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The Ballad of Jane

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It’s not the darkness in my room that frightens me. The unidentified sound floating up from somewhere deep in my house doesn’t set my poor heart panicking. I’m not terrified as I try not to notice my barely open closet door. It’s the potential that gets me. It’s what could be there. The more you think about it, the more likely every possibility becomes as the shadows thicken and every stray noise or movement forces you deeper into your fear. The scariest part, to me at least, is that you’ll never know what is or isn’t there until you go have a look for yourself. Unless it comes looking for you, of course.

The rumors about my good friend Liz’s house took their dear sweet time reaching me. They were just whispers of things, ominous hints, and I brushed them aside fairly easily. Liz and I were close, so close that people even mistook us for sisters, and were there any dark secrets about her house, I would have known. Like me, she was a storyteller, and storytellers just don’t hide that kind of thing.

That is, unless it’s serious.

As luck would have it, I ended up spending an afternoon at Liz’s house to work on some project for Biology class. I had only been over to her place once or twice before, which even at the time I considered strange for best friends like us, but to a kid like me who had spent a good part of her life in apartments and military housing, the place was a dream. At just under 50 years old with 2 stories, 4 bedrooms, a massive basement area, and an equally huge backyard, the house was phenomenally beautiful. Sure it was a little too dark, but the weather was appropriately stormy, and that’ll make any place more than a little spooky.

Liz’s sixteenth birthday was a few weeks away, and we got onto the topic of what the party would be like. She and I had a reputation of being little party animals, and therefore we had to make this party as awesome as possible. I suggested using her massive basement, what with its pinball tables, TV, and stereo system.

“No parties in the house.”

Ah yes, the parents. They could be pretty troublesome for us wild teens, but I told her not to worry. If we could conjure up a few promises of no drinking, no smooching, and the like, we would get our party. Heck, I was already figuring out what food to bring.

“It’s not my parents.”

And that was how I got her talking.

Tick-Tock

Four years ago, Liz and her family had moved from their smaller, older house across town to the current one. At first no one sensed anything out of the ordinary. There were no creepy feelings, no moving shadows down the hallways, no nothing. Strangely, it was Liz’s baby brother, Sam, who picked up on whatever was in the house long before anyone else did.

Liz and her parents started noticing that as soon as they left Sam in his playroom he would start talking to someone. Sam had made a friend. His friend’s name was Tick-Tock. Why Tick-Tock was never really clear, but apparently he was a little shy. It took a few weeks for Tick-Tock to feel comfortable “talking” to Sam in other rooms of the house with other people present. They chocked it up to Sam playing with his first imaginary friend.

One afternoon, Liz was studying in their living room while Sam played with some of his toys. He was chattering away to no one in particular, and Liz wasn’t paying much attention to him. It was when he suddenly went silent that she looked up. Sam was standing in front of her, transfixed by something on the wall behind her. As she watched, his eyes followed the thing as it moved up the wall and along the ceiling. Of course, when she looked there was nothing there, but he was so still and so amazed by whatever the hell it was that she felt shivers scurry down her spine.

“Sammy, what’re you looking at?”
“Tick-Tock.”

Indeed.

From that point on Tick-Tock was no longer a friend. Sam couldn’t be left alone for five minutes without him screaming bloody murder. He stopped sleeping through the night, and her parents had to move him back into their room for a bit. His toys would turn on and off by themselves or go missing and turn up in the weirdest places. Sam and their cat, Jabberwocky, continued to watch things move along the walls, sometimes in unison.

Ok, so that was creepy, I’d admit to that, but it could also be explained. Sam was a little kid, and who knew what made them do the things they do? Some of the toys were hand-me-downs and could have been screwing up like old toys tend to after awhile. Jabberwocky might have been watching dust or whatever it is that fascinates cats.

“I guess so, but Jaber had other things to worry about.”

Jabberwocky and the Bandersnatch

“Bandersnatch” was the name affectionately given to the critter that lurked around the little shed in their backyard. Tools would go missing, wood piles would be scattered every which way, friends and family alike would see a small shadow curled beneath the old elm tree or darting around a corner. Liz spoke of the Bandersnatch like a pesky family pet rather than a possibly undead being, and it never sent out threatening vibes to any of her family members, with the exception of poor Jabber.

