You almost couldn’t find the road. The wilderness had done a lot to reclaim the entire area. If it hadn’t been for the corner of the sign, not quite rusted away, peeking out through the high weeds at the edge of the road, I might have just forgotten about the whole thing. If I would have, Cindy and Chuck might still be alive
I guess I should start at the beginning. Maybe then you’ll be able to understand what happened. Maybe I’ll be able to finally understand it myself. First, I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Jake Wood. I was a fourth year journalism student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Cindy Taylor was my girlfriend and Chuck Ryan was my roommate and best friend.
Chuck was the one who first told me about The Crossing. He was originally from southern Kentucky. The Crossing, as the abandoned town was called by locals, was something of an urban legend. Chuck had heard stories about the place all his life, most of them scary enough to keep him and most of the other local teens from daring to go there.
Nobody in the area would say what had really happened in the town. Only that everyone left one early spring night after a freak snowstorm and then the town somehow caught fire and burnt to the ground. The county stopped maintaining the roads leading to the town, letting the wilderness reclaim that part of the area. New roads were constructed far around the area where The Crossing had been, and pretty soon the place passed away into a local legend.
We were all sitting around in my and Chuck’s apartment a few blocks from campus, the debris from the previous night’s party still strewn across the carpeted floor. Chuck was drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniels and watching TV. Cindy and I had were both having a beer, trying to figure out where we were going to go for spring break.
“I know where we could go,” Chuck sat the bottle on the coffee table.
“Where’s that, Chuck?” Cindy brushed a stray strand of brown hair from her face. Cindy was in favor of doing something different. We had been to both Florida and Mexico the past two years.
“A ghost town,” Chuck swiveled his head to look at us, his eyes seemed unusually bright.
“A ghost town? Where?” I asked my own curiosity suddenly piqued.
“Kentucky. People don’t talk much about Devlin’s Crossing. Not no more. Most folks down home don’t even like to think about that town,” his voice was almost a whisper.
“Why is that, Chuck?” Cindy leaned forward, her eyes sparkling in anticipation.
“Because there are haunts down there. Dark things, evil things, lurking in the ruins of the town,” Chuck replied, shaking his head.
“What kind of things Chuck? How did you find out about them?” I was grinning as I asked; sure that Chuck was off into another of the many tall tales he liked to tell about Kentucky.
“I went there once with a bunch of my friends. We were in high school. It was part of a big senior prank. We never made it all the way into the town. Sam Lewis and Dave Whitesell just vanished off the trail. Jimmy Tate was the first to notice they was gone. He called out to tell the rest of us. That’s when we noticed that the woods had gone quiet as a grave. No bird chirped, no cricket sang. The wind even died to nothing. Then we heard something skittering around under the brush. George Clayton, he figured it was Sam and Dave trying to scare us. I knew he was wrong though, ‘cause the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. There was something out there, maybe a whole lot of something’s that I figured we probably didn’t want to meet.
“George, though, he laughed it off, said it was just Sam and Dave and called us a bunch of sissies! Now Jimmy Tate, he was ready to jump right in ol’ George’s face and make him take it back. Me and Freddy Halpern held him back though. I figured George had a big enough mouth; he’d call trouble down on himself without our help. So, when George turned and started down the trail, Freddy and me started dragging Jimmy back the way we had came. The closer we got to the road; we could hear the sounds of nature coming back. Then we heard a scream from deep in the woods. It was the most awful sound I ever heard in my life. I ain’t ashamed to say that the three of us lit a shuck for the road where Jimmy’s pick-up truck was parked. We waited at the truck for about an hour to see if George or Sam or Dave come out of the woods, but they never did. So the three of us drove home and vowed not to ever talk about that day again,” Chuck finished, he reached over and grabbed the bottle of whiskey again, lifting it up and drinking from it.
“So why do you want to go back now?” I asked. I had never heard this story from Chuck before. I was intrigued.
“Because I am ashamed for leaving them boys back there in the woods that day. Maybe if I would have gone back in, they might have come out,” Chuck drained the bottle and slammed the empty down on the tabletop.
“You can’t know that, Chuck. There is no telling what they ran into. It could have been criminals, could have been wild animals. There’s no way to know,” Cindy tried to comfort him.
“There’s one way to know. That’s to go back down there and find out what happened to them,” Chuck spoke so softly we could barely hear him.
“You really plan on doing this?” I wanted to be sure. The journalist in me smelled a story.
“I do,” Chuck stood up quick, so fast he nearly lost his balance.
“Count me in, Chuck,” I told him, stepping over to steady him.
