Moonlight illuminated a tiny cottage as my car sputtered and died. Lucky that I could take shelter in the cozy house until the next morning. Freezing to death in this brutal winter was not the plan. I huddled deeper into my long coat and walked towards the gate. It was unlocked, strange since the cottage was on the outskirts of the town with no other house for company.
I hurried on the path margined with small trimmed shrubs and a few plants. The scent of the night flowers mingled with the smoke from the chimney to release a new smell that wasn’t pleasant. Tall trees that served as the fence on the east side of the cottage were swaying to wind, and rustling leaves made me shiver.
I knocked on the dark study door while trying to peep from the closed windows beside it. Only a faint light seeped through the heavy curtains that hung over the windows. I couldn’t identify anything. I knocked again harder, the impact making the already loose wreath fall. It had an eerie effect on me. I suppressed a shudder, ignored the fallen wreath, and knocked the third time.
A bat flew by, almost hitting its head against the roof of the cottage. It veered in the last second, and I remembered how bats use ultrasonic waves to guide them. Just then, it flew through the chimney and into the house, ignoring the smoke and heat from it.
“Damn!” My words were snatched by the wind. Resisting the impulse to turn and walk away, I pushed the door. Where would I go anyway?
The door creaked and swung open, inviting me to enter. A rush of hot air hit me in the face. The contrast shocked my senses, and I was inside the warm house before I knew what I did.
The door shut behind me in silence. The house was silent too.
“Anybody home?” I called aloud and got no response. Weird! Who would leave the fireplace burning in an empty house? But the place was full of furniture and signs of people living in it.
“Whoever owns the place, I’m coming in,” I announced and walked into the small living room, trying to ignore the smell. It was stronger in the house; burnt wood and something repelling.
Maybe I could open a window or two and spend the night. Once daylight arrived, I could leave and forget what seemed to be turning into a doubtful adventure. With the glow from the fireplace to guide me, I walked around, noticing the neatly arranged chairs and a cute little coffee table with white lace spread on it.
There were two rocking chairs near the fire with three books placed in one and a basket of wool in another. The mantel was decorated with Christmas lights, and so was the bookshelf. A picture of an old couple hung on a faded wall below which a small tree, about two feet high, stood bare. The box of decorations sat beside it, unopened.
The room on my left had some light on, and I saw that it was a kitchen. The smell intensified, and I had to cover my nose to avoid nausea. I peeked and took a tentative step inside. It was stuffy and sweaty, with the oven still hot. A square table was pushed aside, with the chairs toppled. Dark liquid pooled on the floor, and I shrieked, taking a step back.
Two bodies lay, hacked to death. The old couple dressed in soft nightwear bled to death. An ax blade lay beside them. Its handle was missing.
It was the couple’s expression that stunned me. They had a smile on their faces, and their eyes were open. Mesmerized, I stared at them, ignoring the brutality of the scene.
The old man winked. I shook my head to clear it and stumbled backward. The man’s head turned in my direction, and he winked again and grimaced.
The old woman grinned wider, baring her white, strong teeth at me.
“What…” I gasped. My head was spinning. It couldn’t be a joke. The smell of death was unmistakable. Heck, their bodies even showed slight signs of decay. This couldn’t be happening.
Before I could make sense of anything, the lights went out. Even the fireplace and the oven stopped burning. Just like that.
I screamed. The dead old couple chuckled. The man rasped. “You’ll be one of us.”
I tried to move as their hands gripped my feet. Their scratchy voices announced in unison. “Welcome to the family.”
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I had saved this to read later and finally read it now. Enjoyed it thoroughly like some of your earlier stories that I have read Srivalli.