It seems so long ago that I first introduced the people of Barnesville to the world by way of murder. “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon” (originally titled “Blood of the Scarecrow”) was the first novel that took me away from the erotica I’d been writing prior. It was my first attempt at a murder-mystery and brought me blessedly back to my life-long love of the paranormal and horror. Though it’s probably not my greatest work, I learned a lot by writing it. It verified that this was the genre I truly wanted to work with and hopefully be known for.
“…Scarecrow Moon” was originally released in 2013. My second book that featured Barnesville was “That’s What Shadows Are Made Of”, again a paranormal murder-mystery and, dare I say, a more well-thought out one than “…Scarecrow Moon”, and came out in 2016. I was gaining a small following by this time. People were asking for the second book and when they finished, they’d reach out and ask for a third.
As writers, we learn as we go. We learn what works for us and we learn what our readers want. I always knew there would be more stories coming out of Barnesville and its neighboring towns. With so many asking to know more about the residents and what would happen next in such an innocent-looking town, I began to give the third book more serious thought.
Along with the paranormal, I’ve also long had an interest in urban legends, their origins and the truths that may or may not lie behind them. With that in mind, “The Witch’s Backbone” came into being. It’s been a year since I started and I’m super excited to be able to now share with you the fruits of my labors.
Within the next couple of weeks the third book involving Barnesville will be unleased on the world in both eBook and paperback formats. “The Witch’s Backbone” is not a murder-mystery nor is it contemporary. Instead, we take a step back in time to 1980, meet new characters from the nearby hamlet of Meyer’s Knob, and see familiar faces turned some thirty years younger.
And so, without further ado, I give you the first two chapters of “The Witch’s Backbone – The Curse” as a teaser into what you’ll be finding between the pages of the next installment of The Barnesville Chronicles. Enjoy!
The Witch’s Backbone – The Curse by Pamela Morris © 2017
The Legend of The Witch’s Backbone
If at night ye dare t’roam
along the twisted, witch’s backbone,
avert thy gaze, meet not her eye,
or cursed thy life and soon t’die.
Thee won’t find her flying o’er the trees,
but lurking amongst the molded leaves,
and crawling in the stony crags
in the stagnant filth, this loathsome Hag.
She’ll seek ye out forever after
making thy death her cruelest laughter
as sits she upon thy sleeping chest,
and draws from thee thy final breath.
Avoid the dangerous paths she treads.
Stay safe and sound within thy beds,
for ‘tis always best to neither walk nor ride
along the witch’s backbone at night.
The open mouth of the bottle of Dr. Pepper nearly knocked Tara’s two front teeth out. “Jeeze, Dad!” she yelped, eyes watering with pain, as she pressed her palm to her mouth where the glass edge had smacked her in the gums. There wasn’t any blood on her fingers when she pulled them away, but it sure felt like there should be.
“Sorry,” John Fielding, her step-father, didn’t take his eyes off the rut and mud-filled road they followed, but he did slow the station wagon down a little bit. “You’d think the town would maintain this road better.” John eased the car to the right, halfway into the tall weeds and dangerously close to the water-filled ditch on that side, trying to avoid another tooth-jarring pothole.
Tara rubbed her teeth again, checked her fingers, still no blood, and rested the bottom of the soda bottle on her thigh instead of trying to take another swig. “It gets better,” she said. This wasn’t their first trip down this particularly terrible stretch of road and it wasn’t likely to be their last. It was a dirty, stinky, nasty job they had to do, but Tara loved every filthy second of it, especially if she got to see a rat.
In the isolated hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountain Basin in Central New York sat Meyer’s Knob, where the population of dairy cows easily outnumbered people twenty to one. Most folks simply called it The Knob. In The Knob creative road names were not something the locals had much interest in. The names, like the residents, were practical, logical, and to the point.
