The Crooked Man was tired,
His aching bones grew weary.
A longing for death he had acquired,
His mind filled with thoughts so eerie.
He wondered why he was the only one to writhe,
In the crooked place he called home.
His body cut by the Reaper’s scythe,
Unable to leave the room to roam.
They never told the story of how it all began,
Or how he cursed the house with pain and strife.
For he was a crooked man,
And he ended his crooked life.
To this day, he roams the halls,
Whistling his crooked tune.
Trapping his prey within the walls,
He swears to find the perfect one soon.
Trevor laughed as his girlfriend hit his shoulder with enough force to move a dust bunny. Her eyes darted from tree to tree while her head turned to look behind her every few seconds.
Her grip tightened against his arm as she spoke. “You made that up to scare me.”
“I found it online,” Trevor said. “Why are you in a ghost hunting club if you’re afraid of ghosts?”
“Don’t you want to know if there’s life after death?”
Trevor shrugged. “I don’t care either way. What’s it matter? Once we’re dead, we’re dead.”
“I want to know, even if you don’t.”
“Yeah, but you always have to drag me on your little adventures.”
“You had fun on our last one,” she said.
Trevor grinned at the memory. “Maybe we should do the same thing here.”
She laughed. “That can wait. The only reason I brought you is for protection.”
“From the spiders?”
“And the ghosts. I’ll trip you so you’ll get possessed first.”
“I don’t think that’s how that works.”
They threw playful jabs at each other as they walked down the trail until a dilapidated two-story house loomed in front of them. Trees with bare branches clattered against the siding, and wind ruffled loose shingles that were still hanging on with rusted roofing nails. The once white paint on the porch had peeled back to reveal the dark brown, rotten wood underneath. Shattered windows invited the breeze to move thin, ripped curtains to-and-fro. A dry chuckle passed Trevor’s lips.
“Yeah, right,” he said. “We’re not going in there. Nice joke.”
“People have gone in there before.”
“Fifty years ago, maybe. That’ll collapse any minute.” He called out to her as she released his arm and continued walking. “Veronica!”
She climbed the steps and jumped on the porch. “See? It’s fine. The walls haven’t buckled yet, so we’re good. Just watch the floor.” Veronica pushed the front door open. The creak echoed through the dead clearing, vibrating into the earth and beckoning the forces of Hell.
She turned toward him. “What are you waiting for?”
Air escaped between Trevor’s teeth as he scoffed. “You’re afraid of ghosts, but not a building coming down around you. That makes perfect sense.”
“Quit your griping and come on already! The sun’s going down.”
Trevor pushed forward, muttering curses under his breath as he climbed the rickety steps and followed his girlfriend into the darkness. The shadows engulfed his vision, and the only light came from Veronica’s cell phone. Turning on his phone’s flashlight, Trevor swept the beam around the room. The boarded-up windows blocked any light from entering the house. Small sticks and mold filled the cracks in the walls. Cockroaches scurried across the surface, sending a chill down Trevor’s spine.
“There’s black mold in here, so let’s not stay long,” Veronica said.
Trevor nodded. “Hurry and do whatever you need to do.”
“Of the roof collapsing on my head? Yes.”
A loud crack echoed through the house, startling both of them, and Veronica grabbed Trevor’s hand. The warmth of her palm kept him grounded as they moved through the foyer, watching their step as they went. She let go of his hand, pulled the video camera from the bag on her shoulder, and started filming.
“We’re here at old Grekel’s house,” she said while panning the camera around the room. “I can’t see anything, but thankfully, this camera has night vision.” She hit a button, and the screen lit up their surroundings.
Trevor peered at the screen. “That crap’s not creepy at all. You know if I see something, I’m gone, right?”
“Me too, but I’ll have it recorded.”
He laughed. “You’re crazy.”
“You love me.”
Several minutes passed with no sign of anything paranormal. Veronica talked to the camera like most vloggers, but the normality soothed him. The muscles in Trevor’s back and shoulders relaxed as he explored the different rooms. Veronica ended up moving away from him, and he assumed she was getting more comfortable being in the old house. Trevor stepped into a room filled with dusty furniture.
The hair on the back of his neck rose, and he turned. A foreboding feeling settled on his chest as he moved the light back and forth. Not seeing anything, he pivoted on his heel. Wincing as the floor dipped underneath his feet, Trevor moved further into the room. Chills ran through his body with each step as the surrounding air grew colder.
