ChloeA Story by HoWiE
An evenings babysitting turns into a night of unrelenting terror for Marianne...
This is a previous version of Chloe.
Marianne negotiated her way over the tangled weeds, picking out the worn terracotta tiles of the path beneath. She looked the house over. Brooding and stark, the south side had succumbed to crawling ivy. Tree shadows gripped and drew crooked shapes across the building, almost as if a great hand was trying to drag it into the Earth. A dull light burned in an upstairs window and a battered ramp led upwards to the front door.
She unfurled the crumpled piece of paper that she clutched at her side and reread the note; Hookmeyer 1138.
A paint-flaked sign indicated that this was the place. She pressed the brass button bell, a chime sounded deep in the belly of the place. A few moments passed before a darkened figure appeared behind the stained glass inserts in the door. It opened.
The woman was pale and drawn; her heavily lined face with its high-cheek bones was of Slavic descent. Her lips were pursed and creased, a smoker’s lips. Her dark eyes were hooded and furtive. The woman’s fingers curled around the edge of the door, nicotine stained and bitten fingernails. She sat hunched into an old wheelchair, leaning awkwardly towards her left side and resting on her forearm.
“Hi, we spoke earlier... on the phone... babysitting?”
The woman nodded slightly. “Yes... come in, please.”
Marianne stepped inside as the woman moved back to admit her. “I’m Marianne Corby...” She smiled. The woman nodded and pushed closed the door behind her, offering her no further conversation. She worked her arms and wheeled herself into the sitting room and indicated that Marianne should sit.
“I will put on some tea,” she said and retreated from the room.
Marianne smiled tightly and placed her hands in her lap. She tried to hazard a guess at the woman’s age, she could be 30, she could be 40 or even older. Strands of wiry grey hair threaded through her long dark hair which was wound into a plait that hung down her left shoulder. Her hands were wrinkled, hard worked and liver spotted.
Hazy, late-afternoon, sunlight streamed into the room through a gap in two heavy flocked curtains. The room it illuminated was high-ceilinged and musty smelling, the decor faded by time and the furniture threadbare from use. In another era the room would have been considered grand.
During tea, which was weak and sugary, the woman divulged a little more. She seemed on edge and her tone was clipped and flat.
“Thank you for answering my advert,” she began. “We don’t have many visitors here and I rarely leave the house.”
“We are a very private family,” the woman continued, her head bowed almost confessional in her manner. “We don’t mix well with others and prefer to tend to our own affairs.” She sipped her tea through thin lips.
Marianne nodded; a vague feeling of unease growing within her.
“Unfortunately, this evening my business takes me out of the town. We suffered a small fire in the kitchen some weeks ago and I am keen to safeguard such an event again. I shall only be gone for a few hours or so " but it is too long to leave Chloe on her own.”
“Oh that’s fine,” Marianne replied with an easy smile. “I’m sure that Chloe and I will be the best of friends.”
“No.” The suddenness of the woman’s rebuttal shocked her. Her face softened slightly and she raised a hand in apology. “Forgive me girl. Chloe will remain in her room for the evening.”
“Oh...” Marianne said, her cheeks reddening. “I’m sorry...”
The woman tilted her head. “It is of no consequence. Chloe is... disabled... she is confined to her room; she has everything she needs there. She will be no trouble and there will be no need to bother her tonight.”
“She needs to rest... do not go upstairs, I don’t want her riled.”
“She does not like unfamiliar faces. Unfamiliarity... unsettles her. You can use this room this evening. You may play the radio if you wish, we don’t own a television " we find it boorish and intrusive.”
Marianne nodded again. “I’m sure I will be fine, I have some college books here that I can work through. I’m studying for a degree in Nursing.”
The woman nodded once, curtly. “Well,” she said, pressing her thin hands against the rims of the wheelchair. “I must be away if I am to be in town and back in good time.”
Marianne tucked her feet underneath herself and leafed casually through the pages of her text book. Nondescript background music drifted up from the old radio, the sound was tinny and distant but it, at least, offered some form of life to the surroundings. Darkness had settled in around the house and brought with it an ominous presence. The old place creaked and moaned as its wooden beams shifted and settled in the coolness of the evening.
It was around 9 o’clock that Marianne heard the first thump; deep-seated and heavy, like somebody dropping something on a wooden floor. The sound startled her, her pulse quickening. She laid her book down on the couch and leaned forward straining to hear.
A few minutes later there was another thump on the ceiling above her head. She licked her lips nervously. She stood and moved towards the sitting room door, stepping out into the darkened hallway. There came a strange shuffling, a scrabbling from above.
Marianne gripped the door jamb uncertain what to do.
...She needs to rest... do not go upstairs, I don’t want her riled...
The scrabbling came again followed by another thump.
