The Blood Red House
David and Linda bought the house on Cooperton Avenue from the Raymonds. It came at a pretty good price considering the neighborhood and size of the place. The previous owners moved away because Mister Raymond took a job in Philadelphia and wanted to live in the city. He was what the real estate agent called a motivated seller. Three bedrooms, a sizable downstairs, an attic and a basement was a little more than what they needed at that time, but they wanted to start a family and it would be great to be moved in before they began. David could afford it on an electrician’s salary, and it was directly across the street from the local grade school.
“This place is perfect.” said David as he carted box after box into their new home.
“What do you think about that color, though?” asked Linda.
“Red? It’s ok. I think it used to be a schoolhouse back in the old days. Before they built the elementary school.” he said nodding toward the red brick school.
“It’s an ugly color, if you ask me.”
“We can change it if you like.”
They spent the next couple of weeks getting settled into their new home.
One night Linda woke her husband from a sound sleep.
“What?” he groaned.
“I heard a noise.”
“Tell it to go away.”
“No seriously David, I think I heard someone downstairs.”
“It’s an old house. It’s settling.”
“David. Please. Just check it out.”
David groaned and lurched to his feet. He staggered down the stairs and searched the entire first floor of their home- through the parlor, dining room, living room and kitchen. Nothing seemed amiss.
As he turned to head back upstairs David spotted movement out of the corner of his eye near the basement door.
“Who the hell is there?” he spat, but as he moved closer saw nothing but shadow,
David approached the door. He felt a slight breeze blowing from beneath it as he yanked the door open and bellowed down into the basement. “You better come up now!” to whomever, if anyone, was hiding below. After a second he added, “I got a shotgun!” A lie, of course.
No one responded. David hit the light switch to the basement and crept down the stairs. The space was unfinished, with a cement floor and bare-brick walls. In one corner a fat old furnace squatted like an iron dragon, with its belly full of fire. Opposite it stood a washer and dryer behind a pile of laundry. On the wall beside the dryer, the basement window was open.
The window was tiny. Too small for an adult to fit through, but David was certain it had never been opened during the time since he and Linda had moved in. Glancing around the room he made sure that no intruder was hiding to ambush him, and went to close and latch the window. Peering out into the side yard of the house he saw no sign of whomever had opened it.
“Probably just some kids, looking for trouble.” he muttered to himself.
As he turned to go back up the stairs David tangled his feet in some article of clothing in the laundry pile and tripped. Caught completely unaware he bashed his head against the furnace and fell to the floor, nearly passing out.
LIfting himself to his knees, David felt blood drip from his forehead onto the cement floor.
“Fuck.” he said, as he wiped the blood with a piece of laundry. The droplets that hit the floor trickled into a crack in the foundation of the house.
David locked the basement door and placed a chair in front of it just to be safe before returning to bed.
Linda was hiding under the covers, terrified.
“It’s fine. I’m fine.” he said, as she peeped out at him.
“I just need a bandaid. I tripped over the stinking laundry.”
Linda fetched a bandage from the medicine cabinet then washed and patched David’s little wound.
The next day while David was at work Linda attacked the pile of laundry that had built up during the settling in period of their new home.
While separating colors she noticed the crack in the floor. The cement there seemed quite uneven. Stepping on it she felt the hard substance shift beneath her weight. Linda got to her knees and examined the crack in the foundation. She fit her fingers in and gave it a tug, A sizable chunk of cement tore off the floor in her hand.
“Shit.” she said to herself. “This can’t be good.”
Beneath the thin cement floor was a layer of brickwork. Linda pressed her hand against one of the bricks. It felt quite loose. Not sure what she was attempting, she gave it a pull. It popped out easily, revealing a hollow beneath the floor.
She saw something shiny in the darkness.
Linda grabbed a flashlight from David’s toolbox and shined it into the hole. It contained an old glass jar, a small chest about the size of a shoebox, and some crumbling old papers.
Intrigued, she got to work pulling out the rest of the blocks. When she was finished Linda took her findings upstairs and laid them out on the kitchen table.
There were three sheets of old parchment with dense writing on them in a very archaic script. They looked as if they had been torn from a book- or rather from different volumes entirely as they were not all the same size and the coloration varied. She picked one up and tried to read the writing. Most of the letter was illegible to her. The penmanship was loopy and old-fashioned, and the letter was written in a language she did not know, perhaps German, but the bottom showed a signature that she could make out as, “Johann Konrad Dippel”. The second page was written by another hand in English and seemed to be the middle of a set of instructions that read:
After this time, it will look somewhat like a man, but transparent, without a body. If, after this, it be fed wisely with the Arcanum of human blood, and be nourished for up to forty weeks, and be kept secure, a living human child grows therefrom, with all its members like another child, which is born of a woman, but much smaller.
The final page was titled “THE KEY” in a rougher script than the others. Upon it were several strange words and symbols arranged like a glossary.
