08 Apr Nicky’s Ninth Door
“Nicky’s Ninth Door”Written by Devin Langan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Omega Black Narrated by Wesley Baker
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 18 minutes
Walter was cool.
Walter was tough.
Walter was 13 years old.
As the only teen on his block all the other kids that lived on Revenant Falls Lane were in awe of Walter. They were especially ravenous for the kinds of stories he could tell them that his much, much older brother, Curtis would bring back from his own adventures overseas.
This early autumn day in September, Walter just so happened to be fishing with an 11 year old, Josh, down the ravine on Old Mill’s creek when he brought up just such a story.
“You ever see a ghost?” Walter tossed that out into the world with the ease of a lazy baseball pitch.
“A ghost? No… I reckon I haven’t.” Josh tugged equally lazily at his homemade fishing pole and kept his gaze out on the water. He wanted to make sure he looked as cool as possible. Not like some little kid.
“See a ghost, stupid.” Walter turned to Josh and smiled with his lips sealed tight. But his face looked like it was trying to hold in a handful of angry bees. He barely could contain what he wanted to say next.
“What do I gotta do?” Josh slowly turned towards Walt, thoughts of pan fried fish leaving his mind.
Walt had a flare for the dramatic. He didn’t answer back too quickly. Instead he let the sound of the creek gurgle in their ears while appreciating the rustling of leaves overhead as the trees rained down their goods in vibrant reds and yellows… When he felt like both of them would burst in anticipation he went on.
“Naw, I better not tell ya. I don’t think you’re old enough. Not yet anyway.” Walter waited for the response he was hoping for out of Josh.
“Oh, come on! Seeing a ghost? That’d be extra cool! How do you do it?” Josh put his pole down beside him and the red plastic bucket that was supposed to be the hearse to his dinner’s final resting place.
“No… sorry, I’ve said too much. Curtis would be mad if I told anyone. He said it’s too horrible. Like, really, really scary. How bout…”
“Walt, just tell me. I can handle it. I’m not yellow like Craig. You know Craig’d be crying if he ever saw a ghost. Don’t be a jerk.” Josh pushed himself up off the rock he’d been sitting on and his leather shoes dipped into the cold water and turned dark brown. He didn’t care though. “What I gotta trade?”
“Trade?” Walter asked in a sly tone.
“Yeah, what you want? I’ll give you anything, anything except my Ruth card or this here fishin pole. You know my pap made it for me.”
Walter paused again. Maybe he was considering the kid’s offer or maybe he just wanted to torment him a little longer. Finally he smiled his toothy grin and clasped Josh on the shoulder.
“Fine, I’ll tell you…” He pulls Josh closer to him and nearly whispers in his ear. An observer would be hard pressed to tell if this was for dramatic effect or if he genuinely wanted to not be heard. “…but you gotta swear, ya won’t be telling anyone else? Especially not Ernie. That kid… Brrrrr, he gives me the heebie-jeebies, always clacking away with those metal canes of his.” He lets Josh go and gives him some space. “Agree?”
“Sure! I swear I won’t be telling no one. Who’d believe me anyway?” Josh realized he was starting to sound like a naive kid himself so he straightened up. “I’m not even sure I believe. I just wanna hear how you supposed to see a ghost.”
“Right, let’s have your bucket.” He motions with his foot over at Josh’s empty bucket.
“Trade, remember? You said you’d give anything but your pole or the Babe. Right?” Walter pushes up his thick square glasses frames in a ‘matter of fact’ motion.
“Deal. The bucket after you tell me how I can see a ghost.”
“Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The two kids sat back down on their adjacent rocks and after Walter shooed a mosquito away he turned over his shoulder and pointed up the hill at the roofs of the row of red brick houses that paralleled the creek.
“All you do is knock on the right door and try to run away before the owner opens it and catches you.”
“What!?” Josh felt the burn of disappointment. “That’s just Nicky, Nicky nine doors! We’ve played that plenty of times. No deal! I’m keepin’ my bucket.” Josh made to grab his property. He was younger than Walter but he wasn’t stupid. He knew when he was being hustled.
