In a far southwest suburban forest preserve outside Chicago, Illinois, a stout man in a black trench coat stealthily led four other explorers down the broken cement road under a canopy of barren oak trees. His piercing, gray eyes scanned the tree line as he swept the lens of his VHS-C video recorder from trunk to moldy trunk.
Emmet, the tallest and leanest of the group, spoke first. “What are we looking for?” he asked in a dry, probing tone.
“Evidence of a house,” Mike, the trench coat-clad man leading the group, replied. He stopped walking and zoomed in on the depths of the woods. “People keep seeing a phantom house out there. If there was a house, we should find some physical evidence of it.”
“But all the books mentioning Bachelor’s Grove say there’s no evidence a house ever existed,” Davin, the youngest of the five, interjected through chattering teeth. “Why would they lie to us?”
“I don’t know,” Mike replied. “Are you sure you read them carefully? They must have said something else about it.”
Aurelia, or Aura for short, rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest. “Does anyone else wonder why, at the most haunted cemetery in the world, we’re looking for evidence of a house?” she asked rhetorically. She was short, with long, charcoal hair tied into a tight ponytail. She wore a long, black skirt and heavy, platform combat boots. Her foxlike gaze barely hid her contempt.
“I told you before,” Mike said. “Eyewitnesses have seen this house at various points in the woods, always in the distance. When they try to approach, it disappears. No one has ever reached the house and returned. What does that sound like to you?”
“A myth,” Emmet replied.
“No, a portal,” Mike said. “The Jesuit missionary, Father De La Fontaine, wrote that an ancient cult hid an astral gate or portal in the land of the Illiniwek. Given the area’s history, this could be it.”
Emmet sighed. “So you read an old story in some moldy book, big deal. Is this myth worth driving all over the state for?”
“Yes,” Mike said. “This portal could open a gateway to the secrets of the universe. Think of the hidden knowledge it would reveal.”
Always the skeptic, Emmet laughed.
“Even if that’s true,” Davin said, rubbing his arms for warmth, “why would the portal take the form of a house?”
“I don’t know,” Mike said, “but it’s worth checking out. Maybe the story has been distorted over the years. Maybe the people who saw the house didn’t know how to unlock it. I’d love to find out, but first we have to find the damn thing.”
“Hey, guys,” Greg interrupted, waving his cane through the air. “This is the fourth time we’ve been here. Maybe the house foundation is somewhere we’ve never looked before?” Greg was a head shorter than anyone else in the group. He never parted from his cane, which he bought at a voodoo shop in New Orleans.
“Maybe it’s down this trail,” Emmet suggested, pointing to a small deer path that diverged from the main road to the cemetery. “We usually walk past it, but we’ve never looked there before.”
“Good idea,” Mike announced. He swung to the right and marched into the woods with his camera leading the way. His companions followed, while Davin shivered and rubbed his hands together.
“It’s really cold,” he said, but the only response he received was a sharp kick to the shin by one of Aurelia’s boots.
“Stop whining!” she said.
Not more than three yards down the trail, Mike stopped dead in his tracks. “Wow!” he yelled. “Hey, guys, come look at this!” He zoomed in on a twenty-square foot hole in the ground, littered with bricks, old branches, and ceramic dishes and cups. Rusted, metal pipes jutted from the ground. It was obvious to the trained eye that this was a house foundation.
Lagging behind, the four explorers picked up their pace and joined Mike at the edge of the foundation.
“I don’t believe it,” Davin exclaimed when he saw the debris. “Oh man. This is unbelievable!”
“I don’t get it,” Mike said as he kicked an antique bottle out of his way. “How could no one have found this before? It’s right off the trail. I literally took less than two dozen steps.”
Emmet thrust a stick with an old, red tank top dangling from the tip in front of the group. They jumped back in surprise.
“Call me crazy, but I don’t think we’re the first ones to find this place,” Emmet said. He tossed the stick aside and kicked an empty can of Ice House at his friends. “There’s no mystery here, guys, just a popular place to get drunk and fool around. My guess is that people reported seeing the remnants of a house and over time that got distorted into stories of a phantom house. There’s definitely no portal here.”
Mike was speechless. He shook his head and paced around the foundation, filming all the pieces of ornamented plates, cups, saucers, old glass bottles, and metal pipes he could find.
His friends caught up after taking one last look at their find, but on their way down the path, the five heard another group of people heading towards them. The crash of underbrush was distinct.
“Hold up,” Greg said and held out his cane.
Bachelor’s Grove house foundation. Photo by the author.
Bachelor’s Grove house foundation. Photo by the author.
Two kids, a boy and a girl who looked like typical suburbanites, soon joined the Fallen and passed with nervous smiles. “Hey,” the boy said. “If you guys want to see an old stone well, there’s one just around this bend.”
“Thanks,” Mike muttered, and waited to curse until the two were out of earshot. “What is this, a theme park?” he asked rhetorically. “Everyone knows about this place.”
“Look on the bright side,” Davin said sarcastically between violent sneezes. “At least we’re not in our warm houses watching TV in the loving embrace of Jack Daniels.”
Aurelia sighed loudly at Davin, while Mike marched down the worn trail, over collapsed logs and through scratching, wild raspberry bushes in search of the well. Just as they had been told, it loomed a few feet off the path. Built of stacked, moldy bricks, it was slightly asymmetric.
“This is it,” Mike grumbled. “I’m never believing anything I read anymore.”
“Poor Mike, thought he was discovering something but was foiled by reality,” Emmet scolded. “I told you this is crap. The only reason I come on these trips is because otherwise I would just be sitting on the Internet all day reading blogs.”
“Hold on,” Greg protested. “Sure, locals know about this place, but you can’t expect writers to know everything. I mean, they have book signings to attend. They don’t have the time to actually come out here.”
“It’s obvious there’s no astral gate here and no phantom house,” Davin said. “Just a bunch of garbage. Let’s leave. It’s freezing, and I think I’m getting sick.”
The five agreed, snapped some more pictures, and then slogged back to the main trail. No sooner had they emerged from the woods, they ran into four members of the Pan-Continental Paranormal Research Society, who were unpacking boxes of equipment on the cracked and broken pavement.
“Look at them,” Mike grumbled. “They think they’re hot shit just because they have matching black t-shirts and fancy gear.”
“Someone’s jealous,” Aurelia sang.
“Don’t bother going down that trail, guys,” Greg said as the two groups passed each other. “There’s nothing there. We already checked.”
The professional investigators gave the Fallen dirty looks. “Get out of here,” one shouted. “You’re disturbing the energies!”
“Whatever,” Mike muttered. “Did they follow us here?”
[To be continued next week…]