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long after Dad died, Mom told us we had to go live with Gramma. She said we
couldn’t afford our house anymore.
lived in a big, old house in a far off village I had never heard of called
Orchard Hills. Gray—just like in an old photograph—two stories tall, big
windows that looked like giant eyes, and a foundation of mortar and stone, it
was the creepiest house I had ever seen. Just something about it made me think
there was something strange lurking behind every window, things even older and
creepier than Gramma herself.
weren’t that close to Gramma. In fact, my six-year-old sister, Lori, and I had
never even met her. Mom always said she had a few screws loose, that maybe she
wasn’t all there in the head, perhaps suffering from dementia and was possibly
we had nowhere else to go.
into Orchard Hills on our moving day, the first thing I noticed was there
didn’t seem to be anything in this village that was separate from the cemetery.
There were tombstones as far as the eye could see.
I asked from the passenger seat, “is this entire town just one big grave yard?”
began crying, but didn’t answer me. I assumed she was thinking about Dad. This
was going to be tough. I really missed Dad, and I was going to miss all of my
friends. I could feel the tears beginning to well in my eyes. I looked away to
hide my face.
Lori said from the backseat, “Amanda’s crying.” Sometimes I just wanted to
punch her little face in.
going to kill you!” I screamed, unbuckled my seatbelt, and turned around. Tears
were streaming down my face, my eyes, swollen. I couldn’t see, but that fact
didn’t stop me from trying to land a punch.
me! Help me!” Lori cried and undid her own seatbelt. She was trying to open the
not going anywhere!” I screamed.
then I was flung against the dashboard, my head cracking into the windshield.
both of you!” Mom yelled, crying. “I am not having this. You two will behave
yourselves or else. You got it?”
never pushed Mom to be specific with her “or else” threats. It used to mean “or
else Dad is getting involved.” Now it meant “or else you’ll have to live with
the fact you made me cry.” Both Lori and I shut up, turned around, and sat back
in our seats.
continued going up the road in silence. This road seemed to be as close to Main
Street as anything, in fact, I think it was probably the only road in this
entire town. According to a sign we passed, it was called Sharp Road.
we came to the house as the gravestones thinned out. “Ninety-one eleven Sharp
Road,” I said, reading the house number. “That’s our new address. Sounds
day was stormy, with rain threatening to wash us out as we ran our stuff from
the car to the house. The lawn appeared as though it hadn’t been mowed in
decades, perhaps centuries, making the trek between the car and the house
difficult. The weeds literally reached up to my chest.
front door opened up into a dining room with wooden floors and white, plaster
walls. Directly to my left, I saw something most peculiar. There was a toilet
and an old-fashioned bathtub in what looked like a closet not ten feet from the
dining room table. How odd. The thought of an open bathroom next to where we
were expected to eat our meals made me want to hurl.
gramma greeted us, wearing, strangely enough, what looked like sheepskin died
pink. She grabbed me in a tight squeeze, pushing the breath from my lungs. The
perfume she wore stunk worse than anything I had ever smelled before. I tried
to push her away, but my hands just pushed into rolls of fat and sweat.
to meet you, Gramma,” I grunted through a flabby arm.
finally released me and looked at me in the queerest fashion. “Amanda, you look
just like your father.” Everyone said that. I had long brown hair just like my
what room is mine?” Lori shouted from behind me. She was carrying a pile of
pillows and blankets that were taller than she was.
Lori, what are you doing?” Mom said, rushing in from behind her. She managed to
save the falling tower of pillows just before they spilled over everywhere.
save, Mom,” I said, finally managing to pull away from Gramma. I immediately
went to her aid. Not because I wanted to help her, but because I just needed an
excuse to get away.
room is mine?” Lori asked again.
we could venture off to find bedrooms, Gramma bounded upon us with arms wide
open, “Come here. I wanna hug you both. How are my grandbabies?”
round two, I
thought as I braced myself.
swept us both into a fanatical hug, squeezing tightly, and seeming to offer no
hope she would ever let go. “I could just eat you both up.”
a second, I thought she was actually going to make good on her “threat.” Maybe
my mind was just playing tricks on me, but for a second, I was sure she had my
entire ear in her mouth.
good,” I grunted. Mom wasn’t exaggerating. This woman was loony tunes.
squeezed us a bit harder, pushing my face into her armpit. It was disgusting.
All that flab with its disgusting taste of sweat laced with salt and bacteria.
