The Curse of the Red Room
I knew I should have stayed home tonight.
A few paces behind Glenn, Jerry Only followed, grumbling all the while. It was bitter cold, with New England winter but a few weeks off, and to make things worse, it was wet. Not the best of combinations as far as Jerry was concerned. Presently, his boot hit a patch of slick leaves on the steep incline and skidded, nearly throwing him off balance.
“Jesus Christ.” A sharp blast of wind cut through Jerry‘s jacket, and he pulled his arms tightly around himself. “Remind me again why I’m out here?”
“Because you love me,” came the definitive answer from up ahead. “And you’d follow me to the ends of the earth if I asked you to.” Jerry sighed, deciding not to press the issue. With Glenn, there was never any reasoning anyway. He raised a disdainful gaze to the overcast sky. A large raindrop promptly splattered in his eye, followed by another.
“Glenn, it‘s starting to rain again. Maybe it would be best if we just headed back.”
Up ahead, the dark-haired, petite vocalist was all but invisible--a dancing silhouette against the fog, venturing deeper and deeper into the forest. The bright circle of his flashlight flounced far ahead of him in the dark. Jerry could only Glenn knew where the hell he was going. Being lost in the deep wilderness on Halloween night might have been a novel concept to some, but the notion didn’t appeal to Jerry at all under the circumstances. “I still think this is a bad idea.” No reply, just the sound of twigs breaking, leaves crunching underfoot, and muttered curses from Glenn’s direction. “Glenn. Are you even listening to me?”
The sound of footfalls from up ahead ceased abruptly. The beam of the flashlight swung in Jerry’s direction, and suddenly, he was staring into the playfully scornful face of Glenn Danzig.
“How could I not hear you?” He shined the flashlight directly into Jerry‘s eyes. “You’ve been bitching at me the whole way. For God’s sake. You sound like my mother.” He smiled a pseudo-sweet smile. “Hey. Look at it this way. At least we’re not doing anything that could get us arrested this year. Remember last Halloween?” Jerry did, though vaguely. Something involving the two of them drunk in a graveyard after midnight and an indecent exposure charge. Jerry had woken in the Lodi city jail, with little recollection of the previous night.
“The last thing I remember,” replied Jerry, “was you telling me to, ‘chill, man, no one’s gonna see us here.’ The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a holding cell, wearing your pants and wondering how the hell I got there.”
“Good times.” Glenn laughed. Jerry rolled his eyes. “At any rate,” Glenn continued, “we’re amost there. So you can stop your bitching any time now.”
“I’ll stop my bitching when we’re out of this damned wind and rain.”
“Shall we continue, then?”
“Well, you’ve already dragged me out in the woods this far.”
“I knew you’d come around.”
With that settled, the two resumed their journey, Glenn leading and Jerry following toward some seemingly mythical destination which, knowing the mind of Glenn Danzig, might not really exist at all.
“Almost there. Watch your step,” warned Glenn. “It’s tricky up here.” The gradual slope became an almost-vertical wall of earth. Jerry clambered up after Glenn, and as he reached the top of the hill, he saw it. The ragged, dilapidated roof of a house, rising like some great beast into the night sky. The sight of it struck a chord of apprehension in the back of Jerry’s mind. The icy chill of the wind crawled up Jerry’s spine, a freezing touch of fear invading his nerves.
Oh. Hell no.
Glenn was standing in the clearing at the top of the hill, hands on hips, staring up at the monstrosity that loomed in front of them. The house itself was small, a broken-down old two-level structure that looked older than time itself. However, its presence was much larger than its architecture, and its aura was darker than the surrounding blackness of the night. Just looking at the old place was enough to make the hair raise on the back of Jerry’s neck.
“Where are we?” Suddenly, inexplicably, Jerry found his hands trembling. He shoved them in his pockets and came to stand close beside Glenn. Glenn continued staring reflectively up at the house for a long moment before he turned, his dark gaze meeting Jerry’s.
“Jerry,” his eyes flickered with mischief. “You’ve never heard of Mercer House?” Jerry’s mouth went dry.
“I’ve heard the stories,” he admitted. “But I heard it was just an urban legend, and that the house burned down in the 60’s.”
