By Mark Budman
Some people swore that the house was haunted. I didn’t believe them. Some people would swear on the Bible and still lie. What do unbelievers use when they take oath in court? Steven Hawking’s The Grand Design? Some people said that any unbeliever would turn into a Bible-thumping preacher after visiting this house on the corner of Park and Prospect.
There used to be a regular family living in it: a father, a mother, and two kids. Then the father lost his job, and they stopped paying the mortgage. Then they just abandoned the house and moved someplace else.
My friends called me Nosy Ethan. My dad said that if someone else wouldn’t cut off my nose because I poke it in other people’s business, he would.
“You’d thank me, boy,” he said. “I’d do it gently.”
My dad was big and ugly. An IED blew up in Iraq and shrapnel poked his face.
Yes, I was nosy. But you don’t need to butt in to hear what other people say about the ghosts in that house.
The house stood empty, unoccupied. Until the ghosts moved in. That’s what some people said. They also said the weeds in the front yard grew like crazy. The weeds don’t grow like crazy. They just grow. Only people grow crazy. I was crazy. If I were a normal 14-year old, I wouldn’t break into a haunted house.
I carried an LED flash light and Ka-Bar knife I stole from my dad. The backyard window was broken a while back, so I had no problem getting in. It smelled musty inside. We’d had a lot of rain lately. The carpet was wet and covered with broken glass. They left all their furniture behind, even an old TV.
And that TV was on.
There was nothing on the screen, of course. Just the faint blue light. The cable had been disconnected for sure. I was surprised the house still had electricity. Weird. I came closer and saw that a caption ran across the screen.
It said, “Ethan has a long nose.”
That was bull. Totally. My nose was normal European American. I went around the TV. It was unplugged. Somebody was pulling my leg.
“Who on earth is there?” I said. “Get out and face me like a man. Loser.”
Then I saw that the Ka-Bar knife somehow got itself free from its sheath and now was floating in the air in front of my face. It was a great knife, a Johnson Adventure Potbelly. My dad brought it home from Iraq.
“Time to cut your nose,” the new caption said. I knew it was a trick. A neighbor’s kid was hiding in the house. A loser and a half.
“Are you a ghost?” I asked. “Are you inside the TV?”
Then the knife pricked my nose. That hurt. But the ghosts, or the kid who did that trick, had no idea that I was my dad’s son. I swatted the knife with my LED light, and knocked it to the ground. It lay there, thrashing like a fish on the sand.
Then I lifted the TV and threw it down. Ka-boom! The blue light was gone and the knife stopped thrashing on the floor. That was when my dad walked in.
“What is going on?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Just wanted to see the ghosts. Should’ve waited until Halloween.”
“Let’s go,” my dad said, wiping blood from my nose with his handkerchief.
“How did you find me, Dad?”
He folded his handkerchief but did not put it back in his pocket. “You’re a lousy thief. You make too much noise and are easy to trace. So you better keep your nose clean.”
Through the broken windows, the moon bathed our faceswith ghostly light. But my dad and I knew that there were no such thing as ghosts. Even if some people swore that the house was haunted.
Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union and is fluent in Russian. His fiction, poetry, and book reviews have appeared in such magazines as Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, American Book Review, The Bloosmbury Review, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, The Literary Review, the W.W. Norton anthology “Flash Fiction Forward,” “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure,” Short Fiction, The Warwick Review (UK), Flash (UK), Neo (Portugal) and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel “My Life at First Try” was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited the anthology “You Have Time for This” from Ooligan Press; a new anthology is forthcoming in December of 2011 from Persea Books. He is at work at another anthology and two new novels. He judged several flash fiction contests.