He just couldn’t reconcile this dilapidated building before him with the old, but strangely beautiful, home he had spent so many happy summer weekends seven years ago. The house stood at the end of the street, the very edge of the neighborhood, with woods stretching out beyond the back yard. In its original form, it was one of the oldest in the county, though he would never have guessed it back then.
Of course, back then, the windows weren’t broken, and the paint wasn’t flaking off the walls. Back then, the smug, sick-looking weeds didn’t crowd the lawn as if they owned the place. Back then, the door wasn’t boarded up (to keep people out, and this thought made him shudder again in spite of himself), as if there were something dangerous in there. Back then, there wasn’t spray-paint on the walls, and the long-abandoned FOR SALE sign, where someone had slashed the words the house will eat you! in fading red letters.
Back then, he used to hang out with his favorite cousin, Pat.
Tacked to a phone pole nearby was a poster: MISSING: BARRY KELLY, and a picture of a little boy with a big glasses and an embarrassed-looking grin.
“Guess it’s finally starting to show its age…” Charlie muttered.
“Yeah, you said it, man.”
Charlie almost jumped out of his skin, so lost he had been in his own reverie, that he had forgotten Dan.
“You really are creeped out, aren’t you?” asked Dan. The junior to Charlie’s sophomore, Dan was the one with the wheels. Charlie had talked him into taking this little out-of-town field trip, and now he was starting to think that maybe this might be kind of fun. “I always wanted to see a real haunted house.”
Charlie had told him all he knew over the drive here, and he hardly believed the place existed. It sounded too much like something out of a movie, but now he believed his friend might be on to something.
According to Charlie, the first disappearance connected to the house happened in 1953, to Old Man Nelson. He had been a local handyman type, and one of his projects had been to build the second floor of this house. It would be the last of many renovations he had made to it since the 1930’s. Nelson disappeared without a trace, leaving only the “attic” portion of the second floor unfinished.
The next owners of the house had been the Donovans. When they asked around at the Senior Center earlier this afternoon, they had been told that the Donovans never had any children. And never used the upstairs for anything. Jenny Donovan, though not quite all there at the ripe old age of 93, had seemed very clear on that, her late husband never went upstairs.
After her husband died in 1987, Ms Donovan moved out almost overnight, and about a year later, Charlie’s uncle Don moved in. Pat was last seen February 11, 1989, and from then on, Don’s family instead came to visit them all the time. At least until the rest of the family disappeared in August of 1990.
The house had remained unoccupied since then, but the stories didn’t stop there. June 24, 1991: Jennifer and Roger McCormick visited the house with a realtor; their two sons, Benjamin and Zachary, checked in but never checked back out. September 5, 1992: one Thomas Henderson, the realtor’s caretaker, vanished without a trace.
Charlie had really done his homework.
Charlie wondered these days if those were the only known disappearances, and now Dan wondered too. He had debated it the whole way down. How it was know that Uncle Don had taken out a second mortgage on the very house he allegedly disappeared in. How, while three witnesses saw Ben and Zach enter the house, no one actually saw them leave it. How Tom Henderson was struggling to get out from under $20,000 in college loans.
Of course, Charlie had pointed out to him that searches for all of these people had turned up nothing. The house was the only thing that tied them all together.
“Now what, Charlie?” Dan looked around. The street was empty, no one was about. He noticed that all the windows on this end of the street that faced the house seemed to keep their curtains and blinds shut.
“Now we get to the bottom of this,” he told Dan. Charlie shrugged off his backpack and took out a pair of crowbars.
They pried the boards off the front door, thankful that no cars passed by, perhaps a bonus for being a dead-end street. The door was locked, but Dan (who had been obsessed with becoming an escape artist when he was in the fourth grade) easily picked it with a small file he carried.
“What else do you use that thing for anyway?” asked Charlie.
“If I told you,” and Dan smiled melodramatically, “you’d be an accessory to it.”
They both laughed for a moment, but such close proximity to this place quickly stifled their sense of humor.
The door shrieked in protest when opened, sounding impossibly loud in such a peaceful neighborhood, and both of them looked around anxiously before ducking in. A wall of rot and mold hit them as soon as they crossed the threshold, the smell of years. Yet the walls and floors didn’t look that rotten. The stench faded to a muted odor, and both of them wondered if it hadn’t all just been in their heads. Still, everything about this place seemed aged beyond its years.