I couldn’t breathe. Lori struggled too, but she was smaller, so she managed to
duck out from under Gramma’s beefy arms. I cried for help, but my voice was
muffled by jelly rolls.
can you let her go, please?” Mom asked.
held on to me for another few seconds and then finally let go. I breathed
heavily, as if I had just finished a five-mile sprint. “What a couple of
lovely, delicious children you have here.” Her choice of the word “delicious”
concerned me a bit, especially when I looked into those crazed eyes.
and Gramma began talking about things I had no idea, nor any interest in
learning, about. While they talked, I walked in the family room off to the left
of the dining room. There was what looked like a wood-burning stove to my left,
with a couple of rocking chairs in front of it, and a rack full of logs beside
were at least fifteen deer and coyote heads mounted on the walls. Disgusting.
I called back to her, “this place is weird.”
your gramma and I are talking.” Her voice was somber and lonely. I really
wished Dad were here.
from the stove was a doorway that led to a set of stairs heading up to the
second floor. Mom had said on the way here that our rooms would be on the
really wasn’t any point in going up to my room empty-handed. “I, uh, need to go
get more stuff,” I said under my breath and headed out the front door.
car didn’t have a lot in it. Moving into a house where someone already lives
creates the issue of excess furniture. Mom insisted we leave most of the stuff
at our old house, so there were mainly just boxes of books, some video games,
and Mom were still talking as I came back in. Lori was standing there with
pillows and blankets in hand, having recovered them after hugging Gramma. She
looked like she was waiting for directions to our bedrooms.
told Lori to just follow me upstairs, that we would just choose our own rooms,
since I was sure Mom wouldn’t be in the mood to help us, and I wanted to stay
as far away from Gramma as possible.
went up the staircase. Walking up those steps produced the most amazing sort of
echo; the sound of light, but heavy-sounding steps down an empty hall.
just sounded so cool, yet it made me a little uneasy.
upstairs was a rather large, L-shaped corridor with five rooms off of it. It
looked as though Gramma hadn’t been up there in years, if ever. Cobwebs filled
every corner; dust coated the floor. There was even a door that led directly
outside, not onto a balcony, just outside to a thirty-foot fall and a broken
leg or two.
that the door to the hospital?” Lori asked, dead serious.
No, it’s….” And then I realized she was joking. Door to the hospital, ha, very funny, Lori.
because if you walk through it, you’re going to the hospital.”
know, Lori, I get it.” I had to admit that it was a pretty funny joke, especially
for a six-year-old. “I guess we’ll just have to call this ‘the door to the
mind. It was your joke. If I lost you, that’s your own fault. Hey, why don’t
you take that room down there?” I pointed to our left past what must have been
the smokestack from the wood-burning stove.
room I chose was at junction of the L, just past that “door to the hospital,”
or as I would think of it, “the door to nowhere.” It had green wall paper
covering broken plaster. I had never seen a house this old, and I had no idea
before moving in there just how strange old houses could be. The windows, too,
were strange. Everything looked wavy, as if the glass was defective.
threw down my bag of clothes. There was a bed set up in the room already, and
by the looks of it, it had been in there for quite a while. The covers were
neat, the pillows fluffed, but a cloud of dust billowed into the air as I sat
on the bed. Gross, but tolerable, I supposed. I laughed out loud as I thought
about how disgustingly awful it was.
could hear footsteps coming to my door. They were a bit lighter, so naturally,
I assumed they were Lori’s. “Lori, check this out.” I stood and went to the
door, but there was nobody there.
I felt hairs sticking up on my head and my neck, and my heart started beating
faster. I wouldn’t exactly say I was scared, but….
hey look at this!” Lori said, jumping out of her room directly to my right. The
smokestack blocked most of my view of her room.
you scared the bejeebies out of me. Is there anyone else up here?”
don’t know, but you gotta look at what I got in my room!”
heart-rate slowed a bit as I entered her room. It was a lot like mine, except
with pink walls instead of green. But most noticeably, there was a white pipe
running from the floor to the ceiling. Lori jumped on it as if it were a
fireman’s pole and attempted to climb it. She managed only a foot or two, but
then slid back down. “Isn’t this awesome?”
wonder what it is,” I said. “Looks like some sort of plumbing.” I thought for a
second. What room was directly below this one, where that pipe might have come
from? Being so new to this house, it took me a second to remember that it was
the bathroom. “Lori, you know what that is?”
the main pipe for the bathroom.”
is? Ew. Does that mean there’s poop and pee in it?”
thing. Also has farts.” I heard from Mom later that day that it was a vent
stack, sometimes called a stink pipe, that carries gases from the septic system
to the outside so that it doesn’t back up into the house. These pipes were
usually in the walls, not jutting up from the floor in the middle of the room.
gross. I don’t think I want this room anymore.”
luck, chum. You gotta play the hand you’re dealt.”
she said with an exaggerated look of confusion.
don’t know. Just sounded good.”
turned to leave Lori’s room but paused as I saw a dark shape walk past the
door. “Lori, did you see that?” I cried. It wasn’t your regular shadow. This
had more substance to it. “It was like a—”
Lori screamed, finishing my sentence.
don’t know what came over me, but before I knew it, I was rushing out into the
hall to get a better look at whatever it was. There was a man walking away from
me, toward that strange door to nowhere, as if he aimed to walk through it. He
was dark, almost impossible to see, but I could barely make out his clothing.
He was wearing one of those hats you see all the men wearing in old movies, as
well as a matching suit.
then he was gone.
was a large adjustment for Lori and me. First of all, we were in a strange, new
place, but also, and more importantly, our father was gone. Mom never told us
how he died, saying it wasn’t something we should have to think about. I was to
take the fact of my dad’s death as a matter of faith, that he was no longer
around because he no longer existed, that he was dead. It hurt, and what was
worse, I wasn’t even sure if I fully understood what death was. The fact that
he wasn’t here with us anymore made me think every day and night about him, and
how much I missed him.
coming through the wavy glass of the windows created strange shadows on the
walls. I lay in my bed, thinking about the meaning of life, what it meant to
die, and where my dad fit into all of that.
Dad’s death a lot harder than Lori. I knew him better. Sometimes, she acted as
if he were just a name, a faceless figure that had never actually been there.
did that mean he was truly gone forever?
was at Dad’s funeral. Mom, Lori, and I stood there at the graveside as the
casket was lowered into the ground. A part of me didn’t really believe he was
dead. I needed proof. I needed to see for myself.
not really dead!” I screamed, rushing toward the open grave. I leapt on top of
the casket and tried to pry it open, but before I could, a set of strong arms
pulled me back and pushed me to the ground.
was the man in the old-fashioned suit and hat. “Who are you?” I shouted. He
only smiled in response and then disappeared.
grabbed my arm and pulled me back to the group of family and friends, all of
them looking at me with a mixture of disdain and sympathy. I could almost read
their thoughts through those hurtful looks: I
feel so sorry for that pathetic child.
woke with a start. Nothing but moonlight greeted me as I sat up in bed. Shadows
danced on the walls and across the floor, creating weird shapes across the
walls. The sound of wind gusting outside made me think of The Wizard of OZ. I imagined I could look outside the window and
discover that the house—or just the room I was in—was blowing away to some
reality, the east-facing window just above my bed showcased a large pine tree
with its limbs blowing in the wind. The limbs shook ever more violently as the
long grass swayed in the wind as well, but there was something else out there.
I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like people walking around, people in
pressed my face against the glass. It was cold to the touch. Who were those
people? Or were they people at all? They certainly had humanoid shapes, but I
could make out what looked like wings on their backs, as well as glowing red
were at least five of them, but less than ten. They seemed to be running about,
chasing each other, then before my eyes, they seemed to multiply. Before, there
were less than ten. Now, there had to be no less than several hundred, if not
several minutes, they gathered in a circle around the tree. They started
chanting something that sounded like a combination of animalistic screeches. It
was hard to hear over the wind. I leaned closer to the window, the side of my
face pressing against the cool glass.
the bed moved, and I slipped, knocking my head against the window. Boy, did
that ever hurt. I lay on the floor for a moment. Stars danced across my vision.
didn’t immediately get up. Something was telling me to stay down, to stay out
of the sight of the window. A moment later, I realized the screeching—the
chants—had stopped. My window face-plant seemed to have gotten their
attention—attention I most definitely didn’t want.
then I heard something, a tapping at the window just above my head.
looked up and screamed.
in at me was a pair of bright red eyes sunken deep within an inhuman face. I
closed my eyes. Please go away, please go
away. But I could hear the breathing, the tapping at the window. The thing
that was out there wanted in. It wanted me.
I heard a cracking sound. Was the window cracking? As I looked, instead of
cracks, I saw the spreading of ice across the glass.
heart raced. What do I do? I rolled
away, to the other side of the room against the wall that I shared with Lori.