“No, dummy. Yeah, it’s Nicky, Nicky nine doors, but you gotta do it the right way.”
Josh was still primed for seeing a ghost so he stretched his suspension of disbelief to its limit. “Okay, how do you play it right?” His hand relaxed and instead of snatching his bucket he picked up a particularly sparkly rock from the mud and began turning it over in his hand watching the sun glitter off of the pyrite in it.
“First, haven’t you ever wondered who ‘Nicky’ was? Why do we call out her name before we run?”
“Uh, no… I just thought it was a thing you said.”
“No… no, no, no, my friend… Nicky is the ghost!” Walter looks like he’s laid down a row of aces at a card game with the amount of satisfaction spilling from his face. “She’s the one you call out of Hell itself for a visit.”
“What are you talking about?” Josh stops turning over the stone and instead grips it firmly in his hand.
Walter theatrically clears his throat then in a sing song voices speaks out an eerie nursery rhyme:
“Nicky was so naughty and always misbehaved,
But one day her misadventures led her to the grave.
Nicky was a bother always at your door,
Until Nicky chose the wrong one, and then Nicky was no more.
So pray you don’t meet Nicky or you will truly cry,
‘Cause if she comes a knocking, YOU will surely die!”
Walter paused and looked at his friend as though he’d just explained the secrets of the bible itself. Josh on the other hand couldn’t have looked more confused. His eyes narrowed in contemplation.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s the story of Nicky. My brother told me about her. She was some girl that got killed a long time ago in some town.”
“I’ve never heard of her.”
“Of course not, it happened in England somewhere. Curtis told me about it when he came back from his training.”
“Oh, alright. How’d she die?”
“Horribly!” Walter grinned and slapped his knee like he’d just told the punchline to a particularly funny joke.
“For real, smarty, how’d she die?”
“Okay, okay…” Walter takes a deep breath. “So according to my brother, Nicky lived a long time ago, like twenty years or something. She was bored one September day, and thought she’d have some fun. She left her house and no one ever saw her alive again.”
“She went missin’ ?” Josh leaned in.
“Yeah, but they found her. After she went missin neighbours told the police that on that day they’d received a knock at their doors. Some of them opened their doors and some just looked out the window. But all of them said that they saw Nicky running and laughing down their walks and away.”
“She was playing ‘Nicky Nicky nine doors?” Josh exclaimed suddenly getting the connection.
“No, she invented the game! She was the first to play it.”
From somewhere out in the creek a fish splashed and broke the boy’s attention. They both turned to look for the source of the distraction… eventually they gave up and Walter continued his story.
“Nine hours after she went missing they found her. She was in some neighbor’s basement. They said she’d been hanging by her neck all day with her hands and mouth tied up.”
“Geez… that is horrible. Some guy killed her for knocking on his door?”
“My brother said the guy was a monster, someone the police already knew about. He said he was a sexual predator.”
“What’s that?” Josh new the word “sex” but he’d never heard this phrase before.
“I think you’re dad’s one. Ask…” Walter doesn’t get to finish his sentence. Josh interrupts him with a crack across his face… It wasn’t quite a punch because his fist didn’t close, but it wasn’t quite a slap either.
Josh and Walter both freeze for a long, stretched out moment. This 11 year old boy has just done something profoundly unheard of. He’d hit the coolest kid on the block. Not just any kid, a teenager. “You don’t say nuthin’ about my pap!” Josh hisses. “Everyone knows my pap’s a hero!”
Walter mulls over smacking Josh back for a second but it didn’t really hurt and he reckoned he was being disrespectful. “Fine, spastic, no dad jokes.” He straightens his glasses instead of retaliating against his younger friend.
“Right… My dad’s a bloody hero… everybody knows it,” Josh reiterates. “Tell me how to see the ghost of Nicky.” Josh tosses the stone he’s been playing with into the water, it makes a loud plunking noise then disappears into its watery grave.
