The Shadows of Indian Summer, by Kevin Lazarus

Kevin Lazarus on the streets of Carthage Falls

Kevin Lazarus in Carthage Falls, photo by Penelope Knight


(From: The Dark Side of Carthage Falls, the Anthology – by Kevin Lazarus)

Indian summer was in the air. Unusually warm for October in Carthage Falls; the enigmatic Carthage Falls—the inexplicable Carthage Falls. Golden leaves spotted with orange, both in the trees and everywhere on the ground; piles of leaves inviting unbridled play. And oh how I wanted to play!

My newest friend, Brett and I, stood at the edge of the Orchard staring down a grassy path leading into a clump of old Cherry trees. They were unkempt, tall and straggly—unlike so many of the other orchards in Carthage. They were now wild and overrun with vines and various other trees that clearly didn’t belong.

Brett nudged me—taunting me. “Scared?” he laughed. And then in an incessant tone said: “there ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of in there! Besides—it’s the fastest way home.”

The fastest way home? Now that was tempting. That long walk home from school was frustrating. It cut right into the middle of what little time I had after school with my friends. Not to mention that the other way was tiresome. Once more I inspected the path surrounded by tall dead grass; shrouded by the low lying braches from the trees, and the dark opening, that for some unknown reason fascinated me.

And while a lot of the leaves had fallen to the ground, it wasn’t enough to see where the path actually traveled. I could only imagine. And considering the distance that I normally had to walk, I suspected that even this shortcut wasn’t all that short.

Off to the side there was an abandoned house. Its shaker siding was broken in many places and falling onto the ground. Every window in it had been smashed. And an old curtain dangling from the corner of one of them was slowly flapping in the afternoon breeze. Its material was dingy with black smudges and full of holes. Next to that there was an old singlewide trailer; the door wide open, swinging back and forth while making the most unpleasant raspy noise. I felt an uneasy chill as I listened to it.

Brett nudged me again, re-captivating my attention and gestured for me to follow him. It was a difficult task trying to ignore the decaying dwelling. I was overwhelmed with two conflicting emotions—a nagging desire to explore it and the need to run far away from it.

The autumn breeze rustled the grass. And somewhere in the back of my mind I found myself thinking about my unseen stalker. In the theater of my mind I played it over and over again, listening to the footsteps. Yet, I didn’t want my new friend to think I was afraid. I couldn’t allow that! And, obviously he had gone this way many times—if not all of the time—and nothing had happened to him!

But the old house and the trailer were unavoidable. They were like a dark cloud hanging at the edge of the orchard—foreboding omens screaming—DON’T GO!

Gathering what courage I could, I took a few steps closer to the head of the trail, and knelt down near the opening. As I lifted the branches and looked down the path, to where it bent in the undergrowth, I noticed something—how overgrown the path actually was. All of sudden I felt Brett’s hand against my back as he pushed me. “Common!” he taunted. “Are you going or what?”

Somewhere between that moment and my decision to take that first step—I looked back over my shoulder. To my surprise, standing there on the sidewalk behind Brett, was this pretty little blond girl that I knew from school—watching us. She stood there staring at Brett with disgust and at me with worry. She said nothing, but just shook her head.

Brett looked to see what I was looking at and when he saw her, he pushed me down on the ground. “Ignore her!” he snapped sharply. “She doesn’t know anything!”

Embarrassed, I watched as Carly frowned and walked away. I watched her until she was well out of sight. Brett looked pleased when I nodded to him, agreeing to go. Was I just being silly? It was just an old dirt path, I thought. So what, about the old house! So what, if it all looked a little scary—it was time to stop being a baby!

As Brett held out his hand and helped me back to my feet, we pushed back the limbs and ran into the old orchard; reckless and wild, two boys on some misadventure—disappearing into the undergrowth. The earthy smell of decaying leaves hung heavy in the air filling my nostrils with a very real sense of being alive.

Somewhere deep in the heart of this decrepit forest we came upon an old beat up tractor, red paint pealing away, rust blanketing most of it. Mired by tall weeds and partially covered with vines, it appeared as if it had been in this very spot forever. Without saying a single word, Brett immediately climbed one of its massive tires and briefly surveyed our surroundings. Once he was sure that we were alone, he plopped down into the driver’s seat and grabbed the steering wheel. He laughed delighted that he’d finally revealed to me one of his great secrets, his hidden world. “Com’on!” he yelled, “I told you this is a cool place. There’re all sorts of things around here to do—and no one’s gonna care!”

I took hold of one of the many ridges on the tire jutting out like large paddles, and pulled myself to the top of the tire. Brett pretended to drive the massive machine, gurgling and sputtering from between his lips a sound that I suppose was his idea of a motor. “Hey,” he suddenly yelled, “we’re moving—you can’t sit there!”

