“House Rules” by Kevin Veldman

TWA 71 KEVIN-01

Zoe sighed as she parked her old Jeep in front of the house. What the hell was the realtor thinking? She’d never be able to afford a house this size. It was an enormous old house, almost a mansion, just a few blocks off of Water Street. When she saw Nichole, the realtor lady, get out of her car, she got out as well.

“You know this is going to be, like, a hundred times my price range, right?”

“You’d be surprised,” said Nichole. “It’s been on the market for a very long time. The owner just reduced the price.”

“Reduced it to how much?” Zoe said, rolling her eyes.

Nichole told her, and Zoe stared at her.

“That’s still out of my price range,” said Zoe, with a lot less conviction in her voice.

“But look at all the house you’ll get!” said Nichole with a big smile on her face. “You could fit three or four roommates in here! It’s got 5 bedrooms!

“Why hasn’t anyone bought it?” asked Zoe. “I mean, that price is amazing, but why has it been on the market so long?”

“It’s been almost sold a few times,” said Nichole, “but… well… the last few buyers have all dropped out at the last minute. One was even in escrow!”

“Why?”

“You know, I’m not sure of all the details. All I know is that they all dropped out after being very interested.”

“Well,” said Zoe, “I guess I’ll take a look.”

—–

A month later, Zoe unlocked the door, pocketed the keys, and walked through the front door of the house.

My new house, she thought.

She stood in the massive front room. Ahead of her was a grand staircase that split either direction to go up to a balcony. To her left was an area with an expensive looking rug and a huge, ornate fireplace, separated from the rest of the room by what looked like a matched set of antique armchairs, and a massive, extremely comfortable looking couch. Apparently, one of those previous potential buyers of the house had been in the process of furnishing the place when he had suddenly just vanished. Whoever he was, he had great taste.

Zoe still hadn’t been sure about the house when she first walked in, but as she looked around, it seemed the house was perfect for her. It wasn’t like seeing a house for the first time, it was more like… like revisiting a place she knew well. It’s as if she knew what each room would hold before she opened the door. At one point, Nichole had been opening a bunch of doors (there were a lot of doors upstairs) trying to find the big closet, and Zoe walked straight over to it, finding it on the first try. When she was about to open the door to the master suite, she could have sworn she heard a faint voice say, “You’re going to love this.” It was like something was whispering to her, trying to entice her into staying.

Normally, even though Zoe knew it was a great deal, she still wouldn’t have gone for it, because it was still out of her price range. Zoe was eminently reasonable. She laughed a little bit when the realtor disclosed that the house had a reputation of being haunted, and was once home to what was believed to be a coven of witches.

“Probably just a brothel,” Zoe had joked.

—–

It didn’t take long to move her stuff in. She had just finished unpacking the last of 4 boxes, all of which had fit in her Jeep. She’d gotten rid of most of her stuff to make it easier to move. She didn’t have any sheets to fit the massive, brand new bed that was already in the master suite, so she tossed her sleeping bag on it. It was getting late, and she figured she’d get some sleep. It would be a big day getting the rest of the things she would need for the house.

She turned out the light, and climbed in bed. As she looked up at the ceiling, she groaned. Someone had painted star constellations on the ceiling. The entire ceiling was painted from one end to the other. Painted it in glow in the dark paint. Who does that?

—–

Zoe was exhausted when she woke up the next morning. She was having a weird dream, and it was messing with her sleep. She also had a vague feeling like there was something she had to do, but she couldn’t remember what it was. God, she hated moving.

Zoe sat at the kitchen island with her coffee and a notepad, making a list of things she would have to buy to get the house fixed up. She added ‘ceiling paint’ to the list, to cover up the ridiculous glow in the dark constellations on her bedroom ceiling. She finished off the cup of coffee, and got up to pour a new one. She paused as she reached for the glass coffee pot. The reflection… there seemed to be two people in the reflection. There was someone standing there. Right behind her.

Zoe turned and swung with the coffee cup to whack whoever the dude standing behind her was, but nothing connected and she lost her balance. She caught herself on the counter, but she dropped the coffee cup and it broke on the floor.

“Goddamnit,” she sighed as she looked back at the coffee pot. Nothing. Just her reflection and delicious coffee, which she couldn’t drink because she just broke her only coffee cup. She shook her head.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered as she went back to her list. Underneath the last line she wrote, “coffee cup.” As she went over the list, she noticed something on there she didn’t remember writing. Below “ceiling paint” and above “coffee cups” was written, “I need your help.”

