Sally Gregory folded her arms across her chest. Her brother, Samuel Gregory, tossed his baseball from hand to hand, a devilish half grin on his face, while his grey eyes challenged Sally. Around him were his gang, a group of boys that went to school with her and Samuel, that were chanting, “Chicken! Chicken! Sally is a chicken!” Sally glared at her brother’s gang. Sally was not one to be made fun of. The name calling derived from the fact that she was a girl, and needed to prove her worth to play with her brother’s friends. She was refusing to go through with their dare, her task to make her one of them.
“Come on, Sal, it’s just ole’ Mr. Ravenswood’s house, you’re not scared, are ya?” Samuel taunted, as his friends started making juvenile chicken noises.
“No! I just don’t feel like making the long walk up hill, that’s all.” Sally said, her voice shaking only slightly. She was scared. She knew the story of ole Mr. Ravenswood and his crazy wife by heart, and so did her brother, and she did not want to go up to that attic, even if her dumb older brother’s gang double dog dared her. But the endless chant of “Chicken!” was wearing on Sally’s nerves.
Everyone in town knew the story about the Ravenswood House, and, of course, Mr. Ravenswood. Years ago, the Ravenswood’s had bought the rickety old farm house. Mr. Ravenswood had purchased the house in hopes of starting a family with his young wife, Alice. Soon after they’d settled in and fixed the old place up, Alice gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. It wasn’t long after their son, Andrew, Mrs. Ravenswood gave birth to another boy, Henry.
Some years pass by, and the boys are at the age when they like to invent new games and cause trouble. It was a hot summer’s day when both Andrew and Henry were playing in the attic with some old trunks. Andrew had decided to use the trunks as hiding places to see how long it would take for the other to find which trunk they were hiding in, and whoever had the quickest time won the game.
Andrew had gone first, and counting out loud, got to thirty-six when he found his little brother Henry in the blue trunk with his mother’s evening gowns that she only wore to parties. Henry, however, couldn’t find his brother in thirty-six seconds. He couldn’t find him after 100 seconds. He couldn’t find him after 240 seconds. There was a total of thirty or so trunks, ranging from small to large that contained Mr. and Mrs. Ravenswood’s relics from before their move and some from even after. And in one of those thirty or so trunks, was a crammed little Andrew who was holding back giggles, unaware of how the air was getting thinner around him. And there was Henry, having opened and looked inside of a majority of those trunks, only to not find his big brother. And with each passing second of counting “Two hundred and seventy-five one thousand…” and so on, Henry grew weary of the game. And by the time Henry had shouted out to Andrew to give up, Andrew had already given into sleep from the dark, sweaty confines of the trunk, the air still barely there.
Thinking that his brother was being mean, refusing to give up his hiding place despite the fact he had won, Henry decided to go back downstairs to eat a snack, eventually forgetting Andrew still up in the attic. When supper time came around, Andrew still gone, Mrs. Ravenswood asked her darling Henry where he was. By then, hours had past, the heat of the sun through that attic window giving way to the cooling night, with the moon’s rays of light casting eerie shadows on the thirty or so trunks. What they didn’t know was that Andrew had awakened from his slumber in that measly box, and tried to get out to proclaim his victory, only to realize in horror that the trunk had locked. He had screamed for Henry, for his Mama and his Pa, screamed endlessly, only to have them muffled by the cruel lid on top of him. He’d probably pounded that lid with his small fists, with tears streaming on his face, begging for someone to help him, only to find the air disappear and suffocation take its course.
When Henry told his mother about the game and how Andrew didn’t come out of one of the trunks when Henry asked him to, both Mr. and Mrs. Ravenswood raced up to the attic and yelled for Andrew to come out of one of the trunks, that the game was over, all the while flinging open lids, Henry watching their frantic search, sobbing, knowing something was wrong. By the time they flung open the mahogany trunk that held some old photos and blankets, all they saw was a blue lipped Andrew, not breathing, heart silent. They of course took little Andrew to the hospital anyway, but it was pointless. Andrew Ravenswood was dead.
