The setting sun had shone through the dearly departed trees, and the light bounced off the dozens of still shiny tombstones.

The setting sun had shone through the dearly departed trees, and the light bounced off the dozens of still shiny tombstones.

If I hadn’t complained, none of it would have happened. We would have just stayed where we were. All of us would be happily intact, still playing computer games in Damon’s bedroom. But, like always, I screwed things up.

“Guys, let’s go do something. I’m bored,” I informed my two friends.

“Let’s go to that house, Damon. She’s never been there,” Derrick mumbled through a mouthful of M&Ms. Damon seemed to know what he was talking about because he jumped out of his desk chair and enthusiastically agreed.

“What house?” I asked, confused.

“There’s this unfinished neighborhood through the woods, and dead in the center is this creepy abandoned house. We should go,” Damon said, excitedly.

“Sure, why not?” I asked. I mean, it was just an abandoned house. It was too cliché of a place for something bad to happen. Life isn’t ever cliché, right? Wrong.

With nothing but our cell phones and a half empty bag of M&Ms, we vacated Damon’s bedroom and headed for the backdoor, but we were stopped.

“Where are you guys going?” we turned to face his mother, who was giving us (mostly me) a dirty look.

“We’re just going for a walk, Mom,” Damon mumbled, and then walked away from her. Derrick and I followed, hoping she wouldn’t say anything else. She didn’t, but I could still feel her eyes burning holes in my back.

“Watch out, Zoey. He didn’t bring back the last girl he took on a walk,” Damon’s dad joked.

“Ugh, dad. You can’t tell her. You ruined it,” Damon joked (I hope) back.

With that, we exited out the back door and started across the backyard towards the sparse woods behind Damon’s house. We were silent as we walked through the woods and down a small hill made from the bright red dirt that could only have been identified as Georgia red clay.

“Derrick, you’d protect me if Damon tried to kill me, right?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.

Derrick is one of the very few people I felt totally comfortable with. It was a mix between the fact that he had been my best friend for all four years of high school and he had protected me before from some jerk at a party, and because he was over six foot, muscular, and had hair and a beard that closely resembled a prominent religious figure, so I knew no one would mess with me if he was around. Over all he was an intimidating guy, even if you know he wouldn’t ever hurt you.

“Bad, Damon. No maiming or burying people. You’re grounded,” Derrick said sarcastically and threw a few M&Ms at Damon, which Damon easily deflected.  I laughed along with them and then asked what was up with this old house.

“First, let’s go up here,” Damon said and veered right up a gravel road that led to a cemetery. I was feeling a little uneasy, but not because I was afraid of them hurting me or because cemeteries freak me out. Honestly, I didn’t know why I was feeling anxious. But I powered through my nervousness and followed my friends to the gravestone they were staring at.

The graveyard itself was striking in a tragic sort of way. The trees hadn’t bloomed yet, and they looked like the skeletons of something that was once alive and beautiful, much like what had lain six feet below us. The setting sun had shone through the dearly departed trees, and the light bounced off the dozens of still shiny tombstones. Each headstone was elegantly different, and they were dotted with brightly colored roses and tulips that seemed to be left recently by loved ones, but upon closer inspection, you could see that the flowers weren’t real. It was such a breathtaking sight that I had to stop and take it all in.

“Zoey, what are you doing?” Derrick asked, bringing me back to reality.

“Nothing!” I called, jogging to catch up with them.

I took time to walk around to each of gravestones and read them all. Partly because I was curious, but mostly because I hoped that when I was among the dead, someone would take the time to look at mine, to wonder what my life was like. As I walked past each, I did wonder what their life was like, how they lived, how they died, who they loved.  I read them all aloud and expressed my curiosity to Derrick and Damon.

Tyler Adam Williams Aug. 23 1907-Feb. 6 1945, Victoria Rebecca Williams, Wife of Tyler Williams. Feb. 13 1910- Feb. 6 1945. Lucas Jacobs, June 22, 1843- April 7, 1930 Confederate War Soldier. Mar-“

“Will you hurry up? I have one more place to show you before the house,” Damon cut me off.

