October 2008 Challenge: "WTF? Is that it?"
Your story has to be suspense or horror.
~ It cannot exceed 3,000 words. (Don't mention it...I already know I bypassed the word limit by a long shot, which pretty much delivers a guarantee that Mare will NOT be reading this. LoL)
~ You must end it with a cliffhanger. You can imply something but you can't just flat out let us know what happens. Hence the WTF? title lol
~ It must be told in first person.
~ There has to be some kind of supernatural presence within the story.
~ You have to include Kevin but you cannot kill him or make him the bad guy.
~ Even if you aren't doing a BSB story, Kevin has to be included.
~ You are not allowed to make a banner for this story.
~ You have to include one of your biggest fears inside the story somewhere.
“In The Still of the Night”
October 2008 - December 2009
Warning: Garber’s Hollow Cemetery. 50 feet ahead. Enter at your own risk.
“This is so cool!”
I watched as my younger friend stomped over to the nearly hidden sign that consisted of a decaying wooden board and red paint that was hardly legible. His eyes lit up with an excitement that I couldn’t bring myself to understand and he lightly ran the tips of his fingers over the lettering in awe. I shook my head; there was just something about walking into a grave yard located in the middle of nowhere at three in the morning that I didn’t find very appealing. Dead time he had called it with a simple shrug of his shoulders like it was a term people used on a regular basis. Dead Time…also known as the Witching Hour. That right there made me wonder and question what was running through his mind when he suggested we all get together and embark on this little adventure. I told him he was insane. It was hardly my idea of a good time, but Nick had begged and pleaded to the point that I was afraid I would lose my sanity if I didn’t agree to go along with it. So there I was, standing in knee high grass with my winter jacket wrapped securely around my body as I stared forward along the dirt path that wove through the dense patch of trees ahead of us.
“We are so going to Hell for this,” Brian grumbled with a tight shake of his head as he stopped to stand tentatively beside me.
I could tell just by looking down at him that he was clearly unpleased at the moment and not that I blamed him, but he had been given every opportunity to decline the invitation for the outing. Although, just like me, Nick had been rather persistent with each of us, and just like me, Brian found himself in the same position I was in. “If I remember correctly, you and I spent our fair share of nights gallivanting around in the Lexington cemeteries,” I reminded him, wincing as a sharp wind tore at the numbing skin on my face.
Brian frowned. “Yes, but I made peace with God about that a long time ago,” he answered seriously. Burying his hands into the depths of his coat pockets, he released a disgruntled breath and we both watched as it wisped through the air briefly before becoming eliminated by the wind. There was no speaking the obvious out loud; it was freezing. “There’s a difference between being kids and being curious as opposed to being well adjusted adults and making stupid decisions. It’s one thing to do what we used to do as kids, but this? Tramping through a cemetery with plans to disrupt the dead? A Ouija board?”
I chuckled softly, just light enough that I was sure my cousin hadn’t heard it. “Then why did you come? You could have said no,” I pointed out with one brow raised.
“That’s clearly beside the point,” he answered with a glare and our conversation dropped immediately.
We started to walk again, into the trees that were no less threatening than before. AJ and Nick took charge of the front of our line and I could just barely make out the sound of their hushed chatter. Not that I really cared much to make sense of what they were scheming, because it was a good bet we would all find out sooner or later. Brian had taken to grumbling sullenly beside me and somewhere a foot behind, Howie remained tuned into the conversation he’d been holding over his cell phone. True to his personality, he rarely went without the device, especially given the current situation. I, on the other hand, wished to just get the whole thing over with quickly so I could return to the warmth of my own household. “You still have that flashlight, Bri?”
“Yes, and you can’t have it,” he answered childishly.
I sighed. Not only was the cold making me feel absolutely miserable, but I was stuck following two suicidal maniacs because they insisted on dabbling with the unknown, my own cousin was set on letting the whole world know he was unhappy because he didn’t have enough balls to just say no, and Howie, the one person I thought I would be able to rely on throughout the ordeal wouldn’t admit that he was the least bit terrified, even when his facial expressions clearly showed it. “Suit yourself,” I shrugged.
“Howie. Cell phone. Off. Now!” Nick ordered with a delighted smirk as we all came to an abrupt stop at the mouth of a large black iron fence.
