"I think we should meet tonight, at 11pm at the end of Jack's driveway," Henry stated like a person in charge of some highly classified event.
"You wanna do it tonight?" said the startled voice of Kevin. He was completely taken by surprise at how quickly Henry's idea was morphing into an actual plan.
"Henry's right. Why not just do it," said Jack. "If we give ourselves too much time to think about it we might start to have second thoughts. I agree with Henry. However, I think we should wait until tomorrow night"
“Why wait?” asked Henry a little confused by the mixed signals.
“Less people on the street on a Sunday night,” answered Jack like a person who had put some thought into the scenario.
Henry let what Jack was suggesting sink in and nodded his head to Jack at the rightness of his thought.
"I think we should meet on the corner though," said Jack. "It will make us less conspicuous than meeting at the end of my driveway." He had a good point. It would be more difficult to figure out who the three figures were if they weren't associated with any particular place.
"Okay," said Kevin as he reluctantly resigned himself to the fact that they might be going inside 327.
Sunday night was as good a night as any to break into 327. There was work and school the next day so the amount of people milling about on the sidewalks of the neighborhood was bound to be less than if it was Saturday night. They would have to sneak out of their houses. That would probably be harder than getting into 327.
Sunday night. Henry had no problem getting out of his house. His parents typically took sleeping pills before bed, so they were dead to the world by the time 11pm rolled around. Kevin and Jack had a different path to navigate. Kevin’s dad was a light sleeper and tended to wake at the slightest sound that wasn’t part of the normal night sounds of Westshire Street. Jack’s mother liked to watch television until she fell asleep on the sofa. She wasn’t necessarily a light sleeper, but there was a chance that she might still be awake at 11pm.
Kevin slowly eased his way down the hallway, away from his parent’s bedroom, toward the kitchen. He left the sliding door unlocked before bed. He slid the door open with little effort. He had made the right choice of exits. The door made no sound. At the same time, Jack walked down his own hallway toward the sound of the television and right into his mother’s path. He breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed that she was indeed asleep. He slipped right past her and out the back door.
Henry was already waiting for the two of them on the corner when they arrived.
“Took you guys long enough,” he said.
“Sorry, not all of us have parents that take sleeping pills,” replied Jack with an edge of humorous sarcasm to his voice.
“I can get ‘em some if you want,” replied Henry. “You could just crumble ‘em up and slip the powder in their food or whatever.” He was joking, but also sincere. He would do it if they asked him. The ease at which Henry made this comment resembled the ease at which he approached life. He didn’t seem to let anything get him down or catch him off guard.
“No thanks. I don’t need to be grounded until I leave for college,” replied Jack with a big grin on his face.
“No problem. You just let me know if you change your mind,” said Henry with a lighthearted air of someone with no concerns at all.
“You’re awfully quiet Kevin. Everything okay buddy?” asked Henry.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Kevin said trying to mask the apprehension in his voice. “Let’s just get going. Can we?”
“Sure.” Henry looked at Jack. “You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
They started walking toward 327. There was no one on the sidewalk at that moment. They were dressed head to toe in black, walking with their heads down. Jack noticed they were walking slower than usual. They were keeping pace with each other, but whoever set the pace made sure it was a slow crawl. There was no one to point the finger at for it. He figured they were all a little nervous and trying to prolong the moment where they actually committed a felony.
When they reached the house. They stood there for a moment staring up at the empty, blank windows. There was nothing but a street light shining. The house was completely devoid of any sign of life. They crossed to the other side of the street so that they could see all the windows of the house. This way they’d be sure to see a light in any of them.
The scene on the sidewalk was a been-there-done-that-scene. Jack was sitting between his two friends, the three of them smoking cigarettes, waiting anxiously. Tensions were running high as the minutes ticked away. They didn’t have a plan for how long they would wait for a light. Kevin was getting restless just sitting their surrounded by the quiet of the late night, staring at a house that gave him the creeps, even in the daytime, waiting for the chance, or misfortune, to enter it.
Jack was getting tired himself. It seemed like a waste of time tonight. They were keyed up to enter the house. They hadn’t taken into consideration that there might not be a light that night. They had made no plans to enter the house if the light didn’t come on.
“I know going inside was my idea, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen tonight,” said Henry. “I think we should maybe try again another night. What do you think, Jack?”
