The Three Friends' Spooky Adventure

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


Castle Harding experienced tragedy many years ago. Three friend enter the abandoned property and discover it may not be abandoned after all.

Submitted: October 31, 2017

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Submitted: October 31, 2017

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The Three Friends' Spooky Adventure
by: Josh Heath
 
 
The leaves had started changing earlier that year than the last. The normal slow creep of Fall was absent that year for Golden Valley; the sleepy hollow was engulfed in one weekend. It wasn't even through the first week of October that every tree was shimmering yellow or dulcet reds. Everywhere one walked, that familiar, satisfying crunch was under your foot, signaling the coming bitter cold and beautiful decay. A month of gorgeous trees, of seeing one's breath come to life in front of one's face, impacting with another falling leaf that will soon crunch under a pair of Chuck Taylors.
 
Matt embraced the change. His lackadaisical demeanor lead him to dive into leaf piles. Even if they were being burned and disposed of, Matt always gave a little pause to contemplate another leaf leap and being another few minutes late getting home after school. It's not like someone being covered in leaves ever had anything bad happen to them, right? Maybe lame puns about leaving/leafing, but those never hurt nobody, except maybe when Matt's buddy, Mark, used a precision pun to just destroy a room.
 
Matt walked through the center of town, past all of the still-in-business Mom and Pop stores. While walking through the center of the valley wasn't the quickest way to his parents’ similarly decked-out Halloween mansion, it was well worth the stroll. Every single window seemed to be dressed to the gills with silly pumpkins, goofy skeletons, and big gooey ears of candy corn. Not even for the Christmastime holidays did these stores get as into the holiday spirit. Walking through town to all these festive harvest tones only made his obsession with the season feel more real.
 
His other buddy, Mike, on the other side of town, stood sullenly at the bus stop. His hoodie already zipped to the top, hood slung up and tightened, covering his matted brown hair. The cold always really bothered Mike. His blood never really seemed to flow, even after another cross country meet. His skin was all bones and his bones were all chilled. His cold attitude probably didn't help either. Mike sneered at that one kid who was still wearing athletic shorts. At least have the decency to wear pants. It's autumn, you troglodyte.
 
All Mike had planned on doing for Halloween that year was catching up on the few Lovecraft film adaptations he had yet to see. John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness wasn't within his viewing repertoire, so that was moved to the top of the queue. Matt and Mark couldn't appreciate the cinematic arts quite as much as Mike did. He would often make films in his mind during his runs, which helped not only to dull the constant pain in his shins, but to dull the boredom of trudging through grassy tracks that circled the same five trees over and over again. No matter the radiance of the outdoor colors, repetition builds resentment.
 
Mark had other plans for the trio, however. Having gotten a ride home from his step brother, Mark started packing a few things into a duffle bag: a few bottles of water, flashlights and batteries, and various pieces of myriad candy brands. Most importantly, he carefully folded up a weathered, battered piece of parchment paper and slid it into his back pocket. He had a plan that would make the three friends legends in the town's already infamous history.
 
Using the rotary on his telephone, Mark first dialed the number to Matt's home phone, only to get the answering machine. “Matt, it's Mark! Hey, buddy, when you get home, I want you to pack a bag and get ready to stay over night. Meet me at Castle Harding before coming to my house though. I got something cool to show you and Mike. See ya there!” Polite and to the point. Mark hoped Matt wouldn't just pack his copies of Electronic Gaming Monthly and extra pairs of socks again.
 
Dialing again, Mark reached out to Mike, who was lucky enough to have a cellular telephone. Mike feels the buzz in his pocket and pulls out his Nokia. “Hello, this is Mike speaking.”
 
“Mike! What's up, man?” Mark asks, barely containing the excitement in his voice. “Are you home yet?”
 
“No, the bus is late again. They hate us north siders, you know that. Jealous, or something.”
 
Mark pipes up a bit: “Hey, I know at least one bus driver lives in your neighborhood. Maybe they just specifically hate you because you told them Speed sucks.”
 
Speed isn't good! Jan de Bont is a very lazy with his camera work, putting too much focus on--”
 
“Don't whip out your cinedick with me, man.” Mark cuts Mike off, which happens regularly. “Just come to Castle Harding. You're close, you can totally walk there.”
 
Mike's voice contorts, confused. “Castle Harding? Why? I get that it's Halloween but, come on. There's nothing there, for the last time. I'm telling you!”
 
