The Hallway

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“Hulk is barking at the hallway again,” hollered Randy to his wife, who sat in the den nearby. Nestled on the living room couch with his papa, the 25-pound beagle delivered a low growl, followed by a random bark at the dark hallway that leads to the home’s main bathroom and bedrooms. This behavior was not unusual for the family’s five-year-old pup, but as of late, it had been happening more frequently, sparking some infighting between the dog’s human parents.

Randy and Maddie Chase moved into their San Diego home a few years ago, having relocated from Oakland after they married. Randy had grown up nearby, so the move was nothing major for him, although Maddie originated in the Midwest and had moved to Oakland when she began college. The move was mainly due to Randy’s parents. His mom was in bad health and didn’t seem to have long to live, and his father wouldn’t be far behind if he didn’t get his cholesterol in check.

As soon as the move was complete, both wanted to adopt a dog. Screw kids, I want a pooch, Randy had said to his bride after they settled into the new home. Although he expected Maddie to give him shit about his attitude (they really hadn’t talked about having kids), she agreed to find a shelter and look around. Both had dogs growing up, so it was not a new experience.

It took only two weeks after moving in for the couple to get in the car and take a pleasant Sunday drive to the San Diego Paws Shelter where they found young Hulk, who had been discovered in a dumpster, malnourished and scared. He had been extremely skittish since his arrival at the shelter as a young two-year-old pup and hadn’t taken to anyone there, nor had any visitors made him feel like coming out of his shell. Then the Chase couple arrived, and to the amazement of the shelter workers, young Hulk emerged from the corner of his kennel, wagging his tail and barking to get their attention. It only took one look at the beautiful brown haired beagle, and they were sold.

From the moment he came to live with Randy and Maddie, Hulk had made himself right at home, snuggling up in between the couple in bed every night. They never have the heart to move him, even when they want to do what young married couples like to do when there are no kids in the house. One time Randy tried to move the dog out of the way in order to get closer to his naked wife under the covers, but Hulk just became more excited and jumped right back up, tail wagging and ready to play.

Over the course of the three years Hulk has been with the couple, he has been the ideal pet. He was already housebroken, which amazed Randy, seeing as how the poor guy was found on the street. He understands the routine of going outside before his humans go to work and holding it in until one of them gets home to let him out at night. One early evening after Randy made it home from work, he caught Hulk paying closer attention to the hallway than normal.

That day, Randy unlocked the door but did not hear his pup run up and scratch away as he opened the door. The excited whine on the other side was missing. When he made his way inside, Hulk stood straight ahead, staring to the right. Initially when he called to his little buddy, Hulk’s tail wagged, but he did not come to see Randy. Instead, his focus remained forward, and his head tilted downward just slightly. A low growl emerged.

“You okay, pal?” asked Randy who carefully walked to the dog. For an instant, he thought somebody was in the house, and Hulk had him trapped. But upon peaking around the corner, all he saw was an empty hallway. The bathroom and bedroom doors were all closed, as was normal to keep the dog out of the rooms when nobody else was home. But Randy checked them anyway. Opening the bathroom door, he found nobody hiding in the shower. Across the way in the den, not a soul could be found. And finally in the couple’s bedroom, no living person was in sight. After scanning the bedroom, Randy turned to find Hulk immediately behind him. He was now aware that his papa was home.

The initial incident happened around 5:30 pm. Since then, Hulk’s hallway nerves only flared up after 9:00pm when it was nearing pitch black. They never left the hallway light on, and even if one of them forgot to switch off the bedroom light, it did not give off much down the hallway and to the living room where the trio spent most of their evenings. Today, though, it was barely 8:00pm and Hulk’s senses were on high alert. After calling to his wife, Randy rested his hand over the pooch in an attempt to keep him calm. The beagle gave him a look and simply rested his head on his papa’s leg.

Maddie walked out from the den without as much as a glance down the hallway behind her. “Stop it. There’s nothing down there,” she immediately said in an attempt to calm the situation. Randy had joked about the presence of something in their house ever since the dog began its strange behavior, and his wife had always silenced him. She was not a fan of anything supernatural.

