The Haunted Mansion

by Rob Warr

Part 1

Four buds

The Mason Mansion had been empty for years, ever since old man Mason had died of a heart attack, and with no heirs, the house had reverted to the bank and had lay empty and deteriorating ever since. The bank had paid someone to come in and secure the place, covering the furniture and boarding up the doors and windows, but that didn't mean it went undisturbed.

A year or so ago there had been a small fire in the kitchen and the authorities believed it was the work of a homeless person trying to keep warm. Why they didn't build the fire in the fireplace was a mystery to everyone, but the fire had been a small one and didn't do much damage. After that, the doors and windows had been boarded up again, and for a while the house remained undisturbed.

Early that summer however, several older teenage boys had discovered a secret way to enter the house. On the backside of the house, hidden by bushes, was a door leading down into the cellar, and from the cellar there was a stairway leading up to the ground floor.

The group consisted of four boys, aged 14 to 16, and over the months they had made the old house their private hangout. Too old to trick-or-treat, and not really wanting to get into any trouble tricking, the four decided to spend Halloween night drinking beer and smoking pot in the mansion. Telling their folks they were spending the night at a friend's house, they gathered up their supplies and walked the short distance to the old house. They settled in quickly, broke out the beer and pot, and were halfway to being stoned by the time it was dark outside.

One of the boys, John, a 15 year-old redheaded boy with freckles, excused himself to take a leak and left the room, heading toward the bathroom under the stairs. Though there was no running water, the boys had discovered they could pee in the toilet, and eventually when it became full enough, it would drain into the sewer. However, there was enough stagnant piss in the bowl to give off an unpleasant odor, and most times they just stepped outside and peed in the bushes.

It was getting dark now, but each boy carried a flashlight, and they had a battery powered lantern that they used to light up the room they occupied. John carried an LED penlight that gave off a powerful beam of light, but was small enough to carry in his pocket when not in use. When he reached the bathroom, he placed the small penlight between his teeth and began fumbling for his zipper. Soon he was enjoying the release of his pent up piss and closed his eyes for a moment.

Suddenly something cold and wet touched the back of his neck and he jerked, causing his piss stream to hit the back of the toilet.

"What the fuck," he said grabbing the penlight and shining it all around. He felt his neck, but there was nothing there now, nor any wetness or residue from whatever had touched him.

He finished pissing, and was just about to stow his cock when suddenly he felt a warm sensation surround his cock. At first he thought he was imagining things, but looking down he saw he was hard as a rock and quickly headed toward orgasm. Unable to move, he gasped as his cock began to unload, his thick spooge splashing against the toilet and into the bowl.

"What the hell," he panted as his knees went weak and he felt the familiar feeling of a teenage orgasm wash over him.

Was it possible to just...come without even touching yourself? he wondered. No way could he tell his buds what had happened, but something weird was going on here, he decided. He wiped the rest of the spooge off with his hand and slung it in the toilet then looked down to see the chunky white mess floating along with his pee, and he groaned. If any of the other guys saw that, they'd know what had happened, and none of them would believe his story about it just happening without touching himself.

There was nothing he could do though, and tucking his cock back in his jeans, he headed back to the living room where the others were camped out. His best friend Larry looked up and gave him a curious look. They were close enough that they could read each other's feelings to some degree, and this was one of those times.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Larry laughed.

"What, way. I don't believe in ghosts," he scoffed.

"I do," a tall wiry boy named Jeff said taking a sip of his beer, "there's lots of proof that they exist. There are even scientists who study that paranormal stuff."

"You think old man Mason's ghost is hanging around here," the last of the boys, Billy said with a grin, "I heard he was a perv that liked boys. Maybe he'll come out and rape one of us tonight," he laughed.

"What, where did you hear that?" John almost squeaked. Was it possible old man Mason's ghost had been responsible for what had happened in the bathroom?

"Everyone knows. He was able to stay out of jail cause he had money and a good lawyer, but he got caught with some little boy's junk in his hand in a park bathroom. My old man told me not to go anywhere near this place when I was a kid. Of course now, old man Mason ain't molesting no one."

Or is he? John thought, looking pale.

"You okay?" Larry said sounding concerned.

"Yeah, fine...anymore weed?'

"Yeah, give me your lighter, I left mine at home," Larry said producing a fat pre-rolled joint from his shirt pocket.

They lit the doobie and passed it around, and John felt much better after a few hits, but the thought of what had happened in the bathroom still lingered in the back of his mind. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he wasn't even aware when Billy went off to the bathroom to relieve himself. However, when he returned he looked up to meet Billy's eyes and he knew he'd been found out.

"Did you enjoy yourself when you went off to piss earlier?" Billy teased.

"What, what do you mean?" John said blushing.

"Nothing," Billy said settling back down on the dusty sofa and kicking back, "anything to eat? I've got the munchies."

From somewhere Larry produced a sack of snacks and Billy dug in and found some chips and cookies. They passed the snacks around, and for a while no one spoke, but finally it was John who broke the silence.

"Guys," he said gathering up his nerve, "something happened in the bathroom...earlier."

Billy laughed, "Yeah, I saw."

"But you don't understand. I didn't...I mean, I didn't do it. just happened."

"What happened?" Larry said looking confused.

"John popped his cork," Billy laughed, "he left his babies in the toilet."

"What? You jerked off?" Larry laughed, "so, why tell us?"

"You don't understand. I didn't do it...someone...or something did it to me," John stammered.

"Old man Mason," Jeff said wide-eyed, "I told you he was a perv," then he burst out laughing, "dude, no one cares if you busted a nut, we all do it, just don't go making up stories."

"I'm not, I swear," John said sincerely, then slowly he recounted everything that had happened.

The others listened attentively, some with smirks on their faces, but Larry knew John well enough to know that he was being sincere. Of course just because John believed he'd been tossed off by a ghost didn't really mean that was really what happened, but it was obvious something had occurred.

"That's crazy dude, maybe it was the weed," Billy suggested.

"Nah, maybe it really was old man Mason," Jeff said, "I tell you ghosts are real, and the old perv died right here in this house. Who knows, he might've died right there where you're sitting, the bathroom. Yeah, maybe he's still haunting the bathroom and jerking off any guy who comes along," he said sounding excited, "Man, a haunted hand job," he laughed.

"Shut up, it was creepy," John said, a chill running down his spine.

"Hey, a nut is a nut," Jeff laughed. As the oldest of the four, he'd assumed the leadership role, and it didn't hurt that he had an older brother who was able to procure their beer and pot.