It is said that Alice Ravenswood went crazy after the death of her eldest son, insisting he be buried in her rose garden so she could comfort him day and night. She had refused to let anyone touch anything in Andrew’s bedroom, and demanded that every single trunk in the attic have their locks broken off. Mr. Ravenswood complied with her wishes, in hopes that, maybe, just maybe, she would get better. She acted as if Andrew was still there, making him food and bringing it out to her garden, saying it was a picnic for ‘just her and her special little boy’, ignoring Henry entirely with her motherly affections. It was said she even slept outside with Andrew’s grave from time to time. Months had passed with Alice mentally unstable, when Henry made a grave mistake. Henry, young, innocent, broken by the death of his brother and distant mother, had went up into the attic without permission after dinner one night.
No one had been up there since his father had broken the locks. Or so was thought. What Henry found was strange writings on the wall with his brother’s name appearing to him in certain places, for Henry could barely read. The thirty or so trunks had seemed to vanish, leaving but two trunks in the middle of the room. There was the mahogany one and the blue one that held his mother’s evening gowns. There were candles in a circle around them that glowed in the dark, the moon seeming to have vanished. Henry had turned to run away when he ran into his mother.
“Oh, there you are sweet heart, why are you up here?” Mrs. Ravenswood asked, in a sweet motherly tone. Henry had started to cry. “I am sorry, Mama, so s-s-sorry.” Mrs. Ravenswood had held him close, probably stroking his head in a comforting way, shushing him like mothers do when a child cries. “Oh, that’s ok, sweet heart, Mama’s sorry too. I’ve been ignoring you lately, haven’t I?” she’d said, Henry nodding his head that was still placed firmly into his mother’s side as she held him close.
“You can’t blame Mama, darling, it was you, after all, who killed him…” she said. Henry pulled away, looking up at her in horror. “Did I Mama? Did I really?” he cried to her. “I am afraid so, sweet heart…” Mrs. Ravenswood had answered, clearly insane and undeniably cruel as she accused her living son for the death of her oldest one. “I didn’t, ma-ma-mean too…” Henry said, not understanding that he truly wasn’t to blame, that it was the lock, not him, that killed Andrew. “I know, Henry sweetie, I know… but you did, and now you have to make up for it…” Mrs. Ravenswood said, kneeling before Henry and hugging him. “Wha- what’d do I gotta, gotta do?” he blubbered, so young and naïve, as to want to do anything to fix what he ‘did’. Mrs. Ravenswood smiled, standing, taking Henry’s hand and helping him step over the candle flames to the two trunks in the room. “I want you, my precious boy, to go play with your brother…” Mrs. Ravenswood opened the blue trunk, which had been cleared of the evening gowns.
Henry didn’t even notice how this specific trunk had a lock on it still. Henry, without another question, stepped into the trunk and laid down, allowing his mother to lock the lid. “Don’t forget to count Mama…” he had cried out. “Of course, my darling… one- one thousand, two- one thousand…” Mrs. Ravenswood counted as she back away, stepping out of the circle of candles and down the stairs from the attic.
Mr. Ravenswood, who had missed dinner that night to stay late at work in town to drink some Scotch, had arrived at midnight to his home, to see his wife with a crazy smile on her lips, humming as she stared into the distance in her rocking chair. Henry was nowhere to be seen. “Honey, are you alright?” he had asked, going to her and kissing her cheek. “Why, yes dear, just grand…” she answered, still staring blankly at the fireplace. “Did you put Henry to bed?” Mr. Ravenswood asked, hanging his coat and sitting opposite his wife in his own rocking chair. He watched his wife curiously, rocking his chair back and forth like she was rocking hers. She kept the same insane smile as she answered, “No, he’s playing in the attic with Andrew…” Mr. Ravenswood stopped rocking, gapping at his wife. She kept staring at the fire place. Mr. Ravenswood’s heart had dropped and he began to question how far his wife’s insanity had gone.
“What did you just say, Alice?” he asked, standing and taking her head in his hands and forcing her to look at him. She just smiled. “I am so glad you’re home, dear…” was all she said, and Mr. Ravenswood let go of her face and ran to the attic, screaming Henry’s name. But it was too late, Henry had perished just like his brother. Losing Andrew had took a great toll on Mr. Ravenswood, and with the murder of Henry by his wife, he had become broken.
He took his axe from the woodshed by their house, just a few yards away from Alice’s rose garden, and went back inside to his wife in her rocking chair, still smiling with a blank expression. “I am sorry Alice…” he’d said. “About wh-,” Mrs. Ravenswood was cut off by the axe hitting her neck.
