The big, brown house at the end of the street was fenced, as if to keep trespassers out and whatever the house contained, in. Whenever someone walked past, it was as if their presence was known, causing the rocking chair on the front porch to squeak, even when there was no wind. Its vast, broken windows faced the street, like eyes made to watch as you passed by.
She made it her mission to behave well enough to be granted time outside, for a chance to visit the last place she was before they carried her away. Too bad that hadn’t worked out. The doctor came in to check her blood pressure. The medication they gave her made the room spin and she would often spin along with it.
“How are you feeling today, Fiona,” the doctor asked as his white lab coat, so bright it was almost fluorescent under the harsh lights, created a small breeze when he turned from the table.
“A lot better,” she lied.
He gave her two small white pills to drink, which she stashed in her mouth. While he was tending to her chart, she spit the pills out and put them in her pocket so when he checked to see if she swallowed them, all he saw were pink gums and a tooth that needed a filling.
“Good girl,” he said. “You’ll be better in no time.”
She didn’t say a word, only shooting him a smile when he watched her, and rolling her eyes when he walked away, leaving her alone in the room. She wandered towards the window and stared off into the direction of the house on Altair Street. The city had recently changed the name from Elmhurst, because “Altair just seems more inviting,” is how the mayor put it.
If you asked her, nothing was inviting about Altair Street. Large, old, decaying trees lined the sidewalks. Prewar houses being renovated and modernized every week, but that last house is one no one would dare even go near. Most people would rather cross the street than walk in front of it.
The orderly walked in, disrupting her thoughts. “Are you gonna to come easily today, Fi? Or am I gonna have to strap you down,” the large man in all white scrubs asked.
“My name is not Fi,” she muttered through her teeth.
She crossed the room to where the man was standing and was escorted through the hallway to her room. She heard screams. Some were terrified, some were in agony, and others were in a fit of delirious laughter. Yet, all together they created a melody that rang through the damp, dark hallways of Memorial Mental Hospital.
Her room had large windows behind the bed that bathed the room in natural light. However, a new feature, iron bars, had been fixed over the windows, creating caged shadows across the wood floor.
“Enjoying the view,” old man Henderson asked wheeling himself into the room.
“When did they decide it was time for a makeover,” Fiona asked, walking towards the window to inspect just how long she had been knocked out.
“About two days after they dragged you in here, tranquilized and sedated, after your last escape attempt. What happened to good behavior,” he asked with a grin.
“I can’t just continue to sit on my ass all day. Four months of good behavior and I can’t even go near the door.”
“Maybe that’s because you keep trying to run straight through them and out that gate,” Henderson said jokingly.
“Yeah, well, who asked you anyway,” she replied angrily.
Henderson lived in the room next to hers. He would often talk about “life before the darkness.” He was 83 years old and rode around in a wheelchair, not because he had to. In fact, once during a fire drill, Fiona had seen Henderson spring from the chair and sprint to the nearest exit. He wasn’t crazy like other residents here were crazy. Henderson suffered with bipolar disorder and after his wife passed, none of his children would take him in, fearing a violent outburst. His dark brown eyes would become unfocused which indicated that his mind had left the current conversation.
“Hey, you with me gramps,” she asked slightly annoyed and slightly concerned.
“Yeah, where else would I go?”
She went behind Henderson’s chair, turned him around and pushed him out the door and towards his room. Before she left him to decide where he wanted to be, she slipped him the two pills she had stashed and walked away. It was visitation day and her mother would be arriving soon.
On Altair Street, construction workers renovating the old houses would dare one another to go ring the doorbell of the big brown house. They had observed that the mailman never approached the door, putting mail and packages inside the fence on the concrete walkway, never even bothering to go onto the property. When the construction workers inquired why, he said that those had been the instructions for delivering mail to that house for the last 50 years. Curious and a little annoyed, one of the men decided to approach the fence. When he reached out to lift the latch, the door swung open, revealing a shadowed figure standing in the doorway. The construction worker backed away from the fence and waited for the person to step into the light, but they never did. They stared with simmering eyes at the man on the other side of the fence until he went back to his colleagues.
“The hell was that about,” one of the others asked.
“I have no idea, but at least we know someone lives there now.”
