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"When hinges creak

in doorless chambers..."

 

As usual, it was a dark and stormy night. Carol tripped in some overgrown weeds as she and Tom made their way up to the dark mansion.

 

"Damn," she said, struggling to get back up. "Now my dress is all muddy. This is all your fault, ya know!"

 

"Mine?!"

 

"I told you we shouldn't have come out here this late with that… (ouch! dang thorns!)... that lemon of a car!"

 

"Yeah, but I wanted you to see the River at night. It's usually pretty under a full moon. I didn't know it would storm like this tonight."

 

Tom reached a hand out to her. "Here, let me help. Hurry, this storm is getting worse, and you know how I feel about lightning!"

 

Carol wiped her dress with her wet hand as she trotted off towards the wreck of a house, still keeping her other hand in Tom's. "Ya, well, don't you ever listen to the weather reports on the radio, Thomas? I mean, you're always listening to….. aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!"

 

"What?! What's wrong?"

 

Carol had stopped in her tracks and was pointing up at the Mansion. "There! I thought I saw someone looking at us from that window!"

 

"Well, it has to be the lightning playing tricks with the shadows, cuz no one has lived in this house for years. Jeez, you almost gave me a heart attack! Don't scream like that. Now c'mon before we catch pneumonia."

 

"I don't care how scared of lightning you are, Tom, I'm not going in there! I know what I saw."

 

"You saw nothing. You're just tired and cranky. Now come on! We don't have to go in; we can just stand on the porch till this rain lets up."

 

She hated when he talked down to her like that. And she hated when he presumed to tell her how she felt and what she saw, as though he knew her better than she knew herself! Reluctantly Carol, still holding on to Tom's hand, went up with him to the columned porch of the decrepit plantation-style manor. Looking about at the ornate detailing of the house, Carol imagined that it must have been quite a Southern Belle in its day; but now it was just dark and creepy, like one of those houses you imagine in scary stories.

 

Carol’s hair was matted down in stringy globs by the rain, and the dainty little shawl she wore to keep the cool night air off her neck was now soaked and useless. After trying to ring out both her hair and the shawl, she put her arms around herself and rubbed them in an effort to get warm. Tom was busy mumbling to himself while he looked for the best place for them to stand on the porch that didn’t have either a hole in the floor below or in the overhang above.

 

Suddenly there was a great crash of thunder and a bright flash. Lightning had hit the ground where the two had just been standing moments ago in the front lawn.

 

Startled, Tom and Carol both jumped back away from the steps. Tom cut his arm on a metal thing sticking out of the wall. Holding his arm, he fumed, "Oh, to hell with this! I've changed my mind. We're not standing out here!"

 

Carol begged him not to make her go in. Ignoring her pleas, Tom used his good arm to ram the door open. A freezing blast of air rushed out and hit them both, nearly knocking them to the ground. Even Tom was a little unnerved as they peered into the dark void beyond the door. Stepping into the foyer of the house, Tom dug around in his pocket for his lighter; Carol held tightly to his arm.

 

"Ow! Watch it, will ya."

 

"Oh, s-s-s-sorry. Does that cut hurt bad?" Carol asked, shivering.

 

"What do YOU think? Duh."

 

Suddenly, a beam of light appeared at the center of the room, and Tom dropped his lighter on the floor. Carol screamed so loud that Tom didn't know which had scared him more - her, or the oddly dressed black man that suddenly materialized within the beam of light. The room filled with the chilling, high pitched voice of the strange person.

 

"Welcome to the Gracey mansion!" he said with the grin of a Cheshire cat. Instantly a book appeared, opened, within the outstretched hand of the stranger. Thumbing quickly through the pages, he said, "What are your names? Hmm? Hmm?"

 

"Um.. Uh," stammered Carol, petrified.

 

"Tom and Carol," Tom interjected.

 

"Miiiiikkke aaannndddd Caaaarrrooollll," said the man as he looked for their names in the book. "Nope, not here. Do you have reservations? Hmm?"

 

"Uh, no," said Tom.

 

"You don’t mean to tell me that you haven't contacted the Ghost Relations Department yet? Hmm?"

 

"G-g-g-ghost department???" balked Carol. She didn’t much believe in haunted houses and wandering spirits and such nonsense, but she was deeply spooked by what was happening and the last thing she wanted to hear was anything about ghosts.

 

"Ya, stupid," said the man. "You can't just plop your dead carcasses here without a reservation!"

 

"Dead?!" Tom interrupted, nearly hyperventilating. "Is this some sort of joke?

 

The man looked up from the book with a belligerent sigh and glared at Tom. “ Do I look like I’m joking? Well, by the look of you two, your deaths were obviously not messy ones. You’re lucky. You should see some of the disaster cases that check in here.”

 

“What are you talking about?” said Tom. “We're not dead!"

 

"Oh reeeeeeallllllly?" said the man with a wicked grin as he stepped closer to them, the odd beam of light following him. "Well don't worry your little heads, my pets; we have LOTS of room. I think we’ll make an exception for now. We can make proper arrangements later. Please follow me right this way to... the dying room."

 

"Dying room?" asked Tom.

 

"Boy, you are stupid. You're better off dead, then, anyway," replied the man with a hint of disgust. "We can make ourselves more uncomfortable in the dying room while we fill out your forms. Well don't just stand there like a corps! At least try to look alive; it'll make the dying so much more....enjoyable. For us, that is. Come on!"

 

Tom and Carol, holding for dear life to each other, followed the man cautiously through large wooden and deeply engraved doors. The carpet, what they could see of it, was a richly detailed red Oriental rug that only the extremely rich could afford. Tom was a lover of antiques, and had he not been scared out of his skull at the moment, the hall and rooms through which they passed would have received his appreciative and thoughtful nods of impressed approval.

