01 Feb You’re Not Afraid
At the corner of Winter and Broad there is an abandoned house. Go into that house. The front door is closed but unlocked. Nobody lives inside, not even homeless people would dare stay in a place like that for more than a night. When you go in, you will hear the whispers. Don’t listen to what they say because they have more than just “a way with words.” They say things that your heart dreads. Things like, “I can see you. I can hear your thoughts in my mind. I’m going to use your secrets to ruin your life. The longer you stay here, the more I know.” It may not seem compelling now, I mean, why listen to some cocky little disembodied voices right? You’re not afraid.
No. Ignore the voices. There will be a lamp on inside. It’s always on so you shouldn’t worry about being able to see. The room inside is left precisely as it was. The table is still set for a meal, there are still six sets of silverware, six dishes and six crisply folded napkins situated at regular intervals about the table. The chair at the head of the table remains askew as though someone had stood up from it and left the room in a hurry. There are still old envelopes sitting in the fireplace waiting to be lit, addressed to the man of the house. There are still two tall candles plugged into their sticks, hardly used with droplets of wax paralyzed along their sides, their wicks blackened but still long. There is still a child’s toy truck lying on its side on the elegant oriental rug and a copy of Little Women is splayed on the seat cushion of the armchair, folded back at the spine. Someone’s reading glasses sit upside down on top of a newspaper from August 1923 and two broad yellow needles are tangled in the sleeve of a sweater. It’s as though the people who lived here are merely absent and could be back any minute. You might not think so if you were to enter the kitchen, which I would not advise. Still, you’re not afraid, right?
Disregard the voices. Disregard the state of this, what once was someone’s home. Don’t go in the kitchen. No. Take to the stairs. Be careful, for the owner of the toy truck on the first floor may have left one or two of his building blocks, one with a crimson letter A, the other with a viridian letter G, sitting on one of the steps. Ascend to the top of the stairs where you’ll pass the window as you round the banister and face the hallway. Do not open the burgundy velvet curtain even if you notice the tips of the shoes sticking out at the bottom. No you ought to completely disregard them. Not that you’re scared. There’s really not much of a view anyway. The voices will continue to whisper to you with their outlandish threats but you ought to simply proceed down the hallway.
You might look through the first door on your right, if you so desired. It will be ajar. The room is just a small one with an unmade twin bed, a couple of bookcases and a small desk with a typewriter on it. The beginning of a thesis on the Great War may still be sitting in the shaft. A small alarm clock that, if twisted twice, will be set to 7:30am sits on the bedside table and all of the clothes in the closet are meticulously hung, side by side, like uniform soldiers. There really isn’t much to see. Still it’s better than if you were to open the door on your left. The one with the broad wooden letters nailed to the door reading “Sam.” Nor would I suggest that as you take a step or two down the hallway that you open the door on your right with its own wooden letters, these delicate and italicized reading “Beth.” The door across from Beth’s room is the bathroom, which you might use if you absolutely couldn’t repress your bladder any longer and you didn’t mind doing your business as voices whisper absurdities into your ears. Just don’t pull aside the shower curtain to peer into the claw-footed tub. Not that you’re afraid.
It’s best if you just continue forward. You could glance into the last door on the left but all you’d find there is a king sized four poster and a vintage vanity mirror with some pearls strewn across the floor. Just don’t look in the closet. Not that you’re afraid. And neither are you afraid of opening the last door on the right. It’s just better if you didn’t. You wouldn’t want to see what was sitting in the rocking chair on the far side of the room between an ironing board and another four poster.
It’s best that you don’t look. And still the voices will whisper to you such peculiar things. But since I know you aren’t afraid, I know you will continue on to the door at the very end of the hallway. The black one. Open this door and the whispering voices will be hushed. Through the door you shall be greeted by a wall of shadow. The voices have been silenced to make way for the deep chuckling you will hear from within the room. However, I promise you, that this is just to deter you. But I know you will not be disheartened, because you are not afraid. You will courageously step forth into the darkness without hesitation. The shaft of light from the hallway will offer you very little breadth of vision but still you will step onto the first stair. Then the second. And the third. With each progressive step, the chuckle will become more and more audible. At first it will seem to be coming from the top of the stairs, but once you reach it, it will sound as if it is before you. Still I know you are without fear. You will disregard this voice as you did all of the voices before. The owner of this chuckling voice will always sound as if he is just before you, but truthfully he is just as ethereal as the other voices in the house. At times the voice will be distant as if he is pacing about the room. At times he will be so close that if it weren’t for the fact that you know your own voice, you might think that you were the chuckler yourself. But still, you’re not afraid.
Simply ignore the voice. Even as your hands grope through the darkness against the bureaus and boxes, old furniture and toys, you will diligently proceed. At some point your hands may find the waist of a dress form, once owned by the lady of the house. If you follow its delicate shape to the left shoulder, you may find a small chain hanging just above it. Do not pull this chain. It turns on the light. If you do so the chuckling voice will not remain disembodied, and you don’t want to meet the owner. Not that you’re afraid.
