Warnings: Potty mouths, unlawful acts, conspiracies, and some scary stuff that I probably don't depict correctly but will attempt to anyway.

The Nimbus House

Chapter One: Never Trust a Flashlight

Ivy Catalone drummed her fingers lightly on the keys to her computer, frowning pensively. All around her were the pristine white pages of Mrs. Dean's latest computer assignment, and her own screen of schizophrenically organized Wikipedia shone bravely. Ivy's drumming was starting to get annoyed looks actually, and since she didn't trust her popularity among her fellow students that far, she folded her hands in her lap and chewed on her lip. The faint beats of hard rock drifted by her left ear, and Ivy quickly snapped her arm behind her, snagging on the elbow of a vaguely warm, solid object which grunted an indignant 'hey!' at her.

"Good timing, Stan," the brunette praised, scanning hazel eyes over the Wiki page once more.

"What now?" Her victim grumbled, having temporarily switched off his music, retrieving one of his earpieces and giving her a look that made lesser tenth graders cower. Ivy ignored it.

"If the house is deserted, is breaking and entering still a felony?" She inquired with perfect seriousness. Stan's eyebrows rose slowly and then snapped down into a more characteristic frown.

"It's illegal."

"Not what I asked," his friend replied smartly, relinquishing his arm when he yanked on it. "Don't you know?"

"You should be a lawyer, Ivy," he retorted without any real menace. "You'll save some poor sucker a lot of trouble with your 'past experiences'."

"You don't know do you?" Ivy accused, returning his stern expression as she wheeled away from the computer screen. "Aren't you a human encyclopedia?"

"Remember your medication in mornings. It's important." Stan patted her on the head before jamming his headphones back into place and shuffling away.

"Hypocrite," Ivy said, not totally off the mark. There had once been a time where Stan was the wild one and Ivy a mere voice of reason. Stan gave no indication of having heard. "I'm just trying to learn! And anyway, how am I supposed to keep from breaking the law, if I don't know it? All this crap never goes into the specifics!"

Stan pulled out one of his earphones again, leveling an imperious finger at her. "Leave the Nimbus House alone."

Ivy spluttered. "I—I never said it was… the Nimbus House…" But Stan's attention was already back on the demolition of his eardrums and Ivy was once more left to her own devices. Knowing the youngest Catalone, this was never a wise position to leave her in, but for the moment, her eyes just took on a thoughtful light and she clicked out of Wikipedia to take on the actual assignment. Unfortunately, a pleasantly boring peace has never been a particularly long-lived breed of timeframe, and Friday evening saw Ivy checking over her inventory.

Crowbar for the loose window Brian told her about? Check.

Handmade lock pick in case Brian turned out to be a total dweeb? Check.

Flashlight for windowless rooms or closets? Check.

Camera for authenticity? Check.

Trail mix for obvious reasons? More or less. Mostly less. There would be a pressing need for another bag after inventory was taken. Whatever. Check.

Bag for inventory and/or souvenirs? Check.

Alibi?

"Grandma?" Ivy poked her braided head around the corner to where her Grandmother sat in front of the television, apparently watching Pride and Prejudice, knitting a ski cap, and reading the newspaper at the same time. Her efforts got her a vague nod, so Ivy pressed on optimistically. "Can I go over to Stan's? I'm going to go hang out with Lizzy. We'll, uh, curl each other's hair or something."

"Stan?" Her grandmother blinked owlishly at her for a moment, before her eyes resumed their dance. "That young man from your class who cut his hair recently?" Without waiting for Ivy to answer she blundered on. "He's become such an upstanding young man recently. It's amazing how a hoodlum like that boy can blossom into an upstanding young man."

Ivy tried not to scowl. "Does that mean I can go?"

"You must concern yourself with your safety," her grandmother scolded mildly, and Ivy's eyes rolled skyward. "Although I find Stan much improved, he is still a young man, and as a young lady, you must protect yourself…"

"Grandma, I'm going with Lizzy. The one who made him all upstanding." Ivy's mouth tightened. "I hardly think my maidenly honor is going to be in danger, OK? And my homework's done, and I did the dishes, and if you don't let me go, I'm going to sneak out the window."

Ivy couldn't be sure, but it looked like her grandmother sighed. "Be back before five," the old woman stipulated, and Ivy ducked back into her room, pleased. A check for the alibi. She quickly shouldered her back, scooped up a bag of trail mix on the way out, and was outside the confines of her house in a heartbeat. She inhaled warm autumn air with a grin, and started down the street with one destination in mind: the Nimbus House.

