Taken from my book of short stories – Under the Apple Tree and other short dark stories currently available through Amazon.
Enjoy the creepiness.
His shoes and coat were in the foyer, a briefcase placed beside them. He had left his notes neatly written out, filed in meticulous order, a detailed account of every visit and diagnosis. The detective read them all.
‘The father it was presumed was harboring a distant mental illness, one that plagued him during the hours of darkness, tormenting his sleep and keeping him awake. Leading to psychosis and hallucinations. Although it seemed to be psychosomatic, as no plausible explanation could be found’
Despite this the doctor stayed overnight on a number of occasions. It should have been an open and shut case, with a prescription of lithium marked in the corner of the page with a question mark.
‘However, his paranoia towards his family does indeed seem a cause for concern. All of his negative energy and ideas were being thrust upon them, directly and indirectly. He believes intermittently that they were the enemy, possibly not even really his family. As his grasp with reality was deteriorating his perception of friend and foe became blurred and some days he would say they were imposters sent to spy on him.’
This was not unusual the doctor had noted in cases of mania and psychosis, and had been documented in a number of other cases.
But it was the other family member’s behaviour that intrigued him so and made him return. It was as if they had all either adapted to accept this new mental state from the head of the house, or they were all suffering from a strange form of mental impairment caused by it.
‘The mother was extremely fragile and pale, almost as if she were made of a fine porcelain, with the darkest hair the doctor had ever seen. The children too had inherited the maternal line of looks, although it was hard to see or imagine what their father may have looked like when fit and healthy.
They were always flitting around the house doing something, making tea, tidying and fussing. They had a fireplace in every room and were constantly stoking them. Never making too much noise though, she said noise would upset her husband. It’s hard to gauge how their relationship was holding up through this, I’ve never seen them in the same room together.’
It was remarked in the notes somewhere around his second week of visits. It was not a surprise that two adults could live in the same vicinity and not make contact on a regular basis. It appeared to be normal in many a household these days. Despite the notes, it was hard to actually tell when he had been here precisely. Each day of the week was catalogued, times of day and interviews, but with no starting date, and in fact, no dates at all. The detective was confused by this case. The house was completely empty save for the doctor’s belongings. Originally a plantation house owned by the Reeder family, who were well known in these parts. It passed down to John F Reeder who took it as a family home with his young wife Emily. They began renovations with John doing most of the work himself.
But that was over 50 years ago. Everyone knew the local story, she had run off with someone else, taking the children. He never recovered and slowly went mad, until he died in the house a number of years later. The house wasn’t left to anyone so by local law it has to be left for 60 years in case any surviving relatives turn up to claim the property. Otherwise the local council had to pay the equivalent value if anyone did turn up, it was cheaper to leave it.
John Reeder had burnt all the possessions in the house during his mad years. The only thing that had remained when he died was a prison like bed, a mattress and one blanket in the top bedroom of the house. The body wasn’t discovered for a number of weeks, so the state ended up burning them too. The mangled bed frame that had been thrown from the top window, and was still evident in the garden now covered in creepers and vines. There had been no funeral, in fact he was cremated at the hospital and the ashes scattered back at the house.
So what had the doc been doing there? From his I.D they had worked out he was a professor of psychiatry from the city and had no business even being down here. No-one had reported him missing and they couldn’t even find an employer or trace of him. He checked himself into a local motel a month ago and from what seems to have transpired in his books, made almost daily visits to the house. Although the motel owner doesn’t remember seeing the doctor leave or return on any day. He paid up front and was never seen again.
The only evidence of his ever existing was the motel owner as witness and his very sparse personal belongings left in the room after check out day. These included a small notebook with the house address and the name John F Reeder. Without that they wouldn’t have ever been up here until it was time to tear the old place down.
The detective went back to the visit notes. The intensity of what the doctor was observing seemed to increase over time. It was like a small window into a family’s descent into a dark tormented madness.
No wonder she ran away with the children the detective thought as he read about the atmosphere in the house. As he did though, a dark haze swept over him and made him drop the book. He steadied himself on the banister closest to him. The room began swirling and his vision swimming. While trying to see through blurry eyes, he could swear that the room suddenly had furniture in it, a lamp in the corner, and curtains over the windows. An almost warm homely feel, just for a moment. Then it was replaced by cold and dark. But a musty dark that also swirled for a moment, slowly clearing to reveal an empty room.
The detective sat down on the bottom of the stairs, his legs suddenly not as stable as they were. He had never been superstitious or a believer in the heebie-jeebies, until now. He picked the book back up and carried on reading.
The doctor had mentioned the basement a number of times, but after looking over every inch of the house he realised it didn’t actually have one. Highly unusual for house of this time not to have one, but there were no doors or traps that could be found. He went back to reading.
‘The children have become more withdrawn and I fear they will need help to adjust back into the normal world. He has kept them all isolated for such a time that it will do them no good to stay here. Their obsession with the fireplaces troubles me. This is where they are to be found at all hours of the day and night. Often the mother too. Emily becomes frailer by the hour. She has now told me often to not go into the basement. She stares at the door under the stairs with such fear in eyes that I cannot say what is down there. I have respected her wishes so far, but with no explanation for the deterioration I may have to investigate.
John doesn’t even seem to acknowledge me, and he creeps around the house, checking his family are stationed at the fireplaces. Poking the flames and ashes, keeping them lit. I am trying to understand his symptoms and possible causes for them. Emily did say that when they started renovations in the basement, there were secrets down there. Secrets they shouldn’t have awoken.’
The detective stood up from his place on the stairs and looked over his shoulder towards the paneling, very neat and ornate, it almost didn’t look one bit out of place. Except that it looked so well done, it did. Wood slightly newer than all the surrounding finishes, although aged, definitely newer. The height was right for a doorway too.
He could feel his heart begin to race, the room went swirly again and he held onto wall opposite the paneling for support. Through hazy vision he saw the door open to the basement and the shape of a man appear. The shape walked towards the living room and over to the fireplace. There was a dark shape in one hand and a long shape in the other. He squinted trying to see better through the haze. The dark shape was thrown into the fireplace. The man shape turned back towards the basement and towards the detective. His heart pounded as he saw the long shape was an axe, and over his shoulder the dark shape had now caught fire and a face could be seen. With quickly smoldering dark hair.
The vision faded as quickly as it has happened. The room was empty, there was no doorway, and there was nothing in the fireplace. He wondered for a moment if he was going mad. It sounded crazy. Maybe he had killed his family, maybe he had got away with murder?
He walked over to the fireplace in the living room, scuffing his shoes on the floorboard. Wondering what to do next or how to explain this to someone without being sent to the loony bin. He kicked the ashes out of frustration and possibly still a touch of fear. A flash of the face with black hair startling him back a step. But just enough to see the skull protruding slightly through the ashes.
The local newspaper covered the basics after the house had been searched. Plantation House of Death they had called it. Revealing the grisly details of the decapitated family, heads found in the fireplaces and bodies in the basement. But there had been more down there. Even more horror was uncovered going back to the beginning. To the old times and when the house had been a fully working plantation. The town had to accept a new history of the Reeder family after that day.
(c) K Wicks
Under the Apple Tree and Other dark short stories