**A/N: Wow, I'm all over the place with my projects, aren't I? Well, this isn't an update to "What Is Truly Meant To Be: A Hey Arnold Musical" or my "July Daily Challenges Anthology". However, it IS an update since mid-July, so that should count for something, right?
Anyway, this is my nearly-belated entry in to the Halloween Contest presented on DeviantArt and Facebook. Sent the email at 11:30pm ET on the 27th... when the deadline was 11:59p CT on the 27th... cuttin' it pretty close!
I tried to keep it true-to-show, so they're still nine, there's still that "Is the story true or not" and it's still - supposed to be at least - creepy but not TOO much.
The story concept kept me all month to figure out. I tried and scrapped about 7 other stories in the process. I'm just super bummed that inspiration struck me so late that I just didn't have the time to go back and proofread before submitting. So when I DID go back I found at least a dozen typos. Shoot. I hope I don't end up losing too many points because of it.
Anyway, if you liked this story and want to know more about my writing you can follow me via my blog, the address is on my profile.
LEGAL STUFFS: Hey Arnold is the intellectual property of Craig Bartlett and is owned by Nickelodeon. I just like to borrow their characters and Hillwood to play with for a little while.**
Old Man McKinney
HALLOWEEN CONTEST ONE SHOT
The sun was close to setting on Vine Street. A group of nine-year-olds were all playing outside the Sunset Arms boarding house. A stout man walked up to the boarding house; his hands shoved deeply in his pockets and sporting a heavy slouch that surrendered the few inches of height he had on the children. A large dufflebag filled with construction equipment was slung across his back. He grumbled with a hint of paranoia in his voice.
"Hey, Mr. Potts," Arnold greeted the small man, "You look a little down today, are you alright?"
"Huh?" Ernie Potts broke from his thoughts and looked at the concerned children sitting on the stoop of the building. "Uh, well," he struggled to admit his issue to a group of fourth graders, but the blonde boy always knew how to cheer him up, "Actually, Arnold, things are not alright. See, I'm scheduled to demolish the old McKinney place over on Fourteenth Street, just past the gas station."
"And what's wrong with that?" Arnold's best friend Gerald chimed in on the conversation, "You love tearing down buildings."
"Well, yeah," Ernie admitted, "normally I'd love the job. I always love the job. But see, this place is haunted."
"Haunted?" Stinky called out, gathering the rest of the kids around the stoop.
Ernie uneasily looked at the group surrounding him. "Yeah, haunted. Haven't you kids heard about the Old McKinney place?" A few of the children shook their heads. Ernie climbed to the top of the stairs, turned towards his audience, and began his tale, "See, this guy McKinney was one of those grumpy old sots that loved yellin' at everyone to get off his property, ya know? No one was allowed to go anywhere near his place. Same time, he refused to leave it."
Harold snorted and whispered to Sid, "Just sounds like an older Stoop Kid to me. Big deal."
"Shut up, Harold," Sid scolded, "I want to hear the story."
"The man had gotten really old," Ernie had continued on, "and was on his death bed. His nurse begged for him to just go to the hospital and he still refused to leave. 'This is my home,' he told her, 'and I ain't never gonna leave it. No one else is gonna have it. They're all waitin' for me to die so they can have it, but they never will.' And with that promise the old man died."
The children chattered amongst themselves until Harold grumbled again. "Alright, so the old man died. What's so scary about that?"
Ernie stomped down the stairs, staying on the bottom one so he was nose to nose with the large boy. "Not scary? How about the fact that the old man died seventy years ago and there hasn't been a soul that set foot in that place since. Everyone who's tried claim to have seen McKinney's ghost as he yells for them to get off his property. No one dares go near the place now, for fear of the old man cursing them. That scary enough for ya, kid? You don't mess with the unknown." Ernie turned and headed back up the stairs. With his hand on the door to the Sunset Arms he turned sorrowfully to Arnold and softly whimpered, "And I got to tear the place down. I'm doomed."
With a shake of his head Ernie disappeared in to the house and the kids clamored up the stairs, muttering about the ghost.
"Oh man," Gerald hung his head and shook it out of sympathy, "I'd hate to be Mr. Potts right about now."
"Yeah," Arnold looked intently at the door, as if he could see Ernie through it, "Do you think he'd actually be cursed if he knocked the building down?"
