Written for the Reader's Appreciation club on Y-gallery.

That dream again.

Naruto awoke with his body covered in sweat, the light blue cotton sheets underneath him soaked with perspiration. With wide, troubled eyes he stared at the ceiling, a hand placed atop his chest as his breaths came in short, almost painful gasps. He threw the duvet off with an irritated sigh.

What was that dumb dream all about? Too many horror movies lately maybe. But what was an insomniac to do at night when he lived with his 63-year-old grandfather who went to bed at 8 o'clock every night after the last airing of Matlock?

Grunting and experiencing that same bone-wrenching exhaustion he felt every morning after getting three hours of sleep, Naruto rolled out of bed, scratching his stomach above the waistband of his boxers. When he glanced out the window, it appeared gloomy and overcast. Thank goodness it was Friday. All he could hope for was that the school day would pass by without incident.

After a sluggish trip to the bathroom to take a leak, wash his face and brush his teeth - without a great amount of energy or enthusiasm for the day ahead - he threw on a pair of baggy, torn up blue jeans; white socks with a Nike logo on them; and a hooded sweatshirt. As he snatched his tattered backpack off of the desk chair, he slipped on his favorite pair of black Converse. Shuffling down the steps to the first floor (he lived in the attic), Naruto spotted his grandfather already chuckling at some moronic program on the television. No time for breakfast, Naruto mumbled a brief and cross goodbye as he slammed the door and headed to school.

An easy enough day. He'd only managed to get scolded once at school and that was for falling asleep during English period. It was one of his least favorite subjects, but the teacher was nice enough and tried awfully hard to get him interested in the lessons. Maybe too hard. He didn't deal well with pity or whatever reason it was that caused that particular teacher to take a special interest in him. It happened from time to time because of his past and his current living situation with his grandfather. Everyone treated him differently, even the people he considered to be friends. Not that he had close friends by any means. They were just guys he sat with at lunch or exchanged sarcastic comments with at the back of the classroom (when he wasn't sleeping). By the time his detention for falling asleep had concluded, the digital clock hanging from the hallway ceiling in front of the building's West exit read 4 p.m.

Darker patches of cloud spattered the sky, threatening rain or sleet. Not good considering Naruto walked home. He had no car and no license. It was a mile from school to his grandfather's house, and in his haste to leave this morning he'd forgotten an umbrella. Not that a thought like that would naturally enter his head, but in hindsight, when the first drops started to hit, Naruto was wishing he was the type of person who prepared for any given situation.

Naruto had his sweatshirt's hood pulled up to keep some of the harsh, frosty wind away. The sleet had begun to fall in spurts as soon as he'd reached the post office, which signaled he was about half way home. Several cars, driven by people he went to school with, passed him by without so much as a honk. They could've offered to drive him home, but Naruto was neither expectant of an invitation, nor was he disappointed that he didn't receive one.

The town he lived in was small. Everyone knew everyone, and everyone knew everybody's business. But what was a small town without gossip? Without rumors. If anything, Naruto was doing them a favor by feeding the machine. He wasn't bitter. Far from.

The sleet hit the side of his face, falling along the smooth curve of a cheek.

Naruto tilted his head to the side as he walked over a rickety old railroad track. Briefly, he stopped and put his sneaker on the rail. Far off, there must've been a train coming. He could feel the vibration in his foot.

When he reached the corner of Winhurst and Davis, approximately a quarter of a mile from his grandfather's house, a decrepit old mansion began to loom like an eyesore amidst an otherwise beautifully landscaped area of town. No one would build their house next to it, so it stood alone amongst several empty lots. It was set back a ways from the road, hidden behind several gnarled willow trees planted in the front. Many of the windows were boarded. The two large columns on either side of the front porch had become consumed by vines that fed off the house like parasites. The front of the house was lined with leafless hedges, their twisted branches reaching skyward like the wrinkled, bony hands of an old woman. The painted siding was cracked and falling off in several places. A number of spots on the roof lacking shingles, and the chimney tilted precariously, ready to collapse at any given moment.

Naruto had walked by this house nearly every day. Ever since he was little, he had been drawn to it, but he always thought that had to do with the fact it seemed so out of place and isolated. He supposed he sympathized with it as ridiculous as that sounded. There were so many rumors about the ruined mansion that it had become hard to separate fact from fiction. He'd always heard the house had been the site of one of the town's greatest, most mysterious tragedies, but there were so many variations of the story that it was hard to give credence to any at all.

As he was going down the hill that led to the house, he saw a group of boys from his school standing in front of the locked iron gate at the onset of the property. As he came closer to them, he averted his eyes, not wanting to start any trouble, but the one of them wearing a red skull cap grabbed him by the sleeve of his coat.

"Where are you goin' in such a hurry?" the boy, a third year, asked. "Not even gonna greet us when we go to the same school?"

Naruto stopped, but refused to look at the boys. They'd caused him plenty of trouble at school over the years, and the way the other two were staring at him, they were obviously itching for a fight.

"Let go, Dean," he warned.

"Oh, I'm really so scared!" Dean put his arm around Naruto's shoulders. "I believe you know Akira and Harima."

"Not really."

"Don't be so cold with us, Naruto," Dean spoke into his ear. "We were just discussing a bet. Would you like to know what it was about?"


Dean growled and spun Naruto the other way, taking hold of his jacket collar and tugging him close to his face. "Maybe you should be. Your family's dirt poor, right? Don't you, like, live in a sleeping bag or something? Your grandfather's that old crazy pervert that people say is a pedo."

Naruto rolled his eyes as he shoved the other boy off. "He may be a pervert, but he doesn't fondle little kids." He started to walk away from the group of boys, when Dean called out again.

"You sure you wouldn't be interested in a hundred bucks?"

Naruto paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Why me?"

"They're both too chicken shit to do it," Dean answered with a smirk, pointing at the other two.

"And what about you?"

"I've already done it."

"Yeah right you have," grumbled Akira, but Dean seized the front of the boy's cap and pulled it over his face to shut him up.

Naruto stepped toward them, hands stuffed in his pockets. "What do I have to do?"

Dean pointed at the mansion. "Spend tonight in that house."

"Why tonight?" he asked suspiciously.

"Duh. It's the anniversary of the massacre."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "You seriously believe in that stuff?"

"He's scared, just forget about it," said Harima as he scratched the back of his head and glanced around the area anxiously as if afraid of being caught.

"Shut up. Naruto's perfect for this," said Akira, grinning. "If something happens to him, no one will even notice that he's gone."

"And you won't have to pay him the hundred bucks, Dean," added Harima.

"Wow, is this your guys' tactic for getting someone to do something you want?" Naruto turned around, but, again, Dean called out to him.

"A hundred and fifty bucks, and I'll put in a good word with that one girl you have a thing for?"

Naruto narrowed his eyes. Well, that changed things. He thought of the new girl with the light pink hair. "Fine. What time?"

Entirely too cocksure, Dean chuckled. "Meet here at 10. I'll bring you a flashlight and a video camera so we know for sure that you spent the entire night."

"Sounds good to me. And Dean, if you fuck me over, I'm gonna tell everyone about what happened in the second grade."

"What happened in the second grade?" asked Akira, looking from one boy to the other, confused. Dean's face went red.

"Whatever, Uzumaki," he said. "Just be here at 10 and don't puss out."

Naruto left with a lazy backward wave of the hand, confident that by tomorrow morning he'd be one hundred and fifty dollars richer and would forever have one over on those boys.

