Charlie couldn’t sit still.
The last hour or so was a total blur to him. As he sat at a desk in the back of the precinct house, he felt a growing sense of dread at how quickly the situation had slipped out of his control. Officer Michaels, as the cops turned out to be, had picked him up, charged him with misdemeanor trespass, and finally left the room after making him tell his story several times. So confounded he had been by events, that he had told everything without a thought of what kind of reaction he would receive, and now he stubbornly stuck to his story because the alternative would be to admit it was all some kind of prank.
No matter how hard he tried, he had been unable to convince Officer Michaels to actually search the house, instead just taking their names and threatening to call Dan’s family.
And Charlie knew that if he couldn’t get them to start taking him seriously, no one ever would search the house. He kept trying to pull himself together, but his thoughts kept circling back to how easily he had let Dan go.
And what would they do when Dan doesn’t come back? Would they suspect me of foul play? Then again, this was my idea... He was certain that Dan’s chances were getting slimmer by the second, and he was stuck here doing absolutely nothing.
Charlie’s morbid cycle of guilty thoughts was interrupted as a new figure walked in. Unlike the cop who spoke with him earlier, this man was dressed in plain clothes, and held a folder in his hand. He shut the door and sat down across the table from Charlie.
“Look, about my story,” said Charlie, “If you’d just search the house—”
“We don’t have much time,” the man told him. “You don’t know how much trouble you’re in. When your friend doesn’t turn up, they’re going to start looking at you. And with the story you’ve told, it’s going to be an open-and-shut case. Now, what were you doing in that house?”
“Why should I tell you?” Charlie demanded. “Nobody’s gonna take me seriously.”
“You’re related to Don and Bev’s family, aren’t you?” he asked.
At first, Charlie didn’t know what to say. Finally, he asked, “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I take you seriously,” the man replied. “I’m afraid I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Detective Greg Nelson. Grandson of Abraham Nelson.”
“Old Man Nelson…” Charlie thought aloud.
“For now, I’ve convinced the police that you were just snooping in that abandoned house,” Detective Nelson continued briskly, “but even if they search for Dan, we both know they’ll never find him.”
“But if you know about the attic,” Charlie asked, “Why didn’t anyone ever investigate it?”
“For the same reason that no one ever searches in there,” Nelson replied. “They refuse to see it. The only reason why I believe it is because Tom Henderson left his car out in front and his ghetto-blaster in upstairs room. I believe he was tired of his college debts, so he decided to go antique-hunting and got lost. I think you know what I mean. Come on. Without a ‘rational explanation’ they’re going to try to pin this on you.”
Charlie didn’t need to be told twice. He let Detective Nelson ‘escort’ him out the door as fast as he could.
* * * *
Becky was sitting on her bed, thinking, when it happened.
Ordinarily, she would be chatting on the phone with her friends or reading a book. Or something. But now all she could do was think.
She sat on the bed, right next to the window. Which she had opened all the way because it was always so chilly in her room. Sometimes, even in the summer, she had to wear a sweatshirt in here.
She was thinking, mostly about how her closet seemed to be a whole lot bigger lately, and her wardrobe much more diverse. She was quite certain that there never used to be a corner in there. She was mostly thinking about whether or not she should go in and actually look around that corner, afraid of what she might find.
In fact, she was just about to go over to the closet, telling herself that this time she wasn’t going to lose her nerve at the last second—
When the door flew open and a young man staggered across the floor, screaming wildly. A young boy dashed along behind him. The young man ran into the wall, turned around, and scrambled back to the door, shutting it soundly and leaning against it, breathing hard.
Becky cried out in surprise, scrambling backwards. She would have fallen right out the open window if she hadn’t hit her head on the top of the window frame. Instead, she caught herself, cursing and completely forgetting her unexpected guests for a moment as she staggered to her feet.
“Where are we?” the boy asked, shoving his large glasses back up his nose.
“Who are you?” Becky demanded, the boy’s words bringing her back to the here and now. “What the hell are you doing in my closet?”
* * * *
Detective Nelson pulled up in front of the house. Neither of them were surprised to see Dan’s car was still parked down the road. Charlie had been secretly hoping he had made it out. Now he felt even worse for his friend.
On the way, Nelson had let him look in the folder he brought with him. The detective had explained that he had never liked the house, and that the fact that it hadn’t sold for years and became so neglected gave him the perfect excuse two years ago to have the house boarded up. He had said it was becoming a hangout for drifters and hobos, though there was scarcely any trace of their presence in there. “Apparently,” Nelson remarked, “even they don’t like that place.”
He said he secretly hoped the house would be torn down in the near future, before anyone else could disappear in it. The police didn’t like the house either, because of all of the unsolved cases connected to it. It seemed that every time the rumors finally died down, someone else disappeared. “I’m warning you, Charlie,” Nelson had told him, “if we fail, they just might railroad you for Dan’s disappearance. They’re scared, and they’ll want this case wrapped up as nicely as possible.”
Detective Nelson had also managed to get Charlie’s gear back, and now they stood before the house. In the shadow of the late afternoon sun, the place looked even more intimidating. Its unbarred door just seemed to be daring them to enter.
Though spoken timidly, the child’s voice made both of them jump.
“Are you guys going in there?” the little boy asked. He was short and skinny, and held a flashlight in one hand.
“Yeah,” Charlie answered, though he had a sneaking suspicion about this kid. “You live in the house next door, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh,” the boy replied.
