These are short stories put up occasionally on Fridays that you can read for free.
When did the evil first come?
No one really knew, least of all Conner Douglas.
Why, he was just 14, not even in high school yet. He would be next year, which was really just a couple months. Yep, it was summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, though summer was almost over. Conner and his friends discussed that while sitting by Gooseneck Creek.
“There ain’t nothin’ to do!” James nearly shouts, though it comes out as more of a sigh, a depressed one at that.
James was the outspoken leader of the group, though he’d only achieved that position by being more bully than leader. His hair was a wavy brown, his eyes the same color, and his face small and compact with a straight nose and long cheekbones that’d have the girls all over him in another year or two.
“Yeah, no duh!” Mike says, rolling his eyes.
Mike was the brains of the bunch, at least if you went by his report cards. All A’s except for that damn B+ in shop class. God, he hated thinking about that and that damn Mr. Reynolds and his hand with one finger missing from some classroom accident back in the 80s. Remember, safety first, not second, he’d always say, walking around and holding that half-finger up before putting up a second, longer one beside it.
Mike rolled his eyes again as the image of that finger came into his mind. He had short, black hair that hung straight, and despite having just turned 15, he was showing the first faint traces of a mustache on that upper lip of his.
“What, you suddenly forget you’ve spent your whole life in Houghton?” Spitty says, to laughs from Conner and Mike, but a raised fist and mock gesture from James.
Spitty’s real name was Sinclair, but everyone called him Spitty because of the time in 3rd grade when the boys tricked him into drinking from the teacher’s bourbon-laced coffee. He’d spent the next 15 minutes spitting it up, much to the enjoyment of the class, though not to the teacher’s. She hadn’t been around much longer after that, but the boys had.
Fifteen years was a long time to spend in Houghton, a backwater town of 8,000 located 4 hours north of Green Bay. It might as well have been a million miles, for all the good it did the town. Ever since 2008 businesses had been closing, and nothing had been coming in to replace them. The real blow came in 2011 when the copper mine closed its doors. Three months later the brass fitting plant closed up shop, ending a 131-year tradition of keeping it local. Now the parts would be made in Mexico.
Trump would change all that, of course – their daddies all said so. Well, James's, Mike’s and Spitty’s did. Conner hadn’t had a dad since his had walked out on his mom when he was just 2. The revolving door of alcoholic and drug-addicted substitutes that took up the part for a time didn’t much discuss politics, or at least Conner didn’t hear them. But then they’d be gone after his mom finally got tired of the inevitable beatings, and it’d be starting over time once again. Conner wondered if the current father-figure in his life – a real piece of work named Henry – was still beating his mom or passed out already. It was past 3 in the afternoon, after all. The thought made Conner want to go anywhere but home, and he said so.
“I got an idea of where we can go,” he says.
“Yeah, where?” Mike replies.
“The pond in Setter’s Wood.”
Silence meets that pronouncement, silence and wide-eyed looks. Was Henry layin’ into Conner now too and not just his mom? the boys think.
The thing was…the pond in Setter’s Wood was haunted. Everyone knew it. No one talked about it. It’d been that way for years, decades…centuries even. And it still was haunted. They all remembered the stories from two years ago when that high schooler from Dollar Bay was found dead there, just splayed out there beside the pond. No cause of death was ever determined.
It wasn’t the first death, that was for sure.
They’d all heard the stories. Back in the 1920s a woman – fraught with despair over the thought that the man she loved didn’t love her in return – rushed into Setter’s Wood and found herself at a pond there. Feeling all was lost, she flung herself into the water and drown.
The man she thought hadn’t loved her mounted a search and they found the body the next day. The mausoleum he built for her in Forest Hill Cemetery was still the largest in the state. He joined her in it three years later, at the ripe old age of 32. Most said it was a broken heart that’d killed him. Others said it was a heart attack after seeing his former love come up out of the pond for him. His body had been found next to the same pond she’d killed herself at, after all, though that wasn’t that unusual. He’d had a stone bench installed at the pond and was known to sit on it for hours at a time, just staring into the waters.
Some said it was the bench that was haunted, and not the pond. Infused with some kind of witch-enhanced stone or cement, it exuded dark auras and instilled nasty thoughts in all those that sat upon it. Others said it wasn’t the pond at all, but the forest around it. Stories of old Indian sacrifices and burial grounds usually came up as explanation. Then there was the talk of secret portals, extra dimensions, even UFOs or Bigfoots. In the end, however, no one really knew what the cause of the deaths was. So far there’d been more than forty over the years.
“I’ll go,” James says finally, breaking the silence.
“What?” Spitty says, his face screwing up in shock and concern and disbelief, while beside him Conner smiles and claps James on the back, letting out a, “That’s my man!” as he does so. All eyes then go to Mike.
“Well?” James says to him.
Mike moves his jaw from side to side for a few moments, then gives a shrug and says, “aw, fuck it – let’s go.”
There were a lot of, “But…but…but’s” from Spitty, but the other three were already laughing and joking as they started to walk. They kept it up the two miles to Setter’s Wood, the better to push down their fear, which of course none of them would admit they felt. The talking died down, however, as the boys got deeper into the Wood, and then ceased altogether as they got closer to the pond.
None of them had been there before, but they knew they were on the right path. From time to time they’d see a ‘Danger’ sign pounded to a tree, or maybe a ‘Keep Out.’ One time they saw a sign with no words, just a yellow yield-style thingy with a red skull and crossbones over it. That one had stopped Spitty in his tracks.
