When I was young, we were left unattended. My friends and I rode our bikes deep into the fields and returned at our leisure. We rarely played in the same location and often ditched it after a few days. With each new adventure, we drifted further from civilization, and one day, we struck gold, figuratively speaking of course.
We came across a massive field which seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. It appeared to be abandoned farmland, and the grasses and weeds had grown past our waists. The entire area was completely silent as if we had broken the sound barrier, and to some degree, our voices seemed several octaves higher than normal. Whenever we went there, we lifted our bikes over a rotted, wooden fence, and then, we pedaled through the field. It quickly became one of our favorite locations.
Our last excursion stuck with me the most. It was the day we discovered the farmhouse.
I have no idea how we never noticed it before. It was just there, but somehow, we overlooked it. We rode over to the house to observe it up close, and it appeared more beautiful from a distance. The age was clear in the peeling paint, the shoddy shutters, and the broken windows. The farmhouse was two stories tall, possibly three, and had a large veranda, smudged with grime. The porch extended around the house, and we noticed a rickety porch swing, creaking back and forth on a rusted chain. There was no wind.
While I was left pondering this, my friends abandoned their bikes by the wayside and dashed across the dirt road. I abandoned my bike as well and followed them hesitantly. I turned to my left and right. Just like the field, the dirt road extended into oblivion.
“Guys, what if somebody lives here?” I asked. My main concern was disturbing the homeowner and getting kicked off the property.
“Oh c’mon! There’s nobody here!” George called back. George was the most adventurous of the three of us. His confidence usually got us all in trouble.
I decided to trust him and crossed to the other side of the dirt road. Both of my friends were already standing on the porch. “Can you see inside?”
Ryan, my other friend, shook his head. “There’s a thick curtain in the way. It smells really musty over here.”
I had to agree with him. It smelled old and decrepit. The porch above all else seemed to be in the worst state of decay, but somehow, it held our weight. Curiously, we wandered all the way around the house. If anyone lived there, they would have heard us because the wood squeaked terribly. Each step made me cringe, but when nobody confronted us, I eventually relaxed.
None of us voiced it, but we all wanted to break into the house. It seemed too soon for that; we’d have to wait a week or so. We had to be absolutely sure that the farmhouse was vacant.
The backyard was nothing spectacular. It was overgrown like the rest of the land. There was a crumpled shed several yards away along with a rusted pick-up. We put off exploring them and continued around the house until we reached the front once more. We scurried off to collect our bikes, but we became sidetracked when George discovered an opening in the lattice which led underneath the porch.
Naturally, we were beyond excited. I inched myself halfway through the opening and confirmed that we could easily fit. That’s when I noticed the look in George’s eyes. He was about to make a bet.
“I bet that I can crawl through there faster than you!” he insisted with crossed arms.
I lost our previous bet, so I needed to redeem myself. Betting was our thing, and it often involved races whether on our bikes or on foot. Because of this, Ryan always kept a stopwatch handy.
“Fine.” I didn’t bother creating ultimatums. Nothing scared us.
“I’ll go first,” I offered. I wanted the lay of the land, so George couldn’t rig anything. I crouched down beside the opening and waited for Ryan to retrieve the stopwatch from his bike. The dirt was clammy beneath my hands, and I noticed lichens growing along the foundation of the house. I tried not to think of spiders or snakes. We had done worse things than this. “Wait a second. I want my eyes to adjust,” I told my friends. I didn’t want to risk bumping my head against anything.
“Are you ready?” Ryan muttered, raising the stopwatch.
“Yeah.” Okay. Maybe, I was a bit nervous.
I forced myself through the opening and felt the lattice clawing at my clothes. I tugged my hips inside and took a hard right, crawling straight for the first turn. Once I reached it, the tunnel narrowed, and I was forced to army crawl. I felt the grime smearing into my arms and soaking into my clothes. I pressed onward and dug my shoes into the ground, practically dragging myself along. As soon as reached the second turn, I felt a draft, but I tried my best to ignore the chilly air. Even so, the air seemingly grew colder, especially from my left, until it felt like ice was pressing against my ribs. The longer stretch before me must have been the back porch, and I felt disheartened when the tunnel remained narrow. If anything, it seemed narrower than before.
As soon as I passed the halfway mark, I heard frenzied scuffling. The tunnel was too narrow for me to turn around, but I knew it was one of my friends, probably George. I felt him grab my ankle, jerking me sharply backward. I caught myself on the lattice and kicked backward angrily, hitting my friend square in the face. “You cheater!” I screamed. I army crawled faster than ever before. My friend was persistent though, and I heard him right behind me. I blocked everything out and dug my arms mercilessly into the ground, clawing myself through the tunnel until I burst out of the opening. I was breathing heavily and covered head to foot with nasty, red clay.
“What the hell is the matter with you!” I screamed at Ryan. Ryan was standing there timidly, and of course, George was nowhere to be seen. They were both cheaters! Ryan was quivering, and he extended the stopwatch to me.
“You were under there for 27 minutes!”
“What? No, I wasn’t!” I snatched the stopwatch from Ryan and stared down at 27 minutes, 32 seconds. “You guys are messed up.” Ryan clearly never reset the watch. I stopped shouting as soon as Ryan began crying.
“That’s not funny, Sam! We were worried. We were calling for you, and you weren’t responding. George went in there about ten minutes ago to search for you.”
I didn’t know what to think of this. I stomped over to the opening and began calling for George but received no response. “You guys never called for me,” I replied stubbornly, glaring at Ryan who was still sobbing.
Ryan allowed the stopwatch to keep running. When another 15 minutes passed, we were sick of waiting for George. “We’ll just go back in and find him. You can go to the right. It’s more open that way. I’ll go to the left. We’ll meet in the middle.” Ryan seemed reluctant of the plan. I convinced him to squeeze inside after me, and we split up.
This was all George’s fault. He probably threatened Ryan to go along with it. I was going to kick George’s ass when we got out of here. When I crawled beneath the back porch, I heard scuffling ahead of me. “George?” I called.
“No, it’s me!”
I narrowed my eyes in confusion when I met Ryan in the middle. “Did you find George?”
“No, did you?”
My heart skipped a few beats. “No.”
By this point, we were both unnerved, and I had to help Ryan turn around. I couldn’t go backward through the tunnel since it was so narrow. It took us several minutes, but we reached the opening without a hitch. We lingered around the front porch and wondered if we had missed George somehow. That was the irrational side of me thinking. Those tunnels barely fit one person, let alone two! It would have been impossible for George to pass us going in the opposite direction.
We waited until nightfall for George to reveal himself, but he never did. We called out to him and warned him that we were leaving. It was growing so dark. We didn’t want to linger any longer. We crossed to our bikes, covered in that foul, red clay, and warned him one final time. Reluctantly, we pedaled away from the farmhouse and followed the dirt road home.
Our parents were forced to believe us when George didn’t return that night. The cops were called, and the next morning, we led them to the field and the lonely farmhouse. We described what happened in detail and watched them knock on the front door, waiting tirelessly for someone to answer. When nobody did, they went to investigate the opening in the lattice. The cops were too big to fit. While they were searching the perimeter, I went to retrieve George’s bike from where we left it, but it was gone.
George was never found, and the case was closed.
Eleven years later, there was a development in the long forgotten case. Our city went through a period of rapid urbanization, and our county began buying up the adjacent farmland. The old farmhouse was demolished, but there was sickening discovery at its core. The entire foundation was layered in dried blood and scattered with small bones. The bones belonged to children and were covered in harsh bite marks.
Credit: Ariel Lowe