Updated: Oct 13, 2022
By: Marius Crowley
A grave is where you go to end a story. And the more stories that end, the more headstones you find. I suppose if you build a house atop the headstones, it becomes a place that welcomes those that are already dead. And if you listen closely to the walls, you can hear the cold pulse that still runs through them. And all the stories they carry. I lived in a house like that for 204 years. The Headstone House, I called her. And I know all her stories. This is but one.
I sat by the hearth, and let the fire illuminate the pages of two books. I was reading Turn of the Screw, and my dearest daughter (or Owlet, as I called her), Alyssa, was reading Salem’s Lot. It was how we had spent so many of our evenings together.
No matter how busy either of us got, we always found time to read the scariest novels we could find. Especially at this time of year. It was nearly Halloween. Most haunted houses had their share of unwanted visitors around this time. But not the Headstone House. With legends growing in the neighborhood about people going missing, and with the police having long given up on these cases, nobody else came by.
The streets were dark, we had our books, and nobody would dare approach.
That was until an ethereal glow came through the window.
“What’s that?” Alyssa asked.
“Not entirely sure, my Owlet,” I admitted.
I rose up from my armchair, and put Turn of the Screw on the side table. The glow was one that I remembered from my days of walking along cemeteries, not long after I had turned. And it had been far too long since I saw one this close. And so intensely.
A strange thought, considering that this was the Headstone House.
I looked up and saw that it was not the only soul that was lost that night. There were many lights scattered across our lawn.
More than I had seen in years.
“Stay in the house,” I insisted.
“What is it? A wraith? A demon?” Alyssa asked.
I’d forgotten how many horrors that Alyssa had faced in this house. Either of those would have been my first guess. But there was no way to determine what this threat was. Not until I met it head-on.
I reached for the mantle, and I collected the two items I always took with me: my Ruger LCR Pistol, and my phylactery. I put them on my belt, and made my way to the door. When there was a threat that had visited the Headstone House before, one of them could always get the job done. And while I was confident that I could face the threat again with one of them, I had never had a soul visit the property before. On the outside.
I left the house, and locked the front door behind me.
There was no telling what these souls wanted. Not unless I talked with them. There were 24 souls floating across the grass. I didn’t know what to make of them, so I kept my hands on both of my weapons.
It was a common precaution for the departed to take the form of these ethereal spheres. It was a defense mechanism that allowed them to take on the vaguest of shapes, and allow them more time to make decisions.
If a non-believing mortal had seen them, they could have dismissed them quickly as tricks of the light. Mortals that held a belief in the supernatural had often gorged themselves on the endless stories and superstitions that made this spirit orb a number of different meanings. And depending on their reaction, the spirit taking that form would be able to determine their next action.
And then there were those like me, those who had seen these spheres before, and knew that it was indeed a defense mechanism. And with two weapons in hand, one for physical forms, and one for supernatural forms, I was ready for whatever would arrive.
I remembered my training from ages ago, and the words had crossed my mind.
Ghoul. Demon. Poltergeist.
None of them gave an inch, or revealed what they really were. They just remained there, suspended in the air like jellyfish in a tank. They were waiting for someone to make the fatal mistake of making the first move.
I tried to garner what I could from the encounter, and yet I knew there was one crucial aspect to their arrival that made this even more suspect.
The number of spirits on the lawn.
Far too few to represent the number of kills I had claimed, even in the last year alone. Had they come here for revenge, there would be something that would give me a hint as to how I could kill them. A change in color would have meant they were Revenants, and I could have banished them with the phylactery. A sudden return to a dead form, one that was coiled in darkness would have been a Wight, and I could have killed them with the revolver.
But still, there was nothing.
They were patient, they were unmoving, and they were not trying to gain the tactical advantage by splitting apart, encircling me, or trying to scatter to hiding places. They were all remaining there, and they wanted to be seen.
They wanted to talk.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
The souls hovered in the air, and finally, one approached.
It hung heavy in the moonlight, while the others didn’t dare move. Clearly, this was their emissary. Every graveyard had one. And it was this gesture that suddenly began to put the pieces together.
