The Horror of the High Wind House
Officers McCabe and Smythe sat in their patrol car. They were familiar enough with each other to be comfortable with silence. McCabe, a wannabe foodie, enjoyed the last of his wife’s ravioli. Smythe, a self-styled intellectual, looked out across the windshield. He focused on a random spot in the inky black horizon. He stared at nothing in particular, just like he had been trained to do so many years ago in boot camp.
The radio call interrupted both men.
“You boys win the prize call of the night. Possible break-in at 415 North Shore Drive. Don’t keep the little lady waiting.”
Sergeant Hetzel never bothered with formalities when making radio calls. Everyone knew he was close to retirement, so they gave up trying to correct him.
“10-4. We are en-route. ETA in six minutes.”
McCabe snickered at the unnecessary professionalism of his older colleague.
“Hey, someone has to do it right around here,” Smythe said.
“Nobody has done a damn thing right on this island for hundreds of years,” McCabe said with finality.
The black and white patrol car made a series of small turns before finding the flat dirt road that led to 415 North Shore Drive. The house stood alone, flanked by a parking lot.
The caller stood outside of the house in her all-white pajamas. Her disheveled hair and lack of footwear made both officers understand that this was a serious call—a call made during a panic.
“Please, help. I think somebody is in my house.”
“Where are they?” McCabe asked with a sense of urgency.
“I think down in the basement.”
“You ‘think’ or do you know for sure?”
“I don’t know. I hear weird stuff every night, but this time it was so loud and scary. Please! I really think there’s a prowler down there.”
“Okay, just calm down. We’ll go take a look. You can stay here or sit in the car if you prefer.”
The woman just stood there and continued to shake. Smythe, the senior man, took point. He and McCabe moved through the house slowly, making sure to clear every room they saw. Given that the house was a massive edifice and full of rooms, closets, and off-kilter alcoves, this took quite a long time. When they were finally done, both men were damp with perspiration.
“I don’t think anyone is in here,” McCabe said.
“We still gotta check the basement,” Smythe added.
McCabe moaned and complained about the size of the house – four stories tall with several apartments on each floor. He also noted how dark it was inside, the overhead lighting failing to illuminate the many deep patches of gloom.
“You know what this place was, right?”
McCabe shook his head.
“Used to be an insane asylum at the turn of the last century. Back then they thought lobotomies and icepicks worked to unscramble sick brains. From what I heard, they turned out a lot of vegetables in the years the place was open. Also abused kids and female patients. One guy, I don’t remember what his name was, was known all across the island as Dr. Satan. Crazy, right?”
“So how did a home for lunatics come to be the home of some mainlander?”
McCabe, a lifelong islander, used the derogative term for those from outside of the island. It was obvious that the frightened tenant wasn’t a pure local given her lack of the distinctive island brogue.
“Well, first they tried to turn it into a regular hospital. Then, when I was growing up, it was a home for unwed mothers. Back in those days it was shameful to have a baby out-of-wedlock, so wealthy families from Prince Frederick or Leonardtown would hole up their wayward daughters here until they gave birth. Then the unwanted baby would be put up for adoption in Baltimore or D.C. When that fizzled out, I guess they turned it into apartments.”
“And she lives here all alone? Pretty nuts.”
“Yeah, I agree. Maybe it was her cheapest option. I wouldn’t live here, that’s for sure. The guy that trained me, the late, great Captain Brock, hated this place with a passion. Called it the ‘High Wind House’ because of all the false alarm calls they used to get out here. Nurses and others would call about prowlers or burglars, but Captain Brock always said the true culprit was the high winds coming off the Chesapeake.”
“Any other spooky tales you want to tell me before we finally go down into the basement?”
“The only other thing I ever heard about this place was so ridiculous that Mrs. Lewis gave me a D- on a class project for repeating it. The guy who built the first home on the island lived right here. His name was Lord Insoll. An English Catholic and a friend of the Calvert family. Came to the island and built a plantation in the 1660s. He got rich fast, then just as suddenly the locals burned down his house and drove him back to England.”
“What did ye ole Lord Insoll do?”
