My eight-year-old self didn’t completely grasp the concept of dread yet, but that was the feeling it gave me. The only spot free from this blanket of dread was Phoebe’s bed. It stood as a haven, an Oasis. After this night, I asked my mother to get me a nightlight. I needed my oasis from the bleak desert of the dark.
Sleep came for me. Eventually. But -and I remember the time well as it always happened this time- the clock struck midnight. This was when things changed. I awoke in a state of panic. Tears were flowing down my face and yet I couldn’t let out a sound. Whispers were bouncing around in my head and I felt as though my bed was swallowing me. The dark embrace stopped me from moving, no matter how much I struggled. I could only move my eyes, and I looked towards the end of my bed and could see nothing but dark, and in that darkness a shape. Until my last night, I put the shape down to being a figment of my imagination. I cannot even describe its dimensions, but I could see it getting closer. Tendrils of shadow extended from the black pulsating mass and I tried to scream. Nothing. My mouth had opened, and I could feel the darkness flood in. I couldn’t breathe, and it felt as though I was fading. But I must have made some noise or moved in such a way Phoebe noticed or woke up. The next thing I remember is seeing a light approach. Not the metaphorical death kind, but Phoebe’s literal light. As it came closer, I could feel the darkness retracting. I gasped and swallowed a lungful of air and cried. Phoebe had climbed into my bed and I just sobbed on her shoulder.
“It’s okay little sis,” she said, holding me. “You just had a nightmare. First day nerves, I had one too, but I wasn’t this scared.”
“W—wha was the thing,” I said between sobs.
“What thing?” She asked, “there’s nothing here but us sis, you just had a bad dream. But it’s okay. Me and my nightlight will stay with you in your bed tonight.”
“O-okay,” I said, “Thank you. Sis.” I had stopped crying now and looked around the room. The whispers had gone and all I could hear was the creaking of old wood. I looked towards the door and saw it. The red-light Phoebe had drawn, but it was fleeing the scene through the door cracks. I couldn’t fall asleep for over an hour; this was when the creaking and groaning stopped.
The next morning, I woke up and had hoped that last night was a bad dream. It wasn’t. Phoebe was still asleep next to me, and her light was still on. I opened the curtain to let in the sun’s rays and waited for her to wake up. After about thirty minutes she awoke and I asked, “Can we go see mother?”
“She’ll come to see us soon. It’s okay.” She said, getting out of my bed and moving to her own, “Sleep some more.”
And I tried to sleep but I could not. I lay awake for what must have been half an hour, an hour, before I heard a rapping on the door.
“Hello Dears,” the voice belonged to mother, “I got you two some breakfast. Bacon! Can I come in dears?”
“Oh! Bacon!” Said Phoebe, “yes! Yes! come in.”
And in came our mother. This morning, she looked younger than she did when picking me up. I put it down to her being well-rested and the fact she seems to have dyed her hair blonde in the night. “I like your new hair!” Said Phoebe.
“Oh, this?” Mother said. “Just something I thought would look nice, dear. Here you are.” Mother handed a plate to my sister and came over to me.
“H-hi,” I said.
“Are you okay, dear?” Mother said with obvious concern as she carefully handed me the plate of bacon and eggs. “You look like you hardly slept a wink!”
“I-it was scary,” I said, “I had a, had a bad dream,” I explained to her what had happened last night.
“Ah, of course, dear. First-day nerves, most likely giving you nightmares. It happens more often than you’d think, dear! Don’t worry.”
“B-but what about the noises?”
“Oh that,” Mother said, her blue eyes twinkling, “it’s just an old house, dear. No need to worry.”
That was the first time I had ever heard that phrase, It’s just an old house. I must have heard it at least once or twice a week from this point on. Every new strange sound that would crop up would be explained away as It’s just an old house.
