“The festival started an hour ago. Without a ride and no money to pay for one, there’s no point of even going,” Vincent said, after swallowing a bite from a slice of meat lover’s pizza.
“But it’s still early. It’s only about a forty-minute walk if we take Vinewood straight to Porter. We both know you don’t want to go because Janice will be there. Don’t worry, you two will get back together just like last time. Besides, this episode sucks and there’s nothing else to do. It’ll be worth the walk.” Manny said, trying to convince his friend.
Senior high schoolers, Vincent and Manny sat on an old, piece of crap, sunken couch in the basement of Vincent’s parent’s home while watching reruns of South Park, munching on Big Tony’s delivery pizza. The evening couldn’t get any worse especially for Vincent. He had a second break up with Janice and knew she’d be at the Ravensgate Pumpkin Festival. Vincent wanted to see her and make amends but didn’t want to admit it to anyone.
“Hey Vince, Max is going to be there. You know he’s got a thing for her. Who knows what he might try if you’re not around. Better go just to check things out. It’s not going to look like your spying on her; it’s a festival. Plus, I’ll be with you and so will half the town,” said Manny.
The thought of Max making a move on Janice bounced around in Vincent’s head. It didn’t take long for him to make a decision. The two buddies zipped up their fall jackets and headed out for the festival.
Ravensgate was small town in Michigan. It had one post office, a police station, a small fire station, and a hospital. Elderwood, an overly large cemetery bordered the south. A plethora of shops were located downtown on Main Street and plenty of woods lay in various parts surrounding the town.
The Ravensgate Pumpkin Festival was celebrated the night before Halloween as soon as it got dark. The town’s folk called the thirtieth of October Devil’s Night, as did other places in Michigan. It started in Detroit when the fires and vandalism took place on that night every year in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
The event was held near the north east end of town where one could enjoy bonfires, various games, food, and drink. The apple cider and donuts were always the best. It was adorned with carved pumpkins, dried cornstalks, scarecrows and Halloween decorations. There was even a cornfield labyrinth, and if you could make it through, you’d win a prize.
The pair walked down Vinewood Street in the crisp chill of the night air. Since Manny’s car had been stolen in September, he and Vincent had been bumming rides, paying for car ride services and catching the bus to get around which made life inconvenient.
“I don’t feel like walking for forty minutes to get to the festival. There’s Zephyr Woods. Let’s just take a quick cut through to speed things up.” Vincent said, eager to spy on his ex-girlfriend.
“Zephyr is dark as a dungeon. We might lose our way and end up lost for hours if we cut through there,” Manny responded.
“Do you really want to walk straight down Vinewood for forty minutes? If we go through the woods we could cut our time in half at least. Let’s take the short cut or I’m going home. I don’t care about Max and Janice.” said Vincent, bluffing. “Come on, it won’t take long.”
“Whatever, let’s make it quick.”
Vinewood kept straight but the boys didn’t. They veered left, off from the sidewalk onto a large clearing of grass and headed for an opaque wall of trees farther back, which was a good couple of city blocks distance away. As they got nearer to the edge of Zephyr Woods, the dark, closely spaced trees came into view.
The lights and sounds of the town almost disappeared immediately upon entering the woods as if in some type of extra-dimensional warp. It took only a few minutes but their eyes finally adjusted to the darkness surrounding them. The forest appeared an obscure gloomy grey with trees scattered in all directions. The breeze was strong and the hair on the boys’ heads fluttered as the wind made a slight whistling sound.
After a brisk ten-minute walk through dried leaves and twigs, a scarcely used trail began to take form through the grass and sticks. It was thin and littered with small pebbles.
“This should take us on through to the other side of the woods,” Vincent said. “From there we head to Baymont Road then get right back on Vinewood and straight to the festival.”
The dark forest was silent except for each step which caused twigs to snap along the path. Not even the sound of small scurrying animals were heard. At times, Manny thought his eyes played tricks. He was sure he saw what seemed to be black, dwarf-like, figures silently running from behind tree to tree with almost lightning speed. Of course, this was all in his head. His eyes probably hadn’t completely adjusted to the dark.