 

"Did you say ‘US’?” asked Tom as his skin tried to crawl off of his body. “Are there others here?"

 

The man replied only with a deep chuckle. Tom and Carol hesitantly followed their unnamed host. Carol's heart started to beat nearly out of her chest. "Tom, what the heck is this? What is he talking about? Where are we going?"

 

"Calm down," Tom told her with that patronizing tone she hated so much. He tried to sound brave and nonchalant, but he was just as terrified as she was. "He's probably just teasing. I think he wants us to go into the living room to..."

 

"DYING room! DYING room!" shouted the man. "We'll have none of that "living" around here! 'Course, you can't help that... for now."

 

Still too dark to see anything at all, except the man in the beam of light, Tom and Carol slowly made their way into what they assumed must be the dying room.

 

"Lights!" shouted the man. Instantly candles ignited themselves throughout the room. Tom and Carol were horrified as they looked around the room and saw that the room was full of people. At least, they looked like people, but by this candlelight they were the most ghastly looking people that Tom and Carol had ever seen.

 

One fairly decent looking "woman", seated off in the corner, said sarcastically, to no one in particular, "See, my mother told you they would come."

 

"Leota, my dear girl," said the man to her, "piss off. We have let you stay here only at your mother's insistence."

 

Rising from her chair, she walked (or did she glide?) across the floor over to Tom and Carol, pausing for a moment beside the man. Turning to him with a wry smile, she lightly pat him on the check.

 

"Dearest Eddy," she said. "My mother and I are eternally bonded to this house. It is we who have let you stay here out of pity, when we learned that you were lynch-mobbed by a group of angry Disney fans for that horrid movie you made about this house." He glared at her as she wafted on towards their new guests.

 

"Welcome!" she said to them, eyeing Tom up and down seductively. "We've been dying to have you! Did you bring your death certificates? Oh, please, sit down, before you fall down."

 

"They don't have death certificates," said the man who apparently was named "Eddy".

 

"What?!" cried Leota. "Then why are you here?! I see that I'll have to have a word with the Ghost Relations Department again!" With that, she turned on her "heels" and stormed out of the room.

 

Eddy rolled his eyes in disgust. “Thank God. I never thought the silly tart would leave.”

 

Shaking violently with fear, Carol looked at Tom and said, "Thomas, if you love me at all, then get me the hell out of here right now!"

 

Before Tom could answer, they both took a startled step back as Eddy barked at them, "No! You can’t leave!"

 

Composing himself, fearing that his guests would make a mad dash for the door any moment - not that they would even make it to the door, but their running about would just slow things down - Eddy replied, "Uh, well, what I mean to say is, that it would be quite foolish for you to wander back out into that, uh, hellish storm. Please, do sit. I assure you, you are quite safe - for the moment." That last part he said under his breath, though the "others" seated in the room gave various giggles and snorts of glee.

 

Tom and Carol glanced at each other with dismay, but then mutually agreed - not by word, but by expression of face - that it just might be wise to sit down. They looked about for chairs closer to the door of the dying room, but when they realized that there were no other empty seats, they sat close together on the musty, blood red couch before them. They sat rather uneasily, noticing that every eye -or eye socket?!- was looking straight at them in the dimly lit room.

 

Tom, striving desperately to find his nerve and thinking that he had better make the most of it, cleared his throat.

 

"Um, uh, well, my name is Tom…that's, um, short for "Thomas", of course, and, um, this is my, uh, girlfriend, Carl, I mean, Carol, Um, so, uh, are you folks having a party of some sort, um, I mean, a costume party, or something?" Tom cringed at the buffoonery of his words. Again cackles and sneers of laughter echoed around the room.

 

"Party?" came a fragile voice from what they guessed to be an elderly woman seated across from them. She stood up slowly and approached them, and Carol noticed that she wore a rather old style dress, like something from turn-of-the-century Americana, and she seemed to have a flower of some sort in her hand. "Ah yes," she said, "a party."

 

Her voice was rather kind, almost matronly, and for a moment Carol didn't feel as frightened. "Actually", said the woman, "we were about to play a murder mystery game. Would you like to play? Oh, say yes; it will be so much fun."

 

"Uh, well…." stammered Tom.

 

"I am Mary Gilbert Gracey," she said, "but you may call me Mrs. Gracey, for short, if you wish. Would you care for something to drink?" Before they could answer, Mrs. Gracey put out her hand and pulled on a valet cord dangling beside her. Had that been there all along? A great bell rung somewhere in the bowels of the house.

 

From no particular direction that anyone could tell, a voice said, "You rang, mum?" And without raising her voice, Mrs. Gracey simply replied, "Two cups, please."

 

At no time did she take her eyes off of Tom and Carol, and neither did she break her kindly smile. To them she said, "Something warm for you, I think…? Yes, you must be cold and wet. How about a nice fire?" With that, she turned and went to the fireplace off to their right. Standing before it, she put out her hands as though she were warming them. "Yes, a fire," she said. Slowly flames began to appear in the fireplace until there was a full roast going.

 

A woman, dressed in what appeared to be a maid's costume, entered the room without a noise. In her hand was a small silver tray, with two crystal glasses of purplish liquid upon it. Was that steam rising from it? Who could tell in this candle-lit room. She offered them to Tom and Carol, who took them hesitantly. Without turning around, Mrs. Gracey said, "Thank you, Prudence. You may leave now. We will be having…a party….later; so I need you to prepare for dinner."

