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We Dare You!

by Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters 2 months ago in Short Story
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From deep in the forest where legends are born . . .

Image by Hendrik Morkel on Unsplash

‘The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.’

That was how Eric’s story began.

Four teenagers; Chad and his best friend, Shawn, Chad’s brother, Eric, along with Eric’s friend, Donnie, were shooting the breeze, smoking Winfield Blues and swigging from a bottle of cheap booze the brothers had swiped from dad’s cabinet.

‘Gawd, not that old tale again?’ groaned Shawn.

‘Well, legend has it that every year on the anniversary of the deaths a candle can be seen burning. They say that the murdered workers who had once lived there return, looking to seek revenge. And it’s the anniversary date this coming Saturday night!’

‘Bro, you’re just a bullshit artist! Pull the other one, it has bells on it!’ Chad rebuked him.

‘How would you know? Have you been there?’ Donnie teased. ‘We should just dare you guys to spend Saturday night there!’

Chad and Shawn exchanged nervous glances. They both knew that a dare can’t simply be ignored. Nor could the shivers that had just run down their spines.

‘What do you think?’ Chad asked as they stood at the edge of a clearing, taking in the view of an old cabin before them. ‘Looks kind of cool, eh?’

‘It’s a shack,’ Shawn replied. ‘And God only knows what we’ll find inside. There could be bugs, or snakes, or spiders, or any-bloody-thing! It looks like a nightmare.’

‘You left out the axe murderers and the ghosts!’ Chad remarked.

‘Yeah! I was trying not to think about those.’

Now after a day of hiking through the forest they were finally here. Shawn wasn’t quite sure exactly how he was feeling about this whole dare thing now.

He was quietly cursing Eric and Donnie, but being fifteen a part of him wanted to feel excited about it and about the opportunity to prove himself a man, at least in the eyes of their friends and family. But then again, another part of him wanted to turn and run like hell, and not stop until they were well clear of this forest.

But he couldn’t do that, could he?

So that left him standing here, just a few feet away from the rickety veranda, while a cold chill seeped into his bones and stood on end the hairs on the back of his neck.

Legend has it that the Baker brothers, a pair of timber cutters who were the original inhabitants, were murdered right outside their front door, more than one hundred and fifty years ago; right where the boys were now standing, and their ghosts still haunt their old home, appearing on the anniversary of their death, when a candle could be seen in the window.

Now they are buried close by, below knee deep summer grasses and weathered crosses to which unknown locals would sometimes give a fresh coat of paint. Looking to his left Chad could see the crosses a short distance away in the late afternoon light.

Some say that it was the local natives who perpetrated the deed, while others say it was a pair of local businessmen wanting to take over their timber business. There were many other rumours about the men and their murders, but the real truth apparently died with them.

‘It’ll be okay,’ Chad said. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this.’

‘Yeah, well I don’t, but we’ve still got to go through with it, don’t we?’ Shawn eventually added, almost in a whisper.

‘I reckon so.’

‘Do you reckon they’re out there watching us?’ he added, referring to Eric and Donnie.

‘Reckon so. They’ll want to make sure we go through with it, but what does it matter if they are? It’s as much about proving to ourselves that we’re not pussies, isn’t it?’

‘Well, I guess it’s now or never,’ Shawn said as he dropped his pack and bed-roll on the verandah, then stepped forward to turn the door handle.

The old floorboards creaked under their weight as they moved around inside the cabin, but they seemed solid enough. Or most of them did.

In the late afternoon the place was dark, yet surprisingly they could see it was neat and tidy. Nothing at all like they had expected. A few specks of dust hung in the air, drifting aimlessly through a shaft of amber sunlight. The place reeked of history.

Shawn stepped forward and ran a hand over a table. There was not a speck of dust on the surface.

‘That’s weird,’ he remarked. ‘It’s like someone has cleaned the place.’

‘Expecting company?’

‘And where’s the candle?’

Chad simply shrugged and said, ‘It’s not dark yet.’

‘C’mon, let’s take a look around,’ Shawn suggested.

‘Sure.’

