Avah’s mouth hung slightly open, and she was stock still, staring down the corridor, into the darkness that stretched beyond the small halo of her flash light. She turned her face towards Jack in creaky pivots, until her wide shiny eyes were beaming at Jack.
“Did you hear that?” she mouthed, her lips exaggerating the words. Jack nodded slowly, her eyes measuring his every moment. She often scolded his clumsiness, or his loud step that would echo in these abandoned places. He nodded so her barely stirred the air, and she slowly turned her pale face back towards the corridor, her pallor looking a bit morbid in the current setting.
Jack had been lying. He hadn’t heard a damn thing. He was tired, and these games were old. Although, he had to admit they were no longer games. He watched as Avah’s eyed danced everywhere in the dark ahead of him, flicking like a wild animal that knew it was being hunted. What had started as a dare had clearly become an obsession for Avah. Jack did not know how to break it to her. He was never the confrontational friend. In fact, he was often called a ‘softie’. He did not know how to tell his best friend that she was becoming a mere apparition, like the very ones she hunted. Or the very one, in particular.
It had started as a dare on an autumn night, the night of the season’s first snow.
“I bet it is haunted,” Cara said as she rubbed her finger over her bottle neck. “Go check, Aves. Dare ya!” Cora laughed.
“Hell, we’ll all go,” Dean laughed, sucking on his cigarette, reveling in the fact that his parents finally knew he smoked. He seemed to really enjoy the sense of freedom that came with openly waving the butt around on his front porch while his parents slumbered upstairs.
“What, are we seven?” Avah scoffed, sipping on her Angry Orchard.
“No,” Jack joked quietly, “we never will be again.” Everyone was quiet for a moment, thinking about the silly shenanigans that they were rapidly outgrowing. They were all seniors, and the year was already slipping by quickly with the shift of season. Greg leaned on the railing across from Avah, and he smiled at her when she looked up at him. She blushed.
“Fuck it, I’m going,” Dean flicked his cigarette and headed down the street. Cora watched him a moment before laughing and running down the snowy pathway.
“Don’t leave us just standing here!” Avah called, rolling her eyes at Jack before they both jogged after their friends.
“You know, me and my brother do this sometimes,” Greg told the group as they stood outside the door of the place.
“Do what? Butt fuck in abandoned buildings? Homo!” Dean punched Greg in the shoulder and bound up the stairs, pushing through the front door. Cora followed with a little less pomp, and Greg looked back at Avah before he started up the stairs. Jack watched as Avah hurried up a few steps to fall in next to Greg, and he trailed the whole group in.
Jack started as Dean jumped out from behind the front door at him.
“Boo!” Dean cackled and loped back to the front of the group, and Avah elbowed Jack with a small smile, reminding him to take Dean with a grain of salt. Dean had a way of getting on Jack’s nerves, and Dean did not try his best to do otherwise. Jack smiled at Avah, not taking for granted the brief moment her eyes seemed to hold him, seemed to see right through him, know him and keep him so very grounded.
“There’s one place up closer to Broadway,” Greg was telling Avah in the corridor. Dean was checking out a big bedroom on the second floor, and Cora was circling the room, while Jack leaned in the door way and tried not to eaves drop on Greg and Avah leaning on the wall just outside of the room.
“I went there with my brother when I was really young,” Greg was saying and Avah was just smiling and nodding in the gloom, letting him weave his proposal. “I’ll take you sometime. It was an asylum at one time, run by nuns.” Jack looked over at the two of them, not quite believing the bull pouring out of his friend’s mouth, but Avah’s eyebrows were curved with interest and she nodded as Greg asked her if she’d go with him sometime.
“It’ll be way creepier than this place,” Greg tapped on the wall, and just then Dean let out a howl insidet he room, snapping Jack’s attention immediately.
“Just kidding guys,” Dean laughed, slinging his arm around Cora. He put his hand on his belly and gave a good chortle before leading the gang out of the room.
Avah was not light hearted now. Jack gnawed at the inside of his cheek as they crept towards the end of the hall. Avah was scanning the rooms that they passed, and she stopped a moment out side one, surveying the few remaining doorways between them and the end of the hall. Jack did not want to go up to the second floor, he prayed she would just duck into the room on her left and get some snooping done and be over with the night. The hairs on the back of his neck were rising as they stood in the dark silence. He hated when he got freaked out like this, but it was not because he believed in ghosts, it was because Jack feared the dark. He would never admit the few times his pledge to not-believing faltered because of some his experiences in these creepy dumps, so his fear of the dark grew as he reminded himself time and time again it was not paranormal but his irrational fear of the dark.
Greg had died. Cora and Dean had started dating, and Avah and Greg had this weird deep connection, and Jack was the dorky best friend, a little bit closer with Greg and Avah. He had known Greg since they were five, they were neighbors. Greg and Jack both met Avah when they were in high school, when she moved in on their street, in between Dean and Cora, who’s families moved in during their middle school years. By then the four of them were a solid pack, and Avah had melded in seamlessly.
High school, they were inseparable. Jack thought back to that time in the haunted house, how they had stayed up the whole night after, and Greg split a butt with Jack at two in the morning, how alive they had felt in that still hour.
Jack didn’t move as Avah turned to face the door on the left. Jack noticed her skin was somewhat glossy with sweat, and he wondered if she was hot in this cool autumn weather. The nights had been cooling off as summer began to taper into fall. Jack himself was a little chilled. Avah chewed her cheek, and looked back at Jack.
He wanted to tell her to stop it, let’s just go.
