Marley’s eyes bulged at the sight before her. In all her years using the abandoned plantation as a shortcut from school, she had always found the cellar door of the dilapidated mansion secured. Two padlocks restricted access.
Not only were the devices missing, but the double doors were open, exposing a flight of wooden stairs.
An unhurried scan of the lawn filled with shrubs and a yellow flowering weed did not reveal any other presence. The caretaker’s truck was nowhere in sight, and neither was the wide potbellied man. However, with the current state of the yard, Marley doubted he could easily find the driveway. Maybe he parked further down before the road transformed into a narrower path of stones and holes. For all she knew, the keeper could be inside the building. Or he had forgotten to lock the door and was long gone. The young girl assumed the latter.
Marley bit her lower lip and tapped her fingers against the strap of her backpack.
“Nope,” she blurted. “I shouldn’t.” Yet her eyes remained fixed on the shallow oaken stairs. Without deciding whether she should venture into the unknown, her feet took over. Marley’s heart quickened as each step creaked underneath her, but she kept walking, giving into her curious nature.
She and her friends often wondered why the caretaker bothered to lock up a worthless house on the old plantation. It led them to consider unimaginable things—things involving serial killers and stolen goods. Of course, Marley didn’t believe in these extremes, but she thought something was odd about this house. There was an unnatural silence that took over the area. The animals seemed to stay away. Not even mice ventured too close.
Marley would have avoided it altogether, but that meant adding an extra forty minutes to her travel time each way. Part of her was happy she didn’t because she now could uncover the plantation’s mysteries.
“They’re going to be so jealous,” she said, thinking about the Davis twins.
With each unsteady step, the cellar grew darker, causing Marley to fumble for her phone. She tapped on the flashlight feature, illuminating the surrounding space. Her head instinctively jerked away from the light source, and she squeezed her eyes shut until they adjusted to the brightness.
A cardboard and wood aroma infused the room, which was filled to the brim with boxes and crates of various sizes. Marley delved into a few of them and found nothing interesting. She needed to uncover what the caretakers wanted to remain hidden. That meant she had to venture through the upper floors. So she swallowed hard and tackled the second set of stairs, one at a time. Her hand trembled when she reached out to open the inner door. Still, she turned the knob and pushed it forward.
I’ve come too far to turn back now.
The upper level was not unlike the lower one. Marley emerged into an area adorned with cupboards, counters, a walk-in pantry, and a steel double basin sink. She couldn’t help but notice the cobwebs, home to spiders with plump, round abdomens about the size of a nickel. Batting her way through with both hands, she created a clear path to another enclosed space with white sheets concealing objects.
They have to be furniture.
This room had fewer cobwebs but also a lingering, musky smell.
Marley released a heavy sigh. The young girl raked her fingers through her coils before freeing the kinky strands from their bonds. Marley felt a wave of heat build inside her head and removing the scrunchy somehow made it less intense. Still, thoughts of self-doubt ran rampant in her mind. Her decision to enter the mysterious house now seemed like a mistake as she downgraded it to worthless and uninteresting.
She had already turned to exit the building when the glittered effect of sunlight caught her attention. It reflected off a metal wedged between the floorboards. As she tugged the item free, her eyes widened.
“How did this get here?”
The object was so out of place. It was a golden amulet with links of cable shaped like an angel with unusually pointed horns. Though bizarre, the dazzling appearance called to her. It was a willful sensation that she could not contend, so Marley draped the charm around her neck.
As soon as the clasp fastened, a thunderous drumbeat echoed through the house, which caused her to flinch. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, and her entire body tensed. Her ashen state was visible despite her chocolate complexion, and she struggled to contain her breathing.
That music came from lower down the hall, and like the necklace, Marley felt compelled by it. She strolled down the hallway with her heart racing and knees shaking. In her mind, she screamed, “No! Don’t go. Turn back.” But her body remained unfazed by her inward shouts.
Hand around yet another doorknob, Marley shifted her weight onto her right leg and moistened her lips. She knew she would regret venturing any further, but she had to. Whatever was on the other side summoned her, and she had no will to ignore it.
Slowly, she turned the knob. Without warning, the door burst open, sending the slender girl forward. Only there was no ground. Marley simply fell into a never-ending abyss of darkness.
After what seemed like forever, the young girl landed on a cool, slippery surface, knocking her hip and rolling over several times before coming to a full stop. It took her several seconds to regain her senses and come to terms with what had happened. She decided the floorboards had given way, and it didn’t disappear from underneath her feet.
The house is old. There’s bound to be a few rotten floorboards around here. It can’t just disappear like that. It can’t!
Yet she knew it was true. Marley didn’t want to think about it. She needed to focus on where she was and how to get out.
