by J.E. Phelan
The scariest day of my life occurred when I was eleven years old. It began on the day of Halloween. My classmates and I were at recess. The clouds in the sky were white, puffy and all together un-intimidating. But toward the west, dark, fierce, threatening clouds were quickly chewing their way toward my elementary school.
While the other schoolboys were busy playing soccer or basketball, I was on the playground spinning in circles on a rubber tire with my best friend, Lauren Baliano. She was a gorgeous-looking girl with shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair and small, mushroom-shaped ears. She had ocean blue eyes and a smile that made my stomach do backflips. For years I was in love with her, but never had the courage to pursue a more intimate relationship. My friends often teased me for spending so much time with her, but I didn’t care. I did whatever she wanted and almost always enjoyed myself. That is why when she suggested that we swing on the rubber tire that particular afternoon, I instinctively said, “Sure!”
But spinning in circles, going faster and faster, watching the schoolyard liquefy into a series of greens and browns, I began to regret my quick response. Round and round we went. My stomach began to churn and bubble. I looked across at Lauren who was busy throwing her head back and giggling joyously. A forced smile was the only sign of delight I could muster. I tried to say “Stop” or “Slow down”, but every time I went to speak a stream of vomit would travel up to the middle of my throat, almost daring me to open my mouth. I had to get off.
Thinking quickly, I leaned backward, allowing myself to fall off the tire and onto the pebble flooring below. I had heard some giggling from the nearby schoolgirls, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than my wishy-washy insides and throbbing brain. My forehead was sweaty and my pulse was racing. Trying to reduce the feeling of nausea that was quickly mounting, I tried to stand up, but it was too late. As Lauren came over to see if I was all right, I threw up all over her new pink and white sneakers. Oops.
A nearby lunch lady patrolling the playground area had heard all the schoolgirls screaming in disgust and pointing in my direction. Before I knew what was happening, the lunch lady had helped me to my feet and took me to the nurses’ office. The nurse took my temperature and immediately called my mother at work. Soon, off I went, going home sick on the day of Halloween.
As soon as I walked into the house, my mother followed me up the stairs and helped me into bed. She quickly made me a bowl of soup. After I was finished eating, she mentioned that my father and her had plans to go out for the afternoon. I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to have the services of my mother that afternoon.
Twenty minutes later, my father pulled into the driveway and honked the horn. I watched from my window as my mother walked out to the car. The weather outside was getting worse. The dark clouds were growing thicker and closer to my house. The ground was already wet from the drizzle that was quickly building into rain. I watched as the car backed out of the driveway and took off down the road. I was about to walk back to my bed when I caught a glimpse of the Georgian-style house across the street.
Irene “Old Lady” Moirer was the original owner of the house. She was a mean old woman who loved to yell and curse at the local children in the neighborhood. All day long she would sit by her bedroom window in her rocking chair, waiting and watching.
On my block there were a good number of children, which meant that playing outdoors was a common occurrence. Every spring all the boys would gather around to play either baseball, soccer, two-hand-touch football, street hockey or any other kind of sport. Either way, Old Lady Moirer would watch everything like a guard dog, waiting for a passerby to overstep their boundaries. Every time a puck or ball had to be retrieved from her yard Old Lady Moirer would bark nasty words and phrases at the unfortunate child.
Nobody in town liked Old Lady Moirer, not even the grown-ups. That is why when she passed away seven years earlier, no one seemed to notice, or care. The biggest tip-off that she had died was that no one had to listen to her scream and shout in the local supermarket that the fruit wasn’t fresh enough or that her coupons should have been doubled, or that she wanted her groceries all packed with paper AND plastic!
As traditions are usually formed, each year the younger children would purposely avoid the old lady’s house during their candy crusades. But for some of the older, more daring kids, they would walk up to her house and knock on the front door as a testament to their courage. Each time, Old Lady Moirer would come to the door with a broom in hand. She’d scream and threaten the older kids to leave her be. Neither scared nor intimidated, the older kids would just laugh in her face and casually walk away.
Now according to local legend, one Halloween night, seven years earlier, Bradley Hollenberg, the high school football teams’ leading receptionist became the first, and only, teenager to enter the house where Old Lady Moirer lived. But it came at a terrible price.
