Estimated reading time — 29 minutes
“There it is. The old orphanage!” Bryce shouted eagerly, pointing haphazardly in front of us. He leaned up from his place in the back seat, and the smell of whiskey oozed from his lips and seemingly saturated the air.
Using my elbow, I attempted to push him back. “Calm the hell down, dude. We see it.” I flicked my cigarette ash out the open window as Collin slowly steered his truck to the side of the road, coming to a stop just at the end of the yard. The orphanage loomed about 100 yards in front of us, hidden by trees and dark shadows. A tall chain-link fence enclosed the area, with large ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs serving as a last warning against what we were about to do. The building went by many names: the Masters place, the homeless shelter, the old hotel, and, obviously, the orphanage. Built in the mid to late 1800s, the building had served many different purposes throughout the years. Before being closed and ultimately condemned in 1979, it last functioned as a small orphanage, housing maybe fifty or sixty kids. While it had ultimately been closed due to lack of funding and the alarming state of disrepair it had fallen into, it was the stories of what had happened there that were normally attributed to its closure.
The Masters had been the ones to build the property, just on the outskirts of town. It was an old, Victorian style home that stood two stories tall with now fading white pillars in the front and a rickety looking porch. Broken shutters decorated the home, if they were even still there at all. It was one of those buildings that didn’t look like much, but you could tell that it had once been something spectacular. The Masters had been a large family; they had five kids, but it was rumored that there had been at least two more that didn’t survive infancy due to illnesses. They were a relatively prominent family that had been well known and respected in the small community, as Mr. Masters served as a local doctor and Mrs. Masters taught small sewing classes once a week. By all accounts, they were a happy and warm family. The children were well behaved and polite, and the Masters were seen as loving and doting parents.
So when their oldest daughter died, it was heartbreaking. When their six year old son died, it was a tragedy. When their seven and four year old daughters died, it was suspicious. Ultimately, four out of their five children died, all due to an ‘unknown illness’.
The story went that the only child who survived, a twelve year old boy named Benji, awoke his neighbors early one muggy, summer morning. He was barefoot and in his pajamas, hysterical, and told them that his father had gone mad and was killing his mother. The neighbors rushed the home only to find Mrs. Masters lying in her bed, adorned with numerous stab wounds and slashes, her eyes fixed in a terrified gaze. Mr. Masters was nowhere to be found, having fled the property before anyone else arrived. He did not leave behind a note, and Mr. Masters was never seen again. Benji was taken in by a local couple who raised him as their own. The boy, who seemed to have been gifted with a second chance, died less than a year later after losing his footing and falling into a nearby creek. His body was never recovered.
The widely accepted theory of the time, and even to present day, was that Mrs. Masters had been poisoning her children and that Mr. Masters had figured out what was going on and, in a fit of fury, murdered his wife and fled town. The motive behind Mrs. Master’s actions was never clear. There was no life insurance policy on the children, and she had never been known to show any sort of ill-will towards the children.
There was another theory; one that was only told behind closed doors and through hushed whispers. It stated that there had been a poor family whose only child had fallen ill, and so they rushed their daughter to Dr. Masters, who refused treatment for the girl due to her family’s lack of ability to pay. The little girl soon died, as Dr. Masters was the only physician in town and the parents’ desperate home remedies didn’t work. Heartbroken and furious at the doctor for essentially condemning their daughter to death, the family, known through stories only as the Carpenters, decided to seek out revenge on the Masters family.
It was rumored that they had visited a local witch, ultimately trading some of their livestock for her services. The witch is believed to have placed a curse on the Masters and their property, killing off the children as retribution for the Carpenters lost child, as well as preventing them from being able to grow or care for any kind of vegetation or livestock. Less than a week later was when the first Masters child died. Not long after, the second child fell ill and was rumored to have died in his father’s arms. Once the third child died, the townspeople started taking notice, and that was when the rumors started. Mr. Masters was not one to believe in this type of talk, and shook off the rumors ultimately deciding his wife was behind the children’s demise.
After Benji’s unexpected death, the townspeople decided they’d had enough and sought out the Carpenters and the witch, lynching them all in the front yard of the Masters property. The Masters and their home never shook the image of being cursed. Most people in the present day accept that it was a murderous mother and a grief driven father, but the alternative story is always a fun one to bring up over campfires and on stormy nights.
The land’s inability to successfully house any type of business did nothing to dispel rumors of its lingering, dangerous vibes. The Masters house sat vacant for a few years, until the town turned it into a hotel. Technically, it was more a brothel, but they called it a hotel. The house experienced many violent altercations, assaults and murders, and was open for a little over thirty years before it was closed down after a poker game turned deadly and eight men died inside its walls. Next it became a shelter for the transient, providing a space for the down on their luck to find reprieve. One night, one of the mentally ill occupants set fire to the place, killing three and destroying the back of the home. He reportedly joined the crowd of onlookers as the building burned, and was quoted as telling them that ‘The Devil reclaimed his home’. The house again sat abandoned for nineteen years, until it was bought, renovated and turned into an orphanage.
