Haunted House

No one ever saw the couple that lived in the old house at the end of the street, but every year they put out an amazing Halloween display. And they gave out the best candy. Despite all the effort they put into decorating, though, they always wore the same costumes: just simple white sheets over their heads to be basic ghosts. Everything else about their would-be haunted house was perfect, so no held the rather uninspired costumes against them. Indeed, the house was the highlight of the holiday.

This year had been no different. Jack-O-Lanterns were displayed in every downstairs window. Ghosts and demons – incredibly life-like – peered out of upstairs windows. The porch was covered in cobwebs, and the lawn was covered in a mist, allowing only hints of the beasts that seemed to roam the yard. 

Inside, however, the spirit of the season was rather absent.

“I hate this time of year,” he complained. “All this work, and for what?”

“You know very well for what,” she chided. “People appreciate the house. Doing this pacifies them into leaving us alone the rest of the year. Do you want people coming by all the time?”

“No!” The terror is his voice was obvious. “That would be worse.”

“Exactly. This gives us the peace and quiet we enjoy the rest of the time.”

“But the kids frighten me.”

“I know. Still, one night a year is better than the alternative. You can manage.”

Just then, the doorbell rang.

“You don’t have to say anything. Just put on your sheet…”

“I know, I know.”

He stood up from the chair, walked over to the door, and grabbed the sheet from the coat rack. He threw it over his head before opening the door and placing candy in each child’s bag. Just the sight of them scared him, and he barely heard their thanks. He replaced the sheet and slumped back down into the chair.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It was horrible. You didn’t see them.”

She sighed but said nothing more. He would be disagreeable all night, just like every year.

The doorbell rang again.

“I can get this one,” she offered.

He waved her down. “No, you’ve already done so much. I’ll get it.”

Picking pieces out of the bowl near the door, he opened it find another group. As he went to place the candy in their bags, one of them let out a scream of terror. They all ran from the house.

The sudden shriek made his blood freeze, and he slammed the door closed. He wanted to run and hide.

She came into the entry way from the living room. “What was that?”

Trembling, he managed to say, “I don’t know. They screamed and ran. I told you I hate this. We never decorated and gave out candy while we were…”

“You didn’t put on your sheet.”

“What?”

“You forgot your sheet. All they saw was floating candy. Of course they got scared.”

He looked down and realized she was right.

“Oh no.”

“Don’t worry. They probably just thought it was a trick. I’m sure no one will think there are actual ghosts here.”

“What if they do?”

“They won’t. Just be sure to wear the sheet next time.”

Moving On

Without a doubt, I was dead. It was as obvious as it could be. My body was in the most unlikely and uncomfortable position. I say uncomfortable because it looked very… well… but I was not experiencing the discomfort, for I was no longer in my body. Perhaps I should have started there, since that evidence is likely more compelling for the conclusion that I was dead.

I was standing and looking down at where it had collapsed in the middle of the restaurant, leaving me feeling rather naked. Luckily, no seemed to notice me as everyone was staring at the flesh that used to be me.

Being dead didn’t seem that bad, upon reflection. The aches and pains in my knees and back that had become nearly constant companions were gone. Indeed, the years that had begun to pile up were lifted, and I felt more alive – if you’ll pardon the expression – than I had in quite some time.

When the ambulance came to take away the newly abandoned corpse, I tagged along out of a sense of obligation. After all, it had been my home for many years, and it seemed disrespectful to leave it alone so quickly. But when we arrived at the morgue, I realized how silly that was. No one would know if I just left, and even if they would, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have to stay if I don’t want to.

As I began to leave, a faint outline of a person suddenly appeared to block my way.

“Where are you going?”

I hadn’t really considered where I was heading, so I simply replied, “Away from here.”

“But this is where your body is.” The voice sounded as though not only was this fact obvious, but it was equally obvious that I should stay.

“I know. But my body and I have parted ways. No real need to hang out with it any longer, is there?”

“Don’t you want to know why you died?”

“Well, I’m no doctor, but I assume it has something to do with my heart stopping.”

“Obviously. But why now?”

“Why should that matter?”

The figure had become more distinct, and he was wearing a frown. “Knowing that information provides peace of mind. It helps you to move on.”

“Move on to what?”

“To what’s next.”

“Right now, the only thing preventing me from moving on is you.”

“But your body…”

“Is no longer mine, is it? I’d say you have the problem moving on from this. So unless there’s something else…?”

He shook his head in defeat.

“Excellent. I’ll be leaving now. But you’re welcome to stay for the autopsy if you like.” And so I left him standing there. My only regret is that I never asked him who he was.

Memory

For as long as I can remember, I have had a strong aversion to being waved across the street by a motorist when I’m walking. I do not know when this started or why. If I come to a corner and a car stops there, I try to avoid making eye contact with the driver and wait until she or he goes through the intersection before crossing myself. I may even wait for several cars to go through, pretending as though I’m waiting for someone or going in a different direction. I’m not afraid to cross; I merely am uncomfortable with cars waiting for me to do so.

