“Where did she say again?” Greg looked around as he drove up a narrow and twisted path through a beautiful forest. Green overtook the outside of his window; bushes, trees, everywhere, as far as he could see. Same view for his wife as well. Hell, were they even on the trail anymore?
“There!” Dina pointed ahead to an old branchless tree that stood taller than its cousins. It was thick and wide, old and rotted, and not only hard to miss because of its girth but because of the drop only feet away from it. Here, is where they were headed. Fifteen miles from the highway. They parked in front of the ancient tree, stepped out of the car, and waited for the other party.
New parents Greg and Dina were on the hunt for a new home. A place they could grow and stretch their legs because their apartment suffocated them. And with a newborn, a one-bedroom apartment felt a lot like a studio. They wanted a country home. Away from the city noise and unpredictable violence. After four months of searching for the perfect place in their price range, their realtor brought them good news of a two-story, 3-bedroom cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The catch; the listing agent had to show them the property. The listing agent only.
Dina had found the home online, showed Greg, and together they brought it to their realtor’s attention. After making contact with the selling agent, their realtor told them it was irregular, this entire situation. That she’d never heard of the agency, and asked if they wanted to look elsewhere. But to Greg and Dina, they already looked elsewhere…this was it. They wanted to jump on it before someone else snagged it. Dina promised to skype the realtor once they’d made it so she could be there without being there.
Blinded by how close they were to owning their own home, they ignored their realtor’s reservations. The couple waited for the selling agent behind the tree, before the cliff, and shared the wonderful view from the top of the world, they were already sold.
“You must be Greg and Dina.”
“Oh!” Greg yelped as Dina jumped into his arms. They looked back to a woman standing by their car. A short woman with a dark blazer and a short dress wearing heels, attire not made for the woods. Her face was loud with makeup and her hair pulled back into a simple ponytail.
“Hi,” Dina waved, nervously chuckling as she stepped away from her husband. “Nice to meet you.”
“Shall we?” the lady asked, welcoming them to follow her down the road, on foot.
They didn’t see another car, only theirs. Were they walking the rest of the way? They didn’t know, but Greg thought it was odd. She looked harmless, maybe a little weird but regular. But as they walked on, Greg had a bad feeling about her. Nevertheless, they followed her deeper into the woods.
“I didn’t dress for a hike today,” Dina joked.
But seriously, where was this woman taking them? To their future home or to a dark cave somewhere filled with critters and creatures and bears?
The further they trekked, the more nervous Greg became. Dina would follow this woman over an active volcano if it meant seeing their new home, he knew. She’d practically told him back in their apartment that this was the house they’re buying. Enough walking, though. He’d had enough and just as he was about to speak up, there it was. Not the house, but a car, parked behind a bush. A golf cart, modified with gigantic wheels. At least they didn’t have to walk anymore.
Dina hopped in the front next to the agent, while Greg had the backseat to himself. The ride was a lot smoother in the cart than in their actual vehicle. The same view, though. Trees and bushes—woods all around them.
The agent wasn’t much of a talker, she nodded and “mhmm-ed” everything Dina said or talked about; mostly about their neighborhood and being newlyweds. Telling this strange lady all of their business.
“We didn’t get your name, ma’am?” Greg asked.
It seemed to catch her off guard as if she didn’t think they were going to ask her such a complex question. The woman stuttered. “Um, you can just call me A.”
“A?” Dina asked.
“And what is A short for?” Greg wondered.
Stuttering again, pausing, thinking… Why is she thinking. “A-gent-a.”
“Agenta?” Dina questioned.
“You’re an agent named Agenta?” Greg side-eyed that. But wait…they were passing that big ugly branchless tree. “Are we going in circles?”
“No, we’re nearly there.”
