Out After Dark

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 04, 2018

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Submitted: February 04, 2018

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Out in the town bar, on the shore of Lake George, New York, the group of us, siblings and cousins, all under legal drinking age, sipped on our waters as we watched Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor destroy the Brazilians in beach volleyball.  Erupting in a USA chant when they won the Olympic Gold in London.  Shortly after, most of the group drove back to our vacation house in the mountains surrounding Lake George.  A few of us, amped up from the match, stayed to battle it out in ping pong.

As dusk approached, we set our paddles down and began our hilly, winding, two-mile-long trek back to the house.  The four of us, Jake, Andrew, Erin, and myself, walked along the edges of a golf fairway which hugged the road, casually talking and joking with each other as cousins do.  Past the golf course, the road turns deeper into the mountains.  This road, buried in tall pines and maples, was our trail the entire way back.  As we reached this stretch of road, our cheery demeanors changed.  The sun had almost completely set and in a short few minutes we would be surrounded by nothing but black.  The forest blocked out any stars or moonlight that might have guided us, or illuminated people, animals, or obstacles on the road.  All we could see was the faint glow of the white paint lining the road, and the blurred outlines of our companions.  In the daylight, we knew the path almost well as the backs of our hands.  In the dark, we would be walking blind.  Guessing.  We were visitors, and knew not what might creep out of the woods once night fell.  We began to feel anxious.

Barely a quarter of a mile in, we were only talking to keep our minds off the terrifying unknown of the road ahead.  The conversation was nervous and forced.  Erin reached out and grabbed my arm and Andrew’s.  I could feel her fingers trembling slightly as she gripped me.  I took Jake’s arm with my other hand.  The four of us, arm in arm, walked on, but this was no yellow brick road and we were all cowardly lions.

No people or animals came our way, but then again, we wouldn’t have been able to see them if they had.  No cars came along either.  We were completely alone.  No wind rustled the trees, no owls questioned the night.  The night was deathly silent.  Unsettled by the emptiness, we ceased our conversations all together.  Ears pealed, we listened for the faintest sounds.  We heard nothing.  Pupils wide, from both fear and trying to see anything along the never ending black abyss of a road we were walking on.  The only noise heard came from our cautious footsteps, shuffling across the blacktop road.  We were alone, walking through the void.

We pushed on, eager to reunite with the rest of the family.  Our pace was slow as we attempted to feel out the road in front of us before committing to any steps.  We were desperate for a guiding light, something to be our North Star.  Our desperation possessed Erin to pull out the one thing she is never without; her camera.  Thinking it’s light would act as a flashlight, she flipped it on.  Our hearts sank as the battery icon flashed immediately, “low battery.”  The light wouldn’t last.  The camera’s glow gave us the ability to barely see past the tip of our own noses, which I guess was an improvement.  With the battery waning, we had to get what we could out of that light.  We just wanted a snapshot of the road.  A way to gauge where we were, how much we had left, and even though there were no other roads we could’ve turned down, a way to assure us we weren’t lost.  Turning the flash on, Erin clicked the button to take a picture.  A bright white light erupted from the camera. 

We screamed as the image flashed into our fields of vision.  There was a man just yards from us.  Sprinting our way.  Wielding a knife in bloodstained hands.  A nasty scowl on his face.  Mouth wide revealing missing teeth.  Menacing eyes.  Matted hair.  Torn shirt.  The picture finished taking and we were back in darkness. 

The man returned to being a figment of the darkest pits of our imaginations.  He could have been nothing, or a tree mistaken for a man.  Andrew saw him with a chainsaw, Erin claimed he had a limp.  We each saw our own chilling version.  One thing we did know, we had all seen him.  We had to be sure he was a mirage.  We checked the picture we had just taken, terrified of what we might see.  The four of us held our breath as Erin pulled it up.  Nothing but road and forest.  We still weren’t convinced; how could we have all seen him?  Despite my protests, Erin reluctantly snapped one more picture.  This time, the only thing ahead of us was trees and the yellow, painted rails of the road.  We breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief and put the camera away, now more scared of our imaginations than of reality.  The night was beginning to get to us. 

We marched on.  Crossing the lone intersection of our trek that told us we had a mile to go.  Scared shitless and only half way there, we wondered if we would make it back.  Our minds told us we might get lost, eaten by a bear, attacked, hit by a car, kidnapped.  In these sparsely inhabited mountains no one would hear our screams, and with no cell service there was no way to contact our family, the police, civilization.  We had plans of a family poker game.  Everyone would be playing except grandma, and possibly us.  We yearned for something other than pitch black and desolate silence, if only to know the universe hadn’t forgotten us.  A breeze that rustled leaves might have settled our nerves.  This was not the break in silence we received. 

Woof! Woof! Echoed out of the trees.  We froze, petrified at the sound.  We listened, and hoped it was all in our heads again.  The bark was followed by a much deeper Grrrrrrrrr Woof!  Two dogs in the woods in front of us shouted warnings; we were passing their territory.  Their paws rustled leaves and snapped fallen twigs as they cantered towards the road.  This time we were certain it wasn’t our minds playing tricks on us. 

