Three teenage boys go on a dare.
The half moon shone through the gaps in the trees outlining the edge of the old, worn path cutting through the woods to the derelict cottage. Three young lads of eighteen followed the narrow, dried, mud trail in single file.
"Lexy, 'ave yuh heard the stories 'bout this place mate?" Jynx quizzed his friend.
"Yeah, 'course I 'av, yuh numbskull!" a hearty laughed followed, " Why, Jynx, yuh don't believe in all that do yuh?" Lexy's voice was full of surprise and wonder.
“I dun no, there ‘as been some creepy stuff ‘at ‘appened here mate!” he reasoned.
“Like what, Jynx?” Titch asked curiously.
“My gramps knew them. Celia murdered her husband Barney. When the police came and took her away, she put a curse on them and the cottage,” Jynx shivered as he remembered the tale.
“Yeah and?” laughed Lexy mockingly.
“And all the policemen that were there died in mysterious circumstances, no one goes to the cottage. They say it’s evil.” Jynx replied.
“Just old wives’ tales, a load of mumbo jumbo, if yuh ask me.” Lexy quipped and snorted in disagreement.
Titch and Jynx glanced at each other and raised their eyebrows. To their left, giant Sitka spruce trees loomed up out of the ground. Their fullness and thick branches made them look like bouncers at a nightclub. The forest was so vast that even the ranger who usually patrolled it could get lost. On the right, there was a steep hill leading to a deep lake below. In the daytime, the atmosphere was magical with all the wildlife that could be seen as long as it remained quiet: badgers, squirrels, and birds. It was always busy through the day with naturists and ramblers. At night, it was different; there was an eeriness that could chill even the hardest of men. No one was brave enough to venture up there after dark.
“How much further, Lexy?” shouted Titch as he lagged behind the other two hugging cans of lager to his chest taking a swig for courage.
“‘Bout twenty minutes Titch not much further. Pass us a beer,” Lexy turned around with his arms outstretched.
Titch was, as his name suggested, the shortest of the small group. He was of stocky build with a tattoo across his neck that said, “Cut here.” Nothing fazed him. He stood up for himself with deep conviction, however big the other man who challenged him might have been. He rarely lost any street fight he had got into, but this place spooked him, although he wouldn’t let on to the others.
“Why did you have to take that dare off Noggins, Lex? We could ‘av been sitting in the pub now surrounded by chicks!” smirked Jynx.
“Only ‘coz you wanted to drool over tasty Tania as she poured yuh pints,” laughed Lexy.
Jynx shrugged his broad shoulders and gave a cheeky smile. Looking down towards the icy lake, he could see the trees’ outline scattered below, fading into the blackness, and he heard the faint gurgle of water. Just catching sight of a can being thrown in his direction, he ducked quickly out of the way and quietly mumbled profanities as his foot slipped on dried pine needles. The further into the woods they walked, the colder the air became. Even though it was the middle of summer, they could see their breath in misty wafts as they exhaled. Goosebumps began to appear over their exposed skin in the late night air.
As the moonlight’s glow filtered between the trees, a distant outline of what looked like a house could be seen. Lexy blinked; a frown appeared slightly across his brow. He was sure that he had seen a dim light in the upper right corner of the structure. “Probably too many beers!” he reasoned with himself, dismissing the image.
“Nearly there boys! Another hundred yards and we’ll get what we came for. Right?” Lexy turned facing his two companions.
“Yeah!” replied the husky voice of Titch, while Jynx just nodded as he stared at the run down cottage that stood in the clearing.
As they approached the old stone building and it’s weathered features, they stood and stared momentarily, taking in the failing building that was once a home, one that had once lived and breathed with its occupants. Time had taken its toll on the cottage that had fallen into disuse. Its wooden window frames were rotten, pieces of wood were missing, windows were cracked; some were smashed completely. The old wooden door hung gingerly on its rusty hinges. The paint was worn away by the harsh weather over the years.
“Let’s do this. Get our proof and go back to the pub,” suggested Jynx, hastily.
Lexy and Titch looked at him, nodding in agreement. Taking a deep breath they walked slowly toward the door that creaked softly in the chilly breeze. Titch went in first as Lexy seemed to hang back hesitant to enter. As they pushed open the door, droplets of moonlight settled on the floor. A cold gust of foul air greeted them with its stench of rustic odor from the crumbling, stone walls and rotting timber frames. Short beams of light crept through the holes in the floorboards above them, highlighting the old furniture looking as if it had never been touched during the past few decades.
