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They tore down the old Masterson house today. They’ve been meaning to tear it down for nearly 3 years now, since the last tour group turned its back on the big cherrywood door. The town had had the money and the equipment, but Mayor Pritchard lacked the initiative and no one in Rosinville was willing to do the work. But today the house was coming down.

The house stood right on the edge of town. One side faced the dark and shady Pine Street, overhung with evergreen boughs of green and brown. The other faced the open fields and blazing sun along Highway 60. I rode past it every day on my way to Evan’s house on the other side of the corn fields. It wasn’t a long ride, but every time I passed that spot, my legs ached like I’d just peddled up a hill, and I’d slow my bike down to a crawl and just look at the house.

It wasn\'t big. Hardly a family home, although a family once lived in it. But it was tall, and white, with thin dark windows like church windows, and a grey roof that was tar black where the shingles had blown off. The lawn had long since died and the stiff grass melted into the dirt in great brown patches. The only tree in the yard was an old oak. Its branches twisted inwards towards the house like flames and its roots stretched so far they heaved up the front sidewalk in big crumbling slabs and came for me standing by the curb.

Then I started peddling again, out into the sunlight, past the speed limit sign with its back to the town and facing the cars coming off the highway. Evan’s was the first farm outside of Rosinville. He waited for me every day by his mailbox at 10:00 sharp, perched on his bike with an empty crayon tin in one hand and a big stick in the other. The tin was for collecting grasshoppers. The stick was for poking dead animals by the side of the highway.

He waved to me as I coasted in for a graceful stop, spraying gravel in a fan out over the highway. “Hey, Josie, you’re late.”

“Bite me.” I stuck my tongue out at him and he poked me with the business end of the stick.

This set off a bike chase through the near deserted highways and county roads that lasted almost until lunch.

======================

Last week, Evan and I decided to ride townside instead of countryside. There was a great hill down from Ingersoll Street, crossing Main Street at its busiest intersection – which was never that busy - and leveling out next to the school. We walked our bikes to the top, neither one of us daring to groan or sweat. It was always endurance with us; who could last longer, boys or girls.

From the top of that hill you could see down Main Street both ways, the ends disappearing into forests, and beyond the trees lay the edges of town, and beyond those were glittering corn fields, already tall enough to get lost in. The school was just below us. The kids on the playground were looking back up at us, most likely squinting because the sun had moved behind us. Great, an audience. Now I had to beat Evan.

The look on Evan’s face told me he was thinking the same thing about me. We exchanged glances. “One…two…”

On three, we both pushed off and immediately the street fell away under our wheels and we were gliding on air down towards the school. Evan had a good two foot lead on me, but as we neared Main Street, I was closing the gap. I leaned forward, my chin nearly resting on the handlebars, my hair whipping around my face. I passed Evan just before Main and let out a laugh.

My laugh was drowned out by the sound of screaming tires.

He didn’t call to let me know he was alright. That was the rule. I was on the other side of Main by then, and was going too fast to stop or turn around. When the street grew flatter, I slowed down, and finally stopped in the empty parking lot next to the school. I fell off my bike and into the grass, too sick to do anything else.

Another bike rode to a stop next to my head. I could feel the shadow of the spokes across my face and I opened my eyes.

Evan smiled down at me. “Best two out of three?”

I hopped to my feet, tripping over the folds of my skirt, and I hit him as hard as I could with both hands. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

Evan gave me his best innocent look while shielding himself from my blows and I would have hit him more, but then we were surrounded by the other kids on the playground.

“Evan, that was so awesome.”

“Are you okay?”

“Wow, you are, like, so brave!”

Buckland Mathers had been listening from the top of the slide. He jumped down now with more grace than a boy his size should possess. He was older than the rest of us. Thirteen. “That ain\'t brave.”

“Shut up, Bucky,” Emma Lou Thompson said. She had a crush on Evan. Most girls did.

Some of the boys were already moving over to Bucky’s side though. This gave him more power. “If he was really brave, he’d break a window in the old Masterson house.”

A hush fell over us all. I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Come on, Ev. Let’s go get lunch.”

Bucky laughed, his whole belly bouncing up and down. “What’s the matter, Ev-y Baby? You scared?”

Another silence. Emma Lou was the first to speak up.

“I heard that a boy from over in Felchester spent the night there once and he got locked up in the living room like a safe and he ain’t never got out.”

“That never happened,” Larry Linder said, but nobody ever listened to Larry.

“Yeah, well my cousin lifted the door to the basement and she saw eyes down there, glowing in the dark.” That was Jamie. He lived across the street from me.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “I was with her, and they were cats. Some fool Momma-Cat had her kittens down there.”

