A day late on the upload of Part 2 ... my apologies! Should be a pretty decent read ... just a reminder this is mainly practice, and as such, rather rough. Going about this unplotted, so the events of this story catch me off guard as much as any reader! It is rather entertaining. Hope Part 2 is as enjoyable as Part 1, as Caitlin and Leon enter the Lost Grove Halfway Home. If you missed the first part, here is a link!
“Well, this is a lot eerier up close.” Caitlin spun her revolvers absently, staring up at the empty windows and shadowed eaves of the building that rose around them. Maybe her eagerness to step foot into the halfway home had been misplaced. The hair at the nape of her neck stood on end, the static-laced air she’d been on the alert for through the wood had finally made itself known. The face of the manor was consumed by rampant overgrowth, the earth itself wrapping the structure, seeking to reclaim it. The reddened light of the moon reflected off a half dozen latticed windows that lined the buildings four apparent stories. She fought the urge to step back, away from the manor, aware from the windows which glared down upon her, Leon, and Ranger like the beady eyes of an arachnid ready to pounce on its prey.
“Does it,” Caitlin felt Leon’s presence at her side, the sounds of his footsteps crunching in the gravel-lined road. The static tingle retreated, replaced by the warm radiance his lantern emitted, “does it remind you of the brood moth—”
“Yes Leon. Yes, it does. Although somethin’ bout this is a damned sight more scarier than a giant spider burstin’ from a church steeple.” The roof was a shamble of mismatched shingles, a weather vane shaped like a bird of some sort squeaked as it shifted at the roof’s apex.
“I hardly see how.”
“You don’t feel it?” Caitlin raised a hand toward the manor as if she were checking a hearth for warmth. Ranger pattered past, nose hugging the ground as he wove toward the steps of the house and came up short of the first stone stair.
“No.” Leon answered flatly, as much an answer to Caitlin as it was a command to the ram hound. He moved beside Ranger, crouching next to the hound and wrapping one arm around its neck in a protective motion.
Caitlin moved up the stairs and around the rusted metal railing that bridged the gaps between chipped columns, the fluctuating surface of gravel replaced by a reassuring firmness. Warm air blew down the concourse scattering leaves across the concrete porch which spanned the front, Caitlin shivered despite herself. The skittering leaves rasped and tittered into the nooks and crannies of the fractured surface. A lone chair groaned at the far end of the porch, rocking idly. It was missing an arm as well as a few gaps in the seat itself.
The static continued to harry Caitlin. What is wrong with this place? She ran a mental checklist of items she’d brought along, her revolvers—of course, the crucifix around her neck, a few silver bullets, a hagstone, and some odd pill-sized statuettes a Cajun seamstress had given her in a trip through New Orleans after Caitlin had fended off a vicious Rougarou who’d taken up residence in a nearby swamp.
“Ranger!” Leon’s voice was hushed anger answer his hound bolted up the stairway. Before Caitlin could react the ram hound had vanished through a break in the wall.
Dammit. Caitlin holstered her revolvers. “Well, I reckon we go in after him.” She placed a hand on the front doors knob, a fine layer of patina obscuring any detail that had once decorated the metal. Caitlin jostled the handle lightly, it gave with ease, opening to a central hallway in which three doors branched off. A wave of musky stale air caused her to recoil, a putrid stench of something—or multiple things—rotting away choked her up. She gagged, stepping back out into Leon who had moved further up the porch.
“What a smell.” Leon shied away from the doorway.
“Dear Lord.” Caitlin felt her eyes begin to water. “Looks like your dog is lost forever L-Leon. I sure ain’t draggin’ myself through that stench.”
“We’ll get used to it.” Leon answered.
“Like hell.” Caitlin grimaced, she forced herself back through the doorway, drawing on of her revolvers. The central hall was much smaller than it had first appeared, going no more than a few yards back into the manor. An ornate chandelier hung in tatters from a vaulted ceiling that vanished behind a veil of miasma, motes of dust dancing in the soft light of the lantern. The floor was a checkered tile pattern, once-white crown molding framing chestnut colored wooden walls. Caitlin suffered through the odor which seemed to seep from the walls.
“Ranger’s probably back this way.” Leon said, he pointed to a door that hugged the wall immediately the right of the entryway.