Further on about thirty yards or so, off to the right of the trail, Manny saw what seemed to be the silhouette of a large, two-story edifice. It was hard to be sure.
“Is that a house?” Vincent said, his index finger pointed directly at the dark shape ahead. Maybe Manny’s eyes weren’t fooling. It made him think twice about the dark dwarf-like figures he saw before. Maybe they were actually there.
“I never knew anyone lived in these woods. Do you think the stories are true?” asked Manny.
“You mean the witch in the house? No. That’s just an urban legend like the Michigan Dog Man to scare kids so they won’t wander off in the woods alone.”
There were old tales in Ravensgate about a house in Zephyr woods that would mysteriously appear from nowhere. Some say that an old witch lived in it and if you took her invitation inside on Halloween, she’d tell scary stories and if you could guess which one was true, you’d be sent home with a large sum of pure gold. If you guessed wrong? Well, we won’t talk about that. But it was all just fairytale.
The pair slowed the pace and made a complete stop to view the Victorian style house which was set back from the trail a good one hundred feet. The house was old and falling apart. It was made of wood and its dark grey paint flaked off. It could have been painted dark green or blue, but in the shadows it was hard to tell. The windows, absent of light, showed no signs of life and the porch was tall, stretching along the front wall of the residence.
Next to the house, on its left about twenty feet away a small tool shed could be seen. Its wood was splintered and decayed. The door hung open just barley on its rusty hinges.
“Let’s have a quick look,” said Vincent with great zeal.
“I can see it just fine from here on the trail.”
“No, let’s see if we can take a look inside. Maybe the door’s open.”
“Showing up uninvited at someone’s house in the middle of the night in the woods ain’t smart. Let’s just keep moving,” Manny said unconvincingly.
“Looks like nobody even lives there. Come on.”
Vincent walked steadfast towards the old house while Manny followed with unease. The wind became stronger as gusts of air brushed their faces.
The old tool shed was first and the boys stopped to peek inside. It was odd that the shed was next to the house and not in back. It was empty except for an old wooden table on top which sat a worn out toolbox. One of its drawers was pulled open. The drawer kept rusty old wrenches and pliers that haven’t been used in a long while. An old girly pinup calendar hung against the back wall which was next to a broken plane glass window.
Uninterested, Vincent headed to the Victorian as Manny walked in tow. They paused simultaneously as Vincent reached the very first step of the deteriorating porch. He looked up at the closed front door of the old house which was just as weathered as the porch.
“Let’s see if it’s unlocked.” Vincent said.
“You go ahead. I’ll wait here.”
Vincent proceeded up the inwardly bent, rotted steps. Grey paint chips flaked from each one. As he ascended upward he held onto the deteriorating railing, fearing one of the steps might break under his weight. Manny silently observed.
Vincent made it to the top, creaking all the way up. He walked to the door, inspected it, turned the doorknob and the mechanism inside it clicked. The door was unlocked and he opened it just a crack. He could only see pitch darkness through the thin slit.
“It’s not locked,” Vincent said, just above a whisper, as he looked back at Manny.
“What’s inside?” Manny responded in the same tone.
Vincent pushed the door completely open with a steady hand as it slowly swung inward without a sound. A damp, musty, odor was released and Vincent covered his nose. Not a shred of light was within the house. Nothing could be seen but blackness as if Vincent had gone blind.
“What do you see?” Manny inquired.
“Nothing. It’s pitch dark. I can’t see anything.”
“Do you still have that book of matches you got from Blackstone’s Grill?” Manny asked.
“I think so,” Vincent responded.
Vincent dipped his hand into the front pocket of his jeans and felt his way through a myriad of small objects, rubber bands, a taco bell hot sauce packet and loose change. The matches were there. He pulled out the book and struck a match. Just as fast as the glimmer of light appeared, it went out from a breeze.
“Damn,” Vincent said under his breath.
Trying again, Vincent looked down at his book and ripped away another. He struck the match but no light came from it at all. This one was a dud.
Vincent took a third match and struck it. The glow illuminated his fingers as he looked back towards Manny, “This is my last one, got a lighter?” Vincent asked. Again, the flame went out just as fast as it was lit. No answer from Manny. He was gone.
