“Welcome! Welcome to my collection,” said the man, his pencil mustache accentuating his wide grin. “The House of Abhored Oddities and Obsolete Abominations welcomes you through it’s doors.” His long, dark coat was a perfect contrast to his pale, horse-like face and his bowler hat could not contain the mop of curled black hair.
Andrea and her sister Paige giggled, trying to stifle their laughter. “Thanks for having us,” Paige said. She was loving every bit of this, the pageantry of it all. “We didn’t even know if this was the right place till we got up the hill.”
The man stood on the front porch of the old house. Like something out of Hitchcock, the home stood on a high rise in an otherwise flat plain about three-quarters of a mile from the main road. Andrea had wanted to continue on to Clay Center but her sister had insisted on visiting and so far just the look of it all had been worth the drive. They had stopped a little way down the hill to take pictures of the large, Victorian-esque home. For some bizarre reason there was a huge tree growing right out of the middle of it that, casting shadow over the whole place. It was gorgeous. With no signal on this stretch of the K-15 they would not be able to share it around yet, but it would be a fun addition to their travel blog.
“We found a brochure about the place in the diner in Goessel. You should include a picture of the house on there, this place is crazy cool!” Andrea said, and the old man chuckled, running his finger over his mustache.
“The look of the place is half the fun,” he said. “We built the house around the tree for no other reason than for it to look “crazy cool” to our adoring visitors. We stash all sorts of weird and exciting objects and things inside.” He paused here, concern on his face. “Do you have strong stomachs?” The girls nodded at him, smiling even wider. “Excellent,” he cried, thrusting his hands into the air. “Our exhibits are not for the faint of heart, nor for those who get sickened easily because, quite frankly, I don’t want to clean vomit from the carpet.”
At this Paige ran up the steps to the front door. “We love creepy stuff,” she said, beckoning her sister forward. “We’re horror freaks.”
Andrea walked up the steps, shaking her head. Paige could be so enthusiastic and tended to lump her sister in with her when it came to “creepy stuff” but there was almost nothing the old man could show them that they had not already come across in their sideshow stops on the highway. Paige drug her to every museum, every curio store, and even the freak show they had found in Florida. After a few beers her sister had let “Larry the Alligator Man” kiss her on camera and was still bragging to their friends about that one. Andrea was merely documenting their weird experiences, but she had fun nonetheless. The night in Stall Cemetery was the only time she had actually been a little freaked out, watching Paige dance naked in the stone church and throwing wildflowers into the air had been unsettling, but other than that the journey was just a summer road trip for Andrea.
“Horror freaks are my favorites!” cried the old man. “My name is Albert Alonso, last of the Spanish Alonso’s to set up in this grassy desert.” The old man’s veiny hands gripped the door and threw it open, the dark and musty interior of the house almost bursting out onto the porch. “I usually don’t show off my film reels but I feel like you might be interested in my copies of Murders of the Rue Morgue and The Tell-Tale Heart if you like.” He placed a hand on Paige’s shoulder. “I also have a copy of the Star Wars special edition if you really want something that will curl your toes,” he said with a wink.
The foyer of the house was grand, and little bits of light streamed down from the ceiling. The floor was covered in dead leaves and here and there new ones fell from the above. The dark maroon paint went nicely with the walnut wainscoting. On the walls hung pictures of other horse-faced men and women and on stands were glass display boxes containing hands.
“Well, abhorred oddities is exactly what I’d call that,” said Andrea. Her heart was pounding in her chest. They had never seen anything like that in the little places they visited.
“Yes,” Albert replied. “They are the right hands of the Alonso family curators. We keep the weird, we keep the dead, and we keep on keeping it after we die.” He stopped before one, taking a small handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe away a smudge on the glass. “My older sister,” he explained.
Paige and her sister crept up to the glass, looking down at the hand inside. It was dried, almost mummified in the case. A shaft of light rested on it and a golden ring glinted on the fourth finger. Andrea’s breath fogged the glass and she stood up sharply. She had not realized just how close she had been to it. Albert merely wiped away the condensation and smiled at her.
“This one is special to me,” he said. His eyes glistened a bit, and she felt a sadness for him.
“How did she die?” she asked.
