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And then I hear it breathing

June 4, 2011

True story, names changed.

I grew up in a very small town in a Northeast state. It used to be a big town, bigger than our state capital, back in the early 1800’s, but then the creek started to dry up and the mills closed down. A few thousand people lived there when I was a kid. We were hill people, mostly. And mostly poor.

So one day my dad decides he wants to see if there’s any furniture in an old shack he knows way out in the woods. Keep in mind that we’re already hill people and this is a shack by our own standards. This whole operation classier than it sounds, my dad was a finish carpenter, and often restored old antiques, our house was filled with them. Now they tell you to leave that stuff alone, for the patina.

So his idea was that we should get anything left in the house before it rots. No one else ever went up there. Town lore was that the owner left for California 40 years ago after some kind of drama with her mate, refused to maintain the place, and would never sell it. No one knows what happened to her love interest. Standard campfire stuff, no one really believed any of it, except kids. I happened to be a kid, though.

So one afternoon, my dad, his buddy, and I all go up there in some kind of tiny imported four seater car. We sputter on toward this place, and I feel immediately lost. Even though I’m 5, this is a really small town, so I know my way around, and I’m very concerned about this “lost” feeling, and I keep asking my dad if he’s going to remember the way back. I am getting more and more agitated as we get closer, and this is starting to freak my dad out because I’m usually a pretty mellow kid.

Finally we pull up the path through the overgrown grass to the house and it looks bad, no paint, roof starting to bend, windows all blown out, door jammed open. I’m just crying now, and won’t stop. The original plan was that all three of us would go inside and look around. Now there’s now way I’m going in the house, and I’m too freaked out to be by myself in this place, so my dad’s buddy stays with me in the car, and he goes inside alone. He promises me he’ll just look through real quick and be back in a minute or two, and starts climbing up the rise to where the house stands.

He forces the door the rest of the way open with his shoulder and disappears inside. I quit crying now, because things seem very serious now. And we wait in the car as I count the minutes on my watch. Analog, with a second hand. It’s really quiet now, and it seems to have gotten late, and I’m getting really worried, because once the sun goes down I won’t be able to see into the house from the car, and for some reason this seems really important. And then it gets more quiet, the kind you forget about, because you don’t hear it very often. We can’t hear birds, or distant cars, no wind, not even a jet in the sky, and worse, we can’t hear my dad ramming around in the house, opening warped closet doors and testing stairs & such.

I can sense my dad’s buddy getting kind of worried too, which isn’t cool, because I don’t think he has the balls to go inside the house and get my dad if something’s gone wrong. Right about this time, he surprises me by saying, “Okay, Johnny [not my real name], we better go help finish this up,” and we both start opening our car doors. I remember being surprised because 1) normally my dad’s buddy was kind of wimpy, and just then he seemed pretty fierce; 2) it was the first time anyone had used my given name, in the diminutive, with that much respect. I felt like I was going to be an important part in whatever happened next, just like one of the grownups. For the first time, the name didn’t feel debiggened, if you know what I mean. I was suddenly being relied on for something, although I wasn’t sure what. Hard to explain that part. And 3) I was terrified a few moments ago, and now I felt kind of floaty and brave, and I was amazed as I watched my own hand opening the car door to go confront whatever was scaring us.

Anyway, as we’re clicking the mechanisms on the doors to get out and go to war (?), the old front door of the house slams open – remember it was wicked jammed before, there was a whole lot of power yanking it open this time. Dad comes running out toward the car faster than I’d ever seen him go before. You know that kind of running wan you take three stairs at a time without noticing? His buddy is instinctively hauling himself into the back seat as my dad is already in the car and starting the ignition, we’re in reverse halfway down the path before his door is even shut. He sort of spins the car on the grass so we’re going forward, and speeds home slamming through the gears. His buddy, is yelling “John! John! [not his real name] What happened! Calm down, if the girls see you this way they’ll freak out, man! Slow down, man, the kid’s in the car! What the fuck?”

I was disappointed, I was back to being the kid. But I was relieved to be away from that house, and the farther we all got from it the slower he drive, but he wouldn’t talk about it, and even I could see his hands still tremoring on the steering wheel. We got home, and my dad and his buddy went to smoke a joint (hindsight makes this clear lol), they told my mom and my dad’s buddy’s girl that they didn’t find anything worth salvaging in the old house, and it looked like they were pretty much going to get away with not having to explain the whole story to anyone.

Later that night, the phone rang, and my dad got up to get it. He said “Hello?” and then turned white as a ghost. My mom was alarmed, and asked him what was wrong. He hung up and said it was the old lady, and she told him “stay the fuck out of my house.”

I learned the rest of the story years later when my dad was drunk and told me what happened in the house. I’ll tell the whole thing from that perspective in another post if you want.

Thanks for the interest in my story. I’ll try to tell this part from the perspective of my dad, although his own real words are much more colorful. This takes place when he was about 23. Yeah I was 5. You figure it out, haha. So this is basically the story he told me years later about what happened when he went in the house. I have a couple comments, I’ll put them in brackets. I’m “John” [not my real name]. “Jack Stafford” is the oldest farmer in town.
We were going to go up there and check the old place out. I was tired of living across the street from your grandparents and I’d been looking for a place where you, me, and your mom could live in while I fix it up. I knew about this house, I knew it needed work, but it had a nice private lot and a great view, apple trees all over the place, and I’d stop up and look at it ever once in a while, it seemed pretty nice. So we tried calling the lady a few times to see if she’d sell it, but she never called back. We even wrote her a letter, but it came back. After a while I noticed the roof starting to go, and I knew the place was pretty much beyond repair, so I figured I’d go up there and check inside, see if there was any old furniture worth saving.So I got Steve, in case we found something heavy, and you, so I could show you where we almost lived, you were only about 5 or so. And we piled into the Fiat and drove up there. Well, you got upset as soon as we left, started whining and fidgeting, and saying you didn’t want to go. But your mom and Kate were out shopping so I couldn’t leave you at the house.