“Just don't be a weird loner for once, dude. Meet us there.”
 
“Us?”
 
“Matt's gonna be there too, obviously. You think I'd leave the big guy out of something this great?” Without another word, Mark hangs up the phone, grabs his bag, and heads downstairs. Mike slowly lowers the phone from his ear and slides it back into his pocket. He takes a deep breath, sighing with extraordinary discontent. “These goddamn ghost stories are gonna be the death of that kid,” Mike lamented.
 
After giving Matt some time to get home and pull leaves out of his bouncy curls, the three come upon Castle Harding as the sun starts to set. Twisting spires that lead nowhere, boarded windows, some parts made of brick, some of stone, some of wood...it's a building that isn't sure if it's a home, a fortress, or a warehouse.  It's quite an eyesore. The building has been abandoned for years, ever since the so-called “Dethroning at Castle Harding” incident.
 
Matt sits on the smooth surface at waist level in front of the wrought iron fence. He munches on a Three Musketeers candy given to him by Mark. Mike paces, nervously. “Why are we here again, anyway? You know we can't go inside. It's not like we've ever even been able to get past this gate! Are you hoping to spot a ghost in one of the windows? Mark you know this is--”
 
“Silly?” Getting defensive, Mark stands from the ground. He dusts off the back of his pants and continues: “Maybe. But I think this is the night. I mean, it's the anniversary. Old man Harding gets thrown from the top story window in that high spire, his wife decapitated like Marie Antoinette, and who knows what happened to their baby? They only ever found one leg.”
 
“Who would want a legless baby?” Matt asks, not looking up from his candy, his chubby cheeks filled with nougat.
 
“Right? Very good point, Matt.” Mark throws Matt an approving head nod before turning his attention back to Mike. “No body would ever want that. You know, I think the Hardings were up to some strange business. The police reports redacted what was in the basement. I think they were messing with spirits or ghosts or some real serious Exorcist kind of stuff. They might have just said the wrong thing and let the wrong thing in.” Mark looks towards the strange assemblage of a house. “Maybe it's still in there...and we can find it.”
 
Mike slowly claps. “That's a good spiel you have there, sir. But we lack proton packs or cameras. What, we're just going to emerge from a 'haunted' house and indeed claim that the haunting is true and valid and be hailed as heroes? Hell, Mark, we don't even have a way in the--”
 
As Mike complains, Mark takes a breath and blasts the front gate with a devastating kick. Its rusted lock gives out and falls to the ground with a dull thud. The creak as the gate swings wide open is almost as deafening as it is beckoning. “--house.” Mike finishes his sentence with incredulity. His mouth agape, he looks at the stone pathway leading to the front door. It seems like it stretches on for an eternity. Matt stands and wipes his hands on his cargo pants. Mark has a smirk, feeling powerful. He takes the first step and enters the actual Harding property, the first to do so in quite some time.
 
“Mark, I don't know about this...” Matt chirps in, sounding scared. “Isn't this...illegal?” Mark just shrugs and beckons his friends in with a friendly, encouraging gesture. Matt and Mike look at each other, audibly gulp, and follow Mark and the trail to the front door. The trio feels the pull of curiosity guiding them. Looking over their shoulders, the neighborhood behind them, a modern suburb, seems eerily still and quiet. The trio doesn't see another soul. The lights are out in the condos surrounding the garish property. The front door is pushed open by a sudden gust of wind, its Windsor glass stressing under the pressure.
 
The three friends enter the crusty foyer. Mike goes to close the door behind them and closes it a little too fast, making a slamming noise that causes the other two to jump, startled. “Dammit, Mike!” Mark yells after his feet come back into contact with Earth.
 
“What, ghost boy? Can't handle a little atmosphere?” Mike retorts, happy with himself. “So, what was your plan? I see you two brought overnight bags. Thanks for the memo. Are we just camping out in this condemned property?”
 
“Yeah, what are we gonna do here? There's no electricity, and it's pretty dark, so how am I gonna read my magazines?” Matt speaks up, reaching into his bag to, indeed, confirm Mark's suspicions about Matt's packing habits.
 
“Gather 'round,” Mark calls to his friends as he pulls the parchment from his back pocket and unfolds it, holding it gently as he grabs a flashlight to illuminate not only the parchment, but his pals as well. What the light displays on the document is a series of what looks like gibberish words, scrawled in a rough red pen. At least, that's what it appears to be upon first glance. The margins of the page contains odd, off putting shapes and symbols. The paper is tattered and appears very weathered.
 
