On the eastern end of town, just past the aged chapel but just before the creek, rests the Howells’ abandoned farmhouse. The blood red paint had chipped and dulled to rust in the forsaken seasons, losing the luster of love. The grass grew high, swallowing stones and the bottom of broken tractors. Every kid in town knew about the farm, and knew to not go there. Stories were whispered of the late owners, Ralph and Helena Howell, and their sudden departure late in the night. No one ever saw them leave, mind you, but they must have. The police arrived one day to find the house vacant. They searched high and low, thinking the poor couple must have fallen ill, or worse, been murdered, but no one was ever found. The furniture was still there, collecting dust and spiders. There was even food left in the cellar. The police wanted to set up a search party, but no one could quite remember what the Howells looked like. Some remembered the pair sharing chestnut hair, others remember a deep copper red. Certainly they’d be gray by now, but no one knew for sure. Strangely enough, all the pictures were taken off the walls. Not a single photo of the Howells was left in the entire house. At least, no one could find one.
It had become a tradition; a rite of passage, for the bravest kids to sneak in and find a single photo of the Howells… and of the handful of children who tried, none had succeeded. Nobody knew what had occurred in that dreadful place, but all who visited were in agreement that the house was most certainly haunted.
But today, it’s Katrina’s turn. Katrina wasn’t the fastest kid in her class, or even the prettiest, but she was the most determined. She’s the only girl on the boy’s baseball team, an honor she earned by maintaining a solid streak of playing center field without errors and getting a base hit every single time. Even when the pitcher tries to beam her with the ball, she has to hit the ball herself. She taught herself how play the piano, just so she could win a talent competition that she didn’t have a talent for. She was known for such resilience, that word had it that Katrina went four whole days without eating a single thing to protest her bedtime. As far as willpower was concerned, she was a legend. And today, the legend of Katrina would collide with the mysterious Howells’ farm.
Summer was over and more than anything Katrina wanted to walk into her first day of high school more fearless than any kid before her. It was early afternoon when Katrina led a group of children out to the eastern end of town. They all wanted to be witness to the spectacle of Katrina’s victory. She wouldn’t let them follow her into the house, instructing them to stay back on the country road that met with the Howells’ property line.
The brave girl entered the creaking house alone. The windows were darkened with dirt, while light poured in through the seams and cracks in the wooden walls. Scents of stale lavender mixed with fresh mold, adding the challenge of breathing to the search. The lumber skeleton was exposed with rot on the inside, and the furniture was peculiarly stacked in the four corners. Garbage and debris had soiled the interior along with webs, dust, and flakes of chipped paint. And there, in the center of it all, was an empty living room decorated with a circle of ash and char that burned into the old wood floors. Within the circle lay a pile of rocks, mocking the shape of a man, as though it outlined a body that once rested within its borders. There were noises too. Rustling of critters scratching from within the walls, and a hollow voice calling in the distance.
The children clamored in excitement up the country road, cheering for the fearless girl as she paced around the barren nest, screaming “You can do it, Katrina!”
But as the hours passed, the children began to lose faith in their friend. One by one they all began to leave. All except Katrina’s closest friend, Allyson. That was until the western dome burned red and the east dimmed from an impatient sun.
“KATRINA! We have to go NOW. It’s getting dark.” Allyson yelled, staring into the approaching navy sky. The air had become split. In the east the sun glowed orange hot, leaving pink and purple trails that arched up all the way to a heavy blue barrier, where the first stars of the night began to appear like silver scales in a deep ocean.
Katrina poked her head out of the house to see her friend sitting on the dirt road just past the crumbled driveway. “I have to find a picture. You can go if you want.” Katrina announced with determination.
“You’re insane! You can’t stay here alone. It’s going to be pitch black in 30 minutes.”
“No. I have to do this.” Katrina continued on with a deep breath.
“Because… It’s… I don’t know…” Allyson tried to decide which of the plethora of impending dangers she should refer to but none seemed important enough to scare Katrina away from her goal.
“What’s going to happen to me? I’ve seen the house. There’s no one here. No one ever comes here. Besides, won’t it make for an even better story to find it in the dark?
“I can’t leave you here!” Allyson stomped.
“Then stay! Or better yet, come in and help me.” Katrina returned, smirking at the thrill of leaving her scared friend outside in the dark. She didn’t want the help, but the thought of Allyson uncomfortably standing uncomfortably in the decrepit house was funny to her.
“We have to go.” Allyson demanded.
“Nope!” Katrina continued to fish through the festered belongings within the dusty farmhouse.
“I’m going to tell!” Allyson threatened.
Allyson stormed off, rushing towards the pink and orange skyline that became thinner and thinner until both were out of sight.
Katrina remained in the home until the nightshade turned everything cobalt and the temperature fell to an uncomfortable cold. The coarse breeze moved through the walls with little obstacle, causing the entire farmhouse to shift and bend and moan. As much as she hated to admit it, the house had become too dark to search through, and despite that, Katrina had already searched it through many times. If there was a photograph surly she would have been the one to find it. Too proud to give up, but too smart to keep looking, Katrina came to the realization that there might not be a photograph to find.