It was exactly what the name said it was, nothing more, nothing less. Valley Creek Road ran north and south of the central hub of Meyer’s Knob and took you down into the valley on a road that, more or less, followed the long and lazy curves of the creek. Gorge Hill Road took you east, up over the hill then down into a narrow, tightly winding road that had been cut by both God and man, with high stone walls on one side and a shallow, shaded ravine on the other, guardrails optional, and enough blind curves to make your tense jaw ache. Old Sixty-Seven Road, the only road known by an actual number, was about as obscure as things got. Old Sixty-Seven took you further out into a countryside of rolling hills and farmlands west of Meyer’s Knob. For close to twenty miles farmhouses and the barns that went with them, fields of corn, and herds of grazing black and white dairy cows, stretched out as far as the eye could see. Even when you reached the end, the town you’d find there wasn’t much to look at. It was bigger than Meyer’s Knob, but most places were.
These three main thoroughfares were paved, but lacked center lines. That was not always the case with the rest of the nearby roads, many of which proclaimed the status of Seasonal, Limited Use. No Winter Maintenance. Surprisingly, the road Tara and her step-dad bounced and swerved down was not one of them. Town Dump Road was a dead end offshoot of Knob Hill Road that eventually connected to Gorge Hill, which was a branch of Meyer’s Road, where the sons of Silas Meyer, who had first settled The Knob back in the early seventeen hundreds, built their homesteads and raised their families for generations.
If you stood at the junction of Valley Creek and Old Sixty-Seven you’d find yourself smack dab in the middle of The Knob. The tree-filled village square and the houses that surrounded it had not changed in over a hundred years. You’d never know by looking at it, but the newest structure was the white pavilion in the very center of the square, and even that was pushing thirty years old.
The original had been destroyed by fire. Arson was likely, but no one had ever taken the blame for it. Its replacement was a clone, right down to the green gingerbread trim, and still took center stage to every village-wide celebration or event. It was the sight of first kisses and just as many broken hearts. People had fought and people had made out, all under the octagonal roof.
The square and its fancy gazebo were all well and good, but that was a place Tara went to practically every day. Today, however, was Saturday and Saturday was garbage day and garbage day meant a trip to the county dump with her dad and, in this case, nearly getting her teeth knocked out by the open mouth of her soda bottle.
The station wagon came to a smooth stop as they waited their turn in line behind a pick-up loaded to the gills with bagged trash. Bob Gunderman, who ran the gate and took the dumping fees, was a talker.
“Can I get out here?” Tara asked.
John nodded. “Just don’t go too far. Stay where I can see you.”
“Cool.” She didn’t wait for him to change his mind, not that John ever had in the past, but he knew as well as Tara that her mother would have a fit and fall in it if she knew he was letting Tara run wild, as she called it, among the mountains and pits of trash. The last thing either of them wanted was for Tara to fall into some forgotten mound and get buried alive. That might be a little hard to explain back home to Mom.
“Watch out for the seagulls,” he shouted just before Tara’s door slammed shut.
She gave him a thumbs up in reply.
The results of last night’s storm squished under the rubber soles of her boots, sucking and splatting her way to where the gate attendant leaned against the battered doorway of the dump station’s shelter, Tara slid on a pair of yellow dishwashing gloves. “Hey, Mr. Gunderman!” She saluted.
He shook his head and chuckled. “Heading in?” he asked, saluting her back with a tip of his Texaco ball cap. When he wasn’t tending to trash, Bob did small engine and appliance repair out of a rusted and lop-sided metal shed set up behind his equally akimbo and well-maintained mobile home. They’d passed on the left, halfway up the road. Tara suspected he got a lot of parts from the dump.
“Yes, sir. Got anything good this week?”
“I’m sure you’ll find a treasure or two. Stay clear of the back west though, it’s been shifting a lot lately.”
“Ten-four, good buddy.” She strode past the pick-up truck, ducked under the wooden security arm that had probably been white once, but now was more a mottled grey-green, and made her way into the refuse-littered landscape beyond.
It stank. It stank a lot, especially after last night’s rain, but it wasn’t anything compared to how it would be once the late August sun rose high and hot. Sometimes John wasn’t so early getting the trash around and that’s when coming here wasn’t as much fun. How Mr. Gunderman could stand it, Tara didn’t know, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“You get used to it,” he’d told her once.