 

Prudence glanced at the two guests on the couch. "My, my! Looks like we'll have a large meal tonight. I'll get out the BIG pots!" With that, she strolled away whistling a rather familiar and cheerful tune about some smiling spooks.

 

Another voice echoed in the room. It seemed to come from the shadows at the far back of the immense "dying" room. It sounded like a woman's voice, though it was raspy. "Come on, come on! Let's get on with it!" she said irritably.

 

"Patience, patience. All in good time," said Mrs. Gracey as she wandered back to Tom and Carol. "Don't mind her," she whispered to them, "she's just upset because someone dropped a house on her sister."

 

"I heard that, you old bat!" came the raspy voice again. Ignoring the insult, she smiled again at her guests. "Please, drink. Life is so short. We wouldn't want you to catch your death of cold, now would we?"

 

Slowly, each of them took a sip from their glasses. It was an odd taste, but still, it was pleasant. "Mmmm," said Tom, "has a bit of an almond flavor to it."

 

"Why, yes, it does," agreed Carol. And with that, both of them suddenly dropped their glasses with a loud shatter, and dropped to the floor.

 

About this time, Leota returned to the room. Everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats, watching for any movement from Tom and Carol as they lay unconscious on the floor. Taking all of this in at a glance, Leota asked, "Are they... one of us?"

 

"No," replied Eddy. "Just sleeping"

 

"Well, then what are you all just sitting around like dead beats for? Take them upstairs," Leota demanded. "You can take the young man to my room, but bring the girl to the Corridor of Doors. The eighth door is empty, is it not?"

 

Mrs. Gracey stepped forward. "My little Leota, darling, we were about to have dinner."

 

"Oh no you don't," she replied, bending down near Tom's body. "I kind of like this one. Do what you like with that one, but leave him to me." Leota ran her ethereal fingers through Tom's hair, which moved about as though a light wind was blowing through it.

 

There were deep sighing protests of "not again!" from the others in the room. "Master Gracey will not be pleased to hear that," said one of them.

"Bah!" spat Leota. "Don’t threaten me with the Master. You may do what you please with this boy... when I am through with him."

 

"Leota, dear," said Mrs. Gracey, "My son may tolerate that from you, but I will not. Whatever game you have planned for that boy won't get very far if he is worried about his female here. Either we take both of them now, or both must live...for now."

 

"Then do as I said. Take them to their rooms! I'm sure I can handle the Master when the time comes. He usually comes around to my point of view."

 

"Very well. Do as she says," resigned Mrs. Gracey.

 

"Eddy, be gentle with him when you move him," ordered Leota.

 

"Uh uh. You're on your own with that one. I ain't drivin' you no more, Miss Daisy!"

 

"Fine. Mother will deal with you later. I'll get the caretaker to do it." As she left the room in anger, a massive blast of air slammed the doors behind her.

 

Mrs. Gracey looked down at the two young people on the floor. "I was so looking forward to a grand banquet. I suppose we'll have to wait."

 

 

"When strange & frightening

sounds echo thru the halls..."

 

Carol slowly opened her eyes. She could feel that she was being dragged across a floor by both of her arms. Not daring to move or struggle, she tried her best to focus on her surroundings. It was hopeless, of course. She was far too groggy from whatever that was that she drank earlier.

 

Carol could make out only the flickering of candles which hung on the walls of what appeared to be a rather narrow hall. But the noises! That she could hear. Muffled sounds of screaming and shouting. There was the rattle of doorknobs and what sounded like fists beating against a door, and that unnerved her more than anything else that had happened that night.

 

She wasn't sure who or what was dragging her along, but by the sound of their voices, she didn't want to know. She listened carefully as she tried harder to make out the sights around her, though what they said made no sense to her.

 

"She's playing with fire, that one is," said one of them, whose voice sounded more like a salivating wolf, if wolves could talk.

 

"Aye," said the other, who sounded like an old man whose vocal cords had been crushed, "one day she's gonna push the Master too far. She knows that he has been dabbling in The Arts for some time now. Soon his powers will match hers...maybe even her mothers'. She better watch out!"

 

"Yes, yes!" replied the first. "I'd love to see that little wench trapped in her own little glass world like her mother."

 

Suddenly there was the sound of a squawking bird. By the sound of its wings, it must be a big one, thought Carol. It seemed to be flitting back and forth over them.

 

"Damn crow!" said the old man. "Ow! Stop that! Stop pecking me, you demon bird!" As he tried to swat the large black raven attacking him, he inadvertently let go of Carol's arm.

 

"Grrrrr!," growled the other. "I've had it with that bird! I'm gonna wring his little neck! Let's get him!"

 

Dropping Carol with a thud to the ground, he swung violently at the bird as it dodged his fists. Carol could hear the kawing of the bird as it flew away down the corridor, and the thumping of feet as her two captors chased it.

 

Carol lay absolutely still on the floor until she was sure they were gone. Now she was alone, with nothing but the cries of voices coming from behind the doors. She tried to pull herself up onto her feet, but she was still quite light-headed and fell hard against a wall.

 

Turning to the wall to brace herself, she suddenly got a rush of adrenaline as she looked at what appeared to be thousands of little glowing eyes staring at her from the walls. Silly me, she thought to herself, it’s just wall paper! Ugh, how horrid!

 

Looking down the corridor, she saw nothing but darkness at both ends. Slowly Carol began to make her way back down the hall, in the direction she had been dragged from. The storm outside was still raging, and lightning momentarily illuminated the hallway. At just that moment, out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something move. That's ridiculous, she thought. It's just a door.

