Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1) by Karina Halle
I stood in a round, white room with only a porthole-shaped window to break up the monotony. The view outside was nothing more than an inky void. The smell of tidal pools and rotting kelp seeped in through the cracks where the silicone had crumbled away. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there. But I knew something had summoned me.
I spun around, suddenly conscious of a door, and saw a saffron-colored glow spilling out from underneath the doorframe, mildly illuminating the stark walls. Chilled air flowed in with the light and tickled the tops of my bare feet. The blue nail polish on my toe was chipped, making it look like I had half a toenail. This caught my attention more than the cold hardwood floor and the rough splinters beneath.
The lights went out. The door whooshed open, almost soundlessly, and a huge rush of arctic wind battered my body, whipping my nightgown around me like a pink, polyester flag.
The floorboards creaked. I felt the weight of some unknown mass travel along the length of them to my feet. I couldn’t move and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
The lights from outside the room came on again, illuminating the air abrasively. My eyes stung. A pounding sound filled my ears. I covered them with my hands until I realized it came from my very heart.
In the doorway I saw a silhouette of a man.
My heart, and the pounding, stopped. The man came for me, a mass of unfathomable malevolence. I screamed and screamed until the black depths of his silhouette was all I could see. I fell into him, fell into the darkness, in one never-ending cry.
A pair of hands grabbed my arms and pulled me up. They shook me until the darkness behind my eyes bled out into a blinding white.
And suddenly, I was in my bedroom lying underneath a smorgasbord of tangled sheets with my sister Ada peering over me. Her forehead furrowed with concern, making her look years older than fifteen.
She let go of my arms and stepped back.
“You scared the shit out of me, Perry,” she grumbled.
I propped myself up on my elbows and looked around my room at the concert posters on the walls and stacks of vinyl and CDs in the corner, taking comfort in their familiarity. My rarely touched electric guitar rested haphazardly against the window seat, a pleasing contrast to my stuffed animal collection.
I eyed my alarm clock. Two minutes until it blared uncontrollably. The observation was hazy, like I was not quite in my body yet.
“Well?” Ada said, crossing her arms. She was still in her pajamas, but her heavy-handed makeup was meticulously applied.
“Well what?” I repeated.
“Um, hello! Any explanation why your screams made me put down my mascara in mid-stroke and come rushing in here?”
“You have good hearing?”
Her voice bordered on a shrill hissy fit. Ada was always a degree or two away from full-on teenage angst.
“Well, I don’t know. I had a bad dream. Or something…”
It was a dream now, wasn’t it? My memory was disintegrating into bits and pieces, and the more I tried to recall it, the more I came up blank. But that feeling, that horrible feeling of dread still clung to the recesses of my mind like sticky cobwebs. Even the bright autumn sunshine that shone through my window wasn’t cleaning it up.
“Or something,” Ada scoffed. “It sounded like you were being murdered, you know. You’re lucky Mom didn’t hear you.”
She peered at me closer, inspecting my face for signs of mental illness. She did that often.
I rolled my eyes and got out of bed, feeling self-conscious with my thunder thighs rolling beneath my long Bad Religion T-shirt that doubled as a nightgown. Ada was as thin as a rail, but in the most envious way possible. She got the wholesome, toothsome Swedish good looks from my mother’s side of the family. Smooth skin, bright eyes, naturally blonde hair that she bleached (for some reason) and a long, lean build.
As my own luck would have it, I got my dad’s Italian side. Short (I’m 5’2”) with thick dark hair and big gray/blue eyes that acted as a mood ring (so I’ve been told). I’ve got a curvy build…at least that’s what I say when I feel like being nice to myself. In reality, I used to be about sixty pounds heavier, but despite the weight loss, it’s not enough. The fact is, I’m always blaming everything on those last fifteen pounds.
I walked over to the mirror and searched my face for blazing signs of craziness. I looked like crap but often did in the morning before my five cups of coffee kicked in.