What I wouldn’t give to be in her room right then, to be far away from this
being staring in at me.
tapped the glass again. The ice was now gone, only having been there for a few
brief moments. From my new vantage point, I saw the red eyes reflecting off the
glass and back into its face. The sharp angles of its nose, the long, drawn-out
knives of its teeth, its leathery skin, and the bat-like snout reminded me of
some sort of vampire-like creature.
cracked its head into the glass, and then pushed itself off the side of the
house, and in the light of its glowing eyes, I could clearly make out wings
measuring at least twenty feet in total span.
gusting wind couldn’t dampen the sound of the creature’s screeches as it flew
away. The others that had been standing outside appeared to fly away as well,
for I could see the glow from their eyes lift into the air.
had no curtains, no blinds. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep,
especially not in this room, where there were two windows—one on the east wall
and the other on the north wall—and nowhere to hide.
somehow I did. Somehow I drifted off to sleep without even getting back onto
the early hours of morning, just before sunrise, I was awoken by the creaking
of a door, possibly the door out in the hallway, the one that led to pain and
suffering, as if it were opening and closing.
then I heard the voices, voices calling my name. “Amanda…Amanda…Let us out.”
don’t know if I was just hearing things, letting my mind run wild. Maybe my
mind was playing tricks, but why did the voices sound so real, so clear?
could barely eat my breakfast. Picking at my pancakes, I could not gather the
strength or desire to lift a single bite to my mouth. Those red eyes burned
through my memory, searing my mind, ruining any semblance of appetite I may
seemed to be doing the same, looking as though she had some huge, foreboding
weight on her shoulders, and picking at her food.
came in from the kitchen, carrying a steaming plate of sausage and hash browns.
“Who wants sausage?” she said with an abnormally cheery manner. Well, not
abnormal for her, I supposed. Her hair was done up in giant pink curlers, her
bright red lipstick smeared messily across her lips in a way that made her
resemble The Joker from Batman, and her light blue nightgown left little of
what was underneath to the imagination.
could feel the urge to throw up, to vomit all over my pancakes.
I somehow managed to calm the urge and say, “No thanks, Gramma. I’m really not
neither,” Lori said.
smiled, looking ever more like an insane clown, and shoveled a mixture of
sausage and hash browns right on top of my uneaten pancakes. “You two should
eat. You’re both too thin. Eat up.” Then she went back to the kitchen.
couldn’t even imagine eating any more, especially not when all my food was
mixed together like that. It was a bit disgusting to say the least.
away. Gramma had piled the disgusting mixture onto her pancakes as well.
dear?” she said as she returned from the kitchen with a plate of something
green and blue and possibly deadly. I breathed a sigh of relief as she sat down
and started eating it without offering it to either me or Lori.
were those things at my window last night?”
stopped, suddenly choking on the “food” she had been shoveling into her mouth.
do you need me to get you something to drink?” I asked, getting up.
no, dear,” she managed through several sharp coughs. Then she turned to Lori,
staring at her with a worried expression, “What do you mean?” she asked even
though it was obvious she knew exactly what Lori meant.
had glowing red eyes…and their faces looked…I don’t know, like—”
mind flashed back to the night before, to what I saw. The red eyes. The
bat-like form. “It was like a bat, a giant bat,” I finished Lori’s sentence.
shivered in what looked like a mixture of disgust and dread.
it wasn’t just a dream, a figment of my imagination. Lori had seen those
creatures as well, and something about this made Gramma uncomfortable.
what are they? I saw them too,” I said. “And I think they wanted me to….” I
thought back to the voice I had heard in my sleep. “Amanda…Let us out.”
called to me too,” Lori said. “That pipe in my room, they were talking through
that…and it was glowing red.”
stood, taking her plate to the kitchen and dropping it so hard in the sink that
I thought for sure it would shatter. Was she crying? I couldn’t tell for sure.
She had her back turned to us, but I could clearly see her shoulders moving up
and down, as well as hear her sniffles.
are you all right?” I asked. I stood up and walked over to her. When I put a
hand on her shoulder, she swiped her hand around and nearly took my head off. I
ducked just in time. “Gramma? What’s going on?”
rushed away from me, never uttering a word, ran through the dining room, into
the family room, and into the bedroom just past the wood-burning stove and
slammed the door.
wrong with Gramma?” Lori asked.
don’t know. We should leave her alone. Where’s Mom?”
didn’t realize at the time that the answer to that question would be just as
frightening as that creature at the window.
novel, 9111 Sharp Road
(with Andrew Utley)