This story is by Gordana Plemic Agostini and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Peter and Clara climbed uphill where the lonely house stood. The full moon shone through the fog that enveloped the villa. A wide path paved with flagstones stretched fifty meters in advance, bordered by hedgerows.
The monstrous edifice abounded with architectural additions. The gargoyles watched from their positions, accusing and threatening. The dark patina that had settled on them over the centuries further affected their frightening look and overall appearance. All the windows were closed with shutters and nailed down with boards eaten away by time and weather.
“Why did we have to come here at night?” Peter asked.
“That’s what it said on the card,” Clara replied. “I don’t like it any more than you do.”
The Haunted house looked at Peter as if reading his thoughts. He shuddered and glanced at the card. There were rumors that if one expressed a desire to see what and who dwells within, that would come true. And they both wanted it so badly that they got invitations.
When Peter showed the card to his mother, she saw nothing written, just a blank piece of paper. Clara and Peter were neighbors, and from early childhood, they often slept at each other’s houses, so when he told his mom that he would be at Clara’s place, mom nodded.
Now, the pale street light illuminated the writing on the card.
Magical cards reveal people’s desires and will only open to pure souls – children.
Peter turned the card over:
If you come on the night of October 31, your wishes will come true.
Not very promising, now that they had arrived.
A small cemetery with three graves occupied the hill to the right of the house. The middle grave had the bulkiest tombstone, on which an owl sat. The owl turned her head towards Peter, hooted, then spread her wings and flew away. The hoot echoed once more, making all the hairs on his body stand up.
He lifted the hood of the sweatshirt over his head. He breathed in the cold, moist air and shivered. He should have worn a jacket like Clara, not just a hoodie. For the last day of October, it had been uncommonly warm. As evening fell, he knew that fall would soon give way to winter.
He wanted so much to be here and receive an invitation, but as he approached the villa in the dark, fear bit his stomach. Why didn’t he remember to bring a flashlight? He dragged his feet and stumbled on the tall grass that arose from the cracks between the stone slabs. Clara helped him up, and they continued toward the menacing villa, slowed by their short legs and thick weeds. He put his hands in the large pocket of the sweatshirt and squeezed the gift he had prepared. Will she like it?
Finally, they were at the front of the imposing door of the villa.
“Who’s going to knock?” Peter whispered that he barely heard himself.
He held out his trembling hand but stopped and stepped back. Clara moved two steps behind him. A bell in the shape of a gargoyle’s mouth threatened to swallow them.
After a few moments of hesitation, the door handle squeaked, and the massive door opened. In front of them stood a tall man in a white tunic and an even whiter beard.
“Welcome, we were expecting you.”
“Really? But we didn’t announce ourselves,” Peter said.
“Of course you didn’t. Come in.”
They entered the foyer.
No matter how run-down and scary the villa looked from the outside, the inside dazzled with colors and bright lights. Peter relaxed but remained alert.
High stairs led up to the landing, where Magdalena, the girl for whom they came, waited for them. Sick since birth, she didn’t have many friends, almost none. The fact that she was pale and a ghost certainly didn’t help.
“Thank you for coming,” Magdalena said and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
“Of course,” Clara answered.
“Of course,” echoed Peter. He lowered his hood and ran a hand through his bristling hair.
Magdalena and Clara could not be more different from each other. Magdalena’s white dress blended with her transparent skin, while her long blond hair fell over her shoulders, framing her long face. Clara’s short black hair and black living eyes contrasted with the crystal gray eyes of Magdalena. Not only that, one was alive, and the other a ghost.
Clara’s round pink face had the biggest smile Peter had ever seen on her.
His wishes to see what the house hid did come true. But, he also could be dreaming. Or he could be a ghost, too, like Magdalena. He pinched himself.
Ouch. No. He was alive. The spot tingled.
Then he pinched Clara.
“Ouch, why did you do that?”
In a flash, Magdalena appeared in front of him. How did she…?
“You have such beautiful blue eyes,” Magdalena said, getting closer and closer.
“Thank you. I think.” The cold from her presence entered every fiber of his body. The chill straightened his spine.
Peter took out a gift from his pocket. “Happy Birthday. I’m not sure if you can hold objects.”
“I can. Thank you very much. No one has ever brought me a gift before.”
She tore the wrapping paper and revealed a book full of illustrations of various flowers. Peter heard one day that long ago, she liked to spend time in the garden among the flowers.
Suddenly, she hugged him, and just as suddenly, he turned to ice. He could only stare straight at her terrified expression.
“Sorry. I forgot myself,” Magdalena said. “It will pass quickly.”
They covered him with a blanket, and soon the ice melted. The smell of cinnamon, orange, and freshly baked cookies reached him. How was that possible?
He looked around the house. A massive chandelier filled with candles illuminated the high ceiling and handrails that brimmed with gargoyles as white as angels. Magdalena led them from room to room.
“My father brought all this from his trips.” She pointed to various wooden objects of unfathomable origin, caskets full of the most beautiful silks, dresses, jewelry, a glass rose under a glass bell, and other glass objects, an elephant, a tiger, a flying preening horse, and many more.
“You can choose something to take.”
“Ah, no, we couldn’t,” Clara said.
Clara took the glass rose and said, “Thank you.”
Peter chose a flying horse.
They reached the dining room. The smells Peter smelled before appeared in the form of the most beautiful cakes, freshly baked rolls, and various other delicacies with which the table overflowed.
“I can’t eat anything, but you can help yourselves.”
They attacked the table as if they hadn’t eaten in days.
Eventually, they came to their senses.
“Sorry.” Peter burped. “It’s a shame that you can’t eat anything.”
“It’s all right. I’m glad to be able to treat you.”
They played board games and all sorts of other things. Time passed as if they had just arrived. Peter got so immersed in the game that he jumped to his feet as the clock struck three.
“And now to sleep.” Magdalena led them into a bedroom. “Sleep well.” She closed the door and disappeared.
When they woke up, the light that entered through the holes in the shutters revealed a sad and abandoned villa. A warm tear rolled down Peter’s face, surprising him.
But, moreover, joy overcame him. They had fulfilled her expectations this year, as well.
Outside, the fog cleared, revealing an overgrown garden. Next to a cracked fountain, an equally cracked bench served as a pedestal for a statue of an angel with lowered wings coated in green moss. The shape of the former garden emerged under the overgrown grass and flowers. No wonder Magdalena enjoyed being in the open.
Peter picked three white roses still in bloom from the garden and took them to her grave. On the middle tombstone, the inscription said:
Born 1820 – Died 1830.
Only ten years old. Like Clara and him. And like many ten-year-olds before them, they too received invitations to her birthday for the night of Halloween; magic cards – could be read only by those who are pure of heart and who sincerely want to meet her.
Clara put the glass rose under a glass bell on the grave. “I’m glad we met her.”
“I’m glad too.”
The glare of the morning sun on the horse’s wings blinded him. He put it in the central pocket of his sweatshirt and held it carefully with both hands.
Will he remember her next year, or will he forget like many so far? Adults quickly forget as they grow up. Nevertheless, some memory remains for someone, which is retold and spread around the city, so every year, on Magdalena’s birthday, a new child receives an invitation.
Clara tugged lightly on his sleeve. “Let’s go.”
Peter turned once more towards the house and waved. Until next year. Hopefully.