The Empty House

An abandoned house south of town
A. J. Mittendorf tells a tale, only slightly embellished, from his youth.
He who studies evil is studied by evil. —Solbor’s proverb

I need you to understand that the only reason I write this story is that I shouldn’t be here to write it at all. By all rights, I should have been sacrificed to some wicked thing with horrid eyes, horns, tusks and a long snout. If people are entertained by this story, I suppose that I’ll be glad, but I don’t write it to entertain. I’d rather forget the event altogether, except that I am haunted by it night and day, every day, and I have been for some thirty years. Mind you, it’s not the evil part that haunts me—not at all—it’s the idea that whatever good it was that protected me was, by far, greater than the evil right before my eyes, and it saved me, not through magnificent miracles and fantastic flashes of force, but through such inconceivable might, there was simply no need for a more flamboyant demonstration of its power.

It began one summer when it was hot and altogether unpleasantly humid. I was twenty. I’d been trying to finagle my way to a music degree at a private college in my hometown of Sioux Falls for two years and was achieving very little. I was significantly less mature emotionally than physically, and, like so many young men, I simply hadn’t the self control to make myself perform my best in all my studies. While I earned “A’s” of one type or another in all my various music performing classes, I achieved distinctly less appealing marks in virtually everything else, producing a wretched 2.5 GPA—clearly, not enough to impress my father who had been paying my pricey tuition.

The reason for my high grades in music though, was not that I was so very committed to it, but that all my friends were in music with me. When they practiced I practiced; my only other option was to sit around bored. One of these friends was John. He was a year and a half my senior, but we’d been friends since we met in Summer Strings just before my grade-five year, some ten years earlier. He was engaged to Jeanne-Ann, a truly lovely lady, but the prospect of marriage made John choose to seek more remunerative employment to support all three members of his pending family. So he had joined the Navy and was due to depart for bootcamp the following November. Now, you have to remember that John was my best friend, and there wasn’t a lot going well for me at home. So, when I learned that John had joined the Navy, I promptly did the same. That meant that for us, this particular summer, the summer of 1983, the summer of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, would be our last as independent, single, mildly mature young men. And what were we to do with our time? The South Dakota Symphony, our sole source of income during the rest of the year, had disbanded for the summer, and, since we both still lived with our parents, rather than looking for temporary jobs—surely, the responsible thing to do—we chose to find something more memorable for a summer project.

The idea came to us late one night after watching some gruesome horror movie in John’s tiny apartment in the attic of his parents’ house. VHS was still a novelty, but, when it came to movies, John was always up to speed no matter how far it set him back. Then, with a beer for each of us and his Ouija board between us, we asked for an idea from whatever spirit realm might be attentive as to what we might do to kill time for the summer. When we were both too toasted to wonder anymore if one of either of us might be responsible for manipulating the hand piece across the board, the Ouija made up our minds for us: “MAKAMOVJA,” it said, which we interpreted as, “make a movie” since the “j-a” at the end of this otherwise nonsensical word could be pronounced the same as the “j-a” in Ouija.

So, we decided to make a horror movie, to be precise. We both had lots of experience watching them, obviously, and John had oodles of experience making little movies of all kinds—in the horror genre: live action, claymation, two-dimensional animation, and on and on. He owned video cameras and all the other paraphernalia, primitive as it was, and his basement was stocked with miniature sets that he’d made over the years—he even owned a coffin, an authentic prop from one of his Dracula films! I had virtually unlimited access to a car (a “virgin white,” 1973 Oldsmobile, Cutlass Supreme station- wagon with that hideous 1970's lime-green interior), so we set out to make a movie, as we said, “in the tradition of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” that is to say, “very low budget:” small cast, few props, few locations and zero special effects. Our first task, we decided after I had roughed out a plot, was to find an abandoned farm house for our primary set. It didn’t really pose much of a problem. In South Dakota, you can’t drive twenty miles on any dirt road without passing one, so, in effect, all we needed to do was to head out of town far enough to find a dirt road and go. It took less than an hour from gathering John and his video equipment at his home to pulling in to the unpaved driveway of a house that immediately looked to us to be surprisingly promising—and on our first try!

