Warning: Contains horror themes
Today is Halloween. I’m out with my mates Ryan, Scott, Dylan and Miles. It’s a tradition of ours; every year we’ll trick or treat, then take our stash home to someone’s place to eagerly consume whilst watching horror movies until dawn. We’re freshmen now, so it’s our final year before, hopefully, we’ll get invited to parties instead.
“Let’s take a short cut through the park,” Ryan suggests.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Scott chimes in.
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea…,” I exclaim, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Don’t you want to find your brother?” Dylan asks bluntly. “Let’s solve the mystery.”
Even though it’s been three years, I still blame myself for the tragedy. When he went missing, it broke something within me. Something that can’t be healed. Dylan can be a real heartless jerk sometimes.
I glare fiercely at him. “Really?” I snap harshly. “You have to bring that up now?”
“That was uncalled for,” Miles says, and I give him an appreciative nod.
“You’re not curious?” Dylan continues.
“It’s been three years Dylan,” I counter, giving him a look that could kill.
“So…no one has found anything in all this time, why would we now?”
Three years ago exactly, my brother Brett went missing. We were trick or treating around Monterrol Street, just across from Gothera Park, when I lost him. The guilt is something that will weigh me down forever. Knowing that it was partly my fault. I was supposed to be looking after him.
They never found his body. I still hold onto a faint sliver of hope; hope that he could still be alive out there. I have theories; that he was trapped within Gothera Park, held captive and waiting for me to rescue him, or that he was kidnapped, or that his body had been dropped out at sea, and he was lying on the seabed somewhere far beneath the vast expanse of ocean in an unknown location, his body preserved by the rich salty water and at peace in his seagrave.
My imagination is horrible, and conjuring these scenes does nothing to console me, or put my restless mind at ease. I often dream of him; the dreams are vivid and recurring. In them I see Brett looking out at me from within the bathroom mirror. His features still that of a young, ten year old boy; the Brett I had once known and loved. My poor baby brother. Dylan bringing this up now has brought a bitter taste to my mouth; the excitement and fun of the night dampened.
“But the curse…,” Miles says uncertainly.
It’s said Gothera Park is cursed. Those who enter the boundaries are said to never return; taken by the spirits of those who have died here. The park was built on a battle field; rotting bodies never laid to rest once littered the ground of what is now a forest. I shudder thinking of it, but brush away the fear. It has to be a myth.
“It’s haunted apparently,” Dylan says, “Let’s go explore! Maybe we’ll have a wicked ghost story to tell.”
“Yeah,” Scott agrees. Miles and Ryan nod. “Brayden?”
“Ok whatever,” I say.
I reassure my jittery nerves by telling myself I’m only doing this to shut them up, stop them paying me out, or calling me a wimp or whatever. I try not to face the fact that I feel compelled to this place. Summoned. Like a magnetic force is tugging at me, willing me to explore its depths. Curiosity outweighs the fear.
“Let’s go,” I decide.
Approaching the park entrance, I spot an old and battered sign laying face down in the dirt. Curiously, I bent down and picked up the hunk of rusty metal, flipping it over. I trembled as I read the words.
“Guys…you might want to look at this,” I announced, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Many may enter, none may leave. Enter at your own risk and make it brisk,” Ryan read. “Sounds like a load of bullshit to me.”
“It’s someone’s idea of a joke,” Miles offered. “It’s Halloween, you know.”
“It looks like it’s been lying there awhile, look it’s all rusted and-” I tried to explain.
“What Miles said,” Dylan interrupted.
I glance up at the park entrance; it’s like a slice of suburban paradise in amongst all the paved roads, and built up land within Colorado. Instead of park benches, swings and footpaths, the park is a densely packed forest. Tall spindly trunks rise up around us as we enter, their branches swaying eerily in the wind, like arms reaching out towards us. The foliage is dense and the ground carpeted in a thick layer of dead leaves. We have to tread carefully to avoid tripping over raised tree roots. The greenery forms a canopy overhead, which blocks out the moonlight.
“I can’t see a damn thing,” Scott moans.
