From the author: When his reclusive uncle commits suicide in a mansion full of curiosities, Jamie Lawson is left to clean up his dusty estate. As Jamie peels back the layers of his uncle’s life as a semi-famous horror author, he discovers an eerie connection between his uncle’s works and real life tragedies. Now, he must uncover the truth behind his uncle’s books while trying to rebuild his life in a new town. But, the bizarre facts he uncovers may just threaten his new life and everyone in it.
Don watched as Jamie’s Subaru pulled through the wrought iron gate. A playful devil sat atop the archway, keeping close watch on any who dared to enter. Its eyes always seemed to follow Don when he came to visit, which gave him the creeps. The car’s wheels spun on the gravel driveway, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. It came to a halt in the shadow of the imposing Italian villa–style home. Don rolled down the tinted window of his black Lexus and waved at Jamie. He grabbed the elaborate set of keys sitting on the seat next to him and climbed out of the car.
Turner House sat nestled in the back corner of an affluent subdivision on a hill overlooking the houses on either side. It looked largely out of place next to the art deco and Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired homes that speckled the neighborhood. It also predated the other homes by nearly fifty years and sat with the wisdom and presence of a building that had seen significant moments in history.
“It was built by a meatpacking titan in the late 1860s,” Don said, walking toward Jamie. “Most of the original features and materials are still intact, but as you'll notice, your uncle took a few liberties with the decorations.”
He walked up the front steps and unlocked the tall double French doors then waved Jamie through the entryway. As Jamie walked inside, a life-size model of Boris Karloff's iconic portrayal of the Frankenstein monster greeted him, and he nearly tripped backward out of the doorway.
“Sorry, I should have warned you about Franky. I've been here a few times, and I still haven't gotten used to him,” Don said.
“Dad told me stories about T.J.,” Jamie said. “He said that while he was out seeing his girlfriend or sneaking a beer with his buddies, T.J. would go out by himself. The only things that he’d ever sneak out to see were horror movies.”
T.J. had loved monsters, killers, and ghosts of all kinds, and he spent his days dreaming of new and sinister creations, which ran loose in his mind. He published his first book, Satan's Song, a few years after his high-school graduation. The story revolved around a demonic music box that ensnared people with its eerie tune. The book would go on to be the first in a planned Dreadful Objects trilogy and was followed by Cellulose, which featured an old film reel that caused those who watched it to go insane. Despite the simple premises, he developed a cult following, which led to a moderate amount of success for an author with only two published works.
Turner House became the ultimate symbol of the author’s success and an outward expression of his inner personality. He was reserved on the outside but housed all sorts of demons within. He lived there for nearly a quarter century and succeeded in filling every corner of the mansion with all the creepy-crawly things that skittered out from the corners of his imagination. The house became his muse, and all the artifacts inside had served as fuel for the nightmares he created for his readers.
Jamie ran his fingers along a row of specimen jars that sat on a shelf next to the entryway.
“What's going to happen to all of this stuff?” he asked.
“That's completely up to you. The house comes with everything inside of it, and you'll also receive what remains of your uncle's financial assets, once his estate is settled. I'd hate to see his collection dismantled, but I would be happy to connect you with an auctioneer. Some of this is probably worth a bundle,” Don said.
Don couldn't deny that the house was a feast for the eyes. Every nook and cranny was stuffed with horror props and memorabilia. It was all covered with a thick coating of dust but was still an incredible sight to behold. Still, he’d felt an added sense of dread since discovering its owner’s body in the cellar. He tried to temper his feelings in front of Jamie, who was too overwhelmed by the situation to notice anyway. He wanted to hand over the keys to this place as soon as possible and move on with his life. In his mind, Turner House was no longer a home but a mausoleum.
“This is all so unbelievable,” Jamie said. “I haven't even seen my uncle in years, and now everything is mine? I just can't process this.”
“Life's funny sometimes, isn't it?” Don replied.
“What about his funeral? Will I need to help make the arrangements?”
“Taken care of,” Don replied. “T.J. laid everything out in his will, and the arrangements are paid for.”
He guided Jamie up the staircase, lined with old movie posters and anatomical drawings in the spirit of Da Vinci's famous sketches.
The pocket doors leading to the office were in need of some repair, but Don managed to slide them out of the way.
“This is where he did most of his writing,” he said.
