This Old House
Seems like there’s one in every neighborhood and childhood, right? The old house. Abandoned for as long as anyone knew. Overgrown and worn out and boarded up and empty save for the rumors that fill its dark and dusty rooms with any number of demons and terrors.
Ours sat in the middle of the 200 block of south Tower Drive, practically as east and south as you could be and still be in Beverly Hills. The house wasn’t alone. It sat in the middle of three properties that had been scheduled for demolition to make way for a new project whose name was hard to pronounce — con-do-nimium, or something like that, and it by far looked the most haunted of the bunch.
At least that’s we thought. Robby, Danny and me. Many were the times we’d stand on the sidewalk in front of it and try to double dare each other into going in after terrifying ourselves with stories about what really happened to whoever once lived — and all died violently — there. One time Danny even offered to steal me a new first baseman’s mitt from the Big 5 around the corner if I’d just go up and check to see if the front door was unlocked. This after telling me that it was an old woman who’d lived in there alone and people thought she was a witch and after a couple kids disappeared her neighbors banded together and stormed her house to find she’d cooked and eaten them, leaving nothing but their bones boiling in a big stew pot. And when they tried to capture her she vanished into thin air cackling and was never seen again.
“You don’t even have to go inside Ricky,” Danny said. “Just turn the knob and see if the door’s open!” But I’d have none of it and tell him if he wanted to know so bad he could just go find out for himself. He didn’t.
Then came that late October afternoon coming back from La Cienega Park. This time as we walked past the place all of a sudden Danny sprints up the walkway to the front porch and before we can yell at him to stop, his hand’s on the knob and it’s turning and he pushes on the door and it opens wide slowly, creaking on its hinges and revealing a shadowy entryway littered with broken furniture and trash.
“Danny what are you doing!?” yelled Robby. But Danny just stood there kind of peering in. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. And Danny turned back towards us with a strange smile on his face, one that was half afraid and half having fun and he said, “I’m going in!”
“Wait!” we screamed, but he didn’t listen. He just jumped through the door and out of view and it was just like the house had swallowed him up.
Robby and I stayed completely frozen for however long it was before we heard Danny laughing from somewhere inside and telling us there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. We weren’t so sure. But as we heard him moving about inside and calling us chicken, our reluctance waned and it was Robby who took the first tentative steps up the walk. Then me. Then Robby until we were both jogging up the front steps where we stopped at the portal that may not have been to the hell we had imagined it might be.
Danny’d been silent, so we called out to him and at that precise moment he leapt out from a doorway off the entry to the left with a snarl and I almost wet my pants.
“Got you!” he sang laughing and then right after, “come check this out” and re-entered the room he’d just exited. I looked at Robby and Robby looked at me and we both sort of shrugged. And in we went.
There was a staircase to the right that went up to the second floor and a closed door to the right that the bottom of the steps. Danny called for us to hurry up and so we did, entering the room which may have been a living room or a dining room at one time. There was dust and dirt and cobwebs and all sorts of furniture everywhere, making hard to move about or across the floor. Through a doorway on the back wall of the room we could see Danny had moved all the way through the next room to the one beyond it, and the both of us clambored over the couches and chairs and bookcases until we got to him.
It was the kitchen, or what was left of it and Danny was standing before an open pantry closet looking at the floor where the was a door.
“It’s a trapdoor!” Robby gasped.
“Really!?” Danny said sarcastically and I laughed and yelled “No duh!”
“Who’s gonna open it?” Danny asked and I felt the fear return and stepped back, almost tripping over an old wooden chair. Robby just stood where he was shaking his head hard and seeing it was no use Danny just flopped down on his knees before the filthy hardwood panel and sighed an “Oh all right!”
Working the small rusted ring out of its seat he stood up to get some leverage and looked back at both of us before giving it a strong heave. The door came up pretty easy and smacked off the wall behind it, almost slamming back down if Danny hadn’t blocked it.
” Whoa!” he said, looking down into the dark place he stood at the edge of.
“What do you see?” I asked.
“I dunno,” he said and got back down on his knees. “You tell me,” and though every part of me was telling me to run instead I took a few involuntary steps forward until I stood beside him. Robby, too, and the three of us peered down into the blackness. So dark was it, it was impossible to tell if the space was three feet deep or 300.
Then something moved down there and that’s when Robby freaked out.
“What’s that?” But he’d already taken off before he’d finished asking, vaulting over the furniture and screaming a long wail that continued after he’d made it out the door and onto the sidewalk where it kept going until he’d gotten far enough away that we couldn’t hear it any more.
I wasn’t surprised that Danny had stayed put. I was surprised that I had, and both of us stared down into the inky hypnotizing abyss until both of us saw before yanking the door shut huge slam and bolted with me but a half-step behind as we crashed over and against the furniture in terrorized desperation toward the front door that I expected to slam shut as we approached it. But it didn’t and Danny and I raced to the safety of the sidewalk breathing hard with Danny swearing he saw a pair of red beady eyes open up and look right at him.
“You saw them, right?” he asked.
“No,” I said between deep breaths. “I saw a bony hand reaching up after me!”
Danny looked incredulous.
“But you heard the laughter, right?” I asked.
Danny shook his head. “Laughter?” Nah. I heard a snarl.”
We both stood perplexed and silent, except for breathing hard.
“But something moved down there, right?”
“No question,” I agreed. “There was definitely something down there moving.”