—–

Later, after picking up everything on her list, Zoe was painting the ceiling a subdued grey to match the walls. She made sure she’d bought the heavy one-coat paint to be sure to cover the glowing paint.

“I had to have written it,” she told herself for the hundredth time since that morning. “There was nobody else around, nobody else could have written it. I’m tired, I didn’t sleep well, I must have written it.”

She finished up painting and went downstairs to make herself a sandwich for dinner. She ate in the kitchen and did her best to forget about the weird entry on her list by surfing the web on her phone. Unfortunately she couldn’t get a good signal. She finished up and went back to the bedroom to make sure the glowing paint was covered. She drew the curtains and walked over to the light switch. She flipped the lights off.

The star constellations were gone. On the ceiling, in huge, bright, glowing letters was written, “PLEASE DO NOT COVER MY DIAGRAMS!”

—–

Zoe met the police car outside the house. She had been waiting in her Jeep ever since she saw the ceiling. She prided herself on being solid, not easily shaken. She lived on her own, and she didn’t get freaked out by anything. The words on the ceiling freaked her out.

She got out of her Jeep when the cruiser pulled into the driveway. It had gotten dark out while she waited, and she cursed herself for not turning on the porch light. Fortunately, the cop left his headlights on. He got out of his car as well and approached her.

“You’re the one who called in the trespassing incident, miss…”

“Zoe Horvath,” she said, “and yeah, I’m pretty sure there is someone in my house.”

“I’m Officer Knox,” he said. “So this is your house?”

“Yep,” she said. “I just bought it.”

“You know they say this place is haunted, right?”

“I think that’s why I got such a good price on it.”

“Yeah, but…” he stopped and thought for a moment. “Anyway, why do you think there’s someone in the house?”

“Somebody painted a message on the ceiling while I was having dinner.”

“What was the message?” asked Knox. “And why the ceiling?”

“I had just painted the ceiling. Whoever lived here last had painted glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling.”

“So what was the message?” asked the cop.

“It…” Zoe paused, “told me not to cover the glowing stars.”

“That’s weird.”

—–

Officer Knox looked uneasy as Zoe led him upstairs to the bedroom. Which is bullshit, thought Zoe, He’s supposed to be reassuring me, not looking all scared himself.

“Something the matter, officer?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t like being in here.”

“Because it’s haunted?” she asked. He glared at her.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean,” he said. “You heard about the last guy who almost bought this place? He disappeared. No trace. We looked into it for the real estate company. The man just vanished. Not a word to anyone he knew, his employer, nobody. You think half the people in this town didn’t look into buying this place? At the price it was at? Nobody wanted it because everyone thought it was creepy. And now you have glowing mystery-letters on your ceiling.”

“Sorry,” said Zoe, as she approached the bedroom door. “Here’s the room.”

She opened the door, and they both looked up at the ceiling as they stepped in. There was no writing. The constellations were back.

“I thought you painted over these?” said Knox, confused.

“I did.”

“Then…” he trailed off. Zoe looked around the room. She didn’t know what to say, which was new for her. She couldn’t think of any way the glowing stars could be back, or repainted, or whatever. She shook her head.

“Look,” she said, “can you just take a look around the rest of the house?”

“Sure,” said Knox, “sooner we get this done, the sooner I can leave.”

The two of them walked out of the room to the balcony, Zoe in the lead.

“Um,” said Zoe, “that fireplace wasn’t lit when we walked by a minute ago.”

“What?”

“The fireplace,” Zoe said, pointing to the massive, ornate hearth downstairs. Knox just stared at her. “Shouldn’t we go check it out?” she said. Knox stared at her for another moment, then sighed.

“I guess we should,” he said. The two of them went downstairs, keeping their eyes on the fireplace. When they got downstairs, they stood in front of the fireplace. Zoe looked around and didn’t see anything, but she also noticed that Knox was just staring into the fireplace.

“I don’t see anything,” said Zoe, “but I didn’t hear the door at all. Are you going to keep looking or what?”

No answer.

“Hey, Officer Knox,” Zoe snapped her fingers. “Knox!”

No answer.

“Hey!” Zoe shouted and waved her hand in front of his face. He kept staring at the fire.

