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Unreliable Witness

internet-archive-book-imagesThat shabby little house sat back off the road behind trees limbs so dense they hid it from the sight of any passersby. You could only catch a glimpse driving by slowly in the wintertime or after the leave began to fall. Faded clapboards on the exterior looked nearly pink with age and negligence. The place resembled a shed with dust mites and rusted lawnmowers inside instead of anywhere a human being might sleep.

No one saw the accursed man who lived there, though. People said he got riled easily when kids snuck around there after dark, which many of them did on a dare at Halloween time. Smeared window panes kept people from seeing inside, though many children tried to look.

“We didn’t think he was there. Looked empty to us,” the older, Darius, later told the police officer. “That old dude snuck up on us – not the other way around.”

Those Barton boys lied so much, police officers didn’t believe the tales they told afterward. Juvenile delinquents, all of them. Having crack-head parents meant they spent a lot of time in foster care. Even though they grew up hard, they’d rend even the best situation into an utter mess. Wound up in juvenile hall over the incident at the house.

Even the most craven of people from town knew what happened was wrong. That old man should’ve been left to himself out there. Unfortunately, the Barton brothers either didn’t know any better or didn’t care.

“It was like something from a spooky campfire story,” the younger brother said later. “We went in through the back door ‘cause it was unlocked. So Darius said it was okay.” Dale worshipped his older brother and did whatever he instructed. The cops released Dale back to the foster parents, deciding he was too young to be held culpable.

Through all the denial from Darius, Dale told the truth. “He was waiting behind the door when we went in the kitchen. Smelled horrible, like he never took a bath. He breathed all over my face when he grabbed me.” Dale sobbed as he recounted the details, kept begging to see Darius.

“My brother hit the old coot to make him let me go. Darius told him to, but he wouldn’t do it.” His big eyes pleaded with them, gray crescents hollowing his face even more than fear but had no more impact than to accentuate the weariness of such a young child.

“It was so gross in there. Smelled like something dead,” he told them. “Something on the floor made it slick. That’s why they slipped and fell. That’s why that old man hit his head on the counter. Darius didn’t do it.”

The foster mother had to practically drag Dale out of the police station without his brother. Interrogators doubted such an elderly man posed much of an imposing threat, which cast doubt on the boys’ version of the facts. Officers said he might not make it through the night to tell his own side of what happened.

Dale cried even harder when they drove past the house on the way home. He blinked back tears and coughed through gasping bouts of trying to breathe.

Every light had been extinguished when emergency vehicles left there and the ambulance departed for the hospital. The place was different when Dale looked at it from the passing car. A pole barn light behind the shack was illuminated, which cast an eerie glow around its entirety and backlit the interior through its darkened windows.

Dale knew what he saw. Someone stood behind that grimy front glass, and the person seemed to watch their car. Everyone knew that old man lived out there alone. Though he’d been taken for medical treatment, someone was still in that house. Dale saw it that night, but no one believed him. He’d never pass the house again in his life.

He told his brother about it years later when Darius was released from serving time for manslaughter plus breaking and entering. He believed Dale. They’d been inside that house, and both boys knew better.

*Studio 30 Plus writing prompt – accursed s30p

image: Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr

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