It was all Nick’s bright idea. The four of us — Nick, Alice, Mary, and I — were supposed to head over to Ridley’s house to hang out and kill some time watching a horror movie. It was, after all, in the Halloween spirit, and being in the 11th grade we were all too old to go trick-or-treating unless we accompanied some kids. We didn’t know of any, and none of us had any younger siblings. I had suggested to spend the night either giving out some chocolates and candy for kids as they went door to door, or to go to one of those Halloween parties one of our school friends were having. But the rest of the guys were just too lazy or didn’t care to be around the other guys from school. They just wanted to watch something scary together. Which was cool, I guess. I wasn’t interested, but they kept nagging me to hang out with them for the night.
And so we set out to do that, taking our path down the streets passing by spookily decorated houses with kids going door to door all dressed in their costumes — of vampires and princesses, from Scream masks to ghosts. And of course, there were a handful of young superheroes. No trick-or-treating for us. We were just going to watch a movie.
That is, until Nick had the bright idea to set us off course.
“Hey guys, how ’bout we just cut through the wooded park here. We’ll get to Ridley’s house faster that way. Plus, I hear it’s haunted in there,” he said, cackling as Mary let out an uneasy sound at his idea.
“I hear some creepy shit happens there at night,” Alice said.
“All the more reason to take a stroll down there on Halloween!” Nick exclaimed, placing his hands on his hips. “C’mon Paul, you aren’t scared, are you?” he smirked, seeing me rooted on the spot.
I rolled my eyes. “We’re perfectly capable of walking down the streets around it, and we’ve got the time. Why cut through there? You know it’s not safe after hours. Everyone knows that.”
“Pssh, you’re just being a pussy about it. You know that’s just superstitious crap they make up to scare us.” Shaking my head, I gave him a look of disdain. “C’mon man, a little spook never hurt anyone. And tonight’s the night of all nights.” Nick started making his way toward the woods. Alice shrugged and followed closely behind him.
“Um, guys, I dunno,” Mary said. She looked unsettled, nervous. “There could be some freaky people hiding in there.”
“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” he grinned, reaching out to her. “Stay close to me and you’ll be alright, Mary.”
Alice looked at me and rolled her eyes. “Typical.”
“Hey, I heard that!” Nick snapped.
“Oh good. So you did clean your ears out this time,” Alice retorted.
“Ew, that’s gross,” Mary squealed.
Nick had his arm wrapped around her, and if there was enough light you could see her face a deep blush. “Don’t listen to her. She’s nuts,” he said to Mary. Nick was still that immature kid, and everyone knew he had a thing for Mary. She was always the shy kind, and somehow, out of all the other girls, she easily fell for Nick’s antics and attempts at getting attention, especially her attention.
“Paul, ya coming?” Nick called as he turned back to look.
“Alright, alright, jeez,” I said, giving him a bit of a glare as I followed the group down to the woods.
“You’re just a scaredy-cat,” he responded.
“Am not!” I huffed angrily. He was really starting to piss me off. Looking at Alice, I muttered to her under my breath. “Just why are we agreeing to this?”
“Eh, shouldn’t be a big deal. You know Nick’s a whiner if he doesn’t get his way. Let’s just give him what he wants.”
“This is just stupid. Like, legitimately stupid. There could be some dangerous people in there. We could get lost.”
“Okay, yeah. That’s true,” Alice frowned. Lowering her voice even more as she put her arm out in front of me to put some distance between us and the other two, she whispered, “But… we don’t have to let him have his way, exactly.”
“What do you mean?” I asked her, wrinkling my nose.
“Well…I’ve got an idea. Since he’s trying to play this up as haunted, that we’re too ‘pussy’ to handle it…I say we get ourselves some payback. We’ll scare the crap outta him instead,” she snickered, whispering conspiratorially to me. “We can disappear and jump him. Then, poor Mary’s gonna see just how strong her knight in shining armour is when she hears that unmanly scream of his.”
I chuckled softly, “You’re sooo bad Alice! So mean! Hell, if anything, you’re gonna scare Mary half to death rather than Nick. He’ll be so pissed!” I whispered back, trying hard to not let the others hear me.
“It’s gonna be so funny,” she said. I let out a snicker, no longer able to hold it back.
“Hey, what’s so funny back there you two?” Nick said, raising an eyebrow. He had a corner of his lip upturned as he looked at us. Mary followed his line of sight and looked a little confused.
“Oh, just laughing at you two. You’re just so cute together. So adorable,” Alice said with a huge grin.
