Four boys rode their bikes through the narrow wooded trails on the Collins Estate. The sky was turning dark blue and the woods as black as a grave closing in on them as they sailed up hills and ducked branches to Collinwood, the huge empty house on the property. Rumor had it that in 1967, almost ten years ago, something had been unleashed at Collinwood that had killed every single member of the family. Since that night, not one member of the family had ever been seen, but then that was the rumor. Police had searched the house and grounds and had not found a thing. The family business was in the hands of the board of directors as detectives scoured the family records to find the next living relative. In the meantime, the structure was a local reputed haunted house where no one lived and no one came except for curious teens looking for ghosts.
One bike skidded to a stop as the leader of the group waited for his other cronies to catch up to him. Tall and wiry, Steve Barnette scratched his head of blonde hair and looked at the windows of the house. They were all black and forebodingly empty as they stared back to him vacantly as the sockets on a huge skull. In fact, the deserted structure seemed to be looking back at him as he got a shiver.
"Okay," Steve started speaking to his nighttime posse. "Welcome to Collinwood, the largest haunted house in Maine. Eight years ago, Elizabeth Stoddard and her daughter Carolyn lived here all alone but for one servant who died mysteriously. They were joined by her brother Roger and his son David and then sometime later a cousin from England named Barnabas that they didn't know they had."
Some of the boys smirked at the ghost story as the fourth boy stood nervously. Holding a flashlight, Jason Pryde flicked on his light and scanned the old mansion.
"It was obvious from the start..." Steve continued. "... That something was unusual about Cousin Barnabas. He was almost never seen during the day, and he had an almost uncanny pre-knowledge of the family. No one thought much about it, but then one by one the family vanished. It isn't said who went first, but by the end of summer, not a trace of the family was ever found. Sheriff Patterson back then said it was almost as if they had stepped off the corner of the earth."
Jason narrowed his eyes at Steve's theatrics. He waved his light again inside looking for life within the house while the sky grew even darker than it already was.
"You see that tower," Steve pointed at a tower rising from the corner of the house. "In order to join the Ghost Watchers Society, you need to go inside, find your way to the top and flash your light three times in the window to prove you made it, and then you'll be a member."
"What's the catch?" Jason asked. "I mean, how am I going to find my way up to it?"
"That's the catch." Steve motioned to the largest member of the club. Six feet tall and built like a bear, Derek Thomas started to open the front door but found it locked. A bit miffed, he kicked it hard and motioned to Jason. The would-be pledge made a look back as he flicked on his light to the foyer. He scanned left down a long hall reaching down left of the entrance and then to a staircase almost immediate to his right. His light showing the way, Pryde started hesitantly into the house alone as he tried imagine horrors, both real and imaginary, waiting for him.
"Give me a cigarette." Steve turned to Matt Burton, the fourth member of their little group. "I figure he's got around five minutes to reach the top floor."
"Why's the door locked every time we come up here?" Derek asked. "Are you sure no one is living here?"
"No," Steve chuckled with an evil grin. "Maybe the sheriff locks it, I don't know."
"Hey," Matt whirled around. "I thought I saw someone in that window."
"You're a load of crap."
"Who was it?"
"I don't know." Matt squinted his eyes as they shared the pack of cigarettes. "It was just a flash... "
"Yeah, right." Steve wondered. No one really knew if the family was really gone since Collins Enterprises was still making money. For all he knew, they had another house elsewhere and returned on rogue occasions. The disappearance rumor was just that, a rumor. After all, someone was cleaning up their cigarette butts from previous trips.
"I saw a flash." Derek looked up.
"There's two." Matt saw the next one.
"And that's three." Steve turned round. "Guys, we have our new member." They started grinning as they starting thinking of new ways to spend the extra dues. Derek was thinking of more members to invite into the group as Jason then started hollering his head off in Collinwood as if someone were attacking him. Steve, Derek and Matt each cocked their heads up as they heard Jason's frenzied screams echoing from the dark tower room above their heads and far from their realm of senses. They wondered if he was horsing around with them for a change, but it sounded as if he was putting up a fight. His sheer cries were desperate and his torment almost unbearable, but then his long tortured cry began slowly getting killed off as if he were going further and further away. The boys outside watched as his flashlight was flung from the tower and rolled toward them. As they looked up, something white and ethereal started to appear from the dark room behind the window.
"He can go home alone!" Steve grabbed his bike and tore off through the woods. Matt glanced to Derek a second then joined him.