Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
“Have you heard about the tracks to nowhere?”
That’s what George Lovely asked me that morning at school over our brightly-colored, sugary cereals. I replied that I hadn’t, allowing him to proceed with his story that we didn’t believe. If we had known that he was going to prove himself about that old-timers’ tale, Danny and I would’ve had faith in him.
They made me go in first. I didn’t like the idea at all and was already half scared to death from the outside—why would the inside be any different? The excuse “you’re older than us, so why don’t you go first?” was as pathetic as the expressions on their faces back then. If I had known after the fact that only three of us would enter, two make it out alive, and one would make it to graduate high school, I would’ve pussied out and walked back home.
The outside of the house, I might add, was ridden with overgrown grass above our waists and littered with pathways made of stepping stones. There was a barn out in the distance that looked like it was going to collapse any minute. As for the house itself, there were windows chipped and caked in dirt; a broken chair with grayed bits of white wicker sat on the far left of the porch. Taking in a deep breath, I closed my eyes. Something was off. This place wasn’t supposed to exist.
My feet moved before my body did. The door, hanging off the hinges of the chipped frame, swayed behind me, giving me glimpses of the guys’ faces as I walked further into the first hallway. To my left was a kitchen, one window open and curtains flying inward. Under the curtain was a wooden table with plates and bowls stacked high, grimy and used in the years behind but never cleaned and put away. Cups, bottles, and even a newspaper littered the small table as well, like a family had sat down for a million breakfasts and forgot to tidy up afterwards each time. The counters, stove, and whatever else hid under the layers of filth were the same a few feet away. The whole thing seemed so… unreal to me. My nostrils flared and retracted at the putrid smell that protruded from the kitchen, causing me to gag. I hadn’t eaten much that day, which resulted in nothing more than dry-heaving and bits of bile running up my throat.
Disgusted and swallowing the acid in my mouth, I turned my head to my right, coming in contact with the entrance to a living room that seemed to be in a similar disorder as the kitchen, only things were perfectly in place. Knickknacks sat on their antique cherry shelves under a blanket of dust and debris through years of no interaction with people to admire them, lonely-feeling in their inanimate spirits of porcelain and milk glass. A couch sat under the window where I could just barely make out George and Danny’s faces through the dirt on the outside. I weakly waved to them; they didn’t wave back.
The rest of the living room was occupied by an old television—you know, the ones with the turn-dials and thick antennas—and a few pieces of sitting furniture opposite to the couch. A chair was angled towards the television as if someone were once viewing what had been on previously they left and never came back, the cushion sunken down in the rear with a ratty blanket covering over the slanting top. I thought about walking in, but before I could tell myself no, I was already there, standing in front of the bulging screen with my reflection staring back at me. Aged aromas wafted by, different from the ones that were in the kitchen. It reminded me of flowers on a wet spring afternoon. Instantly, my worries were soothed for a few moments. The smell then disappeared and turned into weights.
The boards underneath my feet screamed out with age as I took more and more steps into the abandoned house. My spine seemed to tremble when my lungs seized with each breath of the heavy atmosphere that smelled of water damage and old socks. I recall wanting to run back out and take heaving breaths of the fresh air that my friends had been breathing at the time, probably not thinking of the luxury while I was getting poisoned by black mold.
Two more steps. I was afraid of looking into the next room. Something in the hallway told me not to, and something in my heart broke off and fell down to my toes with the mass of an elephant for me to keep still. My mind went at it again to move my legs; I cursed myself with at most stupidity.
My thoughts were keeping me company; not in a good way, either.
Hey, one of the things in my head said.
Don’t go, another told me.
I ignored them both, because something else was pulling me. George and Danny were farther away from me now; so far that I could no longer hear them call my name or guess at where they were on the porch from the intensity of the screeching porch supports even though the door was open yards behind me. I froze, not sure of what to do or where to go with the game of tug-of-war between the growing abyss and the outside world that was in session.
Another few steps. The end of the hallway was in sight, but I quickly realized by just closing my right eye that there was a turn in the same direction. Light shined from that area, but I truly had no interest in finding out where from. The abyss pulled me closer.