“If you’re so brave, why don’t you break a window,” I said. I tugged on Evan’s shirt. My stomach was growling, my knee was starting to hurt from falling off my bike, and I was still pretty mad at Evan for breaking the rules and scaring me half to death.

There was a chorus of yeah’s from the other kids.

Bucky looked me right in the eye to see if this was indeed a challenge, then he grabbed his bike from the rack and rode off in the direction of the house with a look of determination on his face.

Paulie and Pammie Jethen went next, riding their matching 10-speeds side by side, then Emma Lou and her younger sister. One by one the kids followed, shouting excitedly. I looked at Evan.

“This oughta be good,” is all he said, and he picked up his bike and rode off.

I sighed and followed.

Larry Linder brought up the rear.

==================

Adult ghost stories were much more sophisticated. I’ve heard the tale of Adeline and Arabella Masterson many times, sitting at the top of the stairs late at night while Mom and Dad had evening soirees with their friends. They’d eat a little, drink a little, and tell stories, mostly of the boring who’s-cheating-on-who variety. But every so often, usually when someone had too much to drink, the stories would turn to the house at the end of Pine Street.

“Did I ever tell you about the Masterson sisters?” someone would start out while Mom filled them another glass.

“Oh, please don’t,” Mom would always say. “Josephine is upstairs. I don’t want her having nightmares.”

“She’s asleep,” Dad would say. He always had such faith that I always did as I was told.

And then the story would start.

Adeline and Arabella were the youngest daughters of Polish immigrants. Their real last name was lost at Ellis Island, and they were given the much more pronounceable Masterson. They were born in that house in Rosinville, in the early 1910s. The precious jewels of Midwest, they were. Beautiful as the day was long, and by 1925, they had every man and boy in town crying in vain for their love.

The girls were smart as they were dazzling. Arabella became a schoolteacher. Adeline started her own business, cooking pies and things and selling them out of their home. Their older brothers got married and moved away. Their parents died, and they inherited the house. For some reason, they never married, much to the men’s disappointment and the women’s amusement and pleasure.

I used to have this memory of them sitting on the porch swing, wrapped in shawls and drinking iced tea on warm afternoons; at least, I remembered, until Mom told me they died before I was born. Funny how memories are.

Adeline died first, although she was the youngest. The living room had the only full sized window in the house, a big picture window, and the neighbors across the street could see in while Adeline choked to death on her afternoon coffee and Arabella did nothing.

Of course, the rumors went that Arabella poisoned that coffee. There was no evidence of it, in the coffee or in Adeline, but small towns thrive on gossip. After her sister was buried, Arabella stopped coming out of her house altogether. No one saw her, and no one cared. In fact, no one knew she had died until the neighbors started complaining of the smell.

Neither Adeline nor Arabella had any children of their own, and so the house went to their oldest brother’s children, who were living in Ashburn at the time. They moved in as soon as they smell was aired out. And moved out two days later when one of their girls had choked to death one night in the living room.

At this point in the story, another round of drinks were passed, the lights would dim, and the voices would come down a notch. I’d descend a few more stairs to hear better.

The house slipped through the hands of several owners like a hot potato. No one wanted to live in it, no one even wanted to own it. Then came an unexpected blessing. A stray lightning bolt from a thunderstorm struck the dry timber of the house and it went up in gracious flames. The fire department didn’t even bother to come out. The next morning, the house was a charred black mess. Except the living room, which still stood bolt upright and intact.

The Mayor owned the only contracting firm in town, and consequently the only bulldozer. He declared the house a town landmark and rebuilt it, decorated it and fixed it up to look as it did when he was younger and used to court Miss Adeline Masterson. The house tried one more owner before it was abandoned and placed on the National Haunted House Registry.

“But what’s so scary about a house that doesn’t burn?” someone would invariably ask, anxious to get to the good part. “There could be thousands of reasons for that.”

The storyteller would smile and lift his glass. “Spend the night there and see.”

The company would moan and beg, and usually the story would end there, but one night the drinks must have been a little too strong and the storyteller a little too eager.

“I had an uncle who stayed in that house once. Once he was inside the living room, the door closed and locked and he couldn’t get out until morning, had to sleep on the couch. He said there were strange noises all night, weird thumpings in the wall, and rattling like broken chimes.” Dramatic pause. “But the strangest thing was the coffee pot. It’s on the little tea table in front of the big window, you can see it from the street. During the day, it’s filled with coffee, but at night it turns to blood. And when he turned his back, he could hear old Adeline choking on it, her chair turning over, hitting the wall, the coffee cup smashing. But when he looked again, everything was as it was.”

The small group of friends looked at each other, glasses raised halfway to their lips, and I ran back up to my room, dove under my blankets like a rabbit into a hole. Adult ghost stories were definitely much more sophisticated.