The pick-up passed by at a crawl; the side-to-side motion created by each muddy rut threatening to toss one bag or another of garbage out the back end. Tara paused to watch as it made its way around to the left of the ever-growing ring of refuse. In the middle of it all was The Pit, the massive hole in the ground that was slowly being filled. The road circled all the way around The Pit, which was further ringed by a section devoted to dead washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators next to a heap of lawn mowers and a bunch of vacuum cleaners. Another was nothing but discarded tires. A section of small appliances; lamps, toasters, blenders, small radios and record players lay jumbled together in a mound at least six feet high and twenty feet around. There was a vague sense of order to the place. Tara tried to decide what sort of something she wanted to look for today.
She could use a new tape player, but if it was here, chances were it didn’t work and she didn’t know so much about fixing those. Tara wandered off to the right, away from the man and boy hurling bag after bag into The Pit from the truck bed. Their actions had sent the flock of gulls into a dive-bombing, screaming frenzy overhead. Rats with wings, that’s what Mr. Gunderman called them.
“What are sea gulls doing around here anyway?” Tara wanted to know. “We’re not even close to the sea or a lake or anything.”
“There’s Meyer’s Pond,” Bob had offered. “And Miller’s Pond and …”
“Then these are pond gulls,” Tara interrupted with a laugh.
“Or trash gulls. Just rats with wings, Tara. That’s all they are, rats with wings. If there’s a free meal to be ‘et, that’s where they’ll be.”
Strolling from pile to pile, Tara kept an eye out for just about anything. Sometimes there was hidden treasure. Sometimes there was nothing. Today felt like a nothing day. She’d reached the furthest point from the front gates by now. Her dad’s car was parked near the pick-up whose occupants were finally done and climbing back into the cab. Dad only had a few bags so he wouldn’t be long. It hadn’t really been enough time to look the place over very well, but Tara could always ride her bike up to come back later in the week. Maybe she could even get a friend to come with her. Maybe Danny as long as it was just him and not his annoying brother or, God forbid, his whiny girlfriend, Susan; not Sue, not Susie, but Susan.
With her hands on her hips, Tara looked out across the piles towards the slope of weeds that ended abruptly with a thick line of shrubs and Birch trees a couple hundred feet out. The wind, thank God, was blowing in her favor, lifting the feather of her bangs off her forehead just enough to feel a tiny bit cooler. Something moved along the tree line. It was low and slow and brown. Probably a deer. Nah, too dark to be a deer, she immediately determined. Not much else could have been seen this far away. Its back was hunched up, pausing as it maybe nibbled on some grass or wild berries along its path. Maybe it was a bear. A bear would be a lot more exciting to see than a deer. Whatever it was pivoted, displayed a flash of dark brown or black fabric and a feather on top of its head and stopped. Tara’s jaw dropped. She saw its eyes, small, black, and glistening, staring right at her.
It wasn’t a bear. As Tara turned to run as fast as possible back to the station wagon, she prayed it wasn’t what she thought it was. If it was, she was as good as dead.
Shoving the spoonful of Fruity Pebbles into his mouth, Danny eyed the sunburst-shaped clock over the kitchen sink tick dangerously close to nine o’clock. Milk dribbled down her chin followed by a resounding slurp.
“Slow down,” his mother chided. “Breakfast!” she shouted towards the kitchen porch where Danny’s father stood puffing on a cigarette and drinking coffee from a chipped, mint-green cup. She set the plate of steaming eggs and bacon down across from where Danny was lifting the empty cereal bowl to his lips and guzzling down the sweet, pink-colored milk. “What’s the rush?” Danny’s mom asked, reaching for the toast that had nearly thrown itself from the chrome toaster and onto the counter without human assistance.
“Tom and Jerry,” he explained. Danny pushed away from the table and retreated towards the living room where the summer sun was just starting to shine through the blinds, drawing bright lines and dust motes across the front of the television.
“Bowl,” his mom reminded.
“Mom! Tom and Jerry!” he protested.
“Rinse out the bowl or no television,” she added.
“Jeeze, Louise!” Danny muttered, snatched the bowl and carried it to the sink. “Gonna miss the beginning.”