No way that distinctive tree could be duplicated. The cliff, too. Especially in a forest where, for nearly fifteen miles, all they saw were trees and bushes. Perhaps his wife had the same thoughts as he did, because she didn’t speak for the rest of the trip. Greg became impatient and anxious, shifting in his seat, moving around like a little kid on a road trip. Then they passed the tree again. What the fuck? Same tree. Same cliff. There was no doubt about it but no sign of their vehicle nearby. Maybe it wasn’t the same tree…they parked right in front it. Surely, they’d have seen their car.
“What’s happening?” he said aloud. “Ma’am?”
She didn’t answer. Her eyes remained forward.
“Agent!” He raised his voice. Dina turned and gave her husband that ‘what’s wrong’ look.
“Oh. We’re here,” the agent announced.
There it was, the wide two-story cabin they’d gawked over in pictures. In person, it was even more beautiful.
“Oh my God, babe. Do you see?” Dina walked toward the structure, pointing. Greg pulled his phone out and called their realtor. No signal. He tried to video call her. No signal.
“Dammit,” he blurted out.
Dina returned. “What happened?”
He showed her the phone. “No service.”
“Oh. That.” The agent butted in. “A tower went down over the weekend. But they should have it back up and running in no time.”
“See. No problem.” Dina smiled.
Greg couldn’t smile back. He couldn’t get over this odd meeting; the golfcart ride here; the driving in circles; the bullshit cell phone tower that supposedly went down. It was all suspect to him. He kept his phone out and continued to search for bars as the agent started the tour of the front porch with Dina.
His wife was mesmerized by the home, and to be a good husband, he put his reservations aside and followed her inside. Then, he fell in love all over again. The pictures did this house an injustice. It was tall and seemed twice as big inside. Wood flooring everywhere, log walls all around. The grand stairway straight ahead from the door that looked like it’d been picked out of a mansion. The spacious floorplan made him want to do a summersault right there in the middle of the foyer.
Before they ventured into another room, “All right, what’s the catch?” Greg joked.
The agent laughed. A good, personable laugh that not only made Greg smile, but comforted him. His phone went into his pocket and his focus was on the home now.
The kitchen was made for a chef, the dining room had to have been built to host every thanksgiving; there was a family and living room on either side of the home that had huge bay windows. Upstairs mirrored the downstairs; three large bedrooms with a master walk-in closet that could have been converted into a fourth bedroom. Dina cried when she went out on the master bedroom deck and checked out the beautiful view. Greg joined her, marveling at how there wasn’t a building in site. Not a gunshot or traffic noise could be heard. Just the trees swaying, the wind blowing, the birds chirping. Greg was sold. He was ready. Where are the papers? Let’s get to signing.
Once the tour of the second floor ended, the agent called them to the dining room to talk numbers. On the way down, Dina tried to get a hold of their realtor once more. If she couldn’t be present for this, she needed to hear what the agent had to say. Greg was last down the steps and as he followed, he looked around, still admiring the home, and saw a door underneath the stairway. There was no knob, and it was painted over in what Greg could only imagine was an attempt to hide it. But the door was cracked open. Enough to see darkness behind it. They’d toured this area already, the hall that led to the guest bathroom. They would’ve noticed a cracked door in the wall.
Thinking it was a closet, Greg walked over, slipped his fingers inside the darkness and grabbed the doorframe. When he opened it, a cold draft tackled his midsection, making him jump back. When the light from the rest of the home shined inside the room, he saw a stairway that led down.
“Hey? There’s a—stairs down here,” he called out. Before he heard a response, he walked in. This wasn’t in the pictures.
He felt around the wall for a switch and when he found it, he flipped it. Nothing. That wouldn’t stop him. He took out his phone, turned on the flashlight and proceeded down the stairway. Each step seemed to creak louder than the last one, and there were many steps. Even with the bright light, it was hard for him to see the end. It was cold down there, and foggy. Growing up in California, he’d never been in a basement. He didn’t imagine it’d be this far down.
