Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
“I’ll not have you argue with me while I’m sick,” Louise Richards told her worried son as he lingered at her bedside. Her face was as white as the sheets that covered her too-thin body. “I’ve put a bit of money away and it’s your senior dance we’re talking about.” Louise coughed blood into a ragged handkerchief. “There’s ten dollars in the cookie-jar. Some of it is in change, dimes and nickels … but no pennies to embarrass you. Use the coins for your tip. I want you and your date to have a good time.” She grasped her son’s hand and her sunken eyes took on an urgent look, below eyelids too-wrinkled for thirty-six years. “Take Camille to Spare-a-Dime after the dance. Order the Breaded-veil Cutlet dinner if she agrees. I’m sure she will. The Fosters don’t ever eat in cafes either.”
Her fingernails dug into Steven’s wrist as if to convey something important. “Don’t just buy burgers or an order of fries to share. Girls like to see a boy spending money on them. It makes them feel appreciated.” His mother smiled for the first time in weeks. “Your handsome father took me there when we were dating.” Her eyes became dark pools of decades-old memories. “I grew up on a farm milking cows. It was the first time in my life I felt really special.”
Stephen had no memory of his father who had died in Korea in 1952. He often stared at the photograph that sat on the old console stereo that sadly only played 78 rpm records, not the 45’s that everyone bought nowadays. The uniformed man in the frame was a stranger.
Stephen thought about the empty cupboards in the kitchen and the doctor his mother needed but could not afford. Except for a few potatoes and some woody carrots, there was hardly anything to eat. He’d feel better buying milk, eggs and flour from Cloverdale Food Market than going on his first high school date. “But maw! I can’t leave you like this!” Louise released his arm and began to cough again. Even more blood spattered the handkerchief. “I mean it Stephen … you go and have a good time.” She pushed him away. “Put two dollars’ worth of gas in the Ford. The Fosters live way out on Canyon Road. I don’t want you to run out of fuel.”
Stephen looked at the money as he put on his coat. Gasoline was thirty-two cents a gallon at the service-station on Townsend Avenue. The car got fourteen miles-per-gallon. Canyon Road was ten miles from town. A dollar’s worth should be plenty. Maybe he’d buy a quart of the strawberry ice-cream his mother loved on the way home. ‘Have the time of your life,” she called as he adjusted his bow-tie and slipped out the door.
Stephen grinned as he started the battered 1956 Fairlane. He and Camille would have a memorable evening at the Cloverdale High School Senior Prom of 1971 … and so would his dying mother … when he got home later.
“This fog is terrible,” Camille said as she climbed into Stephen’s mother’s car. “It’s like swimming with your clothes on.” Stephen avoided looking at her, because when he did, it was hard to turn his eyes away and the road ahead, what he could see of it, was treacherous. The sixteen-year old junior was dressed in a simple yellow dress with lace on the sleeves and the hem. Stephen liked that. Camille’s light-brown Twiggy style hair fell halfway to her shoulders, soft and as bouncy as her personality. “Nice car,” Camille said. She’d found the broken-spring, hidden by a blanket, on the passenger-side seat and was bouncing up and down.
“I almost drove past your road,” Stephen told her. “I’ve had to stop twice to read the numbers on mailboxes.”
“Oh, you poor thing. You didn’t get out of your car did you?” Camille turned the rear view mirror towards her and was touching up her eye-makeup from a Heartbreaker all-in-one compact from Yardley of London. “Because my father says fog is an acronym for fears-of-God.” She aimed her green eyes at Stephen like weapons from a Sci-Fi movie. “And anything that God is afraid of is something I don’t want to handle … oops! Looks like my garden needs a bit of water.” She noticed a smudge on the bright orange, yellow and green cluster of flowers painted on her cheek as she turned her head back and licked a folded Kleenex cat-like to try to correct it.
“I did twice,” Stephen confessed. “Once at the Hicks’ farm down the road and a little earlier at the crossroads just after you cross the covered-bridge on the river.”
Camille gasped as she placed soft fingers on the back of Stephen’s neck and caressed it gently. “Loon’s hollow! I don’t feel any deep cuts or blood,” she said. “That god-awful creep must have missed you completely!”
“Blood?” Stephen was hunched over the steering wheel and staring nervously at the road which seemed to vanish in a white blanket inches from the headlights. “What are you talking about?”
