October 16, 2020
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This October, The Brigham City Chapter of the League of Utah Writers were invited to submit a spooky Halloween story to be published at BRVNEWS.com
This is the first fictional spooky Halloween story submitted.
By Mike Nelson - Brigham City, Utah
Larry spotted the doll first. It was just standing there alongside the dusty, wash boarded, gravel road. But then what could a child's toy do besides just stand there? It's not like it could move, or run, or see—right? Yet this wasn't your average cuddly little teddy bear. This thing appeared to be a short representation of the figure that so often introduced terror into the minds of young children—a miniature version of the sewn-together monster of long ago, everyone knew as Frankenstein.
Spence brought the truck to a stop in the middle of the road a few yards away.
The two friends were forty miles from nowhere, in the west desert near Kelton, Utah, ultimately on their way to the Newfoundland mountain range. Their plans—unload their UTV at Kelton and ride from there to the more remote mountain range for a day of hunting and exploring.
Now, standing sentinel-like alongside the road, this creature simply couldn't be ignored. The stupid thing just stood there with its swept-back, half-black, half-white hair, and a dark uni-brow that flowed from one side of its broad forehead to the other. Beneath its heavy brow, sleepy black eyes stared out at them over a bulbous nose. Large scars streaked its face, and a full, lumpy chin squared off its lower jaw. It wore an almost half-grin on its thick lips. Small, shiny bolts protruded from both sides of its neck. A black tee-shirt covered by a black, wide-lapelled suit jacket and matching pants covered its rigid torso. A pair of thick-soled, black shoes completed its ensemble.
Had the doll been six or seven feet tall, it would have sent them both running in the other direction, but standing barely eighteen-inches above the gravel, it certainly wasn't imposing.
Larry loaded his pistol and rolled down his window. Shooting from the road was bad, but shooting from a vehicle was expressly prohibited. On the other hand, who would see him shoot, or for that matter even hear the shot? They hadn't seen another vehicle all morning.
“So, are you gonna shoot the stupid thing or not?” Spence asked as the thick dust cloud that had been following them drifted away.
“I dunno,” Larry answered. “This feels weird. Just look at it. Somebody had to have put it there on purpose. So, what’s the catch? Did they fill it with Tannerite and nails or something so it’ll blow up and blast us with shrapnel?”
"Hey, maybe it's like one of those voodoo dolls you read about," Spence teased. "If ya shoot it, maybe blood will squirt out of your head or something."
“That’s not funny,” Larry complained. “I don’t know what that is, but if nothing else, it’s weird. Who would leave it out here?”
"Maybe it walked here," Spence laughed. "Lighten up, for Pete sakes! People bring all sorts of stuff out here to shoot. If you had that thing sitting on your kid’s dresser, wouldn't you want to get rid of it?"
"I'm not going to shoot it this close," Larry said. "What if it explodes? Back up a hundred yards or so, and I'll use my rifle."
"You probably can't even hit it from a hundred yards away."
“I’ll take that bet,” Larry said. “Just back up.
Backing a loaded trailer along a narrow dirt road wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but Spence finally managed.
At a hundred yards, “Frank” looked like a short black exclamation point sticking up out of the whitish graveled road.
“You know, you’re a little girl if you don’t hit it in the face,” Spence taunted.
“That’s like shooting a golf ball at that range.”
“Girly boy,” Spence teased.
Larry climbed out of the truck, loaded his rifle and turned the rifle scope up to twelve power as he steadied his gun across the rear-view mirror.
“Are you gonna shoot or what?” Spence prodded after a couple of minutes.
“I can’t see its face. I think it turned around.”
"Are you nuts?" Spence exclaimed as he turned off the engine and pulled out his rifle. "Last one to shoot buys dinner."
“Okay, tough guy,” Larry said as Spence rested his rifle on the opposite rear-view mirror. “But I’ll bet you can’t see its face, either.”
"It's a hundred yards away, and it's a little doll. That's like seeing spots on a sparrow's egg at ten feet."
"Well, you can shoot if you want," Larry said as he lifted his rifle. "But this doesn't feel right to me. What if you shoot it in the head, and your head explodes?”
“You’re out of your mind,” Spence grumbled as he thumbed his rifle’s safety off and took careful aim.
"Don't!" Larry exclaimed. "I'm telling you this just ain’t right.”
The crack of Spence’s rifle punctuated Larry’s warning. A hundred yards away, Frank tumbled down the road.
Spence laughed. “I’ll bet I hit it right in its nasty face. Let’s go see.”
They'd driven less than fifty yards when Spence stopped the truck again.
“Do you believe that?” he asked, his voice cracking a little. “The dang thing is still standing up.”
