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Joye Keele

Tied To Death (revised)

When Jack moved with his family to the new town he was both scared and excited. He was going to miss all his old friends, but he was excited about making new friends and being in a new place. He really liked his new house. There was more room for all his treasures, and his yard was great. He'd never had so much room to run around and play. His family had always lived in the big city and this move to a smaller town was proving to be a good change. It wasn't like he lived out on a farm with tons of acres to play around on, but even the half acre they lived on seemed huge to him. The yard was filled with trees that had great potential for a nice tree house. That was always something he'd dreamed about, but never thought he'd get.

Soon after the move he started building a grand tree house. Also soon after the move school started. This was the part Jack was really nervous about. He hoped the other kids would like this new city kid. His first day he noticed a group of kids playing hacky-sack. He was surprised because he thought that was only a city kid game. He shyly asked to join the game and with his skills, was soon able to make friends with the hacky-sack crowd. There were three boys and one girl in the group. He made number five. He was surprised that the girl was every bit as good as the boys. He told them all about his new tree house and they were all just as excited about it as he was. They started right away forming a club, making rules and planning all the things they would do with their new “fort”. This move was looking better and better.

They decided to get together after school and help build the tree house. When Jack told them his address, the other kids looked nervously at each other. He could tell something was wrong, but no one would tell him anything. But then they all remembered they had something else to do and no one could make it to his house after school. Jack was disappointed and more than a little curious, but he accepted their excuses. He decided to make the best tree house ever, with or without his friends, so that his friends wouldn't be able to resist coming over to form the club.

For the next few weeks he worked hard on the tree house. His friends could never come over, but his dad helped a lot and his mom even helped some. He thought they were probably allowing him to do this to help with the transition of moving. When his parents heard that he was making a “club”, they made him promise not to exclude his little sister. That was okay with him. Shel was only two years younger than him, and though she was annoying, she wasn't totally uncool. She had actually been one of his best friends in the city because there were a lot of times he had to stay inside and had only her to play with. In fact she was pretty good at hacky-sack because that is what they did most of the time.

After a couple of months of hard work after school and on weekends, the tree house was finished. Jack was so excited for his friends to see it, but it was still hard to convince them to come over to his house. He couldn't imagine what was causing that reaction from his friends, but finally they all agreed to come over on a Saturday morning. His mom was so excited that she made a special treat for them. She was so glad to finally meet Billy, Stan, Mike and Jo. Jack had told her so much about them that she was able to pick out each of them without being introduced. Billy was the small one. He was skinny and short with sandy colored hair and bright, intelligent eyes. Stan was tall and much more serious. He had blond hair and was full of “quotes of the day”. Mike had brown hair and an average build. He reminded Jack's mom of a normal 11 year old. And of course, Jo was easy to pick out, being the only girl. Her real name was JoAnn, but no one called her that. In fact it was quite a feat for Jack to even find that out. Her parents didn't even call her JoAnn. Jo had long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. She usually had a baseball cap on with the pony tail hanging out the back of the hat. She was really easy going and completed the group perfectly. Of course the kids all knew Jack's little sister Shel. She went to the same school and often joined their hacky-sack games. Over all it was the perfect mix of kids for a great club.

After thanking Jack's mom for the treats, they headed for the tree house. It was amazing! All the kids thought it was better than any tree house they'd ever seen. Because of his dad's help, Jack had been able to make the tree house to end all tree houses. It had three levels, with ladders in between each level. Jack's mom was concerned about safety, so each level had three foot high walls surrounding it. Each level was also big enough for two or three of the kids to lay down. So they could have sleep overs in the tree as long as the weather was good. Jack had built a few little cubby holes around so they had places to put small treasures.. There were also a few shelves around to act as tables for food or writing. On top of the whole thing was a roof. It was higher in the tree than the three foot wall on the third level, so the kids could stand up there without hitting their heads.

After everyone settled into the tree house. Jack wanted to find out why his friends wouldn't come over and help with the tree house. They all looked at each other, but finally Jo said, “I think we'd better tell him.” Getting nods from everyone, she continued, “Have you ever noticed the house next door?”

