Mechanized Halloween

September 23, 2017

This is an excerpt from The Kavanagh House from the chapter Mechanized Halloween. Parker’s guests have filled the house when Declan shows up. He is her father’s campaign manager who she crushes on. She takes Declan to the Hall to show him the music machine created by Vincent, the man who died over 100 years ago, but still controls the house. Enjoy:

I stopped the iPhone and punched in some numbers from the list that coincided with “Tchaikovsky waltz.” Mechanized arms moved, steel marbles rolled, great puffs of air rose through pipes, and the various horns and strings began to play.

Declan stared at it, and I saw excitement dance in his dark eyes. Then he turned toward me, put his arm around my waist, and picked up my right hand. “Dance with me,” he said.

I didn’t know how to waltz, but I stumbled along, trying to keep up with his fluid movements. He pulled me into him, lifting me when my feet twisted, and sweeping me around the floor. The calls and woots from my guests blurred into the background. Looking up into Declan’s eyes, I understood how Eleanor had felt dancing with Vincent. Of course she loved him then. How could she not?

Like her, we spun around and around, mirrors flashing past, multiplying our image until hundreds of us danced across the floor.

My feet began to respond without stumbles, but Declan didn’t relax the hold he had on my waist. I could smell his cologne, feel the buckle of his belt against my belly, his hand on my waist, his breath by my ear.

Candles flickered as we whirled by and the music machine rose in volume until it filled the room. Around and around, until I forgot everything but being in Declan’s arms. Then, as the music slowed, he guided me to the far end of the room where dark windows rose up and candles flickered on their sills like fallen stars. We stopped with the last note, and Declan eased his grasp just enough for me to look up at him.

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered. His eyes bored into mine, his head lowered, and I could taste his breath. I waited for his mouth to claim mine. My inhibitions, weakened by the waltz, swept away like a rushing river and I lifted my chin toward him. I felt his lips hover above mine, a thin current of air between us.

Was I this weak? Yes.

Behind Declan an object began to drop from the ceiling. A trap door had opened without a sound and what appeared to be a projector descended eight feet and stopped. I stepped backward and we both turned to look. The projector clicked and a bright light shone from its large lens.

On one of the empty walls, an image shone. A girl, with jerky movements as if the film ran too slow, stood with her white-gloved hands clasped in front of her and dark brown ringlets spilling over her shoulders. Her mouth moved as if she were singing. I recognized Eleanor.

I heard someone gasp. It was me. And then the music began, though the song didn’t fit her mouth. The sound had become disjointed from the picture. In an off-key voice Eleanor sang an Irish ballad about someplace called Gweedore.

Who had turned the machine on? And how was it powered? A group of sheepish looking guys against the wall suggested they’d found a switch. “It must be tied to the steam generator,” I said aloud. “Like the music machine.”

My hands became sweaty. I couldn’t take my eyes off the image of the girl who had slept in the room I now slept in. The girl Vincent had mistaken me for. We didn’t look a bit alike. Eleanor’s face seemed pale, her eyes wide, and I noticed she kept looking away while she sang, as if she watched for something bad to happen. Or someone evil to enter the room.

Her voice, though sweet, had an off-key quality, and none of the depth of a trained singer. “Gweedore your rugged hills are calling,” she sang. “I’m sure I can hear you call my name, Gweedore your beauty . . . ”

The film snapped and flapped around while a frozen image of Eleanor melted from the center outward and just the light shone through while the voice continued. “ . . . has caught hold of me, I know I’ll never be the same.”

Mason rushed into the room and over to the switches by the music machine where the group of guys scattered. Mason began to twist the switches until Eleanor’s voice stopped and the light went out.

Mason spun toward me. “What happens now?” His fear showed clearly.

“What’s your problem?” Declan asked. “Can’t a guy be with a beautiful girl? Go find a girl of your own and enjoy.”

“It was her who sang, right?” Mason ignored Declan and spoke to me. “It played throughout the house.”

I realized what that meant. Had Vincent heard?

