Spring 2021, Volume 30

Fiction by Zeke Jarvis

Breaking and Entering

The door looks like any door on any unit in any mid-tier subdivision. It’s dark brown with a gold handle. The siding matches the siding of all of the other units. This particular unit has grass (a bit overgrown), and no flowers. It looks like whatever family lives there has been on vacation for a few weeks. Certainly, the state of the grass alone does not suggest a terrible past.

The back of the house also fails to suggest any type of haunting or terror, though there is some clear disrepair. It’s one of the broken window frames that lets the first teen sneak in. He’s able to jiggle the window open, and the frame is bent enough that he can slide the screen up as well. From there, it takes only a bit of climbing to get inside. He looks around a bit, to make sure that there really is nobody inside, though he knows that nobody is. The teen then goes to the back door, where he opens it for the other teens to get in. They’re laughing but also trying to at least do so quietly.

They look around for a while. While they have some excitement about seeing the basement, they also are nervous, so they’re not exactly hurrying. Part of their nervousness is a vague sense that there might be some threat that could hurt them. Ironically, some of them also have a sense of unease that they’ll find nothing in the basement. Or that what they would find would be disappointment only. No hint of any torture chamber at all. And, finally, they are nervous that, as they walk down the stairs, they’ll find that they cannot continue. They’ll show cowardice and have to leave, to the mockery of their friends, no doubt.

So, before they go down, they stall by looking around the first floor. There’s the kitchen. The cabinets have nearly the same dark shade of brown that the front door did. One of the teens (a boy, but not the one who snuck through the window) opens the cabinets. There are a few things left, a couple of bowls and some plastic cups. The teens pass them back and forth. One wears a bowl as a hat, another pretends to eat from it. A third pretends to defecate into it. After they finish with the bowl, they look around elsewhere in the first floor. One of them actually does urinate into the toilet. After flushing, the teen declares, “Still works.” The rest of them all laugh. Downstairs, the ghosts can hear the toilet running, but what can they do?

The teens trade rumors about what was supposed to have happened in the basement. They try to outdo each other, first in level of detail (one tries to recite the names of all the victims, getting all but one wrong; luckily, the ghosts cannot hear this part), and then in level of cruelty that they claim to know. But one goes too far, suggesting superhuman strength, and the rest declare the game over. They toss things at each other. They laugh and ridicule each other for a bit. This ribbing ends eventually, and they’re once again faced with the task they came in to accomplish. They need to go into the basement.

It is not the teen who went through the window who is first to go into the basement. Instead, it’s the one who pretended to defecate into the bowl. He opens the basement door and looks into the darkness. The teen turns back to look at his friends. Some of them are looking beyond him; a couple of them are making a point of avoiding eye contact. The teen who opened the basement door now flips on the light. Even with the light on, the basement looks dim and yellow. The teen tries to keep his breathing even and his heart from racing. When the light went on, the ghosts retreated to the corners. Visitors aren’t dangerous to them, but they are upsetting.

As the first teen starts to go down the steps, the others stay very close behind him. They giggle, but louder than they did going into the house. The neighbors might hear them, but that doesn’t seem realistic to them at the moment, and, if they did, maybe they’d attribute it to the ghosts. Though, in all honesty, the teens aren’t really thinking that far ahead. All they’re thinking about is the basement and the ghosts that they assume that they’ll feel when they reach the bottom of the steps. As they do reach the bottom, they pause, not quite stepping onto the basement. After they pause for a moment, one of the teens says, “Boo,” and grabs the teen to his left. That teen shrieks, and this leads to a general outburst of shrieking, followed by shushing. It would be hard to say whether the shushing was for the benefit of the neighbors or the ghosts that these teens imagine to be floating just beyond their perception. The ghosts are not amused. The reason why the teens can’t see the ghosts, can’t even feel a coldness from their presence, is because their vision of what happened in the basement is so far from the actual events that the ghosts would be unrecognizable to them if they did see.

The first teen finally takes a step onto the carpet. He stops for a moment, puts his hands back towards the others. They touch his forearm, his shoulder. “Shhh…” he says, and they are quiet so they can listen. Of course, they don’t hear anything, but none of them want to admit it. Or, maybe it’s that they want so much to be part of the haunting that they create their own ghosts. Either way, one of the teens near the front of the line says, “I think I hear one.” The ghosts that are actually there are wishing that the teens would just leave.

Another of the teens says, “I think I hear it too. Like a high-pitched kind of whine or something?”

The other teen says, “Yeah, that’s it.”

The teens start to whisper to each other. They take turns shushing each other, making noises, and then laughing or pushing each other. After a while, they all walk around in the basement. They act out the terrible acts that they’ve heard about, pretending to choke each other, to whip each other. One goes down to the ground, slowly. The rest of them gather around. They pretend to poke or chop at the one on the ground. The ghosts can’t watch After a bit, the teen on the ground sits up. “Can you imagine? What it was like to have to suffer like this?”

The ghosts can hear all of this. Though they don’t look directly, they can’t keep from hearing it. If they were to put their hands over their ears, it would make no difference, because their hands are insubstantial. And there’s no point in the ghosts trying to do anything, because they can’t be heard or seen. The teens are silent for a moment, trying to be respectful, though only to their own visions of what happened. The teens wouldn’t know how to be respectful to the actual ghosts. One of the standing teens helps the one on the ground to get up. They poke around the basement just a bit more, each of them taking something as a souvenir. A screwdriver, a bracelet, a single nail. The ghosts know the stories behind these objects, but what can they do? The teens leave the house, careful not to be caught. They return to one of their homes, get mildly drunk. As drunk as they can with what alcohol they can pilfer from their parents.

The ghosts stay in the house, in the basement, of course. The teens keep their souvenirs for a bit, showing other teens and telling stories. They lose the objects eventually, or at least lose the memories that would help them put these items into their proper context. And the ghosts can’t quite see where the objects ended up. They can only feel their absence and a deep resentment towards the teens who took them so thoughtlessly.




BIO: Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Moon City Review, Posit, and KNOCK, among other places. His books include, So Anyway..., In A Family Way, The Three of Them, and Antisocial Norms.