“Ugh, fine,” I replied and followed them reluctantly.

Damon and Derrick led the way back down the gravel road, and I followed behind, disappointed that I couldn’t read all the stones. We walked down what looked like the road to a neighborhood, but there were no houses, except for one about a football field’s length in front of us. I could easily tell that it was the house that they had been talking about.

The house in question was small for houses now, but probably would have been for an upper middle class family back when it was built. It stood tall and close to the road with faded and chipped white paint on the outside. The porch was rotted and sagging; the grass was uncut and must have gone up to at least my knees. It looked like your average forsaken house, except for the fact that every one of the windows were boarded up, the front door had large pieces of wood bolted across it to discourage people from entering, and there was a large NO TRESPASSING sign attached to one of the leaning beams on the front porch. To the right of the house was a shed that was also faded white, but it was bursting with junk the previous owners shoved it in the decrepit building. I had absolutely no interest in going anywhere near the shed. It gave me the creeps ironically enough, but I was interested in the house.

As we got closer to the house Damon and Derrick suddenly veered off to the right and straight into ankle high grass. I decided to just follow them without comment. There was seven feet of grass, and then woods. Damon and Derrick had stopped at the edge of the woods, directly in front of a tiny dirt path that led deep into the thicket.

“Why did you guys stop? Where are we going anyway?” I inquired, because at the time I was a very curious person.

“There’s a place down here we wanted to show you, but we haven’t been there in a while. There are spider webs,” Damon explained, totally unashamed that he was a high school senior and afraid of spider webs.

“You guys are dumb,” I informed them, and moved past Damon onto the path. I followed the path, brushing away spider webs the whole time. It started sloping slightly downward, and a pond came into view. I followed the path to an old dock that sat in a little cove on the pond.

The pond was about 600 feet long and two, maybe three hundred feet wide. The sun cascaded through the lifeless trees that surrounded the pond, and it bounced off the still water, making it sparkle like millions of tiny diamonds. The dock we were standing on was made from old wood. The floor by the entrance was slightly rotted, and the boards made a creaking sound when you stepped on them that was a little too loud for comfort. The dock itself was in okay condition though; the white paint was peeling and the nails holding the structure together were a little loose and rusty, but all in all, the pier would keep us safe from the cold, uninviting waters below. I wouldn’t change a single thing about this place. In fact, I felt a surge of envy because this place wasn’t mine.

I walked the short distance to the opposite side of the dock, being very careful over the slightly rotted parts, to the side that the plants had claimed as their own. I sat on the edge of the wharf, dangling my feet above the water. My height made it so I didn’t have to worry about my feet touching the water, but I did have to worry about Damon and Derrick pushing me in.

“If you guys push me in, you won’t have a throat anymore when I get out,” I warned. Then, of course, them being the lovely friends they are, both lunged at me like they were going to push me in. I made a girlish squeal and grabbed onto the square post to the right of me. They laughed at me but didn’t touch me, and when I thought I was safe, I let go of the pillar and resumed my previous position.

I sat there for a long while just listening. I listened to the birds across the pond tweeting away, I listened to the wind lightly make the trees sway against each other, and I listened to Derrick and Damon happily chatter away about anything and everything and nothing at all. I was at peace. I sat there for a good long while, just being happy. I would have stayed longer if I had known it was the last time I’d feel like that in a very long time.

But I didn’t stay. Damon and Derrick wanted to go to the house before it got dark. Reluctantly, I got up from my seat on the dock and walked to the side with the warped floor.  I started up the steep dirt hill towards the old house with Damon and Derrick following close behind. We talked and laughed about school, friends, and graduation, not knowing one of us wouldn’t even make it out of the house. When we made it to the edge of the woods across the street from the house, I stopped and let Damon and Derrick be in the lead.

We walked across the road and up on to the curb directly in front of the eerie building. We stood there for a moment, looked around at each other, and then wordlessly started for the back of the house. We went to the back because the front porch was rotted and unstable, and the door was barred.

