The dim yellow glow of a simple flashlight illuminates the barely-there path. Black dirt, littered with the thick roots of trees hidden by fallen leaves, gives way to unruly vines scattered with orange gourds. The old house looms above the pumpkin patch, its sloping rooftop dropping shingles every time the wind picks up. The cold breeze could cut through any coat, and my hoodie offers little warmth. As I carefully move towards the house, vines crack underfoot, and the flashlight’s beam jerks with the unexpected noise. Dark wings flutter into the night as I try in vain to get my rapid breathing under control. I finally reach the house, and hesitantly knock. There’s no reply, and the windows are so stained with grime that I cannot see inside. But the wind starts again, and the cold pushes me to try the door’s handle. The old door creaks loudly as it swings open, and I tentatively call out a greeting as I step inside. The musty air is heavy with dust when I breathe it in, and I wonder if I was wrong. The rotting floorboards moan as I tread upon them, and the intricately patterned wallpaper is stained brown and peeling off the walls. This place seems abandoned, but I was so certain I’d seen a light come this way. I hesitate in the entryway. Should I leave? I’m not certain I could find the road again so late at night, and I know the battery in my flashlight won’t last forever. My mind is made up for me when the door slams behind me with a resounding bang.
I spin around and rush to open it again, but the door is stuck fast, and it won’t budge no matter how hard I pull. I pull too hard, as it turns out, because the handle pops off and I end up falling. The floorboards creak and a cloud of dust rises all around me, tickling my nose and setting off a fit of coughing. I twirl the handle in my hand; it’s old enough to have been worn smooth, but the faded brass still shines when the light hits it. I sigh and pick myself up off the ground. It’s time to find another exit. I make my way out of the foyer and into the parlor. There is furniture in this room, but it’s old and dilapidated, and the floral couch looks like it would fall apart if I so much as brushed by it. There’s a rug, but it’s too clouded in dirt to distinguish a pattern, and every step I take on it sends up little puffs of dust. There’s another doorway to my right, and based on the rancid smell of rotting food, it leads to the kitchen. I decide to save that room for last. I cross over to the windows. The grime is just as impenetrable on this side of the glass as it was outside, and I feel along the edges of the window pane for the latch. In the end, finding it doesn’t matter, because it’s rusted shut and I nearly cut my hand trying to pry it open. I sigh once more and move back into the foyer. To my left is the front door, still shut tight; to the right there’s a staircase, and across from me is the dining room. My flashlight passes over the room quickly. There are a table and chairs that have been covered by grey cloth that may once have been white, curtains that have long since faded from pink to brown and now hang limp and rotting from iron curtain rods that look as though they’re one strong breeze away from falling, and a crystal chandelier that somehow still manages to sparkle through the dust and cobwebs that cling to it. I turn from the dining room, The kitchen is my last hope of escape, unless I want to try jumping out of a window on one of the upper floors. I do not.
I turn around and steel myself to breathe the smell of rot once more, but then I hear a thud from above me. I pause, looking at the cracked ceiling as though it holds all the answers. Then I hear something roll across the floor, and a trail of dust shakes loose above to mark its path. My heart stops for a moment, but then the noise stops too, and my heart kicks into overdrive.
There is no answer, and I try to come up with an explanation for the noise. Perhaps a raccoon got into the house somehow? And it knocked something over while looking for food? That’s a plausible enough explanation to slow my heartbeat, at least until I hear the soft laughter of a child. Raccoons are crafty creatures, but they cannot mimic small children. I panic for a moment; what if some poor child is trapped in this house too? I’m moving to the stairs before I even finish the thought, rounding the corner of the landing and making my way to the second floor in record time. The floor opens up to a drawing room, but as my flashlight scans across the space, the seemingly ancient furniture isn’t what catches my eye. The room is empty of life, and it doesn’t look like anyone has been here for decades, except for the shiny metal cylinder lying on the floor by the staircase on the other side of the room. I walk towards it before I have a chance to think about it, and when I pick it up I realize that it’s a kaleidoscope. I can’t help but play with it for a bit, watching as the colors shift into each other and create new patterns. There’s no telling how long I may have stood there, but then I catch movement out of the corner of my eye, and I hear the giggle again, much closer this time. I look up, and for half a second I swear that there’s a shadow on the stairs, but it’s gone so quickly that I’m sure my eyes must just be playing tricks on me. I carefully make my way up the steps to the third floor, cringing every time they creak.
When I reach the top of the stairs I find myself in the attic, but it’s been renovated into a nursery. There are toys scattered around the room, and the faded wallpaper looks as though it would have been colorful when it was first put up. Moonlight shines into the room from a large circular window, and I click off my flashlight as I take a few steps forward. I can’t see anyone, but I know that I heard someone laughing.
“I know you’re here.” Silence greets my declaration, and I take a few more cautious steps into the light. “Just come out, okay? I’m not going to hurt you.”
The giggle sounds again behind me, but when I turn there’s no one there. My heartbeat picks up again, but I do my best to keep my voice steady as I turn back to the empty nursery. “Please come out. This isn’t funny.”
The room is silent, and for a moment I think that I’m going to be ignored, but then the air shifts around me. I stiffen as I feel someone’s breath against my ear, and his whisper is barely more than a breath. “Boo.”