01 Feb The Coffin in the Hills
I moved to a new house a few weeks ago. It was a simple two story house in the hills of West Virginia down a fairly residential road nestled between a cluster of looming trees. It had been on the market for a long time apparently, so I purchased it at an almost criminal price. I couldn’t figure out, why, the foundation solid and the interior in amazing condition.
It was at the end of the street, my neighboring residents scattered before me like an audience in a throne room. It was just outside of a small town, a quaint, fairly poor stretch of the state.
I was pleased with the move. I was away from the noise of DC and more importantly, away from the bad memories I left behind. A broken marriage, the loss of a beautiful apartment, and an inevitable divorce. Thanks God I didn’t have any kids.
My new home offered seclusion and privacy while also hosting a receptive community. Within the first couple days I had met all my neighbors, each of them quite a different flavor of humanity than I was used to. Their casual ways and welcoming attitudes were gratefully accepted by myself, a stark contrast to the cold, business like nature of the big city.
I unpacked fairly quickly. I had left most of my belongings in the city with my ex. I wanted a fresh start, ridding myself of unwanted ties to the life I was leaving.
Once I was settled and with Halloween approaching, I decided to decorate my house with the usual seasonal décor. I wanted to show my new neighbors that I could be just as welcoming as they had been to me. I didn’t want to be the creepy single guy at the end of the street.
After a quick trip to the local supermarket, I was soon placing pumpkins on my front steps, stringing cotton cobwebs along the shrubbery, and even going so far as to purchase a plastic mummy along the front steps.
Along with the decorations, I made sure to get more than enough candy for the expected trick-or-treaters, my shopping cart filling quickly with candy corn, full size candy bars, and assorted mixes. Being my first Halloween in a new neighborhood, I wanted to give out the best stuff.
As Halloween drew closer, I noticed the surrounding houses weren’t putting on a show like I was. No pumpkins, no golden wreaths, no plastic ghosts, nothing. I shrugged it off, now hoping I wasn’t coming off as tacky.
The day before Halloween, I asked one of my neighbors down the street what I should expect in terms of trick-or-treaters. He gave me a hesitant look and then informed me that no one really came down this street hunting for candy. I felt my heart sink. I had been looking forward to seeing the local costumes and pieced together outfits that riddled every October 31st.
“None?” I asked, trying not to let my disappointment show.
He shook his head and told me that maybe there’d be one or two at most. He then said something strange that made me pause.
He said that if they knew what was good for them, they wouldn’t risk it.
I asked him what he meant and he seemed eager to separate himself from the subject. I pressed further and finally he looked into my eyes and told me on Halloween I should shut my lights off and lock my doors.
He told me to stay away from the windows.
Confused, I asked him what he was talking about.
He leaned in close, pointing towards the distant hills, and whispered, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll go to bed early and wait for sunrise. Nothing good comes out of those hills on Halloween.”
And with that he turned away and went into his house. I snorted, dumbfounded. What the hell was he talking about? What was in the hills? I easily brushed the conversation away, dismissing it as some ridiculous fiction. * * *
I eagerly placed the oversized bowl of candy by the front door and turned on the outside lights. I opened the front door and breathed in the crisp evening air, filling my head with the country scents. The sun had disappeared behind the hills, bleeding an expanse of deep purple across the horizon. A full moon was eagerly climbing the sky to meet an array of twinkling stars. I grinned. What a perfect Halloween.
I closed the door and ran upstairs to my bedroom to retrieve a plastic clown mask I had purchased earlier in the day. I thought it would be fun for the kids who came to my door. I snatched it up off my bed and thundered back downstairs, excited anticipation growing inside of me.
My neighbor’s warning the previous day was the furthest thing from my mind. If he didn’t want to give out candy, that was fine, but I refused to open the door empty handed in case someone did come.
I went into my living room and plopped myself down in a chair by the window. From there I had a perfect view of my front lawn and driveway. The handful of trees occupying the quarter acre before me towered into the night air, their empty branches reaching for the brilliant moon like twisting claws.
I reached for a book and turned on a lamp, the growing darkness outside now creeping into my house.
I read for a while, occasionally looking outside in hopes of spotting some trick-or-treaters. I noticed that every other house on the street was pitch black. No lights, no movement, nothing. All the windows had curtains drawn across them, shielding them from the street.
“What a bunch of downers,” I mused. In direct contrast, my house was lit up like a beacon, a shining torch at the end of a dark runway.
I went back to my book, pushing my neighbor’s lack of holiday cheer aside. I became lost in the pages and time reached out and pushed the hands of the clock forward at an alarming pace.
Eventually, I looked up and saw that it was almost ten. Sighing, I placed my book down and took one last look outside.
“Well, you tried,” I said to myself. I stood and began to turn off the lights, doing my best not to feel let down.
I went into my kitchen and as I was about to flick the light switch, I paused.
I thought I heard something outside, coming from the woods the kitchen window looked out into.
I went to the window and peered out into the dense woods, listening.
It was distant, but unmistakable.
“What the hell,” I whispered to myself.
It sounded like…whales. I cracked the window and turned my head, waiting for a repeat of the sound. After a few moments, it came ago, a low wailing cry, then two, then three, all mixing together to form a creeping howl that echoed across the woods.
What on earth, I thought, a shiver running through me. What is that?
The cry repeated, the distant notes hovering and filling the night.
I closed the window and locked it. It had to be some wildlife, maybe a deer or wild dog or something. I reminded myself that I was new to the country and unaccustomed to the way things sounded or acted out here.
I turned away and finished shutting off the lights. I locked the front door and was about to go upstairs when something made me stop. It was this…feeling, this cold finger in my chest pointing me to the front window.
Fear tickled my stomach, but I pushed it aside, telling myself to calm down. What the hell was I getting worked up about? Because some weird noise in the woods? I was going to have to get use to that.
And yet, that icy finger still stirred in my chest, urging me to look out the window. I licked my lips and then snorted.
I was being ridiculous.
I marched to the window and looked out.
“See,” I said to myself, staring out into my empty front lawn and driveway, “There’s noth-” the word caught in my throat and unease rolled across my mind like a nauseous wave.
I cupped my hands to the glass and stared out into the night.
Was there something standing…
My heart skipped a beat as I realized something was out there. I squinted in the darkness and bizarre recognition bloomed in my head.
There was a coffin out there.
It stood upright, facing me in the night. It was pitch black and reminded me of something out of a cartoon, something a vampire would emerge from, fangs shining.
I put a hand over my chest, slowing my heart, my neighbor’s warning resurfacing in my mind. I let out a chuckle and leaned my forehead against the glass.
“I see what’s going on here,” I said, a smile twisting my lips, “Try and scare the new guy. I get it. Good one everyone.”
Shaking my head, I turned away from the window, but a sudden rigor rocked my body.
The noise I had heard earlier boomed outside my house, a rising cry that again reminded me of crying whales.
Heart in my throat, I slowly turned around. The noise had come from my driveway this time.
“Pretty elaborate joke,” I said to myself, voice not quite steady.
As the call faded, I went to my front door and peeked out the side window. The coffin stood like a tombstone at the end of my driveway, the closed casket still and silent.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was shaken.
What if there was something to that warning…
“Don’t be absurd,” I said out loud, but immediately wished I hadn’t. My voice in the impossible silence sounded like a cannon blast.
I turned away from the window and climbed the stairs to the second floor. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth.
All my neighbors are probably out there having a good laugh, I thought. Let’s scare the city boy, it’ll be a hoot!
I rinsed my mouth out and washed my face, discarding the weirdness. I just wanted to go to bed. I wasn’t going to play into their childish games.
I turned the light off and entered the hallway, but stopped, heart slamming into my chest. I could hear that strange noise again, but it sounded like it was coming from downstairs. It sounded like it was coming from my kitchen.
“What the hell,” I whispered in the stillness as the noise died in silence.
I crept to the balcony peeked down. My eyes went wide and a coil of fear snaked around my throat.
My front door was wide open.
“Ok enough is enough,” I croaked.
Cautiously, I went to the stairs, my eyes trained on the open door. I swallowed hard, feeling unease and terror rising in mind like a cold mountain.
I suddenly stumbled and fell backwards up the stairs, shock rocketing through me like hot venom.
The coffin was standing upright in the foyer, facing the kitchen.
I scrambled to my feet and raked my mind. What the hell was going on? A gentle breeze drifted through the open door and curled up the stairs to lick my ankles. I placed my hand on the balcony, now staring directly down at the coffin. It remained motionless, a dark smudge in the dim black.
I cleared my throat, “Ok everyone, very funny!” I said, trying to control the fear in my voice, “You got me! Come on out now!”
I blinked and in that instance, the coffin vanished.
