In the 1980s, the legends of both Ted Bundy and Gary Gilmore are alive and fresh in Utah and Salt Lake Counties, so it doesn’t help the boy that his grandmother’s house is insecure, creepy, and haunted. Insecure? The kids all sleep in an unfinished basement where wood scaffolding stands unfinished; the floor is cold cement; the basement is stocked with ages-old toys, dolls, and various household items and wheat cans. One of the lights is a bulb that hangs from the ceiling and is switched on by a string you can never find in the middle of the night. At night, their nightlight is a creepy Santa Claus at the far end of the basement. Every sound made upstairs reverberates in the basement, and the ceiling is constantly creaking from people walking on the first floor. Worse, the ceiling often creaks when no one at all is walking.
Worse than that, the only lock is a flimsy doorknob lock, and accessing the basement from the outside is cake–the back door is half-hollow particle board, and the backyard is accessible through an unlocked gate waist high. It is, in short, the perfect place to be kidnapped and murdered in the night without anyone knowing.
The house was part of the post-war building of the suburbs. The previous owner, an older lady, had died in the back back room of natural causes. One day, the boy’s cousin Jared was home alone in the house. He heard the front door open, footsteps in the entry way, and then a woman’s voice say, “Ah! Home! Home at last!” When he got up to investigate, no one was there.
On this particular morning, their cousins have stayed the night, which made the basement slightly more tolerable and safe. However, Ruthanne has awakened in terror.
“I had a dream that a no-headed lady in a white, bloody dress was chasing me and trying to kill me.” She talks about it all morning.
They play a game that morning that probably doesn’t help: Murder in the Dark. Each player gets a slip of paper. Whoever gets the black dot is the murderer. All players hold hands, and the murderer squeezes a hand right or left the number of times for the player a few seats away to kill that player. As players die, other players can cast suspicions. If they guess right, they win. If the murderer kills everyone, she wins.
After one of the games, cousin David excuses himself to use the restroom. They elect to play another game without him. So they draw their papers, then hold hands: Stephen, the young man, Ruthanne, cousin Katie, cousin Jared, cousin Adam, cousin Ben. Just after they all shut their eyes and the hand squeezing starts, they hear soft, ghostly moaning coming from above. The moaning grows louder.
“Do you all hear that?” Stephen says.
“Yes!” says the young man.
It’s echoing through the vents. Louder and louder and louder until finally it hisses, “I am the no-headed lady!”
They all scream and break the circle. “Holy crap! We gotta get out of here!”
As a group, they rush upstairs. David is drying his hands with a kitchen towel.
“Did you hear it, David?”
“The no-headed lady!” Ruthanne exclaims. “She was moaning while we were playing.”
“Come on, y’all,” he says. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. Or no-headed ladies.”
“Except for the one I heard in the house,” says Jared.
“Well, okay, there’s that. But she wasn’t no-headed.”
“You all have to be imagining it,” says David. “Come on. Let’s go back down and play.”
They return to the basement and sit in their circle. They draw their slips. Stephen says, “I gotta pee. I’m not the murderer anyway, so y’all go without me.”
Stephen heads back upstairs. They sit in silence as the hand squeezing starts, and then suddenly, the moaning starts again.
“Do you hear that?” Ruthanne exclaims.
They all open their eyes. David looks terrified. “I hear that now. Is that what you heard before?”
The voice suddenly rumbles through the vents, “I am the no-headed lady!”
Ruthanne screams. The boy is half terrified but half skeptical. He is watching Jared and David, the oldest two in the group, to see if they are taking it seriously.
“Ok, this is serious,” David says. “We should probably talk to someone about it.”
Stephen reappears in the basement.
“Did you hear it?” the boy says.
Stephen leans over to him, “Dude, you realize that the no-headed lady calls when David or I go to the bathroom, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” he says, glad that the shadowy basement obscures his red face.
“You know the vent in the study? You just lean down into it and make ghost noises. Or the wood that blocks the hole next to the toilet? Open that and moan. You can hear it everywhere.”
“Right,” says the boy.
Now he is part of the conspiracy–a conspiracy that plays out over two more hours, includes the boy’s own “trips” to the restroom, and doesn’t end until Ruthanne is so utterly terrified that she starts telling Granny about it who looks at the three oldest and says, “What’s this no-headed crap she’s talking about?”