(Greg’s Note – Radio has always been a dream of mine. It’s one of the reasons we started The Morton Podcast. Part of that love of radio began as a child listening to stations replay old radio plays. I found them to be magical, especially during Halloween. The below story follows Evers and his best friend Indira, who we first discovered in the short story “Along the Rail to Eiderdown”. As a special treat, Sandra and I decided to read this story on the Morton Podcast, reminiscent of the old radio plays. Happy Halloween – We hope you enjoy!)
The House at the End of Mulberry Road by Greg Morton | Copyright 2014
The house at the end of Mulberry Road caught the last bit of sunlight as the clouds turned from white to orange to red before finally becoming cold and grey. It sat up on a hill overlooking the neighborhood, and seemed to shudder in the breeze of the late October evening. The old home had been the main house for the Mulberry orchards during a time when the land was covered in orange groves. It was built by a craftsman’s hand, with ornate features that decorated the hundred year old wood throughout the house. Of course, it was hard to see the beauty of the craftsmanship after so many years of neglect. But I remember the days when that house was the pride of the town of Eiderdown. Well, now, this day especially, it’s something…different.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. This story actually begins with Evers getting dressed for the annual Halloween Haunt that takes place in the downtown village. He was running late, which to be honest, was unusual for Evers Addison Poe. He preferred to be on time, an important characteristic he’s learned from his father. Even for school, Evers is always on time. Early even. But not today.
Not that there was a reason for his tardiness. He was just running behind schedule, and so in the late afternoon he came bounding down the stairs of his home, barefoot, looking for the rest of his costume. He was dressed in faded blue jeans that were tied with a rope at the waist and his favorite heavy flannel shirt. He carried a pair of socks in his hand as he sprawled underneath the couch, the chairs, the tables and every other crawl space he could squeeze his tiny frame into, all with the look of despair on his face.
“DAD?!” he yelled from the kitchen. “Have you seen my shoes?”
Evers could hear the heavy footsteps of his father on the floor above as the sound traveled toward the staircase. He could also hear the sound of his father’s laughter. Though he was distressed over the time, Evers couldn’t help but smile when he heard his father laughing.
The dull thudding sound of the shoes hitting the hardwood floor of the hallway indicated Dr. Poe had, indeed, found Evers’ shoes. Dr. Poe continued to laugh as he retreated into his own room. Evers raced through the doorway of the kitchen and down the hall to retrieve his shoes, the swinging butler door creaking in his wake. The young man hurriedly pulled on his socks and laced up his shoes before grabbing his pointy brown hat and racing out the door, leaving a trail of dried hay along the way.
“I’ll see you later Pop!” he yelled.
The sun was rapidly setting, and Evers was late, but let me tell you, those two things had nothing to do with the young man taking his usual shortcut through the old oak in Mrs. Bannister’s yard over the fence to Old Man Jorgenson’s place, where he would cut through the alleyway over to Mulberry Road. Once on Mulberry next to the old Cannery (now an apartment building), it was just a few short blocks to Indira’s house. If he hurried, Evers thought, she’ll never even know he was late.
“You’re late,” Indira exclaimed.
Evers had raced as fast as he could (and he was pretty fast), but Indira was already standing next to the white picket fence that separated her yard from the sidewalk. He stopped abruptly, huffing and panting and gasping for breath.
“I…uh….ran…shoe…lost…dad…socks” Evers heaved.
“You’re not making any sense.” Indira sighed. “AND…You’re not even totally dressed!”
Evers had finally caught a breath. He stood there for a moment, staring at Indira, dressed in her costume. She loved the way he looked at her, as if seeing her for the first time. She caught him watching her often, but not in a creepy way. Not like some of the other boys at school. With Evers it was different. Not that she told him that. She blushed, and then did her best to be angry with him.
“Evers Addison Poe!” she blurted. “What are you staring at?”
“You’re beautiful!” he whispered, still a little out of breath. “You’re costume looks great.”