“Aww…” I joined in, just for good measure.
“Haha, whaat?? Noo!” Mary giggled bashfully.
“Oh c’mon, give us a break already! Always ruining everything, you guys!” Nick barked at us. It was now too dark to see his face, but we all knew he was embarrassed and trying to hide it.
As soon as Nick and Mary turned to look forward again, Alice tugged me by the arm. She raised her eyebrows and flicked her head to the side. It was clear what she had in mind. I shook my head as I tried to hold back another laugh. Slowly, we crept away from them, moving forward but keeping a distance from them at their side. It was difficult to keep up without making noise, moving through the leaves and stepping on dead branches as they snapped beneath our feet. It was getting more and more difficult to breathe as I nearly guffawed with bellyfuls of laughter at what we were about to do.
“I once heard someone was murdered here. Sacrificed in some satanic ritual or something,” Nick said, his voice eerie. “It was said they marked the site with his blood. They took his eyes out and buried his body somewhere in the woods here.”
“Hey Nick, stop that!” Mary said, slapping his arm. The wind whistled through the leaves and Mary scrunched her shoulders up, looking around wide eyed. “Okay, it’s getting creepy here.”
“We’re like half-way there. There’s nothing to be scared about. No point in turning back now.”
Suddenly, Alice let out a hoot, making Mary jump up with a startled yelp. I had to cover my mouth with both hands to keep myself from bursting.
“Whoa, that was loud,” Nick said as the hoot echoed through the cold air. “Did you guys…” he started, turning back to look at us, “…hear that…?” He stopped, looking around. He was startled. We were no longer behind him.
“Hey, where did everyone go?” Mary asked nervously, her eyes darting back and forth.
“Oh, I’m sure they’re just snooping around, trying to scare us or something,” he said, trying to sound confident.
“They were just here a second ago.”
“Yeah, I know,” Nick responded, scratching his head as they stopped walking. “Hey, come on out you two. We don’t have all day. Or…night. Whatever. Just knock it off.” It was already working, they were getting nervous. I looked over at Alice, our eyes gleaming with anticipation.
Slowly, they started stepping forward with trepidation. “Knock it off guys! This isn’t funny. We know what you’re both up to.”
Slowly, we followed them. Nick kept yelling out for us to quit it, but we weren’t making any moves. We wanted it to really sink in, to let him think that we were really gone. Mary’s voice was starting to shake, and it got Nick all the more agitated and frustrated. Then, when we knew he really was freaked out, we struck, jumping from the side as we howled bloodthirsty screams.
“AAIIEE!” The two of them screamed, shaking with terror. Nick clung onto Mary as his face contorted. Alice and I held our bellies as we laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
“WHAT THE FUCK GUYS!!! YOU SCARED THE SHIT OUTTA ME!!!” Nick screamed in startled anger. We could barely see each other now, but we knew his shoulders were hunched up as he seethed with fury.
“Oh my gosh!!” I laughed, tears running down my cheeks. “Did you hear yourself? I think I’m going to die!” I laughed, backing up against a tree. “We got him good Alice!”
“Just whose stupid idea was that, huh?!” Nick yelled. He took his steps towards me and gave me a rough shove as I tried recovering from the laughter, my abdomen now sore.
“It was her idea. She dragged me into it,” I said. That was when I turned my head to look at Alice and found darkness instead. “Hey, Alice?”
“Hey, c’mon. You won, you got us good, joke’s over!” Nick growled. We were met with silence. I slowly stood up, my grin slowly slipping as I looked around with confusion.
“Alice?” I said. Suddenly the air seemed to grow colder. “Alice, where are you?”
“I’ll bet you any money she’s trying to get us again. Lame!” he shouted for her to hear. “C’mon Mary, let’s keep going.”
Mary didn’t respond either.
“Mary?” Nick called out.
The two of us stopped dead in our tracks. We spun around, trying to see where she might be. “What the hell?” I said.
“Oh, c’mon! Are you kidding me?!” Nick bemoaned.
“They couldn’t be trying the same thing again.”
“She was right here! And she wouldn’t go outta her way to scare anybody. She wasn’t in on your stupid prank in the first place.”
“Yeah I know. But then where the hell did they go?” I said, finding myself utterly confused. Suddenly things weren’t funny anymore. We had to find them and get out of the woods.
“Oof!” I heard Nick cry out, followed by a heavy thud on the ground. He must’ve tripped and fallen over a log. I looked around but couldn’t see him. The darkness was too thick.
“Hey Nick, you alright?” I walked toward the sound. “Hey, Nick?”
