Dylan’s bus route was a superior bus route to mine. 80 percent of my best friends in sixth grade rode his bus that went upriver to the houses in the unincorporated community of Briar Creek. The town’s population was listed at just 250, but 10 of my best friends lived up there. The universe in Skagit County, Washington in 1997 made no sense.
The bus ride to Dylan’s house, 30 minutes up the hill from our elementary school was just the start of the fun of staying at his house for the weekend. All hell broke loose once we got to his place.
Dylan’s parents lived in a five-bedroom farmhouse out in the woods and were rarely home. They liked to drive their Harleys down the coast until they “found the sun” and would leave Dylan’s 15-year-old brother Cooper in charge.
Cooper was never home either. So usually, Dylan and I and his little brother Mike and some of his friends basically had the house and the acres of woods that surrounded it all to ourselves for an entire weekend. It was adolescent bliss.
Dylan’s parents only ate junk food from CostCo so we had a wealth of whatever microwave or oven pizza we wanted, an illegal satellite dish where we got every pay channel, and absolutely no supervision.
It would have been great had Dylan’s basement not been haunted and had Dylan and Mike not been in denial about it.
Dylan’s basement was down a long, steep, flight of rickety wooden stairs that received no light other than from what was at the top of the stairs until you got to the bottom and flicked on the lightswitch. Then you were treated to the illumination of one dangling bulb that hung down from the ceiling that shuddered whenever someone walked upstairs.
I had no idea why we hung out down there even when his parents were home. His parents set it up as the room for the kids to hang out in, wipe boogers all over, and trash so they would leave the upstairs alone and leave them alone when they were slugging whiskey and beers on Saturday nights with their biker friends.
For some reason Dylan and Mike still loved hanging out down there even when the upstairs, which was much nicer, more well lit, and had less strange electrical currents rushing through it. I give them that it did have a giant bean bag and a second T.V. set up strictly for a SEGA Genesis so you didn’t have to interrupt the satellite T.V., but it was still far too scary.
Though I never said shit about that to them until the weekend I’m about to get into.
Before we get too deep I want to explain that one of the specific things I hated about the basement was I thought the electricity in it was specifically haunted. Why so? I constantly noticed that things would move in the black glass of the T.V.s, even when they weren’t on. Or when they changed channels I would see the brief dark outline of a figure looking back at us. I always thought they had to notice, but they never seemed to, or at least never said anything.
Or, on the occasion I would answer or have to use their phone down there, I swore I could always hear a faint, menacing voice mumbling incoherent words on the line, even all the way through conversations with my parents.
Lastly, I swore I could hear the sound of screaming in the background of any song we listened to on the killer stereo system that was down there (another reason Dylan and Mike preferred it down there).
Yet, I never said anything. Nothing bad ever seemed to happen, no matter how many sleepless nights I had there and I was glad we slept two stories above the haunted pit in the upstairs of the house.
All of this would change on this ill-fated weekend.
The weekend started out just like any other. We got to the house, played some basketball outside until we tired ourselves out then went inside and gorged on Pizza Pockets and Pizza Bagels before hitting the Sparkle Ice Cream hard.
Then we headed down into the basement.
We jumped into some video games and pay-per-view movies. All was great. It was me, Dylan, Mike, and his friends Jake and Ian.
There was only one thing that was bothering me early on.
Dylan’s family’s house didn’t have a real heating system, just a wooden stove in the middle of the structure, right next to the stairs that led down to the basement. Because of this, when the logs in the fire fell down on each other or if you added more, the entire house shook and groaned. It was eerie as hell, but again, Dylan and Mike didn’t seem to be bothered.
We were in the middle of watching an epic Mortal Kombat II showdown between Dylan and Mike when I heard the entire house shudder from the stove. It scared the shit out of me and I even saw Mike flinch in his game, allowing Dylan to end their match with a powerful uppercut and then perform a gruesome “Fatality” on Mike’s Sonya Blade character.
“What the hell was that?” I finally spoke up about the nature of the house.
Dylan shook me off.
“Just the stove. Some logs rolled around. Come on, you got next and you can’t be Scorpion, not fair,” Dyland insisted, his eyes never leaving the screen.
“I don’t think that was just the stove,” Mike said, fear in his voice.
Mike looked to the top of the stairs where the door down to the basement stood closed, but with the shadows of feet standing there. My heart fell to the bottom of my stomach.
“That better not be mom and dad,” Dylan said as he dropped his controller. “I left a Playboy out on the couch.”
