(Editor’s note: Throwback Thursday. This slightly fictionalized memoir first appeared in an old blog in 2015.)
“Hey, let’s go check it out,” Tim said to me and motioned up the hill, into the woods.
I looked in that direction. Probably 75 yards away stood an abandoned house, swallowed up by the forest. In winter, with no foliage, you had a better glimpse of the crumbling structure. Now, though, in the middle of summer, it was hard to see through overgrown trees and vines. To my 12-year-old self, it was both fascinating and frightening.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we should,” I replied.
We were on the edge of the neighborhood property, standing next to a creek which formed the boundary for this section of the development. We played in and around the creek often. I don’t remember if it was an unwritten or explicit rule but crossing the creek and venturing into those woods was not allowed. We definitely never ventured close to the old house.
“Oh, come, on,” Tim urged. “Let’s check it out. I finally want to see what’s in there. Come on. We’ll be quick.”
Tim was two years older and following his lead landed me in trouble at times. I looked at my other friend, Davey. He shrugged. A year younger than I, he was going to go along with the older boys’ decision.
“Alright, let’s hurry,” I said.
Tim led the way, jumping the creek at a narrow spot a few feet wide. Davey and I followed. I made sure to take an extra long jump. My memory was still etched with a previous misjudged jump that found me knee deep in the creek with shoes on, after being told to stay away. As a result of that poor jump, my rear end may have still been etched with the inch marks from one of those furniture store yardsticks.
It didn’t talk long for us to cover the distance, even with the overgrown trees. As we neared the house, we could see steps, practically rotten with age, that led up to a slightly open door. We stopped, and I looked at Tim.
“What now?” I whispered
“We go in,” Tim replied.
“What if someone’s in there?”
“Look at this place. Do you think anyone’s in there?”
I looked at Davey. He shrugged
Before I could answer, Tim was up the stairs and gently pushing on the door. The rusty hinge creaked loudly in the hushed woods.
He peeked into the house. “Come on. It’s clear.”
Davey and I followed him again. We stepped into the house and found ourselves in what was perhaps once considered the family room. It took a minute for our eyes to adjust to the darker room. Dirty windows and tree shade kept much of the light away. Leaves, beer cans, and paper trash littered the warped wooden floors.
The room was void of all furniture, expect a small wooden table in the far corner. It looked like a middle schooler could have made it in shop class.
“OK, we’ve seen it. Now let’s get out of here,” I said and turned to leave.
“Wait, look at this!” Tim said.
I turned around. He was bent over the corner table, examining something.
“What is it?” I looked at Davey. He shrugged.
Approaching the table, I could see a rusty pipe, perhaps an inch in diameter and a foot long, lying on the table. One end was covered with a red substance and had what appeared to be hair stuck to it.
“This looks fresh,” Tim said. “I think someone’s been hit on the head.”
“Man, we should get out of here! What if some crazy person is on the loose? Should we call the police?” I looked at Davey. He shrugged. “Aw, man. We can’t call the police. I’ll get in big trouble for being here!” I imagined another yardstick in my future. Or worse, the belt upgrade.
“I don’t know. Let’s go, ” Tim said.
We started running back to my house, taking a more direct route, which avoided the creek but required us to climb the chain link fence behind Mr. Parrot’s house. As we stopped to climb the fence and I caught my breath, I managed to voice my change of heart. “We really should call the police,” I said.
“Won’t you get in trouble?” Tim asked.
“Maybe, but what if someone is really hurt?”
“Um. OK,” Tim said.
Now over the fence, we ran through Mr. Parrot’s yard, crossed the street and burst into my house.
“Mom!” I shouted. “Mom!”
“What? What’s the yelling about?” Mom was coming down the hallway.
“We need to call the police,” I blurted out. “There’s a pipe with blood in the old house in the woods.”
“Hold on, slow down. What are you talking about?”
“You know the old house you can see up in the woods?” Mom looked at me confused. I doubt she’d ever seen the house. “We were exploring it and found a metal pipe with blood and hair. We think someone’s been hurt. We need to call the police!”
Mom’s eye’s narrowed. She looked at Tim.
“It’s true,” he said.
She looked at Davey. He shrugged then slowly nodded. Mom looked back at me.
“Please, can we call the police?” I pleaded.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” she said but walked over to kitchen wall and lifted the phone handset off the hook. Looking at a bright orange sticker on the back of the phone, she dialed the police number written on the sticker.
We waited outside for what seemed an eternity. Eventually, a county sheriff car pulled up. We explained our find and led the officer back over the fence and through the woods to the house.
We entered the house again. This time there was something I didn’t notice on the first visit.
“What’s that smell?” I asked. It seemed familiar, but not pleasant. I couldn’t quite place it.
“That, boys, is ketchup,” the deputy said. He reached for the pipe and held it up to his nose and then ours. The spoiling ketchup smell burned our nostrils. “You’ve been had.”
The officer looked at me, then Davey and finally Tim.
The officer gave us a short lecture and told us to stay away from the old house. He then walked us back to my house. I somehow avoided the yardstick that day, and I never again ventured into those woods. However, Tim, Davey, and I did go on to find other troubles.