This is another in my series describing being alone in places people don’t usually like to be alone. You can find the whole collection of them in my huge short story book, "Don't Go There! A Flash Horror Anthology" in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.
Of course, I was happy that my mother and father went on a trip to England. But, then, it meant my older siblings saw it as an opportunity to leave their 12-year-old sister and go party. I was left to stay home alone. Home alone at nighttime? I liked to think I was brave, but that situation had never presented itself.
A memory flashed into my mind at the time: I was 4 years old and went to bed. I woke up during the night and my sister was not there. I got up and wandered to my parents’ room. They weren’t there. I went to the other three bedrooms. No one was there! I got very scared as I wandered in my flannel nightgown down the stairs. I looked into the kitchen. No one was there. I turned and went into the dining room. I noticed the French doors were closed and covered with blankets. I went and pushed the doors open gently and peered inside. A table was set up with a candle light flickering and a group of people sitting around while a lady called on the spirits to come forward. I didn’t know what this thing was they were doing, I was too young to understand, but the whispering voice, closed off doorway and candlelight made me believe I wasn’t supposed to be there. My mom ushered me upstairs and complained. The other kids were supposed to wake me and take me with them to the cottage out back to have cookies and milk with the spinster who lived there. Apparently, the siblings figured they’d leave me to sleep.
Suddenly, wandering the house with no one around sounded a bit overwhelming.
The sibs bought me some fast food, left it on the table and rushed out of the house as if they knew something I didn’t. I looked across the breakfast room and felt it; complete and utter silence. When had I ever felt that in my overly crowded home? My first plan was to turn on the TV in the music room. I turned the volume way up so I could hear it throughout the house. I turned on the lights in the living room, music room, dining room, all the Waterford crystal chandeliers and all their tiers shined brightly. The place felt livable.
I could do this!
Then, I studied the complete and utter blackness outside the windows. We had no street lights or any signs of life on a moonless night. With all the lights on, I suddenly felt like a silhouette of prey against the windows for anyone hiding in the dark watching me. Our house had no locks on the doors. I shoved a chair under the front and side door and then the one in the music room. Then, it dawned on me there were doors in the library and an unused door in the art room. I got the last of the breakfast table chairs and shoved them under the doors. I had no idea what I’d tell my siblings when they came home late. I figured that I’d certainly still be awake to hear the crunch of their tires on the long gravel driveway in time to remove them.
I got a bowl of ice cream, plopped down on the sofa in the music room and tried to focus on a scary movie. Of all the times to show it, “The Haunting” was on TV yet again that weekend! The last time I had seen it I had trouble sleeping, watching my doorknob the entire night. I flipped the channel and found miserable excuses for weekend TV, but I left it running and went upstairs to my room to call friends.
It was very silent upstairs. My bedroom was on the new corner of the house and has windows looking out both sides. In fact, the window beside the phone was atop of the breakfast room roof. Us kids often times climbed out that window, across the roof and down the walnut tree to sneak out at nighttime. I had done it many times to wander the gardens at night. Right now, that window looked like an opportunity for entry instead of exit. Funny how the vast estate didn't bother me at night, but the house did.
There were well-earned reasons for that fear.
In truth, I had always considered the ghosts to be a constant bunch of guardians wandering the halls, playing mischief, having emotional tantrums upon occasion (much like my siblings, actually). The haunting had always been a shared experience with many others. But, when one is alone in a haunted house, any activity seems to be activated by your own presence. I realized that as I hung up the phone having gone through my entire list of friends to find everyone on sleepovers or busy. I considered calling the boys on the list but then think better of that. If they found out I was home alone, they’d make it scarier by telling me how crazy I was to be alone in that big spooky mansion.
So, I looked around my room and turned on the radio and pulled the shades so the outside couldn’t see me in there. Then, I rethought that because I suddenly felt locked in. I looked up at the transom over the door and for a moment thought about covering it from view. The bedroom I had come to claim always seemed safe because it was part of the new additions to the house and didn’t ever have activity. After years in the middle room where the soldier came to stop at night in front of the radiator, it was admittedly a relief to know I was well and truly alone in my room as I entered the tender private age of adolescence.
I turned up the radio, but then I was certain I heard something outside. What if someone came home early? I raced from my room and down the stairs excitedly, resting at the window in the kitchen where cars parked outside and was met with silence and darkness. The TV was on downstairs, the radio upstairs, the lights were all on and suddenly everything outside seemed so black that I swore the world has gone away and I was on a floating island to doomsday.
Feeling safer outside, I pulled out the chair and went out into the backyard to sit down on my retired swingset. I pumped away in the moist cool night and studied the stars above, trying to reach them with each swing. I looked up at the tall mansion and the lit windows and saw the dining room light flicker as if someone walked in front of the window.
I jumped from the swing and stood there, uncertain what to do.
Part of me wanted to go see if someone was in the house and part of me thought that was stupid. I watched the window a long time before deciding it was a fluke. I entered the house again and locked the door with the chair. I considered my surroundings and realized it was time to strike a bargain. I had done it when home alone before, but that night warranted a firm one. I went into the middle of the house and stood in the dining room.