“Apparently not.” Glenn smirked. “Here we are.” He cast a daring glance in Jerry’s direction. “Should I lead the way? Or, perhaps you‘d like to go in first.” Jerry’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
“You can’t be serious,” he said. “You can’t go in there.”
“Why the hell not?” grinned Glenn. “I didn’t come all the way out here just to look at it and leave.”
“I‘ve got a bad feeling about this,” admitted Jerry. “This place gives me the creeps.”
“I know!” Glenn piped up enthusiastically. “Isn’t it atmospheric?”
“I suppose that’s one word for it--hey. Where are you going?”
“In. Weren’t you listening?” Glenn had turned and was proceeding fearlessly toward the front porch, and Jerry watched him go with a growing sense of dread.
“Wait!” Jerry started after Glenn, trotting to catch up with him. “Look,” said Jerry. “I’m not sure you should go in there.” At this, both eyebrows raised, and Glenn smirked.
“You’re not scared, are you?”
“Me? Scared?” Jerry’s indignant reply came out an octave higher than he would have preferred. “No way. But look at this place! It’s ancient. The floor could go at any second, and we don’t know what might be living--or, you know, not living--in there…”
“Jerry, dear.” Glenn smiled, that damnably charming smile of his, and slipped a hand into Jerry’s. “What’s the worst that could happen to us in a haunted house at midnight on Halloween?” Jerry regarded Glenn flatly.
“Think about that for just one second.”
Before Glenn even had a chance to make a smart-assed statement in reply, the clouds opened up again and rain poured down in a barrage.
“Fuck!” Glenn swore, running for the cover of the porch. Jerry followed suit, bolting after him. It was only as Jerry was standing on the rickety old porch of the house, feeling the creaky wooden boards sagging beneath his feet, that he realized where he had ended up. Crap. He froze, staring at the door. It was boarded up, as it looked to have been for ages now--but Jerry knew that wasn’t going to deter Glenn in the least. His hunch was correct. Already, Glenn was scouring the front of the house, looking for another way in. “Hey, Jerry! Over here!”
Jerry took as long as was humanly possible to join Glenn down at the far end of the porch. By the time he reached him, he was already halfway inside, worming easily through the gaping hole that had once served as a window.
“You know, we don’t have to go in there,” Jerry made a last-ditch effort to dissuade Glenn. “We could just wait here until the rain dies down and head home.” Presently, Glenn was standing on the other side of the windowsill, peering out at Jerry.
“You can wait out here in the rain if you want,” he smirked. “But if a zombie gets me, I swear to God, I’ll haunt your ass.”
“Fine,” Jerry threw up his hands. “I’ll go with you. But I want you to know, I still think this is a bad idea.” Jerry didn’t see Glenn smile to himself as he turned, shining the flashlight into the darkness. A moment later, Jerry straddled the windowsill and hopped over, landing on the dusty floor on the other side.
The large room Jerry found himself in had most likely been the den; all that remained was a beaten old sofa and some tattered curtains over the boarded-up window. In the center of the room, a makeshift campfire site was surrounded by several empty wine bottles. It appeared that the house had been inhabited by the living at some point for some purpose. Kids or vagrants, Jerry assumed. Whoever had been there before wasn’t there now--but Jerry couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone here. A chill danced up his spine again and he shivered, quickening his pace to catch up with Glenn, who was already in the next room.
“In here!” Jerry followed the sound of Glenn’s voice, echoing hollowly through the old walls. He found him exploring the kitchen, shining his flashlight around, seemingly searching for anything of value or note. “This place is a fucking dump.” He stopped beside the refrigerator, a late 50’s model icebox, and shined his flashlight at Jerry. “See any spookables yet?” Jerry rolled his eyes.
“You‘re not funny.” Glenn’s only answer was a smile.
“Hey, Jer.” He nodded toward the icebox. “Check it out. Think there’s any dead bodies hidden in there?” He grinned. “Severed heads? Decades-old mayonnaise?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.”
