I looked out the small window into utter darkness. The only things visible were streaks of rain racing across the Plexiglas. Turbulence jostled the plane.
Boarding the plane, Lisa had wanted the window seat, but I said that my sense of honor demanded that I take it. In the event of a malfunction and the side of the plane getting ripped off, the window seats would be the first to go. My sitting at the window would at least give her a fighting chance of survival.
The old woman seated in front of me turned during my explanation to give a dirty look.
Now, I was questioning my seating decision as well as the agreement to spend a week with Lisa’s family in Virginia.
In the distance, faint lights pierced the blackness outside. As the plane descended, the lights dotted the outline of a single runway. The Charlottesville airport was so small it looked like an unmapped landing strip for a drug running operation.
Lowering to the tarmac, the lights reflected off the wet pavement beneath us. I could hear Phil Collins singing In the Air Tonight as I imagined Crockett and Tubbs rolling up in a Ferrari to greet the plane with their guns drawn.
The pilot slammed us into the runway and hit full reverse thrust. The engines screamed in protest. I bounced in my seat like a cheap stripper’s ass as the plane skidded to a stop.
I had to pry Lisa’s fingernails from my hand before we could disembark. We climbed out of the plane and into a driving rain. I didn’t care, it felt great to not be moving.
After getting our luggage, we went to retrieve our compact rental car. Christ, a Honda Civic. The car was so small we had to split the luggage between the trunk and the back seat.
Which brought me to the two hour drive to Reedville in the pouring rain.
“Why in the hell did we have to fly into Charlottesville?” I asked.
“Because it was the cheapest flight and my parents were paying for it,” Lisa said.
“So your parents are the cheapest?” which earned me an elbow to the ribs.
We eventually arrived at Aunt Caitlin’s and Uncle Porter’s house where we would be staying for the week with Lisa’s parents who had driven up from Florida. After a soggy but uneventful week, besides Lisa’s parents wondering what she saw in me, we were due to fly home the following day.
Lisa’s cousins, Mark and Tina, were coming to spend next week with the family, and they arrived a day early to see us. Aunt Caitlin informed us that Mark and Tina would be taking our room for the night and that they would put us up in a hotel. So they came to see us and kicked us out of our room.
We were all having lunch together when Creepy Uncle Eric offered that we could stay with him for the night. I looked over at the man and actually appraised him for the first time. In his forties, he was balding with scraggly hair, wearing dark pants, leather shoes that were older than me, and a shirt buttoned all the way to the top of his neck.
“Uh…” I replied.
“That would be great. Thanks,” Lisa answered for me.
After dinner that evening, Lisa and I loaded into the Honda and followed Creepy Uncle Eric to his house. The weeklong storm was getting worse as the rain came down sideways. The Civic’s four cylinder engine whined as it struggled to maintain fifty five miles per hour down the rural highway. I expected it to burst into a ball of flame under the hood at any moment. While I was calculating whether I could save Lisa before diving out of the car in the event of an explosion, we arrived at Creepy Uncle Eric’s creepy Victorian house.
“It’s a cool old house,” Lisa said.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind dead Asian kids crawling out of the bathtubs.”
We were drenched by the time we got into the house with the little bit of luggage we needed for the night. After an awkward moment in the foyer with Uncle Eric, I felt as if we had interrupted his plans to film underage porn or something, he led us up the stairs to our room. The bare floorboards of the hallway and our room appeared to be original to the house. The dim lighting came from wall sconces that had been converted from gaslight.
The storm outside was getting worse. Lightning cracked the sky and thunder rolled over the tree tops.
I opened the closet doors to put our bags in, but it was lined with shelves from floor to ceiling that were covered in dark glass jars. There must have been at least three hundred round glass containers filling every inch of the closet. What the hell was this?
Eric said, “Yeah, sorry about that. You’ll just have to leave your stuff on the floor.”
“That’s fine,” Lisa said.
“My room is downstairs, but don’t let this old house rattle you. She creaks and groans like old bones when she settles in for the night.”
He wished us goodnight and left us to get settled.
As we lay in bed, we listened to the thunder rumble outside. The bed was an antique and not very comfortable, so I was just staring at the dark ceiling. I think I was beginning to doze off, when I was startled awake. I heard a loud pop out in the hall. I stared into the darkness waiting for another noise. I told myself it was just the house settling; but then another creak came, then, slowly, another.
