It is 1950 and I am ten. The spring had aged into summer, and the nights were cool and full of possibility. I was standing in the foyer of my parents' house, duffel bag slung over one shoulder, flashlight in my left hand. I remember John was there and Bill too.
John was dressed in camouflage head to toe and wore an official G.I. Joe watch on his left hand. I could tell this was serious; he never wore his watch unless the situation called for it. The last time he broke out the watch was when we went camping out back past the creek last summer. We had used it to keep watch so coyotes didn't eat us in our sleep. The next day, none of us mentioned that we had all fallen asleep anyway.
Bill dressed in all black sweats. He couldn't afford much more, but damned if anyone else could make black sweats look better. You'd have thought ol' Bill had just dropped out of a helicopter and was on some secret mission for the U.S. Government.
I was wearing regular Levis jeans and a t-shirt. We had chosen my house as the launch point for our endeavor and I didn't want Mom getting suspicious. Hindsight, I don't know how she couldn't have been. When the three of us were together, things always seemed to...
"...happen? What could happen?" I was trying to deal with John's last minute jitters as best as I could. We couldn't afford to loose John, he was the only one with a watch. Besides, if he backed out now we'd never let him live it down.
"You're the only one with a watch, John!" It was good to see that I could count on Bill.
"I'm just sayin'," John said looking seriously at us both, "if we're gonna do this we gotta be careful. They say the devil lives there."
"That's just a stupid rumor," I said trying to calm him down. "And that's exactly why we're going up there tonight - to prove them wrong."
John gave me a worried look and rubbed at the nylon band of his watch. "Come on, John. You know we can't do it without ya."
"Ok, but only because I don't want you guys to do it alone."
"Great, so you're in?" I asked.
John looked me in the eye more seriously than I had ever seen him and nodded his head. "I'm in."
It was 11:04 when we slipped out of the house, through the back yard and into the woods. We would have to hike 2 miles through the open fields behind my house, past route 7, and up the hill to our destination. The trip was quiet and without event. Each of us kept to ourselves, occasionally looking up at the star filled sky above our heads. Appropriately enough, the moon was full and wafts of clouds slowly drifted by.
Upon reaching the hill, we were thrust into trees. There was an old dirt road that wound up the hill, but we opted not to take it for fear of being seen. None of us discussed whom it was we feared seeing us. Finally, we approached the clearing and the old three story house that towered above the center.
John fumbled to find a patch of moonlight and looked up at me, "Eleven forty two."
"Flashlights, guys," Bill said. I pulled two from the duffel bag and John pulled one from his pocket. Bill had borrowed one from our house and I was using the one my Dad kept in the glove box of the car.
The house looked tall and foreboding in the moonlight. Its siding bore pealing whitewash and gave it an eerie glow. "Let's go," Bill said stepping out of the foliage and into the clearing. The yard was overgrown and almost viscous with fear.
The stairs to the porch were weathered and warped. The ends curled up, and Bill almost fell through when one stair gave way beneath his right foot. We both helped him pull his leg back up and were relieved the stair was soft and made no noise.
The wooden planks on the porch were different as they had been protected by an overhang. They creaked and moaned under the weight of our bodies as we slowly made our way towards the front door which was slightly ajar.
"Ok guys, flashlights on," I said clicking mine to life. I opened the door slowly with my toe and brought the beam of my flashlight up to sweep across the darkness of the house. Inside leaves and paper were strewn across the floor and covered with a small layer of dust.
"It smells like mold," John said whiffing the air in front of his nose.
"No, more like wet leaves," said Bill. "Camon let's go." Bill pushed his way in front of me and entered the house, holding his flashlight out in front of him.
There was a stairway in the middle of the foyer which curled up into the darkness of the second floor. A wave of the flashlight only revealed a wall with peeling wallpaper. To our right was an open entryway into what looked like a dining room.
"This way," Bill said leading us to the left. We walked through another open entryway and into a room with a window. "We'll sit here until midnight," he said matter-a-factly.
"Sounds like a plan," I said shining my flashlight around the room. The beam reflected sharply off the window. Over the years, dirt had accumulated leaving it translucent enough to see through, but opaque enough to give it an uncanny ability to reflect things. I was amazed the window hadn't been broken in all these years - a testament to the house's taboo in our community.
We made our way to the center of the room and sat down. Bill leaned back on his hands and sighed. "See? Nothing to worry about John."
John smiled and laughed a bit. "I guess I was a little over-cautious."
"Hey what time is it?" I asked.
John shone his flashlight on his wrist and looked up. "Eleven fifty five."
