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Dare House

“Alvie, are you listening to me?”
The morning light peeked through the kitchen window creating dancing
figures on the kitchen linoleum. The clanking of dishes in the sink, the water
running, and the gentle tone of his mother’s voice blended into one drone, and
Alvie Sparks lost her somewhere between, “You shouldn’t hang out with those
boys…” and “…to me?”
“Sorry, Ma,” Alvie said. That was the best answer he could muster and for
once it happened to be true. Alvie’s mother continued head down over the sink,
arms in the soapy depths determined to, as Alvie’s father would say, “...rub the
pretty right out of the porcelain.”
“I just wish you wouldn’t get into so much trouble, dear. And now look at
your knee. Your father will probably have something to say as well.”
Alvie was about to say his father wouldn’t have minded, but he thought it better
to keep quiet.
Alvie moved his gaze from his mother down to the fresh scab on his right
knee. It’s been three days, shouldn’t this start peeling by now? Alvie wanted it to
peel, wished it to peel. He dared it. He imagined himself picking and pulling at it
until a portion of his sticky, oozing knee muscle became exposed. He would
terrify his mother and awe his friends that he could sustain so much pain. No

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one would call him a coward. Alvie wanted to redo his last week of school before
summer. He actually wanted to redo the whole 8th grade, but figured that was
too much to even pretend to ask. The day it happened, all he could remember
before the hard drop and the proceeding school yard laughter was Mike Reilly
looking down on him and mouthing the word “Coward.” Suddenly, his fresh
scab became itchy, he was pulled from his memory and he gently scratched
around the pink edges of the scab.
“Dear, don’t do that. Give it time to heal.”
The light through the kitchen window hit his mother’s auburn hair and
highlighted her cheek and part of her eye. For a moment she looked like she
was wearing some exquisite masquerade mask, the kind Alvie’s grandmother
would show him in her dusty books when he was 7 years old. Most of the
masks had an air of menace that gave him nightmares. Long claw like noses,
distorted and melting frowns, swirls of deep ruby reds melted with pitch black
shapes, expressions he couldn’t understand. Stupid masks. I was a coward
even when I was little, Alvie thought.

Alvie’s lanky frame moved across the yard of their modest home on
Station Avenue. His legs moved at a steady pace and the rest of him followed.
He walked slightly hunched with his head down and he started his familiar
habit, his summer ritual of sliding his hair behind his ear every 5 minutes. It
wasn’t very long, just long enough to be annoying. As it was the start of

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summer his parents didn’t bug him about getting a haircut. He crossed the
street and weaved around rusted jalopies, long abandoned and made it halfway
past Station Avenue when Jerry Milton joined him. Jerry had to walk a few
paces faster to keep up with Alvie who never slowed down, causing him to
awkwardly slow down and speed up his pace until he could find Alvie’s rhythm.
“Hey, so what are we doin’ today?”
“I don’t know, maybe go down to Ketch’s place and hang out,” Alvie said.
“I was thinking we can hang out and get some soda pop. My parents
gave me some money and I can get us all some. What do you think?”
“Soda pop? Yeah, sure. I don’t care.”
Alvie thought they must have appeared very contrasting figures from
afar. His long body was vastly different from Jerry’s small square frame. Despite
being from the same side of town their clothing was vastly different. Alvie had
thrown on jeans, a white shirt, and some scuffed sneakers. Jerry had chosen to
dress in a blue polo shirt, grey flannel pants, and penny loafers. Adopting the
habit of his parents, Jerry always took care with what he would wear by
choosing it the day before. During a camp out in Ketch’s yard, Alvie, Ketch, and
Glen Porter had all watched Jerry through the living room window after he
finished brushing his teeth. He gently folded a black polo shirt and trousers
across the back of a chair and tucked white socks in his shoes that were neatly
lined up under the chair. Alvie figured Jerry’s parents couldn’t afford the best
house in town, but they made sure their kid would be the best dressed in

