Once upon a time, three small figures wandered down a winding, unfamiliar path. In a horizontal line, the two taller figures traveled on the outside of the pack, encasing their petite friend in between them. This is how they always walked places, protecting Eloise without thinking. It's just how they did things, like how they all agreed that Saturdays were their exploring days, no matter the time of year. It gave them something to look forward to.
Patrick, who was the oldest of the three had always been the leader of the group, the one to enforce the rules of their weekly adventures. He had a carefree attitude that matched his physical appearance, with dark brown hair that never quite sat down orderly. His wild green eyes that never failed to have a particular sparkle in them. The second oldest was Carter, he was taller and lankier than Patrick, his hair was a seemingly never ending mop of dirty blonde curls that fastened themselves around his ears. His baby blue eyes were somewhat disproportional to the rest of his face. Especially when they were wide with fear, which was fairly often, but only on Saturdays. Eloise extremely enjoyed teasing him when he got scared while they were out. Despite being the youngest Eloise was arguably the bravest, her bright red hair matched her personality. Small freckles littered her face and collarbone, only stopping around her brown doe eyes. She was never one to back down, one of the most stubborn people that had ever existed. She was only 13, Carter 14, and Patrick 15.
“I hate to interrupt this lovely walk, but where are we going?” Carter asked.
“Shut your mouth Carter, we’ll get there,” their supposed leader replied.
“Sorry, I just don’t like voluntarily walking into my death,” Carter said sarcastically, as he ran his hand through his blonde curls.
“Lighten up Blondie, were not dead yet,” Eloise smiled up at him.
“Key word yet,” he stated, “it’s never too late.”
“I swear Carter if you say another word I will intentionally kill you today,” Patrick hissed.
“You’re an ass, y’know that?” Carter told Patrick, the conversation threatening to get heated as they often did.
“I’m an ass? At least I’m not a pansy!” Patrick seethed.
“Go to hell!” Carter said, reaching one of his lanky arms over Eloise’s head and shoving Patrick from the side. Patrick’s body whipped sideways and he attempted to lunge at Carter. Eloise took her left shoulder and bumped it into Patrick, warning him to calm down.
“Cut it out guys,” Eloise told both of them sternly. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for the boys to scuffle, as their personalities didn’t mesh very well, but nonetheless they stuck together, as they didn’t fit in anywhere else.
They walked for a few more minutes, the path continued to dwindle, becoming so narrow that the children were only able to walk in a single file line. Patrick led the three, Eloise in the middle like always, and Carter rounding up the back. After the boys’ affair, the path led them into a forest. It seemed odd, as before they knew it they were surrounded by vegetation. Patrick had insisted he knew where he was going multiple times, that he had been there so many times before.
“Hey Indiana Jones, if we don’t get there soon I’m going home,” Carter directed toward Patrick. Eloise giggled at the nickname, and waited for Patrick’s response.
“You’re lucky Eloise is here or I’d kick the absolute hell out of you pansy!” Patrick replied, his voice showing agitation.
“Sure you would,” Carter mumbled sarcastically. Patrick ignored his comment and continued weaving through the overgrown thorn bushes and tall grass. The three ceased conversation as they all focused on the trail, careful not to twist their ankle on a stray rock or get stuck with some sort of thorn.
In only a few more minutes did Patrick’s voice ring through the forest, “See I told you! We’re here!” And indeed they were.
The trail opened into a small clearing, allowing the three of them to stand side by side as they had only a while ago. They looked up at a house, it was huge to say the least, and oddly placed as well. But it wasn’t ordinary, instead of a single color it was decorated with multiple rectangles and squares of bright colors. The windows seemed randomly placed, not level or the same size.
“This place looks sketchy,” Carter said, “Why is it in the middle of nowhere?”
“I don’t know Carter, do I look like a history buff to you?” the other boy replied.
“I thought that’s what Indiana Jones was good at, wasn’t he an archaeologist?” Carter joked.