The grass was taller than I had anticipated. It came up to my waist, but Derrick had taken the knife he carried from his pocket and was hacking away at the weeds. I learned quickly to keep my arms up, because the grass was sharp. I had tiny slices along my forearms where it had attacked me. The grass in front of the window we were using as an entrance was short from semi-frequent foot traffic.

The backside of the house wasn’t any prettier than the front. Everything was as equally rotted and faded. The only difference was the window closest to the ground on the left was unobstructed. The window was about four and a half feet off the ground and at my lovely height of a little over five foot, I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun task getting in through the window.

Derrick did a rolling jump through the window. When he stood back up he threw his hands up and said “ta-da!” Damon and I clapped for him, and then it was my turn. My trek through the window wasn’t quite as theatrical as Derrick’s, but with help from both of them, I made it through the window without making a complete fool of myself. Damon slid in the window behind me, and I was quite envious of his grace.

I turned around, and I finally got my first look at the house I had heard so much about. The room we were in wasn’t really anything special. It was empty except for the piece of wood under our feet that used to cover the window we came through and some broken glass. To my left, behind Damon, was the kitchen and another door (a closet I assumed), in front Derrick, who was in front of me, was a doorway that led to the rest of the house.

“Zoey, come look at the kitchen,” Derrick told me, and he grabbed my wrist and pulled me along with him to make sure I complied.

“There’s a portal to Hell in here,” Damon declared, but I just laughed and shook my head.

The kitchen had once been painted yellow, but now it was a shabby pale color that was smudged with dirt. The tile was triangular and broken in many places. Right in the middle of the tiles was a hole about five feet wide that had been covered with countless wooden boards. I have to give Damon credit; it did look like a portal to Hell.

“Okay, that is a little creepy,” I admitted. They both smirked simultaneously and left the kitchen. They went through the white room we had started out in, and went to the doorway that was directly across from the window we had come through. Damon and Derrick had both tried to go through the doorway at the same time, but both of them having wide frames made it impossible. I grabbed them by their shoulders and moved them out of the way so I could go first.

This room was weird. It open up wider, and it was obviously the living room. To my right was the frame of a smaller room that was being built off the living room.  Inside the frame was a moldy mattress; it was laying diagonally in the middle of the room and had a bunched up sheet on top of it, as if someone still slept on it. Surrounding the mattress was broken pieces of various samples of tiles. It seemed as though someone had planned on renovating the house, but failed when they saw the state it was in.

In the middle of the living room was a dirty couch that was stripped down to the springs. The couch was across from an empty, crumbling fireplace. Behind the couch was an arm chair that was also missing cushions; in place of the cushions was a large framed picture.

“This is my favorite part. Check out the picture,” Damon  from behind me, his hand in the middle of my back pushing me closer to the chair in front of me.

“It’s freaking weird,” Derrick whispered.

“Why are we whispering?” I asked, but they just laughed instead of answering me.

I walked across the room to the chair, kicking pieces of glass, tile, and who knows what else along the way. I stood directly in front of the picture and saw that it was a family portrait. The father was standing behind his sitting wife, with his hand strongly on her shoulder. He had jet black hair that was greased to the side, thick eyebrows, and a thin, creepy mustache. His clothes were nice; he had on a long, black coat and a white button-up with black pants. He had a gold chain hanging from his pocket, and I assumed there was a pocket watch on the other end. He had a thin, gold band on his left ring finger.

His wife was sitting in front of him on a small stool that was covered by her light blue skirt. She had on a nice, white blouse and had her champagne colored hair pulled back in a bun so tight that it looked painful. The woman wore a small silver locket around her neck. She also had a small gold wedding ring on.

The picture seemed relatively normal until I looked at the young boy in the painting.

The son looked to be about ten.  He stood next to his mother with his hand held in hers. She must have been a rather tall woman, or her son was short, because she was sitting and he still only came up to her shoulder. He had inherited her hair, but everything else screamed his father. His stature, his clothes, he looked just like his father, except for the look on his face. His face…I looked at the mother’s and father’s face for the first time.

“Guys, look at their faces,” I gasped.

“What? They just look serious. All portraits look like that,” Damon shrugged it off.

