[Mysteriousheartland.com] Munger Road was eerily serene. The air was calm, and snowflakes trickled down from a few scattered clouds too thin to obscure the bright buttery moon. Hugging the tree line, five figures stole through the darkness at the edge of the road. Not a single car passed. The five had parked their car on the side of the road under the cover of trees and walked toward a railroad crossing at the crest of the hill. There, they would explore the area for any truth to the legend of the deadly train wreck that took the lives of one unfortunate family.
Mike, a broad-shouldered man with light brown hair and glasses, lead the way with a night vision camera. He wrapped his black leather trench coat tightly around his waist.
Behind him stomped a determined young woman named Aurelia, whose Aquiline nose sat prominently on her face. Everything about her bearing resembled a bird of prey, especially her distant gaze. She moved forward awkwardly, almost blindly. Her friends knew that she was simply too busy concentrating on detecting subtle disturbances in their surroundings to care where the road was. She would get where she was going because she trusted her friends to take her there.
Suddenly, Mike stopped dead in his tracks, causing Aurelia to do the same. The three men following closely behind her ran into each other, eliciting a few sharp cries of surprise.
“For crying out loud!” Greg shouted angrily. “Why don’t we have flashlights?” Greg was about a head shorter than everyone else in the group. His dirty blonde hair was barely visible under his knit cap, and he wore baggy cargo shorts despite a temperature that was in the low teens.
“I told you,” Mike replied, “no one can know we’re out here. We don’t want to attract attention.”
“Any idiot driving by can see us,” Emmet, who was following Greg, protested. Emmet was the tallest of the group, and his thin stature made him appear even taller than he was. He refused to wear any head covering other than a tattered Cubs baseball hat. Earlier that day, when Mike suggested that he wear something a little less obvious, he rolled his eyes.
Davin, the youngest of the quintet, spoke up. “Do you think it’s a good idea to be out here at night when police are looking for us in several counties?”
“That’s never stopped us before,” Greg replied with a wide grin.
Mike thrust out his hand to calm the group. “Knock it off!” he hissed. “I thought I saw something up ahead.” The trees to the side of the road were thin and widely spaced, offering a view of the clearing beyond, and the layer of freshly fallen snow glowed in the moonlight. Not even a leaf stirred.
“No one is out here but us,” Emmet said. He quickly added, “No one would be dumb enough to be out here at night but us.”
“No,” Aurelia said. “There is someone else out here. Can you hear that?”
The group fell silent as everyone strained their ears. Faintly, they began to hear a distant noise that sounded like an animal squealing or whining. They had not heard it over the shuffle of their feet on the gravel roadside.
“What is that?” Davin whispered.
“I wish we had brought Casey,” Greg said, referring to the coydog they had adopted during a visit to Old Union Cemetery several years before. She was a scrappy, gray coated crossbreed between a wild coyote and a feral domesticated breed they still had not identified. Mike did not want her to come on the expedition to Munger Road because her barking might have alerted the neighbors to their presence.
“Where is it coming from?”
“Let’s keep walking and see if it gets any louder,” Mike suggested. “The railroad crossing is still about fifty yards away. There are a couple of abandoned houses in woods too, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Torn down, I think,” Emmet said.
“Regardless, let’s keep moving.”
The quintet started walking again and the strange noise disappeared behind their footsteps and the rustle of their clothing and equipment. They soon reached a grassy clearing that meandered back to a large field. The park district had erected a metal cable covered with yellow plastic to block the entrance to the clearing, and a green sign announcing “Pratts Wayne Woods – Brewster Creek Wetland Restoration Site” stood beyond it.
Mike wiped snot away from his nose and inhaled deeply. “Does anyone else smell that?” he asked. “It smells like something burning. Incense, maybe?” He pointed his video camera toward the park district sign and zoomed in. A faint mist passed across the glowing green viewfinder.
“I smell it too,” Greg said. “Where is it coming from?”
Everyone looked at Aurelia with an unspoken question. “Don’t look at me,” she protested. “I said I can sense ghosts and other entities—I never said I had a great sense of smell. It isn’t a ghost, I’m 100 percent sure of that.”
“So am I,” Emmet said, chuckling. Emmet was the skeptic of the group. Despite everything he had seen during his time with the Fallen, he remained unconvinced. He swore he would stick with the group until they had proven—to his satisfaction—the existence of the paranormal.
Mike led the group around the cable barrier. The further they got from the road, the stronger the strange smell became.
“I don’t hear that noise at all anymore,” Davin whispered. “Do you think the smell and that noise have something to do with each other?”
“We’re about to find out.”
Down the grassy path, near the sign for Pratts Wayne Woods, the landscape dipped down so a sizable rectangular area lay outside their line of sight. The smell was coming from over there, and every gust of wind brought with it a small puff of smoke. The Fallen crouched and crept toward the edge of the embankment. They found it steep but shallow. There was something glowing down there, but the Fallen could not discern what it was until they got a little closer.
Suddenly, an icy chill washed over the group. What looked like a large doll dressed in tattered clothes lay in the snow in the middle of the depression. Nearby, several glowing embers flickered around a collection of objects barely visible in the mix of mud and snow. There were footprints and drag marks all over the bottom of the rectangular depression, and enough snow was missing from the sides to reveal the cement edges of a house foundation.
At first, no one said a word. Then Greg spoke up. “Please tell me that isn’t what I think it is,” he said.
Davin covered his mouth and turned an even lighter shade of pale than usual.
Aurelia growled, shoved her way past Mike, and marched down to the bottom of the depression, but the sight shocked even her. It was the body of a child, as they had all feared, but its eye sockets were empty and filled with black residue. There were large gashes across its right leg and both of its arms, as though someone had tried to saw off the limbs, but was interrupted. Steam rose from the fresh wounds.
“It looks like we interrupted whatever was happening here,” Mike said. He joined Aurelia, but deliberately turned away from the corpse and examined the glowing embers and pile of debris. The embers, which lit up the ends of several fat sticks of incense, turned out to be the source of the scent they had smelled earlier. Most of the debris was unidentifiable—sticks, rocks, and pieces of organic matter. There was, however, a small stone statuette spattered with blood, surrounded by feathers of some kind. The statuette was unusual. It looked like a man or monkey with large ears, bulging eyes, and a toothy grin sitting in a squatting position. Its arms were folded across its chest. Mike handed it to Greg. “Wrap this up and put it in your backpack,” he said.
Greg hesitantly took the statuette and held it away from his body like a disease.
“This must have just happened,” Emmet said. “Jesus. The perpetrators might still be around. They could even be watching us right now.”
“Emmet is right,” Mike said. “We need to get the heck out of here. I filmed enough of it so we can go back and try and figure this out later.”
“What’s there to figure out?” Greg said. “This is a police matter.”
Mike gave his friend a scolding look. “You saw that statue, the incense, and the cuts. Don’t tell me this doesn’t look like a ritual to you. Not to mention whoever did this picked this particular spot near Munger Road. Why would they do that? This is occult, and that falls under our area of expertise.”
“Mike is right,” Aurelia said. “I have a bad feeling about this. I mean, for beyond the obvious reasons.”
Without further discussion, the Fallen retreated to the road and hurried toward their car. In the darkness of the woods, several pairs of eyes watched and waited until they were gone.
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