“If you call me Indiana Jones one more time I’m shoving my foot so far down your throat that you’ll never be able to bitch at me again,” Patrick threatened.
“Patrick, stop being a hothead. Carter stop annoying Patrick. Are we done acting like kindergartners? Great let's go,” Eloise huffed, grabbing one of each boys’ arms and began dragging them to the porch.
There were three porch steps, each sagging below where they were originally built, weathered down by years of rain and trespassers. Their oak color now hidden by a pale and grimy facade of dirt, mold, and fungi. They didn’t look strong enough to support all of them let alone one of them but somehow the three were able to climb them and make their way onto the dilapidated porch.
“This is the least sound structure I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something because you’ve taken us to some pretty shitty places,” Carter said to Patrick. Eloise chuckled, reminiscing on the countless abandoned buildings and underground clubhouses that Patrick had blindly led them to. Her favorite was a tree house they had ventured to last summer. It had no ladder, the tree was dead and Patrick had assured them it was safe. So they climbed their way into one of the windows. About ten minutes into their excursion, the floors started to creak but they didn’t shuffle out until a piece of the ceiling hit Carter in the head. After that they rushed out and as soon as Patrick’s second foot hit the ground the tree began to make a cracking noise and the entire tree house came down, leaving a pile of old wood and broken glass on the forest floor. Patrick got hell about that from Carter for months. It was one of her favorite days that she spent with the boys.
“At least this one is on solid ground and not in some sort of dead tree,” Eloise said. Carter immediately began talking.
“I forgot about that! Probably cause I got hit in the head by a two by four! Remember that time Patrick? When you almost killed us?” ge exclaimed.
“God I wish that wood hit you harder,” Patrick grumbled. Eloise giggled, patting Patrick’s back.
“I had a good time that day if it helps at all,” She told him.
“See Carter! Eloise isn’t a wuss! Why can’t you be more like her?” Patrick said.
“She didn’t get hit in the head by a plank of wood!” Carter interjected.
“Can we go in before I stab him?” Patrick asked, rolling his eyes.
“Lead the way Indiana!” Eloise smiled.
Patrick ignored her and separated from the other two, he tried to twist the handle but the door was locked. He reached into his jean pocket and brought out his plastic arcade card. The other two have seen him pick locks before, they waited as he fiddled with the lock and the card. After a few minutes the door clicked and Patrick turned the handle and swung the door open.
“Ever think about pursuing the robber career buddy?” Carter joked.
“Frequently,” Patrick smirked before holding the door open for his two friends and following them inside.
The house was musty, it smelt like old wood and mildew. The walls inside were all painted like the exterior of the house, randomly. Squares of purple here, splotches of yellow there, triangles and swirls of green to the left, circles of red to the right. It reminded Eloise of Disneyland, someplace magical. But there was something not quite right about it, as if the walls were painted to cover up something else, to catch their attention and distract them from a larger threat. Eloise placed a hand on the wall and drug her hand across the wall as she circled the room. Watching the variety of colors travel below her limb, everything else faded away, all that was left was the distorted shapes of color and her pale hand. Her concentration was broken when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun around to be faced with Patrick. He stood there looking concerned.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. She nodded and furrowed her eyebrows at him.
“Yeah I’m fine. Why? Where’s Carter?” she replied.
“You’ve been circling this room for fifteen minutes, I thought you went crazy or something. Carter just went upstairs, I thought you would probably want to come with us,” he told Eloise.
“I haven’t been in this room for 15 minutes, we just got here. You just picked the lock Patrick,” she responded.
“No, Carter and I have already been through the entire downstairs of the house, we asked if you were coming and all you did was continue your loop, we shrugged it off and assumed you were thinking about something so we let you be,” Patrick informed her. Eloise racked her brain for memories of the boys leaving the room or talking to her at all. But she couldn’t remember, all she remembers was the wall meshing under her hand. She knew something was wrong.
