Short Story – The Contest
I was working on private piece last week so I didn’t have a chance to post a public story. I know not too many people read my fiction but if you are one of those folks, I’m sorry to have missed you last week.
I’m still playing around with horror and ghost stories this week. I’ve always been fascinated with ghosts. I think the idea of a place that somehow holds on to people is fascinating. What binds them there?
So this week features a dialogue heavy story about a young man trying to beat a haunted house. If there was such a thing as a haunted house, I’m not sure if you could ever beat it.
As always, please feel free to comment, share, tell me you hate it, or ignore this story completely!
“3:00 AM. Only five more hours to go and I’m a millionaire!”
The replies to Paul’s post were few but that was to be expected. It was 3:00 in the morning. A few friends said “way to go” or “you can do it” but most of them were probably asleep.
He started to grind some more coffee. Staying awake for 24 hours sounds easy until there are consequences if you don’t. His body was, it seemed, working against him.
In five hours, though, he would be a million dollars richer and he could sleep as much as he wanted.
A direct message popped up on his screen from someone named Brianna. He did what he always did when he received a DM from someone he didn’t know and he clicked over to her profile. They had a few friends in common but when he looked at her pictures, he couldn’t remember where he’d seen her before. She looked familiar, though, so they must have met.
He’d gotten used to the messages from people he’d never met. Ever since he turned his 24 hours in a “haunted house” into a Facebook event, he was never wanting for new friends.
The message just said “Hi Paul.”
Since the internet was quiet and he needed to stay awake, he typed back “hi yourself.”
“Why are you up so late?”
“Don’t you know?”
“No. I just saw your post on a friend’s wall and figured I’d found someone who was just as awake as me.”
“I’m pretty tired, actually.”
“Why don’t you go to bed, then?”
“If I can stay awake in this ‘haunted’ house until 8:00 AM, I win a million dollars. I think I’ll sleep when I’m rich.”
‘Oh! I guess I should have read further back on your wall! LOL.”
He didn’t really know if she was trying to flirt. She was cute so if she was flirting, that was OK.
“So is the house really haunted?”
“Not that I’ve seen. It’s drafty and the floors creak a little. No moaning or chains clattering or floating candelabras.”
“Hardly seems worth a million dollars.”
“I know. I thought for sure I’d be getting the full poltergeist treatment by now. Those ghosts are running out of time.”
“So you have to stay awake the whole time?”
“Yeah. It’s one of the rules. Nobody has ever made it the full 24 hours. Most of them fell asleep.”
“Why’s that? I’d think a haunted house would be pretty exciting.”
“It is for the first few hours. But after a while, you’ve seen everything and you’re just sitting around waiting for the night to end. Honestly, I wish the ghosts would show up. It’d be more exciting.”
“So you said ‘most’ of them fall asleep. What happened to the rest of them?”
“Two of them committed suicide.”
“Whoa! That’s weird.”
“Yeah. It is. A girl hanged herself here about twenty years ago and there was another guy who drowned himself in the bathtub just a few months back. I posted some links if you go back through my timeline.”
“Oh great! I’ll go look at them. Thanks! Good luck!”
Paul finished making a fresh cup of coffee. The rules to win the million dollars were really simple. Stay awake in the house for a day. You could bring whatever you wanted into the house with you. You could maintain contact with the outside world via computer if you wanted. You just had to stay awake for 24 hours.
He stood up and walked around the house for a while. He’d seen every room more than once now and he had yet to find any evidence of ghosts.
The house had been built in the late 1800’s and as far as he could tell, there were no ancient Native American burial grounds within fifty miles of the land. The original owner, Marian Huxley, had been a widower with three children. Mrs. Huxley lived in the house until her death some thirty years later.
Her eldest daughter took possession of the house when her mother died. While there were stories about strange occurrences none was stranger than the fact that the daughter, Mrs. Annabelle Graham, never set foot in the house following her mother’s funeral.
Not, that is, until her body was found in the living room with a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple.
Annabelle’s son, Tobias Graham, moved into the home following his mother’s death. By all accounts, he was a troubled young man who was most likely suffering from a deep depression brought on in no small part by way early 20th century society viewed homosexuals.
His body was found on the front lawn, where he had apparently landed after throwing himself from a second story window.
And so the history of the house had gone up until it became uninhabited in the late 1970’s. It continued to pass down in the line from Mrs. Marion Huxley but each new owner would, eventually, take their lives inside the house.
At that point, the house passed into public ownership where it became a historical landmark and reception hall. Those who worked there often talked of strange apparitions and falling paintings but no concrete evidence of the supernatural had ever been reported.
The million dollar offer had been created by a trust in the name of the descendants of Marian Huxley. In spite of the seemingly simple requirement, dozens of people had failed in the simple task of staying awake in the house for the required 24 hours.
