[Mysteriousheartland.com] We knew it would happen eventually,” Aurelia said from behind the wheel of her steel blue Buick LaSabre as she navigated it down the dirt road just outside the tiny village of Forest City. All the usual suspects rode along, with one striking absence. Greg sat in the front passenger seat, and Davin, Emmet, and Misa sat in the back.
“It was your fault,” Misa hissed at Emmet. “If you had taken this more seriously…”
Emmet waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t blame me, whack job. You weren’t even there.”
“It’s no one’s fault,” Greg said in a mediating tone. “The cops have been after us for months. It was only a matter of time before they pinched one of us.”
“Yeah, but Mike?” Davin asked. “What are we going to do without him? We’re screwed.” He pulled at the collar of his cheap, white undershirt stained with months of dried sweat, dirt, and marinara sauce.
The Buick lurched to the right, bounced over several depressions in the road, and stopped a few yards before the white gate of Bishop-Zion Cemetery. “All of you, calm down,”
Aurelia said. “We’re not screwed. We still have the list of items we need to find, so we don’t need Mike to tell us where they are. As soon as the judge has the bail hearing, we’ll find out how much we have to pay for the cash bond and then we’ll get his ass out of jail. Meanwhile, we have a mission to take care of.”
Emmet rolled his eyes. “You’re not serious, are you? We need to get the heck out of here. This little fantasy is over.”
Aurelia slammed her fist into Greg’s headrest and her friends jumped. “We’re not abandoning Mike,” she said through clenched teeth. “We’re not giving up. Does everyone understand?”
Greg, Davin, Emmet and Misa nodded in silent agreement.
Aurelia threw the gear into park and got out of the car without saying another word. The others followed tentatively. They approached the cemetery gate and scanned the area, trying not to inhale the large flocks of gnats hovering above the grass. Oddly, the insects ignored Misa, whose pale, clammy skin seemed even more unnatural in the afternoon sun. Her charcoal gray jumper hung off her like she was more mannequin than human being.
Greg pulled a clipboard out of his backpack and flipped through the attached papers. “It says in the report that a church beside the cemetery burned down with everyone inside. Clearly—according to Mike, at any rate—this was a paranormal event precipitated by dark forces. What we need to do is find the remnants of this church and gather some of the ashes. It should work as a powerful catalyst when we perform this ritual to send that demon back across the barrier into the astral realm.”
“Hey, I’m just reading what it says on the paper,” Greg said defensively.
Davin brushed gnats away from his face. “If that’s what we’re here to do, then let’s do it,” he said. “I’m tired of you guys whining about everything. Mike was right about that astral gate to begin with. If you have a better idea about how we can get rid of this creature that’s trying to kill us, let’s hear it. We already have the peace pipe, the ritual book, the bowl, and the kachina doll. We only have a few items left on the list. We might as well see if this works before we just decide to give up.”
Davin’s sudden assertiveness surprised the others, but Greg demanded the final word. “It won’t do any good if we turn on each other,” he said and started toward the cemetery gate. After a few steps, he hesitated and took a second look around the cemetery. “Now, if you were the charred remains of a church, where would you be?”
“We’ll split up,” Aurelia suggested. “I’ll take Misa and Davin around to the right. Greg, you and Emmet take a look at the left.”
“Right,” Greg agreed. “Both groups will sweep the perimeter and we’ll meet in the back. If you find the ashes, fill up one of these bags.” He handed a quart sized Ziplock to Misa, who held it contemptuously. “I’m sure the site will be overgrown with weeds. Look for a place where there are no trees. There might be pieces of blackened wood too. You never know. It’s been decades.”
Aurelia nodded and the Fallen separated into two groups to begin their search. Greg and Emmet headed into the woods and put some distance between themselves and the others before they started talking. Even still, they spoke in low whispers.
“You know I’m right,” Emmet said. “We should have split town months ago.”
“I tried telling him that,” Greg replied after clearing his lips of gnats. The tiny insects swarmed everywhere—there was no escaping them. He continued, “I argued with Mike about it when we were exploring Willow Creek Farm. He wouldn’t listen to me, but in a way he probably has a point. We can try to run, but for how long?”
“This is insane,” Emmet grumbled. “I don’t know why I keep sticking my neck out for you guys. I had a job back home. People weren’t trying to kill me. Life was good.”
“Yeah, but you know it was boring,” Greg replied with a smirk. Suddenly, his feet hit hard ground and he looked down. “What have we here?” He knelt and parted the weeds.
Emmet joined him and pulled put a pair of eyeglasses from his shirt pocket. He grabbed a nearby stick, poked the dirt, and immediately hit pavement, hidden under what they at first thought was a thin layer of soil. “This looks like a foundation,” he whispered.
“This stuff is too powdery to be dirt,” Greg said as he played with a palm full of the material. “It’s got to be ashes. Look at the splinters of wood around here. This is what we’ve been looking for!” He could not keep himself from shouting triumphantly. He whipped out the plastic bag, filled it with several handfuls of ash and burned debris, then wiped the rest on his shorts. “Suck on that, Aura!”
“You don’t like her, do you?”
“Are you kidding? That woman terrifies me.”
The two made their way back to the front of the cemetery, where they noticed a white, two door sedan parked next to Aurelia’s Buick. Alarmed, they picked up their pace and burst out of the tree line. There, in front of the gates, they saw a man in the advanced stages of baldness, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, talking with Aurelia, Davin, and Misa. He held a microcassette recorder in his hand.
“The name’s Fess Parker,” the man said enthusiastically when he saw Greg and Emmet emerge from the woods. He held out his hand, but no one took it. “Can I ask you guys a few questions? I won’t take up much of your time.”
Greg glanced over at Aurelia. “Who is this guy?”
“A reporter,” she replied with a touch of disgust. “From the… what was it? The Paranormal Review and Gazette?” She folded her arms across her orange tank top, the hem of which just touched the waistline of her ankle length, red skirt.
Greg’s eyes fell on the reporter, who was obviously trying to hide his nervousness behind his barrage of questions. Greg went on the attack. “How did you find us?” he demanded. “Did you follow us here?”
The man ignored Greg’s questions. “Are you members of the Fallen too? What are your names? What are you hoping to find at Bishop- Zion Cemetery?”
“Look, man,” Davin interrupted. “We already told you. We stopped here because my friends had to go take a leak. We’re on our way to a Phish concert in St. Louis.”
“Yeah,” Greg said. “Found a great spot too. It was just what we were looking for.”
“We should probably get going then,” Aurelia suggested.
The reporter stepped in front of the quintet, blocking the path to their car. “You guys gotta give me something,” he said. “This is the third time in as many years the police have picked up one of your members—is that right? It was Mike this time, right? If you don’t tell me, I’ll get it out of the cops. I bet they wouldn’t be happy to learn that you were sneaking around here either.”
The Fallen shoved their way past the reporter to Aurelia’s 1989 Skylark without saying another word, and he did not try to stop them. Misa had a curious smile on her face as her shoulder bumped up against his for a brief moment. She made a mental note of the scent of his aftershave, and heard his heart beating in his chest.
Davin, once in the backseat, leaped up and patted Aurelia on the shoulder as she settled in behind the wheel and secured her seatbelt. “Let’s get out of here,” he said frantically. “Make sure to go back in a confusing route so we can lose this guy.”
Emmet let out a deep breath as Aurelia started the ignition. “We are so screwed.”
[New episode every Friday…]
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