"You guys are morons," Helga started walking away from the group, giving them all a dismissive wave over her shoulder. "Ghosts aren't even real and you dweebs are afraid of them."
Arnold stood up on the top of the stoop and glared down at the pigtailed girl, "Wait a minute, Helga. How do you know that ghosts aren't real?"
Helga turned on her heals and huffed at the question. "What do you mean 'how do I know'? I know because we've been on how many of your stupid ghost hunts and still haven't actually found anything?" She started counting on her fingers. "Let's see, first there was Elk Island where not only didn't we find Wheezin' Ed, but the only treasure we found was a room of counterfeit pennies. Oh, and Brainy. Then we stayed up past midnight to wait for a Haunted Train," Helga said using air quotes, "which ended up being a normal run-down train to the steel mill." She paused to roll her eyes, "Oh yeah, and Brainy. Finally, there was that little trip to the graveyard to look for the Ghost Bride. That one ended up being both me and Curly, but there was no actual ghost." She moved to turn back around to continue walking away, "Face it, Football Head, there are no ghosts. Everything was just Brainy, Curly, and creepy environments."
Arnold stood on the cement banister of his stoop to make sure everyone could see him. "Well, even without any actual ghosts you sure seemed to be pretty scared."
The boys all gave low hoots at Arnold's declaration. Helga stormed through them, shoving them out of her way until she was at the base of the stoop. "You got something to say to me, Arnoldo?"
"I think you're too scared to see if the ghost is real," Arnold dared.
"Doi, of course I'm not scared of something that isn't real."
"Oh yeah? Prove it. Let's meet up at the McKinney house in two hours; right after dinner."
"Fine, you're on." Helga stomped back through the crowd on her way to her house.
As she passed by Harold he snorted a laugh, "Helga is afraid of ghosts! Big, bad, Helga G. Pataki is a little chicken!"
"Oh shut up, Pink Boy," Helga poked him in the stomach, "I don't see you coming with us. Besides, I recall you crying like a little baby when I scared you in the graveyard."
Harold instantly shut up and nervously looked around him. "Oh yeah?" he half-heartedly challenged.
"Yeah," Helga puffed herself up, "So are you coming too, or are you the big chicken?"
"How 'bout everyone who doesn't want to be called 'chicken' show up tonight?" Stinky suggested.
The boys quickly agreed to the challenge.
"I'm not so sure," chirped Phoebe's soft voice, "I mean, it can't be safe to go in to a home that's scheduled for demolition."
"It's alright, Phoebe," Gerald smiled at the little Asian-American, "No one expects any of the girls to show up." He gave a challenging smile to Helga.
"Oh, we're showing up, bucko! And you'll be the ones running out of the house screaming."
"Uh, Helga," Phoebe pulled on Helga's sleeve.
"We're going, Pheebs, got it?"
"Got it," Phoebe unconvincingly agreed.
Arnold, Gerald, Sid, and Stinky were all waiting outside McKinney's brownstone when Helga marched up with a timid Phoebe behind her.
"Alright, looks like Pink Boy is the chicken after all," Helga gloated.
"Give him another minute," Arnold argued, "I mean you just got here."
As if on cue, Harold trembled a little as he walked up to the building. "Alright, alright, I'm here. I'm not chicken, okay? I'm ascared, but I'm not chicken," he whimpered.
"Criminy! Suck it up, man. I keep tellin' ya there are no such things as ghosts, you baby."
"Shut up, Helga!" Harold tried to put on a brave face, but continued to tremble as he pulled his sweatshirt tighter around him.
"Actually, Helga," Phoebe ventured, "Given the multitude of people who have claimed to have witnessed some sort of paranormal activity, plus the fact that every religion has some sort of tale about what happens after you die, it is highly plausible that there actually are such things as ghosts."
"You too, Pheebs?" Helga disapprovingly shook her head, "I'm surrounded."
"Yeah, alright, let's just get going, shall we?" Gerald waved for them to all head in towards the house. Paint on the brownstone was badly weather worn and chipping, leaving the building white with large chunks of the natural brown peeking through like bruises. The windows were boarded up, but some of the broken glass poked through the uneven planks. Ivy grew rampant along the front, crawling around the windows and choking the rusted gutters that were probably only still on the house because of the vines. The wooden steps were busted and slanting to the right with the barely attached banister swaying in the wind. Shingles were missing from large sections of roof, a row of them dangled from the one corner. Bricks were missing from the leaning chimney.
