By Daniel K.
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
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
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
“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
camera’s my master’s thesis,” she said in what was noticeably not a
in what, if you don’t mind me asking?” he continued.
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.
He then continued
putting her order into the counter computer, asking “What part of non-New York
are you from?”
He had to
smile. “So we’re both from the same non-New York state.”
“Get out of town!”
he proudly replied.
crazy! What brought you here?” she asked.
“Me too, that’s
where I’m at!” she said. “What are you studying?”
he said. “Well…taking a short break from it for now,” he lied, not wanting
to advertise his failure.
probably lied back. “So, fellow Ohioan, why this part of Brooklyn? You’re
a little far off from the university.”
typing away at the computer. “You first,” he said while working.
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.
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
“It’s all good,”
she said. “I know a lot about the place, strangely enough, despite the
difficulty gathering truthful information.”
“How come? The
“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?”
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.
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!”
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?”
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
“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
investigation?” she asked. “1870.” Boy, was she the expert!
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
The card said
Columbia University on it. University
“The name for the
order?” asked Jonathan.
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”.
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.”
bet! Maybe we can do lunch?”
It’s like she was
reading his mind! He was already in love.
Brooks never came back.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?”
it’s me! Judith?”
noises, like exhalations, only longer, more sustained. Maybe not
exhalations—maybe wind? Air conditioning? He couldn’t tell.
spoke: “Meet me.”
you? Meet you, meet you where?”
“What? The DeFeo
House? Why, what’s going on?”
you been; I’ve been trying to call you since last month!”
“Meet me,” she
“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.
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.
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
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.
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
“What am I doing?”
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
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
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.
turned back to the front door, frantic. He grabbed the doorknob and turned it.
He heard the muffled
scream again. He didn’t know if it was Judith or not, but it was definitely high-pitched.
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,
shouted out loud. “JUDITH!”
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.
He tried again.
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?
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.
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…
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
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.
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…
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….
She slowly turned
her head toward him. She cracked an eerie smile.
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…
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
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.
screamed the voice of Judith from upstairs.
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
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.
It was not Judith,
but the gravelly, distorted voice of a woman. “Lap ge amayo ome dalagare
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…
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…
Merwyn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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”).