“Sorry… I’m sorry, Josh. I was just being a jerk.” Walter nods at Josh in a “are we good?” kind of gesture, to which Josh nods back. “Alright, Curtis says if you wanted to meet Nicky, there’s a very specific spell you gotta perform. She died on September 9th, she was found in the 9th house from her home, and it took 9 hours for them to find her dead body. So, if you want to see her, you have to wait until September 9th…”
“Yup, so you gotta go home, then walk to the ninth house from yours and knock on the door… I mean really, really knock. Bang on it even. Then, shout “Nicky, Nicky nine doors!”
“And then you run, dummy.” Walter claps his hands together and leans in towards Josh. “But here’s the important part. My brother says that you have to do your best to run to the end of the path of the house. If the owner opens the door before you’re off their property, Nicky will come visit you the next time you are home. If you make it off the property without being caught, she supposedly won’t come and you’ll be safe.”
“Yeah, safe. As in, she doesn’t kill you and drag you back to Hell with her.”
“Oh, geez…” Josh sits back… he swallows and then runs his hand through his bushy brown hair. “It’s just a story, though. It’s not like it’s real.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried it. But like I said, you wanna? You wanna see a ghost ‘ol Joshua, boy?
With that Walter stands up and brushes off the seat of his shorts. He rubes his cheek where it had turned a bright red and walks around Josh so he could pick up the bucket.
“I’m bored, I’m going to fill this with stones and head over to the overpass and drop em on the passing trains. You wanna join me?” He starts picking up the stones and dropping them in the bucket one by one.
“Naw… I promised mom I’d eat lunch at home and clean up before she gets back for dinner. No point with this…” He points to his fishing rod. “The fish seem as bored with the fishin’ as I am.”
Walter nods and lifts up the heavy bucket, “Too bad, I was gonna have you carry this for me.” He turns away from Josh and starts making his way along the creek.
“See you tomorrow, Walt!” Josh calls out to him.
Walter turns back to Josh. The heavy bucket swings out from his body before smacking into his thighs. “Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. Depends on if you’re a boy…” He points at Josh. “Or a man!” He points at himself. He fakes a manic cackle and turns again and walks away until he disappears around a bend in the creek and is swallowed up from sight by the red and yellow-soaked trees of the ravine.
On any other day Josh would have thought that the old house on Revenant Falls Lane, nine doors down from his own, would look like any other. Red bricks, dusty with age. Large front windows that soaked up all the morning sunlight. Two floors and likely a basement. The white wooden patio that always seemed to have the same outdoor sofa swing set that these decks somehow attracted and two chrome bowls, one with water and the other dried dog food. There were three steps that led up to the patio and maybe four more to cross it to the door.
Today, though, was not like any other day. Today the house had a foreboding feeling as if it knew Josh was up to no good. The patio seemed extra wide, the windows extra-large and the walkway from the sidewalk to the three steps extra, extra long. Josh knew that if he knocked on the door and someone was home he’d surly be caught, and if he was caught, he’d (according to Walter) summon a demonic ghost that would drag him down to Hell. And here he was, standing in front of this house actually contemplating doing just that.
Josh wanted to call the whole thing off and walk away. He wanted to go home, drop off his fishing pole, chat with his dad while eating lunch and then wait for his mom, in front of the fireplace, to get home for dinner. Josh didn’t want to be thought of as just some little boy by Walter, though, and he wasn’t about to lie and say he did a thing if he didn’t actually do the thing.
The story wasn’t that scary; it had to be a fool’s tale. And the day was sunny and bright, barely noon hour as it was. Not exactly a scary time for ghosts to be out haunting the living. So why was he still standing on the sidewalk? He wasn’t a little boy and he for sure wasn’t scared.
Josh tried moving one foot onto the walkway leading up to the house but his foot had somehow become soldered to the ground. It wouldn’t move and nearly caused him to lose his balance and spill over onto one of the points of the house’s white picket fence.
Slowly he pried his foot up and off the sidewalk, its million-pound weight came down on the first stone of the walkway up to the door just inside the fence’s perimeter.
Of course, this triggered a long cold chill down his spine that was accompanied by a long cold wind that rustled the unkempt grass of the yard. The grass brushed against Josh’s wet shoe and seemed as if to grasp at it, maybe begging him to step no further. Or maybe it was just stuck to the wet leather. Josh lifted his other foot and brought it down onto the walkway stone.
