When I awoke, I immediately became aware of a burning smell in the air. My head throbbed mercilessly, but amazingly I could hear no voices. As I racked my brain to remember what had happened before I passed out, the smell became a little more pronounced. A sharp, hot odor that made my nostrils sting and my migraine flair. I sucked in a sharp breath and opened my eyes. I'd expected to see the ceiling of my bedroom, because if anything happened during a séance, usually Aickman at least helped me back up into bed… Mostly just because people were watching. But I was still in the séance room, that was for sure. I sat up and glanced around, wary now. It was at that moment when I saw them.
Crispy, burnt corpses were laying out around the room with smoke slowly rising from them, still sizzling with heat. The chairs that the sitters were in now were thrown backwards, the tablecloth was charred and the candle nowhere to be seen. Memories of the séance flooded back to me, and my migraine angrily throbbed at the reminder of how painful it had been. The mother, aunt, grandfather, uncle… I couldn't bring myself to believe that those faces I remembered had once belonged to these skeletal corpses. As I started to sit up, I got a horrible, churning feeling in my stomach. I slowly came to my feet and glanced around at what remains were left of the sitters. Just skeletons with sticky flesh stuck to their skin like meat left on a T-bone. The aunt's hat was thrown back behind the chair she sat in, only a little singed. I worked hard to swallow back vomit as I crossed the room, subconsciously looking for Aickman. As much as I hated him, I didn't want to see him burnt just like the rest of them. I went around the table, careful to step over or else completely avoid the bodies. Then I noticed another person's rasping breath, a little deeper and slower than mine, and I looked down to see that Aickman was on his back, staring up at the ceiling with a dead look in his eyes even though he still breathed. Half of his face was grossly burned, the skin left red and white and in some places even purple. I noticed his hand was also burned, and it looked as if his lower back was, too. Unknowing of what to do, I knelt beside him. I placed one hand on the ground for balance and let the other hover in the air, prepared to help Aickman up if he needed it.
"Sir?" I asked unsurely. When his eyes lazily rolled over to look at me, I got the worst feeling in my torso and I knew precisely what it meant. Aickman wasn't going to get back up.
His chest rose as he prepared to speak, and I could tell that even just speaking was hurting him. I wanted to feel smug about that; him finally being in pain for once while I watched. But I couldn't bring myself to it. My mind was blank, almost completely thoughtless. "They'll be after you now…" He told me in a low voice, then his head faced toward the ceiling again and his eyes began to shut against his own will. "Get out." His words came out in a whisper, and I knew I'd just heard Ramsey Aickman's last breath. How I felt about that, I still do not know. I stood up and backed away, the churning feeling that started in my stomach now spreading to my chest and limbs as well. The séance table began to rattle before shooting across the floor impossibly. I jumped aside and narrowly avoided being cracked against the wall. I heard a scream somewhere in the back of my mind, and knew that was the spirit who had done it. Backed up against the grey curtains now, I spun around to begin throwing them aside and making my way through. I found myself in a hallway that led to several bedrooms we never used. I began to jog through the hallway, and every door I passed, whether I tried to go in it or not, slammed noisily in my face. When I hit the end of the hallway, I found myself at the bottom of the stairs. The door that led to the foyer banged shut, closing off my only way to the front door. Not knowing what else to do, I darted up the stairs. The bathroom door shut once I got near it, and as I ran toward my bedroom or even Aickman's, those doors shut too. Desperate, I ran to my door and grasped the doorknob to try to turn it. But the metal was as hot as fire, and I heard the flesh on my hand sizzle as they made contact. There was nowhere else to go. I spun around to gauge my chances of getting back down the stairs, but quickly decided against it. The walls were burning as if there were a blazing fire beneath them, but there wasn't. There were cracks in the burns, odd marks that took me longer than it should have to recognize. It was Aickman's script.
