`Five adolescent bodies perspire in laborious congress under Wisconsin summer sun.
The three males, like ants at a picnic, scramble in beautiful madness. Summoning a primal strength, they trample each other for the opportunity to haul overstuffed suitcases from the trunk of an old station wagon. All this in an ill-conceived attempt to win the favor of their pair of female counterparts, who look on in thinly-veiled amusement and a deeper level of awe at the influencing power bestowed upon them by Aphrodite. The teenagers, all of them, are insects in a sticky web of enthrallment, so profoundly entangled that they would not notice anything lurking in the pines.
The sexual tension flows among them, high and low, hot and cold. A perfect vortex of passion kicks up dust over the rocky drive as the group approaches the cabin door. Though they are free to feel the vastness of the wild, they instinctively funnel themselves into an invisible corridor, where they cannot seem to avoid the bumping of shoulders and the accidental hooking of fingers.
The first to try the door is Kate, the innocent one. To her great astonishment, it opens without even the suggestion of a key. Once Kate has crossed the threshold, she discovers that this is a false achievement; there is a second door waiting to be opened, and this one is embedded with an elegant ten-key code pad. Herein lies the first challenge our heroes must endure. The question they collectively ask seems to be what is the code? But in fact, this is a veil for another question which looms, untouched, just under the surface: Who is it that the code is meant to keep out?
Wong offers to try his hand at the problem. To do so, he must position himself near to Kate. This is, of course, a transparent physical manifestation of his inner machinations. Wong’s long fingers flutter absentmindedly over the keys as he feigns deep thought. The world, after all, is a stage. Suddenly, he begins to enter random codes, one after the other, totally flouting the principles of probability. He has failed, and the code pad has locked the group out of any near-future attempts at gaining access. But, no failure is absolute, and Wong feels Kate’s hand rest on his bony shoulder as he steps away from the door.
“Should we try the back?” asks Tyler, the least distinctive member of the cast.
Mitch scoffs. “Nah. Watch this, NARP.”
Mitch, the image of an All-American boy, approaches the door and places his rough hands against the wood grain. His rippling muscles are well-concealed by the oversized, fluorescent-beige sleeves of his letterman jacket. He pushes against the door quite hard, and though the frame squeals under the pressure, it will not budge.
“See?” asks Tyler, in his typical rhetorical fashion.
Mitch looks at Tyler, his friend, a pathetic Non-Athletic Regular Person, and smirks. As opposed to Tyler, Mitch is not the sort to give up so easily. He is not so talented a mind, but once he has decided something, he has also decided that he will make it work, damn the costs. In this way, he functions as an inverse mirror for Tyler’s flawed self-image. Mitch faces the door and speaks thusly:
And the door opens.
Only Tyler is able to catch a glimpse of the entity that darts up the central staircase as the door swings open. The entity is not formless; it is like a man, but blurry around the edges, and cloaked in darkness despite the cabin’s present abundance of natural light. He tells his friends as much, but his earnest warning is dismissed as mere monkeyshine. They laugh at his claim, in fact, and Tyler shudders to think just how unfunny his usual humor might be.
Hours pass as the blissfully ignorant teenagers settle into the getaway weekend they’ve been planning for months. Once the sun has set, Mitch and his belusted cheerleader Marissa sneak off to the master bedroom. Grunting, howling, that sort of thing, ensues. Wong presents to Kate and Tyler a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms. They choose instead to stick with their light beers, to which Wong proudly says, “more for me,” and ingests a double dose.
After the chills and the brief regretful phase, the psilocybin is really beginning to work its magic. Illusory, complex visual patterns represent the manner in which each idea that appears folds in on itself until it is unrecognizable. Wong sees his mind expand to envelop the couch, then the whole of the cabin, and it seems to him that, beyond the logs of the structure’s exterior, there is nothing. The lamp in the corner, at first only that, is now the furnace of reality, and should it go out, Wong reasons, the universe shall freeze, crack, and shatter into dust, never to be reconvened. Kate and Tyler do not seem nearly so concerned. They’re drinking distilled poison, smiling smiles which serve at once to match the roles they’ve chosen to play, and to conceal the dark undercurrent of animalistic urges they dare not express. Wong sighs. They cannot see, or else they choose not to… the furnace could be extinguished at any moment.
