Laura turned away from her girlfriends, Janis and Connie. They huddled under one of the elm trees lining the houses along the street. A cool breeze made the bright half moon play hide and seek with rapidly moving slate gray clouds. She sighed, pulling up her jacket collar so the breeze blew across as little of her as possible. Another string of curses from under the hood of Connie’s 2001 Buick indicated the two guys trying to find out why the car wouldn’t start were having no luck fixing the problem. The abandoned house fenced in near the aqueduct had been their destination. Stories abounded of ghosts and strange noises witnessed by other adventurous teens on Halloween nights past. Jerry Clark convinced the teens Halloween night at the aqueduct would be a thrill. Jerry sat in the driver’s seat, turning the key periodically when the cursing teen under the hood, Stan Brickwalter, told him to. Laura liked the two handsome football jocks. One of them always invented some weird escapade. Laura flipped open her cell-phone. Janis snatched it out of her hand.
“What the hell you think you’re doin’, girlfriend?” Janis held the phone away.
“Calling for help.” Laura tried unsuccessfully to get her phone back. Connie edged in front of Laura.
“Don’t screw this up for us, Laura,” Connie pleaded with her best friend. “Jerry and Stan will get it started.”
“Face it. Jerry and Stan couldn’t start a VCR.”
“Can too!” Stan moved over to the sidewalk. “In the case of the Buick, I’m afraid Laura’s right. I don’t see anything that…”
“Hey…” Jerry interrupted, “isn’t that Mike Rawlins coming down the street. I’d recognize his walk even in the dark, like he’s doin’ the ‘Robot’ all the time. He works at his Dad’s auto shop every night after school.
“If he knows so much about cars, why doesn’t he have one?” Stan asked.
“He’s not sixteen yet,” Jerry answered. “Mike’s a sophomore. He’s okay. My Dad gets his car fixed at his Dad’s shop. Oh… I see… you bunch don’t want a tenth grader showin’ us up, huh?”
“It’s embarrassing,” Janis muttered.
“If he can fix the damn car,” Connie cut in, “I don’t care if he’s a first grader.”
“Didn’t he get into trouble at the end of last year?” Laura watched the tall, lanky Rawlins walk toward them.
Rawlins began crossing the street before reaching the older teens.
“Hey, Mike!” Jerry called out, “c’mon over for a minute.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Mike paced reluctantly toward them. Laura remembered seeing the over six foot tall Rawlins in school before. He kept to himself and ate lunch off campus.
“Oh… hi, Jerry.” Mike shook hands with Jerry and then Stan. “Stan… is it?”
“Yeah, we have a problem,” Stan explained. “We made a mistake tonight. We stopped the car to pick up Janice. Now it won’t start.”
“Asshole.” Janice slapped the back of Stan’s head.
“Has the car been starting normally up until now?” Mike recognized the red headed Laura. He didn’t know her name. She looked away from him when they passed each other in the hall. To Mike, she was stunning.
“I drive it everyday to school and have had zero problems,” Connie told him.
Mike sat in the driver’s seat. He turned the key to the start position. Nothing happened except all the dash lights came on. Mike turned off the ignition, looked at his watch, and then turned the ignition back on and left the seat to rejoin the teens on the sidewalk.
“It’s the security system. After…”
“I don’t have a security system,” Connie interrupted.
Mike waved Connie into a position where she could see the dash. “See the blinking red word that says security?”
“Oh… I see it.”
Mike went around to the car engine compartment. He twisted each battery cable. The negative cable moved.
“Your negative battery cable end is loose. A momentary power loss may have caused the body control computer to lose the key code. If we leave the ignition on for ten minutes and the blinking light goes out it will mean the sensor inside the ignition cylinder housing sent the relearned key code to the computer. The car will start then. Can I pop the trunk open and check for tools?”
Connie nodded. “Sure, my Dad has a small toolbox in there.”
Mike worked the trunk release and went around to the trunk. He returned a few minutes later with a small pair of channel lock pliers. Mike tightened the negative terminal end and put away the pliers. He shut the trunk while looking at his watch.
