The rain was ceaseless in the town of Calve Junction.
“You could say the gangly one touched you,” said the one with the blonde hair and sunken chin, “he looks like he has money.” The one with dirty skin—laying on his stomach like the rest of them—peered through binoculars at a similar group of young men down the hill and across the field from their encampment, who themselves were spying on a nearby building. “He looks poor, and you should know. Because you’re poor is why,” chided the fat one with the freckles and an apparent addiction to temporary tattoos. The rain streaked down him like a clown.
The blonde boy shuffled forward with his elbows and bit his bottom lip in contemplation, exaggerating his concentration as his two friends looked on in silence. “It’s no good,” he said, “they have bodycams.” “All of them?” asked nobody in particular. Blondie nodded. The scam wouldn’t work; the prey was initiated.
The subjects of the Hill Boys’ scheme—Cedric Loon, D.K. Cincinnati, and Forrest Tawdry—laid neatly in a row beneath a wrinkled green tarp with a membrane of sweat and grass percolation soaking their week-old shirts. Their uniforms.
D.K. was the first to catch everyone’s eyes, with a face covered in bruises and the occasional old Band-Aid. He was the only one who had tools on him, held proudly outside of his pants and ready for action. Having a penchant for preparedness but also flair, his red galoshes stood out against the night. Cedric was clad entirely in blue denim and wore a weathered hat that read “TGIF.” Forrest wore glasses and, like most youths his age, that defined a large percentage of his personality. He was the only one with long hair, but having a deep aversion to bathing wore it secured under a black bandana. The remainder of his personality could be filled in with an oversized leather jacket he never took off.
Cedric clutched binoculars to his eyes and quietly surveyed the building: their darkened, single-floor school, and completely unaware of their younger stalkers.
“See anything?” whispered Forrest like a palm across sandpaper. Cedric shook his head, “I saw something before, but it’s too early to tell.” Forrest carefully popped open the lid on an unmarked bottle of pills and mouthed two, struggling to swallow. He inched closer to Cedric: “Whatever you wanna do tonight, it’s up to you, man.” Cedric carefully slid some dice out of his front pocket and flipped it coin-like, absentmindedly, landing in the grass away from him. “What does it say?” he asked, still glued to the binoculars. D.K. crawled over like an eager dying man and inspected it without touching, “six.” Cedric nodded firmly. The boys mimicked a squad. “That seals it. Keep watching the doors, and when you see him we pursue.” D.K. crawled back over, “So your mom is gonna get mad at ‘six’ then?” Cedric lowered the binoculars and strobe-lighted angry eyes to his friend, “we’re working on it. Don’t worry about it. Stop talking like an indoor kid.” They each turned and eyeballed the exit sign lit up closest to them. It was through there that Jarry Doors would leave the school every night but was never seen entering. Same time, same exist.
Calve Junction. Rain-slicked and grey. The rain fell from the stars themselves. A place rich with miniature myths. One popular story, mishandled and reworked over years like a coat arcing through wardomes, was of the time before the rain.
Giant boulders of salt hung in the air as an affront to whomever. Tiny black dots smeared extraterrestrial lines upon the ground. Zones of torture and existential crumpling. Relics of the carnage were said to lay beneath the lines drawn upon the wretched paper. Fathers and mothers emerged from the wreckage with manhole covers for minds. They came to bring order like insects. Some say they mad the town. The story mutated and reinforced a rigid subculture among the children who slowly but surely came to see their parents as alien oppressors. Clandestine missions were an important part of life.
The central myths, and the satellite tales. For years, there had been stories about a shadowy man stalking the neighborhoods, and some rudimentary detective work lead the three young men to discover he left from the school at the same time every night. For two full days in a row, they had skipped school and camped out all day and all night in shifts. Twice they saw Jarry Doors leave the school but never saw him reenter. The sum of these realities was quickly understood in the minds of the squad: something paranormal was occurring.
Jarry Doors emerged from the darkened school through the doors facing the squad. He dipped his body down to clear the door, putting his height somewhere above six and a half feet tall. He was draped in an ankle-length cloak that seemed to absorb the light around it like a haunted singularity and a wide-brimmed hat that obscured his face. They crept down the hill and took cover behind a sparse bushline, the rain weighting their steps, keeping him in constant and cautious view. They knew that if they lost track of him, even for a moment, he would be in the wind. The task at hand.
Not far off, their own pack of prepubescent hunters followed suit, keeping their distance and hushly conjuring methods to use the controversy of their presence to get easy money. They, too, saw the figure emerge and were inspired to investigate the school. Blonde, Freckles, and Dirty sprinted chaotically, hunched over in the perfect disguise, their sneakers slapping the wet soil.
