He rushed to catch up to the others, but the ground was uneven, and he kept tripping. They’d almost been to the house when someone had realized they’d forgotten the EMF meter. They’d all forgotten it, but, of course, Kyle sent him back to the car to get it. It sucked being the youngest, even if it was only by a few months. Kyle liked to think he was the leader of their group. Technically, he was the club president, but only because the school required they have officers in order to be recognized. Kyle was the bossiest, but they all liked to order him around.
Sometimes, he wondered why he put up with it. Did he even like them? But then he remembered sitting at home alone in his room trying to avoid his jerk of a father and he knew, whether he liked them all that much or not, it was better than being lonely.
Why had they parked so far away? Why was this field so big? And where were they? He was almost to the spot where he’d left them. They’d promised to wait for him, but he didn’t see them anywhere.
He followed the tree line, figuring he’d catch up to them eventually. He almost rushed past it, a break in the trees that allowed a brief glimpse of a roofline. Was that where they were going?
As he fought his way through the underbrush and approached the house, he noticed a second house a little farther into the woods. And was that a third one beyond that? He stopped in his tracks and looked around. How was he supposed to know which house they were investigating?
He pulled out his phone and shot the guys a text: “Where are you?”
He waited but got no reply. After a minute, he took a deep breath and yelled, “Where did you go? Which house?”
They were probably hiding somewhere, waiting to jump out and scare him. They’d done it before. They thought it was hilarious.
With a heavy sigh, he continued to the first house. The porch was long gone, now just a pile of disintegrating rubble. The front door hung askew, clinging to the frame by one hinge. This place looked in much worse condition than the places they usually explored.
He clambered over the timbers carefully, trying to avoid nails and sharp edges, until he made it to the door. He pushed it a little farther open and peered inside. The back half of the house had caved in. Vines and small trees were growing up through the gaping holes in the floor. He was pretty sure the guys hadn’t gone into this house.
Just to be sure though, he called softly, “Guys? Are you in here?”
He backed out just as carefully. Even if they were in there, he wasn’t going in.
He glanced over at the next house. It looked a lot sturdier, as if it was abandoned more recently than the first ruin. The windows on the first floor were all boarded up. The porch was still standing. Just as he started to approach, he thought he heard a noise from inside. Was it a muffled scream?
The hair stood up on the back on his neck. Was something wrong? He almost took off back to the car, but he shook it off. It was probably just the guys messing with him. Either that or someone was hurt. Either way, he couldn’t just run away like a little kid. He’d never hear the end of it.
He took a deep breath and started toward the front of the second house again. When he reached the porch, he realized part of the floor had rotted away. The edges of one of the holes looked fresh, as if one of the guys had put his foot through it. It made him more confident that the guys were inside.
He cautiously made his way across the porch, testing the floor with each step to make sure it was solid before he put his full weight on it. The front door had also been boarded up, but someone had pried enough boards away to allow them to squeeze through. The door stood ajar on the other side.
He pushed in and found himself in a very dark house, the only light came from the front door and the little that filtered down the wide staircase from the second floor. It smelled sour, like mildew and dust. As his eyes adjusted, he realized the house was still basically fully furnished, although the place had clearly been vandalized at some point. All the furniture was flipped over, the stuffing pulled out of some of the pieces. Paper, debris, and broken knick-knacks were scattered around the floor.
This place gave him the creeps. He was too nervous to even call out for the others. He pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight. Somehow, the illumination made it even worse. Where were they? Between the uneasy feeling the house gave him and waiting for the guys to jump out, he was crazy tense.
He took a step into what he assumed used to the living room and scanned the light around. Broken glass twinkled in the beam, but the light wasn’t strong enough to pierce the darkness deeper into the house. The others had the strong flashlights with them. If they were back there, they’d have to wait a long time before he’d venture farther.
Suddenly, a loud thump from the second floor made him jump. His heart was racing, but at least he knew where they were. He turned and started for the staircase. He paused at the bottom and looked up. The stairs looked sturdy enough. Still, he gripped the banister tightly and climbed up slowly and deliberately.
The farther he went, the more his sense of dread grew. He wasn’t even sure it had anything to do with being scared by the boys anymore. He felt like something was wrong. Every fiber of his being was telling him to turn around and get out of the house. But if his friends were in trouble, he couldn’t just leave them. He’d never forgive himself.
He reached the top of the stairs. The hallway was open to the staircase, separated only by the wooden handrail. Several doors opened off the hall. As he approached the first door slowly, his feeling of terror grew.
As the room came into view, he stopped in his tracks. There were bodies on the floor. Two of them next to each other, face down. He recognized both of them. He prayed it was just the guys playing a trick on him. But it wasn’t funny. He’d never been so scared. He edged closer but stopped outside the door.
Then he noticed it. There was blood on the floor. A puddle of it. Too much. He gasped, frozen in place.
Before he could run, a figure leaped out from the doorway, swinging something toward him. It was over so fast, he didn’t have time to focus or even scream. Maybe that was for the best.