“Hey you guys, I think there is someone in there! I just saw the curtains open and close!”
“Dude really? Now is not the time for pranks, we’re gonna be late for school!” I replied in a hushed tone.
“No I’m serious! Somebody opened the curtains!”
“Come on, Charlie”, said Nick. “After the incident with Principal Ball and his secret stash of Lindt truffles, you’re going to have to do a wayyy better job convincing me.”
“I’m not kidding! Look, I’ll prove someone’s in there!”
“Charlie you are always trying to pull my leg. Give it up! I’m tired of this,” said Richard.
Before I realized what he was doing Charlie darted to the porch and rang the doorbell. He turned to me with wide eyes and his mouth gaping. He looked as surprised as I was. As if something pulled him to the house. Everyone was still, like in a trance. Suddenly the front door started creeping open and Charlie fainted. Fear and adrenaline surged through my body and I still couldn’t believe my eyes. The house should be abandoned! Right at that moment a ghastly looking arm with rotting flesh hanging from it’s yellowing bone slowly took hold of poor passed-out Charlie. My instincts told me to run. Run as far and as fast as I can. So I did. I left Charlie to that hideous creature. My sudden movement snapped everyone else out of their trance and they ran with me. We ran so fast Richard tripped and scraped his palms and knees on the rough concrete. I couldn’t stop though. I couldn’t even stop to help my friend who was obviously injured. By now Brandon, the head of our group, had gained enough of himself to scoop up Richard and help him to his feet, trying to run all the while. Because of our sprint in fear we made it to our middle school early! When we made it to the flagpole we bent over to catch our breath, besides Brandon who knew from sports not to bend over when catching your breath.
Nick, with heavy breathing overwhelming his words, spoke out “Josh!...... What was that?!....... Why’d you run?!”
I couldn’t respond, I felt like I was going pass out from all that sprinting. Barely speaking in between my breaths I said “ I…. don’t…..know…...W-why’d you…….why’d you follow me?” I finally sat down leaning my back on the flagpole.
“We shouldn’t be blaming Josh, we all ran and left Charlie behind.” Brandon responded. I roll my eyes at the fact that he isn’t even breathing heavy anymore.
“Thanks a lot, Brandon”, Nick wheezed.
“Yeah Cap. What would we do without you?” Richard let out. I let out a small laugh, remembering Brandon’s nickname - Captain America. I turn my head to Richard and remember that he is bleeding! Brandon takes notice too and is already picking up Richard, or is at least trying to pick up Richard.
“I’m taking Richard to the nurse’s office, you guys should get to class.”
“What about Charlie?” Nick pointed out.
“I bet it was all a prank.” I chimed, in returning to my feet.
“I bet he is laughing so hard right now in that empty house. You know how he is.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Getting to the bottom of this is awesome and all but I am still bleeding and we all need to get to class.” Richard pointed out while gesturing to his knees.
“Oh yeah, I’ll get you there. Josh and Nick, get to class.” Brandon replied in a stern tone.
“Aye aye, Captain.” Nick chuckled.
By lunchtime, we hadn’t seen even the ghost of Charlie. Richard’s knees were in good shape, and Brandon, unlike the rest of us, was, well, “unsore”. But class was oddly quiet. There were no flarpy noises, no pictures of our math teacher passed around class, no stupid questions or comments to be made. Even our table at lunch was quiet. The uncomfortable truth was starting to catch up with us. The last we had seen our friend, he had been passed out on a porch, ready to be snatched up by a gruesome arm. All I could think was But was it really a prank?
They didn’t come back for me… What kind of rotten friends do I have? thought Charlie as he slowly walked around the strange, dark barren room he found himself in. He was in “the” house. A drafty breeze whistled through the cracks in between the paneling creating a slight shudder as Charlie trudged on nervously, unaware of the danger ahead. All lay dormant, the mysterious monster that had caused the fainting had inevitably disappeared within the darkness. But suddenly a low whisper from inside the walls frightened him as he followed the chilling sound in a trance.
