From the top of a nearby hill, Old Johnson surveyed the scene. Barely visible in the few remaining rays of twilight that managed to penetrate the dark clouds overhead was a house in the small ravine below, dimly illuminated by what appeared to be candles in the windows. Although this particular house had been built stoutly enough to withstood nearly 200 years of the ravages of time, it clearly hadn’t been spared their effects, as even at this distance the telltale signs of wear and neglect were clearly visible on the house’s outer walls. The decrepit state of the house by itself was enough to keep most sane people away from the place, but even the bravest souls of Old Johnson’s acquaintance would think twice before approaching the Baker House on Halloween night. Most saw that as a warning to stay away from the place, but there were a few particularly brave or particularly foolhardy individuals who saw the Baker House as a challenge. Perhaps the greatest challenge of all.
Oh, there was no doubt that the Baker House was haunted. In fact, on a particularly busy Halloween night, one could find no less than 200 ghosts lurking the halls of this old Colonial mansion. In the Baker House, it wasn’t the ghosts you would have to worry about. Each year on Halloween night, the Baker House was infested with something even more terrifying than ghosts, creeps, spooks, haunts or perhaps even demons. For each of the last 83 years, Halloween night found the Baker House occupied not only by ghosts, but also by a particularly intractable group of skeptics. And in all that time, no amount of chain-rattling, vase dropping, door slamming, tormented groaning or any other manner of haunting could get a single one of the skeptics to budge from their ironclad conviction that there was no such thing as a ghost.
It wasn’t always this way. The Baker House, abandoned by its owners over 150 years ago under unfortunate circumstances that are now largely lost to the winds of history, was once a respectable haunted house, with a resident population of spooks and spectres who could generally invoke a hasty retreat in the occasional visitor who entered the house on a dare or a bet with a few rattles of the chandelier or the occasional sense of impending doom. Eventually, the house developed a reputation as being haunted among the local Human population, a reputation that the house’s occupants drew great satisfaction from. That all changed back in 1929, when one particularly foolhardy individual by the name of William Meyer boldly made a large wager with several members of the local gentry that he could not only spend an entire Halloween night in the Baker House, but that he could prove that there was no such thing as a ghost while doing so.
To this day, it is still disputed exactly what happened during that fateful night, but either by sheer force of will or sheer force of thick-headedness (possibly aided by the fact that his relatively meager financial reserves would in no way come anywhere near covering the amount of the bets he had made,) William Meyer managed to somehow completely ignore any attempts at haunting made by the resident ghost population on that fateful night. As Mr. Meyer emerged from the house the following morning apparently none the wiser (and considerably richer), he made a big show out of it, loudly proclaiming to the local populace that there was no such thing as ghosts. The following year in another show of braggadocio, he invited several others to join him in the Baker House. These additional houseguests, perhaps aided by Mr. Meyer’s boastings and hasty excuses for whatever unexplained phenomena occurred during the night, proved just as intractable as Mr. Meyer himself, and once again, all emerged from the house boasting.
Over the years more and more people joined in, to the point that in 1951 a number of them formed a Society of Skeptics within the town, and from that time forward, each year the Society makes a big deal out of spending Halloween night in the Baker House, where they spend the night mostly boasting to each other about how nothing can scare them, explaining to each other just why ghosts can’t possibly exist, and generally sitting around not believing in things. Although the resident ghost population of the Baker House departed for browner pastures many years ago, some spooks just can’t resist the challenge of trying to scare off the skeptics. To date, none have succeeded, and not for lack of trying. As many a ghost has learned from painful experience, about the only thing that a typical Society of Skeptics member believes is that they don’t believe anything. Gradually many of the local spooks gave up on the Baker House, and over time the house began to develop a reputation exactly opposite from the one it once enjoyed: An unhaunted house. Every once in a while a particularly brave ghost would boldly pronounce that he would be the one that would finally scare away the Society of Skeptics, but inevitably each one would fail. Now it was Old Johnson’s turn to try.
One thing was clear about Old Johnson: He was old. Exactly how old nobody knew, and even he didn’t really care to bother finding out. When you’ve restlessly wandered the Earth for as long as he had, you tend to forget a lot of things, and to be honest, Old Johnson kind of liked it that way. By now, Old Johnson had no idea how or even when he died, nor did he know why he ended up trapped between two worlds as he had, and he didn’t really care to find out either. He fancied himself to be something of a free agent among ghosts, providing haunting services when and where they were needed. Over the years he had seen a lot of ghosts that had chained themselves (literally and metaphorically) to various places, apparently unable to get past the unfortunate circumstances of their mortality, and he was determined not to be one of them. So in order to keep himself busy, Old Johnson made a business (if that’s what you could call it) of acting as something of a freelance spook, going from place to place and haunting as needed. Sure the hours could be long and the pay nonexistent (not that it really mattered anyway) but it had to be better than sitting in some decrepit old basement forever with nothing to do but rattle the doors every once in a while.
Although Old Johnson was generally content with this arrangement, he was prone to occasional bouts with extreme boredom and unease with his situation. Sure the usual haunting kept him reasonably well occupied, but it was often mind-numbingly boring, and rarely much of a challenge. Somewhere in Old Johnson’s heart (or whatever passes for one in a disembodied spectre,) he knew that there had to be something better for him out there. It was on his aimless wanderings last year in search of a new haunt that he first heard of the Baker House. Immediately he was drawn to the challenge of trying to haunt the unhauntable, but the reports were discouraging: For years, there had been countless ghosts that had gone before him, and all had failed to raise so much as a vague sense of disquiet among the skeptics that infested the house. At one time or another, practically everyone had tried practically everything in the book (up to and including throwing the book at someone’s head) and every time the skeptics would brush it off with one lame excuse or another. In casual conversations with some of the ghosts that had failed in their quest to rehaunt the Baker House, many of them spoke of a belief that there had to be some way through their defenses, some weakness that would send them fleeing in panic. But nobody had found that weakness, and by now all but the most diehard of spooks had given up on the Baker House altogether. Many spoke of elaborately constructed and elaborately choreographed plans, some calling for an all-out assault on the collective psyche of the skeptics, others calling for a slow buildup of dread leading to a crescendo of sheer terror. Inevitably, all of these would fall apart. Most of them somewhere around step 1.
To be honest, Old Johnson didn’t have much of a plan either. But he did have an idea…