Chapter 2: Welcome to Pinnacle Gulch
“So it’s really called Pinnacle Gulch?” Ian asked, looking out the window at the odd rock formations they were passing.
“It’s not a joke?”
“Roderick. Do you even know what the words ‘pinnacle’ and ‘gulch’ mean?”
Roderick shrugged, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Of course...” Ian muttered with a roll of his eyes.
Ian was in an exceptionally bad mood due to the fact that they had spent the previous night in one of the cheapest, shadiest places in Ridgecrest called the “Rose Motel” to save on money, leading to all of his things smelling highly suspicious.
The town of Pinnacle Gulch itself was very odd. Instead of spreading out like a normal town, it seemed to just stretch itself along the barren hills, looking out at a lovely view of white trona and desert wasteland. They passed a sign that said “Sheriff station up ahead” a few times as they checked out the small town, and Ian felt the temptation to go to the police and let them handle whatever was going on.
“Ok. So where are we meeting the mayor?” Ian asked.
“I believe he said the town hall-where his office is.”
“And you know where it is?”
“I glanced at it briefly on Google maps.”
The older brother deepened his scowl.
“Maybe if you upgraded from your flip phone…” he began, pulling out his smartphone.
“Oh no. You know how expensive those other things are?”
“Yes. I’m well aware. I own one.” Ian told him, pulling out his device and swiping the screen. “You’re going to want to take this next left by the way.”
“I know.” Roderick retorted, clearly aggravated, taking a very sharp turn on purpose. He smirked as his brother’s face hit the glass beside him. The whole rest of the way, Ian rubbed his cheek and shot death glares at the one driving the car. His younger brother innocently pretended not to notice.
“This is my car…” Ian grumbled under his breath.
They soon turned onto a dusty street with older buildings on either side, and then pulled up to a yellow ochre building with peeling paint and a sign that said, “Town Hall”.
“Pleasant little place isn’t it?” Ian asked, clearly not impressed. “I’m so glad that you brought us here away from the nice ocean winds of LA…”
“Enough attitude bro. Just help me with this.” Roderick said grumpily, slamming his car door a little more than necessary. The two of them walked up the crumbling steps and then walked into a room that was trying it’s best to be homey, but failing miserably. Ian eyed an ugly flower patterned armchair in distaste as the large woman at the receptionist desk straightened up.
“Are you two the private investigators the Mayor called in?” she asked hopefully, her brown bun coming out in places like it had been haphazardly put up.
“Yes we are!!” Roderick thrust out his chest proudly.
“Oh thank the heavens... “ she murmured, pressing a button on a phone and tugging at her flower cardigan. “They’re here Mr. Mayor. I’ll send them in.”
With that, she gave them a strained smile and gestured down the wood paneled hall. “His office is up the stairs at the very end. You can’t miss it.”
“Alright!” Roderick exclaimed, bouncing down the hall. Ian hesitated.
“Are you alright Miss?” he asked slowly. The woman shuffled her papers nervously and gave a little cough.
“Yes yes. I’m fine. Now that you two are here…” she mumbled. “Please just… don’t leave us.”
She glanced up at him, fear twinkling in her small eyes. Ian felt his stomach churn.
“Did… the other detectives leave?” he asked. The woman swallowed and picked at a hangnail.
“Well… in one way or another… they did.”
Ian didn’t like how this conversation was going.
“Well, don’t worry. We’ve solved every case we’ve taken on. We don’t get scared off that easily. We’ll figure this out.” He assured her, turning to join his brother down the hallway.
“I sure hope so…” she said softly as he turned his back to her. Ian felt a shiver run up his spine, and he ran to catch up with his brother, who was obliviously marching down the hall.
The receptionist troubled him. If it was really just a missing persons case, then why was she so terrified? What would cause countless investigators to abandon the project? And why did he get the feeling that they had bitten off more than the two of the them could handle?
“Listen-Roderick…” he murmured, catching up to his brother’s stride as they chugged up the stairs.
“If this is about how you hate Pinnacle Gulch again-.”
“No. Listen-I just talked to that receptionist back there…”
Roderick raised his eyebrows as Ian told him the whole interaction.
“Very curious… What do you think it means?” the younger brother asked, scratching the little brown beard on his chin as they continued down the hallway.
Ian shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
“You get a bad feeling about everything. If we turned around every time you got your tingly sense we wouldn’t do anything.”
The older brother sighed. “We just need to be careful. That’s all.” He cautioned. Roderick grinned.
“I’m glad you’ve gone into detective mode big bro. I need you.”
Despite himself, Ian smiled and playfully elbowed his younger brother in the ribs.
“Well one of us has to be the smart one around here.” He smirked.
