Black Petals Issue #90 Winter, 2020

The Scarlet Bedroom

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1957-Fiction by Michael J. Moore
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Curse of the Candles-Fiction by Jerry Payne
Death Rattle-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Estranged-Fiction by Alan Trezza
The Return of the Ferryman-Serialized Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Scarlet Bedroom-Fiction by Daniel K. Merwin
The Soul Destroyer-Fiction by James Flynn
The Packing Bay-Flash Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Jizo-A four-poem Japanes Theme Set by Dee Allen
Blood-Red Drops-Poem by Chris Collins
The Great Universe-Poem by Hicham El Qendouci
Female Mischief-Poem by Hillary Lyon
Worm-Poem by Hillary Lyon
The Lycanthrope's Lament-Poem by Hillary Lyon
The Sea-Poem by Jason Rice

90_bp_scarlettbedroomrhiel.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2019

The Scarlet Bedroom

 

By Daniel K. Merwin

Curious developments

 

Part I

 

Jonathan was the last person to ever see Judith Brooks alive.

The day they met, he was working the drug counter at the Bay Ridge Pharmacy at the corner of 3rd and 86th in south Brooklyn. Bay Ridge was a predominantly Italian and Russian neighborhood, inhabited by the usual assortment of New Yorkers he had grown accustomed to seeing in the movies prior to moving there from Ohio. In some ways, the film portrayals were overdone. In other ways, they were not.

Luckily for college dropout Jonathan his landlord, Mr. Gentile, a pharmacist, needed a capable guy to work the drug counter, and since Jonathan was behind on rent, it was a good deal. Sometimes Jonathan thought back on his old work routines and how they had changed: from art sculpture to drug prescriptions; from canvas and style expertise to bagging and pricing; from buying art supplies to ringing up customers.

The day Judith Brooks entered the pharmacy was a welcome relief to Jonathan, as moods around Bay Ridge had become toxic at the political level. So many people were up in arms over the presidential race, particularly as it was quite the conservative Republican area, full of angry Brooklyners raving on and on about the audacity of Al Gore to challenge the Florida results.

While Jonathan sat quietly behind the pharmacy counter, contemplating a vacation from everything political, loud, and New York-ish, he hardly noticed Judith Brooks enter the store.

“Excuse me?” she said, interrupting his daydreaming. “Can I get this developed?” she asked, holding up a disposable camera.

“Yeah,” he said, embarrassed. He took the camera from her and began creating the order. “Same day pick-up?” he asked her.

“Yeah, sure!” she said, excited. “That would be the best!”

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Well...that camera’s my master’s thesis,” she said in what was noticeably not a Brooklyn accent.

“Master’s thesis in what, if you don’t mind me asking?” he continued.

“Parapsychological imprints.”

He had to ask. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice a fellow non-New Yorker.”

She laughed. “Only here do non-New Yorkers find common ground, huh?”

“Yeah, right!” he agreed. “I’m Jonathan.” He extended his hand.

“Judith.” She took it.

He then continued putting her order into the counter computer, asking “What part of non-New York are you from?”

“Cleveland, Ohio,” she said.

He had to smile. “So we’re both from the same non-New York state.”

“Get out of town!”

“Columbus myself,” he proudly replied.

“That’s so crazy! What brought you here?” she asked.

“Columbia.”

“Me too, that’s where I’m at!” she said. “What are you studying?”

“Graphic design,” he said. “Well…taking a short break from it for now,” he lied, not wanting to advertise his failure.

“Cool!” she probably lied back. “So, fellow Ohioan, why this part of Brooklyn? You’re a little far off from the university.”

He continued typing away at the computer. “You first,” he said while working.

“Easy enough—the DeFeo House.”

Interesting, he thought. The old DeFeo House was the one Mrs. Gentile said made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up every time she walked by it. He had actually never been to it himself, but knew it was on 70th Street nearby. He knew that the Bay Ridge locals always joked it was an old haunted house, but that was the extent of it.

“You’re studying that old house, huh,” he said.

“Studying, photographing—that’s what that camera is,” she said.

“Do you know the story behind the place?” he asked her. “And I don’t mean that as if I do know it; I’m actually asking ‘cause I never get actual info in this neighborhood.”

“It’s all good,” she said. “I know a lot about the place, strangely enough, despite the difficulty gathering truthful information.”

“How come? The people?”

