[Mysteriousheartland.com] With In Ruin’s “Four Seasons of Grey” issuing from the Toyota Corolla’s speakers, Mike alternated his gaze from side view mirror to windshield, to rearview mirror and back. Dust kicked up by the car’s tires obscured the road behind it, and the thin layer of white chalk coating the foliage was evidence that dozens of cars had come down that road before.
“Where the heck are we?” Mike asked everyone and no one.
Aurelia, her tanned arm bouncing outside the open window with every pit and pothole, seemed just as frustrated. “Why couldn’t we just meet them at Taco Bell like we usually do?” She spoke of their three friends and compatriots: Greg, Davin, and Misa, who had finished their mission at Vishnu Springs and agreed to meet Mike, Aurelia, and Emmet outside of Monmouth, which was about 40 miles north of there. Emmet was asleep in the backseat, his Cubs hat tilted down over his eyes.
“They wanted to meet at a nondescript location,” Mike replied. “Can you blame them? A cop almost caught them at Vishnu, and the way Greg tells it, Misa is becoming unstable. She almost attacked Davin when they were hiding from the cops. We can’t have that happen in a public place.”
“Greg says Misa is unstable? There’s the pot calling the kettle black,” Aurelia said. “Besides, we have everything we were looking for. Why don’t we just get rid of her if she’s becoming a liability?”
Mike turned his head toward Aurelia and said nothing for several long seconds. “Are you serious?” he finally asked. “She’s our friend. Well, she’s mine, anyway. I don’t betray friends. She saved our butts, remember?”
“She saved Davin’s butt,” Aurelia corrected, “before she decided he was a Happy Meal. We’d be fine without him anyway.”
Mike ignored Aurelia’s last comment. “Whatever,” he replied. “We need to figure out where we are.”
As the last words left his lips, the dark blue Toyota entered a wooded area and approached a short, steel bridge that spanned a creek. Graffiti covered the bridge. As the wheels of the Toyota left the dirt and gravel road and began to cross, the engine sputtered and died.
“Crowley’s arse,” Mike cursed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He turned the key in the ignition, but it did nothing but click. Frustrated, he punched the hard plastic steering wheel. “Damn it! This is all we need.”
Emmet stirred in the backseat. “Are we there? What’s going on?”
Ignoring Emmet, Aurelia opened the front passenger door. “Pop the hood—I’ll look at it.” The moment she stepped out of the car, however, she hesitated. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. “There’s something odd about this place,” she announced as the latch on the hood snapped open.
Acting quickly, Mike stuck his hand into the air. “Hand me that catalog in the backseat.”
Emmet, grumbling a few inaudible
words, fished around on the floor until he found a black binder. He pushed it into Mike’s hand and then fell back against the seat cushion. “Why did we stop?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Mike replied halfheartedly while he flipped through the well- worn pages of the binder. His finger fell on ‘M’ and he quickly found the listing for Monmouth. “Ah-ha!” he exclaimed. “I knew there was something odd about this place.”
Mike continued. “It says here there’s a crybaby bridge outside of town. I guess we found it.”
“I thought those places were just an urban legend,” Aurelia said.
“Everyplace we’ve ever been was an urban legend,” Emmet protested. “Yet you guys continue to think something paranormal is happening there.”
“Storytellers often base urban legends on a real event. Maybe this is real.”
“What is this, the show Supernatural? I don’t see some helpless woman in distress anywhere around here.”
Aurelia sneered. “You got that right!”
“Even if nothing paranormal is going on,” Mike said, “we’re still stuck on a bridge in the middle of nowhere. What are we going to do about that?”
Aurelia slammed the car door. “I’m telling you—I sense something, but whatever. Don’t listen to me. I’ll just look at the darn engine…” Her voice faded as she made her way around to the front of the Toyota Corolla and lifted the hood.
Mike and Emmet sat in the car in silence for a few moments before they simultaneously decided to get out and join Aurelia. The summer sun beat down through the trees, but the shade provided some relief from the heat. In all appearances, the woods were bucolic. A chorus of birds and insects serenaded the Fallen, and the sounds of civilization were far away.
Hands moving over the engine and through wires like a pro, Aurelia checked every conceivable part. Finally, Mike spoke up. “Emmet will think I’m nuts, but—“
“You’re probably right,” Emmet interrupted.
“But since this is a crybaby bridge, why don’t we try to put the car in neutral and see what happens? It’s better than just twiddling our thumbs.”
Emmet chuckled. “I agree with Mike for once. We should put the car in neutral and push it to the nearest mechanic.”
Mike scowled and climbed back into the driver’s seat, and while Aurelia slammed the hood shut, he shifted the gear into neutral. Aurelia and Emmet stepped to one side of the bridge and folded their arms across their chests.
There they awaited the result of Mike’s experiment. Much to everyone’s surprise, the car began to move forward. It rolled slowly across the bridge until it stopped on the opposite end. Cautiously, Mike turned the key in the ignition. The engine rolled over and sputtered to life. As Aurelia and Emmet rushed to get back inside the car, Mike threw the gearshift into park and turned off the engine.
“What the heck are you doing?” Aurelia demanded.
“Send Greg a text message,” Mike said.
“We’re going to meet them here. I want to look around a bit.” He glanced at Emmet. “How do you explain that?”
“Easily,” Emmet said as he flipped open his cell phone and typed out a quick text message to Greg. “This is an old, piece of junk car and we’ve been driving around in the country in the hottest month of the year. The engine obviously overheated or something, and it cooled down here in the shade. As for the car moving across the bridge; it’s obviously on an incline.”
“Why don’t we turn the car around and see if it rolls across the other way, smartass?”
Mike started the engine once again and performed a flawless 3-point turnaround a few yards up the road from the bridge, while Emmet and Aurelia leaned against the steel trestles. The dark blue, Toyota Corolla stopped and Mike put the gear in neutral. At first it did not move, but then, slowly, it began to coast to the other side of the bridge. “Is the bridge angled both ways?!” Mike yelled out the open window.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Emmet replied. “It’s a bridge. It’s slightly arched.”
“Does it look arched?” Mike protested. “It’s flat.”
“It could be so slight you don’t even notice.”
At this point, Emmet was smiling widely. He loved to agitate Mike.
Mike got out of the car and slammed the door. “Did you text Greg?”
“He should be here any minute,” Emmet said. No sooner did those words leave his mouth, the trio heard the steady rumble of motorcycle engines coming down the road.
In a few moments, two unfaired, black and chrome Suzuki GS500Es appeared around the bend. Greg piloted one; Misa the other. Davin sat behind Greg in what was undoubtedly an uncomfortable arrangement for the both of them. None of the three wore helmets, so they were instantly recognizable. They drove slowly over the gravel until they stopped in a dirt clearing at the edge of the woods, just a few yards from Mike’s rusted, unwashed Corolla.
“You just missed some paranormal activity,” Emmet announced with a hint of sarcasm. “We put the car in neutral and it drifted across the bridge—both ways.”
“Call me impressed,” Greg replied. “This is almost as exciting as the time all those ants attacked at Peck Cemetery.”
“Don’t remind me,” Davin grumbled.
Mike cleared his throat and waved his hand to quiet the group. “We have all the items we were looking for,” he said, cutting to the chase. “We got the peace pipe from Willow Creek Farm, the ritual book from ISU, the ritual bowl from Rockford College, ashes from Bishop Zion Cemetery, and water from Vishnu Springs. We have one more mission: we made a promise to that lady at the Seventh Avenue dead end that we would find her missing child. I intend to keep that promise.”
[New episode every Friday…]
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