Little Tony Parker was walking along with his bright yellow flashlight bobbing in one small hand.  He was headed
towards his best friends house, just over a mile away if he cut through the woods like he was doing now, to
participate in a four boy slumber party.

There was a path in the woods that Tony and his friends had traveled well and had made into an almost
respectable hiking trail.  It was almost beautiful to walk in the summer with green all around and swamp flowers
beginning to bloom.  The ugliness came from the trees that had been flooded and now stood thin and black
with limbs twisted in evil shapes that seemed to grab at you.  But the path was hard packed, well traveled and
known, and perfect, almost.

The only problem was that in the middle of the path there was a small swamp that flooded it and sent up a fog
that seemed to last forever, even during mid-summer when the sun should have dissipated the fog.


But Tony wasn't there yet; in fact he was barely twenty steps onto the path when he stopped the first time to
look at the stars.  He was always looking at the stars, a fact that his parents noted and kept giving him space
books for.  Tonight thought, the stars were covered by the leaves of the trees, with the exception of one or
two twinkling through the canopy at random places.

It was while he was trying to find the stars that the first crunch of a broken twig reached his ears.  Tony had
always been over imaginative and for that reason ordinary occurrences become hideous monsters, and broken
twigs became midnight murderers with axes and red eye that cried blood.  Of course there were no such
things, but Tony was still too young to know that.

He didn't scream but he started moving quickly towards his friend's house, eyeing the stretch of woods from
whence the noise had come for any scarlet eyes peering at him from behind trees.  He didn't see any, instead
he saw something scurry up the side of a tree, something that had eight legs and yellow eyes and was easily
three feet long.

He shined his light on the horrible spider getting ready to pounce at him and he cowered away as the light
revealed the hairy brown legs . .

. . . of a squirrel more terrified than he was as it scuttled up the tree.

He laughed nervously at his own imagination and began again on the path, this time with a poorly mimicked
soldier crouch. His small flashlight was starting to get a little heated from the constant running of the light and
he switched to his other hand which offered no relief and only made his other hand uncomfortably hot.

He looked ahead of his light and saw a blue moonbeam that had broken through the canopy and now lighted a
small spot on the ground.

He had never seen anything like it before, but passed on as he noted it was off the path.  He turned back to
look at it again and discovered it was gone making him question if it had ever been there in the first place.  
Curiosity got the best of him and he doubled back to the spot and looked up just in time to see the leaves
break again allowing the beam to once again reach earth.  It was only a few yards from him and he decided
against his better judgment that he wanted to touch it to see if it felt cold.

The grass reached his armpits and some stalks scrapped his chin as he plowed through to the moonbeam.  He
reached and examined it, putting his hand close to the light, passing his own feeble light through it, and
breathing on it.  Finally, feeling like Indiana Jones about to make the quick switch of a gold statue and a bag of
sand, he reached his hand out to touch the beam, his fingers first breaking the light and then Melting as the
beam turned his skin into soup.  His white bones stood out brightly against his dark surroundings.  He tried to
pull his hand back but the beam sucked him in, melting his entire hand and then working its way up his arm.  He
screamed as the beam tore away his shoulder and stretched for his face.  He felt his cheeks rip away and his
eyes pull themselves free as the beam passed over his hand and only turned it slightly blue.  

He was faintly disappointed at not being eaten by nothing, but at least he was unscathed.  He turned to travel
back to the path and discovered that he was no longer within sighting distance of it.

What he saw was that the grass he broke had repaired itself and now stood in his way, trying to make him run
around endlessly lose before he died and the grass could eat him slowly by growing on him and using his brains
as nutrients.

The grass he had broken was actually still broken and he walked back to the path and started forward again
only to meet the truly worst part of the path that required no imagination.

FOGSVILLE

He and his friends had nailed the sign on either side of the path to warn others of this particular anomaly.  
Tony however knew that the fog wasn't as thick as it appeared, the spot was only ten to thirty yards long
unless it was very humid then it covered a much larger area.  He entered it with his light penetrating less than
an inch, the only thing it did was make the blue fog yellow.

It was here that Tony was most afraid because here he couldn't imagine being eaten by grass or attacked by
spiders, or even chased by a lion.

The only thing he could imagine was being chocked by fog and what thirteen-year-old wants to die by fog
suffocation?

But tonight was the night that required no imagination because tonight Tony found something real.

