Episode 1: Ashleigh
“I…I can’t do it, not again. I won’t do it!”
“You have to! If not…don’t you love her?”
“Of course I do. How could you even say that to me?”
“Then do it for her, Gail. Do it for our daughter.”
It was a quiet Saturday morning in the Valentine residence when the doorbell rang through the household. Rushing up from the basement, Gail Valentine felt the gun tucked into the back of his jeans for comfort, then made his way through the living room. He stopped for a moment and smiled briefly at the photo of him standing with his daughter at the Promenade Boardwalk. She’d learned how to ride a bike for the first time that day, which resulted in her trademark phrase:
I can do it Daddy, I’m not a baby anymore.
Ripping himself away from the memory, he made his way over to the front door and lurked the premise of his porch through the peephole which was quite a feat as his gut threatened to stop him from doing so.
Before the suburbia of Heritage Township, a tall girl stood patiently in the April day with an armful of books and a face full of freckles. Her curly ginger hair bounced as she reached out to ring the doorbell once more, and Gail could make out the girl’s emerald green eyes from behind her wireframe spectacles. He wasn’t sure how or if the laws of middleschool had changed since he’d attended, but Gail was almost certain this girl would’ve been bullied to the utmost severity of the law 20 years ago. It would only make sense that this would be one of his daughter’s best friends.
“Hey there Rachel. How are you doing today?” Gail asked, swinging the front door open. He gave a warm smile, but that only sent a sharp pang of unease into his gut.
“Hi Mr. Valentine ! Is Ashleigh still not feeling well? I brought by her homework that she missed this week.” Rachel Forrester said. She pulled out a stack of papers from the blue notebook in her arms and handed it to the chubby man.
“Thank you Rachel, and unfortunately yes.” Gail said as he took the homework assignments and briefly glanced over them. He knew that this was not the meaning of Rachel’s visit. “Would you like to say hi to her before you leave? It’s been ages since she’s seen another face her age, it might cheer her up a bit.” He continued casually.
“Yeah, I would love to! I just have to be back before dinner.” Rachel said.
“Well, maybe if you stay long enough you can have dinner with us? I can phone your parents.” Gail offered.
“Umm…do you think I’ll get sick if we hangout too long?” Rachel asked.
“Let’s just play it by ear hmm?” Gail said, welcoming the girl inside.
“Okay.” Stepping into the home, Rachel was about to start up the stairs towards Rachel’s room but Gail grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her away.
“She’s downstairs.” Gail said, releasing Rachel with an apologetic smile.
“Oh okay. What’s she doing down there?” Rachel asked curiously as she followed Gail to the stairs that lead down to the basement.
“The whole family thought it was best if Rachel didn’t return upstairs until she was feeling herself again.” said Gail. He stopped at the stairs and together, the two looked down into the dark passage. Was he really going to do this? His heart ached with the thought of running, away from what was sure to be a felony in the making, and one of the most definitive days of his life. The insecurity of the situation refused to blow over, and Gail was about to escort Rachel out of the house, when she made up his mind for him.
With the courage that Gail lacked, Rachel descended down the aged wooden steps first. Each step creaking under her sneaker clad feet, leading her further and further away from the light.
Ignoring the slowly increasing palpitations of his heart, Gail followed the young girl, holding onto the wooden rail that trailed along the stairs for support as he huffed his way down. His gun feeling heavier and heavier in its hiding spot with every step.
The basement was dimly lit with a single lightbulb that dangled from the ceiling, illuminating the entirety of items that never made it out of the damp underbelly of the house after the move. Centered underneath the lightbulb was a place to hangout, a television with a table in front of it, a couch, with a lazy boy to the side of that, and small bookshelf that housed an assortment of alcohol in addition to its given purpose. Alcohol that Clarissa Valentine was most certainly dipping into.
“Rachel darling! How are you?” Gail’s wife greeted the young girl from the couch with a glass of bourbon in hand. A thin woman, she was a drastic contrast to her husband.
He was fat, she was skinny.
She had long hair, he had none.
He wore glasses, she wore contacts.
“Hi Mrs. Valentine . I’m doing well.” Rachel waved. “Where’s Ashleigh?”
