The glare from the sun bounced off the shattered glass of the first-floor window in fragmented beams.
The late afternoon, nearly evening, breeze blew, red and brown, leaves, dead, and fallen from the autumn struck trees. Swooped in swirling patterns in front of the old Ambury House. A wheeze, resonated from within the dilapidated house as the wind blew against the broken wood siding, threatening to topple it over with every gust.
The Ambury Manor House stood, corner lot, like a looming gargoyle; perched on a mound of earth protruding like an overfilled grave. For a house that was said to stock nothing but death and decay, it was surrounded with abounding life.
Birds perched in the naked trees chirped their happy songs.
A squirrel sprinted across the lawn of weeds and flew up the side of an old oak, oblivious how close it was to the dangers apparently lurking in the house.
A gopher popped its head from a nearby dirt mound, then disappeared.
Faint dog’s barks echoed from nearby houses.
If ever a time could be described as having summer in the air, it was now.
Tyler, his sister; Chloe, and a few of his friends sat crouched behind a low row of bushes across the street from the old Ambury house.
Waiting for the sun to go down, and for Tyler to complete his dare.
Tyler didn’t like it when they played dare. He had developed a reputation for never declining, and it’s led him to many disturbing, embarrassing, and sometimes even dangerous situations. But he always followed through, without fail. He came through time and time again for the amusement of his peers and the bragging rights that accompanied.
“You know you really don’t have to do this right?” Chloe said in a hushed voice, as to not have the others hear.
Tyler glanced at her face, freckles dotted her cheeks, and thinned as they moved away from her nose. Her red hair often caught sunbeams and filtered them in a hot, fiery dance.
He looked at his grouping of friends crouched on the other side of him. Denny, John, and Brian waited in hushed, giddy anticipation. John caught Tyler as he watched them and quickly threw out a thumbs-up, stabbing it into the air in front of his pudgy face.
Tyler looked back at Chloe and saw the concern in her face. “I—,” Tyler swallowed hard, not realizing the size of the knot that had grown in his throat. He cleared it. “I’m fine”.
“Are you sure? Because—,”
“Yes. Don’t worry. I’ve got this. It’s only ten minutes, right? What could possibly happen to me in ten minutes—haunted or not?” Tyler wasn’t sure who he was convincing.
He gulped, fearing he was about to cry, or throw up—or worse, both. He fixed his eyes on the house.
Raising his hand to his forehead, Tyler squinted out the sun’s light, watched as the last bit slid behind the horizon as if it was unable to watch what was about to go down, knowing nothing good was to come of it.
Tyler scraped together every last bit of resolve he had and exhaled forcefully. He craned his neck and shook out the extra anxiety coursing through his arms, flicking it from his fingertips.
His friends gave off quiet applause and cheer, Denny patted him hard on the back, almost throwing him face-first into the bush. “You got this dude!”
Brian and John nodded in agreement.
The blue sky dimmed.
Darker and darker.
Darkness, like silence, fell upon the group of kids.
The darkness brought silence. The silence brought the darkness.
The weight of the moment gripped Tyler. But, why?
He didn’t believe in ghosts. He knew the only thing he should be afraid of in the house was more likely spiders.
He was the bravest of his friends, so why shouldn’t it be him to be the first to enter the Ambury house in over a decade?
Superstitions were stupid.
Denny asked, “Alright man, you ready?”
“Yeah, or ya gonna chicken out?” John added.
Tyler didn’t answer, he acted.
Before the group knew it, he was already across the street, crawling through the gap in the chain-linked fence and caution tape that now surrounded the property. He tiptoed over the narrow path walkway that cut in a zigzag pattern through the yard.
“Be careful,” Chloe whispered more to herself than to Tyler, as if sending up a prayer for his safety.
Tyler stepped carefully onto the stoop. It creaked in subtle protest of his weight.
“Relax...this is nothing. You’ve got this.” Tyler blew a gust of breath out and started a ten-minute timer on his phone. “There’s no such thing...”
He pushed the door, it opened. Swinging into the darkness of the entry room.
The black inside the house seemed to reach out and pull him within. Without recollecting stepping into the house, Tyler found himself completely engulfed in the abyss.
The door slowly closed behind him, exhaling the small remnants of visible light from the room.
Tyler pulled out his phone and tapped the flashlight feature and the room flooded with light.
He swung the light left to right, examining his surroundings, the shadows cast on the opposite walls danced and flickered, animating the still objects and playing wild games with his imagination.
A floorboard creaked in an adjacent room.
His breaths froze.
Time itself froze.
“Hello?’ Only a hushed, quivered whisper.
The light of his phone bathed the half-opened door that led to where the noise came from.
Tyler thought for a moment. Debated. He glanced at the timer on his phone, 6:13 remained.
Tyler took a reluctant step towards the door. It appeared almost to sway back and forth on its ancient hinges as the light cast shifting shadows.
He reached out his hand to push the door open the rest of the way. A light metal against metal squeal made Tyler cringe.
He inched his way into the room trying his best to keep his breaths slow and deep—inhaling through his nose and out slowly through his pinched lips.
