The Only Exception
Enter the Writer Extraordinaire
The bizarre white house sat dauntingly on top of the hill and Autumn Deetz regarded it calmly from behind the steering wheel of her station wagon. It was November 1st, an ominous day for new beginnings, she thought idly. Outside her car, a cold wind was howling, but she was in no real rush to get up the driveway at her new home-away-from-home and thus face it.
The Deetz family home had been sitting empty for a number of years now, vacated by the Deetzes shortly after young Lydia had graduated high school and returned to New York City to pursue her photography. Delia had never been particularly fond of the place or it's rural location and Charles was nearing loony bin territory after certain events had unfolded in their living room on terrifying night/
As a child, and cousin to enigmatic Lydia, she'd grown up with bedtime stories about Adam and Barbara Maitland, the nice ghost couple who owned the Winter River home before the Deetz. Their "sentence" was 125 years in the house, but they'd been give a free pass onto greener pastures and so had also vacated.
And it was all because of He Who Shall Not Be Named. Lydia was rather adamant about never saying the name of the poltergeist who featured as the villain in all of her tales to Autumn. To a child like Autumn though, he was a source of fascination. The stories themselves were certainly entertaining enough – she'd laughed hysterically as Lydia had tried to describe the lacy red monster he'd had the audacity to call a wedding dress for her almost-marriage to the creep.
As a child, of course, all of this had seemed to be the stuff of legend. A grand adventure. To an adult Autumn, she found it far less likely to believe that all those things had really happened. And so it was with very little fear or trepidation that she removed herself from the car and crunched the few steps up to the front door.
Autumn wasn't sure what she'd been expecting to happen when the door finally swung open, but the deathly silence that greeted her was not it. It unnerved her a bit to stand there in the doorway and hear not a sound – no creak of the door or groan of the floorboards under her. Old houses made noise, didn't they? This one was quiet, almost as it the house itself was holding its breath, watching, and waiting to see what she'd do.
Well, I was never one for suspense, she thought ruefully as her feet crossed the threshold . Shrugging off the feeling of calculating eyes following her, Autumn moved from room to room to inspect the layout and the amount of dust that would need to be removed before the house became liveable again.
The fireplace was eyed appreciatively, but the leftover furniture was decidedly threadbare and looked somewhat less than comfortable. The kitchen held promise though, as the plumbing still worked and the fridge was operational. To Autumn, a mug of pumpkin spice tea was an idea taking root in her mind, quickly. Everything was still out in the car though, so that would be task number one. Priorities, you know?
Despite her dutiful ignorance of it, there were indeed eyes following the movements of the strange newcomer. Electric green irises narrowed in contemplation – as far as he knew ol' Chuck hadn't sold the place and he'd been the sole occupant for years. Not that he was complaining about the sudden arrival of company though, he'd been by himself in here far too long. Perhaps now he could stretch his limbs and get the juice flowing again.
For the moment though, all he did was watch from any reflective surface he could find as she studiously moved all her stuff from the beat up old car and into the foyer of the home. She hauled in two suitcases obviously filled with enough clothing to last a month or more – this implied she meant to stick around a while. A few paper bags of groceries followed that and became her new priority as she hefted them straight away to the kitchen.
His eyes followed her as she did so and his presence seeping into the kitchen must not have escaped her notice because she still suddenly, her hand still hidden inside the bag. Her fingers had just brushed the tip of the box of tea when goosebumps erupted over her entire body and the electric tingle danced along her skin. Her dark red hair had spilled over her face, blocking her expression.
The air thickened. She could almost taste it. Something was here, something was about to - !
"Every night I burn, every night I call your name!..." She nearly jumped out of her skin as her ring tone began jamming inside her purse. Letting go of the box she'd nearly had a grip on, Autumn quickly dug out her phone and flipped it open.
"You scared the fucking crap out of me," she squeaked. Autumn ran a hand raggedly through her hair as the person on the other line laughed hysterically. "Dammit, Lydia..."
