I’ve been sitting on this story for a few weeks, going back and forth on whether or not to see if I can submit it somewhere (magazine, look through anthology calls to see if it fits, nosleep) or just post it up here. I’ve figured I can post it up here because, hell, why not? I like to share.
Working title: “Haunted House”
There was a house down the street from where I lived as a kid that was known to be haunted. It’d been abandoned since before my parents were kids, or at least that’s what they claimed. I never saw a “For Sale” sign in the yard, so I don’t know what was going on with it. Like, I don’t know if it were owned by the bank or someone who just didn’t have the heart to get rid of it because it was some much-loved family member’s house.
It was a traditional haunted house. Dead grass was the yard, weeds growing over the pathway towards the front porch and where flower beds should be, front porch sun-bleached and slowly sagging, some of the window shutters either hanging askew or missing completely. It was a two-storey house, complete with attic and quite possibly a cellar.
Stories were handed down from older siblings to younger, elder neighborhood children told the younger bunch, and parents who knew the stories would laugh them off and tell the scared ones that their elder brother or sister was just telling tales to scare them.
Every so often, a group of kids would dare each other to go in and spend the night, but not much would happen. A squeak here, a groan there. Someone would scare themselves silly walking around an abandoned house in the middle of the night with nothing but a flashlight.
The summer I was 12, I remember it had been a handful of years since the last group of kids had decided to go in. Max, the guy across the street from my house, had gone in on a dare to go into the attic, and had wound up breaking his leg after stepping through a rotting step. The parents in the neighborhood had gathered us all up to give us The Talk about breaking into houses and, well, killing ourselves being stupid. It was a mild summer and the arcade had been shut down for some reason that my brother Ben refused to talk about besides muttering about “sick freaks.”
We were bored. Ben had been grounded and his keys hidden from him, so he was stuck with me.
“Hey Aaron,” Mikey walked up to the front porch where we were being lazy.
“We’re going to go up to that house, wanna come?”
Ben frowned, putting his comic book down on the porch. “Why?”
“Max thinks he found something cool.”
“What? His balance?” Ben snorted.
Mikey laughed a bit, “He said we can look around during the day. No harm, no foul.”
I looked over at Ben, who shrugged. “It’s been a while since anyone’s been in there.”
“Mom said no.”
“Mom’s at work and won’t know.”
“Come on, Ben. I haven’t been in there.”
“It’s not like there’s anything interesting in there. Just a bit of dusty furniture.”
“But I haven’t been in there. It’s not fair.”
“Come on, Ben. It’s a haunted house,” Mikey added. “And it’s not like we’ll be there at night. Besides. It’s a group of us going so it’s not like anyone is going to get hurt.”
Ben sighed, no doubt remembering how loud of a high-pitch wail Mikey could still belt out when he wanted to and checked his watch. “Alright. Mom won’t be home for another few hours. I’ll leave a note for her just in case, saying,” he glared at the both of us, “We got bored and decided to take a walk around the block. Agreed?”
I nodded, “Yeah.”
Ben pointed at Mikey, “Agreed?”
“Mikey, if you tattle, I’m telling our mom and yours that you convinced Aaron to go with you when I went inside to take a leak and had to go hunt your asses down.”
Mikey and I watched my brother go inside the house to write a note beside the phone. I remembered when Ben went inside the haunted house, a month or two before Max had gone in and broken his leg. He’d gone in with a few of his friends, but wasn’t able to stay longer than a few minutes since one of those friends wound up scaring themselves stupid with a flashlight and a mirror. Mikey was practically vibrating from excitement while we waited. It felt like an eternity had passed before Ben finally came out and shut the door.
“Why do you have a flashlight? It’s still daylight,” Mikey whined.
Ben rolled his eyes, “Not every room has windows, stupid.”
We started walking towards the house, and I saw a few other kids slowly making their way over as well. I guess Mikey or some other kid had gone and convinced others to come and explore.
Sure, it was daylight. It was only like 2.30, so we had plenty of time to walk down, search the house, and get home before Mom noticed we’d done anything. She wouldn’t be home until about 5.45, so that was what? Like just over 3 hours. That was more than enough time!
“If Mr B spots us,” Ben started, “we’re screwed.”
Mikey snorted, “If Mr B spots us, he’s not going to do anything.”
Mr B was an old man, known mainly for being grumpy against everything that wasn’t the roses beside his porch. He wasn’t like other people. If your soccer ball landed in his yard, he’d kick it toward you, mumbling about “stupid kids” with “terrible aim.” He was a harmless old curmudgeon.
I nodded in agreement with Mikey, “Ben, Mr B won’t do anything.”
Ben shrugged, “I’m just saying.”
“Whatever man. Max said to meet him around back. I think he was able to break off the new lock on the kitchen door.”
Ben and I nodded. One of the parents had installed a massive lock on both the front and back doors so kids wouldn’t break in. The cellar door had a large, rusting lock-and-chain wrapped around the handles that looked more like it belonged in some horror flick than in our neighborhood.
By the time we got to the back of the house, a small crowd of kids were gathered around Max. He had this smug, “I’m better than you” look on his face and seemed to be enjoying his extra-cool status from breaking the lock. I don’t know when he did it, it could’ve been days ago and he was just now telling people after setting up the house to scare someone. It could’ve been this morning and he just wanted to bask in the glory of being the bravest kid in the neighborhood.
“About time you showed up, Ben,” he called out.
“Some of us have responsibilities, Max.”
“Or you had to hype yourself up to come over,” he mocked.
I remember asking myself if Max really was older than us or just a tall five-year-old. He always had a knack for getting under my brother’s skin, but it’d be a few more years before Ben would break Max’s nose. I watched Ben push past Max into the dark kitchen and get halfway through before Max realized that my brother had taken the lead and was the first one in.