 

Ever so slowly she moved closer to the door to inspect it. Looking closer she realized - it was moving, and she covered her mouth to stifle a scream. The door pulsated and buckled, like the stomach of a giant wooden man breathing in and exhaling. She backed away quickly and almost tripped on a torn piece of carpeting. Carol wanted to run, but the sound of the wood floor under the carpet made loud squeaking noises. She headed down the hall, forcing herself not to look at the doors as she passed them, and trying to block out the screams and appeals for help coming from behind them.

 

 

"Whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still..."

 

 

Dick O'Dell, the caretaker of the Mansion, peeked around the door post of the dying room. Seeing that many ghosts in one place was not something he was keen on seeing for more than a few seconds, and even less so when he had to go in among them. He saw Mrs. Gracey standing by the fireplace, and, although she was always kind to him, even she wasn't a comfort in the presence of so many ghouls. Remembering the way they liked to taunt him, he began to back away from the door.

 

Just then, Leota marched passed him and into the room, bellowing loudly, "Let's go, Dick! We haven't got eternity!"

 

Dick took half-steps, his legs shaking so hard it was a wonder he could stand at all. "We're waiting!" shouted Leota. All eyes were on Dick as he stepped into the room.

 

"Hello, Mr. O'Dell," said Mrs. Gracey in her soft voice, "How are you this evening?"

 

Dick, his hand shaking wildly, removed his cap as he addressed the ghostly mother of his master. "H-H-H-Hello, M-M-Mrs. G-G-G-Gracey."

 

"Alright, enough with the small talk, yak-yak, and flim flam," Leota interrupted. "See that one over there on the floor? Take him to my chambers immediately."

 

Dick stood frozen on the spot. Waltzing over to him with her hands on her hips, Leota said, "Ya know, DICK...I know a few pirates that would just love to have their way with you. So either move your butt over there, or I'll move it over to them!"

 

"Must you be so crude?” remarked Eddy sharply, leaning against the back of a chair with his arms folded. “And just how, pray tell, do you expect this withered frame of a mortal to lift a full grown young man?"

 

Noting that Eddy still had his spot light shining on himself, she retorted, "I see you're still consumed with your own fabulousness. You know we hate bright lights, so why don't you cut that thing off and make yourself useful." Suddenly she seemed to change her mind about acting smart towards Eddy, and she floated over to him, putting on her best pouting face and voice. "Oh pleeease, be a sweetheart and help me... just this once."

 

"You're joking."

 

"I promise. Just this last time. I'll even ask my mother to arrange for you to put in a few public appearances."

 

"And how would she do that?"

 

"Are you kidding? Hollywood is full of creeps. Some of Mother's dearest acquaintances are producers and directors. And I know that you've been dying for a little exposure lately. I promise."

 

"Well, alright then," said Eddy. "Let's go, bag-o-bones; we've gotta body to haul." After a bit of struggle with Tom's body, and with a touch of Eddy's levitation abilities to lighten the load, they dragged Tom up the grand stairway. Leota called after Eddy,

 

"And turn off that damn light!"

 

Carol made her way to the end of the hallway. Before her, she could just make out the first two steps of the Great Staircase; but beyond that was total darkness.

 

"Well, I'm sure as heck not going down there!" she said to herself. But what else was there to do? Obviously a staircase of this size must lead to a main entrance. Her only other choices were either to go back the other direction, or, to take the other hallway she had passed which appeared to lead into the interior of the house. Neither of those two choices was inviting, to say the least.

 

She closed her eyes and tried to think clearly. It did little good. Well, either way, she couldn't just stand there. Surely her captors would return soon to look for her. And besides, this suit of armor against the wall was giving her the creeps.

 

With every ounce of inner strength she could muster, Carol moved her foot down to the first step of the staircase. But something at the back of her mind made her stop. Yes, there was fear, but there was something else.

 

Then she realized what it was. Thomas! How could she just leave him in this terrible place? She knew she couldn't. She had to find him. But where to look in this huge house? He could be anywhere. And judging by the astoundingly large number of doors in this hall alone, it could take her hours to search the entire mansion for him. She shivered at the thought. The last thing she wanted to do was to run into one of those horrible people again.

 

Stepping back again away from the stairs, she decided to try the other end of the hall. If there was an end to it, she certainly couldn't see it from here. But one thing was for sure, she had to keep moving.

 

She took no more than a few steps towards the other end of the hall, when suddenly the first door on her left slowly began to open. The hinges made an awful squeaking sound. There was no place to hide; and she couldn't run away even if she tried. She was glued to the spot with blood-curdling fear. Who would come out of that room? What would come out?

 

But after a few moments she realized that no one (and no THING) was coming out at all. From where she stood, she could see a faint flicker of light coming from far within the room. Lit candles suggest that the one who lit them might still be around. Then again, she remembered that Eddy had lit all the candles in the dying room with merely a verbal command. Maybe the entire house was lit up in such a fashion. If that was so, then maybe there was no one around after all. She could only hope.

 

Carol crept closer to the door and peeked within. Once her head was passed the door jam, she discovered that the room was actually brighter than she thought it was. It was as though the darkness of the corridor kept the light of the room from passing the door. Nevertheless, it was still too dark to see with any great clarity.

 

The room appeared to be filled with large plants. At the head of the room lie a large oblong box set upon a dais. In the far corner was what appeared to be a preacher's podium. Several small chairs and end tables littered the place. But most importantly, it appeared that there was no one else in the room.

 

Treading lightly, Carol entered the room. She discovered that the large plants in this room were actually bouquets of flowers. Dead and withered flowers. Apparently the house-keeping in this manor was not up to specs.

