Halloween Blog: The Curse of Carbine Road

Greetings ghosts and ghouls! If you checked in last Saturday, you noticed there was nothing new. That’s because I was putting the finishing touches on this year’s “Halloween Blog” story. I’m excited for this one; it’s probably the best one I’ve written thus far. So, as a nice winter storm tracks across the midwest and makes everything feel like a jollier holiday, enjoy this spooky story to get back in the Halloween mood!

 

The Curse of Carbine Road
Story by J.R. Underdown

 

The story that drew the attention of our tiny production crew to the rural Kentucky countryside went like this:

One dark night, a trio of teens with a big truck and nothing better to do journeyed to Carbine Road to practice their art skills on a railroad bridge. The overpass and the section it covered were the literal and figurative center of the road. There it dipped sharply so a car could avoid becoming a convertible on the underside of the bridge. A shallow creek bubbled beneath the pavement and was known for flooding when even a slight storm blew through. The spot was also the lowest point of a valley and gently sloped away on either side. Because the bridge hung so low, it allowed these mischievous boys to easily access their target.

Armed with a camping lantern and enough spray paint to cover several city blocks, they began their assault. They weren’t sure how long they plied their trade; could have been an hour or only a few minutes. It was certainly enough time to make whoever was fated to clean it an unhappy person. After a particular round of canisters was used, the ringleader, a boy named Johnny (of course), jumped down to grab fresh ammo. He froze and never touched the supply. 

Standing before him, glowing slightly in the shadow of the bridge, was a creepy, young, pale woman with bedraggled hair. Clearly she was a ghost. He knew the road was reputed to be haunted, and he even knew the legend behind it, but he still was shocked to see her. One of the companions called down for more spray paint and paused when seeing his rigid friend. Cautiously he descended to the road and also froze. The third hooligan watched curiously and decided, against all conceivable better judgment, to join them.

When all three stood as a captive audience before the ghost, the figure finally moved. She reached down and grabbed one of the spray paint canisters. The lid popped off as if it had been hit and the nozzle spewed forth a glowing stream that spelled “BOO!” on the concrete. The form let the can slip through her fingers, straightened her form, and smiled evilly at the boys. Energy returned to their limbs and they ran at once for Johnny’s truck. 

This truck was parked on a gravel side road overhung with trees and only used by the farmer who owned the land. Because of their fear, they fumbled with opening the doors and stumbled over each other trying to get in. When they were all safe and Johnny started the engine with a roar, they looked up. The road before them was clear. Then Johnny clicked on his lights. Instead of the normal dull yellow headlights he knew well, a faint, ghostly light proceeded from the vehicle. When the lights shot on, the girl ghost appeared in front of the truck. 

The teen driver already had the motor in gear and seeing the specter so near his grill jolted his foot down on the gas pedal. The large tires spun madly, kicking up a stony storm, and the vehicle shot forward. If the girl had been real before, she was dead now. But, to their terror, she passed easily through the car and the kid sitting in the middle. They were more than a mile away in less than a minute.

Some of their parents were suspicious of their behavior over the next couple days. They couldn’t tell if the kids had tried drugs or alcohol, slept with a girl, or murdered someone. Stephen, the teen in the middle, slowly descended into more and more mental instability and was admitted to the nearest hospital a week later. This unnerved Johnny and his other friend and they attributed Stephen’s craziness to being touched by the ghost. The terror and guilt became too unbearable and they finally told their parents what happened. Obviously the adults were incredulous. But Johnny’s father started poking around looking for a TV show or network that would want to investigate the incident. And that’s how the ghost-hunting show I worked for, The Specter Sleuths, became involved.

This cheap little show was the brainchild of the Wolff siblings, Damon and Lorelei. They always had a fascination with the macabre and hanging around cemeteries at night searching for signs of the supernatural. Damon was an average sized male with constant stubble and a down-to-earth appearance. He definitely modeled himself physically after Chip Gaines but contained none of the personality or charm of that more famous star. Lorelei was the opposite. She dressed like a Kardashian, far above the peons she was condemned to interact with on a daily basis. She smelled like a walking air freshener and I doubt if her true face had been seen in years. Ironically, in spite of all this, she was the nicer of the two. 