My alarm went off. Ada and I nearly jumped out of our skin.
She held her hand to her chest as I ran over and whacked the alarm off. I gave her a quick look.
“I’m OK, Ada. It was just a dream. I don’t even remember what it was about anymore.”
She cocked her penciled brow at me. “Okaaaay. But if I get called out of school because you were in an ‘accident,’ again, I’ll be very upset.”
She turned and left the room. I let out a snort. No you wouldn’t, I thought. You would love any excuse to get out of school.
And frankly, I would have loved any excuse to get out of work. I sighed deeply. I felt a tinge of bizarre sadness now that the excitement of the dream was over. The terror that had pumped through my veins faded quickly in the morning light.
I got ready for the day and left the house, making my way to my motorbike that rested in the driveway. At least my mode of transportation was still exciting.
I know, I know. A motorbike. I’ve heard it all: It’s dangerous, I’ll die, I’ll look like a douchebag. It’s all true, but I wouldn’t trade in Put-Put for anything in the world.
Put-Put wasn’t a big bike like a Harley (I’m not that kind of a douchebag) but a black 2004 Fireblade. I thought it was the bee’s knees. Sleek and quick as hell. I wasn’t a reckless driver, though, and most of the time I stayed at the same speed as all the other vehicles on the road. Until there’s a traffic jam, and then I’ll overtake everyone on the shoulder, yelling “Later, Bitchez!” through my helmet as I pass.
I got Put-Put four years ago for my eighteenth birthday. I was going through my “stuntwoman” phase, when I thought becoming a professional stuntwoman would be more exciting and lucrative than a career in advertising. After motorbike lessons, a year of karate, a few skydiving sessions, and weekends spent at the firing range learning how to use a gun, I abandoned ship and ended up getting a communications degree. Not that being a stuntwoman wasn’t for me, but I honestly lost interest. My mother calls me wishy-washy. I just think I’m delightfully impulsive.
Oddly enough, I kind of regret getting my degree. They say sometimes you have to go to school in order to find out what you don’t want to do versus what you want to do. And guess what? After four years at the University of Oregon, I decided advertising wasn’t the career for me.
But what can you do. After I finished school and moved from Eugene back home to Portland, the economy hit rock bottom and I was lucky enough to get a job, let alone one related to my degree. I got hired at an agency in Portland, which could not have made my parents happier.
I, on the other hand, could be happier. I’ve been a damn receptionist for almost a year. But as my parents like to remind me every time I complain, at least I have a job. A soul-sucking job I hate with all my being, but at least I have one. They have a point, though. At the moment, it’s really the only sense of identity I have.
Anyway, my job is where I was headed that morning. I brought Put-Put down the long driveway and contemplated taking my bike in the opposite direction. East would be nice. I could zip along the Columbia River until I hit Idaho, then maybe join the cowboys in Montana or head south to the deserts where my heart would soar like the mesa-grazing eagles. But as I had done every weekday before this one, I shook the fantasy out of my head and roared down the road towards the city and responsibility. Having a motorbike was such a tease.
“Good afternoon, Allingham and Associates, Perry speaking,” I said into the phone. Lunchtime was approaching and I desperately wanted this mundane morning to end. I transferred the call to the respective party and eyed the clock on my computer that counted down to when Alana took over as my relief.
Alana used to be the receptionist before I came along and I suppose the girl hated the job as much as I do. She was promoted to office manager and completely resents the fact that for two fifteen-minute breaks and one lunch hour, she has to cover reception for me. I cannot tell you how many times I have come back to find irate callers on the line. Something tells me that she answers the phone using my name and just treats people like crap to get me in trouble, though I haven’t been able to prove this yet.
Yeah, I’m the first to admit I’m not exactly the best receptionist material. I kind of feel like reception is beneath me, but because it’s with a reputable ad agency and I just got my degree, it’s necessary to pay my dues. I figured I could start at reception and move my way up.