Suddenly, a thump from upstairs, followed by heavy footsteps and the haunting moan of worn floorboards.
Wong and his pals regard the staircase, their faces frozen in abject terror. There is an intruder, or worse, the thing stomping about upstairs believes them to be the intruder. Out of the corner of his eye, Wong glimpses Tyler grasping a candelabra, presumably fashioning it as a sort of makeshift mace. Tyler steps in front of Kate, embodying the great knight from the days of chivalry, and although the present situation is rather serious, Wong cannot stifle a jealous, indignant rage bubbling up inside. He would rise and protest, but finds himself glued to the couch, which itself seems to be breathing just as sharply as he.
But what is that creepy thing, cloaked in shadow, coming now upon the bottom step?
“Howdy,” says Martin.
Martin is a middle-aged man in a velvet housecoat.
Tyler raises his candelabra. “Who the hell are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“This is my parents’ house. You guys are renters?”
Tyler nods, as if to say, duh.
Martin grins. “Awesome, so excited to have you guys. I’m just living in the spare room up there, won’t bother you none.”
Martin saunters on over to the kitchen and prepares himself a glass of warm milk as the teenagers exchange conversational glances. What do we do? I don’t know, but he seems like a nice enough guy. Why is the moose mount so furious with me?
“So where are you all from?” asks Martin.
Tyler starts to answer, but something about a swift elbow in his side makes him think better of it.
“Not far. My dad is a cop, you know how that goes,” says Kate.
This is, of course, a careful lie. Clever girl.
“No, not really,” says Martin.
A tense silence, apart from Martin’s slurping.
“Oh, you guys can just go back to whatever you were doing. Pretend I’m not here.”
Naturally, the teenagers simply pretend to be interested in their phones and wait for Martin to go away. It is a frustratingly long wait -- several times, Martin has to return to the microwave to reheat the same glass of milk.
Wong cannot contain himself. He turns.
“Yeah buddy? Shoot.”
“Are you a killer?”
Everyone in the room besides Martin skips a couple of breaths.
“Difficult question, Bud.”
“Well, how do you define killer?”
“Someone who has killed.”
“Would you consider a soldier a killer? An executioner?”
“No. I guess I mean, someone who has killed of their own volition. A killing without sanction.”
“You mean like, when you feel powerless and get angry and you don’t know why, so you take a life that you might briefly feel like God?”
“Something like that.”
The teenagers lean in.
“Nope, never. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
The teenagers lean back.
“Yeah. Well, if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll head back to my room now. It’s the one at the end of the hall up there, and now you know, so don’t be afraid to come knockin’. I’ll be up most of the night working on my uh… I’ve got some stuff I need to work on. Kinda dorky, fantasy worldbuilding and whatnot. You get it.”
Tyler and Kate watch Martin’s flip flops slap every other step as he walks back toward his room. On the right hand side of the hall, a door is open that was not open before. It’s where Mitch and Marissa have been locked up all this time. Martin stops and looks into the room, then averts his eyes to the floor. Tyler and Kate hear him mumbling something like an apology, as he’s apparently seen something he feels that he shouldn’t have. There’s more movement in the dark hall behind him. A shadowy figure, only the pair of fluorescent beige sleeves give away that it’s Mitch. He’s holding a small cylinder… a candle. He raises his arm, and before anyone can scream out a warning, Martin has been struck atop the head with a bone chilling thwack. His body falls limp and slinkies down the steps.
Wong feels the couch release him.
The scene, even without Martin’s dead body, is grotesque. The other four teens scuttle about like beetles from under an upended rock. Their movements are vigorous, but contrasted with a numbness that borders on profound despair. At the level of the mind, they are concerned with such surface-level things as guilt, but this is a distraction.
Wong walks toward the lamp in the corner, his ‘furnace of reality’.
At the level of the cell, their bodies are bursting. They shake in fear. The tremors are a warning, millions of years of evolution urging them to move, to avoid being bogged down in the primordial tar, to avoid sinking into the deep and ultimately being reduced to tar themselves.
Wong crushes the light bulb in his hand.