Venturing back outside the boys explored the area around the cabin, first taking a closer look at the white crosses beneath a gnarled apple tree, then finding a broken down fence around what looked like it could have once been a shed. By the time they were back at the front door, which they had left standing open, it was starting to get quite dark, but when they got there both were stopped in their tracks.

The door was open, but inside, standing on the table in the centre of the room there was a candle, which was burning brightly.

For just a few moments time stood still as the boys took in the scene.

‘What the fuck?’ Shawn whispered.

‘Those bastards!’ spat Chad, before spinning around and scanning the dark forest. ‘You don’t scare us! You hearing me, Eric? You don’t scare us!’ he yelled, just as loud as he could.

Elsewhere in the forest another flame was burning. Eric struck a match and put it to the cigarette that was hanging from his lips. He and Donnie had been watching from afar.

‘You hear that? They’re already shitting themselves!’ Eric said with a chuckle, before shaking the match vigorously to extinguish the flame.

‘Yeah, b-b-but who lit the c-candle?’ Donnie stammered. ‘It wasn’t us?’

‘Maybe it was the ghosts?’ Eric replied, accompanying it with raised hands, waggling fingers and whooo-whooo-whooo sounds.

Slowly Chad and Shawn crept forward, never taking their eyes off the candle and its flickering flame.

‘Could it have been them?’ Shawn asked in a whisper.

‘Who else?’

‘So, what are we going to do?’

‘For starters, we’re not going to chicken out,’ Chad answered, defiantly. ‘We’re staying put. I’ll find some firewood. Can you light the lanterns?’

As Chad disappeared out the door Shawn retrieved his backpack, which held a torch, along with, among other things, a bottle of kerosene he had brought along for the lanterns. Chad, too, had found his own torch and could be seen a short distance away gathering some sticks. Shawn set about filling a lantern he’d taken down off the wall, but just as he began to fill the lantern he was startled by a sudden gust of wind, which caused the open door to slam shut, making him spill a few drops of kerosene on the table.

‘Fuck!’ he hissed, before trying again. His hands were by now beginning to shake and were being made even worse by that eerie sound of wind howling through gaps in the walls. Suddenly he wished Chad was back here with him.

Moments later Chad did return, the loud stomping of feet on the front veranda being a welcome sound, but when Chad instead came through the back door, Shawn’s heart skipped more than just a beat.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Chad asked when he noticed a pale looking Shawn staring at him, open mouthed. ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost!’

‘W-what? N-no, don’t be stupid,’ Shawn stammered. ‘You just startled me, by coming through that door. I thought I heard your footsteps out the front.’

‘Nope. That wasn’t me,’ Chad drawled. ‘Are you sure that’s what you heard?’

‘Geez, now I dunno what I heard.’

‘Maybe it was the wind rattling a board? Anyhow, I’ve got some firewood, so I’ll start the fire? It’s getting cold!’

Shawn nodded, even if his mind was still thinking about the tricks that the sounds must have been playing on him.

About this time Eric and Donnie were trying to make themselves comfortable outside, having found a flat spot amongst some rocks and trees, sheltered by a large fallen log. It allowed them a place where they could roll out their sleeping bags while still having full view of the cabin.

‘How about a fire?’ Donnie suggested as they lay themselves down.

‘What? Are you friggin’ crazy? They’ll see it,’ came Eric’s rebuke. ‘We don’t want them to know we’re here!’

‘They already know we’re here. Who else is going to able to tell the world if they had the balls to go through with the dare?’

‘Maybe later then!’

‘Well, don’t try cuddling up to me when you’re wanting to stay warm!’ Donnie quickly shot back.

When the wind shifted direction slightly Eric and Donnie soon caught the smell of smoke, accompanied by the scent of something cooking.

‘Damn. Did you bring anything decent to eat?’ Donnie asked. ‘Something smells okay in there.’

‘Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?’

‘Well? What have we got?’

‘Just chocolate bars and crackers, I think. Didn’t you bring anything?’

Laurel and Hardy had nothing on these two!