When we finally got there, you were being a real shit and wouldn’t even get out of the car. You were so upset I started to figure you were catching some bug so I left you in the car with Steve and went to just run in and check the place out. We were probably going to have to come back without you if there was anything decent in there, and we couldn’t get a dresser or anything like that on the roof of the Fiat anyway. I guess I really didn’t think there was anything in there, ya know, or I’d have just stopped by with the truck by myself after work or something. The truth was, ever since we tried calling the old lady, the place gave me the fuckin’ creeps, and I was glad she never called us back. I wanted to see if it did the same thing to Steve, and I didn’t really want to go in there by myself.

[That part always creeps me out because my dad wasn’t just a sceptic, he actively believed in nothing at all, and I’d only ever seen him afraid of cops. There were also some vague hints here that my dad planned to play a trick on Steve if he detected Steve being the least bit creeped out, but I guess my crying scuttled this plan.]

Anyway, you’re crying, so I leave you there with Steve and go in to look around. I gotta see inside, you know, like I figure somehow I’m not going to come back up here again. So go up there and I shove the door until I can squeeze through and start looking around. The place is pretty much fucked, weather and animals getting in, everything rotting, didn’t look like it ever had electricity or plumbing, but it’s also totally empty. Glad I didn’t buy it! Everything’s either already scavenged, or just plain gone. Living room, kitchen, parlor all empty.

So I go upstairs to see if the rest is the same, and the stairs are pretty rotten, but I manage to get up without falling through, and there’s two more rooms on a hallway. And I don’t know why but my hair is standing up on my arms and I really want to get out of there right away, ya know, like when you know you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be, or like when a dog you don’t know is down growling at you. But I know no one ever comes up here, and I know the old bag is way out on the west coast, so I don’t give a shit. And I’m walking down the hall past the first room, it has no door, so I can scan the whole room as I go by, and I can see the Fiat out the window down in the yard, and the room is empty.

[It was explained to me that despite the lengthy description, the following three paragraphs all take place in the interval of about 20 seconds]

At the end of the hall, I mean, this place is tiny, so we’re only talking a few steps, at the end of the hall is another fucked up door, a few inches open, and through the crack I can see a nice old chest made of some kind of hardwood, your mom and I were looking for a coffee table and this thing looked perfect. So I go to push on the door and it moves a little. So I lean on it with my shoulder and really shove it, and it moves, but damned if it doesn’t shove back into it’s original position.

I mean, John, this thing was warped hard against the floor, it made a hell of a sound when it moved, it wasn’t swinging by itself. So I stop and listen, for a second, I’m thinking there’s a fucking bear or something in there, ya know? But it’s like dead silent. Real quiet. So I shove the door once more, as hard as I can, and I kind of hear this roar? Like not a real big animal, you ever hear a Fox fucking? Like a god-damned screeching baby eating a live cat. And then I hear it breathing, these deep long breaths, kinda wet sounding, like a dog, but long, not panting. Anyway, at this point, I’m like fuck this, ya know, and I turn and start to fucking run, and I’m down the hall in like two steps, and I can hear the breathing getting louder and it sounds like it’s right behind me. And I’ll tell ya I was pretty careful going up those old stairs, but I don’t think I even touched them on the way down, and so I get to the front and I’m already thinking: shit, the jammed door is going to slow me down and the fucker is going to get me.

But I’m moving like I’m flying, total instinct run, you understand? And as I get to the door, it fucking slams open, I didn’t even touch it, but at this point I don’t even care, and I’m out the door. Took all the stairs in one step, and I’m yelling at Steve to get the hell in the back of the car so we can get the fuck out of there, I never turned around until I was sitting in the car. I swear I can still hear the breathing. So I get the car going, and it ain’t like in the movies, it started on the first try for once. I slam it in reverse, I really beat that old car up that day, she wasn’t really the same after, and we’re going like 25 or 30 in reverse down the rutted driveway, and I swear the last thing I see before I get it turned around was that fucking door closing.

I got a call that night, and it was the old lady. She just said “Stay the fuck out of our house” and hung up. Then a couple days later old Jack Stafford called up and asked if we’d been messing around at the orchard place. He used to help take care of their apple trees. He said he got a call from that old bitch telling him to go up there and check the place out, make sure it was ok, and to tell the [our last name]s that it was not for sale and to please stop asking. He said it was the damnedest thing, “Check on the place? It’s a shithole, what’s to check? ” He hadn’t heard from her in 20 years, figured she was dead. He said she moved out of town after her husband died, there had been a big problem because the town wouldn’t let her bury him on the property, they wanted to enforce some kind of cemetery ordinance. But she had been a real bitch about it, and wouldn’t let them put him in the cemetery. The cops even were called in, but she had hidden the body. Then one day she just left, cleaned the place out and locked it up, told Jack to stop trimming the trees. Jack stopped going up there to check on it he said, on account of “all the fallen apples smelling really rotten to him that year.”

– Posted by inkman; Nosleep

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