“That’s impossible,” Larry muttered. “I watched it tumble down the road.”
“Maybe it’s got weighted shoes.”
“And just maybe—”
"Oh yeah, sure," Spence interrupted him. "Next thing you're going to tell me is ole Frank is another version of that horror-doll, Chuckie."
“We don’t know what that is,” Larry whined. “But I’m telling you, I don’t like this, one bit. I don’t want to drive by it. I think we should turn around and leave.”
“I can’t turn around on this narrow road with the trailer behind me. We'll get stuck, and then we'll be out here alone with that—thing.”
Spence paused to offer a toothy grin. “Then it'll probably run down here and eat your face off."
“Not funny!” Larry insisted. His fear pushed his voice a couple of octaves higher.
“I’ll tell you what, buddy,” Spence laughed. “I’ll get a run at it so it can’t jump in the truck when we drive by. But as a precaution, you’d better roll up your window.”
“You’re a jerk!”
“And you’re—well, you’re hysterical. Did you have a problem with Frankenstein movies when you were a kid?”
“Yeah, so what?”
"So, you're out of control. Maybe you better fasten your seat belt, so if he kicks the truck over with those nasty shoes when we drive by, you won't get ejected when the truck rolls over.”
Spence pulled the truck in gear and mashed the foot feed to the floor. The rear wheels broke traction and spun a hail of gravel against the front of the trailer.
Larry quickly rolled up his window.
“Did you see that?” Larry shouted as they flew by the doll. “The dang thing was looking right at me.”
Spence laughed. “You need a Valium!” he exclaimed.
Long after Frank disappeared in a cloud of dust behind them, Larry kept looking in the rearview, half expecting to see Frank running along behind them.
Spence looked over at Larry. Perma-grin plastered his face.
“Knock it off,” Larry grumbled. “You can’t tell me that wasn’t weird.”
Less than a mile later, they came to the abandoned Kelton town site.
Larry peered down the road behind him as he climbed out of the truck. Thankfully, Frank was nowhere to be seen!
They parked their truck near the Kelton cemetery and after unloading the RZR, they packed all their stuff aboard, and walked over to the tiny, mostly-forgotten cemetery. That was just what they did when they came here—not that anything ever changed in the fenced-in plot of abandoned grave markers—there was just something eerie about the desolate site.
After taking the obligatory walk, among the heavily-weathered markers, Spence stopped and looked out across the lonely sage-choked terrain. “I wonder how many people are buried out here?” he asked. “I hear this used to be a fair-sized railroad stop.”
“As far as I know,” Larry said, “this might have been the only cemetery for hundreds of miles. I’m sure with all those men working on the railroad, there was quite a few who died. It’s not like the rail crews could load up their bodies and haul them very far in a wagon. It’s hot out here in the summer. I’m sure they had to get anybody who died in the ground pretty quick or they’d have a mess on their hands.”
“Wintertime wouldn’t have been a problem. You’ve been here in December. It’s often below zero with a wind-chill far below that. A body would have frozen stiff in a couple of hours.”
“And the ground would have been frozen solid too,” Larry added.
“They had picks and shovels,” Spence countered. “I’ll bet even if the clay was frozen it would have been softer digging than the rock those men busted through to lay a rail bed.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right.”
“So how many men, would you guess, are buried here?” Spence asked his original question again.
“Maybe a lot, maybe not so many,” Larry answered. “There may even be a few women here. A lot of the wooden grave markers are probably gone altogether. I’ll bet some of their dead never even made it this far. The crews worked with dynamite and cantankerous mules and horses. I’m sure there were accidents. Would you haul a busted-up body very far? It’s not like they brought coffins with them for that eventuality. I’ll bet there are a lot of unmarked graves on hilltops all along the way.”
“This is a sad place,” Spence said. “I hear a lot of the workers were from China. Their families might have never known what happened to them. For all we know they were never officially notified when their loved-one’s died. I wonder if anyone kept records of who they buried here?”
“Someone may have, but look around you. I’m sure there were buildings here once, but where did they go? If somebody kept records, who has them?”
“There’s not much out here to burn for firewood except sage. I’ll bet most of the abandoned buildings ended up in a campfire over the years.”
“So why the sudden interest?” Larry asked.
Spence looked around the small plot of ground again. “What can I say about cemeteries?” he said. “They’re everywhere. Every town, and city has at least one. Even when the towns themselves died out or were abandoned altogether--like here--there are still cemeteries, and every one of them has one thing in common. They hold the bodies of the dead.”
“I’ve heard some of them are haunted.”
