Lisa stretched out on her oversized bed replaying the events from the previous night. As soon as the old housekeeper had walked into her kitchen, the thunderstorm abruptly departed, and with it the paranoia and fear that had consumed her vanished. She couldn't seem to even remember why she had been so worked up. She felt the madness that lay waiting in the periphery of her mind slowly gaining a stronger foothold.
She had put on her best stony face and insisted the woman leave immediately after she checked the sprinkler system. Ms. Elliott hadn't seemed rebuffed by her icy attitude at all, which was a curiosity to Lisa. Her to do list today consisted of calling a lock smith to change the front door locks and hopefully gain her access to the third floor. She truly dreaded the prospect of having to interact with anyone at all, unfortunately in this instance it couldn't be helped.
After she had her breakfast, the door bell rang. She felt a revulsion wash through her as she opened the door to the smiling, slightly overweight man standing on her door step with a box of tools in one hand the other outstretched to shake hers. She kept her arms glued to her sides and smiled with her cynical grin that made the man quickly drop his hand and look around nervously.
"Please take off your shoes," she said by way of introduction. There was nothing even remotely inviting about Lisa Brennan, and she made no effort to hide that fact. Her voice was shrill and revoked images of evil witches from children's cartoons. The locksmith obligingly
removed his shoes, but seemed reluctant to enter the house. "This is the lock I need changed and there is another lock on the third floor which needs opened." She said pointing to the front door.
"Yes ma'am, let me take a look," he kneeled down inside the closed door and began inspecting the lock with his tools. After what felt like an eternity to Lisa in which she stood impatiently with her arms crossed and foot tapping, he stood up, "I am very sorry ma'am, but this lock is unlike anything I have ever seen before. I am going to have to order special parts in order to replace the locking mechanism and get you a new key."
"That is unacceptable! You need to change the lock now," Lisa made no effort to hide the rage that boiled beneath her veins and made her mind spin through the gruesome fates the characters in her novels had met, just on the border of wishing them on the hapless locksmith.
He stumbled for his bag making the move to leave, "I am very sorry ma'am."
"Where do you think you are going? I need you to look at the lock to my third floor."
"I hope the third floor lock isn't of the same design," He said with genuine fear trickling through his voice at the thought of disappointing the woman looking daggers at him.
"Lets hope," she said, the threat clear in her voice. Lisa wound her way through the house towards the third floor stairs. As Lisa walked the halls she found herself pulled into her usual trance pondering the strange feeling that reached for her from the depths of the house.
"Oh I know that song." Lisa startled at the man's words. "What song?" she asked.
"The one you was just hummin'. My wife used to sing that to our son when he was a baby. He is a full grown man now...." While the man continued to prattle on, Lisa searched her recollection for indications that she had just been humming, but she couldn't seem to remember the last few minutes at all. She realized that they had managed to climb the stairs to the second floor and weave through to stop at the bottom of the steep thin stairs that lead to the third floor door. The stairwell was lined with red wallpaper that had seen better days. There was no hand rail or windows, and Lisa imagined that the rate of incline would not pass code today. When they reached the top of the steps, the man shook his head. "Nope, this is the same kind ma'am. I can order the parts, hopefully they will be in the shop in a week or so."
"You call me as soon as you have them," She comanded and let the man depart without another word. Alone in the stairwell, Lisa placed her hand on the white wooden door. It felt solid beneath her finger tips. The smell that she had first detected upon entering the house seemed stronger up here. She turned to move down the stairs when her foot landed on something sharp, causing he to scream out in pain, interrupting the humming that she had unconsciously began again. She sat down on the step to inspect what had sent shooting pulses of pain up her leg. As she lifted her foot, drops of bright red blood fell to the step before pooling and spilling down to the next stair. For a long moment, Lisa stared as the blood made its path along the stairs. The bright red was a startling contrast to the light brown wood. Finally, she examined what had caused the cut. From the open wound, she pulled an ornate golden cross, whose bottom end was severed to create a sharp point, which was now covered in blood. The cross, which was about the size
of her palm, had intricate weaving Celtic knots inlaid in silver over the gold. As Lisa turned it over in her hands, heavy tears fell from her face and mixed with the blood already spreading across the stairs. Lisa reached up to her face surprised by the tears that escaped her eyes.