The writing was difficult for her to understand so she set it aside. The jar was filled with a dark red jelly-like substance. Old preserves, perhaps. But the box intrigued Linda most of all. It smelled dry and musty, but with a certain sweetness.
The lid was stuck, but after several minutes Linda managed to force it open.
Her heart sank into her stomach when she saw its contents, the dried, and long rotted remains of a tiny infant, swaddled in old silk. Its mummified face frozen in a smile as it appeared to gaze out of its miniature casket with empty eye sockets.
Linda ran to the sink and retched. After several seconds she gained her composure and looked again. It was real to be certain, not some sick leftover Halloween decoration and not a doll that had been tucked away for centuries. This was a dead baby...or fetus by the size...that someone had hidden away. Should she call the cops? She wondered. But it looked so very very old. The papers looked like something from colonial times. Maybe they were of historical value. And the jar...did it really contain preserves? Or something else?
She thought it best not to open the jar, but lifted it up to the light. The red substance was decidedly not raspberry jam or anything similar, but exactly what it was she could not discern. Tilting the jar displaced the liquid somewhat allowing her to examine the bottom of the glass vessel. It contained a bed of rice. Hundreds of little white grains.
Did they even have rice in colonial times? She thought to herself.
The rice moved. Linda yelped and dropped the jar on the table. Thankfully it did not shatter.
Were those little worms? She thought.
She closed the chest containing the mummified fetus with a broom handle then scooped all of her findings into a cardboard box which she closed and stuck in the corner, out of sight.
Too shaken to return to the laundry, Linda went outside for a walk and some fresh air.
With no destination in mind Linda found herself walking along Westfield avenue, toward the library. She just needed to get away from that house and the terrible things she had found there. The library was open and she could quietly gather her thoughts there without attracting attention. Linda found a newspaper and took a comfy seat in the periodicals section to rest and forget about what she had seen.
A conversation between the librarian and a teenage girl interrupted Linda’s silence.
“Are you sure it’s not there?” asked the girl.
“I’m sorry, but it’s not in the catalog, that means it’s not here.” replied the librarian
“Not always.” the girl said.
The librarian took this as churlishness and said, “Look missy. If the catalog says we don’t have any books by Johann Konrad Dippel then we don’t have ‘em. That’s it.” before stomping off.
Linda was struck by the coincidence. That was the name on the papers she’d found. How could it be that this young girl was looking for a book by the same author as the letter?
“Excuse me, young woman.” Linda said to the girl.
“Yes?” the girl responded, seemingly annoyed.
“Did you say Johann Konrad Dippel? That’s the author you’re looking for?
“Yeah. It’s for...a report. For school.”
“Interesting.” said Linda, “I’ve never heard that name before and now it comes up twice in one day.”
“What do you mean?” the girl asked her.
“I found some old papers. At least one of them might have been written by him. But I don’t understand German.”
“You found an old paper written by Herr Dippel?”
“Yes. I think so. I don’t know who that is. Is he one of the founding fathers or something?”
“Oh no. He’s older than that. Johann Konrad Dippel was an alchemist and occultist. He wrote several volumes about anatomy and theology. Most of which are lost.”
“And you thought you could find one here at the Amon Heights Library.”
“You’d be surprised what’s kept in this town. The founder, Nathaniel Amon, was a huge fan of Johann’s and kept an extensive library. Much of it has been lost, but several volumes from Amon’s personal collection have been housed here in the past. So it’s not so far-fetched.”
“What kind of person was this Dippel?” Linda asked this incredibly well informed girl.
“He was a controversial figure in his time.” the girl said, “He may or may not have engaged in a little grave-robbing to study human anatomy.”
“Would he have dissected a baby?”
“Umm...maybe.” said the girl, “Officially he only ever dissected animals, but there are rumors. Of course, back then anyone who wanted to further medical knowledge had to do so in secret since the idea of examining human remains was shunned and sometimes even forbidden.”
“If I show you the paper I have, would it be useful to you? For your school report?”
“Maybe. I’d love to see it in any case. Where did you find it?”
“In my basement, actually,” said Linda. As she spoke she thought of the other things she’d found with the letter and decided it best to not mention them. Still, she would prefer to have another person alongside her while she decided what to do with the mummified infant and jar of stubby little worms.
Linda led the way to her home on Cooperton Avenue. As they got close the girl appeared to tense. When Linda gestured to her house at the end of the block the young woman stopped dead.
“That’s where you live?” she asked Linda.
“Yes, we just purchased the place.”
“I used to live there.” She said, “I’m Lucy Raymond. You must have bought the house from my father.”
“Well,” said Linda, “This day is just full of little coincidences.”
An odd looking car, small and dark red, sat parked in front of the house. Neither Linda nor Lucy recognized it.
When they approached the front door of the house it was ajar.