Craning my neck upwards, I could visibly make out the words “Garber’s Hollow” and just the view of the weaving letters sent the trembles racing along my spine. My heart hammered briefly and I shook away the overbearing feeling that something sinister was beckoning us inside from just out of sight. “Do you have any idea where we’re going, Nick?” I called to him as we moved forward. I could safely venture to guess that he was as clueless as the rest of us because he didn’t answer.
Almost immediately I noticed a light fog creeping along the ground from all sides, and one by one head stones started to bob up and down as we ambled along the path. I had to admit, the atmosphere was a little unsettling. Other then the sound of the wind and the soles of our shoes crunching, the silence was very pressing. I almost preferred to hear something because the longer none of us spoke the more I began to take Brian’s line of thinking and second guess the whole idea. However, before I could get a word out to voice my opinion, AJ’s gruff voice pierced the night air and we came to yet another halt.
“According to this map it should be in that general area,” AJ spoke, his tone distracted. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to anyone in particular as he pointed off to his diagonal left. I honestly didn’t care.
“And what is it exactly?” Brian asked and he stepped closer to peer over AJ and Nick’s shoulders at the old map they were sharing.
“The Stair Case to Hell,” Nick answered knowingly with a cackle, which Brian immediately responded to with a sharp slap to the back of Nick’s head. At least he saved me the trouble of having to do so.
“That’s comforting,” Howie spoke for the first time and his voice was laced with sarcasm. I looked back at him with a shrug but he didn’t return the gesture lightly.
“This is ridiculous. First it’s, ‘Let’s go disturb the dead at three in the morning!’, then it’s, ‘Let’s bring a Ouija board with us!’ and now it’s, ‘Let’s go take a walk on the Stair Case to Hell!’ Have you both lost your minds?!” Brian exclaimed, his glare chillingly dead set. He turned sharply to me. “What did I tell you, Kevin? We’re going to Hell!”
“Literally,” AJ smirked.
Bright idea AJ. As if a comment like that was really going to help the situation. If I didn’t know any better, I thought Brian was surely preparing to knock AJ to the ground when Howie stepped in between them with a less than amused look. “Let them have their fun, B,” he suggested calmly. “Besides, it’s all child’s play. There’s no such thing as a “Stair Case to Hell”.”
“You’re wrong about that one,” Nick responded. “I can prove it.”
“By all means Nick, humor us.”
“Follow me,” he motioned.
The three of us allowed them to get several paces ahead before we grudgingly followed in their wake. The longer we walked, the more uncomfortable I got and with us that were holding up the back of the line, I was sure the feeling was mutual. To occupy my time and pull my mind elsewhere, I caught glimpse of age worn head stones. The differences varied from simple little stones marking plots to the extravagant ones that stood inches above the misty ground. Some dated back a couple hundred years and others mixed in were more recent. I sighed with a shake of my head. “How much further?” I decided to question as we neared another grouping of looming trees at the opposite end of the cemetery that now surrounded us on all sides.
“It’s not that much further. Just a bit of the way through those trees up ahead,” Nick answered with a determined look etched across his face. At that moment, AJ leaned sideways towards him and whispered something in Nick’s ear, to which Nick responded with an enthusiastic shake of his head. “So you guys want to know about the “Stair Case to Hell”?”
“Absolutely not. In fact, I-”
“I’m so glad you asked, B,” Nick interrupted him immediately with a half grin. He wrung his hands together and I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. I didn’t trust him one bit right then, but I was hoping that the sooner I played along the sooner we could high tail it out of there and return to the land of the living. No pun intended of course. “According to this map, located just past this line of trees up ahead, is an old stone staircase that leads down to what used to be a church. The church burnt down nearly two centuries ago and all that remains is the stone doorframe with the thick wooden door itself still intact-”
“Great. You told us the story. Now lets go home,” Brian snapped with a tight glare.
“Not so fast shorty. He hasn’t even gotten to the good part yet,” AJ grinned. His interest was nearly alarming.
“Anyway,” Nick continued nonchalantly to answer AJ’s smirk. “So, legend has it that after being built, the church began to flourish rapidly, with its congregation growing in numbers more than the founders would have imagined. But they had all failed to heed a warning about the land the church had been built on-”
“Let me guess…it was cursed?” I interrupted with disinterest.
Nick’s eyes narrowed almost immediately. “You’ve heard this story?”
