More Than Fifty Feet
Jessica stood in the corner, stretching her body along the ballet bar in ways that would have seemed impossible to others. Her strong features highlighting deep brown eyes, she finished her cool-down and pulled the band out of her hair, allowing what was once a very tight bun to flow straight far down her back.
Lean, thin, but beautiful, ballet dancers are a breed of their own, like gazelles standing on a savanna hillside, both delicate and strong. Ever so capable while emotionally connected, realizing ambition, their life when one understands the dedication, is one of performance. Performance often focused to invoke empathy as much as admiration as Jessica and the others completed their stretches with focus.
Sparse and windowless, the full mirror on the wall barely gave the illusion of the room being larger than it was, especially with so many people blocking any view one may have. But the confines of the building still offered protection from the November chill outside, as well as the threat that had so suddenly appeared in town.
Tina, Jessica’s best friend, and the most petite girl of the group came up from behind, careful not to be seen in the mirror’s reflection, before playfully flicking Jessica’s hair.
“Hey, Jess,” Tina said to Jessica.
“Hey back,” said Jessica in return, still focusing on stretching.
The girls were not finished when the instructor, Mrs. Harris, stood up, clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention, and spoke in her usual strong, almost demanding tone, “Okay everyone, I’m sure you heard all the news reports, remember to buddy up when leaving, the campus is almost empty this time of night. And that class will not be held tomorrow. But I do expect you to study and do your stretches. All of you.”
“We’re waiting for a security guard, right?” Tina asked Jessica.
“Yeah, probably a good idea,” Jessica said back almost casually.
“Probably? Probably? Did you read what happened to that last girl, her body?”
Jessica only glanced at Tina, before noticing David, the pianist, who couldn’t keep his own eyes from darting back and forth between the piano, and sneaking looks at her, as he softly played Bartok’s Love Song, a piece not usually suited for ballet, and a feint hope Jess may recognize it, talk to him, break through his wall of shyness.
Jessica and Tina lagged behind the others, making it to the coat rack where most clothing lay piled on top of one another as a half dozen girls remained. Most had already grabbed their coats, scarves and hats, bundling up to face the cold.
As Jessica sifted through the pile, she handed a purple sweater she recognized by heart to one of the other girls, Kacey, a gentle freshman with a round face and almond eyes who pulled the sweater over her head, drawing her long golden hair through, when a flash of purple color caught Mrs. Harris’ attention.
“Mrs. Harris?” Kacey replied.
“I expect that finger nail polish to be gone, and those nails completely trimmed by last rehearsal.”
“Yes ma’am. I know.”
Still a little to the side, Tina whispered into Jessica’s ear, “I hate how demanding she is. You know why the wood floor is so shiny it looks like it has glass on it?”
Jessica’s heard similar before. “Mm-hmm.”
“Because she drills it so hard into the janitors, they polish it like dentists.”
Both continued to sift through the student’s winter clothes when Mrs. Harris turned to them. “Tina, a word?”
“Yes, Mrs. Harris?”
“You need to stop wearing high heels. I told you that before.”
“Ma’am?” Tina tried her best to not understand.
“You think because I’m old I don’t look at Instagram? Didn’t see the photos of you girls partying last weekend?”
Tina looked down, caught fearful, hoping to escape at least some of Mrs. Harris’ wrath.
“You’ll ruin your feet, and your posture. It’s not a curse being short, Tina. That’s a limitation you put in your own mind.”
All Tina could think of was how easy it was for Mrs. Harris to say. She was like six feet tall. Inches taller than Tina would be even wearing six-inch platforms. Besides, hadn’t Mrs. Harris been married for like over thirty years to the same man? No need to try to make any impression on guys. But a mere, “Yes ma’am,” is about all Tina could muster.
“I saw the photos of you too Jessica, out on the deck with the kids smoking cigarettes.”
“I don’t smoke, Mrs. Harris. I know not to,” said Jessica.
“Don’t even think of starting. It will kill you young like it did my parents,” Mrs. Harris curtly replied, while zipping up her own coat.
“I won’t Mrs. Harris. I don’t like it anyway. I was just there, talking.”
Mrs. Harris didn’t reply, but sharply turned away, her point made, when Tina whispered in Jessica’s ear again, “Maybe you should start!”
“Tina, stop,” Jessica replied in a hard whisper.
“And I thought heels helped with en pointe?” wondered Tina aloud.
“You wanna ask her?” Jess responded, quieting Tina.
The door to the rehearsal room opened as Paul, an athletic-looking guy with long hair quickly came through and closed it behind him, scanning the room until he met eyes with Kacey, who greeted him with a happy, “Hey!”
“You ready?” he asked.
“Yeah. I think.”
“Scared? Still?” he asked.
“Yeah, a little,” she replied.
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. I promise.”
Kacey put her arms around him, and out the door they went.
“Is the guard coming?” Tina asked out loud, above the murmur of the remaining students in the rehearsal room.
Without looking up from what she was doing Mrs. Harris casually responded, “He’ll be here at 9pm.”
“It is 9pm,” Tina said, after turning to Jessica.
“It’s like five ‘til. Are you early for class every day?” Jessica replied.
“I don’t trust those guys anyway,” Tina said. “Most of them are young, probably filled with testosterone. One of them could be the killer.”
“Seriously. Please,” Jessica said, packing up the last of her things.
From the front of the room, three more dancers headed out the door together. “Good night Mrs. Harris,” one said.
“Good night, girls. Stay together now, be safe,” Mrs. Harris said.
“We will. We will.”
Just as they opened the door a burst of cold air came through, along with a large man, startling them. It took them a moment to notice it was a security guard. “Holy crap. That’s all I need!” one girl said, calming herself. “A little too on edge here!”
The guard wasn’t one of the younger, carefree types Tina envisioned, but an older, rotund man with a gruff face and thick moustache. “Sorry ladies,” he uttered in a gravelly voice. Despite appearing intimidating at first, he smiled and held the door for them as they headed out, allowing the door to shut behind.
With only Mrs. Harris and David left, the guard waited to escort Jessica and Tina to their cars.
“I’m not too worried about walking from your car to mine alone,” David said to Mrs. Harris while putting his scarf on. "This maniac hasn’t attacked another guy. I don’t think it’s his style at all. Only pretty girls, lonely girls.”
“That’s convenient, for him,” Tina whispered to Jessica, in an attempt to use humor to calm her own nerves.
“Plus, I used to run track, and I still run for exercise, remember?” David said to Mrs. Harris.
Jessica and Tina finished bundling up when Jessica realized something, “Oh shoot, I left my coat in my car!”
“Maybe we should have him go get it!” said an anxious Tina.
Tired from her near paranoia, Jessica shot back, “Please. This has gotten overblown. This psycho isn’t going to risk his neck with all these guards around.”
“Don’t think like that!” Said Tina.
“Besides. It’s not that far, and we can walk quickly.”
“Here, at least take my scarf.” Said Tina.
“Thanks hon.” Said Jessica, wrapping it around her.
Not liking how casual Jessica was, Tina tried to press her just a little. “I wish you’d be at least a little afraid. You know there’s such a thing as healthy fear?”
“And unhealthy as well,” said Jessica. “Ready?”
“No. But, fine.”
“Let’s go,” said Jessica.
As they walked to the door, the guard held it open, again letting in a rush of cold air that hit Jessica hard, cutting through her sweater right to her skin, but she held back from saying anything, not wanting Tina to overreact.
Walking through, Jessica took one last look into the room. “Good night Mrs. Harris. Have a good weekend.”
“By girls. Be safe,” she said.
But Jessica’s last glimpse into the room was eye to eye with David, who briefly smiled, then shyly looked down and away as he put his gloves on.
The cold winter air whistled through the maze of buildings in bursts as the guard led Jessica and Tina through the neatly trimmed bush and hedge-laden paths dimly lit with green fluorescent lights towards where their cars were parked.
A few steps behind the guard, the girls quietly spoke to themselves, somewhat huddled together.
“I just want to get home. Cuddle up with my cats,” said Tina.
“Relax, relax,” Jessica said in return, rubbing her hands against her shoulders to keep warm.
As they rounded a corner alongside a driveway a campus, a pickup truck containing a second security guard came into view, shining a flashlight in their direction.
“See. Help everywhere,” Jessica said.
Seeing things were safe, the guard in the pickup truck waved before driving off.
A few cold steps later, the trio came to a fork in the pathway with one last building splitting the pathway. “Which way?” asked the guard.
“If you’re okay, Jess, can we go to the right, my car first?” said an increasingly fearful Tina. “Please?”
Before the guard could answer, Jessica cut in. “I’m just around the building in lot C. You walk her to the other lot, I can make it alone from here.”
“No!” Tina said quickly.
“Tina. My car is just around that corner. I even parked under the light. I’m getting cold. I’m just going to hurry to my car.”
“Are you sure, miss?” asked the guard.
Just then, the security truck came over the hill from the direction where Tina’s car was parked.
Jessica turned to Tina as she walked away on her own. “You go with him. If anything happens, I'll just scream. And you guys, or that guy in the car will hear me and come to the rescue.”
Tina was really on edge. “I don’t like this, Jessica! Please. Just walk with us.”
“It’s only fifty feet!” Jessica told Tina, walking off, trying to quell any concern as they went their separate ways. The guard leading Tina away as she fearfully looked back to Jessica with every step, almost in tears.
As Tina and the guard crested the last rise Jessica waved, turned and briskly walked through a short, pitch-black tunnel between buildings and around the corner to the lot where her car was, her senses a little heightened, listening very intently, concentrating on her surroundings as she passed through.
A single, large streetlight poured light onto the lot, giving her some level of comfort. But as she rounded the corner of the building and could see the grey VW Beetle her parents had bought her, something wasn’t right. While the entire rest of the lot was empty, an old, dingy van sat right next to her car, sitting a little off-kilter, driver’s side door to driver’s side door with her car.
Who would park their car like that? It wasn’t there when Jessica arrived for class a few hours ago. That she would have remembered.
Jess stared and looked at the van and her car for a long moment, closely, very closely. Is there any movement in the van, she wondered, a shadow maybe? But no, there was nothing.
What to do? What to do?
Almost shivering, she decided this had to be nothing, exited the tunnel, and reached down into her purse to pull out her keys. As she did, a very tiny light, a reflection maybe, caught her attention from her periphery in the direction of the cars. Maybe inside the van? What was that?
Jessica stopped in her tracks on the edge of the lot. She stared hard, not making a sound. She didn’t blink, didn’t even breathe.
Enough of this, she thought, and quickly turned around, backtracking to the tunnel and the campus. Looking back a few times, she saw no people, no movement at the cars, all appeared to be clear, but there was enough concern, enough trepidation, that she headed back, head for Tina and the guard, seek just that little bit of assistance.
Jess made her way through the tunnel, and onto the campus path, quickly heading up the little hill to where Tina and the guard went, briefly looking behind and seeing no one there, no one following her.
As she crested the little rise, she saw into the lot. Tina’s car was gone; no cars were in the lot at all, only the big security guard climbing into the security pickup truck passenger door. His voice barely heard in the distance as he slammed the door shut, “that’s it.”
Jess went to yell, but the pickup quickly sped off around a corner and into the distance, gone.
“Dammit. Dammit,” she uttered under her breath.
Turning around, she quickly headed down the little hill, and took a bending left, the long way back to the ballet classroom, as she nervously checked her surroundings, her eyes more open scanning the dimly lit pathway, rubbing her arms against her shoulders to fight off the cold.
When she got to the small building and classroom, her hopes dimmed. The lights in the building were out. She yanked on the door; the metal handle freezing her hand, only to find it locked shut.
Everyone was gone.
What to do now? Where to go?
Looking down past the classroom where the other students headed was nothing but emptiness, darkness, and not a sound.
Clasping her keys, Jess headed back towards the tunnel, towards her car, listening for anything out of the norm. Acutely aware of every sound; the wind whistling through the trees, a dog barking some blocks away, a white wash of some traffic perhaps far in the distance.
Moving through the short tunnel, she again came to the edge of the lot, hoping, perhaps beyond hope, that the van would have driven off, and only her car would remain. But no suck luck. The setting was identical to how it was when she walked away.
Now nearly shivering, she approached her car with trepidation, but a steady gait, the wooden heels of her boots making a little clacking sound with each step she took, something that wasn’t lost on her in the silent, chilly night air. Her eyes, however, could see better in through the front windshield of the van, the closer she got, courtesy of the parking lot light, and it appeared to be completely empty. That was a good sign, but something she would not take her eyes off.
Taking her keys out of her purse, she fumbled through a few of them before finding the set for the car. She pressed the auto-unlock feature, but nothing happened, sending a brief jolt of panic through her veins, only then remembering the little battery in it had died a couple weeks ago. Meaning she would need to physically insert it into the car door.
Still focused on the dingy van, making sure it had no occupants inside, no movement from the door, no shifting of its weight, and no one hiding behind it ready to spring upon her, she swiftly glanced down, sticking her key into the door, quickly turned it, opening it, not realizing that the car actually was unlocked, and hopped in as fast as possible.
Locking the car she tried to quickly jam the key into the ignition, but it wouldn’t fit. She flipped it over and tried again, thinking there was no way the key only worked in one manner, having inserted it correctly every previous time. It would again not fit.
Sticking her head down, she peered into the shadowy area of where the ignition was, finding something small had somehow, some way, gotten stuck in there. How could she possibly have done that? How could such a thing happen? Why now? Using her fingers and fiddling the key into the slot a few times, she could finally pull out what looked like a fraying toothpick. How in the hell did that get in there?
She again jammed the key into the ignition, trying to push it past the last little bits of splinters from the toothpick left behind, just to get the car to start.
Finally, it turned over, and Jessica breathed a quick sigh of relief as she looked, almost by habit, into the rearview mirror. Expecting to see an empty lot behind her, her view instead was briefly blinded by a bright reflection, a moving glare coming from the back seat, and a large shadow of movement. Gasping one quick breath remembering the car was actually unlocked when she got in, and now realizing why something was jammed in her ignition, her hair was pulled very taut, yanking her head back against the seat rest, as eight-and-a-half inches of razor sharp steel dragged across her neck, slicing it clean, as excruciating pain and the last fleeting thoughts of what her life could have been - hyper-quick memories of her life, intermingled with regret of how if she had only listened to her friend, as the agonizing and horrific agony subsided, and her world went dark.
Carnival of Regret Part 1.
In the outskirts of a nameless town, where a spattering of urban sprawl intermingles with the rural countryside, the asphalt of the city's streets slowly gave way to gravel and dirt of the country. Here, on this particular stretch of road, the hard-packed earth was partially obscured by a thin layer of golden hay, that had been scattered haphazardly by passing winds, or perhaps the hand of some careless or exhausted farmer.
Seeming to be at a crossroads, the bending road itself was with a mixture of old cars and trucks parked casually along its sides, as if they were trying to decide how far to continue into town or to venture out into the fields beyond. The vehicles, some dented with highlights of rust with age, were a testament to the hard lives they had led, bearing the scars of countless journeys, perhaps some on this very road.
Despite its rough exterior, there was a certain charm to this scene, an untamed beauty that was uniquely American. The air was alive with the sweet fragrance of freshly cut grass and the distant sound of farm animals. In the distance, the golden sun kissed the horizon, casting a warm glow over the landscape and filling the sky with a tapestry of colors, from vibrant oranges and reds to ribbons of deep purples on a deepening blue canvas.
For this moment, all was still and quiet, as if time itself had paused to appreciate this fleeting remaining moment of beauty. And then, as suddenly as it had arrived, the spell was broken, as a lone car rolled down the road, its engine, and tires rolling over the gravel, drowning out the peaceful sounds of the countryside. But even as the car disappeared into the distance, the magic of this place lingered on, a memory that could stay with those who had witnessed it, should they choose to not miss it.
Roy Prescott was a man who had lived a hard life. He had weathered the storms of four decades, and the lines etched into his face spoke of a hardscrabble life full of hard work, moments of joy and his share of sorrow. He walked along the country road with a measured pace, his shoulders hunched slightly, as if he was carrying a heavy burden. His old jacket, with its elbows scuffed and thinning, hung loosely from his frame, as if it was tired of the weight of the world that Roy carried upon it.
His shoes were worn down to the soles, the leather creased and cracked from years of use. Despite their age, they still managed to keep Roy's feet warm enough and dry enough, a testament to the craftsmanship of a time gone by. His hands, rough and calloused from years of hard work, were tucked into the pockets of his jacket, as if seeking refuge from the chill of the evening air.
On his head, Roy wore a baseball cap that read USS Scorpion, a reminder of a time long ago, when he had served his country with honor and distinction. His hair, once jet black and full, was now thinning and combed back, as if he was trying to hold onto a piece of his youth that had long since slipped away.
As Roy walked along the road, his gait was steady and concealed, a sub-context of the strength and resilience that lay within him. He moved with a quiet grace, each step measured and precise, as if he was walking a tightrope between the past and the present. And as he walked, his eyes took in the quaint beauty of the world around him almost from a full periphery, the low rolling hills and the verdant fields, the subtle colors of the sky from the sun’s last illumination.
For a moment, Roy was at peace, his mind free of the worries and cares that had weighed him down for so long. He was simply a man, walking along a country road, taking in the simple pleasures of life that so often go unnoticed. And as he walked, Roy knew that no matter what the future held, what his future had left, where he was, in place, and in time. Learning to not let go of moments, brief respite from the troubles of the world, to look at and cherish, without having to look back.
As Roy passed by a few dimly lit shanty houses along the country road, he couldn't help but notice how well they fit into their rural surroundings. These simple dwellings were a stark contrast to the bustling metropolis he had left behind, both miles, and years ago, to a reminder of a simpler way of life, even if it weren’t always true for those who lived it.
As he walked, Roy encountered more densely parked cars and a smattering of people. But he didn't interact with any of them, never once a wink of eye contact. He kept his head down, lost in his own thoughts, as he made his way towards his destination. His world was one of quiet contemplation, a world where words were few and actions spoke louder than any conversation ever could.
As he rounded one last corner, he found himself on the fringe of a county fair. The sounds of laughter and music drifted towards him on the breeze, filling his ears with a sense of joy and delight. The lights of the fair illuminated the night sky, casting a warm glow over everything around him the closer he got.
For a moment, Roy hesitated, unsure if he should enter this world of bright lights and loud noises, what they may disrupt within him. But then, he remembered that life was meant to be lived, that every moment, just like those along the road, could precious and could be savored. With a deep breath, he stepped forward, his eyes taking in the wonder and magic of the fair.
The fair that Roy found himself in was a relatively small affair, its size and scope limited by the constraints of its rural location. The crowds were thin, with only a handful of people wandering the walkways between the rides and attractions.
As twilight faded, Roy walked through the grounds, he saw the tents and concessions were worn, their surfaces scarred and scuffed from years of use. There were no special graphics, few bunting or streamers, and the paint on them was faded and chipped.
He couldn't help but notice several tungsten light bulbs were burnt out along the pathway, casting strange shadows along them. The rides he saw were old and simple, almost tiny in comparison to the towering roller coasters of the big city amusement parks. There was no dynamic draw to them, no heart-pounding thrill that made your stomach lurch and your heart race. But it still made him smile a little within. Once he accepted this as it was, chose it, this added to the charm of the fair.
Second by second this scene made him at ease. Fleeting glimpses of childlike wonder and joy that adults don’t feel, or don’t allow themselves to feel. He was free, free from the weight of the world that had been pressing down on him for so long.
Roy meandered through the fair, his aura settled into one of comfort if not pure happiness. He walked with a mild, relaxed look, a subtle contrast to the families around him who were having fun and laughing. As he strolled past the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round, his eyes caught sight of a small roller coaster, as he, slowed, then stopped in his tracks.
Standing before the coaster, Roy stared up at the structure, mesmerized by the sight. His eyes fixed on the twisting tracks and the cars hurtling through the air. It was as if he was looking into his past, transported back to a time when he too had lived life on the edge, daring to explore the unknown and reveling in the thrill of danger.
For a few focused moments, Roy watched the coaster with rapt attention, his mind lost in a current of memories and emotions. He could feel his heart racing a hair, his breath quickening, as he relived the rush of adrenaline that had once consumed him.
But then, as the coaster roared by once more, Roy closed his eyes and just listened. He let the sounds of the ride wash over him, hearing the grinding of the gears, the creaking of the track, the jolting of the cars as they hurtled through the air.
As he listened, Roy felt his mind drift further and further away, lost in the vault of feelings that had been buried deep within him. He was transported back to a time when life truly was simpler, if only once, until that moment was taken away.
The Black Rock Thrill Park was an amusement destination from a time long ago, a place of wonder and excitement that harkened back to an era where risk was accepted, and the world was filled with endless possibilities, if at times wild, dangerous. It was a place where the young and the young at heart could gather together, united in their quest for thrills and adventure.
When the park first opened its gates, it was a sight to behold. Everything was new, clean, and exciting, and the air was charged with a sense of anticipation and wonder. The rides gleamed in the sun, their bright colors and flashing lights inviting visitors to step forward and embrace the thrill of the unknown.
As the crowds poured in, the park came alive with a sense of energy and excitement that was contagious. Teenagers and young adults from all over the region flocked to the park, eager to experience the rush of adrenaline that came with every ride.
For a time, it seemed as though the park would never lose its luster, that it would continue to shine like a beacon of hope and excitement in a world that was growing darker and more uncertain with each passing day.
But then, as time went by, month to month, year to year, the world began to change. The economy wavered, faltered, and people's lives grew harder, more complicated. Like a blue collar worker, the once-new rides and attractions began to show their age, their surfaces scarred and scuffed from years of use. But that didn’t stop kids from riding the best ride in the park. The Leviathan.
A group of kids stood at the front of the line, their faces alight with excitement and anticipation as they waited to board the premiere ride at Black Rock. The roller coaster was massive, its steel tracks painted a deep, pitch-black that seemed to absorb the sunlight around it. It’s pathway twisting in a warped, intricate manner, so interwoven the ride was hard to follow with your eyes even.
On one particular night, the ride operator struggled to maintain order, the crowd surged forward, pushing and shoving their way towards the front of the line to ride the massive coaster. The kids towards the front of the pack were determined to get on the ride, their enthusiasm spilling over into chaos as they jostled for position.
In the midst of the scrum, a young couple struggled to stay together, their hands tightly clasped as they fought against the crush of the crowd. But despite their best efforts, they were pulled apart, the girl swept up by the frenzied mob and pushed into the next car. The boy left behind, reaching at nothing but air. His voice calling to her lost in the cacophony.
As she was strapped in and the ride began to move, the girl looked back at her beau, her eyes filled with trepidation and fear. She had never felt so alone, so vulnerable, as the car hissed and buckled in the station, about to hurtled her, and the others, through the air on that massive, pitch-black roller coaster.
The roller coaster then roared to life, its metal cars lurching forward and climbing the first big hill with a sense of anticipation that was almost palpable. Click, click, click up it went. Foot by foot, second by second. As the ride crested the hill, the kids on board screamed with a mix of joy and fear, their hands clutching tightly to the safety bars.
The boy, left behind on the ground, watched as the ride climbed higher and higher into the sky, disappearing from view as it crested the first hill. He could hear the screams and shouts of the riders, their voices carried on the wind, and he felt a strong pang of regret, and an even stronger pang of guilt, for not being with his love on that ride.
But as he watched, he convinced himself he could never have kept up with the frenzied mob, never have fought his way to the front of the line. And so, he stood there, alone and helpless, watching as his love disappeared into the unknown, trying to sympathize with her fear.
But little did they know, all their fears should have been much greater. For much further along the track, something was going terribly wrong.
As the coaster hurtled along its track, the ride began to shake and rattle, its bolts and screws coming loose with a sickening sound. The riders screamed and shouted, their voices lost in the roar of the coaster as it careened in an increasingly bumpy manner.
Quickly, one by one, the riders whose screaming slowly altered from excitement to genuine fear, clung to their respective safety bars, their faces growing pale, fearing that something was wrong, that the ride was not running as it should be.
The coaster crested one final hill, coming to a near stop at the top. Could everything be all right? Could this just be how the ride is somehow supposed to be? At first slow, a little crawl, then with more and more speed, the coaster screamed down the final descent where a small rise and pivot turn waited, less than a second away. But the ride didn’t do what it was supposed to, at all. When it reached the apex of the pivot turn, the coaster violently tilted to one side, its cars careening off the rails with great force, ripping from the tracks in entirety, as the passengers screams turned to a very sharp pitch and great volume. The cars then accordioned into a flat spin through the air, before diving towards a large array of wooden concession stands below, and certain horror.
Roy opened his eyes as the cars of the roller coaster at the county fair roared past him, their passengers hollering with delight. He rubbed his hand over his face, feeling a sense of disorientation as he tried to shake off the rush of adrenaline that had swept through him just moments before. For a moment, he stood there, watching as the coaster, its metal cars seconds ago a blur of color and sound, ease their way into the loading station.
But then, with a sense of purpose, Roy turned away and began to make his way through the stands of the fair. He passed by the brightly-lit tents and concessions, his eyes scanning the crowds for any sign of familiarity. But he saw nothing.
The carney flashed a relaxed grin as Roy approached, his eyes bright with the promise of excitement.
"Hey friend, I can tell it's your lucky day," he said, his words ringing out with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm.
Roy regarded the carney with a sense of skepticism, his eyes narrowing as he took in the man's sales-like demeanor. He had seen enough of the world to know that most people were out for themselves, looking to make a quick buck off of anyone who came their way.
But he was game for at least a bit of conversation, and so he decided to play along.
"And how's that?" he asked, his voice laced with a touch of amusement.
"I can just tell in some people, and you're one of them," the carney replied, his eyes scanning Roy's face with a sense of confidence.
Roy raised an eyebrow, his interest piqued. "Uh-huh. And out of every hundred people that come by here, how many can you tell?" he asked, his voice tinged with a touch of playful sarcasm.
The carney flashed another grin, his eyes twinkling with mirth, then a hint of steadiness. "But you're different," he said, his words dripping with sincerity.
Roy rolled his eyes, his patience wearing thin. He turned to walk away, his mind already moving on to other things. But then, as if sensing his reluctance, the carney spoke up again.
"It's a special day for you, isn't it?" he said, his voice low and conspiratorial.
Roy stopped in his tracks, his curiosity getting the better of him. "Why do you say that?" he asked, his voice more direct, softening with a touch of wonder.
"I can just tell," the carney replied, his eyes fixed on Roy's face with a sense of directness.
"There's a certain energy about you, a sense of purpose and destiny that I don't see in everyone. You're meant for great things, my friend, great things indeed.”
Roy's face went a bit flat as the carney continued on, his words hanging heavy in the air. "Until of course the accident. The bad one, I mean. Were you living here then?" the carney asked, his eyes fixed on Roy's face with a sense of intensity.
Roy's mind flashed back to that fateful day, the day that had changed his life forever. He had been living in this very town when the accident had happened, a catastrophic event that had left him reeling with shock and despair.
But he didn't want to dwell on the past, not now, not here. And so he handed the carney a dollar bill, his eyes fixed on the wheel of fortune with a sense of detachment and indifference.
"So it's my lucky day, huh?" Roy asked, his voice laced with a touch of sarcasm.
The carney came back to his optimistic sales persona, flashing Roy a toothy grin as he spun the wheel of fortune. Roy watched as the wheel spun round and round, its colors flashing by in a blur of motion and sound.
"Round and round she goes, where she stops, no one knows," the carney intoned, his voice carrying over the noise of the fair.
The wheel passed prizes like fame, fortune, wealth, and happiness, its pointer spinning faster and faster until it finally settled in-between pegs on a slot marked Zilch.
"You pay your money, you take your chances," the carney said with a wink.
Roy forced a small grin, his disappointment palpable. "Why could I tell that was coming?" he muttered under his breath.
As he turned to leave, the carney stopped him with a sense of urgency in his voice. "You'll be back, my friend," he said, his eyes fixed on Roy's retreating form.
"I don't think so," Roy replied, his voice firm and resolute.
Roy regarded the carney with a mixture of awe and disbelief. He had never been one to believe in fate or destiny, but there was something about the man's words that struck a chord deep within him.
In a far corner of the fairgrounds Roy fell asleep on a park bench, his baseball cap covering his face. While workers swept walkways and emptied trash bins.
A security guard walked up to Roy, “hey buddy, this ain’t no shelter.”
Roy came to quickly, sitting up, his hat falling off his
face and onto the ground.
He squinted up at the Guard, but the Guard's face was backlit by a tall arc light on a high pole, and Roy struggled to get a fix on his features.
“Sorry, I just drifted off.” Roy uttered.
“Uh-uh.” Said the guard, not really caring.
“I'll leave.” Roy politely said as he stood and started to walk away.
“Hey buddy.” The guard shot. Causing Roy to turn back.
“You forgot your hat.” the guard said, as he bent down to pick it up.
As the guard stood and handed the hat to Roy, Roy finally got a look at the guard’s face. His features were that of a weathered prize fighter. His nose flat, his eyebrows scarred, his ears caluflowered. Which intimidated Roy a bit.
The Guard handed the hat to Roy but not before looking at it. “You on the Scorpion?”
Roy calmly responded, “Well, yeah, but before anything
happened, of course. You in?”
“Nah, just heard the stories, that’s all.” The guard said.
In a far corner of the fairgrounds, Roy had fallen asleep on a park bench, his baseball cap covering his face. Meanwhile, workers busied themselves sweeping the walkways and emptying trash bins.
A security guard walked up to Roy, his authoritative tone cutting through the peaceful silence. "Hey buddy, this ain't no shelter," he barked.
Roy jerked awake, startled by the guard's sudden appearance. His hat fell off his face and onto the ground as he scrambled to sit up. Squinting up at the guard, Roy struggled to make out his features, which were obscured by the harsh glare of an overhead arc light.
"Sorry, I just drifted off," Roy mumbled, trying to explain himself.
The guard's expression remained stern, unmoved by Roy's excuse. "Uh-uh," he grunted, his tone dismissive.
Realizing he had overstayed his welcome, Roy quickly stood up and began to walk away. But the guard's voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Hey buddy," the guard called out, causing Roy to turn back. "You forgot your hat."
As the guard bent down to pick up the cap, Roy finally got a good look at his face. His features were rough and weathered, like those of a prizefighter. His nose was flat, his eyebrows scarred, his ears gnarled and cauliflowered. Roy couldn't help but feel a bit intimidated.
The guard handed Roy his cap and took a closer look at it. "You on the Scorpion?" he asked, his tone neutral.
Roy nodded, "Yeah, but that was before anything happened. You ride it?"
The guard shook his head. "Nah, just heard the stories, that's all," he replied before walking away.
a third-story flat with a single room and crumbling walls. Its one window overlooked dark city streets. Not too far away, a buzzing neon light crackled loudly, while distant sirens played a melancholic melody. Roy leaned on a very austere bed, the only other furniture in the room being a small dresser nearby, an old chair, and a table with a radio and candles on it.