 

At the podium she saw a few pieces of paper and a small Bible. Carol thought it quite odd to find a Bible in a place like this. It was covered with thick dust, which she blew off. Carol wasn't all that religious, but the warm memories of church picnics and Sunday school classes as a child somehow made her feel a little comforted. She decided to take the little pocket-sized Bible with her, just for moral support.

 

She also dusted off the sheets of paper that sat on the podium. Carol read it aloud quietly. "Here lies our brother, Jamie Padgett, respected business man."

 

Looking about the room, she noticed that there were no pictures or objects of any kind on the walls. A bright flash of lightening illuminated the cause: the entire room was made of glass, presumably designed as a conservatory.

 

But the lightning had revealed something else as well. It seems that the box she had seen was more than just a box. Its distinctive shape betrayed its identity. Carol's heart skipped a beat as she realized that both the presence of a coffin and the notes on the podium - not to mention the lack of mourners - implied that the late Jamie Padgett's body had not yet been buried.

 

Carol heard a creaking sound. Slowly at first, then with more urgency. She looked closely at the coffin and noticed the lid starting to move. Carol instantly ducked down behind the podium. She was blinded with panic. Only in nightmares had she ever imagined such a thing. She wanted to look, but she couldn't move.

 

The sound of creaking continued. In fact, it sounded like the whole coffin was coming apart. Whatever was inside of it was trying desperately to get out. Carol was certain that she didn't want to be there when it did. She could see the door from where she was crouching behind the podium. Maybe if she ran she could get out of the room before "it" got out of the box.

 

Keeping her head down, Carol began to tip-toe toward the door, keeping the coffin in view but not daring to look straight at it. Suddenly she heard the kawing of a bird in the direction of the coffin. Turning quickly around, she saw that it was a big black raven. Could this be the same bird she had heard earlier out in the hall? And how did he get in here without her noticing? She stood staring at it in disbelief.

 

"Awk! Awk! Come! Come!" said the bird to her. Carol wondered whether she should go to it. Could she trust it? After all, it seemed to have saved her from her captors a while ago. Stepping slowly towards the bird (but not too close), she was intrigued that it did not seem afraid of her. "Awk! Mr. Padgett! Mr. Padgett!" it said.

 

"Uh, what.....what about Mr. Padgett?" replied Carol curiously, speaking in a normal volume. Her voice echoed in this room.

 

"Awk! Leota's toy, Mr. Padgett," it said in its bird voice. "Thinks he's a vampire. Awk! Always tries to get out, but never does! Awk! Awk!"

 

"Hello?!" came a terrified voice from the coffin. Carol jumped back so fast that she almost broke her leg against a table. "Hello? Leota, is that you? Please, please let me out! Leota!"

 

Though thoroughly frightened, Carol felt a twinge of pity for the man. "Should I let him out? What should I do?" she asked the raven.

 

"Squawk!! Why?!"

 

"He might suffocate in there!"

 

The bird made a sound resembling a laugh. "Awk! But he's already dead! Nothing to do for him now! Nothing to do! Nothing to do! Squawk! This is what happens to men who reject Leota! Awk!"

 

"Let me out of here, please! Let me out!" pleaded Mr. Padgett.

 

Carol was speechless. The poor man, locked in a coffin for eternity.

 

"Why does he think that he's a vampire?"

 

"Awk! There! Over there! On the table! The book! The book! Awk! Look in the book!"

 

Carol saw an old rugged book sitting on an end table against the glass wall. Dusting off the cover, she could just barely read it. "Ghost Gallery" it said. Opening it, she discovered that all the pages were sealed together except the pages which spoke of Mr. Padgett. She started to read it, glancing up at the coffin now and then in pity. It said,

 

ENTRY: 4,675,786,565,369,068,332,909,556,320

Name: Jamie Louis Padgett

Born: 1 April 1888, New Orleans, LA

Died: 8 November 1936

 

Jamie Padgett was a wealthy plantation owner in New Orleans, renowned for his indigo and sugar cane crops. Because he was of great social prominence, he held many cotillions and balls. At one masquerade ball, he had the misfortune to meet Little Leota, who rarely left her Mansion. She decided she wanted his plantation, so she seduced him and married him. But Jamie loved the plantation and would not transfer the title to her. One evening Madame Leota introduced him to a friend of hers from London. He said his name was Nicholas Crown and that he was interested in starting his own plantation. Jamie was only too happy to share all his knowledge with Crown. As they strolled through the grounds of the Mansion, Crown suddenly insisted he was a vampire. Jamie laughed, and with amazing speed Crown grabbed Jamie and drove his teeth into the poor man's neck. Jamie woke up the next evening in his room; Little Leota insisted that he had slept through the day. He realized that he must be a vampire and began the disturbing habit of sleeping all day in a coffin, only rising to roam the Mansion by night. One evening Jamie heard strange music and muffled crying. As he tried to open the coffin lid he found it would not yield. The coffin would not open! He fought and screamed for help, never suspecting that his beloved bride Little Leota had nailed it shut. For seven nights he fought and struggled each evening. He would succeed in cracking the lid almost enough to escape, however by that time it was sunrise. When he would see the light of day through the tiny slit, he would close the lid in mortal fear of the sunlight. Of course, Little Leota would renail the lid shut every afternoon. When his struggles finally died with him, Little Leota claimed the plantation and turned it over to her adulterant partner, Nicholas Crown, who had never been a vampire.

 

Placing the book down, she turned again to the raven. "Oh, the poor, wretched man! How horrible!"

 

"Awk! Not to us! Not to us! Squawk!"

