Hi this story was originally posted some years ago in the story section for Halloween but MH is keen to migrate stories over into the new Blog setup so I will gradually be doing so, and thought I’d start with my shortest piece The original posting is from here on below–
Hi all, this is another in my TOSG short stories series that is, like the others, just a bit of fluff (seasonal this time) but does have a few elements that will form part of a wider story arc for a full blown story I am putting together down the line. They stand alone as stories in their own right but technically this one should really pre-date my previous two chronologically, so just imagine it was Halloween last year rather than now when this happened! Then came GOODBYE MR A and OF GODS and MONSTERS . It won’t matter yet but me writing this now does throw out the chronology for my bigger story, so just pretend this one came first!
Hope you enjoy it, its just a little mood piece for Halloween. Love it or loathe it, please leave a comment.
The house was old and cold and soulless, with no warm, welcoming fires in its hearths to greet any weary traveller. It stared down from the dead eyes of its broken windows on a street that didn’t like its gaze. Passers-by would walk with a faster step passed the battered and shattered fence that crumbled around the garden, pulling their clothing tighter to keep out the imagined chill, their gaze averted from its judging windows. Dogs would whine and pull at their leads in the opposite direction or else dig in their paws ineffectually as they skidded over the concrete paving until their owners cottoned on and they too happily crossed the road to skirt the house, content that they could boast that THEY weren’t scared, oh no, it was the stupid animal that was afraid of nothing, that was why they avoided the place. Even the oldest members of the community could never remember anyone living there. The garden was simply dead grass, cut back once a year by a hasty Parks and Recreation employee after the complaints, while a colleague laid down rat poison to keep the vermin down. But they too never went in. No one ever went in. Naturally it was said to be haunted.
But tonight the haunted house would have a visitor. Not the Trick-or-Treaters; no the adults kept the children away. But someone would actually brave its steps. The young woman in question stood, a hand on the rotten gatepost, staring up at the two storey dilapidated construction. The porch roof was askew and tattered; ancient curtains were blowing in faint wisps through the broken panes of the upper windows. She took a deep breath, feeling nervous. This was stupid. Hazing in general was stupid, but how the hell had she let herself agree to this? This was dumber than dumb. Her so called friends who had dropped her off, had giggled and waved and couldn’t wait to drive away quickly enough. She sighed and shifted her sleeping bag slung on a thin strap around her shoulder as she still waited. Half a moon stared down at her intermittently through the clouds, painting the scene silver, bathing it in light before drowning it in blackness as it hid behind the clouds. Almost as if it was scared to shine on the house. Screw it, that was just stupid. Aww, to hell with it.
She pushed aside the ramshackle gate with a creak, provoking an answering caw from a crow on the roof as it flew off. It was 6.30 and darkness was falling heavily, the October moon up early. Except, for the first time, she really noticed that it just wasn’t true. Night doesn’t fall, it rises. Shadows on the ground become deeper, darker and longer. They grow and they merge and become stronger. Green grass becomes black and the sky is the last thing to go totally dark as the faint orange slash of the dying sun in the sky is finally swallowed by the distant horizon. She noticed the climbing dark shadows now for the first time and she shook herself to break the spell that the growing blackness seemed to have on her.
“You don’t wanna go in there….” A voice in the gathering dusk suddenly startled her. She turned and smiled nervously at the man on the porch of the house next door. He was in overalls and wiping dark stains off his hands on a rag.
“Oh, I wasn’t gonna…I mean I was just…er…” she stammered.
“Backpack, sleeping bag, dropped off by other kids in a cab, it being Haze season an’ all…” he said tiredly. He was thin, middle aged and balding, with a pair of black rimmed spectacles on the end of his nose. He looked over the top of them at her now. “Always get some dumb kids challenged to go in, especially at Halloween.“
“I-I mean I wasn’t gonna break in or anything… I was just gonna have a look around…see if anyone is at home.” She said awkwardly.
“They aren’t” he said with narrowed eyes. “ Unless you count the girl in the blue dress…”
“Oh, someone does still live there?” she asked surprised.
