As the middle child with three siblings and a niece, my house was always full of little adventures. Sara was only a year younger than me, so you can imagine we spent our lives growing up together. Side-by-side we explored our teen years. My older siblings were always “around”, but they were in their own little worlds. So it was always just me and Sara.
But in a haunted house, it’s never just you. They’re always there, and I think knowing this is a lot of the reason Sara and I banded together so often. We were fighting our fears of being alone with dead people. It was me and my sister against life, and life after death against us.
“Ow, ow, ow.” I rocked forward and pulled my head down. “Don’t you hate sitting on your hair, Sara?”
“No, I hate it when Ari sits on my hair.”
“Do you get called Rapunzel, too?” I said.
“No. I think it’s because my hair is more brown and yours is more blonde,” Sara said.
“Plus, I think your friends care more about being your boyfriend than just being friends,” I said.
“Like who?” Sara said.
“Brett or Suzanne’s brother. What’s his name?”
“Right, right,” I said.
“I like Austin, though. Do you think I should call him and ask him out?”
Ask a boy out? Man, my sister was brave. I could never do that. What if they said “no” or that they didn’t like me? Well, Sara doesn’t have to worry about that because everyone loves her. So I guess she should. “Yeah.”
Sara picked up the phone beside Mom’s bed. Mom just left to get cigarettes, so she wouldn’t be popping her head in to shout something that would embarrass Sara. She does that all the time to me when I’m talking to Baker. She’ll just stop by and be like, “Danny, you farted! Oh my gosh, it smells like a dead dog in here!”
I turned back to my game of Diner Dash while Sara dialed Austin’s number from the back of her fifth grade yearbook. “Hi, is Austin there?”
Man, I wasn’t about to ask Austin out, but my stomach was nervous like I was. I decided that I couldn’t distract myself with Diner Dash enough to make it go away, so I sat down on the bed beside her to listen. She had the long phone cord wrapped around her fingers as she waited for Austin to come to the phone. I leaned around her and pushed the speaker button so I could hear what he would say.
There were some loud noises in the background that were distracting.
“It’s Sara. What are you doing?”
“Nothing. Just watching TV. What are you doing?”
Then Sara didn’t say anything else and he didn’t either for a few minutes. I thought Sara was nervous, but she seemed bored. She was sighing and she was relaxed on the bed. My foot was tapping like crazy on the floor worrying about what he would say when she asked. But what if she wasn’t going to ask now that she was really talking to him.
“Because I wanted to ask you if you would go out with me?”
Sara and I cracked up. I had to hit the speaker button again before I could really let loose. He said “where”, I thought with another round of giggles.
“I meant like be boyfriend and girlfriend, Austin,” Sara said into the speaker.
I could only imagine him laughing at himself and being confused. Then I realized she had asked and I wondered what he said.
“Okay. Talk to you later, boyfriend.”
He said yes. Wow. Could it really be that easy?
Sara hung up. “He said yes.”
“Why didn’t you want to talk to him? You didn’t even ask him why he likes you.”
“His mom had to use the phone.”
“Why did he say, ‘Where’? Like…” And the laughter was back.
“Come on. Let’s go downstairs and watch TV. I’m hungry,” Sara said.
We went down to the Woodroom with some chicken crackers and spray cheese that was left over from last night’s movie night. We decided to play Zombies Ate my Neighbors instead of watching TV, so we scooted the bean bags over and relaxed in them.
“Sal’s still sleeping?” I couldn’t believe it. “He must have gone to sleep really late. You and I fell asleep after the second movie. It was like after midnight and he was still awake.”
Sal was sleeping on the tan couch behind us. He sleeps like a cat, so you never really know how deep asleep he was. But we were old enough we didn’t need a babysitter anyway, so he could sleep all day if he wanted to.
“Wanna play two player?” Sara said.
“I don’t think we have another controller. Remember the cord doesn’t work on the other one? We can take turns, though.”
“Want a cracker?”
Sara passed me one and as I was chewing it, she started the game. “MWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!”
The theme song started. I love the soundtrack to this game more than the actual game, I think. I could listen to it all day. We kept it at a respectful level so we wouldn’t wake up Sal.
I fed Sara crackers as her character bobbed along the first map gathering up all the neighbors in need of saving. She passed through the door at the end of the level and handed the controller to me.
We froze. We both looked at each other and just froze.
“Did you hear that?” I whispered.
“What is THAT?” Sara said.
We both hugged our legs up into our beanbags. The noise was on the floor.
“Wait, mute the TV. Maybe it’s Brandy…”
“Brandy’s not here, remember? She took Ari to the store,” I said.
Sara and I sat cowardly in our bean bags listening in panic. Sal was still on the couch but he couldn’t hear what we were hearing.
Sara flew over to where I was sitting. I hugged her as we listened to the strange sound.