The sphere began to let loose a smog, and it billowed to roughly the size of a human. I realized that it was foregoing its spherical form, and wanted to speak to me as a person instead of a spirit. Not every departed soul could do this, and that meant that it was capable of making the decision to forego the theatrics and speak with me. I doubted now that it would wish harm on me, or on Alyssa.
It was not a Revenant or a Demon.
I watched as a shadow clung to the cloud, and the light flashed in pockets of its cover, like thunder catching itself in a storm cloud. The figure that emerged was that of a young man. One that had died well before his natural time, no matter what age he came from. He couldn’t have been older than eighteen years old. His clothes formed around his body, and I realized he was a man of the 1800s. If I remembered correctly, he would have been from the 1840s. I remembered that age when men started to adopt jackets and small scarves, and began to let any amount of excess funds turn into gaudy frills. But even in death, this man’s finest clothing had no frills, and his hands were calloused.
He was a man that looked after and sacrificed everything for his loved ones. And looking at the other spheres, it was clear that he had many to look after, even beyond the grave. He appeared to be exhausted, like he had not eaten or slept in a week. A dire state to be in, and he could hardly stand.
Even if the needs of a departed soul were not the needs of a human, this man had been put through hell and came back a shell of what he should have been.
I pitied him when I looked into his sunken eyes. He had the look of a man who was on the run, and was at his last chance for help.
As he spoke, his voice was caught between life and death. A voice that belonged to a boy in part, and a fearful presence in part.
It was clear.
This boy was a Wayward.
A soul that had bound itself to a location in the living world, and for whatever reason, was unable to move on. The existence of a Wayward was always a difficult one, and it was rare that you found one that embraced the good aspects of remaining on this side of the mortal coil. Some could manifest the powers of a benign Poltergeist or a Spirit. Someone who could gain a fleeting appreciation for the physical world. But if they surrendered themselves to despair or jealousy, they could just as easily gain fleeting and devastating powers of a truly evil presence. Not belonging in any plane of existence, and no state of the physical world.
We have been rejected everywhere else. Every consecrated place of rest has been claimed.
“This house is the furthest thing from a place of rest. You would not find peace here,” I warned.
We don’t want to rest. We want protection.
A sudden chill crawled up my spine.
“You’ve been followed here?”
I scanned the street, hoping that this Wayward had brought something that I could handle with just a few bullets and a corrupted soul.
“You have exhausted all of your options, coming here? No house of worship? No home to hide in?”
You know what we are. I can see it in your eyes. And you know that the Rite of Sanctuary is all that can protect a hunted soul.
This Wayward had clearly spent his time learning about what it meant to be tied to the land of the living. The Rite of Sanctuary was a special pact that the living could make with the dead. And with that came benefits and consequences.
Many pacts had been made in the past, and with every type of person and departed soul. It was a harrowing endeavor to take, as the pact could extend for a single night, or it could extend to eternity. I would need a Ravenshade if I was going to even alter it slightly. And what’s worse is that these pacts had been used to take advantage of hapless humans and turned their lives into a living hell.
I had to be careful.
“What followed you here? If you want the Rite of Sanctuary, you must tell me what is following you. There may be a way to help you, and I will do what I can.”
A man with white eyes followed us, from the moment we lost Sanctuary.
The breath in my lungs had frozen, and I looked at the man’s eyes. There was no lie in them.
“White eyes? You’re certain?”
He nearly claimed me when the excavation began. Our land had broken, and our Rite of Sanctuary had been violated when it was no longer a place of rest. And I fear the worst for all of us, if we’re caught.
Each of the spheres had sprawled out on the ground. And the cover was broken as the smog had billowed around them. I wasn't sure if they were making a point, or if they had reached their limit at the time their emissary had admitted the truth. They all reverted to their human forms, and lay on the ground. Everyone one of them was breathless from an intense pursuit from some abomination in the shadows.
I looked out at the stretch of souls. Men, women, and children. All exhausted from lack of Sanctuary. And many of them had patches of pure white on their clothing and their bodies. Their souls had gone through a terrible injury. One that could not be the result of a gunshot or a phylactery. This was something far worse. And there were precious few things that it could still be. I prayed that my first instinct was wrong.
Night gathered across the neighborhood, and the lost souls looked at me, with what little strength they had. We all knew that if I refused, they would have to take their chances elsewhere. And their chances would have been slim to survive the night. I doubted they could even crawl to the next house over.