“Oh, I never said they were alive…” he said as he turned away. “Any damage, any noise and I’m callin’ the cops… Don’t you forget I told you not to go in there, ‘cos I sure ain’t comin’ in to get you out if anything happens….”
“Honestly, Mr -?”
“Withers” he turned back to face her. “And no I don’t own a haunted amusement park and I’ve never been on Scooby Doo…” he said tiredly.
“Mr Withers, I know it’s dumb, it’s just a prank, – I’m supposed to spend the night, I’m like sponsored to do it, but its supposed to be deserted, abandoned, you know? I mean it is no-one’s house, right? I ain’t gonna break into anybody’s home, I just thought I’d be in like an abandoned house. The others said no one lives there. So is it ok, or what?”
“Knock yourself out. But you won’t last the night, no one ever does. Researchers, kids messing around like you. They all say the same thing, talk the talk, ‘they ain’t chicken, blah blah blah’…the heartbeat gets them, every time.”
“You’ll know it when you hear it. Maybe you’ll even see the girl in the blue dress…” he smiled a cold smile.
“Oh, right, so what , she’s the ghost?” the girl said sarcastically. “There’s no such thing as ghosts”
“Yeah, you tell yourself that when the church clock strikes midnight.”
“So who is this girl in blue supposed to be? What happened to her?”
“I dunno.” He turned back, to go inside,” Never seen her. I never go in there. But she’s s’posed to be some kid who got toasted in a fire back in the fifties. That’s all I know. Up in the attic there. So they reckon, anyhow.”
The girl turned back to stare at the brooding structure. Her eyes played over the windows, the roof, then back down to the dimly visible door in the murky gloom. The cab ride seemed a long time ago now, as did that stupid argument with the driver. He’d refused to take and break her twenty, saying it might be a fake and she’d scrabbled around with her friends to scrape the fare together in ones, a five and change. The upset had meant that she got out and then they had changed their minds about settling her in, flagged him down and all gotten back in. He drove away, with them still arguing with him, and with scarcely a goodbye. She realized now they must have planned to leave her like that as part of the hazing – all part of unsettling her. She half suspected they might sneak back later to scare her or have someone in the house already to do the same.
She glanced back at the dimly lit neighbouring porch but the man had gone. She took a deep breath, looking up at the silent looming shadow before her. ‘Hey-ho, let’s go’ she thought as she finally set off, up the overgrown path. The front door wasn’t locked and of course opened with the horrendous screech reserved for movie houses. Something scurried in the darkness. She shuddered. Ughh! Mice! Or worse, rats. The furniture, what there was of it, was damp and rotting, with the musty smell of the grave. The floor, where carpeted, was threadbare and mouldy. The air was heavy with age and corruption. And silence. After the initial scrabbling of rodent claws on wood, there was …nothing. A loud, ominous, oppressive silence. Like it was waiting for something or someone. Or like someone was waiting for her. There were thick layers of dust in the corners of the room and less across the floor, but the various broken panes of the windows here and there had created a draft that stopped it from building up too thickly in other places. There was a smattering of objects that showed this had been a home once; a broken picture frame; a broken carriage clock, a mouldy painting on a wall; torn curtains that some housewife had proudly chosen once upon a time long ago, to match her then new carpet. The curtains billowed into the room like a cartoon spectre. She shivered in the breath of the wind. She took out her torch, though she didn’t really need it, and shone the bright light around. Better find somewhere to bed down. She had no intention of going upstairs (they were probably unsafe, she told herself) and likewise down into any basement (bound to be even damper than here) so that left somewhere on this ground floor.