The atrocities that happened in the orphanage were shocking. Children were routinely starved and beaten as punishment. Some mysteriously ‘ran away’, while others were ‘adopted’ in the middle of the night, leaving all their belongings behind. Some died due to their neglect and abuse, though staff argued that those deaths were accidents caused by other children or through the fault of the child themselves. Budget cuts affected the orphanage, causing even more dire situations for the children as food dwindled, staff was overworked and underpaid causing the hostility to surge, and the building started to decay and crumble, leading to its ultimate closure.
The building had sat abandoned ever since, haunted by its history. For years, its lore was passed from generation to generation, telling stories of its ghosts that walked the halls, the children supposedly buried just feet from its doors, and the many, many stories of stupid people who broke into the building. There were tales that the basement housed a portal to hell, that people who had stolen items from the residence were cursed and doomed to die, and that satanic rituals took place there regularly.
I had actually grown up the next town over, but supernatural legends aren’t contained by county lines. I’d always wanted to go into the house, but never could find anyone to go with me. I didn’t believe in ghosts or the stories, but seemingly everyone else did. I wasn’t about to go in there by myself; not because I was scared, but considering the dilapidated state of the house and the fact that it was out in the middle of nowhere, I wanted to be careful. I’d given up on the idea of ever going in, but then my second year of college I met Bryce and Collin who were all too eager to venture inside with me. What started out as a study session for our Philosophy class turned into a discussion about Gods and spirituality and the supernatural. When Collin suggested we visit the infamous Masters house, I thought he was kidding. Then Bryce said he would go and our study session went downhill from there. A five minute discussion had led us from the quiet college library to Collin’s parent’s shed where we borrowed some tools we thought we might need, to the three of us preparing to break into a hundred year old building that had a supposed portal to Hell. We took a few shots of Bryce’s whiskey, building up some courage, and then made our way down the dirt road towards the house just as the sun started to set.
Using his bolt cutters, Collin expertly cut the fence then stashed his cutters by the large tree not too far off. We crawled through the fence, slowly making our way up to the front porch. The paint was peeling off the wood pillars in the front, and two by fours were nailed over a few of the windows. The grass and shrubs were seriously overgrown and the stairs groaned under our weight as we stepped onto the porch. A large, old sheet of plywood was nailed to the front of the door, and someone had spray painted a large, unfamiliar symbol on the wood. We were in a pretty rural area, so it wasn’t likely to be a gang or anything; probably just bored high school kids.
“How do we get in?” I asked, surveying the building. Everything seemed to be boarded up pretty well. I had been hoping for an easy way in, not something that would be loud and time consuming.
“I’ll take a look around,” Bryce offered. “I’m sure there’s a busted window somewhere we can get through. If not, I’ll make one.” He smiled cheekily before jumping off the porch and making his way to the west, slowly rounding the house and disappearing into the dark.
Collin scratched his head. “We could pull off the two by fours if we needed to, but I’d prefer we do that in the back. I don’t want to risk anyone driving by and seeing us pulling these things off.” The Masters place was patrolled pretty frequently due to all the break-ins over the years.
“But we didn’t bring anything to pull the wood off,” I reminded him. “Unless you have something in your truck.”
“Yeah, I grabbed a hammer when we stopped by my house but I left it in the truck. I didn’t think to grab it. But that should pry the nails out so we can get the wood off.”
I pulled my box of cigarettes out of my pocket and pulled one out. “Yeah, I guess go get it. We didn’t come all the way out here so we could just look at the house.” Collin said nothing, simply nodded, then wandered back towards the truck. I sat down on the steps of the porch, the wood once again creaking under my weight. I pulled out my phone, attempting to scroll through Facebook even though we were in the middle of nowhere. I was not going to find any WIFI out here. After discovering that 95% of my newsfeed wasn’t going to load, I turned my phone off and shoved it back in my pocket. I inhaled my cigarette deeply, impatiently waiting for one of the guys to return.
Finally, I saw the silhouette of Collin slowly climb back through the fence and head my way. He softly hit the head of the hammer against his palm, shouting nonsense into his phone that was pinched between his shoulder and face. “No… I said that I would be there later. After I study. I didn’t say immediately after studying,” he clarified. He shot me a smug look as he handed me the hammer. “Listen, babe… I can’t hear you. Service sucks where I’m at. I’ll call you later, okay? Okay?”