“Stories say he was a tyrannical master to his slaves. Kept them chained up in his cellar. Starved and tortured them for his own sadistic pleasure. May have even been a local rapist, ravaging black and white women alike. Sixth grade me did not focus on that though, but rather on the legend that Lord Insoll was a psychotic war vet who had laid waste to most of Bohemia and Germany during some religious war. His best friend and partner-in-crime was a fallen Catholic priest who cursed him after some double dealing involving property, a castle along the Rhine. Supposedly turned Lord Insoll into a werewolf. Would go a long way toward explaining why we have so many damn dog attacks here.”
Smythe laughed at the absurdity, but McCabe didn’t. The island did suffer from particularly vicious dogs, after all. Just last week, he’d responded to a call concerning an elderly woman who’d nearly had her leg torn off by a pack of feral hounds in the woods.
“Alright. Enough campfire stories. Let’s clear the basement and go home. We’ve earn our money tonight, partner.”
Smythe took point again and led McCabe down to the first floor, past the entrance, and past the tiled kitchen. In a tight hallway, on the right-hand side, stood a black door. It had not been painted black, but had rather turned black over time due to mold, rust, and peeling white paint. It smelled dank like an ancient root cellar. Both officers scrunched up their noses in disgust.
“God,” McCabe said, “I hope the rest of the basement doesn’t smell like this.”
“It probably does,” Smythe chuckled, slowly prying open the door.
Cautiously they descended into the cavernous space on steps that were nearly rotted through. The immense size of the basement bothered both men. Each corner turned at a sharp angle. There were many empty rooms, small, forgotten cells all covered in dust. Without speaking to each other, both men realized that some of the more dangerous inmates must have served time down here in solitary confinement.
Following the beams of their flashlights, McCabe and Smythe finally came to the end of the basement. Another blackened door. This one opened up into an expansive room with high brick walls. For some inexplicable reason, the concrete floor was colder here than anywhere else.
“Check out the walls. They’re leaking.”
Smythe pointed his flashlight at the rivulets of liquid coming from the crevices in the masonry. At first it appeared to be simple water, but after smelling a sample which made him gag, he feared that it was some kind of sewage.
“Remember to wash your hands before we leave, you sicko,” McCabe said.
“The crap is in my nose now. God, it smells so awful. What does that lady eat?”
“That is powerful stuff, man. I can smell it too.”
Both officers erupted into coughing fits. McCabe used his forearm to shove Smythe away. He warned him to keep that rotten water all to himself, but the stench only grew stronger all around them.
Through wet eyes, Smythe noticed the odd patch darkness in the far corner of the room. Somehow it appeared even blacker than the unlit room itself, and even darker than the starless night outside.
“Hey McCabe. Look right there.”
McCabe followed his partner’s finger.
“You see that, right?”
Rather than reply, McCabe raised his pistol and shouted “This is the police!” in the direction of the black mass. Smythe raised his own gun as well, but there was no response.
Then, without warning, all ambient noise ceased. The silence was the opposite of calming. At the same time, the intensity of the awful stench grew inside their noses, forcing Smythe to double over and retch. McCabe steadied himself by leaning against the nearest wall.
As they tried to compose themselves, the strange black mass seemed to draw nearer. It moved as if animated by some elemental force — neither animal nor human. When McCabe and Smythe looked up, they watched in horror as the mass began to expand and swallow up everything before them, the spreading darkness threatening to envelope both men.
Bright flecks of crimson light appeared within the black mass, serving as a backlight to the deep darkness of its indefinable shape. Both men saw different things within it.
Smythe saw a series of endless gateways – large, hoary arches framing cyclopean scenes that reminded him of ancient churchyards. He remained transfixed as they projected toward him, replaying the same scenes over over and again. The more he focused on the images, the more he felt convinced that the infinite sea of arches was as real as anything he’d seen.
What McCabe saw was far more personal – a mass of festering black worms and maggots feasting on a woman’s corpse. It looked like his wife, although Miranda McCabe’s perpetual smile had been replaced by a ragged gash of yellowed teeth and putrid flesh. With each bite, the vermin grew bigger and blacker.
He tried to kill the awful image from his mind by unloading his magazine into it. Smythe swiftly followed suit. The crack and boom of their .40-caliber rounds sounded like an artillery barrage within the cloying space.