Jack said, “Yeah, it's kind of creepy. My mom took take treats to all the neighbors to introduce ourselves, but no one answered at that house.”

“Your mom actually went over to that house and knocked on the door!” screamed Billy.

“Yeah, is there a problem with that?”

“Ok, he really needs to be told,” said Jo. “Here's how the story goes. There's an old lady who lives over there. I guess she's lived there her whole life and she's really old, so that's been a long time. When she was a teenager, she fell in love with a stranger who came to town. Her parents didn't like him, but he'd sneak over when they weren't home and talk with the old lady. One day the paper boy came to collect his money. No one answered the door, but it was open a crack. So the paper boy went in and he found the “boyfriend” stabbed to death in the living room. Each member of the family was suspected in the murder, but no one was able to prove anything. After that the whole family went down hill. Within a couple of years both the mom and dad had died. But the old lady lived on. If you can call it living. She never recovered from the death and all the suspicion. She stayed in the house all the time and never left. People could see her walking through the house all the time, like she couldn't sit still, but she couldn't leave either. She had everything she needed delivered to the house, so she never had to leave again. That's why the yard and the house look so creepy. She hasn't been outside to take care of it in more than 60 years.”

“Yeah and now the place is cursed!” said Mike.

“How do you know it's cursed?” said Shel.

“Well, since then, people have tried to help the old lady. But every time someone tried to help, things go bad for them.”

“Like what?” said Jack.

“I know some church groups have tried to clean the place up, but every time they tried, the wind would start up and a big storm would move in and they'd have to stop cleaning and everything they had already cleaned would just get messed up again. It's like the house wants to look bad,” said Stan.

“The house wants?” asked Jack.

“Well, that's how the story goes,” said Mike. “And I know people who have had things go wrong just by getting too close to that house. That's why we didn't want to come over. We're scared of that house and it's bad luck. It's worse at night too, so there's definitely no way we're coming over any time close to dark. After school would have been pushing it.”

Jack thought about it for a minute and then he remembered that his mom had gotten a flat tire the day after she'd tried to take cookies over to that house. That really creeped him and his friends out. The curse must be real. He'd had good luck in finding some great friends, but now he could almost feel the bad luck coming over the fence. He was going to have to be careful how close he got to that house.

* * * * *

The next few weeks passed with Jack and Shel trying to avoid that house at all costs. They walked on the opposite side of the street if they needed to go by and they tried not to look at it when they were in their own yard. Jack started keeping a bad luck log and writing down every bad luck thing that happed to their group of friends. Most things could be traced back to coming too close to that house. They also read the newspaper to find out if other people in the town were having the same thing happen. It seemed to the them that any bad luck reported in the paper was a direct result of coming to close to that house. The friends spent a lot of time in the tree house, but only during the day. None of them dared spend the night there. That was just asking for trouble.

One day while all the friends were in the tree house, they realized that Halloween was coming. They all got excited and started planning what they would wear and where the best places were to go trick-or-treating. Jack was glad he had friends to let him know where to go to get all the best candy. The next few days were full of planning their Halloween adventures. At school recess they were planning the route they would take in order to get the most candy with the least effort. They even had a map of the town and Stan was marking it as they talked. A big bully named Jim came over to them and started harassing them.

“I can't believe you guys are going trick-or-treating. Aren't you a little old for that. Why, I haven't done that in years. You're probably dressing up like little angels, you babies!” Jim said.

Everyone tried to ignore him, but he kept on spouting.

“I always knew you were babies. Why, if you were brave you'd go take a tour of the old lady's haunted house. I'll bet you've never been in there! My brother has and he even saw the old lady – without a head!”

Billy couldn't stand it any longer. He said, “There's no way he's been in that house! No one's been in that house! And no one even knows if the old lady's still alive!”

Quietly Jack said, “I do.”

They were all surprised and said, “WHAT?!”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I know she still has her head attached because I see her shadow moving across her window almost every night. In fact she travels the same route throughout the house every time I see her. She starts in the lower rooms and walks around and then she moves on to the second floor and then to the third. It's like a routine or something. And she definitely has a head!”

