By Barbara Henslee
The beast squinted its blood-red eyes as it walked out of the forest into the bright afternoon sun. It looked towards the newly constructed houses in the cul-de-sac. It had been living on the border of the dead and undead for centuries. Hungry, it came to the land of the living for fresh meat. It was as large as a bear on its hind legs. Its skin was grey and reptilian with claws as sharp as a prehistoric predator. The claws were six inches to the top and sharper than a butcher’s knife.
The last time the beast came here for fresh meat, there were no houses, no people. It fed on deer, mountain lions, and bears. It looked forward to the pink meat of humans. It had been way too long.
It heard the voices of young humans and crouched down behind the shrubs prepared to pounce. Little Joey Samuels and Bobby Walker were riding their bikes as fast as they could towards Bobby’s house. They were late for lunch. The beast followed. It knew humans lived in packs.
Jenna always told me that I was a scaredy-cat. I suppose she would have known because she was the biggest chicken I ever knew. It takes one to know one, as my little brother always said.
There we stood, a scaredy-cat and a chicken, looking at the creepy house across the street. We did that often after school. We would stand at the entry of the cul-de-sac wondering what it looked like inside that house. It reminded me of the Amityville Horror house with the windows and the door resembling a creepy face.
We never saw anyone go in or out. But, at night, from my bedroom window, sometimes we saw shadows and flashing red lights. So, someone must have been going there. Or, some thing. Dad said no one had lived there for decades after the tragic killings occurred.
Jenna looked at me and said, “Becky, I think we should go over there and check it out.” Her blue eyes were as big as saucers. Her hair was up in a ponytail held by a bright pink scrunchie that matched her pink polka-dotted leggings and an oversized pink tee shirt. She clutched her textbooks so tight to her chest, her knuckles were red.
Was she serious? I looked at her in disbelief. “Who are you, and what have you done with my friend?” How in the world had my chicken-hearted best friend found the courage to do something as scary as exploring that creepy house across the street?
Jenna said, “James told that he and his cousin, Tommy, went over there the other day.” Her eyes sparkled when she mentioned Tommy’s name. Jenna had a crush on the new boy. So, this was an attempt to impress him. She wanted to be able to tell him she did it too.
“Jenna, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to go over there.” I twirled around on my tiptoes ending with my legs crossed and we continued to wonder about the house across the street.
My mom would have my head if she knew I was even thinking about going over there. For years, she warned me and my brother not to go snooping around there. Once, I overheard my parents talking about it. Mom tried to talk Dad into moving out of this neighborhood because she started having nightmares about the house. Dad told her that the county had plans to tear it down and build a new one. He told her that we would outlive the problem. Whatever that meant.
We’ve all heard the rumors about the two boys who were literally shredded in the backyard of that house. Their organs removed, and the bodies left like the uneaten skin of a baked potato. That happened decades ago. What was weirder though were the rumors that the entire family in that house disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
I couldn’t believe that my chicken-hearted friend and I, the scaredy-cat, were even contemplating this expedition. We continued to stand on the sidewalk and watch the house as if it was luring us over. We lost any sense of how long we stood there, virtually hypnotized.
“Boo!” Jenna and I both screamed. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Our books flew out of our arms. Tommy and James laughed hysterically. They appeared quite proud of themselves for creeping up and scaring the bejesus out of us.
Aggravated, Jenna shot the bird at them with both hands and shouted, “Oh my god, you jerks!” She quickly knelt to the ground to gather her books. I did the same.
Tommy knelt to help her and said, “You girls looked like you were in a trance, staring at that house across the street. We couldn’t help ourselves. It was perfect timing.” He wore a Tommy Hilfiger button-down shirt with pressed DKNY jeans and a New York Mets baseball cap.
With that gleaming smile and his sparkling blue eyes looking deeply into Jenna’s, her mood softened. She took ahold of his hand and he pulled her up.
James was the polar opposite of his cousin, Tommy. He had his skater gear on today wearing a Guttermouth tee shirt and baggy jeans with his high top Keds. He tossed his skateboard over in the grass and helped me pick up my books. He said, “We gotcha good, didn’t we, Becky? Sorry about that.” With a devilish grin, he stood holding most of my books and reached his hand out to help me up.
