Johnson County Library is pleased to announce the winners of our Scary Story Youth Writing Contest. "The Rules" by Lara Blanton won in the 15-19 category.
By Lara Blanton
Rule #1: When entering Grandfather’s house, never look the door knocker in the eyes, that will only anger it.
Camille averted her eyes as she fiddled with the key in the lock. The knocker was in the shape of a half goat, half snake, with deep set emerald eyes. She could feel its eyes boring into her head. A challenge. But even as a child, her mother had always been firm, and would hold her head down from the staring eyes until they got into the house. Camille kept her gaze trained at the knob, and swung the door open.
Rule #2: Never shine light in the shadows, you may see things you don’t want to.
Camille's hands itched at her pocket, desperate to pull her flashlight out. Somehow she resisted. Shadows crawled up and down the walls of the entrance way. The door closed behind her with a boom. The foyer always scared her as a child. Suits of armor lined the walls, their various swords and maces loomed over her. Decrepit tapestries hung limply against the stone walls, and the sweet stench of mold hung over the room, making Camille gag. She wondered how long it had been since there had been someone besides Grandfather in this place. Shadows curled out from the walls, snaking towards her feet. Camille gave them a glare before stomping her foot, dispelling them back to the walls.
Rule #3: Always walk up the left staircase, it’s far friendlier than the right.
A pair of double staircases curved up from the foyer, and met at the balcony of the second floor. When she was little, Camille had tried to run up the right staircase, as she was involved in a vicious game of tag with her cousins. Her mother had lunged forward and caught her before she could touch the stairs, and scolded her harshly. The right staircase was never to be touched. Mother hammered the rule into her head. Never ever climb up the right hand staircase.
Camille pressed her lips together, and slowly began walking up the left staircase, her shoes thumping dully against the carpet that ran up the steps.
Grandfather had always taken the right staircase.
Rule #4: When walking down the hallway to Grandfather’s study, always look straight ahead. If anything should catch your eye from the walls, do not look. That’s how they reel you in.
Walking down that hallway had always scared her as a child. It usually meant that she was in trouble. The hallway seemed to stretch on forever, rows of doors on either side rolling on. Camille kept her eyes trained on the end of the hallway, where she knew the mahogany door to Grandfather’s study waited. Something flashed in her peripheral vision, and quick tapping footstep-like sounds scittered behind her. A chill flashed up her back. Camille kept looking straight ahead. Faint laughter sounded from one of the rooms, followed by tinkling glass. She itched to turn her head, to peer into the room and see its inhabitants. But she knew better, and kept looking straight ahead.
Rule #5: When knocking on Grandfather’s study’s door, always knock three times, no more no less, then wait to be invited in.
Camille knew the rules, she knew what she was supposed to do. She rapped on the door three times and waited. She knew it was silly to wait. How could Grandfather invite her in? He was dead. He’d been dead for one month, one week, and three days. They had left the house empty for exactly forty days, as per his wishes. He said it would help the house settle. A mourning house was a dangerous house. But, as the sole heir of his estate, she had to give the house – her house now – a once over. She hadn’t wanted to, but after the sixth email from the estate lawyer not-so-gently suggesting that Camille should stop by, she finally gave in. She had never liked this house. It had cast an ever present shadow over her childhood, and at the center of it was her Grandfather, with his fingers in everything, like some sort of sinister, brooding puppet master.
She waited another five seconds, before lifting the heavy, rusted, iron key out of her pocket, and twisted it in the lock. The door clicked and swung open.
Rule #6: Take off your shoes before entering the study, and put on a pair of slippers.
Camille snorted as she kicked her Vans off. This was the one trivial rule of the house. There was no consequence for not taking your shoes off, except Grandfather might yell at you for tracking mud on his carpets. He couldn’t very well yell at her now. Still she did it.
It smelled of death in the office. Camille was used to that smell. Death seemed to follow her wherever she went. First, her brother. She was ten, he was fourteen. She still wasn’t exactly sure what happened. One day he was just gone. Grandfather said that her brother had it coming, that he was too outspoken.
Then it had been her aunt. After a particularly heated argument with Grandfather, she had marched out the front door, only to be hit by a car. Grandfather had watched the whole thing from his study window. He hadn’t called 911, and had watched as the street descended into chaos around her aunt’s body.
Her mother had died five years ago, when Camille was seventeen. A nasty bout of pneumonia, which shouldn’t have killed her, except Grandfather hadn’t let her go to the hospital. He said it was too dangerous for their family. Camille had never forgiven him for that.
Those were the major ones. But small things happened throughout her childhood. Grandfather would make an offhand remark expressing disapproval for a friend, and Camille would never hear from them again. Boyfriends had disappeared in a similar manner, there one day, gone the next. Grandfather always said that someone with their family blood needed someone worthy, someone of note. Eventually, Camille stopped bringing people around.
Finally, Grandfather himself had died, alone in his bed one night, with no one but his house to comfort him. Camille would be lying if she said she felt bad for him.
Rule #7: If Grandfather is not in the study, do not enter, without him it is too dangerous.
Camille had never been in the study without Grandfather. It felt inherently wrong. But what was she supposed to do? Drag his body out of the coffin so it could sit here with her? The thought was so ridiculous that she couldn’t help but snort derisively in the silence of the office. No. She would just have to deal with the discomfort.
Grandfather’s office had always scared her as a child. It was a large room full of shadows. Across from the doorway was a large oak desk, covered in papers, just the way he had left it. The walls were crowded with bookshelves and heavy tomes that were no doubt filled with dust. Thick velvet curtains were drawn over the windows, blocking out any semblance of outside light. The crowning jewel of the room was the large grandfather clock. There were two odd things about it: it only went up to eleven, and it was always stuck at 10:59. It would ring exactly ten times every hour, regardless of the true time. It was completely useless, and she had no idea why Grandfather had kept it around. But here it was, an everlasting pillar in the sands of time. Camille watched the second hand tick. Tick tick tick. Camille’s heart thumped wildly against her ribs, the ticking pounding against her brain, and in a sudden fit of desperation, she dashed over to the velvet curtains, and threw them open, letting sunlight slash through the gloom.
The velvet was wet.
The clock began tolling. Camille checked her watch. It was 2:37. Not an even hour. A shiver gripped her ribs as she began counting the chimes.
Rule #8: If the clock rings eleven times, pray. No amount of running could get you out in time.
One, two, three…
Sweat trickled down Camille’s neck. It was incredibly hot, like the sunlight was baking her alive.
Four, five, six…
Something scratched at the door. Camille whipped her head around, staring at it with wide eyes.
Seven, eight, nine…
It would stop after ten. Only one more chime left. Everything would be ok. She had done nothing wrong.
This would be the last toll. Her feet were glued to the ground, in those stupid slippers she had put on before. But shoes wouldn’t matter if the clock struck the eleventh hour. It wouldn’t. It never had before. Camille was going to be okay.
The hour hand groaned and boomed into position. It pointed squarely at eleven. There was no use running. So she watched the door, as the scratching got louder and louder, and the shadows crept down the walls.
Grandfather was waiting for her.