It was a crisp, autumn night after a rainy day. The sun was just about to set when Jacqueline and her friends left the country-rock concert their college campus had put on for their students. It wasn't a particularly great concert but it was something to do on a Friday night on a small campus such as St. Lucille's University. Their energy levels were still high and no one wanted to split ways and head back to their respective dorm rooms. Instead they wandered on the campus for a bit, kicking at the freshly fallen leaves and enjoying the peace of the night. Their wandering legs took them down the path that lie adjacent to the small forest preserve. It was a nice path with dark brown wood chips, still wet from the rainfall, and a line of somewhat big rocks to mark the boundary between path and dirt. As they walked, they talked about their plans for the weekend and tried to figure out what they should each dress as for Halloween in a couple of weeks.
One of the boys, James, suggested that they explore the forest. After all, it was growing dark and they only had their phones for light so what could go wrong. So they turned onto the forest path and began to take a look around. Jacqueline couldn't believe they hadn't yet poked around in this forest that they so often walked past. Calum especially with his head full of crazy ideas should've thought of this before. But maybe he had explored on his own.
The path lead them further in, where even the magnificent red and orange hues of the sunset illuminating the remaining clouds did not provide adequate light. They pulled out their phones and cranked up the brightness.
Jacqueline tread carefully on the path and frequently darted a short distance into the forest to snap pictures of the flowers and various other plants in the dark. Levi kept sighing overdramatically whenever her flash on her phone went off and blinded him as he inevitably kept glancing her direction as soon as she took the picture. It didn't really bother him, most things just rolled off his thick skin, so James took the opportunity to bug his friend by taking a picture of his face. Really close. Levi swatted at the phone and they chased each other around the trees for a few minutes while they both laughed.
After a short distance, they could make out the shape of an old house in front of them. Aside from the obvious age of the house, nothing seemed special. It was not particularly decrepit but the slight tilt and the glassless windows were a sure sign that there had been no permanent inhabitants for a while.
"Hey, guys, wanna see if we can look around inside the house?" Logan suggested with a sly smile. Since he wasn't usually one to pull any pranks or get himself into trouble like Calum or James, no one stopped to think about why this could be a very bad idea. Well, no one except Claire.
"That house is incredibly old," she argued. "The architectural standards were not what they are today, those floors are likely warped and have been eaten by all manner of woodland pests. We could fall through at any point and break a bone or two." The boys, having had a total of twelve broken bones between them, rolled their eyes. "Not to mention, there could be surveillance video in this preserve and we would get caught. This is not a good idea."
"Hey, girl." Levi put his hands on her shoulders and looked her directly in the face. "You need to stop thinking that everything is going to be dangerous. Just chill." He mimed this last suggestion like the true Californian with a bit of Midwestern sarcasm bleeding through. "We should totally explore the house, babe. You can hold my hand the whole time if it makes you feel better."
"I'm going to walk as far away from all of you as possible," she countered. "And you, mister, will go first. Just to make sure your girl here doesn't fall into the arms of a skeleton waiting beneath the old floors."
"Glad that's settled then." James said with a grin on his face. "Shall we?" He extended his arm and Calum slipped his own through.
"Allons-y!" They nodded in unison and began skipping toward the house, the pair of mischief-makers that they were, singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" too loud and very purposefully off-key.
James turned the glass knob on the wooden storm door. Disappointingly, it did not creak as the opened it.
"Well I guess we aren't the only ones who have decided to walk into the house," Jacqueline commented as she gingerly stepped over the threshold.
"It could mean we aren't alone," James added in a poor attempt on a spooky voice. Levi punched him on the arm and told him that was a stupid voice. A playful game of "hit you last" then erupted between them and they proceeded to chase each other up the stairs to the left. The rest of them continued, in a more civilized manner, to explore the house. The first thing they were met with, as they walked in the solid wood door, was a long hallway with lower than normal ceilings. To the right was an empty room with wood floors and lots of dust. Claire had poked her head in here and immediately started to sneeze. Walking down the hall there were old, faded, oil paintings of the stone-faced family members.