Trying to impress Amy, his girlfriend, her best friend, Trisha, and his two closest buddies, Bradley took up a dare to knock on the door of the old woman’s house and ask her for candy. As he walked up toward the house, Amy and his friends hid in nearby bushes. Bradley, riding on a wave of confidence, knocked on the front door and waited, but to no avail.
He knocked a second time. Again, no response.
A third time. The same.
On the fourth attempt, Bradley began pounding on the door. The door suddenly opened a crack, giving only the slightest hint of the Darkness within. He immediately walked back to his friends and informed them that the door was unlocked and open. Filled with a rush of confidence and adrenaline, he took up another dare to walk into the house. Bradley’s buddies were both excited about the idea, while Amy and Trisha were not quite as impressed.
“What are you rolling your eyes about?” Bradley asked Amy. “You’re coming with me.”
Shocked to have been volunteered, Amy replied, “Um, no. I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come on. We’re just going to walk into the house for a sec and then walk out.”
Bradley smiled, grabbed her hand and led her across the lawn to the front door.
Pushing against the door, a soft screech let out from the hinges, echoing throughout the house. Stepping inside, the house was almost completely filled with Darkness. The only light that streamed into the house was a combination of the delicate orange from the street lamps and the soft grayness from the moon. Deeper and deeper into the house, Bradley and Amy went. Each step they took, the heavier and more rapid Amy began to breathe.
“Brad, I don’t think… I don’t think this is a good idea anymore. I wanna go back.”
Amy turned to leave but Bradley grabbed her by the arm.
“No, no, don’t go.”
“It’s dark and cold in here,” she said.
“So? You scared?”
“Yeah,” Amy admitted.
“Well, don’t be. That bunch of losers out there’ll be beggin’ us to tell ’em the story. We’ll be the talk of the school.”
“Why’re we here anyway?” Amy asked, eyeing the Darkness around her.
“To see if the old lady’s still alive.”
Bradley began heading toward what looked like a staircase at the far end of a hallway. Amy suddenly grabbed him by the shoulder and stopped him.
A bit nervously, “What if she is still alive?”
“Then we leave. No harm done.”
“Yes, but what if she’s…”
Amy paused, afraid of finishing her sentence. Bradley turned to her. Despite the shadow cast over his face Amy could tell that he was smiling underneath.
“You mean… what if she’s dead?”
“Yeah. What if?”
“We’ll just have to find out, that’s all.” Bradley turned back toward the staircase. “I’m going upstairs. You coming?”
“I’ll wait down here.”
“Fine.” And before Amy could say any more, Bradley began to head across the room.
Reaching the staircase, Bradley felt around blindly for the banister. Finally getting a hand on it, the wood felt surprisingly cold under his palms. Bradley slowly began to climb the stairs, being conscious of each step he took, but eyeing the top of the staircase to make sure that nothing or no one jumped out at him.
Not realizing that he was at the top of the staircase, Bradley went to climb a step that was not there and tripped. Quickly gaining his balance, Bradley straightened himself up and saw that there were three rooms ahead of him. Each one stood out, despite the lack of light. It was as if a layer of Darkness had been cut out, revealing an even darker layer below. There was also another unexpected element at the top of the staircase: a repulsive odor that smelled of old, dry feces and decaying flesh. As if some small animal or rodent had died in the house and Old Lady Moirer never bothered to dispose of it.
Not wanting to turn back, Bradley picked the room to the far right whose window undoubtedly looked out onto the street below.
Maybe she’s asleep. Bradley thought to himself. Maybe she’s dead.
A chill shot down Bradley’s spine, momentarily paralyzing him in his path.
No. She’s not dead. If you think she’s dead, you’ll chicken out. She’s not dead. She’s-Not-Dead.
Finally regaining his composure, Bradley began walking toward the room. The closer he got, the lower the temperature in the house seemed to drop and the stronger the odor grew.
* * * * *
At the same time, Amy was still standing in the living room, slowly edging her way toward the front door. She paid close attention to every sound the house made. She had heard Bradley trip going up the stairs, but could only force herself to smile. A masked smile to hide the fear that was growing within her. She too felt the temperature drop in the house. She tried to keep her smile, but a masked expression has no use in the Darkness. And soon her smile faded, giving way to a new sensation. Not a sensation due to the coldness, but of a Presence from within the room itself.
