In my entire life, I never understood Underwood Creek. In Hillsbourgh, North Carolina, if you mention the name to adults, they bulge their eyes and awkwardly stare at you. They immediately change the topic of conversation with something like: "Hey, the weather is good today, isn't it?" And if you insist, they get mad. And I'm not talking about getting annoyed, but really mad, to the point of raising their voices and telling you to shut your mouth.
Obviously, we, pre-teenagers, refused to remain ignorant of this matter.
My innermost circle of friends and I loved to openly talk about Underwood Creek, to theorise about what either happened, is happening, or is at that location. We just needed to know, because if even an adult considered talking about it taboo, there was a desire to discover what was so disturbing about that place.
One Friday, my friends and I had arranged to meet at my house and visit the Creek. I was checking my e-mails when I casually mentioned it to my mother, who was cleaning a delicate vase which she absolutely loved. It had been given to her by my father when they became boyfriend and girlfriend, and considering my father could barely afford something like that at that time, she obviously had a thing for that porcelain vase.
As I checked my inbox, my mother, cleaning the object, casually asked me where we were going tonight. Unconsciously I mumbled, "Underwood Creek."
She dropped the porcelain piece and went alabaster pale. Her blue eyes went glassy and she slowly said, so firmly I myself got scared when she spoke, "You go to your fucking room right now. You're grounded. For a month."
This was obviously not the time to bitch. Shocked with her actions, I obeyed like a pup. If she had shattered the vase by dropping it, she could easily stab me if I argued. I closed my computer, got out of the living room, and ran to my bedroom, locking the door after myself.
I heard my mom calling someone on the phone and crying and sobbing while she spoke into it. I resumed checking my inbox and got notices from my friends: all of their parents had discovered what we were going to do and they had grounded their kids, too.
Needless to say, this only fed our flaming curiosity, because one month later, Saturday morning, we secretly escaped the prison of our houses and got together at the entrance to the little path that would take us to the Creek; just a pathway made from a few stone slabs here and there.
As teenagers, this was a time of enthusiasm and euphoria. Lined up, the six of us chatted while we grinned and imagined what the Creek would surprise us with. The closer we got, the faster we walked. Enthusiasm shook within us, and our chat diminished, eventually disappearing and leaving silence.
Finally, after almost half an hour of boring walking, we arrived at a small fence gate.
Our problems started before we came to the Creek.
For some reason, the gate had a keyhole. From within it leaked a black, viscous slime.
Although I lead the group, I didn't notice it at first; then I gasped and took a step back.
Like a mirage, as soon as I stepped back, the goo immediately dissapeared, leaving not a trace. Inexplicably, I laughed. It was not a grin, but an aching, breath-taking laugh that neared mania.
I turned on my heels, presumably to make a joke but, strangely and to my surprise, it came out as another burst of laughter.
All of my friends were sprinting back the path, screaming. In the middle of psychotic laughter, I shouted, "Hey pussies! Come back! We didn't even go in!"
I watched, still feeling that funny sensation. I stopped laughing, but a smile remained plastered across my face. I immediately kicked the gate and went in, closing it after myself.
I continued walking, under that enchantment. I imagined it was like being stoned with mystical, esoteric herbs. I arrived at the Creek. It was an uninteresting place; just a straight, shallow river and some mossy trees that arched above the water, making a leafy, branched roof. Perhaps that was the "Underwood."
Suddenly, like a veil being lifted, that funny enchantment was gone. It was replaced by what felt like a toxic gas, a nausea and a disorientation.
The place didn't seem uninteresting anymore. The river flowed slowly, the trees were uncomfortably menacing. It almost seemed like they were too close. The space was like a tight, claustrophobic room, full of asphyxiating smoke. Ready to suffocate me in this damp, doomed place.
The sun barely shined behind the warped, contorted branches above. I was petrified, held there by the same spell that brought me here to begin with.
Fear filled me, like a hand gripping my heart, slick fingers around my throat. I really needed to go now, but somehow I stupidly stumbled forward into the river and looked down to my feet.
The river wasn't water. It was filled with the black, slimy liquid that I saw on the gate. It flowed sluggishly around my shoes, like a long black snake.
And then I looked up to the other side of the river.
Standing about ten feet away from me was a woman, completely covered in black save her hands, which were covered in scales. Her face, thank God, was covered in dark cloaking, but I knew that she was looking at me with eyes that I did not dare picture.
With her reptilian hands, she slowly pulled her clothing away from her front, revealing her bosom. My stomach curled, my head spun, and the black "water" below mixed with my vomit.
Her stomach was open, revealing not entrails, but something that was plucked right from the core of a nightmare.
Vermin skittered inside her, falling out of and crawling in her interior.
I fell down, covering my trousers and hands with dark, filthy liquid, but I managed to scream and run. My legs felt as heavy as iron, but I stumbled towards the gate. I didn't look back; not only because of what I had seen, but because I heard the long, raspy, cold cackle of whatever I encountered in the Creek.
I ran before my mind had been completely shattered.
For the rest of my life I have denied, refused and ignored any conversation on that place, altough I have never told anyone of my visit.
I have never contacted the friends I had brought there with me, but I know they too never dared to mention that place, just as all the other adults never mention it.