The door at the top of the stairs slowly opened, revealing the silhouette of a man standing in the darkness. Me and the rest of the young boys in the room started to huddle back toward the back corner of the space, even though there were no windows or no doors out of the space and we were trapped like rats in a cage.
We watched the man slowly walk down the stairs, taking each step carefully, each movement bringing him a little more into the light of the room, making his form and face more recognizable.
But what his face didn’t make sense. It seemed to just be rough, endless black, like someone had stuck their face in a pile of fresh, hot road tar.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and started to laugh.
“You all let the fire go out,” the man said in a low, booming, menacing fashion.
We all pushed ourselves a little further into the corner of the room. The man kept coming down the stairs. Worse yet, we watched as a couple more dark figures walked onto the top of the stairs above him.
The menacing man laughed again and stepped down onto the floor. His move gave a better vision of his face and I could see it wasn’t tar on his face. It was simply black masking tape, wrapped around all of his face except for his eyes, nose, and mouth. It wasn’t as creepy as the tar, but it certainly had a menacing effect.
He kept laughing as he stood there, holding us scared, with his friends making their way down the stairs. We then watched as hot red blood began to flow from his mouth and he started to spittle the fluid all over the cold concrete floor at his feet.
I heard Dylan suck in a deep breath next to me. He was going to say something. Oh God, was he going to try and be our brave savior?
“We’re not scared Josh!” Dylan spat out at the bleeding man.
What? Huh? No!
I looked closer at the bleeding man as he started to pull some of the electrical tape off of his face. It definitely was Josh. I even recognized his pigeon toed stance and stocky frame. It was Dylan’s older brother, Josh, just playing a morbid joke on us.
I breathed a brief sigh of relief, emphasis on brief. Josh was just about as scary as any monster that was lurking in the darkness of that house. History seemed to suggest ghosts had never actually killed anyone, but he had probably already killed someone in his 16 years on Earth.
So were his friends, three high school dropout dickheads who were chuckling like the hyenas in The Lion King above Josh on the stairs.
Josh’s friends came down the stairs and flanked him over his shoulders as he got the last of the black tape off his face, revealing a cold, mean mug that was primed for a county jail mugshot. The guy just looked mean, even at 16.
“What are you guys even doing down here home alone, giving each other blow jobs?” Josh started in on us.
I didn’t even know what Josh said really meant. I had heard of “blow jobs,” on the playground but always just acted like I knew what that actually meant.
Josh laughed at and shot menacing eyes at each one of us.
“It’s actually good that you all are here. We got some shit we need help with,” Josh went on with his eyes seeming to be impossibly wide open.
My heart dropped into my stomach as Josh whipped his backpack around his torso and dug out some sort of microphone contraption.
Josh moved toward the big T.V. in the middle of the room that had Mortal Kombat paused on it, fittingly in the middle of a violent Fatality where a character was lying dead on a spike.
Josh’s buddies followed him over to the TV and started unloading their backpacks, taking out cans of beer and random half-empty bottles of alcohol instead of electronics. They swigged casually as Josh started rigging up the microphone device to the back of the TV.
“Is that one of those things where you can talk on the T.V?” Ian asked, genuinely interested.
Josh just flipped Ian off as he finished rigging the thing up.
“Can’t talk on the T.V.,” one of Josh’s friends explained. “You can just talk through it.”
Josh squatted down and flicked off the SEGA, turning the T.V. to crunchy static.
“Hey, that was my game!” Dylan screamed out.
Josh just flicked a look over his shoulder at his little brother, like really? Dylan stepped away.
“Have you little wussies ever seen crazy shit on these T.V.s or on the C.D. player?” Josh asked.
My face flushed. I raised my hand up as if I was in class and had the answer for a teacher I really wanted to impress.
“Yes, I’ve seen faces and things!” I blurted out.
Everyone looked at me, rather weirded out by my enthusiasm. The only person who didn’t seem confused was Josh. He wiggled an eyebrow at me.
“So you’ve seen it too?” Josh asked.
I started to catch my breath. My brain tried to quickly do the math on what would be a good answer from here. I suddenly was no longer confident about what I swear I saw before and my own personal dark mythology about Dylan’s house. Had my frightened mind just made all of it up?
I nodded, softly, enough to where I thought I might be able to back out of it and say that’s not what I meant if things went bad from it.
It must have been the wrong answer because Josh wasted no time in rushing me and twisting my arms behind my back. I screamed in pain and protest, but all that seemed to do was draw Josh’s buddies to me and do the same as he was doing.
