I Dare You
By J.A. Sullivan
Green glass shattered as a beer bottle slammed against the brick of the abandoned farmhouse. Fragments glittered in the moonlight as it fell to the ground. Bubbles foamed and popped in the warm autumn air.
“What the hell, man?” Paul said, steadying the waiver in his voice.
“Just trying to stir things up for Gwen. You want her to have a good time, don’t you?” Ryan said. He pulled Brit closer to his side, her blonde hair tickling his cheek as it brushed passed. He wanted to feel if his minor act of vandalism made her tremble. It did. He smiled.
Inside the house Thomas Reginald Block stood glaring from the cracked second story window, directly above where the bottle had broken. None of them had seen him. He watched the group of five teenagers gather by the burnt-out car in the driveway. The car had probably sat in the same spot for longer than any of them had been alive. He slunk down the stairs to get a better view from the living room.
Ryan boosted himself onto the hood of the car, resting his feet on the bumper. Brit copied him and sat so close he thought she was trying to climb on his lap. She’d been unusually quiet on their twenty-minute walk from the campsite. Then he remembered the last time they’d come to the farmhouse. That was the night he dared Brit to go inside alone. She’d only lasted fifteen minutes.
“Guys, this is lame,” Sierra said, slurring her words together. “Let’s go back.”
“You can, if you want,” Ryan said. “The rest of us are staying here.” Sierra pouted and sat on a tree stump near the car. She put her elbows on her knees and rested her chin in her hands. The last Jägerbomb she’d chugged was trying to climb back up her throat. She wished she had brought a bottle of water, or at least a scrunchie to keep her long black hair out of her face if she got sick. Paul removed his backpack and put it on the ground, beer bottles inside clinking together. He moved up behind Sierra and rubbed her shoulders.
“So, Gwen,” Ryan said, “tonight’s the last step of your initiation. One hour. Alone. I dare you.” Ryan was picturing Gwen calling to him from inside the house. He’d go in comfort her, and wind up making out. He imagined grinding up against her, with her back against a wall, his hand slipping up under her shirt. Brit had the Hollywood glam looks, but in bed she just lay there like a date rape victim. Ryan thought Gwen would be the perfect replacement.
“Piece of cake,” Gwen said, a sly grin breaking out across her face. She knew what he was thinking. You didn’t need to be psychic to read the toothy wolf smile. Times like these she wished she wasn’t. Most guys got the same look when they were thinking about being alone with Gwen. Their thoughts projected into her mind, flickering like an old film reel. But it wasn’t Ryan she wanted to impress.
Brit looked up, her eyes locking with Gwen’s for a heartbeat. She felt a flush race through her cheeks and hoped no one could see it in the moonlight. Brit didn’t want Gwen to go in the house. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Brit woke up in a sweat, escaping the nightmare that replayed in her mind from her own dare initiation. Ryan and Paul had tried to convince her that they pranked her, but Brit knew what she saw.
Gwen could see what Brit had witnessed, as clear as if she’d been there herself. But she wasn’t frightened. This wasn’t the first haunted house she’d been in, and it wouldn’t be her last. She had plans for this exploration, and hoped it ended with Brit’s arms wrapped around her.
Thomas Reginald Block watched the group from the living room. He couldn’t hear most of what they were saying, but it didn’t matter. He liked it best when a group broke into the house. It was easier to whip them into a frenzy. Maybe that’s what they were deciding. Teenagers always fell into one of two groups, either it was all of them, or they would send in only one. The blonde on the hood of the car had been sent in alone. Thomas remembered that had been a great night. He was hoping she would come inside again, but he doubted it.
Scanning the teens outside again, he realized that all but one in this group had taken a solitary venture into The Murder House, as they called it. The night with the blonde had been the best, but Thomas remembered giving a great scare to the girl sitting on the tree stump and to the guy standing behind her too. The other guy, the one on the car hood, was a different story. That guy was an asshole, and Thomas didn’t think assholes were worth the energy to scare. But if that guy came back in, Thomas was sure he’d scare him bad enough to piss his pants. Tonight though, he guessed, this new girl would be sent up alone, like the rest of them had done. He was right. Finally, she was making her way to the front door.
He moved back toward the pitch-black kitchen. There was a lot he could figure out about a new victim based on the first steps into the house. The real scaredy-cats started in the living room, trying to stay close to the front door. Braver ones immediately went upstairs to investigate the mythic bathroom of horrors. From the kitchen Thomas would be able to easily sneak up behind this new girl no matter which option she chose.
“Just yell if you need us,” Brit called to Gwen who was already standing on the front porch. Gwen flashed a thumbs-up and opened the door.
As Gwen pushed the heavy wooden front door closed behind her, she could feel the weight of someone watching her. She looked down the hall to the kitchen. He was there, staring back, as a dark silhouette. That’s what ghosts usually looked like. Not transparent people, but only the shadows of souls left behind. She could sense it was a he, male ego and hatred radiated off him in waves. He wasn’t the only entity though. Someone softer was in the house. Demure with a touch of rage lapping under the surface.
