Cake returned to the driver’s seat, turned on the ignition, put the van into gear, and pulled away from the shoulder. Jaffe returned to the back with the girl, holding her so she could see out the front to direct them.
“What’s the stupid shit going on with your hair here?” Jaffe tugged at white hair on the left side of her head. “Let’s play a game. I’m going to pull clumps of it out, and you scream as loud as you can.”
“You won’t be able to see it,” she blurted. “The house. Not at first. So, don’t be angry when we get there.”
“What the hell you babbling about?”
“I told you, it’s not an ordinary haunted house. You won’t be able to see it until you look for it.”
“It’s slipped below normal human perception.” She strained her neck around and squirmed in Jaffe’s grip to look at him. “You’ll see it first. You’re more primal.” Then she turned forward, at Cake. “Then you. You’re the rational one. It’s not hard, if you know what to do, and where to look.”
“Is that how it is,” Cake laughed. “Okay, I’ll bite. We’ll play a game: we pull in and the house is sitting there all normal, we cut your tongue out for lying.”
Jaffe leaned in close. “Really don’t matter whether you’re fibbing or not about any of this shit. I’m going to pull things out of you that you never even knew where there, no matter what else happens.”
The girl leaned forward, out of range of Jaffe’s nicotine-stained teeth and fish breath. “Slow down, you’re coming up on it. The road’s hard to see. There, you see that break in the trees? Right there. Turn in there.”
It was a blink-if-you-miss-it dirt road. No mailbox. Slowing, Cake angled the van to make the turn, then thought better of it. He came to a dead stop just as the front wheels started to grind over gravel. He turned in his seat and gave the girl the full force of his glare. “We go in there, and it’s some kind of trick—”
“No. I’m on the level, I swear.”
“We go in there, and you got friends waiting, or if anything about this place isn’t exactly as you say…”
“It will be. You’ll see. I swear.”
Satisfied with her terror, he turned back to the road and inched the van forward.
The trees swallowed them. Jaffe amused himself by twisting the girl’s hair around his knuckles until she whimpered. They were in a tunnel of trees that went on and on.
“There, we’re coming up on it ahead,” she said, pointing with her chin.
They exited the trees into an expanse of flat-packed dirt. There were no weeds, no fallen pine cones. Not even any pine needles.
“You can park here,” the girl said.
“Oh, can I? Is that what I can do?” He parked where she indicated nevertheless.
“You can’t see anything, right? It looks empty to you?”
“And it doesn’t look empty to you, is that what you’re saying?”
“I see the house. Right there.”
He looked again through the windshield. Nothing but a dirt clearing. “You see a house here.”
“Just like I told you.”
“Cake, this is bullshit man. There’s no fucking house out there. The bitch is mental, who gives a shit? We’re off the road, this is as private as private gets, man. Let’s get busy.”
Cake scratched his chin. “Jaffe, haul Nameless Slut out of the van.”
“Just. Indulge me. We’re playing a game here. So, let’s play.”
“Fuck!” Jaffe was not gentle in dragging the girl outside. He pulled her by the neck to the front of the van, where Cake joined them.
“OK, Nameless Slut. Remember what I told you. We don’t see the house, I cut out your tongue. I wasn’t joking about that.”
She merely stared at her shoes.
“So, what do we do?”
“You just have to look.”
“No, really look. Imagine that the evil of the house has weight. It’s sank down into reality. Look low. Look—”
Jaffe suddenly jerked. He lost his grip on her and fell backward, landing heavily on his ass. “Fuck me!”
“The fuckin’ house is there, man, look!”
Cake looked again. No house.
But there was no denying Jaffe’s reaction, or the look on his face. He was looking at something, just beyond Cake’s shoulder.
Cake looked again.
“Look below,” the girl said, her voice barely a whisper. “Not at the ground, not at anything in your reality, but under that.”
Cake did. He thought about the dead woman in his step daddy’s basement, about how much he wanted to see her, if only he had the—
The house was there. No more than 15 feet away. It loomed above him, two stories and an attic floor, filling his vision from one eye to the other.
“Fuck!” he barked. “Fuck me!”
He didn’t fall like Jaffe, but his entire body jerked; the house entered his reality like a wild, lunging animal, and every muscle screamed to get out of its way.
If the girl had so much as snickered, he would have killed her right then and there. But she kept her eyes on her shoes and her face blank. Cake straightened the worn collar of his shirt, tugged at his belt.
“OK, Nameless Slut. OK.” The house seemed to lean over his head. In every respect it looked like his Halloween idea of a haunted house. Shuttered windows, a covered front porch, turret on the side. “OK. Why didn’t we just drive right into this fucking thing.”
“You knew it was there. You just didn’t know you knew it. And now that you’ve seen one, you can see them all.”
“There are Haunts like this all over. All over the country.”
Cake liked that. Oh, he really like that. An entire network of bases that only he could see. His mind was swimming with possibilities. Fuck the van, he could have entire harems under his control, writhing on dozens of mattresses. “You’re going to tell me all about those other houses. But first, you’re going to show me this one.”
