The Mystery Tent
A Strange Island Story
The tent just appeared one day in the small, wooded area by my house. It was a usual hangout for me, Ashley and Mark, even though our parents had explicitly warned us against it. There’d been no sign of the tent just the day before.
It was a large tent, like something you see at a circus but fancier. It was a deep royal blue with gold vertical stripes. Also in gold an intricate pattern across the top and fringe hanging down framing each panel. The final over the top embellishment, enormous gold tassels and ropes held the front flaps open. The tent should have seemed out of place randomly placed between tightly packed in trees, yet it fit perfectly in the small gap between trees. The tall trees cast most of the tent in the shade, except for one shining spot directly on the opening. The gold sparkled in the light yet through the opening nothing could be seen.
We all stood there in awe. None of us said a word or moved for what felt like hours. I wanted to get a closer look, touch it, go inside. But there was something about the complete blackness beyond the open curtain. It felt like something was hiding in the darkness and the fear of what it was kept me rooted in place. Finally, Ashley broke the spell. “I have to go guys.”
Her voice sounded far away. I shook my head, hoping it would snap me out of the daze I’d fallen into. “Hello.” Ashley was waving her hand in my face. Mark was a few steps ahead of me still staring at the tent.
“Yeah yeah. Um what?” I responded.
“I said I have to go.”
“What do you mean? We just got here.”
“I just remembered my mother wanted me home early, we’re ummm…” She paused, obviously making up some lie. “having a family dinner.”
“Bullshit!” Mark said. “You’re scared.”
“Why would I be scared, it’s just a stupid tent.” Her voice was shaky.
“Oh my god you are scared.” I poked her. “Big bad Ashley is scared of a circus tent. Maybe there’s a clown inside.”
“I am not scared I have to go home.”
“We should go in.” Mark said as he took another step forward.
Panic surged up inside of me. I felt a strange pull toward the tent, yet my heart started beating faster and my arms broke out in goosebumps. My body struggled with the urge to run away and move closer, leaving me paralyzed in place. “I don’t think I want to do that.”
“What you scared too. Come on you chickenshits.”
“What if somebody’s in there?” My voices rising as Mark walked forward, tilting his head as if that would help him see through the dark opening. The closer he got, the faster my heart beath. “Come on Mark. Get away from there.”
“I’m going.” Ashley declared and started walking away.
“Wait. We’re coming.” Mark was standing inches away from the opening still staring in. I ran to him, grabbed his arm and dragged him away.
“Ugh. This is what I get for hanging out with girls.”
“Come on Mark. Another day. It’s going to start getting dark soon and I don’t want to get in trouble for being out too late.”
That night I had a horrible nightmare. I was back in the woods, alone, in front of the tent. I’m standing in front of the wide opening, staring into the darkness. I feel like something is in the woods watching me. I know it’s hunting me, hiding behind trees, circling me. I want to run but can’t move. I’m paralyzed, can’t even turn away from the tent. I think it’s not in the woods, it’s not an animal. It’s the darkness. The pitch blackness right in my face is going to eat me. It reaches out of the tent, blocking everything out. The woods are gone and I’m alone in complete darkness. I woke up screaming.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the dream and the idea of going back terrified me. I managed to avoid Mark and Ashley all day at school but just as I was leaving the building, he grabbed my arm. I jumped and screamed. “Wow, jumpy much.”
“Yeah, it’s just…nothing. What’s up.”
“I was telling a couple of the guys about the tent. They didn’t believe me, so I’m taking them to see it. We’re headed there now. You coming or are you still scared.”
“Can’t, lots of homework.”
“Oh, come on. What’s with you and Ashley. It’s cool, you’ll have lots of guys there. You know us big strong guys will protect you.”
“I’m not scared. I just have a lot of homework.”
“Yeah, that’s what Ashley said too. Fine. If you change your mind, you know where to find us.”
He walked away to join Sammy and Ricardo who’d been waiting for him across the street. I could hear him telling them I was scared. He said something else I couldn’t hear, then they all erupted in loud laughs. I knew he’d made a joke at my expense, I hated it. But I couldn’t work up the courage to go back to that thing. There was just something wrong about it. Walking home I saw Ashley sitting in front of her house. “Hey girl. So I hear you passed on going out to the woods with the guys too.”
She looked up at me with a look of fear. I’d never seen Ashley look that way. She wasn’t afraid of anything. She was the one most people were afraid of. “I just can’t. There’s something wrong about that thing. I…I…” Her eyes began to fill with tears. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She started again without opening her eyes. “I had this horrible nightmare about that thing.”
“Me too. There’s definitely something weird about it.”
Her eyes snapped open. “It’s evil.” I didn’t know how to respond. I thought I should ask about her dream, but I didn’t want to know. “Something bad is going to happen.”