There were numerous dangers that kept us both on edge, though. First, the outskirts of Sioux Falls were laden with Satan worshippers (that is, according to our mutual friend, Dave, who loved to frequently share stories of the many horrors he’d heard) and neither John nor I wished to be party to some human sacrifice in any capacity. In addition to that potential danger, though, there were the gangs, the bikers, the homeless people and often just other young adults looking to cause trouble or to get high or to have sex in abandoned farm houses, especially those as close to town as this one was. None of these people, we suspected, would welcome intrusions by low-ranking movie makers such as ourselves. We chose to err far on the side of caution since neither of us was a fighter; we were musicians, after all. Our idea of winning a fight was escaping it altogether, preferably unscathed.

But we were young, and as chance would have it, I had been keeping—for what reason I haven’t a clue—two three-foot sections of hydraulic tubing in my car; it was similar to the tubing used on gas pumps. At that time, my dad was a salesman of hydraulic motors and accessories, among which was this type of tubing designed to be pliable but strong enough to hold vast quantities of viscous hydraulic fluids under tremendous pressure. These two sections of tubing were of an obnoxious neon orange and were light-weight but very hard, so that they were easy to wield but quite probably lethal for anyone who might have the misfortune of getting hit on the head with one. We were both comforted by having a section of this tubing to carry as we went about exploring the house.

It was asymmetrically ‘T’-shaped and densely surrounded with trees, except where the driveway cut through. The front of the house stood some fifty feet from the road; it had two large windows of slightly different sizes, one on either side of the front door, which was not quite centered under the apex of the roof. A narrow, concrete path led from the dusty driveway to the door that stood atop a flight of three uneven concrete steps and a small, squareish concrete porch. It sported a screen door in reasonably good condition that stood wired shut on the outside (a good sign), and a formidable wooden door inside. Above the door was another, smaller window, indicating a cramped upper level, and that prospect we found to be both pleasing and frightening. The side of the house to the left, which ran along the end of the driveway, also had two or three windows and, near the back, another door. To use it, though, one would require a set of some five or six steps because the ground lay at a lower level there than it did up front. But there were no steps leading up to it, and it, too, was wired shut (another good sign).

Looking in through a basement window, we discovered, to our dismay, that it was flooded up to the lower level of the windows. Useless. The back, however, had no barn or corral, just a dense row of trees, and on the other side of that, a vast corn field that ended with another row of trees on the distant horizon. Yes, this house would do nicely, we decided, the flooded basement notwithstanding. It lacked symmetry, it lacked any sense of hominess; it lacked the freshness of paint or any modern siding, and it lacked any view of the city. A camera could pan a full 360° with no man-made structure, save the road, in sight. It evoked a sense of solitude, of instability, of horror.

It is with a degree of embarrassment that I tell you that it was I who was finally able to pry the wire off the screen door at the front. John was just a violist, so the callouses on his left hand were not nearly as dense as those on mine; I played the double bass. That’s how John explained it, anyway. Once the wire was off, we opened the screen door and found the inner door unlocked. The hair on both our necks stood on end, then, as we readied our tubes, and I swung the door open. Inside, the air was stale but not overwhelmingly so. A small mud room just inside the door opened to a fairly spacious living room that was littered with various types of trash, but no feces from anything larger than mice. (It’s not uncommon for boys to leave their vulgar calling cards behind as a way to claim, “Kilroy was here.”) And from the look of it, there were plenty of mice around; the floor was riddled with tiny, hard, brown pebbles that rolled underfoot as we moved, making a crunching sound, like coffee beans in a hand-cranking grinder. Toward the right was a smaller sitting-room with a rotten, holey sofa—not usable, but appropriate for our movie. Behind the living room was the kitchen—a frightful mess—and to the right of the kitchen, two sets of stairs: one leading down to the flooded basement, the other leading up, and it was that flight of stairs, not the one leading down, not the flooded basement itself, not the potentially weakened floor joists beneath us as a result of the flood, not the thought of what horrible diseases lay floating in that water, no, it was that flight of ascending stairs and the knowledge that we would need to climb them that gave us pause, for upstairs . . . there is where the secret goings on would occur. Upstairs is where any gang members, bikers, hoodlums, homeless, or—God forbid—Satanists would lie in wait, hiding from us—hiding for us—the intruders. And even if they weren’t there at that moment, if they showed up while we were up there, we’d be trapped.