My foot was about to stretch out in front of me when the bed of the house groaned beyond my back. My heart stopped. My eyes widened. I couldn’t move. Something was behind me; stalking me. I wanted to know what, but at the same time, I didn’t. By the time my heart started up again, it was already going a hundred miles an hour, pulsating in my chest. Blood rushed straight to my head, and I immediately felt the pang of dizziness buried behind my eyes that had a liquid sheen of terror over them. I was about to bolt into the turn with everything I had to try and get away, but whatever had been watching me suddenly lurched forward and attacked me from behind, grabbing onto my chest and pulling itself up on my back with a roaring sound booming into my ears. I felt nails dig into my skin when the weight began to disappear as quickly as it came. I whirled around, my eyes shut tight as I prayed more than I ever had with one of those kiddie prayers from our church’s Sunday school. To my surprise, what I thought was a growling monster with long, sharp claws was actually…
I opened my eyes when I heard a laugh, rage taking over my awareness and immediately bellowing out like the wind from a tornado. “JUH-GEORGE, YOU JUDAS TIT-SUH-SUCKING FR-FREAK!!!” was what came out through balled up fists and clenched teeth. I tried not to stutter my words, but I was just so angry with him that I couldn’t help it. I wanted to jump at him like he had done to me, only I would have my way and shove my fists repeatedly into his smug little shit-eating mouth until he was toothless and bloody.
I stared at him as he clutched his sides in fits of laughter, leaning against the wall that lead into the living room area. Now, one hand on the wall and one hand at his side, he mustered up the courage between gasps for air to look me straight in my face and say: “Man, that sure was HILARIOUS!”
My nose crinkled in anger and my nails involuntarily dug into my palms. I felt the half-moons form out of my temper before releasing my grip, letting my hands gain back their color. “Yeah, maybe for you, you little—”
His laughter—a peculiar, high-pitched noise like a mixture of nails on a chalkboard and Woody the Woodpecker’s cackle—echoed down the hall. “You should’ve seen yourself, Jake! I thought you were going to—”
“I told him not to, I swear on it, man . . .” Danny was in the house now by the door. It slapped shut behind him in the wind that rolled by, making us all jump out of our skin. Even George stopped laughing and jumped at the sudden THWAP when it hit the doorframe. The house was unusually silent by then, only responding in unsettling white house.
I looked down to George, who was trying to regain his composure from practically humiliating me. Still wanting to kick him, I had to retract my feelings and move on with it—something I wasn’t quite fond of at the time. “Screw you guys . . . I’m going home,” I said, pushing past my friends and trying to get out of the front door.
“Jake, don’t . . .” that was Danny, begging in his whiny voice. “Hey, man, come on. Don’t do this!” he yelled. “George didn’t mean it!”
But I didn’t stop. I kept going until I reached the beginning of the hallway, then Danny called again in a louder voice than before: “GEORGE. DIDN’T. MEAN IT!!!”
Nevertheless, I forgave him in that short five minutes—which felt like forever—that we were standing between the kitchen and the living room, feeding off of our own furry and embarrassments. Truly, George hadn’t meant to scare me, but he did out of convenience. That was his thing and choice of meals due to his vast ego: convenience. If that accusation was otherwise, the kid took it to his grave hours after that.
Both Danny and George had discovered the remnants of the inside of the house and were just as sickened if not more about the disarray of the kitchen and living room. There was some talk about destroying it all and taking what was deemed interesting; I quickly set that notion straight and exterminated their reckless idea, telling them that it wouldn’t be a good thing to do. George ignored me and went straight in the living room for the knickknack shelves to disturb the sleeping collections.
He kicked a small box across the matted, maroon-tinted carpet as he eyed the filthy shelves, finally reaching out towards one that even I had noticed was quiet beautiful: a pair of baby shoes. They weren’t made of fabric or material for wearing, but frozen in time under a sheet of copper, which was popular to do for mementos. I examined the bronzed item before George’s grabbing hands took them out of sight; the bottom of the plaque that the tiny shoes rested on appeared to have a name on it, but I didn’t have time to read it.
Setting the item back down, my friend looked around at the rest of the room that I was already familiar with. Danny didn’t find the place amusing and had strolled back into the hallway. I left George in the living room and followed my not-so-destructive friend.