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?” Roderick laughed, shoving him as they went up the stairs.
The two of them soon came up to a large wooden door with a mayor plaque on it.
“This is probably it right?” Roderick grinned before knocking.
“Come in.” a kindly muffled voice came from the other side. The two brothers stepped in to see a rather round, balding, gray haired man in a suit sitting comfortably in a black office chair.
“Please sit down.” he said warmly.
Despite the man’s cheery disposition however, Ian noticed that he too seemed rather on edge. With another thought about the ugliness of the pink and yellow flower patterned chairs, the two of them sat down.
“Hi! I’m Roderick-we spoke on the phone.” he said warmly, reaching over to shake the mayor’s meaty hand. “And this is my brother Ian.”
The man gave a strained smile.
“Bill. Bill Cottam. I am sure glad you two are here.”
“What can we do to help you?” Roderick asked. Ian glanced around the room, silently admiring a book case along one of the walls and looking over the painting in the corner of an owl in a tree.
The man nervously straightened his tie and looked around the room-almost like he was being watched. Ian tried not to be grossed out over the sweat dripping from the man’s balding head. After taking a deep breath and clearing his throat, Mayor Bill Cottam was ready to tell his story.
“Well, as I said before gentlemen, this is about several missing persons.”
“And you said the police aren’t doing anything?” Ian asked, sitting back and folding his arms.
The Mayor sighed and pulled out a handkerchief to dab his sweaty brow.
“What we have here in Pinnacle Gulch is a little more complicated than simply a few missing people.”
The brothers waited expectantly as the man paused.
“Do you two believe in ghosts?”
Ian and Roderick looked at each other, and then back at the man in front of them.
“Ghosts? Like-real ghosts?” the younger of them asked.
The mayor chuckled a little.
“Yes. Real ghosts.”
Ian narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out where he was going with this. Could he seriously be trying to convince them that the problem with this town was something so hard to believe? Then why would he bring them here? Ian resolved himself to find what the true problem was-for he knew it could never be ghosts. He glanced over to his brother to see him regarding the Mayor with the same type of skepticism. However crazy his brother might have been in different situations, Ian knew that he always relied on cold hard evidence and facts. And for this fact, he trusted him when it came to a case.
“It started out as just an old wives’ tale to scare the little ones at camp. It was a story about a little girl that fell into one of the old factories here in town-you know-a cautionary tale to keep kids away from dangerous places. The story went that when she fell in that she came back to haunt those who had done her wrong in life. Well, I’m pretty sure the story is told many different ways, and that’s just one of the versions that people tell, but no matter how it’s told, she always looks the same. A little girl with dark pigtails, blank white eyes, and black… goop that dripped from her eyes like tears.”
The Mayor paused to dab at his brow again.
“We-uh...We all thought it was just a story...Until we actually… actually saw... started to see her.”
“We? Do you mean you and the receptionist-or?” Ian asked.
“The whole town has seen them at one point or another-.”
“Them? But I thought we were only talking about one little ghost girl?” Roderick pointed out.
“I’m getting to that. It did start out as one little girl, but then suddenly, people started to disappear. And then it wasn’t just one little ghost girl. Every… little girl that vanished… turned into… what she was. We’ve all been living in terror. Even though it’s only little girls that have been turning into these… ghosts, there has been a rise in disappearance and odd murders. People are disappearing and showing up dead. And to make matters worse-whenever someone tries to leave, these ghosts show up to stop whoever it was. There have been a couple of exceptions, but I’m sure you’ll read about those in the files…”
Ian and Roderick looked at each other subtly, and then back at the mayor.
“We’ll look into it.” Roderick said slowly. “When was the last attack?”
“Yesterday. Another family tried to move. Don’t worry-they all survived, but I hear there was quite a chilling voice that said no one is allowed to leave.”
At that, the mayor slid a manila folder across the desk towards them.
“Here is the file for this case. It should give you all the information you need. I also took the liberty of securing you a motel room with my own funds. And you will be paid handsomely for your efforts of course.”
Ian reached forward and carefully picked up the folder to begin thumbing through it. He noticed that inside were papers of each missing person, each death, and each attack or instance that the alleged ghosts had been involved.
“I see you’ve done your homework…” he murmured.
The mayor smiled weakly.
“That is simply the work of those before you.”
“And...what happened to those before us?” Roderick asked as Ian felt that pit in his stomach again.
“Well, for some of them, we aren’t entirely sure… Some we simply never heard from again, others disappeared, and… as for the rest of them…”
Ian started to get a bad feeling all over again as Roderick leaned forward in his chair.
“And… what happened to the rest of them?” his younger brother asked.
The Mayor looked at them gravely.
“Dead of course.”