We discussed the next step in some detail, finally deciding that I would go up the stairs facing forward while John would ascend facing backwards, both of us with our tubes at the ready. Up we went. It was a steep stairwell with eight or ten steps that ended right below one of the small, upper-level windows, which was remarkably clean, both the pane and the sill—no dust, no grime, no dead bugs— regardless of the dust that discolored every other surface. The room immediately at the top of the stairs was nothing more than a small entryway that seemed entirely useless for the human occupants of old, obviously the result of a bad day for whatever make-shift architect had been hired. It ran just a bit longer than, but was only equally as wide as the stairwell. And since much of the wall was angled with the roof, we had to lean nervously over the stairs as we made our way along the narrow stretch of floor to the back of the room. That trek was especially frightening because there was no railing around the stairwell to help us balance and keep us from falling. We took it slow, grateful that we had no need to hurry.

Directly behind the stairwell stood two doorways, entrances to two other rooms. The room to the right sat without window or any lighting fixture. There was no flooring either, just the joists that lay between the house’s upper and lower levels. The wall opposite the doorway was slanted with the roof, and in the small area where light shone in from the other rooms, we could see the pointed tips of the nails that held the shingles in place on the outside. The wall far in the back of the room was shrouded in darkness; the inside wall separating the two back rooms had no drywall, only the studs on that side, exposing the old wiring, but other than those studs, there was no wall on that side of that room.

It was the other room, though, the last room of the house, that really grabbed our attention. It was well lighted by one window on the wall opposite the doorway, and that window, again, was remarkably clean for one in the upper level of an abandoned house. Every other part of the room, though—all four walls and the entire floor—was covered by 4'X8' sheets of 1⁄4-inch plywood, loosely but neatly set in place. And in the very centre of the room, directly illuminated by sunlight shining in from the uncovered window, was a neatly-stacked pile of magazines.

One expects to find magazines in such a structure. Kid-smuggled pornography for gawking at with buddies. Bikers might leave behind stacks of motor magazines, or there may even be women’s magazines left behind by former occupants. But none of that type of reading material was available. Of all the literature that one might expect to find if it were any other abandoned house, what we found was odd, at the vary least, but uncannily appropriate—frighteningly appropriate for John and me: It was a stack of dozens of issues of a magazine in which each issue, from the earliest one in the early 1940's to the latest in the late 1970's, focussed on a different classical composer ranging from Henry VIII to some 20th- century composers neither of us had heard of. Immediately, we sat on the plywood covering of the floor like a couple of kids trading baseball cards and looked through this treasure trove of reading material.

Accompanying each composer’s biography in each issue were lists of recordings of his or her music, information about influences, other composers and well-known people in other genres of the arts from the same era. They gave time lines, commentaries, interpretative analyses—enough to keep us occupied indefinitely, and we sat engaged in reading for some minutes, carefully setting aside issues to take with us, when John left me alone, somewhat unexpectedly, to explore that unlighted room next door.

After mere seconds I heard a noise like the sound people make when they clear their voices, a sound I hadn’t heard when both John and I were together. I called out, “John, are you alright?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

So I went back to reading and heard the noise again—a low, guttural, grunting noise, not unlike the sound a pig makes as it roots in its manure pile. And in fact, it sounded like it came from an animal just that size—the size of a badger, maybe, or a wolverine. I took a moment to ponder the idea that John might have left me in order to relieve himself in private, and that the noise I heard intermittently might also be of a more personal nature, but it didn’t quite sound like that kind of noise either, so I finally called again, “John, are you . . . uh . . . coughing?” I had learned some manners, after all, and didn’t want to be too crude in my query, lest I end up sounding less concerned about his well being than my own.

