This story just came to me today. I think it was because of the damp weather and being back in my hometown. I hope you enjoy it. I am open to any comments or critiques. 🙂 Now off to watch football. Roll Tide!
Take the long road, that is what I kept telling myself. It wasn’t like I was in a hurry to get home. Actually, it was the last place I wanted to me. My house was just big enough for me and my family. It wasn’t too cramped and it wasn’t too big. I loved my home and I loved my family, but something there hadn’t been right for a while.
I looked down the two streets again, trying to decide what to do. If I took the long way home, it would give me twenty more minutes away from there. However, I would be in some deep water with my mom. I hadn’t told her how I had been feeling so she wouldn’t understand. Nobody would. I didn’t tell my dad or my sister, Kelly.
“You’re just a sissy, Carter,” she would tell me. “A big, cry baby.”
She had called me that every chance she got since I could remember. At times, I knew she was right, but who didn’t have a pity party every now and then? Right now, she would be wrong. I wasn’t being a sissy; there just was something off. It has all started a few days after my fourteenth birthday.
I had a few of my buddies over, Doug, Rich, and Mack. We were doing what boys do when they had nothing else to do; breaking stuff in the field next to my house. Our group had been coming here for what seemed like forever, this was our place to relax, a place where we could be ourselves.
Mack came over later than everyone else because he had been busy trying to swipe some cigarettes from his dad. He lite one up, but knew better than to try and offer us one. It just wasn’t for us and he was cool with that. After he arrived we started busting up bottles of beer that some teenagers had left after a party. While we were having fun killing time, Rich was walking around the field, just kicking rocks. He suddenly turned around.
“So, are we actually going to do this today?” he said to all of us and we stopped laughing. “I mean, we’ve been talking about this for the past two years and we still haven’t done it.”
“Nobody has,” Mack said.
“Nobody probably ever will for that matter,” Doug agreed.
“Well I want to, just once,” he looked at us. “What about you, Carter? Don’t you want to?”
I ran my hands through my sandy, brown hair and looked at him and then at the rest of my friends. Why were they looking at me for answers? I had never wanted to; it was their idea. But like all of their ideas they never went through with them until I gave the go ahead.
“We would be legends in this town, that’s for sure,” I responded finally. “I don’t know why it’s a big deal though; it’s just an old cave, right?”
“An old railroad tunnel, actually,” Doug said and he looked a little nervous. “It hasn’t functioned in nearly 80 years.”
“Right, so what’s the big deal?” Mack said. “We walk to the other end and walk back, piece of cake.”
“Its pitch black in there though,” Doug reminded us as he straightened his glasses on his freckled nose. “We need flashlights and I would prefer extra batteries, just in case.”
“Doug, it’s only a thirty minute trip, total,” Rich rolled his brown eyes. “I don’t think we need extra batteries. That is unless you believe the stories that we will wonder for all eternity if we anger the spirits.”
Rich said the last few words as if he were telling a scary story. We all laughed and agreed that we wouldn’t need extra batteries. We made an agreement that we would head back to our homes, grab a flashlight and then head back to the field.
I did feel a little nervous to think about walking through the tunnel. I had only been to the mouth of the infamous railroad tunnel and even just standing there, looking at it, made the hairs on the back of neck stand on end. I shook that thought from my mind and took the flashlight from my dad’s tool chest. As I headed out of the back door my mom stopped me.
“Where are you going with that?” she asked looking up from the carrots she was cutting.
“Uh…I’m going to the field,” I said to her.
“The sun is high in the sky so please tell me what you need a flashlight for?” she eyed me with her large blue eyes, the same color as mine.
“Because I might be out there until late and I want to be able to find my way back without tripping over my own feet,” I smiled.
“OK, Carter,” she grinned at me. “But be careful, will you? I’m already going against my maternal instincts to let you boys place in that field. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’ll be careful, Mom,” I told her.
“I love you, you silly boy!” she called after me as I raced out of the door.
“Love you too!” I called back.
I was the first person to make it back to the field. I held onto my flashlight, spinning it around like a light-saber, waiting for my friends to get back. Rich came trampling through the weeds and caught me acting like an idiot. My face reddened a little and it wasn’t just because he found me like that. Rich had brought his sister with him, Lea.
“So, were you pretending to be Luke or Vader?” she asked smiling at me like I was the biggest goof on Earth.
“Neither,” I told her and then looked at Rich. “Um, what’s going on?”
“Yeah, what is she doing here?” Mack asked as he came up with Doug beside him, messing with his glasses again.
“She caught me taking the flashlight and asked me where I was going,” Rich looked humiliated.
“And you couldn’t have lied, Dork?” Mack looked at Lea, narrowing his green eyes at her.
“I’m very persuasive,” she said to him, flipping her dark hair back behind her shoulders and matching his glare. “Get over it and let me tag along or I’ll blow the lid off of this little adventure of yours.”
