It was Flip’s idea. His name is… was Philip, but everyone called him Flip. I think it was ‘cause of the speech impediment he had when he was younger; anyway, going to the Ripley House was his idea.
“Come on, Rico,” he whined, and my name’s not Rico, it’s Richard, but I’d long since given up fighting about it, “We gotta go to the Ripley House.”
“On Halloween? I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Halloween’s exactly why it’s a good idea! Come on, Ruth, Reggie, Alphonse, and Olivia are coming too.
Reggie was actually Regina, and Flip was hot for her. Alphonse and Olivia were already a couple, and Olivia was super annoying. If Ruth hadn’t been going, I wouldn’t have.
The Ripley House is the kind of spooky old place you see in the Halloween specials they run on Disney or Nickelodeon. It’s three stories tall, has a big wrap-around porch. The whole thing is overgrown with ivy, and no one has lived there during my lifetime.
The older kids would say that at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, the house would light up from the inside and the spirits of the people who had died there would have a party; some swore they had seen it. Supposedly anyone in the house when the party started would be a guest at it forever.
We’d believed that when we were little, but we were teenagers then; practically adults. Of course Flip, who’d grown up watching Mythbusters, wanted to actually disprove the story.
Halloween came, and we went trick-or-treating together. I was dressed as Scott Pilgrim, which nobody recognized, Flip was Batman, and Al dressed up as a football player, which was lame because he really played football. Olivia was dressed as a “Sexy TARDIS”, which basically amounted to an extremely short skirt with the Doctor’s ship printed on it and a pair of blue high heels, Reggie was “Sassy Rick Grimes”, and Ruth was a Ghostbuster.
There’s one neat thing about being in your early teens: you’re still young enough to beg for candy, but you’re old enough to not need an escort. We stayed out until porch lights started going out and pumpkins started being extinguished; then we made our way to the Ripley House.
The house was dark, and I don’t just mean that there were no lights on. It was as if the house somehow sucked the light out of the air; even the lights lining the street seemed unable to illuminate the place. We brought flashlights though, and they helped some.
I can’t speak for the others, but I was scared; the candy I had already eaten was protesting our visit to the house from inside my stomach. I wanted to turn and run, screw what Flip, Reggie, Al, and Olivia thought.
I couldn’t show weakness in front of Ruth though. If she was scared she certainly was hiding it well. She threw a smile at me in the darkness as we reached the bottom of the porch steps.
"This is stupid, right," I asked her, trying to seem cool.
"Yes," she agreed, "but we have to keep these goofs from doing anything they'll regret, right?" She smiled wider at me, and her eyes seemed to sparkle.
Flip shined his flashlight on the big, old double front door of the house. There was a metal spiral worked into the wood across both doors, and even running over the windows. It looked expensive; like the kind of thing you’d see in a Restoration Hardware catalogue. The break in the spiral where the two doors met was almost invisible.
Flip shone his flashlight through the window into the front room.
“What do you see?” Reggie asked.
“It looks empty,” Flip replied, “ Wood floors, some balls of paper next to the stairs.”
“It looks empty because no one lives here,” Ruth said. She really didn’t believe any of this, and I found that somewhat comforting.
“We should go inside,” Alphonse suggested, “Someone’s gonna see us if we keep standing here.”
“This is kinda scary,” Reggie said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” Flip said, and then in as scratchy a voice as he could manage, “I’m Batman!”
Olivia giggled her annoying giggle at that.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, the door was not locked. Looking back, this is just one of a number of things I should have found odd. There was also the fact that the house looked completely undisturbed. There were no broken windows and no graffiti anywhere to be seen. For a place that teenagers go to be stupid, it was sure in great condition.
I guess I was just too young, dumb, and scared then to think about it that much.
Once inside I did notice one huge difference between the Ripley House and the ones on TV: there was no furniture or cobwebs. The house was empty save for dust, and some garbage; bare wood floors, bare walls, and some of the rooms just had wires sticking out of the ceiling or walls where lights had once been installed.
We did one smart thing, something they never do in horror films: we stayed together, not that it made any difference. We all had our flashlights out and on, and we explored the house in a group.
The atmosphere was oppressive, but there was nothing that was obviously causing it. As I said, the walls were bare, so there were no creepy paintings with eyes that followed as we walked, and scary angel statues. There was a Playboy magazine from the 90’s, some empty beer bottles, fast food wrappers, and dust in an upstairs rooms. Actually, there was dust a lot of dust, and it was everywhere. The only thing we found that was actually scary though was in the kitchen.
Does a refrigerator count as furniture? It’s an appliance, right? Well, if it’s furniture, then I lied: there was an old refrigerator in the kitchen, the kind with the coil visible on top. It’s not the fridge itself that was scary, but the stench that invaded the room when Alphonse opened it.
It was a big house, and it took us a long time to explore it. We entered each room expecting to find something interesting, but only found more dust, disappointment, and that trash I mentioned before.
I think that I was the only one scared at this point. Flip looked disappointed, and the girls just looked bored.
As it got closer to midnight, the house got colder, by why wouldn’t it? We were up on the third floor, I’m sure there was little in the way of insulation, and the radiators had probably been off longer than I’ve been alive. Olivia was cuddling Alphonse for warmth, and Flip was trying to do the same to Reggie, but she was having none of it.
Ruth, wearing coveralls, seemed to be fine.
I was also fine, part of the reason I had chosen to be Scott Pilgrim was because he wears a warm parka. My hands were cold, but the rest of me was toasty.
I had set the alarm on my phone for midnight to start playing “Dead Man’s Party”; it had seemed funny earlier, and I’d since forgotten about it. I remember the opening yowl of the guitar screaming from my pocket a couple of seconds before everything happened
Before I had time to see anyone’s reaction to the music, I was blinded. The room we were in, probably a bedroom since it had a closet, filled with light like someone had just turned the sun on in it. I don’t know where the light came from, there wasn’t even a light fixture in there.
I could hear the other yelling over my music, and could sort of see them moving around. It looked like there were more than five people in the room with me though.
My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the light, but I wasn’t going to wait for them to. Maybe it was a trick Flip had set up, and maybe I would spend the rest of my life being mocked for it, but I was getting the hell out of there.
I dropped my candy bag and grabbed Ruth by the arm, I was certain it was her because of the fabric of her sleeve, and pulled her in the direction I thought the door was in.
The door was not where I had thought it was. I slammed into the wall, and staggered back. A small voice in my mind was screaming that the door was gone.
I could see a little better now, but it was still too bright; like looking into a spotlight, but the light was coming from everywhere. it was as if the air itself was glowing.
Ruth pulled me towards where the door actually was, she knew what I had been trying to do. Something grabbed the back of my parka, slowing my motion. I turned expecting to look into the face of some horror from my nightmares, but instead I saw Olivia.
" Al," she screamed, "They took Al!"
Ruth pulled harder, “Come on,” she screamed, yanking me and Olivia after her.
When I think about this now, everything seems like it took so much time, but I know it can't have been more than thirty seconds since the lights came on. There was a place in the back of my mind where I wondered about "they", but it was being bullied by the rest of my mind that just wanted to get out of the Ripley House.
I dropped the flashlight that had still been in my left hand, and grabbed onto Olivia's arm. Ruth pulled again and I went with her, Olivia trailing behind me. It was like a short train of stupid kids running through an old house that was full of the brightest light I’ve ever seen.
The three of us hit the stairs, our feet thundering down the old wood steps to the second floor. We turned at the bottom, and started down to the ground floor. I don't know if one of her heels broke, or her ankle gave way, or I just pulled her off of her feet, but Olivia pitched forward into me halfway down that final flight.
Olivia and I tumbled into Ruth, and the three of us slid down the rest of the steps. I remember the sound Ruth's proton pack made as it clunked on the wood floor at the bottom before I landed on top of her, and Olivia on me, her face on mine like we might have been planning to kiss.
That was when it appeared behind her. I don't know how to describe what I saw; I don't really know for sure that what I remember seeing is something I really saw. I know it was the "they" that Olivia had mentioned though.
The thing was gray and sort of human in shape, but it's torso tapered down to a point where it's legs should have been. It kind of looked like a tornado with long, thin arms sticking out of it. I saw as the slim, pointed fingers of the right hand at the end of one of those arms wrapped around Olivia's face.
She flew, Olivia flew off me like there was a string attached to her. Her eyes were wide, but I don't know if that was pain or just fear. I tried to grab her, but my hands just slid over the tight, slick fabric of her dress; I couldn't get a grip on anything.
The being lifted Olivia into the air over the staircase, and pulled her into itself. Her arms reached for me, but I would have had trouble grabbing her even I'd been standing. She was struggling, but that didn't last long.
It was over in seconds after that. Olivia darkened and her features started elongating. Her mouth, frozen in a silent scream opened wider; all of her features started oozing downward a wax figure in front of a heater. The arm that had been reaching for me bent downward halfway between wrist and elbow. It broke free, but instead of splattering when it hit the steps it collapsed into a puff of dust. A moment later so did the rest of her, and she showered down on me and Ruth, getting into our hair, and eyes, and mouths.
Call it bravery if you want, or call it cowardice, I don't think they were two different things at that moment, but that got me moving. I somehow got back to my feet, and grabbed Ruth, who had gotten the wind knocked out of her in the fall and was still gasping for air.
If this was a movie, I would have picked her up like she weighed nothing, and carried her in my arms to safety. What really happened was I dragged her out of there, her costume pack
scraping against the wood floor the whole way.
The front door was sitting open, I could see the two halves of the metal spiral laid into it sparkling in the bright light. I knew it would slam shut as I tried to take Ruth to safety and trap us forever in that house, but I went for it anyway.
It was hopeless. I knew that Alphonse, Flip, and Regina had all been killed the same way as Olivia, and that Ruth and I would probably join them in the next thirty seconds, but I was not going to give up as long as I could still move.
Then we were out of the house, and on the porch. I fell backwards down the front steps, and this time it was Ruth’s turn to land on me, her proton pack hitting me in the stomach like a punch.
We lay there in the dead leaves, and watched the shapes of not-people moving behind the windows of all the rooms. Then the lights inside the house went out as suddenly as they had appeared.
After a couple more minutes I dug out my phone and shut off the music, leaving us in the dark and silence.
The screen of my phone, now horribly cracked, said that it was 12:04 AM on November first.
The party was over.