When they sold the idea of another paranormal reality show to a big name cable channel, their elevator pitch was “Ghost Hunters meets Property Brothers”, with the idea being that half of an episode would highlight the locale and haunted house (if present) and the other half would be proving or disproving the legend that brought the show there. Whether it was the pitch that bought the network’s support or the quirky appearance of the would-be hosts or the tight budget they promised to work under (or sheer madness), The Specter Sleuths was given the green light to shoot a pilot episode that eventually turned into a 13 episode order. 

Given the low budget, the Wolffs compiled a skeleton crew that worked multiple positions. The siblings covered the research and ordering of an episode, handling any tips or legends they came across, in addition to hosting the show. I was brought on as the lone official cameraman but was also stuck with sound engineering and equipment upkeep. Damon would use handheld cameras when staking out for ghosts, but mine were the higher quality and the only ones used for the property and interview segments. Finally, there was Cheryl Shirley–producer, director, coordinator, liaison between show and channel,and anything else she needed to be during a given shoot. She was pretty and plain and her work ethic and honest personality made working for the Wolffs bearable. 

We had over half of season one’s episodes in the can when we flew into CVG early one October morning. We had a couple hours before needing to be anywhere and Carbine Road was only 45 minutes away, so we found a Frisch’s and stopped for breakfast. We killed an hour there and then jumped between a Walmart and a Best Buy to pick up supplies. I remember distinctly during this trip a conspiracy I had being confirmed. 

From the first I was attracted to Cheryl and worked slowly to build our friendship and hope for something closer down the road. I thought I could see that Damon also shared an interest in Cheryl and tried to keep me out of the picture by sending me on separate errands. As production went on his tactics became less and less subtle. It was during that supply run that he blatantly said that Lorelei and I should go to Best Buy while they shopped at Walmart. I couldn’t believe his nerve. Lorelei didn’t mind this, though. I think she was jealous of Cheryl and tried to catch my eye. Unfortunately for her, I can’t stand the Kardashians.

We eventually passed enough time and headed for Carbine Road. It was easy to find and quick to travel. Near the bridge was an open space that didn’t rise with the hill. We parked our rental van there and got out to get a feel for the scenery. The morning was bright and crisp and our breath made their own ghosts for the haunted space. Though the leaves had changed by now, they still held on to their trees and bobbed softly in the autumn breeze. The Wolffs wandered down to the bridge. I got out a camera and started viewing the area through that lens while Cheryl began the practical work of figuring out what our setup would look like.

“I hear the special food here is some sort of weird chili,” I began. “Wanna ditch these two and try some?”

Cheryl smiled slightly but never had a chance to finish. That conniving Damon called us down to the bridge then.

“Why start up there?” he said when we joined them. “I have a feeling this is where we’ll spend most of our time.”

“No sign of the ghost’s message,” said Lorelei. 

“It’s been several weeks,” Damon noted. “Even the graffiti on the bridge is gone.”

“The local government is efficient,” Cheryl said.

“It’s the country,” I entered, “they have nothing better to do.” 

Cheryl smirked; Lorelei giggled; Damon frowned.

“Simon, figure out some good angles for this bridge and go with Lorelei up that way,” Damon pointed away from where we parked. “See what else is on this road.”

“And what will you and Cheryl be doing?” I asked with a masked facetious tone.

“We’ll plan the setup for our stake-out. Come on, Cheryl.”

I wanted to hurl my camera at his head, but that wouldn’t have been professional. So I did as I was told and hopped into the shallow creek to figure out the best views for the bridge. And by “best” I mean “creepiest”, since this was a ghost show after all. 

