Danny hated this plan. There was a whole list of things he’d rather be doing than riding his bike with Clint through the darkness to meet up with Reid and Alex. He’d rather be home playing Atari with Clint, sitting on the couch, with some fresh snacks delivered by his forever-loving mom. When he thought about it, he’d rather go to the dentist than this. But there was one thing he wouldn’t rather do, and that was not go and have Reid kick his ass, tease him, or call him a big fat baby one more time. Besides, he wasn’t really fat, he was just big-boned. That’s what his mom called it, anyway.
“Tell me why we’re doing this again?” he whispered, and glanced to the side at his friend.
As he did, the clunky headlamp strapped to his head cast weird shadows behind Clint, making it look like little creatures were dancing around his feet.
Clint gave an audible sigh. “It’s a thing. You know, to prove we’re awesome. We’re going into high school next year, and what better way to make a grand entrance?”
“How does Reid talk us into all this crap?” Danny’s words came out choppy as he hit a rough patch of dirt.
A rock kicked up and grazed his knee.
“Cause, well, he’s Reid.” Clint shrugged.
Danny’s bike skipped over a broken branch laying across the path.
He moaned and took a deep breath. “Crushed my gnads. Gotta stop.”
He halted his bike, drew in another deep breath but couldn’t bring himself to lift his leg up and over to step off it. Instead, he brought his hands over his crotch, leaned forward and tried to shake off the wave of nausea.
“Dag, man, you OK?”
“Totally. Just gotta catch my breath. Can we walk?”
Danny slowly slung his leg over the bike and stepped off. He grabbed the handlebars and started pushing it as he walked. Clint hopped off his bike and pulled up beside him. The path was wide enough in some spots, but in others, one of them had to fall back in single file or risk getting swiped by a branch or tripped by the bushes. Like the woods were alive, reaching out for them as they pushed onward. Danny shook off the thought.
“We shouldn’t go to the haunted house.” Danny cast his eyes to the ground as if it were going to reach up and drag him down into the darkness. “It’s probably not haunted anyway. Who knows how long it’s really been there.”
He was just making noise to keep from freaking out. If he kept talking, the darkness wouldn’t scare him so much, the idea wouldn’t be so stupid, and he might be able to keep going. And he also knew that Clint would go into Mr. History mode. That was his thing, after all.
As if on cue, Clint nudged his glasses high onto his nose and launched into the story. He was an ace at reciting facts, and this was one story the whole town was well aware of.
“Pretty sure it’s been there at least since the 1600s.” His voice deepened. “Legend has it the troubles began during King Philip’s war.”
“The Indian dude, right?” Danny stumbled over a rock and then found his balance. “Feather, not dot, right?”
“Uh-huh. From the Wampanoag Tribe.”
Danny nodded. “Yeah, Reid’s cousin or whatever.”
The light of Danny’s headlamp flitted across Clint’s face just in time to catch a massive eye roll.
Clint sighed. “Not quite a cousin. Duh. A distant relation by like three hundred years.” He straightened up. “They fought against the colonists and burned down all their houses. Every one burned to the ground, except that one.”
The beam of the headlamp cast from side to side as Danny glanced off into the woods and then looked over each shoulder. No matter how many times he’d heard the story, it never got any less scary. And the darkness felt like it was pressing in on him. Even with the light, the night seemed to grow darker in the telling of the tale.
Clint said, “It was like the fire couldn’t touch it, couldn’t burn through.”
“Nuh-uh. You’re shitting me.” Danny squirmed.
Clint raised his palm. “I swear. I shit you not.” He dropped his hand. “Even though they set it on fire, the flames rose and surrounded the house but couldn’t destroy it.” He leaned in and whispered over Danny’s shoulder. “Since then, no one has dared to go near it. The house is cursed, haunted. Some say the devil himself resides there. It’s said that when the fire enveloped the house, screams could be heard from within. Thousands and thousands of screams.” He recited the words from rote, a story passed down to him from his father, and his father’s father. From everyone’s father. “In fact, those screams, the evil within grabbed hold of the hearts of the fearless Indians and drove them away. But it was too late. A shadow had sneaked its way into King Philip’s mind. Fear had taken over his men, and that eventually led to his madness and his capture and death.”
Danny whipped his head around and mushed his hand over his friend’s face, forcing him back. “It’s a lie, a stupid story.”
Clint dropped his bike and pushed Danny away, intent on finishing his lecture. “Sometimes, in the dark of the night—”
A branch cracked and Danny scanned the darkness for the thing that had brushed past. Clint seemed unconcerned, and Danny wondered if he’d imagined the sound.
Clint continued. “The glow of a fire emanates from within.”
A rustle of leaves drew both of their attention, but then there was nothing.
“A single flame to light the darkness.”
“Stop!” Danny cringed at his own outburst.
Clint shrugged, then leaned down and picked up his bike, and they both continued walking.
It was too late though. Danny could feel the fear seeping into him. It raced over his skin like little spiders. Pricked at him and brought every hair on his body to attention. He rubbed his arms, trying to relieve the goosebumps. His headlamp flickered. Breath caught in his throat before the light came back on. He hadn’t realized until then how terrifying the woods would be in the full dark. He started to hum like he always did when he got nervous. Except the humming didn’t help, so he started singing.
“Carry a laser down this road that I must tra-vel. Carry a laser through the darkness of the n-i-i-ight!”
Clint laughed. “I really don’t think those are the words.”
“Yes, they are.”
They stopped dead in their tracks.
Clint shook his head. “But the name of the song is Kyrie.”
He wasn’t going to budge. He never did. Danny was used to it. This type of stuff had gone on between them for years.
“But he has to carry a laser down the road and through the night,” Danny said. “It’s like a weapon or a flashlight so that he can see in the dark.”
He felt good about his argument. Made sense to him. But these were the kind of arguments his dad had told him to avoid at school. The nuh-uh, no how, no way, I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I childish jabs that he’d surely—hopefully—grow out of by fourteen. He only had a few months to sort that out.
“I really don’t think so.” Clint stifled a giggle. “The name of the song is Kyrie. He says Kyrie Eleison. It means lord, have mercy.”
Danny shook his head, unwilling to lose this battle. “Not even. Who’d write a pop song about that?”
Clint laughed even harder.
The anger overtook Danny’s fear. “I know it’s carry a laser. If you don’t believe me, ask my mom when we get back.”
The laughter from Clint only increased. “Your mom.”
“Your mom!” Danny yelled.
Another rustle from the bushes. Footsteps. Getting closer.
He froze, terrified of what might be following them. His mind created all sorts of terrible things—vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, witches, demons, ghosts.
The bushes parted and a figure stepped out. It had a girl’s snarky voice.
“Your mom. Ya momma’s so stupid she thought meow mix was a record for cats.”
Danny recognized the voice as the girl snorted.
“Wicked fucking morons.”