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It Just Had To Be Haunted, Didn't It? Part 1
It was pitch-black outside, and of course, rain was pouring down too, further decreasing my visibility. I was driving down a mostly deserted highway - every once in a while, a car would pass me, but that was it. It would’ve been quiet from the lack of cars if my friend in the backseat wasn’t rambling on about something, his words slurred. He kept swaying slightly in his seat. Judging from his breath, he must’ve consumed at least four beers. He started tapping my shoulder rapidly.
“I’m trying to drive, Cade!” I snapped when he wouldn’t stop.
“Don’t be such a stick in the mud, Jimmy.”
“I’m driving! Unless you want to die, shut up!”
“Aw, come on, don’t - whoa, what is that?!” he cried suddenly.
In the rearview mirror, I noticed him pointing out the window on his left. I frowned and glanced in that direction. To my astonishment, I saw a bright white light illuminating one of the windows of a nearby mansion!
Shaking my head to clear the strange event from my head, I turned my attention back to the road only to see the headlights of a semi! The last thing I remembered was releasing a panicked torrent of curses before quickly twisting the wheel to the left...
When I came to, I could feel something wet and sticky on my forehead. I touched it and immediately winced in pain. I pulled my fingers back and swore when I saw it was blood. Shaking with shock with each movement, I pulled out my cell phone, unlocked it, and went straight to the camera app. There was a long gash on my forehead, from which blood was seeping, but it didn’t look deep. I didn’t see any other injuries anywhere else.
“Thank God,” I murmured.
I slowly twisted around in my seat to check on Cade. But he was gone! I immediately shot out of the car and checked the perimeter, but there was no sign of Cade.
“Cade!” I called worriedly.
I jumped at the sound of thunder. A few moments later, lightning split the sky, illuminating an old, dilapidated mansion that seemed like it hadn’t been touched by humans for decades, as there were vines growing up the sides and the grass was tall enough to reach up to my ankles.
Had Cade gone there to look for help? Probably, considering he was either too drunk or too dumb (or perhaps a combination of the two) to realize that there was no way anyone still lived there.
As I approached the mansion, I noticed a curtain in one of the windows moving. I looked up but saw nothing. Dismissing it as just my imagination, I went up to the door and knocked, just to be 100% sure no one was there. After all, I didn’t want to get hauled away in handcuffs for breaking and entering someone’s home.
Suddenly, the ground under my feet disappeared and I was sent plummettiing into darkness! I screamed like a little girl (I’m only a little ashamed to admit that) as I slid down some kind of slide at high speed. The tunnel or whatever spat me out into a large, sparse room filled with cobwebs. I heard wood splintering as I crashed through some kind of lid and into a strangely-shaped box. When I finally recovered from the fall, I was getting up out of the box when suddenly, I felt something on my shoulder. Confused, I grabbed it, and when I put it in front of my face, I immediately shrieked and tossed it away from me, my heart thumping with terror.
Holy crap, it was a skeleton hand!
I scrambled out of what I now realized was a coffin and stumbled, falling forward on my chin. I moaned in pain and rubbed my now scraped chin, momentarily forgetting the awful thing I’d seen. Then I remembered, and I twisted myself around, feeling the irrational fear of having my back to that thing - as if it’d come back to life, crawl out of that coffin, and attack me without me knowing it. Now that I was focusing on it more clearly, I saw that the hand belonged to a small skeleton wearing a ragged white dress full of holes; I’d say it was from the early twentieth century.
There were thousands of questions flashing through my mind. Who was this? Why was her skeleton down here in this basement rather than six feet under the ground? What had killed her at such a young age? And most terrifying of all: was her spirit still lingering?
I wasn’t a superstitious man. After all, Cade and I often laughed at those who were. However, considering I’d watched many horror movies in which a creepy old place like this existed despite the doubters claiming otherwise, I couldn’t smother the feeling that I was now inside a haunted house in which poor souls like this girl still dwelled, left to haunt the living rather than move on to a better place. As if to prove my point, the single lightbulb dangling on a single string hanging from the ceiling flickered. I leapt to my feet, frightened.
It’s storming outside, you dolt, I scolded myself, feeling ashamed for feeling so scared. It’s obviously affecting the power.
Shaking my head to clear it of thoughts of ghosts and whatnot, I started looking around the room for a way out. To my dismay, there were none! I couldn’t even spot the opening through which I’d entered the room! Either I was going crazy, or something very strange and dare I say sinister was going on here.
“How the heck am I supposed to get out?” I asked aloud, frustrated and also a bit frightened.