"How would you know?" Billy joked, at 14 he was the youngest, but he fit in nicely with the others and was well liked, "when was the last time you got a nut?"

"Last night with your mom," Jeff sneered.

"Eww...leave my mom out of this," Billy said making a face, "at least it wasn't my dad."

"I'm not gay," Jeff said gruffly, "no dude is ever gonna touch my junk."

"Not even you?" Larry laughed, "are you a virgin?"

"Shut up, I get off plenty. Why, you interested in my junk?"

"No way, I left my tweezers at home," Larry laughed.

"Guys!" John said silencing the others, "I'm serious here. Something weird happened in the bathroom and I'm not sure we should be staying here overnight. I mean, we've never stayed here the whole night. How do we know what goes on in here at night, and of all nights...Halloween night?"

"Are you serious man? Listen to yourself," Jeff scolded, "you got a nut, no big deal, but you don't have to try to blame it on a spook. You beat your meat, no one cares."

"But I didn't. I swear," John pleaded, "something warm and wet...oh my God!" he said looking frantic now, "It wasn't a hand job, it was, a blowjob."

The laughter was spontaneous, but when the others saw that John was serious, the laughter tapered off and finally became a nervous silence.

"A blow job?" Billy said licking his lips, " was it?"

"What? Man, I don't was happened so fast and all...I never thought about it at the time," John said sounding frantic.

"I wonder..." Billy said looking toward the hallway that led to the bathroom, "why you and not me?"

That brought on more laughter, and this time even John smiled a little, but just a little.

"You want a blow job from old man Mason?" Jeff joked, "you perv."

"Shut up, how do you know it's old man Mason? Might be some hot ghost chick."

"Ha, old man Mason lived alone and there weren't any hot chicks here," Jeff scoffed.

"Well...who says the ghost has to be him? It could be...a ghost from somewhere else," Billy reasoned.

"You're crazy, that makes no sense," Jeff said.

"Guys, will you shut up about that," Larry scolded, "I know John, and if he says something happened, then something happened. He don't lie."

"So, what are you saying, you believe some spook gave John head?" Jeff said shaking his head, "man, you both high."

"Yeah, we all are," John said then, "where did you get this weed? Maybe that's the problem...maybe someone laced it with some other stuff."

"Nah, it's pure, the best," Jeff said confidently, "maybe you just smoked too much dude."

"I don't know, but...I think...maybe we should go to my house or something and not stay here overnight."

"No way, we're staying. Just forget it, we're not leaving cause you got your nut and don't remember beating your meat."

"I tell you..." John began, but Jeff cut him off.

"That's it, no more talking about that shit. Hey, I got an idea, let's check out the rooms upstairs. I feel like stretching my legs."

John wasn't crazy about the idea, but he sure wasn't going to stay downstairs all by himself. Jeff picked up the lantern and led the way, pausing long enough to make sure everyone was following. He knew they would, after all, he was the leader, and he'd never let them down yet.

The stairs made a creaking sound as they climbed them, causing John to wince and goosebumps to form on his arms and legs. It had been in the 60s when they'd entered the house, but as the sun set, the temps had dropped to the 40s and even his heavy jacket seemed too little to keep the cold out. It was just his nerves, he decided, after what had happened in the bathroom it was only natural he'd be a little freaked, but John just couldn't shake the feeling of dread that he felt.

"How come no one ever bought this place. It's huge," Billy wondered, "a little fixing up and it would make a great B and B."

"B and B?" Jeff laughed, "maybe you and your folks could buy it and turn it into a haunted B and B, blow jobs extra."

That produced more laughter, but John only sighed. "You'll never let me live this down, will you?"

"Nah, never," Jeff laughed, "but we still like you man, even if you're wacko."

"I'm not," John muttered.

"Hey, if I'd gotten my nut like that, I'd be happy," Billy said.

"Maybe John will blow you," Jeff joked, "he seems to be an expert on the subject all of a sudden."

"Shut up, I'm not gay," John said, issuing the usual reply.

They had finally made it to the top of the stairs then, and the conversation lagged as they started down the long hallway that disappeared into the darkness. The lantern Jeff carried did little to penetrate the darkness, as if it were some liquid and tangible thing. Pulling their flashlights out, the boys cast the additional light into the muck with some success.

"Wonder how many bedrooms there are?" Larry mused, "this place is huge. I heard it was built back in the 1800s by old man mason's great-great grandpa."

"It's still pretty solid for a place that old," Jeff noted, "dusty as hell, but not as junked out as I'd figured it would be."

"No one except us ever comes here, right?" Billy wondered.

"Not since that homeless guy almost burned it down. They reinforced the doors and windows, but that didn't stop us from finding the secret entrance," Jeff chuckled.

"I wish we hadn't," John murmured.

"Oh, suck it up buttercup. Tomorrow you'll forget all about your phantom blow job," Jeff smirked.

"If we're still alive," John muttered under his breath."

"What you mean?" Billy said sounding concerned.

"Nothing, just saying. If there are ghosts...they might not all be friendly."

"Ghosts?" Jeff cackled, "I ain't afraid of no ghosts."

"Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters," Billy finished.

"In here," Jeff chuckled, "this must've been the old man's room," he said pushing open a door halfway down the hallway.

"How do you know?" John asked with interest.

"Cause it has the most space between the doors on this side, that means it's a bigger room, thus...the master bedroom."

"Wow, he's not just a pretty face," Larry joked.

"You think I'm pretty? FAG!" Jeff laughed.

"Outside anyway," Larry said, "inside you're ugly, ugly like me," he sang, causing the others to laugh.

Jeff pushed the door open and it creaked on rusty hinges, then flew open as if on a spring.

"Whoa, must've been the wind," Jeff said, eyes wide.

"What wind?" John said nervously.

"I mean, draft or something," Jeff mumbled, "you know, built up pressure from the heat...yeah, the heat, you know?"

"I guess," John said, letting it go.

"Wow, look at that bed," Larry said as their flashlights played upon a huge canape bed.

"Look, it has bed curtains like the ones you see in old movies. What was the purpose of that?" Larry wondered.

"I think it was to keep the heat in. They didn't have central heat you know?" Jeff answered.

"Yeah, I guess," Larry said moving closer and pulling back the faded sheer curtain on one side and looking down at the bed.

Suddenly the shimmering form of a young man appeared on the bed and Larry stepped back, almost tripping and yelped in surprise, but when he looked back, there was nothing there.