“Yeah, you got us good, you jackass,” I said as he pulled me up off the ground. I straightened up my overalls and brushed off the dirt from my new Doc Martens.
Jenna and I have known James forever. We’ve lived in this neighborhood and attended the same schools for years. All three of us are 15 years old. Tommy is new to the neighborhood and he’s a year ahead of us, almost 17 years old.
The four of us stood on the sidewalk, side by side, looking at the creepy house across the street, mesmerized. It’s like the house was watching us too. The dormers on the house looked like creepy eyes. The house seemed alive.
Still looking straight ahead, Tommy said, “We were over there just the other day on a dare. Not for long, though. We opened the back door and looked inside. It’s creepier inside than it looks on the outside. The curtains on the living room windows were ripped like some big cat had shredded them. And, it stinks to high heaven in there.”
Jenna looked at Tommy and sighed. I could tell she was swooning over this guy. She said, “I want to go in there and check it out. You guys went over there and lived to tell about it. Let’s all go.”
He turned to look at her pretty, smiling face. She batted her eyelashes at him, and those big blue eyes made him melt. She knew what she was doing.
“Yeah, I’d go over there again, wouldn’t you James?” Tommy looked at his cousin, nodded his head and widened his eyes as if to coax him into agreement. Both boys stood up straighter tossing their shoulders back and chest forward. “You and I can protect these girls if something happens.”
I rolled my eyes at this display of bravado.
James understood Tommy’s subliminal message of wanting to impress Jenna. He nodded his head in agreement. “Okay, sure. Let’s make a plan to go over there again to explore, sometime soon.”
I stood there, watching these three and their antics. Jenna flirted with Tommy to the point that he would do anything she said. Tommy and James boasted themselves up so much, their chests puffed up. I said, “Let’s do it then, let’s go right now.”
“Now?” The three of them said simultaneously.
“Why not now?” I started to walk across the street, looking both ways. “No better time than the present, right?” I arrived the sidewalk across the street, turned around and saw all three of them still standing in the same spot glaring at me, mouths agape, as if I’d grown an extra head. “Well, are you coming or not?”
We walked around to the back yard because it wouldn’t be a bright idea to break into the house from the front door. The rusty chain-link gate wasn’t latched. James pushed it inward and it made a creepy slow groan as it opened. The yard was patchy in some areas and overgrown with weeds in others. The large oak at the edge of the patio had boards nailed into the side and held a collapsing treehouse.
The four of us stop as we approached the back door. We looked at each other as if to ask, are we really doing this?
Tommy ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck. He said, “I’m not so sure we should go in the house, Becky. I’ll bet it’s been condemned by the county. I’m sure it’s dangerous.”
“We’ll be fine, Tommy,” I answered. “Let’s just go in, take a quick look around and see what we see.” Now that I stood at the back door of this house, I wanted to go in. I’ve wondered about this house for so long and this seemed like the time to do it. Safer in groups, as the saying went.
James nodded his head in agreement, sighed heavily and took the few steps to the door reaching out for the knob. Without even touching it, the knob turned slowly, and the door popped open by itself as if the house was inviting us in. James turned and looked at the rest of us with his hand still outreached.
Wide-eyed, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s weird.” He gently pushed the door open slowly. The door made an eerie, creaking noise. Once the door was open fully James stepped over the threshold. He looked back at us. We heard the buzzing of flies and a rancid smell of something rotten. We heard scurrying and wings flapping.
James threw his arms in the air, flailing as if to fight off an attack. This threw him off balance and he fell forward. He yelled, “Oh crap!”
The rest of us fell backward in a domino effect, down to the ground. Then, four pigeons flew out of the back door over our heads.
All of us were on our butts. James just inside the house and the rest of us on the brick-paved porch. As we realized what happened, we all looked at each other and started laughing nervously.
I don’t know why we were laughing. We were all scared out of our wits.
James stood up and brushed his hands on his jeans. “Jeez, this floor is disgusting.”
The rest of us stood and walked through the doorway, cautiously. James turned to us and said,
“Girls, be very careful walking through here, it’s dangerous.”
James was suddenly the expert on dilapidated houses.