The room was somehow different from the rest of the house. It looked as if someone was keeping it cleaned. It didn’t have the same dust-covered furnishings or the draped cobwebs. The paint wasn’t peeling off the walls and the floors looked recently mopped and swept. A glossy glean sparkled in the light of the phone. Not a hint of rust in the air.
A small bed lay in the corner, opposite the door and a table with assorted contents draped with a long piece of terry cloth was pressed up against the wall.
A loud creak of a floorboard erupted from outside of the room and a voice boomed through the entire house leaving Tyler’s feet pinned to the ground like lead weights.
Tyler’s heart cried in his chest and a cold chill broke out on his skin. His knees chattered together in lockstep rhythm with his teeth.
Footsteps of a large person grew louder.
Louder and louder.
Tyler pivoted left, then right. Ducking, he dove under the bed. He scrambled to push himself completely under what little shelter the bed had to offer.
Panicked breaths wheezed in and out of his lungs. He swung his hand over his mouth and sucked in the stale air from between his fingers.
Before he could react, Tyler watched in sheer horror as a man, hunched over in a painful arch, entered the room.
Tyler slid further back under the bed as close to the wall as he could get. Splinters prickled against his back.
A stench hit Tyler’s nose like a jacked-up freight train.
The man’s leg, from his dirty boot up to his upper shin, was visible. A faint resemblance of blood, dried and starchy, coated his left pant leg. The man slowly lumbered around the room.
The man’s breath rattled and whistled in an inhuman manner. Like a machine, a ventilation system, pulling in air, and expelling the CO2 byproduct.
Then came the most terrifying sound. Not the sound, but rather the timing.
“Tyler! Come out time’s up! You did it, you crazy psycho!”
It came from outside of the house. John.
The thing stopped, dead in his tracks. Breathing stopped.
“Come on Ty, you’re done. You can come out now.”
Tyler’s eyes glossed over, tearing up.
He heard their voices getting nearer to him as he willed them to go in the opposite direction. Pleading, praying they would hear his subconscious voice and turn and run away.
The front door creaked open. The man, turned, silently towards the half-opened door into the main living room.
“Ty?” Chloe’s soft voice filled the house like a soul returning to a body.
The man shifted towards the table, folded the terrycloth over. He pulled a splintered-handled, jagged, dirty machete out from underneath. The sound of the metal sliding against the tabletop sent shivers crawling along Tyler’s spine.
Silent tears streaked down his cheeks.
“Come on Tyler, it’s over. You can come out now,” Denny said impatiently.
“Yeah man, this place is giving me the creeps,” John added.
“Tyler?” Brian whimpered.
Tyler wanted to yell, to scream. He wanted to get up and run out of the room. Run forever and ever, away from this place, but was glued to the ground while the grave events played on.
Bravery leaked from him every passing second, like water from a tipped cup.
The man left the room and stumbled into the outer room where his friends were, machete clenched tightly in hand.
He heard Chloe scream and the sound of the front door slamming shut made Tyler jump under the bed, slamming his back into the underside of the metal bed frame.
Tyler lay there, unable to move even an inch.
“Jesu—,” Denny was cut off.
A struggle erupted in the room. Furniture scraped against the floor. Thuds and crashes. Creaks and screams. Gurgles and pleas. The horrors unfolding in the outer room choked Tyler up. His imagination at the moment worked overtime.
Then a silence, never heard before, slithered its way throughout the house. The wind outside stopped blowing. No sounds of dogs barking, birds chirping, cars driving by. Utter and complete silence.
What made Tyler freeze initially, subsided. Now, he was held down in his hiding place out of fear of seeing whatever happened out there.
Tyler quietly sobbed and wished he could curl up into a ball, but the bed prevented him.
The soft muffled sounds from in the outer room played out and then all that was left was the repeated sound of thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
The man appeared in the doorway, like a monster, fingers dripping, coated in red...
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Thud, thud sliiiiide.
He was dragging—
The man laid Denny’s limp body in the middle of the floor—Denny’s lifeless leg dropped to the ground—and left the room.
“Denny...” Tyler cried out in a whisper. “Denny... Please, Denny get up.”
Tyler choked up. He lost control of his bladder and urine pooled around his body.
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Tyler clasped his hand over his mouth again. Tears squeezed through his pinched eyelids and slipped over his hand. Tremors quaked through his body and into his arm making it hard to hold his hand still over his gasping mouth.
He tasted salt.
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Laid next to Denny. Just as lifeless. Still. Not moving.
The reality of what was happening evaded Tyler’s brain's computations. He was left fluttering in an unrealistic dreamlike state. He couldn’t believe anything that was happening yet, and even worst, he couldn’t disprove it either.
It was too real to not be happening.
His inaction at the moment made him hate himself.
Thud, thud, sliiiiide.
Dropped with a resounding thunk.
A tear in Tyler’s throat gripped him with pain. His chest sunk so hard it felt as if he had melted into the floorboards. Mixing molecules with the wood planks beneath him.
