Here is a sample of dark horror fiction by Steve Stred.
Edge of the Woods
By Steve Stred
Originally appeared in Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery
I grew up in a small town, in an area most people don’t know, or have
ever heard of. Even now, when people ask, I have to use a bigger city to
reference where it was, and then add the caveat; “2 hours east,” so they
will have any idea.
At this place that no one has heard of, we had a small school that was
combined grades. Kindergarten to grade 2 all shared one classroom and
grade’s 3 and 4 shared the other room.
There was three times in the day, that all of my friends loved. The first
was the 15 minutes before the first bell. I lived only 5 minutes from
the school, so I would rush over each morning and for 15 minutes we
would all just goof off. The second time was recess. It was also only 15
minutes long, but in those 15 minutes we would still have time to play
soccer or road hockey and when the bell rang to indicate it was time
to go in, we would all slowly walk in, knowing our teacher wouldn’t
reprimand us for being a few minutes late.
The best time, however, was lunch. We had a full 60 minutes to eat,
and then play, which would revolve around 1 of 4 activities. For 30
minutes we would either play soccer, road hockey, baseball, or our most
cherished activity; tetherball. The tetherball court was to the east of the
school, situated beside the edge of the soccer field and the edge of the
woods. The court had been there for many years before I attended the
school, as the dirt around the metal pole was ground into a deep circle,
making the pole almost an extra 6 inches taller than it normally was. The
cement base was exposed, which would frequently cause injury to us, as
we ran and dove, to try and prevent the ball and rope from completely
winding around the pole.
We had a close group of friends, 8 of us in total, and because we all
equally loved tetherball, we played quick games, only to one point and
it was a winner moves on system. You lose a point, you are out and the
next friend would jump in. This would guarantee that all of us would
play at least one game of tetherball during our lunchtime.
The sad part was, that we experienced longer winters than most areas.
We had snow from October 1st until the end of March and as such, the
tetherball was only operational for the month of September and then
again in May and June. So time on the court was premium, because to
make matters worse, when school ended for summer break, the ball and
rope came down.
This year, we had made the mistake of playing soccer and road hockey
in September and as winter began to fade away, we were all getting
excited and anxious to play tetherball. We still had about a month until
it would be set up, when we were called into an unexpected assembly in
our library. The school wasn’t big and it wasn’t until about 10 years after
I left grade 4 that they had a gym added on. So all of our assemblies
were held in the library, which made for cramped quarters.
“Students, we have a very exciting guest today! He has a few things to
discuss and remind you about, and then later your parents will also have
a meeting with him!” Our teacher seemed super excited for us to have
this assembly, and she watched our reactions attentively.
“Hello students, I am Officer Carson, from the local Police. I am here to
remind you of a few key rules to keep you safe, because as the weather
gets nicer, more of you will be walking to and from school alone.”
I was enthralled with this man.
He wore a slick uniform and he had a cool gun. I was ready to listen to
every word that came out of his mouth. I could tell my friends were all
feeling the same, as I looked around, which made me feel better. I didn’t
want to rave about him later and be teased mercilessly.
“A few things I want to talk about are stranger danger and animal
danger,” he started, “You all know each other’s parents, so they are not
strangers. You also all know each other’s older siblings that drive, so
they are not strangers either. So if someone offers you a ride and you
don’t know whose brother or sister they are or whose parent they are,
you do not get into their car.”
Well obviously, I thought. What type of dork would do that?
“I know I introduced myself just now and that I am new to each of you,
but I should not be considered a stranger. As a Police Officer, I am here
to help you. So if someone tries to grab you and put you in a car or they
ask you for a ride, if you see me, you yell for help and I will come right away.”
Well that makes perfect sense, I thought, plus he has a gun.
“Lastly, the weather is going to be warming up a lot soon, which means
you will be playing outside even more. Keep in mind that wild animals
will be out and about as they look for food, and most of you are the
perfect size for a cougar or a bear to snack on.”
The entire library burst into chuckles as Officer Carson said this part.
We all knew to watch for animals, but it was still a funny thing to say.
“So again, if you see a wild animal, stay far away, find an adult and tell
them, and more importantly don’t wander into the woods on your own.”
Then Officer Carson said goodbye, and left the room and our teacher
instructed us to all head back to our classrooms and begin reading on our
own, while the parents met with the Policeman.
We never gave the Officer’s visit another thought for many months.
We noticed when our parents picked us up after school, that they all
looked around more frequently, and we started to notice that most of us
were no longer allowed to walk to and from school alone.
Finally, the day came that we had all been waiting for.
The snow had melted completely and as my mother and I walked up to
the school that morning, I saw the maintenance man finishing up with
the tetherball pole. The rope was in place and the hard rubber ball hung
there, slowly rolling back and forth, waiting for us to smash it at each other.
Recess took even longer than before to arrive. Or so it felt. From the
window of our classroom, we could see the tetherball court by the edge
of the woods. The ball just slowly swung back and forth, enticing us,
begging us; please, kids, come swing me around!
I was about to continue reading my Carmen San Diego book when I
thought I noticed movement at the court and looked again.
I knew nobody was there, but a part of me thought I saw an adult
near the court. I wanted to be the first one to play this year, so my
imagination must be a bit jealous, I thought.
I started reading the paragraph again, and once again I noticed
movement in my peripheral vision. I quickly looked up, but still, there
was no one. But I was now convinced, that someone had been at the
tetherball court, and the ball was left swinging violently around the pole.
I raised my hand and told my teacher I thought someone was sneaking
around the tetherball court. She left the classroom and a short time later
she returned and instructed us all to keep reading.
Outside, the Principal and the maintenance man could be seen walking
across the soccer field in the direction of the tetherball court. They both
looked around and then walked into the woods, completely disappearing.
I found myself holding my breath.
A few moments went by and they both emerged and walked back to the
school. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were engaged
in a conversation, and from their expressions, it was clearly of some
When the lunch bell went off, we were all told we could play outside
today on the playground, but we were not allowed to go around the other
side of the school to the tetherball court.
I was devastated. My friends were super pissed, with my best friend
Matt slugging me in the shoulder so hard I couldn’t lift my arm for the rest of the day.
At the end of the school day, we all were given a letter to bring with us
and give to our parents to read and sign that night.
We were not allowed to play tetherball until the following Monday. A
whole week went by, with us having to watch it hanging there every day
from our classroom window. It was rough. But finally, finally, Monday
rolled around and our teacher told us that for that lunchtime, we could
head out there and play.
We didn’t even eat inside. We ran as fast as we could to the court,
bringing our sandwiches with us.
I made it there first, followed closely by Matt. We played a quick 1 point
game, as per our rules, and I was eliminated immediately.
I walked off, heading sadly, to the end of the line and joined in the taunts
and the jeers, as we trash talked our other two friends who now played.
Matt was dominating and kept winning game after game. After 3 other
friends were defeated, I suddenly realized, that I was now second in line
to play. There wasn’t much time left before lunch would be over, but I
was hoping to have one more chance to avenge my loss.
(To read the rest of Steve’s story, click the link below.)