“Well, yes and no. Specifics are never set in stone with the house because nothing’s ever been proven. Just a wild story that comes off more like a folk tale or a legend.”

She had his interest. “What do you mean, legend?” By this point, he had stopped everything to pay her his undivided attention. “How does it go?”

“Well...the DeFeos were a rich couple profiting in steel. Their house was built late in the 19th century; it’s one of the many landmark homes in Bay Ridge still standing from that era too, but the only one that hasn’t been preserved or made an official landmark. Anyway, the DeFeos were never the social types, and everyone kind of shunned them. One day they disappeared, and very few people cared. A routine police investigation was done, and what they turned up is the most fascinating part about the case.”

There was a radiance about Judith that Jonathan admired. She was clearly in her mid-20s, bookish, nerdy, but charismatic, wearing her courage on her sleeve. He wondered if she came from privilege, and if her Ohio parents were as well off as these DeFeos were back in the day. 

“What’d they find?” asked Jonathan.

“It’s not what they found, but what they didn’t find. They couldn’t find the police officer assigned to the case. The dude just disappeared!”

“Huh,” replied Jonathan. “They search the house?”

“That’s just it—I don’t think they did,” said Judith. “I mean, I think he did, the police officer...but I don’t think the local Brooklyners at the time were willing to look for him, not after knowing where he was searching. So you see...the mystery is quite compelling!”

He nodded. “Why does it draw your interest—for your thesis, I mean?”

She shook her head, smiling. “Your turn. What brings you here?”

Jonathan blushed. It was definitely a sore spot he wasn’t willing to discuss. In fact, this much discussion about anything with a living, breathing person felt weird, as he hadn’t spoken this much to anyone for some time now. He thought to himself that he had just exchanged more words with Judith in the past ten minutes than he had done the past two years with anyone. Luckily, it was a slow day or else he would have to tend to other customers. “I always felt the need to work a pharmacy counter,” he joked.

When she laughed, he realized that, under normal circumstances, joking about this would have felt very uncomfortable. Why Judith was making him feel so comfortable now, he didn’t know.

“It’s all good,” she said. “Oh, I forgot to ask: how late are you open?”

“We close at seven,” he said. “Why, what’s up?”

“Oh, nothing. I’m hoping to catch a few more snapshots. Got some more cameras where that came from,” she gestured to the one she gave him for development. “But I gotta get the shots first.”

“Of the DeFeo House?” he asked.

“Mm hmm,” she went on. “The landlord actually gave me the keys to the place because he didn’t want to bother going there himself. Can you believe it? He’s scared of the very place he’s in charge of!”

“Why are people so freaked out about the place?” asked Jonathan. “Seriously, I mean you made it sound like that’s the case even with the police. And that was when again?”

“The police investigation?” she asked. “1870.” Boy, was she the expert!

He continued. “Yeah, so why’s everyone afraid of the place? The folk tale, what does it say—is the place haunted?”

She grinned to herself. “Well, I didn’t see any ghosts when I was there, but the idea is to treat it not like a ghost story, but more like scientific phenomena. Part of my lit review was the history of the place, but I had to interview two dozen some odd residents in the area, as well as the Bay Ridge Historical Society just to have something.”

“And?” asked Jonathan.

“The occult,” she replied, “devil worship, human sacrifice. Allegedly, the DeFeos never had children, despite claims that Mrs. DeFeo had been spotted pregnant numerous times. The rumor that circulated was they would sacrifice their own babies in satanic rituals.”

“That’s just wicked,” replied Jonathan, impressed by the narrative. “Wish I knew that piece of information a few weeks ago for Halloween,” he said. “I’m surprised no one uses the house for Haunted House festivities.”

“I’m not,” she said. “Trust me: people here still don’t want to go near the place.” She took out a set of keys and shook them in front of Jonathan. “Even the realty office that’s cursed with having the place on their books, apparently.”

By this point, nothing seemed more appealing now than going on an adventurous date with Judith to the DeFeo House.

“When are you going back?” he asked.

“Right now,” she said. “I mean, I live in the city, so I’ve only got today to do all this before I return.”

This was disappointing, of course. But maybe she could come back on the weekend. Jonathan thought about asking her. “Why just one day?”