“What the hell, man?!” She yelled, and he turned his head toward her. “Jesus, man what’s your deal?”

“Miss Horvath,” said the officer. There was something very strange about his voice. It was deeper, the cadence was wrong… different than it was before. And it echoed. A faint echo, like he was speaking through a crappy microphone hooked up to a cheap speaker.

“I have possessed Officer Knox for the time being,” the voice continued. Zoe’s eyebrows rose. “My name is Henry. My spirit is trapped in this house, I need your help.”

“What the hell, man?” Zoe repeated. “This is no time to mess around, there’s someone in the house!”

“There is no one in the house,” said the strange voice. “It was me who left the message asking you not to cover my diagrams.”

“You know what?” said Zoe as she started to walk away. “You can go to hell. I’m going to go stay at a hotel tonight, and I’m going to file a complaint with the police department. You can stay and look for whoever the hell is in the house, or not. I don’t give a shit.”

And with that, she walked out the door.

—–

The next morning, Zoe was still mad as she drove back to the house. That asshole cop has the nerve to lecture her on her ‘haunted house’ and then say he was possessed to try to scare her. He’s a cop! He isn’t supposed to pull crap like that.

Zoe’s fuming was interrupted as she pulled into her driveway because there was already a car there. It wasn’t the police cruiser from last night, it was some big, clunky monstrosity from the 70s. And there was a priest standing on her porch. Awesome.

“Can I help you, Father?” she asked him as she walked up to the porch.

“Yes, I believe so,” he said. “I am Father Brian. A member of my parish, Oliver Knox, asked me to come by your house this morning.”

Zoe stared at him. She couldn’t think of anything to say.

“He said there were some strange happenings here last night, and asked if I’d bless the house. I told him that I would, as long as it was alright with you, Miss…”

“I’m Zoe,” said Zoe. “And if that asshole thinks he can get out of his stupid prank by sending a priest over here, he’s dead wrong.”

“Oliver seemed very disturbed when he came to me this morning. I’ve known him for years now, and I’ve never seen him shaken like that.”

“Uh-huh,” said Zoe, deadpan, “well I suppose it’s probably easier to let you bless the house than it would be to stand here arguing about it.”

She unlocked the door, opened it, and gestured for the priest to precede her. Zoe followed him in, and as soon as she closed the door, she felt a vague sense of unease. The feeling increased when she looked at the priest. It was like something was telling her the priest shouldn’t be there. She shrugged the feeling off.

“Where do we start, Father?”

“I usually start by doing a blessing in each room. I suppose we’ll start in the bedroom, where the strangeness began?”

Zoe sighed, but led the way. She opened the door and noticed the curtains were still closed, so the room was dark. She took a breath and looked at the ceiling.

“Goddamnit,” she muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, Father.”

“Oh my!” said Father Brian as he noticed the words on the ceiling.

TELL THE PRIEST TO LEAVE BEFORE HE RUINS EVERYTHING

Zoe shook her head. She thought there was a chance Knox could have written this before he left last night. She had just left him there. But then, it looked just like the writing from before.

“You know,” she said. “I’m going to make some coffee. It’s pretty early for this weirdness. Can I make you some?”

“No, thank you,” said the priest. He started saying something else as Zoe walked out.

When she had finished making her coffee, she noticed her notepad from the other day. There was some writing scrawled messily across the open page. She didn’t look at it. This was getting weird in a whole new way. She was seriously regretting talking herself into buying this stupid house.

She walked back out to the living room. The priest was coming down the stairs. She went to sit on the sofa and noticed that there was a fire in the fireplace again. She knew it hadn’t been lit when she walked by to go into the kitchen. I hate this house, she thought, and sipped her coffee.

Father Brian looked at the hearth. As he stood there, Zoe got a strong feeling that the house did not want to be blessed. She gave the fireplace the finger.

“Is this where the possession happened?”

“Look, Father,” said Zoe, “I don’t really know what’s going on. Just do your voodoo and let’s see what happens.”

The priest began saying what seemed like a well-rehearsed prayer, and made the sign of the cross a few times while he did. When it seemed like he was wrapping up, he took a small piece of chalk out, and walked over to the fireplace. As he did, a feeling of alarm hit Zoe like a punch to the gut. She started to get up to stop the priest as he reached out to the mantle with the chalk.

