Two teens go off to a cabin to explore and be alone, but someone else has other plans.
|Pickle was nervous; he hadn't planned on getting a second date with Pear, but here he was...sweaty palms and all as he rang the doorbell to pick her up.
"H-Hi there! Are you ready?" he stammered, as he shuffled his feet and tried to hide his blushing face.
Pear smiled. "Absolutely...lemme grab a jacket. What are you thinking?"
He had thought about this moment at least a hundred times since their trip to the movies last weekend, and yet he hardly knew how to state his intentions. "I thought maybe we'd, uhhhh, ya know, maybe just uhhhh, take a walk through the park?" he managed to get out, mangling nearly every third word spoken.
"That sounds delightful!" Pear exclaimed, without letting on her idea Pickle was somewhat shy and weary of something. She told her parents where they were going, when they might be back, and off they went.
Cuddleshmuck Park was only a few blocks over, and it was an expansive nature preserve with hiking trails, playgrounds, shelters for picnics, and camping cabins. Trees were in their full autumn glory; leaves the many shades of red and orange were overwhelming the usual greenliness, and the wind brought a slight coolness that would circle the fallen ones around every so often.
Walking up the main road, Pickle was clearly out of his element. "Wh-where do you wanna go? Which way?" he asked twice, first transposing "which" and "where" while trying hard and failing to make eye contact.
"Doesn't matter" she said, her voice carrying an accompanying smile so audible, even the birds were aroused by its sparkle. "Let's head up this way..." and she pointed toward a trail with a hill leading up to Wangtango Convention Hall...an old, dilapidated building that once held large parties and groups celebrating anything from weddings to boy scouts to political fundraisers, but has sat empty since it fell into disrepair as the town couldn't afford its upkeep. Pear pulled at Pickle's hand and with a gleam in her eye led the way.
Pickle was rather unaccustomed to ladies being so forward with him...as captain of the school's Chess Club, his speed was more "bookworm" than "pep rally", but he was game for anything; he was tired of his reputation as a pushover, and by wooing the school's most adorable cheerleader he figured he could leave that behind. However, shedding his terrible awkwardness would prove to be a bigger problem than his manliness deficit.
Feeling the yank of Pear in his arm signaled a newfound sense of courage inside him, so he tried not to overstep her gait out of anxiousness and trip over her with excitement. Soon they were up the degrading stone steps of the hall, facing the entrance. It was roped off with yellow caution tape, signaling something went down there that maybe shouldn't have. A disappointed relief crossed Pickle's brow, until Pear nudged him forward.
"May-maybe we shouldn't go in there..." he said, and was about to explain why this might be a bad idea, when he was interrupted by an excitable Pear.
"I heard," she started coyly, "this place's filled with an unknown presence...nobody's seen it, but they feel it as they wander through different rooms. It sounds so eerie!", which seemed more positive than the words themselves...and those were Pickle's exact thoughts, albeit in a much darker tone.
He turned to look around, mentally photographing his surroundings and plotting a way out...but Pear had already ducked under the tape and was prying open the double doors. With a squeal that suggested someone had recently made the same entrance, they slung open and Pickle hesitantly followed...he was already worrying about how he'd explain this to her parents if something were to happen. "C'mon!" she said, as if she were running toward a playground for summer's first swing.
The doors led to the main ballroom, and the back hallway opened to a kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry facility. Offices and sleeping quarters were upstairs, along with a library and covered deck overlooking the park. Pear did a pirouette in front of the fireplace, pulling Pickle into a slow-dance. "Isn't this nice?" she asked. "My parents used to come here often for different functions when they were kids, and my mom has the best stories about it."
This calmed Pickle slightly, until Pear suggested they explore. He gulped, and figured he'd try to build off the confidence Pear had in enjoying the moment. Plus, contrary to her knowledge of the Wangtango, most of what he'd heard about it was tales from upperclassmen bringing their dates there for, ahem, intimacy. Pickle was, in the back of his mind, hoping for just the slightest make-out session.
They circled around the ballroom and into the hallway, stopping occasionally to note remnants of past visitors: crushed beer cans, snack bags, a broken lighter, and several used condoms. "Ewww! Groooooss!" Pear mockingly howled, and Pickle thought maybe he wasn't gonna be that lucky. Other than the basic fixtures, the rooms downstairs were practically abandoned; a table here, a chair there, and leaves and garbage everywhere. "People actually do it here?" he said under his breath; when Pear asked him what he said he looked at her like he hadn't spoken.
As the hallway ended at the staircase, Pear skipped ahead and Pickle slowed to survey the scene. She didn't notice the mouse coming down, and he was unaware that the sun crept behind the clouds and cast a gloominess over the incoming light through the windows. As she reached the top she turned around and moaned, "You coming?" and like a scared puppy he trotted toward her, two at a time up the stairs to minimize chances of him stepping in or on anything unsavory.
