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Everyone knew that house; everyone knew to be afraid of it. Its once-cheerful yellow paint was chipped, revealing the sideboards’ drab gray face. The windows were covered with plywood marred by crooked red exes. The flower beds lining the front of the house and the driveway were shriveled and black with death. The lawn had overgrown with weeds and the grass was nearly as tall as the once white-picket fence that surrounded the yard. The house looked as though it had been boarded up in preparation for a hurricane, then hastily abandoned and forgotten.
No one could ever forget such a place, though. The house simply wouldn’t allow it. It leered with its sightless eyes at the children foolish enough to walk near, it moaned in the still quiet of the night, and even the local stray cats stayed well clear of it. New bus drivers would always be reminded, not only by the children but by the parents as well, not to drop the students off anywhere near the yellow house at the end of the street. No one knew for sure how many had died in that house, or how. Rumors were spread and exaggerated, theories were made, and dares were thrown from child to child. But none dared go inside and investigate, lest they encounter the other that supposedly haunted the home.
Until recently. Marianne looked at the invitation in her hands and stifled a horrified laugh. She was certain this had to be a joke. However, as days went by, it became apparent that someone had actually dared buy the Yellow House. The plywood was removed from the windows, the exterior had a fresh coat of that gaudy yellow paint, the lawn was mowed, and roses – also yellow – had been planted in the flower bed. Even the picket fence had been repaired and repainted. The house actually looked normal, if such could be believed.
As Halloween, the date of the house warming party, approached, Marianne felt herself growing more and more anxious. Partly out of fear. Did she dare step foot in the place that had haunted her dreams throughout her childhood? Part excitement, as well. What did it look like inside? Would there be clues of satanic rituals or grisly murders? Would the walls bleed like in horror movies? Perhaps there would be a demonic voice demanding everyone leave? Or paranormal activity from poltergeists? Though these thoughts terrified her, she could not help but sate her morbid curiosity with daydreams of what might be found within the home. Those thoughts helped her decide on the perfect gown for the party.
At last, Halloween came. The air was chillier than normal for Florida. Dusk began to settle, the children raced from house to house in their superhero and princess and movie character and ghoul costumes, their laughter rising with every self-induced shot of sugar. Marianne handed out candy to the children, using it as an excuse to look toward the Yellow House every time she opened the door. The porch light was on, and a couple cars had already pulled up to the curb. A little while longer, she promised herself. A little while longer, and she could finally sate her curiosity.
Nine-thirty. Marianne could stand waiting no longer. She walked down the block, moving past the thinning crowd of trick-or-treaters. Her steps quickened with every inch she drew nearer to the house. Her heart raced, her hands grew sweaty where they clung to the silky fabric of her gown. She was a gothic beauty, yet still simple and elegant enough for a house warming. Her dress was black, with red and silver trimming, cut with an Empire waist and an a-line skirt. Her hair was pinned up with silver hairpins designed like small spiders. Her knee-high black boots pounded against the cement in time to the beating of her heart.
Marianne hesitated at the end of the driveway, her breath caught in her throat. Did she dare? Every step toward the house’s front door took great effort. The house looked so normal, so mundane, with loud music and the shadows of people dancing beyond the curtains. Not a single Halloween decoration adorned the yard or porch. Nothing was out of place nor were there any hints that something supernatural might be present. Marianne took a deep breath and forced herself to laugh. It was foolish to be frightened by childhood fairytales. With greater determination, she marched the rest of the way to the front door of the Yellow House and knocked.
An elderly woman wearing a simple, almost businesslike, purple dress and a vibrant indigo mask bristling with peacock feathers answered the door, a kind smile deepening the wrinkles on her face. This had to be Mrs. Robinson, the new owner of the house. “Ah, my dear, you’ve arrived!”
“Yes. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
The woman chuckled and opened the door the rest of the way. “Come in, come in!” She motioned with her hands toward the foyer. “But leave your body at the door.”
“What?” Marianne spun around to face Mrs. Robinson as she closed the door.
“Nothing, my dear.” The woman gave Marianne a look as though she was the one going deaf. She shuffled over to Marianne and gestured to a silver tray on the small table next to the door. “This is a masked party. Please, help yourself to one. At midnight, we shall have a special surprise.”
“Thank you,” Marianne said. She looked over the masks, thinking all of this quite childish. Nevertheless, it would be fun to play along. Only a few masks remained. Most of them were of a more macabre nature, but there was one whose beauty called to Marianne like a siren. It covered just the upper half of the face and was made of black silk. Silver spiders were etched into the fabric, but from a distance, they sparkled like dozens of tiny diamonds. Marianne took it with care and immediately donned it. When she turned around to show it off, Mrs. Robinson had vanished.
Braver now that she was inside the Yellow House, Marianne strode into the living room, her skirt sashaying around her legs. Masked guests, all dressed as if this were a ballroom and not a small suburban home, packed the living room, the kitchen, and the dining room. Some danced to the rhythm pounding forth from the speakers in the space made for that purpose in the middle of the living room. Others crowded in small circles to talk and laugh, or lounged on the furniture, sipping beer from cans and wine from goblets. No one commented on Marianne’s presence, and she did not recognize anyone beneath the masks and fancy dress. She was certain that if she struck up a conversation with someone, she would quickly know them for Shirley, the town gossip, or Bill the car salesman, or Margery, who was having an affair with Adam next door. None of that interested her, though. Licking her red lips, Marianne deemed the only appropriate course of action for this night one of exploration.
