The following horror story will appear as a chapter in an anthology I am participating in. I will keep you posted as to its publication date, but it is Halloween, and I really want to share my chapter with someone!
The Children of 1313 W Continental
by Kelly J. Massey
Margot counted the change she had collected in her coat pockets. She had enough for her fix. She ran her shaking hands through her tangled hair, pulling out the knotted chunks and waggling her fingers until the clods of hair fell to the sidewalk. She knew the looks she received as she tottered down the concrete to the liquor store. She also knew that only Nikolai would give her the warmth she needed to get through the night.
She pushed open the door and the chime sounded in her ears. She flinched from the bright fluorescent lighting. Margot moved quickly to the back wall to find the Nikolai Vodka. Her dirty fingers poked out of her gloves and she relished the cool glass feeling as she caressed the bottle in her hands. She cast a wary glance all about her in case someone was watching. Seeing that she was alone she lurched for the checkout counter at the front. She inhaled briskly when she spotted the young, cocky, bearded man standing behind the counter. Margot didn’t want any questions tonight. She just wanted to drink in peace.
“Well, Margot, it didn’t take you long to panhandle your coins. I suppose it’s the usual?” His honeyed voice asked.
Margot glanced up at him before fingering the coins in her pocket, making sure that she did have the correct change. After quick calculations she decided not to answer him and dropped the change on the counter instead.
“Not one for conversing this fine evening, eh Margot?” He chuckled as he rang up her purchase. Margot grabbed the bottle with the intent of leaving. She was only a few feet from the door when he called out again.
“Y’know, instead of sleeping by your usual dumpster you could take up residence in that old abandoned house at 1313 W Continental Drive. At least you’d have protection from the elements.”
Margot’s brow furrowed as she glanced over her shoulder at him. She couldn’t understand his sudden gesture of goodwill.
“Thanks,” she grunted. She rushed out the door. In the time she had been in the liquor store a frozen sleet had started to fall. It stung her face, causing her to take one hand from her precious bottle to pull her green scarf up and over her mouth and nose. Margot kept her head down. She counted the paces to the alley where she resided instead. It took 67 steps down the sidewalk and then another 36 to her dumpster. Her trembling fingers began twisting the black plastic cap as she neared her spot. The cracking of the plastic seal breaking brought a small smile to her face. She turned the corner expecting to see her ripped up sleeping bag and blanket waiting for her, but they were gone. Her mouth hung open. What happened to her only possessions?
“They be cleaning us out again, Margot. We all got cleaned out today,” Walt murmured as he stumbled by.
She turned to look at his retreating back. Then glanced back at her spot that had been her home for the last several months. She took a long swig from her bottle as she thought about what to do next. Perhaps the kid back at the liquor store was right, she should have more shelter than the dumpster provided. What harm could come from staying in an abandoned house?
“Hey, Margot. You comin’?” Walt called back to her as he continued to shuffle down to the other end of the alley.
“Where you goin’?” Margot asked.
“Riverside Park. They’s already got the trashcan fire started. We be needing the warmth tonight,” Walt replied without halting his stilted step.
Margot nearly followed him in her old, familiar way. Yet the thought of being under a roof once again brought a determination that she hadn’t felt in a long time. She stuffed her Nikolai in her large overcoat pocket and hurried back towards the street she came. The street had quieted with the onslaught of the weather. Most of the people had left work early and headed for home. They would have driven past the house on Continental Drive to the other side of the Village of Shotwell, where the wealthy resided. The only use they had for the older district anymore was for their businesses where they purloined their riches off the middle class and the impoverished.
The thought of overlooking the wealthy residents of Shotwell made Margot giddy with excitement. For once she could literally look down her nose at them. She put her head down and shuffled up the street. Once she reached the incline she leaned into the hill so her Welligogs wouldn’t slide back down. The onslaught of sideways sleet was relentless. It took everything Margot had to trod up the slick concrete. She thought about turning back. She thought of how she could have already been around the warm fire at Riverside Park with Walt and the others. Yet her thoughts turned to the house again. It had been years since she had a house to stay in. The Warming Shelter used to be nice, but it wasn’t safe for a woman to stay there anymore.
