Note for those just joining us: as this is a blog, the latest post is at the top. That means that the story starts at the bottom. I recommend starting there. I am using the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s Word of the Day to guide my writing somewhat each day, in lieu of having actually planned any of this. That is the word which appears in the title of each post. Please enjoy, and leave a comment to let me know you’re reading! Thanks everyone!
Now, I’m not a baby. There’s lots of things that other people are scared of that don’t scare me at all. I’m not scared to be alone at night, for example. I’m not scared of big dogs, or of garden snakes. I’m a little bit scared of spiders, but only because one bit me once and it really hurt. I’m not scared of blood, and I’m not scared of ghosts, because both of those things are normal. But when I heard those screams, let me tell you, I was scared.
It was the kind of scream you hear in horror movies. It sounded like a teenage girl who sees the serial killer coming at her with a knife. They call it a Blood Curdling scream, which is something I never understood until that moment, when it felt like all the blood in my body just stopped moving and my heart stopped beating, and I felt Chilled To The Bone. It was like a terrible icy wind blowing on me, but blowing from inside my own body so I couldn’t escape from it.
I had just put my foot inside the door, and when I heard the screams, I pulled it right back out. The moment I took my foot off the floor inside the door, the screaming stopped. It was like I had stepped on a “scream” button, and then released it. Just Like That (imagine me snapping my fingers here).
“Oh, that’s just the Duchess.” That was an old man’s voice coming from behind me. Not scary or out of the ordinary at all, just a regular old man’s voice, like Granpy’s but drier and slower and a little bit deeper. I turned around (my heart was still beating about a hundred miles an hour, but at least I could breathe again) and the old man was still sitting there in his chair, looking at his magazine. He turned the page and kept talking, without looking up. “Don’t pay her no mind. She just wants the attention.” He didn’t say any more, and he didn’t look me in the eye, which means he wasn’t inviting me to have a conversation. I wanted to ask him lots of questions, like who is the Duchess, and is it safe to go inside, and what is that magazine about, but after I waited for a few minutes he didn’t say anything more, just turned another page in his magazine and kept reading, so I was On My Own.
What I really wanted to do was to turn and run back out that screen door and climb over that fence and run straight home and never go back to that terrible house. I almost did it, too. But as soon as I took a step towards the door, I felt so guilty I almost started to cry. That girl had asked for my help. I suppose I never actually promised anything, but still, she knew I was following her and she needed me.
On the other hand, she was dead, so it wasn’t like anything really terrible could happen to her. But then, I thought, how did I know that? How did I know if ghosts could hurt, or if bad things could happen to them? And I remembered the Indian man from the zoo who looked like he wanted to cry but couldn’t, and I remembered the word he kept saying, “oh-way-nah-seh,” and how sad it sounded, and I realized if I left and went home safe, I’d have nightmares for the rest of my life about terrible things happening to that poor girl while I did nothing to help her.
I decided to be brave. That means you’re Scared To Death but you Face Your Fear and do the right thing anyway. Granmy taught me that after I saw my first ghost, back when I was a little kid. I was so scared I couldn’t move, but she helped me look under the bed, and when I saw it was just a nice lady all curled up under there and not doing anyone any harm, I felt a lot better.
“Oh-way-nah-seh,” I said out loud to myself, turning to face the door. I decided it probably meant “courage” and “help.” Then, for good measure, I chanted “dusty, musty, fusty, dim” four more times before stepping back through the big heavy door.
This time there were no screams, which was a big relief. I took a few more steps and went all the way into the room, and the door slammed behind me with a great big thud. I heard a click and I knew it was locked, but I tested it anyway just to be sure. There was a little window in the door and through it I could see the old man, still sitting there, not looking up or caring at all.
I had already decided to be brave, so I didn’t panic. I was in the house now. There had to be another way out. Anyway, I was still pretty sure that ghosts can’t hurt you. Most of the time they don’t do much of anything at all. So I turned and looked around and tried to make sense of the room I was in.
It was dark inside because the windows were boarded up and the sunlight only made it in by squeezing through the little cracks in between them, but my eyes adjusted pretty fast. It was a big room with a high ceiling. There was a big table in the middle of the room with some old books on it, and some cupboards on one of the walls, and a really old refrigerator which wasn’t making any noise because it wasn’t plugged in, or if it was, then it didn’t matter, because there was definitely no electricity here. It was so quiet that I could hear my own heart beating and my own shaking breaths. There was about an inch of dust on everything, and cobwebs gumming up all the corners and the spaces in the furniture.
