The house was as we were expecting it to be; old and ghastly. All of us were exhausted and didn’t pay any attention to the devious environment. We had already read and heard a lot about this place. Soon we spotted an old and weary man in rugged clothes. He sort of complimented the aberrational surroundings.
“You must be Mr. Hartford” asked Susan.
“And you must be Miss Susan Wonderwell’ replied the old man.
“I believe daddy has already informed you about our little trip”
“Indeed! All the necessary arrangements have been made but I must warn you…”
“About the ghosts!” Matthew excitedly interrupted in between.
“There are no such things as ghosts and vampires, dumbass” shouted Ria in an irritated manner.
“I don’t know about vampire but ghosts… it’s a totally different story” answered Matthew with a wide grin.
Mr. Hartford interrupted in between with a deep grunge voice, “Well the place holds a history… described by a few and re-inscribed by many”.
“Enough of this ghost and vampire shit. Let’s get to our rooms and take some rest. I can’t stand for five more minutes” I finally spoke drove by exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
“Yes we can talk about this later” complimented Susan.
Matthew continued, “Any tips on how to survive in this haunted house?”
Mr. Hartford gave a stern look to Matthew who bore a vague expression on his face. He looked towards Susan and replied,
“Just remember one thing, whatever happens… whatever… don’t leave this house after sunset”. He focused on the word ‘Whatever’.
“What if we are attacked by ghosts in middle of the night? What are we supposed to do?” asked Matthew. Ria pushed him with her elbow and gave him a ‘your time is over’ look.
“Just don’t leave the house! That’s the only protocol” said Mr. Hartford as he moved in the house.
“Wow! A protocol for ghosts” murmured Matthew. The five of us followed Mr. Hartford through the house as he showed us our rooms.
The house was quite big and spacious from inside. Susan made sure that every room was furnished for all of our needs. Her father, Mr. Thomas Wonderwell, now owned this house. He bought it from a weird fellow at a fairly low price. It was a good investment from his point of view.
This house, or I must say Mansion, was popularly known as the ‘Haunted House’. There were old stories about ghosts and paranormal activities in this house but there were no recent encounters; maybe because this house was abandoned for the last 12 years. So the stories and the title were fading slowly. We read all about it in journals and articles over internet and were pretty excited for this thrilling adventure. Although Susan and her father didn’t believe in any such stories. Mr. Wonderwell thought it was a cheap publicity trick to attract customers.
Everyone fell asleep within minutes after entering their room. I was too tired to unpack my bag or to even remove my shoes. Moreover the soft bed and the pin drop silence catalyzed the process of sleep.
I don’t know what time it was or for how long I was asleep but I woke up to a mild knocking on my door. At first I thought it was a vivid detail of my dream. But I wasn’t dreaming anymore; I wasn’t sleeping anymore!
I rubbed my eyes and looked at my cell phone, ’11.55 pm’.
“Who’s that?” I asked in a lousy manner, still lying on the bed. The knocking continued.
“Come on man! It’s the middle of the night……” I mumbled as I walked towards the door. As I opened the door I saw Raj, our Asian friend, standing at the doorway with a bright lantern in his hand. The lobby itself was quite dark with a faint illumination in the far corner.
“Raj! What are you doing here? And why are you carrying a lantern?” I uttered in surprise.
“Quick, follow me” Raj turned towards the staircase and started moving. I grabbed him by the shoulder from behind. His body was unnaturally cold.
“Hey! What’s the matter man? Where are we going?” I questioned, still surprised.
“There’s no time to explain. We need to leave this house as soon as possible” he answered and started moving downstairs. I wanted to inquire more but he was already down the first landing. I picked up my leather jacket from the chair. The environment was quite cold, colder than a few moments ago. Maybe the open door must have countered the effect of temperature control unit of the room. Moreover the temperature control unit wasn’t working. The whole goddam house seemed black. Maybe it was a power failure. I followed Raj down the staircase and into the main hall.
“Raj would you please tell me what’s going on?” I questioned him yet again.
“This house isn’t a safe place. We need to escape as soon as possible”. His voice was cold and deep. His usual Asian accent was much more unusual. He seemed a bit scared although his face hid it quite well. I don’t know if it was the temperature or the haunted house that caused the shivering but something was definitely wrong.
“But Mr. Hartford told us to stay inside… whatever happened. Remember?” I cried in dismay. The haunting environment triggered certain level of restlessness in me.
“That old scumbag is stupid! A piece of shit!” scowled raj in anger. I was surprised at his reaction and asked,
“What? What are you talking about?’
‘He left us to rot and eventually die in this house. He left us to the ghosts” screamed Raj. His face bore mixed expressions of fear, anger, betrayal and something else.
“That can’t be true” I murmured.
“That is the truth John. We need to get out of this house. It’s a trap” Raj spoke looking straight into my eyes.
We both moved across the hall and my eyes fell on Matthew’s room. The lights were still on and the door was closed.
“What about the others?’ I asked in a concerned voiced.
“Don’t worry they are already outside. I came back for you”
‘Came back for me?’, that sort of thing wasn’t expected from Raj. Although I would have believed it if Matthew had said the same thing. But I was in no state to judge someone. We hurried towards the front door.
Raj opened the door and signaled me with his eyes to follow him outside. I started to follow him as he walked past the front door. But then my fifth sense warned me to stop. I looked around trying to find the direction. Maybe it was just the haunted house messing with me but I had heard some indistinct murmuring from somewhere around the hall. I somewhat recognized the voices of Susan, Matthew and Ria. But Raj and others were waiting for me outside. Surely Raj was; I could see him standing outside the door waiting for me. So was it a trap?
“Come on John! The house will try to stop you. You need to get out now” Raj shouted from the outside.
Without stressing my mind anymore I walked outside through the door and started following Raj to the big banyan tree in front of the house where Susan, Ria, Matthew & Mr. Hartford were waiting for us.
But what was Mr. Hartford doing there? He was supposed to be the traitor, the master planner of this trap. At that moment something loud struck my ears, a heavy metal clang and push start of a noisy motor. Suddenly the whole house illuminated in white and yellow lights. It was as a flash light had been switched on in a pitch black room. I was shocked for a moment or two. ‘What the hell was happening’.
The front window of the house drew my attention. Emerging shadows from within the house moved towards it. I was flabbergasted when everything came to vision. I froze on the spot; rock hard. My eyes were fixed on the front window.
Behind it were standing all of my friends; Raj, Susan, Matthew and Ria along with Mr. Hartford. Each one of them was horrorstruck. Ria started crying as soon as she saw me and Susan started screaming and beating the window pane. Raj was standing still in his place. Matthew was shouting and gesturing at me which I deciphered to be ‘What the hell are you doing outside? Come inside the house!’
Confused, shocked and scared, slowly I turned back towards the giant banyan tree. My friends and Mr. Hartford, they were no longer there. There were only grey shades with random form fluttering in the surrounding darkness. The shades started floating slowly towards me making ghastly sounds.
I looked back at the house and met the somber eyes of Mr. Hartford through the window holding Susan and Ria. A tear rolled down his left cheek. The ghost protocol had been activated.