“She’s in the back room.” Gail said. He watched as the ginger haired girl’s eyes darted from watching I Love Lucy on the TV, to the red door behind the couch, almost shielded from view with miscellaneous cardboard boxes. He knew for a fact that the girls had always felt uncomfortable about this part of the house, so he wasn’t surprised at Rachel’s reaction.
They didn’t know who did it, only that the previous owners of the house had painted the door to the back room a brilliant shade of scarlet and Gail, being the lazy man he was, never bothered to change it. There was a sliding panel on the top of the door, which lead Gail to believe that this had been an interrogation room of some sort during the Civil War. He wouldn’t be surprised. After all, Point Pleasant was the location of the “First Battle of the American Revolutionary War”.
“I think she might be napping.” Clarissa said. She stood up and took Rachel by the hand, ignoring Gail all the while. He watched as his wife lead the girl to the red door, practically dragging the girl against her will. This was it, his last chance to say something, to stop this madness. Did he have the courage? He bit his lip as he slowly made his way across the basement and reached into the back of his jeans for his gun. He felt the cold metal for a moment, then thought against it and withdrew his hand.
He was disappointed in himself.
“Maybe I shouldn’t wake her?” Rachel asked.
“It’s fine.” Clarissa snapped. She urged the young girl towards the door, then gave Rachel a look that Gail recognized all too well. It was the look of the mistress of the house laying down the law.
Still clutching her notebook in her arms, Rachel reached out for the doorknob, also painted red, and opened the door. “Ashleigh?” She called into the room as she poked her head inside. Before Gail could say anything to stop her, Clarissa pushed Rachel into the room and slammed the door behind her, locking it shut.
“Mrs. Valentine ?! What’s going on?!” Rachel cried from the other side of the door. But Clarissa ignored the young girl’s pleas and began rapping on the red door with a stern knuckle.
“Ashleigh! Ashleigh darling! Wake up! Your dinner is ready!” Clarissa called out through the door. There was the sound of something stirring, then feet scrapping across the cold cement floor.
“Ashleigh? What’s going on? Are you okay?” Rachel could be heard saying. The panel of the red door slid open shortly after and Rachel’s emerald eyes came into view. “Mr. & Mrs. Valentine ! I think something's wrong with Ashleigh! Let us out!” She pleaded.
It was with tear filled eyes that Gail wrapped his arms around Clarissa, and watched the thin figure behind Rachel pull itself from the cot opposite the door. It stumbled towards Rachel, who turned just in time to see it wrap its arms around her.
“Rachel! It’s so good to see you…”
“Oh my god. Ash, what happened to you? What the…”
The ginger haired girl let out a shriek as she was slammed up against the door, and Ashleigh Valentine ’s visage came into the dim light. Her complexion was a pastey white, her face thin with sunken eyes that told the story of what she craved in life. As if answering this craving, her jaw dislocated from the norm as her teeth began to grow into fangs.
She sunk her newfound teeth into her bestfriend without a single qualm.
There was no sound as Rachel screamed, because Ashleigh’s first bite had crushed her larynx. But a gurgling noise could be heard, that reminded Gail of the way he garbled mouthwash in the morning.
“Mmmm Rachel! Who knew you tasted so…good?” Ashleigh growled with an inhuman voice. She disappeared from sight as she allowed Rachel to drop to the floor and jumped onto her.
Clarissa was about to turn away and return to the couch, but Gail refused her. “You made us do this. Look at what you made us do.” He said quietly.
They listened as Ashleigh began to dismember and eat Rachel. A symphony of wet noises filled the basement, with the occasional crunch of something being broken before it was wrenched from its socket. After a half an hour of this performance, with a few encores, the feasting noises subside and Ashleigh could be heard, leaning on the other side of the door. Her way of letting her parents know that she was done.
“H-how was it darling?” Clarissa asked. She gripped Gail’s hand for support as she spoke, and slowly ventured forth on timid joints.
“It was delicious mother. Can you let me out now?” Ashleigh asked.
“No, we can’t do that.” Gail said firmly.
“Why not? Don’t you love me?” Ashleigh asked slyly. Her voice was slippery, not her own. She didn’t talk in the way the Ashleigh he knew talked, it was with a forked tongue, like a devil. Taunting, with empty promises. It was…evil.
“Of course I do!” Gail said, he broke away from Clarissa, then took out his gun and pressed himself against the door in such a way that Ashleigh would not be able to see it. He heard Clarissa gasp from behind him, but he ignored her commentary.