A loud caw startled the group of nine-year-olds, causing each of them to jump and gasp. More caws joined in the chorus as a murder of crows landed on a stretch of gutter that was still securely attached.
"Uh, aren't crows supposed to be a bad omen or something?" Sid hurried towards the center of the group.
"Well, that completely depends on which culture you're referring. The common thought is that they are death omens due to their black color, the fact that they're scavengers, and the famous poem 'The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe. In fact, some cultures even believe that the reason they are scavengers in the first place is because they are soul eaters. Others believe seeing a crow brings bad luck and that one landing on your house brings death to your family." Phoebe rambled as they walked closer to the house, hoping to distract herself with her voice, "Then again, there are also cultures such as the Native Americans who believe the raven to be either a simple trickster or a messenger of the gods and they protect the Sacred Law."
"Oh," Sid muttered, only half paying attention as he eyed the increasing cluster of black birds on the roof of the house.
"Come on, guys," Arnold beckoned, "We're not even in the house yet."
The group carefully climbed the broken stairs to the front door, haphazardly blocked by three large boards nailed across it. Signs warning about the impending demolition were nailed to the boards.
"Oh well," Harold's voice squeaked as he feigned disappointment, "guess we can't get in. No way to know for sure if there's a ghost. Guess we need to just go home now." He tugged on the hem of his shirt, wringing it with his hands.
Arnold responded by cocking an eyebrow before reaching between the boards and effortlessly opening the door. Sliding under one of the planks, he easily entered the house. He looked around a moment before waving the rest of the group in.
"Aw, man!" Harold whined as he followed everyone else in. He got stuck at first, but with a deep breath and a quick tug from Sid he managed to squeeze in to the foyer.
The dark room slowly brightened as the kids each turned on a flashlight. The grey wallpaper was covered in almost indistinguishable floral patterns and runs where the glue dried, the paper curled and frayed at the edges of the tears. The few remaining pieces of furniture were clearly excellent food for termites, raggedy and ready to topple over with the slightest touch. A table was slanted against the floor, its front legs already knocked out from beneath it. Spider webs draped from the ceiling. The sight of them made Helga scratch her head, attempting to knock out fictitious spiders that had gotten in her hair. Gerald gave an involuntary shudder.
"Hey, look." Arnold aimed his flashlight at a set of drag marks through the dust that had piled on the floor.
"It looks like the tracks of someone shuffling through the hall." Phoebe pointed out, "And by the looks of the unevenness and that the tracks aren't straight I'd say whoever made them wasn't very alert."
"See?" Helga pushed to the front of the group. "Didn't I tell you that ghosts aren't real? What ghost would leave tracks like these?"
Sid's eyes darted throughout the room as he wildly swung his flashlight around him, trying to view every inch of the surroundings. "A ghost wouldn't create tracks in dust like that, but do you know what would? Zombies!"
"Sid," Arnold scolded.
"Well, yeah, you're right." Stinky crept up behind Sid, holding his flashlight up to his face to give it an eerie glow. "Maybe Old Man McKinney isn't a ghost, but one of the walking dead!" He shot his hand out to grab Sid on the shoulder, making the tiny boy jump and nearly hit him with his flailing flashlight.
The group laughed for a moment as Sid contested that the prank wasn't funny. Once everyone calmed down Arnold led the group towards an archway in the wall, creating the doorframe for the living room. The room was just as equally covered in grime and spider webs. The wooden furniture had faired just as well against the termites. Some of the ceiling tiles were flaking, adding to the grit on the torn carpet. By the boarded up bay window at the front of the house there was a large, overstuffed couch draped with a white sheet. When Gerald jumped on to the couch a dust cloud erupted from the cushions and draped them in the white powder.
Helga started hacking as she breathed in some of the dust cloud. After a small sneeze fit she turned to glare at the African-American boy. "Hey, watch it, tall hair boy!"
Gerald gave a soft chuckle as he shrugged an apology. He climbed off the couch and started to clean himself off when a loud creaking sound bellowed through the ceiling's missing tiles.
