The room was dark. The faint sound of music filled the air. Adelaide reached over and hit the button on her alarm. The music turned off. Even the radio announcers weren’t up at this hour. It was just after midnight and the house was still.
Adelaide climbed out of bed. Her feet were cold on the wooden floor as she changed out of her pyjamas into worn jeans and a dark sweatshirt.
She opened the door to her room and peered out. She was sure that Waylon, who rented a room upstairs and worked security for a bar in Olympia, was at work. The other room upstairs hadn’t been rented out since the perky redhead left two months ago. Adelaide hated how that woman had patronized her, and she’d been relieved when the woman had moved in with a new boyfriend. Still, she wished her mother would rent the room back out. The cupboards tended to have more food in them when roommates paid rent.
Adelaide slipped out onto the landing. Across the hall from her room was her mother’s. Violet, another roommate, rented the room next to the staircase. Adelaide imagined Violet had already cried herself to sleep. Sometimes Adelaide would slip into Violet’s room and stroke her hair until she fell into a fitful slumber.
Adelaide was sure her mother and Rico had tired themselves out for at least a time. She tiptoed into the hallway, careful to creep along the wall. The old wooden floorboards were notorious for how they creaked and shifted underfoot, but Adelaide knew the house better than anyone. She wondered if her mother had memorized every nook and cranny when she was younger. It was hard to imagine her mother’s attention on anything for long.
Adelaide clung to the banister as she made her way down the edge of the wooden staircase. She crept to the front door, pulled on her runners and eased the door open.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled the door closed behind her.
Then she turned and stiffened as a shadow on the porch moved toward her.
Darius pulled a black sweatshirt over his jeans. His heart pounded in his chest. He’d never snuck out of the house before, but there’d never been a mystery to solve before either. He eased the door to his bedroom open. The hallway was dark when he stepped into it and pulled his door closed behind him.
Darius jumped as his sister snuffled a snore across the hall. He exhaled slowly and padded down the hallway to the top of the staircase.
The board on the top step creaked as he stepped on it. The sound seemed to echo through the otherwise still house. Darius sucked in his breath and waited. He couldn’t hear anyone.
Darius marvelled at how many of the boards creaked. During the day the giant house seemed quieter. He wondered if Davia’s sheer presence was so loud it could mute the house itself.
Darius reached the foyer closet, collected his shoes, and stole away into the night.
The houses were dark and bushes loomed like monsters on the front lawns as the kids made their way to Hyacinth Street. Sophie and Tetsu had proper bike lights, but Adelaide had had to improvise, using duct tape to affix a flashlight to her handlebars. Kurt stayed close to her and Sophie so he could use their lights to navigate his way.
“I can’t believe I scared you,” Tetsu said as they pedaled down the dark and deserted street.
“You did it on purpose,” Adelaide pointed out.
“I didn’t think you should be alone. Always good to have a friend.”
“Mm-hmm,” Adelaide answered. Despite the initial scare, she’d been relieved to find Tetsu waiting on her porch. They biked on in silence for a few minutes.
“He’s pretty cute, right?” Sophie asked, making reference to Darius.
“If you like rich kids, maybe,” Tetsu scoffed.
“Adelaide?” Sophie asked.
“We should probably be quiet,” Adelaide suggested. There was something different about Darius and it wasn’t just how his Boston accent made him drop the “r” on some of his words. He made her excited and nervous all at once. The only person who’d made her feel like that before was Andy. Just the thought of Andy made butterflies flap in her stomach. She missed seeing him on the bus, even if he never sat with her. She wondered if Andy had a girlfriend now that he was in high school.
They pedaled on in silence until Adelaide heard a sound in the distance.
“Get off the road now,” she directed. She zipped her bike onto a nearby lawn and hid behind a giant rhododendron. She flicked off her flashlight and the others followed her lead.
“What are we––” Sophie started to ask.
Beams from a car’s headlights illuminated the street. Adelaide put her finger to her lips and looked at Sophie. The four of them balanced their bikes and stood in silence as they waited for the car to pass.
“We aren’t doing anything wrong,” Sophie said after it passed by.
“No adult should be okay with four kids out in the middle of the night,” Kurt said. “They’d call our parents, or the police.”
They turned their lights back on, navigated their bikes off the lawn and pedaled on down the road. Sophie took the lead and Adelaide fell back to ride alongside Kurt, who had started to lag behind.
Sophie had changed over the summer. Like Adelaide, she’d grown in height. The two girls now stood several inches taller than Tetsu and Kurt, but Sophie had become consumed with whatever makeup, hairstyles and brand name clothing ‘Teen magazine said were all the rage. The Friday before her last sports camp of the summer, Sophie had told them she wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with them at school. When Kurt had asked why, Sophie had rolled her eyes. The answer went unspoken, but Adelaide knew it was because none of them were cool and Sophie needed to be popular this year.