“Nope,” was his response. “Why?”

“I keep hearing a sound like that coming from your direction.”

“Right.” There was just enough sarcasm in his response to elicit the tiniest bit of ire in me.

Incidentally, John told me later that he was in that room as long as he was because he was trying to reach the far end, and he had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the ever-dimming light as he stepped from one joist to the next, but the farther he went, the larger the room seemed to be; he never reached the far end of the room that couldn’t have been deeper than, say, twelve feet, judging by the size of the room beside it.

Moments later, when I heard that noise again, I got up as quietly as I could and snuck over to the wall. Sure enough, I heard it clear as day. I was certain that John must have been making the noise somehow, perhaps with the intention of trying to frighten me; there was simply no other explanation, since no noise could be produced from inside this wall, which had gyp rock on only one side. But as I left the room that I was in so that I could listen at the doorway where John was, I no longer heard the noise, so I assumed that John had heard my footsteps and dummied up. “You are too making that noise,” I laughed.
“I’m not making any noise at all.”

So I went back into the lighted room and heard the noise again. I talked John into leaving his task to come into the lighted room with me. I suddenly felt that I was playing the role of the nervous housewife (if you’ll please pardon the cross-gender analogy) waking her husband in the middle of the night to listen for a noise that she is certain she had heard but which never comes again, so I was half expecting the what-ever-it-was to keep quiet and leave me feeling the fool when John came to listen. Thankfully, he did hear it. We took several trips back and forth from one room to the other. Every time we were in the larger, lighted room, we could hear that grunting noise coming from the wall between that room and the dark room. It was intermittent but quite clear. But every time we were in the dark room, standing on the joists, stepping carefully from one to the next, there was nothing—no noise out of the ordinary. We separated once or twice, and always the person in the lighted room was distinctly able to hear the noise that was inaudible at the same instant to the one of us in the dark room. There were no heating ducts in the wall or in the floor for some creature to hide in, but that’s really irrelevant because the truth ultimately dawned on us: the sound distinctly emanated from inside the wall—from an animal that was surely too large to fit inside a wall that wasn’t really there in the first place.

That was enough for John, and his apprehension made me nervous as well. We agreed to leave right away. Grabbing our tubes, we walked quickly but cautiously through the narrow hall at the top of the stairs, then descended the stairs more rapidly, departing the house, closing the front door behind us and replacing the wire that had held the screen door closed. In the car on the way back to John’s house, we agreed that, even if we still made our movie, we’d have to find another house; there’s no telling what that animal was, no telling how dangerous or diseased it might have been, no telling how it could project its grunting vocalizations from within a non-existent wall. There was no way, we promised each other, that we’d ever allow ourselves to be dragged back to that house. Huh-uh. No way.

But we were young and not too bright, evidently. After a few weeks of searching for another house and finding nothing that quite suited our needs, I started thinking about returning to the first house. Nothing really happened to us there, after all, and the place seemed sturdy enough, clean enough and unused enough that it was worth a second go; either that or scrap the movie altogether; time was not on our side. It was John, though, who finally spoke up one morning: “I really wish that we had taken some of those magazines.”

“At the first house?”


“Me too. I was afraid to say anything. What do you wanna do?”

He thought about it for a few moments. “Well, it’s not that far away,” he finally decided. “We could drive out there, taking all the necessary precautions, go in, get the magazines and leave. No delays. Strictly business.”

“Mm,” I started, “we could take a flashlight just to see more detail in that dark room and maybe find our creature. It might turn out to have been nothing more than a creak in the floor or a squirrel.”

“A squirrel that sings baritone!”

