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THE NELSON HOUSE

Title: The Nelson House

Series: Under the Wolf Tree, Book 3

Author: Josh Stricklin

ISBN: 978-1-60975-266-8

Product Code: BK0163

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 160

Release Date: March 2020

Cover Price: $15.95

Our Price: $15.95

 

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Book Jacket

 

It’s hurricane season. Johnny D’s Carnival Funland is closing early for the night as Rose Colline braces for the storm of the decade. Kevin Maxey and his friends are going to do it. They’re spending the night in the Nelson House. As the town hunkers down beneath the heavy clouds, Kevin and his friends break into Rose Colline’s real haunted house and wait for the storm. Spending the night in the Nelson House is all Kevin needs to jettison himself to the top of their small town popularity, but the hurricane isn’t the only thing coming for them.

 

Kevin will have to face an evil terror when the lights go out. The storm threatens to destroy the house around him, but the horrors don’t end when the skies are clear…

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

Chapter

1

 

 

 

They didn’t know what waited for them in the house. They couldn’t possibly know. The plan was to wait at Johnny D’s Carnival Funland until the rain started, officially kicking off the arrival of the hurricane. They wanted to delay getting to the house for as long as possible. The rest of the city was closed for the storm. Johnny D’s always seemed to be open, even when something horrible crept up the Gulf of Mexico like a predator. There hadn’t been anything this horrible creeping up the Gulf since Hurricane Camille almost twenty years before. Kevin Maxey and his best friends Eddie and Churro weren’t even alive then, so when the adults talked about just how horrible it was—even the ones on the radio and television—the three of them didn’t fully understand.

The air was electric as black clouds hovered over Johnny D’s Carnival Funland. Kevin wanted to back out. Nothing inside him gave any indication that spending the night in the Nelson House would end well. There was something about backing out that made Churro, his best friend from grade school, think that not staying would be just as bad. They couldn’t keep this game going. Something had to put an end to the foolishness with the other football players. It began as pulling pranks on each other. Then the dares escalated from pranking the teachers to vandalizing school trophies and band equipment, and now here they were. The first hurricane of the season and they were about to stay in the Nelson House. There was no way up from here. They may as well be at the top of the Ferris wheel reaching their hands into the night sky for ideas. Kevin and his friends had to do something to put an end to this game.

“So, what? You want to learn how to make a bomb or something?” Eddie Begay asked. He kept his eyes on the Rubik’s Cube he spun in his hands.

“No, Eddie!” Kevin Maxey said. He looked around to make sure no one was watching. He flipped his black, dyed hair out of his eyes with a twitch of his neck. There were only a few families and groups of friends making their ways around Johnny D’s, none of whom were watching them. Kevin tugged on his new earring. He was wearing his Rose Colline Hurricanes football jersey. There was only one High School in Rose Colline, and being on the team was being among the elite. The football game was cancelled because of the oncoming hurricane, but the school had the pep rally to celebrate anyway. “Jesus, man. I did not say anything about a bomb. I’m just saying, we gotta one-up him somehow. Seriously, I don’t even know how to get them to leave us alone. I mean, do any of us know how they tricked us into staying in the Nelson House to begin with? Where’s it stop?”

“Well, first of all,” Eddie began. “After your locker room prank, Donnie called you out in the cafeteria, and challenged you—only you—to stay in the Nelson House. So really he tricked you into staying at the Nelson House.”

“Then why are y’all coming, too?”

