Before you proceed make sure you go to the Volunteer Times Fall Preview published on October 20th for Part 1.
Sean hit the brakes when he came around the curve where the tree was blocking the road. It looked shattered, like a train or an explosion had hit it full force and just blew it to pieces. “Heck yes!” Karla shouted. “We can finally get rolling and get home. I’m exhausted dealing with all this weirdness.”
“Hey, wait a second.” Charlotte said. “We promised the lady we’d bring her ax back to her!” Sean sat thinking and finally said “Hey Joey, just bury it in the end of that tree there. They’ll find it for sure.” Joey hopped out of the car and buried the ax in the end of the tree, the one nearest the road. He jumped back in and slammed the door and the car roared down the road, blowing leaves in its wake.
It was getting quite dark by this time and the flashing lightning was illuminating the skies every few seconds. Charlotte was looking out her window for one of these flashes and saw what appeared to be a small child; a girl, alone in the woods just off the side of the road. “Hey, did you guys see that?” she asked the group. “See what?” Karla replied. “There was a kid standing there alone. We should go back and see what’s wrong. This looks like a terrible storm coming and those houses are a mile or two back. She shouldn’t be out here alone.” Sean began to slow down and finally stopped in the road, “I didn’t see anything. I mean, it’s pretty dark out there. Are you sure you saw something?” Charlotte looked over her shoulder, and wondered if she did see the child for a second, but she was sure that she did. “Yes, I’m sure of it. Please Sean, turn around. I can’t just go and leave her. It won’t take more than 10 minutes to pick her up and take her back to those houses. We can even return the ax.”
The other three looked at each other and even though they were skeptical of what she’d seen, they agreed to go back and look. Sean wheeled the car around in the road and peeled out, throwing gravels as he sped back down the road. “Slow down some Sean” Charlotte begged. “She was standing up here on the left, you’re gonna drive past it.”
The car roared down the road, Sean, ignoring Charlotte’s pleas to slow down, kept the gas mashed. He just wanted this trip to finally be over. It was already too weird and he didn’t want it to get any weirder.
“Oh my God Sean! Stop!” Charlotte roared at him. The little girl was standing in the middle of the road, why wasn’t he slowing down? Joey yelled back “What are you talking about?!” just as Charlotte felt and heard the thump as they ran the little girl over. “Stopstopstop!!!” Charlotte was hysterical now. Sean stopped and said “What in the world is wrong with you, Charlotte?”
Charlotte was in a panic, shoving the seat forward, pinning Joey to the dash as she clawed forward and then pulled the door latch to pile out. She scraped her hands on the road as she fell forward out of the car. The others looked at her like she was a lunatic as she ran behind the vehicle, and down the road just out of the glow of the brake lights.
Karla and Joey got out as Sean sat in the car, not knowing what was happening. Charlotte, visible in another lightning flash, was sobbing and rocking back and forth in the road with her back to them. “Charlotte, honey” Karla almost whispered as she walked in the road towards her friend, “what in the world is wrong with you?” Lightning flashed again and Karla thought she saw a small child’s shoe laying beside Charlotte, a bright smear of blood on it. She felt a dread deep in the pit of her stomach and she slowed her approach, not wanting to see a mangled child. The lightning flashed again and this time Karla saw a pine cone in the road where she’d thought the shoe was located. “Keep it together Karla.” she said to herself as she approached Charlotte and touched her shoulder.
Charlotte looked up, tears streaming down her face, pleading “we have to help her, we have to get her to the hospital.” while she held nothing in her arms. The lightning flashed again and Joey thought he saw a small, bloody hand print on Charlotte’s shirt but in the next flash there was nothing there. He was feeling strangely paranoid but right now he had to talk some sense into Charlotte. “Hey, c’mon now, what’s wrong?” She looked up at him like he’d just asked the dumbest question she’d ever heard. “What’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG!?” We killed her. We killed her for sure. She’s bleeding out of her eyes and ears and mouth for goshsakes and you want to know what’s wrong!!!!”
Karla leaned down and grabbed Charlotte by the shoulders and said “Honey, there’s nothing there. You’re not holding anything. There is no little girl, there was no one in the road.”
Charlotte looked at Karla and Joey as if they’d completely lost their mind. The little girl in her arms -dressed like one of her grandmother’s dolls- gave a shuddering breath and was suddenly still. Charlotte wailed and rocked her close.
“Just calm down Charlotte. It’s going to be fine. We’re going to get you home and you’ll get some sleep and this will just be a bad dream.”
Charlotte ignored Joey as he said this to her. Sean rolled up in the Monte Carlo and said “what’s the deal here? We can be home in 20 minutes if she’ll just get in the car.” “Jerk.” Karla muttered as she once again bent down to try and convince Charlotte to get into the car.