The screen door released a resounding smack against a wooden doorframe as Henry, Danny’s father, stepped into the shade of the eat-in kitchen of the log cabin. Grampa Jameson had built the place back in the 1950s. There were only four rooms, but they were plenty big enough for the family of four. The whole front half was wide open, kitchen bleeding into a dining room, bleeding into the living room, with walls of exposed pine logs that still had all the bark on them. It was a pretty cool place to live and they had acres and acres of woods to play in all around. It didn’t get too much better than this. “Gonna be another hot one,” his dad said. “Hey, Dan-o.” He reached out his big paw of a hand and messed Danny’s hair more than it already was.
“Hey, Dad.” Danny grinned up at the man. Henry Jameson was a decent guy and, unlike a lot of his friends, Danny really liked his parents. Oh, they were annoying sometimes, too, but he knew how lucky he was to have them. They came to all his football games. Danny loved anything and everything that had to do with football. He played it, watched it, lived and breathed it. When the season was over, Danny got antsy. Luckily, there was one thing he liked just as much as tossing the pig skin around, hunting. He’d finally gotten his own rifle for his birthday that past spring and had been practicing a lot. As soon as deer season started, he was going to be out there with his old man every chance he got.
“What you and Adam got planned for today?”
Danny looked longingly towards the living room where his kid brother had already claimed the sofa to watch cartoons from. Each precious second of Tom and Jerry was slipping away. He shrugged, “I dunno. Tom and Jerry,” he said, desperate to get into the living room.
Henry settled into the squeaking wooden chair. “Looks good, Peg,” he said. One of these days Danny was sure that chair was going to collapse under Henry’s generous frame. He was a big man, tall and beefy with a shock of pitch black hair. He’d played a lot of football in his high school days. Danny could but hope he’d be that big eventually, though as it looked now, he took more after his thinly built mother than his dad. His stupid little brother was the husky one.
Danny took this opportunity to dash into the living room, punch his brother in the arm for taking the sofa spot, and plop himself down in his dad’s recliner to focus on the cartoon. The recliner was better than the sofa anyway.
“Ow! MOM! Danny just punched me for no reason.”
“Did not.” He reached out and nudged his brother in the head with an extended foot.
“Now he’s kicking me.”
“Daniel Mark Jameson! Behave or you’ll be canning Dilly Beans, doing laundry, and washing dishes with me today.”
Danny stopped, but couldn’t help getting in the last word under his breath. “Tattle tale.”
Not even the phone ringing, which usually sent Danny flying across the room to answer it, could pull him from the television on Saturday morning. His dad got it instead. Mumbled a few things then said, “Danny. It’s Tara.”
He moaned. “Can I call her back? Scooby and Scrappy-Doo are next. I’ll call her back after that.”
“Popeye!” Adam protested. “We watched Stupid-Doo last week.”
“Popeye is lame,” Danny snapped.
“She says it’s urgent,” John held the phone out; its long, spiral tail bouncing across the kitchen table now spread with newspapers.
“I’ll call her back, after Scooby.”
“Can he call you back in an hour, Tara?”
“Dad, we watched Scooby-Dumb last weekend.” Adam stormed off the couch, tripped over his brother’s extended foot, sprawled on the floor with a scream and got up swinging. From the chair, Danny grabbed Adam’s arm and yanked it back, forcing his younger sibling to twist around uncomfortably.
“Daniel! Let him go!” Dad bellowed, an order that Danny immediately obeyed, while shoving his brother backwards at the same time. “Adam, go ahead and change the channel to whatever you want.”
“Don’t Dad me. Talk to Tara. You’re done watching cartoons.”
“Move! And make it quick. I just decided to clean the garage and you’re helping.”
Danny moved with a growl in his throat, tossing a hateful glare brother. “Jerk face,” he muttered as he took the phone from his father and headed into the kitchen. “Hello?”
There was a pause, then he thought her heard a nervous breath. “Bad time? It can wait, I guess.”
“No, Toad already got control of the TV. What’s up?”
“I saw her,” Tara was practically whimpering.
Danny had known Tara all his life and she normally had balls bigger than Paul Bunyon even if she was a girl. Right now she sounded petrified. “Who?”