My heart fluttered as I heard his words, though. We were about to do something dangerous. The excitement started to build inside me, and I wanted to continue with our adventure. Even though the scaredy-cat in my head told me to turn around and get out of there as fast as I could. I wasn’t going to admit that in front of my friends. Especially, since it was my idea to explore.
We walked inside and a foul smell hit me in the face like something threw a snowball of putrid air at me.
Jenna said, “What is that stench?” She placed one hand over her face. “Oh my God, it smells like death in here.”
As we all walked further inside, Jenna said, “Wait a minute.” She walked back to the door, her shoes sounding like they were sticking to the floor with each step.
“Where are you going, Jenna?” I asked nervously. “You can’t leave.”
She said, “I’m not leaving. I’m gonna put my purse against the door frame, in case the door closes somehow. Then, we’ll still be able to get out.”
“Clever girl,” Tommy said as he reached for her hand. “Come on, let’s go see what we can find.”
Jenna smiled sweetly at him, proud of herself. She took his hand and looked like she felt safe. He pulled out a Zippo lighter and led Jenna through the kitchen and into the huge living room. James and I followed closely. Slivers of sunlight peeked through the large tears in the curtains which gave us a little help in seeing what was in front of us.
The putrid smell was getting stronger and I pinched my nose closed with two fingers and waved my other hand in front of my face. I said, “Really, what is that smell?” I couldn’t quite put my finger on the stench. “It’s starting to make my eyes water.”
Out of nowhere, we felt a strong gust of wind and the back door slammed shut, which made all of us flinch. All four of us looked at the door, our only escape, to see if the purse had kept the door from closing. No. Jenna shrieked and started to cry. She tucked her face into Tommy’s chest and squeezed him tightly. He wrapped his arms around her. James and I both stood in place as if frozen, unable to move.
I heard more scurrying going up the staircase. I also heard whispering, but I couldn’t see a thing up there. “Guys, did you hear that?”
“Hear what? The door slam shut. Yes, I heard it loud and clear,” cried Jenna. She was holding on to Tommy so tightly, he tried to loosen her grip so he could breathe.
I stretched my neck and leaned my body further into the room to try to hear better. “No, Jenna, it sounded like someone is up there talking.”
You don’t want to be in here. The voice I heard at the top of the stairs sounded like a little kid.
Why are you even here? I swiveled quickly because this second voice came from the living room. “Guys, are you hearing those voices? It sounds like two kids.”
They all silently answered by shaking their heads back and forth. None of us were sure if we wanted to go further inside the house at this point. Then, all of us heard whimpering coming from upstairs.
Turning to look at my friends, I ask, “You all heard that right?”
“I did. What is that?” James walked over to the stairwell and tried to peer upstairs. “Did it come from up there?”
The whimpering sounds become clearer and louder and we all recognize the sound as whimpering puppies would make. “Is that a litter of puppies up there?” I asked.
Those aren’t puppies. That’s word from the bird, my friend. Don’t believe it.
“There’s that little kid’s voice,” I said to James. “Did you hear it? It’s coming from the living room.”
He shakes his head back and forth. “I’m not hearing any people talking, but I do hear those puppies upstairs. Let’s go get them.”
“No James, let’s not go up there.” My instincts were telling me to believe the kid’s voice even though I’m the only one who can hear it.
He’s cruisin’ for a bruisin’. This voice came from upstairs. Yeah, stupid. Come on up. I’ll show you some puppies. That kid upstairs laughed like a madman. I looked around and didn’t see any kid either down here in the living room or upstairs.
I grabbed James’ shirt sleeve as his foot landed on the second stairstep. “James, please don’t go up there. It’s not real.”
“What do you mean it’s not real. Don’t you hear the pups? We have to get them out of this house.
Let go, Becky. You guys stay down here if you want to.” He shakes loose from my hold and made his way halfway up the staircase, slowly. Each step squeaked as his foot applied pressure.
Tommy, Jenna and I stood at the bottom of the staircase and watched James. Abruptly, we all heard a loud guttural growl from upstairs. Then, we heard, “Get out.”
