[Mysteriousheartland.com] The summer sun created tiny mirages in the asphalt as the Fallen’s aging, dark blue Toyota Corolla sped toward a concrete bridge just outside McLeansboro in southeastern Illinois. Type O Negative’s song “Green Man” blared from its speakers, while the smell of tacos drifted from the backseat. In the rearview mirror, Mike eyed Greg, Davin, and Emmet munching on a smorgasbord of hard and soft-shell tacos. He cringed as bits of lettuce and cheese fell on the floor.
“If you guys don’t knock it off, I’m going to turn this car around!” he threatened.
“Man,” Greg replied as taco shell pieces spewed from his mouth between words, “we’re almost there. Look, there’s the bridge. Isn’t it?”
Aurelia, in the front passenger seat, inspected a well-worn map of Illinois. “This is it,” she confirmed.
Emmet cleared his throat. “What ridiculous goose chase do you have us going on this time?” he asked. “Zombies? Trolls? More ghosts that only appear when I’m gone?”
“A headless horseman,” Mike said through clenched teeth.
Laughter erupted from the backseat. “This is almost as bad as that trip to Dug Hill last year,” Emmet chuckled. “Southern Illinoisans sure have wild imaginations.”
“At least it’s an interesting story,” Greg interjected. “But from what I remember, no one has seen this ghost in decades, so what exactly do you expect to find?”
“Evidence of some kind,” Mike replied. He steered their Toyota off the paved road and onto a small gravel drive at the edge of a large field near the bridge.
“An old well. Some spectral horse dung. I don’t know. Something.”
“Here we go again,” Emmet sighed as the car stopped and he swung open a rear door. “First a mystical astral portal, now this. In a sane world, they would lock you up at the funny farm.”
“Well, luckily for me we got rid of those,” Mike said with a grin.
“Will you two shut up already,” Aurelia interrupted. “You’re giving me a headache. We need to concentrate if we’re going to find anything. We don’t want to screw up now, after all the success we’ve had lately.”
“Yeah, that mirror trick worked out well,” Emmet said with a sneer.
“Why are you obsessed with finding physical evidence of a ghost story?” Greg asked as he stepped out of the car. “Ghosts have no physical substance, assuming they aren’t just figments of our imagination.”
“Which they are,” Emmet added.
The quintet congregated in the field. The concrete bridge over Lakey’s Creek stood ahead of them on their right. A small, wooded area grew to their left. A narrow gravel road followed the tree line on the opposite side of the creek. Oddly, a fire hydrant poked above the tall grass in the field in which they stood. They also noticed a large mound of dirt and debris.
“There was a house here,” Mike noted. “That pile of crap over there gives it away. This empty field and that fire hydrant are also suspicious.”
“Thanks, Dr. Watson,” Aurelia said. “I thought I was queen of the obvious.”
Mike was annoyed, but he continued as though he had not heard the insult.
“Do I have to remind you that Lakey built his cabin in the 1820s, if he even built it at all?” Greg said. “It wouldn’t have had a fire hydrant, that’s for sure.”
Mike led the group closer to the tree line and the pile of debris. Even through the plentiful undergrowth, he saw a clear a path cut through the woods along the creek. “You’re missing the point,” Mike argued. “Think about it. A house used to stand next to the creek. Lakey’s Creek. Right near the ford where eyewitnesses saw the headless horseman. If we could find out who lived here, we could ask them if they ever saw or heard the horseman. Who knows, maybe the story itself originated here during some late night, backyard bonfires.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Greg admitted. “So what do we do next?”
Before Mike could reply, Aurelia shouted from a few yards downstream. “Hey! I think I see something!”
Mike, Emmet, Greg, and Davin spun around just as a light flashed under the bridge. “I don’t think we’re alone,” Davin whispered. Mike motioned to Emmet and Greg to cross the road and enter the creek bed on the opposite side of the bridge.
Mike and Davin raced to Aurelia’s side. “What did you see?” Mike asked.
Aurelia rested her hands on her broad hips. “Something moved under the bridge, but I’m not sure what.”
“You didn’t notice anything more specific than that?” Davin demanded. “These hunches of yours aren’t helpful. Remember the time you thought you sensed something at Chesterville Cemetery, and it turned out to be woodpeckers?”
Aurelia crinkled her brow and dug her fist into Davin’s ribs. Davin’s knees buckled and he barely held himself upright as he gasped for breath.
“That’s enough, you two,” Mike hissed. “You’re acting like children.”
“Humph!” Aurelia exclaimed and turned her back on her friends.
On the other side of the road, Emmet and Greg quickly moved into position. The duo hugged the bridge’s walls to hide from whatever lurked in the shadows. A recent drought had reduced the creek to a trickle, revealing a wide swath of sediment on the creek bed. For a few moments, the two heard only the rustle of water and the chirp of nearby birds. Then, suddenly, the sound of stones grinding together alerted them to a physical presence.
Emmet and Greg exchanged nods and sprang into action, simultaneously jumping down into the creek bed. Their assault elicited a sharp cry of surprise from a teenage boy wearing baggy shorts and a Far Side t-shirt. The boy lost his balance on the loose sand and fell into a pile of gravel. A can of spray paint flew from his hand and fell into the creek.
Both Greg and Emmet broke out into laughter. “It’s just some dumb kid,” Emmet shouted to Mike, Davin, and Aurelia, who had finally arrived at the opposite end of the bridge.
“He’s a litterbug too,” Greg added with a wide grin. “We better call Al Gore.”
“Yo, who you callin’ dumb, fool?” the kid spat at them. “This is my turf. I be taggin’ this shizzle.”
“Someone’s been watching too much MTV,” Mike added. “Listen. We’re the Fallen, and this location is a paranormal hotspot. So that means it’s our turf.”
“Wh…what?” the kid stammered. “Yo, you been huffin’ or some shit?”
Emmet sighed. “No, he’s always like this. I usually just ignore him. Anyway, we don’t care what you’re doing. We thought you might be someone else.”
“Something else, to be exact,” Greg added with emphasis.
“Yo. Yo. It’s cool. I be just leaving. Peace out, yo.” The kid carefully climbed out from under the bridge, leaving his can of spray paint behind.
“Hey, go read a book!” Greg shouted after him.
“I thought gangsta was out and girl-pants emo was in,” Mike asked Davin, who shrugged his shoulders.
“How should I know?” he replied.
The Fallen waited for the kid to disappear from sight before they gathered at the roadside downstream from the bridge.
“Let’s get back to business,” Mike said as he pulled a digital camera from his cargo shorts’ pocket. “We’ll take pictures of the area. Davin, you’re on for the video. Aurelia, try to see if you sense anything unusual. Greg, audiotape. Emmet…” He paused.
“I’ll just go with Greg,” Emmet said before Mike had time to finish his thought. “I doubt we’ll find anything here, but I’ll go through the county records when we’re done and try to find out who owned this property. Who knows, maybe they can help us.”
Mike nodded and went to work, while Emmet and Greg exchanged skeptical glances. “Do you really think we’re going to find anything?” Emmet whispered.
Greg shrugged his shoulders and pulled out the tape recorder. “We might as well try,” he replied.
[New episode every Friday…]
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