"I'm sorry...I was just wanted to make sure you made it there alright," the woman on the other end giggled. "What's got you so jumpy anyhow? I told you the place wasn't haunted anymore."
"It's a little too quiet compared to the city," Autumn replied uneasily. "I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually. Say, cuz', what's your opinion of Winter River anyways? I've only been here a few hours and I think it's got this creepy Stepford quality to it. Like the people here are robots. Or maybe aliens."
Again came that throaty chuckled. "I felt the same way when I was living there. It's not so bad though – the people are actually really nice. But I suppose it's not for everyone."
Autumn grinned. "Well...maybe I could channel all this into some kind of half-baked inspiration and churn out a horror novel this time around..."
"That's a great idea!" Lydia exclaimed. "You know I'd read it. I'd probably be first in line for an autograph at your book signing too."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Lyds. I haven't even written anything yet so there's no point in talking about publishers or book signings and the like. Listen, I've got a mad craving for a cup of tea so I'm gonna let you go and feed my addiction, okay?"
The two women hung up a few minutes later after saying their goodbyes and Autumn chucked her cellphone onto the table, to be charged and dealt with later. The tea was finally retrieved and after heating a cup of water in the microwave it was finally allowed to steep.
The aroma of pumpkin permeated the small space that was the kitchen and Autumn sank down into one of the table's chairs, letting out a sigh and allowing every muscle in her body to relax. The drive had been killer, nearly six hours, and she hoped the trip would be worth it. As she absently sipped her tea, her mind began to work things out. First, she would need to set up some kind of work space. The living room seemed cozy enough and it had plenty of room to fit a desk and her computer. The fireplace was definitely a bonus, as it was already getting cold and she'd probably be wintering it out there in the house.
Winter River, Connecticut was the most rural she'd ever willingly gone. No cars, no clubs, no crazy homeless people, no nagging editors, agents, or boyfriends. No distractions. That's what she told herself – no distractions. This was going to work. Her career depended on it.
Meanwhile, the specter who'd been lingering nearby was gazing at her through the sheen in the window and grinning wickedly. A relative of little Lydia Deetz, eh? And she was up here all alone in a house everyone believed wasn't haunted anymore. This could be fun. He'd keep an eye on her for a few days and let her settle in. Then, when she was good and relaxed...he'd start messing with her.
Finally, some entertainment.
If Autumn hadn't been so focused on the mental image of her new office space, she might have heard the echo of insane laughter ring throughout the house.
The first morning, after a shower with blessedly hot water and another cup of blissful tea, Autumn was ready to tackle cleaning the house. All the white sheets that had been tossed over the furniture were ripped away to reveal good old fashioned country decor. It wasn't really her thing, but it would do. No distractions, remember? The floor was swept, every nook and cranny was dusted, and with a little bit of finesse, she actually got a fire going.
Then she took a break.
"Well, that's room number one," she sighed to herself. "Now then...do I clean the kitchen first or attempt to cook in it and risk burning everything down?" With a slight grin, she sauntered over to the fridge in her sweat pants and tank top, lifting her hair up into a loose ponytail before perusing the contents of said fridge. She had stocked it up with some pretty basic items – eggs, milk, orange juice, some cheap chicken deli meat, and bread. There was cereal in the pantry, of course, along with some small cans of tomato sauce and noodles.
In the end she settled for some half-assed spaghetti. While the sauce (and some added spices) got to boiling on the stove, Autumn dusted off the shelves in the kitchen and wiped down the counters. When she reached the table, she paused. Something was off. Different.
Her phone was missing! She distinctly remembered tossing it on the table after her conversation with Lydia. Just to be sure though, she went back into the living room to check if she had perhaps taken it with her in there sometime during the day. It was nowhere to be found and as her charger was still in her purse, that obviously wasn't the solution either.
