Blacktree POV Character:
Joseph "Richie" Matthews Wordcount:
1,618 words I'm pretty sure there's a Stephen King book about something like this, but I swear I'm not punking you. This happened.
My name is Joseph Matthews but I go by "Richie" because my middle name is Richard after my mom's dad. My folks keep a fairly strict eye on me so if I want to do anything fun I have to sneak to do it. You know what they say. It's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. Something like that.
I was with my friend Cindy that day. She wanted to go 'urban exploring' - and by that she meant poking around the abandoned houses on the southern edge of town. Most of them are boarded up because the floors are rotting and it's dangerous, but there's one where the older kids like to party that obviously had a way inside. No one would be there during the day. We took the city bus to South Street, which is as far as it goes in that direction. After stopping for drinks and snacks at Half Price General we walked the rest of the way.
Most towns spread out in all directions as they grow, but much past South Street the town of Blacktree just died. The houses were abandoned, and the farms beyond that too. The town's trying to reclaim the area but it's slow going. There's something about that place that just isn't right. So yeah, already, going there was a stupid idea. But we're kids. How are we supposed to learn what's a good idea if we don't get a few stupid ones now and then? Of course, if you follow that philosophy I'd have started to have more good ideas now and then but that doesn't seem to be happening.
Cindy didn't want to take the main road. Too many people might see us and call the cops or worse, my parents. There's an old side road that's too overgrown for cars to get down. That's the road the older kids take to get to the house where they party. It basically leads right into its back yard. So that's the road we took. A bare track has been worn in the dirt from so many people walking on it for years and years. Glow sticks hang from the trees every few feet on either side to mark the way so people can navigate it in the dark. It must look eerie and cool at night but no way we'd try it then. We'd get in enough trouble for going during the day. The trouble we'd get into for sneaking out at night just isn't worth it.
Blacktree used to have a railroad, back when the town was being built all the way up to the time when my folks were kids themselves. It hasn't been used since before I was born. The old train station is a museum now, and most of the tracks have been torn up. The bit past Second Street was left alone, abandoned and overgrown like everything else out that way. The path we took went right across it. They say sometimes if you're there at sunset or at dawn and you listen really close you can hear it coming, chug-chug-chugging and whistle blowing. That's something else I'm not too keen on testing.
Once past the tracks it's about a quarter mile to the house. We follow the trampled path right to where one of the windows has been unboarded and propped open. A concrete block makes it easier to get in. Well, for bigger kids than Cindy and me. We had to hop and scramble. Cindy made it in first and grabbed my elbow to hoist me in. Yeah, I'm chubby and have short legs. I'll grow into myself.
The house was kind-of a letdown. I guess it's not really exploring if lots of other people have already been there. There was graffiti on the walls, floor, and even the ceiling. Bottles and cans were piled in the corners. The bathroom was still in use, by the smell of it. A couple of the rooms had mattresses so nasty-looking I wouldn't let a dog sleep on them and I didn't want to think what people were actually doing on them. Ick. We only poked around for a little while before we got bored and decided to head back.
The girl wasn't by the tracks when we'd come this way before. We'd have sure as heck seen her laying there like that, turned around, and hauled it for home. But she was there now. The way she was laying it looked like she'd just curled up and gone to sleep in a really weird place. Her back was to us.
"Um, miss?" Cindy called to her while we were still a ways back. "Are you okay?"
She didn't move. Cindy and I looked at each other and then stepped just a bit closer.
"Miss?" Cindy called louder, in case she actually was asleep, or drunk, or... something... and hadn't heard the first time.
She still didn't move. Now I was getting nervous. I looked around and picked up a branch from the scrub to the right of the path. It still had leaves on it.
"What are you going to do with that?" Cindy whispered. "You're not going to poke her!"
"Well, we're not walking up on her either," I reasoned. "You stay back and run if this goes wrong."
"Fine." I should have known Cindy wouldn't listen. But I'd had to try.
I step closer and Cindy stays right beside me.
"Miss?..." Cindy tries one more time.
I don't poke the girl, the first try. I brush the leaves over her bare arm a couple of times. That would get my attention even if I were pretty sound asleep. It doesn't get hers though, so I nudge her in the back, careful not to do it hard enough to hurt. Still nothing.
"Huh." Cindy looks around on either side of the path, then takes my arm. I let her guide me, edging off the path, through the scrub (hoping to God there's no poison ivy) and to the other side so we can face the girl front on.
Her eyes are open. She's not asleep. She's not alive, either. No way, with the gaping hole in her belly. There was no blood on the ground but her t-shirt and jeans were covered in it. It had splashed on her face and smeared. I just stared at her, and it was like she was staring at me.
The next thing I knew Cindy was slapping me. I was on the ground, looking up at her. She was crying and looked sick, and also looked like she was about to hit me again. I cringed away.
"Jesus, Cin! What the hell?"
"You fainted. I.... I don't blame you. I... Get up." She tugged on my arm. I got to my feet carefully so I wouldn't fall down again. I was still pretty dizzy.
We just stood there. Both of us wanted to run, neither of us did.
"I'm calling Uncle Zeke," I said finally.
Cindy held up her phone. "I already tried to call 9-1-1, while you were out of it. No signal."
Well, peachy. Just peachy.
"Okay. We start walking. You watch your phone. When you can get a signal, tell me. I'll watch out."
"Watch out for what?" Her voice was still quavery. Mine probably was, too."
"Whoever or whatever did that to her. We were only just here like what? Forty-five minutes ago? If that? Whoever put her here might still be here."
Cindy looked like it might be her turn to faint, so I grabbed her arm for a change. She scooted closer to me, so close it was hard to walk without stepping on each other. I kept hold of the branch ready to swing it at anybody that came too close. Cindy watched her cell phone.
"Here," she said suddenly, stopping dead in her tracks.
We switched. She put her phone in her pocket, I handed her the branch (she hits harder than I do anyway), and I used my phone to call Uncle Zeke.
Ezekiel Jones isn't my uncle. He's a cousin, but he's got kids just a couple years younger than me and it makes more sense to call him Uncle. He picks up on the fourth ring, and he listens. He doesn't think I'm punking him. He tells me and Cindy to get to where there's people and stay there. Don't tell anyone what we've seen until he checks it out and comes for us. I tell him we'll be back at the Half Price General. It's always busy so we should be safe enough there. Then I hang up and we run. We don't stop running until we burst out of the path into the light of day and the hum of traffic.