The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or deceased, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2016 by Benjamin Mainville
All rights reserved.
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First eBook Edition: September 2016
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Also by Benjamin Mainville:
The Blue Hole
a short story
Special Thanks to:
While I have several friends who have been kind enough to take the time to preview my stories, you went above and beyond with this one.
The loose gravel crunched under the weight of the box truck as the tires rolled off the asphalt and onto the side of the road. The grinding of loose gravel ceased as the vehicle came to a stop in front of the old house, the only remaining sound being the idling engine. The lofted exterior gave off the appearance that the weathered two-story home was in fact three-stories tall. White planks creating the building’s shell were warped with time; chipped in places and rotting in others.
Matt kept his hands on the wheel as he looked through the dusty windshield at the mailbox that revealed the lot belonged to 82 Dell Lane. Older neighborhoods like these always made him feel uneasy. Since he had a generic moving truck to hold deliveries instead of his branded parcel truck, currently broken, Matt was uncertain recipients would easily understand him as being a delivery man. After shifting the truck into park he took a moment to turn off the engine before swinging the door open. He hopped down onto the pavement below and stepped into the street.
Closing the door behind him he looked up and down the desolate road. It was a route more rural than what he was accustomed to. The hum of the insects in the field across the street served as a buzzing reminder that he was far from the city. Matt walked to the back of the truck and unlocked the door, which rattled loudly as he slid it up to access the contents inside. Had the fleet not been shorted from mechanical issues he could have easily left the vehicle running and walked into the back. However, thinking about the minor hardships he was encountering with his day would not help in completing deliveries. With this last thought Matt hopped up, then located and collected the padded envelope belonging to Scott Sampson at 82 Dell Lane. After closing and locking the overhead door he made his way to the entrance of the property.
As the ground transitioned from roadside gravel to tall, green grass, Matt’s footsteps softened. Oak trees, covered in Spanish moss, loomed over the pathway and cooled him as he walked towards the front door. Oddities could be seen scattered around the front yard within the unkempt landscape. Hidden among the weeds, a worn post with a rusted chain dangling in the wind captured Matt’s attention as a slight breeze picked up causing it to thump against the wooden post. He walked past it, a bit unnerved by the abandoned and neglected appearance of the property. He looked at his company supplied phablet once more and groaned after confirming that the delivery did indeed require a signature.
Matt continued past a broken bench. Its defunct state added incentive to continue down the path rather than take a seat. A rusting piece of metal, protruding from the ground, caught his eye. Its worn appearance made it difficult to discern what it once had been in its younger years. Reaching the stairs, Matt slowly stepped up toward the door. With each step he feared the rotting wood might collapse beneath his weight. He reached out to ring the doorbell only to find an exposed crevice. The device had been removed and apparently never replaced. He rapped his knuckles against the flaking door, causing it to slowly open with a squeaky creak from the surprise knock.
“Hello?” Matt called out into the dark, gloomy hallway lit only by the sunlight entering through the now open door frame. Unlike the outside, the interior seemed to be in much better shape with hardwood floorboards that had clearly been maintained over time. The sunlight glistened off the shiny floors but faltered several feet inside where an impenetrable blockade caused shadows to rule.
“Your door was left opened; I have a package for…” Matt paused as he looked at the name on the envelope. “… Scott Sampson. Hello?”
As Matt listened for a response, he could hear music quietly playing in the distance. He glanced around hoping that perhaps someone might approach from inside the house. Looking down at the thin package he confirmed once more the explicit instructions stating that it must be signed for. He pocketed the oversized phone and pondered whether to shut the door before leaving a note when he heard an unintelligible, frail voice originating from deep within the home.
“Hello? I have a delivery for Scott Sampson, but I need a signature,” he stated in the hopes that someone was on their way to the door.
“Come on in, I’m in the back,” the voice called out, slightly louder this time but still sounding frail.
“I’m sorry, but I need someone to come to the door,” Matt declared, beginning to become uncomfortable with the scenario.
“Then why did you open it?” the voice inquired.
“I didn’t. It must not have been closed all the way. When I knocked it opened on its own.”
“Damn Stephanie,” the voice uttered, irritated. “Are you able to make an exception for an old man? I’m currently bedbound, you see, and my daughter left- apparently without closing the door all the way.”
