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1–Hugh

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The whole mess started one spring afternoon, shortly after I relocated to Quimper in Brittany France. I was snoozing away peacefully after an all-night bender when a jarring noise disrupted the blissful scene: brrrrrr-ing… brrrrrrr-ing... brrrrrrr-ing… brrrrrrr-ing…

“It’s here again,” said Gary--aka inconsiderate, entitled, surf enthusiast/trust-funded flatmate who still believed in a maxed-volume ringtone-- from down the hall.

brrrrrr-ing… brrrrrrr-ing... brrrrrrr-ing…

"Oh for God's sake!" I growled, covering my head with the pillow. “Answer the damned phone, you stupid stoner slacker!”

“3 p.m," he continued, in a graver tone, “just like the landlord said it would. And right on time too.”

I cracked open one glassy eye and peered blearily up at my cracked ceiling. “What the frickin’ hell is he talking about?”

And then I heard it: the barking. The goddamn barking rising from streets, from behind the walls bordering our apartment, increasing in volume, and dropping like shrapnel upon my eardrums.

“What the hell are those freakin' mutts barking at?” I sat up then groaned as the hangover hit me and turned to shield my eyes from afternoon sun leaking in through the blind.

“And now the noonday chorus of hell hounds has commenced,” Gary intoned slowly.

“Well, you got that right,” I scratched my scraggly hair and beard.

“Always they barked hysterically at the top of their lungs...” I heard the noisy crunching of veggie crisps followed shortly by a glug of V8. “Always at those same set of blue doors.”

I stopped scratching. “Say whaaat?”

The only blue doors I was familiar with were the ones that belonged to that vacant, bank-owned apartment down the block from us. I assumed it was left empty due to its owners not being able to afford repairs or fallen behind with their mortgage payments. Man! Was I wrong!

After what seemed like an inordinately long crunching and glugging pause, Gary mumbled, “Those same doors to that old apartment where all those seances took place... where a group of bored teens who had heard the stories of a dread room had decided to drive out whatever was imprisoned there.

“Always on the same day and exactly at the same time, nearly every dog in town comes to bark at those very doors... as if to keep whatever had broken loose and murdered most those kids from wrecking more havoc.”

“What kids?” I enquired, mystified. “What the hell is he going on about? Dude must be stoned out of his gourd on bong hits, and inhaled several times what a sane human should consume.”

Then through my vodka-induced haze, I suddenly remembered how the locals always would hurry to the other side of the street instead of passing close to that particular spot. How on one particular night as I walked by that place, I suddenly felt I was being followed and I kept checking over my shoulder, but I didn’t see anything. When I eventually got home, I was so grateful for the lights and ended up double-locking my door behind me.

“And it was a simple phone call that started the whole curse thing.”

Gee, I wonder if there’s a stringy-haired ghost girl here as well? I mentally inquired.

It wasn’t any Samara/Sadako-type grudge spirit... and what I heard and eventually, found on my own was worse than I ever imagined.

“Those teens all thought it was just their friend calling to invite them over to dabble in the occult,” Gary continued, “and practice being junior exorcists... only it wasn’t their friend who was making all those calls.”

He paused dramatically as if to let the words sink in. By this point in the story, cold chills were creeping up my spine, raising the hair on the back of my neck The silence lasted for another minute before he spoke again. “No... Uhuh... nope! No, siree! It wasn’t her at all. What was making those calls was a demon-possessed corpse.”

My eyebrows went up. “A demon-possessed corpse?” I snorted. “What in the great outdoors is that doofus spouting off about?”


Slowly, I pulled myself to my feet. I almost slipped a couple of times but managed to regain my balance and made my way to the door. Giving the door a good hard shove, I poked my head out into the hall.

“Yo Frank!” I bellowed with all my might. “Frankie! You know what that orange punk Gary was muttering to himself just now?”