It squelched loudly when he stepped on it and he almost tripped, but managed to stay up with a quick hand
plant into the mossy earth.  He turned to find what he had stepped on and squatted low to the ground to try
and see the thing and found only more mossy earth.  He began to feel around with his hands, the fog making it
look like his arms ended just after his elbows.

He felt something slimy but passed it over and when something crawled over his left wrist he ignored it thought
normally he would have called his friends to kill the thing.

At last his fingers closed on it and he froze.  His feet had been in shoes so he hadn't been sure of the thing he
had stepped on, but he knew it had felt familiar.  Now he was holding its cold stiffness and he could barely
contain a scream.

He was holding hands with someone.  

Someone cold.

He brought his head into viewing range and shined the light on it and saw the hand was blue and deformed,
bloated in some places and eaten away at others.

He worked his way up the arm and saw that the arm had once had a leather jacket covering it, the remains
deteriorating fast.  He kept going up the arm and then it stopped with a bony protrusion as white as paper.  
The leather jacket was ripped at that point almost as if the arm had been ripped off by something.

Another twig cracked and Tony jumped, looking up simultaneously.

A dark form was moving in the fog, big, but not monstrous.  Tony was ready to run when a voice spoke from
behind him.

"Hey, Kid."

He looked back risking the possibility of a blind
attack from behind to discover the source of the voice, but when he
turned around he saw nothing.

"Up here."

He looked up and stuck on a tree limb was a human head smiling back down at him, blue and obviously very
dead.

Tony wasn't scarred, he was so frightened that he peed himself without knowing it and tried to run only to find
that something had grabbed him from behind.

"HEY! NO RUNNING!" the head now looked pissed and the angry voice caused Tony to stop struggling against
his attacker.  The head took on a softer gaze and then it asked the most ridiculous question possible at that
particular moment. "Can we be friends?" followed with a hopeful smile.

Tony was so awestruck that he nodded silently and the head smiled happily.

"Good, then you can get me down." The head was still smiling and the trap Tony was in fell away and he found
himself scaling the tree to retrieve the head.

"Don't worry, I won't bite." The head said as Tony reached it and tucked it under one elbow.  He jumped down
and saw the dark thing in the fog had been a headless armless body. The head cleared its throat impatiently as
Tony stood looking at the most impossible feat before him. "I would like to be on myself by tonight, duckweed."

Tony hastily put the head on the rotting flesh that used to be a neck and the arm of the corpse reached up
and straightened the head.

"Hey, could you grab the bandana from my pocket?"

The pocket he referred to was part of a heavy leather jacket; one that looked like it belonged to the head of a
biker gang.  When Tony reached in and pulled out the bandana, he pulled several writhing maggots out to
which began crawling up his arms before they were rudely brushed away onto the ground.

"Sorry about that." The corpse shrugged, still with its arm holding the head on the neck. "Would you mind tying
my head on?"

Tony obliged and finally the corpse let go.  It began to look around and Tony finally realized that the corpse
was indeed a biker, the boots and leather chaps giving it the complete picture.

"Hey Kid, have you seen an arm anywhere? Oh, wait, here it is." Tony watched as it bent over and picked up
the arm and shoved it with a warm squelch into the shoulder socket.  It did some arm circles and the
squelching happened constantly throughout the exercise.  The corpse shrugged and scratched its chin with its
newly reattached hand.  It didn't seem to realize that it broke through the dry skin and was scratching its
chine bone.  At last it noticed Tony again and gave another smile that showed Tony a small insect with an
uncountable number of legs go scuttling across its teeth.

"Thanks Kid, I owe ya' one, by the way I'm-" but sense had at last reached Tony and he had started to run
back up the path towards his friends house, dropping his flashlight and losing on shoe as he tripped in a
pothole.  He sprawled headlong and slid in the grass that was just getting the first of the morning dew.  He
was up again and out of the woods, at last seeing his friend's house with several light still on.  He was running
to the door when it opened and his best friends mother came out.

"Tony, your mother called and said you had to go back because you forgot your toothbrush."

He was opening to splutter and she cut him off cleanly.

"No buts mister, either you're going back home and coming back with your toothbrush or else you're sleeping
out on the porch." She let the door slam and Tony ran a hand through his hair before making his decision.

The porch was cold but at least he got a ride home in the car with his other friends.
The Dark Path
By: Daniel Robert Catlin