“Look, I am sorry, but I will just leave this note for you to turn in to the office. It can be picked up when you are able. It requires your signature, so just make sure you come by.” Matt grabbed the notepad and pen from his pocket and began to leave a “sorry we missed you” note.
“Please, sir, that is entirely impossible. Do you know how lazy these nurses are nowadays? I can barely get them to show up, let alone run errands for me. And my daughter- well I’ll be lucky if she comes back next week! Surely you can make an exception?”
Matt stared at the package, torn between extending his sympathy and abiding by normal delivery protocol.
“You don’t sound like Brenda,” the frail voice went on. “Is she alright?”
“Brenda is fine, sir,” Matt stated, presuming that Brenda must have been the usual delivery driver.
“Well that is good. She makes for entertaining visits.” The voice chuckled at the thought of a past encounter. “Well, I won’t be keeping you then. If you could please shut the door for me, and lock the knob, it would be much appreciated.”
Matt deliberated on the situation and sighed. “Look, I cannot stay to chat but I’ll bring you your package.”
“Oh, thank you! Yes, of course I won’t keep you. You have other packages to deliver I’m sure!” the voice called out.
Matt stepped up into the house and allowed his eyes to slowly adjust. The darkness ahead turned out to not be shadows but rather a very deep blue wall. It was so dark that it almost appeared black. The wall stretched down the parallel hallway, which he had found himself in the center of. He had expected to enter an entry room through the front door, not a sparsely furnished hallway that stretched along the front of the house with no natural lighting. He looked right, then left to get his bearings.
To his right, he found an oversized wardrobe standing guard in the corner next to an open door frame. Through this frame Matt could see what appeared to be a parlor, illuminated by yellowed light. Turning toward the opposite end of the hallway, to his left, Matt saw another door frame. The room beyond it sat in darkness however he could see through it, thanks to the door on the opposite side of the room being open as well which allowed some sunlight to enter the space.
“So, which way do I go?” Matt called out.
“You will find the kitchen to your left. Go through there and you’ll be able to enter the back.”
Matt stepped forward to walk around the open door. As soon as he cleared its path the door slammed shut, causing Matt to jump back against the wall and stare at the door.
“Is everything alright?” the voice called out, concerned.
Matt took a breath and looked around him beginning to regret his decision to enter the old house.
“Yeah, the door just slammed shut.”
“Oh, I am sorry. This house becomes a wind tunnel sometimes. I have my window open. That must have been what caused that. My apologies if that startled you!”
Then why was there no wind? Matt thought to himself. He walked back toward the door and tried the knob only to find that it would not turn. Anxiety began to set in and Matt did his best to rationalize the situation.
Being in the darkness his eyes adjusted further, allowing him to view the details that surrounded him. The kitchen was visible through the doorway at the end of the hall, thanks to the light filtering through its windows. Between the entryway and the kitchen sat a formal dining room. It could have been the lack of light, due to the heavy curtains, that made it seem as though it had been long forgotten but Matt had a feeling the room had actually not been used in quite some time. He began to walk forward, each step closer revealing details on the furniture showcasing its high quality. He passed a hutch in the hallway which loomed over him, displaying its antique contents, giving him the feeling that he was on a historic house tour rather than attempting a delivery.
“Hello? Are you there?” the voice called out.
“Yes, sir,” Matt replied, remaining vigilant to his surroundings. “You said I should go through this dining room to the kitchen?”
“That is correct.”
As he was about to enter the dining room Matt stopped. A faint clicking was heard coming through the kitchen ahead of him. He stared through the open doorways as the sound became louder until its origin, in the shape of a Rottweiler, became visible walking across the frame of the kitchen door. Matt’s eyes became enlarged at the sight of the large dog, for the rivalry between delivery persons and these four-legged creatures was just as strong as it has always been. He wanted to call out, but at the same time did not want to attract the dog’s attention. Instead he slowly retraced his steps, glad that the floor was solid and not creaking beneath his weight.
The clicking resumed and made its way back to the doorway where it paused. The Rottweiler noticed the new comer. It turned and stared at him, lowering its head.
“So, Mr. Sampson, I am guessing this is your dog?” Matt called out, doing his best not to allow his voice to crack. “Easy there,” he cooed. The intended calming effect did not work as planned, for the dog began to growl.
“Buttercup? What are you doing inside? Come here!”