After this, we went out and mother bought me a new nightlight. It’s something I have kept to this day, changing the batteries and the bulbs constantly. It would have been cheaper to replace the old thing, but I had grown attached to it. Time went on. Things were mostly normal. My experiences that first night and my last had led me to develop a fear of the dark. It has probably been the most consistent thing in life. Funny, isn’t it? Fear is one of the most reliable things we as people can experience. It never lets you down. As the weeks turned into months, which turned into years, I forgot about Hailey. Phoebe got to go to college, out of state. She came back for the occasional visit. The appearance of smartphones meant we kept in touch. Soon she graduated as I was starting. And we scheduled our visits to mother, so they landed on the same days. We always brought back treats to share, and I know it sounds childish; we both still slept with the nightlights on. Later in the year, she came back to visit for the last time. When Phoebe came, she and I would laugh about the nightlights and we organised a visit to mother. What we didn’t know at the time was that this would be the last time either of us went back to that old house again.
I had arrived early in the day so as not to be caught outside at night. It was a quiet autumn day; I was excited to see mother. I worried about her; despite her youthful appearance, it was obvious she was getting older. I always felt bad leaving her alone in that old house. The trip home was uneventful; a calm before the storm. I reached the bottom of the hill where the house was perched, driving upwards as I passed under the dying trees that flanked the driveway, their leaves falling on my windscreen. I got out of my car and entered the house. Mother was waiting. Tea for three is already prepared. I didn’t think about it much till now, but it’s strange, as Phoebe and I planned her arrival to be a surprise.
“My dear,” Mother said, “you look beautiful, dear; your skin is so soft,” she reached out and stroked my cheek. In college, I learned the hard way that this wasn’t normal.
“Uh thank you, mother.” I said, “you haven’t aged a day since I was last here it seems!” In truth, she hadn’t aged a day in my entire life.
“Oh dear, don’t be such a flatterer.” She said, brushing her blonde hair to the side. “Yes yes, I am getting old! That’s why I’m so happy to see you, dear.”
“You’ll be even happier later mother,” I said, “Phoebe should be coming soon.”
“Oh my, what a surprise dear!” She said, rubbing her hands together, “It is about that time, I should have guessed it.”
We sat and talked for quite some time. Mother had seemed a bit off, but she was always eccentric. I paid it no mind and sipped tea from my mother’s antique tea set. She only used this set on special occasions. It was as old as the house; she told me. Eventually, Phoebe arrived.
“Hiya sis, hiya mother,” She said opening the door, “I’m glad I got in before nightfall.”
“Hey, Phoebe!” I said, going in for a hug. Her hair was longer than last we met, “Took you long enough, mother was getting impatient!”
“Dear, don’t exaggerate!” Mother came over. “I just miss my beautiful daughter. Come here, let me see that face of yours, dear.”
“Love ya too mother,” said Phoebe, trying to pull away from her grasp. “C’mon, let’s do something.”
We all gathered around and talked. Topics from childhood to movies. Mother seemed much more interested in that night’s Blood Moon and our lifestyle rather than our hobbies. Asking about our diets and even, not very subtly, asking about our sex lives. She was always a nosey person, especially with us, but this was different. She was a bit too invested.
As the evening wound down, I went up to my room; Phoebe stayed downstairs. She wanted to check out the Blood Moon. To be honest, I was too scared to hang around outside after dark. I went up the old oaken stairs and let my hand dance across the balcony’s bannisters as I did when I was a kid. I walked past the bathroom and turned left into my room. My bedroom had changed a little over the years. Still the same single bed, and the same plain lilac bedsheets below the window. Phoebe’s bed remained the same, and her various drawings remained on the walls. Her talent increased with age, hence why she made it into art school, yet this wall had some of her best work. It must have resonated with me, a lot of it was a good depiction of my fears. Art depicting demons in the night, ancient temples, and old gods. At the centre of the wall was that picture from my first night. The plain white door with the red light. It still sent shivers down my spine.
The lack of change was because Mother didn’t like the fact I’ve grown up, made her feel old she had said. Which was strange to me, she never seemed to age. She was beautiful as ever but spoke as though she had experienced more than anyone reasonably could. If I knew the truth back then, maybe things would be different. Or I would be dead.
And so, I lay atop my bedsheets and waited. I wanted to know what Phoebe and Mother talked about; it seems I inherited my mother’s nosiness. I put on my earphones and listened to some music, waiting. Minutes passed that felt like hours. And then it started. I wasn’t paying attention to the time, but I knew what it was, the same as that first night and many other nights since. Midnight. I could hear creaking from outside and thuds. The whispers that encroached on my mind muffled most noises, but I could have sworn that I heard a yell. I looked towards the door and could see the darkness creeping in, surrounded by a red light. It danced around the border of my nightlight, but it was stronger than before. It pushed across the boundary of the light. The flashlight on my phone seemed concentrated enough to drive away those dark tendril shadows. I paused, not knowing what to do. Strapping the nightlight to my belt, I then reached into my pocket and grabbed my knife. I knew I had to check on mother and Phoebe. As a child, I never dared leave the room when the dark came for me. As a child, I put it down to nightmares. I knew better now, but I’m thankful for my youthful ignorance. Without it, I may not be here to write this down.
I stood alone in my room and walked towards my door. The shadow tendrils appeared to claw at the crack in the door. I took a deep breath and steadied myself. After about three seconds, I swung open the door and saw nothing. The house was normal. The red light beneath the door had no source. It was unnerving. Despite this, the whispers continued. Fainter now, but they were there. The groaning that ran throughout the house was consistent. I walked towards the balcony, being careful to keep my nightlight facing the floor. That protective circle of light may stop the dark from taking me. I looked over the top of the balcony and saw a mess. The living area looked as though there was a scuffle. The armchair was toppled, the glass coffee table had been broken, fine china with it, and the TV was on its back. I backed away from the balcony and walked toward the stairs. As I walked down them, I looked to my feet and saw it. On the edge of the fourth step, there was blood. It seemed someone fell and smacked their head against it. I concluded we were being robbed, and I wish we were.
I looked around for any signs of life. The only signs seemed to come from the kitchen. The red light, faint as it was, had been present there for a second. So, I walked in. This room was in much better condition than the living room. There was some blood, but the pots were in fine shape. Looking around, that’s when I saw it. A trapdoor. The carpet had been pulled back and there it lay; how did I not know about this? There wasn’t time for me to ponder this, so I went over to it. Its wooden door was old, and the cast iron handle even older. I pulled it open and looked down. Inside was an ancient stone staircase, older than this old house. Older than anything in the country except, as I would later learn, mother. At the bottom, I could see the red light. It came from a doorway. I could only see a block of red that emanated from the glow. I gripped my knife tight and my flashlight tighter and began the descent.
The stone was cold. My bare feet burned from the low temperature, and my entire body shivered. I couldn’t turn back however, I had to push. I had noticed the whispers began to sound louder the deeper I got and accompanying them I heard a woman’s voice.
As I reached the bottom, the light in the door was blinding. I had to walk through the doorway for it to ease. There I saw the truth. This room was illuminated by a red glow, a red glow that was emanating from a dark figure. Dark as the night, its form wasn’t consistent. What I could make out were the tendrils that had pursued me in the dark. Tendrils that seemed to extend from a head, which was mostly a mouth. The mouth of this thing was split into four sections, each one layered with black teeth, all this mounted on a vaguely humanoid body. This was only one of its forms, the others being indescribable. It was a creature made of pure night. I later figured that the red light must have been because of the blood moon. These events were not that rare, but they gave the creature the ability to interact with this world. In front of the being lay a stone altar, as old as the stairs. The frieze on it depicted a sacrifice. A high priestess of some unknown civilisation was sacrificing a person to the moon. And from the moon came a tendrilled creature, bearing the body of a humanoid, to accept the sacrifice. Changing the old priestess into a young one. Atop the altar was Phoebe, unconscious but alive. Blood had pooled around her head. It stood out amongst the old blood that stained the altar. A rough smell of iron lingered in the room. And finally, there stood a woman. A woman whose hair was greying and whose posture was wrecked. A woman who decided clothes weren’t for her, showing her sagged body. She was tossing a bone dagger between her hands and her blue eyes were looking around hungrily. She was, as you must have guessed, my mother.
