The Richards House was a staple of my childhood. A rotting Victorian perched atop a hill in the rolling hills of southeastern Washington; every citizen in my little hometown under the age of 12 knew the place was haunted, even though there wasn’t a shred of confirmed evidence suggesting so.
Packs of kids used to gather together on Huffys to ride up the dirt road on the edge of town that led up to the place just to stare at it and dare each other to walk up and knock on the door or go inside. I personally never saw anyone go further than the porch, but many adolescents in Uniontown, Washington will tell you they knew a kid who went in there and came back with scratches on his arm or said he saw blood stains all over the floor. This kid is likely the kid who also told everyone that Mountain Dew lowers your sperm count.
I dismissed the Richards House as some sad dying structure built by some old farmer who probably built the thing for his thriving family before his luck ran out and he had to abandon the place and look for a new pot of gold somewhere else. According to my dad, that was the story and all the little snot-nosed punks around town should just stay away from the place. In my dad’s humble opinion, the house was only haunted by a foundation that could probably give out and kill a kid at any moment.
The Richards House was an afterthought between the ages of 12 and 25, but the old place drafted back into my frontal lobe on my 26th birthday.
My best friend Ricky set the entire searing hot dumpster fire of a plan in motion when he showed up at my little birthday shindig uninvited, looking like an extra from The Walking Dead with sunken eyes, yellow skin, ratty hair and a frustrated look of hunger on his face. The guy kind of always looked like one of those Troll dolls with his big round eyes, coarse hair and stumpy stature, but he somehow found a way to make himself look like an even uglier pop culture character.
Ricky was one of those guys who you were permanently stuck with just because you were best friends when you were six. The two of us grew apart as we aged, but he always seemed to be able to hide in the back of my friend cavity like a sticky booger with a penchant for showing up at the very worst time.
With four of my “normal” college friends who had no idea who Ricky was and only a vague sense of my shitkicker upbringing in the wheat fields of southeastern Washington mixing around my dorm room with Jack and Cokes in plastic juice cups, this was one of those “worse times.” I caught a glimpse of each one of my “new” friends giving Ricky the look one gives right before they say, “I’m going to call the cops.”
Ricky started into a manic frenzy of words, spit and thirsty eyes aimed at bottles of whiskey.
“Derek, you got this. I can help you,” Ricky said.
I heard one of my friends mutter “You know this guy?” from behind me.
I pulled Ricky out into the hallway and away from the judging eyes of my new friends.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I saw this thing on Facebook. You said you were going. Had the address.”
“Okay. Okay. What the fuck do you want?”
“I can help you stay in school?”
Ricky took the upper hand with his last statement.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I ran into your mom at the grocery store. She said you lost your scholarship. Your grades are shit.”
Fuck. Ricky explained my three biggest problems at the moment in three quick sentences. My GPA dipped below a 3.0 in my second semester of college and resulted in the school pausing my academic scholarship. I had no money to pay for another semester of school without my scholarship and my mom was a raging gossip.
I checked the door to make sure none of my new friends had come out and could hear our conversation. I didn’t want them to know my struggle. They didn’t even know that I was on scholarship.
“Well thanks for driving all the way up to Spokane to tell me all this, but what exactly are you going to do about it? You look like you’ve been up for a week tweaking?”
Ricky wiped his nose and looked down at the filthy dorm hall floor.
“I uh. I uh. I uh. Have a quick, easy way for you to make a lotta money. Fast,” Ricky said.
I couldn’t believe I was going to hear Ricky out.
“You know the old Richards House, up on the hill, outside of town?”
My mind started driving down that dark, unpaved road off the highway which led through wheat fields for a mile before it started to snake up a rolling hill towards the dead shell of the grand house.
“These guys from way up in Vancouver are using it as a heroin stash house, big, big stash house. Asian guys. Like gang members. They go pick it up and fly it up to Canada with a helicopter in the middle of the night once a week in the middle of the night on Sunday nights. It just sits there in the house, untouched till then. Me and a guy down in town, Chad Thompson, you might know him as Chode Thompson, from high school…well, he dropped out freshman year, but Chad…me and Chad are gonna go in there, take just a little bit. Like fifty grand worth, sell it to these guys over in Montana where the Asians don’t go and split the cash. I thought you could use the cash. You want in?”
I couldn’t believe I was sitting in Ricky’s rusted Acura idling outside of our local gas station with one of those black ski masks with the eye and mouth holes cut out of it sweating through a pair of black sweatpants and a navy sweatshirt (we couldn’t find black in time). It was this, or drop out of school and start all over again, probably go to Tri-Cities junior college with my tail between my legs and take intro classes with all the losers I tried to leave behind.