Eric looked toward the cabin, before letting his gaze settle on the sliver of moon which was beginning to rise above the dark rim of nearby mountains, casting a dim light over everything. Clouds began scudding across in front of it, blocking it out and bringing with them a sticky blackness. He could feel a cool wind picking up as well, whistling through the forest around them, almost as if it was warning them of something ominous coming their way during the night ahead.

‘Do you feel that?’ Eric asked.

‘Yeah, cold wind,’ Donnie answered.

‘Hope it doesn’t keep up all night.’

‘Hmmm, I still think we need a fire.’

Despite his earlier protestations, the idea of lighting a fire was beginning to grow on Eric, regardless of the consequences. What would it matter if the boys knew they were out here?

‘Yeah, right-o. I give in. Let’s light a campfire,’ Eric finally conceded.

Quickly they gathered some sticks and soon had a blaze sending sparks up into the night and before long they were settled once more, only this time they were being warmed by the flames.

They settled down once more and were soon lost in their own thoughts. Eric was concentrating on the real reason they were here, and wondering what the others might be up to right at this moment (probably scared shitless, he thought!), while for Donnie, his thoughts were on his own experience in the cabin with Eric some years ago. He knew that something had happened then, that something had been there with them, and whatever it had been was something he feared. How must Chad and Shawn be feeling right now, he wondered? Would they be scared, or would they be bravely facing up to whatever the night may bring?

Inside the cabin, Chad and Shawn had also settled in for the night. Having eaten and then played cards they had then crawled into their sleeping bags and were talking about all the usual stuff that teenage boys tend to talk about – anything to take their minds off the fact they were in what was supposed to be a haunted house. Things had been surprisingly quiet since they had arrived, but now they could hear the sound of the wind starting to pick up outside, whistling around the eaves and through the many cracks in the walls. Inside, with the doors firmly closed and the windows shut, a chilly draught came and went, but overall they felt surprisingly comfortable. The candle flickered.

‘Does this feel strange to you?’ Chad asked.

‘What’s that?’

‘You know, aren’t we supposed to be scared, or something?’

‘It’s ages yet ‘til midnight.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘That’s when the ghosts are s’posed to come out.’

Nervously, Chad looked at his wristwatch. Nine o’clock. Hours to go yet.

Chad started telling jokes and soon Shawn couldn’t help himself; what started as giggles soon turned into fits of laughter, but everything was abruptly silenced by the sound of a long and high-pitched scream coming from somewhere outside the cabin, and from not very far away.

Immediately they looked at each other and each could see the fear in the other’s eyes.

‘W-w-what was that?’ Shawn managed to stammer.

‘Someone being murdered, I’m sure,’ Chad replied.

As shadows from the fire flitted and bounced around the room, Shawn could see that Chad’s hands were shaking. Even though he was scared shitless himself, he reached out placed a hand over one of Chad’s, trying to reassure him and remind him that he wasn’t alone.

Chad just looked at him, but said nothing.

‘D-do you think we should check it out?’ Shawn cautiously suggested.

‘W-what? Are you crazy?’

‘Well, what if it was Eric or Donnie? What if something has happened to them?’

‘Tough!’ Chad replied. ‘I ain’t going outside. Not on your Nelly!’

‘Well, I am.’

‘You can’t be fucking serious?’

‘Yeah, I am,’ Shawn answered, but Chad could tell by the tone of his friend’s voice that he was far from confident about doing so.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Chad asked, now sounding quite concerned.

‘Absolutely,’ Shawn answered, as picked up his torch then reached for the door handle.

Amongst the boulders and fallen trees not far from the cabin, at about the time when Chad and Shawn were telling jokes, Eric was growing restless. He had decided he couldn’t just sit around; he knew that despite Donnie’s protestations he needed to know what was going on inside that cabin and so he had crept off into the night, leaving Donnie alone.

Eric’s eyes were soon well accustomed to the night, and with brief glimpses of moonlight he was easily able to make his way through the scrub, skirting around toward the side of the house. His intention was to try and catch a glimpse of what might be happening inside, through one of the many cracks between the slabs of timber in the walls. He was convinced that he would be able to see his brother and his friend cowering in fear and was intent on adding to their misery.