“In short, grad school. Besides, if I want to prove my theories, I’ll need the whole place photographed, especially the bedroom.” She pocketed the keys. “And I promised the realty office I’d have the keys back to them before 5, although to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if they just pretended they never gave them to me. But yeah, I’ll be the professional and return them when I promised. One day to take pictures, and the rest of this semester to write my first two chapters for my advisor.”

Jonathan nodded, disappointed but understanding. He returned to the computer, completed the order for Judith. “Camera’s $9.99,” he said. She took out a credit card and gave it to him. “Credit or debit?” he asked.

“Credit,” she said.

The card said Columbia University on it. University funding. Nice.

“The name for the order?” asked Jonathan.

“Judith Brooks,” she said.

Judith Brooks. As he typed her full name into the computer, he continued, “Phone number for when the order’s ready?”

She gave him her number, with an Ohio area code he recognized. Of course, if he wanted he could always call her later for more than just when her photos were ready. Once finished, he said, “Okay, these should be ready around six”.

“Great! I’ll try to be back to pick them up after I return the house keys,” she said. “And I’ll probably have another few cameras to give you, hopefully!”

“Great! So I guess this means I’ll be seeing you later? When you come back to pick those cameras up, I mean.”

“You bet! Maybe we can do lunch?”

It’s like she was reading his mind! He was already in love.

However, Judith Brooks never came back.

 

Part II

 

The next day, Jonathan tried at least three different times calling her, leaving a voicemail each time. She never called back.

The next day, two more times. Nothing.

The following day, he called her once before closing the pharmacy for the night.

He gave up the next day. He just assumed she wasn’t sincere about either him or the photos. Maybe something had happened that called her back to Ohio? Maybe she had suffered a financial setback like he did and had to drop out of her program, like he did.

Regardless, she wasn’t answering her phone, and all he had left from their wonderful conversation was the now-developed pack of photographs from her disposable camera, sealed in a package with her order information.

That Friday, he tried the Parapsychology department at Columbia, but the secretary seemed to brush him off, saying that Judith was assuredly busy working on her thesis. After the secretary hanging up on him, Jonathan could only remember Judith saying that the photos and the camera were her thesis. She couldn’t just move on without them. None of it made sense.

It was now close to Christmas break, Jonathan’s least favorite time of the year. This would be his second Christmas alone in New York, as the Gentiles always left to spend Christmas with their children in Staten Island. Before closing the pharmacy for the break, he decided for the hell of it to phone Judith again. No answer. He then tried the parapsychology department again.

This time, the secretary seemed interested. “Who are you to Miss Brooks?” she asked. “Are you a boyfriend? Family?” The secretary sounded frantic. When Jonathan said he was only a friend, she then asked “From where? Ohio? New York? What’s your relationship with Miss Brooks?”

He didn’t like the sound of her tone, as if she were accusing him of being some kind of kidnapper, or worse. He told the secretary the partial truth: he was just a pharmacy worker with Judith Brooks’ photo order.

He left the pharmacy phone number with the secretary, which led that evening to a call from the campus police department. Jonathan learned then and there that Judith Brooks had gone missing. The last time she was seen was by her departmental advisor on November 5th, one day before Jonathan had met her.  

 

On the night of Christmas Eve, after the Gentiles departed for Staten Island, leaving Jonathan alone in the house, a gentle snow began falling. Not quite cold enough to stick, it was visible enough to be appreciated.

Jonathan stared out his bedroom window, watching the show, feeling very alone. Knowing Judith had gone missing, his loneliness was likely why he’d chosen to hang on to her photographs instead of turning them in to the police. He sat on his cheap, rickety bed and opened the package of photos.

It was a regular photo gallery of what could only have been the DeFeo House. It certainly looked ancient. From the outside, the house looked like an old brick Victorian with wide stone steps leading high up to the front entrance. Gargoyle-ish lion statues adorned each side, their faces looking less like cats and more like demons. Of course, Jonathan noticed how almost every home on the southern Brooklyn streets had these same terrible architectural embellishments, which he considered in bad taste.

Photos of the interior showed a very dusty, dark, and abandoned space. It seemed like one of those old homes where no one lived except stray cats and maybe your average bum. Other photos showed what looked like the house kitchen and a living room, both dark and dusty, and another equally dreary unknown room. Go figure. Nothing appealing at all about the place except what he saw as wide and empty space.

