by JoAnn Schmid
Adventure turns nightmare in quest to find out if a local legend is true.
They held hands as they made their way through the darkness. The moonlight dappling through the trees was barely enough to guide their feet. Randy was in front, leading them. He was the only one who knew the way.
Mud splashed on their legs as they made their way down the bank of the Lazarus River, which wound down Brady's Mountain. Spring rains had flooded it and the water rose high. A fallen tree nearly connected the two sides of the river and they used this to cross. The river's current ran swiftly, cautioning them to keep their balance. Mud had accumulated on their faces, arms and clothes from their hike through the mountains. This would mean trouble when their mothers' saw them. But they had known that before they left Randy's. Tonight they didn't care what trouble lay in store for them. Tonight was going to be an adventure, their adventure.
Randy had lived in these Appalachian mountains his whole life and knew the way by heart. He had been this way with his father to help with the garden. He had been this way when he and his father had gone to help the Johnsons' shear their sheep and to help the Bartlett's round up their cows after they had gotten out through a broken fence slat. He had never been this way without his father though, and never at night. Randy struggled to calm his warring emotions. Fear mingled with excitement coursed through him. Everyone knew the stories of what happened around here after dark. It was impossible for him not to be a little afraid. But he wasn't alone, his best friend Sal and Jessie, his little sister were with him. Jessie was only allowed to come because she had threatened to squeal if he hadn't let her tag along.
Jessie stumbled over a log and Randy tightened his grip on her hand, pulling her back to her feet. She mumbled thanks as they continued on. Randy stopped suddenly causing the three of them to bump into each other.
"Shit!" muttered Sal. "What now? You sure you know where you're going'? Maybe we ought to just go back and forget all of this."
"Why?" asked Randy mockingly. "You scared?" This caused both Randy and Sal to break into a fit of laughter. Jessie, who was only eight, did not laugh. Shifting from foot to foot, she wondered why she had insisted on coming along.
"I ain't scared," replied Sal. "It's just that it's already late and you know as well as I do that we're already in a heap of trouble when we get back. They've probably already noticed we're gone and if they have to come looking for us it's just going to make it worse. I'm already dreading the switchin' I'm gonna get, especially since it's spring and all"
"What do you mean since it's spring and all?" asked Randy laughing. "I hate to get switched any time. You only hate a switchin' in the spring?"
"Ain't you ever noticed that a switchin' is twice as bad in the spring?" asked Sal incredulously. "Them green branches feel just like horse whips. Are we close or what?" Sal asked changing the subject.
"Yeah," Randy said. "That's why I stopped. It's right over here. Now come on!"
They made their way to a clearing about a hundred feet from where they had been standing only a minute before. A stream ran down from the mountain side and emptied into a pool. The water didn't stop there though, it continued underground until it met the river near Old Man Charlie's place.
"All right!" exclaimed Sal. "I'm goin' swimmin'. All that hiking made me all sweaty." Randy grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back before he even got close to the pool.
"Are you crazy?" Randy asked. "You can't go swimmin' in there. Don't you ever listen to anything people say?"
"Now who's scared?" Sal asked giggling.
"I ain't scared, either," replied Randy hotly, "I just got more sense than you is all. If you lost some of the fat off your ass you wouldn't have gotten all sweaty in the first place! We didn't come here to go swimmin'.
"Well, why did we come here?" grumbled Sal. "There ain't nothin' to do up here!"
"If you'd stop your yapping for a minute I'd tell you," replied Randy. Randy took a deep breath and looked solemnly at Sal and Jess. "Listen, legend has it that these waters are haunted by the Indians that were slaughtered in these parts. A long time ago there were Indian wars around here between them and the white settlers. Lots of Indians were massacred in a huge battle that happened not far from here" Randy told them pointing emphatically at the ground. "If you come up during the day and look hard you can find lots of arrow heads and cool stuff like that" Randy added.
