2019/09/03

A House With All the Children Gone

Farmhouse Door

Lately my mind has been wandering back to my first days of high school. The change from summer to fall often makes me nostalgic, and the feeling has been more vivid than usual this time. Perhaps this oncoming season bears a special resemblance to that long-vanished fall of my freshman year.

Having gone to the same school from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade, I found the prospect of changing schools for the first time daunting. Many of my grade school friends had already drifted away, and making new ones became a deep concern for me.

The first friend I made in high school had grown up in a rural suburb of St. Louis before moving to my town. One night around this time of year, we sat huddled in a mutual friend's basement playing West End Games' classic Star Wars RPG while a thunderstorm raged without and above. The game soon turned into a late-night gab session, and my new friend told this story.

Unlike previous tales of high strangeness I've shared on this blog, my friend's story doesn't involve dark woods--or any darkness at all, for that matter. The events he related happened in the full light of day under a clear blue sky.

Nor did he encounter any strange creatures. In fact, he encountered no one at all.

In spite of--or rather because of--those otherwise un-spooky circumstances, this tale remains the eeriest anyone has ever presented to me as a factual account.

One year before he would tell of what transpired that day, my friend had just begun his final year of junior high in the small Missouri town of his formative years. A neighborhood teen who'd gotten his license at the end of the previous school year pulled up in front of the house where my friend lived with his mother and sisters and told him he had something to show him. My friend hopped in the older kid's car, and they drove off.

Though people then were already complaining about the loss of social trust, it was still a more trusting time than now.

The young driver pointed his rattletrap first car toward the city limits and drove out into the green and brown quilted farmland beyond. My friend once drew me a map of the area with a handy, color-coded key. Yellow stood for corn, green represented soybeans, and gray signified nothing. The map was a big yellow splotch next to a big green splotch on a solid gray background.

The ride passed in silence. My friend, normally a talkative extrovert, sensed that small talk was uncalled-for. It was as if he were being driven to a funeral. Despite the mild sunny day, the mood in the car remained somber.

After perhaps half an hour's drive, the stark profile of a lonely farm house broke the horizon. My friend has an artist's eye, and he mused over the remote but not rundown building as the car approached it. He assumed his older friend would drive past the isolated homestead and was at first confused when the driver slowed down and turned in to the rutted dirt track leading to the house.

My friend's next sentiment after his confusion passed was a visceral aversion to the place. He considered telling his friend to back up and turn the car around, but he held his tongue.

The driver stopped the car in front of the house and said, "This is it."

"It" still looked like a white, two-and-a-half-story farmhouse set only a few dozen feet back from the road. But the closer my friend looked, the more oddities he noticed.

His up-close look confirmed the impression he'd gotten of the place from the road. The house would probably need a fresh coat of paint and a new roof in a couple of years, but it was clearly well-maintained.

The yard, though, was a glaring exception. The overgrown front lawn almost reached my friend's knees. A few paces across a porch reached by five sturdy steps, the front door yawned wide open.

At that point, the driver filled my friend in on the back story--what was known of it, at least. Rumors of an abandoned farmhouse out in the sticks had been making the rounds among the local high school crowd all week. A few upperclassmen had finally found the place, but they hadn't gone in.

My friend's associate was determined to do what his elders hadn't dared.

But he didn't dare do it alone. Hence his perfunctory invitation to my friend.

Another wave of trepidation washed over my friend, but his natural curiosity had taken firm hold by then. He took the lead, picking his way through tall grass. Four or five steps in, his foot crunched down on something hard-edged but brittle. His own cry of alarm in that desolate place spooked him even worse.

The older kid stooped down and fished around in the dry, sweet-smelling grass for a second and came up with a Batmobile toy--its plastic roof cracked by my friend's foot.

That black plastic car wasn't the only child's toy the two of them found that day. My friend said there must have been a toybox full scattered around that overgrown yard with no children in sight.

Having survived the minefield, my friend and the older kid hurried up the steps to the porch. They stood for a silent moment peering into the half-light of a rather normal-looking coat hall. specks of dust danced in a beam of sunlight slanting through a window somewhere to the right.

Once again, my friend went first. The house didn't smell of mold and decay. It smelled of dust, a thick layer of which coated the floor. The absence of footprints proved the driver correct. He and my friend were the first to enter the house in some time.

Despite the front door being left wide open.