"What was that?" Harold rushed over to Sid and Stinky.
"It sounded like someone trying to slowly open a rusted shut door," Phoebe guessed.
"Mr. McKinney," Arnold excitedly whispered and headed back towards the stairs at the entrance of the house.
"Hey, wait!" Harold called out, "You- you're not going to see what that sound was, are ya, Arnold?"
"Well, yeah. It could be the ghost of Mr. McKinney."
"Wh-what about the rest of the first floor?" The beam from Harold's flashlight shook, "What if the ghost is down here and we miss 'im cause we followed some stupid noise?"
"What's the matter, Harold? You scared?" Sid teased, holding his flashlight up to his face and waving his free hand around. "Look at me, Harold, I'm the ghost of Old Man McKinney and I'm coming to take your soul."
"Cut it out, Sid, please," Harold backed up against a wall and cowered at the base of it.
"Alright, Harold," Arnold chimed in, "If you want to stay down here you can."
"You-you mean alone?" Harold's voice cracked.
"Criminy! Look, we don't have all night to look for this supposed ghost. And since Fat Boy over there-"
"Hey!" Harold protested.
"Is too chicken to follow us upstairs or be left alone down here," Helga continued.
"I'm ascared, but I'm not chicken!" Harold argued.
Helga again ignored him, "I say we just split up in groups. There are three floors and seven of us. We can break up in groups of two and whoever has the bottom floor can keep Fatso." Helga thumbed over her shoulder towards Harold. He huffed his response and pouted.
"Alright," Arnold agreed, "Who's going with who?"
"Well, I'm certainly not staying down here with him," Helga pointed at Harold.
"Yeah, well I wouldn't want to be teamed up with you either." He stuck his tongue out at her.
"I for one would love to do some more exploring and perhaps see the apparition," Phoebe offered.
"Eh, why don't we just stick the Three Chuckleheads together," Helga gestured to Sid and Stinky.
"Yeah, whatever," Sid rolled his eyes. "Come on, Stinky." He started out of the room to inspect the rest of the floor. Stinky followed beside him.
"Hey! Don't leave me here, guys!" Harold jumped up and sprinted after the other two.
"Alright, so now how are we pairing off?" Helga popped a hip and placed her hand on it.
"Well, I'm definitely not going with you," Arnold snapped. Helga flinched, wounded by Arnold's tone, and grateful that the dark hid her reaction.
"Like I wanted to be paired up with you, Football Head."
"So, I guess it's guys and girls," Gerald pointed out.
"Pfft, works for me," Helga grabbed Phoebe's hand and started to pull her out of the room. "Let's go, Pheebs. The faster we get through this house the faster we can prove there's no ghost and I can get home to watch Wrestlemania."
"Coming," the little girl chirped.
The boys gave each other knowing looks before following the girls to the stairs. Each step was unkempt and horribly worn. They moaned loudly with the slightest pressure. The fourth step was already busted through and splintered. The wall holding the staircase had rodent holes nibbled through in two different places. The boys' flashlights projected the girls' shadows as monsters at the top landing.
As they reached the second floor they again heard that muffled, low creaking sound. It was quickly followed by something else that resembled a long cardboard tube being dragged across the floor.
"What is that?" Helga looked around. The sound echoed throughout the dilapidated house.
"That creaking almost sounds like an old rocking chair," Phoebe noted.
"Where is it coming from?" Gerald closed his eyes and turned his head slightly, trying to determine the origins of the sounds.
"I think it's somewhere down that hall." Arnold pointed to the left of them. The corridor was narrow and covered with debris that had fallen down from the caving in ceiling.
"I think it's actually above us," replied Helga and she pivoted towards the stairs to the third floor directly to their left.
"Helga, I really think the sound is here." Arnold asserted.
"Yeah, well, I think it's upstairs, but if you're too chicken to check it out." Helga placed a foot on the bottom step.
"Fine, you're so sure and you're so brave, go ahead." Arnold gestured towards the stairs, "But I think Mr. McKinney is on this floor."
"Oh for crying out- There is no McKinney! And I'm going to prove it," Helga stormed up the stairs. "Enjoy your goose hunt."
"Helga, wait for me," Phoebe scurried up after her best friend.