Standing silent and motionless Sal and Jessie waited for Randy to continue his story. Jessie listened, her blue eyes growing as big as saucers as she remembered the story. She had heard the adults tell this story one night when they thought she was sleeping. The story was well known and had been passed down from generation to generation as legend. Now Jessie was here, right where it all had happened. Chills raced down her spine and she grabbed onto Randy's hand.
"What's wrong with you," Randy asked irritated, trying to shake her off.
"I'm scared and I want to go home. Now!"
"You want to go home?" Randy asked angrily. "No way! You shouldn't have come in the first place. We're not goin' back 'til we see what we came to see. Now let go of my hand!" Randy pulled roughly away from Jessie.
Tears welled in Jessie's eyes and Randy felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe he had been too hard on her. She was only eight and she was his little sister. He was supposed to take care of her. He sighed heavily.
"Aw," he moaned, "I'm sorry Jess. You can hold my hand. Don't worry. Nothin' bad is gonna happen. I'll take care of you." He promised taking her hand again. Jessie's tears dried on her face and she felt a little better holding his hand, but not much. The tears may have vanished, but the fear hadn't. She wanted to be anywhere but here at the moment. Randy continued his story.
"Anyways," Randy began again, "they say that after the massacre, people began seeing Indian ghosts. These sightings upset the local folk so they got this local guy named Turner to put a spell on the spirits to keep them away."
"Was he a sorcerer?" asked Sal.
"Kind of" answered Randy. "He was into magic and stuff like that. The dark kind if you know what I mean. Anyway, Turner agreed to work the spell and after that no one saw the Indian ghosts anymore. The spell collected all of the spirits in the water as it wound down the mountain and trapped them in this pool. From what I've heard, they don't like being trapped here neither. Sometimes at night you can hear the spirits crying out for vengeance" Randy told them in an eerie voice.
"Crying out how?" asked Sal breathlessly. "What do folks hear?"
"Some say you can hear moans and screams and such." answered Randy. "Sometimes you can hear horses running."
Tugging at her brown ponytail, Jessie asked Randy, "You sure they can't get out?"
"I'm sure." He assured her. "I did hear they try to lure people into the pool though, so you'll be trapped with them. You'll be all right as long as you don't touch the water" Randy added noticing the looks of panic on Jessie and Sal's faces. "That's why I grabbed you like I did earlier Sal. I didn't want them getting' you. You'd been a goner for sure" Randy finished.
"Wow. Thanks man. Seriously, thanks" said Sal.
"No problem." laughed Randy. "I couldn't let them nab my best friend. Let's be quiet for a moment and see if we can hear them, 'kay?" An owl hooted in the distance as they stood quietly listening for the spirits. Hushed voices murmured from the pool and Randy stepped closer.
"Shit." muttered Sal. "That's probably our parents. We're in real trouble now."
"It ain't our parents' either." whispered Randy. "It's them. It's the Indians. Listen."
Jessie took a step away from the pool. The voices were growing louder. The water shimmered in the moonlight casting an unearthly glow about it. As the voices continued the past began to unfold. Voices could be heard talking softly, and the sounds of children's laughter floating on the wind. The sounds of horses hoof hitting the ground echoed around them. The sounds were no longing coming just from the pool of water. They seemed to surround them, taking them back in time.
The sounds were mesmerizing. Jessie was nearly in a trance from the serenity they caused within her. But suddenly the tranquility was broken by gunshots, screaming and stampeding horses. It was the massacre as it must have been on the day it happened. Just as suddenly as it had all began, the sounds stopped. The waters were silent once more. Randy, Jessie and Sal were still trying to recover their wits from what had just happened when the pool began to change.
A red glow began to spread over the pool. It spread further and further until it covered the whole of the water. It was the color of blood, of Indian blood--blood that cried for vengeance.
