Skulls and Crossbones

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Nobody knew for sure what existed in the House.
Some would say that there were ghosts roaming its halls, forever embedded in the stones that made the terrifying pillars. Others believed it to be infested with vampires that were born from the very souls of those slaughtered in the barren dungeons. Few would actually say what they thought to be beyond the dirty windows, so terrified that even an illusion to the house would have them shaken for days.
And then there was me; the girl who lived just across the street from the house. I didn’t believe any of the stories told amongst the locals. Honestly, who did they think they were fooling? Ghosts? Vampires? Ha!
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t stupid to go in there.
Oh, sure, I wanted to. The secrets that could be discovered from a house that old! Objects from a long forgotten past, found by someone who could appreciate their worth. But unless I sudden discovered I was impervious to any danger, I wouldn’t go near the front door. The walls looked as if they would tumble down around me if I breathed the wrong way. I happened to like my life, thankyouverymuch.
I wished I remembered that.
~
“Sarah! Breakfast is ready!”
I sighed, dragging my body off of the window seat in my room. I trudged down the stairs in my usual outfit: black skinny jeans, black Converse, and a hoodie. My mother made a face at my choice of clothing, like usual.
I rolled my eyes at her. She always acted like this, as if suddenly one morning I would say to myself, ‘Hmm, I think I’ll change my entire wardrobe just to make my mother happy!’
I snorted into my eggs a little at the thought. I think my mother would die of shock if I suddenly changed overnight.
“Don’t snort, Sarah. It makes you look less of a lady.”
I was mouthing the words with her by the end.
She sent me a sharp look, letting me know that she saw. I smiled sweetly and took a large bite of my pancake.
“Do you know when Dad’s going to pick me up?” I asked once I was done, looking up to see my mother across from me.
She chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “He’s picking you up tomorrow afternoon. That means come straight home after school; you need to do your chores before you go.”
I groaned as a reflex reaction.
“None of that, Sarah. Now, hurry up and get to the bus stop; your bus should be here soon.”
~
I was walking the three blocks to my house from the bus stop when I heard it.
“Come on, Missy. You know you want to do it,” a voice taunted.
“My name is Michelle. Stop calling me Missy. And I told you, I am not going to do it!”
I turned down the alley, following the voices. My eyes caught onto a group of kids standing near one of the garages. Three boys were crowded around a girl, malicious smirks on their faces. She was giving them the coldest glare I had ever seen.
“But Missy,” the tallest voice said, whining out the shortening of her name, “If you won’t do it, who will?”
“How about you? It’s not like you’re an upstanding citizen of society.”
I winced. That was a little harsh.
“I may not be an upstanding citi—whatever you said, but you are. You wouldn’t want your poor little secret getting out, now would you?”
Her face seemed to grow even paler, the red in her cheeks caused by the biting December wind fading.
“You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, but I would. Now, about my offer…”
She sighed, looking visibly shaken. “Fine. I’ll do it. But when I don’t come out, my death will be on your conscious.”
“Great. Tomorrow, then; 11 O’clock.”
I moved quickly back into the shadows of the bushes on the other side of the alley, watching as the three boys laughed as they walked away. The girl stayed for a moment longer, smoothing her jacket and composing herself before leaving the alley. I watched her go with some trepidation.
I didn’t realized at the time that they were talking about the house
~
I sat at my window seat that night, gazing out into the darkness. The streetlamps gave the snow an eerie glow, that orangey color reflecting off the fresh crystals. I drew little designs in the glass absently.
The house across the street seemed more foreboding than usual, black towers and walls looming over an unkempt lawn. I let my eyes run over the familiar features; familiar only because of long hours spent at the window, longingly watching the front door. I took in the large, dirty windows framed by tattered curtains; the rotting porch with its double seated swing on the porch, broken long ago; the towers almost seeming to touch the sky with their points.
I sighed softly, my finger continuing to move through the frost. I should be sleeping right now, making sure I had enough energy to keep up with my dad tomorrow. He wasn’t known for his relaxed attitude, truly. I suppose I had gotten my curiosity from him; that unyielding drive to search for secrets in the world, discover and covet them so completely that no one could doubt that they were yours.
I imagined what my dad would say about the house across the street. He would be interested at first sight, no doubt. And once I told him all the rumors and stories that the locals believed in, he would grow fascinated by what was lying inside. I would have to remember not to tell him about it until we were closer to his house than mine.
