Olcan McSparron, Contributor.
The town of Ashford was just like any other small Californian town. According to the 2017 census there were 29,467 people currently living in Ashford. Not one of them could be described as interesting or unusual in any way. Yes, there was the off chance that one of the boys in the local high school might make it on to a college football team, and there had once been talk in the early 2000s of the town’s former Mayor Joe running for governor. His chances had unfortunately been slashed when news broke that his second name was Regan and that he had tried to be an actor in his youth. No, no-one would ever pass through Ashford thinking there was anything remarkable about it or that anything remarkable would ever happen in it. Ashford was just like every other small American town. A name on the map. Nothing more, nothing less. Yet it was here in this tiny, unremarkable town that the most peculiar yet similarly disturbing happenings were about to occur.
“Mom, please stop fixing my hair. It’s fine,” Oisin said.
“Oisin McCarthy,” his mom replied, “if I say your hair is a mess then it’s a mess. Now come here and let me fix it.”
Oisin was fed up. He wanted to go outside and play. He had done all his chores for the day and didn’t see why he needed to be in the house. He knew his mother meant well when she was fussing over him; she just had an irritating way of going about things. He sat back and accepted that if he just let her fix his hair then he would get out of the house sooner.
The radio was on, and as he waited, he briefly listened: “So we are advising people to make sure they’re prepared. We expect the North West of the state to be particularly badly hit by the earthquake, with estimations saying that this one’s going to hit anywhere between 6.1 and 7.3. This is Hector Martinez reporting for KPVD 715.”
Oisin sat and waited whilst his mother continued to prod at his head. As his mother brushed over his head for the third time, there was a knock at the door.
“That’ll be Shane,” Oisin said.
“Yes… you can go out now,” his mother responded.
Oisin ran to the door and let Shane in. Shane Murphy was Oisin’s best friend. They had met in second grade and had been pretty much inseparable ever since. Although very different children, most people would admit that their friendship was something special. Oisin was unquestionably more into dinosaurs, spaceships and other geeky interests, whilst Shane was more of a baseball and sports kind of guy. However, the two of them did have a unique friendship that worked.
Shane walked through the porch, rubbing his hands through his spikey, ginger hair and proudly trying to show off his brand-new Oakland Athletics Jersey. Oisin, who knew nothing at all about baseball, didn’t even register the jersey. He simply thought what he always thought about Shane; that he looked like a gerbil in sports gear.
“We gunna get the bikes out?” Shane asked.
“In a minute,” Oisin replied. “I’ve just got to make sure with you-know-who first.”
Shane nodded understandingly and leaned back against the door frame while Oisin went back into his mother.
“Mom, I’m heading out now.”
“Oh, Oisin. Be careful now and don’t stay out too late. Dinner is at six.”
“Yeah, don’t worry mom. I’ll be home for then.”
“That’s okay dear, enjoy yourself.”
Oisin walked back outside to Shane. Looking at him, he nodded, and they left.
“You know, I don’t know what your mom’s big deal is. We’re only going to be playing on your street. It’s not like anything’s going to happen out here.”
“I know, but she worries. I guess that’s what they’re paid to do.”
“I don’t think you get paid for being a mom.”
“No, neither do, I come to think of it.”
The boys began to laugh as they opened Oisin’s garage to collect his bike. Shane would never say it, but he had to admit to himself that he was secretly a bit jealous of Oisin’s bike. It was a BMX with the word ‘MANIAC’ written across the frame in large metallic, blue letters. Walking out of Oisin’s driveway, the boys proceeded to ride down his street. They were joined by two other children from the neighbourhood: little Susie Winters – a small, tanned girl who all the boys secretly had a crush on – and big Thomas Smith – a fairly jolly, fat boy – who had been friends with Shane and Oisin for years. They were nice kids.
Oisin lived on Hibernian street. It was one of the many boring, middle-class suburbs one could find in Ashford. All the houses were fairly modern and more or less identical to one another, each occupied by the perfect nuclear families. Hibernian street, like Ashford itself, was not the sort of place where you expected the unexpected. Oisin and Shane, however, couldn’t care less about the street and continued to race their bikes up and down it. This proved to get quite boring after the first three or four races.
“Anyone want to play baseball?”, Shane asked.