"Almost time for lights out," John exclaimed. His voice sounded hollow and echoed in the emptiness of the house. We fell silent then, the heaviness of our surroundings squelching our voices.
Those five minutes felt like forever. I was lost in thought, staring at the wall when John's watch let out a metallic chime. "Alright guys, flashlights off," Bill said looking around at us. One by one we clicked our flashlights off, each making the room darker in turn. When I finally turned mine off, the only light was the little that could seep through the dirt on the window.
"Hey, what's that?" I asked, sitting upright. The others turned to match my gaze and immediate saw what I did. In the window, there were two small red lights.
"Are those taillights?" John asked sitting upright as well.
"Couldn't be," Bill said standing up, "no one comes up here."
Standing, I said, "Well then what are the-" The lights had disappeared.
"Where'd they go?" John said springing to his feet. Bill said nothing and pondered the window from afar.
"They just disappeared," I said walking towards the window. Cupping my hands, I could see the dirt road that lead up to the house, and a large oak tree, twisted and hard, standing to the side of the house.
"Anything?" John asked coming to my side.
"Nothing," I said letting out a sigh of relief. John and I looked at each other and smiled, and then joined Bill back on the floor. As I sat however, I noticed the lights had returned. "They're back," I said confused.
"What are those?" John asked. Bill sat in silence pondering the two blotches of red.
I stood again, intending to find out where these lights were coming from, but was frustrated when they again disappeared. "What the hell," I muttered striding towards the window again.
"Those have to be taillights, guys. What else would be outside blinking on and off?" asked John sitting upright again.
"Yeah, maybe someone told the cops. Think we should leave?" I said, cupping my hands and trying to find the source.
"Sit down again," said Bill staring at the window again. I stooped down below the window, and gasped when the lights returned. Slowly he said, "Now stand," and rose to his feet. The lights disappeared. "Those aren't coming from outside," Bill said slowly turning around. "They're being reflected from across the hall."
Leaves and twigs whipped at my face as I ran through the woods. I could see Bill's white sneakers darting up in down in front of me, and I heard John's gasps behind me. We had wasted little time getting out of the house, although running towards the source of our panic had been extremely difficult.
John had scrambled to his feet and joined me and Bill in a tight line looking through the gaping entryway, past the empty foyer and into that room where those two lights burned like hot coals in inky night. Bill had slowly edged his way to the entryway in an attempt to discern the source, but quickly bolted out the front door when the two had risen up, tracing the movements of something standing. John and I had followed suite.
Soon, we blew out of the woods, across route 7, and were thrust upon the open fields. Bill came to a stop, arms flopping like a rag dolls. "What... was that," he said between gasps.
John bent over and puked, his Mom's mac n' cheese spilling down his chin. "Aw shit," I said resting my hands on my knees and breathing heavily. "I... I don't know, Bill."
"It... it was the devil," John said in between gasps. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, smearing a little across his watch. "They told us it was up there. They told us."
"Well whatever it was, let's hope it stayed up there," I said staring back across route 7 and into the tree line.
"Yeah. Maybe we better get moving again," Bill said staring with me. "Let's go."
We were reluctant to put the trees to our back, as if any minute something would come bounding out of the forest at a million miles an hour and snatch one of us up in its jowls. Each of us walked in a horizontal line now, not willing to let one be in the back. We cast wary glances behind us every few seconds, and the trip back was slow and arduous.
"Up past route 7, there's a hill. On this hill, there's a clearing. And in this clearing, there's a house. My brother took his girlfriend up there one night to try and get some."
"Shut up twerp. Anyway, he came back twenty minutes later and his face was all white, and he didn't say nothin' for a few days. I thought maybe he tried gettin too fresh with his girlfriend."
"I said shut up twerp.” For a moment it looked like he was gonna hit the little kid. “Eventually, he sat me down and told me what happened. He says to me, 'Johnny, don't ever go up there. The damn devil lives up there.' He even showed me the scratches it put in my Pop's car. Course Pop didn't believe that, but that's what my brother told me. The fucking devil lives there."
"Bull shit," said Bill. The entire group of kids that had gathered to hear Johnny Howard twist his tail turned and looked at Bill.
Johnny sneered, "Yeah? Then why don't you go up there."
Bill smiled and looked at me and John who had been standing around the table. Already I knew what had to be done.
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Submitted for the The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest. My father told me this story once, when I asked him what was the most scared he's ever been. I have extrapolated in some places to make it flow more smoothly, but I haven't fudged any of the details. Happy Halloween, 2003 fellow noders...