That said, I hoped my “due” days were coming to a merciful end. I’d been there almost a year with not even a hint of advancement. The economy wasn’t making matters any easier.
I’m stuck. While I live at home in my childhood room and get nice home-cooked meals every night, I wanted to get the hell of out of Dodge.
I know I’m only twenty-two, but I totally thought I would have it made by this age. That’s highly ambitious, but I can’t help it. I’ve always grown up feeling like I was special, like I was meant to do something really amazing with my life and make an impact on people. That’s probably why I’ve dabbled in so many different genres over the years. From guitar lessons to stunts, to photography summer camp, to horseback riding, to taking painting and sculpting courses at the Y, to, last but not least, writing. I’ve tried everything to find my something and, in the end, walked away with nothing concrete to show for it. Maybe if I just buckled down and stayed with one thing it could happen, but my fear is that everything else might pass me by.
Naturally, I thought advertising would be the perfect platform for me to showcase my creativity and make an impact on the world but just like the ads themselves, nothing ever is as it seems.
“OK, I’m here now.”
The nasal voice of Alana shot through my thoughts like a drill. I looked up at her while removing my headset and gave her a smile. A fake smile, but a smile nonetheless.
I got up and displayed the desk proudly with my arms. “It’s all yours.”
She gave me a quick sneer before plopping down on the ramrod chair with an exaggerated sigh.
I grabbed my bag and quickly headed out the door before she decided to use the bathroom or something. I caught the elevator down and headed out to my usual bench beside a coffee shop and pulled out my iPhone to pilfer the free Wi-Fi.
It was a beautiful fall day with a sun that warmed your arms and nary a brown leaf in sight. The Pacific Northwest enjoyed an Indian summer this year, and so far the rain had taken a vacation for much of September. Usually, at this time of year—hell, at all times of the year—we are submitted to a daily battering of rain, general dampness, and a wind that likes to turn your umbrellas inside out.
After I perused Facebook for ten minutes, learning absolutely nothing interesting about the people in my life (or slightly outside of my life, as seems to be the case with Facebook), I changed my status to a song lyric and moved on to read my sister’s blog.
Ada started this fashion blog about six months ago and she’s actually been doing really well with it. She’s always been very fashion-forward. How can she not be when she fits into all of our mother’s hand-me-downs? Our mother used to be a model way back in the day, so she has tons of designer goods in storage. Of course, with my generous thighs, big ol’ bubble butt and giant rack, I don’t wear the clothes as well as my sister. They’re not my style, anyway.
But I appreciate the way my sister can rock the designer stuff with vintage items and apparently so does everyone else. Just by posting a picture of herself every day and writing a blurb about what she was wearing, she gets tons of hits to her blog, enough so that she started making money from advertising.
It’s funny, my sister and I kind of grew apart when I went off to college. I guess the age difference was really apparent, and to be honest, I had no idea how to relate to her. She was a preteen when I left and when I came back, I still wanted to treat her like my cute little sister.
Now, because we’ve had a year bunked in the same house again, I do feel closer to her. She is starting to become more like a friend, which is great in some ways, but sometimes I wonder when I should play the role of the big sister. When I see her posing flamboyantly in a skimpy outfit on display for the entire world to see, I can’t understand what she’s after. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting myself out there like that. But the last time I mentioned she could become a prime target for stalkers (or even worse), she just brushed it off and made the point that mom approved.
I’ll admit that I am a little jealous, which is kind of ridiculous because I’m her older sister. But she’s got her path; she’s following it and making progress.
The exact opposite of me.
My cell rang, leaving that depressing thought in my head as I answered.
“Hi, pumpkin,” my mother said in her lilting voice. She still had a faint Swedish accent but for the life of me I couldn’t really hear it.
“Hi, Mom,” I answered with a sigh, knowing she was just checking up on me to make sure I was all in one piece.