“That must be the drive those boys parked on,” Lorelei indicated a gravel road nearby and approached it. I followed and viewed it through the camera. “Well, this was a road meant for spooks,” she continued. I couldn’t argue. Trees shadowed the drive on either side and it curved away out of sight a quarter of a mile down. 

“Get some dry ice and we can do some magic here,” I said. 

Lorelei pulled out her phone and made a note. We continued walking up the road, stepping off to the side to avoid the sparse number of cars coming down the way. 

“You know,” she began, “I hear the local food speciality is a unique chili. We should escape those two and try it.”

“Nah,” I answered quickly. “From what I’ve seen, it looks like diarrhea.”

Most women would have rightly interpreted the shutdown I just made. But ol’ Lorelei Wolff giggled like a schoolgirl and playfully pushed me into the road. If only she didn’t take her styling cues from the Kardashians…

Our morning walk delivered nothing of importance, so we turned back. Arriving at the van, Damon and Cheryl were engaged in personal talk.

“You two done already?” I asked incredulously.

“Yep, we got it all sorted out,” said Damon. He checked his phone. “Visiting hours at the hospital just started. I say we pay this ‘Spooked Stephen’ a call.”

The hospital drew us back 15 or 20 minutes down the way we came. The facility looked like any other of its type: bland, sickly, but with external architecture that was supposed to make it seem prettier. This particular one failed to assure me of any beauty within its walls.

We found Stephen in his room huddled up in a chair by the window and covered with a blanket. He eyed us warily. His mom was also there and protested our arrival.

“Look, we’re not here uninvited,” Damon tried to reason.

I didn’t invite you!” yelled the mom. “We didn’t want you to come! It’s Johnny’s stupid excuse for a father who just wants to cash in on my son’s pain.” She waved a hand toward Stephen, who shuddered and turned away.

“There’s nothing wrong with ‘cashing in’ for you,” Damon pressed. “You could drum up some real interest in this case and collect more donations for your son’s hospital bills.”

Damon was an idiot. And this little speech cemented that. Cheryl cringed, Lorelei shook her head, and the mother turned red with emotion. Anger mixed with grief and drove her to shaking where she stood. Damon realized this was getting out of hand and slowly stepped backward, his sign to Lorelei for help.

“Ma’am,” she began in a soft, comforting tone that utterly disarmed the mother, “what we’re doing is looking for the truth. If we find it, it could bring emotional healing to your son in a way nothing else could.”

The mother’s lips quivered and now she backed away to sit on the bed. Stephen looked over toward us with a faint trace of hope on his face. Eventually Lorelei broke her down and we officially got permission to interview Stephen. First I did some preliminary shots around the room. Technically, I already got some when we first arrived since I realized it’s good practice to leave the camera rolling even when setting up. You get more honest reactions that way. 

After quickly and efficiently whipping the camera around the room to get establishing shots, we set up to interview Stephen. My device honed in on the kid’s profile while Damon’s cheaper version sat on a tripod behind us to give the occasional “behind the scenes” shot that we could use in the final product. The Wolff siblings worked their magic, getting the firsthand account from Stephen’s lips. His voice was shaky at first but gradually grew stronger, as if retelling the story was somehow cathartic. 

When he finished and the siblings jotted down some notes, Damon gingerly asked what Stephen’s life has been like since then. The teen shuddered and immediately regressed. 

“I hear voices,” he whispered. 

I dropped the boom mic closer. Damon asked him to repeat that.

“I hear voices,” he said stronger, shooting the male Wolff a defiant look (I could have shook his hand). “At first it was only at night when I was sleeping. But now it happens all the time. It’s driving me crazy.” He sank back in his chair.

“Do you hear voices now?” Damon asked excitedly. Lorelei pulled out her tri-axis EMF meter and turned it on. Cheryl, jumping into action, snatched up the background camera and trained it on the meter. Nothing significant happened.

“I only hear your dumb voice right now,” said Stephen. I barely suppressed a snicker.