So where was it?
"Lemme guess," she muttered. "Fairies made off with it?"
It was an excuse her college roommate Kayla had always given for losing her car keys or misplacing important pieces of paper. Once, when Autumn's favorite pair of earrings had somehow wound up in Kayla's trunk, she blamed it on the fairies.
Normally, Autumn would have questioned her roommate's sanity, but Kayla was a devout pagan who claimed to work with the Fae. So maybe she knew what she was talking about after all. Still, outside of the college campus sphere, fairy trickery wasn't sitting well with her.
Suddenly she heard Robert Smith crooning from somewhere upstairs and understandably apprehensive she followed the sound up the stairs and around the banister. There it was, sitting on the floor just near the steps leading further up into the attic. The ring tone stopped just as she approached.
Autumn cast a wary gaze around before leaning over and picking the blasted thing up. No calls. So what then, the phone just decided to skip up the stairs and start serenading the empty second floor? No, something had moved it.
"I thought this house was empty," she called out to the air around her. Nothing. No response. Only that cold chill that had begun to regularly settle over her. Shaking her head, Autumn made her way downstairs. She was imaging things. She must have dropped it when she'd gone upstairs to sleep last night. And for that random Robert Smith crooning, well phone's malfunction don't they?
With that sufficiently explained away, she returned to the kitchen to finish up her spaghetti.
It was late into the evening when Autumn finally unpacked her laptop. As it turned out, the desk from the office upstairs was too heavy to move from the room, let alone down the stairs, so she instead opted for setting up shop at the kitchen table. It was only a temporary setup, she told herself, thinking longingly of the fire blazing over in the parlor. If she really felt tempted she could just curl up on the couch with the stupid PC and work that way.
"No," she breathed. "I have to give this professional thing a try. A table is only a step down from a desk. Deal with it."
The slender woman stretched her arms above her head and arched her back, feeling a few vertebrae pop as she did so. After cracking her knuckles, she opened up a new document and sighed. A blank page. So many opportunities. Anything could happen.
And there she sat. Pensively staring. For hours.
He had to admit, he was getting a little bored. All this blustery talk about being a best-selling author and all...but she hadn't even written a word. She was just staring at the stupid thing. After a few minutes more of this, she sighed and got up to fix herself a cup of coffee.
He heard her mutter under her breath, "This is gonna be a long night..."
Need some help?
With satisfaction, he watched as she jumped about a foot off the ground and spilled coffee beans onto the floor. She whirled around moments after, eyes searching the room and finding nothing. If she had thought to glance into the window, she might have had a glimpse of him. What would she do, he wondered. Freak out? Scream? Faint even?
Instead, she took a few calming breaths and scooped up the wayward coffee beans. Those were quickly deposited in the trash and new ones were retrieved to be ground. Once the caffeinated elixir of life was brewing softly, she returned to the table and sat once more in front of the glowing screen.
"Anything, you idiot," she mumbled. "Type anything."
She was about to lift her fingers to the keyboard. She needn't have bothered. The word "Anything." was neatly spelled out onto her document. Autumn let out a breathy gasp and pushed her chair away from the table.
She began pacing, something she only did when very agitated. "I'm losing my mind. Yup, there's no other reasonable conclusion. I'm going mad."
Take me with ya?
There it was again! That voice that wasn't really a voice. She wasn't hearing it in her mind per se, but it wasn't exactly in the room with her either. Perhaps that's what crazy sounded like...
"Are you real or am I imagining all of this?" she finally called out.
Wouldn't you like to know? The voice sounded incredibly smug this time around and she knew it was nothing she'd be able to conjure.
"I didn't think this house was haunted. Lydia said the Maitlands vacated. You're obviously not them, so what are you doing here?"
Lucky bastards. Nothing for a moment and then, Nowhere better to be at the moment. Figured I'd ghost around here a while.
