It was cold. Not too cold, just the kind of cold where you pretend the wind against your skin and the numb of your nose doesn’t bother you. It’s not very manly to complain about the cold, and that’s what they felt like that day on the beach: men.
The four of them maintained an energetic pace down the brisk shoreline, almost as if each of them was trying to lead the pack with every new gate. They wore oversized Carhartt jackets over their damp track uniforms, Timberland boots leaving an array of organized tracks in the sand behind them.
“Are you fucking joking? There’s no way she would have said that,” said one of them, Tim, trying to conceal the crack in his voice.
“Cross my heart, hope to die,” said Robert, looking ahead to the ocean with a coy smile.
“No way. Not buying it. Girls don't talk like that, and she definitely wouldn't have said that about you.”
“Now that's where you're wrong, Timmy boy. Girls talk about dirty stuff all the time with other girls, we just don't hear about it.”
“And you’re—what? The authority on female behavior?” Tim spat out.
“I have sisters.”
“Face it man, you don't know jack shit about women,” Callum chimed in. That thought had been simmering for a while.
“Well you're definitely right about that. Casey called me last night crying, saying that I don't try enough. What the fuck does that even mean?” Tim threw his hands in the air.
“You're an idiot, dude.” Ron chuckled.
“Come on, don't act like you don't see it too.”
“See what?” Callum asked in an almost-yell.
“Girls, man, they live on a completely fucking different planet. It isn't worth it to try and reason with them, they'll be irrational no matter what. Just built that way”
“Maybe that attitude is why you never get any pussy.” Ron said, kicking a cloud of pebbles towards Tim.
“Last I checked, I was the only one here with a girlfriend.”
“A girlfriend who won't fuck you.”
“She says she's waiting for the right time,” Tim let out, a little more deflated than he intended.
“Yeah I'm sure that's it.”
“Hailey said that Casey had the hots for Justin Svenson, from Holbrook.” Robert said, poking the bear.
“Justin beat your time last week, didn't he?” Callum added, a little bit of venom in his voice.
“He beat all of our times,” Tim stated plainly.
“My cousin says he's on track to be valedictorian.”
“What is this, the Justin Svenson circle-jerk hour?” Tim finally cracked, stopping turning to face the three boys besides him.
“I don’t know, man, better grades, better runner, who knows what else he could be better at,” Callum stated.
“Shut up,” Tim barked, rolling his eyes, “I’m still faster than any of you fuckers, and you know it.”
With that statement, Robert stopped in his tracks. He turned to Tim, and then to the other boys?
“Care to test that theory?”
Before any of them had a chance to respond or protest, Robert had already taken off in an untethered sprint. Within seconds, however, the rest of the cohort follows in suit. Tim was the last to register the impromptu footrace, and quickly fell a few dozen meters behind the back.
As the boys dashed down the beach, laughing and yelling blindly to each other with youthful abandon, their varying paces and dedication to the race caused gaps in the group as some fell behind and some launched ahead. The sound of their jeers begin to fade as they spread out down the Pacific shore, and eventually, Tim found himself out of both eye and earshot from his friends.
Tim slowed down and hunched over for a moment, catching his breath. Before he stood up to take off once more, a sound caught his attention, ringing out from the brush opposite the water. The sound almost mimicked a dog’s squeak toy, but its erratic, animalistic, and unmistakably distressed.
Without more than a second of forethought, his curiosity overtook him as he stepped from the rocky beach and into the long, weedy grass.
The overgrowth brushed against his bare legs as he treaded through the brush, the call becoming louder and louder. Soon, he reached the an area where the weeds thin and the ground cover became coated with the auburn pine needles from the trees above. Here he could now see the source of the sound: a small bird on the forrest floor.
The bird appeared to have a broken wing its body contorted unnaturally against the ground making it crane its neck almost ninety degrees just to cry out for help. A twang of boyish pity took over the machismo facade he had been wearing, and he gently approached the bird.
“Hey little guy,” He called out in a near whisper, just in case any of his friends were nearby, “Are you hurt?”
The bird continued to cry out, but just as Tim knelt down to inspect its wing, the bird pushed itself upwards with relative ease, beginning to hobble away from him with its broken wing trailing behind. Still knelt down, Tim followed the small creature.
“Don’t worry buddy, I’m not gonna hurt you,” Tim said, extending an arm towards the bird.
This of course, only made the bird hop away more fervently. Tim rolled his eyes, standing up and wiping his palms of the palm needles.
“Fine. If you wanna be like tha-“ He interrupts himself mid sentence, brow furrowing as he notices something in the dense trees just ahead.
A house? Didn’t look like any house he’d ever seen. The structure was small, like single room protruding from the earth, squared off on one side and round on the other. Its walls were a uniform concrete that was once probably a sandy color but now greenish and stained from the forrest surrounding it.
Before he even really registers his own movement, he’s making his way towards the structure. Why did he even care? He asked himself. He didn’t know.
There really wasn’t much to the thing at all. No windows, nothing that might indicate what lied inside other than a metal door leading in and a red floodlight above the entrance. But there was something… A familiarity? Had he been here before?
And before he knew it, he was at the door. Reaching for the handle.