But Mrs. Allardyce never seems to emerge from her room, and it soon becomes clear that something weird and terrifying is happening in the house. As the suspense builds towards a revelation of what really lies behind that locked door, the Rolfes will discover that their cheap vacation rental comes at a terrible cost . . .
The basis for a classic 1976 film adaptation and an acknowledged influence on Stephen King’s The Shining, Burnt Offerings is one of the most original and scariest haunted house novels ever written. This edition, the first in decades, features a new introduction by award-winning author Stephen Graham Jones.
“Burnt Offerings has no peer. Better than Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist.” - Hartford Courant
“Insidiously frightening . . . It snares you early and draws you inexorably to one of the most nerve-shattering finales in years.” - Publishers Weekly
“Just pick a quiet place and an uninterrupted time to read this novel. You’ll be inclined to jump at sudden noises or even hurl the book at intruders.” - Chicago Tribune
Release date: March 17, 2015
Publisher: Valancourt Books
Print pages: 170
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“Not so fast, sweetheart. Back.”
David, eight, stopped halfway across the living room, drew his shoulders up as though something sharp was about to hit him, and then turned slowly. Marian was standing in the small foyer in the rear of the apartment, between the two bedrooms. Her arm went up like a semaphore, pointing toward his room.
“That room was spotless when you came in,” she said. “Remember?”
He dragged his feet over the rug and the wood floor she had just finished polishing. His sneakers made small rubbery sounds.
“Feet, please,” Marian said as he walked past her. She followed him in. “See what I mean?”
David pulled his schoolshirt off the doorknob, opened the closet, and reached up for a hanger. “I forgot,” he said lamely.
“For a smart kid you forget an awful lot.” She watched him stab at the shirt with the hanger. “If you put the pants on first, you’d save a hanger, no?”
“The pants too?”
“Of course the pants too. And the shoes.”
His pants were on the floor, next to a chair. He scooped them up and started to stuff one leg through the hanger.
“Honey . . . ?” Marian said patiently.
He lowered the hanger, emphatically. “I can’t do it when you’re watching me. I get nervous.”
“Then I won’t watch you.” She turned her back to him, facing the windows. “Say when.”
She could hear him muttering above the sounds rising from the courtyard three stories below. She moved toward the windows and adjusted the rings on the red cafe curtains which had been drawn against the glare of the apartment house directly opposite – a wall of glass and smooth white brick. Marian heard a loud female voice scream “Darlene!” in the courtyard. She leaned closer to the window and looked down.
It was a fairly large concrete area with vague grass borders; primarily a passageway, lined with benches, to the entrances of the multi-winged building ten yards away. From three to five especially, the benches were filled with women, young mothers mostly, each of them with a baby carriage within reach. She heard the cry, “Darlene!” again, louder, and saw a young woman in shorts and a sleeveless blouse spring up. She was pointing at someone out of range. “Now you’re really gonna get it!” Two carriages parted to let her pass. She ran out of sight, and from the shriek that followed, Darlene had really gotten it.
The week had been unseasonably warm – seventy-six today and only mid-May – and the courtyard, as it did each spring, had blossomed into a swirling, echoing playground. With summer, the hours would lengthen and the din become impossible.
Summer. Apartment. Queens. The overtones were ominous. Again.
She sneaked a look at David. He replaced the hanger, which now listed heavily, and slipped his schoolshoes into the shoebag. As he did, a piano started in the apartment below.
Three-thirty. She could set her watch by it. Scales first, struggling for traction for five minutes or so; then a leap into Bach, or Beethoven, or whatever 2-D was working on this month, three-thirty to five, five days a week. The clinkers would still be there at the end of the month, but faster, louder, more practiced. Like that one. She winced. And that. On a scale, for God’s sake. Well, there was no point in complaining again because the lease says very clearly, nine to nine . . . So just smile and walk heavy.
David slammed the closet door shut and challenged her with an arms-akimbo “Okay?”
“Okay,” she said. She moved across the red shag rug in the middle of the room and crouched in front of him. “Looks better, doesn’t it? Admit it.”
He wouldn’t. It looked fine before.
She tucked his tee shirt in, then pulled him toward her and kissed his face loudly. “I’m a problem, I know,” she said sympathetically, “but you’re not so easy yourself.”
He tried to pull away. “I’m gonna be late.”
“Late for what?”
“So be late. The only time I get to see you is when I’m yelling at you. That’s why I yell so much.”
Impatiently, he let her smooth down his hair which was thick and dark, like Ben’s; hers was long and dark blonde, and once, just after she had turned thirty last year, there had been a single strand of gray which she had yanked out.
