By: Allison K. Garcia
A baseball-sized hole now carved the glass of a second-story window of an old Victorian home. One lopsided shutter dangled beneath, stagnant in the thick, summer air. Luis stared up, his insides trembling with a combination of excitement and fear. “Are you sure no one lives here, Bobby?”
“Nah.” Bobby kicked at a loose step on the front porch, letting up a cloud of dirt. “See that? It’s empty. Been empty for as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood.”
“What’s that, like, two years?” Maggie snorted and rolled her eyes. A year and a half older than Bobby and heading to high school in the fall, she normally didn’t participate in Luis and Bobby’s adventures, but it seemed like her curiosity of the abandoned house had overcome any sense of superiority. “What a wealth of experience you’ve got to draw on.”
“Shut up.” Bobby bounded up the stairs and stood at the top, a triumphant sneer on his face. “You’ve heard the stories, too.”
Everyone had heard the stories. There were too many to count and each one worse than the last. An old hermit. A dead baby. A crazy aunt left to die in the attic. Murdered newlyweds. Presences. Spirits. Ghosts.
None of them confirmed, Luis reminded himself as he placed a cautious foot on each stair and made it up to the rickety front porch. He looked back at Maggie, who had hesitated with one sandaled foot on the first step.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She frowned up at the window.
“What? Are you afraid?” Bobby taunted.
Maggie shoved her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “You wish.”
Moments later, they all stood together, facing the front door.
“Maybe we should knock,” Luis suggested. “You know, just in case.”
Maggie ran her index finger over the doorknob and held it up. Dust caked the tip. “I think it’s safe to assume no one’s in there.”
Bobby twisted the knob and shrugged. “If no one wanted us here, they would’ve locked us out.” His face glowed red as the door didn’t budge. “It must be stuck.” He bumped against it with his shoulder.
The heavy door loosened, creaking open.
Still standing in the doorway, Luis glanced inside. Streaks of sunlight poured in through slits in the shuttered windows, leaving beams of dusty air zigzagging like a high-tech security system. The furniture lay dormant under greying sheets.
Bobby took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. “Come on. It’s just an empty house.”
Luis jumped as something encircled his arm.
“Sorry.” Maggie blushed. “I think we should stick together.”
Luis’s pulse raced. He swallowed hard. “Good idea.”
They stepped as one into the foyer.
“Close the door behind you.” Bobby’s hushed tone fell flat in the stagnant air.
Maggie glanced back. “I think we should leave it open. You know, for light.”
“Too late.” Bobby smirked.
The door creaked closed behind them.
Maggie squeezed Luis’s arm even tighter.
“It’s okay.” Luis grimaced until she loosened her grip. “Probably just the wind.”
“What wind?” Maggie whispered.
Particles of dirt stood still in a ray of light, suspended in the stale air in front of them.
Luis pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “I have a flashlight app.” He pushed the buttons but nothing happened. A wave of fear dropped heavy in his stomach. “The battery must have died.”
Bobby inched forward. “We don’t need it. I can see the stairs over there.”
Luis couldn’t see his face but noticed Bobby sounded less confident than a moment before.
Something creaked above their heads.
Bobby backed into them, and Luis grabbed onto his T-shirt.
“What was that?” Luis whispered.
“It sounds like someone’s up there.” Maggie’s voice was muffled as her face pressed into Bobby’s shoulder. “I don’t like this. What if there’s some crazy person living up there?”
“She has a point, man.” Luis frowned as his voice cracked. “I don’t want to die over a baseball.”
“It’s not just any baseball.” Bobby groaned. “It’s the one I caught at the Yankees game last year.”
Maggie clicked her tongue. “Then why the heck were you playing with it?”
“I don’t know.” Bobby shrugged. “It’s cool.”
Luis sighed and stood up straight. “Well, then let’s get this over with.” He pushed them forward, and they inched into the depths of the decrepit house.
They reached the stairs and climbed them with as much speed and silence as a huddled mass can achieve.
Above them, at a distance, a faint murmur arose.
Everyone stopped. For a moment no one breathed.
Though he wanted to turn back, Luis was compelled forward. “It’s gotta be the air through the broken window.”
Through the murmur, an infrequent thud sounded.
“The shutter,” Luis heard himself say.
“It sounds like a word,” Maggie whispered at the top of the stairs. “I can’t make it out.”
“I think it’s coming from down the hall.” Bobby pointed a shaking finger.
They cowered together and tiptoed down the creaky hallway, leaving a trail of hesitant footsteps in the dusty, wooden floor.
A faded red armchair faced the window. A ball sailed straight up from behind the chair to a foot above the tall, cushioned back. It suspended in the air for a second, then gravity pulled it back down. It thudded and rose again.
“Troublemakers,” a raspy, hushed voice twirled around them in the air. “You children never let me rest in peace.”
“Hello?” Maggie’s voice was weak. “We just came for our ball. I’m sorry we broke your window. We’ll pay for it, I swear, and then we’ll never bother you again.”
The ball landed with a leathery thud.
A thick, heavy silence surrounded them, and then something cold, like ice, passed through Luis’s body. The three of them gasped.
From behind them came the same hoarse voice. “Troublemakers. The whole lot of you.”
On the chair sat a cracked, dusty mitt with Bobby’s baseball in the center.