“Her, the… you know, her, the old lady in the woods, that her.”
He sank down in the kitchen chair, bowing his head and lowering his voice. His dad’s gaze pulled from the sports section and studied Danny with brief interest. “You mean Rebekkah, her? Where? When?” Danny asked, not quite believing.
Tara’s moan was followed by a trembling sigh when Danny dared utter the name. “Yeah, about half an hour ago up at the dump.”
Danny let that sink in. The dump wasn’t that far away at all. “You sure? Maybe it was a Bigfoot.”
“It wasn’t Bigfoot. I wish it was a Bigfoot! I thought it was a bear, but then it … she turned around and looked at me. She looked right at me!” Tara’s voice shook like she was about to burst into tears.
“Damn,” Danny whispered. “Okay, chill out.”
His dad looked up again, eyebrows arching, but instead of saying anything about Danny’s swearing, he reached for his cup of coffee.
“Can you meet at the square in a little while?”
Danny glanced at the clock again before looking at his dad and frowning, “Don’t think so. Dad and I are cleaning the garage today.”
Another moan filtered through the line. “Tomorrow? You going to Sunday School?”
“We going to Sunday School tomorrow?”
“Do you want to?” Peg took off her apron and hooked it on a knob beside the refrigerator eyeing her eldest with surprise and suspicion.
“Um, I guess,” he lied. He hated Sunday school, but Tara sounded desperate and maybe if he went voluntarily they’d be allowed to hang out at the gazebo instead of going to church. “Tara wants to know.” Danny offered a weak smile.
“Yeah, I can take you down,” Mom offered. “But, you’re taking your brother, too.”
Danny slumped. “It okay if Adam comes?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He could tell she wasn’t any happier about it than he was, but they really didn’t have a choice.
“Okay. Tomorrow. Want me to call Tony, too?”
“You know he and Susan will be there anyway.”
“True, but we should give him a heads up. I’ll call them both.”
“Thanks. I’m really freaking out here. What if I don’t make it until tomorrow? What if something happens tonight?”
“Nothing’s going to happen.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Of the five Delanio children, Anthony Delanio was dead center. At eighteen, Constance was the oldest followed by sixteen-year-old Albert, then Tony, who was fourteen. Beneath him Roberta came in at ten and the baby, Mario, was all of six. With Nonna and Nonno Delanio still living at the family homestead, a five bedroom farmhouse that had been in the family since 1915, it was always full and never quiet. Connie, as Constance was called, was the only one lucky enough to have her own bedroom. Tony shared his room with Bert. The two youngest had the room right across the hall from their parents, Batista and Maria. His grandparents got the largest bedroom at the front of the house. All this and only one bathroom.
Because of that, there was never a dull moment come Sunday morning, until, that is, Tony found himself sitting in a Sunday school classroom. He had no choice. If you were a Delanio, you went to Sunday school and church and any other public event associated with St. Matthew’s Episcopal whether you wanted to or not. Tony stared at the chalk board scribbled with Scripture notes about this week’s topic, Sloth. The teacher was on a Seven Deadly Sins kick this summer and they had three more sins to go after this. Tony was pretty sure he didn’t have time to be slothful. Nonno and his dad made sure of that. There were more than enough farm chores to keep the entire family busy all day long. The arrival of regular school was a blessing, not that he was the greatest student in the world. He was doing well enough now to stay on the baseball team and out of trouble and that’s what mattered. Fourth grade had been rough. He’d been held back. The good part of that was he’d gotten to know Danny better. Danny was still a year behind Tony, but neither cared and it suddenly became acceptable for the two of them to hang out.
Tony felt a sharp jab just below his right shoulder blade, jarring him into some sort of attention. He sat up a bit straighter, pretending interest in Proverbs 13:4 and something to do with a diligent soul being wealthy. The jab came again, then a whisper from a female voice behind him, “Note from Danny,” it side.
Tony’s hand rose to scratch at a non-existent itch on his shoulder and pulled away with a small piece of paper folded in half inside.
“Gazebo after class. Important.”
