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Haunted House

     Ever since I first saw it, I had a yearning to enter into its mysterious ruins. It was a pretty big two-story house with closed and barred windows and shutters. It had two big porches; one, the front, entered on by two locked doors. The back porch was roofless and the floor was paved with huge stones. At the corner of the porch that was closed in by two walls was a small but deep well covered by a huge stone. At one side of the porch, covering about a quarter of it, was a trap door, very securely bolted down. Through chinks in the wood of the trapdoor we could see that it led into the basement of the house. (Whenever I talk about "we" I mean two little friends of mine, George, age 11 and Danny, age 10, who were about as interested in the house as I was.) All over the windows of the lower floor were very heavy boards making entrance, I thought, practically impossible. On one side of the house was a huge field, on the other side was the house of two old people who owned and kept the house boarded up. On that side, only nailed shutters barred the windows. An old man who lived in the neighborhood told us that the house was once owned by an old woman who had one daughter. When the woman died, the daughter, out of love probably, ordered the house boarded up and said it was never to be disturbed. She later married a farmer and settled down next-door to keep watch on the house.
     Whenever we tried to nose around they always came out and chased us---remarkably agile for about 80 years of age. Sometimes they even got out a shotgun after us. Regardless of the risk of being caught, we managed, with a great deal of noise, to get the shutters loose on the window facing the couple?s house. Only one thing aided us---a large rose bush concealed the view of the window from the couple's house. After opening the shutters and finding the window broken, we decided to leave the house alone for about a week and let things cool down a bit before trying to enter. After much straw-drawing we found that I was to go in first, Georgie second, and Danny, glad of his position, to bring up the rear.
     The day finally came and, with butterflies in our stomachs, we crept around the corner into the shelter of the rosebush. We opened the window and, climbing onto a pile of bricks that was conveniently nearby, entered the inner sanctum. It was lighter but still spookier than I had expected. We entered into one of the living-rooms which opened out onto the front porch. The wallpaper hung off the ceiling in huge dirty strips, and an old-time small chandelier hung from the rather low ceiling. The furniture seemed to be all there---a chest of drawers and a very peculiar looking couch. A ladder was on the floor, stretching across the room. As I stood inside of the window and looked toward my right, I saw the mirror over the chest: it was big and square-framed, covered with the dust of years. Georgie was in the room now and as I looked at the mirror a certain chill came over me because it was so dirty and dusty that anything reflected in it became a blur. And in such surroundings a boy with a yellow shirt and light pants looks as much like a ghost as I would like to see. I let out a little squeak to release the tension inside of me. Georgie jumped two feet and in doing so stepped on some broken glass. It cracked loudly and Danny, who was almost inside the house now suddenly said the awful words, "Here comes the old man."
     I was torn between one of two things---to flee to the inside of the house and hide or to follow Georgie, who was outside the window already. But, of course, it seemed that the old man was much more desirable than the darkness of the doorways around me. I ran to the window and vaulted out to the pile of bricks just as the old man was coming around the side of the rosebush. As I said, he was remarkably fast on his feet and as I jumped from the bricks to the ground he made a lunge for me. I didn't see what happened, but I heard my friend's shout of "Run, run, run faster." As I ran I heard his heavy plodding footsteps behind me. I almost tripped and as I stretched my legs to keep my balance I ran faster than before. Then I could not run any longer and I stopped and turned around. He had stopped chasing me and was shaking his fist at me.
     The next day when we went there the shutters were covered with strong boards nailed to the wall. Our first attempt to gain entrance to the place was a failure. In a few days our anger at our defeat cooled and our curiosity grew until we had to go back again. This time we turned our attention to the opposite side of the house, away from the eyes of the daughter. But those windows looked securely barred and boarded---one having an iron piece holding two big planks in place over one window and the other window looked securely boarded with what looked like interlocking strips of thick wide wood. Entrance by the front was impossible also because the two windows were securely boarded and the two front doors were held in place, I saw when I went into the living room, by two boards wedged securely by nails and pieces of furniture to the door. Without exception, the downstairs windows and door were (I thought) impossible.
     But we found our way around the impossible. The window that I described before as being covered by interlocking strips of wood was our next ingress. We found that, by inserting our fingers at the projecting lower edge of one board, we could pull it out and as many as we wanted to after it. But there we stopped; the window was unbroken. We broke it with a loud crash and, hastily interlocking the slats, ran away for about a week until "the keepers?" suspicions cooled.