"What the hell, see a rat?" Jeff said, steadying his friend and looking toward the bed to see what had spooked him.

"Nnnnooo," Larry stuttered, "it was...I swear for a minute I saw," he began, then realizing just how stupid he would sound, he stopped.

"For a minute you what?" Billy joked, "someone was blowing you?" he giggled.

"No, it was nothing," Larry said gazing toward the bed to make sure there was nothing there now, "this place is spooky, can we go?"

"In a minute, in a minute," Jeff said shining the flashlight around the room, "wonder if there's anything of value in here," he said noticing an antique armoire in one corner, "Bingo, maybe he had a mink stole," he chuckled.

"A mink stole? Dude he was a dude," Billy laughed.

"So, he was a fag, maybe he liked to dress up."

"Not all gay guys dress like girls," John said, hoping he wasn't sounding too defensive.

"I know, I know...hey, look at this, "it's a photo album," Jeff said excitedly pulling the item out and spinning around, "I wonder if there are any pics of the old perv?'

Carrying the photo album to the long antique dresser, he laid it down and waited till the others were beside him to open it. The first page contained pictures of a baby, the next page a toddler, and as the pages were turned, they realized the pics were a chronological record of the old man Mason from toddler to a withered and greying old geezer.

"Wow, he was pretty normal looking as a kid, except for those eyes," Jeff said pointing to the same feature in several pictures. They looked evil, like maybe Satan is inside him," he joked.

"Maybe he was," John muttered.

"Maybe, and maybe he's still there in his ghost, and he's still perving on little you," Jeff laughed.

"Shut up, I'm not a little boy, I'm 15."

"Still jail bait," John laughed, "I bet he loved boys that age, young enough to squeal and old enough to shoot the goo. I bet he loved the taste of teenage goo. Hey, I wonder why he didn't swallow yours, maybe he can't cause he's a spirit or something."

"So, now you believe me?"

"Never said I didn't," Jeff said, even if he had made fun of him before, "stranger things have happened."

"Hey, this picture was taken in the hallway outside the bathroom, where...where John says he got his beejay," Billy noted, "and...oh man, does he have a boner?"

The picture was of a teenage boy wearing dark trousers and a white button up shirt. The shirt was unbuttoned partway and he looked a little disheveled. Looking closely, the others agreed that it looked as if the boy was aroused or perhaps very well endowed.

"Wow, even as a kid he was a perv," Jeff laughed.

"Why is he a perv just cause he's got a boner?" John challenged, "you must be a perv too, remember that time at the pool?"

"I saw a hot chick, that's all," Jeff said blushing, "we all get boners, so...maybe he wasn't a perv then, but later he became one."

"Look at this one," Billy said bringing their attention back to the photo album, "isn't that the high school behind him?"

"Yeah, I think so, before they redid the outside and added the auditorium," Larry said, "my dad did some of the work on it."

"Hmm...but...he's like our age in this picture, and he was an old man when he died, how could that be?'

"Well, I guess the high school was there a long time before they fixed it up," Jeff reasoned.

"Hmm...weird. And here, here's one in front of the drugstore downtown. It still looks like that."

"Yeah, it's been there a long time too," Larry said, "heck, downtown hasn't changed since my dad was a kid. He said he and his buddies used to get malts there just like we do."

"Yeah, still...this is kind of strange. So does that mean he lived here his whole life? And why are there no pictures of his folks, where were they?"

"I heard they croaked when he was a little kid and some guy, an uncle or something raised him," John said.

"Hmm, so I guess the guy who raised him must've died a long time ago," Billy reasoned, "but why no pics of him?"

"Well, maybe he was a vampire, and everyone knows you can't film a vampire," Jeff teased.

"Very funny, I thought it was just that they wouldn't show up in mirrors?" Billy laughed.

"Both, don't you ever watch those vampire movies?"

"Sure, but seriously, I wonder why there are only pictures of Mr. Mason and no one else. He must've been lonely, living with some old guy and having no friends," Billy said sadly.

"Who says he never had friends?" Jeff said, "I bet if he did, he probably molested them," he added laughing.

Billy shook his head in disgust, "It's not molesting if they both want to do it."

"Oh, so you know about that stuff do you? Who you been messing with, John?" he teased.

"Shut up Jeff," John said gruffly, "Billy is just a kid, I don't mess with kids," he blurted out, then thinking how that might sound, he blushed and added, "I mean only girls, and only older ones or my age."

"Hmm...methinks the boy protests too much," Jeff laughed, "it's okay if you messed around, buddy boy, we all do it...when we're little kids."

"Hey, you guys, we gonna stay here all night, or explore the rest of the house?" Larry said, eager to get out of the old man's creepy bedroom.

"Sure, but let's bring the photo album with us," Jeff said looking around one last time, "nothing here but junk anyway."

"Hold on," Jeff said once they were in the hallway, "need to drain the lizard, there must be a bathroom up here somewhere. Ah, here it is," he said pushing open a green door, "Wait here, be right back," he said stepping inside but not bothering to close the door.

"Sure you don't need any help?" Larry teased.

"You wish, FAG!" he chuckled.

"Maybe the phantom will give you a hummer," Billy teased, "or bend over for you."

"Eww, nasty either way," Jeff said, his voice muffled now as he moved further into the bathroom. The toilet itself was actually in a separate walled off section, though open at the end closest to the door. It was dark and the air was musky and smelled awful, but Jeff had smelled worse and needed to piss badly. All that beer had gone right to his bladder and he was sloshing as he finally unzipped and hauled out his modest 6" penis.

As he held his flashlight in one hand, he directed the stream to the stained dry toilet bowl and closed his eyes as he enjoyed the relief emptying his bladder brought. It was almost as good as jerking off, he thought to himself, but not quite. In fact, he thought very seriously about rubbing one out once he was done, but decided it was too risky considering the other guys were just outside the door.

"You okay in there?" Billy giggled, "did you come yet?"

"Shut up asswipe," Jeff said, but he was smiling. He liked Billy, maybe a little too much, but that didn't keep him from giving him shit now and then. After all, he had to appear strong and macho just to keep his position of leadership in the group.

Suddenly something caught his eye in the corner and he jerked his head there, but he saw nothing. He directed the flashlight that way even as he continued to empty his bladder, but still he saw nothing.

"Must've been a shadow from the flashlight," he muttered to himself, then suddenly, there it was again. A shimmering light almost too faint to see, and when he shined his flashlight there again, there was nothing.