“C’mon Charlotte, please, lets just get in and go. We can go straight to the next house with a phone and call the police or an ambulance, whoever you want. But we can’t do anything sitting here like this. Just…umm set the girl down for a second and we will get that sheet we took on the camping trip out of the trunk and we can wrap her up.”
“Okay,” Charlotte said in an almost breathless whisper. She gently laid the child down in the road and got up and walked on unsteady legs to the passenger side and sat down. Joey made a show of getting the sheet out of the trunk and walking to where Karla was kneeling beside what was supposedly the dead child. He shook it out and let it float in place over the “body” that wasn’t there.
Sean began to rub his eyes, for a second he thought he saw the shape of a child as the sheet settled, and lay flat in the road. Karla got up and walked around the car and got into the backseat, Joey climbed into the backseat beside Karla. A massive whip crack of thunder popped and wind began to shake the car, fluttering the edges of the sheet.
“Lets go.” Sean said and started to slowly pull out. Suddenly the radio let out a huge squelch and the dial moved on it’s own. Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues” began playing. Another song from the 1930s, this one supposedly about Johnson selling his soul to a demon one evening in the Mississippi Delta.
“Holy heck!” Sean screamed and began fumbling for the volume knob. “How the heck did that happen? This storm must be doing weird things to the radio signal.”
Charlotte, who’d hardly even flinched when the radio started playing looked over to where the little girl was covered up. Suddenly the sheet began to rise up into the shape of a ghost, right out of any 100 cartoons that featured ghosts she’d seen since she was a kid. It began to walk into the woods. “Hold it! She’s alive!” Charlotte screamed and clawed at the door of the car to get back out. Sean went to grab at her wrist and haul her back into the car but she was gone before he could. Karla and Joey looked up and saw the sheet fluttering into the woods before falling. “The wind, it’s so windy out there, it blew the sheet.” Joey said, the disbelief evident in his voice.
Charlotte was crashing into the woods, visible in lightning flashes, chasing after something that wasn’t there. Except on that last flash, Karla was sure she’d seen a little girl in a dress with a red stain. She looked straight out of the depression era Appalachian region. When the lightning flashed again Charlotte was barely visible through the woods and there was no little girl at all.
That same bolt of lighting that gave Karla her extra look at the childlike figure revealed something to Sean as well. He could have sworn he saw the faces of at least 20 more children peeking out from behind trees. Except where there eyes were supposed to be, it was hollow and black. Black streaks like tears of dark blood ran down the porcelain-like skin on the faces. He’d only seen them in flash of lightning but it was like they hung there for 10 minutes, stopped in time.
The radio once again went to full volume. This time playing Johnson’s follow up to “Crossroads Blues,” “Hellhound on my Trail”. Sean tried to crank the volume down but wasn’t able to do it. The song began to distort and play slower and louder, louder than the car radio could possibly ever go.
Karla and Joey were screaming in the backseat and couldn’t be heard over the blaring of the radio. The lightning was vivid and coming every few seconds and heavy rain began to fall. Except it could hardly be described as rain, it was more a thick, black mucus that immediately covered the car windows, making it impossible to see out. Karla dove out the door of the car to escape the overwhelming din of the music. Pure 1930s blues rock. The devils music they’d called it back then.
As she cleared the car door it slammed behind her and the doors locked. Gravels spun into her face as the car shot off down the road, fire flashing from the dual exhaust. Through the only spot on the back glass not covered in black she could see Joey’s face in the ultrabright lightning flash. It was twisted into an unholy scream, then the car rounded a curve out of sight.
Not knowing what else to do she jumped up and ran into the woods after Charlotte. As she called her name, there was no answer. The wind was ripping leaves off trees and branches were scratching her face as she tried to run through the thick, black rain. She thought she glimpsed Charlotte as she ran through the woods, but no matter how fast she ran she couldn’t get any closer, even though it appeared Charlotte was walking.
A few minutes later, terribly out of breath, Karla came upon a neat little house in the woods. She heard tittering laughter inside and the orange glow of a fire filled with front window. She walked up onto the porch and stepped inside. There were toys everywhere. Trains, dolls, wagons, blocks and other things kids would have loved 50 years ago. There was a great hearth and by the fire sat an old woman. “Hello dear. Such a frightful evening to be outside eh? Good thing my children found you and your friends. No one wants to be out in Red Ash on a dark and stormy night now do they?”
Karla suddenly felt completely exhausted. She just couldn’t move another inch. It was nice and warm here, and these toys made her feel like a kid again. She sat in front of the fire place and picked up a dolly and began to stroke it’s hair. “Yes, yes my deary girl, play with your dolly, Mother will take care of you.”
