One-Room Schoolhouse: a quiet tale of terror





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Samantha rolled down the passenger window of Dan’s black Audi coupe, and laughed into the inrushing flood of warm, Indian summer air.

“I don’t see why you always insist on air conditioning when we’re driving,” Samantha chided him. “The fresh air is so much more invigorating.”

Dan was about to tell Samantha, as he had told her many times before, that he preferred air-conditioning because this was the season in which his hay fever and allergies went crazy. Samantha, he knew, would not listen. She had not listened all those times before.

But that didn’t bother him, not really. Nor did he overly mind that he couldn’t really afford the Audi, even with his substantial income as an agent at the brokerage. He stole a glance at Samantha, as he so often did when they were together: She had long legs, and long chestnut hair, and her deep tan was beautifully accentuated by the white tank top and khaki shorts she was wearing. During his youth as the diffident son of a factory worker, Dan would never have dreamed that he might someday have a car like this, let alone a live-in girlfriend like Samantha.

They had left West Virginia late that afternoon, a Sunday. Now was the early evening, the time of lengthening shadows. Driving west, they were passing through the southernmost stretch of Ohio, only a few miles from the Ohio River. There were few major towns, and no real cities, until you hit Cincinnati.

This was a country of struggling family farms, mobile homes placed on hillside clearings, and vast, almost virgin wilderness. This was a section of the state that had never really developed, despite the efforts of Ohio governors of both major political parties. Nevertheless, the fall colors were in their full brilliance, nicely offset in the golden light of the early autumn twilight. September was probably the best month to be in Ohio.

“That one-room schoolhouse,” Samantha said, “the one that’s supposed to be haunted. It’s not far from here, you know.”

“I guess it is,” Dan agreed. He had heard about the one-room schoolhouse that stood on a vacant patch of land between Dillonsville and Murphy. It was a local legend. But Dan was not interested in the schoolhouse. He was already thinking about his Monday morning routine at the brokerage in Cincinnati tomorrow.

And, of course, Samantha. Always Samantha. How did a poor man’s son with a weak chin (which Dan strategically covered with a well-manicured beard) end up with a woman like Samantha? They had been living together for six months now; and Dan was always half-expecting that he would wake up to discover that it had all been a dream.

“Did you enjoy Keith and Ellie’s wedding?” he asked her. He sincerely hoped that she had. Samantha was not only out of Dan’s league in the looks department, but her family was also much more affluent than his. Keith was one of Dan’s childhood friends, now an instructor at West Virginia University. Half of Dan’s relatives lived in West Virginia. Truth be told, Dan was more comfortable in West Virginia than he was in the upscale neighborhood where he now lived with Samantha, three blocks from downtown Cincinnati.

Samantha had been a good enough sport during the wedding last night, and throughout the reception that followed. But there were moments when she had let her distaste show through, as if to emphasize that these were not her kind of people, and never would be.

“Oh, the wedding? It was nice. And I like to observe different cultures from time to time.”

This last was the kind of remark that would not have been offensive had Samantha delivered it with playful irony. But she had spoken in a tone which suggested that West Virginia really was a remote, primitive part of the world that she would never be accustomed to, and that Keith and Ellie and their friends were its aborigines.

But there was no point in challenging Samantha when she was just being Samantha. Dan decided to let the remark pass.

“Hey,” Samantha said, out of the blue. “Let’s stop at that schoolhouse.”

“You mean the haunted one?”

“Of course I mean the haunted one.”

They had just passed through Dillonsville on their westward trek. Dillonsville was a little two-stoplight town. Dan had never intentionally driven by the one-room schoolhouse; but it couldn’t be far. They would have to drive past it before they reached the next town, Murphy.

“Why would you want to stop there?” he asked her.

The one-room schoolhouse had never figured greatly in Dan’s imagination; but he had heard the stories. Despite his college education, and his good job at the brokerage, his relatives were simple people; and his grandmother had given him an appreciation for the supernatural. What his grandmother had drilled into his head was that you didn’t mess with the supernatural if you didn’t have to.

