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As a child, I always heard whispers about the old, rundown house in the woods outside of town. Rumors of ghosts, ritual murders, cults and mass suicides floated between the mouths of chatty locals for as long as I can remember. Many believed the place to be abandoned, but there were those who told tales of strange shadows that sometimes danced in the windows. Others swore they heard voices echoing out from behind the walls of the dilapidated structure when they passed by. The story I’m going to tell you is about my experience with that place. I never saw specters frolicking in the darkness or heard the ghastly wail of some menacing phantom, but the events that unfolded that sunny afternoon still scare me just the same.
It was warm that day. The sun broke through treetops above our heads, scattering down to the forest floor, glimmering like golden confetti. I was twelve at the time. Peter was only nine, but even at that age my little brother seemed to be on a constant mission to prove his bravery to me—as if he felt it was the only way to validate himself in my eyes. We trudged through the last of the brush until we made our way into a clearing where the old house stood. We had both heard stories about the place before, but this was the first time either of us had ever actually visited it.
The derelict old building was an intimidating sight. Moldy rotten wood covered the face of the home like the diseased skin of a leper. Some of the windows had been smashed out while others were covered in a thick brown coat of dust. The house’s entire frame crooked off to the left at an angle so sharp it seemed as if it was going to collapse at any moment.
“There it is,” I told him. We stood at the edge of the clearing for what felt like an eternity, the two of us just staring at the time-damaged relic. “You don’t have to go in there, Peter.”
My younger brother sent a frustrated scowl in my direction.
“I’m not afraid.”
“I didn’t say you were.”
“I’m going in there—all the way in the basement,” Peter said matter-of-factly. “And when I do, you’re gonna tell all the kids at school tomorrow how brave I am.”
He puffed out his chest and marched up the steps to the front door. I’ll never forget the look on Peter’s face when he turned back around and waved to me just before disappearing through the slanted doorway. He was so proud. I took a seat on the grass and leaned my back against a tree to wait for him. An hour passed and still there was no sight of him. By the time the sun had started to set and Peter still hadn’t returned, I could feel anxiety beginning to build inside of me.
What if the rumors were right?
What if a family of cannibals lived inside of that place and they were already preparing my brother for dinner? What if a monster was hiding in the basement, waiting to tear Peter to shreds as soon as he set foot inside? I wanted to check on him, but I was far too afraid to go into the old house myself. So I waited.
My brother finally emerged from the broken-down building just before the sun had set for the evening. Needless to say, I was relieved. I couldn’t help but notice the curious expression on his face when he approached me—almost as if he was sizing me up for the first time.
“What took so long, Peter?” I asked him. “I was worried you got hurt!”
“Sorry. I lost track of time.” His voice was flat and expressionless. Its very tone made me scrunch my face in discomfort.
I brushed it off and grabbed him around the arm. “Come on. We need to be home before it gets dark or Mom will ground both of us.”
My mother gave us a stern lecture about staying out after dusk when we got back. The night went normally enough, but Peter’s demeanor remained cold and distant. I had been curious to ask him about the house, but I didn’t want to do it in front of my mother and father. We shared a room so that evening when we were getting ready for bed I decided to prod him.
“So, Peter?” I said when I walked into the bedroom after I finished brushing my teeth. “You were in the old house for a while.”
“I told you. I lost track of time,” he responded.
“How?” I asked.
Peter sat up in bed. The blank expression on his face didn’t change, but somehow it felt even more removed than before.
“I was looking at stuff.”
I let out a nervous laugh.
“Well, did you see any monsters in there?”
I’m not sure how long it took for him to answer me. It felt like the silence lasted forever and a day. When he finally spoke again his answer was short, succinct and to the point. He simply smiled at me answered, “Yes,” and then blinked his eyes. I spent the evening in my parents’ room after that, but I was too afraid to sleep.
In the morning Peter was gone. My mom and dad called the police. By the end of the day, they had filed an official missing person’s report. His face was on the milk cartons and billboards. There was a massive statewide manhunt for him. Investigators believe that he was abducted so of course the press had a field day with it—the little boy who was taken from his bed in the dead of night.
The thing is, I don’t believe Peter was abducted by a cat burglar. I think whatever happened to him in the old house is what led to his disappearance. It was my conversation with him before bed that cemented that idea in my mind—specifically when I asked him if he’d seen any monsters. His reply had terrified me more than words could ever describe.
It wasn’t the grin he flashed before he answered. Though I found his smile disturbing, it’s not what had captured my attention. Nor was it his response confirming that had indeed seen a “monster” while in the house. You see, the thing that truly frightened me, that sent me running to my mom and dad’s room was what happened when he blinked his eyes. It scared me because when they closed, they shut the wrong way.
Credited to Vincent Vena Cava