Dark Room by Tom Becker
The plants were even wilder on this side of the railings, and Darla found herself wading through waist-high grass. Gradually a house emerged from the thick greenery. It was a sprawling, dilapidated building with smashed windows, jagged glass teeth jutting up from the sills. Flies hung in clouds among the rusting ceiling fans and rotten balustrades on the second-floor balcony. Nesting wood pigeons fluttered around the eaves, vanishing through the missing roof tiles into the darkness within. Creepers wrapped sinuous green fingers around the walls, trying to drag them down into the earth. The entire building was shrouded in fading grandeur and dying dreams.
Frank and Sasha went straight to the nearest window, where Darla saw the glass had been cleared from the sill and a crate had been placed on the ground beneath it. This time Sasha took the lead, using the crate as a stepping stone as she hopped through the window. Darla hesitated, glancing up at the building’s grim façade before climbing up on to the sill and disappearing inside.
It was like plunging into a dank, chill pond. Darla could almost taste the mould in the air inside the house. Browning wallpaper peeled off the walls like dead skin, white rectangles shining where paintings and photographs had once hung. Plants and weeds poked up through the floor, and as they wandered through the mansion’s gloomy corridors Darla had the eerie sensation that she was moving around inside the trunk of some unimaginably vast tree. She stayed close to Sasha and Frank, carefully skirting the splattered bird droppings and rotten holes in the floorboards. Finally they came into a vast dining room, dominated by a long table that was chipped and covered in knife scars. Sasha collapsed into a seat at the head of the table, draping a leg over the mahogany. She produced a small hip flask from her skirt pocket and took a sip.
“Sasha, it’s still morning!” said Frank, appalled. “Do I need to take you to a meeting?”
“TGI Friday, Frank,” she replied, raising her flask in a toast.
He rolled his eyes.
When Sasha offered her the flash, Darla shook her head. “No, thanks.”
Darla took a seat at the table, the rotten chair groaning and teetering beneath her weight. She ran her hands over her bare arms, trying to brush away the goosebumps.
“Welcome to Tall Pines,” Sasha announced grandly, throwing out her arms. “Make yourself at home.”
Darla shivered. “What is this place?”
“Once upon a time, it was the most luxurious property in the county,” Frank told her. “It belonged to Allan and Madeline West, the first couple of Saffron Hills. This whole town is founded on West money: the mansions in the hills, the school, the hospital. Allan built it all, and then persuaded a bunch of other rich people to come live here. His son Walter went to the West Academy – he was like the Ryan Cafferty of the mid-1990s: wealthy, popular, good-looking. Everything seemed perfect.” Frank smiled thinly. “Then one day they pulled a girl out of the creek. Her name was Crystal – Miss Saffron, 1995. Her skull had been caved in with a blunt instrument. It turned out that she was a classmate of Walter’s, and that he’d invited her up to Tall Pines to take some pictures of her. Only things had gotten a little out of hand: he beat her to death halfway through the shoot.”
Darla’s stomach lurched. Once more she was staring through a killer’s eyes at a photograph album filled with screaming faces. “But why? Why did he kill her?”
“At first no one could figure it out. But when the cops searched Walter’s locker at school they found a diary filled with some pretty sick stuff. He wrote pages about trying to photograph beautiful things, only it turned out that he found a dead beauty queen prettier than a live one. After he killed Crystal, Walter started to call himself the Angel Taker, and drew pictures of wings all over his diary. The cops were on their way here to question him when Walter’s dad found him dangling from a rope under one of the pines out back – I guess Walter knew he wouldn’t get to photograph any more angels in jail. After his funeral Allan and Madeline became recluses, wouldn’t leave Tall Pines. Then, on the tenth anniversary of Walter’s death, they locked themselves in the garage and turned on the car engine. It was two months before anyone found their bodies.”
“So as you can see, there is some seriously bad voodoo about this place,” said Sasha, taking another sip from her flask. “Which makes it perfect for us.”
Click here to pre-order your copy of Dark Room by Tom Becker, released 10th September 2015 by Stripes Publishing.