“You brought a flashlight? Are you afraid of the dark or something?”
“Not every room has a window, dumbass.” Ben didn’t even look behind him as other kids started to pile into the kitchen.
I heard a couple kids mutter an agreement and at least one girl lament not bringing one herself. A few kids just breezed through the room, ignoring us in hopes of finding something really cool further in. I guess Ben just walking into the kitchen helped dispel any fear that there’d be something lurking around the house during the day and then realizing that the room itself was just an old, faded room with an old iron stove and fridge that none of us had seen unless it was on tv, and an old, faded table pushed up against a wall.
It wasn’t anything special at first glance. Old, faded, white. White walls, white doorways, white table, white stove, white cabinets. No dust. No cobwebs. I remember looking through the old glass of the window, watching the world bubble and twist from where it was slowly warping itself, and noticing all of the dead flies. No spiders, no webs, no dirt or dust. Just dead flies. And thinking the whole thing was weird. It was like…someone came in to clean this area, but left all these dead flies just sitting there piled up against the sill.
I could hear other kids talking throughout the house, their footsteps stomping up steps or scraping against the floor above my head. No one bothered being quiet because, really, who heard of monsters coming out in the daytime? All ghosts and murderers came out at night, and almost all the adults were at work or running errands.
“Hey,” Max said near us. “Since everyone else is exploring, I want to show you guys something.”
He wasn’t being his normal self, acting like a stuck-up jackass. He sounded kind of confused, like he’d found something he wasn’t sure about. Sure, he could’ve just been pretending to lure us into some kind of trap or trick to blackmail us with later on. But, there was something about the way he said it that made us follow him through the doorway and down a hall that no one seemed to have noticed. It looked more like everyone else was pulled towards the areas with more light or the better possibility of finding something like lost treasure.
Ben cut the flashlight on, allowing Max to lead us deeper down this narrow hallway. It had a couple doors, which probably lead to rooms that had kids walking around them, and reminded me of our grandmother’s house, which had doors you just didn’t notice because they weren’t ever used. There were doors there that had been accidentally sealed by paint and no one was sure if it was lead-based didn’t want to have it tested, there were doors that were behind furniture that lead to bricked walls, doors that were locked that no one bothered with because there was a door like right beside it that lead out of the room.
Again, there was no dust on the floor or anything. The flashlight didn’t catch any dust floating around, and the air didn’t seem stale. It was like someone had just came in recently, opened all the windows, and cleaned the house maybe a few days before we came in.
Max stopped in front of a spot on the left and removed a large board to show another door.
“Wow, it’s a door.” Mikey deadpanned. “There’s like a hundred doors here.”
The door opened smoothly, like someone had oiled the hinges. Not even a click for the knob sounded, and Max just let the door swing to a stop against the wall. Ben shined the flashlight into the room.
“Wow. It’s a basement,” Ben’s sarcasm dripped.
“No shit. Look again.”
We stared down and I realized there was something off about it. The walls seemed unfinished, with a couple paint cans sitting in the edges between the exposed studs and empty blackness of the open area underneath. Ben’s light showed the top two or three steps, part of a handrail, and nothing else. It was kind of like when you’d open up the basement door and right before you turned the light on to go down the steps. But we could only see the top couple of steps.
I don’t think any of us wanted to go down. It was the first time I actually felt apprehensive about a part of the house.
Ben sighed. “Dude, it’s a basement. A basement with no windows. Big deal.”
“How good’s your light?”
“Good enough to read by.”
Max nodded and started pulling something out of his pocket. At first, it looked like a snot-rag, y’know? The light was weird and I only got a glimpse of red before I realized it was way too large to be a folded up bandana Max normally kept in his back pocket.
It was a flag. An American flag that had seen better days from what I could tell in the light.
“Dude, did you steal your dad’s flag?” Ben asked, not really believing it.
“We got a new one. No one’ll notice this one’s gone.”
“Your dad’s a vet,” I pointed out. I remember thinking about being told that flags have to be taken care of a certain way when they go out of commission by Max’s dad, who had very staunch views.
Max glared at me as he fished a lighter out of his front pocket. “No one will notice.”
He started flicking the lighter to life, trying to set the cloth on fire.
“You’re going to Hell for that.” Mikey piped up.
“Just keep your eyes peeled,” Max responded, not looking away from the flag.
A small flame had caught and was slowly gathering steam. Max had kept the small flag in his hand until he was satisfied that it was burning enough before tossing it through the open doorway. I heard Mikey gasp, like he was about to say something, but kept my eye on watching this little orange ball.
We stayed silent, watching it illuminate two more steps that Ben’s light couldn’t reach, before disappearing.
There was no splash of water, no sizzle of the fire going out. Just poof. Gone. One second it was there, and the next it looked as if nothing had happened. The light didn’t even reach the bottom step far as we could tell.
Max nodded, satisfied that we’d seen what he did, and went to pull the door shut. Mikey went to grab him before realizing that Max had pull the door with the inside edge, near one of the hinges, in order to avoid stepping foot inside. The door shut, he put the board back over, and turned around.
“What do you think?”
“I think you set something up,” Ben was annoyed.
“Everything that’s gone past the third or fourth step has disappeared. You saw what it was like. You can’t see anything, lights or not. I don’t know if the steps end and it’s just a bottomless hole or what. I’ve lit firecrackers and dropped them down there. Nothing pops. No sound, no light. No nothing.”
Max left us standing in that hallway, shaking his head as he walked away from us. I didn’t know what to do and I don’t think Ben or Mikey did either. We looked at each other a minute or so later before Ben shook his head.
“We should go. Mom might be home early and I don’t want to think about what I just saw.”
Mikey nodded in agreement.