Written by Richard McFarland
I stood, straining to hold back my tears as the black casket was lowered into the ground. My aunts were weeping, wiping their eyes as the flood of tears streamed down their cheeks. I couldn’t believe Dad was gone. He was a strong man and, until a few years ago, full of life.
I’m not sure when it started. Maybe it was after Mom passed, or perhaps it was from being alone in that house for so long. Whatever it was, he changed. When I visited, he would do his best to get me to stay. The old house passed down from his grandfather was too much for just one person. But Dad didn’t want to move. “Too many memories,” he would say. I didn’t like him being alone.
After the funeral, my aunts approached me, crying, expressing their sorrow for my loss and theirs. As the last of the family members left, my thoughts drifted to the house. What am I going to do with all that stuff? I thought. We built a lot of memories there. I only wanted to keep the special things that reminded me of Mom and Dad.
I drove to the house as the sun set. I’ll stay the night, I thought. It was strange walking into that empty house. No one to greet me. No, “Hey son, I’m so happy to see you.” Nothing, nothing but the sound of my footsteps as I walked down the hall.
The house was immense. On the right was the study; packed bookcases hugged the north wall. Pictures of long-ago vacations lined a mezzanine with an antique globe sitting in the middle. On the floor lay a green sculpted carpet, and diplomas and certificates decorated the walls. A few lamps dimly lit the room. The room had a musty odor. The entire house shared the dank smell. I’ve got to open this place up,I thought.
I continued through the house, admiring the antiques in each room. Memories flooded my mind. Playing Hide and Seek behind the grand piano in the living room. Riding the Dumb Waiter as Dad would have me deliver lunch to Mom. Laughter filled the house for years.
It started raining as I continued upstairs, reminiscing with each step. Stopping at the doorway to my parent’s room, I noticed the bed. I don’t believe Dad slept in here since Mom passed. I walked past the guest rooms to the end of the hall and entered the bathroom on the right. The antique tub still sat in the corner. Dust covered the sink and counter. Dad must have used the downstairs bathroom.
Leaving the bathroom, I reached for the doorknob across the hall. Wonder why the attic door’s locked? I thought. No matter, I’ll open it in the morning. I gazed at the portraits that lined the walls as I approached my old room. The room was the same as I left it many years ago. I hadn’t even been upstairs since Mom died. I coughed as a cloud of dust rose when I patted my old bed.
Going back downstairs to the living room, I thought, I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. Tomorrow I’ll give my aunts a call. Maybe they’ll help. I’m sure they’ll be interested in some of this stuff.
Magazines and newspapers cluttered the room. A stack lay next to my Dad’s recliner. The lighting was no better in this room, with just a few lamps on the end tables. I left the room and passed the kitchen to the laundry room at the end of the hall. Grabbing a pillow and a comforter from the shelf, I headed back to the living room.
The rain was picking up. Tossing the bedding onto the couch, I headed to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, a row of beers greeted me. Grabbing two bottles, I headed back to the living room and set them on the coffee table. I grabbed a stack of kindling and started a fire in the fireplace. It’s getting chilly; I thought as I threw a few logs on top of the flames.
Sitting on the couch, I opened a bottle and took a long drink. I stared into the flames, thinking of Dad. He seemed so healthy to me. What was it that finally made his heart give out? Is this my fate? My eyes caught the picture next to the recliner that Dad had taken of me a year ago. Uncanny, I thought. I looked just like him. My aunts would always comment on it. The spitting image, they would say.
I reached for the picture and sat back on the couch. I finished the beer and opened the second bottle. Leaning back, holding the picture, I lost myself in the flames as they flickered.
BAM! I jumped out of my slumber to the noise upstairs. “What was that?” I said out loud. BAM! I jerked as I heard it again. The wind was howling outside. Must be a window shutter, I thought. The house creaked as the wind blew. I headed upstairs. BAM! It sounded again. I could hear that it was coming from the attic. I went back downstairs to search for the key. The noise continued as I dug through the drawers in the kitchen. No key. I entered the living room and rummaged through the end table. No key was to be found.
The slamming was grating on my nerves. I turned my attention to the study across the hall and searched the drawers on the desk. A single key lay in the back of the top drawer. It wasn’t the correct type of key. Laying it on the desk, I thought I’ll have to break in. As I stood up, I noticed a small box on the floor to the right of the desk. I picked it up and examined the lock on the front. I picked up the key that I had found and inserted it into the lock. Click. I paused as it opened. I removed the lock and opened the box to reveal the contents. An old disposable camera sat in the box. The words Do not develop were written on the back. Underneath lay a key.
Setting the camera down, I headed upstairs with the key. BAM! The noise was much louder up here. I started down the hall when I heard the ceiling creaking above me. I stopped walking. Is someone up there? I thought. As I took a few steps, the creaking continued. Pausing again, I yelled. “Hello, is someone up there?” What was I thinking? Like they would answer. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. I could feel my pulse race. I pulled out my cell phone and turned on the flashlight. Slipping the key into the slot, I turned it as quietly as I could. Click.