Josh whispered to his friends, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
I shot my eyes at Dylan, Ian, and Jake for help. They did nothing but watch in horror and I can’t really blame them. I probably would have done the same.
“What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?” I asked on repeat as Josh and his goond carried me over to the couch that faced the main T.V.
Josh turned to Dylan, Ian, Jake, and Mike when he and his friends dropped me down on the couch.
“You guys gotta get the hell out of here!” Josh commanded his little brothers and friends.
All except for Dylan immediately obeyed, running up the stairs.
I wanted to tell Dylan it was no time to be a hero. There was no way he could fight Josh and his friends, but I knew it was in Dylan’s nature to stand strong.
“Tie him to the sofa bed bars,” Josh whispered to his friends before he walked over to Dylan behind the couch.
Dylan rushed Josh and got a good punch on his chin before Josh got his hands on him and threw him down to the ground in one swift motion. Josh then threw three hard punches into the back of Dylan’s head, each powerful thump hitting so hard it made my head hurt.
But I had my own problems to deal with. Josh’s friends were finishing lashing me to the couch, my body forced to face the black screen of the T.V., my eyes closed so I couldn’t yet see the dark figure I assumed would be swimming around a shark in murky waters. I could hear Josh’s friends giggling all around me though. Could smell the peppermint schnapps and the yeasty beers burps on their breath.
“I fucking hate you,” I heard Dylan mutter before Josh led him up the stairs.
Dylan looked down at me when he got to the top of the stairs and said he was sorry with his eyes before he left and shut the door behind him, leaving me alone with Josh and his hyenas.
Josh got face-to-face with me, pushing the stench of cheap spiced rum and Busch beer into my face.
“So you’ve seen it too? The things in the T.V.s,” Josh said quietly into my face.
“What are they?” I asked back, hoping that my obedience would somehow loosen him up on me and I would also get my questions answered at the same time.
“You know what the deal with this house is, right?” Josh said.
I looked into the eyes of Josh’s friends. There were far less steely than his. They were hanging on his every word just like me, wanting to know.
“The guy who lived here before my parents moved in killed himself. That’s why they got such a good deal on such a big place. Said he was into some mad shit. They found his journals down here in the basement. He had the whole house, but he stayed down here because he thought it was safe,” Josh explained.
“Safe from what?” I asked.
“Fucking witches dude. They live out in the woods. They’ve been there for years. You’ve never heard of them,” Josh went on. “You don’t even realize they’re there, but you’ll see them sometimes. They walk around naked, covered in mud and leaves and branches so they blend in.”
Josh’s explanation chilled me to the bone. I started to picture our days and nights playing in the woods around the house. I would swear I would see things moving off in the distance or a tree seeming like it was blowing in the wind even though there was no breeze or a part of the forest floor seeming to rise and fall like it was breathing. Was that them?
“I’ve heard about them. There’s a group of them that have been here since like pioneer days,” one of Josh’s friends with a red bowl cut piped up, trying not to sound scared. “My dad told me all about them once at hunting camp.”
I had heard those stories too. I thought they were about the woods across the river in Hamilton, but it’s possible whoever told me the stories had it mixed up. I’m pretty sure my other source was my sister and her friends, some more teenagers who at the time I thought were rock-solid sources, but now I realize were highly questionable.
“Don’t worry, they can’t get in the house though,” Josh assured. “You have to let them in or invite them.”
Again, another brief sigh of relief on my end.
“Isn’t that vampires?” Red bowlcut spoke up again.
“I don’t know, maybe same thing?” Josh answered, so assured. “Doesn’t matter, they need to be, but supposedly the guy who lived here before invited them in, but they killed him, cut him up into pieces and painted the walls with his blood.”
I looked at the walls. The dim lighting made them seem alive again and it seemed to make sense why the walls of all of the house were different shades of red. To hide the blood.
“They have their ways to get in though. They try through the water. They put stuff in the well that will take you over and get you to let them in. Or, if they get into the electricity, they can alter it. They can move through it and communicate. They can also put spirits and demons in it.”
Josh looked to the TV, where I saw the shadow I recognized looming in the glass, the outline of a human’s head looking out at me. It all felt so real now. Who was it?
“Dumbass Mike and his buddies were playing with an Ouija board down here like a year ago, about when your ass started coming over here, and I think it triggered the blood and body parts of the man who used to live here in the walls, and in the electricity,” Josh said.