The doorway opened into a large room with a twelve-foot ceiling, and the walls were lined with recessed bookcases, all filled to capacity with books of various shapes and sizes. An old Royal typewriter sat in the middle of an intricately carved mahogany desk, with a piece of paper nestled in its carriage. A few lines appeared to be typed out at the top of the page. Across from the desk sat a wooden display case with three glass domes. One held a music box and another a movie reel, and the third was empty. They must have been props from T.J.'s first two books. What had he planned for the third one?
Don plopped down in the desk chair.
“This is pretty much how I found it,” he said. “Except he also left a neatly folded pair of pants and sweater next to the typewriter. Never did figure out why exactly. Maybe he wanted to make things easier to clean up.”
“Did he give any reason why? A note or something?” Jamie asked.
“There was a handwritten note on the stack of clothing. The police held a short investigation into his death but were quick to confirm that it was suicide. They bagged the note during the investigation, along with the clothing, but I’ll never forget what it said.” He recited the note to Jamie word for word.
I've done my best to shut out the demons, but they persist. I'm surrounded by the death and destruction that I've created, and there's nothing that I can do to fix it. I've tried. I'm sorry to leave you like this. Thanks for being a friend. There's no need to come back next week.
P.S. Stay out of the wine cellar.
“I typically came by every few weeks to check in and go over T.J.'s most recent royalty and financial statements, but this time, he didn't answer the door. He wasn't exactly outgoing the last few years of his life, but he was certainly punctual. I knew that something wasn't right and let myself in. When no one replied to my calls, I climbed the stairs towards the office and noticed that the door was left ajar.”
Don was holding back his emotions in favor of cold irreverence, but he could feel tiny cracks forming in his veneer as he retold the story.
“I wish he would have talked to me, you know? We weren’t best friends or anything, but I probably saw him more often than anyone else.”
“What happened to him?” Jamie asked.
Don was tired of reliving the events of that day, but he figured this would likely be the last time. He should have heeded the warning in the note, but instead he rushed to the wine cellar. Some part of him thought T.J. was still alive, and he would never have forgiven himself if he didn't try to save his friend. His memories of the grim scene were photographic, embedded in his mind, no matter how hard he tried to forget the details. He descended the stairs to the cellar and turned the corner into the main chamber. An empty bottle of wine lay toppled on the ground, along with a broken wine glass. He traced the floor stones with his eyes until they were obstructed by a shadowy mass on the floor. The gun that T.J. used to kill himself must have blown apart with the first shot. The police would later identify it as an antique pistol from his collection. The poor cellar lighting spared Don from some of the grisly details, but it had been falling directly on T.J.'s face, and his expression still haunted Don.
Jamie's eyes grew wider as the story progressed, and Don noticed a twinge of emotion in the boy’s face. It wasn’t pity or discomfort. It was empathy.
Don stood, trying to shake off the heaviness of the moment. “Anyway,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t the best day of my life.”
“Thanks for all of your help,” Jamie said. “For what it's worth, and it feels weird saying this, but I'm sorry for your loss. It seems like you may have been the closest thing that he had to a friend. I know I'm his nephew, but I hardly knew the guy.”
This caught Don completely off guard, and his voice cracked as he spoke. “We worked together for a very long time. The guy was nuts, but there was a lot to like about him.” He paused. “Made all of my other clients seem pretty boring.”
The two stood in silence for a moment.
“What about that page in the typewriter?” Jamie asked. “What's on it?”
“He must have been working on some sort of writing project. It doesn't have anything to do with all this,” he replied.
Jamie walked over to typewriter and twisted its carriage knob to free the piece of paper. They read the lines on the page. It was indeed the final page of a story, but the rest wasn’t there. Jamie placed the page on the table, next to the typewriter.
“So, what happens now?” he asked.
“Well, there's still some paperwork involved. Fortunately, I managed all of your uncle's assets, so I won't need a lot of time to round everything up. Just need to make sure to cross all of the t's.”
Don led Jamie out and headed back to his car. As he turned the key in the ignition, he gave the mansion one final look through the windshield. He couldn't help but feel that the house was watching him while he pulled away as if it were alive. Soon enough, it would be out of his life forever as well as all the tragedy that had come with it. It was Jamie’s burden now.
Jamie finished signing all the paperwork back at Ash and Associates by early afternoon. With the last stroke of the pen, he was now the owner of Turner House and the millions that came with it.
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This story originally appeared in The Dreadful Objects.