“I got a couple spare torches,” Miles says, tossing them to us. Miles always carried the essentials with him; a first aid kit, torches, batteries, sunscreen spare hats and sunglasses. I swear he has a rock-climbing kit in that backpack of his. Always prepared for the worst, he says.
I hear a clunk as the flashlight is tossed into my kneecap and falls onto the forest floor.
“Ouch, you moron. How was I supposed to have seen that coming?”
I bend down and fumble around for the torch. My hands close around it’s long cylindrical shape and I press in the button, marveling at the distance the ray of light travels through the vast, dark forest. Lighting up a pathway through the forest centre, leading deeper into the heart of the woods, long shadows stretching out behind us in the dark of the night.
The five of us trudge deeper into the woods, my heart jumping up into my throat every time I hear a rustle in the trees, a snap of twigs, a horrible sound of nails scratching on bark. I reassure myself that it’s just an animal about its nightly business.
“You guys hear that?” Dylan trembles. “What the hell was that?”
“Probably just a snake,” I reassure him. “Now who’s scared?”
“Just a snake? What if it’s poisonous?” Scott chimes in.
“First aid kit right here.” Miles pats the fat backpack slung over one shoulder.
“You have anti-venom in there?” Scott queries.
“No, but I have…um…painkillers?” Miles replies uncertainly.
Scott glares at Miles, his face illuminated in the bright torchlight.
“Well that’s helpful,” Scott drawls, sarcastically. “So at least I won’t die in pain, right?”
I snickered; I hadn’t realized how tense I had been. The humor seemed to dissolve the tension, relax me a little. Miles’s disappointed face, realizing that his supplies would be of no use in the possible situation was priceless. I couldn’t help laughing at him. He glared at me in fake annoyance, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. And then he too cracked up laughing; the laughter was contagious. Pretty soon we were all giggling, like a bunch of drunken teenagers.
Then comes the distinct thud of an object crashing down into the leaf littered forest floor. We freeze. Our laughter is extinguished.
“I swear we’re being followed,” Ryan mutters under his breath.
The smile is erased from my face. The minute he says it, I can feel that we are not alone in here; I have that horrible prickly feeling running down my spine. Someone is watching us.
“Bullshit,” I whisper back to him, my voice strangled.
We reach thick undergrowth, and I shine my flashlight to discover a small tunnel cut into the shrubbery. There’s a sign on the ground and I swipe the dirt and debris off with my foot, examining it. Restricted access. I turn to the others.
“I think it’s time we turn back…,” I say, uncertainly.
“We’ve come this far,” Dylan argues. “Why turn back now?”
“Guys, I have a bad feeling about this,” Scott admits. “Brayden’s right.”
“You guys are lame,” Dylan says. “Come on, seriously.”
“I’m with Brayden on this one, sorry man,” Ryan chimes in.
Suddenly we hear a sudden crash and a high-pitched wailing. The blood rushes from my face and my heart rate speeds up. “What was that?” I whisper in a hiss, looking around at my friend’s faces. Even in the bright, artificial light, I can see they look just as terrified and pale. As if they’ve seen a ghost.
“It came from behind me,” Dylan whispers, swallowing hard.
“Let’s go,” I decide, motioning to the tunnel.
I drop onto my hands and knees and crawl through, holding back the wave of panic that clutches ahold of me. I hate not knowing when it will end, or if it will get narrower and narrower until I become trapped within. My hands are shaking as I shuffle slowly forward, the flashlight cord clenched between my teeth. I shuffle forward a bit more, and my hands fall, unsupported. I lower myself slowly until I can feel the ground beneath, solid and real, and I tumble forward in one quick motion, jarring my back painfully against a rock.
I pull myself up, brushing the leaves and dirt from my jeans, waiting for the others. Scott comes tumbling out next with a heavy thud. And in that instant the trees come alive. There’s a horrible shrill screaming, which deafens me. I clap my hands over my ears and duck to the ground as hundreds of bats come swooping over me, their wings beating violently. They’re swarming overhead, flying around in circles, and my muscles are trembling with effort as I squat there in the dirt; beads of sweat trickling down my back.
I half crawl, half slide along the ground, sharp twigs cutting my stomach, edging myself slowly away from bat territory.
“GUYS!” I yell over the whooshing of the bat’s wings and their insistent screaming. “THIS WAY!”
I don’t even look to see if they’re following, just keep going, trying to put as much distant between myself and the bats as I possibly can. The terrain is rough and uneven beneath me, and it’s sloping downwards sharply now. I turn myself onto my side and roll, shutting my eyes tight as the ground and sky spins around me with dizzying velocity.
I finally roll to a stop, my descent down the hill slowed by undergrowth and shrubs. Dylan comes rolling on top of me, knocking the breath from my lungs, winding me.
I groan, trying to push him off me. His body is like a dead weight.
“Dylan? Get off me!” I yell. When he doesn’t answer, I feel my heart begin beating so hard it hurts. “Dylan?”
He coughs, gasping as he draws in a breath. “What?”
“You’re crushing me! Holy shit, I was worried for a second there man.”
“I…I think I passed out. I can’t handle bats. Evil creatures.”
When we’re all together once again, we gather together at the base of the hill, shining our flashlights around to find a clear path to follow.
“Dammit, where has my torch gone?” Dylan mutters in frustration.
“Well, that certainly completed the Halloween scene,” Ryan says, sounding slightly amused.
“This place feels haunted I swear,” Ryan admits. “I wonder how many people have died in here. How many spirits haunt this place.”
“Ryan…we have to be careful,” I say, in a mock-serious tone.
“Careful of what?”
“Not to wake the poltergeists.”
“Ah ha, good one.”
Ryan is walking along the border of densely packed trees, shining his flashlight around. “I wonder if there’s a way out this way…”
I hear a whoosh of rustling leaves, and I see a noose, made of tree vines, wrapping around Ryan’s neck. His desperate scream is cut short as he is pulled roughly upwards, and his neck snaps open with a sickening crack. Blood spurts out of the open wound and his eyes immediately glaze over. A small object rains down, hitting my shoulder and falling amongst the leaves. I fall to my knees in the dirt, horrified, as I pick it up and examine it. It’s soft and spongy between my fingers, and it’s covered in blood. Ryan’s blood. It’s a piece of his throat. I throw it back on the ground, feeling my dinner rising in my throat.
“Fuck this,” Dylan says, “I’m out.”
“Holy shit, holy shit!” Scott is yelling hysterically. “We have to get help!”
They turn and run, but are stopped short by the arrows which come shooting out from the trees, impaling them clean through the chest. I cry out in shock as they fall facedown to the ground, and Miles and I run over to them. I roll Scott over on to his back.
“Don’t you die on me man! Hold on, you’ll be ok, hold on,” I’m sobbing uncontrollably, as I try to carefully slide the arrow out from his chest. I stop when I see it has punctured his lung. His injuries are fatal. Blood is bubbling from his mouth, and he’s making horrible gurgling sounds in the back of his throat. He’s dying, and there’s nothing I can do. Beside me, Miles has knelt by Dylan’s side. Scott’s eyes are glazed over, staring up at the night sky, unresponsive. Dead. I turn towards Dylan; he has met the same fate. Miles and I look at one another, communicating without words. We have to keep going, there’s no other way. Miles face is glistening with tears, his eyes wide open in pure shock.
“We have no other choice but to go.” I gently squeeze his shoulder in reassurance.
“But…we can’t just leave the bodies here…,” Miles mutters, barely audible.
“You’re right,” I reply, my throat constricting as I look over at my friend’s motionless bodies. “But we can come back for them. We have to get the hell out of here. Now!”
We walk for a while in silence, trying to put as much distance as possible between us and the murder site.
“Um, Miles?” I eventually croak, struggling to get the words out, my throat tight and constricted.
“Do you think it’s true…the curse?”
“I don’t know.” There’s a beat of silence. “It could just be booby traps you know…someone has taken this too far. Way too far.”
“The arrows? Where could they have come from?”
“We’re not alone in here. We’re trespassing on their territory…”
“We’re closer to the North end of the park now, so we should keep going that way. It’s our best chance of getting out of here…in one piece.”
Miles says nothing and I simply follow him in silence. He suddenly begins screaming, running backwards into me and I go toppling to the ground, bumping my head painfully hard.