“Lucky guess,” I sighed with a shrug. “Go ahead, Nick. Continue.”
For several moments he stood there, his posture stiff and his arms crossed over his chest as he glanced around at our tiny group huddled together against the bitter cold. In fact, I was waiting for the moment that he openly showcased his brooding mannerisms over having been interrupted on several occasions. But sure enough, as I had also expected, Nick’s eyes lit up once more and he motioned for us to keep close pace with his stride.
“As I was saying,” he started with a short snort, to which I responded with a sharp shaking of my head that only seemed to be lost to the swallowing darkness of the night. “According to legend, decades before the founders of the church broke the land and built the church walls, there were four practicing witches that roamed this area and were said to of represented and been able to manipulate and use to their advantage the dark side of the four natural elements: Earth, Air, Water, and fire. There is not much known about the witches themselves or where they originated from, though some speculate from their dark nature that they were birthed from the deepest pits of Hell. Citizens of the small community surrounding the area feared them, but no one ever dared taking stand and lived silently with their fear. Until the founders of a newly beginning church stumbled upon the heart of the witches’ roaming grounds.
Romanced by the natural beauty of the land and the sanctuary of trees, the founders deemed the location “God sent”, and though fully aware of the misdeeds and conspiracies surrounding the local tales of the witches, they were not deterred from seeing to it that their church walls were erected on that very spot. Soon they had the whole of the town convinced that the new church would be the solution to what had crippled many people’s conscious for so many years and a wide spread hunt was gathered. On a storming night, at the hour of three in the morning, the witches were captured on the spot the church was to be built. They were convicted by the citizens of the town and burned at the stake. But before the witch that represented the dark side of the natural element fire perished in the burning flames, she placed an eternal curse over the land that damned any and all who were responsible for their destruction, both present that night and from there on out.
Putting past them what had taken place, they set quickly to building their church and soon the congregation began to flourish. The threats of the curse were also forgotten. Then, on the one year anniversary of the witches being burned at the stakes, the founders of the church along with their congregation came face to face with the consequences of what they had done. The church was engulfed in flames, destroying the structure and killing everyone inside. It is believed by some that the witch’s curse had come true and the fiery pits of Hell had opened to make the town’s people pay for what they had done. Nothing of the church remained, besides the stone door frame and the thick wooden door, nor were any remains of the congregation ever found. It was if they had all disintegrated or rather just…disappeared.
Now it is said that this lone door, if ever disturbed, opens a gateway directly into Hell. Many people, while testing the legend, have disappeared, never to be found and never to be heard from again-”
“Good Lord, Nick, you’ve really outdone yourself this time,” Howie mustered as he rubbed the upper sleeves of his winter coat uncomfortably. “How long did it take you to fabricate that story and how much folklore did you have to Google before you were able to come up with it?”
“It’s the truth!” Nick characteristically whined. “I didn’t fabricate a damn thing about it!”
“A likely story-”
“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Nick grumbled as we breeched the edge of the cemetery and ventured into the dense lining of trees. Nobody spoke, not that I was sure there were really any words to be said at that moment. I was disturbed enough, as I was sure Brian and Howie could agree, by the nature of Nick’s imagination spinning such a horrific tale, and Nick was surely once again brooding over the fact that Howie had challenged the authenticity of his story. I had to admit, I didn’t believe a word of it. But once again, none of us really had a choice but to play into what Nick had already gotten us into and something was telling me the night was only going to get weirder.
We had only traveled a short distance, minutes to be exact, before AJ held up a hand to bring us to an abrupt halt. “This a good enough spot?” he looked to Nick for the answer.
“Yeah, this will do. It’s right over there.”
‘It’ could only mean one thing and I turned to where Nick had nodded with his head, but with the shadows created by the looming trees consuming most of the light emanating from the few flashlights we had, I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. And so, my attention quickly dissipating, I turned back to face my friends and watched with a growing unease as AJ and Nick set the Ouija board on the ground and proceeded to light four white candles at each corner of the board. “No offense, but what purpose is that thing going to serve?” I asked, realizing quite suddenly after focusing my eyes on the tiny flickering flames for several seconds that the wind casting an icy glaze over the cemetery was no longer present, at least not within the woods.
“Think outside the box, Kev,” AJ spoke in my direction as he produced a triangular shaped object from within his coat pocket and carefully placed it in the center of the board. “We’re going to contact us some ghosts.”
