This is a story I wrote back in 2006 and that was published online by a webzine called Dark Fire Fiction. The goal I was trying to achieve was to completely creepy the reader out in under 1000 words. I don’t know if I succeeded in creeping out any readers, but I certainly creeped out myself.
I hope you enjoy it and are as creeped out reading it as I was writing it.
By Scott Lyerly
The old house gently sloped up the hill away from the road. Full, blossoming pear trees lined the driveway like benevolent centurions keeping guard. The prospective couple tried vainly to hide smiles of anticipation as the real estate agent showed them the property, with the aging oak floorboards squeaking underfoot. The historic colonial was exactly what they had been hoping to find.
Moving day went well, save the minor scratches on a dresser and a single broken teacup. The moving company worked quickly and efficiently, loading and unloading everything with half a day’s time. The happy new homeowners understood perfectly and did everything they could to help, which meant staying out of the way.
As the new family began to settle in, they noticed a few odd things that had not come up during the pre-purchase inspection. At certain times during the day, a noticeable draft moved freely and quickly through the house, causing the chills even in the heat of the summer. Despite exhaustive searching, the father could not find the cause.
Then little things began disappearing. A pair of scissors here. A teacup there. A shoe. One sock. Eyeglasses. Nuisances, really, and nothing more. But slowly and surely, the new family began to wonder if their house might be haunted.
The youngest son was only five years old. A rambunctious child, he made it his mission to terrorize his older brothers and sisters by scaring them from dark closets, stealing their toys, or kicking at them from behind. He would pounce upon his unsuspecting victims, wreak havoc, then run away, his high-pitched giggles echoing through the house. He feared nothing.
Early one morning, six months after the move, the father came shuffling down the hallway, destined for a cup of coffee, when he spotted his youngest son asleep in the hallway by the door to his bedroom. Surprised, but not really, he knelt down and shook his son gently.
“What are you doing out here, kiddo?”
The youngest son rubbed his sandy eyes.
“Billy told me to sleep out here.”
The father looked at his son quizzically, assuming some kind of game or make-believe friend, and brushed it off.
“Okay,” he said and continued toward the kitchen.
The next morning, his slippers softly zipping along the wooden floor, he once again found his son sleeping by the doorway outside of his room. He stopped short, feeling the first pang of fear.
Once again, the boy answered: “Billy.”
“Who’s Billy?” asked the father, but the youngest son refused to say anything.
After a third morning of finding his son asleep in the hallway, the father decided it was time to put an end to the issue. The boy had become quiet and mellow, much to the relief of his mother, but the father remained concerned. That night, he slept in the boy’s bedroom instead of the boy.
In the morning, the mother, less graceful when sleepy, stumbled down the hallway using the walls for support. She yawned and stretched and stopped short when she saw her husband asleep in the hallway.
He started awake at her touch and refused to discuss what had happened, except to say, “Billy told me to sleep in the hallway. It’s his room.”
They stopped using the room that day.
Many years later, when the father was old and gray and the youngest son was now a father twice, the family gathered together for a large reunion. The father approached eighty-five and the party had been planned for some time. The invitations mailed out to the neighborhood and most showed up with past memories or old pictures and tokens from bygone days.
Historic photos of the town and the houses and families made their way through many hands, greasy from the hamburgers. People gathered around the pictures, impressed by how far the town had come and amused at the old-fashioned styles. The father was having a wonderful time until one particular picture fell into his hands.
He cried out and the guests came running.
With a shaky hand he gave the picture to the youngest son, who looked at it and went ashen.
The picture revealed a family gathered together in front of the foundation of what would become their new house. It held all the accoutrements: stern-looking father; prim, proper looking mother; three children, the youngest of which was a boy. He wore an impish grin that seemed to grow wider, the teeth sharper as they stared at him.
“Oh,” said a neighbor. “The O’Connell family. Suffered a terrible loss. Youngest boy died from polio, right here in this house. Tragic, really. Can’t remember his name, though.”
“Billy,” the father whispered hoarsely, watching the eyes of the boy in the picture, as they grew narrow, making him look, with his wide mouth and sharp teeth, like an animal.