A Cold House

A Cold House

By: James G. Boswell –

Sweat covered Lauren’s face as she sprinted down the street while sirens blared behind her. She zipped past rundown houses with boarded up windows, rotten siding, and collapsed framework. A police car sped into view with lights ablaze and she ducked into a home’s overgrown side yard, then around to its back porch.

She tried to open the door but it was locked, so she steadied herself and pulled a bobby pin and paperclip out of her pocket, then used them to pick the lock with a smooth, practiced motion. It disengaged with an audible “click.”

Once inside, Lauren locked the door and then stood at the threshold while she caught her breath. Small streams of sunlight peaked around the edges of boarded-up windows and provided faint illumination. As her eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, she perceived bare wooden floors, scuffed woodwork cabinetry with broken or missing drawers, and walls covered in grimy, torn, yellowish wallpaper. Everything was engulfed in dust and cobwebs.

Her sweat felt like it turned to ice and her teeth began to chatter. “That’s strange,” she thought. “Why would someone turn the air conditioning on in an abandoned house in the middle of summer?”

Before she had time to ponder, Lauren heard radio static outside. Someone rattled the doorknob, and then she heard a woman’s voice say, “I think she went in here, but I’m not sure. The door’s locked and I don’t see any other way to get inside. We should search all the homes in the neighborhood, just in case.”

A man’s voice said, “Yes, miss.”

“Take your team and start at the end of the block, then work your way down. All these houses are abandoned anyway, so kick in the doors if you have to. I’ll start with this one and meet you in the middle. Get going.”

“Yes, miss.”

Someone slammed against the door and the sound echoed around the room. The impact repeated every few seconds until the door began to splinter, and Lauren realized she had only a few moments before the door collapsed. She took one step, but the floorboard let out a loud “creak” and she froze in place. The banging paused for a moment, then resumed with harder blows in shorter intervals. Lauren got down on her hands and knees to distribute her weight and minimize the noise of her movement, then crawled through the kitchen doorway.

She found herself in a dark hallway with several closed doors on either side. She reached up and tried each doorknob as she crept along, but they were all locked. She heard a “crash” behind her and then heavy footsteps. When she looked back she saw that a police officer stood in the same spot where she’d been moments before. Sunshine flooded through the doorway and framed the officer in an aura of light.

The officer pulled her gun out of its holster and said, “This is the police. Come out with your hands up!” She looked right at Lauren but didn’t see her in the shadowy darkness.

Lauren crawled to the end of the hallway where she found a flight of stairs around the corner to her right. She slithered up the stairs to the second-floor landing where she saw another, darker hallway that was also flanked by closed doors. Faint light spilled through an open doorway at the end of the hall. Footsteps and creaking floorboards sounded beneath her.

She scraped her knees as she scrambled toward the light and gagged on an unseen cobweb. When she made it to the doorway, she saw that it opened into an empty bedroom with boarded up windows.

She entered the bedroom and closed the door behind her, then looked for a lock but found none. She noticed the room had a closet and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. A dark red liquid oozed out from under the closet door and she stifled a gasp. Then she heard footsteps pound up the stairs and realized she was trapped. She pressed herself into the corner and tried to make herself as small as possible.

She heard the officer rattle the doorknobs in the hall, and the sound came closer and closer. Finally, she heard footsteps approach the bedroom door and saw a flashlight beam through the space underneath it. She held her breath as the officer tried to open the bedroom door, but it remained closed as if it was locked. Then, the footsteps receded through the hallway and down the stairs.

She sat there until she no longer heard anything, then got up and tried the doorknob. The door opened without any effort at all.

Lauren peaked through the space in between the boards that covered a window in the first floor living room and saw a squad car parked outside the house.

“All I have to do is wait,” she thought. “Sooner or later they’ll leave the neighborhood and then I’ll make a break for it. That is, if I don’t freeze to death first. I still don’t know why it’s so cold in here. It must be 90 degrees outside even at night.”

Pale moonlight shined through another window that wasn’t boarded up and bathed the room in a spectral glow. She saw her breath as she sat on the floor and rubbed her bare arms. Then she looked over at the living room’s fireplace with a wistful expression.

Muffled voices came through the ceiling and startled her. They were hushed at first, but then grew louder and more intense. She listened hard but couldn’t make out what they said. A deep voice began to shout while a high voice began to sob. Then, the high voice let out a scream, but it was cut off by a “whack,” then a “thud” as if something heavy fell on the floor. She looked back outside at the squad car with anxiety, but didn’t see any motion.

Several minutes passed and then she heard a strange grinding sound as if someone was sawing a wet log. A dark spot formed on the ceiling. Liquid began to drip from it onto the floor.

Something on the staircase caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. She looked at it for a moment and saw a round, shadowy shape on one of the stairs. It had what looked like long, greasy black hair matted against a pale grey forehead. Black ichor drooled from what appeared to be a lipless mouth with gleaming teeth. It gazed at her through what seemed like empty eye sockets. Then, it moved.

