“What are you so scared of, Gilbert?”

“That place is fucking creepy.”

“Scaredy cat.”

“Am not.”

“Let’s go closer. I dare ya.” Danny grinned a grin that seemed ominous to Gilbert, though that wasn’t the word he’d have used. He’d have said of Danny’s smile that it was creepy, or weird, like the abandoned structure before them, guarded by five turkey buzzards, two on the highest branches of a dying and bare tree trunk, the other three on the peak of the unstable roof.

They had leaned their bikes on a stump about fifty yards from the quiet Saw Mill Road after a fifteen minute ride from their homes in Ellendale. The rough and sharp remains of hardwoods as old as the house were as a moat, protecting the dark castle within. “It’s fucking creepy,” Gilbert repeated. “I learned in school that buzzards have this kind of sixth sense, like they know something nearby is going to die soon.”

“Probably just a rat.”

“What if it’s got rabies?”

“Don’t be a baby, Gilbert.”

“I think we’re close enough. I don’t want to get rabies. Frankie’s cousin from Nebraska got rabies and had to get shots in his belly.”

“Need me to hold your hand?”

That was all the prompting Gilbert needed. He weaved slowly and carefully through the rough fallen kindling toward the missing door. The house looked hungry, capable of devouring both him and Danny, of swallowing them whole, both body and soul. Danny was a few steps behind, he heard, as the house grew closer, grew creepier, with each step.

The sound was like rusty hinges opening, the screech of one of the giant birds above. Gilbert wasted no time, turned back, and ran to his bike.

That was three years ago. Danny was never found.