Adelaide was disappointed Sophie had tagged along. She knew Sophie’s physical prowess would be to their benefit, but it was clear she was interested in Darius. She shook her head, not certain why that bothered her.
It was another twenty minutes before they reached Hyacinth Street. They didn’t encounter any more vehicles, but a noisy dog in someone’s yard gave Kurt a scare.
Darius moved out from the shadows when they arrived. Adelaide could see his big grin in the light of the moon.
“Hi! You guys made it. Rad.”
“Yeah, we said we’d be here,” Tetsu asserted.
“Thanks for waiting,” Adelaide said as she turned to survey the house. The windows were boarded up and the roof sagged. The grass was long and yellow from the summer weather. There was an overgrown garden under the large front window. Some of the pieces of plywood over the windows were covered in graffiti, but Adelaide couldn’t quite make the words out in the moonlight. She turned back to the others. “So, we just… go in?”
They all looked at each other, then wheeled their bikes to edge of the property and set them down. Adelaide noticed Darius glance at them before he set his bike on the yellow grass. She thought she could make out a kickstand on his bike. Adelaide peeled the tape off her flashlight, removed it from her bike, and stuffed it into her backpack.
For a long moment the five of them stood there, illuminated by the soft glow of the moon.
“This was already an adventure,” Kurt pointed out. “I mean, we could just––”
“We’re already here. I’m not afraid to go in,” Tetsu boasted.
“All right, then,” Darius replied. “Let’s go.”
“Kurt,” Adelaide said. “If you don’t want—”
Kurt moved first. He strode to the door and, after a second of hesitation, the others followed behind. Kurt reached out and grasped the handle. Then he turned it.
The door didn’t budge. They all stood in silence for a moment. Sophie glanced at Darius. Darius frowned as he looked up at the upper windows. Adelaide tilted her head and listened.
Kurt fished into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small screwdriver and a bobby pin.
“Why do you have those?” Sophie hissed in the dark.
“Why do you think?” Kurt bent the bobby pin and inserted it into the lock along with the screwdriver. He fussed with the lock for a few minutes before he grimaced. “I can’t do it.”
“It’s okay, Kurt. We’ll try the back. Come on,” Adelaide said as she led the way around the property.
The backyard was as unkempt as the front. The grass was long and dead, paint peeled off the back fence, and even some of the boards over the windows had given up. Tetsu strode to a window where the plywood hung on by only a single nail. The rotten board could be moved like a pendulum. Only part of the glass behind it was covered.
Adelaide stepped up beside Tetsu and leaned in close to the glass. She could just make out lumps of furniture packed tight inside the room.
Tetsu reached out and tried to push the window up. The old paint adhered the window to its frame like glue. It held fast. Tetsu pulled his switchblade from his pocket and Adelaide stepped back as he cut an incision along the frame. He flicked the blade back in on itself and tucked it into his pocket again.
“Ready?” Tetsu asked.
“Ready!” Darius whispered as he came up behind them. “Here, let me help.”
Adelaide held the plywood out of the way as Darius and Tetsu gritted their teeth and pushed the window up on its runners. It resisted for a moment before it slid up and banged against the top of the frame.
“I’ll go first,” Darius said. He reached in and pulled himself up over the window frame, before he landed in the room with a faint thump.
“Me next,” Adelaide said. Tetsu nodded and gave her a boost.
Adelaide’s eyes adjusted to the room as she moved further in. She wrinkled her nose as dust particles tickled her nostrils. The room was musty with the faint odour of mothballs. Couches and shelves were pushed together. An old wooden coffee table stood on its end. There were several rolled-up rugs in one corner, and a collection of frames leaning against one of the walls. The only door was closed and there was no light under the door frame.
Sophie, who had followed Adelaide in, helped pull Kurt through the window. Darius was already at the door. He had one hand on the brass knob, and in his other was a sturdy flashlight.
As Tetsu climbed in the window, there was a thump from upstairs. He sucked in his breath.
“I hope it’s a raccoon,” Kurt murmured.
Tetsu exhaled. “How’d it get in?” he asked with false bravado.
“Let’s find out,” Darius said as he turned the handle and walked out into a dark hall.
The corridor was wide with a wooden floor. It was devoid of side tables, photos or paintings. Not even a runner lined the hallway.
“Stay close to the edges,” Adelaide offered as she stepped out behind Darius. “They shouldn’t creak as much.” She pulled her flashlight out of her bag and clicked it on.
The beams from their flashlights cut through the dust that floated in the air. They moved from one empty room to another. As they reached the doorway to the kitchen, they heard another loud thump from upstairs.
Adelaide held her breath.
There was a growl. Long and low. And another thump.
“Let’s go see what it is,” Darius whispered as he started for the stairs.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea,” Kurt suggested.
“Don’t be such a girl,” Sophie said, but her voice quavered.