He was having a conversation! A real friggin' conversation. Granted, it was starting out as more of an interrogation, but you have to start somewhere right? And instead of tweaking out, this woman was just standing next to the coffee maker and trying to formulate some kind of response.
"Why here, then?" she ventured, a strange tone in her voice. It almost made him think twice about being honest.
Good times, babe. Had some real laughs here a few years ago.
Her eyes widened perceptibly and her voice rose an octave. "You! You're the poltergeist Lydia told me about. The one who shall not be named, am I right?"
The coffee had finished brewing. Absentmindedly, Autumn pulled a mug out of the cupboard and poured herself some. She looked blandly at the sugar dish on the counter. Her expression after a moment clearly read: Fuck it. She drank it straight.
The bitter liquid slid down her throat and revitalized her. She closed her eyes for a moment and inhaled deeply a few times. She was having words with a ghost. Correction, she was having words with a poltergeist, the villain in all her childhood stories. Long night was about to become the understatement of the century.
You gonna just stand there all night?
"Maybe," she mumbled. Straightening up, "If someone has to say your name three times to summon you, how can we be talking like this right now?"
Loopholes, babe. Gotta love 'em. I'm not really here anyways.
"So...where are you?"
Look behind ya.
Slowly Autumn turned around to face the counter. Her eyes scanned the area before gradually rising up to the window. The light glinted off it and for a moment she no longer saw herself reflected through the glass. It became a murky gray and shapes moved within it.
"Mirrors..." she breathed. She knew this from her own readings on the supernatural. Spirits could communicate through mirrors. Although, it really worked with any reflective surface, mirrors were the best conduit.
This at once thrilled and relieved her. Knowing he might have been watching her since she moved in unsettled her, but she also knew that he couldn't get out and harm her. Her mind wandered back to the story Lydia had once told about the snake that tried to kill Charles. This poltergeist and the snake were one in the same.
You got it, babe. But hell, I gotta admit, it's pretty boring looking out from this side. How's about you say my name and we can chat, have a cup of coffee, and get to know each other. Eh?
Oh, hell no. The thought sprang unbidden to her mind. "You can never say his name, Autumn. He's too dangerous to be let out." Lydia's voice echoed in her mind. It also didn't escape her attention that she still didn't know what his name actually was.
Dumping the rest of her coffee down the sink, Autumn looked back up at the mirror, her gaze calculating. It was something that made him uneasy, though he would never admit it. But he could admit defeat since there was no way this was getting him anywhere tonight.
"This conversation is over," she quietly. "I'm going to bed. Don't bother me or I'll cover up all the mirrors in the house with spray paint."
Oh, come on!
But she was already powering down the computer and hitting the kitchen lights. He didn't follow her as she made her way up the stairs and into the room she'd claimed as hers. There were no mirrors in it anyways and he'd bet his bottom dollar she'd pull the curtains tight as she could.
Grumbling, he retreated and returned to his own place. He'd try again in the morning and maybe catch her half asleep and unaware. With that thought in mind, he grinned before settling into this own bed.
The time on her phone irritated when she rolled over the next morning, wide awake. Anything before noon just seemed unacceptable considering how long she'd lain awake that night. It was certain that she didn't sleep until well after midnight. And now the sun had barely risen above the horizon and she was already awake.
Had he watched her sleep? Was he in the room now? Paranoia wasn't going to get her anywhere though, so with a grunt she shoved the blankets off and retrieved a set of clean clothes from her suitcase. A shower would fix everything. Hot water and the smell of floral shampoo never failed to perk her up.
After at least twenty minutes of just standing under the hot spray, Autumn finally got to work lathering up and rinsing her hair then running her razor over her underarms and legs. Feeling clean and lively again, the knob on the shower head was turned and the hot pressure disappeared.
Her hand felt around for her towel and locating it, she wrapped it around her body before stepping out of the shower.
She looked up. Into the mirror. And turned white as a ghost.