TAKE NOTHING

TAKE NOTHING

 

Chapter 1

 

Lisa contemplated the pictures on her laptop. She was sitting alone in the garden outside the research department of her university library. She was wearing a blue denim short-sleeve shirt and trousers. Her brunette hair was tied back into a ponytail.

As she clicked on the screen to enlarge a picture, her smartphone rang. She read the name and picked up. “Terry, where are you?”

“I just left the bursary department. Where are you?”

“Me? Where else would I be? In the garden by the library, of course.”

“Still searching for old buildings to explore?”

“What do you think I’d rather be doing?”

“I don’t know, talking about the latest fashion trends and celebrity gossip?”

“Yeah, whatever—tell me, how’d it go?”

“Well, I was able to offset part of my tuition, but I have to pay the balance by next month.”

“That’s not too bad. But I think I know how you might be able to pay it off faster.”

“You do? Are you sure, or are you just kidding?”

“No, I’m pretty sure. Come on over and I’ll explain.”

“Sure, I’ll be there right away.”

Lisa dropped the call and continued browsing the pictures on her laptop. A short while later, a young man with a baseball cap came up to her. He wore glasses and was smiling broadly. “Guess what I have, Lisa?”

She turned to look at him. “A map leading to hidden treasure?”

Terry snorted. “Hidden treasure? You’re a spoil-sport, you know that?”

“Hey, that was an intelligent guess.”

“Yeah, one that suits your undying love for adventure,” he rolled his eyes and sat down next to her. In his hands were two brown paper bags.

She could smell the onions and fried potatoes even before he dropped a bag in her lap. “Fried chips and chicken?” she guessed, ripping the bag open.

“Vanilla ice cream too,” he added. “I guessed you’d be hungry.”

“That’s why I always like your company, Terry. You know how to take care of your friends.”

“So, what are you studying today?”

Lisa was already munching away at a handful of fries. “I’m sure you can still read, can’t you?”

“Urban Exploration,” he read off the screen. “What’s modern about exploration?”

Lisa chuckled. “Urban exploration, not modern exploration.”

“Urban or modern, what’s the difference?”

“There’s a lot of difference.”

“Is there?” he asked, pulling out a cup of ice cream from his paper bag and handing it over to her. He took out a second ice cream and began to eat. “So, what were you saying earlier?”

“Earlier?”

“Yeah, on the phone. You said something about helping me pay my outstanding tuition.”

“Oh yes.” Lisa gestured at her laptop. “Voilà! What do you see?”

He peered at the screen. “Well, I see Urban Explorations.”

“And what else?”

“Pictures.”

“No, not just pictures. Take a closer look, Terry. These pictures were taken inside old, abandoned buildings.”

He looked again, then nodded as he saw the properties listed. Many were ancient and derelict. Some had people in them—examining the buildings, posing or taking their own photos. “Sure, old buildings. But what’s that got to do with my tuition?”

“That’s how we’re going to solve your problem.”

Terry squinted at one of the pictures with a pronounced frown on his face. “An abandoned building in the Ukraine?”

“Not necessarily the Ukraine. Anywhere would do.”

“Anywhere? Lisa, I thought you had a serious suggestion. Why are you making fun of me?”

“I’m not! I’m deadly serious. Look, you don’t yet see it, but this is a great way to get out of debt.”

“How? By climbing into old buildings and taking pictures?”

“No, by climbing into old buildings, taking pictures, and then selling the pictures for money! Don’t you know how much you can get for this sort of thing?”

“But that would mean we’d have to go looking for these properties. That would mean leaving campus.”

“Sure, but it would be the same for most jobs. All other options would still mean you’ve got to go to town, but only this particular option would offer the limitless opportunity of doing something that gives us joy.”

“You mean that gives you joy, Lisa. We both know it’s you that loves adventuring. I’m not really down with that sort of thing.”

“You will be, especially once you start seeing the potential!”

“The potential?”

“Yeah, there’s lots of potential in urban exploration.”

“Actually, speaking of potential, what happens if we find some cool stuff?”

“Cool stuff? Like what?”

“You know—like expensive things, valuables?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if we visit old properties, then come across expensive items? Surely, we could sell them as antiques or something, to people who love collecting priceless artefacts?”