All of us whipped our heads around and looked up the staircase. We saw nothing. The thick, hoarse voice upstairs yelled again, “Get out now!” This was followed by horrifying squeals and thuds as if someone was slamming the puppies up against the wall.
“James! Come down here now.” Tommy shouted at his cousin. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
He turned to hurry downstairs, then abruptly, he was lifted into the air and rotated until he was upside-down. It was as if something had a hold of one foot because he was able to kick his other leg. He flailed his arms and he screamed, “What’s happening?!”
Lights in the house started blinking on and off. They stayed on just long enough for us to see a large family photo on the wall at the bottom of the staircase. It was a mother, a father and a boy of about ten years old. Then, we saw the two ghouls. They were young boys. One of them was sitting on the couch in the living room and the other was floating above James holding him by one foot as he laughed maniacally.
The maniacal boy was the son in the photo.
Joey, put him down.
Shut up Bobby, this is my house, not yours. You don’t like what you see, then leave.
I can’t leave and you know it. Put him down.
The ghoul dropped James on the staircase. He tumbled down the stairs.
Doesn’t matter anyway, Bobby. It’s not going to let them leave. It needs to eat.
They might get out.
Tommy helped James stand up then we all turned and ran towards the back door. Tommy dropped his Zippo lighter, so the room was pitch black. But we ran towards the direction we came in. We saw a sliver of light outside the back door’s ripped window covering. We kept running but couldn’t reach the door. The door was moving further away. I heard Jenna shrieking behind me.
“Hurry Jenna, catch up.” I turned and tried to see her. I couldn’t. I only heard her scream. Her screams became fainter as if she was going further into the house. Abruptly, her scream silenced. Tommy, James and I kept running forward. There was nothing but darkness around us. The sliver of light from the curtain faded as the door continued to move further away into nothingness.
James tripped on something and fell face-first onto the sticky, disgusting floor. A huge hole formed in the floor directly under him. He grabbed the edge of the floor which saved him from falling into the abyss. Tommy fell forward after I slammed into his backside. I fell backward on gooey and gross floor. The door was back in place and I could see what James tripped over and what Tommy and I had fallen on. The decomposing and squirming corpses of Bobby’s parents were underneath us. Tommy was able to grab James’ arm.
James screamed up at Tommy, “Hold on to me, don’t let go.” They both hung over the edge of the hole.
Tommy yelled, “I’ve got you. I won’t let go.” I held on to Tommy’s belt and tried to pull. Both of us tried to pull James out of the hole. The decaying corpses started to wrap their arms around us.
But there was nothing we could do about them.
“Tommy, there’s something pulling on my leg! Get me out of here,” James pleaded. “Oh my god, Tommy, it’s crawling up my body, help me, he—”
I saw what was crawling up James’ body. I saw it’s two red eyes as it pulled itself out of the hole.
Its arms were long and reptilian. By the light of its eyes, I saw its huge hand reach over James and grab Tommy’s head. It twisted Tommy’s head all the way around, breaking his neck.
Tommy’s dead eyes were looking directly at me, his chin resting between his shoulder blades. I froze in terror but still held on to Tommy’s belt. Bobby’s dead parents continued to grope my body. Their jaws snapped as if they tried to take a bite out of me. I had to let go of Tommy to stay out of their reach.
I fell backward and started kicking Bobby’s dead parents in the face until the heads detached from the bodies. All they could do at this point was grope.
The creature’s red eyes widened, and I saw it’s grotesque reptilian body crawl further out of the black hole, as it peered over Tommy’s body looking at me. It seemed to pause. I saw its eyes blink a couple times, then it tilted its head to the side like dogs do when they are trying to understand.
For a split second, I thought it would spare me.
About Barbara Henslee
Barbara Henslee is a debut fiction writer currently building her collection of short stories. She is a publishing author of non-fiction on several publications via Medium. All of her fiction and nonfiction can be found on her website: The Eclectic Writings of Barbara Henslee at www.barbarahenslee.com Her 9 to 5 job is a senior executive administrator for a Fortune 100 corporation. Barbara ghostwrites for executives and manages media sites as well as event planning. She is also an Administrative Officer for Henslee Glass & Mirror, LLC. Barbara lives in Magnolia, Texas with her husband and two german shepherds.