22 Dec Don’t Ride the Subway – Creepypasta
“You make bones out of sand. Hot blood turns them to glass. When flesh grows in, invited from the parts of the earth that keep such secrets, a trek through the desert will temper the bones. Like everything else, it starts out fragile.”
It would have seemed poetic in a way if it hadn’t come from the little girl I was sitting across from on the subway. It was actually disturbing as her small, bright face looked at me as she spoke. I looked at her mother, or who I assumed was her mother anyway, and expected something to be said. She just looked down at her phone, scrolling with her thumb intermittently. I looked left and right to see if any of the other people had heard and were as off put as I was, but the semi-full subway car didn’t carry another person that was paying attention to anything outside themselves. Just me. Me and the little girl that spoke of glass bones.
I opened my mouth but couldn’t decide what to say so I shut it again and pressed my lips into a thin, polite smile. I’d never been good with people, not strangers anyway, and that was under normal circumstances. This didn’t feel like normal circumstances. The little girl smiled back and kicked her legs back and forth as she sat on her seat. Unease spread through my body and I looked up, away from the child, and tried to force my tense muscles to ease up. Relax.
We passed an intersection at just the right speed for me to catch a glimpse down it. I could see the tunnel of florescent lights and tracks going on and on out of sight. It was gone in an instant. I didn’t know that there were places where the tracks crossed in the subway but then again I had never ridden one until I moved not long ago. I was still acclimating to public transport as my last home didn’t have much to offer. The image of the tunnel, an unexpected, gaping hole in the wall, stuck in my head.
“It’s not really like that.”
My attention snapped back down to the little girl when she spoke again. My stomach tensed up as I looked at her. I tried to push away the feeling like I had done so many times trying to swallow my anxiety away. My eyes flicked to her mother again but she was still concentrating on her phone.
“What’s that, sweetie?” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. First of all, calling a random little girl “sweetie” made me cringe a little. But on top of that, I found myself dreading her response.
“The subway. It’s not like this.”
“Oh. Okay.” My impulse to try and carry on the conversation to be polite was crushed by my growing unease. It had started as a small bloom in my stomach but it was vining out and starting to cling to my insides making my muscles feel like they were forming knots.
I smiled again but it didn’t feel polite, it felt desperate. I tried to casually glance around but once again nobody was paying attention to me or the little girl. I reached into my sweater pocket for the small paperback I usually kept on me. A book was usually a good excuse to keep your head down and keep to yourself. I didn’t know if it would dissuade the little girl but I had to try. My stop wasn’t for a while yet. In fact, there wasn’t any stop for a while yet so I knew for certain I would be stuck with her until then.
I read a paragraph in my book once, twice, three times. I couldn’t focus or remember what I read. It’s like the words were whispered from far away by my internal voice and I just couldn’t make them out. I sighed, now frustrated on top of everything else, and looked up. Not at the little girl, no, but above her out the window. We passed another crossing, another tunnel running through the one I was currently gliding down, and I remembered that I’d never noticed them before. I hadn’t been on many trips yet, sure, but it began to seem odd. I put it down to usually being able to read my book with no issue. Keeping to myself.
“Do you want to know about the secret places where flesh is reborn?”
I didn’t even bother looking at her mother for a reaction. Or anyone else for that matter. I realized that this child and I were effectively alone in the subway car. I wanted to scream just to see if anyone else would look at me but I took a breath instead. The thought was ridiculous, of course, and I wanted nothing less than to cause a scene.
“Excuse me?” The tremor in my voice did not deter the little girl’s happy face and wide, sparkling eyes.
“Everything comes from somewhere. The sand, the blood, the flesh. You have to know where to gather the ingredients.”
“I don’t understand but I don’t want to talk about this.” I was more forceful than intended but hoped I got my point across. Children don’t often heed to subtlety anyway.
I turned my face back to my book pointedly to find a small, black beetle sitting on my wrist. I jumped, dropping my book, and shook it off. I brushed my clothes to make sure it wasn’t still clinging to me somewhere and a sense of revulsion joined my growing panic. I then wished more than ever I had gotten a prescription from my doctor to tide me over in my new home. Getting into an office as a patient was more problematic than expected and I had leaned on my scant supply of anxiety meds to get through interviews.
“You have to go to the deep, dark places where the sun doesn’t reach and the soil is fertilized by the remains of the giants.”
I tried to pick up my book but just looking at the floor made me dizzy. I was afraid if I leaned over, I would succumb to the nausea that was intensifying with every click of the tracks. I looked up as we passed another tunnel. Another intersection. Another long, empty corridor and it raised goosebumps on my arms when I realized it was different. It was shorter. Darker. The quality of the lights were degraded and they flickered. I realized I saw too much for a passing glance and my stomach dropped. How did I see so much as fast as we were going? I watched the walls zip by like usual.
“Do you know how deep the subways are? Do you know how deep THIS subway is?”
I didn’t want to look at her but I had to. I couldn’t stop my body from casting my eyes down to her. She hadn’t changed at all, nothing in the subway car but me ever changed at all, and just looking at her beautiful little face made my blood run cold. I pictured blue blood, starved of oxygen, flooding around glass bones inside my body, and I hated my own brain for creating the thought. It was getting hard to breathe.
“Do you count the steps down from the surface?” She asked while smiling to expose her neat, square little teeth that had two missing spaces along the top row.
“I don’t.” But that was a lie. I counted every time. I’ve always counted stairs and ceiling tiles and daisy petals. It felt like I was always counting something just to keep my mind from spiraling away from me.
I tried to remember how many steps there were from the surface to the subway. How many steps did it take for the sunlight to transition into the dim, lifeless bulbs below the earth? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t think of it though I’d done it a dozen or so times by then. I noticed that, in the back of my mind, I was still counting. I’d never really stopped counting since I left the sidewalk. I shook my head to try and erase the countdown, my awareness of it. I tried to will it away but the numbers, ever growing, stuck to my consciousness.
“Spite lasts. It lasts like nothing else does.” I put my face in my hands but the girl didn’t stop. “Do you know what kind of spite trickles down from giants having a whole world taken from them? A paradise? To be ruined? Spite that sits in the earth longer than the bones do. It festers and brews and feeds.”
“Hey, is this your daughter?” I practically shout at the woman engrossed in her phone but she doesn’t even startle let alone look up or answer me.
“It feeds on fear.” The girl doesn’t stop talking in her childish but even tone. It’s a voice that now fills me with a terror that threatens to leap from my throat.
“Hey, anybody!” I shout down the subway car one way then the other. “Is anybody else hearing this? Can any of you hear me?” Nobody answered or moved or so much as sniffled in annoyance at my outburst.
“Spite digests fear like stomach acid digests food and the earth creates flesh like a womb.”
I look out the window, desperate for any sign that we were nearing my stop. I thought to myself that this just has to stop. It has to. Please just something make it stop! All I saw was another identical but unfamiliar tunnel. It was shorter. It was darker. It felt like not just another direction for trains to follow but this whole other place. No, it wasn’t a place but a thing that was drawing closer and closer the longer I sat there. It felt malevolent and my heart was then hammering inside my chest. My skin prickling with anticipation for something unidentifiable and horrible that was bearing down on me. On everyone in the subway car if they existed at all. But why would I even think that? Of course they exist, I told myself. I looked down to see more beetles on my hands and I shook them off frantically. My skin was crawling so viscerally I hadn’t even noticed the bugs at first.
“I don’t want this.” It was practically a sob as the words came unbidden out of my mouth.