“That thing freaks me out too but talking like that won't help.” She didn’t answer. “Look I gotta get home, have a book report due in the morning. You can always call me if you need to talk.” I said feeling guilty. I just wanted to forget about the whole thing.
When I got home, I told my parents I didn’t feel well and hid in my room. I couldn’t face them without being tempted to tell them about it. I managed to stop thinking about the dream, instead I wondered about what Ashley had said. How could a tent be evil? Just before I was about to go to bed my parents walked into my room. They both looked serious and concerned.
My mother asked, “How are you feeling, any better?” I shrugged. “I’ll make you some tea, then you get some rest. But first we need to know if you saw Mark today?”
“Yeah, just after school.” They both stared at me. I knew they were waiting for me to say more. The silence seemed to last forever.
Finally, my father broke the silence. “Mark’s father just called looking for him. He still isn’t home. Do you know where he went?”
For a second I considered telling the truth, realizing something could have happened to him. But it was more likely that he was still hanging out with the other guys. “I…umm...he was going somewhere with Sammy and Ricardo when I saw him.”
“But you don’t know where they were going. “
I shook my head. I was too scared to talk, the truth might slip out. I hated lying to my parents, but it wasn’t worth getting in trouble. They eyed me suspiciously but didn’t ask any more questions. It took me forever to fall asleep that night. Eventually, I fell asleep after hours of laying in the dark worrying about Mark. I had the same exact dream except it didn’t end with the darkness. It continued with me standing in the dark. I could hear something moving around me in the dark. There’s also other noise far away, maybe music. I got that same feeling of being watched while the sound of movement got closer. I shout out, “Who’s there?” I hear a low rumbling growl to my right. I turn, another growl, louder, directly in my face. I start backing away. I turn and run. It’s still complete darkness but I run anyway. I hear a scream; it sounded like Mark. More growls, then laughter. A deep voice says, “Your friend is tasty. I hope you are too.” That's when I woke up. I laid in the bed awake, afraid to fall back asleep until I had to get up for school.
In school that day, I found Ashley right away. “Did you have the dream again.” She nodded. “Me too, but…” I didn’t really want to talk about it, but I had to know. “It was different. I heard Mark. What about you?”
“Why are we bothering to talk about this. Don’t we have better things going on in our lives than our dreams.”
“I…well…I don’t know.” I could feel the tears start to well up in my eyes.
“Oh god. Don’t start crying now.” She was purposely being mean, and I was too tired to deal with it.
“What’s your problem. I’m freaked out and you’re supposed to be my friend. This isn’t just about the dream. You’re the one that said something bad was going to happen and Mark’s father called my parents looking for him last night. I just, I don’t know.”
Her face softened with concern. “I’m sorry. I’m freaked out too. But you know.” I did know, her natural defense was to enter tough guy mode. “Mark really never went home?”
“Not by ten when his father called. They asked me if I knew where he went. I lied. Now I feel horrible, I should have told the truth.”
“What I said. I was being weird. I couldn’t know something bad would happen. It will be fine. Tell me about the dream.” I told her a quick version of the dream. She listened and reassured me it was all probably nothing. My own guilt fueling the dream and making me feel bad. I felt better getting it out, but still couldn’t shake the bad feeling. I totally freaked out when I found out that Mark wasn’t in school that day.
We both confronted Sammy and Ricardo after school. “Where the fuck is Mark?” I yelled.
“Whoa, little lady, what’s the problem?” Sammy said as he formed a satisfied grin.
“Marks parents called my house looking for him last night. Now he wasn’t in school today. What the hell happened yesterday?”
Ricardo stepped up. “What you think we did something to him. Stupid shit probably just sore from the ass beating he got for being late.”
I glared at him. “Okay, but really, what happened?”
“We left the weirdo with his stupid tent.”
“You what? Left him there. By himself.” I asked.
“Yeah. He wouldn’t leave.” Ricardo said as he stepped closer to me and puffed out his chest. "What's the problem."
“You just left him? Didn’t you think that the whole thing was strange. Why would you leave him there? BY HIMSELF!” Ashley said as he pushed him back.
“Well duh, we are on Strange Island. Tons of strange shit happens here all the time and a tent in the woods wouldn’t even be at the top of the list. That’s what I told him the minute we got out there. He just stood there staring at it. It was lame, so we left. Told him so and he said go ahead, he'd catch up with us later."
“Yeah duh, Strange Island.” Sammy patted Ricardo on the back laughing like an idiot and they walked away.
I turned to Ashley. “We have to go out there.”
She shook her head quickly.
“We have to. Who else is going,” I pointed a thumb in their direction. “Those guys?”
“Damn it.” Her whole body shook. “Damn him. What are we even going to do, he probably got snatched by some psycho.”
