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The boy was not more than 13 years old. It had been a sunny fall day in October, and the afternoon temps were starting to plummet. Things hadn’t seemed to be getting any better at home. This had been a bad day. He had stormed out of the family’s country home to escape the madness. His tempered journey began at a newly discovered trail-head; wide, and flanked by old stone walls on either side.

He walked to clear his head. He walked to calm himself. He walked until the trail had become almost non-existent, and then kept going, high stepping the roots, the downed trees, and the wiry brush. He couldn't be sure for how long he’d been away, but it was time to head back {as much as he didn’t want to}. He pivoted only to find the shadows had devoured any traces of his travels, and the cadence of the swept leaves lent no familiarity to where he’d come from, or how to get home. The rock walls were gone.

He was lost.

The dense woods swallowed cell reception, and the nearest human ear was miles away. The night was quickly descending. A new, more sinister chill in the air introduced itself, and the boy knew he must hasten himself to find shelter.

The woodlands were dense. His walking became more and more labored, and carving a path was becoming increasingly more difficult as the prickers and thorns proved far too aggressive to allow him to pass easily. The sun had dropped well below the tree-blocked horizon, but offered just enough light for the boy to see a small clearing ahead. Breaching it's border, his focus centered on an old farmhouse; dark, destroyed, but somehow still majestic. The house was battered and looked of no one’s residence, but it would provide ample shelter. It would have to.

He carefully approached the house’s entrance, climbed the stairs, and began taking each additional step as delicately as the next, trying not to fall though any of the holes in the remaining porch boards. There was no knob on the front door and it was ajar, as if to say, “welcome, but beware.” Catching his breath, he tilted his head inside the once-was home, and he could clearly see this residence hadn’t played that role in quite sometime. Webs covered each nook and corner, and the furniture was draped with yellow-stained sheets. It was very dark inside, and the chances of any light switch working was a useless presumption.

He cued his cell phone flashlight, cautiously advancing into what was once a foyer. The aged smelled of mold and moisture invaded his senses. A giant chandelier was gently swaying above him, each fine detail covered in a healthy veil of dust, dirt, and cob webs. A grand stair case ascended and then branched to each side, making a bold statement: pick your poison.

“No thank you”, he thought. “Staying downstairs will be just fine.”

The floor moaned with each step.

Glancing to his screen, the disappointment on his face was highlighted in blue: still no reception.

He moved to the living area. It was clear this place hadn’t seen human life (or a dust pan) for quite some time. He began to cough. His mouth was dry, his throat agitated.

More coughing, the tempo of each push increasing. It was becoming a struggle to catch his breath; the musty air threatening each inhale and strangling every exhale. The boy's head became dizzy; his cell phone slipping from his grasp and smashing to the floor. Just like that, like the final poof of a sparkler, his cell phone flashed out with a convincing, cracking sound.

Pitch black. Thick and menacing.

He crouched down, both hands extended in front of him, running them back and forth, hoping to feel his cell phone; still coughing at a steady pace. The boy tumbled backwards, now totally disoriented and unsure of his original point.

Rising to his hands and knees, now moving as quickly as he could to feel his way around the floor, hoping to run into an edge or nip a corner of his only saving grace. Nothing. Panic began to heighten. It could be inches from his fingertips, but it could also be feet, yards, or even miles away at this point. Fear began to devour him whole; his psyche starting to lend way to worst case scenarios.

Coughing, irritated throat, mouth so dry. He could feel his eyes starting to water, his heart pounding faster and faster. It was so dark; matte black like a cloak of heavy wet fabric had been dropped from the ceiling and pinned him to the void. He stopped.

Footsteps? Behind him.

“Hello?” he timidly asked, in hopes to not receive a reply.

Silence. Darkness. Stillness.

“Is someone there?” he followed.

A warm breeze tickled the back of his neck, shooting adrenaline and fear down his spine. It was a breath.

He turned quickly, “Hello?! Who’s there?!”

Another breath, this time just inches from his young face. The heat struck him; the smell wretched. He began to cry.

“H..e..l…l…..o?” he could only muster a whimper.

The reply startled him, jerking him from the darkness, and scaring him into what seemed like another dimension.

Light, bursting aglow. Clarity.

“Wake up, William. It’s time to go to school.”

Written by Chad Zingales on 4/2/23 while repairing a hole in an inner tube he purchased from Ocean State Job Lots.

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