“You don’t get to choose. A god is forming. A great, horrible god is eating and growing and wanting.” The little girl laughed but it was humorless. It wasn’t mocking or cruel, it was just a sound that reverberated in my brain threatening to break apart the tenuous grasp I had on reality. Or at least what I thought had to be reality because it couldn’t be that. No, it certainly couldn’t be that horrible subway car full of people who couldn’t hear me and a little girl that certainly didn’t act like a little girl.
Another gaping hole in the wall appeared across from me through the window. I couldn’t tell if my skin was just prickling from terror or if the feeling of movement on my face was tears or if it was all beetles but I couldn’t bring myself to look away from the tunnel. I just clawed at my clothes and hair as I was transfixed by the gaping void across from me. It wasn’t even pretending to be a tunnel anymore. The break in the subway was jagged and the hole was darker yet more alive. The broken subway tiles were like teeth and the flickering lights more like the wet glistening of the inside of a mouth.
That’s when I finally screamed. I screamed as we passed the horrible hole in the subway wall. I stood and screamed and brushed more black beetles from my body and screamed. I screamed so hard that my vision went blurry from the effort. I screamed so long I went deaf to the sound of it.
“Spite fueled by fear will feed a god. A god to break anything unbroken. A god of vengeance.” The little girl’s voice seemed so far away but it stirred something inside of me.
Suddenly, I didn’t have the energy to be afraid anymore. The terror had burned everything up inside me. The anxiety and the stress and the confusion had completely fried my brain. I didn’t even realize I had stopped screaming until I noticed that I could hear the rhythmic clicking of the tracks again.
I sat back down, suddenly calm. This was either real or it wasn’t but either way I needed to protect myself. There was no way out so I did the only thing that years of all sorts of anxiety and a fair amount of trauma had taught me to do. I shut down. I disassociated. Like a clockwork doll, my gears shut down one by one from head to toe and the world around me, whatever world it was, became a poorly painted stage I was nothing more than a prop on. Had everyone else already been pushed this far? Is that why they didn’t respond? The little girl’s legs stopped swinging.
“What are you doing?” Her tone changed for the first time since she had spoken about the bones made of sand. It seemed like hours ago by then. Maybe a whole day.
“I’m sorry, I dropped my book.” My voice itself sounded like an afterthought, monotone, as I numbly reached to the floor. As I grasped my book, several black beetles fell from my sleeve with their legs curled against their bodies. I dusted off the cover. “There we go.” I didn’t really mean to do or say anything, my body was on autopilot. Subway mode activated.
“The earth is full of boiling blood from creatures ages older than your earliest ancestors!”
“Oh.” I cracked open my book, just an extra in a play acting out their role as weekday commuter. The anxiety left and had taken most of my senses with it.
“YOU’LL ALL BE RULED BY AN INCREDIBLE MONSTER”. The little girl started yelling and stood on her seat. “YOU’LL SUCCUMB TO AN ANCIENT STOMACH.”
She may as well have been quiet radio static crackling across from me. I could hear her but I couldn’t process the words in any meaningful way. Everything but basic functioning was turned off. I barely realized I should care and even that dwindled away. I turned the page of my book, having not read a word, and started counting until it was reasonable for a person actually treating to need to turn another page. I counted to one hundred then proceeded as if I had read every sentence.
“What are you doing?!” It was her turn to sound scared. Maybe angry. It was hard to tell.
I looked up and she was then blocking the window but I glanced ahead anyway as if I could see through her, and I could barely see anything from the haze of my own defense mechanism. I just noticed the wall flitting by in my peripheral vision. I looked back down at my book and started counting to the next page turn. It felt like my organa and bones and brain were wrapped up in cotton. Everything was dampened. Muted. It was a comforting feeling. So many times in school, with my family, work, college, in public… I shut down to protect myself and get through whatever horror was happening around me. I heard the girl, or whatever she was, thump back down in her seat.
A familiar hiss reached my ears that signified my stop was approaching. I closed my book and put it back in my pocket. I folded my hands in my lap and stared ahead with a polite smile stuck into place. Default. Innocuous. A carefully crafted expression as not to invite any attention.
The girl’s hand suddenly shot out and gripped my arm, incredibly firmly for such a small hand, but I didn’t so much as flinch. I was used to much harsher treatment from much larger hands. I learned not to react decades ago. Reacting makes it worse, whatever may be coming. Shut down. Edure. Survive.
“Won’t you stay with me?” She sounded more like a little girl than she had the whole time. A real little girl.
“I’m sorry, sweetie.” My fake customer service voice dripped from my mouth. “This is my stop and I have to go to work. But it’s been nice talking to you.” I didn’t mean any of it but I didn’t have to.
“But… ” her mother, or whatever it was, finally came to life at that. She pulled the child back into her seat.
“C’mon, hon. Leave the nice person alone. It’s time for them to go. Maybe next time you’ll make a friend that stays longer.” The woman smiled at me as I stood and grabbed my things. I mirrored it back at her.
I heard the subway car doors open and I moved towards them. It wasn’t until I was out and moving quickly to the stairs that my brain allowed me to register what I had seen on my way out. Every other person in the car, every single person who wasn’t me, the girl, or her mother… was a corpse. They were in various states of decay and the more advanced ones were writhing with black beetles.
When I was finally in the sunlight and the open air, finally out of that bizarre hellscape, finally out of that disgusting mass grave, I vomited. There was no bush or trash can to throw up into so I just pitched forward and heaved hard several times until my stomach was completely empty. Then I fled. I didn’t want to be aware of anyone or anything around me, I just walked as quickly as I could towards my job. Work. I felt like that would be safe and I could breathe. I just needed to get to work and everything would be okay and the nightmare would be over.
I finally walked into the front doors and it was like walking into a whole new, clean, atmosphere and I could breathe deeply for the first time since I boarded the subway and sat amongst the… I couldn’t think about that, though. Whatever it had been. I couldn’t let myself think about the trip or the doctors appointments I needed or the therapy I needed or… the exorcism? I didn’t have the time or the energy to sort out any of that. Who would believe anything I said? I took a deep breath and started heading to my desk.
“Hey, early as always.” My cubicle neighbor made his way toward me.
I looked up and tried to smile but I must have faltered because his face turned down just a hair.
“Are you okay? Can I get you a drink?” He gestured with his mug of coffee.
“Ah, yeah. I’m okay. Thank you, though. Just a rough subway ride.” I laughed as if to brush it off but it sounded hollow to me.
“Thinking about a trip from your old job?” His eyebrows seemed to arch impossibly high on his head.
“No, just now. But it’s fine. I just want to get to work.” I smiled winningly to assure him that I was indeed okay. Instead, he frowned even harder.
“We don’t… ” he lowered his voice and came in a bit closer, “we don’t have a subway around here.” I felt cold all over in an instant.
“Haha what did I say? I meant food! I hit up Subway for breakfast on my way over.” I hoped with every particle of my being that there was actually a decently local Subway sandwich shop. “It was a hassle. Not worth it.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.” He considered me for a silent moment but apparently figured whatever I was going through was harmless. “Why don’t I grab ya a bottle of water?”
“Sure. That would be great, thanks.” I walked to my desk on numb legs and sat down.
I was frozen for a moment. I let myself count to thirty then after that I had to get moving. No subway here? I’d ridden it over a dozen times – I killed the thought before it could awaken new panic. For thirty seconds, I just sat like a dummy again pushing everything unnecessary out of my mind. Then I turned on my computer and started unpacking my things. Once everything was in its place for the day, I reached into my sweater pocket. The book was more than just for emergency reading, it was a comfort. It helped ground me when everything else felt wrong. Some people have worry stones or stress balls or jewelery to fiddle with. I ruffle the pages of a worn paperback.
