The House in Stone Tree Hollow
“There’s no need for that.”
It was the first and last thing Mr. Puddlefell said, smacking the squirt-bottle out of Eleanor’s hand.
“But what if there are ghosts?” To Eleanor, this was a singularly reasonable question but Mr. Puddlefell scoffed and turned towards the door. The car rumbled through the high mountains of north Victrain, and after many pit stops for Mr. Puddlefell to fill up his travel mug with N-er-G Zingerz, the car screeched to a stop at the edge of the forest. Eleanor looked at her brother and clutched her suitcase tighter to her chest. Sebastian, her brother, had been sleeping, and awoke because the inertia, meaning an extremely short stop that left the edge of his seatbelt digging into Sebastian’s neck, threw him forward. Sebastian wiped a dribble of drool from his chin and tried using the front of his shirt to clean more drool off of the stitchery in his suitcase. As he rubbed it, one thread broke and their last name, Gaunt, lost the cross on the t. They were now the Gaunl’s.
Mr. Puddlefell spoke for the first time since he had snatched Eleanor’s solution of Ghost-be-Gone and chucked it out of the third story hotel room and onto the head of a startled and now dead pigeon.
“You will have to walk from here. It is just up the road and through the field. You cannot miss it.” The doors on either side of the children sprung open, and they heard the thump of Eleanor’s bag hit the ground after being ejected from the trunk. Eleanor hopped out of the car and rushed towards her bag and where Pawper, her stuffed dog had fallen. She cradled Pawper’s one button eye, picked up her bag and ran back towards the car. Sebastian stood just outside it, listening at the driver’s window.
Eleanor arrived just in time to hear Mr. Puddlefell give a curt,
“Good day.” Before he hit the gas and zoomed back through the trees in reverse. Eleanor turned to Sebastian.
“What did Mr. Puddlefell say?” Eleanor said.
“’You cannot get rid of ghosts. Kindly learn to cope, and don’t call me.’ He is quite the lamprey, isn’t he?”
By this, Sebastian, of course, meant that Mr. Puddlefell was a self absorbed, man out for himself, not an actual lamprey, which is a jawless vampire fish with a spiraling sucker mouth filled with hundreds of teeth.
“He’s only here to place us with Granny Gertrude.”
“We aren’t at Granny Gertrude’s yet are we?” Sebastian said, hoisting his suitcase over his shoulder and trudging out through the trees.
“That must be it.” Eleanor said. “We had better start moving – they sun is starting to set.”
The children walked for two hours. As they approached the white speck grew bigger, then grew a circular tower, then a large oval window in the center, then some spiraling railings on every level of the building until the house was right in front of them and enormous. Nearby a gravestone crumbled under the branches of a leafy oak tree – the only tree for miles inside the circle of the plain.
“I miss mom.” Sebastian said, his wide eyes darting from dark window to dank door way and back. Eleanor started marching towards the front porch, where a lonely swing whistled with each creak of the wind. Sebastian fell in step behind her. As they walked, exposed in the open field, Sebastian felt as if something or someone was tapping him on the shoulder – but when he looked—there was nothing behind him except a small red maple leaf on the ground.
The porch complained when they stepped on it, creaking and cracking under their weight. Eleanor stepped on a rotted board, which crumbled, beneath her foot.
“Granny Gertrude must have very thin bones to walk around out here without falling through the wood.” Eleanor said, pulling her sock back through the hole. She took the great knocker in her hand and clanged it against the door four times. Out of the corner of his eye Sebastian saw something shimmer by the porch swing. The door wafted open, even though the air was stale and unmoving in the valley. Eleanor stepped inside. It smelled of water pipes and tea.
“Is it any safer in there?” Sebastian asked. He had felt the tap on his shoulder again.
“Um. Well. Yes, the floor seems to be secure.”
“But?” said Sebastian.
“But…” said Eleanor.
“What?” said Sebastian.
“Just come in and take a look.” Said Eleanor.
Sebastian peered into the dark sphere of the entrance hall. Two staircases circled upward, meeting in the middle. Doors jutted out at random parts of the staircase, sometimes taking up a few steps with their hearth. Oil paintings and photography and uncomfortable modern art adorned the walls. Eyes, so many eyes, peered out from each frame. Too many eyes in fact, as the chandelier, a dark and dismal thing, seemed made up of many eyelet beads. It took Sebastian a full minute to notice where is sister stood, backed away from the nearest staircase and staring at the see through girl standing on them.
Their shoes scuffed the wood beneath their feet as they stumbled back, frosting the floor with desert dust. The girl waved and she smiled so big that her teeth tumbled out of her mouth and onto the floor. She waved off the teeth and smiled smaller. They reappeared in her mouth.
“Eleanor?” asked Sebastian with a trembling voice. “I think this girl may need a dentist.”
But Eleanor was not watching as the girl tossed her intestines around her neck like a stylish scarf.
“Dear Brother,” Eleanor said, watching three paws, watching six claws, extend from behind the front hall doorframe. “There are red eyes watching us. What do you think they may want?”
