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Shivering, Tamara glanced back behind her. In the distance she saw five dark figures standing under the shade of the forest trees, watching. With a sigh, she continued to walk forward. This was one of the stupidest dares she had ever agreed to. Her “friends” had been pretty willing to make her follow through with the dare, too. Well there was no turning back now. If she did, she would never live it down. She would forever be known as the girl who was too chicken to go into a simple abandoned house.
Only it wasn’t just any abandoned house. People all over town swore up and down that it was haunted. But this was just a stupid tale parents told their kids to scare them so they wouldn’t wander off into the woods alone. Nobody really believed it. Still, everyone steered clear of that house. Even the realtors gave up trying to sell it after a while. No one would dare to buy it. So there it stood, right at the edge of the forest. Nothing to keep it company but the night owls, who seemed to hoot a warning to anyone who dared to come near it.
Tamara swallowed nervously as she took a tentative step closer. The walkway to the house used to be pretty, flowers lining the path in pleasant patches. Now it was an ugly few slabs of cracked stone, leading up to a door hanging on broken hinges. The front lawn had become a tangled mess of weeds and scattered twigs. The house itself was an empty shell of what it used to be. It wasn’t a mansion, but it wasn’t small either. It had originally been an impressive three stories tall, but the attic had caved in over the years, throwing the building off balance. Its dark green paint had faded to a sickly puke color, making the whole house appear ill. The windows had been shattered long ago, the curtains tattered and dirty. Wilted vines had wrapped themselves around the house, choking the very life out of it. As if it had any life left to give.
The minute Tamara stepped onto the rotting welcome mat, the owls began their warning. The hoots became louder and louder until they were nearly deafening. Covering her ears, she looked up to find about six pairs of glowing eyes watching her, warning her.
Beware! Beware! She imagined them saying in their strange owl tongue.
But it was all in her head, she told herself. The dare was to explore one room in the house. So explore she would. What was the worst thing that could happen? It wasn’t like the place was really haunted. It was just…creepy. With squared shoulders and a deep intake of breath, she stepped inside.
The door automatically swung closed behind her, but she didn’t let this scare her. It was only expected. The door was already loose. Any kind of wind would have it swinging closed. Luckily, she had brought a flashlight with her. It took a minute to flicker on. It must have been running out of battery. But that was strange, she thought to herself. She had just put new batteries in that morning. Oh well. She had found the stupid thing in her dad’s tool shed. It must have been older than she thought.
Naturally, Tamara had stepped into the foyer. She faced a winding rickety staircase that snaked its way up and up, plunging into complete darkness. Even her trusty flashlight couldn’t show her where it ended. No way was she going up there. To the right of the staircase was what she guessed to be the kitchen, a place she wished to avoid. Old kitchen appliances and haunted houses never mixed very well in all the horror movies she had seen. To her right was the living room. Tamara decided to take a peek in there first, careful to watch where she stepped. For some reason there was broken glass all over the place.
The floorboards creaked under her feet as she slowly made her way into the cold dark space. A plush chair faced her, empty and covered in cobwebs. It seemed lonely, sitting there in the far corner by the room’s only window. Shards of glass covered the seat of the graying chair. Stuffing spilled out of slashes in the fabric. A neat pile of dusty books lay next to it, waiting for someone to flip through the pages. The beige colored walls were strangely bare. There were no pictures, no drawings, no wallpaper. Nothing. Tamara wondered if a family ever even lived here at all.
She turned her attention back to the books. Why not take a look? She picked one up. The title had faded over the years. The only word she could make out was Life. The irony was not lost on Tamara. Smiling a little, she flipped through a few pages. They were yellowed and very worn. If she wasn’t careful, they would tear apart under her touch. She realized with a start that it was a diary. She squinted to read one of the entries:
The day has been fair, I suppose. Grandma has gone out to the market to get more supplies. I don’t understand why she lives here, out in the woods. At night, something howls, making my very bones rattle. There’s something not right about this place. Shoot, there’s something not right with Grandma. All she does is sit in that chair. Staring into space. When she’s not doing that, she’s out back in the garden. She can’t be gardening. There are hardly any plants back there. I’ve looked. So just what is she doing out there? I wonder…]
The rest of the entry had been rubbed off and faded due to age. How old was this diary? Tamara wanted to know. Where was this girl now? She flipped ahead, but she could no longer read anything. It had all faded beyond recognition. She reached to pick up another book, when there was a loud bang. Instantly, her head snapped up to see where the noise had come from. All was still. With a frown, she slowly stood up and made her way back to the foyer. The front door was still firmly closed. There was no way it had been the source of the noise.