We will agree to any pact you think is fair. No. I will agree to any pact you choose, so long as you save them. I will become the slave of this household, if only you will save us from what is hunting us. Whatever it is. I can smell death on this land, and I know in your eyes that you know what we are. Then you must know a way to save us.
I looked on, and I could hear Alyssa arriving at the window, and that she was still heeding my warning and not opening the door. I had a choice to make. These departed souls had a look of genuine fear in them, and I doubted that this level of injury could be faked.
Still, there were ways.
It was possible that this was all a ploy by a clever demon, or an insidious mage. Someone who had taken advantage of these Waywards, and was waiting for the agreement to be made so that the slightest weakness in the pact could have given them what they wanted. Uninterrupted access to the house, the ability to possess a resident, or to kill indiscriminately with all the powers of the living and the dead.
All were possible.
And all I had seen before.
But this request was one that left me shaking with indecision. I had to find a way to protect Alyssa, and to give these Waywards what they wanted. There was no telling what they were capable of or what would happen to them if I waited any longer.
“I have a pact. And if you will honor it, you may observe the Rite of Sanctuary in my home.”
Of course. Name your terms.
“My home and its inhabitants are under the complete protection of Sanctuary, and will not be subject to any theft, harm, or death by your hand while you are here.”
“You will remain powerless as long as you are in the house, completely devoid of all Powers of the Grave.”
The emissary looked back at his followers, clearly torn on the decision. But he knew that he would not find a better deal than this one.
“If any of these terms are broken, you will be banished from my home, under pain of damnation.”
Agreed. But I have a term of my own.
I took a breath. It was a bold set of terms that I had just introduced, but even the most experienced Ravenshade would agree that they were shaky at best. There was so much more you could do to protect yourself from incoming souls. A single change in the terms was risky for everyone involved. Most of all Alyssa and I.
"Go on,” I answered.
This pact will be honored, but will be nullified at sunrise. And subject to revised terms, by both parties.
These souls really were being chased by something that terrified them. They had agreed to enter a lifeboat that was full of holes, and I was barely willing to let them aboard. But the pain and fear in their eyes was clear. They agreed to enter, because a shark was lurking beneath the shadows.
“I agree to this Rite of Sanctuary. Now get the fuck inside my house,” I cursed.
The Waywards had faded from view, and Alyssa turned around and saw that there were souls behind her.
She didn’t scream, but threw herself up against the wall.
I could hear her heart beating like a jackhammer, but I could also hear the voice of the Wayward emissary, now much more substantial and human.
“My name is Erasmus. And we mean you no harm. We are observing Sanctuary while your guardian is outside.”
"He’s not my guardian. He’s my father,” Alyssa insisted.
That sentiment warmed my heart, but I didn’t have time to reflect on the bond we had formed. Alyssa was in danger, and I had to deal with the souls hiding in my house, and I had to confront whatever had terrorized them.
Finally, I saw a figure emerge from the shadows of the stretch of woods just beyond the house. It had been waiting there long enough to hear the terms of our Pact. I was sure of it. This monster was letting its presence be known, and it had hidden from me the entire time. It was rare that any being, living or dead, could have accomplished both with me.
It knew everything. Its ancient, white eyes made that painfully clear.
My worst nightmares had been realized. The monster that was skulking in the shadows and hounding the Waywards was a monster I long thought had vanished from the world.
It wasn’t a shark that was waiting for them in the shadows out there.
It was a megalodon.
I thought that this monstrosity had been hounded and killed by my own kind, when Warsaw was overrun with undead. When the few monsters with humanity rose up to protect everybody, and agreed that the slaughter had to be replaced with partnership.
Of all the monsters we had slain, and all the vermin we guarded against from that day on, the Manomorta was the worst. We had made it our mission to kill them all. They were always lingering in the shadows and were easy to spot when they made their presence known. By the time that you had seen one, it was already too late.
They were known to stand tall, and to wear a garment that was neither leather nor shadows. But they always walked with those hideous garments, and they made no sound as they traveled. Not over any land, or through any obstacle. They were soundless, and selective with whatever sound they chose to make.