“Me too, Chuck,” Cindy added from the couch. I helped Chuck into the bathroom and left him there. I looked at Cindy as I walked back into the living room.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I wanted to hear what she had to say.
“Chuck needs us, Jake. What kind of friends would we be if we didn’t help him?” I couldn’t argue with her logic.
A week later we were in Kentucky. There had been a brief stop over at Chuck’s parents, followed by a one-night stay. The next morning we were off to find the mythical Devlin’s Crossing.
Even as we pulled out onto the highway, I guess I still didn’t really believe Chuck’s tale. Sure, I had gone along with the idea, but deep down inside, a part of me didn’t really believe that there really was a ghost town called Devlin’s Crossing. I really thought it was just another one of Chuck’s practical jokes.
We drove for about an hour, and then Chuck turned off onto an old gravel road. It was barely more than that. The gravel soon gave way to twin ruts, dusty and starting to grow in from lack of use. Chuck had been unusually quiet as we had traveled. When the last radio station had faded away, he had just shut it off, not even bothering to switch to one of the many CD’s we had with us. Finally he stopped the car. Ahead of us, the twin ruts disappeared into dark forbidding shadows of leafy green branches and scrub bushes.
“This is it,” Chuck had said softly, almost as if he was afraid that the woods would hear the sound of his voice.
“It’s certainly spooky enough,” Cindy agreed, her own voice little more than a hushed whisper. I looked at them both.
“Trees, woodlands, forest, maybe a rabid Bambi at the most,” I said, grinning like the idiot that I was.
“You treat those woods with respect, Jake. Things out there, well it sure ain’t like the city,” Chuck shook his head.
“It’s the woods, Chucky Boy. That’s all. Besides, if there be anything ferocious in there, I got my equalizer,” I laughed, drawing the Colt .45 government model that had been a gift from my father on graduating from high school.
“I ain’t real sure that thing will do you a double damn bit of good out here,” Chuck said, his face all seriousness. Again I wondered if this were one of his famous practical jokes. I dismissed the notion right away however because he looked just too damn serious. Could there really be a ghost town out there, one that had effectively been wiped from all the maps? There was only one way to find out.
“Jake,” Cindy’s voice held a warning tone. I shrugged my shoulders and reholstered the pistol on my hip, then walked around to the trunk to get my backpack out of the rear of the car.
“You really believe this ghost story of his?” I whispered in Cindy’s ear.
“Chuck believes it, Jake. That’s good enough for me,” Cindy replied, arching one eyebrow at me. I wondered if she realized how sexy that looked when she did it.
“Jake, I tell you this is the story of a lifetime,” Chuck said quietly. He was so close when he spoke it made me jump. I hadn’t known he had walked around to join us.
“Dammit Chuck! Don’t do shit like that!” I gave him the eye, which usually got a laugh. This time it didn’t.
“Jake, this is serious shit we are about to do. This place, it has killed some of my friends. If you want to make it out alive, you have to believe and be ready for anything!” Chuck said. His pupils were almost fully dilated and I suddenly realized it was from fear. Chuck had not taken a single drink of alcohol or smoked a joint since he has suggested this little foray. Maybe, part of my brain was whispering, you should take this serious!
“Chuck, I am ready,” I grinned, whipping out my camera and snapping a quick picture of him. His face looked haunted under the bright white strobe of the flash. He blinked a few times.
“That really wasn’t funny Jake,” was all he said. Shaking his head, he walked towards the trees. Cindy and I followed, holding hands and wondering if Chuck wasn’t a little psychotic.
Once we had moved into the woods, the air seemed darker and closer, as if the shadows themselves were crowding us. Sure, we each had flashlights, but none of us were willing to use them yet. Beneath the canopy of trees, the shadows seemed almost alive, slithering and moving, slinking in and out at the very edge of our peripheral vision. I felt Cindy’s hand squeeze mine, her grip growing tighter the deeper we penetrated into the depths of the woods.
The short hairs on the back of my neck were suddenly standing on end, gooseflesh breaking out on my skin. I could tell Cindy was experiencing the same thing I was. It was deathly quiet within the woods, as if all living animal life had fled. I had never experienced anything like it before. Ever.
You’ve heard that old expression about flesh crawling? That is what I was going through as we traversed the dark pathway deeper into the primordial forest. Suddenly the air seemed lighter, animal sounds could once more be heard. We walked into the remains of a town. A sign on one of the buildings proclaimed “Devlin’s Crossing Bar and Grill.” I am not ashamed to admit I breathed a sigh of relief. A cool breeze helped dry the sweat from my face and beneath my arms. We had made it. We had reached the town. The Ghost Town of Chuck’s nightmares.