Tamara turned to go back to the living room when, Bang. There it was again. It sounded like the slamming of a door. This was soon followed by a soft thud, like something had been dropped on the floor. The sound had come from directly over her head. She instinctively looked up, shining a light on the ceiling. Chipped paint and spots of water damage was all she found. Thump. Thump. There it was again. This time Tamara was certain that it had come from upstairs. She gulped.
By now she knew her friends would be getting antsy. She had full-filled her dare, so now she could just leave. But the detective in her wanted to find the source of that noise. Besides, maybe giving her friends a little scare of their own would teach them not to make such silly dares.
So up she went, clutching her flashlight like a weapon. She was careful to go slowly, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. From where she was, there seemed to be no end in sight. It just continued to wind upward into the abyss.
Without warning, one of the steps broke in half under her weight. With a scream, she frantically grabbed hold of the railing. The flashlight fell from her hand, landing down below with a thump. The hard landing must have been too much for the poor flashlight, because Tamara’s only source of light flickered off.
However, she did not have time to panic about this. She had bigger fish to fry at the moment. One foot was firmly on the next step while her other leg dangled through the now gaping hole in the staircase. Taking deep breaths to calm herself down, she lifted herself up and onto the next step. More cautious than ever now, she tested each step before moving on. Inch by inch, little by little, she finally made her way to the top. She didn’t let go of the railing until she was definitely off of those dreadful steps. Just the thought of going back down made her shiver, but she refused to think about that.
Tamara waited for her eyes to become used to the dark before observing her surroundings. She was in a narrow hallway. When she looked up, she could see where the ceiling had caved in. Here, the walls weren’t quite as bare. There were pictures, or rather, picture frames. The frames were pretty enough. Some bigger than others. A few had been placed at strange angles while others were upright. The curious girl’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Why would anyone want to put picture frames up without the actual pictures?
Bang. There it was again. The reason she had even bothered to come up here in the first place. It came from the lone door at the end of the hallway. Tamara was almost sure of it. She began to move towards it, hand stretched out to turn the knob. Right about now the creepy music would be playing, if this was a movie, she thought grimly. As she turned the knob, the thumping began again, like someone was pounding their fists against the floor.
Heart in her throat, Tamara opened the door. The pounding ceased, leaving an eerie silence in its wake. Moonlight poured in from a window. Oddly enough, the glass was still intact, but someone had opened it, allowing a breeze to enter the room. The white laced curtains billowed gracefully around the window frame. She hurried over to the window, taking a peek outside. This room faced the garden the child had mentioned in her diary.
A few broken miniature statues scattered the backyard. Tamara guessed the “garden” was the mound of dirt close to the back of the house. There wasn’t a trace of any kind of plant. There was just an old rusted shovel and a broken rake. She squinted, leaning even farther out the window to get a better look. There was something in that mound of dirt that had caught her eye, something shiny.
“What are you doing?”
With a yelp, Tamara fell back into the room, landing on her rear end. Horrified, she quickly righted herself and slowly turned around to face the source of the voice. Her eyes widened in wonder when she saw who it was.
A boy leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets. Where he stood, the moonlight only hit half of him. The other side stayed in shadow. His skin was a sickly pale, but somehow he was able to pull it off without looking the least bit ill. Full red lips contrasted with the skin tone, making his skin seem even paler in comparison. His eyes flashed a milky blue, almost colorless in the moonlight. His hair was hidden under a pageboy cap. He wore a white buttoned down shirt and black pants, like he was about to go to a formal event. A few buttons had been left undone on his shirt, revealing more pale skin. The boy couldn’t be a day over fifteen. He watched Tamara with a curious gaze, an untold secret had settled on his perfect lips.