“Did you know that there are ghosts in the White House? True story. In fact, I hear that Lincoln’s ghost wanders around the hallway by the Lincoln bedroom,” said Randy, as Maddie sat down next to him and Hulk.

“You are so full of shit. Knock it off,” said Maddie.

“Not a joke. They say that there’s this silhouette that looks like a tall man that bolts across the hallway and vanishes into the wall.” Randy came off as serious, even though Maddie had never heard the story. Granted, the topic of famous presidents were not what she regularly studied, so who knows if there was anything to the tale. As she looked his way, he stared at the television while petting Hulk. The dog had his head on Randy’s lap, and it remained pointed at the hallway.

“So, what, is Abe Lincoln haunting our house now?”

“I dunno. Hey, Hulk, is ol Honest Abe hanging out down the hallway?” He gave the dog a big smile as he rubbed his back. But the dog was not responsive to the affection. Instead, his head popped back up and the growl returned, more intense. And before he knew it, Randy was clutching his balls as Hulk had put all his weight into Randy’s lap and catapulted himself off the couch. He raced to the hallway, and the growling converted to angry barks and snarls. Neither Randy nor Maddie had ever heard Hulk behave this way. Even the mailman could be noisy outside, and the dog would rarely even raise his head to the sound.

“Should we start looking for a new house? Not kidding. I’ll move out if he keeps this shit up,” said Maddie. “You all can stay and play with the ghost, but I’m gone.” A moment after the attack on the hallway, Hulk returned as if nothing was wrong. He jumped back on the couch and gave each of his humans a big lick to the face. For the rest of the night, he remained close to their sides, but the growling and barking ceased. The house was calm.

¤

     A week after the incident, Randy first saw the shadow. Hulk ran around the back yard for his final trip, as Randy struggled to open a new bag of treats for the pup. Go potty before bed, and you get a treat, was the arrangement, and Hulk always sensed treat time. The bag was sealed tight, and when he put all his might into ripping it open, it exploded. Treats flew all over, including down the hallway. As he gathered them up, he saved the hallway mess for last. Looking down, Randy scanned the floor and picked up a couple pieces he saw immediately. Thinking there might be more, he moved his head upward when it caught his attention. The shadow. It stood at the end of the hall. Initially, Randy thought his own shadow stared back at him. It couldn’t be Maddie, as she was out to dinner with a friend. When he waved his arm up and down, the shadow remained still. Looking to his right, Randy flipped the light switch, and the hallway lit up. The shadow disappeared. But he was not the only one who had seen it.

As Randy’s heart began to slow, he realized Hulk was still outside. His attention then turned to the back door as the dog growled and clawed at the glass door, trying to get in. Out of pure routine, Randy flipped the light back off and went to tend to the dog and make sure he was okay. He even held out a treat to him as he opened the door. But Hulk wanted nothing to do with food at this moment when he flew past his papa into the house. He honed in on something else. And when Randy turned back, the shadow had returned. It now hovered where Randy had stood just moments earlier.

The shadow bolted across the hall, as Hulk chased. It disappeared through the closet, and the dog put on the brakes just before he leaned back and put his front paws on the door. His growling and barking was unyielding, as Randy slowly approached. He saw the specter. That’s what it had to be. And now Hulk had chased it into the hall closet.

“Easy, boy,” he said with trepidation as he slowly moved his hand to the doorknob. His baseball bat sat in the back of the bedroom closet, but he didn’t think he could leave the dog there by himself while he tried to dig it out. “Okay Hulk, let’s see what we got here.” Randy flipped the light back on and yanked the closet door open.

All Randy and Hulk saw was a pile of towels and the vacuum cleaner. Hulk whined and sniffed just inside the door. When he realized nobody was inside, he looked up at Randy, head tilted.

“I don’t know what to say either, buddy.” Randy said nothing to his wife when she returned home an hour later. Hulk stayed close until they all went to bed, but his body remained positioned at the door, which led straight into the hallway. There were no more incidents that night.