It had alabaster skin, and had only the faintest of human features. Its entire body was too long to be that of a human’s. Its height was too great, its frame was too thin, and its fingers too long. Any attempt at forming an expression was attempted by its mouth, which was filled with rot.
It stared on, and spoke in the same, low voice that the Waywards had. But this voice was much older, and far more sinister.
You are the owner of this Accursed Land?
I can feel the emptiness of every soul that was claimed here. Many still haunt the grounds in ways that even I can barely detect. I expect that was your plan, when you let those Waywards enter your home.
“I wouldn’t do that to them..”
I can feel the roots coiling beneath the foundations. You have built this house on a bed of Gravegrass. And the house itself is made of Corpsewood. The perfect structure to house a soul. Or to imprison one.
“I don’t wish to harm any of them.”
How would you like to have this land purged of every unseen pest?
“There are people here. Whether they’re breathing or not, they depend on me. And I won’t let them be harmed.”
Of course. Make a list. I will only claim those that have run from me, and those that you want to see gone.
“What are you asking?”
You could always try to kill me. With those bitter-smelling bullets, or perhaps that delicious morsel you carry on your belt. But I see no reason that we can’t be friends.
I put my hand on the gun and the phylactery.
“You are not a friend to anybody. You’ve just come here to claim every soul on the property. And you know that if you were to stay in this house for twenty years, you’d never run out of rations.”
I understand your kind has trouble forming a hold in this world. You need the amenities of a man and a monster. You need a home and a slaughterhouse. But I can make this so much easier for you. With me by your side, any problem you have as a nightwalker would be over.
It’s true. It had become difficult to hold a position in this world, when I had so many parts I had to play. I had to be a man, for the sake of not being hunted with pitchforks and torches. I had to play the part of the monster, no matter how much I didn’t want to. When you’re a nightwalker, you can only exercise restraint for so long. And in the worst cases, you denied your appetite for so long that your family paid the price.
I couldn’t hold out as a man or a monster entirely, no matter how much I wished it could be that easy. And the price of staying in one house for this long had weighed heavy on everybody. Myself, every person I had murdered, even my daughter. All of us had paid the price of my eternal debt, and I was running out of options.
I could barely keep it together for this long. With my fangs, my gun, and my phylactery, I thought it would be possible. But there were so many nights when I thought I could leave home and never look back. But I knew I’d be missing something vital, if I left this place.
They needed me.
Alyssa, the souls, Max.
And most of all, I needed a home with them.
And now this Manomorta was agreeing to come inside and take the weight off of my shoulders. To tell me to holster my gun, put down my phylactery, and to sheathe my fangs. It was an offer I never expected, and surely had shone in my eyes. Because the monster had more to say.
Make a list, and surrender the souls to me. This will be the start of a beautiful friendship, if only you offer me a morsel to start with. And the souls that just burdened your house must be included.
I looked on, and kept my hands on my belt.
Who did this monster want me to betray?
Alyssa? The Waywards? The Headstone House?
I looked on at the monster, and heard the residents of the house, just behind me. I measured what every step and every breath could mean as they all looked at me. They were waiting for me to decide, and as the seconds kept dragging onward, none of them was sure what I was going to do next.
I didn’t even know what I was going to do next.
I reached for my gun faster than any bullet could travel.
I pulled it from the holster, and looked up to see that with every shot I was about to take, the Manomorta had rushed at me with blinding speed.
The first shot rang out thirty yards away, and hit the monster in the torso.
The second shot rang out, and the monster was only twenty yards away. It terrified me that any nightwalker could run that fast, and I had no idea what was going to happen after the second shot. But I went on to the third.
The third shot rang out, and the Manomorta was upon me.
It reached out with its claws outstretched, and its body had stretched further than it could handle.
I can still remember what it was like to watch the bullets catch in that abomination’s alabaster stomach.
The shots from the handgun were violent, and yet they were not as fast as the beast they had impaled. Whenever I had fired that gun before, there was a soft sound of metal hitting flesh. It was almost comforting when each of the cold cartridges had found their way to the warm flesh of their victims. At my greatest speed, they sounded like gentle heartbeats. The kind you hear on a dying man as you slowly drain the life from his neck.
But this time, it was different.
The Manomorta’s flesh was cold, hard, and long-dead.
Artificial and unnatural in the sounds that it made.