“No, look at their eyes. They look scared,” I said quietly.

The mother and father had fear in their blue eyes. But what were they scared of? The photographer? Something behind him? I just kept asking these questions until I finally saw it.

The young boy didn’t have the same look in his eyes, but he didn’t look happy. It was more than the normal “I’m mad because I have to stand here and be still” unhappiness.  He was scary, but it was more than just the scar that ran across the right side of his face, the little boy had a malicious look in his eyes. They were scared of him. But he was just a little boy. How evil could he have been?

“They’re scared of the little boy. Look!” I said, stabbing my finger at the boy’s face.

“It’s just a family picture, Zoey. Don’t read so much into it,” Derrick scoffed.

“Come on. There’s still more house to see,” Damon said, pushing on my shoulder.

“Hold on. I want to see something,” I uttered, and then carefully flipped the large picture over. There was something written on the back.

Tyler, Victoria, Adam Williams, Feb 1, 1945

“Damon, Derrick! Come look at this!” I shouted, because they had gone off into another room.

“Jeez, Zoey. What is it?” They said at almost exactly the same time. They gave each other a pleased look, and then looked back at me.

“I saw these people’s graves at the cemetery! They died less than a week after this!” I exclaimed, I was getting excited, but spooked at the same time.

“Who died? The whole family?” Derrick asked, totally confused.

“No, ugh. The man and woman in this picture! Tyler and Victoria! They died like five days later. They both died on the same day, but there was no grave for the son. I bet he did it!” My voice was getting higher as I spoke.

Damon spun my around, grabbed my shoulders, looked me dead in the face and said, “Zoey. Stop it. There must have been an accident or something. Stop freaking yourself out. I think you’ve watched too many horror movies on Netflix or something. Just stop. Let’s go check out the rest of the house. Please?”

“Ugh, fine,” I admitted defeat even though I didn’t think I was wrong. Something was up with this house, this family. When I got home I was going to research it.

We walked to the stairs which were to the left of the chair. Damon went up first, then I did, and Derrick followed. The steps were worn wood, and they were awkwardly steep. At the top there was an old filing cabinet, and Damon pulled it open with a loud clang of metal.

“Look Zoey! A note that says ‘I killed my parents,’” Damon teased, but I just scoffed and pushed him against the dirty, spider web covered wall. Damon had actually pulled out a piece of paper, but it wasn’t a signed confession from Adam Williams; it was a real estate advertisement. It was blue, red, and white, and on the front was a large picture of a thin woman with brown hair wearing a name tag that said Maria Clarke.

Damon threw the paper back in the filing cabinet and closed the door with another loud metallic ring. We walked around the filing cabinet into the room on the right side of the stairs. This room wasn’t anything special. There weren’t any creepy pictures to analyze or letters written by a homicidal little boy. There were just moldy papers, more broken tiles, and pieces of drywall.  I was walking around the room when I heard a deafening thud and a crumbling sound. I spun around to see Derrick pulling his fist from a newly formed crater in the wall.

“Derrick! What in the heck was that?!” I exclaimed, grabbing my chest because I thought my heart might literally jump out of my chest. Derrick and Damon just laughed at me, and Derrick punched the wall again.

“Derrick! Stop it! What if someone was out on a walk and heard you? I don’t want to get arrested, do you?”

“Calm yourself, Zoey. No one is around here,” Derrick said seriously.

“Let’s go in the other room across the hall,” Damon inputted, trying to ease the tension.  My heart started to slow down, and Derrick stuck his tongue out at me, so I couldn’t help but crack a smile. We left the room we were in and we walked across the narrow hallway above the stairs to the next room.

This room was gross. It had an old couch that looked like animals had made a home there, there were moldy pieces of drywall on the floor, and there was glass everywhere. All the way across the room was what looked like a small attic space, but there was no wall to block it off, it was just open. I thought I saw something amongst the clutter, so I crossed the room and found the carcass of a small rabbit.

“Dude, that’s awesome,” Derrick said with true awe in his voice. He walked over the carcass and picked up a metal pipe that was lying on the ground and started poking at the bones of the poor bunny.