"Damn, John and his spooky stories," he said, shaking off the last few drops and trying to stow his junk with his free hand. But doing that proved more difficult than he'd thought, and he was forced to stick the flashlight in his shirt pocket and use both hands.

With the flashlight beam now directed at the ceiling, the room was full of shadows and creepy shapes, and Jeff hurriedly stowed his junk and grabbed the flashlight once more. Then suddenly the flashlight went dark.

"What the fuck?" he murmured, shaking the flashlight in an attempt to bring it back to life.

Suddenly the green door that led out into the hallway slammed shut, and now Jeff was in total darkness.

"Hey, you assholes. My flashlight went out," he said feeling his way along till he found the door. Only when he reached for the knob, instead of the cold brass he expected, there was something wet and slimy beneath his hand.

Screaming like a little girl, he jerked backwards, tripping over his own feet, and wound up ass over teakettle on the dirty floor.

"Let me out, something's in here!" he screamed at the top of his lungs, and suddenly he heard noises as if someone were pulling on the door and the doorknob shaking.

"It's locked. Very funny asshole," Larry's voice came from the other side.

"I swear, I never touched it, it just slammed shut and my flashlight don't work," he said frantically now, his breath ragged and sweat breaking out on his brow, "break the damn thing down, get me out...something is in here," he screeched, and just then he felt something cold and wet on the back of his neck, and the scream he emitted was so loud and so disturbing that it caused the three boys on the other side of the door to jump a foot off the floor.

"Help me, you guys!" Larry said tugging on the door again, but this time it came open easily causing Larry to stumble backwards as it swung open.

"Who has the lantern?" Larry said, then seeing it was Billy who held it, he grabbed it and stepped inside, the other two boys hot on his heels.

Three flashlight beams and one lantern illuminated the bathroom now, but Jeff was nowhere to be seen. Noticing the walled in area which held the toilet, Larry moved that way cautiously and peered inside, but there was nothing but a toilet, Jeff's last piss still glistening in the flashlight beam.

"What the fuck, where is he?" John said, his skin crawling with dread.

"Fucker, if this is a joke, I'm gonna kill you," Larry yelled, "where the fuck are you hiding?"

But there was no reply, in fact other than the rapid breaths of the three teen boys, it was deathly quiet. For a few minutes they poked and prodded the walls, looking for something, anything...a secret passage, a cubbyhole, anywhere Jeff could be hiding, but they found nothing but smooth and solid walls.

Moving out to the hallway again, John was first to appraise the situation, "I told you there was something in here. We should've gone home when I told you what happened. Now, it's got Jeff...and he might be dead for all we know."

"That's ridiculous," Larry said, then remembering the shimmering form he'd seen on the bed, he swallowed hard and looked at the other two, "he's got to be somewhere," he said trying to calm the other two boys, even if he himself didn't feel very calm.

"But where, we looked in every corner of that room, unless he flushed himself down the toilet," Billy joked.

"That's not funny," John scolded, "we should go and get some help, tell the police or our folks...someone."

"Yeah, tell them we were trespassing and breaking and entering? Not to mention the beer and the pot." Larry sniggered, "hell no, we can't do that. We have to find Jeff first, then we get out of here."

"But where do we look?" Billy whined.

"I don't know, but from now on we stay together, and if one of us has to piss, I say we piss on the damn floor."

Let's check the other rooms up here," John suggested, "but I still say we should split and get help."

"No way, not yet anyway," Larry said, taking charge now.

They moved down the hallway to the next door and found another bedroom, this one not quite as big as the first, but also containing a huge canopy bed. It was devoid of any other furniture however, and they didn't waste a lot of time there.

Moving down the hallway, they came to a room with a desk, and bookcases lining the walls, though the books were long gone, no doubt removed when the old man died. The top of the desk was empty, but a search of the drawers produced some interesting items. A skeleton key on a silver chain, a locket with the picture of a young boy in it, and a small red rubber ball.

"What the hell?" Billy said gazing at the items they'd discovered, "is that, is that the same kid in the photo album?"

"No, no way, this kid is blond and his yes are lighter, probably blue, but you can't tell cause the pic is black and white. I wonder if it was the Mason kid's boyfriend," Larry said.

"Boyfriend, did boys do that back then?" Billy wondered.

"Sure, I mean...they couldn't come out or anything, but I guess that sort of stuff has been going on forever. In Rome and Greece it was common stuff. If you ever read any stories about that time, they mention gay love a lot," John said, hoping he didn't sound too knowledgeable.

"Yeah, well...what about the rubber ball, was that the kid's too, and the key, what do you think that fits?" Billy said picking the skeleton key up and holding it up for them to see.

"I dunno, so far we haven't found any locked doors, but let's bring it, just in case," Larry said, "here Billy, you hold the locket, and John, the ball."

"You get to hold the kid's ball," Billy joked, "only one though, not both."

"Maybe he only had one," John laughed, able to see the humor in what Billy had said, despite the seriousness of the situation.

"Yeah, maybe. Hey, there's this kid in my gym class that only has one nut. He was born that way," Billy added, then seeing the other two shaking their heads in despair, he added, "just sayin', that's all."

The next room was another bathroom, and this one had two doors, one to the hallway and the other leading into a large bedroom.

"This looks more like the master bedroom and master bath," John suggested, "I think Jeff had it wrong."

"Yeah, maybe," Larry said pulling out a drawer and looking inside, "nothing, none of these drawers have anything in them."

"I'll check the bathroom," Billy said.

"Huh uh, not without us. First rule of any scary movie, don't separate," Larry scolded.

"Yeah, okay...I get it. I wonder...I mean, I hope Jeff is okay. I mean, he's a pain sometimes, but I like him, and I think he likes me, even if he does bust my balls all the time."

"He's fine, I'm sure of it," Larry said, but he wished he could be as sure of that as he was pretending to be, "And yeah, he's a pain sometimes, but he's our friend, and he gets us beer and weed," he added chuckling.

"I'm worried you guys," John said, speaking up then, "people don't just disappear like that. What if he's like in some alternate universe or something?"

"Man, you been watching too many movies, there's no such thing as alternate universes and stuff like that. There's got to be a logical explanation," Larry reasoned, but he was damned if he knew what that was.

They quickly checked out the bathroom and the rest of the upstairs, but they found nothing more of interest, and no Jeff. There were no locked doors to try the key in either, but they decided to check out the downstairs before they gave up completely.

"Let's check the bathroom one last time," John suggested, a glimmer of hope budding in his bosom.

