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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2275281
A boy ventures into the woods after his dog, only to find an earth-shaking truth instead.

Holland was sleeping like the dead with the same boring dreams playing on repeat in his mind when his 4-year-old great dane, Luna, began scratching vigorously at his door like she'd attained a racoon's bite and a case of rabies. She wasn't very much the type of dog that liked to howl its mouth off until its throat hurt (she wasn't a husky or a chihuahua, that was for sure), and with her big paws slamming against the doorframe, Holland was shaken awake within a couple of minutes, clueless to why his parents weren't attending to her already.

"What do you want?" he grumbled angrily, lifting his head off his deflated pillow to see that the door was shaking, trembling on its hinges like never before, and it looked as if it might collapse at any moment. Dread coiled in the boy's stomach like a snake slithering through his intestines.

"Luna, quit it!" he yelled from the shelter of his blankets. How were his parents not hearing this? They were both light sleepers, and his younger brother Dylan would have been rolling in his own screeches and shrieks of anger that he'd been awoken. Dylan was 11, though to the other members of the Berryman family, he'd never grown out of his terrible twos.

Finally, he clambered from the safe haven of his sheets and ratty stuffies his aunts endlessly gifted him despite his hatred for them and hobbled to the door. He'd busted his knee sliding in a baseball game the previous Friday, and it still hurt like hell as he crossed the creaking floorboards to see what had spooked his girl. They'd had her since she was 3 months old, just a little puppy, but now she was taller than his hip and towered over his head when standing; So, the average size of a great dane compared to an under-average-heighted 13 year old boy.

He feared opening the door; What if her paws swiped down on him and left free space for stitches? His parents had blown so much money on a recent trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and he didn't want them whining in his ear about hospital bills.

When he finally mustered up the courage to pull open the white-painted door, Luna barked in fear before settling when she realized it was only him. "What is it, girl? The fuck's goin' on?" he asked as if she could answer, crouching before her and petting her back. Luna stuck her tongue out at him before trotting down the stairs, the rickety wooden platforms crying out for help underneath her weight. Holland hurried after her, still half-asleep, mumbling about how annoying she could be.

"Luna, wait." But she didn't; Luna didn't wait as she slid across the kitchen tiles and began ramming her head against the screen door that led to their backyard. "Hey! Luna!" Immediately the netting broke, and as Holland watched in horror, Luna threw herself down the steps and into the darkness, pounding toward the forest beyond their fence and disappearing between trees that seemed like giants looming over him, intensifying his fear. He swallowed his dread, blinded by his love for his best buddy, and threw on flip flops, snatching a flashlight from the kitchen counter before following suit.

"Luna? Luna! Luna!" he shouted helplessly into the dark as the flashlight flickered and he muttered a stream of profanities ("Fuck, shit, shit!") before pushing on. He had to find her, or else his parents would blame him. You opened the back door, his father would say, didn't you, son? Why would you let our baby out in the dead of night without going after her? Did you forget about her? His mother would agree with a nod and an 'oh, yeah, I bet he did, Robert'.

But he didn't forget. After all, he was running blindly after Luna herself at 3 in the morning without an idea of where the hell he was going.

"Luna! Luna!" Holland's voice rose above the trees and scattered birds previously perched, observing, on high branches. They darted into the sky and flew safely home; Whereas, on the other hand, the boy couldn't go home. He couldn't, not without Luna. Not without his girl.

He stopped himself after a couple minutes of aimlessly searching to realize he couldn't hear her anymore, only the silence echoing throughout the night, broken by an owl shrieking or a racoon's scampering footsteps through the underbrush. Where is she? he thought to himself as he shivered, what's gotten into her now? There was always something, because that's how family works. There's always something going on that makes you groan and want to disappear.

"Luna! Luna, c'mere, girl!" He patted his thighs, whistled, even made the dumb kissy noises his parents used to get her to come back inside for lunch, but nothing worked. Wherever she was, she either couldn't hear or genuinely didn't care. This wasn't like her-How could she not care? Those kissy noises and whistles were like the words 'hey, I got you a new phone!' to a dog. Any human would come running at that. So why wasn't she running?

Thoughts crowded Holland's head. Did you fall into another ditch, you bonehead? he wondered as if he were talking directly to her, though he lacked telepathy. I know you aren't the brightest of all dogs, but attacking my innocent door? Smashing through the screen like a barbarian? What's the matter with you, Luna? Do you actually have rabies?

He tripped over something unseen and tumbled forward, his palms slapping against the ground scattered with wet leaves and dug-up dirt from animals scavenging for food. He patted for his flashlight that's beam had gone dark, throwing him into the pitch-dark, and his hand found a smooth surface and two empty holes. He shrieked and threw himself onto his feet, but the thing stuck to his hand like a bowling ball that he'd caught his fingers in by accident, and it clung to him as he frantically tried to fling it off.

Holland froze when he realized what it was; he'd caught sight of it in the corner of his eye during his fit and, oh God, it was a baby doll. A fucking baby doll, out in the middle of the woods behind his house? What kind of horror movie was this?

He lifted the thing before his face to find the holes his fingers were stuck in were the baby's eye sockets, where its eyes should have been, and a new horror dawned on him. He was alone in the darkness with a random baby doll with no eyes. What was this, a Stephen King novel? A Thomas Olde Heuvelt novel?