“Her husband,” he replied. “One of the bigger stories about this place actually.” He walked away as he spoke and the sisters trotted along after him, trying to keep up. Both had phones in hand and were snapping pictures of everything. “She was going to leave him so he took her captive within the house. The police came, there was gunfire, the whole thing was a catastrophe. In the end he killed her and himself. The home was stormed and due to the nature of the displays we were under a bit of surveillance and questioning for a time, but after the dust settled her will was read and, as per her desires, the right hand was removed and placed in this case in the foyer.” He stopped at a large, gray door. “I took the hand myself,” he proclaimed with pride. “One day, as per my own will, my hand will be laid here and the home boarded up. There is no one to take over from me and so you will be some of the last to visit the house and see the strange things we have to offer.”
Paige wrinkled her nose. “To offer?” she asked.
“Yes, to offer.”
“What do you offer besides thrills?”
He smiled at her and placed his hand on the doorknob. “Is a thrill, a genuine startling, not enough of an offer in-and-of itself?” With this he threw open the door and guided them inside.
He spun to face them, his hands spread wide. “Feast your senses on the Room of Deformity!” he cried out. The girls started at his sudden movement and Paige grinned.
The room was full of large tanks, most likely full of preservative liquid. Contained in them were bodies and each had a plaque containing the medical information. Andrea stepped to her left, looking at the first one. A small human (the plaque said “homunculus”) was floating inside. She gasped at it. There was a third arm protruding from the body’s left side and what looked like two jaws of teeth contained inside its mouth. Paige raced to the tank, taking in the horrid display.
“This is amazing,” she said quietly.
“Thank you,” Albert said proudly. “She was found in Southern Oklahoma, in one of the Dago ghettos near McCallister.”
Andrea turned to him, a wary look on her face. “No wonder you were under investigation. You have bodies on display in your home. One might wonder what gives you the right to do so?”
At this the man strode to the far end of the roome. It resembled a long corridor with all of the display tanks. At the end was an ordinary-looking file cabinet. “In here,” he said touching it, “are all of the wills and proper paperwork to display the bodies for multiple purposes. I spoke with dear Donna before she died and she acquiesced to my request for her body upon her death. In fact, all of the hands in the foyer have the same paperwork. We have acquired all of this legally and kept a strict record of the allowances we have been granted. Not one soul is here that did not want to be.”
“But why?” Andrea asked.
“Why?” Albert replied, a puzzled look on his face.
“Why would they want to be displayed like some sort of side-show?” Andrea demanded.
Paige turned and put a hand on her sister’s arm. “Andrea, don’t be a bitch,” she whispered.”
“Oh, my dear,” Albert said kindly. “Do not be angry with her. She has a sweet disposition, to show care for the lives and desires of these poor dead souls.” He walked back to them, touching each tank lovingly as he neared. “No, they desired to be here. We offered them an audience, a place where they could be admired and studied to further understanding of handicap and deformity.” He reached the small woman’s tank and looked at “Donna” with a smile on his face. “They wanted to be here.”
Looking around they took in the other bodies. There was a man with a growth that appeared to be a second face adjoined to his own. After him was a woman with dark, black blotches on her skin and a label that read “The Leopard woman of Pensicola”. Across the room was a man with almost feathered skin and a designating plaque that read “The Mothman”.
“I’ve seen enough dead bodies,” said Andrea. Even Paige had broken out into a sweat and was experiencing mild discomfort. They had done some strange things and seen some small horrors, but a room full of dead and deformed bodies seemed to be the threshold for actual fear.
“Then off we go, to further explore the house,” Albert said with a clap of his hands. He led them back out the door and into the foyer.
He crossed to the base of the large, winding staircase and pulled back a panel. Beneath was bark,rough and old. “Here,” he said, “is the tree that the house has been built around. She was old when we found her, and my great-grandfather named her Yggdrasil after the world-tree from Norse mythology.” The girls stepped forward and Paige reached out and touched the bark, her momentary discomfort already forgotten.
Albert began ascending the stairs. “If you’ll follow,” he said, “I’ll show you the Room of Audacious Technology.” The girls hesitated, then Paige began to follow. Andrea looked around, glancing once more at the hands on display, then followed. Her hands shook as she grasped the railing and followed and she took a deep breath. Paige was having fun and that was okay, but if this guy got weird upstairs she always had the gun and pepper spray in her purse. Her sister might still trust this guy, but staying safe was more important than a good time.
The landing led to a long corridor. Old, tan carpet ran down the length of it and there were three doors leading off to the sides. At the very end was a large door, and it was the only one without a label. The others said things like “technology” and “taxidermy”, and the final one labeled “The Gate”.
“What’s in that one?” Andrea asked, pointing at the door at the end of the hallway.
“My bedroom,” Albert said with a smile. “I’m afraid it is rather boring compared to the rest of the house.”
“Can we see it?” asked Paige, and Andrea cringed. She let her sister do weird things but there was no chance she would let her go into a bedroom with this man.
“Alas, I cannot show you that one,” he replied to her. “It is just for me, and I prefer my rather humble creature comforts to stay hidden so as not to take away from the rest of the splendor.” With this he opened the door to the Room of Audacious Technology and stepped through. Paige looked at Andrea, smiled a little and shrugged, then followed him through.
Andrea went into the room and gasped. The lights blinked on and off on all of the equipment. Little beeping sounds came from half of it, and none of it was labelled. At the end of the room was a large mirror wired to a monitor and a panel full of buttons. She walked towards that. Paige stepped to a small display case containing a silver sphere and reached out her hand. Albert stepped forward and gently placed his own on her wrist.
“I wouldn’t, dear madam,” he said gravely.
“Because,” he said, “I have been told that it might wipe out some of the Midwestern states if it has not been properly disarmed.”
Paige stumbled back from it. “Where the hell did you get that?” she cried, excited at the prospect.
“Roswell, or so my grandfather claimed. He, unlike my sister and myself, was more into aliens and the machinations of man than he was the human body. The piece was supposedly stolen during his youth, while he was an army technician stationed in New Mexico and his own father ran this very establishment. He claims to have pocketed it and smuggled it home.” He chuckled as she glanced back at it, her eyes wide with shock. “I wouldn’t put much stock in his tale,” he explained. “He was fascinated with all of that kind of U.F.O. nonsense but aside from some rather curious and inexplicable skin samples he was able to obtain we never saw proof of any alien life forms. I believe in them, but I think they’d rather leave us be as we are not….pleasant. At least, not to each other.”
Andrea was fingering the controls attached to the mirror. It was large and resembled the one she had in her apartment bedroom, a full-length thing she used to dress. This one, however, was bordered with metal and more lights that meant nothing to her but remained fascinating nonetheless. Albert strode up behind her, Paige in his wake.
“Ah,” he said, “I see you’ve taken a liking to the “Genital Tosser”. It’s a curious instrument.” He stepped around her and began pointing to lights and buttons. “It’s a rather complicated piece of machinery, but I believe you’ll enjoy the show I can put on with it.” Albert put a finger to one of the switches, then yanked it back and clutched his arm with a gasp of pain.
“What’s wrong?” Paige asked, running to his side and putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you ok?”
He shook his left arm, as though shaking off a bit of dust, and then smiled at her. “A bit of static electricity,” he said. “It builds up with all the carpet and wool and such.” She seemed unassured, but stepped back.
Albert resumed throwing switches and hit a couple of buttons. “And now,” he cried theatrically, “I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.” Paige bounced up to the controls, excited to try the machine with him. “Yes,” he said with another wink, “the lovely girl from the front row.” He stepped over to the front of the mirror, gazing at himself. “When I tell you,” he instructed, “press the blue button.” Paige’s finger hovered excitedly over it already, her eyes darting back and forth between it and the old man.
He looked himself up and down, then closed his eyes. “Press it,” he said.
Paige did as instructed and then stumbled back. The blinding light that flashed sent her screaming into Andrea’s arms. The sisters held each other, blinking and trying to regain their sight. Slowly the blur began to clear and they could see Albert once more.
The old woman standing in front of them did not quite fill her clothing. The long coat sagged around her, and the suit she wore was hanging off of her wiry frame. Her smile was kindly but tired, and she seemed a bit uncomfortable.
“Dearie,” she croaked, “would you mind very much pressing it again? I grew up a man and have never quite gotten used to this. It’s a mite….” She paused, looking for the right word.
“Freaky?” Andrea offered, clutching her sister close to her.
“That’s the ticket,” woman-Albert said, his crone exterior clearly not enjoying anything but their bemused expressions. She was red and there bathed in sweat. Her left hand twitched, drawing Andrea’s eye. Something was wrong.
Paige stepped forward and reached out and grabbed the old woman’s breast. “Holy shit,” she whispered to herself, “they’re real.”
“Yes, they’re quite real, now if you’d be so kind….”
“Oh, sorry, yeah. Just a second.”
The old woman turned and looked at herself in the mirror. She smiled, then her face fell as she looked at herself. Paige hit the button and once more the blinding flash of light filled the room. When the blur cleared Albert stood before them once more, straightening his clothing that had repositioned awkwardly a bit. The sweat was worse and his eyes were glassy. He stumbled forward and steadied himself against the mirror, sliding to the floor.
