The Ranch House from Hell (Halloween Flash Fiction)

Originally published October 10, 2012 at Wild and Wicked Cowboys

I stumbled upon this photo of an abandoned house in the middle of a field, and started thinking, with my October-Halloween-Scary mind, what had happened there to scare the ranchers away?

“The McCray House has been standing empty for over a hundred years.” Jenna turned to her friend and business partner Bethany, showing her the paper with the realtor’s notes. “Are you feeling anything?”

Sitting in their car at the top of the driveway, they’d stopped to get their bearings. They’d been hired to ‘clean’ the McCray property of spirits so the buildings could be torn down to make way for a housing development.

Bethany took the paper and read. “Forty prime acres in Montana.” She squinted at the house. “Strange they haven’t torn it down before now. It’s been in foreclosure for ten years.”

“That’s where we come in.” Jenna grinned. “No one can get close.”

Now Bethany squinted at her. “What do you mean? You didn’t tell me that.”

“The realtor didn’t share that secret. I got it from the old fellow at the Corner Quick Mart.” She widened her eyes and spoke in a ghostly voice. “They call it Hell’s Ranch.”

Bethany snorted. “Gossip.

With a shrug, Jenna turned the ignition key. Nothing. She checked to make sure it was in park. “Strange.”

“Stop screwing around.” Bethany pulled her modified night-vision goggles out of her bag and tugged them on her head, the goggle part on her forehead. She turned on her ghost meter, and put the ear bud in.

“Um.” Her mouth went dry and a feeling of dread came over her. “I’ve got first phase panic going on here.”

“Really?” Bethany actually looked excited. Turning her meter toward Jenna, she nodded. “I’ve got some activity.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Aw, man, yes, it’s rolling this way.”

Jenna hated this part. When she was still present in the human realm enough to have heart-palpitating fear.

“Let’s go.” Bethany opened her car door and stepped out then reached in the back seat for her video camera. She slammed both car doors.

Jenna considered running back to town. Six miles wouldn’t be too far. She could find a nice, quiet bar and have a couple glasses of wine, and… At the banging on the hood, her eyes popped open.

Bethany gestured. “Come on. Let’s get ’em while they’re hot.”

They were hot, all right. A chill raced through Jenna. She opened the car door. This was her job. She had to do it. She caught up with Bethany. “It feels like just one entity, but it’s so powerful. So angry.”

Bethany stopped and closed her eyes. “It’s warning us to stay away.”

“That’s what the guy at the gas station said. Engines won’t work here. People are filled with an overwhelming fear just stepping on the property.” The salient dread increased with each step. “I’ve got the heeby jeebies. Bad.” She took a step back and felt a slight relief. Taking two steps forward doubled the anxiety. “I don’t think I can go any further.”

Bethany took her wrist and a cool, calming sensation swept over her. “Okay.” She could finally take a deep breath. “Let’s discuss this in relevance to the small amount we’re being paid to risk our lives.”

“C’mon.” Bethany ignored her, geeking out on her gages. “We need to be in the house to do this.” She held up the meter. “The signal is coming from inside it.”

Jenna grabbed Bethany’s wrist with her free hand. “Don’t let go of me until I’m deep in the dimension, okay?” Bethany’s talents included blocking psychic energies in herself and others. That’s why they made the perfect team.

She looked at her and nodded. “Promise.”

The walk through the overgrown field took forever. Jenna smiled at the picture they must make. One woman with military goggles on her forehead, a meter in one hand, a rolling video camera in the other, and Jenna holding on to her arm with both hands.

The wood on the porch creaked but held as they tested each board before stepping on it. “Odd.” Bethany looked around, pointing the camera wherever her line of sight went. “No one has touched this place in a hundred years. How can the wood still be intact?”

“I’ll ask the ghost for his wood preservative formula.”

Bethany stopped and looked at her. “You should. That would be interesting.”

Jenna shook her head. “If it could get us out of the ghost business, I’d be all for it.”

“Hah.” Bethany pushed open the front door. “You’d miss it if we—” She was physically blown back from the door.

Jenna lost contact with her and a debilitating fear numbed her body, nearly stopping her heart.

The force pushed Bethany backwards across the porch, down the steps, and into the weeds. “Go deep,” she called. “Now, Jenna! Now!”

Jenna took a breath quickly repeated the Latin words that turned her from a normal twenty-three year old to a superconductor of spiritual energy.

A mighty force sucked her into the house and slammed the door behind her.

Darkness.

The house had dozens of windows but the light didn’t transcend the consuming, ghostly darkness. Why had it forced Bethany out, and pulled Jenna in?

“Jenna!” Bethany tried the knob then pounded on the door. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s happening.”

