Headstone House - Gathering

By: Agatha Brennan


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.

“Just sign here, and you’ll be an official resident,” I offered.

I pushed the contract to my latest arrival, along with a cup of Earl Grey tea.


As she requested.

By all accounts, Madeline Finch was the ideal tenant. She was quiet, orderly, and based on previous reports, always paid her rent in full and ahead of time. There seemed to be nothing more to her than being a diligent resident of the properties she had stayed at in the last ten years. It could have all been so perfect. Except for the timing of her arrival.

She became a tenant of the Headstone House on Halloween of 1922.

This would have marked the beginning of our time as landlord and tenant, but she would not be admitted to the premises until the end of All Hallows Eve. Being a new resident in this place posed certain…challenges. And after cleaning up the remains of the last ones, I knew that this house and its longtime residents would take advantage of the situation. With the glow of the Harvest Moon, monsters like us received more Powers of the Grave.


Our fangs grew sharper, our eyes grew brighter, and our appetites became insatiable.


While nobody else had learned the truth in town, they had certainly taken precautions against my little monsters.


We didn’t have any visitors this time of year, anymore. The procession of distraught spouses, confused policemen, and paranormal investigators took one night of reprieve. And it would all start up again on November 1st.


It could have been so perfect.


But if there’s one thing humans love more than their little secrets, it’s when you make exceptions for them.

“I just have one question,” Madeline insisted.

“Of course,” I allowed.

“The contract states that I am to stay off of the premises during Halloween. Where does that leave us for today? I’m afraid I have nowhere else to go in the meantime. I’ve moved my entire life out here, and I’d like to have a place to hang my hat.”

“I understand your trepidation, but I assure you that the time you’ll be spending out of the house on Halloween is for your benefit.”

“Being homeless for the next 24 hours is a benefit? I brought you the money for rent, and it took everything I had to bring you every last penny.”


“All sixty dollars worth. You have my thanks. But I won’t be leaving you in a lurch. You’re clearly a very thoughtful person, and I want you to know that this gesture has not gone unnoticed. I’ve made arrangements for you to stay at the local inn, out of my pocket. It’s owned by a friend. The prices are usually quite high, but I’ve made arrangements like this for tenants in the past.”


“I need to stay here,” Madeline insisted.

She looked at the ground, and wrung her hands together.

“You need to stay in my home? Starting tonight?” I asked.

“I do,” Madeline confirmed.

There was clearly something that was weighing on her mind, and it felt wrong to ask her to go anywhere else. She had gone to different houses in the last few years, and she never seemed to want to settle down anywhere. Clearly, she was determined to put an end to the running.

I had no choice.

If you’re going to stay here for Halloween, we need to establish some ground rules.”

Madeline’s head shot up, and her eyes were eager.

“Of course,” she accepted.

“We’re going to have a Gathering here tonight. Normally, I’d ask all tenants to take advantage of other arrangements we offer.”

“They won’t even know I’m here,” Madeline promised.

“They greatly cherish their privacy. And by having someone here that’s not a part of their…festivities could make things difficult.”

Madeline nodded.

“I’ll stay in my room. And I won’t come out. I promise.”

I was surprised.

“Oh, you don’t have to stay in your room. Although it may make things easier.”

Madeline hesitated.


“I don’t understand.”

“You’ll be allowed to have usage of the common areas of the house. And you may use your room, of course. But the company that’s coming by tonight would prefer it if you never speak of what you see.”


Madeline had doubt lingering in her eyes, but she looked out the window of the Headstone House, and steeled herself. She had no idea what she was agreeing to, but she knew that whatever it was would be better than taking her chances outside the house.

“I’ll keep my mouth shut about what happens tonight. But I want your solemn promise that I’ll be able to stay here.”

I nodded.

“You’ll stay here. So long as you don’t violate this agreement.”

I held out my hand, and Madeline shook it.

The low rush of approaching cars had appeared in front of the house, and Madeline looked out to see who was here.

There was a flock of solemn strangers coming out of those cars. Some appeared in lavish cars, and dressed in lavish clothing. Others appeared in jalopies and dressed in rags.

The sole characteristics they all shared were fierce eyes that seemed to glow, and snow-white fangs that seemed to glitter in the moonlight.


All of them were here for the Gathering, and I hoped that Madeline would be able to keep her promise.


“That’s quite the cabal of friends you have,” she attempted.

“They’re not my friends. I just agreed to host their Gathering this year,” I insisted.

As each figure came into the house, Madeline sat in the corner and was transfixed by the lineup of visitors. It was unlike any other Gathering you were likely to find in Flint.

The hearth burned brightly, but the shadows cast by each of the new arrivals made everything colder. Every new stranger coming into the house seemed to drop the temperature another five degrees. Before long, every breath was chilled into a white vapor.


