[Mysteriousheartland.com] The Toyota’s tires deposited a layer of rubber on the road as its breaks locked and it skid to a halt about ten yards beyond the rural cemetery. Mike’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel.
“What was that?” Davin asked from the backseat. “Did we just pass the cemetery?”
Greg, who sat in the front passenger seat, turned to get a better view through the rear window. “No. It couldn’t be,” he replied. “It looks too modern to be the most haunted cemetery in central Illinois.”
“The sign says Anderson Cemetery, right?” Mike tried to confirm while also straining his neck to look out the rear window. “This is where that old man back in town said it would be.” He threw the shift into reverse and began driving backward toward the cemetery entrance. The dark blue Toyota Corolla stopped in front of a large, rectangular sign labeled ‘Thomas Anderson Cemetery.’
“Check the book,” Mike yelled at Aurelia, who sat next to Davin in the backseat.
Aurelia tossed the paperback book about Illinois hauntings at him. It bounced off the dashboard and landed on Greg’s lap. “You look at it,” she yelled back.
“Jesus,” Mike muttered and grabbed the book from his surprised friend. He flipped it open and began reviewing the pages. “Yep, this is the one. The background story is identical to ‘Graveyard X’ in that other book.”
“It doesn’t look haunted,” Davin piped up.
“Yeah,” Mike agreed with a concerned expression. He turned the wheel and guided their car beyond the cemetery fence, parking it alongside the gravel drive. Before the four could leave their car, however, a black van with the letters P.C.P.R.S. stenciled on its side appeared on the main road and pulled into the cemetery.
“Crowley’s ass,” Mike swore. “It’s the Pan-Continental Paranormal Research Society! They must have followed us here. First Bachelor’s Grove, then Greenwood Cemetery, and now this? It’s like they’re stalking us.”
“You’re so paranoid,” Greg said. “They couldn’t have known we’d be here. We haven’t seen them in over four months.”
“Maybe they hacked into our website,” Aurelia suggested as she opened her door.
“Don’t pretend like you know what that is,” Davin said. “You don’t even own a computer.”
“They’re not smart enough to do that,” Mike said bitterly. He pulled himself out of the car and ran his right hand through his knotted hair.
The four waited until the black van parked and its six occupants slid the side door open to begin unloading their equipment.
Mike took a few steps forward and yelled. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing here?”
A potbellied man wearing a black P.C.P.R.S. t-shirt turned towards him and frowned. He also wore an intricately designed metallic claw on one of his fingers. “We’re conducting a serious investigation,” he said. “You guys need to leave.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Mike said.
“Man, they outweigh us forty-to-one,” Greg whispered.
“Do you have permission to be here?” the man asked as he removed a small case from the van.
“Permission?” Mike replied. “We don’t need permission. We’re the Fallen.”
“Don’t you kids have some Dungeons and Dragons to play or something?” the man asked, hardly hiding his condescension.
“Okay,” Greg interjected. “Why don’t we just stay out of each other’s way? There’s plenty of cemetery to go around. Just don’t stand too close together around any fresh graves. We’re not digging you out if you sink.”
One of the members of the P.C.P.R.S., a middle aged woman with long, brown hair who carried a tape recorder and a microphone, snorted as she walked past.
Davin, who had been standing behind his three friends during the confrontation, began walking towards the other end of the cemetery. Mike, Greg, and Aurelia soon followed.
“Can you believe them?” Mike fumed when they were out of hearing distance. “They get matching t-shirts and suddenly they think they own the place. They should ask us for permission to be here.”
“Okay, calm down,” Aurelia said. “No one cares.”
“She’s right,” Greg grudgingly admitted. “Let them play with their toys. Who cares? We’re looking for two different things anyway.”
Mike glanced over his shoulder and then produced a crystal pendulum when he was sure no one was watching.
“Maybe we’ll find something with Emmet not here,” Davin muttered under his breath. “Sometimes his skepticism gets in the way.”
“Sometimes we need a little skepticism to throw water on Mike’s enthusiasm,” Greg replied wryly.
Ignoring his friend, Mike held his arm outstretched and dangled the crystal nearly a foot off the ground. It did not move. “Aura,” he said, “are you sensing anything?”
“Nope,” Aurelia replied.
“This is supposedly one of the most haunted places in central Illinois,” Davin interrupted. “There has to be something here.”
“Maybe that’s what they want us to think,” Greg countered. “Some of these places magically become haunted when someone needs something to write about in another book. I mean, when you write dozens of books on haunted places, you gotta do something to keep it interesting.”
“Well, there has to be an astral gateway somewhere in Illinois,” Mike explained. “That’s why we came out here to begin with, remember?”
“It would help if we had a diagram or something,” Greg said. “We don’t even know what this astral gate looks like. How will we even know when we find it? How do we even know it exists?”
“Trust me,” Mike replied with a grin. “It exists. Look, this isn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The solution won’t just become obvious suddenly. Like ‘oops, there it is, the astral portal! It was under the library the whole time’!”
“If this was Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Davin interrupted, “one of us would be in a band and Aura would randomly become a lesbian in the fifth season.”
“I am in a band,” Greg whispered.
“Whatever. If we’re not going to find anything, are we just going to leave, or what?” Davin asked.
“No,” Mike spat. “We have to keep looking until we find this thing. Let’s poke around by the tree line for a bit. According to one website, at certain times the trees will open into a secret part of the cemetery. Maybe there’s some truth to that.”
“Or maybe it’s just meth heads making up stories again,” Aurelia suggested.
“You would know all about meth heads,” Greg said with a laugh. “You dated one.”
Aurelia gave him a swift kick in the shin with one of her black leather, platform boots, and he threw up his hands in surrender.
“Come on Greg,” said Mike. “He only sold meth.”
Aurelia sighed loudly and refused to speak for several minutes. The group moved toward the weed-choked trees, separated from the cemetery by a woeful wire fence. Mike dangled the crystal pendulum again, but this time it began to rotate slowly.
“What is it doing?” Greg wondered aloud. “It’s not pointing at anything.”
“Maybe because we’re already standing where we need to be,” Mike replied. He glanced at Aurelia, who angrily closed her eyes. A gust of cold wind blew past.
Suddenly, she snapped her eyes open and clutched her stomach. Her face strained to suppress the look of pain. “Something is here,” she gasped. “It’s angry and wants us to leave. We’re trespassing.”
“Everyone back off now,” Mike ordered, and the group retreated a few feet. “This isn’t what we’re looking for.”
“How do you know?” Davin asked.
“Because if it was, stomach pains would be the least of our concerns…”
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