“Hey Josh,” Roy managed to sputter, attempting to contain his silly laughter while making the joke. “Did, did you know that a tree’s bark is worse than its bite?”
Josh responded by swinging a large tree branch into Roy’s face - completely off script. I was supposed to turn to a nearby tree Josh would be hiding behind and record him saying “shut the fuck up, little bitch,” or something stupid like that. But the sheer spontaneity of Josh’s actions took me by surprise, and I ended up falling backwards onto a block of cinder and laughing my ass off. It made absolutely no sense, but I laughed at its absurdity anyways.
Josh was also snickering and stumbling around, then came over towards me. “Ha ha ha, oh my God…! Bro, show me the video. Did you get it?”
I wiped a tear from my eye and pulled my phone back up, going into my camera roll. As Josh took another sip from the bottle of liquor, he watched over my shoulder as we chuckled at the soon-to-be viral video. The three of us had begun running a YouTube channel during the second half of our last high school year - a collection of our moments together having the last few goof-offs before our paths in life diverge. It got a few views, so it made us happy to make people laugh, but it was also fun to just relive our dicking around.
With the year coming to an end soon, we snuck some of the sauce from my old man’s cabinet and headed out into the woods behind our school. There’s a trail through the sticks and bushes, trampled by years of students, that led out to the ruins of some old building, probably a house of some kind, or maybe even an old church. A lot of it was just the remaining stone foundation, as all of the wood looked like it had Corn Flakes glued to the surface and was sprayed in various wilderness colours. It was a typical class-skipping, pot smoking spot for the less desirables of the school - which included us. And this evening, it was our partying grounds and film set.
The sky was grey and the air was cool, which wasn’t ideal, but there was still some afternoon light so we weren’t worried about not being able to find our way out. Besides, we had flashlights should we lose track of time, and we were within walking distance of Roy’s house, where we planned to chill overnight to hide our booze breath.
Josh replayed the video for the third time, killing himself over how he fucking floored Roy with the tree branch. I also chuckled, slightly gasping for air as my throat went dry. It hurt, but in a good way. Once I found my voice amidst the laughs, I called out for Roy to get up and come take a look. He didn’t answer right away, so I shouted at him to get up.
Roy was gone. I stood up and tucked my phone away. “Roy! Yo, Roy! Where are you?” Still got no answer. I sighed - Roy was likely hiding behind a tree and was going to jump the first one to approach, payback for the tree branch. But I never noticed him stand up, or even shout “what the fuck” when Josh hit him.
I scanned around in the grass for him, and grew concerned. Did he fall down and roll away somewhere? Were the leaves hiding him? Did we knock him unconscious? Slowly, I started getting worried and told Josh to get off his ass and look for Roy. Even if it was exactly what he wanted us to do, I didn’t want to risk something bad happening to him.
That’s when Roy’s laughter could be heard. It wasn’t immediate or clear, like it should’ve been. It wasn’t an open laughter, unreflected by any hard surfaces, or allowed to pass by the trees of the woods to overpower the sounds of crickets and birds. It was echoey, like it was bouncing off of a tight corridor.
I moved closer to the foundation of the house, and noticed something new; a large hole in the floor. We had always thought there was a basement below the old wreck, after seeing the holes in the rotted wood floor, but never tried to investigate since there was no particularly safe way down - there were no signs of stairs or a ladder or such, and the floorboards themselves were much too old and soft to actually step around on safely.
But there it was, a large hole where the wood simply bent, dangling by strands. It probably didn’t make a noise because the wood was borderline putty. Either way, now I knew where Roy had fallen; he must’ve tripped over the foundation of the house and fell through the soft floorboards. And we were too busy to notice.
“Roy! Shit…” I hurried over and pulled out my flashlight, trying to illuminate the hole in hopes of seeing our friend.
“Mason, dude, relax,” Josh mumbled. “What’s the matter?”
“Roy, he fell down there when you hit him.” I took my bag off and tossed it at the tipsy idiot, continuing to scan the hole. There was no sign of Roy, but the hole didn’t seem to go down too far, maybe six feet at best. I was five foot seven, so after pulling away some of the foundation near the hole’s edge, I turned to Josh and demanded one of the flashlights.
“You’re not serious, are you?” Josh asked, begrudgingly handing over the device. “He’s just fucking with you!”
“And if he’s not, we’re all going to be in serious trouble.” I turned around and slowly lowered myself down. After a slight dangle, I let go of the earthy surface and landed on my toes - I could reach the edge with a simple hop. Turning on the light, I began to get a better look at my surroundings. The room was a cellar, filled with more ruined shelves and dust. But even in the darkest corners, there was no sign of Roy. And yet, his laughter continued, coming from a hole in the wall that led downwards.
“Shit…” I muttered, looking back up at Josh. “There’s a passageway. His laughs are coming from there. We need to check it out.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? Uh-uh, no way.” Josh walked away from the edge of the hole, despite my shouting for him to come back. He didn’t answer me either, and for a few minutes I began to worry that he had left me alone and was going home.
I was about to scream at him when he reappeared. “Look, you two will need help getting out of that hole, yeah? I’ll wait up here and pull you out. And, should something happen, at least someone will be able to get help. Alright?”
I grumbled and huffed and puffed, but finally gave in. Turning towards the damp looking corridor with my flashlight in hand, I pressed onwards. Moss lined the stone walls of the tunnels, and I had to watch my step as the ground was quite slippery. I was surprised by the wetness of the area; there were no wells or ponds near the house, so this amount of moisture was confusing. I began to slip a few times, losing my footing thanks to Mr. Booze, but after an uncomfortably long walk, the tunnel opened up.
It was a room with a dirt floor. Water dripped down the walls into small streams along the sides of the room. There were no sources of light other than my flashlight. And at the edge of where my light could reach, I could make out a fidgeting figure moving on the ground - Roy.
I rushed to him as he spasmed on the floor. “Roy! ROY!” I shouted, grabbing his shoulder. The guy was on his side, freaking out and almost seeming to be seizing in the dirt. But he was laughing. His stomach flexed and his torso curled and uncurled repeatedly. His voice was growing hoarse, like he had no breath.
Grabbing his shoulder, I shook Roy to try and get his attention. He finally looked at me, his eyes unblinking and washed with tears. He only laughed harder as he looked at me, but his voice was becoming more and more pained with every “ha” he mustered. “Roy, get a hang of yourself!” I slapped him in the face, but this did nothing. I tried to grab him, but he continuing spazzing out. At one point I placed my hand on his chest to grab him and knock some sense into him, but something stopped me. His heartbeat, I could feel it - unnaturally strong, and off beat. There was a randomness to the rhythm of his heart, and I’m no doctor, but that sure as hell wasn’t right. I called for Josh, telling him to get an ambulance, but I wasn’t certain he could make out what I said.
Eventually, Roy’s laughter turned into wheezes of air. He just looked me in the eye, his eyelids twitching as he seemingly refused, or was unable to, close them. Without warning, he grappled my jacket sleeve with a shaky hand, lifting himself up to meet me, and my terror for him only grew. Between breaths and laughs, he managed two saddening words, two words that only filled me with despair, because I knew what it meant: “c… c… can’t… b… breathe…”
Soon after that, the shaking grew violent, and Roy released a few more wheezes of air before finally collapsing onto the dusty floor, and becoming completely still. I shook him more and more, repeating the word “no” to myself, to him. I turned him on his back and tried my best to imitate CPR, blowing air into his mouth and pounding on his chest to resurrect my friend. Between sessions of giving him air, I used my mouth to scream at Josh to call 911. This wasn’t funny anymore, this was horrifying. And I could only pray he could make me out, or was doing what I said, and hadn’t left me alone in the woods.
The sloshing was the next sound I heard. A sloshing, wet noise coming from the darkness of the room. I swallowed a gallon of saliva - there was something down here with us, with me. Part of me wanted to stay still, to act like I wasn’t here and hope that whatever was waiting in the shadows wouldn’t notice me. That part of me didn’t want to know what Roy had found down here, what had likely done this to him. But another part of me surfaced, a part that reasoned that if I didn’t look, then the creature in the dark would probably get me anyways sooner or later and I needed to make myself leave. Especially after I had been screaming my head off at Josh.
My fingers wrapped around the flashlight’s handle, one shaky motion at a time, but I couldn’t lift it. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to relax myself. Just get it over with and run. Breathing quickly, I gripped the light and swung it in the direction of the dark.
My brain physically hurt at first. Then a smirk formed. I don’t know why I starting smiling but… it just didn’t make any sense. There was a… thing in the room. I couldn’t explain what it was exactly. It definitely wasn’t human, or like any animal or plant I’d ever seen before. And the more I stared at it, the less sense it made. A chuckle escaped my lips before I clapped my free hand over them. In an instant, the realization of what happened to Roy dawned on me. Another chuckle tried to sneak its way past my teeth. I fought myself from letting it get out. But I had to look at this thing again, to try to make sense of it.
