The house was haunted, or so she had been told. Being something of a natural doubter, Lara had trouble believing the rumors. It wasn't that the house wasn't spooky – the crumbling brick façade and ivy-covered exterior gave it the classic appearance any haunted place should have – but she knew better than to judge by appearance alone. Matters like this required investigation, exploration. Unfortunately, no one else was as keen to disprove the rumors as she was. She was going in alone.

"They say a witch lived there. They say she killed all the children in the village. The villagers burned her. Now she haunts the house, seeking her revenge."

"Who says?"

A shrug. "They do."

Lara shook her head. "Only a child would believe something ridiculous like that."

"It's not ridiculous! People used to kill each other all the time. They still do, as a matter of fact."

"Murder I can believe. Ghosts and witches?" She shook her head again. "I'll see you in the morning."

"I hope."

Lara snorted; adjusted her backpack, trying to stop the straps from continuing their archeological dig into her shoulders. It was heavy. But then, so were food, blankets, flashlights and batteries. She had plenty of each. She had her Swiss Army knife, the one her father had given her years ago. She had a camping lantern, she had hiking boots. Her cell phone was in her left jeans pocket. They all seemed silly precautions for a night in an old house, but she was a doubter, not stupid. She may not have believed in ghosts, but she did believe in things like hunger, cold, and dead batteries.

The house loomed before her in the twilight, every rusted fence post and crumbled stone looking like a threat. The gate screeched like a banshee when she pushed it open, and she had to hold back a shudder. Eyes still watched from the sidewalk, and she didn't want to show weakness. Pebbles crunched under her boots as she strode up the front path. Dead leaves whispered in the night breeze. She could hear her own heartbeat in her ears, speeding up despite herself. When her fingers closed over the cold metal of the doorknob, she felt her first pang of fear. Choking it down, she turned to give a final wave to her friend, still watching from the sidewalk. They waved back, tugging the hood of their fall parka forward against the chill. She turned back, took a deep breath, turned the knob.

This was it.