Vincent dropped the empty matchbook and walked to the edge of the left side of the porch. He spied down the side of the old house searching for Manny. He saw nothing but the old shed, grass and gloomy trees not too far in the distance.
Everything was quiet except for the slight whistle of the wind and rustle of leaves. Vincent glanced over his shoulder at the open doorway and stared into the darkness of the entrance. He ran down the steps, “Stop fooling around man. We don’t have time for this.”
With apprehension, Vincent walked along the right side of the old house hunting for his friend. He looked up at the windows; the dreary curtains were closed. One of the basement windows was broken leaving a web shaped crack in the glass.
Vincent reached the back of the house and peeked around the corner. All that was there was the old back porch with a missing railing and broken steps. He scanned the area, looking for a place his friend would hide. He couldn’t find a single one. Anything further behind the house was brush and woods. Manny wouldn’t dare go in there alone to hide for sure.
After completely going around the back of the house, Vincent walked towards the front of it on its left side. When he passed the old tool shed he checked inside. Manny wasn’t in there either. “I’m not playing games, man! I’ll see you at the festival,” said Vincent.
He didn’t know whether to feel annoyed by a practical joke or disturbed as if his friend really disappeared. Manny better had been playing a stunt because if he went missing Vincent would have some explaining to do.
Vincent walked passed the front porch and peeked up at the open doorway. It was silent and dark, just like before. Bang! The door of the house slammed shut. Vincent dashed onto the trail and ran away from the house as fast as his trembling legs would move. He darted down the path that should ultimately lead him out of Zephyr Woods.
As he sped, Vincent soon realized that he shouldn’t have picked up the habit of smoking. His gasps for air caused him to slow down. His swift run turned into a jog and eventually a slow walk as he clutched his chest with one hand and his side with the other.
He looked behind him to see how far away he was from the house but could no longer see it. It still should have been visible at his distance but it was no longer there. He also hoped to make out Manny’s lone figure chasing after him revealing the sick prank. But all he saw was the empty spot where the house once stood and dark trees.
Vincent picked up his stride and ensued with a sluggish trot. He finally approached the edge of the woods and could see the streetlights of civilization ahead through the clearing. The sounds of traffic comforted him.
Finally, outside the rim of the woods he sat down on the grass against the trunk of one of Zephyr’s trees catching breath. He soon heard the sound of strong panting other than his own. Vincent looked to his left and a few trees down he saw Manny lying with his back on the grass. He was just as winded as Vincent and his face was as red as a fire truck’s siren.
Vincent, still short of breath, got up, walked to Manny and looked down at him. “What the hell did you do that for? Just take off like that!”
Manny looked up at Vincent from the ground, “I figured you’d be right behind me. What took you so long?”
“What took me so long? Why did you leave me back there?”
“What do you mean?” Manny said, as he sat up, leaning back against a tree, running his fingers through his hair. “Didn’t you see it?”
“See what? What the hell are you talking about?”
“It was standing right in front of you. In the house.”
“In front of me?”
“Yeah, in the darkness of the doorway when you were standing on the porch.”
“I didn’t see anything. What did you see?”
“I don’t know what it was. Some…thing. Its body was covered with reddish brown fur. It had pointed ears and its face… it was horrible…I can’t describe it. It looked right at you with large eyes, grinning from ear to ear.”
“You’re lying, man. It was too dark to see anything in that doorway. Besides when I lit the match the wind blew it out.”
“That’s when I saw it. I could see its face from the light of the match. I thought you saw it too so I ran thinking you’d follow. Vince, it just stood there grinning at you.”
“But I didn’t see anything when I lit the match. The wind blew it out.”
“No. It wasn’t the breeze did it. It stood in the doorway the whole time and when you lit the match, that thing puckered its lips and blew out the flame.”
Vincent and Manny still have not told a soul about their experience in Zephyr woods. Not yet, anyway. Whatever it was that stood in the doorway of the old house, it wasn’t the woman who told creepy stories to visitors. Then again, the urban legend says that the woman and her house only appear in the woods on Halloween night. This night was Devil’s Night.
Copyright © Abel Ramirez