Mrs. Clayton

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A memory of childhood, and the mystery of Mrs. Clayton.

Submitted: August 26, 2013

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Submitted: August 26, 2013

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The first time I met Mrs. Clayton I was too young to even remember. She had been our neighbor for years before I was born and was close friends with my parents. By the time I was old enough to start walking I knew Mrs. Clayton as a kind of surrogate grandmother. She was kind and loving towards me, and her soft, grey hair smelled faintly of cinnamon, and she always called me sweetie. We had no other relatives living near us, so when I needed a baby sitter it was almost always Mrs. Clayton my parents turned to. As I got older I grew to look forward to my nights with Mrs. Clayton. She seemed to always have just the right toys for me to play with and her television always seemed to be playing the best shows.

And so I grew up happy and healthy. Between my parents and Mrs. Clayton I never wanted for anything unless there was a very good reason for it. About when I turned five I started wandering over to Mrs. Clayton’s house on my own sometimes. She never minded. Whenever I showed up she would smile and scoop me up and call my parents to let them know she had a visitor. By the time I was seven, visiting Mrs. Clayton was just my routine. Some days I would even go straight to her house after school instead of heading home. I don’t know how she did it, but on those days she always seemed to be bringing a freshly baked sheet of cookies out of the oven just as I arrived.

About three months after my tenth birthday my parents won a trip for two to a music festival in another state from a local radio station. I remember Mrs. Clayton didn’t want them to go, something about it not being fair to me, but ultimately she relented and agreed to take care of me for a week until they got back. I didn’t mind. I was rather looking forward to spending a week with Mrs. Clayton. And so with great anticipation I packed my things for my week away from home. I’d never done anything like this before. Even family vacations were rarely more than a few days. When the day finally arrived, a warm, glorious summer day, I happily hugged my parents goodbye and marched right on over to Mrs. Clayton’s house. I rang the doorbell and waited. After a moment, Mrs. Clayton opened the door and stepped aside to let me in. I started happily on my way to the kitchen, expecting that Mrs. Clayton would have cookies for me, but she stopped me abruptly. The cookies weren’t ready yet, and why don’t I go up to my room and get unpacked. I was old enough by far to understand that the world didn’t revolve around me, so I didn’t think anything of it. I just followed her lead to my room and unpacked. Mrs. Clayton called up the stairs that I should watch TV for a bit, that she had some things she needed to take care of that couldn’t be avoided.

For some reason it had never occurred to me before to think about what Mrs. Clayton might do for a living, but I knew it must be something she did from home, so I listened to her and watched TV for awhile. After maybe an hour she called down to me that cookies were ready. The first thing I noticed when I entered the kitchen was that it didn’t smell like chocolate chip cookies. Certainly that smell was there, and there was the cinnamon smell that was so characteristic of her and her house, but there was a third scent in the mix that my ten year old olfactory senses had never encountered before. I now know it was sulfur.

As always Mrs. Clayton’s cookies were delicious, so I didn’t worry much about the smell. It dissipated very quickly and after we had spent some time sitting in the living room playing Mancalla and watching Ferngully: The Last Rainforest I had forgotten all about it. That night was the first one I had spent at Mrs. Clayton’s house. Prior to this, my parents had always been coming home so Mrs. Clayton would put me to bed and wait up for my parents to get home. I had a tough time falling asleep that night. The sounds of Mrs. Clayton’s house were very unlike the sounds my house made. The worst was the rattling sound that seemed to come from below me, but everything was different, so I rationalized my nerves away and eventually fell asleep. The next morning I awoke to the sweet smell of homemade apple pie wafting up the stairs. Mrs. Clayton made me brush my teeth and take a shower and eat breakfast before I was allowed any pie. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten ready faster in the morning. Once the rushing was done and we were sitting around the table eating a mid morning snack of apple pie and vanilla ice cream I asked her about the clanking noise I had heard the night before. Mrs. Clayton frowned at me. This was another first. I didn’t even think Mrs. Clayton knew how to frown. She muttered something about this being a terrible idea. Then she told me that her hot water heater could seem really loud in the night. It was starting to go bad, and when she first heard it she thought it sounded like chains rattling. She told me she was supposed to have a repairman coming later in the week to fix it and that was that.

A little after lunch she asked me to go to my room again. Just after I got there, I heard her doorbell ring. Being an inquisitive youth I snuck ever so silently over to the stairs to see who was coming to visit. She opened the door and let in a younger gentleman wearing a very nice suit. She took him into the kitchen and I heard a heavy scraping noise, as though they were moving furniture around. I thought it odd, but I ended up going back to my room and watching Tom and Jerry instead of thinking about it. An hour and a half later I heard the scraping sound again followed by footsteps and the sounds of the man leaving.

Mrs. Clayton called me down. As I walked down the stairs I noticed once again the scent of cinnamon mingling with the same unpleasant smell as before. Mrs. Clayton told me we were going to go grocery shopping and if I was helpful she’d get me some ice cream on the way home. I was helpful and again quickly forgot about the unpleasant smell coming from the kitchen. Than night Mrs. Clayton reminded me that the rattling sound was just the hot water heater acting up and that it was nothing to worry about. She pulled out an ancient baby monitor and told me that if I was scared all I needed to do was call into that and she’d come right over and make sure everything was okay. I slept well that night.

