I have chosen the place of the story at Stillwater, a small town in Montana, US, where I had worked for quite some time. All the characters described here were my colleagues at some time and I am sure (or atleast hope) they won't sue me for placing them in my storyAs I stood quietly at Mr. Koneig's funeral I wondered whether I could look at Denise. She was standing next to me, sobbing and shaking. As her friend I should have held her hand and consoled her but I was always a sucker at social events. I tilted my head to the right and looked at her, still unsure how to react if suddenly our eyes met. She had her head down, eyes closed with tears trickling down. She was holding a white handkerchief tightly in her fist, perhaps hoping to convince herself that her father had found peace at last. Phil walked up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She nodded, with her head still down and we all prayed silently.It was drizzling in Stillwater and almost all the people present at the funeral were carrying umbrellas. My umbrella had gone in an inside-out state due to the strong wind and unwillingly I made a fool of myself in between all. We slowly walked to the Koneig house. I sat silently with Phil, Jason, Eric and Christine when Denise walked up to us. She was much better now and thanked us all in a graceful manner. We didn't know what to tell her. She said she would be going to her country house, a few miles away from Stillwater and if we wanted we could join her, she would feel much better to have our company. We agreed. Meanwhile the local sheriff, Dan walked upto us. He was a man in his forties, his face speaks of all the experience that he had gathered in his fifteen years tenure in the MT Police Dept. Locals say no one knows thugs and beer better than Dan did. Vineyards and breweries in Montana are something that he was always proud of apart from the country singers the state had produced !! He smiled at us and softly told Denise that he would like to ask her a few questions.
Denise walked to a corner with Dan. We could hear what they were talking, Dan asked her, "It is still not clear how Mr. Koneig died, we found him lying in the field with bruises on hi face and hands, a sign that implies a lot of struggling.....could you give us any clue on this?"Denise slowly nodded her head....she had no idea. The very morning her father died, she had me him and made plans with him about a vacation. But by afternoon it was all over for her. Dan requested her to recall any notable incidents that had happened in the recent past which she could link up with her father's death, but Denise had no clue. Measuring the situation and circumstances, Dan didn't force her muchTwo days later....As we six stepped down from the car I put by goggles on. It was mid day and the sun was shining brightly on my eyes. Phil cursed at the sun as he pulled out his backpack from the car and put on his hat. Denise had the keys to the country manor and we followed her. Jason helped Christine getting out of the car with all her bags and Eric stood at a side, talking on his cell phone. In the next ten minutes we all found ourselves in the main hall of the manor house. It was a huge hall, mainly made to have guests for dinner, post-dinner drinks, and a place to laze around. Denise's father, Mr. Howard had a Remington shogun which still hung on the wall and his favorite rocking chair was placed right next to it. Denise said, "Dad could have shot anyone within a hundred yards while smoking cigar and rocking in the chair. He was one hell of a sharpshooter." Phil chuckled, "You mean your dad could have blown by balls off from a hundred yards?" Christine laughed and yelled, "Not just your balls Phil, he surely could have blown your guts off"I asked Denise, what work did she have in that house, she said she had to find her father's will, which was kept somewhere in his room and she was sure it would take her a couple of days for that.
Eric was carrying some snack with him, as he was unpacking his kit, I walked around the hall. It had a wooden floor, the walls were half stone and half cemented. There were two set of stairs going up from two sides of the hall. In between the stairs there was a huge dining table and two huge windows. As I looked out from one of the window,I had a slight depressing feeling, it seemed as if we were deserted in that house and there wasn't anyone else staying nearby.We finished our lunch, I was happy as Eric was carrying those John West canned mackerels, my favorite. Denise showed us our rooms upstairs, we all had one room each, truly the manor was huge. We lazed around while she started to look for the papers. In the evening Denise said she had to go to the local attorney's office and she left with the car. So we five walked out of the manor and wandered nearby. The place was truly deserted, we didn't find a single soul and surprisingly we didn't even hear many birds chirping in the countryside. Phil commented, "Old Howard must have shot down all the birds from a hundred yards....duh !!!"By seven it was dark. We were taken aback, usually in summer we have daylight till nine in the evening. It seemed as if the huge trees had bent forward to bring in the darkness around the place. Christine even commented that she thinks the place was spooky. Jason commented back that nothing could be more spooky than Christine without her makeup. She boxed his ears.
When we came back inside the house we had one more surprise, the manor had no electricity. I lit my dynamo torch and luckily we found out a couple of candles. Phil again commented that he was sure he saw them in Howard Koneig's funeral. Phil was getting bored as we all were, so he took my dynamo torch and went up. We could hear him exclaim that he had found Howard Koneig's room and it as worse than a junk room. We heard him rumbling through drawers and papers and singing aloud. Eric asked him not to mess around in that room and he replied Eric, "Fuck you grandpa!"We were talking about our college days, how Christine used to get all the best football players in college to dance with her in college proms and how we used to make fun of Eric's serious nature. Jason even revealed that once he had caught Eric in bed with a cheerleader in college. We all couldn't help bursting out in laughter. Phil came down, switching on and off my torch, his favorite cigar (Old Port)in his mouth. At the same time we heard a car stopping outside. Denise entered, she was looking a little tired. She smiled at us as she opened her overcoat, it was drizzling outside. Phil told us, "Hey look what I have found in the room" He help up his arm and we saw an old watch on his wrist. "I guess its Howard's, isn't it Denise?" said he. It seemed Denise didn't like Phil wearing his father's watch and that too taking it out from his personal drawer. "Is that still working?" said she."You bet it is....its ticking..see" Phil said. He looked at the watch and said "Oh damn, it ain't working, it shows 1:35, I guess it had stopped"Denise walked up to Phil and looked at the watch. She brought it close to her ear and gave a strange look at us. - "It is ticking", she said, but the watch's hands aren't moving, and..."- "And what?" asked PhilDenise said, "1:35 was the time when daddy died"
"Ohh baby, I am scared", Phil laughed as he took off the watch from his wrist.We all looked at it in disbelief....the moment Phil kept it on the table, the second's hand started to move. There was complete silence in the room, all eyes glued to the watch, we could hear the watch tick as if it was as loud as drum beats.Thankfully Denise broke the silence, she picked up the watch and said "You never know about old gadgets, when they work and when they don't." and smiled. We all smiled back but this incident had made the situation in the room a bit uncomfortable. I pulled a chair and sat near the window and stared outside. It was pitch dark outside except for the lightnings which showed the empty roads and the threes bending down as if they would engulf the entire manor. Perhaps Phil felt that it was due to him the environment in the room got serious. So he tried to ease things a bit by sitting on the rocking chair and pulling down the shotgun on his lap. He looked towards Jason and said, "Jason, do you know that I can blow off your brains from ...ummm....hundred....errr....no fifty.....nope.....five yards?" and he started to rock in the chair holding the gun in his hands. Jason had his hands up and mocked a cry and begged for mercy. We all laughed and things became light.I kept my head on the window and closed my eyes. I was a bit tired. Suddenly I remembered my city....my country so far away....how I used to run out in rains and my mom used to chase me.....I jumped off my chair at the sound of a gunshot. I saw Jason lying on the floor, Phil sitting on the rocking chair totally stoned and the shotgun lying on the floor. I ran to Jason and lifted him up. He wasn't wounded, he was alright. Phil howled, "I didn't do it, I didn't do it.....I was just holding the gun.....I don't know how it fired"Christine screamed, she said "I saw it, Phil's finger was not at the trigger, he was just holding the gun"
I picked up the shotgun. The muzzle was still warm and it smelled of gun powder. Denise ran to me, snatched the shotgun and threw it on the floor.- "Oh my God, I don't know what's happening", she said, "The gun was never kept loaded, how did it fire??"I saw a few bullet marks on the opposite wall - a clear sign of the shotgun balls hitting the wall moments ago. Phil sat there with his face hidden in his palms.
