The weekend has arrived, and Cat prepares to find out just why The Haunted House of Maple Street has preyed on her mind recently. Roxi had a rough night, but adventure beckons.
Dawn was slowly making its way along Maple Street. The heavy mists of Fall were standing in the air. The slight chill warned early risers to wear sweaters, but the birds loved it. The musical chaos of mocking birds, blue jays, and who knew what else, buffeted the air with an unusual exuberance. They did not care that the dull, gray leftovers of night still lurked along the trees and houses, as it was reluctantly giving way to the orange sun that sliced its path into the open.
Two small figures crept steadily through a lush, forested patch of the city. Five abandoned acres surrounding the infamous Haunted House of Maple Street. The women were seeking some sort of trail. Though there seemed none to be had. The old pathway to the house was overgrown, to say the least, though there was a small treeless area that they were following. The foliage slapped their legs and grabbed at their sleeves mischievously. Dew dampened their clothes and the cold, morning air was seeping into their bones. What had once been a wonderful place for a childhood romp, was a wholly miserable place for a tromp as adults.
This land had once belonged to Oliver Revel. He had purchased it before Orange Grove existed. Before Maple Street was ever conceived. The trees populating it were tall, stately guardians. It was a smooth, green lawn once. Cleared and cared for by people that now lay in Evergreen Cemetery, the oldest one in this area. Now the land that Oliver Revel had once tended looked like a small wilderness nestled inside an otherwise ordinary neighborhood. According to a large, orange sign at the front of the property, the land was under rezoning. Undoubtedly, it was destined to be a spacious parking lot for the nearby mall under construction.
Cat and Raquelle both felt a tight pain of regret in their chests at the sight of the sign. The thought of this wild, noble patch of nature being leveled to furnish Orange Grove residents with more fashion marts and shoe stores was sickening. Though, inevitable.
They pushed on. Feeling time was short.
“We could have started this last night, if it didn’t get dark so darn early now.” Roxi was complaining. She was out of sorts this morning, feelings left over from the night before. “Heck! What are we so afraid of the dark for anyhow? It’s not like there are any real monsters anyway. This is Orange Grove, for crying out loud! Let’s get a grip. What could possibly happen here that would be worth being scared over?”
Cat was feeling tired and cold, though a steadfast obsession over this land drove her onward. She listened to Roxi’s griping and simply glanced over skeptically. The thought of making this trek in the black of night was preferable for their secrecy, but there was still a very real danger to consider. Another body had turned up the day before.
“There’s still the ‘Slasher’ to think about. Running around somewhere.” Cat cautioned. “And, if it’s the same one from the old papers, then there are still a few nights left to worry about.”
Roxi’s mouth screwed up in mild disgust. “I don’t care. It’s just a regular, old maniac. Nothing neat, anyhow. That’s probably all he is, regular. Like any other slasher. A copycat. It’s probably just a coincidence…the dates. Orange Grove isn’t interesting enough to have a unique killer. Or a real Haunt.”
“Aren’t ‘we’ gloomy this morning.” Cat teased.
“Well! I can’t help it. This is a stupid town. With ordinary, stupid people doing stupid stuff. And, the stupid ‘Slasher’ will probably just turn out to be a stupid copycat killer that thinks he’s fascinating because he’s in the papers!” Roxi swatted at a cloud of gnats hovering near her face. Her hand connected with a low branch and sprayed her with droplets of dew. She feigned a scream of frustration. “AND, it’s too early in the stupid morning to be out here getting excited over a stupid, run-down house!”
Cat chuckled, and Roxi found herself starting to feel a chuckle rise up inside her also, in spite of her complaints.
“WELL?!” was all she could manage to say at last.
“We can always quit, go back, and forget about it.” Cat challenged with a smile.
Roxi began to stomp ahead. She was disappointed at finding humor in the situation because it meant that her Blue Funk was slipping away. It had been a good one, too. But, the idea of passing up this adventure, no matter how bizarre it seemed in the morning light, because of a little dew, was ridiculous.
“No,” she grumbled in mock anger now. “Let’s see what we can find.”
Cat smiled wider and pounded forward through the brush.
