There is a house in the woods.
Not a cabin, a house. A old, two-story Victorian manor house to be precise. Right in the middle of nowhere.
If you decide to visit this house, and I must warn you that you should by no means visit this house, you must take highway 395 in California. The house is north of Lone Pine, Bishop, and Mammoth Lakes. South of Lee Vining and Mono Lake.
It’s a very picturesque location. Worth visiting even if you aren’t going to see the house. Lone Pine was a locale that was frequently used to film old Western movies. They even have a film museum there that you should take the time to visit. You can even get a permit to climb Mt. Whitney if you’re into that sort of thing.
It would be better to climb Mt. Whitney than to go see the house.
It would be better to stay in Bishop and enjoy the great fishing you can do there. There’s also an Indian Casino resort there. You can gamble to your heart’s content. Drink. Have fun. Be young.
Or ski in Mammoth Lakes during the winter. Or enjoy a music and beer festival during the summer. It would be better for everyone if you did this.
But you won’t. You will keep going towards the house, won’t you?
Of course you will. But please, go by yourself. Please go alone. I cannot stress this enough. Go alone. You will regret it if you don’t.
But you won’t go alone, will you? No one ever does.
Continue on the highway then. About an hour later, you will see a sign for a turnoff onto a park service road. It’s easy to miss. But you will find it. Take the turn off. The paved road turns quickly to gravel and then to dirt. I should have mentioned that you should be driving a car with 4-wheel drive. You really don’t want to get stuck out in these woods. It is rare to see any other vehicles on this road if you do and cell service is spotty at best.
In fact, ten minutes in, your cell service will likely be lost. Don’t worry about it. If your vehicle can traverse this road, you won’t need it. Keep following the road.
When you approach the first fork, take the left path. You will notice a large two-story, bright yellow house in the middle of a field. This is not the house you are looking for. Its owners are kind, but value their privacy. Please leave them be and continue on the path. Always stay on the path. This is important.
After 20 minutes, you should be entering the forest. There will be another turn off on the right to a campground. Take it. And stay on that path.
As you are driving, you will see… things… in your peripheral vision. Things situated within the trees. People mostly, but also tents, wagons, old model cars. They will “hide” if you look at them directly. I don’t know exactly what they are, but it’s probably best to keep your eyes on the road. The road is narrow and it would be easy to hit a tree or a large rock if you aren’t paying attention. Don’t stop to talk to or follow any… people… you might see waving to you from the trees. I think they are echoes. But they might be something… worse.
By now the air has gotten colder. Much colder in fact. You may see your breath. Your windows may fog up. You will turn on your heater. It won’t help, but you’ll turn it up as high as it can go.
The trees will look grayer now. Colors will seem more muted. It will almost look like you’re watching an old black and white movie or TV show. Heavy gray clouds will now loom overhead blotting out the sun or stars and it might start to rain. Continue on the path. Ignore any nearby lightning strikes.
There will be a campsite on your right. An old man sits and watches the road with his three dogs. Sometimes, the dogs will dart in front of your car. They’ll bark. They may paw at your windows. They may chase you. If they do this, that means they like you and are trying to warn you. If you’re having second thoughts about driving to the middle of nowhere and seeing an ancient house, now would be a good time to turn back. You can still find a warm and dry hotel room and a hot meal in Mammoth Lakes. Only a couple of hours back the way you came. After this, there will be no more warnings. After this, you are on the path you have chosen.
Fifteen minutes, later, it will be difficult to remember a time when the world wasn’t gray, when the sun warmed your body. There is no wildlife in this part of the woods. Not even a chipmunk. Some things have the sense to know that they should stay away from this place.
The road ends soon. There will be an empty campsite. Calling it a campsite is, perhaps, generous. There is no fire pit. No tables. No outhouses or bathrooms. The only running water is an unpurified faucet that leans over a trough for watering horses. A sign warns you that the water is not fit for humans to drink. Another sign warns you not to light a fire, even though this is the only thing you want to do. God, it is so cold now.
If you exit your car, the buzzing will start in your ears now. There will be a pressure inside of your head between your eyes as if something in your mind is trying to get out. The sickly sweet smell of rotting leaves mixed with a stench from the trough full of fetid water will fill your nostrils.
It will begin to rain. You and your companion should put on your jackets and hike north.
In the corner of your vision, you will see more… people… in the woods. People who vanish when you try to look at them. Are they beckoning you forward or telling you to go back the way you came? Are your eyes playing tricks on you? Is this your imagination? No. You will convince yourself that it must be and you will continue on to the house.
Finally, after a hike of half a mile, you will see the house out of the corner of your eye. It is impressive, isn’t it? It is a giant two story Victorian mansion. The paint is long washed out to a weathered gray color. The wood looks old and rotten in places. The windows are black. Some are boarded up. Some of them are shuttered. You imagine that that porch will creak and moan when you step on it.
If you turn your head to look at the house, it will hide itself. You cannot enter the house directly. It is in a place that you need to “slide” into. So keep the house in your peripheral vision and side step towards the house slowly. You should turn back, but you won’t. Not now. Because you didn’t come alone, did you? You brought someone close to you. You won’t stop because the pressure in your head is pushing you towards the house. The noise in your ears sounds like an angry beehive now, a profane cacophony of noise in a place where there should only be silence.
Moving slowly, your foot will tap against the wooden steps of the house: a loud hollow echoing sound of sole meeting wood telling you that you have arrived in the place between places. You will tell your partner to take your hand and ascend the stairs together.
The house is no longer hidden. It is transformed. The gray walls are now a shiny and bright yellow. The dusty dark windows are now crystal clear and adorned with flowers. The woods are bright and green again, and the sky overhead is clear. The sun shines down strongly, even if it was night when you arrived here. The sunlight warms your body. After the aching cold of the journey here, it is a relief to feel and see the sun again. The door to the house is no longer closed, but open. It is no longer gray, but a warm red tone.
This is strange, isn’t it? You didn’t really believe that this house would be here. Maybe it’s time you got back to your car.
But you won’t go back. Not yet. You must see the inside of the house. The pressure in your head is stronger now. The buzzing noise is nearly deafening now. Deafening, but clearer. It sounds like voices, a choir singing or a group of monks chanting. You cannot make out the words, but it seems to come from within the house.
But when you enter the house, no one is there. Call out all you like, no one will answer you. .
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
There is only silence, except for the voices in your ear. No one but the voices. The constant low monotonous droning that makes the pressure in your head feel like an alien is trying to claw its way from your forehead..
“Maybe we should go,” your companion will say.
The words will come out of you not entirely of your bidding, “No, we should look around. We went to a lot of trouble to get here. I almost ran over that crazy dog.”
Step into the parlor. The rich wood paneling is inviting and furniture from the 1920s that looks brand new beckons you to sit and stay a while. Would you like a drink? There is a liquor cabinet here that is filed with a variety of spirits and wine. It is probably not wise to drink here. But you are thirsty, aren’t you? Take a crystal glass and pour yourself and your companion a drink.
“Should we?” they ask.
“It looks like a good year,” you say.
“1904? It’s probably vinegar by now.”
But it isn’t. It’s sweet. Fruity and nutty. Incredibly smooth. It cascades down your throat and warms your belly. It dulls the noise in your ears and relieves the pressure in your head. Have another. After your second or third drink, a player piano begins to play in the living room.
In the living room, there are more dark paneled walls and details. Dimly lit sconces illuminate a carpet of deep red that stretches from wall to wall. There are extremely comfortable leather couches that call the weary traveler to sit, lie down, and take a nap. With the alcohol dulling your senses, that sounds wonderful. But a heavenly aroma of baked goods entices you to continue on into the kitchen.
A plate of cookies waits for you there. They are warm, chocolatey, and gooey. They will remind you of your childhood. Of long summers, days on the beach, coming home from baseball practice, and so many holidays. Even if your childhood wasn’t exactly great, you will remember it being so now.
“We really should go,” they say. “What if the owner comes back?”
“But we haven’t seen the upstairs,” you say.
Past the wood-burning stove and past a pantry that smells of garlic, cardamom, paprika, and a host of other spices, you will find the maid’s stairs to the upper floor.
