As usual, all the windows of the house were open, catching the evening breeze. As usual, all the lights were on, drawing swarms of bugs and casting a warm glow on the man sitting on the plastic chair in the garden. Mosquitoes didn't bother him.

The owner of the house, silhouetted by the kitchen light, was checking the refrigerator for something cold to drink. He called across the window to the man outside. "Do you want anything, Doc? A Bloody Mary, perhaps?" He picked up a can of beer for himself.

"Not with this heat, Harry, thank you. It would go straight to my head." He leaned more comfortably on his chair, the head thrown back, looking at the full moon. A plane passed low overhead, on its final approach to the nearby airport. Doc checked his watch. "Shall we walk to the beach? The air is still quite warm."

Harry watched thoughtfully out of the window. "Maybe another time, Doc. You are not the only one enjoying the moonlight. The beach will be too crowded." He eyed the shadows gathered under the elm tree on the other side of the road - teenagers, judging by the occasional laughter. He swatted a mosquito on his forearm. "Besides, I'd get bitten to death."

Their evening conversations always started like this - politely refusing each other's offers.

"You spend all the evenings holed up in your house. And you would complain about overcrowding even if you were the last man left alive on Earth."

Harry groaned. "This looks like one of your usual mind games, the kind that lasts till dawn." He opened his beer and took a sip to hide his annoyance.

"Come on, humor me, I'm curious. What would you do if you realized that you are the last living soul left?"

"I don't know. I'd probably take my car and head west, starting early in the morning, looking for signs of life, just to be sure. I don't think that traffic jams or speeding tickets will be a problem in this case, so I'll probably cover a lot of ground in twelve hours. If I don't meet anyone before sunset, I'll blow my brains out. Walking on a graveyard world is worse than being dead. I'd feel like a ghost."

Doc raised his head, frowning. Harry was still in the kitchen, his back to the bright light, so his expression was hidden. "I thought you wouldn't give up like - like a child frightened of the dark. You shouldn't even consider suicide as long as there are alternatives. As your psychiatrist -"

"You aren't my psychiatrist."

A pause. "True, but you are my patient, no matter what you think."

Doc relaxed back on the chair. "If you want some advice, I would suggest driving east and then follow the coast. It's easier to find survivors on small islands, and they would try smoke signals during the day. Why, you'll probably do best to ditch your sport car and get a boat, hopping from one island to the next, sailing towards the sunrise. This way you'll get far more than a day to look for other people."

A line of ice ants crawled on Harry's spine. He can't possibly know. He just wants to see how I react.

"I get seasick on a wet pavement, Doc" he said. Was it a little too loud?

Doc checked his watch again, feigning disinterest. "Oh, but in this hypotetical situation, you'll have plenty of time to practice. You'll have whole days to plan your search mission - learning to swim, to sail a boat, to read a nautical chart..."

Harry's mind was racing. Why was Doc telling him these things? Had he been careless?

He cannot follow me on my trips. Even he must sleep.

The plans are on my desk. He cannot get to my desk.

A police car rolled silently in the background, on patrol. After a while Doc spoke. "Of course, if you managed to find other people, maybe a woman, this could open some interesting Adam-and-Eve scenarios. It was telling that you talked about suicide instead of some nice happy ending, two people safe on an island, with a hut they could call home..."

He cannot possibly know about Helene. He knows where she lives, it's within driving distance after all, but he can't know that we keep in touch. Unless somebody monitored the CB radio. No, everyone is asleep when we talk.

The police car stopped near the elm tree, and two agents approached the teenagers. One of the girls yelled obscenities, then the whole group started chanting Harry's name, over and over, giving him a much-needed excuse to change topic.

"My loyal fans. Can you believe that they still try to enter uninvited?"

"The fireworks must be a sight." The teenagers disbanded, the police car rolled away. Doc checked his watch for the third time.

"Are you worried about staying up too late, Doc?" snapped Harry.

"No, they sound an alarm at 5 AM now, nobody can miss it. I was actually waiting for a person - I've invited a woman, I hope you don't mind. You must be tired of talking only to me."

