The date was Friday December 31, 1999. People feared the rumored Y2K bug that potentially could complicate any and all electronic devices. What was going to happen? No one could predict the devastation, though, many desperately tried. Would the World economy collapse causing deep rooted despair? Could it crack the National Security and defense systems leaving the United States vulnerable to enemy attacks? Would the computers of the world handle the numeric value conversion or crumble causing mass hysteria in the confusion? We did program them after all. Maybe we were wrong. Many data forms simplify years in a two digit format that would turn 2000 into 00. Logical interpretation of this was 1900, though, it obviously was not thought about in the beginning. All computers of the world could crash because they would not be able to compute properly therefore creating errors. Financial institutions and household clocks were upon the list of personal fears. Catastrophically it would affect everything.
The military was on high alert trying to get it fixed. Could they manage it in time? And would it even work? A calamity of this magnitude would leave the United States of America open to terrorist biological and nuclear attacks. Imaginations ran wild of missiles and rockets launching by themselves randomly at undetermined destinations. We could even inadvertently blow ourselves up! Families struggled to gather supplies as far in advance as possible for fear cash registers would not work, let alone banking institutions. Buying up jugs upon jugs of water, canned and dehydrated foods and necessary staples to ride out the storm was first priority for many. It was absolute mayhem in the streets.
Was it the Apocalypse coming as warned in the Bible? Religious sanctions, cults, and fanatics believed it was. Devastation of the projected magnitude could only deduce religious involvement, in their opinion. If computers were not programmed to withstand the turn of events it was surely a foreboding sign of horrible things to come. If not the end of the world altogether. What if nuclear reactors shut down? What about public utilities and electrical facilities? Surely an opportunist, such as the Devil would take advantage and feed off the fears of society and create havoc during this time.
Among the chaos, a group of close friends chose to ride out Y2K scare with a bang. If the world were ending, if computers and utilities shut down for days, well they were going to enjoy it with a night for the record books.
Nestled deep within a heavily wooded area just outside suburban Raleigh, North Carolina was an abandoned castle-like structure built in the early 18 hundreds. It was closed in the fall of 1899, though, there were no conclusive reasons indicating cause. Certainly stories swarmed about demons, unstable psychosis, even hauntings. Though many reported seeing the place at some point, no one could describe certifiably it enough to warrant truth. This abandoned building was their destination.
High above in the sky’s growing black emptiness hung a glowing, waning crescent moon. Mythological stories dictate this phase of the moon is when Selene, the fertile mother goddess, is pregnant with life. The moon follows her progress. Through cycles until full. Other cultures believe something more sinister and evil. That the moon, thought of as a male, was once a young, slim man (the waxing crescent moon). The man grows fat at each full moon by devouring the spirits of those who disobey Kuwema tribal law. Once full, the process begins anew. As many deaths occurred within this span it was completely believable.
Six vehicles wove erratically through the heavily treed darkness, racing through the woods as though the path was clear of distractions. Cheering voices from the 23 passengers heard above the roaring engines. This was a night they would never forget.
The lead vehicle, a camouflage pick-up truck, holding three men sputtered and careened through the thick trees with only their headlights in front of them. Frank and Scott, both slightly stocky in build, on either side of a nearly squished, though already skinny, Jake.
Frank and Scott were twins in every aspect except for minor differences in their appearance. Sporting similar short, tousled haircuts, Scott’s was straighter and darker whereas Frank’s had a slight curl to it and was lighter from the sun. Their attitudes mirrored each other too; reflective of the many years they had spent living just down the street from each other.
The air within the small cab was nothing but a cloud of warm, greyish smoke. Nothing was left behind on this night. Especially not their marijuana. The three young men had very high hopes for tonight because of their unattached statuses.
Between long, inhaling puffs, Frank asked from his comfortable passenger seat, “Hey, Bro. You know Ash will be there tonight?” Coughing slightly, he handed the tiny remains of the joint to the driver, Scott.
The smile upon Scott’s face was huge. Oh yes, he knew Ashley was coming. And he knew she was recently single. He thought he had waited long enough to get her attention. “Yeah. She ain’t the kind to miss a night like this.”