“Wait! I don’t think you should-” she said as he drew a white cross on the mantle. Before she could finish, the fireplace roared. Flames shot out in every direction. The priest was thrown back, and thankfully landed on one of the armchairs. The chair toppled over as the priest hit it, and the flames began to fly all over the room.

“What the hell is this?!” she screamed to no one. She jumped off the couch and ran for the front door, but it wasn’t there. There were flames streaking across a huge, blank, black wall. No door to be seen. She looked around. The staircase was there but it seemed enormous, like it was growing, and as she looked up toward the top of it, it looked like it might go on forever. She started to get a headache.

She looked away from the stairs. Flames were still streaking across the huge room, which was now somehow much bigger than it had been. It was a hundred times bigger. A thousand. She looked up at the balcony. It seemed sloped somehow, but she couldn’t tell which way. The headache was getting stronger. She closed her eyes and shook her head. When she opened her eyes the house was still insane, except now there was a guy in a tuxedo standing near her, with his hand reaching toward her.

“Zoe!” he shouted, “Come with me!”

She looked at him for just a second, and decided that she was going insane. If she was crazy, she might as well go with the guy. She took his hand.

“Are you Henry?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “I’m the ma-”

“Duck!” yelled Zoe, jerking Henry’s hand and pulling him off-balance as a bright purple flame flew right past where his head was.

“Damned witches,” he said as he got his balance back. He looked around and apparently found what he was looking for on the staircase. He waved his hand and a wand appeared in his hand. He waved it again and a blue fireball flew at the stairs, exploding on contact.

“Ha!” he shouted. “Eat that, harpy!”

Zoe rolled her eyes.

“We were going somewhere?” she said.

“Oh yes,” said Henry, and waved his wand. Suddenly they were back in the bedroom with the glowing stars, except now they looked far more realistic. And the room looked massive. The bed was the same, though.

“So,” said Zoe, “You’re what, a ghost?”

“No,” said Henry, “I’m a magician.”

“That explains the cheap tuxedo.”

“This cost me almost two-hundred dollars!”

“Whatever, ghost man,” said Zoe. “Now why don’t you sit your translucent ass down, and tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s fairly simple,” he said. “About 50 years ago, I decided to do something with the damned witches who lived here. They were causing havoc and, to be honest, I wanted the house. I was able to trap them in the Night Places, but I was trapped with them.”

“What are the Night Pla-“ she stopped, “actually, never mind. Why did you want the house?”

“The owner of this house controls its power,” Henry said.

“And why does the house have powers? Was it built on an Indian graveyard or something?”

“Actually, there were some cultists that did human sacrifice here back in the 17th century. Then it was a potter’s field for a while. Basically it’s at the intersection of a bunch of ley-lines. It’s a magical jackpot!”

Zoe stared at him.

“You’re still being skeptical?” asked Henry, “After everything you just saw?”

“Fine, say I believe you, what then?”

“Then you-“ Henry began, but then he stopped. He sat up straighter and cocked an eyebrow. Then the door blew off its hinges. Henry tackled Zoe to the floor and the door flew past, smashing against the far wall.

Flames were shooting in through the doorway. Henry flicked his wand and the flames that came toward them died a few feet away. Zoe looked out and saw shapes that could generously be described as women. They were standing in the doorway with hands outstretched, purple flames shooting out of them. They were advancing. Henry was waving his wand frantically.

“This is ridiculous,” said Zoe. Henry glanced at her. While he was distracted, a purple flame streaked into his face and he screamed. Zoe screamed too.

“Henry!”

There was a mad laughter that filled the room. Zoe looked up and the witches were all cackling. She looked back at Henry, who lay on the ground convulsing.

“The fireplace,” he said, “stop the witches.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Henry didn’t answer. The laughter got louder. It was really grating on Zoe’s nerves.

“You know what?!” she shouted. “This is fucking stupid.”

The laughter stopped. The witches looked blankly at her. Damn they’re ugly, thought Zoe.

“Yeah,” she said, “this is stupid, and I’m done with it.”

She reached down and pulled Henry’s wand out of his hand. When she looked up, there were purple flames flying at her. She slashed upward with the wand, and thought “stop.” The flames dissipated a yard in front of her. She slashed the wand again, and a streak of blue flew toward the witches. She kept slashing.

“This fucking house!” she screamed as she advanced, sending more streaks of blue fire at the now not-at-all laughing witches. “I spent my entire goddamn savings on this house and now it’s haunted and full of goddamn fighting Harry Potter rejects!”