I walked to Phil and tried to comfort him. His hands were trembling. He looked at me and then at Jason, who was sitting down on the floor with his head down. Christine was near Jason. I picked up the shotgun from hthe floor and hanged it on the wall, it hanged like a traitor - laughing loudly at all of us. The rain intensified outside. At around 9 pm we all went up, we didn't have much to do. We went to our rooms hoping to get some sleep. Denise entered her father's room with a candle to do some work. Christine was with her, neither of them wanted to be alone in a room. My room wasn't very big. It had a medium sized bed, a side table, a mirror and a book shelf. Right in front of my bed was a four-paned window. I changed my clothes and just when I was about to hit the bed I heard a knock on my door. It was Phil. He sat on the bed, pushed back his hair with his hand and then lit his Old Port cigar. Both of us didn't talk much. There wasn't any ventilation in the room apart from the windows and a small window up near the ceiling. Soon the room got too smoky. Phil apologized and put off his cigar. I told him not to think about anything, rather he should think of getting some sleep. He said he was carrying sleeping pills and hoped they would help. He left.I slipped inside the blanket and stretched my body. It seemed it was a feather bed....very soft. The room was still smoky, as I was about to close my eyes there was a lightning outside. In a fraction of second it seemed that a face was staring down at me from outside the windows. I jumped. How could someone be at my window at the first floor ! I gulped and tried to recall what I just saw, a face, a man's face staring at me with ice cold eyes as if they were dead. I laughed at myself, "Its all because of the smoke from Phil's cigar." I turned the candle off and closed my eyes.
I don't know how late it was at night when I heard a huge thud on my floor and my bed shook. I got up unsure of what happened. It seemed as if someone had hit the floor of my room from downstairs with a thick long rod that made that noise and made my bed shake. I sat quietly on my bed sweating and waiting for it to happen again. I waited.... two minutes.....three minutes.....four minutes....nothing happened. I tried to find the matchbox that I had kept on the side table. Phil had my torch so I had difficulty in finding it. I lit the candle and peeped under my bed. There was nothing but dust. I slowly opened my door and found all other doors to be locked. So no one else heard the noise except me? I thought I must go down and have a look. I was scared but had an urge of going down. It is a feeling that people have when the unknown or unexplained attracts them. I tip toed to the staircase and came down. As I walked in the hall looking for the cause my eyes fell on the rocking chair. It was empty.....and it was rocking back and forth. For a moment I froze. Suddenly I felt a cold breath on my neck, I screamed and turned back. Ahh, a window was a little open and from there the cold wind was coming in. I kept the candle on the table and walked towards it and locked it. The moment I turned back I found the rocking chair stopped swaying abruptly, as if someone had stopped it with his hand. I wasn't brave enough to stay down at the hall for long, I picked up the candle and as I was about to go up I got a strange smell. It felt as if someone was smoking a cigar in the hall. The cigar wasn't the one Phil smoked, this one had a stronger smell. I seemed to have lost all my power. a sudden gush of wind blew the candle off and at the same time it felt someone from the darkness blew a mouthful of cigar smoke on my face. I didn't remember anything after that !!!
After I came out of Roy's room I felt a little better. I peeped in to see what the girls were doing, Denise was reading some document and Christine was sitting at Mr. Koneig's study table with fiddling with a matchbox. I wished them good night and entered my bedroom. I opened my shoes and threw myself on the bed, the whole day ws too tiring for me. I kept my cigar case on the side table and had two sleeping pills. I forcibly closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I might have laid for an hour, but couldn't sleep. In the dark room I laid like a ghost with eyes wide open. Finally I gave up on getting some sleep and thought of having a cigar. I turned and stretched my hand on the side table to grab my cigar case. The moment I found it, it felt as if there was another hand already on the cigar case. The hand was cold and wet, the fingers not moving. I shreiked and snapped my hand back, I rolled and jumped on the other side of the bed. I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out Roy's torch and lit it. There was no one inside and the door of my room was slightly open. I rushed outside to see who was it, as I was sure there was someone inside the room. All the doors were locked and even Denise and Chritine were in their rooms. Suddenly I heard the main door of the manor opening downstairs, I ran down the stairs and found the door open. A cold wind was blowing and rain was coming inside. The rocking chair was swaying in the wind, I thought there must be something going wrong in here, or someone is trying to fool around, I must see what it was.