For as long as she remembered, Memorial Mental Hospital had been the place they kept the criminally insane. They had only recently opened the doors to civilians who suffered with mental health issues. Everyone in there had a ghost story about the house on Altair Street. Some heard that “the owner died and couldn’t move on to the other side,” which was a horrible cliché no one would ever believe. Fiona’s encounter with that house had been very different than the stories she heard muttered through the walls.
Fiona had been 17 when she was walking home from school like any other day. Except this day had been unexpectedly cold for April. There was a kid she recognized as her neighbor’s son playing in the yard of the decrepit old house. She looked on with growing curiosity and asked what he was doing playing in a stranger’s yard. He didn’t answer her. The door creaked open, but she didn’t see anyone near it and when she looked back to where the boy had been, he was gone. She looked around the yard from the outside and couldn’t see him. Instead of going home, like the sudden wind had almost begged her to, she decided that she couldn’t leave the kid playing in a stranger’s yard. She entered the property and went up the walkway.
“Fiona, honey. What are you thinking about,” her mother asked with a hint of worry in her voice. Her father refused to come to see her because he didn’t believe anyone could possibly be mentally ill, and that “it was all in her head.” Yeah, no shit.
“Nothing,” she replied dismissively.
“It was about the house again, wasn’t it,” she asked, pressing her damp palm onto her daughter’s. She looked into her daughter’s beady black eyes and tried her best to be reassuring. “You can tell m-”
“Tell you what, mom? Tell you what I told the police happened that day? Tell you what you already don’t believe? Tell you that I’m actually crazy? What good would that do? Give you a bit of self-assurance, that you weren’t the one that actually messed me up? You already know this isn’t your fault.”
She had grown tired of these sympathetic talks that consumed most visiting hours when her mother visited. The same routine over and over had actually begun to drive her a little mad, and she was at first grateful for the medication that left her drugged and dazed in the activity room.
Fiona sighed. “Listen, I get that you think you owe it to me to come here, seeing as dad is being a dick about it and all. But, I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself in here. You don’t have to come all the time.”
Her mother laughed, “Honey, I’m not worried about you taking care of yourself. That’s what the orderlies and doctors are here for. I’m here because they caught you trying to escape.”
She remembered the way the stairs creaked at the house on Altair as she approached the door. She couldn’t remember if she had knocked and somebody opened the door or if it was already opened, but she stepped through the threshold and felt someone looking at her. Fixed to the wall in the entryway was a large portrait of a woman with dark hair and dark eyes, much like her own. Its eyes fixated on her own caused her to move forward without thought. “Hello,” she called out. Her voice echoed through the seemingly empty house. She made her way into the living room and heard faint breathing. All the furniture was covered with sheets. Behind the couch, she found the little boy, crouched, looking down a distant hallway. “What are you doing in here, kid?” He didn’t answer. His eyes were fixated on something down the hall. She couldn’t make out what it was. “Alright kid, playtime is over. Let’s get you home.” She went to pick him up and he suddenly started to scream. “Fine, stay here. See if I care.” She did care. She wanted to know what the little boy had been so afraid of. He pointed down the hall. “If you think I’m going any further into this hell hole, you are mistaken.” He grabbed her hand and yanked her forward, dragging her further into the house. Along the walls were portraits, similar to the one in the entryway, only these depicted small children. “Was this an orphanage,” she asked herself, knowing if she tried to question the kid, he would probably start to scream again. As he dragged her further through the hall, they stopped just before a bedroom. He looked up at her. “I’m not going in there,” she said with a slight chuckle. But he ignored her and opened the door anyway. Inside, the furniture was covered. On the wall, underneath the window there was a toy chest. He went over to it and turned back to look at her.
Her mother snapped her fingers in front of her face, “Fiona, hello. Stop ignoring me child. You need to stop trying to run away, these people are trying to help you.”
Fiona scoffed, “Yeah, that’s why everyone in here is living in a drug induced haze. Listen mother, I promise, I’m not going to cause any more trouble. Send dad my love. Or don’t. I really don’t care anymore.”