“Guys, come here!” Bryce commanded. He stood in the shadows, motioning wildly for us to follow him. “You have to see this!”
“Is it a way in?” I asked slowly, rising from the steps. He ignored my question, prompting Collin and I to blindly trail him with no idea what we were in for.
Collin, after hanging up on his girl of the week, shoved his phone in his pocket and shrugged nonchalantly. “Women,” he simply said, as if I understood or cared.
We followed Bryce, further away from the house and towards a small gathering of trees. Using his phone, Bryce lit up the area and a group of headstones became clear. There were six of them, all sharing the name ‘MASTERS’.
“This must be where all the kids were buried,” Collin suggested. “Plus Mrs. Masters, I guess.”
“Why six? Didn’t the last kid drown? They didn’t find his body,” I mused.
Collin shrugged. “Maybe it was just a respect thing. At least somewhat put him to rest with his family.”
“You know,” I started, an idea hitting me, “this is probably what those stupid legends are talking about. The dead kids buried by the house? It has to be these graves,” I reasoned.
“No, I’ve always heard these graves were here. There’s supposed to be another set of graves. Those of the orphans,” Bryce corrected. “They aren’t marked, though, so I’m not sure where they would be.”
“If they aren’t marked then how can anyone say they even exist? It sounds like some made up story to scare people from coming here.”
Bryce narrowed his eyes at me. “You know, your negativity and skepticism is starting to piss me off.”
“Guys,” Collin interrupted, staring at the house. “I think I just saw something in the window.”
“Bull shit,” Bryce crowed. “Stop trying to scare us, Collin.”
“I swear it. It was like someone was in that window up there.” He pointed with his flashlight at a window on the second floor, towards the back of the house. The window stood dark and motionless.
“No one lives here,” I reminded him. “Except maybe a vagrant or something.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go in,” Collin started. It was then that I noticed his hand was shaking slightly. “I mean, what if it is a homeless person or a drug den or something?”
Bryce slapped Collin on the back. “What’s the matter? You a chicken?”
“No,” Collin argued. “I just… are we sure going into this falling apart house that is supposedly haunted and could potentially have dangerous people in it is a good idea?”
“This was your idea,” I chimed in. “You were all up for it until you imagined seeing someone in the window.”
“There’s no shame in being a wuss, man,” Bryce added. “Just go sit in the truck and wait for us.”
Collin shook his head. “Shut up. I’m fine. I’m going in. But if I get stabbed by a meth head or something I’m beating both of your asses.”
“We may not be going in.” I motioned to the house. “We haven’t found a way to get in, remember?”
“Oh, there’s a window back here,” Bryce announced. “We’ll have to pull some siding off but it shouldn’t be too hard.” I wiggled the hammer in his direction. Bryce grinned. “That’ll speed things up.” We followed Bryce to the back of the house, and there in front of the back door was a small, cement porch that extended down the back of the house about three feet before turning into a set of steps. The window sat not too far off from the door, covered only by some stained, white siding, and if we stood on the porch we could probably crawl in through it. I had a fleeting thought that it was weird that everything else was properly boarded up except this window, which was going to be a breeze to get into. I figured this was just the popular way for people to break in, so the people who managed the property just used cheap siding instead of spending more money on wood that was just going to be destroyed. I watched as Bryce and Collin collectively pulled the plastic siding off the window, revealing a whole pane of broken glass. Bryce carefully reached in and twisted the lock, then forcefully shoved the window up. “Alright, who’s first?”
I stood silently. As much as I didn’t really believe the house was haunted, it was still a dark and creepy house. I glanced at Collin, who feigned interest in looking at his cell phone. Bryce sighed. “Alright, chickens. I’ll go first. But you guys better not run off and leave me here or else.”
“We’re coming in,” Collin assured him. “Just go.”
Bryce carefully stuck his leg through the window, and then ducked into the dark room. I saw the beam of the flash light on his phone slowly moving around the room, bravely exploring while Collin and I stared at one another, trying to mentally force the other into going next. “Guys. You gotta see this,” he stated breathily. “This is so freaking weird.”
Collin motioned towards the window with his head. “You go ahead. I’ll follow you in.” Not wanting to waste any more time, and trying to not let unfounded fear take over, I quickly crawled in behind Bryce, followed closely by Collin. Bryce and I both had to rely on our phones for light, while Collin had the only flash light. We all lit up the room, taking it in. The walls had a stale, light green paint on them, still full of children’s messy scribbles and a few laminated signs demanding that toys be picked up and that breakfast wouldn’t be served until all beds were made. There was no furniture in the room; just the ugly walls and mildew-smelling carpet that was riddled with unsavory stains and holes. A few broken toys were thrown around in the floor, and someone had stabbed a small pocket knife through the head of a doll, hanging it from the wall.
