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I was never a believer in the supernatural. I didn’t care for all those illogical ghost stories, and I always mocked my friends for telling them. They aren’t real; they can’t be.
At least, not until I figured it out the hard way.
It was the end of August, right before school was to start again. I was seventeen, about to enter my senior year, and beyond ready to graduate and move from my small hometown in the middle of scenic nowhere. Of course, knowing on Jake, he always had something to end to the summer with a bang.
“This is the last vacation we have together,” he had said. “We have to do something epic!”
I rolled my eyes at him. “And what could you possibly have in mind?”
We had been sitting in my kitchen, Katie in on the couch with her boyfriend, Lucas, wrapped around her as she jumped at the horror film on the TV. Lucas laughed at her skittishness, and I couldn’t help but scoff at it. What a baby.
I picked up the butter knife and smothered mayonnaise on some bread as Jake contemplated the big game plan for this summer-end bash. I shook my head. “All out of ideas? Don’t strain yourself, big guy.”
“How about the Red House?”
The TV clicked off as Lucas rose from the couch and walked over to us.
“No way, Jake! I am not going to that place!”
“Yeah, me either!” called Katie from the sofa.
“What’s the Red House?” I asked. All three of them looked at me like I was crazy.
Lucas let out an exasperated laugh. “What’s the Red House? It’s only the most cursed place in this whole city!”
“Okay, one, this isn’t a city. It’s barely a town. Two, there’s no such thing as curses.”
Katie shook her head as she joined us at the counter. I had abandoned my sandwich. “Terra, I know you don’t believe in that stuff, but trust me, it’s not fake. People have died in that house, and their bodies were never found.”
“Then how do you know that they died?” I asked sarcastically. “You guys are such crybabies.”
“So you’re saying you’ll go in and prove us wrong?”
I don’t know why I hesitated. My gut felt like something was off. But it was all fake, right? There’s no way ghosts, especially ones in some rat-infested old house, could make people go missing. There wasn’t anything wrong with it.
“I’ll go pull up a map,” I said, walking to the living room and grabbing my laptop. I flopped down on the chair and put my feet over the arm rests, opening the internet and searching up this “Red House”.
As Jake, Lucas, and Katie all discussed a supply list, I shook my head and clicked on a link to the Wikipedia page for this alleged legend.
“The Red House was an eighteenth century building that was the home to the Red family. They were a middle class family, known to keep to themselves, even having the mail slot placed as just an opening into the large fence so no mail man could enter the property.
The only member of the family who would regularly leave the house was the father, who worked at the steel mill across town.”
I stopped reading for a moment. My dad used to work at the old mill, too, until they closed it down due to mechanical issues. My mom and him got a divorce after that, and she had been working nonstop just to provide for the two of us.
Rolling my eyes at my own thoughts, I kept reading.
The father would be seen leaving for work in the morning with a kiss from his wife and his son and daughter waving goodbye from the gate. Witnesses say that the daughter always covered her mouth any time she was seen outside.
On September seventeenth, 1857, a wagon had been moving through the nearby woods along the path across from the fence at dusk. The man steering his two horses had looked away to grab his canteen when his horses suddenly bucked and ran. They jolted forward, racing along the trail until the man felt the wagon hit a large bump. He finally got his horses settled enough to dismount and see what they had hit.
The man was shocked to see a small child laying in a bloody heap on the road. She was gasping for air with blood coming out of her mouth, where now-ripped stitched lined her lips. She looked up at the man and said, “Please make the red stop.” She died on the road, but her body was never recovered by authorities because it was gone when they came to investigate. The case was dropped and the man was committed into a mental institution.
Soon, men and women would go missing down the path as their horses stampeded into town without their riders. After a pregnant woman by the name of Anna had disappeared, the authorities decided to investigate the Red family to see if they knew anything.
One officer knocked and waited for a response. Receiving no answer, he and two other men kicked in the gate and entered the house.
Inside, the walls were painted with pentagrams and demonic symbols. Knives still stained with blood hung from hooks on the wall, and the entire building reeked like death. Going further into the property, the officers found the wife in the kitchen, cooking at the stove. She had turned to the officers, smiling at them with blood dripping from her stitched lips.
The woman held a finger to her mouth, tears streaming down her face. She pointed to the basement, where the screams of a young boy could be heard. The wife pulled out a pen and wrote on her arm, showing the police. It said:
‘Harold doesn’t like us to speak when he collects the red. Our son must have talked too much, just like Rachel.’
She then pointed to the corner, where the rotting body of the small girl who had been trampled by horses was slumped up against the wall.
The two officers stared in horror as the father came stomping up the steps with a bloody knife and a spool of thread and needle. He looked at the two men and smiled, saying, ‘Oh, welcome! Sorry for the noise. Carter didn’t want to hold still.’
