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Death's Doorstep

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Darkness seeped into the car from all sides. It slowly spilled over the bright red sides of her currently open-roofed Corvair, diving in while the streetlights on either side of the road, few and far between as they were, petered out one by one.  

It was a dark night. Not by any means stormy, and not by any means unnavigable, but dark enough for her to suspect that the stuttering of her headlights were coming from more than the age of this car of hers. Gripping the steering wheel just a bit tighter in one hand, Bea Winters took one last drag of her cigarette before glaring at the rearview mirror.

“Hey, cut that shit out. I can’t get to this place if you aren’t gonna let me see.

A sharp trill trickled from the backseat, stuttering every other note- it sounded much like laughter mixed with an alarm clock. Annoying as hell, was what it was, but she bit her tongue on the statement. The neon tendrils slipping around the driver’s seat to poke at Bea’s neck were a nuisance at most. At best, she’d gotten used to them. They’d heard all the complaints before and they really didn’t seem to care about what she had to say about their miscellaneous sounds. She didn’t want to deal with this thing’s approximation of a lecture right now. Didn’t have the patience for it.

At her request, though, the creature in the back seat let up on whatever influence it had on the lights. High beams spilled back out onto the road, illuminating an old dirt path that saw enough use to keep the plants from the nearby woods from overtaking it. She flicked some of the ash from her cigarette out the window, eyes sweeping over the scene in front of her. The streetlamps stopped sometime behind her, leaving the light from the crescent moon shining through the slowly thinning trees. Against the backdrop of the calm, clear night, the hulking form of a mansion rose.

Rumor had it that a witch lived up there. Bea didn’t really have it in her mind that spells or charms did much beyond a cursory, temporary fix; but she’d also learned not to take what she thought she knew for granted. The internet wasn’t exactly the best source, and she’d bite her left pinky off before she gave in and asked the thing in the back seat for their supposed ‘celestial knowledge’. 

The only real guarantee of safety she had was that the five- then six, then seven-faced monstrosity clinging to her leather interior didn’t want a dead acolyte.

A little way from the mansion, the headlights flickered. They gave out after the seventh time and the engine sputtered to nothing. The car rolled to a stop and left her stranded there with nothing to light the way except for the fluttering lantern light emanating from the porch. 

Three short flashes, then three long, then three short again. S.O.S. 

The chittering laugh echoed a little louder behind her, joined with the wet smacking of lips in some imitation of clapping. Bea glared at it again from the rearview mirror but it just kept going, highlighter yellow spears of teeth opening up and snapping shut. Sighing, she reached for her duffel bag and an old metal baseball bat she brought along with her. It’d taken way too long for her to convince the thing currently giggling at her not to stuff it up with any weird monster mojo, but like hell was she leaving it behind. 

The crisp air filled the woods with a distinct nothing, punctuated only by the weak stuttering and re-murmuring of her car’s engine as it tried to move. Now that she was outside the car, she saw what was going on- millions of fine, glowing threads stuck to the tires, webbing along the side of the car until it reached the mane of coarse hair attached to several of the creature’s dozen or so mouths. Just her luck- it didn’t look like she was leaving until she figured out what her own personal shit creature wanted. 

Letting out a slow breath, Bea turned her back on the car and made her way towards the mansion. The closer she got, the more twisted the architecture of the place got- some kind of style that wasn’t Gothic in the way churches were, but somewhat ornate and full of cracked statues hugging the edge of the roof. It almost made her wish she’d paid more attention to that art history class she took back in high school, sans the fact that she couldn’t stand history. As she left the manic pixie laughter behind her, the only thing she had to guide her was the constantly flashing lantern and the shadows on the manor wall. 

Bea stopped short when one of the large wooden doors slowly creaked open, brass hinges squealing against the weight. There was nothing visible past the crack- no sign of an entranceway or front hall- until a dark tan hand reached out from the gap. It stooped low to the ground with a plastic pink cup, jolting it slightly for a spider to scuttle out. Instinctively gripping the bat closer to herself, Bea took a step back, trying to move away from the faint circle of lantern light. She waited for a moment, watching the hand retreat back into the darkness. 

It would pay to bide her time. She took another step back- not to retreat, but to get her from sight, or maybe to start looking for another way in- when her foot cracked a twig. Swallowing down a heavy breath, she looked back towards the front door, now opening wide.