Tony glanced left over his shoulder then his right before finding Danny. Tony gave him a single nod. Message received and acknowledged. Tara, who sat beside Danny wasn’t looking so hot. Susan, on the other hand, was looking exceptionally well. Yeah, she was Danny’s girl and Tony wouldn’t dream of coming between them, but man, what a fox. Man, that Danny was one lucky dude.
“Mr. Delanio, please come up and write an example of slothfulness on the board.”
He shifted in his seat, scratched his head, and rose slowly. “Sure,” he mumbled, his mind racing at what to add to the list others had already contributed to. He stood there a second then wrote, “Napping in the outhouse.”
The room erupted into laughter.
He turned and shrugged; a wide, mischievous grin on his face as he handed the chalk back to the teacher. “With a family like mine, you gotta do what you gotta do to get some alone time.”
Even the teacher couldn’t hold back her smirk, “Very insightful, Mr. Delanio.” She looked at her watch. “On that, we’re out of time. Let’s say our parting blessing and I hope to see you all in an hour in church.”
“I thought it would never end,” Tara moaned.
“We got Dum-dums,” Adam boasted, the white stick of his reward poking out of the corner of his mouth, his legs swinging and dangling over the edge of the railing he sat on.
“How appropriate,” his brother replied.
Danny and Susan both leaned against one of the railings as Tara paced back and forth across the gazebo’s creaking wooden floor. Tony mounted the steps and propped himself against the nearest post. “So, what’s up? What’s the big emergency?”
“I saw her up at the dump,” Tara said, arms clutching across her stomach as if she were going to vomit at any second. Her stomach hadn’t stopped hurting since yesterday. “And she saw me.”
“Who?” Susan slid her hand through the loop of Danny’s arms created by his hands being shoved deep into his pant’s pockets.
“The witch.” Tara could barely talk.
Susan burst out laughing and Tony rolled his eyes. “Are you kidding me?” he asked. “You dragged us here for that bogus crap?”
“It’s not bogus,” Tara snapped. “I’m telling the truth. I saw her and she looked right at me.”
“So, now what? You keel over dead or something?” Susan snickered.
They didn’t get it. Tara hung her head, holding back the fear and anger. These were supposed to be her friends, even if she didn’t like Susan all that much. “Never mind.”
“What witch?” Adam asked, sliding the sucker out his mouth.
“The witch, stupid. You know about the witch, right?”
“Everybody knows about the witch,” Tony added.
“Why do you think they call it The Witch’s Backbone down there if there ain’t no witch?” Danny went on.
“The legend says if the witch makes eye contact with you, you’re going to die a horrible and early death. She’s supposed to live somewhere down in the gorge. I guess she hangs around under the bridge just before the really narrow part opens up or something,” Tony explained.
“Oh,” Adam looked confused. “What gorge, where?”
His brother moaned. “The gorge, Toad! The gorge. God, you’re such a douche bag. When you’re almost to Barnesville on the road that goes by the red church, there’s a grated metal bridge at the end. We’ve only ridden across it on our bikes a billion times. She’s supposed to hang out there at night, waiting to kill people or something.”
“Oh! THAT gorge!” He popped the nearly empty stick back into his mouth. His wide eyes stared at Tara. “And you saw her?”
“Yeah, yesterday morning when dad and I were at the dump. It’s not that far from the gorge, you know, not if you cut across through the woods and stuff. I thought it was a deer at first, then maybe a bear.”
“Would have been cool to see a bear,” Adam added.
“It wasn’t, though. It was her and she was wearing some sort of weird-looking hat. Not pointed like a witch hat, but more like a dark bonnet, brown or black …” Tara shrugged and let her shoulders slump. She could read their expressions perfectly well. The only one that might have believed her at all was Adam and he hardly counted.
“There’s no witch, Tara. It’s just some old legend that’s been kicking around Meyer’s Knob and Barnesville for a long time.” Danny gave her a slight smile. Even he didn’t seem to believe her and if he didn’t, who would? “My grampa’s talked about the witch and if she was around when he was a kid, she’s gotta be dead by now.”
