After-School Break-In ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We could see the long-abandoned Layton house from the school yard. There were tall weeds everywhere. A dead tree had come uprooted and lay against the house as though resting. The front porch was sagging and the windows were covered up from the inside. Everybody said the house was haunted, with dead bodies inside, stacked one of top of the other. At night you could walk by and hear moans. I had never heard the moans myself, but I was sure it was true.
I asked grandma if she ever knew the Laytons. She remembered them from long ago, she said, but she believed they were all dead.
“Their bodies are piled up inside the house,” I said.
“Who told you that?”
“That’s what everybody says.”
“Why would they be?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”
“They were crazy but not that crazy.”
“Well, somebody has to own the house,” I said.
“It’s not for you to worry about.”
“I heard some kids talking. They’re going to break in some Saturday night and look around.”
“I don’t know their names. They’re older than me.”
“Well, breaking into a house is a felony, even if it’s an empty house. You know what a felony is, don’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“You stay away from there. I don’t want to have to come down to the jail and bail you out.”
“No jail for me!” I said. “No ma’am!”
At our monthly after-school cub scout meeting, the scout leader failed to show up. After fifteen minutes, everybody left but six of us. I figured I would just go home, but one of our group decided it would be a good time, while nobody was around, to break into the Layton house.
“I don’t feel like it,” I said. “I’ve got a sore in my mouth.”
“Always the pantywaist,” Nelson Green said with a jeer. I never did like him and I knew that one day I would have to push his face in.
“You have to come with us,” Charles Bender said. “We all have to stick together.”
“Well, all right,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s right to break into somebody’s house.”
“Nobody lives there,” Terrell Quigley said. “It’ll be fun. We can finally see what the inside looks like.”
“I’ll probably just wait outside,” I said.
We waded through the weeds up to our waists to the back door. Nelson Green turned the knob but it was locked, of course. Then he and Thad Bruner began pushing their shoulders against the door like the police do on TV when they’re trying to get somebody to open up.
“It’s no use,” I said. “We couldn’t get in there no matter what.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Nelson said.
He went and got a dead limb and he and a couple of the others used it on the door like a battering ram. The limb crumpled up like a toothpick and we laughed.
We heard a car passing and crouched down until it was gone.
“Let’s go,” I said. “Somebody is probably watching us now.”
“Oh, nobody’s paying any attention and, even if they are, so what?” Nelson said. “They need to mind their own damn business.”
“If they see us here, they’ll call the police.”
“No, they won’t. Nobody gives a shit.”
“Come and look at this,” Roy Fisk said.
At the side of the house was a window no more than three feet off the ground. What made this window different from the others was that it didn’t seem impenetrable. The glass hadn’t been replaced with panels of wood and there appeared to be only a thin white curtain behind the glass.
Nelson and a couple of the others began pushing upward on the window. It wouldn’t budge at first but after a few seconds it gave way with a screech and a shower of paint chips. When they raised the window high enough, Nelson hoisted himself through.
“Go around to the back door,” he said. “I’ll open it.”
We heard him undoing the lock and in a second the door swung open with a creak.
“See how easy it is?” he said.
We all went inside and Nelson reclosed the door.
“This is great!” Terrell said.
“It’s certainly the high point of my day,” I said.
We were standing in a bunch in the kitchen as though waiting for somebody to tell us what to do. There was an old sink, a dirty-looking old stove, a table with a leg missing and not much else.
The next room was the dining room, which was empty of furniture expect for a broken chair laying on its side and some slabs of wood.
“Cozy,” I said.
In the living room was a filthy couch and chair. On the floor were some food papers and empty beer cans and a couple of empty liquor bottles.
“Somebody’s been having a party here,” Thad said.
“It smells terrible,” Roy said.
“That’s probably the dead bodies,” Nelson said.
Over to our right was a staircase going up to what appeared to be the most sinister part of the house.
“Up there is where they are, I’ll bet.”
“I want to see them,” Thad said. “I’ve never seen a dead body.”
“Well, go on up, then, if you want.”
“I don’t want to go up by myself.”
“You big baby!”
“We don’t have to go up there,” I said. “The downstairs is enough.”
“Who all wants to go upstairs?” Nelson asked.
“We’ll go later,” Charles Bender said.
“Well, while we’re all standing around here like a bunch of scared babies, I’m going to have a smoke.”
He took a pack of Viceroy cigarettes out of the pocket of his jacket, along with a book of matches, and lit up. He blew the smoke out in our faces. “Man, that tastes so good!” he said.
“Well, are you going to give us one or not?” Roy asked.
“Buy your own!”
“That’s not very nice.”
“I’ve smoked before,” Terrell said.
“Come on,” Charles said. “Give us one.”
“Well, all right,” Nelson said. “But you’ll owe me.”
He held out the pack and everybody took one. I was last.
“I have to go home,” I said. “I have a doctor’s appointment.”
“You do not!” Nelson said. “You’re just using that as an excuse.”
“Well, whether I have a doctor’s appointment or not, I’m going home now.”
“Do you think you can find your way to the door by yourself, you big baby?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
That evening at supper I thought my mother was looking at me in an odd way.
“Today was the day for your cub scouts meeting, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“How did it go?”
“The scout leader never showed up so we left.”
“What did you do then?”
She continued to look at me as I twirled the spaghetti on my plate with a fork.
On Sunday evening I was watching the usual fare on TV, trying to think of a way I might get out of going to school on Monday, when we heard the sirens going off, which could only mean a tornado was headed our way or something was burning.
We all went outside, as we did when something unusual was going on and we wanted to know what it was. There was a definite smell of smoke in the air.
“What is it?” my mother called to the neighbor woman who was standing in the corner of her yard with her hair in rollers.
“The old Layton house is on fire,” the neighbor said.
“I knew something like that was going to happen with that house sitting empty for so long,” my mother said.
Before we went to bed that night, our water was reduced to a trickle because the fire department was using all the available water for fighting the fire. I wanted to go down and watch the Layton house burn, but my mother wouldn’t let me.
“They don’t need a bunch of people standing around gawking,” she said.
“I won’t gawk!”
The next morning at school, Nelson Green cornered me in the hallway as soon as he saw me.
“Not one word about you-know-what if you know what’s good for you!” he hissed in my ear.
“You don’t have to threaten me,” I said. “I’m not stupid.”
“Yes, you are.”
“What did you do after I left? Did you leave cigarettes smoldering?”
“Of course not! We left right after you did. Honest.”
“You didn’t set anything on fire?”
After the fire was extinguished, the Layton house was no more, a vile black hole. Police found in the charred rubble, not a whole stack of bodies, but one body, burned beyond recognition. Everybody wanted to know who it was. Nobody could talk about anything else.
The question was answered a few days later when people realized they hadn’t seen Benny Bump, the notorious town drunk, for a number of days. When Benny’s dental records (had he ever seen a dentist in his life?) were compared with the teeth of the body found in the rubble, they were found to match.
Benny Bump was probably in the house when we were, watching us, laughing at us. He was the one who left the food wrappers and bottles. He probably slept on that old couch and he was the one who made the moaning sounds when people passed by at night. There always has to be an explanation for everything.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp