Breaking into that house was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done. There were way too many people by the park so we went around and hopped over the fences of all the houses leading up to it. If anyone had been watching, we would have looked like we were going from house to house, breaking in and stealing all the treasure we could find. We were just kids trying to have fun.
We had to cross through 5 yards, one of which had a pool that we all agree we would use one night when no one was home. The last yard next to the abandoned house had a wall separating the two properties. It was big, a lot taller than the fences we had been hopping. I wasn’t sure who had build it, but I had the strong feeling it was one of the surrounding neighbors, or all of them.
The front of the abandoned house had a rotted waist-high fence with some of the planks broken or hanging to the side. The wall, though, looked like it had been freshly built, but the vines and moss that had taken over it made it obvious that it was quite older than it looked. It was clear that the neighbors wanted to pretend that house did not exist.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Jackson and AP, being the tallest, helped the rest of us up and over the wall. I was second after Drip. Maybe it was the child’s imagination in me, but as I landed and looked around, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we had trespassed into another realm.
One that we did not belong in.
The vegetation had run rampart, overgrown to a degree that a small forest would have been the only way to describe it. There was green everywhere, roots tracing the ground and walls like thick bulging veins. Moss, weeds, and vines doing everything they could to spread themselves over everything they could. Big looming trees that stole the light all for themselves and allowed only faint rays to illuminate the less deserving beneath.
It was one of the most beautiful sights of nature I had ever seen.
But I was alone in that thought.
As soon as the whole crew was over, Benny began his nervous ranting. Complaining about snakes or insects that could be slithering over his toes. Sugar was quick to latch on, bitching about his clothes getting dirty. Before anyone else could join, AP spoke up from the top of the wall.
“Shut it pretty boy,” he said before dropping in next to us. “You can buy yourself more when you sign your deal but you ain’t gonna be able to buy yourself these memories.”
That always stuck with me, in more ways than one.
We pushed through the brush, everyone jumpy that at any moment something out of a horror movie would spring out of nowhere and tear us apart. In a situation like that, I couldn’t help but wonder which of us would stand our ground and which of us would flee.
The closer we got, the slower we seemed to walk. It seemed as if the small number of rays shining through began disappearing and everything got darker. I turned and looked at the forest behind and noticed a faint fog obscuring the edges of the walls.
I felt like we were being watched.
Not like the man who followed me. Something else. Something…
It was all so unnatural. The walls, the trees, the brush, fog, everything. It just wasn’t right. As I turned my head back toward the rest of the crew, my eye caught a glimpse of a light. A sharp, bright red light.
I shot my attention back toward it but there was nothing there. I scanned for a second, sure that I had seen something.
“You spooked E?” said Jackson, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“I…” I rescanned one last time, catching only the faint outline of a hooded figure at the edge of the fog. “No. Just thought I saw something.”
“Fuck you E!” hissed Benny. “They put you up to this? Y’all just trying to make me shit myself?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said his little brother. I could see his hand gently holding Benny’s jacket.
Everyone chuckled nervously. “Nah, there’s something in this place.” said Jackson as we all climbed over the back porch. “There’s a reason it ain’t been touched in years. E probably just caught a glimpse of it.”
“You really ain’t helping.” said Drip.
“Yeah, nah. Fuck this and fuck y’all,” said Benny. “I ain’t going in there.”
“Cool,” said Ty, pushing past his big brother. “Stay out here and make friends with whatever that nigga saw. Pussy.”
We all watched his little brother go straight up to the door and shove it open. Drip turned toward us with a smirk and shrugged as he looked at Benny. We all followed the kid in, ignoring Benny as he protested. It wasn’t long after all of us went in that we heard the door open one last time and had Benny join us.
Inside was no better than the mess outside. If Ty and Drip hadn’t had the flashlights on, it would have been pitch black. I turned mine on, only to have the light shine over a giant maggot squirming over the rotted walls.
There was dust everywhere. I wouldn’t have been surprised if our lungs ceased right there on the spot. Every step we took caused the floor to creak worse than an old man’s bones. I was scared that any moment my foot would break through the wood and drop me in to the guts below.
“Where to?” said Drip, overtaking Ty who I could tell was glad didn’t have to lead up front anymore.
“Man, why the hell we back in here?” said Drop. “Who’s stupid ass idea was this anyway?”
“Yours nigga!” hissed Benny from behind.
“We all agreed, if E gonna be part of us, he needs to be an educated man,” said AP. “Needs to know the history of where he kicks it.”
“Sounds like another white man taking advantage of black kindness. Using us for his own personal gain.”
“Shut up Benny,” said Drip.
“He probably subliminally brainwashing all of us to eventually make us his slaves, ain’t ya?” Benny watched me as if he were serious, only to shoot me a nervous smirk. “Back me up Jackson.”
I smiled back. Nerves cause people to say some pretty stupid shit.
“Upstairs cool with you E?” said AP.
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
“You done heard ‘im Drip,” said Jackson in a sluggish, uneducated accent. “Mastah done want us upstairs first.”
We took the stairs one person at a time, sure that the wood would break under too much weight. As I expected, Ty used the opportunity to group with his brother again. I, on the other hand, found myself in between AP and Sugar.
The upstairs hallway was narrow, barely big enough to fit two people side by side. There was this creepy, claustrophobic feeling it gave you, especially when you couldn’t see the end of the hallway without flashing our light down it. To top it all off, there were these thick empty frames that hung over the walls. I would have preferred to see some kind of painting, even a portrait, but there were only scraps leftover. Remnants of whatever lay within them at one point.
The rooms were huge. Each one big enough to hold a bedframe with a cockroach infested mattress littered with holes. There were decorations within them that seemed purposed to unsettle the inhabitants than to make them feel at home, and it did a damn good job of it. Each room told a story of who had once resided in it.
The teenage daughter with her walk in closet where dirty, molded, yet nearly whole dresses still hung. The children’s room who’s two small beds were strategically placed to allow the most space to play. Rotted toys, an old wooden horse with patches of leather missing and holes over the wood, random clumps of ripped fabric everywhere. Finally, the parent’s room with their massive bed and dresser, a personal bathroom with broken glass and ceramic everywhere, and a small armoire that had likely held beautiful jewelry at one point but was empty now.
“This is fucked up,” said Benny. Everyone had made a comment or two, a way to relieve the fear that coursed through each of us, but Benny seemed to have coined that phrase that day, repeating it in different ways every few minutes. “Could we just get out of here? I think we’ve all seen enough.”
“I’m with Benny,” said Sugar as we exited the parent’s room and stared down the last door at the end of the hallway. The only door that had been shut.
“Mastah’s gotta see,” said Jackson. “Said it yourself Benny.”
“If you thought all this shit was creepy,” AP put his hand over my shoulder and nodded at Drip who opened the door slower than a sloth. The hinges squealed like a pig being slaughtered as it swung open and behind it was another large room, only this one told a different story.
There was nothing obvious about who it belonged to. In the far edge stood a vanity table with a chair on the floor that had a missing leg. The rest of the room was empty, completely empty. Not even the missing leg decorated the floors, only the vanity doing its damndest to cling to the remaining glass that had once made up a gloriously large mirror.
“This…” whispered Benny. “Fucked up. It’s beyond fucked up.”
None of us could stop staring at it. It had hooked us with ease, as if it had somehow hypnotized us yet we were all too afraid to get close to it.
“When’s the last time anyone lived here?” I asked.
“Who knows?” said Drop. “Definitely not since we was born.”
“Long time,” said AP. “Anyone you ask won’t give you a straight answer.”
“I have a feeling that no one’s ever actually lived here,” said Jackson. “That all these things in each room are just there to fool anyone stupid enough to come in here.”
“Infinity fucked up,” said Benny. “You didn’t need to say that.”
“No seriously, think about it,” Jackson took a step forward and turned as if he were going to give a presentation. “All the other rooms show signs of someone calling this place home, yet no sane person gonna decorate everything in their home just to leave some empty creep shit like this. You got walls with no pictures, floors with no furniture, closets with no clothes.” I turned to see a sliding door closet behind us that I had been too absorbed by the vanity to notice before. “This should have been storage if anything, yet the only thing they keep is this fucking thing.”
I slid open the closet door, causing all of them to jump. Just as he had said, there were no clothes.
“Things were probably different back then,” said Sugar as he made toward the table.
“Back when nigga? Back never! I’m telling you, ain’t nobody ever lived here.”
“Ok, then why go through the trouble of decorating the other rooms?” said Sugar. He ran his hand over the surface of the table. “What you supposed all this shit is?”
