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Cracked Stucco

Part Two

By MatthewKuszaPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 10 min read
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Cracked Stucco
Photo by Rostyslav Savchyn on Unsplash

“This phone’s useless. I need more light.”

Zoey pulled something out of her duffel bag.

“What’s that?” Ben asked.

“Tactical flashlight. Super bright.”

“Zoey, wait!”

A powerful beam of light snapped into existence, briefly revealing the motionless form of a startled deer before it bounded off.

“See. I told you.”

“Put that out!”

“Okay, okay. There. It’s off.”

“Do you think someone saw that?” Ben said.

“The deer?”

Photo by Shivashakti555 on Dreamstime.com

“No! The light!”

“Ben, enough. No one is out here.”

“Stupid fence! Why didn’t you push the other way?”

“I could only get at the wires snagging at your clothes on this side. I’ll have to go through first when we leave.”

“Let’s go then. I’m ready to put an end to all this madness.”

“Ben, the hard part’s over. Let’s explore the mansion.”

“The only way out is back through that fence!”

“We did it once. We can do it again.”

“I don’t know, Zoey. This is taking longer than I anticipated. My parents expect the car back by 1:00.”

“I still don’t understand why you have a curfew. You’re in college.”

“As long as I’m living under their roof…. “

“I know. Please, spare me the lecture.”

“It won’t matter next semester when I move on campus.”

Zoey checked her phone.

“We have a couple hours.”

“Come on, Zoey. It’s pitch black out here, and if we keep using the phone for light, someone will call the cops.”

“Don’t wimp out now.”

“I’m not. I’m just stating the obvious.”

“Want me to go back and get my night-vision goggles?”

“You have night vision goggles?”

“No, stupid.”

“Oh.”

“Honestly, you’re so gullible, Ben.”

“How am I supposed to know? You have a thermal camera, an EMF meter, a spirit box, and a voice recorder. Why wouldn’t you have night vision goggles.”

“You’re stalling.”

“Fine. Lead the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you fell into a ditch.”

Zoey pulled Ben into a long, wet kiss.

“You’re sort of sexy when you’re scared.”

“That’s dark. Were you a black widow in a previous life?”

“Probably.”

“Great.”

Zoey led Ben away from the fence through a thinning patch of woods onto the neglected lawns bordering the massive house.

Photo by Mulderphoto on Dreamstime.com

“I read a new post online last week about a loose board covering a ground-level window. Hopefully, it hasn’t been fixed.”

“Loose? You mean vandalized.”

“Relax. We’re not going to break anything; merely take advantage of the fact someone else already has.”

Creeping along the foundation, Zoey tugged at the edges of each board, securing the mansion’s windows until she found what she was looking for.

“Yes! The caretaker hasn’t noticed yet. The plywood comes right off. It looks secure, but see, the nails are cut.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Let’s just do this before I chicken out.”

Zoey fished out a wiry metal tool from her bag and began trying to thread it through the crack in the window where the sashes met.

“Maybe it’s not locked,” Ben said.

Zoey stopped, tested the window, and gasped.

“It’s unlocked.”

Ben snickered. Zoey punched him in the arm.

“Suppose I’ll make an investigator out of you yet,” she said.

They climbed through and pulled the plywood back across the window as best they could from the inside, shutting themselves within a new darkness more profound than that of the moonless night outside.

“All the windows are boarded up. Are you finally okay with having light?” Zoey asked.

“Guess so.”

Thumbing their phone flashlights on, they scanned the room.

“Whoa! Zoey! This place is remarkably well-preserved! The furniture’s still here. Filthy, but all here!”

“I knew you’d love it. I heard the family insisted on leaving everything exactly as it was on the day of the murder.”

Ben’s hand left a trail in the dust as he ran it atop an Art Deco-style side table.

“It’s like stepping back in time.”

Zoey stopped calibrating her EMF meter to smile across the room at her boyfriend.

“Plenty of inspiration here for a theater design major, huh? Still scared?”

“Yes. But it helps when I feel like I’m in a scene from the stage play Grand Hotel.”

Signals from the EMF meter drew Zoey’s attention to the device in her hand.

“Well, take lots of pictures. There are some spikes over here I want to check.”