Terrified, Erin and I huddled together and clung to the back of Jake and Andrew’s shirts. The men, on the front lines, prepared to fend off the beasts. Woof! Woof! Our pack began to run, stumbling across the road in flipflops, praying that with each step, our feet would collide with road.  Praying we wouldn’t trip and lay helpless, flat on our faces.  We were running blind, but we needed to run.  We needed to escape from this nightmare.  Woof! Woof!

The barks got closer.  We broke into a full sprint, trusting that our feet wouldn’t lead us into the ditch.  Unsure even of which direction the vicious attackers were coming from, their barks seemed to sound all around us.  WOOF! GRRRRRRR WOOF! WOOF!  They must’ve been at the road’s edge.  We stopped running and braced to fight.  Still in rows of two, we bent our knees in an athletic stance, and pulled clenched fists to our chests.  We were ready.  Ready to fend for our lives.  To be bitten.  Torn to shreds by massive, ferocious wolves.

A sharp whistle cracked through the mountains, followed by a gruff, “Get back ‘ere!”  The wolf-like dogs gave a whimper and we heard their paws pad through the underbrush away from us.  We took a rest, leaning against each other, catching our breath.  We quickly took back what we thought about wanting a break in the silence.  Our entire bodies quaked, hearts pounding out of our chests, our stomachs in our throats.  We managed a few seconds of relieved laughter.  We were too in shock to talk, all we could do was laugh.  The laugh of four kids who had almost just had their bodies painfully ripped by sharp fangs, laughing because we were still able to.

In the valley of a small hill, still completely enclosed by the mountains and forest, we began to grow weary.  On edge from the close encounter with the dogs, we hoped we were almost back, but had no way of telling.  We stopped to scan for any familiar markings despite still not being able to see past the tips of our noses. 

A light, just what we needed, streamed over the top of the hill we had just descended; a car.  The headlights caught our eyes and we froze like deer.  Feet glued to the pavement, we stood, as if possessed, and watched the car speed towards us.  It followed a serpentine pattern, swerving from ditch to ditch, as it shot down the hill.  It did not break.  It did not move over.  The driver did not see us.  As the vehicle reached the bottom of the hill it swerved towards us.  At the last minute, our paralysis dissipated and the four of us leaped into the ditch, yelling in alarm.

The car jerked into the other lane and jetted past, missing us by inches.  The tires flung gravel and our clothes rippled in its tailwind as we watched it speed up the next hill, in a drunken weave.  We looked around to make sure we were all okay and found Erin huddled by a tree.  She was sobbing.  Andrew, Jake, and I tried to calm her, to let her know it was okay, but we couldn’t stop her tears.  We all wanted to cry. 

Before we could walk any further, we heard the rumbling of another car engine approaching us, followed shortly by blinding headlights.  These lights seemed to creep over the hill lazily.  An SUV emerged from over the peak and began to slow as it as the driver spotted us, still huddled by our crying cousin.  We were thankful this driver saw us and was courteous enough to slow down to pass.  If we had another near miss like the last, our hearts might have given out.  The slow approaching lights gave us the opportunity to search for landmarks.  We were by a private road, Fara Way.  Our spirits lifted as we read the street name; we were almost back.  The next street we would come to, 200 yards away (if that), was Land’s End; our destination.  Through the darkness, I could see the white smiles of my cousins.

The beat-up SUV got slower and slower as it got closer.  We stared, and saw its rusted edges and a large dent in the front bumper.  Its breaks squealed harshly has it neared us.  The nerves were back.  Our pearly white smiles disappeared, replaced by grimaces.  This time, our fear was not of being hit.  At least in a hit-and-run our limp remains would by found the next morning by an aunt or uncle on a morning walk. 

Jake broke from the group and dashed into the woods.  Andrew, Erin, and I follow suit and burrowed our bodies as far into the trees as possible.  We prayed now, for the blackness, previously our enemy, to be our saving grace.  The trees on the edges of the road were thickly packed with shrubbery growing at their base.  We couldn’t squeeze between the thicket.  We couldn’t escape through the dense woods, and now we were separated.  The car was nearly upon us, idling forward at a snail’s pace.  All four of us were profusely sweating.  We ceased our fight with the trees and instead stood as still as them, attempting camouflage.  My shorts were red, Erin’s shirt was brightly tie-dyed.  Andrew’s was white, with “Hamilton College” written across it in large blue lettering.  He would be starting his junior year there in the fall.  Maybe.

The night was our only hope at camouflage.  We prayed that the darkness would veil us from the strange vehicle.  Even if they didn’t see us, the sound of rapid, heavy pounding of our hearts against the wall of our chests would give us away.  Frightened for our lives, we thought of our family, sitting by the dock, wrapped in cozy blankets, conversing casually, and admiring the way the star’s reflections dance across lake.  They won’t start wondering where we are for another few hours.  

Directly in front of us the car came to a halt.  The tinted windows, more opaque in the dark night, rendered us incapable of identifying the driver.  We pushed as far as possible into the tree line; not very far.  Giving up the hopeless fight, we stared, eyes wide at the vehicle.  We heard the click of a releasing lock.  A door popped open, just enough for a hand to emerge and grab onto the side of the car. 

We wondered why we had to stay.  We could’ve come back the next day to play ping-pong.  We could have driven back with rest of our family and this horrific night would never have happened.  We wouldn’t be standing here, in complete darkness, attempting to be trees.  We wanted to scream for help.  We wanted to run.  We wanted to run screaming. 

The doors opened.  Our hearts stopped. 


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