“I double-dog-dare you,” said Jill, her unruly bangs covered her right eye and the port-wine birthmark on her cheek. She pushed Jack in the back. “Or are you chicken?” She began a bwok bwok noise but choked on it when a faint light lit up in the tower of the old farmhouse. It moved away from the broken window glass, disappeared for a held breath, and reappeared in the round windows dotting down the side of the clapboard walls, from the fourth flour turret to the ground floor. It stopped behind the front door side window, blinked three times, and went dark. The front door groaned open.
Jack shrieked, his voice cracking from fear instead of puberty. His long, lanky body, thin from a rapid growth spurt and uneven feeding, shielded Jill from the thick fog roiling around them.
“We should go home,” he whispered. “It’s not worth it.” He shivered and jumped when Jill clutched his worn t-shirt and hand-me-down hoodie. Although they weren’t brother and sister, they shared an exact birthdate, today, October 31. At the exact time, they were born in Riverside’s tiny hospital, their mothers giving birth to each of them in a shared room at 11:11 pm thirteen years ago. While their mothers hated each other, Jill and Jack were always best friends.
“But the treasure,” Jill said. “Tonight matches all of the clues. We have to find it.” Jill hopped up on the front porch, faced Jack, and pulled out a worn notebook. She waved it at Jack.
“Turn on the camera and start streaming,” she said, “and don’t stop no matter what happens. We’re going to be famous.”
Jack raised the cell phone that he and Jill shared. They had a pay-as-you-go account that they pooled the little money they got to buy minutes, but mostly used the wi-fi map they made to track all of the free wi-fi spots around town. Since they spent all of their free time together, they managed with one phone. It was used, but it was the latest model smartphone. They had plans to be internet famous.
Jill cleared her throat. She waited on the porch as if on stage. Jack turned on the camera and began streaming. This would cost a bunch of minutes. They had been saving for over six months for this one night, this one chance. The camera’s light bounced off of the swirling, thick fog as it moved around Jill like smoke.
“Tonight,” Jill said, “is the night mentioned in Josiah Jenkins’ notebook.” She waved the worn book, opened it, and jabbed a finger at the pages. “He wrote this entry back in 1799. It’s about the treasure that got him killed.” Jill pointed behind Jack. He turned the phone and followed where she pointed.
“Josiah Jenkins was a rich landholder here in Riverside, and he built his home here on the banks of Dread Harbor.”
Jack filmed the giant yachts shrink-wrapped in white plastic for the winter. The hulking shapes looked like mountains with mist floating around and through their canyons.
“It’s a boatyard now for sailboats and yachts, but back at the turn of the 18th century, it was a farm. Jenkins shipped his goods from this point up and down the river, and he became rich. He stored his wealth in his house. Four itinerant workers, two from New York City and two from Philadelphia, broke into Josiah’s house to rob him. One of the men stabbed Josiah with a chisel. Josiah shot at the men, and they ran off. Josiah lived for another 24 hours. During that time, he wrote an entry in his book. I found his book buried among old journals in the Riverside Library. We’re going to decipher his message to find his buried treasure.”
Banging, like thunder, rattled the rotten walls of the house. Jill jumped off of the porch and bumped into Jack. He dropped the phone, the light from it careening wildly through the fog. He fell to his hands and knees, groping for the now dark phone. The old house moaned, creaked, and shook. Jill pulled on Jack’s sleeve as he picked up the phone along with a handful of rotting leaves.
“Come on,” she whispered. She dragged Jack behind her until they got behind a boathouse. Their breathing strained their starving lungs. They slumped down to the ground, their backs against the boathouse wall.
“Turn the camera back on,” Jill said.
Jack lifted the phone. “It’s still on,” he said. Jill guided Jack’s shaking hand, so the camera faced her.
“A little glitch,” she said. “I think that was Josiah Jenkins’ ghost. He said he would come back today to help anyone brave enough to venture into his house on this day.” She cleared her throat and read from the book.