“What…who…who are you?” she stammered.
The boy raised an eyebrow. “The better question is, who are you and what are you doing in my room?”
She stared at him incredulously. “T-Tamara. And this is your room?”
He smiled.“Well, T-Tamara it’s nice to meet you. It’s not every day a new visitor comes to keep me company. Believe it or not, this place is pretty lonely.”
Tamara wasn’t quite sure what to make of this boy. Why would he be living here of all places? Where were his parents?
“My parents are long gone.” He sighed, leaning his head back against the wall.
Wait, she didn’t remember asking this question out loud. Had he just read her mind? Just who was this guy?
“Now that will all be answered in time. Trust me. We’ve got plenty of it. The name’s Robert by the way. Robert Stanza” He stepped out of the shadows, extending a hand out towards Tamara.
She let out a startled gasp. The whole right side of his face was riddled with cuts and bruises. Pieces of glass were still embedded in his skin. It was as if his face had been smashed into a window, the glass shattering under the pressure.
“Your face,” was all she could manage, her eyes glued to the nasty wound.
Robert frowned. “What, this little thing?” He touched his bloodied cheek. “It’s nothing really. It’s been a while since I could feel it.”
Tamara backed away from him, her eyes flickering to the door. Something wasn’t right here and she didn’t really feel like playing detective anymore. It was time for her to leave.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Tamara.” His voice was grave now, sad. “You shouldn’t have come here.”
She shook her head, refusing to believe what he was saying. The strange boy was just trying to scare her. She would prove him wrong. Without another word to Robert, she ran past him, throwing open the door and bolting down the hallway. He didn’t stop her, simply watching her go. She would find out for herself soon enough.
Before Tamara could reach the staircase, a girl appeared in front of her, blocking her escape. Like Robert, her skin had been drained of all color. Her hair fell to her shoulders in thick dark waves. She wore a tattered jumper. There was a large red stain on the front, as if she had spilled a glass of punch all over herself. She regarded Tamara with solemn green eyes.
“You weren’t trying to leave, were you?”
Tamara was speechless. All she wanted to do was get out of here and forget this place. Why hadn’t her friends come to find her yet?
The girl cocked her head. “Would you like to know what my grandma was doing out in the garden?”
That’s it. Tamara couldn’t take anymore of this. She was going to get out of this mad house. Pushing past the girl, she took the steps two at a time, careful to hop over the hole in the staircase. But before she could reach the end, she felt a shove from behind her, sending her tumbling the rest of the way. She hit the floor hard, landing on her arm with a sickening thud. She cried out in pain, rolling over to get her weight off of it. Her arm lay limp on the floor at an unusual angle. There was no doubt that it was broken, fractured at the least. Tears running down her cheeks, Tamara slowly stood up, cradling her arm to her chest.
Robert stood in front of her now, appraising her with obvious pity. “My punishment for trying to leave was this.” He pointed to his face. “I’m guessing that was yours.”
Ignoring him, Tamara stumbled over to the front door, trying her best to yank it open with her good hand. It wouldn’t budge. The stupid door wouldn’t budge. It must have gotten stuck or something, She rammed herself against it, trying in vain to make it move. Nothing was working. Tamara began to scream, banging her hand against the door.
“Help! Somebody help!”
She turned to Robert, eyes wild with fright. “Help me. You have to help me get out of here.”
The young girl appeared again, sitting cross-legged on the floor. “You’ll only get him in trouble. She doesn’t like it when her children try to leave.”
Robert nodded his agreement. “Face it, Love. You’re stuck here.” His eyes brightened. “But don’t worry. I’m loads of fun. We’ll have a good time. I promise. But first things first,”
Robert suddenly held a knife in his hand. Sleek and silver, it glistened under the moonlight. “You have to die.”
Tamara shook her head, searching for something, anything to fight him off with. There was nothing. The girl who had just been sitting right in front of her a minute ago, was gone now, leaving her alone with this crazy boy. She backed up against the door, shaking her head no. This couldn’t be happening. This had started with a dare. A stupid dare.
He raised the knife slowly over his head, a wicked grin revealing sharpened teeth. “You’re one of us now.”