On the outskirts of town, in the deepest neck of the woods, is a small clearing where even the trees do not dare to grow and the unnatural silence is a deafening chorus. In the middle of this clearing sits a statue shrouded in green moss and tangled vines, so much so that it appears to be no more than an ancient decaying tree stump being reclaimed by the earth. Once every year, and always on All Hallows Eve, an unearthly glow can be seen emanating from this tiny patch of land. Always too, on the same night, it unerringly happens that some feckless soul looses his bearings and ends up, as though pulled by some strong, invisible thread, in the middle of this wretched place.
Such was the fate of young Jimmy Gray one cold and cloudy Hallowe'en, when on a dare he and two young friends decided to spend the night in an old cabin in the forest, a haunted cabin according to town legends.
Jimmy Gray, Nick Scanlan and Bobby Whitemore had been inseparable since the first grade. Like the notorious Three Musketeers, it was for them, all for one and one for all. They were a threesome all right, blood brothers they would tell you. In third grade they each cut a thin scratch into their arms and mixed the tiny beads of blood together, while swearing on their mutual baseball card collection to be brothers forever. It was for this reason that when Bobby was dared by his taunting older brother to spend a night in the spooky cabin, there was no question that the other two would accompany him.
On that crisp October night, with flashlights and a generous supply of junk food in tow, the boys made their way along the path to the cabin. While they walked, they joked nervously that the rats in that place were probably the size of pit bulls and equally as fierce.
The cabin sat in the woods, resembling nothing more than a gruesome, decaying animal in a tomb made of pine trees and thorny bushes. The boys grew silent, each gulping in unison as the building came into view. It was a formidable sight, but a dare is a dare and they plodded on toward it with the determination of youth. The front stoop had rotted and ferns, lush and green in the flashlight beams, grew tall where the stair treads once had been. No matter, it was only a short climb up to the doorway.
Jimmy and Bobby clasped their hands together. Using these makeshift steps Nick climbed up and grabbed the rusty doorknob. The knob came off in Nick's hand, sending flakes of rust spiralling like dirty snowflakes to the forest floor. In the same moment the decaying door fell inward imploding on impact, a mildewed pile of kindling.
With nary a thought about the safety of the long abandoned cabin the boys scrambled inside, Nick first, then Bobby and lastly Jimmy with a helping hand from the other two. A putrid odour assailed their nostrils and a quick sweep of the flashlights revealed the decomposing body of a fat raccoon, swarming with shiny, yellowish maggots. None of the boys wanted to appear weak, so, in an attempt at being macho they all blusteringly declared that the writhing mass was merely a "stupid dead animal".
Gingerly, the boys glanced around and spied an old sofa, stuffing protruding from numerous holes, at the other end of the structure. Seeming as good a place as any to wait out the night, the threesome sat warily upon it, causing the battered piece of furniture to groan in agony, and a disgruntled mouse to scurry from his home inside it. Despite the clouds of dust and the sagging springs the old couch was still rather comfortable. The Three Musketeers settled in.
Always the hungriest of the group, Bobby rummaged in his backpack and brought forth a selection of candy bars, to keep their energy up of course. The guys ate enough candy to keep any candy manufacturer in business. Sated by sugar and chocolate it wasn't long before Bobby and Nick fell asleep sitting up, mouths gaping open, snoring lightly.
Jimmy too, was just beginning to nod off into dreamland when he heard a mournful wail, coming from outside. Snapping instantly into wakefulness, he listened. Only a few seconds passed before the sound once again made its way through the opened doorway. What is that? thought Jimmy, Is it a hurt animal? For a few frustrating minutes he tried to wake his friends. He wanted them to go out there with him to investigate, but they were dead to the world and instead of waking up merely began to snore more loudly, drool puddling on their chins.
With a sense of urgency Jimmy rose from the dust ball of a couch and headed for the door. Something was in trouble, possibly badly hurt. He couldn't just sit there and ignore it. Thinking on it no further, the boy headed through the doorway, landing with a thud on the ground. Uncertain, he took a few steps forward, wondering which way to go. From somewhere in the forest the sorrowful wailing sounded again, louder this time, and Jimmy turned, walking on in its direction. What if somebody's dog is caught in a trap? he thought as he picked up his pace, I have to help it!
Jimmy trudged on into the forest, scarcely aware of the brush crackling beneath his feet, or the swift pain of sharp branches scraping skin from his cheeks. He was aware only of the constant keening. Aware only of his desperate need to help. The sound continued to get louder, now resonating inside his head. A voice rose within the wailing, then another and another, myriad voices all criss-crossing and swirling around each other in a maddening assault. A boy's voice, then a girl, now an old man - some a whisper, some a shout - all crying out the same frightening plea: Help me! HELP ME!
Panicked, Jimmy began to run, tears flowing and drying quickly on his scratched, bleeding face. So many people! They needed him. He had to hurry or it would be too late.
Suddenly the boy was surrounded by an eerie green light that appeared to rise like mist from the ground. He saw that he was in a clearing, saw too the terrible thing that stood in its centre. Jimmy wanted to run, run back to the cabin, back to his buddies. He wanted to go home, feel the warmth of the sheets in his own safe bed, but his feet were frozen; his legs refused to do what his brain told them. Before him stood a statue, a sick parody of a small child's clay sculpture, rudimentary legs and arms on a shapeless body. The head - oh dear God, the head - was a constantly shifting reel of faces, all writhing, mouths agape; screaming in perpetual agony. Faces of lost men, women and children.
Vines that lay puddled at the statue's feet, rose, and in an undulating dance wrapped themselves around the boy as softly as a lover's caress. Slowly, tenderly, the vines pulled Jimmy forward. The boy's mouth worked to form words. No! No! His lips moved, but his voice was silent. Paralysed, wrapped like a living mummy in tendrils and leaves, he felt himself being pressed against the cold, monstrous sculpture. The glowing mist became a blinding light, in a brief lightening-like flash, and for one terrible moment Jimmy Gray's face appeared in the grotesque head. Then the third Musketeer was gone.