Ian stared off into space as he sat on the bed of their motel room, thinking about everything the mayor had told them. The two of them had been in danger before, but they had always known what they were dealing with. All this talk about ghosts and mysterious happenings unsettled him. There had to be a logical explanation for all of this.
“What do you think about everything Roderick?” he asked as his brother sat on the bed and proceeded to take off his tennis shoes. His brother sighed.
“I don’t know. I mean-ghosts? Sounds a little farfetched to me.”
“The town sure seems shook up though. Did you see that receptionist in the motel lobby?”
“Yeah-and the guy at the gas station? They all seem scared out of their wits. All highly suspicious. I’m interested to see what’s really going on in this town.”
They were both silent for a moment as they pondered these things. The cogs and gears in Ian’s brain turned and worked like a well-oiled machine, putting different things together of what they had seen in the manila folder. So far, eight girls had apparently become ghosts, there had been twelve killings, and twenty-nine alleged disappearances. There was definitely something going on in this town, and they were going to find out what it was. A little reluctantly, he admitted to himself that piecing together this puzzle was a lot more satisfying than answering phone calls regarding pencils and staples. He made a mental note never to let his brother know this.
“What if they were actually ghosts? What would we do?”
There was a pause, and then the two of them burst out laughing.
“Well I guess we’d have to do some research about ghosts!” Ian chuckled
“We’d totally be screwed.”
“Don’t say that word. I don’t like it.”
“Oh, don’t be such a wuss!”
Their laughter was cut short when they heard a scream. For a moment, they looked at each other, prickles tickling their skin and a shiver running up their spines. Then they both made for the door to see what was going on.
Instead of a slight wind to bring dust to their feet, they were suddenly met by a cold thick fog that masked everything. They could barely see their car a few feet ahead of them-a ghostly figure hidden by the mist.
“What the-it was just clear five minutes ago!” Roderick exclaimed, his head swishing back and forth.
Ian’s stomach did another knot, and he shivered.
“When did it get this cold?” he asked. “I mean, I know it’s winter, but it was warmer than this earlier… Not to mention we’re kind of on the boarder of Death Valley. Does Death Valley even get this cold?”
They clutched their arms and shivered more violently as their breaths came out in little wispy clouds. Roderick wiggled his bare toes on the pavement.
“Let’s go ask the motel receptionist.”
The two brothers made their way cautiously through the mist, and peeked their heads into the lobby. There was a woman with a curly light brown ponytail and red and blue flannel plaid shirt standing in front of the desk ringing the bell impatiently.
“Hello? Is anyone here? Hellooooo!” she called, straining her neck to try to look into the back room.
“Is everybody gone?” Roderick asked as the two of them walked up. The woman gave a frustrated sigh.
“Looks like it.”
“Did you hear the scream?”
“Of course I heard the scream. Why do you think I’m out here?” she said irritated, immediately rubbing Ian the wrong way.
The three of them looked around the empty motel lobby, and in the new silence of the woman’s lack of bell ringing, they began to realize how quiet it was. It was a deathly quiet. Unnerving… At that moment, the lights above them began to hum and flicker.
“Why do I get the feeling we’re suddenly in a horror movie?” Ian muttered mostly to himself, shivering again at the cold.
After a moment, the lights went out completely, and the only light left was from outside, the dismal light from the fog casting an eerie gray ambience to the dark motel lobby. Ian felt glad that they were inside instead of out there with the fog. There was something unsettling about it that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He froze when he thought he heard something from off in a corner.
“What was that?” Ian asked, looking around and causing the others to do the same.
The three of them listened, and sure enough, it sounded like a little girl was crying.
“Is it just me? Or do you get the feeling that we’re about to find out a little bit more about these ghost girls?” Roderick murmured, the little hairs on his arms standing up. The woman with them shot him a very inconspicuous look, which Ian happened to catch. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Why didn’t she seem as scared as everyone else? If she was staying at a motel then she was probably from out of town… Was it because she wasn’t from around here? Why would someone even visit a town like Pinnacle Gulch anyway?
Well, he and his brother of course, but that was supposedly to chase down a couple of ghosts.
He was a little annoyed to have his thoughts interrupted, but when he turned to his brother, he found him very pale. Wordlessly, he pointed to one of the large windows that was letting in light to the room they were standing in. Ian felt himself go stiff.
Pressed up against the glass, was a little girl with a tattered white and black dress and black pigtails. Ian stared at the blank white eyes observing him and the black goop dripping out of her eyes. She twitched, disappeared for a split second, and then reappeared in the same place. She was much like the mayor had described her, but that did little to actually prepare them for the creepy atmosphere that came with it all.
The three of them stood very still, their eyes growing wide as a sense of dread filled the air.
It was one of the alleged ghost girls.