Authors: Aaron Polson
A Novel by
* * * * *
Echoes of the Dead
Copyright © 2011 by Aaron Polson
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Edited by R. Christie. Cover art by the author.
They never planned to enter the house.
They never knew the house existed. If not for the snowstorm, they would have never found the house—or, more accurately, the house would have never found them. As it was, five friends stood on the concrete slab porch while wind whipped snow in small eddies around them Johnny, tall and angular in a light jacket, rapped his knuckles on the door. The two girls—Kelsey with her dark, ropey curls tucked under an ivory stocking cap and Sarah, blonde and pale and pretty and wearing pink—huddled together against the siding. Ben, soft and thick with a lingering layer of childhood fat, leaned against the railing, staring across the white field.
“Nobody’s home,” Jared said. He wasn’t wearing a proper coat. As they scrambled from the ditch, Kelsey had looked at his grey sweatshirt and jeans and had said he would freeze. Jared, his brown eyes dark enough to challenge a moonless night, had smiled and said, “I’ll be fine.” On the porch, he didn’t even shiver. “Doesn’t look like we’re getting in. We should head down the road, see if we can find someplace, any place to ride out the storm. Nobody has any cell service, so we can’t call snow-plows-r-us.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “We’d be fine if dipshit hadn’t landed us in the ditch.”
Johnny wheeled from the door. His blue eyes sparked. His fists clenched and unclenched. “Dipshit? I didn’t see you volunteer to drive. Damn SUV needs new tires. They’re as bald as Sarah’s dad.”
“Hey,” Sarah said.
Kelsey squeezed her arm. “He’s right. Your dad is pretty shiny upstairs. But I’m freezing. Right. Now. Can we just break in or something? I’m sure Farmer Bob or whoever owns this place would rather have a broken window than five humansicles in his field.”
“Farmer Bob?” Jared poked his head out from under the porch roof. “Damn place is brick. Three stories. How do you figure a farmer lives here?”
Kelsey shrugged and went back to shivering. “Out in the middle of nowhere, that’s how.”
“It’s an old lock. We can pick it rather than break a window.” Johnny knelt in front of the door and squinted through the key hole. “Does anybody have a hair pin? Sarah? Kels?”
“Hairpin?” Sarah screwed up her face. “Are you nuts?”
“I dunno. Seems like it should work. They do it in all those old crusty movies J-rod watches.”
“Those are classics,” Jared said. “God… No taste. Have you even tried the door?”
“What do you think he’s been doing?” Ben boxed Jared on the shoulder. “Knock-knock, who’s there?”
Johnny stretched to his full six foot, two inch height, placed one hand on the doorknob, but yanked it away.
“What’s wrong?” Kelsey asked.
“I dunno. It’s cold.”
“Of course it’s cold, numb-nuts. It’s freezing. Have you seen the snow?” Ben waved across the field. “Your hand’s turning blue, too.”
Johnny rubbed his fingers. “No. It was a different kind of cold.”
“Here,” Jared said, stepping forward. He wrapped his fingers around the knob and twisted. The door held for a moment, but then gave with a pop and creak. “I see what you mean cold. But here we are, folks. No broken windows, no picked locks, no frozen twenty-two-year-olds on the porch. It wasn’t locked. Looks like the innkeeper doesn’t mind trusting his neighbors. Our sanctuary.” He stepped aside so the others could enter.
Warmer air greeted them—not exactly
air, but not as biting as the frigid exterior. A smell hung in the air, too, just like every house has its own odor. This smell was different, cold and sterile and clean, without the expected hint of dust and mold which an older house should have.
“Hello?” Jared called into the house. No answer came.
“It’s dark,” Kelsey said. “And it smells funny, too.”
Ben sniffed. “Smells fine to me. Smells pretty clean.”
“Yes… That’s what I mean,” Sarah said. “I mean it smells funny because it’s clean. I expected old person smell. Or dirt. Something musty and earthy. Farmer smell.”
“Maybe Farmer Bob likes to take care of his stuff.” Ben strode through the foyer, past the dark wooden staircase and matching banister, and turned right into what appeared to be a living room. A couch and two matched chairs were arranged on an ornate rug, the couch in the middle with the chairs facing each other on either side. Each was lined with deep red upholstery. The rug and furniture shared a subtle paisley pattern, and in the dim light appeared to be an even darker red design on the burgundy fabric. A subtle, tan wallpaper covered the open stretches of wall. Deep hardwood molding surrounded everything.
“Find a light switch,” Johnny said.
“Here.” Jared punched a black button. “Old school switch.” A simple brass chandelier flickered above their heads. Weak, yellow light washed over the room. “At least we have power.”
“Not much of an improvement, if you ask me.” Ben walked around the couch and plopped in a seat. He crossed his boots on one armrest. “Farm Bob has some wickedly Victorian taste in furniture.”