I watched as the shadow in the T.V. moved before my eyes, shaking its head back and forth over and over and over again at a sickening speed.
“He’s fucking trapped in there,” Josh said quietly, all of the other boys in the room frozen. “And he’s going to fuck with us and the house until he finds a way out.”
“How’s he going to get out?” Red bullcut asked.
“We’re about to find out,” Josh said as he handed the microphone over to me.
I of course didn’t try to take the mic, but Josh smashed it hard into my hands, possibly spraining a few fingers. I just grabbed onto it.
I watched as the shadow stopped moving and two dark circles seemed to form in the middle of the head space – eyes. Were they fucking eyes?
Josh pushed the microphone hard into my face, knocking the hard, round top of the thing into my front teeth. It felt like they chipped them. He then put his lips to my ear. He started to whisper what he wanted me to say to the energy in the T.V.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
The basement shook. Hard. Some dust fell off the ceiling and down onto my shoulders. This was all fucking real.
I saw the shadow on the TV screen move and fade in and out, but didn’t hear anything. Josh prompted me to ask again.
“What’s your name? I asked again.
Again, movement on the screen, but no sound.
Josh walked away from me and went to the volume controls on the T.V. He cranked it up until the hissing sound of a T.V. that’s on, but not broadcasting anything rumbled toward our ears.
Then the voice boomed through the T.V. shaking the room again.
“ROGER,” the voice boomed.
I watched as Josh’s friend’s jaws dropped in unison with mine. I checked Josh’s face, but he didn’t look nearly as shaken as me, or what just happened should have dictated.
Josh just whispered into my ear again. I asked:
“Who are you?”
“I used to live here,” Roger said back, loud, again.
“Did they kill you?” I asked after Josh whispered the question into my ear.
“I wouldn’t let them in.”
“Did they get in?”
“They can get in if they want. If you bother them.”
“You bothered them?”
“I didn’t want them on my property. They poisoned the garden. I shot at them. They came in the night. I hid down here, but they found me.”
“And they killed you? Painted the walls with you?”
Roger didn’t give an answer.
“They killed you?” I pressed.
Again, no answer, but I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, over by the other smaller T.V. I saw a shadow sticking out of the thing, reaching out for red head bowlcut.
“Oh shit,” I screamed into the microphone.
I watched as the shadow wrapped up redhead bowlcut and drug him back toward the T.V. and all hell broke loose in the room.
Josh and his other friend ran over to the T.V. and tried to pull redhead bowlcut away from the T.V. as hard as they could, but failed.
I couldn’t pay all of my attention to that scene though because I had my own threat to worry about. I watched as the shadow on the screen started to lean out of the T.V. until I saw a dark outline slip out of the glass and disappear into the darkness behind the screen.
“He got out. He got out! I screamed at Josh and his friends.
Josh turned to me as they were still in the tug of war over redhead bowlcut, allowing the force in the T.V. to win, dragging red head bowlcut against the screen where he started screaming out in pain.
“Hey guys, he’s somewhere fucking in here!” I screamed out. “You gotta let me go!”
Josh scanned the scene, looking for something to move, but neither of us saw anything move.
“Fine, fuck!” Josh spat and then walked over to me.
Josh started cutting the ropes off of my wrists, letting me go. I jumped up without an idea of what to actually do.
“Come on, help,” Josh muttered to me.
Josh led me over to the screen where it looked like redhead bowl cut was about to be swallowed up by the blackness of the little TV screen. Josh and I joined his other friend with the barbed wire tattoo on his forearm and started yanking on red head bowl cut.
We were able to pull out redhead bowl cut in half a second, throwing him down onto the hard floor at our feet.
The screen of the T.V. went completely black. No sign of life as redhead bowl cut gasped for air on the ground.
We all rested there for a moment. I’m sure all freaked out. I’m sure all trying to figure out what to do next.
I saw some darkness move underneath the main TV, heading toward the couch.
“We gotta get out of here,” I muttered to the rest of the guys.
Josh took off first for the stairs. I and redhead bowl cut followed. Barb wire tattoo was at the back of the pack.
I saw the darkness, I assumed was Roger move out of the corner of my eye. It rushed at us from the middle of the room as we raced up the stairs.
We made it to the top and Josh tried to rip the door open, but he couldn’t. It was locked on the other side. He wrenched on it as hard as he could as the rest of us screamed at him.
I looked down the stairs and saw the darkness slipping up onto the bottom stair. I watched it grow as it moved up each step, growing into the form of a completely dark man composed of pure blackness.