They soon happened upon what appeared to be the dregs of some hunting practice. Though, from the looks of the garbage, the individual was too drunk to actually hit a real, moving target. He was lucky to have hit the small, white house at which he had been aiming a few yards away. There were more than a dozen crushed beer cans; about two dozen empty gun shells; several crumpled Doritos bags.
“Oh, now this is lovely.” Cat spat sarcastically.
Raquelle glanced down at the little piles of litter. A smile hovering on her lips. “Looks like Man has been in the Forest, Bambi.” She said in a deep voice.
They both chuckled lightly. Cat looked up at the house.
It stood indignantly, trying to hold up its timbers with as much modesty as an old, vandalized house can. The dingy, white paint still clung to its sides, splashed all over with mold and black, stringy cobwebs. The peaked roof was in collapse, and seemed to only be held up by the posts of the small, narrow porch which ran all the way around the house. It reminded Cat of a camping tent weighed down with rain and about to bury its occupants. Three crippled steps led to the front porch, which in itself was reminiscent of a modern art sculpture. The kind that is supposed to represent an idea or object, but merely looks to the casual observer like a twisted gob of building materials that someone has forgotten to clean up.
“Shall we continue?” Roxi asked.
Cat turned her head, her attention still on the old house. A light fear was prickling inside her. It excited her curiosity and galvanized her resolve. The house was here before her. She was determined to find something, anything to explain her nagging obsession with it. She had never wanted to come here as a child. Her friends had always wanted to investigate it. A Rite of Courage, as it were, but Cat had been stymied by fear. Nightmares of something in the house, something dark. Something with long, thin fingers that wanted to grab her and pull her close to its sharp, rank body. A thing that wanted to tear her apart and feast on her soul. She had never even stepped onto the property until this morning.
Now, standing in the light grey of dawn, she stared at it. The frightened child inside her dared the old house to give her its worst. Bring on its ghosts and its horrors, for she was an adult now and tired of fears haunting her in the night. She was determined to face this childhood demon and strip it of its power over her.
Blinking against a diving gnat, Cat felt a thin peace stab through the chill. Perhaps that explained her obsession. Her need to face old fears that still plagued her life. She felt a little resolve in that answer, but only a little. In the back of her mind, something told her that was not all. The random fears of a child were not the only things to be afraid of; no, not at all.
With a new purpose in mind, Cat moved toward the front steps of the porch. Roxi followed close behind.
“I remember coming up here when I was a kid.” Roxi said in an almost reverent whisper. “Me and the boy that lived next door to my house then. We dared each other to go inside. Of course, what kid didn’t do that at some point. Anyway, I was going to prove I was as brave as he was, so when it was my turn, I went in and wandered from room to room. Being real careful. I remember, there were two torn up, moldy sofas on the side porch. The room on the right had a door that led to the outside. Anyway, the sofas. They were just sitting out in the weather like someone had tossed ’em out. I went over real close to them. I could smell the dirt and rain soaked in. I was planning on touching one of them and was about to do it when something moved. A snake came darting out from under one of them and scared me to death. I ran back into the house cause I guess I figured the snake couldn’t go in the house. Silly me. Well, three feet into the front room and my foot when right through the floor! I screamed and Bobby, the other kid, ran off ! I couldn’t believe it at the time. He just left me there. My leg was all chewed up from the broken boards and I began to hear things. Things moving around in the house with me. I got so scared I limped home as fast as I could. My leg kept giving out and by the time I got home I was filthy. Dad was sure I was going to get an infection from the cuts. ‘Course I never told him where I got them. I told him I fell off Bobby’s bike. But, I never did. Get an infection, that is. They healed up in just a day or two. I never really forgave that little worm, Bobby. In fact, in seventh grade, I got my chance to get even with him when he asked me out.”
Cat was barely listening to her friend. Her mind was filled with her own images and memories. Dreams. With each step closer, she felt the dread of the dreams growing tighter around her. Once she could get inside, she felt the fearful images would begin to fade as they were proved false. Her heart pounded as her small foot came to rest on the first, unsteady step. It felt as if it would collapse beneath her weight. It held strong.
Cat found herself letting out a thick breath. She had not been aware she was holding her breath, but now she felt a little relief. Looking up at the wooden door that hung despondently on its last hinge, she felt stronger. Now, for the second step.