“I can help you,” I heard a little girl say, her voice sounding strangely distorted and even, in a sense, demonic.
I then felt a hand clamp over my mouth. I screamed, the sound muffled of course, out of fear and surprise. With widened eyes, I watched as I was lifted up to the ceiling and then through it into a large dining room with the longest dinner table I’d ever seen with an old-fashioned and elegant chandelier hanging overhead! The hand disappeared, and I fell to the ground with a loud thud. My heart racing, I jumped to my feet and spun around in a full circle, but there was no one around.
Oh, God, I was in a haunted house! And a ghost had just pulled me out of the room and into this one! Pulled me right through the solid ceiling! Oh, God, please tell me I was in some kind of a drunken stupor! Oh, tell me that’s all this was!
I tried to slow my breathing, struggling furiously to keep calm, but it didn’t work. Rather, it seemed to have the opposite effect, as my breathing grew more and more rapid. And my heart was beating so fast I feared it would leap out of my chest.
Stop panicking, you dolt! If you’re scared, then how do you think Cade feels?
A new determination to find my friend smothered my panic, and, taking a deep breath, I looked around the room for the exit. To my right was the door. My hand rested on the doorknob, and I hesitated only for a moment before opening it.
The moment I did, a chair came flying at me!
I quickly ducked, and it just barely missed me, crashing into the wall behind me. I stayed frozen there for a moment, paralyzed, as I tried to comprehend what had just happened. I cautiously peeked my head into the room and saw no one there.
Yep. I was dealing with ghosts.
To keep myself from screaming, I bit down on my thumb, hard enough to draw blood. Focusing on the pain rather than my fear, I was able to continue onward.
“You’re not going to stop, are you?” I heard the voice from before ask.
I whirled around, but of course, she was nowhere to be seen. “No,” I said, choking back my fear. “No, I won’t.”
“You’re not scared?”
Ha, if only that was the case! But rather than admit the truth, I lied and replied, “Of course not. How can I be scared of a little kid like you?”
Suddenly, I felt an invisible force pick me up, shake me around, and toss me across the room. I cried out in pain as I collided with a cabinet. I slowly rose to my feet and then saw there were a dozen knives floating in the air, all of which were pointed at me.
“What about now?”
“N-no,” I squeaked, seconds away from wetting myself.
“Really? Most would be scared by now. Why not you?”
Suddenly, a bloodcurdling scream erupted from somewhere upstairs. I paled, my heart becoming heavy with dread, the instant I recognized the voice: Cade!
“Goodbye for now, mortal,” she said with a creepy giggle straight out of a nightmare.
The knives clattered to the ground, but I hardly noticed. Instead, I took off running - through the next door and to the staircase just around the corner. I bolted up the stairs and burst into the closest room on my left. I immediately tripped over something lying on the floor and tumbled to the ground with a large thud. I then retched after having run so quickly (I wasn’t exactly the athletic type). My arms shaking, I hoisted myself off the ground and shakily rose to my feet. Then I saw what had tripped me.
At first, I just stood there, stunned, unable - unwilling - to register the awful sight before me. Rather, my mind was attempting to convince myself that I was hallucinating, that I was seeing things, that perhaps I was even dreaming. But deep down, I knew this was no dream nor hallucination. The moment I realized that, my blood went cold as memories started flashing through my mind.
I was standing in the field, alone. It was raining, but I didn’t notice, nor did I notice the muddy streaks on my pants and shoes that would’ve given my mother a heart attack. I was clutching a baseball tightly, my hand trembling. One wouldn’t have noticed, but there was a different kind of water streaking down my face than raindrops.
They said they were going to be here. They said.
I looked up, my inner thoughts broken, when something rattled the wire fence. I frowned when I saw a boy standing there, grasping the fence with his fingers. He looked like he was a year or two older than me, and he was built like an ox. His face was grim and serious (and a little scary, to be honest), close to what I imagined a murderer would wear. But then a goofy smile stretched from ear to ear, the grin lighting up every rough and rugged feature of his face, and he waved wildly to me.
“Wanna play some baseball?” he yelled.
Before I could even say anything, he climbed up and over the fence and ran toward me, his strange manner of running giving him the appearance of a monster chasing its victim. He skidded to a stop before me, and it was only now that I noticed he had a bat in hand. He held it out to me.
“You wanna bat first, or do you want me too?” he asked.
I pointed at him, too stunned for words, and he grinned, his eyes lighting up. He jogged to home base and got into position. He turned to me, he widened his eyes, as if he wanted them to be a big enough size to capture everything going on around him. He gave a slight nod.
