"I like your pendant, it's so regal," I said.
Mrs. Carver's crack of a mouth curled up on one side, "I like your azurite necklace, they match your eyes well."
"Oh, th-thanks," I blushed.
"So, Stephanie, tell me about yourself," Mrs. Carver served me tea from an antique kettle with purple lilacs painted on it.
She handed me a tray that was made of pure silver. The two of us were sitting in her living room which was the entire size of my apartment and looked like it was furnished from the Victorian era.
"Thank you for the tea," I took a sip, the peppermint aroma helped my shoulders relax. "So, uh, about me. I'm Stephanie, as you know, thirty years old. I've been a home care nurse now for about, seven years -- "
"Yes, yes, I am well aware of that information already, I was wondering if you could tell me things more along the lines of why you decided to become a nurse?"
"Oh, uh," I hid behind another sip and fixed my gaze at the ground while my foot twitched. "Sorry, the question caught me off guard a little bit, I've never been asked that from a client before."
"I'm sorry," she stated.
"I-It's okay. It's just, I-I became a home care nurse because when I was growing up my family had a nurse come to our house to take care of my mom. I always wanted to be the one to, you know, cure her lung cancer, but being a doctor wasn't for me. So ever since my mom passed, I've always wanted to help out families in some way, and this was the only career that made sense," I ended the sentence with a half-hearted laugh.
Mrs. Carver squinted and knitted her brow. "I see, yes, I'm sorry to hear about that," she stirred her tea for a moment, then leered back at me. "Based on your reviews from others, and even your coworkers, you seem to be the best person for my mother. So, I'm very much looking forward to working with you, as I'm sure she is too."
"Yeah, when I met Margaret earlier she was all smiles."
"She is friendly, yes." Mrs. Carver's sneered. "It was so hard to find someone to work this whole weekend, so thank you for stepping up and accepting to do that."
My jaw dropped and my eyes widened, "Oh, the weekend? I was under the impression it was just for the night?"
"If we have to pay extra, we will, but as of the moment we need you here," Mrs. Carver's voice was firm as if I were talking to my own parent. "Under no circumstance can my husband, son, and I cancel our travel plans."
"Uh. Well, um, I guess," Grow a backbone, Steph, you're thirty years old and you have a date tomorrow.
"I guess, isn't good enough. We need a yes. We'll happily pay you $25,000 for the weekend. We need someone here to watch my mother and we won't be able to find anyone else at the last minute like this. Can you do it?" Mrs. Carver's hand tightened into a fist.
Something about her bone-chilling glare gave me goosebumps. I took a few breaths before I muttered, "Yes."
"Good." Mrs. Carver unclenched her hand and took a sip from her tea with perfect posture like she was groomed for royalty. "Sorry for any miscommunication. Are there any questions you may have for me?"
"Uh yes, I do have just one -- "
"My supervisor told me that uh, there were some challenges?"
"I-I don't know, the last five home care nurses left this job without a word to anyone. It's a little strange. Any idea why?"
"No. Must have been for personal reasons," Mrs. Carver's voice cut like a sword.
"I'd understand one or two, but five in a row?"
"I said I have no idea why," her voice grew louder.
I glued my eyes to the floor, gulped the last of my tea, and excused myself to the restroom. Even though I was in the bathroom for a couple of minutes, when I returned, Mrs. Carver was preparing to leave with her husband and son. They said goodbye and we exchanged numbers.
"One last thing," she said with a rare smile. "Please, don't touch anything in the trophy room."
"Won't be an issue, I wasn't planning on it," I forced a chuckle.
* * *
In the evening I finished feeding Margaret in the second living room. She beamed as she gazed at the "I Love Lucy" episodes I was told to play for her.
The night was quiet; I couldn't stop thinking about why five other nurses quit. Sure, the family was rude, but the paycheck was amazing for a silent cooperative patient. Feeding her was a breeze, the only hiccup was that she insisted on keeping the remnants of the chicken pot pie to take microscopic bites, so I left her to it, but "I Love Lucy" distracted her.
A bell with a deep pitch rang through the walls of the mansion, lingered for five seconds, and sounded like it came from underwater. It pierced my eardrum and swelled in my head. For a moment my senses went numb and foggy but they snapped back when the bell stopped. I glanced everywhere to see where it came from, but couldn't detect the source.
"Did you hear that, Margaret?"
Her eyes were still fixed on the television, but she turned to me and her thin crack of a mouth curved up. "Hear what?"
"Never mind," my shoulders tensed and goosebumps scattered over my body. "Let me take that plate up for you. I'm just going to the kitchen."
"Okay," Margaret nodded.
Scrambling into the kitchen, I started rinsing off the plate but the water stopped.
I pulled the lever to "OFF" and pushed it back to "HOT" again but no luck. Even the cold setting wasn't giving me a drop. Analyzing every angle of the sink, it appeared normal, but something made me stop.