“No, that’s not going to happen.”

“Why?”

“Because that would go against the cardinal rule of urban exploration.”

“What cardinal rule?”

In response, Lisa pointed to a quote on one of the pictures. He followed her finger. “‘Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints’.” He frowned. “What kind of rule is that?”

“The kind of rule that governs anything anyone wants to do as part of urban exploration.”

“Really? I bet no one really follows that.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Of course, Lisa. I mean, come on, these buildings are already abandoned! They don’t mean anything to anyone. So, if I find something of value, I can keep it. Finders keepers, right?”

“No, in this case, finders don’t keep anything. They leave it where they found it.”

“Seriously?”

“Very. You never, ever take anything you see during urban exploration.”

“I don’t know, I’d have thought that would give us a higher payoff. I mean, how much do pictures really sell for these days? But what if you got something tangible, of value, you know—like those priceless artefacts and antiques that people discover from time to time?”

“You don’t want to go there, Terry. Trust me, you don’t.”

“Why not? It’s not illegal, is it?”

“It has nothing to do with whether it’s legal or not.”

“Then why can’t we take stuff?”

“Because it has been firmly stated on every urban exploration website that I’ve seen,” she said, scrolling through multiple pages at once. “And as you can see, on each page, there is the same quote repeated over and over: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

“What? So that’s it? Come on, Lisa, you can’t be serious about following that.”

“I am dead serious, Terry. We can’t take anything. Nothing. Okay?”

“Okay, okay, okay, I get it. So, when do we start?”

“I think this weekend would be perfect, and I know just the spot we can check out.”

“Really? Where?”

“There’s a place not too far from here,” Lisa searched through several websites on her laptop, then stopped and pointed at her screen. “This is the ideal place for us.”

He peered at the picture. “It’s an old farmhouse on the edge of town.”

“Exactly. It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

“It depends on what you mean by that. I mean, perfect for what purpose?”

“For urban exploration, of course! Just look at it—isn’t it wonderful?”

“I guess. You grew up in this town, have you ever gone there before?”

“I’ve never visited this place myself, but I know it’s been abandoned for a very long time. I haven’t seen anyone go in there, and to the best of my knowledge even the local kids keep their distance.”

Terry frowned. “Wait, even the locals stay away? And you think it’s a good idea for us to go there alone?”

“Why not? We aren’t going to do anything illegal there? We’ll just look around and take some pictures.”

“I don’t know. I mean, people must have been keeping their distance for a reason.”

“Well, it’s old and abandoned.”

“And why was it abandoned? Did you ever bother to find out?”

“No, not really. Why should I?”

“But…”

“Do you really want to waste precious time finding out why? Come on, there must be at least a million abandoned properties here.”

“Yeah, I know—but since you’re choosing just one of them, wouldn’t it be better to get as much background info as possible?”

“Does it matter? We just stick to the cardinal rule and we’re fine.”

“Alright then. What do we need?”

“First off, we need to be well prepared, Terry! We both need to wear gloves so we don’t get scratched by old nails or something during the climb.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Did I hear ‘climb’? Did you just allude to us climbing?”

“Of course. You didn’t think we were going to just walk in there, did you? It’s an old, abandoned farmhouse—we’re not guaranteed to find any easy entrances, so we’ll realistically have to climb in somehow.”

“Fine, I think I can climb. What next?”

“We need extra flashlights.”

“Extra?”

“Just in case of malfunction or weak lighting. We don’t want that happening while we’re out there alone.”

“That makes sense. Okay, what else?”

“Stuff that any explorer would need when embarking on such an adventure! Ropes and things, I’ll sort that part out.”

“That’d be great, thanks.” Terry ate the last spoon of his ice cream, then paused. “You’re sure that if I take part in this adventure, I can settle my debts?”

“I’m positive, Terry. You’re going to see some good money from all this.”

“And you’re sure you don’t know why the locals don’t go in there?”

“Oh come on, not again. We went through that already.”

“Did we? I don’t recall.”

“Maybe they just don’t have any interest in the place.”

“It sounds like this is about more than a lack of interest, Lisa.”

“Okay, maybe it’s got something to do with the hidden cameras.”

“Hidden cameras? You mean someone’s monitoring this old place?”

“I didn’t say that—but maybe, just maybe, that might be the reason. But hey, we don’t have anything to worry about, alright? We’re not going there to do anything illegal. We’re just going to look around and take some pictures.”

“And you’re sure that this is legal?”

“Come on, Terry. I already checked it out, there are no signs saying that entry is prohibited.”

“So, you’re confident that we should go there?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Okay,” he nodded. “Let’s do this then.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

That weekend, they booked a taxi and drove out to the old farmhouse.

“You guys sure this is where you’re going?” the driver asked, pulling into the property.

“Yeah,” Lisa replied as she paid the fare.

“You know, people rarely come around here.”

“Rarely?” Terry repeated. “Did you say ‘rarely’?”

“I don’t think any of my colleagues have brought anyone here in the past couple of years or so.”

“Couple of years?” Terry repeated.

“I seriously can’t remember the last time anyone came here.”

“You can’t?” Terry turned to Lisa. “Did you hear that, Lisa? Did you hear what he just said?”

“Yes, especially when you keep repeating it! Calm down and stay focussed.”

“What do you guys want to do here anyway?”

“Just to look around, take some pictures, and then we’re gone,” Lisa said.

“Really? Then you’d best be careful.”

“Yes, we will.”

Terry watched the cab driver drove off. “Why do I feel like we really shouldn’t have come here?”

“Because you’re not yet ready to settle your student debt,” Lisa drawled, slinging a backpack over her shoulder and heading towards the farmhouse.

Terry picked up the other backpack and followed her. “This place is seriously in need of an environmental overhaul,” he said as they made their way through the knee-length grass.

“If it’s just grass, then we’re lucky. I know in some places you have to contend with much worse.”

“I changed my mind, this grass is just fine—leave the worst for others.”

Lisa stopped and they both surveyed the structure in front of them. It was a two-storey house built out of wood and concrete blocks. Next to it was a single-storey wooden structure with its roof missing, probably blown away by heavy winds. It must have been a barn for livestock or horse stables. There were old shovels lying by the wall. All around were barrels and metal drums. A weather-beaten pickup van was parked nearby, but all its windows and tyres were gone. Inside the van, cobwebs and grass had taken over the seats.

The two-storey farmhouse was old and the paint was worn and peeling. Some of the windows were darkened, and it was hard to see inside because of the dust. As a result of aging, bricks were protruding or missing in several places. Around the building was a fence made of rusty wrought iron about a metre high.

“The doors are all blocked,” Terry observed. “How do we get in? Do we kick them down?”

“I don’t want to kick anything down. I think we should take the more subtle route.”

Terry shot her a bemused expression. “Like what?”

“By climbing in through a window.”

Terry glanced at the windows. Some of them had their glass broken, leaving giant wooden frames with jagged edges.

They vaulted over the iron fence, taking care to avoid the parts that were particularly rusted and weak. They found themselves trudging through more knee-length grass until they got to the farmhouse itself. It was even bigger than they originally thought.

Higher up, they could see that many windows on the second floor had been boarded up completely, with planks of wood nailed into X’s. All the windows were blocked off in the same way, except for one.

“Well, what do you know?” Terry teased. “Someone left those nice curtains.”

“As if to welcome us, right?”

“Yeah, real friendly. Now what?”

Lisa opened her backpack and unwound a roll of climbing rope. “We have to climb up through that open window.”

Terry glanced upwards. “The second floor? Why don’t we start from the first floor?”

“Because none of these windows look safe, only that one on the second floor will give us easy access.”

Terry watched as she took out a pickaxe and tied it firmly to the end of the rope. She took aim and flung the rope upwards. Her aim was perfect—the pickaxe sailed effortlessly through the open window on the second floor.

Lisa tugged on the rope until she could feel that it was firmly in place.

Terry clapped his hands. “That was fantastic aim there.”

He watched as Lisa gripped the rope tightly, then climbed up and in through the window.

She stuck her head back out and waved at him.

Terry swallowed and took a deep breath. He grabbed the end of the rope and began to pull himself upwards. Once he had climbed in, Lisa smiled at him. “Wasn’t hard now, was it?”

“And you call that subtle?”

“What were you expecting? A ladder?”

“It was higher than I thought.” Terry examined his hands and began to pull out small shards of glass. “It’s a good thing we had these gloves on. We’d have cut ourselves pretty bad otherwise.”

“Yup,” Lisa agreed as she glanced around. She reached into her backpack and brought out a flashlight. She turned it on to flash its beam around. She then turned around to hand a second flashlight to Terry. He was massaging his shoulders. “Are you okay?”

Terry grimaced and smiled weakly in the darkness. “My arms are burning and my fingers hurt.”

“But you always brag about being in good shape. What’s the matter?”

“I’ll be fine. I think I underestimated the height of the window and the weight of my body. I’ll be fine. But do you notice that?”

Lisa frowned. “Notice what?”

“The silence!”

“Yeah, that’s common with abandoned buildings. It’s like diving underwater, you can’t hear anything.”

Terry peered outside through the window. “That’s true. And looking at the road out there, I’m sure this place used to be bustling with activity once.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re right. Back in the day, you would’ve heard so much noise around here—farm animals, farm workers, machinery, even cyclists ringing their bells from the main road.”

“And now there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

They both took a few seconds to look around in silence.

Terry pointed at the walls. “Look at these, the remains of the wallpaper.”

“Looks vintage,” Lisa observed. “It seems like somebody tried to remove it.”

“Maybe we’re not the first to visit here, right?”

“It’s possible.”

As they walked along cautiously, the wood creaked under their boots. But that was not what had caught Lisa’s attention. Terry saw her searching the room with a quizzical expression on her face.

“What is it, Lisa?”

She held up her hand and continued to peer around, as if she was looking for something that was supposed to be there.

“Lisa? What are you looking for?”

She beckoned him to come closer. After he hurried over to her side, she lowered her voice to a whisper. “You know how sometimes you feel like there’s someone in the room, even though you can’t see them?”

Terry frowned. “You think there’s someone else here?”

“That’s exactly it—and it’s such a strong feeling, I can’t shake it off.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t joke about this, Terry. It’s like there’s so much hanging in the air that I can’t ignore them.”

“Them?”

“Yeah, I think I feel the presence of more than one being, it feels like there are three of them here—one very depressed and grumpy old man, and two happy and energetic little girls. Can you feel it?”

Terry gazed around the old room. He shook his head. “No, are you sure about this?”

“Absolutely, just close your eyes and concentrate.”

Terry did as she suggested. And then he began to nod. “Yes, yes, you’re right, there’s some sort of energy in here.”

“It’s that energy that’s filling the air in this room.”

“Yes, it is. One is much older and darker, but not threatening—the other two are much younger and more energetic presences.”

“Do you know what this means?”

“The house is not empty?”

“I don’t think it is. This could be the presence of some of the previous owners.”

“But it feels so pleasant—it’s almost as if we were welcomed into a family home.”

“Isn’t it weird? It’s as if the layer of our reality and theirs has grown so thin that they’ve overlapped. I feel like I could just stretch out my hand and one of those little girls would touch it.”

“I feel the same, like I could reach out to them. Are we just imagining all this?”

“No, it’s real.” Lisa said with conviction.

Suddenly, Terry raised up his hand and pointed behind the door. “Footsteps—behind that door over there.”

“Really?” Lisa whispered back. “They seem to be going downstairs?”

When the footsteps faded, they tiptoed to the door and gave it a push. They were surprised when it opened easily.

Right before them, in the beam of their flashlights, was a small staircase. While they were studying it, Terry saw Lisa shiver and move back. Before he could ask what was wrong, he also shivered and had to step back.

Lisa looked at him sharply. “You felt it too?”

“There was a coldness.”

“Yeah, that’s why I stepped away.”

“As if a ghost walked right past us. It felt so real.”

“I have so many goosebumps on my arms already,” Lisa whispered, rubbing her arms.

“Do you hear that?”

Lisa listened closely. “Is that a whisper?”

“Yes, it’s really low, like they don’t want to be found.”

“And yet still high-pitched—maybe it’s one of the young girls.”

“Maybe.”

Terry saw Lisa shudder again, but hadn’t felt anything himself. “You feel another one close by?”

“No, I was just feeling a bit spooked out.”

“Really? I didn’t feel it. What was it like?”

“It didn’t feel threatening.”

“So, you felt spooked but not actually scared?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

They started exploring the rest of the farmhouse—looking into the rooms they could get into, but skipping places they felt weren’t safe. They could still feel the occasional presence and heard strange things every now and then. They eventually ended up in a small room downstairs.

“What do you think this room was for?” Terry asked, shining his flashlight around. “It’s too small to be a bedroom,” he observed.

“I wonder what else it could’ve been used for.”

“Too large for storage, I think.”

“No, they wouldn’t have installed windows like these in a storage room. They—”

Suddenly, Terry saw Lisa flinch. “Lisa?” he whispered.

She turned to smile at him. “I felt one of the girls again, standing beside me.”

“She touched you?”

“Yeah, but she seems friendly. I feel like she’s interested in us being here.”

“Is she?”

“She’s moving to the right.”

They both turned to their right. There, they saw a set of drawers. It had dark, cracked wood.

“It looks antique,” Terry commented. He saw Lisa nodding and looking around, her eyes on the ceiling. “Did you notice anything else?”

“That presence—it seems to have vanished.” Lisa said.

“Maybe she wanted us to check these drawers.”

“That must be why she left.”

“I wonder why the former owners didn’t think of selling it off. It would’ve fetched a healthy sum.”

Lisa nodded as she pulled out her camera to take some photos. “It must be very old.”

“But for some reason, it feels like this wasn’t originally designed to be here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sort of like it’s in the wrong place.”

“What are you on about, Terry?”

“I really feel like this chest of drawers doesn’t belong here.”

Lisa stopped taking photos and straightened up. “Then where does it belong?”

“It belonged in the living room.”

“Belonged?”

“Yes, belonged. It was moved into this room. It’s not supposed to be here.”

Lisa saw him head over to the set of drawers and grab it. Then he tried lifting it.

She gasped. “Wait! What do you think you’re doing?”

“I want to move it.”

“Don’t you dare!”

Terry wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “It’s much heavier than I thought it would be.”

“What came over you, Terry? Have you forgotten already? You’re not supposed to move anything!”

“Right, I don’t know, I was just overwhelmed by this strong urge to return it to the living room. Too bad the damn thing is too heavy.”

“Too bad? Thank goodness you couldn’t move it at all! We’d better leave it where it is. Come on, let’s move.”

“I almost broke the golden rule,” Terry shook his head as they stepped out of the room.

“You have to be more careful.” Lisa warned, leading the way to the kitchen. “I think it leads to the barn.”

“The barn?”

They paused at a door.

“Another small door?” Terry asked.

“All the other doors have been quite small too. We should be used to them already.”

“The owners must have really been short,” Terry said, squeezing himself through the doorway. He then stepped into a wide but darker space. “Now, what could this be?” he asked looking around.

“I recognise the iron bars on the sides,” Lisa pointed with her flashlight.

“You recognise them?”

“Yeah, this is the sort of place where cows are normally kept.”

“You sure about that?”

“Definitely—my cousins grew up in the countryside, and I used to stay with them for the holidays to help on the farm. You tend to recognise these things easily when you see them.”

They headed further down and came across a plastic tricycle that was discoloured. Next to it was a rickety old typewriter. Lisa stopped to take few more photos. There were some papers beside it.

Lisa saw Terry pick up the papers. “Are you forgetting the rule again?”

“Don’t worry, I just want to take a peek, not take it away.”

“So, what does it say?”

Terry shuffled the sheets. “It seems like someone here was a biologist.”

“A biologist? Let me have a look.” She reached for the papers. She took a couple of photos before reading them. “Yeah, you’re right. These are all typed notes about his research.”

Terry noticed that Lisa suddenly stopped reading and looked sharply to her left. He followed her gaze. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure,” Lisa said, handing him back the papers and walking towards what had caught her interest.

“What is this?” She held it up for him to see. It was small, round and shimmered a bit in the light.

He shook his head. “I don’t know. What is it?”

“My treasure,” Lisa gushed as she pulled out her camera and took photos of it.

“Your treasure?” Terry asked.

“I think it’s a doorknob, an antique doorknob.”

“But it’s too small to be a doorknob. And the iron is terribly rusted, isn’t that strange?”

“Well, I don’t know why it’s so rusty. Just like I can’t say why I find it so fascinating. It seems to have been made by hand. Can you see? That larger, round part of it seems to be made of brass. Only a door smith could do such a thing by hand.”

“No, I don’t think so, I think it was factory-made.”

“It’s just so beautiful,” Lisa smiled at it.

“This old, rusty thing? Are you kidding?”

“I’m serious!”

“Whatever, just remember the cardinal rule, and put it back where you found it.”

“Sure, of course,” Lisa bent down, but didn’t put the doorknob back. Rather, she quickly slipped it into her pocket before joining Terry.

“That makes two of us now,” Terry noted, as they exited the barn through a side door.

“Two of us?”

“We both almost broke the cardinal rule of urban exploration. Thank goodness we didn’t!”

“Yes, thank goodness,” Lisa replied. She could feel the doorknob rattling in her pocket as they started their journey back through the tall grass.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

After the Christmas break, Terry met Lisa in a café just off-campus. He was panting when he sank into a chair next to hers. “I ran all the way from my room,” he said by way of explanation. “I didn’t want to miss the good news!”

“The good news?”

“Yeah! You’ve got some good news, don’t you? I mean, isn’t that why you wanted to see me so urgently?”

Lisa looked away as she spoke. “Have you been sleeping well lately?”

“Yeah, I guess. Why do you ask?”

“I mean since we came back from that old farmhouse. Have you been sleeping well?”

“I’ve been sleeping fine. Why?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Why? What’s wrong? Is something bothering you?”

She finally looked at him. He could see heavy bags of discoloured skin under her eyes. “I’ve been experiencing cold chills.”

“Cold chills? When?”

“Whenever I enter my bedroom.”

“Okay, that’s weird. And your eyes—I mean, you really need to get some sleep, Lisa.”

“That’s because I can’t sleep at all. The cold chills keep disturbing me.”

Terry furrowed his brow quizzically. “Whenever you enter your room, you said? That’s strange.”

“Yeah, and it’s always coming from the same corner.”

“The same corner? Why?”

“I think it’s because…because…”

“Because of what, Lisa?”

“It’s because that’s where I keep the doorknob.”

“What doorknob?”

“The one from the barn by the farmhouse.”

“What barn—” Terry began to ask. Then he blinked and gasped. “You took the doorknob?”

When Lisa nodded, Terry pushed his seat backwards and raised both hands as if in surrender. “No, no, no—don’t tell me that you took the doorknob?”

“I did,” Lisa replied quietly, with tears in her eyes.

Terry shook his head. He placed his hands on his head, then back on the table. “But how could you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Where? Where did you put it?”

“It’s in a corner in my room. I keep it on display there.”

“And you wonder why you’re having the cold chills?”

“I don’t know what came over me, Terry! I took it and put it on display in my room like a trophy.”

“You shouldn’t have done that! Now, I’m sure that whoever or whatever owns it is having a field day tormenting you every night and watching you suffer throughout the day too.”

“You’re right, Terry, that’s the problem! I feel their presence all the time. It feels so angry and hostile. I have nightmares whenever I fall asleep—terrible nightmares about dead bodies cluttering my room. I can’t sleep anymore. And there’s always the same young girl, probably about thirteen years old. She’s always standing there in that corner.”

“Maybe it’s her doorknob? Maybe she’s haunting you so that you return it to where it belongs.”

Lisa’s eyes were fixated on a small dent in the table. “Her hair is always tied into braids. And she glares at me angrily. She’s always wearing the same long dress, so long that it touches the floor. I can sketch that dress in detail,” Lisa said, pulling out a piece of paper from under her books. She handed it to Terry. It was a sketch of the young girl she had just described.

“This girl really looks angry!”

“She is. She’s furious.”

“I bet she wants that doorknob back. Damn it, why did you take it, Lisa? Why?”

Lisa didn’t respond. She rolled up the long sleeves of her jumper and lay both arms out on the table. “I keep waking up with scratches.”

“What’s that?” Terry gasped, looking closer at her outstretched arms.

There were long red marks, parallel lines on her flesh. The lines stretched from her wrists to her elbows. There were several of them.

“Scratches.”

“How did this happen?”

“I think it’s her.”

Terry picked up her drawing and jabbed it with a finger. “You mean this girl?”

She glanced at her sketch, then quickly looked away. “Yeah, that girl—the one in my nightmares.”

“You think it’s her?”

“I’m sure it’s her. I don’t have any pets, and it couldn’t have been me either. I always bite my fingernails, so I can’t make these marks even in my sleep, because my nails are just too short.”

“This is serious.”

“That’s not even as bad as what I’ve been going through these past few days.”

“You mean there’s more?”

“Yes, I’ve been sleeping less and less. Last night, I barely slept for ten minutes. And those chills, they’ve intensified like crazy. But the worst is her appearances.”

“Appearances? You see her when you’re awake?”

“Yeah. Sometimes I see her when I look in the mirror. She’ll be in a corner behind me, staring at me with those angry eyes of hers. Before it was just a faint sense of her presence, but now I feel her around all the time. I feel her following me so closely, almost like my shadow.”

“And when you sense her presence, that feeling you have when she’s around—is it like when we were back at the farmhouse?”

“Like that, but much stronger. It’s very hostile and angry now, there’s no warmth or kindness at all. It’s taken quite a while for me to figure this out, Terry, but I think she actually wants her doorknob back.”

“You should have realised that right from the beginning! We have to do something!”

“Like what?”

“Like what? Return it, of course!”

Lisa shook her head. “No, we need to find another solution.”

“What? Don’t you want to fix this mess?”

“Terry, I already tried taking the doorknob back.”

“You what?”

“I went back without you. I’m sorry, but I had to try to solve this problem on my own. I didn’t want to drag you into it. So, I went back on my own.”

“Okay, so you’ve already returned it, right? You returned the doorknob.”

“I couldn’t. Someone has hammered every possible entrance shut. There was no way in.”

“But… that place is abandoned, Lisa.”

“Yeah, I know that. But no one can get in anymore. Every door and window has been completely sealed.”

“Damn!” Terry slammed his hand on the table. Some students glared at him sharply for making such a commotion. But Terry was not bothered. He was too agitated. “You shouldn’t have taken it. You really shouldn’t have taken that doorknob, Lisa.”

“I know, that’s why I went back. But I didn’t know what to do when I couldn’t get inside, and I knew I couldn’t just toss it into the grass. That’s not really returning it.”

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t get into the farmhouse.”

“We’ve got to find a way out of this mess.”

“I’m trying, Terry. I even spoke to my Grandma about this, but I didn’t tell her it was about me. I pretended it happened to a friend of mine.”

“What? When was this?”

“On Christmas eve. After dinner, we started talking and she told me about Grandpa.”

“What about him?”

“He’s been dead for more than ten years now. She told me how she used to feel his presence in the house, how she used to hear his rocking chair moving sometimes. It was as if someone was still sitting there in the afternoons. But it only happened for a while—he eventually moved on. He stopped coming to visit her. He stopped coming to the house completely.”

“He had moved on?”

“Yeah, but when she told me, I originally brushed it off as a by-product of a widow’s grief. It was only when she went on to talk about how not all spirits and ghosts were nice that I began to take serious interest. She then told me about how she grew up with tales of spirits that were angry and how they could haunt you.”

Terry saw her pause to roll down her sleeves to cover the marks on her arms. “If they’re angry, they’d want to hurt you as well, right?”

“Yeah, I think so. But Grandma also told me that there were some people who could send them away.”

“Send away angry spirits? How?”

“I’m not really too sure, we got interrupted by the rest of my family. But I’ll call her again later today. I’m going to ask her how it’s done.”

“I hope she tells you how to get rid of this angry spirit.”

“I really hope so too.”

After Lisa returned home that evening, she had dinner with her parents, then washed the dishes and went to her room. When she was alone, she called her grandmother and they talked for a while. Her Grandma mentioned the possibility of getting a medium or a demonologist to help.

Lisa exhaled. She knew that asking around for someone like that was completely out of the question. Apart from Terry, she knew that nobody in her social circle was going to believe her. She was never going to be able to find someone to carry out the task.