“Greg?” Dina called once he made it to the bottom. He turned and flashed the light at the top, but didn’t see her, only a cloud of fog.
“Down here, babe. Come check this out.” He turned the light on the room and saw nothing but cabinets along the walls and old boxes. “And be careful. The steps are old as shit.”
To be tucked away and hidden from buyers, Greg expected more. It was a little underwhelming, but it did give the house some points.
“Babe?” Dina joined him and touched his shoulder. “What is this?”
“There wasn’t anything about a basement,” she said.
“Look at this,” he flashed the light on one of the walls. Then swung it around to the other. “Get a heater down here, be great for a studio.”
“Or an office.”
The possibilities were endless. She cuddled with him down there as they continued to marvel at the plainness of the basement. The extra square footage made the value of this home jump. Increased their interest. “I think I’m sold, babe,” Greg confessed.
“You were sold upstairs.” They laughed.
He couldn’t see her, but he felt that big smile of hers. That positive energy she maintained the entire trip up here had finally oozed into his senses. “Just wish we had a light down here.”
Then, the lights turned on. The room appeared in front of them. No boxes. No cabinets like before, but…a coffin. Smack dead in the center of the basement. Three people stood behind it, cloaked in black. The walls were further back than the flashlight showed, and were made of dirt…not wood. The ceiling, too.
“The fuck?” Greg took a step back from the coffin as Dina squeezed his arm.
“Babe?” she whined.
Together, they turned to the stairway and the agent stood there, blocking their escape. A scary smile plastered on her face, like it was forced, unhuman-like. She kicked Dina in her chest and sent her falling back in front of the coffin.
“No!” Greg yelled. He went to help her but two of the people rushed around the coffin and grabbed each of his arms. They were bigger than him and stronger; his fight only amounted to his feet kicking and flailing.
As Dina struggled to get up, coughing and holding her chest, the third person came around the coffin and pinned her down.
“Dina!” Greg screamed as he continued to fight for freedom. Then, he saw the agent walk toward her with a knife. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…wha—wha—what’re you doing?” As he plead, Dina was pinned down. The agent took the knife, grabbed Dina’s wrist and cut it. Not too deep, just a little gash.
They lifted her to her feet and held her, much like they held Greg. Then, the three people, with the agent, started chanting something in a foreign language. Greg and Dina looked at each other, crying, struggling to break loose and escape but these people were unnaturally strong. The chanting was so loud, Greg couldn’t hear himself and he couldn’t hear his wife’s cries.
Once the chanting stopped, the top of the coffin busted open. The lid smashed into the ceiling like a bomb went off from within. A figure rose from the tomb and turned their way. It was a man, a young man, naked and pale. He jumped out of the death bed, landing on his bare feet with such a grace and elegance that the anger inside Greg shriveled away. He looked at this man in awe, his fight to be free completely stopped. That is, until the young man took sight of Dina’s wrist.
“No, no, no,” Greg begged as the young man crept toward her. He stopped all cries, speeches and pleads when the young man growled and barked at him. The young man then returned his sights to Dina and opened his mouth to fangs, not teeth. Fucking fangs!
The young man darted over to his wife’s wrist in a flash and ate her arm. Dina screamed.
Greg looked on in horror. He choked on fear, unable to speak, almost gagging as he leaned his head forward to stop what the monster was doing to his wife. But nothing came out. As the man continued to eat his wife’s arm, Greg was carried to the box and tossed inside.
Still pinned down so he wouldn’t fight, his view was limited to the dirt ceiling. But he could hear his wife screaming and crying. Could hear the monster chomping at her.
It was colder in the coffin than out there. He could see fog shooting from his mouth as he panted. Then, the agent appeared between the two people holding him down. “Your blood offer to the owner of the home has been accepted. Thank you.”
As the agent disappeared from his view, the lid came closing him in the box. Keeping him there, storing him, until it was his turn.
© 2022 M. Sydnor Jr.