‘Memory Lane: The “I Dare You” House’ (2018)

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I don’t think we have any more haunted houses in this town. What a loss! But around here a building needs to be deserted only for a few hours before they tear it down and put up a nail salon… or some real big house with no yard space and nobody ever home.

Memory Lane: The ‘I Dare You’ House

O, this glorious old ruin! Chock-full o’ haints, of course. All old houses are. Kids know that; most adults don’t.

So much unasked-for change around here… makes me feel like I’m a ghost, sometimes.

Memory Lane: The ‘I Dare You’ House

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Patty and I were watching Salem’s Lot yesterday, and as soon as they showed the haunted house, Patty said, “That’s what we used to call an ‘I dare you!’ house.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Every town used to have at least one “I dare you” house–an uninhabited house said (by kids, mostly) to be haunted. As in, “I dare you to go into that house,” or “I dare you to go upstairs/down the cellar,” etc.

Once upon a time the finest haunted house in our town was called “the 1868 house.” Wow–1868! Ancient! Probably Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls. Trilobite fossils on the floor. It never occurred to us that there were people still around who were alive in 1868. And it looked like an 1868 house should look. It had turrets. And a stone wall around the grounds, and the grounds all overgrown with saplings and bushes, with piles of grey lumber marking all that was left of assorted sheds and outhouses.

One day my friend Ellen and I dared each other to enter the 1868 house without Bobby, her big brother, who usually led these expeditions. To do this without Bobby was an act of incredible audacity. But who could afford to chicken out, and lose face forever? It was a grim duo that mounted their bikes that afternoon…

Well, we did go inside. To say our nerves were tightly strung would be an understatement.

As quietly as we could, we crept into a room that looked like it might have once been a kitchen. At the other end of it, a door was open to a passage filled with darkness. It must have led down to the cellar. Dark as night down there.

“I dare you to go down those stairs!” Ellen whispered to me.

“I dare you to do it!” I whispered back. Hey, we were 11 years old: we knew what would happen. That’s where the freakin’ ghost comes swooping up the stairs as swift as the wind–and gets you.

I forget which of us took the first tentative step in that direction, and I can’t honestly say what I thought I saw coming up those stairs. All I can say is that we both shrieked simultaneously and broke several Olympic speed records charging out of the house, leaping onto our bikes, and pedaling back home faster than a pair of speeding bullets. It must have been a serious scare, because I never once muttered to Ellen, “Chicken!”, nor did she ever accuse me of desertion in the face of heaven knew what. I don’t think we ever told Bobby about this adventure.

But of course the 1868 house is long gone, replaced by half a dozen modern homes; and whatever walked there then, walks elsewhere now.  (Hat-tip to Shirley Jackson: “And whatever walked there [in Hill House], walked alone.”)