I leaned down over the railing, scrubbing my eyes. There was no way…
What is happening?! my frantic mind screamed, what is going ON!?
And that’s when I noticed a black outline to my left, at the far end of the hall by my bedroom.
I spun, eyes going wide, my breath leaving me in a rush of stale terror.
The coffin stood, now facing me mere feet away.
I crashed into my bathroom and slammed the door, leaning against it, heart thundering against my ribcage like a chaotic drum. Sweat had formed on the back of my neck and my hands shook as I scrambled to lock the door.
What is that thing!? What is it doing in my house?! I thought, jiggling the door handle to make sure it was secure.
I waited for some sound, some kind of movement, but none came. I counted off the minutes in my head, each second lasting an eternity. What the hell was I supposed to do here? The unnerving nature of the whole thing left my mind in shambles, the eerie invasion warping my sense of order.
Suddenly, a soft coo slithered between the cracks in the door, a gentle call like a chorus of whispering whales.
I jumped and backed away from the door, licking my dry lips. I could feel something on the other side of the wood, begging me to confront it.
“Get out of my house!” I cried with little conviction, “Leave me alone!”
The strange call continued, a soft almost taunting string of melodic misery and hunger.
And then the door shook as something heavy thundered into it, splintering the wood. I screamed, falling to the floor as my limbs gave way to fear. Unknown prayer flew from my lips as another thud cascaded into the small space, rocking the hinges.
Sweat trickled into my eyes and I looked around desperately for something to defend myself with. I grabbed a pair of scissors off the sink and clutched them to my chest, terror unearthing my imagination to form scenes of violence if the door gave way.
“Trick or treat! Hello? Anyone home!?”
My eyes went wide in the darkness, the young voice slicing through the air like a razor from downstairs. The barrage against the door immediately stopped and a false silence returned.
“I don’t think anyone’s home,” A second voice stated, her voice muffled. It sounded like two young girls.
“Look at all this candy though!”
I stood, still grasping the scissors, every ounce of me yearning to call out, warn the unfortunate late night trick-or-treaters about the invader.
But cowardice kept my mouth shut as I went to the door and put my ear to the wood. I could hear the two girls scooping candy out of the big glass bowl I had left by the door.
Run, run, RUN, my mind screamed, placing a hand on the locked door.
Suddenly, the entire house filled with the low sad call, the melody rising to an earsplitting level. I slammed my hands over my ears, wincing, heart leaping into my throat.
From downstairs I heard the girls scream and then something crashed to the floor in a spray of glass.
One of the girls was screaming for her friend. Another crash rocked the house, the vibration running through the floor up my trembling legs.
The same girl was now screaming for help, her voice cracking with hysteria, like she was seeing something that defied every sense of understanding.
You have to do something! My mind screamed, those are CHILDREN DOWN THERE!
Taking a deep breath, I unlocked the door and threw it open. I stumbled as another thud shook the house from down below and I tripped, sprawling to the floor.
The screaming had stopped. The haunting cries had ceased.
I reached out and retrieved the scissors I had dropped, my palms sweaty. Staying on my stomach, I crawled to the balcony and looked out between the spokes.
A pool of blood crept across the floor, spreading like a rising bog across the wood. A thick swath of blood trailed across the floor and out the open door, into the night.
The girls were gone and the house sat in silence.
No, no, no, no! I cried internally, vomit tickling the back of my throat. I wiped sweat from my eyes, surveying the scene with horrified clarity.
Bloody hand prints stained the walls, trailing dark blood upwards.
Like the girls had been lifted towards the ceiling.
The coffin was nowhere to be seen.
“What have I done,” I cried, tears forming in my eyes, “Jesus, what have I done?!”
Guilt swarmed me along with a sickening sense of dread.
In the distance, far into the night, I thought I heard the familiar low cry echo across the hills.
It sounded like mockery.
The local police arrived shortly after. My frantic phone call didn’t do much to inform them what they were walking into, but the looks on their faces told me they already knew. Unspoken conversation passed between them as I explained the horrific events of the night. I thought they were going to lock me away, tell me I was crazy.
But they didn’t.
They were silent through the whole thing, grim looks tightening their faces. When I mentioned the coffin, I saw their eyes meet.
As more officers and detectives arrived, one of the police pulled me outside away from the others. In a morbid voice, he whispered something to me.
He told me to get away from this place.
When I pressed him, he looked towards the hills and then hissed something in a desperate voice.
He told me that even Hell has a front door.