The thing was getting really close. Within an arm’s reach of barbed wire. Shit.
Then the door flew open and Josh fell inside. Redhead bowl cut and I followed, pouring into the room.
I turned around from the floor and caught a glimpse of barb wire as he tried to fall down with us, but wasn’t able. He was suspended in air, his mouth wide open like a fish’s out of water. Like he wanted to yell something out to us, but couldn’t.
We watched as he flew backwards and out of sight, into the belly of the basement. We watched as the light down there flicked off just before the door slammed in our faces.
The three of us found our feet and started to scan the inside of the main floor of the house. There wasn’t a sign of life anywhere other than the front door, which flapped in the wind.
“Dylan!?!?” Josh screamed out into the bones of the house. “Where are you?”
No answer. Nothing, just some wind and rain whipping in through the open front door.
This was not good. We ran to the door and looked out. There was nothing but darkness outside except for a distant light, way out through the trees.
“That’s them,” I heard Josh say under his breath.
“Who’s they?” I asked.
Josh didn’t answer. He just looked back at the door down to the basement as a frantic pounding started banging against the other side of it.
We were stuck between whatever was going on out in the woods around the house, where Dylan and Mike and Mike’s friends were and whatever was pounding on the basement door.
Bowl Cut moved for the door.
“Don’t fucking do it,” Josh seethed at Bowl cut.
“Come on man, it’s Drew,” Bowl Cut said, seeming on the verge of tears.
“You don’t know what’s down there,” Josh reasoned.
Bowl Cut just shook his head and stomped over to the basement door.
“No fucker!” Josh screamed out as Bowl Cut whipped the door open and a thick plume of smoke immediately seeped into the room.
I quickly couldn’t see and coughed as the acrid smoke filled my lungs.I fell to the floor, totally out of breath. I tried to crawl toward where the door to the outside was, but I honestly couldn’t see, and my brain quickly got just as foggy as the smoke.
I crawled aimlessly with the sound of horrific screaming ringing out in the smoke all around me. I tried to wave it out of my face, but no luck. I just had to keep crawling.
I crawled and crawled and crawled until I felt the smoke start to part around me. I spun my head in each direction and took in my setting. I definitely hadn’t made it outside. I was inside. I could see walls. Though I didn’t recognize them.
The smoke had officially parted and I could see where I was. I had made it back down into the basement somehow. How the hell did that happen?
I was on the ground on all fours, my knees and elbows digging into the hard ground, but they seemed to be slipping into the concrete, as if it was wet.
A sad moaning sound started to replace the screaming that was still running in my head. I followed the sound as I continued to fail to pick myself up. It was coming from the middle of the room, but I couldn’t get my head up to look at it, it was as if my neck was broken.
All I could see were a pair of dirty Vans swishing back and forth in front of my face every couple of seconds with the soundtrack of whimpering coming from somewhere right by it.
I strained my neck as hard as I could and could get a glimpse of where the Vans were connected to and where the whimpering was coming from. It was hard to see because the light in the room kept flickering on and off.
It damn near broke MY neck but I got to see what I was looking for. Barb wire hung from the lightbulb, the cord of the thing stuck through the back of his neck with the bulb sticking out of the side of his neck, coated in the blood, flickering on and off.
Barb wire looked down at me, his eyes in terrible pain, blood trickling out of his mouth, looking like a fish on a hook that you just pulled out of the lake with your fishing pole. The sickening image flashed in my head like a strobe.
I was able to get myself up off the ground, but it wasn’t easy.
I took in the room. All of the TVs were flashing with shadows stuck in them and the door at the top of the stairs was sealed shut. Some of the smoke still hung in the room. I figured I was going to die.
I tried to move some more, but it was like I was coated in glue.
I watched one of the shadows start to climb out of the biggest TV. It slid down onto the floor and started heading in my direction, moving like a puddle on a flat escalator.
The thing slipped underneath the couch and slithered in my direction. I gulped, knowing there was no way I was going to get to the stairs before it could get to me.
I watched in horror as the dark puddle reached my ankle and froze me in my tracks just before I could get to the stairs. It now felt like someone had poured cement into my blood and in all of my joints as I stood there, stiff.
I felt the puddle crawl up my leg, then my torso, then my neck and then latch onto my chin. I tried to keep my mouth closed, but I couldn’t stop it from slipping through my lips and getting into my mouth.
The thing tasted like black licorice as it passed through my mouth, ran down my tongue and into my throat. I couldn’t breathe for a few moments and coughed until I fell on the ground.
