In the summer of ’82, Jeff Perkins, a 57 year old land developer walked up the front steps of the Kingsley plantation for the last time.
Perkins was a practical man. Like many, he had heard the tales of the haunted plantation and wrote it off as local superstition. He had leveled and built upon many a haunted house, ancient Indian burial ground, and sacred mountaintop, and never had so much as a bad cold in years. Curses and superstition, Perkins believed, were excuses made by weak willed people. Excuses to sit and do nothing. Perkins was never one for excuses.
The Plantation was a death trap sitting on acres of prime real estate just waiting to be flipped into something great, and the fact that no one had scooped it up yet should have been a crime against humanity. How could any legitimate businessman let a ghost story run them off? Whatever the case, Perkins thought himself incredibly lucky as he climbed up the steps of the front porch.
“Careful where ya step there!” A gruff voice called out from behind him. Perkins stopped in his tracks and turned to face the heavily lined and tanned face of his foreman, Roy.
Perkins had a hard time getting the local construction companies to take the job due to the whole “haunted plantation” thing, but Roy and his crew were from 5 counties away. Apparently, that’s how far you needed to go to find people who weren’t spooked by Kingsley manor. Roy and his crew were on the property to scout the location and make sure that there were no hazards they would encounter when they eventually tore it down.
Suddenly wary, Perkins stepped back.
“What?” He asked, looking around by his feet.
“Got some bad wood, right ‘round there. You’ll fall right through, yer not careful.” Roy said, pointing towards the porch. As he spoke, he flashed a wide toothy smile.
Perkins liked Roy. He was a smart, strong, practical man who ran a tight ship. He was also a good sport about Perkins’ playful flirtations. Straight men could be so uptight about that sort of thing, but Roy was a gem – a hard working, married, father of four. Any hang-ups Roy may have had about his new bosses lifestyle was eclipsed by his desire to ‘make good’ with someone who could get him paying work. Profit above all. That was something Perkins could get behind.
A close look at the porch revealed a small indentation where the wood looked weak. Perkins hadn’t noticed it at all. Tentatively, he tested the spot with his foot and felt the wood begin to give way.
“Oh! Thanks Roy! That woulda been ugly, huh?”
“Mind yer step while yer in there boss man. Ya wouldn’t wanna make me swoop ya up ‘n carry ya to the hospital, now would ya?”
“In your arms the whole way? Don’t you be givin’ me ideas now!” Perkins joked, taking a careful step over the rotten wooden planks of the porch. Roy balked, good naturedly and turned back towards his crew, who were surveying the former slave quarters.
Roy really was a good sport. It made Perkins feel a twinge of guilt. Victor, his partner of nearly two decades was back at the home they shared, blissfully unaware of his lover’s many transgressions. But he couldn’t help it, Perkins had convinced himself years ago. What do you expect when you love a man who travels for work? Besides, this was different. Roy was in no way flexible and not the least bit curious – he was just friendly, and Perkins respected that about him. But it was still fun to think about, that is, when he wasn’t thinking about the boatload of cash this “haunted house” would net him. Any misgivings and suspicions Victor may have had would be quickly erased by that, just as they always had.
Perkins made a mental note to invite Roy and his men out for drinks later as he looked for more wood rot. The rest of the porch seemed to be in decent shape – not that it would matter once he tore it all down, but it was still good to note where the safe places to step were – just in case he needed to go back in the manor later.
With the exception of the area directly in front of the stairs, the porch still seemed in good shape. So, with a cautious gait, he opened the front door to Kingsley Manor, completely unaware of the dozens of invisible, hate-filled eyes that watched his every move from every corner. Their silent fury caused a moments shudder, then, evaporated in less than an in instant.
Perkins kept the front door ajar as he surveyed the opening. The inside was creepy, that much was for sure, but upon a quick glance through, it was no more so than any other abandoned building. Unlike the other foolish locals in town, he did not fear ghosts. What he did fear were living things, like large bugs, snakes, coons, and possums, so he decided to keep the door open as wide as possible, to maximize the amount of light. Pushing the door open as far as he could, Perkins stepped lightly into the main landing, stopping at the foot of the staircase.