“Is this… is this blood?” Collin asked hesitantly, as if merely suggesting it made it horribly true. I spun to find him and saw that he had opened the closet door. Using the flashlight on the phone, I saw that the walls inside were littered with dozens of handprints, all a deep shade of red, almost brown, and varying in size. Some of the handprints smeared downwards, creating elongated trails which just gave it an even creepier feel.
“It’s probably just paint,” I rationalized, peering into the small closet. Why anyone would decorate a closet in such a way, I wasn’t sure, but that made more sense than it being blood.
“Maybe they locked kids in there and those are their handprints as they tried to get out,” Bryce suggested coolly.
“Why would you say that?” Collin snapped. His normally cool demeanor was now a bit more frazzled. He was definitely on edge.
“This is the Masters place. You’ve heard what happened here.” Bryce motioned at the inside of the door. “I mean, look. There are scratches in the wood.”
Collin shook his head. “The house has been abandoned for years. That’s probably just normal deterioration.” He quickly shut the door, ignoring the fact that there actually were what appeared to be fingernail scratches deep into the wooden door. “Where to now?”
Bryce had already forgotten about the closet, opening the bedroom door and peering down the hall. He stepped into the hallway, but a loud crunching noise stopped him in his tracks. He shone the light of his phone down onto the floor. “Guys, the hallway is completely full of broken glass. Like, just broken pieces of glass down the entire length of the hall. I’m not sure where it came from. There are no windows in the hall or anything.” He glanced down the hall, surveying it slowly.
Collin peered through the doorway. “Huh. It literally looks like a carpet made entirely of glass. This has to be at least an inch thick.” I stood by myself in the room, the small pit in my stomach pulsating, as if trying to expand and take over my body.
“Alright,” Collin said slowly, still glancing around the hall, “where do we want to start?”
I saw Bryce shrug. “We could split up,” he suggested.
“That’s a terrible idea,” I argued quickly. “What if we get hurt in here or something?”
Collin nodded in agreement. “That’s how scary movies happen, man.”
“Fine,” Bryce agreed. “You guys stay together down here. I’m going to explore the second floor.” He motioned up towards the ceiling then quickly turned on his heels and disappeared into the dark, the light from his phone becoming more and more faint.
“Bryce!” Collin hissed. “We need to stay together!” Bryce ignored him as he treaded down the hall, the sound of crunching glass bouncing off the walls. Bryce stopped towards the end of the hall, glanced at us for a second, smiled broadly then took a step forward. We watched as he disappeared, his heavy footsteps echoing as he creaked up the stairs.
Bryce looked at me. “What do you want to do? You want to go up?”
I shook my head. “We can just look around down here.”
He motioned down the hall, in the opposite direction of which Bryce just disappeared. “After you.”
I slowly willed myself to come out of the room. Even though it was smelly and ugly and creepy, I strangely felt safe in there. A deep fear of what I would find leaving that room permeated in my brain. I stepped into the hall, my body weight crushing glass, causing it to send loud crunches into the still air. My phone lit up the hall in front of me as I slowly made my way down. I came upon the first room and peered inside the open doorway that was missing its door. I could feel Collin ease up beside me; his breathing came out in bursts, and I swear I could hear his heart pounding a hundred miles per hour.
The room was not anything special; it housed two sets of bunk beds that had been stripped of all bedding. The blinds were broken, and a dirty, stained recliner sat in the corner next to a lamp that was missing its bulb and shade. Empty drawers hung out of the dressers, threatening to let gravity take over at any time. The walls were a light blue, with no artwork or any kind of personalization to it. The only part of the room that stood out was on the floor, just beside one of the bunk beds. We stared at the large, brown stain on the old carpet. It could’ve been anything. Paint. Food. Rust. But those weren’t the first thoughts that came into my mind, and I had a feeling that wasn’t Collin’s first thought either.
His hand slowly rose up and pointed towards the bed and I noticed what had caught his eye. The bottom mattress of the bunk had a stain that looked similar to the one on the floor, and it seemed to be centered in the middle of the mattress, just towards the top; just about the area where a person would lay their head to sleep.
“That looks like what was in the first room,” I noted. “The handprints on the wall? So maybe it is just paint that got knocked over.”
Collin nodded, but I could tell he didn’t buy it. Hell, I didn’t buy it. Why would paint be on the bed? Maybe an accident, but in this house I wasn’t sure there was such a thing as accidents. “Let’s keep going,” he urged. We came to the second door sat on the left hand side of the hall, and it was Collin who peered in first. I heard him gasp as his flashlight bounced around the room, and I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself for what I was about to see, but it was the smell that immediately overwhelmed me. “What is that?” I questioned, stuffing my nose into the collar of my shirt.
