First it was my younger sister wanting to hear the story. It was the first time she had heard about a haunted house in real life, not on TV or in a book. Then it was my daughter who kept asking me to tell it; she later described it as being so scary because it took place by a sunny beach.
Decades of Halloweens have come and gone, and now it’s my grandchildren begging me to remember. Although they’ve heard it many times, it never seems to get old; they know it so well that they interrupt me to add details I forget to include. Their requests always start with, “Tell me the haunted house story.”
NOT A DARK AND STORMY HALLOWEEN NIGHT
Unlike most spooky Halloween stories, my story starts on a sunlit early autumn on a late afternoon. Two suburban families from Roslyn Heights, Long Island — my parents and I with my best friend Karen and her parents — headed to our destination, a cluster of clapboard vacation cottages Out East at the water’s edge.
As our parents unpacked groceries, we could barely keep from fidgeting. We were two naturally curious, energetic 9-year-olds surrounded by wide-open vistas waiting to be explored. Outside, tall, stately reeds swayed at the water’s edge, the waves murmuring as they broke on the sand. There was nothing near our cottage except for an old building off in the distance.
We begged our parents to let us go outdoors and play. They said yes, then issued their warning: “Don’t be gone long — it’ll be dark soon. And you see that old house? Don’t go near there.”
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Of course, we did go near there, running fast and not stopping until we approached the huge house. We knocked but nothing stirred. So we pushed against the weighty door and forced it open. We called out, “Hello? Is anyone home?” but again, got no response.
Inside, all was almost dark, paralyzed from some remote, silent time. Only a few dim shards of light filtered through boarded-up windows, and pieces of furniture were covered with sheets. I lifted a corner of a sheet covering a grand piano; tiny particles of gray dust fluttered quickly around. As I touched unyielding keys, Karen raced upstairs to explore the top floors as the light began to fade.
A few minutes later, she called down to me, “Come up here! You can see the water!” I ran up the wide sweeping staircase to the second-story room where Karen was standing at an open window that had not been covered with boards. She beckoned me to come look at the view of the water below. As I crossed the empty room, the door behind me slammed loudly shut.
TRAPPED or NO DOORKNOB
I turned to open the door — but there was no doorknob. We shoved against the door until we realized that our weight was pushing the door even more tightly closed. Karen panicked. I panicked.
I found some bent window screens in a closet and banged them hard against the shut door, hoping to break it down. Karen was sobbing, saying, “We’re trapped!” as she ran back to the window. Then she stuck her head out and yelled over and over again, “Help! Help!”
A stiff wind blew her cries out to the water as the sky darkened. Then, in an instant, she sat on the windowsill and jumped out.
SHATTERED GLASS AND RUSTED NAILS
I ran to the window and looked down to see her lying in the grass, clutching a bare knee oozing bright red blood. She got up and tried to walk but fell down.
I felt utterly powerless and scared. My panic escalated as I thought, “We’re trapped. No one knows where we are. Our parents will never find us. Karen’s leg is broken. It’s almost nightfall.”
In my 9-year-old brain, I was convinced that I had to act fast because I was the only one who could save us. In a fury, I yanked off my glasses and hurled them to the ground below. They shattered.
I had to do something. So I sat on the windowsill, closed my eyes, and pushed off, ripping the seat of my pants on a protruding nail. I fell on my side, my pinky toes catching most of the impact. I opened my eyes and realized I had landed on a concrete sidewalk that was covered with shattered windowpane glass and rusted nails— yet I didn’t have a scratch on me.
I limped over to Karen and told her to try not to move: I would get help. Tears streaming down my face, I walked mostly on my heels back to the cottages, to safety, security, and parents.
Although they were shocked, our parents didn’t punish us. They were just glad that our injuries hadn’t been more serious. Karen had a fractured knee and she and her mother and father left the next day as she was in no shape to enjoy a vacation. I had several fractured toes but was able to stay the week, and everyone doted on me and asked to hear about our trauma.
But I never went near that house again.