“Did it just get cold in here?” Veronica asked from around the corner.
Trevor rubbed his arms. “Yeah, it’s weird.”
“It’s different,” she said. “The air feels heavy.”
Trevor had felt nothing like it. The atmosphere of the building changed from when they first entered. He felt unwanted, as if he were a trespasser. Static flooded over his skin, making the hair stand on end.
Something’s not right, he thought.
Veronica spoke into the camera, and Trevor noted her wavering voice. “It feels like something’s here, watching us. The air is heavy, and it’s hard to breathe. Trevor, I don’t know if we should go any further.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said. “Let’s go.”
When he turned, the flashlight beam revealed a dark shadow in the doorway to his right. The light couldn’t shine through a tall figure hovering in the doorway. Trevor froze, his heart dropping into his gut as fear paralyzed him. Red eyes peered back at him, nearly reaching the top of the doorframe. The figure’s neck was bent, and its back hunched over, but Trevor could tell it was over six-feet tall. Gangly arms hung close to the floor. The raspy growl coming from the unknown presence made Trevor stumble backward.
The floor splintered with a loud crack, and he fell. Stomach leaping into his throat, Trevor clawed at the wood until his fingernails ripped from their beds, but gravity dragged him down. Jagged pieces dug into his skin, and a scream ripped from his throat just before his body became weightless. He plunged into darkness feet-first.
A groan escaped Trevor’s lips, and he opened his eyes to nothingness. Light shone down from the hole in the floor above, and he heard Veronica’s panicked voice calling out to him.
“Trevor, please answer me! Are you okay?”
He coughed and tried to sit up with a hiss of pain. His right leg burned like hot metal burying into his skin, radiating upward into his thigh. “Oh, God, what the—”
“Trevor?” Veronica’s voice traveled to him.
“I’m stuck,” he said with a wobbly voice. “My leg’s pinned, and there’s something wrong with it. Oh, God, I think it’s broken.”
There was a moment of silence before Veronica spoke again. “I’m going to go outside and call for help. I’ll be right back. I know we had service about a half mile back.”
Trevor wanted to beg her to stay. He didn’t want to be alone in the house. He trembled at the thought, but knew there was no other option. Mustering up the courage, he looked through the hole in the floor. “When you leave, don’t come back in here. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She didn’t answer, and Trevor realized she’d already rushed out of the house. He stared through the hole, estimating it to be about thirty feet above him. Broken pieces of rotten wood hovered between him and the main house. Debris littered the surrounding ground.
If that stuff hadn’t broken my fall, I’d probably be dead, he thought.
Pain surged through his leg, making him wince. Remembering his car keys in his pants pocket, Trevor grabbed them and searched through the metal. His fingertips brushed against the small light attached to the keyring. He pushed the button. A small beam of light cut through the darkness, although it wasn’t bright enough to make a significant difference. Propping himself onto an elbow, he pointed the beam at his leg.
Blood soaked his jeans just under the knee, and a rusty pipe impaled his calf. A large wooden beam pressed against the metal, anchoring it in place. Trevor’s stomach flipped, and he forced himself to look away before the nausea won. His heart thundered like the hooves of running horses. The air in his lungs stalled for a moment, resulting in a distressed gasp as panic set in.
I’m going to be okay. Veronica’s going to call for help, he thought. They’ll come for me.
Trevor’s back pressed against the floor, and he closed his eyes. Whistling the first tune that came to mind, he tried to calm his nerves. Air passed his lips and the high-pitched sound cut through the thick veil of fear, like a lighthouse on a foggy night.
Another whistle answered him.
Trevor fell silent. At first, he wasn’t sure if he’d heard it, but the terror numbed his body. To brush it off, he whistled while hypervigilant. A few seconds passed, and Trevor wondered if the sound had been his imagination.
The whistle came again. Closer.
Tears burned Trevor’s eyes. The trembling in his body worsened, and his hair stood on end. Pain coursed through his leg again as he tried sitting up. “Is there anybody there?”
Trevor peered into the darkness, squinting. The whistle never ceased and drew closer.
“Stay away!” he yelled at the shadows. The whistling stopped, and the eerie cackle that followed made his blood run cold.
Hearing an unfamiliar male’s voice sent horror through Trevor’s body, and the scream he released made his throat sore. “Veronica! Someone! Get me out of here!”