I caught up with him just as he turned down the end and became illuminated with the sunlight I’d noticed earlier. “Danny, wait up,” I whispered, careful not to alert George.
Danny, stopping beside a window that looked like the rest of the house, squinted in the brightness and replied, “George is such a loser.”
I agreed, but instantly scolded myself for it. I had loved George, but didn’t truly know if he loved me back like friends should. He always picked at Danny and I, calling us pussies and queers like those were our middle names. I never enjoyed his constant taunting until he came to school on Mondays and hardly spoke like he’d endured some tragic nightmare for two days. Then, I forgave it all and felt bad for him. It was a subject none of us ever spoke about. He had had bruises on him sometimes and cuts on his lips or above his nose, but never told us why. He always left it at “oh, I fell down the stairs” or “my brother and I were playing too rough.” His brother was four years old and not potty-trained.
Before us was a long, straight staircase. The steps were white and in distress, but begging for someone to walk up them. My shadow, elongated by the sun’s rays, stretched onto the wall of the second floor. It mocked me. Danny’s shadow did the same.
“Wanna go up?” he asked. I nodded, but only in apprehension. The rail was cold and weak when I touched it, but I took the first few steps anyway. Danny started behind me, his breath beginning to shake. The air changed again; the aroma of flowers was back and it hit me like a train, invading my nose and making my eyes water.
I said, “Yeah. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it’s weird.”
Danny thought so, too, and continued walking again.
At the top of the stairs was another narrow hallway that was lined with doors and peeling paint that started at the ceiling and grew down like vines, zig-zagging in different patterns.
I didn’t know why I was so scared. It was just an old house that couldn’t do anything to us if it wanted to, because, like I said, it was just a house. Houses can’t grow arms and legs and rip your head off or open your ribcage to eat your heart out while you’re still alive, can they? No was the logical answer; yes was the one for a sub question about what the inhabitants of the house could do.
I had not taken any more steps into the upstairs at the time. I was too busy straining my ears to listen for movement or breathing that wasn’t our own—and while I didn’t hear either of those, I did happen to hear music. Light, country-sounding, static-ridden music, like the kind that you hear when a record player gets ahold of an old-timey tune. The singer’s voice was strained over a guitar with little-to-no tuning, but it was still music, unsettling in its quietness that was coming from behind one of the doors.
At first, we thought George was just messing with us from downstairs, but we soon walked farther and found that, with each step, the music grew louder until it was vibrating our eardrums into suffering.
I looked at Danny; Danny looked at me. We were both thinking the same thing, yet we didn’t back down.
“Should we split up and find out where it’s coming from?” he asked. That was a bad idea.
“I guess so,” I said. “One set of rooms at a time, okay? You get the one on the right, and I’ll get the one on the left.”
I thought: Hey.
I thought: Don’t go.
I did anyway, turning into the room on the left. The door was slightly stuck, but I gripped the glass handle just right and forced it towards the rest of the hallway until it gave way and I fell in. Danny hesitated on the other side when I glanced back at him with assuring eyes.
Danny entering the other room, I opened the door to mine and carefully walked in. I had never thought about the possibility of falling through the floor and landing in that horrid kitchen until I felt the surface slightly bow under my weight. My next step was tentative, delicate in the terms of my normal, frantic movements like my head had been cut off.
Fear. That’s all I felt. The crippling, stomach-eating venom surged through my veins and struck my heart. I didn’t know what was happening for that short period of time, but I soon began to understand that it was all real. Everything that I’d seen for the past hour-or-so was real, and it was batting at me like a baby would to a mobile swinging above its crib, whacking until it finally had me in its grasp.
Suddenly, a thought crept into my mind and nested itself into my brain. I hadn’t thought about it so long; so long that I had almost forgotten about it at the time when I did think about it. The picture was there for good, basking in its glory of horrific depictions that no child should ever have to see.
In front of me, the picture came to life. It was the picture that had haunted me at night when my cousins and I would stay at my grandparents’ house for a few days during the summer, leaving me soaked in my own urine many times. The photograph was an odd one, I’ll tell you that; a post-mortem, taken at the funeral of the person who sat in the coffin of black and white. The person happened to my grandmother’s late sister who died at the age of nine.