“You know what I mean. Besides, we still have our movie to consider.” Since the story line was mine, essentially, and I was quite proud of it on a literary level, I was reluctant to see it go to waste.

John conceded me a point, so I grabbed a flashlight and we were off. The tubes were still in my car. We made one quick stop for fresh batteries then found the farm house lickety-split. We did indeed take all the same precautions: carrying the tubes, entering the house with great trepidation, ascending the stairs with me facing up and John facing down. We found everything just as we left it. Even the separate piles of magazines we had made remained undisturbed. We breathed a sigh.

I don’t remember whose idea it was. It might have been mine; I was the one who wanted to find our little lurking creature, after all, but John was really the brains of our twosome. It makes little difference; the point is that somewhere along the way we got curious about what was behind all those panels of plywood in the lighted room and started to remove them from the walls, stacking them beside the doorway. On the wall with the window and on the wall opposite that we found nothing and nearly gave up for fear of slivers (musicians, you know), but then we went on to that wall, the half wall between us and the dark room. We’d already removed one panel from it during our last visit to look for our critter, but removing the other two panels revealed an enormous mirror, clearly five or six feet from side to side and three, maybe four feet top to bottom. Like the house’s two upper-level windows, the mirror was spotlessly clean. Of course, our first thoughts were to consider the value of such a mirror and that it wouldn’t be all that hard to lift. What other treasures lay hidden behind these panels, hmm?

John began lifting the panels from the floor while I removed those from the wall opposite the mirror. All I found, painted on the wall in red, was a number—a mathematical formula of some sort: “2√231.” John’s work, however, revealed something so frightening that it made us stifle the screams that threatened to spill from our throats. On the floor beneath the plywood panels, centered where the magazines had been piled, was a large pentagram that spanned the room and was accompanied by all the usual calligraphic symbols. The lower tip of the pentagram pointed directly to the centre of the mirror in which my mathematical equation stood in horrifying reflection. Backwards, the formula read as the Latin form of “Jesus,” with an “I,” rather than a “J,” and a “V,” rather than a “U.” John and I exchanged horrified glances, then, once again we grabbed our tubes, John grabbed his pile of magazines, and we headed out, our hearts pounding like the timpani in the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

We made it out of the house safely a second time. A second time we secured the screen door; a second time we promised we’d never set foot in that house again, and boy, we meant it this time, yes sir. As I drove, I tried to erase from my brain the route to that house, and we both swore that, not only would we never return, but we’d never speak of that house ever again, so long as we both shall live.

But we were young and not too bright and not a little tipsy that night in late October. Dave, our friend whom I mentioned earlier, had joined us for a quiet evening of wine and music, as did Jeanne-Ann, although she didn’t drink. We were celebrating the aftermath of my twenty-first birthday, so the music of my favorite composer, Alexander Borodin, played quietly on John’s stereo. The four of us sat around swapping stories. You know how it goes: you each tell stories on a given topic until the topic expires, then you start exploring other, more thrilling topics, and each person’s story has to be just a little better—more exciting, more intense, more frightening—than the last. Finally, Dave told a story about his recent encounter with a Satanist. They’d met in the mall or something, and the guy had tried to convert Dave: “An evangelical Satanist,” Dave remarked, “Lucifer’s Witness.” He continued telling us accounts he’d heard of how these guys lure people to sequestered areas for their rituals. It happens in a way that seems like it’s your own idea, “although sometimes it might take just a bit of additional coaxing,” he added. I remember vaguely thinking that his tale was vividly detailed for a second-hand report and decided that he was embellishing, albeit, not ineffectively. But once he got us on to the subject of Satanists, I became impatient for him to shut-up so that I could share our “secret” tale, despite our vows. The moment he paused, I jumped in: “I can top that.” John gave me an angry look, but I was too toasted to care: “I can top that by a long shot!” And so with sporadic punches and jabs from John, I began telling Dave and Jeanne-Ann about the empty house. In all honesty, it wasn’t long before John stopped hitting me and started adding details of his own. Jeanne-Ann was horror struck by John’s apparent irresponsibility and the fact that I’d been aiding and abetting him. Imagine putting your life in danger when you have people who depend on you.
Dave sat confidently incredulous: “It’s a crock,” he concluded.