Just as she crested the hill a black, wrought iron gate swung out before her. She didn’t see it at first, just heard the long groan of the metal hinges grinding over the sound of sleet hitting her ears. She pulled the Nikolai from her pocket and took a long swig while studying the house behind the gate. In faded gold paint she could barely make out the numbers 1313.
“Cheers,” Margot grunted as she raised her bottle of Nikolai to the house. She took another long swig before pocketing her liquid warmth and lurching up the path. She treaded gingerly on the creaky steps to the front porch. Once inside the overhang she cast one last look back out at the street, uncertain of whether she would ever leave.
“Of course I can leave. It’s my damn house,” Margot scolded her own thoughts. The front gate slammed shut. It didn’t groan this time. Margot’s brow furrowed. “Blasted wind,” she commented before turning and prying the front door open. The threshold let out a crepitant screech as she stepped onto it. She careened forward before turning back to take a look at the offending site of sound but the front door slammed shut. It sounded as though the wood had splintered, but she couldn’t find any affliction in the smooth grain of the door.
“Stop being so pushy, you damn house,” Margot sputtered as she pulled her bottle from her overcoat. She tilted her head back as she took a long pull. She wiped her lips on her sleeve and having capped the bottle, dropped it into her pocket.
“I suppose the only place to sleep in here is upstairs,” Margot admonished the dwelling in which she now stood. She took her time treading up the stairs, all the while leaning heavily on the handrail. The walk that had brought her to the house at 1313 W Continental had expended most of her energy.
Margot gasped for air at the top of the landing and she glanced all about her at the faded black on white Edwardian wallpaper. Her mind reeled as the pattern began to change. She saw eyes and twisted mouths begin to move.
“Oh no. No, no, no,” she whispered as she backed into the first doorway on her left. She shut herself in the room before turning to see where she was. The moonlight shone brilliantly in a break of clouds through the large bay window at the opposite end from where Margot stood, illuminating an older, stoic rocking horse.
“Storm must have stopped,” she said while her eyes wandered from the horse and its window to the rest of the room. It seemed to remain untouched from a century earlier. Tin toy soldiers stood at attention on a low dresser. Across from them stood a wall of wooden houses with more soldiers standing behind them, as if they were prepared for the onslaught of the army advancing from the mountainside.
“A little boy used to live here,” Margot murmured as a tear rolled down her cheek. She had a brief memory of looking out from her back porch and seeing her own chubby toddler playing with toys of his own. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the past. It never led to good things, her psychiatrist had told her that.
“Maybe the children’s room isn’t a good place for me to stay. Dr. Goldberg wouldn’t like that,” Margot muttered as she turned around to head out. Instead she was confronted by more blue wallpaper.
“Huh, I could have sworn the door was right here,” she thought aloud. She glanced behind her at the large bay window again, hoping its light would illuminate the doorway. Margot jumped as a jar of marbles spilled the clattering, rolling balls all about the room.
“I know I didn’t touch that,” she whispered and pointed at the offending jar that tumbled. She rubbed her eyes before taking the room in again.
“I’ve had a bit too much warmth from Nikolai tonight. Time to sleep it off,” she mumbled. She tottered her way over to the small twin bed, barely taking notice of the perambulator that stood close by. She flopped on top of the covers and pulled her coat about her tightly, trying to stay warm in the drafty room.
Margot felt herself sleep lightly. She knew she slept; yet she stayed asleep. It was a soft, floating feeling.
Someone tickled her toes. She wriggled her digits back and forth in protest and realized her Welligogs were gone. She didn’t remember taking them off. She shifted uneasily in the bed but remained in her light sleep. The tickling stopped.
Margot dropped into a deeper slumber before someone took hold of her hand. She pulled her hand away when a small voice uttered, “Please.”
Margot turned on her side to face the bay window, her eyes wide.
“Who’s there?” She asked aloud. There was no answer. She glanced down at her feet where her Welligogs remained.