Jabberwocky hated the Bandersnatch and the Bandersnatch hated Jabberwocky. They loved to torture each other. Liz’s father was forever rushing out to break up extremely vocal catfights only to find Jabber hissing and spitting into the darkness. Jabber’s new pastime was chasing some unseen thing around the shed, darting this way and that before retreating to the safety of the porch. If Jabber ever chased anything with flesh and blood, it had some kind of camouflage, because no one ever laid eyes on it.

The only time the Bandersnatch ever really frightened Liz’s family was after Jabber ended up on the receiving end of a minivan and had to spend some time at the vet for surgery. Right around sunset, a long howl/growl/moan could be heard coming from the shed. Now, I forgot to mention something: Liz’s father always kept the shed locked, just in case, I don’t know, tool-snatching aliens invaded. Nothing could have snuck into it because not ever Jabber could find any suitable holes. In addition to that little fact, there was also the issue of the howl going on for a good 3-4 minutes straight and sounding, if anything, like a large wildcat or possibly a crazy person. The pitch and volume varied, shifting erratically unlike the call of a frog or most animals in distress. This was just low and angry and feral. After it finished, Liz’s father, armed with his hunting rifle, ventured out to unlock the shed and found it absolutely empty. To this day, they claim that the Bandersnatch was calling for Jabberwocky, angry that he wouldn’t come out and play.

So these stories were nice and all, but I still failed to see what the big deal was. So her brother freaked out, so something had made a nest in the shed, so what? I demanded a real reason as to why the party of the century could not be held in the perfect spot! I pressed her for more information on the house, and reluctantly, she continued. I would get my answer alright. This was only the beginning.

The rain had stopped by this time, and I knew that if I was going to get more out of Liz, I’d have to get her out of the house. I proposed a stroll around the block to stretch our legs and give me a chance to view the shed. She happily agreed. For the record, I was expecting some sort of ancient wooden monster, but the shed was actually very well kept, padlocked, and sealed tight. No sightings of the Bandersnatch for me, unfortunately.

As we strolled along, Liz became more emotional. It was as if she had been keeping all these stories bottled up inside of her for the longest time and now they were bursting out. Up next were the upstairs bathroom and the mirror.

Cue Theme from Psycho

The master bedroom had its own master bath, but the other two bedrooms upstairs had a bathroom situated between them. The bathroom was terrible. Liz always felt like she was being watched in the shower, handprints had a strange habit of appearing on the mirror for no reason ( “No, I will not show you.”), and she and her mother had both been physically tripped while bathing her brother. Could they have slipped on the wet floor? No, apparently this was a hand shoving them face first into the tile. The lights also had a habit of turning off on their own during inopportune times, leaving whoever was unlucky enough to be in there in complete darkness.

At one point Liz was home alone, lounging in her room. She distinctly heard the sounds of water running, complete with pipes clunking and such. After a bit, the water turned off, and someone or something started splashing and messing around in the bathtub. Liz slowly got up and stepped out into the hallway.

“Mom?”

If only. The only response was more splashing, still audible in the hall. The bathroom door was cracked open and the light was on. With a display of more guts than I could ever have mustered, Liz crept up, reached out, and pushed the door open with her finger tips. As the door swung up, Liz got ready to bolt at any moment.

The bathtub was completely empty.

Mirror, Mirror

I don’t mean to take any glory away from the famous TacoCriminal’s blood mirror, but this bad boy could very well have duked it out for supremacy, were they ever given the chance. The monster hung in the hallway. It was old and had evidently been left by one of the former tenants (though no one would claim it). The drat thing actually had a few gauges in it (or if you used your imagination they could almost be scratch marks), but what would be powerful enough to beat that thing up like that is beyond the realm of my imagination. Still, mirrors have a habit of being spooky, right? No big deal.

“Have you ever actually looked at the glass?”

What? Well… No, now that I thought about it, I had never really looked into it. In fact, I found myself walking as far away from it as possible, my shoulder always brushing against the opposite wall. Apparently no one looked directly at the mirror, and it took them years to figure this out. When the bright idea of confronting the mirror ever popped into their heads, they suffered a full blown panic attack, hyperventilation and everything. Everyone in her family had nightmares about shit coming out of that thing, stuff I won’t even go into because it’ll give me nightmares. In fact, I’m blasting loud, up-beat, obnoxious music as I type this.