“Shouldn’t be touching that,” said Benny.
“I don’t know nigga! I’m still working on all that,” said Jackson.
“Ain’t nothin’ to it,” said Sugar as he jiggled one of the drawers open. “It’s creepy as fuck, I’ll give you that, but I’ll go with ghosts before I go with whatever new conspiracy you cooking.”
“Could we just get the fuck out of here,” said Benny. “Please?”
Sugar flashed his light into the open drawer, his body tense. “Holy shit,” he whispered. “You guys gotta see this.”
“What?” said Jackson. “What is it?”
We all inched forward, curious enough to momentarily swallow our fear, yet hesitant to uncover a potential horror we would never be able to unsee. We gathered around the table as close as we could, with Ty on his toes to make sure he didn’t miss out.
“What we looking at?” said Drop.
“Right there,” whispered Sugar. “Don’t you see it?”
“See what?” said Ty.
“Not a damn thing,” said Sugar as he started laughing hysterically.
I felt the breath I’d been holding suddenly release and by the sound of it, I wasn’t the only one.
“You think that’s funny?” said Jackson as he snatched out toward him.
“Hell yeah, I got all you niggas good,” laughed Sugar as he backed up.
Jackson swung his palm out again and again, barely missing Sugar each time. Each time he got him closer to the corner of the room where there would be no dodging him.
“Fuck you Sugar, this is why you don’t kick it with us any-.”
A loud crack was followed by an even louder one and we all watched Sugar go down. His leg went straight through the floorboards and he was left in place with his leg dangling in the abyss below.
“Shit dude, you alright?” said Jakson. Sugar’s face told us everything we needed to know.
“Can you push yourself up?” said AP as he stepped toward him.
Sugar made an effort only to wince immediately and shake his head. “Fucking wood is tearing my leg up.”
“Hang on,” said AP.
Benny chuckled and said, “I think that’s the only thing he can do.”
“Shut up Benny.”
AP motioned to Jackson to go to Sugar’s right. As they got closer, the floor creaked loud enough to stop them in their tracks.
“Hang on, just stay there,” said Sugar, his voice beginning to tremble. “I got this. Let me just figure it out.”
“You might wanna do that quick,” said Benny. “We don’t know what kind of shit is down there.”
“Not funny,” said Sugar as he tried once again to push himself up only to clench his teeth together and cry out.
“Sugar, stop.” said AP. He motioned for Jackson to step back. “Let me try.”
He took slow steps towards Sugar, careful not to disturb the wood more than needed. RIght as he got close enough to reach out, the floor gave way. AP threw himself, trying to grab Sugar’s hand in time but his friend dropped straight through.
A flashlight rolled out over the room and shot chills through me.
“Fuck!” yelled AP, “fuck! Sugar, can you hear me?”
No one answered. ALl of us held our breath, leaving room for only the settling dust and trickling wood chips to play through our eardrums.
“Give me a fucking flashlight,” snapped AP. Jackson handed him his own and AP immediately pointed it down, careful to not go down too. “Sugar!”
“Can you see him?” said Jackson.
“I gotta get down to him,” said AP as he got up. “You stay up here and keep an eye on him.”
“Uh, no. That’s a horrible idea,” said Benny. “This is how niggas die.”
“No one is dying,” growled AP as he pushed past us.
“When niggas split up, they get split up!” said Benny.
“Fine! E?” he looked at me with the most determined look in his eye. I swallowed any trace of fear I was experiencing and nodded to him.
“You don’t even know where you’re going,” trailed Benny.
“That’s my fucking friend down there!” AP’s voice boomed. It was so loud I could feel it vibrate in my head. He glared at Benny as if taunting him to say something else and when nothing did, he stormed out.
We made no attempt to ease down the stairs. Each time my foot came down I could feel the wood bend with no sign of bouncing back up. I remember wondering if AP was worried he would fall in too, but there was no sign of fear in him, only determination. He was hellbent on saving his friend, and even though we were in an area of the house I had not yet seen, I was hellbent on not letting him down.
In a way, the dining room and kitchen were even creepier than the rooms upstairs. There were glass plates shattered within the dining room, likely from another set of visitors who had decided to prove their manliness, but I could tell that at one point the plates had been set at the table as if ready for the next family meal together. I couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever had happened to the people of this house, it had happened quickly and without warning.