As he carried on, trying to make his way through the scrub without having to resort to the torch he was carrying, and hopefully without being seen or heard, that was when Eric first noticed the mist that seemed to be rolling in. He stopped and looked up toward the moon, or at least the place where he had seen it just a few moments ago, but all he could see was a dull glow, from it now being hidden behind gathering clouds.

It was also growing colder and he noticed that the mists around him were, rather oddly, growing heavier, while at the same time they were beginning to swirl in an eerie fashion. For the first time a real twinge of fear began to gnaw away at him. His heartbeat quickened and despite the cold he could feel his skin dampened by a coating of sweat.

For one fleeting moment he thought he saw a face, all twisted and cruel looking, which seemed to form within the mists, then dissipate in the blink of an eye. Confused, he rubbed at his eyes then looked again. There was nothing, only the fog drifting against the inky blackness of night. Once more he turned back to face the cabin, thinking it was just his own imagination playing tricks on him, but just as he was about to move forward he felt the cold touch of a hand on his shoulder.

‘Jesus, Donnie! Don’t do that,’ he whispered. A quiet chuckle came from behind him, but it was of no comfort to him. In fact, he froze, as a cold shiver of fear coursed through his body.

He knew that didn’t sound like Donnie.

Slowly he began to reach for the hand that gripped his shoulder, but just as he did so he found himself being forcefully spun around, while at the same time the night was filled with the sinister laughter of two different voices, even though there was no one to be seen.

‘Who’s there?’ he yelled, as he whipped the torch from his pocket and flicked it on, then flashed it all around him. He knew that his shout must have been heard by everyone in the vicinity; Donnie, from where he sat amongst the trees, as well as Chad and Shawn, inside the cabin. ‘Show yourself, you fucking bastards!’

From behind him he heard a sinister laugh, which chilled him to the bone. He spun around and aimed his torch in that direction, but he needn’t have bothered, as it was impossible to miss the two ghost-like figures that were advancing upon him. With their lips curled in a vicious snarl, like rabid dogs, and accompanied by a growl that almost wasn’t human, they kept on coming, while Eric stumbled backwards.

He had no doubts as to who they were. These were the ghosts of the Baker boys, the murdered timber cutters, and they were coming for him! So Eric did what any scared teenager in his position would do, he screamed, filling the night with a blood curdling sound that would wake the dead. And then he ran as fast as he could, as laughter echoed in his wake.

It was only moments after he had heard the scream that Shawn opened the door of the cabin and stepped out onto the veranda. Shining the torch out into the night all he could see was a white nothingness, a wall of mist which had rolled in since sunset.

Sensing movement beside him he turned his head and found Chad standing there.

‘I’m not staying in there alone,’ Chad said.

Shawn offered a faint smile. ‘I don’t blame you,’ he said.

‘So, what are we going to do?’

‘I’m not sure, really. Take a look around, I guess. See if it was Donnie or Eric or...’

‘Or what? What if it wasn’t them? What if there’s some nutcase out here? Or worse? What if it was the ghosts, trying to scare everyone away?’

‘Well, no matter who or what it is, we’ll find out together then, won’t we?’

‘I-I guess,’ Chad replied, but only after giving it some thought for a few long and drawn out moments.

Cautiously they stepped down off the veranda and were instantly swallowed by the damp, swirling mists. Shawn swung his flash light from side to side, but the light only seemed to bounce right back at them from the wall of fog.

‘Aim lower, where the fog is thinner,’ Chad suggested, and when Shawn directed the light closer toward the ground they found that they could see much farther ahead of them.

‘Keep an eye out behind us,’ Shawn said. ‘See if you can keep sight of the light in the cabin, just so we don’t lose our bearings.’

‘Okay.’

For the next five minutes they scouted around in a large semi-circle out in front of the cabin, but they found nothing out of the ordinary. The fog and mists certainly didn’t help their cause, but still they continued to search.

‘It’s useless,’ bemoaned Chad. ‘How can we possibly see anything in this quagmire?’

‘So what do we do? Leave them to whatever it is that might be out there?’

