It was the summer of 01. My friend Elaine and I were huge on Harry Potter and 9/11 had yet to happen. We were just kids still, fresh out of the 90s, with our scrunchies and glitter gloss.
I remember Elaine very well. She was my best friend. We used to live on the outskirts of Fresno, where the forest met our small, suburban neighborhood. There were four of us on the street; me, Elaine, Theo, and Justin. We were a close little bunch, but Elaine and I were like sisters. Everyone on the block knew it.
Each year when school was let out, the four of us rode around the streets on our bikes, running through supermarkets, getting kicked out of stores, and whispering too loud in the movies. A usual spot for us was a local diner with the best chocolate shakes. The owner of the joint was always happy to see us—especially Elaine. He was a lanky man with a limp from Vietnam. He would tell us his war stories and give us a discount on our shakes. Elaine never left without a free cookie. We usually stuck to the inner part of the city, but at night, we loved wandering out into the woods with out flashlights and watching the stars. Sometimes we had little camping trips with our tents and sleeping bags. In the morning, we would head to either one of our houses and the parents would make us breakfast. We were a power group, with Elaine at the lead.
But one summer, something changed.
We had been out that night, flashlights and all. We were talking like we always did. I think it was about the last Phil of the Future episode. Then I thought I heard something.
"What was that?"
"What was what?" Elaine asked back.
"I...I thought I heard..."
"A fart?" Theo laughed and the others laughed along. I motioned for them to stop.
"Don't be stupid. I thought I heard footsteps."
"That 's us, dumbass."
"No no, it's just-" I couldn't get the words out, but I knew it wasn't just us. It felt like someone else was there. "Whatever. Never-mind."
And we kept walking.
But every time we walked, I heard an anomaly that couldn't be explained. The ground would crunch just a couple feet away from me. No voice came from the side, just a presence that seemed to grow more intense as we went farther in. It almost burned at my side.
We kept going deeper into the woods, wandering into nowhere. The voices behind us felt far away while the crunching beside me seemed to grow louder and louder. Each crackle of a leaf was like a sonic rip through the air. The uneven beats of thick feet smacking onto the ground kept up with our pace. Soon, I realized that the footsteps didn't just get louder—everyone was quiet. Elaine was the only one humming her way further in.
I stopped walking and the rest of them froze behind me. You could hear the nervous breaths of us all. Our flashlights wandered the surroundings, timidly looking for the source of the thudding. It seemed wherever we pointed our light, it disappeared before we could get a peek. Then, we all turned toward Elaine, who turned around and tilted her head, confused. Her auburn hair was shining. "What?"
And there, behind her. We knew exactly who it was. A familiar face stood towering over her with piercing eyes that seemed to melt our terrified souls. We were so scared, not one of us could even manage a whimper.
And we ran.
The image of Elaine's bright green eyes moving out of her skull and the feeling of the blood splatter stayed with me the entire time we ran. She got hit so hard, you could hear the crack of her head as the branch hit smacked her. My lungs burned as we raced through the trees. I could hear the thunking over and over and over and over and over.
We burst of of the woods and busted into the house, crying and screaming. Anxiety took over. I can't remember what happened after. Everything is all mixed up.
I can't remember a lot of what happened after. There was so much crying and black caskets stain my memory. Black suits and dresses litter dreams that I have. It's hard to tell, but I think that was the year that man shut down the diner, too. There is one thing, thought, that I know is true.
We stopped walking in the woods that summer.