Roy stood up and walked towards the window. As he peered outside, he noticed a shadow in the distance - a blackened out area with faint structures, like twisted lattices silhouetted in black against the dimmest of light. He took a deep breath and continued to gaze at the sight before him.
But then, Roy tore his gaze away from the window and walked back to his bed. He sat down and buried his head in his hands, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. The darkness outside seemed to be a reflection of his own inner turmoil.
Under the blistering heat of the sun, a dozen or so workers toiled away along the roadside, their shovels biting into the rough, unforgiving gravel. The air was heavy and still, with only the occasional breeze by a scant passing car to offer respite from the oppressive heat. Sweat glistened on their foreheads and stained their shirts, their muscles bulging with the effort of each back-breaking movement.
The location was desolate, with nothing but barren fields stretching out in every direction. The only sounds were the relentless scrape of shovels against gravel and the distant hum of cars passing by on the highway. The workers were surrounded by a sea of gray, with the dull monotony of the gravel broken only by the occasional clump of dirt or patch of grass struggling to survive in the harsh environment.
The labor was grueling and unforgiving, each shovel-full of gravel feeling like a small victory in a never-ending battle. The workers pushed themselves to the limit, each breath coming in ragged gasps, as they fought to keep pace with the demands of the job. But even with their best efforts, the heat and the labor seemed endless, stretching out before them like an impossible task.
Two young guys worked from the same gravel heap as Roy. Gene, a lanky fellow with mussed up hair, and Billy, a more rounded guy with a boyish face.
“So, what was it like? You been there years passed?” Billy said.
“About the same, yeah, I suppose” Roy responded. “The rides seem smaller this year, that’s for sure.”
“I was thinking of taking my hyphen there tomorrow” Gene said. “Some are saying the rides are good for kids, so it might be fun.”
From the next gravel pile over an older man with a big chest and big belly to match named Henry cut in, “I went there, those rides are nothin’. Nothin’ like the rides at Black Lake, that’s for sure.
“I ain’t even old enough to remember that.” Billy said, a touch of disappointment in his voice. “They should fix it up, reopen it. When did they shut it down anyway?”
“Nineteen.” Roy curtly said.
“That’s it?” Said Billy?
After a moment Gene spoke. “I went to Black Lake once. I was a kid and went with my older brother, before the economy slowly went to crap. I went before all them kids were killed in that accident. Must have been over ten of them.”
“Whoa!” Billy said.
“Four.” Roy reacted. Then in a more subtle tone, as if to just clarify, “It was only four.”
Roy moved to change the conversation, eliminate it. “We probably want to be a bit more quiet. The foreman won’t appreciate all the jabber.”
Henry kept going though, “Yeah, only four dead. But there were many more hurt, badly hurt.”
“Wild.” Said Billy. “What was the ride? What happened?”
“The Leviathan. That was the name of the ride.” Henry said. “It was really scary, even for back then. But with all the accidents that used to happen in parks, the kids all called it something else. But I can’t remember…I think…” Henry turned to Roy. “You remember?
Roy kept on working. But after a long moment of no one speaking, and Henry all but waiting, without looking up Roy did answer. “The Killer.”
“Whoa! That sounds….spooky!” Said Billy.
Gene seemed a bit impressed. “Gee Roy, you seem to remember it well. Did you go there a lot?”
“I just remembered, that’s all.” Roy said.
Gene cut back in. “Sounds like we should get together for a beer and have Henry and Roy tell old stories!”
“Nothing to really tell.” Roy said. “We really need to keep an eye out on our work, especially if we want to come back again next week.”
The other workers were casual about the conversation, but Roy literally dug in a bit harder and quicker with his work with some determination. But his real determination was in his move to hide his face and conceal his feelings, mask them with diligent work ethic.
Roy sat alone in his apartment, just as he had the previous night. With his hard-earned pay, he had bought something, a bottle of Scotch. It sat in a brown paper bag on the small table beside the bed. Roy reached over and took out the bottle, removing the cap with a practiced twist. He pulled a glass from the short dresser and poured the amber liquid half-full. He brought it to his lips and swallowed, wincing at the burn in his throat.
He poured another half-glass, then closed the bottle and set it back on the dresser. Roy stared at the drink for a long minute, wanting to put it down and skip it. But that would be a waste. He hesitated for a moment before downing the drink like it was Nyquil.
Setting the glass back on the dresser, Roy shut off the light and lay back on the bed, trying to relax. But he was hard pressed to close his eyes for any length of time. The silence was suffocating, broken only by the occasional sound of a car passing outside. Roy closed his eyes and tried to forget about the world outside, but his mind refused to let him rest. The Scotch burned in his stomach, and he felt a sense of unease wash over him. He wondered if he had made a mistake, but it was too late to turn back now.
Roy is back at the State Fair. Dressed in nearly the same ratty clothes as the day before, walking a little quicker. Rounding a corner, he sees his destination for the day. The Wheel of Fortune, and the carney. After a brief pause, Roy moves up to the booth, where it only takes a moment for the carney to recognize him.
"Hello my friend. I knew you'd be back. I said it, didn't I?" The carney said.
"That you did...but I don't know that I'd say we're friends." Roy said.
"Give the wheel another spin? Maybe this day is your lucky day." The carney asked.
Roy is a bit more direct. "I don't think so. Today I just have a question."
"A penny for my thoughts?" The carney said with a wink.
Roy muses at the notion, then pauses, and his face relaxes before slowly asking. "You remember Black Lake Park? When it was open I mean?"
"Sure. Worked there, like I said the other night." The carney said.
"That's right. You remember The Leviathan, don't you?" Roy said.
"Sure." The carney answered.
"You remember what happened? That last night, that last accident, I
mean?" Roy asked, a bit more honestly.
The carney understands the seriousness of Roy's question and lets the huckster in him go. "Oh yes, I remember."
The carney stops and looks over at Roy whose unchanging expression says he wants him to continue.
The carney pauses for a moment, looking into the distance before speaking. "July 4th, nineteen years ago. Seems like thirty though. It was warm and humid. Much more than today. Nearly two dozen kids climbed aboard The...The Leviathan that night. It made it's way up, and when it got to the pivot turn...when it was all said and done, of the twenty that got on, only 16 got away, barely. And oh no, into all the splinters of wood from the concession stands...horrible, terrible. Ghastly, stuff of nightmares. Nightmares to last a lifetime."
The carney snaps out of his minor trance, and picks up a towel and starts wiping the counter. "They put the ride back, fixed it, but no one really came after that. A long, long time ago that was. Like
I said, seems more like thirty or a hundred years. Why'd you ask?"
"Just curious." Roy said after a pause.
"That's it?" said the carney?
"That's it." Roy responded.
Roy stares in an emotional state, then quickly walks off, fighting tears of stress and pain.
Roy had returned to the State Fair, dressed in the same shabby clothes he had worn the day before, but walking a little faster this time. As he rounded a corner, he saw his destination for the day: the Wheel of Fortune and the carney. After hesitating for a moment, Roy approached the booth, and it didn't take long for the carney to recognize him.
"Hello my friend. I knew you'd be back. I said it, didn't I?" the carney said.
"That you did... but I don't know that I'd say we're friends," Roy replied.
"Care to give the wheel another spin? Maybe today's your lucky day," the carney asked.
Roy was more direct this time. "I don't think so. Today, I just have a question."
"A penny for my thoughts?" the carney said with a wink.
Roy pondered the idea for a moment, then paused, his face relaxing before he slowly asked, "You remember Black Lake Park? When it was open, I mean?"
"Sure. Worked there, like I said the other night," the carney replied.
"That's right. You remember The Leviathan, don't you?" Roy said.
"Sure," the carney answered.
"You remember what happened? That last night, that last accident, I mean?" Roy asked, a bit more honestly.
The carney understood the seriousness of Roy's question and let the huckster in him go. "Oh yes, I remember."
The carney stopped and looked over at Roy, whose unchanging expression said he wanted him to continue.
The carney paused for a moment, looking into the distance before speaking. "July 4th, nineteen years ago. Seems like thirty though. It was warm and humid. Much more than today. Nearly two dozen kids climbed aboard The Leviathan that night. It made its way up, and when it got to the pivot turn... when it was all said and done, of the twenty that got on, only 16 got away, barely. And oh no, into all the splinters of wood from the concession stands... horrible, terrible. Ghastly, stuff of nightmares. Nightmares to last a lifetime."
The carney snapped out of his minor trance, picked up a towel and started wiping the counter in efficient, circular motions, not looking at Roy. "They put the ride back, fixed it, but no one really came after that. A long, long time ago that was. Like I said, seems more like thirty or a hundred years. Why'd you ask?"
"Just curious." Roy said after a pause.
“That's it?” The carney responded in an equally slow pace.
Roy gazed at the wheel of fortune, pushing back emotions before hastily walking off in an effort to escape growing memories.
Making his way back over to the small roller coaster, Roy again hesitated, staring at it. However, this time he wasn't watching with fascination; he stared at it with inner frustration, fighting his guilt. It was as if he was trying to will his memories to be a part of a different history.
As the last vestiges of light faded from the horizon, leaving an overcast, deep, deep gray sky, Roy ambled through the dimly lit back streets on his way home from the fair. The faint scent of popcorn and cotton candy still clung to his clothes as he took a deep, calming breath to release the tension that had been building throughout the day.
In the far distance, the towering silhouette of a long-abandoned part of the town caught his eye, its dark and mysterious aura tugging at his attention like a persistent, haunting whisper. The old Black Lake Amusement Park loomed in the shadows of the city, casting an eerie void that seemed to call out to him. The once-thriving park, now a ghostly relic of the past, seemed to beckon Roy with its siren song.
Approaching his familiar apartment building, he fished his keys out of his pocket and moved to insert them into the door. But, just as the cool metal met the lock, he couldn't help but glance back across the town, his gaze drawn irresistibly to the somber specter of Black Lake. The park's enigmatic presence seemed to weigh on his mind, urging him to explore its hidden depths.
With a slow exhale, Roy looked back at the door, his keys poised in his hand. He hesitated for a moment, then returned the keys to his pocket, his curiosity about the mysterious Black Lake Amusement Park growing stronger by the minute.
Carnival of Regret Part 2
Roy found himself nearly mesmerized as he rounded the final corner of an industrial block and was greeted with a full, head-on view of the dark, foreboding amusement park. He stood frozen in his tracks, the deep shadow in the center of the city swallowing the surrounding light. Black Lake Amusement Park loomed ahead, as cold and lifeless as the steel it contained, without a single light emanating from its depths.
Taking a step, Roy crossed the empty parking lot and approached the park's perimeter. A battered, rusting fence stood guard, deterring unwanted visitors. As he moved along the fence, Roy's gaze was drawn inside, as if staring into a mirror reflecting an image of himself from a long-forgotten past. He navigated through waist-high weeds, and the distant sound of a car caught his attention. Squinting, he spotted a small security vehicle rounding the corner of the parking lot.
Without hesitation, Roy hit the deck, doing his best to blend into the weeds where the fence met the asphalt. The truck passed by, completely oblivious to his presence. After giving the vehicle ample time to move away, Roy cautiously rose and continued along the park fence.
He passed various decaying rides and crumbling buildings until he finally reached his destination: The Leviathan. The old, dilapidated work of black steel and rust towered above him, growing larger as he approached the boundary of the park. Suddenly, a startling noise came from within the park, near The Leviathan. Roy's heart raced as he peered closer, trying to discern the source of the disturbance.
To his surprise, he spotted a group of kids dressed as if they belonged to another era. They caught sight of Roy and, mistaking him for security, hastily scampered away. Glancing at his watch, Roy realized it was 1 am. He took a deep, steadying breath and turned to look across the parking lot, towards the neighborhood he called home.
With a final, lingering glance at the imposing silhouette of The Leviathan, Roy pivoted and made his way back home, the mysterious allure of Black Lake Amusement Park lingering in his thoughts.
One evening, back in his apartment, Roy had lain on his bed, feeling the softness of the mattress beneath him. His fingers had raked through his thick, unkempt hair, seeking solace in the familiar sensation. He had removed his shirt, the fabric sticking to his skin from the sweltering summer heat, and had carelessly tossed it onto a growing pile of clothes on the floor.
Roy's eyes had wandered to the window, catching a glimpse of the fading twilight casting a warm, orange glow on the buildings outside. Then, he had turned his attention back to the dimly lit room, the air heavy with the scent of stale sweat and lingering cigarette smoke.
He had reached for the bottle of Scotch, his fingers idly playing with the cap before finally unscrewing it. The amber liquid had shimmered in the dwindling light as he had lifted the bottle to his lips, forgoing a glass altogether. He had taken a hard shot directly from the bottle, the burn of the alcohol searing his throat, and he had winced at the intensity of the sensation. Determined, Roy had taken another swig before capping the bottle and placing it on the worn, wooden dresser.
With a final sigh, he had flicked off the light switch, plunging the room into darkness. The sounds of the city outside had filtered through the thin walls as he had collapsed back onto his bed, attempting to find sleep's elusive embrace. As Roy had drifted off, he had tossed and turned fitfully, his sheets tangled around him, the oppressive summer heat leaving him drenched in sweat and yearning for relief.
On a too warm summer night, the air was thick and stagnant, yet charged with youthful exuberance at the then-new Black Rock Amusement Park. The sky ha canvas painted with hues of deep purples and oranges as the sun set, casting its glow over the park. The sound of laughter and playful banter filled the atmosphere, punctuated by the distant hum of bustling rides and the chime of carnival games.
Images had swirled around of eager kids, their eyes wide with anticipation, talking about riding "The Killer" and daring one another to face the adrenaline-fueled challenge. Their excitement had been palpable, their voices a cacophony of competing bravado, making it difficult to discern individual conversations.
As the kids had pushed and shoved to secure their spots on the roller coaster cars, a mild mayhem had ensued. Their high-pitched squeals and friendly jostling had added to the chaos, while attendants had attempted to maintain some semblance of order, separating the children almost arbitrarily, deciding who would ride and who would not.
Once the roller coaster had begun its wild journey, it had torn through the ride, emitting alarming sounds it shouldn't have made. The creaking and cracking of the wooden structure had echoed through the air, accompanied by the unsettling clatter of loosening bolts. The rickety car had navigated each twist and turn, its passengers gripping the safety bars with white-knuckled intensity.
As the car had plunged into its final drop, hurtling toward the pivotal turn, it had started to break away from the track. The children's screams had morphed from thrilling exhilaration to bone-chilling terror. Their faces, once flushed with excitement, had paled with the realization that their adventure was quickly spiraling into a horrifying nightmare.
Roy heard a scream, jolting him out of his minimal sleep. Roy heard a scream and woke up in rivulets of sweat, and sat straight up.
He looked to the window, the “scream” only being brakes from a passing truck by his apartment.
Roy laid down, but his pulse was racing, his blood pressure high. Slow, deep breathes could do very little to help as he closed his eyes. Sleep. Try to get to sleep he thought, impossible to find himself comfortable, stay still, not fidget.
Roy was back at work with the road crew on another hot day. They shovel more gravel along the roadway. The same crew of men are here, working hard under the blistering afternoon sun.
Roy was facing away from the others, but it didn’t stop Billy from wanting to talk. “Hey Roy, you haven't said a thing all
day. What's up?”
“Nothing much to say I guess.” Roy said. “Just want to keep working as I need the work, you know?”
Billy seemed to get it, but didn’t like that answer, seeking to dig proverbially. “Yeah. But you haven’t said nothin’.”
Roy just shrugged, keeping his mind to his work.
“You going to the fair tonight? It’s forth of July.” Billy asked, bordering on pressing.
“Hadn’t planned on it.” Roy said.
Henry, the older worker, cut in. “I remember the day when not only did you not have to work on July 4th, you got paid for it.”
“Yeah, well that never worked did it?” Billy responded. “How you gonna keep people working if you pay them to sit at home?”
Henry scoffed with a light chuckle, “Boy do they have you where they want you!”
“What?” Billy asked.
“You work hard all day long, make a lot of money. Only the man takes most of it, while he sits in the air conditioned office.” Henry curtly said.
“Well, maybe someday I’ll be the man!” Said Billy.
“I’ll be the big man. With big money. And I'll re-open the Black Lake Park. Bring back the good old days!” Billy said.
Roy didn’t glance over, barely shaking his head, having to bite his tongue to keep from scolding Billy at such a notion.
Roy stood at his window sill, his hands gripping the edge as he stared out into the fading light. The sun inching closer to the horizon, casting long shadows that stretched across the cityscape. His gaze had been drawn to the dark expanse of Black Lake, the seemingly empty void within the bustling metropolis.
With a sense of longing and restlessness, he had reached for the bottle of Scotch. The golden liquid had glinted as he poured it into a glass, but as he brought it to his lips, he had hesitated. Something within him had stirred, a sudden defiance or a pang of self-awareness, causing him to change his mind.
In a fit of frustration, Roy hurled the bottle across the room, his anger amplified by the resonance of shattering glass against the wall. The force of the impact sent shards flying in every direction, their jagged edges catching the dying light as they rained down and across the floor.
Roy didn’t react, just staring at the mess he created, knowing he’d have to pay for it with the unenviable task of cleaning it up. As the adrenaline receded, the gravity of his actions had begun to sink in. Roy slowly sunk onto the edge of his bed, his face a portrait of subtle anguish and regret. His head found its way into his hands, his fingers threading through his hair as he released a deep, heavy sigh. The weight of his stress and exhaustion had settled upon him, leaving him feeling defeated and vulnerable in the dimming light.
Roy moved swiftly along the perimeter of the fair, his pace urgent as he entered the grounds. He was focused on reaching one destination and one destination only: The Wheel of Fortune. His heart thumped in his chest, a sense of necessity, anticipation propelling him forward.
As he rounded the corner and approached the booth, he met with a startling discovery: The Wheel of Fortune was gone. There was’t even been anything in the booth. Perplexed, Roy searched the area, his brow furrowed in confusion. No, he certain he was in the right place.
He quickly scanned the surrounding booths, wondering if perhaps they had relocated the attraction. But his hopes were dashed as it became clear that this was not the case. Frustration and disappointment had mingled within him as he had moved to the next booth, a baseball throwing area.
Approaching a young woman working there, he had captured her attention. Her hair was stringy, her eyes heavy with exhaustion, and she had expertly hidden a cigarette behind the counter as Roy neared. The scent of smoke had clung to her, a sharp contrast to the sweet aroma of cotton candy and fried dough that permeated the fairgrounds. A worn name tag with “Kim” scribbled on it in fading letters.
“Excuse me.” Roy politely said.
“You want to give it a shot? You look strong enough. Play ball as a kid?” Kim asked.
“No, no, no.” Roy said. “Uh, look, the Wheel of Fortune, where is it?”
“The what?” Kim asked?
“The Wheel of Fortune.” Roy implored, as if he hadn’t been clear. “Where have they move it to, or what happened to it?”
“I don't know what you're talking about.” Kim curtly replied.
Roy gestured to the booth over with growing frustration, where he could have sworn he saw the carney the other day. “It was right there! Right next door to you last week.”
“That booth's been empty all week.” Kim flatly shot back. “They were gonna put a poster shop in there, but-“
A more frantic Roy cut her off- “That can't be! I talked to the guy, twice! An older guy, short, bald, quick with his words.”
Kim’s expression turned serious. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Roy was still perplexed as before, but earnest. “What? No, I'm serious. Look, maybe, maybe it's not called that, the Wheel of Fortune. Maybe I do have the wrong booth. But there is this older guy…"
Roy strained for the words, but notices Kim staring at him hard, with a very stern look, causing him to break his speech.
Roy continued, "You know him? Look, maybe I have the wrong day or somethi-“
Kim had enough. “Pappy used to attend the wheel of fortune when we came through here. But he died years ago. You’re mixed up mister.”
“What?!” Roy was baffled, incredulous.
“Guy stabbed him to death for the five bucks in his pocket.” She flatly stated, crossing her arms. “He was a sweet old guy. We all loved him. And we don't need any pranks, or…crap in his good name.”
“What? I wasn’t…"
Kim turned to the left, her eyes catching the rough looking security guard at the end of the midway, slowly roaming his way their direction. She gave him a wave, and he nodded to her in return.
Seeing this, the guard gave him trepidation. “I’m sorry. I just. I just-“
“Have you been drinking mister?” Kim flatly asked.
“No, no I have not.” Roy answered with directness in his voice.
But Kim didn’t like his reaction one way or the other. “If you're not going to play, maybe you should just leave.”
Roy turned to the empty booth where he was certain he saw the wheel of fortune. He looked back at Kim, and shook his head as he walked away, frustration welling inside.
The moon had hung low on the horizon, casting a pale, silvery glow that seemed to struggle against the darkness enveloping the city. A thick layer of ominous, dark clouds had blanketed the sky, transforming it into an inky expanse that swallowed all light. The air had been heavy with tension, the usual nocturnal sounds muffled beneath the oppressive cloud cover.
Just as he had done a few days prior, Roy had approached the Black Lake Amusement Park with purpose, an edge of conviction in his stride. He had navigated the shadowy city side streets, the muted echoes of his footsteps the only sound to accompany him on his journey.
The dim arc light glow from street lamps had barely penetrated the gloom, casting eerie, elongated shadows that danced and flickered along the walls of the narrow alleyways. A cool breeze had whispered through the deserted streets, carrying with it the faint, distant laughter of revelers and the occasional hum of passing cars. As Roy had moved closer to his destination, the scent of grease and sugar from the amusement park's food stalls had begun to mingle with the urban aroma of concrete and exhaust, signaling his arrival at the edge of the park.
He had worn the same clothing as before: the worn-out shirt and the USS Scorpion baseball cap. Roy had quickly scanned the area for security before darting across the parking lot, his footsteps echoing softly in the empty space.
He had made his way to the fence along the perimeter of the park, following it until he reached a gate locked shut. Undeterred, he had continued to the left, his eyes searching for an entry point. Eventually, he had found a section where the fence had been torn away, just wide enough for him to slip through.
As he had prepared to enter, a rat had scurried across the ground, startling him. Just as he began to squeeze through the gap, a security truck had rounded the corner, forcing Roy to hastily move through the fence. In his haste, the cap had been pulled from his head.
Roy had quickly ducked behind a small building, his heart pounding as the truck stopped outside the park fence. A bright light had swept the area, illuminating the baseball cap caught on the fence. The security guard, seeing nothing else amiss, had switched off the light and driven away.
Once sure the coast was clear, Roy had emerged from his hiding spot, retrieved his cap, and ventured into the park.
Walking through the desolate Black Lake Amusement Park had been like taking a trip back in time. But while others might have viewed it as a time of joy, Roy's expression had revealed a different memory, one tinged with darker emotions.
The dilapidated swing ride stood empty, devoid of chairs. A beat-up Ferris wheel loomed above, only a few cars remaining. A worn-out, bone-dry slippery slide stood as a testament to happier times long past. Roy had regarded these remnants not with nostalgia but with a familiar apathy, as if a part of both he and the park had died some time ago, leaving them to slowly wither away.
Navigating knee-high weeds and pot-holed pathways, Roy had made his way past the other rides, drawn inexorably toward his destination: The Leviathan. The Killer.
The roller coaster had towered above him, its steel rails rusted and hinges corroded. Many bolts had fallen out, and in several places, the metal buttresses had seemed on the verge of collapsing. Despite the looming danger, Roy had approached it, walked to it, and ventured beneath it.
He had examined the ride with a mixture of terror, fear, and oddly, respect. The Leviathan had held his gaze, refusing to let him look away. Roy had circled it, finding his way to the entrance where, years ago, children had formed long lines on hot summer weekends, eagerly awaiting their turn to experience the thrill of the ride.
Alternate (better?) : The massive structure loomed above Roy, its once gleaming steel rails now marred by rust and decay at the hinges. Many bolts had fallen out over time, leaving gaping holes in their wake. In several places, the metal buttresses appeared dangerously close to teetering over, threatening to collapse at the slightest disturbance.
Despite the overwhelming sense of unease that washed over him, Roy couldn't resist the strange pull of the forsaken roller coaster. He approached it cautiously, each step echoing eerily in the surrounding silence. As he walked beneath its towering frame, the sheer scale of the ride instilled within him a blend of terror, fear, and an odd, almost reverent respect.
Unable to tear his eyes away from the colossal structure, Roy continued to circle it, his footsteps crunching on the long-forgotten debris that littered the ground. Eventually, he found himself at the entrance of the ride, where the ghosts of laughter and anticipation seemed to linger in the air. He could almost hear the excited chatter of children as they eagerly formed long lines on hot summer weekends, waiting to board the thrilling attraction.
As he stood there, Roy couldn't help but feel the weight of the memories that haunted the abandoned loading station, a poignant reminder of the joy and adventure that once filled the now desolate amusement park.
Roy made his way to the staging area, the entrance of the once-thrilling roller coaster ride. As he approached, he noticed a worn, wooden bench at the final boarding area, where cars would start and stop, and eager riders would clamor on and off. He sat down, feeling the rough, weathered surface beneath him.
One of the old cars sat motionless at the station, frozen in time as if it were still waiting for the next group of excited kids to board. Roy's gaze traveled from the lifeless car to the operator's area and back to the entrance, where the vivid remnants of laughter and anticipation seemed to hang in the air.
He tried to muster a faint smile, but it was short-lived, vanishing in a flash as the darkness of his past washed away the fleeting moment of amusement. With a heavy sigh, Roy rested his head in his hands, feeling the weight of his memories bearing down on him. He stretched out on the bench and closed his eyes, surrendering to the memories that enveloped him.
As his mind drifted, the once-silent amusement park came alive with the sounds of people, the hum of machinery, and the shrill screams of children on the rides. The echoes of the past swirled around him, enveloping him in a cacophony of long-lost laughter and joy. Roy felt as if he were teetering on the edge of sleep, the ghostly sounds of the park lulling him into a haunted slumber.
Suddenly, a clear, distinct voice cut through his thoughts, shattering the illusion of the past and jolting him back to the cold, silent reality of the abandoned park.
“Hey kid. You want the last run, or not?”
Roy opened his eyes, a bit of disbelief, unsure of what he heard, and sat up.
“I need your ticket if you’re going to ride the Leviathan before the park closes.”
Roy tuned to his right, where the voice came from, only to barely see a shadowy figure in the dark operator’s area of the ride.
Roy stared at the figure in a state of bewilderment. There couldn’t really be a person standing there? And what did they say?
The figure moves a little out of the shadow, revealing he’s an attendant. Roy focused his eyes, yes, the old pin-striped vest.
Roy sat up straight, focused his eyes more. The attendant looked strikingly similar to the carney who ran the wheel of fortune Roy saw at the state fair, only several years younger.
“What did you say?” Roy asked. His voice raising a little in pitch.
“Last run. Need your ticket to ride the Leviathan”, the attendant said.
Roy rose to his feet and hesitantly approached the stranger, his eyes flicking between the man and the decrepit roller coaster, uncertain of the reality unfolding before him. He glanced back at the ride, its age and wear still evident in its rusted metal and decaying frame.
Turning to face the mysterious attendant, Roy blurted out, "You're nuts. Who are you?"
Unfazed by Roy's words, the attendant urged him, "Come on, get on. I'll waive the ticket this time."
Roy studied the man's face for a long moment before recognition dawned. "You... you worked at the fair, didn't you? I saw you there."
"The county fair?" The attendant scoffed. "Those rides are for little kids and grandmas. You want to ride a real ride? The ride of your life? You do, and that's why you're here!"
His curiosity piqued, Roy's gaze shifted back to the coaster's cars and the terribly worn-out state of the ride. He couldn't shake the feeling that as mortifying as it may seem, this encounter was luring him deeper into the haunting secrets of the abandoned park.
“No way.” Said Roy, coming a bit to his senses. “This thing won't even work! The last time this thing ran-“
The attendant leaned over the control panel, his fingers deftly pressing a sequence of buttons. After a brief, silent pause, a few lights began to flicker to life, casting an eerie glow over the scene. From deep within its rusted frame, the Leviathan ever so slowly creaked and groaned, as if awakening from a long slumber.
Roy stared at the ride in disbelief, his eyes wide and his heart racing. “That's impossible...they cut the power to this off years ago. I worked for the city when they did it. I even worked that grid-“
“Not tonight.” The attendant shot back. “Now, today, the park
is open for just one day, today.”
He glanced around, taking in the surreal landscape that surrounded him. The occasional light flickered on deep in the distance within the park, yet there was no sign of anyone else nearby.
“First car or last? First for the speed demons. But last is for the rough riders. Those with experience, that way you can get a good look at the other cars and see what's going to happen to you. It adds to the thrill.” The attendant said.
Roy remained almost entranced, “This isn’t real.”
“It's as real as it needs to be, for you.” The attendant said. “You know you want to ride it. I can tell you do. I can tell that in people. And you, you my friend, need to ride it.”
“I need to?” Roy said.
“Yes you do.” The attendant said before pausing. “ And I think you know it. You need to ride it. You have to ride it. One more time. One...last time.”
This inexplicable situation gave Roy pause, and he slowly scanned the area, his thoughts churning like a slow whirlwind as they tangled with the memories of his past.
But he snapped out of his near trance to what he thought was reality. “This is absurd. I'm getting out of here. Even if that ride could go-“
Roy shook his head a little, turned and started to walk away.
But the attendant quickly cut in, “ Okay, fine buddy. You came all this way, from who knows how far. Waiting all your life for this ride. And here's your chance to ride it, once and for all. No lines, no crowds. But if you don't want to ride it, if you're really gonna chicken out, fine. Get out and go home. And as your life ticks away, moment by moment, you'll always think of what you missed. Two ends of time, never tied.”
This really struck a chord with Roy, and he spun around and looked hard at the attendant, with stern concentration. “I know you. Yes. Not from the county fair though. You were there, weren’t you? You were the attendant, the operator. I remember. I remember, clear as day now.”
Roy moved back, turned his attention to the cars of the ride, pointing to the entry way of staging.
“I stood right here. Lisa and I. We were in the park that night, having fun. Then we came to ride it. I had ridden it many times, but she never had. She was terrified of it. I fought to convince her. We’d been at the park all night, and finally I talked her into it. I practically had to drag her.”
Roy's gaze locked onto the roller coaster cars, his face a picture of intense concentration. His eyes were focused and squinted, seemingly unblinking as he tried to make sense of the situation.
Quick, vivid flashes from his past jolted through Roy's mind, bringing his memories into sharp focus: The imposing Leviathan, the crush of pushing crowd, and the ever-present attendant.
Roy continued on, stoically, “But when we went to get on it was the last ride of the night before they closed it. We got split in the crowd and she got on and I didn’t. She rode it and was...was... Her body was thrown from the car, right into the wooden concession stands and...when I went over there, all the splintered wood, slivers, it was horrifying. I could see myself there.”
Tears welled a little in Roy’s hardened eyes, “I should have been there. It should have been me. Part of me died that night.”
Roy turned straight at the Attendant who didn’t move a muscle. “I know why I'm here. A second chance, as you say - to tie two ends in time.”