“Hello? Is someone there?” Someone stepped outside, barefoot and not all too phased by the mysterious sounds outside her mansion. She was tall and slightly too long-limbed for her own body, with knotted black hair falling over her broad shoulders and covering the left side of her face. Bea was almost surprised by how normal she looked, even while wearing that old-fashioned blue nightgown with all its lace and embroidered pink flowers. She guessed she was expecting something more… viscerally horrifying. More like something from Lovecraft’s less racist nightmares mixed with ecstasy. Or maybe that was just Bea projecting a little too much.

The stranger looked around, one dark eye lit up by the porchlight. Bea was left with a choice- she could take the risky route, break and enter, and then try to discover the secrets of the house without having any way out or any knowledge of what was going on; or she could take a chance, ask the proprietess to use her phone for a tow truck, and get the hell out of dodge while keeping it secret that her car was inoperable due to cosmic forces being a heavenly thorn in her side. Bea took the latter option.

“Over here,” She said, flicking her cigarette on the ground and crushing it underfoot as she stepped forward. If nothing else, she might be able to brute force her way out of trouble. The owner or servant or whoever this was seemed meek enough to not expect a good crack on the skull if worse came to worst.

The other woman blinked at her for a moment, seemingly taken aback, but watching with a large measure of interest. There were a few seconds of awkward silence as they both just looked at each other. The eerie atmosphere waned the more Bea was stared at, making her put off, for the most part- she was pretty sure she just went and trespassed on some hermit’s inherited land or something. And for what? To get some more annoying than average tentacles out her ears. In hindsight, that was the shittiest reason. Coughing slightly, Bea started, “My car just broke down not far from-”

The stranger wasn’t listening. Bewildered, she said, “You’re not dead.” 

“... Excuse me.” Bea could only think to say because that was ... not a normal reaction. 

The owner of the house didn't say anything more for a long moment, blinking owlishly with one glittering black eye. Then, she jumped as if startled into action, hands twining together over her chest as her brown face reddened slightly in the porchlight. "That-! Sounds much worse than what I meant! I'm so, so sorry, it's just that-" She cut herself off, head tilting forward sheepishly, "I. I don't get many. Visitors. You really surprised me, is all." Yeah, Bea wasn't entirely sure she bought that. The woman seemed to be compensating for something, stumbling over her words and fretting as she was- but it wasn't as if Bea was in any position to be grilling her over it. She was the one who trespassed. 

"Yeah- I understand. So my cell died on the way here..." Bea continued politely. She also politely didn't mention that the reason it was dead was that her personal eldritch bastard had chewed it up in one of its weirder mouths and spat it out wholly unharmed, but devoid of life. She also didn't mention that the mouth had all its teeth replaced with two rows of undulating tongues. "... and I was wondering if you had a phone I could borrow really quick? If you have a cell, I can just wait out here."

"In this weather? That'd be a bit much... Especially since it's so cold." The woman said, resting her hand against her right cheek. It really wasn't that bad of a night, and Bea was about to say as much when the woman turned, throwing the door wide open. "Come in, come in! It'll be better to get someplace a little warmer."

"Hold on a moment-" Bea said, alarms starting to sound off in the back of her head. She'd learned long ago not to go inside of any place she was invited when the ones leading her with the Old Ones. "I'm really fine... I wouldn't want to intrude in any case," And even if this were a normal person, who would so willingly open the door to their large, isolated mansion to some stranger without so much as a second thought? That was asking for any number of shady characters trying all sorts of terrible things.

The woman didn't answer, merely stepping over the threshold while gathering her long black hair in a ponytail, tying it with a hair tie she'd had around her wrist. She just bowled over Bea and introduced herself instead. "My name's Sondra- Sondra Dean. Really, I insist!" She turned her head, and now that her face was unobstructed, Bea saw the gnarled scar tissue that covered the left side. The burn marks crept down from the roots of her hair and bunched around a closed eyelid, slipping down over part of her chin and down the side of her neck. "Come on, come on- it won't take much more than a few moments."

Bea balked, thinking it over. While this place was suspicious as hell, not just for the size, but for the isolation, Sondra had given her name freely. Far too freely for anyone acquainted with the kind of arts that They dealt with. Bea knew it was the real deal, too, and not just a lie- the power of it buzzed in the back of her throat, etching itself there. Bea hadn't introduced herself yet- if the house's owner was really part of some grander plot, she would have waited for Bea to give her name at the very least. Like this, Beatrice was the one with the upper hand.

Taking a breath to steady her nerves and the slight tremor to her fingers, Bea stepped inside.