For only a moment I questioned what Brett was doing—believing I was too old for this kind of childish activity. But as I watched him, something inside of me said “why not?” And then I did something completely out of character for me. I jumped from the tire to the metal platform behind him, and grabbing onto the back of his seat—started pretending too. I held my head back as if the high wind from our high speeds was batting away at my body—blowing through my hair. Captivated by Brett’s willing imagination, I was instantly transported to his pretend world. Playing with such enthusiasm, that little had to be explained and somehow—we knew what each other was thinking.

Hours passed as the shadows moved and morphed around the old orchard trees transforming them into something less inviting; full of dark places that grew with the setting of the sun.

I was the first to notice, aware only because of my already disturbing experiences with nighttime in Carthage Falls. Every muscle in my body stiffened as I looked around at the surrounding trees and then back at Brett, as he continued to play with reckless abandon, unaware of the time. A horrible feeling swelled in the pit of my gut as I realized that I didn’t want to be there in the middle of those old dead trees anymore! I wanted to leave the orchard—and now!

I tugged on Brett’s shirt. And at first, he shrugged me off. But then I tugged again until he finally stopped and looked at me. Pointing towards the last rays of evening light, he got my meaning and the two of us jumped down from the tractor and lit out for home.

As we weaved our way along the path in-between the rows of dying trees and barren limbs, knee deep in the tall dry grass, I thought about what he’d said earlier, when we first got to the tractor—that nobody would care about us being there. “why?” I asked, huffing as I ran.

“Why what?” he replied, breathless too.

“Why won’t anyone care that we’re here?”

At that he became suddenly quiet and nervous, clearly wrestling with what to say. Finally he answered me; “Because—no one—comes here anymore.”  With that he hesitated again.

Another moment passed from his apparent unwillingness to finish his explanation to me, leaving me to extract the truth from him. “Yes?” I said with a more demanding tone.

“Okay—” he grumbled, “because—bad things happened here!”

In that moment of silence that followed his little revelation, his words started spinning around in my head. I had to replay them several times for them to sink in. “What?” I declared with disbelief. “What are you saying? What bad things?” I asked with growing alarm. I suddenly felt an uneasy awareness for my surroundings. Now every shadow, every dry dead limb we passed, every clump of grass around us stood out like an evil omen. “Tell me!” I demanded, “what bad things?”

Brett struggled with the words. “A long time ago a girl disappeared. A lot of people looked for her, and when they finally found her—her body was here in the orchard.” Brett’s voice grew increasingly shaky and distressed. And from what I could see, he too was as conscious of the shadows growing around us as I was. “That’s why my mother doesn’t allow me to play here. Actually no one plays here anymore, because of that—”

It felt as if my head was screaming at me. Like an echo I replayed every word Brett said. The revelation that his mother told him not to play here was more than I could endure. “What?” I growled.

Now as Brett spoke, he was looking around nervously. “And, well, other kids have said that they have seen strange lights in the orchard after dark. Some of them say it’s the ghost of the dead farmer who use to live in that old house.”

The image of the rickety house with its single curtain flapping in the wind flashed through my mind. Angry, I punched Brett in the shoulder.

He stopped, shocked, rubbing the spot where I’d hit him. “Ow! Why did you do that?” he grumbled.

Angry, I stopped and spun around, nervously searching the orchard for any sign of weird lights or anything, for that matter, that didn’t belong there. “Because,” I snapped, “you didn’t tell me—that’s why!” I hesitated. “I trusted you!”

Brett stood there rubbing his shoulder saying nothing. I could see by the look in his face that he was trying to decide what to do; whether to attack me or not. For some reason, he clearly decided against doing so. “That isn’t the only thing,” he continued. “Other kids have told me that they thought they were being followed home by someone—”

The hair bristled at the back of my neck as a cold chill washed over me. I couldn’t believe what he was saying! Brett continued: “Some of the kids have said that they thought they saw someone hiding behind the trees in the orchard—watching them as they’d walk home from school.”

I gulped hard and slowly looked around at all of the trees surrounding us. Brett did the same. A gently breeze bristled through the remaining leaves making a clicking sound. And a heavy uneasy sense overwhelmed me, and by the look on Brett’s face, I could see he was feeling something too. I wondered if my eyes were as wide as his.

A loud CRACK from a breaking branch echoed through the orchard. The sound so untraceable that we had no idea what direction it came from!

Brett’s mouth dropped open, his face now pale. I ran back and grabbed the front of his shirt with one hand—pulling him along. I wanted to scream. But the words seemed stuck in the back of my throat. As I opened my mouth once more attempting to force the words out, I spoke in half stinted words, sounding jittery and frightened. “L-l-let’s go,” I stuttered “—NOW!”

I tugged at the front of his coat a few times before he snapped out of his daze and followed me. The two of us running our hearts out, running the entire way home—never stopping once to take breath—and never daring to look back!


New installment: THE DARK SIDE OF CARTHAGE FALLS, January 04, 2012

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Copyright 2011 Kevin Lazarus/DreamStream Productions Inc.

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