Inside the room, like the first, there was no furniture. The closet door was missing and the one window in the room had a piece of plywood nailed over it. The once cream colored walls were now moldy and peeling, and had a few unidentified signs spray-painted on them. I didn’t recognize any of the symbols; they looked like a bunch of made up letters or something. Strange shapes were littered about as well; I saw circles and stars and squares and an upside down cross. I instantly felt my radar going off. I’d been creeped out the entire time I’d been in this building, but this wasn’t right.
This room didn’t have carpet and instead had old, weathered wood. In the middle of the floor, in messy black spray paint, I stared at a large symbol that was identical to the one on the front door. I still didn’t know what it meant, but seeing the symbol now, in this room, felt so much more ominous than seeing it on the front porch. Even worse than the unknown drawings, scattered around the symbol were the decapitated heads of various squirrels and birds, and their bodies from which they had been forcefully removed were carelessly tossed in a pile in the otherwise empty closet. I suddenly understood what the horrific smell was: the decaying carcasses of at least a dozen animals.
“I don’t like this,” I murmured slowly, glancing at Collin. He looked terrified and like he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.
“This… this looks like some kind of… altar or something,” he spat out. I’d had the thought myself, but didn’t dare say it. “Something that’s used for killing and sacrificing things.”
I noticed him staring at the rotting head of a small, brown bird. I nudged his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. Let’s just find Bryce and go.”
He ignored me and took a few steps over to the corner, which held a few half melted candles and some spray paint cans. He reached down and touched the candle, then picked some up and studied them. “Yeah, there’s no dust on these things, so they’ve been used recently,” he observed. He motioned towards the closet. “Plus those carcasses haven’t decayed much, so those are fresh, too.”
“Which is why we should go,” I reiterated. “What if those weirdos are on their way back here now? If that’s what they do to those tiny animals, imagine what they’ll do to trespassers who discovered their Satan room.”
He set the candle down and finally looked at me. “Yeah, let’s go find Bryce.” I turned and headed down the hall, purposely having a slow pace so Collin would catch up. Our footsteps crunched loudly on the glass covered floor, and then creaked as we ascended the stairs. “Bryce? Where are you at?” Collin called loudly as we approached the second floor landing. His voice seemingly bounced off every surface. There was no answer, and we rounded the corner and headed down the dark hallway. Knowing that Bryce was on the second floor and hearing no sound whatsoever was unnerving. Collin shone his light down the hall and I saw that every single door was closed. I didn’t know why, but that weirded me out.
We came across the first door, and I motioned for Collin to open it. He eyed me wearily but said nothing as he stepped forward and slowly opened the door. The room was small; it looked like it should’ve housed linens and cleaning supplies. Instead, I saw a small, dirty, infant sized mattress on the floor. There were no blankets or pillows, but there was a small portrait of an old man, poised in such a position that it stared directly the door. His beard was long and full, and he was dressed in old, but nice, attire. His eyes, even in the dark of the room, were easy to see and seemingly stared at us angrily.
“Do you think they made someone sleep in here?” I asked incredulously.
“Maybe. They did some messed up stuff here. All that’s in here is that bed, so maybe this was a punishment type room or something.”
I nodded towards the painting. “I don’t like that thing. It feels like, I don’t know, he’s actually looking at me. I expect him to blink or move at any minute.”
“It’s just a painting,” he scoffed. “Don’t be silly.” He closed the door quickly, and I fought the urge to point out that he saw imaginary people in windows and was freaked out by handprints on a wall. We came to the second door, and Collin didn’t wait for me to tell him to open it. We peered in slowly, afraid of what we were about to see. I honestly don’t know what I expected – maybe more suspicious blood stains, or the ghostly silhouette of a dead child, or some kind of demon summoning ceremony. Instead, I saw white. Lots and lots of white.
“What the hell…” I trailed off, my eyes breezing over the room and trying to decipher what I was looking at.
“It’s paper. Just a shit ton of paper,” Collin muttered sourly, waving his flashlight around the room. The room was so covered in white paper that it looked like the white padded cells you see in movies where they commit people who are a risk to themselves. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, the doors, were all covered in paper. The paper was taped, stapled, nailed, all around the room leaving not a speck of surface uncovered. The room hosted a few pieces of furniture – a desk, a broken computer chair, and a twin size bed – and these items were all covered in paper. Sheets of the paper were sprinkled over every surface, covering the tops, fronts and sides.
Some of the paper was old and yellowed, some were fresh and crisp, but all of the paper was blank. It was almost like what one would expect to see some psycho serial killer or obsessed stalker to have tacked up around his house, except this was an entire room and the guy was looking at blank paper. Each room just seemed to make less and less sense. At least with the demon room we knew what they were doing in there, but with this room… what was the point?