2–Frankie

Thunk. Thunk, Thunk


I woke from my trance to the sound of heavy pounding on my apartment door. I slowly opened my eyes. The room was still lit by a luminous meditation lantern next to the bed I forgot to put out before going to sleep.

Thunk. Thunk, Thunk.

I looked over to my fellow roomie, Lizard, who was still sacked out on his futon before looking to the wooden door vibrating with each hit.

Thunk. Thunk

“Yo Frankie!” an all-too-familiar voice shouted, making my heart skip a beat. “You home?!”

Ugh, Hugh again. Sighing, I removed my earphones, turning off the calming meditation music and slowly closed my laptop. Drunk and raving mad about something...as usual. Probably something Gary did...as usual...like messing with Hugh’s little cacti collection or stealing the clearly-marked food containers.

Thunk. Thunk, Thunk.

Should I go ahead and open the door, and listen to yet another episode of Hugh venting his spleen about the exceedingly self-centered and inconsiderate new neighbor who dropped ash and trash everywhere, regardless of how many passive-aggressive notes Hugh may have left?

Thunk. Thunk

Okay, Hugh wasn’t perfect. He drank and smoked too much, but at least he didn’t do it at home and didn’t bring his fellow partiers with him. Also, he had a steady job as a bartender at the Gossip and made an effort to keep his areas clean...unlike the Richie Rich roomie who loved wasting (others’) energy (i.e. electricity, heating oil, gas, water).

“Oi Frankie! What ya bloody hell are you doin’?”

“Alright!” I yelled back as I got up and headed for the door. Then steeling myself, I pulled it open, noting that Hugh’s hand was still hanging in the air. He seemed surprised upon seeing me.


“Oh, hey Frank,” he said, lowering his hand. He looked inquiringly at Lizard in his after lunch stupor.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” I said, stepping aside to let Hugh in. “He's out like a log and nothing can wake him until he gets up himself.”

After we were seated at the coffee table Hugh said, "Let me tell you the freakin’ story I overheard from Gary.”

When he was finished, I nodded sagely. “Oh, yeah, yeah, Hugh,” I said finally. “The Grisia Street Massacre.”

Hugh started, fully awake now. “What? That happened?”

I nodded again. “Hell, yeah, it happened. Might sound like something straight out of a Stephen King story, but it did happen.”

“And the girl...the one who made those phone calls?”

“That part’s also true, I'm afraid,” I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “Really nasty stuff, but there were witnesses that actually heard her voice on the phone, and one friend of hers actually spoke to her at the front door...didn’t go in though since she was supposed to be babysitting some neighbor kids at the time, plus she suddenly got this huge sense of dread that she was being watched by someone or something with malevolent intentions. And then there was this other girl and her boyfriend who were hiding in the broom closet under the stairs.”

“Wait, what?!” Hugh suddenly exclaimed, holding up both his hands. “Slow down, man! You’re going too fast!”

“Okay...okay,” I said, eager to continue. “So this happened a year after Amityville Horror supposedly occurred, only it didn’t get the notoriety since it was quickly hushed up by the locals who didn’t want their town becoming a ‘murder tourism’ site.”

The moment I mentioned ‘murder tourism site,’ Lizard’s gray eyes popped open and swiveled immediately in our direction. Ignoring him, I continued. “So there was this girl–elite high scholar, really popular type. Don’t know her name, only that she was born into an old-money family that owned quite a bit of property around here including the Grisia St. Apartments. Didn’t have much luck with them though because folks always kept leaving on account of the hauntings...”

Hugh raised his bristly eyebrows. “Hauntings?”

Lizard propped himself up on his bony elbows as he squinted at us.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Place had always been a source of weird energy and ghostly tales, dating back to the early days of Quimper’s history. But they were minor phenomena–cold spots, whispered voices, muffled shuffling sounds and orbs floating around. More than a nuisance than an actual threat.”