Lisa was awake at this point. I felt her lean over like she was looking towards the hall as well, so we clearly both heard it. It definitely sounded like footsteps coming slowly down the hall towards our door.
If Creepy Uncle Eric was trying to sneak up and film us, he was going to be disappointed. I was finished ten minutes after we got into bed.
As the footsteps drew nearer, I felt silly, but I pushed the covers back and got out of bed. I now felt foolish for not putting my boxers and t-shirt back on earlier. I was overexposed tip toeing naked across the floor towards the door. The room was pitch black but for a streak of lightning outside.
As I approached the door, I carefully reached towards the knob. The footsteps in the hall were right outside the door when they just stopped. It seemed as if someone was standing on the other side, pausing for something. The hesitation made my own hand stop just inches from the knob. My mind made the jump that it wasn’t Eric standing in the hall facing me through the solid wood door. A sense of menace emanated from the silence across the threshold.
In the darkness, the brass knob had a slight reflection on it, and it seemed to move ever so slightly. I quickly snatched the lock on the door shut and stupidly just stood there. The knob didn’t move and, as I stood staring at the door, the seconds stretched into what felt like minutes.
Lightning sent a flare of light across the room.
Bam! Something hammered the door.
I jumped and ran to the bed before realizing it must have been a clap of thunder nearby. I lay in the darkness staring and listening intently in the direction of the door. There wasn’t another sound from the hallway, not even a retreating of footsteps.
Of course, it was just an overactive imagination at being in a strange place, and yet it was still unnerving. I finally fell asleep to the dull roar of the rain pelting the roof.
I awoke to a sharp elbow in my ribs.
“Kris!” Lisa hissed through her teeth at me.
The thunder was actually shaking the house. The lightning flashed through the windows sending sharp spikes of contrast across the room. The lightning was streaking down so quickly that it created a strobe effect.
Then she was whispering something unintelligible in my ear.
“What?” I asked, before I realized that the whispering seemed to be coming from all around us.
There appeared to be a dozen tall shadows moving slowly around the bed. It had to be a trick of the lighting, yet they seemed to be present regardless of the light from the windows flaring against the walls.
Being jostled awake to see something I couldn’t immediately explain, adrenaline coursed through me. I was too scared to just sit there, so I lunged out of bed for the far wall and hit the light switch. The lights flicked on and there was nothing in the room but Lisa and me. Lisa was pale with fright (even though she actually is almost as pale as an albino by nature, she was now even more so). She was shaking, and I probably wasn’t much better.
I grabbed my watch and it was just after 3:00 am. If the rental car hadn’t been so small and it hadn’t been raining so hard, we would’ve just gone out and stayed in the car. As it was, we stayed in bed with the lights on until morning.
I packed our things, and by that I mean I crammed our shit into the bags and got ready to get the hell out of there at first light.
At breakfast with Lisa’s parents that morning, they asked how we slept. Knowing how crazy the story sounded in the light of day, we just answered noncommittally.
Lisa’s mom said, “That’s good. I wouldn’t be able to sleep there. Just knowing that Eric works from home gives me the creeps.”
“Why, what does he do?” I asked.
“He runs the crematorium out of his basement,” she said.
“Really,” Lisa said more in shock than as a question.
“Yeah, Eric told us once that he has a room where he keeps the ashes of all the unclaimed cremations that he performs. He said that you couldn’t imagine the number of people who no one comes to claim. He just keeps them in little glass jars because there’s really nothing else he can do with them. Can you imagine?”
The response that I of course kept to myself was, “What the fuck?!”
Ordinarily that would be the end of the story. Lisa and I flew back, and her friend Jennifer picked us up at the airport and took us home. We of course didn’t say anything about our stay with Creepy Uncle Eric because it just seemed too farfetched and outlandish.
A couple of days later, Lisa and Jennifer had lunch. In the middle of a conversation, Jennifer suddenly switched topics.
“I know this sounds stupid,” Jennifer interrupted, “but I haven’t really been able to sleep the past few nights.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Lisa, thinking she was having issues with Stuart again.
“I don’t know. I’m not comfortable in my apartment. It feels like every time I walk around a corner, I feel like I should see someone there.”
“Well, when I picked you guys up from the airport…” here it seemed as if Jennifer wasn’t going to continue.
“Yes?” prompted Lisa.
“Well, after I dropped you off… and I was going home… I just kept turning around to look in the backseat because I swear someone was still sitting there.”
“What do you mean?” Lisa asked.
“I don’t know. It just felt like I could see the flutter of a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Something dark…”