There was no reply.
“Nick, what the hell’s going on?” I shouted. My words seemed to echo in the expanse of blackness.
“Okay guys, this isn’t funny,” I said with annoyance, stiffening my body as I projected my voice to overcome the nervous shakiness in my words. They must’ve conspired to scare me like this. They had to. There was no other obvious explanation. I knew they’d probably get a laugh out of it hearing me call for them. They would know I was scared, crying out as I stood alone in the darkness.
“Okay, haha, very funny. You guys got me, okay? I give!” Still there was no response.
I instinctively wrapped my arms around my body as I shivered, quickly whipping my head to the sides as I stepped in a circle, looking around me to find the others. It was a cold night and the moonlight was scarce beneath the heavy cover of bare tree branches, like a dense patchwork of impervious long and frail black fingers.
I didn’t have a flashlight, but since I had my cell phone in my pocket I took it out and was able to use it as one. I almost regretted turning it on. Not only was the white light dazzling to my eyes as it sent me squinting, but seeing the trees and a vast amount of darkness was unnerving. Seeing things in the dark with a flashlight definitely made things creepy. As I slowly walked forward, I felt repelled, my body wanting to recoil. I wanted to get out of here. Seeing the woods like this was a sight not meant to be seen.
I circled around, shining the light around me. I half expected to see some demented face jump out, and my breaths started getting shallow with a looming sense of dread. I didn’t know where the others were, but I needed to get out here.
“Alice? Nick? Mary? Where are you guys? We have to get to Ridley’s,” I spoke loudly. Still no response. I was getting spooked. It was really getting to me. I started picking up the pace, almost not caring where the rest of them were.
“God dammit, where are you guys?!” I shouted in desperation.
I jumped upon hearing Alice’s voice, the light fumbling in my hand as I nearly dropped my phone. She had shrieked, and it sounded like she was in trouble. The hairs on the back on my neck stood on end and a cold shiver crept down my spine.
“Alice?! Alice, where are you?!” I yelled back. I headed in the direction of her voice, quickening my steps as I felt both unrelenting fear and a sliver of hope. “Alice, I’m coming! Stay right where you—”
I was cut off as my foot caught onto a log. I fell forward, landing painfully with my hands shooting out to grab onto something for support. But there was nothing. In that instant, my phone flew from my hand and landed a distance away. A shot of pain ran through my hands, feet, shins, and face as I smacked onto the ground against the sharp debris of cold wood and rocks. I cried out in agony. The fall seemed to knock the wind out of me.
After a brief moment, I was able to breathe again. I looked up and saw the light from my phone flicker. It must have been damaged in the fall.
Great. Just fucking great. First I’m lost and on my own, now this! I slowly pushed myself up and off of the ground, my face and hands smeared with dirt. After clenching my teeth and groaning from the pain, I slowly moved to grab my phone. Turning it over, I found that the screen was cracked. Turning the screen on, I saw that it was still functional.
It was only then that I realized I could make a call. I could call them. Why didn’t I think of that before?
I dialed Alice’s cell number and waited. Nothing. Hearing the ringing on the phone was enough to give me the creeps. I hung up and dialed Nick’s number.
“The number you have reached is currently unavailable. This is a recording. The number—” I hung up in frustration. I started dialing Mary’s number but then my phone rang, startling me. It was Ridley.
“Hey, Paul? Where are you guys? It’s been over half an hour already.”
“Shit! Nick wanted us to cut through the park to get to your place. We…we got lost.”
“What the…wait what?? Why the hell would you guys do that?”
“Nick said it was haunted and shit, wanted us to get the thrill of walking through it.”
“Jeez, you’re not serious. You guys know it’s not safe there at night. Are the others with you?”
“That’s another problem. They’re not.”
“…What do you mean they’re not there? I thought you guys went in there together?”
“We did. But I dunno…Ridley, I need to get out of here but I can’t find them! I can’t leave them here. I don’t know what to do!”
“Paul…hehe, c’mon…okay…you’re trying to freak me out, aren’t you?”
I stuttered. Why was he laughing? Did he really think this was a joke?? “Wait, what??”
“C’mon Paul, you’re joking right?”
“What the fuck Ridley?! I’m fucking lost right now, I don’t know what happened to the others, I’m scared shitless, and if I haven’t already said so, I’m fucking lost!” I screamed into the phone. I was starting to lose it. I was scared and frustrated, and he thinks I’m joking! I was close to breaking down in tears.
But somehow talking to Ridley, to another person, felt like a lifeline. For this small moment, I wasn’t alone.