“Because Donnie had Brad and Keith with him, and we were trying to even out the numbers,” Churro said. He giggled like a toddler. As always, he was stoned beyond thought. His real name was Carlos, but in high school you don’t get high in the middle of the night and eat eighteen homemade churros and not take something with you. He took a bite of the enormous corn dog he held. “Guys, look how huge these things are.” He held the corndog in front of his face. A glob of ketchup dropped onto his Star Wars tee shirt. “Shit, man. Anyway, even if you do stay in the house by yourself, and they believed that you did, I don’t want you to be the only badass at school.” A drop of rain fell on his head. He absentmindedly brushed at his hair black shoulder length hair with his hand, then wiped at the ketchup on his shirt. He sucked the glob of ketchup off his finger. “And it’s not like there’s anywhere to go from the Nelson House. That’s it, man. We’re just lucky we got dared to do it. Chill, man. We have all night to think of something, and that will put an end to it…”

Kevin handed Churro a stack of napkins over the picnic table. “That’s what you said when we got him to put cow patties in the tubas, but here we are.”

Churro laughed. “Patties.”

“I think I’m having second thoughts on this overnight thing,” Kevin said. His finger dug at the splintered surface of the picnic table.

“What?” Churro sobered. “You can’t welch on a bet, man. You said we were going to be do it, so we have to do it. You think Donnie’s ever going to shut his mush mouth about it if we back out now?”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “I know. God! I want to be cool, not dead.”

“This is high school,” Eddie added, dismissively. “If you’re not the former you might as well be the latter.”

“I mean, come on,” Kevin said. “What if I lose my scholarship?”

“How many people ever lost their scholarship for going into a house to get out of a hurricane?” Churro said around a mouthful of corndog.

Kevin exhaled sharply. “We grew up believing all those stories about the house, and now we’re just going to stay there? It’s freaking me out.”

“That’s the point,” Churro said. “If we do stay there overnight, we go down in school history as the gnarliest guys in school. They’ll do a speech about tonight at graduation.”

Kevin nervously looked around at the few remaining families heading toward the exit.

“Dude, it’s too late to chicken out,” Churro said. “Don’t be a girl.”

“From the mouths of babes,” Eddie said. He realized that he had almost figured out the Cube by accident. Five or six more turns would have each side a single color, so he twisted away from completion. If he finished it without a reason he would feel obligated to put it down.

Kevin groaned. “Fine. You’re right.”

Heavy thunder rumbled through the air.

“It has to be tonight, man” Churro said. “The storm is the perfect cover, and we already have the clear from our parents. Eddie’s thinks he’s at your house and yours think you and Jess are at mine, and mine are too high to realize I’m gone.”

“If they’re anything like you, they probably don’t even know there’s a hurricane coming in the first place,” Kevin said.

“So even if we do back out,” Churro said, “how are we going to explain why we are at home all of a sudden?”

“I said ‘fine.’ I just got nervous.”

“You’re always nervous, man. You gotta learn to chill.”

Eddie coughed hard. Mucus started to drip out of his nose. He dropped the Rubik’s Cube on the table to cover his face. He wiped his hands on his America flag tee shirt. He picked the Cube back up, tapped it twice on the table and continued twisting its sides.

Kevin, and Churro looked at one other making an effort not to laugh.

“Why don’t we just take the picture of the stairs and just camp outside?” Kevin asked.

“In a hurricane?” Churro said.

“Yeah,” Kevin said. “I’m just freaking out.”

A clown walked by their table. She was laughing like the clowns on TV. In one hand she honked a bike horn and in the other she carried a rubber chicken.

“What a weird job,” Kevin said.

“It’s interesting how close to sadness that is,” Eddie added.

“What do you mean?” Kevin asked.

“Take away just the face paint,” Eddie said. “What she’s doing becomes a lot sadder. Then the wig, even sadder. For every irregular piece of clothing, replace it with a normal item. Just gets sadder and stranger. If she was in normal clothing we’d think her completely insane.”

Despite the tone change, Kevin and Churro both laughed at the thought of the woman in regular clothes, laughing and honking the bike horn.

“Maybe they should give it a shot,” Kevin said.