“I have no wife, and my child has a new father. One of the men who kilt me was my nephew from my step-brother. While my property will go to my family and remain with my bloodline in perpetuity, they will gain no joy or profit from its possession.” Jill looked into the camera and gestured around her. “Josiah cursed his relatives while he lay dying.” She slapped the book on her thigh. “They are rich and own most of the property in town, but they are a miserable lot. Drunks, fighters, thieves, illegitimate children that they don’t take care of. Josiah done them in real good.”
The house rumbled. Glass cracked; wood split; tin tiles fell from the roof. Rays of light pierced the night from its core.
Jill and Jack trembled. Jill shoved a fist into her mouth to block the screams lodged in her throat from escaping. Jack didn’t bother trying to remain quiet. He whimpered as the house made its feelings known. Jill took the phone from Jack’s shaking hand and held it up to them.
“As you can hear, Josiah ain’t happy we’re intruding,” she said. “We must be brave to succeed. Josiah says so in his prophecy:
“Under the Betrayer’s Moon
From which deceit is hewn
In a year of Perfect Vision
Twin souls that defy division
Can find my buried treasure
By robbing death of pleasure.”
Jill pulled Jack up, thrust the phone back at him, and dragged him behind her.
“Keep the camera on me,” she said. “Don’t turn away, no matter what happens.”
“Ok.” Jack squeaked. “The Blair Witch Project has nothing on us.” He laughed, then cut it off like a nervous mourner caught being inappropriate.
“We’re going in,” said Jill. She pushed on the front door. It wouldn’t budge. “It feels like it’s pushing back at me.”
A white mass attacked Jill through the door. It shoved her to and fro, battering her into the clapboards.
Jack tried to pull her from the clutches of the vapor. His fingers met resistance as it pulled Jill away from Jack. He strained against the apparition, pounding on it to get it to release Jill.
“Keep filming.” Jill danced in the clutches of the ghost. “I’m ok.” She screamed as the ghost slammed her into the porch railing. She toppled over it, landing face-first in the dirt. She spit out earth and blood.
“Fine,” she screamed at the house. “We won’t go in that way. We’re not giving up. We’ll find another way in. Come on, Jack.” She stomped around to the side of the building to the cellar door. She pulled out her pocket knife and sawed through the rope holding the latches fast. The rotten cabling fell away. She pulled open the hatches, banging them, so the sound echoed against the fog and bounced back to them. Jill flicked on a flashlight and descended into the dirt cellar.
Damp, mold, and rotten vegetables floated in the air they disturbed. They waited for Josiah to react to their invasion. Silence.
“What do we do now?” Jack reached around Jill so they were both in the shot.
“We need to get into the room where Josiah was stabbed and spend the night. If we can stay until sunrise, we will be shown the treasure.” They paused, straining for any sound. The lack of noise pressed down on them. They bent lower, hunching their shoulders, feeling as if the upper floor moved down to crush them.
Jack tucked Jill into his bent form, his body shielding hers, easy to do as she was a good twelve inches shorter than him. She steered them to the stairs to the house as he held the camera in front of them.
“I think Josiah is waiting for us,” said Jill, her whisper sibilant in the stillness. “We come in peace,” she shouted. Jack banged his head on the load-bearing borders of the floor above.
“Jeez, Jill,” he said, “What the hell you do that for?” He rubbed his scalp and scratched it when the pain turned into that weird itch you get when you hit your head.
“It’s only right to let a man know you’re coming into his house.”
They climbed the stairs, kicking up dust. Jill sneezed into her shirt sleeve. At the top of the stairs, the door swung in of its own accord. A pale light shone down the hall on the right. A mouse ran across the floor in front of them, its tail leaving a trail between its tiny paw prints.
“We have to go to the light,” said Jill.
“Oh, sure,” said Jack, “I haven’t even kissed a girl yet.”
Jill elbowed him in the stomach. “You better not be kissing any girls.”
“It was a joke,” he said. “I don’t wanna die.”
“Stick with me, and you’ll be safe,” said Jill. “I promise.” Jill tugged on Jack’s shirt. “Come on. I think he’s down there.” She pointed at the glow.
Windows rattled. Glass cracked and broke. The air pressure condensed and squished the bodies of the teenagers. They pressed against the wall and waited for relief. It expanded out, and they were able to breathe again. A low, mournful whine floated out to them with a frigid draft. The temperature in the hallway dropped so much that Jill shivered. Jack broke a thin icicle from leaking plaster.
A chair flew through the room’s arch, into the hall, and splintered against the wall. A thick miasma in the shape of a man followed, turned towards Jack and Jill, and rushed them. The ghost passed through them as they screamed and ran for the front door. Jill twisted the knob. It didn’t turn. The spector smashed into Jack and knocked him down. Jill clenched her fists, swung at the phantom, and fanned it away from Jack. It dispersed in a fine mist as it hit the door, then coalesced into an 18th-century old man.
His Tricorne hat sat cocked upon a white powdered wig. He had a full beard and mustache and a port-wine birthmark on his right cheek. His fitted coat had wide-cuffed sleeves. A snowy ascot tucked at his throat. His white stockinged feet slipped into black shoes with large, silver buckles.
The kids backed up as the ghost herded them into the house’s main room.
“OOooo.” He moaned, coughed, and doubled over.
Jill reached out and patted him on the back.
“You ok?” Jill rubbed his shoulder.
Jack yanked her back. “Don’t touch him,” he said.
Jill shrugged Jack off.
“He’s not well,” she said.
“He’s a ghost,” Jacks said. “He’s dead, so yeah.”
“Don’t be mean.” Jill helped the old man to the rotting settee. “Can I get you anything?”
He shook his head.
“Josiah?” Jill sat beside him and held his hand. Other than the frigidity, his hand felt like a real person’s hand.
Jack sat on a Windsor chair across from them. It creaked from his slight weight and wobbled. He flipped the camera on the phone, so the lens captured Jill and the ghost. Jack gasped and pointed at them. They looked up.
“What?” Jill frowned.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” said the old man.
Jack waved at his cheek, then at them. “You both … on your cheeks.”
Josiah reached out and brushed back Jill’s hair. She grazed his cheek with her fingertips.
“This birthmark is a family inheritance,” said Josiah Jenkins. He wept. “I had no idea my seed still lived.”
“You must be mistaken,” said Jill. “While there are many in the area with the name of Jenkins, I am not one of them.” She gestured to her clothes. “I’m a bastard from the wrong side of town. Poor and nameless.”
“You are brave and clever,” said Josiah, “to fight your way to me, and nameless no more.”
“The mark we share is proof that I am not dead and forgotten. My child, raised by another man, had the same.” Josiah clapped and stomped his feet, cackling with glee.
The battery on Jack’s phone died.
“We must do all we can to put you in your rightful place, my girl,” said Josiah. He hopped up and did a gig.
“Let’s begin with the treasure under the fireplace hearth,” said Josiah. “Enough gold to right all wrongs. And I shall help you take your place in the Jenkins’ family tree.”
Jill and Jack found a chest full of gold half eagles struck in the first national mint in Philadelphia. They buried the treasure in a new hiding place for their future use. Josiah entered his old notebook and stayed with Jill as she grew up.
Jack became an internet sensation when his live-streamed video of their meeting with the dead went viral. He caught the attention of a famous Hollywood producer, who provided Jack with a scholarship to a famous visual arts high school.
Jeremiah Jenkins, a doctor in Riverside, thrice-divorced and childless, saw Jill in the recording. After reading about her online and learning Jill’s mother’s identity, he realized they had dated. He demanded a DNA test.
Legally, Jill became a Jenkins’ descendant. Her parents spent the next five years fighting over her. She spent that time in the library and exploring Jenkins’ properties.
At eighteen, Jill purchased the old Jenkins Estate and restored it to its former glory. Jack joined her there. Jack and Jill were not brother and sister.
Josiah Jenkins happily haunted his renovated home.
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I loved the twist of the inherited birthmark. Definitely not what I thought was going to happen.
Thank you, Erika.
I loved the atmosphere that you created! It felt just creepy enough without being downright terrifying. Well done!
Thank you for reading, Daniel.
Thank you, Charlene.
What a sweet, wonderful tale. I love it.
Thank you, Nathalie.