The large foyer still held traces of it’s former glory, though it was dark, cracked, and filled with dust and the smell of decay. To the left, an entryway led to a drawing room or possibly a parlor. Formerly white sheets draped a pair of small sitting chairs. An ancient, stained, moth eaten area rug covered the floor and held in a putrid smell that Perkins couldn’t quite identify. It wasn’t simply decay.
Blood and fear and death. The thought came in to Perkin’s mind before he had a chance to think rationally. But the dark, disturbing stains splattered across the large area rug made his mind go to such places. Perkins shook his head, as though trying to shake the thought away. There was nothing to fear in this place – except maybe tetanus.
All the other furniture in the parlor; the bar, the table – they were all broken down and deteriorated nearly to unrecognizable condition, however, a glint of gold peeked through the remains of what was likely a once well stocked bookcase. Perkins peered in closer, daring to step away from the safety of the sunlit foyer. As he did, the door began to close with a loud, painful groan.
Heavy boards covered the windows of all the downstairs rooms, blocking any incoming sunlight, so Perkins couldn’t risk the door shutting on him. He quickly grabbed the door before it could close and was taken aback by the amount of force behind it. As though it were being pushed. The unexpected weight caused Perkins to stumble for a moment, but he quickly regained his balance and held the door open adamantly.
‘Where in the world did all that force come from?’ Perkins wondered, staring at the door. The answer came just as quickly as he thought it. Wind, of course. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to find that the building was leaning either. Perkins pushed the door wide once again, and watched it, hands at the ready, to see if it would close again. As expected, the door slowly started to close and picked up speed as it did so. He could even feel a faint breeze in the air. With one mystery solved, he began looking for a solution.
That’s when he saw it. Beneath the winding staircase, a closet door sat slightly ajar and within it’s dark depths, Perkins could see the handle of something. Perhaps a broom, or something of the like? Either way, it was something to keep the door propped open with. Perkins carefully pushed the door open wide, and then, quickly but carefully rushed over to the closet door. As he neared it, however, a sudden fear of potential critters hiding in the dark slowed his momentum. With a daintiness not befitting a man of his age or stature, Perkins budged the closet door open with his foot – ready to book it if need be.
But no critters came scurrying out. There was simply the closet, and a large number of tools, trash, and worm eaten paper products littered across the floor. Perkins bent down to grab the dirt caked handle from off the floor, and was met with immense weight. From the corner of his eye he could see the front door beginning to swing closed again and used a bit more muscle to pull the thing. As he did, some of the trash and debris on the floor began to give way, revealing the head of a sledge hammer.
The heavy head scrapped along the wood floor beneath, eliciting a sound reminiscent of growl, and for a moment, Perkins paused. It was as though the house itself were growling at him. But again, these thoughts were quickly pushed away.
With a good, firm grip, Perkins hoisted the sledge hammer off the ground and scuttled with it over to the front door, just before it slammed shut. He grabbed the door and kept it propped open using the sledgehammer. After taking a moment to admire his handiwork, Perkins began to explore the rest of the downstairs.
The entranceway to the right of the foyer was missing both doors and led to the remnants of a grand dining room. The cabinetry was falling apart and had been picked clean over the years. Despite what the locals claimed, there were still plenty of people willing to venture into Kingsley Manor, it seemed. Feeling bolder, Perkins ventured deeper inside, stopping when he met another pair of double doors. These doors were still in good condition and led to the kitchen. It was here that Perkins met his first critters – a large mother possum covered in babies hissed at him from the dark.
“Shit – fucking mother of Christ!” Perkins shouted, nearly tripping over himself to get away from the giant vicious rodent and her demon spawn. Flailing back through the dining room, Perkins did not stop until he was safely back in the foyer.
“You alright there boss?” Perkins heard the amused sounding voice of Roy a few yards away.
“Goddamn possums as big as the goddamn house!” Perkins yelled back, still out of breath. Yet the sound of Roy’s good natured laugh made things a little less horrifying. “Don’t you laugh! I nearly pissed my damn self!”
