The Mansion in The Mountains
by Stella Brians
He met Eloise at the animal shelter as usual, and as soon as he saw her he knew that there was something on her mind, something she wanted to talk to him about. For Vincent, this drew much anxiety because he knew she would eventually move away. When she became emotional as she had the other night, she spoke more and more often of the retreat and of Leon. Vincent knew about Lyle, but she wouldn’t say why she left the retreat and Leon behind. Eloise was his only dear friend, as Vincent had had his own issues and kept people at arm’s length. With Eloise, one couldn’t help but fall very much in love with her, which he had. She was a crystal in the rough, fun and imaginative, strong and caring. Many would pass her up because she dressed like a guy in flannels and band tees but he loved that about her as well.
As he walked towards her in the kennel, he could feel her sad gaze without looking directly at her. They had that kind of connection.
“What do you need to tell me?” He asked softly once he had reached her.
“I’m going to find Leon, and apologize. I want to tell him that I love him, and go back to the retreat.”
He had known it, he may as well have been a mind reader.
“Your’e my best friend, Eloise. Please don’t leave.” That was all Vincent could say, and it felt awful.
“Come with me, Vincent. You can either live in the retreat with us, or buy a house out there–”
“I don’t know if I could. I don’t think…”
“Vincent, your’e a millionaire. You can do anything.” she said, smiling up at him.
Nothing could have hurt or insulted Vincent more in that moment.
“Money can’t buy everything…and I can’t do anything. I’m in love with you, and that’s why I don’t want to go, seeing you with this other guy. I just…I need to go.” Vincent left her there, with Lady Gray and all the other animals. He couldn’t stand to see her sadly looking after him, he felt furious and devastated all at once. Her leaving made him think though; why did he need to stay in California, the very place that had made his life a living hell through his child acting years?
He went home, parked his car and went directly back to bed sleeping through Eloise’s numerous phone calls trying to reach him. Vincent slept straight until dawn, when he awoke hungrily and made breakfast. A cloud loomed over him, causing everything he did to feel very mechanical and robotic. He had known she didn’t feel the same way, but to have it in the open air like that had hurt him deeply. The only person he had opened himself to in years was leaving and didn’t see to give a damn about him. No amount of thank you notes left by the coffee maker could ever raise claim that she cared half as much as he did.
For a week, he shut himself in his sprawling mansion, ignoring phone calls and attempted visits by Eloise until he heard the noise in the attic.
It sounded like a very old telephone, the kind his parents used to have way back when. It had a clunky ringing noise that was loud, caustic, and unmistakable to him. What was most disturbing to Vincent was that he didn’t own a phone like that, his were modern. It had occurred to him that the house was very old and had antiques in the attic but there was no way in hell that a phone was set up there. Every phone had to be hooked up by an electrician, which Vincent had overseen himself a day after moving in. It was impossible to get up to the attic without a large ladder, so why there would need to be a telephone up there was beyond him.
The ringing had been going on for hours, the person calling every fifteen minutes. Once he had enough, Vincent called a hardware store to deliver a large ladder to him. Usually, he didn’t like to tell people where he lived, but the noise was beginning to drive him to a higher level of anxiety and distress.
The delivery men arrived an hour later with an enormous ladder, and Vincent led them up the seven flights of stairs. By this point, the four of them—Vincent included—were out of breath and tired. They offered to help him get the attic open, and he almost disregarded their help but decided to oblige.
“Christ, this thing has been glued, painted over, and the whole nine yards. You got some tools, mister?” asked one of them, his face screwed up in frustration.
“Yes, I have some in the kitchen. I’ll be back in a moment.” Vincent though tired, ran down all of the flights and bounded into the kitchen to grab the toolbox he kept under the sink.
It was a game to the men, they were just as fascinated with what could be up in the attic as Vincent was.
“It’s a telephone.” Vincent said, tired of their exhaustive talking. All he wanted was some peace so that he could sleep and gather more strength to speak to Eloise, reason with her even.
“Yah man, there’s more up there than just that. Have you seen your house? I bet it was owned by some old rich guy who left treasures up there.” said the one who looked like he belonged on a beach or in a suntan commercial.
“I almost have it.” The one on the ladder was plowing away at the latch with the back end of a hammer.
