“Taryn, I can’t believe you wanna do this!” Sasha giggles as we stumble onto the lawn. The old, abandoned house looms above us, daring us to enter.
“Nothing bad is gonna happen anyway,” I reply, pulling Sasha closer to the door. She approaches me, then stops short. “What are we even going to do if we actually get in?”
Honestly, I don’t know. But she can’t know that.
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out when we get inside,” I lie. Grass crumples under my sneaker as I take a step backward.
I yank her hand, and she reluctantly follows me to the front door. Then, pausing, we look at each other. She jerks her head at me, I return the gesture. “Open the door, this was your idea!” Sasha whispers, her voice edged with paranoia. The door, gnarled and worn from age, towers above us. With a final scowl at Sasha, I gently turn the knob.
The door swings open, illuminating a dusty hallway. The stench of rot and abandonment invades my senses, and Sasha physically retches at the impact. Nevertheless, I pull her inside.
The fading daylight casts eerie shadows across a living room covered in a thick layer of grime. The few windows are hidden by heavy, musty curtains adorned with gold. They could have been beautiful, but that was a long, long time ago. The room’s beauty even entrances Sasha, who relaxes as she takes in her surroundings. I walk further down the hallway, kicking up dust with every step, until I notice another door open just a crack. A thin trail of light leaks into the hall, and as I creep closer, I hear muffled voices.
“Do you have it yet?” A voice growls.
Someone else sobs, “No, please, I just need more time. One more week-”
“I don’t have another week. I need it now!” There’s a sharp smack and a thump. The sobbing gets louder, followed by deep murmuring.
I step back, and the floor creaks beneath me.
The voice pauses.
Footsteps echo from the room, growing louder each time. I bolt towards the living room, where Sasha is still admiring the furnishings. I snatch her arm in a death grip.
“We have to go,” I hiss.
“We have to leave. Now.” I pull her back towards the front door and take off running. Sasha catches on and joins me.
I turn back for only a moment and see a shadow lingering in the open doorway.
We race back to my house and don’t stop running until I slam my bedroom door shut. Sasha collapses on my bed, her face a bright scarlet. My legs give out as I lean against the door.
“So,” Sasha pants, “care to explain why we had to run?”
I slide down, my hand pressing against the stitch in my side. “Because,” I pant back, “ I heard… something… when I went down the hallway…”
“What did you hear?”
What did I hear? What were they talking about? Why was I so scared? I pause to think it over. I don’t want to scare Sasha. It was my idea to go there in the first place. How could I have forced her to go in there?
“I… I’m not sure. These two guys were saying… something. Like one of them owed the other something. I don’t know.”
“Well, what are we gonna do?” Sasha is weirdly calm about the whole thing. She’s not freaking out and bawling like I expected her to. Instead, she’s sitting up, fully alert. Her eyes are shining in a way I haven’t seen before, and her lips twitch for just a moment.
“I don’t know that either.”
The next two days commence as usual, with nothing but homework and regular high school classes. The afternoon in the house had nearly escaped my mind until I came to school on Tuesday. Sasha was waiting for me in the front, anxiously wringing her hands and shifting her weight on her feet.
As I approached, she grabbed my arm and pulled my ear next to her face. “They found us.” “What?”
“You said you heard voices the other night. Well, look what showed up at my house this morning.” She pulls a folded piece of paper from her pocket and unfurls it.
The writing is scrawled and nearly illegible. I take the note from her, and try to decipher it. I finally say, “Yeah, I’ve got no clue what this says.”
Sasha sighs, snatches the paper from me, and reads it aloud.
“To the young women in the house on Miller Street last Saturday evening, this is your final warning. Never return to that location, or face major consequences. Signed, a friend.’”
Come on, there’s no way this is real.
“That sounds like bullshit.”
“Taryn, I don’t know. It seems pretty real to me.”