“Don‘t worry, Jerry.” Glenn glanced coyly over at Jerry as he took his hand, squeezing it. “If there are corpses anywhere in this house, they’d be downstairs. In the Red Room.” Jerry’s eyes widened subconsciously. He glanced questioningly at Glenn.
“The Red Room?” Glenn arched one dark eyebrow.
“Do I have to fucking educate you about everything?” Jerry rolled his eyes again. The two continued walking, Glenn leading the way. “Back in the 50’s,” Glenn began, “there was a family that lived here named Mercer. The guy who bought the property, his name was Elvin Mercer. He bought this property cheap from a guy named Ellis, and built this house on it.” The two continued walking, heading down a dark, narrow corridor.
“As soon as the guys got to work on the house,” Glenn went on, “a bunch of the townspeople were like, ’hey. You shouldn’t build this house here.’ They told him that a witch was burned on that very site hundreds of years before, and right before she died, she left a powerful hex on the land. Some shit like, ’whosoever trespasses here shall suffer horrible madness.’ Elvin didn’t believe it. Not a few months after the house was built, weird things started happening. Lights would turn on and off at all hours of the night. Running water from the faucets turned to blood. Crucifixes on the walls would fall down, mirrors would break of their own volition. One night, one of the kids said they saw a woman in flames standing at the foot of their bed.” Glenn stopped, shining his flashlight around. “Going on what I‘ve heard, where we’re standing now should be one of the children’s bedrooms.”
“What’s the Red Room?” asked Jerry, not quite sure he wanted an answer.
“Well, there’s more to the story. Rumor has it, after about a year, Elvin Mercer lost his mind. Just fucking lost it. One night, he came home and shot his three kids, strangled his wife, then hung himself. There’s a big room in the upstairs that was the master bedroom--where he hung himself. That’s the Red Room.”
“Why do they call it that?” asked Jerry, morbid curiosity getting the better of him.
“When they came into the house, after finding the bodies of Mrs. Mercer and the children, they went upstairs and found Dr. Mercer hanging in the closet. The room he was in…it was red. Everything was red. He had painted the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the windows, everything. Red. The walls were covered with crudely carved messages--crazy shit that didn’t make any sense. They boarded up the house and never spoke of it again. Legend has it that if you go into the Red Room after midnight, you can see the ghost of old Mr. Mercer, scrawling things on the wall with his pocketknife. And if he looks you in the eye, you die.” Jerry shuddered.
“That’s just superstition.” Jerry sounded only about half-convinced.
“Is it?” Glenn countered, his certainty only succeeding in putting Jerry even more ill at ease. He smirked. “Look where we’re standing.” Jerry did. Where they stood was at the top of a long staircase, leading down, down into what looked to be a pit of perpetual darkness. Glenn aimed the flashlight down; the beam landed on a weather-beaten door. A wooden door painted red. Jerry’s heart struck up a dull thud-thud in his chest. He took an instinctive step back as, to his dismay, Glenn started boldly forward down the stairs. And it was in that moment that something deep within Jerry’s psyche simply snapped. A thousand warning alarms went off in his head; his conscious composure evaporated, stripping everything from his mind but an rising sense of raw fear.
“Don’t go down there.” He fought to keep his tone as flat, as even, as possible. “Please.”
“Why?” Glenn peered back teasingly over his shoulder. “Afraid something’s going to jump out and drag me down to the depths of Hell?”
“Yes. I mean, no! I mean--”
“Jesus Christ!” Abruptly, there was an odd thump, followed by an alien scratching sound. Glenn dropped the flashlight, and all was dark. A wave of panic washed over Jerry.
“Fucking rat,” came the answer from the abyss. The flashlight came back to life at the bottom of the staircase. “You coming or not?”
“You’re crazy if you go in there.” Even as he said it, Jerry found himself easing down the stairs toward Glenn, drawn as if by some supernatural force, to the red-painted door at the bottom of the staircase.
Both paused a moment, bracing themselves, as Glenn’s hand flitted to the doorknob. Jerry held his breath in as Glenn went to turn the knob--and nothing happened.
“Locked,” muttered Glenn, a scowl evident in his voice. “I should have known.” Jerry breathed an audible sigh of relief.
“Well, I guess this means we won’t be going in there.”
