Every neighborhood had one: a house with a pedigree like a mile of dirty sidewalk. A killer, no, several killers had lived there, cults had practiced ritual sacrifice, and at least one kiddy fiddler had squatted in the garage. Ours was unremarkable except in one respect: it had no front door. It was hard to remember if it had always been that way, or if it had been a joke at the expense of the next renter. The house was the subject of many a childhood dare, we’d elbow each other to crawl in through the broken window screen or lift up the garage door to see if someone had left a car. No one ever went in, of course. We weren’t crazy. Just stupid. I think we all got the fundamental wrongess of a house with no entrance.
It was fitting, then that the first time someone we knew went in the house would be the first time anyone had told us to stay out. Mark Hascombe’s mom had told him to avoid the house, some bigger kids had been doing something unspeakable inside and he could catch tetanus. Mark met us after school to tell us he wouldn’t be joining us for soccer because he was going in the spook house. We knew instantly that he was full of shit, so we abandoned soccer and walked with him. We all milled out in the front yard as he poked around the back, looking for a way in. Funny, in all this time no one had passed along a secret entrance or loose board or anything like that.
We waited for what seemed like a long time, but couldn’t have been more than an hour.
Someone turned to the next kid: “do you think he’s coming out?”
“I’m back,” Mark said.
We jumped. It wasn’t just that Mark was suddenly in front of us like he’d popped out of thin air. It was the way he said it. Too calm. Too casual. No little kid start-and-stop diction. His smile was wrong too, almost sleazy.
We asked what he saw.
“Oh…” he stretched aimlessly. “lots of cool things.”
“Old stuff. Antique guns and old keys and mining tools and stuff like that.” He then uttered the words none of us wanted to hear: “wanna see?”
No, we didn’t wanna. We wanned to get away from him as fast as we could. We left him there just standing in the front yard, on pretense of being late for dinner.
That night Mrs. Hascombe called all our mothers. Mark never came home.
I’d like to lend credence to the rumors that the house made a lot of people disappear over the years, but in truth there’s just no proving it one way or the other. What I can vouch for is Penny Everdt’s mom telling her she heard their cat, Ringo, inside that house.
Penny and her mother had been out walking to the drugstore when it happened. Penny said she couldn’t hear anything, but her mother was quite insistent that there was a cat and that it was Ringo. She shushed Penny whenever she tried to speak. Penny wanted to stop her mother as she disappeared round the back of the house, but common sense told her that there was nothing wrong with the house, her mom was an adult and knew what was real , and even though she had personally shut the cat up in the washroom when they left, there was a distinct possibility Ringo might be in that house. Penny was able to fool herself like this for half an hour. The second she turned to go get someone of authority, a hand landed on her shoulder.
She told the cops she had immediately wrenched away and ran, afraid it was a kidnapper, but she told us different. She told us that her mother’s voice had said the cat was stuck behind the refrigerator, and she needed to come help. Not asking for help, her mother needed her.
Ringo was still in the washroom when she got home.
It’s the little voice of rationality in your head, the voice that tells you it’s never really like that, you’re just being silly and if you’d only listen…
That’s what their voices sound like.
I moved away around college, didn’t look back for a long time. But then my job landed me in a nearby neighborhood, and just for kicks I asked the realtor to show me the house.
He sounded on the up-and-up. He said he’d inherited the house from another realtor who hadn’t been able to move it. I could tell just by his voice that he’d never been inside it, so I trusted him. But when I and the kids pulled up, I made Billy and Josie wait in the car.
I asked the realtor to walk me through the features of the house. It was kind of funny to watch him try to pull something good from the file, which had been written by someone who had never been inside either. The roof still had most of the tiles, the screens were all intact, the house had aluminum siding, etc.
I asked who owned the house. He looked confused.
“We don’t really know,” he said.
When he went to go look it up for me, I heard the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
“Daaaaaddyyyyyyy,” my son called.
From the house.
It wasn’t urgent, it was like when he called me from another room to look at the Lego tower he’d just built, or when he needed another glass of milk. I have never run so fast in my life.
The right rear passenger door to the station wagon was open. I asked Josie where her brother was. She just shrugged and answered without looking up from braiding her pony’s hair.
“He went to find a bafroom.”
I aged a decade for every step up to that house. Josie was still unworried; I think she was too young to understand what had happened.
“Daddy,” my son called again.
I stood there in the yard while he called and called.
The realtor came up beside me. He had to wave his hand before my eyes to get my attention.
“This is all very odd,” he said, “I’m sorry, I could’ve sworn—”
He was holding the title. It had my name on it.