Bored teenagers pick the worst places to hang out. Of course, this was the east end of Long Island where all the teenagers are bored. There's nothing to do during the day if you're not into sun and surf, and even less in the evenings. Summers are full of tourists, traffic and night clubs; convertibles still running outside of stores. The rest of the year, it's quiet. And in the winter... desolate.
I was out with a group of friends that night. Well, they weren't really my friends, but we hung out. They'd always drag me somewhere creepy in the dark to get high. Usually it was some place in the woods where I can't see my hand in front of my face. One time it was an old betting track that had been condemned. Then there's the obvious one: a cemetery. Nothing says 'buzz kill' like being surrounded by dead people. Sometimes I wasn't sure if it was better than staying home alone.
By far the worst place they took me was the site of 'The Montauk Project', an abandoned military base where people claim they did experiments with time travel and mind control. If that wasn't disturbing enough, the guy who took us there, Mike, told all these bullshit stories about feral people living in the tunnels. We even went up to the roof of a ten or so story building that was rusted and decaying inside. Not only am I afraid of heights, but the roof was sloped on all sides which made me feel like I was falling off.
"This is kinda creepy. Where are we going?" I asked, hoping it would be tame in comparison.
"We're going to an abandoned house," said Mike, much to my dismay. People had often tried getting me to go to abandoned houses, but I always refused. At least those other houses were near a main road, but wherever we were going was far off the beaten path. We had been driving for a while in the pitch black, down some road that felt endless. I couldn't see in front of us either, since the car we were following was blocking the view, and Mike was driving pretty close.
"It's not really abandoned," said Jeff, from up in the passenger seat, "It's just empty. It was built recently but I guess they haven't finished some stuff, like the wiring and the locks."
I wondered why anyone would build a new home in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing but trees lining the road we'd been on, and it was a long road. I was relieved to hear that the house was new, since abandoned houses are usually decrepit and falling apart. They remind me of places you should never go; places where horrible things lurk in the corners and under creaky floor boards. And let's not forget splintery wood and nails jutting out in all directions, just waiting to pierce drunken teens in the darkness.
In the back seat with me were two alternative-hippy girls. I think it was the first time I'd met them, but I'm not sure. Some people are memorable, while others are just people. Mike and Jeff were probably trying to hook up with them, but I doubted they'd succeed.
"Oh my god, this is gonna be so cool!" one of the girls proclaimed, while the other giggled. Cool, huh? I wasn't convinced. I suppose when you're an outgoing person in a place with little excitement, you have to travel to empty houses in the middle of nowhere to get your kicks. As for me, outgoing wasn't my thing.
When we finally pulled up to the house, the first thing I noticed was the uneven ground all around it. Nothing says 'unfinished home' like piles of dirt, unfilled holes, and a view of the foundation. At least the architecture was nice and simple. It was basically just a postmodern rectangle with a lot of tall windows. I was always jealous of my friends who had postmodern homes. My parents had to be different and go with country charm. Once both drivers shut off their headlights, all I saw was black. We filed out of the cars, and a couple people with flashlights led the way up to the house.
"Ow, shit!" someone shouted. It was Melanie, the one girl that I had actually talked to a little before. She must have rode in the other car because she used to go out with Mike, and now things were a little uncomfortable between them. I didn't really know the guys in the other car, but at least I knew Mike and Jeff, and I guess Melanie. "Watch out for these holes, guys. I just stepped in one and flippin' almost broke my foot."
The girls guided Melanie the rest of the way up to the sliding glass door, where Mike opened it, and in we went. Inside it was your typical, low-budget, postmodern Long Island home. The walls were blank white, devoid of any fancy trim, with that shiny wood flooring that doesn't quite look real. There was a kitchen to the left, and a huge room to the right with a two-story ceiling. The front wall consisted mostly of large, paneless windows, while the back wall was solid and bare. Stairs led up to a second story, complete with an indoor balcony that overlooked the main room.
In the far corner of the room was the only furniture, a ratty couch and broken armchair that both looked like they came from a junkyard. They sat in front of a fireplace, with small stacks of paper strewn around them. By the looks of it, someone had been squatting there. I assumed it was Mike and his friends.
"Why is there furniture here?" I asked Mike.
"I don't know. It was here when we found the place. The rest of the house is completely empty. Those papers weren't here before, though."
"That's so weird," was my typical response to unusual things. The last thing I wanted to find at that house was something unusual. Without the flashlights it was too dark to see, and I hate being in unfamiliar places in the dark. At least our voices echoing through the house gave me a little bit of comfort. It felt like everyone was close by at all times.
One of the guys I didn't know called us into the kitchen to smoke weed. We were using a really short pipe, and I ended up burning my nose with the lighter. We all burst into hysterics, which lifted the little bit of tension I was feeling. I always seemed to do something funny by mistake when hanging out in a group. Perhaps that's why this particular gang of misfits liked having me around.
After we lit up, a few of the girls started exploring the house. Intimidated by the darkness, I decided to hang out by the fireplace where Jeff was making a fire. Not having a flashlight made me nervous, and the light from the fire was a fair substitute. I sat in the cruddy armchair, sipping a beer, as Jeff was checking out the papers.
"What is all this stuff?" I asked.
"I don't know. Some kind of medical stuff. Look," he replied, handing me a few sheets. They looked like pages torn from medical journals; diagrams of human anatomy and such. Maybe they were photocopies, but in the dim light of the fire it was hard to tell. It was odd that someone would bring so many random papers to an empty house in the middle of nowhere, especially if it was a squatter.
"I figured these would be someone writing a book or something," I said.
"That's what I thought. Maybe someone came here to study."
"This is a really weird place to study. And then to just leave it all here?"
"Kinda," I replied sarcastically.
By this point I was getting pretty bored. Sitting on trashy furniture, surrounded by stacks of mysterious papers, in a dark house, with people I didn't know that well. I've only mentioned Mike and Jeff by name because I can't remember anyone else's, except for Melanie. She was as creeped out by the Montauk Project as I was, so we bonded a little. I could hear her voice from the second floor as she and the other girls were getting excited about something. They hurried down the stairs, with Melanie waving an over-sized sheet of paper.
"Guys, check this out! It's so freaky!" she elated, holding up some sort of crude drawing. It was the outline of a child in black marker. I recalled making those drawings in elementary school. A kid would lay down, and another would trace their body with magic marker or crayon. Only in this case, the hands had been colored in red.
Jeff was the first to say, "What the fuck?", but we were both thinking it. The mysterious papers were bad enough, but now a mysterious drawing? For a moment I wondered if some of the guys were playing a practical joke.
"It was in one of the rooms upstairs," said Melanie. "All the rooms were completely empty except for this." She, along with her two friends, seemed playfully frightened. The kind of frightened you would expect from someone watching a scary movie they know isn't real. Regardless of the odd nature of the drawing, it was the only interesting thing that had happened since we got there.
"The weirdest part is the hands being red," I said. "It's so weird."
"Right?" Jeff concurred.
"I wanna take it home!" Melanie squealed.
"Why?" I asked. "It's fucking scary. Why is it even here?" We had fun coming up with explanations, which helped me forget how disturbing it was. Maybe some kids were hanging out in the house and made it. But we couldn't figure out why they would have brought a huge piece of paper. Then we thought it could have been made in school, and someone brought it to the house. Still, none of our theories could eliminate its somewhat sinister presence.
Mike and the others came over to see what we were doing. Soon we were all discussing the fate of the drawing. Melanie seemed to like it, but the rest of us were more superstitious. Our excuses for its existence started getting silly, as you might expect from a group of inebriated teenagers.
"What if it was made by a ghost? We shouldn't touch it!"
"Maybe there's a ghost of a little kid living here, and that's why no one's moved in yet!"
"Someone probably cut off his hands and that's why they're red!"
Once we ran through every ghost story cliche we could think of, we came to the consensus that the drawing would stay. Melanie laid it on the armchair to make it look like it was sitting. The other girls were going up to the roof, and Melanie asked me to come.
"I'm afraid of heights, remember?" I was hoping that would be enough to make her leave me alone. Last time we went up on a roof I swore I would never do it again.
"Oh, come on. You've just been sitting in here the whole time. Besides, the roof is really cool. You can't fall off unless you try."
I gave in and followed her up to the second floor. We squeezed through an open window onto the roof where the other girls were smoking a bowl. The middle was flat, surrounded on all sides by upward slants. My fear didn't come into play, which was a pleasant surprise. It was probably the coolest 'hang out' roof I had seen. While the girls and I laughed over nonsense, Melanie walked up one of the slants to a peak so she could look down.
"Melanie, don't fall!" the girls said, almost in unison.
"Oh shut up. I'm not gonna fall," Melanie grumbled, shining her flashlight around. For a minute she was silent, then asked, "Can someone come here for a sec?" One of the girls went up to join her, and Melanie pointed to an area in front of the house. "Isn't that where we parked?"
The five of us went downstairs, and Melanie approached Mike and his friends.
"Did you guys move the cars? I didn't see them from the roof."
Mike replied with a confused, drawn out, "Nooo?" as he turned to look out the windows. He tried shining a flashlight but it reflected off the glass. They all went outside and immediately started swearing. The cars weren't in front of the house. After circling the entire perimeter, it was confirmed they were gone.
"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Mike yelled, his voice disappearing into the sky. I started to wonder again if some kind of joke was being played. Maybe one of the guys moved the cars down the road and then walked back, just to freak everyone out. No one heard them start up, though.
"Okay, who moved the cars?" the other driver asked. I hadn't had much contact with him, and he seemed a little high strung, so I was slightly freaked out by the possibility that he might be aggressive.
"I didn't. Did you?" Mike said, looking at Jeff.
"No, dude. I wouldn't move your car, let alone both of them."
"Seriously, guys. This isn't cute," the guy said, "I want to know if someone stole my fucking car, or if you guys are playing a fucking joke." I could tell this guy wasn't going to put up with any nonsense. Mike and Jeff were a little caught off guard that they were being accused. Someone suggested to do a pocket check, and it turned out they still had the keys to both vehicles.
"This doesn't make sense," said Jeff, as we all started murmuring. This time it wasn't any fun trying to figure out the mystery. How did two cars just disappear? The girls were crying now. Well, not Melanie. The guys were cursing up a storm, especially the driver of the second car. I've decided to dub him 'angry guy'. Not that his anger wasn't justified, it was just his most prominent trait. I had nothing to contribute to the situation, so I just waited for everyone to figure out what we were going to do. The only thing that mattered to me was getting home sometime in the next century. It took a while to face reality, as unbelievable as it was, and we eventually started walking home.
Everyone was silent. The only sound was from our footsteps and the chirping of insects. There was just enough moonlight to see the barren trees arching over the road. It was going to take a few hours to get anywhere that had streetlights, and we were all exhausted. 'Angry guy' was walking ahead. No one wanted to be near him, afraid he would blow up again once everyone was getting cranky from walking so far. Not that we could blame him.
"Hey, can we stop for a minute?" asked one of the girls. We collectively agreed it was a good idea, even though we had only been walking for about twenty minutes. There was a sense of denial that we were still so far from home. Jeff packed a bowl and we passed it around.
As everyone waited for their turn in the cipher, we talked about what to do when we got home. Jeff suggested going to the police to report the missing cars, as if that wasn't obvious. Mike started spewing some crap about how he knew people who could track down the cars, like they were the A-Team or something. 'Angry guy' didn't say anything. I just wanted to go home.
"Did everyone get a hit?" Jeff asked, making sure no one got shafted. As everyone looked at each other and nodded, the girls noticed something.
"Hey, where's Melanie?" Suddenly, everyone realized that she wasn't there. The flashlight holders scanned the area but there was only trees and dirt road. We each called her name several times, but it just echoed into the night air.
"This isn't funny, guys. Where's Melanie?" We spread out a little, continuing to call her name. If she was playing a joke on us, it was in enormously poor taste. Everyone was frustrated and bewildered by the vanishing cars, and this wasn't helping.
"Fuck!" Mike shouted. "Where the fuck is she? We can't keep going if we don't know where she is."
"Dude, let's just leave her," one guy joked.
"Are you stupid?!" shouted one of the girls. "She's our friend! We're not just leaving her in the middle of nowhere!"
"Maybe she went back to the house," I suggested. Everyone stopped talking for a moment, contemplating the possibility that she did indeed go back. I wasn't really serious, though. What idiot would go back to the house without telling us? And why? After more grumbling, cursing and arguing, we decided that a few of us would go back to the house while the others waited in case Melanie really was messing with us. If she was, then she just lost some friends. I volunteered to go, since waiting for an unknown length of time seemed worse in that moment.
On the way back to the house, the two girls, Mike, and myself, discussed the whole situation. We had come to an empty house in the middle of nowhere to party, only for our transportation to vanish, and we couldn't explain it. Mike came up with this theory that the cars disappearing was some sick joke, and that Melanie was in on it. He implied that she got some guys who could hot-wire cars to drive them away so we would have to walk home. Then she ran back towards the house and they picked her up. The girls seemed offended but they were tired of defending her, so they just shrugged it off.
As we finally arrived back at the house, my stomach dropped upon seeing it again. I cursed myself for volunteering to come back. I guess I wanted to know sooner than later if Melanie was okay. Approaching the sliding glass door, we were surprised to see it was open.
"Did we leave the door open?" asked Mike.
"I'm almost positive someone closed it," I replied. If there was any reason for it being open, it had to be that Melanie went back inside. As we entered the main room, the house felt emptier than before. I noticed that a lot of the medical papers were in the fireplace, and the contour drawing of the child with red hands was gone. We searched the kitchen while calling for Melanie. It was clear she wasn't on the first floor, so we headed upstairs.
"I'm going to be pissed if she's not here," said Mike, "because then we came back for nothing." The girls just ignored him and went to search the rooms, while I split off to go check the roof. The window was still open, and I squeezed through. If I expected her to be anywhere, it was here.
The roof was empty and silent, with a gentle breeze blowing. I could almost see over the treetops, which made me feel stronger than my fear of dark forests. For a moment I forgot that we were looking for Melanie, until I heard the girls panicking inside. I quickly squeezed back through the window and ran to see what was up. Mike and the girls were looking at something in one of the empty rooms.
"What happened?" I asked. Mike shone the flashlight at a spot on the floor. Reluctantly, I approached and looked down, as the girls gripped each other, sobbing. There were two over-sized sheets of paper, taped together to make one larger sheet. Drawn in marker was the outline of a person, with only the hands colored in red.