“It’s just something someone made up to keep kids from wandering up in the woods around the cliffs and getting killed. Those things are damn steep and slippery.” Tony added. “I’m pretty sure you’re not going to die a horrible death any time soon.
“Well, I saw someone! I know I did and it was a woman and it looked just like a witch,” Tara persisted. She still couldn’t shake the feeling of cold dread that had run through her when she’d seen whatever it was.
“I believe you, Tara,” Adam piped up.
She appreciated the vote of confidence from the kid, but what good would it do her? “Thanks,” she muttered all the same, casting a hopeless eye to each of her friends until her gaze came to rest on Tony’s warm brown ones. She pulled it away quickly and turned her back on them to look at the corner of the cemetery that was tucked behind the church.
“You know,” Tony suddenly said, “there’s only one way to find out for sure, right?”
Tara turned, interested.
“We go up there and check it out. Spend the whole damn night and everything,” he went on. “We ain’t been camping at all this year other than up in Danny’s tree house.”
“I’m not sleeping on the ground,” Susan snapped.
“Yeah,” her boyfriend ignored the complaint completely. “We could do that! We got a ton of camping gear, tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, everything.” Danny slipped out of Susan’s hold, moving to the center of the gazebo, grinning. “It’s only like, what? Three miles from my place.”
“Or, we can go up Diamond Road and come around that way,” Tony offered. Tara could practically see the gears in their heads spinning.
Danny nodded and started to pace. “Yeah, fewer steep hills to climb that way. Once we got up the main one there, it’s pretty flat the rest of the way.”
Susan scowled. “I’m not sleeping on the ground,” she repeated, “and I’m not camping at any gross dump. Can you imagine how many rats and bugs are crawling around up there at night?” She gave a full body shudder.
“So, don’t go,” Tony replied.
Tara smirked. “You don’t have to go, Susan.”
“Now, how do we convince the parental units to let us go up there?” Tony asked.
Tony chuckled, “Lie.” He shook his head when they all looked at him in shock. “Amateurs,” he continued. “Don’t tell them that’s where we’re going. We say we’re going to the usual spot down by the creek.”
“What if someone comes to check?”
“Has anyone ever come to check, Danny?”
“Well, no, but …”
“I think we should do it,” Tara’s confidence in her friends was returning. “But, maybe not right at the dump. Susan has a point about the rats. Besides, Mr. Gunderman will see a campfire from his trailer if we’re too close. He’s a nice guy and all, but he’d kick us out if he knew we were camping up there and report it back to our folks. Some of those piles of trash aren’t very stable.”
“You sure do know a lot about garbage, Fielding,” Susan snorted out a laugh.
God, I hate cheerleaders, Tara thought as she bit her tongue into silence. “Hey, Danny, don’t you have a cousin or something who’s into witchy things?”
He gave a nod. “Yeah, sorta. She’s got a Ouija board and stuff.”
“You think she’d let you borrow it? Might come in handy.”
He looked doubtful. “I can ask, but that means telling her what we’re up to.”
“Maybe she can help?”
“Come with us, you mean?”
Tara nodded, the wheels in her own head starting to turn. “Sure, if that’s okay with everyone else. Takes one to know one, right? And if she doesn’t want to go or let us borrow her board, you can at least ask her for some tips.”
“I guess,” Danny replied. “When we going to do all this?”
“I’m not doing any of it,” Susan crossed her arms in rebellion. “It’s gross and stupid.”
“Next Friday?” Tara offered.
Danny gave a nod. “Yeah, my folks go bowling on Friday.”
“What about me?” Adam had been listening to their conversation with greater and greater interest. “I can go, too, right?”
Danny obviously didn’t want his little brother tagging along, but what choice was there? They couldn’t leave him alone until his parents got home from the bowling alley. Tara gave a shrug when Danny met her gaze. “I guess,” she said. “As long as you don’t chicken out and ruin everything.”
The youngest boy grinned. “I won’t.”
“You okay with that, Tony?” Danny asked.
Tara felt better. Even if they found nothing and even if what she had seen proved to be something completely normal and natural, and even if they were just patronizing her as an excuse to spend a night out in the woods, she was okay with that. This was going to be the camping trip they talked about for years to come.