Short Story
                                         The Hungry House
                                                                         By Neal Privett


      He appeared from out of the cold winter’s night like a ghost.

      The snow and wind followed him into the sparsely populated pub and when he slammed the door shut,
traces of precipitation danced around his shoulders and feet before scattering into nothingness inside the
heated room. The man removed his coat and scarf and shook them thoroughly before hanging them by the
fire. Then he removed his hunter’s cap with earflaps and carefully placed it on top of the coat.

      “A glass of hot rum punch, if you please, bartender,” the man said jovially. His voice was loud, rich and
deep and added to the Yule-like aura of the room. I almost detected a slight Irish accent.

      “Beast of a night, mate,” the bartender said as he made the drink.

      “That it is…that it is,” the stranger replied with a snow caked bearded smile. He looked to be around
sixty and as burly a man as I ever saw.

      “So what are you doing out on a night like this?” the bartender asked as he slid the glass over to the
shivering man.

      The man smiled to himself and carefully chose his words before he spoke. “It is a bad night out there,
yes, but I have a good reason for venturing out into it. You see, I own a haunted house.”

      Stanley, the barkeep, glanced over at me and rolled his eyes.

      The stranger continued. “The ghosts get extremely restless on raging winter nights such as this. Some
of them, in fact, get quite violent. So I thought it best to step out awhile and give them the chance to calm
down before I return to my warm bed.”

      The bartender studied him for a long moment before he broke out into hearty laughter. “Are you funnin’
with us, mate? A haunted house? Really?”

      The visitor stared deep into the bartender’s eyes. A sly glint came over his features and I had little
doubt that he was telling the truth. “Ah, to be sure. To be sure, sir.”

      The bartender shook his head with disgust and commenced to wiping some glasses. “What kind of
fools you take us for?”

      “I take you for intelligent gentlemen who have an open mind and will admit…perhaps
begrudgingly…that there are things in this world that cannot be readily explained. That’s what I take you
for, sir.”

      “And I reckon you’d be willin’ to put some money where your mouth is flappin’?”

      The stranger broke out into wild laugher and slammed his meaty fist down upon the mahogany bar. “Of
course! I am indeed the sportin’ type. What would you be willin’ to put up?”

      The bartender thought long and hard. “How about free drinks for you and all your ghosts…for a solid
year…against the deed to your here now haunted domicile.”

      I have to admit that I was damn near shocked into silence on this one. Drinks for a year versus a
bloody house. I moved closer to the bar, as did the only other occupant of Stanley’s Fine Pub, a gent
named Rick. We stood beside the wayfarer of this snowy evening and raised a toast to the wager. The
whole business was quite mad, but never had we witnessed such a thrilling episode in the whole history of
Stanley’s.

      The visitor bit the end from a thick fine cigar and struck a match on the edge of the bar, causing
Stanley, the proprietor and bartender, to wince. The man slowly lit his cigar and puffed heartily. He blew a
couple of damn near perfect smoke rings and grinned mischievously, as if he had the bet won already. “I
accept your wager, friend, and I propose that we venture out into this tumultuous wintry tempest tonight and
travel to my house at Winchester Heights, where we will indeed find us a couple of feisty spirits on the
prowl.”

      The bartender leaned across the bar and shook his hand. “It’s a wager, then.”

                                                                                 ****

      I had to go along, of course. Rick, however, did not have the necessary constitution, so he went on
home after Stanley locked up for the evening. The hour was late and the snow was falling harder than ever,
cascading silently down in great white sheets from the dark heavens. I do not know why the insanity of this
venture didn’t occur to me then. I suppose that the potential thrill of traveling through the night to a haunted
house…or even a faux haunted house…appealed to my drunken nature. So along I went.

      The journey wasn’t far. Only a few miles by horse and wagon. We pulled up at the man’s house and I
bloody well stared in shock at the towering mansion, silhouetted and black to its core. There didn’t appear
to be a single light on in the house.

      The house was freakishly tall, rising to great heights from the small shrub-rowed yard. It consisted of
four stories with the darkest windows you ever saw. Each floor had a balcony reticent with the eerie
suggestion of past sitters and the spired roof scratched the darkened sky above the trees like a great
clawed beast. You could taste the ominous emanations coming from that place. If ghosts did exist, they
would live in that house, I thought. We dismounted from the wagon and the man tied the horses to a
convenient post. “Before we proceed any further, allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Tuck.”

      Stanley laughed and shook our host’s hand. “Tuck? That’s it?”

      “Tuck will do, Sir Stanley,” the man of brevity cackled. He turned to me next. “And you are…?”

      I bowed and shook his hand. “I am William Peevley.”

      “Ah, a pleasure gentlemen.” Tuck gestured towards the looming black mansion. “Shall we?”

      Perhaps it was the cold…or perhaps it was the fact that the drink was beginning to wear off…or
maybe it was even my good judgement coming to the fore finally. But something made me change my
mind all of a sudden. “Gentlemen,” I said. “I have changed my mind. I believe I will wait here by the horses.”

      Tuck grabbed me by the arm. “Are you sure, lad? Quite sure? You sure you don’t want to come
inside? It’s free drinks for a bloody year for the two of us!”

      The old man’s polite charm had faded for me. Something sinister glowed in his dark eyes. “I am sure,”
I said. “Quite sure. I’ll wait.”

      “Suit yourself,” Tuck replied, with a hint of nervous disappointment. He looked at me with an almost
fearful expression on his snow crusted, red face. He wrapped his scarf tighter around his head and
nodded. “Well…if you’re sure.”

      “I am,” I said matter-of-factly.

      “Well…then it’s you and me, Sir Stanley,” Tuck said as he gently nudged the bartender and proprietor
of Stanley’s Pub towards the waiting house.

      Stanley looked at me, dread plastering his bold and arrogant face for the first time. The two men
trudged up the snowy sidewalk. I noticed all of a sudden that the snow was deep and thick upon the walk.
There were no foot prints…nor any semblance of footprints covered in the white. In fact, there was no
indication whatsoever that anyone had ventured down the front walk at any time in the past twenty-four
hours or more. The thought occurred to me that Tuck was lying. He had not come from the house this night.

      I called out to Stanley, but the harsh wind and driving snow blotted out my voice. I called again as Tuck
led Stanley up to the front porch, then hastily leaped over the rail and raced away towards the wagon as if
the devil were on his heels.

      My mind exploded with fear and horror then, as the door to the gigantic haunted house burst open and
a long black tendril appeared from within. The horrible appendage reached through the cold air to wrap
around the awestruck Stanley, who was too paralyzed to run. My friend kicked and screamed but the
house dragged him inside and the front door slammed shut on poor Stanley forever.

      I wheeled around to find Tuck coming for me, with his eyes glowing red and his teeth gnashing. “Come
here, you little bastard!”

      The terrible truth came to me then. The house was a living thing…a monstrosity that fed on the blood
and flesh of men and Tuck was its demonic servant. I ran as far and as fast as I could through the knee
deep snow. I tumbled down a tree lined embankment, delirious and wracked with panic. They found me
the following morning, almost dead from the cold.

      And that’s why I’m here, doctor. I swear to you that this is the truth. I promise you that I’m not crazy…
About Neal Privett

Neal Privett lives on a farm
somewhere in Tennessee,
where he writes furiously,
drinks too much coffee,
and brews horror pulp in
the barn. His work can be
found in several upcoming
anthologies and
magazines such as The
Horror Zine, Blood Moon
Rising, Schlock!, and
Cheapjack Pulp.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.