“Why didn't you tell this to us before?”, asked Jo.

“I thought it would bring me bad luck to let everyone know that I actually watched the house through my bedroom window. I don't go out at night and I never go near the house, but I can see it right out my window and I've noticed the shadow.”

Jim didn't want to look foolish, so he blurted out, “Well, I'll bet none of you dare go in that house. I'd do it, but I'm going to be out of town for Halloween. I'll bet none of you would do it even if your life depended on it.”

“We're not going to give in to any old dare!” said Stan. “We're not THAT stupid!”

“See I told you you guys were babies!”

Jim continued to call them names as he went off to find his bully buddies.

“What do you think?” asked Mike. “Do you think we really should take that dare? That would prove to everyone that we're not the scaredy cats they think we are. And the lady can't really be all that bad.”

“What are you saying?!” said Billy. “I don't care if I am a scaredy cat. There's no way you're getting me in that house. Look at the bad luck journal. It's proven! I won't get any where near. I don't want to have something bad happen to me.”

The consensus was that they'd avoid the house and stick to their planned route. But something kept bugging Jack. He'd watched that shadow so much. He'd even started feeling sorry for the lady. All alone with the same lonely routine every night. Maybe she had killed someone, but that was a long time ago and now there were rumors that she was headless. That was almost too much. He wasn't ready to trust his thought to his friends just yet, so he decided to think on it for a while.

As Halloween crept closer Jack couldn't get the old lady and that house off of his mind. It was like she was willing him over there to help her. He didn't want to go. There were so many bad things that could happen, but there were good things too. If he made it through the house, he'd be the bravest boy around. He'd be a hero. No bullies would dare mess with him again. Maybe he'd solve a mystery. And there was the possibility that she really did need help and he could help her. It was all so confusing. These thoughts rattled around in his head for the few days before Halloween. One day he'd decide to forget the house and the next he was all ready to go in. The day before Halloween was a day the house was winning.

He thought that if he did end up over there he was going to have to have an abundance of good luck (to counter the bad luck that the house brought – that was proven). So he started searching and asking around for good luck charms. He told everyone it was for his costume, so they wouldn't find out what he was thinking of doing. He didn't want anyone to know. They'd think he was crazy and they'd try to talk him out of it. He couldn't handle all that pressure right now. He'd put enough on himself already. He was able to get a lucky penny from Billy (he always kept it in his shoe) and a rabbit's foot from Mike. The only thing Stan had was a lucky pencil. It was more a stub of a pencil, but Jack wasn't picky. Jo had a lucky cap - well, she had a few lucky caps, but she was willing to let Jack wear one of them. He was also able to get a lucky key from Shel, some lucky dice from his dad, and a lucky handkerchief from his mom. He, of course would wear his own lucky underwear and he had a special coin his grandma had sent him from Europe. That ought to be lucky. With all this good luck he was sure he could handle the house. Now he needed to figure out when to actually go over there. He still wanted to trick-or-treat, so he decided to do that first and then go to the house later. He actually started getting excited about it.

Halloween day dragged on at school. Time seemed to stand still. Of course it always did that when everyone was anticipating a night of fun. Jack was really excited and nervous. When he finally got home from school his mom made him eat a big dinner. She knew about candy and how much they'd eat before they got home. She was hoping to counter some of that candy with a little bit of lasagna. When Jack and Shel ate enough for their mom to be happy, they both headed to their rooms to get ready for the fun. Jack was so excited and so nervous that he just had to tell someone his plans. He grabbed Shel and told her what he planned to do.

She said, “You've been thinking about it too huh? I've been thinking about going over there myself, but I'd talked myself out of it. If you go maybe I will too.”

“Do you think we should tell the others? They might feel the same way,” Jack said.

“Let's see how the night goes. If it comes up and we're not too scared, then we'll tell them. Is that what all the lucky things are for?”

“Yeah. I'm dressing up as a 'Lucky Dog', but really it's to help me get through the house.”

Soon they had all rendezvoused at the starting point and it was off to trick-or-treating. Everyone was having a good time and they saved a lot of time by already knowing where the good candy was. They skipped a lot of houses that the little kids went to, just so they could make it to the big prize houses. As they walked, they talked about spooky Halloween things. They ended up talking about the old lady's haunted house a lot. Jack could tell it was on all of their minds. Finally as they were getting close to being done with their route, he brought up his plans.

With a nod from Shel he said, “I'm going in. I've been planning it for a few days, but I'm going in the house. I've got all this good luck with me and I think it would be great to be the brave one for a change. I'd never get bullied again.”

All the others admitted that they hadn't been able to think about anything else the last few days. They all agreed to go to the house, but everyone was still unsure about going in. When they got to the house it was spookier than usual. It was Halloween and the moon shone on the house just right to really make it look creepy. There were lots of dark shadows in the yard and they all seemed to be moving and hiding something.

Shel said, “I just can't do it. I can't go in there! I'll stay out here by our yard and watch, but I just can't go in there.”

No one blamed Shel, and in fact, Billy and Mike said they'd stay out to protect Shel. And to be there in case someone needed to run and get help. As they set up watch posts outside, Jack, Jo and Stan prepared to go in. Luckily, Jo had another lucky hat with her and Stan had more lucky stub pencils. They took off their costumes so it would be easier to move around. They made sure all their lucky items were secured and then they were ready.

“Here goes,” said Jack

“Yeah,” said Jo and Stan.

They went to the front door, but it was locked. So they headed around the house to the back door. It was also locked, so they decided to try a window. They didn't want to break anything to get in because they might get in real trouble, but luckily for them the kitchen window was unlocked. Jack kissed his rabbit foot for good luck. Stan and Jack helped Jo in through the window and then she came and unlocked the back door. When they were all in, they looked around. It was dark, but by the light of the moon and their flashlights, they could see it was just an ordinary kitchen; maybe a little old fashioned, but ordinary. There were a lot of knitted items around. Almost too many for the room. There were cute apple and watermelon items on the walls, there were dish rags hanging from every handle on the cupboards, there were place mats and coasters on the table,and everything had a doily under it. It was like a knitted kitchen boutique that could be seen in a magazine, but nothing in there was scary. That really gave them some courage, until the door slammed shut by itself.

They all jumped and Stan said, “Must have been the wind.”

As they all caught their breath and tried to still their pounding hearts, they grabbed each other's arms and headed for the next room. The boards beneath their feet groaned with every step. They made it into the living room and as they looked around they couldn't believe what they saw. Jack shone the light of his flashlight on the couch. There was a dark stain.

“Is that blood?” asked Jo.

No one else had an answer and no one wanted to get too close. But they did notice again how many knitted items were around the room. There were pillows and afghans on the couch and the two chairs. The piano bench had a knitted pad on it and there were more knitted items on the walls and more doilies

. “I guess we know what she's been doing all this time,” said Jack. “There's a craft fair worth of stuff in this house.”

“I hate to knit,” said Jo. “My mom's been trying to teach me, but I hate it. This stuff really creeps me out.”

Having seen all they could and avoiding the stain, they moved on. The only other room downstairs was a bathroom. At least that's what they thought it was. The door was locked, but when Stan peeked under it, he could see a toilet and a tub. They decided they didn't need to see that room. That was the whole downstairs. They'd made it through this far with no real mishaps so they decided to go on.

“Onward and upward,” said Stan.

Jack couldn't see, but he was sure Jo was rolling her eyes.

The stairs creaked even worse than the floor boards. The stairway was very narrow and they could only go up in single file. Jack lead, with Jo in the middle and Stan bringing up the rear. Even though the stairs creaked, they felt cushioned by deep, soft carpet. When Jack looked down at the carpet he could see that it was knitted too. Every step had a knitted cover on it. The old lady really did have a lot of time on her hands. As he thought of that, Jack remembered the old lady. He really didn't want to run into her. It was really late and he hoped she was asleep.

“We'd better keep it quiet so we don't wake anyone,” Jack whispered.

The others nodded.