I fell to my knees and tried to cough the thing up, but with no success, just kept choking on it as I felt it wiggle its way further and further down my windpipe and into my chest.
Then it stopped. I could breathe again and all I was left with was the faint taste of black licorice on my tongue.
I took a moment to catch my breath, until I was startled by Barb Wire falling down from the sky and hard onto the ground, the bulb and the cord that dropped it down from the ceiling ripping out of the guts of the house above with him.
I moved over toward Barb Wire and expected to see him breathe his final breath, but instead found him simply looking uncomfortable on the ground. The bulb and the cord were in his mouth, but no longer sticking through the side of his neck, the blood that was there gone.
Barb wire looked up at me with his eyes more frightened than I would have thought they would be capable of being.
“Help,” he croaked.
I dropped down and grabbed the cord inside his mouth and yanked at it, pulling it up out of his throat, with the glass bulb still illuminated. I could see the thing coming up from behind his tongue.
I pulled that cord until the bulb and the rest of the cord were fully out of Barb Wire’s mouth.
Barb wire looked rattled and in pain, but he wasn’t in nearly as bad a place as he should have been. Given what happened.
“What happened?” Barb wire dribbled up at me.
I didn’t know how to even answer that question. Luckily, I got bailed out by the door at the top of the stairs opening. I looked up at the top of the stairs and was relieved to see Dylan’s grungy ass biker dad for the first time ever.
He waved me up the stairs to him. I ran as fast as I could. So did Barb Wire behind me.
Dylan’s dad led us quickly through the house and out to their muddy driveway where about 10 of his friends waited with their Harleys revving.
“What the hell happened here?” Dylan’s dad barked into my ear, and I call him Dylan’s dad because I honestly didn’t know his legal name.
I just shrugged. Dylan’s dad grabbed me by the neck and yanked me up into his face.
“All my kids are missing. I need to know what the fuck happened here!” Dylan’s dad breathed into my face, that same fermented breath that was on Josh and his friend’s breath on his.
“I don’t know. Something came through in the T.V. in the basement,” I tried to explain.
Dylan’s dad looked at me like what I was, a stupid little kid. He was quickly distracted by one of his friends shining a Mag-Lite out into the woods at the side of the driveway.
“There’s something moving around out there!” Dylan’s dad’s friend yelled back at him.
I followed the man’s light and indeed saw shadowy figures moving in the woods by the side of the driveway. They looked like people, milling around aimlessly in the area of the woods where Josh had built BMX bike trails with jumps and ramps.
It was a perfect location for Dylan’s dad and his friends to explore on their Harleys.
“Hop on,” Dylan’s dad said to me as he got onto his Harley.
I didn’t know what else to do. I jumped onto the back of Dylan’s dad’s Harley and put my hands around his muscular torso.
He took off before I was ready and I almost fell off the back. Dylan’s dad either didn’t care or didn’t notice, because he floored it to the edge of the woods, where the movement and light was.
Dylan’s dad’s speed allowed us to get to the woods in .5 seconds and I saw the lights that were drawing us in were coming from a collection of flashlights, beaming out deeper into the woods, held by clumsy figures, walking through Josh’s bike trails, deeper into the trees. I figured it was Dylan, Mike, Jake, and Ian walking around, away from the house, looking for safety.
I instantly felt relief. We were going to retrieve my friends. Dylan’s dad was going to scold us all and I was going to be sent home. I’d be sleeping in my own bed before 2 a.m. Thanking my lucky stars for my cushy life. I was about to be a normal kid again.
Then we dropped down onto Josh’s trails and saw the holders of the flashlights were not my friends. They were women. Grown women, standing naked in the trees and bushes that surrounded the trails.
My stomach dropped as Dylan’s dad brought his Harley to a stop at the start of the trail and all of his friends followed suit on their hogs back in the driveway.
The women had us surrounded. It was almost like they had perfectly planned it, having one of them around us in each direction. I could feel Dylan’s dad’s entire body tense up. The burly man was now scared of six naked women. As were his friends, frozen in their literal tracks.
Then the women moved. All in the direction of Dylan’s dad and I.
Dylan’s dad panicked and hit the gas on the motorcycle, sending it forward wildly. It raced forward and ran into the dark woods ahead, disappearing from sight.
The women were almost on us. Dylan’s dad ran off after the motorcycle, leaving me alone with the hideous women almost on me and me frozen in fear.
