[Mysteriousheartland.com] “If you don’t knock it off, I’m turning this car around!” Mike threatened from behind the wheel of the wobbly Toyota Corolla as it sped down a rural avenue somewhere in rural Will County, Illinois. The car’s rusted frame protested against the near-freezing temperature, and its paper thin tires tenuously gripped the icy road. In the backseat, Greg and Davin traded insults while Aurelia buried her forehead into her palm and rested her elbow on the passenger door. Emmet sat in the front passenger seat, reading a Tom Clancy novel.
Mike’s eyes darted from the windshield to the rearview mirror. “Pay attention,” he said. “I swear you two are like five year olds. I’m not going to explain this again.”
Aurelia pinched Davin’s arm to get his attention, and he yelled in surprise.
“A man with an ax or hatchet supposedly haunts this bridge,” Mike explained. “He allegedly killed his family before the cops gunned him down. Visitors have seen his ghost in the woods.”
“Do you have any evidence of this?” Emmet asked, never taking his eyes off the novel in his hands. “Any newspaper articles? Interviews? Channel 5 special reports? Court records?”
“No,” Mike replied. “But we’re hoping to get some evidence the old bridge is haunted.”
“Good luck with that,” Emmet muttered.
“You still don’t believe in ghosts?” asked Greg, momentarily abandoning his determination to make Davin’s life miserable. “Even after everything you’ve seen? How do you explain what happened to you at Harrison Cemetery last month?”
“I don’t know, but it wasn’t paranormal,” Emmet snapped. “There must be some natural explanation for the light that hit me.”
“Let’s face it, Emmet will always be a skeptic,” Aurelia said.
Greg laughed. “He’s not a skeptic. He’s paranormally-challenged.”
Emmet put down his Tom Clancy novel. “I’ll admit I’ve seen some unusual things since I signed up with you guys,” he said. “Most of it involves you. But confirmation bias explains the other stuff. You want to believe it so badly—it’s your first explanation for everything. ‘Oh, that light was a ghost,’ instead of the hundred other things it could have been. If I wasn’t here, you’d all go off the deep end.”
“But you won’t even accept that as a possibility,” Greg protested. “I don’t believe in anything unless I see it for myself, and I know I’ve seen a ghost or two in my life.”
The Fallen’s Toyota shot past a side street, and Aurelia pulled out a large-print map of Illinois. “Shut up, everyone!” she shrieked. “Mike, I think you missed our turn.”
“What?” Mike glanced over his shoulder, but he could no longer see the street sign. “Crap,” he muttered. “I don’t know where the hell we are.”
“You just have to stop and turn around,” Aurelia said in a tone usually reserved for scolding children.
Up ahead, an old man wearing a lumberjack hat stepped to the end of his driveway to check his mailbox.
“Why don’t we stop and ask that guy?” Mike suggested.
“He could be the axman!” Davin shouted.
“You’re drunk again, aren’t you?” Greg snapped at him.
Davin frowned, unscrewed the cap on his flask, and took a sip. “No.”
Mike gradually brought the car to a stop next to the old man and signaled to Emmet to roll down the window. Emmet complied, and a burst of frozen air filled the Toyota’s interior.
“Excuse me!” Mike yelled as he leaned over and strained to look through the window at the man’s weathered face. “Excuse me! Do you know how to get to Old Post Road?”
The old man inched closer to the car and put a callused, leathery hand on the open window. “Did you say Old Post Road?”
“You aren’t going there to mess around on that old bridge, are you? I would stay away from there, if I were you. It’s dangerous.” The old man’s lips curled into a smile.
“Thanks, we’ll keep that in mind,” Emmet said. “Can you just tell us how to get there? My friend won’t shut up until I show him how normal it is.”
“Keep going straight. Then turn right as soon as you can.” The old man took a few steps away from the car, but paused. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The Toyota’s tires spun angrily on the ice and gravel before they finally caught traction and the car jolted forward. Emmet quickly rolled up the window and Mike cranked up the heater. It only took a few more minutes for them to reach the intersection with Old Post Road.
“I guess we were on the right track after all,” Mike said as he turned the steering wheel. The car and its passengers entered dense woods, which grew up on either side of the road. Snow and ice hung from the barren branches, yet they seemed more foreboding than beautiful. After a few minutes, a newly paved, concrete bridge came into view. Mike pulled the Toyota over to the shoulder just before the aluminum guardrails poked out of the snow.
Doors slammed as the Fallen left their car. Mike scanned the tree line, and he noticed the twisted steel supports of a bridge upstream. “Looks like we found the right place,” he said. “It reminds me of Airtight Bridge.”
“Yeah, but at least a real event inspired that legend,” Emmet said.
Aurelia did not mention it, but she began to feel nervous. She sensed there was something wrong, but she could not put her finger on it. As the Fallen neared the path in the woods, she felt a subtle shift in the atmosphere. Suddenly, a house stood about fifty yards past the tree line, and the bridge, collapsed into the water only moments ago, looked new. Aurelia could not contain her feelings any longer.
“Did anyone notice that house appear over there?” she asked.
“Hasn’t it been there the entire time?” Davin replied.
Mike, Greg, and Emmet all threw Aurelia puzzled looks, but before she could respond, the group heard blood-curdling screams coming from the dreary, white house. The Fallen bolted into action. Greg readied his cane while the quintet plowed into the pristine snow of the timber.
Suddenly, a woman burst from the screen door. “He’s going to kill my babies!” she yelled frantically.
In what must have been minutes—but seemed like seconds—the Fallen closed the distance between them and the panicked woman. She immediately collapsed into Davin’s arms. “Help!” she gasped. “He’s going to kill them!” Her face and hair was sweaty and smeared with grease.
Mike only had to nod, and Greg and Aurelia were at his side. He cursed. “What the hell is going on?”
“I swear to you, this house was not here when we pulled up,” Aurelia said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Mike replied. “We’ll figure that out later. Now’s a time to act.”
Greg brandished his cane like a club, and Aurelia led the way into the small house. She tore aside the screen door and raced up the small set of stairs into the kitchen. She could not have been more timely: a man with an ax stood over the cowering figures of two children. He was about to strike, but the Fallen distracted him when they came barreling through the door.
Aurelia tore a black rotary phone off the wall and hurled it at the would-be murderer’s head. It landed with a sickening crash and he crumpled to the linoleum. The two children, cheeks stained with tears, dashed past the Fallen and out the back door.
Mike gripped Aurelia’s shoulder. “We better leave before the cops come,” he said.
Outside, the two children, overcome by emotion, embraced their mother while Emmet and Davin looked at each other and shrugged. Neither one could explain what happened.
After a few moments, Mike, Aurelia, and Greg joined them. Mike ran up to Davin and Emmet and drew them in close. “We gotta go, now,” he whispered. “Forget the investigation. Aurelia just bashed some guy’s head in over there.”
He did not need to elaborate.
As the Fallen retreated down the old road and out of the woods, Aurelia looked back at the woman and her children. “Thank you,” she heard the woman say, just before the dirty White House, the woman, and her children vanished.
“That was crazy,” David said, catching his breath. “I don’t think those people were real.”
“How do you explain that?” Greg asked Emmet as he got into the backseat.
Emmet quietly opened his book and began to read. His hands shook.
“That ax murderer must have been the son of the old man we ran into earlier,” Mike remarked as he started the engine. “I might have imagined it, but they looked a lot alike…”
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