"Sure, why not, hey...maybe there's something in there this key fits," Larry suggested.

They played their flashlight beams in front of them while Larry led them inside, the lantern held high, but there was still no sign of Jeff. Sighing, Larry checked out the enclosure one more time, but this time something was different.

"The piss, it's gone," Larry said looking over at the other two.

"So? It probably drains faster upstairs," John suggested.

"I don't know. I thought it had to reach a certain level before it drained, but maybe this toilet doesn't have the same kind of trap."

"Or maybe old man Mason came and drank Jeff's piss," Billy said grinning.

"Man, you think everything is funny, don't ya?" John said cuffing Billy, but he too was grinning.

"Well, it beats shitting my pants, which is exactly what I feel like doing. I'm scared guys, really scared, so I make jokes, so sue me."

"It's cool buddy," John said, daring to lay a reassuring hand on the younger boy's shoulder. He liked Billy a lot, but because he was younger he avoided getting too close to him. In fact, except when the four of them were together he had no contact with the boy at all.

"I'm hungry," Billy said suddenly, "was there any food left?"

"Yeah, lots," John said, "but how you can stand to eat at a time like this, I don't understand."

"I get hungry when I'm nervous," Billy said shrugging, "I can eat as we look around."

"Okay, okay, we'll go downstairs and you can grab something to eat," Larry said easily, then leading the way, they started downstairs.

The downstairs was deathly quiet, and except for the creaking of the stairs there were no sounds at all. Then suddenly a clap of thunder exploded, shaking the windows, and scaring the three boys out of a year's growth.

"Holy shit!" Billy said grabbing John and clinging to him for life, "What the hell was that?"

"Thunder dude," Larry said in a shaky voice, "I didn't know it was supposed to storm though."

As if on cue, the sound of rain hitting the boarded up windows and the roof reverberated through the room, accompanied by the occasional clap of thunder and the flash of lightening. Though boarded, up the lightening flashes seeped through the cracks between the boards, but not enough to light up the inside of the old house.

"Come on, the snacks are on the table by the sofa," Larry said finally reaching the bottom of the stairway.

Billy realized he was still clutching tightly to John, but John wasn't protesting, in fact he actually liked being that close to the boy. His hands felt warm and soft and his grip was firm and he could smell the boy's unique scent, a mixture of boy and sweat, and it was actually sort of a turn-on.

"Oh, sorry," Billy said, finally realizing he was clinging to John almost desperately.

"No problem, at least you didn't shit your pants," John teased.

"Not sure, maybe a little," Billy joked, "or at least peed a little."

"Come on," Larry said ignoring the two boys' banter, then as he reached the living room, he stopped suddenly, "I swear, I left them right here," he said shining the light onto the table and then all around the area in case they had fallen off.

"Larry..." Billy stammered, "over here," he added, shining his flashlight onto the huge stone fireplace.

"What the hell," Larry said shining his light that way as well. What he saw caused a shiver to go up his spine. Neatly arranged on the fireplace were four beers, a bag of chips, and a sack of cookies, but that wasn't all. Next to it was the flashlight they recognized as the one Jeff had carried.

"Holy shit, how...?" John stammered.

"That asshole," Larry said gruffly, "if he's playing us, I'm gonna neuter him."

"I don't think it's Jeff messing with us," John offered, "how could he get past us? The stairs are the only way down here."

"Unless there's like some secret passages or something," Billy suggested.

"Jeff! Hey, asshole, if you're in here you better come out or we're gonna leave your sorry ass and go home," Larry shouted, but the only reply was the wind whipping the rain against the house and the rumble of the thunder.

"Shit, shit, shit," John said, then turning to Billy he sighed, "you still hungry?"

"No way, I'm not touching that stuff. It might be poison for all I know, or...or haunted."

"Haunted Doritos," John laughed, despite himself, "man, this shit just gets crazier and crazier."

"Come on, let's check out the rest of the house, but I swear if Jeff is fucking with us, this is the end of our friendship. I will never speak to him again," then louder he shouted, "You hear that fucktard? If you don't come out now, we're done."

But the reply was the same, the beating of the rain and the rumble of the thunder producing a sinking feeling in all three boys' stomachs.

They checked out the rest of the downstairs quickly, the study, the hall bathroom, the parlor, the dining room, and finally the kitchen. The kitchen was huge, with a breakfast nook set back in a bay window, also boarded up, and a pantry off to the side.

They checked out the kitchen first, opening all the drawers and finding nothing until John opened the last drawer.

"Guys..." John stammered, his blood going cold, "check this out..."

"Inside the drawer was a huge butcher knife, but what had caught John's attention, and caused his blood to go cold, was the fact that the knife was covered in what appeared to be blood.

"Holy shit, is that blood?" Billy gasped.

"Looks like it, oh shit...oh shit," Larry cried, "is it fresh or dried?"

"Huh, oh...well..." John said moving the flashlight closer and illuminating the huge knife.

" looks dried," he said sighing in relief, "probably from some animal they slaughtered."

"Huh, who?" Billy said shaking his head.

"You know? The people who used to live here. The old man, or his cook or something..."

Larry licked his lips nervously and considered what John had said, "If this knife was here when they cleaned out the house, why did they leave it? Nah, I bet this knife was put here later, maybe by that homeless guy who almost burned the place down. Maybe he killed someone and hid the knife here."

"Huh, that's crazy," John said, "this would be the worst place to hide it, and why not wipe off the blood first?"

"I don't know, I'm just saying I don't think it was here when the old man died. Come on, let's check out the pantry."

Though the house was a couple hundred years old, it had been updated several times and there were electrical outlets in every room, electric light fixtures, and had at one time held modern appliances, though the power had been off since the old man died and the appliances removed. In the pantry, they found hookups for a washer and dryer and the floor was stained and worn where the appliances had sat.

A wall of bi-fold doors filled one wall, and behind them shelves where provisions were once stored. The shelves were empty now, though there was what looked like flour or sugar spilled on one of them. On the floor beneath the last shelf they found a pair of rubber boots, and though faded looking and foul smelling, they seemed to be in good condition.

"What's this?" Billy said picking up the boots and noticing a small silver ring they had hidden.

"It looks like a handle or something," John said bending down to inspect it. Then reaching down, he hooked his finger in it and pulled.

The tile that it was attached to swung upward then as dirt and debris from around the edge fell into the opening below.

"Holy shit, a secret hiding place," Billy said stooping to get a better look.