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Linebridge Junior High. When Jerry came back out, the boys continued to talk
about monster movies, baseball, and the strange mole on Mrs. Carpenter’s face
that they swear would grow or shrink on any given day predicting how much
homework they would receive.
It smelled like summer to Alvie. Walking towards March Court the aroma
of barbeque entered his nostrils and created a painful stab in his belly. With
only a piece of toast in his stomach after running out of the house, he was
hoping Ketch’s home was the source of that sweet summer smell. The homes in
March Court intimidated the trees with their imposing grace and stature. They
were beautiful but Alvie was more impressed with the grass in each lawn. The
“Home of Drake”, as the boys dubbed it, had the best lawn in March Court, and
no doubt in the whole town. It was the greenest and softest lawn around.
During their camp out, they were all able to tiptoe at night barefoot from their
tents in the yard to the bathroom in the house. Alvie had likened it to a fluffy
carpet; squishy and ticklish at the same time and not a bald spot to be found.
“Ok, I’ll wait here while you knock,” Jerry said. “Jeez, it’s hot, so tell him
to hurry up, will ya?”
“Why don’t you just come in with me then if you’re so hot?”
“We’re just gonna go in, get all comfortable, and come right back outside.
No point.”

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Alvie sometimes wanted to say things to Jerry, to make him stop acting
like such a baby, but he figured he was no one to talk. Instead, Alvie sighed and
walked to the double French doors and rang the bell.
Ketch greeted him at the door with his easy smile and no questions. He
drifted passed Alvie and leapt the four steps from the door to the walkway and
landed with a loud thud from his loafers. Jerry shook his head at the display
like a scolding grandmother.
“You know you can hurt your ankles like that, not to mention your
knees.”
“Hey J-Bird! I saw something in Popular Science about worry-warts. The
little veins in their temples pump so hard that it sends a rush of blood to the
heart, gives them a heart attack and sends that blood back to their head. You
know what happens then?”
“No. What happens? And stop calling me that!”
“Their heads explode. It’s not so bad since they’re already dead from the
heart attack and all,” Ketch said. “And why not J-Bird. Your mom calls you
that.”
“You’re not my mother! And that’s a fat lie if I ever heard one. That
wouldn’t even be in Popular Science it would be in some medical magazine or
something.”
“Well, they were describing a helmet you can wear to prevent that sort of

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thing. It constricts the temples and doesn’t let you see anything so you don’t
worry. Isn’t that great, Alvie? Huh, isn’t it?”
Alvie smiled back at Ketch and nodded just wanting to get on with the
day.
“Yeah, sure Ketch, that’s great.”
“That’s pretty funny. I’m sure it took you awhile to think of that one.”
The boys finally started to make their way out of March Court. The sun
became a relentless stifling heat that choked any breeze heading their way.
“Don’t be sore, J. I’m still your best friend despite your lack of scientific
breakthrough knowledge.”
Alvie was sure if Jerry wasn’t sore already, he was after that little
comment. First, Jerry hated for anyone to think he didn’t know something.
Second, the boys were all good friends since 5th grade, but Alvie had known
Ketch since 1st grade. He had known him before the boating accident in
Ketchikan, Alaska where Dennis Drake almost drowned but emerged from the
frigid cold blue water alive as Ketch. The day it happened, Alvie felt it but knew
his friend was fine and would be back from vacation with his familiar smile and
stories to tell. They shared a connection. They had never really talked about it
but it was something all the boys knew. The day Alvie was shoved to the ground
by Mike Reilly landing painfully and awkwardly on his knees directly in front of
Mike instead of on his bottom; Ketch was there to help him up before the entire

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school had seen. Ketch was as tall as Alvie, but slightly more muscular with
striking features and neatly trimmed black hair.
“Shove that dare up your ass and never call a friend of mine coward!”
Ketch had said. Mike didn’t respond, just laughed and walked away.
“Stop thinking about that idiot. He’s not worth it.”
Ketch’s voice broke the silence as they made their way to the General Store for
some Cokes. Alvie didn’t say a word, just nodded.
“We have something to do after this, you guys. We need to meet Glen at
Dare House.”
“What? Why? Mike will be there. You told him to shove the dare up his
you-know-where,” Jerry said.
“Shut up, J. You know why!”
They both turned to Alvie who still hadn’t said a word. He took a sip of
his Coke and let the drops of condensation on the bottle run down his neck and
mix with the salty beads of sweat.

They had decided it was too far to walk to Ashton Road, so they each
went back home to collect their well worn bicycles. The Dare House was an old
colonial brick house that had been around when their grandparents were giving
headaches to their great-grandparents. It was almost directly in the center of
the town, so it bisected the small town of Wading, Virginia into two distinct
halves; the poor area around Station Avenue and the wealthy area Ketch and

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Mike lived in. The house was surrounded by majestic hundred year old trees.
They had long lush limbs that swayed back and forth in the wind commanding
the sunlight and shadows between their leaves and branches. A canopy of
shadows blanketed the house. Wiping away drops of sweat from his forhead,
Alvie noticed the rays of sunshine didn’t seem to touch the place, so it was
probably cool inside.
He couldn’t remember too many details about the house’s history, not
that anyone in the town could anymore. He did know it was built even before
Wading got its name. It was the oldest house in the neighborhood, but that
didn’t mean it was the most well taken care of. As the boys approached the
house they looked around for Glen or Mike, and Alvie just stared up at the
house. He tried to remember specific details and terms he had read when the
house was featured in some newspaper article and the class had to write
reports about it. The older colonial wooden section of the house had a mossy
wood shingle roof and was only two stories. The wooden frame was collapsed
into itself and had a large hole in the roof as if it was shot by a large cannon.
Around the 1800’s, a large brick addition was added to the home by the original
owners whose only descendents were long since a dusty memory to the oldest
residents in Wading. The brick half of the house was so vastly different it was
an odd sight. This half had aged more gracefully. The brick walls had an
intricate corbel cornice under the eaves of the gabled roof that was still intact.
All the windows and doors were topped with elaborate arches. Alvie thought

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this place was from a different time. They didn’t belong there. No one did. That’s
why the house was abandoned for so long. Not only was it expensive to fix, but
it didn’t want to be owned.
It was called several different names: Dare House, Dare Manner, and
Dare Plantation. No matter what it was called, Alvie thought it was just about
stupid boys playing stupid games and trying to scare each other. He had been
humiliated by not accepting Mike Reilly’s dare to enter the house and remove an
item from inside, whatever he could grab and run with. According to those
brave and stupid few who had entered the house there were items still there
that were too damaged for the owners to take with them, so things were just left
there strewn about. He figured Ketch and Glen had accepted the dare for him
after the incident and that’s why they were there now.
“…never call a friend of mine coward,” Ketch had said and Alvie was sure
he meant it. Now Alvie had to prove he really wasn’t a coward.
“Hey, there they are,” Jerry said, pointing towards the back of the
wooden section of the house.
Alvie felt a sudden pang of fear and imagined himself turning around,
going home and forgetting the whole thing. He took a big breath and pretended
to swallow the fear imagining it floating around like a little boat in a whale’s
belly.
“Hello ladies! I see your girlfriend made it, Ketch,” Mike said.
“Cut the crap, Mike!”

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Glen was sitting on the brick stoop eating an apple and looked up at
Alvie with a forlorn glance that didn’t seem like a good sign.
“Want an apple? I found a whole basket sitting in the back here while I
was waiting for you guys.”
Glen reached into the basket and tossed an apple to Alvie who wasn’t
really in the mood to eat anymore.
“No thanks. You found a basket?”
“Yeah, it was just…”
“Ok ladies, let’s get this started so I can let you get back to sewing,” Mike
interrupted. “I’m sure you’re all eager to hear the rules. So first you already
know you have to bring something out. It can be a piece of wall paper or dead
cat for all I care. Second, you have to go to the top of the brick section of the
building and wave out of the window so I know you made it. Plus, you have to
stay there for 5 minutes then come back out. Last, one person can go with you.”
Alvie and Ketch looked and each other and before a smile could creep up
on their faces Mike continued.
“And I get to choose that one person. I choose Jerry. Oh, and he has to
wave from the top, too.”
They all turned to Jerry who looked like he had wet himself during a class
presentation.
“No way! In order to go to the brick section you have to walk to the

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second story of the wooden section. You know the floors can barely support one
person let alone two at a time,” Alvie said.
“Well, I guess your gonna have to go one at a time or not at all. That’s
the deal,” Mike said.
Alvie knew Jerry was scared shitless, but there was no other way. This
was beyond Mike now. He could see it in the eyes of every kid that was there
that day and he saw it in the eyes of his friends. He didn’t want this to follow
him to high school. Things in Wading had a funny way of lasting.
He turned to face Jerry and before he could say a word Jerry nodded.
“Wait, you’ll do it?” Alvie asked.
“If this is the only way, I guess.”
“How touching! Can we get on with it please?”
Alvie shot Mike a glance and knew whatever he would take out of the house
would end up in Mike’s face.

The boys entered through the back of the wooden section where a small
window used to be. The floor groaned under their weight and they looked at
each other.
“It should be fine. We just have to walk slowly and not too close together
when we get higher up. Once we get to the brick section, we’re good,” Alvie said.

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Jerry nodded and they continued to the second floor. The stairs had a
dreadful creek and the narrow space smelled moldy. Alvie looked up at the
gaping hole in the roof and how rotted the wood looked around them. It was a
wonder they hadn’t fallen through the floor and into the basement yet.
“Jeez, it stinks up here,” Jerry said from the top of the stairs.
“Look how the floor sags in the middle,” Alvie said.
They both backed away from the sagging floor and walked around the
wooden debris from the roof. Alvie pointed to the start of the brick addition and
the stairs to the third floor. The brick addition stairs were even worse that the
first set of stairs. They were small and narrow so they had to walk sideways to
go up. They were almost completely vertical so the boys had to hold on to each
step for extra support as they moved up so they wouldn’t fall into each other.
They made it to the third floor and from there they had one more narrow set of
stairs to reach the top section of the house.
Alvie was surrounded by cobwebs and an odd odor he couldn’t quite
place, which seemed more disturbing than the odor itself.
“Ok, there’s the window. I’ll walk there first and wave. Then you go.”
Jerry nodded timidly. It was a change for Alvie to see him so quiet. It was as if
all his fear would escape his mouth if he said a word.
Alvie walked slowly towards the window and with each step the old
floorboards creaked and groaned. It was disturbing for him to see the floor
visibly move underneath his feet. He made it to the window which he had to

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wipe with his sleeve to see through. He looked down at Ketch and Glen who had
moved to the front of the house. They pointed up toward him and finally Mike
looked up with a vacant look on his face that made Alvie want to laugh.
“Did they see you?” Jerry asked.
“Yeah, they did. I guess it’s your turn.”
After Alvie made it back, Jerry followed his same path to the window. He
waved and with a relieved sigh turned toward Alvie. Alvie started to look around
the room for something to take with him since they had to wait about 5 minutes
up there anyway. Jerry started to walk away from the window and follow Alvie
when he felt a tug on his pant leg. He was thrown off balance and his left leg
ripped through the floorboard making a terrible sound. He glanced down and
then back towards Alvie. Alvie, startled by what sounded like thunder and
lightning trapped in the house, looked towards the center of the room where
Jerry stood terrified. All the blood had drained from his face and he was
standing in a sort of grotesque leg lunge, far from what they did in physical
education. Jerry’s left foot and ankle had disappeared into the floor boards. His
right leg was far behind him and he was standing on his collapsed right ankle
paralyzed.
“Alvie…God…Help me!”
The words came out strained and unnatural and Alvie didn’t want to
hear his name. Alvie was terrified and had to shake himself awake. He didn’t
dare go near Jerry for fear of the added weight on the floor. He looked around

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him and noticed Jerry’s right shoelace had gotten caught in a crevice where the
floorboards were starting to expand and buckle from the humidity. He must
have lost his balance causing him to slam down with his left leg, breaking
through the wood and all his weight landed on his right ankle. Something has
to be broken, Alvie thought. He had a million thoughts, and none where to stay
in the house.
Alvie moved towards the stairs.
“Jerry, I have to go get help. I promise I’ll be right back!”
Jerry whimpered like a baby and tears started to roll down his cheeks. He
shook his head and made a futile move to remove his right shoe.
“No! Jerry. Just stay there. I’ll help you.”
Alvie took off his sneakers and slowly walked towards Jerry, stepping on
floorboards that looked the sturdiest. Alvie gently removed Jerry’s shoe that was
tied down like an anchor and now a permanent addition to the house. Alvie
used all his strength to lift Jerry out of the floorboard and wrapped his arms
around his shoulders.
“Just put your weight on my shoulder.”
With each step Jerry winced and moaned and the house cried back. They
finally made it to the first story of the wooden section and Alvie gently started to
help Jerry over the window when Jerry craned his neck over Alvie’s shoulder
and pointed behind them.
“Monster!”

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Alvie turned around and a dark figure emerged from the deepest shadow of the
house and was headed towards them.
Alvie shoved Jerry over the window as fast as possible and ducked
through the window just as the shadow figure reached out with grimy thorny
hands. Alvie landed on the grass and looked up at the darkened window. For a
moment he thought the trees had become alive and were punishing them for
trespassing.
The figure poked its head out of the window and in the light Alvie realized it
wasn’t a horrible shadow monster, just a homeless squatter living in the house.
“Asshole kids…Stay out!” the man said and melted back into the
shadowed house.
Alvie looked down from the window and noticed blood running from the
brick steps to the grass and followed it to Jerry who was beside him. Jerry had
bashed his head on the stoop and rolled off the steps down to the grass. Blood
had rapidly filled a gap in the base of his head and trickled through his hair
and neck down to a bloody pool underneath him. His hair was matted with
blood that had already dried from the unrelenting heat. Alvie looked down at
Jerry’s red and swollen ankle and thought about the nightmares you never
wake from until you try to speak, twitch and fight your way out. Alvie wanted
Jerry to fight them out of this nightmare. But Jerry didn’t twitch and didn’t
speak. Alvie had to fight for them both.

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The boys had run from around the front of the house when they heard
the homeless man yell and were now watching Alvie and Jerry like a Friday
night horror movie on TV.
“Would you stop gawking and help me!”
Any other moment Alvie would have panicked, he would have run. It was
his fault Jerry went in that house and now it was his fault that he had landed
on the stoop like he did. He was going to fix this he thought, somehow.
“Glen, ride as fast as you can to the closest neighbor and tell them to call
for help. Ketch, help me stop his bleeding.”
Ketch bent down next to Alvie who removed his white shirt and wrapped it
around Jerry’s head. It immediately filled with blood like an inkblot on a
napkin. Ketch removed his shirt and created a second layer around Jerry’s
head.
Alvie looked up at Mike who had the same stupid look on his face. Alvie
reached for Jerry’s left shoe, the only one left and removed it.
“What are you doing?” Mike said.
Alvie threw Jerry’s bloodied shoe at Mike, which landed right on his face.
“I forgot to give you that. It’s from the house!”
Mike held his bruised nose and didn’t say a word. Alvie looked back down at
Jerry and held his hand.
“You’ll be fine, J. I promise.”
Alvie felt a slight squeeze from Jerry and really did believe things would be ok.

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