Their shots had no effect, and the mass continued its advance. The atrocious stench worsened as well, prompting McCabe’s typically iron stomach to empty out its contents in a hemorrhagic flood. Both officers were forced to their knees in semi supplication. Their sweat, tears, vomit, and noseblood commingled on the cold concrete in a palette of sheer horror.
Without thinking, Smythe reached into his uniform and down past his white undershirt. He grabbed hold of his small golden crucifix, tore off the entire necklace, and desperately flung it at the unholy black mass.
And with that, the oppression suddenly ceased. The room remained as dark as before, but the mass of vast blackness had evaporated instantly.
“What the hell was that?” McCabe asked.
“I think exactly what you just said. Hell.”
“What was that you threw at it?”
Rather than answer, Smythe stood up, balanced himself, and slowly staggered out of the room. McCabe followed after him. The men kept quiet as they doubled back through the basement and up the rotten stairs. The first to break the silence, Smythe, only spoke after theyd made it outside of the house entirely.
“A crucifix. I threw my cross at it.”
“It was…evil?” McCabe asked.
“Who knows? But the trick seemed to work.”
The younger man drank in the cool night air, while Smythe took a seat on the porch steps, slowly pulling himself together. The joy of making it out of the basement alive was written on both of their faces. But McCabe’s face turned sour just as quickly when he realized something else.
“Wait, where’s the tenant?”
“The tenant? Where’d she go?”
The woman was nowhere in sight.
“C’mon, she couldn’t have gone far. We have to go and find her.”
The officers piled in their cruiser and hit the gas.
Neither bothered to ask where they were going. Smythe drove down the dirt road and back out onto High Street, the main thoroughfare on the island. They paid no mind to the low fog that had presently begun to accumulate on the road before them. They were far too concerned with finding the missing tenant, wherever she’d run off to.
They found the night strangely empty. Even High Street, home to several townie bars with their own booze king regulars, was devoid of all life. Even the streetlights glowed dimmer than usual. It was so unsettling that McCabe pulled up the cruiser’s shotgun from the center console and cradled it in his arms like the world’s most dangerous toddler. Smythe busied himself with the radio. He called several times for Sergeant Hetzel, receiving no reply.
Again, just as in the basement of the High Wind House, a deep, despairing silence suddenly filled the cruiser. Smythe tried the radio again but found only static. As the car slowly crawled to a halt, the two men observed their increasingly darkening surroundings. Mere moments passed before the jittery McCabe couldn’t take it anymore, stepping right out into the thick of it.
“Hello! Is there anyone out there? We’re searching for a missing woman!”
Nobody answered McCabe. Smythe stayed put in the car, giving him an eye-level view of the fog all around them. It grew in height and density as McCabe continued his pointless calls for help. Smythe watched in horror as the grayness slowly faded into black. The old familiar fog, a daily presence on the island, now seemed a menacing miasma.
Meanwhile, Smythe had lost McCabe up ahead, but he could still hear him calling out for help. He exited the cruiser with his pistol raised and a fresh magazine in place. Using McCabe’s voice as a guide, he began moving parallel with his partner, following him into the darkness as well.
McCabe’s use of Smythe’s first name came as an obvious warning that something was very wrong.
“I think there’s something out there, but I can’t quite see what it is.”
“What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a person. Maybe it’s the tenant.”
“Or maybe it’s that thing from the basement.”
“I was just thinking that. You got another cross?”
“So what do we do?” McCabe asked.
“We move onward,” Smythe replied. “It’s really all we can do.”
“Okay. Slow and steady now, alright?”
Gingerly they began to walk forward, as if the ground beneath them were as fragile as ice. Occasionally, one or the other would catch something familiar deep within the fog. The light of the Sunoco station sign. The faint rattle of the ice machine outside of the Island Getaway Motel. The two of them walked for what felt like hours, seeking what it was they could not find.
Then came the sound of the wind. An ominous, dull roar that stopped them both dead in their tracks. McCabe racked his shotgun and gulped.
“What was that?” he whispered.
“Listen!” Smythe hissed in response.
The sound of the wind grew stronger and stronger until it resembled a pack of howling dogs. And yet, the cool night air remained just as calm as could be. Somehow, the noise seemed to be coming from within the fog itself.
Strange shapes began to materialize in the darkness, canine forms melting into existence before their very eyes. Both men lost their last strands of sanity before the first fangs were even bared.