The thing was evil. I apologize for my vagueness, but that’s the only word I can think of to describe it. No one had the courage to take it down, and for all I know, when Judgment Day rolls around, it’ll still be hanging there. Really, who knows what slinks around on the other side of mirrors? Sure, it’s just a little reflecting light, but tell that to all the stories and legends and whatnot. No, I never looked directly into that mirror, and you better believe I’m drat glad I didn’t. I firmly believe I would have stared straight into hell.

If memory has blurred or will blur anything about these events, it won’t be this. The memory of the two of us standing there with the house looming before us like some kind of sleeping giant is burned into my mind. It was as if the house were challenging us, and I was about to make a witty comment when I realized that Liz wasn’t paying any attention to me. She looked smaller, you know? Sort of sunk into herself. She was staring up at the highest window of her house, the one that reminded me of an angry, black eye.

“It’s the worst part. I don’t know why, but it is.”

The Attic

I guess you’ll have to take my word for it, but Liz’s family was a rational bunch of people. They decided early on that they were going to stay in the house, both out of stubbornness and lack of money. They had filed the ghostly activity into two groups: “Creepy but Generally Harmless” (Tick-Tock and the Bandersnatch) and “There’s Nothing We Can Do about It So Why Worry” (the upstairs bathroom and the mirror). As time passed, they got used to it, as most people do in such situations, and even started to joke about the oddities of the house.

Then the attic started up.

It began with pacing. Liz especially would hear something shuffling around at night, the ambling, wandering footsteps of something big. It usually traveled along a set path, but occasionally it would stop just above her head. On these occasions, she swore she could almost hear mumbling, though that could have been all in her head. After about a week of these sounds, Liz and her father gathered up the courage to go up and investigate.

Their family only used the area closest to the trap door for storage, so the rest of the attic was bare except for the few remains that the other tenants had shoved near the little window. Incidentally, this was also the area where the shuffling took place. The closer they got to the window the colder it got (strange when everything else was baking during a pretty vicious heatwave), and they became more and more uneasy.

Next to the window they found piles of old junk, the most notable of which were a heavy, locked trunk and an old rocking chair. They found absolutely no evidence of vermin, and the thick layer of dust hadn’t been disturbed in the least. After one more quick look at their surroundings, they quickly escaped down the stairs and securely shut the trap door behind them.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll sum up the attic like this: It started with shuffling, then scratching on the trap door, then wailing, and finally someone on the other side of the door would call out people’s names and whisper. Her mother was so upset about the whole thing that she called their church to ask for help. I’m not sure that their preacher really believed them as they weren’t exactly regulars at the church, and all he could suggest was to put up crosses in the house and read a few verses from the Bible. The crosses slowed down the activity, but apparently they had a habit of disappearing after awhile. The spirits, whoever or whatever they were, were there to stay.

You know that voice in the back of your mind that says, “This is not a good idea”? Well, I don’t have that voice. I live to put myself in situations like this, and when I was younger I was five times worse. I was going to live forever, right? Nothing could do me any serious harm!

Now, you know that one scene in horror movies, the one where you’re in the audiences thinking, “Walk away! Just walk away right now!” Yeah, this was that scene. It took me awhile, but I finally got her to agree on a small sleepover to find proof that these ghosts existed. There was a story just begging to be told here, and I was going to grab it.

I was stupid. Oh man was I stupid.

So now we come to the part you’ve all be waiting for: the sleepover. It took place after Liz’s party (movie and dinner party, totally not as cool) and included Liz, myself, Katie, and Jessica. We were like the generic name squad. Here’s what our amateur ghost hunting team brought to the house:

  1. Flashlights – You’ll see what happens to those.
  2. Tape recorder – Batteries died and we had no more AAA
  3. Junk food – Consumed to give us strength against the spirits
  4. Caffeine – Did more harm than good. Keep reading and you’ll understand.
  5. Ouija Board – Because the Parker Brothers are obviously the masters of the occult

Oh yeah, we were set. We chose Liz’s room as our base camp, and spent a little time getting a tour of the place and playing in the basement. Liz’s parents and brother were in the house as well, but they stayed out of our way, allowing us chill and do girly things. Obviously, they had no idea we were here solely for the ghosts. If they had, we never would have been allowed to have the sleepover.