=====================

No one ever talked about the twins. I saw a picture of them once, in an old 1943 issue of the Rosinville Herald. I was doing research for a local history project (I chose the life of Jimmie Joe Jesperson, the man who single-handedly kept town hall from tearing down his hog confinement), and there they were, in black and white and little grey dots. Hank and Charles Amblen, wearing funny little suits and Charlie Chaplin moustaches, holding an enormous blue ribbon stretched between them. At their feet was the fattest summer squash I’d ever seen.
====================

The great thing about being 11 is that you can be there and the adults don’t notice you. Evan and I spent a lot of time in Jethen’s Pharmacy, trying to decide between Tropical Skittles and Original. Yesterday we chose Original and piled our change together to see if we had enough.

“I saw Eric’s truck parked out on the dirt road up to Sarah Bingley’s place.”

We looked up to see who had just come in. Joey Volker, from the filling station down the street, and Miss Green, our English teacher. Evan and I exchanged glances and skittered off to the side, but it didn’t matter, they didn’t even look our direction.

Miss Green didn’t look interested. “It’s about time she hired a contractor. That farm is a mess.” She sat down at the counter and ordered herself a cup of coffee.

Joey sat next to her, a lewd smile on his lips. “You think that\'s what he’s doing up there? With his truck parked so far down the road?”

Evan and I giggled. We always giggle at implied sex. We paid for our precious bag of Skittles and sat down at the counter a few seats away, wanting to hear more.

It didn’t look like we were going to hear much else so I ripped open the bag, spilling a rainbow of candy over the countertop. Evan started grabbing all the red ones and stuffing them into his mouth. I divided the rest between us according to how much money we’d each contributed.

Finally Miss Green got her coffee and when she had taken her first sip she started again. “You know, if he wasn’t the Mayor’s son, the PTA would have had him run out of town for his morals.”

Joey shrugged. “Like father, like son, right? I’ll bet Mayor Pritchard had both the Masterson sisters. The twins too, all of them living in that house like they did.”

I didn’t understand that last bit, but Evan dissolved into more giggles, red Skittle juice dribbling from the corners of his mouth, making him look quite insane.

Miss Green’s eyes widened she held her composure. “The Amblen twins were long gone before Mayor Pritchard ever starting parking his truck in front of that house.”

Joey stood up then, and laughed his usual cocky laugh that 9 times out of 10 got him slapped. “That’s not the way I heard tell it.” He tipped his hat and winked. “Be seeing you, Loraine.”

Miss Green blushed at the use of her first name.

=====================

I remember when I was five or six and I woke up and my room was filled with smoke. I cried out and imagined I could feel the flames licking at my skin until I realized that the smoke wasn’t coming from my room, or my house at all. It was carried in on the wind through my open window from the house down the street.

We all ran out to watch it burn. It was a blessing, a message, a damnation. We stood in the pouring rain and let the fire consume it. We prayed for the souls who died there, and we prayed that this was the end of the curse, for that was what we called it. Adeline’s curse.

The flames didn’t die down until the grey dawn was spreading across the horizon behind it. The fire sputtered and flicked at the walls of the last room standing, the living room. The wallpaper ignited and peeled back from the drywall, and then the drywall too became black and charred. But underneath, grey as the sky behind it, was solid concrete.

====================

Last night, Evan and I climbed out our bedroom windows with fresh batteries in our flashlights. Bucky had done nothing but tease Evan since the hill ride. He called us cowards. We were going to prove him wrong.

We met in front of the Masterson house at a quarter past eleven. The window Bucky broke towered gaping above us, jagged around the edges and spider webbing out towards the panes. I climbed in first since I was a girl and therefore had more to prove. Evan was right behind me.

We were in the dining room. A small table remained in the center of the room, with four chairs, all tipped onto their backs. We shone our flashlights around the room, but there was no other furniture. And thankfully, no ghosts. I breathed a sigh of relief, startling the dust in the air. “This is gonna be cake.”

Evan laughed, shining his light along the ceiling. “Bucky’s gonna eat his words when he sees us coming out tomorrow morning.” He motioned to the stairs. “Why don’t you have a look around? I’ll keep watch.”

It was the last time I saw him sane.

I bounded up the stairs two at a time. This part of the house was only a few years old, but the floor still creaked from disuse. At the top of the staircase was a carboard box. It smelled moldy and was covered with more dust than anything around it. I sat down on the top step and opened it up.

It was filled with old Time magazines. Issues that went back beyond my years. The covers bore headlines proclaiming the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy, JFK’s assassination, the end of the war. I touched the wrinkled, mildewy pages, damp with condensation and wondered if they were worth anything.

I was shaken from my thoughts and my greed by a series of loud thumps from below me, followed by some scratching, and then banging. Lots of banging. And Evan calling my name.

