This story is by Dinalee Peterson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I banged on the thick, wooden door for who knows how long. It was probably just a minute or two, but it felt like at least an hour to me. And all I got out of it was the laughter and taunting of my brother and his friends on the other side. My knees gave in, exhausted. Tears welled up in the corner of my bespectacled eyes. Even after they’ve left me inside the abandoned house, I still heard Randall’s taunts in my head; his crybaby brother doing what he does best once again.
A wad of snot shot out of my nose in a heaving sneeze. Dust mixed with the fluids as I wiped my face. I sneezed a few more times before bothering to get up again.
I tried to open the door on my own. My hands gripped the curved brass handle and pulled as hard as they could. My weak muscles did nothing. It creaked a bit but refused to budge. It was as stubborn as Randall was when I tried to play video games with him. The mere thought of him and this whole situation turned my fear into anger.
“Fine,” I said to myself. “if he and his stupid friends won’t help me, then I’ll figure out how to get out by myself.” The thought of the surprised look on his face made me smile.
I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and pressed on the flashlight function. Of course, there were no bars this far out in the countryside. I turned around and directed the bright light down the darkened hallway. I was in Old Man Owen’s house, the local “haunted” house everyone talks about when they’re bored. It’s been around since before my grandpa’s time, forever abandoned. Everyone had their own thoughts as to why. Grandpa told me it was due to a foreclosure because the Owen family lost all of their money. The kids at my school thought it was because of water damage from a flood years ago. And, as per usual for my brother, he thought it was haunted by a murderer’s ghost and brought me and his friends out here to check it out.
At least, that’s what he told me when we drove up here. I should’ve known that this would have happened to me. This wasn’t the first time I was the guinea pig for one of his ideas. This was just, arguably, the more terrifying of them.
I shone the light on the flight of stairs that sat on the right of me. Some of the boards near the top had rotted through and were angled off the sides. The wallpaper was peeling in scatter patches on every panel of the wall. The entire house reeked of dust and dirt. I shivered as my body finally noticed that it was cold inside. And every few moments, I would hear the wind shake the house.
I took a few steps forward. The wooden planks underneath creaked slightly as I looked around. There was a cupboard door under the stairs. The key was shoved into the hole, and I didn’t dare to turn it and see what was inside. I was neither that brave nor stupid.
The entrance to the dining room had two doors that led inside. One of them had fallen off its hinges. They were painted white, with a pair of rectangular windows embedded in the upper half. Inside the dining room was a long table surrounded by eight chairs, all of them covered with white sheets. A china cabinet rested against the wall full of untouched dishware.
I continued on towards the kitchen at the other end. I gently pushed on the door and poked my head in. The smell worsened. Now there was a hint of mold added to the mix. The tiled counters were covered in grime and cobwebs. The linoleum floor stuck to my shoes like suction cups. There was a backdoor tucked away in a small path in the corner. I tried to pry it open, but it was as stubborn and useless as the front door. Then I tried the kitchen windows, but they were stuck too.
I coughed into my sleeve. It was caked in dirt and dust. My throat was burning, and I kept swallowing bits of snot every few seconds. I shone the light out the window and caught shadowy glimpses of the leafless trees and brown grass. An image of a murderer waiting out there crossed my mind, but I quickly shook it off and went into the dining room.
I tried the windows in the dining room to no avail. The more I tried, the more frustrated I became. Did my brother really intend to leave me here by myself all night? Or, worse, for forever? I knew he was an ass, and that we didn’t get along, but I didn’t think he would go this far to traumatize me.
A thump from above made me jump. Scenes from horror movies raced through my mind. All of them ended with a gruesome murder, and I was to join them, I thought.
I concealed my light and backed into the corner by the china cabinet. I cowered for a few moments, listening intently. But nothing else disturbed the house in that time span. Not even the wind.
I got up again and the floorboards squeaked from the movement. The need to get the hell out of there was more urgent now. I stepped over the fallen door and explored the other half of the first floor. The living room area had large pieces of furniture all covered in sheets. An old fireplace stood against the wall. Its iron entrance looked like a black hole against the white mantelpiece. The room looped around back towards the kitchen, and I found myself facing the back door again.
I futilely twisted the rusted knob again. Nothing. In a fit of rage, I started kicking and pushing on it. A loud thump made me stop. It was on the first level this time. And it was on the other end of the house.
