Walking home from school, Leah and her two friends were discussing the current Halloween season. All the haunted houses, constant barrage of costume choices and zombie versions of everything, made it seem as though it was something that was more like Christmas with a morbid twist. Leah dragged behind her two friends, who were animatedly talking about the scariest things that each had done or seen, and trying to outclass each other in doing so. Leah’s mind, however, was on other things – like how she had never really gone trick-or-treating, or never been to a haunted house. Though that seemed like it would be a lot of fun. Frightening costumes and sensory deprivation, gore, the macabre. It did interest Leah, and she wondered why she hadn’t done it sooner like her two friends in front of her, oblivious to Leah’s lost-in-thought dragging of her feet behind them. She wondered why she had never done something so wonderful as go to a haunted house with friends, and then the answer slapped her in the face like a chill October wind, her parents didn’t let her do such things. They kept their only daughter safe from the horrible things that the world would throw up and in your face. Leah sighed softly, her breath slightly visible. Her friends finally realized that she hadn’t spoken in awhile, and stopped to turn around to see her. She almost bumped into them, as she was looking at the sidewalk instead.
“How about you, Leah? What was the scariest thing you ever saw?” one asked.
Leah paused, and looked at her friend oddly. Why was she asking this? She said slowly, “I think I’m looking at the scariest thing right now.”
Her other friend’s jaw dropped, and then cackled in laughter at the sudden insult that Leah offhandedly tossed. The insulted party turned red in a flash, and brought a lightning quick hand around to strike Leah in the face. “You stupid bitch! Ugh! I bet you haven’t ever done anything scary, because you ARE scary! Scary Leah!”
Leah’s heart stung as much as her cheek. She was joking? Why didn’t she see that she was joking? She doesn’t understand. I don’t understand, Leah said inwardly. She touched her warm cheek tenderly and said timidly, “I have too done and seen scary things.”
“No you haven’t! You’re such a liar!” she countered. “Name one!”
Leah thought hard and fast. “Once I saw a dead body. It was all covered in maggots and bloated, and it smelled funny.”
“Where?” her friend snapped.
“Oh, it wasn’t here, it was when I was on vacation with my dad. We saw it at the lake. I even poked it with a stick, it was all soapy and gross.”
“You’re just making stuff up now, Scary Leah!”, though her angry friend had to briefly admit that it was a little scary, even if she thought it was made up. “I bet you can’t do anything scary now! You’d be too afraid to, or the things inside would be too afraid of you and run away!” She laughed at her own insult. Their other friend smiled wanly.
The insulted friend whipped her gaze about. “I dare you to go into the Murder Death Kill house!” She pointed at the local run-down, 2-story, wood frame house that had several windows smashed in, the lawn was unkempt, paint peeling and faded, gutters hanging off eaves everywhere. The Murder Death Kill house was named by the previous generation of kids, now young adults, that had seen the movie ‘Demolition Man’ and nicknamed it after the crime code that was prevalent in the movie, ‘Murder Death Kill’. The story went that a family had lived there, but the man had gone insane after losing his job and killed his wife and two kids, thinking that he was ‘sparing’ them a life of misery with him being unemployed. The police had come to arrest the man, bring him up on charges, but the charges didn’t stick, so he went back home, unemployed, depressed, and became a hermit within his own home. So the story went. It was never validated, neighbors came and went, no one knocked on his door, there were never any visitors, there wasn’t even activity in the house, so the story grew into neighborhood legend. Leah looked at the house as if she was seeing it for the first time.
“Ok, you’re on.” Leah said with a slight quaver to her voice. While she was worried about it, she had to prove she wasn’t scared to her friends. She marched up to the house, her brown wedge flats clacking on the sidewalk and the uneven, broken walkway up to the front porch, where she stopped suddenly. The house seemed to breathe at her approach. Leah looked inside the broken windows, saw furniture that hadn’t been touched in years, unkempt, decaying. A layer of dust was probably everywhere. Leah wrinkled her nose, tossed back her dark hair and turned to look at her friend who had eyes as wide as saucers, daring her further to go inside the Murder Death Kill house, almost with a sadistic glee. She sensed Leah’s hesitation, and pushed her over the edge with, “Scary Leah? I should have said Scaredy Leah!”
Leah felt the sting again of her friend’s taunt, and didn’t understand why she was being so mean, but felt that she had to go through with it or else she wouldn’t have any friends after this. It was so difficult for her to make friends in the first place. Everyone called her ‘odd’ or ‘weird’ or ‘strange’, and she went along with it, thinking this is what was done. It wasn’t until her parents enforced the rule that she has to come home right away from school every day that she started to realize that her ‘friends’ were really humiliating her in front of everyone, and that they weren’t really her friends. These two girls she had just started to hang out with, having run out of other options her freshman year when everyone else from her junior high had left her. Well, if this was the only way to keep friends… then she remembered her parents rule about coming home right away, and thought to back out somehow. She started to take a step back, the wind picking up and fluttering her skirt slightly. The insulted friend cried out, “If you chicken out now, Leah, I’ll tell everyone at school that you are a liar and a poser, and weird!”
Weird. The word that stung the most. Leah steeled herself, and brought the foot that was going backward, forward, and onto the creaky wooden porch. The old timbers sagged under even her petite frame, and she stood there, transfixed, looking at the flaking door, to the Murder Death Kill house. Leah held her breath, reached for the knob, and twisted, half hoping that somehow it would be locked. Instead she found disappointment and a sudden burst of worry as the knob started its grinding turn toward opening the front door. She let go of the knob, and let the door swing itself inside with the smallest of creaks. Dim light from the setting sun illuminated a hallway choked with dust and a few pieces of furniture, a disintegrating area rug, and a staircase that went upstairs to the right. The wind cut through the broken panes of glass and the open door, causing it and the cobwebs everywhere to dance. Leah felt a chill. She didn’t know if it was from her own apprehension or the evening weather. Her shoes made the loudest echoes as she walked timidly forward. Her other friend outside said, “Leah, come on, you proved your point, you went in the house!”
The insulted friend countered, “No, Leah, you have to go in further! You have to bring something back from the kitchen! Prove you were in the house!”
Leah looked back over her shoulder to her friends outside. One had concern on her face, and a sideways glance to her friend that she didn’t care for this whole action. Her insulted friend’s face looked even more menacing, gleeful that she was sending Leah to a scary doom. She continued a measured pace into the hallway, her footsteps leaving a trace in the dust behind her, each step managing to find every noisy, springy creak in the floorboards. As the kitchen loomed large in front of her, she spied a large stain under the refrigerator that encompassed most of the floor. On the far side of the kitchen was rotten food, moldy bread, a set of rusty knives still in their knife block. The story said that he killed his wife in the kitchen. Could this dark stain be her blood? She gingerly walked through the stain, the floor sagging under her feet, interestingly soft, unlike the rest of the dusty hardwood. She looked at the rusty knives on the counter and thought, those would make for an interesting souvenir from this place. Leah’s eyes were on her prize when the front door suddenly slammed shut. Leah jumped and turned in place at the source of the noise, and as she stepped to turn around, realized too late that something was horribly wrong. The floor gave way under her feet, disintegrating into a cloud of splinters and shards. Leah fell into sudden darkness, and let out a surprised squeal of fright.
The combination of the door slamming shut, the sound of something crunching and Leah’s cry drove icy wedges into the girls outside. The Murder Death Kill house claimed Leah! And they drove her to it! Panic ensued, the girls looked at each other, read each others’ minds, and ran for home, not looking back once to rescue her.