“Until?” Hugh leaned forward, his left knee banging the coffee table, spilling his energy drink over the glass top.

“That is,” I murmured until these kids opened a door that should have stayed shut.”

Hugh looked speculatively across the table. “Well, what did they call up exactly?” he asked quietly, rubbing his knee.

I shrugged. “Nobody knows for sure.” I hesitated a moment, then abruptly asked. “You ever heard about the Surgat?”

Hugh scratched his disheveled hair, perplexed. “Can’t say I have,” he said at last.

“Yeah, it’s sort of an urban legend we got around here,” I replied. Supposedly started way back in the 1920s when this amateur medium named Celia Boubin (unknowingly) awoke or something with her occult dabbling. As was the fashion of the day, Celia Boubin was very interested in the occult and all things unexplained. Little did she and her devotees know that their innocent dabbling would bring face-to-face with the entity soon to be known as Surgat.

“No one knows for certain whether it was a demon or simply a ghost. The nature of the beast was not quite clear from the numerous garbled accounts of the unlucky souls who ran across it. But three things were certain–it was evil and viciously frightening and it wasn’t content to remain at the Grisia Place, waiting for victims.”

Hugh started. “It got loose?”

I slowly nodded. “Sure did. After Celia’s merry crew called it up out of the inky depths of the void, they couldn’t shoo it back it. Mass panic soon followed and they all fled, and the Surgat remained to terrorize the place and the surrounding streets. At that time, it didn’t do physical harm; maybe it was still weak from its emergence into the mortal world. Simply spreading sheer terror and panic was enough. This haunting would continue for several more years, and people soon avoided that section of the Altura Suburb. But eventually, a pair of Parisian exorcists confronted it, but even they couldn’t banish the unruly entity to the plane from which it came. So instead, they confined it to an attic room and gave it an endless task...”

“Oh, doing what?” Hugh asked hoarsely.

“I dunno,” I said, frowning thoughtfully. “Grand-père never said when he told me this stop and I never heard it mentioned from anyone else around here. Just that it was an endless task and that door was sealed up with blessed wax and iron bounded with several dozen charms and amulets, and then plastered shut and hidden away out of sight and mind.”

“Okay, but what about those kids?” prompted Hugh impatiently.

“Yeah, I was getting to that part,” I told him impatiently. “So fast forward to the Winter of ‘77–Feb. 23 to be exact. It was the middle of the Winter Holiday, and Richie Rich Girl decided to throw a big house party. It was a perfect time too since both her parents were out of town, and the weather was nice. So where did she decide to have her ‘little’ get-together? Yep, you guessed it–at the Grisia St. Place. She had heard about its infamous history of the haunting, including the one about the hidden room, although the real tale had dwindled to a bogey story used to frighten naughty children.

“Gary got it all wrong in his version of the story–the kids weren’t practicing on becoming junior exorcists, they were goofing off and trying to divine their future via Ouija board. You know, usual teenage party stuff. Also, another thing Gary got wrong was the kids were still alive when Richie Rich Girl made her first couple of calls.”

“Wait, there was a working phone there?” Hugh asked, baffled.

“There was a payphone right outside.”

“Oh,” Hugh nodded understandably.

“So going back to my story,” I went on, “rich girl made some calls to a couple more friends, but they were busy. The second one chatted with her for a while, telling how she wished she could come, but she was stuck with babysitting two rambunctious eight-year-olds. In the background, she could hear kids laughing and chattering away, obviously having a good time–this was around 7:30 P. M.”

“Did she die?” Hugh asked suddenly. “The babysitter?”

“No,” Lizard spoke up before me. “She and her folks eventually moved away.”

“They moved up to Rennes. Or maybe it was Saint-Malo,” I put in. “But that’s not important now.” I took a sip of my Chi before continuing. “So two more hours go by and the babysitter (let’s call her Jill for now) managed to get the squabbling tykes to be, and was now sacked out on the couch. Suddenly, the phone rang, and when she picked it up, and it was Rich Girl again, sounding bright and cheery as before.” I did my imagined impression of that particular scene forty-three years prior: “‘Hey, Jill!’”