“Did you leave it unlocked?” asked Lucy.
“I don’t remember. I left in a hurry. I needed to get out of the house.”
They cautiously entered.
“Hello?” called Linda, “Is anyone here?”
“I am here, madam. I beg your pardon for entering.” came an accented voice from the kitchen.
“Who the hell are you? My husband will be home any minute now!” spoke Linda, trying her best to sound threatening.
He stepped out into the parlor with his hands outstretched in an attempt to appear harmless. He was a man of average height with an oddly long nose and ruddy complexion. He wore a dark red suit that matched his car. His breast pocket contained a checkered handkerchief.
“I am so sorry, madam, I assure you.” said the man, “I am Mr. Chino. I do not mean you any harm. I have come to help you.”
“Help me with what?”
“I am, how you say, a private investigator. You are in some danger, madam. The things you have discovered have made you a target of a very unsavory bunch,”
“How do you know about the things she’s found?” asked Lucy, “She only just found them today,”
“I have my sources.” he said.
Did someone at the library hear our conversation? Thought Linda. Then she realized that she didn’t really know this Lucy kid. Maybe the two of them were working together somehow. How foolish she’d been to let them both into her home. Oh how she wished David really was on his way home now.
“What is it that you’re looking for, exactly?” she asked him, hoping that he knew only about the papers and not the baby.
“My fair lady, the dangerous characters you need to be wary of are in search of a key. A key that will allow them to unlock a valuable treasure.”
“A key?” asked Lucy.
“When you say key,” said Linda, “do you mean a literal key or more like a code?”
“Which is it that you have found?”
Linda went to the corner of the kitchen where she’d stashed the cardboard box and pulled out the papers. Both Lucy and Mr. Chino watched her intently.
“Is this what you want?” she said.
Mr. Chino reached for the parchments, but Linda pulled them away.
“No way, Jose.” she told him. “What’s so important about this stuff? And the other things I found?’
“What else did you find?” asked Lucy, but Linda ignored her.
Mr. Chino tilted his head toward her and said, “My dear, for your own safety I must insist you hand the papers over to me.”
“You’re in my house, I should call the cops.”
“Madam, please do not make me angry. I can be most irrational...”
“Get out, now.” she said, reaching for the phone.
Mr. Chino performed a flourish with his hand and seemingly from nowhere produced a thin paddle, the flat blade of which consisted of two small planks of wood connected by a hinge.
He brandished it like a sword.
Linda squealed and ran behind the table.
Lucy yelled out the name, “MOLLY!” and from beneath her sprang a shadowy figure.
It moved along the floor until it reached the intruder and wrapped itself around him.
“Oh no.” said Mr. Chino,unperturbed, “I’ve heard all about you!”
The shadow twisted around him like rope, but one of his hands remained free. He managed to grab a bread knife from the counter and used it to saw away at the shadow, cutting his arm loose.
“Molly, no!” cried Lucy as the shadow struggled to contain the man though its tenebrous substance was being torn.
“It seems your Voiceless protector can be harmed after all!” declared Chino as he cut and cut at Molly’s dark material. The shadow writhed as if in pain but never made a sound.
Linda crawled under the table to avoid the fray. Lucy picked up a cast iron skillet and began smashing the man’s head with it.
Mr. Chino laughed. With each blow he expanded and grew. His suit changed as the checkered pattern of his handkerchief spread throughout it, becoming a diamond motif of black, white, and red. His arms and legs stretched to become freakishly long and his face turned into a leering harlequin mask, with elongated nose, twisted grin, and exaggerated brow.
“What the hell are you?” shouted Linda, but her voice was drowned out by the ceaseless laughter.
As he became larger the shadow expanded around him. The bizarre man had to stoop down to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling. With each blow from Lucy he grew more and more.
“Stop it!” Linda cried out to the teenager, “You’re just making him stronger!”
But the girl didn’t listen. She kept crashing and smashing away with the skillet until finally he burst out of the bondage the shadow had created.
Molly, the shadow exploded in a flash of darkness. The entire room turned to blackness for several seconds.
When her vision returned Linda was alone. No Chino. No strange shadow. No Lucy and no papers.
The only things remaining to remind her of her strange encounter were the wooden box and that awful jar.
She had a few hours before David would come home and decided that if she told him what she saw that day he would have her committed.
She figured the best thing to do was to bury the evidence and act like nothing had ever happened. She had no desire to return to the basement any time soon. The laundry would have to wait.
Searching the yard for a good spot she found the ground was too hard to dig everywhere except just beneath the beautiful oak tree that grew on the easement. It was broad daylight, but she was certain no one saw her and if they did she would claim to be planting marigolds or something.
The soil beneath the tree practically opened up for her, as if yearning to receive the artifacts Linda had discovered that day. She buried the jar, the box, mummy and all beneath the oak tree in front of the blood red house on Cooperton Avenue.
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