Two of those losers (Ricky and Chad, or Chode) piled in the car with handfuls of snacks – pepperoni sticks, Pringles and Monster energy drinks. Ricky put the car in gear and cranked up some speed metal as we pulled out onto the highway.
“This is a robbery, not a road trip,” I screamed over the music, or at least tried to.
Ricky shook his head.
“Dude, you’re the one who dressed like the fuckin Hamburglar,” Ricky said.
I reached over and cranked the music down as we pulled onto the darkened road which led up to the Richards House.
“Probably not a good idea to announce our arrival with meth rock either.”
I hadn’t seen the Richards House in years, but it looked exactly the same as it always did when we pulled off to the side of the road in front of the wooden eyesore. It may have just been the intensity and nerves of the operation, but I felt a childish fear creep into the back of my skull when I looked up at the rotten wood of the house and saw it shining in the sliver of moonlight the spring crescent provided. Maybe it was the pepperoni stick mixed with the metallic taste of the Monster I had scrounged from Chad on the drive combined with the grate of the metallic music, but I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I followed Ricky and Chad up the steep walkway of loose dirt and long grass which led up to the Richards House with my eyes on the house the whole way until we were just a stone’s throw from the front steps. Something was off about the third-story crow’s nest of an attic. I swore I could see a light on, what looked like a lamp, shining through the thin sheet of white curtain which hung in front of the open window.
“There’s a light on up there,” I whispered up to Ricky and Chad.
Ricky and Chad stopped and looked up. The light was gone. I wished I hadn’t left that ski mask in the car because I was blushing.
The two guys I have already described multiple times as losers both turned around and just shook their heads at me.
“Lil Derek is gonna piss his pants,” Ricky said in a mocking tone. “Let’s just get this shit done and get the fuck out of here.”
I followed Ricky and Chad up the rickety stairs of the house and onto the porch. We stopped for a moment just in front of the door and Ricky stuck an ear up against one of the broken-out window spaces.
We game planned in the days leading up to the heist. Ricky had heard that the two stashes were in the top crow’s nest attic floor kept beneath a loose floor board and in the basement in the back of an old furnace. Being the fleetest of foot, I was going to run up to the crow’s nest, Chad was going to try the basement and Ricky was going to keep watch just inside the front door.
I took off up the grand staircase as soon as we stepped into the house, but immediately discovered something we didn’t calibrate for. There was no lighting in the house and we didn’t bring flashlights. Shocking, a soon-to-be potential college dropout and two guys with a combined 3.5 years of high school weren’t prepared.
I stopped in my tracks. Was about to speak up about the problem, but didn’t need to. Dim lights fired up all around the foyer area of the house just as I opened my mouth.
“What the fuck?” Ricky exclaimed from the base of the stairs.
Ricky looked up at me with all the confidence drained from his eyes.
“Maybe Chode got a light switch to work?” Ricky suggested, not sounding uber confident. “Go up and find that shit before things get weird.”
I followed Ricky’s orders because I didn’t know what else to do and traversed the last of the stairs, found myself on the second-story landing flanked by long, murky hallways on each side.
The lone light in each hallway flickered when I gave glances their way. I had no idea which path to take. They both just seemed to lead to dead-end hallways lined with doors.
Something pulled me left. Not a literal something…a feeling, an impulse. It was like a magnetic pull.
The hallway was tight. It smelled like rotten eggs, the taste of sulfur burned the back of my throat and my eyes. I wondered if someone maybe had a meth lab up there.
I tried the first door I came to. It let out a hideous screech when it raked across the wooden floor below me and revealed a nearly dark corridor. Past the door, I could see steep stairs which led up into complete darkness in the sliver of light the flicker in the hallway provided.
I started up the stairs. There was enough light from the hallway to where I thought I could make it up them and to the crow’s nest attic where I assumed they led.
Halfway up the stairs, the door shut at the bottom and the corridor went completely black. My heart stopped.
I heard Ricky’s voice from down below.
“Dumb ass. You took out the light by shutting that door. Open it back up,” I barked down at him.
The door opened before I could finish. I saw Ricky standing below me, soaked in blood from head-to-toe.
“What the fuck?”
“Something was down there,” Ricky said with a pained whimper before he fell hard to the floor.
I saw a dark figure sprint by the open doorway at the bottom of the stairs. It went by so quickly I couldn’t make it out. All I could tell was it was bigger than me.
I paused for a moment until I heard whatever was out there stomp back towards the door.
I fled the stairs blind. I ran until I felt myself hit the top of the stairs and I stumbled up into the attic.