“I’m getting kinda tired myself. I’m good to call it a night if…”
And as if powered by the universe to keep them from leaving, the light behind the front door flickered into existence. There it was, the light they had hoped for. They were ready to give up for the evening and go home and now they had to decide if they were going to do what they actually came there to do. The fear had passed as the possibility of entering the house faded into another night’s adventure. Now they were thrust back into the present with the glow beckoning them from across the street.
Without looking at Henry or Kevin, Jack stood and said, “I’ll go in.”
“By yourself?” asked Henry slightly thrown by the statement. “Are you sure you wanna do that?”
“I’m sure,” replied Jack in a trance-like state, just staring at the house. He was trying to keep his own fear at bay. He wanted to do this, needed to do this. His curiosity was stronger than his fear. If he was the “cat” in the old proverb, he hoped his curiosity didn’t kill him.
“Just stay out here and when I get inside the room on the second floor I’ll motion for you both to come inside.”
“I don’t think you should go in by yourself,” said Kevin raising his voice slightly with concern.
“Me either, Jack,” said Henry.
“Look, I’m going to do this. I need somebody to stay out here and make sure nobody’s coming. Both of you just hang out. I’ll be fine. The light’s probably on a timer anyway, right?” Henry could tell that Jack was getting frustrated.
“Dude, if you’re sure, I’ll back off and wait out here for you,” said Henry.
“I’m sure,” said Jack with a nod of his head to both of them. He put his fist out in front of him. Henry looked down at it then up into Jack’s eyes. He bumped his fist to Jack followed by Kevin.
Jack brushed off the back of his pants from where he’d been sitting on the sidewalk. It was habit. He slowly started across the street. When he got to the other side, he turned and looked at Henry and Kevin. He nodded his head to let them know he was cool. Henry started across the street, but Jack held out his left hand in a low, caution position. Henry stopped. Jack turned and faced the gate and lifted the latch.
Jack closed the gate behind him and took one more uncertain glance across the street at his friends as he secured the latch. He turned to face the house. He was working overtime to not let his fear get the better of him as the house loomed in front of him. He could see debris and trash all around the slope of yard as he climbed the concrete stairs to the porch. He was skeptical of the boards supporting his weight. If it was anything like the rotting, uneven roof, it might collapse and him with it. He took his first step onto the porch. There was a creak, but the support was there. He took it step-by-step, slowing crossing the small porch.
He stood in front of the door having made it across the porch without harm. He wanted to turn back to the guys for support or a confidence boost, he didn't know, but he chose to face forward and turn the knob. Surprisingly, it was unlocked and he opened the door. From the look of the house, he expected the door to creak eerily, but it didn't. It wasn't exactly silent, but it didn't sound like the "creaking door" track on The Sounds of Halloween CD they used for the haunted house at last year's fall festival at school. He stepped inside and closed the door.
On the sidewalk, Henry was trying to get Jack’s attention. He was projecting a whispered "psst" as best he could. "I don't know why he would shut the door,” Henry said to Kevin without taking his eyes off the house. “Shit man, that would be the first thing I'd leave open in case I had to run outta there fast."
"I would leave it wide open. The gate too." said Kevin. His eyes were wide and staring as his friend disappeared out of view through the glass in the front door.
Inside, Jack looked around the room he was in. It was a small room with a hallway parallel to the staircase. There weren’t any options in this room except to walk down the hall or up the stairs. He could see very little, but enough, thanks to the light in the stairway. It was exactly what he thought it would be, a sconce on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It was just the right amount of light to help a person visually navigate the stairs at night.
The space in which he stood looked like an unkept attic. It was full of discarded boxes, paint cans, buckets and pieces of wood. Every available corner and space on the floor was covered by junk except the path from the door to the stairs. There was no path for walking down the hall. The room had the musty smell of being closed for years with no fresh air to cleanse it.
There was a small table sitting at the bottom of the stairs. There were some jars in varying sizes stacked on the table. Just more junk. There was also a book. As Jack looked at the peculiar set up, he realized the book was a Bible. It was opened and there was a verse highlighted. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. It seemed a creepy thing to find a Bible. It was odd and out of place. He thought it must have been some joke left by a previous person who’d broken into the house.
Jack looked at the stairs. From bottom to top he scanned them. They didn't exactly seem rotten, but they didn't exactly seem sturdy either. He would have to take them the same way he took the porch - one foot at a time and slowly.
