Mike, Greg, and Emmet stood in front of the spiked iron gates, dusted by cold, misty rain that trickled from the thick, gloomy clouds. Evergreen trees swayed against the Medieval-looking stone wall, and water collected in horseshoe prints on the trail.
Mike pulled his trench coat tightly closed as Greg adjusted his knit cap. Emmet, who towered over the other two, looked unconvinced as Mike explained why they were there.
“There isn’t much information on this haunting,” he said. “But the general story is that a guy went crazy and kidnapped and killed some girls at a private school here. He supposedly hung their heads from these gates. That’s why folks call it ‘Devil’s Gate‘. If there was a school, there’s got to be physical evidence. Just like that house at Bachelor’s Grove.”
“Why are you so concerned with finding physical evidence of a ghost story?” Greg asked. “Even if we proved a school existed here, that still wouldn’t prove it’s haunted.”
“More importantly, why are we here today, in the freezing rain?” Emmet asked with annoyance in his voice.
“It’s March,” Greg replied. “It’s always gonna be cold and rainy.”
Avoiding a few puddles, the three walked off the pavement and onto the dirt and gravel horse trail that led into a deceptively serine forest preserve. After about fifty yards, the unexpected appearance of an old fashioned, rusty fire hydrant took them by surprise.
“What’s this?” Mike asked rhetorically. “Why is this just sitting in the woods?”
“Forest fires?” Emmet replied.
“Look how old it is,” Greg interjected. “This was here long before the forest preserve.”
“You’re right,” Mike said. “Let’s take a picture and keep moving. We can look up the fire hydrant model later.”
“Maybe it won’t rain on us so much in the woods,” Emmet suggested, hopefully.
The three headed off the trail, where a stand of pine trees suspiciously stood out from the deciduous forest. With an eye for the out-of-place, Mike spotted a gap in the undergrowth surrounded by weeds about two yards off the trail.
“I think we have something over here,” he announced, but didn’t wait for his companions to join him. Parting the tall, wet grass, he stumbled onto a long, rectangular cement slab, covered by patches of moss and small, chipped rocks. “Over here!” he yelled.
Greg and Emmet quickly joined him, and Greg tapped the cement with his cane. “Looks like there was something here,” he said. “This can’t be all of it. This building was too small to be a school.”
“Let’s look over there,” Mike replied, pointing towards a small, open field sparsely populated with thick maple trees. The three fanned out, and not long after, Emmet stumbled on a second fire hydrant. Mike took the most direct route along the edge of the woods. The sight of two strands of rope dangling from the outstretched arm of one of the trees stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Uh, guys,” he called out. “Come here.” Greg wasn’t far, and he also noticed the ropes, which gently swayed in the icy breeze.
“That looks like it used to be a swing,” he said.
“Yeah,” Mike confirmed. “A child’s swing. Right in the yard behind this cement slab.” A knot formed in his stomach. He began to feel the story had an eerie truth behind it.
“It’s just rope, guys,” Emmet suddenly said from behind them. “I found another fire hydrant over there.” He stared up at the branch intently.
“Let’s go back into the woods,” Greg suggested after a moment of silence. “Maybe we can find something else.”
Mike wiped the rain off his glasses and followed his friends into the tree line.
Dead branches and raspberry bushes covered the ground. Thorns tore at the Fallen’s clothes.
Finally, the three burst into a small clearing and fell off a cement ledge that rose a foot from the ground. As they looked around, they realised the dirt under their feet was not the natural forest floor.
“I think we fell into a swimming pool,” Greg suggested while examining his surroundings. “Look at these walls. They have rounded corners lined with blue tiles. Where else would you see that?”
“It could have been a bathroom or a shower room,” Mike suggested.
“Whatever it was, they filled it in,” Emmet interjected. “They probably knocked the buildings down and plowed the debris into the pool.”
“Well, let’s get a sample of this tile and go deeper into the woods,” Mike suggested. “I have a feeling there’s much, much more out there.”
“It’s good Davin didn’t come with us,” Greg quipped as he climbed back onto the forest floor. “He’d get pneumonia. Then he’d die and we’d have to look for his ghost.”
“That’s what happens when you sit inside and play video games all day,” Mike replied. He chipped off a piece of the sky blue tile and carefully placed it into a plastic bag.
The three walked westwards through the forest until they came to a clearing, where a deer trail snaked through the slick crabgrass. In the distance, under the cover of more trees, Mike, Greg, and Emmet spotted a block of cement. On closer inspection, they discovered the cement supported pipes and what looked like a pump of some kind.
Emmet kicked at the thick, brown leaves that carpeted the ground and uncovered a coil of heavy, flat fabric.
“Look at this,” he said. “It looks like an old fire hose.”
Greg was busy examining some wires that protruded from the pump. He pulled out his electromagnetic field detector, or EMF meter for short, and aimed it at the wires. To his surprise, the needle jumped. “Hey!” he called out. “There’s still juice flowing through here.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Mike replied. “No one has used this in decades.”
“Look for yourself.”
Mike took the EMF meter from Greg and confirmed a weak current flowed through the wires. “Damn,” he swore. “I don’t think there’s any doubt anymore whether a school or camp of some kind existed here.”
“But why hide that?” Greg asked. “Unless there were murders.”
“Maybe they aren’t hiding anything,” Emmet interrupted. “Maybe they just don’t care. This stuff is just garbage to the park district. They’ve probably never even heard the story.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Mike replied.
“Not everyone cares about this as much as you do,” Emmet countered. “Rich yuppies just want to ride their horses and roller blade down the trail. They don’t want to remember what was here before they were born. Hell, neither do the people who were here when it existed, because if they did, they would have put up a plaque or memorial or something.”
Mike opened his mouth to protest, but then shut it bitterly. “You’re probably right,” he grudgingly admitted. “Let’s head back. Maybe we can check the other side of the trail before this rain gets too bad.”
“That’s a good idea because I’m just about soaked,” Greg complained.
The three trudged back toward the pristine trail while the sky above slowly darkened. In the woods on the other side of the trail, they stumbled on a collection of rusted metal drums, broken toilets, bedsprings, and bottles of every shape and size. Emmet picked up a piece of a play-set—a small teeter-totter. It was difficult for him to imagine someone once playing on the bent and fragile aluminium.
“Look at this stuff,” Mike exclaimed. “There’s enough here to fill a museum.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to haul it out,” Greg said from a few yards away. “I would hate to see this crap just thrown away.”
“Yeah, that would be a tragedy,” Emmet muttered sarcastically. He tossed the teeter-totter aside and pulled up the collar of his damp coat. “Hey, guys, I don’t mean to cut this party short, but can we get the heck out of here? I could really go for a beer and a hotdog.”
“Good idea,” Greg seconded.
Mike hesitantly agreed after taking a few minutes to sort through a small pile of bottles. “I wonder if we’ll ever solve the mystery of this place,” he asked as he turned one around in his hand. “Something bugs me about it. It just ain’t right. We’ve been here for over an hour and I have more questions now than I did before.” He placed the bottle back in the pile, covered it with leaves, and rushed to join his two companions.
“Sometimes a discovery raises more questions then it answers,” Greg said. “It’s hard to sort fact from fiction when all you have are a few decaying leftovers and some legends. If you want to find the truth, sometimes you gotta get a little wet and dirty.”
The drops of rain came heavier and faster, and the three friends raced down the trail to their car. As he ran, Mike glanced at the large field to his right and wondered what kinds of secrets the golden-yellow grass hid. His thoughts lingered on the group’s discoveries that day. He knew one day the Fallen would uncover the truth.
[New episode every Friday…]