An Old Soul

An Old Soul

An Old Soul (Horror) written by Grant Kauffman

My uncle Tate—I love him, definitely my favorite relative—and his wife Patricia always tell me what an old soul I am, far more mature than the fifteen-year-old body I occupy. Usually I wouldn’t give such talk much thought, partly because I’m used to hearing compliments, but mainly because it’s just not what dudes my age think about. We’re all about video games, sports, and girls, in that order. I don’t care what any teen expert says, I will take Black Ops over bubble-gum-chewing, lip-gloss-wearing girls any day of the week, no matter how hot they are. I guess I value my alone time too much (probably that old soul thing again). However, lately I’ve been feeling different, like I’m searching for a deeper meaning in my life, contemplating my next big achievement. Let me see if I can get you to understand.

Uncle Tate is right about one thing: I’m an overachiever. I have accomplished a lot in my short life, more than the majority of my peers. I’ve experienced academic and athletic success, music and theater success, and I even have a knack for science, finishing third in the district science fair last year. Not bad when you consider I live in a large metropolitan area. I also find myself more comfortable talking with grown-ups than with my so-called peers. It’s as if kids my age just don’t have the capacity to hold my attention. It’s not that I think I’m better than anyone else; it’s just that for some reason, I’ve been blessed with a different maturity level, an advanced ability to master things beyond my age. I don’t mean to boast, but I don’t process things the same way most fifteen-year-olds do.

The reason I bring all this up is that while I am advanced in most areas, I’m quite inept when it comes to understanding my place as it relates to the universe. It’s probably why I’ve been struggling with something lately, something big that has me questioning everything, even God. Without trying to sound overly dramatic, something happened to me recently, something so awful, so unusual, so frightening—a real game changer for me. I experienced a real-life ghost story. Honest to God, I did.

Like most teenage tales, this one begins with a few of us guys sitting around one night at a friend’s house. It was probably a month or so ago, and we were bored beyond anything. So we started talking about stuff, scary stuff, haunted stuff. That led to the idea that maybe we should go sneak into an old abandoned building or hang out in a cemetery. Well, not to act all hoity-toity, but that is so passé. Yes, let’s all go sit in the graveyard and summon the spirits. While we’re at it, let’s drive on Dead Man’s Pass or play with the Ouija board. Can you say ZZZZZZZZZZZ?

So to solve that problem, I offered up a vastly superior idea. I told my friends about an article I’d recently read about the one-year anniversary of the murder of a family not far from where we all live. They were killed in their house late one night, a home invasion type of thing. Well, now their neighbors are all afraid of the house and swear up and down that it’s haunted. It remains empty, on the market for nearly a year now. No one wants to buy it. Too many bad things happened there. So my idea was for us to sneak into this “haunted house” and do a little ghost hunting. I figured the challenge was too great to pass up. Anyone can go sit in a graveyard and speculate about the things that go bump in the night. I wanted to sneak into the actual house (okay, I suppose it’s more like breaking into the actual house) where the four people were murdered and see if we couldn’t connect with their tortured spirits, all while trying to hide from the mortals living in the neighboring houses. Sadly, my buddies rejected the idea—such a disappointment. However, I had no intention of turning my back on the greatest dare I’d ever come up with, my next big achievement.

The first thing I did was research the murders, starting with the article. Apparently, the family of four had been brutally butchered, nothing like a single gunshot or strangulation. These folks were cut open like cattle and left to bleed to death. My intrigue antenna immediately went up. I dug a little deeper. The killer, who has yet to be caught—another really creepy piece to the dare puzzle—had gained entry to the house through the basement walk-out, a sliding glass door that had been left unlocked. According to police reports, he’d gone upstairs and, one by one, had taken the four family members down to the basement where he tied them up and slit their throats. The report indicated that none of the victims died quickly. Yikes! (They say “he” in the report because they claim to have enough evidence that the killer was male. Probably a white male in his mid-twenties. Sounds like racial profiling to me, but I digress.)