I can still see it if I want to. The first thing that I saw happened to be her hand. Her cold, dead, pale hand that was just barely touching the floorboards under the chair that she was limply propped up in. Her fingernails were grey, drained of all color that they’d had when she was alive. Attached to that hand was her arm, oddly rested and hanging off of her body as if she didn’t have the strength to control it. Of course she didn’t. She was dead.
I didn’t breathe. I couldn’t. Yards away, Danny was experiencing the same thing, only something from his nightmares that he never spoke much about. I envied George, who was still downstairs.
That arm started to twitch. It started out like a simple breath, faint and unwavering at first before it turned into a heave—a gasp; a beg—that filled the entire room before that arm jerked and tossed itself an inch or two above the floor. Another arm moved, then a leg. Another leg, then a torso. It was a girl that that arm was attached to, dead and gone from decades —
—- ago. Her hair was combed perfectly, though dry and thinning out in some places where her hairline sat. She called to me with the silence that flowed from her half-open mouth of parted teeth with the smell of her rotting organs shouting out into the room. Like the flick of a switch, I felt the warmth of urine run down my leg and soak into my jeans before puddling onto the floor beneath me. The girl that sat in the chair was definitely dead, and I kept telling myself that. She was dead. Gone. Deceased. Never, ever coming back.
The mirror against the wall that was home to several spider webs was angled enough to where my eyes met hers, but she didn’t meet mine. One went off towards the somewhat ajar door that seemed to lead into another room; the other in my direction, practically staring into my soul. The rest of her face was sunken in and depressingly so that I almost felt sorry for her and not myself—a selfish thing to say, I know.
My eyes got back their moisture sheen of growing tears when Danny started slamming his fists down on the door to the outside of the room. His hits were hard and frantic, similar to the way my voice had been pounding in my throat. He screamed my name and cried with all he had, but I didn’t budge. The hits got louder, and his screams grew into whines. Eventually, the noise stopped and there was a thud against the door. Danny had passed out on the other side.
I came to know in the years after that Danny had witnessed something completely different than I had in the room on the left. The room on the right had been home to his worst fear. I only guessed at that because, when I finally worked up the courage to walk out of the room, Danny was slumped against the wall, his arms out by his sides and the front of his shirt covered in vomit. He must’ve made himself sick from all the crying he’d done out there trying to get my attention.
Quietly, I walked out from the room and stared down the hallway. The rest of the doors were shut, just sitting there and waiting for someone to open them and discover another world of horrors.
Again, I looked at Danny, but he was no longer there. His golden blonde hair wasn’t golden blonde, but long, brown, and dry. His eyes weren’t alive, but dead. His mouth was open and his teeth were spaced out and I could smell his rotting organs from deep down in his abdomen. His hands were pale, a bouquet of flowers propped perfectly in them. He was dead. Long dead. I watched a fly circle and land on one of the eyes that were stagnant and tinged with fluid from the inside.
There was a scream that shook the house. I wasn’t sure if it was mine, Danny’s, or George’s, but it was still there, flourishing and disrupting the soundless air from every nook and cranny. The thought ran after me when I went flying down the stairs to get away from that twitching arm, stumbling on the last few steps and falling onto the floor on my side.
My ears rang for a short time after I jumped to my feet, clawing at the ground like an animal ready to hunt prey. My sprints were desperate in pace as I soared past the rancid kitchen, the knickknack-filled living room, and the swinging door.
I stopped when I reached the porch. The wind blew. In the front yard of the house, across the dirt road and on the edge of the tracks, stood George. His extremities were covered in bite marks—human bite marks—and he was completely unclothed. His hair, matted up with sweat, blood, and a clay-looking substance, didn’t move from his forehead. His eyes were cold. His mouth was open. One of his hands started to twitch.
Back in the house from upstairs, the music started up again. I’d never realized that it stopped.
George Lovely, bloody and bitten beyond anything I had ever seen previously in my life, looked at me dead in my eyes. His voice was raspy and forced, like an elderly man’s.
He asked, “Hah-have you heard about the tracks to nowhere?”
Credit: Tracy Littlejohn