“What?! What is it?” I shriek, gasping for breath. Miles lies atop me, crushing my lungs. He climbs off from me, helping me up.
He shines the torch into the grass ahead of us, the light wavering in his trembling hand. “Look,” he whispers.
I look, and I gasp in horror. There, in the grass, lies a decaying body. A skeleton, with bits of black flesh still clinging to the bones. The mouth is open in a big round O, the teeth black and decayed. The eye sockets are hollow, but I still have the horrible feeling that it’s watching us. That it will grab onto our ankles with its bony hands if we try to walk around it. Black hair sprouts from it’s skull, and it’s fingernails are long and painted red. It gives me a chill looking at it.
“Let’s go,” Miles hisses into my ear, grabbing my arm; his fingernails digging into my skin.
We clamber upwards and run, trying to get as far as possible from the corpse as quickly as we can.
Miles suddenly screams loudly, and I hear a thump as he drops to the ground behind me. I spin around to see a hand has wrapped itself tightly around his ankle; a hand which has seemingly rose up from within the ground. The pale hand of a corpse; fingernails encrusted with dirt.
“Don’t just stand there you idiot, do something! Help me!” he cries out desperately.
I rush over to him and grab him by the hands, leaning back and pulling. I hear a popping sound and Miles screams in pain; I’ve dislocated his shoulder. The force pulling him into the ground is inhumanely strong. It wrenches hard on Miles’s ankle, as it does so he begins sinking into the dirt. His sweaty hand slips out from my grasp.
“NO!” I cry, feeling helpless. There’s nothing I can do but look on in horror as his body is pulled into the ground. Now it’s just his neck above the soil, and he’s still sinking, deeper and deeper. I hear a coughing choking noise as the dirt slides down his open screaming throat and into his lungs, slowly suffocating him. I clench my fists, digging my nails deep into the skin of my palm, focusing on breathing in and breathing out. Trying to keep from passing out, or from turning and sprinting to get the hell out of here. One wrong step and that could be me.
My knees are wobbly beneath me. I fall to a kneeling position, feeling defeated. I try to summon the strength to go on. I can’t turn back, it’s too far. Besides, I’ll have to walk past my friend’s dead bodies again, something I can hardly bear to face. I still held onto the faint hope that I can get out of here alive.
There’s a horrible squirming sensation below my knees. A tickle running down my legs. I shine the flashlight down to see hundreds of large hairy eight-legged insects swarming on the ground below. Horrified and disgusted, I drop the flashlight in my hurry to get up. I attempt to leg it away from the spider’s nest, but in my hurry I trip and fall. Fear and adrenaline course through me. The spiders are crawling all over my clothes and I’m screaming, tearing off my shirt and throwing it to the floor. I run, with no idea of where I’m going and which way is what, clawing at myself, trying to brush the horrible little things off me. They’re biting me, pinching at my skin, and I scream hysterically.
My foot plunges into cold water, and I drop and roll in it, ignoring the biting cold on my bare skin. I stand up, breathing heavily, frantically checking myself for spiders. I can still feel them crawling all over me, a sharp memory which I will never forget.
I decide not to chance falling back into the spider’s nest, and leave the flashlight behind on the forest floor, dipping my fingers in the stream to assess which way it is flowing in order to orient myself. I bend over and take a long drink from the stream. It tastes somewhat metallic, almost as if it has been mixed with blood. Everything seems so different suddenly; my senses feel as though they’ve been dulled. I can’t make out a single thing in the darkness, can barely feel the cold water at my feet.
I stand back up again and make my way through the forest, feeling my way along, arms outstretched as I run my hands along the tree trunks. I hear a sudden wailing and fear clutches at my stomach. I speed up until I can’t possible run any faster. I no longer have any idea which way I’m going, and I no longer care. I just want to get out of here.
I spin around, confused and disoriented. I could have sworn I’d just heard my brother’s voice.
That was my brother, it had to be. I’m heart is thumping wildly. He’s alive! I can hardly believe it. I’m running madly, blindly. I trip over a raised tree root and face-plant into the piles of leaves and dirt carpeting the forest floor. I’m in a hurry to get to him, to save him from this awful place. I scramble quickly to my feet and continue sprinting through the dark forest.
The calls begin to get louder, closer. I must be going in the right direction.
And then I break out of the trees into a small clearing. A gap in the canopy allows moonlight to flow through, and I can finally see where I’m going. I can hear the calling ringing out clearly now, echoing in the empty space. I sprint out the forest and into the clearing, turning sharply when I hear the calling out to my right, and stop dead in my tracks in horror, shocked and breathless, panting and gasping.
He’s here. He’s alive. And he’s staring out at me from a mirror propped up in the dirt.
“Brett? BRETT!” I scream joyously, running over to him.
“NO!” he yells. “Don’t touch the mirror!”
“No way,” I cry, reaching out to him, “I’m getting you out here!”
“NO DON’T TOUCH IT!” he yells in his squeaky little voice. He hasn’t aged a year since he went missing. The realization brings a fresh wave of horror.
My hand collides with the glass of the mirror, slipping through as easy as if I were slicing my hand through water. “GRAB MY HAND!”
He grabs it and pulls. I pull back, but I can’t resist the vacuum force threatening to suck me into the mirror of horror. I topple forward and go sliding through.
And he’s here, solid and real. I hug him, tears streaming down my face, my chest heavy with emotion. It’s only when the shock wears off that I see the mistake I have made. The world outside of the mirror is fuzzy, as if covered by a veil. I’m separated from reality by a thick pane of one way glass. I press my hands to the solid wall in front of me, my mouth hanging open in disbelief. My heart sinks like a weighted stone and I drop to my knees. My only consolation is my brother’s little hand resting upon the small of my back; a small comfort amongst the darkness.
My hand slid down the mirror in defeat as I stared outside, despair filling me as I realized what I’d done. Blundering into this trap without thinking it through. I was so stupid, so incredibly stupid. I could hear my brother’s quiet sniffling sobs behind me. Salty tears streamed down my own cheeks, as I fell to the cold, hard ground. I was unable to function. I felt broken and defeated. My friends had all been murdered, and my brother and I were trapped within this wretched park, stuck here for all eternity. My brother had not aged a day. We were cursed to wander through these halls for the rest of eternity, until our feet were raw and blistered, our sanity broken.
Impulsively, I tore open the vein at my wrist with my teeth, like a crazed animal. I was no longer thinking straight; I was delirious. All I wanted to do was end this torture. Black blood began to gush from the open wound, and I stared in awe and disgust as it pooled on the floor.
“No!” I hear my brother choke, grabbing me by the elbow. “Please don’t be like this.”
I look up into his eyes; open windows to a soul mature beyond his years. The desperation and love I saw in his eyes was enough to deeply move me. I glanced back down at my wrist and yelped in surprise to see the wound sealing over; all trace that it was ever there vanishing.
“Everything will revert back to it’s former shape. The balance of nature,” Brett was saying. “You can’t change anything in here.”
“Why not?” I ask, still staring at my wrist in utter disbelief.
“You’re already dead, Brayden. This is the doorway through to the other side.”
He bent down to help me up from the floor, and I clasped his hand tightly. It was cool against my palm. He lead me down a long dark hallway constructed of stone walls with candles burning on either side of the passage. It had an eerie feel to it. It all screamed death.
“Brayden!?” came a voice. “Oh my god!”
And someone came rushing at me, pulling me into a tight hug, knocking the breath from my lungs. It was Ryan.
“Ryan?” I gasp. “Is that really you? I watched you die…”
He pulled away from me, his pale blue eyes looking into mine, never blinking. “I know. I’m dead,” he says simply. “Watch this.”
He flicks his neck backwards, and his head falls back, his slit throat exposing the inside of his head; a chunk of his throat is missing.
“The others are all here too,” he tells me.
My dead friends step out from the darkness to greet me, and I feel my knees buckle beneath me. It’s too much. This can’t be happening. If only I could wake up and this could all be a dream, a wild figment of my imagination. But no, I’m here. On the other side. And everything is as real as ever. The air smells of death and despair. If only I had heeded that warning and never stepped foot into Gothera Park