Chapter 1: The Invite
A light grey beam of early morning shown through the window of Cory’s bedroom. The air was calm and stale. If one was to enter the room, they would get the feel as if it was a picture, frozen in time. A computer desk, only meant for school, with various odd and ends scattered about it. On either side of that were tall bookshelves. Almost bursting with novels and comic books. Not your ordinary collection of fiction, and untouched “how to” books. These were all horror. Every one was different, but all were held in the common genre title.
As he sat on his bed in the dim light his features seemed even more sickly and sad. The boy was never very big or good looking. He seemed to care not about his shaggy hair, or sunken in eyes. However, no one in his life ever ridiculed him about it, so he never even seemed to notice.
Cory sat on his bed. The youths shifty half closed eyes were darting back and forth from the books to his open closet. He slowly swallowed, and built up the nerve to get up and go to the closet door. He slowly made his way across the room and jumped to one side of the door. He leaned over and peered into the dark space that kept his jackets. He looked into the closet like one trying to see something shrouded by shadow. But, as usual, the longer he looked the more difficult it was to see. After a minute he slowly shut the door.
Cory broke the ominous silence by sighing and shuffling back over to his bed. As he slouched back onto his mattress, he started to brake into a sob. Our young protagonist curled himself up on his bed like a child who is waiting for their parent to comfort them. Slowly words started to mumble from his lips.
“Just go away. Leave me alone.” No one was in the room, but Cory still spoke the demons that plagued his dreams. These demons were the ones that tended to never leave a person on their own. They were the kind that only the possessor could defeat. However, Cory did not know how to defeat his past. For it was what caused him to have nightmares, and wake up every morning like this. The same routine. Wake up, see the coset open, be gripped with fear, over come, and defeat it by closing the closet door. But, every time he knew he never really could beat it. Every time he felt even more afraid of that dark space, until one day he would not be able to over come.
As Cory lay there, he slowly cried himself back to sleep. When he awoke he heard the deep voice of his father calling from downstairs.
“Cory! Cory! Come on, get up! Come on. The bus will be here in a few minutes!” The words made Cory snap out of his slumber, the events from earlier forgoten. Oh no, What time was it? He looked at his alarm clock. 7:25! The bus would be at the checkpoint in ten minutes! Cory rushed to put his clothes on, and grab his pre-packed backpack. Two minutes.
“Not bad.” He said to himself. Quickly he ran down the stairs and to the printer. Yes, it was still there, his latest story. It was a great hobby of his to write short stories for his school paper. Originally he had not been allowed to “waist room” on the pages of the Kimberton High School Paper. However, the other kids at school, and some of the teachers, loved reading his stories, so they let it slide.
Cory, ran past his father who was in just as much of a rush as Cory to get out the door. His father had worked the night shift at the local Walmart for at least ten years. Now, just last night, he had picked up a second job at the town pub. Cory didn’t like the idea of his dad working there, but he assured him that it was only temporary, for them to stay afloat. It would be hard on both of them, but mostly it would be hard on Cory. He and his father were not the closest they had been for a while. Cory didn’t see him much with school, and his father’s work. But there was a different thing that kept them apart. Something from the past. Something that neither would talk about. As Cory rushed passed his father at the kitchen table, he called out after him, “Hey, at least grab a pop-tart.”
“No thanks.” Cory called back over his shoulder. “I’m kind of in a hurry.” His father did not like that, but it was the truth. Cory now had only Three minutes to get to the bus stop, and it was at least a two minute walk. As he saw his son rush out the door, Walter phillips called after him, “I love you!” To most, the words were ordinary nothingness, but to Cory’s father they were his best attempted to reach out to his crumbling son.
Cory, however, did not hear the words. He was already half way to the bus, which was now coming to a stop. Cory felt very foolish running toward a bus, but he could afford to look foolish in place of walking to school. Just in time Cory made it onto to the big yellow transport.
“Rough morning Cory?” Asked the bus driver.
“No rougher than usual, Mr. Lawrence.” Replied Cory, before turning to find a seat. As he looked, the whole bus was giving him an odd stair. To any other person, it would seem strange, but Cory knew exactly what they wanted.
“Yes, I have it.” He said, holding up the next issue of his series. The bus burst into a loud cheer, causing Mr. Lawrence to have to blow his airhorn to calm them down. As Cory continued to look for an open seat, he spotted his friend Ben flagging him down from the back. Cory made his way over the lanky olive skinned boy. As he plopped himself down next to his comrade, he handed him the new story.
“Feast your eyes.” He said, triumphantly. Ben looked at the cover title.
“‘The dark hall’? Is it another horror story?” Cory gave him a sarcastic look.
“Do I ever write anything else, Ben?” Ben chuckled to himself as he started to read through the pages.