“Patrick I don’t like it here, I don’t like this place. I think we should leave,” Eloise said, Patrick could practically hear the fear in her voice. For all the years he had known Eloise, he never heard her sound scared, she was one of the bravest people he knew. He didn’t like seeing her frightened, and wrapped his arms around her, hoping to give her some sort of comfort.
“Are you guys coming up or what?!” they heard Carter yell from upstairs. The two separated, Patrick’s hand immediately going to “fix” his hair, which was quite an impossible task.
“Do you want to come with me to get him, or you can go outside and get some air or something,” Patrick suggested.
“I don’t want to be alone again, let’s go get Blondie and get the hell out of here,” she replied, gesturing him to lead the way.
Patrick strutted down the hallway and made a sharp left turn which led them to a flight of stairs. These stairs look like they were in a lot better condition than the one’s outside, probably because of the outside of the house protecting their structure. The stairs alternated, going through the color of the rainbow pattern and then repeating. Eloise looked at them and debated on tracing them as she had the wall. But she shook her head in attempt to erase the thought from her mind, the thought that her body could be controlled without her knowledge scared her more than she’d like to admit. Patrick noticed her downcast gaze and reached one of his hands out to her, she took it and he led her up the stairs before letting go of her small hand.
“Carter! C’mon we’re leaving!” Patrick yelled out to his friend.
“What do you mean we’re leaving? This is the best place we’ve ended up in yet,” Carter replied exasperated from the open room a few doors ahead of them both.
“Eloise doesn’t like it here, so we’re leaving, lets go,” Patrick explained, as he began to walk toward the open door. Eloise trailed behind him, looking at all of the doors as she walked.
“Are you kidding me? The second I say I don’t like where we are then I’m a pussy, but the second Eloise doesn’t like something is when we’ve gotta leave?” Carter exclaimed.
“Carter, let’s go, Eloise doesn’t feel safe. We’ve gotta get her out of here,” replied their leader. Carter emerged from the room and shook his head.
“We’re not leaving, we just got here!” he argued.
“Will you listen to me for one goddamn minute?! We’re leaving!” Patrick yelled, stepping closer to the tall blonde boy.
“No! I don’t have to listen to you, all you are is a dick with a big ego!” Carter shot back. Eloise usually would’ve broken up the argument but she was too distracted, she was stopped at one of the doors, her ear pressed up against the wood.
She heard something, she wanted to describe it as singing but it wasn’t, she realized someone was humming. It was a soft melody, the voice belonged to a woman. She closed her eyes and focused on the tune, smiling, she reached for the doorknob. She began to turn it before she heard someone yelp. Her body spun around and she saw Carter on the floor, gripping his jaw while Patrick stood over him.
“You just fucking punched me,” Carter said in realization. His face was red, tears were welling in his eyes. Eloise’s mouth dropped open, Patrick had never laid a hand on Carter, she didn’t ever think he would.
“You fucking asshole you just punched me!” Carter said again, his voice getting louder. Patrick stayed silent above him, his eyes daring Carter to try to strike back.
“Boys! Stop!” Eloise yelled, rushing over to the crumpled boy on the floor. She grasped onto Carter’s shoulder, and looked up at Patrick. His eyes were clouded, lips pursed.
“Patrick, calm down,” Eloise told him. Patrick’s eyes went back to normal and he looked down and realized what he had done.
“Carter I’m so sorry, are you okay?” he asked, as he began to crouch down to his friend.
“No! Get the hell away from me!” Carter yelled, Patrick sprung up.
“Carter I don’t know what happened, one minute we were yelling the next you were on the floor,” he tried to explain.
“Bullshit! You meant to and you fucking loved it!” Carter exclaimed. Patrick didn’t reply, he just stood there.
“Guys I really think we should go,” Eloise said weakly.
“I think that’s a good idea, Patrick replied. Carter nodded, his eyes not leaving Patrick. Carter stood up, so did Eloise, the three ceased their normal formation, Patrick stayed ahead of the two while Carter and Eloise stayed behind him. They began to walk past the doors, but when they went to pass the door Eloise heard humming from Patrick stopped. He looked around before focusing his eyes on the door, he shuffled closer to it and pressed his ear against it.