But Declan misunderstood. “You thought that was Parker? How rude can you be? It was some girl from long ago. She couldn’t even sing on key.” He put a hand on Mason’s chest and gave him a slight push. “You should be careful what you say.”

I saw Mason’s right hand fold into a fist. I stepped between them. “I don’t think . . .” I didn’t know what to say.

“Don’t you get it, kid? You’re not wanted here,” Declan said. He still had no clue to what we feared.

The “kid” part smarted, and Mason had had enough of Declan. “You don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.

I didn’t have time to referee. “I need to check on everyone.” I left the room and Mason followed.

Abbi met us at the door. “No more music?” she asked. “What was that last crazy song? Oh, look who’s here. Hello, handsome.”

“Hello,” Declan grinned at her.

“Did you hear the song too?” I asked, hoping it hadn’t gone everywhere.

“Yeah, pretty bad.”

“Maybe I can hook up something better,” Declan offered. In the rotunda, the clock began to chime, preventing further protest from Mason.

And it didn’t matter anyway. Another noise filled the emptiness. In between the chimes of the clock, gears began to grind. Afraid of what it meant, I entered the rotunda where the contraption overhead moved in its sinister cycle of serpents and children. “Who turned it on?” I asked.

My guests began to appear from the dining room, parlor, and kitchen. They thought the overhead circus was great.

“Who turned this on?” My voice had an edge of panic to it.

“We didn’t,” someone said. Others nodded their innocence.

Overhead, faces looked down over the rail.

“I won’t be upset, I just need to know,” I pleaded.

Mute, shaking heads answered me. Beside me, the clock showed midnight.

“I’m afraid my party is over,” I said. “Everyone please, just go.”

They looked at me like I had made a joke. Some sneered, some said, “Ha ha. Halloween prank,” but nobody moved. Then, all around us, candles began to go out as if someone swept through the air extinguishing them one by one. The front door burst open, and a swirl of snow came in on a gust of wind that sounded like a dying cat. Girls screamed and several ran for the kitchen. I felt Vincent as he swooped past me and up the stairs to get the candles there.

The screams became epidemic and several girls joined the stampede to the kitchen, but few left. They believed I’d rigged it as part of the party. I entered the kitchen where I found Mason holding a camp lantern with Dyani hanging on his arm. The other lantern was out. “I couldn’t stop him,” he said. “But he glared at me as he passed.”

The kitchen began to fill as everyone gravitated to the lone light held by Mason. Phones appeared, used as flashlights. Someone grabbed my hand. I turned to see Meghan standing right by me. “Go home,” I said. “Go now.”

“Okay,” she said softly. “Jett, please take me home.” They left with a few of her friends.

And then the music machine began to play “The Ash Grove”. It came from all the speakers, the old fashioned notes that spoke of a green valley now rang out as a wicked joke. “Who did that?” a girl demanded.

I walked toward the music room, but the doors slammed shut. Down the hall, the puzzle on Dad’s study began to move. Several gathered behind me, curious. The study doors opened.

“What’s in here?” a tall guy asked.

“Don’t go in,” I called. “That’s my dad’s office.”

He ignored me. Holding up his phone, he disappeared into the room. A friend of his and two girls followed right behind him. Then the doors slammed shut. We heard them pounding and screaming. Somebody in the Hall of Wonders began to pound and call out also. It sounded like Abbi.

Then a piercing scream took several of us back to the rotunda. Phones lifted to shine on the stairs. Mona stood halfway up, her arm through one of the circles of metal vines in the railing. We watched as stairs began to retreat, stacking on each other like pancakes. While they collapsed, the circles of the railing closed. “My sleeve is caught!” Mona screamed. Keyshawn stood below yelling at her to pull her arm out. She seemed frozen.


Events continue to escalate, climaxing with Parker caught in one of the house’s death traps. Be sure to tell your friends about The Kavanagh House in time for this Halloween.


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About Susan

Susan is the author of Cold Pursuit, Hot Pursuit and other projects.
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