It really didn’t look like much. A few clapboard buildings, some of them blackened and scorched by fire. Rusted cars sat along the street, frozen in time. Fire had blackened the paint on a few of them as well. Bones were also strewn across some of the streets. There had been some sort of battle on these streets. That much was obvious. Cindy had already pulled out her camcorder and was recording the scene even as we walked through it. Devlin’s Crossing had been the scene of a battle. One of almost military proportions at some point.
“We need to find shelter,” Chuck said. I looked up. The sun was vanishing below the western horizon. I wondered exactly how long we had spent in the woods, reaching the town. Chuck just shrugged his shoulders as if it didn’t really matter.
“What now?” Cindy asked, putting her camera away. She had taken a lot of photos of the town, pictures that would tell a big story once we got home and got them into the paper.
“We find some shelter. Any ideas, Chuck?” I looked at him. Chuck didn’t seem to be listening though. He was staring at the dark woods, watching the lengthening shadows as if they were alive.
“Chuck,” Cindy called softly, her face filled with concern as she reached out to touch his arm. Chuck spun so quickly at her touch we didn’t see him draw the knife, had no idea he even had it under his jacket until the blade stopped less than a quarter of an inch from her throat. His face was slack with fear, then the clouds vanished from his eyes and he looked at Cindy, saw how close the knife had come to her throat. Chuck dropped to his knees, the knife falling from his hands to clatter on the pavement as a horrified sob wracked his chest.
“God Cindy I am so sorry. I was thinking about all those years ago, then I felt something touch my arm,” tears streamed from his eyes, cutting through the dust on his cheeks leaving vivid pink trails on his flesh.
“It’s okay, Chuck. No harm no foul. Where can we set up a camp?” Cindy spoke softly and reassuringly as she glanced quickly at me. I realized I wasn’t the only one concerned about Chuck’s mental health. Even his parents didn’t know where we had gone. Chuck had made us swear not to mention our real destination in front of them. Had this all been nothing more than a ruse to lure us out here to the middle of nowhere so that he could kill us? I pushed the thought away. Chuck’s remorse was real, and I was pretty sure it was a purely instinctive reaction. Still, I would make sure to keep a close eye on him.
“The General Store. It’s the tallest building in town still standing. We should be safe up on the second floor,” Chuck wiped his eyes, drying away the tears and smearing the dirt across his face. He reached down for the knife but I kicked it away from his hand and then picked it up myself.
“I’ll just hold onto it for now,” I met his eyes and a look of understanding passed between us. Chuck knew it was the only way we could trust him was for him to be unarmed, especially after his sudden strike at Cindy.
“Let’s go then,” Chuck said a little stiffly as he climbed to his feet. He led the way, but Cindy and I were both close behind him. I kept one hand close to the butt of the Colt .45 on my hip, ready to draw and fire if he tried anything. The air suddenly seemed cooler. I looked up and was surprised to see thick gray storm clouds gathering above us. Nature sure acted strange down in The Crossing.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as the evening started to settle on the town. Chuck led us into the building and we all turned on our flashlights. There were a lot of canned goods still on the shelves. We all grabbed a few. I was surprised when I came upon a gun rack filled with rifles and shotguns. There was a key hanging in the locking bar holding the guns in place. I unlocked the bar and took a couple of 12-guage shotguns down. After checking to make sure they weren’t loaded, I found several boxes of both buckshot and deer slugs. I have yet to meet the haunt that could stand up to that much lead blowing through it. Shouldering both weapons, I followed Chuck and Cindy to the top floor.
There was a big open room there, obviously a small living space for the owner of the store. Dust coated all the furniture and the floorboards. We spread our sleeping bags on the floor, none of us really wanting to test the bed or the couch to see if they were vermin free. I personally was willing to bet not. Cindy had found a Coleman lantern and fuel for it in the store below, and we had filled and lit the lantern.
Surprisingly, the lantern light did little to dispel the gloom. Lightning flashed outside and the patter of rain against the window was soon audible. I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight. Where had the day gone? Most of it had seemed to pass while we were walking through the woods. I shook my head, shivering at the memory. The woodland surrounding the town was about the creepiest I had ever experienced. It had seemed almost malevolent.
“Chuck, tell us more about Devlin’s Crossing,” Cindy had her camcorder out again and had it on and aimed at Chuck. Shadows played across his face as the flame in the lantern flickered, giving him a very eerie appearance.
“The Crossing is an old place. It started out as little more than a narrow spot in the river. An old pioneer named Ephraim Devlin decided he could make some money by ferrying travelers across the river here. Some folks, those too poor to pay the ferryman, just settled here. Pretty soon a thriving community had built up on both sides of the river.