 

Realizing that she had wasted too much time in here, she decided to leave in search of Tom again. "Do you know where they took my boyfriend Tom? I need to find him."

 

"Awk! Yes!" was all that it said.

 

"Well, where?!"

 

"Awk! Can't tell! Can't tell! kaw-kaw!"

 

"What?! Why not?!"

 

"Squawk! Only Madame Leota can say!"

 

"HER? Ugh! I don't want to see her again."

 

"No! Awk! That was her daughter! Her daughter!"

 

"So, then where do I find this 'Madame Leota' person?"

"Person?!" the bird laughed itself into a fit. "No person! A head! A head!"

 

"Ahead of what?" Asked Carol, totally confused.

 

"Awk! Never mind!" giggled the bird. "This way to the Madame! This way! This way!" And with that, the dark raven took off out through the door and down the Corridor of Doors into the darkness beyond.

 

"Wait!" Carol called after him. But it was too late. He was gone. As she started for the door, she gave one last, parting glance to the coffin. Pleas for freedom continued to gush from the box.

 

"Good-bye, Mr. Padgett," she whispered, "I'm sorry." She closed the door behind her.

 

Out in the hall Carol swallowed hard at the thought of having to walk back down that corridor again, with all of its creepy doors and mad sounds. But that was the direction the raven flew, so onward she went.

 

 

"That is the time when ghosts are present

practicing their terror with ghoulish delight…"

 

Inside his skull Tom’s brains were surfboarding on a wave of delirium aimed for an outcropping of nausea. Tom tried to open his eyes, but his headache told him that he'd be better off leaving them closed. He was laying on something soft, which he assumed was a bed, but he still felt a little uncomfortable. Something was wrong, and it wasn't only the fact that he could feel his feet being tied to the bedposts.

 

"What… what the hell’s going on?" he asked. "Please, say something!" No one said anything, but he knew that there was someone there. He felt a breeze on his skin when they walked by. The breeze made him realize why he was uncomfortable.

 

"Hey, where's my clothes?!"

 

"Shhhhh!" said a voice, which sounded like that of an old man's. "The lady will be here shortly to....join you."

 

"The lady? What lady?" he said, not too thrilled at the thought of some strange woman seeing him in this condition. The surfboard in his head suddenly turned into a rollercoaster car about to plunge from the top of Mount Everest into the Bottomless Pit. Wow, what was in that drink? He could barely move.

 

"And where's Carol?"

 

"Carol?" asked the man as he tied Tom's left hand to a post. "Hmmm. The name is not familiar. Is she a new resident? I hadn't heard any reports of a new resident."

 

"Carol. My girlfriend. She was with me in the dying room when...."

 

"Ah! I see," said the man as he walked around to the other side of the bed. "There was no other living person in the room when I collected you from the floor. But if this Carol is here, who knows where they may have taken her.” He paused for a moment. “Although, I did hear Mrs. Gracey say something about dinner."

 

Things were slowly starting to come into focus somewhat. The jackhammer stopped slamming his head and he could barely see the haggard old man preparing another noose for his right hand.

 

Gathering all of his strength, Tom suddenly reached out, grabbed the old man by the front of his shirt, and pulled him down to his face. The man stunk as though he had never had a bath.

 

Fighting the urge to vomit. Tom clenched his teeth and yelled in his face, "I said, WHERE ARE MY CLOTHES!!" And with a heave, Tom shoved the old man backwards, where he crashed against a large looking-glass on the wall and laid stone-cold on the ground.

 

Using his free hand, Tom untied his left hand and feet. He jumped off the bed and searched around for his clothes. Suddenly the door flew open, just as he was buckling the belt of his pants. In walked the lady - Leota. She immediately took note of the caretaker sprawled on the floor.

 

"Oh, poor Dick," she said, though not with much sympathy. "You shouldn't have done that. He isn't much of a man, but he is a damn good caretaker of this house." She walked over to Dick to check his pulse.

 

Tom stood where he was. Leota had a rather larger-than-death presence that seemed oddly enough to captivate most men.

"Still among the living," she replied dryly as she put down Dick's warm hand. "Gives me the willies."

 

She glided across the floor to Tom, who stood shirtless before her, not moving a muscle. Running a finger through the hair on his chest, she looked him in the eye. "My, but we are a tasty looking mortal, aren't we?"

 

Leota was indeed a very attractive woman, but Tom could see right through her. "Get away from me!" he said, stepping back from her cold touch. "I want out of this house right now! And where is Carol? What have you done with her?"

 

"Nothing. Why? Should I have?" she said quizzically. "And why would you want to go? We find it delightfully unlivable here in this ghostly retreat. In time, you too shall come to appreciate its magnificence."

 

"Not on your life! Now where is Carol? So help me, if you've hurt her in any way, I'll..."

 

Leota let out a burst of laughter. "You'll do what? Kill me?"

"LEOTA!" came a deep and resonant voice. There was no one else in the room but the two of them, and the caretaker. The voice was just there, in the room with them, coming from all directions. "LEOTA!!!"

 

"Oh hell" grumbled the woman ghost. "Yes, Master Gracey?" she said to the air.

 

"Come here at once!" demanded the disembodied voice.

 

"Of course, sir. In a moment."

 

"NOW!"

 

"Very well," she answered. Turning again to Tom, she pulled herself to her full and imposing height with her chin up. "I warn you, DO NOT leave this room. I will return to deal with you later." In another moment, Leota vanished from his sight.

 

"To hell with her!" Tom said to himself. Running over to the caretaker, he rummaged through his pockets to see if there was anything useful on him that he could find.