My red bucket, thought Josh. If the door opens before I get to it I’ll just ask whoever’s there if they’ve seen my red bucket. He let his leg swing forward and brought his foot down onto the next stone.
Immediately the wind and the grass stopped rustling. He’d been warned, he had trespassed anyway. The property was now silent. Oddly enough, outside the fence the branches of the trees continued their swaying in the breeze and the leaves kept falling, but here inside, there was nothing, just the very noisy dreadful quiet that had overtaken the property.
Josh leaned his fishing pole up against the fence and slowly made his way up the stone walk. When he got to the three steps he paused and stood as silently as he could. His only hope now was that no one was home. If there was no one home then there’d be no one to catch him and if there were such things as ghosts he’d have not invoked it. Just so long as there was no one home.
Josh brought his foot down on the first wooden step. The step screamed in pain as wood rubbed tightly against an old rusty nail. Josh nearly let out his own scream but managed to hold himself together and practically hopped over the other two steps and up onto the deck. Maybe the owner of the house might open the door before he knocked, did that count? He couldn’t call out “Nicky, Nicky nine doors!” if the owner had already talked to him, right?
Wistfully he looked back at the sidewalk, less than for meters away but somehow it felt like a lifetime of distance had passed since he was last standing out in its safety.
His chest hurt. It would be cliché to say his heart was pounding but boy was it. He could feel every thump against his rib cage and with each beat his heart seemed to push another bit of air from his lungs until he could barely breathe. Nearly stumbling from a loss of balance brought on by tunnel vision Josh made his way to the door. He paused and held out his hand to lean against the cool brick of the wall. He wished he was home eating his macaroni salad and talking with his pap right now. He wished he was still down by the creek fishing with Walter. Heck, he even wished he was back in class studying his maths. Anywhere but here.
Just knock, you big baby, he thought. Just knock, run and let’s get this done so we can go home.
Josh raised his shaking hand and made a fist, weakly he brought it down on the door three times
Bamp… Bamp… Bamp…
With even less strength Josh managed to dryly squeak out a meek “Nicky…” He gasps for air. “Nicky…” Another gasp. “Nine doors…”
The moment Josh finished the word “doors” the heavy oak portal swung open, revealing his very own history teacher, Ms. Wormwood, standing there with a glass of water.
“Ha! I didn’t think you would do it!” She grinned and handed him the glass of water. “I’ve been standing by the window for nearly five minutes waiting to see if you’d knock… Nicky, Nicky nine doors, eh? Damn, that takes me back…”
Josh was taken aback too… A teacher had just sworn in front of him. Sheepishly he accepted the water and brought it to his parched lips. The cool water slid down his constricted throat and helped it relax and open. Moments later he was able to breath almost normally again. “Uh… Bucket…” he stammered, but Ms. Wormwood didn’t pay him any heed.
“Don’t you worry, Josh, I won’t tell your mom you’re out playing foolish games. I even remember catching her and her friend Patty playing this dumb game back when they were just about your age. Course back then I was much, much younger.” Ms. Wormwood sighs and lets her gaze get wistful… She snaps back and smiles a friendly smile down at the recovering boy. “Maybe that’s why they’ve got me teaching history these days. I’ve seen so much of it!”
Ms. Wormwood stops talking and looks him over. The smile replaced with the start of a concerned look. “You alright, Joshua? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not yet…” mumbles Josh.
“What was that?” Ms. Wormwood asks.
Josh hands back the glass to his teacher and backs away across the patio and down the three steps.
“Oh… that’s the one. That nail. I tell you, loud. It’ll wake the dead! That’s how I knew someone was on my deck… The mailman, the milkman, the newspaper, I always know when I’ve got a delivery thanks to that nail.”
“Uh… have… have a good day, Ms. Wormwood.”
“Be a dear and say hello to your mother for me!”
