Note: This is the fourth installment of a ghost story. It’s not meant to be read by itself. If you’d care to start at the beginning, click here and follow the links.
They had just made it back out of the marshy area, and the trees to either side were a bit of a relief. Sue was saying, “Now, it should be around–” when “Look out!” came from the back seat. Jake stomped the brakes. What the hell–?
A moose is one of the clumsiest-looking animals ever created. Often seen as slow, docile, myopic, they’ve been described by those who don’t know them as a horse built by committee. This one was a cow in heat, and she had stopped halfway across and was now trotting peacefully down the center of the road, no doubt thinking of other things when the car’s bumper tapped her ankles. Quite justifiably startled to find her legs going out from under her, she found herself sitting lightly on the hood. She scrambled to her feet, then ran off the road and into the underbrush. The crash of her passage was clearly audible over the hum of the engine.
Mike coughed, cleared his throat. “Here I’d thought a midnight trip to a graveyard would be, you know, kinda dull.”
“Yeah,” said Sue.
“That’s gonna cost more than twenty bucks to fix,” said Jake.
Clarice was silent.
They sat there in shock for a few seconds longer, the car idling quietly, the moose passed beyond hearing range.
“Can the, uh, can the car, uh…”
“Oh. Right,” said Jake, and they started rolling forward again. The passenger headlight was now pointing a bit off to the right of the road, and there was a fair-sized dent in the hood, but the little car went along just fine.
“I only ask,” said Sue, “because our turn should be coming up any time now.”
There was indeed a road that angled off to the right, dropping sharply to ground level. There were tracks indicating that it had been recently traveled, but across it was a closed gate, red and white crossbars attached to bright yellow metal poles on each side. There was a sign, designed to be read from the other side, and beyond the crossbars the dirt road continued up a steep slope and disappeared.
“Well, let’s take a look,” said Jake, and he turned the car down off the road. Clarice yelped in protest as the little car jounced down the steep slope, and even Sue looked at him reproachfully as he stopped just short of the gate. “Couldn’t leave it up there to get hit by a pulp truck,” he explained.
He got out and walked over to the gate. It was fastened by a chain which, he could see from here, was padlocked shut. He walked closer, then around to look at the sign.
Private Road — No Access
There was a narrow dirt track through the trees to one side. It looked muddy but passable. Still, just in case… He walked back to the car and got in.
“Guess you all had better get out,” he said. They just looked at him. Realizing something more was called for, he explained about the dirt track that went around the gate. “I think I can get the car through, but I don’t want to get stuck, and it’ll be lighter if you’re not in it,” he finished.
Sue nodded, then got out, putting the seat forward. Clarice slid out easily, and then it was Mike’s turn. Head, then one big shoulder at a time, slowly and painfully he squeezed himself through the gap. Why did he get in back? Finally, he was out and the door closed. Jake put the windows down and leaned out. “Stay well clear unless I get stuck,” he said.
The mist was rising, making it hard to see. Jake backed up toward the high bank that was the main road, then turned the car sideways, riding the slope of the gravel. Shifting into low gear, he gunned the engine and the little car shot forward. He could feel the right tires dragging in the muddy grass, but he kept going until he reached the narrow dirt road. He cut the wheels right, riding the clutch, then hit the gas again, picking up speed while the mud sprayed high. He realized he was laughing maniacally and didn’t care one bit.
The car plowed on in under the trees. It was drier in here but bumpier; tree roots jounced him around, and he had to cut the wheel hard a couple of times to avoid hitting things. Still, he didn’t slow, and in seconds he was through onto the solid road past the gate. He turned the wheel just right and kept going right up to the top of the slope and onto level ground before he braked and parked. He got out, then started back to look for his passengers. They were already halfway up the little hill, Clarice griping about something or other. It sounded like shoes; Jake didn’t care.
“That looked like fun,” said Mike.
“It was fun! Ahh; I needed that.” Jake grinned widely.
“You’ve, uh, you’ve got some mud. On your face.” Sue was panting, a little out of breath.
Jake reached up. The left side of his face was wet and sticky. He wiped ineffectually at it, doing little more than smearing it through his scruffy whiskers. “Guess I shoulda closed the windows,” he admitted, still grinning.
Clarice stopped. “You mean we’re going to have to ride in– You got mud in the car?”
“You don’t have to.” Then, realizing that was a bit harsh, Jake went on. “There can’t be that much, not in the back seat.”
They walked back through the rising mist and got back in. Mike went first, sideways, starting with his left foot and slowly rotating until he could get a shoulder in. It was quite educational to watch. He really is very big. Only then did it occur to Jake that Mike might prefer the front seat, but it was a little late for that now.
“You okay back there?” Jake asked, buckling his seat belt.
Mike grunted. “This should really be a van.”
“But then we’d need a dog,” said Sue.
Jake paused a second, thought, then laughed. “Rooby Roo!” he crowed.
“I don’t get it.”
When you’re hunting, you go quietly, so as to not alert the game to your presence. If they hear you — and they will — you’ll never see a thing. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing there; nature is just very good at hiding.
Except when you annoy it, of course.
The next installment is now live… so to speak. To get there, you can click this link here. After all, you’re not scared yet, are you?
Image credit: Junior Libby, by way of PublicDomainPictures.net