by Mackenzie Gagnier
“What’s the deal?”
Constable Marshall Lewis slid into the passenger seat with a fist-full of Lotto Maxs before sealing off the chilly twilight with a slam. He slotted the tickets into the side door while rummaging through his countless pockets—though he immediately forgot what he was searching for under the expectant gaze of the sergeant.
His superior spoke after a few seconds; “Take a look.” He flicked his head up at the mobile data computer mounted between them.
“Not Texas already?”
Without much haste, the cruiser lurched forward, rounding out of the parking lot and into the checkered labyrinth of the county. The men traveled without much talk, observing familiar stretches of farmland and shivering as the last strokes of sunlight withdrew beneath whispering fields.
“Where they park?” Lewis asked, chewing his lip.
“Concession 8. We’ll see if anyone’s there and then keep goin’.”
The constable absently scratched at the chafed skin around his tightly-fitted watch as they neared the intersection of Howard and Texas.
“How many times you been down here for this?”
“Not enough, apparently,” the sergeant responded dryly, raising his eyebrow and lifting his hand off the top of the wheel to eye his speed. At a slow roll, they rounded the corner onto Texas Road, one of the countless side roads running perpendicular to the protracted concession lines. Lewis quickly glanced at the GPS and shuddered. Something about the grid-like pattern of these roads had always disturbed him more than any of the ghost stories he’d heard—though those had been heavily diluted by his and his colleagues’ unremarkable experiences removing trespassers.
“Kids’ll be kids, I guess. I mean, if I’d grown up here and heard all the stories, I probably would have checked it out too.” The sergeant grunted in response. Lewis shifted in his seat before continuing: “Is it true, though, about the burial grounds and the massacres and all that?”
“Yeah, think so.”
“… Who called it in?”
“Neighbours. Not the Brents, heh—I think they stopped caring a few years back.” He coughed into his shoulder. “The Meyers.”
Lewis suddenly felt that he had been asking too many questions of the irritable man to his left, so he reserved himself to the hum of the engine and the melodic crunch of gravel. He checked his watch and sighed, wondering why he never remembered to get the battery switched. For a moment he considered rolling the window down and hurling the thing into the void when the passenger-side headlight went out.
“Did that really just happen?” the sergeant posited quietly.
Lewis, fascinated by the newfound obscurity of the edge of the road to his right, neglected to respond. As the cruiser slowed, however, his fascination began to distort into encroaching dread. He reasonably estimated that they were about halfway between the concession roads but was unable to shake the feeling that they could truly be anywhere.
An unexpected jolt plucked Lewis from his contemplations and infused him with a small rush of adrenaline; the impatient sergeant had hammered the car into park before it had fully stopped and was throwing himself out of the vehicle. Hastily the constable fumbled with his seatbelt and did the same, never allowing his eyes to wander from the illumination ahead. He skittered along the side of the road and nearly stumbled into the field as the sergeant tore open the hood.
Lewis craned his head eastward, chancing to spot the kids’ car up at the intersection, but the light didn’t reach. He considered walking around to the driver’s side and switching on the high beam for the remaining light.
“Hold this, for the love of God!”
Lewis wheeled back around to see the sergeant holding his flashlight behind him, his other arm digging into the mechanical jungle behind the headlight housing. It was at this moment, however, that the driver’s side light also went out. Lewis, whose visual faculties were diluted by anxiety, heard only a tearing sound and a thud, followed by a laboured “SHIT!” and the clattering of the flashlight on the dusty gravel. Briefly stunned, the constable observed the sergeant in the dim, grounded light, clutching the top of his head and keeling over in fits of profanity.
“Are you… are you okay?” Lewis trembled, picking up the flashlight and pointing it at his superior’s feet.
“So it’s not the fuse,” the sergeant growled as he recovered himself, inspecting his torn sleeve and a trickle of blood running down his wrist into his hand. “How… in Hell… did both of these bulbs go out?” Spittle flung from the small gaps in his clenched teeth as he spoke. “Christ, this thing just went in for maintenance.”
“Should we go back? Call HQ?” Lewis held the light steady while darting his head up and down the barren road—he saw no other lights.
The sergeant continued to run his hands tightly along his scalp, breathing heavy. He put his hand out. “Give me the flashlight. Get yours out too.”
Lewis promptly assented, the shaky flood of artificial light smoothening in the hands of the other man. “What are we doing?”
“I’m gonna call this in,” the sergeant huffed as he yanked open the driver’s door. “Then we’re gonna hoof it up the road and kick those kids out.” He looked up at the constable and grinned. “Then we’re gonna crack some skulls.”
Lewis chuckled nervously. “Yeah, this is a bunch of bullshit.” He turned on his flashlight, facing the ground, where it momentarily illuminated three small drops of blood saturating the dirt. “Are you sure you’re alright, though?”
The sergeant was already busy with the radio, so the constable casually swamped the area with light, tightly turning so as to never leave his back exposed to the dark for too long. After the sergeant made his call, he pulled the cruiser over so that it was nearly leaning into the side-ditch. Lewis observed the tall, reaching grass nearly eclipse the passenger-side tires.
