“Is this the place?”
The car pulled up close to the empty lawn of an abandoned house on Elmer Street. This was one of several houses acquired by the Keystone Bank in New Jersey. It was also one of the many abandoned houses in that desolate cul-de-sac, the forgotten extreme end of the state; a hollow mirage of the country’s fun-filled occupancy.
People believed this house was haunted.
“This is the place.”
“Not a very bright residence.”
The banker stared in disgust at the resident. He had never seen an apartment so dreary-looking. Knee-length grass from the lawn adorned the rusty metal gate at the entrance. One thing was clear: no one had lived here in long while. The building itself stood two stories tall, having twin window-shattered towers that overlooked the street.
It was half-past six, almost twilight. Already, one of them was super impatient; and it wasn’t the banker.
“See, this is a bad idea,” said the banker’s assistant, a small man with whiskers, who deliberately kept the engine running. “Let’s just head back to the bar; it’s karaoke night…”
But the banker, a burly man who acted on impulse rather than thought, waved away the suggestion. “If this house is haunted, I want to know. I can’t believe you even believe that bullshit about ghosts.”
“It’s no bullshit. I told you, last time I was here, I heard really strange noises;—the type of sounds you hear if you were stuck in a cave somewhere.”
The banker laughed. You’re an idiot, he confided in his assistant. He was going in regardless. It was his responsibility to prepare the bank’s newly purchased properties for construction—his job depended on it.
He stepped out of the car slowly, urging his assistant to do the same. Once out of the car, the banker surveyed the environment one last time. The building was a mess all right, but it wasn’t irreparable. At least he thought so.
Satisfied with the view, he turned to his assistant. But he couldn’t get a word out because his assistant shrieked suddenly.
“Did you see that?” he said, pointing with shaky fingers at the two towers.
The banker followed his assistant’s gaze. “See what?”
“Up there, at the tower.”
He stared again in that direction… and saw nothing. He shook his head.
“I swear,” said his partner, shaking like a leaf. “I swear to God, John, there was someone standing there, watching.”
John slammed the passenger seat door closed. “Let’s go Rob. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get home, kapeesh?”
And that was that. His assistant fell in line like a puppet and followed John, quietly, through the gate. John wasn’t a coward. His father was a war veteran who believed in two things: God and a gun. As his father used to say; Nothing was beyond the control of God; even if there was such a thing, it could always be resolved with a gun.
John, the banker touched his belt just in case. He kept a loaded magnum there for emergencies. No one, not his assistant, knew he carried a gun around. He was more than a banker; he was the fixer. To him, a haunted house meant nothing.
They broke open the gate’s rusty padlock; waded through the spiky grass and landed at the foot of the doorstep. A placard inscribed with strange writing dangled lightly from the doorknocker. The words were queer but the message was clear and simple: “Ghosts Live Here”.
John chuckled. The whole thing was a farce. “Ghosts write on planks now? Puh-lease.”
Rob preferred not to speak. The house terrified him; the story behind its abandonment even more. Ten years ago, a ghastly fire accident took the lives of a dozen homeless children. The fire was so great that it rendered the entire neighborhood inhabitable. The stories that followed this incident weren’t great either.
Sometimes people went in and never came out the same. No words could explain what went on within. Frankly, no one could accurately explain the situation, because who, in their right mind, would believe a ghost story? Definitely not John, who recoiled when the door swung open unaided, screeching a sonata.
John smirked. An empty living room with charred cobwebbed furniture, ceiling, and floorboard opened up before him. He saw no one.
“I thought Ghosts were discreet,” he joked. “But these don’t lock their doors?”
Entering the apartment just then, Rob rebuked his co-worker. “We shouldn’t speak so much in here.”
“Why not,” said John raising his voice a decibel higher. “There is no one but us—Jesus! What was that sound?”
A deep growl emanated suddenly from the upper room above them. But it wasn’t a familiar sound it sounded like it echoed from the heavens. Like the sound of ocean slapping against the hull of a ship but very vague as if from a distant world. Anyone would shudder at the sound of such sinister sound. But that wasn’t what startled John.
He heard his words trailing off in an otherworldly echo. Rob had heard it too, because he kept a foot out the entrance door, just in case. He pleaded for an exit but John refused. They were yet to see the upper floor. Failure to do so would have been a waste of gas, John thought.