She kept screaming at the witches and slashing, blue flames flying everywhere. A few times she saw the flames connect and heard inhuman screams. She made it to the stairs, with the witches still backing off from her flames. Not knowing what else to do, she spun the wand around above her head, picturing the fireplace. She closed her eyes tight, and when she opened them, she was standing in front of the fireplace, facing the stairs from the bottom. The witches were sending purple flames at a blue column of fire. She slashed the wand and heard the witches screech as the flames hit them in the back.

“Damn,” she said, “magic is easy.”

She looked down at the priest, then back at the fireplace. There was a very normal looking red fire roaring in it.

“You know what?” she said to the unconscious priest. “I really hate this stupid fucking house.”

She pointed at the wall where the door was supposed to be and waved the wand. A doorway appeared to the outside. She pointed the wand back at the fireplace with the glowing red fire, and held it there. Then, concentrating on what she wanted, she whirled the wand in a huge circle, then again and again. The fire flew out of the hearth and in huge arcs around the house, landing wherever Zoe pointed. The walls caught. She reached down and grabbed the priest’s ankles, and with some effort, dragged him out of the house.

—–

When the police and the firetrucks arrived, Zoe was leaning against her Jeep, shaking her head.

“So stupid,” she said, over and over.

The priest was explaining to the firemen that he didn’t know what happened, but he thought the fire started in the fireplace. Zoe said the same, the whole time wondering if her insurance would cover this, or if she was watching her entire life savings burn up.

Father Brian approached her.

“Can I have my wand back?” he asked, voice echoing unnaturally.

 

 

 

 


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Kevin Veldman is an eternally-aspiring writer and the editor and co-host of the comic book comedy podcast “The ComicNoobs Show” which is available on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/comicnoobspodcast), iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/comic-noobs/id1042622248) and most podcast apps. You can usually find Kevin posting nonsense and comicbook or sci-fi articles on Twitter @comicnoobsshow. One day he’ll publish some stories, but not until he learns to write better.

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4 Comments

  1. This is a lot of fun. Maybe a little bit TOO MUCH fun? I would have liked to feel a bit more spookiness before we got to the wacky magician. This is the kind of story that feels like it would work better if it were longer. If you really gave these scenes the room to breathe and added in a bit more character development you could have a decent novella on your hands. That’s not to say it doesn’t work at this length, but there were moments when the story felt highly compressed.

    There were several bits of humor that I wished had gone a little farther, but I did really enjoy how fed up Zoe got toward the end, screaming about Harry Potter rejects. All in all this is a good story that only disappoints in that it isn’t quite a great story.

  2. Hey, my ceiling has glow in the dark paint! And a haunted chimney. Or a raccoon infested chimney. One of the two.

    Very fast paced for the length. I enjoyed the fed up attitude, though she seemed to reach that point very quickly. I’d also wonder if she could really use the wand that fast, but it worked in Star Wars so I’ve got no issue.

    Really a fun little story. Good job Kevin! Good luck.

  3. I liked the pace, I liked the humour, I liked how Zoe took over and took care of business.

    What would have made this better, at least for me, is if you’d gone for the humour a little harder, and if we’d seen more of the calm and together Zoe. One thing that generally works well is when the happy, calm person finally snaps. It’s the Bugs Bunny “You realised, of course, this means war?” moment.

    Other than that, this is good and well told. Please write more things where we can read them.

  4. I think I’m going to fall in with the overall consensus here, this was a LOT of fun and by the end I was fully on board, but maybe it was too vague in it’s tone for too long?
    Why bother with the realtor (who, granted, was damned perfectly written realtor) and the moving in? All of those paragraphs did very little except tell us that, according to rumor, the house is weird. I think we could have jumped past that in a few sentences of summation and gotten to the weird faster.

    I have a similar thought about the very end. Or maybe the inverse thought? That moment where the priest speaks in the magician’s voice…come on!!! Let us savor that! Build it up, take a few beats where we think it’s going to just be the priest and THEN hit us with the other voice.

    Overall, though, as I said earlier, once this got rolling it was a great time. I loved the slow burn of Zoe’s patience until she just loses it. And I love when a “third option” gets introduced in a story. Magician wants the house for its power. Witches want the house for its power. Who will Zoe side with? Well guess what, Zoe is fucking sick of all this shit and burns the house down. Wonderful.

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