I stepped out and instantly was drenched in the rain. The wind froze me. I didn't have to use the torch much as frequent lightnings showed me everything. I started walking down the manor's perimeter, looking everywhere for any signs of clue. All of a sudden I heard the growling of some animal. I turned back and found nothing. But the growling sound seemed to come from every side and the sound approached me in a way as if some animals were running towards me from nowhere. "To hell with this cursed house", I said and started running towards the main door. It was still open and I ran in and shut the door. The growling seemed to vanish outside. My nerves had given up and I had to light a cigar, but I left my cigar case upstairs. I tried to switch on the torch but it wasn't working, the dynamo seemed to have got jammed inside. I pulled out my lighter from my pocket. It lighted up only a very small part of the hall. As I looked up my whole body froze. I found a figure sitting on the rocking chair, with the shotgun on his lap. I could see nothing but his feet. Water was dripping down from his shoes, as my legs started to tremble I heard a gunshot and fell down !!
Jason's storyI still don't believe what happened in the evening; Phil or someone else firing at me. It came as a shock. I don't believe Phil could do a thing like that, but if it wasn't Phil then who was it ! I knew I couldn't sleep, to distract my mind from those incidents I took out the book I was carrying and started reading it in the candle light. Thankfully I could get my mind diverted towards the book. It was about a man who travelled the entire east by foot. I was feeling a little dizzy while reading it when suddenly the candle got extinguished. I tried to find the match box but it took me too long to find it. And while I was looking for it I felt a few drops of water falling on my face."Darn! The ceiling has holes?" I exclaimed as I tried to find the matchbox in the darkness. Finally I found it and as I lit a matchstick while lying down on the bed I found a face right in front of mine. The distance between our eyes would be barely a few inches, his eyes were cold as death and water was dripping from his face on mine. I opened my mouth to scream but no noise came out. The matchstick got extinguished. I thought I would lose consciousness in no time but right at that moment Eric rushed into my room. He had a candle in his hand and he shook me hard. As I regained myself I looked around, it was only us in the room.
Eric said, "Something is very wrong in here, Roy and Phil are missing and Denise and Christine aren't replying from their rooms, get up, we gotto do something"I jumped up and ran out of the room. Roy and Phil's bedroom doors were open but they were nowhere to be found. Christine and Denise's doors were locked. We shouted out their names, "Denise.....Christine....where are you". Suddenly we heard a female voice crying out from Howard Koneig's room. We ran to it and found the door locked from inside. We heard Christine screaming from inside. We kicked the door twice and it broke, we rushed in. We were taken aback at the scene inside. Christne was sitting on the floor wth her knees folded, with bruises all over her face, screaming like a mad woman. The window in the room was half open and Denise upper body was half way out from it. Eric jumped upto her and tried to pull her in but it seemed as if Denise was being sucked out of the window by some force. I ran upto Eric and was pulling him from behind. But all our attempts seemed to be in vain when in one thrust Denise's was pulled out of the window and she vanished in the darkness. All we could hear was her cry vanishing in the darkness.Like two mad men me and Eric ran downstairs and then outside to look for Denise. We called out her name again and again, running from one corner to the other but there was no sign. Christine was still howling like a maniac. I grabbed Eric by his arm and asked him to call the police from his cell phone. He ran up.I heard someone being dragged on nearby. I could see nothing but ran and tried to follow the sound. I could hear Denise screaming. "Denise", I shouted, "Where are you, I am coming for you...." As I ran I smelled something strange, as if some aninals were nearby, it was a smell that comes from wild animals. I heard some growls and then in one flash of a lightning saw a black dog like animal with sharp teeth jumping on me!!
The story ends here. Nothing else was known to us that night.