I wiped my face and, taking a deep breath, I readied myself. Then with all my might, I threw the ball. The ball hurtled toward him, and he swung, his strong arms giving plenty of power to his swing. I was thinking with amazement that it was going to be a home run when I felt something collide with my head. The last thing I remembered was the sensation of falling and mud on my face...
When I woke up, I gasped when I saw there was a hulking figure towering over me. I sat up abruptly, and he jumped in surprise. Then I saw that it was the boy from before and relaxed. He had a sheepish smile on his face, and in his large hand was my baseball. There was a small splatter of blood on it.
“Sorry,” he said. “Mama always said I don’t know my own strength.”
“I thought you were going to hit a homerun,” I replied, to which he laughed - a booming, hearty sound, a sound I couldn’t help but associate with genuine goodness. “What?” I asked, confused. It didn’t sound funny to me.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. Then his smile vanished, and he replied, “The doctor called your mom. She’ll be here soon.”
“Why the long face?” I asked.
“Your mom’s not gonna let me be your friend, I reckon, since I hurt your head.”
I blinked in surprise. Friend? This guy wanted to be my friend? Since when had anyone wanted to be my friend?
It’s probably a trick, a voice inside warned me. After all, those kids said they would play baseball with you, but they lied. What makes you think he won’t do the same?
Yeah but...there was something about this kid - something different. There seemed to be this aura of...goodness...around him. I couldn’t quite describe it in a way others would understand. I guess you’d have to feel it for yourself to know. Anyway, it was something that just couldn’t be faked, no matter how hard you tried. So, yeah, I had a feeling - maybe something more real than that - that he was being genuine.
“How come you wanna be friends with me?” I asked.
“Who wouldn’t?” he replied.
“I have no friends!” I wanted to scream at him. “I suck at socializing! I suck at sports!” - (though I do like baseball) - “I suck at being cool! I’m a total GEEK!” But of course, I didn’t. Instead, I asked, “You know who I am, right? The Four-Eyed Geek?”
“Oh, yeah, I was wondering why people at school call you that. Is it because you have glasses?”
“Yes,” I replied, my cheeks flushing red with embarrassment, as I pushed my glasses farther up my nose with my middle finger.
“Mama always said she wouldn’t raise no bully - no sir, she wouldn’t tolerate no bullying of any kind, no siree.”
“So you don’t think I’m a geek?”
“Naw. I think you’re a Jimmy.”
I raised my brow - something I’d practiced a lot to get it just right - and he shrugged. “Mama always said we weren’t nothing them bullies said. We were only us. You ain’t no Four-Eyed Geek, and I ain’t no Bonehead. You’re just a Jimmy, and I’m just a Cade.”
“Cade? That’s your name?”
“Yep, it sure is.”
“Well, Cade, don’t worry because I wanna be your friend too. I’ll just tell my mom I ran into a pole or something.”
“So then we friends?”
“Yeah, we’re friends,” I said with a smile, offering my hand. He took it and shook it, thus starting a lifetime friendship between us.
“Aw, crap,” I muttered under my breath when I saw my mother’s car in the driveway. “She’s gonna kill me when she sees I’m not in my room.”
“It’s all good,” Cade said a bit too loudly, waving his large hand in dismissal.
“Dude! How many did you drink?” I asked as I couldn’t help but notice his slurred speech and swaying body. “You’re freakin’ wasted!”
“Only four or five cups,” he replied. “It sure tasted weird for Kool-Aid.”
“Wow, you’re dumb,” I said with a laugh. “That stuff wasn’t Kool-Aid, man. Anyway, can you lift me up to the window?”
He nodded and hoisted me up to the window. I’d opened it and had gotten half my body inside when the door to my bedroom opened. I stared in horror at my mother, who blinked in surprise at me hanging halfway out the window. Then her look of shock quickly turned to anger as she jerked me inside, making sure to pull me by the ear for good measure.
“Jimmy Arnold Burkholder!” she screeched in an extremely high-pitched voice.
“Was that your mom?” Cade called from below.
I facepalmed myself. Great! Now she knew Cade was in it, too. Honestly, I wish Cade would learn to shut his darn mouth, that dumbo!
“Cade Barnes! You too? I am calling your father!”
“Hello Mrs. Burkholder!” Cade cried happily, his words, of course, slurred. “How are you?!”
“Dear Lord, you’re drunk, aren’t you?!” my mother cried in dismay. She then shook her head and crossed her arms, rubbing her temple as her brows furrowed in frustration. “You too goons are always getting in trouble,” she muttered under her breath. “Ever since the day you met.”