At 4:00, Paul made an update just in case anyone was still reading.
“4:00 AM and I’m still here! Four more hours to go! I know I’m going to make it!”
Immediately, Brianna popped up with another DM.
“Way to go, Paul!”
“Thanks. I’m trying to keep moving around and I’m drinking way too much coffee.”
“I’ll bet you are going to make it for sure!”
“I don’t want to assume anything. I mean, nobody has ever been able to to it. But right now, I’m feeling pretty confident.”
He wasn’t sure why Brianna was so interested in him. When he looked at her wall, everything seemed bland. She shared a lot of memes. A LOT of memes. She hardly ever made posts of her own. The few pictures he could find of her were blurry or from a bad angle. Still, her face looked familiar.
“How many others have tried, do you know?”
“I think there have been one hundred and five.”
“And most of them fell asleep?”
“All but the two who committed suicide.”
“I wonder why they did it?”
“Who knows? They were both kind of lonely people. Maybe the isolation of staying in a house all alone was just more than they could bear.”
“I guess another good question would be why so many others fell asleep.”
“Nobody knows that either. The few people I talked to said they were doing great and they couldn’t even remember lying down. They were woken up by the staff in the morning.”
“Did any of them see ghosts?”
“No. For a house that is supposed to be haunted, it doesn’t seem like anyone has seen any ghosts.”
“So what are you going to do with the million dollars, Paul?”
“I’m going to quit my job and become a full time artist. I’m a painter.”
“Yeah. I saw that on your profile! Really good stuff!”
“Thanks! So what do you do?”
“I used to be a banker. Right now I’m not doing a whole lot of anything.”
“Looking for a new career?”
“You could say that.”
“Well maybe you should find a career where you work nights.”
“Ha ha! I am rather nocturnal these days. So Paul, I need to ask you a question and I confess, I’ve been kind of avoiding doing so because this has been such a nice conversation.”
“Do you like it here?”
“You mean online?”
“No. I mean in the house. Do you like it here?”
“What do you mean ‘here?’”
“I mean in this house.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“No, Paul. It isn’t. It is very serious.”
“Are you watching me?”
“Yes, Paul. I am. We all are. And we like you, Paul.”
Paul looked at the words on the screen and then looked around himself. He was still alone in the room. He went over to the window and looked outside. The streets were empty.
He went back to his keyboard.
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s a choice, Paul. A choice we all had to make. And you have to make it too. You can choose to stay here with us. Or you can choose to go to sleep.”
“I’m not tired.”
“No. I Imagine you are feeling very awake. Much like I felt twenty years ago, when I was given the same choice as you. The same choice everyone who stays in this house receives.”
Paul realized where he had seen that face before. It was in the news story about the girl who had hung herself. What was her name? The paper said it was Bri Lopez.
Or was it Brianna Lopez?
“That’s right, Paul. I was the one who hanged herself here. Mrs. Huxley and her family offered me the chance to live with them in this house forever. They are very good people, Paul, but a little old fashioned. They thought you and I might relate a little better.”
The cursor flashed on the screen and Paul found himself unable to type a response.
“Now Paul, we don’t have much time. Either you are going to have to lie down and go to sleep, in which case you won’t remember any of this conversation, or you need to join us. And there is only one way to cross over, Paul.”
Paul stopped typing and spoke out loud.
“Why would I want to kill myself?”
“I asked the same thing,” the writing on his computer continued, “and I was reminded of my own mortality. Mrs. Huxley built this home to give us the chance to live a life far beyond what most people experience. Life can be an awful bore, Paul. Why not try death?”
“I don’t want to die just yet.”
“Then lie down on the bed and close your eyes.”
“What if I don’t do either?”
“Do you know the man who drowned himself in the tub a few months ago?”
“He didn’t drown himself. And he isn’t in this house with us. I don’t know where he is now and I don’t want to know. There is darkness out there, Paul. This house is just on the edge of that darkness. He’s in the darkness and we couldn’t save him from it. Once you stay here with us, there are only two choices.”
“So I could just lie down and go to sleep and I wouldn’t remember any of this?”
“You could. But I don’t think you want to. I think you want to be remembered. I think you want to be able to tell people about this and believe me, they only way anyone will ever hear about what is happening to you right now is if you are here to tell them. You want people to know, don’t you Paul?”
A candelabra rose from the mantle by the fireplace and hovered in front of him.
“There’s your floating candelabra, Paul.”
It flew across the room and crashed into a mirror, sending shards of sharp glass falling to the floor.
“Just a few cuts on each wrist, Paul. You’ll hardly feel a thing.”
He reached down to pick up one of the shards and set it against his forearm.
“That’s it, Paul. By tomorrow afternoon, you’ll be famous!”
The glass punctured his skin and the blood began to flow. She was right. He hardly felt a thing.