"THE DEMON SMILES" - Rick McQuiston
“Why do we wanna go there?” Tommy asked while looking at the girls for support. Jesse and Kara, each a picture of self doubt and caution returned their concerned friend’s look.
Kenny spoke up. “Because we’re not supposed to.” His red hair matched the intensity in his eyes. “Haven’t you guys ever wanted to be bad…I mean really, really bad?” He caught sight of a beetle, a small brown thing crawling on his brand new Nike shoes. It left a tiny trail of dirt particles in its wake across the bright blue surface of the leather. He reached down and promptly ended its life between his fingers.
The girls looked at each other. They had been very close for nearly all of their twelve years and trusted one another completely. What one wanted to do the other wanted to do, what one thought the other thought.
“Fine, we’ll go but you boys go first,” they said in unison.
Tommy, who was still frightened from a horror movie he had watched on Sir Graves Ghastly the night before, reluctantly agreed. Peer pressure had a firm grip on him, as it did on most children, and it directed his actions despite his common sense.
“Good,” Kenny said. “Tommy, you and me will go first. Girls, you stay right behind us to watch our back. Once we get inside. There’s no telling what we’ll find.” He turned and began to stroll down the dirt path. The others hesitated for a moment and then followed behind him.
The imposing structure loomed ominously in the distance. Even from a quarter of a mile away its sheer size and history dominated the landscape.
“Is that it?” Tommy asked, not really wanting an answer.
“Of course,” Kenny retorted. “What else would it be?” He smiled to himself. “The old factory’s been empty for years, ever since they shut it down.”
“I don’t like it,” Kara said. She was nervously toying with her braids, a habit she’d been doing since she was a toddler. “It looks haunted.”
Kenny laughed. “I’ll bet there’s a whole bunch of vampires and werewolves in there too. Tommy, did you remember the silver bullets and wooden stakes?"
“Boys are so immature,” Jesse said to a nodding Kara. “Just like little babies.”
The four eventually made their way to the old abandoned building, pausing at what was left of the entrance way gates.
All the color in Tommy’s face drained out. “How we gonna get inside? The gates are locked.”
Jesse stepped in front of the boys and produced a large pin from her hair. “Leave it to a woman to get things done,” she mused. She inserted the pin into the padlock, which was mostly rust, and twisted it several times. The lock clicked open with little resistance. “Older brothers; you learn a lot from them.”
Kenny and Tommy looked at each other in disbelief. They nudged the gate open and gazed at their strange destination.
“You go first,” Kenny said nervously to Tommy. “I’ll cover your back.” His usual cool demeanor was obviously compromised by fear.
“I…I don’t think so,” Tommy replied. “Besides, you’re the one who wanted to come here so bad.” He gestured for his friend to enter.
Kenny shot him a hard stare and stomped through the gates. “Fine, follow me,” he commanded.
Thick weeds choked nearly every square inch of ground and hindered their steps. A light but steady wind was filtering in from the east as dark clouds blotted out any chance of sunshine or blue sky. Leaves from overhead flitted about every which way as the trees gently swayed back and forth in the wind as if in sorrow for their lost decorations.
The front door was heavily coated in rust and dirt but to the amazement of them all opened surprisingly easily considering the length of its neglect. It creaked open, filling the air with a terrible noise. Kenny peered inside for a moment and then entered slowly.
Inside, the darkness was as solid as a brick wall. It seemed to move with the breeze outside, almost as if it had a mind of its own. It allowed the investigators to enter but promised no sanctuary. Kenny produced a small, thin flashlight, which was so tiny it barely was able to slice into the darkness.
“Remind me again why we’re here,” Tommy asked through clenched teeth. He felt cold, too cold, considering the temperature outside. He would’ve guessed it was somewhere near sixty degrees or so and yet inside the building it couldn’t have been more than forty or forty-five. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and sure enough, he was able to see his breath. He lit the candle he’d taken from his mother’s collection, hoping that she wouldn’t miss it.
“Come on you guys, keep up!” Kenny shouted from up around a corner. The girls looked at each other. They could see the beam of light from Kenny’s flashlight dancing around in the darkness up ahead but were becoming increasingly wary of continuing onward. How he had managed to move so far ahead of them they weren’t sure.
“What are you guys waiting for? What’s taking you so long? Come on!”
Tommy, Kara and Jesse continued to make their way through the gloomy and damp corridors, trying in vain to follow Kenny’s voice and regretting their decision to explore the old factory building. The darkness was still suffocating, refusing to reveal what lay within its embrace.
“We should’ve brought more flashlights,” Kara complained. “How we supposed to see anything?”
“Hey guys,” Kenny shouted. “There’s some light in some of the upstairs rooms. Must be open windows or something. Come on, I’m right in front of the staircase now.”
The cold, dank floor slammed into Tommy’s palms as he crashed to the ground.
“You all right?” the girls asked while trying to locate exactly where he was.
“Yeah I’m fine. Just tripped over something.” He felt so embarrassed. “You girls better watch your step.” They helped him to his feet and continued on their way.
Behind them, hidden by the darkness, lay a small body wearing new Nike tennis shoes. The bright blue leather had been scuffed when someone had stumbled over them. And up ahead of them by the stairs, also hidden by the darkness, the demon smiled.
Rick has had well over 200 publications in over 120 different magazines so far, and is currently working on his second novel. He is a guest author at Memphis Junior High School each year, and has written four anthology books and one book of novellas. Rick also edited and contributed to "Michigan Madmen"( an antholgy of Michigan authors).