Marianne swallowed. Perhaps the girl had fallen out of her bed. Perhaps she was lying on the floor and trying to get up into her bed again.
“Hello?” She called out tentatively.
The scrabbling stopped.
“Are you okay?”
There came a distant strangled mewing sound from the room above. Marianne’s blood ran cold in her veins.
“Ch-Chloe? Are you all right? My name is Marianne... your mother asked me to watch the house while she went out... are you okay?”
The mewing sound returned and rose in pitch, almost nonhuman. It dropped off now and then into a fretful sob.
What if she was badly hurt, or suffering some form of seizure? The woman had offered nothing about her daughter’s condition and Marianne silently cursed herself for not enquiring further.
She put a hand on the banister and a foot on the lowest step, the wood creaked underfoot. “Chloe, I’m coming up, okay? Just to see if you’re all right.”
She ventured up the stairs slowly, her heart thudding against her ribcage
At the top of the stairs, she turned about to face the door from whence the noises had come. The door was heavy with an iron sliding bolt that had been thrust soundly into its housing.
...Chloe is... disabled... she is confined to her room...
“My God,” Marianne whispered, she’s not simply confined, she’s imprisoned. Suddenly all her misgivings about the owner of Hookmeyer seemed justified.
She tested the bolt with her hands. “It’s okay Chloe, I’m coming...”
She wound her fingers around the bolt grip and tugged it back. It grated against the housing and shifted. She moved her footing and pushed against it. With a squeal the bolt release and crashed back.
There was an odd scuttling sound from beyond as Marianne pressed her shoulder against the woodwork and heaved. The door creaked open.
The room beyond was gloomy save for a shade-less lamp that burned in the small window: a window reinforced with bars. It took Marianne a few moments to notice what was wrong with the room. It was certainly was, or at least used to be, a child’s room. The faded wallpaper bore a family ducks parading across the top of the wall, a toy box was pushed up against the far wall, atop it a ragged looking bear. Marianne scanned the room before stepping inside. Save for a battered looking dresser and a dishevelled old bed, there was nothing. The room appeared to be unlived in and filthy. A huge spider’s web clung to the corner of the room, stretching out across the top of the bed and to the middle of the ceiling.
“Chloe?” She whispered, her mouth dry and her palms wet.
Something skittered, scratching in the darkness.
Crouching down as she approached the bed, Marianne steeled herself as she gingerly lifted the shabby quilt that hung to the floor.
Apart from a handful of dusty toys, there was nothing...
“You were told!”
Marianne jumped, a shocked cry escaping her lips as she twisted to see the woman standing in the doorway.
“You were warned. You were warned not to come up her and not to disturb her!”
The woman’s ruse in using the wheelchair to engender an impression of fragility was clearly over. She stood in the doorway, her lips cruel, her hooded eyes narrowed. She clutched something in her arms, something wrapped and swaddled in a blanket.
“I... I’m sorry... I thought...”
“And now you shall see...” The woman tossed the bundle into the room; it hit the floor with a thud and rolled a little towards her. A small pink arm flopped out of the swaddling and remained motionless, the little fingers half-curled.
“AND NOW YOU SHALL SEE!” The woman slammed shut the door, the bolt rammed home.
Marianne pressed her hand to her mouth and retreated from the lifeless form at her feet, pressing her back up against the wall, tears streaming from her eyes and her voice caught in her throat. Her free hand wound around something dry but strangely tacky. She jerked her hand away, clawing at the spider web that clung to her wrist and forearm. It clung to her fingers, thick and tacky.
Something bumped above her.
The access to the attic.
It bumped again, an all too familiar thump.
And then a sight that, even first off, began to steadily strip the layers of sanity from Marianne’s mind. The first of the legs emerged.
Pale, elongated and hairless, the legs, one by one, began to enfold and stretch out as they supported the squat body as it shifted out of its hiding place. The face, still almost childlike but distorted and smeared across the front of its head, blinked eight black eyes. The lower jaw broke apart into separate mandibles, the pedipalps beneath quivering, as it heaved its bulk out of the attic. The front legs tested the thick web, feeling for the vibrations. It ventured out further, its claws scratching against the plaster of the ceiling as it clung to the ceiling before dropping down and hanging from the underside of the web.
The sudden movement galvanised Marianne into action and she pulled free of the web rushing for the door. She pounded upon it finally finding her voice and screaming and screaming and screaming.
Meanwhile giant spider lowered herself from the web spinning slightly and settling down onto the wooden floor, a curious mewing sound emanating from her.
Marianne turned slowly, her back to the door and her screams dissolving into hysterical laughter. She dropped to her knees, her face in her hands.
The last thing she heard was her own laughter and the frantic scrabbling of claws on the wooden floor as Chloe scuttled across the space between them...
© 2010 HoWiE
Plymouth, Devon, UK, United Kingdom
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