You must carry on through the darkness as you search for the leaden box. You will know it by its earthy metal chill on your skin. When you do, you may notice that the chuckler seems to have regressed to the far side of the room. You must open this box, for inside you shall find the key. As soon as you have it, you may leave the attic. The chuckler will rush up behind you, laughing hysterically, and you must escape the attic before you feel his hands upon you. Do not hesitate to slam he door behind you and use the latch below the doorknob to lock the chuckler inside. When you turn around, you will see that all of the doors that were closed are now open and the shoes below the curtain have disappeared. You have awoken the family and they are rousing from their beds in each of the six rooms that you passed. You must be swift. Close each of the doors as fast as you can, including the first one you saw, locking them as you did the attic. They will pound and kick against the wood of the doors from inside, but they cannot break through. If you accomplish this in time, you have done well. I know you can do it because you are not afraid.
Now, you have the key, the dearly departed have been locked in their rooms and you may proceed downstairs once more. The whispering voices will have returned but they will be even more adamant than before. They will hiss at you furiously, abandoning their threats and choosing to insult you profanely instead, but you must still ignore them. You have come so far because you were not afraid and neither are you afraid now.
When you return downstairs you ought to go into the kitchen. There is nothing to be found there now, you have locked her upstairs in her room. On the far side you will see a door, identical to the one through which you discovered the attic. Through it, you shall discover stairs going downward. The lightswitch shall be to your left and you may turn it on because there is no chuckler in the cellar. Enter and close the door behind you. You must follow the stairs down and cross to the far side of the room. There isn’t much in the cellar, some shovels, a rake and other gardening tools mostly. The floor is even earthen and there is a bulkhead leading out. This is your exit, but it is an old one, the door will not be easily opened. You will hear the banging continue from upstairs. Still, you’re not afraid.
At the far end of the basement opposite the entrance, there is an apparently blank wall but you will find a loose brick at eye level for someone who is about 5′ 9″. Take it out and you should be able to pull more out afterward. When you’ve pulled enough of them away you will find the hatch. The hatch may be opened with the key. However, by the time you have found the hatch, I imagine the family will have found their way out of their rooms. But still, you’re not afraid.
The sound of footsteps may sound through the house as the family comes in search of you. There are limited places you could be so you’d better move fast. Open the hatch with the key and inside you will find the safe. The combination is the date of the newspaper that was in the living room upstairs. You must turn the dial even as it becomes apparent that the family has discovered where you are. They will bang on the door to the basement and it will only hold for so long. Still, I know, you will not be afraid.
Once you’ve opened the safe you will find the briefcase. Don’t bother to open the briefcase there for the family will be on the brink of finding you. Even now they may have broken through the door. Grab the briefcase and run to the bulkhead. Shift the locking bar to the side. Use your strength because it is likely rusted in place. Push with all of your might to get the bulkhead doors open and run out into the night. The family will likely be on your heels but if you run with all of your strength they will not catch you. Run out through the surrounding buildings and lose them. Find someplace to hide. Whatever you do, escape them and don’t lose the briefcase. Even as Beth comes forth, the wound on her chest spilling blood out through her rosey dress, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you didn’t open Beth’s door? Even as Sam waddles forward, his collapsed rib cage forcing stomach fluid to spill out of his mouth, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you passed by his door as well? Even as mother rushes after you, the dent in her skull from the meat cleaver pulsing, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you didn’t enter the kitchen? Even as grandpa rushes after you, the glass sticking out from his torso forming a scarlet line around his waist, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you didn’t part the curtain? Even as Uncle Jonathan comes after you, drenched in water with the slit in his throat swollen from age, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you didn’t look in the bathtub? Even as papa comes after you, the bruises from the pearls and the burns from his necktie at the indent in his neck making his skin appear scaley even in the dim light, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you left the closet door shut? Even as grandma comes after you, her lims disjointed and her stomach emaciated from where she was left to starve to death, you will not be afraid. Aren’t you glad you didn’t go into the last bedroom? And even as the last man who tried to attempt what you will surely succeed in accomplishing, rushes after you, his eyes sunken and his hair white, his ribs visible even through his tattered rags, still laughing as if he has heard the best joke in the world, only God knows if he died of fear or madness, you shall still not be afraid. This I know. You shall run until they are far behind you, and then hide and wait for an hour. Once you’re sure that they are gone, you should find your way home. I know you can accomplish this because you’re not afraid.
At home, you ought to open the briefcase. You will find that it also has a combination lock but this is simply the address of the house. If you didn’t think to look you may need to return to the house the following night. I know you would do that because you’re not afraid. Once you’ve found the address and you open up the briefcase, you will find what I have sent you to look for and the reason for all of your trouble. It’s the deed to the house. The city cannot demolish the house without this document. Be careful with it as it is over a hundred years old. Bring it to the city and have them demolish the house. Once and for all, my family will be able to rest, and maybe this will be adequate repentance for what I did to them all those years ago. If you do get the city to demolish that house my family’s bodies will be interred in the rubble, finally at peace. If not, you left the front door unlocked, didn’t you? God forbid someone else enter that house by chance. But that doesn’t have anything to do with you. And anyways, they have nothing to fear, right?