Darius moved closer to the stairs. Adelaide glanced at her friends. Tetsu nodded. They followed Darius to the staircase and crept up the wooden steps. They reached the landing when the sound of metal hitting metal made them freeze.
“Is that chains rattling?” Sophie hissed.
“Maybe,” Adelaide offered.
They moved slower now, with Darius in the lead. The top of the stairs opened to another hallway with four doors, all closed. Darius moved to the first one, twisted the handle and pushed it open part of the way. The room was dark. He directed his beam of light into the room. It was empty.
One by one they looked in the other rooms. Tetsu’s hand was on the last door when they heard another thump, followed by the sound of chains.
“It’s coming from the attic,” Darius declared as he moved the beam of light to the ceiling.
Tetsu pushed his door open to reveal an empty room.
“How do we get up there?” Sophie asked.
“There,” Darius pointed at a small rope that hung from a trap door in the ceiling.
“Boost me up,” Adelaide said. She’d come too far to turn around now. She looked at Darius.
“Oh, okay, are you sure?” Darius fumbled as he handed his flashlight to Kurt.
“Boost me up,” she repeated. She looked at Tetsu and indicated he should help. The two boys crouched down. Adelaide steadied herself by grabbing their shoulders as she stepped onto their outstretched hands. Tetsu rose faster than Darius. Adelaide squeezed Darius’ shoulder more tightly. “Easy,” she warned. Both boys rose to their full height. Adelaide reached and grasped the rope.
“Got it.” Adelaide held onto the rope as she jumped off their hands. Above her, the trapdoor opened, revealing the bottom of a retracted set of stairs.
There was another long, low growl, followed by a thump.
The five of them looked at each other. Tetsu pointed at himself, then Adelaide, and then upstairs. Adelaide nodded. She pointed at Darius and indicated he should follow them up. Tetsu fingered his switchblade.
Sophie, who was almost as tall as Adelaide, and taller than any of the boys, reached up and pulled down the set of stairs from the trapdoor.
Without a word, Tetsu charged up into the attic. His feet were loud on the wooden steps. Adelaide followed him, and Darius tailed close behind her.
The room was dark. They cast their beams about.
A sudden thump made them all jump. Darius chuckled. Adelaide swivelled and saw a small engine illuminated by the beam of his flashlight. She shone her flashlight around the area.
There was a series of rods and reels affixed to the engine. A steel-toed boot was fastened to the handle of one of the reels. The three children watched as the reel turned and thumped the boot onto the wooden floor.
Darius traced another rod with the beam of his flashlight. A series of reels rotated at longer intervals than the ones that thumped the boot into the floor. These ones shook a chain that dangled from the sloped ceiling.
“This is so rad,” Darius chuckled.
“Is everything okay up there?” Sophie hissed from the bottom of the steps.
“It’s fine,” Adelaide whispered back. “It’s a contraption designed to make it seem like it’s haunted. But what about––”
Adelaide was cut off as a long low growl echoed from below them.
“That. What about that?” she finished.
“The basement!” Kurt called in a raised whisper. “I bet it echoes through the vents!”
Darius, Adelaide and Tetsu climbed down the steps.
“The only room we haven’t checked is the kitchen. There must be a door to the basement there,” Darius said.
The group pushed the staircase and attic door back into place before making their way back downstairs toward the kitchen.
“There’s probably a small generator down there as well. A quiet one. Maybe it’s playing a cassette?” Kurt offered as they rounded the corner.
“Maybe,” Sophie murmured. “But maybe we should just get out of here now.”
There was a loud snap. Kurt sucked in his breath. Adelaide sensed the scream that started to rise in his throat. She clapped her hand over his mouth and moved her flashlight beam down toward his foot.
“It’s a mouse trap. It’s just a mouse trap.” Her voice was low. She leaned in and made eye contact with Kurt. “You’re okay.”
Kurt’s eyes were wide, but he nodded.
“I’ll get it off you, okay? But you have to stay quiet.” Adelaide searched his eyes before she removed her hand and bent down.
“Holy crap!” Tetsu whispered. “Did you see the look on Kurt’s face?”
“Stop that,” Darius said to Tetsu. “You okay, Kurt? Do you need help, Adelaide?”
“I’ve got it,” Adelaide said as she pried the trap off Kurt’s foot. She dropped it on the floor next to him. There was a faint imprint on Kurt’s runner, but it was otherwise untouched. “Is your foot okay?”
Kurt nodded. His eyes were still wide.
“All right, then.” Darius grinned. “I want to see the basement.”
Adelaide felt his eyes on her and she looked over. She could see them shine, even in the dim light. His enthusiasm stirred something in her.
“I’m not ready to go, either. We should see what’s in the basement,” Adelaide declared.
Darius grinned wider and reached for the basement door. He twisted the handle. Adelaide sucked in a breath.
And then, thunderous in the otherwise still house, the phone rang.