The sweltering writing got closer to me, consuming and burning every bit of wall, floor and door in it's way. I whirled around once, twice, looking for any way out. Eventually I was backed up against the wall, and felt a white-hot pain in my hand as I unintentionally touched the script. With a yelp, I pulled my hand back and shook it violently to try and cool it. I couldn't spend much time dwelling on that, though. I looked around hurriedly for something, anything that could help me out of this place. The dumbwaiter was on the wall right next to me, and I hastily decided that it was my only way out. I dove in and grabbed the leather strap for the door, yanking the rusty thing down until it closed. I'd hoped to feel some sort of safety or security once I was in there and on my way down, but I felt no such thing. If anything, it was a much worse sort of feeling. I understood how claustrophobic people felt. In contrast to feeling like Aickman's sideshow freak for years, I now felt like a mouse between the paws of a hundred alley cats. Being batted back and forth, maimed for their pleasure. My screaming must have been like music to their ears. The dumbwaiter made it's way down sluggishly, and I shouted all the while.
"Please! Somebody help me!" I grasped at the cage-like walls on all sides of me, rattling them as if it would make anything go faster. I begged again for somebody to help me, my voice an octave higher than usual. My eyes stung with tears that wouldn't stop coming. At last, the dumbwaiter came to a stop. I stuck my fingers between the doors and tried to jam them open to no avail. I was in the basement, and only two doors were in the way of my freedom. I shook the doors more violently, feeling the desperation rise in my chest. I inched backwards toward the back of the dumbwaiter some, and then noticed a small opening to my right. It was a long but very short gap that led into the furnace. The furnace door would be open, I quickly thought, and with that microscopic bit of confidence, scrambled through the small space and crawled through the furnace toward my final hope of freedom. The furnace door was open, like I'd hoped, and was calling me toward it. Suddenly, the opening to the dumbwaiter was closed off with a harsh slam. Having lost my focus for a moment, I glanced toward the furnace door again and continued on my way toward it. Then I saw it shift, and stared as it crashed closed. My heart skipped a beat and my ears began to ring. My body was trying to tell my mind something that it would not accept, and that was the knowledge that my life was about to end.
I still ran on in my thoughts, telling myself that there had to be a way out. I could climb out somehow, pry the doors open. And of course, wait until the spirits were at least somewhat calmer before doing so. But after several seconds, reality began to rear it's ugly head to me, and my mind slowly caught up. There was no way out, and the spirits would not calm down. Not for me. They would stop at nothing to see me dead, and I was helpless against them. The sound of the gas valve turning on it's own did not surprise me, nor did the flames when they flared up inches in front of my face. However, I was not one of those people who could easily accept death when it came their way, nor sit quietly while the flames killed me. I screamed, like any normal man would have, but still could not stop them.
I scrambled toward the back of the furnace, as far away from the flames as I could possibly be. They grew in intensity, and I began to feel the searing heat inch closer to me. Firstly, I thought of my Mother and Father. I wondered if I would go wherever they went, be it heaven or hell. I considered the idea that they could see me now, or that they had seen my life at Aickman's house. I could imagine them being furious at him, or maybe even at me because I didn't leave when I could have. Compared to trying to escape from the spirits, I thought how silly I was to think Aickman could stop me, or how asinine it was for me to be afraid of him. He was only a man. I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs, burying my face between my knees. I no longer screamed, only cried into the fabric of my pants. I felt the heat begin to come closer to me, growing hotter and hotter by the second. Eloise crept into my thoughts then, and I grimaced at the image of her. It was morbid, but I wished she could see me now. Why should Aickman and I be the only ones who paid? It was her fault that I ever was damned to this death in the first place. Then I thought of Mrs. Doris, and Virginia. Mrs. Doris was right all along, wanting to keep Virginia from this sort of thing… And I was glad that they had left. How easily could either one of them had been in the séance room when this all happened. I was happy that they both were safe, probably not even aware that my life was ending or that I was thinking of them. My skin suddenly was burning, scorching with a pain that was worse than any I'd ever known, and my mind went blank; filled with nothing but the natural and instinctual need to save my own life. Backed up against the blistering hot furnace wall, I heard my screams echoing back to me as death tore me away from my body. The very last thing I heard was a booming laugh from a woman, so loud that I felt as if she were right there, laughing ominously at my agonizing demise.