ACT I

"In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was
lost."

~ Dante Alighieri


CHAPTER I

Somehow, even the air conditioning couldn't stop the humidity from seeping in. The windows couldn't open, and the haze sagged with moisture.

Honestly, it's the least of my concerns. I sighed and fan myself. Which only really added to the heat on the damn thing.

"Jack, sit up," my Mom grumbles. Probably for the fifth time since the train's started. I don't really want to. I'm stuck to the leather seat coverings anyways. There's no WiFi, the reception's getting worse by the minute, and I miss everyone back home already. I don't know what Mom wants me to do to pass the time, but I doubt that staring out the window will interest me as much as it would've when I was, like, 6.

I'm occupying myself, swiping left and right through pictures and videos of friends left behind for the three-month stretch of heat and water sports on my phone.

"Jack," she whispers, giving me her "Mom" stare.

I sigh and take my feet off the seat across from me. No one was sitting there; it's just an empty seat. My backpack's there. And it's not like we're gonna be getting any more people on this train. Every time we're on it, people're getting off rather than on. With names like Port Lindsay, Cape Mitchell, and Alabaster Cove, why wouldn't people want to get off there? Those're big oceanside places. And in the summer, they blow up. And they actually have things to do there, like the piers at Cape Mitchell. Or the Luna Park in Port Lindsay.

I sigh again as another station name for another ocean side town rolled by. The train turned and rolled north, away from the sea.

South Aberford. Which, as cliché as it is, isn't the last stop on the line out of town. But my big thing with it is that…it's just so out there. There's nothing around it for miles, and there's not much to do in the damn place, especially if you don't have a car. Like, growing up, I remembered hiking, climbing trees, and swimming in the lake.

Now it's just inconviencing. It doesn't get good reception, and it doesn't really scream "SUMMERTIME FUN." At least, to me, it doesn't anymore.

"Jack," Mom says. She's giving me that look again. I didn't even realize I had my feet up again, but by that point, it doesn't really matter to me. I just want her to stop.

"Are we there yet?"

Dad laughs from behind the newspaper. "Right on cue. We just left Morris River."

I groan and slouch in my seat.

Mom hits me with her magazine. "Sit up. It isn't good for your back."

"'It isn't good for your back'," I mock back.

She hits me again. Sighing, she reclines into her seat. "Ever time," she mutters to herself.

So I go back to burning holes in my phone's screen. Me and my soccer team, me and Julia, me and…huh. That picture shouldn't be there, actually. So they're moved into another folder, ready for deletion.

"Y'know, two trains and a taxi is too much of a hassle for a vacation," I say openly, but nobody cares. It's still going to pull into South Aberford promptly and punctually, whether I like it or not.

My mom's words from earlier – a pleading request – bounce around in my head for a moment. Every summer, it was an easy thing to promise. And every summer, something happens that makes me have to break it.

She doesn't understand it.

The train car feels hotter now.

"Jackson." I look at Mom, who watching the outside world move around us. "Look," she whispers, her finger almost touching the plastic glass.

Over a stone bridge and through a cluster of trees does South Aberford appear from across the lake, unblocked, sparkling against the blue waters, the rolling green mountains, and the blue sky. The train seems to roll a little slower from this point, as if taking in the fairy-tale town forgotten by time.

Aaaaaand I'm over it. I'm good now.

Dad taps my leg. "Come on. It's our stop." He stands to grab his bag.

"Finally," I mutter, standing. I grab my shit and head for the end of the car, Dad leading the way and Mom in pursuit.

The train station's pretty. I mean, it's always pretty. Every window has flower boxes that're filled with blooming flowers. It's one of those immaculate stations where the building itself isn't open to the public.

I'm certain dead bodies are being stored in there.

Oh, and we're the only ones that get off.

"Do my eyes deceive me?" someone says. Mr. Harwood walks over the tracks towards us. "Will! How're you?"