However, the house wasn’t finished with them. A burst of sonorous laughter followed the echo. It sounded very much like a middle-aged lady trying to sing while her teeth scraped against the wood. This chilly voice came from the end of the room where a spiral stairwell connected both floors.
Again, no one was there.
It’s getting late, John remembered. The time was now past 7, the sun had long set, and the lights in the moonlight sky illuminated the ambiance below. Fear started to creep in. If I die, I die.
“Come on Rob, up the stairs now.”
“Because…” John said. “Well, I don’t know!”
Then they heard the laughter of children somewhere in the back. It’s the sort of laughter a group of children would give a teasing adult, but with a melancholy feel to it. Immediately, they turned swiftly to where the sound came from. Again, no one was there.
“We know you’re there,” said John approaching the staircase. “Come out now and we won’t press charges!”
The moon was out now in full force. The night sky blackened. Not much time was left until the loss of visibility. John knew he had to move fast if he was going to make it home in time for his wife’s dinner. So, he motivated Rob to come along and soon they began to climb the staircase.
Astonishingly, there was no single person on the upper floor or at the foot of the stairs. All they saw was a rat scuttling past.
“See?” said John gloating to Rob, a few feet away, “there’s no one there.”
It didn’t take long for John to bloat, because when he turned back to the staircase, a white cloak stood there, with slits for eyes, watching them intently. John had never seen anything so frightening before.
“Jesus Christ!” He said, reaching for his gun before shooting rapidly at the wraith-like monster.
The bullets did nothing. They went clean through the wraith-like hot knife through butter. The wraithlike figure bobbed its head once, twice; swayed its frame this way and that, like a salsa dancer before vanishing into thin air. John knew it was time to leave.
He and Rob ran for their lives, their hearts thumping madly in their chests. They tripped over the doorstep, tripped over the grass, and even stumbled comically at the metal gate. They arrived at the car in perfect condition and then watched for a moment to see if they were pursued.
Rob panicked. “You brought a gun? Are you mad?”
But John’s eyes were fixated on the towers where the wraithlike figure stood watching. And then it disappeared again.
They started the car and took off, never to be seen again down that alleyway. On the drive, John confided in his assistant. “This is a haunted house… it really is.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so,” said the frail man, wiping beaded sweat off his forehead with the back of his palm. He was as thin as a broom, with a beard heavier than his head. “That was really close. I could’ve died!”
“Were they cops?” his second asked. He was even thinner than the first, albeit bald.
Flicking on his flashlight, the frail man inspected himself and then surveyed the machine on the table at the center of the attic.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so. If that guy had been a better shot, I would be swimming in my own blood.”
The bald man, with the nose of a pig, came out of his hiding place in the dark. He too came around to inspect the machine.
“Wow! It’s destroyed.” He exclaimed.
The frail man nodded grimly, picking up the broken pieces of the machine. The bullets had made a clean connection, and all that was left of their precious holographic projector was an unrecognizable lens. The bald man offered to fix it.
“No,” said the frail man. “It’s irreparable I think.”
“But—but they’ll be back!”
The frail man looked out the window. “I suppose; with real cops this time. We’ve overstayed our welcome, I think.”
A series of curses, and then: “Back to the crack house, I guess?”
The frail man nodded. “I believe.” And then he tossed the machine to the corner where it crashed into dozens of other broken objects. “But it’s been a pleasure living in this temporary house of ours. Who would have thought a hologram would cause this much trouble?”
The bald man laughed; his teeth a myriad of colors. And then his expression changed because he remembered something queer. “Say, did you hear that sound before? It felt like children crying…”
The frail man shook his head. “I was too busy getting shot at, remember?”
“I thought, at first, that those men had brought some kids along. But then that’s ridiculous. It scared me though. It felt like a dozen children were crying out for help—I mean, we’ve only been here two days, but… do you really think ghosts live here?”
The frail man laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Ghosts aren’t real. Besides, we leave tomorrow. Probably best we get some early shuteye.”
And then they turned in for the night, sleeping on nothing but tattered rugs, using makeshift aprons as blankets. This was only their second night here, and already they felt at home. It hurt them plenty, knowing that they had to return to the crack house the next day. The thought was so heavy on their minds that they soon fell asleep.
It was a very short sleep, not one they enjoyed too well because very soon they woke up to the sounds…of children crying.