“I guess not. I must say that your last one was rather good. I asked a couple of other kids, and they told me it was as good as one of Steven King’s stories.” Cory let the complement sink in, and fill his ever expanding ego. “You know Cory, if you send these things into one of those magazines, they might publish it.” Cory thought of this for a moment.
“Well, I might. But I don’t think they are quite ready.” Ben looked over his friend’s latest manuscript with surprise.
“Cory, what are you talking about? You have most of the school loving you because of these stories! It’s like some sort of gift that you have. Why would they not be ready?” Cory looked out the window, and thought of it for a few seconds.
“Well, I have been reading in all of these websites that say stuff about how cliche horror stories are. Most of my stuff fell under that category.” Cory turned to look out the window. He saw houses, cars, trees. Nothing that really was worth noticing. But then, he saw it. “What the heck was that?” Ben looked to where his friend was staring. In one of the front lawns was a man wearing a white paper mask. The two boys looked at him for a while before he passed out of sight. He was dressed on a black tank top, and baggy dress pants. Both were clearly to big for his skeleton frame. His long ,red, frizzy hair pocked out from the back of his mask, which seemed to be made out of plane old paper. It was cut to cover his whole face, save the two small slits for the eyes, and one for the mouth. The figure didn’t seem to move at all, even when it was plane that everyone on the bus was now looking at him.
The whole group of teenagers were now talking and pointing at the man. It was obvious that everyone was a little creeped out by this. However, it didn’t take long for someone to point out that tonight was halloween, and that it was probably just some scarecrow, or mannequin that someone set up, just for this reason. This put the whole bus back in order, and everyone started to talk about the up coming holiday. Cory and Ben were remembering the years past were they and their friends would goo out pulling pranks on random people. They thought that whoever had put up the paper face guy had the right idea.
As the ride continued, Ben looked over at his friend and noticed how tired he looked.
“Another dream?” He asked. Cory sighed, and started fiddling with his jacket zipper. A common thing he did when he didn’t want to talk.
“Oh, once or twice this week. Nothing to bad.” Ben knew his friend was lying, but he also knew their friendship boundaries. He knew that Cory never liked to talk about his re-acuring nightmares. Once, only once, had Cory actually talked about his dreams. But, to Ben’s dismay, he tended to only talk about it in fragments. As if Cory thought Ben could read his mind. He went on about the voice, and his coset being full. It took Ben a moment to realize that saying these things made Cory go into some sort of shock. So, he told his friend he never had to tell him again if he didn’t want to. Cory took him up on that, but every now and then Ben would ask, and Cory would lie. Cory knew that Ben never really wanted to know about it. All he wanted to do was let Cory know that he was still there for him. So Cory let him ask all he wanted.
Ben looked at his friend for a moment before responding. “Well, that’s good news.” Ben’s tone told Cory that he had caught the lie. “But if you ever need to talk about them I’m all ears.”
The bus pulled into the school as Ben said this, and all of the students filled out. Cory and Ben split up for most of the day after that. They didn’t have any classes together. But Cory had his own things to tend to. He had a math test to pass, and an english paper that he had to come up with an excuse for not doing. On top of that he had to get his story to the school paper. The only time during the day that he had with the rest of his friends was during lunch. Forty-five minutes to talk and eat.
Cory never even noticed the clock, however. To him it all seemed to pass in a few minutes. His mind never tended to stay in this world for long. Within a few minutes if being at his desk, he drifted into the realm of his stories. His mind raced with the thoughts of new tales of horror and adventure.
Soon he was walking with his tray of crap excuse for food to his friends lunch table. The group of teen boys were as close as brothers. Always defending each other from any harm. Other than Cory and Ben, there was Randy, And Alex. Randy was a bit of a goof, and loved a good joke, but he was very tech savvy. Alex was sort of the unofficial leader of the group. Planing crazy adventures for the team to complete, even if it was completely stupid.
Alex, being the oldest of the group at seventeen, and being a wild card, knew all of the ways the boys could have fun. He would hear any new story of a place they could go or thing that could try. Not two weeks ago he had persuaded them all to go exploring a cave he had found in the woods behind the town park. They had nearly all gotten killed when it started to cave in. Luckily, they made it out in time.
Cory sat himself at the end of the table next to Randy. The four sat and talked about what they were going to do that night for Halloween. Cory and Randy thought that they should go to one of those haunted houses and record it, but Alex ,as usual, had a better plan.
“Boys, I have here an idea that will change our lives.” Alex held up a folded piece of paper. The others looked at him questioningly.
“Paper? What fun!” poked in Randy. The rest of them laughed at the joke, but Alex was serious.
“No, Randy, Not paper. In my hand I hold the address to the most deadly and haunting place on the internet.” The excitement of the table rose at these words.
