Detour

On a cloudy Halloween day, three friends had met up after school. The teenage boys all lived in the same neighborhood and had been friends since elementary school. Now in high school, they all felt too old to go out for candy on Halloween. For tonight, they had a marathon of horror films planned after a walk around the area to check out all the decorations for the year. One of the boys, Ethan, was recovering from a leg injury he got during a soccer game weeks ago. The injury took him out early, but he didn't mind. He was only on the team because his mom wanted him to be. His leg had healed enough that he felt mostly comfortable walking on it, but he had fallen a couple of times. The previous day, he fell down the stairs of his front porch and scrapped up his left ankle and calf. It was the same area he had already injured to start with. His family and friends were concerned about it, but Ethan played down how badly it hurt. He really wanted to walk around and see the decorations. Going by car just wasn't the same as seeing them on foot. Ethan's close friends, Jim and Jesse, each brought a few rentals from Blockbuster, adding to the pile of tapes Ethan had rented the previous night. Jim got to work on rewinding all of them. Jesse ate candy snatched from his house's candy bowl. Jesse opened the blinds. The clouds were getting darker. "Looks like it's gonna rain tonight." "That sucks." Jim said. "Poor kids." "Doesn't suck for us. We're gonna be inside at night anyway. Better ambiance for our marathon." Ethan grinned widely. "Mmm...if it's gonna rain, should we go ahead and start on our yearly decoration tour? I don't wanna get soaked." Jim said. "Yeah, we should go. The kids will probably be going out early too. We should beat them to it." Ethan said. "Are you sure you want to go? How's your leg?" Jesse asked. Ethan closed the blinds. "I'm fine. All I got was a few scrapes yesterday. No big deal. Let's go." The three boys went on their annual walk, a traditional they'd invited for themselves four years ago around the time they kept getting harassed for being too big to go out for candy anymore from parents carting around babies too young to eat candy and parents who had their nine year olds handing out candy with them. The boys decided, if no one wanted to give them candy, they wouldn't ask. Ethan snagged plenty from Blockbuster when he went to rent the movies. They were more interested in the decorations. A few houses each year always went all out with creepy decor. This year, the Jones family had an entire fake cemetery in their yard, with thirty unique tombstones and a fog machine. The top of the house had life-sized skeletons hanging off of it, each carrying a warning sign to turn back. One was hung upside down from the old poplar in their front yard. Next door to them, the Smiths were playing creepy noises to go along with their moving zombie decorations that rose out of the ground. Dangling crows and giant spiders hung from their front porch. A green witch with glowing red eyes sat in a rocking chair, her head turning to the left and then to the right. There was nothing in it yet, but their big, black cauldron was already out at the bottom of their steps. Later that night, it would be filled with candy and toys. One neighborhood nearby always had the best pumpkin carvings. The neighborhood held a contest among the residents with several categories. The winners were judged the night before and proudly displayed their winning ribbons near or on the jack-o-lanterns. They looked for who the winners were for the year. Some of the usuals had won again. It didn't take long before the boys had hit all the spots they usually looked at. The warm autumn air was too tempting to leave. Ethan wanted to keep going. He'd been cooped up inside far too long during the fall season. He wanted to wander for as long as possible. "We should turn back. The wind's getting bad." Jim said. "Let's go this way. We never go to this side." Ethan pointed to the left, in the same direction the wind moved. "Yeah, cause there's nothing out that way." Jesse stared out at the other side. The neighborhood that way was one his parents always told him to avoid, but never really gave him much of a reason why. Jesse chalked it up to that neighborhood being really run down compared to the rest of the already poor area. The cheap trailer park two roads over was better kept up. He didn't care about that. He was more interested in getting down to the arcade or eating candy back at Ethan's place than messing around half empty, half falling apart houses. "I'm bored. Let's go to the arcade. I have a twenty on me." "Ah, come on. Where's your Halloween spirit? I'm supposed to work on getting in lots of light exercise to build up my strength, remember?" Ethan lifted up his injured leg. He smiled. "Besides, it's kinda spooky over there, you know? Come on. It's Halloween. Maybe we'll find a ghost." Jim rolled his eyes. "You're out to prank us with something, aren't you? Fine. I'll play your game." "Really?" Jesse sighed. "Guys, I'm not up to anything. Are you both scared?" Ethan turned onto the cracking road in the run down neighborhood. "I'm not five. That's not going to work on me." Jesse walked ahead of him. "Well, let's find your damn ghost." The boys walked into the run down neighborhood. Every other house had a 'for sale' or 'condemned' sign. A couple of cars passed them on their way in, but most of the driveways were empty. A kid in a cape biked past them with a bucket around one of his arms. Beyond that, they didn't see any other people. None of the houses had any decorations up. Jesse was even more bored than before. "Can we go already? There's nothing here." Jesse