When Naruto arrived home, he didn't receive much in the way of acknowledgment from his grandfather, who was busy watching an episode of Jeopardy! in the living room, calling out all sorts of incorrect answers. Naruto pulled out some stuff for dinner and set it on the counter. While waiting for the chicken breast to thaw, he jogged up to his room and turned on the computer. He tried to look up some information regarding the house and its history on their local newspaper's Web site, but there wasn't much to be found - so he wasn't even sure how Dean had known the exact date of what had happened. It was probably just their lousy attempt at scaring him or something, but Naruto didn't believe in ghosts or even the afterlife. For him, this was just easy money.

After a while, he went back downstairs to the kitchen and made a simple dinner for he and his grandfather, who exchanged very few words as Naruto sat on the couch and he in the chair, watching Wheel of Fortune.

His grandfather was only up for another couple of hours before he announced he'd be going to bed, so as usual, Naruto remained alone in the living room, watching whatever was on TV. Around 8.30, he went upstairs and read through a couple of comics. At 9.15, he started shoving a few things he thought he'd need into his backpack. He brought extra batteries. He also stuffed in a couple of small bags of chips, a bottle of water, a notepad and pen if he got bored, a blanket if it got too cold, and then a roll of toilet paper. He was rather proud of himself for thinking to bring that.

At 9.40, Naruto pulled on a long-sleeved shirt, a hooded sweatshirt and a coat. He had on some thicker socks and blue jeans. He wasn't sure how cold it would get at night, but without any heat, that house was probably going to get pretty damn cold.

He arrived a little bit earlier than necessary at the house, but the group of boys was already there. The temperature had fallen quite a bit, and the sky had turned a murky brown, signaling the possibility of snow, which was rather unfortunate.

"You look like you're goin' on vacation," Dean said, poking at Naruto's backpack. "Did you fit your teddy bear in there?"

"Yeah, that's it. He's in there," Naruto said sarcastically. "Can we get on with this?"

"Fine. Here are the rules." Dean held up a finger. "One, you have to stay inside the house from now until the sun comes up." He put up a second finger. "Two, you have to film as much as possible from now until you leave so we know you were there the entire time. Three, you have to go into each room of the house. Four, you have to bring something back."

"I'm not stealing," said Naruto. "The video should be enough, but I'm not stealin' from a bunch of dead people."

Dean shrugged. "Suit yourself." He gestured for Akira to step over toward them. Dean unzipped the pack Akira had on his shoulder and brought out some heavy tire chains he'd probably stolen from his dad's snowplow business.

"What are those for?" asked Naruto.

"We're putting them on the door, you know, just in case you decide to chicken out."

"I thought you wantedme to chicken out," said Naruto. "And what if there's a fire?"

"It's not like we're lockin' up the entire place. If something happens, you could always," he looked at Akira and Harima, smirking, "bust out a window on the second floor and jump off the roof. You'll probably only break a leg or two."

"How am I supposed to get out in the morning?"

"We'll be here around 6 a.m. to let you out and make sure you're still alive."

"Thanks. You're so considerate," he replied.

Dean laughed at him as he put an arm around Naruto's shoulder and ushered him toward the gate. Harima unlocked it (in a surprisingly easy manner that suggested in a few years he'd be spending time at the state penitentiary) and pushed it open. The walkway that led toward the front of the house was a bit slick. The group was pretty quiet. A car drove by and flashed its headlights across the porch. When they were at the front door, Dean handed Naruto the video camera and a flashlight except that he - not very convincingly - said he'd forgotten batteries for it. Naruto told him not to worry as he'd brought some spare ones.

Dean looked disappointed, though he ruffled Naruto's hair. "You're like a little Boy Scout, Naruto." He leaned forward and whispered in Naruto's ear. "It reminds me of the old days."

Roughly, Naruto pushed him away, and said in a low tone of voice, "I doubt you want your friends to hear about what I remember of the old days."

Dean glared but didn't say anything after that. Naruto glanced up at the house. It was completely dark inside. He wasn't really afraid of the dark, but it would take some time to learn his way around the house and figure out where everything was if all he had as a light source was a cheap plastic flashlight.

Akira made an attempt at opening the door. It was stuck, so it took him a couple of tries before it yanked open and banged against the siding, leaving even more of a dent. Naruto gripped the flashlight in his hand. The video recorder was in his other hand as he took his first step inside. The door shut behind him, and without so much as a word of good luck or goodbye from the other guys. He heard the sound of the chain being put on the door, but he wasn't too bothered.

He turned on the flashlight and pointed it toward the floor, walls, and ceiling. It was just a foyer. The walls were papered in a rich, jewel-toned green. The trim running round the floorboards was darkly stained. The floors looked old, the kind that yuppy couples would pay a lot for. All they needed was a bit of buffing. In its day, the house probably would've been beautiful architecturally. As he took a few more steps into the entryway, there was a wooden bench with a box full of babydolls - the creepy plastic kind, where some of the limbs were missing or only one eye opened and just stared. There wasn't much that freaked him out, but if one of them suddenly went "mama" he'd probably piss his pants.

"What else do we have here?" he asked aloud, as it was far too quiet in here for him to even attempt to get comfortable with his surroundings.

When he pointed the flashlight to his right, there was another room that appeared to be the dining room. There was a massive wooden oval-shaped table, a cabinet with some smashed china, and a crystal chandelier spun on its own above the table. A few framed photos and pictures had fallen onto the floor, while others remained nailed to the wall. He remembered he was supposed to be filming all of this so he turned on the video camera and started recording. One of the portraits on the wall caught his attention. It looked to be an oil painting of a gray scaled dragon taking on a creature that looked like a giant wolf, except the animal's body was engulfed in flames.

"Freaky," he mumbled, running his finger along the dusty frame and got a better look at the details.

The dragon had sunk its sharp, jagged teeth into the wolf's neck, causing a thick spurt of blood to shoot out from the open wound. At the bottom of the painting were knights in armor who lay scattered on the ground. There were long spikes thrust into the dirt, on some of which, were the knights' decapitated heads. It was a very gruesome painting, and Naruto had a hard time figuring out how anyone could eat and also look at art like this and enjoy it. It was like something out of a nightmare.

Justas he was thinking that, he heard the floor creak somewhere behind him, and even though he knew very well that old houses had the tendency to make certain noises, he turned around and shined the light through the doorway. In the same instant that the light blurred across the wall, it appeared as though a shadowy figure passed by in the foyer.

"What the - ?" Naruto was so stunned by it that the flashlight slipped from his fingers and fell on the floor, where it rolled around and flickered several times before going out.

Standing still, Naruto held his breath and listened.

Having talked himself out of the idea that he'd even seen anything, Naruto got on his hands and knees and started searching around on the floor for the flashlight. It hadn't gone very far, having rolled under one of the chairs.

"Please still work," he muttered, finally finding the switch. Thankfully, the light turned on, though it was weaker than before. He flashed it one more time across that awful painting and decided he was ready to move on to the next room.

The other door led him through a short and narrow hallway. On either side were cabinets that probably had served as a pantry. When he opened their doors - one of which was unhinged and broke off when he pulled at it (oops, shit!) - they contained only empty mason jars.

The floor of the kitchen was black and white tile that had been lain at diagonals to one another. The room was bigger than he would've expected. There was a large wooden island in the center, and hanging on wrought iron hooks above it were dulled and rusted utensils - a few knives, some ladles, two large pots and one smaller. He got all of this on camera. There were a lot of cabinets that had been built in and most of them had lost their doors. Surely, they had been at there at some point as he could still see the hinges. There was something odd about this room, though, that Naruto couldn't quite put his finger on. If he had to describe it, he'd say that he had a sense of being watched.