“No bike on the boulevard, remember, and home by six. That’s S-I-X, six, got it? Now kiss, please.”
He barely kissed her on the cheek and, reanimated now, bolted from the room.
Marian sat back on her heels and waited for the door to slam shut and rattle the windows. The room was back in order, temporarily; a magazine view of what a boy’s room should be, with Peanuts pillows arranged neatly on the bedspread, a small desk-bookcase unit, highly polished, football posters and antique gun prints. Daffy Duck and Alfred E. Neuman hung evenly over the bed. A model frigate was on the bureau, and scattered around the room were a model Mustang and Dracula and Mummy, and a mechanical Frankenstein who dropped his pants and blushed (from Aunt Elizabeth who had one like it). They had all been dusted, and the room smelled fresh and oiled, like the whole apartment.
The door slammed and the curtains billowed slightly. Marian was playing idly with the pile of the rug. She could feel the floor vibrating with the sound of the piano below. Her impulse was to hammer, but it was embarrassing enough already to run into the woman in the hall or at the mailbox. She found a white thread and picked at it; then a bit of soot which smeared her fingers; and then, leaning forward on her knees now and digging under the pile, a small patch of blue fiber, the color of her bedroom rug. Empty the vacuum, she reminded herself. She spread her hand over the rug, straightening the pile, then stood up, went to the closet and rehung David’s clothes. For a minute or so she just stared into the closet. The scales below had finally become Bach, and maybe she liked 2-D’s Bach after all, because something in the melody moved her to touch David’s suit jacket, and his raincoat, and the ratty blue bathrobe which she’d have to force herself to replace someday. The feel of it and the melody below, clinkers and all, sent her to the window where she waited for him to cross the courtyard. He didn’t, but if he had, she would have called “David!” and thrown him a package of Yankee Doodles.
The apartment consisted of four good-sized rooms with flaking plaster walls, spackled regularly by Ben, and parquet floors that rose, slightly and annoyingly, beside two of the doorsills. Once a month Marian really took the place apart, and waxed and buffed the floors, and at least once a month Ben, in stocking feet, would slip, grab onto the back of a crushed velvet wingchair, and say “Jesus Christ!”
The building itself was old, situated on a wide and busy boulevard in Queens, lined with supermarkets, bars, hamburger chains, and several Chinese and Italian restaurants specializing in take-out orders. A popular firehouse was two blocks away and the LaGuardia landing pattern directly overhead. The neighborhood was young marrieds primarily and singles, in the newer buildings; older people and chiropractors in the others. And the Rolfes – Ben, Marian, and David – who had been living there four years, at one hundred sixty a month. A bargain, and thirty dollars less than their previous and first apartment, a crammed three farther out in Queens. In the great tradition, they left seeking space, just as many of the young couples would eventually leave this neighborhood and resettle in small houses out in Nassau or Suffolk. The Rolfes as well, Marian was sure; they were just a few years behind.
Four years ago they discovered that a small three could no longer contain what five years of marriage had accumulated. Especially marriage to Marian who was, by her own admission, somewhat acquisitive – or as Ben once put it, in an infrequent rage, “a goddamn packrat.” And so, rather than walk sideways, with an occasional crouch, to get from room to room, they moved. To space and economy and convenience. The building was large and, God knows, lively; filled with pregnant women, small children who yelled in hallways, and big children who scrawled obscenities in the elevator when the elevator was running; with cooking odors and an old man who peed under the mailboxes; hammering radiators, dubious plumbing; with a roach problem and, on one unspeakable occasion, a mouse problem. It was minimally superintended by a polygynous black, Mr. Ives, who was usually referred to as “The Phantom.”
Each year 3-D seemed less of a bargain, at least to Marian who spent most of her time in the apartment. (Three or four times a year she would sign up with Office Temporaries to help pay for some new and irresistible buy – a French Provincial buffet or, her proudest possession, a mahogany and bronze doré desk.) Along around May, faced with the prospect of the summer, she would become moody, testy; she’d spend a good part of her time cleaning the apartment and then cleaning it again. (“Christ,” Ben said, “it’s Dunsinane all over.” When he explained the reference she hit him.) Instead of listening therapeutically to Ben’s pre-dinner complaints about Mr. Byron, the high school principal, or the dumb kids, or Miss MacKenzie, the cretin who headed Tilden’s English Department, Marian would counter with a litany of her own, ticking off the heat, the noise and the soot, the sameness, the landlocked and godawful boredom of the city in summer. City, hell. Queens. Space, economy, convenience – they became irrelevant from June to September when the apartment, as far as she was concerned, became uninhabitable, completely. Why not do it, just once? Spread the dustcovers, leave the key with Aunt Elizabeth, and head for someplace cool and quiet, or anything and quiet. There was always Office Temporaries in September.