“You know they debunked ghost orbs. They’re just motes of dust.”

“No, take some for your scrapbook.”

“Oh. Yeah, right. Good idea.”

After stowing her phone and putting on a headlamp, Zoey inched into the hallway, aiming the EMF meter and second device in her other hand at the ceiling.

“It’s crazy how the owners decorated. What would it cost nowadays for all this carved wood?”

Preoccupied with a roll-top desk, Ben hadn’t noticed Zoey leave. Her voice coming from outside the room startled him. Rushing to join her, he found his girlfriend transfixed by elaborate crown molding.

“Actually, that’s not wood,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Stucco, a kind of plaster. Very versatile. Easier to work with and cheaper.”

“Learn that in architecture?”

“Yep, and while working with my uncle last summer.”

“Glad to see art school is teaching you something practical.”

“Hey, interior design is a respectable career. My uncle makes tons of money. And it’s safer than investigative journalism. I don’t understand why you’re dying to cover a war zone someday. Pun intended.”

“If it exposes the truth, I’m happy to accept a little risk in my life.”

“As long as you’re home for dinner.”

“Come on, Mr. Housewife. Let’s check the rest of this place out.”

Ben followed Zoey down the hallway into a cavernous space.

“It’s the entrance hall! Everyone says it’s a hotbed of paranormal activity.”

“I’m anxious again.”

“You can hold my hand if that helps.”

“I’d rather go back to the car and make out.”

“I have a better idea. Let’s find the master suite.”

“Sure, because that doesn’t sound like the plot of every horror movie.”

The EMF scanner chirped, startling both.

“Ooh, we’re picking something up.”

Holding hands, they shuffled forward. The detector’s indicator lights increased as they neared the bottom step of some stairs leading up.

“It’s the grand staircase,” Ben said.

Photo by Mulderphoto on Dreamstime.com

“Loads of EMF activity!”

“I really think it’s time to go.”

“Oh, come on, Ben.”

“I’m sorry, but this is super creepy!”

“Just five minutes. I want to take a few temperature readings and maybe record a little. I might capture an EVP.”

Zoey’s phone flashlight bounced around the room, stopping to illuminate a detailed piece of stuccowork.

“Don’t you want to check out all these cool statues?” she asked.

“I suppose I could distract myself for a bit. This place is gorgeous.”

“Perfect. Focus on the décor and leave the creepiness to me.”

Ben remained below exploring while Zoey busied herself with ghost hunting.

“Check out these wall sconces, Zoey!”

“Uh, huh. Nice.”

“And look at this exquisite detailing around the front door. Wow!”

Moving closer to take photos, Ben stumbled over something. Recovering his balance, he shone his flashlight on the floor.

“What the…? There’s crap all over the place. Watch your step.”

“Uh, huh. I will.”

Ben examined the rubble at his feet.

“Stucco.”

Flipping over a large chunk revealed the cracked visage of a woman.

“That’s a shame.”

“What?”

“Someone’s destroyed a lot of relief artwork and dumped it in a pile here. Everything down here seems intact. Wonder where it came from.”

“Sorry, Ben, I know that bothers you.”

“Yeah. Stupid kids.”

“I never understood what makes breaking things fun.”

“Me either. Are you ready to go?”

“I want to go upstairs.”

“I’m bored and hungry.”

“And scared.”

“I think I’ve made lots of progress tonight. Besides, you won’t turn me into a paranormal investigator overnight.”

Zoey batted her eyes.

“How about the top of the stairs?”

“Fine. Hurry up.”

“Thanks, Benny. I’ll make it up to you.”

“You better.”

Ben shivered, watching Zoey ascend the stairs. Her equipment’s sensors flashed and beeped with increasing intensity as she climbed higher.

“You should come up here! This is incredible.”

“No, thanks. I’m good.”

Zoey reached the landing, and both of her devices died.

“What the… is it the batteries?

“It’s a sign we should go.”

“I don’t understand! I charged everything before we left.”

“Let’s go.”

While scrambling to examine her equipment, Zoey dropped one of her detectors. Her feet crunched as she moved to pick the scanner up.

“That stucco stuff is on the floor up here too.”

“Let’s go.”

Zoey didn’t reply.