“I reckon it’ll take me ‘bout a minute,” Cade said as he approached the door. “Maybe less if I hurry. Mama always said to be quick about stuff.”
A second later, he disappeared into his house while I leaned on the wall, already tapping my foot impatiently on the ground. I hated waiting, even if only for a minute. I pulled out my new phone - some cool, new thing called the iPhone that my mom had gotten me for my birthday just a few weeks ago. I’d barely used it since then, and I now used this time to experiment with its apps. I was instantly intrigued by all it could do and soon became totally absorbed in what I was doing, which was why I didn’t notice a tall man approach me until he was maybe ten feet away from me. I looked up after seeing him out of the corner of my eye. He was just standing there, staring at me like a freakin’ weirdo.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
He slowly pulled something out of his jacket. The moment I registered what it was, I stiffened, and my phone dropped from my hand. It was a gun!
“Wallet. Now,” he growled as his finger curled on the trigger, clearly telling me he meant business.
I gulped and was about to comply when suddenly without warning, a large body crashed into the man! My heart stopped as a shot went off and ricocheted off a metal pipe of some nearby building just a few feet away from me. The person had the guy pinned to the ground. It was Cade! He punched the guy in the face once and knocked him out cold.
“You okay, Jimmy?” he asked, out of breath. His eyes were widened and filled with fear. I slowly nodded, still in shock from what had just happened to speak. “Mama always said to be quick.”
At that moment, I closed my eyes and thanked God for giving me the best friend in the world. The best friend a guy could have.
And now, my best friend was lying on the floor, eyes closed, in a small pool of blood, his leg bent at the wrong angle. I’d never seen his face so pale before. I slowly approached him with dull eyes, feeling disattached from this reality, as if I was only an onlooker watching a movie rather than someone actually living it.
“Cade?” I whispered, barely aware I’d said it aloud. Suddenly, he sat up abruptly, gasping, his eyes snapping open. I screamed and fell ungracefully on my bottom. “Don’t scare me like that!” I shrieked, though my heart was pounding but not from fear.
He whipped his head toward me, and he blinked once, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Jimmy?”
“Y-yeah, the one and only,” I replied, recovering from the shock he’d given me. “Now let’s get the heck out of here.”
“I can’t get up,” he replied. “My leg’s…”
“Okay, I’ll help you.” I held out my hand. “C’mon.”
Grunting with the effort and a bead of sweat running down my face, I pulled Cade - who sure hadn’t lost any of his bulkiness since I was ten and he was twelve while I had stayed as scrawny as ever - up to his feet. I let an oof as he leaned on me. I gritted my teeth as I struggled to support all his weight. I was already sweating by the time we’d made it to the stairs.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Suddenly, I felt some invisible force push me! I was sent flying halfway down the stairs, hitting my chin on the stair so hard that it started bleeding profusely. A second later, I felt something huge fall on me. My vision grew black and spotty for a few seconds as the breath was knocked out of me by almost three hundred pounds of Cade (almost double my size), and several deafening cracks sounded - probably some ribs breaking. He then rolled over off of me, and I was able to breathe again. Every time my chest rose and fell, I hissed in pain. Oh, yeah, something was broken alright.
“You’re never going to leave,” the little girl’s voice hissed in my ear just as I felt a hand clamp over my mouth.
I widened my eyes, fearing she going to pull the same trick from before, and I kicked and thrashed. I proved to be right, as the ghost started pulling me through the stairs. I felt a fist of fear grab my heart, and I struggled even more. I then felt someone grab my arms and pull them forward. A tug-of-war of sorts began between the ghost and Cade, each fiercely determined to keep me.
“I shall have him!” the little girl shrieked angrily. “He’ll be my friend for eternity!”
“I won’t let you! He’s my friend!” Cade yelled, sounding angry - even furious - for the first time ever.
I heard a low, pathetic whimper right before Cade overpowered the ghost and pulled me back. For a whole minute, we just sat there on the staircase, not quite believing all that’d transpired and staring at each other with widened eyes.
Then Cade said, “Aw man, I need another one of those Kool-Aids,” before retching all over the place.
I burst into uncontrollable laughter. I kept laughing until I was no longer laughing but crying, bawling like a freakin’ baby. Finally, I wiped away my tears of relief and rose to my feet.
“C’mon, let’s go,” I said, hoisting Cade up to his feet with all the strength I had and just barely getting him down the stairs. I was ready to collapse the moment we reached the door when suddenly, the door slammed shut. “You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled just as the lights went out, and we were trapped in darkness while the thunder continued to rumble, nowhere near being done.
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