I scoff at my friend. It’s Halloween, and he just dared me to go into the haunted Roxbee Manor and stay there until midnight. Everyone knows that it’s decorated especially for Halloween every year. It’s not really haunted.
I grin at him and head towards the house. Through the wrought iron gates and up the gravel driveway, I feel a slight shiver down my spine as I step onto the porch and the steps groan under me, but I brush it aside. Still, I slip a hand in my pocket to reassure myself that my knife is there. In case I get bored and decide to whittle, I tell myself.
I push the door open and stifle a yell at the sight of the ghastly green figure looming in front of me. Psssh, it’s just a trick with gas and lights. I grit my teeth and walk right through it, and it fades away with a keening wail. Just a trick with gas and lights, I tell myself, feeling smug.
The Roxbee Manor is huge, so I decide I might as well explore. Where to start? Well, if I’m going to do this logically, it makes sense to do the downstairs and then go upstairs. So I close the door most of the way, making sure to wedge a brick in it so it can’t close on me. I’m not an idiot, after all.
There’s another ghost in the entryway and I walk right through it as well, and again there’s a wail as it evaporates. I try the doors that line the paneled hall and find that the first eight are locked, but the ninth is not. I shrug and go in.
A swarm of hornets buzz angrily, and fly in a tornado shaped mass around the room. I drop to the floor and slither across the room, jump up and open the window. A rush of frigid October air comes in, and within a few minutes, the hornets are flying to the floor, too chilled to fly. I smirk as I shut the window and walk out of the room, careful to shut the door behind me.
The next unlocked door opens to the kitchen. A couple skeletons are merrily salting and peppering a pot on the huge old wood fire, and when I go over and peer in, I’m horrified to see a little kid struggling in the water. It’s just starting to get hot. The skeletons ignore me until I go to lift the kid out. Then, they rattle their bones angrily and jab me in the ribs with their spoons. One of them grabs a knife. I back away, hands raised, and look at the room. I have to do something, but what? The skeletons rattle their bones again and go back to seasoning the pot, and it dawns on me. Bone. You can burn bone.
I go to the woodstove and open the door that feeds the firebox. The skeletons ignore me, and the kid is starting to cry. I grab the skeleton closest to the knife, and shake it hard so it falls into a few pieces, then I scoop the bones up and stuff it into the firebox. Rinse and repeat with the second, slam the door, and grab the kid out of the pot. As soon as I set him on the table and take my hands off him so I can take off my hoodie and wrap him up, he disappears. There’s a whisper in the room, a little kid’s voice saying, “Thank you, Mister.”
“You’re welcome.” I find myself saying, then facepalm. It’s all just a bunch of tricks. Nothing here is real.
I look around the kitchen, but everything seems in order, so I leave. The last door leads to the back lawn and I decide to check that out later.
Back down the hall to the entry I go. Yet another ghost. “Come on, guys. This is getting boring.” I roll my eyes and walk through it, and up the stairs.
The stairs creak on every tread, no matter where I set my foot. I set my teeth and just go up.
There’s a suit of armor at the top of the stairs, and as I walk by, it swings the huge battle ax at me. I duck away and kick it in the back of the knee, and it wobbles, tumbles down the stairs and lands with a crash at the bottom. “Take that.” I scoff, brushing a cobweb off my shoulder.
The upstairs rooms are mostly open. The first couple are bedrooms, empty except for ghosts. I walk through the ghosts, just for the heck of it. This is actually kinda fun. I just have to remind myself that nothing is real, it’s all just tricks, and then it’s easy.
I enter another room and it’s a library. Huge. It smells dusty, and a bit like mildew. I groan, and then I freeze, because a creature has just walked into a beam of moonlight coming through the window. Half man, half wolf, and rapidly becoming more like a wolf. It snarls and growls, and I grab my knife and clutch it tightly. It hasn’t seen me yet. I slip into the shadows and lean against the bookshelf to catch my breath and breathe quietly, and the shelf tips, books slide off, and it lands with a heavy thud. The werewolf howls and I realize that the bookshelf has landed on it. I get up and run out of the room, through a ghost, slam the door, and run down the hall to the next room.
It’s nearly midnight, I realize, as I stare at the clock on the wall. That’s all there is in this room. A clock.
I can’t stand it anymore and I turn to leave, just as the clock strikes midnight. In front of me, blocking the door, are a dozen ghosts, a swarm of hornets in the shape of a curvy woman, two skeletons and a little boy, a werewolf, and a suit of armor with it’s helmet on backwards. I shudder, then I grab tighter onto reality and remind myself that it’s just a trick. I reach out and turn the helmet around so it’s on straight.
The visor clicks open and I’m staring into angry green eyes that slowly calm. “Thank you, sir.” It bows and walks past me, towards the clock. The clock grows larger and the suit of armor just walks into it and disappears. The ghosts are next, each one solidifying into a woman in a maid’s uniform. They curtsy and go past me, into the clock and disappear, one by one.
The hornets morph into a richly dressed woman with sharp features. She gives me a curt nod. “Thank you. I am glad to be released.” She stalks past me and into the clock. The skeletons grow flesh and skin and take on the form of a couple in cook’s uniforms, and they take the little boy’s hands and walk by, smiling at me. The little boy giggles at me.
The werewolf is the last. He shifts to a man with gray hair, and nods to me. “Thank you.”
I nod back. “You’re welcome. I think. What was that all about?”
He sighs. “We were trapped in the forms that we really are. I am – was – a werewolf, attractive on the outside and a monster on the inside. My wife was bitter and angry like a nest of hornets. The maids were absent and neglectful of their duties and the cook and his wife did not love their son. The butler was too strict and cold. It has taken one hundred and sixty four years for us to learn the lesson and now we are freed. Thank you.” He nods again and walks to the clock, and disappears.
The clock shrinks back to normal size and resumes ticking. It’s 12:01. I go downstairs slowly and outside, down the gravel driveway and out the wrought iron gates, past my friend, and home.