Andrea was still trying to figure out what was happening but Paige ran forward, crouching by the old man’s side and feeling his forehead. His hand clutched his chest.
“Albert, I think you’re having a heart attack,” she said, panicked.
“Yes dear, I believe so. It’s not my first time, you know,” he said with a strained smile. Then he gasped and lurched forward, sprawling out on the floor.
Paige turned to her sister. “Call an ambulance, now!” Andrea fumbled with her phone, photo opportunities long forgotten, and tried to dial. Albert tried to push himself up and fell back to the floor.
“No,” he said quietly. “I’d thank you not to do that if you don’t mind.”
Paige turned, a pleading look in her eyes. “Why not?” she asked.
“It seems,” he said as he fought for breath, “that my time has come.”
The girls looked at one another, startled. Andrea came forward and grabbed him around the middle. Paige also lifted him and the brought him upright, straining under his weight. They began to drag him to the chair in the corner and placed him in it.
“Thank you,” he said. “Now I need you to help me down the hall.”
“Sure,” Paige said, “we’ll help you to your room and then get you some help.”
He looked up at her, amused. “Not the bedroom,” he said. “Take me to the room that is labelled “The Gate” so I can finish what needs to be done.” The sisters looked at each other, startled. He was clearly dying and needed help. “Do this for me, help me in this, and then call all the ambulances you desire.”
In the end Paige’s curiosity won out and she began to help him, Andrea reluctantly participating. It was a struggle to get him to the hall. Despite how old and frail Albert appeared he was a heavy man, still muscled. They got him to the door and tried to open it.
“Pocket,” he mumbled, struggling to stay conscious.
Andrea reached in his coat pockets, coming up with nothing. She reached inside the flap of his coat and finally found what she needed, withdrawing an old skeleton key. She inserted the iron thing into the lock and it gave. They all fell into the room, Albert crashing once again to the floor.
Inside was a large, cubic structure. The front end was open and he began to crawl towards it. He pushed to his feet and lurched forward, staggering towards the box. As he reached the edge he fell forward, landing on the metal floor of it. Albert began to twist and turn on the floor as the sisters rose, pushing forward to try to help him.
“No, not me, the panel,” he said. Andrea looked at the side of the box and there was indeed a panel with three buttons. The white one labelled “clean”, the green labelled “vacation”, and the red button at the bottom labelled “the final solution”. She went to the panel as Paige helped the writing old man on the floor of the device.
“What are we doing?” Andrea asked, looking down at the man. He had rolled onto his side but was not all the way in the device. His right arm lay extended, his hand hanging onto the hardwood floor.
He looked at Paige. “My dear,” he said, “would you be so kind as to step back?” She did so and he looked again at Andrea. “Hit the red one, if you please.”
“What will it do?” she asked.
He smiled at her and she started. He looked almost excited. “It will finish it,” he said simply.
She looked back at the panel, uncertain. The red button was the only one that shone. The others were worn and discolored but the one he was asking for looked as though it were rarely used, if ever. Looking back at him in fear, she hoped he would not ask again. She met his eyes.
“Please,” he said.
Paige stepped back and Andrea hit the button. The cube was filled with a swirling, purplish glow. Through it could be seen structures coming into focus. Buildings of some sort, bizarre architecture that resembled nothing the girls had ever seen. Small, moving things could be seen near them. There was no way to tell what they were seeing.
There was grass, electric green and sparking under the old man’s dying body. The small figures were running forward now, hurrying towards them. Albert looked up at her once more, a wide grin on his face. “Once more, my dear,” he said. “And don’t forget to lock the door.” Andrea looked at Paige, scared. Paige nodded at her, the fear on her face as well. Andrea turned back to the panel and hit the button.
The drive north on the K-15 was quiet and awkward. The sisters did not speak for nearly an hour.They entered Marion county, the crossover apparent by the large water tower that stood over them. Andrea pulled over and stopped next to it. Paige looked at her questioningly but did not say anything. Without a word Andrea got out of the car.
She walked over and sat in the dirt beside the tower, leaning against the firm steel that held it up. The wrung her hands. Paige got out and walked over. She saw that Andrea was crying.
“Are you ok?” she asked her sullen sister.
“We should have done something with his hand,” Andrea whispered. “We didn’t finish it. We locked up but we didn’t do anything with his hand.”