     Waiting a week, though, was impossible, so in two days our curiosities would let us tarry no longer, and we entered the house again. We had almost no fear of being caught. The keepers wouldn't see us enter, there was no house next door, and after entering we could put the slats back in place again. We went in and found that again this second room also opened onto the front porch. This room seemed better preserved than the other one I had seen: the wallpaper was all up and the floor wasn't littered with broken glass and junk (except for what we broke) like the other room. It looked lived in. There were two chairs in the room. They were old-fashioned and there were pillows on them. I looked at one pillow and was startled at its cleanness and beauty; on the satin pillow slip was sewn one of the most beautiful doilies I had ever seen. But we had to get on with our explorations. This room seemed unexciting, and we went into the next. This was very dark, for there was only one window---very securely boarded so as to let in no streak of light. Over to one side of the dark room was an opening. The interior was pitch black and we didn't even look in because we were terrified by the thought that possibly there might be some thing in there waiting to spring on us or scare us with his luminous eyes. Or that we would reach in and feel a human body there. We passed quickly through this unfurnished, though carpeted, room. The next was, presumably, the kitchen and opened onto the back porch. The door was securely padlocked from the inside and protected by a big plank of wood on the outside. A huge table littered with junk took up half the room. On it were two very, very beautiful paintings (maybe in oil)---one of a summer scene and the other a very striking head of Christ on the Cross. Off to one side of the kitchen was a small dark room, the pantry. We passed again into the room that we had seen first, having traveled in a circle. During our travels we came to one door, and we imagined this led either upstairs or downstairs. On opening the door we were surprised to find the upstairs flooded with light---probably coming from the windows I knew were barred. Georgie shakily volunteered the idea that the "keepers" were up there waiting for us with a flashlight on to give us courage to go up. We were so frightened by that idea and the dark and quiet and mustiness so wore our nerves that without further ado we rushed out of the house and ran practically all the way home.
     The next day when we went back we found the boards were up as we had put them. But when we tried to loosen the broken slats we found that they were now nailed shut. Maybe the "keepers" really had been upstairs waiting for us. We went away discouraged and wanted to go back again soon and find another way into the house, and especially to explore the upstairs and the dark hallway, which we took to be the stairs going down, as no other stairs were to be seen. But that "soon" never happened.
     After that, winter came and went---it was summer vacation again but with hardly a thought about the haunted house, except in passing, and no thought of entering.
     Summer, fall, winter and spring passed and then the house entered into our minds once more. One spring day I had to go to the hardware store and, on returning, Georgie, who went with me, suddenly asked if we could go to the haunted house. Then all the memories and curiosity of former years came back to me. We took a shortcut around the keepers? home and walked up the small slope to the back porch. When our eyes got on the level of the porch we saw a small opening at the foundation of the house. We got closer and found to our great joy that the trapdoor on the back porch was open. From the level of the porch to the basement was a flight of hand-hewn stone stairs. We both stood there, as Georgie said later, with staring eyes and opened mouths. We descended the stairs and found ourselves in the most awful-looking basement I had ever seen outside of a horror movie. The roof was low---my five feet, eleven just touching the very old, very yellow, very decayed, very soft timbers running along the ceiling, holding up the floor above. They were termite-eaten---we could dig our fingernails in and pull out a good-sized piece of powdery wool. The walls of rocks also looked hand-hewn and were held together by what looked like dirty clay. The floor was simply earth littered with indescribable piles of junk and cases of some kind of canned goods, homemade. We grunted and tried to twist the lids off, but to no use. When we finally broke the jars, some sort of squashed berries or grapes oozed out all over the ground. No mold or rotten odor rose at all. On one wall was a very rickety stairway, going up. The handrail was broken in two and one step was missing and one other step was hanging precariously on two nails. We clambered up the stairs and found ourselves in the kitchen.
     Neither of us could see how we had missed seeing this basement door in our former visit but, nevertheless, there it was. We retraced our steps through the cob-webbed, earth-smelling, dreary basement and went home after agreeing to meet each other there the next afternoon.
