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Not Exactly A Haunting
There’s this house in my neighborhood, on the end of the street, into which no one ever goes, and out of which no one ever comes.
I know, I know. Obviously it’s HAUNTED because, well, that’s the nature of vacant houses. If no one’s lived there for a while, there’s got to be a reason, right? And it can’t possibly be a logical reason, like the foundation’s compromised and the house is condemned. Nope, obviously, there are ghosts.
At least, that’s the logic of the younger children in my neighborhood. It doesn’t quite help that they’re only seven, and at the age of maximum gullibility. It also doesn’t help that the house is so creepy looking.
My parents say that it used to be a green color, a strange mix of olive and forest green. It’s now bleached white from the relentless sun; the dead trees in the yard offered no protection against the many years that house has been left unoccupied. Remnants of a white picket fence surround a yard that had long ago wasted away to decaying crab grass, weeds having taken over the pathway to the door for as long as I remember. Two-by-fours crisscross over the fiberboard that covers where windows once were, vandals having broken the glass as pranks, or dares.
Many kids my age swear they’ve been in there, and tell ridiculous tales of skeletal deer, hundreds of ghosts, and a murderer who waits for his next victim. It’s almost an initiation ritual to dare a new kid on the block or younger sibling to enter the house and place something somewhere, or steal something. Everyone says the items that go in there and come out are haunted.
“You know, Lily hasn’t been in the house yet,” my friend Roger said on a Saturday afternoon, while we were on summer break. The others nodded their heads as they realized the truth in this statement.
I snorted. “You don’t honestly think that place is haunted, do you?” I asked, giving him a look. He was fifteen, same as me, and I thought that he’d abandoned that belief years ago.
He smirked. “I should say the same. If you don’t think it’s haunted, you won’t have any trouble going inside and…” He paused for dramatic effect, looking around our small circle of seven. “Getting Old Man Brauner’s skull.”
The younger children gasped, looks of fright blanching their innocent faces white. I raise my eyebrow. “Why would some old guy’s skull be in a vacant house?”
Roger smiles, delighted at the fact he knew something I didn’t. He gestures for everyone to huddle closer to him, and we did, the younger ones more keen than I was to hear some ridiculous rumor.
“People say that the family who originally lived there weren’t entirely…sane.” Roger begins.
I roll my eyes at this. “Let me guess. Murderers? Cannibals?” The others shush me, their attention fully on Roger.
Roger shook his head. “Old Man Brauner was the head of the house. Everything he said was law. Once he died, well, the faithful little sheep couldn’t give up the body of their shepherd. So they kept his body in a glass coffin and used it as…A COFFEE TABLE.” He grinned, having successfully scared the younger children out of their wits.
“Yes, Roger. Because that wouldn’t smell at all.” I shook my head. “That story’s absurd, just like every other rumor I’ve heard about that house. Weren’t you saying just last week that the people who lived there all drowned in a freak bathtub accident?”
Roger shrugs, unfazed. “If you’re just too chicken, just bring back something else. Something of equal value.”
I glared at him. “And if there’s no skull?”
Roger considers this. “Then bring out a chair cushion.”
I glare at him a bit longer, but I know that if I don’t do this, I’ll be teased about it for the rest of my life. “Fine. I’ll be back in five minutes with a chair cushion, since there’s no skull.” I stalked off towards the house. I could feel all their eyes on me as I approached the gate, pushing it open and wincing at the loud creak it made.
“And you can only bring out a cushion if you’re sure there’s no skull!” Roger yells after me.
Showing no hesitation, I march up the front walkway, pushing the door open and listening to the ancient hinges as they creak to allow the door to open.
Once the door is closed behind me, the reality of my situation hits: I’m in the abandoned house, the one that’s probably condemned. The one that I’ve never stepped foot in until now, because I didn’t believe that I ever needed to prove my bravery.
Now that I’m actually inside, I gaze around in wonder. The interior of the house looks as if it’s been frozen in time, like the family who lived here just got up and left, leaving everything the way it was when they were doing things. There’s an unfinished board game on the coffee table, the pieces dusty and covered in cobwebs. The furniture of this room, which I assume is the sitting room, looks Victorian, with muted colors of deep purple and light gray, though the old television in the corner throws off the whole look.
