The Dare

A short story by Isabelle Sorrells

The rotten wooden floorboards creaked as I stepped over the threshold into the blackness. I didn’t bother flipping the light switch, I knew the power had been gone for a very long time. I looked back toward the road where my friends stood, urging me on. 

    I sighed and rolled my eyes before slamming the door shut, the sound echoing in the empty house. I walked through the first floor, mapping my surroundings. Everything was coated in thick layers of dust. The air heavy with the stench of dead things. The kitchen sat unused and reeked of old food gone bad. Dirty dishes piled unwashed in the sink, how long they had gone like that, it was hard to tell. 

    The pantry was just as disgusting. Rats skittered out of empty cereal boxes, nibbling on moldy bread covered in cobwebs. A cockroach could be seen here and there. I couldn’t look much longer, or else I might have contributed to the collection of filthy things with something just as equally disgusting, so I quickly turned away.

    There was another door in the kitchen that I could only guess closed the entrance to the basement. Hesitantly, I made my way over to it. It was a solid, flat slab of dark brown wood with no carvings to be seen. It was boring and ugly with an equally boring and ugly brass knob worn from time and use. I steeled myself and shakily gripped the knob, with a breath, I turned and pulled. With a sigh of relief, I came to discover it was locked. 

    I quickly walked out of the kitchen, in no hurry to stay in that disgusting room, my steps echoing and creaking all the way.

   There were only two other rooms on this floor: the living room and a bathroom. I didn’t dare try to go upstairs. Maybe if I hadn’t been alone I would have, but my curiosity only went so far without company to encourage it. 

    I went back to the living room to set up camp, the room where the front door was. Using my flashlight to look around I noticed the room was very large, taking up the majority of the first floor, with a cobweb-covered fireplace, a couch, and some chairs, all covered in plastic sheets. The walls were lined with shelves covered in books and I couldn’t help but smile.

    Honestly, this was probably one of the only reasons I agreed to this. I had heard the previous owners of this house were book-freaks. Boy, am I glad the rumors were true. When morning comes, I’ll be leaving with a little more than what I came in with.

    I laid out my sleeping bag on the plastic-covered couch, favoring it over the moldy and creature-infested floor. Deciding all this would be over much sooner if I slept, I curled up in my sleeping bag, the plastic crinkling under me as I got comfortable, and went to sleep. 

   Or, at least, I tried to.

   The sounds of creaking doors and the squeaks of mice and rats as they ran back and forth between the walls and across the floor would wake me every time I would start to drift off, if I was able to calm my nerves enough to do even that. I told myself all the noise was just the house settling, but I didn’t dare say it aloud, for fear that if it wasn’t the house settling, and whatever it was would hear me.

   I couldn’t bring myself to move, or else the plastic would crinkle and despite all the sounds, so late at night now, it felt as if everything here would hear it, and know that I was here, and that I didn’t belong. 

   So, I lay there, muscles aching, as still as I could be, staring at the patterns etched into the ceiling, trying not to look at the hole in the ceiling in the far corner of the room where the second floor was exposed for me to see. Or for it to see me. 

    I don’t remember falling asleep. I just knew I had when I was awoken by a bang. It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was so different from the natural sounds of the house that I had become used to. 

    Fear seeped into me as I scanned the darkness for something that had changed in the shadows. I couldn’t see anything. I held my breath, trying to still the pounding of my heart and push down the fear, and listened. 

    I slowly let out the breath. I was just imagining things. Right? I started to relax when it came again. A bang. But it was louder this time. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from as it ended too quickly. All I knew was that it was coming from somewhere in this house.

    I sat up and scrambled out of the sleeping bag as quickly and quietly as I could. I was fast, but not as quiet as I would have liked. It felt as though the whole house was listening to me. 

    The sound of rattling metal resounded through the air, and I lunged for my flashlight next to my legs. I fumbled for the button in the dark. Once light flooded the room, the sound stopped.

     I don’t know if the light made me feel better or worse as my imagination ran wild with all the things I might see with it. I ran the light over the room, but everything looked the same. The rattling started again, and I jumped with fear, adrenaline coursing through me.

     I should have run right then, but I was alone, and I didn’t have anyone to stop my curiosity. I creeped into the kitchen, the sound getting louder all the while. I couldn’t prevent the whimper from escaping my throat when I realized it was coming from the basement door. I shone the light on it and gasped. The old brass knob was jiggling wildly. I stared, praying for it to stop when I noticed the door had changed. 

     Hundreds of thick, black chains crisscrossed the wood, locks holding them in place, rusted with age. I don’t know why, but I stepped closer to the door. I was a few steps away when the rattling stopped, only to be replaced by ear-splitting scratching, as if someone was dragging their nails down the other side of the door. The scratching picked up a faster pace, ever increasing, as if whatever it was knew I was there, then a chorus of more scratching joined it, like a plea to be set free.

     Some inner voice inside of me was screaming at me to run, but it was so far back in my mind, I barely registered it. I was so afraid, but somehow, it only fed the thirst to get closer. 

     Before I could realize the stupidity of my actions, I found myself unlocking all the chains with a ring of keys I couldn’t remember having, the last line of heavy metal falling at my feet with a final thunk, followed by silence. The old wooden door was boring once again.

     I placed my hand on the doorknob, the brass cool to the touch, but I didn’t open it. My subconscious’ final attempt to make me realize how dumb this really was. The door shook as whatever was on the other side started pounding, as if they could feel how close to freedom they really were. That pulled me back, away from any logic I might have had. 

     I yanked the door open and felt the shriek in my throat that never came to fruition. 

     Numerous ghostly pale faces stared back at me in the darkness. I recognized one or two of them. A few kids who had gone missing in my lifetime and before. There were more that I didn’t know. Each face had sickly white skin and dark purple circles beneath their eyes, hair so black it blended in with the dark around them. 

      But that wasn’t what scared me the most.

      It was the hundreds of pale, skinny arms with claws for nails that reached toward me. One grabbed me by the shirt, and I stared at the hand, afraid and confused, not fully registering it. Then another grabbed my arm, its claws digging into my skin. The pain seemed to clear my mind and only then did I try to run. 

      Another grabbed my leg before I could get free, dragging me down, then another, and another, until I was covered in them, being dragged in that pit of black. I screamed and screamed. But the house was silent. No one would be coming for me. I struggled, using the flashlight I had forgotten I had to hit the hands away. I only stopped when I felt a heavy, cold presence loom over me, sending a shiver up my spine.

     I looked up and felt all the energy seep out of me as I saw two hands as large as my entire body emerge from the doorway. I let out a scream to shatter glass as the hands wrapped themselves around me, enveloping me in their wicked embrace. 

    They pulled me in, and I heard the door slam shut. I was swallowed up; the sound of chains rattling and locks clicking into place filled my ears.

     When my eyes opened again all I could see was darkness. Panic welled and spilled over. I thrashed around, plastic crinkling beneath me. I couldn’t see. The large, clawed hands came back to my mind and I screamed. I had to get out.

      I got up and ran, tripping over whatever was around me. I found a wall and ran my hands against it until I felt something sticking out that fit perfectly into my palm. A door. I turned the knob and pushed, stumbling into the fresh air. But I didn’t let that stop me. I kept running, not daring to stop until I was far, far away.

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