This story is by Alicyn Grace and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Maddie, can you hear me?” I stared down a pit that had rough gouges in the sides as if it were dug with a shovel. At the bottom of the pit, rocks and roots stuck out like bones in a graveyard.
I didn’t know how Maddie talked me into exploring this shack after dark. The outside was creepy enough in the light of day with its rusty car, overturned bathtubs, and makeshift graves. Thick trees blocked the sky from view. The doors were wedged shut with scraps of dirty cloth and most of the windows were barricaded with sheets of plywood. Someone didn’t want us getting in.
Even after falling and landing with her left arm folded under her at an awkward angle, Maddie still looked like a goddess. She was tall, had thick blonde hair, and curves in all the right places. In every way possible, I was a small, shy teenager. I was an average Jo—short for Josephine, which was only a little more interesting than my appearance. It wasn’t fair that her safety depended on me.
It had all happened so fast. Breaking into the shack through the kitchen window, tumbling onto rotting garbage strewn on the floor, and trying not to touch anything as we navigated the cramped, damp rooms. As we tiptoed through the shack, leaves rustled outside—someone was coming. Maddie’s family was asleep, so it had to be someone—or something—else. We bumped into each other as we ran back towards the kitchen and then Maddie wasn’t beside me. Her scream cut through the stale, frigid air as she flailed her arms, grabbing at anything while she tumbled head over feet.
As I peered around the shack, the silence was more terrifying than the rustling feet of someone returning to the shack. A rush of blood throbbed in my ears. As I began to understand my predicament, a chill spread up my neck and onto my scalp and ears like icy fingers. I had to get her out of the pit myself or I would have to leave her to get help. I wasn’t confident that I could do either.
I didn’t think I had the strength to pull Maddie out of the hole by myself. Besides, I could fall in with her or maybe I wouldn’t be fast enough and the person we heard earlier would come inside. The pit was a good indicator that the owner did not want us to leave. But, leaving Maddie meant that I’d have to run back to the farmhouse, where her parents slept, to get help. I had dropped out of soccer that year, so I wasn’t too out of shape. But then again, the house was two soccer fields away and the owner of the shack was still out there.
If I were in that pit, I wouldn’t want to be left alone—not for a minute, not for any reason. If Maddie woke up and I wasn’t there, I couldn’t live with myself. She would be terrified and alone. I had to try.
With shaking hands, I pulled my hair into a ponytail and crept through the narrow halls, poking my head into different rooms. I was hoping to find a rope or ladder among the dilapidated furniture, peeling wallpaper, and abandoned dishes. My heart raced as the foul smells made me gag. The shack smelled like wet newspaper and the urine of someone who ate too much asparagus. I covered my nose with the sleeve of my jacket.
When I entered the kitchen, leaves rustled outside.
My heart froze. Someone was out there. A shadow moved in front of the window. They would come inside and put me in the pit with Maddie. Every hair on my body went ridged with panic. I needed to run. I had to leave this awful place. I wanted to go home to my mom. A lump formed in my throat and I stifled a wet sob with my hands. I was a coward who couldn’t even commit to varsity soccer because I was too small to defend myself against the tall, muscular players I’d compete against. But, I could not leave Maddie.
Something shifted behind me. My heart pounded against my chest like it was as desperate to leave my body as I was to rewind this evening and never set foot in this disgusting place. Then Maddie never would have fallen.
Maddie—she must have woken up.
I almost crashed into the wall as I turned to run back to the pit. I stepped on a glass bottle and fell face first into the garbage. I cried out when I landed on an open tin can. The lid sliced through my left palm in a jagged line. Hot tears streamed down my face. A wave of nausea hit me as blood dribbled down my arm like cooking oil. I sat up and leaned against the wall. I felt someone’s presence outside, waiting like a monster stalking a child from a closet. They would come for me and they would hurt Maddie or me.
“Wh-what happened?” Maddie’s voice was hoarse as a lifelong smoker.
My best friend needed me and I couldn’t make excuses. I wiped the tears from my eyes, pulled the lid of the can from my hand, and cried out. I tried to rip the bottom of my shirt, but it wasn’t as easy as the movies made it seem. So, I used the jagged edge of the lid to cut a piece of my shirt. I wrapped it around my palm and tucked in the loose ends. I tightened my fist around the makeshift bandage until the pain of my cut became bearable.
As I looked into the pit, Maddie sat upright.
“Is that blood on your shirt? Did you hit your head?” My voice wavered. I couldn’t hide my fear.
Maddie looked down on her shirt and her eyes went wide with horror at the smears of blood. She touched her head and came away with blood on her hand, “Get me out of here!”
“Stand up. Come here and grab my hands,” I pushed garbage aside, laid on my stomach, and reached down to her as far as possible without losing my balance. I hooked my toes behind the door frame into the hall so I wouldn’t fall in with her.
“I’m scared,” she started to cry.
“You have to try,” I had to be strong for her.
Maddie stood and wobbled as she got her bearings, using the sides of the pit to steady herself. “Coming here was a terrible idea,” she swallowed back tears and reached for my hands.
It was a good thing she was tall, because our hands clasped together and I started to pull. I used every muscle in my body to help her up. But, Maddie’s hands were sweaty and she slid out of my grasp. She rubbed her hands on her pants, eyes wild and desperate. She got on her tiptoes and grabbed my wrists. Tears dripped down my nose as I tried again. I pulled with a strength I didn’t recognize and Maddie dug her toes into the dirt to push up. When her elbows were over the edge, she grabbed at the floor and I pulled her from the belt of her pants.
Maddie wrapped me in her arms and buried her face in my neck, she heaved with sobs as she recited “Thank you,” over and over.
“Come on, we have to go,” I helped Maddie to her feet and headed to the nearest boarded up window. With all of the strength I could muster, I tugged at the plywood. The pain from my cut fueled me to pull a second and third time until the nails tore from the walls. I staggered back and dropped the wood to the floor. Against all odds, I had done it. I was going to get Maddie and myself out of this shack. A surge of confidence made me feel taller than ever before.
“I’ll help you out first,” I turned towards Maddie, but she wasn’t there. I hadn’t even heard her walk away. Before I could call for her, a tingling sensation on the back of my head pulled my attention. Someone was staring at me. I could feel it as sure as a hand on my neck.
When I turned, I was eye to eye with a figure shaped like a human, except the bones of its spine and neck were bent at painful angles. Its eyes were black pits and its smile had sharp, white teeth twisted so high on its face that it reminded me of the Cheshire cat. Except, it was not laughing. The smile was cruel and a hungry, pointed tongue lapped at its bleached fangs.
Panic gripped me by the throat and I couldn’t breathe. With inhuman speed, the form shoved me and down I fell into the deep, dark pit.