Cover image for When It Follows You Home, by Patrick Jason

The mid-afternoon humidity stole thirteen year-old Lance’s breath as he and three others climbed down the steep embankment toward Splunge Creek. He looked over to his best friend Phil and noticed that he had finally taken his steamy glasses off. The July sun was bad, but it was getting worse farther down they went. Below was a wilderness shrouded by tall trees and broken only by an overgrown footpath that ended at the creek. The other two boys led the way down past huge rocks, looking like they would fall any minute, showing this was not their first descent.

“This is how you get in the club,” Ron shouted over his shoulder, smiling wistfully.

“Boy, I wish he would zip it,” whispered Phil. “He’s been talking all the way down.”

Lance nodded and looked ahead at Dan, the other one. “For all the talking Ron is doing, Dan sure is quiet.”

Lance was usually a level-headed, laid-back boy, but ever since school ended for the summer, he had been taunted by members of “the club,” a simple name for a complex group of neighborhood kids causing mischief and pulling pranks. Lance had been singled out for being a “good kid” who was trusted by everyone, including adults. One morning last week, he had gotten up to find that his backyard was in disarray and things strewn about. The next morning, he found a nail driven into his front bike tire. Combined with other incidents since school was out, he felt it was time to take some kind of action.

Lance reasoned that if he joined the club but took it no further, that they would eventually leave him alone. Before he could join however, he would have to go through the “initiation.” That’s where he was now, along with Phil who was not about to let Lance go by himself. If they were being led into a trap, Phil did not want an altercation with the others and see Lance come out the loser.

The four boys finally scaled down the bank and were walking down the path. Ron was running through the grass, and the others hurried to catch up. Soon thereafter, they had come to a small clearing and were standing on the bank of the creek. The sandy beach was small, not much more than a sandbar really, and the creek itself was only ankle deep.

“We turn right here and head north,” Ron stammered while catching his breath. “Right through the creek.”

He and Dan walked into the creek, turned, and pressed on. Phil glanced over at Lance and saw a determined look on his face. “You know, I am more nervous every minute here, and I don’t like that look, man. We should head back.”

“Then go back,” Lance stated. “I’m heading upstream and getting this over with. You don’t have to stay.” Phil kept up though begrudgingly.

After a short walk, all four exited the creek on the opposite side from where they went in. Lance and Phil noticed nothing but the hedge bushes and general brush along the shoreline and bank. Ron ran up and parted some of the hedge bushes revealing an opening into what looked like an old mine entrance. Lance knew from the local history that mines had been popular years before, though all the coal had run out by this time.

“After you two,” Ron said with a mischievous grin.

“You two aren’t coming in?” asked Phil.

“Oh, yes, we will be right behind you.” Lance and Phil glanced at each other as Dan handed Lance a flashlight.

Dan explained, “It gets dark back in there. The mine goes deep.”

As Lance entered the old mine and his eyes became accustomed to the dark, with Phil hesitating at the entrance, there was a trembling in the ground which grew into an audible roar.

“Get out!” shouted Ron, as Lance looked back at Ron, Dan, and Phil running down the bank. He started to run himself, dropping the flashlight, but before Lance could get out, a rain of rocks started falling in the entrance way. Lance watched in horror as he could see that the rocks were going to trap him in the mine. A cloud of dust was pushing into the open area where he was, choking him and burning his eyes. After just a minute, with the flashlight crushed under all the rocks, the daylight was extinguished, and darkness surrounded him.

“Nooooo,” the one word coming out of him, startled him just as much as the rocks did. It echoed out behind him down the long tunnel. He was starting to panic, and as he stepped back, he tripped over something, hitting his head on the side of the mine on his way down to the ground. As a wave of dizziness swept over him, he noticed something that looked blacker than the black around him. The black looked human-shaped, and although he couldn’t be sure that the words he was hearing was in his head or was being spoken aloud, he definitely heard the words, “You’re mine now.”

He wasn’t sure how long he had been on the ground when he came to, but after his eyes began to focus, he noticed that his head no longer ached. As he sat up, there were audible voices outside the pile of rocks, and he heard his name being called. He shouted out that he was there, and a deep voice said, “We’ll have you out in a minute Lance. Are you hurt?”

He took enough time to feel for anything that hurt or felt broken before finding nothing and shouted “No.”

“We’ll have you out in a jiffy. Sit tight.”

Lance heard some of the rocks sliding as they were being moved. Shortly, that beautiful daylight started showing briefly in between the cracks. In another moment, enough of the rocks had been cleared enough for him to crawl over the top and escape outside. His first thought, after seeing several police cars and fire trucks, was that he must have been knocked out for quite some time, though for some miraculous reason, he externally showed no signs of being injured at all.

After he was checked out and showed no trauma, he was cleared to go. Ron and Dan weren’t anywhere to be seen, but Phil hadn’t left his side since he got out of the mine. “Are you really okay? Omigod, when I saw those rocks coming down, I was so afraid for you! The others ran off, but I called 9-1-1. Are you SURE you’re okay?”

Lance gave the best smile he could with the situation and nodded.

Later that night, after explaining what happened to his parents and taking a hot shower, he crawled into bed and went back over what happened. Did he see that mysterious shadow or was that part of him being unconscious? And if he was unconscious, why didn’t he have a headache or concussion? While thinking about this, he fell asleep, not knowing that there was a dark shadow in the corner by his bed.

Thinking he was dreaming he was in an earthquake, Lance sat straight up in bed. It seemed like the entire room had been shaking, but it was only his bed. As soon as he became aware of his surroundings, he noticed that all was quiet. He turned on the lamp by the bed, casting a few shadows across the walls. When he put his feet on the floor, icy wind-like fingers slightly brushed across his ankles, even though it was summer. He walked quickly away from the bed, but all other parts of the room was warm.

Returning from the kitchen for a drink of water, he climbed back in bed and turned out the lamp, the icy wind long gone. That’s when he thought of Phil again. He’d known him since Kindergarten, and they had been friends ever since, and although he never told anyone, Lance had feelings for Phil and often dreamed about him. He had thought of Phil being straight, but since this summer, he had been hanging around more. Then there were the events of the day with Phil not letting Lance go alone. Were these the results of just a friend?

Suddenly, an ice cold wind came from under and around the bed. Lance could even see the cover slightly move. There was a small movement on the other side of the bed, as if someone sat down on it, and the wind started seeping under the cover. He couldn’t move or speak as the cold spread over his entire form. Scared more than he had ever been, he could tell that the wind seemed to have words to it. “I claim you.”

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