“Derrick! That poor bunny! Would you want someone poking your dead body with a pipe?” I asked, slightly disgusted with his prodding of the dead mammal.

“Dude, yeah. Damon, poke my dead body with a pipe, this pipe, when I die, okay?” He asked, and Damon laughed and agreed.

“You two are such guys,” I muttered, crossing my arms and turning away. When I did, I saw a door, which was odd because there were almost no doors inside the house. What was even odder was the fact that this door looked cleaner than the rest of the house, especially this room. The white paint was faded, but it wasn’t chipped or rotted. The gold door knob was slightly rusty, but not as much as one would have expected.

“Damon, open that door,” I ordered and pointed at the door.

“Why? It’s just a closet or something,” Damon said casually, but he didn’t get closer to the door. Instead of telling him my thoughts, I just stared at him. If I had told him what I noticed, he would have teased me again. So, my hopes were that he would get uncomfortable by my staring, and he’d just open the door anyway. I didn’t want to open it myself because the door gave me the creeps, but I wanted to know why.

My plan worked and after about two minutes of awkward staring, Damon relented and slowly walked towards the door. Normally Derrick would have been all over the idea of opening the creepy door, but he was quiet. I turned to look at him, and I found him leaning against the wall opposite from the door. He was running his hand through his long brown hair, and his mouth was pressed into a thin line.

“Derrick, are you okay?” I asked, genuinely concerned.

“I just… I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Maybe we should leave it closed and get out of here. Let’s go back to Damon’s,” He said gravely. That scared me more than anything because Derrick was a lot of things, but serious was not normally one of them.

“Damon, maybe we shouldn’t ope-,” I started to say, but it was too late. Damon’s hand turned the knob and pulled the door open. There was a loud THWACK, and all three of us jumped simultaneously and then laughed because it was just a piece of wood falling from the closet.

Something still wasn’t right, so I got closer to the closet. It was empty except for a piece of wood that took up most of the floor. The wood was warped, and it was bent upward in the middle, letting me see underneath. There was a giant hole in the floor, a lot like the one in the kitchen.

“Guys, help me get this up,” I instructed, and then grabbed the piece of wood and tried to move it.

“No way, Zoey. Leave it alone. Let’s go,” Derrick said, and started towards the exit.

“Damon, please?” I pleaded, giving him my best puppy dog eyes, and I could tell by the defeated look in his eyes that I had won him over.

Damon looked at me and said, “You’re lucky you’re cute,” and then looked at Derrick and told him, “Just go wait for us outside; once we satisfy her curiosity, we’ll be right out.”

Derrick just sighed and left the room. Damon and I grabbed the board and awkwardly maneuvered it out of the closet and put it behind us. The board was covering a hole just large enough for a person Derrick or Damon’s size to fit through, but I wasn’t about to jump down there nor ask Damon to, so I just pulled out my phone. I used the flashlight app and shined it down the pit in the floor.

What I saw was something that I never could have imagined. The body of a woman had lain at the bottom of the void, about six feet down. She was partially decomposed, but you could still make out her brown hair, and a name tag that said Maria Clarke. She had a large piece of wood sticking out of her chest.

Damon had flung himself away from the closet, and he was on the floor emptying the contents of his stomach. I didn’t recoil away as fast as he did, and I was trembling so badly that I dropped my phone in the hole.  But that was the least of my concerns at the moment. I scrambled out of the closet, and went to Damon. I was about to ask him if he was okay, but I heard Derrick yell our names from downstairs.

Damon obviously wasn’t going to be able to get up and moving by himself because he was lying on the floor saying “ohmyGod, ohmyGod, ohmyGod” over and over again. I stood next to him and grabbed him by his arm and tried to pull him up, but he was dead weight.

“You’ve just got to get outside, Damon. Please, help me a little,” I begged him, but he still wasn’t cooperating. From below me I could hear Derrick yelling for us again.

“Damon! Listen to me right now. You weigh at least seventy five pounds more than me. You have got to get yourself together until we get downstairs!” that seemed to get through to him because he pushed himself up from the floor, and together we managed to get down the stairs.