He shakes my Dad's hand. "Hi, Paul. We're good." Dad looks him over, Mr. Harwood wearing his "summer shorts", and asks, "You've already unpacked?"

Mr. Harwood nods, grinning. "We wanted to restock for you guys this year," he says, taking my bag. "Hi, Jackson. How was your school year?"

I shrug. "It was okay. My team almost made it to regionals this year."

"That's great, right?" he asks. "You were aiming for regionals last year."

I'm impressed he remembered. I wouldn't of. Then again, I see the guy once a year, so the fact that he remembers, I'm kinda touched. "Eh," I say, shrugging. "Would've liked it even more if we made it to regionals." I inhale. "Still, we were close."

Mr. Harwood leads us through the station to the pickup truck parked out front.

"…wow," Dad whispers, looking down Main Street.

"C'mon, guys," Mr. Harwood says.

And then I know why Dad whispered.

Half the shops are boarded up. A candy shop, two restaurants, a hardware store…Main Street looks like it's dying.

"What happened?" asks Mom. She's more interested in D'Agostinos, an Italian place she and Mrs. Harwood like to go and get drunk at. It's closed.

Mr. Harwood shrugs. He doesn't have an answer for her.

Mom and Dad take the back seat, and I sit in the back with the window open so I can scream at them if I need to.

Driving through town is weirdly surreal. The streets are brick, the streetlights are black and look like they've been pulled from…like, London in the 1900's. Most of the buildings look like they've been there for a hundred years already, except for two – the Heritage Theatre and the New Town Hall – both of which already don't compare to anything in the real world.

And most of the ones we pass are empty. Shopfronts are brightly colored, but the insides are dark and dusty-looking. It's like a bad Disneyland nightmare.

"What happened?" I hear Mom ask again. We turn onto the street with the theater. More stores are closed. I'm waiting for Mr. Harwood to say they're filming a Depression-era film here.

But Mr. Harwood sighs. The car moves a little faster through the streets before we get to Lakeside Drive.

The transition's, like, jarring. There's a street with shops and shit on one side, and then the forest starts. There's always one building that tells me we're heading outside town – this pink and white house that looks like a big dollhouse overlooking the lake. Ergo, I call it that.

But the Dollhouse isn't there anymore. In its place is the concrete foundation.

"What happened to the Dollhouse?"

Mom turns to me. "What?"

"That pink house back there."

Mr. Harwood looks at me for a second before turning back to the winding road. "There were a few places that got swept away in the winter storm." We turn around a sharp corner and the empty lot on the corner disappears. The truck shudders as the truck veers towards the lake, but one hard tug at the steering wheel throws us back into the right lane.

"Everyone's at the cottage?" asks Mom.

"Mhm. Lisa's prepping the cookout," says Mr. Harwood.

The rest of the ride's awkward, and Dad and Mr. Harwood talk about nothing really important. Mom turns to me on occasion and asks if I'm doing okay. I've gone back to swiping left and right through my pictures.

It's when there's this twisting pain in my gut that I look up from my phone.

Our cottage is one of those typical small lake house everyone sees. White wood walls with a tan roof, and all the windows are blue. When we got the place when I was four, they wanted to name it something stupid like "Lake Cottage" or "Treehouse Cottage".

Actually, wait, one of those was mine.

Long story short, we just call it the Cottage.

But right now, I could be dying because I haven't eaten anything today. That's not the big issue. It's the sounds my stomach is making.

As soon as I get out of the car, I can smell something wrong. There's smoke in the air, and I immediately assume Rory's done something. But then Mr. Harwood trots around the side and laughs. "Lisa, what're you doing?"

"Making sure the firepit works!"

Dad shakes his head and hands me his suitcase. "Jackson, you can leave it in the living room, okay?" He runs around the side to see what's happening.

Mom and I lug the stuff in.

Light floods into the living room while the kitchen is dark. There're no walls between the two rooms but there's just more windows on one side than the other. It also might not help that there's a screened-in porch just outside the kitchen. But despite how light it is, the air smells like dust and staleness. Blue and white are everywhere, on every surface, every fabric. This place is like Martha Stewart's wet dream from the 80's. It's trying to be "beachy" but it's more like "Grandma liked blue and white so that's where we are now".

But goddamn have a lot of things happened in this house.

Mom and Dad's bedroom is on the ground floor next to Mr. and Mrs. Harwood's. My room upstairs. I share with Rory.

"Okay, I'm gonna go unload my stuff," I whisper, heading up the stairs.

"Jackson," Mom whispers, and I stop. "Remember. Please?"

I sigh. "I promise, Mom." And I head up after texting Julia I've made it to summer "fun".

First task of the day – see what Rory did to the door. Because last year I saran-wrapped the bottom of the doorframe and he tripped and got a bloody nose. The year before that, he tried to jump out at me like a jump scare. That also resulted in him getting a bloody nose.

This year, he hasn't done anything. No oil on the floor, no saran wrap, nothing ready to jump out at me. The curtains are pulled back, the lights are on and everything feels

normal.

So, naturally, I'm scared shitless.

I'm treading lightly as I throw my shit on my bed. My eyes are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, because I'm waiting. I unzip my bag, and I'm waiting for Rory to pop out. I'm putting my clothes away in the dresser by my bed, and I'm waiting for him to grab me from under the bed.

It's only really when I pull out my blanket do I begin feeling a little better.

And yes, it is ridiculous for a teenager like me to be carrying around a blanket like this. But it's got stars on it and it was sewn by my grandma when I was little.

And it's so fucking huge I was able to make pillow forts with it for ten years.

Now it's just out of habit I have it. Grandma's not gone, but I like it. It makes me feel safe, like a stuffed animal for a little kid, or a smartphone for someone born after 2000.

I pull back the top sheet on the bed and I get dizzy.

Little black things with legs.

Little black things with legs.

Little black things with legs.

I scream. I can't help it. I slip backwards and run down the stairs. Mom catches me by the kitchen.

"Woah, woah, woah. Jackson, what? What?"

My hands're shaking. My skin crawls at just remembering them. "B-bugs." I stick out my tongue, disgusted. "Big ones."

Her eyes narrow and she goes back upstairs. I do my deep breathing, hand over my stomach and feeling the steady rise and fall of my diaphragm. Falling back on the couch, I close my eyes and keep doing it.

"Jackson?" I open them, and Mom's on the balcony over me. "Sweetheart, they're Halloween bugs." She holds up one, and my stomach turns. "They're plastic. They're not real." Mom drops one down and it lands behind the couch. "Feel a little better?"

I peek up at it from the other side of the couch. It's landed upside down and I'm able to see not just the hollow inside, but also the letters that says who molded it.

I look back to Mom. "This was the first shot," I say, bouncing up onto my feet.

"Jackson – "

"Mom, this isn't okay. He declared war."

"Jackson, you promised me."

"But Mom – !"

Mom's heading down the stairs. "Jackson, please. This might be one of our last summers here. Be the bigger man and play nice."

I groan and launch myself over the couch, stepping on the plastic thing. Still, my skin crawls. The sweat of my foot keeps it there until I pound my heel into the floor, and it bounces free.

"Hi, Jackson." I turn and Rory's leaning against the wall, soda in hand. "Like my gift?" He strolls casually over to me and smiles. "Lets have fun this summer, okay?" His smile is creepy and menacing. Rory turns, sipping his soda, and walks out the door to the back patio.

I'm not that hungry anymore.

But I have never felt the urge to punch someone more than I did with Rory Harwood in that moment.


Author's Note~
HELLO EVERYONE! i've already planned out everything for SomeWhere On... so i had a little free time to begin writing this piece lol. i hope you enjoy it!