“Hey, there’s Jess,” Churro said, gesturing behind Kevin. He told himself that he was just excited enough to see her to not be suspicious, but that wasn’t completely true. When the universe gave Rose Colline the average teenage girl, the 1980s made her extraordinary. Jess’s blonde hair was pulled behind her and tamed with a vibrant pink scrunchy. Her wide-neck crop top showed just enough of her shoulder to raise Churro’s heart rate by ten. Her belly button peeked out between the top of her jeans and the bottom of her shirt. Churro began to sweat almost immediately. “Jamie’s with her, too. And Duke Riggs.” Churro deflated. He filled with so much jealousy that his words dripped with it. Of all people, Jessica Maxey chose Duke Riggs. He waved her over.

“Hey, y’all,” Jess said. She put her hand on Eddie’s shoulder as she and Jamie sat beside Kevin at the picnic table. Jess was one of the only people that could touch him without causing a scene, so she did. According to her, people needed to be touched by the people they care about to keep them grounded—to reinforce the idea that someone cares. Jess worried about Eddie sometimes. She adjusted her shirt. She wasn’t used to wearing a top that exposed her shoulder, so she had been pulling on the shirt all night. She had never worn it before—her parents would never approve—and she thought she’d be used to it by now. She was thankful for the pajamas in her duffle bag.

“How was the show?” Churro asked. He slid a few inches away from Duke. Duke’s thin mustache and perpetually wet-looking mullet made Churro uncomfortable. His red Van Halen shirt was covered with cigarette and moth holes, and Churro figured he probably liked it that way since all of his shirts had holes in them.

“Meh,” Jamie said. She wiped the corner of her eye. She managed to keep her thick eyeliner from smearing, even at the emotional pinnacle of the musical from the theater. She wiped her hand on her jeans and toyed with the hole in the knee. “I’d rather be in the haunted house.”

“Just ‘meh,’ huh?” Kevin said. He noticed, and not for the first time that week—or even that evening—that despite her distant nature, she sat closer than most people.

“She cried,” Duke said. He ran his hand through his hair.

“It’s shitty you’d call me out on it when you teared up too, asshole.” Jamie wiped the sweat from her nose with the collar of her black tee shirt. “Hey look, that guy has a Mohawk.”

Everyone at the table turned at once to the college kid with the black Mohawk, black clothes, and five piercings between his ears, eyebrows, and lip.

 “I think he escaped from the haunted house,” Churro said.

“He looks so cool,” Jamie swooned.

“He’s terrifying,” Jess added.

“I like his piercings,” Jamie said. “That’s pretty punk rock.”

“So y’all just sat here watching people the whole time?” Duke asked. “That’s weird.”

“Were we supposed to plan a party for you?” Kevin eyed Duke. The suspicion filling his eyes was familiar to Churro. Up until seven months ago, he’d watch the boys that came around his little sister the same way.

“You’re harshing my buzz, man,” Churro said. He reached for the sleeves of his tee shirt. He did that when his sister’s face flashed across his consciousness. He had almost forgotten that he had cut off the sleeves at the shoulder when they had begun to tighten. There was a hole the size of a twelve-year-old girl in him. Something had to go there or he’d go mad. Something had to stop his fleeting happiness from pouring out the hole in his heart. So far the only thing that did that was Dr. Pepper and a pound of meat and bread on a stick. But at least he had his hair.

“Whatever,” Duke shrugged. “Are we doing this?”

“Timeout, you’re going too?” Churro asked.

“Hell yeah, I’m going,” Duke said. He motioned to Jess. “I can’t let Jess go in there without someone to protect her.”

“That’s sweet,” Jess said. She grinned at him and held his hand over the table.

Churro’s heart twisted.

“My mom wants me to call them from Keith’s house first,” Duke said.

“Hmm,” Kevin said. “Classic chivalry.”

“Ha ha,” Duke mocked. “Jess and Jamie going to drop me off, and I’m going to come back with Donnie to make sure you guys are still there during the eye. If y’all ain’t welched by then, I’ll help you finish off the night. So really my protection is for all y’all.”

“You really think it’s haunted?” Jamie asked.

“Oh, it’s haunted all right,” Duke said. “But ghosts can’t hurt people. Everyone knows that. We’ll go in and in the morning we’ll hit the road.”