 
“...What are we looking at?” Mike asks, his curiosity sounding suspiciously like fear.
 
“This is how we make damn sure we see a ghost tonight.” Mark replies with the confidence of a man on a mission. “This is, I think, what the Hardings were reading when their incident happened. I found this in their old storage unit, buried in a bible. The cops moved almost everything there once it was out of evidence. My uncle owns the storage place, and he said they were just going to throw everything out since no next of kin or family took ownership of anything. He let me rummage through before tossing everything.”
 
“You're obsessed with this. It's getting weird, Mark.” Mike takes a step back towards the front door. “This is crazy. You want to do some...ritual in order to bring a ghost here? I've watched too many movies to know that's a ridiculously terrible idea.”
 
“Yeah, Mark, this is weird. I wanna hang out with you guys but I don't want to hang with any ghosts. Can't we just go to my house? I've got games, I bet my mom would get us pizza...” Matt seems unsure as well, and looks like he's gravitating back towards the front door as well.
 
Mark stomps his foot on the ground, rattling the living room around him. The chandelier above sways gently, chiming only slightly. In the stillness following the stomp, the chimes can be heard like pins dropping. “Guys, this Halloween needs to be big. I found a way to make it big. Quit being wusses. Mike, I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts, anyway, so what’s the big deal? And Matt? This is like solving a puzzle in a video game instead of just playing through one. Come on, what do you say? Let’s go check out that basement!”
 
Mark’s argument works, so the other two acquiesced, grabbed flashlights from Mark’s bag, and cautiously made their way through the living room. There was a tattered love seat with a floral pattern. Time has made it seem as though the flowers are wilting, and the musty smell coming from the cushions replicates compost. The coffee table was missing one leg, presumably eaten away by termites. The top of the table was colored burgandy, and it looks like something was smeared across the top of it. The boys paid no bother, looking for the door that leads down.
 
The first door Matt tried opened to a small closet. A few wire hangers hung bare, missing coats to keep suspended off the ground. A pull string light switch was tugged on by the kid to no avail. Persistent, he tried again, and only succeeded in bringing the light structure to the ground. The bulb popped loudly upon impact, shattering into dozens of pieces. Matt jumps away from the broken glass and slams the door shut. “N-nothing in here, guys!”
 
The second door was Mike’s guess. It led to a small bathroom. The toilet was completely rusted through. The mirror was smashed, with only a few shards of glass still clinging to the wall. Mike looks into the mirror and sees the different shards all reflecting the same picture of his face. “Hm, might make for a great shot in a movie…” he says as he holds both his index fingers and thumbs into a rectangular frame for this particular shot.
 
Mark’s guess seemed to be the correct one. He went for the door under the staircase. Instead of being Harry Potter’s bedroom, the adventurous one finds a set of stone stairs leading down into utter darkness. “Hey, guys,” he shouts. The other two come to his side quickly, nervously. Mark shines his flashlight down into the depths, showing the stairs leading to a barren dirt floor.
 
“This is some Blair Witch level ‘nope’ feeling I’m getting from looking down these stairs, Mark,” Mike says, cramming another pop culture reference in there. It is how he maintains comfort in conversations, after all. “They never caught whatever tore this family to shreds, I know that much. Not all the gory details you provided, but still. What if whoever did that to this family is still here?”
 
Matt chuckled slightly. “Why would he be here? The cops were all over this place for such a long time. It’s like...when I do something bad, like when I stole Robert’s glue gun so we could make that bike ramp, I ran outta there as quick as I could! There’s nobody here...” He sounds pretty confident, until “...but still, that basement seems next level creepy.”
 
Mark just smirks and shines his light down the stairs and, cautiously, puts his foot on the top stair. It groans under his weight, but nothing else seems to happen. The air is still, propelled only by the teen’s motion. He takes it step by step, each one seemingly groaning louder than the last. Halfway down, he beckons to the others with an encouraging gesture. Mike, sharply inhaling, begrudgingly follows the fearless leader down the old staircase, shaking his head with each descending step. The two, having safely reached the bottom of the stairs without being swallowed up by darkness, shine their lights up towards the solo teen. “Are you going to join us any time soon, Matt?” Mike asks, checking over his shoulder into the dark abyss, seeing nothing.
 
“I...I don’t know, guys…” Matt says, pensively looking back towards the direction of the front door. “I kinda just wanna go find some leaves and call it a night.
 
