I have no idea where this one came from. I’ll just blame it on my Muse.
Becky Clarkson left her friends three states away. Her father transferred when his company opened a new plant.
Late summer wasn’t too bad. The neighbor girl, Marcy, hung out with her a few times. They went to the county fair together, but Marcy ditched her for other friends.
Becky sat on the teacup ride alone, and stared into space. Her old friends wouldn’t have abandoned her. They’d be all over the big roller coaster together.
Becky’s sophomore year began with her as the new girl. Several girls were pleasant, but dismissive. The cliques and groups seemed to be carved in stone. Marcy hung out with the coolest girls, and Becky was forgotten.
Two weeks after school started, Marcy slid into the bus seat beside Becky.
“Pay attention,” Marcy said. “I’ve noticed that you didn’t get scooped up by the nerds, or the future farmers. You aren’t a cheerleader, or a jock’s girlfriend. You can hang with us, but you have to pass a test first.”
“What kind of test?”
“We all did it. I had to take a topless selfie in the principal’s office. I was so scared, I broke in on the weekend to do it. DeDe had to steal the gym teacher’s jock strap. Heather had to kiss a homeless guy with witnesses.”
“So what’s my dare?”
“We’re going to turn left up ahead. I’ll point out the old Cornwell house. It’s abandoned now, but there were a string of murders there in the 1950s. Old Lady Cornwell used a piece of clothesline to strangle her husband and all four of their children.”
“And they say the place is still haunted by Old Lady Cornwell. People hear her screaming on the anniversary of the murders.” Marcy held out her hand. “Give me your phone.”
Becky held up her phone. “Why?”
“So I can check the time on it. You need to go inside the Cornwell house and take a selfie at midnight. Send it to all of us for confirmation, and you’re in. We’re having a pool party next Friday, and you can come – if you pull this off. DeDe has a car and she’s picking us all up after school.”
“Wh, when do I have to do this?”
“Anytime before the party. This weekend, Heather’s sister is letting us hang out at the spa where she works. Do this, and all your weekends can be fun.”
Marcy pointed out the house, and clarified that anywhere inside would pass. The photo would imprint the time, and Becky could join them any time she wanted.
Sneaking out wasn’t that hard. Becky’s mother was zonked by 9:00 most nights, and her father was a shift foreman. He wouldn’t come home until 4:00 AM.
Becky couldn’t sleep, and decided to make a test run. The Cornwell house was only three blocks away. Trees obscured the door from the street. She opened the gate, and it screeched on the hinges. The walkway presented a tangled mess of briars and fallen leaves.
She took three more steps and the wind picked up. A shutter on the second floor started banging. She turned and went back to the street.
Becky left the gate open before running home. Stupid girls, stupid rules. What kind of people make you do stupid things before they even know you?
She made it home by 11:00, eased the door shut behind her and turned the lock. She leaned against the kitchen cupboards and let out an hour’s worth of breath. Her lips curled upward, and she crossed her arms in a self hug. Sneaking out, finding the spooky house, all while not getting caught – exhilarating.
It would happen tomorrow. One stupid stunt was all it took. These girls went to parties, and spas. One of them has a car. Boys might come to the pool party too. There might be some life in this city after all.
Becky never heard her father come home. Her mother roused her for breakfast. As soon as she could she retreated to her room. Haunted houses were stupid. People make stuff up and everyone buys into it. There was probably more risk from tetanus or homeless people inside.
She tried on her swimming suit and regretted the pancakes from that morning. Her laptop provided the story about the old murders. Mrs. Cornwell went to an asylum. The article said she died there, and never included the address or a photo of the house. It probably isn’t even the same place. Half the abandoned buildings in town are probably called the Cornwell house.
Dark clothing seemed like a good idea. She tried on her old black jeans. They were worn, but still fit. At least it wouldn’t matter if the briars snagged them. The best top she could find wound up being a navy blue sweatshirt. She would take her picture, then slink into the shadows.
The registered sex offender list didn’t show anyone for two blocks either side of the Cornwell house. Police activity seemed minimal in the area, beyond the occasional domestic disturbance.
By late afternoon, Becky started pacing. Spas, parties, get togethers, they might even go to dances as a group. She helped her mother clean after her father woke up. It gave her something to do while she waited for evening.
She picked at her supper. The idea of a pool party had her worrying about what she ate. When everyone went to bed, she immediately got dressed for her adventure.
She got to the house early and walked around the block. It was stupid, but the empty streets made her feel better. God, Becky, it isn’t like they asked you to steal a car or anything.
At 11:45 she went through the front gate. The place seemed quiet, and it should. It was abandoned after all. The boards on the front deck were spongy after all the years of neglect. She took extra care to test the footing with her weight before she stepped forward. Falling through the porch, and having the fire department rescue her, would make her the laughing stock.
She had to push with her shoulder to open the front door. She only needed enough room to squeeze through. Her nostrils curled at the scent of mold and neglect. At least the floors were solid inside. She decided they must be made from better wood.
Becky turned and saw the windows facing the other houses. The camera flash would give her away. She tiptoed down the hall to the old dining room. Peeling wallpaper touched her shoulder and she nearly screamed. She hit the power button to wake up her phone, and used the weak light to see where she went.
The furniture was still in the dining room. The chairs were all overturned, and the table was missing a leg. Fresh marks showed where a rodent must have chewed the table leg. She couldn’t help looking for chalk outlines on the floor, but there were none. Of course, idiot. That was over sixty years ago.
Becky turned her phone around and posed beside the broken table. She put on her best party smile. Popularity, and all the benefits were hers. She pressed the shutter when the phone showed midnight.
Marcy’s phone chimed, and she glanced over at it. “Oh girls, it looks like I’m getting a message from Becky.”
They all gathered round and squealed in horror. Becky smiled into the camera inside the Cornwell house. The wispy ghostly image of Old Lady Cornwell stood directly behind her. She held a knotted section of clothesline in both hands.
Becky was never seen, or heard from, again.
If you’re enjoying Macabre Macaroni this year, you might want to check out my new book, The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack. This is a collection of micro-fiction and short stories. Some of them have a Halloween angle. At 99¢ there isn’t much risk.