“The festival started an hour ago. Without a ride there’s no point of even going,” Victor said, after swallowing a bite from a slice of pepperoni and mushroom pizza.
“But it’s still early. It’s only about an hour walk if we take Vinewood straight to Porter. We both know you don’t want to go because Janice will be there. Don’t worry, you two will get back together just like last time. Besides, this episode sucks and there’s nothing else to do. It’ll be worth the walk.” Manny said, trying to convince his friend.
Victor and Manny sat on an old, piece of crap, sunken couch in the basement of Victor’s parent’s home while watching reruns of South Park, munching on Big Tony’s Delivery Pizza. The evening couldn’t get any worse especially for Victor; today he had a second break up with Janice. Victor wanted to see Janice and make amends but didn’t want to admit it to anyone. He knew she’d be at the Ravensgate Pumpkin Festival.
“Hey Vic, Max is going to be there. You know he’s got a thing for her. Who knows what he might try if you’re not around. Better go just to be safe. It’s not like it’s going to look like your spying on her; it’s a festival. Plus, I’ll be with you and so will half the town,” said Manny.
The thought of Max making a move on Janice bounced around in Victor’s head. It didn’t take long for him to make a decision. The two buddies zipped up their fall jackets and headed out for the festival.
Ravensgate was small town in Michigan. It had one post office, a police station,a small fire station, and a tiny hospital. Plenty of woods lay in various parts to the north of the town and an overly large cemetery bordered the south.
The Ravensgate Pumpkin Festival was celebrated the night before Halloween as soon as it got dark. The town’s folk called the thirtieth of October Devil’s Night, as did other places in Michigan but starting in Detroit. The event was held near the north east end of town where one could enjoy bonfires, various games, food, and drink. It was adorned with carved pumpkins, dried cornstalks, and Halloween decorations. There was even a cornfield labyrinth, and if you could make it through, you’d win a prize.
The pair walked down Vinewood Street in the crisp chill of the night air. Since Manny’s car had been stolen in September, he and Victor had been bumming rides and catching the bus to get around which made life horribly inconvenient.
“I’m not walking for a damn hour to get to the festival. There’s Zephyr Woods. Let’s just take a quick cut through to speed things up.” Victor said, eager to spy on his ex-girlfriend.
“Zephyr is dark as a dungeon. We might lose our way and end up on the other side of Junction if we cut through there,” Manny responded.
“Do you really want to walk straight down Vinewood for a whole hour? If we go through the woods we could cut our time by thirty minutes at least. Let’s take the short cut or I’m going home,” said Victor bluffing, “Come on, it won’t take long.”
“Whatever, let’s make it quick.”
Vinewood kept straight but the boys didn’t. They veered left, off from the sidewalk onto the grass and headed for an opaque wall of trees which was a good city block distance away. As they got nearer to the edge of Zephyr Woods, the dark closely spaced trees came into view.
The lights and sounds of the town almost disappeared immediately upon entering the woods as if in some type of extra-dimensional warp. It took a few minutes but their eyes finally adjusted to the darkness surrounding them. The forest appeared a dark, gloomy grey with thin trees scattered in all directions. The breeze was strong and the hair on the boys heads fluttered as the wind made a slight whistling sound.
After a brisk ten minute walk through dried leaves and twigs, a scarcely used trail began to take form through the grass and sticks. It was thin and littered with small pebbles. “This should take us on through to the other side of the woods,” Victor said. “From there we get right back on Vinewood and straight to the festival.”
The dark forest was silent except for each step which caused twigs to snap along the path. Not even the sound of a small scurrying animal was heard. At times Manny thought his eyes were playing tricks. He was sure he saw what seemed to be black, dwarf-like, figures silently running from behind tree to tree with almost lightning speed. Of course this was all in his head. His eyes probably hadn’t completely adjusted to the dark.
Further on about thirty yards or so, off to the right of the trail, Manny saw what seemed to be the silhouette of a large, two story edifice. It was hard to be sure.
“Is that a house?” Victor said, his index finger pointed directly at the dark shape ahead. Maybe Manny’s eyes weren’t fooling. It made him think twice about the obscure dwarf-like figures he saw before.
“I never knew anyone lived in these woods,” said Manny.
“I don’t think anyone does. If someone did, everyone in Ravensgate would know about it.”
The pair slowed the pace and made a complete stop to view a Victorian style house which was set back from the trail a good fifty feet. The house was old and falling apart. It was made of wood and its dark grey paint flaked off. It could have been painted dark green, but in the shadows it was hard to tell. The windows, absent of light, showed no signs of life and the porch was tall and stretched along the front wall of the residence.
About twenty feet from the trail was a medium sized tool shed, the same color as the house. Its wood was splintered and decayed. The door hung open just barley on its rusty hinges.
“Let’s have a quick look,” said Victor with great zeal.
“I can see it just fine from here.”
“No, let’s see if we can take a look inside. Maybe the door’s open?”
“Showing up uninvited at someone’s house in the middle of the night ain’t good manners. We don’t want to be rude,” Manny said unconvincingly, “let’s just get going.”
“Nobody’s being rude. Looks like nobody lives there. Come on.”
Victor walked steadfast towards the old house while Manny followed with unease. The wind became stronger as gusts of air brushed their faces.
The old tool shed came first and the boys stopped to peek inside. It was odd that the shed was in front of the house. It was empty except for an old wooden table atop which sat a worn out tool box. One of its drawers was pulled open. The drawer kept rusty old wrenches and pliers that haven’t been used in a long while. An old girly pinup calendar hung against the back wall which was next to a broken plane glass window.