She had dusted just a couple of hours ago and already there was a layer of soot on the windowsill in their bedroom. She lifted the curtains, blew along the length of the double sill until she felt an ache under her ears, and slid the windows down. The wall of windows and white brick faced their bedroom as well as the other rooms. And The Supervisor, Marian noticed, was at her post, overlooking the scene in the courtyard. A huge woman filling a fourth floor window, she was always there, it seemed, like some bulbous gargoyle, leaning on a pillow and staring impassively. Ben insisted she was a household god and naked from the waist down.
Marian added private to the someplace cool and quiet. Just a little bit of privacy. To be able to make love maybe once without closing the windows and lowering the shades, or worrying about the beds on the other side of the wall, the floor, the ceiling. (She did, anyway; Ben couldn’t care less.) They made love with the light on, and once something in the apartment above, hitting the floor with a plaster-splintering thud, had sent the shade rattling up while they were at it, exposing them to a wall of lighted windows.
“I feel like a dirty joke,” she had told Ben when he climbed back into bed. He laughed like hell; she turned over and went to sleep, which shut him up.
All right, maybe she was exaggerating – for emphasis, like an overdone room in a department store. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, though probably it was. Just a month, two months away and she was sure she’d come back refreshed, the galloping paranoia checked for the next nine months.
She had looked over the real estate section of The Times yesterday, reading the more likely prospects aloud to Ben who grunted non-committally at each. She hadn’t pressed it; Sunday the summer seemed less threatening. Today it was real, within earshot, and was that on the button. And the possibility of spending it in Queens, with – maybe – two weeks upstate, and occasional trips to Jones Beach or Bear Mountain, more unsupportable. Ben was free, all summer; no courses, no summer teaching. David was free; she was nothing if not free. And they weren’t exactly broke.
She nodded to herself, convinced, and went into the living room. The piano’s hammering was directly below. She bent over the magazine rack and pulled out The Times which was opened at Vacation and Leisure Homes. Once again she ran her eyes down the columns, concentrating on the vague prospects she had circled yesterday (“jerking off,” Ben called it). Soon she didn’t even hear the clinkers.
Bus stop, hydrant, driveway. The goddamn area was getting worse than Manhattan. There had been two spaces on the Boulevard, both of them with meters, and one on Thirty-ninth, too small for the Camaro. He had gone around the block twice, had tried some of the sidestreets whose One Way signs took him farther away from the apartment. Ten minutes ago he had passed his building which was now buried somewhere beyond the range of Carleton Towers and Gibson Arms and Mayberry Heights. Who the hell was Carleton or Gibson, where were the lousy Heights? And why, four days out of five, did parking a dinky yellow compact assume such Wagnerian proportions? The light in front of him turned red. Ben banged his attaché case beside him, said “Shit,” and reached for a cigarette.
A jet roared above the spindly trees which were already in full leaf. Coming toward him were four or five boys, David’s age, on bikes. They stopped pedalling at the intersection, one of them gliding into the cross street and swerving suddenly to avoid a car which fortunately had been travelling slowly. Ben grimaced and then shook his head. Bike lecture. Tonight.
The teacher in him would have shouted something at the boys, the runty one especially, but fifty feet ahead, on his side of the road, someone was getting into a parked car. He looked at the light nervously, at the menacing cars coming toward him, and the sneaky bastard cruising down the sidestreet, toward the green light. Come on, light, change. The woman got into her car, her backup lights glowed. There was movement, and in a clumsy, bumping moment there were the beginnings of space. Ben inched the Camaro forward, the light changed, and as far as he was concerned, there was a God after all.
By the time he reached the luncheonette across the street from his building, Ben had forgotten where he’d parked the car ten minutes before. The realization had come into his mind unbidden: a sudden twinge like a nudge in the ribs, and a small, mischievous voice saying, All right, wise guy, now where’d you put it? He picked up a Post and a pack of cigarettes, paid the old lady who never smiled, and left the luncheonette, glancing at the headline. He waited at the corner for the light to change, and while he knew exactly where the car was, he mentally retraced his route, just to fix it in his mind. Straight two blocks, a right to the light, left to the next light, and bingo. He looked at the lead story – New York was on the brink again, read a boring paragraph about budget cuts – and stopped. There were three lights actually: ...
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