“Accidents happen boss man. Nothin’ to be ‘shamed of.” Roy said. At this he and few of the other guys nearby laughed.
“Ha, ha. Funny. You better just be ready. If I get killed by one a these sons of bitches, none of yall are gettin’ paid. Remember that.” Perkins said, pointing accusingly at his foreman. At this the men laughed a little louder. Roy gave a salute, and turned back to his guys.
Perkins really didn’t want to go back in the manor, but the glints of gold and pieces of antique furniture made it hard not to. If there were anything salvageable inside, Perkins wanted it.
Wanting to get things done quickly, Perkins assumed that the general layout of the rest of the first floor went from the possum infested kitchen, to a living room which circled back to the parlor to his left. For good measure, Perkins quickly walked through the parlor, avoiding the broken bits of trash and furniture, and opened the double doors. As he expected, he saw couches, arms chairs, and a coffee table covered by greying sheets. Along the back wall were doors and windows leading to the veranda, but they were completely boarded up, making it nearly impossible to see much more.
However, Perkins did take the time to look for the golden item he saw earlier. Tucked away in the remains of a broken down bookcase, a gold locket, glittered in the darkness. Perkins pocketed the locket, unconcerned of whether it was real or fake. He could determine that later – after he was outside. Finding nothing else of value, Perkins headed to the second floor.
The winding staircase in that large foyer was probably magnificent to behold in it’s heyday but seemed like a deathtrap now. Taking care to avoid the chipped tile, Perkins kept his hand at the ready, hovering just above the banister. As he walked, he noticed that the banister was made of real copper.
He couldn’t believe his good luck. How much would this railing fetch him on top of the money he was about to make on the land. This investment was already proving fruitful. The image of Victor doing a little happy dance on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean or South America popped into his head and he smiled. Yes, this would please his love, just as it always did. He could just see Victor now, looking at him, smiling that thousand-watt smile that made women fall in love and broke their hearts almost simultaneously. And as Perkins regaled him with the story of the haunted plantation that everyone else slept on, he’d toss his head back and laugh.
But the laugh that came from Victor’s throat wasn’t his. It was a child’s. A child’s disquieting laugh echoing in an empty chamber. The laugh shook Perkins out of his daydream. A shadow flashed across the top of the stairs, and Perkins let out a shout. He wasn’t alone in here. Instinctively, he grabbed the rail to keep from falling but once he did, his hand became covered in a thick, black substance.
He slipped a step but caught himself, his heart beating out of chest. Rage filled him with the sudden revelation. Someone was in here, and the shock of their sudden laughter nearly killed him. He took a sniff of the black ooze on his hand. It was thick and pungent. The smell he’d noticed when he first entered the manor, and thought it was the worn area rug – the smell of blood and fear and death. It chilled him to the bone, but he batted it down. Someone was in this house. His property.
He’d heard that local kids would sometimes do tests of courage by coming on to the property, but the people in town made it seem like actually coming inside the manor was a major taboo. One that was sure to get you killed. Apparently, some brave child hadn’t gotten the memo. But Perkins had no time, nor patience for children’s games.
When Perkins reached the top of the stairs, he looked around angrily for the tiny intruder. It had to be a child and not another rodent, he rationalized. He heard that laugh. It wasn’t in his head. It wasn’t the wind.
“Come on out!” Perkins yelled to mask his fear. His heart was still beating fast from the near tumble. “This is private property, ya hear?”
For a long time, there was nothing. Then, Perkins caught a movement to his right, down the hallway. With his adrenaline pumping, Perkins nearly didn’t notice that there was light up there. Sunlight streamed through open doors and cast deep flickering shadows in the hallway. Then, laughter. There it was again!
And not just laughter. Hushing noises. He could hear them plain as day. There were children in there. Young children in hiding. Did they think this was a game?
Tentatively, Perkins walked in the direction of the voices, rubbing the black goo on his trousers. He had no idea what it was, but he didn’t want it on him anymore. He hoped it would wash out.
“Yall better get home. This aint anyplace for yall to be playing. It’s dangerous in here.”
More giggling, and more hushing, but more insistent this time.