Now, you have to give me some credit. I said, “No frikin’ way!” to the Ouija idea. I don’t like those things, I never have, and even I could see that busting one out in that house was bad news. Still, my friends pointed out that we were there to find ghosts, and I was stupid if I didn’t go all the way. Even Liz was calling me a chicken, so I finally gave up and joined in.

We sat on the basement floor between the entertainment area and the foosball table (see the map I drew up). We brought out the tape recorder and pushed play but promptly found out that the batteries were dead. We pointed fingers and blamed stupidity, but after reading incarna’s thread, maybe it wasn’t our fault. At any rate, we didn’t have a spare set of AAAs, and asking Liz’s parents would have been too risky. We decided to proceed without it.

There was plenty of giggling and horsing around. We had “Elvis” make a guest appearance, along with “Ur Mom.” Nothing much came of it, but I can’t help but feel like our insults and mockery stirred something up. We soon abandoned our divining for video games and Mountain Dew. The real fireworks weren’t going to happen until much later that night.

* * * * *

“CJ, are you awake?”

No, go away.

“C’mon, I have to pee, and I don’t want to go alone!”

I shot Katie a pretty evil look, but the truth was that I hadn’t been sleeping too well (bad dreams), and I really didn’t care about escorting her. I grabbed my trusty flashlight, as we crawled out of our sleeping bags and made our way as silently as possible into the hall.

I don’t really know how to say this, but the house had changed. The shadows seemed unnaturally thick, and things were almost too silent, as if all sound were being muffled by some invisible barrier, I my pitiful flashlight just didn’t seem to want to penetrate the shadows. Katie was so spooked that I had to argue against standing in the bathroom with her. In the end, she left the door cracked, and I stood on the side farthest away from the mirror and the trap door. Things were going fine until my flashlight died. I started to shiver as the temperature dropped, and that’s when I heard it.

Footsteps, but not coming from the hallway. These were shuffling steps moving from directly over my head to the trap door. The shadows at that end of the hallway seemed to deepen, and I decided to keep my eyes locked on the space directly in front of me. Next came the scratching. When animals scratch, the sound is usually lighter and fast. This was heavy and slow, obviously the sound of nails on wood. It repeated a few times before I told Katie to hurry the hell up and get out.

“I’m coming! Will you chill out already?”

Easy for her it say. She wasn’t the one out here with the demon in the attic. It was at this point that time seemed to slow down, and I heard the sound that still haunts my dreams from time to time.

“Psssst…”

Oh no. No, no, no, that was not coming from the attic.

“Pssst! Hey! Come here!”

This was a sick joke. It had to be. Ghosts did not talk to people, especially not me!

“Look, just open the door. C’mon, please, please, please…”

Fat chance, buddy. I started singing a song in my head, hoping to make the voice go away.

“I know you’re there! OPENTHISDOORRIGHTNOWBEFOREICOMEDOWNTHEREANDTEARYOURFUCKINGHEADOFF!”

I don’t know what the voice was. It could have been a joke, I guess, but it was a really, really sick one. I don’t know if any of you have ever had the pleasure of being near someone who is truly unstable, but there is a certain twinge their voices get when they are really off their rockers. This voice had that feral twinge, and something like that is really hard to fake well. Hell, I was fooled.

I heard the blessed sound of the toilet flushing, and Katie came walking out of the bathroom. She saw my face and asked me what was wrong, and I told her to listen, that something was in the attic. We waiting a few seconds, but before she could call me a liar, we heard a muffled bumping noise. In all my paranoia, I was sure it was the attic door being pounded in.

“That’s not the attic. That’s the mirror!”

She was right. From where we were, we could just barely make out the mirror bumping against the wall. To say that we ran out of there is the understatement of the century. We shot down those stairs so fast, I swear we were flying.

We only had a few moments to stand in the foyer and wonder what to do next before we heard the growling and moaning coming from down the hall.

The playroom. The sounds were coming from the playroom. Determined to face whatever was tormenting us, I made my way to the end of the hall with Katie close behind me. We clutched each other’s hands and opened the door, preparing to come face to face with the yowling demons infesting our friend’s home.

It was Jabberwocky, pacing in front of the door. I’m completely against the harming of animals, but I swear I wanted to kill that stupid cat. I told Katie that he probably wanted to be let out as I nearly dragged her into the room.