He could see through the sliding panel now, the carnage that was Ashleigh’s dinner. Rachel, who was no more than a human rag doll, ripped into pieces. A headless torso that was missing an arm, one of her legs ripped off and laying beside her now vacant emerald eyes. Blood pooled around the cement floor in small puddles, along with tiny bits of flesh. When he finally caught wind of his daughter, he realized that she was holding Rachel’s missing arm and poking at it absentmindedly.
“I…I love you Ashleigh. But we can’t let you out. Ever.”
“Are you scared I’m going to hurt you Daddy?”
“Not just me sweetie…your mother…the neighbors…”
“I would never hurt you Daddy.”
Gail said nothing, and gripped the gun with heavy hands as he pressed his head against the red door. In his mind, there was no barrier between them. Rachel’s body was out of the picture, Ashleigh wasn’t covered in guts, and he wasn’t afraid to wrap his arms around his daughter. But his mind wasn’t reality.
“Maybe we should let her out. What’s the worse that could happen?” Clarissa insisted, now joining Gail at the door and tugging on his shirt. A clear plead for Gail to drop this idea.
“No!” Gail snapped. “We can’t let you out!”
“If you really loved me, you’d let me out.” Ashleigh hissed, raising her voice now. She slammed a fist against the red door, causing Gail to jump in surprise. “You’d let me out instead of keeping me locked up in here like a prisoner! And then I would be able to rip your heart out and eat it!” She shrieked, the playful facade gone and replaced with the demon she truly was.
“Let me out! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
In that moment, Gail thought of opening the door, he truly did.
Of releasing Ashleigh from her prison, before releasing Ashleigh from her prison. The gun in his hand almost begging him to free his daughter as much as she was. But he didn’t. Instead, he placed the gun on the floor and waited patiently for his daughter’s tantrum to subside. She shrieked and wailed for well over an hour before tiring herself out her voice hoarse and nonexistent. Clarissa, crying all the while.
Making sure she was passed out, Gail took a seat on the couch and stared off into space. Tried as he might, he couldn’t get that crunching sound of his ears. The sound of Ashleigh, snapping Rachel’s bones in her mouth and gnawing them in the manner of a household dog. It was unforgettable, almost as unforgettable as the wet sound that Ashleigh made whenever she chewed human flesh in her mouth.
“Do you want to do it? Or should I?” Clarissa asked as she took a seat next to Gail and began filling up her glass with more bourbon.
“…I’ll do it.” Gail said.
Calming his nerves, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his smartphone. He’d managed this call once before, surely he could do it again. Dialing in a number, he got up from the couch and started heaving his chubby frame up the stairs and out of the basement for better reception. It was when he finally made it into the living room that he could hear a dial tone, then someone answered.
“Hey Kaleb, it’s Gail Valentine ! I’m fine, how are you? I’m just letting you know that Rachel is going to stay for dinner…”
“Maybe we should let her out.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Gail shot his wife a dirty look, and shook his head as he tucked her into their bed. They were in their bedroom now. Clarissa was drained from the day’s ordeal and had had one too many to drink, her face flushed from her constant abuse of the bottle of bourbon which was now laying empty in the kitchen trash can.
“We went with your plan today and look what happened.”
“We fed her didn’t we?” Clarissa slurred.
“And what are going to do when Kaleb comes looking for Rachel?” Gail asked.
“Maybe we can feed him to her too?” Clarissa suggested.
“No! No more…feeding her. This needs to stop Clarissa. She’s…”
“What? Don’t you love her?” Clarissa mumbled as her eyes began to droop.
“Just get some rest.” Gail said. He kissed her on the forehead, then sat at the edge of the bed and stared off into space once more. In his mind, Ashleigh was no longer in the basement but down the hallway in her own room, giggling to Rachel over the phone about some boy at school, his love for his daughter was not questioned and his gun wasn’t out of its hiding spot in his dresser drawer.
Did he dare do it? No…Clarissa would never forgive him. But it was the right thing to do. Wasn’t it? After all, that monster down in the basement. It wasn’t his daughter, not anymore. It wasn’t Ashleigh.
Bidding the master bedroom farewell to the sound of Clarissa’s snoring, Gail shut the door behind him and made his way down the stairs. He stood in the kitchen for a moment, weighing his next move in his mind before he grabbed a knife and walked over to the stairs that lead to the basement. He did not hesitate before starting down the wooden steps that lead into the dark abyss this time.