"Who's the surprise guest this time? My ex-wife again? I told you that I don't want to see that damned bloodsucker."

"You were very rude to her" said Doc, with an irritating look of disapproval. "You didn't even invite her inside. Can't you understand what she needs?"

"Besides a stake through her heart, you mean?"

"That was tasteless. Anyway, you've never met the person that I've invited. In fact - ah, here she is."

Harry noticed a shadow behind Doc, walking uncertainly towards the house. He leaned on the windowsill, trying to make sense of patterns of darkness, until the lights from his house revealed a young woman. He had never seen her face, but he recognized her voice at once when she called his name, softly.

Helene.

He stood perfectly still while she run to him and tried to hug him across the open window. Flashes of acid light threw her backward, burning her hands and etching nightmare images on Harry's retinas.

Puzzled, hurt, Helene turned to Doc, who was shaking his head sadly. "You, of all people, should remember the injunction that keeps us from entering a house without being invited. But there is no need to worry - this is the last place on Earth where we are not welcome."

Harry's shock was giving way to desperation. "This is not true! Helene - you were in touch with other people, you told me about them - Father Mateo, the Sergeant - there is still somebody alive!"

Helene's chuckles were cut short by Doc's sharp glance. "Mateo was a fool," she said. "He set fire to his own church, by accident. He had the choice to burn alive, or to go outside. His faith didn't help him."

She smiled like a schoolgirl. "The Sergeant went mad a couple of days ago, and attacked the agents outside. Please forgive me if I kept the bad news to myself." The voice was Helene's, the tone belonged to some soulless creature who noticed with delight that Harry's leg were becoming too weak to hold him.

Doc slowly unfolded from the chair, and came close to the window frame, careful not to touch it. "The Pakistani family fell last night. The psychiatrist assigned to Deva whispered dreams of immortality in that silly little girl's brain, until she invited him inside. The father was tough - he managed to destroy three agents before they bit him. After that..." Doc put an arm around Helene's shoulder and she turned her head slightly, still smiling, showing the fresh marks.

Harry turned his back to the kitchen wall and slid to the floor. They couldn't see him there; neither dared to cross the line that separated the inside of the house from the outside, so at first they thought that the noises were Harry's sobs.

He was actually laughing, in a final, desperate act of self defense: as long as he was gasping for breath, he wouldn't be able to voice the thought that had appeared in his mind, fully formed, unbidden. He must not be rude to guests, after all.

Come inside. Have a drink on me.


Submitted for They Hunger For Nodes: An e2 Halloween Scary Story Quest. Feedback is welcome.

They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here... and sea fog... and eerie stories...That's not because there are most ghosts here then other places, mind you. It's just that people who live here about are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There's life and death in that restless sound. And eternity too.

The Uninvited

Horror movies are blessed by the fact that they can be set in any location. Underground, in the ocean, in Antarctica, or even in deep space, the genre lends itself readily to most locales. But one setting is more terrifying than any other by its very purpose. The house. Most people have a place they call home, a place to feel safe at night, somewhere to keep the dark at bay. But what happens when someone's safest place turns against them? What does that do to the mind? After all, if a person isn't safe at home, can they be safe anywhere?

Hollywood has capitalized on the haunted house theme to great effect. The early psychological terror of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, or the groundbreaking special effects of Poltergeist, and even the claustrophobic inescapability of Alien, Hollywood has successfully turned the places we live and sleep and trust into something to be feared again and again. Yet one movie is almost single-handedly responsible for generating this decades-long lineage of great haunted house movies. Released in 1944 and based on the Dorothy Macardle novel Uneasy Freehold, The Uninvited paved the way for the ghosts in the attic to be much more than just Abbott and Costello sheets.