“What do you mean?” Asked Cory. He above all the rest was known to love a good scary thing.
“The other day I was at the pizza joint, where I work, and I heard these two customers talking about this place called The Dark Web. Naturally I asked them about it. They told me that it was a place where you can by drugs, and hire hitmen. And every now and then, someone finds video stalkers, or a secret society.” The group looked at Alex as if he was crazy.
“Why on earth would we want to do that?” Asked Ben.
“For the story we’ll come away with, of course.” Alex was amazed that his trusted friends didn’t want to take a chance with him. “Come on guys! It will be safe. Randy, you can take care of the computer stuff and make sure that we are safe, right It’s not like something would really happen.” The three boys were not impressed. Alex tried a new angle. “Cory, you’re looking for good scary stories. If you do this, you could walk away with a hundred of them. And they would all be mostly true!” Cory seemed to be liking the idea now. “Ben, you always love doing crazy things with me. You always say that it’s better to live free now before your too old. I promise nothing will happen to us.” The other two started to soften to their friend’s please. However, they were not fully on board yet. Alex made one more attempt. “You guys know I might be moving soon if things don’t work out with my brother moving in. This could be our last Halloween together. Please?” It was true. Alex’s parents had died a month ago at a carnival. Right after that, his older brother Mark moved in with him so that he didn’t have to leave home. Mark was not exactly parent material, and the judge new it. But, he still gave mark two months to prove himself to good guardian. It was already the end of the second month, and he had just got a part-time job. There was no doubt that Alex had higher chances of becoming president than staying with his brother much longer.
The three boys thought about this for a moment, then they said that they would come. Alex was beside himself with pleasure. He would make this a night that they wouldn’t forget. He told them to be at his house tonight, and they would try it out. Cory said that Alex would need to pick him and Ben up from their houses because it was too far of a walk to his house. Alex agreed, and the group started to make plans for the night.
As they talked, Cory saw someone across the lunch room. It was a girl, about the same age as him. She was eating alone. Just her and her laptop to be friends. As Cory gazed at her he remembered passed times, when he used to be her friend. Those seemed to be times forgotten, ever since his writing began. Randy saw him looking at her, and voiced his opinion.
“Hey Cory, just go talk to her man. I’m sure she would appreciate it.” The rest of the table was now intent on this topic. Alex chimed in.
“Yeah man. Go talk to her. Tell her how it is.” These where not the words that Randy had intended, but before he could say anything else, Cory was walking across the lunch room.
“Now see what you did?” Snapped Randy.
“What? All I said was—“
“All you said was to be a macho jerk! Women don’t like that kind of stuff. Don’t you watch TV?” The remark took Alex off guard.
“Wow. You know that you tend to give the best relation advice, but you have never had a girlfriend.” The whole table burst into laughter at that statement.
Cory walked across the crowded lunch room, trying to think of what to say. What would she act like? Would she even let him speak to her? No, she was a nice type of person. Maybe he should just walk away and leave her alone. Too late. Cory was now standing right in front of her. Luckily she was busily looking at her computer screen. Cory to his chance to act first.
“Hello Sandra.” The words didn’t come out as strong as he had intended. If anything they sounded scared. The young brunet looked up at him. She seemed a little surprised. Then it turned to resentment. She looked him up and down haughtily, then turned back to her monitor.
“Hello Cory. Is there something I can help you with?” Cory seemed more nerves than offended. It had been so long since he had talked to a girl, let alone Sandra.
“I just thought that I would come over here,” He had to think carefully. Why did he come over here? Many times he had thought of talking to her in the last weeks. Ever since the dreams started to become more frequent. However, he never actually came to her. “I came over here to talk to you.” Sandra laughed at this, and scooted down to let Cory have a seat. He had no idea what he would say or do other than sit down. After he did this he was fresh out of ideas. Then a very easy question came into his mind. “What are you doing?” It was gold.
Sandra continued with her typing while she talked. I’m just helping the world, one line of code at a time.” Cory didn’t really know what that meant, but he guessed that it had something to do with her computer.
“Ah, I see.” Sandra looked at him doubtfully.
“What that means, is that I am working on some new anti virus wear for the schools computer system. They heard that I was good at this sort of stuff, so they asked me to help after that kid hacked the system.” Cory remembered hearing the other week that someone had done that. He knew it was Randy, but he didn’t want to give him away, so he played dumb about it.
“Yeah, I wander who it was. So, you are probably pretty good with this stuff, huh?” Sandra took pride on her work.
“you bet I am. And if this goes the way I think it should, you probably would want to tell randy.” Cory was shocked that she knew. Of course, Randy tended to be clumsy about this sort of thing. Lord knows how he ever got away with it. After thinking this, Cory just sat there.