“That stands to reason. There would be a greater possibility of seeing ghosts where the concentration of the dead is the greatest.”
“Maybe old Frank back there is a ghost,” Larry said.
“And what?” Spence teased. “He was so desperate for a body that when somebody brought Frankenstein out here to shoot at, he seized the opportunity?”
“It could happen.”
“You watch too many horror movies.”
“I’m telling you, there’s something not right about that doll.”
“Load up,” Spence said. “We’ve got a long way to go and if you plan to stop and hunt along the way, we’re running out of time.”
They drove slowly on the first leg of their journey, expecting to see rabbits along the way. Nearly an hour later, they hadn’t spotted a single animal.
“I’ll bet old Frank ate them all,” Spence said, and then laughed when Larry stuck out his tongue.
“Speed up a little,” Larry said. “The road is pretty rough but the RZR handles it well. If we putter along like this it’ll be dark before we even get out there.”
After driving another half-hour or so at a greatly increased speed, they came to the railroad trestle and stopped to look over the so-called Bangerter pumps.
“I never get tired of looking at these things. They’re like a ghost-town themselves,” Larry said as they peered at the buildings built around the massive engines and pumps, and then down into the deep ditch leading away to the west. “You can barely see the lake from here now. It’s hard to imagine there once was enough water in that old lake that they needed to pump some of it off into the west desert.”
They walked along the rails to the east for a hundred yards or so, until they had to climb down on the access road to wait for a freight-train to rumble by.
“Hey,” Larry said, gesturing at a rocky outcrop as they walked back. “I see a dragon!”
“Is Frank riding on it?” Spence teased.
“Knock it off! Larry exclaimed. “Look at that black rock formation on the north, and tell me you don’t see it.”
Spence followed Larry’s point.
“Okay, so I see something that might look like a dragon’s head and neck. It’s too bad we didn’t bring Frank with us. We could have mounted him on that thing’s head. That would have scarier than him just standing in the middle of the road.”
“I wouldn’t have touched that doll,” Larry said. “Much less put it in the RZR with us, especially after you shot it. You probably made it mad. Who knows what it would have done?”
Spence shook his head in disgust and ignored him.
Their ride the rest of the day at the “Newfies” was hot, dusty, and unproductive. They’d hoped to see rabbits. There were none. They’d hoped to see big horn sheep. There were none.
They’d hoped to find some discarded military brass when they drove near the Utah Test range on the southern end of the mountain range. There were none. The sun was nearly down before they called it a day and turned back along the trestle.
“Well,” Spence muttered when they finally got back to the pumps and turned North, “I like riding but when you think about it, this was pretty much a waste of time. I think Frank jinxed us.”
“You’re not going to let me live that down, are you? Now I suppose you’re going to tell all our buddies.”
Spence grinned. “Oh, I don’t know. What’s my silence worth?”
“I’m paying gas money. What more do you want?”
“We’ll go through Snowville on the way home and you can buy dinner at Mollie’s.”
“Okay,” Larry happily agreed. “I love that place! Why did you decide to go that way instead of our usual way past the Golden Spike?”
Spence flipped on the RZR’s bright LED light bar and the road ahead literally leapt out of the desert in the failing light. “I’m hungry. It’s late. And I just noticed the gas gauge. We’re running low on fuel and I remembered that Snowville is the only place out here where you can buy gas.”
“We don’t have to drive this to Snowville.”
“I know that, but I don’t want to walk back to the truck either. I usually carry extra gas but haven’t ever had to use it out here before.”
“We’ve never ridden this late, either,” Larry countered. “We’ve always been back to the truck before dark.”
“What’s the matter, are you worried that ole Frank will be waiting for us in the dark when we get back?”
“I told you to knock it off!” Larry exclaimed. “That’s not funny anymore.”
Spence laughed. “Sorry, I’ve just never seen this side of you before. I watched you kill a badger with a stick once. Watching you do that scared the crap out of me. I didn’t think you were afraid of anything.”
“I’m not so much afraid of living things. But, well, I’ve always been afraid of spooks. A cousin used to terrorize me, telling ghost stories around the campfire. He was a great story teller and had about a million tall tales. By the time the campfire faded away to glowing embers at night and we went to bed, I’d lay awake half the night imagining there were all sorts of evil creatures lurking around outside the tent.”
“So, do we have enough gas to get back then?” Larry asked anxiously.
“I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be close. We’ll take it easy, though. I figure if I drive about thirty, we’ll get the best mileage.”
A jackrabbit suddenly jumped out of the sage brush and zigzagged crazily down the road ahead of them.
Spence tromped on the foot feed and gave chase.
At the last moment, the rabbit leapt off the road just before Spence ran it down.
