Deep in Decatur, Illinois, The Fallen’s 1991 dark blue Toyota Corolla puttered through the white, metal gates of Greenwood Cemetery with Mike, Greg, Aurelia, and Emmet inside. Its rusted muffler hung inches from the road. “Does anyone else notice this city smells like rotten eggs?” Emmet asked over a remix of calliope music that blared from the car speakers.
“I don’t know what was worse,” Greg interrupted, “Mike screaming at anyone who wasn’t going over sixty-five miles per hour, or listening to Insane Clown Posse all the way down here.”
“Alright, just calm down,” Mike ordered as he steered the car down a side trail that ran through a cluster of mausoleums.
Greg ignored him. “Where is Davin?”
“He said he refused to go on anymore trips until it got warmer,” Mike explained. “Luckily, I can message him on my cell phone if we need to look something up.”
Their Corolla crested a ridge and exited the woods. A wide valley spread out before them, and the character of the cemetery changed. At the bottom of the hill, beside a row of leafless bushes, sat a crisp, black van with the letters “P.C.P.R.S.” painted on the side. A team of six men and women wearing identical black t-shirts stood on a patch of lawn and scanned the area with electromagnetic field detectors. A television cameraman followed.
“Damn it!” Mike cursed and struck the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. “I don’t believe this! How could the Pan-Continental Paranormal Research Society know we were going to be here today?”
“It’s just a coincidence,” Emmet suggested. “How many haunted places are out there? We have to learn to share.”
“What’s your problem with them, anyway?” Aurelia asked from the backseat.
“What’s my problem?” Mike repeated indignantly. “They’re arrogant and have matching t-shirts, and think they’re so great because they have TV cameras following them around. What have they ever found?”
“What have we ever found?” Greg asked.
“Shut up,” Mike replied bitterly, and he pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right. “We’re going back up into this terraced area. I don’t want to deal with them today.”
“What’s up here?” asked Aurelia.
“Let me text Davin.”
[MIKE]: Davin, get online and see if you can find any stories at Greenwood Cemetery associated with this hilly area.
[DAVIN]: Let me get out of bed first.
“What’s he saying?” Greg demanded.
“He has to wake up.” Mike set his phone in the change tray and steered the car around a sharp curve. The phone buzzed after a few moments.
[DAVIN]: OK. Head up the road a little ways. U R going to see a cement staircase with the name Barrackman on it.
[MIKE]: What’s the story?
[DAVIN]: Hang on.
“We don’t have all day here,” Greg interrupted. “Tell him to hurry up.”
[DAVIN]: K. There isn’t much online, but according to this book, a woman in a dress appears on the stairs at sundown. No one knows why.
“He says he read there’s a staircase up here where the ghost of a woman appears,” Mike told everyone. He jerked the steering wheel to the left and then screeched to a halt as he nearly flew past the short, mouldy steps labeled ‘Barrackman.’ The steps climbed a slight ridge at a three-way intersection.
“Is this it?” Aura asked.
“I guess so,” Mike replied. “It doesn’t look haunted.” He closed his cell phone and slid it into the pocket of his cargo pants.
“Well, a book said it was haunted, and anything you read in a book is true,” Greg said. “Jurassic Park was nonfiction, right?”
The four opened the Toyota’s doors in unison, then slammed them shut and positioned themselves around the staircase.
“Are you going to tell me when the ghosts get here?” Emmet asked sarcastically.
Greg ignored the comment and turned towards Mike. “Let’s see if the pendulum picks anything up,” he urged.
Mike reached into the pocket of his trench coat and produced a small crystal that hung from a black string. He dangled it over the staircase and it began jerking in random directions. “My hand is shaking,” he said in a characteristically monotone voice. “It’s too cold out.”
He looked over at Aurelia, who was deep in thought. “Aura!” he shouted. “Ask your spirit guide if there are any ghosts here.”
“You mean her imaginary friend that she made up because her boyfriend is in jail?” Emmet interrupted.
“Let’s not talk about him right now,” Mike growled.
Aurelia stuck her nose in the air and turned her head with a defiant snap. “Humph!” she grunted angrily.
“Great, look at what you did,” Greg said with a poorly veiled laugh. “You hurt Aura’s fragile feelings.”
“Fine,” Emmet grudgingly replied. He removed his blue Chicago Cubs baseball cap and folded the rim. “Sorry.”
“Aura!” Mike yelled again, annoyed they became sidetracked. “Please. We need your help.”
Aurelia sighed and rested her hands on her prominent hips. “Give me a second. You distracted me.”
“She’s kinda like one of us,” Mike interrupted. “Fallen.”Emmet rolled his eyes while Aurelia concentrated. After a few minutes, she spoke. “My spirit guide says the woman who haunts these steps is lonely. She wants to get home but she can’t. She feels rejected and afraid because the other spirits ignore her.”
Thinking Mike was being overly dramatic, Greg and Emmet both laughed.
“Alright, what else is here?” Emmet asked. “I hope we didn’t drive all this way just to look at some old stairs.”
“What about those tunnels we read about,” Greg suggested. “Let’s go over there. We’re more likely to find a tunnel than a ghost.”
The four piled back into their car and drove to the top of the hill, where the statue of a woman overlooked a trimmed lawn filled with rows of nearly identical headstones.
Mike stopped the car and got out. His three companions followed. “This looks like the place where people claim to see those Civil War ghosts,” he announced. “Let’s leave the tape recorder here while we look for the entrance to these tunnels.” He produced a small recorder out of his coat pocket and placed it on top one of the stones, while Greg took pictures.
Suddenly, Aurelia called out from the edge of the hill. “I found something!” she screamed.
Mike, Greg, and Emmet rushed to her side and peered into the valley that lay beneath the steep slope. At the end of a long, straight ridge, behind the cemetery fence, a broad, brick chimney jutted from the ground. An iron manhole lid covered the top.
“Good work,” Mike said. “How are we going to get down there?”
“Looks like there’s only one easy way,” Emmet said with a grin. He jumped off the edge, barely landed on the soles of his shoes, and slid the rest of the way down. The rest of the Fallen hesitantly followed, until all four stood facing the chain-link fence and the suspicious ridge of grass.
“Well, this is a pickle,” Greg muttered. “Are we going to climb the fence?”
“It wouldn’t be too hard,” Emmet replied.
“It looks like someone cemented this manhole shut,” Aurelia cut in. “Maybe we can dig into the tunnel from here.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” Greg sneered. “Let’s dig into the tunnel. There’s no way that could attract attention from those TV cameras over there.” He pointed toward where the PCPRS leader was demonstrating how to use an EMF detector to the TV news reporter.
Mike kicked some of the dirt away with his boot and struck something hard. “There are bricks under this grass,” he announced from the top of the ridge. “I think they’re loose.” He kicked downward, and suddenly his foot broke through the wall. He almost fell down in surprise, but kept his balance, then carefully withdrew his foot. A potent, musty odor spewed forth.
“I would move if I were you,” Aura prophetically warned as suddenly half a dozen large, brown rats poured from the opening, screeching in anger.
Mike jerked away and began running up the hill towards the car, followed closely by the rest of the group.
“We can’t just leave,” Greg protested between heavy breaths as the four collapsed around the base of a cannon nestled among the Civil War graves. “We haven’t explored the tunnels.”
“I ain’t going down there,” Aurelia yelled.
“She’s right,” Mike said. “Maybe next time when we’re better equipped for subterranean exploration. For now, let’s just see if anything comes up on the audio recorder.” He snatched the recorder from the top of the headstone and walked back to the car.
[New episode every Friday…]