‘They’re big enough and ugly enough to be able to fend for themselves aren’t they? And besides, haven’t they left us here to do exactly that?’

That was certainly true, Shawn thought, before eventually replying, ‘Yeah, I guess you are right there.’

‘So what do you want to do? You want to keep looking?’ asked Chad.

Before Shawn could answer, however, the night was shattered by another shout, which was quickly followed by the sound of someone running through the scrub.

‘What the fuck!’ exclaimed Shawn, while right at the same time Chad yelled, ‘What was that? I think it sounded like Eric!’

They looked at each other, with worry etched on both their faces, while all around them the mists suddenly began to grow heavier and heavier, before then starting to spin and boil, like heaving thunderclouds, threatening and ominous.

‘Wh-what’s happening?’ asked Chad, nervously, before flashing the torch from side to side, but all he could see was the wall of dense fog, which even as he looked around, he could see was growing heavier by the second, while also starting to spin faster and faster.

For the briefest of moments both boys thought they could see a shape forming within the swirling mass. Was that a face? And another beside it?

‘Chad?’ Shawn asked, almost pleading. From the tone of his voice it was easy to recognise his fear. Instinctively the boys reached for the other, each grasping the other’s hand as they stood there in the swirling abyss, watching the walls close in around them, ever spinning faster and faster.

‘I can’t… can’t… breathe...’ Chad gasped, before grabbing at Shawn and pulling him close.

‘I’ve got you,’ Shawn answered. ‘I’ve got you,’ he repeated, knowing exactly what Chad was meaning, as he too was finding it difficult to breathe, but when he suddenly felt Chad slump in his arms the weight of it all became too much and Shawn found himself feeling as if he too was about to pass out, but not before he heard the unearthly sound of laughter echoing around them.

Shawn had no idea for just how long he had been passed out, but when he started to stir he could tell that it was still dark and that he was lying on a cold, hard surface which smelled faintly of dust.

For a few moments he couldn’t quite figure out where he was, but when his eyes finally focused he soon recognised the familiar surroundings of the cabin. But just how he had gotten there he had no idea.

It was then that Shawn noticed a faint light within the room. Without even looking in that direction he figured it must have been the candle still burning, so he couldn’t have been out for too long, he concluded. That was when he also noticed the familiar shape of Chad lying on the floor beside him and so he tried to scramble over closer to him, despite the protests being made by his aching body.

‘Chad! Chad!’ he said as he shook his friend’s shoulder. For a few moments there was no response and he started to think the worst, but finally Chad let out a groan and moved slightly, and Shawn knew that he would be okay.

Then, just as Chad opened his eyes and began to stir, recognising the concerned expression that he could see on Shawn’s face, a chill went through the bodies of both boys. Once again they were filled with fear as the eerie sound of what must have been a thousand spirits whispering to themselves began echoing around them.

‘What’s that? Who’s there?’ Chad heard Shawn bark as he jumped to his feet and started looking nervously about. When Chad also managed to get to his feet he instinctively reached for Shawn’s hand, who he was surprised to find staring at one wall of the one roomed cabin, his expression frozen somewhere between fear and amazement, not that it was at all difficult for Chad to understand why once he recognised what Shawn was staring at.

‘W-w-who are they?’ Chad whispered to Shawn, as he gripped his boyfriend’s hand a little tighter.

There was no answer forthcoming, however, as Shawn appeared to be gobsmacked, and understandably so, given that they were both staring at the shimmering, ghost-like figures of two men.

Both the men appeared to be in the prime of their lives, strong and fit and handsome, apart from the obvious signs of severe wounds which looked to have been inflicted by a knife or some other large, sharp blade, and which both spirits were clearly showing.

‘Is that? Are they?’ Chad stammered, while pointing at the apparitions before them. From the corner of one eye he thought he could see Shawn nodding, but that was the only reaction he received from his companion.

For what seemed an eternity the four of them stared each other down across the room, until finally it was Shawn who regained his senses.

‘Who... who are you?’ he asked. ‘How did we get back in here?’