He started up the stairs. First stair. Second stair. Third stair. So far so good. He was easing into the surroundings of the dank, dim house. Then the light went out. Without a flicker or a warning, the sconce went black. He was thrust into darkness. The streetlight was not positioned to cast light inside the house.
On the sidewalk, Henry and Kevin saw the light go out and within seconds the light in the second floor window came on. They both stared at the window waiting for Jack to motion them over. Henry was full of nervous excitement and Kevin was searching his mind for a reason to not go in.
Back inside, Jack pulled out his BlackBerry® and kept his finger on the space bar so that the light would stay on. He slowly found his way to the top of the stairs thanks to the backlight.
When he reached the top of the stairs, he found himself standing beside a door to his right. Aside from being relieved that he had made it to the top unscathed, he was thinking that this door must be to the room where he’d seen the light in the middle window. He took a deep breath of preparation and opened the door. A gust of wind blew the shear curtain at the window. The light was on inside, washing the room in pink. The room glowed with warmth. Its brilliance was vibrant and alive. This was the only preserved room, in a house full of decay, Jack had seen so far.
Everything was illuminated. The room looked to him like a living room. There was a sofa that had probably once been overstuffed, but now sagged. Not just in the center either. All three cushions looked worn with time and use. There was a coffee table laid out with a porcelain tea service. Jack walked over to it and looked inside the teapot. It was empty. There were other tables around the room, a wooden rocking chair, a secretary. There was an armless chair that reminded him of something his grandmother had. It was covered in butter-colored fabric patterned with flowers that looked like faded pink roses after they’d been pressed in the family Bible. His grandmother had called hers her Chintz chair.
He could hear music. He hadn’t heard it outside the door. It was coming from a large table-like cabinet. He walked over to it and lifted its lid. He could then here the crackling of the vinyl record more clearly. He looked up from the spinning black disk and around the room. There were many pictures sitting on tables. He closed the lid and walked over to one of the tables.
He stood there looking at the framed photographs, taking them all in. Black and white, sepia toned, color. Most of them were of a woman. If the photograph was not of her, she was at least in it. The younger she was in the photograph, the more ornate the frame.
The room was organized clutter. Maybe clutter was the wrong word. It wasn’t exactly junky. It just had a table, or chair, or basket, or stack of books in every available space. A mix of old and older pieces since none of it seemed particularly modern. To Jack it looked like a cozy place one could retreat to after a long day working in the city.
The curtain blew again with the cross breeze created by the open door. He hadn't noticed a window being open when he was on the street looking up at the second floor. He walked over to the window on his right and pulled the curtain aside. There was a hole in it where someone had thrown a rock, or a ball, and smashed it. He wondered why he hadn't noticed that from outside. He saw Henry and Kevin on the sidewalk. He moved over to the middle window and pushed the white, shear curtain to his right so that he could open the window.
He carefully unlatched, then raised it. He slowly removed his hands to see if the window would stay up by itself. In the game of window vs. gravity, the window won and stayed in place. He stuck his head through the screenless opening and whistled down to the guys. They looked up from their conversation to see Jack in the window. They stood up and did their customary fist bump then turned back to look at Jack.
"What are you waiting for? Come on," he said while motioning them to cross the street.
Henry and Kevin stepped off the curb and dashed across the street. Standing at the gate, ready to lift the latch, Henry looked up at Jack. He saw a hand, just above Jack’s eye level, slowly move the curtain further to the side. He then saw a face. It was a woman. He didn’t know what to do. He stood there frozen.
Jack felt the presence. Time seemed to move in slow motion as he turned to see what was behind him. The first thing he saw was the sparkle of a diamond. Many diamonds, rows of them. The wrinkled hand, upon which the ring was placed, holding back the curtain, quickly replaced his fascination. He turned and looked directly at her.
She looked as if she had once been glamorous, a rare beauty. Someone a photographer would take pleasure in capturing on film. She appeared to have had plastic surgery. A facelift that wasn't perfect anymore. Her arms, though covered with the flowing sleeves of her peach colored robe, looked frail and aged. It was hard to disguise the wrinkles even though she tried. Her hands betrayed her.
She smiled at him. "Are you going to just stand there or are you going to introduce yourself and invite your friends upstairs?"
©2010 Michael Rohrer