I smelled them before I could feel them. My nose burned with the intense smell of putrid body odor that I had only smelled once on a sidewalk in Seattle when my family walked past a homeless man. It almost knocked me out.
Yet, I fought through it. Something deep inside me told me I needed to run. So I did, deeper into the woods for some reason, in the direction Dylan’s dad ran.
I ran and ran and ran and ran until I was out of breath and standing next to a rustic cabin built between two tall, thick trees. I fought back vomit as the dilapidated wooden building stared back at me, screaming in the night.
But it wasn’t the building screaming, it was a young boy. It was Dylan. I remembered the sound coming out of of him once when he broke his arm playing football at recess.
My friend was inside that building.
I ran up to the fogged glass window next to the front door of the little shack. I could only faintly see in, but I saw what looked like small human silhouettes, and I heard the screaming, louder now.
I tried the door. It pushed open into near darkness, a few candles on a table just inside providing the only light.
I heard Dylan scream again, followed by the screams of Mike, Ian, and Jake, it was a chorus of horrified, young boys, and I was their white knight.
Maybe the crash to the ground from when Dylan’s dad’s motorcycle knocked some bravery into me because I wasn’t the least bit worried about what could happen to me as I walked into what appeared to be the living room/jailhouse of these Pagan women who were terrorizing us and Dylan’s dad and his biker friends. I confirmed this as I walked past a shelf covered with what looked like pickled toads resting in giant glass containers.
I found Dylan, Mike, Jake, and Ian lashed to racks in a room centered by what looked like a classic bubbling pot of green liquid. A potion, a stew, an evil pot of something.
Based on how wide the eyes on friends’ faces were when they saw me, there seemed to be a good chance they soon expected to have an unpleasurable experience with that pot.
I thankfully kept the Victornox pocket knife my grandparents had given me for Christmas three years running in my pocket. I took the thing right to the thin rope wrapped around Dylan’s wrists that held his limbs out in a Jesus Christ pose.
The knife was a piece of shit, but it got the job done, after a while. I almost have Dylan’s first wrist freed when he started to whisper to me:
“They’re going to kill us. My dad stole that house from them. They lived there. He kicked them out.”
“What?” I asked, loudly, as I freed Dylan’s first wrist.
Dylan shushed me.
“Quiet, I don’t want to scare them,” Dylan went on.
“How could they get any more scared?” I asked right back.
Dylan looked behind me, presumably out the window. He bit down on his lip. A move I wasn’t thrilled about.
“What, are they out there?” I muttered, quietly this time.
Dylan shushed me again and the squeals I heard from Mike, Jake, and Ian answered my question for me.
The witches were back. I slipped Dylan’s other wrist free.
“Just keep cutting,” Dylan whispered.
I listened to Dylan and got his feet freed as his eyes lingered outside. I asked him what he was looking at and what the rest of our friends were squealing about five times but got no answer.
It wasn’t until I set Dylan free that I got any answers. In the form of a gunshot that rang out into the night, prompting more squeals from the younger boys.
I finally looked out the window and saw Dylan’s dad, flanked by a few of his biker buddies, standing off against the naked women, who were now half-covered with leaves and mud, looking like Arnold Swarzenegger in Predator when he hides from the monster, except scarier.
Dylan’s dad held a shotgun at the women. They stood still in a line, their chests puffed out, as if they were daring him to fire at them. I could see his finger itchy on the trigger, the barrel still spilling out just a little bit of smoke.
Had he already fired at them? Had he fired up into the air?
My thoughts were interrupted by Dylan’s dad firing. This time right over the heads of the women it seemed, knocking a few of them to the ground.
“Where are the fucking boys?” Dylan’s dad screamed out.
He didn’t get an answer. Then he lowered the gun back at the women.
What’s I’m about to say might not seem plausible or possible or realistic or of this Earth, but I swore I saw one of the women step up out of the group, hold her hand out toward Dylan’s dad and then I watched Dylan’s dad’s shotgun crumple into pieces right in his grasp. Dylan can vouch for me about the authenticity of this story if you want to call him at the Washington State Correctional Facility in Walla Walla.
Dylan made the wise move of grabbing the pocket knife out of my hand and going back to the rest of the boys to release them. He got them out of their lashings about 10 minutes faster than I would have and we ran out the front of the house together.
Dylan’s dad and his biker friends were slowly backing away from the women when we got outside. They didn’t seem to know what to do, just manly men being backed down by naked women who had them scared out of what wits they had.