Charlotte had lost the trail of the little girl and gotten turned around in the woods. She’d felt absolutely compelled to follow the girl but when she finally lost sight of her, it was like a trance had lifted. She knew she had to get back to the car and get out of here. It wasn’t right here. Nothing was right. She began to move slowly between the swaying trees, finding her way by using the frequent lightning flashes that showed her the lay of the land. She saw movement in a flash and when the next arrived she saw Karla. She was walking towards Charlotte when she suddenly veered and began walking another direction. “KARLA!” Charlotte shouted but the ripping leaves, the constant thunder and other noises just seemed to swallow up her voice. She began to run towards Karla and suddenly burst into a bit of a clearing, and overgrown, unkempt one, but devoid of trees. There was an absolute pit of a house in the center of the thick grass and briars. Broken windows, the door hanging askew and Charlotte could smell it’s decay from the edge of the clearing.
It didn’t seem to deter Karla though, she went inside. Charlotte began to wade her way through the tangle. It looked like Karla walked straight through with no issue, but it was practically grabbing at Charlotte. She finally fought her way through the tangle and onto the porch. She got to the porch and another of the many lightning bolts flashed across the sky. She saw Karla sitting by a rocking chair with what appeared to be a skeleton in it, holding a filthy bundle of rags that appeared to be a skeletal child.
She screamed through the window at Karla but Karla paid her no attention at all. She went to the door and tried to go in but it wouldn’t open. She shoved and shoved with all her might and nothing. This was absolutely insane. Everything that had happened since they left the interstate was absolutely crazy. She had to find the guys and get them to come help her. She hoped the hovel wouldn’t collapse in the storm before she returned.
She plunged through the forest again with only the most vague sense of where she might be trying to go. She knew that this was a steep valley in the middle of two mountains. So if she started going up very much before she found the road, she was going the wrong direction. She finally came to a bit of a rise and could see what appeared to be the headlights of the car pointed straight up. The car was over a bank and on fire. She ran into a small dip and raised out the other side and could no longer see the headlights of the car or the fire. She didn’t understand it at all. She’d moved straight through the dip and back out the other side. The car should have been in the same place as before, only closer. She ran down the last small hill and out into the road.
She began to walk down the road to where she thought the car was off the bank. She was so nervous she was about to throw up. She was also terrified, soaked and cold. “How could any of this be happening?” she wondered as she came to the area where the car was wrecked. It was standing on it’s end, so rusted out it was hardly recognizable with a thick tree growing up and through where the back and front glass had been before. The tree was so large it had to be at least 40 or 50 years old. It was at least 60 feet tall.
October 31st 1984 12:08 am
Charlotte could feel the gears in her mind began to crunch. She staggered up to the road and sat down. Each time lightning flashed she could see faces peeking out from behind trees. Faces of children, children with black pits where their eyes should have been. In the very closest trees were familiar faces. Karla, Joey and Sean, but their faces from 10 years ago. When they were kids. In the last flash before the car arrived to pick her up, she saw that they were smiling at her. Her longest standing and best friends. Oh, how she’d like to join them.
The man who picked Charlotte up couldn’t get any sense out of her. She would only say she was going to meet friends. He would read in the newspaper later on, more about her trip and her missing friends. She insisted they were in the woods and the car was right there off the side of the road in Red Ash. The authorities of course, checked her story out. The car wasn’t there. How could it be? A car that was wrecked and then had a 50 year old oak tree growing through it within minutes? No way that could have or would have been possible. Not even in Red Ash. The man told the police he’d picked her up and drove her straight to Caryville and called them. They’d thanked him and sent him on his way.
He hadn’t told them two other things and he wondered if he should. If he did though, they might think he was as crazy as that Charlotte girl. Then he’d end up locked in Lakeshore just like her. Besides he was completely sure it was a coincidence. When he’d been driving through he came across a downed tree that had been across the road, but something appeared to have blasted through it. Stuck in the broken end of the tree was a very rusty ax. Looked like it had been stuck there for years. The cops found no tree in the road, just a very old stump near the road there. He sometimes wondered if he’d truly seen that tree; then he’d go look at that ax head in his garage and he’d quit wondering and try to forget instead.
The other thing, and he was sure this couldn’t be the case, he would have sworn he’d seen a kid dressed for Halloween way out there. A kid dressed as a ghost of all things. Just a plain sheet with two eye holes. Only they hadn’t looked so much like holes, not really. They looked more like two dried blood stains where the eyes should have been. How he’d seen that much detail in a flash of lightning, he couldn’t say. It was almost like time froze for a few seconds. His radio even went wonky and started playing some old timey music when it happened. He wasn’t going to say anything about it, no way, no how. He was crazy but not that kind of crazy. He was sure of one thing though, he wasn’t going back to Red Ash on any dark and stormy nights any more.
Happy Halloween Times Readers! Remember, stay out of Red Ash tonight!