“M-mother?” I couldn’t help it, the scene before me was too much. “W-what are you doing? Is Phoebe okay?”
“Yes, dear.” She said, her voice, once happy, was now deep and guttural, “She’s just a little tired dear yes. She will be much better once the master takes her away, yes.”
What is this interruption? I heard a voice reverberating around my brain; it was intoxicating. This human should not be down here. Go.
“N-no.” I had to fight every urge in my body. “I won’t leave without my sister.”
It was naïve of me to think you were intelligent. Kill the girl. Be done with this.
“I shall.” My mother approached the altar.
“Mother. What are you doing? That is your daughter!”
It is not her first. It is not her last. She does as I command. The high priestess of Lunavius.
“Yes, yes.” Mother turned to face me. She was dancing on the spot, “The last one wasn’t this much trouble no, you stayed in bed like a good girl, then yes.”
“High Priestess? Mother? Just tell me what’s going on!” I could feel tears forming in my eyes. This was too much, and I didn’t know what to do. I gripped the knife tight.
“I give master blood and free him for an evening, and master gives me youth. That was the contract we made.” The bone dagger in her hand was still dancing.
You insulate creatures of this planet. You think you know everything. She has always been mine.
During this, Phoebe’s eyes flicked open. I had to buy a little time. “Just what are you?”
I am your better. Nyx, Nox, Kuk, Ahriman. You humans give names to things you have no way to understand, so now I am Lunavius. You only hear my words because I deem it. You only live because I deem it. I only tell you this to stop you from acting out. Priestess, do it.
Mother approached the altar with the knife, ready to kill. I reacted. I wasn’t even thinking now. A wall of anger hit me when I shined the flashlight into the being. I had annoyed it with my insolence. Whilst the being was distracted, I had pulled out my knife. I ran towards the altar and stabbed it deep into the back of my mother’s neck. She collapsed, and the sound of her drowning in blood haunts me the most of all these events. I grabbed Phoebe, who was awake, and threw her arm around my shoulder. I told her to take my phone and direct the flashlight behind us, and so we ran up the stairs and through the trapdoor; I slammed it shut behind me.
I yanked on my sister’s wrist and dragged her outside. After collecting ourselves for a moment, we knew what we had to do. I told Phoebe to wait down the road. I ran towards the shed. That’s where the petrol was. I ran in and searched, knocking over garden tools and fertilisers, until I finally pulled out a Jerry Can. I opened the top and sniffed. It was full of petrol, all right. I ran throughout the house and doused everything I could. I even risked opening the trapdoor and poured some down there, closing it again and pouring more over the top. I ran upstairs and doused my mother’s room and finally my own. Stopping only to rescue a few childhood pictures. I grabbed some matches from the kitchen and left a trail of fuel leading out of the house. Then I set it alight.
The flames raged till dawn. We sat and watched. We wanted to be sure nothing remained of the house. Once it had become a smouldering wreck, I ventured towards where the kitchen once stood. I had grabbed a shovel from the shed and moved some ruins. Pushing ash out of the way, I looked where the trapdoor should be. It was gone.
It has been ten years since the events of that night. No one ever found my mother’s body. We told the cops we had been robbed by some roving band of arsonists; Phoebe’s injury helped sell that. I had never wanted to think about these events again. I wanted to leave them where they belonged; in the past. I have never once let the lights in my house go out. The fear remained. But now, the night of the Blood Moon, moments before I put pen to paper, there was a blackout. I had set up plenty of battery-powered lights throughout the house. But the kitchen wasn’t the most illuminated of places. The darkness encroached into the kitchen. And I saw it. I write this looking at it in horror.
The trap door. It had appeared. They found me. I see a red light emanating from the cracks, and I hear footsteps approaching.
Jordon Jones is a MA Creative Writing student at the internationally renowned University of Lincoln. He is originally from the northern town of Warrington, and his passion for storytelling started young. He is still a new author, and learns more about the craft every day. His Twitter is @JordonOJones