“Damn Nikolai, I need better warmth next time.” She rolled over away from the window and hugged her coat around her even tighter. Her eyes glazed over as she took in the faded blue wallpaper. She thought about her own little cherub boy playing in the backyard once again. But this time she couldn’t stop the memories. She felt overcome by the uniformed men who had barged into her condo and restrained her. They restrained her as they took her three-year-old boy away. He was terrified and he kept crying out, “Momma!” and reaching for her. When she asked why they would do such a thing when she had passed all their drug tests and had been faithful in her visits to Dr. Goldberg; they only had one reply.
“You aren’t fit to be a mother,” an officer gruffly stated after letting her go. Margot had run to the window only to see the car with her little boy already pulling away.
Margot wailed. She heard her cry echo throughout the vacant house. She sobbed until finally she was too tired to carry on. She closed her eyes while her cheeks remained wet. She drifted quickly into a quiet slumber.
Someone tickled her toes again. Margot felt frustrated in her light slumber and moved into the fetal position, her hands clasped in prayer position in front of her face. She began to relax into a deeper sleep again when she felt a small touch on her hands.
“Please,” the small voice said. Margot squinted her sleeping eyes. Suddenly she could see the dimly lit room she lay in, but she wasn’t in the bed, she was by the doorway.
“The doorway,” she whispered, it was where she thought it had been. Why hadn’t it been there when she tried to leave the room?
“Please,” the small voice came again. Margot turned her hazy focus back to the middle of the room. She gasped when she saw a small boy holding a baby. She watched in awe as the boy spoke again.
“Please, you have to save my baby brother,” he whispered. Margot leaned in; the boy’s fear seemed genuine.
“Save him from what?” Margot asked, her eyes wide. She couldn’t believe she was living out her dream.
“Save him from the bad man,” the boy whispered. He stared over Margot’s shoulder with terror. Margot felt a chill run up her spine.
“Who is the bad man?” Margot whispered back.
“Him!” His whisper was frantic. Margot turned her trembling, disjointed gaze behind her.
A sharp light blinded her vision. A pain reverberated from her temple where she had been struck. She hadn’t seen him, didn’t even see what hit her. She crumpled to the floor while the boys screamed. She wanted to say she was sorry, but the blackness overtook her.
She awoke to daylight pouring through the bay window. She lay crumpled on the floor where she had last seen the boys. The baby’s green blanket still lay inches before her outstretched hand. She searched her memory; she didn’t recall it lying in the middle of the floor when she entered the room the night before.
“Right. Now where’s that damn door? Dr. Goldberg wouldn’t want me in here. My mind is playing tricks on me,” she muttered as she got to her feet. The room spun and she felt faint. Margot stumbled back to the bed and passed out.
When she awoke again the red light from the sunset glowed throughout the room. She hurried to the bay window to look out at the town below. The lights were turning out in the business district of Shotwell. Long, fancy cars were starting up to head over the hill. Most would drive in front of the house at 1313 W Continental Drive without taking any notice. Margot sighed. She wanted to be back in the business district again. She wanted to be with her people when they found a new alleyway to make their home. Margot turned from the window to look for the door. An eerie black shadow of a cloaked figure stretched out opposite from her in the room. Margot’s brow furrowed and she pulled her Nikolai from her pocket. She took a long swig before speaking to the shadow.
“What’d you do with them boys?” She demanded. Her voice sounded stronger than she felt. “You think you’re a big man? Pickin’ on them boys and takin’ a swing at me? Yer nothin’ but a coward,” Margot shouted at the shadow. She grabbed the Grimm’s Fairy Tales leather bound book that sat in the window and lunged while chucking the book in the shadow’s direction. The shadow disappeared from the wall seemingly coinciding with the thud of the book. Margot found herself in the middle of the room. She picked her green scarf up off the floor.
“When did I lose you? You never fall off me,” Margot muttered as she wrapped it about her neck loosely. She took another pull from her bottle of Nikolai before gazing about the room again. The blue wallpaper seemed never ending. She shuffled to the bed to recline.