The Nimbus House had been empty for as long as anyone could remember. There were a few old folks who claimed that they had once seen Amber and Ford Nimbus move into it way back when, but that was mostly dismissed as a plea to up their street cred (the fact that this was usually followed by an infamous 'back in my day' didn't help matters much). The old house was broken down and creepy, with the appearance of the quintessential storybook haunted house—one of those 'it is a miracle I'm still standing' houses with rotting wood paneling and boarded up windows. The real estate agencies had long since given up on trying to sell such a decrepit lot and it was anyone's guess as to why the place hadn't been torn down. Ivy figured that at this point the Nimbus house was basically public property.

Sneaking into a haunted house was exciting enough, but what really caught Ivy's attention (besides the fact that it was an unlawful act, and she had a certain predilection towards those) was how no one had ever managed to explore it successfully. Thomas Elbano had fought and struggled with the front door for hours, a group of delinquent friends cheering him on, and been unable to make the creaky wood budge. A bunch of Erica the Bitch's friends had tried climbing up to the balcony by a tree, and the branch had snapped under them, causing four broken ankles and firmly ensuring they would at least consider their common sense in future endeavors. Most recently Brian Greenley had broken in—successfully—only to wander out the front with no explanation and prove unable to open the window or the door again. Even Stan had tried at one point. Almost everyone did. It was a Maribeth rite of passage to try and break into the Nimbus House at least once before college. And yet there were no real tales of success.

Ivy was firmly convinced that the house was really haunted, and that she would be the first to prove it, hence the camera. Although not a superstitious person by nature, she did have a very overactive imagination and the weird events surrounding the Nimbus House had already convinced the rest of the town that it was haunted, even if they were somewhat less vocal in their views than Ivy. Ivy couldn't wait to meet a real life ghost. She wondered what they'd look like or sound like. She wondered if they'd tell her gruesome stories of their untimely deaths. She wondered if they'd try to kill her, and whether or not they'd succeed. She wondered if they would try to take her camera (which she'd repeatedly dipped in a weird-smelling mix of garlic, rosemary, and patchouli oil the internet had told her would ward off ghosts) and whether or not they'd succeed.

She grinned, practically skipping down the street.

The Nimbus House loomed up at the end of the block, set apart from the rest of the houses like they'd all gotten wary of it and skittered a few feet back. The lawn was mostly weeds, largely overgrown, and peppered with lawn gnomes and plastic flamingos via pranksters with no ambition. Ivy shaded her eyes and looked up at the tall, foreboding structure. It's topmost spire just blocked out the sun, turning it into a wall of shadow. Wind whistled along its sides and moaned quietly from within, completing its utter perfection in Ivy's eyes.

"You," she told the house, giving it a level look, "I am to break into. And I am going to come back out. With proof..." She paused, not sure of what kind of proof she would be looking for. "…Of something," she decided, and then crossed the lawn. The brittle grass crunched and collapsed under her feet like tiny brown bones, not sending up the usual shower of displaced bugs, but as silent and dead as the house itself. Ivy paused to take a commemorative photo and then continued on her way, parting petrified shrubbery to find Brian's mysterious window. Like all the windows of the house it was broken, but this one was too small to crawl through with the frame in the way.

Ivy set down her pack and examined the window carefully. Brian had told her there was some kind of latch he'd gotten open, but never replaced, so by all rights, it should still be unhinged, unless someone had put it back. Her fingers skimmed lightly over the splintery wood, at first seeing nothing, but as she looked over it again, there it was, gleaming and silver. Ivy knelt down to get a better look, and was surprised by its condition—the house was falling apart at the seams, but the latch, although fancy and old-fashioned, seemed to have been polished just yesterday. And, as Brian had suspected, someone had slid it back into place.

Ivy slipped it out of its lock out of its place, wondering why it was on the outside of the house and why the homeowner's association needed to be so uptight about EVERYTHING. The latch clicked softly when she removed it, followed by a much louder noise from within, almost like the sound of a church bell. The noise reverberated for a moment, Ivy listening with bated breath, and then fell to silence that didn't really seem to be silence. For a moment it felt like if Ivy closed her eyes, she'd hear the house whispering to her, telling the most fantastic of stories.