“Maybe we can help each other?” a voice whispered into Gwen’s mind. It wasn’t the man who spoke. He thought he was alone.
Pushing her shoulders back to stand taller, she began walking toward the specter. Chips of ceiling paint and plaster crunched beneath her sneakers against the wooden floor. The dank earth and rotting wood smell of the house reminded Gwen of her Grandpa’s barn. Just like here, the barn had been lifeless, but not unoccupied.
This girl was staring right at Thomas. He wanted to believe that she was looking through him, but part of him knew that was a lie. He slunk sideways over to the threshold of the dining room. The floor creaked as he stood in the doorway. On the other side of the wall, the girl’s footsteps stopped in the hallway. For a moment he considered reaching through the wall to give a quick tug on the girl’s hair.
Outside the wind picked up. The overgrown bushes at the front of the house grated their sharp wooden claws against the tattered screens of the living room. Thomas didn’t hear the girl jump or gasp. He was sure she would have. They usually did. But not this one. Instead, he heard her turn on her heels and walk back down the hall to the living room. Thomas melted and flowed into the dark shadows of the archway between the living room and dining room.
Gwen stepped into the living room, surveying the decrepit furnishings. Few remnants of wallpaper still clung to the walls, though most of it lay on the floor in shreds. As she walked in front of the upright piano, she slid her fingers across the exposed keys without hitting a note. She wiped her dusty fingers on the outer thigh of her jeans and turned to stand beside the window. Looking through the bushes, Gwen could see the gang by the car. Paul was standing between Sierra, still seated on the tree stump, and the car. There were a few chuckles and then a full out roar of laughter. The class clown seemed to be on a roll.
“Only forty-five minutes left to go,” Ryan shouted to the house. Gwen wasn’t sure if he had seen her. He most likely didn’t and was just trying to reassert himself as the centre of attention.
The voice whispered again, “Upstairs. He’ll follow.”
Gwen exited the living room, her eyes fixed at the bottom of the staircase.
Thomas oozed forward through the shadows, following the girl. The bottom step groaned loudly beneath her shoes. Again, she didn’t jump, but hesitated for a moment. He sunk into the living room floor, watching and waiting. He was glad this girl was finally going upstairs. That’s where he always had the most fun.
The girl stopped at the top landing, as if waiting for some inner guidance on where to go first. She turned right, making her way down the hall out of sight, and he moved up the stairs silently. As he reached the top, he saw her duck into the master bedroom at the far left of the hall.
He had expected her to go to the bathroom first. That was where most of the intruders started. The legends of The Murder House all revolved around the bathroom. A bathtub full of blood and limbs. Over the years he’d heard the stories many times, in many variations. The newer versions always included more grotesque details, more bodies, and more lies. Some of the stories had warped him from a murderous husband and father of two, into a serial killer who snatched anyone who wandered down the isolated country lane at the wrong time.
From the hallway Thomas surveyed the girl standing in front of the bedroom window. Her head was tilted ever so slightly, like she was trying to hear whispered voices that no one else could hear. She was tracing her finger in the dust of the windowsill. Reaching forward he pulled the bedroom door closed slowly, drawing out a squeal from the hinges.
There was no scream. No catch of breath. She was still standing by the window, her profile slightly shifted to look toward the door. It was a casual, uninterested glance. He was going to have to try much harder to get this one going. Perhaps he was losing his touch. For so long now he barely needed to creak a floorboard or flutter the curtains to scare trespassers into immediate panic.
As he was considering his next move, she walked to the double closet doors and opened them. Watching her, he could almost believe she saw something in there. But that was impossible. Only a few stray wire hangers remained scattered on the closet floor. Scraps of wallpaper clung to the walls. And, of course, there was the metal closet rod, deeply bowed in the middle.
The girl moved away from the closet, leaving the doors open. She wandered back toward the window and found the door that most people ignored. The en-suite. Clutching the handle as the door swept into the bathroom, the girl took a step forward. Thomas crept closer to see what she would do next.
He pressed himself against the ceiling, sliding toward the closet doors, ever watchful of the girl. There was only a small window in the bathroom letting in barely enough moonlight to see the girl’s outline. She was standing at the side of the tub, waving her hands in front of her as if searching for something.
But the open closet was beckoning.
Thomas felt a tightening around his neck. A tickly scratch of braided horsehair hugged under his chin. He remembered the feeling of blood thumping behind his eyes, like it was trying to smash through his skin, desperately trying to find another way to collect oxygen. The agony had lasted much longer than he’d expected.
Since that day long ago, the closet doors remained closed. The longer Thomas stared into the closet, the more his mind replayed the past. Desperately trying to come back to the present, Thomas moved down the wall to pull the closet doors closed. But he stopped.