The trap door flew open, hitting him in the face. A strong smell hit the air that Vincent did not like, but he insisted he go up first. The others set to follow him whether he wanted them to or not.
The attic was set up to resemble a cathedral, mismatched chairs were in place of pews facing an altar with a stained glass backing. Everything looked stolen, from the glass, to the preachers stand, to the chalices. At first glance to the scene, the worst of it were the gruesome murals of a long white dragon eating children as parents looked on in terror. Vincent breathed in the horrible smell as he heard the three men climbing up into the attic.
“The ceiling has to be twenty feet high…”
“Hey, I found the phone..”
“Answer it if it rings again.” Vincent said coldly. He was terrified beyond his wildest dreams. Something had been going on up here, and it looked like a cult was using his attic as a church for some sick purpose of worship.
The stench was coming from the walls behind the stained wallpaper, and he invited the men to rip apart the walls if they wanted. With his bare hands, Vincent clawed them open. They were stuffed with cardboard and plastic wrapping, but he could tell something was back there.
The first part of her he saw was her arm, a coalition of blue and green that was rot and decay. The more he tore open the wall, his dark hair a mess and his eyes screaming with no words, the more he saw of her, and the rot that covered her entire body. Her hair had been brown, and some of it had fallen out. Her body looked recently dead, as it looked more human than a corpse that had been buried. The age of her was difficult to judge, but he would guess eleven, maybe twelve. All that held her back from falling on top of her were boards dug crudely into her shoulders and legs to ensure she was pinned there. He stared at her, lost in his own silence while the other men were shouting that they had found dead children. Her face had been that of an angel, and she clung to her naked body while she died in the wall. For some reason, he knew she died in the wall.
The beach bod guy handed him the ancient telephone they had found in a locked closet.
“I told you to answer it…” Vincent murmured, staring at the girl’s eyes, which were too far gone for him to tell the color they had been.
“What happened up here? How could you not know?” He answered.
“Because I’m never up here, I have no reason to go past the fourth floor so how the hell would I know what’s going on? That there have been intruders killing children.” The men shrugged and backed away, staring into Vincent’s face filled with rage and sadness.
He made all of them leave, and once they were finally gone he thought about what he should do, call the police or privately take this into his own hands.
It would be possible for Eloise and he to do their own detective work together, she was intelligent and resourceful, and he was rich as she pointed out. How stupid of the cult to choose his home as their killing jar.
He called her back, fearing what she would say, knowing that this was the worst time to tell her what he had found.
“Hello?” Her voice was full of exhaustion, and it hurt him to hear her like that.
“Eloise, it’s me.” when he spoke aloud, his voice sounded more terrified than he thought it would.
“Vincent! Are you..what’s going on? I’ve stopped by your house, called and called…I miss you.”
“Eloise, now I’m sorry I have upset you, but there has been an awful discovery and I need your help.”
“What do you mean? You haven’t left your house, what could you have discovered?”
“It’s in the house, they’re in the house…in the walls of the attic.”
“Oh god…who is in the walls?” Her voice became shrill, as she braced herself to hear what he had to say.
“The children of a cult.”
“Have you called the police?”
“No, I don’t want cops here, reporters crawling everywhere like roaches. I want to find the cult ourselves.”
There was a noise that interrupted the conversation, a shuffling of electric wires and then static.
A man’s voice, smoothed over and polished but unmistakably old replaced Eloise’s.
“We have found you, have been watching you for years, Vincent. While you prance around in your solitude thinking that no one can see you, you’re so invisible. This old house has secrets like we do, and like the white dragon has. You can either live in this house or die in it.”
Vincent called Eloise back and told her not to come near the house, that there had been a new development and to stay away for her safety. While he locked himself in his tower with his animals unable to sleep, the cult of the white dragon killed the three repairmen brutally in their homes leaving no trace and no fingerprints. Their body parts were shoved in the trunks of their cars and kitchen cabinets. They planned to kill Vincent and Eloise too, eventually. Leon was only good as far as the store made money. People were replaceable to them. All that mattered to the cult was connecting with the white dragon and discovering all of its secrets. Their delusions hurt everyone around them, and certainly killed the followers beneath them.