"This one looks like you Calum," Logan said, pointing at one of a young man in a bowler hat and scarf wrapped loosely around his neck.
"Nothing like me," Calum retorted. "I have a much better fashion sense than this old man." The others snorted at this.
"I doubt what you wear will ever be considered fashionable." Claire looked disdainfully upon his light blue scarf, pastel green pants, light pink striped shirt, blue jacket, and purple hipster glasses. "And don't even try to tell me that you are embracing your Scottish heritage. Go find a kilt and a huge fur coat to wear while you plant potatoes and get nasty with sheep."
"Oh burn!" James yelled down from upstairs.
Behind the faded doors were more derelict rooms with cracked mirrors, moth-eaten furniture, and cigarette butts from teens who had found the house to be a good hideout for an illegal smoke. At the end of the hallway there was a spiral staircase leading down into the cellar.
"Levi! James! Get your butts back here!" Calum called to the boys who then ran downstairs, still trying to avoid each other's slaps. "We're heading to the basement."
"Are you sure?" Jacqueline asked, suddenly a bit wary now that the sky was beginning to darken. "Won't it be dark?"
"Well there were some candles on the mantle place back in the front room," Claire remembered. "I can go grab those." Logan snapped his fingers with a smile.
"Nice. We'll see if there are any matches here in the kitchen." They all looked through the drawers and cabinets for any method of lighting one of the candles.
"Wait, I think I saw some upstairs." Levi ran back up the square staircase two by two and slid back down the bannister with a bic lighter in hand. "It's not matches but I don't think it should be an issue." He flicked the lighter and thankfully a flame burst into being. Logan handed over one of the candles to light. Leading the way, he began walking down the stairs. Since the kitchen was across the hall from the stairs, the cold storage lines the stairs on the way down. Old cans with faded labels for soup, beans, and mystery food filled the walls.
"I dare you to eat that one," James whispered to Calum.
"Which one? The magic beans of mass destruction or the mysterious potion to turn me into a wolf?"
"Both." They grinned in unison and continued down. At the bottom of the stairs, they found a wine cellar that had long since been raided. "Dude, I hate being the last ones to find a new bar. They seem to be out of stock." The basement had stone floors with a collection of throw rugs scattered about.
"It looks like some old hippies had the intention of coming back here." Jacqueline shook out one of the more colorful rugs and laid it back on the ground. "Though maybe not for a while." Logan had walked across the room to a shelf with enough candelabras for sufficient light. He grabbed two and brought them over to Calum to light.
"Nice thinking bro." With the addition of the extra light they could see that the basement was, well, a pretty boring basement. Rusted pipes along the walls and a few weeds poking up through the cracks in between the stone floor. More old paintings and what looked like some wooden blocks for children to play with on one shelf. The only thing to sit on seemed to be a few huge throw pillows that had hand stitched patterns and looked vaguely Native American. Probably bought at some local garage sale. They were just beginning to get bored with this house when Calum had an idea. "Does anyone have any good scary stories to tell?" The friends turned to look at him. A few tentative grins spread across their features.
"We can all sit on the huge pillows and form a circle on the ground around the candles," Claire proposed and grabbed the biggest one with a heart pattern for her and Levi to sit together on. James and Calum grabbed a colorful, crazy looking one to share leaving Jacqueline and Logan to sit by themselves on the two slightly smaller ones that were left.
"Who's going first?"
"I've got one," Jacqueline raised her hand.
"We aren't in class," Logan joked. "Go ahead."
"Okay, here goes." She took a deep breath. "Once upon a time-"
"You can't start a spooky story with 'once upon a time' numbskull," Calum interrupted.
"It's my story, I can do what I want with it" she shot back. "Once upon a time," she narrowed her eyes, daring anyone else to protest. "There was a zoo. Located in Seattle, the zoo is called Eigenpark Zoo. It's within walking distance of the Space Needle so if you bring binoculars you can see all the animals inside the zoo from the top and you don't even need to pay admission. Nonetheless, it is still a very popular zoo. This is because it is a magical zoo."