Chapter One – Things that Go Bump in the Afternoon
Part One: Fall, The Beginning of it All
The same crack in the sidewalk caught Michael—again—sending him and his skateboard flying. He landed hard, breathing heavily before pushing himself up and raced down the street, hoping he might retrieve his skateboard before it reached the bottom of the hill.
He looked up at the trees, their yellowing leaves almost as big as his outstretched hand, “I hate those freaking maples,” he muttered. At least no one had seen him fall this time.
The gentle downward slope of the street made an almost perfect ramp for skating. This street, with its century-old sidewalk lined with big leaf maples, presented a hazard because the roots cracked and created open ridges in the concrete. An unwary skater could find himself thrown off balance and off his board if he didn’t pay attention—like today.
There was a hidden advantage to the maple conundrum. The damaged sidewalk could provide a launch for jumps and flips, but if he wasn’t careful, the consequences could be painful. These days, in the war of Michael versus the maples, the maples frequently won. Fortunately, the damage seemed minor: he would probably wind up with a few bruises, but more painful than bruises was a blow to his ego.
He sighed as he gathered up his pack, and adjusted the cap on his blond head. His agility on the back of a rolling skateboard seemed the only thing that had not left him. It was the one place where he could feel truly free. Maple roots aside, this one thing he loved had not abandoned him.
It had been a year of loss. His father lost his job, forcing his parents to make a drastic decision and sell the home they could no longer afford. After weeks of looking, they found an old Victorian “fixer-upper” in one of the first neighborhoods established in the city, and since the price was right they purchased it.
“Don’t worry, it’s a fixer-upper, it’s just going to take time,” his parents had promised when they first showed him the old, rundown Victorian they intended to purchase. The house had been on the market a long time, and they were getting it for a song. “These old houses have character that new ones don’t. And I’ve checked it out,” added his father, “This house has good bones. And look at the yard—our old house didn’t have a yard even half this big.” Michael tried to understand for his father’s sake, but he could not share his enthusiasm.
They were doing their best, Michael admitted; they had painted the exterior a light grey, and chose white for the trim and columns which graced the large front porch. Old climbing roses had been trimmed back and placed on trellises. The blackberries, which seemed to grow everywhere, had been killed, and the lawn mown and re-seeded. His father built a new fence, following the design of the original, and painted it the same white as the trim. To an outsider’s view, maybe, their efforts to transform the old house were succeeding. To an outsider the house stood proud and tall as it had when first built. Inside was another story, though little by little the work his parents put into it was beginning to show.
For all his parents’ efforts to make their new house a home, he missed their old house. His parents arranged for him and his sister to stay in their school, but it didn’t compensate for leaving the familiar suburb where he and his friends had grown up. Watching his dad lose his job and search for weeks before finding another hurt. Though his mom made a decent salary as an RN, they fell further and further behind on the mortgage payments, no matter how much overtime she worked. When his dad did find a new job, it didn’t pay as much as his old one, so they still had trouble keeping up with the bills. When the realtors started coming, he braced himself for the inevitable.
He didn’t understand why they had picked this neighborhood. While there were houses that were well kept, while others had fallen into a state of disrepair and left that way. In some, lawns were mowed, leaves were raked, gardens lovingly tended, porches were kept repaired and there was no sign of peeling paint. If the neighborhood had been a living person, it would have suffered from a split personality disorder.
There were a few kids his age; but they went to a different school and didn’t seem very friendly. Though he saw a few BMX’s like his, he felt asking anyone if they’d like to go riding—and they hadn’t asked him. His long blond hair and skateboard seemed an outsider and the hostile stares he received made him feel unwelcome.
He came out of his reverie when he reached the house. He looked at the door and experienced the overwhelming feeling of sadness that always seemed to greet him. Every time he looked at the porch with its two white pillars he felt that way. When he’d gotten his first glimpse of the house, his heart had sunk, and in spite of himself he’d asked his parents why they chose this one. He didn’t like the house, though he respected the fact that the work his parents put into it helped distract them from dwelling on the loss of their former home. Sometimes it was fun to help, but smashing a wall to pieces with a sledgehammer turned out to be harder work than he’d anticipated.
The house could be warm or cold by turns, like any house; but sometimes, inexplicably, a bone-chilling cold would permeate the rooms and make the hairs on his arms stand straight up. When he looked at his parents and sister, nothing seemed to be affecting them, it was as if he had been singled out.
He hadn’t told anyone about the strange things about this house. His parents put their energy into remodeling and repairing, slowly effecting a transformation; but the changes in the appearance of the house didn’t seem to change the fact that something just felt wrong.
He sighed, took out his key, and opened the door. The day was warm, so he left the front door open, and went upstairs to his room. He put his board down and threw his backpack on the bed, then noticed his favorite poster had fallen again. He liked that poster, but since they moved here it never stayed on the wall. His parents hadn’t gotten around to re-finishing the upstairs rooms yet, and were still replacing the original wiring, meaning a lot of the walls would be re-built. To compensate, he covered the old, peeling wallpaper in his room with posters.
This particular poster was a Japanese anime drawing of two girls on skateboards. They were dressed in torn white t-shirts and black shorts; their clothing gently suggestive, but not revealing. It wasn’t the sort of poster some parents might allow, but his decided the scantily clad cartoon girls were covered enough to be acceptable. Michael got good grades, didn’t get into any more trouble than a normal teenager might, and if he had a vice, it was his obsession with “skating”. Kit liked to tease him, saying that as long as he had his skateboard, he wouldn’t need a girlfriend. His parents would shush her, knowing that she was trespassing on forbidden territory.