It was gone. I had either dropped it in the… or it fell out of my pocket when I had been throwing up. Either way it was gone and I felt a bit naked. It was still my probationary period at work so I couldn’t just beg to go home early but I still considered it for a moment when my fingers met the inside seam of my pocket with no resistance. I took another breath and logged into my computer.
The rest of the day went on perfectly normal. No giants, no bones, no gods. My neighbor seemed pleased in the positive turn in my mental state since the morning. There was no trouble, nothing that made me question existence or my sanity. Near the end of my shift, I started getting nervous, though. Part of me wanted to know what would be there if I walked to the subway that my coworker said didn’t exist. I couldn’t even bring myself to Google it. Not at work. Not before I could really rest and recover. I was getting by on willpower alone and it was quickly fading. I felt like I was made out of a soap bubble and the slightest tremor would destroy me. I felt like my brain would pop with any more stress. I scheduled an Uber to pick me up instead. That also went well as they didn’t talk and I stared at my phone the whole time.
As the driver pulled up to my apartment building, I could almost convince myself that the whole thing had been an extremely vivid nightmare I had on the way to work. The subway existing or not? Who knows. Maybe I was walking the whole time and just made up the subway to protect myself. I knew that didn’t make sense but I didn’t care. I was beyond exhausted. I just wanted a hot shower and my bed. No, I needed an extremely hot shower and then to fall into a sleep damn near like a coma.
I unlocked my apartment door and pushed it open. I heard something scrape across the floor and I looked down just to have panic flood through me all over again. Fresh, ice cold terror washed away any other thoughts as I looked at the floor. It was my book. The one I had lost on whatever journey I had taken. It was covered with dirt. Nearly pitch black, damp earth clung to it as if it was excavated from a grave. A little black beetle trundled out from between the pages.
When I was in High School, Two of my Classmates Mysteriously Died
It started with my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Baldwin, showing up late for class. Before his arrival, several of my classmates had made the usual joke about being legally allowed to go home if Mr. Baldwin didn’t show up after 15 minutes. That’s right, kids have been making that joke going as far back as the 80s.
But after 15 minutes and Mr. Baldwin still hadn’t shown up, a sense of unease started to creep it’s way into the class. No one left, or got out of their desks. We simply sat there and watched the clock tick away.
“I guess teachers play hooky too,” My best friend Owen said to me. Owen Fielder was a sardonic and sometimes aloof boy, with dark hair and fair appearance that I was envious of. “What do you suppose English teachers do when they play hooky, Pete? You think Mr. Baldwin is curled up with a dictionary somewhere?”
“It’s not just him,” I said suppressing a laugh and hooking a thumb behind me. There was an empty desk there. “Larson never came today either.”
Hal Larson was a quiet boy. He was genuinely good humored, but always so quiet. I had run into Hal outside of school over the weekend, and he had said something strange, but I tried not to think about that. No one had showed much concern about his absence; after all students were absent all the time. Kids got sick or played hooky. But teachers, well teachers were always there weren’t they? And when they weren’t, there was always a substitute there in their place, ready to prove themselves.
“Maybe they’re both dead,” a boy sitting behind me said. His name was Caleb Summers. “Not that I would mind. One less boring teacher and one less numb-nuts in the world. No, I wouldn’t mind that at all. Good riddance. Have a nice trip, see ya next fall!”
“Shut up, ratboy.” Owen said. Once in 8th grade, a rat a had found it’s way into the school. When Caleb saw it, he screamed a high pitched scream and nearly fainted. Since then Owen had gotten to calling him ratboy. Normally I wouldn’t be one for name calling, but Caleb “ratboy” Summers was a shrewd and nasty kid, and had a tendency to get on peoples’ nerves. He was like a mosquito that kept buzzing at you and wouldn’t stop, no matter how many times you swatted him away. The nickname was well suited for him.
“Bite me, Fielder.” Caleb said and he gave Owen the finger.
“I’d rather bite into a cyanide capsule,” Owen said, flipping the bird in return.
“You shouldn’t say things like that Caleb.” Another boy said. He had a not-so subtle southern drawl, that I always found endearing. His name was Chester Higbee. “What if they really are hurt?”
“Oh, screw off hick,” Caleb said. “I’m sure their both fine. Probably making out somewhere.”
The banter eventually died out and a terrible silence had taken over the class. Then, approximately 35 minutes after class was suppose to have started, Mr. Baldwin stepped into the room. His face was pale and sweaty, and he looked nothing like the cool and hip english teacher I was use to seeing at the start of every day. He looked tired. So very very tired.
“Hey guys,” Mr. Baldwin said in a pallid voice. Hey guys? Normally Mr. Baldwin would start the day with a hearty ‘Morning Class!’ and whenever we didn’t respond enthusiastically enough, he’d say in an even louder voice, ‘I said good morning class!’
“I don’t know any other way of saying this, so I’ll just come out with it.” Mr. Baldwin said. “Your classmate…your classmate Hal Larson is dead. I was just in a meeting with the rest of the faculty. We’re canceling school for the day. You’re welcome to use the phone in this room or in the main office to call your parents if you need to. We’ll also have grief support later this week for those of you that need that. I’m so sorry guys. I’m just so very sorry.”
A sort of dumb shock had taken over our class. Mr. Baldwin started sobbing and it was weird seeing him cry. You never saw teachers cry. Occasionally you saw them at the supermarket, and that was strange enough…but you never saw them cry.
No one said anything for what felt like an eternity. And then a girl started sobbing as well. Other students had similar reactions, some asked Mr. Baldwin what happened, but he wouldn’t say. But most of us just hung our heads in a kind of numb sorrow. This was the first time I had experienced death this close. Sure I had distant relatives that died, but I saw Hal Larson every day of the week. And now….now he was dead? It felt unreal.
I thought the encounter I had with Larson outside of school. I had tried to forget it, but it was hard to forget now. The memory rang loud in my head.
“Pete, you’re not going to believe it,” Larson had said running up to me a couple days ago. His face was sweaty, and he was more energetic then usual. And he had a very intense look in his eyes. “I just saw my dead dog man, and he was glowing. He was glowing. I missed him so much. I saw him. I swear it.”
Before I could even respond, he ran off.
I shook away the memory and looked back at Caleb. When our eyes met a defensive look came over his face. “What the hell are you looking at Pete? It’s not like….I didn’t think he was actually….” But his voice trailed off and he simply looked away in shame.
Of course rumors immediately started flying about how Hal Larson had died. The sort of low and nasty kind of gossip that only high-schoolers can make. It wasn’t until the evening news that we found out more details. Hal Larson’s body had been found near a pond completely lifeless. There had been no signs that he had drowned and there were no signs of a struggle. The police said they were treating the case as a “potential homicide” but weren’t ruling out drugs or some kind of illness. It was all the information we were given.
School resumed the next day, but it was anything but a normal day. The school had brought over grief counselors and experts who spoke to us at length about dealing with death and “letting it all out.” The police came as well, and asked if anyone knew anything. I told them about my encounter with Hal, what he said about his dog, but the officers just looked at me with raised eyebrows and then dismissed me, like I was some annoying child. In between classes, as kids walked to and fro in the hallway, more rumors spread.
“Aliens man. It was the aliens that got him.”
“He obviously OD’d. I gotta cousin that OD’d. Hey, you got any more pills?”
“What if there’s really a killer out there? Oh jesus oh jesus…”
“I swear I saw him the other day. He said he saw his dead dog. Isn’t that kinda strange? Said his dog was glowing.”
“He was into some weird shit, man.”
“He was such a sweet guy.”
“He was such an asshole.”
“He was in with the wrong people.”
“Oh jesus, oh jesus, what if I’m next?”
“It’s wrong.” Chester said in one of our afternoon classes. “All these terrible things people are saying about Larson. It’s just not right.”