It was only when Sebastian turned to look at the instant coffee pot, and saw the great red eyes watching him back from the sludgy dregs that he finally lost his cool.
“Eleanor, remember how I said I needed the restroom?”
“I do, Sebastian,” Eleanor said, as two dark circles floated towards her.
“If we do not run, this instant, I will not need the restroom any longer.”
“Shall we?” asked Eleanor.
“We shall.” Said Sebastian.
As the walls loomed higher and the shadows crept closer, the twins turned in opposite directions shouting, “RUN!”
Eleanor slid beneath a banister and Sebastian busted up the stairs. From the halls and closets claws burst forth, sometimes attached to a hand with three fingers, or eleven or sometimes not even hands at all but hooves. Under a sign, which had not been dusted in a while, ran Sebastian. To his dismay he found no maze of corridors to lead him away from the ghouls he had seen, only a long and uneven stairwell – it twisted and turned and felt longer than possible. Finally, after dodging mice and more eyes, he saw the warm hearth of the tower room fire. When he reached the inside he slammed the door shut behind him. He knew little of where he was and less of where his sister could be. But, there was a handsome footstool huddled in front of the fire and Sebastian went to sit on it and catch his breath. Little did he see of the finger shadows three. The flames against the wall revealed what Sebastian’s vision could not yield: there crouched a man (or so called man, for what else could we call him) with willow lean fingers and nails like sharp moldy cheese stroking the child’s head fondly.
Eleanor was still downstairs, though trapped farther than she’d thought. Because she had taken off her shoes, as all well-behaved children must, when she dove out of sight to the strange girl’s delight, her slippery socks moved quickly. She slid like a baseball player straight into the kitchen. The stovetop sputtered and growled and glowed red. Flames licked the edges of the burner but Eleanor slid right past. On the wall she spied a little dark box and just before she crawled inside she grabbed a tub of salt that had sat upon the counter. She had little time to spare for she had become well aware that a thumping and thudding was following her. Something greater than a ghost girl approached.
“The dumbwaiter!” She cried.
Eleanor climbed inside and felt the little box sway on its rope. What Eleanor had not noticed when she had first climbed in was the two dark circles and the tiny cute grin hovering right over her shoulder – but as she slipped the lid down to hide herself she heard a crash strike the cover of the dumbwaiter. Eleanor waited a minute, clutching her tub of salt as the door shook, banged, rattled and clattered.
Then a full minute of complete silence.
A small beam of light sprayed from a hole in the box, and, curious, Eleanor, and the unseen guest on her shoulder, peered through the tiny pinprick.
The iris was huge and the pupil engulfing on the bloodshot eyeball just on the other side of the hole. The purple ring was tinged with scarlet and a hefty, angry eyebrow glared at Eleanor. Pulling the tab on the salt, Eleanor dabbed just a pinch on her hand. She held her hand to her lips and lightly blew – and the sand flew – and smacked the great big eye straight in the pupil. As the crashing noises cascaded outside, Eleanor said, “I need a better place to hide.”
Out of the corner of her sight she saw a little ghost nodding and chirping in awe. Eleanor looked to the hatch, still rocking and shaking, and looked back to the ghost with her tight little smile. Eleanor gulped and ignored it and tugged on the rope. The dumbwaiter rose like an elevator into the ceiling.
Back in the attic Sebastian’s brain was becoming fuzzy so he wandered the halls with a confused lope. As he walked, with two shadows behind, he was surprised that no ghosts did he find though the buzzing of “Screekshadow” filled his brain. He did not see the blue boy hiding in the tub, nor the ghoul and her wife nervously peaking from under the bed or even the kitchen cook cowering in the closet (he was very much dead from a flying knife when his pot-roast blew up in the stove). But he heard them all whistle “Screekshadow” under their breath. It was only then, when he looked in the mirror, that he saw, with dread, what had made the dead fear him. It wasn’t that Sebastian was so brave now or tall, but really the shadow next to his own at the end of the hall. From where the light played on that wall on this night, the figure could be seen with his teeth bared and touching the nape of Sebastian’s neck. It was with this trickle of fear that Sebastian felt a prick and a breath on his ear. And so Sebastian fled down a distant hall not knowing if he could escape this shadow at all.
Down the stairs he flew and on each different landing he saw yetis and goblins and monsters all standing – they stared at him and dove for windows as the shadow behind him followed close on his toes. Even when he fell in the underground lake a tentacle plucked him out safe and placed him haphazardly back on the shelf before diving down deep to barricade itself from the Screekshadow.
On the second floor the little ghosties ran, but from a different tyrant. With the smiling ghosty wagging its tail behind her, Eleanor was scaring off spooks left and right. In the second floor kitchen she’d found a spoon, a block, and a rubber band and with some finagling created a salt shooter. She was done getting scared and thought, “Better prepare” so she created a slick weapons belt. In one hand the shooter, in the other her pup Pawper, and on her hip loop a dust devil. This time when she looked down the hall at the great furry claws and the tongues and the teeth she was ready to meet them.