Damon looked a little hurt. I could tell what he was thinking: “I bet it’s better than a ghost voice!” In a rare moment of wisdom, he moved on and said, “What do they tell you?”

Stephen sank again, his face contorting. “Most of the time I don’t understand what they’re saying or what it all means. Other times they call to me…they call me to join. Especially her voice.”

“The woman you saw on the road?” said Lorelei. 

Stephen nodded and closed his eyes.

“How do you know–?”

“I just do! Okay?” His eyes flashed open and turned on Lorelei. “She says she’s lonely and wants a companion!”

We all exchanged glances: Cheryl and I, incredulous; the siblings, excited. 

“Do they tell you anything else?” Damon pressed.

Stephen shut his eyes and shook his head violently, as if hurling away the answer from his mind. Finally, with a shudder, he clapped his head between his hands and curled up in his chair.

“I think you’ve done enough,” said the mother evenly.

We silently agreed, packed up, and left. Emerging back into the morning air felt so relieving after that oppressive room.

“Brother, I believe this is real!” Lorelei exploded. “I could almost feel the presence of something in there.”

Damon nodded but kept his eyes on the ground as he walked. He was thinking. 

“Darn,” I said, “we don’t get to stage any of our tricks this stakeout!”

“It’ll save us some money and time,” Cheryl noted. 

“Oh, we can upgrade our hotel then,” I added.

Damon finally looked up and turned his head toward me. “Simon, we’re dealing with the supernatural here! This isn’t a laughing matter. If the spirits cooperate and we can capture something on camera, this could be what cements our show’s status.”

My anger was flaring rapidly. I hated being talked down to like that by him.

“This is our most important episode yet,” Lorelei cut in firmly. 

“Now to meet Johnny?” said Cheryl. 

We met with a more enthusiastic reception at Johnny’s house. The father was ready for his time in front of the camera and was disappointed to find we weren’t interested in interviewing him. We made peace by featuring him prominently as the Wolff siblings entered the home and he showed them to Johnny’s room. The teen, though willing to talk, was clearly less thrilled about the TV show coming to his home. His personal account didn’t offer much to what we already knew, so there wasn’t much follow-up.

“You mentioned the road is haunted,” Damon said as they started wrapping up. “What is the legend behind it?” 

Johnny was about to speak, but his dad, hovering about the room like a poltergeist, jumped in. “The best person to tell that story is old Eldon. He’s the best historian on all local folklore!”

Damon and Lorelei exchanged annoyed glances, and I silently sniggered. As Cheryl and I packed up, Lorelei used the restroom and Damon got the address of old Eldon. This venerable senior citizen lived in an ancient mansion that looked like it could be haunted itself. According to its sole occupant, it was haunted. He claimed he had an ongoing chess game with the resident spook, and he was losing. He told us this in such a sly, facetious manner, none of the decision makers knew whether to take him seriously and include the story as a sidebar in the episode. It turned out the house functioned as the local historical center, and he did give us a brief tour of the place along with some history of the area. We didn’t record any clear audio but Cheryl gave me the nod to film some of the artifacts and pictures. 

At last we came to his study where the famous chess board lay. I have no interest in the game, but I could tell one side was losing badly. The study, Eldon explained, was where his greatest passion lay: ghosts and other mystical folklore. Apparently the Kentucky countryside is crawling with spirits, and he highlighted some of the more outlandish tales such as haunted bars where mobsters were murdered or ghost ships that float down the Ohio River or vampiric cars that follow young men. Finally, with relish he came to the story of Carbine Road.

I won’t bother relating it in quotes (Eldon was very flowery in his language). A summary works just as well:

In the early 1800s, Carbine Road was nameless and little more than a trail for horses and carriages. The dusty path cut through two properties divided by the creek. On one side, with their stately house built close to the trickling waterway, were the Macintoshes. On the other, and nearly a mile up the road, was the rustic farm of the Harmels. Somehow these two clans came to blows over the land, whether disputes on property lines or desire for more space. The feud remained mostly bloodless until one fateful Saturday.