The next few days passed in very much the same way. By the fifth day I was really starting to notice the unpleasant smell wafting up from the kitchen and I couldn’t ignore it any more. Eventually I asked Mrs. Clayton about it, and she told me it was just the hot water heater. Soon it would be fixed and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. In the meantime, the cinnamon smell got stronger too. I never asked her about the cinnamon.

Around that same time I discovered the wonders of Mrs. Clayton’s library. When I was younger books hadn’t held much of a fascination for me, but now I was getting older and I couldn’t get enough of them. Around lunch time when she asked me to go upstairs I asked her if I could go to her library instead. She frowned again, but said it would be fine. So I spent the next two hours looking through Mrs. Clayton’s collection. Most of the books were the kinds of things you would expect a little old lady to have, but a few of them were in Latin, Greek, Arabic, Japanese, and a couple of languages I still can’t place to this day. I was most fascinated by these. I obviously couldn’t read a word of them, but the unfamiliarity of the words and the grotesque pictures that filled them were fascinating to me. I’d never seen an adult picture book before, and I imagined all kinds of stories that might have been hidden in the drawings of monsters that filled her books. I don’t know the titles of those books or what any of their contents were, and I don’t care to.

When Mrs. Clayton was done with her guest she hollered for me, but I was engrossed in the pictures of a particularly scary Japanese book and didn’t hear her. When she came upstairs and saw what I had she yelled at me. She told me that those were not books for small children and that I was going to give myself nightmares. I was ten, so I was past the point where I cried all the time, but to be yelled at by Mrs. Clayton was just too much. I dropped the book and started sobbing. Mrs. Clayton came over and patted my head and told me she was sorry. She put the books carefully back on the shelf and brought me outside to the car. She said she didn’t mean to yell at me, but that those books were valuable and she was afraid I would damage them or that they would frighten me. She bought me ice cream again and a small toy and talked to me soothingly. All was forgiven.

That night Mrs. Clayton gave me the wrong end of the baby monitor. Sometime well after I had fallen asleep to the rattling of the hot water heater I was awoken by a shrieking noise coming from the baby monitor. It was followed by a rasping, deathly deep voice. I’ll never forget the way that horrible voice sounded. In some ways it reminded me of insects buzzing and in other ways it was more like rocks grinding against steel. It was not a human voice. “The time draws near. The stars are aligning. Be ready for our return.” After it said that it paused for a moment. “We are being heard. Fool of a woman, it can hear us!” There was another shriek and it was gone. I lay under my blankets cowering for a few minutes before I started screaming “Mrs. Clayton! Mrs. Clayton!” Within seconds she was in my room, her familiar comforting voice telling me it was all just a bad dream. She left and returned with a warm glass of milk and sat with me until I fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning the microphone end of the baby monitor was sitting on my night stand.

The smell in the house was intense. Mrs. Clayton quickly got me ready and told me we were going out for breakfast because she had a lot to do that day. She had some very important guests coming tomorrow and she needed to make sure things were ready. I was reminded of my dream from the previous night, but decided against mentioning it. I remember that day being a lot of fun. We went out to eat for every meal and we went to all of my favorite places in town. In between we stopped at florists and grocery stores and all manner of other places picking up odds and ends for Mrs. Clayton’s guests. When it started getting late, Mrs. Clayton told me that the mechanic had called her while I was playing a game in the arcade and told her that there was a gas leak in her house, coming from the water heater, and it wasn’t safe to go back yet. So we would be staying at my house that night. I was very relieved. I was still badly shaken by my dream of the night before. We got back to my house and watched TV for awhile. We played a few games of war and Mrs. Clayton patted me on the head and brought me up to bed. After she tucked me in, she took a necklace from around her neck and placed it on my night stand. “I want you to have this now sweety. It brought me luck, and I’m sure it will do the same for you. If you need me, as long as you have this, I’ll be there.”

She bent down and kissed me on the forehead, the smell of cinnamon and sulfur blanketing me in a comfortable warmth. There was a bright flash of light from outside my window. She looked up at it. “Ah, they’re here earlier than I expected. You’d best put this on now.” She slipped the necklace over my head so that it was resting against my chest. The light from her house grew brighter and the necklace got hot and began to burn, but I couldn’t move. She told me not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. She said “I love you sweetie,” and walked away.

I never saw Mrs. Clayton again. The official story was that her house had exploded. They found a body, charred beyond recognition, in the basement of the house. I insisted Mrs. Clayton was with me when it happened, and that the ancient hot water heater was to blame. I learned years later that the police had actually looked into it and found out that the water heater that Mrs. Clayton had told me was “old” was less than 12 months old and was electric. Later still I learned that the autopsy on the body had shown that the victim had been dead for hours before the explosion and was actually that of a young man wearing the remains of what had once been a very nice suit, and not Mrs. Clayton at all. His identity was never discovered. No one has ever been able to explain the scar on my chest either. The one that perfectly matches the necklace Mrs. Clayton gave me. I still wear that necklace and whenever I’m scared I hold it tight and feel its warmth. I’m convinced it’s saved my life on more than one occasion.

There was one other thing that I remember from that night. I never told anyone about it before. Just after Mrs. Clayton left I heard a screaming, buzzing voice call out what sounded like a welcome. There was a grinding sound like twigs snapping and a sloshing like the sound of a swamp being trod upon by particularly heavy boots. Moments after that I heard a different version of that buzzing voice outside my window. “I love you, sweetie.”


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