The rest of the children were less than enthusiastic about this prospect, however they all agreed to play. Aside from Shane, none of them were in any way sporty, but they all agreed that it may be fun to try something different. The game, for the most part, went well. Despite the occasional car driving past and interrupting them. Oisin, was not good at any sport. In school he had pretty much been side-lined in games of basketball, football and had barely managed to complete his 100 meter swim, but when he did play a sport, he made sure to put his all into it. The game was nearing its end and it was Shane’s turn to pitch. Oisin stepped up to the twig the children were using as a makeshift batter’s box. Holding the bat in his hands, Oisin looked at Shane. He was sure that if he paid attention and focused then he could hit the ball. Hell, he might even hit a home run. He wasn’t quite sure what a home run looked like, but he was fairly certain in baseball terms it was a good thing.
Shane looked at Oisin. Oisin was his best friend but that was no excuse to go easy on him. Shane arched his body backwards, standing on one foot, ball clenched tightly in his hand. Leaping forward, he threw the ball as hard as he could. Then to the surprise of everyone, Oisin actually hit it.
“Shit,” Shane said, totally taken aback.
Oisin hadn’t just hit the ball, he had hit the ball. It must have been the best home run any of the children had seen outside of the Major Leagues. Oisin simply stood there, completely bemused by what had happened.
He finally asked, “Was it supposed to do that?”
Shane couldn’t speak. He simply nodded.
“We really should go and get the ball,” said Susie Winters, breaking the silence. Without another mention of the incredible home run, the children searched the street for the baseball. They checked under cars, their neighbour’s gardens. They looked up to their neighbours’ rooves, but to no avail. The ball was gone. Just as they were about to give up, Shane walked past a tiny, unobtrusive picket fence and stepped on the ball. Picking it up, Shane smiled and looked up. Then he saw it – the house. It was the strangest and most disturbing house he had ever seen. Shane was utterly transfixed by it; there was something odd about this house. It was as if he had always known it was there, but he had never really noticed it until now.
“Guys, come over here.”
“Shane what is it? You find the ball?” Oisin asked.
The other children walked towards Shane, only stopping when they saw how he was looking in front of him, like he was in some sort of trance.
Finally, Shane turned around, “Don’t you see it? Look!”
The other children turned around, their expressions changing from confusion to something that lay between shock and horror as they looked at the house. Each of them thought the same thing, although they didn’t want to admit it to the others. It was as if the house hadn’t been invisible, just not totally visible. The house was almost trying to divert your attention away from it. It was an old house unlike any other on the street. The other houses were modern whilst this appeared to be colonial in design. It was badly weather beaten and the once bright white colour it had been was now a washed out faded yellow. There was chipped paint and its stilts looked like they were on the verge of giving way. There was a balcony above the front door which was about to cave in. The wood surrounding the house smelled old, almost like an attic that hadn’t been opened in a while. The garden’s grass was overgrown and had been dead for a long time, littered with rusted bits of metal, car doors and farming equipment strewn across it. In the front drive there was an old pick-up truck. It looked as if it had been custom built out of the scrap metal on the lawn.
Looking at one another, the children stood utterly bewildered. How had they never noticed this house before? Thomas was the first to speak.
“Who do you think lives here?”
“No idea,” Oisin replied.
They continued to look at the house, their shock only growing. Oisin looked at the picket fence. Nailed to it was a sign that read: ‘273 Hibernian Street. Private property of Mr. Rufus Byron. Stay out.’
Oisin pointed it out to the others. Shane grinned; this was an opportunity for some fun.
“Who wants to knock the door and see who’s in there?” asked Shane.
None of the other children jumped at the opportunity. It wasn’t that there was anything too frightening about the house. There was just an air about the place. One looked at it and couldn’t help but feel just a little distressed. Like it was one of those places that should just be left alone.
“Well, anyone?” Shane beckoned.
Oisin questioned whether he should do it. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Some old fellow would probably walk out and tell him to get off his property. And at least he would impress the others. Thinking this through a couple of times, he spoke up.
“I’ll do it.”
“Good man, Oisin.” they all cheered enthusiastically.
