An exclusive excerpt of Stina Leicht’s brilliant haunted house story, FORGIVENESS IS WARM LIKE A TEAR ON THE CHEEK, from EVIL IN TECHNICOLOR! (Coming soon on October 1, 2020!)
Secretive and brooding, Maufrais House squatted atop the hill like a toad within the grove of live oak trees . At night, its windows flickered sickly yellow. Black wrought iron spikes topped the limestone walls ringing the property and its accompanying family cemetery plot . A thirteen-acre parcel of undeveloped land was an unusual feature in Austin—particularly given that it was three blocks east of South Congress Avenue . Like most urban areas, the surrounding neighborhood had seen more diverse, if difficult, times. Many of the original houses—once great Gilded Age ladies—had been condemned and replaced with cheap apartment buildings . The architectural survivors bore the scars of gentrification as ill-conceived renovations . Maufrais was the only exception . An imposing three-story Victorian, it appeared to sneer down at its more fortunate neighbors in semi-derelict defiance.
The house’s history was unclear for the most part . However, in 1974, a mentally unstable man broke in and set fire to it, claiming someone inside had possessed him . No evidence of a resident was found . The unfortunate man was taken to Shoal Creek mental hospital for treatment. It wasn’t the first time the house had weathered arson .
When located, the absent owners declined to press charges . Soon a swarm of contractors affected repairs . The house began to look whole again . Ten months later, a moving van slowly worked its way up the steep drive and disgorged furnishings . In a vacuum of information, the neighbors speculated for weeks about who would move in . More time passed . Then late one October evening a long black vehicle eased through the iron gate . The next day, the car was still parked in the drive . Like dead men, its heavily tinted windows told no tales .
Again the neighborhood waited, curious . Still, no one emerged to introduce themselves . The only evidence the building was occupied were specters of light in the windows and outside . Every evening at seven o’clock a blue bulb on the back porch snapped on . Sometimes, distant music—a piano or a woman singing haunted the breeze .
With little ammunition for fresh rumors, the community soon went on about the business of living, working, and dying . Maufrais House became invisible in the way a discarded toy is unseen in an untidy child’s bedroom .
Thus, the house and its mysterious tenants were left to dream their dark dreams in peace .
“Screw you and your stupid band!” Andi hurled her beer bottle across the DIY sound-proofed garage . Glass exploded against the wall just missing Jason’s new Gibson in its stand . “I quit!”
Jason edged in front of the instrument in case of a second barrage . He knew it was a mistake the instant he said it . “You can’t quit .”
Andi whirled, shoving an accusing finger in his face. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”
Little Sister’s drummer, Bud, muttered he needed something from the van and disappeared to the kick-drum beat of a slamming door . Penny, the bass player, rescued her Les Paul before making her own hasty retreat .
“South By Southwest is only a month away . Label reps will be there,” Jason said in an attempt to direct Andi’s attention to what was important . Even he could detect the pleading tone in his voice .
“No more fucking freebies!” Andi said . She punctuated each word with a poke in his chest .
Certain her sharp nails had left a mark, he backed up in an effort to de-escalate the situation . “You know the deal . Andre let’s us practice here . In exchange, we play free gigs . It’s a college birthday party . Big Bad Wolf flaked.”
“I don’t give a shit!” Andi flipped her blond dreadlocks and snatched her leather jacket from the old couch in the corner . “Get yourself another girlfriend and lead singer, limp dick.” She flipped him off as she stomped out in a fog of Black Phoenix perfume .
He told himself her leaving again was a good thing—that he’d grown tired of the constant renegotiations . He hoped she’d be gone when he got home . She usually was after one of her tantrums .
You’re no prize yourself, he thought . You get that, right?
Fishing his phone from his back pocket, he started to dial her cell to ask for his key back . That’d end it for sure . But as he watched the beer ooze down the cinder-block wall he reconsidered .
“Well, that went over like the proverbial lead floating thing,” Penny said, venturing a cautious return like a campus shooter threat evacuee after the all clear was given . With a relieved sigh, she threw herself onto the sofa and then cradled her bass in her lap . “What are we going to do about tomorrow night?”
“You can sing.” Bud flopped down next to her. “You’ve a great voice .”
“I can’t .” Penny bit her lip and focused on her bass . “I won’t .”
Her black Theda Bera bob was now an unnatural shade of cotton candy pink blond. She had intense brown eyes that tended to wrinkle at the corners when she laughed . Short with a slim build, her bass made her look like a waif on stage . Often people—Male people, Jason corrected himself—let that first impression form their assessments of her skills . They were dead wrong, of course . She was a talented bassist, a whirlwind of energy . Raised Roman Catholic, she was uncomfortable with compliments, but Jason often compared her to Flea behind her back. She handled a fiddle with equal skill, having started lessons when she was three . She had a wonderful, clear singing voice too . Unfortunately, she refused to front . It was as if she needed her bass to shield herself from the audience .
Jason had known her for two years and still didn’t understand why she wasn’t with a better band . Don’t be stupid. You know why .
Nonetheless, it was good for the band that she wasn’t . If she left, that’d be the end . Andre, Penny’s uncle, only supported them because of her . Her family was full of savvy bohemians and musicians who supported themselves via real estate . They owned property all over central Austin, including the free practice space .
On the other end of the spectrum, Jason had known Bud since the ninth grade . They’d had many misadventures, starting with sitting detention for causing the emergency evacuation of Mrs . Brennan’s fourth period chemistry class—due to a couple of tubes of molten sulfur deposited in the wrong trash can .
“We’ll find a sub.” Jason began packing his gear. It was late.
The subject of himself or Bud fronting wasn’t broached . Little Sister always had a female lead and always would .
“In less than twenty-four hours?” Bud asked . “Come on, man . No way . We’re screwed .”
“Come on . Give her a shot,” Bud said.