It was a challenging evening of research, reading a variety of reports and articles, none of which painted a picture of anything short of an absolutely horrific scene. It made my skin crawl, but at the same time, if I’m honest, I experienced feelings of excitement welling up inside of me, almost like I was high. It was as if a hidden part of me was screaming to be released. I suppose most guys have that adventurer’s spirit buried somewhere inside, suppressed by the rules of society, waiting patiently for the moment when it can rush out of its holding cell. My inner Sherlock Holmes was officially awakened, and I have no shame in admitting that I wanted to go to that house and investigate for myself, no matter how bad the crime had been.

I decided to make it happen on a Sunday night, a night when most “normal” families in such neighborhoods go to bed at a decent hour. I figured the majority of neighbors would be at lights out around ten thirty, eleven at the latest. The good news was that sneaking out was not going to be an issue for me. I’d long since figured out how to get out of my house undetected. And, thanks to my all-around excellence in school, my parents have never suspected me to be involved in such activities. It’s one of the benefits to getting great grades and being active in school functions. When you excel in as many extra-curricular activities as I do, people tend to miss the warning signs of any extra-extra-curricular activities. Trust me in this: excel and you will live well. That’s a slogan you can take to the bank (sorry, couldn’t resist using my grandpa’s corny saying).

For the ensuing two weeks, I scouted out the neighborhood. I Googled their address and mapped out the best bike route, a twenty-five minute ride which turned out to be easier than I thought, no main roads at all. I started making regular visits to the subdivision where the house of horrors stood empty. I rode in and around their neighborhood, looking like any other ordinary teenage boy on his bike, always making sure I was wearing headphones and pretending to be paying attention to nothing but my beats.

During my reconnaissance missions, I noticed a few crucial characteristics, such as a walking path that ran through a green belt directly behind the house. That was a major score for me. I also found a nearby swatch of woods to stash my bike. There was no way I’d just ride up to the front door. I had to hide the bike and then walk down the path, entering through the back of the house—just the way the killer had. It was all coming together. The next thing I needed to do was check out the weather forecast. I didn’t want to risk being spotted on a clear, moon-lit night. So I waited until the first Sunday when the forecast called for cloud cover. Several weeks went by with me feeling like a special ops soldier waiting for the call to carry out the secret mission. I told no one, not even my friends. Finally, on the fourth Sunday, when the weather provided a muggy, cloudy night, it was go time.

I slipped out of my house like I had on many other occasions, without a care in the world. I wasn’t even nervous, though there was something eerie about the breeze that night. It seemed to upset the leaves in the tops of the trees without reaching the ground. It was like there were people or things high up in the branches shaking them as I rode by. On ground level, it was still, humid, and sticky, perfectly normal for summertime in Texas. I rode my bike as fast as I could, if for no other reason than to generate some form of air flow to my hot face. By the time I arrived at the wooded location to stash my bike, I was winded and wet, sweat running down my face. I could feel a steady dripping down my rib cage, dampening my shirt.

When I took to the walking path, that’s when I felt my nerves begin to dance. My stomach turned and my bowels rumbled as I got closer to my destination. My breathing intensified, and my heart rate accompanied it. I was beyond nervous—I was scared. I don’t remember much of that walk, only those leaves, disturbed by the wind which couldn’t seem to find me. Within minutes, I had reached my destination, and that’s when I froze. There I stood on that walking path, looking at the back of a seemingly normal two-story house, another cookie in the cutter of a neighborhood. There was nothing unusual about it other than the “For Sale” sign positioned near the property line for joggers and walkers to see. I swallowed hard as I found myself only twenty yards from the same sliding glass door through which the killer had entered. My body went numb. The wind picked up, shaking the towering oak and maple trees. The sound of creaking branches cut through the stillness of the night. I wanted to go home. I mean, no one knew I was even there. Why not call it off? The only person who’d be disappointed was me. No! I had come this far. I had to do it.

