by Christopher Schmitz
part 1 of 2
Earlier than he had hoped to rise, Sam hauled himself out of bed to answer the ringing telephone. His parents had gone to work earlier so he was the only one in the house.
Casually, he glanced out his bedroom window. He saw it again, a shadowy black figure standing in the middle of his yard, staring right at his window. Sam did a double take and his heart leapt. The cloaked entity was not there on second glance.
Sam shrugged it off. He had seen it a few times before in that very spot. He figured he was seeing things.
Stumbling through his disheveled room and beyond the dining table, Sam grabbed the chirping telephone. He rubbed his bleary eyes and switched the portable receiver on.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Hey, Sammy! What’s up, cousin?”
“Yeah. How you doin’?”
Sam smiled. This call was worth getting out of bed for. Three years ago, their age gap had aligned perfectly and Sam had been allowed to attend the same summer camp as his cousin. Tom was a graduating senior that summer, and Sam was an awestruck, incoming freshman. Ever since, he had idolized his older cousin who now lived far away.
“I’m doing great. How’re you doing?”
“Awesome, and I’ve got some good news, too, so tell your folks about it later. I’m moving up that way. I should get in tonight some time. I got accepted into an internship up north now that I’ve turned twenty-one. They would have taken me on sooner, but they had a minimum age requirement.”
Sam silently chided himself. He had forgotten about his cousin’s birthday last week. “That is awesome news.”
“Well, what’re you doin’ tonight?”
“I was gonna go with a few friends and hang out at the quarry.”
“People still do that? I always figured somebody would find something else to do.”
Cold Rock Quarry had earned a reputation: it had taken lives. Abandoned by the granite miners who excavated too deeply, it was now filled up with natural springs. In recent years, it had become a hotspot for the misadventures of youth.
Like a broken stone bowl, solid granite cliffs surrounded half of the hole. Ending just below the surface, the extended arm of a forgotten crane reached upwards, as if it longed to escape its final resting place. In the right light, the remains of a vehicle and other mining equipment were visible under the murky, black water.
“Oh yeah, happy twenty-first birthday.”
“Yeah, thanks. This year is gonna be awesome. I’ll catch up with you tonight. I’ll find you and your friends at the quarry.”
Sam hung up and wandered back to his room. He needed to get ready for school; it was a fifteen minute drive into town and he had been late several times recently, and it was only autumn.
He couldn’t wait to tell his friends at school. Having a relative who was old enough to buy alcohol for you was a sort of status symbol.
* * *
He was partway up the hill leading to the peak. The granite cliffs jutted out nearby and the water was only a little way down. Graffiti labeled a nearby rock, the shortest outcropping where cliff jumpers could jump into the water.
In the dying light, Sam dumped an armload of dried wood on the ground; with a noise like dried, clattering bones, the kindling crashed together in a heap. A few minutes later, he had a fire burning. Wisps of smoke curled skyward as a car pulled up and parked next to the ATV Sam had arrived on.
The dilapidated grocery-getter choked and died as it came to a halt. The vehicle should have been retired long ago. With the engine no longer howling, heavy metal music blared from the cab. It ceased a minute later as bodies piled out of the car.
Sam’s friends, Walt and Mick, had brought along three of their mutual lady friends. They were prepared for a small party, bringing along a boom box and blankets.
Sitting around the fire, the teenagers finished off a six-pack of discount beer as they waited for Sam’s cousin. None of Sam’s friends had met Tom, but they expected him to be the life of the party, according to what Sam had told them. They also expected him to bring more beer.
“So you’re sure your cousin’s buying?” asked Mick.
“Why else would he make such a big deal about being twenty-one? Trust me. Tom’s the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” Sam had hyped him up to his friends all day in school.
Music thumped in the background as the portable stereo blasted AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells. Sherry snuggled up against Sam. She wrapped a blanket around them; Sherry constantly maintained that she only wanted to be friends, but she was the only one that thought that. Everyone else saw that Sherry and Sam were practically a couple.
The sky darkened as Walt uncorked a flask that he had stashed in his backpack. He took a swig and winced.
“What’s that?” asked Jessica.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “It was in an unlabeled bottle in my parents’ cabinet. I think my grandpa made it; it’s either for drinking or cleaning engines.”
Walt took another sip and spat into the flames. A small fireball erupted, sparking up laughter from everyone. “Maybe its for both,” he joked.
Mick beckoned for the flask and Walt passed it around the circle.
“You know,” said Mick, “This place is haunted.” It was the perfect autumn night for a ghost story.
Melissa looked worried at the thought. She was the most skittish of the girls. She had been acting strange lately, especially during this new school year.
“I heard that, too,” said Sam.
Sherry pushed Sam away coyly. “Oh stop. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Everything can be explained by science.”
“Really?” challenged Walt. He pointed to the collapsing old shack down below their campfire. “If you really believe that, then I dare you to go sit in there for ten minutes, alone.”
She backed down and pretended she hadn’t heard him. She snuggled closer to Sam knowing that he wouldn’t let her take a dare like that if it meant her getting up and walking away from him. She rubbed his belly under the blanket to seal the deal.
“Actually, this place is full supernatural activity,” claimed Mick. “There’s an old haunted house near here, too.”
Melissa’s eyes widened and she took a big gulp from the flask. She hacked and coughed from the burning liquid. Jessica took it from her and put it to her own lips.
“I know about that one,” said Sherry. “Didn’t that used to be an old brothel?”
“Yeah,” agreed Walt.
“I’ve been in it,” said Mick, relating a story of how he once helped his uncle deliver ‘Meals on Wheels.’ “There’s satanic drawings and stuff on the walls, the whole place is covered with ‘em. The old lady that lived there was some kind of Satan worshiper. The only furniture inside was a whole bunch of nasty old mattresses on the floor. I can’t imagine that it was still a whorehouse; she was, like, eighty years old.”