The boy clung to his sanity and willpower as he dropped the doll, an odd sense of dvu flooding his brain, beginning to continue searching before he slammed right into something knee-high, tripping once more.

This time Holland's chin thudded against a tree root, the contact shaking him. He cried out in pain, tears building, but hestill stood. He assumed at first it was a stump he'd missed in his fear and blindness in the dark, except as he stood he came face-to-face with something much more terrifying and he really, really wanted to run back home, with or without Luna.

Perched idly before him was a makeshift grave.

It was made of rotted wood and he couldn't read the name, but right away he knew. He knew-Part of him was sure of something deeper, some part that remembered, but the rest of him didn't listen as he tried to make out the words etched into the stone and failed miserably. There looked to be an O and maybe a D, and that was all he could read. The rest was either numbers or solely so blurred no one could tell what it said.

"Luna?" he asked the darkness hesitantly, rounding the grave without a passing glance. "Luna, where are you? C'mere, girl. C'mon, just get your ass over here already." He was whining like a two year old and he knew it; It was like he'd been pushed back 11 years in 4 minutes. "Luna, goddamnit!"

Holland strode on because he didn't know which direction his house was in, and part of him still demanded he find Luna, chirping at him that she was his and he couldn't abandon his own, could he?

He stopped walking, stopped moving, stopped breathing abruptly as a voice joined his in a chorus of raising cries for Luna-Luna. At first, he thought it was his father because the voice was male and sounded slightly like his own voice, but no-It was unmistakably a stranger's, and yet it was screaming, screaming for his dog. Could one of his friends somehow found out his dog was missing? Maybe one of his cousins who lived down the road?

That was impossible. How could they have come so quickly without his parents alerting them? And why would they run down the street at the witching hour to find a dog that was probably already gone for good?

"Luna, you are unbelievable!" the voice yelled. "Luna, come here!" The voice was angry, so angry that it shocked Holland into standing still in an empty stretch of land, about 40 feet away from the grave and the baby doll now, and he stared straight into the eyes of the sense of oncoming doom overwhelming him like a tsunami in a town of 1-story houses. He felt his chest tighten and wanted to curl into a ball in a tree, maybe hide with the squirrels for the rest of his life. The fear was so present, so solid, so there that he could have died of fright at that very second.

But he didn't. No existing god or goddess would spare him from the truth.

Holland thought he could see the figure of the stranger in the dark as clouds cleared away from the moon, and it was a figure so similar to one he knew he could almost put his finger on it but not quite. Not quite, not quite, not quite.

His heart stopped beating.

The figure was staring right at him.

"Holland?" it asked, "Holland, is that you?" There was a foolish childishness in the stranger's voice that he knew so well. It physically hurt that he couldn't tell who it was.

And then, he could. Dylan. Holy shit, it was Dylan.

But wasn't Dylan asleep in his bed, safe and sound upstairs? Wasn't Dylan shorter than this, and wasn't he younger? Wasn't Dylan a little boy instead of someone who looked 16? Wasn't Dylan different in every possible way?

Holland couldn't speak. This wasn't Dylan because this couldn't be Dylan. If it was, that meant he had a serious case of amnesia or was losing his mind, maybe both. If either, that meant he needed serious medical attention immediately.

How? How, how, how? he asked himself over, and over, and over. Everything about this was impossible. Luna's nonexist footsteps, the baby doll, the grave, this stranger that seemed so much-too much-like Dylan. His heart was pounding at too fast of a speed as he turned in the direction he thought his house was toward and fought his way through the bushes and thorns to get there, zooming past trees whose branches were clawing at his clothing and biting at his hair. Strands were yanked away and his clothes were in tatters, covered in dirt, and he didn't give a single passing glance at his fear. Couldn't.

"Holland? Holland, slow down! Wait for me!" the stranger cried, increasing his fear more and more by the second. Now, the maybe-Dylan was chasing after him as Holland wished he could turn back time, staying in bed instead of getting up. Ignoring Luna's earth-shattering stomps. Half-dreaming semi-peacefully.

"Go-away!" he yelled over his shoulder. It came out as a mangled yell of pure terror and a prayer for a safe space.

As he passed the treeline, the shouting stopped abruptly and the maybe-Dylan ran straight past him, nearly brushing him directly, and pounded onto the safe haven of the dirt as Holland's parents, his very own parents, burst through the screen door.

The screen door that was still whole. It wasn't busted from Luna.

How could it have been? Luna had died that night, years ago, after falling in a deep ditch, dying of a combination of blood loss, starvation, and dehydration.

It all hit Holland in one massive swoop, the memories surrounding him and singing the same tune in a chorus of terror as his knees buckled. He crumpled to the ground in one movement, the ice that had been previously holding his bones together shattering all at once in a spray of jagged shards and shock.

Holland's parents rejoiced with Dylan, hugging him close, and as Holland watched, his younger brother began sobbing so heavily it looked painful. "I thought-I thought it was him, I really-I really did," he stammered to his sympathetic parents, who wrapped their arms tightly around their son, so tightly it seemed to nearly suffocate the boy. "I swear, it was him."

"Honey, I'm sorry, but you know it wasn't him. It couldn't have been. Your brother's gone, Dylan," his mother soothed.

The boy perched on his knees at the treeline found he couldn't view the scene anymore without breaking down.

The baby doll, the grave, the older version of Dylan, Luna's death.

How could he have forgotten?

Holland had been dead for years.

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