complained. "Just a little longer..." Ethan pointed to a cul-du-sac to their left. "What about down there? That cul-du-sac over there?" Jesse and Jim followed him over. When they were closer to the cul-du-sac, something else came into view. At what should have been the end of the cul-du-sac, there was a paved road leading into the woods behind the neighborhood. Tree branches hung nearly into the road itself. Jesse wondered when anyone had last been on it. The road itself was littered with leaves. "Huh, another road. What a weird layout for a neighborhood." Jim said. "I don't remember there being any connecting roads like this before." Jesse scratched his head. "Did they just put this in?" "They have been doing a lot of building lately. My dad says over in Paulding they're building a Walmart soon. They're probably gonna tear this neighborhood down and put a new one here or a commercial building." Jim suggested. His father worked in construction. "A Walmart, huh? What was wrong with Winn-Dixie?" Jesse kicked a rusting beer can into the grass. Ethan walked a little head of them to the start of the road. "Where do you think it goes?" "Might go out to the highway, if they're really gonna turn this into anything useful." Jim said. That was what Jesse wanted to hear. He went over to where Ethan was. "The highway, huh? Then this is a shortcut. Bet we could get to the arcade from here." "I don't know...might not be finished yet, and should we really be going that way with his leg like that? It's gonna be uphill from here." Jim crossed his arms. "I can handle a hill, Jim. Jeez." Ethan said. He smirked at him. "Or are you too scared to come?" "He's definitely scared." Jesse egged him on. Jim shook his head. He walked up to the start of the road. "You two ain't got no sense." Ethan walked a little ahead of his friends. He was excited to see where the road went. What was beyond the curve in the road they could see from the cul-du-sac was a set of steps. The steps were made of wood and the road at the top of the steps was unpaved. Ethan stopped. He frowned. The other two boys stopped when they saw. "What is this? Is this not a road?" Ethan whined. "Guess it's not for cars. Huh. Are they putting in a nature trail?" Jim stepped on the first step to test its strength. "Could it be part of that big trail they're building?" Jesse asked. "The Silver Comet Trail? No way. That's not going through our county." Jim said. Ethan tested its strength. He walked up to the top of the steps. "Whoah...were we always that close to the mountain?" Jim and Jesse both looked up, then exchanged looks with each other. "The fuck is he talking about?" Jim asked to Jesse. Jesse shrugged. He ran up the stairs. Jesse's eyes widened when he reached the top. The trees cleared out and left him a clear view of the foggy giant ahead. They were relatively near the base of the old mountain. Thick fog covered the top of it, blending in with dark gray clouds above them. Jesse couldn't believe it. That didn't make sense to him, but there it was. He reasoned with himself he must have always miscalculated the distance. Jim rushed up to them. He stepped ahead of them to where the road turned again. "It's a street this way..." Jim narrowed his eyes. He looked the other direction. "But it dead ends." "Maybe it's not finished yet?" Jesse said. "Could be." Jim looked back at the steps. "They're definitely about to knock that place down. Those steps are probably going to be part of whatever they're building. Doubt that's gonna be a neighborhood. But I don't see any signs about them developing the area. Did we miss them?" "A lot of the houses are for sale. We probably walked right past one." Jesse said. Ethan was already ahead of them again. He was walking down the road, with the mountain to his left side and tall trees surrounding everything else. Jesse called out to him. "Hey, wait up! Where are you going?" "Seeing where the road goes. Come on!" Ethan yelled back. Jesse started to walk over to him. Jim put his hand on his shoulder. "Ethan, get back up here." "Why?" "Just do it." Jim said. Ethan begrudgingly walked back up the hill to them. "What? Aren't we going?" "What's wrong?" Jesse asked. "Listen." Jim said. "What?" Jesse didn't hear anything. "It's quiet." Jim said. "Yeah, we're a ways from the main road now. No one really lives around here." Jesse said. "No, it just got quiet." Jim's body tensed. He looked at everything around them. "When we were in the neighborhood, we could still hear kids playing and some cars. There were plenty of birds. Now, there's nothing." "Does that mean anything? It's pretty cloudy out today. Looks like it'll rain soon." Jesse said. Jim shook his head. "That's not it. That might quiet the birds some, but listen...we should still be able to hear cars at least." The other two boys listened more closely. The woods were dead silent. Ethan laughed. "You're scaring yourself. The woods are always quiet." "No, this is different." Jim said. "Ooooo~, Jim, the ghost is going to get you!" Ethan laughed louder. Ethan made loud, ridiculous noises. The noises echoed around them. "What's that sound? It's the monster coming to get you. And now the birds will scream..." Ethan was in the middle of making a crow caw when the woods boomed with noise. So many birds were calling out at once, none of the boys could distinguish one species from another. Some took flight from the trees and disappeared again into the fog. Ethan went quiet. They watched the birds leaving the woods. The birds were moving in a pattern. "We need to leave, now." Jim said. "What do you think it is?" Jesse asked. "Coyote, bear, cougar. Take your pick. I don't intend to find out." Jim headed down into the wooded path towards