Then the shots rang out. I have no idea where they came from or if they connected with any of the women, but I think they came from Dylan’s dad’s reinforcements out in the woods behind them.
Either way, it gave us the break that we needed and we followed Dylan’s dad and his biker buddies back to Dylan’s house.
We made it. It was a situation where all of us. Grown men. Children. Josh and his other teenage buddies, all found ourselves standing inside the living room trying to understand what happened. I doubt any of us ever did.
At least I know I didn’t.
We all survived though. Even Josh’s friends who I swear we watched be killed ended up fine and never said anything about what happened as far as I knew.
I didn’t tell my parents anything. I figured Dylan’s dad might, but he didn’t. I just went home on Saturday morning like nothing happened when my mom came to pick me up a few hours later having not slept all night.
I tried to talk to Dylan at school on Monday about what else happened up there that weekend and what he was telling me about the history of the house at school, but he wouldn’t tell me anything.
Then he moved away at the end of the school year and this was the 90s so I had no way of tracking him down until recently when my bi-annual search for him on Facebook finally found him, listing the aforementioned Washington State Correctional Facility in Walla Walla as his place of residence.
I sent him a message saying hi. I didn’t say anything about that night with the witches.
We went back and forth on a few things for a handful of messages. He said the being in prison thing was a joke. I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth until he invited me to go see him at his new home back where we are from the next time I was back in town.
I was home for the holidays a few months after his invitation and he sent me his address. I started following a familiar path that I could trace by memory, but not by name. Given I was only 10 the last time I went to Dylan’s parents’ house, I honestly could not tell you the name of the remote road they lived on up on the mountain above town.
Something inside me told me I shouldn’t have gone up there, but I really wanted to talk to Dylan and see what he had to say so I drove all the way up there, took the long, winding driveway through the woods until I got to the old house in the dark clearing. The sun just set and a soft rain began to fall as I parked and stepped out of my Jeep.
There was one light on inside the house when I came up to the porch and knocked on the door. It took a while for Dylan, who I recognized from one of his grainy Facebook photos, answered with a beer in-hand.
Dylan offered me a beer. I turned it down. We sat in the poorly-lit living room that didn’t look much different than it did when I was 10.
We talked about random things. Mostly about girls from our fourth grade class and if I knew what they were up to now. Mostly explaining that via Facebook I was pretty sure they were long married with multiple kids, much to Dylan’s disappointment.
Dylan drank five beers over the hour we talked and he somehow seemed far more drunk than he should have been given the amount of Coors Lights he drank. I was pretty sure he was on heroin.
Unable to take anymore, I started just straight up pressing Dylan about that night with the witches. He tried to feign ignorance for the 20 minutes I pressed him. He was too drunk all the time starting at age 12 that he could barely remember anything else. Well, except every single girl who was in our fourth grade class apparently.
I gave up and let myself to the door.
Then Dylan started talking.
He spit out some quick generalities about the night, mentioning that he found out his dad was renting the house by trading the equivalent of black tar heroin for rent to the witches, who actually owned the house. He said that things were fine until he noticed the witches had a fascination with Dylan, Josh, and Mike and he got spooked.
He said Dylan’s dad and his buddies came back to the house that night because he and Mike called them before they ran out into the woods when I ended up back down in the basement.
He said his dad wouldn’t tell him anything else and they left that Saturday and moved into a motel in town then moved to Eastern Washington shortly after, then Idaho, then Montana, then Alaska, then dad disappeared, then Dylan moved back to Washington when he was 18 and bounced around the state’s penitentiaries and drug houses back and forth.
Dylan then apologized for the thirtieth time for not having more for me. I then asked him how and why was he back renting the house.
Dylan explained he wasn’t renting the house. He didn’t know who rented it or owned it. He just thought it would be a trip for us to meet up there. He was squatting for a while. No one was home when he got there and no one had come home yet. He even just found the beer in the fridge!
I kindly excused myself and drove the hell out of there, quickly, with Dylan looking at me from the porch as I backed away. I drove through the driveway, cutting right through Josh’s bike trails, my eyes combing the dark woods all around.
There was a beacon in the darkness, on the side of the driveway where the witches’ cabin was. I could see a faint light, what looked like a porch light, flickering through the trees as I sped up the gravel road.
The sight created a strobe effect in the woods revealing what looked like human figures, or maybe stumps and oddly-shaped trees, standing in the woods. It chilled my blood as I drove out of the driveway and back onto the lonely country road that led up there from town.
I looked up Dylan on Facebook again a few months later to follow up. His profile was gone.