It started out innocently enough, a childhood game of truth or dare, but before long, as things have a habit of doing at that age, it got out of hand. Four boys with the bravado of adolescence locked in a game of one-up-manship to impress the sole girl of the group. Firecrackers found their way into mailboxes. Flaming bags of stool were left on porches.
We were mischievous kids with the sleepy, small town of Rashosha, WI as our playground and an entire Saturday to kill.
When my turn came up for a fourth time, there was no hesitation.
“Dare!” I declared with gusto.
They huddled together. As they spoke in whispers, a sinister smile crept across their faces. They were planning something dangerous I could tell. A dare that would surely surpass the ones that preceded it. This was the first time that day that dread began to seep into my mind.
It most certainly would not be the last.
Straining to eavesdrop on their devious plans, I heard three words that caused a cold sweat to form on my brow: Thompson Funeral Home.
I pictured in my mind’s eye that building. It’s architecture ornate and opulent as it stood watch over the derelict graveyard. How many years had it been abandoned then, one, maybe two.
Why had it closed? I couldn’t be certain at the time. I just knew it was something people in town did not want to talk about, especially around children. The sheer mention of Thompson Funeral Home would make adults seize up and children stay up with the nightlight on.
“We dare you to break into the Thompson Funeral Home.”
This revelation came with little surprise. I looked on their faces as they stared back to gauge my reaction. My gaze lingered on Samantha. I stared at those lips I had been aching for someone to dare me to kiss, and I knew then and there that I was not backing down.
The bike ride was long enough for the dread to build in my gut and threaten to let my better judgment override my actions. The fact that the resplendent light of day was giving way to an ominous dusk did not help matters. However with steadfast determination, our group made it to the secluded dead end that housed the funeral home (I always remember remarking in my little head how apt it was that a cemetery was located in a dead end).
The home was even more imposing than I had remembered it. Its Victorian architecture stood in such stark contrast to the plain and unremarkable housing of the surrounding neighborhood. I crept up the steps with trepidation. With a deep breath, I turned the doorknob.
It was, of course, locked. I thought for a moment that maybe I could get out of this sensing that the fear in the group was shared and not just emanating from me. However Jason, that dick, called us to the back of the house exclaiming he knew a way to get in.
Walking to the backyard and seeing the fading light of dusk playing tricks with the headstones in the cemetery was almost enough for me to call it off. However, whenever I would get the idea to bolt, I would look at Samantha’s gorgeous smile and steel myself for what was to come.
Jason pointed out the basement window with one hand. In the other, he held a brick found amongst the unkempt grass of the yard. He handed the brick to me. The five began to chant.
“Do it! Do it! Do it!”
Seeing Samantha relish being one of the boys lifted my spirits. I hurled the brick into the window and watched with glee as the glass shattered into pieces. This feeling was very short lived.
I got on my knees and looked down into the darkness. The fear, once again, overtook my mind. How I wished I hadn’t had so much time to ruminate on what I was about to do. I took one last look at my friends, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself climbing down into the abyss.
I landed with a thud on the concrete floor of the basement. I quickly got on my feet and surveyed my surroundings as I slowly wandered away from the broken window. The basement was mostly empty. The floor was littered with garbage and offal. Two metal slabs remained in one end of the room with various tools strewn about. A large shelf hung on the wall. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see it was adorned with jars still filled to the brim with various fluids. The other end of the room was enshrouded in black, and I decided that it would remain unexplored. The silence was eerie and all encompassing. After what felt like hours but was likely no more than a minute, the smell of the basement finally hit me. It was dank and stale. I remember thinking it tasted, well, dead on my tongue. However, I quickly pushed that thought out of my mind. The room was colder, much colder than it should have been on a summer evening.
I decided I had stayed down there long enough. As I turned to head back toward the basement window, I heard it. A sound was coming from the other end of the room. As it picked up in volume, my heart lept into my throat and threatened to jump out of my mouth.
What I heard was the unmistakable sound of scratching. It began slowly, but picked up in frequency. I could hear that it was coming from the pitch black end of the room I had yet to explore. As it grew louder and louder, it became more frantic and wild. Whatever was making this noise was doing so with fury and violence.
I looked at the window not twenty feet away and sweet freedom, but before I could hightail it over there, I could feel something touch my foot.
I looked down and literally leapt into the air. A weak noise escaped my lips. A rat, who must have called this musty basement home, ran across my leg and into the darkness. I was so grateful I did not cry out, and that I was out of view of the window as I would have gotten so much shit for my reaction.
As I made my way to the window, the scratching noise had stopped. Figuring it was just the rat, my mind began to slightly ease up.
As I looked up at the window, I decided I needed to make up for my cowardice even if it wasn’t in view of my friends. I no longer wanted to be alone, but also wanted to prove how much of a “man” I was. I told them it wasn’t scary down there in the least. With some cajoling and convincing, one by one they joined me in the funeral home’s basement.
The fear slightly diminished as the presence and sound of my friends filled the void of the room.
After revealing to them the areas I had already explored, I decided we should check out the pitch black end of the room. Holding on to each other we made our way into the blackness. I pulled out my lighter and flicked it.
The flame revealed it. Samantha squeezed my arm as her eyes came upon it. A detail I cherish to this day.
A lone coffin sat on a platform. It looked to be made of oak. It was of normal size and girth. Being truthful, it was pretty unremarkable. Save that it was a reminder of the purpose of this place. Also, I was unsettled by the fact that it was closed.
Chad placed his hand on the finish and began to open it up to see what was inside.
“Wait,” I said before realizing the implications of admitting that fear lingered.
“I’m opening it you pussy,” he said.
The coffin began to open with a creak. The sound reverberated throughout the basement. When Chad had it fully opened, I shined my light into it.
I gasped. I could swear I saw… a face. Its visage twisted in agony and mouth agape in horror. In an instant it was gone.
Jason, that fucking dick, began to speak. I knew he would chastise me for showing hesitation in opening the coffin.
“Alright Gary, I double dare you to lie down in the coffin in silence with the lid closed for one minute!”
Everyone looked at me with those eyes again hoping to gauge how I would respond. Samantha must have saw the hint of hesitation in my face so she chimed in quickly.
“If you do it, I will kiss you.”
The boys erupted with oohs and ahs. I looked at her and the smile on her face said what a million words could not. She wanted that kiss just as much as me. She just needed some sort of justification and was gleeful she had found it.
Trying to hide my excitement, I replied.
“Fine. I’ll do it I guess.”
“Yeah maybe Samantha will get in the coffin with you,” Michael teased.
I crawled into the coffin. I became unsettled as I realized how comfortable it felt. The lining of the inside smooth as velvet. As I stared at the four sets of hands wrapped around the oak I began to indicate I was ready.
“Ready when y-”
The lid slammed shut with a fury by some unseen force almost crushing their hands.
Darkness engulfed me.