As youl walk up the stairs, your footsteps are barely audible now above the infernal buzzing in your ears. That chanting that is giving you a migraine now. But you will not stop. You cannot stop. Choice is no longer an option.
Upstairs, on your right, is the bedroom of a young girl. There is a four post bed with pink frilly sheets. The eyes of hundreds of small porcelain dolls stare at you. The walls are decorated in a cheery pink toile wallpaper of children at a picnic and the dark red splatters of blood. A little girl giggles and the door slams shut.
A second bedroom is next. It is a nursery. A crib slowly rocks. The walls have the alphabet written on them in blood. A baby cries and the door slams shut again.
The bathroom is classic Victorian, complete with a claw foot tub that is currently overflowing with a black liquid that smells of rotten meat. A woman screams. The door slams shut.
The door at the end of the hall is closed.But you know that it is unlocked. You know this because they have told you it is unlocked. The voices no longer chanting, but screaming in your ears now. Saying vile things. Saying terrible things. Saying wonderful things. They have shown you the truth of this house. Oh, yes, you know now. You have heard the voices.
“Don’t,” your companion will say as you reach for the door.
“We have to,” you will say. A look in your eye that makes them fear. But it’s you. They know you. They trust you. “Come on.”
You will open the door. God have mercy on you, you will open the door.
“Please,” they will say. “I don’t want to. I’m scared.”
“It will be alright,” you will say. “It calls to us. It awaits you.”
You will enter the last room.
It is the master bedroom. There is a large bed, a nightstand, and a dresser with a black stone top. On the dresser are dark red candles and a silver platter in front of a blackened mirror that stares into the infinite abyss.
The sheets on the king side bed are scarlet. Take the hand of your companion and guide them to the bed. Kiss them passionately. Even if there was no interest in one another before now, the room, the magic is intoxicating. Clothes will fly off as passion takes over. You must have each other. You need to have each other. Kissing becomes petting and soon you are ravishing one another on the bed. The tension within you both is climbing. Drink the fill of one another’s bodies and as the passion crests… at the height of its arc, find the black stone knife beneath the pillow. A wicked black obsidian knife that is bone chilling to the touch and numbs your hand.
A part of you will scream at you now. Tell you to stop yourself. But you cannot. You have heard the blessed and blasted words. You know that they require this of you. That a sacrifice must be made.
So you will scream a prayer of offering in the infernal language of the dead gods and bring the knife down into your companion and lover’s chest. The knife cuts through flesh and bone easily. Take the heart. Cut out the two pieces. Take the cloven heart to the silver platter sitting on the dresser. Gaze into the mirror. Whisper in the old language, “Lord, receive mine offering.”
The mirror will darken further. The infinite abyss begins to pull at your soul. Your eyes will see his face. It is the face of madness and despair. Offer the flesh of your lover and companion to him. Watch as the pieces of their heart blacken, fester, smoke, and turn to ash as he devours their soul. He speaks to you in a language you have never heard, but understand perfectly. He receives your offering. The pact is made. The bargain struck. Your mind is overwhelmed, your vision fades to black, and you lose yourself.
You will wake up on front porch of the house. The front door is locked. No amount of pounding on it or screaming on it will get it to open. When you give up, if you look at the master bedroom window, you will see the face of your companion. They scream now. They beat on the panes of the window. Their terrified face will be forever etched into your mind’s eye as a terrible, clawed hand grabs their face and pulls them back into the darkness.
Run. Try to tell others what happened, if you wish. It won’t do you or them any good. No one will believ you. No one remembers your companion. There are no memories. No records. No photographs. No social media accounts. Even their parents won’t remember them. It is as if they never existed.
But I KNOW she exists. I KNOW she was real. As surely as I know that she is with him now. That he hurts her. I hear her screams every night when I sleep.
You will try to move on. You will try to forget. But the pact has been made and it calls to you. He tells you to tell others the story of his house. And you do. You try to warn them not to go. You tell them to go alone. But they won’t listen. They never listen.
The door stands open again. It is time for me to go back. He needs another soul, another offering. And I know just who to bring.