No obvious candidates. The hallway was central to the house, with a parlour to the left, living room and dining room on the right that connected to a kitchen at the back with a door back into the parlour. Simple, functional. She listened. Nothing. She walked the rooms and other than some long ago abandoned sleeping bag where someone else had had the same idea, there was nothing noteworthy. Broken and rickety furniture, a kitchen table the sturdiest item left. The sofa and chairs smelled particularly nasty. She wrinkled her nose in displeasure. As she completed the circuit from parlour back to hallway she froze. There in the wooden strips either side of the hall carpet were her footprints in the dust, heading off across the living room. But also there, beside hers, were the tiny imprints of a child’s shoes. Her mouth went dry and she looked up sharply, wide eyed. THAT, she had to admit, was spooky – and assuming it was her college friends, they had done it all without her hearing a thing. She resisted the urge to call out to them but instead looked at the six tiny shoe steps. Easily done; just buy a pair of kids shoes and make the imprints in the dust. But the way they had not made a sound, fair dues that was well done. She listened for a long moment, half expecting to hear them sniggering in a nearby room. But there was nothing. She turned back into the parlour and then suddenly there was the noise of a child laughing, sinister in its suddenness as it almost seemed at her ear.
She whirled to see – nothing. A microphone it must’ve been then, hidden somewhere nearby. They had gone to a lot of trouble to scare her. It wasn’t working. She had a look around the hallway but could see nothing. She had no doubt they wanted her to go exploring, to blunder into whatever other surprises they had set up for her, but she wasn’t gonna play ball, no she would wait and let them show themselves. She made a space in the parlour on the floor, lighting her camp lantern and settling down with a book. The Woman in Black. Not the wisest choice she had made. The scrabbling creature could be heard a way off, but largely the house settled down, seemingly becoming used to her presence. No more microphone tricks, no more sinister footprints. Out of habit she kept glancing at the lifeless clock on the mantelpiece, then was forced to look at her wrist each time. The hours went by. 9. 9.30.10.01, 10.28, 10.57. The time crept ever upward as outside the street noises died down as fewer and fewer cars passed; no more discernible voices of people; the odd firework in the distance eventually stopping. Silence inside and out.
As she read she thought about the laughter. That was a nice touch. She wondered how much they had paid ‘Mr Withers’, if that was really his name, to plant those tales of foreboding. She smiled, she wasn’t going to fall for it. Enough time had passed in silence; she guessed they were waiting until midnight to spring the next surprise on her, waiting for her own paranoia to do their work. Every once in a while the house would creek and groan, like all old wooden houses, but the noises were always distant, in the far recesses of the dark interior. She found she was spending her time just staring at the book, not really reading and taking it in, but looking at it whilst she listened. A loud bang startled her around 11.30, but it was just the wind clattering a shutter at the back of the house.
Then, a little while later it started.
“Hmm-Hmm-Hmm-Hmm-Hmm!” again a laugh, but this time more of an adult’s tight-lipped chuckle. Though she knew it was a trick, her mouth went dry none the less.
“TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK!” the dead carriage clock on the mantle suddenly started, genuinely startling her. Must be some kind of remote, she decided. As she turned to stare at the clock she suddenly became aware of a small, dark shape standing silently in the doorway to the hall, at the very edge of her vision. As she slowly became aware of it and turned her head it seemed to resolve itself, becoming clearly visible as the shape of a small child. From the lantern light, she seemed to be wearing a dark blue dress.
Jeez! They’d even hired extras! The girl must be a younger sister of one of her friends that they’d persuaded to help scare her.
“TEE-HEE!” the girl laughed and put her fingers to her mouth. In the murk it was hard to see her face clearly.
“Hello…You nearly scared me. What’s your name honey? Are you -NO WAIT!”
“TEE-HEE!” the girl laughed and then turned back and ran into the living room.
“NO WAIT!” she put the book down and rose awkwardly to her feet, taking a few steps after her. She saw the dim shape run through into the dining room and instead she turned the opposite way and made for the kitchen.
She could hear the child’s footsteps as she ran, the laughter growing more excited as the child unknowingly headed towards her, such that she stepped into the kitchen with a loud -“AH –HA!” expecting to catch the child as she ran into her. But the room was empty. Yet she could still hear the running footsteps for a second or two as they seemed to come straight at her and then stop just before they reached her.
Ok. That was pretty hairy. She had to admit, however they had pulled that off, it was well done. Her heart was pumping and not just from the brief burst of exercise. Time to confront them.
“OK, guys you can come out now. Nearly had me there!” she declared to the silent house. She waited and listened, but apart from the loudly ticking clock there was silence. In the distance, the church clock began the clanging chimes of midnight. She licked her lips nervously. Then she became aware of something else. A smell.
