The house was of no significance, and would barely warrant a second glance, nestled as it was a mile from the nearest town on a country lane leading into cloudy valleys. As Daniel Carter drove past, he slowed down, then halted the Volkswagen Passat and stared at the decrepit detached abode, with its flaking front door, grimy windows, and missing roof tiles.
He pulled the car onto the verge and left the vehicle. At forty-one, Dan was the owner of a small furniture shop in the town he was driving from and was on his way to see a job-lot of art-nouveau furniture to include in his wares. He was in the last days of finalising a divorce, as for three years he had been having an affair with an employee of the town’s job-centre. His wife of six years was the type of woman who could not forgive any discrepancy that she could see as a blemish on her trust. Two text messages that she had found on his mobile were enough for her to demand an explanation. She could not tolerate him looking at other women, and had not once forgiven him for anything.
Reason and rationale could not be levied at her, and being a man of fragile will, he could not explain the texts, and that night was thrown out of the house, sleeping at his brother’s two miles away. He was to a certain extent, glad to be rid of her, but she had her good points that outweighed the bad, so he would have chosen not to split. The job-centre worker, who was two years older than him, and not as attractive as his wife, was showing signs of similar behaviour, and one of her exes had told him as such. ‘She’ll fleece you for everything you’ve got, be careful.’
Now, however, he was overcome with affection for her, for now, his emotional state was in disarray with the divorce, and the fact that it was common knowledge he had been conducting the affair, but he didn’t care. It was a kind of relief that it was out. No more secret meetings and phone calls, he was free to move in with her. Now all they needed to do was find a place to live. Somewhere nice and quiet, he had said, and here it was a place in the country or a place with one eye towards the town.
He entered the garden and found it was a little miniature jungle, a haven for insects and weeds. He didn’t want to bother with having to go through the proper channels in order to look at the place, finding out who the estate agent was, having them come down here with him and try and sell him the place. It was easier to do it now, with no pressure on him to commit, where he can browse at his leisure, and make his own decisions. With the front door open, he found himself standing in the furnished hallway, a layer of dust on the threadbare red carpet, the frosted glass-topped side table, and the stairs leading up into darkness.
At the base of the stairs, near the closed door leading into the front room, he saw the small corpse of what looked to be a dog. It was impossible to tell which type. Thin, leathery skin, torn in places was stretched over the skeleton, its empty eye sockets staring at nothing. He then noticed another corpse halfway up the stairs. Upon closer inspection, he guessed it to be that of a rabbit. He went into the front room.
Again, a layer of dust covered everything, the leather couch, a television set that looked to have been made in the seventies, a fireplace, and a sideboard, as well as the multitude of animal corpses scattered around. They all seemed to have the same level of decay. Daniel was no expert, but he guessed that these animals had been dead a long time, at least a year. Most of them seemed to be cats. Two on the mantlepiece, seven on the floor, three on the couch. Two dogs on the sideboard, one in front of the fire. There were two more rabbits, three birds that he could not identify, but if he had to guess he would say they were cockatiels. A few rodents were also scattered around.
Daniel left, wiping his brow, wondering just what on earth had happened here. He looked up the stairs, contemplating whether or not he should go up there, but on the top step, in the gloom, he saw a dog’s face staring down at him, cold and dead. He walked into the kitchen, and saw more dead cats on the floor, pieces of shrivelled flesh in their rib cages, stretched skin over bones, and threadbare fur, all still decaying.
Rodents and birds were strewn across the counter, a dead dog lay on the draining board, and two rabbits inhabited the sink. The back door was open, and he walked out into a fairly large garden, a sole tree in the middle that looked to have been there long before the house was built. There were no animals here, but Daniel guessed that some had been buried, as there were a few makeshift crosses dotted around.
Double glazed sliding panel doors that led into the backroom were open, and he made his way slowly across and peered inside. Again, there were no dead animals, but the room itself was like nothing he had ever seen before. The floor, walls, and ceiling had been painted white, and what looked to be Egyptian hieroglyphs had been scrawled across them. In the middle, there was a strange structure that Daniel could not make out, so he stepped in and walked across to it. It was wooden and circular, with what looked to be a stretched canvas across it.
It’s a drum, he thought, and that wasn’t canvas. It was skin, around four feet in diameter. He also noticed that around it on the floor, bones had been scattered, and some broken skulls. He then noticed that in the middle of the drum there was a jaw bone that had been sharpened into a makeshift blade and a small note. On it, it simply said, ‘You.'
He slowly picked it up and unfolded it.
‘Hello friend,’ it said, in barely legible blue biro. ‘I expect that by now you will have seen the animals. Well, now you can partake in this new experience. You see, as the owner of this house, and of this ‘Menagerie’, I discovered a lost, ancient Egyptian scroll on my travels in the middle east. You’ll never believe what I had to do to get it. Some people are very protective of things, you see, but I obtained it, and it gave me the power to bring organic beings back to life, and when it did, they remained immortal. So you see, I had to kill my animals, and then myself, but then I needed somebody to bang the drum to complete the final part of the ritual, and that, my friend, is where you come in. The drum needs your life’s essence to bring us back into existence. Bang the drum with your blood. I expect that you are quite sceptical at the moment, so I had to cast another spell over this very letter, which means that when you stop reading this, you will do exactly as I have written. Open your throat over the drum, and play the rhythm.” Daniel shook his head at the note.
“But what you’ve forgotten,” he said, aloud. “Is that while you were waiting for someone to come along, the bodies still decay, and rot. Didn’t think of that, did you?” He tossed the letter aside and saw the sharpened jaw bone, which he found himself reaching for.
‘What am I doing?’ he thought, staring at it as though he didn’t know what it was, then sending it into his neck, opening his veins and arteries. He fell forward and gripped the sides of the drum, positioning himself over the skin as the blood splashed on its surface creating a drumming sound that reverberated further than the confines of the room.
After around thirty seconds, what was left of Daniel’s own mind returned and he staggered towards the garden. He fell to his knees, and before he collapsed to the floor, saw that the crosses in the earth were falling or shifting, the soil moving. Blood pumped and spilled from his wound, splashing the floor, and he saw a few of the animal corpses walk slowly into the room to stare at him.
What he didn’t see, was the corpse of the owner emerge from the gloom at the top of the stairs, and walk slowly down to join Daniel. He was basically a skeleton with stretched skin. Empty eye sockets and sparse skin were something Daniel could not see anymore as bony fingers entered his mouth to choke him. After a few seconds, Daniel was dead, and the owner walked out into the garden and was joined by the menagerie that was in the vicinity of the sound of the drum. Only two never heard it, and they were on the bathroom window ledge, a dog and a bird.
All the other animal corpses milled around him, and he looked down at them with pride, then looked up and would have smiled if he could, as Daniel shuffled across to join the family.