“Come on, Zoey.”

Seeing Zoey’s flashlight had begun to bob erratically about as she searched the second floor, Ben swore under his breath but otherwise waited without saying another word.

“I figured out where your pile of stucco came from. The ceiling’s covered with it.”

Her phone’s flashlight dimly illuminated a classically garbed figure.

“Look. It must have fallen during an earthquake, and the caretaker swept it up and hasn’t tossed it out yet. When was the last significant tremor?”

“I don’t remember, but it’s been a while. Any more figures on the ceiling?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey moved the narrow beam of light to another stucco relief.

“Get out your tactical flashlight,” Ben said.

“I thought you were worried about attracting attention.”

“Turn it on for a second. I can’t make out the faces.”

“Ooh, babe! Risky! I like this new you.”

“Shut up and do it.”

With a click, a bright light revealed numerous feminine effigies circling the ceiling.

“It’s the muses,” Ben said.

“How can you tell?”

“Easy. Urania has a globe and compass. Terpsichore’s holding her lyre. And even with the top half of that one gone, I still can see the comedy mask and a shepherd’s staff. That’s Thalia. And there are nine of them, same as the number of Greek muses.”

“Some are completely intact while others are missing a face or more. Seems too deliberate to be an earthquake.”

“The stucco’s integrity should be the same throughout. It’s probably vandalism.”

Zoey rushed downstairs to Ben and pulled his arms around her.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just noticed something creepy,” she said.

“What?”

“Only five have been defaced.”

“So?”

“I think I know why someone did this.”

“Why?”

“You probably can’t see from down there, but there are scratches in the plaster connecting the destroyed heads.”

“Probably caused by whatever they used to scrape the stucco away.”

“That’s what I thought at first, but now.... we should go.”

“First common-sense thing you’ve said all night. Why the sudden change? I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I don’t want to scare you, but I remember I told you there’s one thing I don’t mess around with when investigating.”

“You mean…?” he asked.

“Don’t say it.”

“It’s just your imagination. Teenagers probably partying here one night...”

Peering up, Zoey’s body stiffened.

“No. I can see it clearly now. Five faces were destroyed, then connected with the scratches to form a five-pointed star. It’s a pentagram. We should get out of here,” Zoey said.

“Gladly.”

Ben stopped short.

“Put the tactical flashlight away. Someone will see when we exit.”

“Really, back to that?”

“Please turn it off.”

“Okay, okay.”

Darkness engulfed the room.

“Zoey, turn your phone light back on!”

“It was on! Turn yours on!”

“I’m trying!”

“Stop messing around, Zoey!”

“I’m not!”

“Use the flashlight again!”

“Give me a second!”

“Zoey!”

“It’s not working either!”

The EMF meter squawked, indicator lights blazing.

“Zoey! Zoey! The ceiling! Look at the ceiling!”

“No! Just run!”

Ben and Zoey fled blindly in the dark, straight into a wall. Dazed, they struggled to gain their feet and reorient themselves as the growing presence of a ruddy light shone down on them from above.

Ben and Zoey looked up to see five pairs of glimmering red eyes looking down at them from within the ruined faces. They stood and gawked as the sinister glow slowly, sinuously stretched across the ceiling to form a pentagram.

Photo by Dwori on Dreamstime.com

“Zoey, I feel weird. I know we were trying to get out of here, but I don’t want to now for some reason.”

“Me neither, Ben. Me neither.”

“It’s so pretty.”

“Yes. It is.”

Zoey laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Ben asked.

“I wonder if this is how a deer feels when caught in headlights.”

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About the Creator

MatthewKusza

Star Wars Fan! Dungeons & Dragons Geek! Love history! Probably born a hundred years too late, I relish anything from 19th and early 20th century. View world through lens of Tolkein's mythology. Pretty simple, I write about what I love.

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  • Andrea Corwin 6 months ago

    Great ending. Again, you make the conversations so real. My husband one time said he didn’t want me to buy an antique chair for fear he would wake up and find an old woman sitting in it, LOL. There is one typo here: You probably can’t see from down there, but there are scratches in the paster connecting the destroyed heads.” plaster? Great story and it puts the reader there- I am with him, let’s get out.

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