Mason looked down at the kid next to his truck staring at him fearlessly. Everything from his brown hair, freckled cheeks, and larger than normal ears to the kid’s tattered jeans and hoodie told him that he didn’t really want anything to do with him, but the way he had flagged him down made him think that something was wrong. He had even considered just driving away when the kid had asked him to go with him.
“Didn’t your parents ever tell you not to talk to strangers?” Mason asked, looking down out of the window of his truck at the child in the street.
“I’m Cooper, what’s your name?” the kid asked.
“Mason,” he replied.
“Nice to meet you, Mason,” Cooper replied. “Now that you aren’t a stranger, will you please come with me?”
“You still haven’t told me what you want, kid,” Mason replied. “I’m actually supposed to be somewhere.”
“Seriously? You’re going to give me that excuse?” Cooper asked. “The least you can do is try to come up with something believable.”
“You’re an odd kid. You know that?” Mason asked, throwing his truck in park as he shook his head. He killed the engine and pulled the keys. “This had better be important.”
“I’ve been told,” Cooper said, stepping away from the truck. “It is important, trust me.”
Mason got out of the truck with a sigh, “Alright, lead the way.”
Mason followed Cooper between the two small houses along the fence that separated them. The yards were well-manicured, and the gardens looked like they had been taken out of a magazine. He felt more out of place in his paint-covered overalls and a white t-shirt than he thought.
“It’s just over here,” Cooper said.
“Why couldn’t your dad help you?” Mason asked.
“I don’t have a dad, he left when I was still a baby,” Cooper replied. His tone was so nonchalant that Mason was slightly taken aback by it. “Besides, I don’t know how my mom would feel about this.”
Mason stopped. “About what, exactly?”
“You’ll see,” Cooper replied as he turned around. “Come on. We’re almost there.”
“I don’t know, kid. Maybe we should talk to your mom first? I’m sure she wouldn’t want you traipsing through the neighborhood with some guy,” Mason replied, indicating himself with a wave. “Besides, the neighbors have probably called her already, and I don’t want a misunderstanding.”
“The neighbors don’t notice much,” Cooper replied. “If they did, what I’m going to show you would already be common knowledge around here.”
“And why does it have to be me?” Mason asked.
Cooper took a few steps closer to Mason, making him a little uncomfortable.
“There’s something that you have to see,” Cooper said.
“And you can’t tell me what it is?” Mason asked.
“Nope,” Cooper smiled as he shook his head. “You’ll regret it if you don’t see it.”
Mason dropped his head and shook it again. “Fine, but if it’s anything inappropriate, I’m telling your mother,” he said.
“I live at 26 Dartmouth,” Cooper said, pointing to the house across the street. “You want her number?”
“Let’s go, kid,” Mason said, motioning forward. “I just want to get out of here.”
Cooper turned and started marching again. He walked up to a break in the fence at the back of the yard and went through. Mason approached it and pushed himself through the small space. He thought for a moment that the kid was messing with him as he looked around on the other side.
Mason found himself no longer standing in the neighborhood. He looked back where he had come from, and the fence was still there, but there was nothing beyond it that was recognizable. The landscape had become something twisted and dark. Even the air temperature had changed.
“What the hell?” Mason muttered. “Where’re the houses?”
“I told you,” Cooper said, “but this isn’t what I wanted to show you. Come over here.”
Mason turned to see the kid pulling a door open on a below-ground storm shelter before vanishing down the steps. He was still looking around as he walked toward the stairs. He thought he saw something move on the other side of the fence. Whatever it was, seemed about the size of a person, but then they were gone. He stumbled just as he got to the stairs leading inside and slid down the first two before catching himself.
“Careful!” Cooper said, holding a flashlight. “Shut the doors. There’s things out there you don’t want to meet, trust me.”
“Alright, what the hell is happening here?” Mason asked as his eyes fell on the room. Everywhere he looked, he saw posters plastered to the concrete. Each poster was an image of him dressed in military clothing. His face had a scar across it that looked like a bear had gotten him. He had a thousand thoughts at the same time, but his mouth just opened and closed silently.
“See? Do you know what this is?” Cooper asked.
Mason shook his head as he walked closer to the nearest poster. “How did you find this place? Where is it?”
“I found it going through the fence, just like you did. It wasn’t here a week ago. I don’t actually know where it is technically, but the fence is still there, so I think it’s my neighborhood, but it’s not,” Cooper replied.
“How is this possible?” Mason asked, touching the poster. “Why the posters down here?”
“I don’t know,” Cooper said. “I thought you might know. That’s why it had to be you. I’ve been watching you for the last week working over at Mr. Hutton’s place. I had to make sure it was you.”
The doors to the cellar shook violently, creating a cacophony of noise inside. Mason backed away from them to the far wall.
“What the hell is that?” Mason asked.
“I told you, there’s things out there. They look like people, but they aren’t. One nearly got me two days ago as I was leaving. They move weird,” Cooper said, moving over to a corner, where a trunk sat nestled. “They aren’t very smart, though. They can’t get in here, even when it’s not locked. Check out this trunk. Is this your last name?”
Mason pulled his eyes from the door to the trunk. On the face of it, just below the lock, were block letters that read M. W. O’BRIEN.
“What the-yeah, that’s my last name,” Mason said as he walked over to it.
“You know how to open it?” Cooper asked. “I’ve used a hammer on the lock, and it didn’t budge. I’ve never seen a lock like this.”
Mason reached out to inspect the lock, and it popped open in his hand.
“How did you-” Cooper started as Mason pulled the latch up and lifted the lid.
Inside were things that Mason recognized. He saw a picture of his late wife, still framed in the frame she had given him. There were a handful of sets of clothing, and a 9mm handgun with five boxes of ammo. On the right side, a single piece of paper stared back at him.
If you’re reading this, then I failed, and it’s your turn to take up arms against the invaders. I shouldn’t have to explain. You’ve already seen one by the fence and heard one outside. Take the gun, and make sure you aim true. You don’t want them to get their hands on you.
P.S. Listen to the kid.
Mason felt his heart pounding in his chest as he reached for the gun. He checked the clip and found it was already full.
“Listen to the kid?” Cooper said. “Is that letter from you?”
“I-I don’t know,” Mason said. “I think we should go back.”
“I think you should go first,” Cooper said, his eyes fixed on the gun. “How did you leave yourself a note here?”
“I didn’t. I mean. I don’t think I did?” Mason said, glancing at the note again. It was his handwriting.
Mason shut the lid and stood up. He hadn’t held a weapon in years, but somehow this one felt familiar. He thought he had used it before, but he couldn’t say why. He approached the door to the bulkhead and pushed on it with his shoulder, opening it a crack so he could look for movement.
“Wait!” Cooper said. “What’s this?”
Mason lowered the door and looked down the stairs. Cooper was looking behind one of the posters. Inside was a tiny box with a knife sitting on top of it.
“What is that?” Mason asked.
“This is my knife,” he replied, picking it up. “Uncle Dan gave it to me last year. Look at the blade! It’s all rusted!”
“What the hell is this place?” Mason muttered, more to himself than to the kid. “Let’s go. Let’s get back to your neighborhood.”
Cooper looked up at him and nodded.
Mason peeked out again with his weapon ready. When he was satisfied that nothing was around, he pushed the door all the way open and did a spin to check the other side of the door. His heart sank when he saw that the fence wasn’t where they had left it.
“We’ve got a problem,” Mason said, seeing the fence a mile away.
“What?” Cooper asked, coming up behind him. “It was right here. It hasn’t done that before. It’s always right here.”
“What the hell is going on here?” Mason whispered under his breath as he looked at the landscape.