I dropped the magazines and ran downstairs as fast as I could, but by the time I got to the bottom of the steps, the noises had stopped. The door to the living room was standing open an inch and I could see Evan’s flashlight shining through. I pushed open the door slowly.

The door itself was warped outwards, the inside splintered and cracked like something heavy had been thrown against it. All around the room, the wallpaper had been ripped and torn to jagged shreds, showing concrete beneath it. Most of the furniture had been torn or turned over, all except the little tea table by the window.

The afternoon coffee was laid out, small porcelain cups on matching saucers, and a pewter coffee pot on a round silver platter. I’d seen it from the street many times. But now I could smell the coffee, strong and bitter and coppery, almost like blood.

Evan had poured two cups and was just finishing his when he heard me come in. His head snapped up and he turned around. His eyebrows narrowed as if surprised to see me, then he frowned. “Don’t come in here.”

I froze where I was and I watched as Evan picked up the coffee pot and opened its hinged lid. He lifted it over his head, leaned back, and poured its contents directly into his mouth. Only it wasn’t coffee brown. It was red and gleaming in the glow of my little flashlight. He swallowed it as if he’d never been so hungry in his life and it flowed out of his mouth and down his chin like red Skittle juice. It splattered the front of his shirt and into his lap. It was already all over his hands and spilled out on the table. It was everywhere.

I screamed.

===================

They tore down the old Masterson house today. The Mayor, of course, yelled and howled and protested that it was a town landmark, but the Sheriff marched right down to Pritchard Contracting, Inc. and commandeered the bulldozer, saying they can’t have kids just breaking in and dying like that.

They’d found Evan this morning, on the floor in the living room. They said he swallowed a sharp piece of a shattered coffee cup and choked on his own blood, but I knew it was Adeline’s blood he was choking on.

The living room was the last to come down because of the cement. The entire room was cased in it, like a bank vault. I watched from across the street as the rusty yellow bulldozer leveled walls that had withstood fire and lightning and an angry town for so many years. As the fourth wall lay stretched across the rubble, it suddenly split open, bursting at its imposed seams like a rotten egg.

When the dust settled, the Sheriff was bending over something. Two things actually, in ripped plastic bags, white with cement power. It was in the 6 o’clock issue of the Rosinville Herald that evening, along with pictures of the rubble. Half buried in broken beams and jagged chucks of drywall lay two small bodies, not quite skeletons, but not quite whole, wearing funny little suits.
THis is my submission for the Dark Writing Contest. It's only second draft, so its not perfect and I'll probably put up the finished version when I get it edited properly, but deadlines are deadlines, so here it is. Enjoy!

Also, if anyone has an idea for a better title, please share!! I'm at a loss!!
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:iconchamunan:
chamunan Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2003
God, that was one good story! Loved the parts in bewtween where the past is told. And poor Evan! Liked him... :) (Smile)
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:iconyisp:
yisp Featured By Owner May 22, 2003
amazing work!
it's like...professional. I've seen published ghost-stories that wouldn't stand a chance against this.
As for the title, I think its quite fitting as well. Awakens one's curiosity, but it doesn't prepare for the upcomming horror =) (Smile)

Congratulations on winning the contest!
Reply
:iconromanticpuck:
romanticpuck Featured By Owner May 20, 2003
Fantastic piecre! I agree with kwazo, your details and story captured us all. It really was the best entry, and I am glad you won. Congrats!
Party
Moriganne
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:iconkwazo:
kwazo Featured By Owner May 19, 2003   Writer
congratualtions on your winning entry. This writing just took us all in, and jsut thought "wow"
All the detail and the story just captured us. As scape 7 said coudlnt stop reading.
This work is supurb and i hope you write lots more!
I believe this must have taken alot of work and it has payed off!

Congratulations again on this piece.
Reply
:iconliopo:
liopo Featured By Owner May 18, 2003
Nice words...! I just read it, and don't care about time..!

Nice..! ;) (Wink)
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:iconskape7:
skape7 Featured By Owner May 16, 2003
This is fantastic!!! I've read some of the other entries and though they are also good, they have taken a very liberal meaning of the word "room". I like that you stuck to the literal meaning and as for not being bothered to read the whole thing...once I started I couldn't stop - you had me hook, line and sinker. Great work and good luck! :D (Big Grin)
Reply
:iconzero6ix:
zero6ix Featured By Owner May 14, 2003
I sat and read it. Beautifuly done. Polish it up, and submit the real thing. As for title...stick with that one. Good misleading titles are always great.
Reply
:iconallonym:
allonym Featured By Owner May 14, 2003
Wow - The main problem with prose here is that no-one can be bothered to sit down and read it. The londer it took to write, the less it is read and liked because the fewer people can be bothered. But I sat and read this - and it is a marvel. Well done! How long did it take you? It's incredible!
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