“Fucking savages,” Owen said. “Guy hasn’t been cold for more than 24 hours and people are piling on him. Makes me want to hurl.”
“But what do you think happened?” I asked sincerely. I hated the gross rumors as well, but there was a part of me that deeply wanted to know why Larson had died. His death was a total mystery. It was almost as if the life had been sucked from his body. I had told Owen and Chester about my encounter with Larson, and neither of them could make sense of it.
“I don’t know,” Owen said sadly. “I don’t want to know.”
“I hope it was peaceful,” Chester said. “I hope whatever happened, he went peacefully.”
“No one dies peacefully,” Caleb muttered under his breath.
“Shut up, ratboy,” Owen said, turning toward Caleb in disgust. “Nobody asked you. And stop saying creepy shit like that.”
Caleb made a face at Owen, but said nothing else. It seemed to me that he was still dejected and ashamed of the comments he had made the other day, back when we all thought Larson was alive. To make matters worse for Caleb, more and more people were finding out about what he had said.
“Maybe they’re both dead. Not that I would mind…No, I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
High school gossip was like a terrible game of telephone. Someone said one thing, and that one thing was stretched and pulled and changed until it no longer resembled the original thing it once was. Words were like wind, always flowing and changing direction.
“It was Summers, man. It was Summers that did Larson in.”
“You hear what Summers, said?”
“He said ‘Wish I had killed Larson.’ “
“No, no he said he DID kill Larson.”
*”Didn’t you hear? Summers hated Larson. He had been planning this for years.”
“Summers is fucked in the head. He’s a freak.”
“Glowing. Said his dog was glowing.”
“How did Summers do it?”
“Oh jesus, oh jesus what if I’m next?”
“Summers is gonna get his.”
It didn’t matter what Caleb actually said. His words had taken on a new life. And word eventually reached the adults about Caleb’s little joke(or one of the telephone’d versions of it) and the police came to speak with him. Nothing came out of it, legally at least, but from that point on whenever Caleb walked the hallways, people stepped away from him, like he smelled or had the plague. People would sneer, and someone pushed him into a locker.
Caleb Summers had become a leper.
“I almost feel sorry for Summers,” Owen said one day after school. We were watching Caleb leave the school. Some kids were heckling him. “Almost.”
“C’mon, Owen,” I said. “Caleb…he sucks, but he doesn’t deserve this.”
“Doesn’t deserve it?” Owen said irritated. “This is Caleb Summers we’re talking about here. The same Caleb Summers that laughed at Molly Hanson when her cat went missing. The same Caleb Summers that called Darren Lowe a you-know-what. The same Caleb Summers that cut Larry McDaniel’s bicycle tires. Far as I’m concerned, ratboy is getting what he deserves.”
“I guess,” I said. “But he didn’t have anything to do with Larson.”
“This is high school, Pete.” Owen said matter-of-factly. “So ratboy will get hazed a little bit. No one actually believes he’s the killer. By next week people will have forgotten all about him.”
I could do nothing but shrug and hope that was the case.
A vigil was held for Hal Larson on Friday night. It was a beautiful ceremony that took place on the high school’s athletic field. Larson’s parents spoke, and many of his teachers and classmates were scheduled to speak as well. Everyone lit candles and the whole field was bright with little orange flames. I was with Owen and Chester near the back.
“I hope I never see my mom cry like that,” Chester said. “God that was hard to take. I feel so bad for his parents.”
“I don’t know if my mom would be happy or sad if I died,” Owen said. I couldn’t tell if he was joking. It was hard to tell sometimes.
I wonder if I would get a vigil like this if I died, I thought morbidly. Mr. Baldwin had taken the stage and was giving a speech, but his voice faded away into the background, because of what I saw. I saw three people who were walking away from the vigil. Even in the dark I could tell one of them was unmistakably Caleb. The two other figures were leading Caleb into the school. No, forcing him was more like it. I nudged Owen and Chester and pointed at the three figures moving in the dark.
“Oh, this is not good,” Chester said in that southern drawl of his.
“We have to check it out,” I said urgently.
“Ahh, do we have to?” Owen said. But eventually sighed. “Alright, lets go.”
The three of us put out our candles, made our way to the school entrance and slipped inside the building. We walked down the school’s darkened hallways. It was eerie being in school after dark. It didn’t take long to find them. They were in the gymnasium. It was the screaming that gave them away. When we walked into the gym, Caleb was on the ground in tears, and his nose was bleeding. Two students were standing over him. One of them was kicking Caleb. Kicking him hard.
The student who wasn’t doing the kicking was Allen Hux. He was the quarterback of our football team. Allen in a lot of ways was unlike most jocks. He was an all around decent guy, who was nice to everybody. He hung out with the other jocks, but he’d also play cards with the nerds. He had a vast comic book collection, aced every test, and could sling a football 60 yards without even trying. He was a total boy scout, but tonight he towered over Caleb like some sort of vengeful greek god.
The other boy was Trevor Mattison. If Allen was Superman, Trevor was his Lex Luthor. He was fond of leather jackets, and smoked regularly. He didn’t care about school spirit or football games, and he flunked at almost everything. I don’t think he had ever read a comic book in his life. He was the one who was kicking Caleb.
Allen Hux and Trevor Mattison were both on two opposite ends of the high school spectrum and seeing the two of them standing together was a surreal experience. Superman and Lex Luthor had joined forces.
There had been so much heat on Caleb this week, so much frustration taken out on him, and now it had all come to this boiling point, where two students stood over him, like a pair lions ready to pounce on a gazelle.
“What the hell is going on here?” I said. Allen and Trevor turned around. Caleb looked up, but there was no relief on his face.
“What’s it look like?” Trevor Mattison said. And there was a maddening gleam in his eyes. “We’re giving Summers what he deserves.”
“I didn’t do it,” Caleb said out of breath.
“Shut up!” And Mattison gave him another kick.
“Stop that!” I yelled. “Come one, Allen. This is insane. He didn’t do anything.”
“What about you Fielder?” Allen said darkly. And his face, which was normally so cheery, was a cold slab of stone. “You hate Summers as much as anybody. You don’t think he deserves an ass kicking?”
“I think…” Owen said. There was a slight hesitation in his voice. He looked at Caleb’s pathetic form on the ground and gave another sigh. “I think Pete’s right. Much as I don’t like ratboy…he’s no killer. We were all there when he said what he actually said. It was just a dumb joke. It was in poor taste, but that’s all. He didn’t even know Larson was dead at the time.”
“You boys are taking this way too far,” Chester said softly.
“You didn’t hear what he said tonight,” Allen said coldly. “Tell them what you said.”
“Go on Summers, tell them,” Trevor said. “Tell them what you told us you freak.”
At first it didn’t seem like Caleb would say anything. He simply rubbed his bloody nose on his shoulder, and spit on the gymnasium floor. Then he spoke. His voice was pallid and pitiful sounding. “I saw him. I saw Larson. I saw him tonight. He was glowing…”
No one said anything. We simply stared at him in dumb shock. In the back of my head, I thought of my encounter with Larson. I could tell Chester and Owen were thinking the same thing.
Glowing. Larson had said his dead dog was glowing.
Then Allen spoke. “He came running up to vigil saying this nonsense. ‘Larson’s alive! Larson’s alive!’ Can you imagine? It’s bad enough what’s been said about him this week. He couldn’t just stay away tonight. Couldn’t just leave it alone. He had to come and try to rile everybody up with this bullshit. At Larson’s vigil for crying out loud. Imagine if Larson’s parents had heard him? You should have stayed away Summers. No one wants to see your face. “
“So Hux and I got the idea of bringing him in hear and giving him some justice,” Trevor said. And again there was that maddening gleam in his eyes again. “We got him away before anyone else could hear him. I gotta admit, I didn’t know Hux had it in him!”
Allen didn’t say anything. He simply looked down at Caleb with complete disgust.
“I saw him. I saw him.” Caleb said. And there was no hysteria in his voice. He spoke as if every word was true.
Trevor brought up his leg for another kick.
“No, wait.” I said and I bent down to get to eye level with Caleb. His face was a mess of blood, snot, and tears. I had gone to school with Caleb for years. He had not been a nice kid. He lied and said terrible things. Poked at too many people. But there was something about what he said. Maybe he was lying….but what if he wasn’t? “What do you mean you saw Larson?”
“I saw him,” Caleb said hoarsely. “I saw him by the park not to far from the pond. He was glowing. And smiling. He waved to me…I swear, I swear he did. I know he’s dead, but I saw him.”
“Oh give me a break,” Trevor said and he connected another kick with Caleb’s stomach. Caleb groaned and it seemed to me that Mattison was enjoying all this a bit too much.
“Stop that!” I said and then I shoved Trevor.
“What the hell’s your problem?” Trevor said in response. He raised one of his fists, and his knuckles were flaked with scabs and dry blood. Probably from his countless other fights. “You want some of this too?”
“Why are you defending him?” Allen said.
“Well, what if he’s telling the truth?” I knew how ridiculous it sounded the moment the words came out of my mouth, but there was something about Larson’s death I couldn’t ignore. His body had been discovered by a pond, completely lifeless. There had been no sign of struggle, and so far no official statement on his death. What if something had gotten Larson? Something terrible, like out of a nightmare or a campfire story. Something that lurks in the dark, but glows when it wants to be seen…
“I know this sounds crazy,” I said. “But I ran into Larson before he died. He said….he told me he saw his dead dog. He said his dog had been glowing.”
“You started that?” Allen said raising an eyebrow. “I thought it was just another BS rumor floating around.”
“It’s true,” I said defensively. “I did run into Larson and he did tell me that. And now…now Caleb is saying something similar.”
“Because he heard the rumor,” Trevor interjected. “He heard about what Larson said and now he’s trying to spin his own bullshit on it, to rile people up.”
“I don’t doubt that you did run into Larson,” Allen said to me. “And I believe he did tell you he saw his dead dog. Maybe he was on something. Maybe he was messing with you. Who knows? There’s a lot we don’t know about Hal Larson. Only that he didn’t deserve to die. But Summers here….Summers I don’t believe. Summers is a parasite and he was trying to disrupt the vigil. That I can’t let stand.”
“But what if Caleb is telling the truth too?” I said thoughtfully. “And what if Larson really did see his dead dog, and he went looking for it…and then It got him…And maybe…maybe now the same thing that got Larson is pretending to be Larson.” Again, I was painfully aware of how ridiculous it all sounded.
“You hear what you’re saying?” Trevor said. “Larson got done in by something pretending to be his dead dog? You’re worse than Summers. At least he knows he’s full of shit.”
“I admit it sounds farfetched,” Chester said. “But I’ve heard of strange things like this back in Louisiana. There are folklore, legends and such.”
“Yeah, and maybe the boogyman is real too,” Trevor said mockingly. “In fact, I think I saw Sandy Claus last year. Only he wasn’t delivering presents, he was stooping a hooker behind the convenient store. Ho-ho-ho!”
“I don’t buy any of it,” Allen said. “You’re just trying to prevent the inevitable. Summers was gonna get his ass beat sooner or later. Stop protecting him.”
“Well, why don’t we just go and fucking check it out?” Owen said. He had been quite for a while. I could tell he was having trouble with the situation. He didn’t like Summers, but Owen wasn’t a bad guy. And he wouldn’t want someone getting beat up like this….especially if they were telling the truth. “Maybe Summers is lying, or maybe he isn’t. There’s only one way to find out isn’t there? Lets just go the park and see if anythings there.”
No one said anything. The only sound was Caleb’s pitiful wheezing. Then, a look came over Allen. It was a look of regret and shame. As if he finally realized what he and Trevor had been doing. He looked down at Caleb’s bloody figure and winced. He looked more like the boy scout I knew him to be.
“Fine,” Allen said soberly. “We’ll….check it out.” He even bent down and helped Caleb to his feet. Caleb tried to push away, but Trevor latched one of his arms around him.
“But if there aren’t any dead dogs or glowing boys,” Trevor said and another mad smile crossed his face. “Then we’ll really give you something to talk about Summers.”
The six of us made our way out of one of the school’s side entrances. We were away from the vigil, which was still going strong. I could here the sound of the school choir singing. On this side of neighborhood, there wasn’t anyone else in sight. We walked on, with Allen and Trevor in the vanguard, Chester and Caleb in the middle, and Owen and I in the rear. For all the beatings he had taken, Caleb was walking strong, and seemed more composed now. Allen and Trevor would continuously look back at Caleb, to make sure he didn’t try to run away.
“Do you really believe this?” Owen asked me quietly.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But it didn’t sound like Caleb was lying.”
“Yeah, okay. But Pete, if he isn’t lying, what the hell are we going to do if we run into this thing?”
“Oh…” I said a little pathetically. “I guess I don’t really know.”
Owen gave a wild bark of laughter, shook his head, and we walked on. Eventually, we made it to the park. It was an eerily quiet night. So quiet in fact that not even the crickets were chirping.
“Well, here we are,” Trevor said. “Yoo-hoo! Are there any glowing monsters here?”
“I saw him,” Caleb said. “He was here. I swear he was right here.”
We looked around the park, but there was nothing but darkness. Trevor and Allen began closing in on Caleb, like sharks drawn to blood. Could Summers really have been lying about it all? Is he really just a pest, trying to stir shit up? Did he come to the vigil just to mess with everybody? To dance on Larson’s grave?
You said he was glowing Summers. You said you saw Larson and he was glowing. Show us dammit. Show us or these guys are going to break you in two.
“Well, there ain’t no one else here but us sunshine,” Trevor said.
“We’re tired of your shit Summers,” Allen said darkly.
“He was here. I saw him! I saw him!” Caleb said in a panicky voice. Sweat had broken out on his face, and the rivulets streaked through the dry blood.
“Guys, come on…” I said, but Owen placed a hand on my shoulder and shook his head. Hux was 6’3 and was nothing but muscle. Mattison had years of experience of getting into dirty brawls. I wouldn’t be able to stop them anymore then I could stop the sun from rising each morning.
And now Caleb Summers was going to get his.
“What’s going on here?” We all turned toward the sound of the voice. There was a policeman walking down the road toward us. Caleb didn’t waste a moment. With Allen and Trevor distracted, he immediately ran the other direction, into the dark. He was gone in seconds.
“Allen Hux is that you?” The officer said when he finally got near enough. Every cop in town knew Allen Hux. He was the star of our high school, the pride of our little perfect town. “Mattison is that you too?” Every cop also knew Trevor Mattison, though obviously for different reasons.
“It’s me sir,” Allen said.
“What are you boys doing out here?” The officer said, eyeing the five us suspiciously. He seemed just as surprised as I had been to see Hux and Mattison together.
“We just left the vigil,” Allen said. “We were all heading home.”
“Is that right?” The cop said, scratching his nose. “Who was that other boy I saw? The one that ran off?”
“Other boy?” Mattison said innocently. “What other boy? You fellas see another boy here?” He looked at us and there was a glare in his eyes. A glare that said: Don’t you say a fucking thing.
“Alright, alright, enough Mattison.” The officer said somewhat darkly. “I sure as hell don’t know what is going on here, but you boys go home now. There’s no curfew yet, but that may change. Go on now.”