Uninterested, Victor headed onward to the Victorian as Manny walked in tow. They paused simultaneously as Victor reached the very first step of the deteriorating porch. He looked up at the door of the old house. It was closed and just as weathered as the porch.
“Let’s see if it’s unlocked.” Victor said.
“You go ahead. I’ll wait here.”
Victor proceeded up the inwardly bent, rotted steps. Grey paint chips flaked from each one. As he ascended upward he held onto the deteriorating railing, fearing one of the steps might break under his weight. Manny silently observed.
Victor made it to the top, creaking all the way up. He walked to the door and inspected it. He discovered that it wasn’t completely shut as it had looked from the ground. It was slightly cracked ajar. He could only see pitch darkness through the thin slit.
“It’s not locked,” Victor said, just above a whisper, as he looked back at Manny.
“Open it,” Manny responded in the same tone.
Victor pushed the door completely open with a steady hand and it slowly swung inward without a sound. A damp, musty, odor was released and Victor covered his nose. Not a shred of light was within the house. Nothing could be seen but blackness as if Victor had gone blind.
“What’s inside?” Manny inquired.
“I don’t know. I can’t see.”
“Do you still have that book of matches you got from Donovan’s Pub?” Manny asked.
“I think so,” Victor responded.
Victor dipped his hand into the front pocket of his jeans and felt his way through a myriad of small objects and loose change. The matches were there. He pulled out the book and struck a match. Just as fast as the glimmer of light appeared, it went out. “Damn.” Victor said under his breath.
Trying again, Victor looked down at his book and ripped away another. He struck the match but no light came from it. It was a dud.
Victor took a third match and struck it. The glow illuminated his fingers. He looked back towards Manny, “This is my last match, got a lighter?” Victor asked. Again, the flame went out again just as fast as it was lit. No answer from Manny. He was gone.
Victor dropped the empty matchbook and walked to the edge of the left side of the porch. He spied down the edge of the old house searching for Manny. He saw nothing but grass and gloomy trees not too far in the distance. Everything was quiet except for the slight whistle of the wind and rustle of leaves. Victor glanced over his shoulder at the open doorway and stared into the darkness of the entrance. He ran down the steps, “Stop fooling around man. We don’t have time for this.”
With a feeling of apprehension, Victor walked along the right side of the Victorian hunting for his friend. He looked up at the windows; the dreary curtains were closed. One of the basement windows was broken leaving a web shaped crack in the glass.
Victor reached the back of the house and peeked around the corner. All that was there was the old back porch with a missing railing and broken steps. He scanned the area, looking for a place his friend would hide. He couldn’t find a single one. Everything further behind the house was brush and trees. Manny wouldn’t dare go in there alone for sure.
Victor walked back towards the front of the house. As he passed the front porch he peeked up at the open doorway. It was silent and dark, just like before.
He continued onward to the old tool shed and checked inside. Manny wasn’t in there either. “I’m not playing games, man! I’ll see you at the festival,” said Victor. He didn’t know whether to feel annoyed by a practical joke or disturbed as if his friend really disappeared. Manny better had been playing a stunt or Victor will have some explaining to do.
Bang! The door of the house slammed shut. Victor’s head turned toward the house. He took a fleeting look at the closed door and didn’t wait around. Victor dashed onto the trail and ran away from the house as fast as his trembling legs would move. He darted down the path that should ultimately lead him out of Zephyr Woods.
As he sped, Victor soon realized that he shouldn’t have picked up the habit of smoking. His gasps for air caused him to slow down. His swift run turned into a jog and eventually a slow walk as he clutched his chest with one hand and his side with the other.
He looked behind him to see how far away he was from the house. He could no longer see it. He also hoped to make out Manny’s lone figure chasing after him revealing the sick prank. But all he saw was the empty path and dark trees.
Victor picked up his stride and ensued with a sluggish trot. He finally approached the edge of the woods and could see the streetlights of civilization ahead through the clearing. The sounds of traffic comforted him.
Finally, outside the rim of the woods he sat down against the trunk of one of Zephyr’s trees and struggled for breath. He soon heard the sound of strong panting other than his own. Victor looked to his left. A few trees down he saw Manny lying with his back on the grass. He was just as winded as Victor and his face was as red as a fire truck’s siren.
Victor, still short of breathe, got up, walked to Manny and looked down at him. “What the hell did you do that for?!”
Manny looked up at Victor from the ground, “Do what…save my ass? What took you so damn long anyway?”
“What took me so long? Why did you leave me back there?”
“What do you mean?” Manny said, as he sat up, leaning back against a tree, running his fingers through his hair. “You didn’t see it?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It was standing right in front of you.”
“In front of me?”
“Yeah, in the doorway of the house in front of you.”
“What did you see?”
“I don’t know what it was. Some…thing. It looked similar to a man but it had the face of an ape. Reddish brown fur covered its body. It had pointed ears and horns on the forehead. The pupils were yellow and it looked right in your face, just grinning with sharp teeth inside a wide smile.”
“You’re lying. It was too dark to see a thing in that house.”
“I know, but when you lit the match I saw it. I thought you saw it too. So I just ran thinking you’d be right behind me. It just stood there grinning. Victor, it wasn’t the breeze that put out the flame. When you lit the match, that thing puckered its lips and blew it out.”
Victor and Manny still have not told a soul about their experience. Not yet, anyway. And no one has ever seen a house in Zephyr Woods since.
Copyright © Abel Ramirez