Charlie handed Dan one of several flashlights he had scrounged up for just this occasion, and they ventured in.
“What a dump!” Dan remarked, seeing that neither wallpaper nor paint had put up much of a fight against gravity. “And Pat used to live here?”
“I don’t get it,” Charlie told him, trying not to step on the lumps in the kitchen linoleum. “This place used to be really nice. I don’t know how it went downhill so fast.”
They searched the first floor, finding nothing of note. Then they did what Charlie feared most. They went upstairs.
The steps themselves were warped and creaky, and by the time they reached the top, they felt as if everything was slightly crooked. The lock, the only thing that had allowed Lynn to get any sleep during her final days there, was still on the door, but it was unlocked. When they pushed, it stuck for a moment, then ground open on crusty hinges.
Dan shivered, glad now that he had stuffed a jacket into his backpack.
The wave of chilly air carried Charlie on a tide of memory.
“What the hell…” he muttered as he looked upon the attic door. Gone was Yoda, and in his place was a Ninja Turtles poster hung by a corner. There was also a pile of crushed soda and beer cans in the open closet next to him.
“Hobos?” Dan asked nervously, though he had no idea why even a drifter would choose a room with such a terrible draft.
“I don’t know. When I stayed here one weekend, I stayed the night in Pat’s room, and he told me something. He said he was scared of that door, that he was sure there was something in there…”
Charlie walked up and undid the latch, as a few others had done before, but then he whipped out a screwdriver and popped the pins out of the door’s hinges.
“Dude, you’re creepin’ me out here,” said Dan.
“I don’t trust that door,” Charlie told him. “Now help me.”
They removed the door and heaved it down the stairs for good measure. All the while doing this with the irrational expectation that something mean was going to leap out at them.
Neither of them knew quite what to say when they looked into the open doorway.
“That’s… just not right…” Dan didn’t know about Charlie, but what he saw here gave him a strong urge to go back outside and examine the roof. Mostly, though the urge was just to get outside.
“At least we can go back,” said Charlie, and he crossed the threshold, noting with some surprise that he didn’t even have to duck to avoid the rafters.
The room surely extended beyond the house’s floorspace. Beyond that, it also reached around two corners. This was in clear violation of all the rules Mr Northrop had made them read in Physical Science.
Looking around warily, and frequently looking back to make sure the door was still gone, they ventured around one corner. The first thing they noticed was an open trunk. Out of sheer curiosity, they looked inside.
“Pat…” Charlie gasped. Most people wouldn’t recognize the skeleton, but Charlie still recognized his cousin’s favorite shirt, even after all these years. Surely Pat didn’t deserve this.
Seeing the skeleton, Dan cried out in horror, staggering backwards into the open wardrobe behind him. As he fell among the coats, he felt bony hands on his arms. The wardrobe door slowly swung shut—
But Charlie caught one of the doors, letting Dan back out, starting and sputtering at the jumble of bones falling behind him.
Before Charlie could even think to stop him, Dan took off. In the wrong direction. He noticed, with considerable alarm, that the other end of the branch also branched around two corners. As he stood gaping at Lynn’s scattered bones, indecision gripped him as his friend’s panicked footfalls faded around still more corners.
It was the thumping, dragging sounds he heard from beyond there that set him in motion as he completely lost his nerve.
The next thing he remembered, he was standing out on the street, backing away from the house, as if it was something you don’t dare turn your back on. About halfway down the block he stopped, waiting. He stood there for what felt like forever, but Dan didn’t emerge.
He was still trying to summon up the nerve to go back in when a police car pulled up behind him.
“Excuse me, young man,” said the officer, “but I have a report of two kids prowling around. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
Charlie tried to figure out how he was going to explain this.
-word count: 9541
This story was a sequel of sorts to "The Attic", what originally ended up being a four-part series with the cheesy titles "Additions", "Division", "Multiplication" and "Division". Each part got weaker and weaker, much like horror movie sequels. As such, it’s rare for me to ever go beyond the first story— quit while you’re ahead, and all that jazz— but upon re-reading it years later, the second part’s not so bad, and is actually rather creepy when left alone, without expanding upon it and diluting the horror of the original. So I decided to give the second story its own outing, and see how well it works as a stand-alone sequel. Some details, such as the missing child poster, played into the later stories, but I found the detail is haunting enough all by itself in this story, so I kept it anyway.