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The Fallen Chronicles: Episode 26

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paper[Mysteriousheartland.com] Mike, Aurelia, and Greg stood in a mud puddle facing a wide cleft in the hillside, carved by centuries of sandstone erosion. Smooth, moss-covered rocks formed the cleft’s walls, and coils of tree roots creeped over the ledges. The borderline-freezing temperature turned the muddy ground into a mix of snow and sludge, but the creek had not swelled with the spring runoff. Ramsey Cemetery, north of Effingham, Illinois, sat just up the dirt road.

“I can’t believe I drove past twice before we saw this place,” Mike said, chastising himself.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Greg said. “It’s like in the movie Labyrinth. You have to look at it the right way, otherwise it looks like a normal roadside turnoff.” He walked a few yards to the right and paused. “But if you look at it from this angle, BAM, it reveals a whole new world.”

“You do remind me of Hoggle,” Aurelia teased.

Greg gave her a dirty look, but chose not to retaliate for the insult.

The trio slogged past the rusted ‘no dumping’ sign and entered the wide cleft in the hillside. The gap gradually narrowed until, about fifty yards ahead, it came to a close. There, a small waterfall trickled into a half-frozen basin. The rock shelters recessed deeper into the cliff near the waterfall, but nothing resembling a cave appeared in their field of vision.

“Reality strikes again,” Mike grumbled as he tightened his leather trench coat around his waist. Even in this naturally sheltered area, the wind blew fiercely.

“Don’t be such a wet blanket,” Greg said, sprightly bounding from ridges to boulders with ease. “We just got here. Maybe we’ll find something after all.”

As the words left his mouth, he recoiled in surprise as a bundle of rags began to move inside a nearby crevice. His feet slid on a patch of ice and he landed in a leaf pile at the base of the ridge leading to the rock wall. Mike and Aurelia rushed to his aid as a dirty face peered out from under the rags.

“Who’s there?” a raspy voice demanded. Before Mike could reply, the homeless woman’s eyes widened as she saw his black trench coat. “The man in black!” she shrieked, and a boney finger pointed at him accusingly. She threw the pile of rags and newspapers aside and tried to flee, but like Greg, she slid on the partially frozen ground.

Rock Shelters outside Ramsey Cemetery in Effingham, Illinois. Photo by the author.

Rock Shelters outside Ramsey Cemetery in Effingham, Illinois. Photo by the author.

“Wait!” Mike yelled. “You got the wrong guy!”

Aurelia chuckled. “We hope she does, anyway.”

By that time, Greg regained his footing and used his cane for balance on the slippery rocks. He rejoined his friends and they cautiously approached the homeless woman.

Mike’s assurances had not fazed her, because fear still filled her eyes and she held up her hands as if fending off an attack. “What do you want?” she pleaded. “I don’t have anything! I just sleeping here!”

“It’s alright,” Aurelia said in something vaguely resembling a soothing tone. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

“I think you scared us just as much as we scared you!” Greg chuckled, but no one else appreciated his humor.

“Tell me more about this ‘man in black’,” Mike demanded.

The woman’s eyes darted from side to side. “I sees him sometimes at night. In the forest,” she whispered. She coughed and wheezed. “I sees his glowing eyes through the trees. He’s a bad spirit. He dresses all in black, just like you.”

“Well, unlike this creature, I’m alive,” Mike muttered. “How long have you lived here? It’s freezing outside.”

“I’ve been here since the fall,” the woman said, timidly. “First few months are bad, then it feels fine.”

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” Greg said. He pulled Mike aside for a moment. “Listen, why don’t we go check out that cemetery, eh? There’s obviously nothing paranormal going on here.”

“You goin’ to the cemetery?” the woman asked.

Greg coughed. “Uh, no. We’re just gonna go somewhere else. Anywhere else.”

“The man in black lives in the cemetery,” the woman said, pointing up the road. “He’ll steal any soul looks into his eyes. That’s what I thinks.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Mike said, adjusting his glasses. “We’ll come back if we have anymore questions. Stay warm.”

The trio took a few pictures of the rock shelters and returned to their car. It still sat along the roadside where they first entered the cleft in the hillside. Mike and Greg shivered, but Aurelia seemed unfazed by the cold breeze, despite wearing a skirt and a short sleeve shirt.

“Aura, what do you make of this ‘man in black’?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know, but she saw something that scared her,” Aurelia replied as she opened the front passenger door and sat down. “I didn’t sense anything unusual. We’ll see what happens when we get to the cemetery.”

“I don’t want to sound like Emmet, but I don’t think her elevator goes all the way to the top, if you know what I mean,” Greg said from the backseat. “She’s living in a cave. She’s a cave woman.”

Mike started the engine and the Toyota’s tape deck began to play “Twilight Symphony” by King Diamond. The car groaned and started up the well-worn gravel road toward Ramsey Cemetery. After a few moments, trees grew scarce as the hillcrest came into view and rows of white monuments grew closer.

Picking a good spot to pull over, Mike turned the steering wheel and parked the car just outside the entrance. A large, weathered oak tree stood nearby. Graffiti covered its trunk, and its barren limbs stretched outward like gnarled fingers. A barbed wire fence held up by bleached wood posts surrounded the graveyard.

Mike, Aurelia, and Greg exited the car and drank in the scene as the chilly wind rolled across the hill. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. It looked like every other rural cemetery they had seen on their journeys. Still, the trio felt uneasy after their meeting with the homeless woman.

“What do you think?” Mike asked, scratching the five o’clock shadow on his chin.

“This is less exciting than the caves,” Greg replied, “but at least there’s no crazy lady here.”

Aurelia laughed. “You forgot about us!” She was in an unusually good mood. As she passed near the old oak tree, however, she doubled over as though sucker punched.

Ramsey Cemetery in Effingham, Illinois. Photo by the author.

Ramsey Cemetery in Effingham, Illinois. Photo by the author.

“Aura, what happened?” Mike shouted as he rushed to her side.

Aurelia clutched her stomach, groaned, and tried to squirm away from the tree. Mike grabbed her and pulled her a few yards toward their car, and she finally relaxed. It took her a few moments to catch her breath.

“Something here,” she gasped. “That tree—something protects it.”

“What’s so special about that tree?” Greg asked, readying his cane for a fight.

“I don’t think it’s human, that’s for sure,” Aurelia grumbled, embarrassed by whatever had caught her off guard. Mike tried to help her to her feet, but she brushed him off and pulled herself up. She closed her eyes and concentrated. For a long moment, they heard only the tussling wind across the lawn.

“Something happened there,” she said. “I can feel frustration and anger. Blind rage. It lashed out because I’m sensitive to its presence.”

“Well, let’s not bother it then,” Mike said. “We didn’t come down here for a tree.”

“Agreed,” Greg seconded and headed for the cemetery gates. He removed a camera from his tattered, khaki cargo shorts and began to take pictures. Mike pulled out an old VHS-C video camera from his coat and began to film. Aurelia looked around nervously.

“According to legend, a man committed suicide in a chapel or utility shed in this cemetery,” Mike explained. “A source told me that story is true, but the cemetery board tore down the chapel after kids repeatedly vandalized it. Let’s try to find where it was,” he suggested. “Then when we go home tonight we can do some research on that tree.”

“Yeah, I’m sure we’ll find information on a tree,” Greg muttered sarcastically.

Aurelia could not shake her feeling of concern. Thankfully, the attack had been brief, but she swore not to let her guard down again. She shook her head and joined her friends as they explored Ramsey Cemetery.

[New episode every Friday…]

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. This page is copyright Mysteriousheartland.com, 2016. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work.

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