Mike gestures to himself. “Look, I made it down here fine. Let’s just check it out, find nothing, then eat candy in the dark for a few hours, hm?” He shoots Mark a glance, very obviously tired of this ghost hunting business. Mark furrows his brow and frowns, taking a breath to calm himself down as he looks back up towards Matt.
 
“Yeah Matt. I swear, if we don’t find anything interesting down here, we can just, I don’t know...call the whole thing off, I guess.” He looks down at his flashlight. “I just thought it’d be a fun thing for us to do, together. ‘The Three Friends Find a Fourth, And His Name is Casper.’ Doesn’t that sound like a great newspaper headline?”
 
Matt, appreciating his friends’ combined efforts, smiles as warmly as a kid scared out of his mind possibly could. “That does sound rad.” He pauses for a moment, taking a deep breath. “Okay, let’s do this, guys.” Almost too happily does Matt take his first step onto the staircase. The wood stresses even more than it had previously, an audible crack rippling out into the darkness. Not losing a step, the kid continues down the stairs, going quickly, a slight gallop in his descent. To speed up the process even further, as he reaches the bottom, Matt yells “Watch it!” as he leaps from the fourth step to the bottom, narrowly dodging his buddies who engaged in their own evasive maneuvers. Matt lands hard on the ground, rolling into a kneeling position. He coughs out some of the spooky dust his rough-and-tumble action kicked up.
 
“What was that, man?” Mark had pressed himself against the wall to avoid his large friend’s large action. “You were basically at the bottom.”
 
“Yeah, Matt, I agree with Mark. That was dangerous. You have no idea what you just rolled around in,” Mike pipes up with his health concerns.
 
“Maybe you just rolled around in decayed flesh or coagulated blood!” Mark, again with the gory details.
 
“Gross, guys! Come on! It was just a jump. I heard the top stair crack and I got nervous, okay? Get off my case.” Matt stands and attempts to brush himself off, but only succeeds in spreading the dirt around his bright blue shirt. “Great, now my mom’s gonna make me do everybody’s laundry this week.”
 
“Alright, you all good? Come on, let’s see if we find anything. Look for, like, a table or burnt out candles or any kind of weird symbols.” The leader wanders off down a long corridor, swiping away low-hanging cobwebs as he progresses. The other two decide to stick together. Matt actually reaches for Mike’s hand before Mike bashes it away, walking in the opposite direction as Mark.
 
The duo walks into an old laundry room, complete with shirts and pants still hanging from an archaic clothesline. The mildew aroma is almost overwhelming. “It smells like someone’s been watering a gym bag for years down here,” Matt complains as he moves aside a pair of jeans. There appears to be a sheet strung up on the wall, only secured at the top. As Mike looks through old boxes of detergent, Matt gives the sheet one grand tug. The loose nails fall to the dirt floor, as does the sheet. The word “DONT” seems hastily spray painted in a bold, striking red. The T trails off to the left, going on for much longer than it should. “Hey! Mike! Look at this!”
 
Mike quickly appears at his friend’s side and shines his light on the bold word. “‘DONT’ huh? Don’t what? Don’t...come downstairs in a creepy house? Don’t tug on the sheet that was hiding me?” The teen glances at Matt, shrugging. “Maybe it don’t mean anything.” He looks back at the word, squinting. “What do you think the uh, trail on the end of the T means?”
 
“Maybe whoever painted this got really bored or distracted or something. I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” Matt didn’t mean for anything to be a pun. That’s not his bag, anyway. The two looked each other in the eye and could sense the dread that had started to fill the air. They weren’t starting to panic, though, which was good.
 
Until they heard a distant yell from Mark.
 
The two booked it as fast as they could towards the sound, kicking up clouds of dirt as they scrambled across the basement. They ran down the now cobweb-free corridor their leader had ventured down, turned another corner and there they saw Mark with an absolutely huge grin on his face. His flashlight was pointing at the ground, circling around some kind of shape. The others joined with their flashlights and, with the combined illumination, the full formation was revealed: a genuine pentagram, complete with symbols and candles that had melted completely to the ground.
 
“Holy shit,” Mark said with utter fascination. “A real...Jesus, wow, a real pentagram!”
 
“I doubt Jesus had anything to do with this,” retorts a visibly uncomfortable Mike. “Why didn’t the cops or news ever mention anything like this?”
 
“Were they trying to bring out the devil? Why would they want to do that?” Matt asks, taking a giant step back from the summoning circle. “Did the devil kill that family?”
 
