The house stood, or more accurately leaned, on the corner of Mitchell Drive and Second Avenue. Every town in every state probably had a house like this, with its peeling, faded paint, broken shutters, weeds, and vacant, dark windows, some of which, most actually, were bereft of glass. The haunted house, the ghost house, call it whatever you like, there was probably one wherever you went. But this one, this one was theirs, and therefore the only one that mattered. Robbie stood looking at it with mild curiosity, while Mike, who was two years older than Robbie’s thirteen, smirked at him. “Well,” Mike said, “You going in or what?”
Mike had challenged Robbie to go into the old place. Robbie had said nothing. Janey had come along while they walked and told Robbie he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to. “Shaddup Janey,” Mike said. “Who gives a shit what you think anyway?” Looking back at Robbie Mike said, “So, chicken boy, gonna do it? Gonna go in there or you gonna be known as chicken boy forever?”
They had arrived at the old house and still Robbie had not answered Mike. He had said nothing in fact, to Mike or Janey. Janey found this curious as Robbie was usually a talkative kid. Janey and Robbie had become friends as soon as her family had moved into the neighborhood six years ago. They were pals and did everything together. Mike was the neighborhood bully, usually threatening the younger kids with a switchblade he carried, which he pulled from his pocket now. Clicking the silver button, the knife blade zipped out locking in place. Mike waved it around in front of Robbie. “I might just have to carve chicken across your chest if you don’t,” Mike sneered. Robbie looked from the old house to Mike. A slight smile came to Robbie’s lips. “What?” Mike asked.
“I’ll go in,” Robbie said, “If you go with me.”
“Ha,” Mike said, “I’m the one making the challenge, not you. You don’t get to challenge me ‘till you done it yourself.”
“How do you know I haven’t, Mike? How do you know I haven’t already been in there?”
“I never seen you do it, so even if you did, which you didn’t, it don’t count. You gotta do with somebody to see.”
“That’s why you should come with me Mike. Janey’s here, and she can tell everybody that we went in. Bragging rights, you know? Just think, everyone will know you weren’t scared to go in the old house.”
“Don’t do it Robbie,” Janey pleaded, “You don’t have to just cause Mike says.”
“I thought I told you to shut up?” Mike said, stepping toward her and waving the switchblade in her face. “I did, I did tell you to shut up, so do it!” Janey backed away from the knife. A sudden breeze blew dead leaves in swirls across the front yard of the old place. A groaning sound escaped through the glassless windows as the wind settled the old wood.
“It’s calling you Mike. Can you hear it?” Robbie’s voice sounded mysterious and low, quite unlike his normal pre-pubescent high pitched squeak. Janey looked at him with shock showing on her face.
“You’re scaring me, Robbie. Don’t talk like that.” Even Mike felt a little weirded out by how Robbie sounded.
“That ain’t gonna work you little asshole. You ain’t gonna scare me. Go on,” Mike said, giving Robbie a shove toward the house, “Get on in there or I’ma carve chicken shit into your skin.”
“Not unless you come with,” Robbie said, in a more normal tone. “Janey can witness, you can be a big hero. That’s what you want isn’t it? You want everyone to think you’re cool. What could be cooler than going in the old house?” As Robbie’s words washed over Mike, he suddenly began to feel like it was a good idea, in fact, it was the best idea he’d ever had. He reached out and grabbed Robbie by the shirt and pulled him across the street.
Janey shouted from the curb, “You guys are stupid! Boys are so stupid! You know that place is haunted, right? Robbie, c’mon. Let’s go.” But Robbie didn’t listen and neither did Mike. They walked right up the cracked and broken sidewalk, stepped right up the gray wooden stairs and approached the open front door. In the time it had taken the two boys to walk across the street, Mikes mind had emptied of all thoughts except one, that he was going into the house.
As he stepped across the threshold of the doorway, the house swallowed MIke whole. No one heard his screams. They echoed down the long hallway, bounced off the walls of rooms with peeled wallpaper, shredded curtains, and broken windows, but no one outside the house heard his dying agony. Not even Robbie, who stood just outside the front door on the porch. Robbie stood like that for a long time. Janey had been yelling for him to come back but he didn’t hear her. Finally, Robbie turned slowly away from the door, walked across the porch and down the steps. He walked back across the street to where Janey was waiting for him. As Robbie reached her, she stood up, having sat down on the curb. She was about to ask where Mike was and suddenly found that it wasn’t important, and just as suddenly, she forgot about Mike altogether.
And then Janey had an idea. The best idea, she thought she had ever had. “Hey Robbie,” Janey said, “I bet you won’t go in the old house.” Robbie just looked at her. Slowly turning his head, he looked at the old place, leaning slightly on its foundation. Looking back at Janey, Robbie said, “I will if you go with me.”