“How are you feeling? Any troubles?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“How is work? You still have a job, right?”
I let out a puff of air again and muttered “yes.” This was her daily question. The daily reminder to not even think about quitting my job. It’s like she knew. >
“Listen,” she continued, “what are you and Ada doing this weekend? Uncle Albert was hoping we could all get together.”
My dad’s brother Albert lived on a huge plot of beach-side land on the foggy Oregon coast and thanks to the proximity to us we often drove out there to see him. He was divorced and lived alone with his twin boys, Matthew and Tony, two nineteen-year-old troublemakers.
I had nothing planned for the weekend. If I didn’t go to the coast, I would just end up sitting at home and having a Lost marathon by myself.
After I told her I’d be there and hung up, I stretched back on my bench, the sun heating up my maroon leggings, and half-heartedly nibbled on some cut-up veggies. I eyed a nearby Subway and almost succumbed to the call of a melted bacon sub but resisted.
I finished up and plodded back to the office, defeated by the drudgery of the nine-to-five life. The sun teased the freckles across my nose and the lightest breeze tossed my hair so I could see the shades of violet dye in the black strands. I wanted to stay outside, surrounded by the quaint buildings, the golden green trees, the people bustling to-and-fro in lives more exciting than mine, and most of all I wanted these last rays of summer to last forever. But duty called, as it always did.
I walked into the lobby and waited for the elevator. As I stood there on the cold, hard tiles, I felt the presence of someone behind me. Strange, I didn’t see anyone when I came in, nor did I hear the door open or close behind me.
A creepy feeling swept over me. I remembered the dream I had. Suddenly, I felt inexplicably afraid.
I hesitated at turning around. In my “overactive imagination” I thought I would see something horrible, but I did it anyway.
There actually was someone there sitting on the white lobby couch. It was an old lady who looked like she was trying disastrously hard to be a young lady. She must have been about eighty, wearing a red taffeta dress adorned with tiny pom poms and outlandish makeup smeared across her face. She had exaggerated purple eyeliner, Tammy Faye Bakker eyelashes, a swipe of orange across her sagging cheekbones, and most disturbing of all, red lipstick that was half on her lips and half on her teeth. She sat there smiling broadly at me. Frozen, it seemed, or locked in time.
I tried to hide my shock—I don’t know how I didn’t see this piece of work when I came in—and gave her a quick smile before promptly turning around. I felt relieved when the elevator doors finally opened.
I walked quickly inside and hit the close button before anything else. I looked up at her as the doors closed. She was as still as ever, the wide, maniacal-looking grin still stretched across her face. Her eyes, white and unblinking, did not match her smile.
The doors shut and I let out a large sigh of relief. I had actually been shaking a little bit. That horrible feeling lasted for another five minutes until I slipped on my headset and the daily barrage of rude callers and impatient visitors wiped the scene out of my head.
Darkhouse (Experiment in Terror #1)
- - Come Alive (Experiment in Terror #7)
- - Fighting to Forget
- - Love in English
- - Loving Mr. Daniels
- - Mind Over Marriage
- - Wethering the Storm
- - One Day In The Life
- - Ravenous (Book 1 The Ravening Series)
- - Stealing Parker
- - The Eye of Minds
- - The Invention of Wings
- - Awakening the Fire (Guardian Witch #1)
- - Bloodfire (Blood Destiny #1)
- - Bloodlust (Blood Destiny #5)
- - Losing Hope (Hopeless #2)
- - Point of Retreat (Slammed #2)
- - Craving Redemption
- - Final Call
- - Playing for keeps
- - Ryder (A Resisting Love Novella)
- - Ruins (Partials Sequence #3)
- - James Potter and the Vault of Destinies
- - Taint
- - Becoming Calder
- - Finding Eden
- - Assumption (Underground Kings #1)
- - Loving Mr. Daniels
- - Slade (Walk Of Shame #1)