“Jack,” Churro chimed in.

“Just like the song,” Duke added.

“What makes you so sure there are ghosts, but they can’t hurt you?” Jamie asked.

“No one has ever been really hurt by a ghost,” Duke said, running his hand through his hair again. “Name one. You can’t.”

“You can’t, because they’re all dead,” Kevin said.

“No kidding,” Jess added. “Did you ever see Poltergeist? They were in the TV.”

“So that’s three to two,” Jamie said. “Churro? Ghosts or no ghost?”

“Man, ghosts are fake,” Churro said. “I ain’t ever seen one.”

“There we go,” Jamie said. “It’s split. Only one way to find out.”

“Wait, what?” Duke said. “We won.”

“How many people are at the table, Duke?” Jamie asked.

“Five .”

“No,” Jess said. She tipped her head toward Eddie at the end of the table. “Six.”

“Crazy Eddie’s going?” Duke asked.

“Yeah, man. Eddie is going,” Churro corrected. “He’s our friend, and logical anchor with this whole thing. Just in case weird stuff starts to happen when we get in there.”

“He’s like twelve,” Duke argued. “You’re telling me he’s smarter than all of you?”

“He is,” everyone else but Eddie said in unison.

“How can you say that?” Duke said. “He just sits there all day playing with that stupid toy that he’s never going to figure out.”

Eddie laughed.

“What’s funny?” Duke accused.

“You,” Eddie said. He continued twisting the sides of the Rubik’s Cube. “I don’t usually understand jokes, so the things that make me laugh are when people are confidently wrong.”

“How am I wrong?”

“Well,” Eddie started, not taking his eyes from the work his hands were doing with the Cube. “For beginners I’m fourteen, not twelve.”

“Whatever.” Duke rolled his eyes.

“Also, my involvement in this group is more than just intellectual. In fact, if we get down to it, you, Churro, and I probably have a similar reason for being here. I’m obviously American Indian. Churro’s name and ethnicity land his ancestry somewhere south of Texas. You’re a little less obvious though. Your name is white. Your mom is white. Even your haircut is white, but you look more like Churro’s amigo than one of our friends. Given the tendency of teenagers rebelling against their parents—I mean Jessica is clearly not used to wearing shirts like that or she wouldn’t be tugging at it all night—and couple that with the knowledge of Kevin and Jessica’s notoriously homophobic, religious, and racist father, we can easily determine that, despite the fact that everyone at this table knows you only want to finagle that repugnant little tortilla of yours into whatever body part she’ll allow you access, you’re only here because of that father of yours you’ve never met.”

A heavy pause fell on the table. The only sounds were the rides, surrounding children and the twisting of the Rubik’s Cube. Everyone but Duke and Eddie were desperately trying to stifle a laugh. Churro turned away from Duke and put his hand over his mouth. For Jess, it was a little easier than the rest, but she was smiling.

He doesn’t know, Jess told herself and tugged her shirt tail to cover her stomach. He wouldn’t say things like that if he knew. It’s not his fault. He just doesn’t know.

“So I was wrong about two things,” Duke said. “So what?”

“Well, three,” Eddie corrected. He dropped the Rubik’s on the table. All six of its sides were flush with the same color. “I play with this to keep my hands doing something. I don’t like to fidget. Or make eye contact. I’m a listener. Also it’s probably not a good idea to base decisions off the lyrics of a song. No one would actually stop the world just to melt with some girl. That’s incredibly dangerous to the entire planet, and if it worked that way you’da killed both you and the girl. It’s not smart.”

“That song’s like six years old,” Duke said, feeling stupid.

“Smooth,” Churro laughed.

“Nice bowl cut,” Duke added. That wasn’t the kind of put down Eddie noticed. Duke didn’t think Eddie responded to insults.

Eddie picked up the Cube, tapped it on the table twice, and went back to work.