The sound was much louder than I wanted it to be. I flung open the door and screamed, “Hey!” Like that would scare someone, I mused. I charged up the steps like a bull and stopped at the top. BAM” I jumped at the sound. This is silly, I thought, get a hold of yourself. I shined the light around the attic. Rows of boxes and racks of clothing filled the room. It was an obstacle course. Feeling the wind entering through the open window, I heard the shutter slam again. I followed the path of boxes around to the racks of clothing. I could see the clothes swinging as I moved closer, shining the light. The wind was picking up.
As I approached the clothes, one rack moved. BAM! Shutters sounded again. I jumped, then heard a sound. THUD… Thud, thud, thud, thud.” Someone was up here. I fell back onto the stack of boxes behind me. My heart was going a million miles an hour. Instinctively I screamed, “HEY!” at the top of my voice. THUD, thud, thud, BAM! I jumped towards the clothing and slammed my foot on the floor. It was the only thing I knew to do. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, don’t be scared, I kept telling myself. I rounded the corner and saw the open window. I twisted and turned in all directions, shining my light. Yep, I was scared.
Running toward the window, I reached for the shutter as it slammed into my left hand. “Aaahh!” I screamed. I pulled my hand back, clenching it, dancing in pain. “Crap, crap, crap!” I agonized. Looking up, I shined my light around the room again, as if someone was going to jump out to get me. My breathing was heavy. Gaining my composure, I set my phone down and grabbed the shutter with my right hand. I pulled it shut, locked it, and slammed the window shut. Turning around, I slid down the wall to sit on the floor, holding my injured hand. I sat there for a minute, staring blankly into the darkroom.
The room turned an eerie quiet. It’s just me, I thought. I stood up and shined my light around the room. Finding a broom, I poked the clothing and boxes, periodically slamming the broom against the floor. Satisfied no one was in the room, I scrambled down the attic steps and locked the door behind me. I was still huffing. Heading back downstairs, I entered the living room and threw another log on the fire. I grabbed Dad’s recliner and moved it closer to the fireplace, turning it to face the doorway. Something officially freaked me out.
The sun rose as I sat there, staring at the hall. Getting up, I grabbed the poker from the holder next to the fireplace. My hand still ached as I opened the drapes in the living room and study. Wanting to check out the attic in the daylight, I slowly climbed up the attic steps. As I approached the door, my breathing became rapid and shallow. I slid the key in the lock and opened the door. Cautiously, I tried to locate a light switch. Finding one, I flipped it up, illuminating the dim lights in the attic. I kept my light on. You couldn’t make this room bright enough for me.
I tapped on the floor and the boxes with the fireplace poker following the path around the room. I fought to control my breathing as I approached the window. Checking the locked window, I breathed a sigh of relief. What the hell happened? I thought. I scanned the clothing on the racks and then looked at the boxes. The thought of such a daunting task was overwhelming. Leaving the attic, I started down the hall, then ran back to lock the attic door.
Relief swept over me; I was glad to be out of the attic. You’re crazy, I told myself. It was just the wind. Oh my gosh, I’m such an idiot. I headed towards the front door and stopped to look into the study. Spotting the camera, I entered the room and slipped it into my jacket pocket. One-Hour Photo is down the street, I thought as I locked the front door behind me. Do not develop. What’s that supposed to mean? I pondered.
On my way to drop off the camera, I called my aunts and left a voicemail with Aunt Patty. Aunt Rose said she would call Aunt Frieda for me. When Aunt Patty called me back, she said they would be over this weekend to help. Relieved, I pulled into McDonald’s and ordered lunch.
I swung back to One-Hour, picked up the photos, then headed home to get some much-needed rest. It was 7:00 pm when I finally woke up. “Crap,” I exclaimed as I threw my jacket on and ran out to my car. Pulling into the driveway of Dad’s old house, I looked up at the attic window that was open the night before. I must be crazy, I thought, that’s a 30-foot drop. No way anyone could have gone through there.
Entering the house, I listened for any sounds and then went into the study. Looking around, I searched for items that would bring back happy memories. Hours went by as I picked out the little treasures.
It was getting late, and I had lost track of time. A storm had moved in, and once again, I was going to be stuck here. Great, I thought. I entered the kitchen and found a bag of chips in the cupboard and a frozen burrito in the freezer. As I microwaved the burrito, I opened the fridge and removed a couple of beers. I moved my food into the living room and started a fire in the fireplace.
As I finished the burrito, I remembered the photos. Opening the door, I watched the rain coming down in sheets. Grabbing the umbrella by the door, I made a mad dash to my car. I grabbed the envelope of pictures on the seat and removed a flashlight from the glove box. Running back into the house, I set the umbrella down and threw another log on the fire.
Sitting on the couch, I removed the pictures from the envelope. “Huh?” I mumbled. The first picture was of the kitchen window. I stared at the picture. The photo showed the black of night. The glare of the flash obscured most of the view. I could see a silhouette and a faint reflection of Dad. That’s weird, I thought. Why would he take a picture of the window? I strained to see if there was anything else in the picture. The next picture was of the dining room window. I pulled it close to get a good look. The glare of the flash, a silhouette, and his reflection filled the picture. Setting it down, I looked at the next photo that revealed yet another picture of a window. This one was in the study with the same flash, silhouette, and reflection.