“It’ll be a few more minute.”
“I’m Connie Emmerich. That’s Janis Jefferson and Laura Fahrenbach. I guess you already know Jerry and Stan. Jerry told us you’re a sophomore.”
“Yeah,” Mike admitted with a shrug.
“Thanks for helping us,” Laura spoke for the first time.
“Better hold that thought until we see if I did help.” Mike smiled at Laura. He glanced down at the dash. The security light was out. Mike sat in the driver’s seat again, motioning Connie over. “After the ten minutes, turn the key to start momentarily and then turn it back off.”
Mike turned the key to start and momentarily cranked the engine, but shut the key off immediately.
“It cranked!” Connie said excitedly.
“Wait a second and then start the engine.” Mike turned the key and the Buick engine cranked and started. “If it happens again Connie you may need to get the ignition switch and cylinder replaced. Those key code sensors go bad on these models.”
“Outstanding!” Jerry clapped Mike on the shoulder as the sophomore closed the hood. “Let’s go do the spooky old woods.”
Mike grinned. “What spooky old woods?”
“You know… the house over by the aqueduct.”
Mike’s face lost all levity. “Man… Jerry… you guys don’t want to fool around down there. It’s dangerous.”
Stan laughed derisively. “Oh come on. Mike the Mech is a big girl.”
“Mike got the car started,” Connie retorted. “What’d you do?”
“You’re not scared, are you?” Janis peered up at Mike’s grim face with a big smile.
“Yeah, I am,” Mike admitted. He angled around the group in the direction he had been going. “See you all in school.”
“Ol’ Mike ain’t having any,” Jerry commented. “Let’s get going.”
“What if the Buick won’t start when we get down there?” Laura glanced away from Mike’s retreating figure for the first time. “We have to drive at least two miles in on that dirt access road and then walk the rest of the way. I don’t know about you bunch but I’m not too crazy about getting stuck there.”
“Laura’s right,” Connie said, causing Jerry and Stan to groan in anticipation of what Connie would say next. “My Buick ain’t goin’ anywhere unless you figure out some way to entice Mike the Mech to come along.”
“Just wait ten minutes like Mike did and start the car,” Stan directed. “This gig wouldn’t be fun if there wasn’t a little danger.”
“Mike goes or no one goes.” Connie crossed her arms, shunning Stan and Jerry.
Laura smiled. She assumed the same position as Connie. Janis joined them, unwilling to be on the same side as Stan and Jerry against Laura and Connie.
“Okay… okay…” Jerry relented. “Get this boat movin’. I’ll see if I can talk Mike down off the cliff.”
A few minutes later, Connie slowed the Buick next to Mike. Jerry jumped out. He hurried over to put an arm around Mike’s shoulders.
“We need you Mike. Come with us. I won’t let any bogeymen hurt you.”
“You promise?” Mike turned, his eyes bright with false excitement, eliciting giggles from the three girls.
“Cross my heart and hope to die.” Jerry went through the motions of crossing his heart, going along with the gag.
“No.” Mike walked away.
“Let the chicken-shit go,” Stan jeered.
Stan’s taunt had no effect on Mike. Jerry held up his hand in a calming manner to his friends.
“We’ll make you an honorary junior, Mike,” Jerry called out. “You hang with us from now on.”
This stopped Mike. He weighed what he had witnessed as a twelve year old at the abandoned house next to being near Laura in school. Shit, I am out of my mind, he thought. Mike turned around. Jerry caught up to him and shook his hand while Connie drove alongside.
“There’s one condition. We go buy fifteen pounds of salt and drive by Saint Joseph’s church. It’s on the way. I’ll pick up some holy water there. You had some empty water bottles in the trunk, Connie. I’ll need them.”
“You’re joking, right?” Stan leaned out the rear window with a look of disbelief.
“That’s the condition. Take it or leave it. You’ve all seen Supernatural. The salt and holy water work. We’ll need them if we’re going to the aqueduct.”
“You’re scaring me.” Connie looked over at Janice next to her.
“Good,” Mike said. “What’ll it be?”
Jerry shrugged. “Sounds okay to me. Stan?”