On the closet floor, under the hangers, was a piece of paper, yellowed and curling in on itself. Red ink scrawled across the paper: “Now you’ve taken everything.” Behind his own handwriting, Thomas could still read the typed foreclosure letter from the bank. The tightness around his neck felt like suffocating all over again.
Those doors needed to be shut. There were only two sets of doors in the house which Thomas always kept closed and this girl had opened them both. He could do things much worse than bumps in the night, and she deserved everything he could muster.
Another beer bottle exploded against the house. This time Gwen jumped. She came out of the bathroom and glared down at Ryan from the window. The shadow above the closet had thickened, but Gwen barely noticed.
In a breath before Thomas was about to bound from the ceiling to the window, his eye caught something on the sill. The girl had written something in the dust. A single word. Tommy.
His name. The one his family and friends had called him. She hadn’t used Thomas. All the others before her, the ones brave enough to shout out to him, had always called out Thomas Reginald Block. It was part of the legend. Probably what the newspapers had used.
In an instant Tommy had gone from enraged to terrified. This was no ordinary girl. He was about to howl at her with all his might, when she threw the window open, popping the screen out as she waved her arms wildly.
“Ryan,” Gwen screamed, “come quick, I need you.” She darted back into the bathroom.
Outside, Ryan brushed Brit’s grabby hands away, and ran for the front door.
Tommy had to do something quick while he had the girl to himself. Pulsing with rage he condensed himself into the darkest shadow possible and glowered at her from the bathroom doorway.
“Come closer,” Gwen spoke without fear to the swirling darkness. “I have something to show you.” She poised herself by the door, clutching the handle behind her, ready to make her move.
Tommy froze. He could now see other figures moving in the dark of the bathroom.
Ryan reached the top of the stairs when he heard a female voice. “We’re waiting,” the voice said in a harsh rasp. It wasn’t Gwen. Someone older. Something not quite human.
To Tommy the voice was unmistakable. “Maggie?” He jumped back at the sound of his own voice.
The hair on Ryan’s body pricked up, as if every degree of heat in the air had been sucked out. For a split second he halted at the master bedroom door. He’d heard a man’s voice. With a gulp of icy air Ryan stepped forward.
Gwen could hear Ryan was nearly at the bathroom door. Glancing back at the tub, she saw Tommy as what he must have looked like when he was alive. Tall, lean, and broken beyond repair. He was drifting forward, his focus no longer on Gwen.
Three distinct shadowy masses were taking form in the tub. One was slightly taller than Gwen, the other two as short as toddlers. She could see shadowy arms reaching for Tommy. Looping around his arms. His torso. His neck. Tommy was squirming, trying to get away.
Ryan bounded over the threshold, nearly tripping into the bathtub. He fell to the floor and screamed at the sight before him. A man with piercing blue eyes was reaching out to him. Hands of black tar darted all over the man’s body. They seemed to be pulling the man backward, further into what should have been the bathroom wall, but all Ryan could see behind the man was rolling black clouds momentarily illuminated by flashes of red lightening. Bodies and faces contorted and screamed back at him from within the clouds.
As Gwen saw the horror spread across Ryan’s face, she rushed out of the bathroom, pulling the door closed behind her. She stood in the bedroom, holding onto the doorknob as hard as she could.
She could hear Ryan’s sneakers squeaking against the ceramic tile floor. Trying to get up. Trying to get out. Something thumped against the other side of the door. The knob began to frantically twitch in her hands. She tightened her grip, using all her weight to keep the door closed.
Screams from the bathroom echoed through the entire house. They weren’t all from Ryan. Tommy was howling in agony too, as his soul was being stretched and torn. Gwen wanted to cover her ears, but she didn’t dare let go of the doorknob.
Above the din, Gwen could hear footsteps racing up the staircase. Brit and the others were calling out to her. Suddenly, the screams in the bathroom rose to a sharp peak and then broke into silence. The doorknob became lifeless in Gwen’s hand. She let go.
“Here,” Gwen yelled to Brit. When she heard the creak in the hall just in front of the master bedroom, she nudged the bathroom door open. It didn’t open far before thumping against something.
Brit reached Gwen first, and pulled her away to the window.
“I don’t know what happened,” Gwen said, voice trembling and crocodile tears spilling from her eyes.
“It’s okay. Come here,” Brit said, wrapping her arms around Gwen and stroking her hair.
Paul and Sierra worked together to push the door open. Ryan lay on the floor, eyes wide and mouth gaping. Paul kneeled, trying to help Ryan sit up. A low guttural moan was all that came from Ryan, his gaze locked on the empty bathtub. Sierra plucked her phone from beneath her shirt and called for help.
Gwen watched as Paul tried frantically to shake Ryan out of his drooling catatonic state. She nuzzled into Brit’s golden hair, hiding her smile.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan