Amityville Prequel

Copyright David Daniel Ball © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"It was a thin, reedy but loud and inhuman scream"

The events that surround the horror that engulfed Amityville at that lonely suburban house so long ago are well recounted. They are legend.

Every year I am given charge of many groups of students. The younger ones are not privy to the stories. They want to know.

The printed stories I will leave to my neighbours of that era. How a family moved into a haunted house, and the oldest boy killed all of his family. Later, when questioned by police, he told of a voice that instructed him to kill. Or of the couple who bought the house on the cheap. They formed a murder suicide pact. Only later were the unconsecrated Indian burial mounds, known to property developers, discovered by the town.

I knew the house from before. When I was growing up. Old Mrs Webster lived there.

There are old people and there are old people. Some people have this thing called dignity, and it has nothing to do with being dignified in company. Mrs Webster had something else. She was old and possibly crippled, but she was athletic and energetic. She would wait by the side of her house each school morning. Any child unfortunate enough to pass within earshot would endure her curses and quips. Wise boys and girls knew to stay away. Naughty ones had to discover for themselves.

Once, on the way to school, I strayed too close. She had been calling me fat, which simple justice and an enthusiastic father led me to accept without question or deviation from my route. I trudged through the ankle deep snow. She had noticed my bag was low on my shoulder. I ignored her as I'd been trained. The wind was cold and sharp. I ignored the sharp pain in my shoulder and cheek. The dull thud. The sudden exhale. I stood stunned and still, my mind registering the stone and a little blood. Then I felt my cheek cool rapidly and wetly. Felt the heat in the muscle as it responded to the tear in the flesh. I shouldered my bag high and sprinted on without further abuse. No one at school asked me about the injury, although my teacher didn't bat an eyelid when I asked to go to sickbay.

Mrs Webster brooked no visitors. The mailman never strayed closer than an arms length to her box. The house was decayed and breathtaking. Two stories if you don't count the attic. Magnificent arched windows stood high on the second floor. They could have been doors to a balcony if one were there. She would stare balefully through them on cold days. On cold evenings, her form could still be seen through these windows. Watching the street.

Two mighty Oaks stood guard either side of the stone path leading to the wooden steps to the front door. A rope dropped from the entry porch ceiling had a leather pouch with a ball that could be used as a knocker, although nobody knew if it ever would. The kids at school argued that it was really the skull of a black cat, but no one knew what a cat would be doing there anyway. Even a black one. Even if the house did smell of the carrion attractive to such cats.

A gate enclosed the house. Wooden posts lay ranch style with a rusty metal latch and hinge. It didn't matter that Mrs Webster lived there. It was haunted.

Time passes and even the inimitable Mrs Webster passed away. The Mailman noticed, one day, that she failed to collect her letters. She stopped appearing at her windows and passers by noticed they weren't being harassed. Police knock on the door, with the wooden ball hanging from the drop string. No answer. Police HQ instruct them to break in, which they do with minimal force.

It is said that they found Mrs Webster in a chair, facing the fireplace. School legend has it that she wore her death mask as a child on Halloween, dared to visit her place. Her face a picture of horror, with eyes wide and mouth agape. Some have said that she sometimes can still be seen standing at her window, on a cold winter's eve. Watching the street.

We were friends, Chris, Arthur, Joff, Big and I. I guess you could say we were naughty boys. If you were to describe the dreams of another ten year old, I could show you how we were not so different. It was Arthur's dare. But then that is how it would happen. Arthur would dare. Chris would lead. Big would follow bravely and Joff would follow nervously. I would follow. I would always wonder why.

Big was enamoured by ants. He had a glass fronted thin cabinet that profiled a nest. He would feed the ants by opening the top of the cabinet and leaving titbits of sweets, including sugar or honey.

An older boy had seized Big's ants. At his mercy, the ants did what they normally do, hurrying and scurrying and attending to the nest of the queen. The soldiers soon mobilised. But they were helpless. No more tasty titbits for them. Soon, a few were relocated to an established home for Daddy Longlegs Spiders. Eventually to be consumed by the spiders, most were caught and held helpless in webs. The rest were drowned in an acid bath of urine.

When Big ran to Chris to tell him about this older bully, Chris had been playing a CD for Arthur. Arthur was attempting to copy the tune on a guitar. Joff was there too. I wanted to show Chris a story I'd read, and I was waiting for a natural break in the flow of his conversation with Arthur. I was dozing while waiting.

Chris looked up and visually examined Big, who stood breathless and despairing before him. Arthur stopped strumming. I woke.

Chris broke the silence. "Good of you to join us." Arthur "What's wrong?"

I intervene "Chris, Big and I were discussing this story, you might want to see it." "Not now David! Can't you see he's upset? What is it Big?"

"You're my friends." Big began. I was feeling like Chris would never show an interest in the horror story I'd read. It had a major character called Webster. Big's issue distracted me. I never cared much for the ant farm. My younger sister liked those things. I had to admit, though, that he was really distressed. Joff was repeating everything that Big told Chris to both Chris and Arthur. They were despairing over ever getting revenge on the older boy. I asked aloud "What would Mrs Webster do?" and Arthur called out "That's it!"