“I thought I saw somebody up there earlier, but I wasn’t sure.” Charlie then asked him, “Did you call the cops?”
“Uh-huh,” the boy replied. “I saw you were going in there, and I had to do something.”
“You know something about his house?” Nelson asked.
“Uh-huh,” the boy replied.
“What’s your name?” Nelson demanded.
“Josh,” he replied, then added, “Smith. And if you’re going in there, I’m going with you.”
“No you’re not,” Nelson told him. “Go back home. This is no place for a kid.”
“I have to go,” Josh told him. “My friend’s in there.”
“Who?” Charlie asked.
“His name’s Barry, and I think he’s locked in the closet.”
“Barry Kelly?” Nelson asked, his face unable to decide whether it should turn green or white. Barry had not officially been declared missing yet, but he knew the Kelly family had already started putting up posters. “What was he doing in there?”
“We had a secret club,” Josh replied, looking more nervous by the moment. “Me and Barry and Angie and Vaughn, and some other girl Angie brought. Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
“What did you do in there?” Charlie asked.
“We put up a couple posters,” Josh told him, “ ’cause Barry said it made the door look friendlier or something. But we just went up there and drank pop and talked about stuff. See, it was so hot outside, but it’s really cool in that room, no matter how hot it is outside...”
“We know,” said Nelson. “But why do you think he’s in there?”
“ ’Cause Vaughn dared him to go,” said Josh. “He chickened out when we were there, but I think he went back ’cause Vaughn made fun of him.”
“Look,” Detective Nelson told him, “Charlie and I, we’re going in. We’re going to find your friend.” (Though secretly he doubted that.) “We’re going to find out what’s going on in there once and for all. But you’re going to stay outside. Now go home, Josh. You’ve done your part. Now it’s our turn.”
Josh looked like he was going to protest, then turned and walked back toward the house. They made sure that Josh went all the way inside before turning back to the house.
Charlie wanted to back out, to tell Nelson that this was his job, but he knew he couldn’t. As much as he dreaded going back in, he knew he could never live with himself unless he did everything he could for Dan.
“I’m coming...” he said to no one in particular. “Hold on...”
* * * *
Dan sat on Becky’s bed, Barry next to him.
Now that everyone had calmed down, Dan and Barry were explaining what they were doing in her closet.
“…Then I heard these thumping noises,” Barry told them, “like something was being dragged across the floor. It was horrible. It was like I was being chased by something I couldn’t see.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Becky. “You went into an attic in some other town, and you came out in my closet?”
“Yeah, that’s about it,” Dan told her.
“So what happened?” Becky could hardly believe this was happening. Mostly because it confirmed everything she feared. She had been looking for her little brother for the last two days, and the one place she hadn’t looked was starting to seem more and more like the one place he could have gone.
“I thought about hiding,” Barry continued, “but I couldn’t see anyplace good. I was afraid of the furniture. I didn’t trust it.”
“So how did you meet Dan?” Becky asked.
“Before I met him, I found a door,” Barry told them. “It was partway open, so I went in and shut the door behind me. I don’t know how I got there, but I was in some old house. I looked out the window, and I saw it was out on the plains. There was nothing around for miles.”
“Was anyone there?” Dan was starting to get an idea of how this worked.
“Nope,” said Barry. “There was no food or anything, either. After a while, it was getting dark, and I was afraid to stay in that old house. I knew I couldn’t get very far in the middle of nowhere, so I finally decided to go back in and try to find my way back.
“This time, nothing chased me, so I looked in this cabinet. Only inside there was this little boy curled up... at least, it looked like a little boy, but it was all shriveled up and... I think he was dead...”
“No wonder you were freaked out!” Dan remembered when they crashed into each other in there. “I also saw skeletons.”
“Wait!” Becky blurted, trying to control herself. Her heart was pounding hard, but she fought it down. She had to know. “Did the boy have a Star Wars cap?”
Barry thought hard, digging through his memory. That had been the most frightening moment of his life, and the details of the body did not come easy. Finally, he told her, “Yes. He had on a Star Wars hat. I don’t ever want to see that again…”
“Joe. No…” she breathed.
Becky sat for a long moment in silence. She fought back the tears as rational explanations came crashing down around her. This can’t be… this just can’t be… She had been suspicious of her recently expanded closet for the last two days, for this mysterious change had coincided with her little brother’s disappearance.
But she had been too scared to go in, relying exclusively on the clothes from her drawer and all over the floor. The door had a temperamental lock mechanism, and she had always propped the door open before venturing into the walk-in closet. Whose size the realtor seemed to have greatly underestimated when describing the house to her parents. And seemed to have gotten even bigger after her brother vanished…
“You okay?” Dan asked.
“We’re going in,” Becky announced, standing up straight. She had made up her mind. “You guys can wimp out if you want, but that thing ate my little brother, and I’m going to make it pay.”
[Reviews - 0]
Table of Contents
- Text Size +
Chapter notes: the aftermath
Chapter end notes: -February 12–3, 2002
A continuation of "The House"— what originally ended up being a four-part series with the cheesy titles "Additions", "Division", "Multiplication" and "Subtraction". Each part got weaker and weaker, much like horror movie sequels. As such, it’s rare for me to ever go beyond the second story— quit while you’re ahead, and all that jazz— but since there has been a recent demand for "the rest of the story" I've decided to give it a shot, and let my readers decide for themselves.