It was the faint smell of burning. She followed the scent to the bottom of the stairs. It grew stronger and was clearly coming from upstairs. Well she wasn’t gonna play. That kid disappearing was a neat trick. She determined she would find out how it was done and where she was hiding. She seemed a little young to be up this late even for a prank played with her sister. Time to put the matter to bed. She looked for a hiding place in the kitchen but found none. The dining room had even less options. The burning smell got stronger, almost seeming to clamour for her attention, but she resolutely ignored it.
And then she heard it.
A distant sound far off, a single pulse. She listened but heard nothing. Just as she was on the verge of dismissing it, it came again.
Ba-Bump. Her mouth was dry and she licked her lips.
Ba-Bump. She took a step towards the sound, back into the living room.
Ba-Bump. Towards the hallway.
Ba-Bump. To the foot of the stairs.
Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. It started to build into a regular rhythm.
It sounded like…a heartbeat.
Her own heart was racing with the tension of the moment and she threw a gaze around the ceiling, trying to pinpoint the noise to a room of the floor above.
Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump.
She realized as she glanced around that she couldn’t pin point it upstairs, because it was coming from the cellar beneath the staircase. It was the after echo that gave the impression it was above her. As she touched the cellar door there was the sudden adult laugh once more, that made her jump with a start. She sighed, annoyed at herself. She looked around the room, then smiled to herself. She needed to end this now. She had gone as far as she could in exploring this place as Linda. She had never expected anything other than college hi-jinks from her friends but when she had seen the set up here, she had waited for the villains to make their play and now they had. It was pure coincidence that she had wound up here, but now she would stop it. The adult laughter came again and this time she screamed and fled the house, running off down the street with elaborate hysterics, making sure that ‘they’ knew she had run, before, in a blur of speed, Kara transformed herself in to Supergirl. A moment later she was back before the cellar door, standing primly in her famous blue and red costume, hands with her knuckles on hips.
She scanned the hall way thoroughly with her x-ray vision, noting the tiny hidden microphones and speakers, and making a point of frying them with her heat vision, once she was satisfied that there were no hidden cameras. She flashed another pulse of her heat vision outside, destroying the ultrasonic emitter hidden below the porch that unsettled the passing dogs and animals with its ultra-high frequencies beyond human hearing. She had a glance around for any more remote controlled devices, like the broken clock. She found none. She hadn’t traced the little girl but no doubt she was hiding somewhere down below or above. She threw a glance upstairs where tapers were secretly hidden, creating the burning smell, making sure that there was no risk of fire, but she couldn’t see the child. Then she finally pushed open the door and descended into the dark of the basement one slow, creaking step at a time.
Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump.
She didn’t need her super hearing to tell the sound was getting louder. Again she looked around for cameras and found none, then walked purposefully over to the far wall. More hidden speakers broadcast a sudden scream and yet more laughter, this time louder, more maniacal, all activated by hidden pressure pads or else magic eye laser beams that were unwittingly broken by those who entered. She sighed as she flashed her gaze around the room, silencing the sound show.
Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump!
She stood before the wall, ran her eye over it from top to bottom and then decided not to bother hunting down the secret switch that activated the opening mechanism. Instead she hit it hard with both palms and the wall spun open. Revealing a slightly surprised Mr Withers cranking the handle of his printing press, rolling out another sheet of crisp forged twenty dollar bills.
Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-Bump. Ba-
“Knock knock.” She said drily.
“What the-? SUPERGIRL!” Said Withers in surprise, caught not exactly red handed, but certainly green handed as he was covered in ink used to dye the plates.
“All over Withers. If that’s your real name. You may have scared off that poor girl upstairs but I can see right through your charade.” She said to keep up the pretence that she wasn’t Linda.
He sighed. “Of course it isn’t my name. I’m Nathan Grainger. Master Forger. Just always been a Scooby Doo fan. I’ll come quietly. Oh, you’ll need that box of master plates over to your left, better bring them as they are both my best work and the proof of my guilt.” He gestured to a small rectangular box on a bench. A lead box.