Past the island was a circular table in the corner. There were two chairs, one of which had turned over. Absently, Naruto crouched to right it and pushed it under the table. He left his hand on it as he gave the flashlight another spin around the room. The light reflected off the glass tiles that made up the backsplash behind the sink - which was probably the deepest one he'd ever seen. Suddenly, he felt a breeze at the back of his neck that made the hairs there stand on end. His hand flew to the spot, rubbing the chilled skin.

"Probably an open or cracked window somewhere," he guessed.

The door from the kitchen led to a parlor, big enough for only a couple of clawfoot wingback chairs that smelled of dust and wet fur. There was a rolltop desk in one corner and a floor lamp in another. He sneezed as he ran his fingers across the upper shelf of the desk. Inside the nooks and crannies of it were a few pens and a dried up black ink pad for stamps. The door out of the parlor led him toward a space that, if he went to his left, would have led him back to the foyer where he'd come from; straight ahead was a staircase that led to the second level; to his immediate right was a door that led to the porch in the backyard if it wasn't boarded; and another door to his immediate right that was also heavily boarded, which - if he had to guess - led to a basement or cellar.

Having limited options, Naruto started up the stairs. The wood used for the railing and steps were of similar color - a reddish, chocolate brown. Very masculine and dark, like he'd been transplanted into some old world hunting club. The steps creaked and groaned under his sneakers. Seven steps led to a platform, and as he rounded the railing, in the corner was what appeared to be an antique high chair. Six more steps and he was on the second floor, which was basically a long, narrow hallway with seven doors - three on each side and one at the very end of the hallway. On the walls hung more gruesome portraits. One had a large predatory bird picking at the innards of a mutilated animal carcass lying on the bed of a dried up creek in desert surroundings.

"So much for art that doesn't involve death. I'd swear this house belonged to the Addams family," he remarked to the camera.

As he was standing there, the door behind him on his left squeaked, cracking open. Naruto turned, sending the light down either side of the hallway before hesitantly taking a step toward the door. Slowly, he pushed it all the way open. He kept the light trained inside the room. It flashed back at him when it ran across a body-length mirror.

The furnishings were simple enough: a single bed pushed into one corner, a dresser in the other. There was an antique writing desk that reminded him of the those he'd seen in pictures of old one-room school houses. Then there was this odd mirror that didn't seem to fit in with the other furnishings. The glass was a bit dirty, but the surrounding frame appeared to be in rather good condition. For some reason, he felt a desire to avoid it and went, instead, to sit on the bed, which was covered by a dusty quilt of multi-colored patches in the shape of pinwheels. The bed was firm and not too uncomfortable. Naruto figured that if he was going to sleep at all tonight, he could probably do so here unless the other bedrooms contained something better. But there was - besides that mirror - something interesting about this room as if it felt a bit like home.

He sat for a while, on the edge of the bed, staring out what would've been a nice view of the backyard if the window hadn't been boarded. He could hear the wind howling outside and wondered if it was snowing yet. He cast his backpack off his shoulder and set the camcorder on the desk. He kept the flashlight in his lap, but his eyes had already become somewhat accustomed to the dark. It was then that he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye, a little ball of light that passed by the mirror. Naruto glanced that way, but he figured it had just been the reflection of the flashlight.

"Hm." He stared at the mirror, running his fingers through his hair and tugging at the shell of his ear as if he were working out a puzzle in his head (which he was).

Naruto's conclusion so far about the house was that it was not particularly special. Yes, it was a bit old and yes he could see where it might be a bit creepy in the nighttime, but there wasn't anything that accounted for its haunted reputation. In fact, he was beginning to doubt whether the rumors of a massacre or murder-suicide had any basis. Houses became abandoned, didn't they? When the owners couldn't afford it and had to leave? Or if it had fallen into the hands of out-of-town relatives who didn't want to keep it? Who could be bothered with such a run-down place that would take a lot of money to repair?

Unfortunately, his bladder had more urgent things on its mind. He hadn't run into a bathroom downstairs, so surely there was one up on this floor - whether it was working or not, there at least had to be a toilet, right?

Naruto left his things on the bed, taking only the flashlight with him as he entered the hallway. First, he tried the door across from this one, which led to another bedroom. It was slightly bigger than the previous, but there were no windows and its only furnishings was a bed without a mattress. The next door on that side happened to be the washroom. There was a toilet, a sink, and an old-fashioned clawfoot tub where the feet were in the shape of bronzed talons. He tried not to look at it though, as there was a white shower curtain that ran around it. He didn't even want to imagine what might be inside.

Naruto set the flashlight on the edge of the sink, and just as he was giving a last shake, he nearly jumped when the door slammed shut behind him. It made the flashlight rattle and nearly fall, but he reached for it and caught it with his free hand. Carefully, he set the light back down and adjusted himself and his pants. He listened for a moment and thought he heard footsteps, but if they came from anywhere, it was above his head - as if there were someone wearing heavy boots and walking around in the attic. Naruto held his breath, very much wanting to blame the noise on a raccoon or squirrel except it didn't quite match up with what he was hearing.

For a few minutes he stood there. When all appeared quiet, he blamed his imagination.

"You're letting all those stupid TV shows and movies get to you," he scolded himself, feeling stupid.

Out of habit, he attempted to wash his hands at the sink, but when no water came out of the faucet, he remembered just where he was and wiped his hands down the sides of his jeans. He sighed, picking up the flashlight, and, almost cautiously, turned the doorknob. Naruto poked his head out, peering down one way first and then the other. He did notice that the third door from the end on the left seemed to have opened. He thought all of the doors had been shut previously, but he might've been wrong. He walked across the hallway and into the bedroom where he'd left the video camera. It was odd, though, because he'd thought that he'd set it on the side nearest the bed where he'd been sitting, but now it was on the other side of the desk with he lens pointed in the direction of the mirror.

He picked it up, inspecting it and flipping it around as if he expected it must've grown legs on its own and crawled across the desk. Apparently he'd left it on instead of turning it off, too, since the little record light was flashing. He sat on the bed again, fiddling with some of the buttons until he rewound the recorded footage. It showed what he'd recorded when he'd first walked into the bedroom. He'd cut it off right before he'd removed his backpack. When he was about to stop the footage because it had slipped into static, the video came back on after about 10 seconds. It had recorded the corner of the room where the mirror was. It went on for about a minute and a half with nothing in particular happening until he heard a loud slam that would've been the bathroom door. At that point, the image on the recorder cut out three times as if there had been interference and then it returned to normal.

Perplexed, Naruto replayed it at least three more times trying to figure out how that was even possible. He was pretty sure of where he'd left the damn thing in the first place, and he was just as sure that he'd turned it off. He didn't want to waste the battery on it, and considering it had also recorded him re-entering the room and walking in front of it, he could estimate that the time the footage started to cut out was about the same time he'd heard those footsteps in the attic.

"Strange," he murmured, wiping his hand across his upper lip, where some sweat had gathered.

It was the first incident he really could not rationally explain, but being the most stubborn person in the world, he ignored his doubts and decided to explore the other rooms, because as soon as he got everything on film, maybe he could just take a nap for the rest of his time here in the bed. With the camcorder and flashlight in hand, Naruto went out into the hallway. He flashed the light on the stairway first and then proceeded to the second bedroom he'd already gone inside. He aimed the camera at the bed, which was only the frame and box springs.

There was a peculiar, heavy feeling about the room, but he assumed that had to do with the fact the ventilation was so poor given there was no window. The light zigzagged over the walls, which were covered in cracked and peeling pale yellow wallpaper. Next, he approached the closet. When he opened its door, there were only a few wire hangers dangling; a rubber kickball; and a large shoebox. Naruto crouched, setting the camcorder near his leg as he opened the shoebox, which contained a leather-bound photo album. It was covered in dust, and as he wiped it off the cover, he sneezed into his sleeve of his coat twice. On the front was a monogram, just the letter U. He had no idea if that was attributed to a first or surname.