"You sure it was smart to have them go alone like that?" Gerald nervously watched Phoebe climb out of view.
"Come on. The noise is coming from here, I just know it." Arnold started down the hallway. With a shrug Gerald followed him. They stepped over lose and missing floorboards, discarded books chewed apart by mice, and chunks of drywall that fell from the ceiling. The upstairs plumbing hung down from above them, water still dripping out of the rusting pipes and creating water rotted puddles in the hardwood.
A loud crash came from downstairs, causing Arnold to jump. He tripped and slammed against the deteriorating walls, splintering it slightly and knocking some more drywall on top of him.
"You okay, man?" Gerald helped to right the blonde boy. As Arnold opened his mouth to reply he let out a sneeze instead, shooting more powder all over the both of them. They laughed for a moment before Arnold held up a finger to silence Gerald. They both listened intently. The same creaking noise from before echoed around them, sounding closer.
"This way," Arnold bolted down the hall to a door on the left. He gave some slow, deep breaths as he stood at the door, hand poised at the cold metal handle.
"Hey, wait up!" Gerald shouted from behind him.
The stairs to the third floor were more perilous than the previous ones. Helga pressed against the wall, skirting around three full steps that had rotted through. She tried to ignore the apparent rat nests that lined the closet that was built under the staircase. When she inched on to the top step she swept her flashlight across the top floor. More tacky, turn-of-the-century wallpaper. It was just as ragged and frayed as on the first floor, but this time the pattern was a simplistic series of stripes. Wiping a small portion of the wall and holding her flashlight up to it, Helga noticed that the seemingly gray décor was once a shade of orange. She wiped the lining of soot on her hand off on her dress and inched forward more so Phoebe could walk on to the landing as well.
The hallways were much larger on the top floor; almost twice as wide. Books were scattered across the floor. Phoebe walked up to each of them and delicately tried to close them and stack them, in some failed hope to preserve the tomes. Most were too far gone and nearly ashed as she touched the pages. Helga fought back the desire to weep at the loss.
The hollow sound of a tube being raked across an unfinished floor came from the end of the angled hallway, far to their left. Phoebe gave up her attempt to salvage the books and sprinted to Helga's side.
"I think the sound is coming from down there," Helga pointed with her light.
Holding hands, the girls inched forward. The wind loudly whistled through the broken windows. Huddling closer, they continued inching towards the origins of the creaking sounds.
Suddenly, there was a muffled crash followed by a loud slamming to their right. Both girls jumped a foot back. The weakened floorboards shook and a chunk dislodged. Helga involuntarily pulled Phoebe in to a tight hug as they both darted their eyes around the vacant hallway. She just as involuntarily said "God bless you" when she heard a sneeze from the second floor.
Hearing the muffled sounds of Arnold and Gerald laughing soothed the girls and their grips loosened on each other. Realizing how jumpy they had become, Phoebe and Helga started snickering themselves.
"This is crazy, right? What's there to be nervous about," Helga laughed uneasily.
"Right," Phoebe shakily agreed.
The sound of an old rocking chair resonated throughout the top floor, causing the girls to again grab for each other's hands. Their flashlights shone down the hall, creating a shaky glow on the master bedroom door. With deep breaths they finished their journey, staring at the door.
"Should we open it?" Phoebe asked.
"I think I found the dining room," Stinky yelled for his companions, "But no ghosts."
The room was large with one door leading back to the hallway, and another one leading in to the kitchen. A long, thick table sat in the center with an extravagant crystal chandelier hanging above it. A well-stocked bar tray rested in the corner with the cross hatched glasses darkened by dust, making it hard to see if any alcohol remained in the bottles. A few circles resembling fingerprints smudged the caking on a few of them. The other side of the room held a china cabinet with what looked like finger streaks written in to the filth. The browning, cracked wallpaper had a fancy pattern of open blooms and pheasants.
"We're gonna die," Harold twisted the hem of his shirt around his index finger before tugging it down. "I just know we're gonna die."
"You think there's still something good around here?" Sid walked over to the wobbly china cabinet and tugged on one of the drawers.
Harold whipped his flashlight around the room, making sure nothing could creep up on him. "How long do you think we need to stay here? I mean, clearly the ghost isn't around, right?"
"Aw man, these spoons are all rusty," Sid kicked the china cabinet, causing the whole thing to topple over with a crash.