It was well known around town that the Macintoshes carried on a unique tradition. Every other Saturday, the men would load up into a wagon and go into town for whatever business or pleasure they desired. On the in-between Saturdays, the women had their turn. The Harmels, feeling their feud was more with the men than the women, decided to set fire to the house on a Saturday when the women were in town. As the men would try to escape, they would be gunned down by the Harmel males hiding around the yard. 

They picked a date and put their plan in motion. The fire was set, eventually a cry was heard, and out came the first escapee through the front door. One of the Harmels had his carbine trained there and shot the person before taking two steps on the front porch. This unfortunate victim was Sarah Macintosh, who married into the family only a year previous. Yes, the Harmels mixed up which Saturday the women would be gone. When they realized their mistake, they fled. Not that that did them much good. The list of suspects was small and soon the Harmel males were rounded up. The one behind the fatal shot found his end at the end of a swinging rope, a couple others spent time in the county jail, and the rest were cowed into silence by their failure and shame.

Eventually the Harmels sold their land and it was broken up into a couple smaller farmsteads. The Macintoshes were devastated by their loss. They rebuilt another mansion but barely spent any time there. Locals said the ghost of Sarah Macintosh, angry that she was murdered in a feud that wasn’t her own, haunted the family. The property soon sat vacant until later generations of Macintoshes developed the land for houses. 

“Sightings have always told of a playful ghost,” said Eldon. “This case with poor Stephen is a first where someone has come in contact with her.”

There was a pause and Damon, who had been taking in the spooky air of the room and Eldon’s obvious fascination for the topic, looked at him and asked, “Eldon, would you like to join us for a little stakeout? Seems like it would be up your alley and it would be a good twist for the show to have a folklore expert on hand.”

The old man smiled, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “I appreciate that, Mr. Wolff, but I don’t think that’d be wise.”

“Why not?”

“Like I said, Sarah has never come in contact with someone before. She seems to be getting more aggressive.” 

“Why would that be?” asked Lorelei. 

Eldon shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s been haunting that road for a while…maybe she’s getting lonely.”

“So you don’t think it’s wise because she might do something to us,” Damon pressed.

“Yes. Now I can’t stop you from going out and filming your show, but I have no obligation. I would rather stay here with my friendly ghost and play chess.”

The Wolffs had a few more follow-up questions, I shot some more of the house, and we left. The siblings were very excited for this assignment.

“I say we stakeout the road tonight!” Damon declared.

“I agree!” said Lorelei. “There’s something special about this case, it definitely holds the most promise.”

Cheryl and I exchanged glances. 

“You’re not worried about the old man’s premonitions?” Cheryl asked.

Damon balked at the comment. “Worried? We’re on the verge of a major event! I think we’re going to have a true encounter with a ghost! I wonder, should we bump this episode up earlier in the season or leave it as a finale?”

“Oh, definitely a finale,” said Lorelei. “If this is as rich as it seems, it will make a great finale; really cement the show on the network, you know?”

The two chatted away in the back seat with dollar signs in their eyes. I leaned on the arm rest into the gap between the passenger and driver and muttered, “We could drop them off and go get dinner, maybe see a movie.”

Cheryl smirked and shook her head. Then a concerned look passed over her face. “You’re not afraid of all this?”

“Me? Afraid of spooks? Psh!”

“Really? I mean, I know we fabricated things for the show, but this seems different somehow.”

I could tell she was opening up to conversation and, given Damon’s temporary lapse into daydreaming in the back, I took advantage of the time I had. 

“I don’t think there’s anything to this supernatural stuff,” I said. “It’s all circumstances, setting, and wild imagination.”

“So what did those boys see?”

“I bet someone was pranking them, an elaborate use of smoke and mirrors.”

“But a form passed through the truck.”