Suddenly, and without any movement from us, a single sheet of paper quickly shot off the top of the desk, into the air, and then slowly began its decent to the floor. Collin’s eyes widened. “Why did it do that?”
I shrugged slowly, unable to take my eyes off the paper as it carelessly floated to the ground. “Maybe the window created a draft or something?”
Collin wordlessly pushed the door open further and stepped inside. I instantly wanted to chide him and get him out of there, but I couldn’t speak. He made his way over towards the other side of the room, and then started gently lifting the paper, trying to find the window. He studied the wall intently, running his hand along the paper and trying to find some sort of differentiation in the flat surface. He grunted. “Huh. It’s flat. There’s no windowpane or anything.” He kept feeling around, and then started to lift the sheets up. He did this for several seconds before looking at me quizzically. “I’m not finding… I mean, I don’t think there are any windows in here.”
I felt a cold chill travel up my spine even though it had to be at least 90 degrees in the house. The wall he was feeling on was the only wall in the room that looked outside; the other walls were shared with other rooms, so they wouldn’t have windows. If there weren’t windows on that wall, then there weren’t windows in there at all, and I was pretty sure the house didn’t have any type of ventilation or anything to cause a breeze. “This house is old,” I reasoned. “It’s probably just a crack somewhere. Or maybe you just overlooked the window. Why would the room not have a window?”
“Even if there is a window and it caused a breeze, I don’t think any other paper moved when this happened,” he argued. “I mean, it was completely still in here except for that paper. A draft would have caused more than one piece of paper to move, right?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s just find Bryce. I want to go.” I quickly turned and headed down the hall, not because I wanted to find Bryce, but because I didn’t want to be in that room anymore. I didn’t want to be in the house anymore. The whole place felt off. I couldn’t explain it, but something was wrong. “Bryce!” I hissed loudly. “Bryce! Let’s go!” I didn’t bother opening the door to look into the rooms as I passed them; probably because I was too chicken to go in there by myself. Collin was still in the paper room, presumably trying to find the window which was not important whatsoever.
I reached the end of the hallway and as I turned to go back I glanced outside the small window that overlooked the graveyard. I had the realization that it was the window that Collin said he saw someone in, and I felt my heart start racing again. I hadn’t even known it was possible for a heart to beat as fast as it was in that moment. As I spun to go back down the hall, I saw a quick movement among the headstones. Maybe it was just my fear getting the best of me, causing me to think I saw something that wasn’t there. Maybe it was just the reflection of the light from my phone off the window. Whatever it was, it caught my eye. I stared out the window, just barely able to make out the seven headstones below, searching furiously for another glance at what I saw. It looked like a person. It looked like a person was walking around in that family graveyard before darting further into the trees. I tried to rationalize what was going through my mind. Maybe I didn’t see anything. Maybe it was a weird reflection. Maybe it was Bryce. He was still unaccounted for. Maybe he booked it outside and was trying to scare us. Maybe it was… some kind of spiritual energy? That sounded stupid, and I cussed myself for even considering that. As I played with that thought in my head, I heard a door behind me slowly creak open.
I wanted to spin around at record pace, but I was scared. Every horror movie I had ever seen was flashing through my mind. What if I turned around and saw a ghost, or some sort of evil being? In movies this was where the person turned around, the entity lunged at them and they fell out a window or down the stairs and died, and everyone just assumes it’s an accident. This thought was corroborated by the fact that I was standing in front of a window. But maybe it was Bryce. Maybe he was hiding in a room trying to scare us. Maybe it was Collin just coming out of the paper room. I told myself that those were the more reasonable answers and that I needed to get myself together. Just because the house was creepy didn’t mean that ghosts or the paranormal was there. I slowly spun around, barely peeking out of my eye, only to see nothing. Just blackness. I breathed a sigh of relief and used my phone to make my way through the dark, trying to figure out which door I had heard.
Where was Collin? Was he still trying to find that stupid window? Why? It literally did not matter. What mattered was finding Bryce and getting the hell out of here. A quick sweep from my light came upon a door to my left that was barely cracked open. Was this the door I heard? I glanced around and all the other doors, with the exception of the paper room door, were closed. Maybe I just heard Collin leaving that room. But the hallway was completely empty, just the way I remembered it, so if it was Collin then were did he go? If it wasn’t Collin, then it had to be this door I heard. I was usually a pretty logical person. I could usually make decisions quickly and not overthink, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to do that in this house. My brain was whirring around, coming up with different theories as if I was subconsciously trying to convince myself to not think the first thoughts that came into my mind.