The biggest spider web was in a window frame. It took up almost half the window, and sitting right in the middle of it was the biggest, fattest, hairiest spider I had ever seen in my whole life. It wasn’t moving at all, and this place was so dry and empty, I wondered if maybe it had starved to death. I took a few steps towards it to get a better look, and just as I got close to it, the dust got the better of me, and I sneezed. The spider was not dead. It jumped and twitched and scurried towards me, and I backed right off so it wouldn’t touch me because I did not want to get bit. In fact, I didn’t even want to get touched by that big ugly spider. Fortunately, it ran off and hid in the corner and it didn’t come after me. It wanted to be left alone just as much as I did.
I kept watching it for a few more minutes, just to be sure. I could hear a strange noise coming from the web. It was a creepy-crawley kind of noise, like a million million moths and flies and beetles trying to fly and failing. It got louder and louder, and slowly I started to make out the shapes of insects in the web, their wings stuck, trying to escape before they got eaten alive.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, which was brave all by itself because it meant I couldn’t see if anyone was coming, and after a few seconds the noise stopped. I opened my eyes again, and the insect ghosts were gone. I decided to get away from the web and not look at it again.
There was a big door on one wall of the room, going towards the front of the house. It was mostly closed, but I could see that there was brighter light sneaking in through the crack, and that felt like a good thing to move towards. I was a little afraid to touch the door at first, because it might have more spiders on the other side, but I managed to push it open with my toe, and nothing moved, so I remembered I was being brave, and I stepped into the next room.
The first thing I noticed was that there were no boards on two of the windows in here. The windows were up high, out of reach, so maybe they never bothered to put boards on them. The sunlight poured in and the room was nicely lit. It wasn’t blinding, because the sunlight didn’t get all the way down to the floor, but it was a lot nicer than that first dark room.
The second thing I noticed was the tree. It had grown straight up through the floor, right in the middle of the room. It had grown right up to the ceiling, which was pretty far over my head, and its branches had grown all the way out to the walls, and then it had stopped growing. And then it had died.
There were no leaves on it, nothing green. It was like a twisty gray skeleton of a tree, Bone Dry like everything else in this place. It was no wonder the tree hadn’t survived without any water. The mystery was how it had grown in the first place.
Around the tree was scattered some furniture, broken and dusty, of course. There were old sofas and armchairs and rocking chairs and stools, all with holes and cracks and missing pieces. They had all been arranged in a circle around the tree, and there were some scuff marks on the floor where some of the bigger pieces had damaged the wood.
Dusty, musty, fusty, dim.
One of the rocking chairs caught my eye because it was carved, top to bottom, with strange curving snakes all over it. I took a good look at the bottom of the chair, the way the snakes seemed to slither along the curved rockers. I could swear they were moving, and then I realized that they really were.
The chair was rocking back and forth. I let my eyes zoom out and I realized there was someone sitting on it, a miserable-looking woman from a long time ago. In fact, there were ghosts sitting on all of the chairs. Most of them were children or teenagers, and none of them looked happy or excited at all. They had Dead Eyes, which is an odd thing to say about ghosts, but there you have it. I didn’t see any emotion anywhere on any of their faces, not even smiling mouths or angry eyebrows.
All of the ghosts were looking at me. Then, all together, they turned their heads and looked up at the tree. I looked up there, too, and there was the girl who had led me in here, staring at me with her angry red eyes.
“Do you see?” she asked, and her voice wasn’t rough from crying at all. It was high-pitched and angry. “Here they come again! Invading our home!” She reached out her hand and pointed at me. “They will never stop until we force them out once and for all!” Her pointer finger started growing a long, yellow claw. Her voice got louder, almost a scream. “Drive them out! Once and for all!”
I was more scared then than I had ever been in my entire life, so I did what I always do when I’m scared: I froze. I tried to tell my legs to run, but they didn’t want to listen. I tried to tell my lungs to breathe, but they were too busy trying to hide. I tried to tell my voice to yell for help, but it had run far, far away.
All the ghosts turned their heads slowly to stare at me. Their eyes were all growing bigger and bigger every second, black in the middle like a cloudy night sky. All together as one, they opened their mouths and started to scream.