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Growing up in small town in the middle of Kansas in the 1970s meant that not only was there not much to do as a slightly mischievous teenager, but if you did want to do something, anything, you had to come up with it yourself. This usually meant anything from the fairly innocuous, like cramming as many friends as I could fit into my trunk to sneak them into the drive-in, to the slightly more unlawful, like trying to break into the five-and-dime in the dead of night (relax – we didn’t actually succeed on that one).
One of my buddies, Donnie, had slightly macabre tastes. He managed to get ahold of an anatomy class skeleton that he liked to pose around his house and his dream was to one day get a real casket to put the skeleton in; that’s the kind of guy Donnie was. Whenever we left it up to Donnie to decide where the night would take us, it was usually in that macabre vein. He liked to explore old cemeteries, abandoned hospitals, things of that nature. On one particular Saturday night, he said we should explore an old abandoned farmhouse he had spotted along the side of a country road. I didn’t hear any better ideas, so Donnie, Pat, Hoodie and I all piled into my Rambler and headed out. Donnie only vaguely remembered where the place was; it took us an eternity of winding down pitch black country roads before Donnie finally excitedly exclaimed, “That’s it!”
The place was creepy looking. The house itself was fairly typical of the area. It was a stark, two-story affair, which was probably painted a dull grey at some point, but almost all of the paint had since peeled away, leaving behind exposed wooden planks drying and cracking in the Kansas heat. Illuminated in the moonlight, the planks looked like a ribcage. Most of the house’s windows had long since been broken; only a couple of windows on the second story remained intact. No one had bothered boarding up the broken windows, suggesting no one had looked after this property for a long time. A porch circled the house, but the porch was sagging and leaning with age. As I pulled my car into the driveway in front of the house, my headlights shot into the house though the broken front windows. When I cut the car off, it suddenly hit me just how dark it was out here in the middle of nowhere. We waited in the car for a few moments as our eyes adjusted to the dark. Once we stepped out of the car, we starting taking inventory of our surroundings.
The moonlight only gave us the slightest of clues about what lay on the property. About fifty yards behind the house stood a large garage of some sort. There was a third building beyond that may have been a small barn. On our left was an expansive field. What probably used to be a field of wheat or corn was now an overgrown mess of weeds and sunflowers, most of which was well over six feet tall. I suddenly became unnerved looking at the field, gently swaying in the evening summer breeze. Anything could be out there in that field, I thought to myself as a soft shiver went up my spine. The moment of creepiness was broken up by my buddies piling out of the car. We all stood there for a moment soaking it all in, the only noise was the nonstop thrum of the locusts in the trees. It was Donnie who eventually broke the silence. “I’ve driven by this place a dozen times and never seen anyone anywhere near it. It’s definitely abandoned.” It didn’t really need to be said; the sorry state of the place confirmed a human hasn’t been living here in years. Decades, probably.
Pat made the first move. He bounded up the steps on the porch towards the front door. One of the ancient steps partially gave way under his weight. The rest of us were careful to hop over that step. The front door was as dry and warped as the rest of the house. Pat gave it only a slight shove with his shoulder and the door swung violently inwards with a faint squeak. I clicked on my flashlight and scanned the inside of the place. Directly in front of us was a staircase leading up to the second floor. Off to the right was a mostly empty room and a narrow hallway ran along the bottom of the staircase, advancing into the pitch black house beyond. I took in the details of the room to our right. Only a few random pieces of furniture remained; an end table sat in one corner, covered in a thick layer of dust. The wooden floor was now covered in leaves and other debris blown in through the broken windows.
We started down the hallway that ran to the back of the house. The house had a very strong musty smell to it, like damp earth. The wooden floorboards creaked and groaned underneath our feet. The first wave of panic and claustrophobia swept over me as all four of us shuffled through that cramped hallway. For the first time it dawned on me how vulnerable we were if some maniac wanted to confront us with an axe or something. Every fiber of my being wanted to turn around and get the hell out of his place. I couldn’t do such a thing in front of all of my buddies, though, so I reluctantly trudged forward. The end of the hallway branched left and right. To the right was a narrow door. I pulled it open to reveal a small bathroom. More like a closet with a toilet in it. Like everything else in the house, it only told a story of decades of neglect. I swung my flashlight to the left to reveal what remained of the house’s kitchen. We all filed into the little room and swung our flashlights around.
Like the rest of the house, the kitchen was coated in a thick layer of dust and we stood upon a layer of leaves. Nothing much remained in the little kitchen except for a small round table off in one corner. And that’s where Hoodie saw it. “What the hell is that,” he asked, with his voice coming out in a choked whisper. We all swung our flashlights over to the table.
Sitting on top of the table was a prosthetic arm. It was the kind designed to attach at the elbow. A plastic cuff narrowed down to what would be the wrist. At the end of the prosthesis were two angry-looking hooks. We all stared at the thing for what seemed like an eternity. Finally Pat broke the silence. “Anyone else notice that it doesn’t have dust all over it?” It hadn’t occurred to me, but he was right; everything in this place was buried in dust, but not the arm. It looked like it had just been placed there recently. We all slowly rotated to face the doorway through which we had just entered, halfway expecting a one-armed lunatic to come screaming through. Instead, all we could hear was our own panicked breathing, and of course the locusts outside. Always the damned locusts.