“Collin?” I called out slowly. “Collin? Are you in there?” I shone my light directly through the crack into the room, trying to gain the courage to open the door. I gently pushed my foot onto the door and slowly opened it up. While all the other rooms were pretty bare, this room was jam packed. Suitcases, toys, discarded clothes, and furniture were all stacked upon each other, almost reaching the ceiling. Who did all this belong to? The orphans? The homeless people? I felt another chill travel through my body just at the thought.
I took a few steps forward and stared into the room, seeing all the layers of dust that had accumulated and remained untouched. No one had been in here in years. The room smelt musty and stale, like there was a leak in the roof that had been saturating and destroying everything it touched. My eye caught a small toy just to the right of my feet. I bent down and carefully picked it up. I knew I couldn’t take anything from here, but could I touch it without angering something? Was there anything to even anger? I wasn’t sure. The toy was an old, plastic ballerina. She was in fifth position, her arms extended beyond her tiny, blonde head and she stood on a small, light pink base that was cracked and faded. As I held the small toy in my hands, I tried to envision the person that held it before. It was most likely a small child. Was this her favorite toy? Did she want to be a ballerina herself? Did this even belong to a girl at all? Was this just some random, discarded toy that never saw any attention? Why did I even care about this?
I set the ballerina on top of a small table and was wondering where the hell the guys were when I suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone. I became aware of a presence behind me, seemingly staring into my body. Was it one of the guys? Why weren’t they saying anything? I spun around quickly, only to see nothing. My level of unease just grew stronger. I stared into the empty hallway, unsure of what was happening. Was my mind just playing tricks on me? Was I totally breaking down? Even though the house was warm, I felt a rush of cold air sweep past me. It was a brief event, maybe all of two seconds. It felt like a burst had been shot past me, which again didn’t make sense. It could’ve been a draft, but the air outside wasn’t that cold.
A loud clattering rang out from behind me, inside the room. I jerked my attention back towards the source of the sound, but found nothing. The room looked the same as it had before. Except for the small ballerina toy that now was back in the floor. I glanced at the table, knowing full well it had been in the center of it and wouldn’t have just fallen off. The table was off to the right of the door, so that weird breeze wouldn’t have knocked it off. Nothing else in the room looked disturbed.
I slowly backed out of the room, back into the hallway. I turned and briskly walked back towards the paper room. “Collin!” I rounded the corner quickly only to stop in my tracks. Collin was nowhere to be found. The room stood vacant, silent. The far wall, the one that should’ve housed the window, was now bare. Collin, I assume Collin, had somehow removed every single sheet of paper from that wall, proving him right: there was no window. There was, though, something on the wall that shouldn’t have been there. Hanging on a nail, presumably left over from the paper, was a painting. The same painting that had just been in the closet sized, punishment room moments before. “Collin?” I commanded myself to stay cool. Okay, so Collin had removed all the paper from the wall, gone into the other room, gotten the painting, hung it on the wall, then left and hid all in a span of two minutes. And all without me seeing or hearing him. Totally doable, right?
I stood in the doorway, my breath heavy, my pulse pounding in my head, my thoughts all over the place. Why did nothing make sense? Where were my friends? Other than my labored breathing, the house was silent. No crunching glass, no creaking floors. That is, until I heard my name cut through the silence. I slowly spun around and looked down the dark staircase. It was definitely coming from downstairs, and it was definitely Bryce. When did he get downstairs? Holding my trusty phone in front of me, I slowly went down the stairs, my eyes darting furiously trying to piece together my surroundings. My name called out again as I reached the landing, and I followed the noise to a closed door, hidden in the darkness. I wasn’t exactly sure what was the behind the door, but I didn’t have a good feeling about it.
I slowly reached out and turned the knob, pulling the door open. I saw nothing but pitch blackness and a staircase leading down into the unknown. I had found the basement. Had Bryce gone into the basement? Was he hurt? Where was Collin? “Bryce?” I called down hesitantly. “Bryce, are you down there?”
There was silence for a few moments before I heard a muffled response. “Help!”
Maybe he’d fallen down the stairs. Maybe something had collapsed on him. Maybe someone, or something, had attacked him. I carefully took a step onto the staircase. While I wanted to dart down the stairs to help my friend, something in my body was screaming at me not to. The stairs creaked and groaned underneath my weight as I took another step down. The light on my phone only went so far, leaving me staring into an unending sea of black. “Bryce, where are you? Are you okay?”
Silence. No response. Was he dead? My God, what was happening? I had taken several steps down the stairs when there was a loud crash from behind me, and as I spun around to see what it was, I saw that the door had somehow closed itself. I darted back up and twisted on the doorknob, but it was locked. How was it locked? Why would my friends lock me in the basement knowing that I was freaked out and that there was a supposed portal to Hell down here? I knew I heard Bryce down here, so that left Collin, but this seemed out of character for him.