According to one of the articles, their backyard had been their sanctuary, complete with thick green grass and a short wrought iron fence, one that allowed them to see the greenbelt behind their house, no doubt. It also turned out to be what had invited the murderer into their home. They had a small but cozy outdoor sitting area complete with a BBQ smoker, a grill and a small fire pit. As I stood motionless on that path, I could almost see the glow of the fire, the family out there roasting marshmallows, making s’mores, listening to the giggles of their young daughters. I also spotted several windows along the back of the house, which was great for me. I figured as long as they weren’t locked, even if they stuck, I had a tool that could pry them open. Truth be told, even if they were locked, I could get them open. Yeah, those windows were definitely my main target point for entry.

As I took my first step toward the house, it seemed to transform into something ominous, a tomb-like structure standing cold in the darkness, almost as if it were dead itself. But there was also something calming about it, like an old friend, inviting me to come inside, or maybe it was daring me. I don’t know; I suppose it was just my mind playing tricks. Maybe it was because I knew the interior had witnessed some of the purest evil imaginable. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head and bent down to touch my toes, concentrating on my breathing, the way I’d learned in a yoga class. My focus was re-sharpened, and I went forth.

I approached the sliding glass door first. I mean, why break in if I could simply open a door and walk in? It had worked for the killer. To my utter amazement, it opened—not very far, but far enough. There was a stick or rod resting in the sliding track preventing it from opening entirely, but the bulky glass door moved about a foot. I turned my tall, skinny frame sideways, and with a little bit of effort, I managed to slip through. My insides were exploding with activity. My adrenaline was at an all-time high. I could hear the blood rushing through my skull, my heartbeat thumping in my ears. Why are you here, you idiot? I almost answered my inner critic out loud.

The basement was empty, the carpet soft and cushiony, definitely new, and the smell of fresh paint hung like a mist. Clearly this basement had been recently refinished. With caution, I made my way toward the stairs, passing by a closed door. Behind that door was the furnace room no doubt, the room where the bodies had been left to drain. I wanted no part of that…yet. I tiptoed upstairs to the main floor and was surprised to find the home furnished. Whose furnishings they were was anyone’s guess, but they say houses sell better with furniture, so I assume the realtors staged this home to sell. I made my way over to the large living room sofa and nestled in.

There I sat, alone in the dark, patiently waiting, quietly breathing in the stale air of a house that had witnessed the unthinkable, wishing these walls could speak, maybe offer me some insight. Beads of sweat rolled down my face; some dripped into my eyes. Again, I could hear the pounding of my heart in my head. Swallowing became more difficult the longer I sat, breathing more labored. There were noises, things I couldn’t explain and didn’t want any part of. I figured it was probably nothing—the settling of the house perhaps, an air conditioner, a ceiling fan—all things that were very much explainable. Soon after, however, things began to change. Shadows seemed to move, if only slightly. At one point I was certain there was a man standing in the corner looking at me, but it was only a small ficus tree. After rubbing away the chill bumps generated by home décor, I took a deep breath and refocused.

I sat long enough to convince myself that there were no spirits in that house at all, only me, my oversized imagination, and the stench of awful memories from a year ago. Once I was comfortable with that notion, I decided to move locations, to go where I had no business going: upstairs to the bedrooms. Slowly I tiptoed up the hand-carved wooden steps, carefully placing one foot after another so as to avoid making a creaking sound. Don’t want to wake the spirits. The stairs were sturdy; my nerve was not. Yet the farther I went, the adrenaline seemed to intoxicate me; my eyes rolled back in my head as I reached the top step. I turned to my right and gazed down a hallway, one with several doors—bedrooms most likely, maybe a bathroom or two—and through deductive reasoning, I spotted what I assumed was a closet. Things in my head began to shift. I was no longer scared but feeling, well, high actually. I breathed in the still air, the fumes of paint as strong upstairs as they were in the basement. They’ve tried to exorcise this place with layers of semi-gloss. I don’t remember moving my legs, but suddenly I found myself halfway down the hall at the closet door. Slowly I opened it and stepped inside, crouching down and closing the door behind me, careful not to make a sound. I allowed myself to slide all the way to the ground, and there I sat, gathering my nerve. What are you hiding from?

