TV star Laird Wakefield died after a motorcycle accident--or so it was announced to the news outlets by his doctors. Not true. With his face horribly scarred, he has gone into total seclusion, living in what the townspeople call "the haunted mansion on the hill" for the past five years.
But that is about to change. On a dare from his brother, twenty-three-year-old Dev Pierson breaks into the mansion's basement. When Laird catches him in the act, Dev is terrified at first when he sees Laird's face and Rage, Laird's huge guard dog. Much to Dev's surprise, after he explains why he's there, Laird invites him upstairs for a drink.
Slowly, a friendship develops between the two men. Then the question becomes, can Dev convince Laird to face his fears and end his reclusive existence? And if he makes the attempt, will Laird survive emotionally?
A scream echoed through the mansion.
Devin heard it and froze in the dark of the basement, praying he wouldn't be found. There were stories about the place, about the thing that lived there--half human, half beast, or so it was said. He hadn't believed them until this moment. Even now, he wasn't certain he did.
It could be kids fooling around. Or...or someone exploring, like me, and maybe falling down the stairs. I should go see. What if they're...dead? Or dying?
He'd come to the mansion after work Tuesday night on a dare from his older brother, Alex. Sibling rivalry, even though they were twenty-three and twenty-four respectively. It had always been like that between them; the "Can you top this?" challenges.
Alex had been in town two weeks before for a three-day visit. When they'd driven through the neighborhood housing the mansion on the hill, Dev had told him the rumors he'd heard about it. Alex had immediately asked if Dev had checked it out.
"No way," Dev replied.
Alex grinned. "Scared?"
"No," Dev protested. "I'm not into breaking and entering."
"No one lives there, you said, other than some fairytale monster--as if--so that makes you a chicken."
"Damn, Alex, grow up. Would you go in there?"
Alex had thought about it, looking up at the imposing structure. Then he'd shook his head. "Nope. But I dare you to."
That had been it, not that Dev had immediately taken him up on the challenge, despite Alex's teasing taunts, during the rest of his visit, that Dev was afraid of the place. He wasn't, not really. He just had other things to keep him busy, between work and entertaining his brother. Alex had left, and Dev had figured that was the end of it. Still, his interest had been piqued, and when Alex sent him several emails about how he'd chickened out on the dare, Dev had decided what the hell.
There's probably no way I can get in there, anyway, without setting off alarms. The place has to have security up the wazoo. Then I can tell Alex I tried and that will be the end of it.
Fortunately--or unfortunately, he wasn't sure which--getting inside the mansion hadn't been a problem. After climbing a tree by the brick wall surrounding the yard then dropping to the ground, he'd begun creeping around the exterior looking for light shining through any of the windows. He was halfway around when he realized they were all covered with drapes. If anyone is in there, I wouldn't know it. That gave him pause, but a dare was a dare and he wasn't about to flake out and have Alex taunt him for the rest of his life about backing down, so he'd jimmied opened a basement window, expecting alarms to go off, giving him an excuse to leave--fast. That hadn't happened. Taking a deep breath, he'd climbed through, dropping to the floor quietly on sneaker-shod feet.
The room in the basement was dark, the only light coming from the almost-full moon shining through the windows behind him and the dim glow through the open door at the top of a flight of stairs that he could barely see at the far side of the room. Cautiously he'd started toward them, avoiding a large workbench on the way.
Laird stood in the pantry at the top of the basement stairs, smiling maliciously. His left hand rested on Rage's huge head. In his right hand, he held a small recorder. If that doesn't send whoever's down there running...
He listened for the sound of retreating footsteps, muttering invectives under his breath when, instead, they came closer. He pushed the button on the recorder again and an ear-piercing scream echoed through the pantry and down the stairs. He heard a gasp of fear.
Go. Whoever you are. You're not wanted here.
A moment later, the sound of someone hastily heading toward the basement windows made him smile with relief. Tell all your friends you heard someone being attacked. That should keep up the mythos that my home is haunted, if that's the tale at the moment.
He knew there was a chance that whoever it was might call the police. That didn't bother him in the least. The police knew he lived in the mansion and that he used Rage or sound effects to scare away any trespassers. Of course, it had taken a couple of visits by patrol officers back when he'd first moved in before they were convinced he was quite capable of handling things on his own.
One look at Rage--and at my face--and the officers knew anyone who dared enter the house would leave like the devil was after them, without help.
He started to return to his library, where he'd been deeply engrossed in the book he'd been reading before Rage's demeanor had alerted him to the trespasser. Now, a low growl from Rage stopped him. Signaling for the dog to be quiet, Laird listened.
Our intrepid explorer seems to have changed his mind about leaving.
"Stay," Laird ordered Rage under his breath. The dog froze, ready to attack if ordered to. Laird moved to the top of the stairs.