She slowly walked up to the chest, running her fingertips across the top of it and down the front until she reached the latch. She squatted down next to the boy and looked him in the eye. “What’s in the box,” she reluctantly asked knowing she wouldn’t get an answer. The boy turned away from her and ran from the room and before she could get up to chase after him, something began pounding on the inside lid of the toy chest. She fell back and pushed herself across the floor as far away from the box as possible. The pounding continued with growing intensity, causing the box to rattle. She looked on with growing fear in her eyes, crawling on all fours back towards the box. Inhaling deeply through her nose, she placed both hands on the lid while the box continued to rattle. Slowly, she lifted the lid and found a wind-up monkey toy rattling at the bottom of the empty toy chest.
With growing confusion, she extended a shaky hand towards the toy, examining it before she turned the key on the back and placed it on the floor. It waddled on the floor for a few seconds before the toy chest began to pound again, rattling with the same intensity as did before. She leaned forward, putting her head next to the chest, before putting her ear to the floor beside it. Another hard pound came from the floor below.
The toy monkey had stopped clapping just before the threshold of the door in front of the little boy. She turned around and saw him standing there, right hand extended towards her. “Absolutely not. No. I’m not interested in anything else you have to show me. You have parents, go home and drag them through your little field trip, because I am DONE!” She picked herself up, brushing the dust off of her pants and slid past the boy into the hallway. He followed her back through the living room, remaining silent. She reached for the door before a scream so terrifyingly familiar rang through the house. It was as if a memory she didn’t realize was her’s was triggered, causing her to sprint back towards the hallway and through the kitchen. As she spun around the room, trying to concentrate on where the scream had come from the boy watched from the doorway of the kitchen.
“Where did that come from?” She asked, looking into the eyes of the little boy who did not look terrified or even surprised at the sound. “What the hell is wrong with you, kid?” She stooped down in front of him, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him slightly.
He looked past her at the door leading out of the kitchen and into the backyard. A second scream pierced the walls of the kitchen. “The backyard, there’s a way to the basement through the yard?” She asked frantically, looking at the boy for any indication of an answer, but he stood stoically as before staring at the door. She ran towards the door, nearly ripping it off the hinge and ascended into dark backyard, only lit by the light of the moon. She had been in the house for hours. She looked around and found the doors to the cellar, padlocked and chained. A third scream, “How can the neighbors not hear that?” She thought as she looked around for a key or something to break the lock with. The boy was in front of the cellar doors, pointing at the hanging flowerpot that swung from the back deck. Smashing the pot against the side of the house, she rummaged through the dirt until she found the key.
Just before opening the lock, she looked back at the boy who was now sitting in the step of the deck. She looked back down at the key in her hand and thought, “Why in the world am I playing Nancy Drew right now.” With that, she pulled out her phone and called the cops. If there was any chance of something happening, she wouldn’t be victim to having no service in the sketchy basement of a house she wasn’t supposed to be in, trying to save whom or whatever was screaming in the basement of this nightmare museum. She took the lock into her hand and unlocked it, pulling the chains away and opening the doors. The first thing she noticed was the scent of sweet vanilla, mixed with the strong overpowering smell of metal. She turned on the light and descended the stairs, looking back and asking the little boy, “Hey, aren’t you coming along? Seems like you’re really into all this creepy shit.” But he ignored her, much like he has been since she walked into this place.
As she continued down the steps her suspicions were confirmed by another scream and a hard pounding sound coming from somewhere in the dark room. She turned on the flashlight on her phone and scanned the immediate area. The walls were covered in dusty webs and wooden picture frames like the ones inside the house. When she turned the corner of the steps to move further into the room, one of the cellar doors slam shut. She sprints back to the steps, running halfway up, catching a glimpse of the woman from the portrait and the little boy behind her before the other door is slammed shut. She can hear the chains being put back around the handles. She beings to panic shining her flashlight around the room quickly for windows, but there are none. She finds a light switch and the entire room becomes illuminated in fluorescent, orange, artificial light.