“No. Really! I can prove it!” I objected.


John interjected at this point: “I can diagram the layout of both floors.”

“So, I’m supposed to believe you because you can draw a floor plan?” Dave argued. “I can drive you there without even taking a pause,” I offered.

“Oh, so you can drive directly to any one of hundreds of abandoned farm houses south of town. You’ll have to do better than that.”

“Well,” John said after a few nervous moments for thought, “if I diagram the first floor, and we show it to you, too, that should be pretty convincing, right? But I’m not going upstairs again.” Jeanne-Ann nodded approvingly.

That plan satisfied Dave, and he was quite eager for us to be off right away. He even seemed somewhat annoyed when John and I insisted on bringing a flashlight. “It’s pitch black outside, and there’s probably no lighting in the house,” I argued. “How are you going to be able to compare John’s diagram with the actual house without light?”

“Fine,” he said. “Whatever, just hurry up.” So the four of us headed out in my car. I look back on this incident and shake my head. There’s a certain bravery accorded young adults—a bold tenacity, if you will—that wanes after an all-too-brief period of time. It is, after all, the young adults who seem always to be more willing to take a stand, to block oppression or fight against corruption. It was, perhaps, that same fearlessness that led John to join the Navy. In any event, we need that crusader’s attitude to help us carry through some of the more difficult growing times in life, but it’s also a source of some of the stupidest acts among humanity, this one included, and it’s underscored by the appearance of an owl.

It was an enormous brute, fully two feet tall, and whiter than sheets, whiter than mist, whiter than Fear or Disgust or Death. And there it stood, right in the middle of the road, right where we were to turn onto gravel. I have never seen an owl that size, especially not in South Dakota. His torso faced the direction opposite our turn-off, but his eyes were fixed on us as we approached. I slowed. It stayed. I shut off my headlights. It stayed. I pulled up to within six feet of the thing and stopped, and it just didn’t budge; it stood there looking at us for the longest time, and the four of us in the car made no noise other than the sound of our quick, deep breaths as we huddled together.

Finally, after what seemed like minutes, the bird hopped and turned its torso toward us, and then—Yes, I am fully aware of how crazy this sounds—it shook its head at us in a sort of resigned frustration and flew away. The first flap of its huge wings lifted it higher than the roof of my car so that we all had to bend down and lean in to see it fly out of sight.

At the farm house once again, this time a sense of foreboding, caused, perhaps, by how very dark it was, prompted us to make certain that the car doors remained unlocked, since we, undoubtedly, wouldn’t be in the house for long. We walked single file toward the door of the house. Dave took up the rear; John was just ahead of him, and those two carried the hydraulic tubes. Jeanne-Ann walked behind me, and I was the idiot leading this expedition armed only with the flashlight and a pocket knife so dull it would more likely have bruised than pierced. I got as far as the concrete steps when I noticed that the screen door was not wired shut and that the inside door stood open. My mind raced: We wired the door closed. I’m certain we did. Didn’t we wire the door closed?

Behind me, my three comrades huddled together at the bottom of the steps, leaving me to ascend them alone. They said nothing. My heart thumped; I breathed uneasily, and I could feel sweat collecting on my brow. I reached for the handle, pulled the screen door open and shone the flashlight inside. Everything appeared to be in order. I took another step so that I had one foot and my forearm just inside the doorway, the screen door braced against my hip, and that’s when it happened. A sound—a shuffle just past the mud room. It was the unmistakable sound of a shoe scraping the floor with perhaps a half dozen mice droppings rolling underfoot. It suggested to me that someone decided at the last instant to double check that he was entirely cloaked in darkness. I felt myself freeze for an instant, then I turned to my entourage and yelled, “Run like Hell!” The four of us scrambled for the car. Jeanne-Ann sat shotgun while I raced around to the driver’s side, pulling the keys from my pocket. Dave and John took the back.