“‘Hey, Richie!’”

“‘How was your party?’”

“‘Great, it’s still going on. How’s your babysitting?’”

“‘Pretty exhausting...I just put the lil’ monsters to bed.’”

“‘Yeah, little kids can be a real pain. I’ve babysat before, and it always left me feeling like my brain has just turned to mush. Say, you want to come over? Maybe you can get your future foretold.’”

“‘Oh, I don’t know, Richie. The Dupés might come back at any minute.’”

“‘Well, if they’re at a Wagner opera, they’ll probably won’t be home till eleven, Look, it’s just a short way down the street. It will only take a few minutes.’”

“‘Okay, I’ll come, but I’ll only stay for a few minutes.’”

“‘Great! See you soon!’”

“Hey, you do a pretty good impression of a teenage drama queen,” Hugh remarked with admiration.

“Brilliant performance, man,” Lizard agreed.

“Yeah, I was like a big drama geek in high school,” I admitted before quickly changing the subject. “It was a lovely night–almost spring-like when Jill started walking to the party. Things were lots different back then. You never had to lock your door. You never had to worry about being burglarized or mugged. Everybody knew everybody. Did you ever see the movie ‘The Burbs,’ Hugh? It’s about these strange neighbors that move into a suburban town, and the neighbors are like trying to figure them out?”

“No, I didn’t see it.”

“Oh, well, there’s a quote in it that goes like this–‘Green sky at night: Neighbor take flight.”

“Yeah?”

“As Jill was walking down the street, she noticed the night sky had a greenish-bluish tint to it,” I went on as I sipped my Chai again. “She thought that was odd then figured it must be a storm coming.”

“Yeah?”

“So as she neared the Grisia Apartments, she suddenly felt cold and afraid. Of course, she thought this was rather odd because nothing seemed amiss. The building before her had every window lit up by warm yellow light, and she could see shadowy figures moving about. Wow, Richie must have invited like half the school, Jill thought, walking up to the front door. Yet still, she couldn’t help but feel that something was not right. Still, she knocked and waited. And when the door opened, she saw Richie in a silvery formal gown with her blonde hair coiffed high and adorned with strings of pearls. Behind her, Jill glimpsed the other party-goers also formally dressed, milling around the long tables filled with food or around the punch fountain or waltzing to the tune of a string quartet in one corner. Everyone, except for Richie, sported a strange carnival mask.

“Ooh, ooh, ooh!” Hugh exclaimed excitedly like a small kid. “Like the Satanist party in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’!”

“Or the ballroom scene in ‘Labyrinth,’” muttered Lizard as he scratched his hairy ear.

“Exactly,” I said quietly, as I gazed back at him. “Except creepy cults and capering goblins didn’t even enter Jill’s mind. She only felt astonishment at the festive scene playing out before her, and then embarrassment that she had ever felt that there was something sinister taking place.”

“Once again, I launched into my re-enactment: “‘Hey, Jill!’ said Richie with a smile and a cheerful wave.

“‘Hey, Richie,’ said Jill with a relieved smile. ‘Wow! Great job on the party details!’

“‘Thanks, Jill. I decided to go with a Venetian masquerade ball theme.’

“‘Soooo...are your parents okay with you having a party here?’ Jill asked hesitantly

“‘It’s fine,’ Richie replied dismissively. ‘My parents aren’t due back for six more days.’ Then quickly changing the subject, she asked.

“‘Why don’t you come in?’ With a beaming smile, she opened the door wider to reveal the brightly lit scene.

“Jill was spellbound. She took a step forward and then halted when she suddenly felt a wave of nauseating terror swept over her. She closed her eyes, afraid that she would faint, or throw up.

“‘Hey, are you okay?’