¤

Randy came home for lunch the next day. Normally he finds other errands to run or things to do, as it’s a 20 minute drive from work to his house. But he needed to check on Hulk and make sure he was okay. The image of the shadow in the hallway hadn’t left his mind. What would it have done to me had I not gone to let the dog in, he kept thinking. Knowing the shadow had lurked up to his spot at the end of the hall continued to give him chills, but he tried to brush them off. There had to be a logical explanation.

He unlocked the front door and walked in. Hulk immediately came bounding up to meet him, tail wagging and whining for attention. Randy bent down and promptly obliged. His attention turned to the hallway, but all appeared to be calm for the moment. Besides, if Hulk was back to his jovial self, the atmosphere must be back to normal.

A moment after feeling his nerves calm, Randy smelled something off. Something … burning? “Okay buddy, have you been cooking again?” he joked with the pooch who just wagged his tail harder as his papa spoke his way. Hulk remained by his side as he tried to track down the location of the burning smell.

They enter the bedroom where the smell, along with a strong sensation of heat, hits Randy with a good amount of force. A quick scan of the room lead him to the steamer sitting next to the bathroom. The smell is emanating from the apparatus, as it is running.

“Mama left the steamer on, Hulk. Are we gonna give her shit about it tonight? I think we are!” he says to get Hulk all excited again. As Randy bends down to flip the switch, he notices it is already turned off. “The hell?” He flips it on and off a few times, but it continues to run. He studies the apparatus, and it is clear the tank is out of water, creating the burning smell. But why won’t it shut off? Quickly he reaches inside the bathroom and yanks the plug out of the wall, and the steamer shuts down.

Randy looks down at Hulk who lets out a small whine before turning his head toward the door and again back to his papa. “Let’s go for a walk, eh boy?”

¤

Maddie confirmed when she got home from work that she hadn’t used the steamer that morning. Randy tried to explain what he found in a way that sounded like he wasn’t concerned, but Maddie saw through him.

“The steamer is only six months old. There’s no way it’s broke already,” she said, after testing the switch multiple times. “I don’t get it, but I know you’ve got some ideas, mister. So spill it.”

“Not if it’s going to have us moving into a motel until we can unload the house,” replied Randy. “Because you aren’t going to want to hear this.” Maddie looked at her husband and let him speak. He not only admitted the dog’s behavior earlier in the day after the discovery of the burning steamer. But he went into full detail about the encounter they had the night before with the shadow in the hallway. A shadow Randy openly admitted to seeing in multiple spots. Maddie let him say his peace, and by the redness of his face and the sweating of his palms, it was clear he wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on her.

“So basically, there’s a fucking ghost in our house. I guess the real estate lady didn’t think that was a selling point she wanted on the marketing materials.” Maddie smiled, although Randy was unsure if she was blowing his story off or just trying to make the best of an obviously a mystifying situation. “Tell you what, babe. Why don’t you call her tomorrow? See what info you can get. See if there are historical records or something that we missed when we were researching.”

Randy nodded his head, as Hulk remained loyal and close by his side. An uncomfortable silence followed as neither could muster up the words.

It was Hulk and the hallway that moved the situation along. A few seconds of silence was soon followed by the family dog shooting his head back. His body slowly followed, and the low growl returned. Randy and Maddie watched their dog as he crouched into attack mode, but what caught their attention next was the sound of a doorknob turning. A doorknob in the hallway.

“What the fuck is that?” said Maddie who took a step back. Hulk’s growling ceased, but his focus remained, and he methodically stepped forward. Randy remained by his side. The sound had stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. As Randy and Hulk exited the bedroom, entering the hallway, they both turned to look at the closet door. They stared for a moment, not sure what to do next. Hulk soon went from standing on all fours ready to pounce to sitting down, relaxed. Randy saw this change, and the tension running through his body moved down and out through his toes.

The calmness lasted only a second when the doorknob again began violently turning on its own. Hulk sprung to action and threw himself at the closet door as Maddie let out a scream and Randy tripped over his feet when he tried to step backward. In less than a minute, the turning stopped again. Hulk was back to his calm self while Randy jumped back to his feet. He turned to look into the bedroom, and Maddie now had his baseball bat.