As I was musing, something drew my eye outside. I squinted, wiping a clear spot away from my drawing so I could see better. Nobody was walking outside, and no cars had driven by since there weren’t any taillights at the stop sign down the street. What did I—
A curtain moved in the large windows across the street, and for a split second, I could have sworn that I saw a hand. Shaking it off as delusions from a tired mind, I rose from the seat. It was most likely a draft from a broken window, or something like that, that moved the curtains.
I glanced down at the bottom part of the window, where I was drawing with my finger. The picture looked like a misshapen apple with a pair of lines underneath, supporting it. I wiped it away before getting into bed.
I couldn’t shake that feeling that the picture meant something, however.
~
By the next morning, the picture had faded from my mind for most of the morning. I had begun cleaning, attempting to get most of the easier chores done by the time my dad got here. I did not want to attempt to clean my room at the moment.
It was around ten-thirty when I finished everything, groaning when I realized that it meant I was supposed to clean my room. I made my way up the stairs sullenly. Once I was in the room, however, I plopped down onto my window seat and looked out.
Only to see the same group of four from the day before.
Frowning, I wiped away the new frost and watched. One of the boys was gesturing wildly as he spoke, looking animated for some reason. I couldn’t place the look on his face for a moment until I looked at the girl’s.
Her eyes were wide in horror, almost comical in their size. The other two boys were looking on it awe and terror from whatever story was being told. Adding that to the fact that they had met on the front sidewalk of the House, I had a feeling this wasn’t a social call.
Flinging open the window wide, I stuck my head out in an attempt to catch their voices. Fortunately, there was no wind, so the tenor of voices faintly reached me.
“…and she walked through the open door, and nobody was there! Seriously, it was freaky! And once she had closed the door behind her, she was never heard from again.”
“Why did she close the door behind her? Didn’t she know about the rumors that nobody gets out after?”
The story-telling boy shrugged. “I don’t know. She didn’t seem to know much about the House. She didn’t seem afraid to go up, so…”
The girl sucked her lip into her mouth and chewed on it for a moment. “I really don’t want to do this, guys. Couldn’t you find something else for me to do?”
“Nope. Either you go into the House, or I’ll tell everyone.”
She seemed to debate it for a moment before sighing. “Okay.”
I drew back in shock. Was she nuts? She could get hurt simply stepping the wrong way in there! Scooping up my shoes, I tugged them on as I stumbled down the stairs. My heavy jacket was grabbed from the hall closet before I rushed out. I was going to put a stop to this no matter what.
But once I was outside on my front steps, I froze. She was already half-way up the front steps by the time I got out there. I took one leaping step forward, only to go crashing to the ground by slipping on the ice lining my front walk. Grumbling, I lifted myself up and ran across the street.
“What are you doing?!” I asked the three boys. They all jumped and looked at me. The girl was already opening the door. “Nevermind. I figured it out. Call her back.”
“Can’t,” the tallest said smugly. “She’s got to do this, or we’ll ruin her.”
“No, she doesn’t. Because if she does, I’m going to ruin you by letting everyone know you’re blackmailing a girl.”
They all shared a look before shouting for her to come back. She turned around, but from at this distance, I couldn’t see her expression. I could see, however, the dismissing hand she waved at them. She swung the door open wide and stepped in.
A blast of cold air suddenly swept across the yard, blowing my hair across my face and obscuring my view. I pushed it back futilely, for the wind was still blowing. A loud bang filled the air, making me freeze for a moment. Oh, no.
I yanked my hair back in a loose ponytail, staring unbelievingly at the now-closed door. Whirling around, I didn’t even have to say anything before all three boys were running away. I sighed. I guess it was up to me.
Pushing open the gates, I hesitantly stepped forward and made my way up the walk. The gates closed softly behind me, and I jumped. Walking up the creaking steps, I slipped carefully across the porch and grasped the handle. I turned it softly and pushed the door open.
“Michelle?” I called, deciding to use her name.
There was no answer.
I took a step into the house, letting my hand rest on the handle to the door. I didn’t want it to close. “Michelle, come on. You can come out know. The other boys left.”
My worry turned into full-blown panic. Where was she? I took another step forward, not noticing the rug under my feet. I tripped a little, my arms flung out to catch my balance. My skull and crossbones earring came loose and fell, landing at my feet face up. It was an omen.
The door swung shut behind me.





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