“Jill sensed Richie hovering nearby.

“When she opened her eyes, she saw that Richie had changed.”

“Into what?” asked Hugh hoarsely.

I shrugged. “She wasn’t sure. It was all very sudden, just a shimmering flicker of something...like what you see through murky water or wavering mirage. And behind Richie, the bright golden room seemed to darken, the party-goers seemed to elongate into strange shadowy forms that all stared and grinned with razor-like teeth. And then everything was back to normal and there was Richie again looking quite concerned.

“‘Hey, Jill!’ Richie was leaning forward and staring hard at Jill. ‘Are you okay? You look terrible. Would you like to come in for some chamomile tea?’

“‘Thank you, but I can’t stay,’ Jill mumbled. ‘I left the twins home alone, I think I’m coming down with something.’

“Richie frowned skeptically. Then nodded. ‘You’re probably just coming down with a cold, probably got it from one of the twins. Maybe you better call it a night.’

“‘Maybe... Maybe, I should,’ Jill stammered, taking a step. ‘Sorry, I couldn’t stay for the party.’

“‘Hey, that’s okay,’ Richie grinned, patting her gently on the arm. ‘Maybe we could meet up next weekend.’

“‘Yeah, maybe,’ Jill forced herself to smile back. ‘Well, goodbye.’

“And when the front door shut, Jill’s smile vanished. Turning, she started walking rapidly away. She hadn’t gone very far when she heard the front door burst open and footsteps pounding behind her.

“Turning slowly, Jill froze in her tracks as two shadowy figures rushing toward her. Her eyes widened as the pale glow of a nearby street lamp revealed two disheveled figures of a teenage boy and girl, familiar acquaintances at school. Jill gazed in disbelief as the couple rushed past her with blanched faces and wide, staring eyes, dashing up the avenue before turning onto the Main Street.

“Behind her, the delicate-sounding music died away instantly, and when she spun around, icy terror gripped her like a massive iron vice. All the lights in the windows had suddenly gone out, and then the apartment was plunged into total darkness.

“Jill stumbled back, eyes bulging. It had to a blown fuse, she said to herself, nothing weird or wrong. Just a blown fuse. Still blind panic seized her, and she turned and ran. She didn’t stop running until she was inside the Dupés house with all the doors bolted shut behind here.”

“And was that it?” exclaimed Hugh, interrupting.

“Course not,” Lizard frowned as he sat up. “There’s still a massive crime scene to be discovered.”

“And still worse to come,” I muttered as I sipped the last of Chai. “And why people give the place berth now. So a couple of days passed and Jill went on a family outing down the coast... So she didn’t find out until shortly after she got back. Anyway, it got hot that Winter–really hot. That sweltering heat where the sweat poured off your forehead and pooled on the table. And the people started smelling this rank and pungent smell over Grisia... and they figured it’s coming from the apartment. Sickening and unholy, people were running for dear life to find some clean air.

"Eventually, the police, the gas, and fire department showed up thinking there might be a gas leak or explosive sewer problem. Everything all hunky-dory, right? Nothing to worry about? Just a routine emergency? Wrong. Because what do you suppose they found in the basement of the building? The bodies of a least thirty-one people who were at that party, including three derelicts. All of them mummified, still in historical garb and stacked neatly like cordwood against the walls. They had to consult dental records to find out the exact identity of each person. So the police figured that the killer or killers decided to hide the crime by putting everyone in the cool basement, only they didn’t count on a surprise heat wave that Winter."

None of my roomies said a word, they just sat stunned, staring wide-eyed at me.

“They were mummified, but not completely,” I went on, “so you can guess what all those people were smelling out on the street.”

Still, no one said anything.