But I couldn’t. So another laugh came. And another. And another. It was changing shape. Teeth, or what I thought were teeth, grew longer and flopped out of its mouth. It moved closer. My mouth opened wide and out came a fit of laughter. It felt good at first, laughing at this weird thing. Then it moved closer. It made a sloshing sound the first few steps, but then, unexpectedly, it made the sound of heels clicking on concrete. The fingers of one hand began falling off one by one, in random order. One of its tendrils began to morph and split apart, almost like a flower budding. But then halfway through the budding, it just started to melt, and it fell back onto itself, and I laughed again. And then when I looked back at the tendril, it was yellow instead of purple! When did it change colour? How did it change colour?
It let out a fart noise and I fell onto my back. Tears were pouring down my face, my stomach felt like it was herniating, and I was terrified. But I couldn’t stop myself. My throat was growing sore, and in this isolated basement, it felt like I was running out of air. I grew dizzy, and things began to seem funnier to me. I was running out of time. With every ounce of focus I could muster, I slowly shifted my eyes away from the thing and looked at Roy. A jolt of fear and regret hit my wildly beating heart and shocked me out of the feedback loop. I shut my eyes and starting crawling in the opposite direction of the thing. With closed eyes, I reached around until I felt the stairs, before I began to rapidly ascend them.
Each blink, I saw still images of the thing, and I felt compelled to laugh at its absurdity more and more. During one such moment, my foot slipped on the moss and I fell, cracking my shin on the stony stairs. Pain rushed to my forward, and I began to laugh and cry in response. The thought of that thing eating me while I tried to crawl away. Imagine that - me dying to something that absurd? It was hilarious to me. But I fought through the pain, and kept going upwards, crawling step by step.
Eventually I reached the top - the sun had set, and the woods were dark. Between my maddening howls, I called out for Josh with tired breath. He didn’t answer. I crawled towards the edge where I had climbed down from and called for him again. No answer. I had to get out of this pit immediately. I looked behind me to see the shelves of the cellar. I rummaged around and collected pieces of wood, trying not to think of the thing as much as I could. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it now, but the laughter still continued.
I built a pile to stand on, and with my one good foot I leaped upwards. I managed to yank my torso onto the soil, and quickly soon after the rest of my body. Pulling my flashlight back out, a shiver was the answer to my concerns; Josh had disappeared. At this point, I couldn’t worry about him or Roy - I just had to get the fuck out of here. I aimed my light to the ground, and began walking alone back towards the school.
Every rustling in the bushes, every owl that hooted, a surge of fear jolted me. But when that feeling reminded me of the thing, my reaction changed in a snap, going from a paranoid stare into the dark to a manic laughing spree. Probably halfway down the trail, I froze up a bit - there was a light. I called out, hoping it was someone who had come looking for us and knew about the hang out spot. But the light didn’t move. I stifled my mania and approached, and soon enough, I had found Josh. He had collapsed on the trail, and was drunkenly singing to himself while waving the now empty bottle of liquor in the air. His flashlight was left on by his side.
“Heheh.. heh.. J-Josh…” I kneeled down beside him, shaking his shoulder slightly. “C-come on, we heh-heh-have to get out of h-here!”
Josh’s eyes were closed, and he sloppily shoved me off. “Mmph… fawk awf, Mason… lemme just sleep…”
I tried to grab him again, but another fit started, and I found myself on my hands and knees gasping for air. I wanted to take him with me, but with my leg and his stubbornness while under the influence… I couldn’t. I couldn’t get him to come with me. So I got to my feet, and just walked off. Josh didn’t call for me to come back.
The next little while was fuzzy to recall. My memory was blurred with images of the thing and memories of what happened after leaving the forest; stumbling along the side of the road… being stopped by a passerby… the police asking questions… riding in the back of an ambulance, laughing away…
The next day I awoke in a white room. My leg was in a sling, and the doctors and cops were asking me all sorts of questions. I answered as best I could, with minimal ha-has interrupting. But whenever I tried to explain what happened to Roy, or what was in the basement, it all came erupting out.
They told me I had been placed in the psych ward of the local hospital. They thought I was having some kind of mental breakdown, and that whatever happened in the woods that night had brought it on. Roy’s body was never found. Josh was discovered laying in the middle of the school soccer field the next morning. His stomach muscles were contracted, and his jaw had actually become unhinged, but there were no signs of external force. He had died of arrhythmia. The thought of the thing making Josh laugh to death brought me to tears.
After that, I was left alone to rest. They tried different medications and sedatives to calm me down, fix my brain, but nothing worked. My stomach continued to hurt from the muscle contractions. Just the thought of that melting tendril would bring on asthma-like attacks, making me lose all breath in my body. Even the best medicine becomes a poison in excess, it seemed. The image of the thing was stuck in my head forever. And so I laughed. It didn’t make any sense, but I laughed anyway.
Written by RedNovaTyrant