“This place ain’t so bad,” she grumbled as she kicked off her Welligogs. The memory of her toes being tickled made her frown and she glanced back at her empty boots now sitting by the bed. She nearly sat back up to slide her feet back in them, but decided she liked the feeling of her feet being free. Margot watched the red light of the sunset fade quietly to dusk. The walls of the bedroom changed from mauve to lavender to the grey-blue she recalled from the night before. She rested easily against the musty pillows. They were still soft in spite of their smell. Slowly her eyes fluttered closed.
Someone tickled her toes. She squirmed, hoping the sensation would go away. The tickling came again, a bit more frantic this time. Margot tossed herself from the bed and tried to land on her feet. Her head felt like lead and her eyes only remained open for a second before she crumpled to the floor again.
“Boys?” She gasped before losing consciousness.
Margot awoke on the floor. The bedroom was dark. She rubbed her head; it still felt tender from the time before when she had been attacked. Had she just been attacked again? She couldn’t recall. All she remembered were her toes being tickled, but she couldn’t even be sure she saw the boys again. Wearily she glanced all about the space around her. When she felt like she was alone she pulled herself back up onto the bed with shaking hands. Her body collapsed heavily on the bed. Margot panted while trying to gather her wits about her. She wished she had left during the day to find her friends back in the business district. Surely they would have found a new alleyway by now.
Her gaze settled on the gas lamp on the nightstand. She knew it was a long shot, but maybe it could shed some light in the dark room she remained in. She reached her trembling fingers for the switch.
“Don’t. He’ll see us,” whispered a small voice. Margot snatched her hand back and hid herself in her overcoat. She shook with fright.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Margot whispered into her scarf.
“Please, help us. You’re here to help us,” the small voice whispered again.
“I can’t help you. I can’t help myself. I’m not fit to be a mother,” Margot’s voice trembled with despair.
“Save us from him,” the whisper came again.
“You’re just a dream!” Margot sat up and screamed. A piercing light shattered her vision and pain reverberated through her temple once again. Margot crumpled back onto the bed sobbing. Once she quieted she felt a light squeeze on her hands.
“Please,” said the small voice, “We have some time to leave now. He won’t be back for awhile.”
Margot’s eyes fluttered open to see the small boy holding his baby brother beside the bed.
“How do we get out? There is no door,” Margot asked. Her vision blurred and she blinked so hard tears welled at the sides of her eyes.
“Through the window, of course,” the boys smiled. Margot smiled back, it was rare to have someone smile at her. Rarer still that someone could believe she was capable of something more than drinking.
Margot sat up, feeling encouraged with her newfound purpose. She slid her feet into her Welligogs while the boys watched her. She patted the overcoat pocket where her Nikolai sat. She almost took a drink but felt it would be wrong to drink in front of the young boys. She stood uneasily before bending over to pick them up. They were surprisingly light.
“Your baby brother’s bear ears are cute,” she murmured to the little boy.
“He always looks like that,” he replied.
Margot’s brow furrowed. She couldn’t think of a reason why a baby would always wear bear ears. She shrugged it off as she focused on the large bay window. As a precaution she tucked the boys in her overcoat before putting her head down and charging for the only exit she knew.
The glass made a horrific splintering sound. The brisk, late autumn air filled Margot’s nose and mouth with the smell of damp leaves and frigid earth. She closed her eyes, smiling. Finally, she was helping someone.
“Looks like the house claimed another one,” the coroner announced as he passed through the black, wrought-iron gate while pulling on his gloves.
“Yep. Just another transient trying to seek shelter from the storm.” The officer nodded in agreement as he stood guard over the body, waiting for the coroner’s arrival.
“Why don’t they stay at the Warming Shelter?” The coroner asked as he rolled the body onto its back. The face had taken the majority of the impact, blotching the green scarf red.
“Y’know those aren’t safe anymore. They have more knife fights in there than bottles of liquor,” the officer replied thickly.
The coroner nodded, but not really listening. Instead he untangled the arms that were crossed across the chest. A boy doll holding a stuffed bear fell out. They were both smiling.