As he passed by one of the bedrooms, he saw that the window was only partially boarded, allowing fresh air and light in the room. He stopped to take a peak inside, when the sound of the children’s voices distracted him. They were coming from the bedroom at the end of the hall.
Feeling validated now, Perkins, walked to the door at the end of the hallway and noticed light streaming from under the door. He opened it to reveal a bedroom, nearly untouched by age. Bright light filtered in from a large balcony window, overlooking the front entry and rows upon rows of cotton fields. A warm breeze billowed through the open balcony door, causing the curtains to flutter ephemerally. There was a difference in the air in this room. It was fresher, less stale.
“Is someone living in here?” Perkins asked aloud.
But he saw no sign of his intruders. No sign of life at all. This was a woman’s room, no doubt about it. Perhaps the former lady of the house. A beautiful canopy sat in the center of the room. There was a vanity, an armoire, a chest at the foot of the bed, and various accoutrement decorating the space, making it feel lived in. Yet the thick dust that covered everything told a different story. Someone couldn’t possibly be living here. Absolutely nothing had been disturbed.
That’s when Perkins noticed it. A large portrait of a woman, finely dressed, lay propped against the furthest wall. He could just barely make out the shape of the woman in the portrait. Time and exposure had caused it to deteriorate, but what little was left behind revealed traces of a beautiful but stern face and eyes that pierced the soul. Hard yet expressive.
She was lovely – at least from what Perkins could see. As he stared at the painting, searching for detail that had long since eroded away, he felt himself being drawn in deeper, deeper – as though under a spell until –
The loud sound, jolted Perkins to attention. The crash had come from outside, by the slave quarters. Concern fueled Perkins’ beeline towards the balcony. From there, he could see that one of the slave shacks’ roofs had collapsed, but the manner in which the men cautiously looked around, it didn’t seem that any of them were inside. That was a good thing. The last thing Perkins needed was that kind of injury.
“What the hell’s goin’ on over there?” He could hear Roy shouting from a different direction. In front of the manor stood a large tree. Perkins didn’t know what kind of tree it was, he was never good at that kind of thing. According to the locals, that was the tree old Jacob Kingsley was strung up, as his loyal servants watched in horror. Roy stood beneath the old tree, body poised to run over, when he stopped, as though noticing Perkins’ eyes on him.
Roy looked over towards Perkins on the balcony and froze. From his distance, Perkins couldn’t tell what expression Roy was making, but the way he stopped screamed fear. Before Perkins could register what Roy was looking at, there was another large crack. There was some kind of disturbance in the treetops above Roy, but frozen, he seemed not to notice.
With his mouth agape, Roy pointed towards Perkins and just managed the sputter out,
“The fuck is th-?”
“Watch out!” A worker’s voice shouted in the distance, but it was too late.
Perkins could see the tree branch falling but could not do nor say anything as a cold fear overtook him. With little more than a slight rustle in the treetops and a loud crack as a warning, a giant tree branch broke free and came hurtling down to earth, landing squarely on top of Roy.
Even from his distance Perkins could see the limb impale Roy; in through the back of his neck and out through his chest. It took only a second, and Roy fell to the ground, dead.
Perkins wanted to scream – wanted to shout, but fear and disbelief clouded his mind. His voice caught in his throat as he stumbled backwards. But something caught him.
His skin prickled, and his mouth suddenly tasted of iron. The shock of what had just happened had made him forget but suddenly Perkins remembered the frightened look on Roy’s face as he pointed in his direction moments ago.
Dread filled the man. He did not want to look behind him – did not want to confirm whether or not there was something to fear. Yet something in him knew. Some innate animal instinct told him to run.
Something isn’t right. Run. Something definitely isn’t right. Run! Run, you sunuvabitch!
His brain screamed commands in his head, as he felt whatever had caught his fall move behind his back. His chest tightened, and his mouth tasted so much like iron it was becoming painful. Suddenly, as though struck by lightning, something in his body jolted to attention and heeded the advice of his brain. Perkins turned to run towards the door, willing himself not to bother looking at what was behind him.
But there was no way for Perkins to ignore what stood behind him.