“I’m okay. I’m almost under.” A flush of icy power descended through her head, cooling her to her toes. Her vision went from black to a murky red, then to golden as she transcended into the spiritual dimension.

She spoke the words her grandmother had taught her. “I am Jenna. I am here to aid you.”

“Victoria?” a deep male voice called from the periphery of her vision. “You’ve come back.” Loud steps, maybe boots, walked her way with the jingle of spurs echoing after each footfall.

Jenna turned her head toward the sound. A cowboy, his hat pushed back on his head. His longish blond hair touching the collar of a work shirt. His green eyes pierced through dimensions.

“You’ve been gone so long. Where did you go, Victoria?” His brow furrowed.

“What is your name?” She couldn’t look away from his gaze. Something familiar, something far back in the recesses of her mind recognized him.

“It’s your husband, Caleb.” He reached a hand toward her. “Don’t you recognize me?”

Flashes of a past she hadn’t lived as Jenna flitted through her mind. A stage coach bringing her from Boston to a frigid Montana town. Meeting the man with the green eyes and long blond hair as he welcomed her, his mail-order bride.

Freshening up in the church’s day room before the preacher knocked and said it was time for the ceremony. Standing next to Caleb McCray and saying, “I do” as a snowstorm moved in.

Jenna sucked in a breath. “Are you putting these thoughts into my head?”

“How could I, my love? You’re seeing them through your own eyes. You are my Victoria. My wife. The soul in your body is hers. You have to feel it.” His expression became so fearful, Jenna wanted to comfort him.

“How can this be true?”

“After our wedding, after we came home, you left me.” His hand fisted. “Why, Victoria? Why did you leave?”

Jenna saw flashes of a skittish new bride jumping onto the horse she’d brought with her from Boston. Riding across a field then through the thick forest to release the fear of what she’d gotten herself into.

When she’d, finally exhausted herself and her horse, she calmed, knowing she was strong enough to be a good wife to Caleb, and turned the horse around.

But the winter storm had covered the trail and the cold moved in too fast.

“Oh, God, Caleb. I didn’t want to leave you. I just needed to clear my head, but I got lost. I couldn’t find my way back to you.” Jenna reached out a hand to touch him but he pulled back.

“Wait.” He closed his eyes.

Everything shifted and changed, moving her into a portal, an alternate universe with him.

Her vision was perfect, not the spirit world, but the human. Her dress was the one she’d worn to marry Caleb.

He smiled and gestured around them. “The house is still the same, Victoria.”

She glanced around at the brand new house, fresh paint, new curtains, and a fancy carpet on the floor. “I remember this so well.” She touched the fabric of her skirt, actually feeling the cotton.

He gestured out the window. “Look.” Snow covered the ground, but the storm had passed, and sun broke through the clouds.

“Do we get another chance?”

He nodded. “Yep. All you have to do is come into my arms and this will become real.”

She glanced toward the door. Bethany. “And if I don’t want to do this?”

The anguish in his eyes nearly stole her breath. “Then you can go back to your life as Jenna. I will move on to the next reality, and you can claim to have banished the evil of McCray Ranch and resume your life as you knew it.

Her heart reached out to him. She had loved him before she met him. The letters they shared over the year that he courted her long-distance had made her fall completely and hopelessly in love.

He took off his hat and tossed it on a chair. “You know you weren’t given the power of spirit talking by accident. You were meant to come here, to this ranch. To me.”

Divine providence? Fate giving her another chance after all these years? She could never leave him again. She reached out her hand. “Husband.”

He pulled her into his arms. “Wife.”

* * * * *

Bethany walked to each window, peering in but seeing nothing. She tried each door, then threw a rock at a window, with no results. She stepped back, still filming. “Jenna, girl, what’s going on in there?”

Rumbling sounded, shaking the ground. “Jenna!”

The house shook and creaked as if its foundation was giving way.

Bethany backed up, her camera pointed at whatever was happening.

Within seconds, the house came apart, the out buildings following suit, wood and glass crumbling and falling, compressing into dust, then into vapor, then into nothing. Gone. Every beam, every plank, gone. Only bare ground remained where the buildings had stood.

“I can’t believe this.” She’d never seen anything this ostentatiously mystical outside of a movie theater.

“Bethany.” Jenna’s voice came from the speaker in the video camera.

Bethany looked at the screen.

Jenna’s face smiled out of the machine.

“Holy shit.”

Jenna laughed. “I know exactly how you feel.” She glanced beside her. “I’m gone from your world, but I’m very happy where I am now.”

“Where are you?” She hoped like hell this was all recording.

Another face came into the picture next to Jenna. A very handsome man, smiling like he’d just won the lottery. “We’re in a private little slice of heaven.”

When you look at Hell’s Ranch, what scary, creepy, otherworldly story pops into your head?

Have a romantic, scary day!