Claude was always chasing ghosts. He’d promised Julia that he’d be back in ten minutes, but more time than that had elapsed, and he was nowhere to be seen. The house was so fragile looking; it almost seemed to sway like a leaf in the breeze, but it was made of brick and mortar. Its lack of upkeep was the problem. It had been standing there since Victorian days, but with no maintenance in decades. Julia still thought it had a beautiful face, but behind the face lurked bad thoughts. It was famous in the neighbourhood for being condemned. Julia had never felt the inclination to enter it. She wasn’t drawn to things like that. She didn’t even believe in the spiritual world. She liked to see everything in front of her in solid matter before she took it into consideration. But the place still gave her the creeps.
Claude and she met when they were little. They’d always lived in the same town and neither of them had progressed beyond that. They had no goals beyond living and dying there. It was a picturesque place – like somewhere that stars as the perfect site on a postcard. Only the residents knew the back story there. Vic House was somewhere that was talked about regularly and no one had to explain why. It was well known if you came from the area. Julia got chills whenever she passed it, and she’d never known how. It had a feel to it, and she didn’t put stock in such things. Those four intricately sculpted walls contained the definition of creepy. Julia thought it was sad that no one had saved them from disrepair, but there was no salvaging a place after an event like that.
The house was filled with misery in its former years. A family had lived there with a tyrant of a father. She’d heard the story countless times: he had killed his own family. People said he was possessed and that the place had always housed destructive energy. There was a certain inevitability to the act.
She hoped Claude would come back in a minute, or she’d be forced to go inside. She could think of hundreds of unappealing things she’d rather do. The street was tranquil. It lulled you into a false sense of security, relaxing your worries until they bled away. But then came the bang. It was more like a demolition than a clatter. The sound reminded Julia of those scheduled demolitions she’d seen on TV – when the building implodes and then, dust. Julia’s stomach sank; not in the gradual dipping way it does when you’re anxious - in a rollercoaster style drop. She ran to the door, her hand hesitated on the handle and then she burst through in a 3, 2, 1 reveal. She expected carnage before her – or at least a collapsed staircase, but all was still. Claude wasn’t there. She wondered where he lingered and why he had taken so long. Had he hurt himself? She wondered if she’d find him somewhere, skewered on metal, like meat awaiting cooking: its second, but no-longer-felt cruelty. He wasn’t in the hallway, or on the landing. She walked tentatively towards her friend. Now she knew why she’d avoided it all – she was terrified of the ghostly world. There was enough to fear in the material one: the one where she had some sense of control. Here, she didn’t know what she was doing. She was like an untaught driver behind the wheel of a careening car.
“Claude,” she called out in a loud whisper. “Are you there?” She approached the kitchen door, and she turned its rusty handle, pushing open the mahogany mass. It had the weight of a dead body, and it creaked like nothing in a horror movie ever had. There, she heard the unmatched bang – the one that sounded like floors of a building collapsing, smacking one into the next as they gave in. There was nothing there – just some chipped dishes displayed in cabinet, a grandfather clock that had stopped ticking long ago and a disused range, so delipidated that no estate sale could have marketed it.
Julia turned back on herself, trying to distance herself from the violence of the noise. She mightn’t have seen anything, but she was filled with terror. She could feel herself involuntarily shivering. The place was cold, but it was July, and she knew it wasn’t because of the temperature. Her body was responding with shock, and she couldn’t dismiss the fear she felt with logic. She was facing her greatest fear – the one she hadn’t fully identified with until she’d entered that building – the unreachable realm of ghosts. She didn’t know the full extent to which they could hurt humans, but the bounds of the spiritual world were ever-expanding and incomprehensibly limitless.
“Claude,” she continued to call, but it didn’t come out with volume. If Claude was still in the building, or still in the same spiritual sphere as her, she knew he couldn’t hear her. He’d always been a wild, wandering kind of soul, prone to bouts of curiosity that led him into dangerous situations. She’d always accompanied him like a good friend does, but she preferred to stand in the shade, waiting for him to finish up in the direct sunlight.
The rooms of the downstairs of that house of grandeur were all achingly empty. She ascended the staircase, creating a creak with every footstep she took. It would have been laughably horrific, had it not been so terror-inducing. She felt it in every fibre of her being – the distilled fear that stood up inside her: a kind of fright she’d never known she was capable of feeling. There were so many doors in the place that it was hard to know where to begin. They were all firmly closed, which made it much more difficult. Her own two hands were the pair that had to do the opening: the opening onto a world of impenetrable possibility.
She took possession of the first door handle, held it with long consideration and then opened it. She was quaking with fear of she knew not what. That was what made it so palpably chilling. “Claude,” she called, feebly. “Are you in here?” Her eyes met the multitude of mirrors facing her, like a moment of horror in a Hitchcock movie. She was met with her own reflection – fear mirrored around her on every surface. She turned away from it and then the door slammed closed. Claude was standing behind it, smiling – if you could call it that. It was more of a leer.
“Boo,” he boomed.
She jumped. It was sudden and she didn’t like the strange look in his eyes.
She couldn’t form a word.
He could. He was in his favourite place.
“I thought you said you didn’t believe in ghosts.”
She shuddered. She’d faced her fear for his sake, but she knew they needed to get out of there quickly, to escape that building’s influence.