When they searched the next floor they found three bedrooms and another bathroom. There was nothing scary about any of it, but every room was practically swimming in knitting. None of them had ever seen so much knitting. There were pillows, blankets, clothing, toys, pictures, coasters, and hundreds of doilies. Any space that could be filled was filled with knitting. There was so much that it was spooky.

After looking through each of the rooms they found a rope pull handle hanging from the ceiling in the hallway. This had to be the way to the third floor or attic. Gathering their courage, Stan pulled the rope while the others shone their flashlights on the opening. A fold out stairway came down from the ceiling and invited them up. Jack began to wonder where the old lady was. No one had seen her in years, yet they'd been through the living part of the house and she was no where to be found. She had to be in the attic, but that's usually a pretty creepy place to hang out. Cautiously he headed up the stairs first in line like before. His heart was thumping as he poked his head up through the floor. What he saw took his breath away. If he thought he'd seen knitting before, this place was knitting, unleashed! The whole place seemed to be covered with one huge, city sized afghan. He pushed his way up through the material so the others could see. The floor was covered knee deep in blanket. As they all climbed into the room Jack noticed that there was a way to close the pull down stairs from here, but wanting to have an escape route, he left it open.

When they looked around with their mouths gaping open, Jack heard a faint clicking. When the others heard it, they decided to investigate. They climbed through the knitting, searching the folds for the sound. As they got near the corner, Jack noticed another bed in this room. Maybe this is where the old lady was. He was so curious that he inched his way closer and closer. He reached the bed and slowly pulled back the afghan to see what was there. To his horror, there, laying on the bed under the blanket was a mummy, totally encased in yarn. It was as if someone had stood a person up and spun them while wrapping them in yarn. The yarn was all dark and rotting, but he could see that this was a person. He was horrified and had to grip his stomach as a bout of nausea came over him. He didn't want the others to see, but he couldn't stop them in time. As they all stood there trying not to lose their dinners a thousand thoughts raced through their heads. This had to be the old lady. That was the only explanation. In all the stories, the others in the family had all had funerals. It was always assumed that the old lady was still alive. Jack had seen her shadow. How could anyone explain all of this.

Suddenly Jo said, “Now I know what that sound is. It sounds like knitting needles clicking together, like when my grandma is knitting. Where is that sound coming from?”

They realized that something was terribly wrong. They had followed the sound over to the corner near the bed, but now the sound was over near the opening in the floor. It was their only way out! They started toward the opening. Because of the rolls and folds of blanket, they couldn't go very fast. As they came near they saw it. There was a pair of needles knitting by themselves. They had knitted a covering over the opening and were guarding the hole. At least it looked like they were guarding the hole. None of them had ever seen knitting needles working under their own power, let alone standing guard. Jack tried to move closer to the hole, but the needles moved to intercept him. Stan tried to come at the hole from the other side. One needle stayed to ward off Jack while the other one went to the other side of the hole to guard it from Stan. They were trapped. Jack kept seeing in his mind what he would look like as a yarn mummy. It wasn't a pleasant sight. They all backed up to see if they could figure a way out. They were three stories up, so jumping would be out of the question. No one wanted to try and attack those sharp needles and there was nothing they could throw at them except the afghan itself and it was too bulky to get close enough to do any good.

Stan said, “If only we had a ladder, we could stick it out the window and climb down.”

There was no ladder anywhere, in fact they couldn't see much of anything in this attic except a huge afghan.

Then Jack had an idea, “Why don't we use the afghan to climb down. It's big enough we could anchor some of it in here with the bed and then maybe we could throw some out the window and slide or climb down it.”

Fearing becoming blanket mummies themselves, they wondered if their doom could really save them. It was worth a try. The window lock was so twisted with yarn that they couldn't unlock it. Maybe the lady had tried to escape that way too. Of course when she'd been trapped up here there probably wasn't as much blanket either. Being desperate to escape death by knitting, Jo wrapped some of the blanket around her hand and began beating at the window. This was an old house with only single panes windows and after a couple of hits she was able to break the window. They swiftly cleaned out as much broken glass as they could. Then they all started shoving afghan out the window. As Jack turned to grab some more material, he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. He looked and saw that the needles were no longer by the opening. They were headed toward the kids.