* * * * *
Bradley took a couple of steps toward the door, finding himself in the doorway of Old Lady Moirer’s bedroom. Sticking out his hand, Bradley searched the nearby wall for a light switch. Finally finding it, he flipped the switch, sending a blinding stream of light into the room.
* * * * *
Downstairs, Amy’s eerie sensation was diverted by the light up the stairs. Part of her wished that the old woman was asleep. That the turning on of the light would wake up and she’d start screaming. That she and Bradley would be forced to leave the house. But that wasn’t the case. Not another sound was made. Except one.
* * * * *
Bradley looked inside the room. An assortment of candles were arranged ritualistically throughout. A rocking chair was positioned toward a window with its back to Bradley. Taking a step toward the chair, the light bulb suddenly burnt out, bringing the room back to Darkness.
Despite the Darkness, Bradley slowly made his way into the room. Halfway to the rocking chair, a nearby candle suddenly ignited, sending an aurora of orange light into the room. Bradley froze momentarily. Taking a second step, another candle ignited. Then another. And another. And another. Soon the room was filled with orange, flickering light. A tribe of shadows danced along the walls of the room. Round and round they circled, bouncing, almost child-like about the walls. But the candles did not stop Bradley from reaching the rocking chair.
* * * * *
A slight breeze picked up and began circulating within the room. Amy—senses keen—felt something lightly brush up against her shoulder. She quickly turned around. She saw nothing but the Darkness.
Although she couldn’t see anything, Amy still scanned the room for any signs of movement or sound. The breeze picked up and again circulated around the room, brushing up against Amy’s body. Fear seemed to melt away from Amy’s mind as the breeze caressed her body in an almost seductive way, but then, from the circulating wind, came a voice.
* * * * *
With one hand, Bradley positioned himself next to the rocking chair. There, indeed, was the old woman sitting in her rocking chair, sleeping. He determined that the foul odor was indisputably coming from her body.
Is she dead? Or is she sleeping?
Bradley was unsure, but determined to find out.
* * * * *
Amy listened closely to the breeze. With each gust of wind, the sound of a soft voice grew louder. Finally, Amy was able to make out the words.
Amy’s eyes opened wide in fear. Voice quivering, Amy replied, “Who’s that?”
The breeze died down. Within a moment’s time, it began to pick up again as if the old house was taking in deep breaths in order to speak. As the breeze gained strength, the voice rose with it.
“Ammmy, beeehind yooou.”
Amy felt her heart sink to the bottom of her stomach. Her first thought was to run from the house as quickly as possible. This was no longer a silly prank. This was truly terrifying. But a second thought soon entered her mind and a sense of curiosity overcame her.
What could it be? Who could it be? Why not take a look and see?
* * * * *
Seeing too many mystery movies perhaps, Bradley figured he’d try to read Old Lady Moirer’s pulse to determine whether or not she was alive. Bradley slowly was moving his hand up to her neck, half expecting her to reach out and grab him at any moment. He prepared himself for this, but all for nothing.
His fingers brushed up against her skin. Bradley quickly snapped back his hand, but Old Lady Moirer did not move. He put his fingers back on her neck. Her skin was ice cold, much like the room. For the first time, Bradley realized that he could see his own warm breathe in front of him.
How cold is it in here? he thought. To him, it was as cold as Death.
* * * * *
Amy began to slowly turn around. The Presence in the room was even greater now. When she finally turned the full 180 degrees, Amy saw where the voice was coming from.
In the mirror, across the room, stood the ghost of Old Lady Moirer. In place of what was once her eyes were now two burning blue flames, staring at her with an icy gaze. Freeing up her voice, Amy immediately let out a scream and ran from the house. The front door slammed and locked behind her.
* * * * *
Still inside, Bradley heard Amy’s scream and turned his attention toward the hallway. With Bradley’s attention diverted, the eyes of Old Lady Moirer’s body suddenly opened. Bradley was about to run out of the room when the old woman reached out and grabbed his arm with an icy-cold hand. Horrified, Bradley turned back to Old Lady Moirer who was now glaring at him with the same burning blue eyes. Throat paralyzed, Bradley was unable to breathe, let alone scream.