“Oh, come on, Mick,” teased Jessica. “You know you wanted to.”
Mick made a face at her.
Melissa looked even more frightened. She was too anxious for humor.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sherry. Everyone noticed that Melissa was troubled.
“That one kid died here a few years ago...” she trailed off. Silence reigned as she gathered her thoughts up into words. “Y-you guys have never seen anything, like, demonic or anything, have you?” It was a statement phrased as a question.
The pit of his stomach leaped at the question. “What do you mean? What have you seen?” Sam asked, urgently. The shrouded apparition from outside his window flashed through his mind, real as ever. The seriousness in his voice killed what had started as a playful mood.
“I guess... I dunno. I’ve seen things, a lot of things, since last summer.” Melissa explained how her older cousin had goaded her into using an ouija board. Her cousin was obsessed with the supernatural.
“Ouija boards are evil,” chided Jessica before launching into a short tirade. Her priest had recently brought a former warlock to speak to his youth about the dangers of dabbling.
Melissa ignored Jessica; she had a habit of talking to hear herself speak. “Do you know what ‘automatic writing’ is?” Melissa continued.
Quizzically, the others looked back. The term was vaguely familiar.
“It’s when you let a spirit that you are communing with take control of your hand to write you a message,” she explained. “Guys, my cousin asked the spirit from the ouija board what its name was. It said it was Nick Furey.”
The urgency in her voice was convincing. Nick had drowned in the quarry’s cold water only a few years prior. His friends had been able to hear him scream and thrash about the water, but they could not locate him on that black summer night. They found his body the next day.
Together, they all turned their attention to the water. The surface was perfectly still, as it always was–even on a windy day. The pale glow of the moon barely reflected on the black, somber water.
As he stared, Sam saw it in his peripheral vision; his heart plummeted. The haunting apparition stood nearby, at the edge of the firelight. It seemed to sway slightly in his vision.
Sam jumped up with a surprised cry and turned to face the shadowy form. The sudden commotion scared the others. The girls screamed and seized up; Mick and Walt jumped up in alarm.
The tense moment passed and Walt laughed the surprise off. Jessica and Sherry relaxed, convinced that Sam had tried to scare them; Melissa was shaking.
Sam sat back down. A ringing buzz filled his head and his limbs were jittery with the adrenal rush. “Hey!” he argued with his laughing friends, “I wasn’t joking.”
After they quieted down again, he told them about the cloaked figure that had been stalking him. After the tale, silence again reigned, the mood tense and anxious.
“What do you think, then?” asked Sherry. “Is the quarry really haunted?”
“Do you think that it could be Nick?” Melissa asked with a dry, strained voice.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Sam. “When you’re dead, you’re dead. I’m probably just stressed out, seeing things that aren’t there.”
“You don’t believe in the supernatural, ghosts and stuff?” asked Walt, as he watched Mick rummage through his tattered duffel.
“I’ve always been told,” stated Jessica, “that all ghosts are demonic spirits. I have an aunt who’s very religious. I come from a very Christian family.”
“Don’t we all,” scoffed Mick as he pulled a handheld digital video recorder from his bag. Nobody wanted to let her get up on that soapbox. He beckoned to Jessica for the flask, and took a burning swig when he got it. “How’z about you, Sam? Don’t you go to church every Easter and Christmas; your parents ship you off to that Bible camp every summer? Maybe this is just the devil trying to pay you back for being a goody-goody.”
He shook his head at the accusation of being better than his friends. “I’m not sure what I believe,” he confessed. “I haven’t seen enough to be really convinced, I guess. But I suppose I’d call myself a Christian. At least, as much as everyone else I know.”
Jessica frowned slightly at the implication.
“So what’s the camera for?” asked Sherry, dodging a potentially uncomfortable discussion.
Mick wiggled his hand into the recorder and flipped open the LCD screen. “Don’t you watch television? They have these shows where professional ghost hunters and mediums take video footage and photos, looking for orbs.”
“Yeah, little floating balls of light. There’s no valid reason for them; they shouldn’t appear, but somehow the camera picks them up in areas with paranormal activity.”
“I’ve heard of that,” said Walt. “I saw this one picture of a junked hearse. There were, like, thousands of orbs around it. An expert said that each one was a ghost.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” said Jessica.
Mick walked to the edge of the rocks and crouched down. Curious, Sam and his friends crowded around him so they could see the display screen. The viewing panel glowed a faint green in light amplification mode. Mick panned across the surface and spotted a floating sphere.
“That’s no orb,” scoffed Sherry, “it’s a speck of dust.”
Mick spit-cleaned the LCD screen and then wiped off the lens. He faced the camera back to the water. Moments later, they spotted one, then another, and another. There were dozens of them. They only showed up on camera and were not visible with the naked eye.
“Look at that,” breathed Melissa. One orb seemed to glow brighter than the others. “Zoom in on that one.”
As Mick pushed the buttons, the bright orb momentarily filled the screen. The battery light flashed prematurely and then the power cell discharged, killing the camera.
“What the...” cursed Mick. “I had a full battery,” he whispered incredulously.
They sat for a second in shock. A sound snapped behind them, like a twig breaking underfoot. It was just the fire pop-hissing, calling them back.
“M-maybe we should go,” stammered Melissa.
“No way,” Sam shrugged off the notion. “My cousin should be here any time.” He walked confidently back to the fire and retrieved the stainless steel flask; Sam gulped a swallow and tossed it to Mick.
Mick took a heavy dram and tipped the empty container upside down. A solitary drip fell to the ground. “Well, I sure hope he gets here soon.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Christopher Schmitz