The Dark House
By Chris Walker
Published Issue 109, January 2023
“Don’t stare, Nora”
“But mom— ”
The girl with short brown curls felt a sharp tug on her arm as her mom pulled her along. With a huff, Nora reluctantly followed her mother down the sidewalk past the house— “The dark house,” as most of Nora’s fifth grade friends called it.
It had been there for as long as Nora could remember: a sleek, futuristic-looking home with curving wood panels that might have been the architectural pride of the neighborhood, were it not for its sinister reputation.
“Bad people live there,” Nora’s mom had once told her.
“Why are they bad?”
“Just stay away from there, okay?”
And it was always like that. Nora ran up against the same stonewalls with her dad, and the parents of most of her friends. Well, most of them, except for Piper’s dad, who liked to pop open a few beers every time he got home from work, and gave Nora and Piper a few clues the previous summer.
“First, that Williams kid disappeared. Then the young reporter, the only one who ever got close,” he mused one balmy evening, getting lost in his IPA and his thoughts.
Yet even that was all Piper’s dad would say, leaving Nora and Piper to their imaginations until later that summer, when Nora happened to find some old newspapers stuffed into a box in her parent’s basement.
“SEARCH FOR OUR REPORTER CONTINUES,” screamed a front page headline of the Herald-Gazette.
Nora may only have been in fifth grade, but she knew this had something to do with what Piper’s dad said. Excitedly, she brought the faded newspaper over to Piper’s house so they could read it together.
City police tell the Herald-Gazette that they’ve twice visited the corner house on Alcott and Elm. Police spoke to somebody there on both occasions.“We’ve ruled out the home and its residents as having anything to do with any missing persons cases,” says a department spokesman. The department, however, declined to provide the Herald-Gazette with any additional details, citing the sensitivity of ongoing investigations. Property records for the home, as previously obtained by our missing reporter, revealed that the house 4937 Alcott Ln is owned by a series of shell companies.
“Shell?” Piper asked as they read that last line. “Like the beach?”
Nora retuned the newspaper to her basement before her parents could notice it was gone. For the rest of the summer she, Piper, and the other neighborhood kids did as they were told: they avoided going near the dark house.
The strange thing was that no one ever went in, and no one ever came out. Yet someone had to live there. They’d all seen the lights on at night. And one kid on the playground, Gerald, even said that he once spotted the shadows of a person walking past one of the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the house, which always had translucent shades pulled down over them.
But that October, something changed. It was Piper who first noticed that one of the floor-to-ceiling window shades had been lifted ever so slightly. It was lifted just enough that you might be able to peek underneath into the dark house if you crossed the massive yard and put your face right up to the window.
That’s what Nora had been staring at when her mother coaxed her along the sidewalk; what every kid in the neighborhood had been staring at.
“We need to take a look through that window,” Piper announced the next day on the playground.
Nora gulped. “What do you think we’ll see?”
It would be, in retrospect, the obvious question. But the question inception-ed itself in both of their minds. And the prospect of solving the neighborhood’s biggest mystery was thrilling just to think about. Not only could they solve it — they’d be first! How long would it be before some other kid at school claimed the glory of looking into the dark house? The first to unlock the secrets of what was inside?
That evening Piper came over to spend the night at Nora’s. And once Nora’s parents had gone to bed, the two snuck out the back door as quietly as they could. It took just minutes to walk the few blocks to the dark house, and though its lights were out, they could tell in the moonlight that the window shade was still open just a few inches at the bottom of a massive pane of glass.
The girls tiptoed across the lawn, their hearts racing. They were so close, only feet away now. Nora and Piper looked at each other, gulped, and slowly pressed their faces to the glass.
With a blinding glare, a light blazed on inside the home.
And before the girls could tear their eyes away from the horrifying image, they heard the snap of a twig behind them.
Chris Walker is a journalist based in Denver, and an associate editor at 5280 Magazine. He has spent his career chasing stories around the globe for publications ranging from VICE to The Atlantic, and has explored the worlds of skydiving drug smugglers, murderous expats, and armed off-gridders. But one thing that truly terrifies him? Showing people his fiction. He appreciates this chance to get outside of his comfort zone. More information about Walker’s work, including a list of journalism awards, can be found at chrisallanwalker.com. Catch him on Twitter.