She couldn't remember the last time she cried, but the tears came uninhibited as a sob racked her body. She felt the fragments of her sanity slipping away faster than she could repair them. The cross had invoked some subconscious dread that had lay dormant until this moment. The control that she held onto so tightly through the manipulation of her entire world, persona and novels no longer held her together. The haunting torment that gnawed at her everyday was winning supremacy of her thoughts and actions.
A slow tinkling song started behind the door as she turned the cross over and over again in her hand unable to control herself. The words fell from her lips in the barest whisper.
"Hush little baby...don't say a word..." As she heard the words come from her own voice she turned to look at the door. What was behind that door? She thought to herself. I have to know!
"Hello? Miss Graves?" the muffled voice of Miss Elliot met her ears from the far reaches of the front door.
The Third Floor
Lisa shot to her feet and bounded down the steps, pocketing the cross. The annoyance that she would normally feel about the unwelcome intrusion by the unhinged maid was overcome by the thought that now ran through her head. She moved through the maze of the house determined not to be sucked into her dark tortured thoughts. She gripped the cross so tightly that it left bloody marks in her hands in order to maintain her focus on the present moment.
"Hello? Miss Graves? I saw your car. I hope you don't mind I let myself in.” Miss Elliott's voice sounded closer as she rounded a corner to pass her bedroom on the left then a large open sitting room on her right before she finally made it to the broad staircase where Miss Elliott stood peeking around corners and straitening up knickknacks on tables.
"Miss Elliott!" Lisa said with a frantic lilt to her voice that made the woman look up in surprise. Lisa must have looked haggard because Miss Elliot startled at the sight of her.
"Oh Miss Graves, I am so glad you are home. I was just drivin' by and I was thinking about the floors. They are original to the house and need special care that I thought..." she was cut off by Lisa grabbing her shoulders.
"Do you have the key to the third floor?" she shouted her question inches from Ms. Elliott’s face.
"Why, yes, of course I do," She said fishing around in the pocket of her black dress that looked like the same dress she must have worn as a maid. She pulled out a large brass ring filled with keys. "I was responsible for this whole house, and as a matter of fact, I lived up on the third floor. Did you hurt your self?" she said noticing Lisa's hands as she looked through the keys. "Ah its this one. I can't believe they didn't give you all the keys." Lisa ripped the keys from her hands and turned to run for the stairs. "What about the floors?" Miss Elliot asked as Lisa landed on the second floor.
Lisa didn't bother to slow down to answer the woman's question. She ran toward the third floor steps like her life depended on it. She was starting to believe that it actually might.
She came to a stop in front of the ominous white door, panting to catch her breath. With a shaking bloody hand, she pushed the key into the lock. It did not slide smoothly. Instead Lisa had to struggle to push the key in, lacerating her hand even further in the process. When the key finally settled into the lock, she tried to turn it as her blood slick hands kept losing their grip. She put both hands on the key and tried to turn with all of her weight to no avail. She pounded her fist on the door in frustration.
"Open the door!" she shouted at no one.
As if in response to her scream the door slowly creaked open as a whisper swept past like the wind, "We've been waiting for you." The key slipped from her fingers to clang
down the steps before landing on the second floor. A shrill and heart wrenching scream broke free from her chest. It was a scream that surfaced involuntarily from long buried torment in the depths of her soul, reverberating off the too close walls and echoing to the farthest reaches of house, stretching to eternity until the sound finally died on her lips leaving only the scorched ruins of reality staring back into her eyes.