Again, my heart was pounding inside my head as I rested my elbows on my knees, the result a slippery friction of skin and sweat. The perspiration seemed to pour from me, my clothing hugging my body. That’s when things got a bit weird. I must have drifted off or something because I can’t tell you how long I sat in that closet or when I left. I remember thinking about the furnace room in the basement, how that was the place where the family had died. I couldn’t shake it from my mind, and then…blackness, like I had fainted, and maybe I did, perhaps as a result of the intense anxiety I’d experienced. I can’t be certain. But the next thing I remember was sitting on a cold, hard cement floor, shivering with fear. My wet clothes clung to me, creating a chilly layer around me. My eyes were closed tightly, not wanting to let anything in.

When I summoned the courage to open them, I was met with a most unnerving sight: the interior of the furnace room. I don’t know how I got there, but there I sat. The room was dark and cold, nothing hot and sticky about it. I shivered. There was a faint bluish light painting a portion of the room, courtesy of the night sky trickling through a basement window, a typically small one near the ceiling, facing the neighbor’s house. However, the back half of the room was cloaked in complete blackness, as if a line had been drawn across the room. My half was blue, the other half black. I sat with my back against a cold wall, exposed from the light shining through, while on the dark side, hell, anything could have been hiding over there.

I wanted to get up and leave, but I couldn’t move. Suddenly there was a noise, a scraping on the concrete floor, yet I saw nothing. My heart pounded in my head, making it hard to hear anything else. I wrapped my arms around my cold, clammy legs and squeezed. Why are we here right now? This is so stupid. Go, now! Run! There was another scraping noise on the floor, followed by a tap-tap, like a metal tip clicking on the concrete. It was coming from the darkness. It happened again—scrape, tap-tap. Fear was literally choking the breath out of me. Then came a gurgling sound, a slight wheezing, as if something was fighting for breath. I told myself before I entered the house that I wouldn’t use my flashlight, but fear always trumps a good plan. Besides, it was worth the risk of being spotted by a neighbor just to know what was in the dark room with me. Another gurgle, and a tapping on the floor. More scraping across the concrete. I couldn’t take it any longer. I pressed the rubber button on the handle, and a cone of light sliced through the blackness.

Nothing could have prepared me for what was revealed to me in that dark space. Sitting before me was a family of four—dad, mom, and two girls tied to chairs, their clothing soaked in crimson. Each of them had had their throats cut from one side to the other, the girls nearly decapitated. The parents appeared to be alive, gasping for air, creating enough energy to move their chairs just a little bit, enough to slightly scrape the concrete. The mother was trying to move, gurgling, her eyes rolled back in her head, but all she could manage was to move the chair legs enough to cause a tapping sound.

The father’s eyes were bugged out, looking straight at me in a wide, horrified stare. His wound was a gaping maw of dark red flesh and tendons. I wanted to scream but nothing came out. I quickly shut the light back off and sat frozen in my sweat. I was paralyzed, unable to do anything. The only muscle moving was my heart, which pounded so hard it hurt in my temple. I heard the gurgles again, then the scraping of the chair leg, then one last gasp, and then nothing. There was only stillness and the metallic smell of freshly spilled blood.

The seal of my eyelids was air tight as I wished it all away. Oh, what I’d do to be back in my bed. My breathing began to increase, and I felt my fingers release their white-knuckled hold on the flashlight. I reached for the button again and pressed it while simultaneously opening my eyes. The bodies were still there, only this time they were closer. Again, I tried to scream but couldn’t. I shut off the light, and operating only on adrenaline, I sprang to my feet and ran for the door, eyes still closed. I smashed into the door frame, sending white-hot bolts of pain shooting through my right shoulder. As I made my way out of the furnace room, I heard one more gurgle. None of this is real. Look back one more time. It’s all in your head. I’m a smart person, an overachiever—there had to be an explanation. I turned my light back on and shot one last quick glance over to where they sat, dying and rotting. To my surprise, the bodies were gone. Vanished. Only an empty furnace room sat before me, smelling of cedar chips, not blood. I had no interest in investigating any longer. I made a beeline for the sliding glass door and slipped out of the opening. I hopped over the short iron fence and ran down that path as fast as I could toward my bike.

