Posted by: Matt Y | 06/16/2015

This Old House

Here’s a short story of mine-

This Old House

Even before Old Man Johnson passed away Wade and the other neighborhood children had whispered different tales and stories about the wizened old man who lived on 3627 Fairmont St.

Among the most popular tales told was how he was a sorcerer who turned children into rats and then made them run around in mazes that there was no escape from. Others said he was an alien who was dressed up in human skin to study people and kept his spaceship in the basement. In one Wade himself had started the man was a vampirish ghoul who was the direct descendant of none other than Vlad the Impaler.

If the old man knew that he was a central figure of twisted lore in the young minds of his neighbors he didn’t acknowledge it. He spent most of his days working on his house and garden, chasing off any child who strayed into his yard and yelling at anyone who knocked a Frisbee or dropped a kite onto his property or anything that might threaten the immaculate paint job of his house. It was an accepted fact that if a ball crossed into his yard it was considered gone forever.

Then one day shortly after Wade had turned eight an ambulance showed up and paramedics disappeared into his house. Shortly after they reappeared with Old Man Johnson who was carted out past his well-tended house and through his beloved landscaping on a stretcher with a sheet covering him.

That didn’t slow down the tales about the man or the house that stood vacant. No one understood why the house stayed empty, Wade asked his dad once and was told that it had to do something with the economy and said it was a shame to see such a well-kept house fall into disrepair.

Fall into disrepair it did. By the time Wade was ten the roof sagged, the intentional landscaping was now an anarchy of weeds and garbage that had blown into the yard. The paint was now cracked and faded, with window sills that drooped and were dark like the skin under tired eyes.

If anything the house without an owner grew in infamy more so than it had when Old Man Johnson had lived there. Kids in the surrounding area called it the Witch House and blamed it for everything from runaway pets disappearing to kids falling sick. In school Wade had heard of a girl getting the chicken pox after sticking her tongue out at the house when she had walked past it. For the kids like Wade that had grown up on the block it was never the Witch House, it would always be Old Man Johnson’s house to them.

As the years passed from when the old man had been carried out on a stretcher the boys in the neighborhood began to dare each other to do things that they never would have considered when he had been alive. At first it was small stuff like stomping on some roses that had once been in orderly bushes and now had grown into wild thorny clumps. As they grew bolder so did the dares that were shared between the boys. Derek dared Randy to tip the cement bird feeder over. Randy dared Wade to run up and slap the house. Derek told them that just touching the house was nothing special and later picked up a rock and chucked it through a window.

The moment the glass shattered the boys took off running feeling a mix of fear and adrenaline the left them catching their breath a block later while they excitedly relived the moment. They all got a stern lecture from parents who suspected the boys involvement in breaking the window, but no one ratted or admitted guilt so no punishment was handed out other than a warning from their various parents to stay away from that house.

Being told to stay away only made the house even more interesting to them. One day when
Wade and Derek were hanging out together Derek told Wade he had gone right up to the back door of the house and looked through the little window that was set in the door. He said that he could see down stairs that led to a basement, and that at the bottom of those stairs was a pile of baseballs, tennis balls, kites and other paraphernalia that had crossed into the old man’s yard over the years and considered lost forever.

He mentioned he tried to see if he could pry open one of the basement windows with his pocketknife but had slipped and cut himself. He proudly displayed the wounded hand to Wade which indeed had a wicked looking gash that had was scabbed over. Derek told Wade he was going to try to go down there again, this time with a crowbar he had snuck out of his dad’s toolbox and wanted Wade to come with.

Wade hesitated to reply, breaking into a house was serious business and yet he imagined the looks of awe from kids at school if he could come out of the Witch House with the treasure of lost items. Derek sensing the hesitation said that he didn’t need to go if he was too chicken to do so. That made up Wade’s mind, being branded a chicken was nothing any young boy wanted.

So he agreed and later that same afternoon they met up behind Old Man Johnson’s house. Derek stood in the back yard waiting for him with the crowbar in one hand and a long handled flashlight in the other which he used to motion Wade over to the basement window, a small rectangle of wood and glass set in a short window well that was filled with overgrown weeds.

“I cut myself right here.” Derek said pointing to the upper left corner of the window. Wade couldn’t see what he was trying to point out, there was no blood or scrapes along the edge of the window, if anything the frame looked in better repair that most of the of the house. He noticed Derek looking at it strangely as well and wondered if maybe Derek had been making the whole thing up.