Roy stared back at the cars, their dilapidated state betraying any semblance of safety. It seemed impossible that the ride could even budge from its position, let alone leave the gate. Despite his reservations, Roy felt compelled to approach. He walked to the front of the ride, then along the entire row of cars, his relaxed hand falling over each seat, to the very last car before sliding into the seat. As he settled in, a brief wave of nostalgia washed over him.
The attendant, sensing Roy's resolve, threw a large lever with a flourish. The Leviathan suddenly bucked with a lurch, its rusted frame protesting loudly before it began inching forward along the rails.
Roy's eyes widened in surprise, startled that the ancient behemoth was even capable of movement. The creaking of the metal and the grinding of the wheels filled his ears as the ride inched forward, carrying him into the unknown.
“This can’t be? How far can this thing even move in a state like this?” Roy blurted out.
“Far as you need it to.”
Roy looked up and ahead into nothing but darkness, with the slow, inconsistent click-clack of the chain ever so slowly pulling the train. “This can't even get to the top of the first rise, can it?
“Sure it will.” Said the attendant over the increasing grinding noise. “it will make it. At least until that last pivot turn.”
The attendant pointed to Roy's hat on his head, and Roy turned it around backwards, firmly pulling it tight on his head hoping it won't blow off.
The Leviathan began to move in a more normal manner, if a little haphazardly, out of the gate on its way.
“This is impossible!” Said Roy, loudly.
As the car moved up and nearly out of the station, Roy looked down, then around his waist, looking in vein for a restraint.
“There’s no safety belt!” Roy yelled out, as he passed the attendant station.
“You won't be needing it!” The attendant shot back, his voice fading into the distance.
As the cars were drawn up the long initial ascent, the entire ride seemed as if it was going to come apart at any moment. Everything was totally rickety. The bolts were loose, the paint all chipped, the metal rusted out.
The cars reached the top of the first big rise and came to an abrupt stop. Roy looked about at the city, and then down below.
But instead of continuing on, the ride seemed stuck.
Amazed that the ride got this far, Roy decided this was enough and tried to stand, tried to get off the ride. But just as he did, the ride kicked back in, forcing him into his seat.
A few feet more and the cars entered the first huge drop. It tore down the rails with great speed, with small parts of the ride breaking off as the cars go by, and chunks of the ride structure itself crumbling behind.
Roy was white knuckled in the last car with a look of fear and absolute intensity as the cars went through a double loop. After the cars passed the first loop, and entered the second, the first loop teetered and tottered back and forth, then cascaded over with ear splitting cacophony into a huge pile of mangled and warped steel.
As the cars went through the second loop, the force from the ride buckled it as well.
The second loop held up, but not for long, as the fall from the first loop rippled through the entire rails, starting a slow domino affect, warping, then toppling the second loop just as Roy in the final car passed through it.
The Leviathan bent and twisted through the next few turns, the rails mangling apart behind into piles of wreckage.
Roy held on for dear life just to keep himself in his seat.
The cars got through a series of turns before coming up to a final rise and slowing for just a moment.
The rails of the entire ride folded behind, collapsing and crashing, finally breaking off clean just behind the car Roy was sitting in, leaving a huge drop off just behind him.
As the cars stopped, Roy took a deep breath, before he clearly saw what was next: The fateful pivot turn.
Looking past the turn itself, Roy could see the battered, old wooden concession stands beyond and below it. The stands where the coaster crashed into after derailing, killing Roy's girlfriend Lisa, all those years ago.
The remains of them sat, barely standing. Waiting.
The coaster inched forward and began its drop along the final descent into the pivot turn. Faster, faster, and faster before the first cars entered the turn.
The coaster shuddered with great force as the ride started to buckle and tear from the track. Separating from the rails, the cars flew through the air like a bent accordion, screaming directly for the wooden concession stands.
Roy took a deep breath to scream, closed his eyes and blacked out in terror to the sound of screams, tortured metal, and destruction…..
As the cars creaked and groaned up the long initial ascent, it seemed as though the entire ride would disintegrate at any moment. Everything was a testament to decay: the bolts loose, the paint chipped, and the metal rusted, with visible holes through it.
The cars reached the apex of the first climb and came to an abrupt halt. Roy surveyed the cityscape around him, then peered down at the ground far below. However, instead of continuing onward, the ride appeared to be stuck.
Amazed that the ride had even made it this far, Roy decided he'd had enough and tried to stand up, hoping to escape. But just as he moved, the ride jolted back to life, forcing him back into his seat.
The cars plunged into the first colossal drop, hurtling down the rails at breakneck speed. Small parts of the ride broke off as the cars sped by, and chunks of the ride's structure crumbled in their wake.
Roy's knuckles turned white as he gripped the restraints in the last car, his face a mixture of fear and sheer determination as the cars barreled through a double loop. After the cars passed the first loop and entered the second, the first loop wobbled precariously before collapsing with an earsplitting crash into a tangled mass of twisted steel.
The cars roared through the second loop, the force of the ride buckling it as well. The second loop held up just long enough for Roy to pass through, but the impact of the first loop's fall rippled through the entire structure, toppling the second loop in a slow-motion domino effect into it’s own destruction.
The Leviathan twisted and bent through the next few turns, leaving a trail of mangled wreckage in its wake. Roy clung to the bar, holding on for dear life as the roller coaster continued its chaotic journey, with him rising up and out of his seat repeatedly, only to at the last moment be shoved back down by the force of gravity.
The cars navigated a series of turns before inertia began its climb a final rise, slowing momentarily. The rails behind them crumbled and crashed, snapping clean just behind Roy's car and leaving a yawning chasm in their wake, just inches behind where Roy was sitting.
As the cars halted, Roy sucked in a deep breath, his eyes fixed on what lay ahead: the notorious pivot turn. Beyond the turn, he could see the battered remnants of old wooden concession stands—the very same stands that the coaster had plowed into after derailing, killing his girlfriend Lisa all those years ago. The stands remains teetered precariously, waiting.
The coaster inched forward, beginning its final descent into the infamous pivot turn. Faster and faster, it hurtled toward the turn, the cars shuddering violently as the ride started to buckle and wrench itself free from the track. The cars finally broke clean, launched through the air like a twisted accordion, hurtling directly toward the dilapidated concession stands below.
Roy drew in a breath to scream, his eyes squeezed shut as he braced for impact. The cacophony of tortured metal and destruction enveloped him, and as terror surged through his veins, his world went black.
Just after the first light of dawn broke through the gray, overcast sky, the cars of the Leviathan rested silently in the staging area. Roy was slumped over in the last car, fast asleep, his clothes disheveled, his hair a mess, his cap nowhere to be found.
A large security guard, with an air of authority, strode toward the ride, through the lane aisles. The sound of his footsteps slightly echoed through the still morning as he approached Roy. He reached over and tapped Roy on the shoulder with his billy club, rousing him from his slumber.
Roy stirred slowly at first, then suddenly bolted upright as the reality of his surroundings sank in. His eyes darted around, taking in the scene with a mix of confusion and disbelief. As his gaze fell on the security guard, he was taken aback by the uncanny resemblance the man bore to the guard he had encountered at the county fair just days earlier—the guard with the unmistakable face of a seasoned boxer.
The guard spoke, “Buddy, you know there are shelters don't you?”
Roy came to, more immediately aware of his surroundings, and quickly looked around.
With exception to the guard, everything was silent, and there wasn’t a soul around. The rusted Leviathan still standing in place. No indication that the ride moved an inch last night, or any other day over the years.
“You're not going to make this difficult, are you buddy?” The guard continued.
Roy turned his attention back to the guard before finally answering, “No, no.
Roy stood and took a deep breath. The guard pointed the way to an exit and Roy slowly walked that direction, the entire park now visible in the growing light of day, with its overgrown weeds, badly faded paint, and half the rides now piles of debris.
The guard followed behind, taking several steps before speaking again, “You know, it's mostly kids we get around here. They like to break in about every other weekend. On the warm nights at least. But not too many...older, grown folks.”
Roy was as genuinely sorry, as he was still perplexed, moment by moment more aware of reality, after the nightmare. “I’m, I’m sorry.”
“You know where the shelter is?” The guard asked.
“Yes. I have a…home.” Roy answered.
“Why ain’t you sleeping there?” The guard asked.
“I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry.” Is all Roy could utter.
“Buddy, just go home and sleep the rest of it off.”
As Roy and the guard made their way out of the Leviathan's staging area and through the desolate park, Roy's gaze wandered upward. They passed between the towering rails and the precarious pivot turn of the Leviathan on one side, and the weathered wooden concession stands on the other.
Roy looked up and around, searching for any signs of recent activity. But there was none—only an unsettling silence that seemed to envelop the park like a shroud. He paused for one last, lingering look at the roller coaster that had haunted his past.
“What?” the guard abruptly said.
“I…I don’t know. I thought-“ Roy said, his words tailing quietly off.
The guard was in no mood to listen, and pointed to the exit with his club.
With a puzzled expression, Roy glanced one last time to the Leviathan, then turned and walked away from the ride, heading for the exit. The guard followed closely behind, their footsteps echoing ominously through the empty park.
Unbeknownst to Roy, his trusty USS Scorpion hat perched high on the rails of the pivot turn of the Leviathan. A gust of wind caught the hat, lifting it from its resting place and sending it on a slow, graceful descent. It floated through the air like a feather, eventually coming to rest on the roof of the single remaining standing wooden concession stand below.
Tom Beaumont's Bar
“They’re Tearing Down Tom Beaumont’s Bar!” came right out of Frank’s out of breath voice the instant he came through the door. But no one moved much more than a muscle, just an awkward silence.
Not the response Frank expected on a busy Friday at the timeworn barber shop.
“Isn’t that place pretty much held up with two toothpicks at this point?” Henry, the old bald barber finally uttered.
“But it’s Tom Beaumont’s!”
Finally, Levi, getting his weekly trim spoke up. “Frank, you know most of us haven’t been in there for years. When Tom actually owned it they had that sassafras, but whomever owns it now doesn’t even keep the place up, just cheap beer. It ain’t the same. I think that’s why they closed it, really.”
“Tom may be gone but it’s in that hold historic building. There has to be at least some controversy of sorts before they just destroy it, even if they did lock the doors last night.” Frank said.
“It wasn’t even sassafras, just regular root bear. Though they had apple cider back in the day. They’d put some sort of crème twirl on it too,” Leo, a waiting customer, stated.
“That was when it was more of a true pub, served food and stuff.” Henry replied. “Some time later, after the carnival stopped setting up in the park there, the place got taken over by juvenile delinquents.”
“It wasn’t like that!” Frank said. “How would you know anyway, you said you hadn’t been there in years!”
“I didn’t say that, Levi said he hadn’t. I just knew it was run down. A couple years ago some kid tried to buy beer, and when they kicked him out the current owner sprained his ankle on the old doorway, tried to blame them. Kids today.”
“You can’t blame the bar for that, can you?”
“No. But it became a dive. Sorry Frank. You should go over to Rookies. Have you been there? New place, huge TV screens up. Microbrews and nice food.” Said Leo.
“Rookies? I hate that place! Every time I go by it, the place looks like some sort of college dorm. No character at all.”
Leo just shrugged, as Henry went back to cutting Levi’s hair.
As he turned and headed back out the door, all Frank could utter under his breath was, “It’s sad what our town has become.”
It’s only a few blocks from the barbershop on Main Street to Tom Beaumont’s bar, but with the springtime air and clear skies Frank was up for a walk. Looking across Main he could see the businesses, and recalled what was once there. George & Son’s toy store, now replaced by a café. A smoothie shop now sat where Main Street Hardware once stood, long ago out of business since the big box hardware store went in just next to the highway. Only the local music shop still stood, and it looked timeworn and neglected, no customers inside, or out.
As Frank got to Tom's bar he could already see men with hard hats looking at it, evaluating it. He could overhear one of them utter something about the oxidized plumbing, and asbestos insulation in the basement, how hazmat would be needed just to clean the place out.
The men walked back to their truck to gather up a few items, and Frank walked up to the bar, peeking in the windows to get one last glance. This place was dark, the memorabilia on the walls from decades ago, the leather on the seats cracked and peeling, the mirror on the back of the bar hazy, the piano that sat near a small stage old and worn. The stories and memories from days gone by at Tom Beaumont’s flashed through Frank’s mind, those too seeming to have been from a better time, before the town became what it now was.
"I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to move on.” It was one of the construction workers, politely bringing Frank to the present.
Frank looked at him, then one last glance into the bar. “I know, I know.”
Living in a small southern Nevada town tucked into the arid desert was good for exploring and dreaming as a boy. A town too big to throw a stone across, but one you might have been able to walk end to end if you were determined.
We rode bicycles everywhere we didn’t walk, everything was so close. Friend’s houses, the park, dirt alleyways, school, always leaving them unlocked, and always finding them where we left them. Day, night, it didn’t matter. Such was the time.
My school’s open floor plan, with its sizeable area in the center, gathered students for “homeroom” each morning before moving to doorless classrooms spread out like pieces of a pie. This school room concept drew a lot of noise back in the 1970s, but one thing they were not is noiseless.
One summer evening we traveled into Las Vegas to eat dinner at The Flamingo, a long established historic casino, hotel and restaurant. A friend in the 4th grade had given me a little tip about the place that day, one I was going to verify for myself. When we got to the restaurant and the maitre d’ in his nice black suit was ready to seat us, I blurted out, “Is this place really run by the mob?!” Which, well, of course it was, but wasn’t something anyone said, ever. My father just about crapped a brick, as my mother went pale.
The maitre d’ let out a barrel laugh, “Everyone is welcome here!”
He gladly seated us. My parents gave a sheepish smile. After he was out of earshot, my father turned straight to me in a very stern, but hushed voice, “Where did you hear that?!”
“Uh, Jimmy Lindsay.”
“Do not ever, EVER say that again! Anywhere!” My mother said.
“You understand me, mister?”
“Okay.” was about all I could muster.
“And I don’t want you talking to Jimmy Lindsay anymore. He’ll probably never get past the fourth grade.”
One week dad determined it would be okay if I missed a couple days of school, as this was the only chance we were likely to see his great aunt Emma in the strangely named Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I wasn’t entirely sure what that name meant, but was glad to get out of school and go somewhere new.
We stuffed clothing into small suitcases, tossed drinks in an ice chest, piled into dad’s mustard yellow Chevelle and were off. It wasn’t more than a handful of miles past the gas station that the AM radio in the car went on the fritz, with the tuner knob no longer functioning. We listened to the last aural vestiges of the only station we could get fade away, just like the last few dwellings outside of town supplanted with more dirt.
When we hit Arizona, the radio long gone, miles of open road were upon us. The American West. Dirt and rock hills, scrub brush, tumbleweeds dancing from one end of nowhere to another.
With the sun setting behind us, we found a no-name inn, little more than a white sign with the word “Motel” written on it.
Barely more than a dozen rooms, it looked like half were out of commission. Twenty-two bucks was the going rate, a bald man curtly informed my father. Dad took out his wallet and handed him some bills. The man handed him a key with an elongated diamond key chain and we made it to our room.
As we pulled things from the car, dad dug through his old Levis, finding a dime that would fit in the pay phone outside at the end of the rooms, near the lobby. He wanted to give Emma a call, letting her know we would be there tomorrow afternoon. Did aunt Emma worry that much? I don’t know.
Inside the room, we turned on the old tube TV with only three channels.
“Change it to 3,” mom said to me as I stood in front of it, turning the dial.
The news came on, and an unfamiliar man spoke about an unfamiliar town, but not the one we were staying in, as it was too small.
After the sunset and we shut the TV, then the light off, I marveled at the glow that still came from the TV screen, acting like a nightlight that slowly faded.
There was noise from next door, not just people talking, but movement, springs on the bed like someone was jumping on it. I know my dad hated it when I did that. It soon abated, and I assumed some parents scolded their kid, who stopped. My dad however, speculated the couple there had, “moved their operation to the floor.” A concept that escaped me for years.
Time passed, but I couldn’t sleep, rustling about. Mom either, and noticed. “Come on,” she said.
We grabbed something to put over our top, a sweatshirt of some sort, stepped outside.
“Look up.” She said. I did, where a billion stars greeted our eyes in the moonless desert sky.
Back inside, the rare car passing by on the highway subsided into silence, until fragmented sounds of a distant freight train, carried by gusts of wind, brought peace to my mind and I drifted off.
After mom and dad drank coffee from the lobby and offered me milk I didn’t want, dad agreed to drop a quarter in the soda machine in the lobby with its fading front panel. He opened its little side door, telling me to pull the one I want.
I reached for one with the Coke bottle cap logo facing me, but wasn’t strong enough. “I can’t.”
He helped, and with one tug, the bottle released, replaced by another. He used the opener on the side of the machine to get the cap off, as if he had done it a thousand times before, because he likely had, and handed it to me. Mist spilled out of the top. The glass bottle was so cold I could barely handle it.
While my parents fiddled with their coffee, I rummaged through pamphlets tucked in a display. Petrified forests, ghost towns, and a secret map showing where the Superstition Mountains held tales of lost Dutchmen looking for gold never to be found.
“Look!” I said, sharing my curiosity.
“Put that tourist trap stuff back,” my father barked at me, deflating my excitement.
We wandered into a small dive of a breakfast diner. It may have been the only one in town. It was a scorching morning, and the sun, despite being in the opposite direction, seemed to pour in its light through the large front windows, music playing from a small radio plugged into a shelf high above the counter. The establishment was narrow, faded paint that was once probably white, with a row of peeling red leather counter seats near the front, where we sat. Scattered, old, chipping linoleum tables with chrome painted legs dotted the back of the room.
Mom gave a humbling grin, uttering something about the “greasy spoon” we were in.
I asked her why she called it that? Greasy spoon, what a strange name, and she explained how the term came to be, “In these cheapest of the cheap places they may never wash the dishes, instead merely wipe the spoons ‘clean’ leaving a small layer of grease behind.”
It took me a moment to gather that icky thought in, if it really could be true, as she went about her business looking at the menu. My dad festered just a little at her blunt comment, happy to just be able to eat a hot meal, greasy spoons or not.
The music on the radio stopped when a news man cut in. We all grew a little quiet when the matter-of-fact voice crackled through about a special report. “In some tragic news, singer Jim Croce and three companions were killed late last night in a Louisiana plane crash. Croce was 30. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.”
It took a minute for me to comprehend the gravity of what I had heard. One of the first moments of loss, genuine sadness, I remember feeling in my life, which had been so happy up to that point. Thirty was younger than parents. People didn’t die at that age, did they? Croce with his storytelling and open smile was a favorite of my dad’s, mine too. Shocked, dispirited, I so wanted it to not be true. My dad was flat, sullen, as my mom tried to explain it away as gently as she could. “These things happen, honey. They are really rare, but they do.” Her words tapering off, trying to assure me somehow over time I would be okay.
We drove the rest of the day, not much said between us, staring out the car windows, staring down the scenery while the miles just rolled away. Countless white lines on the black top disappearing beneath the car as the warm sun inched its way across the blue behind us. It was almost like being home; the moments where nothing much happens and you just think. As a boy, life usually felt like I had all the time in the world to see anything I wanted, with Jim Croce taken from us so coldly, so abruptly like that, I was able, even in my developing mind, to reflect.
After a while, I think mom just couldn’t sit anymore. She opened and folded the map back and forth, trying to get the right section of road we were on to face out, staring at it for a while, making sure we were going the right way, which we were.
We passed a few small towns, breaking up the monotony of the endless road, visibly reconnecting me back to where we actually were. Though we stopped at not a single one. After passing a few, they look the same, with names you’ll never remember.
It wasn’t until years later I realized it’s only when you stop, you really stop, get out, walk in new businesses, talk to new faces that make it all worthwhile, build fresh memories. Memories that may blur and fade, but contain fragments that can last decades, a lifetime.
I didn’t grasp that then, and this hadn’t been the trip for that, nor the time. The lingering thought of Jim Croce’s death hardly receded into the back into my mind, with nothing to replace that thought.
We got to Emma’s before the sun hit the horizon. A small yellow house on a dirt street with a chain-link fence guarding scrub brush, rocks, and dry weeds in her front. A grayish hardwood tree off to one side inched its way into and through power and phone lines above. Dad was glad to see her, and it was nice to see him smile again. Emma didn’t seem as old as I expected, greeting me with a smile. In the hours that followed, Jim Croce’s death never came up. I don’t even know if Emma knew who he was.
Four long decades later, when my father passed, the funeral home director casually, gently, mentioned he could play music in my father’s last physical moments on this earth before his cremation. I thought for a moment while he patiently waited, finally asking if he could play Jim Croce’s I Got a Name. He paused briefly, nodding with a little smile.
I stand alone at a remote bus stop in an industrial section of town, the silence around me broken only by the distant howling of the wind, which blows feint smatterings of distant traffic, an echo of a honking horn.
The desolate cityscape stretches out before me like a lifeless painting. I’m not sure what to do. Despite being a 33 year-old woman I run my fingers in circles through my dishwater blonde hair just like I have since my youth, as I scurry towards the bus stop, my footsteps echoing through the empty streets. My breath comes out in shallow gasps as I check my watch, my heart pounding in my chest.
I reach into my jacket pocket, pulling out a crumpled bus schedule. In the dim light, I struggle to hold the paper at just the right angle to read the times. I check my watch again, and my stomach sinks in despair.
Taking a hesitant step into the street, I look both ways. Not a single car is coming from either direction. Reluctantly, I begin walking, picking up the pace as I go. The cold air stings my cheeks as I move further down the street.
The road narrows between two hulking metal buildings, their cold, windowless exteriors casting eerie shadows. The clanging of my footsteps reverberates between them, the sound unnerving me. As I walk, I don't notice the MAN who follows me, moving stealthily in the shadows.
My heart races as I catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, his gait picking up as he approaches me. Panic rising, I break into a run, my breath coming in ragged gasps. He follows, matching my speed.
I reach the end of the buildings, but he's alarmingly fast, catching and tackling me to the ground. I fight back with intense fervor, scratching and clawing like a cornered animal. Amidst the chaos, I manage to slip out from under him, tearing his shirt off in the process. A serpent tattoo winds down the length of his spine, exposed to the cold air.
He whirls around, grabbing my wrist with an iron grip. Desperately, I try to resist, but in his other hand, he reveals a knife, swiftly plunging it into my abdomen. I open my mouth and let out a piercing, heart-wrenching scream, the sound echoing through the deserted city.
But it’s not a scream. It’s the sound of my alarm going off. I’m in my little apartment, a studio flat.
I roll over and shut the alarm off, just like I do every day. I blink a few times, my heart still racing from the terror I've just experienced. But I'm not too fazed; I've had this nightmare before. The first light of dawn creeps into my room as I roll over to the other side of my bed, turning on the lamp and sitting up. The room around me is sparse and chilly, a reflection of the life I live.
My name is Kim Newlands. I am thirty-three years old. There are some things I believe in, and some things I do not. But there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: I will never live to see my thirty-fourth birthday, which is just one week away.
With a heavy sigh, I get up and make my way to the bathroom, flipping on lights as I go, casting a warm glow over the cold tiles. The thought of my impending demise weighs on my mind.
I've known this fate for my entire adult life. My mother was a psychic. To many people, that seemed strange, and to others, she was a charlatan. But I saw it all with her – the successes and the failures. Many times, her predictions about others never came true. However, her predictions regarding her family, our blood, were nearly one hundred percent accurate. She even predicted the date of her own death, just as she predicted mine and how I would die.
I walk into the bathroom, the steam from the hot shower fogging up the mirror. I turn the shower on, testing the water temperature with my fingertips before letting it run for a moment. The warmth of the water is a small comfort as I strip off my shirt and step into the shower. The cascading water drowns out the quiet hum of my thoughts, but I know I can't escape the looming shadow of my mother's prophecy.
I'm in the kitchen, multitasking as I get dressed and prepare my breakfast simultaneously. The first light of dawn filters through the windows, casting a soft glow on the countertops. My mother's words haunt me as I go about my morning routine: I would be brutally murdered by a man, a stranger, but I would know him by a tattoo of a serpent running down the length of his spine.
Gathering my things, I grab my mace gun and butterfly knife, feeling a small sense of security. I check the peephole in my door very carefully before stepping out into the world.
As I walk along a busy downtown street this morning, I keep my head up, making eye contact with every single man I pass. My gaze is intense and expressionless, devoid of any flirtation. I would also perhaps know him by looking deep into his eyes, if I could…
Riding the bustling light rail to work, I scrutinize tattoos and stare into the eyes of countless men, searching for a sign. The blank faces stare back at me, each one a potential threat. Men in suits, skateboarders, punks, white guys, Latino guys, black guys, Asian guys – I examine them all, looking for the one.
This is something I would know for certain just before my death. I can't help but think that maybe, just maybe, if I can find this man, uncover his identity, and expose him, it might change my destiny. So, I continue my search, driven by the hope that I can defy my mother's prophecy and reclaim control over my own life.
I enter a room in an office building, the door secured by a keypad lock. The familiar beep of the code grants me access. This room is the exterior of a design lab, a place where innovation and creativity are brought to life. My senses are greeted by the gentle hum of computers and the faint scent of coffee lingering in the air.
A coworker, Sara, is already here for the shift exchange. She offers me a warm smile, and I can't help but return the gesture. Her presence is a small comfort amidst the turmoil that has consumed my thoughts.
As we go through the routine of exchanging updates and information, I try to focus on the tasks at hand, pushing away the lingering anxiety that has followed me throughout the day. The familiar environment and the reassuring presence of my coworker provide a brief respite from my ongoing search for the man who could change my destiny.
I make eye contact, but nothing comes out of my mouth. I feel bad for a moment, but every nano second that goes by only makes it worse if I speak.
Kim goes about her business, all but totally ignoring Sara.
“I don't have anything to pass. Your work's on the shelf.” Sara tells me.
I fight to utter a response as Sara picks up her own personal stuff. “Thanks.”
Her tone turns on her own focus. Getting out the door and on with her own life. “I'll catch you tomorrow.”
I offer Sara a weak smile as she prepares to leave, trying to mask the turmoil within me. As she walks out the door, I catch a glimpse of her expression, which clearly suggests she thinks I'm a space case. I can't really blame her for that – my mind has been elsewhere lately, consumed by the thought of my impending fate.
Once alone, I settle in front of my computer, the room illuminated only by the filtered sunlight streaming through the shades. The constant hum of the HVAC systems fills the atmosphere, a background noise that's become almost comforting in its familiarity.
My job today involves working at a scanner, placing papers onto its glass surface and capturing their images with the computer. As I go through this routine, I try to focus on the task at hand, methodically aligning each document and pressing the "scan" button. But my thoughts keep drifting back to the how little time I have left. If I will even see the man with the serpent tattoo before it’s too late.
I've been through every possible phase, every emotion. Anger, denial, acceptance, fear. All to the point of emotional exhaustion, then numb to it all. Then the cycle will repeat, again, and again, and again. I've tried to ignore it all, and dismiss it as being absurd. But I keep coming back to it. Then the cycle repeats. Over and over.
Kim is now working in a different area of the darkroom, looking at photographs of men's faces taken throughout the city.
I've tried going to therapy about it, both group sessions and to private counseling. If I tell the truth, people just think I'm crazy. And maybe I am a little. So I usually lie and say I have cancer, or AIDS, and that's why I'll die soon. But no one can understand the core of my feelings, my life. Maybe I go just for the comfort, I don't know. I just don't like lying.
Perched above a large open plaza in the center of the city, I stand with a sense of determination, the cool breeze ruffling my hair. In my hands, I hold a camera equipped with a large lens mounted on a monopod, ready to capture the countless faces below me.
I survey the bustling crowd, my finger poised on the shutter button, and I begin to take shot after shot after shot. The camera clicks rhythmically, echoing the frantic beating of my heart. My gaze is unyielding, focused on my objective – finding the man with the serpent tattoo.
I zoom in on men's faces, the lens bringing me as close as it can to their eyes. Shot after shot, I scrutinize each face, searching for any sign of recognition or a hidden truth within their gazes. One after another, after another, after another – I continue this relentless pursuit.
The sun casts long shadows across the plaza as the day wanes, but my resolve remains unwavering. I know that somewhere in this city, my destiny awaits. And as the camera clicks away, I can't help but hope that one of these faces will reveal the key to altering my fate.
I thought of moving away, but when? For the entire year? Why? Where would I go? I lived in Chicago for years, and despite crime statistics, I felt safe. I tried moving to Vermont, the state with the lowest crime rate in the nation, but I felt terrible isolating myself. And there was no way to one-hundred percent guarantee that someone would not be near all the time. So I moved back to a smaller, safer city.
She looks away from her camera for a moment and at any men near her.
She looks with the same, concentrated, expressionless manner as before. Studying their eyes for a brief moment, then moving on to the next one, and the next.
She shows no embarrassment towards staring right at people. In her core, she knows her life may depend on it.
I thought of having a boyfriend, protection around. And I did have a few. But as soon as I give them any hint to my story, they always run off. Either right away, or they quietly move on. And if they don't, they soon prove to be crazy themselves. Or worse, abusive. I've always known in the end that the only person who was going to protect me, was myself.
As the sun begins its descent towards the horizon, painting the sky in warm hues, I know I need to get home. The day has been long, and my search, though fruitless, has left me weary.
I walk through the city along a busy street, my head held high and my eyes scanning the crowd. The cacophony of car horns, chattering pedestrians, and distant music fills the air, creating a symphony of urban life. The scent of car exhaust and street food vendors meld together, both repulsive and enticing at the same time.
My camera hangs around my neck, its weight a constant reminder of my mission. Even though I haven't found the man with the serpent tattoo yet, I won't allow myself to waver. I keep my camera at the ready, my finger instinctively brushing against the shutter button as I continue my vigilance.
Each step I take carries me further into the encroaching night, the city lights starting to glow as they pierce the gathering darkness. Despite the exhaustion weighing down my limbs, my determination remains steadfast. The camera around my neck serves as a symbol of my hope – hope that one day soon, I will find the key to changing my fate.
As I turn the key in the lock of my apartment door, I instinctively check every direction, the darkness now enveloping the world outside. I can't help but wonder how many pictures I've taken today. The memory card in my camera can hold about 4,000 images, and the thought of sifting through them all is daunting. Will I even find anything new among them?
It feels like I've seen nearly everyone in this city – all the men, anyway. I've been out taking photos for seven months straight, venturing out almost every day. My eyes have met countless gazes, searching for any hint of recognition or a concealed truth.
The repetitive sound of the camera's shutter echoes in my mind as I step into the sanctuary of my flat. I close the door behind me, momentarily shutting out the relentless pursuit that has consumed my life. But even within these walls, I can't escape the gnawing sense of urgency that drives me forward.
Despite the countless hours and thousands of faces, my search continues. With each new day and each new set of eyes, I cling to the hope that I will find the key to changing my fate, to defying the prophecy that has cast its shadow over my life. And so, as the darkness settles outside my window, I prepare myself for another day, another chance to rewrite my destiny.
In the dimly lit room, I sit at my computer, a program displaying a portfolio of images before me. I stare at one photo after another, studying each face in deep concentration.
So many suspects, I call them. But none of them certainly the one. I pause on an image.
This guy was close, is close, maybe. I move to another.
And him...maybe. And to another.
This one too, perhaps. I look at a photo of a guy's back with a tattoo on the back of his neck, but it's not the serpent I'm searching for.
These types of photos are hard to come by – images of someone's back. I wonder if my would-be killer knows his secret, and always keeps his back covered to hide his tattoo. I've certainly got no photographs of it. I move on through the slideshow, looking at each photo, pausing, then moving on.
All of them close, but none with any certainty. I just keep looking at them, just in case, embedding them into my mind. I switch pages in the program, allowing me to divide images differently, with several photos displayed on one page.
Throughout this search, I've learned to read so many emotions. It saddens me how empty so many people seem to be – as if their lives were already over, and they are just going through the motions until death catches up to them. I often wonder, what if everyone knew when they would die? What if they knew the exact date of their death? Would it change their lives the way it has changed mine?
I flip through page after page of faces, each one a reflection of humanity's myriad emotions and stories.
These people surely must know they will someday die, yet they live their lives in emptiness, doing nothing to change it. It's as if they're searching for the answer to some undefined question – a question I may have already answered for myself.
Exhausted, I sit back and rub my hands over my face, the weight of my search pressing down on me.
Ready for bed, she firmly locks her doors and windows. Double and triple checking them.
I don't know that I can cheat death. But I still take every single precaution in the chance that maybe, just maybe, I will live past this. That my mother was somehow wrong, or her prediction can somehow be beaten.
I've always hated group therapy.
The room is large, its white painted walls giving it an almost sterile appearance. Large windows let in an abundance of light, but there are no curtains to soften the brightness. Sparse furnishings adorn the space, with a circle of simple chairs facing inward, forming a makeshift arena for emotional combat.
Several people are already here, including our group counselor, Cassie, a middle-aged, thin woman dressed in a nice blouse and slacks. I take my place in one of the chairs, my gaze shifting between the others, Cassie, and the view outside the window. To pass the time, I chew on my nails, a habit that comes and goes, but one I've never been able to shake.
One member drones on and on about being abused by her stepfather. Though I can't bring myself to pay much attention to her story, I can't say I'm overly bored either. There's something about the rawness of these sessions that captures my interest, even if only peripherally.
Finally, the woman finishes speaking, and Cassie turns to me. The room falls naturally silent, the weight of expectation now resting on my shoulders, even though I pretend my best to parry such a though. My heart races, despite efforts to control it, and I suddenly become very aware of the emotions swirling around me, each person's story a reminder of the vulnerability we all share, and I don’t like mine. Least of all, I despise the judgement I am certain they will all pass on me.
“Kim, do you want to share some of your story today? Cassie asked me.
I did my best to freeze, knowing from the past that time can be my ally, even though it barrels at me like a freight train. I count inside my head, working my toes inside my shoe, a trick I read online that SEALs and Special Forces learn in advanced survival school how to fend off interrogation. One, two, three…
I nod subtly, inaudibly mouthing “no.”
Cassie’s techniques are persuasive, her resolve and counter techniques strong. After another few seconds she responds. “You showed progress last week Kim, about your mother. Let’s continue with that.”
My God! I do not want to talk about my mother. They’ll think I’m completely crazy. But only because they don’t understand. They never could, not even Cassie. They will never know her.
I count again inside my head, this time making it to five. I feel compelled to speak, maybe it can get Cassie to stop, move on. “Nothing to tell.”
Cassie looks right at me, her relaxed, plastic smile. I can feel beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck, even though the air conditioning in the room has completely dried and chilled everything.
I again shake my head back and forth, no.
Cassie is so effective at this. “There has to be something. Even something simple. That's why we're all here? Including you, yes?”
Another interrogation technique, ask the prisoner a question, they will morally feel obligated to respond, yes or no. That starts them opening up. I resist, hard.
“I am sure you have at least something to say, to get started, don't you?” Cassie says, more forcefully.
I start counting, this time down from 100, and focus my mind into a zone. I will not answer. She cannot force me to.
Controlling my breathing is hard, the first bead of sweat releases and drips down my back. I don’t know what number I get to in my mind when my diligence eventually outlasts the clock, and Cassie, who moved onto the next person.
“And what about you, Ginny?” Cassie says, as in my periphery I can see her head now facing the next person, while I remain like stone.
Ginny starts talking about her gambling addiction, like any of us really care, and my eyes move back to the light pouring in the large windows, blocking her out.
I often think about him. Does he know? Does he have me picked out? Or is he just a random killer?
I'm nestled into the embrace of an absurdly plush couch in the office of a private therapist. The room is the epitome of quiet sophistication – rich mahogany bookshelves, walls adorned with degrees and certificates, and a calming, muted color palette. Across from me, ensconced in a large, open chair, is the therapist – a gentle, rotund man in his 60s with a demeanor as comforting as a warm cup of tea on a cold day.
His voice fills the room, a lullaby of soft words and gentle questions, all aimed at prying open the locked doors of my mind. But I've become a master locksmith over the years, and I've hardened myself to these sessions, even more so than the group therapy.
My gaze drifts, unseeing, across the room, the muted tones of the office blurring into a sea of beige and brown. My thoughts drift towards the end, the inevitable fate that looms over me like an executioner's blade. It's a morbid comfort, a constant in a world that seems ever-changing and unpredictable.
Occasionally, I glance over at the therapist. His kindly eyes meet mine, filled with patience and understanding, but my expression remains unchanged, as impenetrable as a fortress. Each question he poses is met with a wall of silence, my mind retreating further into its sanctuary, away from the prying eyes of therapy.
Some things just aren't important in life to me anymore. I feel like I have no use for people, any people. Well, not those assigned to supposedly help me. I sit, and listen. But I don't really hear the words he's saying.
As the morning sun begins to paint the city in hues of gold and amber, I find myself weaving through a bustling park nestled within its concrete heart. The city is awakening, and with it, its inhabitants.
The air is a symphony of city sounds - car horns blaring in the distance, the soft murmur of conversations, the trill of birds perched in the trees lining the park. The scent of freshly brewed coffee from a nearby stand mingles with the earthy aroma of dew-kissed grass, forming an unlikely but comforting blend.
My eyes, however, are focused on one thing: the faces of the men passing by. Each one is a potential puzzle piece in my deadly prophecy. I scrutinize them, looking for any signs of recognition, any inkling that they could be the one.
My gaze moves from one man to the next, studying their features as they walk by. A businessman engrossed in his phone, a jogger huffing and puffing his way along the path, a father pushing a stroller, his eyes soft with adoration. Each face tells a story, but none of them are the one I'm searching for.
A sense of futility tugs at me, but I push it aside. This is my life now - a relentless quest in the face of an unchangeable fate. The fear that used to haunt me has been replaced by a grim determination. I will uncover the identity of my killer, even if it means staring into the eyes of every man in this city.
Every face I scrutinize, every man I cross paths with brings me one step closer to the serpent tattooed man. My life has been reduced to a ticking clock, and each tick echoes with the grim reminder of my prophesied end. But I refuse to go quietly. I will fight, I will search, and maybe, just maybe, I'll change my destiny.
When I first thought about him, my reaper, I figured like it was a game, he had to know. And if I could trap him, I could stop him. But when I'd move, and leave a trail, no one would follow. But then if I found him, he would no longer be a stranger. Debunking the theory. I then felt as though he had to be a random killer, or perhaps a freak accident even, as I feel like I'd have to know if someone were watching me, no matter how coy they were.
I try to keep my calm as I walk through this park, watching families playing with children and lovers sitting on park benches. There are few men here, or all seem pre-occupied, or harmless. But I still look.
It however seems like I am looking for a needle in a haystack, and have no idea what he looks like. If he does have me picked out, he can plan a very elaborate plan and avoid me until he is ready. Maybe he is one of the parents pushing their kid on a swing over there? Maybe that guy kissing his girl on the neck as she blushes. I see what looks like two gay guys joking in the distance. At least I assume they’re gay. That’s terrible, isn’t it? But who says gay people aren’t capable of killing like anyone else anyway?
It all makes me wonder if he knows what I know? Like he was given a set plan, a goal? It's so very strange. I've known of this man, who he might be, what he will be like, for years. And I will apparently only actually see him for a few brief moments in my life. And he will likely be the last man I ever see.
As the busy city life begins its morning apex I duck into the I enter the work building, pecking the numbers into the keypad lock, the beep once again. Sick of that beep. That’s something I won’t miss. It smells like someone left the coffee in the pot overnight again.
I plant myself at my computer, logging in. After it takes it’s sweet time getting me into the system I see the workload is heavy. I won’t get it done, but I don’t care.
With just over one full day to go, I'm not sure why I go through the motions of life. Why eat? Why even drink water? Someone else might jump off a bridge or something. I suppose I'm too afraid to do that. But I've wondered this before. Weeks, months, years ago. All part of the cycle. So here I am, living my days the same as always.
I peck away at the computer, click, drag, type. I feel bold today, using bright colors in this design, blood red over black seems appropriate. If the client hates it, they’ll just get someone else to do it tomorrow when I’m gone anyway. But I continue to work like it’s just another day.
I hear how advanced cancer and AIDS patients do this. How they want to have the normalcy in life they once had, even though they know they are going to die. Like, perhaps if they get into the same groove, their lives will return to how it was before they were sick and maybe, just maybe the cancer will go away too. How many of them wonder if the normalcy of their life was what gave them cancer in the first place? But in my case, is there really any point in living at all? Any point to doing anything for the next day?
I hit print on the computer, get up and walk over to see what comes out, like expecting a different cola from the vending machine. It churns the pages out. Nope, the same as always. I saunter back over to my desk, more blaze layouts to design.
The door to my corner of the world swings open, disrupting the rhythm of my morning. In strides a man - middle-aged, crisp suit, polished shoes - an embodiment of corporate America. He's my boss, a detail that sometimes slips away into the crevices of my memory, drowned out by the louder thoughts that dominate my mind. His name, I realize, eludes me again, a testament to the apathy that colors my professional life.
He strides purposefully in my direction, each footfall echoing ominously in the otherwise silent space. There's an air of assertiveness about him, a certainty of his place in the world that grates against my own tumultuous existence.
But even as his approach disrupts my solitude, I don't grant him the courtesy of my attention. I refuse to tear my gaze away from the task at hand, my eyes remaining glued to the screen in front of me. His presence, as imposing as it may be, is a mere blip on my radar.
The scent of his expensive cologne wafts towards me, filling the air with a blend of woody notes and a sharp undertone of authority. It's the smell of corporate power, a fragrance that holds no sway over my reality. I continue my work, my focus unwavering, my attention firmly locked onto my screen. The man, my boss, remains a figure on the periphery of my world, as insignificant as his forgotten name.
“Kim, I’d like a word with you if I could.”
I don’t even bother turning his direction.
“Now, if possible.” He spits out.
I slowly turn to him, my expression not changing at all, without effort.
“I need to talk do you, again, about doing personal work here, on the clock. You should be lucky to have this job in the first place, considering...considering your background and all. But I think it's important that you understand-“
Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care and turn back to my computer. He’s more than a bit surprised I think, but continues on. “That this is a place of employment and that…”
I log off the computer, stand, head over to the front of the room while he’s talking and pick my my pack. He finally stops with whatever he was saying.
“I quit.” I utter, opening the door and walking through it.
I can hear him start to mumble something as I close the door behind me, and make my way for the exit.
In the quiet embrace of my room, I lie awake, my gaze locked onto the blank canvas of the ceiling above. The world outside has succumbed to the gentle lull of night, but sleep eludes me. I'm ensnared in a restless wakefulness, a silent vigil held captive by my own thoughts.
The darkness of my room is punctuated only by the flickering flames of a few candles on the last of their wicks, casting dancing shadows on the walls. Their soft, warm glow battles against the encroaching darkness, a beacon of light in my turmoil-filled existence.
Exhaustion clings to every muscle, every bone, yet my eyes refuse to close. The weight of my prophecy, the incessant ticking of the time bomb that is my life, it all keeps me tethered to consciousness.
I glance at the digital clock on my bedside table, its green numbers blazing in the dark - 1:44 am. Time, once just a measure of the day, is now a relentless count down. I look away, returning my gaze to the ceiling, the stark reality of the hour a sharp reminder of my sleepless state.
Outside my window, the city lies shrouded in darkness, its usual bustle reduced to a distant hum. It's hours before dawn, before the world comes alive again. I find myself questioning if sleep will grace me at all tonight. Another night spent in anticipation, another dawn waiting to be greeted with wary eyes.
As the minutes tick away, my mind is stuck in a loop of what-ifs and maybes, as the specter of my future looms ever larger. Sleep, it seems, is just another casualty of my foretold fate.
I've collapsed into the comfort of an armchair, the sparse rest of the night having granted me a meager two, maybe three hours of sleep. I have to be careful not to lean too far to the left, even though it's the most inviting position. A mirror there reflects my image back at me, a sight I'd rather avoid. My reflection is that of a woman worn thin by exhaustion and anxiety, her hair a tangled mess.
I'm too drained to bother moving the mirror, or even to shift the chair. It's a cruel irony that the sight of my own fatigue is a further drain on my dwindling energy.
Just as the gentle arms of sleep start to pull me in again, there's a sudden knock at the door. The sound jolts me out of my drowsy stupor, causing me to leap to my feet, heart pounding in my chest.
I tiptoe over to the door, every step light and cautious, and peer through the peephole. A man stands on the other side, his appearance tidy and unassuming, a leaflet clutched in his hand. He knocks again, the sound echoing in the silence of my apartment.
My breath hitches as I watch him, my presence behind the door undetected. I continue to observe until he eventually gives up and leaves.
I glance down at my watch, the time startling me. It's nearly noon, the morning hours having slipped away in a blur. I press a few buttons on my watch, setting the alarm for midnight. The hour of my reckoning. It's a chilling reminder of what awaits me, a silent countdown ticking away on my wrist.
I've retreated back to the sanctuary of my bed, the small bout of rest I managed to snatch having done little to alleviate my exhaustion. I idly twirl my phone between my fingers, its screen illuminating to reveal the time: 4:33 pm. A quick glance at my watch confirms the time. The two devices are in perfect sync, counting down the seconds in unison.
After a moment's hesitation, I navigate to my contacts list and dial the first number. I hold the phone to my ear, listening to the ringing tone until I'm met with a cheerful greeting, "Thank you for calling Sunnybrook, how may I direct your call?" The name 'Sunnybrook' is a cruel irony. A name more fitting would be 'Midnight Misery Factory,' but I'm ready for this.
“Yes, this is Kim Newlands," I say, my voice steady. "Please tell Cassie and the others I won't be joining them for group therapy any longer.” There's a pause on the other end as the person processes my words.
“Uh, Kim, you must know it’s very important that you continue your therapy. The state-" they begin, but I cut them off.
"Yes, I understand,” I interrupt, my words sharp and clear. “Thank you.” I hang up, cutting the connection.
I take a moment to compose myself, rummaging through the fog of my brain until I recall the name I'm searching for. I find Dr. Dixon's contact and press dial. I don't wait for his receptionist to finish her greeting this time.
“Yes, this is Kim Newlands," I blurt out, my words rushed. "Please tell Dr. Dixon that I won't be coming in for this week's appointment. Or any more appointments. Thank you.” Hanging up before they have a chance to object feels oddly liberating.
The rhythmic pounding reverberates through the squalid flat, an intrusive symphony that I'm sure is earning me the ire of my neighbors. But in this ramshackle building, they must be accustomed to worse. I find a certain satisfaction in the way the hammer feels in my hand, each nail driven into the tabletop-turned-barricade symbolizing a unique problem in my life being forcefully silenced.
I survey the window now sealed shut with the remnants of the tabletop, feeling a sense of gratification at the formidable barrier. No one would get through that easily.
Next, my attention turns to the door. I check each of the four locks meticulously, their sturdy bolts offering a modicum of security. I wedge the chair, a leftover from the disassembled table, beneath the door handle, then shove the heavy dresser against the door. The barrier is complete.
My gaze drifts to the computer screen, its light illuminating the otherwise dim room. The atomic clock website reads 11:40pm, perfectly synchronized with my watch.
Now, I sink into the remaining chair, a paring knife in one hand and a canister of bear spray in the other. I take a deep breath, the sharp tang of anticipation mixing with the stale air in my lungs, and I wait.
Restlessness takes hold of me and I stand, pacing back and forth in the limited space. The relentless ticking of an imagined grandfather clock echoes in my head, each tick-tock a heavy footstep towards midnight.
I glance at my watch again: 11:47pm. How is time moving so slowly? I return to the chair, forcing myself to sit, legs pulled up onto the seat, every muscle coiled tightly in anticipation. My stomach churns with the weight of impending doom, the knot of fear tightening.
One eye stays trained on the door, the other flits to the barricaded window. The silence is almost oppressive. Any noise would have cut through it like a knife, but there is none.
I close my eyes, the tick-tock of the clock in my head providing a grim metronome to my thoughts. A moment later, I check my watch again. 11:52pm. The fortress I've created feels impenetrable now. A small flicker of hope ignites within me - perhaps I might survive the night after all.
[Original re-write to prompt: The neighbors hate the pounding, I’m sure, but in this dump of a flat no one can be that surprised. I like wielding the hammer. Each nail seems like one individual problem in my life I’m driving into oblivion as I nail the now broken off table top over my window, sealing it shut. This will be extremely difficult to break through, I think.
I move to the door, first making extra certain all four locks are tight, then jamming a chair from the now dead table under the doorknob. Then shove my dresser next to it, flush against the door itself.
I look over at the computer, which is set to the atomic clock website. It reads 11:40pm. My watch remains in perfect sync to it.
Now, I plant myself in the remaining chair. My other tools at my side, I pick the up. A paring knife for one hand, bear spray in the other. I take a deep breath, and wait.
I can’t sit, so I stand up and pace. Then pace some more.
Tick tock, tick tock, the grandfather clock in my head presses forward.
Now 11:47. I go to the chair, sit, and wait. How can it take this long?
I’m in a total knot. Both the way I sit, my legs up on the seat of the chair, but also my guts inside. I keep one eye on the door, the other on her window. There is hardly a sound, I’d have heard it, I’d have heard anything.
I close my eyes. Tick-tock, tick-tock. I look back at my watch. Has the time passed yet?
11:52pm. No one could get in the building, my room at this point. Maybe I’ll make it after all?]
Continue on, re-writing this in prose, first-person point of view, adding more visual, auditory and sensory information:
Just as I allow a sliver of relaxation to seep in, daring to shut my eyes for more than a mere blink, the shrill scream of the building's fire alarm pierces the silence. The shock shoots through me like an electric jolt, disbelief momentarily freezing me in place.
I'm up on my feet again, pacing the room like a trapped animal. The vein-throbbing pressure inside my head is a testament to my skyrocketing blood pressure. I hear a murmur of commotion from the hallway, growing steadily louder. A glance at the atomic clock shows 11:54. Just six more minutes. Can I hold out?
The noise in the hallway swells, a chorus of panic. Then, the bone-jarring pounding on my door. A voice, frantic, yells, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" My heart feels like it's about to leap out of my chest.
Tentatively, I approach the door, scrambling over the debris of my makeshift barricade. I press my eye to the peephole. The hallway is a mass of scrambling bodies and waving arms, faces obscured by hands covering mouths. Trails of smoke undulate towards the ceiling, growing denser by the second.
Suddenly, a familiar face appears in the peephole's field of vision, startling me. It's a woman from the building, around forty. She pounds on the door with such force I fear it might burst open. "Girl! If you're in there, wake up! There's a fire! Get out!"
I'm back to pacing again, my thoughts running wild. What do I do? What do I do? The cacophony from the hallway grows louder. I can't die this way. Not like this.
With a surge of adrenaline, I shove the chair and dresser away from the door, flipping the locks one by one. Grabbing the can of bear spray, I stuff it into my purse, then grip the paring knife tightly in my hand.
Peering through the peephole once more, the smoke is even thicker now, but the hallway seems empty. This is my chance. Slowly, I open the door. The hallway is deserted, but the smoke hangs heavy, a choking curtain of acrid fumes. To my right, an angry glow lights up the far end of the corridor, opposite the stairway.
Pocketing the knife, I make my decision. I step into the smoke-filled hallway and head towards the stairs, my heart pounding in time with each step down.
Bursting through the exit, I collide with a wave of urgency as fire-fighters, illuminated by the flashing red and blue lights, barrel past me into the building. One of them moves to check on me, concern etched on his smoke-streaked face, but I’m wired, coiled tighter than a spring. After a split second of locked eyes, I dart away, heading for an open space.
A pair of fire trucks are already on scene, their ominous figures casting long shadows on the street. A crowd begins to gather, forming a human perimeter around the apartment building, their faces lit up by the flames, curiosity and fear mingling in their eyes.
I stand apart, my eyes wide and vigilant, scanning the perimeter like a prey animal in the lion's den. I flit from face to face, a near paranoia driving my gaze. The effort to remain focused, to maintain my distance, is monumental.
A glance at my watch reveals it's 11:56pm. Four minutes left. The handle of the knife in my pocket feels cold and reassuring against my palm.
Continuing my scan of the area, I’m light on my feet, moving a few steps further into the open street. There, I'm most visible, most vulnerable.
My gaze falls back on the fire truck where a group of fire-fighters huddle, studying the scene. One of them, his shirt stark white under the harsh lights, seems to be speaking. I strain to read his lips over the cacophony, catching a phrase that sends a chill down my spine - "another arson".
A surge of paranoia sweeps over me. Was this a trap? Did someone start this fire just to flush me out?
The firefighter the chief is speaking to lifts his gaze, scanning the crowd until his focus settles on me. There's a moment of recognition, his gaze meeting my own.
11:57pm. Three minutes.
His attention keeps flicking back to me. His stare is intense, his eyes narrowing slightly. Suddenly, he leans over to his supervisor, whispering something. The helmet comes off, followed by his jacket, and he begins to move, slowly but surely, in my direction.
11:58pm. Two minutes.
A quick glance around confirms there's nowhere to hide, no immediate escape route. Does he think I started the fire? Or is he…the one? His purposeful stride doesn't waver.
Without a moment to spare, I make my decision. As the second hand on my watch inches closer to midnight, I pivot on my heel and bolt in the opposite direction.
“Hey!” I hear behind me. I’m not looking back.
Pounding the pavement beneath my feet, I dart down the middle of the street. Running has never been my forte; truth be told, I've never excelled in anything that requires haste. The question echoes in my mind: Can I stay ahead of him, just for another minute?
Reaching the end of the block, I swerve right into the next street, nearly colliding with an ambulance. As if fate has a cruel sense of humor, a police car is parked right behind it. A face appears from the car window. Our eyes meet. Could it be? A cop? The absurdity of the thought nearly stops me, but there's no time for doubt.
A glance over my shoulder confirms my fear: the firefighter is closing in. In no time, the cop registers the chase, leaving his car to join the pursuit. My heart pounds in my chest as I cross the street and scramble onto the sidewalk. But they're faster.
Darting onto a lawn, I feel the cop closing in. Suddenly, I'm tackled to the ground, the firefighter right behind him. I reach into my pocket for the knife, my last line of defense.
A wild scream tears from my throat as I fight with every ounce of strength. The cop grabs my leg, but a swift kick to his face buys me a precious moment. The firefighter, taken aback by my frenzy, hesitates, but I'm relentless, scratching and clawing like a cornered cat.
Suddenly, my phone alarm rings out. It's midnight.
The cop recovers, but as he reaches for me, he finds no resistance. I've gone limp. I made it. I'm still alive.
A glance down reveals a bloody knife in my hand. It clatters to the ground as I release it. The firefighter rolls onto his side, grimacing in pain. My God, I've hurt him. He's alive, but clearly in pain.
Another officer, a woman, arrives at the scene. She grabs my arms which hang limply by my side. I'm in shock, unable to comprehend what I've done.
The first policeman tends to the firefighter, his face mirroring my own shock. "All right, that's it," I hear the female officer say from behind me as she pulls out a pair of handcuffs.
My surrender is not yet complete. Something in the pit of my stomach tells me that things aren't aligning as they should. With a swift jerk, I wrench myself free from the police officer's grip and dart towards the injured firefighter.
The officers shout, their hands clawing the air in an attempt to restrain me. But adrenaline fuels me, making me more nimble, more agile than before. Reaching the firefighter, I seize the back of his shirt, ripping it off to expose his spine. I need to verify my suspicion, to confirm the existence of that tattoo.
The officers manage to get a firm hold of me this time, but not before my eyes scan the firefighter's back. It's smooth, unmarred by any tattoos or marks. For a moment, I feel relief washing over me, but then, a flash catches my eye.
In the dim light, a glint flickers from a pendant hanging around his neck. It's a caduceus, the universal symbol of medical personnel. He's a paramedic. Suddenly, the puzzle pieces start to fall into place.
Continue on, re-writing this in prose, first-person point of view, adding more visual, auditory and sensory information:
In a sterile room, the walls are blank canvases of pure white. Nothing disrupts their pristine expanse — no photographs to offer glimpses into someone's world, no adornments to lend a touch of warmth. The furniture is minimalistic, stripped down to the bare essentials, as though any extras would be an excess, marring the austere simplicity of the room.
Behind the desk, a man inhabits the space. He's dressed in a suit, the somber tones of it softened by the white lab coat draped over his shoulders. His age hovers around fifty, evidenced by the silver strands threading through his hair. A pair of glasses perches on his nose, accentuating the sharpness of his gaze. He scrutinizes me with a patience that seems as endless as the room's white void.
Facing him, I sit in a chair that might as well be an island in this ocean of white. I'm garbed in a white gown, a mirror to his lab coat, merging me with the room until I'm a part of its stark, clinical canvas. I'm not convinced that his attention is entirely mine, but I refuse to let it deter me. Clearing my throat, I direct my words towards him — a voice steady and strong, I need to make certain he truly grasps what I’m saying.
“My name is Kim Newlands, I am thirty-four years old. I know you won't believe this, no one ever does, but my mother was a psychic and everything she predicted about her family was true. And she told me that I will never live to be the age of thirty-five. I have less than one year to live.”
In a once-upscale neighborhood, an aging Tudor home had stood proudly on a sprawling lot, enveloped by overgrown greenery. The property had been enclosed by a tall, weathered fence that hinted at a former air of exclusivity and privacy. At the front of the home, a grand porch extended invitingly, its intricate woodwork showcasing the artistry of a bygone era, now marred by the passage of time. As one approached the entrance, a sturdy gate, its paint chipped and hinges rusty, had stood sentinel, guarding the pathway that meandered towards the porch. Flanking the path, an unkempt lawn stretched across the expansive front yard, inviting guests to ponder the once-majestic residence and the now-neglected surroundings.
Within the timeworn walls of the Tudor home, the atmosphere buzzed with anticipation as two siblings, Zach and Kim, excitedly prepared for a night of Halloween trick-or-treating. The once-grand interior, now faded and draped in shadows, served as the perfect backdrop for their eerie costumes. Zach, adorned in a crimson devil outfit, complete with menacing horns and a forked tail, eagerly awaited his sister's readiness. Kim, in stark contrast, was a vision of innocence and light, dressed as a celestial angel, her pristine white gown offset by delicate wings.
In front of an antique, dust-covered mirror, Kim meticulously fussed with her halo, attempting to position it just right. Her persistent adjustments tested Zach's patience, as the thrill of the evening's impending adventures urged him to hurry. He tapped his foot impatiently, the sound echoing through the once-opulent halls, a reminder of the home's long-forgotten splendor.
As Kim finally achieved the perfect angle for her halo, her eyes met Zach's in the mirror, and a shared excitement passed between them. They knew that beyond the house's decaying facade and overgrown yard, a night of spooky fun and sugary treats awaited them, and they couldn't wait to embark on their Halloween journey together.
Kim paused, inspecting her reflection one last time, and turned to her brother. "Zach, does my halo look okay?" she asked, her eyes wide with concern. Zach, visibly impatient and eager to embrace the night's festivities, replied exasperatedly, "Just hurry, we're going to miss it all!"
Just then, their older brother Todd emerged from another room, his appearance a stark contrast to that of his younger siblings. Todd had long outgrown the tradition of trick-or-treating and had found new ways to celebrate the holiday. He strode into the room dressed as a heavy metal rocker, his hair wild and teased, dark makeup accentuating his eyes, and adorned with leather and metal-studded accessories. His outfit screamed rebellion, and it was clear that he was heading to a party rather than joining his siblings in their door-to-door quest for candy.
As Todd sauntered past Zach and Kim, he couldn't help but smirk at their costumes, a mix of nostalgia and amusement playing across his face. The three of them, each in their unique attire, were a testament to the diverse ways in which Halloween could be celebrated. And as the night's adventures beckoned them all, it was evident that their differing plans would create a thrilling evening filled with memories to last a lifetime.
As Todd adjusted his studded wristband, he glanced at Zach, his tone authoritative. "Got the keys?" he asked.
"Yeah," Zach replied, rolling his eyes.
"Got your phone?" Todd probed further.
"Yeah," Zach said again, his voice strained with impatience.
Todd raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Doesn't sound like you checked."
Zach huffed, visibly frustrated, and pulled his phone out of his pocket, waving it in Todd's face. "See? I have it," he snapped.
Todd sighed, torn between his responsibility as the older brother and his desire for freedom. He didn't want to babysit Zach and Kim on their trick-or-treating adventure, but he also knew that if anything went wrong, their father would hold him accountable. The weight of responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders, and he couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy towards his younger siblings' carefree excitement.
As the three siblings prepared to embark on their respective Halloween journeys, Todd reminded himself that his role was not just to protect his brother and sister but to ensure that they too created lasting memories on this spooky night. With a final glance at Zach and Kim, he resolved to strike a balance between his own enjoyment and his responsibility towards them, hoping that their father would see that he had done his best to watch over them.
With a hint of concern in his voice, Todd said, "Anything happens, you call. I'll be like ten blocks from here. I'll probably be out later than Mom and Dad, but you never know."
Kim chimed in, her tone teasing, "You better hope Dad doesn't find out that you're not giving out candy."
Todd grinned, revealing his plan. "I came up with a better idea earlier."
The siblings gathered their belongings and made their way to the front door. As they stepped out onto the weathered porch, the crisp autumn air greeted them, heightening their excitement. Todd turned to Zach, reminding him of one last detail before they could all depart. "Lock it," he instructed, nodding toward the door.
Zach fumbled with the keys for a moment before securing the lock, and the three of them stood there, poised to begin their Halloween adventures. They knew that despite their differing plans, they were all in for an unforgettable night.
After the door was locked, Todd turned to his right. “Look out!” He said, in a startled tone!
Then, a sudden disquiet gripped them as their gazes were drawn towards a seemingly out-of-place entity propped up casually on their favorite oak bench. The figure sat there silently, draped in shadows yet unmistakably ominous – a scarecrow, old and weather-beaten, with a ragged hat drooping over its head, almost concealing the insidious grin that seemed to be carved into its face.
Even in the faint light, they could discern the patchwork fabric of its attire, a mishmash of faded colors which hung limply on its straw-stuffed body. Its pebble-like eyes gleamed mysteriously under the brim of its hat, sending a shiver down their spines.
Instinctively, they recoiled, hearts hammering against their ribcages like wild drums of an ancient war dance. Their muscles tensed as they leapt back, hands clenched and breaths held.
It took a moment of breathless panic before realization dawned on them - it was just a figure, lifeless and inanimate. The air, previously thick with alarm, lightened as relief washed over them.
Off to the side, barely visible in the evening's dim, stood Todd, their mischievous neighbor. A smirk teased at the corners of his lips, his eyes glinting with amusement. Todd, a man who found joy in the simplest of things, broke into a chuckle, the sound rolling out of him in soft, contagious waves. His laughter, mild and unassuming, floated across the porch, an echo of his innocent mischief.
His joyous sound painted the night, a playful contrast to their previous fright, and a testament to the shared camaraderie between the neighbors. They might have been spooked, but the evening ended on a note of shared laughter, turning a startling surprise into an unforgettable memory.
Bathed in the soft glow of twilight, Zach and Kim, both on the cusp of adolescence at eleven, stood on the edge of their cherished childhood realm. The eve of All Hallows' Eve had arrived, a night when the veil between this world and the next thinned, inviting all manner of trickery and treats.
Their older brother Todd, a lanky teenager of sixteen with mischief perpetually dancing in his eyes, had been charged with their guardianship for the night. Yet the allure of teen revelry called him elsewhere, leaving the two youngsters to venture into the night's embrace on their own.
Their house, a grand relic of the past nestled amidst a haphazard congregation of ancient oaks, maples, and willows, whispered stories of the times when it was still in its prime. A black, wrought-iron fence, adorned with signs of age, outlined their vast lot, a silent testament to the regality that once belonged to this home and this neighborhood.
The neighborhood, much like their house, was a picture of faded glory. Once a vibrant, sought-after area, it had become tarnished by creeping crime rates. Yet, it remained a picturesque New England town, drenched in the rich, macabre lore of countless Halloweens.
As Zach and Kim stepped off their porch, they could feel the cool October breeze whispering through the rustling leaves, carrying with it an undercurrent of anticipation. Halloween, in this town, was not just another holiday; it was an experience, an exciting dance between thrill and fear, made all the more poignant by the absence of their parents and the protective shadow of their brother.
Their hearts fluttered with a mixture of excitement and trepidation as they walked past the old black gate, its creak echoing through the dimming light. Their candy bags swung back and forth in their grip, empty for now, but full of the promise of the evening's plunder.
They were aware of the risks, of course. Their neighborhood had its share of young rogues, teenagers with cruel laughter and bullying tendencies. But they had each other, and they had the spirit of Halloween bolstering their courage. Tonight, they were not just Zach and Kim; they were a fearsome pirate and a fierce witch, ready to brave the spookiest night of the year. Their childhood hearts pounded with joyous trepidation, ready to face the tricks and treats that awaited them in the Halloween-clad town.
The scarecrow, as ominous as it was in the dying twilight, had captivated their attention. Todd, seeking to ride the wave of their apprehension, swaggered over to it. With a flourish, he tipped the ragged hat, revealing an even more macabre sight nestled within the straw-stuffed head - the partial, rotted-out skull that made the scarecrow's grin even more sinister.
A chorus of reactions echoed across the porch. Kim recoiled, her nose crinkling at the grotesque spectacle, her voice mingling disgust and fear into a drawn-out "Eeew!" Zach, meanwhile, met the sight with wide-eyed fascination, his heart pounding with morbid curiosity as he exclaimed, "Wow!"
Smiling at his siblings' reactions, Todd bent down to rummage beneath the bench. His fingers brushed against something smooth and flat. Pulling it out, he revealed a white sign, its starkness standing out against the fading evening light. The word "Booo!" was scrawled across it in a rough, juvenile handwriting, adding a touch of childish playfulness to the eerie tableau. Todd placed the sign gently onto the scarecrow's lap, as if crowning the creature with its final touch.
He reached under the bench again, his fingers encountering a large, hollow shape. With a triumphant grunt, Todd pulled out a large bowl, its ceramic surface cool to the touch.
The wooden door of their house creaked open at Todd's push, revealing the warm light of their inviting home. He disappeared inside briefly, only to return with a large bag of mixed candy. The bright colors of the various sweets gleamed enticingly through the clear plastic. Todd tore the bag open with his teeth, the crinkling sound echoing through the quiet of the evening, as he poured its entire contents into the waiting bowl. The smell of sugary confections filled the air, a sweet and comforting counterpoint to the eerie atmosphere.
With a satisfied nod, Todd surveyed his handiwork, declaring, "This should last most of the night." His voice held an assured, big-brotherly tone, offering a semblance of normalcy amidst the Halloween hijinks. Yet, beneath his nonchalance, a spark of excitement glinted in his eyes, a silent acknowledgement of the thrilling night that awaited them.
The eerie figure, complete with its ominous skull and playful sign, held the children in awe. They stared at it, their eyes wide and their breaths caught in the thrill of the chilling tableau before them. The sweet scent of the candy wafted through the air, mingling with the earthy autumn smell, amplifying their anticipation for the coming adventure.
Before the children could muster any further response, Todd's voice cut through their silent marvel. "I got to go. I'll see you guys later," he announced, his tone wavering between the nonchalance of a teenager eager for his own Halloween festivities and the concern of a protective elder brother.
Barely had the echoes of his words faded when Todd was off, his sneakers crunching against the gravel path leading to the iron gate. His hurried footsteps and the rustle of leaves underfoot punctuated his departure. He was a fleeting silhouette against the dimming twilight, a figure disappearing into the mystery of the night.
From the threshold of the gate, Todd's voice wafted back towards the house, a final admonition wrapped in feigned nonchalance, "Don't forget to call if anything happens! Anything!!!" His voice carried a note of genuine concern, momentarily shedding his teenage cool.
Zach, fueled by his growing sense of responsibility, replied with a defiant "I won't!", his voice echoing the determination that blossomed in his young heart. In a blink, Todd dashed through the gate, his silhouette swallowed by the night, leaving the property bathed in a sudden silence.
"Cool, let's go!" Zach broke the quiet, his voice bubbling with enthusiasm, a potent mix of excitement and a dash of apprehension. Their Halloween adventure was about to begin.
With one last look at their spooky guardian scarecrow, the children followed in Todd's wake. The creaking gate swung wide open behind them, an unspoken invitation for trick-or-treaters. As they stepped onto the pathway, the crunch of gravel beneath their feet signaled the start of their journey into the magic and mystery of Halloween night.
With each house they visited, the weight of Zach's candy bag grew heavier, the confectionery bounty inside rustling with each step they took. The sugary aroma was enticing, mingling with the cool air to create a saccharine undercurrent that sang of Halloween night's spoils.
It was Kim who first noticed them, her gaze catching the sight of three figures moving down the street towards them. The new arrivals were older, teenagers decked out in an odd fusion of costumes - baseball uniforms paired with faces half-painted in wild, vivid hues. It was a jarring mix, seeming like an eerie blend of Native American warriors and sinister circus clowns under the moonlit street.
Their leader was Aaron, a lean, muscular figure with a buzz-cut that gleamed under the dim streetlights. His eyes, partly concealed by the colorful face paint, glinted with an intimidating energy. Behind him were Curt and Bobby, similarly dressed and painted, their broad, looming figures casting elongated shadows on the pavement.
Despite their size, suggesting they had long outgrown the innocent revelry of trick-or-treating, the trio roamed the streets, their presence stirring a palpable tension. They were not merely out for harmless fun. Their laughter held a sinister undertone, a chilling soundtrack accompanying their nefarious antics.
As Zach and Kim watched from a distance, the scene before them turned darker. Aaron brutally shoved a younger trick-or-treater, his hand snatching the kid's candy bag. A gasp of shock ripped through the quiet evening as the victim tumbled to the ground, his cries echoing off the surrounding houses.
Curt was quick to join the commotion, tripping another fleeing kid. The unfortunate child fell flat on his face, his cries piercing the night air, as his candy scattered like colorful confetti on the asphalt. The third child managed to drop his bag and make a run for it, leaving his scattered candy as an offering to the menacing trio.
With a raucous cheer, the teenage bullies reveled in their ill-gotten gains, their wild whoops echoing through the crisp night air, painting a disturbing picture of Halloween mischief turned malevolent.
From their hidden vantage point, Zach and Kim had just enough time to duck into some bushes, as the trio's attention seemed to shift towards them. The children pressed themselves further into the shrubbery, their hearts pounding in their chests, their breaths shallow and quiet. As the trio neared, Zach and Kim could smell the faint odor of sweat and cheap face paint. They remained motionless, silently willing their beating hearts to quiet down, as the older boys sauntered past their hiding spot, oblivious to the terrified children holding their breath in the shadows.
With the teenagers effectively in the distance, Kim and Zach came out from hiding, only to see the three boys hading towards the Rodden house - their house.
“What do we do?” Asked Kim.
“We stay away!” Answered Zach.
Aaron and Bobby went through the iron gate, and a couple steps up the path to the Rodden house, before stopping, hesitating while looking at the home, which appeared abandoned to them.
“Let’s wait for Curt. Or just skip it” said Bobby.
Aaron looked back town the street to see Curt straightening his pants and belt, and made eye contact with them. Aaron looked back to the house. “It looks like something is up there. Let’s check it out!”
Aaron moved up the path and onto the property, with Bobby
reluctantly following. As they Aaron and Bobby move up the steps and onto the porch. They see the Scarecrow, and stop in their tracks.
With a certain swagger that comes from a night of unchecked mischief, Aaron and Bobby ambled through the black iron gate of the Rodden house. The gate's dull squeak echoed hauntingly in the silence of the night as they made their way along the overgrown pathway leading to the house. The house sat shrouded in shadow, an imposing silhouette under the ghostly moonlight, seeming more abandoned than inhabited.
A sudden hesitation marked their steps as Bobby's gaze darted from the house to his companion. "Let's wait for Curt. Or just skip it," he suggested, his voice wavering slightly as it broke the hush surrounding the old home. The moonlight played on his face, accentuating the wild colors of his painted face, lending him a spectral appearance.
Ignoring his friend's apprehension, Aaron turned to look back down the street. His eyes locked onto Curt who was busy adjusting his pants and belt, standing amidst the mess they had left in their wake. Catching Aaron's gaze, Curt looked up, an unspoken question in his eyes.
In reply, Aaron turned his attention back to the house, his eyes squinting in an attempt to pierce the veil of darkness that hung over it. "It looks like something is up there. Let's check it out!" he decided, his voice ringing with bravado.
Against his better judgment, Bobby fell into step behind Aaron as they continued their way up the path. The dry leaves crunched beneath their feet, their disturbing rustle a testament to the forgotten grandeur of the Rodden estate.
As they reached the top of the steps and the gloom of the porch swallowed them, the eerie sight that met their eyes brought them to a sudden halt. Bathed in the ethereal glow of the porch light was the Scarecrow, its insidious grin seeming to leer at them from beneath the ragged hat. Its very presence sent a shiver down their spines, freezing them in their tracks. It was as if they had just encountered the very embodiment of the night's spectral energy, personified in this solitary, spooky guardian of the Rodden home.
“Is that a person?” Bobby whispered.
Aaron looked directly at him quickly shaking his head back, he didn’t know.
Aaron moved in, hesitantly for a closer look, gently tipping the hat back, seeing the skull and straw. “It’s fake. It’s fake.” he said, with a tinge of relief. This rapidly calmed him down and brought his confidence back, as Curt made his way to the porch as well.
Aaron then moved the hat all the way back on the scarecrow, surprised by the details in the mask, the skull, the entire outfit.
What he saw creeped Bobby out a little bit. “Let's just take the candy and get out of here.” Curt found the entire setting creepy as well, adding, “Or just get out of here.”
But Aaron wasn’t just there for candy, he wanted to be cool. He grabbed the entire bowl of candy and tossed it to Curt at the bottom of the steps who juggled it. “Don’t look like anyone is even home.” He then took the ‘Boo!’ Sign, and tossed it aside.
“Boo!” He said to Bobbly, mimicking the sign, startling him just a touch. “Don't be a pussy. It's just a stuffed toy.” Aaron scoffed at him.
Aaron then grabbed the Scarecrow by the throat, held it for a moment, and pushed it hard in the face, smashing the mask in and completely knocking it’s hat off.
Not done, he pulled his fist back, and this time punched it hard in the stomach. The Scarecrow doubled over in half, almost in silent, expressionless pain, but it doesn't fall over.
“See.” A now amped up Aaron said.
"Is that a person?" Bobby whispered, the words barely breaking the silence that surrounded them. His eyes were fixated on the grinning scarecrow, his painted face a mask of uncertainty.
Aaron looked at him quickly, his eyes wide in the dim light. He shook his head, but the gesture was empty, revealing his own uncertainty. He was as taken aback by the sight as Bobby was.
Taking a tentative step forward, Aaron inched closer to the scarecrow. His fingers, pale in the moonlight, gently tipped back the ragged hat, revealing the skull and straw beneath. "It's fake. It's fake," he declared, a hint of relief seeping into his voice. His words hung in the air, cutting through the eerie tension that had enveloped them.
Just as Aaron's confidence was beginning to return, Curt finally made his way to the porch, his presence further bolstering Aaron's resolve. Aaron pushed the hat all the way back on the scarecrow, his eyes growing wide at the attention to detail in the mask, the skull, and the rest of the outfit. It was convincingly spooky, just enough to stir a thrill of unease.
Bobby, unnerved by the sight, muttered, "Let's just take the candy and get out of here." Curt, also finding the scene unsettling, added, "Or just get out of here."
But Aaron wasn't there solely for the sweet lure of candy. He had an image to maintain, a reputation of cool bravado to uphold. Without a second thought, he seized the bowl of candy, lobbing it towards Curt who awkwardly juggled it at the foot of the stairs. "Don't look like anyone is even home," he quipped, glancing around at the eerily silent property. With a casual flick of his hand, he tossed the 'Boo!' sign aside.
"Boo!" he mimicked, shooting a quick glance at Bobby, whose jump was barely perceptible. "Don't be a pussy. It's just a stuffed toy," Aaron scoffed, his words sharp against the chilling silence.
Turning his attention back to the scarecrow, Aaron grabbed it by the throat, held it for a heartbeat, then pushed it hard in the face. The sound of the mask crumbling under his touch echoed in the night, the hat toppling to the ground in the aftermath.
Still not satisfied, Aaron drew his fist back and delivered a solid punch to the scarecrow's stomach. The figure folded in on itself as though absorbing the blow, its posture eerily mimicking an expression of silent, unseen pain, yet it remained upright.
"See," Aaron declared, his voice now brimming with an amplified confidence. The night was his playground, and nothing, not even a chilling scarecrow, could stand in his way.
“I guess so.” Responded Bobby. “Let’s go”.
“What’s the hurry? Aaron shot back.
With no answer, Aaron established as the alpha dog of the group, Bobby backed away.
Aaron held the Scarecrow tight, and dragged it down the stairs, and into the front of the yard. “Give me those matches you have.” He barked at Curt.
“What?!” Curt said, a bit incredulous.
“Give the to me!” Aaron ordered.
Curt slowly, timidly dug out the matches he held in his pocket.
“We’re going to start a fire, here??” Said Bobby. "What if we-“
“Shut up.” Barked Aaron, grabbing the matches from Curt.
Aaron then tossed the scarecrow down, kicked it a couple times for good measure, and ripped open its shirt, pulling and strewing its hay about, the scarecrow now all but destroyed.
“Aaron!” Bobby tried to implore.
But Aaron was having none of it. He lit a match, and tried to set the Scarecrow on fire. But it wouldn’t light.
Aaron grabbed another match, this time after lighting it putting it right up against the straw. It smoldered for a moment, before going out.
“Dammit!” Aaron grew in frustration.
He this time lit a match, and place the rest of the matchbook inside the center of what was left of the Scarecrow, then lit the matchbook. “That ought to do it.” He uttered, as the others backed away.
But after the matchbook quickly burnt, whatever fire was there soon fizzled out.
“Crap!” Said Aaron, incredulous.
Frustrated, he then stomped on the Scarecrow. And again. Then looked to the others. “Come on.”
The two others joined in, kicking and stomping it. The nasty smile returned to Aaron’s face as they viciously kicked and stomped and trashed it, again and again and again, continuing
beating on it until the Scarecrow was totally destroyed.
They stepped back, looking at their handiwork.
After a moment Aaron said, “All right. Now let's go.”
With their adrenaline flowing, their swagger returned they sauntered off, down the walkway in an inner frenzy, while Aaron whooped it up.
The trio got to the gate and Bobby, the last one in line, stopped cold to look back.
"I guess so," Bobby responded, his voice a mere whisper in the wind, "Let's go."
Aaron retorted, his tone dripping with derision, "What's the hurry?" In the face of Aaron's bravado, Bobby fell silent. There was no mistaking it now, Aaron was the alpha of the pack, and Bobby was forced to step back.
With a firm grip on the scarecrow, Aaron began dragging it down the porch stairs and onto the yard's frosted grass. "Give me those matches you have," he demanded, his voice echoing through the quiet night.
Curt paused, a flicker of disbelief crossing his painted face, "What?!"
"I said give them to me!" Aaron's command rang out louder this time.
Curt hesitated, his fingers slowly fishing out a small matchbook from the depths of his pocket.
"We’re going to start a fire, here??" Bobby's words tumbled out in a hushed, incredulous whisper. "What if we-“
"Shut up," Aaron snarled, cutting him off as he snatched the matches from Curt.
A sense of cruel delight filled Aaron as he tossed the battered scarecrow onto the ground. He kicked it a couple of times, venting his frustration. Ripping open the scarecrow's shirt, he pulled out handfuls of hay, scattering them about until the scarecrow was barely recognizable.
"Aaron!" Bobby's plea went unheard as Aaron was fully engrossed in his destructive act.
Striking a match, Aaron tried to set the scarecrow aflame. But the match fizzled out, leaving him seething with frustration. Another attempt yielded the same result, the smoldering match quickly extinguishing against the straw.
Cursing under his breath, Aaron struck another match, this time placing the rest of the matchbook inside the shredded scarecrow. The matchbook ignited, sending up a fleeting burst of light. "That ought to do it," he mumbled, a grim satisfaction on his face.
But just as quickly as it had ignited, the matchbook burnt out, the fire dying as abruptly as it had sprung up. "Crap!" Aaron cursed, the word cutting through the silence like a blade.
Frustration boiling over, Aaron vented his ire on the scarecrow, stomping on it repeatedly with furious abandon. "Come on," he growled, beckoning his companions to join him.
Spurred on by Aaron, Curt and Bobby followed suit, their boots landing heavy blows on the hapless scarecrow. Their violent act was punctuated by the wicked smile that returned to Aaron's face.
They continued their brutal assault until the scarecrow was reduced to a pile of tattered cloth and scattered straw. They stepped back, surveying the damage they had wrought, their heavy breaths the only sound breaking the silence.
After a moment, Aaron spoke, his voice eerily calm, "All right. Now let's go."
As they sauntered off, a renewed swagger in their steps, their adrenaline ran high. Aaron let out a whoop, the sound bouncing off the surrounding trees, making them seem all the more alive.
The trio approached the gate, Bobby bringing up the rear. As he neared the gate, Bobby paused, turning back to cast one last glance at the desolate scene they had left behind. The crumpled figure of the scarecrow lying in the moonlit yard, its once menacing grin now just a memory.
“What?” Aaron prodded him.
“I don’t know.” Said Bobby. “Something doesn’t seem right.”
“Why is there nobody here? Not a single sound. Nothing.?
“Who cares!” Shot back Aaron.
Curt timidly cut in. “I did hear something. Right before you said that.” He said to Bobby. “Like a couple branches breaking in the woods.”
“Probably the wind. Let’s go!” Said Aaron.
“But there was no wind, none, zero.” Said Bobby. “You had to notice that with the matches.”
Aaron was caught thinking for a moment, pushing himself to dismiss the notion, before regain himself. asserting himself again. “Look, it’s nothing.”
After a moment and looking back to Curt, then Aaron, Bobby sheepishly uttered, “I guess.”
Curt cut in. “You know who lives here, right?”
“What does it matter?” Said Aaron.
“Todd Rodden.” Curt said flatly.
He’s goes to Reed, a total hard ass, on the wrestling team.
“So what??” Aaron bluntly shot out. Both puzzled as to who Todd Rodden is, and not really caring. “Who gives a shit? It’s a stupid, lifeless prop. And it’s not like anyone could identify us anyway!”
Aaron pushed Bobby through the gate, and they headed off into the night to continue their little reign of terror.
Re-write this, continuing on, adding visual, audio, and sensory detail as needed.
The Rodden kids witnessed all this from across the street, hiding in the bushes.
They gingerly made their way onto their property and up to the now destroyed Scarecrow, or what was left it.
They were crushed, almost to the point of tears by what they had seen.
“I can't believe it.” Kim said.
“Someone has to stop them.” Zach replied.
“Do you even know who they are?” Kim asked?
“I don’t know. I think the big guy is Aaron Rudy. Maybe.”
“Maybe we can tell Todd about him.” Kim said.
Thinking for a moment, Zach said, “Maybe. Todd’s going to be mad, but he’s like 3 years older than Aaron. It’s not like he’s going to beat him up. He probably doesn’t even know who he is.”
“If that even is that Aaron guy.” Kim said, as they looked sullen at the destroyed Scarecrow.
Shielded by the anonymity of the thick shrubs across the street, Zach and Kim watched the brutal spectacle unfold with wide, horrified eyes. As Aaron and his friends finally disappeared into the shadowy distance, the siblings emerged from their hiding spot. Their hearts pounded in their chests like frantic drumbeats as they cautiously crossed the moonlit road and stepped onto their property.
The remnants of the scarecrow were a pitiful sight in the ghostly pallor of the night. Their once vibrant companion reduced to a pile of tattered clothes and strewn hay. Their small frames shivered not from the evening chill, but from the crushing blow of what they had witnessed. Their eyes welled up, threatening to spill over.
"I can't believe it," Kim managed to choke out, her voice a mere whisper in the wind.
Zach swallowed hard, the taste of bitterness settling in his mouth. "Someone has to stop them," he murmured, his eyes burning with a resolve that belied his tender age.
Kim looked at him, her wide eyes glistening in the dim light, "Do you even know who they are?" she asked, her voice shaky.
"I don’t know," Zach confessed, his gaze still fixed on the vandalized scarecrow. "I think the big guy is Aaron Rudy. Maybe."
A brief pause hung in the air before Kim suggested, her voice filled with hope, "Maybe we can tell Todd about him."
Zach seemed to consider this for a moment, the silence around them almost oppressive. "Maybe," he finally said. "Todd’s going to be mad, but he’s like three years older than Aaron. It’s not like he’s going to beat him up. He probably doesn’t even know who he is."
As the siblings looked down at the destroyed scarecrow, Kim added, her voice barely above a whisper, "If that even is that Aaron guy."
The night seemed to close in around them, their small forms huddled together on the deserted yard. The echo of their words hung in the air, a solemn testament to the cruel events of the evening.
Kim and Zach resumed trick or treating and seemed happy for at least a moment by the strangers handing them candy.
After walking another block and around a corner, Zach and Kim didn’t notice that Aaron and his friends had snuck up behind them. Aaron startled them by getting right behind them, “Trick or treat!” He said in a sinister voice.
Aaron grabbed Zach by the arm, and Bobby held Kim by the shoulder.
Trying to get his courage up, Zach blurted out, “I’m not afraid of you!”
Aaron laughed at the notion. “Oh, a tough guy are you?”
“My brother’s going to kick your ass when he finds out who you are!”
Bobby and Curt looked over to Aaron with a pause, and a moment of apprehension. Aaron fakes fear, his mouth agape, in mock terror. Before snapping back to who he really was. “Is he now? I'll show you what an ass kicking is.”
Aaron grabbed Zach’s candy bag and yanked it out of his hands. Zach tried to reach back at it, but Aaron punched him hard in the stomach. Zach doubled over in pain, instantly crying.
Kim tried to break free and run off, but Curt grabbed her by the hair. Bobby grabbed her candy bag and she lets go of it. They then held her up, as Aaron walked up to her.
“Don’t worry, I don't hit little girls...but I do teach them a little lesson for not behaving when I need to.”
He grabbed her from the others, took several steps as she started to kick and scream, and shoved her into some bushes, scratching her all up.
The three bullies all laughed at her and Zach crying.
Looking down the street, Curt saw more kids. “More bait!”
He pointed that way which got the others’ attention.
Aaron turned back to Zach, both in pain, and anger, helpless and frustrated he isn’t big enough to fight back. “And tell your brother Todd I'll be waiting to do the same to him.”
They three teens tore down the alleyway after the kids in the distance.
Zach pulled himself up and helped Kim out of the bushes. They were hurt, but recovered somewhat.
“Let's go home.” Zach said.
“Call Todd first. We need to get Todd. Or call dad.” Kim said.
But when Zach got out the phone, it had been heavily damaged from the melee, with the front shattered.
“Dang.” Kim said in a defeated voice.
“Try it anyway.” Kim said.
The phone had power, bu tit’s spider webbed broken glass front made it impossible to see what he was touching on the screen.
“Here.” Said Kim, gently taking it from him. She took a long look at it, and tried to guess where buttons might be, if it even worked. The phone flickered a few times, but made no sound, and the image was far too scrambled to even see if it was doing anything.
After staring at it for a long minute, she shook her head, giving up.
“Are you okay?” Zach asked. His voice showing more sympathy to his sister than perhaps every before.
Kim thought for a minute, still hurting. “I don’t know.”
“Let's just get home before they come back.” Zach said.
“Okay.” Kim responded after a moment.
They gathered themselves and limp away, in the direction of their house.
With a grimace of pain, Zach managed to push himself off the ground and extend a helping hand towards Kim, pulling her out from the prickly embrace of the bush. Both of them were hurt, bruised, and frightened, but they didn't allow that to break their spirit entirely.
"We need to head home," Zach's voice came out, strained but firm.
"Wait! We should call Todd first. Or Dad." Kim suggested, her eyes welling up with tears.
Zach reached into his pocket for his phone. His heart sank as he pulled out the shattered device. The phone was an unfortunate casualty of their encounter with the bullies; its once smooth glass surface now resembled a mosaic of cracks.
Kim let out a sigh of defeat, her small shoulders drooping. Despite the apparent futility, she urged, "Try it anyway."
Powering on the phone, Zach was met with the flickering light of a damaged screen. The intricate network of cracks crisscrossing the glass rendered it impossible to make out anything on the display.
"Let me see," Kim said, her voice just a whisper. She gently took the damaged device from him, squinting at the fractured screen. Trying to remember the layout, she blindly jabbed at spots where she believed the buttons to be. The screen sparked a few times but emitted no sound, the scrambled image hardly recognizable.
After a futile minute of trying, she shook her head in surrender, handing the phone back to Zach.
Looking at his sister, Zach asked, his voice laced with an unfamiliar tenderness, "Are you okay?"
Kim remained silent for a few moments, considering the question. Her body ached from the scuffle and the fall into the bush, and the fright of their encounter still resonated in her heart. Finally, she answered, her voice hardly above a whisper, "I don’t know."
Taking a deep breath, Zach decided, "Let's just get home before they come back."
Kim nodded, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. The siblings, though beaten and frightened, clung to each other for support as they began their slow, limping journey home.
Done terrorizing the neighborhood, the three teens were carrying large pillow cases, heavily stuffed with candy.
“I still have to pee,” said Bobby, bluntly.
“All right” Aaron said, scanning the distance, before his eyes and mind figured out where they were. “I know the perfect place.”
“Perfect” Bobby asked, looking at Curt who shrugged his shoulders.
Aaron hustled down the street, cut through an alleyway dragging them along, before cutting through a yard and around a corner.
This quiet intersection put them across the street, and just a couple houses down from the Rodden house.
“Come on.” Aaron spat out, heading towards the Rodden’s.
The two reluctantly followed until they got to the gate in front of the house, still open.
“Here?” Bobby asked, incredulously, a touch of timidity in his voice.
“Come on. Let’s piss on the thing.”
But when they get onto the yard they find the Scarecrow is completely gone!
“It was here! What happened to it?” Aaron said as they looked around.
“Those kids must have cleaned it all up.” Bobby surmised.
Not caring at this point, Aaron tried to move on, “Well, we beat the crap out of it and stole all it's candy. Just pick a spot like back here further in the yard, and go.” He said, moving them a few steps more into the deep part of the yard.
“Here? In their yard?” Bobby asked pointedly.
“Just do it!” Aaron barked.
“I can’t go here! Let’s just get out of here before someone shows up.”
“Like who??” Aaron shot back.
“Someone like that guy Todd.”
“Who cares about ‘Todd’?!” Aaron shot back.
Finally Bobby had enough courage to make his point. Gritting his teeth. “I can’t go here! I can’t!”
“Holly crap! Are you kidding me?!” Aaron said hard. But Bobby didn’t budge. “Fine, let’s get out of here.”
They hurried down the walkway and got to the gate, only to
find it now shut, and locked, with a rusty old key lock holding it tightly closed.
This took the boys back. "That's weird.” Said Bobby.
“Did you lock it? You were last one through” Aaron said to Curt.
“Not only did I not lock it, I didn’t even shut it!” Curt said.
“Let's just climb over maybe.” Aaron said.
The boys looked at it, before Bobby stated the obvious. “Dude, that's not going to be easy.”
His eyes fixed on the the top of the wrought iron, protected
by protruded, rusting iron spikes, that the others saw as well.
“I don't like this.” Bobby said, uneasily.
Even Aaron was a bit hesitant, but tried to keep their confidence up. “Nothin's going to happen. Even if someone's near or messing with us, there are three of us.”
Curt’s eyes panned along the perimeter of the yard, looking for another escape.
The twilight had deepened into night, as the three teenagers swaggered through the neighborhood, their mischief rewarded by bulging pillowcases heavy with Halloween bounty.
“I still gotta go, man,” Bobby announced, his voice echoing in the stillness of the evening.
“All right,” Aaron agreed, scanning their surroundings. His eyes squinted as he pieced together their location, a devious grin slowly spreading across his face. “I got just the right spot for you.”
“Perfect?” Bobby echoed incredulously, sharing a doubtful glance with Curt, who simply shrugged.
“Just follow,” Aaron commanded, leading the way with newfound urgency.
The trio darted down the darkened streets, cut through a narrow alleyway flanked by shadowy buildings, and skulked across a yard filled with fallen leaves. Emerging from the gloomy alley, they found themselves at a quiet intersection, the looming silhouette of the Rodden house just a few properties away.
“There,” Aaron directed, his eyes alight with mischief.
Hesitantly, the pair followed him to the wrought iron gate of the Rodden property, which was still ajar from their earlier visit.
“Here? Seriously?” Bobby questioned, his voice wavering slightly.
“Let's make that scarecrow our target,” Aaron suggested with a wicked smile.
However, stepping onto the Rodden property, they found the Scarecrow had vanished.
“It was right here! What the heck?” Aaron exclaimed, his gaze darting around the dark yard.
“Those kids must’ve cleaned up the mess,” Bobby ventured a guess.
Unfazed, Aaron shrugged, “Well, we messed it up real good. Just go somewhere in the backyard.”
“Here? On their property?” Bobby asked, incredulous.
“Just do it!” Aaron snapped.
“I can't, man! Let’s just leave before someone comes,” Bobby pleaded.
“Who’s gonna show up? Todd?” Aaron sneered.
“I can't do it!” Bobby repeated, his voice firm.
“Are you kidding me?!” Aaron groaned, but seeing Bobby standing his ground, he begrudgingly agreed, “Fine, let's bail.”
They made for the gate, only to find it now securely shut and locked with an old, rusted padlock.
"That's odd,” Bobby mumbled, a shiver of unease running down his spine.
“Did you lock it, Curt? You were the last one,” Aaron questioned.
“I didn’t even shut it!” Curt protested, his eyes wide.
“We could just climb over it,” Aaron suggested, but even he was uncertain.
Bobby grimaced, eyeing the formidable rusted spikes protruding from the top of the iron gate. “Dude, that's not gonna be a cakewalk.”
“I don't like this,” Bobby admitted, anxiety creeping into his voice.
Aaron too felt a pang of doubt, but he forced a confident facade. “Nothing's going to happen. Even if someone's messing around, we’re three of us.”
Curt scanned the dark yard, a sense of foreboding settling over him as he searched for another way out.
“All right, the Hennison's house is over there and I know there's a wooden fence. There used to be a missing board. Maybe we can squeeze through it, or help each other over it.” Curt said.
“Okay, let’s go.” Aaron responded.
They hurried along the large side of the yard and reached thick
shrubbery alongside the side fence, overgrown with
Aaron pointed to a section towards the back of the property.
“There, it looks like the fence up in that thick area there.”
They headed in hasted to the far back of the house, the deep shadows under trees, and maze of bushes.
The trio reached the back corner of the property, only to find the nook in the fence was guarded in such a way by bushes and ivy that only one person could squeeze in and through at a time.
“Will this work?” Curt asked quietly?
“Easier than climbing. Do it!” Aaron hurriedly said. Speaking equally hushed tones.
Curt was hesitant figuring out how to get through. He poked his head through and it was nearly pitch black, with more bushes.
“Hurry, or I'll go. I'm not going last!” Bobby said.
“I'll go last you little baby.” Aaron said. “Just move it one of you!”
“I can do it.” Curt said, trying to get his confidence up.
“Let us know how clear it is on the other side or if the Hennison's have a dog or something.”Aaron said trying to inject a tinge of humor.”
“Great! A dog?!” Bobby said.
“I was just kidding. It would have been barking by now. Move!”
Curt took a last look at them, then squeezed his way in through the bushes and ivy, then wiggled his way into and through the slot in the fence, and disappears.
There was a quick, hard ruffling of leaves and bushes, then silence.
“Well?” Aaron said quietly.
Aaron’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to hear what might be going on before asking louder “Well?!?!?”
Re-write this, continuing on, adding visual, audio, and sensory detail as needed, keeping the dialog as is, as much as possible.
"All right, the Hennison's place is right there," Curt pointed into the dim distance, his finger brushing against the shadowy outlines of houses. "They have a wooden fence and there used to be a loose board. Maybe we can squeeze through it, or help each other over."
"Okay, let’s move," Aaron agreed, his voice barely more than a whisper in the wind.
With a collective sense of urgency, they scampered along the expansive side of the Rodden yard, their path barred by a thick blanket of overgrown shrubbery clinging to the side fence. The verdant ivy seemed to pulsate in the pale moonlight, casting dancing shadows that added to their growing unease.
"There," Aaron's finger jabbed towards a particularly dense cluster of shrubbery near the back of the property. "It looks like the fence might be compromised there."
Darting like specters through the underbelly of the moonlit garden, they navigated through a labyrinth of shadow-draped trees and maze-like bushes towards their hopeful escape route. As they reached the secluded corner of the yard, their hearts sank. The potential exit in the fence was so heavily barricaded by bushes and ivy, it would allow only one person to squeeze through at a time.
"Will this work?" Curt asked quietly, his voice barely cutting through the eerie silence.
"Easier than climbing. Just do it!" Aaron urged, his voice matching Curt's hushed tone.
Curt hesitated, peering into the inky darkness beyond the fence. His vision was swallowed by an impenetrable void of overgrown vegetation.
"Hurry up, or I'll go. I'm not going last!" Bobby chided, his impatience overtaking his fear.
"I'll bring up the rear, you scaredy-cat," Aaron retorted. "Just get moving, one of you!"
"I can handle it," Curt said, steeling himself for the venture.
"Let us know if it's clear on the other side or if the Hennison's got a guard dog or something," Aaron tried to lighten the mood with a jest.
"Great! A dog?!" Bobby exclaimed, his voice laced with anxiety.
"I was kidding! If they had a dog, it would have been barking by now. Move!"
Curt, taking a final glance at his companions, wedged himself into the opening of the fence. With a rustling of leaves and scraping against the rough fence, he vanished into the darkness.
A sudden, harsh rustling of vegetation filled the air, followed by a deafening silence.
"Well?" Aaron prompted, straining to hear any sign of Curt's progress.
There was no response.
Aaron's eyes darted back and forth in the dim light, his ear attuned to the surrounding quiet. Growing more anxious, he raised his voice, “Well?!?!”
Finally, a hand came back through the hole in the fence, only to vanish again back on the other side. It appeared as though Curt was retreating. But he was so slow. What could possibly be going on thought Bobby, and Aaron, as they stare without saying anything.
Suspecting something was going wrong, all fell silent again.
Aaron decided to slowly make his way to the fence, see if he could get through, figure out what was going on. Only when he got to the fence, the hand arched through the slot, and grabbed him by the shirt.
The hand held him for a moment, then shoved him back, before BAM! Smashing through the fence came not Curt, but the Scarecrow! Reborn a hell of a lot
bigger than he was before! And he was pissed!
Aaron started to back away, his mouth agape, but Bobby was frozen in fear, his eyes grew very wide in terror.
The Scarecrow grabbed Bobby by the collar and lifted him up effortlessly. Bobby's eyes watered, flushing away what little make-up was left on his face, before he wet himself, and passed out, going limp.
The Scarecrow tossed him aside like a rag doll and slowly turned his attention to Aaron without moving. He stares at Aaron, not moving, just waiting, as if to say "your move."
Aaron backed up a few steps, almost tripping over the branches and debris at his feet, then quickly turned to run away in terror. He scrambled through the bushes, the ivy, scratching his arms in the process. He made it towards the front yard, looking back to see the Scarecrow steadily following him.
Aaron reached the gate, only to realize it was locked! He ran across the driveway in terror, and around the house to the other side of the property, hoping he can get the Scarecrow to chase him that way, around the house, then quickly get to the slot in the fence and hopefully escape.
Aaron made it around the house but found himself haphazardly fighting his way through the thick bushes and ivy, unable to easily see the path they found before.
But right when it looked like he might be getting close, he tripped over something, the limb body of Bobby, crashing hard to the ground below.
It took but a second for the Scarecrow to efficiently catch up. Stepping over Bobby, he reached down, grabbed Aaron by the collar, grabbing a fist full of it, just as Aaron had done to Zach. Aaron reached out for something anything, in desperation, then to grab at the Scarecrow’s mask, only to succeed in pushing it back a little, revealing a horrifyingly rotten skull.
Aaron was frozen in fear as the Scarecrow reared his fist back and punched Aaron in the stomach so hard that Aaron had the whole wind knocked out of him and he went flush in agony.
Now crying, and gasping for air was not something the Scarecrow gave quarter or sympathy to. He showed no emotion as he took Aaron by the shirt with both hands, lifted him up, and ripped Aaron's shirt straight off his body.
Not done, the Scarecrow then picked Aaron up by his neck, and his pants, and held him high above his head.
Now in absolute terror, Aaron was helpless as the Scarecrow walked him over to the back side fence high up, and tossed him over into an abandoned hilly lot filled with
thick, thorny blackberry bushes. Leaving nothing but Aaron’s pants in his hands, and Aaron’s cries and screams from the adjacent lot, as the Scarecrow casually turned, and walked away, pulling his mask on straight, and his hat back over his head.
Walking back to the front of the house the Scarecrow calmly makes his way up the steps, onto the porch. He finds his sigh that says ‘Boo!!’ Sits back down on the bench, as if nothing ever happened.
At long last, a hand shot through the fence, its fingers gnarled and obscured by the murk. It wavered momentarily before disappearing back into the black void. There was an unsettling slowness to the retreat, a sluggishness that gripped Bobby and Aaron in silent, suffocating trepidation.
The oppressive silence resumed its reign over the scene. Anxious and fear-bitten, Aaron moved towards the fence, the crunch of dead leaves beneath his feet sounding deafening in the stillness. He was merely a breath away from the fence when the hand reemerged, seizing him by the shirt in a vice-like grip. The hold lasted but a moment before Aaron was violently thrust backward.
Then, with an earth-shaking BAM! the fence splintered apart, and a monstrous figure exploded into view. It was the Scarecrow, grotesquely larger and evidently more wrathful than before. His reappearance sent Aaron stumbling back, his mouth agape in a silent scream, while Bobby remained cemented in fear, eyes bulging in abject terror.
In one swift, effortless motion, the Scarecrow seized Bobby by the collar and hoisted him into the air. As his bladder betrayed him, tears streamed down Bobby's face, washing away the remnants of his Halloween makeup. He slipped into unconsciousness, his body going limp before being tossed aside like a discarded toy.
The Scarecrow's hollow gaze shifted to Aaron. He remained motionless, his sinister presence conveying a silent dare to Aaron - 'Your move.'
Almost tripping over the gnarled roots and underbrush, Aaron scrambled to put distance between him and the menace. He rushed towards the front yard, a frenzied glance over his shoulder confirming the relentless pursuit of the Scarecrow. The locked gate thwarted his escape plan, forcing him to dart across the driveway, around the house, and towards the potential safety of the fence breach.
Fumbling his way through the dense shrubbery, Aaron could barely discern the path they had navigated earlier. He was so close to the breach, so close to freedom, when he tripped over something limp and unyielding - the unconscious form of Bobby. His stumble sent him sprawling onto the ground, the rough terrain scraping his skin.
Within moments, the Scarecrow was upon him, stepping over Bobby with a cold disregard. Aaron had barely the chance to react when a gnarled hand clasped his collar. In a desperate, futile gesture, Aaron reached out, succeeding only in dislodging the Scarecrow's mask slightly, revealing a hideously rotten skull beneath.
Aaron froze, terror gripping his heart as the Scarecrow delivered a fierce punch to his stomach. The blow knocked the wind out of him, reducing him to a gasping, teary heap. The Scarecrow, unperturbed by Aaron's state, gripped his shirt, tearing it from his body with a violent yank.
Next, Aaron found himself hoisted high above the Scarecrow's head, held by his neck and waistband. Terror rendered him helpless as the Scarecrow carried him to the fence and tossed him like a ragdoll into an adjacent lot overrun with prickly blackberry bushes.
With a chilling casualness, the Scarecrow repositioned his mask, tugged his hat back in place, and sauntered away, leaving behind only Aaron's cries of agony. He strolled back to the front of the house, ascended the porch steps, and resumed his seat, as if the night's horrific events had been merely a disturbance in his endless vigil. His sign, reading 'Boo!!', was once again the only indication of the terrifying ordeal that had just transpired.
In autumn when the leaves turn red And chill winds blow across the land, There is a lake in Minnesota Where a strange sight can be seen In the misty cool mornings Far from the lake’s shore, A young boy in a canoe is seen, Waving his arms for help His ghostly form is pale and thin A vision that fills the heart with dread, For those who saw him on the lake Fear he may soon be dead, forever gone His faint voice echoes through the fog A plea for aid that chills the bone, But as soon as anyone gets close, Mist engulfs him whole, the boy and his canoe, gone For every autumn morning When the fog blankets the lagoon, The boy soon returns to seek help Only to disappear once more by noon So he drifts along the silent lake As if he seeks some hidden place, Without a trace, each time, vanished Every time he nears shore Tales abound, a warning sign And his spirit now haunts the waves, Enslaved to a former fate, Yearning for a rescue that never came Lore reveals, a ghostly child Who drowned there many moons gone by, And now his woe haunts the lake forever In search of peace he cannot know.
There was a time when people came To ride the coaster made of wood, They laughed and screamed with joy and fear As they went up and down, and around But then the accidents began And one by one the riders died, They fell or crashed or burned or choked And left their bodies on the track The park was closed and left to rot And no one dared to go inside, But on some nights when the moon is dark A sound can pierce the silent air Shadows flicker, and the wind moans through The hollow sinew, of the coaster frame, A snap, a clank, a creek, a clack Could it be alive? A prank? On such black nights, the locals say They hear the play of the coaster, Its wooden frame and chain, long decayed, Resurrected by the ghosts that still remain Must be the forlorn coaster running still With ghostly riders on its seats, They relive their final moments And haunt the place where they met death They do not rest, they do not stop They only ride and ride and ride, They are the ghost coaster's curse And they will never see the light Beware a wooden coaster's penance And its wraithlike presence, haunting one and all, For those who dare to ride or roam May never find their way back home.
The Ural range hides a mountain Where evil spirits haunt and reign, A serpent guards its summit, A fierce storm, ice rain, as you get near The apex is shrouded in mist and fog And the spirits will make you pay the price, For daring to come near their home You will be lost in the fog, and never return The spirits are ancient and malevolent And they'll make you feel their wrath If you dare to come too close Swallowed by the mist, for you will see A snake, huge and poisonous It coils around the summit peak, It's eyes like fiery embers And it's scales black as coal If you come too close to the summit It will strike with deadly force, And turn into a thundercloud that engulfs you whole Lost in the storm, the tempest, deep enshroud The mountain is cursed and will never let go, It's secrets are hidden deep within its soul, And those who dare to seek them out Will be lost in the mist, and never return So beware of the hidden mountain in the Ural range For it's a place where evil spirits reign And a poisonous serpent guards its summit Striking with lightning and venom, no repent.
In the tenement stairwell, dimly lit The steps creak, echoing with each ascent, A sense of dread pervades the stagnant air, Whispers of ghosts, unseen, fill my mind The walls are peeling, paint cracked and worn Shadows flicker in the wavering light, Footsteps echo, yet no one is in sight As I climb upward to the floors above This ancient building groans and sighs As if it's trying to tell its own demise, In the darkness, I hear a moaning voice, Chilling me to the bone with creeping fear. Is it the ghost of someone long since passed? Or just the wind, howling through the stone? I cannot tell, but my heart beats, As I climb up the stairs, one by one Far ahead lies the topmost stair Where creaking steps echo and swell, The air grows thick with a sense of dread, As whispers of ghosts fill my head The walls are peeling, the paint is cracked And shadows dance in the flickering light, Footsteps echo, but there's no one in sight As I climb up to the floors above At the top, a door that I've not seen before I turn the knob, and step inside the room, And suddenly, I feel a presence near Beside me, yet I cannot see who's here I turn, but nothing's there, just empty space A feeling of despair, consuming me, The hairs upon my neck rise up As I realize I'm not alone this night! The ghostly presence lingers on and on Seconds to minutes, without moments, In this old, haunted tenement stairwell A place where souls still dwell and roam Then, in the darkness, I hear a sound. A moaning voice that chills me, A phantasm of someone long gone It must be wind howling through the stone I can't tell, but my heart beats fast, In this room step by step The back of the room, there's another door I would swear before was not there The doorknob turns, to see it goes down the stairs The presence by my side goes back, I turn around, but no one's there Just an empty room, fleeting despair Impressions of dread linger on In this old and haunted tenement stairwell, A place where souls still roam and dwell, And where the living dare not to tread.
The Haunted Mansion. In this township, whispers travel fast with wind, A hilltop cradles an old mansion Its walls, a tapestry of the past Hidden in shadows and overgrown vines The townspeople, they speak in tones hushed Of the house that seems to breathe in silence, A specter that haunts their dreams and homes, Mystery shrouding such stoic existence One night, when darkness cloaks the sky above A light flickers in the upmost window, so high, A beacon of intrigue, a magnet to curiosity Luring the curious to pry who dared The brave souls who venture to explore To step into this house of shadows, The whispers grew louder, the lore to hear The darkness around them seemed to swallow By dawn, the light in the window fades away As do those who dare to enter within, The mansion, still standing, quiet, like a grave, The town, haunted by the missing In the corners of conversations, The same tale of the house on the hill persists, The same warning, revelations, for seekers Some doors, once opened, never to be closed again.
Wandering the cobblestones of London town A ghostly apparition, a shadow in the night, A presence felt but rarely seen, I, haunting specter that chills to the bone In the winter night do I dare to appear When the frozen fog rolls in and the town grows quiet, And the living huddle in their homes, seeking warmth, Leaving the streets deserted for me to roam I am a phantom of a bygone era, A remnant of a past that time forgot, A relic of a life that once was, Trapped in this world, unable to move on. My footsteps echo on the frozen ground The only sound that breaks the eerie silence, As I search for something that I lost, Or perhaps some one that I must find The living hardly aware of my presence. Blind to the spirit that walks among them, And yet I watch them from the shadows A witness to their joys and sorrows I wonder how long I'll wander these streets An apparition in an endless night, A memory of a time that's long since passed, A haunting reminder, plight not forgotten So if you find yourself.
The Hidden Lighthouse
The small local college was abuzz with the jovial hum of end-of-semester celebrations as spring gave way to the beginnings of a breezy summer. A small gathering of students had found their sanctuary for the evening in Captain Mick’s, a rustic beachside tavern in the nearby town of Cormorant Bay. As the sun dipped below the horizon, this slice of the world was bathed in hues of crimson and gold, the final vestiges of daylight reflecting off the alluring sea and through the establishment's glass windows.
Abigail and Lily were now sophomores in their eyes, and immersed in the joyous chaos. Abigail's keen eyes roved the bustling scene, absorbing the infectious energy, the laughs shared over the old fashioned mugs beer was served in, reflecting the history of this small slice of the coast line of swashbuckling pirates of days long gone bye, and the tales of summer adventures to come.
Abigail dreamed since her youth to be a detective, partly fed by her father’s career as an attorney. Though as she grew older, the “icky” parts of such a job didn’t appeal to her, though her drive to know intricate details of almost everything out of place, everything peculiar, odd, never once faded. Lily, on the other hand didn’t like anything unsettled, best to stay away and leave things alone, always, was her path. As such, she preferred the quietude of their corner, her fingers nervously playing with her drink coaster.
As Abigail rose to refresh their drinks, leaving a ripple of mirth in her wake, Lily’s eyes observed Zachary, a quirky classmate she knew, and was genuinely surprised to see him there. He was standing a little way off. But what got Lily’s attention was something she had suspected for some time: his gaze anchored on Abigail. The setting sun cast long shadows that seemed to stretch his bashful expression, highlighting the silent longing in his eyes.
Lily couldn't resist a mischievous smile, and she slowly made her way to him. She caught Zachary in his admiring trance and confronted him, “see something you like?” She playfully poked.
But his words found refuge in the depths of his shyness. “Uh…” was about all he could get out, his cheeks were suffused with the color of the evening sky, and he merely gave her a sheepish smile as he looked down.
On Abigail's return to the table, her eyes found Lily, with the playful glint of an impromptu plan in her eyes, ambled over to where Lily now was, with Zachary, who could barely make eye contact with her as she approached.
“Hi Zachary. I didn’t know you were here?” Abigail said with her welcoming tone, as she put her and Lily’s drinks down, before pushing aside a few stands of her boyish haircut.
She concocted a little tale: a moonlit sail just off the bay, on a sailboat that Zachary's father supposedly owned. Abigail's eyes lit up at the idea, reflecting the first stars of the evening. Zachary, flustered yet unable to resist, nodded. His voice was barely audible over the sound of the crashing waves as he suggested they bring along Pete, an older friend with adept sailing skills.
Embracing the adventure that lay ahead, they excitedly gathered their belongings. The thrill hung in the air, a tangible energy that resonated with the rhythm of their young hearts. Together, they moved towards the beckoning dock, their laughter echoing through the dusky veil of the impending night. The tale of the Hidden Lighthouse was about to welcome its newest chapter.
The small yacht they were on was an older Andrews 28 sailboat named The Siren, after mysterious creatures of the sea. The moon was full enough to illuminate the ocean enough through broken up clouds, as they sailed away from the dock with Pete at the helm. A man of very few words, he knew his role was mostly that of a Uber driver, though he loved the sea and on a beautiful night with a steady light breeze, it was perfect for sailing. Zachary was never too fond of the sea, even though the boat belonged to his father, who had tried to get him into it, since the cost of the boat was at his father’s financial limit, and a bit of a status symbol to barely rise above his middle class reality. Abigail and Lily huddled up towards the back of the boat, behind Pete, seeking a bit of shelter from the cool breeze that blew off the ocean’s surface.
The yacht they boarded was a timeworn Andrews 28, christened The Siren in honor of the elusive, enchanting sea creatures of lore. Nestled within its slightly weathered exterior and lovingly maintained interiors were countless sea-tales untold. The boat gently bobbed on the gentle rhythm of the ocean waves, a harmony that ran deep into the marrow of every sailor.
The night sky overhead was a vast, sprawling canvas splattered with clouds that coyly played hide and seek with the moon. The celestial orb, however, in its full splendor, cast a silvery glow that danced on the rolling sea, painting a dreamscape that could inspire poets and lovers alike.
Pete, their taciturn helmsman, stood firmly at the wheel, his silhouette backlit by the soft lunar glow. He bore the quiet resolve of a seasoned sailor, well-accustomed to the whims of the sea. A man of few words, Pete was, in essence, their maritime chauffeur for the evening. But he loved the sea and on a night as beautiful as this, with the light breeze filling the sails and whispering of salt and freedom, he felt at home.
In contrast, Zachary seemed somewhat out of place. He always had a complicated relationship with the sea, despite the fact that the yacht was a legacy of his father's aspirations. His father had purchased The Siren as a token of prosperity that brushed against the edges of their middle-class existence. He had tried to inculcate in Zachary a love for sailing, but the sea remained a foreign entity to the shy boy.
Meanwhile, at the stern of the yacht, away from the helm and shielded from the cool ocean breeze, Abigail and Lily found their sanctuary. The wind ruffled their hair and brought with it the scent of the deep, vast ocean mingled with a faint hint of the wooden deck. Their voices melded into the low murmur of the sea, their words swirling away with the wind. They huddled closer for warmth, sharing whispered secrets and muffled giggles that disappeared into the tranquil lullaby of the night.
Abigail, in her element, reveled in the mystique of the sea. The silver light of the moon illuminated her face, casting an ethereal glow on her determined features. Her eyes, ever so curious, scanned the horizon, subtly reflecting the shimmering waves. Every creak of the yacht, every swoosh of the waves, added a verse to the symphony of this adventure. Something Zachary noticed with ease, doing his best not to stare.
As The Siren made it’s way to the north, it left behind the safety of the visibility of the dock. “I love it out here!” Abigail finally said aloud for everyone to hear. Pete smiled a little. “Why don’t you come out here more often?” Lily asked pointedly to Zachary. Having no answer, he finally pushed out “maybe I should.”
“No need to ‘should’ on yourself!” Abigail quipped with a smile.
“Have you ever been out at night like this?” Abigail asked him.
“Not this far, no. We rarely come north like this anyway. There’s not much out here, just the cliffs, and the cove you can’t sail into.”
“Why not?” Abigail asked.
“The sea just churns there, worse and worse the closer you get. Even a power boat would be smashed against the rocks trying to get in there.” He said, pointing a direction dark, but darkened steep cliffs, jagged, weaving in and out, with conifer trees poking out of the hillsides where possible at the top.
“We need to loop back out and around.” Pete stated. “Zach, help with the jib.” And with that instruction Zach did as told and helped with the jib pole ropes as Pete slowly turned the yacht to port, away from the sea.
“Keep your heads down” Pete told Abigail and Lily, so they didn’t get hit with the swinging jib, himself ducking just the same as it passed by.
Zach tightened the rope like a diligent sailor, securing it, as the yacht made it’s looping turn to the left to head back to the town, and dock.
But Abigail wasn’t looking at town like others, her eyes were fixated on the cove, and cliffs above them, when suddenly, something caught her attention. “Look!” She said, pointing in the direction of the cliffs.
As The Siren charted its course towards the north, it ventured beyond the familiar glow of the dock, trading the safety of its lights for the vast mystery of the open sea. The town's visibility ebbed away, leaving only the moon and the stars to guide them through the restless waves.
"I love it out here!" Abigail exclaimed, her voice echoing in the hushed tranquility of the ocean. Her words hung in the cool air, punctuating the rhythmic hum of the waves caressing the hull of the yacht. Pete offered a quiet, appreciative smile in response, the moonlight casting faint, crinkled lines across his weathered face.
"Why don't you come out here more often?" Lily queried Zachary, her words like a gentle nudge. His silence lingered a moment before he managed a somewhat uncertain, "Maybe I should."
Abigail, her eyes gleaming with a daring spark, threw back her head and laughed. "No need to 'should' on yourself!" she teased, her smile infectious.
Her attention then turned to Pete, curiosity threading her voice. "Have you ever sailed out at night like this?"
Pete shook his head, his gaze on the stretching expanse of the sea. “Don’t think so. Not this far, no.”
Zach, trying to keep himself part of the conversation with Abigail cut in. “We rarely venture north. It's just cliffs and a cove you can't sail into."
Intrigued, Abigail pressed on. "Why not?"
Pete gestured towards a distant shadowy silhouette of jutting cliffs, cloaked in darkness with whiffs of growing mist hugging them. "The sea becomes a beast near those rocks, gnashing its teeth and lashing out at any vessel that dares come too close. Even a power boat would be smashed apart."
"Zach, help with the jib," Pete subtly commanded, shifting the helm as Zachary obediently sprang into action, assisting with the jib lines. The sound of creaking ropes filled the air as the yacht began its slow turn.
"Keep your heads down," Pete warned Abigail and Lily, himself ducking to avoid the swinging jib. Zach tightened the rope with a sailor's diligence, securing it as the yacht completed its loop, ready to trace their journey back to town.
But Abigail had her sights set elsewhere. Her gaze was magnetically drawn to the looming cliffs and the ominous cove behind and between them, as a thickening layer of fog seemed to rapidly hide them a bit more. As they began their retreat, something in the distance caught her eye. "Look!" she cried out, her finger pointing towards the towering cliffs, her heart pounding with exhilarating anticipation.
A light, subtle, but bright focused, poked through the bits of fog high on the cliffside, but seemingly tucked back into the cove. But as the others turned to where she was pointing, the cliffs were completely black.
“What?” Lilly asked.
“A light! I saw a light on top of those cliffs!” Abigail enthusiastically claimed.
“A what?” Said Lily.
“A bright light! Just for a second!”
“You mean like a flashlight?” Zachary added.
“No, no! Much brighter, brighter than a car headlight!”
“Say what?” Lily said.
Pete looked directly at Zachary, and grinned.
It took Zachary just a moment before he figured out what Pete was hinting it. “You’re pretty studious there Abigail.”
“What are you talking about?!” She asked, incredulously.
“Come on.” He said, thinking she’s faking not knowing the history. “That’s where the old lighthouse supposedly was.
After a long moment made it clear Abigail didn’t know the history, Pete told the story. “Long ago there was once a lighthouse there, or supposedly was. Built by pirates marooned to this coastal area. They put a lighthouse of some sort up there, into the cove, in an effort to fool sailing ships into thinking they were farther from the shore than they were, cause them to crash.”
Abigail still looks straight faced.
“You’ve never heard this tale? Not once?” Zach asks, to be sure she’s not pulling his leg.
“There hasn’t been a lighthouse there in 100 years.” Zach said.
“Maybe there never was one.” Pete added.
Abigail seems incredulous, as she stares back at the cliffs, now fading from view, increasingly crowded in fog. She’s certain she saw a light. How could her keen eyes have deceived her?
“Maybe someone had one of those lights on boats up there, they are pretty powerful, like a car headlight.” Zach adds.
“Maybe?” Lily says with an inquisitive tone, trying to help Abigail resolve what may, or may not have happened.
But Pete somewhat squashes that. “That entire area is a wildlife sanctuary, a habitat for nesting birds, Murrlets and other endangered ones as well. There are signs all over it’s premier, the one dirt road that leads close, and it’s not easy getting in there at all.”
As the boat arrived back at the doc, low lying clouds now blocked the moon. Clouds that will likely turn to fog overnight as the air cools.
As they stepped off the boat Zach hesitates before saying to Abigail. “Maybe you can look up the history of the cove and lighthouse. If not online, there are maybe some really old books or articles at the school library.”
Abigail looked his direction, but didn’t respond.
Lily quipped at the incoming fog. “Might be a good night for a real lighthouse to shine its light.”
Abigail doesn’t even look at her as she slowly moves back to shore on the dock. When Lily does catch up to her, Abigail’s mind is steadfast, “I know I saw something up there, and I’m going to find out what it was.”
A fleeting glow, soft yet strikingly bright, pierced the fog-shrouded cliffside. It appeared to nestle high up, tucked into the cove's embrace. But as the others turned their gaze towards the direction of her outstretched finger, the cliffs were enveloped in darkness once more.
"What?" Lily's confusion broke the silence.
"A light! I saw a light on top of those cliffs!" Abigail exclaimed, her eyes wide with the fervor of discovery.
"A what?" Lily echoed, her brows furrowed in puzzlement.
"A bright light! Just for a second!" Abigail's words tumbled out in a rush.
"You mean like a flashlight?" Zachary chimed in, trying to grasp her excitement.
"No, no! Much brighter, brighter than a car headlight!" she protested, her gaze still locked onto the silhouette of the cliffs.
"Say what?" Lily's incredulity rang out into the night.
Pete and Zachary exchanged a glance, a knowing grin spreading across Pete's face. It took a moment for Zachary to comprehend the meaning behind his subtle jest. "You're pretty studious there, Abigail."
"What are you talking about?!" Her confusion was palpable.
"Come on," Zachary replied, convinced she was pretending ignorance. "That's where the old lighthouse supposedly was."
A drawn-out silence made it clear Abigail was unaware of this lore. Pete took it upon himself to enlighten her. "Long ago, there was a lighthouse there, or so the story goes. Pirates marooned to this coast constructed it, nestled into the cove. Their nefarious plot was to fool passing ships into thinking they were farther from the shore than they were, leading them to crash."