Larry moved in as well, and all three flashlights lit up the interior of the small enclosure. Inside was a black metal box, almost the size of the enclosure. Atop it was a tarnished metal handle and John reached down, grasped the handle and pulled the box up. There was a hasp securing the lid shut, and through it a padlock. Sitting it on the floor John stared at it for a moment then looked up at Billy.

"The key...the key I gave you to keep, give it to me."

"Huh, oh...okay," Billy said retrieving it from around his slender neck.

Fumbling with the key he found it fit the padlock perfectly, and with a click, the padlock popped open. Taking a deep breath, John opened the box slowly, cringing as if something might jump out at him, until the contents were displayed.

"What the heck? Looks like some old newspaper clippings and some pictures," Larry said.

"Yeah, and I bet it's something the old man didn't want anyone to know about. Why else would he hide it here?"

"Here, let me see that," Larry said taking the contents from John's hand.

There was indeed a number of newspaper clippings, and some old photographs, some of them of the same boy who's picture was in the locket. Being especially careful not to destroy the crumbling document, Larry unfolded one of the newspaper clippings and smoothed it out.

"It's a story about the mansion: says it was built in 1860 by Jedidiah Mason and he and his wife Julia lived here until their death in 1895. After that, it lay empty for two years, then Mason's only son, Reginald Mason moved in with his new bride and they had a son, Robert. When Robert was 10, the Mason's were killed in an automobile crash and Robert's uncle Mortimer became his guardian.

He continued to read to himself, then summarized the rest of the article for the other two boys. "So, apparently there was like old money, and when the kid's parents croaked he inherited everything, the house and the money, oil leases and real estate holdings. His uncle became his guardian but there were executors that handled the money end of it. It says at one time he was worth over a hundred million dollars.

"Sort of sad," Billy said, "all that money, and he still died alone."

"Yeah, well...that makes me wonder. Why did he never have friends or get married or anything. I wonder if his uncle kept him a prisoner here. It says he was home-schooled later and had a male governess or whatever.

"What else is in there?" John said poking at the pile of clippings.

"This one is about how the companies he owned began to lose money and the house began to fall into...disrepair, whatever that means."

"Falling apart, I think," John offered.

"Wait, here it is, the juicy one about his arrest," he read in silence for a moment then looked up and shared what he'd gleamed from the article, "it says he was arrested for propositioning a 10 year old boy in the park bathroom on Mill Street. He denied it and said the boy was the one who instigated the whole thing, and I guess his lawyers managed to make it go away. But after that, it says he seldom ever left the house and wasn't seen for many years, right up till his death in 1995."

"But who's the kid in the locket and in the pictures? Could that be the boy he tried to molest?" Billy wondered.

"Nah, I don't think so, these pictures are very old, probably from the same time he was that age. I think it must've been a friend, or maybe a cousin or something," Larry said frowning, "maybe there's something else in here to clear things up," he said digging in the box again.

"Bingo, here are some letters. There were four letters, two addressed to Robert Mason 1132 Downing Lane, the address of the mansion, and the other two had been addressed to someone named Julius Baxter at an address in Long Island, New York, but the two letters had been returned and were stamped: Return to sender. No such person at this address.

"Holy shit," John said reading one of the letters that had been returned, "listen to this:"

My dearest Julius.

I miss you so much and want you to know that I have never felt this way about anyone, boy or girl in my entire life. What we did those nights that you visited was the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced. I know what we did is considered wrong by some, but for me it was beautiful and meaningful. I believe you felt the same way too, and I am eager to hear back from you and get your thoughts.

It may be too soon to say this, but I feel it with all my heart when I say, I love you from the depths of my soul. You are very special and dear to me and the most beautiful person I have ever met. I blush as I think about your smooth flawless skin and how it felt against my own, and what we did to bring each other pleasure was pure magic. Please say you feel the same way and make me the happiest boy in this world.

If you are agreeable, I would like to have you visit again this summer and perhaps this time stay longer. A week was just not enough time to say and do all the things that I feel when I'm with you. So, please, my dear friend, write me soon and make me the happiest boy in the world.

With all my love, XXOO


"So, he was in love with this kid, Julius?" Billy said looking thoughtful, "but for some reason he didn't write back or moved away or something?"

"I guess, let's see what the other letters say," John suggested.

The other returned letter was more of the same, only the tone was more desperate, and Robert begged Julius to reply, even if he didn't feel the same way too. The other two letters, the ones from Julius, seemed to have been written before his stay at the mansion and before Robert's heartfelt letter and declaration of his love.

Dear Robert

Mother and father are on holiday at the cabin in Vermont, but as usual they did not include me in their plans. Once again I am stuck here with only the servants and nothing to do. I look forward to coming to see you this spring, and mother and father said that I could stay the whole week. Do you have plans for us, or are we going to simply take it day to day?

I very much like playing croquette and badminton. Do you have those games? If not I'm sure we will find something to do. Will I be sharing your room, or sleeping in the guest room? I have a million questions and I am very excited about my visit.

It has been a long time since we last saw one another, but I remember you were always a lot of fun to be around. Please write me back soon and let me know what, if any plans you have for my visit. I am enclosing a school picture of me in case you have forgotten what I look like, ha ha, and I hope you will send one of you in return.

Well, cook has just announced that dinner is being served, so I will close for now and get this ready to mail. Pleas write soon, I will be anxiously awaiting your reply.

Your friend,


"So, he was coming to visit, and apparently they had...some kind of affair, but then he never wrote back, and Robert's letters were returned," John said summing it all up, "let's see what the last one says."

Dear Robert

The days seem to be dragging by as I await the time to board the train and begin my journey to visit you. I received your reply to my letter yesterday and set out right away to reply, but mother and father insisted I join them at the theater and I had to put it on hold.

Now, I am sprawled on my bed writing to you and wishing that the days and hours would pass quickly so that I might see you once again. I know we have only been friends a short time and haven't seen each other in person all that much, but I feel that we are friends in the truest sense. Thank you for the picture of you that you sent, you have grown since I last saw you, and dare I say, you are more handsome than ever. I blush as I say that, but I hope you will not think me strange to say that about another boy.

I do have a few questions about my visit. Do you have any plans for us? Where will I be sleeping? and How late are we allowed to stay up each night? Here, mother and father insist I am in bed by 9 pm, but on the weekends they usually allow me to stay up till 10. I know these are silly questions, but I am just so excited about visiting and seeing you again that I am a little silly...ha ha.

