Second Place Winner, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Short Story Contest
The peeling red paint on the door. The crumbling brick. It begged me to enter. I gripped my camera in my hand and tried to stay calm. My mother had told me not to go out at night, since we only moved into the neighborhood a week ago, but I was so curious to see what was inside. My friends at school kept telling me that I had a reputation to uphold and it was my “duty” to look into it, though I doubt uncovering a drug ring in the local gym is anything like investigating a haunted house. Who am I? A Ghostbuster?
* * *
Earlier that day, a barista at the Computer Café asked me where I was staying, obviously because I looked more lost than a tourist in New York City, and paled a bit as soon as I named the street.
“What? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he nervously replied, slightly shaking his head. “It’s just…you should, maybe, check out the history of the Moreland House.
“Okay,” I muttered suspiciously. That was weird. “Thanks.”
His face instantly brightened. “Enjoy your coffee! Next!”
Since he had piqued my interest a bit – and probably because I watched way too much Supernatural – I made my way to a local library down the street to do some research. I’m not sure what I was expecting, definitely not as bizarre as what I found, but it was something else.
It turns out an old Irish woman, Siobhan Ronan, owned the house at the end of our street thirty years ago. It had been a gorgeous, grand abode that eventually transitioned into a rundown dump that would make a realtor cringe. Back in the day, neighbors would complain about strange people coming in and out in the dead of night, as well as random rumbles and chants deriving from the basement.
Siobhan was eighty-four when she disappeared without a trace. The police searched her entire house, but the only thing out of place they found was a broken mirror. Though there had been no signs of a struggle, locals have made many legends. They referred to her as some sort of demonic emissary who dabbled in black magic – they even christened her the Moreland Witch. Some suggest she was taken by some “thing” she conjured up as retribution for some past wrongdoing – few have even said they saw it the night she disappeared – a dark, shrouded figure standing in front of a window.
What I thought was really strange was the broken mirror. News articles said it was shattered,, except the floor was spotless and not a shard could be found. The police searched and searched, but found nothing that could help them figure out what happened and, considering there was indication it pertained to Siobhan’s vanishing, deemed it a cold case.
To add to this already sketchy story, three high school seniors broke into the house on October 19th, ironically Siobhan’s birthday, three years ago and didn’t leave until morning. When they finally emerged, they walked back home as if nothing had ever happened, went right past their parents without a word, and straight into their rooms where they locked the door and screamed all night and day.
The parents called the Biddleton County Hospital and the teens were admitted into the psych ward. They noticed all three teens were exhibiting the same strange behavior and realized they were all in a common place before it happened – the Moreland House. The parents petitioned for the local government to tear the place down, but it was denied due to it being a historical landmark.
The hospital had little to say about what happened and, unfortunately, it was likely no one would ever know. Their throats became too hoarse to emit any sounds and they stopped screaming, but they never stopped trying.
Two of the teens died a year apart on the exact same day – October 19th. The last one, Beatrice Noam, is still in the hospital, yet people say she’s beginning to show the same mysterious symptoms the other two teens did before they died: Looking off to the side of the room with her eyes wide, pointing at something; strange red markings appearing on their foreheads in the shape of a sideways diamond, etc. The hospital didn’t release much information besides that, something about withholding patient records from the public without the consent of the parents.
I was thinking about all this while I walked home and slowed to a stop once I reached it. The Moreland House. The source of misery and mystery.
My cell phone began to ring in my pocket and I pressed the accept button without even looking, already knowing who it was. My friends rarely call me and only if it’s an emergency.
“Yeah,” I sighed, looking up towards the house. I saw my mom and dad standing at the front door, the light of the foyer illuminating the porch steps. My mom was wearing a thin robe, clearly just up from her evening “power nap”, and waving at me to come inside.
“You’ve been staring at that house for five minutes,” she reprimanded. “Get in here and eat, your father’s gonna chew through the table if he has to wait any longer.”
I hit the end button on my phone and began to jog towards the house. My nose started running as my breath came out thick and heavy in the chilly autumn air, my sneakers crunching against fallen leaves on the sidewalk. When I was about two blocks away, I felt a strange sensation and looked back. I froze when I saw a woman at the side window of the Moreland House staring at me. She was tall, bony, and pale with silvery gray hair that glinted in the moonlight. I wasn’t very close, but I could have sworn I saw the corner of her mouth twist up into a smirk.
What the –?
“Megan!” My father bellowed, and I spun towards him. “Come on, I’m hungry!” I took a step closer to my house then looked back, but the woman wasn’t there anymore.
“I think it’s adorable,” my mom said as her fork scraped against the dinner plate. We were all sitting on the dining room floor on sofa cushions – my parents were too busy and I was too lazy to move the table in – eating and chatting about the house. “Don’t you think so? It’s so close to Megan’s school and it’s a lot bigger than where we were before.”
My dad and I exchange a look across the table. “Babe, I think I speak on my and Meg’s behalf when I say that this house is almost exactly like the one we had before.”
My mom frowns and shakes her head. “No, no, this house has a better…I don’t know…a better vibe. It’s electrifying, it’s – ”
“Special!” My father and I shout at the same time. We’ve heard her say this more than once over the past couple weeks. My mother chuckles and shakes her head at us. “Oh, you two. Hush up and eat your food.”
It’s quiet for a few moments, then I choose to break the silence. “I didn’t know someone lived in that house down the hill,” I say while taking a swig of juice.
“No one lives there, kiddo,” my dad says quizzically.
“No one lives there,” he enunciates, mouth full of peas. “’S been empty for a long time.”
I frown and look out the window down the street where the Moreland House sat. At first mysterious and captivating, it now looked dark and unnerving.
* * *
And that’s how I got to be here, in front of the Moreland House at 1:30 in the morning. Honestly, I wished I was back in my warm bed and nowhere near this place; I snuck out once I was sure my parents were tucked away and knocked out. I don’t know what it was, curiosity I suppose, but I really wanted to find out what happened here – and who the heck was staring at me.
Looking up the stairs at the door, I couldn’t help but walk towards it. The red paint was peeling in waves and the rotted wooden planks of the porch creaked warningly beneath my weight.
As I stood there, I began to question whether or not this was a good idea. Sure it’d be fun to go inside, but it was still breaking and entering. Plus, if I got hurt no one would know…or my parents would yell at me and never let it go. But, then again, the kids at school would…oh, who cares what they think?
I turned around and walked briskly down the steps, stopped, and then returned to my previous stance in front of the door. You can do this, I thought to myself. No need to be scared. Just watch out for any creepy old women, dark figures, and….oh, boy.