Oddly, photos of a specific bedroom were the only ones that drew a sharp contrast to the dead interiors in the rest of the photography. Why was this specific bedroom not dark or dusty? Was it even from the DeFeo House? Regardless, it was a room with color. In the center of the room was a king-sized bed with red blankets, almost scarlet. In fact, Jonathan noticed that Judith had taken many pictures of the bed compared to other areas of the house. For some reason she was fascinated with the bed. And why not? It was the only object in the house, as far as Jonathan could see in the pictures, notable enough to photograph. There had to have been over twenty photos taken of the bed alone. Jonathan shuffled through photo after photo of the scarlet bed, impatiently wondering whether the rest of the photo roll was only of the bed and...

He suddenly froze.

The next photo revealed a vaporous figure on the left side of the bed. It was gray, misty, and fog-like. It appeared to be a woman.

Jonathan’s stillness was like a five-second electrical shock. The surprise lasted for what felt like minutes, although it was only a few seconds. He finally snapped out of it, squinted, and attempted to make out what was in the photo. No mistaking it. It was the vaporous figure of a woman sitting on the left side of the bed. She was gray, stark against the scarlet blanket she was seated upon. She wore a long gown, like a nightgown, and had what appeared to be long hair flowing down her shoulders. She was looking away from the camera at the wall directly in front of her. She was almost transparent, but, the more he looked, the more details he saw. Was it a woman’s ghost?

Get the fuck out of here, he thought, and quickly moved on to the next photo. There she was, only this time she was staring at him with an ominous smile. He panicked, dropping the photos to the floor.

He wiped his forehead, realizing he had been sweating. As he bent down from his bed to pick up the photos, he noticed that the photo that caused him such alarm was front and center, against all odds, among the pile of scattered pictures.

There she was, a mysterious woman ghost. She was seated on the left side of the bed, just like the other photo—looking directly at the camera—at him. She was smiling. Her dark eyes were large hollows with dots of light for irises, like empty sockets with fireflies in them. Her smile, juxtaposed with the eyes, only increased the morbidity of the picture for Jonathan.

It had to have been a joke. He remembered how excited Judith was when she dropped her camera off, as if she was hoping he would discover this and be the dupe to some sick prank.

What the hell happened to Judith? Was she kidnapped? Did she die? And, if it was a sick joke, was she willing to go to these lengths to pay for these photos just for a pharmacy clerk to fall for it? Was she waiting for him to make a big scene, alert Unsolved Mysteries or one of those ghost hunter television programs? Why such a prank? What did she get out of it if she was not planning on seeing the outcome of her joke? She would at least have answered his phone calls so she could know the prank worked.

No! Even her department had not seen her since the day she met Jonathan. This means she had disappeared and something bad must have happened.

He looked around the bedroom for his cell phone; it was sitting on his bed. He took a deep breath, slowly grabbed it, and for the umpteenth time dialed Judith.

It rang four times, then went to voicemail. 

Now he knew why he kept obsessively calling like a creep: he just liked to hear her voice on the other end.

“Hey!” her recorded voice said excitedly, “You’ve reached Judith! Sorry I missed your call, but leave your name and number and maaaaybe I’ll get back to you. Later!”

After the beep Jonathan hesitated, then said, “Judith? Judith, it’s Jonathan...from the pharmacy. I...I called your...your secretary. Look...I don’t know why I’m calling. I just hope you’re okay. I...I have your photos still. And something really weird showed up. I don’t know if it’s, like, a lens flare thing or a practical joke you were playing on me, but I just wanted to let you know…”

The phone beeped, cutting him off. He had run out of time to finish. He hung up and dropped the phone.

He lay down on his pillow, contemplating whether Judith was the type of prankster to fake a ghost in a picture. It still didn’t explain why she would suddenly disappear. The more he thought about it, the more it disturbed him. He now remembered what Judith last said before exiting the pharmacy and his life: that she hoped to be back with a few more cameras.

She had gone back to the house after dropping her camera off; that was her plan for the day. The campus police said she disappeared around the 5th, meaning something happened to her after leaving the pharmacy. Jonathan was the last person to have seen her.

What’s more, the photos of the bed she had taken seemed to have been taken all consecutively, one after the other, with only seconds between each one. Two of the photos had the mysterious woman in them. They were only seconds from the others that did not have the woman in the frame. That in itself was impossible, but there it was, staring Jonathan in the face.

His phone rang. The disruption of the silence in the room from his phone sent a jolt through his body, immediately shaking him.

He sat up, saw the phone illuminated and vibrating. The number on the phone…was Judith’s.

He quickly grabbed the phone and answered it. “Hello? Judith!?”

There was a momentary silence, and then softly, slowly, came a whisper: “Jonathan?”

“Judith? Yeah, it’s me! Judith?”

Then strange noises, like exhalations, only longer, more sustained. Maybe not exhalations—maybe wind? Air conditioning? He couldn’t tell.

“Judith?”

Finally, she spoke: “Meet me.”

“Meet you? Meet you, meet you where?”

“The DeFeos’.”

“What? The DeFeo House? Why, what’s going on?”

No answer.

“Judith?”

“DeFeos’,” she whispered.

“Judith, where’ve you been; I’ve been trying to call you since last month!”

“Meet me,” she said again.

“What are you talking about? Are you in trouble?”

When she did not answer, it took Jonathan several seconds to realize she had already hung up.

 

Part III

Dressed for the cold, Jonathan anxiously locked up the Gentile home and departed for the DeFeo House. The moon was shining bright, and Jonathan walked with a purpose, moving through glistening snowflakes that fell but did not stick. He didn’t know if Judith was hurt or healthy.

Throughout his brisk walk, quick thoughts flashed through his mind, each one immediately forgotten, wiped away by the very next thought. I’m finally going to see the DeFeo House with my very eyes… I should be calling the police… She’s alive, not missing; there’s no reason to call the police… She did not sound right on the other end of the phone. Someone could be holding her for ransom...

What about what was in the photos? Why was I going through private photos? Why… It’s too dark, you won’t find anything in that old grave of a home; you should have brought your flashlight… I’ll use the flashlight on my phone... What if they arrest me for her disappearance? What if...

Jonathan turned onto 70th St. where the DeFeo House was located. As he drew nearer and nearer, he could see the ominous top of the tall home emerge through the large trees that ran along the street, white from collecting snow in their leaves. The house was larger in person than in the photos. In a way, the house seemed to grow larger the closer Jonathan moved toward it. Its Victorian outlay was rather impressive, but the age showed in the bricks, the windowpanes, and especially the lion-gargoyles at the tops of the stone steps seated amid the falling snow.

The front door was massive mahogany with decorative carvings and an old-fashioned knocker in the center. They were details one wouldn’t find visible in a mere photograph. The house was guarded by a large, black, steel front gate with the same lion-gargoyle faces in brass in the center of each gate door. The gate was slightly open, and the faces on them were menacing, with the moonlight on them and the snowflakes falling.

Jonathan also noticed the empty space flanking both sides of the DeFeo House, as if no one wanted to build anything next to it. It seemed a lonely house, almost threatening to the rest of the neighborhood, an outcast in a town that wanted nothing to do with it, and vice-versa. 

The DeFeo House! It was madness incarnate.

He must have stood there for longer than planned, because the moon only got brighter, the snowflakes whiter, and the sky darker than when he first approached the old house.

“What am I doing?” he whispered.

Slowly, he pushed past the wrought-iron gate and approached the stone steps. Yes, he was scared. He cautiously ascended the steps, nearing the lion-gargoyles. They were truly frightening, with demonic faces that seemed to smile with what looked like fangs one would find in an old Sumerian sculpture from temple ruins. Perhaps they were retrieved from those exact ruins because the original owners of the home, the DeFeos, were rich and nutty collectors of antiquities and ancient artifacts from around the world. Jonathan knew that, had he been twenty years younger, the faces of those lion-gargoyles would haunt his dreams to no end.

The faces reminded him of a painting he once saw in the home of his late great-grandmother. In it, a woman clutched her infant in her arms as griffins with sharp talons gripped the baby’s arm. Jonathan hated that picture. These gargoyles seemed to bring it back into his memory, making him rush past them in fear and onward to the front door.

Once at the entrance, he hesitated, standing still, indecisive, seeing his cold breath come out in the air and hit the gothic front door. No really, what the hell was he doing here? What was he going to do, knock on the door, announce to Judith that he had finally arrived? Nothing about this seemed right, and the house looked deserted.