Frank lazily leaned his head against the closed window. Closing his eyes, he let his mind fill with thoughts of Mary. He vividly created the image in his mind. He could smell the citrus linger of her shampoo and feel her shoulder-length red curls unraveling between his fingers. She was reportedly coming tonight, but that did not always mean she would. Her busy social schedule did not leave much room for openings. Last he had heard, though, she was coming alone. Maybe this would turn into an awesome night after all.
Scott glanced over briefly, knowing full well what was on his friend’s mind. “Man, get her out of your head. You have wanted her way too long and always miss out. She may not have high standards, but they do not include you, pal.” Trying to put a good vibe back into the night, Scott gladly handed over the remains of the joint.
Jake simply sat quietly, taking in the conversation. All he wanted to do was get there and enjoy himself. What these two guys did or spoke of had nothing to do with him. Inwardly he realized they had directly not included him in their conversation anyway. He would have instead chose to ride in the van or something, but Jarrett told him simply that if he wanted to go this was his only option. Sighing with contempt, he slid down further into his small area, considered a seat.
Close behind followed a similar truck, though deep orange red in color and with a larger cab. “Woohoo!” Yelled the driver as he veered swiftly to the left, avoiding a rather large tree. The cab’s occupants shifted to the right, smashing abruptly against each other.
Sarah grunted, carefully pushing herself off Nick. She liked him a lot, but she was not interested in a romantic encounter with a third party present. With the mood she was in, she figured he would not be getting lucky at all matter of fact.
“We do not want to die before we get there, Bro,” laughed Nick, trying to keep his head from either hitting the window or Sarah’s head. Bashing his head open would only result in his short, spiked, bleach-blond hair turning bright red in one spot – very noticeable. Sensing Sarah’s frustration, he gently caressed her silky shoulder length, sandy brown hair.
Mike laughed, “what is the matter? Don’t like my driving?” Mike was the third stooge of the Frank and Scott circle. Resembling them in build, he was stocky in build. The major difference was that his attitude was his own and his hair was longer, past his ears, in a dirty blond shag.
Sarah tried lightening her voice. “We are not in NASCAR or playing bumper cars, Mike.” Not succeeding in altering her mood, she closed her eyes, praying for the night to be over. Praying for a fast forward button to skip over the entire event.
Mike howled in response while grinning from ear to ear, “bumper cars? Radical idea, man.”Glancing for a second to his right, he added, “hey Nick, how many points for taking out that pine ahead?”
Nick placed a protective arm around Sarah, comfortingly squeezing her shoulder. “Not tonight, bud. Maybe next time.” Nearly shutting his eyes in protection, he watched as Mike magnificently dodged the three-foot wide base of the tree. If Sarah was not with them he may chance it. Not tonight. Not with her there.
The omniscient figure of the structure stood out from the trees, silhouetted by the glowing moon. Made entirely of wood, the lights from the cars reflected from the shadowy windows of the attic and upper floor, revealing only cold and dismay. It was vacant of cobwebs, unlike expected from a supposedly haunted location. Maybe that was because most of those bedtime stories included ghosts of the dead. Trapped souls clinging to their previous existence. Waiting for an eternity for someone to help show them into the light of the beyond. No. This place was different. There were no lost souls, eager and hungry for vengeance because of the violent lives they lived or heinous deaths they incurred. It was not a place where hundreds died defending the land or a sacred burial place of ancestors. The house was just pure evil.
Instead of a structure created by human hands it was more of a vessel for unnamed evil. This sinistral energy did not simply live within the confining walls but more like it was the structure and belongings.
Sarah was the first to emerge from the vehicle, although tentatively. Frightened exhilaration drove them all this evening, though fear through her more so than the rest. Apprehension of what tomorrow would bring and the exhilaration of wanting to find something mysterious in the house of wonders before them. Nothing was much better than friends gathered in a small space together.
With each bump in the dirt, the sport utility squeaked from abuse and age. From the back, Todd could not resist commenting. “Yo Jarrett, think your ride could make a little more noise?” Laughing in between, he added, “sounds like a family of rats or something.” Laughing, he placed a hand possessively on Beth’s thigh. Dating the longest in a group had its advantages. He did not have to worry about the others making plays for his girl. Most of them went to the same schools growing up. Knew each others strengths and weaknesses. Todd’s weakness was possessiveness.
“Ha ha,” Jarrett sarcastically laughed, glancing briefly into the rear-view mirror.. It was not perfect, but it was completely his. No payments, no liens. Worked his butt off for it, sweating at that bike shop. Gently tapping the dashboard as if it were an animal’s head he added, “at least I have a ride. Didn’t your Schwinn get stolen?”