“You were right, they aren’t my friends. They didn’t rescue me,” he had uttered into the dry and silent air. Just then, from the rotting, creaking floorboards, pale green smoke with wisps of black and orange began to seep from in between the termite-chewed cracks of the floor. “I toldyooou...you will nnnnever ffffit innn wittttthhhhh ttthhheemmm…” groaned the smoke. Charlie tried to cast his eyes away from the wispy creature, but he gave in to the urge of looking at the dastardly creature once more. Before it had dissipated, he could make out three fiery yellow eyes, staring dead into his, a formless mouth created by the absence of mist below its eyes. The rest of the creature had already became the creepy atmosphere of the abandoned abode.
Charlie began to sweat vigorously. He had witnessed what had happened to the last kid to take the test. He had failed… and became nothing but red smoke. His screams and wails could still be heard if he was quiet enough to listen, but he always had his earbuds on to drown out his pleas for help. He could even see him in the mirror, just a dingy burgundy.
Charlie turned to run back towards the door, but the whole house looked the same. Which way was out? He took a step forward, and the floorboard disintegrated before him. Wisps of that burgundy smoke curled up like fingers, groping for human flesh. The sight of those fingers clawing at him were too much. With leaps and bounds Charlie tore through the house, not knowing whether he was going further into the awful creature’s lair or closer to the way out or if he would be led outside into the backyard. He left behind him a trail of destruction, a crumpled floorboard with orangey mist wafting out of it here, a vase smashed there. The walls seemed to lurch back and forth. It was as though the very floor had slanted upwards. Charlie couldn’t stand it any longer. His head felt woozy. The backs of his eyes throbbed. He tried to squint to make out light and to relieve his eyes, but he could see nothing but decrepit wood and burgundy mist. He collapsed. Just as he did, he heard screams approaching. They sounded like a battle cry, but within that battle cry were pleas of “Charlie! Where are you? Talk to us, buddy!” A blur of red t-shirt came into view just as he passed out once more.
All through the day, the thought that we knew that it really wasn’t a prank had been gnawing away at our guts. We had tried to ignore it all day and kept an eye out for Charlie. He would do anything to play hooky… right? But when we hadn’t even seen Charlie at lunch, the one time at school when you could eat whatever you brought and talk for a whole half-hour without being shushed, we had known for sure that it wasn’t a prank. Apparently Nick, Brandon, and Richard had all tried to get out of school early to go look for him. I did, too, but none of us succeeded. We met at the flagpole at 2pm. We looked at each other and started towards the house, not saying a word. We quickly accelerated from a power-walk to a sprint. Without hesitation, we burst down the rotten door, yelling like we were entering battle with swords and lances. The house smelled like death. It was dark and dusty; the air was heavy. We hadn’t even come up with a plan, so we just started walking through the house, calling for Charlie. At last I heard Nick call “I found him! Somebody help me pick him up!”
By the time I reached Nick and Charlie, Brandon and Richard were slowing themselves down at the same time. Charlie wasn’t dead, but he sure looked like it. Brandon was the strongest, so we hoisted Charlie onto his shoulders. Richard, Nick and I led the way out. The fear in the air was so intense. I now know what fear smells like: the cold sweat that breaks out on your skin blended with the musky, dank air of an old, haunted house. But we couldn’t show fear now. we charged through the house, trying to show the same conviction that we had when we had come busting through the front door. The giant hole where the door had been was our savior. as soon as we were out in the warm sunlight, we took off for my house.
Plopping charlie on the lawn, we decided what we should do with him. CPR? Call an ambulance? Shake him? In our fear, we decided to take it slowly. Richard poked Charlie’s chest. “Um… Charlie? Are you awake?”
Richard prodded him harder and said louder, “Charlie. Wake up.”
Still no answer. We all wanted to wake him up, but we didn’t want to look like we were a bunch of sissies. We looked at each other and agreed. I shook him while everyone else yelled “CHARLIE! WAKE UP!”
His eyes snapped open. He groped the grass unbelievingly and looked at us even more so. We all started talking at once:
“Oh my gosh! You’re alive!”
“You guys came back for me!”
“What did you see?”
“What was that orange stuff!”
“Did it hurt ya?”
“I… I… don’t know!”
One thing was for sure… that had been way too close for comfort. We were going to have to start taking another route to school.