He’d called the police, and told them what had happened, and when they came to the house to arrest him that morning, he was in the attic. He had moved the kitchen table up there, along with the chairs, and prepared a healthy breakfast for four. The candles from last night were blown out and kicked away from the table, and the trunks were chopped to pieces in the corner, a bloody axe on top. And around the table, with Mr. Ravenswood eating calmly at the head, sat the rotting corpse of Andrew, and next to him a blue lipped, wide eyed, dead Henry, with Alice Ravenswood bloody body just on the opposite side of Mr. Ravenswood.
Mr. Ravenswood went with the police without a problem, and even, to the disgust of the officers, gave a kiss on the cheek to each member of his family, even Andrew, before he was put in a strait jacket and sent away to an asylum. When the coroner arrived to take the bodies, he was horrified to discover a smile still placed on Mrs. Ravenswood’s face.
Mr. Ravenswood is said to have died at the asylum just outside of town a few weeks later, from suicide. The house remained abandoned, no one daring to go near it after its horrible history, that is, except for those who were double dog dared.
“Sally is a chicken! Sally is a chicken!” The chanting finally took its toll on Sally. She hated name calling, even if it was a harmless chant. “Fine!” she yelled, turning on her heels and marching up hill to the Ravenswood house, only to be hit in the head with something. “OW!” She yelled, turning to face a smiling Samuel who was trying to contain his laughter. He’d thrown a small metal flashlight at her. She picked it up, and his gang howled with laughter. “For in case you get scared, sis.” Samuel said, jokingly. Sally turned away and marched uphill, determined. “I’ll show you stinky boys just how brave I can be!” She called out as she walked away, her brother’s gang laughing, Samuel joining in. Sally’s anger boiled within her as she heard those laughs. She would show them. Sally Gregory was not to be made fun of.
The dare itself was simple, if it weren’t for the fact it involved the Ravenswood house. Sally had to go up to the attic and get one of the candles Mrs. Ravenswood had placed around the trunks. Simple, and yet, not as easy as Sally would like it to be. The summer sun beat on Sally’s back, causing Sally to think about how it must have been a night like this when Andrew and Henry were playing their game in that attic. Sally paused her walking to redo her ponytail. She couldn’t help but think of those two boys, knowing Andrew was probably just around six years old when he died. She didn’t know for sure, since the Ravenswood were supposed to be buried in a different town’s cemetery, the dates and proof unavailable except for the legend and a rundown house rotting away on a hill just outside town and a few blocks away from her neighborhood. That’s why she figured it was all just made up anyhow, and after Andrew died, the dad was the one who went crazy and Alice and Henry just moved away and weren’t really dead at all, but living in a new town where they weren’t known as the scary ole Ravenswoods. Sally continued walking, rolling up her blouse’s sleeves. She really wasn’t supposed to be here, nor was she even supposed to have followed her brother when he went to the field to play baseball with his gang. They never included her in anything. She was their age, she knew how to play baseball. But she was just a girl to those snot nose boys, hence why she accepted the dare. She had to prove she was just as brave and tough as the lot of them.
Sally reached the front gate of the farmhouse, the wooden planks rotting from years of neglect. She looked at the gate’s little opening, the stone path to the farmhouse overgrown with weeds. She walked through the opening and surveyed the area.
There was a garden, with roses, that seemed to have overcome the yard and become more like weeds than civilized plants. And a few yards away, as described in the story, was a shed that looked like it was falling apart, the door hanging on its hinges, wide open. Lastly, Sally looked up at the farmhouse, only to gasp in horror, her heart dropping to the pit of her stomach. There, in the circular, small attic window, was a woman. A woman who may have once been beautiful, but now looked horrifying. She had black hair that was falling out of its beehive style, her blue eyes sunken into their sockets, dark circles around them. But that wasn’t what made her terrifying. What made Sally’s knees want to buckle, and make her mouth become dry, was the fact that the woman in the window that was watching Sally with a horrible, sickening smile, the line across her throat that oozed blood, basically disconnecting her head from her body. The woman raised her left hand, waving at Sally, and glinting in the sunlight, as if some kind of horrid joke, was a wedding ring. Sally screamed, an ear shattering cry, as Mrs. Alice Ravenswood began to laugh.
Samuel tossed the baseball to Trever Green, his best friend and right hand man when it came to leading the gang. The rest of the boys had given up on the baseball game, and decided to wrestle around in the grass. In fact, the Beauregard brothers, Tim and Ted, were rolling around, Tim in a head lock. There were five in their gang, the other guy, Desmond Burnham, Des for short, sitting on a boulder near the flurry of the Beauregard brothers. They lived in the same neighborhood, been in the same class, gone to the same church, and been the best of friends since they were old enough to walk and talk. They were all closer than peas in a pod, and more often than not, caused trouble for the whole town. It didn’t bother them one bit though, they were pals, and they intended to stick together no matter what.
Trevor caught the ball in his mitt and didn’t toss back. He looked over the setting sun, and back to Samuel. “Hey Sam, when do you think Sal’s gonna be back. It’s almost supper time, and my Pa is gonna tear my hide if I ain’t back by then.” He said, finally throwing the ball to Samuel. “Yeah, ours too, Sammy… when she gonna get back?” Ted added, getting up and brushing off his trousers. He’d won the fight. Tim stood up beside him, pointing to a dirt stain on his white shirt. “Lookit what ya did to my shirt Ted, Mom’s going to kill me…” Tim whined, trying to rub it off. Ted rolled his eyes. Now everyone was looking at Samuel. He tossed the baseball from hand to hand as he looked at the setting sun. His grey eyes glistened in the rays of light, and he turned to the gang.
“Hey, Des, how long has Sally been gone?” Samuel asked, Des hopping off the boulder. He ran a hand through his blonde hair, and shrugged. “Um, ‘bout an hour I reckon…” he answered. Samuel took off his glove, and tossed both the baseball and glove to Trevor so he could put them back in his baseball bag. Trevor had gotten a brand new bag last week for his birthday, and was now in charge of keeping track of all the equipment.
“Ok Trev, you can go ahead with Tim and Ted back home so you don’t get into too much trouble,” Samuel said, then pointing at Des, asks, “Do ya think you could go with me to get Sally, or would your folks flip out on ya?” Des shrugs, a signature movement for him. “That’d be fine, Sammy.” He replied.
“Thanks Sammy,” Trevor says, and slings his baseball bag over his shoulder, still holding the ball and mitts. Ted and Tim go stand by him. Des goes next to Samuel. “See ya guys tomorrow, if Sally doesn’t get you both killed…” Ted hollered, as both groups go their separate ways. It was just a joke, of course.
When Des and Samuel reached the Ravenswood house, it was eerily silent. The wooden gate around the house, like a fence but smaller, didn’t creek as Samuel leaned on it to peer into the house windows. There was no crunch of grass as Des stood closer to Samuel, no crickets chirped, no wind howled, nothing.
Samuel hesitantly made his way to the opening where he saw a shoe, Sally’s shoe. Des, who was close behind, stopped at the sight. Samuel walked up to it and picked it up, his face drained of color.
“Samuel, I think we should leave…” Des said in a whimper. He was looking at the attic window, were he could see a flickering of light. As if the attic was lit by candles. “Sam, we have to go…” he repeated, backing away.
“Sally!” Samuel yelled, seeing the flickering in the attic window. He ran into the house, dropping the shoe. “No, Sam, wait!” Des hollered after him, following Samuel. He entered the house, and a foul stench impacted his nose. It was the kind of smell that you associated with rotten milk. Des had to stop, and he began to gag, and tried to inhale fresh air, only to find none. Samuel had turned down a corridor. Des went after him. “Sam!” He yelled, but Samuel was already racing up some stairs.
Des followed, running as well. When they reached the landing, Des grabbed Samuel’s shoulder. “Sam, we have to get out of here,” Des said, when the lights went on, old worn out lights that casted yellow hues on the walls. Both boys shuddered, when they heard a screech.
“HELP ME!!” Sally screamed out, and Samuel turned to go down the hallway to the stairs up to the attic. Des stopped him.
“This is crazy, Sam, we have to leave.” Des said. Samuel was crying.
“But this is all my fault, Des…” Samuel said, and pulled away, going towards the finally stair case, the one that lead to the attic. Des knew something was off, that something was going to end horribly. Des ran his hand through his hair and looked around him.