Two worn rocking chairs sat facing toward the open fireplace. Tatty curtains hung uneven by threads, and thick dust particles clung to everything in sight. The room was quite basic with very little furniture. Titch pulled his lighter out of his trouser pocket and struck it several times before the small flame highlighted the three men’s faces. They looked around for something to take back to the pub as ‘proof’ for Noggins, but there was nothing in the room other than an old wooden table, cloaked in thick black dust and grime, pushed up against the wall. Holding out his index finger, Jynx quickly wrote his name across its horizonital surface in the moist dust. Instantly, he regretted his actions as he felt the wetness stick to his skin and ooze under his fingernails.
“There’s nothing in here. Let’s try the kitchen,” suggested Lexy, still squinting as he tried to look around the small confined space of the living area.
Something caught his eye as he was about to leave the room. Deep in the shadows, something stirred, moving quickly to another part of the room and blending amongst the blackness. Squinting hard, he shook his head in disbelief at the false images that kept playing tricks with his mind and followed the others into the kitchen. There wasn’t much in there other than a few old, broken plates scattered in pieces across the filthy wooden floorboards. An old whistling kettle sat unaccompanied on the dark, rusty stove, and the once white Belfast sink stood idle; its corroded taps sending small droplets of water to the depths below. A few cups lay precariously on the edge of the makeshift worktop. Turning around to glance at the abandoned room, they began to feel slightly uneasy. There was nothing worth taking back to the pub to show Noggins. The sound of rattling shards of china behind them made the three teenage boys jump. They spun around quickly enough to see a long, thin tail disappear through a gap in the old stone wall.
“It’s just a rat!” Jynx breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the rodent squeeze through the hole.
“Come on. Let’s get outta here. We might just catch last orders!” Titch hinted in a serious tone.
“Ok! One last look, and then we’re leaving, agreed?” Lexy looked at his friends, waiting for their answers.
“All right Lex, but then that’s it, we’re outta beer too.” Titch gestured showing the last can he held in his hand, taking a generous sip.
Their large boots made the dust swirl underneath their feet as they made their way back into the living room at the front of the cottage. A shrill sound could be heard faintly behind them.
"What the hell was that?" Jynx asked shakily, looking at his friends in complete surprise.
"Dun no. Let's go take a look, eh?” Titch gestured with his thumb, pointing it over the back of his shoulder.
Turning around, they followed the noise that led them to the stove. The kettle was whistling loudly by now as steam rose, hissing from its spout.
“Which one of you has been messing with this stuff?” spat Titch, clearly annoyed.
“Neither of us!” stated Lexy pointing at the dials on the stove. “It’s not even switched on.”
Titch held the flame of the lighter closer to have a better look; and sure enough, the dials were all turned off.
“It’s probably Noggins and his cronies playing tricks, trying to frighten us into losing the bet!” Lexy stated. “I ain’t losing my bike!”
“I’m gonna look in the other room again to see what I can get,” he looked adamantly at the others who were looking anxious. Lex wasn’t a sore loser, but the thought of losing his precious Honda made him more determined to find something to take back with them.
The strong smell of decay within the bacterial-infected building was more pungent now than it had been earlier, leaving a repulsive taste in their mouths and made them cough violently.
“I thought you said there was nothing here to take?” Lexy questioned as he looked carefully at the rickety table that was pushed against the stone wall.
Jynx and Titch stood behind him looking to where his stare was focused. Putting the lighter closer, they could now see what he meant. On the table, there was an old black and white faded photograph of a man and woman together, and beside it was a large knife, the tip of its blade was embedded in the wood. The front door began to creak loudly and bang wildly against the rotting wooden frame, distracting the boys from the table.
“Dun no about you two, but I could do with a pint!” Titch said hastily, looking unsettled. Jynx agreed nervously nodding toward the entrance from which they had come.
“They weren’t here when we came in boys! I wrote my name in the dust on the table,” showing his index finger with the black, moist dust still clinging to it, “but the writing ain’t there now!”
Retreating into the coldness of the night air, Jynx shivered and rubbed his arms for warmth as he looked at the cottage in it’s bleak and dismal setting amongst the pine coated trees.
“Come on!” his voice echoed. “This don’t feel right.” His tone was shaky.
Lexy looked at the table where the photograph now stood alone, picked it up in his hand, and began making his way out of the house. The front door slammed in his face, locking him inside.
“Stop messing around you two. Will yuh!” Lexy shouted as he banged on the door to his friends. “Open the door,” he pleaded.
They rushed back to the house and tried to pry the door open with their hands, but it was shut tight.
“Stand back Lex. I’ll push the door in,” shouted Titch. He pounded against the door with his broad shoulder but to no avail. As brittle as the door was, it wouldn’t budge.
Without any warning, the door creaked open just a crack; Lexy’s fingers could be seen trying to pull the door open.
“Nearly got it!” Lexy sounded pleased with himself briefly. Silence hung in the atmosphere momentarily, before a gurgling, almost choking, sound could be heard from behind the door. His knuckles were white as he clung desperately to the wooden panels.
“R-U-N!” warned the raspy voice from inside the sealed house.