Torn from existence.
“Sugar! Can you hear me?” yelled AP as he entered the kitchen and looked around. “Sugar!”
I wanted to tell him to quiet down, worried that someone outside would hear us and I’d get into deep shit but I didn’t. I felt stupid for even thinking that, selfish. I knew he would have done the same for me.
I scanned the kitchen from where I stood, trying to find anything that could help us, but my eyes kept coming back to a small doll. The kind with buttons sewn on for eyes, but the eyes had been ripped off, leaving only a thread hanging down its face, barely visible through the black veil that hung over its head. It held some sort of medallion over its chest as if it cherished nothing else in the world more.
I couldn’t figure out why anyone would leave that thing hanging in front of, arguably, the most used object in a home. If I had wanted to open that fridge, that doll sucked any urge to do so out of me.
*chuckle* Maybe that’s what we should do to combat obesity.
AP opened the pantry door, cabinets, anything. He was frantic, desperate to find some way further through.
“He should be in here,” he grumbled to himself. I could tell the frustration was building in him. “Did you see another room on the other side? A door we may have overlooked?”
“Just the bathroom under the stairs,” I said.
“Then where the fuck is he?” he walked through the dining room and stood between it and the stairs, leaving me face to face with the doll. “Jackson, you still see him?”
“Yeah, he’s still not moving,” came Jackson’s voice.
“Can you tell where he is?”
“Should be the very last room.”
“E?” came AP’s voice, pulling me away from the nasty veiled doll. I turned around to face him and instantly shuddered. I didn’t like leaving my back to that thing. Even with its eyes missing, I could feel it watching me. “Tell me where you hear it.”
He didn’t wait for me to nod or ask for an explanation. “Hit the floor so we can hear it!” yelled AP up to the rest of them.
“I don’t know if I trust this wood much.” came Benny’s voice before three faint thumps cut in.
I could tell it had not come over the kitchen but I couldn’t quite pinpoint where. “Again,” I said as I got closer to the wall.
Seconds later, another three thumps. I put my ear up to the wall and motioned for AP to tell them again. The damn doll hung in my line of sight, taunting me to get closer to it.
The thumping came again and I could hear it from the other side of the wall. “It’s in here,” I said, taking my ear off the wall and tapping it. It was hollow. AP made his way to me as I knocked on the wall again to show him. “There’s gotta be a way in there, maybe-”
His foot rammed straight into the wall, causing everything to shake.
“Fuck was that?” came one of the guys’ voices from upstairs.
After two more kicks, the wood cracked. Seeing that AP had no intention of stopping, I joined in. It wasn’t long until the boards behind the old wallpaper split and a hole was made. We kicked around it enough until we were able to take hold of the planks and pull them apart, making an entrance to a room where likely no one had been to for years.
AP shined his flashlight inside the pitch black room. Something thick and gooey, like tar or black marmalade, was spread over these tiny bubbles. It was beyond sickening. Reminded me of spider eggs, but I couldn’t make out what they actually were. They surrounded the base of what I thought were statues with drapes over them. I wasn’t sure what it all was, I was just hoping I wouldn’t have to be the one to step in there and find out.
“I see light!” came Jackson’s voice.
AP put his free hand over a plank and yanked hard, ripping it open enough to hunch down and step into the room. I was a fucking coward compared to him, even more so since I followed him in just so I wouldn’t be left alone in the kitchen with that damn doll.
As my foot touched the ground, I felt and heard multiple crunches. I nearly gagged at the thought of a thousand spiders sprouting from each popped bubble.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not scared of spiders or nothing, but I doubt anyone likes the idea of them crawling over your skin.
“What the hell is all this?” I whispered as I flashed my light around the room.
“Let’s worry about that after,” said AP, carefully stepping toward the lone body in the corner of the room. It was illuminated by Jackson’s flashlight from up above, like an angel descending on earth, or maybe one being called back up. “Sugar. Sugar, wake up!”
One of those covered up statues stood next to Sugar’s body. When I reached him myself I saw there was a trail of blood that had mixed in with the tar. It made the bubbles look even more menacing. The blood seemed to be coming from the cuts he had gotten on his head an face when he scraped against the wood and not from any serious injury. His pant legs were torn and I could tell that when he woke up, most of his pain would come from there.
