It was a dare for the record books. Anyone who took it was labeled clinically insane by their friends, and would have to be carted away to the loony bin.
But if anyone was insane that day, it was Thomas Schwartz (known as Tommy to his friends). He not only volunteered to do it, but he was going to do it alone.
Standing in the driveway of the Neveserian house, he stood confident. His eyes shifted from window to door, seeking out weaknesses.
If he was scared, he didn’t show it. Ignoring the cheers of his accomplices, he advanced towards his opponent. The sounds of a lawnmower hitch a ride with the breeze, engulfing the children as they hold position.
The driveway found itself losing a war with the grass, and the boundary where they separated became unclear. Tommy didn’t notice this; his mind was focused upon his goal, and what lay ahead. Cicadas argued with each other while the birds sang the aria of summer, but all of this was lost on Thomas as the wood steps underneath his feet moaned with the effort from supporting him.
With the doorbell non-functioning, and no welcome mat to accommodate him, Tommy pried open the screen door (who also had some complaining to do), and reached for the brass knob. As his thumb began pushing down the lever, time held its breath in anticipation.
His friends had long ceased their cheers, and merely stood where it was safe, letting the sun extract sweat from their pores. Even the birds and the cicadas had paused in their conversation to study him. The door wailed as it allowed him entry, and again when the house had engulfed him.
With the door in-between his friends and him, the fear crept into his face. The path to being a schoolyard legend certainly isn’t the easiest. Nothing had shambled into sight clanking chains, though that didn’t alleviate Thomas’s fears. His goal resided on the second story, and the faster he made it there, the less likely he would end up being killed by horrors unknown.
With every fiber of his being resisting him, Thomas advanced through the house. The echo of his footfall seemed to resonate throughout the entire house as they collided with the carpet which had cushioned the heads of the three families that lived there.
Upon passing the foyer, white sheeted figures assaulted his vision, making him leap. However, the furniture did not attack, perhaps not hungry for small children. As his heart safely descended from his throat, Thomas had reinforced his nerves, and began walking again.
The stairs curved at a sharp turn near the middle. A small groan issued from Thomas as nightmarish scenarios played out in his mind. The fact that this particular staircase was used as a bowling alley for severed heads didn’t exactly appeal to him either.
No ghost could compare to the taunts and teases of his fellow colleagues however, so the staircase was only a minor nuisance. With each step, Thomas’s muscles tightened further, trying in vain to prevent the inevitable. His eyes forced his head to turn around the corner, his bowels bracing for release. Nothing came at him.
Nothing upon nothing erupted from the hallway. The nothing disemboweled him, and gouged his eyes out with extraordinary nonexistence. Ignoring the ball of snakes squirming in his bowels, Thomas approached the far door on the right; the final destination.
Tommy couldn’t decide whether or not the doors in the hallway being closed were a blessing or a curse. Shifting horrors may lurk in the folds of the unknown, but since they didn’t attack, he didn’t bother himself with spooking himself. The goal was too close in sight to chicken out.
Thomas stretched his hand out to the knob of the final room, and as he did so, the knob shrank from it. Yet, the door yielded to him and he entered the room. The accursed painting was on the far wall, as if expecting him; beckoning him closer into itself, as it had done to so many others.
The painting didn’t seem like one that would devour the sanity of so many innocents. In fact, it seemed rather innocent itself. No pentagrams or monsters of any kind. The moon’s one winking eye felt playful to Thomas, and the row of neat houses made him yearn for his own.
No spade clawed hand bore into his flesh, no clanking chains found their way into his soul. Thomas even forgot what was supposed to frighten him about the house. As he turned to go, he stole one final look back at the painting, and smiled. He was ready to rejoin his friends outside.
Thomas Schwartz was never found. The children that had urged him to do it waited with all of the patience they could muster as the light deepened to orange over the horizon. Eventually, each found their own paths to their houses and mothers, while Thomas’s began to worry.
None of them talked about what had occurred, not between themselves, and not to the police when they interrogated them. When the house was demolished a year later, there was no painting depicting a winking moon amongst the rubble.