"Ha, but we would've sat next to each other in class if it's your last name," he joked as he turned to the first page.

The first photo - all were black and white - was of the house as it looked in its former glory. The next few pages were of the sprawling acreage behind it, where there apparently was once some sort of cornfield. There were also pictures of a nearby cemetery that Naruto was familiar with, as he'd walked through it several times. Some of the gravestones dated back more than 200 years. The pages after, however, made him rather sick to his stomach. They were a family of four. Where their faces should've been, there were only gaping holes as if they'd been burnt out by a cigarette. Every photo was like that. Considering the way the parents and their two children were dressed, he assumed the photos dated back to the early 1900s (history wasn't his greatest subject though). It started off with the two boys as infant and toddler and progressed until the youngest boy appeared to be around Naruto's age. The other seemed quite a few years older by his build. He wished he could see their faces. Perhaps he should have been recording this, but it was still someone's private family photo album. Immediately, he considered that Dean and the other boys might try to come in and steal it, so he thought it best to leave it alone. Slightly disgusted and presuming that some previous person such as himself had had the gall to ruin these photographs, he, respectfully, placed the album back in the box, covered it with the lid, and stuck it a corner. He picked up the ball. It was like one they used for dodgeball when he was in grammar school. Naruto set it on the floor and kicked it about, juggled it from his foot to his knee and back (he'd been on the high school soccer team for one season before he realized his fellow teammates didn't really want him on the team no matter how talented he was).

He grabbed the camera and continued to record once he headed into the hallway again. Briefly, he recorded the bathroom. He did not go inside it though, and, instead, remained in the doorway as he cast light over the floor and tub curtain. When he thought he heard a noise on the stairway, however, he stopped filming and listened. It didn't sound so much like a footstep as it did a shuffle, or like someone was dragging one of their feet. But a minute passed and there were no other sounds.

He continued his way down the right side of the hallway. The door next to the bathroom led to a particularly small room that might've been an office or nursery. There was no furniture to speak of, and there was no window either. As he stood in the doorway, Naruto felt a strange chill. In fact, when he exhaled, his breath had turned to mist that floated inside the room. As he ran the flashlight across the wall, there was some sort of graffiti in black paint that had left splattered, dripping dots that bled as far as the floor. It appeared to be the person's tag or a random scribble - what he saw meant nothing to him so, with a shrug, he closed the door and went into the next room, which was the largest of the bedrooms so far.

There he found a double bed placed in the center of the wall, where if he were to lie down on it, he would've been able to gaze out the window (again, boarded). The bed was covered in a reddish, velvety duvet that smelt of mildew and moth balls. Naruto stepped further into the room, but as he reached the side of the bed, he felt very distinctly that if he were to look over his shoulder at that very second, someone would be there behind him. Again, his breath came out visible, and the hair at his neck was standing up. Naruto shuddered at the cold feeling, dropping both arms to his sides. He felt paralyzed, unable to go forward, unable to get himself to look behind. It wasn't that he was startled, but he suddenly was left with the impression that whatever was there watching him had a very deep desire to cause him harm. He swallowed hard.

"Um, hello?" he got his voice out, though it'd cracked.

Finally, he was able to turn his head over his shoulder, but there was nothing there.

When Naruto had agreed to come into this house, he had done so with the certainty that he did not believe in ghosts or demons or afterlives and all that... but with almost 100 percent certainty, he knewsomeone had just been behind him in the doorway and they did not want him in this house. Even so, he continued filming the bedroom. Opposite the bed was an ornate vanity of stained maple wood with a large oval-shaped mirror. The cushion of the chair looked as if it had been nibbled at on the corners - by mice or rats - which was very likely, considering he'd seen their droppings in the kitchen. Needless to say, he was very much anxious to be done with investigating the rooms, and he also thought it might be a good idea to grab the spare batteries and keep them in his pockets in case the flashlight were to run out on him.

The next room - the only one without a door - was actually more of a closet, except when he shined the light on the ceiling, there appeared to be a hatch, which if he were to pull it now, he'd be able to climb inside the attic. Naruto stared up at the hatch for some time, the light trained on it as if he expected to open of its own accord any second. He licked his lips and noticed his hand was trembling.

"It's no big deal," he said. "It's just an attic. A creepy, old attic where there are probably a bunch of dead bodies, but an attic nonetheless."

He must've stood there for a good ten minutes trying to will or bully himself into going up there, but no matter what, he just did notwant to go. Biting his lip, Naruto cursed himself inside his head for being such a coward and being so stupid as to think there was anyone in this house besides himself and, at the most, a nest of vermin.

Upset with himself, he walked of this bedroom and went inside the final room, which, if the idea of the attic hadn't creeped him out enough, Naruto's pulse went from sort of anxious to I need to fucking get out of here as soon as possible. There were pentagrams that had been spray-painted on the walls in red paint. There was also one right in front of his feet, and when he saw it, he immediately stepped back. There was writing, too, on the walls; 666 had been repeated several times. There were inverted crosses. Ghosts, demons, that crap didn't bother him, but what really got to Naruto was this image that there was obviously a fucked up group of people who managed to get inside the house and write this shit all over the walls with the intent to... he had no idea. He felt disgusted by it, more than frightened. This had been someone's home, after all, and whatever tragedies it had seen, the family didn't deserve this sort of treatment. What pissed him off even more was that above the fireplace - as this room had obviously been a study or library as there were several tall bookshelves around the room, a desk, and leather chairs like the ones in the downstairs' parlor - there had been a family portrait, but like the album he'd found earlier, the faces of each family member had been gouged out.

"Fuckin' assholes," Naruto muttered angrily as he looked about at everything, all those personal items strewn across the floor.

He almost couldn't be bothered to record the room, but he felt obligated to for whatever reason, as if he was trying to capture on film how low humanity would stoop.

Sighing, Naruto closed the door behind him as he left, his fingers lingering longer than necessary on the knob. He went back into the bedroom where he left his pack and pulled out his water and bag of chips. He sat on the edge of the bed a while, sipping at his water and munching his chips while staring at the recorder, which he'd set on the desk edge nearest him (and not pointed in any way at the mirror).

He felt as if he needed to calm down a bit. He didn't know why going into the other room had worked him up so much - had made him so angry and depressed. If people like that even tried to get into the house while he was here, he would teach them a lesson on how to show a little respect -

Oh wait...

Wasn't he doing about the same by trespassing and filming everything? Sitting in this very bed that used to belong to one of those kids he'd seen in the album? Too bad not a single photo had been left unaltered. He wanted to know what they had looked like so badly! Whose room was he in now? The oldest or youngest son?

He lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, feeling his eyelids grow heavy. Once, he glanced at the mirror, thinking he'd seen something out of the corner of his eye. It was weird how the mirror of all things he'd seen in this house, seemed to fit the least. Naruto dozed, he didn't know for how long, when the sound of a loud banging noise downstairs startled him awake. He shot up in bed, nearly knocking the flashlight to the floor but caught it before it fell. The crash had been considerable, nothing like the other noises he had heard earlier. There was definitely something or someone down there, and, only able to think of those assholes who had gotten a kick out of desecrating this poor family's home, he determinedly made his way downstairs.