Do you have many friends there, and will we be spending time with them as well? Do you like sports? I find I know so little about you, and yet I feel we are so close in some ways. Is it possible we share a common secret? I blush as I think about what I just wrote, but either you will understand and agree, or it will mean nothing to you. It is easy to be bold in writing, but I wonder if I will be so bold in person. Just seeing you again will be a thrill. I have done it again, said things that might make you think less of me, but somehow I feel that you understand me better than anyone. Your letters over the last year have proven that we think alike in many ways, and I am looking forward to discussing our thoughts and feelings in private.

As the hour grows late, I will finish this letter, but not before I say one more, perhaps embarrassing thing. Robert, I not only look forward to seeing you in person, but also to hugging you and showing you my true feelings toward you. I hope this does not offend you in any way, nor put you off and make our visit uncomfortable. Again, I feel I know you well enough that you will understand.

Until next time, take care my friend and enjoy life. I will be counting the days till I see you once again.

Your best friend,


"It sounds like this Julius kid was hot for Robert, so I wonder why he never wrote back after the visit?" John said.

"Well, the letters were returned, so maybe they moved or something and didn't leave a forwarding address," Billy suggested.

"Huh uh, here's why?" Larry said pulling the last item from the box, "it's a newspaper clipping from the New York Times.

The headline read, Entire Family Perishs in House Fire, and below it were the details. It seems that Julius and his parents as well as all their servants died in the horrible fire that resulted in the complete destruction of their mansion in a secluded area on Long Island. The cause of the fire was never determined, but there was speculation that it might have been a lightening strike, though there was never any evidence to prove it. There had been a mild thunder storm that night, but unfortunately not enough rain to dowse the fire as it spread through the mostly wooden structure.

"Oh my god, no wonder old man Mason was such a sour old man. His boyhood love burned to death in a fire, and who knows how long before he found out," John said.

"At least two letters worth," Larry sighed, "gosh, I actually feel bad about what happened, and that was before I was even born."

"It sucks," Billy said, "but...I wonder if this is why old man Mason's ghost is still on the loose. I mean, I read that if things aren't settled on earth, then a person's spirit is doomed to wander and never go to the hereafter."

Both John and Larry wanted to laugh, or at least question Billy's naive thinking, but in light of all that had happened, they decided it was as good an explanation as any. The question was: where was Jeff, and what did his disappearance have to do with all this?

"But why hide all this stuff in the floor?" John finally said.

"Who knows, everyone said the old guy went nuts at one point, so maybe he thought someone would steal his precious memories if he didn't hide them," Larry suggested.

"Yeah, but right now...we need to find Jeff and get the hell out of here," John reminded them.

"In this rain? No thanks, but we do need to find Jeff. I bet the asshole is hiding somewhere," Larry smirked.

"I dunno, how could he get out of that bathroom?" Billy said looking scared.

"Who knows, this place is a spook house, there's got to be trap doors and secret passages and stuff, right?" Larry offered.

"Hey, I just thought of one place we haven't looked," John said brightening, "the basement."

Billy groaned, "Not the basement. In every scary movie I've ever seen the killer or the ghost is always in the basement."

"Well, just stay together, that's the important thing," Larry said taking the lead once more, "if it gets one of us, it will get all of us."

"Gee thanks, that's good to hear," Billy chuckled nervously.

The basement stairs were just off the hallway leading to the kitchen, and the boys were very familiar with them since this was the way they entered the house after discovering the outside entrance to the basement. However, in all the times they'd been in the house they'd never really explored the basement, choosing instead to go straight upstairs and into the house.

The stairway creaked noisily as they started down and the lantern caused eerie shadows to flicker about in the dusty dank room. Now that they had a chance to really look around they noticed just how big the room was, and that there were a number of doors and walled off areas besides the main room.

A huge ancient furnace, long since gutted and rusting, sat against an outside wall, and Billy couldn't help but think it looked a lot like the talking furnace in Home Alone. Kevin, GET OUT! he thought in his head and giggled.

"What's so funny?" John said grinning.

"Nothing, just...that thing, it looks like a robot or something."

"The furnace,'s huge too. Never seen one that big," John replied.

"Wonder what's behind those doors," Larry said shining his flashlight on a scarred wooden door to the right of where they stood.

"Only one way to find out," John shrugged, "but we go together. If it's the door into another dimension, I don't want to get sucked in alone," he kidded.

"Shut up," Billy said looking worried.

"There's no door to another dimension, but maybe we'll find numb-nuts behind door number one," Larry joked.

"Wouldn't that be a hoot," John laughed, "as long as he hasn't been gutted or anything," he added sobering some.

Too much talking, let's just get this over with," Larry said gripping the door knob, "on the count of three, everyone aim your flashlight inside when I jerk the door open. One...two...three," and the door flew open, slamming against the wall.

"Damn, what's all that shit?" John said moving closer.

"Toys," Billy said peering inside, "it's tons of toys, old toys. Probably worth a fortune now," he said picking up a red metal truck that looked like something from the 40s.

"Old man Mason's toys," Larry guessed, "he saved them all these years, or someone did anyway."

"Sad kinda, isn't it?" Billy said picking up a dusty Teddy Bear that was missing an eye.

"Wait, what's this?" Larry said stooping to pick up what appeared to be a diary or journal of some kind. Then flipping through the pages he swore under his breath, "Holy fuck, this is old man Mason's diary. Listen to this:"

"Today mother and father went on a trip to visit friends, but I wasn't allowed to go. Sometimes I think they hate me and I am just a burden to them. We never do anything as a family and I am so lonely sometimes that I can't stand it. The servants are nice to me, but what I really need is someone my own age, someone to play with and share my feelings."

"Here's one the next day, after he found out his folks were killed. Aww man, he was so sad. It looks like the pages are tear-stained or something."

Larry continued to flip through the diary, lighting upon certain pages then sharing what he'd read with the others.

"After his folks died, Julius and his folks came to visit and that's when they became friends. I guess Julius' folks were friends of the Masons. When they left, Julius and Robert kept in touch for over a year by mail, then Julius finally came to visit and stayed a week. That was when they fell in love I guess. The entries around that time are mostly Robert writing about how much he missed Julius and how much he loved him. Wait, here's something..."

"Today I learned that the love of my life has died along with his parents in a tragic fire. Now I know for certain why the letters I wrote to him were returned, his house no longer exists and neither does my beautiful Julius. I will mourn his death for the rest of my life and I am certain I will never find another boy who loves me as he did and who I can love in return. And so I am resigned to live the rest of my life alone and without love until sweet death overtakes me and I can once again join my sweet Julius in the afterlife."

