[Mysteriousheartland.com] A crisp, autumn wind whipped across the freshly cut grass and broke against the three small hills at the edge of Twin Sister’s Hills Park. Emmet kicked an empty beer can across the parking lot’s chipped pavement. Greg and Davin traded insults and pushed and elbowed each other like two birds of prey fighting over a perch. Casey the Coydog waited patiently by Emmet’s side, panting and occasionally gnawing at her shoulder. A narrow stream followed the edge of the parking lot and meandered its way toward a small, confined wood, which grew about fifty yards away.
Emmet massaged his forehead and sighed. “I never thought I would come back here,” he grumbled.
“Twin Sister’s Woods?” Greg asked.
“No, Rockford,” Emmet replied. “It’s a long story. I went out with a girl from Rockford once. She broke my heart.”
Greg chuckled. “Ah, the plot thins.”
Davin slapped Emmet on the back. “You gotta quit those Internet romances,” he said. “Take it from one who knows.”
“If Mike were here, he’d tell us to get serious,” Greg said, then did an impression of his dour friend. “We’re here to look into paranormal claims. There’s no room for fun.”
Emmet grinned. “Yeah, ‘cause people who look for ghosts should take their work seriously,” he retorted. His eyes examined the nearby stream and followed it to the tree line, where a thick, gnarled weeping willow grew near the entrance to the wood. “Well, there’s that willow tree Mike told us about.”
Davin unfolded a stack of papers and began to read, but Greg snatched it from his hands.
“Go fetch,” he said and tossed the papers into the air. The wind blew them across the parking lot and into the nearby chain linked fence.
“Hey!” Davin protested. “Those were our instructions! Besides, haven’t you ever heard of littering?”
“We’re wanted in three counties, hiding in some weird girl’s attic, and my roommate looks at my neck like it’s a value meal,” Greg replied. “Mike can go screw his instructions. Why did he send us out here, anyway, to get rid of us for the day? What is he planning?”
“You know why we’re here,” Davin grumbled.
“Alright, let’s just do this,” Emmet said. “I’m getting hungry and I saw a Beefaroo on the way out here. Get the digital camera and the video camera. We have to document every inch of this place. I suggest starting with the woods, since that’s where the story takes place. Kids say there’s a ‘hanging tree’ that is, of course, haunted. That story is obviously bullshit and I’m looking forward to exposing it. It shouldn’t be difficult to find.”
The trio recovered their equipment from their car and set off toward the woods. They heard only the traffic from the nearby road and a dog barking in the distance. Casey, however, behaved nervously. It was not the sound of the other canine that excited her—it was something nearby. She whined and scratched the grass.
“What’s the matter, girl?” Greg asked the mutt. “Do you smell a ghost?”
Casey’s ears perked up and she began to bark. She took off toward the woods and vanished from sight beneath the weeping willow.
“That was odd,” Davin remarked.
“Oh please, don’t start,” Emmet said. “Just because a dog acts weird—it doesn’t mean anything paranormal is happening. She could have smelled a squirrel or something.”
“I know,” Davin grumbled. “I was just making sure.”
As the trio finished arguing, they stood under the willow tree. A path led into the woods to their right and the creek lay just beyond the path.
Greg thoughtfully examined the tree, which was at least four yards in circumference and looked like it had been there for many years. “That’s a willow alright,” he said.
“Why are you so fixated on this tree?” Emmet asked, his back to the weeping willow and his friends. He panned his camcorder from left to right, recording the open field and nearby parking lot. “What does it have to do with the legend? Willows make poor hanging trees.”
“I don’t know,” Greg replied. “I threw Mike’s research summery away, remember?”
Davin and Emmet scowled.
“I don’t need to know the story,” he protested, waving his hands wildly in the air. “All I need is instinct. That’s the problem with the way Mike does business. He thinks too much. Now, let’s keep walking. I remember something about a hanging in the woods.”
Casey, from somewhere up ahead, barked twice and the Fallen followed the sound to a clearing in the woods. Five teenagers, three guys and two girls, stood next to a graffiti-covered piece of concrete in the middle of the clearing. The young men stood and smoked while the girls knelt down and petted Casey. “Hey, is she yours?” Sarah, who wore a High School Musical hoodie, asked.
“Come here, Casey!” Greg yelled playfully while he slapped his knees. The coydog responded immediately, its ragged, gray tail wagging furiously.
“What a useless guard dog,” Emmet grumbled. “They could have been waiting here to kill us and she would be licking their faces.”
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Davin asked the five teens while he motioned to them to pass their joint.
“We are,” Sarah responded. “Our school is across the street. We snuck out here during lunch.”
Emmet laughed. “And there, gentlemen, is the origin of your ghost stories.”
“Did you say something about ghosts?” a young man with a bowl haircut asked as he took a drag. “You know people say these woods are haunted, right? Tony has seen some stuff, haven’t you?” He thrust his finger toward a short, pudgy boy with curly red hair and something resembling a beard, if given a few more years to grow.
“Me and Maddy were here one night,” Tony began, “and we see this light in the woods. We thought it was a cop, you know? So we head for those hills over there, figurin’ we’d hide behind them. Well, when we come out of the woods, we see there ain’t any cars in the parking lot. We turned around and the light was gone.”
“What kind of light?” Greg asked. “What color was it?”
“I don’t know, man,” Tony replied. “It was real bright. Like a spotlight.”
“Maybe it was a spotlight,” Emmet said.
“A lot of weird stuff happens in these woods,” Sarah insisted. “Sometimes you hear weird noises.”
“It’ll take more than some lights and weird noises to convince me,” Emmet replied.
“Hey, what are you guys doing out here, anyway?” Tony asked. He took a hit from his joint and passed it to the girls. “You’re not cops, are you?”
Greg laughed. “Do we look like cops? Nah, we’re here looking for ghosts. Did any walk past here recently?”
“Oh, like T.A.P.S.?” Sarah asked, becoming unnecessarily excited.
“Something like that,” Davin replied. He took her hand and wrote his cell phone number on her palm. “If you ever see anything strange around here, give me a call.”
The girl blushed.
With that, the Fallen marched farther into the woods, dodging branches and concrete chunks. They picked a trail and followed it, hoping it led to something unusual and exciting. The path twisted between the trees, their autumn-colored leaves sprinkling the forest floor. Although the trio had not walked far, the voices of the high school students faded into the distance.
Davin became nervous. “Does anyone else feel odd?” he asked.
As if in reply, Casey the Coydog began to whine and refused to go any farther. Greg, Emmet, and Davin looked up. They had wandered near the edge of the woods and faced an old, gnarled Black Willow tree that looked like lightning struck it.
“Something isn’t right about this tree,” Davin said.
“For once, I agree with you,” Greg replied.
Emmet rolled his eyes and walked up to the tree. He kicked it and stared defiantly at his friends. “Look,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about this tree. It’s a fricken’ tree. That’s all.”
A blast of wind sent brown leaves showering over Emmet’s shoulder. Greg and Davin saw shadows, which emerged from the ground like fingers on a severely arthritic hand, slither up the Black Willow’s knotted, twisted branches. Greg and Davin instinctively took a few steps backward while Casey barked and growled.
Emmet watched the color drain from his friends’ faces and felt a chill run down his spine. He spun around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. He allowed himself to smile. “I told you,” he bragged. “It was just the wind.”
Greg and Davin exchanged glances, but did not try to argue. “Let’s just get out of here,” Davin said. “I think we got all the pictures and video we need.”
Emmet shook his head and took the lead as the Fallen marched out of Twin Sister’s Woods.
[New episode every Friday…]
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