Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Horror Story

I have a friend named Bill.  Bill used to work for the City, 35+ years in the City Real Estate Department.  He loved it there.  His job was to go through all the deeds for upcoming treasurer's sales and city property acquisitions, review the deeds to make sure that the titles were OK, and pass off the information to the legal department.  A lot of people thought this was boring work, but Bill enjoyed it up until his sudden retirement earlier this summer. 

The retirement was unusual.  For people that have worked for the City as long as he did, there's usually a bit more warning (at least enough to get some cake and balloons together).  Bill, however, came in on Wednesday morning, submitted his notice to his boss, and was gone by noon.  Nobody knew what had happened and he wouldn't respond to phone calls or emails to his home. 

Bill lives close by my house and I used to see him out and about on sunny weekends, but since he left the City, his curtains have been shut and his lights have been turned off.  His neighbors said that, yes, he's still up and around, but that he doesn't say much anymore and he mostly only leaves the house for groceries.  Recently, I happened to be walking by his house, when I noticed Bill coming outside to get his mail.

"Bill," I shouted to him, "What's going on?"

"Shape without form!  Shade without color," Bill shouted back, and quickly ran back into his house. 

I followed him up to his door, rang the bell a couple of times, but to no avail.  As I turned to leave, I heard something slide out from under his door.  It was a note from Bill.  All it said was "Ed will explain." 

I assumed that Bill meant his former coworker Ed, who had also worked for the City for at least as long as Bill.  They were terrific friends because they had to work so closely together: Bill did all the back office paperwork for City properties, while Ed actually visited the properties to make sure that they weren't unsafe. 

I called up Ed. 

"Hey, Ed!" 

"Hey, what do you need?"  (Ed is a very get-to-the-point kind of guy.)

"What do you know about Bill leaving?" 


"He said 'Shape without form!  Shade without color' and left me this note saying you'd explain what happened."

There was silence on the end of the phone.

"I-I-I don't know anything," he finally stammered back and hung up the phone. 

About five minutes later, I received an email from Ed saying "10 minutes; my office."

I rushed down to his office.  Ed was there looking very nervous.  His eye was twitching almost imperceptibly and I could tell that he was trying very hard not to shake.  He offered me a seat and started telling me the story:

Apparently, the City had recently put a slew of properties into a Treasurer's sale.  It was Bill's job to review the old deeds to make sure there weren't any surprise easements, covenants, or other restrictions that the courts would have to remove.  Usually these things are pretty dry, akin to reading boilerplate for a living, but something this time caught Bill's attention.  Amidst the boring recitals, there was a paragraph in one of the deeds that read "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record.  THE DARKNESS IS HERE." 

Bill was taken aback a bit.  "THE DARKNESS IS HERE" was definitely out of place in this or any other deed. 

He decided to pull up the previous deed, just to confirm that this was some para-legal playing a joke on an under-observant lawyer.  The previous deed had a similar paragraph: "Subject to all easements and servitudes apparent from inspection of premises as noted in previous deeds of record.  FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM."

Bill is slightly nervous at this point, partially because the wording of the deed had changed (which can be a bureaucratic nightmare to straighten out) but mostly because this was getting slightly creepy. 

He pulls up the prior deed and the deed before that and the deed before that.  All of them have the same basic "Subject to..." and then another, seemingly random disturbing phrase.  He finally gets back to a deed without the line in it, dating all the way back to 1925, and begins to piece them together.  The phrases, when put in chronological order, formed a fairly disturbing poem:

Now, Bill gets a little nervous about all this and decides to start looking at the deeds a bit closer.  Turns out, the property has been owned by a particular family, the Eliots, since around the turn of the century.  The property is always passed by deed (as opposed to by inheritance) to another member of the family prior to the death of previous owner.  The last owner, a Theadora Smith (nee Eliot) died recently at the age of 78 and, without an heir or a will, left the property to be scooped up by the tax collectors. 

Interestingly enough, the owner at the time the "first" deed was written was a Thomas Eliot, who was a suspect in a series of missing persons cases in the 1910s.  Apparently, several of Mr. Eliot's romantic companions were spotted in his company and thence never again.  Many people in the neighborhood gossiped that Eliot had killed them and hidden the bodies.  The police, however, could never pin any of the disappearances on him and when he died in 1926, passing the property off to his nephew Timothy, the matter was dropped.  Bill had found in old copies of the newspaper, however, that for many, many years later, neighbors had complained about "a foul odor" coming from the house which would appear suddenly and vanish just as quickly. 

At this point, Bill is really nervous.  He calls up Ed and says that they need to inspect the property personally. 

They get in a city municipal vehicle and drive to the building: an old row house in Lawrenceville, partially falling down.  They break out their flashlights, remove the plywood from the door, and go inside.  The interior is a wreck and smells old and rotten, which is normal for a house that's been vacant for so long.  The light between the boarded up windows is just enough that they can make out the interior.  They move slowly from room to room looking for anything particularly suspicious, but it all seems fairly normal. 

They go into the basement.  The stairs are old and creak under the heavy weight of two full grown men.  To pierce the darkness, they turn on their flashlights.  The basement is cold and dank, but fairly typical of Pittsburgh basements. 

"That's not right," said Ed suddenly.


"The wall over there," said Ed.  "It doesn't make any sense.  That's not the foundation of the house." 

Bill moved closer to the wall to inspect.  Sure enough: it was plaster, not stone.  He tapped on it with his flashlight.  In an instant, all the rotted plaster on the wall collapsed, revealing a secret back basement. 

Not so much of a basement, really; it was more of a slaughterhouse.  Strewn about were the various implements to remove flesh from victims, pots to boil their skin, and pikes to roast them over open flames.  Everywhere was evidence that this room had been used to torture and destroy unwitting neighbors who had fallen into a trap, only to be consumed by generations and generations of Eliots. 

And in the center of the room the ultimate horror: propped up in a chair, was a partially devoured figure holding a placard which read the final line of the terrible poem that had brought them here:
Bill quit his job in terror the next day. 


MH said...

I don't get it. Are you implying that there are houses in Lawrenceville without corpses in the basement or that there are non-demonic entities that want Bachmann as president?

O said...


MH said...

Good story, but I still don't believe that anybody wants Bachmann for president (except Bachmann and lesbians who will be able to use the restroom in peace if she's in the White House).