Peter wandered along the side of the narrow road, his gaze held by the circle of warm, orange light that was cast on the sidewalk. Besides the occasional blinding flash of a car's headlights, this glow, emitted by a single streetlamp, was the only thing he could guide off of in the darkness of the night.

Smothering the boy were thick rows of trees. He stole a quick glance upwards. Thin, finger-like branches stretched high up, and then moved inwards towards the others on the opposite side. Patches of starless, black sky were just barely visible over the tops.

Dazed by his surroundings, Peter took a half-step back narrowly avoiding a collision with the streetlamp. He smiled, self-satisfied, just before a shaky hand grabbed a fistful of his unkempt hair and pushed his head forward into the pole. Immediately, Peter felt the pain that he had escaped just seconds before. He brought his hand up to his forehead, pressing into and rubbing the spot where he could feel an intense throbbing.

Peter could still sense someone behind him. How could this guy have the nerve to still be standing here? He's done his damage already. What more could he possibly want with some stranger? "What's—your—problem," Peter uttered through gritted teeth. His right hand curled into a fist that he brought up as he turned around. He was hoping to hit this stranger, but no one was there.

Peter blinked fast and raised his eyebrows, a mixture of disbelief, shock, and utter confusion written across his face. As he quickly turned back around, he recoiled at the face of his best friend, Eric.

He swore, letting out a sigh.

"What's with you?" Eric questioned. With a sly grin he added, "You finally swore. You never do that."

"And you never scare me, but I guess things change, don't they?"

Eric ignored Peter's retort. As usual, he couldn't think of anything better, or equally as good to say to it so he ventured back to his original motive. "What's up with your face?"

"I, um …" Peter was confused by the sincerity of Eric's question. He had been thinking that Eric was getting some kind of revenge on him from running him into a wall days ago. But now, he guessed that that wasn't the case. "I ran into the pole," Peter confessed half-truthfully. "It's nothing, really."

Eric promptly examined the injury on his friend's forehead. "Doesn't look like it," he observed, slowly reaching out his index finger to poke the bump.

Peter slapped Eric's arms away. "Don't touch it!" he said, his voice coming out higher than he had wanted it to. Eric snickered, but before he could crack a joke Peter asked "What're you even doing out here?"

"I could ask you the same thing." Eric saw the impatient look on Peter's face and rethought his answer. "I just wanted to tell you about a shortcut I found. It's just through there." He jerked a thumb to the right, towards the dense woods.

"I'd rather go around…." His voice trailed off as he peered into the woods. In all reality, this 'shortcut' of Eric's didn't look to be too safe.

"Oh, c'mon." Eric nudged Peter with his elbow. "Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's g—"

"Okay!" Peter cut him off. He knew where Eric wouldn't stop bugging him until he agreed, that's how it always went.

So instead of following his own instincts the two boys ventured into the forest.

Blindly, Peter threw his arms out in front of him scratching the back of his hand on the rough bark of a nearby tree. For the third time, Eric reprimanded him. "Quit it, Pete."

Peter uttered an apology and continued following Eric through a series of twists and turns. "Hey, I don't think my house is this way," Peter started off timidly. "You're going too far. Let's turn back. Let's just—"

"I know what I'm doing," Eric snapped, and Peter fell into silence.

The two boys kept moving forward, Peter once again getting lost in his surroundings. He listened closely to the faint sound of tires crunching over loose gravel and stepped in time with the chirp of crickets. By this point, his eyes had adjusted to the darkness and he convinced himself that he was starting to see the outline of his small, one-story house in the distance.

The boys were almost out of the woods when Eric stopped a couple yards away from Peter. "Here we are," he stated with a hint of self-righteousness.

Peter shook his head slightly then pointed off into the distance. "It's over there." He was sure of it.

Eric waved away Peter's words. "I know, I know, but this"—he made a grand gesture to the house—"is gonna be better."

"How do you even know? I don't wanna break into someone's home."

"It's in a forest. Nobody's gonna live here. Now, just look at it." Slowly, he stepped closer and closer to the front door until he was directly in front of it. "Don't you wanna know what's inside," he tempted.

Peter tried to imagine what Eric was seeing. Although he couldn't make out every detail of the house, he could see that the walls, the roof, even the windows seemed to be curving inwards, covering itself in a dark shadow. Peter's eyes traveled the length of the structure. He found it strange that the house was so nested within the trees. It was almost as if it were a part of them.

"Don't be so scared. You walk home every night, but now suddenly you're afraid of the dark?"

"I'm not afraid." Just as Peter finished his sentence he felt that same presence that was with him earlier. He was uncomfortable standing where he was so he hurried to the front door. "Okay," Peter sighed. "We have to be quick though."

Eric flashed a smile setting a hand on the doorknob. He twisted it and surprisingly the door came open easily. "All right!"

The wooden floorboards creaked loudly underneath the shoes of Peter and Eric. The sound was unsettling Peter; he weighed each of his steps until Eric halted him.

"What?" Peter started to ask, and Eric shushed him.

"Did you see that?" Eric questioned. Peter followed Eric's gaze the corner of the room. A flash of red made him jump up.

"Yeah … maybe we should just go," Peter suggested.

Instead, Eric moved steadily towards the radiating redness in the corner.

Peter rushed up behind Eric. "I don't think that such a good idea," he advised gently, but Eric wasn't listening to him. Peter stepped in front of his friend. "That's not a good idea, Eric." He tried to make his voice sound strong.

"Get out of the way." Eric demanded, pushing him aside. "I know what I'm—"

"No you don't!" The words had slipped from Peter's mouth. "You think you know everything, but you don't. I really have to get home now."

Eric kneeled and began rummaging through an abandon drawer. "Fine, but I'm staying here until I find something good."

Peter suppressed a sigh. He knew that there was something off about this night and he didn't want to leave Eric out here by himself, but at the same time he himself didn't want to be in the forest any longer.

Peter tried one last time to get his friend out of this place. "Could you at least help me get out of here?"

"You already know where to go," Eric replied defiantly. He held up a piece of shiny metal that reflected moonlight around the room and then tossed it back in the drawer. "If you want to go, then go. No one's stopping you. I just wish you would stop being such a baby about everything."

When it became clear that Eric wasn't going to say any more, Peter turned to leave. "There's something weird going on out here," Peter began. "I don't know what, but it's creeping me out. It's the thing that smacked my head against that streetlamp earlier and I dunno, I can just sense it around this place. That's why I want to get out of here. That'swhy I want you to get out of here. We shouldn't be messing with this stuff."

A great number of clinks and clanks sounded from the corner.

"Are you even listening?" Peter asked, incredulous.

No answer.

"You know what? Never mind." Peter slammed the door shut behind him and just as he did a chilling wind brushed past him, leaving a path of goosebumps on his exposed skin. The wind traveled through the windows, into the house, and encircled the entire room, bringing up dust, paper, leaves, old frames, and everything else that was lying on the ground. Immediately Peter tried to get back inside, but knob wouldn't turn. He pounded his fists against the wooden door, hopping to tear it down, but of course he was unsuccessful.

"Eric?" Peter called out. He strode to the one of the small windows and peered in. His vision was obscured by the dirt-stained glass but it would have to do. When the disturbance inside settled, a man came into view. The man's image didn't seem human at all. His form was distorted; he was shaky, unstable.

Peter shook his head, disbelieving. A million regrets flooded his mindbut it was too late to turn back. His friend was inside a stranger's house with some kind of psychotic force and he couldn't just leave him there.

Peter ran the perimeter of the house trying to find another way in. He slammed his shoulder against the front door, attempting to knock it in.

"Ssstop that," the man hissed.

Peter paid no attention to the command and slammed his shoulder against the door again.

"I told you to ssstop," the man repeated. The same wind that had been tracking Peter spiraled around his body and threw him into the door. Peter stumbled backwards.

"L-let him get out. He didn't do anything." Peter wasn't sure what it was that this guy wanted, but he knew it couldn't be good.

"This—is—my—houssse." With each word spoken, Peter heard an accompanying crash. Theman invoked another strong wind that broke through the tiny glass windows and ripped the door down. Peter slid through the broken pieces of broken wood, trying to avoid the sharp edges.

The room was messy with no sign of a fight. No blood, no scratches, just disorder. The man had disappeared from the scene. Curled up in the corner was Eric. He looked paler than usual even in the shadows.

Eric blinked his eyes and then opened them up wide. They appeared translucent as he stared up at the ceiling. "I think … I think we should go now."

"What happened?" The question sounded dumb coming from his mouth.

Eric shook his head and propped himself up on his elbow. His entire frame trembled underneath the silvery moonlight that poured in from a shattered window. "We have to get out of here."

4