The dog refused to listen and defiantly stepped toward Matt.
“Mr. Sampson, she does not seem very pleased and the front door seems to be jammed. Do you have any suggestions?” Matt asked, doing his best to seem calm so as not to upset the large hound that was now hunched over in front of him in a display of aggression.
“Unfortunately no. She is usually a very good listener. Perhaps try to slowly go back to the living room behind you? There is a door. If you close it then you should be fine.”
“Should be fine?” Matt muttered in disbelief. “That’s real helpful.”
Buttercup continued to slowly walk forward, deepening her growl each time Matt took a step backwards. He tried to remember how far back he had to go, without diverting his gaze away from the dog. Then he remembered that they say staring an animal down can be viewed as a sign of aggression. Or was it an action that would lead to its submission? As Buttercup barked, Matt watched the spit fall from her mouth and decided that whatever the answer was he would not follow either option. Instead he made the decision to turn and bolt through the hallway into the parlor, where he quickly slammed the door and leaned against it. He listened as her barking became that of frustration at her prey having escaped. As the barking subsided, Matt opened his eyes and stared at the door. He slowly allowed himself to release his weight from the solid wood door, gaining confidence that perhaps he was safe. No longer holding the door shut, he turned to take in his surroundings.
It was a decent sized room, glowing yellow from the vintage floor lamp standing across the room in the opposite corner. The dull lighting gently revealed the contents of the room. Next to it stood a short statue behind a love seat. The statue appeared to be of a bronze man, but had a blanket thrown over it so Matt could not be certain. Light was not necessary to recognize the gramophone, located on the wall opposite him, as the source of the soft music playing throughout the house. The bronze pavilion flared out, next to a magnificent fireplace etched with curves that gave the impression vines were taking over the wall. Sound poured out of its smooth curves, fluidly rivaling high-end speakers of modern day. In the center of the room sat an old floral print sofa, covered in old newspapers. In fact piles of newspapers lay around the room, creating a labyrinth of sorts, and the windows to the right stood boarded up which explained the lack of natural lighting.
Confident that the door was not about to burst open, Matt made his way toward the center of the room. “Hello?” he called out, making his way toward the antique dresser opposite the gramophone and looked at the various artifacts from a bygone era.
“I am so sorry about that,” the voice returned through the door frame near the statue. Curtains billowed into the room gently, as though the voice were brought in by a gentle wind. “Do you see the door with the curtain on the other side of the room?”
Matt looked up and turned around to find a curtain on the opposite side of the wall he had entered through. He began to make his way around the couch when suddenly the lamp inexplicably fell over, creating a loud pop as the bulb shattered and plunged the room into darkness.
“Is everything ok?” the voice called out in the darkness.
A loud thump was heard as something large hit the carpet near the love seat. Matt’s heart began to race. He was certain it must have been the statue, for that was where the sound originated from. Horrifying thoughts entered his imagination as his mind began to think on what may have caused it to fall.
Darkness was a fear of his in general. Being in this situation was not helping his anxiety. He slid the padded envelope behind him into his waistband, to free up his hands, and then fumbled for his phone to help shine light on his situation. The sound of papers falling nearby caused him to jump, for he had not touched anything.
The bright light from the phone’s screen caused him to squint and he quickly turned it away from him, holding it out to get a quick look at the room. The light revealed several papers settling onto the carpet from their recent fall. He panned the phone back and forth as he slowly worked his way back against the wall. Satisfied there was no monster in front of him, he quickly turned the phone back toward him and thumbed through the applications to turn on the flashlight. As Matt turned the light on, the soothing music changed to silent static. He quickly held it up toward the source.
The yell that emitted from Matt upon seeing the record player was not due to the scratching that suddenly began playing but rather the sight of catching a bronze man adjusting the record. The man stared at Matt, his face covered by the bronze mask, then used his arm to push over yet another pile of papers nearby. He began making his way purposefully toward Matt.
“What’s happening?” the frail voice called out in the distance.
“Help!” Matt yelled, as he quickly raced back toward the door he entered. It was closer than the other, which was currently blocked by the figure, and for the moment he forgot about the dog that lay waiting on the opposite side. He opened the door and quickly closed it behind him only to find himself slam against a wooden wall as the door found itself slammed shut.