Keys. That might come in handy later, especially if the doors to the outside were locked. He also found what looked to be a little golden dog whistle. What could that be for, he wondered. He put the whistle and the keys in his pocket, grabbed his shirt, and ran for the door.

 

Outside was a very, very long hallway, lavishly carpeted and ornately decorated. There had to be literally hundreds of closed doors in this hall which could lead one God knows where. Little did he know that, at that very moment, Carol was walking down the corridor which crossed this one at the far left end.

 

The hall seemed endless in both directions. Which way to go? At a very far distance to the right he could just barely see the light of candles. The wall was sparsely lit with candles all the way down on both sides, but this light in the distance seemed to be in the middle of the hall. Maybe it was a wall sconce. Could that be the end of the hall? Couldn't be. He could see candles on the side walls beyond the light in the center.

 

It was deathly quiet as he made his way toward it.

 

 

                           Welcome,

foolish mortals…

 

Carol, at long last, reached the end of the Corridor of Doors. A giant archway greeted her, instead of a door. The frame of the arch was made of ebony, deeply engraved with monstrous images of beasts.

 

Beyond the arch, Carol could faintly hear a woman's voice. She seemed to be chanting. Carol stepped through the arch and stood out of sight in the dark corner just inside to the left. She gasped at what she saw.

 

High up in the air, near the vaulted ceiling, various objects were floating about - a harp, a drum, a bell, and other things she couldn't quite make out from her position. Big black, high-backed empty chairs formed a semi-circle in the middle of the room. Carol had never seen chairs of this kind before. They did not have a flat back, but rather, the backs were cupped in a half-dome so that, when one sat on the chair, he would actually be sitting IN the chair. She also noticed that each chair could seat two, maybe three, people at a time. Were these for guests?

 

The chairs were facing the wall contiguous with the entry arch. At the center lay a small circular table and a single chair. A chandelier hovered above the table mysteriously. Perched upon the back of the chair was the raven with which she had spoken in the Conservatory.

 

What had made Carol gasp was not the room or the floating things, but the object at the center of the table. A little round, golden stand held a crystal about the size of a soccer ball. Within that crystal - of all horrors - was a woman's head. It was she who was chanting.

 

"....wizards and witches, wherever you dwell....give us hint by ringing a bell!" Immediately following these words, the little bell floating above rang several times. "Welcome to you all!" she said with a menacing laugh.

 

"Goblins and ghosties from regions beyond......EH?! What's this?!" The woman stopped in mid chant and turned her eyes in Carol's direction. "Come in, dearest! Don’t lurk about so."

 

Carol took a few steps toward the table. Her chest felt tight, and she could hardly breathe.

 

"Closer, dear, closer. Let me take a look at the one whom he loves so."

"H-h-h-him?" Carol asked. "Him who?"

 

"Your beau, whom my daughter has been speaking of," the woman said. "What was his name? Um...."

 

"His name is Tom."

 

"Ah, yes. Tom, " she said, remembering. For just a moment, the woman's face was replaced with that of Tom's.

 

"Thomas!" screamed Carol. But a moment later the image returned to that of the old woman.

 

"Don't be frightened, my sweet. I conjured up his image, to see for myself. So you have a thing for this fellow? Not that I blame you. He IS quite a catch, isn't he!"

 

"We're engaged to be married," said Carol defensively.

 

"Indeed!" said the woman. Then, changing the subject, she said, "You know, it was I who saved you from those brutes in the Corridor of Doors a while ago."

 

"You? How could you......?"

 

"I sent Richard to get you. And he has done his job well."

 

"Richard? I met no one by that name."

 

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Of course you wouldn't know that name. I call him Richard, after the departed husband of his late owner, Elma Belle. Are you there, Richard?"

 

The raven sitting upon the chair back gave a great squawk in response. The woman smiled contently. "Good," she replied.

 

"Why did you rescue me? What's going on here. And just who are you anyway?" Carol's nerves had taken about as much as they could tolerate, and ignoring her fears, she spoke to the woman in a tone which no one dares to take with her. The woman's eye grew large in anger.

 

"I am Madame Leota!" she thundered, which was louder than the crash of lightning which followed her announcement. "From henceforth you shall hold your tone or hold your peace! Is that clear!"

"Yes, ma'am," she said sheepishly, not out of respect, but out of fear.

 

"I knew long before you did that you would one day be standing before me. I know our guest list before even the great Ghost Relations Department does."

 

"Yes, Leota made mention of that upon our arrival in the dying room."

 

"Ah, so you have already met my daughter. Lovely, isn't she?"

 

"I wouldn't know."

 

"In any case, I have summoned you here for a reason. I have an offer to make to you. And just so that there is no question in your mind about refusing this offer, let me tell you where you stand."

 

The light from the chandelier above Mdm. Leota grew brighter, illuminating the table, and revealing tarot cards set in a pattern, face down. The first card flipped over of its own accord.

 

"The Queen of Cups," she said. "That, dearest, is you, the love sick girl."

 

The card rose above the table, floating in the air. It grew to a very large size and mounted itself to the far left side upon the wall behind Mdm. Leota. As Carol looked at it, she saw an image of herself in gothic clothing. The girl in the picture moved, raising a large goblet within her two hands.

 

"The Page of Cups," said the woman as another card turned itself over, floated up, enlarged, and mounted itself on the wall to the far right, beside the entrance arch.

 

The image was of Tom in a steward's uniform. He turned toward Carol's card and raised his chalice to her. The Queen of Cups turned to him and extended her goblet in his direction.

