“Come with me – I need to show you something.” Darla reached for Janine’s hand but instead found wrist. No matter, as long as she had something to tug, something to spur herself towards the cave, then she could muster up some courage within herself.
“I don’t know…” Janine said as the two started down a winding path, barely recognizable from bramble and vines leaning into them.
“I don’t know about this.” She said again, in case Darla hadn’t heard the first time.
“I’m not even wearing long pants.” She pleaded, breaking free of Darla’s grip to pinch a prickly vine between two fingers, gently forcing it away as she carefully made her way through. Darla had already plowed through, her forearms taking the brunt of scratches.
Without homework excuses, Janine ran out of ways to say no to Darla’s demands.
“We won’t be long, I just gotta see if it’s true.” Darla’s words trailed her, made their way into Janine’s fuzzy ears and echoed around her skull for a few moments. Already deep into Jenkin’s State Park, some other trail Janine had never been on, there wasn’t any going back.
The trail bent and curved at a steep descent, the two grabbing bark to steady themselves on the way down. Rocks followed their downward grace, tumbling and bouncing until they could take no more. Janine was first to find even footing, turning around just in time to watch Darla coast down the dirt wave, a trail of dust kicking up behind her.
“We’re close!” Darla said. “Turk told me it was around her. He swore it!
“WHAT is around here?” Janine said, her patience wearing thin. Dusting herself off, she found that she’d missed a pinch at some point, licked her thumb, and rubbed dried blood from her shin.
“If I told you, you wouldn’t come.” So coy. “Just a little farther. Come on!” She said, hustling through some more brush off trail.
“There’s no way we’re going to find our way back. You know that, right?”
After too many bushes, too many vines, and too many mosquitoes, the two girls finally made their way to their destination.
“See? Turk wasn’t lyin’!” In the middle of forest, a clearing. In the middle of clearing, an abandoned house. It must have been white once, but turned yellow from years of neglect and decay. Faded graffiti penises, green and blue, clung to wooden panels like Christmas tree ornaments. Mostly emptied vodka bottles, some refilled with piss, offered the only indication that anybody had been there in the past year.
“I don’t like this, Darla.” Janine said, her eyes fixed on a gaping hole in the home’s roof. Boards once blocking windows sprawled the front porch, their exposed, rusted nails a deterrent against any night trespassers unaware of the area. A blue tarp dangled where a door once stood; Janine noticed it as Darla was already halfway through.
“I’m NOT going in there!” Janine yelled, tossing looks in every direction to make sure her raised voice hadn’t alerted anybody who might be squatting in the house.
“Don’t be such a baby! Get in here!” Her high-pitched voice sheltered some insecurity, a silent trembling never admitted. Against her better judgement, Janine crept towards the house – a sigh in the middle of the woods – and pushed the tarp away, exposing light barely shed.
“It’s so crazy in here! Janine!” Even under a midday sun, the house managed to find shadows to hide in. A bright light shined from another room, Darla’s phone, and beckoned Janine towards it. There was no way she’d be alone in there.
“Check this oouutt.” Darla stood mesmerized, her shaking light trying hard to steady on the wall.
The ceiling peeled, it bend towards the girls, insulation guts spilling out and piled on the floor with old boards, dirt, and asbestos. Someone had spray-painted most of the room blue and tagged over it in black paint. On the lit wall, a perfect circle had been outlined in red chalk. Within it, another. An intricate pentagram rested within the inner circle, and yet another, smaller circle at the center of the Satanic symbol stressed a cross’s intersection; expanding all the way to the outer ring. Curved chalk lines danced from the intersection and center circle, a crude chalk lizard laid between the bottom quadrants. Flames, or symbols looking a lot like them, rose from the the center horizontal line on both left and right sides.
“This is too detailed to be fake.” Janine said, her eyes stuck studying the wall’s beckoning call.
Janine shined her own phone’s flashlight to flush the room of darkness. Under the lizard symbol, on the floor, a recently-killed snake laid curled between two candles barely used.
“Darla…” Janine started, backing away from the room and towards blue tarp.
“Turk said some crazy things went on in here, but I didn’t believe ‘im. But he swore it – said his brother’d been here a few times and saw some kids making weird noises. Said he saw them set a cat on fire. I didn’t believe ‘im.”
The two girls turned around and found their way back to the clearing, outside the house, their phone’s still shining.
“That was crazy! I kind of want to go back in. I wonder what’s upstairs?” Darla thought of all the other secrets the house might hold.
“We are NOT going back in there.” Janine was visibly angry, confused. “We’re going home, Darla.”
“Fine. Ok.” Darla caved like the roof.
The two started back the way they’d came, plucking vines out of their way and scrambling up the way they’d come down. At the top, both noticed a dead snake. Warm blood crawled along dirt, mixing and turning black in spots.
“What the hell is this?” Janine yelled, her own high voice raising to match anxiety.
“I don’t know. Let’s just keep going.” And they did. More pushed aside vines, more scratches on Janine’s legs. Their pace picked up, and though the two had exhausted too much energy already, they raced back to humanity.
“What the fuck is going on?” Janine said, unable to hold back tears. Another curled corpse sat directly in front of the girls. “Why did you bring me here?”
Darla said nothing – she’d never heard Janine curse before. She stared at the snake for a few moments, breathing heavily and wiping away tears and sweat of her own.
“We’re almost out. It’s not much farther.” It wasn’t. Within 15 minutes Darla and Janine’s sneakers met asphalt.
“Probably just some asshole playing a joke.”
“Takes some kind of weirdo to think dead snakes are funny.” Janine shot back, her nose curled and mouth frowned. Darla had never seen her this way and promised to herself never to bring her anywhere like this again – not that she knew of any more.
“I just want to go home.” And the two walked down the long road, pockmarked with potholes that made for a dangerous drive. Just before the road turned, a chalked circle had been drawn in the middle of the road, within it, a smaller ring. It beamed in the light, identical to the one in the house. In its center, another dead snake.
“They know where we came from. They know where we’re going.” Janine whispered, afraid to speak at all.
“Where did you just take me, Darla. Where the fuck did you just take me?” Again, her voice rose. Darla said nothing. She did nothing. Herself frozen, guilt streaming through her body. It was her fault Janine was upset. It was here fault for all these snakes.
“JUST LEAVE US ALONE!” Darla yelled to no one, causing a murder of crows to take flight. They too remembered the girls.
“We’ll be fine, Janine. We’re going home.” Darla and Janine made a sharp left. Though there was still day left, they both watched the sun intently, making sure they’d get home before dark.