This story is by Laura Eiras and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“But Mom, do I have to?” I cringed, hearing the childish whine in my voice. I hated it, but something about returning home always made me revert to the kid I hadn’t been in over twenty years.
“Yes. It’s required.”
Her eyes met mine, and I knew there was no point in arguing. Not when she had that stern look in her eyes. Her smile was there too, but it didn’t show on her face, just in her voice.
I groaned. “But I had plans for tonight.” I barely managed to keep my irritation from my voice. “Mark told me—”
She put her hands on her hips. “Thaddeus Alexander Kingsley—”
Oh no. I’m in trouble now.
“—I don’t want to hear it. Your brother has done his haunting duty. But you”—she paused, her parental displeasure evident—“you shirked yours the last four years, staying at school to party instead of coming home for Samhain.” She raised one eyebrow—something I always wished I could do—and asked, “Do you really want Terran kids getting stuck in our reality on your conscience? Think of the paperwork you’d be required to fill out, if nothing else!”
I laughed as she intended, but my frustration was real. Damn it. Mark had it covered. Mom had no right—I shook my head—Never mind, done is done. Despite what Mom seemed to think, I did take my duty seriously. I’d watched the archived records showing terrified, and heartbroken people accidentally brought here when the anomaly reactivated, and the House returned to our plane. They weren’t pretty; a temporary scare was much better.
There’s no reason duty couldn’t also be fun. My enthusiasm grew as I put on my costume and got into character. Exit Thad, and enter Silas, who murdered his entire family.
Grey flannel shirt and torn jeans drenched in blood, check. Butcher knife, check. Now, the pièce de resistance, I slipped on the phase ring and activated it with my implant. Even knowing what to expect, I shivered as the ring did its magic, and the familiar chill swept over me. Of course, it wasn’t really magic, just advanced technology, but since I didn’t understand how it worked, it might as well be magic. Fortunately, activating it through my implant was simple. Half-phase allowed interaction with people and objects, although I would appear as an apparition. Fully activated, I was completely out of phase and could pass through objects. Why I didn’t fall through the floor was part of that mysterious advanced technology.
I snuck up behind Mom and tapped her on the shoulder. She eeped and spun around, an angry flush on her face. I deactivated the ring, phasing back, and grinned at her sheepishly. “Sorry Mom, couldn’t resist.”
She looked at me sharply. “It’s not a toy. Don’t abuse it.”
No one lived in the House. The paint was peeling, the shutters were askew, and the porch steps were warped and uneven. Midnight was only two hours away, so I hurried inside. That was the real source of my earlier irritation. Mom’s intervention hadn’t left much time for me to prepare.
Fortunately, my customized Haunted programs from previous years were still on the computer. I tested the holographic projectors and hidden speakers. Everything worked perfectly. The infrasonic vibrations would help set the correct atmosphere, producing a variety of feelings such as anxiety, fear, or disgust. Some people experienced goosebumps or chills down their spine.
“Breakthrough in T-minus ten minutes,” Computer said through my implant.
I grinned; almost time for Silas to appear.
Stupid me, I’d almost forgotten to insert the sound filters to block the infrasonic vibrations. Wouldn’t do to be spooked by my own sound effects.
“Computer, activate external microphones.”
At first, there was nothing but crickets chirping, then the distant crunch of gravel, followed by faint voices.
“Breakthrough in T-minus five minutes.”
“Computer, stop the countdown.” It was an unnecessary distraction now.
“There’s nothing here, Loren. The path just ends. I told you they were wrong.”
“It’s not midnight yet, Alex. The stories say the house appears when the barriers between worlds are thin on All Hallows Eve.”
“Yeah, Halloween, I get it.”
The boy’s voice was scornful, but I could hear the underlying fear he tried to conceal; Alex spoke his last words a bit too forcefully.
“There is still time to make it back to the party before it fin—”
Midnight. I shuddered as the anomaly activated, and the House slipped from my reality into theirs.