“You never know,” Nick added. “Maybe we’ll contact someone from the church congregation that perished in the fire. Or better yet, maybe we will contact one of the witches.”
Contemplating Nick’s childish statement for a moment, I reluctantly lowered myself to the ground, the coldness biting at my skin through my layers of clothing immediately. “Lets just get this over with.”
“This is so juvenile,” Brian grunted.
“Are the two of you going to participate or are you just going to stand there bitching like a bunch of pms’ing chicks?” AJ snorted.
“You can count me out of this one, Aje,” Howie shrugged as he backed away several feet and joined Brian who was now huddling against a wide tree trunk trying to generate extra warmth.
“Alright, so uh…how does this work?” AJ broke the silence.
“Are you kidding me? You are wanting to do this and you don’t even know how it works?” I nearly laughed at him, but I was less than amused. I hadn’t the slightest desire to participate in such an activity. It’s not that I didn’t know a thing about them, and granted, as a child I had at the hands of my friends, taken part in the ‘game’ once or twice, but it had never been more than simple child’s play, leaving all of us at the mercy of each other’s practical jokes and second guessing whether or not what we experienced was real. So I agreed with my cousin that this was all very juvenile. Then again, Nick seemed to have a predisposition to permanent immaturity.
“This was his idea, not mine,” AJ glared in return.
“Just place both hands on the planchette and shut up,” Nick ordered both of us with a glare of his own. The flickering flames danced in the reflection of his sterling blue orbs, indicating his concentration as he, too, allowed the soft pads of his finger tips gently rest atop the wooden triangle. "Ok, um...I guess I will start... Is there-"
"Wait," I interrupted, much to the placement of the frown that appeared on my younger friend's face. "Shouldn't you say a prayer of protection before you start?"
Nick's eyebrows cocked in contemplation towards what I said, but true to his nature, he rolled his eyes shortly after and inhaled deeply. "Ok. God, forgive Kevin for continuing to interrupt me and keep us protected. Blah, blah, blah...yadda, yadda, yadda."
“Smart ass,” I murmured.
Nick ignored me and returned his attention back to the board. “Are there any spirits around that would like to speak with us?” The silence accumulated as we waited and for a moment I had to admit that I was expecting it to start moving. But as logic once again kicked in, the wooden triangle remained as still as ever.
“Is this damn thing broken?” AJ grunted a moment later. I glanced at him, finding his interest quickly dimming.
“It can take a while,” Nick all but snapped in return.
“Are you guys for real?” I laughed at their bickering with a tight shake of my head. “I mean, this really is ridiculous. Could you guys get any more stupid?” Nick opened his mouth to send a sharp retort in return, but he paused so abruptly that I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of his sudden change in demeanor. Then it hit me what had stopped his sarcasm short and I allowed my eyes to drift downward where the planchette was slowly creeping along the surface of the board until it stopped in a hover just over the word ‘Yes’. My brows curled towards the center of my forehead. “Very funny,” I mumbled, though neither of them argued their innocence in having not moved the object. If they wanted to play games, then I would play games also. “Are you trying to say AJ and Nick could become more stupid?”
The planchette seemed to vibrate softly as it idled in spot before inching backwards and finally coming to rest over ‘Yes’ once again.
“What the Hell?” AJ growled. “This thing is trying to call me stupid?”
“Well…” Nick started to drawl.
“Shut your mouth. It said the same thing about you.”
“Moving on,” Nick huffed as his cheeks turned a deeper shade of crimson in the glow of the candlelight. “Alright, so we know there is someone here. Can you tell us if you are male or female?”
‘F-E-M-A-L-E,’ the board spelt slowly.
“I must be a chick magnet,” AJ stated as a matter of fact, his grin smug. Though no sooner had the words left his mouth did the planchette move over to ‘No’ in the upper right hand corner of the board, leaving the rest of us rolling with laughter. “This is bullshit!”
“Guess she doesn’t like you,” Nick shrugged.
“Or it could be that she doesn’t like that ugly thing you call a face!”
“Could you spell your name for us?” I interrupted before their argument could escalate further.
“Your name is Fire?”
Nick straightened where he sat. “Are you one of the four witches that-”
The planchette whipped to ‘Yes’ so quickly that my fingers nearly slipped and I looked to my youngest friend with a short glare. “How convenient,” I challenged him.