Her costume did look great and, quite frankly, he knew it would. It was his idea, anyway. Not that he had to push too much to convince her. Indira Ranji was his best friend, and for the most part was willing to go on any adventure he was going on, even if it meant the Halloween Haunt. So she agreed on the costume.
She wore a plain white jersey tee under a blue and white checkered tutu, with little white socks that had “frillys” as Evers called them. She finished the outfit with the perfect ruby red shoes. Eiderdown isn’t Kansas, that’s for sure, but as a pair they looked cute and fun. Well, almost.
“Thanks,” she whispered, blushing. “You’re forgiven. Now put your hat on and come over here so I can put some makeup on you.”
“A scarecrow doesn’t have a cute little button nose like you have,” she explained, matter of factly. “I need to paint one on you.”
Evers stepped closer and looked into her eyes. Indira pulled eyeliner from her picnic basket purse and began painting his nose. She tried her best not to be distracted by his gaze.
“Are you going to look at me like that all night?” she asked.
“Are you scared?” he asked. “See, that’s funny because I’m a scarecrow. Get it? Scarecrow?”
She finished his makeup, smiled at his joke and rolled her eyes before pushing him away.
“We’re late, we should go.” Indira stated.
Together the pair began walking down the street toward the downtown village, to the annual Halloween Haunt, past the house at the end of Mulberry Road.
Evers, of course, was his usual self. He initially wrapped his arm inside of Indira’s and began skipping and singing as they set off. They both laughed and talked, and Evers cracked jokes while Indira laughed or pretended to be mad or disgusted at him. He was never disrespectful, but he could be gross sometimes. He was, after all, a boy.
Thirteen was Evers’ favorite number, so he certainly felt this year of his life was special. Like something grand or spectacular was bound to happen. He had been on many, many adventures already. His dad, who traveled the world, had taken him on a few and was set to take him on another. But Evers had been on just as many adventures with Indira. And that made him happy. As they continued down the road, the day drew to a close and the wind began to rise. Just as the last spark of sunlight dipped below the horizon, Evers and Indira began the incline toward the end of the road.
The Mulberry House, for which the road is named, was a three story house of considerable size. It was once forest green in color, but the wood siding was now chipped and faded and gray. The large porch wrapped around most of the house, making the doors and windows seem further from the street and in shadow. The window on the third floor was broken. The yard was overgrown in some corners, matted with spider webs in others or protected by the spindly arms of dead trees. Passing by the house to get to the downtown village was not a favorite thing to do for Indira.
“This house gives me the creeps”, she whispered.
They continued walking, and Evers’ eyes were fixated on the old place. The wind howled for a moment and the pair jumped. At least, they thought it was the wind.
“What was that?” Indira shrieked.
“I don’t know,” Evers answered. He had stopped and was now looking intently at the house. “But did you see that light in the third floor window a minute ago?”
“I didn’t see any light.”
“I think it was a candle,” Evers said. “I saw it move right before the wind, or whatever it was, howled. I think someone’s in there.”
“There hasn’t been anyone in that house for years,” Indira said. “The City owns it, but it costs too much to fix it up. But nobody wants to tear it down because it’s historic.”
“I think someone’s in there,” Evers repeated, as if he hadn’t heard anything Indira said. “Let’s go check.”
“I don’t think so,” Indira commanded. “You asked to take me to the Halloween Haunt, so please just take me to the Halloween Haunt.”
“Real quick,” Evers whispered. He turned toward the front walkway to the house and pulled Indira by her hand. She knew if she had pulled back, he would have followed her to the Haunt. Did she really want to go into this creepy old house, she asked herself.
“Just look inside the windows and then let’s go,” Indira asked.
“Just a look,” Evers agreed.
The wooden steps leading up to the porch were missing a board or two, but in the failing light Evers managed to navigate the pair up safely. They walked almost the entire porch, stepping around loose or creaky boards in an attempt to keep quiet. The wind howled once more causing both of them to jump.