I found Derrick in the living room, and his facial expression was pure panic. At first I thought it had been from Damon’s state of anguish, but when I saw him look from the fireplace to us and back to the fireplace I knew that we hadn’t even fazed him. The fireplace was full of twigs and pieces of wood. The fireplace had been empty when we got here.

“Derrick, did you do that?” I asked even though I knew better. If he had put the wood in there, he wouldn’t look so scared.

“No, no, of course not. It wasn’t you guys, you were upstairs. Who could it have been? What was in the closet? What’s wrong with Damon?” This was the most I had ever heard Derrick say at one time, he just wasn’t a man of many words and to hear him ask so many questions so quickly, it bothered me more than finding the woman in the closet.

Thinking of her brought me back to reality, and I pulled myself together because it looked like I was going to have to be the one to get us out of it.

“Derrick, look at me,” I instructed, because he always did better with orders. He did as I commanded, and the look in his eyes startled me. He was always the invincible one. He wasn’t scared of anyone or anything, but he was now. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be okay after that.

“I need you to listen to me. You know the woman that was on that paper we found in the filing cabinet? The real estate woman? Well, the reason she never sold the house is because she never made it out of the house. She’s lying in the bottom of a hole in the closet upstairs, and apparently Damon doesn’t do well with dead people. I need you to help me get him out. He’s too heavy for me. I’m not sure how I got him down here, but we have to get out of here, okay? I’ll make sure we get out. I just need your help. Do you understand?” I took a breath because I said it all really fast, and Derrick nodded at me. I don’t think he really comprehend anything besides that we needed to get out, but that was okay because that was all I really understood myself.

Damon was still no use. He just stood there helplessly. Derrick came over and took Damon from me because I was staggering and breathing heavy. The only thing that kept me going was pure adrenaline.

“Have you seen anyone?” I whispered, because I realized that us standing in the middle of the living room, speaking in frantic voices, especially with one of us incapacitated, was a good way to end up in the bottom of a closet.

“No, I just came down here and walked around, and that’s when I noticed the fireplace. The picture is moved too,” Derrick mimicked my whispering, and he nodded to the arm chair to my right where the family portrait used to be.

The picture wasn’t even there anymore. It was leaning against the wall by the no longer empty fireplace. Nothing else in the room was moved and the house was silent except for mine and Derrick’s labored breathing, but the anxiety was still present. It was almost crippling in fact, but I couldn’t let myself pull a Damon and crumble, even though I wanted to more than anything.

“Derrick, give me your knife. I’ll get us out of here if you just keep up with him,” I nodded to Damon as Derrick stuck his hand in his pocket and handed over his knife.

I shook my head silently for a number of reasons. I couldn’t believe Damon, I know it was involuntary, but he left a 17 year old girl with a dead body and the responsibility to get him out in one piece.  I’m armed with a small knife, and the one person in this world I trusted to protect me was stuck carrying our fallen comrade. I didn’t even know why I was so scared. Other than the whole dead real estate lady thing, there wasn’t any reason for fear. It very well could have been some teenagers screwing around in a creepy old house, very much like what we had been doing, and the woman was just a coincidence.

I shook my head one last time and hesitantly walked to the kitchen. I wanted to look into the shell of a room where the mattress was to see if anything in there had moved, but I had to focus on what was in front of me. As I went through the door, I felt a flood of relief flow through me because the room that we had entered the house through was empty. The only sounds to be heard were heavy breathing and the shuffling of our feet.

I turned to hand Derrick his knife back when I heard a noise coming from the kitchen. My breath caught in my throat as I stayed still to listen. It sounded as if someone was pushing down on some loose boards, and there was also the sound of a man struggling with something.

I motioned for Derrick to take Damon outside of the house the way we came, and I was going to distract who (or what) was in the house. Derrick made a face at me that told me he wasn’t pleased, but he complied and started to help the now conscious, but disoriented Damon over to the exit.

I held the knife out in front of me and thought that I should take my dad’s advice and start carrying one with me. I turned the corner into the kitchen and saw a man standing over the portal to Hell.  The old man was moving the wood from over the hole to his right, which was closest to me. When he turned his head to the side, I saw a long scar on the right side of his face. It was the same scar that was on the little boy in the family portrait.