He had thoughtlessly panicked and gone to the DeFeo House as soon as Judith beckoned. He still hardly knew her. He did this out of sheer loneliness and longing. He was that lonely. He felt ashamed. And even if she was in trouble, even if someone was holding her captive, he was in no position to be a heroic rescuer. As if he could be capable of rescuing anyone, let alone someone as charismatic and courageous as Judith! He was wasting his time. In fact, he still had time to alert the police if she was truly in danger…although she did not sound like she was in danger on the phone.

Yes, if anything, she sounded mysteriously content. None of this seemed right, none of it at all. He decided to leave, but, as he turned to depart, a scream came from inside the home, stopping him in his tracks.

It was a muffled scream, muffled in the way someone would if they screamed with their mouth shut. It was a woman’s scream. Judith.

Jonathan quickly turned back to the front door, frantic. He grabbed the doorknob and turned it.

Locked.

He heard the muffled scream again. He didn’t know if it was Judith or not, but it was definitely high-pitched.

“Judith?” he shouted. No one would hear that; he had to shout louder. Wait, what if he attracted attention? Fuck it, who cares about attention, someone’s screaming from inside the house! Shout, dammit, shout!

“Judith!” he shouted out loud. “JUDITH!”

The muffled screaming stopped, then—nothing. Silence.

“Judith?” he said one more time, confused. Why had the screaming suddenly stopped?

He took a deep breath. If he was truly going to get anywhere in this foolhardy excursion, it wasn’t going to be by standing at the front door shouting in the dark of night at the scariest house on the block. Was Judith Brooks worth busting into a home, breaking the law?

Of course she’s worth it! He was there to save someone, not break the law.

He gave the door a good, hard kick.

Nothing.

He tried again.

Nothing.

The kicking snapped him out of his panic. He needed to stop this nonsense and call the police. Get out of here, do the right thing! Get the authorities!

When he turned to leave, he heard creaking. He immediately turned to face the door again, confused. The door was now ajar. Did I do that? Or... No matter. He went to the door and slowly pushed it open, revealing the blackness of the DeFeo House.

The interior was musty, the air foul. He slowly entered the foyer and inhaled. What he breathed he could only describe to himself as death. There was death in this house, in the air, in the cracked walls, on the mold-spotted ceiling, in the filth-stained window glass. He had never known death, but simply could not describe this feeling and smell as anything but.

Jonathan could not see anything. He retrieved his cell phone, turned on its flashlight. It went out. “Goddammit,” he whispered, and tried turning it on again. It wasn’t working. Go figure, just the right time. He kept the front door open, using the moonlight and the white of the snowfall from outside as much as he could.

He stood in the center of the foyer, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dark. The space went from pitch black to a dark but visible layout revealing what was nineteenth-century living quarters for what he assumed was a well-to-do family. Judith had told him that the DeFeo fortunes were in steel. Perhaps the entire place was once as ornate and decorated as a room on the Titanic. There could have been a regular Victorian ball here, with scarlet red curtains, waiters serving hors d’oeuvres, music playing, women in lavish gowns, and men smoking expensive cigars.

But it was not plush anymore. With his eyes adjusted to the dark, Jonathan could see that the place was so filthy that, especially with the musty air, it was hopeless to renovate. This place needed to be torn down. If city authorities had the guts to come near the home, perhaps it would be officially condemned. Regardless, what once was a glamorous Victorian home was now a ghost, the ruins of a family that had ended in tragedy and perhaps murder. Judith never explained the details. He could only remember that she had mentioned something about that bedroom.

But where was Judith? Where did the scream come from?

The bedroom.

Jonathan slowly felt in the dark with his hands for the walls, widening his eyes in the blackness, struggling to find the staircase. He knew it was here, thanks to Judith’s photos.

Was it possible that she was as fearless as she came off in the pharmacy—immune to the dark and the mysteries of this abandoned house of horror? All Jonathan could think of right now was that, now being inside the actual DeFeo House, he was scared out of his mind and in no state to go looking for anyone, let alone a crush. He was in over his head. He was flailing helplessly, not knowing what he was doing or where he was going.

There. His hand found the stair rail. Its wood felt gross, covered in all sorts of nasty dust that likely contained more than dust particles. He could only imagine what else, given the age and condition of the place: nineteenth-century skin particles, desiccated bugs, cobwebs, ground bones…

While Jonathan’s imagination got carried away, he slowly lifted each foot onto the steps of the stairway. Each staircase step was extremely small. He was reminded of the old homes serving as history museums, like Fraunce’s Tavern in Manhattan, where George Washington had stayed. The small size of the steps to that Revolution-era staircase always stood out to Jonathan.