“I didn’t do that-“ Nick started to protest.
“Right. So you’re trying to tell me that we would be just so lucky to automatically contact some dead witch chick-”
“Seems that way.”
“Brian and Howie are right. This is juvenile. I’m done.” I moved to withdraw my hands and rise to my feet when the clearing of Nick’s throat caused me to stop. “What now?” I sighed. He motioned to the board and looking down again, it was apparent that the planchette had slid from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’. “I’m not buying into-”
“She doesn’t want you to leave,” Nick insisted.
“Really, you want me to believe that a piece of cardboard doesn’t want me to stop talking?”
“It’s actually made out of wood-”
“Hardly a difference.”
“C’mon, Kev. Stop being such a pain in the ass.”
“Yeah, old man. Where’s your sense of humor?” AJ cut in with a smirk of amusement.
It was all I could do not to sigh and reach over to slap the smirks off both of their faces. This was hardly my idea of a pleasant time, and it certainly didn’t seem to be well spent. In fact, I would have much rather been at home with my wife and son, but that was currently out of the question. Not to mention that now I was being held captive per say by a board sprawling with the alphabet nonetheless. I’ve never claimed my luck to be trust worthy. “Fine, Nick,” I relented. “Continue so we can get this over with.”
Nick shifted where he sat and the childish gleam returned to his eyes. “Were you burned at the stake?” he asked.
“You died here?”
“Is it ok if we all ask questions?”
“What kind of answer is that?” AJ muttered.
Nick shrugged when AJ looked to him for clarification. “You were killed,” he stated, as if in complete understanding. “You already told us that-”
The planchette had started to move rather erratically around the board in a circular fashion and I had to admit that a tremor passed the length of my spine once or twice, even if I wasn’t completely convinced that either AJ or Nick weren’t moving the triangular object. And then the movement stopped as quickly as it had started, our hands coming to a gentle rest over the center of the board. “Well,” I cleared my throat as I began to speak. “That was an interesting experience. Very enlightening. Thank you, Nick.”
“…Are you being sarcastic, Kevin?” Nick questioned, his dumbfounded expression priceless, as if he thought I wasn’t capable of being sarcastic. One had to learn to be sarcastic when it came to being around that kid. Personally I’d had way too many years of experience in that department.
I rolled my eyes. “No, not in the least.”
“Now what?” AJ interrupted with a grunt of annoyance.
“Yes, Master of all things Ouija, what do you propose we are supposed to do now?” I added.
“Does it look like I know what the Hell to do now?”
No, nope, it really didn’t look like Nick knew what to do. In fact, he never looked like he knew what he was doing when we started…and I allowed myself to go along with it. Wonderful. Just wond-
I glanced to Nick with a sharper curiosity than I cared to admit to and it wasn’t long before I realized what had caused him to release a startled yelp. A dull peculiar vibration was causing the board to teeter barely noticeably against the earthen ground and even I had to admit that I was left without a suitable explanation. My two friends looked just as baffled as I’m sure I did which was hardly comforting. The source of the disturbance was unidentifiable, but one thing was for sure…none of us could take the blame for moving the object, which was even more disturbing. “Ok, I’ll admit, I’m starting to get a little creeped out…”
“This is so freakishly weird…yet oddly awesome at the same time…” Nick mumbled, his face unreadable when the board repeated the same mannerisms several times over.
AJ rounded on him. “You’re telling me this is normal?”
“I think we need to just end this now,” I decided. The planchette moved so quickly from the center of the board that keeping up with it proved to almost be an impossible task before it came to an abrupt stop over ‘No’. My patience thinning further, I looked to Nick to find his lips pursed tightly together and his brows knotted at the middle point of his forehead. Had it been anything other moment but the present and I would have probably laughed. Though I was furthest from doing so when Nick’s posture remained as stiff as ever. “Nick, I’m serious-”
Nick dismissed my concern with a quick shake of his head. “No, hold on. I think she has something else to say.” He took a deep breath then, seeming to calm himself and opened his mouth to speak. “Are you trapped here?”
“Did you kill all those people in the church?”
I was hardly amused to find that my youngest friend was serious with his question. Not only was the situation becoming more ridiculous by the second, but it was becoming more apparent to me that we were invading a certain privacy of generations before us that we had no business prodding. And truth be told, I wasn’t too fond of the idea of becoming involved in an ages old myth that sent my blood running cold to begin with. “This is getting really-”
“…Stupid.” The word trailed from my mouth and dissipated into the air.
