A bonfire turns out to be something more.
Sean leaned up against the old barn and sniffed the air. The pungent smoke from the bonfire tickled his nose, forcing a sneeze. Feeling the familiar tightening in his chest, he pulled out his inhaler and took a puff. He watched as thirty or so kids danced around a circle of flames. Several dragged on cigarettes and chugged Miller Lite.
They think they are so cool, Sean thought. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing here; it wasn’t his crowd. No, he was here because he’d been suckered in by his best friend.
“Come on, Sean,” Braden had whined. “Everybody is going to be there.” Since the first day of school as freshmen, the two boys had been at the bottom of the social ladder. Sean smirked. The straight A’s; pop-bottle glasses; and lanky bodies more suited to hunching over microscopes than catching footballs probably had something to do with it. The thing was—that suited him just fine. He had no desire to hang out with idiots, and that’s what he had told Braden. Unfortunately, Braden had pulled his ace.
“I hear Vanessa’s gonna be there.” Not that Sean had any hope of Vanessa noticing him, but a guy could fantasize. An image of Vanessa flitted through his mind. Her smoky gray eyes, long auburn locks, and full lips would make most fifteen-year-olds break out into a cold sweat. And if his eyes sank below the neckline, God help him.
So six hours later, Sean found himself leaning up against the barn and counting down the minutes until his older brother Max would pick him up. Vanessa was a no show, and Braden had joined the idiots.
“Bro, I’m not really drinking,” Braden had slurred earlier, clutching a can of beer in his hands. “Just trying to fit in. Here let me get you one.”
“No, thanks. I’ll just wait here for Max.” Sean turned away and scuffed a shoe in the dirt.
“Suit yourself, Bro.” Braden had turned and skipped back to the fire, laughing louder than all the rest.
Sean still wasn’t sure how he was going to explain to his brother the smell of alcohol on Braden. Max was sure to tell Mom and Dad, and then it would really hit the fan. He’d probably be banned from hanging out with Braden. And at the moment, he really didn’t care. Sean pictured all the school lunches when the two had sat munching on school pizzas and making fun of the “in-crowd.” They had given each one of them nicknames like Harry the Caveman. He wasn’t sure he’d ever speak to Braden again.
Sean snorted in disgust and turned to walk down the lane. He’d leave Braden here and just wait for Max at the end of the road. Braden could get his new friends to give him a ride and maybe then there’d be no questions.
“Hey, Sean!” Beef-eater, a mammoth linebacker from the football team, called out. “Where ya goin’? Dude the party’s just gettin’ started.” Beef-eater, whose real name escaped Sean at the moment, jogged over and put his arm around Sean. He tried to duck, but Beef-eater just clamped tighter, his hands biting into Sean’s shoulder.
He turned him back toward the fire. Now, everyone had stopped and was staring. A few snickered.
“So, Sean, have you ever in your life been snipe hunting?”
“No, and look I… I really need to go.” Sean shook his head, hating the way he stuttered. “My brother’s waiting for me.” Sean tried again to break the hold, but Beef-eater just gripped tighter. Sean winced.
“Ahh, Sean,” Braden hollered, “don’t be a wet blanket. Max won’t be here for another hour.”
“An hour?” Beef-eater shouted. “Well, that’s more than enough time to catch us a few snipes. Ain’t it?”
Laughter broke out, and several started chanting, “Snipe, snipe, snipe.”
“I don’t like hunting, so… ummm, I’ll pass.” Sean gave once last attempt to convince the Neanderthal standing next to him.
“Ahhhh, it’s okay, Seanie, me boy. We’ll just catch him in this here burlap sack and then let ‘em go when we’re done having some fun. Okay?” Sean sighed. It was impossible to negotiate with someone whose IQ was less than that of a gnat.
“Okay,” Sean said, feeling his chest tighten further. Something didn’t feel right. Why was Beef-eater being so chummy all of a sudden? “What exactly do I do, and what exactly is a snipe?”
“Well, it’s like this, you see.” Beef-eater finally let go, and Sean reached up to rub his arm. There’d be a bruise there tomorrow. “Take this burlap sack,” Beef-eater continued. “We’ll all walk about a half a mile into the cornfield there. We’ll set you and your friend Braden in just the right spot. The rest of us will circle back around and flush the snipe out. He’ll be so scared spitless that he’ll run right into your bag.”
“And a snipe is?” It was one thing to go along to get Beef-eater off his back, but it was another to try to catch a vicious creature. He’d rather take his chances with a dumb football jock.
“Oh, it’s a bird. Completely harmless. About yea high,” Beef-eater held up his hands indicating a creature not much more than a foot tall. “Stupidist creature that ever graced the earth too.”
“That’s hard to believe,” Sean muttered too low for the Neanderthal to hear.
“Okay, let’s go.” Beef-eater once again grabbed Sean’s arm in a vice-like grip and pulled him toward the cornfield. The crowd began cheering and screaming, “Snipe.” How exactly were they supposed to catch anything if the idiots wouldn’t keep quiet? Sean was no hunter, but even he knew that.
Sean stumbled and glanced over at Braden who was being man-handled by Donkey Kong. No longer laughing, fear flooded Braden’s face.
Beef-eater reached the edge of the cornfield first and twisted, shoving Sean through the first row. The rough corn husks slapped at Sean’s face, scraping and nicking him. As the foursome forged ahead, the chanting crowd grew fainter. Now only the whistling wind and the heavy breathing of the four boys kept time with their stumbling tread.
About a half mile into the field, Beef-eater stopped.
“Okay, you and Braden face this way and hold this here bag on the ground. But make sure ya keep the opening real wide-like so the snipe can run into it. Got it? I’ll be ticked off if I do all this work to flush out a snipe, and you dorks don’t keep the bag open.” Beef-eater drilled Sean with his best offensive lineman stare. “And you don’t want to tick me off, do you?” Sean shook his head.
Beef-eater and Donkey Kong laughed. Slapping each other on the back, they turned and began jogging back the way they had come. The rustling stalks faded and silence reigned.
Neither boy spoke for several minutes. Both just held the bag and glanced warily around them. Sean’s wheezing grew more pronounced, along with his certainty they had been had.
Finally, Braden dragged in a ragged breath. “Sooo, have you ever been snipe hunting?”
Sean yanked off his hat and slapped Braden over the head with it. Stunned, Braden flinched and stumbled back over a cornstalk. “What did you do that for?”
“Because, you idiot, there’s no such thing as a snipe.” Being set up by a jock to look like an idiot made Sean’s blood boil. He turned and stomped away. Braden scrambled to his feet to catch up with him.
“Hey, don’t leave me.”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t?”
“Because the party is the other way.” Braden grinned and pointed back toward the bonfire.
“Ya think?” Sean ground out. “I know which way the party is, and if you remember I didn’t want to go in the first place. Now, I’m going to hike out to the road and flag my brother down.” Sean turned and continued stomping toward what he thought was the highway. Cornstalks slapped him in the face and blood trickled down from a nasty cut over his eye. Behind him, he could hear Braden trailing him.
Sean stopped cold and held up a hand to hush Braden. Up ahead in the moonlight stood a tall, motionless figure draped in a hooded cape. Sean stepped back, and the figure stepped forward.
“Who is that?” Braden whispered. Sean shook his head and took another step backward. The figure matched him with another forward move.
“Real funny, guys,” Sean called out. Must be an elaborate part of the hoax. The figure remained motionless and silent.
“Kind of creeping me out,” Braden whispered. “Maybe we should head back to the party?”
“No, it’s just the ape crew trying to scare us.”
“Well, they’re doing a pretty good job of it.” Braden’s voice quivered and his teeth started chattering.
Sean took a step forward. The ghostly shape never flinched but instead pulled out what a long scythe. He held it aloft and something dripped from it.
“Maybe you’re right.” Sean grabbed Braden’s arm and began pulling him back toward the party. But, for every step they took, the apparition matched them. Sean whirled and yelled, “Run!”
Both boys took off, stumbling over roots and downed corn stalks. Now, only twenty feet separated the two from the specter. Dodging over into another row, Sean lost sight of Braden. The constricting bands around his chest tightened harder but there was no time for the inhaler. Then, a blood-curdling scream split the night air. Off in the distance, an owl echoed the shrill sound.
“No!” Sean wheezed his heavy breath thick in the cold night air. Sean lunged back through the stalks but skidded to a stop, his eyes transfixed on the horror in front of him.
Donkey Kong lay on the ground, bathed in moonlight. Sightless eyes stared at Sean, accusing, and blood oozed from the long claw marks that raked Donkey Kong’s torso. Above him stood the hooded figure with one hand held out over the body, dripping blood. The scythe rested against his side. The fingers turned over and a long husk-like finger beckoned Sean closer. Sean’s heart resumed beating like an explosion and sweat drenched his clothes. He gasped for air.
He shook his head and tried to step back but found his muscles would not obey. Inch by inch, the hooded figure raised its head so that Sean could finally see what lay beneath. Sean screamed.
A burlap sack with buttoned eyes and an orange triangular nose grinned at him. The button-eyes glowed and the corn-husk hand once again beckoned to Sean.
Sean shook his head and whirled to flee. Fear coursed through his veins. He did not know what that thing was, but he was not sticking around for an introduction. Sean’s legs pounded against the uneven ground, tripping over clods of dirt as corn stalks slapped and sliced at his face. He paid no attention, bent only on escaping the evil behind him.
Sean burst through another row and smacked into a hard force. Bouncing back, Sean felt himself falling, and a large burlap sack settled over his head. The dirt bit into his back, and his head slammed against the hard surface. Sean tried to suck in a breath, but inhaled the dust and corn particles instead. He tried to scream but heard only a familiar whistling sound. He was in trouble. He twisted and clawed at the bag, but hands clamped down tight.
As the world faded to black, Sean thought he heard, “Looks like we caught us another snipe, boys!” A raucous laughter echoed out over the cornfield. In the distance a lone owl replied.
Word Count 1,953