“You were all wondering what that teen couple witnessed shortly after they ran out of that place?” I said quietly. “Well, that girl and her boyfriend (let’s call them Bernadette and Louis) were with the seance party and eventually, got bored since the spirits seemed to be not responding to the lame-ass questions being asked. So they decided to go downstairs and make out. So they go into this broom closet underneath the main stairway where no one would see them. Just when they began necking, they suddenly heard from above the scraping of chairs being thrust back at once and several loud thumps; then an unnatural silence.

“‘What’s going on up there?’ Bernadette whispered into Louis’s ear.

“Louis shrugged his shoulders, clenching his fists nervously. ‘I don’t know, but I can go up and check. Probably they just saw a rat.’

“As he was turning to push open the door, Bernadette suddenly clutched his arm in a painful grip. ‘No” she hissed. 'Don’t go out there!’

“‘What?’ Louis exclaimed, trying to shake her off. ‘Don’t be silly! It’s probably nothing to worry about. Just someone freaking out over nothing.’

“‘No,’ she sobbed, clutching at him like a madwoman. Her eyes stared pleadingly at him in the glow of their electric torch.

“‘Look,’ said Louis firmly. ‘I’m not going very far, only to the first-floor landing...and if something happens...’ And that was when he felt the air suddenly grow unnaturally cold and heavy, he could see his breath coming out in short, frantic puffs. Eyes widening, they watched as their only source of light dwindled to a weak, pale glow. Soon they were standing dead still in the pitch darkness.

“The stillness was finally broken by a slow tread of footsteps descending the stairs. They paused at near the closet, and then a dry crackling of voices that sent new chills racing up and down their spines. Then the single tread separated into several that went around the room.

“Louis slowly started for the door but was again held back by Bernadette. So he huddled there with her, crouching in the dark, waiting for the raspy voices and the dragging footsteps to go away. Sudden, horrifying images filled his brain... Of gaunt, leathery forms dressed in masquerade costumes dancing mechanically to a ghostly string melody or sampling phantom food or drink. Hovering just a few feet about the head of every mummy was a long, ghostly-white, tendril-like arm ending in a skeletal appendage, the spidery, fingertips were settled over the top of each shriveled head. Then he heard knocking and saw one of the tentacles guide a shambling marionette in a silvery dress go to the front door and open it. He heard the withered thing give a guttural rasp and then a familiar voice responded in return–‘Hey, Richie!’

“Richie? Louis felt nausea rising in his throat. ‘Oh God, Jill! Oh, please God, no!’

“He waited, his breath hissing rapidly, for the screaming and begging to start. But none came, and after what seemed like hours, he heard the front door shut, a dry, rasping moan like order and then numerous footsteps moving steadily away.

“The moment the noises stopped, both teens barreled out the closet, out the door and took off down the avenue, passing a startled Jill who stared as they flew by. They sped on, too terrified to pause or even to look back as the Grisia Place was plunged into absolute darkness.”

Leaning back in my chair, I folded my hands. “Yeah, really good luck timing for both of them,” I said quietly. “They both ended up surviving... Unlike other young couples in slasher movies, although both ended up breaking up.”

Hugh shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “So that’s it, then?”

Lizard kept staring at me, his thin face now very pale and broken out in a sweat.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I answered. “The forensic guys couldn’t figure out how the bodies came to be in such a state or the exact time of death. It still, remains a major mystery to this very day–”

“Why didn’t I hear about this mass crime before?” said Hugh, interrupting. “It would have in all the major newspapers, even some of the international ones.”

“Only in the tabloids, you could find the full story,” I replied gravely. Fearing they would all be the targets of unwanted publicity, the Dupés used their vast political influence to hush up the real paranormal events behind the students’ death.” I pursed my lips and scrunched up my face.

These picturesque towns are full of such dark tales. They're everywhere—right under your very nose in the idyllic French countryside that you regard as unspoiled beauty and tranquillity.” I glanced over at the opened window overlooking the avenue. “And speaking of noses... ever since that American family purchased those apartments last year, I’ve been noticing a rank and pungent smell lately... as if something had died.”


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