Sneaking into an abandoned house is a lot harder than you’d expect.
I mean, sure, you could always break a window and go in that way. But then someone might hear you, or you might cut yourself on something nasty.
Nobody wants that.
So, when Karen dared me to spend the night in the old Connolly place, I didn’t exactly know what to say.
“How do you want me to get in there?” I asked her, somewhat intrigued by the notion.
“I don’t know, try the front door maybe?” She’d replied a tad snottily. Why I put up with her is beyond me.
“And if the front door is locked, what then?”
“Look, are you going to come up with a reason to duck the dare or are you going to do it?” She’d demanded. Our group of ragtag misfits all gathered around her living room for a rousing game of truth or dare this glorious Halloween night.
After looking at her for a while, I’d finally just grinned at her. “Sure, I’ll do it. One night won’t be so bad.”
And so here I am, looking at the old Connolly place on Teakwood Lane. Teakwood Lane was nothing but old homes that had been boarded up years ago, but the largest of the all by far was the Connolly place. Three stories with an attic, with rotting wooden panels and peeling paint, windows with layers of dust and grime on them… who wouldn’t want to stay here for a night?
Looking back at Karen, who has that smug look on her face, I just smile. “You remember your end of the deal now, right?”
She rolls her eyes. “Yes, if you stay the whole night, you get to kiss me.”
“Damn straight. And you better kiss back!” I laugh, earning a few chuckles from our gathered friends. Turning to regard the house once more, I heave a sigh. “So, what’s the story about this place, anyway?”
“What’s it matter?” Karen asks somewhat aggressively. “Just find a way inside already!”
“Context my dear, context. I want to know what ghosts I should look for. And what they might want to do to my frail, innocent body.”
Brandon, a lanky long-haired boy, clears his throat. “Well, back in the day there was an old man who lived here, Mr. Connolly, and he didn’t walk right. His left leg had been broken when some kids left something in his yard. So, he walked with a cane, a solid mahogany cane with a silver serpent head.”
“How utterly banal, but please, continue,” I say, looking the building up and down.
“Well, the word is he became something of a shut-in after a few years. But late at night people, well, kids really, said they could hear him walking the street. His cane you see would tap loudly against the pavement.”
“So, he liked midnight strolls.”
“Exactly, but then things got weirder. Some kids said they would find boot prints and cane markings outside their windows in the morning, as if he’d stopped to watch them sleep. Even kids that lived on the second floor of a house said there would be markings by a window on the first floor. Then the disappearances started.”
“Enter creepy music,” I mutter, watching one window. Thought I’d seen a flicker of movement in the old house, a movement of the drapes.
“One by one, the children of the neighborhood disappeared. At first, people thought they were being abducted and taken away. But some say that old Mr. Connolly was taking them and bringing them home.”
“To what, eat them?” I ask, looking back at Brandon.
“Nobody knows. But when he died, and his house was searched, a lot of children’s clothes were found, folded neatly in a closet. Two parents of missing kids said that the clothes belonged to their child.”
“Creepy…” Zack, a stocky friend of mine, grumbles.
“Yeah, Mr. Connolly's son sealed the house up something quick, not bothering to have anything taken out of it. But every Halloween night, kids in the neighborhood will see an older man walking with a serpent head cane in a billowing trench coat, and every morning after, some will find markings outside their windows of Mr. Connolly having stood there.”
“So, you’re sending me into the haunted home of a child-killing ghost on Halloween night, for a dare.” I surmise, looking back at Karen.
I turn back, flipping on my flashlight. “I knew you loved me.”
“Go to hell!” She snaps.
“Fairly certain you’re trying to send me there as is, I will not make it any easier for you by complying.” I shoot back. “Now you said that I would have to prove that I stayed in the house the whole night. How, pray tell, do I do that?”
“Well, we’ll stay out here all night. You just must climb to the third story and leave your flashlight on. We’ll see the light from the street and wait until dawn, and then you can come out. That is if you’re still alive.”
“You are a moody little thing, aren’t you Karen?” I grouse, reaching into my cargo pants to fiddle around with the tools I brought along with me. If I break in, I’m not leaving a mess behind. Call me a stickler for perfection, but that just seems too messy for my sensibilities. Besides, none of the windows look to be broken already. I don’t want to be the first to break one.
Might be bad luck.
“So, what, I come out at dawn or whenever you guys come knocking?”
“Dawn is fine with me if you even make it that long,” Karen answers, a smug look on her pretty face.
“Dawn it is. Now you said something about the house never being cleared out, am I right?”
“Yeah?” Brandon replied with uncertainty.
“Well then, his cane is somewhere in the building, am I right?” I say, smiling at the growing looks of horror on my friend’s faces.
“No, Mike don’t do that!”
“I will! If I can find it, I’ll bring the cane back as a souvenir!” I exclaim, giving Karen my lopsided grin. “What do you think about that?”