Evers attempted to peer into the windows, but years of weather and dirt made it impossible to see inside. He led Indira by her hand toward the front door.
“Evers,” she whispered.
The front door was ajar, the darkness beyond like a curtain of ink. The air was stale, but not foul. Evers pushed the door open, and it silently swung on its hinges as it had the day it was hung. The young teens were shocked, and even a little bit intrigued.
Now, boys and girls, I’d love to tell you that Evers and Indira didn’t go into that house. When I heard this story the first time myself I cried out, hoping they hadn’t gone into that house. But indeed, they did. Maybe if you are scared of the dark you shouldn’t hear the rest of this tale. I cannot promise you what will happen at the end.
Still around? Splendid…Well, then…
The front room of the house was dusty, so much so that a small cloud had formed from Evers and Indira kicking so much dust up from the floor. It seemed to linger on the air. Both kids coughed the dust from their lungs. As Indira had said, it didn’t appear that anyone had been in the house for a very long time. But that didn’t stop Evers’ curiosity. He was sure he had heard something, and more importantly, had seen a light in the third floor. He was determined to find out who or what was in the house.
Evers squinted his eyes in attempt to see better in the dark, but it didn’t work. He shuffled his feet as he moved around the entrance of the house, still firmly holding Indira’s hand. The shuffling of feet echoed down the hall and through doorways.
The pair jumped as Evers kicked something metal. Indira shrieked and grabbed Evers tight. She could sense he was smiling, laughing to himself even, and so she punched him in the arm. Mind you, she didn’t really let go of him, just punched him.
“It’s okay,” he laughed. “It’s just a couple of candlesticks.”
He crouched down and picked them both up, but returned one to the floor almost immediately. Instead, still crouching, he struck a match on the floor. Instantly the foyer was illuminated with a bright orange glow. It was so bright, and it had previously been so dark, that in fact the light temporarily blinded them. Evers waited a moment before lighting the remnants of a candle left in the candlestick.
Evers held out the candlestick at arm’s length to shine as much light into the room as possible. It did little good. The darkness beyond had an eerie quality, as if the house didn’t want to reveal any secrets that it had. In truth, Indira didn’t really want to know what secrets there were to
“Just a look,” she reminded Evers.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “Besides, we’re already late for the Haunt. Let’s go.”
As they turned toward the door, it suddenly slammed shut with a loud BANG! Indira let go of Evers’ hand and raced to the door, shaking the handle vigorously. It didn’t matter. The door seemed as impenetrable as the darkness. Evers jumped to her side and began banging on the door with his one free hand. He barely made a sound; the door felt solid.
He turned and looked at his friend, his eyes filled with compassion as he immediately sensed her fear. Evers, too, was a little nervous at their predicament. The orange glow of the candle danced on their faces between their breaths.
“What now?” Indira asked.
“Maybe we should check out that light on the upper floors,” he said hesitantly.
All Indira could do was shrug, for the door clearly wasn’t about to open, and it didn’t appear anyone would hear them banging and screaming. This really wasn’t the adventure she had signed up for, but the only thing left to do was carry on.
The pair crept back across the dark entrance toward the foot of the stairs, Evers still holding the candlestick at arm’s length. The floor creaked and moaned, giving away their presence with every step. The dust cloud remained, making the glow of the candle more ominous.
Evers and Indira climbed the last step to the landing on the second floor when they heard the most heart wrenching sound either of them had heard.
Was it a cat? They weren’t sure. It didn’t sound like any animal Evers had ever heard before (and he’s heard a lot). Indira buried her head into his shoulder and cried out, her plea muffled in the fabric of Evers’ heavy flannel shirt. He wrapped his free arm around his friend and pulled her close. Together they continued down a hallway in the darkness.
The sound of their footsteps echoed about them. The floor no longer creaked the same, but the echoing became almost deafening. And frightening. It was as if the sound became a hideous laughter, taunting the pair as they walked. Evers’ uneasiness grew. The echoes of their steps grew and grew and the pace of their walk increased until they were nearly running down a hallway that seemed to never end.