“Somebody’s here, we need to get out,” he said.
“You hear it too?” Eloise asked him, he nodded.
“What are you two on about now?” Carter scoffed, he walked to the door and pressed his ear against it.
“Do you hear it?” Eloise questioned, placing a gentle hand on Carter’s back.
“Hear what?” he replied, “It’s silent.”
“No it’s not, someone’s humming you crackhead!” Patrick said, scared of getting caught, he knew Carter would throw him under the bus if the cops asked him anything. He would tell them that Patrick picked the lock, led them in and then punched him in the face.
“I’m the crackhead? At least I’m not hearing shit!” Carter told him. Patrick rolled his eyes and reached for the handle.
“I’m opening it,” he said as he began to turn the doorknob.
“Patrick don’t!” Eloise tried to reason with him but it was too late, he pulled the door open, and his face froze into some sort of wince. His hands sprung up to his ears and Eloise knew why. The soft hum had turned into a screech. Her hands shot up as well, attempting to cover her ears from the blood-curdling scream.
Carter seemed unaffected, he just stood there and stared at his friends, seemingly in pain, hearing something he couldn’t. He shoved Patrick away from the door and looked inside, he saw nothing, just a room, an empty room colored just like the downstairs.
Eloise was frozen in place, her eyes shut tight, her hands clutching at her ears, her mouth was stuck in a grimace, like she was being stabbed or something was hurting her internally. Carter then grabbed the small girl by the shoulders and pulled her, he tried to pull her across the doorway and down the stairs but she stopped as soon as she was in the doorway. Her eyes bolted open, and frantically looked around. She looked into the room, and her grimace worsened.
A woman stood there, staring straight at the girl. She was pale, her skin almost completely white. Her eyes glowed red, staring into Eloise, burning holes into her skin. Eloise screamed at the pain, tears started falling from her eyes. The woman’s hair was whiter than anything Eloise had seen before, it was billowing as if there was wind blowing from the opening of the room. Her mouth was wide open, emitting the horrid noise, the one Eloise could still hear no matter how much she gripped her ears. The woman’s arms were perched at her side, her nails were sharp and long, her body was skinny. She was clothed with a torn dress, colored purple and gray, it also rippled against the fictitious breeze. The next thing Eloise remembered was running in the forest with her two friends.
She suddenly stopped, making Carter who was behind her clash with her small frame. She flew forward and caught herself on the forest floor. Patrick stopped and looked back, seeing the girl he had grown so close to so scared. Her head darted from side to side, her eyes wide, her breathing heavy. Tears streamed down her face, her hands desperately clutched the dead leaves, dirt, and twigs on the ground. Patrick crouched down and set his hand on her shoulder. She flinched at his touch.
“Eloise we have to get out of here, c’mon redhead you’ve gotta get up,” he told her. She shook her head, the tears falling from her face. Patrick took one more look at her before snaking his arms under her racking body and pulled her to her feet. She fell limp against him, sobbing into his shirt. His body physically hurt, he didn’t like seeing her like this, vulnerable. The once fearless girl he once knew now curled into his side, wailing in fear, confusion, and pain. He grabbed her under her legs and wrapped his other arm around her back. She grasped onto him for dear life as he and Carter began to sprint again. It took what felt like years for them to get out of the forest, but when they saw the main road both Carter and Patrick breathed a sigh of relief, Eloise’s face was still buried in Patrick’s chest, effectively dampening his t-shirt with her tears. Carter and Patrick made their way home, Patrick dropping Eloise off of the way. Luckily for him, her parents weren’t home, he was able to bring her inside and set her on her bed. He got her a glass of water and sat with her until she was able to calm down. When she had assured him that she would be okay, he left, returning to his own home.