Mark, inspecting the symbols closely, recognizes some from the parchment. “Nah, this isn’t a movie. I think ghosts are most definitely real, but they can’t hurt anybody, Matt. Only people hurt people, and that’s what I think happened in this house so many years ago.”
 
“That’s a fun theory, for sure, but hey, we found something cool. I swear I’ll tell people we saw a ghost, a whole flock of spectres, alright, but can we please, for now, just get out of here? I’m getting some real The House of the Devil vibes here, and I don’t want to become a sacrifice, okay?” Mike was starting to lose his temperament. He certainly didn’t anticipate actually finding anything even remotely supernatural in this house, let alone something purely occult.
 
“What’s the matter? You’re into movies, aren’t you? Let me try something theatric before we skidaddle entirely.” Before listening to any objections, Mark takes a step inside the center of the pentagram and pulls the parchment from his back pocket once again. He unfolds it and holds his flashlight under it. “Kia Kanpa.” Mark reads aloud the first line. Nothing seems to happen as he looks around the room.
 
“What are you doing? What language is that?” Matt asks, starting to bite his nails.
 
“Kia Kanpa, Anna Kanpa.” Mark continues, unfazed by his friend’s questions. He looks over and raises his eyebrows a few times, breaking into a giggle momentarily before continuing. “Dingir Kia Kanpa, Dingir Kia Kanpa.”
 
There is a heavy thud heard back towards the laundry room. Mike and Matt look back that way as Mark continues.
 
“Kia Kanpa, Anna Kanpa…” Mark pauses to take a breath, preparing to end his seance.
 
Mike looks to Mark, reaching his hand out, his eyes wide. “Don’t!
 
“Haborym!”
 
The thud from the laundry rooms grows into a dull rumble coupled with a continuous, unnerving grating. The room starts to grow bright. The pentagram starts to shimmer. Mark’s face starts to turn white, his earlier joy immediately replaced by fear. Mark jumps from the pentagram's confines just as the ground gives way. The room fills with a stifling heat and a dull red paints the room with dread.
 
The three gather close as a roar grows louder. A light source seems to be ascending to the top of the hole. A torch emerges from the hole, with an arm attached to it. Attached to that arm, rising from the darkness, appears a creature with a sharp, triangular head. It's skin obsidian. Two horns adorn the misshapen skull. One glaring, yellow eye appears larger than the other. Drool slips from the creature’s impressive maw. It scans the room, waving it’s torch at the darkness before turning to the trio.
 
The creature snarls, it’s impressive maw now showing off rows upon rows of razor-sharp, jagged teeth. It clenches it’s fist and takes a step towards the teens. “Run!” Mike yells as he throws his flashlight at the creature, connecting with it square in the forehead. As the trio turns and starts to run in an effort to vacate the premises, post haste, the creature lets out a deafening roar that contains nothing but pure, unbridled hatred within it. Mike and his cross country fitness help him ascend the stairs quicker than the others. He hits the top stair hard as he turns to help the others out quickly.
 
Crunch.
 
Mark follows closely behind, already breathing heavily. His face contorts into an almost paralyzing fear. He stumbles part way up the stairs, knocking against the railing, which causes the wooden support beam to fall off of it’s rusted hinges. The railing falls onto the stairs, sliding down into the basement, where it trips up the creature. The creature hits its head on the stairs and it drops its torch, which rests against the bottom stair. On his way up, Mark steps on the top step with force as he emerges and gets behind Mike, yelling to Matt to hurry up.
 
CRUNCH.
 
Matt, crying, runs up the stairs as fast as he can. The dull light made running up the stairs tough, but Matt was holding his own. As the creature regained it’s footing and started back up the stairs after the kids, Matt reaches the top step. As he places the fullness of his weight onto the poor, decayed wood, the stair gives way, and Matt’s right leg falls through to the knee. As he uses his left leg as leverage to pull himself through, the jagged wood digs itself into the chubby kid’s thigh. He yells out in pain. “Help me! Help me! My leg is caught!”
 
“Matt!” Mike screams as he reaches down and tries to pull his friend from the stairs. The more he pulls, the more Matt yells in agony. Mark, too, comes and attempts to pull his friend from the stairs, only to flee when the demon catches up to them. Mark jumps away from Matt as the creature raises its powerful arm and slashes at Matt, hitting him right above where his leg had fallen through. Mike, defiant, pulls the massively injured teen even harder. With one, concentrated pull, Mike successfully pulls Matt from his trap, moves the injured teen through the doorframe, and slams the basement door shut on the demon.
 
