What a Nickel Can Buy

The old house moaned as the late cool October wind blew around its ancient timbers. Its now blinded eyes watched the little town of Elizabethton grow from a small railroad stop to a suburb of the nearby metropolis of River City. The boarded walls were aged by smokestack pollution – stained black. The teeth were now broken and the head bald to the starlit sky.

It moaned. It screamed in agony.

“I dare you”, Tommy whispered to his two companions.

Tommy and his friends Billy and Susan stood on the sidewalk in front of the old Walker House trying their best not to show fright. For a group of eight year olds, this was quote a feat.

“You first”, Billy replied.

“That’s not how this works!” Tommy protested emphatically. “I dared you. Now you gotta do it.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t…” Susan tried to inject.

“If you wanna go home, Suse, then go.” Tommy fired back. “We don’t wanna cry baby around.

Susan quieted and turned a wary glare towards the monster in front of her.

“You got the nickel.” Billy stated. He didn’t ask.

Tommy nodded and held it up for all to see.

“You sure there is gold in there?” Billy asked.

“Of course! My brother told me all ’bout it.”

“Tell me again.”

Tommy turned to face the other two shivering friends, giving the story his full attention.

“Fifty years ago, Old Man Walker… he owned the old hotel on main…. Old Man Walker lived here. He didn’t have no kids or friends. So he lived here with all his wealth that he stole from the travelers on the railroad. When he died, no one knew about it for months like. So when the police come look’n for him, they didn’t find nothing but his skeleton.”

“Where’s the gold in that?” Billy demanded.

“I’m get’n to it. The gold wasn’t ever seen again. They searched the house but all they found was three gold coins. When they tried to pick them up, Old Man Walker’s ghost came and chased them away.”

Tommy looked each one in the eye to make sure his story stuck.

“Now you get this nickel if you get me one of those coins to show my brother.”

All three looked up at the old house as it moaned again. Susan ran her hands over her arms trying to warm herself from two kinds of cold. Billy stepped forward and peeked over the now decrepit fence. The front yard was overgrown with scraggly dead grass, weeds, and some sort of half burnt tree stump.

“You watch’em Suse,” Billy said. “Don’t let him take my nickel before I get back.”

Susan nodded her head but didn’t voice a word of her concern.

The gate screeched a warning as Billy pushed it against its will. The cobblestone path led directly through the brown front yard to the crooked and bent front porch. Billy stepped two steps forward before being stopped by a small voice.

“Don’t forget this.”

Billy turned and took the small flashlight Susan held towards him. He looked down at the smooth green plastic cover and slid the switch to “ON”. He was temporally blinded by the light in his eyes before turning the shiny end towards the ground before him.

Billy ran towards the house; the first step bellowed at the unwelcome footfall. The wind howled. The front porch creaked.

The front door was already off its hinge after so many years of disuse. Billy shined the light ahead. The house was filled with dust and cobwebs. Broken furniture littered the front room. A few outside weeds found a crevice in the floorboards to eek out a meager existence.

Billy climbed into the ancient mouth of the Old Walker House, its lone tooth nipped at the boy’s feet as he passed. The house popped and creaked as the boy’s weight spread through the building.

Billy stopped until the house settled silent once again.

He slowly walked forward, dust built with each footfall until it rose and fell in a following cloud. He did his best to avoid cobwebs and fallen beams. He followed his lone light deeper into the house.

Billy stopped. His light fell on a painted picture hanging askew on the bowed wall. A man and woman stood side by side. They were dressed in old timey clothes like his grandmother wore sometimes, but this couple was young. They held hands between them. Billy left them in their eternal embrace.

He turned around and was blinded by a bright light flaring back at him. He screamed. Billy stumbled backwards straight into a clingy spiderweb. He brushed himself off frantically as best he could, feeling unseen bugs crawling over his skin. The light danced around and finally shot off in a different direction. After he brushed himself clean, Billy removed the hand that he didn’t know was grasping his chest as he realized that the light was his own, reflecting off an old broken mirror.

Careful this time, he shown the light along the edge of the mirror until a corner of broken glass broke a part of the beam towards the ground. There before him was a gold coin. A scan of the ground with his flashlight reveal two more just like it. Three gold coins laid out bare. Billy knelt to retrieve his prize.

“You still there!” a voice cried out.

Billy jumped; a scream echoed through the house. He dropped his flashlight which broke as it hit the wooden floor. The wind picked up and the house moaned in triumph.

“Billy!” It was Tommy’s voice calling from outside.

“Yes I’m here, idiot!” Billy answered. “You made me lose my light!”

The sound of laughter came from outside. Or was it from inside? Billy was not sure. He still stood in the same spot so he knew the coins were at his feet. He bent down. He felt for each coin. One… two… three.

When he straightened, he felt pat his shoulder. He turned around quickly and saw the ghostly outline of two people standing before him. He let out another bloodcurdling scream.

Outside Tommy and Susan heard the scream and they both looked at each other, unsure what to do. Together they started to run towards the house but were met headlong by Billy jumping over the broken door looking as white as a ghost.

“G-G-G-Ghosts… “, his lips trembled as the words passed his lips.

“You sure?” Tommy asked and Susan moaned.

Billy nodded enthusiastically but then thrust his hands forward. He revealed three gold coins to his astonished friends. His breathing was hard and ragged, his eyes wide.

“Nickel.” Billy said.

Tommy quickly paid his fee as they shared each a gold coin from the Old Walker House. The cold wind chased them home. Inside the Old Walker House, a glowing hand hovered near the floor and placed three more gold coins on the floor. Then two ghosts floated upward hand in hand.

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