“Open that goddamn door. Whatever is in there is getting its head bashed in,” she said, staring forward with more intent in her eyes than her husband had ever seen. Randy froze in place at the sight of his now aggressive (and former star softball player) wife ready to take on whatever lurked in their hall closet.

“Are you sure?” was all he could spit out. She did not answer, but instead shot him another look as if to say open the fucking door, you pussy! Hulk also sensed how serious mama was, so he too backed away. Randy reached forward, extended his fingers, and meticulously wrapped them around the closet doorknob. It had already been a couple minutes since the last phantom turning, but he gripped the knob as tight as he could, looked at Maddie, put up three fingers, and counted them down to one before yanking the door open.

The dark hall closet sat tranquil. Bath towels on the middle shelf were nicely stacked and folded. The toiletries still sat in a basket on the top shelf. The vacuum cleaner remained folded in the corner where Maddie had placed it last weekend.

And a small, white 1966 Mustang Fastback matchbox car slowly rolled down the hardwood floor and out the doorway.

¤

Randy sat on the toilet in the bathroom within their bedroom, phone in hand as he tried to locate any information on the home. His bowels had been playing havoc on him all day, and he even left work early, telling his boss he had a stomach bug. Although there was some truth to that, Randy remained scared for Hulk. He was not fond of the idea that his dog was there alone having to deal with whatever ghost, spirit, specter, etc. roamed around that one area in the house.

His eyes travelled from his phone to the vintage matchbox car that had paid them a visit last night, as it sat on the bathroom sink next to him. Nobody knew what to make of the old toy, not even Hulk, who just sniffed it and walked away. Both Randy and Maddie were certain that nothing had been in the closet when they moved in. Maddie even recalled how she dusted each shelf clean before storing a single item inside. Yet here it was. Something that’s probably worth something in such pristine condition, although Randy hadn’t thought to check eBay.

Before he left work, he had been on the phone with Anna, the realtor who had sold them the home three years earlier. He didn’t want to openly say, hey lady, you forgot to mention the house was haunted, but he did want to see if she might be willing to divulge anything that may have been unintentionally (or intentionally) left out when she delivered her sales pitch. Unfortunately, all the prying and begging did no good, as Anna stuck to her original story. The owners were moving away, and they just wanted to get out from under a bad mortgage, no matter the cost. Randy could tell by her tone that Anna was hiding something, but it occurred that she was not about to budge on whatever information she was hiding.

His phone had been loading an old story while he stared at the car, and it finally finished. He had typed in his address along with the words “ghost” and “spirit.” What he dug up from the hundreds of stories that in no way had a connection to his search was something from 1979 entitled “Lady Returns to Old Neighborhood, Finds Childhood House Haunted” from a now defunct rag known as the San Diego Sentinel. He read the first vague paragraph when a pop up stopped him from going any further. Apparently this particular story could only be read if you paid $29.99 a month to subscribe to whatever website housed these old issues of what many online called the San Diego version of The National Enquirer. So while he normally wouldn’t have put much stock into this old article, he felt the need to at least try and find it, perhaps at the public library.

As Randy looked up the library’s hours, he heard Hulk begin barking, but this time he could tell he was not in the hallway, but rather at the front door. Someone had walked in from the outside. As Hulk’s barks turned to excited whines, Randy figured he knew the visitor.

Dad, is that you, he texted to his father. After a moment, he received a reply.

Yes, dropping off those boxes you wanted, replied John Chase. Ever since Randy moved away from home, his father had been trying to unload all of his stuff. So every once in a while, he’d bring a few things by and say “here’s that stuff you wanted,” knowing full well nobody had asked for anything.

Whatever you brought, just leave it by the door, replied Randy, who now felt the need to hurry through his business in the bathroom so he could go out and make small talk with his father.

As he finished up and washed his hands, the sound of Hulk growling and barking suddenly resonated throughout the entire house. A loud thump in the hallway soon followed. Randy shot out of the bathroom and out the bedroom door, where he found Hulk looking over Randy’s fallen father, who clutched his chest.

“Dad! Are you okay? Can you talk?” Randy fumbled for his phone and tried to remember the setting to actually make a call so he could get an ambulance.