But suddenly she snapped her fingers.

Lisa knew what she was going to do. She would try to do it herself. She was going to try to communicate with the spirit on her own.

She felt very confident about her decision. She had started meditating back in high school, so she was used to focussing and directing the energy in her mind and body. She was going to harness those skills again.

Lisa smiled to herself as she turned off the lights. She was no longer afraid because she had a plan.

The next day, on her way back home she bought some incense from a nearby store. She hadn’t been contacted by the spirit the night before, but she knew that it didn’t mean the spirit was gone. It was only a matter of time before it would return.

That night, she felt cold chills sneak up her spine when she stepped into her bedroom. But this time, instead of cowering away, Lisa lit seven sticks of incense and began to meditate.

As she felt the threatening form of the spirit come closer, she calmed herself down. Then she made her thoughts loud and clear: Whoever you are, you are not welcome here.

Get out. Get out.

Get out of here right now at this very moment.

Don’t ever come back. I do not want you here.

Only kind spirits can come in here; spirits who don’t mean any harm.

I am sorry that I took what was yours, but I cannot bring it back to you and so you need to accept that.

Get out.

Go home.

Don’t ever come back here again.

You are not welcome in this house.

As she said those words, Lisa tried to force out the little girl’s presence with her mind. She focused all her energy on the spirit and pushed harder and harder.

Lisa continued to meditate until the cold chills began to gradually dissipate, until the spirit was completely gone. She was left alone, sweating profusely and panting.

Lisa looked around her room with wide eyes.

I can’t believe it. I did it? she thought. She had not expected it to work. She really hadn’t.       

She had expected the young girl to keep haunting her for the rest of her life. But Lisa had succeeded; she had finally sent the spirit away.

Smiling, Lisa lit another stick of incense. She lay on her bed and watched it burn to the end. Then she slept like a baby.

 

***

 

Two days later, Terry saw Lisa at the university. Lisa looked radiant and much brighter than before. She had just finished telling him what she had done to get rid of the spirit.

“So, she no longer follows you around?”

Lisa shook her head. “No. Not really, not like before.”

“How did you do it?”

“Using my meditation techniques.”

“So using your meditation techniques helped?”

“Yeah, it did. But I still don’t know how.”

“Do you still feel her around?”

“Yes, but it’s different. She’s much weaker with less angry.”

“So, in other words, you just let her hang around you now?”

“Yeah, why not? She’s harmless to me now.” Lisa shrugged.

“But just a couple of days ago, she had almost driven you completely mad, and you were barely sleeping! How can you allow her to stay nearby?”

“She can’t harm me anymore. But if she tries to scare me again, I can block her. And when I do, it’ll be for a long time. I’m sure she knows that, and that’s why she’s behaving herself.”

“Behaving herself?” Terry scoffed. “For someone who was recently at her mercy, you make it sound so simple.”

“It’s not simple at all. This sort of meditation takes a lot of energy to pull off. But I’m getting used to it now. I’m getting better at controlling my thoughts.”

“Wow…”

“And that’s not all—I even made a small altar by my bedside.”

“An altar?”

“Yeah, it’s made of little things that are special to me. Things I collected when I was a child, like rings and shells. It works wonders, especially when I light a candle in the small hand-painted pot that my Grandma gave me years ago.”

“So, what do you make of all this now?”

“You mean my cold chills and everything? I’d still say I’m open to the possibility that it was all psychological.”

“Psychological? But that wouldn’t explain the scratches on your arms.”

“No. Of course it wouldn’t.”

“That was truly one paranormal experience.”

“Maybe it was. But in the end, it was just me who experienced it, so you never know. I can only give one piece of advice to others.”

“And what would that be?”

“Never take anything out of abandoned places.”

“Yeah, that’s a good one.”

Later, as Terry was walking towards the car park, someone bumped into him, making him drop his books. He bent down to gather them up, but failed to see the girl standing close to him. She was quite young, perhaps no more than thirteen years old. She was barefoot and wearing a long flowing gown. Her hair was in braids.

She was eyeing him intently as he continued to pack up his things.

Her face was angry and bitter.

As she started advancing towards him.

 

THE END

Lamees Alhassar