“Do you really think that?”
“No but I know it’ll be bad. Whatever it is.” I didn’t say anything just looked at her with a serious expression. “Fine, let’s go before I change my mind or start thinking too much about what we are going to find.”
We quickly walked from the school to the dead-end street that led to the woods. We slowed down as we entered. We both stopped as it came into view. I couldn’t believe this was the same tent from the other day. It looked old, like it’d been there forever. Dirt made the blue darker and the gold parts were dull and dingy. The ends of the fabric were fraying. And it was no longer open. The flaps were closed overlapping making it seem like one seamless panel.
We looked at each other. Ashley nodded, I nodded back. It was an unspoken agreement that we would see this through. Slowly and carefully, we walked toward the tent. As we got closer, I paid closer attention to the details. The gold pattern along the edges was shaped like a chain. I could have sworn it didn't look like that last time. I remembered it as a random pattern. We both walked up to it, stopping inches away from where the opening had been. I couldn’t make out where one flap began and the other started.
We looked at each other, wondering the same thing. I spoke up. “Can you see how to get it open?” Ashley shook her head. As she reached forward, there was a noise behind us. Something moving the surrounding grass. We froze but whatever it was had stopped. She started to move and again we heard a noise behind us. I picked up a rock from the ground and threw it. A squirrel jumped out and ran past us.
We both laughed in relief. When we turned back, Ashley reached out and touched the tent. She tried to push it open, but it was one solid panel. There was no longer an opening. Then I heard a familiar sound. The growl from my dream. I looked at Ashley wondering if she heard it too. She’d dropped her hand and her face had lost all color. Again, the growl seemed to come from inside the tent. This time it was much louder. Neither of us said a word we just turned and ran.
We ran to my house. I was over worrying about getting in trouble. We found my parents and the whole story flooded out of us. We couldn’t get it out fast enough. At first, we seemed to be taking turns but by the end we were both talking over each other, getting louder and louder.
My father listened looking at us with a calm but stern face. My mother freaked out and started yelling. "Oh good god. He was probably snatched up by some crazy bum living in the woods. What would possess you two to go there alone. After, your friend disappeared. You want to get yourselves killed." She stopped yelling but continued muttering under her breath about how it was a miracle we were still alive. My father just gave us a disappointed look as he walked away and called Mark's parents.
It took about a half an hour but felt like forever until we were leading my parents, Marks parents, police officers and a couple other parents to the spot in the woods. Neither me nor Ashley wanted to go anywhere near it. We stood at the edge of the woods and pointed in the direction. It was a straight walk. We waited with my mother until the others came back. Most were shaking their heads and a few whispered to each other, their faces a mixture of amusement and disappointment.
I ran up to my father. “Did you find it? Was he there? What happened?”
My father just shook his head then started walking away. I stood there looking back and forth between his back and the rest of the people coming from the woods. He yelled back to me, “Come on. Let’s go home and talk. Ashley, you need to go home too.”
We got home and I was utterly confused. I needed to know what they found or didn’t find in the woods there. I’d already guessed they didn’t find Mark, but why were they all acting so weird. My father sat down in the kitchen and motioned for me to do the same.
I was almost bursting with anticipation. “So…”
“I don’t understand. Why would you lie?”
“Lie? About what?”
“This so-called tent you guys found in the woods.”
At first, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Why would he think I was lying? Then I realized, they hadn't found the tent. Somehow it had disappeared. “I didn’t lie. I swear it was there.”
He put up his hand. “Don’t. I don’t want to hear it. This is very serious, and you have us chasing some stupid figment of your imagination.”
“I swear it was real. We all saw it. Go ask Ashley. Or Sammy and Ricardo, they went there with him yesterday.” I looked at my mother hoping for support. But I could see the disappointment in her eyes. She didn’t believe me either.
“We’ve already told the police and they will talk to those boys. But I just, I don’t know. Go to your room. I can't look at you right now."
I ran up to my room, tears streaming down my eyes. I couldn’t believe they thought I was lying. I found out later they tried to ask Sammy and Ricardo about the day they went there. But they couldn’t find them, they went missing too. The police and volunteers searched the whole wooded area, and the surrounding neighborhoods. They never found any sign of the boys. Several more kids and even adults went missing all over the Island that year. There was talk of a serial killer, rumored to either be a crazy clown or an evil witch.
I never had the nightmare again. I tried talking to Ashley, but she wouldn’t talk about it. It felt like she avoided me and eventually we stopped hanging out altogether.
About the Creator
Alexis M. Collazo
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. An avid reader, writer and multimedia creator. Relocated to Pennsylvania where she is currently focused on writing, crafting and leading workshops online. Visit www.alexismcollazo.com for more info.
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