“No, that was Tucker’s Schwinn and if I remember right you are the one who stole it.”
“Oh yeah.” Laughing at the memory, Jarrett braked hard to avoid a skirmishing animal. All he could make out were the glowing eyes in the headlights. “Jeez! Did you guys see that thing?” Shaking his head for clarity, he gripped tighter on the wheel. “That thing came out of nowhere.”
The green Chevy Tahoe effortlessly made its way through the crowding trees. It had a nearly perfect paint job, expensive rims, completed by the deeply tinted windows. Gregg intensely kept his eyes focused on the trees in front of him as much as his mind on the interior conversation.
“It just does not make any sense,” Ashley concluded as if with profound wisdom. “I mean, she has a hot guy like Tom yet she is never with him. What gives?” Rolling her hazel eyes in frustration and crossing her arms, she fell back against her seat.
Gregg took the brief silence as opportunity to add his opinion. “Do you have the hots for Tom or something, Ash?” Laughing, he glanced into the rear-view mirror for her reaction. There was nothing like a 16-year-old with a jealous streak. Living as her neighbor for the best part of her life he had seen it many times. Her return squint-eyed glare proved his suspicions right. “Uh huh, see.”
Laura looked out the window into the blindly passing trees, trying her best to stay out of the conversation. Though she had known Gregg and Ashley nearly their entire lives, she did not know Tom nor Zoe as well. Sure, Tom was good looking. He always had something to comment on. He could not hold down a job to save his life. Zoe, well she always seemed more quiet and reserved the few times she was around.
Jeff, on the other hand could not wait to add his comments into the conversation, from the seat beside Laura. Throwing an arm carelessly around her shoulders, he piped in, “ha! Ashley and Tom?” His roaring laughter echoed throughout the car.
Ashley, finally redeeming herself, added, “that has nothing to do with it.” This naturally sparked more contagious laughter in the vehicle. “It is just weird is all. If you are dating someone then you should be with them. You know, hang out and stuff. Tom’s always around but Zoe is not.”
Kristen, in the passenger seat, shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe she is just not into him. Or maybe she is seeing someone else.” Not being part of the group that grew up together, Kristen did not try to guess too much. She was fitting in presently and would remain that way as long as Gregg wanted her close to him.
Gregg did not look in her direction, concentrating on the trees, but replied, “why can’t it just be who she is? Maybe she just does not like hanging out with a bunch of idiot potheads without jobs?”
All was quiet for a moment. Everyone contemplated the possibility of the statement. Jeff rolled down his window and howled, letting the cool winter air in. In it for the moment. Every second of every day counted, and he damn sure had intentions to make the most of it.
Though most of the partiers quickly emerged from the parked vehicles, Jarrett and Gregg remained the last two to head toward the growing circle of friends in front of the increasing line of automobiles. There was no genuine hurry. It was already agreed to wait until everyone arrived before going inside.
“Hey, man!” Jarrett lazily walked to stand next to Gregg. They had been friends longer than the rest. Nearly since they were in diapers though neither one remembered exactly how they met. Clasping hands in a brotherly hand shake, they leaned simultaneously against Gregg’s Tahoe.
Jarrett did not tower over Gregg, but he was several inches taller than Gregg’s five-feet eight inches. Jarrett wore his dark brown hair in a cut so short that it would be a buzz cut if it were just a fraction shorter. Gregg’s was just a little longer and dark blond. Gregg’s eyes were a shimmering, hazel green whereas Jarrett’s were deep brown, almost black if deeply angered.
“So where is your cousin?” Gregg asked, crossing his arms in front of him while keeping an eye on everyone as he typically did. He was always the one to jump in and stop the unnecessary from happening. The bouncer of the group. Solid in build, efficiently strong to handle even big Mike, and very quick to think. Jarrett was far skinnier, but just as quick and agile.
Jarrett, scanning the crowd for possible issues as Gregg did, replied, “kind of dropped off the planet again. I am sure we will hear from him in a few weeks or something.” Charlie’s parents were in and out of rehab while they grew up so Jarrett’s parents took in the troubled boy. Jarrett’s cousin was a few years older than them both in age, but growing up they did everything together. From fishing, to biking, even drinking early on - they were the three musketeers for a very long time. But not so much lately. “What time is it?” Jarrett asked.