I rode home as fast as my legs would take me, cold from the air blowing on my soaked clothes. The breeze was high up in the trees again, the stickiness still in the air, but I was shivering. Within twenty minutes, I pulled up to my house and parked my bike outside where I’d strategically left it earlier that day. Re-entry to the house was always tougher than the exit, especially under duress, but I managed it quite well. I quickly made it back to my room, generating far more noise than normal, and I immediately undressed, throwing my wet clothes in the closet and slipping into my favorite jammie pants. I climbed into bed, shivering, hoping both to warm up and to fall asleep. I wanted to forget the entire event.

Sleep never came easily that night. For most of the night, I was awakened by the sound of scraping and tapping on concrete. I heard wheezing and gurgles, and I smelled copper. I refused to open my eyes, choosing instead to remain under my covers. After battling the tricks in my mind, I finally fell asleep. The next morning, I was awakened by the smell of bacon and a sense of normalcy.

It’s been three months since that awful night, the night I saw the ghosts of four butchered bodies. I’ve struggled with my secret, wanting so badly to tell someone about what I’ve seen, about the visions I’ve been having ever since: the ghosts in the furnace room appearing in my bedroom, sitting just outside my closet door nearly every night since I saw them in that house. Sometimes I think I see them at school, staring at me with those gaping holes, that dangling flesh, all cleaned out. I can see bone, and I keep hearing wheezing and gurgling. What do I do with these things I’ve been seeing? Who can I tell? There are places for people who claim to see such visions, and a fifteen-year-old boy is not supposed to see ghosts, especially an overachiever like me. So I sit and suffer in silence and fear, trying to live the way I always had before.

Well, that’s basically my story, the one I’m writing now as I sit in this beautiful little suburban park, some ten miles from my house. I’m writing on a tablet, sitting on a park bench, every bit the appearance of an everyday teenage boy. I’ve got my headphones on, nodding my head to my music, and every so often, I look up at the sky with a smile, looking the part of a kid engaging in social media. I am anything but.  No, it isn’t a funny post on Facebook I’m thinking about. My mind is on something far more advanced than the juvenile nature of the Internet. I’m too busy dissecting my ghost adventure to care much about what is trending on Twitter.

In hindsight, it was probably pretty stupid of me to go to that house alone, or even at all. But I just had to see it. I can’t explain the force from within that pulled me there. Truth be told, I’d been thinking about it plenty before I brought it up to my friends that night. My thought was that they would have provided me with the perfect cover, a visit to the “haunted house” by four teenage boys acting on a dare. Worst case scenario, the neighbors spot us, call the cops, and we get busted for trespassing; the whole thing gets chalked up to some boys doing what boys do in the summer when they get bored. There never would have been enough dots to even attempt to connect. It was perfect. Instead, I went alone, unable to resist the urge to see it with a clear mind. It’s been calling me, you know, for some time actually, and I finally gave in to temptation.

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff lately, like my uncle Tate and how he said I’m quite advanced for a kid my age. I’ve also been contemplating what my place is in this universe and the things I can accomplish. I think about the lessons I learned that night, and there are many. The number of mistakes I made are even greater, too many to count. Criminal Nature 101: Never return to the scene of a crime. Another thing I’ve been contemplating is that the bar has now been officially raised. Next time, it will be even grander. Next time…well, next time I’ll kill a family of five. See that family right over there playing on the swings. They look so happy, don’t they? They have no idea of the masterpiece I’m constructing in my head as I watch them. After all, I am an old soul, remember? I need to keep accomplishing things no one else my age could possibly imagine.

An Old Soul is from the book Rattlebone Tales, Volume 1, a collection of short, scary stories. You can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.

Grant Kauffman is also the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff, a young adult adventure/fantasy novel available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon.com.