The attic reminded me of the little crow’s nest you would find on the top of old barns out in the country. It was about the size of an average bedroom, but circular. A bed in the middle, surrounded by dressers and a couple easy chairs, it harkened me back to the guest room at my grandma’s house.
I shouldn’t have wasted time taking in the room. I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs behind me. I turned and slammed the wooden door shut. I pushed a dresser across the entryway.
I spun around and inhaled the awful scent I smelled earlier down in the hall. It shot into my throat and almost knocked me off my feet.
Lying before me in the bed was the source of the smell. Sprawled across the white bedspread was a bleeding woman, naked from the waist down. She let out a horrible cry when we locked eyes.
“Did he send you up here?” The bleeding woman screamed. “Well you can go ahead and tell him it didn’t make it then.”
I followed the woman’s eyes to a pool of blood puddled between her legs. I looked only for a second. It was long enough for me to know what I saw.
The woman cut me off by jumping off the bed. She grabbed a sharp piece of surgical equipment from a tray by the bed.
I panicked and ran towards a broken out window to my left. I dove out the window without even looking.
I opened up my eyes when I hit the grating shingles of the roof. I was out on the space of the roof that surrounded the attic. I scrambled to grab hold of a shingle to keep myself from falling off the slanted roof.
The roof gave out before I could steady myself or fall off the side. I felt my body gain momentary weightlessness as I tore through a sloppy nest of rotten wood and mortar.
I hit hard a floor and felt the wind knocked out of me. I gasped and wheezed, trying to take in air.
The room I had fallen into was much like the one in the attic – dated and musty with the feel of an old museum, but with a much more masculine touch. The large bed was framed in lacquered wood, rotten deer heads lined the walls and the room smelled like whiskey barf and a little hint of classic Old Spice deodorant – the kind in the red container.
I started to pick myself up off the ground, but stopped when I felt something hard smash against the back of my skull.
“Don’t piss your pants boy,” a gravely voice snarled from behind me.
The object on the back of my head adjusted enough to where I could tell it was the barrel of a pistol. My dumbfuck, backwoods buddies had put one to my head in high school playing grab ass on a drunken night so it wasn’t an alien sensation.
“Just like what you seen before, this is all about the luck of the trail greenhorn.”
Every fiber in my body wanted to turn around and see was making the old timey threats, but I knew better. There was enough whiskey just floating in the air to loosen up a trigger finger.
“What do you want?” The man asked in a flat tone.
“I don’t want anything. I just want to go home, safely,” I answered.
The man laughed right into my ear.
“Little boring, don’t you think?”
The gun pulled away from my skull and I sucked in a breath as if I had just come back up from the bottom of the deep end of a pool.
“I don’t care,” I reiterated.
The man grabbed my hair and pulled my face around. I looked up at a man with a face like a deflated leather balloon – dead, wrinkled and cinched – he looked pained.
“Well okay then,” the man started in again. “I got one of these dicklickers left in here.”
I watched the man spin the barrel of the gun and saw what looked to be a single bullet in the chamber circle around like a Tilt-A-Whirl with one carnival goer strapped into it.
“We’re going to play a game called lucky numbers boy,” the man said into my eyes with sour mash on his breath.
“I think it’s actually called Russian Roulette,” I shot back.
The man laughed a rotten laugh right in my face. His wind reminded me of the sickly aroma you get sometimes when you sneeze in the morning after a night of dealing with a really bad sinus infection – blood, pus and bacteria.
“Here goes,” the man announced before spinning the barrel.
The man clicked the barrel back into place. I took off for the door.
“Fucking shitheel,” the man yelled out like he was a drunk yelling at an underperforming athlete in a stadium.
I heard the clicking sound of a gun hammer snapping without a bullet before I made it to the door, ripped it open and tumbled through the doorway.
I opened my eyes in a dark hallway with the only light coming from a candle which was shining through an open door at the end of the corridor. Mother of fuck. What was I thinking getting myself into this shit? I couldn’t believe the dark lord who had led me into the most sinister of nightmares I felt was going to end my life at any moment was Ricky fucking Daniels. The guy probably couldn’t even wipe his asshole properly.
The sound of a boot smashing hard into the closed wooden door my back was pressed up against got me into gear. I crawled away as I heard drunken muttering come from the other side.
It took only a few seconds to get into the candle-lit room at the end of the hallway. Finally, a break. There was no one in the room. Just a short candle resting on a wooden table, a sewing machine and a few boxes covered with blankets.
I laid eyes on salvation on the other side of the room where I saw a broken out window pane which opened onto the ground-level porch. I ran at it as fast as I could and tried to jump through it once I got close enough, but no luck. I felt a hand wrap around my ankle when I was in midair and pull me down hard onto the floor.