An involuntary gasp escaped my lips, and the man’s neck snapped in our direction. In a moment of pure panic, I froze. It was the wrong thing to do though, because the old man threw the board that he had in his hand down, and pulled a large knife (larger than the one I had in my hand anyway) from his pocket and came charging at us.

I spun on my heels to face Derrick who had just propped Damon up against the wall to the right of the window. Damon decided to become fully conscious in that one moment. The moment when Creepy Picture Boy/Man came charging at us. Damon shot up against the wall he was leaning against with wide eyes. He had the choice between exiting out the window we came in to his right or going left, back into the house. He chose left for some reason.

He took off running back into the house. Derrick and I were so shocked for a moment that we just stared at each other, at the direction Damon took off running to, and then back at each other. We both knew that in that in that moment we had a choice to make. We could go and get Damon or we could save ourselves.

It sounds awful, but we saved ourselves. We both scrambled for the window, with the knife-wielding man on our heels. To be honest, Damon was barely a second thought. We plunged through the window into the grass below, and then we jumped to our feet and took off through the tall grass we came through. It was shorter than it had been due to Derrick cutting it down, but it still cut my arm.

With that thought I realized that when I had jumped out the window I managed to land on Derrick’s knife and slice open my forearm. Whilst running down the street after Derrick, I managed to pull off my over shirt and tie it around my bleeding arm. I turned my head to see if we were still being followed. We weren’t. I don’t even think the man had left the house. I assumed that he had gone back into the house to deal with Damon who was trespassing. I later found out that I was correct.

Even though the man had stopped following us, Derrick and I ran. We just kept running, which was a major feat for me because I hadn’t run since freshman year gym.  We ran past the dock, past the graveyard, and even past the path to Damon’s house. We ran until we hit the road where we found an elderly couple walking their dogs.

I don’t remember much after that, but they must have thought we were crazy. A large guy running at them followed by a teenage girl wearing a tank top with a bloody t-shirt wrapped around her arm. I do remember there being an ambulance though. The paramedics patched up my arm and wrapped a blanket around me, but I wouldn’t speak. Not to the paramedics, not to my parents, not even to Derrick. I felt guilty for making Derrick tell the cops what happened, but I couldn’t do it, not then.

After a while I did talk. I talked to my brother after a while though; I told him everything that happened. I told him everything that happened that day. I didn’t cry though. I managed to keep it together. I didn’t ask about Damon. I figured that if it had been good news, someone would have already told me. I knew his fate when he ran deeper into his house. Maybe I knew his fate when he passed out after we found the woman. Maybe I knew something was going to go wrong even before that, in the cemetery. The feeling of uneasiness that I had was valid. I vowed to always trust myself after that night.

I did ask about the old man, Adam. They told me that he had been presumed dead because of some sort of accident, the one that killed his parents. No one had bothered to follow up. He had stayed in the house after the death of his parents. No one understands just how he survived for so long. It was the late forties, so the police force was nothing compared to what it is today. Adam had also been responsible for the deaths of multiple missing people, including the real estate woman. I’m not sure why no one thought to check that house though. When I asked what happened to Adam, I was informed that swat had stormed the building, but Mr. Williams didn’t make it out alive.

I was sad, in a morbid way. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why he did this to Damon, to Maria What’s-her-name. The doctors said that there were some records that they found in the house that may have indicated that he had some sort of mental disease. He was a psychopath. I wasn’t going to get my answers. That was okay though. Everyone keeps telling me that I have to “move past it” or “move on with my life.”

