Mali was stirring the embers. "One more before bed," she replied after Casey and Joe had once again joined the circle of travelers.
"Bed? I believe we're sleeping in cheap sleeping bags in cheap tents bought at a Wal-Mart," Parker corrected.
"Whatever. One more story."
Joe spoke up. "Well, I have a scary story for you to dwell on as your mind grows dark...."
Matthew had been warned about the house. It looked ominous enough at the top of the hill, with a twisty drive leading to it's front gate. Not even Stephen King could have described the sheer terror that gathered in your gut as you stared into the windows and it's soul stared back at you, stark and merciless. The warning was given by a local hag, long considered a witch by the young children of the small neighborhood. She simply stated that the house was evil.
"I doubt that there is anything evil in that house," Matthew assured the crazy woman.
"I didn't say that there was something evil in the house. I said the house was evil."
As Matthew brushed the comment aside and continue to claim that nothing was wrong with the house, the lady muttered "Demon fire. It burns flesh, blood, and bone...and nothing else," and went on her way. Matthew made a note to avoid further contact.
Matthew had a young wife, Stephanie, and he lived and died for her approval. In the first year of their fledgling marriage, she had asked for a big house, old and with character. Something she could decorate and show off. He had found the house for a surprising affordable price. The interior left something to be desired, but he was confident in his choice, and so was his wallet.
Stephanie loved it.
The first week in the house was typical. A lot of moving and rearranging, some new dry wall and painting, and finally, the purchasing of expensive furniture and decorative items to set the right tone. Matthew had no trouble sleeping that first week.
It was a Sunday night, and they had gone to bed early. Stephanie slept soundly. Matthew slept next to her, restless. He awoke with a start at exactly 3 a.m. Something was amiss. The house groaned and creaked with a sudden weight. The air felt colder. He felt as though....the house had woken.
The feeling had left by the morning sunrise. They went about their Monday routine of work, then dinner, then TV, then bed. "I'm feeling a little frisky tonight, Matthew," Stephanie told him, climbing out of bed and making her way toward the master bedroom's small bathroom. She sashayed her little tush in her slinky nightdress as she entered, causing Matthew's undivided attention. "Is that so, dear?" he said, unable to hid the excitement from his voice. "I think it's time to christen the house," she teased, and shut the bathroom door. Matthew anxiously adjusted in his bed, preparing his body. When Stephanie screamed, he sat up with a start.
The bathroom door flung open, and Stephanie was on fire. She continued to scream and flail as she clambered toward the bed. Matthew began to shout in anguish, struggling to untangle himself from under the neatly tucked-in sheets. That's when he noticed something briefly in the chaos.
Her slinky nightdress was not burning. Just her body, her hair, even her eyes seemed to be aflame. But it got worse every second. When he finally managed to release himself from the bed's grasp, it was too late. Her skin had been burned to a burnt black, her hair gone, and the muscles slowly dripping off her bones. "STEPHANIE!" he screamed. She had fallen completely to the floor. In his panic he ripped the thickest blanket off the bed and threw it over her. The blanket did not burn, but the soft glow of the flames still flickered underneath. When he had ripped the blanket off of her, all that was left was ash and a slinky nightdress. The floor wasn't even singed. "Dear God," he whispered to himself.
He thought of calling the police only momentarily. He would sound insane, and he would be suspected as the cause of her death. He felt the evil encircle him, enticing him. He felt challenged. He had no time to mourn his lost wife, only avenge her. But how?
He grabbed a bucket underneath the kitchen sink and began to fill it with water from the kitchen faucet.
He and Stephanie had met the priest at the local Catholic church the day before. He remembered that he lived in the house closest to the giant Gothic cathedral, and he prayed that he would hear his loud, impatient knocks at 1 in the morning.
The priest found it odd that he had to bless a bucket full of tap water, but Matthew didn't explain, just pressed that it was urgent as he shook with adrenaline and fear.
Back at the house, he stared down the hallways, seeing shadows play with eyes, mocking him. "Where are you, you son of a bitch?!" he shouted into the rooms and corridors. He had no idea what he was summoning, but he had to find it. It killed his wife. Then he remembered...the bathroom.
Shutting the door behind him, he stared into the mirror. He felt his body get increasingly warm. "WHERE ARE YOU?" he screamed.
The fire erupted from the mirror above the sink, completely encasing him.
Almost involuntarily, he thrust the Holy bucket above his head and the water splashed down on him.
It had no effect.
"DID YOU THINK YOU COULD USE MY OWN BLOOD AGAINST ME?" boomed a voice that can only be described as unearthly. "I AM THIS LAND. I AM THIS WATER. I AM THIS FIRE."
The fire seared through his veins, spilling from his mouth and nose and eyes. His skin flaked and floated away as ash, his bones and teeth even melted. Nothing was left but black and gray ash and un-burned clothes and the echoes of terror-filled screams of agony.
And the house was satisfied. But it still waits...
"Goodnight," Joe replied, as the last glowing ember fizzled to same black as the night that surrounded them.