On the first floor, he stopped in front of the door leading to the parlor, listening quietly for a moment before proceeding into the room. He thought he heard another noise from the kitchen, that scuffling noise he'd heard before on the steps. As soon he stepped through the threshold and inside the kitchen, his flashlight went out and he was left in the dark. His heartbeat thumped in his ears. Naruto looked about him while shaking and slapping the flashlight in the hopes it'd come on again.

"Shit!" He said it under his breath, panting a little.

The thought of going from here up to that room in the dark to get the spare batteries didn't excite him much, but as he was about to turn around to do it anyway because he had no other choice, the flashlight came back on. However, right in front of his very eyes, a face appeared close to his, making him scream out like a little girl. Naruto scrambled backward, tripping over one of the chairs as he tried to hold onto the table for support. He bumped into the edge of the table as he fell, smacking his head hard on it as he slipped on the tiles, the flashlight rolling across the floor.

The figure in the darkness bent to pick it up and shined it in his face.

"Boo," it said, and Naruto, his head barely lifted off the floor let it drop and hit the tiles with a thud.

The light was still in his face.

"W-who are you?" he asked, holding his hand up to keep the light out of his eyes.

"Get up."


"Are you deaf? I said get up."

Clumsily, Naruto got up and could already feel a dull ache at the back of his head. He rubbed it as he stared at the person still shrouded in darkness. He was as tall as Naruto, near the same age, but with a deep voice that had made him want to spring to his feet like a soldier when he spoke.

"Here." The other boy handed him his flashlight.

Naruto frowned, but he took it and was unable to keep from shining it right back in the teen's face. He was pale - almost to a sickly extent - and he had shaggy dark that parted in the middle. Longer pieces framed his face while it was short and spiky in the back. He wore a red hooded sweatshirt and a black coat over that, jeans, tennis shoes. If he had gone to Naruto's high school, he would've recognized him, but he was sure he'd never seen this person before.

"Are you going to flash that light in my face or explain what you're doing in this house?" he asked Naruto, and there was nothing friendly about his demeanor.

"Both maybe?" Naruto laughed awkwardly. "Er." He dropped his hand away from the back of his head and shifted from foot to foot. "I'm here on a dare," he confessed.

The boy snorted. "Of course. Another one of you losers."

Near snarling, Naruto stepped toward him and jabbed the end of the flashlight at his chest. "I am nota loser, and if you're so great, what the hell are you doing here, and... hey wait, how did you get in? Isn't the front door chained?"

"You think the front door's the only way to get in?"


"You're trespassing."


The boy pushed the flashlight away. "You are trespassing on private property. Does this house belong to you?"

"Well uh," Naruto looked around the room anxiously. "No.. but it's not like it's yours either!"

The teen smirked. "Would you be willing to bet on that assumption?"

"I think I'm already at my betting limit for one night." Naruto folded his arms behind his head.

"My family owns this house, and as someone has been walking inside with a flashlight, I came to check it out."

"Those bastards!" cried Naruto. "Did someone call your family? That asshole! I knew he was setting me up. Listen, I wasn't gonna do anything. I was bet that I couldn't stay here 'til sunrise and that's all."

"Am I supposed to care? You're still trespassing on my family's property."

"You... want me to get out then?"

"No. I thought you could stay, and I could offer you some tea. Are you a total idiot?"

Naruto winced. "It's been suggested."

The boy stared at him a long while. "How much were you bet?"

"One hundred and fifty."

"I'll let you stay…but you have to split the money with me."

"What?" Naruto squawked, tapping the flashlight, again, on the other's chest. "Ineedthat money, dammit!"

The boy crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes.

Naruto stomped his foot. "Fine!" He couldn't stop staring at the teen.


"It's nothing," he replied. "It's just, like... aren't you scared being here, alone in the dark?"

"Why would I be?"

"Hm. Say," Naruto grinned. "What do you think about checking the attic with me?"

"Don't tell me you're too scared to investigate the attic by yourself?"

"No! It's just that... I've heard some weird shit up there, and not that I believe in ghosts, but I also don't want to be mauled by some wild animal who's starving and trapped up there."

"And if that were to happen, you expect me to be the type to help you?"

"Well if some rabid raccoon happens to put me in a coma, I'd have a hard time splitting the money with you... uh. What's your name?"

The boy lifted his chin in a haughty manner, and the light caught his eye, causing it to flash like a cat's. "Shouldn't you tell me yours before asking mine?"

"Oh yeah, sure. Sorry 'bout that." Naruto held out his hand. "I'm Naruto," he said. "Naruto Uzumaki."

After a delay, the boy took his hand and shook it, his own hand rather cold. "Sasuke."

As they were going up the stairs - Sasuke was following behind - Naruto felt rather embarrassed about just how much better it was to have another person with him in this house.

"So," he said as Sasuke hadn't said anything at all since the kitchen. "Can I ask you a couple of questions?"


"Uh. Okay then."

He had left the camcorder inside the bedroom. He went inside and snatched his water bottle from out of his pack and took a long drink. He offered the bag of chips to Sasuke, who remained standing in the doorway. "Want some?"

"No thanks."

"What, are you a vampire? Do you need to be invited in?"

"No. I'm trying to get over how comfortable you've made yourself in someone else's home."

"Well it's not like you live here, right?" He wiped his mouth. "I don't mean any disrespect."

"Right. Breaking and entering is a hobby for you then?"

"Ha! Not really. So, do you know much about the history of this house?"

Sasuke was staring at the mirror with a frown and looking mildly uncomfortable. "Some."

Naruto waited a while before asking impatiently, "And?"

Sasuke sighed. "Andit's none of your business."

"When you put it like that, it only makes me even more curious. But, you know there are personal artifacts still in this house, right? Pictures and stuff, but it looks like someone defaced them."

"Like I said, you think you're the first person to come in here because of all those stupid rumors? Such small-minded people in this town. Everyone's the same, and all of them are so predictable."

"I didn't hear a car drive up outside, and you didn't have any snow on you when you came in... but I don't think you live in town, do you? How did you get here?"

"That also falls under none of your business," Sasuke said coldly.

Naruto packed his things into his bag. "Alright then. Let me grab the video camera and we can get this over with."

"You're filming everything?" asked Sasuke, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah. Why?"

Sasuke shook his head.

Naruto bounced off of the bed and offered Sasuke the flashlight. "You wanna be in charge of this?"

Sasuke glanced at it as if he didn't know what the hell it was, and then took hold of it without a word before walking into the hallway. Naruto followed him. As they passed the room with all the Satanic stuff on the walls, he remarked: "It's a shame what people think they can get away with. I mean, do people really think drawing all that crap will make something happen?"

"People believe what they want to believe to fill the gaps in their own intellectual depravity."

"Uh. What?"

The floorboards creaked underneath as they neared the end of the hallway. The door to the master bedroom was open an inch or two. Sasuke paused when he noticed it and, reaching for the knob, quickly shut the door. Naruto thought it odd, but didn't say anything.

They entered the small space with the hatch that led to the attic. Sasuke reached for the dangling cord and yanked on it, revealing the folded ladder they would have to climb.

"You must go to one of the private schools around here, right?" Naruto asked.

"Why do you say that?" Sasuke straightened the ladder and started up without any hesitation.

"Dunno. You don't seem like you belong in this town. You're smart... you're just different."

Sasuke stopped half way up the ladder to glance at him. "I could say the same about you, minus the part regarding intelligence."

"Hey!" Naruto shouted, and as Sasuke disappeared into the attic opening, so did the light. Naruto was left in utter blackness. "Wait a second!" He scrambled up the ladder.

When Naruto reached the top and poked his head into the hatch, everything was dark. He couldn't see Sasuke or the glow of the flashlight.

"Sasuke?" he called, but there was no response.

For a minute or two, Naruto stood there, trying to listen for Sasuke's footsteps. He thought he heard something in one of the far corners. He turned his head to the left and was sure he'd seen a shadowy figure crouching, maybe ten feet away from him.

"Hey, asshole! Do you mind turning the flashlight back on?"

Naruto pulled himself all the way up through the opening, which wasn't very large and as he couldn't see anything, he had no idea what he was even crawling into, but the floor seemed fairly sturdy as he stood on it, waiting for his eyes to adjust. There was so much junk up here, he didn't know which way to go without knocking into something. He was sure that Sasuke was pulling a prank on him, so despite his racing heart, he decided to go ahead and film. It cast a subtle green glow into the space. He was able to navigate a little ways into the attic, semi-afraid he'd forget where the hatch was and fall right through it. He was gonna kick Sasuke's ass as soon as he got a hold of him. The attic remained deathly silent and as he proceeded, it became cold enough that he started to shiver. He stopped, though, when he thought he felt someone glide by his side and brush against his arm.

"Sasuke," he said and waited. He tried to reach out his hand to grab whoever it was, but there was no one there.

Shortly after, he heard a drawn out screeching that caused his heart to drop into his stomach. It was the sound of the ladder being hastily folded. Then the hatch shut with a bang. Naruto froze. He thought he heard footsteps coming toward him, heavy and quick, but he couldn't pinpoint from what direction they were coming. Suddenly, he felt something like icy fingertips at his throat, and they started to squeeze. Naruto tried to cry out, but no sound came as he gasped for air, attempting to pry the fingers from his throat when there was absolutely nothing there to grab onto. The video camera fell from his grasp as he fell hard onto his knees, certain he was about to die. As he collapsed onto the floorboards, the pointy edge of a box jabbed into his side. Everything went gray and fuzzy and he was sure he was dead.

When Naruto next opened his eyes, everything was still dark, but he knew he was no longer in the attic. Water dripped from a pipe somewhere, splattering into what sounded like a plastic bucket. The ground was cool concrete underneath him. He felt different somehow. Lighter - as if he were floating outside his body. He touched his face, running the backside of his fingers over his cheeks.

Something was nearby, watching him. He couldn't move. Whatever it was, it started dragging itself toward him, its limbs scraping across the floor. He wanted to yell for help, but he couldn't. Even in the darkness, he saw its outline as it crawled over, aware that he was now awake. He wanted to close his eyes and shut it out. Nearer and nearer it drew until he could feel it rasping in his ear. Its breath smelled foul, like rotting flesh. Its hair - long and dark - covered his shoulder, making the bile rise into his throat.

"Stay... out... of... the... basement." The words were gasped into his ear. "Get out… of here."

Naruto could only open his mouth to scream silently as its nails started to claw the sides of his face.

Naruto flew into a sitting position, grabbing hold of his throat as he choked on a soundless scream. He was hyperventilating. Where was he? Something climbed on top of him, pinning him down.


He continued to struggle. There was a tiny trace of light to the side of his head, set atop the desk. He could only blink at it, the tears blurring his vision as he lay there, mouth gaping. Something wet hit him in the face. He looked up and got further doused by the remaining contents of his water bottle.

"W-where," he coughed, "Where am I?"

"You don't remember." Sasuke was straddling him, still pinning his shoulder to the bed.

Naruto shook his head, although it had been said more as a statement than a question. "What happened?"

He blinked several more times. The face above his came into better focus. Naruto licked his lips.

"Sasuke," he said, feeling some of the panic begin to rise up again. He needed to get out of this room, out of this house! At any fucking cost!

Sasuke looked down at him, leaned back, and put the bottle aside. His expression was unreadable.

"You had a bad dream," he said.

Naruto shook his head. "…A dream?"

"We were in the attic. The batteries went out in your flashlight. I heard a loud thud, and when I went over to you, you'd fainted apparently."

"Oh…" The flashlight. Shit. He had forgotten to replace the batteries. Everything was muddled in his brain. Sasuke slipped off of him and moved to the side of the bed closest to the wall, looking toward the boarded window.

"We used to come here when I was little," Sasuke said suddenly, his voice so low Naruto almost couldn't hear him. "My parents, my brother and me."

Naruto studied him as he spoke, the boy's expression sorrowful and somehow angry.

"The house used to be in a lot better condition back then, but we went away for a while and it couldn't be taken care of any longer. People started to break in and steal things." Sasuke's expression became even darker. The flashlight, positioned on the corner of the desk, allowed Naruto to see a reflection of it in the mirror. "We were really happy."

"You're not happy now? Did something happen?"

Sasuke's gaze slid to him, and he smirked in a manner that made Naruto uneasy. "I wouldn't say I'm entirely unhappy."

"You're sort of creepy, y'know that?"

Sasuke barked out a laugh, startling him a bit. "Hn. I've been called worse."

Naruto tried to sit up on his elbows. "I think there's something really wrong with this house."

"Why do you say that? I thought you didn't believe in ghosts."

Naruto sat up more fully and leaned against the wall, his head back as he gazed at the ceiling. "Sometimes I have these dreams." He looked at Sasuke. "Bad dreams."

"Like the one you had just now."

"Yeah. In this one, I was told not to go in the basement." Remembering what he saw, he touched his hand to his cheek, but it was smooth - no scars. Although he could easily recall the way its nails had started to claw into him. He'd felt the pain.

"And who was it in your dream that told you not to go in the basement?" Sasuke asked with some interest.

Naruto shrugged. "I didn't see them clearly other than to know they were pale. It spoke in a man's voice. He'd dragged himself across the floor, like he couldn't walk. It was… terrifying."


"When I was younger, I'd have night terrors. Sometimes I walked in my sleep even. I'd wake up and not know how I got there. Other times I'd wake up in bed, but I wouldn't be able to move or speak." He looked back at the ceiling, twiddling his thumbs in his lap. "It started shortly after my parents died. It doesn't happen as much now except when I'm feeling stressed."

"I see."

Naruto's laughter was forced. "Sorry to unload on you. I doubt you care, but it makes me sort of calm down a bit to talk it out. Sorry."

Sasuke's only response was another indecipherable glance.

"Ah!" He nearly jumped on Sasuke as he grabbed for his arm. "The video camera! I think I dropped it up in the attic!"

"I'll go get it." Sasuke started to move off of the bed, but Naruto grabbed his wrist, but, just as quickly, let it go. "Sorry… I don't know why I did that."

Sasuke smirked at him. "Scared to be left alone?"


"Maybe you should be."

Sasuke left without asking to use the flashlight, not that Naruto would have really wanted to give it up.

A few minutes passed, and Naruto thought he heard footsteps coming from above his head.

"Find it?" he shouted, but, as expected, there was no reply, not even a stomp on the attic floor. After about five minutes, the footsteps stopped altogether, and shortly thereafter, Sasuke was in the doorway, camcorder in hand. He set it near the edge of the desk, and Naruto almost opened his mouth to ask if Sasuke wouldn't set it there, or would at least point it away from the mirror. But it seemed so stupid that he didn't even bother.

Sasuke gave him a strange look.

"What?" he asked.

"Have you ever tried an Ouija board, Naruto?"

"No. Of course not."

"Not even when you were little?"

Naruto blinked at him. "Why are you asking?"

Sasuke shrugged. "Only curious." He passed through the glare of the flashlight, making his shadow jump across the wall. He hovered by the end of the bed, running his hand over the curved bar of the iron bedframe.

Naruto eyed the fingers. They were long and graceful, almost like a woman's. Or maybe it was the movement. Sasuke, he had noticed, had a very aristocratic manner about him. Or was self-entitled a better way to describe his behavior? It's why he'd assumed the teen went to a private school.