He picked up the poster and re-hung it. It was a good thing that his walls would have to be refurbished—he had to keep finding different places to position the poster because of all the holes he made in the old wall. None of the other posters fell. Not his skating posters, his bike posters, his movie posters—just this one.
He sighed and sat on his bed, turned on his laptop and pulled up the geography assignment that was due the next day. He was deep into the river system in the eastern United States when he heard a crash. He ran downstairs and saw that the he door he left open was banging against the wall. He stepped outside to see if the wind could have caused it, but there was barely a breeze. He turned, walked back into the living room and felt that icy, unnatural cold. The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck were standing straight up and he could the familiar chill.
“I’m out of here”, he said to no one in particular. His homework could wait. He ran up to his bedroom, grabbed his bike and helmet, and fairly flew out of the house. He rode, jumped, and did every trick he knew until it started to get dark, trying to drive what happened out of his head.
When he got home, he saw mother unloading groceries from her Mazda. He remembered when the older model Mazda had been a Lexus, then pushed the memory away. Promising to help, he carried his bike upstairs to his room.
He could not believe what met his eyes: his anime poster had been torn into pieces, and lay scattered across the floor. He stared at the wreckage, reluctant to touch it. He ran out of his room, leaving his BMX, and went to help his mother.
That night he lay awake for a long time. He had no explanation for what happened. He didn’t think his sister had destroyed the poster; now that they were older they had an unspoken agreement to leave each other’s things alone. The feeling of wrongness that he felt in this house seemed to grow stronger and by a strange instinct he did not understand, knew the destruction of his poster was connected to it. He felt the icy chill rush through the room like a breeze, ruffling the pieces of the poster on the floor, and he pulled the covers over his head, attempting to make it all go away.
Gradually he drifted off toan uneasy sleep. As the dreams slowly began to come, he saw a girl standing in front of his closet. She wasn’t much taller than his sister, but looked closer to his age. He recognized Kit’s jeans, along with her t-shirt and red jacket, and wondered absently why this girl wore Kit’s clothes. He struggled to wake, to sit up, but sleep kept its spell on him and all he could do was mutter, “Who are you?”
“You can’t hang up that awful poster again, can you?” Her voice seemed like normal girl’s, but lighter, airier. She seemed corporeal; flesh and blood, then she laughed and shimmered, and slowly disappeared.
He woke with a start, and sat up. The girl was gone, along with the pieces of the poster. He burrowed down in his covers, “What the hell was that?” he asked himself, “No way. Not real. Not real. Just a dream—a bad dream. And it just looked like she was wearing Kit’s clothes, they weren’t hers.” He lay curled up in fetal position until his alarm went off, jolting him back into reality which had now had taken a sudden shift, and the disappearance of his poster, along with the events of the day before, made him wonder if his life would ever be the same.
Michael grabbed his clothes and went into the bathroom to take a shower, the hot water soothing the stiff muscles caused by the fall the day before. He brushed his teeth, combed his hair and tied it back, finding comfort in the routine that made his life feel normal. Dreams were only dreams; they came and went but were not reality. This was.
He went back to his room to grab his backpack and cap, but stopped, frozen in his tracks. His bed had been made—he never made his bed, he wouldn’t even allow his mother to do it. His dirty clothes had been picked up from the floor and put in the hamper he never used. His BMX was balanced carefully against the wall, his backpack and cap, along with his jacket, lay on his bed.
He walked into his bedroom cautiously, afraid that at any moment he’d be swept into a vortex and whisked away from this world forever. “I don’t believe in spooks,” he said out loud. He went to the hamper, pulled out his clothes and dumped them defiantly in a pile on the floor. He turned around, grabbed his pack and skateboard, then turned again, only to find to his dismay that the dirty clothes had vanished into the hamper.
“What the...oh god, no.” What could he do, call “Ghost Hunters”, or something? This was anything but funny. Michael didn’t scare easily, but his heart was racing, and his breath came in gasps. These things only happened on phony television shows and people who believed in ghosts were flakes. It was this house; it was all the house’s fault. His parents should have stuck it out and stayed where they were.
He ran down the stairs to the kitchen to grab something to eat before school, something he could take quickly and avoid talking to anyone. He opened and closed cupboards, looked in the refrigerator, then went back to the cupboards finding nothing he wanted. All right, he decided, he’d skip breakfast.
He turned around and collided with his mother. “Honey, are you all right?” she asked, her cobalt blue eyes, exact mirrors of his, were full of concern.
“I can’t find anything to eat. I gotta run.”
“Skipping breakfast? Now I know you’re not all right,” she laughed, “Bagels and cream cheese. Peanut butter and jelly if you want it—since when are you in such a hurry to get to school? I find that hard to believe.” She didn’t wait for an answer but sliced a bagel and spread it thickly with cream cheese, wrapped it in plastic wrap and stuck it in his backpack, along with an apple. “Go catch your bus.” She gave him a quick hug and kissed the top of his cap.
It was not one of those mornings where Michael was in the mood to hug back; but he made sure to tell her he’d see her when he got back from the skate park. Though it wasn’t necessary, he ran to the bus stop as if it would help clear the memories of the morning out of his head. He was torn between wanting to tell someone, but afraid of how it would sound. His friends were sure to give him a hard time if he tried to tell them. Forget it, he told himself.
A note to my readers:
I noticed that a lot of you are reading my book, and I thank you. However, I’ve also noticed that I’m receiving very few reviews!!! Please, support me if you like this story. I am struggling to get recognition for something I’ve worked very hard on. I think I’ve written a unique story that isn’t like most of what I’ve read on here, so please support me if you like this--or maybe tell me why you didn’t!