“Fine, but don’t slow us down,” he said and starting leading the way to the tunnel.
As we walked Lea fell in step beside me. She was in my grade and her brother was my best friend so we knew each other well. We rarely ever hung out because we just never seemed to be at the same place at the same time. Besides, some of her friends were not on my list of favorite people. She was artsy, pretty, and popular. I was just me and her friends seemed to have a problem with that.
“So, are you going to tell me who you pretending to be back there?” she asked, her hand brushing against mine.
“Oh, um,” I felt my throat get dry.
Lea was never someone I liked. She was pretty yeah, but she was Rich’s sister. For some reason that day, she made me really nervous. Maybe it was the way she seemed more like the Lea I used to know before she became the Lea she was at school. She wasn’t horrible to me, but she was just different.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” she giggled.
“Uh, haha, yeah, um, I wasn’t really pretending to be anyone in particular,” I laughed. “I was just being me, fighting off Clones.”
“So you were your own Star Wars character?” she looked at me with a big smile on her face. “Cool.”
We talked a little more, but soon we made it to the trail that lead to the tunnel. Wouldn’t you know that some of the high-schoolers would be hanging out there. They saw us approach and I noticed my sister’s ex-boyfriend, Kyle.
“Hey, Carter, what’s up, man?” he called out to me. “Where’s Kelly?”
“Home, I guess,” I said not wanting to talk to him.
My sister and I don’t always get along, but she was my sister. Kyle had been a complete jerk to her because that’s what he was, a jerk. I don’t know what happened, but he had made her cry and that was enough to make me hate his guts.
“Where are y’all going?” his buddy Shaun asked. “Are you going to the tunnel?”
“Maybe,” Mack said.
“Alright, little man, no need for the hostility,” Shaun laughed making his other friends laugh too.
That’s when I saw the beer they were drinking. Shaun took another swig of his beer can, finishing it off. He crushed it under his boot and threw it in the woods. I saw Doug’s eyes light up. He didn’t like litter bugs and was always telling us to recycle because by the time our great, great, great something or another grandchildren reached our age they would all be living in nothing but garbage.
“You do know that nobody has ever come back after going in, right?” Shaun asked as we began to walk past them. “They are never heard from again.”
“Leave them alone, Shaun,” his girlfriend said laughing. “I think the one in the glasses might cry.”
The grouped laughed and I watched as Doug’s face went red. I felt myself become angry. I told Doug to just keep walking, that they were all drunk and talking big.
“Carter, is it?” Shaun asked walking beside me when he heard my comment. “You’re going to wish you listened to my drunken gibberish. You’re going to wish you had. You know, I knew the Harker boy. Yeah, he was my friend. After he took that dare and went into the tunnel…he…never…came…back.”
We had all stopped and were looking at him. His glassy brown eyes seemed to be staring straight through us. I felt my skin prickle and was nearly ready to take off in the other direction with my tail between my legs. That was until Kyle came up behind us and screamed “Boo!”.
“My sister was right,” I said to him after my heart went back down. “You are a jerk, Kyle. Come on, y’all let’s go.”
“Ah, Carter, don’t be like that,” he called after me. “It was just a joke! OK? Alright? You aren’t going to tell Kelly, are you? Hey! Are you?”
I gave Doug a pat on the back as we kept walking. He gave me a shrug and a shy smile. It never failed, Doug always got picked on. He was small for his age and intelligent beyond what us average folk could understand sometimes, so he was an easy target.
I noticed that the trees became thicker as we got closer. It was mid November in north Alabama so it wasn’t unbearably cold, but it was Fall so the leaves were either on the ground or barely hanging on to the dark branches above. The sky was overcast with only a glimpse of the sun. I shivered as a cool breeze rushed past us.
Lea seemed to inch closer to me as the thick trees blocked out what sun could make it through the evergreens. I didn’t complain, I also needed something to warm the chill in my bones. It wasn’t just the weather; it was the tunnel I saw in the distance. Its dark open mouth loomed down on us from the hill we climbed. I glanced at Rich; I could see he was ready to tackle this task. The rest of us were just ready to get it over with.
We gathered at the opening, finally; our flashlights at the ready. I warmed my hands for a moment by rubbing them together. None of us spoke as we stood there looking at the tunnel; it was our town’s “haunted house”. It was the source of a lot of local urban legends and ghost stories. The most famous was the story of Eli Harker, the boy who never returned, but whose ghost was still seen lingering at the opening.
Would that happen to us if we went through with this? Would we become beings of legends? What if the stories were true and we never came back because our bodies would be swallowed whole by whatever dark forces that were supposed to lurk in this mountain side tunnel? Were we ready for this?
“Well,” Lea said breaking my train of thought. “Who’s leading the way?”
Everyone turned to look at me.
To be continued…..