I think I was a little too optimistic. Jabber’s fur was standing on end, and his ears were flat against his head. He was pretty worked up, and I was deciding whether or not I should get any closer to him when the door shut behind us. I asked Katie why she shut it, and, of course, she hadn’t. Jabber made himself as small as possible as he crouched against the door, his pupils nearly engulfing the rest of his eyes. Everything went completely still, and I think I actually held my breath.

Then things went batshit.

Every single toy in that playroom turned on by itself. Teddy Whatshisface, Tickle Me Elmo, the robot dude who does math, all of them were yammering away.The little TV used to play kiddie videos turned on full blast and started to (hell, I really don’t know how to say it exactly) manual fast forward through whatever tape was in it (I think 101 Dalmatians). Katie and I did what any red-blooded American girl would do in a situation like this: We screamed bloody murder and sprang for the door. I swear I almost had a heart attack when it refused to open, but thankfully Katie had the sense to turn the lock and set us free.

We sort of collapsed in the back yard and started bawling for no reason. We just sat their clutching each other as the dew soaked our PJs, trembling and sobbing. I like to imagine that even back then I was not that big a baby. It’s always taken a lot to make me shed a tear, and even something like that was not going to send me into hysterics. I felt like I was suddenly overcome with anger and terror and immense sorrow.

Let me put it this way: The next time I would cry like that in front of my friend would be a few years later in Katie’s hospital room after she lost the fight to viral meningitis. (Right after she was accepted in LSU on an athletic scholarship too. Life’s a bitch, know what I mean?)

Still, even in our pitiful state, we fared much better than the other members of our ghost hunting team.

Now, at that time I thought that our screams had just been incredibly loud. She was a swimmer and I had been taking voice lessons for about two years, so we had some lungs on us. This, however, was not the case. Our screams sounded loud to me because at that point Liz, Jess, and Sam all woke up screaming in unison. Jess was so upset that she bolted for the bathroom and vomited, and I’m not talking about a little dry-heaving either. Apparently this was the kind of soul-purging puking that makes you wonder when you last had that Chinese food. Also (and I can attest to this) she was covered in scratches.

Jabber was downstairs with us. The family had no other pets. If she inflicted those wounds on herself, what would make her do such a thing? Jess never told us. The most Liz’s parents and later her own family could get out of her was something about a nightmare and not feeling very well. It was Liz, during on of our last conversations together, who finally told me.

I can’t explain it, but this part is always hard for me to tell, and what with that whole rule against drunk posting, the going is going to be rough from here on out. You’ll have to forgive me if the writing goes to shit.

Liz had been through nightmares about the mirror before, but nothing like this. In her dream, she saw the mirror. She said it began to jump, much like it had before were made a run for it. Apparently a man had “spider-walked” out of the mirror. She said his arms and legs were bent at all the wrong angles, and he moved fast and jerky like in the movies when they mess with the film speed. He came into her room, got onto her bed, pinned her down, and started laughing like a maniac. As he laughed, he transformed into something that she refused to describe, but I suspect was pretty drat disturbing. Whatever it was, it had a mouth full of sharp teeth, and she woke up just before it could use them.

She was shaking as she told me this. She actually said, “I don’t know what it did to Jess.” As she wiped the tears from her eyes (and if I’m making this up, someone better refund me about a month’s worth of sleepless nights) I thought I saw bruises on her wrists.

It was at the point I decided, if you’ll pardon my French, to never go back to that fucking house ever again.

So that’s the story. What happened to us afterward? Well, rumors say that Jess became an insomniac and started taking medication after her sleep deprivation pushed her to a nervous breakdown. I can neither confirm nor deny this as she never looked any of us in the face again. Katie and I stayed friends long after this happened, but I told you about her earlier. Like I said, Liz and I had a falling out after this, I think because she and her parents blamed me for what happened that night, with good reason, I guess. I honestly hope they moved out of that house because whatever was in there was not going to stop. As for me, I moved (for the last time) at the end of the summer.

After all this time, you’d think curiosity might get the better of me. You’d think while visiting friends and relatives in that area, I might go look up that house, drive by a few times, maybe even ring the doorbell and ask if the current family happens to possess a certain antique mirror. However, there are some things even the wildest internet cowgirl won’t do. Sometimes, it’s just better to let things rest in peace.



Credited to Causality Jane 
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