There was no turning back now however as Derek fit the narrow end of the crowbar between the window and frame and pushed. The window stuck for only a second and then popped out
with a small crack that made both boys jump.

“That was easy, I barely pushed on it.” Derek said.

Wade shrugged. “It’s an old house, we’re lucky it didn’t shatter.”

Derek leaned into the newly create hole shined the flashlight down into it, then said.

“It’s dark, but the floor looks clear. You go in first.”

“No way, you go in first.” Wade replied.

“I can’t I gotta hold the flashlight so you can see where you are landing.”

“Then I’ll hold the flashlight.”

“It’s my flashlight!” Derek said.

Wade had no counter argument for that, only wished he had thought about bringing a flashlight. He took a look around the backyard and briefly thought about going home before pushing that thought away. Instead he went over to the hole and turned so that he crawl backwards into the portal feet first. Derek tried to keep the beam of the flashlight pointed into the basement but mostly succeeded in shining it in Wade’s eyes. Wade dangled from the corner of the window frame for a moment feeling nothing under his feet, then he let go and dropped. While the fall wasn’t far it was enough to send a jolt up his legs and make him clench his teeth.

Wade whispered up to Derek to drop the flashlight in, which he did, and while Derek squirmed back through the hole Wade swept the light over the basement. The light reflected off of exposed metal pipes that crisscrossed above his head. He wondered that the abandoned house was nearly free of the spider webs and bugs that were in the basement of his house. Before he could think too long on the subject the flashlight moved over where stairs met basement in front of them and sure enough Derek had been right, a pile of forgotten playthings lay there waiting to be reclaimed.

Wade heard the grunt and impact of Derek’s feet hitting the floor behind him. Excited he shook Derek’s shoulder and pointed at the pile.

“I think that’s my old kite.” Wade said, still whispering.

Derek smiled widely mirroring the victorious grin on Wade’s face. They both knew they were doing something bad and yet that only added to the adventure of it all. Then Derek’s grin disappeared and his eyes grew wide and focused on something past Wade’s shoulder.

“Did you hear that?” Derek asked.

Wade spun around, listened and heard nothing. He waited for Derek to laugh and tell him that he really got Wade good, but then he did hear something. A wet, raspy sound from their right and deeper into the shadows of the basement. He pointed the flashlight in that direction. The beam of light cut through the shadows nearby but failed to pierce the dark further away.

Heart pounding in his throat Wade took a few hesitant steps further, scared but determined to see what was making that sound. He didn’t want to run if it was something like a mouse making that noise.

“Don’t.” Derek said in a tense whisper behind him.

Wade kept shuffling forward.

The light revealed a shape leaning against the far wall and from where he was Wade could tell it was no mouse, there was a man down here in the dark up against the wall. Guilt flooded him, this must be someone new who moved in and they had broken into his house. They were caught and he was going to get in trouble when his parents found out.

He shuffled one more step and the flashlight illuminated more of the man and saw that he wasn’t leaning on the wall as much as he was stuck to it by strands of wire and strings that shone wet and red in the beam of light. The man’s head turned towards him and froze Wade in place, while the shadows didn’t allow him to see the man clearly it was well enough for him to recognize enough of the face to know it was that same person who had yelled at him for years for daring to step on his lawn, it was Old Man Johnson.

Fear froze him in place like a statue. It couldn’t be Old Man Johnson, he was dead. Wade’s parents had sat him down on the same day that the paramedics had come and explained to him what that meant and none of their explanations included the scene set before him. A yelp beside him let Wade know that Derek had walked up beside him and had come to the same conclusion.

“Dirty boys. Breaking into my home.” Said the man and if there was any doubt that the light was playing tricks on them the voice was enough to confirm his identity.

Old Man Johnson moved more and the boys heard the sound of the cords attaching him to the wall snapping free. Wade didn’t know what would happen when he was free from the wall and frankly didn’t want to stick around to find out. He looked around and saw the window frame where they had entered was too far off of the ground for either of them to reach. The stairs however were right there and led up to the back door and away.

He grabbed Derek by the shirt and pulled him towards the stairs, shaking him out of his own paralyzed state. They fled with Wade getting to the stairs first and starting up them.