“Hey, we made it Matt, don’t worry buddy, it’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, it’ll be…” Mike trails off as he looks down at his friend. The leg that was trapped is now completely gone, severed from where the creature attacked. Matt was silent, his eyes closed, the chocolate still smeared around his chubby cheeks now mixed with blood. Mike didn’t have time to cry, though, as the creature started immediately pounding on the basement door.
 
“Mike! Come on!” Mark yells to his buddy to snap him into action. Mark beckons Mike towards the front door. Shaking off his sadness, Mike wipes the tears from his eyes and springs to his feet, gunning for the door. Mark beats him there by a moment and attempts to open it. It won’t budge. The door seems to be stuck on something invisible. “What the hell! It won’t open!” Mike and Mark both pull on the handle as hard as they can.
 
The duo stops as the basement door slams open. The creature walks towards them across the living room, clenching and unclenching it’s fists. It licks the fresh blood off of it’s claw, taunting the teens.
 
“Mark, wait here. I got this.” Mike steps forward, holding his arm back to prevent Mike from moving. “It’s not so fast.”
 
“Mike, you can’t--”
 
“I said I got this.” He looks back and smiles faintly. “Glad I got to cut you off for once.” Without any further hesitation, Mike takes off, ducking off down an unexplored hallway as the creature gives chase. Mark stands still, being quiet until he’s sure the creature is out of earshot. He proceeds to slowly creep up the stairs in an effort to find an unbroken, unboarded window to scurry through. He can smell the faint aroma of smoke coming from the direction of the basement.
 
Meanwhile, Mike sprints through the dusty hallways of Castle Harding with the demon in tow, it’s snarls telling the cross country runner that he is only just outside of the creature’s grasp. The glistening moonlight pouring in through the various holes in the home or the gaps in the boarded windows provided just enough light for the runner to navigate the fairly straightforward housing layout.
 
Coming up to a sharp corner, Mike waits until the last moment before cutting hard right, juking the creature into making it slam its head into the wall. A horn gets caught momentarily, giving the teen time to round another corner. “Maybe this movie shit’ll finally come in handy.”
 
Mike tries a nearby door, only to find it locked. The creature roars loudly, a combination of frustration and pain. Mike takes this as a compliment and eagerly tries another door in the same hallway. Still locked. Starting to panic slightly, the last door on the left has quickly become Mike’s last hope. The hallway is a dead end. He’ll be dead, too, if this door doesn’t open. Heavy footsteps approach the corner. Mike puffs out his chest, puts his right shoulder forward, and charges at the door. It’s weak bearings give out as Mike finds himself falling onto the floor on top of the door. He grunts as he hits the ground hard, scrambling up, taking a quick survey of his surroundings. He seems to be in a baby’s bedroom. On the table next to him is a glass bottle, and the corner opposite a rocking horse. He also finds his way out: an unboarded window! Perfect! Rushing, he goes over to the window and tries to pry it open. It feels painted shut.
 
He continues to try and fight it. He pushes up on the top of the window, adrenaline surging. He feels something crack, some shift in the wood. It becomes looser, and looser. As the creature wraps it’s claw around the busted door frame into the baby’s room, Mike, frustrated, elbows the bottom of the window frame. The window cracks slightly and the bottom part of the wooden frame falls away. A jagged opening appears and the window slides open. Mike lets out a mighty, victorious “Ha!” as he looks back to the creature, who is standing in the door frame. Capitalizing on his window of escape, Mike puts his head through the portal to salvation. As he lets go of the frame, however, without the lower support to stop it, the window slides down effortlessly.
 
 
The jagged, broken window slices clean through his neck. The lifeless body slumps to the floor as Mike’s head harmlessly falls onto the overgrown lawn outside.
 
 
Mark, unaware of his friend’s demise, searches upstairs. Attempting to keep some sort of stealth about him, Mark checks doors with a single jiggle while hiding most of his flashlight’s lense, keeping the luminance to a minimum. Most doors have been locked tight, just like the front door. The pathways upstairs seem much more complex than those on the bottom. Some probably lead to the creepy spires, which are way too high to jump from. Mark inhales as he chooses the left path, leading away from the staircase, hoping for some good fortune.
 