The officer made a shooing motion with the back of his hand and the five us of started down the road. Eventually Allen and Trevor split off from us and disappeared like wraiths in the night.
“You almost made me believe Pete,” Owen said when it was just the three of us left. “Can you imagine if something had shown up in the park?”
“It’ll get worse for Summers now,” Chester said bleakly. “Hux and Mattison won’t let this go. They’ll tell others what Summers said tonight. It’s going to get real bad for him.”
“He needs to stop stirring shit up,” Owen said. “I mean coming to Larson’s vigil tonight, saying the things he said. What did he think was going to happen?”
At that Chester and I merely shook our heads. What had Caleb Summers been thinking? What did he hope to achieve by being such an annoying pest? Was it some kind of retaliation for the way he had been treated by others this week? Didn’t he realize he was making things infinitely worse? Why would he lie about seeing Larson in the park? Couldn’t he feel the fervor that was taking over the school, the town even? Didn’t he know people were upset about Larson’s death, not just the tragedy but the mystery of it all? Didn’t he understand that Larson’s death was a blotch on our perfect little town and people were screaming for answers? Screaming for justice?
“I saw him. He as glowing…”
Things did get worse for Caleb Summers after all. Hux and Mattison told people about Caleb’s antics at the vigil, andword spread very fast. If he hadn’t been already, then there was no doubt that Caleb was now public enemy number one, as far as our high school was concerned. More and more people started shoving him in the hallway. Teachers, who would normally put a stop to that, simply looked the other way. Once, while walking down the hall, I even saw Mr. Rathers bump into Caleb. He bumped him so hard that Caleb nearly fell over. Mr. Rathers didn’t even acknowledge Caleb. He simply kept walking.
And as for Caleb himself….well, he looked like a walking ghoul. His face and body were bruised from the beating Allen and Trevor had given him the other day. His skin had gone a sickly pale from all the stress, and his eyes were constantly narrowed, as if he was always expecting some sort of attack. He didn’t speak much either. He simply kept his head down, only darting his eyes up every once and a while to make sure no one was coming behind him.
Caleb was once a lively person, who would often say terrible or nasty things, but now…now he was like a scarecrow. A walking scarecrow that said nothing. A scarecrow that constantly looked over it’s shoulder, for fear of having it’s straw ripped out.
“Did you hear what Summers said at the Vigil? Can you believe it?”
“He said he killed Larson. Admitted it right out in the open.”
“I heard he had a bomb on him. He was planning on taking everyone out right then and there”
“Summers said he’s gonna do it again.”
“Who do you think we’ll get it next?”
“Summers man, watch out for Summers.”
“Oh jesus, oh jesus…”
“Glowing. He was glowing.”
Worst of all, Caleb Summers was alone. He had no friends, no confidants, no one to protect him in anyway. He was on an island, surrounded by sharks. Hundreds of them. Owen and Chester had cautioned me against trying to comfort Caleb or help him in any way, for fear that some of Caleb’s would-be-attackers would turn their attention to me. Especially since I was the one that started the “rumor” about Larson saying he saw his dead dog. No grief ever got back to me though. It only ever was targeted at Caleb. I still felt bad for him, even though he had lied about seeing Larson in the park.
Did he lie though? Are you still sure that he lied, Pete? Are you okay with what’s happening right now?
I wasn’t okay with it. There was a part of me that still believed Caleb. Believed he had seen Larson in the park, days after he had died. The same way Larson had seen his dead dog. There was something lurking in our town, lurking in the shadows, and it was preying on people, but no one was noticing it. No one, but Larson and Caleb.
It was Caleb vs the rest of the school for days on end. Caleb couldn’t even take the school bus anymore, the kids on there would crowd around and gang up on him. And the bus driver would simply whistle and keep on driving. He had to run home at the end of every school day. Some kids would follow him on bikes and throw things at him. It was terrifying how quickly people had turned on Caleb.
*”We know it was you Summers! We know it was you!”
“What were Larson’s last words killer? What’d he say killer?”
“Why’d you come to the vigil Summers, why’d you come to the vigil?”
“Oh jesus, oh jesus. I’m next. I’m next.”
“Glowing. I swear he was glowing.”
“Someone should put an end to Summers.”
Through out it all, Caleb never said anything. Never fought back. He took their jeers and punches on the chin. He simply trucked on, like a scarecrow floating down a river. It didn’t matter how many stones the scarecrow ran into, or how many branches it got snagged on; it simply kept floating down the river, even as it lost all it’s straw. Eventually, Caleb ran out of straw.
He was found dead just a couple weeks after Hal Larson had died. His body had been found not too far from the park, where he claimed he saw Larson that night of the vigil. According to the reports his death was eerily identical to that of Larson as well. There were no indications of how he died. No signs of a struggle. He had a couple of scraps and bruises(from his continuous tormentors) but other than that….it was as if the life had been sucked out of him.
At first I thought that maybe one of my classmates had taken things too far. That Hux or Mattison had finally decided to give Caleb what he deserved once and for all. Had decided to put an end to Caleb “ratboy” Summers. But I knew that wasn’t true. No one from my school killed Caleb. Not directly at least. Caleb had been killed by the same thing that killed Hal Larson. A thing that lurked in the shadows, yet seemed to glow as well. A thing that could take the appearance of a dead dog or a dead school boy.
But in some ways maybe my school was still responsible. Maybe they had picked on Caleb one too many times. Maybe Caleb went searching for that thing that lurked in the shadows, hoping it would put him out of his misery. In the end it had. Caleb Summers was dead.
After Caleb’s death, our school closed down for a couple days, and a strict curfew was put in place. A strange thing happened after his death. It was as if the violent fervor everyone had against Caleb had broke, and a sort of shame and disgust had come over my classmates. Shame for how they had treated him. Yet even though their shame was clear to see on their faces, none of them would admit to how badly they had treated Caleb.
“Poor Caleb. He was such a nice guy.”
“He was an angel, wasn’t you? Can’t believe he died.”
“I hung out with him at Larson’s vigil, nicest guy in the world!”
“Lets pour a toast for Summers!“
“To Caleb Summers! To Caleb Summers!”
“Oh jesus, oh jesus, I’m next.”
“They’re all pretending like it never happened,” Owen said to Chester and I one day. We were hanging out in my backyard. The curfew wouldn’t be for another hour. “Like rat…like Summers wasn’t on top of everyone’s shit list for weeks on end.”
“We’re guilty in all this,” Chester drawled. “We should have listened to you Pete. We should have stuck up for Caleb. It all went too far.”
“It doesn’t matter now,” I said glumly.
“Do you think whatever got Larson, got Caleb? The…glowy thing?” Chester asked, and there was clear fear in his eyes.
I simply nodded. After that Chester left, saying he had to be home soon. It was just Owen and I and for a while neither of us spoke. Then Owen said, “Did I ever tell you I was best friends with Summers when we were kids?”
I shook my head.
“It’s true. Back in elementary school, before you boys moved here. I use to hang out with him all the time on the weekends. Our houses aren’t that far apart. He got me a pop gun for one of my birthdays. Can you believe that? I still have it, somewhere buried in my room. The strange thing is, I can’t remember why we stopped being friends. It’s just a blur to me Pete. One day were were friends, and the next day we weren’t. One day I was hanging out with him and the next day I was hanging out with you and Chester. Why…why do kids stop being friends with each other? Why do they stop, Pete? When did he stop being Caleb Summers to me and become rat…ratboy? I wish I could say sorry to him. God I am sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” was all I could say. Eventually Owen left. It got dark and curfew set in. The stars were out and the moon was bright. There was a small open field behind my house. I was going to go inside, when something caught my eyes. There was someone standing in the field.