My emotions were weird the weeks after “the incident.” I was sad, sad for the loss of Damon. I couldn’t believe he was gone. I was angry though, too. How could he have been so stupid? Running into the house with the homicidal old man was obviously not the thing to do. Fear was something else I felt. I felt it strongly too. How could something like this happen in reality? This wasn’t some story parents told their kids to keep them out of places they shouldn’t be in. This was real life, this was my life.  But the one thing I wasn’t feeling was regret. Well, I regretted going into the house at all. We would all be okay if I hadn’t complained. Derrick wouldn’t be broken, I wouldn’t be confused, and Damon would be okay. What I didn’t regret was not going after him when he ran. I tried to save him, I really did. I guess some people just can’t handle high stress situations. I don’t regret saving Derrick, and I don’t regret saving myself. I think that if I did feel that regret, I would have gone crazy. I wish he hadn’t died, but he did. I can’t change it.



I’m back on the dock. I come back here because it was my last happy memory. It was the last time I saw Damon and Derrick when everything was okay. I hope that I feel some sort of happiness again by being here, but I don’t. Nothing feels the same anymore. Happiness isn’t actually there. It’s just a little less pain. Everyone tells me it’s PTSD, but I don’t really care if it has a name. All I know is that I want things to be the way they used to be. I want it so badly that I came back to this place.

I sit in the same spot where Damon and Derrick tried to push me in, and I close my eyes. I close my eyes and try to remember the last happy moments here, but I can’t. All I can see are flashes of Damon. I see him passing out after seeing the woman, I see Derrick helping him stumble to the window, I see him shoot up against the wall and take off running into the house, and I see him running towards death.

My eyes shoot open, and I jump up from where I’m sitting when I hear the crunching of leaves. My heart starts to calm when I see that it’s Derrick coming down the path. I haven’t seen him much since the hospital. My parents think that I “need time to heal” and seeing someone who was there would make it worse. I wondered if they were right, so I kept my distance, but now I know I was wrong to stay away. His presence brought the peace I had been seeking for months. It came over me like a wave; it very nearly knocked me down.

I look at Derrick’s face. It’s been months since we’ve seen each other, but it looks as though it has been years since I saw him last. His dark eyes seem even darker than before, and they hold a deep sadness in them.  The need to help him was so overwhelming brought tears to my eyes. His hair, which is pulled back into a loose ponytail, is longer than I have ever seen it. I’m willing to bet it’s almost as long as mine it. His face was set in stone. He displays no emotion. He has always been stoic, but this is different. I always heard that situations such as this (as if there had ever been one like it) aged a person. I wonder if I look the same.

“I thought I’d find you here,” He says, giving me a weak smile as he walks on to the rickety dock.

“My parents think I’m out with a friend, but I haven’t wanted to see anyone lately. No one seems to matter anymore,” I say with a sigh.

“Ouch,” he mimics being offended and grabs at his chest. He cracks what looks to be an almost genuine smile.

“You know what I mean,” I smirk and sit back in my spot on the dock. I lean my head against the old wooden column on my right and look out to the trees. They’ve bloomed, unlike last time we were here. The trees are bright green and beautiful. I wish I could fully appreciate them, but I don’t. Like I said, nothing feels the same anymore.

Derrick sits down next to me on my left. I can tell he’s looking at me, but I don’t want to look back. If I look at him, I know I’ll cry. I haven’t cried in days, actually. But if I have to look at my own pain mirrored in someone else’s eyes, especially someone I love as much as I do Derrick, I know I’ll lose it. I also know that I have to look at him. I lift my head from the paint chipped pillar, and I look into my very best friend’s eyes.

I’m right. His eyes look how I feel. Broken. We’re both broken. Tears fill my eyes as I think about how he was too good of a person for this to happen to. He doesn’t deserve to lose his best friend, not in such a traumatic way. I can tell he blames himself. As the tears spill over he breaks eye contact and looks out onto the water.

“Derrick, you can’t blame yourself. He made a choice,” I inform him in a desperate attempt to calm him. But he just shakes his head.

“He was right there, Zoey. I had to put him down, my arm was hurting. I should have just helped him out the window,” He trailed off at the end and put his head in his hands. I put my hand on his broad shoulder, but I don’t say anything. I know that nothing I say will make him feel better.

After a moment he looks up at me, but neither of us has anything left to say. We sit there in silence for a long while, and eventually he slips an arm over my shoulder, not romantically though, just comfortingly. As we sit here, I think for the first time in months that I may be okay one day.