A moment later there was a loud slam above them. The ceiling shook and the large chandelier dropped on to the dining room table, breaking it in half and showering splinters.
"Look out," Sid yelled as all three boys sheltered themselves from the spray.
"You guys alright?" Stinky scanned the room with his flashlight.
"I'm cool," Sid grunted.
"That was your fault," Harold shouted as he stomped over to Sid, "You messed with Old Man McKinney's stuff and now he's out to get us!"
"Calm down, Harold, I'm sure it wasn't Sid's fault."
"No, we're cursed now. I just knew we were going to die. Why did Arnold have to say we should come here?" Harold turned towards Stinky, "And why'd you have to say that anyone who didn't come here would be chicken?"
"I was just tryin' to help. Helga was the one who called you chicken first."
"Hey guys," Sid interrupted, "Do you hear that?"
The muffled sound of a door slowly being creaked open penetrated the thin ceiling.
"It's McKinney! He's gonna curse us all," Harold hid in the corner, fighting back his whimpers and tears.
Arnold's hand griped the handle and a cold chill ran through him. With a gulp he nodded to Gerald and opened the door. The room was different than the others. The walls were lined with dark red wood. Some of the panels were ripped away, exposing the hollow wall, piping, and wiring. The insulation was either non-existent or stolen by mice in order to make their nests. One of the walls had a bookshelf built in. Most of the books were missing. Those that remained were chewed apart or age-weathered. An old oak desk sat in the center of the room. It seemed preserved in comparison to the rest of the house. The red shag carpet looked snow-covered.
"I don't see a rocking chair." Gerald inspected the room, walking carefully and testing floorboards to make sure they were sturdy. "Or a ghost for that matter."
Arnold was about to argue when they heard a loud tapping. Startled, the boys froze with their backs stiff. Slowly they turned their heads towards the tapping. It was coming from the bay window on the opposite side of the room. Taking deep breaths, Arnold aimed his flashlight at the window.
Between the lopsided wooden panels a long, arm-like shape tapped at the window with boney, foot-long claws. Both boys screamed until Gerald got a decent look at the object.
"Arnold. Arnold. Hey, Arnold!" Arnold turned back from his bolt out of the room and saw Gerald calmly walk over to the window. As the light got closer it became strong enough to show that the window was being tapped by a dead tree branch.
He slowly walked back in to the room, nervously laughing. "Sorry, Gerald. I guess I let my imagination get the better of me."
"It's alright," Gerald held up his fist with his thumb sticking straight up. Arnold smiled and held up his fist the same way. They touched knuckles and wiggled their thumbs in their signature handshake. "Well," Gerald continued, "You sure Helga wasn't right about the ghost being upstairs?"
"You think we should open it?" Phoebe asked as the girls stared at the door.
Helga remained silent, trying to catch her breath. A moment later she began chanting her mantra, "There are no such things as ghosts."
Phoebe watched her friend and debated being the one to open the door. Frozen, the two of them tried to hold the other still as they shook.
"Helga, the faster we figure out the source of the noise the sooner you can watch Wrestlemania," Phoebe cooed.
A new sense of determination washed over Helga and she reached out her hand. With a quick motion she turned the knob and pushed open the door to the master bedroom. There were only two pieces of furniture left behind. The first was an armoire with most of the dust wiped off of it and clothes draped out of the open drawers. The line of tossed clothes created a path leading to the other piece of furniture: a draped canopy bed.
The rocking chair sound was almost deafeningly loud even though a chair was nowhere to be found in the room. Helga stepped past the threshold and her foot instantly went through a floorboard, trapping it between the splintered wood.
"Helga!" Phoebe rushed to Helga's side and checked that her ankle was alright. Suddenly, the chilling creaking echo stopped with a loud snort.
"Who's that?" a deep, gruff voice that sounded like it was worn down by years of heavy drinking called out.
"Wha-" Helga shone her flashlight at the bed and a large shadow moved behind the drawn curtains.
"Get outta my house. Go away!"
Phoebe slowly looked up at Helga, "His house?"
Helga's eyes grew wide as she frantically pulled at her trapped foot, "It's Old Man McKinney!"
The girls began to scream.
Arnold and Gerald closed the Study door behind them and prepared to check the room across the hall when they heard a loud shrill.