“I am here alone for a while and I’m scared. If you care at all about how I feel, you won’t do anything to scare me. Will you?” I was not so good at assertion when it came to elders. I decide to play the baby child of the family card. “You have always protected me, so please just protect me, but don’t make a sound or a sight, puh-lease.”
Satisfied by the silent response, I wandered back upstairs to my room. As I came off the top step to the hallway, something to the left made me turn my head and I caught a dark shape just as it stepped into the far end bedroom; the bedroom I avoided the most. I hated that room. It was cold and it felt as if something constantly came in and out of the closet to the doorway. Whenever someone saw a dark man-like figure, he was always dodging into that room. In fact, one visiting relative let out a huge scream when she saw it and never came upstairs ever again.
I knew how she felt.
Stupefied, I stood there with no instinct to duck into my room and lock the door. I was shocked that it showed up like that. I had caught the shadow before making its way fast into the end bedroom, but never so fully. This time, I had seen it completely. It had definitely been man shaped and sized, but dark. I gathered my wits about me and decided to do the brave thing and investigate.
I flicked on each bedroom ligh as I made my way down the hall. I stopped at the far end. The bedroom door was still closed because no one lived in that room anymore. With half the siblings living away from home, we kept it closed off. No one went in there. No one wanted to. And only cold air constantly emanated from it.
My logical mind rattled through the explanations. Why would he disappear? Why would he just jaunt down the hall and into the room and then, poof! What was it about this part of the house? I sensed it when it was my bedroom for a few years. It wasn’t just cold, but it felt as if there was constant energy racing back and forth like a pinball machine. It was exhausting, hard to sleep in, and there was a constant feeling of being watched.
I cleared my throat and knocked on the door. “Please, can you just not come out tonight?” My voice trembled weakly, worrying I had just given “him” the knowledge that I was all alone.
I walked off to my room, locked the door and stuffed my pillow in the transom, turned up the radio, and turned on the bathroom light too. Unable to get “him” out of my mind, I wondered about his appearance. Although he had been seen in the hall and heading into the room, he had not been seen in the room, but no one had been in the room when he was seen going into it, so perhaps he actually did go into the room and not disappear. I thought about the ice cold closet in that room and shivered. I used to keep my clothes laid out on the twin bed rather than use the closet when I had the room. I was certain it was a “wrong” feeling place.
That must be where “he” went--the closet!
A loud clap from downstairs startled me and I turned down the radio, holding my breath, waiting. My mind already imagined footsteps up the stairs and then, not knowing if it was a break-in or the soldier who walked nightly, I looked at the clock and realized I still had a good four hours to go more than likely. I would never fall asleep, but I wanted to be holed up so I could be safe and yet I wanted to know what the hell the sound was downstairs.
Should I have stayed safe without knowledge? Or seek knowledge without safety?
My curiosity won out. I never was good at cowering. So, I turned off the radio, opened the door, making lots of sound as I clomped down the stairway, warning any intruders it was time to go and trying to sound like a big man. I got down to the living room where it sounded like it came from and found nothing. Everything was in place, TV still playing, door propped shut. I walked into the art room, a window-lined room where mother taught art classes. I went through it to the library, opening the double doors and stepped down into the window-lined room with French doors. I studied the bookcases, everything was fine. I went back up into the art room and looked across at the relics display cabinet. Both doors were swung wide open.
I rushed up to it and held the glass doors, opening and closing them several times to feel their weight and find that they were not loose or easy to swing. In fact, if I let them go, they just stayed where I put them. I checked the artifacts; all in their neat rows. The only time we ever had activity in the new additions of the house was near that cabinet. Every other place was just fine and quiet. I closed the doors again and looked around me. The chairs were still stuffed under the handle of the French doors in the library and the small unused door in the art room.
Hairs began to rise on the back of my neck and my arms. Goosebumps formed like a wildfire up my arms and down my legs. Then, I heard it; the very distinct and clear sounds of the soldier’s boots as he climbed the stairs. His toe hit the board of the next stair. He made his ascent without me up there. I couldn’t recall ever hearing it from downstairs. I had always been upstairs when it sounded, except the one time when I was 10 and sat down on the stairs and recorded it. In fact, it usually was rather late at night and it was perhaps only 8:30. I waited the right amount of time to be certain he was done with his rounds and then tiptoed up the stairs, turned the corner, rushed into my room and locked the door.
I would not come out again for anything. One desperate call later, I found a chatty friend and leaned back on the bed like most adolescent girls and gabbed nonstop until my brother’s car pulled up.
It wasn’t until I heard him pounding at the back door that I remembered the chairs! He looked at me kind of funny when I let him in and went around the house removing all the chairs from the doors and putting them back. I expected him to rib me about it. What were older brothers for?
And, like an older brother, he shocked me at every turn when he patted me on the head and said that was a safe thing to do instead of using the opportunity to call me a `fraidy cat.