“Holy shit… Okay, okay I believe you. Keep me on the phone, okay? I’m walking out to the front porch right now. Do you have a compass app or something on your phone?”
“Yeah…let me find it…shit it’s so cold out here,” I said, taking the phone from my ear to see the screen as I moved to the compass app. After a brief moment of detection, it gave me a direction.
“I’m…It’s says I’m facing East.”
“Okay, perfect. Just keep heading that way and you’ll end up out of the woods and onto my street. I’m going to grab my flashlight and stand near the—”
“Ridley? Ridley?? Hey Ridley, are you there??” I shouted into the phone. In response, I heard the ring indicating the line had been cut. It was an eerily and unwelcoming sound. I panicked. My lifeline for the time being was cut.
“Shit!!” I hissed. I told myself to just keep walking forward. There was no way I could find the others. I had to save myself and then call the police.
I walked and shivered. The wind whistling about giving me the chills. With every step the dread increased, and I couldn’t seem to shake off that feeling of being followed, that someone was behind me.
And then, after a short moment of walking, I heard a voice. It came from behind, but I couldn’t make out the words.
I stopped and looked back. “Guys? Is that you? Are you there?”
More voices. I heard Nick’s voice. Then Mary’s. But I couldn’t make out what they were saying, couldn’t understand them. And then I heard a scream. The same scream. Alice’s scream.
Panicking, I tried to steady my hand as I slowly brought the light from my phone to shine behind me. And what I saw possessed me in a bout of frantic hysteria.
Behind me stood a pale, bony, naked human figure. Whatever it was, it was disfigured with numerous scars. And it stared at me with black sockets that wept ink. There were no eyes, and its mouth was sewn shut.
A sound I didn’t recognize as my own slipped from my mouth as my knees buckled and I fell backward, frantically crawling away as I screamed and screamed before finally finding the strength to get up and run. Adrenaline was flowing through me as I raced onward, my dying light all that was left to show me the way. The voices behind me started growing louder and louder, faster and faster. They hissed, shrieked, and moaned with a demonic crescendo.
Suddenly, I saw a dim yellow glow before me. A streetlamp! I was out of the woods now! I raced as fast as I could as the sounds chased after me. Finally, my foot landed on the pavement, and I was on the sidewalk. I made it.
“PAUL!!” Ridley shouted as raced his way over to me. As he neared me I collapsed into hysterical sobs of terror. To my surprise, he caught me and held me. Human contact had never felt as relieving as it did then. I had never yearned for it more than I did now.
“Paul, what’s going on? I lost you over the phone. Are you alright?” He pulled away to get a good look at me as I hyperventilated, trying to get air.
“There’s…there’s someone…something in there… I…I don’t know.”
“Where are the others?”
“I don’t know.”
“We need to call the cops,” he said, whipping out his phone as he dialed and told them his version of the story. I stood there clinging onto him, shell shocked. My eyes were wide open, my face cold and pale. I did nothing else but whimper.
“Okay, c’mon, let’s get you to my house. Can you walk?”
I nodded, but I didn’t move. He looked at me for a moment. He saw distress. It wasn’t until he put his arm over my shoulders and urged me to walk with him did I move forward.
My mind was blank. I was stiff, and as he asked me question after question, I left him in silence. I was not myself. It was as if something was gripping me on the inside that kept me from speaking. I couldn’t find my voice.
When we finally reached his house, he ushered me into the living room and onto the couch. He flicked on the light switch and sat in front of me.
“Paul…you look out of your mind. You’re not okay,” he said nervously. He knew something was very wrong.
I shivered, my face pale and streaked with dark dirt and tears. “I…” I found it so hard to speak. My throat was caught and it took tremendous strength to utter a sound. “I…”
“Something really bad happened back there, huh? What happened—”
At that moment, through the living room window, the police rolled up to his driveway with their blinking lights on, bathing the room in red and blue. Ridley turned his head and slowly got up.
“Okay, wait here. I’m going to go out and let them in.” He gave me one last look as my eyes pleaded in desperation for him to stay. He sighed, and then left me to go open the front door. I looked out the window and saw two officers exit their car to meet him. I gulped, staring wide eyed.
Suddenly, the lights in the living room flickered. A soft hum of the flickering lights filled the room before a loud noise announced a blackout. Darkness descended.
Softly, the voices returned. They seemed to be coming nearby, beside me.
In the corner of my eye, a pale and bony figure stood still, and it looked upon me through weeping black holes.
I opened my mouth, but no sound escaped.