Immediately to the right of the staircase is a wall, decorated with the drawings of small children, some beginning to fall because the tape had lost its adhesiveness. Behind the wall, was a large play area, with baskets of toys lining the walls and a large mat covering the floor. The bright colors of the playroom contrast the dark, dreary atmosphere of the house and make Fiona wonder whether or not this woman actually had run a daycare or if she was just crazy. Beyond the playroom there was door, which she put her ear up against. Carefully she placed her had on the knob and turned it slowly. The screaming began again and much to her dismay the door was locked. She threw herself against the door trying to open it. There was no little boy to silently guide her to the answers now. She calls out to the person screaming in the room, “Are you okay? Are you alone in there? Don’t worry, I’ve already called for help, okay? Help is on the way.” She couldn’t help but think of the irony, because now she was in need of help as much as the person screaming.
She continued ramming her shoulder into the door. The screaming pierced her, causing her to give up and slide down in front of the door of the room she could not get into. She covered her ears and banged her head against the door three times. As she rested her head against the door, she heard the lock click. She turned, now facing the door, looked on with skepticism. “I’m gonna die.” She thought to herself. She couldn’t bring herself to open the door and face the screaming. When has investigating mysterious screaming in what was supposed to be an abandoned house ever ended well? However, she was locked in and there could be a window in that room. At this point she wishfully thought as only one in such a situation could bring themself to do.
Picking herself up off the floor, she went towards the door and placed her hand on the knob. Choosing to open it slowly, the hinges squeaked agonizingly loud. The room was unusually dark seeing as the light was on in the room right next to it. There was no light switch in this room, so she resorted back to her phone. What she saw would make headlines, surely. Little did she know that headlines would be made, but no for what the room contained.
She raised her phone and scanned the entire room, until she reached the corner furthest from her. Stumbling backwards out of the room, she crawled over to baskets that held the toys and vomited, almost choking at the force of bile coming up through her throat. In the corner of the room was a little boy with a striking resemblance to the one that led her into the house, maybe his twin. With glassy eyes and blood covering his mouth, trailing down most of his body, he was huddled over a girl about Fiona’s age. Her skull unnaturally caved in in the back, indicating blunt force trauma.
Running back towards the stairs, she hears the door of the room with the boy slam shut as she being to pound on the doors of the cellar. Tears stream down her face as she uses all of her strength to make enough noise hoping someone will hear her. Finally, before she could continue, the doors open and a light is flashed in her face. Fiona starts to babble incoherently as the officer says, “Whoa, whoa. Slow down kid. What are you doing trespassing on this woman’s property?”
“TRESPASSING?!” Fiona screams into the face of the officer. “I called you guys an hour ago, reporting screaming from this whack job’s basement.”
“Sweetie,” The officer responds, “We didn’t get a call about any screaming. We are here because Mrs. Potts reported someone breaking into her cellar. Now, what were you doing down there?”
“She locked me in there! I told you, I heard someone screaming. Before I went to check for myself, I called the police, see, check my phone history.” But when they did, there was no call to the police. There were only several missed calls from home.
“Ma’am, have you been drinking tonight?” The officer asked with growing uneasiness.
“What?” Fiona took the phone and scrolled though her call list, but the 911 call wasn’t there. She looked behind the officers at the woman and then to the little boy. “There, ask the kid, he saw me call the cops, didn’t you?”
The cops turn to the little boy and he shakes his head no, retreating to the side of the older woman who puts her hand reassuringly on his shoulder. Fiona’s eyes grow large with anger and shock because surely this is all a game. And elaborate joke to take advantage of her willingness to go above and beyond to help others when she should have just went on her merry way home after school. “You’ve gotta be shitting me, right? He doesn’t even live here!” Fiona stated angrily looking at the boy and the older woman.
“This is my grandson,” the older lady chimed in.
“Since when? I’ve lived next door to his parents since I was born and have never seen you around, why don’t you ever go over to their house?”
“I’m old. Why visit them when they can easily come visit me.”
Convenient, thought Fiona. “Ok, then you wanna explain why there’s a kid that looks a lot like that little traitor devouring a teenage girl in your back room down there like she was his last meal on death row?”
The cops now turned to Fiona with widened, shocked eyes. They rushed past her down through the cellar and into the back room, followed by Fiona, the old woman and little boy. When the cops went to the back room, the door was locked and the old lady obliged when they asked her to open it. In the room, which was now brightly lit was a small bedroom, with a dresser and a bookshelf with an assortment of children’s stories. In the playroom, the bucket with toys and now vomit sat in the corner and all eyes were on Fiona.