Indira had pulled away from Evers, but still grasped his hand. He was running now, his footsteps a cacophony of laughter. He consciously tried to run slower, to keep Indira close to him, but it still felt to him like she was slipping away. The candlestick became heavy as he held it out, the light flickering as he ran and doing very little to help.
The pair reached the other staircase, Evers grasp on Indira’s hand slipping fast. He skipped over the first few steps on his way up. He was anxious now, perspiring. His heart beat loudly in his ears, though he could hardly hear over the sound of the laughter. The laughter. It was if the sound they made with their footsteps was chasing them down the hallway then up the stairs.
He skipped two more steps before he lost Indira’s hand completely. She let out a cry.
Evers stopped (though he was really too scared to). He stopped and he swung around on the step and he cried out.
The light of the candle now stretched out toward the bottom of the staircase, but Indira was nowhere to be found. She had vanished! Evers screamed her name as he began descending the stairs. He nearly reached the bottom when the sound of his footsteps, the laughter, had grown to a crescendo. It truly was deafening, the taunts frightening him as he stopped and began swinging the candle back and forth. Indira was gone.
The candle had only been part of a candle to begin with, and burnt out as Evers waved it over the bannister. The darkness enveloped him, and soon a dull thud rolled down the hall. He abandoned his search for Indira and raced back up the stairs, his heart filled with sadness. The laughter of his footsteps returned, and soon the cadence of the dull thud and laughter terrorized him.
He made the top step of the third floor blindly racing through the darkness. Evers kept his arms stretched out in front of him, reaching for a wall or door. After a moment he found a doorway and pushed his way through, slamming the door shut behind him.
A light streaked into the room from the cracked glass of the window opposite where he stood. It was a dirty yellow light from the streetlight down on Mulberry Road. It cast just enough light to see the cracked window, but little else.
Evers noticed the cackling laughter had stopped, even when he slowly made his way around the room. The dull thudding too. He had managed to escape whatever it was that was chasing him. He escaped whatever it was that caught up with Indira.
He was beginning to shudder thinking about his friend when a big black cat with enormous yellow eyes jumped out of the darkness at him and shrieked!
The animal knocked him off balanced and he felt the weight of the creature as he fell to the floor. It seemed as if the weight of the house was now on top of him. But it wasn’t weight on top of him, he was actually weightless! Evers was falling! He had fallen into a trap door in the floor and was now plummeting down three flights!
He landed softly, much more softly than he expected. His heart was racing, and his mind was thinking so many thoughts that he couldn’t focus on any single one. He was scared and confused. Evers rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath when he noticed a small red light across whatever room he was now in that read “EXIT”.
He stood and dusted himself off, and slowly, cautiously, made his way toward the sign. It was above a door with a brass handle he could see in the glimmer of the light. He held his breath as he grasped the warm handle and turned.
The back yard of the Mulberry House was lit up with white lights on a string that stretched from the beautiful alder trees that peppered the yard. There were tables decorated with black and orange cloths and bowls and plates of food and treats that Evers could smell from where he stood. The yard was filled with people, everyone he knew, who were laughing and smiling and waving at him.
He looked to his right and found his friend, his best friend, Indira, standing next to him. She had the biggest smile on her face he had ever seen. A moment before he had been sad and scared and, well, actually very frightened. And now he knew it was the Halloween Haunt.
“Are you mad?” Indira asked.
“A little,” he replied.
“Really?” she asked, her voice filled with remorse.
“I’m mad I didn’t think of doing this to you,” Evers joked.
Indira laughed and hugged her friend tight. It was a satisfying embrace, like friends who find each other after a long absence. Evers gave one last squeeze before pulling away. He never took Indira for granted. After tonight, he knew he never would.
“Thanks,” he said, grabbing her hand and walking with her down toward the rest of the townsfolk who had gathered to give him high-fives and share in the fun.
“You’re welcome,” she whispered. “But Evers Addison Poe, if you EVER try to scare me like this…”