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Town Startles — Episode 3 — The Dark Bubbly Stuff

October 29, 2021
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“I dare you to hop the fence,” shouted the red-faced boy with the helmet.

Easy for someone who always wears a helmet to say, Amy thought to herself as she surveyed the half-rotted tree branch that swayed in the wind some eighteen feet off the ground just over the jagged black iron fence surrounding the creepy old mansion. It wasn’t fear of trespassing that made her hesitate, nor was it a very reasonable worry of repercussions in the form of grounding. Her parents had warned her repeatedly not to go near this old house on the hill. It wasn’t even the stories she’d heard around school that told of phantoms, witches and headless horsemen that haunted these grounds. No, this was simply a healthy fear of heights and a good head full of common sense.

The house was there as long as anyone could remember. It looked down on the town from the top of the hill like some boogeyman monster that was just waiting for darkness to fall. As the sun set behind the mansion, its shadow turned into a jagged spear that threatened and pierced the little town nightly in a ghoulish dance of dying light. Kids and grownups alike were all terrified of this place, and not a soul around would dare set foot inside it.

Amy had always been the brave one in this motley group of little friends. She was the first who rode a bike without training wheels, she always picked the scariest hidden places in every game of hide-and-seek and she would sometimes sneak out her window for night fishing at the McAlister pond. The others were too scared of the night noises, but Amy felt at home there, even when all alone.

Kevin (the red-faced helmet boy) was now doing a ritual dance that he imagined looked like a chicken clucking about the coop. It did not. Lucy was ignoring the embarrassing show and nervously looking back toward town, obviously worried that someone would see the kids and presume they were up to no good. She looked like she could hop on her bike (with training wheels) and take off toward home at any second.

Brad picked up a scoop of ashy earth and flung it toward the clucking helmeted bully, who breathed a bunch of it in mid cluck and started choke-coughing humorously. Brad was a year older than the others. He was also a full six inches taller, enough to get him on the scariest rides when the carnival came to town. Amy envied him a little for that, but she knew she’d catch up by next summer when they saw the carnival again.

“Don’t worry about that idiot,” Brad said casually in Amy’s direction as he brushed the wave of blond hair away that always seemed to find itself perfectly in front of his left eye. Then he looked at her and smiled. Something inside Amy melted and she suppressed a giggle. She felt a sudden urge to do a thing that was daring and impressive.

“Get over yourself, Kevin,” said Amy with an eye roll as she dusted off her Levis in preparation of climbing the gnarly tree. She spit on her hands and rubbed them hard across the soles of her shoes and stepped up to the trunk.

“You don’t have to do that,” said Brad with a slight chuckle as he kicked another cloud of ashy dirt in Kevin’s direction. Amy nodded in acknowledgement, but started climbing the tree anyway. The other three kids watched quietly with mouths wide open as Amy quickly worked her way up the old tree.

There was a slippery and black substance coming from the tree’s bark. It stained Amy’s hands and made it tougher to get a good grip. Fortunately there were enough grooves in the knotty old trunk to get her shoes worked in and she made her way up to the branch that hung over the fence.

There was another tree on the other corner of the property that looked easier to climb. That would be her way back once she had crossed over. She pushed away the thoughts that some ghoul would grab and pull her kicking and screaming into the house, that she would never be heard from again, that her disappearance would make the papers, that she would become a lost spirit cursed to wander the grounds of the old haunted mansion. There were more important things to worry about right now, things like not falling to her death and not getting impaled on that rusty fence.

A thick and oily smell filled Amy’s nostrils as she stood and balanced on the horizontal branch, testing its sturdiness. The stuff was all over the tree. Ahead of her was a seven foot tightrope walk over the treacherous fence and into the haunted property. Will she be the first living soul to encroach on these grounds in years? Probably. Her dad would have mixed feelings about this if he were here. He’d be proud of her bravery, but disappointed in her foolishness. He had a look that was perfect for that mixture, and Amy had seen it many times before. Hopefully he would never find out where she’d been.

Amy didn’t realize how far she had come until she was over the fence and above the yard. Knowing that jumping was the only way, she lowered herself to hang from the branch to put her feet closer to the ground. The three others were all shouting things in an attempt to coach her, but they were all talking over each other and she knew what she was doing. After a final look down at a tuft of what looked like soft grass below, she dropped into the haunted mansion’s yard.

The landing could have been better. She didn’t break anything, but she also didn’t land on her feet. Climbing to her hands and knees and preparing to stand, she checked out her surroundings. There was a strange hum in her head that seemed to get louder with each passing moment. She ignored it and looked up at the mansion, which seemed at least five times taller and more terrifying than when looking from the outside.

Her hands and knees were strangely displacing the soft earth, and where they sat, the dark bubbly stuff oozed from under the surface and seeped out onto the ground. She jumped up to her feet and immediately found it hard to keep her stance. The more concentrated her weight, the more quickly she was sinking into the earth, and the more quickly she was sinking in, the more of the dark bubbly stuff oozed out.

Amy suddenly panicked to realize she was standing on some sort of oily sinking sand. Her parents had told her sinking sand was a myth. She looked back toward the other kids and was completely horrified at what she saw. Everything on the other side of the fence was blurry, like looking through a thick and foggy window. It looked like Kevin, Lucy and Brad were shouting at her, but she couldn’t hear anything they were saying. Instead all she could hear was the humming that still grew louder with each moment.

Brad was trying to reach her through the fence with a log he found on the ground. Kevin was trying to climb the tree, but Amy knew she was the strongest climber in the group. Lucy was taking off on her bike, hopefully going to town for help. Looking down, Amy noticed that she had sunk in up to her shins. It took some serious pulling to get her feet out of the ground.

Amy started running toward the exit tree on the other side of the property, but she could hardly cover any ground. The dark bubbly stuff was almost sucking her in with every step. The more afraid she began to feel, the harder it pulled until she could barely move at all. Facing straight at the mansion’s front door, she slipped and fell forward. Her arms went straight into the oily ground instantly up to her elbows and her face was almost sucked in as well.

The terrible humming sound was now so loud that she could barely stand it. The awful noise was building up to something, but she didn’t know what. Amy suddenly wished she had not decided to impress the boy on the other side of the fence. This dare should have been ignored and the stories were true. There was nothing that could help Amy now. She would suffocate, or worse.

To keep her face out of the dark bubbly stuff, she craned her neck to look up at the mansion’s black front door. Suddenly the unbearable humming stopped. With a nightmarish creak, the door slowly opened, revealing a new sound, quiet at first but growing louder as the door continued to swing ajar. It was the cackling laughter of an old lady coming from inside the dark and cavernous mansion. Amy hoped she was dreaming. She could resist the stuff no longer. It bubbled and slurped over her shoulders, her back, her neck, her chin… Amy’s last thought before her face was completely absorbed was dares are stupid.

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