One can never truly know what transpires behind closed doors, especially heavy old entryways like mine. So pour a cup of tea, pull up a stool, and lean in. I’ll tell you my secrets.
The year was 1975. I had been standing for more than a century and my old bones had seen better days. My last owner, the poor dear, died suddenly, leaving my care to some ne’er-do-well relative who rarely stepped through my doorway, leaving me in shambles. My once beautiful coat peeled away like snakeskin. My shutters hung lopsided and my front steps rotted like the teeth of a vagabond. Such a pity. My beauty squandered…
My dust-coated, stale-aired rooms were lonely as a sailor at sea and ached to be filled with life. I’d had my share of visitors since my dereliction. The occasional vagrant ducking in for shelter. Secret lovers meeting for a rendezvous. But my favorite was the youngsters. They were the liveliest. Imagine my delight that sweltering August night when a group of teenagers sneaked in through my broken rear window. Two pimply boys in faded jeans and black t-shirts and two straight-haired girls in halter tops and cutoffs. While I like to see a bit more modesty, I was willing to make an exception, grateful as I was for the company. It had been a while since I’d felt breath upon my walls, save for the tiny puffs of the occasional cellar rat.
My floorboards tickled as their sneakers scraped to what had once been my grand drawing room. The group sunk into the shabby furniture, their laughter brightening the dingy space. The boy with shaggy blond hair pawed the thick-browed, brunette girl. Their romantic play caused my walls to blush. After all, in my day, a lady would be married before submitting to such amorous advances. Of course, I’d seen much more ardent romantic overtures in my time, including a quite unsettling affair earlier that summer.
The boy with the short black hair and what I can only assume he’d intended to be a mustache, but appeared as little more than a dusty upper lip, lit a thin cigarette with a most unpleasant skunk-like smell. The rest of the group passed around a dark bottle of spirits and they all used the vilest language. But, I forgave them that unpleasantness in exchange to feel lived in again. I reveled in the feeling of being wanted…needed. More than anything I longed to hear their stories. While an abandoned house hears no new tales, one full of tipsy teens telling secrets has plenty to pass on.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” asked the shaggy-haired boy, who the others referred to as Duncan. He took a sip from the bottle and scrunched his face, trying hard not to wince as the firewater slid down his throat. “Eric, you go first.” He handed the bottle to the poorly mustached boy, in exchange for the skunky cigarette.
Eric set the bottle on my dusty floor. “This does not leave this room.” He pointed at the others. I leaned in, closing in my walls and ceiling with all my might so as not to miss a word. It had been so long since I’d heard a good story. “This happened a long time ago, like two years back. I spent the summer at my grandma’s in the country. Nothing to do but stare at blades of grass.” He picked up the bottle and took a sip. Despite his wispy facial hair, Eric could swallow the ‘ol tipsy nectar like water from a spring. “Then this one day a bunch of older kids who lived on a farm down the road invited me to this outdoor hard rock concert three towns over. Free show, but I had to chip in gas money and cash for beer. I had no bread and I knew my grandma wouldn’t give me any for what she called Satan’s songs.” He held up his finger in a just-one-moment-please gesture and took another drink. “I was desperate. Had to get out of my grandma’s house. I knew this was wrong.” He held up his palm as if giving an oath. “But, I swiped five bucks from her cookie jar. It was a stash she kept for bills.”
Oh my. Seems our young Eric was quite the scoundrel. I retracted my walls, resulting in a creak that echoed to my cathedral ceiling.
The youngsters gasped and raised their eyes. The girl with thick brows hugged her arms. “I told you guys this place was haunted.”
I giggled a wee bit despite myself. Haunted? Of course, I’m haunted. I’m a 150- year- old Victorian mansion. But, I’ll save those scary stories for another time. These young people were frightening enough for today’s tale.
Eric said, “Nah, ain’t no ghosts in here. Rotten old house like this is probably just falling apart.”
I huffed and sprinkled ceiling dust upon his head, causing him to cough and shake it from his dark hair. Retribution for the most distasteful insult to me and the unfathomable financial crime against his grandmother.
Duncan pointed to Eric. “I think you pissed off the spooks, my man. Ripping off granny’s pretty low.”
“Ain’t my proudest moment, but you wanted to hear the worst thing. Let’s hear your dirty deeds, Duncan.” Eric reclined, placing his filthy sneakers on my worn chaise lounge.
“I got one for ya.” Duncan squinted and sucked in that atrocious cigarette. “You guys know that one kid in gym, with the lisp and lazy eye.” The girls snickered. Eric nodded. “This one day I was driving back from the corner store in my old man’s car and saw that kid walking down the street. I pulled over to the curb, slugged down the Pepsi I just bought for my ma, then pissed in the bottle. When that kid walked by I threw it.” He laughed and slammed his hands together like an explosion. “Splattered all over him.”
The group squealed with delight. Their laughter no longer felt bright. My wood trembled. The old painting of a cabin by the sea, which hung above my fireplace, shifted. Thievery. Assault with urine. Not to mention smelling up my room with that offensive puffer. These youngsters seemed to be little more than hooligans. I was quite appalled. But, I had no idea of what was yet to come…
Duncan handed the offensive cigarette to the brunette girl. “Tanya, you’re next.”
Tanya inhaled and flipped her long hair. “One night I slept over my cousins’. We got sloshed on cheap booze from her pop’s stash, and I convinced her to go cruising in her mom’s car. Everything was going fine until I lost control. Sideswiped a whole bunch of parked cars on Milton Street.”
