For weeks, I struggled with my experience. I could speak to no one about it. I doubted my own sanity and couldn’t expect anyone to accept what I couldn’t accept myself. But even beyond that awful feeling was one far worse because I knew what I had seen.
Had the lens showed me the future? Did I miss the chance to warn Mrs. Derrick and save her life? Had I caused her death by looking at her through the lens?
It was fear that made me tuck the lens away and leave it untouched for all that time. I refused to risk another tragedy, but the uncertainty of my responsibility was a double-edged blade. Gradually, the temptation to know the truth, and to use this strange object again, proved to be too much.
A street over from my home, there was an old, empty house. It had been abandoned since the death of the owner, a man whose cruelty and hatred lived on in neighborhood legend. I will not repeat the rumors I heard, as I have no evidence to support the defamation of his character, but if you can imagine what might be said, I can assure you that you will not be far off.
The specter of this man loomed after his death and perhaps it is not surprising that his house was considered to be haunted. It was a test of courage for the local kids to even approach the decrepit and forlorn structure. While the tales told were fantastic and undoubtedly exaggerated, I took it upon myself to try the lens in a place with such a reputation.
Near dusk, I threaded my way through the overgrown trees that so graciously blocked the sight of the place. The grass climbed in waist-high waves and showed me clearly that no one else had paid a visit recently. As I surveyed the falling gutters, the pitted, flaky paint, and the cracked and shattered windows, I felt a notable chill. But when I raised the lens for a second glance, I found myself confused.
It looked little different through the glass. I noted that the windows seemed too dark, as though painted black, but there was nothing else I could remark upon. All the same, this new perspective filled me with fear. That I could not find the source of this feeling was alarming for the implications of things unseen. But it was also disarming as I could find nothing to justify my dread. All the same, I stood for some time before I found the courage to make my way inside.
There were no signs that anyone had come so far before me. The furniture was crumbling from exposure and I couldn’t imagine that unruly kids or teenagers could get inside and not leave signs of it behind them. There was no graffiti, no empty beer bottles, no vandalism of any kind save for exposure from the damaged windows. Here again, I tried the lens, scanning each room as I passed through.
As from outside, the windows seemed blocked so that I could not see the yard. Even standing at the broken panes, there was nothing but darkness, as though the house was inside a giant bubble of ink. I felt cut-off from the world as if reality was no longer there, or as if the house was a reality unto itself. I wanted more than just to leave, I wanted to run from the place and never look back. But having come thus far, I resolved to see out my tour.
I went room by room, expecting to see flitting shadows if not a host of apparitions. But again and again I found nothing and this absence helped me regain some measure of bravery. I completed a circuit of the ground floor and made my way upstairs. Like below, I found nothing and I had nearly finished a walk through of the place. Without meaning to, I saved the master bedroom for last. It was now or never, I thought to myself, lifting the lens and peeking around.
At first, I saw nothing and a wave of relief washed over me. If ghosts existed, I chuckled to myself, there were none here, or at least none that the lens could reveal to me. I was quite embarrassed by how seriously I had taken things. Then I lifted my gaze.
It floated, like a body in water, against the ceiling and wall. Though it had deteriorated in some process akin to decomposition, I could still see the features of its face. As I stared, I became aware of things I could not know, but somehow did.
It was dead, but not merely in the physical sense. It was an astral shell, discarded like the body after death. There was no one to carry it away, to commit it to some eternal peace. It lingered unseen but felt, even in its quiescence, a remnant of the poison soul it once contained.
The eyes snapped open, glaring as flailed blindly at the air. My heart skipped and with this it somehow found me, drawn to the psychic force of my fear. Its clawing hands struck at my face, filling me with revulsion and disgust. The blows felt cobwebs drawn across my flesh and for the spasming shudder this brought, I would have rather just had pain.
I knew there was no person there, no intelligence, nothing but an endless, mindless rage. Yet, it smiled at me all the same, a grin of the purest evil I have ever known. As I turned and fled, I heard its laughter, thundering louder than my own footsteps. The sound chased me until I burst from the house and collapsed into the weedy yard.
I stuffed my fist against my lips to stifle a scream, and it was not until I tasted blood that I knew I was safe and still alive.
Story by Joe Stanley