“Let me see that again.” I take the note back and inspect it. Something in the way the Ys curled rings a faint bell in my mind, but it has to be nothing. I open my mouth to speak again, but I’m cut off by the school bell ringing.
Before I know it, both Sasha and the note are gone.
The note plagues my thoughts throughout the day. Sasha is nowhere to be found. I don’t see her again until I come home, and find her sprawled on my bed, just like from that fateful night.
“What are you doing here?” Sasha sits up. That same gleam is in her eye. “We have to go back to the house.” Her face has an intensity I’ve never seen before. It sends a chill down my spine.
“What? Why? Even though the note is fake, we should humor them anyway. Just in case.” “If it’s fake, then who would send it? Who would know?”
“I-I don’t know, I mean-”
“Exactly. Which is all the more reason we should investigate what’s going on.”
This isn’t like Sasha. She never tries to force me into anything, especially when she knows she’s pushing my boundaries. I’m always the one trying to get her out of her comfort zone, but I never try this hard.
“What’s gotten into you? Why do you care so much?”
The gleam in Sasha’s eye is still there. A shadow from the tree outside my window is cast across her face, leaving her speckled with darkness.
She smiles. “Why don’t you? Are you scared?”
We come back to the house the next day after school. She’s leading the way this time, and now I understand her unease the other night. Her sneakers leave deep footprints in the overgrown grass.
We reach the front door, and I’m convinced I won’t have to talk Sasha out of going back in. She’s never been particularly brave or reckless. She’s just here because the note sparked her curiosity, but once there’s actual risk involved she’ll back off.
Sasha turns the knob and steps in without hesitation. She doesn’t even blink.
I stick my head through the doorway, and whisper, “Sasha, what are you doing? We really shouldn’t be here.”
I sigh as I force myself to follow her. The furniture is the same as before, but the room is cleaner. The layer of dust is gone, and surfaces now have a noticeable shine to them. But there’s no Sasha.
There’s nowhere to go but leave or travel down the same hallway as before. And I can’t leave without her.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and start to walk back down the hall as quietly as possible. It’s dead silent when I pass by the previous door that got us into this mess, and I keep walking.
I hear low voices coming from the room at the end of the hallway. It sounds to be the same people as before, but there’s a third voice now. A woman.
“You’re both idiots,” she says. Her voice has an edge that makes me shiver. And a familiarity I can’t place.
“I’m sorry, I meant to do it, I just didn’t realize it had to be so soon.” It’s the man from before, the one that made the other guy cry. He’s now just as whiny as the other one.
“Well, that’s what you get for being seen!” It’s the crying man, but now he seems to be in charge.
I keep inching towards the door. I press against the opposite wall, doing my best to find a place to peer in while staying out of the light.
The room finally comes into view, but I can only see a thin young man with dark hair. The other two are out of sight.
“I had to write it myself!” the woman yells.
There’s a rustling, possibly a drawer opening, and the man I can’t see whimpers. The other one cringes, and his hands curl into fists.
“No! I’m sorry! Really-”
He’s cut off by the drawer slamming shut. The dark-haired man gasps.
We lock eyes.
I race back down the hallway. A dark figure is blocking the front door with their back turned. I stop running, defeated. I’m cornered.
“What are you doing, Taryn?” It’s the woman from the other room. The voice triggers something in the back of my mind.
It can’t be.
Sasha turns around, a wicked grin on her face. Her eyes are shining like the other night, and her face is ugly and contorted with malice.
“Sasha?” My voice trembles. Tears sting my eyes and my throat tightens before I can say any more.
“Sasha?” she mocks. “Stop crying Taryn, you look weak.”
“What’s happening? How did I get here? All that in due time. For now, you’re one of us.”
The other two men grab me from behind, one of their hands clamped over my mouth. Sasha steps forward, pulling something from her pocket.
“Welcome to the group.” She snickers and takes out a white cloth. The henchman takes his hand off my mouth, which Sasha replaces with the kerchief.
“We’re going to have so much fun together.”
The world goes black.