“Coulda been a projection of some sort. The rest has been their minds believing it was a ghost or that they felt something or hear something. The mind is a powerful place, I’ve found. You can whip up any ghost or god that suits your fancy.”

We drove on while the siblings continued their babbling and Cheryl seemed thoughtful. “So you don’t think we’re in danger?”

I shrugged. “Maybe from pranksters. But all you need to upset that is have someone who is firm in mind and won’t buy in to the superstitious stuff. I’m just that person. I’ll be your anchor while those two drift about.”

Cheryl cocked her head and that was the end of that conversation. 

We finally checked in to our hotel. Damon wanted to go off with Cheryl to “discuss the episode” and left me with his sister. She wanted to go exploring, but I went to my room and watched TV instead. We had a hurried supper and then returned to Carbine Road. Set-up was simple but time consuming, setting up cameras and microphones here, learning the lay of the land there, checking the functionality of the equipment. Everything was ready by the time the sun went down. I waited with nothing more than the hope of the next paycheck. Cheryl seemed nervous, the Wolffs looked greedy and excited. 

The full moon (a “hunter’s moon”, I learned from the local news) shone among thin clouds that passed quickly through the sky. A light breeze blew along the road and, aside from an occasional car, the night was still. I trailed behind Damon and Lorelei in turns as they talked out loud to “Sarah”, asking if she was there, does she need help, etc. 

I could tell Cheryl was loosening up and getting comfortable by the time midnight rolled around. The siblings were growing irritable. Damon kept telling me to check the batteries on the cameras and Lorelei stood off aways, looking across the train tracks toward some woods, tapping her foot. She checked her EMF like a person waiting for a phone call.

It was sometime after midnight that the action started. The smell reached our noses instantly and we all glanced around. I had the presence of mind to step back and get both siblings in the same shot. 

“You smell that?” Damon asked.

Lorelei continued glancing around. “Yeah, the fire? Could just be a bonfire.”

“Kinda late for a bonfire.”

I looked over at Cheryl, she probably orchestrated this and didn’t tell them. But she was beginning to look nervous again. The smell persisted strongly for a couple minutes and then faded. 

“The smell’s receding,” said Damon. “Are you checking your reader?”

Lorelei, entranced by the odor of burning wood, held up the instrument and jumped. “The battery’s dead!”

“It was charged?”

“Totally! I was sure of it!”

Ah, the old sudden drainage of the battery. You act like it’s a ghostly presence that saps your electronics, but it’s either purposely turning off the equipment or letting the battery run low and die. Damon checked his camera and cursed. His battery was dead, too. Cheryl rushed to the van to grab replacements. 

“You still getting all this, Simon?” asked Damon. 

I nodded slowly behind my camera. I hated when he called me out while shooting. I would let him know if something wasn’t working. While they replaced their batteries, we received our next surprise: a gunshot. It broke the stillness with a clear crack and sounded as if close by. Again, we glanced around. 

“Would people be hunting out here?” asked Lorelei, clearly excited.

“Not with that gun. That sounded like a carbine!”

I made a face toward Cheryl that conveyed the disbelief that Damon would know what a carbine sounded like, but her head was turned away. 

“Anybody catch where that shot came from?” Damon probed. 

Everyone shrugged. It sounded like it was nearby, but in that little valley sound traveled funny. Damon was ready to venture off into the night to track a sound that had died a minute ago, but he was stopped by a sudden gust of wind. Born on the wind was a blood-curdling scream, like a woman in her death agonies. Even in the moment I chalked all this up to either Cheryl’s doing or a prank, but I still couldn’t repress a chill from rippling through my body. 

“Did anybody hear where that came from?” Damon asked wildly. Cheryl answered by pointing toward the woods. The two ghost seekers shot off with us two crew members trailing behind. 

The woods were across the creek on the other side. As we came underneath the bridge, several things happened at once. First, the light on my camera flickered out. Second, Lorelei, who led the way, screamed for everyone to look out and led the pack in jumping off the roadway and into the creek. No cars had come down the road in a while but suddenly a large carriage, pulled by two horses, swept by and continued up the hill to the other side.

