Leave It Behind

Week 37: September 15, 2016

Not many people knew about the cul-de-sac. After all, it was hardly a road anymore. No street signs, either. The houses that had once stood there were long gone, having long ago been gobbled up by the dense woods that encompassed the entire neighborhood. The only remnant of life on that street, hidden beneath years of weeds and grass that had erupted through the concrete, was a faintly visible message painted on the ground: DEAD END.

Gary grew up on that street. He learned how to ride a bike on that street. It always felt to him like a safe zone, on the outskirts of town, protecting him from the dangers that often lurked within. It had never occurred to him that the real danger might be on the outside trying to get in.

Something compelled him to visit his hometown after he lost his job. He was just walking through the city when, without warning, he heard a familiar sound. Growling — not the kind a dog was capable of making, but something far more sinister. It was a sound as cold as a February night, so cold it made your bones ache. He had to suppress the urge to look over his shoulder, too scared to see what was hiding in that alleyway.

That was why he returned home, after so many years. Gary had to be sure that what had turned Hamilton Circle into nothing was still there. The thought of something so dark chasing him all the way to the city made his skin crawl.

He almost couldn’t find it, having forgotten the layout of the town. It looked so different now, with chain restaurants and shopping centers on practically every corner. But it still felt peaceful, serene, secluded, despite the modern luster of consumerism. It still felt, as he first drove into town, like he was crossing an invisible border. He’d imagined, as a kid, that there was a wall there, unseen and unfelt, that protected those inside it. Even as an adult, he held on childishly to this belief, though with one minor tweak; it was now protecting those outside by keeping an evil locked within.

Just before sunset, Gary found Lincoln Way, the street that intersected with old Hamilton Circle. From there, he found his way just fine, followed an old bike route he used to take after school some days. Hamilton Circle didn’t even look that out of place. They’d installed a railing there where the road used to be, making it look like the street had always just kept on going, never turning into a cul-de-sac at all. And even though it was the only spot in the neighborhood with houses conspicuously absent, the overgrown woods behind the railing looked surprisingly natural. Had he not grown up there, Gary would’ve never second guessed it.

But when he parked and looked down, it was easy to see the D-E-A-D E-N-D just because he knew exactly where to look. Funny how certain things never left your memory.

He crossed the railing and walked out into the middle of what now was an empty lot pretending to be a field, surrounded by immense and intimidating trees. He just stood there and listened to the wind rustle the leaves and whistle, in haste, as it zipped through the bushes on the ground. There weren’t any cars or children on the road. By this time, school and work had long been over. Everyone was already home. It was a good time to listen.

Don’t make me come looking for you, Gary thought. Don’t make me do it. I know you’re here somewhere.

He peered into the woods, knowing that if it was still here, it wouldn’t be very far from this spot.

Gary didn’t know exactly what it was or why it did what it did. The monster just…was. The last time he’d seen it was back in the woods, its maniacal red eyes staring back at him, glowing in the bright orange light of the flames coming from his house. From every house. They all vanished in one night, within hours. The whole time, the thing watched. And although Gary couldn’t see anything but its eyes, he knew it was smiling.

He heard some rustling and turned, staring straight at what would’ve been his front door. Had he looked up and a little to the right, he’d have seen his bedroom window and the narrow trunk of a thin tree that had grown in the front yard. Instead, he looked straight, straight into the darkest part of the woods, where trees seemed to gather in a circle like a cover of witches surrounding their prey.

He heard the thing growl. And then he saw it open its eyes.

It was smiling.

Gary felt it in his bones again. They ached, like he’d just fallen down a flight of stairs. It wasn’t yet fall, but he yearned for a coat to shield him from the chill. It wouldn’t have done him any good anyway.

He stepped back slowly, knowing what the beast was capable of, and then hopped back over the railing. He was done here. He had to go.

On the drive home, he sighed, over and over again. He’d found that old monster, yes he had, in the same place it’d been so many years ago. It couldn’t have been in the city, he thought. It was still back home — it was happy, even — and Gary couldn’t be more relieved.