“You’re telling me,” AJ agreed, though he looked just as unsure.
“Is there anything else you would like to say to us?” Nick questioned.
“You want us to go look at the door?”
“I am so not it for that!” AJ immediately removed himself from a possible volunteering. Cowering slightly under the attention that was suddenly on him, he smugly crossed his arms over his chest. “Hell no! In no way am I- No, fuck it! I’m a pussy, I’ll admit it, but I sure as Hell am not going to go blindly parading through the dark woods to look at some rotting old door.”
“Shut the Hell up. It doesn’t want you to anyway,” Nick snarled. “It wants Kevin.”
“And how do you figure-” I started to ask when Nick merely motioned with both his hands towards the board. Both his hands? Somehow I had managed to become oblivious to the fact that I was left being the only one with my finger tips still lightly touching the surface of the planchette as the most pointed part of the tip remained poised in my direction. I frowned openly at the revelation, waiting for AJ and Nick to burst into laughter and come clean with their horridly played joke. Much to my dismay, they only continued to look at me, waiting also. For what, I wasn’t sure. And then it dawned me. “No way! Absolutely not!”
“Sorry, Kev. But you kind of have to,” Nick shrugged.
“You give me a damn good reason why-”
“Because you’ll be disrespecting her otherwise.”
“It’s a piece of wood, Nick!” I burst, unable to help the frustration that boiled to my exterior surface. “You can’t disrespect something that-” I stopped arguing when he visibly winced and continued to stare at me with uncertainty…or he was possibly staring at me as if I had grown an extra head. Either way, it made me want to squish him like the annoying little bug he often acted like. I forced a deep, calming breath to enter my lungs. “If I do this, can we leave immediately afterwards?”
“Way to be a team player, Kev,” Nick grinned as he reached over to pat my shoulder roughly.
“That wasn’t answering my question,” I grunted and slowly forced myself to my feet. My joints and muscles ached in protest from having sat in a tensed position for so long, but stretching my arms high above my head, I ignored the pangs of discomfort and reached for the flashlight AJ had extended towards me. “See you sissies when I get back.”
“Don’t let the witch get ya!”
AJ’s cackling remark was just as cringe-worthy as Nick’s laughter that ensued, but I allowed it to faintly fade away behind me as I ventured further into the dense trees. The faint yellow glow of the flashlight barely lit the path in front of me. Finding myself suddenly alone in the woods was not something I had foreseen happening that night, but I was not about to grant my friends the satisfaction of knowing that I was outright disturbed with the events that had taken place. “What have you gotten yourself into, Kevin…” I mumbled, lodging the flashlight between my arm and side when I paused momentarily to readjust the zipper of my winter jacket, assuring it was tightly secure. The night air had grown increasingly more chill and I was well aware of the nipping breeze that seemed to originate from no particular direction.
That’s when I saw it.
A short distance ahead I noticed a clearing in the shrubbery that made for a visible decline in the shape of the landscape and I quickened the pace I walked. The faster I made it down the steps and made it to that unnaturally indestructible door that, mind you, probably didn’t even exist, the faster I would be back in the warmth of Nick’s vehicle and away from all of the idiocracy I found myself immersed in. Pausing again just at the edge of the top of the stairs, I stared with dismay at the sharp angle of the stairs and the way the granite appeared to crumble with age. That was it? I didn’t exactly know what I had been expecting to see, but surely a staircase that was a bit grander in stature and surely lived up to the ungodly name it had been given. But no, instead I was looking down at a total of maybe fifteen steps that were sure to disintegrate under my weight with the first step I took.