“Should we take it?” Donnie asked. Of course Donnie would want that hideous thing.
“No, Donnie,” I snapped. “What the hell are you going to do with it?”
“I could think of something,” Donnie grinned. That made us all chuckle. Something needed to break the tension.
“Let’s check it out upstairs,” Pat volunteered. We shuffled back through the narrow hallway and then turned up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs the place opened up to one bedroom facing us, and two more off to the right. The bedroom immediately facing us was more of the same. It was empty except for random junk, like a large milk churn sitting in the corner of the room. Like everywhere else in the house, the wooden floor was covered in branches and leaves. Oddly, only one thing still adorned the walls in the room. A crude cross had been fashioned out of popsicle sticks, probably by a child. It hung from a tack in the wall by a length of red yarn. Pat grunted as his flashlight paused on the cross for a moment.
We made our way to the next bedroom. More of the same; it was empty, save for a burlap sack lying in the middle of the floor. Donnie nudged it around with the toe of his shoe, seemingly disappointed that it was empty. So far our trip to a spooky abandoned house had been anything but; the only thing that managed to unnerve us was some poor old bastard’s fake arm. Everyone was starting to get a restless at this point. Our thoughts were turning to where we would go after this. Probably to pick up a case of beer and watch TV at Hoodie’s house, like always. With our interest quickly waning, he walked into the last bedroom. It took a moment for us to all focus on the thing on the floor.
In the darkness there appeared to be a large black mass lying in the middle of the floor. Even as all of our flashlights focused on it, it took a moment for us to recognize what we were looking at.
It was covered in fine dark brown hair. A larger mane of slightly lighter hair sprouted out of the top. It was a horse’s head. And it was real. The large pool of deep red blood around it confirmed that it was real. The mouth was twisted up into a hideous grimace. The eyes were opened wide and frenzied.
We stood silent for a long moment. Of course Donnie was the first one to advance on it to get a closer look. “Guys, this is fresh. Look – the blood hasn’t even dried.”
“It doesn’t smell yet, either,” Pat stammered. “It hasn’t been here long.”
We all slowly turned toward the doorway. Again, we were expecting someone…some thing come thundering up the stairs. We had seen too many movies.
I finally broke the silence. “So…maybe we should get out of here before whoever left that wants to bring in something else.” The other guys half laughed and half grunted in agreement. We took one long last look at the horse’s head and then made our way down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs we tried to theorize what exactly we had found.
“Maybe a farmer slaughtered his horse?” Hoodie offered.
“Sure…but why drag the head into the house?” I countered.
“And why choose an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere?” Pat said. “There ain’t no working farm around here.”
Donnie’s voice came from behind us, barely above a whisper. “Guys.”
We all turned to face him. Donnie’s face had lost all color. “Guys…the arm is gone.”
“What?” I said.
Donnie’s voice now erupted into a panicked cry. “The fucking ARM is gone!”
Without exchanging a word, we all dashed out of the house and to my Rambler as fast as we could, skidding on the gravel as we reached the car.
Once we got inside and slammed the doors, we started to feel a little more settled. We rolled down the windows and Pat and Hoodie lit up cigarettes. We sat in the silence of the car and stared at the house in the darkness.
“So…someone must be around here,” Donnie said. “I mean…right?”
“Hell, I don’t know, Donnie,” I said.
We sat in silence another few moments, scanning the surroundings for any hint of movement. The only sound was the steady hum of the locusts. Suddenly we heard something out in the field to our left. I will try my best to describe the sound, because I had never heard anything like it before, and never since. It sounded something like a cough, but it was strangled and choked, more like the hacking wheeze that would come out of a person dying of emphysema. Haaaaaachhhhh. That lone, alien noise reverberated with us for a long moment and we all stared wide-eyed into the field. We didn’t so much as breathe.
“M-maybe you should start the car,” Pat stuttered.
I wasn’t going to argue. I fired up the car and flipped on the headlights. The field to our left remained unchanged. A mess of vegetation slowly swaying in the breeze.
The silence was broken by a large thud on the back of my car. It was something heavy; the back of my Rambler actually dipped down with the impact. That was enough. I threw the Rambler into Drive and roared out of the driveway, spraying gravel in a huge roostertail as I went.
The guys were in a frenzy inside of the car. They were jabbering and shouting, whipping their heads around in every direction with wild eyes. As we got back on a main road, they calmed down a little and the mood turned into excited whoops. We eventually followed through with our plans to pick up a case of beer and go to Hoodie’s house. The rest of the night was spent pondering just what exactly we had experienced.
The next morning I drove myself home and parked the Ramber in my driveway. As I circled around the car to walk up to my porch, I noticed…something on the car. There was a wide smear across the sedan’s white trunk lid. It was a reddish-brown. A lot like blood, I thought. I got out my garden hose and tried to spray it off. It didn’t want to immediately come off, so I got a sponge and scrubbed at it. The stuff stunk. The sickly-sweet smell of rot.
That was our last time venturing into old abandoned houses. Donnie would bring it up every so often, and the rest of us would chuckle and exchange nervous glances.