the stairs. Jesse was right behind him. Ethan lagged behind. His leg started to hurt. The birds never stopped screeching. When Jim and Jesse were at the bottom of the steps, Ethan had only reached the first step. "Wait up!" Ethan said. "Hurry up! Let's go." Jesse waved him over. Ethan forced himself to move quickly down the steps. His leg ached with each movement. "I'm trying. My leg's killing me." "I told you we shouldn't go up any hills." Jim said. Jesse ran back up the stairs to meet Ethan halfway. He helped him down the steps. Jim waited for them at the bottom. Jesse and Jim slowed their walking pace so that Ethan could keep up with them. The sounds of birds taking flight sounded closer the farther they went down the path, and the unseen shrieking in the woods grew louder. They kept going down the path, and down, and down. The turn never came. Ethan started crying. "Dude, it's just a wild animal. We're gonna be okay." Jesse said. "No, we're not..." Ethan cried uncontrollably. "We should be able to see the cul-du-sac. Where is it? This was only one turn and a straight shot out." "Did we make a wrong turn?" Jesse asked. "How? There was only one path. There's no way..." Jim said. Ethan held his hands out to each of them. "We should hold hands." "What? Why?" Jesse asked. "We're fine. We probably..." Ethan grabbed Jesse's hand and held it tightly, then he took Jim's. "Please, hold my hand. If you guys start running, I won't be able to keep up." Jim held his hand back. "We should run. How long do you think you can last, Ethan?" "I don't know. Not long." He said. "Then, let's run, all of us, at once, for as long as we can. And let's hope we misremembered how long we walked to get here." Jim said. Ethan and Jesse nodded. Jim counted to three. They ran, holding tightly to each other's hands. The noise behind them grew louder. Jesse swore he heard something running behind them. He glanced back and only saw birds flying and vanishing. The boys didn't run for very long. Ethan had to stop. When he stopped, he collapsed and broke down in tears. The turn still wasn't in sight. Jesse tried to help him up. "Come on, Ethan. Just a little more." "No, no...we're not getting anywhere." Ethan sobbed. "We've passed that same tree right there five times. We're running in place." Jim turned around to see if anything was behind them. His mouth hung open. He grabbed hold of one of Ethan's arms to get him up. "Let's go. We have to run again. Now." "Why? What did you see?" Jesse asked. "Don't look back." Jim said. Jesse and Ethan both looked back. They were at the bottom of the stairs. Ethan put his hands to his face and cried loudly. Jesse stared in shock. "Both of you, snap out of it. Let's go!" Jim shoved Jesse and yanked at Ethan's arm again. Jesse regained enough composure to help him get Ethan up. "Ethan, I know your leg hurts, but we have to run again. Come on, you can do it." Ethan forced himself up. They ran again. Ethan struggled to stay up. His leg ached almost as badly as the day he injured it. The trees they passed repeated again and again as the birds never stopped screaming and shrieking. The noise grew so loud that Jesse had to force himself not to cover his ears. If he did, Ethan would likely fall down. Jesse could barely take it. Ethan screamed before tumbling down. He took the other boys down with him. Jim and Jesse held on tight to him. Both nearly lost their grip when Ethan was suddenly pulled back. The two boys kept a good grip on their friend. They were so focused on holding onto him, neither of them looked up at first. Jim was losing his grip when Jesse looked up. There was no one there, but he couldn't shake the feeling of eyes on him. Whatever was pulling on Ethan stopped. Jim and Jesse helped Ethan up. Jim looked ahead. "It's there. Let's go." He pointed ahead. The cul-du-sac was inches away from them. Ethan and Jesse looked ahead. Jesse asked, "But how?" He started to turn his head to look behind him. "Don't. Don't look back." Jim warned him. Tempting as it was, Jesse stopped himself. He and Jim got Ethan to his feet and out of the woods. The three friends hurried out of the cul-du-sac to the main road that led into the neighborhood. When they were at the stop sign, they all looked back at the cul-du-sac. The pathway they went down was gone. There wasn't a space for one at all. Where the path once was a chain-link fence now stood. A house on each side, nearly on top of one another were sitting with for sale signs up. Three small children were playing in the front yard of another house in the cul-du-sac. Cars passed by on the roads. Birds chirped like normal. A low rumbling came from the sky. Lightning lit up its direction. The three boys looked at each other. They held hands on the way back to Ethan's house. Some people stared at them strangely, but they were too frightened to let go of one another. When they were inside, Ethan's mother was getting a bowl of candy ready for trick-or-treaters. She lamented that there likely wouldn't be many this year because of the weather. The boys retreated to Ethan's room. No one wanted to say anything about what happened in the woods. Jesse helped Ethan with his leg. He cleaned off the injury for him. Ethan's sock and shoe were filled with blood. Jesse noticed something strange. On the back of Ethan's left ankle, Jesse saw large bite marks. "What is this?" He asked. Jim got up from the spot in front of the TV to take a look. "Did you get attacked by a big dog?" Ethan shook his head. No one stated the obvious. Jesse bandaged it up. For Halloween night, the three boys watched their favorite kids movies from childhood and fell asleep with the lights on.
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