“I’m good if it makes bolt-head comfortable. It adds a little chill.”
“Laura, you’ll have to sit on someone’s lap,” Connie directed.
“Climb aboard.” Stan patted his knee.
“I’ll sit on Mike’s lap.”
Her three friends shared a laugh at Stan’s expense.
The teens rode in silence to the small supermarket two streets over. The feel of Laura on his lap had Mike doing the alphabet and multiplication tables. He tried baseball averages, the seven dwarfs’ names, and finally praying, all to no avail. Laura noticed, smiled, and shifted intentionally on Mike’s lap. Mike’s left hand gripped his knee hard enough to pop the joint. His right clutched the Buick arm rest in a death grip. He grinned sheepishly, his face the color of paint on the proverbial red barn.
“Don’t be,” Laura whispered.
Connie parked in front of Big Sky Supermarket.
“I’ll get the salt,” Jerry volunteered, exiting the Buick. “Mike gets the holy water.”
“You’ve been to the aqueduct, haven’t you?” Laura asked Mike.
“I went there with my cousin. I was twelve. We stayed until dusk. We ran to our bikes and pedaled full bore home.”
“What’d you see?” Connie shivered at Mike’s tone.
“Things flew at us in the dark. Loose stuff on the floor whirled into the walls. We didn’t stay to see anything else.”
Stan laughed. “I know guys who’ve went there. They didn’t see anything.”
“Laura asked me what I saw. Hey, play it for laughs. If nothing happens, great. If I wasn’t hallucinating the salt and holy water gives us a chance.”
“You’re not scaring me out of this.” Janice shifted in her seat to peer around Laura. “We’re going, and that’s it.”
Jerry returned with the bag full of salt. “On to
“Mike’s been telling us all about the monsters,” Stan said.
“Let’s get to it. I’m pumped,” Jerry replied.
“Holy crap!” Connie parked where the dirt access road ended at a broken down chain link fence. “It’s pitch dark out here. Mike was right. This is nuts.”
“How… how far to the house?” Janice asked, unable to hide the tremor in her voice.
“About fifty yards,” Mike answered. “I know you all have flashlights. It would be better to leave them off. The moonlight will be enough to see by when our eyes get used to the dark. The path to the house is bare of any brush. With the flashlights on our night vision will be only a couple feet.”
“That makes sense,” Jerry agreed. “It doesn’t seem as dark since Connie turned off her headlights. Look, you can see the path real plain, even from inside the car. Let’s go.”
“Are your legs asleep yet,” Laura whispered to Mike as the others exited the Buick.
“Not hardly,” Mike whispered in reply. “I’m just glad it’s dark.”
Laura giggled. She squirmed across Mike’s lap unnecessarily before reaching over and opening their door. She slid out slowly, enjoying Mike’s discomfiture. Jerry handed Mike the doubled up plastic grocery bag containing salt bags and bottles of holy water Mike had been able to get inside the church rectory.
“These are your idea. You get to pack them.”
Mike accepted the bag without protest. “We should wait a couple minutes while our eyes adjust.”
“I’ll lead,” Stan began moving toward the path. “Follow me. I can see the path pretty well. Where the hell are all the leaves from these trees all around?”
“The wind blows across here at a steady clip.” Laura shivered, arms clutched tightly around her chest for warmth.
“What’s the hurry?” Connie asked. She followed anyway. “It’s only 9:30.”
The group proceeded down the path with Stan picking his way carefully in the lead. Mike and Laura trailed behind the others. Prompted by a steady wind, the elm trees growing sparsely throughout the area waved their barren branches with only one or two leaves hanging on against becoming future mulch. The teens glanced away from the path, furtively making sure they were not alone. Raspy sounds from the windblown branches surrounding them stalked their footsteps. Laura grasped Mike’s free hand. Mike squeezed her hand reassuringly, surprised how cold it felt. The sound of water flowing in the aqueduct added a swishing, scraping background to the wind as the water stirred dead leaves along the cement aqueduct walls. Shadowy outlines of a structure became more pronounced as the group cleared the last line of trees before entering the brush and weed filled lot fronting the wide two story house. The abandoned dwelling jutted toward the sky with pointed spires and rectangular brickwork. A bent weathervane twirled in the stiff breeze, adding a squeaky repetitious metallic whine to the eerie background noise. Laura and Mike moved nearer the group as they stared up at the creaking porch with warped and rotting boards. Although the stanchions appeared steady, the porch roof sagged. It seemed to move slightly with the wind.
