Timmy already knew, standing in the front yard of the old place, that he never should have agreed to it.
All the kids in the neighborhood knew the house was haunted. Nobody’d lived in it for as long as Timmy’d been alive, and the yard was overgrown with weeds, as nobody cared enough to tend to it. The windows, long since smashed open wide, had allowed decades worth of rainwater into the building, causing the framework of the place to sag. Everyone on the block kept a wide berth, and even the neighborhood’s parents warned their kids to stay away.
Oh, they never called the place haunted, or even admitted there were such things as ghosts, but they did warn their kids to stay away. And that, for the neighborhood kids, was proof enough.
Timmy had known all of this earlier in the day, when on the playground Andy had dared him to go up and into the house after dark to meet the ghost. He knew it, and he knew that nobody he knew of had ever gone into the house and come back out. Nobody had ever gone in at all. And yes, he was terrified by what he might find in there. But he was much more terrified of being called a chicken, there on the playground, in front of everyone he knew. It was a name that could never be lived down once he had it, and one he would go to any length to avoid.
So he claimed that Andy was being stupid, that there were no such things as ghosts, and that he’d be happy to prove it.
And that was how he came to be in the front yard of a haunted house shortly after sunset, with a handful of witnesses from school waiting behind him to see if he’d really go through with it and a rotted oak door ahead, inviting him to come inside. He desperately wanted to run away, but he knew that he could not.
He breathed as deeply as he could, closed his eyes, counted to five, and made his way up to the door.
The knob was cold in the autumn night and the door creaked loudly as it opened, dashing any hope he may have had that it might be locked. Inside, the darkened hall stretched out farther than he could see, and as he entered moldy floorboards creaked under his feet. He took two steps in and stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then, girding himself, he set off down the hall.
He was inside, after all. The hard part was done with and he’d survived it. All he had to do now was find something to bring back out with him, to prove he’d actually gone all the way in, hadn’t just hidden in the hallway, counted to one hundred and retreated to safety. A plan of action which, had Andy not demanded the souvenir, Timmy almost certainly would have pursued.
Down the hall he went, hand braced against the wall for balance, looking for a promising room to search. But most of the rooms in the old haunted house had been long since stripped bare, and nothing could be found. Still, as he headed deeper into the heart of the place, Timmy could swear he heard sounds from the basement level.
He couldn’t tell what it was, but for reasons unknown even to him he was drawn toward the sounds, perhaps simply because the soul-crushing emptiness of the place made the prospect of something, anything, seem appealing. The knock-knocking grew louder as he made his way through empty halls and gutted rooms, and as he came to the door leading down to the cellar he saw a faint, ghastly light emanating out from under it’s crack.
To go on was madness.
To go back a humiliating admission of defeat.
Thus, there was no choice at all.
He cracked open the door, readjusted his vision to the sudden presence of light, and steeled what little courage he had left. Then, believing himself ready for anything, he made his slow way down the stairs.
He was ready, that is, for anything but what he saw.
A single, rotted mattress lay across unfinished floor, with two threadbare blankets thrown atop it. The room was lit by a few dozen candles, and they illuminated it enough to see… not much. An old looking, battery powered stereo, a faded picture in a frame by the mattress, a few articles of clothing strewn about the floor, and a table with a collection of glass flasks and bags of powder atop it, next to which sat a well used chair. Timmy didn’t understand what the flasks were for, nor what the powder was, but he knew he had to leave the house with something, and if he were to find anything this would be where it was found.
He took a step away from the stairs and into the room as behind and above him a slurred voice cursed and the door slammed shut.
As footsteps echoed down the stairs Timmy realized; in an empty room, there is no place to hide. Not that one can hide from a ghost.
So, cowering, Timmy awaited his fate. Though when the ghost arrived he looked nothing like any Timmy’d ever seen on TV.
His eyes were wide and wild and his hair long and stringy, falling to his shoulders in greasy waves. His too thin body was clad in old, torn jeans and a faded t-shirt, and he was shaking with fury as he arrived at the bottom of the staircase. He took a minute to adjust his own eyes to the light, the left one twitching uncontrollably, and finally fixed them, white-hot with hate, on Timmy.
“Who. The fuck. Are you?” This horrifying stranger nearly screamed as he bore down on Timmy.
So no, the house wasn’t haunted after all.
Though perhaps it soon would be.