“So,” Jamie finally said when she was confident that her laughter wouldn’t take over her words. “We’re all going to ride out the storm in the Nelson House?”

“That’s the plan,” Kevin said.

“Everyone got their sleeping bags?” Jess asked.

“There are three in my trunk,” Churro said.

“And Duke has ours in his car,” Jamie said. “Did you bring the camera?”

Kevin went into his pocket and pulled out a thin black camera. “Already got the film loaded and everything. And we’re sure we don’t want to just take the picture and leave?”

“You can’t do that, man” Churro said. “They’ll know.”

“I was just asking so anyone who’s wanting to back out could back out.”

“No one’s backing out,” Churro said, finishing off his corndog.

“Strength in numbers,” Eddie said.

“Exactly,” Jamie agreed. “The more the merrier.”

Thunder stampeded through Johnny D’s Carnival Funland.

“We have about twenty minutes before the rain gets uncomfortable,” Eddie said.

“I guess that’s our cue to get going,” Jamie said. “Put up or shut up.”

“Let’s go,” Kevin said. No one heard the quiver in his voice.

Their group stood from the table. With the impending storm in sight, the few families remaining at the Funland ran to the parking lot to stay dry. Kevin, his sister, and their friends funneled through the exit gate to Churro’s and Duke’s cars. Churro could feel his breath quickening as he struggled to keep up with them. Something would have to change soon. First came the sleeves. If he didn’t stop his eating habits now, he’d need all new clothes.

Jess and Jamie went with Duke in the black Mustang taking Churro’s affection with them, but leaving the anxiety for Churro to drag behind him. Kevin and Eddie piled into Churro’s hand-me-down station wagon. Churro turned the ignition and pressed the accelerator to help the engine turn. He took a mental inventory of everything that could go wrong, and all of them involved being present as Jess and Duke spent the night together. But being cool was being cool, and there was a chance Churro could do that better than Duke. Tonight was the night he had to do it. No welching. No timeouts. It was clutch time. Churro drove out of the gravel parking lot back to Highway Five. As they rode the Five toward the edge of Rose Colline, Kevin’s legs bounced and his fingers drummed in his lap.

“You nervous, buddy?” Churro asked from behind the wheel.

“I’m good,” Kevin said. He nervously gripped the door’s armrest the way people do when they know they’re making a bad decision. “Just gas.”

“Dude, no kidding. I think it was the corndog. I knew something that big and greasy wouldn’t sit right. I brought TP. I just hope we get there.”

“It’s only a couple miles,” Kevin said, laughing. Lightning exploded in the air, and the windshield wipers swiped across his view. “I think I’m good. I just want to get there in one piece.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter

2

 

 

 

Rose Colline slept as the teenagers drove up Beacon Street. The shops and restaurants waited in the dark for the storm. The downtown streets were empty. Churro followed the taillights of the black Mustang through town.

“Did they ever say what they’re putting in that lot up here at the end of the street?” Kevin asked. The question felt forced to everyone in the car. The anxiety in his voice was more pronounced in the silence of the car away from the mechanical rides and sporadic childish laughter.

“Probably a McDonald’s or something,” Churro guessed.

“There’s one when you get off the Five though.”

“Ain’t you been out of town recently?” Churro asked. “They’re on every block nowadays, man.”

“They’re good,” Kevin added. “But I don’t think we need two.”

“It’s going to be a Pizza Hut,” Eddie said. He was counting the streetlights, and turning the sides of the Cube.

Churro leaned forward to see Eddie in the rearview mirror. “Are you serious?”

“Yep.”

“That’s awesome,” Churro said. “It’s like we’re going to have a real restaurant. Not like the diners and drive-thrus we have now.”

“That’s something to look forward to,” Kevin said.

Silence took over the cab again. Thunder rumbled, briefly drowning out the twisting sound of the Rubik’s Cube in the back seat.