“One night, Old Ephraim just up and vanished. His ferryboat was found drifting on the river, the rope pulled tight because of the current pushing against it. Some thought Indians had gotten him in the night. Over the years, other folks vanished from time to time, but no trace of them was ever found.
“Then a few years ago, there was some sort of big trouble in town. When it ended, most of the folk that lived here was gone, only a handful remained. Then one spring there was a freak snowstorm. When the roads were cleared, the town was empty and most of it had been burned to the ground. After that, nobody wanted to come near the place. The state closed off the road, and soon nature began to reclaim all the roads to The Crossing. New roads were built, but they avoided the ruins of the town completely,” Chuck finished. Thunder crashed outside the window, rattling the glass in its casement. Unconsciously, I had drawn the Colt and held it ready in my fist.
“Chuck my man, you do know how to tell a story,” I laughed, but it sounded hollow even to me. I was pretty sure it hadn’t fooled Chuck or Cindy either. Something rustled in the hallway and we all spun towards the stairs. I had one of the shotguns to my shoulder, ready to fire. Red eyes appeared a couple of inches off the floor. I pulled the trigger and the shotgun roared, the sound almost deafening in the enclosed space. Blood and fur splattered the wall as the buckshot disintegrated the rat.
“Somebody invite company and forget to tell the rest of us?” Cindy asked with a forced laugh.
“Old buildings that nobody had been in for a long time. Lucky we haven’t seen raccoons or opossums,” Chuck shrugged his shoulders.
“Thanks, Chuck, that makes me feel so much better,” Cindy shook her head. Thunder shook the whole building that time, and I saw more movement from the stairs. It was different this time though; closer to the floor and more slithery. I racked the pump on the shotgun, not taking my eyes from the dark rectangle of the doorway.
“Chuck, take the other shotgun,” my voice was such a hoarse whisper that I almost didn’t recognize it. Chuck was up and moving behind me, circling around so that he could get the other shotgun. Cindy aimed her camcorder towards the doorway, her fingers activating it, filming the rectangle of darkness.
Something slithered out of the darkness, rearing up like a snake, except it didn’t have a head. It reminded me of a lamprey, all body and teeth. Chuck fired his shotgun and it exploded in a bright red mist. Lampreys were known to fasten to fish; sinking their teeth into the fish as it drained its blood, like a big leech almost. Another of the things wriggled into the light. I fired as Chuck racked the pump on his shotgun. The creature exploded, blood and flesh splattering the wall behind it. I racked the slide on my shotgun, suddenly aware that there were sounds coming from the walls. Rustling noises, like leathery skin rasping together, yet loud enough we could hear it over the ringing in our ears from the shotguns blasting. I glanced at Cindy, but she had the camcorder to her face, even though it had lost all color. More of the creatures came slithering up the stairs, larger ones. Chuck and I fired as one, blasting the things to bloody chunks of meat. Something smashed through the wall as I racked the slide on the shotgun. A tentacle as thick as my thigh slammed into Chuck, knocking him towards the stairs. I spun and fired. Hot blood sprayed in my face as a shriek of pain erupted from the wall. Another section of wall exploded into the room coating us with plaster dust.
Chuck lay screaming as the withering lamprey like creatures fastened themselves to his flesh. Blood sprayed into the air as teeth cut through flesh, digging into veins and arteries. Chuck’s shotgun discharged into the air, blasting plaster from the ceiling . I swung the barrel towards him and fired, blowing his head off. Chuck’s screams cut off instantly, but Cindy’s were even louder. I racked the slide on the shotgun as I spun towards her. One tentacle was wrapped around her waist. I fired into it, blowing chunks of meat out of it. The tentacle released her, throwing her to the side, tearing chunks of clothing and flesh from her body as it threw her towards the center of the room. I fired again, blowing the tentacle in half.
Cindy kept screaming, her face a mask of pain as more of the lamprey-like creatures slithered from under the couch and fastened themselves to her skin, drinking her blood. I dropped the empty shotgun and grabbed the .45 and started firing. Blood exploded into the air as hot lead met cold flesh, ripping and tearing through it. I never heard Cindy stop screaming as one of my bullets punched through her heart. The camcorder lay on the floor, recording it all.
The slide locked back on my .45 and I let it drop to the floor, scooping up Chuck’s shotgun. I prayed that there was at least one round left as the lamprey-like creatures slithered up my legs, biting and fastening their teeth into my flesh. I held the muzzle against my chin as my thumb found the trigger and pressed against it. I heard the boom of the shotgun then all went black.