The small white house sat on a corner of the dead-end lane off the narrow leafy road that ran along the north side of the cemetery. The house sat by itself at some distance from its nearest neighbors on the intersecting streets, effectively walled off by a stand of medium-high evergreens that kept it shrouded in chilly black-green shadows during most of the day. Perhaps it is this relative isolation that led to the house's acquiring a sinister reputation among the neighborhood children. Even under the harsh glare of the midday sun, the house, with its neat squared-off front lawn boxed in by a low rail fence and its short gravel drive running alongside, its detached one-car garage topped by a quaint rooster-perch weathervane, nevertheless exuded an indefinable air of wrongness
, at least in the eyes of many of the younger locals. Kids in the area had passed along all sorts of variously bizarre and horrible rumors about the house for as long as anyone remembered, and even the eldest of the children who lived along that dead-end lane would keep to the other side of the road when walking by.
Naturally, the tales told of the house and its history ran the gamut from curious, if familiar, urban legends to gruesomely obscene horror-movie fare to the most outlandishly paranoid and obsessive of conspiracy theories. Multiple incredible and inexplicable disappearances, of not just children but also adults, pets, and even some unlucky families whole, had been attached to the house. According to some accounts, the house currently served as the abode of devil worshippers or a mysterious cult of murderers, and was the site of horrifying ritual atrocities too numerous and too ghastly to recount. Some rumors had it that no-one had ever seen the merest hint of a light shining from any of the house's windows; others that sometimes at night a rear window would light up to reveal the misshapen silhouette of some thing
lurking silently in the room beyond. Perhaps the most enduring of the legends surrounding the house was the claim that at certain hours of the morning a man could sometimes be seen standing at one of the front windows, staring out at the street with eyes full of shadows. But as widely circulated as this story was, few in fact claimed to have personally witnessed this phenomenon, fewer still whose word carried any weight with their audience.
And yet, no matter how many stories, true or false, we may tell each other, whether to amuse and divert or to serve some "nobler" purpose, on this or any other subject, there are always infinitely more that are doomed to remain untold and unheard. What follows was one of those (that is, of course, until this very moment).
In the early afternoon of a weekday like any other, three particular schoolkids happened to be walking past the white house (keeping the customary two-lane's width between it and them). No one else was around at the time, the air had an uncanny stillness to it, and the shadows of the trees had just begun to creep over the white walls. One member of the group, a boy named Joey Franklin who, with his mother and little sister, had resided on the dead-end lane for the last ten years (or about 80% of his life to that point), stopped and dared his companions to join him in playing "ring and run" on the house that loomed nearby. The other two, a boy named Christian and a girl named Shannon, did not live on the street but were accompanying Joey to his house to collaborate on a class project; yet both were more than familiar with the macabre mythology that had been built up around the house, and indeed they had each been secretly dreading the moment when they would have to walk past it on the way to Joey's. In no uncertain terms, the two refused.
But Joey was having none of it. After ditching his backpack in the middle of the street, he strolled nonchalantly up the paving-stone path to the house's front stoop. "C'mon, you guys, get up here," he called back to his friends.
"Joey!" one or both of them cried.
"If you losers aren't gonna-------" Suddenly Joey paused, having noticed that there was no doorbell to ring. "Wait a second..." he mumbled half to himself, and saw that there was a large brass knocker in the shape of a fist hanging on the front door, which stood behind a shiny metallic screen door.
His friends had walked up to the low fence that bounded the edge of the lawn, but would come no further. "JOE-EEEEE!" they whined in unison. "Get away from there, Joey!" scolded Shannon. "It's against the law!" added Christian.
But Joey ignored them, and his spirits rose when the screen door proved unlocked, swinging open smoothly and quietly at a flick of his wrist. As he stepped forward to grasp the knocker, he turned back to glance at his friends. "Hey, check this out!" he urged excitedly one last time.
Christian and Shannon remained steadfast on the other side of the fence, standing together and glaring in Joey's direction. "You're gonna get us all in a lot of trouble, you idiot!" said Christian, waving a fist weakly at his side. Shannon tugged his arm then and the two of them turned away from Joey and the house, as if preparing to walk off or run away together.
Joey sneered at them and, laughing, turned back to the door. He reached for the knocker, but as he did so, the door started opening slowly in front of him, as if being pulled from inside. "It's opening up!" Joey cried, startled, sounding both triumphant and helpless at the same time.
He stood frozen in fear and wonder as the door swung all the way open before him. But there was nobody to be seen on the other side. Beyond the threshold was a dim featureless entryway that opened onto a white hallway that ran towards the back of the house, into deeper darkness. He looked on, uncomprehending, wondering if this was all part of some elaborate trick, like in one of those fancy haunted houses on Halloween.
And then, in a flash, in an instant next to which an eyeblink is an eternity, he glimpsed, or thought he glimpsed, someone, something approaching through that darkness at the far end of the hall.
And then immediately, everywhere, at once, everything went out.
A jagged arc of agony ripped through Joey's brain like a bandsaw and everything around him and within him teetered on the verge of some kind of all-shattering collapse. In a reflexive stab at self-preservation, he turned shuddering on his heels, away from the doorway. Everything he had left of sanity and reason was screaming at him to get the hell away from here, wherever here
is, now, now, NOW, NOW, NOW. His vision cleared briefly and he could see his friends now, still standing there over by the fence.
Christian and Shannon, side by side, grinning at him. Or grimacing. Or gnashing their teeth. Even though they were standing there with their backs to him he could still see their pale grinning faces and wide blood-filled eyes. "Joe," they whined softly, in unison. "Joe. Joe. Joe. Joe."
Then the dark burst through Joey's eyes and flooded into his skull and began boiling his mind, devouring sense and memory, feeling and thought, and converting it all into a vacuous buzzsaw drone. The pain was more terrible than anything it was possible to imagine and it lasted forever. All that remained in the end was a vast emptiness in which, from time to time, a small flickering might briefly disturb the darkness, but at some point that, too, ceased.
At school the next morning three desks remained unoccupied near the front row in a certain homeroom class even though the teacher had double-checked the roll and found no students absent. Unable to account for this anomaly she hurriedly re-assigned the students' seats to shift the unused desks to the back of the classroom, and then quickly put it out of mind. By the end of the day, the matter, such as it was, had been entirely forgotten.
Meanwhile, amid the ebb and flow of schoolyard gossip, the passing of secrets and the telling of tales and the fabrication of earth-shattering news from the thinnest of materials, a new rumor concerning the little white house had sprung up from some unknown source and begun to spread with the usual swiftness. But if there was any connection to be drawn between these innocuous events, nobody seemed to notice.