“Guys, I’m goin’ home.”
“To cry to momma?” James had shot back, chuckling.
“C’mon, man…it’s just a little farther,” Mike had said.
Conner had said nothing, just paused for a moment before continuing on. Soon the others were following behind him once again. In all it took them nearly an hour of walking into Setter’s Wood before they came to the pond, and they nearly missed the thing entirely, so small was it.
“God, I’ve seen parking lot puddles bigger than that!” Mike says when they’re all standing there.
“And how ‘bout that stupid bench, huh?” James says, pointing over at it and laughing. It looks like a child’s bench almost, so small is it.
“Yeah, but how about that pond, huh?” Conner says, and begins moving toward it.
A few broken branches stuck up around the pond’s edges, while last year’s dead grass still clung to what new growth could push up around the water. There were a few healthy-looking pine trees a ways back, but most of the trees that were closest to the pond – white ash, birch, and ironwoods – had spindly branches with no leaves, branches that seemed almost like skeletal claws just waiting for some young boys to grab and pull into the water.
The summer sun seemed to fade away as the boys stood there, and it wasn’t just that it’d gone behind a cloud. A mist was appearing, they would swear, a kind of fog that was slowly moving in from all sides. An evil was moving in on them too.
“Guys, I don’t like the feel of this place,” Spitty says.
“Just…just…look at the water,” James says, his usual snide tone gone and replaced by something…else. He too begins walking toward the pond.
Mike rolls his eyes at the two and turns back to look at Spitty, who’s slowly backing away. “It’s alright,” he says, “let’s just…”
His voice trails-off as some strange feeling takes hold of him. He looks back at Conner and James, suddenly feeling that they’ve made a very bad mistake.
The pond is seemingly pulling the boys toward it. Conner is staring at it intently, looking deeply into its shallow water as he slowly walks closer. Behind him, James’s face is a mask of struggle, one part of him wanting to go toward the pond, another wanting to pull away from it. Still, for every step back he takes he goes another two forward.
Mike was doing the best to stay away, looking over his shoulder at Spitty backing off while glancing forward at the other two, and saying, “Guys, don’t do this…don’t do this…” over and over, perhaps more to himself than the others.
Spitty was the furthest back, perhaps thirty yards from the water’s edge. He saw what was happening to Conner and James, and also how Mike was beginning to struggle. He’d seen enough. Without a word he turns and starts running back into the trees.
“Spitty…Spitty!” Mike calls after him, still turning his head back and forth to look from him to the other two. Then Spitty is gone, swallowed up by the trees and out of sight. “Shit,” Mike mutters, and turns his attention fully back to Conner and James. He can’t believe what he sees.
Conner is at the edge of the pond now, and beginning to kneel down as if to look at something in the water. What he doesn’t see – but what Mike sees clearly – are wispy tentacles rising up from the center of the pond. They’re not real; he can see that right away. They’re more smoke than substance, almost like they were formed out of the same fog-like mist that was closing in on them from the trees.
“Conner, Conner!” he shouts, but it does no good. Conner doesn’t hear him, and it’s as if James doesn’t see what’s going on either. He’s now just feet from the edge of the pond, and in a few moments he’ll be there, probably to kneel down beside Conner and look at whatever it is they’re looking at.
Mike struggles, wants to call out again, but can’t seem to make his mouth work. He also can’t seem to make his legs work, though they’re moving just fine…moving him closer to the pond, that is. The fog and mist is getting closer too. Already Mike can’t even see the trees on the other side of the pond, just the water now.
And then it happens. Those tentacles of white mist or smoke or whatever they are lunge forward, latch onto Conner as he’s looking down…but don’t grab ‘him.’ Instead Conner’s body stays right there, but it’s as if his…soul…is grabbed.
Mike watches wide-eyed as the tentacles seem to stick onto a white corporeal form of Conner and pull it from his body, then right down into the pond. James – or at least his body – collapses beside the pond, a pale, ghost-like look to it.
A moment later another tentacle shoots forth, this one at James. The same thing happens – that white corporeal form is pulled from James’s body and then James collapses, dead…Mike knows he’s dead.
He knows he’ll be dead soon too. His feet continue to carry him forward, closer to the pond, which is now just a few feet away. Tears begin to come to Mike’s eyes, but he can’t stop himself from moving. Then the white mist closes in all around him and he’s at the pond, and then looking down into it.
His eyes go wide at what he sees, but only for a moment. Then something cold touches him, and all the warmth seems to flood out of him. He never feels his body collapse to the ground beside his two friends.
Three hours later Spitty was back, this time with the police and sheriff’s deputies and even some firemen.
They find Conner, James and Mike laying there dead beside the pond, no sign of foul play and no sign that they’d even been in the water, let alone drown in it. When Spitty tells them of the mist and the tentacles the first responders cast weary glances at one another, but no one jokes. They’d heard similar before, and knew what the coroner would make of it.
“Can’t find a cause of death to save my life,” he’d say, the same thing he’d been saying since he took the job back in ’74.
The next day the Mining Gazette runs the story, saying that the pond in Setter’s Wood has claimed yet more lives. That puts the grand total up to forty-seven since the deaths had started nearly one hundred years before. And there’d likely be more, the article had finished…a lot more.