We slammed the doors and locked them while I started the car, put on the headlights, threw the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway as fast as I knew how. But as I was backing onto the road, turning the car on to the highway, the back end leapt up, and we came to an abrupt stop with the back end sticking up in the air as though the car were in heat. I had been looking at the road as I backed up; to this day I swear that there had been nothing on that spot while it was in view, but something held us in place with the back end suspended in mid air and with the headlights illuminating the entire front of the house. I tried speeding forward, but just spun the tires in mid air. That’s when Jeanne-Ann screamed; I looked up, and I think we all froze for a spell. There, in the window, dressed in a robe with an over-sized hood that pointed up and back, stood an intimidatingly large man, an odious parody of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He simply stood and looked menacingly out at us. And there was a feeling—oh, yes—there was a sinister spirit, a malevolence washing from him. We stared at him in shock and disbelief until John finally grabbed my arm: “Drive!” I only ended up spinning the tires more, and that’s when I noticed movement among the trees surrounding the house. Hoards of hooded figures, like scores of over-sized Jawas, stepped out from hiding and came walking into the light with all the speed of hunters who stroll leisurely about the woods checking their traps. I tried backing up more; I tried speeding forward; we weren’t going anywhere. That’s when Dave spoke up: “We’re completely stuck, guys; we might as well give it up.”

Then an amazing thing happened: the back end of the car simply fell with a thud, as though whatever it was under the car had vanished leaving the car to drop like Yoda’s blanket after his demise. Everyone outside froze, stared at us, then scattered like a flock of hens when they’ve spotted the fox. That’s when Dave started to panic: “Oh, God! What was that?! What happened?” he cried. We all turned to try to calm him down. He got the question out one more time before he, too, faded from sight the way a puff of thin smoke dissipates in a closed room. I looked to the others for a moment, but none of us said anything. I suddenly felt quite at ease, remarkably, and backed the rest of the way on to the road, pulled the gear shift into ‘Drive,’ and rode away in a surprisingly calm manner.

That’s been thirty-three years ago now. None of us ever saw Dave again, and as time progressed, we simply stopped inquiring about him altogether. John and I never made our movie. I’ve never returned to that house; I doubt that I’ll ever try to. John and I spent four years in the Navy and were both able to grow up quite a bit. I put that time to good use, deciding that I didn’t want a degree in music after all. I left the Navy knowing that I would major in English and that I would do well, so I ceased taking music courses, and my GPA climbed during my second attempt at a degree. John and I slowly parted ways, and I haven’t seen him now for ages. He and Jeanne-Ann were married and had two children. It’s strange to think that those two kids are older now than I was when this all happened. Isn’t that odd? It seems to me, even thirty years later, that they should still be kids, presumably the age that their own kids might be.

That empty house changed the way I think about life and death, the here and the hereafter, Heaven and Hell, that sort of thing. I think John and I were selected for some type of ceremony, that we were led to that house, that we were lured to that unholy upper room. I suspect that there was a great deal of planning went into this scheme because think about how elaborate such a plan would have to be, what patience someone demonstrated in trying to claim us: the Ouija board, the perfect house, the magazines, the solitude. I look at that and conclude, that, in spite of all the awful things we see daily in life, there is something good around that is immeasurably more powerful than the evil that seems to prevail, because look at how this being who wields such extraordinary power demonstrates his superiority: Does he wipe evil out of our way with a wave of his mighty hand? Does he cause the earth to open and swallow his enemy’s followers? No. But what does he do to foil his enemy’s plans? He causes me to hear one of them scrape a shoe across the floor, and that— with all of its understated confidence—spells power even more than great storms with blinding bolts of lightning. That’s what my mind insists on concluding every time I think about this incident; it underscores the whole event for me, and it’s for only that purpose that I write it.

Greetings From Sioux Falls does not recommend trespassing on any property, if for no other reason than to keep out of Satan's grasp.