We moved to Hills Block, House no. 43 around half a year ago when our father’s post got transferred. My sister, Seira, was eleven at the time and I was two years older. Despite being new to the area we were quickly introduced to the chief attractions in Hills Block; the local play park complete with a tuck shop, a reliable mart that students invaded everyday after school and, the best of all, the haunted house!
The haunted house was located in the same lane as ours. It sat alone on the very end of the street, closing the road like an ally closes a path. Its structure was the same as that of the other houses in the lane but its appearance was quite repulsive. It looked like an ideal place for ghosts to linger.
I went out with my friends everyday and we would stand still for minutes just watching the flaking house and its dark curtained windows. Often my sister would tail along but she never came out of the house after dark and I would take immense advantage of the fact. A bunch of us boys would go to the place on weekends and try to break in.
Once, while trying to force open a window, I picked up a brick and joked that I was going smash the window to make entry. A friend had already had his fingers glued to the glass searching for openings and before he could reply, the black curtains were pulled back and a figure clad in glowing white pressed its face against the dust coated window.
Of course I didn’t stick around. I ran with enough speed to put a cheetah to shame. When the adrenaline rush died and my heart resumed its normal beating, I was back home, covered in cold sweat, shivering and found myself surrounded by very concerned faces. Mother made me spill the beans and I was grounded for a while.
I never intruded that place again but just watched from outside the walls as the stupid ones of our lot agreed that they should also see the ghost. They, however, chose daytime for their activities. It was then I noticed that the curtains from the second floor would often pull back a pinch and a number of times I also caught a glimpse of white.
After a few months I grew tired of that house. I became much more interested in the young gardener who worked for us since the day we came. He never accepted money and said that he was only practicing his skills and was grateful that we gave him access to our lawn. He introduced himself as Sam, a senior in the local college. I and my sister particularly enjoyed his company. The three of us would sit right under the year-long bare tree outside the walls of our house and he would tell us amazing stuff about plants. Sam was very punctual; popped right out of nowhere in the wee hours and left at an exact time after sundown. When he wasn’t working he would climb the dark bare tree and just make himself at home on one of the branches.
“Hey, where do you live?” My sister asked and I realized that we knew close to nothing about Sam.
His signature grin never left his features as he turned his face towards her and replied, “That’s a secret now.” And just to emphasize his point he pressed a finger to his lips and whispered, “sssh!”
The little brunette looked offended, before she could say anything I joined in, “I heard some kid in your class fainted in that haunted house.” This instantly caught both their attentions.
“Oh yes, that silly boy.”
“Haunted place?” Sam inquired with a sparkle of curiosity in his eyes.
“Yea duh! That place has been there for ages. How long have you been here?”
He hummed with that same smile. “It’s a secret.” He answered Seira and then turned to me, “Where is this haunted place?”
“Oh it’s close.” I tried being cool about it. “It’s the house at the end of the street. The one with red walls.” Without any sign or warning, Sam broke into a barrage of laughter.
“You believe that rubbish?” He grinned questionably at us siblings. When we didn’t reply he continued, “That place isn’t haunted, it’s just unkempt. I used to live there. The lady living there now is probably too old to take of herself and the house.”
“How do you know?” Seira inquired suspiciously.
He grinned at my sister. “I know her. Come on, let’s go see her. She’s really nice.”
The Sun was setting and I didn’t want to be anywhere near that place but Sam’s confident marching gave us courage and we followed a little way behind. A white face suddenly flashed in front of my eyes and I faltered in my footing but was quick to regain my composure. By the time Sam was opening the half broken gate of the house, I was literally shaking in my boots.
“Come on.” The older teen urged. As we moved, generations of fallen leaves crunched under our feet. He smiled and looked at one of the second floor windows. Sam tried to open the front door but it was locked. “Strange.” He muttered. After a few more futile attempts he started to move around the house, tapping every window on the way.
We both waited for him to come around from the other side and when he didn’t, I followed his route. At the back of the house was another smaller gate which was ajar. The sun had set and I realized that it was time for his departure. The no-good had abandoned us and left for home. “I’m going to kill him.” I cursed at him and went back front. “Seira we’re going home! Sam’s already -SEIRA? SEIRA!” Alas! My sister was missing. I called for her again and my gaze suddenly fell on the front door which was open. My heart skipped a beat.
Seira’s laughter echoed from inside. I mustered up all that was left of my courage and marched in. It looked like any other house with an addition of layers of dust and cobwebs. A girl’s laugh came from upstairs and I was quick to follow it. The upper floor was in complete contrast to the lower one. It was very nice looking, clean and full of colours. “Seira?”
“Hey, hey, over here!” I scanned the lounge and found Seira bouncing on a sofa in the corner. My nerves finally calmed.
I cut across the room to her. “Come on, let’s get out of here. Sam’s already left us!” I tugged her finger but she yanked her hand away.
“Sam, you say?” I whirled around; my heart beating at record pace, but behind me did not stand a mutilated corpse or a transparent figure rather a woman of around fifty, wearing a bright yellow dress and holding a tray of drinks and biscuits. “That name brings back memories.” She smiled as she served us, forcing me down on a chair first.
“Sam’s our gardener.” Seira informed.
“Oh?” She looked up interested. “The Sam I knew had a green thumb too. I really miss him.”
“Who are you?” I couldn’t stop the question from spilling out of my mouth.
“Shush! I’ll tell you later.” Seira snapped. “Thank you for the biscuits.” How women exchange so much information in so little time is beyond me. While Seira started on the rumors that surrounded the lady’s house, I got up and started inspecting the many photos on the opposite wall. A fair share of the pictures was loaded with ‘our’ Sam and another boy with him; from childhood to their current selves. I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been because Sam had told us that he knew this woman.
“… and Sam said he knew you-”
“I beg your pardon.” The lady interrupted.
“Uh, Sam, our gardener … He said he used to live here.” The woman’s lips formed a tight straight line which shut Seira up, the lady came to me, took a frame off the wall and handed it to Seira, “oooo! That’s Sam alright! Hey, your smile is just like his.”
“He was my son.”
Both of us looked at her shocked beyond limits. After a moment of silence I managed to utter. “Divorce?”
She looked square at me with an emotionless face. “Eleven years ago my first son worked at his friend’s house, Hills Block, House no. 43 just for fun. A boy from that very family killed him by accident in a dare to scare him. My child was crushed between a tree outside the house and the vehicle his friend owned. It was after sunset and there were no witnesses so that demon boy tried to cover the body. His family buried my child under the very tree he grew for them! The demon boy! That demon he called his best friend!” Tears were freely flowing out of her eyes now and Seira looked on horrified. I suppose my face must also have been a reflection of hers.
The woman continued. “They kept me fooled for a long while that my child ran away from me. But I had to find out the truth sooner or later, when I tried to get his body back they wouldn’t let me. Who was I but a poor old lonely woman who was loosing her senses? And they were people with connections.” Seira’s lips were trembling and I felt my hands shaking as well. We both listened on in a mixture of shock and horror.
She sat down and continued through sobs. “My poor boy, my innocent boy! My little gardener, my first and only child, my Sam! My boy, my Sam is still buried under that wretched tree! Killed by the very boy in those pictures! His own childhood friend!”