Josh turns away from the house and allows himself to be carried away from its patio on his legs. His legs seem to almost move autonomously without his will. His head is spinning and he feels like he’d really like to lay down in that cool unkempt grass, but his legs just keep walking him down the stone walkway towards the white picket fence and towards the gate. Listlessly he takes his fishing pole and passes beyond the border of the house. It’s over. There’s nothing left to do but go home, eat his macaroni salad, talk with his dad, wait for his mom or maybe, just maybe receive a visit from a ghost.
Josh’s own home was of similar design to Ms. Wormwood’s. But instead of entering from the front he liked to take the alley round back and enter through the kitchen. This allowed for two things.
First, it gave Josh an opportunity to pet his neighbor’s dog, Ralphie, who was always happy to receive some company and, secondly, Josh secretly hoped that Lilly Thompson was sitting out on her back deck sunning herself, or maybe even turning cartwheels in the yard. If she was there, Josh would make his way over to the fence and come up with some excuse to try to strike up a conversation with who he was certain had to be the prettiest girl on his block.
No such luck today, though. Lilly’s yard was empty. No Lilly, no cartwheels, and no Ralphie with his tail furiously beating the air excitedly as the dog ran up to lick his hand. Just an empty, quiet yard.
Josh unlocked then pushed open his back door, a unique thing as it was no more than a wood frame and a large picture window that allowed moms to keep an eye on their kids, and wandered into his kitchen. There on the table was a note left by his mother. He read it quickly after he’d snatched a cookie from a plate she’d left on the counter top next to the electric toaster. These notes were common. Tonight Josh’s mom would be working a little late and wouldn’t be home for dinner. But, the note continued, there was fried chicken in the fridge with all the fixings. Josh was to eat, do some reading, and then make his way to bed.
Josh crumpled up the note and tossed it in the waste bin. He was starting to relax and forget all about his little ‘adventure’ earlier. He scooped himself a plateful of macaroni salad and wandered his way into his comfy living room. His father was right where Josh had left him that morning in his favorite spot.
“I was fishin’ with Walter this morning, we didn’t catch anything but boy howdy, did Walt ever tell me a doozy of a story.”
Today I’m going to see a ghost, and maybe even get taken away by her. But I think it’s bunk. Just a bunch of hooey that Walt likes to tell us kids. I’m not scared, don’t worry about that.”
Even more silence.
“Anyway, I’m going to just go ahead and read the funnies, okay? Josh walked up to the case on the table that held a folded American flag. On a brass plate it read, “Non Sibi Sed Patriae!” He gently caressed the glass then smiled at the picture of his father in his military uniform hanging on the wall. “I love you, Dad, and I miss you.” Josh snapped to attention, then gave his father a long salute, after which he turned, made his way over to the sofa where his lunch was waiting, and snuggled into the fabric with a blanket to read the funnies in the prior day’s paper.
Knock, Knock, Knock…
Josh groggily opened his eyes. He wasn’t sure if he’d heard something or just imagined it.
Knock, Knock, Knock…
No, he’d heard it that time. Someone was at his kitchen door. He must have fallen asleep and been so for a while because it was now dark, the newspaper was sprawled out across the floor in front of him, and…
Thump, Thump, Thump!
Josh wasn’t supposed to open the door for anyone after dark. He hoped that if he just kept quiet whoever was out there would just give up and leave.
BANG, BANG, BANG!
Whoever it was wasn’t leaving. Josh managed to pull himself off the sofa and pick up his tea cup. He needed milk anyway, so he thought he just might as well wander into the kitchen to see who was making such a…
“Oh, FUCK ME!”
It’s a word Josh has heard a few times before but has never dared spoken. Didn’t matter now. Josh falls backward to the hard linoleum floor, shattering the cup and bruising his tailbone.
Standing in the large window frame of the door was a girl. A dead girl. A dead, bloated girl with her hands bound behind her back, her mouth gagged with wrap after wrap of tape, and eyes… eyes that bulged like overripe plums in their sockets. Even from this distance and the low light, Josh could see the spider web-like red blood vessels that stained those milky dead eyes. Worse, though, were her feet… Her bare feet dangled just inches off the ground and waved in such a way as to suggest they were desperately trying to find purchase on something to support her weight. She was hanging suspended in the air, bound, filthy, dead and at his door.