Everything was rotten, the wallpaper peeling off the walls, the carpet worn and disgusting. You could feel the death surrounding the place as the cold seeped into your bones, despite the summer heat. Des felt his heart drop further and further from his chest. It was wrong, why did they even think to dare Sally to go to a place like this?
Des ran after Samuel, knowing he couldn’t leave his friend, knowing why Samuel was so set on saving Sally, despite the evidence supporting the fact she was a goner.
The house seemed to hold its breath, being witness to the distress of three children, no older than 11. Unlike adults, whose ability to comprehend the unimaginable horrors to be unfolding, these children were surprisingly composed, surprisingly unquestioning. It was both tragic and brave.
Samuel was paused on the last step, shaking from the drop in temperature and the thought of what was behind the door. In that moment of Des reaching Samuel, summer had become winter, reality becoming a nightmare, and the disintegration of childhood. It was the final choice, face what was within, or run away and face the guilt of leaving Sally Gregory to die.
Samuel went to open the door, only to have it creek open itself. Des didn’t move from Samuel’s side as they took hesitant steps into the attic.
The sun was setting, and provided but a small glow from the window. But it wasn’t the glow that filled the dreaded place with light, but the circle of candles. And to the boys’ horror, there were two big trunks, though not the ones in the story. They were black, and of course, bigger. The kind of trunks that can fit a woman of average height. The kind that can fit a boy of 11 or 12.
“Hello, sweethearts, it’s time to play our game…”
Both Des’s and Samuel’s visions go black with a thud to the back of their heads.
Samuel slowly began to come to, only to begin screaming. He was inside the trunk. He beat his fists against the lid, repeatedly punching and pushing against it, hoping it would open. “HELP ME!” He screeched, tears running down his face. He was crunched into the small space, which was void of light, except—Samuel felt something in his pocket. He dug into it and came out with a small metal flashlight that made Samuel’s blood run cold. It was a trifle thing, the flashlight, plain and just like any other. But Samuel Gregory knew whose it was.
Des was awake as well, but, unlike Samuel, he laid in his grave in silence, the trunk walls nothing to him as he accepted death.
Sally, however, was enjoying a breakfast dinner with three of the Ravenswoods. Not dead or in danger at all. Sally was scared, at first, who wouldn’t be, but she was not one to lose a dare, especially after the “Chicken” chant the boys had issued. So, instead of letting terror engulf her, like so many children would have, she went to the attic of the old house and greeted Mrs. Ravenswood and her two boys, whose blue lips had turned into smiles at the prospect of having an older brother. Sally, of course, hadn’t intended for Des to also come and try to rescue her, but two was better than none, right? They only needed to set up another trunk- that was all. Mrs. Ravenswood was pleased with the arrangement, even inviting Sally to their ghost dinner. Sally did not partake in the food, of course, but only sat at the table which had appeared in the attic.
Mrs. Ravenswood was impressed with Sally, understanding even. After the dinner, she escorted Sally to the door, asking for her to visit, which Sally agreed to do, but didn’t plan on following through.
With a turn of her heal, and a skip in her step, Sally walked away from the Ravenswood House, and back to her own, practicing her tears, rehearsing her story. Des and Samuel had come and gotten her from the house, and on the way home, some man had just came and took them, while Sally ran away.
She untucked her shirt from her skirt and left her shoe off, carrying it instead. She would drop it when she begins running down her street. Such a wonderful touch to the game, Sally had thought, making it seem as though Mrs. Ravenswood had abducted her from the sidewalk to her house.
Sally, of course, felt no remorse for allowing Mrs. Ravenswood kill Des and Samuel. Well, partially sorry for Des’s involvement, she hadn’t intended for him to be there. But, he was chiming in on that horrible name calling. “Who’s the chicken, now, boys?” Sally said under her breath as she pictured them in those trunks, the air growing thinner. She would take over the gang now, despite the fact she was a girl. She figured they would need a new catcher, and Sally was second best to Samuel. She would have to replace Des, but she knew another girl who was a tomboy like her that wouldn’t mind joining the gang. The boys would get used to having girls there, she was sure of it.
Sally began her fake crying when she got a few blocks away from her street and dropped her shoe, then began running the rest of the way, all the while playing victory music in her head.
Sally wasn’t one to be made fun of.