“Simon, did you get that on camera?” Damon demanded. “I think I had mine pointed down.”

“I don’t know,” I answered irritably, checking my equipment. Everything seemed fine. I tapped the light and it flickered back on. 

“I’m going to see where that carriage went,” said Damon. “I don’t think it had a driver.” 

He dashed in the direction of the old-timey vehicle, and I hopped on the roadway to follow. As I pulled away, I heard Lorelei saying, “I’m sorry, Simon, I think I broke one of your cameras when I jumped into the creek.”

This upset me a little, but I had a job to do in chasing Damon. I’d worry about my losses later. We came to the top of the nearest hill and looked about. There was no sight or sound of the mysterious carriage. 

“It couldn’t have turned off into one of the driveways,” said Damon. “Where did it go?” With a hand on his hips, he surveyed the dark land. “Did it look ghostly to you?” he asked of me. I was annoyed and only shrugged. It did look ghostly, but the full moon was out and would have given it that appearance. That and the sudden loss of light didn’t help our perception either. 

Slowly we drifted back down the hill and rejoined Cheryl at the creek where she was trying to fix the camera. Lorelei was standing at the edge of the woods, flashing a light through the foliage. 

“I think I saw someone in there!” she shouted back to us. 

I kept my camera pointed in her direction and remained there to catch Damon running up toward her. 

“This is too much!” he said excitedly. “By far the best case we’ve had yet!”

“You really went overboard for the tricks this time,” I said quietly to Cheryl as she stepped out of the creek.

The face she turned toward me was ghastly in that moonlight. “I didn’t have anything to do with any of this.”

I shrugged. “Well then, someone’s having a good laugh,” I paused and made sure the camera was focused on the siblings dancing about the treeline, “at their expense.” 

I slowly walked up the hill to join our employers. Suddenly Cheryl was close beside me. What a weird time to get romantic, I thought. 

“Simon,” she said with urgency, “you’re still convinced this is all natural.” 

I stopped and looked at her. “Of course. There’s no such thing as ghosts and the supernatural.”

I tried to convey that in a reassuring way, but she trudged on with that same pale expression. Soon we were hurried on by Damon’s eager voice.

“Guys, get up here! Simon, start panning the woods with your camera. Someone or something is definitely in there!”

I was momentarily caught up in the thrill and obeyed without annoyance. As I began my slow pan, Lorelei began calling out to “Sarah” again and holding out both EMF meter and recorder. Damon was using his own light and camera to scan the woods. As the four of us converged we were greeted with another piercing wail that blasted out of the trees like a breath exhaled. Lorelei fell silent and we all stood still. 

“Where…” Damon began.

“Over there!” Lorelei answered and darted off into the forest. Damon followed on her heels. I held back to get the shot of them disappearing among the foliage and was about to follow when Cheryl grabbed my arm. 

“Don’t go,” she commanded.

Was this the moment to make my move? I considered it. But I believe in professionalism, so I controlled myself. 

“Do you say that because you’re scared or as a direction for the show?” I asked instead.

She looked blankly at me and then said, “For the show.” 

I was perfectly willing to do what my director told me, but then new screams emerged from the woods. These belonged to the Wolff siblings. Both cried for help and the terror sounded so genuine Cheryl and I were riveted to our spots. Thrashing could be heard in the foliage and a couple sharp snaps rang out. Lorelei’s screams eventually faded out in a pitiful sigh. Damon continued cursing and calling for us to come. With one last yell of agony he fell silent.

This unseen drama was so unexpected and unnerving, we didn’t move for several minutes. I expected the two to break out at any moment laughing at the prank they just pulled on us. But they didn’t come and only silence remained.

“I have to go in there and see what happened,” I said at last, causing Cheryl to jump.

“No…Fine. But we stay close together and turn at the sign of any danger.”

“No argument there.” 