A large hand clamped over his mouth. Trevor instinctively clawed at it with blood-covered fingers, his screams muffled by the unknown entity. The stench of rotted meat made him gag. The figure loomed over him. In the darkness, he could barely make out the silhouette. The entity’s warped joints turned at inhuman angles and its neck twisted until the head lolled below the left shoulder. Glowing red eyes peered at him through narrow slits.
“Why should I be left to writhe?” the creature asked. Its voice was breathy, as if it had a hard time speaking.
Trevor continued to claw at the leathery flesh, but the raw fingernail beds didn’t make a difference. He balled up a fist and struck at his captor as a last resort. Knuckles hit the bony arms, but the grip never weakened. Trevor went back to the futile attempts to pull the hand away from him until his mind grew fuzzy. He stopped, forcing air through his nose to calm his burning lungs.
Those words, he thought. They’re from the poem. Oh, God. It can’t be real. This has to be some sick prank.
Using its other hand, the entity trailed a long, jagged fingernail down the side of Trevor’s face. Trevor couldn’t pull his head away, the iron grip against his mouth and jaw bruising his skin.
Its whispered voice crackled to life again. “You’re the perfect one.”
The creature turned its body until it straddled his stomach. Its searing breath washed over his face. Tears spilled from the corners of Trevor’s eyes and trickled into his hairline just above the ears.
Oh, God, he thought. Please help me. Please.
“Only the devil exists here,” the creature rasped. “He always has.”
A sob rattled through Trevor’s chest, the sound humming in his throat. His nostrils flared as he inhaled a tremulous breath. The entity smiled at him. The sound of skin cracking and bursting open made bile rise into his throat. He forced it back down before it could block the airway. The thing on top of him shifted and raised a gangly arm into the air before moving toward the wooden beam. Trevor struggled, but the pipe shifted in his leg, making a flash of white explode in his vision. Coming to his senses a few seconds later, he watched with wide eyes as the creature lifted the wooden beam from the pipe as if it were a feather.
Trevor felt the metal move a moment before the creature wrenched it from his calf. Agony surged through him and his vision distorted. The hole above him blurred and doubled as a black veil closed in. Sweat trickled across his forehead, even though his body trembled. The wound in his leg pulsated with each heartbeat, and the constant pain made his stomach turn. The merciless fingers tightened against his face.
“Don’t pass out on me,” it said. “I need you awake for this next part.”
Trevor’s limbs fell to his side and refused to move as it wrote on his forehead with a blood-covered finger. A burning sensation wormed its way through his skull, making Trevor screw his eyes shut. When he opened them, the entity lifted its fingers to its mouth and Trevor heard it suck the blood left on the skin.
“No disease or illness,” it said. “Perfect.”
With inhuman speed, the creature buried its fingernails into Trevor’s chest. The world around him shifted at the unbearable agony. His veins boiled as if filled with scalding hot water. He heard screaming, but couldn’t figure out the source.
I’m dying, he thought.
The darkness overcame him.
Veronica came to a stop, gasping for breath. She removed the inhaler from her pocket and took two puffs before continuing to the house, thankful she hadn’t had to run very far before reaching cell service. Her legs burned, and a blister gnawed at her heel, but the fear drove her forward. The house loomed about a hundred feet away, and she’d heard Trevor’s scream echo through the open front door. She climbed up the steps onto the decayed porch, her stride slowing slightly as she watched her step.
The door slammed shut. Veronica’s fingers scrabbled at the knob, but it refused to budge. Throwing herself against it, she expected it to fly off the hinges like they showed in movies, but the door remained intact. The wood rattled underneath her feet, sending shock waves through her body as she fought to maintain balance. With a muttered curse, she backed off the porch just as it collapsed.
She cupped her hands over her mouth. “Trevor!”
Not hearing a response, panic blossomed in her chest. She ran around the side of the house, her eyes scanning the building for any other way inside. Two wooden doors sat on the ground, and Veronica rushed to them. Grabbing the rusty metal handle, she lifted one door and looked inside. A set of stairs descended into the dark. A foul odor rushed out of the underground cellar, making her nose curl.
Using the flashlight on her phone, Veronica carefully walked down the stairs and counted them on the way down. Thirty-seven steps. It was the deepest cellar she’d ever been in. The beam of light shook as her hand trembled. Everything was quiet. Her light landed on a small, old shovel propped against one of the dirt walls, and she grabbed it. Having a weapon soothed some of the terror as she forced her feet to keep moving.