“Where did that come from?” Loren gulped. “It wasn’t here a minute ago!”
I grinned. Despite her earlier words, Loren wasn’t prepared for the stories to be true.
“The moon came out from behind the clouds, that’s all.”
“I’m scared, Alex. I didn’t think it would look so creepy.” Her voice was breathy and quavered on the last word. “Do you think Silas will actually appear?”
He scoffed. “It’s just an old house. No one lives here, so there’s nothing to be afraid of, Loren.”
“Then why can no one ever find it during the rest of the year?”
“They get lost.” Alex sighed. “It’s not as if this path is well maintained. We almost didn’t find it.”
I fully activated the ring and smiled in anticipation. This duty was always more fun when they tried to be brave. The stairs outside creaked.
“Should we ring the doorbell?”
“Why? To let the ghost know we’re here?” Alex laughed. “You don’t actually think Silas is real, do you? He’s just an urban legend.”
“Computer, initiate Haunted program One.” Flickering lights appeared in the windows and the dusty chandelier overhead.
“W-what?” Loren whispered, “Those lights weren’t there a minute ago.”
“You just didn’t notice them,” Alex said, his voice uncertain as if he were trying to convince himself.
“I want to go home.”
“Well, I don’t. Do you really want to go back and tell the gang we found the house and didn’t even go inside? You may be willing to do that, but the guys would never let me live it down,” Alex said. “I’m going in.”
The doorknob turned, and the door opened. The hinges screeched in protest.
“Computer, initiate Haunted program Two.” The infrasonic vibrations took effect as soon as they stepped over the threshold.
“I…I don’t like this, Alex. It stinks in here. Like something died.” Loren swallowed convulsively and shivered. Her hands rubbed up and down her arms. “It’s r-really c-cold in here.”
Alex wrinkled his nose in distaste. “It’s probably a dead mouse.” He looked at her thin sweater. “I told you to wear something warmer.”
Loren seemed more susceptible to low-frequency sounds than Alex. Time to crank it up. “Computer, initiate Haunted program Three.”
A hologram of a Gramophone flickered into existence on a dust-covered table next to a rocking chair. The crank turned, and tinny music with barely audible 17 Hz sine waves began to play.
Loren moaned, and even Alex looked uncomfortable. He glanced over his shoulder at the open door and started to back slowly towards it.
I went to half-phase, and Alex froze as the apparition of Silas appeared blocking the door.
“Computer, activate voice modulator.”
“Welcome.” My voice was hollow and sounded nothing like my normal one. “I’m glad you came for dinner.” I licked my lips. “It’s been too long since I had guests, and I’m starving.”
“Computer, initiate Haunted program four.” Program Four was the most elaborate and had subroutines for different rooms that would only activate if people entered one, so it didn’t matter where they ran.
I held the knife overhead. Blood began dripping from the point, disappearing before it hit the floor. More blood appeared on the walls and started to run down.
The teens screamed, bolted away from Silas to the back of the House, and slammed the kitchen door behind them. I went to full phase and slid through the wall.
The kitchen, lit by a single dangling bulb, had a white enameled stove with a merrily bubbling pot on one burner. A half-eaten meal was on the table and appeared recently abandoned.
Loren ran to the opposite door, which swung open to reveal a half-butchered carcass transfixed by a hook, hanging from the ceiling by rusty chains. She whimpered and ran into Alex’s arms. Before their eyes, the meal rotted, and the pot bubbled over, spewing clotted blood on the stove.
I walked through them, which freaked them out, and materialized by the stove. “Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner?”
They fled the kitchen, out the front door, and escaped down the path. I laughed and closed the door; no chance they would return. Mission accomplished. Just because my great-grandfather had prospered after being transported through the anomaly didn’t mean most humans would. The aliens made it my family’s job to prevent it from happening to others.
“Computer, end all programs.” The music stopped, and the holographic blood disappeared. The haunting of 1322 Terra Street was over for another year.