"Chris, we could spend the night at Mrs Webster's house. Then we can really freak that boy out." "Great Idea, Arthur." "Yeah, Arthur." Joined in Joff. I wanted to say that I'd thought of it too.

Chris gave instructions for us to invite each other over to his place for the evening. He would tell his parents that he was going to Arthur's house. We'd take our sleeping things and meet at Webster's old house. It had never been sold or leased since she had passed away that summer. Now it was high winter. She even had an old fireplace. We could roast marshmallows.

The marshmallow image caught my imagination in ways that facing down an older boy didn't. My mum was happy for me to stay at Chris' place. His parents had a holiday place and she wanted access. She made sure I packed everything, like a toothbrush. I tried to explain to her that we weren't having that kind of party, but I didn't want to alert her to what her greed had hidden. I also threw in the bag a neat flashlight I used to read under the covers and a mirror I often used to examine myself. Sister helped me by distracting Mum with her helplessness. "Mom!" She cried. "I'm thirsty!"

We met outside the gate. I was beginning to think that Big would never show at all. But we waited for him, as friends do. We were all shivering when he reached the gate. Joff had been staring at the windows, routinely claiming to see something. We kept pointing out the birds of winter that flew among the trees. It hadn't occurred to any of us that birds don't stay around frozen houses in winter. But then we still had some growing up to do.

The gate creaked as it opened wide. In its disrepair, it had fallen forward slightly and that made it easier to open, as we didn't have to push back the newly laid, trackless snow. It was ankle high. The day's sun had left it crunchy on top, powdered below. So that the crunch of our steps and the creak of the gate announced our presence here to the world and made us jumpy.

Chris was first to the door. It was ajar. The lock that had been broken by the police had never been fixed. So the door remained in an almost closed position. Now snow spilled into the entranceway and held the door in place. Arthur dragged his foot through the snow, soaking his ankle. I tried to bend down and scoop it with my gloved hands, but Joff's feet leapt forward and soon he too had soaked his feet and ankles. Chris had a bemused expression on his face when he widened the door and stepped inside. I got out my flashlight, but Chris said "It's light!"

We went in and were awed by the appearance. Before us were wide steps leading to the upper level. They were thick with dust. A shadowy shape on the top of the steps looked like a ghost. On our right was a dining room. The long table was as Mrs Webster had left it; with (now) rotting fruit and places set two a side and one at the head. On our left was a lounge room. Two two-person lounges and a single chair faced a fireplace. Ash spread from the fireplace into the room. The poker was lying next to the place and a small fence protecting the place had been pushed aside.

Lighting was provided courtesy of the candles in the dining room. Two large wax candles were placed towards the middle ends of the table. In the living room were lit kerosene lamps placed along each wall. I said, "I don't like this. I want to go home." "It seems quite strange," echoed Joff.

"We stay" Said Chris. "We don't want to have our lives run by an older bully boy." I was thinking of saying that we weren't bullies, and so correcting his sentence, when Arthur said "I think I heard something upstairs." Arthur was up the steps in a shot. Chris followed. Joff was wondering aloud where Big had gone. "C'mon" I said, brandishing my flashlight.

The steps were dusty, except where my friends had left their prints. At the top was a ghostly image. It was created by the outside lamplights on the street shining through the uncurtained windows. "Look!" I called, pointing at the image. It looked for a moment as if it had a mouth that moved. That was an effect created by a bird outside, flying between the window and street lamps. "Wow!" shot back Arthur. He was walking to the far side of the front room, which in its time might have been a ballroom. I think our plan, if we were to have had one, might have been to find the bedroom and hunker down for the evening, or take the bedclothes to a fireplace and light some wood.

It was a thin, reedy but loud and inhuman scream that came from the cat that Arthur had stepped on. Chris wanted to know if we had heard the noise in the attic. "Big and Joff seem to have left us." I say.

Chris and Arthur ignored me as Arthur pulled on the rope that lowered the ladder to the attic.

Soon I could hear their voices. "Look, we could place that mannequin in front of the window. It has her clothing." "Great idea!"

I went up the steps to investigate.

It was dark. I turned on my flashlight. Chris was staring at the mannequin. It had make up on its face, and wore Her clothes. Movement above me came from bats. I'd never believed those old stories of bats and belfries, but now I was witness. I couldn't see Arthur, so I turned to Chris. "Everyone has gone, and I don't like this place." He smiled calmly, beatifically. "Lets go to my home." I said. "You won't have to get in trouble, I can sneak you in without my folks noticing."

Chris smiled at me calmly, and then he did something I'd swear I'd never seen anyone do. His elbows and knees kind of bent backwards. His shirt buttons popped on the front and four enormous spider legs pulled the fabric aside, exposing an abdomen. All the time he was smiling calmly. Behind me I began to hear laughter. It was coming from the mannequin. It was low and long and cruel, like "Ha ha ha," not a giggling "He he he." The laugh would start small and then crescendo, louder and louder each time.