Following the cold wind out of the house and into the high grass, Katrina listened to rattle of rusted chains and tools clanging in the yard. The high moon poured white milky light over the land. Katrina stepped slowly, taking a moment to drink in the fullness of the sight. It was eerie, empty, and still somehow beautiful.
It was then that that a soft scrapping noise could be heard. A low, almost hollow voice called from nearby, beckoning. Katrina stopped moving to hear it more clearly. It wasn’t the chime of rusted tools in the yard. This noise of scrapping was coming from the well.
She walked cautiously to a stone well, hardly even peaking from the wild lawn. The closer she approached the more clearly the sounds became, and soon she could distinguish a moaning. It was human and sounded to be in great pain. She looked into the black pit and called down.
“Hello? Is someone in there? Do you need help?”
“Help” the moan mimicked, almost as if echoing Katrina’s concerned tone.
“Okay… Okay… Stay here. I’ll get someone.” Katrina turned in a hurried step to race off and call for help, when something grabbed her foot and caused her to fall with a heavy SMACK against the ground. Dazed, she reached back to find her foot tangled in a metal snare. It was a chain. Katrina fumbled around to free herself, when the chain pulled tight, leading deep within the well. Frantically she rushed to get the chain loose, but it pulled tighter and tighter, dragging her up the stone cylinder, and into the mouth of the well. She held on to those stones with white knuckled strength, as her lower body vanished into the dark below.
“Help!” She screamed. Then, with one last large tug, the chain tore her from her grip and claimed her body as she fell into the well.
There was no water. Katrina landed in a thick wet mud, absent of the pool of water she expected to be below. There were no walls, but an open cavern, dark and void on every side; Only a single moonbeam shinning in from the hole above.
“Oh, my far-side child. You shouldn’t have come here. “A voice curled with sinister delight. “Long dark fingers with clawed tips stretched out and tapped on the stone walls. Stepping into the sliver of light shining down within the well, he showed himself. Black oil dripped from scab red skin. His entire body appeared as though the raw skin under a pealed blister had swallowed his entire form. His fang-filled face winced in discomfort as though the slightest motion caused great pain. He was a monster.
“My God! What are you?”
“From many places… with many faces… I am Hazael.”
“Let me go!” Katrina cried.” Please.”
"Oh, I will let you go... but first you need to give me something."
"What?" Katrina said, trying to keep herself from gagging at the sigh of such a horrid devil. “What do you want?”
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Hazael chuckled, as though he were in on a joke unknown to the world.
"The picture? No, I didn't find it, okay. Now let me out of here you worm!"
"Of course you didn’t. You’re just a little girl. You don’t even know what you’re looking for."
"Go to Hell!" Katrina shot back.
"Me? Go to hell? Oh wretched child, you have no knowledge of the Hell I’ve come from to threaten me with such curses. And so, you yourself must be cursed! Mah-hal-amick-e-nah!"
As the slithering words escaped through Hazael’s fanged face, the incantation created a serpent, whose body was hardly as tangible as a shadow, struck and burrowed into Katrina's startled frame.
"What was that? What did you do to me?"
“A gift for your foul spirit. I have gifted you a curse.”
“You monster! Take it back!” Katrina screamed.
“There is no taking it back. You can try all you’d like. The Howells certainly tried. The serpent has already become one with your soul and soon enough you’ll hate the sight of your own face."
"I'll go back up and find the picture for you. I’ll do anything. Just let me go!"
"Oh, you can go, but a curse like this can’t be undone. From now forward those who you surround yourself with will be held in endless torment. Car crashes. Cancer. Hearts will fail. Skin will rot.
Everyone around you will fall apart. Accident after accident, they will all be your fault.”
“What do you mean it can't be undone? There’s nothing I can do?”
“Absolutely nothing.” Hazael stated, pleased in his ghoulish scheme.
“And everyone I’m around… My mom, my brothers, Allyson, my class at school… Everyone will suffer because of me?” Katrina contemplated with deepening and rational thought.
“Terribly.” Hazael grinned devilishly. “You will watch them die.”
“Then I will stay here... With you! May the curse you gave me be your curse as well.”
“Don’t be foolish. You’ll die alone in this pit.” Hazael tried to persuade her.
“I’d rather die alone than bring pain upon anyone I love. You did this to me… So I’m doing it to you.”
"You can't." the devil’s tone shrilled, looking for an excuse to convince Katrina out of her decision. "Your soul will be trapped here."
"Then we will be trapped together you wretched creature. You will be forced to look upon my face as you rot in this Hell you created."
She had made up her mind. Nothing more could be done. There Katrina stayed, arms crossed in the bottom of the well, staring into the eyes of evil. Her jaw set. She was not moving.