Down in the drain.
A glowing blue eye glared at me.
Snatching another glance down the sink, there was nothing.
Drifting back to Margaret I took a detour to the trophy room, trying to find where the bell may have come from. I remembered earlier when Mrs. Carver gave me the tour, we didn't walk inside, but she pointed it out.
I debated knocking on the door, which was strange since it was only Margaret and I, but something about it felt private. There was a keyhole on the tall white door, but I was able to turn the ornate knob and push it open.
"Hello?" I voiced, but only my echo greeted me.
I found myself in another large room that could fit a church congregation. The walls were lined with glass cabinets containing jewelry and even axes and swords. At the end of the room something stuck out among the cases. A tall, purple grandfather clock, leering directly at me.
It had four posts at the top, each one with a sharp spike. The wood appeared naturally dark violet. The numbers were made of gold and the cast disc behind it was silver, which was so shiny it was emitting its own light.
The grandfather clock didn't have a door to get to the pendulum, weights, and chains. There wasn't even a glass pane to look inside, just an elaborate carving that looked like an upside down tree. With closer observation, it was a heart with veins sprouting in every direction. It didn't even tick, I couldn't hear any gears shifting, but it displayed the correct time.
Nothing else in the room seemed remotely as interesting as the clock. I held my hand out until I was an inch away of touching it, but Mrs. Carver's words echoed in my head.
On my way back I overheard Margaret's muffled conversational voice through the walls. Before creeping in, I hid by the side of the hall and peered around the corner. She was still sitting in the chair with the television on, but she was looking at where I was sitting on the couch.
"Thank you, it's lovely. Your finest work yet," she said while holding up her hand and marveling at the ring on her finger that she wasn't wearing earlier. "You have to go now? Darn. Well, okay, see you later." Margaret waved goodbye and followed something out of the room with her eyes. It must have walked past me because her gaze met mine. "Hello, you're back."
"Hi, yes I am. Sorry, I didn't think I was gone for that long. Who were you talking to?"
"That was my husband, Walt. Look at this," she modeled her hand up for me, showcasing a small diamond ring.
"It's beautiful. Uh, Margaret," I stepped back to my seat. "I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news but, you weren't talking to anyone."
"You mean, you didn't see a tall, handsome man?"
I shook my head.
She raised her eyebrows and frowned. "Oh. Sometimes I see things. It happens with old age."
I nodded in an effort to console her, but her frown disappeared on its own.
When it was her bed time I pushed her wheelchair to her room on the ground floor and put her to bed, she fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. I took a deep enjoyable breath and smiled. Day one, done.
I stayed in the guest bedroom upstairs which was connected to my own personal bathroom. The shower was a walk-in chamber, and it even had its own hot tub off to the side, which I hopped in as soon as I finished scrubbing off in five minutes.
"Ahhh," I exhaled while soaking in my own personal hot spring. I started imagining what I was going to do with the $25,000. Then I dunked my head in the heated water pulling off a submarine impression, but a chill crawled down my spine like a centipede.
The bell chimed.
It resonated in my head, my fingers were weightless, my head was in a daze, but when the ring stopped I inhaled a flood of water and lurched my head up for air, hacking until my lungs ached.
The sound was so faint I wondered if my mind was playing tricks on me again. I stood in total silence and didn't hear a thing. The imagery of that eye looking at me from the drain flashed through my mind. My skin tingled. I jumped out of the tub but felt an icy grip wrap around my ankle and yank me back.
"Ah!" I shrieked.
In the tug-of-war of my limb, I jerked my leg out of the tub with all of my might and flew back into the bathroom counter, water splashing in every direction. I rushed back up, hovering over the tub, wide eyed, scanning every square inch, but nothing was in there.
When I stumbled into my bedroom I noticed the light was off, when I left it on. I tried flipping the switch.
Smoke squirmed into my room from underneath the door, a slight trace of tobacco loomed. I have to check on Margaret.
I rushed into the hall of the foyer and the whole mansion was filled with fog. The orange glow from the outdoor lights peered through the windows breaking up the fog in pockets just enough for me to get my footing and see my hand outstretched in front of me. Down the hall there was a flickering white strobe coming from the second living room.
I gulped as I tiptoed in.
The television was flashing from black to white. The tobacco odor grew stronger. I started to hear whispers but they felt imaginary. My head was mentally congested, my ears felt blocked by walls of blood, my mouth lost all moisture.
I tried to turn on the light but it was to no avail. Surveying the other side, a figure was sitting in the chair enshrouded in the fog. It had to be Margaret, with her back to me. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't having a nightmare but I couldn't feel it, my skin was numb.
The hairs on the back of my neck ascended. I thought I heard my name but I wasn't sure, it almost sounded like Margaret was whispering to me.
"Margaret? Everything okay?" I muttered.
I inched closer, tilting my head to get a look through the fog but the strobing made it impossible.
