The house at the end of my street had earned a reputation for being haunted. The kids at school dubbed it “Suicide House” and every so often a group of local idiots would show up in the dead of night for an unauthorized tour of the dilapidated Victorian. When I was 9 my best friend Daniel and I dared each other to go inside. I remember helping my friend through the broken casement. I remember forgetting how and when to breathe and the pallor on my friend’s face when he let out that first gut-wrenching scream. I don’t remember the sprint home or how I managed to sleep that night or anything that I might have witnessed when inside the house. I didn’t want to be relieved of my amnesia and on the subject I was silent.
I don’t know the exact moment we stopped being friends in the active sense but I do remember watching from the sidelines as Daniel struggled helplessly and ultimately ineffectually against an ever growing tide of despair. The explanation I received from my parents was a watered down version of a half truth. Daniel had taken his own life. One of his cousins had gone missing. His grief had led to night terrors and depression. There had been a note but the body was still missing along with his father’s pistol. His parents thought there might be a connection between their son’s disappearance and their nephew’s disappearance. They searched frantically for a real life predator on whom they could justly empty their rage. Accusations were made and at one point there was even a trial but there was never enough evidence for a conviction.
All through junior high I lived as if on borrowed time. The house had been responsible for Daniel’s death and I was next. My parents insisted on counseling, on family dinners, and game nights. They were cautious and conscientious. Their love made me miserable but it also kept me grounded.
Gradually I came to accept that his death, though no less horrific, probably wasn’t supernatural in origin. I moved on with my life. Not all at once. Not without the occasional relapse but in my own clumsy and imperfect way. I made friends. I wasted time pleasantly. I slept with the lights off (most nights). Life became progressively more tolerable and I progressively more tolerant. Until that night some friends suggested we visit Suicide House. I refused staunchly. They called me a chicken. I wavered. They argued safety in numbers. I countered with some argument about a curse. They called me lame. I went home feeling sick to my stomach. The next evening I caved. I was too old to be afraid of curses.
I was the third person to enter the house that night. Everything of value had been scavenged. The floor was littered with food wrappers, drug paraphernalia, and years of premeditated decay. The crumbling walls ran with graffiti. My friends were clearly underwhelmed by what they saw and to amuse themselves they began to kick out the remnants of windows and mirrors. Someone suggested a full out demolition and they all promised to meet up the following night with sledge hammers. Someone pulled out a pack of cigarettes they’d stolen from their mother’s purse. Another person lamented about the lack of beer and bragged about his fake ID and how he’d purchased a 6-pack at the gas station just last week. He didn’t have his wallet on him currently but he assured everyone that he was good for the booze. Until that moment I had always thought him to look more adult than the rest of us but looking at him there in the dusky glow of twilight, two distinct dimples framing his smile, I doubted that he could even pass for 17.
While the others smoked nosily in the background I began to search the house for objects of interest. I stepped into what might have passed as a child’s bedroom at the turn of the century and felt the blood go out of my face and hands. My heart clamped shut and the air went out of my lungs in one long, eerie string of syllables. My friends came rushing in one after the other desperate for a storyline. They followed my gaze to the open closet. A panel at the back had been pushed out of the way and there were signs of another room beyond. Our leader offered to check it out on his own but he wouldn’t be out done by his leftenant and in the end they both entered pushing and shoving for the coveted position. The rest of us held our stations. I remained as silent as hyperventilation permitted me while my companions speculated animatedly about the room’s contents.
After several agonizing minutes our leader returned holding a slate board on which the words “By your own design…” were scribbled. No one knew what the message meant but everyone’s mood plummeted on reading it. The air was tactile and heavy and I thought that if were to run my fingers through it the ripples might actually be visible. For a long time no one said anything. We all stood solemn in our own reflections until a loud crash sent us spiraling back to reality. It was in that moment that we realized that the leftenant had not returned. We shouted to him without effect. Then one by one we burst into the room. In the middle of the floor a wooden chair lie on its side. Above the chair hung a neatly tied noose. The noose swung dolefully from side to side and the rafters complained as if burdened. There was no sign of the leftenant and no window through which he could have passed unseen. There had been 3 of us the first time I’d entered the house: Daniel, his cousin, and me. My friends’ frantic cries seemed only to seal my limbs into place. I was insensible, inconsolable, inaccessible from every angle.
I remember the way the darkness tasted like water from a copper ladle. I remember every last pang articulated by my drowning heart. I remember the coldness of the room in terms of physical pain and the sorrowful sound of a violin insulating my sobs. I don’t know what transpired during my hypnosis. I don’t know what became of the minutes, hours, days that followed but I remember vividly the deaths that followed.
This is influenced by a story I wrote when I was 12. I don’t have the original manuscript but I can tell you that this version is heavier than the first one. This one also includes things about drinking and smoking that I would not have included in a school paper. The kids in the story are about 14.
As a kid I was very insecure about my writing. So insecure that I actually avoided writing whenever possible! In my 6th grade math class we were asked to write a spooky story for Halloween. The story was just for fun so there were no grades on the line and we didn’t even have to sign our names to our work. I hated math class and so to me the assignment was a welcome distraction. I wrote my story and turned it in without signing my name. The next day after the teacher decided to read my story out loud along with a few others. My classmates actually enjoyed the story and voted it the scariest. I adapted it to include the prompt.