Years passed and the house decayed. It served as a hotel for many years, but before that it belonged to a colonel in the civil war. Not much talk of the old man now, just some old paintings covered in grime and a few torn journal pages with no continuity. The town wanted to tear the place down but some folk kicked up dust about it, citing it as a historic landmark. Still, nobody wanted the burden of keeping the place in shape, so it rotted out more and more.
The house was almost forgotten by the time a man came to town looking to buy it. He wore a plain brown suit and had a dark complexion. He introduced himself as John Randall, but most people called him the stranger. He didn’t seem to mind.
The stranger went around town asking about the rotten old house, what use it had served, how long ago it was abandoned; not unusual but oddly persistent. Many travelers who passed through asked about the building, because it was right off the road from the south side of town and it had a curious architecture which fascinated even the most uneducated person. This suited man seemed different. His interest was far deeper than someone passing through. He knew a lot about history in the area, but claimed no knowledge of the old house. Some of the people in town refused to talk to the stranger at all. He had a curious air about him. Lights seemed a bit dimmer when he was around. The birds all went quiet when he walked through the park. The stranger acted pleasing enough, and he was always polite, but it didn’t take long for him to grow a dark reputation in the area. Even this didn’t seem to bother the stranger. Nothing concerned him, save for that rotted out old building to the south.
There was quite a fuss when the stranger put in a bid to buy the property. By this point superstition was high and rumors about the man numbered greater than anything known about him. A group of men threatened to burn the place to the ground if the stranger got a hold of it, but a quick visit from the local sheriff cooled them off fine. It was decided at a town meeting that there was no rational line of thinking that could prevent the man from buying the land, much to the dismay of many locals. The following day, residents watched in unwarranted horror as the man paid for the old house, and the fifty acres it sat on, in full.
Weeks went by and the stranger was not seen in town. He went straight to the old house—his house—after making the purchase and without saying a word to anybody. More baseless rumors began to circulate that the man had somehow died in the building. Occasionally screams were reported coming from the inside the house, but nobody in the town wanted to investigate. Truth was, the locals felt a little more at ease without the stranger around. Talk about John Randall died out almost completely, until high summer came and the pungent odor of rotting flesh began to seep from that strange building to the south. Clearly, this was the work of the stranger.
Something needed to be done now, that terrible old building could be ignored no longer. Like a mob in a witch hunt, the locals marched on the stranger’s land armed to the teeth with landscaping equipment and a few odd rifles. Suddenly the property was swarming with angry residents, shouting into the still- boarded windows. There was no response. No light came through the windows, but the stranger’s car was in the driveway. Local police tried to contain the more violent members of the mob, but they eventually lost control of the situation. A group of three men who had come directly from the bar made a makeshift battering ram to plow down the front door. The door came down.
Without a door to seal it in, that rotten odor poured out of the old house in force. Throughout the mob people became frantic to cover their faces. Those of weak stomach vomited. Inside it was dark and hazy from humidity. The men from the battering group peered inside, expecting the place to be filled with monsters from hell. Nothing moved in there.
The bravest man—an unwashed fellow named Stan Monroe—stepped forward, and with shouted curse he fell into a hole directly in front of the doorway. The rest of the mob seemed interested in what was down there, but he told them he couldn’t see a goddamned thing, and it was the truth. The house had been dark; this place was a catacomb. Stan howled for a flashlight. Someone tossed him a cheap plastic one, and he wasted no time in using it. The light was dim but good enough to make out details in the room. It looked like a wine cellar—or it had been at one time. It was emptied out now, and the place where the stairway had been was blocked off by old bricks. The wall looked chipped at, and recently. Not a lot of dust. Stan moved the light around the room.
There he was. The stranger; dead in the corner of the room. The poor bastard must have fallen down in this hole right after buying the place. He didn’t seem so dark now. His skin was pale and sunken, already far along the process of decomposition. His eyes were glazed in that particular way, almost alive but still long gone. In his hand he clutched a worn journal. Immediately Stan could tell that it seemed out of place. He carefully but quickly grasped the journal from the dead man’s clutch to examine it further.
It was the missing journal of Colonel S. Madison. It must have been shut in this cellar at some point. Stan flipped through the journal. Most of the pages were very old and very worn, but everything was mostly intact. It was a bit too dark to read here. Stan flipped through till the last few pages, and noticed a change in ink. The writing here was new. This must have been something done by the late John Randall on the last few days before his death. Stan noticed an empty lantern next to the corpse. Must have used it all up writing, he thought. Stan focused the flashlight on the journal in front of him.
Day six and nobody’s come to check on me. I knew the people here were closed off, but I didn’t think they’d actually abandon me like this. I swear I heard people walking around outside, but when I screamed for help nobody came. They had to hear me.
Stan stood overwhelmed by pity. What the hell was he doing here with this mob? Decent folk had taken up arms against an outsider—for what? He continued on to the last page.
I know the last group heard me, they were talking right outside the front door. I’ll run out of water soon. What the hell is wrong with the people in this town? Bastards. They’ll get theirs. They’ll pay.