Sandra looked at him for a minute before understanding. “So you probably want to apologies.” The words were a little bit to arrogant for Cory’s liking. He could almost feel his face turning read with anger.
“Apologies!” She said the word elongated, as if he could not hear her.
“Why should I apologies to you?” Now it was Sandra’s turn to get mad.
“Why? Because, you turned your back on your two real friends. Once you had your feet back, you decided that you didn’t need us anymore.” Cory started to get angry, then, as he heard the words, he felt shame come over him. It was true. Sandra and her father had been there for Cory and his dad ever since his mom had died. The two of them had paid for both of their psychiatric bills, helped them keep up with their house note, and even got Cory through the tenth grade.
Although Cory did appreciate all of this, once he started getting noticed for his stories, he seemed to be to good for them. In truth, Sandra had every right to hate the young boy. And Cory couldn’t blame her.
“Sandra, I do appreciate all that you and your father have done for me, but I have to move on.”
“And why is that Cory?”
“Because, every time I see you, I remember, him.” Cory’s voice trailed off and his eyes glazed over. Sandra now felt sympathy for him. Cory had given her many reasons to be mad, but after he stated those words, she remembered his past, and it was not so hard to wonder why he was this way.
“Cory, are you okey?” Cory couldn’t have this conversation right now. His nerves were too high. He had a long history of panic attacks ever since his mom was killed. He was so afraid of taking chances with it that he never talked about anything that could possibly bring them up. So, he lied.
“Yeah, I just haven’t been sleeping well.” Sandra didn’t believe him. However, she knew that if Cory needed help, she could not force it out of him. He was the type of person to play by his own rules, and make things work for him.
“Cory, you don’t have to do this by yourself. If you ever need help, old friends are waiting for you.” Cory stood up abruptly. He was feeling way too guilty to keep this going. This is not how he had planned this conversation going at all. Why was she bringing up so much of the passed when it hurt so much?
“Sandra,” He didn’t know what to say. “I need to go.” He walked briskly back to his table, where his friends sat quiet, not knowing what to say. They all looked at him as if they knew exactly what happened. Randy leaned across to him.
“So, how did it go?” They all looked at Randy, telling him to shut up with their eyes.
“Listen Cory,” Alex often assumed the role of mentor when the group talked about girls. Although, he could not know less about them. “She doesn’t deserve you to be with her anymore. The way I see it, you’re better off just hanging with us.” Cory didn’t really feel the words as powerful as Alex had intended, but he did get the point. It was true that whenever Cory was with his friends that he tended to forget his problems, and his dreams.
The rest of the school day was rather uneventful. Cory went to the rest of his classes, and tried to make the guilt toward Sandra stop. He had to zone everything out and live in his stories for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until he was on the bus that Ben snapped him out of it. His friend was standing next to him on the bus, asking him to scoot over so he could have a seat. Cory complied, and continued looking out the window. Ben saw his friend was not having good thoughts, and he knew he had to brake him out of his funk.
“Hey, guess what happened in Mr. Summers class today.” A funny story was usually the best tactic. “So Randy and I were trying to get our Math test done in time, and to keep himself calm Randy kept leaning back in his chair over and over again. Well, on the last time the back of his chair completely broke off! Dude, The whole room exploded with laughter—“
“Do you think I am a bad person?” The words were rather abrupt, and Ben didn’t know exactly what to say. Cory didn’t even look back at him, but Ben could feel his ears listening to the words he would have to say.
“Uh, I think you are good compared to most. I mean nobody is perfect.”
“Do you think I should have died that day?” Ben could not believe his ears. He had known his friend to be down before, but this was ridiculous.
“What? Of course not!” Cory didn’t seem to impressed with his friends debating mode.
“Then why did I live and my mom die that day Ben?” Ben grabbed his friend by the shoulder and turned him around.
“Listen Cory, you can’t fight this alone. You have to stop pushing people away when they try to get close to you.” Cory felt the words heavy on his heart. He didn’t want to hear this, but he knew he needed to. He turned back to the window, and looked at the world passing by again.
“Ben,” He felt tears start to well up in his eyes. “I can’t stop the dreams. They keep coming. Every night for the passed month I have had one. I don’t know what to do.”
“Tell me what happens in them.” Cory felt the fear well up in his chest as he thought of his nightmares. But, he knew that Sandra was right. He had to talk with someone, and Ben was the most logical choice of all. So, overcoming his fears and panic, he began the night’s events
“They all start the same. I am looking into my closet, but it’s too dark to see inside. Then I hear a voice in it. It says, ‘Hey, little boy, come here. Let’s play.’” Cory shuttered at the words. “Then, that’s when the face jumps out at me.”