“He alright?” came Benny’s voice.
“He’s breathing,” said AP. “Come on, we gotta get him outta here.” He pointed at Sugar’s legs and I stowed the flashlight between my teeth so I could free up my hands. As we took hold of Sugar, AP yelled up. “Meet us in the kitchen!”
Sugar groaned. I could feel thick splinters of wood lodged into his skin, but it wasn’t the time to worry about that. We counted to three and picked him up, only to have Sugar cry out in pain. I was ready to stop, but seeing not even the tiniest flinch from AP, I kept on. I adjusted Sugar in my arms and waited for AP to do so as well before I began to walk backwards.
It was then that I truly felt we were not alone. More than the overgrown jungle behind the house, more than the blind doll in the kitchen. It was in this room, as my hands were occupied and my body moving backwards, I realized how many of those covered statues surrounded us, all of them somehow staring directly at us.
I swear, I could see bright red dots beneath the blankets.
With every step I took my light seemed to discover another. It felt like we were amidst the Terracotta army and, at any moment, the drapes that hid their faces would slide off and awaken the nightmare beneath.
I’ve never been a superstitious man, but I’ll admit that, in that moment, ghosts, demons, monsters, my mother bashed to bits, my father back from hell, cold and pale. That’s what stood hidden behind the sheets.
I couldn’t wait to be out of that house.
By the time we reached the hole in the wall we had made, the crew was already on the other side. They helped us get Sugar through into the kitchen where all of us stood around as AP shook him up enough with a few slaps to get him back with us.
Sugar groaned a bit and bunched up his face as he tried to take everything in.
“Damn nigga, you had me worried there,” said AP. “How you feeling?”
Sugar moved his jaw around a bit until finally croaking, “Like a fuckin’ nigga’s been slapping me around.”
“Oh good, so nothing you ain’t used to,” said Benny. “It’s great you up and all, but I’m fucking done with this place. So…can we please get the fuck out of here already?”
“Shut up Benny,” said Jackson.
“Nah, I’m with Benny here,” said Sugar, leading to a coughing fit.
“Same,” said Drip. “I don’t wanna be here no more.”
“Thank you!” said Benny, “and for the record, I told y’all this was a bad idea. So can we never forget this and agree to never come back to this pisshole again?” Benny stood and pointed at the doll on the fridge. “I mean look at this shit!”
No one said anything, as if afraid to admit that we had fucked up to AP. It felt tense, with only the faint creaking of the house to filter through our ears. It wasn’t until the high pitched voice of Ty interrupted our silence.
Since going out the back way was no longer an option, we were forced to exit from where everyone could see us. Luckily for us, the park had gone dead while we had been in there so it made us getting out without being caught a breeze. At no surprise, though, Benny was quick to offer himself up as a lookout since it meant him and Ty getting out faster.
On our way out, I stood in the dining room and I couldn’t resist looking back through the hole in the wall we had made one last time. Two figures stood on the other side, their bright red glowing orbs piercing back through the darkness, taunting me to look closer, promising to take me to the same place I had taken my old man.
You never stop feeling like there’s something hiding out within the shadows, even when you’re an adult. Something that is never willing to let you see it, but always following you, its breath biting at your neck, ready to savor you when you least expect it.
We all decided against taking Sugar to the emergency room. It didn’t seem like anything was broken, just some cuts, bruises, and splinters that needed digging out. Thinking back, he probably had a fairly severe concussion as well, but we were kids and things like that always seemed like they would just heal on their own.
In Sugar’s own words, “A scar or two might make my swimming through the ladies easier.”
We took him back home, cleaned him up, and tried to come up with a good excuse for his mom.
Since his house was down the street from mine, and time was cutting real close, the crew dropped me off too. Everyone fist bumped me but when it came to AP, he clasped my hand and pulled me in, saying something just loud enough for me to hear.
I nodded before Benny said, “Well nigga, let’s do that again…never. Little bro over here nearly shit his pants.”
“You nigga!” said Ty.
We all laughed and I climbed through the window.
“Same time tomorrow?” said Jackson, and I nodded.
The rest of the night I lay in my room turning over the experience we had all been through. It had been a million times more awesome than I had expected, yet every once in a while, those bright red eyes would creep into my thoughts. I would look around my room just to make sure that I was alone.
To make sure nothing had followed me home.