They say that the old house outside of town is haunted. They say that if you go up to the front door at midnight and knock three times a ghost will come out and steal your soul. They say that the old woman who died there was a witch. They say she kidnapped children and locked them in the attic, feeding them food that turned them all funny and wrong. You'll think this is a story; I thought so too when I first heard it, thought it was just a stupid kids story. I was wrong, and I found that out the hard way. Hopefully you won't make the same mistake.
"Go on. Go to the front door and knock. What's the worst that can happen?" Li asked me. "A ghost steals my soul," I say in a high, childs voice. That voice scares my friends, and I don't blame them, it creeps me out too. "You know that's just a stupid story," Tyler says from his perch on the old fence. "That fence is gonna fall on you," Henry said nervously. "It won't fall," Tyler said confidently. It's late at night, probably around eleven forty five or so, but in this tiny town no one cares if you were out late; with a population of barely a thousand everyone would know if a maniac was running around gutting people with a knife. Plus, all of us were sleeping over at Tyler's house and his parents don't care what we do. "What will you do when you go to the house?" I ask, still using my sing-song childs voice. "Knock on the door just three times like a mouse," I continued. "'Then what will you do once you've tapped that door thrice?' 'Wait for a reply, if there's none knock then twice.' 'And if there's no reply what will you do then?' 'Open the door and step in, my young friend.' 'And what will happen then on the darkest night?' 'No one shall be in there to cause me a fright.' 'And if a ghost steps out and guts you with a knife?' 'Then I'll die there in the cold on the darkest night,' 'And what will happen to what's left of your corpse?' 'They'll find it and bury it and feel no remorse.' 'And what will happen then, on the next night?' 'My spirit will come back and kill you in the night.'" I finish. "That's creepy," Li says. "Go on," Tyler says. "Knock on the door." I confidantly step onto the cracked concrete, walking up to the house. Lines from my poem flash through my head. What will you do when you go to the house? I walk further up the concrete. Knock on the door just three times like a mouse. I stepped onto the porch. Then what will you do once you've tapped that door thrice? I reached the door. Wait for a reply, and if there's none knock then twice. I raised my fist and hit the door three times. There is no reply. And if there's no reply what will you do then? I change the poem. "Turn and run back to the safety of some friends," I murmur and turn back. I walk across the cracked concrete, back to the street."You didn't go inside," Tyler says. "You didn't say I had to," I reply.
We walk back to Tyler's house. When we get back, his mom is sitting at her desk on the computer. "You are very late," she says to him. "We got caught up." "Did you get into any trouble?" she askes him. "No," Tyler says. Not really a lie. "You and your friends should go to bed," she says. We head down to the basement. I lie down on my air mattress, Li lies down on his and Tyler lies down on the thin sofa. He turns out the light. "Tom," Tyler says. "What?" I ask, irritated. "Did anything happen when you knocked on the door?" "Nothing came out of there, be it a ghost or a louse," I say. "Why do you rhyme everything?" Li asks. "You're always making poems." "It's fun," I say, tapping the edge of my airmattress. I lay awake, scared to fall asleep, but eventually I gave up and figured that I might as well make the rest of what could possibly be the rest of my life by sleeping.
I stumble upstairs groggily the next morning, Li and Tyler following me. Tyler's mom is on the phone, and she looks worried. "What happened?" Tyler asks her. "Mrs. Cunningham is dead," she says. "Her husband woke up and she was dead. They think it was a heart attack." I somehow feel guilty, like I've caused her death, even though that's stupid. That's the sort of thing that happens in books and TV shows like Doctor Who or whatever, not real life. And what will happen to what's left of your corpse? They'll find it and bury it and feel no remorse. I can't help but think of my poem. "When is her funeral?" I asked Tyler's mom. "Tomorrow. They're having it quickly." I don't want to go to Mrs. Cunningham's funeral, but mom will make me go. She's on good terms with the Cunninghams, but I'm not. Their twin children hate me and Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham haven't trusted me since I pulled their daughter's hair in second grade. "You should be getting home," Tyler's mother says. I only shrug in response; mom probably doesn't care what time I'm home. I go downstairs and pack my bag. When I get upstairs, Tyler and Li are waiting by the door. "You can leave your stuff here," Tyler says. "Me and Li are going to go look at the house again. Want to come?" I feel uneasy about going back there after last night, but I nod and walk out the door after them. "Do you think we killed Mrs.Cunningham?" Li asks, slightly nervously. "No," Tyler says bluntly, shaking his head. "She just died. People die all the time." We reach the old house and stare up at it. "What are you three doing here?" A voice asks. We turn and see Mrs.Cunningham's daughter staring at us with her pale blue eyes. Her b.rown hair is straightened and she's looking at us with hostility. Why would you straighten your hair during summer b.reak? I wonder. "We're looking at the house," Tyler says coldly to her. She and her twin b.rother are tyrants at our schol. Lily beats the girls into submission with her mental force. Her b.rother beats the boys into shape on the football field. She scares the girls with the idea of public humiliation. She seems to know everyones secrets. It's creepy, like she's psychic or something. "Why? It's just an old house," Lily snaps. "It's the haunted one. What's it like to live next to a haunted house?" Li asks. "It's not haunted," Lily snaps, flipping her b.rown hair. "Yeah, it is," I say. "How would you know?" Lily asks, focusing on me with her weird eyes. "Because only a kid born next to a haunted house could be as ugly as you," Tyler says. Her pale eyes narrow. "You trying to be clever? It doesn't suit you," she said, turning and flouncing away. Tyler turned and walked calmly away. Me and Li followed. "We should go to the haunted house again. See what happens this time. Hopefully this time it kills Lily," Tyler growled. We walked back to Tyler's house in silence.