Scuffling could be heard on the other side as the figure attempted to turn the knob loose from Matt’s grip. He held on for his life.
Somewhere among the anxiety of finding himself being hunted by what appeared to be the bronze statue from earlier, and the confusion of finding himself in a dark closet instead of the hallway he had originally came from, Matt did his best to allow himself to gain full control of his situation. He gripped the knob tighter and leveraged himself against the door frame, pressing himself against the back of the closet. Light briefly entered around the frame of the door, and then he was plunged once more into darkness. The figure ceased struggling to open the door and the silence alarmed Matt.
Matt allowed his legs to relax but maintained his grip on the door. Suddenly the handle began turning furiously, struggling to open against his grasp. If Mr. Sampson were still calling out to him and wondering what the commotion was, Matt could not hear him. He could not even hear his own panicked breathing over the din amplified by the small space he had found himself trapped in. He pushed himself firmly once more against the back of the closet, with his feet pressing against the door frame, to ensure he was making it as difficult as possible for the figure to pull the door open.
Once more, light entered around the door frame. The ground below him was moving and Matt began to realize that what he thought was a closet could not be. He let go of the door handle and instead focused on pressing himself against the wood backing. As the door opened, Matt’s world turned upside down and he found himself falling backwards. The bronze man tripped over the lip of wood that now jutted upwards and landed inside the wardrobe alongside Matt.
Matt scrambled to his feet and carefully hopped out of the wardrobe. The figure groaned and slowly lifted himself up. Matt stared at him, breathing deeply as he tried to calm himself, and allow his mind to understand that there was nothing to worry about. He reached around his back and pulled the package out of his waist band.
“Mr. Sampson,” he declared. “You’ve put me through a lot of nonsense for this.”
The figure laughed as he pulled his mask off to reveal an older, though certainly not frail, man. “You’re a rather quick one.”
Matt looked down at the wardrobe, which now laid flat on the ground, then through the open doorway of the parlor. With the wardrobe having been pushed away from the corner it once stood, the door frame that had been hidden behind it was now revealed.
Mr. Sampson slowly got up and brushed himself off. “You compose yourself rather well, I must say.” he directed towards Matt. “Usually my vocal recordings confuse people for a bit longer.”
Matt turned away from him and walked towards the entry door. He saw that Buttercup was standing in the door frame; paws pressed against what he presumed must have been a large, clear Plexiglas material that made physical interaction between the dog and visitors an unlikely occurrence. Matt couldn’t help but smirk at being duped. Had he walked into the dining room he might have realized the trick that was being pulled on him sooner.
Matt turned the handle, but found the door still refused to budge. “Do you mind?”
Mr. Sampson fumbled his way toward the door as he pulled out a controller. Before pressing the button he held it up in one hand and held out the other. “I believe you have something of mine?”
Matt gripped the package firmly and held it up. “Unlock the door and then you get this.”
Mr. Sampson stared at him a moment then pressed the button. A low beep emitted from the digital lock. Matt pulled out his phone and removed the stylus, tapping the screen to get to the signature portion. He held it out to Scott Sampson, of 82 Dell Lane, to collect the required signature. Mr. Sampson quickly signed and Matt just as quickly handed over the padded envelope. He put away the stylus and pocketed the phablet.
“I hope we never have to cross paths again, Mr. Sampson.” Matt stated before turning the handle and rushing out through the front door.
Mr. Sampson was a bit confused at the sudden departure and made his way to the doorway. While watching Matt quickly make his way toward his truck, he ripped open the package. The truck was not what Mr. Sampson expected and he looked down at the package he had just opened.
“No,” he gasped, eyes growing wider as he realized he had opened his summons notice. He had worked so hard to avoid it! It was an unnecessary lawsuit against him; all because Brenda could not take a joke. After all, the sign clearly indicated not to enter the premises unless serious about receiving a lesson in scare tactics during the posted hours.
Matt was almost to the truck as Mr. Sampson treaded purposefully through the tall grass. He made sure not to trip over any of the forgotten lawn ornaments, like the wooden placard that lay fallen under the almost illegible sign for “Scaring Lessons.” The sign that was clearly not posted, he realized. Crap.
Matt hopped up into the truck and began to ignite the ignition.
