The Boy Next Door
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here,” Gabby whispered. It was plain that Shawn had made up his mind and was unlikely to change it, but still, she tried. “If they catch us…”
“They won’t. Not if we’re careful.” He pulled a flashlight from his back pocket and offered it to her, along with a grin. “Would you feel safer holding the flashlight?”
Gabby ignored the flashlight and tried another tact. “Maybe he was just visiting them, that’s possible right?”
Shawn stopped to dig the crowbar out of his backpack. He noticed the tools along the far wall of the darkened garage, but he did not want to touch any of those. The less fingerprints they left the better. Just in case.
“Maybe he went back home Shawn.”
He stopped and looked at his sister. They were twins, but in many ways she was more mature now than he probably ever would be. At the age of twelve she had the common sense of someone much older. It certainly far surpassed his own at times. If she thought breaking into the neighbors house was a bad idea, then it probably was. But common sense couldn’t explain away what he had seen with his own eyes.
“Gabby,” he began, searching for the right words, knowing that he wouldn’t, couldn’t do this without her. “I saw him. Not once or twice, but every night for a week when he walked by the attic window. He’s there.”
“Not every night.”
“I mean, we didn’t see him last night when you asked me to keep watch with you. At least I didn’t see him.”
“Okay. Yeah, not that night,” Shawn paused. “I’m not crazy. He was there.”
“Never said you were. I’m just saying you’re the only person that’s seen him. Didn’t Mrs. McRivers tell Mom they don’t have a son? Why would she lie?”
“Because you think he’s what? A ghost? Is that why you brought all the stuff in the backpack? A bible, a box of salt, and God only knows what else you have stashed away in there.”
“Seriously? You stole it from the church this morning? I should have known when I saw the water gun in a plastic bag. Shawn, you talked me into coming because it sounded like a rescue mission, not an episode of Supernatural. I suppose the crowbar you’re holding is made of iron. You watch too much television. ”
And there it was. Common sense in all its dignified glory. Maybe he did watch too much T.V.
“I didn’t steal it Gabby. It’s at the church for a reason, and I had a good reason. Okay, I admit it may have sounded like a rescue mission, but in a way, that’s exactly what it is. Stop rolling your eyes for a minute and just listen.”
“You have one minute before I’m outta here. The McRivers could be back any second and I don’t think you want to go to jail. Sam and David may have an angel to snap them out of a cell, but you don’t. This isn’t television.”
“I know this isn’t television. Besides, it’s Sam and Dean,” he corrected.
“That’s it. You’re on your own.”
“Wait…just wait. Give me a minute. I need you to hear me out.”
She pressed the light on her watch. 10:27 PM. “One minute, then I’m in bed by ten-thirty.”
Shawn quickly ran through several explanations in his mind, all of which she would likely discount. The only option was to just tell her the truth and hope she believed him.
“Do you remember Jimmy Starnes, the kid that went missing a couple of years ago?”
“Of course. He used to live in this house…oh my God. You think the kid in the window…”
“Yeah. I think it’s Jimmy. I mean, I can’t be sure of it. I only caught glimpses of him walking by the window, but I’d be willing to bet a years’ worth of allowance on it. But even if it’s not him, it’s somebody.”
“And you think this somebody is a ghost?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I was hoping that you would have seen him last night.”
“To prove you’re not crazy,” she said, flatly.
“Well, yeah. I guess so. I don’t think I am, but how many crazy people actually feel crazy? Either way, I need to know.”
“And that’s why I’m here. To help prove you’re not. Crazy that is.”
Shawn looked down at the backpack by his feet. She was the only person in the world he would trust to give him an honest answer. If he really was seeing things that weren’t there, if his mind was in fact slipping, then Gabby would tell him straight up, no punches pulled. She was the smart one, and she was honest to a fault. Once again she was able to cut right through the haze and single out the truth, bringing it into perfect clarity. It was her gift.
“I really need you Gabby.”
When he looked up at her, the moisture in his eyes revealed a scared little boy hiding behind a mask of bravery. Gabby took a deep breath and let out a sigh.
“Okay, I’ll play the part of Samantha and you can be David, or Dean, or whatever. Just be careful where you swing that thing,” she said, pointing at the crowbar in his hand.
Shawn gave her a smile and turned to wipe a tear away. “Thank you.”
Shawn figured he could have used the crowbar to pry doors open if needed. So far they had been lucky though. The side door to the garage had been unlocked, as well as the door leading into the utility room. Their luck started to change as soon as they reached the second floor. There were five doors, one leading to a bathroom, and the other four to bedrooms. There was no door for an attic to be found anywhere.
“I don’t understand. They have an attic, there should be a door up here,” Shawn said, closing the last bedroom door behind him.
“What if it’s one of those attics that have stairs you pull down with a string?” Gabby suggested.
“Yeah, like Grandma has. I thought about that too, but where’s the string? Besides, the ceiling is smooth everywhere we’ve looked.”
Gabby turned and looked behind her, then leaned over the railing to check out the stairs they had come up earlier. She smiled.
“I know that look,” Shawn said. “You found something didn’t you?”
“Maybe. Does the layout of this house seem familiar somehow?”
