A Story for the Kids
A Story by Suzanne Madron
The sun blazed in the sky on the first day of summer vacation and Bobby stared at the clouds as they migrated across the perfect azure canvas above them. She and her best friend Joe sprawled in the grass of Bobby’s backyard, the way kids with a long summer ahead of them do.
“What do you want to do today?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’m bored.”
She sat up and laughed. “If we’re bored, it’s because we’re being boring.”
Joe wrinkled his nose at her in disdain and smirked. “Where did you hear that knowledge gem?”
“My mother always says it to me when I tell her I’m bored.”
Joe shook his head and returned his attention once more to the Rorschach clouds. He tucked his hands behind his head and sighed. “Bored.”
Bobby nudged her friend’s worn sneaker. “So let’s find something to do.”
“And if we can’t find anything to do?”
She pulled out a clumb of grass and threw it at him. “I dunno. We’ll make it up as we go.”
He shrugged and sat up to face her, brushing the grass from his shirt. “Fine. What did you have in mind?”
Bobby pointed toward the dense woods behind her house and grinned. “Let’s go exploring. I heard there was an abandoned house in there. Do you want to see if we can find it? Maybe find a ghost, too?”
Joe paused as he considered her proposal. At last, he nodded. “We’ll need flashlights.”
They gathered supplies from the house, careful to pack their snacks toward the top of their backpacks for easy access. Each of them carried a notebook and pencil to facilitate note-taking, and they each carried a flashlight.
As they made their way through the barrier of underbrush surrounding Bobby’s backyard, her mother poked her head out the back door.
“Hey! Where are you two going?”
“Exploring!” Bobby called back.
“Be careful, and be home by dinner!”
“I will, Mom!”
Bobby and Joe continued on their way through the bushes. The pair winced as blackberry brambles and wild rose thorns scratched their bare arms and legs. After a few yards, the thorns thinned and cleared, and they found themselves in the thick of the old forest.
They crunched through layers of dead leaves for several yards, then Bobby paused. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a piece of bright yellow string. As she tied it around a tree branch, Joe watched her.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked.
“So we can find our way back,” Bobby explained. “I brought a decent supply of string, but once we run out, we should head back to the house.”
He nodded. “Good idea.”
“Better than breadcrumbs, right?” she said with a wink.
The pair explored the woods for the majority of the afternoon. They took copious notes about the forest, the stream they discovered, and the animals they encountered.
When they had used all of their string and the sky had turned a shade of twilight indicative of dinnertime, they looked to one another wearily.
“I guess that’s it for today.”
“We can come back tomorrow and pick up where we left off.” Joe indicated the trail of yellow knots dotting the path they had left behind them.
Bobby smiled. “Yeah, I guess. For now, let’s get home and eat. I’m starving.”
As they turned to head back, Joe grabbed her arm. Bobby stared at his hand and looked to him, readying a sarcastic remark when she noticed the expression on his face. His eyes were wide, staring. He pointed with his other hand and she followed his gaze.
She hadn’t noticed the clearing before. She could have sworn there had only been a new-growth forest of saplings and underbrush in the spot when they had come through earlier. Now, a ramshackle house leaned into the space.
“Do you see it, too?” Joe whispered.
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. How did we miss it?”
“It wasn’t there. That’s how we missed it.”
She started toward the house and Joe pulled on her wrist, holding her back.
“What are you doing?” Joe hissed.
“Gonna go check it out, duh.”
“You said it was haunted.”
She looked at him and crossed her fingers. “Here’s hoping!”
She shook him off and started to sprint toward the house. Joe shouted behind her and ran to catch up.
She paused at the steps to the rotting porch. Her stomach gave a lurch and the hair on her arms prickled. She tried to see into the old house, but the light was fading. She turned on her flashlight and shone it into the broken glass of the front entryway but the shadows beyond hid the interior.
“Bobby, don’t go in there. It looks dangerous,” Joe panted as he caught up to her.
She stared hard into the gaping darkness, then at the sloping roofline and warped wooden slats of the porch. Reluctantly, she nodded. “Yeah. You’re probably right. We’ll come back tomorrow when it’s daytime and check the place out.”
They followed the strings back to Bobby’s house and realized they had not gone nearly as far into the woods as they had thought. They had only gone three houses over, in fact. When they looked back, the house was obscured by underbrush and trees in the gloom.
Bobby’s mother waited for them on the back porch. She smiled and waved as they climbed back through the blackberry brambles and emerged sweaty and coated in forest dust.
“What have you two been up to?” she asked. “Nothing dangerous, I hope.”
“We looked for the haunted house in the woods,” Bobby began.
“But we didn’t go in!” Joe finished.
“Haunted house in the woods, huh?” Bobby’s mother chuckled. “I’m glad you didn’t go in. Haunted houses are no place for explorers.” She ushered the friends inside the house. “There is no haunted house in the woods. Kids have talked about that thing since I was young.”
“Did anyone ever find it?” Joe asked as he washed his hands for dinner. He gave Bobby a sidelong glance.
Bobby’s mother shook her head. “There used to be an old barn, back when the land around here was a farm and there were no trees. It fell in years ago and the owners of the property took the wood and stones to recycle on other projects.”
“But we found the house,” Joe said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Bobby nudged Joe. “We wasted a day looking for something that wasn’t there.”
Her mother pointed to the notebooks. “Wasted? Look at everything you’ve done today, and all the things you’ve explored! You both had quite an adventure!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Mom. Thanks!”
“Sure, honey.” Bobby’s mother looked at them, becoming serious. “And if you do find a house in those woods, come get me. I want to see this thing, too.”
Bobby and Joe looked at one another over their dinners. Tomorrow they would explore the house that wasn’t there.
Suzanne Madron is originally from the Bronx, NY, but grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. Yes, the woodsy part. No, the other woodsy part. No, not the one with the pterodactyl sightings, the other one with the re-enactors.
When not writing horror, Suzanne writes hard-boiled noir and speculative fiction under the pseudonym James Glass and post apocalyptic stories under the name Xircon. Currently she lives on a battlefield with her husband and son in the less woodsy part of Pennsylvania. Yes, her house is most likely haunted.