And then it hit him.
She wasn’t here... She must have... That’s what the door slamming was from. It had to be. It had to be. Tyler couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his sister laying on the floor next to all of his dead friends.
A silent prayer rose from his lips and he hoped with all his might that the prayers made it to the right place.
Then, the nightmare worsened.
Please God, no...
This can’t be happening...
The man reappeared in the room in a similar fashion to the others. Tyler watched in horror as Chloe’s body was dragged into the room and laid right next to the bed he was cowering beneath.
Tyler looked away from Chloe’s face, laying just inches from his.
Tyler’s body shook. Convulsed from pure unfiltered shock.
Tyler’s heart raced and he spun his head back around.
Chloe’s eyes blinked and her hand moved to reach for him.
Tyler went to reach back but pulled back short as the man quickly stomped over Chloe’s body. He straddled her, brought down the machete square into her back.
And just like that. She was gone. Tyler watched as the lights went out of his sister’s eyes.
Tyler felt a flush of blood racing, shoot to his brain, and consciousness began to slip from his grip.
Chloe’s hand lay partway under the bed, like a bent tree branch.
Seconds before Tyler lost all consciousness, he reached out and grabbed her hand. He held it tight in his.
He didn’t care if the man heard him or not, he whispered through hyperventilated breaths, “I’m sorry. I—I’m so sorry...”
And then his eyes fell, like a guillotine to his consciousness. Heavy and light all at the same time. Graceful almost.
[10 Years Later]
His eyes stared into the white walls. Glazed. Unblinking. Uninterested in anything and everything.
Soft mumbles, moans, and groans filled the room with ambient noises. Hushed conversations dotted the expansive room. Noises that would be tuned out once you had sat in the room for more than 5 minutes.
An orderly, a middle-aged blonde-haired woman, walked around the room, hunching over to admire some poorly drawn artwork, scribbled with crayon.
She crossed in the path of Tyler’s fixed gaze and gave him a cheery smile.
“I hear we’ve got some visitors today. How exciting! We need to be presentable now, let’s take care of that shall we?” She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed a line of drool spilling out of the crack in the side of his mouth.
“There. Now that’s much better, handsome.” She smiled, fixed his gown so that it rested on his shoulders wrinkle-free, and walked away to attend to another nearby patient.
The bell above the door jingled, and five people entered the room. One wore a white orderly dress, and the other four were dressed in casual clothing, jeans, t-shirts, one even in sandals. Three women, two men.
The group drew closer to Tyler.
“Hey Ty, you’ve got some visitors here to see you. Isn’t that nice?” Her cheery attitude similar to the other. Standard issue.
Tyler remained unmoved, silent. Staring into nothing.
“Hey, Tyler. How you holding up? I know it’s been a while. . .” The man’s hand shot to the back of his neck and he rubbed it. Clearly unsettled by his own presence at the ward.
The group huddled around Tyler. Leaning in to get a better look at his face.
“How’s he been doing?” one of the woman visitors asked the orderly, “Any progress? Anything at all?”
The orderly answered with a downcast head and a simple shake.
“Jesus, he looks terrible,” the second visitor grumbled, a man.
“Don’t be insensitive,” the woman visitor shot back.
“What? I mean come on. Look at him. He’s—he’s...”
“A vegetable,” the third visitor added, the other man stoic and cold in the face.
A tear came to the woman’s eye. She dabbed it with a tissue.
“I don’t know if I should... I think I’ll wait outside...” The second woman said, just before turning towards the door she had entered in, pushing through it she disappeared beyond the threshold before the door fully closed.
“I’m going to make sure she’s ok,” One of the men visitors said. “Hang in there bud, I’ll be right back,” he pressed his knuckles into Tyler’s shoulder.
The woman nodded, her gaze not leaving Tyler.
She pulled a chair next to Tyler’s and sat down. She gave a slight nod to the orderly, excusing her to leave them to their visit. The orderly smiled a pitiful smile.
The other man followed, remained quiet as he sat opposite of Tyler.
“Hey, Ty. It’s—it’s me. Don’t you recognize me... Don’t mind him... His new wife’s... Well, she wasn’t quite prepared...”
Nothing. No response, just a vacant stare.
“I miss you. I miss you so much.” She wiped a fresh tear as it rolled over her freckle dotted face with a balled-up tissue in her hand.
“I’m—I... What happened?”
She leaned forward and peered into his eyes. The day's last rays of sunlight filtered first through the dirty windowpane, then her auburn hair.
“Chloe?” The man whispered.
“Don’t you think... well, that... I don’t know, it just seems like he’s not getting any be—,”
“I don’t care... he... he’s my brother for chrissakes!” She clenched her jaw, swallowed hard. Visibly holding back a torrent of emotion.
The man backed down, settling deep into his seat. He sighed.
Chloe leaned into Tyler.
“What did you see in there?”
Chloe grabbed Tyler’s hands, clasping them hard, giving him a firm squeeze. “Talk to me. Tell me, what happened in the Ambury House? What did you see? Why won’t you come back to me?”