* * * * *
Tears were flowing down Amy’s face as she fled from the house. Amy’s friends who had been waiting patiently in the nearby bushes immediately ran up to her. Fear and concern were on all their faces as they tried to find out what had happened. Trisha finally broke through.
“Where’s Bradley?” She asked.
Suddenly, from the old lady’s bedroom came a shriek of horror and then, crashing through the window, Bradley’s body plummeted toward the driveway below. He was twenty-one days shy of his seventeenth birthday.
* * * * *
I never knew what parts of that story were true and what was fabricated. All I knew was that Bradley Hollenberg, a kid who lived in the house behind mine, was dead. And so was Old Lady Moirer.
After her death, the house was immediately boarded up and put up for sale. No one ever wanted to live in that house after the incident. Even out-of-towners, looking for a quaint house to raise a family, quickly reconsidered after hearing the stories. Without a buyer, the house remained un-kept. The gutters became clogged with leaves and dirt and the lawn was left uncut.
As I snapped back to reality, I realized that I had been staring directly at the house the entire time, imagining the story in my mind and picturing Bradley’s body being thrown out of the window. I shut the blinds and crawled into bed. As I lay there, looking up at the ceiling, I wondered if the house really was haunted like everyone in town said it was.
I closed my eyes and tried to forget about the house. Within a few minutes I had fallen asleep. That afternoon I dreamt of weird, terrifying images. A werewolf chasing a rabbit through a moonlit field. The rabbit soon transformed into a dog. The dog into a fawn. The fawn into me. Soon, I was the one being chased. Running naked through the field with tears streaming down the sides of my face, fearing for my life. Then, suddenly, I was alone. Lying out in the field, I was looking up at the clear, star-sparkled sky.
Within an instant I was no longer in the field but standing outside Old Lady Moirer’s house with Lauren at my side. We stared ahead at the front door that was wide open, inviting us into the Darkness, but instead we stood on the lawn. Lauren reached over and grabbed my hand.
In a flash, I found myself inside the old woman’s bedroom being pushed by invisible hands toward the window. Unable to stop, I crashed through the glass and fell, topsy-turvy toward the blacktop driveway below.
As I lay on the ground, bleeding from the fall, I did not feel any pain. Instead, I felt numb. I struggled to get to my feet, my bones cracked into place as I rose. I looked around for help, but Lauren was no longer with me. In fact the entire block was deserted. I was alone again… or so I thought. That’s when I heard it. The voice.
I quickly looked around, but saw nothing. I was about to walk across the street to my house when I caught a glimpse of the old woman’s’ window in the corner of my eye. Turning my attention toward the window, I saw the old woman sitting in her rocking chair, staring down at me with her burning blue eyes. Her lips didn’t move, but I could still hear her voice.
“Wake up, Taylor. Look out your window.”
She repeated my name.
When she called my name the second time, I immediately woke from my sleep. The voice was so real it seemed as if it had been whispered into my ear. I immediately turned toward my window. There, to my horror, I saw that my blinds were wide open, but my window was still locked. Outside, the storm was fierce, darkening the streets as though it were night.
Suddenly, the front door of my house slowly opened. The sound of the squeaky door hinges that my father had sworn he’d fix months earlier reverberated throughout the house.
I called out for my mother, but there was no response.
I called out for my father, but received only the same silence. Then, without warning, the front door slammed shut. Nervously, I looked out into my Darkened hallway.
Damn, I thought. Why didn’t my mother leave the hallway light on?
I then remembered something I had heard in my dream. Old Lady Moirer had told me to look out my window.
Why? What was out there? What would I see? Just the storm, perhaps.
Frightened, yet oddly curious, I got out of my bed and walked over toward the window with lead feet and weak knees. I looked out at the storm tearing up the trees, sending leaves and branches up and down the street. It was then that I looked across the street at Old Lady Moirer’s house. To my horror, the boards were no longer on the doors and windows. The house looked exactly the way it had seven years earlier. I then looked toward the window where the old lady usually sat and the hair on the back of my neck stood up on end.
There, in the window, the rocking chair faced out toward the street, rocking on its own. I watched as it continued to move back and forth, back and forth. The last thing I remembered hearing was…