He was barely keeping his footing while ascending such small, old steps in the aged, haunted domain of the DeFeos, feeling each step buckle under his weight. For all he knew, he would crash through one of the weaker steps and fall to his death in a pit, in all likelihood, of satanic slaughter where babies had been sacrificed, or a tomb where the bodies of the DeFeos and the policeman investigating them lay, or where Judith lay.

He noticed that he was closer to the top of the stairs, his sight now more adjusted to the dark. As he reached the top, the sight that lay before him was weirdly ominous. It was a corridor of age and darkness, maybe forty feet long; but the layout was what frightened Jonathan. The walls where he stood were dark gray, cracked and unkempt, but as they led away from him toward the end of the hall, they seemed to become cleaner, clearer, and borderline presentable. They led to a single door.

The door was old in style, but from where he stood, looked new. It was much like the front door of the house, only clean, well-kept mahogany, with intricate carvings and the instantly recognizable lion-gargoyle face in the center that stared Jonathan down with its open mouth of Sumerian fangs and hollow eyes. What it guarded behind it had to be what had brought Judith here, and now what brought Jonathan.

The bedroom. Jonathan couldn’t do it, and took an uncontrollable step backward in revulsion at the gargoyle’s face on the door. He also noticed he had stopped breathing.

Get it together, he told himself. Anymore mindless backwards steps and he’d be falling to his death down the stairs. Judith is in that room. He had to find her after he went to all this trouble. He was already in the house, breaking and entering to mount a sorry excuse for a daring rescue. He took a deep breath, despite the musty odor of death in the air, and forced himself to take a step forward.

The walk forward was painfully difficult. As the mahogany door gradually grew larger, Jonathan thought about what he had seen in Judith’s photographs. He remembered the peculiar display of red in the room, far different than the rest of the home, covered in centuries of grime and dust. Perhaps the bedroom was somehow sealed from the rest of the house, as if in a vacuum, preserving the color and integrity of its interior. No, this could not be—a house built in 1870 with a vacuum-sealed room? Impossible.

Maybe it was the flash of the camera Judith used; perhaps the lighting brought out more color here, and the bedroom really was covered in as much grime as the rest of the home. No. It was a cheap disposable camera, not a thousand-dollar Nikon. It had yet to be edited or tampered with because it had yet to be developed.

And the woman ghost, the vaporous apparition seated on the bed, had smiled at him, her hollow, black eyes with the lights in the middle. Her long hair had seemed to flow down and fade away into the dust of the place. Her long gown, colored the same gray as her skin, had contrasted with the scarlet of the blanket she was seated upon…and her hands patiently lay on her lap. These details, that Jonathan seemed to have put out of his mind, were becoming more cogent as he neared the bedroom door and the lion-gargoyle face guarding it.

Here it was. Jonathan had arrived. The face was as scary as the one on the front door outside, only here it was cleaner, dust free, as well-kept as the hallway walls on each side of him. What was inside this room? There was something here that Jonathan was not ready for, and yet had to open the door to find out—if not for him, for Judith.

 

Jonathan slowly took hold of the bedroom doorknob. The round metal was extremely cold to the touch. The cold shot through his hand, moving through his wrist, making its way up his arm to his shoulder, his chest, his heart. It was almost as if motion was out of his control, as if the commands from his brain to the rest of his body were being rejected and sent back. His hand was now numb, yet the doorknob was turning, despite his hand being frozen still. The doorknob turned, the door slowly cracking open. His frozen eyes stared forward, helplessly, as the door opened on its own, revealing the bedroom from the photographs—the red walls, the king-sized bed covered in scarlet blankets, all illuminated from unknown sources, and…

Judith…seated on the same side of the bed as the woman in the photographs, facing the wall, hands on her lap, dressed in a nightgown, long hair worn down….

“Judith?” muttered Jonathan.

She slowly turned her head toward him. She cracked an eerie smile.

Jonathan’s breathing quickened. Her words were not in her voice. “DeFeos’,” she said in a deeper voice that was not her own.