“Wait!” Mr. Sampson called out, waving the package and hustling towards the truck. He watched as Matt removed his uniformed hat and shirt. The truck was now revved up and gearing to go. Matt rolled down the window and placed one hand on the wheel while holding his phone up with the other. He proceeded to take a picture of Mr. Sampson holding the padded envelope.
“You can hide in your house but there is no escaping this, Mr. Sampson,” Matt called out. He tossed the phone onto the seat, looked at the road, and put the truck into gear. Matt turned one last time towards him and chuckled. “You should see your face, Mr. Sampson. I’ll be sure to send you a picture in case you’ve never seen fear on yourself.”
Matt rolled away in the large moving truck as Mr. Sampson reached the road. Speeding off in the distance he looked through the side mirror as he watched Mr. Sampson pitch a fit, tossing the summons to the ground in a childish attempt to wish it away. Matt did not think this tactic would work, hearing of the failed previous attempts of those trying to serving Mr. Sampson. In a way though, he knew this was a scenario to keep in mind for the future. After all, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a delivery man with a package in their name?
A Note to the Reader:
“Scaring Lessons” is my third release, and was a bit of a challenge to put together. Coming up with a solid short story for this quarter was proving very difficult. Each time I thought I might have one, the story would fizzle out. This project came together from a few different experiences.
When helping a friend move, we drove past an older house in the suburbs. This house, with unkempt lawn, had a faded, wooden sign posted that had a plank dangling from it. Though it was a brief drive-by moment, I had read the sign as advertising Scaring Lessons and it was an image that intrigued me. I still do not know exactly what the sign said but from this visual I had my general setting and came up with the basic story of a recluse entertaining himself by scaring those who may pass by.
The logistics of the scares, once inside, were a bit problematic. I wanted to keep things light and realistic, while not getting off track- something that was easier said than done. After watching a few episodes of “Breaking the Magician’s Code” on Netflix I came up with this simple scenario in an effort to confuse the player, Matt. I decided to pull simple fears together with the wardrobe to add to the overall confusion. I also allowed Matt to piece together the puzzle sooner than later with the desire to keep the story concise.
I hope you enjoyed this piece and I encourage you to share your thoughts by providing your rating and comment for “Scaring Lessons.” With your feedback I hope to grow as a writer and to create stories that have you looking forward to more. My goal is to share a solid collection of short stories with the hope that I will be able to share larger projects with you in the future. I intend to release at least one short story each quarter of 2016 and hope you will continue to join me on this literary adventure.
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The entire game is one of chance. While Scott has a general plan in mind, how it plays out relies entirely on the movements of the player. To monitor the actions, he utilizes a hidden camera system to determine what move to make next. While the majority of his dialogue is made in real time, he does have select phrases (which he utilizes towards the end) for when he personally steps in to play.
The entryway is rigged electronically. Despite the outdated appearance, the door was designed to work remotely. As mentioned in the story, Plexiglas is used to separate Buttercup and requires not only timing but a fear of large dogs to keep the player from attempting to go through the door frame only to find it blocked by the clear barricade.
Buttercup is, of course, a sweetheart. She might be large and excitable but, exterior appearance aside, she would not intentionally hurt anyone.
The large wardrobe is the piece that holds the experience together. By sitting in the corner of the entry hall, it hides the door located in the corner. Once Matt enters the parlor and closes the door behind him, Scott enters through this side doorway and slides the wardrobe (which has no backing) over the parlor door. The barking and music, as well as padding beneath it, help muffle the sound of the sliding wardrobe and Scott returns through the side doorway to where the curtain covers the adjoining room.
Inside the parlor, the statue is indeed a statue and not a physical person. Scott is already dressed in bronze to mimic its appearance and waits on the other side of the curtain to make his entrance. He pulls the cord of the lamp to knock it over and plunge the room into darkness. Once the room is dark, he enters and knocks the statue over behind the couch. This is done to hide the statue allowing him to successfully replace it and bring it to life. With this switch complete, he changes the record to capture his player’s attention so that they can see what had once been stationary is now very much alive.
With Scott is on the opposite side of the room, the closest exit for Matt is the same he entered. It is a risk but the hope is that in their surprise a player would go for the closest point of escape. This would place them inside the wardrobe, creating the added confusion.
And this is how the event comes together.
The route may be different, but the job remains the same: deliver the package to its recipient. Unfortunately for Matt, this delivery is easier said than done.