“It…it…,” was all John could muster as he pointed at the closet door. Hulk had made his way back in front of the door, and Randy hardly noticed his dog, again in attack mode, ready to strike at anything that might come out.

An instant later, Randy had 9-1-1 on the line and explained the situation. Five minutes passed, and an ambulance made it to the house to take John Chase to the hospital. Randy and Hulk both stared down the hallway as the paramedics loaded him up and wheeled him out.

¤

Randy Chase has never been a fan of hospitals, not since he spent several days at one during his mom’s final days a couple years back. His mind had also stored the memory of a creepy old man at the hospital who had followed him around when he was a kid and they were at his grandfather’s bedside right before he had passed.

He texted Maddie on the way to the hospital but took his own car. His gut told him he would not be sitting around in the waiting room all day. This latest development had him convinced to figure out what the hell was happening in his house. Sure, his dad wasn’t exactly the poster child for good health, but before today there had been no signs of any heart issues. Randy was convinced at what caused the attack.

When Maddie arrived at the hospital, the doctor also made his way to find Randy. They had put John on some medication, and his heart was beating normal again. He wasn’t out of the woods, and they wanted to continue monitoring him for a while. The doctor threw around terms like coronary artery bypass, but Randy was clueless as to what any of it meant. Once it was determined that his father would be all right (at least for now), his focus returned to the cause of the heart attack.

After explaining the situation to Maddie, who had little to say after hearing what happened at their house, Randy told her to go home and watch over Hulk. He didn’t want the dog to be alone in that house. She didn’t hesitate to do as he wished. Randy would also head home eventually, but first he had to follow up on his research. His gut urged him to find that article, and after Maddie left and he confirmed that his father would likely be unconscious for several hours, he marched out of the emergency room and to his car. Ten minutes later, he was at the library.

¤

Randy hadn’t stepped foot inside this particular library since he was a kid. His first impression upon returning was not a good one. Homeless people lined up along the walls, and the inside of the building looked as if it hadn’t been renovated since the last time he was here.

He located the area that housed old newspapers and asked the librarian if they had issues of the San Diego Sentinel. The lady’s eyes grew wide at the request. Apparently very few people actually ask to see anything produced by that rag. But as luck would have it, they did still have old issues on file, and when Randy gave her the one in question, she produced it without hesitation.

“Now these are not ones you can check out. You must keep them in this area to read,” she said to him. Randy agreed not to steal the issue. He only wanted to read the one article, and it only took a few flips of the pages to find what he was after. A ghost story. A tale by a crazy lady claiming she witnessed an undead. The lady’s name was Janda Riesenberger, and as it turned out, the headline was misleading. Ms. Riesenberger did not use to live in his house. From what he could gather from the horribly written article, she lived somewhere else in the neighborhood. It did not go into much detail about the situation surrounding her claims, but her address sat front and center. Whether she lived there or not, the house where she claimed a ghost resided.

After jotting down the lady’s name, Randy did a quick internet search of the woman. She didn’t have the most common name, so it was likely that anything Google returned would be connected to the woman in the article. The search returned very little beyond that particular 1979 article, but it did give her current address, which turned out to be a nursing home about a half hour away.

A moment later, he ran from the library and back to his car. He would reach his next destination in 30 minutes.

¤

To Randy, Janda Riesenberger looked as if she could pass for 100 years old, although the orderly at the front said she had just turned 75. As he closed in on the woman sitting alone at the cafeteria table, he could sense why she looked much older. The strong smell of cigarettes almost knocked him over, and he wondered about the last time she had bathed. She saw him approaching and gave a half smile and welcomed him to sit down.

“You must be the one whose been looking for the kooky gal who saw the ghost in the house all those years ago, huh?” she said. Her smoky breath was overwhelming, but Randy hid the disgust.

“Yes ma’am. How did you know what …?”

“People off the street don’t have any other reason to see me. When the clowns in the scrubs tell me I got a visitor and it ain’t my nephew, I know what the topic of discussion will be. Please sit.” The lady was holding onto an unlit cigarette, and her wrist was shaking. Randy finally sat down across from her, ready to hear whatever she had to say. “I take it you live there now? How long’s it been for you?”