“Just you trying to show off, as usual.” Karen harrumphed, crossing her arms.
“Not trying dearies, doing is the word you’re looking for. I am showing off. Cause I’m just that badass!” I say with a smile before pulling a screwdriver from my pocket. “Well, I got to get to work breaking into a house. You guys have fun camping out here while I find somewhere away from the cold wind.”
As if to punctuate my statement, the wind chose this exact moment to flare up, whipping around us with bone-chilling force. I just laugh at Karen’s face as she shudders before moving across the street to the decrepit home of the late Mr. Connolly.
The front yard was a mess, overgrown with a circle of bricks in the middle holding the spot where a large tree grew from the ground, bereft of leaves, branches twisted and gnarled like angry claws reaching for the heavens. A row of enormous hedges covered the front walkway, covered in spider webs, prompting me to just try a different path. Besides, the front door would most likely be locked, anyway.
Walking around the side of the house, I find two tall windows over some overgrown flowerbeds. Taking my screwdriver, I jam it in between the moldering wood and the rusty metal of the window frame, and push down. Sure enough, with a loud squeak, the window opens half an inch, letting out a billowing cloud of dust that I cough through. Slipping my fingers beneath the window, I put my back into lifting it enough that I can slip into the house without having to open the thing the full way.
It takes a few minutes, as the accumulation of rust and verdigris over the years has forced the window to stick in place, but I finally open a two-and-a-half-foot gap that I can squeeze through. Putting my flashlight in first, I climb through the window and onto a raised section of padded wood… a chair for someone to sit and stare out the window.
The padding is worn and moldy and the wood creaks beneath my weight, but it holds all the same as I clamber across it into the living room of the haunted house.
Picking up my flashlight, I scan the room once, looking for anything worth looting. Hey, if I’m here I might as well see if I can find a cool trinket or two, right? My flashlight scans over a large table shaped like an oval, peeling orange paint faded from years of neglect. The house groans as the wind blows outside, a few shutters clattering about upstairs; enough to make me laugh, but not jump.
Shining the light deeper into the darkness, I find a fireplace with an iron grate over it and a lock. Curious, I move up to it and check it out. The lock is garden variety, and grimy with soot and ash, as if fires have taken place while the lock was here. Shining the light through the charred grate, all I see is ash, broken up bits of blackened log, and… something else. Something poking through the detritus like a ship sinking in the tide.
The shattering of glass from behind makes me jump, spinning in place to look for what the noise was.
A tray that had been sitting at the bar is now lying on the floor, the dusty glasses sitting atop it shattered. My light races around, looking for someone else or a cause to the strange noise. All I hear is a light breeze outside, and a slight wheezing noise coming in from somewhere close by. Looking around, I see a few loose boards showing the bare wooden walls behind the plaster. Maybe some wind is filtering through?
Turning back to the fireplace, I hold up the lock, looking at it. I have a small pair of bolt cutters in my pocket, though I don’t think they’d cut through it in one go. Should I go digging through a dead man’s fireplace?
The creaking of boards overhead makes me look up. I can hear footsteps, followed by a clunking sound. They seem to move higher into the house… must be the old pipes just rattling.
“Yeah, if Brandon hadn’t told me about the old man that would just sound like old pipes.” I mutter to myself.
Turning away from the fireplace, I move out of the living room and into the kitchen, slipping almost on the linoleum. Bringing my flashlight to bare, I look at smears of fresh mud on the floor and follow them out of the kitchen into the living room and to the stairs leading up. Judging by the footprints, they belong to someone my size, maybe a little bigger. From the way the mud smears, it looks like they were dragging something.
“This place gets weirder and weirder…” I say, before flashing my light up to the top of the stairs.
For the briefest of moments, my flashlight catches something, though what it is I don’t know as it moves out of the light and down the hall, heavy steps making the boards beneath it groan in protest, the thumping of heavy steps now audible enough to tell me that there has to be someone here.
“Hey, I don’t want any trouble!” I call out, taking a step up the stairs, one hand on the banister. “I’m just here on a dare!”
The floorboards creak upstairs slowly until I can hear the squeaking of an old door closing; the lock turning audibly. Walking up the stairs, hand on the banister; I keep my flashlight up, so I can see if someone suddenly jumps in my path. I wince as my hand runs across something sharp. Turning the light on it, I look at a yellow chunk of something hard embedded in the wood, red speckles leading away from it.
Long scratches in the varnish lead along it, as if someone gripped it as they were dragged up here. Reaching forward to clutch at the jagged bit embedded in the wood, I yank out the yellowed bit and hold it up in the light, feeling the blood drain from my face as I realize that I’m holding someone’s broken fingernail in my hand. Looking back at the banister, I try to keep my breathing calm as I stare at the deep gouges in the wood, before looking at the floorboards.