The library was nearly identical to the ballroom: bare but lined with dusty shelves and dustier books. If the last party here was held by spiders, they streamered every inch of wall or corner with webbing. Pickle was itchin' to see the bedrooms, but Pear had made her way to the shelves and snatched a book from one. Blowing the dust off the cover, she flipped pages like a deck of cards..."Ya know, most people don't realize I'm an avid reader," she said matter-of-factly, "and I love classics. I'm not just a pretty face, like they all say." Pickle smiled and made his way around the shelves.
"Beware the clouds/ turning the sun grey..." she read from the book, "The ghosts of Wangtango/ come out to play!" She laughed, and asked Pickle if he really believed that. He turned around, shrugged because he wasn't paying attention, and fixed his eyes down the hallway. "What craziness! Everybody knows ghosts don't exist!" she snorted, and tossed the book aside to follow the wandering Pickle.
The hallway appeared to be the cleanest spot in the structure...the flooring felt stable, the walls were fresher, and the windows were intact. This meant few leaves and animal disturbances, giving Pickle hope that the back half of the upstairs was in suitable condition for romance. Inside he'd allowed himself to smile a little, just as she caught up to him and lightly slapped his butt.
He jumped a little but was enough at ease that he chuckled and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek when suddenly a loud blast and rolling thud caused both to duck for cover where they were. Huddled on the floor, he asked if she was alright and she meekly assented. He felt her heart beating through her back, and his armpit sweats started. Pausing for a deep breath, he stood to assess the situation. "I-it sounded like a r-r-rock came through a window!" he exclaimed, and they cautiously walked the length of the hallway. None of the windows on that floor appeared open, broken, or even cracked.
"That's so weird!" Pear said, for the first time exhibiting something besides cheer in her voice. "I'm kinda nervous about this..."
"Maybe we should bolt..." Pickle reasoned, abandoning thoughts of groping his ladyfriend. "This is a bit too much for me!" They began to backtrack down the hallway toward the stairs, and stopped at the spot they heard the clattering. Right in the middle of the hall was a large rock- roughly the size of a cantaloupe, which would've been obvious- and on it was painted the letter P. "What the..." his voice trailed as they stopped to examine it.
"OMG, it's huge" she said to Pickle, unaware he was seeing the same thing. "That coulda killed us!" The panic in her words grew, as did Pickle's agenda of perhaps playing the hero. However, his curiosity about the rock was slightly stronger than that, or his fear. "But how'd it get here?" he wondered, to no one in particular.
Pear wasn't taking chances. The fearless explorer exposed her fraidy-cat side and scampered downstairs. Pickle followed to cover her back and look out for more possibly falling dangers. As they made it to the ballroom they paused to catch their breath. Pear murmured to a shriek "OMG OMG OMG LOOK!!" and pointed to a shadow moving along the wall. They froze as it dissipated into daylight, and turned to each other with jaws gaping. They fled down the steps and out of the park; no concern for the loose steps, and no thoughts of traffic on the way back to Pear's house. Silence, except the sound of sneakers slapping the street.
They didn't stop until they reached the garage at the end of Pear's driveway. Panting, they took chairs out from the patio table and shared in a heavy sigh of relief. "That place really is haunted!" she exclaimed. Pickle, realizing he was gonna hafta rework his plan of canoodling with Pear, agreed and became lost in his thoughts...which were interrupted by the sound of a bicycle skidding out in the driveway. It was Bug, Pear's oldest brother, and he was hysterical with laughter.
"I...you guys...OMG!! Too funny!" he could barely spit out between doubled-over chortling. "Shoulda seen your faces!" He had a Go-Pro camera strapped to his forehead, and he approached the garage.
Playing the part of annoyed little sis, Pear got defensively mouthy. "What're you talkin' about, Bug?" The disappointment of not having fun was coming out in the anger toward her brother.
"I heard you dorks were going to Cuddleshmuck, so I biked down," he began, "cuz I know how you get when mom starts tellin' stories. I hid up in the rafters, and when you guys went upstairs, that's when I dropped the rock...hilarious!"
Pear fumed, unable to blurt out anything coherent besides warbling frustration. Pickle was a still a little pensive, and became curious. "Why'd you paint a letter P on the rock though, Bug? What's the significance? Just one of our initials, to scare us off?"
Bug got quiet, and he cocked his head. "What're you talkin' about, nerd? I didn't put no letter on the rock. This guy! Thinks he can read rocks or somethin'..."
"No," Pear interrupted, "he's serious, jerk...there was a big P right on the center of the rock. Big. Bold. In white."
Stunned with a side of confusion, Bug said "Huh? No, I definitely didn't do that. It was just a rock I found on the way up. A broken stone from the steps."
"I'll be..." Pickle muttered, and the three of them looked at each other with eyes that said they were never going back there again.