I wrote “Releasing the Spectre” in less than 48 hrs. for the NYC Midnight 500-word short story challenge using the below assigned story prompts / requirements:
Genre: Suspense and/or Thriller
Action: Putting something in a lockbox
Word: An airbed
Maximum word count: 500 word story
Time Limit: 48 hours
“Releasing the Spectre”
Written by Susan Eileen Jizba
I couldn’t sleep on my first night in the crumbling manor that was now mine. My airbed kept deflating. When the realtor’s empty rattling lockbox woke me up multiple times, I told myself it was just the wind. Even though the night seemed calm.
Each time I woke, for a terrifying moment I felt paralyzed, as if restrained by chains on the cold hardwood floor that felt like stone.
Everyone told me not to buy this decrepit place, perched on a cliff, overlooking the sea. But from the moment I saw it, I was obsessed with it, gripped by a haunting feeling, that I couldn’t shake.
Taking tools to remove the noisy lockbox, I was disturbed when I found it hanging crooked outside, swinging on one loose screw. There was nothing to move it in the windless night. I spotted a rusted antique key inside it, that hadn’t been there before.
A silent heavy mist hung, smothering the night sky. It felt strangely surreal as if I was suspended in time and space, and although it terrified me, I took the old key.
When I reentered the aging manor, the lights dimmed and went out. I removed a candle and matches from my pocket. I lit the taper as I crept along the creaky hallway. The flame illuminated the antique portrait on the wall. It was what sealed the deal on the manor for me; a painting of a strikingly beautiful defiant-looking woman with intense eyes, wearing a gown and a medieval patriarchal cross.
My candle flickered, buffeted by a breeze. It was coming from a keyhole of an ancient, locked door, concealed behind the painting. I knew the key that I held would open it.
Unwillingly, I stepped over the door’s threshold, propelled by a terrifying force that I couldn’t resist. I was shoved forward and struggled to keep my balance. I felt shackled as if I was dragging heavy chains as I stumbled down the spiraling stone steps.
My candle extinguished as I reached a chamber.
I tried to scream but couldn’t.
I felt my clothes rip. I was stripped bare.
I was brutally pounded into the stone floor. My bones were crushed, and my blood splattered.
I heard unearthly screams that weren’t mine.
I floated to the top of the chamber as silvery slivers of moonlight lit the room. Chained to the floor was a broken skeleton. Rust was eating through the links with the passage of time. The skeleton wore the patriarchal cross. She was the woman in the hallway portrait. I felt dizzy and passed out.
I woke as sunlight illuminated the chamber through vertical slits in the wall. The rusty ancient chains had crumbled open, freeing the broken skeleton from its bondage. Only the patriarchal cross was left intact, as a reminder of her past life. I knew that this woman had been me, and I had finally set her free.
And as her journey had ended, I realized, my quest had just begun.