“No way.” Eric clapped his hands. “You’re like a rebel bitch.”
“It gets worse.” Tanya shook her head. “When my aunt asked us what happened to her car the next day, I lied. Told her my cousin did it. My cousin denied it. No one believed her, though. She was grounded for like three months and can’t get her license until she’s eighteen.”
I puffed out my walls in exasperation. The scraping sound above my fireplace startled the bunch. They swiveled their heads to find that painting of the cabin now crooked.
“Damn. Told you this place is haunted.” Tanya said.
Duncan moved closer to her and put his arm around her bare shoulder. “Don’t worry babe, I’ll protect you.”
The other girl, the one with dirty blond hair and freckles, rubbed her bare arms, despite the stifling heat. Her eyes darted around the room as if expecting a specter to appear from the walls.
Eric motioned to her. “How about you, Jenny? Let’s have your true confession.”
Jenny’s face reddened like the heavy drapery that hung in my master bedroom. She lowered her eyes to her lap.
As I looked at her more closely, I realized she’d been here before. A panel of my decorative royal blue wallpaper sagged, dropping onto to the floor like a long tongue.
“You have no idea. The things you guys did are child’s play compared to mine.” She stared out my filmy window into the dark night, then wiped sweat from her brow. “This happened in June. Just two months ago. Feels like a lifetime, though.” The other kids shifted position to face her. “You know that girl I sometimes sit with at lunch, the one with the Toni Tennille hair?” The others nodded. “She came over to my house this one night when my parents went out of town. We were hanging out on the upstairs porch drinking some of my dad’s Vodka.”
Outside, an owl fluttered and landed on the banister of my upstairs’ balcony, drilling its talons into my wood like spikes. Deep in my cellar, the rats skittered to the black corners, their small feet digging into my earthy floor.
“That girl started talking about some boy she made out with. Some kid from her neighborhood. Then she asked me if I was going out with anyone. I told her I wasn’t, but she kept bugging me.” Jenny narrowed her eyes and tightened her mouth. Something in the way she looked made my walls tremble again. My windows rattled. Another panel of wallpaper fell to the ground.
Eric, Duncan, and Tanya darted their eyes at each other, then shot glances around the room.
Jenny continued, unfazed. “She was being super mean. Teasing me. Saying I never date and I’m going to be like her spinster Aunt Nan.” Her voice cracked, she scanned the faces of her friends. “So, I told her. About Mr. Hanson.”
The others exchanged glances. “What about Hanson?” Tanya said.
“We’re together. Like together, together.”
“Jesus.” Eric motioned for Tanya to hand him the cigarette.
Duncan pulled a comb from the back pocket of his britches and raked it through his long locks. “You mean you were making it with a teacher?”
“It’s not like that.” Jenny shook her head. “I wasn’t just a score.”
“Jenny, he’s like thirty-something and married,” Tanya said.
“He loves me.” She looked around my room. Her eyes trailed to my stairs, beyond which was my master bedroom at the end of the hallway. “He brought me here a few times. That’s how I knew about this place.”
“So what happened with that girl from school?” Duncan slipped the comb back in his pocket.
Jenny inhaled. “When I told her about Mr. Hanson – Mark – she said it was gross and wrong for a teacher to be with one of his students.”
The owl hooted from my banister. A wild summer wind shook my shutters. My walls quivered. The painting skidded more off its axis. No one noticed.
Jenny pinched the bridge of her nose, then hid her face behind a curtain of hair. “She threatened to tell on us. Tell my parents. Even go to Principal Wagner.”
“What’d you do?” Tanya asked.
“I shoved her. Didn’t even push her hard.” She lifted her head and looked into the faces of her friends. “I didn’t know. I swear to God, I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?” Duncan said.
“It was rotten. The railing.” Jenny lowered her head and stared at my floor. “She broke through and fell to the ground.”
“Oh man.” Duncan exhaled an exasperated breath.
“Looked like a broken doll, lying there in my backyard.”
“What happened to her?” Eric wrangled his hands.
Jenny shrugged and kept her stare peeled to my floorboards. “She’s been in a coma ever since. Doctors don’t know if she’ll ever come out of it.”
I shuddered. The owl tightened its grip. Thick clouds covered the moon.
Tanya motioned for the bottle and said in a shaky voice, “Did you get in trouble?”
Jenny shook her head. “No one knows what really happened. I told my parents it was an accident. Said she leaned against it, then it broke.”
“What’s going to happen to her? Is she like a vegetable?” Duncan said.
“Yeah.” Jenny’s voice wobbled.
“She going to die?” Eric covered his mouth with his hand.
“Hope not.” Jenny shrugged. “But, I don’t want her to wake up either. Then everyone will know. I won’t be able to see Mark anymore if everyone knows.”
I convulsed. My ceiling trembled. Floorboards creaked. Walls shook. The painting sprung from the nail, slamming into the side of Jenny’s head. She sat stunned. The rest of the group bolted from their seats. Dashed out my heavy front door. Eric knocked over the bottle of spirits in the process. The warm liquid seeped into my floor, leaving a sticky residue on my already pitiful wood. Jenny stumbled after them, holding her head, and leaving a trail of dread behind her, darkening my already wretched space.
The group never returned. I had no idea if that poor dear in the coma ever woke up. I didn’t know what had become of Jenny or her improper teacher. But, that owl visited me every night for the rest of that summer, hooting and digging its talons into my wood as if it had a story to tell.
Until next time my dear, fare thee well.
Posted in: Short Stories