I had a little free time yesterday and today so I wrote this for fun. Probably not my best writing, a little more cliched than I had initially intended, but hopefully it's still worth a read! Thanks!
I grew up in the suburbs. My childhood wasn’t particularly notable, I spent most of my life in the same house in the same town. Outsiders actually referred to our county as the “Bubble” because no one ever had to leave. You could spend your whole life in the Bubble and never know you were missing out on anything. It wasn’t until I left for college that I realized how much more of the world was out there.
A few years after I left town, my parents moved thirty miles or so south. They got about ten acres of land and quickly began to love the rural life. I was glad they were happy despite the inconvenience it caused me on my visits over breaks. It was never too much of a problem until my second visit.
The first part of the night is a bit of a blur. I had gone drinking with a few high school buddies in town and I somewhat foolishly decided to make the drive back to my parents’ house. My phone had died earlier in the evening, but I was confident that I could find my way without the assistance of the GPS. It wasn’t my first trip there and there was no reason I shouldn’t be capable.
I remember little details about the drive. I kept seeing the reflection of my headlights on the asphault ahead as I would near the top of a hill and think another car was approaching. I kept anticipating the flash of their headlights in my eyes and was surprised each time when there was nothing more than a blank stretch of road over the hill’s crest. At some point I passed a dilapidated gas station missing all of its signage. The smashed out windows and visible foliage inside were clear signs that it hadn’t been active for a while. At this point my fear I was on the wrong path was confirmed.
I must have turned the car around several times hoping to at least make it back to civilization, but I had made too many turns and I couldn’t even find the main highway anymore. I was thoroughly lost amidst the crisscrossing country roads.
The realization that I wasn’t going to make it home that night was quite sobering and I began to panic. I remember weighing my options, though I knew it was just an exercise to put off the inevitable. I had about an eighth of a tank left, according to my gas meter. That would be plenty to get me to a nearby town, but not enough to keep driving all night. I could try to find a place to park and wait it out until morning, but the thought of spending the night in my car in the dark country with no phone and no idea of where to go for help was terrifying and I knew I would never go through with it. I could think of only one other option, stopping and asking for directions.
It was late, but not so late that there wouldn’t be someone awake in at least one of the homes I passed. The trouble was choosing one. The houses I could see number three or four per mile on each side. Most of them were several hundred feet off the road along a gravel drive and unlit. They stared out at me like sentinels, daring me to disturb their slumber. Every part of me dreaded the idea of turning up one of these random driveways unannounced to drunkenly ask strangers for directions, but it was the least evil of all the options. I had to just buck up and choose one.
The decision was made easier when I saw a glimmer of light up ahead. Its proximity to the road made me hope it was a gas station or store of some sort, but those hopes were dashed the closer I drew. As I closed the distance between myself and the source of light, it revealed itself to be a small home set much closer to the road than was the norm. It was a single story and painted white. Through the curtain of shadows cast upon it, it appeared to be very well kept. The hedges were well trimmed and none of the paint seemed to be peeling. If not for the circumstances of my visit, it likely would have looked very inviting.
I took a deep breath and turned onto the gravel loop that served as a driveway. There was a minivan parked just in front of the house and I pulled up directly behind it. It took quite a bit of self-motivation to get myself out of that car, but I knew I had to make it quick. The longer I sat waiting in the driveway without making myself known, the more suspicion I would arouse.
I strode quickly up the walk and into the bright circle created by the porch light. I had planned out what I might say to whoever answered the door, but now I seemed to forget it all as my heart pounded in my chest and my palms began to sweat. Before I could convince myself otherwise, I raised my hand and allowed my knuckles to rap loudly on the wooden door.
I heard movement from within the house immediately. There was nothing spoken, just the sound of someone shuffling about. A few seconds of silence followed and I decided to fill them by announcing myself.
“Hello, I’m so sorry to bother you this late,” I called, hopefully loudly enough to penetrate the inches of wood separating myself from the house’s occupants. “I’ve just lost my way on the road and I was hoping you might be able to give me some directions.”
It’s entirely plausible that this was to quell my own fear more so than theirs. As soon as I spoke these words, I felt a surge of confidence. When there was no immediate response, I continued.
“My phone is dead so I can’t call anyone, would I possibly be able to borrow yours for one call? I just want to get home and I don’t know how.”
Still, there was nothing but silence. I probably would have turned away if I hadn’t previously heard movement inside. I knew there was someone awake, all I had to do was convince them to trust me.
“I’m really very sorry for this, I know how it must sound. I’m just new to this area and I got lost. If you could just point me in the direction of the nearest town or a gas station or anything, that would do the trick. You don’t even have to open the door, just shout it out to me and I’ll leave.”
Again, I heard nothing. I was disheartened, but not surprised. I probably wouldn’t answer if someone had come to my door at this hour out in the dark country. Judging from the toys scattered about the front lawn, the family probably had children and were not about to put them in harms way just to help out a stranger.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” I said as genuinely as I could, turning to walk down the front steps. Just then, the sound of the deadbolt turning caught my attention once more and I whirled about.
I stood, expectantly, waiting for the door to open. When nothing happened, I began to reason that they could have easily been locking it out of fear. But why wouldn’t they have done that as soon as I knocked? Why wait until I was about to leave? The alcohol still residing in my bloodstream convinced me to step forward and try the handle. Confirming my initial though, the door handle turned with ease.
The momentum of my bad decisions continued and swung the door open. The empty foyer of the home spread before my eyes and welcomed me. It was of simple, but pleasant decoration. More toys lay about on the floor and I was careful not to break any as I stepped across the threshold.
“Hello?” I called out again to the seemingly empty room. I turned my head back and forth, searching for signs of life. “Thank you so much for letting me in, I really just need directions and I’ll go. Hello?”
Brazened by my intoxication, I stepped further into the home. I was sure someone had let me in, but it’s possible they still needed me to quell their fears further before they were willing to appear before me.
“I really don’t want to cause any trouble,” I said apologetically. “I would like nothing more than to get back on the road and get out of your hair.”
I peered into the first room I saw on the left and finally set eyes on the occupants. There were three of them seated around a dining table. Two children were on either side of the table wearing colorful masks like one might see in a theatre and a woman whom I assumed to be the mother at the end with her back to me. There was a fourth place set at the far end of the table but the accompanying seat was empty. A banner overhead read “Surprise!” and a large cake, colorfully decorated, was the centerpiece of the whole ensemble. I suddenly realized what I had walked in upon.
“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry,” I addressed to the whole room. “I’m not the person you’re waiting for, I’m just lost and hoping for directions. I didn’t mean to ruin your party, I’ll get out of here as soon as I can.”
The woman’s body shook and I could hear the murmurs of stifled laughter. Upon realizing the situation I had stumbled upon, I had begun to back out of the room. When I still didn’t get a response from anyone, I stopped in the doorway. The woman was still shaking and I recognized the possibility that she might still be afraid of me.
“There’s no reason to be scared of me, I really just want to get home. Just point me in the direction of civilization and I’m gone, I promise!”
She still shook the same as before and I began to think it might be impossible to calm her. I decided to head back to the car before I caused any more problems. Just as I was about to turn around, I noticed something odd that caused me to double-take. The children were wearing zip-ties around their wrists like bracelets. Upon closer inspection, I realized that their arms were actually bound to the arms of the chair. Looking down, I could see that their legs were bound just the same.
A note of concern rose in my voice as I asked “are you okay?”
For the first time, my words elicited an actual response from the woman. She shook her head vigorously and I entered the room once more, my fear multiplying. I could now see that she was bound as well and I imagined her silence might indicate that she was also gagged. When I reached the table, I saw that she, too, was wearing a mask. A note rested on the table just in front of her that read “Sorry about the masks, but I couldn’t risk anyone spoiling the surprise.”
Shuddering, I began to remove the woman’s mask, which the note implied was also her gag. I couldn’t understand why someone would do this, it was both horrible and confusing. Was it was some kind of role-play, or torture? I lifted the mask off her face as soon as it was untied and stumbled backward as soon as her face was revealed.
Her bruised eyes were bloodshot and tears streamed down her face. Her nose was running as well and the snot mixed with the tears as they pooled at the corners of her mouth. Instead of being gagged, her mouth had actually been sewn shut with thick, back thread. The holes lining either side of her mouth where the needle had pierced through were glowing red with infection and caked with dried blood and puss. Though the only sound escaping from her was muffled, I could tell from her eyes she was screaming.
My gaze was fixed on this gruesome sight for mere seconds before all of the lights in the house shut off simultaneously. That was the moment that I realized if everyone here was bound, it must have been someone else who undid the deadbolt; possibly the same person who just extinguished the lights and the same one who committed the horrors to this woman’s face.
I regained my footing as quickly as I could and sprinted away. I tripped over several toys and banged my knee against the wall of the dining room, but I made it out the front door I had never closed. The yard seemed much larger and littered with playthings as I ran toward my car. It was much more perilous a journey without the house lights to guide me, but the moon was my saving grace. I chanced a glance back at the house only after I had started my car. I can’t be sure, but I think I glimpsed a silhouette in the doorway, watching me pull away.
I got back onto the country road as quickly as I could, my car kicking up graveling as I peeled out of the driveway. I still didn’t know where I was going other than away from there. As I sped away, I saw the house illuminate itself once more as it disappeared in my rearview mirror.
I drove until I found a clump of buildings. A fast food restaurant, a farm store, and a gas station, all closed for the night. I banged on the door of each to now avail, until I finally returned to my car parked beneath a light post in the farm store parking lot. I passed out in the driver’s seat as I impatiently waited for the sun.
The next morning I got directions to the sheriff’s office and arrived before the sheriff himself. I was questioned three times that day and called back in twice more later that week. I told them everything I knew, other than my state of intoxication.
The sheriff’s department never found a house or crime scene that matched the description I had given. They contacted departments of nearby counties, but were never able to find even the old gas station I had seen. The search officially concluded a month later leaving the sheriff and myself with far more questions than answers.
My parents, who knew everything, chalked it up to a drunken dream, but my bruised knee told a different story.
I haven’t been able to shake the memory of the look I received from the woman I abandoned in the house that night. I don’t know if I could have saved her, but I will never forgive myself for not trying.
I’ve gone back to visit my parents several times since, I even lived with them for a period of time.
I still won’t drive on those roads at night.