I spread the remaining photos on the coffee table. Windows, they were pictures of the windows in the house. I stood up and searched the end table next to the recliner, pulling a magnifying glass from the pile of newspapers.
Sitting back down on the couch, I examined the first photo. The silhouette didn’t match Dad’s. “What the heck is this?” I thought as I looked at the photo. A white dot behind Dad’s reflection on the silhouette. I picked up the one from the study. There were two white dots on the silhouette just behind his reflection. Straining to see the picture under the magnifying glass, the room lit up. CRACK! I jumped. The lightning hit close by. The next photo was of the window taken here, in the living room.
I know, I thought. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the photo. Zooming in on the silhouette, I moved to the white dots at the top. “Eyes,” I said out loud. Stunned, I set the photo down as the room lit up again. CRACK! The thunder was deafening. I jerked and covered my ears. I turned to see that I had left the drapes open. As I reached up to shut the drapes, lightning lit up the sky. A dark figure, its eyes shiny, stared back at me. CRACK! the lightning cried out as I stumbled back and fell onto the floor.
Lightning once again lit up the sky. I stared at the window, wanting to run. Nothing, there was nothing there. The crack of the thunder rumbled through the house. I jumped up and shut the drapes. My heart pounded as I scanned the photos. Pictures lay on the table of almost every window in the house. The silhouette of a tall, thin figure peered in without features, nothing but the eyes.
BAM! I let out a whimper as I heard the shutter slam in the attic. I locked that, I thought. I grabbed the fireplace poker and walked out of the room. Lightning lit the rooms. I turned to see a figure in the study window and fell as thunder shook the house. I struggled to regain my footing and ran back into the living room. My eye caught the photo of the attic. There wasn’t a figure in the photo. Grabbing the photo, I ran up the stairs. BAM! The sound of the shutter slammed. I nearly lost my balance at the top of the steps. I ran to the end of the hall to take the attic stairs when lightning lit up the sky. The dark figure glared back at me through the hall window. The crack of lightning shook the windows. I flew backward and hit the floor. Another flash of lightning lit the house. Reluctantly, I looked at the window. There was nothing there but the pitch of the night.
Shaking, I pulled the key from my pocket, jerking every time the shutter slammed. I finally put the key in and opened the door. The attic lit up, and I felt the wind hit me as I went up the steps. The slam of the shutters followed the crack. I stumbled and slid back down the attic stairs, banging my body on the steps. Climbing the steps on my hands and knees, I pulled the flashlight from my jacket and shined it into the attic. Lightning continued to brighten the sky as the thunder rumbled through the house. I couldn’t breathe.
As I got to the top step, I screamed, “What do you want from me!” The wind drowned out my voice as the shutter slammed. Crawling through the maze, I reached the open window. Someone is in the house! Panic dug in deeper. I reached out to grab the shutter as the sky lit up. A dark figure floated there. Its body moved and shifted like a cloud, changing shape. But its eyes, silver, glared at me. I felt the nerves in my hand sever as I pulled the shutter. Fighting the pain, I slammed and locked the window. I turned around as I heard a noise in the room.
THUD! Thud, Thud, Thud. Someone was running down the steps. I ran through the clothes and tripped over the boxes, hitting hard against the floor. The door to the attic slammed. Stumbling down the steps, I burst through the attic door and bounced onto the floor, twisting my ankle. The front door opened and slammed shut. Hobbling, I went down the steps to the front door and locked it. I limped into the living room and sat in Dad’s recliner.
Lightning lit the room. The coffee table lay bare. The photos, where are the photos? As the thunder rolled through the house, I felt a cold breeze flow across my shoulders. Cold sweat flowed down my face. My heart pounded. The pain in my left arm became severe. My breathing became labored. Another flash of lightning, and I could see the figure inside the room floating closer to me. Black without form, silver eyes were shining back at me.
“Billy!” Aunt Rose shouted as she pounded on the door.
“Sir, this is the Dade County Sheriff’s Department. Are you ok?” said the Sheriff.
“Billy, we’re going to break the door in,” she shouted.
“Sir, please stand away from the door.”
The Sheriff burst through the door and drew his weapon. Aunt Rose ran in behind him and turned into the living room.
“Billy!” she screamed, running up to grab my hand. “Are you ok?” she cried
The Sheriff stepped over and felt for a pulse. “Maam, I’m sorry… he’s gone.”
“NO!” she cried.
Aunt Frieda and Aunt Patty wrapped their arms around Aunt Rose as they all broke down in tears. Within minutes, paramedics showed up.
“From the look of things, he had a heart attack.” A paramedic said, “He may have passed peacefully in his sleep. I don’t see any signs that he tried to get help.”
“I hope so,” Aunt Rose said, staring at the disposable camera on the coffee table.