“Lets go that way then.” Caitlin glanced at the other two doorways. The middle of the three doors rested dead center to the hallway, continuing on a straight path from the front door itself. The leftmost door was along a wall that slanted at an odd forty-five degrees, lending the room an almost triangular shape. A plaque hung at its center. No Patients Permitted, Caitlin felt a return to the feeling of discomfort. Patients. What kind of people had once resided here?
A great crash resounded throughout the manor, distant and muffled, a shower of shattering glass and thumps of who knew what came from somewhere beyond the entryway.
“I found your dog.” Caitlin chuckled. The grip on her Colt had tightened, reflexively she’d dropped to a readied stance, the revolver positioned directly between the two first doors, ready for the unknown to burst forth and meet a lead-filled demise. The speed at which Caitlin could fan the hammer of her revolver had saved her on more than one occasion.
Leon pushed through the first doorway to the right of the entry, revealing a hall illuminated by moonlight, pools of red-silver spotlighting rubble and a myriad of other personal affects that littered the floor. Recessed room doors lined the left side of the hallway, number plaques starting with ONE and working the way up presumably to SIX, faced the windows directly opposite. Maroon drapes were bundled back behind small hooks screwed into the walls.
Caitlin’s eyes scanned the courtyard outside, her wagon appearing on the hill a half mile away as a darkened silhouette against the forest. The breeze from outside buffeted the manor, moaning through cracks in the glass.
“Stop.” Caitlin urged quietly. She pressed beside one of the windows, a hand set against the sill where green and gold wallpaper of a repeating floral pattern clung to the wall, pealing back like skin around brass sconces, revealing the raw flesh of wood beneath. Leon slipped behind her, easing the door to the entryway shut. Steady footfalls crunched on the gravel outside, followed by a churning of gravel as something heavy was dragged across. The footfalls shifted to plodding thumps as whomever was responsible for them stepped up onto the manor’s porch.
The time between each step slowed, a hulking shadow falling across the window, stretching out along the door of room TWO. Who the hell? Caitlin steadied her grip on the Colt she’d drawn. Caitlin could hear ragged breaths being forced out of whomever approached as the footsteps grew ever closer, the shadow twisting and dancing over side tables which lined the hall.
Caitlin flinched backward as an arm nearly as thick as her head flashed past the window, black surgical gloves stretched up to its elbows, tattered off-white tunic hanging loosely over a hefty mass that belied slabs of dense muscle. The figure lurched past the window, continuing toward the end of the porch. Slow as molasses Caitlin dared not breathe as she watched. Broad shoulders seemed to connect directly to the man’s head, forgoing any neck. Tangles of matte brown hair tumbling down in patches from his head. Maybe it had just been a trick of the moonlight, but Caitlin could’ve sworn there was a green twinge to his flesh—it’s flesh—which was made even more unhuman by its unsettling gait. The thing was massive as a buffalo, maybe even an elephant. Caitlin had never seen one in person, but she’d heard about the large animals, and seen a few pictures of some. Maybe not that big. She shook her head.
“What do you think he’s doing?” Leon asked.
“That’s a hell’ova lot of blood.” Caitlin muttered. She’d seen enough, and shed enough, to recognize the crusted stains of blood that marred the fabric of the orderly tunic. “I’m not s—” Caitlin’s words died on her lips as the hatcheted corpse of a middle aged man came into view, fresh blood gleaming from the deep gouges lining his face, tendrils of flesh hanging loosely where his jaw had been removed. The monstrous thing that plodded along dragged the corpse behind him, dragging the jaw-less corpse by a fistful of leather jacket. A trail of blood and other bodily fluid reflected off the broken concrete.
“Goodness!” Leon gasped, then clamped a hand across his mouth as if caught off guard by his own reaction. Caitlin winced, his tone hadn’t quite been a whisper.
The monstrosity stopped. Wavering atop its two stumpy legs as if listening for more noise. Caitlin felt Leon step away from behind her, receding into the shadowy corner of the hallway. As he shifted his weight, the wooden floor let out an agonized groan.
The monstrosity turned.
Matthew Taylor is from beautiful, sunny Southern California. He has an avid love for Science Fiction and Fantasy.