The torso cracked like porcelain, and it only seemed to slow down from the impact. It approached with an eerie resolve, and the noise as its body broke apart and scraped together made my ears hurt, and my spine shiver.
There was a billowing darkness that came from each of the shots. I wasn’t sure if it was the leathery shadows patching up the wound, or if that’s what passed for Manomorta blood. But when the small, snowflake plumes of darkness had touched the ground, I saw that life had been twisted into a sight I thought had long been contained.
The ground had turned the plants into Gravegrass.
I couldn’t fire another shot. The wounds had been covered, and the Manomorta had doubled over and just been beyond my reach. I raised the gun, and I fumbled on my belt for my phylactery. I had to be careful with my next approach.
You were wrong to deny me.
“Maybe I was. But I would do it again,” I admitted.
I raised my phylactery to eye level. Its dark glow had made everything colder around us. The Manomorta looked up at it, and its eyes had remained calm.
No being I had ever encountered could remain that calm when they saw my phylactery. It could have forced a soul out of a living body, it could banish a departed soul vast distances, and it could turn a nightwalker into a slave. Those terrible fates and more were just waiting for you, and now this monster looked up at me, indifferent.
The air around us had turned cold, and ice crystals hovered in the air.
How long do you think you can keep protecting them all?
“I don’t know. But I’ll protect them for as long as I can. And we both know what I really am. That could take a long time.”
Everyone in that house will die. And I will be the one to drink their last breaths.
“I’ll never let that happen.”
We could have been friends. Remember that. On the night that I drink your soul, remember that.
The Manomorta was pulled into the shadow of the wilderness. It was a violent and sudden thrashing that I was sure would have torn its body to ribbons. But instead of the spray of gore, or the horrid screams of a man dismembered, I saw that the violent shadows had given way to nothing.
The Manomorta was gone, and I had made a new enemy.
I was sure that the monster was out there, watching. That was a legend that all of us remembered in my family. The Manomorta may have been out of your sight, but you were never out of his. That was the truth that we had carried with us, from the first time we had seen one in Warsaw.
I thought it was a legend, once.
But now, it was my reality.
I returned to the house, and I could barely keep myself on my feet. When I made it to the door, Alyssa opened the door swiftly, and I fell to my knees.
“Father!” Alyssa shouted.
She tried to hold me up, but all of the Waywards had reached down to pull me toward my armchair.
“Father! Are you alright?!” Alyssa continued.
I held a hand to my head, and I felt the chill of terror course through my body.
“I-I’ll be fine,” I lied. “Alyssa. Get me the phone, and the card of that man who came to visit us last October.”
“The man with the crimson hair?” She asked.
“That’s right,” I confirmed.
“Who are you calling?” Erasmus asked.
“My Ravenshade,” I gasped.
“Your what?” Alyssa asked.
“My lawyer. We’re going to make a proper Pact, and the Rite of Sanctuary will be observed. But we need terms defined. I have no idea how I survived that attack, and we need to be ready for when that monster comes back again.”
“You honestly think it’ll be back?” Erasmus asked.
Alyssa had brought back the phone, and handed me the card.
“I’m certain of it,” I dreaded.
More info on The Headstone House
What if the monsters we feared, were in fact, our neighbors?
That is the question that gave rise to the most terrifying haunted house that you never heard of.
And it took far more than just one author to answer it. The premise inspired thirty authors to tell that story, together. The story of one monster being a neighbor to countless others.
So who is this monster?
His name is Marko Lundy, and he is a vampire (or nightwalker, as he’d prefer to be called). And he has been the proprietor of America’s most haunted house for 204 years.
The stories he has collected have been fragmented and fleeting for all this time, and now, they have finally been committed to paper.
Join us as we unravel this harrowing collection of supernatural sightings, monstrous creatures, and harrowing crimes. Told by a very old monster, and penned by very new authors. All at the peak of their powers.
Welcome to the story we all made together.
Welcome to The Headstone House.
Five stories are to be digitally released this October on Long Overdue Publishing’s website. The list of stories and authors you will find leading up to Halloween of 2022 include the following:
Cemetery - By Marius Crowley
Gathering - By Agatha Brennan
Chute - By Roslyn Price
Max - By C.W. Lochland