Cheryl pulled a small Maglite from her back pocket and swept its powerful beam all over the place as we entered the woods, following roughly the same path as the Wolffs. We trudged on for what seemed like a long time when I felt a weird shape underneath my foot. I stepped back and swung the camera, with its light, in that direction. It was Damon’s camera. Cheryl breathed in sharply, making it sound like a hiss. Carefully I picked the piece up. The screen was smashed and had a hole punched through it. 

“Right through the SD card,” I muttered. 

We pressed on a little further. Suddenly Cheryl’s grip on my arm tightened and I seized up as if the hand of death held me. Using only the beam of her light, she waved it at a nearby tree. The bark was horribly scuffed and it looked recent. Moving nearer, I instinctively zoomed in on the ground. There were Lorelei’s EMF and recorder. 

We searched the area in silence a little longer and finally realized we had voices. Breaking that heavy night, we called for the two ghost hunters and heard nothing for reply.

Finally, we retreated to the clear hillside.

“We should call the cops,” Cheryl said. I nodded silently, not really knowing what to do or what to think. I noticed I was cold and surveyed the cheerless landscape. Then I remembered the camera and shut it off.

Cheryl called the cops and soon the woods were lit up with powerful searchlights. Dogs were brought to sniff out a trail and some tracks were eventually found. They led nowhere. The police took our statements and, after I copied the files onto my laptop, took the SD cards from our cameras to see if there was any evidence on them. The sun was rising before they finished a sweep of the area and finally told us to go back to the hotel and wait for updates. We had already packed up our things, so we departed quickly after that. The ride was utter silence. Only the hum of the engine or the swish of other cars on the interstate broke the quiet. 

Still speechless, we entered the hotel and parted for our separate rooms. I slept most of the morning and well into the afternoon. I awoke in time for the evening news and was not surprised to see the Wolff siblings as “breaking news” material. The fact that they vanished during a paranormal investigation added to the sensationalism of the story. 

Seeing this (and getting some sleep) set my mind back on a logical course. I realized now that the Wolffs had planned all those “happenings” and faked their own disappearance. Why? I could only guess that they wanted the money the cable company had forwarded to them for expenses. I’m sure they had several thousand dollars to work with and could see the show wouldn’t succeed. So, sensing a potential failure, they faked their disappearance and vanished with the money. 

I felt fairly confident with this theory when a knock at the door surprised me. I was even more surprised to see Cheryl standing there. She wanted to review the material from the previous night and see what we could find. More eager for one-on-one time, I gladly welcomed her in and quickly set up my laptop and some speakers. We looked over some of the video, called for Chinese, and pressed on past midnight. Our sleuthing didn’t yield much results. There was some muffled background noises at certain points, but that could’ve been anything. When, sadly, she left, we were none the wiser.

We passed a couple boring days there with Cheryl insisting on checking the footage and audio at least once a day. The police finally gave us the okay to leave and returned our SD cards and other equipment. The cable channel, rather furious at this sudden collapse, flew us home immediately and had a long meeting with Cheryl. 

It looked as if The Specter Sleuths would never see the light of day but would be buried in an unmarked grave. However, interest was so high in the Wolffs’ disappearance that the channel ended up paying for the completed episodes to be spliced together and ran what they had. The grand finale was indeed the Carbine Road experience. That episode became the network’s highest watched to date. 

I worked with Cheryl some during the touching up stages, but could never get her to come away for anything more than a hurried lunch. When we were done with that, she quit her job with the network and moved to Vancouver to work on superhero shows. Damon’s disappearance was enough to scar her for life and keep her from me forever. I know he’s smiling devilishly at that.

But I’m on to those Wolffs! An industry friend of mine who knew them from a previous failed venture swore he thought he saw them passing by in a convertible in Hawaii. Undoubtedly they’re living the high life while I struggle on from one thankless shoot to the next, always coming home to an empty apartment. 

*J.R. Underdown. All rights reserved. 2019.


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