Churro leaned forward in the seat to look at the sky. “That’s a lot of noise for a wussy sprinkle. That all you got?” He knocked on the window like a child watching a boring animal at the zoo.

“Dude, don’t piss it off.” Kevin pawed Churro’s hand away from the windshield.

Churro laughed. “The storm ain’t gonna get you. It’s just clouds.”

“I know.”

“Who knows, Kev,” Churro began. “Lightning may strike the house and burn it down before we get there.”

“I don’t think so,” Eddie said.

“Never hurt anyone to dream.” Kevin sighed.

Ahead of them, a blue car pulled out between Duke’s Mustang and Churro’s station wagon. It swerved in the lane spinning the tires and fishtailing back and forth.

“Who’s out driving right now,” Kevin asked, not expecting an answer. “The hurricane is basically here.”

“We are,” Churro giggled at his own joke. “Is that Donnie’s car?”

“I can’t tell,” Kevin said. “Eddie, what kind of car is it?”

Eddie glanced forward. “It’s Donnie’s Camaro.”

“Why are they even out here?” Churro asked.

“They must be staying at Keith’s house,” Eddie said. “His dad owns the Chevy dealership and has the big house at the far end of Beacon before the street turns to a dirt road.”

Keith Busby stuck his head out the passenger window of Donnie Windham’s car. A rebel yell tore through the empty street like the howl of a coyote. Keith climbed out and sat on the open car window. He reached back into the car and retrieved a beer. He snapped open the can and poured the contents into his gaping mouth and down his Rose Colline Hurricanes football jersey. He dropped the can and raised his fists to the air in triumph. He hollered into the night air again. The Camaro’s horn joined in with three long honks.

“It’s incredible that they’re on the same football team you are,” Churro said. He put his hand on Kevin’s shoulder. “So glad I quit.”

“Man, he’s driving like a lunatic,” Kevin said.

“It’s kind of interesting that he and Donnie are such good friends,” Eddie said, looking out the window and counting street lights. “Their dads grew up as friends, then go into business together like their dads did. Now Donnie is already working at the mechanic shop with his dad. Wonder if the Busby Chevrolet of South Louisiana will ever have an owner whose last name isn’t Busby. It’s like how we’re all close friends because we live in the same neighborhood.”

The car was silent. Kevin turned to the back seat with good natured bewilderment on his face. “Eddie, buddy,”

“Sorry,” Eddie said. He saw that they were looking at him. “I was thinking out loud.”

“Yep,” Kevin said. He chuckled with Churro.

“I just think it’s interesting,” Eddie said, turning back to the window.

“We weren’t laughing at you, man” Churro said. “We’re just not used to people saying stuff like that. Especially people younger than us.”

“That’s actually true,” Kevin agreed. “We forget people aren’t all like Churro.”

“Huh?” Churro said. “Nah, man. I’m the one and only.”

The Camaro skidded to a stop. Churro stood on the brake bringing his car to a screeching halt. To his right, Anderson’s Bar stared at him from beneath the orange street light. He read the name of the bar on the neon sign with the glass of beer outline. Mr. Anderson had turned the sign off for the night. He never did that. Not even when he closed for the night. Donnie, Brad, and Keith crawled out of the Camaro. Duke shuffled up from his car and the four of them walked up to the station wagon. Kevin and Churro rolled down their window.

“Camaros don’t have back seats do they?” Kevin asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” Churro answered.

“They do,” Eddie said. They recognized his tone as informative rather than indifferent the way it sounded. “But the only people who could fit back there need car seats.”

“Hey, y’all,” Donnie said, strutting up alongside the station wagon. His lisp was in full swing, although to Kevin it sounded more like his tongue was too big for his mouth. “We’s just making sure you was gonna go through with it, Kev.”

“Well, no duh,” Kevin said. “You dared me, now I gotta do the dare.”

“I know, I know. You got a big pair of onions on you. I respect it.”

“It’s not too late to back out, dude,” Brad said. “I wouldn’t do it.”