I looked down at my foot and saw that the hand which had grabbed me came out of one of the boxes which was mostly covered by the blanket. I could see Chad encased in a thick bars in the section which wasn’t covered.
“You gotta help me out,” Chad said with his face pressed up against the thick bars which held him in the case which was about the size of a pet carrier you would use to transport a Labrador Retriever to the vet.
“Please man,” Chad pleaded on.
I cringed at Chad’s situation. The tiny confines of the cage had forced him into a little ball, he wore no clothes and almost every inch of his skin seemed to be covered with thin scratches. It looked like he had bathed in a pool of sticker bushes. Even his lips bleed when he begged.
“Come on Derek.”
I started to try and assess how I might be able to help Chad for a few seconds, but stopped my planning when I heard a chorus of three pained and panicked, male voices pipe up from the other cages which were still completely covered in blankets in the room.
“He’s coming. Oh God, he’s coming,” the voices whispered those words, or something a lot like them.
I gave Chad’s crying eyes one more look and thought the phrase, I’m sorry, but didn’t actually say it before climbing out the window.
I scurried across the porch like a cat running out of the kitchen after being startled and made my way into the eight-foot stalks of wheat which surrounded the house.
I ran deep into the grain as long as I could. Until I had to stop and breathe.
A long spray of barf roared out of me when I finally stopped. I dropped my hands down onto my knees and collected myself in a little clearing in the grain stalks. I looked around with watering eyes and watched the tops of the stalks sway in the moonlight.
Safety. Life. Maybe not.
I heard a cluster of crunches behind me. The sound of feet crunching the dried-out bases of some wheat stalks.
I spun around and saw two beams from flashlights approach. They temporarily blinded me long enough for me not to move another muscle until I was face-to-face with my comrades who I had left behind. Ricky and Chad hacked loogies at me as soon as they came into focus.
The snot-laced piles of spit fell onto the tips of my boots and Ricky started laughing.
“Dude, you fucking bitched out in there,” Ricky said in between dorky laughs.
“You ran off right when we were finding the shit,” Ricky went on.
“But we fucking got it,” Chad shouted out.
Chad lifted up a black plastic bag bulking with goods.
“Even more than we planned for,” Ricky said. “Got greedy. I bet we got a hundred large in that thing. But let’s get the fuck out of here. We followed your ass out here hoping you weren’t going to run off until you end up dead in the Snake River like your dumb ass frat boy butt buddies would.”
Ricky and Chad turned around and started to walk back in the direction of the house while I hung my head like a scalded dog. I worked through the pouting after a second though and followed them back into the thick of the crop.
“That house must have had some serious paint fumes or mold or something because I swore I saw you two bleeding all over the place and locked in cages like dogs. Thanks for running me down,” I said and finished with an awkward laugh.
Ricky and Chad stopped just before the wheat broke off into the rocky side yard of the house. They turned to me with stone faces glazed in sweat.
“Yeah, and you fucking left us,” Ricky said.
Ricky spat on the ground and walked off into the yard with Chad following.
“Wait. Hold up.”
I took off after Ricky and Chad but lost track of them as soon as I got out of the wheat.
I clammed up in the clearing. Ricky and Chad were nowhere to be seen.
The faint sound of painful moaning picked up on the wind. I followed it over to the house. It seemed to be broadcasting from the open main floor window I had jumped out of.
The single candle looked to still be lit in that room. I thought I could see the shadow of someone standing in there next to it.
I made a move south, towards the road where we parked the car. I was done with the madness. The headfuck of a maze. I didn’t care if the entire Yakuza gang was waiting for me back at the car.
Nothing waited for me at the car except for skid marks in the dirt. Based on the patterns the tires left, Ricky drove out of there in quite a hurry.
I walked the road to the highway alone then walked the highway to my parents’ house alone. I texted and called Ricky multiple times on the journey, but never heard back.
It has been three weeks now and I still haven’t been able to get a hold of Ricky, or Chad. I checked in with Ricky’s parents and they said they hadn’t seen him in a while, but weren’t worried. They said he went off the grid for weeks at a time, all the time. I also think they didn’t care. Their lives would be easier if he just never came back.
I had to drop out of school, but didn’t retreat all the way to my hometown yet. I moved about 30 minutes away, but came back to do laundry sometimes and check in with the folks.
My trips are usually pretty non-eventful, but something has been haunting me ever since the last time I pulled out of my parents’ driveway after dinner.
I noticed something was pinned beneath my windshield wiper when I walked out to my car. I walked around and pulled it off. It was a sloppy, handwritten note on a piece of paper that read:
You left us, but we’ll see you again soon enough.