The dead girl fixed her wild eyes on Josh and then brought her head down hard against the glass of the door again and again.
CRACK, CRACK, CRACK!
The glass of the door started to crack but did not give. Something deep, deep in the prehistorical part of Josh’s brain got his body moving again. It was just a crude scamper backwards on his feet and hands, but it was in the opposite direction of the door, and to that ancient part of his brain that was good enough. He didn’t even notice the trail of blood that he was leaving behind after a piece of tea cup had slashed open his foot. Hell, he didn’t even notice the pain of his bleeding extremity. His body just kept scampering backwards on its own while Josh was too busy still trying to gurgle out a horrified scream at what he saw, when suddenly… SMASH!
The glass of the kitchen door finally gave way under the repeated onslaught and spilled across the floor. Josh had back-crawled out of the kitchen proper into the walk-in pantry. The moment he was inside the pantry, the dead girl’s body slowly floated through the broken door and over the glass. When her feet passed over Josh’s spilled blood, the blood turned black and then strangely boiled away, evaporating into the air as though it was never there… But this wasn’t something Josh had the facilities to notice… All he saw was this choking, writhing body of a girl about his age in a dark, stained summer dress floating towards him while she – through the gag in her mouth – made deep, awful sounds as though she were trying to scream.
“Mmmmmph! Mmmmmmmmmph! MMMMMMMMPPPPHHHHH!”
Her body was almost to the pantry now and her legs seemed to kick and spasm with glee or malice the closer she got. Josh finally woke from his terrified trance and managed to get the door of the pantry closed just as the corpse reached his refuge.
It was dark in the pantry. Josh was sitting on the floor in a mess of dried onion skins, spilled rice, a couple of rotten potatoes that had fallen from their bin, and most certainly a pile or two of mouse droppings. He didn’t think about that. Instead he watched the streak of light under the door to the pantry, the door being the only barrier between him and, apparently, the dead spirit of a girl named Nicky.
FTHWAP! FTHWAP! FTHWAP!
The banging had taken on a sickly, wet sound… as though slamming her head against the hard wood door was cracking her skull and rattling around whatever might be inside. Josh pressed himself against the back wall of the pantry as far as he could get from the light of the door. Shelves of soup cans pressed against the meat and spine of his mid-back, indicating that he could run no further. He was trapped.
Josh’s plea was answered with another FTHWAP!
“Someone, please help me!”
FTHWAP! FTHWAP! FTHWAP!
There was no one that could come to Josh’s aid. He started to cry; hot tears streamed down his face. The smell of blood from his foot wafted to his nose and the scent of onions burned at his throat. He was exhausted… Trying to whimper out one more plea, he cried out, “Please, Dad… Please, help me…”
Only the soft, pathetic sounds of Josh’s sobbing could be heard. The banging at the door had stopped instantly. It didn’t return. Josh waited crouched in the dark with his hands clasped over his head and his face between his knees. He sobbed and waited there in the dark for what felt like ages.
There was the sound of footsteps crunching through broken glass, and then a voice:
“My god… Josh! Josh!”
It was his mother, returned home from work. There was panic in her voice.
“Joshua Taylor Nickanan, you answer your mother! You hear me, boy!?” The panic was now mixed with the pleading sound of a mother concerned with the safety of her child. Josh gripped the shelves of the pantry, stood up, and pushed open the door.
His mother was standing in the center of the kitchen holding the broom like a baseball bat. When she turned to him, she dropped the makeshift weapon and fell to her knees.
“Oh, god… Oh, god… Thank your father! I thought something happened to you.”
Josh’s mother opened her arms to her son, beckoning him to come to her. But Josh couldn’t move. His face fell slack and the hope he felt only moments ago bled out.
Floating behind his mother silently was the bound corpse of a dead girl. Her foot kicked out at Josh’s mom from behind and the moment it made contact with her body, both of them disappeared in that same strange way Josh’s blood had boiled away earlier. His mother turned into a black goo, spilled out over the floor, and then boiled and evaporated along with the ghost into nothingness.
Josh was left alone in his house, in his kitchen, in the dark, but not in silence.
All that was left of Josh were his maddening screams.