He had every urge to scream, to run, and the burst of energy motivated by fear seemed to crack the icy shell of paralysis that held him still in the doorway. As he became free, he looked down at his hand; it could move again. When he looked back up at the bed…

Judith was nowhere. The ghost of the woman stood at the foot of the bed, staring directly at Jonathan. She was not smiling. She was frowning. She was gray, levitating, her black eye sockets visible with the points of light in the center, staring a hole in Jonathan’s face. Her glare conveyed unspeakable rage.

My God.

She screamed something unearthly as she rushed toward Jonathan.

He wasn’t sure that he ran backwards or if he was pushed by some mysterious force. All he knew was that, as he stared directly face to face with the ghastly specter, all things around him rushed by as fast as sound: the bedroom, the walls of the hallway, and the walls of the stairwell.

The impact against the wall at the end of the stairwell hit Jonathan hard. As his body hit the dirty floor, the front door of the house, which he had left open, slammed shut on its own, sending out a blast of dust.

His arm broken, Jonathan slowly struggled to his feet. He felt his head—nothing bleeding, just dusty. He only had a few seconds to think about what he was going to do about a broken limb and no medical insurance, when he realized what he was hearing from upstairs. It was the same muffled screaming he had heard from outside the house. He was disoriented, dazed, and unaware of how to make quick decisions in duress. He felt simply lost in the center of this esoteric home on 70th St.

He only snapped out of it when the fourth muffled scream became unmuffled mid-scream.

“Jonathan!” screamed the voice of Judith from upstairs.

Something wet seemed to be trickling down his head. Sweat? He wiped his forehead. No, it was not sweat, but blood. He was bleeding. His disorientation grew. A huge uncontrollable pain took hold of his insides, starting from his head. His sight was blurred by the dusty surroundings and the red of the blood.

A cell phone rang. It was not Jonathan’s. He wiped the blood from his eyes, barely able to keep focused as the world spun around him.

Where he had fallen on the dirty floor lay a cell phone. Judith’s? He reached for the phone and hit the floor, losing control of his motor functions. Clumsily, he picked up the phone with a bloody hand and answered it.

“Judith,” he said. “Judith?”

It was not Judith, but the gravelly, distorted voice of a woman. “Lap ge amayo ome dalagare oi congamphlgh!”

He dropped the phone, and looked up the stairwell. The specter of the mysterious woman, her face in full malevolent rage, flew through the air and descended upon him, uttering the most terrifying sound he had ever heard.

 

The scarlet blanket.

He was on the scarlet blanket, on the bed. He was in the bedroom of the DeFeo House. He lay on his back, staring at what appeared to be a pentacle on the ceiling. He tried to grip the sides of the bed. Nothing was happening. He was paralyzed.

He could not even blink to moisten his irritated, drying eyeballs. He could not swallow to clear his throat of what felt like centuries of grime and dust. For all intents and purposes, he was dead. He was a victim, prey to whatever esoteric predator was at play in this house. He could only stare helplessly with drying eyes at the pentacle. 

At the center of the pentacle, something was taking shape. The spectral image of the woman’s face seemed to materialize in the center. It was only her face—a floating head with light emanating from all sides. The beams of light still shone in her black eye sockets. The head glared and grew larger as it slowly descended toward Jonathan.

He took one final breath as the head now levitated directly above his face, her demonic eyes staring into him. The last thing he would hear in this world was a recitation from many voices, men and women and children, voices that chanted in the background from unseen mouths, voices that carried as if they were all in a coliseum, reverberating through a non-stop echo chamber.

Lap ge amayo ome dalagare oi congamphlgh…

Lap ge amayo ome dalagare oi congamphlgh…

Lap ge amayo ome dalagare oi congamphlgh…

Lap ge amayo ome dalagare oi congamphlgh…

And somewhere, quieter than the rest of the recitation, from far away, as if it were an echo of the foreign chant, maybe even just in his own head, was heard…

To Him, we sacrifice this spirit…

 

The End

 

Daniel Merwyn, dkm0015@gmail.com, wrote BP #90’s “The Scarlet Bedroom.” A Brooklyn resident and veteran of the Iraq War, at 35, he will soon begin doctoral studies in Communication and Rhetoric at the University of Kansas. He currently lives with his 12-year-old cat Sophie and enjoys a steady diet of horror stories and thrillers from the likes of Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and anything gothic or macabre. He has finished a collection of poetry: Hour of the Wolf and Other Poetry (which he affectionately refers to as “Doom Horror”).

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