All in all, the house was as unimpressive inside as it had been outside. The kitchen walls were painted in the same bright yellow as the outside of the house, with sunflowers painted on the walls and fruit on the cabinet doors. The bathrooms were sterile and clean, with only a few prescriptions (Aspirin and Seroquel for Mrs. Robinson, Viagra for Mr. Robinson) were present in the medicine cabinet. No locked doors, no skeletons hiding behind the coats or blood stains beneath the beds. In fact, the only thing out of place was a slight tear in the yellow wallpaper in the master bedroom. Curious, Marianne examined it, her fingers rubbing the frayed edges in hopes of discovering the nature behind the tear, or perhaps revealing the mysteries behind the wallpaper.
“May I help you?”
The man’s voice was so soft and unexpected that Marianne could not help the yelp that slipped from her throat as she spun to face the intruder. A man in an antique looking suit stood in the doorway. Tufts of gray hair stuck out from behind a white mask emblazoned with a rainbow. But for his eyes, his entire face was covered. Marianne blushed and hid her hands behind her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said quickly. Her heart still pounded heavily from the surprise. “I was just curious, is all.”
It unnerved her that she could not see the man’s face or discern his reaction. “It is alright. One must not go against their true nature, after all.” A hollow laugh rumbled beneath the man’s mask as he started to turn away. “But come,” he continued, motioning with his hand for her to follow. “It is nearly midnight. The fun is just about to begin.”
Marianne lifted the hem of her skirt from the floor and started after the man. “What fun?” she inquired. Her nose began to itch. She scratched it beneath the edge of her mask. She’d almost forgotten its presence until the silk brushed against her finger. It had practically become a second skin, perfectly natural where it lay pressed against her flesh.
“You shall see,” the old man said before melting into the crowd.
Marianne stood in the hallway entrance between the kitchen and the living room, a hand on the warm wall, and stared at the ongoing party. Everyone seemed oblivious to whatever dark horrors this house was rumored to hide. Perhaps, like her, tonight they had only seen the mundane side. And, unlike her, were willing to accept that. Realizing this, Marianne suddenly felt out of place. How could everyone just forget? How could they pretend that nothing was wrong?
The grandfather clock boomed out its first toll of the midnight hour, causing Marianne to jump. The lights, every single one, went out. The music ceased its thumping. There were startled yelps, followed by nervous giggles. A second toll. Silence. Then a third.
The scream started as a high pitched, hysterical squeak. It quickly blossomed into a full throated, eldritch cry for help, then just as quickly was strangled back to silence. A heavy thump accompanied the fourth toll of the clock. Silence for the fifth toll, then chaos. The walls trembled from the reverberation of screams and people knocking against each other in a desperate attempt to flee in the darkness. Every part of Marianne roared at her to run, but she found she could not move a muscle. She could hardly breathe, and her heart seemed to be pounding in her throat.
“Oh God, help me!”
“Who’s that? Nooooooo!”
By the ninth toll of the bell, the lights flickered back to life. Marianne gasped for breath and tried to look away, but she could not turn her face from the grisly sight before her. Bile rose from her belly, burning its way up her throat. Her head spun. Blood. So much blood. Blue faces, bloated with death and with eyeballs popping from their sockets. Masks wrapped tight around throats, hands curled in futile attempts to pry them free. Masks, masks, masks…
Marianne began to scream and clawed at her own mask. She had to remove it, had to get it off, now, now, NOW!
It wouldn’t budge. Not an inch. She cried and screamed. Tears burned their way down her cheeks. The more she tried to remove it, the tighter it squeezed her face. The grandfather clock continued its tolls, but she’d long since stopped counting the number.
A knife! She needed a knife! She stumbled over her skirt as she staggered over the corpses. Her entire body trembled. A knife, where the bloody hell was a knife? Before making it to the island counter, she tripped and landed hard on one of the cadavers. The body was still warm, its sightless eyes staring at her. Marianne screamed and vomited.
She managed to stand. Something crawled along her skin. She slapped at her face as she struggled to reach the knife block. It felt like dozens of tiny insects were feasting on her flesh. The grandfather clock continued to toll the time, although it had to be past twelve counts by now. Why did it continue to chime?
Marianne grasped the handle of the butcher knife with a sweaty hand and pulled it free of the block. It tried to slip from her trembling grip. She stared in horror at the reflection in the knife’s blade. The spiders from her mask and her hairpins now crawled over her skin. Tiny red bumps oozed with blood from their bites. They were moving from her face and neck to her arms and chest and back. Every bite produced more silver spiders. They were everywhere, crawling and biting and spreading. Goosebumps rose along her skin. Her stomach churned. Her scream was strangled with hysteria.
“Get off me! Getoffmegetoffmegetoffme!” she cried. She stabbed at the spiders, the blade slicing through flesh. Her blood oozed silver as more spiders crawled out of the wounds. Marianne screamed and flailed and stabbed again and again and again and the grandfather clock continued to toll and the walls of the house shook and the dead watched with their strangled, bulging eyes. “GetoffgetoffgetOFF!”
A particularly large spider sat on her chest. Its body rose and fell with every ferocious beat of her heart. It sank its pinchers into her flesh and sucked as it spewed more spiders from its abdomen. Marianne screamed again and closed her eyes. Then, with all her might, she thrust the knife into the spider, cringing as it squished against her chest. The blade cut deep, pushing past flesh and muscle to pierce her heart. She gasped for breath, her eyes opening. The room spun around her, and black spots filled her vision. The grandfather clock tolled a final time as her body fell to rest among the other corpses.
As silence filled the Yellow House once more, the speakers from the radio began to broadcast static. Then, very softly, music.“It’s a dead man’s party… Leave your body at the door…”