Fear is not just a feeling. Fear is part of the body. Fear causes one to flinch. It's oppression causes thinking to freeze. I stared at the spider that had Chris' face. At first I was dumb. Then I began to babble. "Don't hurt me. Please. My parents are poor. They need me to get a good education and I can work in their old age."

Chris Spider was in attack range. A spider needs all eight legs to walk. When it is in attack range, it rears onto its back six legs. This exposes the mandibles, which are its teeth. I could see that Chris' rear spinnerets were silking the ladder. Doubting that I was doing the right thing, I leapt forward. Avoiding the mandibles, and pushing past the legs, I dove head first down the ladder, grabbing a rung on the way down. This caused me to swing, rather than fall, and my shins collected the entrance to the attic. Causing me to let go of the rung and hurtle headfirst to the floor.

My shoulder collected a rung and spun my body around, so that I landed on my feet. The thin reedy wail of sound came from the cat, which had softened my fall and now raced toward its hidey-hole. My leg was hurt and I scrambled towards the steps to the front porch, past the living and dining rooms. But the door was shut and locked.

The dining room had seemed different. I looked in. Four elderly men, with long beards, were seated at the dinner places. I recognised one. I known Arthur was Japanese. I had never noticed it, though, because Arthur was 'one of us.' This old man was Japanese, and he was Arthur! Now that I was alerted to this, I looked more closely at the head of the table. It was Chris. Chris was smiling gently, and invited me to join them for dinner. I backed away into the living room. Joff-man said. "Come join us. It is the only way to free us of the curse."

The body of a spider is soft and smooth. I felt this as I stepped back into the living room. Four spiders were seated in the five spaces. They had the faces of Chris, Arthur, Joff or Big. Big, the old man, said that it was the curse. The only way to remove the curse would be to have dinner with them. My head swam. My legs ached as I walked to the remaining dinner place. A curse. I could free 'Us.' I still thought I was one of 'Us.'

The dinner place was complete. A beautiful fruit bowl with polished and fresh fruit. Various roast meats. I was scared but hungry. But I finished my dinner. The bones by the side of the plate spelt a message, afterwards. Telling me that the flesh that fell so easily from the bone had been my friends. I felt sick. My friends. I felt sorry for myself. I felt sick. The spiders were gone. I might have felt relief. I felt sick.

That might have been the end of things. I would have preferred it if it had been. Instead I became restless. I wanted to go home. I wanted that I had never gone to that house. I went to the door. Its lock was broken. The door was now ajar. It swung open easily, the door skull, hanging from the rope knocking the door with a sharp report. Pausing to look at the space where my friends had so recently moved snow. As I opened the fence, the worst was to come. I became a spider.

Spiders move so quickly! I was at home, the back door was unlocked, and I went upstairs to my room. The upstairs level of our house is a collection of three bedrooms and two toilets along a small corridor. To get to my bedroom, I had to walk past my sisters'. I stopped at her doorway. She was playing, and she had her back to me.

She was seated on the ground. One leg outstretched and the other curled into a bundle she could rest her chin on. She was absorbed in putting some of her Cindy fashions on my He Man action figure. I think that was why I acted as I did. Because she was misusing my toy.

Spiders only require moisture and protein to live. I'd my fill of protein, but felt thirsty. My Sister just seemed so juicy. My Mandible broke her neck and I sucked out her blood. I don't think she felt a thing. I dragged her body to hang it from her wardrobe. Maybe I'd come back later.

The bathroom was closer to the steps, and when I heard my mother coming upstairs, I hid in the bathroom. For some reason I began to shrink. When she saw me, I was the size of a rather large spider, but not a monster anymore. She called out to my dad. Even joked about bringing the elephant gun, which we didn't own. Then, because she realised I'd not been long in the bathroom, or because of some other reason, she went to check on my sister's room.

Dad approached me with a rolled up newspaper. Before he got his shot in, I heard my Mother's screams. I guess she found Sister.

I might have been consolable if that were it. If my life had ended with the destruction of my Spider self. But therewas more to the curse. Although I held my life forfeit for my actions, I didn't die. I slept. I do not know for how long, but it was quite awhile.

I explored my world. To become a spider, it was necessary to step outside the gate. Inside the gate, I became an old man, just as my friends had become. I tried to warn people about the curse. They ignored me. I yelled at them and cast stones. They ignored me.

I watched the street from the upper story windows. It was easier to see the street at night, by streetlight. I could think then, plan to find a way out of the curse. A neighbour of mine, who also was a victim, came up with the clever idea of selling the house.

It is cold, night. The house is sold. A family of five. A successful businessman. Maybe now the curse will end. I am before the fireplace. Seated, I think of horror. My friends. Horror. My sister. Horror. I think of horror. Horror. Horror.