The idea for this story came from an old radio episode, called The Dark, which is an episode of Lights Out. The show was originally broadcast on December 29, 1937. I heard it when I was about eight years old, and friends and neighbors, it gave me nightmares for a week. I was afraid to walk home alone at night, and thereafter the show took on a certain glow in my imagination.
Now, years and years later, it doesn't give me nightmares, but it's still one of the more creepy episodes of OTR I've ever heard, even topping the famous The House in Cyprus Canyon from suspense.
I fear that this story will probably lose some of its glamor, because the scariest part of the original radio show is the sound effects, but I am going to do my best to impart a sense of atmosphere.
So, without further ado, here it is.
R. W. H.
"Jesus Christ, this rain is gonna drive me insane," Officer Frank Matthews muttered to the steering wheel. "I tell you, Johnny, if the weatherman says we're going to have a sunny day one more time, and it keeps on rainin like it has been, I'm gonna go down there to the TV station and personally shove an umbrella up his ass."
"You do that," Dr. John McClendon said absently from the passenger seat. He was rummaging through his medical bag, trying to find something. Matthews didn't know what and cared less; he was still griping about the rain.
"I been a cop ten years," Matthews pontificated, "and the absolute worst thing is the damn rain. People are friggin idiots when it rains, going too damn fast, forgetting their damn headlights, man, you just wouldn't believe the crap I've seen out there."
"Uh huh," McClendon muttered from the depths of his bag. "I know I packed some epinephrine, now where the hell ... Ah, here it is."
McClendon was with Officer Matthews as part of the Doc and Cop program adopted by the city last year. Theory was, if a doctor always rode wiht a police officer they could save valuable lead time at accident scenes while rescue vehicles traveled from hospitals. SO far, it hadn't seemed to make much of a difference, and all the doctors were griping because they weren't getting paid any extra for what they saw as volunteer work, and hospitals and clinics were now making it mandatory for their staff doctors to put in at least twenty hours a month on the program. The common consensus among the doctors-and the cops too-forced to enter into the program was that it was just another pork barrel project City Hall dreamed up to make themselves look good.
This was McClendon's first time out on patrol, and he wasn't happy, not happy at all. And the stupid blowhard at the wheel wasn't making matters any better.
"-So, snow's better than this goddamn rain," Matthews was saying. "At least when it snows, all we got to deal with is pulling idiot SUV drivers outa the damn ditches. When it rains, we got to deal with fucking ever'body and their fucking uncle crashing into each other-"
"Unit seventeen, unit seventeen, this is base, do you copy?" the radio crackled from under the dash.
Matthews muttered: "Oh shit, here we go again," and snatched up the microphone. "This is seventeen, over."
"Ah, what's your 20, seventeen? Over"
"We're on, uh, Marcum Avenue and 13th Street, over."
"Ah, we got a call for a 10-16 at, ah, 21 14th Street, seventeen, go check it out, over."
"Will do, Over and out," Matthews said, rehanging the mic on its prongs.
"What's a 10-16?" McClendon asked.
"Domestic disturbance, could be anything," Matthews replied, still looking surly.
"Well at least it isn't a rain related accident," McClendon ventured cautiously.
Matthews snorted. "Don't be too sure about that, buddy," he said, waggling a finger at McClendon. "You never can tell when the weather gets like this."
McClendon bit his tongue. God he couldn't wait for this night to be over.
The house at 21 14th Street was a crumbling two-story structure surrounded by what had to be the ugliest lawn in creation. The porch looked to be falling off it's moorings, the windows were covered with what looked to be centuries of dirt, and that lawn. Dear god, McClendon thought, it looks like all the sunflowers in the whole state migrated here.
They were ugly sunflowers too, great hairy stalks almost four feet tall, nodding back and forth in the rainy wind. Welcome, they seemed to say, welcome and abandon hope, all ye enter here. There was a pile of moldy looking shingles that had fallen off the roof stacked up near the garage, which too looked like it was about to fall over. The upper windows bulged out of their frames like beetling eyebrows and seemed to stare blankly at them as they pulled up to the curb.
"Jesus, that's one fuck of an ugly house," Matthews said, in his typical blustery way. "Looks like the goddamn Adams Family's great cousins' place or something." He spat a stream of tobacco juice on the street as he got out. "Man, I hate these fuckin calls," he muttered, stuffing another chaw in his lip.
McClendon said nothing, but grabbed his medical bag and followed Matthews up the walk. the rain was still coming down, slooshing with a somehow unpleasant sound through the rusty old downspouts and running into that abomination of a lawn.
The front walk was paved with crumbling old stones with giant weeds growing up between them and gaps which looked like glacial heaves so that they had to step unevenly. "Goddamn, ain't they ever heard of resealing their damn driveway?" Matthews griped as he tripped over one of these gaps and nearly fell. "Place looks like nobody lives here anyway, the fuck are we doing here?"
McClendon had to agree. The place looked like it'd been abandoned for a hundred years. "You sure they got the address right?"