Holding my breath, I tentatively lifted my foot and gently pressed it against the first step. When I was sure it wasn’t going to give way, sending me to a painful end at the bottom, I repeated the action until I was half way down the decline. It was a distinct rustling in the trees around me that forced me to stop and once again hold my breath, my defensive instincts automatically kicking into gear with certainty that AJ and Nick were somewhere near by offering their best efforts to frighten me for a few good laughs. “Very funny guys!” I shouted loud enough as I started to move again that I was sure I would find them pouting upon returning because I hadn’t fallen into the traps of their malicious plans of personal entertainment on my behalf as they had originally hoped. “You’re gonna have to try harder than tha-”
Unexpectedly the air was hastening towards my face and not even blindly reaching out was I able to prevent the fall. Slamming into the sharp edges of the remaining steps, I hadn’t the chance to prepare for the agonizing pain that radiated along the length of my spine, the breath knocking clear of my lungs, until finally I came to a jolting stop at the bottom. “Son of a bitch!” I hissed, bringing a hand to the searing sting along my left temple. The warm oozing of blood coated the tips of my fingers and it took a moment for me to gather my bearings. Not only were my surroundings still nauseatingly spinning around me, but my lungs still burned from the lack of oxygen and my hammering heart felt as if it were about to rip clear of my chest. I decided then and there that I would murder AJ and Nick on spot for getting me into this mess when I saw them again.
Stumbling upright, I fumbled to grab hold of the flashlight which had rolled several inches away and when I had a steady grip around the cold metal of the shaft, I conducted several visual sweeps of my surroundings. Not that there was really much to look at, all things considered. Trees, shrubbery, trees…more trees. Tell me again why I agreed to waste a perfectly good evening doing…this? And there it was directly feet in front of me. Really Nick? You made my ass fall down a set of concrete stairs just to see this? I wasn’t impressed in the least. The door stood barely to my height and I was almost certainly that if I tried to walk through it, I would have to stoop low just to keep from further my already pounding concussion I was sure I’d sustained during the fall. The thick wood was discolored, blackened in some spots and warped at best, leaving the only substantial thing worth looking at being the stone door frame, which upon closer observation I noticed intricately carved symbols that I didn’t recognize.
Maybe there had been some truth to Nick’s story after all, but I wasn’t exactly too keen to testing that theory to the very extent. Though carefully, I tentatively reached out to run my hand along the gold plated round style metal handle, my brows curling inward when I found the object to be surprisingly warm despite the temperature around me. Then, taking a final breath of preparation that I felt foolish about afterwards, I pushed the handle inward. The door squealed in protest, a loud sound that echoed through the trees for several seconds, causing me to cringe. Stepping through the frame, the outline of the church’s floor was barely visible beneath my feet, a memory imprint on the earthen ground that was buried beneath overgrown roots, moss, and scattered leaves. And that was it; a minute of my life I would never get back. There had been no moment of revelation where I was able to imagine what the church may have looked like when it was full of life, no clichéd and climatic sound track playing within my mind to give me chills. Indeed, it was…dead. No pun intended. “I am going to strangle that kid silly,” I grumbled as I prepared to spin on my heels and make my way back to the group.
Not even gaining an inch towards the door, I watched in dismay as it slammed shut with a sudden heavy gust of wind. The flashlight dropped from my hand and clattered loudly as it roughly met the hard wood floor and stumbling backwards, my chest tightened while my eyes widened at the walls that now surrounded me on all sides. I was also very aware of the countless candles littering the shelves lining the walls and bathing the room in a soft, yet plenty illuminating light. My breath left my lungs in short gasps as I slowly turned, unprepared for what met my sight.
“And as did Moses speak upon the ark, so can we speak in response to the misdeeds of our enemies that have betrayed us upon this very land, “Rise up, O Lord! And let Thine enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Thee flee before Thee” (Num. 10:35). For punishment shall certainly be delivered by God’s will unto evil doers. Thy words may flow easily, “Do Thou add iniquity to their iniquity, and may they not come into Thy righteousness. May they be blotted out of the book of life, and may they not be recorded with the righteous” (Psalm 69:27-28).”
Spread densely before me in the five double rows of pews was a closely attentive congregation that didn’t appear to notice my presence within the room, nor did the hardened pastor at the pulpit who fervently flipped through the thin pages of a tattered Bible. I watched as aging pastor glanced away from his Bible, staring straight through me and over the sea of his followers as echoes of “Amen” rose into the air around me. “What is all of this?” I feebly called out them, but my voice was lost to the stillness of the atmosphere.
“But take comfort in Thee, dear friends, for Thy God, our Lord, hast not forsaken those who stand righteously in the glory of his everlasting love and forgiveness, for those who speak the word of thy Lord only and strive to fulfill thy Lord’s will, repelling and destroying those who seek to deliver destruction in the name of evil, shall but reap great rewards in the kingdom of Heaven.” A single scream of terror amidst the congregation halted the delivered sermon as a deafening thunder erupted outside. The flames of the candles shot into the air, intensifying the illumination in the room and making way for an inches wide crack in the floor that raced down the aisle between the pews. The pastor began to shout in confusion, but he too cowered away from the pulpit at the site of an ungodly creature approaching steadily.