There was a man. A black man. Probably the largest black man Perkins had ever seen. He could’ve easily be six and a half feet tall and was all muscle. Though he’d never admit it, black people had always made Perkins a little nervous. But that wasn’t what frightened him and made his knees go weak. The black giant’s skin was ashen, cracked and peeling. His eye, the one that remained, was completely fogged over and milky. But there wasn’t much more to say about his face, since most of it looked to be blown off. If Perkins had to guess, he’d say it could easily be a shotgun wound, no doubt taken at point blank range. In fact, he could smell gun powder.
The man was dead. And in left hand, the sledgehammer Perkins used to prop open the front door.
“Oh…” Perkins moaned. His brain could not, would not compute what was happening. The dead black giant, focused it’s mean looking eye on his, and wordlessly lifted the sledgehammer high in the air.
RUN! RUN! RUN! RUN! Perkins’ brain was screaming at him in his head, and like a jack rabbit, he bolted towards the door, but not before the sledgehammer came crashing down, missing his head but catching him in the side on the upswing.
Perkins felt something crack inside and all the air left his lungs as a shockwave of unbelievable pain coursed through his body. Still Perkins, somehow utilizing the momentum of the hit, kept moving keeping his eyes squarely fixed on the door.
“HEEEEELP!” Perkins screamed, colliding with the doorway, but not stopping. Each step was a fresh new agony. Something sharp was stabbing into him inside and his vision was becoming splotchy.
The men were still outside. There were open windows on the second floor. Someone would have to hear them… If they weren’t distracted by Roy. Oh God, Roy! Perkins mind was becoming a jumbled mess from panic.
The laughter was back, echoing through the halls. He could hear the laughter and the disapproving hushing of children. Where was it coming from? Who in the world would be laughing right now?
“HEEEEELP!” Perkins screamed again, but his mouth was filling with blood. Had he punctured something? He had no time and no ability to think long on it. Heavy footsteps and the familiar sound of the sledgehammer’s head dragging along the floor grew closer. This time he was sure, the house was growling at him. Perkins cried in agony, willing the giant not to come any closer. He didn’t dare look behind him to see how close he was.
Perkins reached the stairs and extended a hand towards the railing, only get a hand full of black goo, lose his balance, and fall all the way down. Each hit on his injured side felt like fresh knife wounds. By the time he reached the landing, he could barely see through the pain. But freedom was within his grasp. He was mere feet away from the door, now closed. Through his hazy vision, he could see that the giant man hadn’t followed him down the stairs. He watched, evilly from the top of the stairs – his one good eye shining bright in the dark.
It was one of the last things Perkins saw before the black ooze from the bannister slipped down the steps and crept up his legs. It crawled, alive, inching its way up his torso. As it did, the ooze seemed to take shape. Human-like, and squirming in pain and agony, it cried out; extending tar like arms, pulling him in, grasping at him as though reaching for help. Perkins, opened his mouth the scream but no sound could come before the black tar woman’s own cries morphed into an angry hysteria and he was assaulted with thick, pungent darkness.
As the thick black liquid filled his mouth, nose, and throat he was overtaken by a fear he’d never knew existed. He was suffocating, drowning in a black, pungent abyss. His lungs burned as they struggled to fill with air, his eyes throbbed in his skull from the sudden pressure. Everything felt like it was about to pop. Perkins thrashed wildly in pain until it felt that he was outside his body, oddly aware that he was still jerking, still fighting for life. Yet the darkness had taken him.
In his final moments, Perkins became oddly aware that he’d pissed himself, and was ashamed. He prayed that Victor would never find out. How disgracefully his lover had left this world – scared shitless in a haunted house, covered in black goo and piss. And suddenly, he recalled poor Roy’s final words to him.
“Accidents happen boss man. Nothin’ to be ‘shamed of.”
Perkins didn’t have a chance to think anything else. He didn’t have a chance to see his life flash before his eyes or Victor’s worried face. The black ooze crept into every open poor of his body, filling his stomach, his lungs, his throat, his tear ducts, everything. Perkins involuntarily twitched, once, twice and then he was dead.