"When I was little," Sasuke started to say, "I couldn't sleep very well at night either."

"You had bad dreams, too?" asked Naruto.

Sasuke cocked his head to the side as if listening for some noise. It was seconds later before he replied, "No. I just could not get to sleep."

"You were an insomniac?"

"You could say that. I'd wander the house at all hours. I grew to love the night time, when it was dark, and everybody else was asleep."

"That explains why you can walk around here so easily without a light. I'd probably piss myself just walking down the hallway." Naruto grinned.

Sasuke laughed, low-pitched and like a rumble.

"What time is it, by the way?" asked Naruto.

"About 3.15."

"Wow, is it really that late?" Naruto scratched the side of his head. "How long was I out for?"

Sasuke shrugged. He'd moved from the bed and had begun pacing about in the room as if restless, though it didn't show on his face. He'd move from the bed to the window to the mirror to the desk and then around again.

"Something wrong?" Naruto asked him.

Sasuke stopped. "Why do you ask?"

"You won't stop moving. It's makin' me a little nervous."

"I was thinking about your dream."

"What about it?"

"Wouldn't you like to see what's in the basement?"

Naruto swallowed. "Not… really."

Sasuke nodded at the camera. "But what will your friends say? The ones who bet you?"

"They're not what I'd call friends."

"Is that so."

"They're just your average cliché school bullies. One of them, that guy Dean, who I thought had tipped you off that I was here so you'd arrest me or something…" Naruto shook his head. "Anyway, I've known him a long time. We were neighbors. At least up until my parents' accident."

"What happened to them?" asked Sasuke as he slid his hands into his jean pockets.

"Car crash. Some drunk driver t-boned their car when he didn't stop at the light."

Sasuke jerked his chin up, mumbling to himself, "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."


Sasuke brought out his right hand and lifted it, his palm flat out as if testing for rain. "I was just thinking of my brother, and how when we were both younger, he would read to me when my parents were too busy for it."

"You have a brother?"

Something like a shadow crossed over Sasuke's face. "Had. He's dead."

"Guess we're the same a bit," said Naruto, smiling sadly, but Sasuke said nothing.

Time seemed to go by very slowly at that point. Eventually, Sasuke appeared to rouse himself from his thoughts.


They looked at one another.

"Yeah?" he said.

"Come downstairs in a few minutes, and I'll show you the basement."

Before Naruto could protest again, Sasuke grabbed the video camera from off of the desk and left the room. The steps creaked as usual as he went down the stairs. Naruto was left there alone, the flashlight shooting between himself and the mirror. Every fiber of his being was warning him against this, but he didn't want Sasuke to think he was some big chicken.

After a few minutes, Naruto got up, grabbed the flashlight, and made his way downstairs, where he found the basement door thrown open. The boards that had blocked it earlier in the night lay in a pile on the floor. He cast the light down the stairs, but the darkness was so thick, it didn't penetrate. There was a second of hesitation as he stood at the top of the stairs, trying to make out what might lie below. He took his first step, a second, a third, and then the door slammed shut so hard behind him that he lost his grip on the flashlight and could only curse as it tumbled down the rest of the way, flickered, and went out.

He had two options - go back, hope the door would open or go down and try to find the flashlight. Naruto rubbed his lips together nervously. On the stairs, he felt safe, though the atmosphere of the basement was a very heavy one. Maybe it was because of the dream, but he couldn't help but picture disfigured bodies crawling around in the darkness, waiting for him to put his feet on the floor.

"Sasuke?" He called out to him. "Seriously. This isn't funny anymore. I can't see a damn thing! I'm gonna trip and break my neck!"

There was no response.

He had no choice now but to go the rest of the way. There was no railing, and he already felt unbalanced. There was a ringing in his ears, making it hard for him to think. He tried to focus on what was in front of him, but his eyes just would not adjust. Once on the hard concrete of the floor, he looked around him. It smelt damp and musty. When he tried to walk, it felt like he'd run right into a mass of spiderwebs. He wiped at his face, but there was nothing there.

"Is anybody in here?" His voice echoed, turned back on him. It sounded so foreign and unlike him.

After a little while, his sneaker kicked something hard and it rolled a little ways. He crouched and searched for it with his fingers. It was the flashlight. He turned it on, and flashed it around the basement. There were a series of arched doorways, leading into partitioned areas. As he snooped around, he found cardboard boxes, ruined from water damage. A fair amount contained empty mason jars that rattled around when he opened the cardboard folds to see what was inside. In one box, the jars weren't empty but contained what looked to be baby snakes, their skin brown and dried up. They weren't scary or anything; rather, they reminded him of the jars he'd kept as a child when he went outside and collected bugs. He shook one, but then he heard what sounded like a small piece of rock hitting the wall behind him. He turned around, shining the flashlight, and saw the pebble. He picked it up and examined it. Naruto looked around for who might have thrown it.

"Is that you, Sasuke? I don't think throwing rocks is gonna scare me."

But as he stood there, a rock came from another direction, and this time hit him in the back. It didn't hurt, but it startled him. He was sure the first one had come from the opposite direction. Did that mean there were two people down here besides himself?

"Dean?" he called, wondering if Dean and Sasuke actually wereworking together to scare the shit out of him. "This isn't funny anymore, guys. I know you're down here, so just come out already!"

There was a quiet clicking noise that went off very close, as close as if someone had just snapped their fingers in his ear. He'd even winced on reflex. He spun around in a circle, the light whirring across the walls. Naruto stopped, though, when the light reflected back at him from a mirror in the section of the basement behind the stairs. He went over to it. It was almost identical to the one in the bedroom, but this one had been draped with a lace cloth that looked like a black bridal veil. He removed it and let it slip to the floor by his feet. As he gazed at the reflection, it was as if there was someone standing behind him. Startled, he looked over his shoulder, but there was no one there. When he looked at the mirror again, it showed him holding something shiny in his right hand. Naruto brought his hand to his face then looked at the mirror.

"The fuck...?"

He kept looking from the mirror to his own hand. Was he hallucinating all this? He touched his fingers to the glass to figure out if there was some sort of trick going on. Nothing extraordinary to speak of. Cold fingers brushed the back of his neck, making him jump. He turned around and found Sasuke standing in front of him. He was about to open his mouth and shout -

"What's that in your hand?" asked Sasuke, his face unnervingly blank.

"What? You mean the flashlight?" He prodded Sasuke in the chest with it.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Sasuke started to back away from him.

"What do you mean what am I doing, what the fuck did you think you were trying to pull?"

"Naruto... Why do you have that in your hand?" He gestured at the object.

"It's a flashlight, asshole!"

"But I have the flashlight," said Sasuke, holding it up for him to see.

"Huh? I'm not an idiot. I know what a flashlight looks like." He waved it in front of the both of them, but when Naruto actually looked at it, he wasn'tholding a flashlight at all. He was holding a shiny-looking pistol. "Oh God," he said and dropped it on the floor.

"Idiot. What if that had gone off? You could've killed one of us." Even though the flashlight was shining directly into his face, Naruto could see that Sasuke was smirking.

"Where the hell did that come from?" Naruto stared at the gun on the floor. He looked from Sasuke to the gun to the mirror and back to Sasuke. "What is going on here?"

Sasuke crouched to pick it up. He pointed it at Naruto, but not for very long. He flattened his palm, holding it out for Naruto to take.

"It was my father's," said Sasuke. "Or, well, it was my father's, and then it was my brother's. They both collected guns. Went hunting together. I was too little at the time to go out with them."