“The Axegoon Murderer,” Camille said. “He’s one of the fears of God specific to these parts. All areas of the world have their own monsters. Boston has a Strangler, Portland has Bigfoot, probably more than one, even foggy old London has a Jack the Ripper.”
“Why haven’t I heard of this Axegoon?” Stephen said. It looked like a crossroads up ahead, but he couldn’t quite be certain.
“He silences his victims,” Camille said making a slashing gesture across her throat with a bright orange fingernail. “My father had a milk delivery route on the north east part of Comanche County about ten years ago. His cousin Herbert Grant was born semi-retarded and liked to ride-along the early mornings as an unpaid helper. Dad said the fog was so thick every road was as smooth as an ice-skating rink. All the potholes on Canyon Road had been painted over with the …” Camille finished the sentence in the trembling voice of Wolfman actress Evelyn Ankers. “… cold, deadly, vapors from hell.”
“Kind of like this night,” It was a crossroad, and Stephen came to a complete stop; for a moment his vision seemed to spin. He shook his head, made a left turn and proceeded cautiously.
“Exactly,” Camille said. “Dad stopped so that Herbie could deliver a gallon of milk, a pint of thick-curd cottage cheese and a pound of butter to Mrs. Kraust who used to rent the old Miller place.”
“So what happened to Herbie?” Branches on both sides of the winding road seemed to jut outward like bony fingers trying to grasp the slow moving automobile.
“He didn’t come back that’s what,” Camille said. “My father waited in the truck for nearly twenty minutes before he went looking.” Camille leaned toward him and Stephen was forced to look into her eyes. “Papa found his body in a rose bush halfway to the house. His legs were tangled and his head was missing, chopped off clean like that butcher at Gary’s Meats had done it.”
“That sounds hideous!” Stephen braked hard even though he was driving less than twenty miles an hour. A large tumble-weed rolled across the gravel road and disappeared as the car skidded to a stop in the gravel. Stephen unrolled his window a sliver. Strange, there was no wind.
“My, you’re skittish,” Camille grinned as she scooted across the seat to sit next to him. “You’re not afraid are you?” Her lips were moving so close to his ear he felt the tiny hairs tingle. It was not a bad feeling.
“No, of course not,” Stephen said. “I’ve heard my share of ghost stories, but I stopped sleeping with the bed-covers pulled over my head years ago.”
“Good,” Camille told him. “Because I want this to be a night that we’ll remember forever.”
She reached over and turned on the radio. A low rumble of thunder followed by a thumping bass line came from the dual speakers. Camille turned up the volume. The Doors playing Riders on the Storm filled the inside of the automobile.
Stephen didn’t see the tangled roll of barbed-wire spread across the road until too late.
He stopped the car and turned off the radio. Escaping air whooshed from both front tires as he unrolled his window. “Damn! This is all we need,” he said. Camille’s eyes were large and round. If she wasn’t scared, she was a good actress.
Stephen laughed in spite of the mishap. “Now you look frightened,” he said.
“Herbie’s legs were tangled-up with barbed wire when my father found him murdered,” Camille told him.
The barbed-wire hadn’t just flattened both front tires it was tangled around the steering-rods and the rims. Stephen felt dismayed. Even if he’d had the foresight to carry two spare tires, the mess of barbed wire would have to be cut away with metal snips. “I’m sorry Camille,” he said as they both stood in the fog. “This night isn’t going exactly as I planned.”
“That’s okay,” Camille put her arm through his as they began to walk. “I’m pretty sure I know what the school dance is going to be like. Tonight is an adventure and I have no idea what’s going to happen. I kind of like it. You don’t get many days like that in a small town.”
“Remember this is Cloverdale you’re talking about,” Stephen laughed out loud. It sounded forced even to his ears.
‘Yes I know,” Camille chirped. “Witches who drive old Buicks, Scarecrows that dance under the moon, ghost trains that rumble through the night and endless stairways that lead all the way down to the Devil’s summer home by a lake of molten lava. I heard enough stories as a child to fill twenty volumes.” She shook her head as she took a pack of Spearmint gun from her purse and offered Stephen a piece. “I’m trying to quit,” he told her. She slapped him playfully and stuck two sticks in her mouth. “Doublemint,” she said.