“I’ll admit, the place does need a good dusting, but I’ve had this room set up for my grandson so when he comes over and wants to play and gets tired he can stay down here, take a nap and play some more if he wants to.”
The cops look to Fiona again, “Ma’am, we’re going to need to take a Breathalyzer test.”
Fiona goes back upstairs through the cellar and out into the backyard, waiting to be administered the test to prove that she is not intoxicated, although the vomit and the hallucinations would say otherwise. Her test came back as .00, which meant not only was she not drunk, she was so clear headed that the officers could only come to one conclusion.
“Ma’am, we’re going to take you to the hospital and have someone evaluate you over night. Clearly you’ve been seeing things and making false accusations against this woman and scaring her poor grands-“
“Scaring, her poor WHAT? That kid is the reason I’m in this time-warp, alternate universe, hell.”
“Regardless of how you ended up in this situation, we’re going to need to take you in. Be thankful she’s not pressing charges.” And with that, the officers took Fiona into the car and drove her to the regular hospital where she was observed.
While she was under watch, she refused to comply with any of the doctors and questioned everything they did. When her parents arrived and asked what was going on, she ran to the glass that separated them. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when they began to walk away, she began to get frightened, banging on the glass and asking where they were going and why they weren’t getting her out of there. She slumped against the wall below the glass, much like she did on the door in the back room of the cellar and cried, banging her head softly against the wall. The next morning she was transferred to Memorial Mental Hospital.
Local newspapers had picked up the story about the average teenage girl that took an extremely dark turn when she “threw her life away, breaking an entering into an old woman’s cellar.” She didn’t even see her parents after the first few weeks when she was transferred. They had left her there without hearing her side of the story. When they finally did listen, her dad picked himself up and left the room, never visiting again. Her mother looked on with wide eyes, almost in astonishment at the details of her daughter’s story.
“Oh sweetie.” Was all her mother could bring herself to say.
“No. Mom, don’t sweetie me. The woman used her grandson to lure me through the house and into the cellar. I would have ended up just like the other girl.”
“There was no other girl, Fiona.”
“I know what I saw. I’m not crazy.”
“Hun, do you ever wonder why nobody ever gets near that house?” Her mother asked in a tone of full despair, trying to reach out to the sensibility of her once greatest accomplishment.
“Because a crazy old bag, and her demon grandchild are trying to murder people and feed them to the kid’s cannibalistic twin brother.” Fiona quipped back sarcastically.
Her mother sighed, almost in relief. As if all hope had not yet been lost because her daughter was still bright enough to use her wit. “Because strange things have happened in that house.”
“Yeah, no shit. They’re feeding babysitters to kids now. Must be a new parenting phenomenon.”
“Fiona, listen to me!” Her mother raised her voice and everyone in the visiting room perked up and stared at them. “You have always been warned about that house. I always told you to leave that house alone.”
“The kid didn’t belong there mom, what was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to see him get in trouble.”
“Yeah, well maybe if you left him there you wouldn’t be in your current situation.” And with that, her mother left.
During sessions with the doctors at Memorial, she found herself talking about how abandoned she felt when her parents didn’t take her home the night of the incident. The doctors think that could be why she thought the house was abandoned, and that she projected her subconscious loneliness onto the kid who was alone in the yard. She think’s they’re full of shit and have read too many novels about that sort of thing.
On Altair Street, the inquisitive construction worker found himself back in front of the big brown house. Figuring it was early and the shadowy figure would be asleep, he snooped around the yard, making his way to the back. The cellar doors had been pried open and a trail of blood stained the stairs and the grass in front of the cellar, leading to a large ditch in the back of the property. Following the blood, the construction worker found himself hovering over a hole in the yard. In the hole, was a little boy, covered in blood, looking up with glassy eyes as he hovered over the old lady in the portrait. The construction worker, startled, began to walk backwards out of the yard, stumbling into the twin brother. He looked down at the kid, then back at the ditch and walked around the house, back through the gate, replacing the latch just as he found it.
The big brown house on Altair Street would remain latched, knowing that the secrets that the house contained would be kept in, and the ones who spoke about them would be kept out.