For quite some time there was no answer, but then the two ghostly figures glanced at each other. To the two boys it seemed as if the spirits had shared something, or come to some deep and mutual understanding, all without anything having been said.

It sent shivers down their spines, but when the spirits turned their attention back to the boys it was with softened expressions, which helped in some small way to sooth the jagged nerves of Chad and Shawn, though still far from completely putting them at ease.

‘One of the others... out there...’ one of the spirits quietly said, while pointing outside through the nearby window. ‘His thoughts wished mischief upon you.’

‘H-how could you know that?’ Shawn replied.

‘We just do,’ the second spirit replied. ‘There is so much we know... and so that is why you were returned to this place.’

‘It is so rare that we see others, especially others like... us,’ the first spirit added.

‘Like you? What do you mean?’ demanded Chad. ‘We’re not... we’re not dead are we?’

‘Oh, no. You are both still very much alive,’ the ghostly form answered.

‘So, what exactly do you mean when you say... like us?’

Once more the two spirits looked toward each other, only this time they both smiled. It was only when they reached out and took each other’s hand, while gazing into the almost transparent depths of each other’s eyes that their meaning finally dawned upon Shawn.

‘I think he means, like this,’ Shawn said, as he brought his hand up between the two of them, which was still holding firmly on to Chad’s. The spirits turned their attention back to the boys and smiled down on them.

For one fleeting moment Shawn thought Chad was going to pull away, but after giving his boyfriend’s had a gentle squeeze Shawn knew that Chad would be okay, even if he still looked somewhat dazed and confused.

‘Do you mean... everything that’s ever been said... the rumours... it’s all... true?’ Chad stammered.

‘That was quite a long time ago... and it is quite a long story,’ one of the spirits offered, with a sigh.

‘We have all night,’ Shawn pressed.

Outside in the night Eric’s screams had galvanised Donnie into action, and he had blindly dashed out into the swirling mists, running in the general direction from where the screams had come; scratching his bare arms and legs on branches and thorns, while stumbling over fallen branches and logs and running directly into trees.

Donnie found Eric staggering toward him, ghostly white and unable to talk. Somehow he managed to guide him back to their makeshift camp and the relative warmth of their fire, which Donnie soon added more sticks to, trying to build it up as quickly as possible.

Eric said nothing. All he could do was fold his arms across his body and shiver, while Donnie could do little more than keep adding fuel to the fire.

Hours later, when first light appeared and the new day emerged, Donnie woke to find Eric staring at him. It seemed he was finally coming back to the present.

‘You okay?’ Donnie asked his friend, receiving a nod in reply.

There was plenty of time to find out what had happened, Donnie figured.

As the mists began to clear and sunlight lit up the bushland morning, Donnie got to his feet and wandered away, finding a log to perch upon so that he had a view of the cabin. Moments later he called Eric over, just as he noticed some movement at the cabin and the front door swung open.

For a while nothing happened, but then Shawn stepped out onto the veranda, followed closely by Chad, before they both turned and looked back through the doorway toward the dark interior.

When they finally closed the door and turned away from the cabin Donnie and Eric stepped forward, with Donnie waving to them. They both waved back.

‘Got to hand it to ‘em... those kids sure must have some guts to have stayed in there all night like that!’ Donnie remarked, as they watched their friends start walking across the clearing toward them, happily chatting away, as if nothing at all had happened.

‘Yeah. Who would have thought it, eh?’ Eric replied.

‘Guess we’ll have to stop raggin’ on ‘em now.’

‘Yeah, I guess so.’

As for Chad and Shawn, who were now halfway across the clearing, they both knew that this would be the morning that would signal the beginning of their new lives, and things couldn’t be better.

They had survived their greatest challenge of their lives so far and they now knew the secrets behind the legends that had been born at this very spot so many years ago.

They also felt certain that their own secret was still safe, for now at least, but above all, they knew that the events of last night were sure to signal the start of something new: the fact that a new legend had just been born.

Short Story

About the author

Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters

Aussie, Queer & Country

LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.

W: https://ponyboysplace.wordpress.com/vocal-media-index/

E: [email protected]

https://www.facebook.com/mark.p.peters/

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