A slimy, mossy substance covered every inch of her new prison. It smelled of rotten flesh mixed with musky air and stale fruit. Above her was a glimmer of light, evidence that she had fallen only a few feet, but she wasn’t alone. Figures sat in one corner and stared at her with widened eyes.
Marley could not get past their unkempt appearance and the rags draped across their bodies. There was a mound in the far corner piled with something vile. When she pinched her nose, the scent settled on her tongue and made her spit.
That better not be what I think it is.
All this time, her audience clung to each other and never removed their gaze from her. Though they sat in darkness, it did not appear to affect them. Marley felt as if their eyes burned holes in her body and exposed all her flaws.
I need to get away from here.
Marley did not speak a word to her roommates. She couldn’t. Her brain focused on one thing as she reiterated her inward chant.
I need to get away from here.
Eventually, her shaking hands sunk into the mud that was the wall, and she clawed into the grooves, hauling her body upwards. Her form placed a massive strain on her legs, but Marley ignored it.
I need to get out, was all she thought. That was until she felt several clammy fingers wrapped around her ankles and feet. They held her back and attempted to pull her down. Marley’s audience pleaded with her to remain; their inconceivable chatter resonated as slurs and echoes of amulets and curses.
“Let go of me,” she screamed, even as her throat prickled for moisture. To escape, the only thing Marley could think of was to send her feet into their faces. Soon enough, their hold on her lessened, and she pulled herself from the pit.
When Marley reached the top, she rushed to the door and swung it open with a hard thud. Ignoring the strain on her lungs, she burst into her new surroundings, feeling disoriented by the unfamiliarity. She expected to reemerge into the room with the bed sheets, where she found the necklace. Instead, she stood in the middle of an immaculate and chic bedroom.
Natural light and fresh air filled the room despite the wooden planks sealing the windows. The mahogany bed was so impeccably made that the cream satin sheets appeared untouched. To Marley’s left, a large dresser displayed perfume bottles and bejeweled accessories. On the other side was a similarly designed closet with a long silk nightgown hanging on the door. The room was exquisite, from the avocado-colored walls to the dark chocolate floorboards.
When Marley heard footsteps, she threw herself into the cramped closet, closed it behind her, and left a small space for a peephole.
Her heart nearly gave out when the two figures entered the room.
The woman wore a peach-colored dress that almost blended into her skin. It was admirable and revealed voluptuous cleavage despite the ancient style. She wrapped her blonde strands in a high bun, but a few fine threads fell from the curly nest. Her companion’s dress code was of the same era, sending Marley’s mind into a frenzy as he spoke. “What do you suggest we do?”
“Nothing to do,” the woman said. “It already happened. I just can’t believe Clara tried to get that girl to take her place in the curse. She put us all at risk by leaving the cellar door open, and now someone out there knows about our existence.”
Marley’s body stiffened, and her lungs refused to exhale.
Were they talking about her?
“The girl got away from her. Let’s hope she learned from this.” The woman tilted her chin and frowned as she spoke. “I am tired of her antics, though.”
Marley’s brain went hysterical with questions. Who were those people? What curse were they talking about? Who was this, Clara? She wondered what they would do to her if they found her hiding in the closet because, based on the woman’s current direction, they would soon find her.
Rather than waiting to be discovered, she pushed the door forward and took off in a sprint. She passed the two figures and bolted into the hallway, happy to see that the exit was clear. Gasping, she altered her direction and headed outside.
She was almost there when a young girl stepped out of the darkness. The girl stretched out her hand to Marley, whose knees weakened. She fell face down, her arms and legs spread out about her. The coldness of the floorboards caused her body to shiver, yet she could not move.
The young girl stood over Marley and watched her as she struggled to regain control of her limbs. Marley noticed the angel amulet dangling around the girl’s neck. She did not know when she lost it.
“Thank you so much for this,” the girl said with a wide smile.
“What is happening?” Marley stammered. “Who are you?”
“Me?” the girl said while she touched her chest. “My name is Clara.” As soon as the girl spoke, everything made sense.
Clara. That was who the couple spoke of. She was the girl who led me here. The one who wanted me to replace her in the curse. Only then did the chatter in the pit make sense.
“Leave the amulet,” they said. “Else, Clara will not let you go.”
Marley’s heart tightened as she panted.
This was all because of her. Clara was the one who lured her here.
Marley pushed through the paralysis but she still couldn’t move, and her chest grew tighter.
“Well, I have to go now,” the girl said. Her chirpy voice stung Marley’s ears. “It’s been ages since I’ve left this house, but I can now. Thanks to you.” Then she practically sang. “Have a nice life.”