Lauren’s eyes widened in horror as the round shape dropped down onto the stair beneath it with a “thump,” then another, and another until it reached the bottom. Then, it rolled across the floor towards her like a possessed bowling ball and stopped when it came to within a few feet of where she sat. It opened its mouth and said in a high, raspy voice, “Dig!”

Lauren shrieked in terror, balled herself up against the wall, and covered her eyes. Her cries caught the attention of the two police officers who were parked outside. They jumped out of their car, ran up to the front door, and began to kick it down as they shouted into their radios for backup.

The commotion made Lauren look up, and when she did she saw that the shape had disappeared. As the front door began to buckle, she looked around for an escape route and saw a door on the other side of the living room next to the fireplace. She ran over and threw it open to reveal abyssal darkness inside.

She took one step through the doorway, but her foot caught nothing but air. She shot her hands out against the walls to catch herself. She realized that this was the stairway leading down into the basement.

She lowered her foot until it landed on a step, then the other, and continued all the way down the stairs. When she reached the bottom, she felt a crunchy softness under her feet and sensed that the basement had a dirt floor. She heard the front door smash open and then the sounds of yelling and pounding footsteps upstairs. She walked with her arms out in front of her in the darkness until she touched a concrete wall, then began to feel around for another doorway or someplace else to hide.

The basement filled with ethereal green light, and she turned around to see where it came from. There, in the middle of the floor, stood a woman’s headless body surrounded by luminescence. It wore a simple floral print dress that was torn and ragged.

Lauren stared in shock as the body pointed to a shovel that sat against the wall, then at the ground beneath its feet. It disappeared and the light went out, and she found herself once again in total darkness. She hyperventilated as she felt her way along the wall until she reached the shovel, grabbed it, then stepped over to the place where she thought the apparition had been and began to dig.

Her shovel blade hit something solid in the ground just as she heard the basement door fling open. A ray of moonlight pierced the darkness through a window and illuminated the spot that Lauren had dug up. There, she saw a bone sticking out of the dirt floor. Footsteps pounded down the stairs and flashlight beams shot all around.

Lauren dropped the shovel and rushed over to the window, then pushed it open and felt a blast of hot summer air against her face. She crawled through the window, then shut it behind her as the police landed at the bottom of the stairs.

Lauren sipped hot coffee as she sat in a booth in a small restaurant while a television behind the bar showed the local news broadcast. Her picture appeared on the screen, and she looked up with an expression of surprise and concern.

The newscaster said, “Police are looking for Lauren Samson, a criminal who escaped from the Jackson County Corrections Facility two weeks ago and is still on the run. She was convicted of multiple counts of breaking and entering, robbery, and theft and is considered dangerous. Police are asking anyone who has seen her to contact them immediately.”

The newscaster continued, “In a related story, police discovered the remains of Jennifer Hewlett, a woman who disappeared 10 years ago, as they searched an abandoned house where they believed Ms. Samson was hiding. Someone buried Ms. Hewlett’s decapitated body in the home’s basement, and police later discovered her severed head in a bedroom closet on the second floor as well.

“Police subsequently arrested Ms. Hewlett’s former boyfriend, Jacob Parker, on suspicion of murder. He and Ms. Hewlett had lived together in the house before she vanished. He was a person of interest in her disappearance but was not arrested due to a lack of evidence. Then, the case went cold.”

The screen cut away to a video of police leading an older man in handcuffs into a courthouse as reporters shouted questions at him, then cut back to the newscaster.

“Investigators identified Ms. Hewlett’s head and body with DNA technology. They also recovered Mr. Parker’s DNA from skin cells under her fingernails. This evidence indicated Ms. Hewlett had been in a struggle with Mr. Parker shortly before she died. An autopsy revealed that someone crushed her skull with a hammer and then cut her head off with a saw. Police found a hammer and saw in Mr. Parker’s toolshed that matched the corresponding wounds on Ms. Hewlett’s body. The motive for the killing and subsequent mutilation remains unclear, though police believe he kept the murder weapons as trophies.”

The screen showed a picture of Jennifer Hewlett. She had raven-colored hair and the radiant smile of a young woman in the prime of her life. She wore the same floral print dress that was on the headless body Lauren saw in the house.

Lauren stared at the television screen, dumbstruck, then jumped when she saw that Jennifer Hewlett now sat across from her in the booth. She looked at Lauren with a hard expression of dead seriousness. Before Lauren could say anything, three police officers entered the restaurant and began to look around. Lauren froze, but then Jennifer pointed over Lauren’s shoulder. Lauren looked where Jennifer indicated and saw a back exit she hadn’t noticed before.

Lauren stood up, dropped a few dollars on the table for the coffee and tip, then crept over to the back door and pushed it open. As she stepped through the doorway into the parking lot, she looked back towards the booth, but Jennifer had disappeared.

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