Sara makes a cup of chamomile tea and nestles under her down comforter. Ensconced by the glow of her reading lamp, she opens her volume of collected ghost stories and settles in for the night.
Her parents had taken her younger brother and sister away for a weekend getaway, but she opted to stay behind, preferring some much needed peace and quiet. She is an unusual seventeen year old, valuing her time alone with a good book over the typical high school party taking place just a few blocks away.
She studies the table of contents, trying to remember which stories she had already read before settling in on The Empty House, finding the title agreeable. It takes less than a minute for her to tune out her surroundings and focus her attention entirely on the story. Sara is one of those connoisseurs of fiction who doesn't simply read the words printed on the page. Rather, she crawls into the story, vividly imagining every scene as though each and every detail were projected to her mind's eye.
Beep! Beep! Sara looks up from her book with a start and smiles when she realizes it was just her phone. She picks it up from the night stand and turns it off without even looking to see who texted her. She takes a deep breath and finds her place in her book. It is dark out and the house is completely quiet save for the sound of an intermittent breeze rustling the leaves of the tree outside her second story bedroom.
She finishes her first story and consults the table of contents for another. This ritual of hers will continue on well into the night. A few minutes later she is engrossed in the tale of a demon that possesses a young girl. She is five pages in when rrrrring! Disoriented, she looks to her phone, but rrrrring! realizes that it's coming from the land line downstairs. She checks her clock, it's already after eleven. Fearing an emergency, she races down the dark stairway to the living room, but it's too late, the ringing has stopped. She stops short of the phone and finds herself alone in the large dark entryway.
She lingers by the phone for a minute or two before heading back up the stairs. She turns her phone on and scrolls through her texts, but nothing is noteworthy. She slides back under the covers and resumes reading. She hasn't been reading long when, thump, something hits the roof directly above her bed. Her eyes dart to the ceiling but there is nothing to be seen.
Seconds later she hears another thump, only this time its followed by the sound of something rolling across the synthetic shingles of the roof. She pauses, anticipating the next collision, but there is only silence. She picks up her book, but before she makes it to the sixth word, thump, pat pat pat. Sara darts up front bed and looks out her window, but there is nothing to be seen.
Maybe a straggler or two from the party down the street? Meowwww. No, it's just the neighbors cat. Sara takes a deep breath and crawls back into bed. She's on edge, but that is the whole point of the game. Avenging spirits and demonic children are the fuel for the fire. The breeze has escalated to a cool northern wind causing the fingerlings of the tree branches to occasionally brush against her window. The first tap tap scraaaaape causes a moment of alarm and then brings a smile to her face.
She's moves on at this point to a yarn about a college girl who comes home to find her roommate's blood on the walls. It's your typical urban legend with obvious moralistic undertones, but just as she's about to reach the end- Thump! Thump! Thump!
Sara pulls her book to her chest as the adrenaline takes over. What was that?
Thump! Thump! Thump! Someone is knocking on the front door. She starts to get up from her bed, but pauses half way, holding herself in an awkward pose. She cocks her head, alarmed and unsure of herself.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
There is an urgency to the knocking. Sara's eyes are wide with fear and she's breathing heavily.
“It's probably just Amy and Jake,” she says, trying to imbue herself with confidence. “They're just drunk, those idiots!”
Resolute, she lifts herself from the bed and creeps to the bedroom door. She makes her way down the dark hallway to the staircase and follows them down, stepping lightly as though not to wake anyone. She pauses at the foot of the landing and cranes her head towards the door. The entryway is dark, so she squints and peers towards the front door, but is greeted by silence.
“Jake . . . Amy?,” she whispers. There is no answer. She steps forwards and contemplates the peephole. “Who's there? Hello?” She waits for an answer, hoping for a familiar voice, but there is only silence and the sound of her breathing. Everything is dark and the house is growing foreign in the darkness.
Shaken, she turns and ascends the stairs, trying her best to walk lightly. The floorboards creak with each step and the slower she goes, the louder they grow.
“Dammit,” she mutters. She takes another step and another, but the floorboards are groaning beneath her. She hesitates for a moment and with a sudden burst, sprints up the stairs and into her room where she dives into bed.
“You're being silly,” she tells herself. “It was just Jake and Amy, or some other drunk friends,” she says soothingly. She turns off her reading lamp and the room turns black. She is safe there, secure, beneath the sanctuary of her comforter. Her breathing slows and she talks herself down. The cat, the phone, the knock at the door. They all have innocent explanations to anyone who didn't waste their time with nonsensical ghost stories. Normal kids who go to parties would take these things for what they are. She reassures herself.
“It's just the heater,” she reminds herself. Perfectly normal. She pulls the covers tights and slowly begins to adjust to her dark surroundings. It was all nothing.
She begins to grow tired and soon she can't keep her eyes open. The steady whir of the heater is lulling her to sleep. Fifteen minutes later, the heat is still blowing. Sara kicks the comforter away, but the heat is relentless. She tosses and turns, wrestling the sheets free, but it's no use. In a fit of frustration, she gets up from her bed and slides the window open.
She tries to get comfortable again, but it is no use; the wind has died down and her room is quiet except for the heater. She waits, but it is no use, the heat continues to blow. She stirs and rises from bed, neglecting the light to make her way downstairs. She'll find the thermostat at 90, but that's besides the point. It's late now. My plot worked and she's finally invited me in. An open window, a walk-in closet, the night's not over, and now it's time to play my game.