Droplets of red leading up the stairs, all smeared.
I swallow the lump in my throat and pull out my cell phone, dialing nine-one-one. I press the phone to my ear and wait for an operator to pick up, all the while staring down the hall of the second story.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
“Yeah, I’m a kid that broke into an abandoned house on a dare, but I’m finding some weird things in here.”
“I think I just found someone’s broken nail in a banister, with blood all around it. And there might be bones in the fireplace…” I say, bringing my light up as I see a shadow stretch out across the hall.
“And let me guess, you’re hearing movement inside the house and seeing things out of the corner of your eye?” The operator asked.
“Yeah, how d'you know?”
“You’re in the old Connolly house, aren’t you?”
“What? How d'you know?” I can’t believe she could guess that so easily.
“Because we get these calls every year, and they all turn out to be pranks.”
“This isn’t a prank lady; this is some serious shit!” I whisper harshly into the phone. “I think someone is in one of these rooms has a kid, and about to do something bad. Like, terrible! There was a freaking broken fingernail in the banister, covered in blood!”
“Well, I’ll tell you what. You stay put and I’ll send an officer out to investigate. You give a report and he’ll check the house, and then he’ll drop you off at your parents’ house and have a nice chat with them about breaking and entering.”
“Whatever man, just send the cop already!”
“All right, you just hold tight and someone will be on their way.” The operator says, tapping away at a computer. “Now is there anything else I can help you with? Are you in a safe area of the house?”
“Woman, this whole house doesn’t feel safe!” I nearly cry out.
“Then wait for the police officer, he’ll investigate the house with you.”
“All right,” I say, seeing the logic in that. Who cares if my friends think I’m a chicken, something is wrong here!
The phone hissed with static for a moment before a silky-smooth voice spoke up.
“Ma’am, you need not worry, my son is just playing a Halloween prank. Don’t send out any officers.”
“And who is this?” She asks, sounding intrigued.
“The boy’s father, I’m sorry about all of this.” The voice says a slight strain of static breaking through.
“Well, please tell your son to not play tricks with this line, it’s for emergencies only.”
“I’m not his son! I don’t know who this guy is!” I cry out.
It doesn’t seem as if either party can hear me. “I will discipline him appropriately. All children need a little discipline from time to time.”
“Well, see that you do, I don’t want to hear another call from him regarding any fake emergencies again.”
“It won’t be a problem, I assure you.”
“Thank you,” the operator says.
“No, thank you and have a Happy Halloween.” The silky voice replies.
The operator laughs. “You too. Bye-bye.”
The phone line goes dead for a moment before picking up once more, this time dialing Karen’s number. I press my back against the wall, looking around for anything out of the ordinary.
Karen answers with her usual haughty self. “You’ve only been in there half an hour, you already calling it quits?”
The silky voice just chuckles. “I was just calling to thank you for sending another morsel into my home this Hallows Eve. I rarely get out to stretch my legs, and now I have a two-for-one special for the next twelve months.”
“Who is this?” Karen asks, slightly alarmed.
“Oh, you know exactly who this is Karen. Brandon explained it all, didn’t he?”
Before Karen can respond, the line goes dead, and a ghostly hand from behind me reaches forward to close my phone with a snap. Spinning in place, I see the ghastly visage of an old man, rail thin, standing in the wall's corner, a silver serpent head cane in one hand, with a button-down vest over a white shirt. His face is heavy with age, dark lines and creases marking wrinkles and liver spots while his eyes glow a glimmering green.
I scream, turning and running down the hall to a door far away from the apparition is hot on my tail if the rapid thumping behind me is any guess. I push open a door, his rancid breath boiling down my neck, and slam it shut as quickly as possible.
The room I’m in is dark and smells of mold and rotten fruit. Scanning the area with my flashlight, my eyes widen as I see many iron bound cages holding small human skeletons, most with skin drawn tight over their bones, barely holding themselves together. I hear a whimper from across the room and, upon flashing my light, I see a girl roughly my age crammed into one of the small cages; her face messy with mud and dried blood. Running up to her cage, I can see the fear in her eyes as I pull out the bolt cutters, sliding them over the padlock holding her in.
I quickly begin sawing through the metal to free her, whispering to her we’ll be okay. She just blubbers, telling me we’re doomed. It isn’t until I feel the cool touch of metal against the back of my neck I realize what she’s talking about. The silver serpent head of the cane, pressed against the back of my neck, is more than enough to push me forward, bashing my head into the cage, leaving my head swirling as all I see now is the spinning of the room, the crying girl, and the blazing emerald eyes of old man Connolly as he leans over me, his face pulled into a tight grin as he picks me up, and slides me into my very own cage.
“Oh, you and me Mikey,” he says as I lay in the cage, muttering to myself. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”