I pounded on the wooden door. “Collin! Please let me out of here! Let me out!” I carefully held onto my phone because it was the only source of light I had. I alternated my free hand between rattling the doorknob and banging on the wood. “Somebody help me!”
It happened slowly, and it started off as just a feeling. I sensed someone behind me, just a few steps down but a quick glance revealed nothing. I returned my energy to the door, continuing to pound and shout loudly. The presence grew stronger as a cold air enveloped me and I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping, wishing, praying that I was imagining it all. It started at my waist and within a matter of seconds my entire body felt cold. I had stopped yelling or hitting the door; I felt paralyzed. It was difficult to breathe or even process a thought. I just felt cold and alone. Even though my body was cold, I thought I felt something warm brush against my arm.
“Please,” I muttered out softly. “Please just let me go.” As quickly as I felt it, it was gone. The cold patch of air was just gone; no slow tapering off or moving on. It was just gone. The muggy summer air returned as I pounded on the door again. “Guys, this isn’t funny!” I reached down and twisted the doorknob, and to my surprise, the door opened up. I burst through the doorway into the dark hall, expecting to see Collin standing by, laughing hysterically. I expected to hear Bryce bound up the stairs, condemning me for being so scared. But instead, there was nothing but darkness and silence.
I’m usually a pretty laidback and logical person. I’m all about having your friend’s backs and, growing up with a retired military father, the slogan ‘No man left behind’ was something that had always stuck with me. But at this point, in this moment, it meant nothing to me. I crunched on the glass covered hallway and back into the first room we had been in. The entire time, I screamed the guy’s names over and over but there was no response. I practically jumped out of the window, down the cement stairs and rounded the corner of the house. As I passed the graveyard, I again thought I saw some sort of dark movement among the tree line, but this time I didn’t stop to think about it. I couldn’t think about it. I darted around the corner of the house and saw, to my amazement, both Collin and Bryce, sitting on the front porch.
“Finally!” Bryce shouted. “We’ve been waiting out here on you forever. I thought you were coming out?”
I came to a halt, struggling to catch my breath. I shook my head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Collin stood up. “I was the room of paper and you walked past the door and down the stairs. I asked where you were going and you said ‘outside’. I was pissed you were trying to leave me alone up there so I tried to follow you down but when I got to the first floor, I didn’t see you.”
I felt my brows furrow. “What are you talking about? I didn’t do that. You remodeled the paper room and he’s the one who lured me into the basement so you could slam the door and lock me down there. Good job, guys. Way to be mature.”
It was Bryce’s turn to jump up. “I didn’t go down in that basement! And I didn’t try to lure you anywhere.”
“Remodeled the paper room? What are you talking about?” Collin asked.
“You pulled all the paper off the stupid walls and then hung up that painting to freak me out. Did you guys plan this together? Was this just to mess with me?”
Collin looked genuinely confused. “I swear, I didn’t do that.”
“You were there when we decided to come out here,” Bryce reminded me. “How could we have planned this? You’ve been with us this whole time.”
Different thoughts flooded my brain. “How did you get out here so fast?” I asked incredulously. “Did you find another entrance?”
“No. We used the window in the back. And like I said, we’ve been out here at least five minutes waiting on you.”
I heard their words, I processed them, but I didn’t know what to do with them. They seemed sincere. They had been out here waiting on me. I didn’t want to believe them, though, because if I did, then that meant that I had to accept that something unexplainable really happened in that house. “Let’s just go,” I murmured, spinning on my heels and heading back towards the fence. I didn’t wait for them. I crawled back through the hole we had made and briskly walked back to the truck, climbing in before they even retrieved their bolt cutters from earlier.
They wordlessly slid into Collin’s truck and we all avoided eye contact with one another. Collin navigated the turns and back roads, expertly guiding us back to the highway. The ride was silent as we all tried to process and make sense of our time in the house. It definitely wasn’t me who talked to Collin and told him I was going ‘outside’. Collin swears he didn’t do anything to the paper room, Bryce wasn’t in the basement, so what was all that? Was my mind just playing tricks on me? Had my fear taken over and caused me to panic and see things that weren’t there? Was I crazy? I had taken a few shots of whiskey before going in; was I drunk? I like to think my tolerance level is more than two shots and I’d never hallucinated before while drinking.
I felt Bryce grab onto the back of my seat, using it as leverage to pull himself forward. Wordlessly, he held out an elongated object to me and I grabbed it, trying to get a better look at it. As I flipped it around in my hands, a sinking realization hit me and my stomach plummeted. I knew what it was. I had seen it earlier, stabbed into the head of a long forgotten doll, holding it in place on that gross, green wall.
I looked at Bryce in disbelief and he shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s a really nice pocket knife.”
Credit: Ashley B.