Eagerly, Ivy tugged the window open with only a little resistance, tossed her pack in, and then slithered in herself. It was a difficult fit for her (for a moment there was a rare flash of sympathy towards Brian), but she made it with a minimum of torn clothes or skinned knees. The floor also didn't give out under her like policemen were always telling them would happen in broken down places like the Nimbus House, which was something of a relief. Ivy wasn't scared to risk her life, mostly because she got the feeling that she wasn't risking all that much, but she figured everyone would be happier in the long run if she didn't die a horrible death.

The window cast a faint, dusty light in the pitch black of the room, hardly enough to see by, and so Ivy spent a dark, hurried moment trying to locate her flashlight. She couldn't seem to find the stupid thing. Every time she did, it just seemed to be the tin of trail mix. She was about to head back out through the window, cursing herself for leaving behind the flashlight, when she felt something on her arm. Ivy froze, breath caught in her chest, but it was gone in a flash, without really stopping touching her. There was no sensation of movement away or contact being broken—it was just gone. Ivy blinked into the darkness, wondering if she'd lost her mind, trying to ignore the sudden tingles shooting all the way up to her shoulder. Finally she found the flashlight and cast it around the room.

It was in horrible, shudder-worthy disarray. Mutilated furniture had apparently been thrown around the room in the mother of all temper tantrums. Mothballs, cobwebs, and dropping from things Ivy probably didn't want to think about littered the floor along with sofa stuffing, broken chair legs, and shredded remains of curtains or books. The floor was riddled with holes, some of which looked natural, others of which were jagged, as though someone had punched through the floor. The door to the room hung halfway off of its hinges. The chandelier lay a few feet away from where Ivy was sitting.

"Holy shit," Ivy squeaked, because it was really start talking to herself or start climbing back out the window. "What the hell happened here?" For a moment she was sure Brian had to have done it, and then she remembered that Brian was the world's biggest loser and couldn't have done more than tripped over his own shoes and crashed his head through the floor. "What, the Nimbuses did this?" She looked around again, trying to imagine what the room was supposed to have looked like, or what its function had been. She caught sight of several knifelike slashes in the wall, leaving wallpaper curling up around them like waves. They almost looked like drawings, or maybe some bizarre alphabet she didn't know.

Ivy shuddered, scooting away from them. The rest of the room was freaky, but those symbols gave her the sort of bad feeling that sat like a rock in the bottom of her stomach. She could feel her nerves failing at the sight of such unexpected violence. She set her flashlight up almost like a campfire, and quietly munched on trail mix, letting herself acclimatize. Ivy Catalone was the farthest thing from a coward, but she hadn't imagined this much outside of her more gruesome fantasies. She wasn't turning back, but she needed a moment to breathe in the musty, sour air and to take in the brutalized house around her. She got that feeling that the house could speak again, and swiftly put it out of mind. She got the feeling she really didn't want to hear what it had to say.

"Well," she said, quieter now that she wasn't talking herself out of a panic and was just working up her courage a bit, because it was taking its sweet time. "Looks like it's just us two, eh? You're a beauty, for sure." Remembering her camera suddenly, she took several quick snapshots, pretending to forget the symbols on the wall and setting her camera down again. "I'm Ivy Catalone. I'm sure we'll get along fantastically!" She flourished her hand in pantomimed handshake, before returning to the serious matter of trail mix. "I'm going to be the first person to get you the attention you deserve, so make sure you show me all the skeletons in your closet. And," she added, grinning at her own joke, "I mean that quite literally."

She jumped a bit when the house creaked dangerously, the whole room around her seeming to shift and groan like it was about to snap to pieces, louder than she'd ever heard. Must be the wind, Ivy told herself, marveling at the sound at the same time as she huddled into a tighter crouch, hoping earnestly that the ceiling was not about to collapse. The fact that the creaking wood was getting louder and louder wasn't helping. She decided that maybe now wouldn't be the best time to get all her pictures, and turned towards the window, but instead her eyes fell on the symbols on the wall.

Inexplicable dread filled her up, and Ivy tried to look away, but she didn't seem to be able to do anything more than blink. The caterwauling around her was getting louder and louder and now it sounded suspiciously like there were voices in its midst, whispering furiously, loudly enough to make her bones vibrate. Ivy closed her eyes just so she didn't have to keep staring at those symbols, and her blood ran cold as someone said above the whispering and shrieking of the house very, very clearly:

"…Ivy…"

And then the flashlight went out.

A/N: So this is rather suspenseful... I won't tell you what becomes of Ivy, but I've already written two subsequent chapters, so the more you review this, the more you find out what happens next... Seriously, though, any feedback is helpful. Like it? Hate it? Want to poke fun at my grammar? I am up for any of this. Throw me a bone, please?