“Do give heed to me in this moment, you weak insolents!” the creature spoke with an accusing withered finger outstretched in the direction of the pastor. The voice was undeniably female but I couldn’t bear a single glance and the tremors that raced through my body were indescribable. “Your misdeeds have not been forgotten and justice shall be paid, for no good shall be rewarded for your own deeds of evil! Do remember how I once stood before thee, a year to this day, to speak good on behalf of the actions and misconceptions for which I and my sisters were persecuted by your very hands, so as to turn away thy unjustly wrath! Therefore, give your children over to famine, and deliver them to the power of the sword of your own evil, and let their wives become childless and widowed! Let their men also be smitten to death, their young men struck down by the sword in battle! May an outcry be heard from their houses evermore, for they dug a pit to capture me and hid snares at my feet! But may you be overthrown before thee, and dealt with justly in the time of thy anger!”
My stomach reeled at the sight of burnt decaying flesh when the creature turned knowingly in my direction, her crimson eyes sunken into her skull as her lips curled into a smug grin. At once, flames shot out around the witch, engulfing the entire room within seconds as the agonizing screams of the congregation made my ears bleed. I could immediately feel the intense heat of the fire licking at every inch of my exposed skin and the scream tore from my throat before I could prevent it. Twisting clumsily, I raced to the door and yanked on the handle, yanked so hard that I was sure I would rip muscle, but the heavy door wouldn’t budge and the flames continued to draw closer. “Dear God, please let me out of here!” I begged, knowing my pleas would be unheard.
The chilled night air whipped across my face as I fell to my hands and knees upon the earthen ground, beads of perspiration still clinging to my hairline as I scrambled to force adequate oxygen into my lungs. I wasted not a second, though, and jumped to my feet, scaling the stair case without hesitation in a desperate desire to return to the safe company of my friends. My logical mind tried to betray what I had physically seen with my eyes only moments before, but there was no way I could brush past the very real heat of the flames or the helpless cries of those perishing. Feeling disoriented and physically sick were an understatement I couldn’t quite grasp and forgetting my mistakes, I longed for nothing more than to be far from that place where I could try to forget the images I had been psychologically scarred with. Forget that I had ever agreed to take part in Nick’s extremely stupid plan, forget that-
“It’s been nearly an hour, dumbass!” AJ gruff voice faintly berated. Who, I wasn’t sure, and for a moment I clung to the hope that as I drew near, maybe I could chalk up the night’s events to a temporary moment of pure insanity. “Where the Hell is he?”
“I don’t know, damnit!” Nick responded and as I burst through the trees, I watched as my youngest friend carefully backed away from AJ’s seething demeanor.
“I’m right here!” I called out to them with a smile of relief.
“You’re the one who made him go in the first place!” Brian was next to accuse, but just looking at him, I could see the concern reflecting in his normally calm eyes.
“Relax, guys! I’m back!” I called out a second time, assuming they hadn’t heard me before.
“I’m sorry!” Nick yelled in return. “I don’t know where the Hell he went! He wasn’t around there when AJ and I went to check! I just don’t know! I didn’t think he was going to disappear! It was just a story, a myth-”
“Nick, calm down-” I tried to soothe him with my hand latched gently on his shoulder, but he stepped away before I could seemingly touch. “Guys-”
Brian charged at Nick, despite AJ and Howie’s attempts to restrain him. “My cousin is missing because of you!”
Missing? I stumbled backwards, looking around for a possible explanation, but found none. Waiting, I prayed that they would soon turn towards me and roar with laughter at my perplexed expression, but again, it didn’t happen. “What the Hell is going on?” I shouted at them, their ignorance towards my presence drawing my patience thin as the throbbing beneath the injury of my temple increased. “This isn’t funny anymore, you assholes! I’m standing right here! I’m not stupi-”
My statement drifted into absolute nothingness at the sensation of a fiery hot hand gripping my bicep and singeing my skin through the material of my jacket. Blood running cold through my veins, I slowly turned, unbelieving, until the silent scream blew from my mouth.