Glancing at his watch, Gregg answered, “7:15.”
The view from the white box van was nearly as black as the sky. Faint amber lights bounced in front of them to lead the way.
“Do you even know where you are going?” scoffed Mary from the back, clearly agitated. “I can not even see them.”
Dan rolled his eyes. If only there was swamp area nearby, he thought. A body could remain uncovered indefinitely in a swampy bog. He would be very quiet about it. Why did he have to get stuck with Miss Will Not Stop Complaining? He gladly would have gladly for any other passenger. But oh no! Not with his luck. “Well, Mary, that explains why you are not driving.” The response was calm, he thought.
Mary abruptly cut him off in her typical, curt tone, “do you know what, Dan?”
“No, but I am sure you are going to tell me.” Bracing himself for the expected verbal tirade, instead a ball cap suddenly falling into his lap caught him off guard. Flinching from the assault he looked to the passenger seat to see Kate glaring at him. He asked, “what?”
“You remained quiet, not a single sarcastic remark for thirty-five minutes. You just could not wait a few more minutes.” Kate just wanted the bickering to stop. Sure, Mary complained about everything under the sun. They should expect it by now. It was not as if Mary was new to the group. Okay, so it was always the guys inviting her, but even that did not make her a bad person in Kate’s eyes. They just needed to find a way to tolerate her.
The awkward silence grated on Zoe’s nerves more than Mary’s constant verbal assaults. Smacking Tom’s leg, Zoe nodded toward Dan in the driver seat. Silently she mouthed, “say something.”
Tom shrugged her hand off, looking desperately for a topic idea. He did not feel the desire to fit in with this group quite so much as Zoe did. He lacked the brute quality found in Mike, Scott, and Frank. He did not feel the need to protect like Gregg and Jarrett. The only one who came close to being his type of person to hang out with was Jake. Tom was more quiet and moody than Jake though. The need for idle chit chat was not on his agenda for the night, but he would do anything Zoe asked. “Uh, Dan...” he hesitantly began.
“Yeah, bro,” Dan called from the front. He welcomed any change in conversation right now. It would help keep his mind of Kate and her mood swings.
“Where did you find a van like this?”
“Like what, Bro?”
“It has ‘kidnapper’ written all over it. Come on, man. Tinted windows, lay down seats, shag carpet ...” Again Zoe smacked him, only this time in his arm. Well, he thought, she had not told him what to say.
Dan’s reply was less than friendly, “do not knock the ride, bro. At least I have a vehicle.” Game, point, and match.
Rolling her eyes, Zoe turned to face Mary, sitting across from them. “So, Frank is coming tonight.” She did not particularly care for Mary’s company, but she made do with what she had. Like with Tom. She had not sought him out. She had not expected a relationship. She also had not expected to have feelings for someone while seeing him. She knew she could analyze things until they were nothing more than a speck of dust and all she would get out of it was the dust, so she tried to immerse herself in present company.
“Yeah, I guess.” Mary was agitated. She did not want to be going to this desolate place. It was all Frank’s idea. Of course she did not like him the way she knew he liked her, but she worked with what she had for the promise of free booze.
It appeared as though Zoe would have to damn near pull teeth for a decent conversation with this group. Sighing deeply, she added, “well, do you like him?” She could not be the only one of the bunch to notice Frank’s longing glances whenever Mary was in the room.
Mary answered with bored indifference, “I do not know. I really never thought about it. I mean, he’s just Frank.” Thankfully, she felt the van slowing. They were there. No more boring, idle conversations. She wondered if there was any chance of sneaking a beer from the cooler in the back of Mike’s truck before they went in. She supposed she could always try charming Frank into giving her one.
Back at the parked cluster of cars, Scott impatiently, yelled, “let’s party!”
Jarrett hollered back in agreement from his spot against Gregg’s car, “hell yeah! Light it up!”
Ashley slapped Jarrett on the arm. “No, wait for everyone to get here.” Being the youngest in the group had its advantages. She could aggravate them as much she wanted with little to no retaliation. She turned around quickly at the sound of an approaching vehicle. Her eyes light up as she recognizes the van pulling up.
Frank said, “it looks like Dan, Kate, and Lisa.”