 

"How sweet," said the talking head sarcastically. Then in a tone of great authority, she declared, "The Queen of Swords!" Lightning flashed and thunder roared as the next card, bearing an image of Little Leota in a great flowing black gown, plastered itself against the wall between the other two.

 

Madame Leota shrieked with delight. Little Leota's image looked down from her card with a wicked smile at Carol, her hair whipping wildly from the wind blowing only within the world of the cards. She stood as would a victorious queen who has crushed her enemies, proud and malevolent, with a great and mighty battle sword in her hand. The Queen and the Page of Cups shrunk back from her in horror to the farthest sides of their cards.

 

Carol herself stood in awe and terror at the sight of this card. "Behold, my daughter, Leota," said the mother of this diabolical woman. "She stands between you and life itself. She has chosen Thomas to be her mate - and Leota gets what she wants."

 

"NO!" cried Carol, "she can't have him!"

 

"SILENCE!" bellowed the old woman. Her voice filled the room and echoed off of the walls with explosive sonic booms. Carol was thrown back onto the floor from the shock waves.

 

Returning to her softer voice, Mdm. Leota continued. "I would do anything for my daughter. Anything at all." As she spoke, the card of the Queen of Pentacles rose from the table and situated itself below Leota's card. The woman within the card was obviously that of Madame Leota, though she appeared completely whole, her body attached to her head. She wore a crimson gown and a diamond tiara upon her head. She looked up at her daughter and raised her hands toward her. Small orbs, a pentagram within each, floated from her hands and circled Leota's card.

 

"She is the love of my life....er, well, you know what I mean. hehehe. And if she wants Thomas, I will do all within my power to see to it that she gets him. Not that she needs my powers all that much. She is quite powerful in her own right. But there are some within this house who would like nothing better than to throw a monkey wrench into her... O how shall I say it… her monkey business. I have a rather considerable amount of swaying power with those parties, who would undoubtedly ruin her little plans without my intervention."

 

Carol crawled up onto her knees as she listened intently to Madam Leota. "There is no one that can come between my daughter and me. No one, that is, except I myself. I cannot bear to stay within this crystal another moment! And if that means betraying my own daughter to be set free, then so be it."

 

Suddenly the orbs vanished and were just as quickly replaced with flashing daggers which continued to circle Leota's card, their points aimed directly at her. "I will stop at nothing to be freed!"

 

Carol had no sympathy for either of the women, but she was stunned at the despicable revelation that Madame Leota would turn against her daughter for her own selfish gain.

 

"Here is my proposal to you," the Madame continued. "Within this Mansion dwells the spirit of the Master George Gracey." Another card rose and placed itself between Carol and Leota's cards. It was The Emperor's card. Carol had not yet seen this "Master Gracey", but she was right in assuming that the regal young man within this card was indeed the image of the master himself.

 

"He rarely makes an appearance these days, though his voice can be heard throughout the house from time to time," commented Madame Leota. Carol recalled that, while walking down the Corridor of Doors, she had heard a deep and loud voice calling to Leota. Might that have been the Master Gracey?

 

"To this day, his body hangs from a rope in one of the upper rooms," continued the woman, looking up toward the Master's card. The image of The Emperor changed itself to the image of the card of The Hanged Man, with Master Gracey dangling from a rope. "It needn't concern you as to the details of his suicide, nor to my imprisonment in this crystal hell; though I will tell you only that it was the fault of his wretched second wife, who died in the attic on their wedding night."

 

With these words, the card of The Empress (apparently the image of the belated bride), wearing a flowing white wedding dress and a sparkling gold wedding band, settled on the wall between the cards of Leota and Tom. Carol could hear the Empress' heart beating loudly. The bride looked to and fro, seeking her new husband.

 

"Now, here is what you must do. You must find and bring before me both Master Gracey's rope by which he hung himself, and the wedding gown of his bride. With them, I will conjure every spirit I can reach to banish their souls from our realm, setting me free from my prison. Then I shall rule this Mansion with absolute power!"

 

"In exchange, I will see to it that Leota does not get her clutches on your man. In addition, I will also see to it that both you and he will leave this house alive - that is, if you even survive this mission.

 

"If you fail, neither of you will ever see the light of day again - your spirits trapped forever within this house!" A card rose from the table and set itself above Leota's card. Carol shook uncontrollably as she looked upon the face of this card. A hooded skeleton peered down at her, its boney hands reaching out. This was the card of endings. This was the card of Death. "And I shall make you pay with great agony.

 

"Furthermore, you will never again see your true love, and you will wander these halls for eternity, always wondering if he has abandoned his love for you in favor of my daughter."

"And if I refuse?" asked Carol, who was now standing upon her feet, though shaking badly.

 

"Then you shall die a most gruesome death."

 

"Do I have your promise that you will set us free if I bring you the things you asked for?"

 

"Promise?" said the senior Leota with a laugh. "I make no promise. You will simply do...or die. But who knows; if you please me by giving me my freedom, I may do the same for you. Frankly, I do not care whether you live or die. But I must be free from this cage. Therefore, to help you accomplish your mission, I will send Richard here to help you on occasion. "

 

"I don't understand," said Carol cautiously. "You mean to tell me that there is no one else in this house that can bring you these things?"

 

"That I will freely tell you," answered Mdm. Leota. "In order for the spell to work - the spell that will free me from this ball - the items must be brought forth by a woman in love with the man who loves her in return. A living, breathing woman. To the purposes of this great spell, you and Thomas will represent the love between the Master and his bride. You will be the living connection. Now, no more questions! Be off with you! I have other matters to attend to."

 

Suddenly Madame Leota vanished from her sight, returning to the mysterious world of the crystal ball.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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