“Sebastian look out, Grannie we’re here—here’s to hoping this wont take all year.” Eleanor sang, weapons locked and loaded. She charged and the monster’s screamed in fear.
Even in the basement Sebastian could hear the screams of the spooks. And, not knowing where to go or how to hide from the Screekshadow, he walked swiftly away from the screaming sounds where his sister was mowing monsters down- right into the shadowy claws of the beast. Sebastian had no way of knowing where he was going because he had not known where he’d been. There were stairs that he took, and a hall to a nook and somehow back to the room in the tower. The Screekshadow’s room. Sebastian knew it was there. It was not that he no longer cared; he just knew that he could run no more. At least not till he knew which door was safe from the spindly fingers of the monster. So he calmly sat on the ataman fat when suddenly he heard shuffling coming from a closed closet door. The footsteps were muffled and mild and kind and instantly he knew where to find dear grannie who’d been lost all by herself.
What he did not see, which is as clear to you as to me, was the claws beak and jaws of the Screekshadow phasing off of the wall. Sebastian was very frightened of this lamprey. And this time he did mean a bloodsucking fiend with thousands of teeth baring down upon him that very instant.
It starting to crawl
to where Seb sat.
He looked up.
“Go back to hell!” Eleanor bellowed from the doorway, snapping the band and letting her salt contraption fly. Little it did and the Screekshadow smiled to her then turned back to its meal. As he got closer and closer Sebastian smelled breath get grosser and grosser. But Eleanor snapped – she couldn’t lose Seb, and she hurled her toy Pawper at the Screekshadow instead. Bright eyes in shock, the Screekshadow went flying away – well his head, anyway, and its body melted into the floor. A puddle of goo, and an angry head that had flew made a mess on the timber wood floor.
All around the room the monsters appeared, with their talons and organs dragging across the floor, with their too many eyes or not enough teeth they approached Eleanor and her brother till the two children were surrounded in the center of the room. Poor Eleanor lifted her salt thrower with the last ounce of salt and grasped Sebastian’s hand. They stood together, prepared to die, and all those red eyes closed in on them. Eleanor passed Sebastian the dust devil. She squeezed his hand, he squeezed it back. One of them said I love you and the other said it back. They scrunched their eyes shut together.
Then suddenly the ghouls began to make noises – some of them loud or sounding like farts, or that tinkled like bells or rang like gongs. Some made noises only describable with things: one sounded like a flip flop on the first warm day of spring – another like a perfectly toasted bagel. One even sounded like seeing your best friend on accident halfway around the world.
“They’re cheering…” Sebastian said, stunned. One by one the ghouls came to give Eleanor a hug – they shook her hand and patted her back and then turned to Sebastian to meet him too – till a door opened and an older voice declared, “Move it! I’m coming through!”
And so granny appeared, the Screekshadows head under her arm. She looked proud and dazzled, unfazed and unharmed. “Thank you children,” She said, “For saving me. Now put down those weapons – these ghosts are family.”
“But Grannie, look at them!” Eleanor cried. “We should fight them off – they’ve got claws and sharp teeth. Their red eyes are menacing, their fur thick and course, and many are dead – DEAD Grannie—they must be out for our brains.”
“But Grannie, we should run!” Sebastian cried. “Get out while we can and while we’re alive. It’s not safe in here – there are monsters and beasts. We should go now – outside – where it’s safer to hide.”
“Are there not bears in the woods?” Grannie said. “They could hurt you just as well. Now come here and listen good.” She turned to Eleanor and stared at her hard. “Protecting yourself is healthy and fair, but you look like a fool, throwing salt at things that have done you no harm. The Screekshadow deserves the bodiless life that he gets” The Screekshadow rolled its eyes. “But believe me you’ll know when it’s the right time to fight. That was right now, but not all tonight.”
“And you,” Grannie turned on the boy. “Running around with no place to go. Running won’t save you, it just lets your ignorance show. Like with the fighting you’ll know when to run, but ignoring problems will only double them later.”
Both Sebastian and Eleanor looked sheepish and nodded. Eleanor apologized to the crowd and Sebastian followed. A little girl came from their midst – It was the girl from the stairs who’d lost all of her teeth. She hugged them both and gave Sebastian a kiss on the cheek. The children felt less scared, less doomed, more aware. A squid in the crowd shouted, “Guys, the feast is prepared!”
As everyone began filing out through vents and through stairs, the children turned to Grannie.
“Grannie, how did you know that these ghosts wouldn’t turn us to hamburgers, eat our guts or put our brains in a stew?”
“Well,” Grannie said, “I’ve been a live longer than you.” The children smiled and turned to leave. “Well that,” Grannie said, “And…“
“I’m a Ghosty, too.”
The children did not weep or run or blast their grandma with salt. They took her in, accepted it, and walked calmly down the stairs to the dining room where they ate the best five course meal they had ever had.
©2014 Lex Vex