“You’re the expert, Mike,” Jerry said. “How dark is it inside and how safe is the floor?”
“Inside makes out here seem like morning light.” Mike felt Laura grip his hand tighter. “I haven’t been here in three years. The floor was rotting even then so take each step like the wood will splinter at any second. One of us should stay out here. You all have cell-phones. If anything happens like a collapse, at least one person should be able to call for help.”
“Everyone goes inside,” Stan argued when he saw the rest of his friends nodding in agreement with Mike. “We didn’t come here to do this with a safety net.”
“We didn’t bring the ‘Ghostbusters’ or a building inspector either,” Mike pointed out.
“Let’s go.” Jerry climbed up on the porch, gingerly staying away from the staircase middle where some loose boards were visible. He stopped short of the door which was partially open.
“Is it like you remembered, Mike?” Laura asked.
“The boards are more rotted looking. Walking around in haunted houses is one thing. Falling through the floor into whatever slimy stuff lies underneath is another.”
“Now I don’t know why the hell I thought this would be fun.” Janice waved her hand around for emphasis. “We wasted our time bringing sandwiches and beer. I ain’t eatin’ anything in this nasty old place.”
Everyone but Mike had a flashlight which they used now to light the way inside single file next to the jammed door. Their beams flickered across the debris covered floors. The beams reflected off a myriad of cobwebs so thick in places they looked like curtains. Mike released Laura’s hand. He immediately picked out a relatively clear spot on the large living room floor. With Laura using her flashlight to illuminate the area, Mike poured holy water around in a large circle, using up two of his bottles. He next spread the salt in a heavy line on the holy water which helped hold the salt in place. When Mike finished the circle, he knelt, made the sign of the cross, and whispered, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen. (In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit)
“Wow, I guess you’re serious about this,” Laura said.
“If nothing happens, we can laugh about it.” Mike set the remaining bags of salt and two bottles of holy water inside the plastic grocery bag near the circle’s center.
“Who wants to go down into the cellar?” Jerry called out. “I found the doorway that leads down and the steps look okay.”
Mike went with the others to what looked like an attached kitchen with dilapidated cupboards and old style pump sink. Webs formed mats of filmy coverings over everything.
“Anyone else hate spiders as much as I do?” Connie avoided touching anything. She screamed as Stan brushed his fingertips over her neck. “Don’t… don’t do that!”
“I’ll go with you,” Stan told Jerry.
“Have fun, you two. It smells like dead bodies down there.” Janice pushed Stan toward Jerry. “Don’t bother screaming if you find anything ‘cause we’ll leave your asses.”
“Let me go first.” Mike moved around Laura. “My cousin and I did go down there when it was still light. There’s a sinkhole on the left around the stairwell. That’s why it stinks. It’s filled with stagnant water.”
“Mike?” Laura missed his nearness already. Jerry handed Mike his flashlight.
“Remember the circle, Laura.” Mike cautioned. “Take the others and get inside it without breaking the perimeter.”
“I thought you were afraid of all this,” Stan remarked as the teens descended the stairs slowly, staying clear of the cobwebs making a shimmering tunnel into the dank area below.
“I am, but I don’t want either of you to fall into that sinkhole.” Mike tried to keep his voice from shaking as his heart thumped so hard in his chest he thought for sure Jerry and Stan would notice.
“What do you care?” Stan chuckled. “You could get a laugh out of it.”
“The smell,” Mike glanced over his shoulder at Stan. “That sinkhole smells so bad I haven’t forgotten it in three years. My cousin and I made the mistake of stirring it with a stick. We nearly passed out into it.”
“Good safety point… no stirring.” Jerry’s stomach knotted up as they neared the stair bottom.