“Great job with the light-proofing in here too, by the way, couldn’t see any sign of it in the cellar.”she said. “And the whole mike sounds and little- blue-girl thing, very well done. I salute you.” She strolled casually over to the box. She stood one hand on her hip, side on to him, her head dipped slightly as she looked at him. He seemed to be waiting expectantly. She ran a finger over the lid, her eyes glued on him for a reaction.
He looked over to a small child mannequin in a dark bob wig and blue dress in the corner of the room. “I wave it about in the window from time to time, scares passersby” he shrugged. “Its nothing.”
“Well you did a good job tonight. Right! Let’s go, you.” She said briskly as she picked it up and tucked the box under her arm and marched over to him.
“What? W-wait! Wait, aren’t you gonna check they are in there ?” he stammered pointing at the box.
“Why? You said they were.” She answered.
“B-but I might have been lying!”
“You weren’t , I can tell these things.” She said simply.
“Well, ok, but you need to put the ones I’m using now back in the box…” he said unconvincingly .
She decided to play his little game.
“Fine!” she sighed and nodded to him to retrieve the plates as she slowly opened the box.
She gasped as inside was a large lump of a beautiful, rich green mineral.
“OH MY GOD!” she gasped and stepped back, a hand brought up to her neck. She bent forward mouth open, eyes wide, slowly setting the open box down on the bench before her.
“HA-HA! That’s right Supergirl! Kryptonite. It cost me a small fortune but I always figured one day it’d be you who’d tracked me down” Withers crowed “Well, now you are gonna wish you hadn’t! You know I might just keep you clinging on to life, maybe charge folks to come get their picture taken with you, hmmmn?”
She was gasping all the while he spoke, but then her demeanour changed.
“Oh, God…that’s…that’s amazing! “ She straightened up with a smile and reached into the box and held the mineral up to the fluorescent lighting, grinning broadly.
“Huh?” Withers said perplexed.
“That’s the biggest piece of green obsidian I’ve ever seen!” she said with a grin “Volcanic glass to the uninitiated.” She explained. “Maybe you should have spent some of the money on geology lessons.”
“Wait, tha-that’s KRYPTONITE!” Withers said despairingly.
“ ’Fraid not.” She winced sympathetically. ”You been ‘sold a pup’ as my friend Rob might say. You’ve been had. It’s nice though. Mind if I keep it?”
“You- you- ? Its fake? SON-OF–A-BITCH!” Withers cried stamping a foot and slamming a fist into his own thigh.
“Gotta love a forger getting conned by …well I suppose you could call it a forgery” she smiled. “A fake anyway. But don’t take it too hard. You see, even if it were Kryptonite,“ Kara popped it back in the box. “I can do THIS!” she held the box up dramatically at eye level, the top opened back on its hinges, stared at it for a long moment in concentration and then finally flipped it closed with her other hand and a broad grin. “TA-DAH!” she smiled at him. “I like to call it ‘closing the box’. It’s not exactly a Superpower, but it works for me.” She looked at his staggered expression and frowned. “What? I got an IQ approaching 4 figures and I can’t shut a box I’ve just opened? What am I, fresh off the boat?” She put on a deep newsreel voice “FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET! STRONGER THAN 50 MEN! BUT DUMBER THAN A BLONDE BEAUTICIAN! It’s SUPERGIRL! I don’t think so, brainiac. Let’s go.”
“I-I …shit.” Withers mumbled, a broken man.
“Kinda obvious when its pointed out to ya, huh?” she smiled. “Still, clever set up you got here though, I must say. Nice touch hiring the kid, especially after telling me about the backstory, though its way past her bed time. How’d you make her disappear like that? She your niece or something and where is she anyhow?”
“What kid?” he said with a frown, looking over at the dummy. “I didn’t hire any kid. Can’t be trusted, will blab all in the playground. Just used the mannequin. That seemed to work well enough. Didn’t get the chance tonight, though.”
The smile faded slowly from Kara’s face. Faintly , very far off and only audible with her super-hearing, she thought she caught a soft laugh, the tittering of a child from upstairs. In the attic.
It must have been the wind. Good job she believed there were no such things as ghosts.