Abigail's face remained inscrutable, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"You've never heard this tale? Not once?" Zachary probed, doubtful of her innocence.
"Not once," she affirmed.
"There hasn't been a lighthouse there in a hundred years," Zachary informed.
"Maybe there never was one," Pete mused, further muddying the waters.
Abigail, still incredulous, peered at the cliffs, now swallowed by the encroaching fog. She was convinced her sharp eyes hadn't betrayed her.
"Maybe someone had one of those boat lights up there. They are pretty powerful, like a car headlight," Zachary offered.
"Maybe?" Lily echoed inquisitively, trying to soothe Abigail's bafflement. But Pete was quick to dismiss that theory. "The entire area is a wildlife sanctuary. It's a habitat for nesting birds, Murrelets and other endangered species. There are signs all over its perimeter, and the one dirt road that leads close isn't easy to navigate."
As The Siren docked, the moon was hidden behind a curtain of low-lying clouds that promised to turn into dense fog as the night air chilled. Stepping onto the solid ground of the dock, Zachary turned to Abigail. "Maybe you can look up the history of the cove and lighthouse. If not online, there might be some really old books or articles at the school library."
Abigail met his suggestion with silence, her thoughts churning like the ocean waves. Lily chimed in, looking at the impending fog. "Might be a good night for a real lighthouse to shine its light."
But Abigail's mind was elsewhere, her determination unwavering as she whispered her resolution to Lily. "I know I saw something up there, and I'm going to find out what it was."
The town had settled into the quiet hush of night as Abigail found herself ensconced within the hallowed walls of the school library. Her fingers danced across the keyboard of her laptop, the monotonous click-clack of keys echoing in the stillness. She was navigating the labyrinthine world of the internet, trying to unearth the long-buried mysteries of the rumored lighthouse.
Her face, bathed in the pallid glow of the screen, etched lines of dissatisfaction as her search yielded nothing of substance. She shut her laptop with a sigh, her eyes scanning the surrounding shelves. There was an old-world charm about these book-lined walls, a testament to time and history encapsulated within countless pages.
Abigail left her digital pursuit behind, immersing herself in the tactile experience of rifling through dusty hardcovers. Her fingers traced the grain of the worn bindings, the musk of age and paper filling her nostrils. From general history tomes, she gravitated towards books chronicling local lore, her heart racing with the thrill of the hunt.
She then turned to the forgotten realm of library cards, a relic from a bygone era. The card catalog was a treasure trove of coded directions, guiding her to a peculiar book, a compendium of ghostly tales from The Northern Coast.
Her heart pounded in anticipation as she flipped open the book, her eyes hungrily scanning the lines. Among the accounts, a tale resonated. It spoke of a spectral light that was said to flicker into existence every few years, observable from a specific angle. While the majority dismissed this phenomenon as an intriguing piece of local folklore, a small group of believers had once formed a club, christening themselves as the Lighthouse Keepers. A shiver ran down her spine as she wondered if these keepers were still amongst the living.
Refusing to dismiss the tale as merely a figment of local lore, Abigail pulled out a notebook from her backpack. In her neat handwriting, she began to jot down the names of the Keepers, their identities now tied to her quest. The list was a promise, a pledge to unravel the enigma of the light that now held her captive. With newfound determination, she dove back into her research, the library's silence wrapping around her like a comforting blanket.
With warm rays of the sun poking its way through the clouds, Lily walked with Zachary to his father’s house. She couldn’t help but push and tease him a little. “While you were finally able to utter some words to Abigail, you need to flirt more with her, if not just ask her out.”
“I can’t do that!” Zachary all but panicked out.
“Well, then find a way to make a real impression on her.” Lily responded. “I think she was more focused on what Pete was saying on the yacht than you were!”
After they got past the gate and up the steps onto the porch Zachary stopped. “I know what I can do.”
All ears, Lily smiles.
“I can sneak into the area where the lighthouse was, find out what’s really up there, maybe take some pictures.”
“What?!?” Lily said back startled. You can’t do that!”
“Or maybe I could bring a really powerful flashlight, shine it at some boats out there, like someone else probably did.” Zachary said almost humorously.
But Lily doesn’t like the idea at all, and finds no humor in it. “Don’t do that!” She says. “Not only because it’s a wildlife area, but…because!”
Zachary doesn’t find this argument too convincing. But Lily’s imagination runs wild, fearful of almost anything.
“Because?” Zachary asks.
“Well, everything! Like birds. People. Or a lighthouse. Or…ghosts!”
Zachary laughs a little.
As morning painted the sky with pastel hues, Lily and Zachary strolled towards his father's home. It was a humble three-bedroom dwelling nestled amid the neighborhood, its presence softened by a stalwart oak tree spreading its wide branches over the front yard, casting dappled shadows on the grass below. Their conversation flowed along with the light summer breeze, carrying the scent of freshly mowed grass and blooming flowers.
Lily, a playful glint in her eyes, couldn't resist ribbing Zachary a little. "So, you finally managed to string a few sentences together in Abigail's presence. That's a start, but you need to turn on your charm, flirt a little or, dare I say, ask her out."
"Ask her out? I can't do that!" Zachary's voice teetered on the brink of panic, as though the suggestion was an impossible task, like scaling Everest in flip-flops.
"Then you have to make a real impression, leave her with something memorable," Lily retorted, not missing a beat. "She seemed more engrossed in Pete's sea tales than in anything you said!"
They walked past a rusting iron gate, their footfalls resonating on the wooden porch steps. As they reached the front door, Zachary halted, a look of revelation washing over his face. "I know exactly what I can do."
Lily's eyes twinkled with curiosity, her lips curling into an expectant smile.
"I could sneak into the old lighthouse area. Uncover what's really up there, take a few snapshots maybe."
Lily’s countenance crumbled into a shocked expression, "What?! You can't do that!"
Zachary, on the other hand, found humor in his suggestion. "Or maybe, I could bring a really powerful flashlight, replicate the lighthouse trick, give the sailors a bit of a spook."
The laugh lines around his eyes suggested he was jesting, but Lily found no mirth in his words. "Don't you dare do that," she retorted, her voice laced with sincerity. "Not only would you disturb the wildlife, but...because!"
Zachary arched an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed by her unconvincing reasoning. But Lily's mind was a whirlpool of imagination, conjuring a thousand frightful reasons.
"Because...what?" Zachary pushed.
"Because...everything!" Lily's words spilled out in a rush. "Birds, people, a lighthouse, or...ghosts!"
A chuckle slipped from Zachary's lips at Lily's fanciful fears. The morning had indeed taken an interesting turn.
“1229. This is it!” Abigail said, as they stopped at the quaint cottage a few blocks form the beach. Opening the chainlink fence gate she practically had to drag Lily behind her to get up the steps and to the door.
With waves crashing behind them, with the endless call of seagulls, Abigail knocked on the door, Lily standing a half-step behind her. After a minute a well-kept woman in her 50’s answered, not recognizing the two young women at the door. “Can I help you?”
Lily couldn’t even make contact with the woman, ashamed of what they are doing, prying, is how she saw it, but Abigail was polite, if direct. “We’re looking for Elijah McCloud. He was an acquaintance of my grandfather. Sorry, my name is Abigail Green, and this is Lily.”
Lily gnashed her teeth, knowing this was a lie, if a white, or innocuous one, but couldn’t bear to look up, partly out of fear of being ‘caught’.
“He was a member of the Lighthouse Keepers…I think.” Abigail said.
“One moment.” The woman said, after thinking for a moment, before she stepped back inside, without closing the door entirely.
Lily raised her head just enough to look over harshly at Abigail with burning eyes, words wanted to explode out of her mouth, but she couldn’t blurt even a syllable out.
Abigail threw her a look and shrug in return, acknowledging she just made it all up, as if it were a minor accident.
The woman returned to the door. “He’s just finishing his lunch. He’s okay now, if you can follow me to the back porch.
Abigail looked over at Lily, gratified with how this has worked, so far, but Lily was still stressed.
After walking through the small house the caregiver showed them through the back sliding screen door, where Elijah sat at a chair on a small wooden deck, covered in a corrugated translucent awning. At least in his 80’s, with white hair, and a scruffy beard, Elijah was a man without much energy left, though seemingly at peace with what moments in his life were left.
“Hello Mr. McCloud. My name is Abigail, and this is my friend Lily.” She politely said.
His gentle eyes moved back and forth between the two, but nothing registered.
“You may have met my grandfather, his name was John.” She said, drawing not even a registration of a blank from Elijah. “He was a member of the Lighthouse Keepers”.
This was a name Elijah knew, and knew well. If much of his memory had faded over the years, this had not.
“Sit down, sit down.” He gestured.
The two girls took his cue and settled in, “We’re from the college and…” Abigail looked over at Lily, and this time her convictions of truth came directly out. “We were on a small boat last night, and I’m certain I saw a brief, but bright light coming from the cliffs above the hidden cove where the Lighthouse was. I know I saw it.”
Like a dam break causing clear water to flush murky mud from a stream, Elijah’s face grew to life, as if ten, twenty years wound back his clock. “You saw it?!”
“I did, I know I did. Can you tell us what is up there? Have you been up there?”
He thinks for a moment, trying to piece together fragments of time in his memory, pieces that barely fit, if not complete a full picture. “I was up there a few times, many years ago. It’s so very rugged. Many small points jetting in and out towards the sea. Many years ago they turned it into a wildlife area. They even gave us a fine for trespassing once. Over $100. Took me forever to pay it. My friend Richard didn’t want to pay. I didn’t go many times after that. Maybe I never went again. I don’t think Richard or the others did.”
“But did you ever see a lighthouse? Anything close to one?” Abigail does her best to stay on point, helping him focus.
“A lighthouse?” His memory again struggles. “Oh no.
Frustrated, Abigail looks to Lily, who has no answer at all.
She continued, trying to get anything she might be able to get. “I read old articles and journals that said the Lighthouse Keepers used to meet, and go sailing, looking for the light from sea. Did you ever see that? Isn’t that how the Keepers got started?”
Elijah struggles to concentrate, but his thoughts grow clear. “I never saw the light. But one of the members swore he did. As well as some of their parents, or others. It must have been one-hundred years ago maybe. Maybe there was an old lighthouse there. But the story we heard was there was likely gold bars, or coins somewhere in the bay, from ships that smashed agains the rocks. That’s how we knew there had to be something. So many ships crashed against the rocks in the 1800s. Something lured them into that area, so dangerous. And many of those ships supposedly had gold on them. Call it pirates. Call it ghosts. Someone was mad.”
“Mad?” Asked Abigail.
“Why would they do it? There would be no way to recover any treasure in those waters. That’s the worst section of the coast for hundreds of miles in every direction. And always covered in mist. Someone is tricking boats, killing sailors, on purpose! The whole area is cursed!” He says, his ire starting to rise.
Abigail leaned away from the table, creating space.
“It has to be!” Elijah says. “It has to be cursed.” His voice trailing off.
The caretaker, hearing the commotion, came to the back door. “Are you all right Mr. McCloud?” Her eyes moving to Abigail and Lily, wondering what may be going on.
“Did you get our guests something to drink?” He asked, slowly slumping more into his chair.
Realizing this is the end of the road, Abigail stood. “Thank you Mr. McCloud.” Lily followed her cue, standing up.
After they walked through the house to the front, the caretaker has a bit of a glare at Abigail. “I’m sorry Abigail said. I hope we didn’t upset him.”
“He likely won’t remember later today.” She sullenly responded.
After they left the house and made tracks for the sidewalk Lily couldn’t help but focus on what she heard. “Cursed!”
“Lily.” Abigail said back, in disbelief. “There’s no such thing as a curse.”
“Says who?” Said Lily.
"1229. We've arrived!" Abigail's voice chimed with anticipation as they halted in front of a cozy cottage nestled a few blocks away from the rhythmic ebb and flow of the beach. Clasping the cold metallic latch of a chain-link fence, she swung the gate open with an echoing creak. She seized Lily's hand, her grip full of zealous determination, and nearly dragged her friend up the uneven concrete steps leading to the front door.
The symphony of the shore, crashing waves and seagulls' ceaseless cries, underscored the stillness as Abigail knocked briskly on the weather-worn wooden door, Lily slightly behind her. An eternity seemed to pass before the door creaked open, revealing a woman in her 50's, her skin glowing with the graceful patina of well-lived years. Her puzzled gaze swept over the strangers on her doorstep. "Can I help you?"
Lily's gaze fell to the weathered porch boards, feeling a flush of guilt for their intrusion. In contrast, Abigail exuded an air of polite assertiveness, "We're here to see Elijah McCloud. He knew my grandfather. I'm Abigail Green, and this is Lily."
Lily gnashed her teeth quietly, feeling a twinge of unease at the white lie.
"He was a part of the Lighthouse Keepers club... I believe," Abigail added.
"Give me a moment," the woman responded, her voice feathered with recollection. She receded into the interior of the house, leaving the front door slightly ajar.
Lily finally lifted her gaze from the wooden planks to shoot a pointed glare at Abigail, her anger unable to articulate into words. Abigail shrugged nonchalantly in return, the picture of innocence.
The woman reappeared at the door. "He's just finishing his lunch. If you don't mind following me to the back porch..." Her voice trailed off, beckoning them into the house.
Abigail's eyes darted to Lily, her face wreathed in triumphant delight at their successful subterfuge, but Lily remained visibly anxious. They traversed the modest house to a back porch, where a glass sliding door led to a quaint wooden deck adorned with a translucent corrugated awning. Elijah sat in solitude, his body frail with age, white hair sparse and beard unkempt. His aura conveyed a man at peace with his waning life.
"Hello Mr. McCloud. My name is Abigail, and this is my friend Lily," she greeted the old man warmly.
His eyes, glazed with age, flickered between the two young women, struggling to comprehend the faces in front of him.
"You might have known my grandfather, John," Abigail continued, a name that stirred no recognition in Elijah. "He was also a member of the Lighthouse Keepers."
Elijah's face bloomed with recognition at this statement; the phrase "Lighthouse Keepers" had carved its imprint deep in his memory.
"Sit down, sit down," he invited, his voice as frail as his form.
Guided by his words, the girls occupied two vacant chairs. "We're students," Abigail began, her eyes meeting Lily's before she continued, "and we were out on a boat last night. I am certain I saw a flash of light from the cliffs above the hidden cove where the old lighthouse used to be."
As if a decade or two had been stripped from his face, Elijah looked more alert, more alive. "You saw it?!"
"I did, I know I did. Can you tell us what's up there? Have you ever been?" Abigail persisted.
Elijah wracked his mind for vestiges of memories, fragments that were disjointed and faded. "I ventured up there a few times, long ago. The terrain was treacherous, and it was declared a wildlife reserve. We even got fined for trespassing... Richard didn't want to pay. I didn't return after that, and I don't think the others did."
"Did you ever see a lighthouse? Anything remotely similar?" Abigail probed.
"A lighthouse?" He frowned, struggling to recollect. "Oh, no."
A surge of frustration swept over Abigail's face, to which Lily could offer no solace.
Abigail forged ahead, a dogged determination in her voice. "I read in old articles and journals that the Lighthouse Keepers used to sail, hoping to see the light. Is that true?"
Elijah, despite his fading faculties, managed a clear answer. "I never saw the light. But one member was adamant he did. Maybe a century ago there was an old lighthouse. The stories we heard suggested hidden treasure in the bay from shipwrecks. Too many ships crashed against the cliffs in the 1800s. Someone was luring them, perhaps pirates, perhaps ghosts. Whoever it was, they were mad."
"Mad?" Abigail echoed.
"Why would they do it? The region is the most treacherous along the coast for hundreds of miles. Always enshrouded in mist. Someone has been deceiving sailors, causing their deaths. The area is cursed!"
Abigail retreated, creating distance between her and the increasingly agitated Elijah. "Cursed, it must be," he muttered.
The caretaker, drawn by the commotion, peeked through the back door. "Is everything all right, Mr. McCloud?" Her gaze darted between the girls and the old man.
"Did you offer our guests a drink?" He sank further into his chair, exhaustion seeping into his voice.
Abigail, sensing the end of the conversation, rose to her feet. "Thank you, Mr. McCloud." Lily followed her lead, mirroring her actions.
As they navigated their way through the house, the caretaker cast a harsh glance at Abigail. "I'm sorry," Abigail offered, "I hope we didn't upset him."
"He'll likely forget by the evening," the caretaker responded, her voice barely hiding her irritation.
Once they left the house and ventured onto the sidewalk, Lily replayed the conversation in her head. "Cursed!" She exclaimed, still processing what they had heard.
"Lily," Abigail countered in disbelief, "There's no such thing as a curse."
"Says who?" Lily retorted.
“Have you seen Zachary?!”
Two days had passed, and now Lily came running into Abigail’s father’s office, where she was talking with her dad. A clean cut gentleman in his 50’s, wearing a dress shirt and tie. Diplomas and photos with well known leaders gracing his walls, to the sides of a large, very old oak desk.
“What? Why?” Abigail asked.
“Zachary is nowhere to be found!” Lily extorted. “He didn’t answer his phone yesterday. I left messages. I sent him texts. I knocked on dad’s house door, where he’s been staying. I even went to the college. No one has seen him. And today calls go straight to voicemail!”
Abigail is a little concerned, but not nearly the level of Lily. “Okay. We’ll find him. Or get help to find him.”
“Abigail, this isn’t like him at all! We could ask the sheriff, but you have to wait 48 hours to report someone missing.”
Abigail’s father, Michael, being an attorney knew this wasn’t true and cut in. “That is not true. A myth you see on TV. There is no time barrier. Each law enforcement agency makes its own decision, on how active to search, and when.”
“Did you call his father?” Michael asks.
“He’s on vacation somewhere. I tried but he didn’t answer either.” Lily said.
Abigail thought for a moment, before turning to her father, “Can you ask the sheriff?” Knowing because of his law connections he at least knows the sheriff somewhat, as he was only a few blocks away.
“Abigail.” He said, somewhat playfully.
But she takes this as being dismissive. “He knows you!” She says.
“You think he doesn’t know who you are too?” He grins in response.
“Uh-oh! What haven’t you told me!” Lily jokes.
Abigail smirks at her. That joke isn’t funny to her. “We’ll look and ask around, but it can’t hurt to talk to the sheriff, right?” She said, looking over at her father, who gives her a look saying he knows his assertive daughter will make her own decisions.
"Have you seen Zachary?!" The words echoed in the grand office as Lily, a streak of frenzied urgency, burst through the imposing oak doors. A cool rush of air followed in her wake, causing the heavy drapes to dance momentarily, shadows rippling across the polished parquet floors.
Abigail and her father, Michael, who had been engrossed in conversation, turned towards the interruption, their surprised expressions illuminated by the warm glow of a brass desk lamp. Michael, a distinguished gentleman in his 50s, exuded the calm demeanor of a seasoned attorney. His crisp dress shirt and silk tie hinted at professional prestige, further accentuated by the array of diplomas and photographs adorning the room's warm mahogany walls. The photos boasted of his connections with various influential figures, while the diplomas bore testament to his scholarly achievements.
His office was centered around an imposing oak desk, its rich grain testimony to centuries passed and experiences lived. The scent of leather-bound books, of polished wood and aged paper permeated the air, a subtle reminder of the room's scholarly sanctity.
"What? Why?" Abigail inquired, her brows furrowing in concern. Her eyes, reflecting the soft yellow desk light, darted between Lily's panic-stricken face and her father's calmly inquisitive one.
"He's just...gone!" Lily's words gushed out like a broken dam. "No calls, no texts. He didn't answer the door at his dad's place, and none of his college friends have seen him. His phone goes straight to voicemail!"
Abigail, dressed in a simple blouse that reflected her minimalist style, leaned back into the comforting leather of the chair, her analytical mind beginning to piece together the puzzle. She felt a wave of worry wash over her but quelled it with a deep, steadying breath. "Alright, Lily. We'll find him, or we'll get help to find him," she said, her voice radiating a calm, reassuring warmth.
Lily, however, was teetering on the precipice of panic. "But Abigail, this isn't like him at all! They say you have to wait 48 hours before you can report someone missing."
Michael, a man of law and wisdom, cut in to dispel the misconstrued myth. "That's not entirely true, Lily. There's no such time barrier. Each law enforcement agency decides for itself how actively to search, and when."
"And his dad?" Michael inquired, his gaze probing Lily for more information.
"He's out somewhere, on vacation. I tried calling, but there's no answer from him either," Lily responded, her voice taking on a defeated tone.
Abigail ran a hand through her dark hair, pondering the predicament. Turning to her father, she asked, "Dad, can you ask the sheriff?" She knew that her father's professional circle extended to the law enforcement of their small town.
Michael, indulging his daughter, responded playfully, "Abigail." His voice held a trace of mirth, but to Abigail, it felt dismissive.
"He knows you!" she retorted, her brown eyes flashing with determination.
"And you think he doesn't know who you are too?" Michael shot back, a fatherly grin pulling at the corners of his mouth.
Lily, sensing an inside joke, feigned shock. "Uh-oh! What haven't you told me?"
Abigail merely shot Lily a pointed smirk, refusing to be baited. Turning back to her father, she appealed one last time, "We'll look and ask around, but it can't hurt to have the sheriff in the loop, right?" Her plea was met with a knowing look from Michael, who understood that his headstrong daughter was a force to be reckoned with, one who would stop at nothing until every stone had been unturned.
As the two sleuths arrived at the sheriff's office, they were met with disapproving stares from the stone-faced sheriff in his small, but tidy office. Sheriff Thompson was known for his no-nonsense attitude and steady handed enforcement of the law, but a layer of genuine care as well.
“I’ve already heard, Abigail.” He flatly told her.
She’s smart, but young, and was surprised Sheriff Thompson is so on top of things. A quick education for her.
“Out of courtesy I’ve made a couple phone calls to people who might know where he is. But don’t you think for a second that I haven’t seen countless stories of people your age ‘disappearing’ only to find out they went out and had some fun on their own, with other friends? Other family members? Or just doing their own thing?”
She’s flummoxed, but her brain worked quickly. “Could you maybe check in his father’s house at least?”
The sheriff was completely undeterred. “You want me to abandon the 14th Amendment, and search and seizure laws, in order to make sure your friend isn’t doing something he just didn’t tell you about?”
“I…I guess not.” Abigail uttered, frustrated.
“Abigail. Go home. I’ll keep an ear out and let you or your father know if I hear anything.” Sheriff Johnson said.
Lily made her way to the door of the Sheriff’s office, but it was much harder for Abigail to just turn and walk away.
But back outside Lily turned to Abigail. “I need to tell you something. I should have said this earlier.”
Knowing this can’t be good, Abigail didn’t answer, but looked right at Lily, her stare prodding for the punchline.
“The other day Zachary said he might go up to the sanctuary, where the lighthouse and cove are. I thought he was completely joking. But the more I think about it-“
“What??!” Abigail said incredulously. “What do you mean?”
“He said he was thinking about taking a boating flashlight up there, maybe spook some people on the boat. He thought it might be fun and give you some more adventure. But I thought that was silly and didn’t believe him.” Lily said. Her words sinking.
“He could be up there now hurt or lost something.” Abigail said.
“Or just camping.” Lily said. “He likes the outdoors. More than sailing. I told him I think maybe ghosts are up there. And he laughed at me.” Her words tailing off.
“Go home and grab your things. We need to get up there, before sunset!” Abigail said.
“We need to what?!” Lilly shot back.
“Get your stuff, I’ll met you at your place as soon as I get there.” Abigail said, her determination kicking in.
“Shouldn’t we go tell the Sheriff?!” Lily asked.
“You think he’s going to believe us now?” Abigail asked.
“But, but, what if something happens?!” An increasingly tense Lily asked.
“From what?” Said a confident Amelia as she darted off. “Are we going to get attacked by a murrelet?
As they crossed the threshold into the Sheriff's office, Abigail and Lily were met with the cold, scrutinizing gaze of Sheriff Thompson. His small, albeit orderly, office was permeated by the scent of strong black coffee and old paperwork. Nestled in the heart of the small town, the office was an unassuming sanctuary of law and order, a place where Thompson's no-nonsense attitude reigned supreme.
Sunlight streamed through the window, casting long, solemn shadows across the room. A thin layer of dust particles danced in the air, their ballet illuminated by the sunbeam. Despite Thompson's stern demeanor, there was an undercurrent of genuine concern, an unexpected warmth in his gruff exterior.
"I've already heard, Abigail," he announced, his voice as flat as the muted colors of his office. His words resonated in the quiet room, cutting through the expectant silence that had formed.
A brief wave of surprise washed over Abigail. She was a quick thinker, but she hadn't expected the Sheriff to be so ahead of the game. It was an instant education in small-town efficiency.
Sheriff Thompson continued, his voice steady as he drew from years of experience. "Out of courtesy, I've made a couple of phone calls. But don't think for a moment that I haven't seen countless stories of youngsters 'disappearing', only to resurface after some untold adventure with friends or family."
Abigail was momentarily disarmed by his candidness. But her quick-thinking mind spurred her on. "Could you check his father's house at least?"
Unmoved by her plea, Thompson responded firmly. "And ignore the 14th Amendment and search and seizure laws, just to make sure your friend isn't up to something he didn't share with you?"
Stung by his reasoning, Abigail could only manage a frustrated "I...I guess not."
"Abigail, go home. I'll keep an ear out, and I'll let you or your father know if I hear anything," Thompson dismissed them with a curt nod.
Lily was quick to make her way to the door, but Abigail was rooted to the spot, her heart heavy with worry. Eventually, she followed Lily out into the soft afternoon light.
Outside, Lily turned to Abigail, her eyes serious. "I need to tell you something. I should have said this earlier."
Abigail, anticipating the worst, simply met Lily's gaze, encouraging her to continue.
"The other day, Zachary mentioned going up to the sanctuary, where the lighthouse and cove are. I thought he was joking. But now..." Lily trailed off.
Abigail stared at her in disbelief. "What do you mean?"
"He said he was thinking of taking a boating flashlight up there, maybe to play a prank. He thought it might be fun and give us an adventure. But I thought it was just a silly idea," Lily explained, her voice falling to a soft whisper.
Abigail was quick to voice her fears. "He could be up there now, hurt or lost."
"Or just camping. He enjoys the outdoors more than sailing. I once joked about ghosts being there, and he just laughed," Lily added, her words barely audible.
"We need to get up there before sunset!" Abigail declared, her voice filled with determination.
"We need to what?!" Lily exclaimed in shock.
"Get your stuff. I'll meet you at your place as soon as I can," Abigail replied, her resolve hardening.
"But shouldn't we tell the Sheriff?!" Lily protested.
"Do you think he'll believe us now?" Abigail countered.
"But, what if something happens?!" Lily's voice wavered with increasing tension.
Abigail's reply was confident as she took off, “Like what? Attacked by a murrelet?"
After packing up a small blue daypack, Amelia stood at the front of Lily’s flat where she was waiting. “I think this is a really bad idea” Lily said.
“Nothing is going to happen.” Abigail said, picking up Lily’s small pack, putting it into the back of her compact car.
Lily stayed quiet. Too quiet, which triggered Abigail’s senses knowing something was up.
Finally, Lily opened her mouth, “I…”
“You what?” Amelia said.
“I talked to Zachary’s dad. Just now.” She said.
“Isn’t he still on vacation?”
“He said he talked to the sheriff, and he wasn’t very worried. Reminded me that Zachary loves the great outdoors. Said there’s a hidden key to the house in the back, and we could use later if we were that worried and don’t hear from him.”
“Great. Now no one will look but us.” Abigail said.
“Maybe we should go to the house now, get the key.” Said Lily nervously.
“We’re going to find the lighthouse” Abigail directly responded.
Abigail finished meticulously packing a small, navy blue daypack with essentials. The nylon fabric rustled with each item she placed inside: a flashlight, a water bottle, a first aid kit. Her fingers traced over the zippers, ensuring each was securely fastened. After securing the final strap, she found herself standing at the threshold of Lily's modest flat in the cooling afternoon air.
"This is a really bad idea," Lily muttered, her tone hesitant, her body bathed in the soft light filtering from the open doorway.
"Nothing's going to happen," Abigail replied, her voice brimming with unwavering certainty. She hefted Lily's light backpack, its contents shifting with the movement, and stowed it into the back seat of her compact car. The metallic clunk of it closing, echoed faintly in the quiet street.
A thick silence enveloped Lily, her normally chatty demeanor replaced by a quiet unease. This unsettling stillness prickled at Abigail's instincts, igniting a sense of concern.
"I..." Lily began, her voice a mere whisper in the evening breeze.
"You what?" Abigail prodded, her gaze fixed intently on her friend.
"I just talked to Zachary's dad," she confessed.
"Isn't he still on vacation?" Abigail queried, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion.
"He mentioned that he had a chat with the sheriff, and said he didn't seem overly concerned. He reminded me of Zachary's love for the great outdoors, and mentioned a hidden key to his house at the back. He said we could use it later if we're truly worried and still haven't heard from him," Lily relayed, her voice trembling slightly.
"Great. So now, we're the only ones looking," Abigail remarked, a trace of sarcasm tinting her words.
"Maybe we should head to his house now, get the key," Lily suggested, her voice wavering with apprehension.
"We're going to find the lighthouse," Abigail declared resolutely, her gaze as unwavering as her determination. The setting sun cast a warm hue on her determined profile, adding an ethereal glow to the unfolding mystery. “Get in.”
"Abigail, I've heard rumors of your plans," the sheriff said in a gruff voice. "That wildlife area is off-limits for a reason. It's dangerous, and there's nothing to see there."
Abigail stood her ground, determined to pursue her investigation. "Sheriff Thompson, I believe there is something more to that restricted area, something mysterious and important. I won't rest until I find out the truth."
The sheriff sighed, realizing Amelia's determination couldn't be swayed. "Fine, I can't stop you, but remember, I warned you. If you get into any trouble, don't come crying to me."
With the sheriff's words lingering in their minds, Amelia and Lily set off towards the restricted wildlife area, ignoring the skeptics and whispers of disbelief.
Having drive up the old jeep road nearly getting stuck a couple of times, Abigail pulled her trusty car over to the side where the road widened. In the distance they could see a locked gait.
Hopping out of the car with some energy, Abigail felt the excitement of the air, and was eager to share it with the nervous Lily. “Come on!”
After reaching into the back seat of the car and grabbing both her, and Lily’s packs, she closed the door as quick as Lily could get out. “Don’t be such a worry wart!” She playfully said to Lily.
“What if something happens?” Lily asked.
“Like what? We get a fine like old man McCloud for entering the wildlife sanctuary?” Abigail said.
“No. Like whatever happened to Zachary.” Lily said with trepidation.
“Lily!” Abigail said pointedly. “Repeat after me. There’s no such thing as ghosts!”
Lily can’t muster words beyond a sheepish, “I guess.”
“Lily, there are probably monsters under your bed as well!” Abigail joked, in an attempt to get her friend to lighten up.
“Maybe there are. There are spiders under there. I know that. I’ve seen one.” Lily said, finding a way to see the strangest possible scary outcome in life.
“Let’s get going, before it gets dark!” Abigail said, handing Lily her pack and setting off for the gate.
Negotiating the rugged terrain of the old jeep road, Abigail skillfully maneuvered her trusty vehicle, barely avoiding being ensnared by the treacherous mud pits a couple of times. She eased the car into a wider section of the road, her gaze landing on a weather-worn gate, a sentinel barring their way in the distance.
Bouncing out of the car, buoyed by adrenaline, Abigail soaked in the pulsating excitement the adventure-laden atmosphere offered. "Come on!" she beckoned with a spark in her eyes, her enthusiasm painting a stark contrast to Lily's obvious anxiety.
As agile as a cat, she stretched over the back seat to retrieve the packs, her movement setting off a symphony of rustling nylon and jingling car keys. Before Lily had fully extricated herself from the vehicle, Abigail had already closed the door, a mischievous smile dancing on her lips. "Don't be such a worry wart!" she tossed playfully over her shoulder at Lily.
"But what if something happens?" Lily ventured, her voice tinged with apprehension.
"Like what?" Abigail countered, "Getting a fine like old man McCloud for trespassing the wildlife sanctuary?"
"No. Like whatever happened to Zachary," Lily's voice dwindled to a murmur, heavy with dread.
"Lily!" Abigail's voice was firm, as she turned to face her friend, "Repeat after me. There’s no such thing as ghosts!"
Lily could only manage a meek, "I guess."
Grinning widely, Abigail teased, "And I bet there are monsters under your bed as well!" She alluded to a common childhood fear, hoping to lighten the atmosphere.
"Maybe there are. I know there are spiders under there. I've seen one," Lily retorted, stubbornly clinging to her ability to conjure the most bizarrely frightening scenarios.
"Let's get going before it gets too late," Abigail urged, thrusting Lily's pack into her hands before setting off towards the imposing gate, her stride confident under the fading dusk light.
Moving to the gate Abigail and Lily encountered a very rusted old sign signaling that the area was a wildlife sanctuary, and entering it could result in a $500 fine. “Probably five-thousand dollars now.” Lily skeptically said.
“We’ll be super careful.” Abigail intoned with a level of seriousness and respect for where they were actually going she hadn’t shown before. “Super careful, every step.”
After bending under the gate, the duo headed into the dirt and moss covered ground between coastal pine trees towering above them in the very uneven terrain. “I think it’s less than a mile to any cliff edge, so it shouldn’t take that long.” Abigail said.
“But it’s a couple miles wide, in and out.” Lily said.
Abigail took a minute to calm her friend down. Look, it should be really hard to get truly lost in here. The ocean is that way.” She said, pointing one direction. “And this open field, and the car, and road are this direction.” She said, pointing the other. “North. South” she said pointing the other ways. Unzipping a waist pocket on her pack, she pulled out a small compass. “Here.” She said, handing it to Lily. “When it gets close to sunset, we’ll just head back away from the ocean. Easy peasy.”
Lily seemed a little more calm, but still focused by nature on anything negative. “What if it gets dark?”
“I brought both a headlamp, and a flashlight. We shouldn’t get out that late.”
With Lily barely satisfied, Abigail added, “remember, no such thing as ghosts!”
“Okay.” Lily sheepishly responded.
Nearing the gate, Abigail and Lily found themselves face to face with an old sign, its rusty skin bearing the announcement that the area was a wildlife sanctuary. The warning of a potential $500 fine for trespassing was barely legible under the scars of time and weather. "Probably five-thousand dollars now," Lily speculated, her voice shrouded in skepticism.
A solemn note entered Abigail's voice, replacing her earlier frivolity, as she reassured Lily, "We’ll be super careful." For the first time, she unveiled a genuine reverence for the protected environment they were embarking on. "Super careful, every step."
Bending their bodies to slip under the low gate, the pair delved into the sanctuary. Their boots pressed into the loamy mixture of dirt and moss underfoot, the coastal pines rising like ancient sentinels around them on the undulating ground. "I think it’s less than a mile to any cliff edge, so it shouldn’t take that long," Abigail opined, her voice steady against the orchestra of nature around them.
"But it’s a couple miles wide, in and out," Lily pointed out, her words laced with a hint of unease.
Abigail paused, taking a moment to dispel her friend's fears. "Look, it should be really hard to get truly lost in here. The ocean is that way," she instructed, extending her hand in one direction, the other one pointing back towards the open field, their vehicle, and the road they had travelled. "North. South," she added, her arms indicating the remaining cardinal directions. Unzipping a small pocket adorning her waist pack, she retrieved a compact compass. "Here," she offered, placing the instrument in Lily's hand. "When it gets close to sunset, we’ll just head back away from the ocean. Easy peasy."
Lily's taut features relaxed a notch, although her predisposition to worry still painted a shadow across her face. "What if it gets dark?" she questioned.
"I brought both a headlamp and a flashlight. We shouldn’t get out that late," Abigail reassured, her confidence unflagging. Seeing Lily's reluctant acquiescence, Abigail couldn't resist a playful reminder, "Remember, no such thing as ghosts!"
"Okay," Lily responded, her voice barely more than a whisper in the encompassing wilderness.
The car's engine hummed quietly, the only audible sound in the otherwise silent, remote wilderness of Northern Maine. The dense, foreboding woodland loomed on either side of the gravel road, its brooding presence reflected in the shadows of the vehicle's interior. In the driver's seat was Jackie, her gothic features stark against the dimness. Her eyes, dark and focused, never strayed from the road, even as the car shuddered occasionally over the uneven terrain.
In the passenger's seat, Olivia chewed her nails, her mousey features crumpled in worry. The flickering lights from the dashboard cast an uneasy glow on her face, highlighting the deep creases on her forehead.
I, Alicia, sat in the back seat, quiet and observant. My gaze was firmly locked on the passing scenery, the labyrinth of trees that kept our destination hidden. The thrill of our journey was just starting to wane, replaced by the growing realization of our macabre intent. We were traveling to a site where a serial killer had once discarded a life, and the darkness of that thought was starting to cast a pall over my spirits.
The car trundled on, the crunching gravel beneath its wheels sending up a chorus of echoes. My heart pounded in my chest, a staccato rhythm against the oppressive silence. The reality of what we were about to do – the weight of it – pressed down on me, squeezing my chest, gripping my heart. My fingers fiddled with the hem of my blouse, a seemingly mundane act of anxiety that brought me slight relief.
"Are we there yet?" Olivia's voice piped up, barely audible over the droning engine. Her face was pale, illuminated by the fleeting light from the dashboard.
"Soon," Jackie replied, her voice as cool and composed as ever.
We lapsed back into silence, the echo of Jackie's one-word answer lingering in the air. The uncertainty of what we might find there, at that horrifying site, rested between us like a fourth passenger, uninvited and imposing. The car rolled onward, pulling us deeper into the heart of Maine's shadowy backwoods, and closer to the ghost of a grisly past.
Our SUV, small but tenacious, devoured the distance beneath us, its tires crunching on gravel and patches of grit. We whizzed past a weather-beaten sign, its faded letters spelling out 'Allagash State Forest,' with the number '18' accompanying it, pockmarked with bullet holes – the silent testament of a mischievous past.
The bumps, the jolts, the sensation of my body bouncing in sync with the vehicle's unsteady rhythm; it was all becoming unbearable. My heart fluttered with a nagging dread, the thought of our car wrapping around some ancient tree trunk in this remote wilderness, our bodies undiscovered until seasons had changed. I swallowed down the lump of fear in my throat and voiced my concern. "Can you at least slow down a little?"
Jackie remained unfazed, her dark eyes unblinking as they scanned the road ahead. "I explained it to you. At this speed, I give the road my full concentration. Slower, I'm apt to be distracted."
My gaze shifted to the back seat, catching Olivia's figure huddled against the upholstery. She offered a shrug in response, her face barely visible in the dim, flickering dashboard light. The resigned acceptance in her demeanor chilled me.
In a futile attempt to comprehend Jackie's unwavering determination, I blurted out, "How come you even know where this is?" It was a valid question considering the profound isolation of our surroundings.
"How come you don't?" Jackie shot back curtly.
My eyes once again sought Olivia, her presence a comforting constant amidst the chaos. Her explanation was simple, and it caught me off guard. "She listens to police scanners all night."
I could only arch my eyebrows in mild surprise, trying to grasp the peculiarities of Jackie's nocturnal habits between the persistent jolts that rocked my body.
"I filter it in through the background," Jackie added nonchalantly, her voice level. "Like ambient music."
Hopelessly, I turned to Olivia, yearning for a sane response, a word of consolation. But the comfort was short-lived as another bump in the road sent me crashing back into my seat.
Ahead of us, the forest thinned, giving way to an opening. It wasn't so much a designated parking space as it was simply... wider. A brief reprieve from the claustrophobic sea of trees that had accompanied us thus far.
Rounding a sharp bend, Jackie steered the SUV towards the clearing, the tires skidding on the loose gravel. With an adroit maneuver, the car jerked to a stop, narrowly missing the berm. Its nose rested against the elevated edge, a hair's breadth away from collision. The engine's hum receded, surrendering to the eerie silence of the forest, leaving us in the heart of the Northern Maine backwoods, far away from the comfort of familiarity.
The engine's hum dwindled into silence as Jackie cut the power, and the car fell quiet. She was now completely focused on her phone's GPS, mounted on the dash. "This is it," she declared.
Fumbling to retrieve my own phone, my eyes fell upon the "no service" icon glaring ominously from the top corner of the screen. A sobering reminder of our isolation. "And you're sure?" I asked, my voice carrying a note of skepticism.
Jackie's response was wordless. With a swift movement, she opened the door and exited the SUV, her figure stark against the forested backdrop.
"She downloaded the map to her phone, she's sure," Olivia piped up, filling the void left by Jackie's silence.
I tried to force a chuckle, inject some humor into the situation. We made it in one piece at least, I mused, clinging to this small consolation as the stress of our self-assigned task gnawed at my insides.
Outside the car, Jackie stood tall, her gaze scanning the surrounding forest. A semblance of calm washed over her features, and for the first time, I noticed a slight smile playing on her lips. Was it the tranquillity of nature that brought her serenity, or was it the macabre allure of our mission that had her intrigued?
Emerging from the car, Olivia and I trailed behind Jackie who had moved to the back of the vehicle. She heaved open the hatch and retrieved a small daypack. Gathering around her, our eyes met for the first time that day - an exchange of unspoken words and apprehensions. Jackie seemed content, which did little to allay my own disquiet.
"Look at it like a nice day hike," she suggested nonchalantly.
"In the middle of the middle of nowhere," I retorted, gripping my pack and water bottle.
Ever the realist, Olivia chimed in, "At least the road was clear."
"Of debris, cars, life," I added, the stark reality of our surroundings growing ever more apparent.
With an air of assertiveness, Jackie moved towards an opening in the woods, the outline of an unmarked trail becoming evident. "Let's go," she urged.
I took a moment, my eyes scanning our surroundings, noting the sun's position through the high overcast, ensuring I had a sense of our location. As I gave my pack a final once-over, Jackie interrupted my thoughts, "It’s not crazy far, and I have extra water, and some other things. Just close it."
For the first time, Olivia too seemed hesitant. She stood idle, her gaze shifting between us.
"Olivia?" Jackie called.
"Ok," came the quiet reply.
With a definitive click of the remote lock, Olivia shut the hatch. As the three of us ventured into the depths of the forest, the foreboding shadows seemed to swallow us whole, our journey into the unknown well and truly underway.
As we ventured deeper into the forest, Jackie set the pace, her strides confident, determined. Olivia and I followed suit, perpetually a few steps behind, our footfalls muffled by the soft, mossy carpet underfoot.
Amidst the chorus of rustling leaves and the occasional twittering of hidden woodland birds, a thought that I should've contemplated hours ago suddenly jolted me. Urgency layered my voice as I called out to Jackie, "You did let someone know where we are going, right?"
With a casualness that was almost disconcerting, Jackie threw over her shoulder, "What for?"
Her nonchalance brought me to an abrupt halt, my boots skidding slightly on the underbrush. It was only then that Jackie turned to face me, her expression unreadable. "Of course I did," she responded flatly, her gaze locked onto mine.
Her cavalier attitude was beginning to irk me, and it didn’t help when she added, “I told Tommy Kramer.”
Tommy Kramer? I could barely suppress the incredulous tone in my voice. That guy was known for his absenteeism more than anything else. "Oh great. Mr. Reliability barely comes to class," I retorted.
Yet, Jackie seemed satisfied with her choice. “He likes me, so it makes sense.”
“Based on that?” I shot back, the forest seeming to absorb my skepticism.
“He'll be thinking about me, waiting for me to get back to him at some point,” Jackie insisted, her voice unfaltering amidst the hush of the woods.
"'At some point'. Great." The words dripped with cynicism, the only response I could muster.
Jackie’s calm voice cut through the cool forest air once again, “What? Didn't you tell someone?”
“You didn't tell us where we were going! ‘The woods’, you said. We’re like 3 hours from Old Town."
In response, Jackie just shrugged, an act that sent a ripple of irritation through me. The silence of the forest seemed to amplify my disquiet as we continued our trek, each step drawing us deeper into the enigmatic embrace of the woods.
The woodland trail stretched on, a seemingly unending path through dense undergrowth, the deceptive promise of a short hike Jackie had mentioned was fading. Biting down on my lower lip, I admitted to myself I should have anticipated this.
The barely discernible trail snaked its way through the forest, its ambiguity confounding me. How hunters, hikers, and even the alleged killer could traverse this hidden track was beyond comprehension.
As I trudged along, my gaze kept straying upwards, the sun warming my back, casting long shadows to my right. A compass would have been a sensible addition to my gear, as would have many other things.
Our trek came to a halt when a grand oak's fallen trunk, its years as a silent sentinel in the forest evident in its gnarled bark, offered us respite.
Exhaustion was setting in, prompting a much-needed pause. As much as our weary bodies longed for rest, our parched throats demanded water.
Sunlight, splayed through the leafy canopy above, splashed onto my face, its warmth soothing against my tired skin. The leaves rustled with an occasional gust, their whispers just a gentle brush against my senses.
Despite the surrounding tranquillity, a strange tension thrummed in the silence between us. It was Jackie who finally cut through it. "Cheer up, Alicia. Just a normal day hike, remember?"
“A normal day hike, to a crime scene," I retorted, my irritation waning under the fatigue of the hike and the eerie calm that the woods offered.
“You're studying criminal justice, right? This is a perfect angle to gain new knowledge and expertise,” she reasoned.
“Perfect angle?” I echoed her words, my tone incredulous. "I'm pre-law. The idea is to be an attorney, not a criminalist.”
“But you are taking a criminal justice course.”
I couldn't deny it. It was, in fact, how we'd met—through shared classes.
Fiddling with her pack's stubborn zipper, Jackie seemed oblivious to my mounting skepticism. Pushing my cynicism aside, I ventured a genuine question. "Seriously, what angle of knowledge is here for you? What's the psychology of it? We're not going to see anything other than what, a dirt hole?"
Unresponsive, Jackie was still engaged in her battle with the zipper.
“She's here to feel the energy,” Olivia interjected in her serene manner.
Though I tried to digest that concept, my cynical side resurfaced. “Oh, the energy? Very scientific,” I mumbled, more to myself than them.
Olivia merely shrugged in response, offering no further clarification.
Finally triumphant over the zipper, Jackie rose to her feet and began to move again. As if called by an unseen force, we were drawn back into the labyrinth of the woods.
As the minutes transformed into a seemingly timeless murmur of rustling leaves and our synchronized footsteps, a sense of rhythm wrapped around us. This newfound tranquility was disrupted when Jackie came to a halt once again.
Her gaze scanned the terrain as if deciphering a cryptic code, her eyes subtly tracing an almost imperceptible trail to our right. She withdrew her phone, the digital map displayed on its screen under scrutiny.
An unvoiced concern, steadily gnawing at the corners of my mind, finally escaped my lips, "You sure this is... safe?"
While Jackie remained engrossed in her task, it was Olivia who retorted. "Killers don't usually come back to crime scenes looking for new prey."
"Prey?" The term pricked at my nerves, prompting my inquiry.
"Victims," Olivia clarified, her clarification an apparent condescension that I chose to ignore.
Once Jackie had returned her phone to its shelter, she fixed her gaze into the dense veil of trees. Her silence stretched, the enigmatic woods mirrored in her eyes. I couldn't hold back the curiosity her silence evoked.
"Jackie?" I ventured.
"It's this way," she declared, her tone brimming with conviction as she ventured onto the faint trail to our right.
We'd barely managed to adjust our route when Jackie deemed it necessary to expand on Olivia's earlier clarification. "Son of Sam used to come back to his crimes hours later and watch the police work. Think about that, the killer, right there, police didn’t know, no one knew. You could have been standing right next to him."
"Great," my grumbled response echoed my unease in the quiet woods.
Undeterred by my response, Jackie pressed on with her morbid trivia. "The Green River Killer, he used to come back to his crime scenes weeks, months after he tossed his victims bodies in the forest, and masturbate on their remains."
"Great. Thanks for the visual," I muttered, my stomach churning at the grotesque image her words conjured.
Olivia quipped in her dry humor, "Little factoid they left out of the Wikipedia entry," She was attempting to lighten the eerie atmosphere, but this chilling knowledge had already taken root, casting a darker shade on our grim little expedition.
Minutes faded into the continuous rustle of leaves underfoot as we crossed a babbling stream, its water running over mossy stones, marking a ripple in the monotony of our path. The brief warmth of sunlight, once caressing my neck, had been stolen by the now-grey canvas of the sky, leaving us in the growing chill of the overcast day.
A question, seeking refuge in conversation, found its way out, "So, did they call this a serial killer?" My voice broke the solemn quietude, yet directed at no one in particular.
"Not yet," Olivia's reply surfaced from the silence.
"From what I can gather, though, it’s very similar to the two girls killed last month in and around Bangor, and the one attacked in March," Jackie shared, her voice steady.
"One actually survived?" I echoed in disbelief, unaware of this grim piece of information.
"With a partly slit throat and multiple defensive stab wounds," Olivia clarified, deepening the pit in my stomach.
"Yeesh" was the sole response I managed to muster, my mind reeling with the gruesome imagery.
Unfazed, Jackie pressed on, "She said, or wrote I guess, that she heard the guy whistling like a minute before he attacked her." The casualness of her voice, reporting a horror story, sent a shiver coursing through my spine. I regretted asking. Regretted sparking this conversation.
Ignoring my discomfort, Jackie continued, "This girl, here, the police said there were ligature marks on her wrists, but not on her body. They think he tied her up to drive her here, then untied her..." Unwanted images of a fear-stricken girl being pursued on this very trail, in the dead of the night, started to invade my mind. The whispers of the forest seemed to echo her screams.
"...And forced her to walk here, likely at knifepoint, as there were teeny, tiny incisions in her back," Jackie finished, oblivious to my rising horror.
Determined to suppress these haunting images, I tried to focus on the trail when Jackie decided to nudge my curiosity again, "Keep looking down, there's a chance you'll see something..." I obeyed, only to realize my mistake as her voice carried more dread into my thoughts, "Maybe the police missed something, even a spot of blood."
The image of bloodied bare feet being forced to trudge along this trail momentarily replaced the sight of my own. Jackie's casual conjecture sparked an incredulous response, "You really think they'd miss something? Weren't there dozens of cops here?"
In response to my question, Olivia simply offered, "more".
Seemingly unaffected by my distress, Jackie resumed her narration, "When police caught the Yorkshire Ripper he was with a prostitute he intended to kill. But he was able to drop off a hammer and a hacksaw they didn't see. It wasn't until an older beat cop decided to go back to where they first saw him and looked around did they find the weapons."
I wished for silence to regain its reign over our group. I couldn't bear any more of these gruesome anecdotes, regardless of their age. I resolved to keep my disquietude to myself.
Our laborious trek brought us over a small rise, at the crest of which Jackie came to an abrupt halt, causing me to almost collide into her.
"What?" Olivia queried, breaking my silence.
Slowly, Jackie turned towards us, a shroud of intense concentration melting into a faint glimmer of satisfaction on her face. "We're here.”
The path led us to a scene swathed in silent whispers of a grim past. Scattered strands of police tape, tarnished by time, swayed rhythmically in the breeze, demarcating an eerily cleared patch of land approximately 15 feet wide. Jackie, with her persistently malfunctioning zipper, carefully lowered her backpack onto the disturbed ground, its instability causing mild annoyance as it refused to stay upright.
I was at a loss, struggling to digest the sight before us. "I thought they'd pull all this away." The words escaped me, piercing the ominous silence.
"Shhhhh." Jackie rebuked, her concentration palpable. It mirrored the level of intensity she had exhibited behind the wheel, drawing my gaze to her in a strange fascination. Her gaze meticulously swept over the scene, each detail examined with deliberate intensity.
Carefully navigating the remnants of police tape, Jackie stepped aside and knelt down for a closer inspection. She gingerly picked up a pinch of soil, letting it filter through her fingers as if attempting to decipher a story inscribed in the grains. The focus in her eyes mirrored her resolve, painting vivid pictures in my mind of a petrified girl in the throes of terror, a knife looming ominously in her periphery.
Following a round of inspection, Jackie got back on her feet, circling the site while envisioning the incident in her unique perspective. Though this study seemed just another investigation for Jackie, the heavy atmosphere filled me with increasing discomfort, and it took all my willpower to stifle the rising urge to flee. Turning to Olivia, my whisper barely masked my anxiety, “I don't like this.”
Olivia, who had been staring blankly towards the ground while anxiously gnawing at her already worn-out nails, managed a meek response, “I know.” It was the first hint that she was equally perturbed by the situation.
"I can hear you." Jackie's calm voice reassured us. "Nothing's going to happen."
Seeking to move past the grim reality of the scene, I voiced my disbelief, “We're not going to find anything here. They thoroughly cleaned it up.”
Olivia's soft reply still managed to raise goosebumps, “I don't think she's really looking for anything….physical."
Reaching a massive tree, Jackie paused and peered down at its roots before lifting her gaze towards its towering crown. "Right here," she murmured, her declaration causing a chill to ripple down my spine.
"He had already cut her over thirty times, mostly on the hands, arms, and the small slices on her back. She must have been exhausted, both physically and emotionally, knowing her life was about to end." Jackie's calm narration brought horrifying images to mind, which I futilely attempted to dispel.
Jackie now seemed to be recreating the final moments, taking the position of both the victim and the killer. Each descriptive detail painted ghastly images in my mind. The scene became unbearable, my stomach knotting in terror, while I desperately tried to suppress my growing nausea.
After recreating the incident, Jackie's stern exterior faltered momentarily, revealing a glimmer of humanity beneath her methodical demeanor. Glancing at Olivia, I found her equally disconcerted.
"Jackie, come on," I said, mustering some strength. I’d had enough.
"A girl died here," I stated flatly. I closed my eyes, visualizing the fallen girl, her bloodied face and hair blending into the soil. Upon opening them, I stepped back, inadvertently snapping a twig underfoot. The sharp crack disrupted the silent reverence of the scene, causing a bird to flit away in alarm, startling Olivia and me, but leaving Jackie undeterred.
"You guys aren't even looking for anything, inspecting the crime scene." Jackie's words struck me like a blow. This was a crime scene.
"We need to leave. There's nothing to inspect. This is just, just…” my words dwindling, until Olivia finished for me, "Creepy."
"All right. But the whole idea is to be scared a little. To feel it. You learn the most when you go to extremes," Jackie responded, unperturbed, as she backed out of the crime scene.
Overwhelmed by the experience, I declared, "I'm going back," and began to retreat. However, Jackie's calm voice halted me, "Don't hurry. We can go now." She took one last look at the scene, drinking in the details before leisurely collecting her daypack.
I walked away, with Olivia and Jackie catching up to me after a few moments.
The next few minutes were steeped in a silence as deep as the woods surrounding us. Each of us was enveloped in our thoughts, our footfalls a gentle percussion against the hushed backdrop of nature. We veered off the lesser trodden path, eventually rejoining the more familiar trail we initially traversed. I was content to lose myself in this contemplative silence, but Jackie sought to shatter it with her probing questions.
"You can't tell me you didn't feel anything there?" Jackie’s query hung in the air, demanding an answer.
"Like I was invading someone’s privacy," I retorted, matching her intensity.
"I’m not saying it has to be happy," Jackie persisted. "But that’s part of the psychology of crime. That's one way Douglas, Ressler, and some of the other behavioral experts understood killers."
My indifference was palpable, yet I chose to remain silent, an implicit rejection of her attempts to rationalize the horror we had just witnessed.
“Or do you mean you're frightened, being here?” Jackie probed further, her voice betraying no hint of emotion.
A defiant challenge bubbled up in response, "You're not? Even a little?"
But Jackie was unfazed, replying with practiced ease as if she had addressed this query countless times before. “That's part of it too. An extreme we'll learn from.”
I was at a loss for words, the gravity of her conviction leaving me speechless. A moment later, however, Olivia interjected with a somber plea, “I just want to get out of here.”
“Well, we are," Jackie responded matter-of-factly. "Don’t worry. The odds that something will happen to us, here, now, at this exact time, three of us…” She let the sentence taper off into silence, as though the sheer weight of statistics would reassure us.
Seeking to supplement Jackie's point, I ventured, “Killers like this don't really kill three people at once anyway, do they?”
“It’s happened,” Olivia interjected dryly.
“Unlikely, though,” Jackie clarified. “Ken Bianchi, the Hillside Strangler, or one of them, killed two women at once. Richard Speck killed six girls in a sorority house once. But it’s rare.”
I regretted ever broaching the subject.
Several minutes later, we reached a plateau in the winding trail, a brief respite from the sloping journey. We decided to pause here, amidst the sighing trees and the gentle rustling of woodland creatures. Jackie shrugged off her backpack, dropping it to the ground with a thud. As she did so, I noticed the partially open zipper.
“Crap,” Jackie muttered under her breath.
That stubborn zipper had been a bother since we'd left the car. I noticed, but chose not to address it.
“Jackie?” I voiced, my tone carrying an edge of sternness that prompted her to glance my way.
“Don't invite me the next time you want to do something like this,” I declared, blunt and devoid of emotion.
Jackie returned her gaze to her rebellious pack, frantically wrangling the zipper in a vain attempt to close it.
“And I don't want to stop again,” I said, pushing forth. “Let’s just get out of here.”
Jackie didn't look up, but responded with an unexpected softness, “I wasn't trying to freak you out.”
Yeah, right, I thought.
“But I think down the line you'll see value in this.”
Her optimism was misplaced. Tired and fed up, I struck out on my own, leaving them behind as I navigated back towards the car.
The sound of their hurried scrambling reached my ears. “Wait!” Jackie called, but I kept my steady pace.
“Jackie, hurry up!” Olivia chimed in.
“Let her go. She's not going to get anywhere,” Jackie countered.
I rounded a bend in the path, out of sight, but not out of earshot. The rustle of Jackie fussing with her pack echoed through the quiet woods. Then, an abrupt halt. A pregnant silence ensued.
Suddenly, Jackie's voice cut through the stillness, sharp and urgent, “Wait!!!”
I sighed internally, wearied by the constant setbacks. Enough is enough, I thought. Just keep moving.
The faintest murmur of Jackie's voice reached me, “I lost my keys back when we stopped.”
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This can't be happening.
“I don't care,” I found myself saying, watching Jackie frantically search her pack. I turned away, continuing my solitary march towards the car.
“Alicia! Wait!” Olivia's plea floated towards me.
I didn’t halt my stride.
“Alicia. I’m not joking,” Jackie added.
I barely registered their voices as I persevered, “It's less than a mile to the car, I'm going ahead.”
“Alicia, what if something happens?” Jackie’s question trailed behind me.
“Nothing will. The only energy I feel now is this is just...screwed up. Not scary.” I retorted, my frustration coloring my words.
“Olivia,” Jackie called out, presumably seeking her intervention.
As their voices receded into the distance, I heard Olivia agree to help Jackie find the keys. As they retraced our steps, I maintained my slow, steadfast march towards the car.
In the solitude of the woodland trail, the silence was resounding, almost oppressive. No rustling leaves, no wind to carry the song of the forest; only the rhythmic crunch of my footsteps on the leaf-littered path. Gone were the syncopated steps of my companions and their hushed whispers. It was a tranquility that felt eerily disconcerting. I was acutely aware of their absence, even though they were likely only a few hundred feet behind me.
My eyes kept sweeping the trail ahead, yearning for a break in the monotony. It was just the well-trodden path, flitting birds, and the occasional leaf spiraling from the canopy above. It was peculiar how profound the silence seemed as the late afternoon sunlight started to wane, casting long, creeping shadows. Fear didn't grip me, but a heightened awareness did. With every step forward, my companions receded further into the distance, while the sanctuary of the car drew nearer.
In my mind’s eye, I could picture them trailing behind me. Would Olivia muster the courage to tell Jackie how deeply unsettled I was? And would Jackie feel a hint of regret, despite her typically impassive demeanor? Would she apologize when we reunited at the car, or perhaps tomorrow at school?
My thoughts veered to the lost keys. As the day was gradually succumbing to twilight, the urgency of the situation heightened. If the keys were left behind at the crime scene, they'd likely reach there at dusk. I remember Jackie mentioning she had packed some other things. Had she thought of bringing a flashlight or headlamp? She could use her phone, but how much battery would she have left?
I toyed with the idea of turning back but dismissed it. The eeriness of the forest was too overpowering. The place, and the grim history it held, had started to gnaw at me. The images of the disturbed earth and the police tape, coupled with the dreadful scenarios I had imagined for the unfortunate girl, were indelible. It was thoroughly disquieting.
My heart pounded in my chest as I neared the trailhead, yearning for escape from this haunting silence. Why was it so deathly quiet? The woodland seemed to envelop me in its infinite expanse, magnifying the surreal experience.
After navigating through a small thicket, I found myself at a familiar stretch of the trail. The relief washed over me. I was close to escaping this dreadful place.
As I advanced, a brief glimpse of Jackie’s car between the branches rekindled my hope. With a sigh of relief, I glanced down to ensure my legs were steady beneath me.
Emerging from the curtain of trees, my relief turned into shock. Jackie's car was there, alright, but an old, dilapidated pickup truck with a canopy was parked right behind it, blocking us in with barely an inch to spare.
Who would park so irresponsibly? And who else could possibly be here, in this forsaken place, at this time?
A sense of dread washed over me as my senses heightened. I scanned my surroundings, every nerve on edge, scanning for any sign of movement. I contemplated shouting, but quickly dismissed it. There was no way my companions could hear me from this distance.
Retracing my steps, I contemplated making my way back to them when a sound pierced the suffocating silence. At first, it was faint, but then it became unmistakable, rooting me to the spot.
From the depths of the forest, close yet impossible to discern the direction: