“What you think it is?” asked Joe. He kicked at the brick of it, hoping it was so weak that it would crumble. The wall was solid though and his sneaker toe bounced off it.
“Think its maybe like a tomb or something.” said Evan, standing far back from where his friend stood, as if the structure might rise up at any moment to crush them.
“Nah, a tomb gots angels and things all over it, bigger an’ prettier too.”
“Like a little fancy house for dead people. Plus, we ain’t anywhere near the cemetery. This thing’s just sitting a long ways from anything other than cows.”
“It does kinda look like a house though, don’t it?”
“Like the top of one maybe, like the roof and a little bit under sticking up, though it’s all crooked.”
Even took a few more steps back, hands dug deep into the pockets of his shorts. He walked a few steps to his left, curving around the short brick wall. Two other walls jutted out from the behind it, forming square corners. But these slanted and quickly disappeared under the rolling field of grass cut short by grazing cows. Above the wall there was indeed something that looked like it could have once been a roof, old shingles beaten down by years of rain and ready to fall.
“Wish there was a way to get inside it,” said Joe, crouching down and placing his face close to the brick, looking for a hole to press his eye against.
“Inside? Don’t even know if there is one, and wouldn’t be anything in except for dirt, or a dead body maybe.”
Maybe, maybe not, either way, Joe wanted to know what the thing was, who put it there and why it seemed so neglected. He looked over to Evan, staring up at the sky and the gathering storm clouds. He knew that the other boy was becoming bored, that he’d soon come up with some excuse to head on home. Evan kicked at a lump of loose dirt, sending it flying straight at him, a smug smirk on his face when it fell just short of smacking Joe on the forehead.
“Gonna rain soon, Joe.”
So what, thought Joe, there were more important things than not getting wet. He started to walk around the structure again, seeing if there was a way in that he had missed. Joe thought he might be able to see more if he climbed up onto the wall where it was the shortest, up onto the tilted tile roof of the thing to see if any holes existed big enough to climb through.
At its shortest, Joe could simply walk onto the roof of the building from the ground though he felt uneasy about standing on it. From the other side, Joe could hear Evan calling on him to stop climbing, but the boy’s voice sounded far off, blown distant by the oncoming winds. With a few cautious and timid steps, Joe had planted both his feet firmly on the roof of the strange building.
Indeed there was something like an opening in the middle of the slant and it was at least ten feet up the slope from where Joe stood. Evans calls were becoming more incessant, louder over the rushing air, but Joe was determined to get a peak, just a peak, before he had to call it quits and make that long walk back to town. Carefully, he began his crawl towards the spot of cracked ceramic.
Distant thunder stomped off as Joe’s fingers found the edges of the hole, his entire body lying flat against the roof now. Just a few more inches were all he needed. Joe pulled himself slowly and carefully, eyes peering just over the darkness of the small gap. Nothing at first, too dark to make out shape, but his eyes adjusted and the forms of broken wooden furniture and shattered glass appeared. Something moved, quick and invisible save for the shifting of shapes, the sound of rustling. What was it?
“Joe! Joe! Joe!”
Evan was screaming, loud as he could. Joe lost his grip and slid down the incline, rubbing rough against the hard tile. Crashing hard back to the grassy ground, Joe lay dazed for a few moments, the air punched out of his lungs to leave him gasping. Somewhere above his head, Joe could hear the feet running across the ground, the sound getting louder, until it was above him, the sound of shoes swishing through the field right next to his ear.
“Get up” he whispered it, raspy,” Get up, Joe!”
Hands under his arms were pulling Joe now, dragging his body back around to the side of the wall. Evan crouched over him, breathing heavy, his eyes wide. “Don’t talk.” Evan’s voice was hardly audible, hardly recognizable. Then Joe heard the thing that had so terrified his friend, from somewhere on the opposite side of the sunken building came the sound of deep, throaty gurgling.
“What is it?” asked Joe, his voice strained from wheezing. He was answered only with shushing, a small, sweaty hand placed over his mouth.
For several minutes after, the two boys listened to the strange gurgling sounds, the occasional hollow noise of something thumping swiftly back and forth across the ground. Suddenly it seemed to move very quickly away from the wall, the sound of its feet disappearing into the breeze, towards that far-off hill. The two boys continued waiting without a muscle twitch or a too-loud exhaled breath. After many more minutes and the first drops of rain, the gurgling thing seemed to be gone.
“It was something…a beast. Strange and black, tall-like, taller than a man and wearing raggy clothes, had a face like something I’d never seen.”
Evan helped Joe up and they both quietly made their way against the wall, pressing close. Joe knew they should have run home, but he needed to see the spot the thing, this beast, had stood on. Evan couldn’t move any closer to where the beast had been, he lost his nerve and began to sprint in the direction of the highway, different from the way they had come but also different from the way the creature seemed to have gone. Still, Joe had to look, at least once.
What he saw was a hole in the ground, small but not so small that he couldn’t have slipped in himself. Walking up to it, he looked inside to see a cramped tunnel that led straight back into the buried building. From far off, Joe heard a high-pitched scream. Turning his head to where he had last seen the shrinking form of Evan running, Joe instead saw the beast bending over in the distance, body bend straight down at the middle in a sharp angle, long dangling arms held tight against its torso as its head nearly touched the ground. Joe thought he saw something fleshy and small lying on the ground beneath it but turned away, not wanting to see.
Hearing the beast now running full speed across the field, Joe quickly slid head first down the hole, clawing at the dirt with his fingers. At least, he thought to himself as his belly scraped across hard-packed earth, he would finally be able to see the brick-walled building from the inside.