“We need to find a telephone,” Stephen told her. “But I have no idea where we are.”
“Follow the yellow brick road!” Camille’s high laugh sounded like a Munchkin. She began to kick up piles of yellow leaves lying on the road as she danced like Judy Garland.
“Is that a light I see?” A tiny speck of illumination glowed through the fog.
“Yes,” Camille gasped. “You have saved our lives!” She over-dramatized the lines like an off-Broadway actress playing to a bored audience, throwing her arms in the air, and then she kissed him.
The sound of some large machine rumbling through the field next to them made them both stop, hold their breath, and stare into the fog.
“I hope so,” Stephen told her. “I really hope so.”
The old farm house looked like it hadn’t been lived in for years … centuries even. Spider-webs clung to the frame of the wooden front-door. It sounded like a cat screeching when they shoved it open. “Anybody home?” There was no answer to the shout.
“I don’t think whoever lives here has electricity … let alone a phone,” Stephen said. Camille flicked a light switch up and down. “I think you’re right.”
A Bic lighter appeared in Stephen’s hand. It didn’t give off a lot of light but it was better than nothing. “I didn’t know you smoked.” Camille looked at Stephen accusingly as they entered the room.
“I don’t,” Stephen old her. “My mom has an old gas stove in her kitchen and I have to light the burners all the time. I guess I carry this lighter out of habit.”
“Too bad,” Camille said. “I could have really used a cigarette.”
Stephen spotted what looked like an oil lamp on a table next to a lumpy sofa. The inside of the house and everything in it appeared to be the same dull shade of grey. Stephen lifted the lamp-chimney and noticed a thick film of dust coating everything. He lit the wick and when he replaced and blew on the glass cover the room appeared as if by magic.
All of the furnishings were at least fifty years old, most were probably seventy-five. “I know we saw a light shining from an upstairs room,” Camille said. “There has to be somebody here.”
“I’d be willing to bet that when we find them they are way over thirty,” Stephen said as they walked toward a grand staircase with elaborately carved volutes on each side of wide carpeted treads. They were halfway up the stairs when the roar of several gasoline engines sounded from outside. Headlights appeared through the curtained windows seeming to move in random directions. “I didn’t really want to go upstairs anyway.” Camille turned and pulled Stephen with her. They were down the stairs and halfway to the door when a voice came from behind. “I wouldn’t go outside if I were you!” An old woman with a blizzard of hair the color of snow stood at the top of the stairs wearing what looked like a turn-of-the-century nightgown. “In your world people sleep when night falls but in my world the work is just getting started.”
“Your world?” Camille gasped as the lantern-light revealed a large black beetle crawling from one of the women’s flaring nostrils.
“Yes,” the woman cackled. “You put your dead in the earth, do you not?”
Stephen and Camille were both too stunned to speak.
“Did you think that what you plant in the ground does not grow?” The old woman started down the stairs. The sagging flesh over her rickety bones made a scraping noise on the stair treads. She lifted a gnarly arm and pointed toward the window. “Behold the workers have arrived.”
Stephen and Camille both turned to where the woman pointed. At that moment two dark silhouettes moved past the window carrying a long box. The fog outside appeared to be dissipating outward in all directions from the farm house. A watery moon floated from behind a stand of leafless trees and illuminated workers as they moved up and down long rows in the fields. Most were bent double and all were wearing black hooded cloaks. Ghostly machines moved across distant fields cutting bulbous translucent plants and piling them into trucks.
Three loud booming knocks on the front door sent clouds of dust drifting from the ceiling. The door opened before Stephen or Camille could react. The two men entered the room carrying the long box that the better light showed was an elaborate black coffin with Transport Des Morts carved on the side. An ethereal light omitting substance like Mercury dripped from the edges of the polished wood. “New seed for the farm.” A skeleton figure pulled back the hood he was wearing and grinned, showing a jawbone and rows of lanky teeth.
“It must be fresh,” the old woman said. “Old seed is a waste of our talents.”
“No more than an hour ago,” the first skeleton said as they pried open the lid. Neither Stephen or Camille wanted to see a dead body and they both closed their eyes. Finally curiosity got the best of Stephen and he opened one eye and then both. His scream made Camille open her eyes too. The woman inside looked peaceful but too familiar.
To be continued …