The one officer said that they were under arrest, but the father still smiled and said, ‘All right, but he won’t be too happy if we have to go. He’ll get hungry.’
When asked who he was talking about, the father replied that they had to collect the red for the creature in the basement.
At that moment, the boy screamed again, accompanied by a roar and the sound of flesh tearing. The one officer who escaped described an arm being tossed up the basement stairs before he bolted from the home. He also said that the creature was large with glowing red eyes and horns on its head.
As the officer ran, the father called after him to come again sometime, and thanked him for the donation. When the home was re-investigated, the mother, father, and son had been dismembered, each of their mouths sewn shut.
“What the hell kind of messed up bull is this?” I called over to them.
Jake glanced over, chuckling. “They say that the mom will lure you in, and the dad will try to sew your mouth shut. If they find you, you’ll be torn to shreds by the beast.”
“Unless the girl likes you,” said Lucas, his voice trembling.
“The daughter. Last time a group went in, there was one kid who got out, and he said the daughter stopped the creature so he could get out. He was the only survivor.”
“At least for a while. He was found dead after explaining that to the police, remember?”
I rolled my eyes. “Curses and ghosts. You guys are way too gullible.” Shutting my computer, I stood up and walked over to them. “So when are we going?”
The next night, Jake drove us to the dam where he turned down to one of the barricaded paths. It was just starting to get dark as we all reached the other side of the metal gate and started down the trail. Weeds overgrew everything, and it was too quiet.
I heard a small giggle, and I directed my attention to a small shape darting behind the tree.
“Did you guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” asked Lucas.
Katie wrapped her arms around herself. “Quit trying to freak us out, Terra! I know you don’t believe in this stuff, but some of us do!”
“I’m not—Ugh! Never mind!” I stomped forward and fell into step with Jake as Lucas comforted Katie.
“Did you really hear something?” he asked, looking at me skeptically.
I looked out into the woods. “I swear I heard laughing. And I saw something. It must have just been a—“ My words cut off as a head poked out from behind a tree trunk. It was too dark to see, but by the time I turned on my flashlight and shined it toward the spot, it was gone.
I hadn’t realized I had stopped walking until Jake nudged me. I jumped and smacked him, telling him not to sneak up on me.
“Woah, is Little Miss Fearless actually scared?”
“Shut the hell up.”
I trudged forward, stopping dead in my tracks as an old house behind a worn wooden fence came into view. The singles are falling off the roof and the siding was broken and rotting. A few of the windows had been smashed in and the door shut with a padlock.
“How do we get in?” I asked.
But Jake was already on it. He was crawling through a hole made by a missing fence post.
“Come on! Hand me a light.” Katie tossed him a flashlight from her backpack, pulling out her favorite pink one herself. They both followed Jake, but I stopped for a minute, catching sight of the small figure again. It looked like the silhouette of a small girl. She was wearing a torn nightgown and holding a teddy bear with one of the arms ripped off. I could just make out her holding a finger to her lips and hear her shushing me before Lucas’s shout made me look away, giving her time to disappear again. I raced under the fence, asking what happened.
“He’s just being a baby,” Jake said.
“No, I swear I saw something! Over there!” He shouted, pointing to the old shed. He jumped and screamed again as a raccoon came running out of the doorway.
“Wow. I have to say that ‘creature of the basement’ is way more underwhelming than I expected,” said Jake sarcastically, patting Lucas’s shoulder. Lucas shrugged off his hand and placed an arm over Katie’s shaking shoulder, starting toward the door.
Which was now half open with the lock on the ground.
“Wasn’t that door locked?” I asked, pointing my light toward it.
Jake shrugged. “Probably not, considering it’s open.”
“Shut up, smart ass!”
I brushed past him while he was laughing, slowly walking up the creaking steps. My fingers had barely touched the door when it swung open with a loud creak. Jake shut straight up.
A small giggling sounded from the bushes to my left, but I managed to ignore it. I was just being stupid. None of that crap about ghosts was real, and nothing was actually there. I was just imagining stuff.
“So there’s four of us. That means it’s basically the luck of the draw.”
“What do you mean?”
“Each member of the Red Family will pick a person. It’s like Russian Roulette, but we don’t get the choice to play or not once we go in.”
“The dad will sew your mouth shut, the mom will hold you until the creature kills you, the son will play a game where you may or may not escape, and the daughter will save your life,” said Katie, meeting my gaze with wide eyes. “But only after you watch the others die.”
I shook my head, forcing a laugh. “Cute story. Can we get this over with now?”
