They say every town has a haunted house. Ours does, too. I’d tell you exactly where it is, but I don’t want you going up there. I’ll only say it sits at the end of a long dirt road in one of those small dots on a map you’d never visit unless you had to. I heard about it from a fortune teller at the County Fair when I was 12.
My buddies and I all pitched in the $5 bucks. I drew the short straw and had to go sit in the old man’s chair on a dare. I couldn’t stop myself from giggling as the wrinkled codger dealt out the faded tarot cards. He glared up at me, “You think this a joke, little boy? You don’t think I’m so scary. I show you scary.” He took a piece of charcoal from a tattered satchel and on a scrap of paper sketched a map.
“You go there with your friends. We see who be brave.” It was a week before I showed my buddies what the fortune teller gave me. Another month before we worked up the courage to go.
We asked my friend Fitz to get his older brother to drive us. I made two mistakes that day: getting in the car and bringing my dog Mischief. We reached the house about an hour before sunset. It was huge, the kind of place where a boy could get lost, the clapboard facade a faded weathered gray. The porch had several spindles missing, giving the appearance of an evil smile with rotted teeth. And there was something else. Dead silence. No birds or crickets, even the grass around the house was brown, like things couldn’t live there. “No freakin way,” my buddy Sully said what we were all thinking. There was no way we were going in.
Fitz’s brother took a quick picture with my cheap camera and we opened the car doors to leave. That’s when Mischief saw it. A cat scurried from the weeds not 10 feet from the crooked front steps. He bolted from the car and chased the darn thing straight under the porch and through a broken window into the basement. We called and called, but Mischief wouldn’t come.
Sunlight was fading and my friends wanted to go, but I couldn’t leave my dog. I grabbed the flashlight I never thought we’d need and went into the house alone.
The furniture inside was still covered in white sheets, giving it a ghostly look. Sheets hide things and I was certain one of them was going to move. I was also afraid to call out too loud, as if someone or something might hear me and answer.
Paw prints in the dust told me where I had to go – up the long spiral staircase to the attic. I’d read enough Hardy Boys books to know this was a bad idea, but I now understood why the people in those books did stupid things – they had no choice. Every step upward creaked loudly, betraying my quiet approach. I opened the attic door and whispered my dog’s name. As if on cue, an old turn table sitting on a desk in the corner dropped a 45 record into place. The plastic arm swung the rusted needle over the vinyl disc and the crackling music filled the air. ‘All our times have come. Here, but now they’re gone.’ I knew it instantly, Blue Oyster Cults ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’. There was a cup of tea next to the turntable with steam rising as if it had just been poured. To my left I heard a growl; it was Mischief flat to the floor with a terrified look, staring at an empty rocking chair as if something was there. “Don’t,” I thought to myself. But it did, the chair began to sway to the music, ‘Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper. Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper.’ I bolted for the stairs, the dog on my heels, certain something would grab my leg or the door would be locked, but it swung open as if the wind itself was helping my getaway. As I reached the front porch, I heard a familiar voice chasing me into the night, “We see who be brave.”
I didn’t speak for the whole ride home. When I finally told my friends what happened, they said it couldn’t be. There were no power lines going to the house so what I thought I saw or heard couldn’t be real. ”Your imagination,” they kept saying. But I could see in their eyes that they knew better. We never spoke of it again.
Winter came, then spring and summer. Eventually the County Fair returned that fall. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went back in search of the fortune teller to ask him if I was losing my mind. It was the same tent for sure, but inside was a woman in her twenties. I asked for the old man, but she gave me a puzzled look. She said she’d been running that tent for the past five years, her mother before that. “The only old fortune teller was my grandfather, but he’s been dead 30 years.”
I wanted to turn and go, but I couldn’t stop my hand from reaching inside my denim jacket to pull out a 3 x 5 photo we took at the house that terrifying day. There stood four silly boys with a creepy building behind them. And upstairs in the attic window, just behind the faded yellow curtain was a face.
“Is this him?” I asked. She stared for a moment and then dropped her tarot cards to the floor. “That’s the house my mother grew up in. It’s been abandoned since my grandfather died there.”
I bent down to pick up her cards and noticed they had all fallen face down in the dirt except for one. It was a skeleton riding a horse. I didn’t need to ask her which card that was.
I don’t go to the fair anymore, nor do I find the need to watch scary movies. I have one running over and over again in my head. I’m only telling this story now on the off chance you lose your way on some back country road and find yourself face to face with a house that just doesn’t seem right. You would
be wise to turn the car around and forget how you got there.
I myself have never gone back, but it doesn’t seem to matter because the house finds me. Sometimes late at night when the breeze makes my bedroom curtains dance, I see a face in the shadows and for just a moment he is there, watching, smiling, whispering, “I show you scary.” And off in the darkness a melody lingers and the night sings a haunting lullaby, ‘Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper. Baby take my hand.’
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.