"Um, Arnold? Isn't that?"
"Helga!" Arnold's eyes grew wide and he sprinted towards the stairs, mindlessly leaping over the debris and missing floor that tripped him up earlier.
Gerald's eyes grew equally wide when he remembered who was with Helga, "Phoebe! I'm coming!" He raced after his best friend in hopes to get to his crush in time.
The boys darted up the stairs as fast as they could, leaping over the gaps. Arnold slammed in to the wall on the top of the staircase, but pushed off it to get his momentum back. Gerald quickly caught up and the two boys rushed through the wide hallway, skidding to a stop at the master bedroom.
"Helga! Helga, are you alright?" Arnold grabbed her shoulders and tried to catch her attention.
"Phoebe, I'm here," Gerald slid across the floor, stopping next to her.
"Gerald?" Phoebe was snapped out of her shock as soon as she felt his hand on her arm. With terror on her face she pointed to the floor, "Helga's foot is caught."
Despite having the love of her life trying to comfort her, Helga kept shrieking and shakily shining her flashlight at the bed.
The figure had climbed out from behind the curtains and its clouded shape slowly moved towards them. "Get out of my house! This is my house. You kids need to get out of here," the gravelly voice called out.
"It's McKinney!" the boys shouted in unison and panic crashed over them.
"Helga. Helga, it's alright. I'll get you out." Arnold started pulling on her foot, trying to help her shift and turn her ankle in order to wiggle free. Phoebe started pounding on the floor with the butt of her flashlight, trying to break the floorboard more so Helga had a larger hole to squeeze her foot through. Gerald shown his flashlight at Helga's foot so the others could see what they were doing, meanwhile he kept his eyes on McKinney as the being crept closer to them.
"Guys, you gotta move faster," Gerald urged.
Helga's screams were close to bursting Arnold's right eardrum, but he kept twisting her foot around and gently tugging on it, determined to get her free.
"Guys," Gerald's voice quaked as the being got closer.
"I said get out of my house. You don't belong here."
Sid and Stinky spun around hectically as they inched over to the corner that Harold was cowering in, keeping watch for any sign of the ghost. All three boys nearly dropped their flashlights when they heard Gerald and Arnold scream from directly above them.
"Come on, Harold," Stinky offered a hand to help him up. "We got to get out of here."
Harold whimpered and accepted Stinky's hand, cautiously standing. The three crept towards the door leading towards the hallway.
"Hey, the screaming stopped," Sid stood in the doorway and looked up.
"You don't think that they- that the ghost-" Harold's voice squeaked.
"They're goners for sure," Stinky lowered his head in mourning.
"Stinky," Sid whipped back around, surprised at his friend's certainty about the matter.
"Do you think we'll be next?" Harold looked around and huddled closer to his friends.
Suddenly, Helga's piercing wail vibrated the walls of the old building.
"Oh no! It got Helga and Phoebe!" Sid yelled.
"I don't care if I'm a chicken. Let's get out of here," Harold shoved his way past Sid and sprinted towards the front door. The other two boys ran after him, also uncaring about their reputations.
Phoebe pounded the floorboard again and again and again, hitting it as hard as she could. "Come on, Helga. You have to work with us."
"You lousy kids really need to get out of here." The figure was a little more than a yard away. He was grimy and a sickeningly grayish white. His thick beard was unkempt and his clothes were covered with holes. A cloud followed him as he shuffled across the floor.
"You need to get her out of the floor, like, now," Gerald yelled.
Arnold looked up to see how close the figure was and instantly stopped tugging on Helga's foot. He cocked his head to the side with a questioning look.
"Arnold? Arnold, what are you doing?" Gerald hollered.
"Don't I know you?" Arnold asked the grey man.
"Huh?" The gruff voice growled.
"Hey, yeah! You were that guy who was living on the D-Train, right? The one that got stuck under the river? We sang that song when the train started up again."
Helga's screaming instantly stopped with a look of surprise. Phoebe stopped pounding the floorboards and looked up as well. "Well, now that you've mentioned it, Arnold. He does indeed resemble that homeless man that I've seen throughout Hillwood."
The man snorted, "I ain't homeless. After I got kicked off that train I found this place. Ain't nobody comes here. It's fantastic. You should feel the bed."