I cross the room, heading for the kitchen, trying to ignore the stairs, but knowing full well my curiosity will just drag me back towards them. I step tentatively on the wooden floors, which creak with age, but seem to hold my weight well enough.
The kitchen is a burst of yellow, faded, but the color is still there. The stove is covered in a thick layer of grime, and several cabinet doors hang from only one hinge. I walk to the refrigerator and open it, quickly slamming the door back into position as the stench of rotted food lunges at me as soon as the door is opened. “Nothing there but some ancient chicken and milk long past its expiration…”
Suddenly, jazz music floats down from somewhere upstairs. I jump, my eyes wide at the prospect of not being the only person in the house. Fear quickly dissolves into annoyance. This must be Roger’s doing. He’s trying to scare me, trying to make me run from the house screaming.
I stomp up the stairs, determined to catch Roger and to not let myself be fooled. I rush past family portraits to the room at the end of the hall, where the music is originating from.
“Roger!” I shout from the doorway. “You cut that out, it’s no-”
I break off, and stare. The figure standing in the room is much, much too tall to be Roger, and way too well dressed to pass for a child. He wears a black suit, with thin light grey stripes running vertically down it. He holds a black walking cane, with a red jewel adorning the top. But what draws my attention most is the fact that his entire face is concealed by the top half of a deer skull, antlers almost impossibly holding in place a frayed top hat.
“Why, look, Mortimer.” He says in a light-hearted chirp, speaking to a raven that sits on a perch by the window. “We seem to have a guest!”
I stare, agape. “Who…who are you?” I manage.
He cocks his head to the side, as if considering the question. “My name is Higgity Piggleston.” He says finally, after a few minute’s deliberation.
“What kind of a name is Higgity Piggleston?” I inquire, confused.
Again, he considers the question. “The kind of name I’d like to have.” He answers. “You see, I’ve forgotten my name.”
“How can somebody forget their name?”
“People tend to forget things when there’s no one around to remind them.” Higgity glances around. “As you can see, no one’s been here for a very long time. Not many visitors, sadly. People tend to think this house is haunted. You did. Still do.”
“I do not!” I protest.
“Oh, but you do. You avoid this house whenever possible. I see you, crossing the street when you think no one is watching just to get away from the scary old house. When you’re with friends, you don’t care. You mask your fear. And masked fears are the worst kind to have.” He scratches his skull, as if thinking.
“Why are you wearing a deer skull?” I ask, not wanting to be rude, but when talking to someone with a deer skull on their head, it’s a bit hard not to wonder.
“Why am I…?” He brings both of his hands up to his face and feels around. “Why, I am. I don’t know. I must have some reason.”
“How can you not notice a deer skull on your head?” I smile. He’s a bit odd, this Higgity man, but he seems perfectly harmless. Then again, he does live in an abandoned house with a raven named Mortimer.
“Why, the same way I can forget my name.”
I was silent for a few moments. “You’re really weird.”
Higgity straightened. “Why, thank you!” he beamed. Well, I think he beamed. It’s hard to read the facial expression of someone when you can’t see their face. He took a bow. “I try my hardest to be the strangest.”
“Why would someone want to do that?”
“Why, because then they’re completely an individual! I’d much rather be the one on stage than a face in the crowd, wouldn’t you?” He twirled his cane and did a few tap dance steps. “I’m one of a kind!”
“You certainly are…” I murmured. I glanced around the room, wanting desperately to get out. “Uhm, listen…Higgity. I’ve got to go.”
Higgity drooped. “Oh…well, that’s all right. Everyone’s got to leave eventually.” He straightened. “But you’ll come to visit, right?”
I considered this for a moment. “Sure, Higgity. I’ll visit.”
He clapped his hands joyously. “Wonderful! Well, then, Lily, I’ll see you at some point in time that is later and not now.” He dragged me down the stairs and gave me a gentle shove near the door. “Don’t forget your chair cushion, dear. But remember to bring it back; I am quite partial to keeping my furniture almost completely whole.”
“Wait, Higgity-” He closed the door in my face, and I stood there for a moment, clutching the dusty chair cushion. I opened the door again, yet this time I found an empty house, devoid of all furniture with the exception of a chair, in the middle of the room. It was missing its cushion. “How did you know my name? And what I was here for?”
As I closed the door of that strange, strange house, I swore I could hear Higgity’s voice saying: “Why, my dear, I know almost everything!”