It was Caleb Summers.
And he was glowing.
“Caleb, is that you?” I said in shock. I hopped my backyard’s fence and ran into the field. It was Caleb. His skin was white and there was a glow to him. He was waving at me and he was smiling. Gesturing for me to come closer. I felt as if I were in a trance. I needed to get closer to him, had to get closer.
Caleb, I can’t believe it’s Caleb!
And then it happened.
Caleb Summers vanished. What was standing in the field instead, was something black and oozy like tar, with tentacles like an squid . It had red eyes, and they glared at me hungrily. One of it’s tentacles made a swoop at me, but I quickly jumped back. I gave a shout and then ran back to my house. I jumped over the fence, ran inside the back door of my house and locked it. I fell against the door, gasping.
I knew instantly what I had just encountered. It had been the thing that killed Hal Larson and Caleb Summers. The thing that lurked in the shadows of our perfect little town. I had only survived because it had mistakenly dissolved it’s illusion a moment too soon. Had it pretended to be Caleb for only a second longer….
Eventually our little perfect town went back to normal. School and life resumed. No one died for the rest of the school year, and during the summer I found out my father had gotten a job in California. We moved away from that town. Owen, Chester, and I said we would always stay in touch, but eventually that stopped, and I lost contact with them. I haven’t spoken to them in years. I never forget about them though. Or about Hal Larson and Caleb Summers. Part of me wants to go back to that perfect little town. See if Owen and Chester are still there. I wonder what they’ve been up to all these years.
But another part of me is afraid.
Afraid that when I walk those streets at night, I’ll see something glowing in the dark. And it’ll be Caleb Summers, waving at me.
Caleb Summers, smiling.
A New House Appeared in my Neighbourhood
Mount Harmon is where I have lived my whole life, where I tell this tale from my childhood from. Its one of these small towns in New England where everybody knows each other, the kind of place that looks like it hasn’t changed in fifty years. The biggest attraction is the gas station, where most people buy their groceries as well as gossip about the residents. You get the idea, there’s not much going on here.
Anyways, it was really weird when a new neighbor showed up. Not a person mind you, an entire house. It just showed up out of nowhere. Mrs.Danforth was the first one to notice, naturally, as it was suddenly right next door to her. She called Sheriff Franklin, and once people saw the sheriff heading over towards her road, everybody knew something was going on up there.
Vinny, my older brother was the one who told me about it.
“Ricky, Franklin just rolled up the Danforth road, you want to come check it out?”
I did, it beat whatever mind numbing thing I had been doing. We grabbed our bikes and made our way up the hill. My brother and I figured one of the Danforths had died, they were quite old.
“Hey, where did that come from?” I nearly crashed into Vinny as he braked abruptly, seeing the house that had never been there before. We both sat with our mouth’s hanging open. The sheriff’s cruiser was parked on the other side of the road, the Danforths stood talking with him on their porch, all three peering at the new house in fear.
It was large, three stories, with a long curved driveway that lead to a barn beside it. Despite being a new structure, the house itself looked like it had been sitting there for about two-hundred years. The paint was deteriorating, the porch sagged and the upstairs windows looked like they were cracked.
We watched the sheriff go timidly up to the end of the driveway, ducking low and trying to look through the windows. By now more people had joined us, at what seemed like a safe distance from it. Other kids from the middle school gathered around us where we had parked. A few speculated on what the house could be.
“Its a ghost house, no doubt,” Donny Maron said, his confidence selling his theory to a few other onlookers who nodded in agreement.
“Nah, it can’t be a ghost house, its solid, plain to see as you and I!” Tim Desmond pitched his opinion in.
“Yeah, well, then how did it get here?” Donny asked, folding his arms and wrinkling his nose at Tim. They glared at each other.
“Maybe it was invisible!” Tim finally retaliated, folding his arms as well.
“That’s stupid, then somebody would have crashed into it!”
Their debate got rather heated.
It seemed that no one really knew what to do about it. Franklin had Deputy Reevis bring down caution tape and road blocks. It wasn’t reassuring to see the way they kept a close watch on the house the whole time, neither daring to put the tape on the structure. They closed down the entire road instead, keeping everyone from getting near it. Not that anyone dared to.
A town meeting was scheduled to decide how to proceed. For the first time in my life I wished I was allowed to attend, opting to listen crouched down by the windows instead. We weren’t the only kids who had made their way to hear the outcome, Donny and Tim were there, along with about half of our middle school.
The meeting was long, involved a lot of shouting, caused tension between families, and in the process gave all us middle schoolers reason to pick on each other for where our families aligned themselves. It was a thrilling thing to be spying on, in other words.
They ended up forming two sides, one that thought the house should be demolished, while the other half said it should be left alone. There were various reasonings for either side. I was curious how our parents would vote, not hearing their voices arguing along with the rest.
As people started to make their way to the doors we all fled, trying to act like we had all been playing pick up ball. Grim faced parents called on us to go home.
“So, how are you going to vote, Pop?” Vinny couldn’t wait any longer when we crossed the front threshold, badgering my father before he had slipped his shoes off. He looked at Vinny and I and simply pointed upstairs. This was his way of letting us know he would be talking to our mother in private. We ran up the steps, both shoving each other for the best spot at the top of the stairs to hear down into the living room. As usual, Vinny won and cupped his ear. I found myself holding my breath, eager to hear what my father had to say.
“It would probably be safer to leave it be…” my mother decided to start the conversation after a long spell of silence.
“How do we know it isn’t dangerous keeping it up?”
The discussion was less exciting than we had hoped, but it ended with my father saying he thought it should be demolished, and if it came to it, he would help take it down. My mother said she wished he wouldn’t.
We had a quiet dinner that evening, our parents sent us to bed earlier than usual after. I tapped on Vinny’s door when I heard snoring coming from the master bedroom. He let me in, shutting the door quickly. I could already tell he was eager to discuss something.
“We should go look at it, right now!” he whispered excitedly. I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear him say this, but my stomach was already filling with butterflies at the prospect.
“Vin, what if we get caught?” I was trying to reason, the argument was shaky though. We were seasoned veterans at leaving our house at night. Vinny scoffed, pulling his sweatshirt over his head. He started tying his laces. It seemed I had little chance of persuading him not to go.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to wuss out?” he looked at my nervous posture. I bit my lip, I knew it was a bad idea. I didn’t want him to go by himself though.
“No, I’ll get ready,” I said, regretting it immediately. I went back to my room and got dressed, then met Vinny by the backdoor. We grabbed our bikes out of the yard and pedaled up the hill.
Vinny was really eager to get there, going extra fast. I, on the other hand, felt like each pedal was putting me closer to certain death. Once we got to the roadblock Vinny parked his bike next to it and left me behind, making his way up to the driveway. I glanced up at the house. In the dark it looked all the more menacing, hostile even. I shuddered, hoping that we wouldn’t be staying long. Vinny had his toes at the bottom of the driveway, staring up at the house with a longing look.
“This is as close as anybody has gotten…” he said softly. He was right, not even our sheriff had been where he was. I couldn’t bring myself to stand next to him. Something primal told me not to.
He stared at the house for a long time, inching his toes a bit further into the driveway every now and then. Once his heels were completely across, I got nervous.
“Vinny, let’s go, its late. This isn’t a good idea. We have school tomorrow!”
He finally turned away from the house, addressing me with disdain.
“Fine. But we’re going to come back. This is important stuff man, it’s like we’re exploring the moon!”
The next day the school was abuzz, the only topic was the house. Even the teachers got into our debates. The votes were to be tallied the next day to see what to do with the house itself. After last bell, I made my way over to the bike rack to meet Vinny, unsurprised to find him bragging about our midnight excursion to Donny and a few other eighth graders.