     The next day we met and entered. Standing at the foot of the stairs again, Georgie suddenly got scared. The kitchen above was very dimly lit, and Georgie didn't want to go up. He said he was just scared of ghosts. I, on the contrary, wasn't scared of ghosts but scared only of the idea that I would get caught by the "keepers" in the house. Georgie wasn't afraid of that. So we agreed that Georgie would stand right outside the door to watch for the "keepers" while I went upstairs and explored the house and rooted out the "ghosts." As I started up, I caught sight of Georgie pacing back and forth like a sentry and whistling to himself. Up I went to the first floor, quickly passed through the comparatively familiar rooms and went straight to the stairs to the second floor. As I gently pulled open the door and looked upstairs again, I saw the strange light, more subdued, but still there. The steps were very steep and very narrow. I went up four steps and paused---that pause did it. At the head of the staircase was a window; there were three boards nailed vertically over it. There was a strong wind outside and the wind was blowing these boards in and out. They creaked and groaned, and as they blew in and out the chinks between the wood got larger and smaller, casting various rays of light around. I stood there as if paralyzed for about a minute and then turned back down the four steps and out of the house. The bright sunlight dazzled me after the duskiness of the house, but it also gave me confidence, and soon I was again ascending the stairs to the top floor. I counted as I went up. One, two, three, four, as high as before, I didn't glance up for fear of the window. Five, six, seven, eight, my eyes were on the level of the top floor. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, I was on the top floor. I took my eyes off my feet and looked around.
     I was in a small, square room, more of a hallway, at one side of the room was a doorway from which light was coming, on the other was a door opening onto a sort of a garret. Along the wall on which the stairs opened was a door opening into a pitch-black space, not unlike the one downstairs. The upper hallway was in the back of the house. I went to my left, where the light was coming in, and came into a rather large room, completely empty, onto which, at the far end, opened two more doors, from which the light was coming. These were the two front rooms of the upstairs. The rooms each had one wide-open window, the mysterious light coming from there. I went back to the hall, and, quickly passing the dark closet with the same terror as I had felt at the downstairs closet, went into the garret. All the other rooms were empty of any piece of furniture and were "clean" except for pieces of wallpaper hanging off of the ceiling---but the garret was absolutely filthy. Three chairs and an old table filled the room. The roof was sloping and had no paper or paint of any kind. The floorboards must have been just laid on because they shuffled and shook when I stepped on them. There were papers and dust all over the floor and furniture. At the far end of the room was a low window looking out over the keepers' house. I again passed by the darkness of the closet and went back outside, where Georgie was getting worried about my absence. I briefly explained where the mysterious light was coming from and added that I hadn't seen any ghosts or goblins.
     After a surprisingly little amount of my begging, he consented to go upstairs with me. When we got to the upstairs door, Georgie said I was to go up first, but when I had gone up four steps, Georgie hastily pushed me aside and ran up the stairs two at a time. He stood breathless at the top, wildly looking around. Afterward, he told me that he had started to feel scared again and had run up so he would not give himself time enough to turn back. I showed him the two rooms that faced the front. The one that was most nearly above the porch had a highboy or china closet on its side like a store counter in front of the window. There was a small chair and table that were free from any particle of dust or dirt. I rather imagined that the neighborhood kids had a club or meeting place up here.
     Then the first and only unexplained thing happened. We were still up in that room when a middle-aged, well-dressed woman came across the front lawn from the walk and went, as nearly as I could judge, onto the porch. She stayed there for a few moments and then went back toward the street, looking around to see if anyone was watching. At the same time I didn't have the presence of mind to see if she went into a car or just walked away, but when I did look out a second later, she was not to be seen.
     We explored the paper-filled garret and, finding nothing of value except one old thick German book, we turned our attention to the closet next to the stairs. But the inside was pitch black and no light was cast into it because of the boards across the window. After exploring the lit rooms and finding nothing, we went outside and home. I went over to Danny's house to tell him all the news.
     That evening Danny and I went over to the house only to find a gang of girls crowded around the downstairs stairway. The leader, Poochie, was a fat, black-haired girl. She asked us if we planned to go in. They said that the cops had just been there and had made them keep everyone out. Then they revealed the startling fact that the daughter's husband was dead, and that after he had died the neighborhood kids had broken open the trapdoor. The old woman, she said, was too old to chase after the kids all the time so she had just let us do what we wanted. Then she had started calling the police anytime she thought someone was in the house. Poochie said that the cops had come about five times already to kick them out. Crestfallen, we returned home. But the next day Danny called me and told me that he had a flashlight to explore the dark closets with. Not heeding the warnings of Poochie and her gang, we again entered the house.
