In all the 400 years that Mellark Manor stood, there had only been one constant: Roof shingles broke and were replaced, floor panels were flooded and warped and taken out, gardeners came and went, and homeowners arrived bright eyed, only to disappear afterward under mysterious circumstances. The one constant was hidden under the floorboards in the basement, and the fourth family discovered what it did. They had tried to rip it apart, to burn and drown and crush it, but what they didn’t understand was that it wasn’t something to be gotten rid of. It was the very essence of the manor, and it was here to stay.
Eventually the manor gained a reputation, and among the few who knew of its secret, rumors began to circulate. “Killer doll,” “secret monster,” and even the occasional “faerie.” Eventually, when the fifth family was gone, word had spread too far around, and no one would come near it. Real estate agents threw their hands up in fearful exhaustion and marched away. Signposts were tugged out with itching hands and thrown into the derelict shed. Every Halloween there was a group of teenagers just stupid enough to explore it, only to come out with eyes wide and brains turned to mush for the next few weeks. Only once did someone die, and it was known.
The girl had been a kind, beloved girl by most everyone in their small town.
“Why! Why!” people cried. Sorrow settled over the townspeople, causing them to burst into tears at the most arbitrary moments: While taking an algebra test, in line at the grocery store, walking along the beach. A hundred years later, she was still thought of. They had built a glorious gazebo in the park in her honor, and not even a century later it became a prime make-out spot for amorous teenagers. Even more unfortunate was that the park was in close proximity to the borders of the manor’s vast land. Though they had not forgotten the girl, they could not remember for the life of them how she had gone.
The eldest in the town couldn’t remember how she had died. The archived newspapers said merely, “unusual circumstances.” In diaries that were found at the bottom of old boxes in attics, covered in dusty crocheted blankets, there were far more interesting terms. The faeries did it. The house did it. Satan did it. One particular diary, the diary of the boy who had been there with her, went:
“She picked up the goddamn thing, and I screamed at her to drop it but she didn’t. She was so in awe of it, and we couldn’t figure out what it was: It was glowing and pulsing and shaped kind of like a heart but it was massive. She had to carry it with both hands, and then she said that it was burning her and she dropped it and her arms were charred. We ran for our lives, but as soon as I left the room, the doors closed on their own and Mara was still trapped. I pounded on the door, and I tried to break it with a chair but it wouldn’t budge, and all the while I heard her screaming.”
The page had been crumpled up, as if the author didn’t want to look at it. The one who found it immediately hid it. Nothing like that ever happened, she told herself. This was some sort of joke, in incredibly bad taste. So she kept quiet, but watched with slight unease as every Halloween teenagers, in groups of five or six, went up the long driveway toward Mellark Manor.
–Annika G., 15, Pennsylvania