That was the not the only quirk I picked up as a child. Again as far back as my memory goes, I’ve noticed and memorized license plates. It was in part a desire to be responsible, so that I could give the information to the police in case of an accident. It was also, in part, paranoia. In case the owner of the car followed us home or something. Honestly, when you’re six, you don’t really have great reasons for the things you do. An idea gets into your head, and you try your best to follow it to its logical (and completely bizarre) conclusion.

I was around nine or ten years old and was walking home from school. Well, not exactly. We lived about 4 blocks from my school, but I wasn’t headed there. My dad worked with his father out of his parents’ house. At the time, I was too young to stay home alone, so after school I would walk to their place, about 10 blocks or so in a different direction, and wait for my dad to finish work.

My route took me east for a ways, and then north. I came to the corner where I was going to turn, and I saw a car headed towards the four-way stop. So I turned around and looked at the house behind me. The sidewalk was set back from the street a bit, so I thought it would be easy to look as though crossing the street was the last thing on my mind. I waited to hear the sound of the car pulling away.

Instead, I heard a man’s voice calling, trying to get my attention. He was white and scruffy and driving a boat of a car, probably an Oldsmobile. The large passenger-side window was rolled down, and he had an envelope in his hand. Across the street to the east was a mailbox. He wanted me to take the envelope and mail it for him. One thing I remember very clearly, I could see no address or stamp on the envelope. 

This was many years ago. Kids played outside long into the summer evening without adult supervision. They walked home from school alone. But we weren’t completely naïve. Just about every school year, a fireman came to the school to talk to us about fire safety. We were told how one in every three homes experiences a house fire and we needed to have a plan just in case. I don’t remember how many times I heard variations on this, but the house burning down was one of my big childhood fears. The other one was being kidnapped. (Well, there was also something about vampires behind my headboard, but that’s not relevant here.) Just like the fireman, a police officer would come regularly to talk to us about the dangers of kidnapping. (The drug talks were after my time. That’s how old I am.) He told us how to be safe. Mostly it was admonitions not to go the bathroom by yourself when you were out in public.

So I was constantly expecting my house to burn down. And to be kidnapped. That latter fear came rushing forward, and I started making excuses as to why I couldn’t help him. My mother was waiting for me, and I was already late. Obviously, that was a lie since I didn’t live with my mother, and I wasn’t headed home. But he couldn’t know that.

He repeatedly pointed out how close the box was, and it would be easy for me to mail it. But I continued to refuse. It wasn’t even that I was stubborn. I was terrified and all I could do was continue refusing; the thought of running away or calling for help never occurred to me. I just kept repeating that I couldn’t do it, that I had to get home. Exasperated, he drove off, squealing his tires as he raced right past the mailbox.

I finished walking to my grandparents’ house where I told my father. (I thought about not telling him. I didn’t want him to be mad at me, but I thought I should say something in case he tried to kidnap someone else.) He told me that unless I had his license plate number, there was nothing we could do.

And that’s how terrified I had been. I had completely forgotten to note his license plate. This thing I always did, I had forgotten entirely. This quirky habit that I have to this day, vanished when I could have used it the most. So we didn’t do anything. And I never saw the man again.

In the intervening years, I’ve had many occasions to think back to that day. (I still don’t like being waved across the street.) Maybe the envelope was addressed on the other side? But the envelope seemed rather flimsy, as though it was empty. And why didn’t he stop to mail it himself? Sure, it was less convenient, but if it was important enough to ask someone else to mail it, it needed to be mailed, didn’t it? Did he kidnap someone else?

I have no answers to any of these questions. But I doubt I’ll ever forget that day, and I’ll always wonder how close I came to being just another statistic.

At Least We Still Have Animals

The house was mostly quiet. The television was on, and the sound was turned all the way down. He was sitting on the couch, watching, but could no longer stand to hear the voices. From the kitchen, the cat meowed. Looking over, he saw a masked figure with a curved blade in one hand. As the armed intruder began rushing toward him, he just sat there, observing.

Finally the figure stopped just short. “What are you doing? Can’t you see I’m about to kill you?” A man’s voice, though the age was indeterminate.

“Yes. It is quite obvious.”

The cat entered the living room and walked wide around the would-be attacker, eventually hopping up on the couch next to him.

“Aren’t you going to run? Try to defend yourself?”

“I wasn’t planning to.”

“At least scream a little?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

The cat, keeping one eye on the intruder, nuzzled against his hand. He obliged its insistence for some attention.

“But you’re about to die!”

“Fine.” Bored with the conversation, he turned back to the television. “Just don’t hurt the cat.”

“Don’t you care?”

He gestured at the screen in answer. “Look, thousands of people dead in the latest natural disaster. And see there, in the crawl? White men hanging on to power no matter who they trample. Why should I care if I die? This world is hell already.”

The intruder lowered his blade and slumped onto the couch. “And that is…”

“Yeah. A child whose parents both died in the flooding.”

“And in the crawl…”

“A 70-year-old man born into wealth telling us how hard he had it.”

The intruder stood up and began walking to the door.

“Where are you going? I thought you were here to kill me?”

“I’m going home to pet my dog.”

As he left, the cat meowed to remind him to keep scritching its chin.