“You should get some onions,” Churro said. He didn’t fully know what that meant, but he had a faint idea having onions meant something like not being scared.

“Maybe you can grow him some in your weed garden, Churro,” Keith said. “We could get stoned just by eating burgers.”

Everyone laughed.

“It doesn’t work like that, man. I tried with lettuce.”

That spurred the laughter on even more.

“How’s life off the team, Churro?” Keith asked. He seemed genuinely curious. Kevin thought he heard a bit of jealousy. Kevin suspected maybe the sideline had gotten lonely with Churro off the team.

“Well, I get to do shit like this on Friday nights,” Churro said. “Pretty awesome.”

“You’re really doing this?” Donnie said. Spit flew out of his mouth.

“All of us are,” Kevin said.

 “Well good luck topping this,” Brad said. “The game is probably gonna be over after this one. We may have hit a ceiling.”

“We’ll always have the pranks,” Kevin said. “And who knows what we have planned.”

 “Oh, sure. Good luck,” Donnie told them. “You got nothing.”

Lightning struck a few miles away. For an instant the end of Beacon Street shown as brightly as any midday in Rose Colline. Then it drowned in rainy, evening darkness.

“It’s about to start,” Eddie announced.

“Our house is right at the end of the road,” Keith said, pointing down the road. “Well, not the very end obviously.”

“That was corny, man,” Churro said.

“Hey y’all,” Jess called from the Mustang. “It’s about to start raining and we still have to hike through the woods to the house. Can we keep this train moving?”

“Yeah, we got to go,” Duke said jogging to the car.

“For real, dude,” Donnie said to Kevin. “Don’t get hurt. Coach would actually kill us if he found out we were the reason you missed a game.”

“I almost feel like you care,” Kevin said.

“See you at practice?” Donnie asked. He wiped his wet lips.

“Got my arm warmed up already.” Kevin held out his hand and Donnie slapped him five.

“The eye is pretty huge,” Keith said. “We’ll come make sure you’re not trapped in or dead when it comes through. After that you’re on your own.”

“That’s sweet, man” Churro said.

“Well, this is kind of dangerous even if it wasn’t haunted,” Keith said.

“I’m riding with them,” Duke yelled. “Make sure Jess doesn’t lose my keys.”

“Timeout,” Keith stopped him. “You let a girl drive the ‘Stang?”

“It’s a stick,” Duke said. His hips gyrated. “She could use the practice.”

“Sick, Duke,” Kevin said. Churro silently agreed with the disgusted tone, glaring forward out the windshield. “That’s plenty of information about my sister, thanks.”

“I don’t let just anyone drive the ‘Stang.”

“It’s like you have no idea you’re even talking,” Churro said.

“Are you guys coming or what?” Jess called from the open Mustang door.

“Yeah, come on,” Duke said. “Babe, shut the door. You’re getting the car wet.”

“Have fun, ladies,” Donnie yelled. Spittle flew. He pulled Duke with him. “We’re out!”

“Watch out for wild animals!” Brad hollered.

“You never know what’s in the woods,” Keith added. Then the three of them began to howl like wolves.

AAAWWWRRRROOOOOO

“Classy dudes, man,” Churro said. “Feels pretty cool that we’re doing something they won’t even do.”

“Why does that feel like a really bad thing?” Kevin asked.

“It’s just a house,” Churro assured. “Nothing but wood and nails. Right, Eddie?’

“There’s no evidence of anything beyond the multiple murders and suicides in the house,” Eddie said. “I’ve seen the records and read the papers. Nothing spectacular or magical involved whatsoever. There’s no reason to be scared. Just wood and nails. And a brick chimney.”

“That’s really comforting, Eddie,” Kevin groaned.

“Oh, good,” Eddie said. He had run out of street lights to count so he sat quietly.

The rain fell heavier as Churro parked the station wagon next to Duke’s Mustang.

“Come on guys!” Jess called. They had grabbed their sleeping bags and were running through the overgrown path leading to the Nelson House.