Cedric, Forrest, and D.K. tracked Jarry Doors as he snaked his way through the hushed suburban streets curtained in mist. The crimson sunset made all moves ghoulish, corralled in the perfectly measured lanes of the domestic grid. Identical homes stamped evenly along either side of them, jarring to one and comforting to another. It was late and only rare interiors were illuminated—dinners in the dark—eagerly serving lawns cooled in the breeze. The stars were so bright and clustered harshly. Jarry Doors hovered silently beneath them.
The boys hugged to parked cars and the pressure-washed brickwork, their eyes keenly trained on their target in sight and holding tight to the curb.
D.K. peered from the underside of a parked sedan and fixated on the heavy black boots standing motionless a few cars ahead. Cedric crawled closer, “You got him?” D.K. hissed back, “Yeah, he’s just standing there. Stay frosty.” D.K. stalked Jarry slip up a nearby driveway and up to the steps of an unassuming house. “He’s going into one of the houses, what do we do?”
They were silent for one beat, two beat, three beat, then, finally, Cedric made the call: “Okay, stay with him and also stay frosty. Which house was it?”
The driveway was empty; each window was obscured by thick white curtains, and all signs pointed to it being uninhabited. It looked like a computer’s approximation of what a family would live in; humanity fizzled and combusted on the doorstep. They carved a gingerish path along the side of the house; all the windows were covered, there was nothing in either the front- or the backyard, and the grass hadn’t been cut in weeks, which might as well have made it a crop circle. Over on the neighboring property, a plainly dressed man was looped back and forth in his backyard, staring at his flattened palm and murmuring to himself as if reciting notes in a trope of a nightmare.
Back on the porch, Forrest rolled his dice by his feet and inspected the result. Before they could regroup for a proper plan of attack, he rapped upon the front door, puffing his chest out while the other allowed anxiety to shackle them.
There was no answer. No stirrings, with their ears pressed against it. Cedric locked his eyes on the bay window overlooking the yard, bouncing up and down like he was about to walk to the ring. “If anything happens, those inbred kids who followed us here will be witnesses. They’re a few houses back, DON’T LOOK—“
Elsewhere, the Hill Boys moved through the empty, unlit halls of the school as a fever eagerly molested their senses. The forbidden energy of the area amplified the brazenness of their steps, putting the spice in their shoulders, having a grand time. They bobbed and swaggered through a dream, inspecting the scholarly regalia lining the walls and grabbing at locked doorknobs. A beam of light down the hall gathered them around it like spies, sarcastically gripping to the walls as their pupils dilated. They were holding back laughter. Eyes aflame.
Inside the private office with the door ajar, a tall blonde woman in an orange plaid dress spoke into a phone receiver beiged by age. A lone table lamp illuminated a stack of papers before her, which she leafed through and recited flatly while the boys peered at her from behind.
“…it goes on to say that the God Castle of Idolatry assumed the outline of a man in autopsy as it breached the atmosphere…uh, it continues: continental in scale, the shadow it cast stained the surface and permeated deep into the ground. Then there’s a drawing here that implies some sort of black radiation. I see the word ‘Holly Wood’ on more than one page, but the…exact context is unclear. It either refers to the god creature, or perhaps it’s a ship, or both. Most of the pages from here are drawings, and aside from that the writing progressively deteriorates. As far as I can tell, whatever the thing is, it leaves the planet’s orbit, but the shadow it cast remains, and we arrived and started building on top of it…no, actually…correction, they dug beneath it while building the settlement on top of it. That’s right…I can’t tell how far down from this, I’ll need to…maybe I should just join the stupid cult, this is ultimately…it feels pointless. If you saw what I’m seeing.”
The one with the blonde hair snickered through his nose and his friends jerked their heads towards him with bug-eyed alarum. The woman at the desk swung her head around, face obscured by a rubber gas mask, and slammed the receiver down.
The Hill Boys ambled backwards, fell, caught themselves, then collected themselves in a parody of heroism. The woman grabbed the dirty boy by the scruff of his T-shirt and stood there, obscured by the lines of uncertain quivers. She dragged him in and the rest followed.
“What are you boys doing here?” she yelped confidently. Her voice was like listening to an apocalyptic walkie talkie.
“Sorry, m-miss…” the dirty boy responded, his head held high, his dilated pupils locked upon her obscuring pools.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she continued, “unless…is there night school here? Are you allowed to be out here?”
The adventurers paused. The blonde one chimed in with “No, ma’am. We’re just here.”
She tightened her grip on the dirty one. “Who is supposed to be looking after you?”
“My sister,” said the dirty boy.
“Where is she?”
“She…disappeared. Nobody knows.”
“What about your parents?”
The dirty boy’s eyes, dominated with expanding pupils, gathered tears at the corners while his whole body quaked.
“They don’t care.”
“They don’t care.”
“What do you mean they don’t care?
“They’re… never home… That’s them, right?”
Across town at the home invasion, Forrest was silent while evaluating his two friends to figure out which side to take. “This could be anyone’s house,” whispered Cedric, “this feels like a crime.” D.K. already had his hand on the doorknob. “We’ll take it slow. If anyone asks, we’re from the neighborhood and we heard a weird noise.” Forrest barged into the exchange, “That’s not a very good backstory.”
“Improvise, you N,” snapped D.K. He was first through the door and all the sound was sucked away like the light into Jarry Doors’ cloak. Dull howling.
That unique new-house sensory dervish of sawter plastic wrapping enveloped the squad. All the overhead lights were off, the fixtures raw and exposed. In front of them, a set of stairs to the second floor and a pathway leading to the back end of the house and a door to the basement along the left. From there on, the boys communicated in hand gestures only loosely understood.
The house was furnished yet shrouded in thick white sheets, including bundles of indescribable matter wrapped up on the floor. Hunched all over the space; the furniture resembled contorted persons gargoyled consciously. Morbid orbs adorned the walls, the static-laced sheets betraying sunken features. It was all so placid, however. So otherworldly. So inert.
The living room to the right and the den to the left were both hardwood floors while the upstairs was carpeted. Over in the living room, amid all the occupied tapestries, a sheet of folded paper lay at the foot of what looked like a clothed and horrid toe. D.K. slid it out with the grace of a swan espying a meteor and unfolded it. The paper depicted a crude black sketch of a humanoid figure with a slapdash red mark made near the arm. D.K. displayed it to his friends gathered around behind, exchanging cartoonish expressions. He folded it back up sarcastically and put it back where he found it. They proceeded towards the opened basement door, noting that the lights were on while Forrest lingered in near the stairs to the second floor.
D.K. was first creeping down the stairs, keeping one hand near the door for presumed emergency purposes. He was followed by Cedric, operating from the same rulebook. The walls, like everything else in the house, were bare plaster. They were halfway down, cautiously peering around the corner, when they heard the door gently close behind them. Cedric pivoted around and saw no Forrest. He slapped his friend on the shoulder and expressed as much panic as he could with throat noises, then bounded back up the steps to find the door locked from the outside. They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity—eternity doubled in kid years—until D.K. waved him down so they could roll the dice.
Similar to the rest of the house, the basement was barren, save for one door that lead to what one could only assume was the laundry room. Cedric was the one who decided to drop the Navy SEAL act, stating flatly, “I don’t see any windows we can use anywhere. What’s going on?” D.K. was breathing heavily and had his head on a swivel, “We gotta…we gotta…get out without anyone knowing…just start looking around here…” D.K. went over to investigate the door to the other room while Cedric, for reasons unknown, began scouring for power outlets and vents.
He scrambled across the floor like a shotgunned goat when he heard the door across the room swing shut; D.K. was gone. D.K. was gone and the door he went through had a sharp relief emerging, like paper pulled over an action figure. He watched it move its arm off the doorknob, float across the walls like a projection plagued by diverse pregnancies, and go back up the stairs. He sat in the middle of the room, eyeing all the walls frozen with paranoia, white and bathed in fluorescent light.
Ever so quietly, he slid his phone from his back pocket, eyes trained on the staircase. They darted down to the screen fast enough for him to see there was no reception. The adrenaline rising, he crawled over to the door and knocked. “DEEEEE-KAAAAAAY,” he harshed. There was no response. He tapped louder, and louder, then pounded. He stopped when he heard what sounded like a strangled gong ringing from behind him. There was not enough visual evidence to say it was Jarry Doors, but the shoe fit. Once again, the figure was buried somewhere behind the wall, his big, wide smile gnarled by sharp lesions and uneven tumors pressed outward with the highest definition. Everything else about him was so smooth, made of elegant curves and captured spheres. He wasn’t breathing, though. He glided along the back of the room and around to the door, disappearing between the cracks beyond all reason. D.K.’s unmistakable voice could be heard moments later, but he didn’t sound frightened. Calm murmurs.
There were the sounds of a struggle. Multiple voices, at least three. Cedric hung close to the door but was too terrified to approach the wall. Muffled scraping. He backed away from the door. Something hit the wall and D.K. shrieked. A low mechanical humming. He looked down at the camera strapped over his heart and glared into it. “I don’t know what to do to help him.”
The lights cut out as the door at the top of the stairs slammed shut with purpose. Cedric jolted up in the sea darkness, the sounds of unidentifiable torture the only anchor point to guide him across the room. Clutching fistfuls of the air around his thighs, he stumbled forward until he hit the wall, then ambled his way to the top of the steps. Up there, he saw a long, black beak flick on the light switch like a jerky rifle barrel and slide out back through the door. Before it closed, he heard a voice on the other side say “two.”
He ran back down to the middle of the room and sat there with his camera.