Getting drunk at the party was a good idea at the time. Halloween, as always, is the best night of the year to dress up slutty with friends and get wasted. Hilda did as much dressed as a vampire while Claude went as a zombie. They played a few drinking games, then stumbled into truth or dare. Someone mentioned the house on the hill, and now, here they are, trudging through the woods drunk and loud.
Raphael leads the way with Claude close behind. It was Claude's idea to explore the house in the first place. Ignatz details them on the history of the haunted house. He scrolls through articles on his phone. Hilda shivers, regretting her decision to wear such a skimpy outfit.
"Everyone who goes in there has never come back." Ignatz rambles. The light of his phone reflects off his glasses. "The entire family died mysteriously in 1840. They were all buried, but the bodies went missing a week later. The townsfolk believed it was some sort of curse, so they refused to go anywhere near the house. It's been abandoned since."
"The entire family died on the same night?" Lysithea mumbles. “How did they die?”
“I assume they were killed. The family was found hanging with their bodies completely drained of blood.”
She clings to Leonie for emotional support. "I don't wanna be out here. It's too dark. What if we see their ghosts?"
"Good thing I didn't dress up as a ghost this year." Claude laughs.
"You did last year, and Lysithea nearly knocked you out cold when you scared her." Leonie adds helpfully.
"Don't remind me."
Raphael steps on a twig, making a loud noise. Lysithea jumps and nearly faints from shock. Leonie holds her up.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Claude," Hilda says, looking up at the night sky. The full moon lights the woods, adding to the erie atmosphere. Dark clouds loom overhead.
"Oh, c'mon. It'll be fun." He nudges his friend in the side.
"What if we go in there, and we see the ghost?" Lysithea turns white thinking about it. "What if it kills us? Or gives us a curse?"
"No offense, Lysithea, but if a ghost were to curse me, I would simply say 'no thank you'," Claude says.
Lysithea glares at him. Claude bursts out laughing.
"See? Ghosts aren't so bad."
Ignatz continues to scroll through articles on his phone while Raphael maneuvers him to keep him out of the path of danger.
"According to this site, two people went to the house in 1972 and were never heard from again."
“Never heard from again?” Lysithea quivers.
“Until a few months later when hikers found their bodies discarded and completely drained of blood.” Ignatz adds helpfully.
"Oh, perfect! Vampires!" Claude turns back to Lysithea. "See? Nothing to worry about."
"I don't like vampires either." Lysithea cries. “What if they try to eat me?”
"Claude, stop teasing her." Hilda scolds.
"I'm sorry." Claude apologizes. "I promise we'll protect you, Lysithea. You're like my little sister."
Leonie turns to Lysithea. "Do you still want to go?"
The girl contemplates her two options: walk home in the dark or go into a haunted house with all your friends. She weighs them both for a long while before finally saying, "Let's do this, but you better be willing to get eaten for me."
"I swear on my life I will jump in front of its fangs." Claude puts a hand over his heart.
After more walking, they finally see the house. It looms overhead, atop a hill. A fence surrounds it to keep intruders out. Hilda grows nervous as they get closer. She secretly wishes she could grab onto Leonie with Lysithea, but she has an image to maintain. The group picks up the pace, panting by the time they get to the top of the hill.
"What a workout!" Raphael exclaims. "Let's do this more often!"
"Let's not." Lysithea squeaks. She holds Leonie's hand for comfort. The other girl gazes up at the dilapidated house. It stands tall before them, looking as if it could crumble at any moment. The real danger is the infrastructure.
Claude walks up to the gate and rattles the bars. A hefty lock keeps the gate from flying open. Even though the house is centuries old, the lock seems fairly new.
He turns to Ignatz. "Hey, Iggie, do you know how to pick locks?"
"Why do you think I know how to pick locks?" He questions back.
"I don't know. You read a lot."
"Not about lock picking!" Ignatz huffs. "Okay, that's a lie. I've watched a few videos on it."
"So can you do it?"
"No!" Ignatz rolls his eyes. "I don't have my lock picking kit on me."
"You have a lock picking kits? Actually, nevermind," Leonie says.
Claude moves onto the fence. He observes the ground closely. His eyes light up with an idea. "Aha! Raphael, come here!"
The group rushes over to find a lonely spot in the fence. The wiring stretched out from decades of wear, and probably some past intruders.
"I can bend this, easy." Raphael rubs his hands together.
"I brought wire clippers, dummy." Claude reaches into his backpack.
"Do you just carry those around everywhere?" Leonie asks.
"Only to parties." Claude answers with a wink. "You never know."