Their Saturday expeditions ended after that, Carter did not speak to the other two during school, and instead stayed by himself. Patrick and Eloise refused to separate, they spent every waking moment together. They couldn’t think straight if they weren’t together, it was as if time apart drove them insane.
Around Valentine’s day of the next year, Patrick and Eloise were together, in Patrick’s new car enjoying each other’s company when both of their phones buzzed. They grabbed them and saw a message from Carter.
It read, “I can hear her now guys, she’s calling to me. Goodbye my friends, I cherished every moment we spent together.” They immediately knew who he meant by her. The woman, the pale, skinny, screaming woman. Eloise wasted no time to call Carter, but it sent her to voicemail on the first ring, his phone was turned off. Patrick tried calling him as well but received the same result. Patrick’s hands beat against the steering wheel.
“Goddammit!” he screamed, Eloise cowered at the noise. Patrick quieted and set his head against the wheel. Eloise realized he was crying, she had never seen Patrick cry before. She placed a hand on his back and slowly caressed the boy that she loved. After he was able to collect himself, he started the car.
“We’re going to the police station, they can go get him. They can kill whatever that thing was, they can stop her,” he explained as he sped out of the fast food parking lot and gassed his car until they whipped into the police station. As soon as Patrick parked his car they leapt out and practically sprinted into the station.
They were confronted by a female police officer, her hair was brown, pulled back into a tight bun. She noticed the panic in the teenager’s eyes, as she tried to calm them down they relayed their story, from the beginning of their last journey up until the texts they had just received from their blonde, goofy, complaint-filled, former best friend. She read the identical message that they had received.
“Kids you need to calm down, I’m sure he’s fine, maybe he’s trying to get back at you for abandoning him,” she tried to reason with them but they didn’t accept it. No matter what they knew Carter and he wouldn’t have done that. He was a lighthearted person, who would never intentionally hurt someone he cared about. They tried to explain this to her and after what felt like days of pleading she promised that she’d send a team to the forest where they had once ventured.
As soon as they were told to, they rushed to Patrick’s car and began to lead the group of police cars to the woodland that they were positive held Carter. It didn’t take long for them to arrive. The sight of the trail was enough to make Eloise sick to her stomach. She quickly opened the car door and wretched, losing the contents of her stomach on the grassy ground. Patrick reached for her hair and held it back while she heaved. After she was finished she spit and slumped back into the car. Patrick handed her a bottle of water, she drank the contents, attempting to wash away the bitter taste in her mouth.
The police officers told the two to stay in the car and then made their way into the thicket, quickly being hidden by the vegetation as they looked for the house. Patrick kept his arm around Eloise until they saw the beams of flashlights emerging from the forest. They both sat forward, peering through the windshield as they attempted to see their faces, they looked for any sign of Carter. Any glimpse of his lanky frame, stalking along with the officers. They didn’t notice the police woman from the station earlier at the driver side window. She tapped on the window and Patrick rolled it down.
“You two need to go home,” she told them, her voice was not as calming as it had been while they were frantically half screaming at her.
“Where’s Carter? Did you find the house?” Eloise asked from the passenger seat.
“Go home,” the woman replied.
“Where is Carter?!” Eloise demanded, Patrick saw the same fire in her eyes that he hadn’t seen since that day, that day he had led his two best friends into hell.
“Go. Home.” the woman said sternly. The two teens knew what they had found, they need she had gotten him before they got there. Eloise began bawling, Patrick punched his dashboard before tears started rolling down his face.
“Did you find her?” he asked, the woman shook her head.
“There was no house, no woman, now go home,” she told them.
The two stayed in a parking lot that night, crying in the backseat of Patrick’s car, cursing the thing that had killed their best friend. It wasn’t until around a week after that Carter’s death was confirmed. The death was ruled accidental but they knew that wasn’t true. That woman had lured him in, she had killed him. Matting his golden blonde hair in blood, digging her fingernails into him, effectively ending Carter. He was dead, and she had done it.