Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventy-six.
Tonight we present, The Haunted House on Willoughby Road, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Shrinking Man Project.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we turn your attention to a charnel house with an unexpected legacy.
Flash Pulp 176 – The Haunted House on Willoughby Road, Part 1 of 1
Although it was getting late in the morning, Lillian Price’s shoes were damp with dew by the time she stepped up from the overgrown front-walk, and onto the porch of 699 Willoughby.
Straightening her attire, she cleared her throat and rolled her shoulders. Finding no buzzer, she tried the antique knocker that hung at the center on the blue-painted door.
The entry swung open at the momentum of her knock.
Biting her lip, Price glanced at the home-owner information she held in the crook of her left arm.
“Mr. Powell?” she asked into the dark gap. The blinds were drawn in the living room beyond, and she could feel a cool draft escaping from the interior.
Beneath the musty stream of the released breeze, she caught a whiff of decomposition.
She stepped inside.
“Hello? Mr. Powell? Quincy?”
Given the lack of reaction, she tried the closest light switch, but received neither illumination, nor a response.
Nearly tripping over a canvas sack brimming with undelivered newspapers, Lillian engaged the LED on her phone, and panned its glow over the area. The space was neat, but unadorned – it reminded her of the house Grandfather Price might have kept, if her grandmother hadn’t done the decorating on both of their behalves. The only piece of furniture that seemed well worn was a leather recliner, which dominated the expanse in front of Quincy’s massive television screen.
Noting that the burgundy carpet was clean, except for a single muddy track apparently formed by the treads of a sneaker, she began following the trail.
The prints ended in the kitchen – she guessed because there had simply been no more trapped dirt to leave behind. As she inspected the array of chrome and digital outputs that Powell had had installed, she was impressed by how much of the old man’s renovation money had gone into the work. It was rare to see such an extensive layout.
Completing her inventory of the now defunct technology, Lillian spotted a pair of medical-grade walking sticks set against the wall in the far corner. The canes’ skewed positions gave them the appearance of abandonment.
Her survey had presented two options: a flight of stairs heading to the upper floor, or a second set, behind a door with a checkered apron hanging on it, descending.
She had little interest in spending any more time than necessary in exploring.
With a sigh, she began to move downward.
Lillian was on the fifth step when, below her, she noted two sets of legs, one wearing khaki slacks, the other in scrubby jeans.
Then the exit slammed shut.
She forced herself to remain calm while ghostly mechanisms engaged themselves.
As the overhead fluorescent bulbs pinged into life, the corpses became clearly visible. At the center of the large, unfinished basement, sitting on a plastic lawn chair, Quincy Powell’s wrinkled face had drooped onto his chest. A Joyce novel had fallen from his right hand, and a white, sealed, envelope lay atop a gray table at his side. To his left was a teenager who’d collapsed, face down, upon the floor. Given his arrangement, it was difficult to make out his age, but she reckoned it at no older than seventeen.
At the smell of sulphur, a single bead of sweat formed at her hairline, rolled down her brow, and disappeared under the band of her collar. She began to cough.
Retrieving a handkerchief from her pocket, she placed the cloth across her nose, and, with a firm internal voice, reminded herself that she was a professional. Despite the self-reassurance, however, the ethereal hiss that filled the air carried her feet quickly past the bodies, past the white washer and dryer combo, past a large selection of Christmas ornaments, and to the maintenance closet, clearly labeled on the tablet still crooked at her elbow.
She knew now that Powell’s overwrite of the home’s automatic housekeeping systems, presumably based on a sloppy bit of programming from some Internet forum, had crippled the functionality of the upper floors, and was also responsible for sealing the cellar, likely against anyone who might accidentally arrive too early.
The house, having faithfully completed its task, but no longer able to detect an occupant, had switched to low-power mode – which Quincy had recoded to turn off the heating system and leave the residence unlocked, so that his body might easily be discovered. Unfortunately for the passing teen, what the dead man hadn’t considered was the computer’s awakening from slumber, once the chamber’s sensors were triggered by renewed movement.
Lillian could only imagine the youth’s panic as he realized his good deed of inquiry had left him within a deathtrap. His oily finger prints were visible on the windows he’d attempted to smash after his retreat had been cut off, and he must have still been searching for something to use as a club when the the perforated gas line had finally dragged him into unconsciousness.
“Dammit,” Price said aloud, “I don’t get paid enough for this.”
With practiced fingers, the Good Homes Incorporated technician disabled the control panel overseeing the makeshift suicide machine, then she returned to the ground level to call in.
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