“Cake, I—” Jaffe started. “I don’t—” Cake cut him right off. He was getting tired of his partner’s heel-dragging horseshit.
“Jaffe. We’re on to something big now. Really big.” So shut the fuck up. He rubbed his chin. His adrenalin was pumping. He rounded on the girl and her eyes went wide, thinking he was going to strike her. She tugged unconsciously at the cinch-tie binding her wrists behind her back. “You said this place was evil. You said it wasn’t normal. What’s that mean?”
“It means you’re guaranteed to find what you came here for.”
Cake didn’t like the way she said that. He took her roughly from Jaffe and shoved her toward the house. She stumbled. “Lead the way.”
She led them up the front steps onto the porch, stopping at the door. Coming up behind her, Cake reached around to the doorknob, crooking his other arm around her neck like a vice, using her as a shield. The door was open, and he pushed it wide.
Inside was a parlor with a floor of white and blue-gray marble. Like cold, dead flesh. A flashlight lay near the door; Cake bent to pick it up and clicked it on. The LED beam was powerful. He shone it in the girl’s eyes, forcing her to squint tightly. “This belong to you?”
“Used to. “
“You had one in your bag. You carry two?”
“Main and a backup.”
“Mine now. Where to?”
She shrugged. “Anywhere.”
“So where are these big scary ghosts?” Jaffe said. Posturing. He was starting to stink, like rancid sweat.
“Listen for a clicking noise. That’s the sound it makes. Hear that, and you’ll know it’s close.”
“What the fuck kind of ghost makes a clicking noise?”
“I’m just telling you what to listen for.”
“Move it.” Cake shoved her through a door at the end of the parlor, into a long hallway. The place was a shithole. Rotting. Flaking molding, curling wallpaper. The floor was marble here, too. The air vents were large and ornate. None of the light fixtures had bulbs.
“You’re the guide,” Cake said. “So, guide.”
“Uh, well. Go straight to the end and there’s a small ballroom. Kitchen is the door on the far right. On the left is a sitting room that leads to another hallway, and that leads to the west wing, and stairs up to the second floor.”
“We’ll stick to the first floor for now. Pick a door.”
“All right.” She led them into the kitchen. It looked like something that belonged in a hotel, not a house. There were three rows of long countertops, one after the other. Pots handing from ceiling racks, big industrial blenders, decades old. In the far back were two walk-in freezers, defrosted for years and probably home to generations of mice. Even here, the floor was marble. Like the entire place was built inside a mausoleum.
Cake could think of users for those freezers, if he could get them running again. But where did this dump get power? Had to be more than one generator out back somewhere.
“Do you feel that?” Jaffe was rubbing his tongue against his teeth. “On your tongue. It’s in my fucking nose. You getting that?”
Cake sniffed. “Yeah.” It was like… it was like he had a piece of the mattress in his mouth. The sensation was there, but it wasn’t. A ghost feeling.
“There’s something not right about this place, Cake.”
Cake froze. So did Jaffe. The woman made no reaction. The sound had come from the far end of the room, by the freezers.
“You hear that?” Jaffe said.
“Yeah. I did. Listen.”
They held their breath. Cake played his stolen flashlight beam across the room. The door to freezer on the left was ajar. The counters blocked his view of most of the floor.
“Shit!” He waved the flashlight beam in wide arcs, trying to catch whatever was making the sound in its beam.
“I’m hearing that, Cake.”
“What is it, Nameless Slut? What is that?”
“Scissors,” she said.
“It’s a pair of scissors. About ten inches long. Caked in gore.”
Cake looked at her. Her face was without expression. Was she fucking with them? If she was…
“Go take a look,” she said. “You two aren’t afraid of a pair of scissors, are you?”
Click. Click. Click.
“Whore, you better watch your mouth.” Cake crept two steps forward and leaned over the first counter with his beam. He couldn’t see anything on the ground. He motioned for Jaffe to move up. Then he slid around the counter and moved to the next, Jaffe on his heels. “Watch the bitch.”
“I got her.”
Cake scanned his light around. Nothing on the floor here either. He moved quickly to the last row of counters. There was something on the floor here. A sign. Millicent’s Country Catering.
Jaffe came up and stood by his shoulder. Cake leaned around and pointed his light down between the counter and the freezer.
The scissors were there.
So. It was true.
There was no denying what he was seeing. The scissors were in their closed position, held by some supernatural agency on blade point. The balance wasn’t smooth. The scissors twitched and occasionally spun schizophrenically. It almost hurt his eyes to see it. Like watching old film projections jump and stutter.
Suddenly the scissors jumped, landing a foot away on the point of their closed blades. Click. It was the sound of metal on marble.
“Fuck. Me.” Jaffe’s mouth hung open.
“You were telling us true, Nameless Slut.”
She didn’t reply. He spun. The kitchen was empty save for the two of them and the scissors. “Fuck, man, Jaffe, she’s gone!”
Stay tuned for Part Four of The Red Mattress!