Nick stopped and looked at the sign. THIS WAY, it said, in red paint of course, with an arrow pointing out the path through the graveyard that had, apparently, sprung up spontaneously in the front yard of what was otherwise a typical suburban home. "Really?"
"What?" asked Cedric, stopping beside him.
Nick shook his head. The front walk was just ahead, and would have taken them up to the front door. They could have strolled casually up there, said their piece, gotten some candy, and been on their way. But no, these homeowners wanted them to follow a path through the gate in the fence and into the back yard, which was almost certainly set up as some sort of impromptu haunted house. It wasn't worth it.
"Come on," said Cedric, and stepped off the sidewalk and onto the grass.
Nick was still shaking his head when Cedric turned back. "It's not worth the time," he said. "Every house on the street is lit up, and we're going to waste time because some old guy wants to scare us before he gives us candy?"
"It's Halloween," said Cedric. "It's supposed to be scary."
"It's Halloween," acknowledged Nick. "It's supposed to be free candy."
"Fine," said Cedric, and turned around. Then he just stood there, frowning.
Just when Nick was about to say something, Cedric said: "I can't move my feet."
Nick said, "What?"
"I can't move my feet. I'm trying to walk back, but I can't move." He took a step backwards, into the ersatz graveyard. "I can move in, but not out."
Nick shook his head. A chill went down his back, but he refused to acknowledge it. Nothing was holding his friend. No skeletal hands had grasped his ankles; no strange vines twined around his feet. Cedric had to be faking it, but he was doing one hell of a job: he looked terrified. "Give me your hand," said Nick, bracing himself and leaning out. "I'll pull you back."
Cedric put his hand out immediately, leaning towards Nick so they could grab each other's wrists. He should have been wildly off-balance, but his feet didn't move. A second chill followed the first down Nick's back, and settled into a frozen knot in his belly. He threw his weight back and pulled, but Cedric didn't move. He pulled again, harder.
Cedric gasped and let go of his wrist, but Nick kept pulling... and suddenly they were both lying on the grass, between the cheap plastic headstones. As you are, so I was. As I am, so you will be, said one. Mad Doctor F, said another, born ? died 1818.
Nick gathered himself and sprang to his feet, one hand raised. He wasn't sure if he needed to punch Cedric, or someone else. "Fuck," he said, and tried to walk back to the sidewalk.
His feet wouldn't move. "Oh, fuck." He shook his head. "Oh, fuck fuck fuck."
Cedric climbed to his feet more slowly. He looked back at the sidewalk, then at the gate that led into the back yard. "I guess we have to go in," he said.
"I guess," answered Nick, not bothering to hide his bitterness. How was this even possible? He could worry about that later. Right now, he needed to keep his eyes open and his fists and feet ready. Whatever was here, whatever was keeping them here, he didn't mean to let it take them without a fight.
Cedric took a step, and Nick took a step. They held to that pattern all the way to fence: step, wait, step, wait. Nick tried stepping off to the side, or back the way they'd come, but nothing happened. His legs just wouldn't do it. He assumed Cedric was trying the same things, with the same results.
They reached the fence and stopped, looking through the gate and into the darkness beyond. Their flashlights showed only a black-walled passage leading back. Under any other circumstances, Nick would have assumed that the homeowners had set up a wooden frame and covered it with garbage bags; that was certainly how it looked. He glanced to his right, but the front of the house was no longer visible. To his left, the edge of the next property was no more than six feet away.
Nick had been studying Tae Kwon Do for the last four years; he'd started in middle school. That was where he'd met Cedric, and where they'd become friends. They were both young, fast, strong... and utterly at the mercy of whatever held them on this path. "I can't believe you just walked in here," he said, bitterly.
Cedric turned his head, looking hurt and surprised, but Nick pressed on. "We could have walked past, you dumb fuck. We could have been halfway down the block by now."
Nick interrupted before Cedric could say anything reasonable. "I was still safe, you fucker, until you pulled me out here..."
"You want me to stop? Then hit me. Hit me!" He was roaring it at the last, praying that Cedric would catch on or at least react...
...And Cedric dropped into a guard stance and through a punch.
Nick deflected it easily. "Again," he said, trying to sound as scornful as he was scared. "Harder."
Cedric threw another punch, this one at maybe eighty percent power, and Nick slapped it aside and popped him on the jaw. "Do it right," he sneered.
This time when Cedric swung, he used his whole body to drive the blow.
Nick turned his deflection into a catch, took Cedric's arm and all the force behind it, and added his own as he twisted into a throw. Cedric's feet left the ground, and he flew past nick and onto the neighboring yard. It was close; only his ankles were still in the fake Halloween graveyard that fronted this house. He might be safe.
That was when the darkness reached out from the gate, twining around Nick and pulling him in.
Cedric shook his head and tried to straighten, then realized that something was pulling at his feet. He clawed at the ground, digging in fingers and elbows, trying to pull himself loose. It wasn't just that his feet wouldn't move anymore; something was molded around them, trapping them. He twisted and flexed his ankles, pulling his feet free of his shoes... and with the last of his strength, he pulled himself all the way into the next yard.
He wasn't sure how long he lay there, but it was still dark when he finally climbed to his feet. Nick wasn't the only thing gone. His shoes were gone, too, but that was nothing: the entire house was gone. There was no fake graveyard, no hokey sign, no bland suburban home. There was only an empty lot, sandwiched between two ordinary houses, with a big sign facing the street.
He walked back up to the sidewalk, careful not to step into the former graveyard. LOT FOR SALE, said the sign. It had a company name and a phone number. There wasn't a house here. There never had been. And when he tried to explain that the house had taken Nick, nobody in the world was going to believe him.