I reached my hand out to touch her shoulder but her face swiveled around. The skin was decayed and flaking apart. Bones from the mandible and teeth were exposed. A pair of familiar blue eyes were wide open, peering into my soul.
My heart was thumping in my neck, a spike of adrenaline rocketed from my heart to my head, back and forth. A dizziness struck me like a lightning bolt. I was seeing double.
The woman's mouth opened like a crypt and a landslide of cigarette filters rained on the ground. A cry of agony, similar to the bell came from the woman that made everything go black.
* * *
My eyes opened up, and I was sprawled on the floor of the second living room. The sun was gleaming through the windows, painting the house with golden light. I turned back to the chair and it was empty, but there was something on the floor that made me scream. A pile of burnt cigarette filters.
* * *
I was on edge the whole day. Images of the decayed face kept popping into my mind. The skin looked like moldy, dark green bread. I shuddered.
Throwing out the cigarette filters, I wondered how they got there. I was careful to hide them at the bottom of the trash and took it outside so they could be more disguised in case one of the family members saw it. Some might call me crazy, but when $25,000 is offered for a weekend, there can't be any hiccups.
I went to check on Margaret and she greeted me with a smile from ear to ear as I brought her a breakfast of yogurt and oatmeal. Afterwards I gave her a bath, made her lunch, and made her dinner. All day I was waiting for that bell, but it never chimed. We just sat in that living room watching old television programs.
"How's everything going?" Mrs. Carver texted me.
"So far, no complaints," I replied.
Her last text felt like it was taunting my brain. Why the ellipsis? Do I respond and mention the horror I saw? Or was she already aware that something was happening? Her brevity made my stomach drop.
* * *
When I tucked Margaret in her bed and said goodnight, she was already snoring. It's Saturday evening, almost done.
I cleaned up the dishes and hiked up the stairs. Light switches worked and so did the water. Just had to get ready for bed which only took a few minutes.
The mattress in the guest room felt like sleeping on a king sized sponge. I was cursing myself for not sleeping there the night before, but there wasn't much I could do about that.
My mind thought about the decayed face again and I trembled. I have to take my mind somewhere else. I slid out my romance novel from my bag. After a few pages in, my eyes kept fading to black so I turned off the lamp and went to sleep, forcing myself to think about an island full of puppies. I even prayed for a good night's rest, to whatever god would help me.
* * *
A gust of wind.
A slight tug of the sheets.
I opened my eyes, but everything was dark and cloudy.
My heart began to thud and my vision tunneled, I was lying on my side facing the door. It sounded like someone was in the room with me and out of breath.
I jerked my head to the other corner and I screamed to the loudest decibel possible.
A giant decaying monstrosity hovered over me. No hair and no nose. It had grey skin that was chipping apart. I could see rotten flesh inside the beast. It bared its fangs which drooled with black liquid and the familiar blue eyes pierced through the fog like fire. It lifted its head and slammed it but I leapt out before it could sink its fangs through my legs.
I burst out of the room with the energy of a firework into the halls of the cloudy mansion. The monster chased me on all fours like a leopard. Its breath wheezed right behind me. Sprinting through the foyer I dashed up to the front to shoulder through the doors but they were coated in a black obsidian.
I darted towards Margaret's room, but as I headed there with the monster on my tail, the trophy room door was wide open. Flickering yellows and oranges emanated through the fog.
I leapt in like a long jump olympian and slammed the door shut, locking it behind me. The creature clawed and chomped at the thick oak. The odor of formaldehyde and decay hung in the air.
The clock was glowing with golden light. Plumes of fog spewed out of the four posts, and I could hear a drum beating in the room amid the creature slashing at the door.
I clutched the axe that was perched on a frame and I approached the clock like a hunter closing in on its kill. The light glowed so bright it burned my eyes. I yanked the axe behind me at the foot of the --
"You don't want to do that," a ghostly voice behind me echoed.
I spun around to see a tall handsome man in a suit with an angelic light beaming through him.
"Why?" I grunted.
"It brings back those you love who have died," the apparition said.
"I've only seen a decayed monster!"
"That's not a very nice thing to say about your mother."
That's where I recognized the familiar blue eyes.
"Why does she look like that?"
"I want to scare my guests," the ghost snickered, "so none can take from my family's fortune."
The monster's claw demolished the door while the ghost bolted at me. I snapped my head towards the clock and heaved the axe dead center. It crushed through the wood revealing a thundering pale heart in a web of purple veins.
I whipped back the axe again as the apparition and monster were on my back and I launched the cutting edge one last time on the white heart of the clock.
Upon impact, a shriek let out that pulverized my ear, but all at once the ghost, the monster, the fog, and the clock disappeared. I collapsed to the ground. While I lay there I tried to make sense of all that had just happened, but I couldn't. The room was silent and my eyes were closed. I took a deep breath. And another.
Will I still get the $25,000, even though I touched something in the trophy room?