"Why do you have it now?" Naruto asked, taking a few steps back.

Sasuke cocked his head to the side as he stared at him calmly. "I didn't. It was in your hand, wasn't it?"

"No! I've never touched a gun in my life. I have no reason to!" As he backed up even further, he stumbled into the mirror.

"No. I suppose not." Sasuke started to smile. "You said we're alike, but we're actually very different, you and I."

"What do you mean?" Naruto rubbed his sweaty hand against the side of his jeans.

Sasuke only shrugged at him.

"Are you crazy or something? Just who the hell are you?" His heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest any minute.

As Sasuke approached him, he kicked the gun toward Naruto.

"Cut it out! Don't come any closer!"

"Or what?" Sasuke took another step forward, expression dark and dangerous. Like he was really about to fuck Naruto up and no one would even know his body was down here.

Naruto scrambled for the gun, clutched at it, and pointed it at Sasuke. "I don't know why you're doing this, but if you just let me out of the house, we can forget all about this." His hands were shaking as he gripped the gun with both hands.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" asked Sasuke as he stood in front of the mirror. "If you shoot me, you shoot yourself." He turned the mirror so that Naruto could see it.

When Naruto glanced at it, even knowing that the gun was pointing at Sasuke that very second, in the reflection of the mirror it looked as though he had it pointed at his own head.

"You've probably never killed someone before," said Sasuke. "It's a pretty amazing feeling. So what's reality? What you see with your eyes or what you see in the mirror?"

Naruto frantically shifted his gaze from the mirror to Sasuke and at his own hands. He could feel the gun. The metal was cool against his skin. He felt his finger on the trigger. He felt the weight of it! So, why the fuck did the mirror show that? He would never kill himself! Not in a million years!

Before he knew it, there were fingers wrapped around his throat, so cold, but it felt like they were searing into his skin, leaving marks.

"I wonder what would happen if you pointed the gun at your own head?" Sasuke was suddenly behind him, whispering in his ear. He let go of Naruto's throat and grasped the hand holding the gun, wrapping his fingers around Naruto's while pulling the gun up so that it was pointed at the side of his head.

Naruto couldn't stop shaking. "S-stop," he said.

Sasuke's laughter was so cold and maniacal. "Stop? Why would I stop? Don't tell me you've never thought of it! You're miserable here, aren't you? Everyone hates you, Naruto. Those three boys aren't going to pay you for doing this, they were just fucking with you because they think you're pathetic!"

"I'm not pathetic!" he shouted and tried to get away, but Sasuke yanked him against his body. The flashlight fell to the ground and rolled in front of the mirror, the light directed at their feet.

"Then pull the trigger."


"Pull the trigger, Naruto."

"I won't!" Naruto elbowed him in the chest, but it didn't even faze Sasuke. He grabbed hold of Naruto's wrist and pulled it tight against his back, making him cry out from the pain. "What did I do to you to deserve this?"

"Nothing," answered Sasuke, his breath ghosting across the back of Naruto's neck, making him shudder. "But with any luck, if you pull the trigger now, it won't be you that dies, but me... or maybe this is just one of your bad dreams?"

Naruto shook his head.

"Why do you have to be so stubborn?" Sasuke shouted at him furiously, jamming his wrist even harder into his back. "You're just like them!"

"Who?" Sasuke's finger pushed on his, forcing the trigger half way. "Wait!" Naruto cried out. "Wait! Please, Sasuke!"

"What's the point? We all die eventually, right?"

"No... I don't... I don't want to die!" He shut his eyes, feeling the tears burning wet trails over his cheeks.

Sasuke shifted behind him and released his arm. He touched one of Naruto's cheeks, wiping away a tear with his thumb.

"Your last name..." Naruto murmured. "What is it?"

"Is this your last request?" Sasuke snorted and nudged the barrel of the gun against his head.

"It starts with a U, doesn't it?" He couldn't help but picture that leather photo album.

Sasuke sneered. "Ah, you noticed that while you were snooping, didn't you?"

"So, what is it?" he asked again, voice trembling as he felt Sasuke's finger press harder onto his.


The pistol went off. Pop. Naruto crumpled to the ground, glazed eyes open and staring at the mirror, a pool of blood forming underneath and smearing the one side of his cheek pressed to the concrete. Somewhere in the darkness, there was the muffled sound of crying.

Outside, it had started to snow.

In a half hour, it would be dawn.

Snow started to cover the roof of the house in lumpy patches.

Naruto awoke, finding himself in the bed of the upstairs bedroom, with the video camera on the desk, pointing at him and still recording. The flashlight is beside it. He touched his head, then his cheek, and finally, his throat - where he thought he could still feel the indentation of fingers. He was empty, numb. There was nothing going on inside his head as he grabbed his backpack, the video camera, and the flashlight and left the room. The house remained completely silent. At the foot of the stairs, he nearly tripped over the rubber ball. He ignored it, moving mechanically to the front door, which was open as if it had been expecting him. The chain lay on the front porch. The yard, dusted in white, was almost a welcoming sight.

He made his way slowly back to his house - unable to articulate any thoughts other than all he wanted was to be back in his own bed.

Quietly, he entered his grandfather's home and removed his sneakers and coat. He dragged himself to his bedroom, where the first thing he did was turn on the light. Naruto just stared at everything, finding it completely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He pulled off his sweatshirt and - picking up a towel from off of the floor - threw it over the mirror before he had a chance to look at it.

He set the backpack on his bed and started yanking things out of it. He chucked the bag of chips and the empty water bottle into the trash. The blanket he tossed over the foot of the bed. The notepad, toilet paper, and flashlight he left alone. He glanced at the video camera. The recording light was flashing at him. Naruto stared at it as if half afraid. He didn't want to ever look at the footage of what he'd recorded. He wanted to pretend he'd never gone in that house and seen the things he had, but out of some morbid sense of curiosity, Naruto hit the rewind button.

There wasn't much footage. He'd never recorded anything of Sasuke now that he thought about it. It showed him going up into the attic and five minutes into that - the tape had stopped.

"Huh," he said aloud and set the camera to the side as he looked up at the ceiling.

He shut his eyes, drifting in and out of sleep. He was so tired, but the thought of what would come in his dreams made it difficult for him to relax. Even if he knew he was safe now that he was out of that house. It didn't matter whether any of it had been a bad dream or an illusion or...


It wasn't real. It hadn't been real, because, after all, here he was in his own bed.

He glanced at the camcorder, which was still on, showing nothing but static ... except... it went black and then into focus and suddenly he was seeing people inside that larger bedroom upstairs. There are two people lying in bed sleeping. The door opens and someone walks in, moving closer to the side of the bed. The two people sleeping aren't aware. The man in the bed is shot in the head. The woman sleeping beside him wakes up, has just enough time to scream, and is shot directly in the face.

Someone else comes into the room, and, at first, Naruto thinks it's another woman because this person has long, dark hair, but the camera moves in closer and he sees that it's a man in his early 20s.

The person with the gun - his face somehow obscured by the camera - turns as the man enters and shoots him in the leg. The bleeding man starts to crawl out of the room - into the hallway - and is shot in the other leg. The gunner stands above him, points the gun, and shoots him in the back of the head. Blood splatters on the door, the walls, and on the person left standing.

Naruto doesn't know why he continues watching.

The scene changes. It's the bedroom where he spent most of his time.

It's Sasuke. He stands in front of the mirror, his face covered in blood. He smears it across his cheek as he stares at his reflection. Sasuke takes a seat on the edge of the bed and looks out the window, where snow is beginning to fall.

He puts the gun to his head.

The recorded footage cuts out.