Behind him he heard a crash and saw that Wade had tripped over some of the items they had come to rescue from the basement and had fallen. In a second that felt like it lasted much, much longer, Wade saw his fallen friend and was torn between fleeing and helping Derek. Then he ran down the few steps and helped Derek to his feet and was unable to stop himself from looking into the basement for Old Man Johnson.

He could only see a silhouette of the man and that was enough to reveal that he was free of the wall and had crossed half of the basement already. The old man wasn’t rushing at them and instead was advancing towards them in a series of jerks and fits.

Then Derek was up and they together frantically climbed the stairs to the backdoor. Once there Derek turned the handle and pulled and nothing happened. Wade pushed him aside and tried as well only the door wouldn’t budge.

By now Old Man Johnson was at the base of the stairs and beginning to climb up.
There was a short set of stairs next to the boys that led up into a kitchen, giving up on the back door they ran that way. The kitchen was the type that had two openings, one into a dining room and one that opened into what looked like a hallway. They headed towards the hall and suddenly the door separating the rooms swung shut. They both pushed on the door with no result, Derek stopped and ran towards the dining room only to have a door swing shut there as well.

A dry chuckle came from the stairway as Old Man Johnson stepped into the kitchen followed by the smell of rotted meat and the roses. The dusk tinted sunlight that came in through the window was much brighter than the basement and Wade was able to see the man clearly for the first time and was struck by the gruesome sight. Old Man Johnson was barely a man at all, his body was a patchwork quilt of lumber, plaster, rose thorns, wires and nails held together by ropes of exposed muscle and the hides of different animals. His mind recognized the fur from rats and cats and dogs and crazily thought that the kids who claimed that this house was responsible for the disappearance of stray animals were right after all.

Old Man Johnson’s head was the worst of all, it was somehow recognizable as the deceased owner of the house only as if assembled by a sculpture with a taste for the devious and who could only use the left over materials from a construction site. Part wood, plaster and insulation made up the skull and from one eye socket a cat’s eye gleamed, from the other was an orb of crushed glass. Wade thought it was the most horrifying thing he had ever
seen, and then it smiled at the two of them which made it even more terrifying to behold.

“Not a pretty sight, am I boys?” The thing that looked like Old Man Johnson said. “I rebuilt this old house by myself, poured blood and sweat and tears into the foundation and walls. It wouldn’t let me die. Instead it tried to repay the favor. However it didn’t have the best materials to work with did it? No. Not until now.”

Then it lurched towards Derek. Derek cried out and ducked under the arm that reached for him and for a second looked like he might get past the creature. Then he slipped, only slightly but enough that the thing was able to grab him and lift him as though it was going to give him a hug. The arms pulled tighter and then parts of its body broke free and pierced through the body of the boy in a dozen different places. Wade screamed as blood stains spread over Derek’s clothes and dripped to the floor. Only a few drops fell and the the sound of someone trying to use a straw to suck up the last bit of milkshake from a cup filled the kitchen as Wade realized it was not just killing his friend, it was eating him as well.

Wade turned and pounded on the door behind him which to his surprise swung open. The house was somehow connected to Old Man Johnson and while he was distracted the doors no longer were stuck shut. Wade stumbled into the hall, looked to the left and saw the front door and ran to it, thinking of nothing aside from escaping the house.

Running so hard he actually ran into the door and bounced off and then got to his feet and reached for the doorknob. It was too late though. As he reached the locks engaged themselves, locking the door shut. He cried out and saw a window and decided right then that if that too was locked he was going to dive through it if he had to. When he took a step towards the window the floorboard beneath his foot shifted and broke, catching his leg between the broken pieces and shredding his pants leg. Wade fell awkwardly and felt something snap. He grabbed and tried to pull his leg out and felt a wave of pain that made the world spin for a second.

His leg was stuck and worse, he could hear the same sucking noise from the floor boards that held his leg as he had heard in the kitchen.

Old Man Johnson stepped into the hall and started walking towards Wade who whimpered from where he was on the floor. The old man had filled out more, muscle tissue glistened where there had been none before. The eye socket filled with crushed glass was gone, in its place was a blue eye he had seen before from across board games and sleepovers. Derek’s eye.

“You have to have the right materials to rebuild properly. Fresh materials.” Old Man Johnson said as he reached down towards Wade.


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