"That's Claude for ya." Hilda sighs, shaking her head.
Raphael starts working on the fence. His muscles bulge as he puts all his strength into cutting the wires. To him, this is easy. To everyone watching, the sight is slightly terrifying. No wonder this man eats six full meals a day. Soon, he has a small entrance for everyone to squeeze through.
"Ladies first." Claude gestures to Hilda.
"You know that's a stupid saying." The girl rolls her eyes. "You're just scared."
"And you're just stalling."
"Ugh, fine. If this rips my stockings, you're buying me new ones." Hilda obviously has her priorities straight. She ducks down to fit through the hole. The fabric of her stockings snags on a wire and leaves a sizeable gash.
"Shit! Just my luck!" Hilda complains. Luckily, the cut did not break her skin. "Get in here, bastard."
Claude obliges. He slips through the hole without a problem. Ignatz follows. The other girls go next, leaving Raphael for last.
"Almost there." Claude rubs his hands together. "Lysithea, are you doing okay?"
"Maybe." The girl squeezes the life out of Leonie's hand. She grabs for Hilda as well. Hilda takes her other hand, glad to have some comfort as well.
Even Raphael seems nervous. He gets uncharacteristically quiet as they approach the house. Ignatz sticks close to him, using his phone as a flashlight. The grass reaches up to their waists. They tread lightly, finally reaching the front porch. Overgrown bushes shroud the entrance. The wood creaks under their weight. Raphael cracks a board in half. Lysithea screams when she hears the noise, scaring everyone else too.
“It’s just a board.” Claude reasons. “Be careful, I don’t want anyone falling through the floorboards.”
Now comes the scariest part: going inside. They came all this way, so there is no turning back now. Claude takes a deep breath and puts his hand on the door. The anticipation is overwhelming. Hilda squeezes Lysithea’s hand. The door bursts open with some force. Claude flies inside with the momentum. Hilda rushes inside after him.
“Are you okay?” She asks concernedly.
Claude pants. “Yeah! This isn’t so bad. Check this place out.”
The house feels bigger on the inside. A chandelier hangs from the tall ceiling covered in cobwebs. A staircase curls upstairs. Dusty picture frames hang on the walls, all of them indecipherable. Old furniture still remains, but broken from decades of wasting away. A thick layer of dust covers everything. Hilda uses her phone as a flashlight.
“I’m checking the kitchen first!” Raphael exclaims. “I wanna find old food.”
He disappears around the corner, Ignatz following close behind. “Raphael, you can’t eat anything!”
Lysithea stands frozen in the doorway with Leonie. “I think I’m changing my mind.”
“We made it this far.” Leonie encourages. “We can do it!”
“But I don’t want to.”
“What if I took you out for a milkshake tomorrow?”
“We can do this!” Lysithea cheers, trying to hype herself up. Her body still shakes with nervousness, but at least she is smiling.
“That’s the spirit,” Claude says. He continues to examine every inch of the living room. Hilda stands idly near him, not sure what to do. She flashes her phone over the fireplace. A single ember flickers in the ash.
“Nevermind.” She decides she does not want to overthink it for the sake of her stomach.
“Guys!” Raphael yells from the kitchen. “Get in here!”
The group rushes into the kitchen. Hilda’s stomach lurches at the sight. The smell attacks her nose. A dead deer lies on the counter with its head torn off. A pool of dried blood surrounds it.
“This was recent.” Leonie gasps. She seems to be the only person not disgusted by the grotesque sight.
“I doubt it was an animal that did this. How would it get on the counter?” Claude points out.
“Maybe it was a bear.” Lysithea suggests. She covers her face to filter out some of the smell. “Bears are big.”
Ignatz shakes his head. “What would a bear be doing in an abandoned house?”
“Whatever did it, tore this poor thing apart with its bare hands.” Raphael takes a step back.
“Or bear hands.”
“Shut up, Claude.” Hilda jabs her friend in the side. The boy snorts.
“Maybe someone really is living here.” Despite everything, Ignatz cannot make himself look away. Curiosity gets the better of him. He examines the carcass like he would in his forensics class. “This has only been dead a couple days.”
“Why is there no blood?” Leonie asks.
“It all dried up?” Hilda shrugs.
“I think whatever did this is still here,” Ignatz says, his voice dropping to a whisper.
“Should we leave?” Lysithea asks.
“My curiosity is piqued. We should go find more clues.” Claude suggests.
Hilda rolls her eyes. “Don’t say it-”
“Let’s split up, gang.”
Lysithea grabs onto Leonie. “I’m staying with Leonie.”