And not only were there no human footprints in the dust. There were no animal tracks, either. Not even a roaming cat or stray dog had disturbed the house's emptiness.

The two of them looked around. Every room was fully furnished. Family portraits, including at least three children shown at various ages, graced the walls. Minor valuables remained on display. It was as if the family had left for the movies months before and never returned.

This exurban exploration had thus far confined itself to the ground floor. It was my friend who once more mustered the courage to cross another invisible boundary and venture upstairs. He climbed the creaking, dusty steps, keeping his eyes on the open door above.

When he reached the second floor landing and saw through the door into a short hallway beyond, he briefly paused in shock before he turned on his heel and raced back downstairs.

The older kid met him in the living room and asked what had happened. My friend showed him what he'd missed on his first trip up the stairs: a lone set of footprints in the dust descending the stairs from the second floor.

Where the child-sized tracks had begun in the exact middle of the hallway.

The three other doors in that hallway were shut tight, and the undisturbed dust before them proved that they'd been that way since it had begun to accumulate. The shod footprints came from nowhere, as if a young child had suddenly appeared in the middle of the hall.

That discovery convinced my friend and his accomplice to leave, but it wasn't the sight that chilled him the most then and haunted him thereafter.

My friend vividly recalled standing in the deserted farmhouse's kitchen and staring out the likewise open back door upon rolling soybean fields that stretched to the horizon. In that moment he felt like a castaway adrift on a vast green sea. He wondered what it would feel like facing that endless empty vista day after day. He wondered what thoughts that bleak view would sow in a weak man's mind.

He never found out for sure. The two interlopers left the house, returned to their homes, and went back to school the next day. Rumors of the deserted farmhouse soon faded, replaced by passing flights of teenage fancy.

Until the night my friend shared this story with me, as I have shared it with you.


This was a tale told to me as fact by a man I trust. If you'd like to read my fiction, now is the perfect time to jump on board. Back Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming, and get all three XSeed books for the price of one.

Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming - Brian Niemeier

22 comments:

  1. I read that in Robert Stack's voice with this playing in the background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6Z5Gcmzc88

    These types of stories are never not interesting.

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    1. Kudos on finding the ideal way of enjoying these stories. Glad you like them!

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  2. Ah, too bad he didn’t go further.

    Love these kinds of stories.

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    1. That's the one detail that, more than anything, lent credence to the story for me.

      My friend is the original life-of-the-party extrovert and a natural storyteller. Yet he told this one with uncharacteristic reticence I never saw before or since. Only years later, after some of my friends had been dragged into the neocons' foreign adventures and back did I encounter similar instances of men wrestling with the need to tell difficult stories.

      This one was almost closer to an interview than a story. My friend would volunteer a rough, broad statement like, "I went through this weird abandoned house once." We got the rest of the story as presented here by sporadically quizzing him throughout the night. We'd game a bit, somebody would go for a soda, come back, and ask, "Did you check out the basement?" My friend would give a few more details. That's how it went.

      NB: The place did have a basement--specifically, one of those old storm cellars. As far as my friend and his buddy could see, the only way to access it was through a big set of double doors set into the foundation outside. Nothing could have induced my friend to go down there.

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  3. I've seen some shitty horror flicks that don't scare you in the least. But reading this sent some unpleasant chills down my spine. I live alone and for a moment I felt like something was about to creep behind my back.

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  4. Another great tale. I am left wondering what ever happened to the property. Did it sit in neglect for decades and fall apart? Was it seized for taxes and sold? Did a poor, unsuspecting real estate agent with a low Perception score wander all the way upstairs and get the fright of her life?

    As much as I like closure, I think these questions add to the tale rather than detract.

    Personally, I can tell you that my co-workers believe I have ice-water running in my veins. I am of average height, on the slender side. I am far from the biggest or strongest. But I am always calm and I do not hesitate when action is called for. That's why I was made an FTO.

    But the upstairs and child footprints would certainly give me pause.

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    1. "I am far from the biggest or strongest. But I am always calm and I do not hesitate when action is called for."

      That alone places you among the more dangerous types of people. I would rather fight a man with five inches and twenty-five pounds on me than mess with you.

      "But the upstairs and child footprints would certainly give me pause."

      Despite the strong initial shock, my friend looks back on the footprints with something like bemusement. It was the feeling that suffused the place--always more difficult to convey in writing than in person--that most unnerved him then and still haunts him now.

