THE LAST WORDS
by BART MEEHAN
ust as he was about to fall asleep, a voice whispered in Adam’s ear:
‘We’re going to kill you.”
He sat up, suddenly awake, and looked around the room. It was dark and he could only make out the shape of things. A dresser, a cupboard, a lamp.
“Where am I?” he asked aloud.
His head was spinning and he felt the beer and bourbon chasers he’d been drinking all night start to stir and crawl into his throat. He gulped them back down and stood up, swaying a little as he did.
Again: “Where am I?”
A bedroom. Obvious.
A musty smell. Like it had been closed up for years.
No light through the window, even though the curtains were pulled back.
Wasn’t it a full moon tonight? Boarded shut.
And what was that sound?
He slapped his cheeks, trying to clear his head.
Wind in the attic? Sounds like the house is whispering.
We’re going to kill you. Was that the start of a sour mash dream or the boys’ idea of a joke?
“Not funny,” he called out.
He shuffled his feet on the cold timber floor, shivered, and suddenly realised he was naked.
Nice touch, he thought and then, for some reason, he remembered the stupid story his grandfather told every Halloween.
“There was this guy, big mouth, who use to brag that he wasn’t scared of anything. So one day, when everyone in the bar’s had enough, they offer him a hundred bucks to spend the night alone in a haunted house. They figure that will shut him up, that he won’t do it, but instead Big Mouth laughs at them and says: someone want to give me a lift there? Anyway, turns out the place is truly creepy. Creaking and rattling, shadows hiding in the corners of the room. But that doesn’t worry him. No such thing as ghosts, he shouts so the guys in the car sitting on the kerb can hear him. But when he walks up the stairs, it feels like the eyes in all the portraits are following him and there’s a sound behind him. Tap, tap, tap. Footsteps. He turns but of course there’s nothing there. No such thing as ghosts, he says again but more to convince himself this time. Then he finds a bedroom, with a bed made up and waiting for him.”
Adam had always wondered why there was bed made up in a deserted house, but when he asked, his Grandfather shook his head, annoyed at the interruption and said:
“Halloween stories don’t need to make sense, boy. Just listen.”
Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice.
“So he locks the door, pulls off his boots and climbs under the blankets. He’s shivering but it’s not cold. Big mouth’s not so brave now. Anyway, he lies there listening to the house for a long time. Do you know how many sounds an old house makes – snap crackle and pop all night long - but after a while he’s so tired he falls asleep. He tosses and turns in dreams about shadows that pass through him, until something finally wakes him up. It’s a voice. A voice that’s all around him, filling the room.“
All the kids at the table were wide eyed.
“What’s it saying, Poppy?”
His Grandfather cupped his hands around his mouth to make the words echo:
“There is no one in the house but me and thee. No one but me and thee. ”
Now the kids shivered and asked: “What did he do? What did Big Mouth do?”
And that’s when Grandfather smiled. The pay off line.
“He jumped out bed and yelled, there’ll be no-one in the house but thee, if I can find my fucking boots.”
All the fathers laughed and all the mothers gasped and all kids looked at each other, confused: Was the house really haunted?
Every Halloween, same story, same punchline. But when you’re young, things like that never got old.
Adam smiled at the memory then thought: Of course, that was it. I told the guys the story and that gave them the idea.
Okay, it wasn’t Halloween, it was a bachelor party and they’d promised Eileen that they wouldn’t get him drunk and put him on a bus to nowhere. But he was the first of the gang to be captured, so they had to do something memorable, right? (And that wasn’t going to be easy. The overnight trip across state lines wasn’t the only thing that had been ruled out. There was actually a list, and as each prohibited item was read out, the boys sang Come On Eileen, to flag their disappointment. Eileen held a strained smile until they left, and then said: “We won’t be seeing them that much after we’re married, will we?“ It was a rhetorical question.)
Adam moved tentatively through the dark towards the shape of the lamp and tried to switch it on.
Of course it didn’t work. They must have been planning this for a while.
“I’m going to kill you guys” he shouted, with enough humour in his tone to ensure they knew he was going to be a good sport about everything.
They were obviously somewhere in the house watching a murky video stream of his skinny white ass stumbling across the room and out into the hallway.
His eyes had adjusted a little and he could make out several doors along the hall. He tried to open them but they were all locked.
Just like a cheap horror movie, he thought.
“What’s next? Jason going to crash through the wall?” he shouted, then noticed for the first time that his voice wasn’t echoing. It was like the words were being soaked up by the dark.
He ran his hand along the wall, feeling for a light switch. The surface felt damp. No, not damp. Slimy.
The roof has probably been leaking for years. Amazed the place is still standing.
Adam shook his head and smiled.
How’d they find it ? It’s fucking perfect.
“We’re going to kill you.”
He jumped and turned around. Nothing.
So damn perfect, it has you imagining things, he thought.
“No going to work,” he shouted.
And then the music started.
A hard beat floating out of the dark pit he assumed was the head of the stairs.
Since my baby left me
I found a new place to dwell
It’s down at the end of lonely street…
He stopped and held his breath. Each note sounded like a footstep on the stairs.
“A bit clichéd, boys,” he shouted, hoping the bravado was convincing. “And if you’re going to use music for atmosphere, you shouldn’t use the King. He’s way too cool to be creepy.”
In response, the music got louder, so loud he could feel it in the floorboards.
He was getting angry.
“Eileen is going to kill us all if she finds out about this.”
He tapped his way through the dark, until his toes felt the edge of the first step.
The music was overwhelming now, wrapping him so tightly that he could barely breathe.
“Shut it off, for fuck’s sake. You’ve must have enough footage to go viral.”
He took a step forward and as he did, he felt something grab his ankles, something that reached out of the floor boards, and squeezed so hard his skin split.
It pulled his feet from under him and he was pitched forward into the dark space above the stairs. He hung there for a moment, wondering what the punch line was. Then he fell, his bones popping like a string of penny crackers with each tumble, until he reached the bottom and slapped out flat on the cold floor.
He lay there, too broken to speak and thought: That wasn’t in the plan, was it boys?
And then: Where are they?
They must have seen him fall. Sure, they’d be calling an ambulance, but still, someone should be checking on him. Seeing if they can do anything.
Adam closed his eyes and listened to the music.
Love me tender
Love me true
All my dreams fulfilled
Eileen wouldn’t let him use that song as their wedding waltz. They’d argued about it. Who doesn’t like Presley? Your future wife, she told him in a tone that closed down the discussion.
In the end they’d agreed on…
Suddenly, he felt something grip his head and begin to twist.
He tried to open his eyes but couldn’t. It was like thumbs were pressing them shut.
I hope they’ve called Eileen, he thought. Lord, she was going to be so pissed about having to postpone the wedding because of a dumb prank.
He felt the pressure building. Probably fitting a brace, he thought.
I’ll be yours through all the years
Until the end of time
He didn’t feel his neck snap, but he heard it. It sounded like a full stop at the end of the last words ever whispered in his ear:
“We’ll never let you go.”
Bart Meehan lives in Canberra Australia and has published several stories over the years. Bart has also written a short radio play about World War 1 that was broadcast on Australian radio and is now available for free download here. A second play on the London Blitz during World War 2, will be broadcast in the coming months. Bart's micro 40 Years and Counting appears in the April 2013 issue of HelloHorror and his story The Lesson appears in the Winter 2015 issue.
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