     Danny, like Georgie, suddenly got scared looking up into the kitchen and, like Georgie, said he would stand guard outside. I gripped the small, pencil-like flashlight and climbed into the kitchen. I flashed on the light and briefly looked around the dark downstairs room. It was empty. I flashed the light into the closet. The door was open and swung back into the closet, which was situated right under the second floor stairs which made up its ceiling. There was nothing in back of the door but boards. The floor was bare and a few garments were hanging on hooks on the walls. They were falling apart and useless. Certain that nothing valuable or mysterious was left, I went outside to meet Danny.
     We both explored the downstairs closet again for Danny's benefit and then went upstairs to explore the last hidden room in the house---the upper closet. We flashed the light into the room. It was a sort of storeroom or closet, about six feet wide and fifteen feet long. At the back were two shelves, running the width of the room, with a clothes box on the lower one. On the floor were piles of colored cloth, bolts of ribbon, two flower baskets, a wringer, window shutters, broken cardboard boxes, books, hats, clothes, tons of scraps of cloth in neat bundles, patterns for doilies, doilies, lace, jewelry, pamphlets, and just plain junk. The first thing we went for was the clothes box on the shelf. We lifted the lid and found two thick, ornately bound books. Danny grabbed one book and I another and we ran into the front bedroom to get a look at them in the sunlight. A dedication was on the flyleaf of mine, but since it was in German I couldn't read it. The date of publication was 1853. I could make out one word on the title page---Testimenti---, that most probably meant Testament. I recognized the word Genesis, so I had the Old, and Danny had the New, Testament. Returning to the closet, we probed with sticks in the cloth on the floor and found some queer carved black jewelry. Onyx, I think they call it. Danny also found a round button of something made up of a spiral of rhinestones. Oh, I tell you, we had a mad time. We left the relatively cumbersome flashlight in the "rummage room" and simply went back to the closet, blindly reached out, and grabbed a goodly armful of assorted objects and, bumping our heads together and muttering something to the effect of "goody, goody, gumdrops" under our breath, ran to the lit room in the front of the house to find out what new and wonderful things we would find in our respective, but not respectable, loads. The woman (it must have been) certainly had been a seamstress, there were literally hundreds of patterns. Myriad conglomerations of scrolls, ellipses, and various improvements on the fleur-de-lis. There were also bolts of velvet, cotton, silk, satin, and cheesecloth and extremely thick filmy veilings. There was a very beautiful, probably handmade, black skirt or gown reminiscent of the Spanish senoritas of Mexico. Georgie found a pair of ridiculous, very powerful, bifocals with lenses that were almost as thick as they were wide. After sorting the junk into two piles, the plain junk and the fancy junk, we piled all the stuff that we thought we could have fun with into a big crate along with the Bibles.
     After stashing the books in a place in the basement where we were sure they would not be found, we gave the people of Akron a very strange parade of two very dirty boys carrying a very dirty apple crate filled with very, VERY dirty junk. We put the crate in a little space between a hedge and the side of my garage, where no one would find it. We removed the painting of the country scene we found in the kitchen, rolled it up, and hid it under a log in the field in back of my house. Then we forgot about our "swag" for about a week. During that week, it rained.
     We came back to find most of the rotten cloth ruined by the rain, and some of the jewelry had peeled off their thin-painted shells to show their very prosaic glass innards. A week later we went back to the house, but, sad to say, it had lost its charm. It had also lost its two Bibles.
     A year of maturing passed, and even when the hedge was cut down, revealing the long-forgotten treasure, it was burned with very little ceremony, and the fleeting thought of the "haunted" house brought with it no urge to return. The same day Danny (who hadn't been told of the loot) and I couldn't find the painting hidden under the log. Either someone had found and taken it, which I doubt, or the weather had simply decomposed it.
     The next year, my junior year, was spent in California, obviating any thought of the house. George moved away during my senior year, and it was not until I was a freshman in college that both Danny?s and my curiosity nudged us into returning to the house.
     What a time for revisiting! The house was being torn down. The roof was gone, and the second-floor bracing jutting into the afternoon only served to make it look all the older and more dejected. A final roam through the site of so many childhood memories was very disheartening, and we left.
     Now that I am a junior, things of childhood are behind. All that is left of the house is a gaping hole in the ground, overgrown with weeds, filled with ashes and dirt and empty cans, a playground for another generation of neighborhood kids, who, I feel, will never capture the mystery of the "haunted" house, which once stood, quite proudly, on the lot.