      To put his unease to words, it was the manifold, subtle contradictions that made the place feel wrong.

      We asked how long the house had been empty, and he admitted to having no idea. The home and its contents defied easy dating. Everything could have been made anytime from the late 70s up to the then-present.

      For reference, this happened in the early 90s after a summer of particularly severe flooding along the Mississippi. Picture a sitcom that runs for 20 years, but the set and props never change. That's what this house felt like.

      Since my friend specifically searched for clues to the date of the house's abandonment, we can reasonably assume there were no piled-up newspapers or mail, which is odd in itself.

      The other incongruity was the dust. For one, there was too much of it. By the indication my friend gave with his thumb and forefinger, the dust was roughly a quarter inch thick. It was also uniform. Go into a long-neglected house, and you'll see that the dust tends to accumulate along walls and in corners. This house had a level coating everywhere. We asked if dirt could have blown in from the fields since both doors and a number of windows were open. My friend just shrugged and said, "Sure, I guess."

      Is there a mundane explanation for the whole episode? Probably, but such an extraordinary confluence of ordinary phenomena qualifies as a wonder in and of itself.

      "I am left wondering what ever happened to the property. Did it sit in neglect for decades and fall apart? Was it seized for taxes and sold?"

      If I were a betting man, I wouldn't hesitate to wager on either of those near-certainties.

      But I am not a betting man, and the sane boyish impulse that inclines me to check the closet when I hear a strange noise in the night tells me the house is still standing empty on that lonely country road, just as my friend left it.



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    2. -"To put his unease to words, it was the manifold, subtle contradictions that made the place feel wrong."

      -"Probably, but such an extraordinary confluence of ordinary phenomena qualifies as a wonder in and of itself."


      I call this a Preponderance of Irregularities. I use the term frequently at work, though I am sure someone, somewhere has had the same thought. (One might say the Jeffrey Epstein situation would be another good example). I counsel people to pay attention to this always.

      When the irregularities start piling up, ask more questions.

      I believe in gut and intuition. I think this concept is along the same line. Related at the very least, maybe even a degree of intuition. Learning to notice and count the irregularities, to is invaluable. Maybe its the first step to cultivating intuition? Maybe I should leave that to the more philosophically inclined.

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    3. "A preponderance of irregularities" I love that phrase. It perfectly expresses my friend's meaning.

      Intuition arrives at the same conclusions as logic, but it skips steps. I myself am highly intuitive but also of an analytical bent, so I've had to train myself to trust my gut.

      In the past, if I had a bad feeling but the situation looked normal, I'd rationalize it away. Now, after hard experience, I just get out of there.

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    4. -"In the past, if I had a bad feeling but the situation looked normal, I'd rationalize it away. Now, after hard experience, I just get out of there."

      Ever read Gavin DeBecker's 'The Gift of Fear'? I'm not a fan of the man or his politics but the book is a terrific insight, one often glossed over. I've have found myself using the advice on many occasions. His advice on stalkers and their type is dead on, and I have been able to use it to decent effect.

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    5. I haven't read it, but thank you for the recommendation.

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  5. I've been drawn to abandoned and desolate places my whole life. They are bereft without us; a human soul is the only soul they can have. I try to be kind, to remember them as places of life, to hold in my mind the people who began there, the families that still are, just not here. That way they are not dishonoured as well as lonely.

    They don't like to be alone.

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    1. Wreckage, I agree. There is something unsettling and sad about places that used to be homes and are no longer.

      My childhood had its ups and downs, but my parents were the best and the home they made was a refuge. I felt safe under their roof. My memories of that house are all positive. To think of other homes were other families grew like ours did, now empty of laughter and that presence that comes from knowing a place is inhabited saddens me.

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    2. It is a comfort to find such concordant souls!

      I cannot see an empty home without imagining all the Christmases, birthdays, and anniversaries once celebrated within its walls and feeling a sympathetic pang of loss.

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  6. "A House With All the Children Gone"

    You mean, the West? No children, but maybe for some ghosts?

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    1. I have grown more cynical and my passions less easily stirred with the grinding of time, but your single sentence has chilled me more than the entire story which occasioned it.

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  7. I was about to sleep. Not anymore though

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    1. Imagine hearing it from a gifted storyteller in a dimly lit basement during a thunderstorm.

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