“Hurry!” he screamed. “They're coming!”

Stan secured his part of the blanket under the bed and Jack bent down to do the same. As he reached out to lift the corner of the bed, something stabbed him. He jerked his hand back and saw blood pouring from a small hole that went clear through his hand. He screamed and headed toward the window, hoping that the blanket was secure enough to hold them. Jo was already half way out the window with Stan anchoring the blanket for her. There weren't any big holes in the afghan so Jo had to grab handfuls of material and try to ease her way down. It was really hard to keep hold, but once she got down a little ways, she let go and slid the rest of the way. She landed with a thud on the ground, but she wasn't hurt. When hands grabbed her she screamed, but then she realized it was just Shel and Billy and Mike, trying to help her.

Back up in the room, Stan urged Jack down. “Hurry, I've already got it anchored, get out of here!”

Jack saw the wisdom in his words so he started out the window. Then he realized there was no way he was going to be able to use his injured hand to grip the blanket and help himself down.

“I can't hold on!” he told Stan.

Just then, from below he heard Mike say,

“Just slide. We'll hold this thing from the bottom to make sure it's a slide, not a fall.”

These were his friends and Jack had to trust them. It was the only way down to safety and he had to hurry so that Stan had time to get out too. It was just so hard to let go of that window ledge, though. He closed his eyes, gathered his courage and let go, the wind blowing through his hair as he fell. The blanket was tight enough that after that first fall, he could feel the blanket underneath and how it angled his fall out away from the house enough to slow him down. He opened his eyes and tucked his hand into his chest as he came tumbling off the end of the blanket. He actually knocked Shel down, but neither one of them was hurt in the fall. They scrambled up quickly and looked up to the window to see Stan climbing out.

“Hurry, pull the blanket tighter. It's anchored to the bed, but I don't know if it will hold. We've got to get him out of there!” yelled Jack.

The kids grabbed the blanket and stepped back even more until the blanket raised up tighter. Then down came Stan. He also came tumbling off the edge and knocked people over as he fell. Everyone slowly shook themselves off and began to get up. Stan lay curled on his side moaning in pain. They all gathered around him, hoping he hadn't been hurt in the fall. He rolled over and they could see blood all over him.

Shel screamed and Mike said, “Where are you hurt? Tell me where are you hurt?”

Stan couldn't say anything, but he raised up his hand. He had a huge gash from the middle of his hand through the webbing at his fingers. It looked like a line had been torn through his hand. Jack grabbed his lucky handkerchief and wrapped it around Stan's hand the best he could.

Stan, finally said, “It skewered me. It had me pinned to the window sill. The only way I could get down was to let it rip.”

Just then they heard the sirens.

Jo asked, “Why are they showing up?”

Billy answered, “When we heard the window break, we came running. We saw Jo starting to climb out the window, so I called 911 on my cell phone. Then we came running to help you down. What happened in there? What got Stan and Jack?”

Jo told them a quick version of what had happened. There would be plenty of time for a long detailed explanation after they were safely away from this place.

The police showed up with the ambulance right on their tails. Everyone let out a sigh of relief. It would be alright.

* * * * *

The police investigated the story the children had told them. When they searched the house they found the mummy. After further investigation, they discovered that it was the old lady, Clarice Wright. They figured she'd been dead for about three years. Since there was no will and no other family, the city cleaned out the house and sold most of the stuff. The money was given to different charities around town. Then the house was torn down and burned. The land was sold and a brand new house was built there.

Jack and Stan healed completely with only a little area of numbness left on Stan's hand The shadows in the window were never explained, but Jack believed it was the old lady's spirit walking the halls of the house until she was finally set free. The only other thing that ever bothered the kids were the knitting needles. The adults never believed the story about them being alive. They figured the kids were playing around and had hurt each other and all the knitting had been done by the old lady while she was alive. When the house was cleaned out a complete set of knitting needles was found. There were a pair of needles in every size except one. That pair was never found.

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