“Who wants to check out upstairs with me?” Claude raises his hand.
“I actually wanted to explore the study first,” Ignatz says.
“I’ll go!” Raphael volunteers.
“I’m going with Claude.” Hilda states.
Leonie and Lysithea check out the study with Ignatz. Tall bookshelves line the walls, filled with ancient books. An old phonograph sits in the corner. Lysithea busies herself with the books while Ignatz explores the desk. Leonie attempts to use the phonograph. She spins the handle, hoping for any sound to come out.
Lysithea sneezes. “Everything is so dusty. I doubt any of these books have been touched in years.”
“Do you think if we pull a special book, a secret room will open?” Leonie gasps. She pulls at random books.
“That only happens in movies.” Lysithea rolls her eyes.
“Actually.” Ignatz corrects. “Hidden doors were quite common back in the day. During prohibition, people made secret rooms to have speakeasies in. There were lots of reasons for hidden rooms, but they were usually used for hiding or to do illegal activities in.”
“Very informative, Ignatz. I’m gonna take all these books out until we find the secret door.” Leonie starts ripping books from the shelves. Lysithea protests.
Meanwhile, Claude stands at the bottom of the stairs looking up. Hilda stands next to him.
“Are you sure these will hold up?” Hilda puts her foot on the first step and presses down. The wood creaks under the slight pressure.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.” Claude shrugs. “Stick close to the sides.”
He starts inching up the staircase, clinging tightly to the rail. He seems composed, but Hilda can sense the nervousness about him. He makes it to the divide without a problem. Hilda goes next. She weighs a bit less than Claude, so she hopes she will have an easier time. She slowly puts her whole weight on the first step. She can feel the wood pushing down. It creaks slowly as she inches onto the next step. She slowly shifts her weight, not wanting to break the steps. Before she knows it, she makes it to the top.
“Wasn’t so hard, was it?” Claude grins, finally loosening up. It makes Hilda feel better as well.
Raphael starts his journey up the stairs. His steps are heavier. The wood bends under his weight. One misstep, and the stair cracks. Raphael cries out in pain.
“Raphael!” Claude calls down to him. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Just a little bleeding. Go on without me.”
Claude turns to his friend. Hilda frowns. “We already made it this far.”
They turn to the hallway behind them. Doors line the hallway, most broken. Some hang off their hinges. One door is missing completely. A rug runs the length of the hallway.
“What is it?” Hilda wonders.
Claude stands before a large portrait. It depicts a family. They can make out the mother and father, but the child in the painting is scratched out. The face is obscured by a gash in the painting, seemingly done purposefully.
The boy leans in to examine the piece further. He rubs a layer of dust off the bottom of the frame to read the name. “Von Edmund.”
“Von Edmund?” Hilda repeats.
“Yeah. You heard of them before?”
The girl shakes her head. “Never. Must be some old rich family that no one cares about anymore.”
“I bet Ignatz knows,” Claude says, pulling out his phone. He snaps a quick picture of the painting before heading back down the stairs. “I’m gonna go ask him.”
“Don’t leave me here!”
“Hurry up then!” He disappears around the corner, leaving Hilda alone for a brief moment.
She puts a single foot on the first step when she hears a noise. A chill runs down the full length of her spine. Her heart beats out of her chest. She turns around to make sure no one is there with her. The hall remains empty, but a nagging feeling sits in the back of her throat. She can feel a cold presence.
“Claude?” Hilda calls out. Her voice quivers.
Panic starts to set in. Hilda rushes down the stairs, tripping on the first step. The wood splinters under her foot. She falls down the stairs. She braces herself for the crash, but it never comes. Finally, she opens her eyes to see herself dangling in the air. A ghostly force holds her arm. A cold hand grips her tighty. Hilda freezes. Slowly, she turns her head to see whatever is keeping her from falling.
A tall figure stands behind her, shrouded by shadows. Hilda nearly faints. Instead, she screams with fear. The figure pulls her closer, muffling her screams with a firm hand. The beast pulls her away from the stairs and slams her against the wall with inhuman force. Hilda tries to push the beast off of her, but they do not budge. They stare her down with glowing white eyes. Not moving. Only staring. They hide their face behind a mask. Hilda continues to struggle against their iron grip.
The beast brings a hand to her neck, feeling Hilda’s pulse. Her heart beats faster. A single tear falls down her cheek.
“I’m sorry.” The beast finally speaks. Their voice is soft. Suddenly, they pull away. “I don’t have control over myself. I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry?” Hilda calls out, more confused than scared. She drops to her knees and coughs.
“Hilda?” Footsteps rush upstairs. Claude kneels next to her, putting a supportive arm around her. “Are you okay? What happened?”
The girl pants as she catches her breath. “Nothing. I saw a spider, and it caught me by surprise.”
Leonie and Lysithea catch up to the two.
“A spider?” Claude observes. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Don’t say ghost.” Lysithea whines.
“Don’t say spider.” Leonie adds, glancing nervously around the room.
Claude helps his friend stand up. Her legs shake as she recovers from the shock. Hilda leans on him for support.
“Are you sure it was a spider?” Claude asks. His eyes say everything.
“Yes.” Hilda knows he does not believe her.
“And here I thought we would see something interesting tonight.” He sighs.
“We found that deer,” Hilda says, “And there’s plenty of old books lying around. Don’t you love old books? You spend so much time at the library.”
“I still think there’s a secret entrance in the study somewhere,” Leonie says.
Claude perks up. “You’re right. Maybe there’s a journal or a diary. Anything that can tell me the history of this house and the people in it. I still want to know who’s in that portrait.”
“I think I’m gonna check out the rest of upstairs before looking at some boring books.” Hilda states.
Claude shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
The stairs creak as he returns downstairs. Leonie and Lysithea stay, getting distracted by the large portrait on the wall. It looks especially tall compared to Lysithea. They examine it thoroughly while Hilda explores the hallway. She needs to find that mysterious person.
Most of the doors are broken from decades of wear. Some are missing completely. Hilda peeks into one of the open rooms. She walks into a large spider web, making her gag. She furiously swipes it away. An empty bed frame sits in the middle of a pile of dust and cobwebs. Nothing else looks at all interesting. She picks up a stray paper on the floor. It appears to be a page ripped from a children’s book. She tosses it away without a second thought.
The next room is cold. Hilda shivers as a cold burst of air hits her. This room also lies in ruin. The window is smashed open, letting the autumn air blow in. A sharp gust of wind disturbs the dust layered on the ground. Hilda quickly shuts the door, accidentally ripping the doorknob out. Thank goodness she is on the right side.
One more room before she gives up completely. Hilda chooses the last room. It has the nicest door as if someone has repaired it recently. She puts her hand on the knob and takes a deep breath. She counts to three and swings the door open. This room feels different to her. It is decorated, complete with a rug to accent everything. The bed remains in one piece, with a drape to hide it. Hilda flashes her light in the room. That’s when she sees them. The mysterious person from before, standing on the edge of a balcony. The moonlight illuminates them.
“Hey!” Hilda calls out to them, fighting the feeling of danger in her stomach. Perhaps this is the wrong decision, but she already made it. Adrenaline does weird things to the mind.
The figure turns to look at her. They take a step back, wanting to bolt, but hesitating to do so. “You shouldn’t be here. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Hilda inches forward. “Then don’t hurt me.”
“I told you, I can’t control myself.”
The figure sighs. “Do you know why this house is blocked off?”
“To keep us out?”
“To protect you from me.”
“That doesn’t explain anything. Why are you here? Are you the person in that painting?” She is met with silence. She can hear her own heart pounding in her chest.
Hilda hopes the others won’t catch up. She takes a deep breath. “Do you have a name?”
The figure hesitates. “Marianne.”
“Is she in here?” A muffled voice comes from behind the closed door. Footsteps approach. The door opens, revealing Claude and Ignatz.
“There you are!” Claude runs over to the girl.
“What is this room?” Ignatz gasps. He starts taking pictures of everything. “This looks lived in.”
Hilda glances to the balcony. Marianne has since disappeared, leaving the balcony doors open. A harsh gust of wind blows through the room. Papers fly off the desk, scattering on the floor. Ignatzs starts picking them up. He sets them back on the desk.
“H-hey, Claude?” Ignatz calls out, his voice shaky.
“Does ink dry out?”
“Um, yes?” He seems confused by the question.
“This was written recently.”
“What?” Claude rushes over to Ignatz. He runs his hand along the book sitting open on the desk. “Oh my god.”
“What is it?” Hilda peeks over his shoulder.
“It’s a diary. This entry is from today.” Claude flips through the book. “Let’s take this back to my place.”
By the time they’re done exploring, the sun peeks over the horizon. Lysithea yawns, barely able to keep her eyes open. She leans against Leonie as they walk. Claude leads the way since his phone is the only one left with battery. Hilda looks one last time at the house as they leave. She catches a glimpse of a person in the window. A pair of eyes stare at her as she continues walking. Part of her wants to wave, but she decides not to.