He had no concern about simply driving past the schoolhouse; that much was unavoidable. But stopping there, getting out of the car and maybe even going inside, would be a different matter entirely.

“It will be fun,” Samantha said, “something to tell our friends about. The perfect end to our rustic weekend in West Virginia.”

What she really meant, of course, were her friends, and she did not mean ‘rustic’ in a complimentary manner, he knew.

“Besides,” she added, “when will we be likely to get out this far again?”

“Still,” he said vaguely. He was at a loss to express himself, as he so often was with Samantha. “Wouldn’t it be better to just get back home? We both have to go to work tomorrow.”

“I said I wanted to stop by. I didn’t say that I wanted to spend an hour there. Again, something to tell people about. The Lincoln Schoolhouse has been featured on several of those ghost-hunting reality shows. Did you know that?”

He did know that. And now that Samantha mentioned the name of the school, Dan recalled seeing one of those “ghost-hunting” reality shows about the Lincoln schoolhouse on television. Named after President Abraham Lincoln, the Lincoln Schoolhouse had been built in the earliest days of the twentieth century, back when automobiles were a rarity in this part of Ohio, and the road on which they were now traveling was a horse and buggy turnpike. The original students of the Lincoln Schoolhouse, Dan was quite sure, were long in their graves.

The school had reportedly been abandoned sometime during the 1920s, after something unspeakable had happened there.

The accounts varied, but the most common story held that a male teacher had killed two of his young female charges there, shortly before killing himself. After that, the Lincoln Schoolhouse was deemed unhallowed ground, and no longer appropriate as a place for educating the young.

Moreover, it was in the next decade, the 1930s, that old-fashioned schoolhouses in the area began to consolidate into modern-type, factory-style schools. So there might have been more than one factor at work in the abandonment of the Lincoln Schoolhouse.

And it had all been so long ago, several decades before World War II. Who knew what had really happened?

But the story of the Lincoln Schoolhouse did not end there. Over the succeeding decades there were numerous reports of people seeing things, both in and around the schoolhouse.

Dan had seen video footage of one of the local old-timers, telling about an experience that he had had inside the school as a boy, sometime during the middle years of the 1940s. The local was an old man by the time he was interviewed about the Lincoln Schoolhouse, but he was visibly shaking on camera.

The old man didn’t embellish. He didn’t tell some fancifully detailed story about seeing apparitions of the dead teacher and the murdered little girls, just as plain as day, just as plain as the interviewer sitting before him. He merely shook his head, and said that he would never describe exactly what he’d seen inside the Lincoln Schoolhouse, that that would be a story that he’d take to his grave.

And that was what had convinced Dan that there was something to the stories about the Lincoln Schoolhouse. It had to be more than simply one of those urban legends. Dan had believed what that old-timer was saying. A man that old, that frail, and that close to the end couldn’t lie so convincingly.

Exactly what the old timer interviewed on the video had seen, Dan couldn’t exactly explain or even speculate. But whatever it was, it wasn’t the sort of thing that you messed with on a lark.

“Maybe the schoolhouse isn’t even there anymore,” Dan said, as another stretch of the darkening Ohio countryside rolled by. “They might have torn it down by now.”

But Dan knew that this was unlikely to be true. And there was another strange thing about the Lincoln Schoolhouse: It had not been used for its original purpose for going on ninety years; and yet it had never been torn down. The property on which it stood always seemed to wind up in the hands of an absentee landowner who chose to leave the land fallow.

During the 1970s and 1980s, when the rural obsession with the occult had peaked, the Lincoln Schoolhouse had been used on certain nights of the year as a makeshift devil’s church. Or at least that was what the old stories said.

“It will still be there,” Samantha said. She turned away from Dan and looked out the window. “And I want to stop and see it. This is a unique opportunity to see a bit of rural folklore up close.” Then she turned back to him: “You’re not afraid, are you?”

Dan blew a puff of air through his closed lips, to indicate that the very suggestion was ridiculous. “Of course not. I just want to get home, that’s all. I’ve got a long week ahead of me. So do you.”

“Like I said, I only want to stop and take a look. But I do want to stop.”

Although Dan bristled at Samantha’s suggestion that he was afraid, he also knew that she had not been too far from the mark.

He wasn’t exactly afraid; he just didn’t think it was a risk worth taking. His gut feelings that there might be something to the stories about the Lincoln Schoolhouse were offset by his more rational side. There might be nothing at that old schoolhouse, in the end. But on the odd chance that there was something there, why stir it up?

But of course Samantha would consider it a chance worth taking. It was a dare, after all; and Samantha routinely went out of her way to demonstrate that she would accept any dare offered her, provided the payoff was sufficient.

She had lived twenty-five years, and nothing had ever gone wrong for her, not seriously wrong. Why would she worry about what might be inside a reputedly haunted schoolhouse? (Especially when it was probably nothing more than a local legend, anyway.)

Dan sighed exaggeratedly. “Okay, we’ll stop then, I guess.”

There was a chance that by the time they reached the Lincoln Schoolhouse, Samantha would forget about the whole thing. He thought about the Monday morning that awaited him: an electrically lit office in the middle of the city, rows of clean white cubicle walls and computer monitors. He wanted to be back in Cincinnati already.

“They say the Lincoln Schoolhouse makes you go crazy,” Samantha said, leaning over to nudge him with her hand. “I wonder if that’s true.”

Barely a another minute seemed to pass before Samantha said, “Hey, there it is.”

There it was, indeed, to their right. So they had not torn it down, after all. The Lincoln Schoolhouse stood at the back of a lot filled with high grass and scrub trees. Behind the school a little ridge of thickly wooded hills rose toward the burning clouds of the approaching sunset. You couldn’t mistake the school: even from a distance it was plainly dilapidated and in terminal disrepair. But the distinctive shape of the one-story narrow building with a sharply pitched roof and an empty bell tower left no real room for doubt: At one time this had been a country schoolhouse.

The schoolhouse was connected to the main road by a gravel drive. Maybe there will be a chain, Dan thought. If there was a chain across the entrance to the gravel drive, then he would be able to justify skipping their visit to the Lincoln Schoolhouse. Samantha wouldn’t insist on parking the Audi along the main road and walking back there. At least he didn’t think she would.

But there was no chain across the drive. As Dan bowed to the inevitable and clicked on his turn signal, he reflected that the absence of a chain might be somehow intentional. The same force that had kept the schoolhouse intact decades after it should have been torn down and plowed into farmland or a real estate development might have been behind the lack of a barrier at the entrance. Perhaps the Lincoln Schoolhouse needed visitors, sought them out. What were the odds, after all, of Samantha taking such a random and perverse interest in the place?

He slowed now and turned into the gravel drive. Little stones crunched beneath the Audi’s tires. The ground was uneven and bumpy.

“I wonder if the car can make it,” he said.

“Of course the car can make it,” Samantha said. She was fixated on the Lincoln Schoolhouse now, almost oblivious of his presence. It was bizarre. Why should Samantha care about a place like this?

Dan stopped the car and killed the engine within a stone’s throw of the building, in what would have been the schoolyard ninety years ago. Several clumps of chest-high scrub pines had grown up around the exterior of the building, and the entire lot was a sea of high weeds and brambles beyond the gravel path. Even in the failing light Dan could make out the yellow blossoms of black-eyed susans, and the doily white heads of Queen Anne’s lace.

They stepped out of the car. Once the doors were shut, there was no sound but the ticking of the engine. It shouldn’t be this quiet. Dan longed to hear the silence broken by the sound of a vehicle driving by on the main road, or perhaps an early-season hunter discharging his shotgun. But the immediate perimeter of the Lincoln schoolhouse seemed to create its own vacuum.

Then he thought he heard—

“Come on!” Samantha shouted. She was running ahead of him, toward the open doorway of the schoolhouse.

What had he heard just now? It had sounded like a voice, a faint whisper…

Dan pushed the thought aside; it would not do for him to let Samantha go inside by herself.

The doors of the schoolhouse had long since been torn away, as had the wooden staircase, which would have consisted of only a step or two. Samantha was able to enter by stepping up to the main floor within the doorframe. This was an awkward move that required the strength of all four limbs. It was necessary to grip the sides of the doorway while lunging forward and upward. But Samantha, a regular devotee of the fitness club and aerobics classes, was in good shape. She ascended with only minor difficulty.

“Be careful,” Dan called out. “That floor might be rotted away in places.”

“It’s fine,” she called back, disappearing from sight inside the building. Her footsteps thudded on the wooden floor.

Dan sighed, and ignored the gooseflesh that had suddenly appeared on his bare arms and the back of his neck. The best thing now would be to simply get this over with.  He started toward the doorway, wishing again that he had found a satisfactory excuse to keep driving, to have avoided stopping here.

“Come on,” she said, her voice slightly muffled and distant now from inside the Lincoln schoolhouse.

“I’m coming!” he fairly shouted.

Dan stepped up and into the schoolhouse, grasping the doorframe with both hands as Samantha had done. He was reasonably fit, but his days of hardcore high school athleticism were now ten years behind him. Once inside, he did his best to recover.

“You see?” Samantha turned around to face him. “Isn’t this something?”

Dan couldn’t see how the interior of the Lincoln Schoolhouse was much of anything. In its day, the school would have been kept clean and painted, he assumed. After so many years of disrepair, though, it had all the decor of an old barn or an abandoned toolshed.

There was a little shaft of weak, shadowy light coming down from a hole in the roof—a roof that obviously let in rainwater as well, contributing to the pervasive, peaty smell of mold and organic decay. The windows had been boarded up, but half of them had been subsequently unboarded by vandals or the elements. In the middle of the afternoon, it would be reasonably light in here. At this late hour of the day, visibility was limited. He could clearly see Samantha’s face, and he could easily make out broad details of his surroundings; but he would have struggled to read a newspaper.

At the front of the room was an elevated platform where the teacher would have stood. Dan supposed that there would have been a blackboard over the front wall behind the platform. But there was only a blank space there now, an irregular, excessively faded patch in the old wood. The furniture that the long-ago children had once used was also long gone.

Underneath the hole in the roof at one side of the room, Dan noticed the head of a pine tree, and some poison ivy poking up from a gap in the floorboards. He had not been wrong to warn Samantha about the reliability of the floor.

When she took a step toward the platform, he said, “Don’t. It might be rotted. And then you’ll fall through and we’ll be in a hell of a fix.”

She rolled her eyes at him and stepped up onto the platform, a deliberate act of defiance. She turned around and looked at him. “See, worrywart: No problem.” She added emphasis by pounding each foot on the boards.

For a brief moment he wished that the floorboards would crack and splinter, maybe not dropping her through (he couldn’t go quite that far, even in his mind) but scaring her a bit. Samantha had never been afraid of anything, so far as Dan could tell.

The sodden, ancient wood held, however. “This place is wild!” she exclaimed, looking upward. Dan followed her gaze. There were indistinct clumpy masses in the rafters that appeared to be the nests of birds or rodents. Bats, maybe, for all Dan knew.

“It’s just an old building,” Dan said. Funny how Samantha had turned up her nose at Keith and Ellie’s wedding, at the venue where the reception was held, at all their friends. But here she was, utterly fascinated by the sort of thing that a real country person would barely give a second look.

It was then that Dan saw movement in one corner of the room, in the front of the building, to one side of the teacher’s platform.

It was a shape about the size of a person. In the dim light it could have been a shadow, or it could have been a wispy cloud of black smoke. The shape drifted out of the corner and began a trajectory toward Samantha.

Dan stepped forward to whisk Samantha out of the way, but the shape broke up and dissolved.

“Hey, earth to Dan!” Samantha said. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Dan let out a breath of air. He debated with himself for a moment about whether he should tell her. He wasn’t completely sure himself. He might have seen something, or it might have been a trick of the light. But there was no denying, at any rate, that there was something unsavory about the atmosphere here, something unhealthy and possibly poisonous.

“Nothing,” he said at length. “Okay, we’ve seen the place. Snap a photo for Facebook if you want, and then let’s get out of here.”

“This place scares you, doesn’t it?”

“No. I just want to get going. Remember, Samantha, I spent part of my childhood in the country. I’ve seen dozens of places like this over the years. Hundreds maybe.”

He knew, however, that this wasn’t precisely the truth. Dan had indeed been in his share of old barns, sheds, and houses. But none of them had ever made him feel so unwelcome, so creeped out. He wasn’t going to share this with Samantha, though.

“Let’s go,” he repeated. Without waiting for her to reply, he walked toward the doorway. He jumped down onto the ground, glad to be out of the building.

He stood on the patch of ground once occupied by the small staircase up to the school. He turned and extended a hand to her. “Come on, Samantha. I’ll help you down.”

 


 

 

They drove home in near silence. Samantha insisted that the place had freaked him out and he denied it.

“I saw that look on your face,” she said. “You were like a kid in a  haunted house ride at the amusement park.”

He was happy to see the first suburbs of Cincinnati, and then the city. Cincinnati had experienced periodic crime waves in recent years, but Dan wasn’t worried about crime tonight. He was looking forward to the rationality of the work week ahead of him.

Tonight he had seen something that defied his rational beliefs about the world and the nature of things. He would feel much better if he could believe that it really had been an optical illusion. But his eyesight was sharp and he had never experienced hallucinations before.

Finally he decided that there was no need to over-analyze the situation. He would never set foot inside that schoolhouse again. This was one of those things that he could safely file away. He might reexamine it, someday, at his leisure; and then again, he might simply forget it with the passage of time.

 

 

 

Less than an hour later, he stood in the doorway of their condo unit’s master bedroom. Samantha was about to take a shower. She disrobed in front of him and he could not help looking. It was a treat simply to watch her sometimes.

She stood naked in the threshold between the master bedroom and the bathroom. She saw him looking and frowned.

“What?” he said. “I like looking at you. I’ve told you that before.”

“No,” she said, “I’m just a little disappointed, is all.”

“Why?” he asked, more defensively then he should have. In his experience, women who were disappointed didn’t stick around for long.

She shrugged, and stepped into the bathroom. She slid the translucent shower door open and turned on the water. Because of the layout of the rooms, he could still see her and talk to her without moving from the doorway of the bedroom.

“You were scared in that schoolhouse,” she said. “I saw the look on your face. I had the sense that you saw something—or thought you did. But you didn’t want to admit it.”

“I saw an old building, that was all.” This was ridiculous.

Before she stepped into the shower, she stepped briefly back into the bedroom and pointedly removed her cell phone from the nightstand on her side of the bed. She placed the phone on the vanity inside the bathroom, where she would be able to see it from the shower. Now why would she do that?

Truth be told, the schoolhouse had scared him a little, but it was already receding into the background of his thoughts. At the moment he was more concerned with another item that had weighed on his mind of late: the recent pattern of Samantha’s phone activity.

Samantha had recently been texting more than usual in the evening while at home. When he walked by her, she either put the phone away, or discreetly moved the angle of the display so that he could not see it.

He had also noticed that while she was texting, her face was unusually intent, her concentration focused. Then every so often she would smile at one of the messages sent to her by the person on the other side of the conversation. That would cause her to respond immediately, typing rapidly as her smile lingered. So what was really going on with her?

Dan was pondering this matter when he happened to notice the empty space in his back pants pocket. He reached back and confirmed the worst: His wallet was missing.

 

 

Before he made the decision to return to the Lincoln schoolhouse, Dan checked throughout the condo unit, searching every place he might have dropped the wallet since returning home. This did not take long: The condo was not particularly large, and they had been home for less than twenty minutes before Dan noticed the wallet missing.

He had greater hopes for the Audi. While Samantha was still drying off from her shower, Dan went down to the condo’s parking garage and made a thorough search of his car: He looked in both front footwells, in the space between the driver’s seat and the console, and every other nook and cranny in the interior. Once again, he was limited by the possibilities: There was only so much space inside an Audi coupe.

On the way back to the condo unit, he recalled the last time he could remember with certainty that the wallet was in his possession. He was absolutely sure that he had left West Virginia with it. He had patted his back pocket before starting the drive, a habit of his since his high school days.

About fifteen miles east of the Lincoln Schoolhouse, he and Samantha had stopped at a Marathon gas station. He had filled up the tank and bought drinks for both of them in large plastic bottles: Diet Coke for Samantha, and A&W Root Beer for him.

Before stepping in the car to leave the Marathon station, he had patted his back pocket to make sure his wallet was there. Then he had felt the wallet’s bulk between one half of his buttocks and the car seat. He was sure of it.

That left only one plausible explanation: He had dropped the wallet at the Lincoln Schoolhouse. Most likely, it had fallen out of his pants pocket when he’d crossed the threshold, either coming in or going out.

He had been disturbed by the atmosphere of the schoolhouse, by the thing that he’d thought he’d seen in the corner of the room. And he had been sort-of quarreling with Samantha. As a result, he hadn’t made his customary check for his wallet before stepping into the car.

Which meant that his wallet was now, in all likelihood, somewhere near the door of that schoolhouse—either just inside it or on the ground near the door.

He had to go back and retrieve his wallet. The Lincoln Schoolhouse wasn’t exactly a highly trafficked location, but its status as a local haunt would attract others. It had drawn him and Samantha in, after all. It was the sort of place that teens would visit on a dare, a site where bored locals would wander when they wanted a chill. And again, the schoolhouse did seem to possess a certain magnetism, even if it wasn’t necessarily of a supernatural nature.

Like most men, Dan carried his whole life in his wallet. He usually carried around two hundred dollars in cash, but this was the least valuable among its contents. There were multiple credit cards, his ATM cards, and his driver’s license. If his wallet fell into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic.

He had disturbing mental images of a stranger using his credit cards to buy thousands of dollars of merchandise from online vendors, memberships to Internet porn sites. And that wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. If his wallet fell into the hands of a competent criminal, he might spend years straightening out the damage.

Milling about the living room of the condo, Dan sighed aloud. He had been looking forward to going to bed, and now this.

How long would it take him to drive to the Lincoln Schoolhouse, retrieve his dropped wallet, and return home? He looked at the wall clock in the kitchen: It was late enough that there would be no traffic, and it was Sunday, anyway. If he didn’t dither too long, he could be home in time to grab a few hours of sleep before work tomorrow. Possibly even a robust four or five. But he would have to get on the road soon.

Although it was inevitable that he go back out there tonight, he didn’t fool himself about the place giving him the willies. He was up for going, if he must; but truth be told, he would have preferred some company.

His friend Russ, an old pal from his college days, happened to live close by. Maybe he could call Russ and coax him into riding along. Dan could pitch the affair as a nostalgic adventure, reminiscent of something two young boys might do, a late-night run to a haunted site of urban legend.

But Russ had married two years ago (another wedding Dan had attended, though not with Samantha). Russ’s wife had given birth to the couple’s infant son barely six months ago.

Late-night adventures of this kind were not for men who were married with children, Dan realized. They were only for boys. And for grown men who had carelessly dropped their wallets.

He was still out in the living room, hesitating, when Samantha emerged from the bedroom. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt. Bare feet. It was a vaguely masculine ensemble that she nevertheless managed to look beautiful in.

“What’s up?” she immediately asked. This was not an unreasonable question. He was clearly up to something.

She sat down on the sofa while he remained standing. He told her about his missing wallet, and how he had narrowed down where he had probably dropped it.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “You do need to run back out there and retrieve your wallet. What are you waiting for? The sooner you go, the sooner you get back.”

“That’s what I was thinking. I was just waiting for you to get done with your shower so I could tell you.”

She paused before asking, “Would you like me to go with you?”

