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The Hanging Head by Lis Maestrelo

He didn't believe in ghosts. Not really. They were something from the past, something old people created to make sense of events that, at the time, science was not able to explain. But his friend Mikael believed in all that spiritual bullshit, and that's why he decided to make a short trip to that place forgotten by men, and if he existed, by God too. All to prove his point.

The deal was simple. There was an abandoned house, which the superstitious locals foolishly believed to be cursed, and for everything that was sacred they didn’t dare disturb it. Untouched by nothing but time, the house remained their source of fear for reasons he didn’t care to listen to. All ghost stories were the same.

Spend the night there and if you come out in one piece then I owe you a hundred bucks, Mikael had said when they were having another one of their arguments about spirituality. At the party, between drinks, it sounded like a good idea, and he had a weak spot for bets. Two hundred and they had a deal.

"And if I lose, well, guess you can call me a dead fool," he laughed and thought he impressed his date.

Now standing in front of that decrepit place, with his backpack filled with camping equipment and supplies, he felt too old for that type of thing. And he even thought about getting in the car and heading back to the bed and breakfast he saw earlier that day. But being proud was one of his bad habits.

The place could easily have reminded him of his grandma's house, if wasn't for the decay that was consuming every corner of it. It had the classic look of a farm house, except that the once-white walls were peeling off, showing a skeleton of rotten wood underneath. Of the windows, the only remains were their rotten frames, and the numerous holes in the roof offered a privileged view of the stars. The front door opened with a loud crack, and without any resistance. Inside, he discovered that the symptoms of abandonment were indeed everywhere.

"What a cozy piece of crap," he said to himself.

And the next second a chill ran up his spine. The sun was setting and the fog was swallowing up everything. In the mountains the weather was always cool, nothing more to it, he thought.

Wandering through the rooms, he found signs of someone else’s entire life being decomposed. Forgotten furniture and toys, tattered clothes, canned food still on the shelves, old pistols in a locked cabinet.

The stains on the walls looked just like blood splashes, enough to capture his imagination. His mind was going places when he turned the L-shaped corridor and met those dead eyes staring right at him. "Fuck's sake!" he called out, giving room for the fright to pass by. But the strange aftertaste of fear remained. 

The curve of the corridor led nowhere but to that peculiar corner where the deer's head hung from the wall at chest height. Deep black eyes with no pupils and big antlers sticking out of its brown head.

"At least you're not a ghost, eh?" he choked nervously.

To prove to himself he was not scared, he touched the tip of the antlers. He felt a sharp sting and blood came out of a small cut. Sucking his finger, he cursed.

Did it move? Could it be he saw a change on the expression of that hanging head? Bullshit! He was falling for the mind's tricks. Wasn't it true? In the darkness, loose thoughts of a solitary mind could create the most terrifying shapes and paint them with all colors of fear. Very well, he had a logical head on his shoulders, but the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up like a pine forest as he turned away towards the living room.

He lay in his sleeping bag close to the fireplace as if he was eight again, and decided to keep his eyes shut and sleep until daybreak.

But in dead of night, he woke up from a nightmare, frozen to the bone because the fire was out. The thick fog had invaded the whole place. He could feel the breath of humidity around him.

He reached for his flashlight, but it wouldn't turn on. And then he heard the noises. First up there on the second floor, then coming down the stairs. Was this still a dream? But it couldn't be. Those heavy synchronized knocks on the wooden floor, so clear.

He stood up and kept very still, with his back against the wall and his eyes adapting to the darkness. He was facing the door that led to the main hall, waiting for what would appear.

In the pitch dark the shape was uncertain, but the sound of four hooves stepped forward from the shadows. There was the pair of black eyes, right? And the antlers too. He could swear. It was there. So he ran down the corridor, but could find no doors, and the corridor felt longer, a straight line with no end, and the noise was following him, and it was getting closer, and the flashlight wouldn't turn on, and his heart was beating like crazy.

A sharp crushing pain punched through.

The flashlight finally lit and gasping for air, he choked in a scream that never left his lips. Those dead eyes were looking into his, and below, sunk deep inside his chest, the antlers were soaked with blood.

He couldn’t understand. Was he wrong about the turn? Who moved the hanging head here to the end of the corridor? It didn't matter; he was a dead fool.

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