“Deep breaths,” Churro said. “Hurricane rain is usually the coldest.”

“You pop the trunk?” Kevin asked.

“The door is unlocked. Yes,” Churro said. “Sure you don’t want to stay in the car all night? I’ll leave you my keys, but you gotta fill it up in the morning.”

“I’m good,” Kevin said staring into the darkness of the pathway. “I’ll get two sleeping bags. You get the third and the duffle bag.”

“Deal,” Churro said.

Kevin closed his eyes, took a deep breath and sighed it out. The door opened, then closed. “Charge!” Kevin yelled and bolted out of the car to the back door. His door slammed, shortly before the back door opened. “I’ve got the bags! It’s raining! Let’s go!”

Eddie shuffled around in his backpack that sat on the floorboard of the station wagon.

“Everything alright back there?” Churro asked.

“Yeah, I’m just going to get my rope.”

“You think we’ll need rope for some reason?”

“Yes. I have a few ropes. I’m looking for the long one.”

“What do you need it for?” Churro turned on the overhead light.

“Oh, there it is,” Eddie said. He showed Churro the rope, still in the packaging. “I’m going to tie one end of the rope to your bumper and the other to the porch of the house.”

“What for, man? It’s like a hundred feet through the woods. It’d be hard to get lost.”

“A few reasons,” Eddie said. “It’s two hundred and sixteen feet from the sign right there to the front porch. A lot could happen in that distance. We could be trapped and the rope would tell the police where we are. I don’t think that’ll happen, because all these trees are really thin. Most will bend, and the ones that break won’t be difficult to move with you, Kevin, and Duke and his friends in the area. I do expect, however, the terrain to change dramatically through the night. We might not recognize our surroundings.”

Churro giggled. “We’re lucky to have you, Eddie. You’re like an adult.”

“Maybe,” Eddie said meeting his eyes. He looked away almost immediately. He picked up his flannel hat from the seat and donned it. “You don’t have to wait. I know where it is.”

“I know,” Churro said. “I just want to make sure the doors get locked.”

“Okay, see you in there.” Eddie unceremoniously left the car.

Churro stared down the black hole in the trees. At the end of it stood the Nelson House. He told himself it’s just a house. He said it out loud. He got out, ran around to check all the doors. He grabbed the rest of the remaining sleeping bags and his duffle from the back and sprinted around the car and up the path to the house. “Be careful, Eddie,” he called back.

“Not necessary,” Eddie said to himself. “All this noise we’re making probably scared anything out here farther into the woods. No reason to be scared.”

Eddie tied one end of the rope to the bumper of the station wagon. Lightning cracked, exploding through the air. The light changed around him. He turned back to the downtown street where they had just been. It was only a few hundred feet, but the rain made it feel like it was a county away. This city’s power went out, and Beacon Street fell dark. Eddie felt in his backpack for the flashlight. He told himself that he wasn’t afraid of the dark. During hurricane season, Rose Colline, Louisiana stayed in the dark, and the Nelson House was a black spot in deep space.

There’s no reason to be afraid of the dark. Eddie reminded himself. There’s nothing there that isn’t there in the daylight. You can’t be scared of everything all the time.

Eddie wanted to make sure the rope wrapped around the bumper correctly. What good were precautions if they weren’t followed? He brought out the flashlight and shined it at the bumper. Satisfied with his knot, he turned to the woods. He lifted his face, allowing to rain to drop onto his face. He smelled the wetness of the air. He thought of his family at the reservation—how they were probably still on the porch circled in their rocking chairs—and silently he said a brief prayer for their safety while he was here with his friends.

There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t in the light.

Except bats.

But bats led to Batman. Fictional, yes, but maybe…

Eddie walked into the dark woods, letting out rope with each step. He thought of it not as a lifeline back to the car, but away from the house. Logically, haunted houses made no sense to him, but he was a kid. Thunder rumbled again, and the rain fell harder.

 


 

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