Oisin realised that volunteering was probably a stupid idea, but he had to do it. On the bright side, he was fairly certain he would impress Susie. Breathing deeply, Oisin opened the gate. He couldn’t help but notice that it creaked in the most stereotypical horror movie way imaginable. Walking up the driveway, he looked around, knowing that his over bearing mother would most definitely not approve of what he was doing right now. He looked back at the others. They looked almost as nervous as he did as he walked towards the door. He could hear the cracking sound of his feet along the gravel and the sound of the wood bending as he walked up the steps.
Raising his hand, Oisin went to knock the door, when suddenly, it opened. Staring down at Oisin was a man. But this man was like no man Oisin had ever seen. He was tall and thin. Almost too thin to be real. He looked like a skeleton with pale white skin attached to his bones, his frame covered in a large black coat. He had long, greasy, black hair and a gaunt face. But it was his eyes that really stood out. They were grey. There was no white. No colour. Just grey with a black dot in the middle. These were dead eyes. The man raised his arm and a long, bony finger pointed at Oisin. Oisin looked at the man’s fingers. The tips were very red, possibly covered in blood. The man suddenly screamed.
“Get off my property!”
Oisin had a lump in his throat. He wanted to move but he couldn’t.
Oisin suddenly found his voice and ran screaming out of the garden. He looked for the other children but they had vanished. He looked back at the house and the door was closed. It was as if nothing had happened. The house sat there silently as if it was trying to return to its unnoticeable state. Unnerved, Oisin ran. He ran fast, until he came to the end of his street. There he saw Shane, out of breath, leaning on a street sign.
“Shane,” Oisin called out. Shane looked up with the face of someone who just awoke from a nightmare.
“What the hell was that?”
“You saw him, Shane?”
“Saw him? I wish I hadn’t seen him! What in the hell was he?”
“Did you see his hands? The blood on the fingertips?!”
“His hands?! I was too busy looking at his teeth, did you not see them? They looked like rats’ teeth!”
“What was he?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“He can’t be! They’re not real.”
“He looked like one to me.”
The two boys breathed deeply. He had looked like a vampire, but he couldn’t have been one. There were no such things as vampires. They were the sort of thing that little kids believed in. Oisin stared at Shane, who, if anything, looked a little more shaken up than he did.
“Shane, I don’t think he could have been a vampire.”
“What the hell was he, then?!”
“Well the sign said it was owned by a Mr. Rufus Byron – that must be Byron’s house.”
The boys walked with each other back to Oisin’s house. They went into the living room. Oisin’s father sat on the sofa with a bag of Lay’s in one hand and a can of beer in the other. He was a fat man with a balding head and a very wispy moustache. He was watching Fox News. An expert was talking about seismology and warning people, particularly those in the North West, to prepare for the earthquake.
“Load of rubbish. It’ll be another three-pointer,” Oisin’s father shouted at the TV as he changed the channel to a rerun of Seinfeld.
“Dad?” Oisin muttered.
“Yes son?” His dad muted the TV.
“Dad, we were wondering, do you know Mr Rufus Byron? He lives on 273 Hibernian Street.” Oisin’s father turned around and faced him with a slightly vacant look on his face.
“273, that’s a few doors down from us, isn’t it? You know, for the world of me, I can’t remember!” Oisin’s father giggled “I can’t even remember what Mr Byron – or the house – looks like. There is a 273 on this street isn’t there?”
“I can’t remember son, why do you ask?”
Shane suddenly jumped into the conversation.
“We think that Mr Byron is a vampire.”
“Shut up Shane,” Oisin snapped back. Oisin’s father’s head bobbed back and his mouth was a tad open.
“A vampire, right. I don’t have time for this rubbish boys. Oisin, your dinner’s in the dining room.”
Looking away, he unmuted the TV and continued to watch. Shane and Oisin held back for a few seconds, waiting to see if he would say anymore. When he didn’t, they left, feeling a little deflated.
“Look my dad’s right. Vampires aren’t real.” Oisin said.
“Then how do you explain what we saw?”
“I don’t know… maybe he’s just a creepy guy who looks a bit weird?”
“Fine, you can run away but I’m going to prove that he’s a vampire.”
With that, Shane walked out of the house. Oisin was alone and even though he knew it was impossible, he couldn’t help but wonder if Shane was right. There was something odd about Byron.
Shane walked down the street. He looked at his phone. It read 18:00. He’d text his mom, tell her he’d be at Oisin’s for a while. It’d be dark in two hours and he was determined to get a photo of that vampire. Shane continued to walk, only stopping to check that no one was watching him. After a few minutes, he arrived at 273 Hibernian Street. The building seemed to have aged even more in the past few hours. Shane looked to his left and saw that there was a small grove of shrubberies in the house opposite. Climbing into the shrubbery, Shane hid, looking over at 273. He waited and waited. It seemed to get darker around the house faster than it did for the rest of the street. Apart from that nothing notable happened. There were no bats flying out of the house’s rafters. There were no agonising screams to be heard from the house. There were no mad men walking out of it with their teeth covered in blood. It simply sat there like a creepy, eerie, but ultimately innocent, old house. Shane sat and waited for three hours. He looked again at his phone. It read 21:00. He would have to head home soon. He couldn’t stay out any longer as his mother would start to worry. Shane started to rise and then he heard it – a creek. Shane felt the blood in his veins freeze. Jumping down, he looked up.
There he was.
Byron was walking out of the house. He looked more monstrous than Shane had remembered. Shane sat observing the inhuman way he moved across the porch of the house and prayed that Byron hadn’t seen him. His greasy hair swept past his face and the man made his way to the pick-up truck. He opened the door and climbed inside. Shane looked down, trying to catch a glimpse of Byron’s hands. He wasn’t sure, but he got the impression that now they were entirely red, not just the fingertips. The pick-up reversed out of the driveway then drove down the street. Shane had been so afraid at the sudden emergence of Byron that it wasn’t until the truck had disappeared into the night that he realised. He hadn’t done it. He had been so pre-occupied watching Byron that he hadn’t taken the photograph. Slapping himself on the head, Shane couldn’t believe how stupid he had been.
“Shit,” he mumbled. He would have to wait until Byron came back. So that’s what he did.
Shane sat and waited for hours. It was almost one o’clock in the morning and the street was deserted. Towards 273 it was almost totally dark, except for one dim street lamp illuminating the pavement in front. Shane could feel himself getting drowsy and couldn’t stop thinking about how badly he wanted to go to sleep. He felt his eyes shutting but then heard a sound. The car was back. He looked down the road and saw the pick-up truck driving towards 273. It pulled into the drive and Byron stepped out. Shane put his hands inside his pockets, shuffling around inside them in search of his phone. He found and held it up, determined to take a picture. But for some reason, it wouldn’t work. The phone would not turn on. It wouldn’t even display a dead battery screen. Shane looked up to see if Byron was still there.
Then he saw something truly peculiar. Byron, now at the back of the truck, was taking out a sack. A large sack, big enough to hold a small child. Shane continued to look perplexed as Byron lifted the sack above his head. Then suddenly without warning, something inside the sack started to struggle. It moved frantically, like it knew it was in danger, desperate to escape. Shane then heard a noise in the distance like a gust of wind behind him and then a crack. Looking back, he saw the sack once again. There was nothing moving inside and whatever it was looked very dead. Byron smiled as he turned and walked into the house. Shane waited to see if any more happened, but the house stayed still. He decided he had seen enough for tonight and it was time to head home. Then he felt it again, the gust of wind behind him.
What was it? Turning around, he saw nothing again. Shane started to get up. Then he heard a sound. It was almost like the sound of a rat gnawing at wood, but it was deeper. It was coming from behind him. Shane was about to turn around again. Then he felt it. Hands – thin, bony, strong hands grabbed at his shoulders. Shane felt his blood turn to ice again. He felt his heart beat fast. Too fast for the heart of an eleven-year-old boy. Looking over his left shoulder, he saw the hands. They were skeletal hands, covered in blood. Turning around fully, Shane saw him. Byron. He saw those same dull eyes, though they weren’t grey anymore. They were totally white. Soulless. Like there was nothing human in them. Shane started to screech when suddenly, his throat knotted up. Byron opened his mouth. His yellow, rat-like teeth were displayed, and his mouth started to quiver, almost as if he were excited. Shane was desperate to get away, but Byron’s hold was too strong. He could feel himself suddenly fading. He didn’t know what Byron did but it felt good.
Shane smiled. He had been so stupid: he wasn’t in any danger. He was perfectly safe. Shane laughed as he let the darkness take over. He knew he’d be fine. In fact, he felt better than fine. He felt like he was about to have the best sleep of his life.