They hardly spoke as they greeted me, and they seemed wary. It was only fair, many of them had quite the journey getting to my home. And the number of attendants was already too small for comfort. There were supposed to be twenty attendants, but now, there were only nine.

Finally, the last of our visitors came through the door. The house took notice, and the door shut swiftly behind them.

SLAM!

The last of the arrivals was the most alluring of all.


And Madeline couldn’t keep her eyes off of her.


I suppose in any other situation, I would feel compelled to introduce the two of them. But I was a landlord, not a matchmaker.


To me, they were both guests.


“Good to have you with us, Narcisse,” I greeted.


Narcisse looked around the room, and seemed disappointed by the turnout.


“I was hoping more of us would be here tonight,” she lamented. “But it is an honor to be in the company of old friends,” Narcisse smiled.

Madeline looked at all the nightwalkers, and had no idea what to say.

But that was common in Gatherings like this.

Humans were always lost, while nightwalkers were always in control.


Finally, Narcisse took notice of Madeline, and her somber eyes melted into a gentle gleam of intrigue.

“Who’s this petite beauty?” Narcisse asked.

The French nightwalker crossed by me, and in seconds, was upon Madeline. There was a sudden rush of fear that ran through Madeline. But the tremor in her heart suddenly changed. When Narcisse drew closer, Madeline’s pulse became slower and much more intense. I wasn’t sure if it was terror, or excitement.

Neither would have surprised me.


“A tenant,” I answered quickly.

Narcisse stopped, and hovered in place. Her lavender eyes fluttered when she got just close enough to Madeline that the spell could still be broken.

“Welcome to the Headstone House, ma chérie,” Narcisse welcomed.

KISS.


It was a long kiss, and it had sent Madeline’s pulse from a steady, intense beat to the beat of a hummingbird’s wings. But as soon as the surprise set in, Madeline’s face had turned as red as a cherry and her body had gone limp.


The remaining nightwalkers smiled in approval.

Narcisse pulled back, and smiled with deep satisfaction.


Then Narcisse turned to me.

“Marko, if this one ever wants to find alternate living arrangements, please have her call me.”

Madeline’s eyes had entered a haze as she looked at Narcisse.

Without another word, I stood in front of the hearth, and Madeline looked on at the strangers that scattered across the foyer. Her eyes often gravitated toward Narcisse, and she was enraptured with the mystery of who they all were. And why they were here.

“Welcome, everyone. I know the journey has been a difficult one, but it is a tradition that must be upheld. And of course, I have made the necessary arrangements to ensure that nobody would be visiting us that would compromise the secrecy of this Gathering.”


Everyone looked straight at me. As though they couldn’t bear to look around and be reminded of the nightwalkers that were missing.


Madeline took a deep breath, but was determined to keep her promise.


“You’ve all come here because you want to have a place in the New World. I can certainly provide that,” I continued.

Madeline looked on, curious as to what brought such exotic persons to this small town, and as she looked at Narcisse, she found herself smiling. She let the grin make her cheeks go rosy, but as soon as she smiled, she felt the light dribble of blood escape her jaws.

Madeline looked down, at first with curiosity.

But as she found the crimson stain on her clothing, her hands started shaking.

“Think nothing of it, ma chérie,” Narcisse assured. “I was perhaps a bit…overzealous.”


It was true that nightwalkers could find themselves capable of having their fangs extend at inopportune moments. But a Gathering that had a human in attendance was surely one of the worst times of all.


“It will heal in just a moment, Madeline. Rest assured,” I promised.


Madeline shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and looked at the Gathering with rekindled fear. But as the moment passed, she had a look of stunned realization when she felt that any wound that had formed from Narcisse’s indiscretion had already healed. The taste of iron was still in her mouth, but no wound for it to escape from.


“I’ve made arrangements to provide you with territory at your desired locations, safe passage for everyone here, and access to a Ravenshade. As you have all requested.”

A thin nightwalker raised his voice, with a thick German accent.

“Safe passage for everyone here. You have done well to provide us with a beginning. But what about the rest of our time spent in America? How can we be sure that we won’t simply fade away before the year is out?”

Every nightwalker had tensed up. It was clear that they had suffered tragedy in getting here, and they were no closer to finding an answer as to why they lost their loved ones. Nobody was above suspicion. Least of all the nightwalker that gathered them all.

“That will be entirely up to you. I’m hopeful that every one of you will find a prosperous future here. For yourselves and all of your…surviving families. All the previous grudges have been settled, and every one of you has been given protection by the highest authority to settle in these lands.”

A cautious nightwalker raised her voice, with a flourish Italian accent.

“I share in Godfrey’s suspicions. We had all taken great expense in coming out here, and it seemed a perfect chance to do away with all of us, had that been the intention,” she observed.

“And yet, you continue living,” I added. “I have taken considerable risk in having you all come here as well. I have invoked vointa rece, to ensure all of you remain safe.”