“My wife and I moved in about three years ago.” Janda nodded, and her face gave an I’m impressed look. “And recently, we’ve noticed some things. I don’t know how to describe them. But I found that old story, and I know it was a long time ago…”

“Do you really want to know what happened in that house? I mean the real story, not what that rag sheet cherry picked from what I really told them,” she interrupted. “Obviously you didn’t dig too far before you bought that place, or you woulda found me sooner, I would have told you this story, and you woulda gone 1000 miles north to buy your happy home. So here’s the deal. Was a chap named Jessie Elrod that lived in the home long before you. Like really long – maybe a year after the house was built back in the 60s. This crazy bastard used to live in that hallway closet. Parents claimed he would go in there on his own to play, but those of us who got to know this family knew better. They put him in there. I dunno if it was supposed to be punishment or just to get him out of the way, but that’s where he spent most of his time.” Janda lit up the cigarette, and sensing one of the orderlies was heading her way to chastise her, she waved her hand and gave him a dirty look.

“Now I don’t think the boy was gay, but he sure did want to come out of that closet. At least whenever I went over there. Which wasn’t often, mind you. I was just a young girl myself, maybe 21 or 22 when me and my friends rented the house next door. We didn’t stay too long, either. Something about the people didn’t jive with us.”

“He wanted to come out?” Randy finally got a word in.

“That’s what I said, kid. I heard him whimpering one time when I went there to borrow a bowl, or something. Hell I don’t remember. But his mom said he was playing some weird game with his favorite matchbox car and just wanted to be left alone. So I butt out.” The matchbox car comment made Randy’s skin crawl. He wanted to ask the car’s color, but he already knew. “You see, my room was against the wall that pointed straight at that house. So I could hear things. Wasn’t sure what I heard sometimes, but I had a hard time ignoring when it got loud. And it got loud a lot. My roommates didn’t want to get involved. They had heard from another neighbor about the parents locking him in there. Said he was a demon spawn who only feared two things – darkness and dogs.”

Randy’s eyes lit up and his heart raced. “Dogs?”

“Yessiree. Supposedly, young Jessie got bit by a dog when he was outside one day. Got so scared that he ran inside and hid in the closet. One story says that’s how the whole closet ordeal began. Take it you got a pooch that’s been noticing stuff?”

“That’s how this all began. He just started growling and barking at the damn hallway. Always monitors it. Even chased what I thought was a shadow into the closet, but when we checked, there was nothing inside.” Janda shook her head, smoked her cigarette, and remained silent for an uncomfortable moment.

“You keep the hallway dark, and you have a dog roaming his area. It’s no wonder he’s been stirred up. Anyway, he was there. Just hiding. That closet…that’s where his parents hid the body after they killed him. And it’s where his ghost hid after he murdered his mother. Or so the story goes.”

Randy’s jaw had dropped so much that he only realized his mouth gaped open when he began to taste the smoke surrounding Janda’s body. “Guess I never heard about people being murdered in the house. No wonder we got such a good deal.” Janda began to laugh before a violent cough took over. Randy couldn’t help but pull the top of his shirt over his mouth.

“I don’t think Jessie murdered her in the way you think. He just came out one night and scared her to death. I believe he had claimed that space as his own after he … how would I put it … crossed over? She was found a few days after she died. Her body was lying face down in the middle of the hallway. The smell brought the authorities to the house.” Randy again flinched. Visions of his father lying in the hospital bed only hours earlier burned into his brain. “This was also back in 1970, I think. Old folks dropped off in their homes regularly back then, so nobody thought much about it, I guess. And since her husband already died a couple years earlier, she was all alone. No other family, and no friends. Guess no one wanted to be friends with the crazy couple with the kid who lived in the hall closet.”

“Something’s not right,” Randy finally blurted out. “You said the parents murdered Jessie and hid him in the closet. They never went to jail for killing their own kid?”

“Never found the body. The parents claimed he ran away, and no one could prove otherwise. Always said the boy was a demon child, but I think he was just on that retarded spectrum, or whatever y’all call it today.”

