Ever since I moved to my new town, I heard story after story about Red Rose. It was some kind of myth that was floating around in my school. I guess they used it to scare the new kids. I had always been the kind of person to brush off these kinds of things, mostly because I found them stupid and a waste of time. If they really believed I was going to fall for an old story, then they were in for a surprise.

“You know that house at the other end of the park?” a kid said one day from across my place at the cafeteria table. “You know what’s inside?”

“The scariest thing would be if I didn’t know,” I replied shortly, trying to ignore them. “You guys have been talking about it since I got here.”

Despite my efforts to turn off the conversation, however, he proceeded to tell me about the legend of the old house. About how a girl named Rose had been murdered there by her uncle and left there to die before her body was found by the police. A few days later the house was put up for sale, and no one ever bought it. Kids have broken in, however, and whispers of a trail of bloody footsteps leading from the basement (where she was supposedly murdered) to the girl’s bedroom. It all sounded extremely fake to me, and almost borderline desperate, as they had managed to fit in the murder cliche and the haunted house cliche all into one story.

Unfortunately, I managed to get roped into some kind of dare they were planning for that weekend. I, along with a few other new kids, were to go into the house one by one and stay in the girl’s bedroom for ten minutes. I’ll admit, I was a little creeped out at first, considering I’d have to stay in a house they had most likely decorated with fake blood for a considerable amount of time, but I accepted. It was only one night, after all.

Anyway, the weekend came and I snuck out just around midnight, meeting up with the other kids at the old house. It was a fairly normal-looking suburban home, with one shattered window to the right of the door. In the darkness the brick outside looked black and wilted, like something that had been standing alone for centuries.

There were two other kids with me, both looking as skeptical as I was, but they didn’t speak until the first one was instructed to head inside.

I watched as the kid climbed through the broken window frame and into the darkness, trying not to get too tense. In ten minutes that kid would walk out shrugging with a stupid grin on his face, and then someone else would go and do the same before I went. What a waste of time.

However, ten minutes passed, and the kid didn’t come back out. The “veterans” of the stupid dare were beginning to murmur among themselves, before the leader spoke up.

“Pussy probably snuck out the back and ran home,” he snorted before turning to the other new kid, who was looking increasingly nervous. “Your turn.”

I crossed my arms, looking between them before the new kid nodded silently and climbed into the broken window, beginning another round of tense silence. What a joke.

A considerable amount of time passed before I glanced down at my phone. Twelve minutes. The leader called for him to come out, but no response. I could almost hear the heartbeats. Was this part of the joke? Were they putting on costumes to scare me when I went in?

“You know what, screw it,” I said finally, turning to face my audience. “I’ll go in. I’m sure they’re fine,” I added sarcastically, though it was more under my breath as I carefully stepped into the house.

Immediately the air felt colder around me as my feet alighted on the floorboards with a drawn-out creak. I could see the stairs leading up right in front of me, and sure enough, there was the blood, spattered all over the ground and crusting in the carpet. It led up the stairs, and though I was sure it was fake it was still slightly unsettling.

I took a few careful steps toward the stairs, the smell of mildew and dust sharp in my nose. The distance between me and the first step seemed to grow with each step as inexplicable dread squirmed in my gut.

Finally I was facing the stairs, looking up into the hallway they ascended into. At the top was a single light, probably from one of the rooms, flickering and yellow like the light bulb was about to go out.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath, looking down to make sure my foot didn’t miss the first step in the darkness.

When I looked up, my heart almost stopped.

Someone was standing at the top of the stairs, silhouetted in the dim light so that all I could see was black. It appeared to be a young girl, with messy hair and a simple t-shirt and jeans with a short frayed tutu. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew… I knew she was smiling.

I couldn’t breathe. It was like the air had been stuck in my throat, blocked by a scream I was fighting to hold in. This was creepy. Something was off.

Then she spoke, her voice light like she was on the verge of giggling. But there was something off with it; she gurgled, like she was choking or… or drowning. “Mommy wasn’t there,” she whispered, figure unmoving from the top of the stairs. “Daddy didn’t care.”

The light flickered, completely shutting off for a second and making my heart skip a beat. The girl didn’t move.

Just run, I told myself over and over, but I couldn’t move. I wanted to get out of here. This was fake, this was a setup, but it didn’t change the fact that I was scared out of my mind.

Suddenly the girl did laugh, but it was more of a wheeze as she continued to choke. “No one came to my birthday,” she giggled, and suddenly, as the light flashed and flickered, I saw a brief glimpse of her face, and what I saw was enough to make me scream.

She was smiling, big and wide enough to show all her teeth, except her skin was white and rotting. I thought I saw little pale worms wriggling from holes around her mouth, but the light didn’t turn on long enough to see. The one eye I saw was wide and bloodshot, fixed on me with an intensity that made me shudder. A knife was jammed into one side of her neck, dried blood and pus covering the edge of the blade and trickling down her neck.

I choked on a sob as I took a step away from the stairs. I needed to run.

“But that’s okay,” she continued, and as the flickering light finally gave out I heard her laugh, a wet gargled laugh that sounded like she was spitting up blood. I finally managed to scream as the house was bathed in complete darkness, and I could hear faint laughter from the kids outside.

Then I felt it. Warm, damp, foul breath on my neck. I could hear it, inches away from my ear.

Tears spilled over my cheeks, and I could barely form the words, “Please… p-please don’t hurt me…”

“Don’t leave,” she whispered, right into my ear. “You’re my friend, aren’t you?”

I don’t know why I didn’t die. I don’t know what happened. All I remember was someone shining a flashlight at me from the window, and when I turned the girl was gone. A couple kids took me roughly by the arm and dragged me out, jeering about how much of a pussy I was and pretending to cry like I had just been doing a couple seconds ago. But I was too stunned to react… I was too stunned to say anything.

All the kids were making fun of me for being scared of nothing. They told me there wasn’t any blood. In fact, the murder story was just a myth. Rose never existed.

I never told anyone about my encounter with Red Rose. Not even my parents. But I never went anywhere near that park again. Near that house.

And yet, sometimes…

I still feel her breath when I’m laying in bed. Warm on my neck. And I can’t help but feel like… like she’s stalking me.