"Holy shit, poor kid. He was 12 when this shit happened. That means he spent the next 60 years alone and unloved. No wonder he was whacko," Larry sighed.

"We should keep the diary, along with the other stuff we found tonight. I'd like to read that diary from front to back sometime," John said sadly.

"Yeah,, you hold onto it. Now, let's check out the other doors."

Other than a lavatory and a storage room, so far none of the doors had proved interesting till they tried the last one. Opening the door wide, they were surprised it held a steep staircase that disappeared upwards into the darkness.

"Wow, another way upstairs?" John guessed.

"Maybe, but where does it come out?" Larry wondered, "I don't remember seeing any stairs when we were exploring upstairs."

"Only one way to find out," John said sighing, "shall we climb the stairway to Heaven, or maybe Hell?"

"Or another dimension," Billy said grinning.

"I'll go first," Larry said stepping up and grabbing the handrail along one wall. The stairway was narrow and steep and the rail proved to be useful as they ascended into the darkness above. The usual cobwebs, dust, and debris greeted them, but the stairs seemed solid enough, and soon they made it to the top, only to find another door there.

"Here goes nothing," Larry said nervously as he grabbed the doorknob and twisted it only to find it was locked, "damn it's locked."

"Hey, what about this?" Billy said producing the skeleton key he'd been wearing around his neck.

"It's worth a try I guess," Larry said, accepting the key and fumbling with it till he found the keyhole. Surprisingly it fit perfectly, and when Larry turned the key they heard a satisfying click as the mechanism was unlocked.

"I guess one key fits all," John joked, "not very secure, but good for us."

"I'm curious to see where we come out," Larry said looking back at the other two, "I hope there's no damn zombies behind this door," he teased, having been an avid fan of such movies.

"If there is, I'm definitely shitting my pants," Billy laughed nervously, lightning the mood.

"The door swung inward, which was a good thing considering the landing was barely wide enough for the three boys to stand side by side, and beyond was only darkness at first. Then suddenly, as their eyes adjusted, they saw light and it was coming from a window that was not boarded up as all the rest were.

"This must be the attic," John reasoned, "that's the only windows they didn't board up. I guess cause they figured no one could reach them from the ground.

Larry led the other two inside, and they discovered for the first time since they'd entered the house, they didn't need their flashlights. Extinguishing them and pocketing them, the three began to look around. There was the usual junk one associated with an attic, an old trunk, boxes filled with all manner of things, an old manikin that looked to be boy-sized, and dressed as such with pants and a sweater.

"Creepy, do you think that Robert kid used that manikin as a substitute for his lost love," John asked.

"Maybe," Larry said going to the trunk and bending down. He tried the lid and found it was unlocked and opened easily.

Inside the heavy wooden trunk was what appeared to be boys' clothing from the period that Robert Mason was a boy. The garments were in remarkably good shape despite being so old, but smelled of moth balls and musk.

"Do you think that was his clothes...from when he was a kid?" Billy said moving closer.

"Probably, I'm guessing he saved everything from his childhood that he could. Maybe he came up here and sat around and thought about when he was a kid," John said somberly.

Meanwhile, Billy had wandered off and was gazing out one of the windows at the rain and dark clouds. Occasionally a bolt of lightening would light up the sky and the room, giving the room an eerie look. Suddenly from the corner of his eye, Billy saw a solitary figure moving across the lawn and it only took him a moment to recognize who it was.

"Guys, it's Jeff, he's outside," Billy said running over to grab their arms and pull them to the window, but when they arrived there was no one there. "I swear he was there a minute ago. He was wearing that ugly green ball cap he always wears, and he was just walking slowly across the lawn.

"Which way was he headed?" John asked, giving his younger friend the benefit of the doubt.

"Toward the house. Hey, that must be it, he'd already made it to the porch or to the cellar door or something. We should go back down and look for him outside," Billy said excitedly.

"We will, but first I want to see if there's a stairway from the attic to the second floor," Larry said looking around. Then noticing what appeared to be a door set into the wall and papered over to match the wall, he headed toward it. There was no doorknob or handle that he could find, but pushing on the door caused it to swing open on spring hinges that appeared to swing either way. That allowed anyone to enter from either side just by pushing on the door. A cafe hinge, that was what it was called, Larry remembered. At the bottom of the stairs another swinging door led out into the second floor hallway where they had explored only a short time ago and where they'd last seen their friend.

"Cool, hidden passages, I wonder what other surprises this house has," John said as they emerged.

Suddenly a crack of thunder caused them to jump, followed by a flash of lightening visibly through the cracks in the boarded up window at the end of the hall. The flash was followed by another loud sound that literally shook the whole house.

"What the hell?" John said clutching at his heart.

"Sounded and felt like an explosion," Larry said, "come on, downstairs, maybe we can see what happened."

But a quick check of the downstairs found no explanation for the loud noise, and they finally decided it was time to do as Billy had suggested and search the grounds for Jeff. Quickly descending the stairs to the basement, they headed toward the outside door which was at about a 45° angle as most cellar doors were, to allow for runoff from the rain.

It only took the boys a moment to realize what the noise had been, and their hopes sank as they realized that something heavy had fallen across the cellar door and was blocking their only way out.

"It must've been that big tree by the house," Larry reasoned, " Lightening must've struck it. It must weigh a ton, there's no way we can move it. We're gonna have to find another way out of this place."

"Maybe we can find a hammer or something and pry the boards off a door or a window,." Billy suggested.

"Only problem is, the boards are nailed from the outside," John reminded him.

"Yeah, but...don't the outside doors open inwards. If we can get one of them open we can kick the boards loose."

"That might work, " Larry said looking thoughtful, "but we still need to find Jeff."

"You found me," a voice from behind them said almost casually, "where have you guys been? I guess I fell asleep or something, and when I woke up on the couch you guys were missing."

"The others were too shocked to move at first, but Billy was the first to do so as he ran toward the older boy and hugged him tightly.

"We were so worried," Billy said almost in tears now, "we thought you were dead, or some ghost got you or something."

"What is he talking about?" Jeff laughed as he stared down at the younger teen. He knew it wasn't macho to let another boy hug him and carry on this way, but damn it sure felt good.

"Come on, let's go back upstairs and we'll explain," Larry said patting Jeff on the back just to make sure he was really there, and discovering that his clothing was wet as if he had been outside in the rain.

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