Mike ran up to Lisa as she emerged, giving her a warming hug and kiss. “Hey baby.” Getting frisky, he gave her his charming, casual smile, “missed you.”
Dan rolled his eyes, “you two are gay.” Kate smacked his arm, joining by his side as they approached the others.
Mary slowly made her way up the stairs, indifferent to those around her. She failed to notice Frank’s glance as he passed her to join Mike. “What is the story with the house?” she asked to no one in particular. From everything she had heard, this place should be dusty and have spooky cob webs all over the place. Oddly there were none.
Jake replied in the deepest, most sinister voice he could muster, “it was a crazy farm and the doctor started killing all the people.” He smiled as the girls seemed to look warily from one to another. The eerie stories did not scare him any.
Laughing, Jarrett decided to set the record straight. “That is not what happened. The house has demons in it and every year they come back to kill.”
Ashley playfully bounced up the stairs, telling them to stop playing around. “You two smoke too much weed. You are high,” she said.
Frank placed his callused fingers casually on Ashley’s shoulder. “You are just jealous because Gregg will not let you guys smoke in his ride.” Moving as close as he could to Mary, Frank found a place against the structure to sit and wait for the others. Excitement filled the air now. This was it. One more carload left to arrive. Then the whole gang would be there, and they could escape the cold air.
Sarah asked, “it is 7:20. Where is everyone?” She figured that the sooner they got inside, the sooner she could escape this dreadful feeling creeping over her. Inside there were bound to be lights of some sort, she hoped. She wondered if the tales were fact or myth that the light always chased away the horrible unknown.
Scott replied, “they are on their way.” He glanced around at the others, finally focusing his attention on Ashley. He smiled. She was such a sweet girl he wondered how she managed to remain single.
As the Caprice made its way blindly through the trees, rap music blared from the speakers, thumping waves of sound into the ground beneath the tires. The only light in front in the eerie blackness was the headlights. Slowly, it crept through the overwhelming mass of trees.
Amy turned the radio down, “how much longer do we have to go?”
Token replied, “I do not know. I am just following directions.” Agitated, he reached to turn the radio back up. He welcomed anything to drown out both her voice and the otherwise silence.
Noticing the headlights emerging from the trees, Tom yelled, “here they come!”
Dan said “looks like she brought Token with her.”
Kristen added with excitement, “Time to go in. It’s 7:53. Let’s start partying.”
Mike and his good friend Scott playfully shoved each other as they mounted the stairs. Grabbing on to the wood rail to regain his balance, Scott’s expression changed from laughing to serious. Cold chills went up his spine that he could not explain.
Mike tried turning the antique looking door handle. After two frustrating tries at turning it, the inner hinges gave and the knob freely turned. Pushing, he found the inner door seal more difficult to over come. He used all his body weight trying to shove the door free, but it refused. It was as though the door was securely sealed from the inside to keep intruders out. Dan, noticing a problem, joined him. Together they both used all their force, banging their shoulders against the door to free it. After several attempts, and undoubtedly bruised shoulders, the door finally creaked open.
As she made her way up the stairs, Sarah repeated how they should go to the mud hole instead. She would do just about anything to make the others change their minds. She could not be the only one with enough sense to know something was wrong here. And what was wrong with the mud hole anyway? It is how they typically spent free time on the weekend. Why did tonight have to be that different?
Nick reassured her for what would not be the last time that night. “What could possibly go wrong?” With his arm around the small of her back guiding her, Nick gently nudged the reluctant Sarah through the doorway and into the sitting room.
Together Gregg, Kristen, and Zoe approached the open yet uninviting door. Kristen reached warily for Gregg’s hand in comfort, finding only his jacket.
Frank and Scott continued laughing as they crossed the threshold. Frank reached out, laying a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “So, um Tom old buddy, working yet?”
Without looking back Tom continued forward, searching for Zoe. “No, got feelers out though.”
Scott asked sarcastically, “is that what they call it these days? Feelers? When is the last time you copped a feel, Tom?” Frank leaned against the door, unable to control his bout of laughter.
Tom stopped, though only briefly, avoiding turning to look at the others. This is what he got for trying to fit in. He asked nothing of these people but respect. Did he get it? Not even a glimpse. If you were not born into this group you just were not going to fit in no matter what. The worst part was somehow Zoe managed, and she knew the group members even less than he. Jealousy edged into his mind as he continued his search.