"Well, I hate to break it to ya, buddy," Gerald cocked an eyebrow, "but this building is comin' down. You gotta move out."
"Ah, well I figured it would all end soon enough." The man grabbed Helga's foot and wiggled it out of the floor.
She scooted back and rubbed her ankle, rotating it to make sure it was alright. "So, you're not the ghost of Old Man McKinney?"
"No, no. I'm alive and kickin'." He patted himself, shooting clouds of dust all over, "I'm just dirty from all the dust around here."
"What about that creaking door sound we heard?" Gerald asked.
"Or the sound of an old rocking chair?" Arnold added.
"Or that hollow-tube raking across the floor?" Helga chimed in.
"What can I tell ya? I snore alright? This place isn't exactly great for allergies or asthma."
"So there really isn't a ghost?" Arnold lowered his head in disappointment.
"'Fraid not, kid." The homeless man replied.
"See, Arnoldo?" Helga glared, "I told you there's no such thing! I nearly lost a foot because of you!"
"Come on; let's get you kids out of here before you get hurt." The man ushered them back down through the house.
"So there you guys are," Stinky walked up to the front door to greet Arnold.
"We thought you guys were done for," Sid admitted.
"Hmmph. We almost were thanks to Football Brain here," Helga scoffed as she passed the embarrassed Arnold.
"So what happened?" Sid asked them, "We heard Helga screaming."
"Well, I'd like to present to you The Ghost of Old Man McKinney." Gerald stepped aside and allowed the homeless man to walk out of the building.
"Hey! I know you. You're that guy from the subway." Harold cautiously walked up to the building. He chuckled, "See? I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, unlike some people." He turned towards Helga and drew out her name.
"Shut up, Fat Boy. I wasn't the one cowering in the corner because of some stupid sound."
"Yeah," Sid laughed, "You should have seen him in the dining room!"
"Shut up, Sid!" Harold warned.
"He was blubberin' like a little baby," Stinky continued.
"Shut up, guys!"
"Yeah, like a little baby," Sid parroted.
"Come on guys, knock it off," Harold whined.
"Righteous ghost hunt, Arnold. Maybe we'll actually find one next time." Gerald and Arnold gave each other another of their signature handshakes before Gerald walked over to Phoebe. With a soft smile he offered to escort her home, which she agreed to with a bashful giggle. Sid and Stinky followed after them, continuing to go on about how much of a chicken Harold was; who then chased after begging for them to stop.
Helga watched everyone else leave and played with the dirt with the toe of her shoe. "Uh, hey, Football Head?"
Arnold looked back at her, "yeah?"
"Um, thanks for coming to my rescue." She avoided eye contact, and he did the same, blushing softly.
"I couldn't just leave you like that when I was the one who got you in to that mess." Arnold continued to look away from Helga.
"That's right, bucko," Helga's normal, domineering voice returned, "You were the one who started all of this. What am I thanking you for? I would have been safely home watching TV if it weren't for you calling me out like that!" Helga huffed past Arnold, stopped at the sidewalk, and spun back around. "So just know that if you ever get me in danger like that again I'm going to pound ya!" She punched her left palm with her right fist before stomping away.
Arnold softly smiled, "Whatever you say, Helga." He knew she didn't hear him, but it didn't matter.
"You like her, don't you?" The gruff voice startled Arnold.
He quickly looked at the homeless man, unsure what to make of that question. "So what are you going to do now that they're tearing down this place?"
The man smirked at the subject change, "I dunno. I always find some place. I'll get by. Don't you worry about me. Just stay out of dangerous places like this. Promise me."
"I promise." Arnold smiled at the man and walked home. At the very least he could tell Ernie that the place wasn't haunted or cursed. Maybe it will help the man out.
As the group dispersed from the lawn of the old, run-down brownstone on Fourteenth Street a light flickered in the master bedroom. A crimpled old shadow skirted past the window. "'Bout time those punks got off my property," the shadow coughed out in a shallow, horse whisper. The murder of crows right outside the window cawed in a chorus and the figure laughed before disappearing.
**A/N: Any thoughts? Was it just the right level of creepy? Did I spend too much time describing the environment? I did this in one seven-hour sitting so... Please ConCrit. It helps me become a better writer for you.**