Randy was already uneasy being around this woman, who clearly had some issues of her own. But he needed the information. And he needed to get back to the house where his wife, not to mention his dog, were waiting.

“I guess that means he never surfaced again after they said he ran away,” he spit out.

“Nosir. Although, and I wouldn’t recommend it, if you wanted to renovate that house, I’d stay away from tearing through the concrete in the basement. Again, just a rumor.” Janda took another long drag from her cigarette when the orderly returned.

“Now Ms. Riesenberger, I let you have one, but it’s time to put that out,” he said. Janda gave him another dirty look, but this time he did not budge. After a brief stare down, she crushed the butt on the table. She gave him a fake smile, he smiled back, and walked away.

“I was only a casual smoker until I visited that house years later. It never left me … that house and those people. Only living next door for a handful of months, I stayed connected to it. I would drive by from time to time, catch up with Wilma across the street who kept me up to date on the gossip. Then one day about 40 years ago, I saw the house up for sale. Mind you, after Mrs. Elrod died, the house was auctioned off, and a new owner had moved in. He sold it a few years later to the people who were now selling it. I guess Jessie made sure nobody stayed long. Curiosity got the better of me, and I took the 25 cent tour. Back then, you could just wander through a house for sale without all the hoopla they do today. I was by myself, so I went through every room. Went down that hallway. It gave me the chills. Then I saw him. His shadow was halfway in the closet, halfway out. I froze in place, and it began to come at me. I don’t know why, but that was when I decided to light up. Right there in the hallway. Next thing I knew, the shadow backed away. Backed right into the closet. My mind wanted to go open the closet door. My legs wouldn’t let me. I turned and ran out, and I haven’t been anywhere near that neighborhood again.”

“So… darkness, dogs, and smoke will scare it off.”

“Yeah. Wanna bum one for when you get back?” Janda lifted up her box of cigarettes and laughed again. Which again was followed by a coughing fit. Randy let her work through the phlegm until she was back to normal.

“I don’t really know much about ghosts. I mean, I’ve seen movies and heard stories about how to get rid of them. I’ve seen Poltergeist a jillion times…”

“This is no movie, kid. Ain’t no getting rid of Jessie Elrod. Sounds like he was at bay quite a while before you all agitated him out of that closet. Now he’s gonna do what he done to everyone else. He’s gonna make you leave, one way or another.”

Randy stared past Janda. He focused on a cracked window several yards ahead. The more he heard, the more he was scared. But the anger began to rise. His father was already lying in the hospital in critical condition after no doubt encountering Jessie Elrod in the hallway of his son’s house. But Maddie and Hulk were still there.

“I guess I have no choice,” Randy said to nobody in particular.

“Well, you could stay until Jessie drives you insane. Look kid, for the first two decades of my life, I didn’t believe in ghosts. But I believe what I saw. And I know you do too. Don’t think it can’t get worse. There’s a reason nobody ever stays long in that house.” With that final statement, Janda simply stood up and walked away, leaving Randy sitting alone at the table. He remained for a few moments, trying to capture his thoughts. Then he pulled out his phone and dialed Maddie. She picked up immediately.

“When are you coming home?” was the first thing that came from the other end. “Hulk is really starting to act strange again. He’s been right inside the doorway of our room growling and barking at the hallway. I watched him, Randy. I watched the dog’s eyes follow the length of the hallway before stopping at the closet door.”

“Get out of there,” he replied. “Grab Hulk and get out of there. Meet me back at the hospital, and we’ll figure out where to go from there.” He hung up and headed out of the nursing home. And while he intended to meet his wife (and dog) back at the hospital, there was one more stop he had to make.

¤

Janda’s story burned into his brain. The dog, the matchbox car, the fact that Jessie Elrod’s remains may be buried under his basement, and his ghost likes to wander the hallway. He also remembered what she said near the end of their conversation: I didn’t believe in ghosts. But I believe what I saw. And I know you do too.

“I know you do too,” he repeated. “Yes, Ms. Riesenberger, indeed I do.” As the evening has shown itself over the sky, Randy pulled into his driveway. What had already been a long day was about to drag longer.