The dim light was still on in the basement, but more importantly, the gun was still laying by the red door. Listening intently, he could make out Ashleigh’s breathing. She was awake again.
“Daddy? Is that you?” She called out from beyond the door.
“Yes, it’s me.” Gail said as he slowly made his way over to the gun and picked it up.
“I’m sorry about earlier Daddy.” She cooed, her voice still hoarse from her tantrum.
“It’s okay sweetie.” Gail said as he looked through the sliding panel of the red door, and met Ashleigh with loving eyes. “I know it’s not you…not really.”
“I…I’m sorry Daddy.” She began to sob, tears running down her filth covered face. “I just want this to…I want this to end.”
“I know.” Gail said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Cocking the gun, Gail pointed it through sliding panel and aimed it at the sobbing girl. His finger rubbed against the trigger longingly as he stared at his target. “I’m sorry baby.” He whispered. His hands began to shake vigorously, and his vision was slowly starting to go blurry from the tears that were welling up in his eyes. This had to be true love, he was almost certain of it. It was a mercy, one that Ashleigh deserved.
“I’M SORRY!” He cried.
He pulled the trigger, the gunshot ringing out into the basement walls, the smell of lead graced the air. Then he pulled the gun from the panel, and he shed tears of disappointment. The gun fell from his hands, clattering to the floor and he pressed his head against the red door as his weakness stabbed him in the heart.
“I’m sorry baby…I’m sorry…” He whispered.
“It’s okay Daddy.” Ashleigh whispered \back from beyond the door.
“I just…I just can’t do it. I love you…I really do, but I’m not strong enough.”
“I can do it.”
Gail’s chest ached at these words, and he wiped the tears from his eyes. “No, baby. I could never ask you to…” He shook his head. Was that the answer? Would that save his soul from the depths of Hell? If she killed herself instead? What kind of father would he be if he let her?
“No…baby…there has to be some other way…”
“I can do it Daddy, I’m not a baby anymore.”
Those words sunk an invisible arrow through Gail’s heart, and it was with that wound that he slumped against the red door. He was past tears now, or sadness for that matter. Stuck in a strange land of emotions he didn’t recognize or understand.
He was broken.
And so he took the gun from the floor, offering it through the sliding panel.
“Thank you Daddy.” Ashleigh said. “You don’t have to watch if you don’t…”
Gail nodded with pleading eyes, and he watched as Ashleigh closed the sliding panel. He instantly regretted his decision to relinquish the firearm to his daughter as soon as her blood covered face disappeared from sight. But there was nothing he could do now, and so he waited for the gun shot with baited breath, hoping that…
The shot rung throughout the basement, which was followed by a silence.
It wrapped around Gail, begging him to ignore the shot that was still ringing through his ears.
“ASHLEIGH!” He cried out, fumbling with the lock on the red door as he hurried to open it. To hold the body of his daughter in her last moments. He wrenched the door and raced into the room, stumbling over Rachel’s torso as he did so and falling into a mess of blood and guts. Getting to his elbows, he scanned the room for Ashleigh…
But she was nowhere to be found.
A sinister laughter began to fill the room, and Gail looked up to find its source. Ashleigh, who was upside down on the ceiling like a human spider. On clawed hands, she scurried down from the ceiling, in a way that just didn’t sit right with Gail’s stomach. It made him sick.
“Ashleigh?” He croaked as he searched around blindly for his gun but couldn’t find it, he didn’t dare take his eyes off her. Not for a second.
“Looks like you fell for it Daddy, and now I’m free.”
With sunken eyes, Ashleigh watched him as her jaw dislocated from its norm, and fangs, those horrible fangs grew from her gums. Her stomach split open as jagged teeth sliced their way through her skin from beneath her ribcage and above her pelvis, forming a deformed mouth in her midsection. It gnashed its teeth together hungrily, the sound of it creating a lump of despair in Gail’s throat.
“Ashleigh, please…I love you.”
“I know.” Ashleigh said as she got on all fours and crawled towards Gail in that spider like way that irked him so. Redoubling his efforts to find his gun, Gail searched blindly for the weapon, but it wasn’t until Ashleigh was on him that he felt the cold metal. By then, it was already too late.
“I love you too Daddy.”