“Is he full of shit or what?” Donny asked when he saw me coming up. I shook my head.
“No, we really went to see it,” I replied. Donny spit on the ground and addressed Vinny.
“I call bullshit. There’s no way you went into the drive. Let’s see you do it again.”
Vinny rose to the challenge, eager to prove to Donny he wasn’t afraid.
“Okay, Donny, meet me tonight, I’ll show you. Be there at midnight,” he told him.
That night I waited for Vinny to signal to me that it was time. When he came to get me I tried to convince him to bail. He wasn’t having it.
“No way, and have Donny tell everyone I was too afraid to meet him? Uh-uh! Plus, what if they bulldoze it down, don’t you want to be able to say that you were brave enough to go up to it?”
It really didn’t matter to me, I was only feeling dread at the prospect of returning. Again, I found myself being dragged along, not wanting Vinny to be there alone in case Donny didn’t show. As we got to the roadblock I could see Donny’s silhouette and somebody else parked beside him. As we got closer I realized it was Tim.
“I told him we were going, he wanted to come too,” Donny gestured to Tim. I was kind of glad to have more people around this time. I hadn’t liked the way Vinny was looking at the house last time. He made me think I might have to drag him away from it.
“The more the merrier, eh? Alright Donny, watch and learn,” Vinny strode toward the driveway nonchalantly as we watched from the road. I held my breath as Vinny went even further than he had the night before. He went up the drive about twelve paces, then turned around, facing us with a huge grin on his face. Tim clapped sarcastically, Vinny took a bow and ran back over to us.
“Alright, so I guess you’re not so full of shit,” Donny relented, “But, I can do better than that.”
He marched up to the driveway, taking a nervous glance at the house before he ran up just ahead of where Vinny had stopped. Tim clapped again, Donny flipped us off before he came back over. My stomach was churning, feeling that we were really pushing our luck. Vinny was pissed that Donny had outdone him, saying he would do better than that. I begged him not to, making myself look like a wimp, but I was finally able to pry him away.
“Hey, Vinny, maybe leave the baby at home next time!” Donny said, climbing on his bike and taking off down the hill with Tim. Vinny gave me a lot of shit the whole way back, saying that I had cost him a victory. I didn’t care, their new rivalry made me feel nauseous. I knew nothing good could come of it.
The next day we had the outcome of the vote at noon, which ended in dramatic fashion.
Mrs.Danforth had begged the town to leave the structure up, saying she thought demolishing it would only release whatever was held within onto the world. She shocked everybody by saying that they were moving out, going a county over and leaving their house for the last fifty years, and the town they had lived in their whole lives. About twenty people pitched in to help them load up, then they were gone, Mrs.Danforth weeping as they rode away.
The only thing this meant to Vinny was that he could now venture to the mysterious house whenever he felt like it, without anybody around to see him.
He and Donny upped the ante when we all met up to play the game again. They had a wooden chip that was painted blue on one side and red on the other. After they argued over who got to pick the color first, Donny ended up with red and Vinny with blue. They would place the chip at their feet, leaving their color right side up until the other person came to pick it up and walk it further. The first day we used the chip Vinny made it halfway to the barn. Donny claimed he had something to do when it was his turn, opting to call it quits at that point.
Every time we went he would go a little further, able to beat Donny by a few feet. Tim and I were there only to be witnesses, it seemed. Some word circulated about the game they were playing, but even though Vinny was prone to bragging, he realized if he confirmed it, somebody would put a stop to it. Donny was just as tight lipped, surprisingly.
The game continued, Vinny now only a few steps away from the barn. Every piece of me told me to stop him, to prevent him from going any further, but some morbid curiosity would overcome me, wondering if my brother may just prove to us the house was ordinary after all. As he smugly placed the chip down and strode back to us Donny was scowling. He looked like he was ready to prove something.
“Alright, Vin, get your notebook out for this one!” he taunted. He jogged to where the chip was resting, but unlike they had done up to that point, he tossed it up towards the front porch. It landed with the blue side up just below the steps. Tim and I exchanged looks. Vinny’s expression didn’t change. Donny chuckled as he walked back, bumping into Vinny on purpose.
“I changed the rules, whoever’s side it lands on has to walk to that spot now,” he said. Vinny looked like he was going into war as he made his way toward the chip. I put myself in front of him.
“Vinny, please, don’t,” I begged. He shoved me aside. His eyes were focused on the porch, barely registering me.
“You know I have to,” was all he said, continuing on his way. It was nerve-wracking to watch him go, each step he got closer we grew more tense. Even Donny began to second guess himself.
“Hey, Vinny, let’s just get another thing to mark with, I think this might be a bad call…” he shouted, to no avail. Vinny had let this thrill become an obsession, there was no stopping him. Finally, he was bending down to pick up the chip. He held it high for us to see before he placed it on the top step, blue side up.
We left after that, silently processing the last round. Vinny had purposefully called on himself to go up the steps. It seemed he no longer had anything to prove to Donny or anybody else, he was caught up in the rush he got from it. He came to me that night with an idea.
“I’m going in next time,” he said. It didn’t surprise me, but I found tears running down my cheeks. I knew nothing I said would make a difference. I nodded my head.
“I’m going to tie a rope to my waist, if anything goes wrong you guys can just pull me back out,” he continued. I fell asleep crying that night, not knowing how to stop what I feared would happen tomorrow.
Tim and Donny were waiting for us the next day, gravely silent, waiting for Vinny to address them. He tied the rope and explained what he wanted them to do, asking me to be at the front of the line.
“Vinny… I love you,” I whispered, trying not to cry. To my surprise Donny and Tim were also misty-eyed, clapping Vinny on the back and wishing him good luck. Vinny looked at us fondly, giving me a hug before turning away. I watched the rope uncoil by my feet until there was nearly nothing left. Vinny was on the top step. He looked back at us, then reached for the door.
I wanted to scream at him to stop, to turn back and take me home, beg him to read me stories out of his favorite books, to ruffle my hair, to flash me his wicked smile. But I couldn’t. Some part of me had to know, just like he did, what this house was. I tightened my grip on the rope as he pushed the battered door open, revealing the dark entryway. He was there for a few seconds, then he disappeared from view.
The rope nearly escaped from me. Something had yanked all three of us forward into the driveway. I kept my feet dug into the dirt but it was no use, whatever had a hold of Vinny was taking us all with him. My hands were being ripped apart, Tim and Donny were screaming behind me, all of us still keeping the rope in our grasp despite the agony. I was wailing, barely able to breathe from the exertion and terror.
We were heading at the front steps with alarming speed. My heels left the ground and I tried bracing myself against the steps, pushing back with everything I had. By then Tim had let go, screaming at Donny and I to do the same. I flew upwards, smashing my knees and shins into the splintered wooden steps, being dragged to the doorway. I let out a cry of despair, fear, rage.
I let go just before I was pulled through the dark entryway, falling to the porch and rolling to my feet, desperate to catch a glimpse of what was happening inside.
I would never get one. The loop that had been tied around Vinny’s waist was tossed out at me, the door slamming shut immediately after.
In my shock, I laid down, unable to comprehend what had happened. Donny ran up the steps and pulled me to my feet, taking me down the steps and away from whatever was in that house. The rest is a blur. I made it home. Tim and Donny had to retell what had happened up there, I was too shocked to speak.
I moved into the old Danforth house when I got older. I didn’t buy it, it wasn’t for sale, but nobody was going to stop me from living there. I spend my nights on the porch, looking into the upstairs window, my brother staring back, surrounded by darkness, not a day older than the last time I saw him.