"Fuck if I know. Dispatch is usually pretty good, but damn, this place-"
Matthews was interrupted by a loud scream from inside the decaying house, followed by a funny splattering sound. "Oh fuck," Matthews said, and picked up his pace, looking like an absurd kangaroo as he hopped over the crazy sidewalk. "Stay close, Doc."
There was another scream from inside the house, muffled by the rain, and another funny splattering sound. They had reached the front door and Matthews banged on it with his fist. "Open up! Police!" he roared, making McClendon think of Joe Friday. "Open up, now!"
Nobody opened up. There was complete silence from within the house. And the rain kept falling.
"Do we go in?" McClendon asked, fidgeting nervously as the porch under them made ominous creeking noises.
"Gotta," Matthews said, unstrapping the butt of his revolver. "Got probable cause now." And he tried the knob.
The door was open. It creeked loudly, sounding like a half-baked sound effect on a haunted house record. The air puffing out of them smelled foul, a mix of old food, mildewy furniture and excrement and ancient wood. And it was completely dark in there, not a light anywhere.
"Ready, Doc?" Matthews grinned, showing all four of his teeth.
"I guess so," McClendon said, clutching his bag and trying not to breathe too deeply.
"Let's go, and stay behind me," Matthews said, opening the door wider with another loud creek.
Matthews looked around for a light switch, but when he flipped it, nothing happened. "Probably a bunch of deadbeats got turned off for nonpayment," he muttered, pulling out his big police flashlight.
The foyer was covered in a moldy looking shag rug which gave with an unpleasant springiness when McClendon put his feet on it, like it was covering a layer of Jel-O. By the light of Matthews's flashlight, they saw that there was a flight of rickety stairs leading to the upper story and two doors leading further into the house. The wall paper hung off the walls, looking like ancient flower-patterned skin and rippling nastily in the breeze from the open door behind them. God, I really don't like this, McClendon thought to himself, shivering.
"Shut the door," Matthews said, keeping his voice low.
McClendon kicked the door shut and they were immediately plunged into silence. The horrible smell that had wafted out at them now pressed in on them, seeming almost thick enough to taste. Even the rain falling outside was silenced.
"Fucking creepy in here," Matthews said, shining his flashlight around the rotten looking foyer.
"Yeah," McClendon said hoarsely. He was still trying not to breathe too deeply.
"Well, let's go. "Hello! Anybody home? This is the police!"
McClendon jumped at Matthews's shout. It felt like shouting in a church. Matthews saw and smiled grimly. "Sorry bout that, Doc," he said, not sounding sorry at all.
McClendon waved a hand. "Never mind."
They waited. Nobody answered. Five seconds of silence passed.
"Anybody home?" Matthews called once more.
Finally, there was a sound. A dripping noise from somewhere in the house. Drip, Drip, drip. Like something glutionous falling on porcelain.
"The fuck is that?" Matthews asked, stepping toward the right hand doorway.
Wishing madly that he had stayed home tonight, McClendon followed, stepping gingerly across the unpleasantly springy carpet into a wood floored living room completely barren of furniture. More hanging wall paper, more dust, and the stink seemed to get heavier. The flashlight cast weird shadows, leaving more than half the room in darkness. McClendon stuck close to Matthews. He didn't want to be without the light. Being without light felt like a very bad idea in this house.
Then, from somewhere ahead of them, there came a low laugh. Sounded like a woman who'd completely lost her marbles. It went on and on, and it gave McClendon goose bumps listening to it. He'd served some time in the psych ward at County Hospital, and he'd heard laughs like that from some of the real crazies there.
"Ma'am? This is the police. Show yourself," Matthews called, stepping quickly across the room, McClendon at his heels.
The woman didn't answer, just went on laughing. McClendon wished even more fervently that he'd stayed home.
Finally, they saw the woman. She was huddling in the corner of what looked to have once been a dining room, though it was hard to tell because this room too was devoid of furnishings. She was completely naked, her face hidden by vast quantities of white hair. She was sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees, rocking back and forth and laughing. Only, she wasn't really laughing, McClendon saw with mounting unease. She was really screaming, but her voice was almost gone, so her screams came out in hoarse laugh-like grunts. This must've been what the neighbors had called in, this woman's screams.
"Jesus," Matthews muttered. "What the fuck is wrong with her, Doc?"
The woman didn't look around as McClendon hurried toward her. Just went on staring into space, rocking and screaming. Sweat coursed down his back and his heart was pounding. What on earth?
"Ma'am, can you hear me? I'm Doctor McClendon here with Officer Frank Matthews-"
And then he got close enough to see. The woman wasn't old, in spite of the white hair. She was probably about twenty-three, he saw when Matthews shone his flashlight on her. Her eyes were bulging out of her sockets, and teeth marks were driven halfway through her lower lip. She didn't blink when the light struck her eyes, just went on staring off to her right. Her nails were chewed almost to the quick and it looked like her bladder had let go beneath her. She looked utterly mad.
"Jesus," Matthews said again. "The hell happened to this lady?"
McClendon didn't answer. He knelt in front of the woman and touched her shoulder. "Ma'am? Can you hear-"
She screamed louder, or tried to, and shrank away, her eyes bulging more frantically, drool trickling down her chin.