On Tuesday we looked at where the Dark Tales from Innsmouth began with a reminder of the prologue for Fearless. Yesterday, because the story continued with Unearthed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, I figured it would be fun to see what happened at the start of that novella. Today, we’re looking at the introduction to Cursed: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.
Please remember, there’s still time to pre-order your copy of Escape: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth.
A fragrance of neglect hung in the air. It was the odour of second-hand clothes in charity shops; the subtle stink of long-forgotten corridors in derelict buildings; and the smell of uninhabited houses.
“This feels wrong,” Stuart whispered. “This is tantamount to burglary.”
“It’s not burglary,” David Middleton assured him. “We’re not stealing anything.”
“I didn’t say it was burglary,” Stuart said. His voice was low and soft, but not so quiet that it hid a note of testiness. “I said it was tantamount to burglary. Tantamount.”
“Did you know,” David began, “here in the UK, only 14 arrests are made for every 100 burglaries?”
Stuart eyed David sceptically. “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
David shrugged. “I only mention it because, even though what we’re doing isn’t technically burglary, I thought you might be reassured by the fact that so few burglaries result in prosecution.”
They stood in the majestic hallway of the abandoned Porter house. Dark blue shadows swathed them like a shroud. David knew better than to turn on any lights. That was a sure way to draw attention to the fact that the property now hosted illicit visitors. His eyes were used to the lack of light and he could make out the stripe of the regency wallpaper, the flow of the stairs up to the galleried landing and the hanging presence of an unlit chandelier above.
“Why is this place empty?” Stuart asked, peering myopically into the gloom around them.
“It’s a mystery,” David admitted. “The place was owned by a husband and wife: Mr and Mrs Porter. He went missing one night whilst he was out walking the dog.”
“What? Was he murdered or did he do a runner or something?”
David shook his head. “No. Just went missing.”
“Bloody hell,” Stuart muttered.
“Two days later his wife disappeared.”
Stuart sucked an exclamatory breath of surprise. “That’s terrible.”
“It really is,” David agreed. “The executors have put this place on the market at an inflated price, trying to cash in on a lucrative sale, but that’s not going to happen.” He smiled sadly, an expression that couldn’t be seen in the darkness, as he added, “They’re trying to sell an overpriced property in the middle of a very picky buyers’ market.” Glancing around the dark shadows he said, “This property is going to stay empty for a long time.”
Stuart considered him suspiciously. “You seem to know a lot about it.”
David shrugged. “The property is being managed by Murdoch’s, the estate agent where I work.” He lightly jangled a set of keys and added, “That’s how we were able to get in here so easily.” He could have added that it was because he had gained access using his employer’s keys that their presence on the property wasn’t technically burglary or breaking and entering, but he figured there was no sense reminding Stuart about the source of his earlier unease.
Stuart was looking around, his night-blind gaze trying to scour the darkest corners of the unfamiliar surroundings. “And you’re sure this place is empty?”
“It’s currently untenanted,” David said confidently. “And there’s not been a single viewer since it came on the market.” He drew breath, as though about to make some other point to assure Stuart that the house they were in was empty, when they both heard the deep, guttural shriek from above.
It was the unmistakable sound of a groaning floorboard.
“What the fuck?” Stuart muttered.
David tried to dismiss the noise as unimportant. “It’s probably just the house settling.” Even to his own ears, he didn’t sound convinced but he ploughed on as though, if he spoke about it with enough enthusiasm, he might make himself believe in this fatuous notion. “Old properties like this make lots of inexplicable noises but we only notice it during the quiet of the night.”
Upstairs a door slammed shut.
Stuart ducked as though the noise came from a weapon that had been aimed at his head. “I’m out of here,” he snapped. His words had a finality that brooked no argument. He lurched towards the kitchen and then bolted through the back door.
“Stuart,” David hissed.
But it was too late. Stuart was already gone and David was alone in the house with whatever was stepping on floorboards and slamming doors in the room above. David snorted with frustration.
If it was a tramp or a poverty-weakened squatter, David figured he could strongarm the bastard out of the building and then tell his boss about his heroism and receive an appropriate reward. He could picture himself saying, “I was driving past the property on my way home from the gym when I saw a light in one of the upstairs windows. I thought something was amiss and so I…”
In his mind’s eye the tramp was elderly and hurrying out of the building, apologising for the trespass and assuring David it would never happen again. It was only when David had climbed to the top of the stairs, and reached the galleried landing, that he considered the idea that the trespasser might not be so easy to remove from the property. If it was a young guy, or several young guys, David knew he could be in jeopardy. He occasionally visited the gym but he had no illusions about his abilities to be successful in a fight with an angry junkie, a coked up crackhead or a violent tramp. The last fight he’d been in had been a decade earlier, when he was at school. That had ended with him being knocked unconscious by a girl who was three years younger and he’d never fully recovered from the humiliation of that incident. The idea that he might now encounter someone using drugs, wielding a knife or involved in some other nefarious criminal act made him stand rigid as he contemplated the potential outcomes.
None of them were good.
His bowels threatened to turn to water.
Common sense told him it would be best to tiptoe down the stairs and get out of the house rather than forcing a confrontation. And David prided himself on responding to the dictates of common sense. He would get out of the property, send a text message to the rest of the Explorers Club telling them that tonight’s meeting had been cancelled, maybe even blame Stuart and say that their supporting guest speaker had become nervous and done a runner, and he wouldn’t think about the abandoned Porter property until his boss next wanted him to help some potential client with a viewing. Even then, he would insist that any future viewing took place during daylight hours.
A muffled voice behind one of the doors made him stiffen before he could begin his descent down the stairs. The voice was low, dripping with menace, and vaguely familiar.
Hearing a voice didn’t bode well.
If he was hearing a solitary person, talking to themselves, that was clearly a sign of mental instability. If he was hearing the conversation of two or more people, that meant David was outnumbered and unlikely to come off best if there was a confrontation. Hearing a voice meant his situation was extremely dangerous and he needed to act fast before things turned bad. “Get out of here,” he told himself softly. “Get out of here now.”
David swallowed and reached for the bannister rail, ready to lurch down the stairs as quickly as his body would allow. His heart was hammering so loudly he could feel the tremor of each beat in his fingertips. His mouth was dry and the lump in his throat made it impossible to even think about swallowing. As soon as he was sure he could descend the stairs silently, he was determined to make his escape.
The door swung open and he was momentarily blinded by a blast of torchlight.
The beam was strong enough to sting his retinas. Raising a hand in front of his face, trying to shield his gaze from the pain of the torch, he saw a vague shadow running at him. He caught the glint of silver light sharpening the edge of an eight-inch chef’s knife.
Then something heavy hit David in the gut.
It was more than a punch. He could feel the hot pain of metal sliding through his skin and bone. It was cutting a path through arteries and organs. It was sliding deep into him and made breathing a sudden impossibility. His heart seemed to hammer harder.
“Killed?” he thought, not sure how it had happened. “I’ve been killed?” He didn’t know how it was possible to have his life taken so quickly and with so little warning. Even more puzzling, when David lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of his assassin, he found himself staring at his own horrified face.