The limited light didn’t allow for much exploration. Mark felt along the walls, too, to aid himself in trying to find his way in the upstairs maze. Whenever he felt a door, he grasped for the handle and tried. Still, nothing seemed to be open. The smell of smoke was getting stronger. Something must have caught fire downstairs, or maybe it was the smell of Hell itself. Either way, it was just extra incentive to get out of Castle Harding quickly.
 
The hallway was a dead end. Mark finds that out the hard way, nearly punching the wall when, after feeling all three directions, he feels nothing but peeling wallpaper. Then there’s a sound at the opposite end of the hallway. The teen shuts his flashlight off and covers his mouth, pinning himself against the wall. He hears heavy footsteps walking through the darkness. Without any windows in this hall, the only light provided was from the deactivated flashlight. The demon sniffs the air.
 
There is a moment of stillness. Mark can only hear the symphonic beating of his own heart.
 
The creature turns to walk back from where it came. Its heavy footsteps round the corner once more and the stealthy teen, masked by the darkness and the smell of smoke, lets out a sigh of relief. Not feeling lucky enough to try that again, Mark couches and walks as silently as he can towards the creature and other hallway directions, feeling his way along the wall as he does.
 
He emerges back at the fork at the top of the stairs, unsure of where the creature went. It’s footsteps have gone silent, as has the rest of the house. Maybe it went back downstairs? Either way, Mark knew he had to keep pressing forward. This time, he chooses the path on the right. Hopefully it’s the right path, the nervous adventurer quips internally. He continues crouching, walking slower in an effort to avoid making any noise or bumping into obstacles obscured by the darkness. Luckily, the first door he tries, adjacent to the railing overlooking the living room, is open. He closes the door behind him quickly, making a slight slamming noise as he does.
 
The flashlight comes back on, full force. The room appears to be a large bedroom. All that remains is a decrepit queen sized bed, complete with a towering bed frame, adorned with moldy netting. The windows are boarded, but with plenty of gaps overlooking the peaceful community below. Nearly yelling for help, Mark restrains himself and instead flashes the beam through the cracks, trying to get someone’s attention down on the street. Most folks in the town tend to avoid looking at the house, however, so Mark’s attempt falls on closed eyes.
 
Frustrated, Mark paces back and forth in front of the blocked windows. He studies the wood. It looks frail and old. The nails must be ancient, too. He looks back towards the door, the back at the window. Maybe he could remove enough boards in time to open the window and get out. Taking the boards off will make a ton of noise, though.
 
“Fuck it.”
 
The driven teen starts to pull at the boards covering his possible escape. He pulls and pulls until the first board gives out, sending the kid flying onto his back. His thud reverberates throughout the entire upstairs area. There’s no way it wasn’t heard by the demon. The teen throws the wood towards the door, hoping it might slow the demon down somehow. The teen continues pulling at the boards. His hands start to bleed from small cuts and multiple splinters. He bites the inside of his cheeks to dull the pain as he exhales and inhales through his nose, grunting from deep within his belly. He wrangles another board loose, triumphantly roaring as he throws it across the room in the direction of the door.
 
Hard footsteps are heard coming down the hallway, most definitely not at a snail’s pace, either. There’s still another two boards blocking the window. It’s possible for the kid to escape, still. He desperately pulls, putting his foot up against the windowsill to pull. One side comes loose, but the other seems to have been hammered in at an angle. The best he can do with this one is to rotate it against the wall, moving it clockwise. He has to bend the board to get over the last one barring his escape, and Mark manages that just fine. There’s still one board left to remove, not to mention breaking the window, clearing the jagged edges, and finding a safe way down. Mark wasn’t sure if he had time, but that question was answered with a resounding “no.
 
The bedroom door swings wide open after a powerful push by the demon. It slams into the wall with a crushing blow, coming off of it’s hinges and falling flat onto the bedroom floor. The monster’s roar blocks out the whopping thud of the door, causing Mark to cover his ears. The teen has nothing left. No way out. No means of escape.
 
Mark sets his flashlight down, slowly. The creature watches him cautiously, still ready to pounce at any second. Accepting his own fate, the teen spreads his arms wide and closes his eyes as tight as he possibly can, tears still escaping their vacuum seal. The creature softens his stance. He lets out what sounds like an almost amused grunt. Mark opens one eye slowly before the other, letting his arms down when he sees the creature starting to match his stance. When Mark moves his arms down, the creature does as well, mirroring him.
 
Confused, Mark opens his mouth to speak to the creature. “W-what...what do you want?”
 