“Well, so much for conserving fuel,” Larry teased.
“Sorry,” Spence apologized as he backed off on the throttle. “That’s the only rabbit we’ve seen all day. I couldn’t resist.”
Their happy banter dried up as they drove on in the dark. They didn’t see any more rabbits and it seemed that neither of them liked the prospects of walking miles in the dark if they ran out of gas.
“I think we’re going to make it,” Spence finally announced as they climbed the last significant hill just south of Kelton. “We’ve still got a little black showing on the gauge. I’ve never run the gauge this low before, but if it’s registering any fuel at all, we should be good. I think it’s only about five miles back to the truck, now.”
“I hope you’re right,” Larry said. “There’s no moon. It’s pretty dark.”
“I think you’d be surprised at how much natural light there is from the star canopy out here,” Spence said. “There aren’t any clouds and we’re so far away from the city that there’s no light pollution. I’ll bet I could even drive without headlights.”
Before Larry could respond, Spence reached for the light switch and the road ahead of them disappeared in the inky blackness.
“Knock it off!” Larry yelled. “You’re going to wreck!”
Spence laughed and flipped the lights back on. “I’ll bet if we stopped, turned off the lights, and waited a couple minutes we’d be able to see just fine,” he said. “We’re so blinded by the LED light bank that we’re night-blind.”
“Why waste a perfectly good light bank?” Larry asked. “I don’t mind being night-blind.”
“Especially when we’re so close to Frank,” Spence needled him again.
“You’re a jerk!” Larry grumbled. “I’ll buy dinner at Mollies but if you say one more word about Frank, you’re buying.”
Spence laughed. “As riled up as you get when I tease you, I think it’d be worth every penny.”
They came to a fork in the road and Spence took the right-hand curve.
“We’ve got it made in the shade,” Spence said, an air of relief coloring his voice. “It’s less than a mile now to the truck.”
Neither spoke, and minutes later the dilapidated fence around the Kelton cemetery rose up out of the dusty, gray sage in the headlight beam.
“Who’s that?” Larry asked, pointing ahead.
“I don’t see anyone.”
“Right there, standing by that grave marker,” Larry said. “And don’t tell me it’s Frank. That’s a full-sized dude.”
Larry was right. A dark figure stood motionless in the headlights as Spence turned the RZR directly at what was left of the lonely burial site.
“I’m sure that’s just a camper out for a walk,” Spence said as he turned back towards their truck.
“There wasn’t anybody camped out here when we left.”
“We’ve been gone for hours,” Spence countered. “I’m sure someone pulled in after we left.”
“What’s he doing just standing there in the dark without a flashlight?”
“Maybe he had car trouble, saw our truck, and has just been waiting for us to come back.”
“Circle around,” Larry demanded. “See if there are any campers.”
Spence turned the RZR in a wide, sweeping turn so the headlights would light up any nearby tents or trailers. There weren’t any.
“Let’s load up and get out of here,” Larry said, the tension in his voice becoming clearly evident.
“We can’t just drive off and leave him there. He might need help. If you’re that worried get out your pistol.”
“You can’t kill the dead!” Larry exclaimed under his breath.
“Give me a break!” Spence growled.
The cemetery glowed eerily in the dark as Spence steered the RZR back toward the graveyard.
The figure was still there, standing motionless by a grave marker.
Spence brought the RZR to a stop a few yards away. “Hey!” he shouted over the din of the RZR’s idling engine. “Do you need help?”
Although the dark figure appeared to be staring directly at them, it didn’t respond.
Spence turned off the ignition.
“What are you doing?” Larry demanded in a harsh whisper.
“Maybe he didn’t hear me over the engine,” Spence said.
“Hey!” Spence shouted again. “Are you in trouble? Do you need help?”
Once again, the character didn’t move, answer, or even acknowledge that he’d heard.
“Maybe he’s hurt and is in shock,” Spence said as he opened his door. “Cover me just in case. I’m going to walk over and talk to him.”
Larry pulled out his pistol, steadied it on the RZR’s half windshield, and took careful aim at the middle of the stranger’s chest. His hands trembled. His breath came in short gasps. He’d never shot anyone before, in fact he’d never even pointed a gun at anyone. The closest he’d ever come was at the gun range, shooting at man-like silhouettes.
Spence cautiously walked to the edge of the broken-down fence marking the perimeter of the forlorn site.
“Are you okay?” he shouted at the figure.
The apparition wasn’t even looking at Spence, now. Its gaze seemed to have shifted. Now it appeared to be looking straight east toward Locomotive Springs.
Spence bent down and picked up a dirt clod.