Eli knew the house had been abandoned for decades, but he still felt the same captivation he had when he was a child. There was something about the old place that called to him. He pulled his truck into the driveway, negotiating the rutted lane as best as he could. The old beast of a truck growled as the muck tried to hold the tires, but he maneuvered it over the uneven ground and to the end of the driveway. He sat for a long time looking at the battered house from the warmth of the truck before stepping out and walking up to the building.
The place had seen better days. The paint – what there was of it – was peaking and most of the windows had long ago been boarded up. He could remember being a kid and trying to sneak into the old place, and wondering just who kept all those boards in place as they got damaged. Now, of course, he knew. It had been the old caretaker who still lived in the boathouse a few hundred yards through the trees. The two of them had come to an agreement when Eli bought the place from the estate of the owner. The caretaker would stay in the boathouse as long as wished, so long as Eli could ask him questions about how best to restore the main buildings. The old man had seemed mighty pleased that someone wanted to restore the place and, if he was honest with himself, Eli knew they both needed the friendship that was forming.
Eli walked around the house, checking everything. At the front door, he paused and pulled out the ring of keys the caretaker had given him. Using the one marked ‘front’, he unlocked the door. Pushing it open, he stepped through into the dust filled entry room. He grabbed the flashlight he had in his back pocket and flicked it on since the boards blocked out most of the light coming in through the windows.
Using his phone’s camera and note application, he wandered the house, taking pictures and notes on what needed to be repaired and cleaned. Once he headed up the stairs to the second floor, he noticed there was less dust on the floor. He pushed the thought aside and continued noting problems.
As he reached the last door on the second floor, he found it locked. Going through the keys on the ring, he found that none of them worked to unlock the door. He stepped back, ready to turn away and go on with his note taking. A moment later, he heard something move behind the locked door. He turned back and put his hand on the door. “Hello?” He asked, waiting for some kind of reaction.
“Who’s out there?” A young woman’s voice came through the door.
Eli thought for a split second and decided telling her his name wasn’t a good idea. “The new owner. Can you unlock the door?” He asked.
“No. I don’t know how to unlock it,” she said.
He shifted from foot to foot, trying to figure out what to do. “Okay, give me a minute. I’ll figure out how to get in.” He said, stepping back, keeping his steps light as he walked back down the hallway. He stopped at the top of the stairs, glancing back over his shoulder toward the door, not sure what he was expecting. But it wasn’t for the door to crack open and a small pale hand to be wrapped around the edge of the door.
Eli stood there for over a minute, forcing his breath to stay even. Whatever was holding the door open moved farther out into the hallway. He blinked. The creature now standing in the hall was completely visible. It might have once been human, but looked nothing close to alive. It looked more like leather pulled tight over a skeleton. Eli shivered, turned and took the stairs two at a time. This was not what he had signed up for.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he slowed. The thing from upstairs hadn’t followed him. He looked back up the stairs. There was nothing there. “Stupid,” he said. He shook his head and walked back up the stairs. The door at the end was wide open now. He took a breath and walked down the hall to the open door. It was completely empty, not even any furniture.
Standing in the center of the room, he pulled out his phone and called the caretaker. The older man answered on the second ring. “Mathew,” he said.
Eli turned in a circle. “On the second floor, last room on the left. Why is it empty?” Eli asked.
The caretaker spoke in a soft tone. “It’s never had anything in it. It’s usually locked,” he said.
Eli thought for a moment about telling him about the thing he saw. “The door was open when I was doing my walk though.”
The caretaker’s voice changed, becoming stark and much more powerful than Eli would have expected from someone so old and frail. “Get out of there. Get In your car and drive away. You aren’t safe.”
Eli was facing where the door should have been, only now it was a solid wall. He spoke into the phone. “The door is gone. What the hell is going on here?” There was no response from the phone. He pulled it away from his ear and looked at the screen. The call had been lost.
A whispered voice echoed through the room. “You never should have bought this place. You’ll never leave it now.”