Without replying, the creature takes a large breath inward. As he exhales, his body deteriorates into a thick white vapor. This cloud becomes massive, blocking the doorway. Mark takes a step back towards the window, pressing his back against it. The shape forms into a rounded silhouette, looking like a fairly standard ghost, as it were. “What the…” Mark mutters under his breath. The mist shifts slightly, swaying from side to side, before charging at the helpless teen.
 
He puts his arms up to stop the torrent of vapor--
 
 
--and wakes up in the back of an ambulance. 
 
His eyes flutter as he struggles to keep them open. His head is throbbing, and the beeping of the heart monitor wasn’t helping. Or maybe it was the dozen or so fire engines there, still watering down the smoldering site where Castle Harding once stood. The teen fully opens his eyes and, after a moment of adjustment, focuses in on two EMTs hovering over him.
 
“The kid’s awake!” One yells before heading out the back of the open ambulance. The other, a kind looking soul with a thinning hairline, takes out his penlight and instructs the teen to follow it.
 
“Follow with your eyes, not your neck. Seriously. Don’t move your neck much at all.” He moved the light from left to right, and Mark followed as best he could. “Well, you seem here enough. No concussion, but you took some serious trauma to, well, everywhere. Your head, neck, back. Your arm is definitely broken, and we think you fractured your shin. Minor contusions, you’re gonna have some serious bruising. No internal bleeding. You’re one lucky kid, kid.”
 
Meekly, the injured adventurer asks, “What...happened to me? The last thing I remember was...being by a window.”
 
“You don’t remember going through the window? We found you on the lawn, flat on your back. We pulled you away from the fire, then we pulled a bunch of glass out of your hair and shoulders. Maybe the concussion is worse than we thought.” The EMT reaches for his clipboard and makes some more notes. “You survived what killed Old Man Harding. It’s, frankly, astounding you’re here right now.” He puts on a big, encouraging smile. “Well, now that you’re awake, the police need to talk to you, and it’s pretty urgent. No pressure, though. If you’re not feeling up to it right now, they’ll understand. But I--”
 
A policeman, sitting outside the back of the ambulance, coughs in an effort to get the EMT’s attention. “--need to let them talk to you. Feel better.” The EMT rolls his eyes at the policeman as he exits the ambulance, the policeman, a gruff looking man, taking his place at Mark’s side. He takes his hat off, sets it on his lap, and pulls a notepad out from his chest pocket. He silently clicks open a pen, and jots something down quickly.
 
“Alright, so, I heard you don’t remember falling out a window, huh? What were you doin’ in that house, anyway? That place is condemned, and that mean’s nobody’s supposed to be in there, you know.” He licks his lips, his cold stare falling onto the injured teen. The eye contact was intense and accusatory.
 
“We...we were looking for ghosts.” Mark felt tired. More tired than he’s ever felt. The pain was excruciating. It hurt to even breathe. His breath was raspy and deep. “We...just wanted to find...Casper.”
 
The cop chuckles as he takes his notes. “Did you find Casper, then? Who is this ‘we’ you keep referring to, anyway? Did you have other friends with you besides Casper?”
 
Mark clenches his stretcher tight. Did the others not make it? “I...Matt and Mike. We went in...together. And we found...something…”
 
The cop leans in. “Oh yeah? What did you find? Casper?”
 
Mark inhales sharply. “No. A real ghost. A demon.”
 
The cop smirks. “Oh, a demon huh? Did this demon do this to you, then? Did this demon hurt ya and scratch ya up?
 
Mark starts to laugh. Slowly at first, but it builds. It builds to an excessive level. The pain caused by the laughing only made Mark laugh even harder. The tears streaked down the poor kid’s face before the EMTs came back into the ambulance, alarmed by the teen’s high pulse rate. They inject a mild sedative into the IV drip compartment, which has an almost immediate effect. Mark’s laughs turn to chuckles, then turn into muted guffaws. The cop motions for the EMTs to leave, and they do so.
 
The cop leans in closely. “What was so goddamn funny? Did you knock a screw loose in that fall?”
 
Mark, ignoring the EMT, does indeed turn his head slightly. He ignores the searing pain. “Did...did you ask me if the...demon hurt me? N-no...n-no the demon didn’t hurt me.” Mark coughs, and the cop leans in further. The teen's eyes roll into the back of his skull, becoming pure white.
 
“But...he sure did leave a Mark!”


© Copyright 2018 Nick Dipples. All rights reserved.

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