A low groan echoed from the pitch black ahead of her. Goosebumps rose on her skin. A chill rushed through her veins. A few shaky steps forward, and the beam landed on a dark shape. Veronica froze. Trevor lay motionless underneath the figure, a low cry being the only sign of life. Adrenaline kicked in, and she lunged forward with a yell.
“Get off him!”
Her arms rattled as the shovel slammed into the creature’s head with a loud crack. It wailed and reeled backward, grabbing its head with inhuman hands. Veronica crouched next to Trevor and shook his shoulder.
“Trevor, wake up!” she cried. “We have to go!”
Another groan escaped his lips as he opened his eyes. The flashlight beam made him squint as Veronica maneuvered him until his arm was around his shoulders. She watched the creature writhe in the dirt while pulling Trevor to his feet. The shovel lay forgotten on the cellar floor.
“Come on,” she urged.
As Trevor came to his senses, his feet held more of his weight as Veronica half-carried him toward the stairs. Another raspy wail filled the cellar. Veronica turned and aimed the flashlight, terror rising in her throat as the creature lumbered toward them, stumbling from uncooperative limbs. She turned forward, focusing on the path ahead. The wails followed them. Veronica felt the creature’s breath against her neck even as they climbed the steps.
Just a bit more, she thought.
Her lungs and body burned, but she gritted her teeth and fought against the discomfort. Trevor wheezed next to her. Something grabbed her bag and threatened to pull her backward, but Veronica let it fall from her shoulder. Briefly, she felt the creature’s fingernails scratch against the skin on her hand. A small scream escaped her throat.
They burst through the open cellar door and into the light. Trevor stumbled, bringing them both down as Veronica tried to catch him. She whirled to face the open doors, ready for the creature to reach out with a gangly limb and drag them back into the dark. Trevor vomited onto the dead grass next to her, and more grating coughs filled the silence. Veronica rose to her feet and took a few steps closer to the cellar.
The creature stopped on the steps just before the light could reach it. Cautiously, it raised a contorted hand toward her, only for its flesh to bubble. With a nearly soundless cry, it pulled back and stared at her. Glowing red eyes bore into her own, and Veronica swore she saw a sadness in them. Blood streamed from its eyes like tears. Her heart twisted a moment before she turned away, leaving the creature to cry in the dark where it belonged.
She returned to Trevor’s side and placed a palm against his shoulder blades as he wiped his mouth. “Are you okay?”
Trevor nodded. “Need a minute.”
Noticing his blood-covered jeans, Veronica removed her jacket. “Lay down. You’re bleeding, but help should be here soon.” She pressed the jacket against the wound, earning a hiss from Trevor. “I’m sorry.”
He said nothing as guilt ate her alive. Coming to the house had been her idea. She’d nearly lost her best friend to become a well-known vlogger for her ghost hunting club. She voiced her apologies to Trevor, but he never responded. Instead, he looked at the sky.
He’s in shock, she thought. He’s going to need time.
“We can’t tell anyone about this,” Trevor said.
Veronica’s jaw dropped. “What? Why not? What if someone else goes in there?”
He shook his head. “They won’t believe us. They’ll call us crazy.”
“So what?” she asked. “That doesn’t mean we should let anyone else go down there.”
“I just want to forget, okay?”
Something in his voice sounded off. Almost angry. Veronica backed down. “Okay. We’ll say I found the cellar and got you out.”
When emergency services arrived, that was the story they stuck to. Neither mentioned the creature lurking in the cellar, and everyone on scene bought their story. In the end, they were two college students who got in over their heads in an old, abandoned building. As the ambulance doors closed, Veronica looked back at the cellar doors for a moment before turning her attention back to Trevor as the paramedic put an IV into his arm. She pulled the skin from her bottom lip with her own teeth, something she’d done for years.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Veronica held his left hand.
She watched as the paramedic taped the IV port to his skin before moving to the hole in Trevor’s leg again. Trevor raised his arm into the air, his hand trembling as he moved his wrist back and forth before touching each finger to his thumb. Then he lowered his arm back to the gurney and watched the paramedic wrap more gauze around his leg, wincing.
Veronica’s heart ached for him.
He’s lucky to be alive, she thought. How long was he with that thing? How long did he think he was going to die?
She tightened her grip on his hand. “Trevor? Are you okay?”
Trevor turned his attention to her and smiled. “Everything’s perfect.”
Credit: M. Blankenship
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