Stepping closer to the pool Randy gazed intently into the water. Sal and Jessie moved closer as well. An image began to form in the water. Little by little the details filled in until the image was complete. It was the face of a woman. It was a beautiful woman with long, dark hair that flowed across the water. Her dark eyes beckoned them closer. Randy stepped even closer and knelt down almost neglecting to heed his own warning. But at the last moment he pulled his foot back slightly, avoiding contact with the water.
"We should go!" exclaimed a panicked Sal. "This can't be real! We should get out of here."
"Yes!" agreed Jessie shaking off the spell the water seemed to have woven over them. "Let's go! We came, we saw, now let's go! I don't like it here! I want to go home!" she screamed.
"We'll leave in a minute. "agreed Randy turning momentarily towards Sal and Jessie's trembling forms in the moonlight. He grinned lopsided at them trying to calm their panic.
Randy turned back towards the pool to see the water laping around his tennis shoes. He was sure he had remembered not to touch the water. He stood and tried to step back out of the water but it was rising rapidly. He turned to run back towards the others but watery fingers laced around his ankles, digging in. He was trapped.
Jessie seemed to have noticed what was going on. Her scream echoed through the mountains. The water pulled at Randy, tugging him backward--tugging him back towards the water. The water continued to rise covering his legs and then his waist. More watery fingers took hold of him pulling him deeper into the pool. He tried to scream but his fear was so complete it was if ice had formed in his throat.
The woman's image disappeared as Randy struggled against invisible hands that were trying to pull him under. Desperate, Randy reached out for Sal to save him. Sal ran towards Randy, groping wildly for him. Their fingers struggled to hold fast to each other as Randy was pulled deeper into the pool. It was no use. Sal was no match for whatever had a hold of Randy. Within seconds Randy was fully submerged.
Suddenly a wall of water rose up from the pool. Sal stumbled, falling backward onto the bank of the pool. Hundreds of hands formed from the water. Sal began to scream. He turned frantically trying to claw his way up the bank. In one motion the watery hands surged forward and grasped onto Sal. They pulled Sal into the pool. The struggle lasted mere moments and then both boys were gone.
Jessie's screams continued to penetrate the silence of the mountains as she ran blindly out of the clearing and back into the woods. She didn't think. She didn't dare stop running. She ran home as quickly as she could, her piercing screams her lone companion. She didn't stop screaming until she ran right into her father and the others who had come looking for the children. Breathlessly she told them everything that had happened. She told them about the pool and the woman and the watery fingers that had drug away the boys. Her parents tried to calm her, but it was no use. No one believed her. No one would listen.
A search was organized to find the missing boys. It lasted for days. Neighbors and police joined the search, but the boys were never found. No one believed Jessie's story. It was viewed as the runaway imagination of a little girl who had experienced a great tragedy. It was assumed that the boys had fallen into the pool and been swept away in the strong current caused by the spring floods. They speculated that the bodies had been swept into underground caverns and that is why they were never found. It was believed that the boys had drowned. But Jessie knew better.
Funerals for the two boys were held together with empty caskets. Jessie tried to get the adults around her to listen but they grew angry in their grief. Her parents demanded that she stop telling her terrible story and threatened to punish her. Tormented, Jessie retreated within herself.
After the funerals Jessie never spoke of what happened that night again. In fact, she never spoke to anyone again. Not knowing what else to do, her parents had her committed to a psychiatric hospital. She spent the next ten years institutionalized. Continuous evaluations and testing were done. The conclusion was always the same. The poor girl had watched her brother and friend drown. She felt guilty for not having been able to help them and suffered severe trauma from the event. She had retreated into her own little world to protect herself and it was uncertain if she would ever come out of it.
Once in a while a nurse would report that she had walked into Jessie's room to hear her singing to herself. They would question her as to what she was singing but she never answered. She would not tell them what she knew. She would not tell them her song. Never would she tell. Randy had known the song. Now it was their secret song.
Moonlight, moonlight, guiding light
Mesmerize us at twilight
If you stumble, do not fall
For in the water, vengeance calls.