Mike reached the stone and dirt cellar floor, moving to the right so Stan and Jerry could stand beside him. Mike swung his flashlight to the left and down, illuminating a black pit formed where the dirt and gravel floor had sunk, leaving a gaping maw of black water nearly eight feet in diameter. Even the algae on the surface appeared black in the flashlight beams.
Jerry leaned away from the pool, his face a mask of distaste. “Man… one gulp of that shit would turn someone inside out.”
“There’s not much down here.” Mike swung his flashlight around the other half of the room.
They could see empty rotted shelving along the wall. Two rusted out buckets lay sideways in front of the shelves. Cobwebs and more cobwebs flowed in an unbroken tapestry.
“Hey, what’s that?” Stan pointed his beam at a round metal hatch cover with large rusted ring for a handle.
“I don’t know. We stirred the sinkhole before we explored,” Mike admitted. “That ended our curiosity. It probably opens into another sinkhole.”
“I’m going to pull open the hatch,” Stan stated. “Hold my flashlight, Jer.”
Mike grabbed Stan’s arm and held out a red bandanna. “Wrap the handle with this.”
“Thanks,” Stan took the bandanna and wrapped the metal handle. He grasped the handle, ready to pull up.
“Hey! Come back up here you guys,” Connie yelled.
“Shit!” Stan exclaimed. All three had jumped at the sound of Connie’s voice. “We’ll be up in a minute… damn it!”
Stan yanked on the handle. The loose cover came up easily. Stan stumbled back, grabbing his nose, allowing the lid to thump down onto the dirt floor. Ignoring the noxious fumes billowing out from the open hole, Mike grabbed Stan’s arm before the teen backed into the open sinkhole.
“Oh my God!!” Stan yelled, his eyes watering uncontrollably as Mike pulled him to the side and Jerry retreated to the stairwell. “What… what is that, poison gas!?”
Mike covered his mouth and nose with one hand while pointing his flashlight down beyond the hatch with the other. Luminous masses swirled inside what looked like an empty tank made over into some kind of room with a rusty metal ladder providing access. Mike’s eyes widened as the faceless mass moved up the ladder. He held his breath and yanked the cover into place again. Mike grabbed Stan and pulled him toward the stairwell.
“We have to go… now!!!” Mike yelled.
Jerry ran up the stairs without another word. As Mike hurried the still gagging Stan to the stair, the metal hatch flew open, tore free of its mooring and slammed into the wall perpendicular to the stairwell. Stan needed no more encouragement. He bounded blindly up the stairs with Mike trying to steady his assent.
“Get in the circle!!” Mike yelled repeatedly as he and Stan cleared the doorway. Mike slammed the cellar door shut.
Laura had urged Connie and Janice toward the circle the moment Stan yelled after opening the hatch. She guided them beyond the salt base without breaking the pasty line. Jerry followed on her heels. Mike helped Stan across seconds later. They heard the cellar door slam open. Mike frantically checked his circle with Connie screaming at the top of her lungs and Janice yelling at Stan.
“What the hell did you guys do?!!” Janice yelled in Stan’s face loudly enough to be heard above Connie’s screaming and the appalling shrieks echoing through the house.
“Oh God… Mike… look!” Laura shook Mike’s shoulder as a luminescent wave crashed into their circle perimeter; smashing apart with a screech of rage loud enough the teens grabbed their ears in agony.
“Don’t break the circle!!!” Mike added salt to his line. “Stay in the center!!!”
Laura watched Mike, willing her eyes away from the force battering at their defenses. He straightened, his mind groping for something to help them withstand the thing launching itself against the circle. Mike turned toward the other teens. His lips quivered between terror and the insanity he hoped would divert their attention from the horror.
“I can’t help myself!” Mike spread his arms out to them. “Group hug… group hug!!!”
Laura laughed and jumped into Mike’s arms with Connie piling into them and Janice joining a split second later. Jerry and Stan traded bleary eyed stares. Then with open arms they too joined in Mike’s diversion. Mike’s ploy worked for a few minutes but the apparition’s shrieking rushes at the circle could not be ignored for long. Seeing his joke had only bought a little time, Mike motioned for them all to sit down facing each other in a circle and clasp hands. Connie jumped up sobbing piteously after only minutes.