They began trudging along the side of the road, flashlights in hand, until they reached the intersection of Concession Road 8, where the gravel underfoot temporarily transitioned to fractured pavement. A fleeting glance to his left in the dim light was almost enough to force an audible squeal out of the constable, as the sergeant’s spindly hair had become matted down to his forehead, strands dangling above bulging eyes and gritted teeth. Smeared blood on his right hand clearly contrasted his pasty skin. Lewis was about to ask why the sergeant had not bandaged up his wrist when the man turned to him sternly:
“You see the car?”
They stopped in the middle of the intersection and swung their lights around in an arc—the sergeant to the north, Lewis to the south. Similar to their own cruiser, the kids’ white Neon was parked, sloped into the ditch about fifty meters south of them. The concession road appeared to widen and extend endlessly in both directions.
“Hey, maybe we can hitch a ride back with them,” Lewis joked, but the sergeant made no indication that he had heard. Even if he had responded, however, he would have been interrupted by a flurry of quick, successive shrieks which erupted from the forest to the east.
“Here we go,” muttered the sergeant.
The two officers immediately quickened their pace to a half-jog, flashlights wavering in one hand, belts held in place by the other. They whizzed by the few neighbouring farmhouses without so much as a glance, small rocks and dust kicking up in their wake as they approached the roundabout at the crest of the forest. The shrieks continued periodically, and with each wave of sound Lewis became less certain of the intention behind them.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the sergeant barked “You go over the bridge, I’ll check the ravine.” He shouldered past Lewis on the thin forest trail leading from the road and began climbing down the large rocks which spilled out around the bridge. Lewis knew that the ravine was a hotspot for trespassers, but as he rushed across the bridge, he did not hear or see any indication of teenagers down there.
It had been more than two minutes since the last onslaught of shrieks, and the constable, penetrating the savage forest in a wild state of anticipation, had to constantly wipe his watery eyes. He had quite nearly forgotten his duty in the confusion of the night, only beginning to remember as the trees thinned away and he stumbled out into the clearing on the other side—the burial grounds.
Terror bellowed from the mouths of at least three teenagers, whose flailing shapes could barely be made out against the outline of the forest, out of range of Lewis’ flashlight.
“HEY!” he called. “O.P.P.! You are trespassing on priv…” but he trailed off as they scattered into the trees. He slowed his pace and narrowed in on one of the shadows, which he noticed had stopped to hide behind a tree. As he approached the trees on the other side of the clearing, he nearly rolled his ankle on a scattered assortment of candles and unrecognizable knick-knacks which looked hand-made. It was clear to Lewis that the assortment had been quickly abandoned as he had approached the clearing; he observed a wisp of smoke and some exotic fragrance emanating from the candles, which, before being knocked over, had been set up precisely, far from any of the gravestones.
“Sweet Jesus, these God-damned kids,” he muttered, before looking up to the trees. “Hey, it’s okay—come here.”
He had made it to the edge of the forest and was shining his flashlight at the tree that the kid was behind. He could see the sides of their crouched figure protruding from behind it—a red sweater heaving desperately in fear, hands near the ground clutching at roots.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she repeated, voice trembling with each syllable.
“Hey, listen, I’m Constable Lewis. O.P.P. You’re not in trouble—just come out, okay?”
She did not budge and instead began to weep. He could have simply walked around the tree and grabbed the girl, but he didn’t—instinctively he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small yellow dandelion, which he had picked from the side of the road for no particular reason that afternoon, when no one had been watching. He threw it lightly to the right of the tree, into the view of the crouching teen, all the while illuminating it with his flashlight.
After a few moments the weeping stopped, and a small hand emerged from behind the tree. Two delicate fingers picked up the flower and retracted it back out of view to the source of the weeping, which quickly faded into sniffles.
“We were just paying respects, sir.”
“I understand. It’s okay. Can you please call your friends back over here?”
“We saw your light and got scared—cause, you know, people see lights around here”
“Yeah. Hey, why don’t you come out?”
Slowly the girl stood up, tightly gripping the tree as she looped around to face the constable. He lowered his flashlight to the ground and presented a warm smile.
“Can you call your friends? You don’t want them to get hurt out there, right?” he asked gently.
“Yeah.” She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her sweater and raised her eyes to his, where compliance immediately distorted into terror. He saw the reflection of the sergeant’s light there, and quickly whipped around in time to see the limping, haggard figure of his superior lurching towards them from halfway across the clearing. His face was a ghoulish white, one hand wielding his flashlight, the other on his holster. He was grunting and hollering feverishly—completely incomprehensible.
A deafening scream startled Lewis, and he turned just in time to see the young girl’s eyes nearly fall out of her head in pure horror. She turned and ran before he could grab her arm, wailing madly all the while. After a few steps into the dark forest, she began to yell to her cohorts:
“It’s all true! They’re real! Run! Go! THEY’RE REAL!!