The old Wasner place was THE best place to hang out. Every child knew that.
It was like a rite of passage; you turned 12, and you would go to the house on the night of the birthday with a few of your friends.
Nothing big, maybe a sleepover, but it was marvelously spooky and even more beautiful, overgrown with lichen that would tickle your toes and little flowers all over the walls.
You could scream in there and it would bounce around the halls like a tennis ball, circulating around the house. It was stunning, that's for sure, and all of the children would flock there.
On any given day, there would be at least six groups there, maybe more, and through the years the big front hall was filled with all kinds of sheets and pillows so anyone could sleep there anytime. It was great.
Still, though the older kids utterly refused to let anyone over 20 so much as look at the house; whether it was instinct or some kind of weird direction, they were banned.
Kids who outgrew the house would stand guard outside during school hours, seeming to understand it as some kind of solemn duty they had to fulfill; their faces were always flat and expressionless, as if they were being taken hostage.
It remained a curiosity to the adults, an amusing anecdote to tell when relatives came around, but that's all it was. A funny little landmark in the town.
Charlie, one day, decided he wanted to change that.
Armed with a camcorder and the secret knowledge that this was the night before his 20h birthday, he embarked to the manor without so much as a care.
"Today I prove that there's nothing here," he'd chuckle into the lens, and then he went inside, the "guards" standing aside to allow him passage.
He took himself and his camera into the very highest reaches of the mansion, retiring to a small little side room.
Nobody would come in the room, he decided, and he spent the rest of the night with his phone and some trail mix he brought.
Life was good, and he almost forgot about his mission as he stretched awake in the morning.
Thankfully, the camcorder on the bedside table stopped him from leaving the room without a care, and he snatched it before he left.
There seemed to be a strange energy humming through the place, and it was oddly silent as he left the bedroom, ducking under a hanging curtain of vines.
They seemed to twitch at his hand, drawing away to the best of their power.
He went to a balcony and stepped out, patting the lichen on the railings as he always had, when he was twelve, when he was young. Happy memories flooded his brain, and he dropped into a reverie.
He was startled by a noise from behind; a vine thunked onto the floor, seemingly severed from its stem. Chuckling, he lifted it off the floor and was surprised when it twitched in his hand.
He filmed it for a good twenty seconds before it went limp in his palm, immediately going from green to brown and disintegrating in his open hand. He kicked the pile of dust on the ground in a huff, saluted to the camera, and went back inside to continue his exploration.
He realized why it was so quiet: the kids were gone. He could see several outside the gates, glaring at him. He chuckled and meandered down the hallway, running his hands along the moss on the wall.
Turning around, he noticed a curious thing: a brown patch where he has put his hand. The line extended the entire time he had been walking. He tapped the flowers growing out of the hanging baskets, too-- each one wilted to his touch.
Laughing, he threw his hands in the air and yelled: "What you gonna do about it, house? Haunt me with your spooky-wookum ghost magic?"
The house responded: a gentle hum through the house, and little white flowers sprouting on the moss. Amused and slightly bewildered, Charlie flipped on his video and followed the trail the flowers left, poking each one as he went by.
He was led through the entire house, not so much as a peep from a single child, but the hum was growing steadily louder. He was led blindly down the basement, down rickety steps and coughing from dust. Nobody had been here in a long time, that was for sure. He pulled out a flashlight and turned it on, the beam casting a narrow trail through the dark below.
He couldn't stop himself from gagging-- it smelled like death in here. Casting the beam on the walls, he gasped as he saw dozens of tiny creatures-- rats, foxes, even a dog-- wrapped to the walls with vine, seemingly dried of moisture and nutrition. They looked like raisins, really.
He could presume that's what the smell of decay was. He held back dry heaves as he scanned the walls with his camcorder, flipping on night vision, noticing that the flower trail was still going. This wasn't all the house wanted him to see, evidently.
Fighting with his instincts, everything in his body telling him to run, he pressed on. “For science!” he said, opening a second door, tumbling down the ledge.
He landed on something squishy, and it seemed to wheeze a little when he did. Standing, he found that he was on a solid layer of slimy moss, his feet sinking a foot, two feet into it. He couldn’t pull his legs out, so he faced the thing in the middle of the room.
It was a human silhouette, dangling from the ceiling by hanging vines and covered completely from head to toe in flowers, besides a large eye planted right where it’s forehead would be.
It blinked at him as he blinked at it, and it laughed. “So, you wanted the secret of the house, huh?” it spoke, a deep baritone resonating through the room. Every word was slow, slurred, as if it had a difficult time speaking.
“Well, I see you see my human in the center of the room?”
He glanced behind him, realizing the voice wasn’t coming from the body, but the ground underneath. “You see, bodies are the best source of energy. Isn’t the house beautiful?”
A deep chuckle: “But this body is all drained out. So I thought that I’d get a new one.”
Suddenly, the hanging person fell to the ground, the flowers sinking into the moss. A vine wrapped around Charlie’s neck.
“A selfish child, that’s what I needed. Someone who would blatantly disrespect the rules. And for what? Fame?”
Charlie choked as the cone tightened.
“Nobody will miss you, and that’s the best thing I could ask for.”
The vines broke Charlie’s skin, but he couldn’t scream. He found himself fixed to the spot, forced to watch as he was hoisted into the air and as the vines proved his insides, looking for the best placed to nestle.
And upstairs? The flowers were more colorful than ever, that night.