“I…I can’t take this. I’ll make… make a run for it!”
“Don’t Connie!” Laura hugged her friend. “Keep your eyes shut and your hands over your ears while I hold you.”
Janice screamed. The teens faced the thing held at bay by salt paste. Its bare skull face sported gaping fangs. The thing peered in at them with eerie intent, shimmering body flowing out in a phosphorescent wave behind it. Mike grabbed a handful of salt and threw it at the skull-face. The granules glowed as they struck; sending the apparition streaking out of harm’s way. It returned only seconds later, grinding its jaws together in fury. Jerry reached for more salt. Mike stopped him.
“I was trying to see how much time it would buy us,” Mike told him. “Let’s not waste what we have.”
“Jesus…” Laura whispered. The skull-face began gibbering in high pitched wails. The fangs and teeth slammed together in rhythm with the wails.
As they all stared in silence at the ghastly monster within feet of them, something shot through the door and bounded into the living room. With a growl the new arrival dived right through the apparition, jaws ripping at thin air.
“It’s a damn dog,” Stan gasped.
The emaciated mixed breed mutt herded the apparition as if it were a sheep, snapping and growling without fear until inexplicably the monster disappeared. The dog whirled around as if anticipating an attack which didn’t come. The mutt sat down, staring curiously into the circle of stunned people.
“What is it… a hellhound?” Janice asked.
Mike poured some holy water into his hand and held it out. The dog padded over and lapped up the water thirstily with Mike adding more every few seconds.
“I guess it ain’t no demon,” Janice said. “I say we make a run for it.”
“Don’t run.” Mike offered more water to their rescuer. “Grab handfuls of salt. Walk out slowly. Me and Demon here will follow.”
Laura knelt next to the dog while the others followed Mike’s orders. She stroked its head. “I’ll stay with you.”
Connie sat behind the Buick steering wheel with the engine running, her hands clenched so tightly they glowed whitely in the dark. Janice sat next to her, watching the path anxiously. Mike, Laura, and the dog ambled out of the dark only moments later. Stan and Jerry had waited by the front end of the car. They visibly relaxed as the remainder of their group walked toward them.
“Stan, can you get me the bag of sandwiches and a couple of beers?” Mike asked, crouching down next to the dog.
“You bet, Mike.” Stan ran to the trunk which Connie unlatched from inside. He returned with the bag and beers, handing them over to Mike.
Mike opened a sandwich wrapper and began feeding the dog. The mutt shuddered and shivered in ecstasy, tail wagging so fast it was dangerous to walk within its range. Mike looked up with a big smile.
“You all go on home. I’ll see if Demon will accompany me to my house. We’ll walk.”
“You’re nuts!” Jerry laughed, shaking his head. “We’ll fit the dog in the back.”
“No you won’t!” Connie called out.
“What if that thing comes out again?” Stan realized Mike was serious.
“I have Demon with me. What the hell do I have to worry about?”
Stan chuckled and held out his hand. “See ya’ in school.”
“You bet,” Mike shook Stan’s hand and then Jerry’s. A bond had been formed.
“C’mon, Laura! Get the hell in the back and let’s go!” Connie waved at Laura impatiently.
“I’m walking with Mike and Demon,” Laura replied, waving goodbye.
Connie reversed the Buick and turned around the moment Stan and Jerry closed their doors.
Mike held out a beer he’d opened between food offerings to Demon. “Beer?”
“Oh yeah,” Laura accepted the can. She gulped down a little in obvious distaste.
“It gets better with every sip.” Mike patted his leg for Demon to come along.
“Are you sure?” Laura asked doubtfully as the three walked along the moonlit path.
“Nope,” Mike declared, opening his. “This is my first.”
Laura laughed at the cough and twisted expression Mike had as a reaction to his first taste of beer.
“Oh boy…” Mike gagged, “that sure hit the spot, right Demon?”
“Arf!” Demon answered.