A group of friends go for a walk in a forest and find an abandoned house…
“Hey Jasp, you coming?”
“Of course,” he retorted, “What kind of friend would I be if I let you two explore my woods alone? Just hold on for a bit.” The fox hurried to tidy up his living room, sealing packets, packing away electronics and throwing trash into the bin. Mark peered through the doorway, his dog face belied some guilt when he realised he had left his host to clean up after him. He hastened to help. Soon they were also joined by Rupert – though his hawk-like features did not betray as much emotion as Mark’s.
Once they had finished, Jasp headed to the entrance hall and slipped his shoes onto his feet and grabbed his jacket from the hanger.
“Let’s go,” said Mark.
The three left the house and walked up the street. Past the cul-de-sac at the end of the street was a well-worn path that lead off into the forest beyond the residential area. It was a chilly afternoon, with a biting breeze whispering through the trees. A few birds forlornly sung. Fortunately, the trio’s thickly padded clothing protected them from the elements. Chatting away, they travelled along the forest path.
“Where does that go?” Rupert motioned with his feathery hand toward a faded and overgrown path the lead away from the one they travelled.
“It leads to an old house,” Jasp replied. “John, one of my neighbours, said that there’s an old lady who lives there – but I haven’t ever seen anyone in there since I’ve moved to this neighbourhood. Not that I spent much time there.”
“You want to check it out?”
“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea,” Mark commented with a high pitched voice.
Rupert tutted. “Oh, come on, you’re not still scared after those horror games?”
“Besides, it’s not like it is possible for houses to be haunted in real life?”
“Ok, whatever,” Mark acquiesced, “You’re going first, though.”
Rupert made a dismissive squawk and forged ahead. Jasp followed hot on his heels, and Mark at a more measured pace – dodging branches that swung back to their places after the other two had passed.
Eventually, the three arrived at a rickety and worn-down chain-link fence, interrupted by a rusty gate. A chain held in place by a padlock hung on the gate, but was not looped around the gate post – the gate could be opened. This is exactly what Rupert did.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?,” queried Jasp, “We’re trespassing.”
“You said you’ve never seen anyone here. Besides, we’ll knock. If she’s home, we’ll say hello and leave. Not like she’s gonna eat us.” Rupert pushed the gate open and marched up the cobbled path, dodging the weeds that pushed up through the cracks between the stones. Once at the door, he knocked and waited.
Jasp walked along the patio and peered between the burglar bars of a window. “There’s a lot of boxes in there. Some electronic components lying around. I don’t see any movement, though.”
Rupert began knocking harder on the door but, between the second and third knocks, the lock clicked and the door swung open. In the barren entrance hall stood a dark wood table. Upon the table, a cardboard sign that read “Please place deliveries on table”.
Rupert and Jasp walked in slowly, looking around the eerie room. The sound of a howling wind could be heard, but there was nary a breeze inside, nor much of one outside. An electric crack followed by a deep, rumbling boom echoed across the house. Mark hovered by the door before mumbling, “Nuh-uh,” and backing out and heading down the patio steps. All of a sudden, the door closed and locked itself again. This caused a moment of panic: all three running to the door and banging on it – only for it to open again, leaving three puzzled youngsters staring at each other.
“There were some electronics on it,” commented Jasp, looking behind the now-open door. “Yeah, there’s a little jury-rigged system here. Whoever lives here knows a bit about electronics.”
“Now I definitely want to meet her.”
“We don’t even know if she’s here, Rupert.”
“Well, then, what’s the problem with taking a look around? It sounds like there’s a thunderstorm going on here! I want to find out what is up with that.” He walked toward one of the aged wooden doors leading out from the entrance hall and grabbed a door handle, turning it. A shrill and deafening alarm blared for a couple seconds.
“What did you do?” Mark cried.
“How am I supposed to know?”
Jasp shushed them. “The wind stopped.”
Sure enough, the house was now almost silent. Almost. A soft scriiitch was heard. Then a heavy thunk. These sounds alternated, slowly growing louder. This was accompanied a constant and menacing hissing.
The three turned only to find that entrance had, once again, closed behind them.
“Hello there, intrudersss…” A tall lizard emerged through a door. It had a rough, scaly skin that was charcoal black and dotted with tan-yellow patterns. A forked tongue darted out – briefly revealing a series of needle-like teeth. It stepped closer, its claws scratching on the floor and its tail dragging to create a hissing-like sound.
“Jasp, what do we do?” one of his friends whispered, their backs all pressed to the wall. They all very suddenly regretted their life choices.
“Hss-sss-sss,” the lizard approximated a rasping laugh. “You ssshould sssee your facess.”
The three remained frozen in place.
“Oh, you warm-bloodss are ssso typical – judging by appearancess. I’m not going to eats you. You don’t ssseem like you’re here to ssteal my sstuff.”
“N-no, ma’am. I just had my friends over at my house and we thought we’d explore – I didn’t think anyone actually lived here.”
“Undersstandable. I have to admits I am rather reclusssive. Pleasse, call me Alana. What’re your names?”
“I’m Jasp. That’s Mark and this is Rupert. I live just down the street. They are staying over at my house for a night. We were mostly playing games, but also decided to take a walk in the forest.”
“Lassst I checked, the foresst wassn’t in here, hss-sss-sss. No problems with curiossity. It’ss part of what keepss me going.” She reached into a bag hanging around her shoulder and pulled out a tablet. She tapped the screen a few times, and the front door of the house opened once again, bumping Rupert on the shoulder as it did so. “Careful.”
“So, what do you do?”
“Tinker and invents. I’ve made plenty of money off my inventionss to keep me going, but I tired of corporate poloticss – ssso I decided to retire and tinker with sstuff on my own.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what sort of stuff do you invent?”
Jasp could have sworn he saw a twinkle in the eye in spite of the lizard’s otherwise stiff face. “Oh, ssstuff you – asss a gamer – will be interessted in. Recently I’ve been tesssting ssome VR sstuff I made. You mights have heard the weather in the sssimulation when you came in. I can sshow it to you if don’t mind the messs. I haven’t had any alpha-tesstersss for quite sssome time.”
The three friends practically bounced with excitement. “Of course we’d like to see!”
Alana made another raspy chuckle and headed back into her house.