The Cast

Ray Milland 		Roderick Fitzgerald (with Pam, new owner of Windward House)
Ruth Hussey Pamela Fitzgerald (with Rick, new owner of Windward House)
Donald Crisp Commander Beech (protective grandfather of Stella)
Gail Russell Stella Meredith (daughter of Windward House's previous owners)
Cornelia Otis Skinner Miss Holloway (Stella's childhood nurse)
Alan Napier Dr. Scott (village medic of the Beeches)

The Plot

The Uninvited takes place along the coast of western England in Biddlecombe, a small Cornwall village. While vacationing, siblings Rick and Pam Fitzgerald find a large seaside estate named Windward House that they promptly purchase from its absentee owner, Commander Beech, at great discount. Shortly after moving in, however, they begin to hear strange crying at night. Soon the supernatural occurrences extend to extreme drops in temperature in certain rooms, candles blowing out, pets running away, and servants refusing to stay the night. Having spent their savings to purchase the house, the Fitzgeralds are forced to remain. In the meantime, Rick befriends Stella, the granddaughter of Commander Beech, but is disappointed to find that the Commander has forbidden her from visiting at Windward House. Stella, displaying a defiance unheard of for her station, visits Windward House to dine with Rick and Pam but this recalls long forgotten memories of her childhood in the house. Overcome by supernatural force, Stella races to the cliff face but is saved by Rick before falling over the edge.

The Fitzgeralds begin piecing together the history of the house and learn that Stella's parents endured a tense marriage. Stella's father, an artist, maintained an open affair with his model, a Spanish gypsy named Carmel. Stella's mother Mary consoled herself and her close friendship with Miss Holloway. Tragedy struck the family when Mary was pushed over the cliff by Carmel, who died from pneumonia in the week after, all witnessed by Miss Holloway. Holloway later opened a mental asylum and it is here that Commander Beech places Stella after her continued defiance at Windward House, where she participates in a seance with Dr. Scott and the Fitzgeralds in an attempt to contact her mother's spirit.

Further investigation by the Fitzgeralds, now aided by Dr. Scott, reveals that Miss Holloway may have been responsible for Carmel's death. Confronting the uncanny nurse, she gleefully informs the would be rescuers that she has sent Stella back to Windward House. In a surprise to the trio, Stella is revealed to be the daughter of Carmel, not Mary, and Mary perished on the cliff while trying to throw an infant Stella over. Only Carmel's intervention then, much like Rick's later, prevented Mary from obtaining her vengeance on the product of her husband's affair. Racing back to Windward House, the three arrive just in time to once again stop a supernatural force driving Stella over the cliff. Revealing everything to the frightened girl, the group is assaulted by Mary's spirit, but confronted by a candelabra-waving Rick, she is rendered powerless by his new knowledge. Now able to live peacefully in the house, Rick and Stella begin their future together.

About The Movie

The Uninvited proved a major success. Utilizing creative camera work and special effects to portray the moody atmosphere and supernatural scenes, it earned Charles Lang a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. As the first Hollywood movie to portray a house haunted by an actual ghost (as opposed to criminals or pranksters merely using a contrived ghost to cover other activities), The Uninvited paved the way for one of the foundations of the horror genre. Each October in the United States, it is shown by a variety of horror-themed programs, including Turner Classic Movies and Svengoolie. Numerous horror-related professionals have cited it as one of their primary inspirations for getting into the genre. Guillermo del Toro lists it among his six favorite horror movies, and as one of the curators of the Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film exhibit, placed it on the exhibit's list of 100 important horror movies from 1920 through 2008.

Some Notes About The Cast And Crew:

Sadly, Gail Russell, the actress who played Stella in The Uninvited, died at the age of 36 from complications related to alcoholism. Chronically suffering from self-doubt in her acting ability, Russell purportedly began drinking on The Uninvited to ease her stage fright. Donald Crisp, the smothering Commander Beech, later became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and orchestrated numerous financings between major studios and the Bank of America. Crisp's long career included much work in the silent film industry (playing Ulysses S. Grant in The Birth of a Nation) to winning his own Academy Award a few years before The Uninvited.

Final Thoughts

The Uninvited is a must-see movie for dedicated fans of the horror genre, and a fun ghost story for anyone else. While not the shriek fest of more modern offerings, it successfully paints a tale of suspense with subtle undertones, such as the unspoken lesbian relationship between Mary and Miss Holloway. Anyone who enjoys a good haunted house story should enjoy The Uninvited.

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