My three friends stepped onto the porch and slowly entered the house. Immediately, I smelled rotting flesh, even though the place had so much dust on the floor that walking on it would have caused footprints. There was no way there was a dead body in there.
I moved my flashlight around the room, seeing rusted knives on hooks and pentagrams painted on the chipping walls. I could feel my heart racing.
A creaking noise made us all turn to see Lucas opening the door to one of the rooms. It looked like a child’s room, with an old toy box on its side by the bed and a small security blanket on the floor.
“Wanna play?” came a boy’s voice before Lucas whirled around and the door slammed shut. I could hear him scream in terror and a crash like he had knocked something over.
“Lucas!” shouted Katie. She ran over to the door and yanked on the knob with all her might, but it wouldn’t budge. Jack yanked her back while I stood there frozen.
This can’t actually be happening, I thought.
“Come on, we’ll go find something to bash it down,” he suggested, panic filling his voice. He left Katie crying by the closed door, cringing with every scream and bang on the door.
Suddenly, Lucas screamed in agony, the sound of liquid hitting to door shortly afterward before a loud thud.
“Lucas?” Katie croaked. “Lucas!”
Blood seeped out from under the door as she slowly turned the knob. She pushed it open and covered her mouth to keep from screaming as Lucas’s head rolled out into the hall. I caught her as she ran over to me, holding her as she cried against me. I couldn’t stop staring at it, like a horror movie come to life.
“Wait,” I said. “Where’s Jake?”
Katie shook her head. “I don’t know.”
I pulled her toward the kitchen, stopping when I saw the basement door hanging open. “Jake?” I called. No answer. “Let’s go down.”
“No way!” she screamed, pulling away from me. “I’m not going down there!”
“Then stay here,” I demanded before pointing my flashlight down the stairs. Jake’s shoeprints marked down each step in the dust.
I took a breath before starting down. The basement was cold, like a freezer. I could hear water dripping from the ceiling and flies buzzing.
“Jake?” I called in a whisper. I shined the light around until I saw the shape of a man with a bloody knife. He whirled around and held a finger to his lips before disappearing. Behind where he had been standing was Jake’s lifeless body, his mouth sewn shut with the needle and spool of thread in his hand.
I felt a tear go down over my face as I ran back toward the steps, stopping and cringing as I heard Katie screaming for help. I bolted up the steps to see a woman holding her in her arms like a small child, blood covering her stitched mouth. Across the room was a towering creature with glowing red eyes and horns on its head.
Katie’s eyes met mine. “Help,” she said quietly. I didn’t get to move before the woman disappeared and the monster stood between us, facing with its back to me. I closed my eyes as I heard her scream and felt liquid splash my face. When I opened them, the beast was staring into my soul. Its putrid breath hit my face as it smiled with sharp teeth.
“And one to feast on,” it said.
My breath caught in my throat as it reached its hand up and slashed down, cutting its claws across my face. I fell onto the floor, crawling away until I hit the corner of the room. It reached toward me, getting closer and closer.
I closed again, preparing for the worst. A flash of light reflected through my closed eyelids, but I wouldn’t move. I screamed as a hand touched my shoulder, but looking up, I saw a semi-transparent little girl with a mouth full of torn stitched smiling at me. The monster was gone, and Katie’s shredded body was laying on the floor. I looked at the little girl, who was giggling.
“The monster can’t have your red. I won’t let him,” she said.
“Wh-why me? Why not them?” I croaked, not daring to look at the blood.
The girl looked back at Katie, then me tilting her head to the side as she studied me. “Because you need your red to protect those who need you.”
“Mom?” I croaked.
She smiled. “You should go. He wants to eat.” With that, she flickered and faded away.
Numbly, I pushed myself up from the floor and ran out the door, stumbling all the way. I sprinted across the yard, stopping and looking back at the house at the hole in the fence. A man, woman, and boy with stitched mouths stood in the window, staring at me with empty eyes. Multiple other people stood behind them, their mouths sewn as well. The missing kids.
The little girl stood in the door, waving and smiling through her stitches.
“See you, Terra!”
Another tear fell down my face before I scrambled through the hole and ran back down the path, hearing roars all the way. I vaulted over the metal gate and jumped in the car, managing to get the key in the ignition and start it, driving off. I was shaking as I adjusted the mirror.
As the mirror faced the back seat again, I saw the little girl, blood dripping from her mouth.
“I lied. The monster can’t have your red . . .”
She paused as I slammed on the brakes, suddenly appearing in the passenger’s seat. The doors locked all around me as I looked at her, my heart hammering in my ears.
“. . . because I want it instead.”
I screamed as she reached toward me. The last thing I saw was red splattering against the windshield before my eyes closed, hearing the little girl say one last line before I accepted death.
“Welcome to the Red Family.”