Given that Samantha was his live-in girlfriend, she would be the most obvious person to accompany him on his unexpected mission. It had not occurred to Dan to invite her.

“I could tell that place really gave you the creeps,” she added. “Maybe you’d rather not go back by yourself.”

That decided the matter for him. “It was a dusty old schoolhouse building, was all. I told you, Samantha, really not a big deal.”

“All right, then,” she said, with finality. “You should probably get going. It will take a while.”

“I’ll make good time in the Audi,” Dan said. He strode into the kitchen and removed a flashlight from the miscellaneous drawer near the sink. He snatched his keys off the marble-topped counter that separated the kitchen area from the living room. “You don’t have to wait up for me. Like you said, it might take a while.”

On the way down to the garage, Dan wondered what Samantha would do while he was gone. Would she go to bed? Or, despite what he’d said, would he find her waiting up for him when he returned? That minor distinction didn’t matter, he figured. Samantha was probably already holding her phone, sending and receiving text messages.

 




 

He drove east, out of the city, for well over an hour. As he’d predicted, he made good time in the Audi with no traffic. For no particular reason that he could name, he was amazed by the way the city and the suburbs fell away, leaving him in a primordial land of moonlit farms and endless, impenetrable woods.

Driving through the lonely nocturnal countryside didn’t bother him—not really. But he wasn’t looking forward to stepping inside that schoolhouse again.

He had no trouble finding it, at least. This time the Lincoln Schoolhouse was on the left side of the road instead of the right, as he was driving in the opposite direction. He signaled and slowed down, then pulled into the gravel driveway. Headlights played on the ruined facade of the schoolhouse as gravel crunched beneath the Audi’s tires.

Dan did not park as close to the schoolhouse now as he had earlier. Something will escape from the schoolhouse and slip into my passenger seat, he thought wildly. Despite the craziness of the idea, a chill crept up his spine. When he opened the driver’s side door, the night air was cool and crisp, and smelled of autumn.

Get it over with, he chided himself. There’s nothing to it.

Dan stood outside the car holding the flashlight. He switched the flashlight on and directed the beam at the front doorway. The light illuminated the rectangle of darkness, somehow making it seem all the darker.

He had no inclination to take another step closer. It was as if his shoes had been stuck in concrete. That was why he had parked so far away from the schoolhouse, he now realized. He had no intention of walking in there again. He should go, but then again, he should not.

For he had seen something earlier. Just like he’d told himself: His eyesight was pretty close to perfect, and he had never experienced hallucinations before. If he had seen something, then he had seen it. And that was a good enough reason for not going back in. There were some forces in this world that it simply didn’t pay to tempt.

He ducked back inside the Audi, closed the door, and started the engine. In the morning he would make the necessary calls to cancel his credit cards. He could get a new driver’s license during his lunch hour one day during the upcoming week.

He did not want to get any closer to the Lincoln Schoolhouse, not even while inside the vehicle. He therefore avoided the gravel turnaround immediately in front of the building. He pulled into the grass and was relieved to find that the ground beneath the Audi’s tires was solid. He put the car into reverse, and with another few turns of the steering wheel, the Lincoln Schoolhouse was in his rearview mirror instead of in his windshield.

What would he tell Samantha? That wouldn’t be so difficult, really. He could tell Samantha that he had searched inside the schoolhouse with the flashlight, and his wallet simply hadn’t been there. If, by some near miracle, someone did find his wallet inside the schoolhouse and return it to him, he would have an excuse: Even with the flashlight, it had been too dark.

He would joke about the setting, about the dust and the cobwebs and the moldy smell. She wouldn’t suspect that he was seriously afraid of the place. She wouldn’t suspect the lie.

But his mind did return to her texting. He tried to picture what the man on the other end of the text messages would be like, but this exercise quickly became uncomfortable. So he put a stop to it.

Dan pulled out onto the two-lane highway that would take him home, and gunned the engine. He began to contemplate how he might manage to take a peek at Samantha’s text message conversations without her knowing about it, and whether or not that knowledge was worth the risk it would entail.

Copyright©2017, Edward Trimnell