A cold sweat coursed down my spine. My hoarse breathing quickened. I didn’t dare turn around in fear that some evil entity was right behind me, just like in the movies. I just stood there in silence, listening for some other sound. My ears started to ache. Some part of me wanted the confirmation that I wasn’t hearing things, the other part wanted desperately for me to be wrong.
Moments had passed. Nothing else happened. I tiptoed around the kitchen with my back against the counters. For a moment, I thought to turn off the light to keep it from revealing my location. But then I’d be alone in the dark, and I was already pissed about being left alone in the first place. I cursed Randall’s name under my breath when another thump made me jump.
All this thumping around had me thinking for a moment—what if this was all of Randall’s doing too? What if he came back into the house just to spook me?
Despite myself, I started laughing. The idea made more sense than a murderer being in the house. At least, it made calmer sense than a murderer being in the house. “Okay guys, you got me,” I said loudly. “I know what you’re all doing. You had your fun.”
A loud crash in the dining room sent me flailing to the ground. The sound of broken glass and plates broke me from my trance and I rushed into the living room. My instincts commanded my body to hide behind the largest sofa under the edge of the sheet. I felt like a kid playing hide-and-seek again. I was too conscious of my toes sticking out and the light shining through. I curled and tucked my limbs in tightly. I felt like a small, human ball, but I didn’t think I was small enough.
Slow, creeping steps echoed through the hallway and made their way into the living room. The footsteps were heavy, deliberate. I covered my face with one of my hands to quell my breathing. My heart threatened to leap from my chest and reveal my location.
The footsteps faded into the kitchen and seemed to stop there. I battled with myself to get up and flee or wait it out. It wasn’t as if the doors were opening for me before. What was I capable of doing in these situations?
I waited too long. The footsteps started up again, tracing back to the living room. They walked past the couch I was hiding in and stopped. I heard the flicking of a match and a fire being ignited. The room soon started to smell like burning newspaper and wood. A hardy cough and sniffle resounded, and then I heard the clatter of plates and a pot being moved around before the steps retreated back to the kitchen. Someone was shuffling more stuff around in there.
I peeked out from the sheet and surveyed the room. No one was in there with me. I looked over the couch and found a sleeping bag with bags of powder laid out. A can of beans sat next to a rusty pot and one of the plates from the china cabinet.
“What are you doing here, kid?” someone asked.
I turned around and saw a man with a knife. His pale, thin frame was concealed by shoddy clothes. His hair surrounded his small head, making it hard to see his actual face. But I still saw how he eyed me suspiciously through the matted hair.
I backed into the sofa. “Pl-please don’t hurt me.” I stammered. “I was forced inside. My brother refused to let me out. I’m not even supposed to be here.”
His face didn’t relax. “So, what are you still doing here?”
“I got trapped. The door—it didn’t open for me. My arms are too weak.” I glanced at his arms, which were hidden under baggy sleeves. “Please, I don’t mean trouble. I just want to leave and go home. My mom will worry.”
The man approached me, towering over me like a giant. He smelled like he really needed a hot shower. “So you have a family that would miss you?” he asked. One of his furry eyebrows rose up.
I nodded, trying to keep my composure. “Yes, sir. They’d certainly noticed I was gone.”
His fingers drummed against his leg. “And you’re saying you couldn’t get out because of the door?”
“Yes.” Tears started to brim my eyes. I blinked them away.
He took a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to open that front door,” he pointed with the knife. “and you’re going to leave and never come back here. And, you won’t tell anyone that you saw someone here. Understand?”
He leaned forward. His breath encased my nose with a foul stench. “Because if you don’t, well, I’m sure you know what would happen to you.” He held the knife above my head, as if he was ready to stab me then and there.
I swallowed my fear and nodded again. “I won’t tell a single soul about tonight. I promise.”
“Good.” He headed for the door, his knife firmly in his grasp.
I carefully followed him. The door came open with a rough tug. It swung widely, and he stayed to the side to let me pass. Without turning my back on him, I walked outside into the crisp, cold air. As soon as he slammed it closed again, I ran as fast as I could away from that house.
When Randall found me, disheveled and frightened, he badgered me about how I got out of there. But I stubbornly kept to my word. I had escaped, alive, and no one found out about the guy that lived in Old Man Owen’s house.