I lie in my bed, staring up at my ceiling. Mom is still up downstairs, and I have no idea what she was doing. I decide I don't really care. I roll onto my side and look at the wall, hearing the town siren begin to wail. I wonder who's injured this time. I eventually fall asleep as the siren begins to stop wailing.
Someone is shaking me. "Wake up," someone says softly. I mumble something unpleasant to whoever it is under my b.reath but sit up and look at him and am shocked to see my ( )other looking back at me. "Why are you here?" I demand "Mom wanted me to come home for Mrs.Cunningham's funeral." "Why?" I ask, yawning. "I don't know. ." "I'm not mad, but you always said that when you left you were never coming back." "What I meant by that was for longer than one night," he says to me, running his hand through his now-short b.rown hair. "She wants you downstairs. In black." "I don't own any black," I say to him, sitting up. John shrugs. "Doesn't have to be fancy," he says." "I have about eight shirts. Is it okay if it has a pattern?" John shrugs again. "If you really need it, I have a plain one." "Sure," I say. John leaves the room quietly. I don't know why mom named us Tom and John. Maybe that was why I made so many stupid rhymes; my b.rother had a name that ryhmes with mine. He's quiet to the point of being rude, but not an angry or scared silence. Just a silence. He comes back with a plain black shirt and plain black jeans. He's wearing what seem to be the same jeans and a hoodie. He leaves the room and I change quickly. When I come out, I go to the basement. John is reading a book down there. "This is too small," I complain to him. He shrugs. "Is this old or something?" "You're taller than me," he says. I stare at him for a second. There is something disconcerting about being taller than my older b.rother. He, at seventeen, probably won't grow much more, if any more. He's going into grade twelve next summer. Me, at fourteen... I'll probably still grow. "When did I get taller than you?" I say, feeling odd. He shrugs again. "Why do you shrug so much?" I ask. For a second I'm afraid he's going to shrug again. "I don't know. Don't have to talk that way," he says in his quiet voice. "Whenever I talk, I just make a fool of myself. And I don't have anything clever to say," he says, shrugging again. "You should socialize more. Make some friends." "I don't need friends or want them," he says. "Come upstairs, you two," Mom says. Me and John walk upstairs and head out to the car. John gives the front seat to me and he sits in the back. Mom comes out to the car and starts it.
The car ride over is filled with an uncomfortable silence. "You did come home," she says to John. He ignores her and looks out the window. "You can move back in, you know. You should come back." "I don't want to," he says. "So you're happy in your tiny apartment in a different little city, alone? Don't you get lonely? Being an estranged minor isn't easy." I snort at this. Everyone knows John isn't lonely. He's happier on his own, even if he doesn't show it. He finds being alone easier, and probably prefers do things on his own. "No," John says "And the kids at school are polite to me, even if we don't talk." "Do you have any friends?" "Two or three." "Any girls you like?" "I don't have a girlfriend." I know that people were awful to John at the school here. They were always picking and picking at him. Always taunting him, always being rude. He didn't have any friends, but the bullying didn't seem to bother him. He never showed it, and he always seemed the same, if quiet and kind of lonely. I suppose it did, that was why his grades shot down into the Ds and mom started to pick at him as well.
We pull up to the church and climb out. Li's family isn't there; them and the Cunninghams didn't get along very well, but Tyler points at the seat next to him. I walk over and John comes with me. Everyone stares at John as he comes down the aisle. In a town with a thousand people, everyone knew that John had left to become an estranged minor in a bigger town, more of a small city a half hour away. People whisper and a few people yellthings at him, but he ignores them staring, looking ahead down the aisle. We sit down beside Tyler. "Hi John," Tyler says. "Hi," John replies. "You still don't talk much," he observed. "You should talk to people. Make some friends," Tyler says. "I don't like people," John says. "It might help if you talk to some. That might make you like them more," Tyler says, and John frowns slightly before a man standing at the front of the room clears his throat. I enter a kind of half-daze and pay no attention until a thought occurs to me. What would happen if John dies? I think. Would anyone care? Anyone at all? Would anyone ever visit his grave? I wonder if anyone would miss him other than me, and I turn to look at him. He has his head bowed, his usual quiet but intelligent face on. He's not stupid, and since he transfered to a bigger school in the city (and in the middle of nowhere like here, that means only forty five thousand people), his grades have shot up. I miss him, even if I wouldn't admit it. Tommy misses his ( )other John. So sad that he's thinking of him dead and gone.
I sometimes wonder why I'm so horribly morbid. I have no reason to be, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. but I don't really care. I sit through the rest of the funeral in silence. We go outside and everyone tosses a shovel full of dirt into the grave. I'm pretty sure Tyler enjoys this part a bit more than he should, but who am I to say anything? I make up creepy rhymes for fun. "I phoned Li's mom this morning," Tyler says to me as we're walking down the hill. "She says he's really sick; they might need to take him to the hospital."
I can't help but think that it might be because he went into the old house. "What's wrong with him?"
"Pneumonia," Tyler says. "Aparantly it's pretty bad."
"No crap," I say, running my hand through my hair. "Pneumonia tends to be that way."
Tyler sighs, frustrated. "Yeah, but most people don't need to be hospitalized for it."
"John is asthmatic and weak."
"He is not."
"Tom, he can't weight much more than a hundred pounds and he can barely climb a hill without coughing up his lungs. He's pretty freaking weak, okay?"