Some people swore that the house was haunted.
We believed it. Set far back on the property, at the end of a drive long since broken up into weeds and gravel, the place had been abandoned about forever. Three stories proud when built, years of weather and neglect had brought sagging and collapse. Now it seemed hunched over, like a kicked dog, black windows bared like fangs, challenging anyone to approach. Because it was that kind of night, the door opened as we pulled up, slow as a death rattle and just far enough to make you wonder if it was the wind.
“You two walk the whole thing, flashlights on,” Mikey said, leaning against the Camaro and chewing on a toothpick. He thought it made him look like a gangster. I thought it made him look even more like a hick, but didn’t say so. He was that kinda guy.
“Yeah, and you have to stay inside for at least an hour,” Joe added. He turned his baseball cap around, pulled it down tight like a catcher. Nervous habit. He caught me looking and grinned to cover it. “Scared?”
“What do you think?” I replied, with practiced cool. I hated dragging Karen into it, but it was do this or listen to them bust on me for the rest of high school at least. You don’t get many choices for friends in a small town, and these were mine. “Up for it?”
“I don’t know,” Karen said, looking up at me hesitantly. I squeezed her hand as if to say, we have to do this. “OK,” she relented, squeezing back. Mikey and Joe cheering us on, we lit our flashlights and walked slowly up the steps. We didn’t close the door behind us, but it swung shut anyway.
* * *
All I can say in my defense is that I wasn’t thinking straight.
Pulled together by fear and adrenaline, we got about three rooms in before Karen and I started kissing. I thought I was pretty slick, though looking back, I’m sure she’d known and decided to play along. High school. Anyway, things were going great until I looked past her and caught a glimpse of the two of us in a dusty, rusted mirror. Us, and something else.
Everyone asks me, but it’s the kind of thing you just can’t describe. I stared for a long time, long enough to tell I wasn’t hallucinating, long enough that Karen pulled back a bit and whispered “Baby, what’s wrong?”
Then it smiled at me.
I came out the front door flying so fast I don’t think my shoes touched the porch or the steps. I hit the walkway, stumbled, stayed on my feet somehow and bolted for the car. Dead grass crunched beneath my sneakers and dead leaves swirled in my wake.
“Start the car!” I yelled, hoarse with fear. I ran up to the backseat and yanked the door open. “Start the –” I froze, fear fighting confusion.
“What the hell, man?!” Mikey yelled, panicked and furious, pulling on his shirt. Next to him, Joe cursed and fumbled with his belt buckle, red-faced and sweaty.
“Yeah, what the hell?” I turned and saw Karen come running up, pale and glaring daggers at me, cobwebs trailing off her clothes like mist. Behind her the door to the house closed, almost casually. I looked to her, then to it, then back at Mikey and Joe, and realized I would never be able to explain what had just happened to any of them.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.
Tiny bit of contest: This story was originally written for one of NPR’s “Three Minute Fiction” flash fiction contests. It was required to be no more than 600 words long, and we had to use opening and closing lines that were provided for us. I had a blast, and hope you enjoyed it too. Happy Halloween, everyone!