Maddie’s car still sat in the driveway.

“Shit,” was all he could muster as he raced from the car and to the front door. After seeing what Jessie Elrod had done to his father, true fear and terror struck him as to what he has now enacted to Maddie and Hulk. He fumbled for the keys, and when he finally got the door unlocked, he heard a familiar bark. Hulk ran his way as he opened the door. “There’s my boy!” he screamed, never happier to see his pup. Maddie then emerged from the living room. Every light in the house appeared to be on.

“He wouldn’t let us leave. I tried to get the leash on him, but he wouldn’t budge from that spot in our bedroom,” she said. “He didn’t move until he heard your keys. Why do you think he was there?”

Randy let out another sigh of relief as he switched off the hallway light. “I think I know,” he then said. As the trio turned their focus to the hallway, Maddie and Randy observed what appeared to be handprints glowing on the walls. They moved upward to the ceiling and even crossed over to the other side. Maddie went for the light but was stopped. “Not yet.” Randy pulled out a candle from the hall closet and lit it, waiting for the smoke to develop. He then hoisted up Hulk in his other arm and walked the hallway, holding the smoking candle in front of them. The dog remained alert but was not growling.

As the three walked into the bedroom, Randy put the dog down and blew out the candle. More smoke rose from the burnt wick as he handed it to Maddie and motioned at her to keep it pointed at the closet. He proceeded into the bathroom and retrieved the little white matchbox car. “I think he wanted this back. And Hulk wasn’t going to let him into the room.”

“What do you mean? What did you find out?”

“I’ll tell you in the car. Let’s just go back to the hospital.” Randy led the way as Maddie and Hulk followed. The dog was no longer determined to guard the room. “We can stay at my dad’s place tonight, and as long as he’s in the hospital.”

“So, we’re not coming back?” Maddie sounded relieved.

“Only to get our shit and get the hell out. Oh, and we’re going to leave a shitty Yelp review for our realtor. Pretty sure she knew all about this.” The three had convened at the end of the hallway but had not yet made it to the front door. Maddie watched Randy as he continued to twiddle the little car in his fingers.

“What are you going to do with that?” she said. Randy inspected the hallway, and Hulk’s growl returned. They looked up to see the shadow emerging from the closet.

Randy went to one knee, placed the car on the floor, and rolled it down the hallway. As it closed in on the specter of Jessie Elrod, he backed away. Eventually he disappeared.

And so did the car.

¤

John would have to stay a few days in the hospital. He would not require surgery but would need to be closely monitored for several weeks. So that at least gave Randy, Maddie, and Hulk some time to figure out their next move. Randy had called Anna and told them they were selling the house. “Normally if someone withholds information the way you did, I wouldn’t give you back my business. But I don’t want any other realtor to deal with this house. This is your problem,” he said to her over the phone after telling her about the “issues” in the hallway. He didn’t come right out and say ghosts, but he knew that she knew. Anna offered to find them something else, but Randy declined. “I think we’re just going to rent for a while,” was his final statement to her.

They found an apartment in no time, but there was still the predicament of cleaning out the house. John reluctantly allowed Randy to bring some of his stuff back to his place on the promise that he would have a massive yard sale (at John’s place, of course) as soon as they were settled. Getting the stuff ended up being an easier chore. They placed a line of candles on a table and put it at the foot of the closet door while they unloaded everything from the bedroom, bathrooms, and the den.

Jessie Elrod remained calm for the entire move. And they didn’t see him at any point when they emptied the rest of the house. Randy didn’t expect to see him, anyway.

After all, Jessie got what he wanted.

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Eric Woods resides in Springfield, Illinois and has been writing since grade school. The author of 10 full length stage plays, his first novel PUMMELED was published in June of 2018. He is in the process of finishing his second novel, the horror story DRAGON’S BLOOD which is scheduled for release in October 2019. Eric has been a local freelance writer since 2005, writing for such outlets as Springfield Business Journal Illinois and SO Magazine. He serves as a tour guide for the Lincoln Ghost Walk in Springfield and was a collegiate speech and debate coach for seven years. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in Communication from the University of Illinois Springfield.

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