“No. I’ve never been in here before. The Starnes kid was like half our age, and I don’t think we were ever invited to any birthday parties…”
“You have been here before. Well, not here exactly, but close enough.”
“We’re running out of time Sis. Explain.”
“Look at the stairs, then the railing. Do you see it?”
Shawn had a hard time seeing much of anything in the dark upper floor with all the bedroom doors closed, but he looked anyway. “Do you mean the closet underneath the stairs? That doesn’t lead to an attic, it’s just like the one at our house.”
“Exactly,” she said.
“Except the stairs are on the other side at our house.”
“And their bathroom is to the left of the stairs, while ours is to the right,” she added.
“And the door to our attic is on the left,” he said, now on the same page she was.
“And we have six doors upstairs.”
“Not five. Sis, you’re amazing!”
“I know. So, we’re missing a door, and if the layout of this house is opposite ours then the door that isn’t there should be right, about, here,” she stopped and felt along the wall. “But now we have another problem. No seams.”
“Okay, can we both agree that there is an attic in this house?” Shawn asked.
“Yes. They have a little window above their bedrooms just like we do.”
“And can we both agree the attic door that isn’t there should be right here?”
“Yes, but what…Shawn!” Gabby shouted as he drove the point of the crowbar through the wall. “Hey! I told you to watch where you swing that thing. How are we going to explain this if we get caught?”
“The idea is to not get caught. I thought I mentioned that part,” he said, pulling the crowbar free.
A ray of dust filled moonlight pierced the darkness and shone down the hallway. Shawn tried to wave the dust away but only succeeded in stirring it up even more. He stole a quick glance through the hole, looked up and gave his sister a huge grin. “We have an attic.”
Gabby took a peek and saw the attic window, right where it should be. At least one mystery was solved. “I don’t think we have time to take a wall down. This is more than we bargained for.”
As if on cue, the downstairs living room briefly lit up by headlights turning into the driveway.
“Shit! Let’s move!” Shawn grabbed his backpack and raced for the stairs. Gabby was already in front of him. He tried to match her graceful leaps, taking the steps three at a time, but he missed one.
He remembered the fall and the sound of his ankle snapping. It was like a firecracker going off in his head. He remembered how cold he felt lying at the bottom of the stairs, the contents of the backpack strewn around him on the landing. He wondered if that’s why they called it a landing. If so, he had made a bad one. He laughed to himself and drifted…
He remembered Mr. McRivers walking through the door, frightened by the sound of his screaming. He remembered Mrs. McRivers running for the phone after her husband shouted something at her. He remembered the sound of the siren, though he had no recollection of the ambulance ride. He remembered the faces of his parents, the worried looks, the tears in his Mom’s eyes, the bright lights in his room, and he drifted…
He hurt from head to foot, but mostly in the foot. It itched like crazy. He reached to scratch it and nearly screamed as the pain doubled.
“Hey clumsy. Are you finally awake?”
Shawn squinted under the bright light above his head, then turned toward the sound of his sisters’ voice. She was sitting in a chair by the window with her legs crossed underneath. It was dark outside and he could see streaks of rain as lightning flashed off in the distance.
“Wwwhat happened?” he slurred.
“Yyyeah…I remember. After…?” His throat felt like he had swallowed a bucket of sand.
“The McRivers called nine-one-one. An ambulance, followed by a police car, showed up a few minutes after you passed out. You broke some bones and had a concussion, but the doctors say you’ll be alright in a few months. I did overhear something about physical therapy being involved.”
Shawn looked toward the foot of his bed and noticed his entire leg was not only in a cast, it was in one of those contraptions with wires and pulleys. Movement to his right caught his eye and he turned to see his Mother through the window blinds. She was talking with one of the nurses, and she looked as tired as he felt.
“Do you see the newspaper she’s holding?” Gabby asked.
Shawn tilted his head for a better view and his vision blurred for a moment. The pounding in his head was starting to get worse.
“You’ll be okay. They’re going to give you another medication dose in about ten minutes. Let’s try to focus in the meantime though. Do you see the paper?”
“Yeah…I see it.”
“Your picture is on the front page, right beside one of Jimmy Starnes. The police found his body in the attic and they have a search warrant out for his parents. It’s been two days but they haven’t turned up any leads yet, or they’re not saying if they have.”
“My picture? Why?”
“You my dear brave brother are the hero of the hour. You solved a crime.”
“With your help.”
“Let’s keep my name out of this. The police have enough questions without dragging me into it. The point is, she will believe you now,” Gabby said, pointing to their mother. “She told them that you were sleepwalking, but she knows the truth.”
Shawn looked back toward the nurses’ station through the window. He watched the nurse pat his mother on the shoulder.
“You do know what this means right?” Gabby asked. “It means you’re not crazy. You really can see ghosts. And this time the proof is in her hands. There’s no other explanation for you knowing the Starnes kid was not only dead, but where to find his body.”
“Gabby,” Shawn said, tears filling his eyes, “that means you’re real too. I’m not crazy.”
“No, you’re not. Now, let’s get Mom in here. I haven’t been able to talk to her for a long, long time.”