I never paid attention to that old building as I rode my sport bike to work at the general store every day. It was on the other side of the tracks, so what would you expect? It was beyond old and forgotten. There weren’t any signs attached to it. No special colors to grab your attention.
But one closing night changed all that.
Conveniently, it was Halloween. And, of course, a full moon lit up our small town with an eerie, silver light. I had just finished sweeping when the familiar ring of the bell that hung on the door echoed through the empty mart. Lifting my head, I saw them. The five guys who paraded themselves around as the town’s gang.
The leader—aka “Swag”—peacocked up to me. “It’s Halloween.”
My grip tightened on the broom handle, ready to convert it to a staff weapon. “If you want free candy, you’ll have to go somewhere else.”
“We decided you’re going to be our sucker this year.”
“Like I’m going to let you dare me into one of your stupid stunts.”
Three of the other four laughed. Swag leaned against the end of an aisle. “We dare you to go to the Factory.” His posse silenced.
I had heard the rumors. The stories. Supposedly, the Factory was what caused our town’s erection. What the Factory produced is anyone’s guess. I don’t know how the rumor started, but supposedly, there’s a mutated monster in there forever searching for a way out. But I never believed such ghost stories. They were made up to scare children into behaving. I shrugged. “Okay.”
Swag looked over his shoulder at his gang and snickered. He turned back to me. “We leave now.”
My arms immediately crossed. “We leave when I get my helmet and lock up.”
“Well, hurry it up.” Jeers came from the rocker-clad group.
I dropped my jaw and used slow motion to pivot on my heels. I remained in slow motion as I took step after step to get to the break room.
“Hurry it up, princess. We ain’t got all night.”
The slow motion role had gotten old. But I still took my time gathering my belongings. I knew my life didn’t hang in the balance. They called themselves a gang, but a two-year-old could take them out. When I returned to the front of the store, Swag and his buddies had moved outside to their turbo-charged, four-cylinder imports. I snorted. Anything could out-run those things that possessed weed whackers for motors.
Time was very much so taken as I locked the grocery store doors. I even dropped my keys. On purpose, yes. But I made it look accidental. I made my ritual of swinging my right leg over my Ninja and settling into the seat. I enjoyed how the black metal flakes were reflecting in the deep plumb purple paint. A smudge on the gas tank snagged my attention. As I moved to rub it away, Swag pulled up beside me in his Honda Civic hatchback. “You’re going to follow me. Eight-Z, Flash, and Bats will flank you, so don’t even bother chickening out.”
My eyes rolled. I pulled on my air brushed helmet to keep from saying smart things to dumb ears.
The procession moved forward. I was in the middle with a car in every cardinal direction of me. And I realized how stupid the town’s “gang” really was. Every Halloween, they dare people to do idiotic stunts or pranks. Take this, for instance. I have to walk up to an abandoned factory that’s supposedly haunted. How, exactly, does this make them any cooler? The only reason I complied was so they wouldn’t egg my bike. I valued my bike far more than my pride.
Swag’s moaning Civic crossed the railroad tracks. Of course, I followed suit, the other Honda, a Subaru, and an Acura flanking me. We carried on until we came to the building I never cared to notice. Our group of five vehicles halted on the outskirts of what was left of the overgrown parking lot. The gang got out of their cars while I remained seated on my bike, removing my helmet. Their self-proclaimed leader walked up to me. “Go up the steps and inside.”
I merely shrugged. “Whatever.” This was stupid. But what did I do? I walked up to the steps anyway. This was for my bike. However, I did stop to take in the dilapidated building for the first time.
Vines clung to the sides, as if the crumbling cement gave them life. The tin roof had rust spots waiting to merge and eat out the roof entirely. Large double doors with dirt-encrusted windows patiently waited for a troublesome teenager to disturb their slumber. Well, I supposed I was that “troublesome teenager.” Eh, but I didn’t care. My feet carried me up the cracked cement stairs.
“Hurry it up, princess,” Swag called.
I had to grin at my defiance as I once again used slow motion. One. Two. Three. Four steps to the doors. Slow motion guided my hand to a long handle. Now the suspense killed even me. Regular motion resumed, I pulled. The door held fast. My brows furrowed. I grabbed the other handle and yanked both simultaneously. Still, there would be no entering.
“What’s taking so long?” Swag hollered.
“It’s locked from the inside.”
I heard him whine something. Then he began walking. “We’ll go around back. Come on, gang.”
I rolled my eyes as I turned to my left. This was ludacris.
The five guys joined me. The cousins, Eight-Z and Flash, were pushing each other around. Bats laughed at their antics until Eight-Z punched him in the gut. Swag and his brother walked beside me. Even though the trailing three were obnoxious, the side of the building kept my attention.
Like the front, vines clung for dear life. The roof had about a three-foot overhang, however. There were windows all up and down the wall. Three by three feet, all three feet apart. As we descended the slant, basement windows appeared. Four feet by three feet. All were covered in grates and thick bars. They had tried hard to keep people out.
My eyes studied a basement window. Or to keep something in. Shaking my head, I went to the side basement door. I scrunched my eyebrows. Ran a hand along what should have been a crevice between the wall and door. A large, rough weld brushed under my palm. Cold to the touch.
Swag’s brother, the only quiet one in the bunch, stepped beside me to examine the door. He said nothing as he, too, ran his hand down the weld. But he glanced over at me.
“Ninja, can we get in through here, or what?”
Ninja silently sighed. A gesture of irritation I understood.
Flash came up, pressed his ear to the metal door, and pounded a few times. “Nope, I don’t think we’re gonna get in this way.”
Swag yanked him by the collar. “Thanks for the news flash, Captain Obvious. Let’s go around back.”
I glanced at Ninja, who reluctantly followed his brother. Then my eyes shifted to the well-sealed door. They had really tried hard to keep people out. A chill ran down my spine. Or in. No, I didn’t believe in ghost stories. This was supposed to be ridiculous. We continued on.
A black shadow from within slammed the nearest window to us.
The guys screamed, with the exception of Ninja.
The shadow rattled and pounded the barred window over and over. With no prevail, it screeched loud enough for us outside to clearly hear it.
We all ran madly to our vehicles and sped home. Heart pounding, I couldn’t get the inhuman scream out of my head. I crouched lower to the gas tank and shifted to highest gear.
That haunting screech sounded exactly like a cry for help.