“Evah,” he whispered, and her head snapped in his direction, scowling. He ignored her.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” he whispered, and she shook her head, squaring her shoulders. What he really wanted to shout into the eerie silence was that she would not find Greg here.
Greg leaned against the door way. They were on the second floor of the mad house by Broadway.
“The nuns used to beat the patients with rulers. Leave big ole cuts from the sharp edges.” Avah passed through the door way and rolled her eyes at Greg, her hips full in her tight jeans. Hooked his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, his eyes dancing. He flicked off the flashlight and whispered,
“You think the looney’s will mind this?” Avah laughed as he kissed her. He pulled away for a moment to laugh too, before quieting her in the dark with another kiss.
Avah was shaking. Jack was staring at her dumb founded.
“Avah, this is insane. You’ve clearly come down with something,” he was whispering furiously as she flapped her hand at him. She moved down to the next door way, more to get away from Jack than to keep going. She sort of wanted to leave, now, too, but she was so sick of Jack hounding her. He had less and less patience, and she could not put into words how badly she had to look.
She did not know why, but when Greg had died, she knew he was lurking around in one the places they had always visited. He never had to tell her, but she could feel it that first night he had taken her ‘ghost bustin’ ‘ in the asylum, he truly believed there were spirits in some of the places. He had confided in her that his brother had died in a drunk driving accident, and he’d believed his brother was still around somewhere.
Jack may have been the only other one who knew that about Greg. He also knew that it was the same beliefs that had infested Avah’s heart as she cast around the dark ahead of him. The hairs on his arms were rising, and he thought it was more because Avah was getting him riled up, and the dark. He turned at a noise in the hallway behind him, but thought it must be nothing. Never the less he moved closer to Avah, who was still visibly displeased with him.
Now she was definitely sweating, although Jack could almost see his breath. He was getting pissed, and he wrung his hands as Avah poked her head in the door way.
“It’s really late now and you look sick as shit,” Jack was not going to say a thing about the creepy situation, just woo her home.
“Let’s go, get something to eat and tuck in for the night. What do you say, because you don’t look well. It’ll hit you like a train in the morning.” Jack looked hopefully at Avah. She pulled a piece of hair matted to her sweaty cheek away.
“No, we aren’t done.” She glowered at the dark doorway before storming through it, leaving Jack on the other side. He hesitated a moment, the pitch black a solid wall in front of him, and just as he perked up the courage to plunge through the barrier, the door swung shut in his face.
Avah pounded on the door from the other side. Jack kicked it and pried at it.
“It won’t come free, Avah!” he shouted.
“What?! What the fuck!” She kicked the door from her side
“Try the windows,” Jack shouted, but Avah did not reply. He pushed on the door again, but it would not budge a bit.
“Avah?” he shouted frantically, and then heard her knocking.
“There are bars on the windows!” she said. She resumed battering the door from her side, and Jack took survey of the things in the abandoned corridor, trying to think of a clever plan.
The battering abruptly stopped and Jack perked back up. He pressed his ear to the door and knocked.
“Avah?” he called. The hairs on the back of his neck and legs started to stand again, and he was suddenly aware of his breath hanging in the air again. He wondered if it had gotten colder or if he hadn’t quite noticed his breath so distinctly. He listened for a sound from Avah but there was nothing.
Suddenly there was a sound of something snapping against flesh, and Avah howled in pain. It sounded like something was repeatedly striking Avah, and she howled and howled over and over in pain, and Jack frantically clawed at the door, screaming for Avah.
“Avah!” he hollered, ramming the door with his shoulder, “What is happening to you, Avah, hold on I’m coming!” Avah just wailed. At one point she banged furiously on the door again, but not before it suddenly stopped, and you could hear her howl from the other side of the room a mere moment later.
Jack dialed the police. By the time they got there, the howling had stopped. Jack was in a heap outside of the door, and they gently pried him away, their multiple huge flashlights lending a clarity to the dark haunted corridor that he hadn’t been afforded in the fearsome moments before. He shivered in the light, suddenly very much aware of the edges where it met the dark. The officers moved him outside to one of their cars while the brought out the stretcher.
He wrote his statement, and he in it he did not lie. Jack told them that he heard the distinct noise of something hitting her. He likened it to a ruler snapping against flesh. The autopsy revealed that the wounds very well could have been self-inflicted. They later found a ruler in another room of the building, with Avah’s blood on it. They deduced that the wounds could have been from the sharp side, never the less, still could be self-induced.
The papers exploded, and the one question everyone asked, was, how did the ruler get in another room? Fingers were pointed at Jack, who had all but disappeared into his house after the funeral. People shouted that he had loved her all along and that was motive enough, men have done crazier!
Cora even noted to Dean when they were reading about their friend’s death in the paper,
“I don’t know, Dean. I mean, I never would have thought it, but would it surprise you? He always loved her a lot, ya know? No one’s been the same since Greg died…” to which Dean retorted,
“I don’t think anyone was as fucked up after Greg’s accident than Avah, though. She was a little out of it, I think she’d do it to herself before softie would harm a soul. Jack’s good shit.” Dean tossed the paper across their kitchen table.
Jack hid in his house. He spit on the autopsy report when it ruled her death suicidal. He remembered her howling in pain. He could hear the swish of something… something else bringing down that ruler on her. Sometimes he dreamed that it was in fact his own hand. He would wake from these terrors in a cold sweat, and do a round to make sure all the lights in the house were on, and that there were no corners full of shadow where any ghosts, of loved ones, or others, could hide.