“It’s coming from under us.” I slid from my bean bag to the floor and put my ear against the hard carpet. I waited, listening, but there wasn’t a sound. “It sounded like—Wait, let’s say it at the same time, okay? One, two three—”
“Okay,” I said. “We both heard the same thing.”
“Maybe it’s a raccoon.”
“Maybe.” I kept my ear close to the floor and now that I was doing it, Sara came down to listen, too. “Let’s see if it does it again.”
A few minutes passed. We sat up, shaking our heads. It was over. Whatever was under the house scratching at the floor under us must have left.
Sara and I were still scared, though.
“Sal!” Sara ran to him, shaking him until he was awake. “Sal, something’ under the house!”
“What?” Sal sat up fast. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Something’s scratching the floor,” I told him.
We listened, but the sound never happened again.
The front door closed. Sara ran into the kitchen to tell Mom what happened. I just sat there with my hands on the floor, trying to reach through to grab whoever was down there. I wasn’t scared, I was sad. Like I couldn’t help them when they needed me, when they were calling for me.
“What happened?” Mom was asking Sal. Sara had probably been talking too fast for Mom to understand.
Sal shrugged. “They said something was scratching under the floor.”
“It did it like four times, Mom. It didn’t sound like an animal.”
“I heard it, too,” Sara said.
“Well.” Mom came down into the Woodroom. “Let’s go check the crawlspace.”
The door to the crawlspace was just a board nailed to the house. Just like at our old house. Mom had so much trouble getting the board off. It took all three of us—me, her and Sara—to pry it off before we could climb down. Sal had had to go work, but I wish he could have stayed. He always made me feel safe because he isn’t afraid of anything. And we could have used his muscle right about now.
“Flashlight,” Mom asked Sara for it.
Sara passed it down. Mom walked into the crawlspace. I followed her and Sara followed me. We walked down a ramp that was made of a wooden board. It went all the way down into gravel. The crawlspace was as big as the Woodroom and kitchen combined. It was dark, but the sunlight outside made it a little easier to see.
“What are these?” Sara said as she pointed to something on the left.
Mom shined the flashlight on it. “A flower bed maybe?”
It was a huge, rectangular box of cement. The whole thing was concrete, including the top. It was all closed and there didn’t seem to be a way to open it back up.
“There’s another one,” Mom said when her flashlight moved to the right.
I turned around. I wonder… “There are two more over here, Mom.”
Four cement flower beds? These boxes were really big and really deep for a flower bed. I don’t think that’s what they were used for. The box stood all the way up to my waist. That was a lot of dirt to put in a box like that for flowers. But what else could these things be used for?
When I looked up where Mom and Sara were moving to, my eyes told me something was in the right corner of the crawlspace. When I looked there, it took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness for me to realize it was a man. Standing there with a gray body, his arms down to his sides, his face empty. He was just there like a shadow watching us. I froze and couldn’t move.
“It’s cemented shut,” I could hear Mom saying from near the man.
The dust down here forced me to blink and rub my eyes, but even when I opened them again, the man was still there. No matter where I looked, he was still in the corner.
The wall straight ahead really was cemented shut. The whole place down here was cemented. The walls, the ceiling. Even that man in the corner looked like he was made of cement.
“So how did the animal get in?” Sara said.
“I don’t think it was an animal. When the house was built, everything from the Woodroom back wasn’t there. They were added a few years ago for the owner’s mother who was handicapped. That’s why there are all the ramps. But everything from the Woodroom back is also cement. That’s the foundation of it. So anything that’s under there can’t get out here. And if anything or anyone was trapped in there, they’d be dead by now. So…”
He was still there. I wasn’t scared of him. He wasn’t going to hurt us. But seeing him was scary because he didn’t have a face, because his body wasn’t the right colors like a regular person, and because he was just standing there in the corner! Why wouldn’t he move or talk to me? At least tell me why he was stuck down here, or what he wanted.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here. I don’t want you breathing this air.”
I wanted to run. Run out because now I was scared that he would try to follow us. He might not have been a demon or been evil or wanted to hurt us, but knowing that a dead man was following you was creepy. My skin was buzzing and I just wanted to get out. But I knew I had to be the last one up. I couldn’t let him get my little sister or my mom. So I followed them. I ran up the ramp when it was my turn, and quickly covered the hole with the board again.
“So what do you think the scratching on the floor was?” Sara said.
Mom shook her head at the crawlspace. “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone’s been under that part of the house in a long time. Maybe it was just…”
“A ghost,” I said for her.
Mom turned to me with calm eyes. She knew it was a ghost as much as I did. She wasn’t worried, though, she was thinking. Always thinking of ways to fix what’s broken with our family. But if there were a way to fix ghosts, I think my mom would have found it by now.