“Fucking lame,” Glenn wrinkled his nose.
“Damn,” Jerry said with a wry half-smile. “And I was all ready to see if there was any truth to the legend.”
“You are so full of shit,” Glenn rolled his eyes. “You were scared and you know it.” He slipped an arm around Jerry’s waist and leaned into him. “Admit it.”
“Whatever,” he scoffed.
Presently, there came a creaking sound from the other side of the door, one of metal grating against metal.
The doorknob was turning. By itself. Jerry felt his pulse quicken and he grabbed Glenn by the arm.
“Uh, Glenn?” Glenn followed Jerry’s gaze and took a surprised step back himself.
“Now do you believe this was a bad idea?”
“Shut up, Jerry.” As the two backed away in unison, the door creaked open slowly, of its own volition. Glenn‘s eyes were wide. “Holy shit.”
The open room was completely dark, yet seemed to radiate with some strange energy that made the scene before them visible. The room was bare and empty. The walls were a garish crimson, and paint flaked off the wood in places where age had worn it. And, just as Glenn had described, was the writing upon the walls. Tight, fine manuscript scrawled into the wall with some sort of sharp instrument, and in perfectly straight rows. The same phrase had been carved over and over, covering all four walls of the room: Scarlet is the shade of murder.
The most disturbing sight of all, however, was not upon the walls, or even in plain view--but both Glenn and Jerry noticed it right away.
Facing away from them, a dark figure was hunched over in the corner, close to the wall. One visible hand worked doggedly at the flaking paint. The faint sounds of scratching and barely-audible, deranged laughter reached the doorway. Every fiber of Jerry’s being told him to turn and run and drag Glenn with him--but all he could do was stare, rapt, at the figure in the corner. The unbearable sound of the sharp, steel instrument dragging through layers of paint and wood was deafening in his ears. Scritch. Scritch. Scri-i-i-tch.
“My God,” whispered Glenn. “It’s true. I can’t believe it’s actually true.” Presently, the figure in the corner began to move--to rise and stand, and to move toward them--a shadow slipping through darkness. “Holy shit. It’s coming right for us!”
Jerry bolted, running for his life, too afraid to look back, too afraid even to breathe. It wasn’t until he had scrambled halfway up the staircase that he heard the sound echoing behind him. Glenn was giggling hysterically. Jerry stopped, turned, and glanced down at his companion.
Suddenly, the realization dawned on Jerry that this whole thing had been a setup. This was Glenn’s idea of a sick joke, and he had walked right into it. His eyes narrowed.
“That was fucking priceless!” Glenn gasped through fits of laughter. “You should have seen the look on your face when you saw that phantom! Or, better yet, your brother in a very inconspicuous disguise.”
“That thing down there was Doyle?” Jerry demanded in disbelief.
“Isn’t it amazing what a little makeup and a fog machine can do?”
“You do know I’m going to kill you. Both of you.”
“Happy Halloween, Jerry.”
“Glenn, you fucker.” He punched Glenn’s arm as they headed back up the stairs.
Upon reaching the top of the staircase, there was the sound of footsteps from around the corner.
“Glenn? Jerry?” The two were presently met by a tall, lanky figure clad in a white sheet. Doyle. “Heh, heh. Booooo. Pretty scary, huh, guys?”
Glenn and Jerry exchanged an uneasy glance.
“I thought you said that was Doyle.” Jerry nodded down the staircase. Glenn’s eyes widened.
“Doyle? Where were you just now?”
“Hiding in the bathroom, where you told me to.”
“I said wait in the bedroom, jackass.”
“So, if he was in the bathroom--” Glenn’s face suddenly drained of color. “I think we should get the fuck out of here. Now.”
“I‘ll second that,” agreed Jerry.
“Wait, guys, what‘s going--”
“Don’t ask. Just run.”
With that, the three turned and fled as fast as their legs would carry them. They didn’t stop running until they were safely outside in the pouring rain. Neither Glenn nor Jerry ever returned to Mercer House. Still, as long as they lived, they knew the memory of that eerie Halloween night would live forever in their minds. Haunting like a ghost waiting in the shadows, forever hiding in darkness.