There was an old house that sat on the top of a hill in my hometown. The window frames were green, or they looked green, and the wooden slats that comprised the walls were a dingy white that faded and became dirty and scummy over the years. It was, at one time, a beautiful home but turned ugly all these years later.
No one ever went to the house. Kids never did because it was scary, and adults stayed away because no one lived there. Windows were broken, wood was rotted, and if you did happen to get close enough there was a smell that mixed between a dank warehouse and dead mice.
My friend, Jimmie, and I sat down at the bottom of the hill from the house. We speculated on why no one lived there. As kids we bounced ideas around of how it could be haunted, or how many people died there. No one lived there in our lifetimes – Jimmie’s and mine. Of course, at that time, we were only 9 years old, but it looked like many lifetimes since someone occupied it.
The most well-known and repeated story was about the young red-haired lady that set herself on fire. Some people passing by at night said that they saw the formation of a woman in the first floor window, others said the second floor window, and even others said the attic window. That piqued our curiosity. Which window was she in? Did she stand in the window while burning? Did she set herself on fire while standing in the window? Or, did she strike the match in the window?
“Let’s check it out, Jimmie.” I said.
Jimmie had the most intense look of fear in his eyes. He said, “NO.” but the way he said it made that little two-letter word fly out of his mouth for over a minute. It was like, “Nooooooooooooo.” He was going to be tough to convince, so I called him the standard names for those who were afraid to explore a haunted house: scaredy cat, chicken, wimp, and wuss were the names I kept saying until he finally gave in.
Walking up the hill, I felt lightheaded. I don’t know if it was because I was afraid or because I was breaking a long-standing taboo. I remembered all of the reasons why we were told for years to stay away: the house might collapse, it’s someone else’s property, you can’t go into a stranger’s house, and last, it might be haunted.
Jimmie walked behind me and walked much slower. I turned around to look where he was, and he only took three steps up the hill from where we were sitting.
“Come on,” I said. But Jimmie still had that scared look in his eyes like he had a premonition.
“Why are you so afraid?’’
“Something bad is going to happen. And when I get scared I pee. I don’t want to pee all over myself.’’ Jimmie said.
We were both scared. It wasn’t an incredibly long walk to reach the house, but it felt longer than it should have taken us to get there.
There was a cracked, concrete walkway around one side of the house that led to the steps and front porch. After waiting for Jimmie to catch up, we stood there, both hoping the other would say, “I don’t want to go in.”
I asked Jimmie if he was still scared. He told me, “No,” but his eyes still gave him away. My stomach turned like I was sitting in the principal’s office at school, waiting to get yelled at for throwing rocks at recess.
“Are you ready?”
Jimmy responded with a shaky, “Yes.”
I stepped up on the first step to the porch and felt a little easier, not so sickly, like the butterflies flew away somewhere. After that first step, I thought it would get easier, but it didn’t. Upon hitting the second step with the sole of my sneaker, I broke right through the plank and my whole foot was stuck up to my ankle. I tried to lean out of the hole and wriggled my foot as I did so, but was still stuck. Jimmie gave my shin and calf a bear hug tight enough to cut off circulation. As he pulled, I kept wiggling my foot. Both of us were grunting as we pulled, sounding like two dogs in heat, and in a quick slip, my foot finally came out of the new hole in one step. In the process, our momentum took both of us tumbling down to the crumbled sidewalk.
We started again, testing the wood on every step after the first by putting a gradual amount of weight until we were confident that we could stand upright. When we got to the front door, we found that we couldn’t turn the knob to enter; it was corroded with rust. After pushing with just our hands and not having success, we threw our shoulders into the door at the same time.
I counted to three, then we lunged into the door. It gave quickly and we both fell into the house, kicking up enough dust to make us both start coughing.
We sat up, looking at each other. “Not so scary, right?’’ I said to Jimmie.
Jimmie didn’t say anything. He shook his head, and he didn’t look as scared as he did before.
We looked around the room from where we sat. It was old-looking and dusty and almost empty. There was an old chair with only three legs: the forth was lying on the floor about four feet away near the middle of the room. I could see that the chair was once white but had turned yellow over the years and it had a darker design that, from where I was sitting, looked like red or purple splotches. An old table stood opposite from the front door. It had drawers and a bulky top with skinny legs. We walked across the room, stood at the table and ran our fingers over its top, picking up a layer of dust as our fingers glided across it.
We walked into all three rooms on the first floor. Being a big house, all three rooms were big, and the wooden planks that made up the floor were all curled up on the ends, making them look like stationary waves.
Everything we did, wherever we stepped, Jimmie was right behind me. We were both scared, which is why we stayed so close to each other, just in case something happened. Yes, we were told stories all of our short lives that the house was haunted, and we expected something to happen.
The second floor was even scarier to us. We both looked at each other again before going upstairs. We walked slowly, and each step creaked as we placed a foot on it. Seventeen steps to the top floor of this house, and four bedrooms. The doors to each bedroom were closed so we accepted our task of opening each one, and at a slow pace. The first room was empty and so was its closet. We felt the breeze from outside blowing through the broken window.
The second door we opened just as cautiously. This one had a canopy bed with no sheets on it. We walked past the bed to the window to look outside. Jimmie and I heard a noise but were afraid to turn around. We turned our heads just enough to look at each other, but Jimmie had an even more fearful look in his eyes, was about to cry. We heard the noise again, and Jimmie screamed. He ran and I followed, but soon noticed it was a mouse scurrying under the bed. I tackled Jimmie and we both hit the floor right outside the doorway. Jimmie was crying, and I told him to stop.
“It was a mouse. I saw it,” I told him.
He wiped his eyes, took a deep breath, and said,“ Let’s get out of this place.’’
Then the look on his face changed abruptly. He wasn’t looking at me, but beyond me, over my shoulder then right over my head. The tears streamed, poured was more like it, from his eyes and his mouth hung open like he was in shock. He yanked his arms from my grip on them and he crawled backwards on his hands and legs, belly-up, crying hysterically.
I was afraid to turn, but did so slowly. In my peripheral vision, I saw what scared Jimmie, and when I turned my head completely, I screamed. It was the red-haired lady floating above me. She had mean-looking eyes, like she wanted to kill us and she was trying to talk. Her lips moved but no words came out, and she was holding a candle.
I was on my back. I kicked my legs to back up but I wasn’t moving. The red-haired ghost floated right above me, and she put her face right up to mine. I couldn’t yell for help, I couldn’t move from under her; I was frozen scared; the only thing I could do was moan, “Wwwwaaauuughhhh.’’ She floated closer and closer to me, and she screamed at me but no words came out.
I felt Jimmie’s hands grab my shirt by the shoulders, and he pulled me back. “Get up,’’ he screamed and ran. I ran as fast as I could to get out of that house. We never stopped running until we made it down to the bottom of the hill.
We both looked back at the house, didn’t see the red-haired lady in the windows, and promised each other to never go in there again. Neither Jimmie nor I told anyone about what we saw in that house. And we’re the only two people who can say that it is haunted.