I came up with the idea for a thriller/suspense/mystery story over the last few weeks, heavily inspired by local legends here in rural Western Washington and TV shows that made use of those legends like “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files”. The premise is simple: a former police officer from California moves to rural Washington after a scandal costs him his job and family. Shortly after moving to Washington, people begin disappearing and he is the prime suspect as the new guy in a small town. To help clear his name, he begins his own investigation and is led down a path of paranormal legends and rumors.
This is the first chapter, an introduction to the story and the paranormal. I’m tentatively calling the book “The Uninvited”, but I don’t think that name will stick:
The wrench strained against Edward’s shaking arm. He flexed his back, placed a foot against one of the tires, and pushed. The spark plug resisted his efforts. He cursed under his breath, glancing over his shoulder to see if Cece heard him. Her back was turned and she crouched over the kerosene lantern. Behind her, the mountain glowed orange from the setting sun. It would be dark soon.
Releasing the wrench, Edward relaxed and wiped the sweat from a dirty brow. He didn’t need this. If the tractor wasn’t running by morning, he would have to take the truck into town and get a mechanic. Every day without a tractor was a setback for the farm and it was already the end of June. The Washington rains let up that week, but it was anyone’s guess when they would start again. No time to play games. He squinted at the mountain – two circular clouds, like milk saucers, hovered over the peak. They glowed with the same sun kissed fires as the mountain herself. They could mean rain was coming.
“How’s it going, Eddy?” His wife, Cecelia, asked without turning.
“I don’t know, Cece. I can’t get this dang spark plug out for nothing.”
“Do you want to go back to the house and bring Jim over in the morning?”
“Not if I can help it. I want the thing running tomorrow. We can’t bet on sunshine forever.”
“Okay. I have the lantern ready, if we need it.”
“We probably will. It’ll be dark in a few minutes. Bring it on over here.”
Edward returned to the engine. He bought the 1939 Ford from Mrs. Winters right after he came home from the war. For the last two years, the old tractor ran fine. All it ever required was routine maintenance. It was running the day before, but then stopped. He couldn’t figure out why – everything seemed fine. The thing just wouldn’t start. The last things to check were the spark plugs. Maybe he bought some bad ones. If that was the case, Jim would certainly give him some credit down at the garage – he was good man that way.
The shadows lengthened and forced Edward to feel around for the right place to put the wrench. He braced himself on the tire, inhaled deeply, and pushed with both hands. He thought he could feel it giving way. Finally. He paused and wound himself up for one final push. Cece brought the lantern over and held it over his head.
“Is that better?”
“Yes,” he grunted through clenched teeth, and pushed.
With a snapping sound and a clang, Edward had enough time to realize his mistake before his head hit the engine. The pain was instant, and throbbed from his forehead down the back of his neck. He sat down on his haunches and held his head in both hands.
“My word, Eddy, are you okay?”
“You’re bleeding. Let me look.”
Edward knew his wife well enough to not argue. She put the lantern in the grass beside him and moved his hands.
“Mmm. It looks like you have a small cut on your head, Eddy. Another on your hand, too. Let’s go back to the house and I’ll put some iodine on it.”
Edward grunted and stood up.
“At least I got that damned plug loose.”
Cece picked up the lantern and shined it on the tractor’s engine.
“Oh my! Eddy, there’s blood all over the spark plug.”
“I have it on me, too, Cece.”
“Look at it, though, it looks like the spark plug is bleeding.”
Edward muttered to himself and leaned in. It did look like there was blood running out of the spark plug. He leaned in closer and squinted.
“Wait. Cece – give me some better light. I don’t think that’s my blood.”
“Well, what is it?”
“I don’t know. Give me some light!”
Cecelia leaned in and hovered the lantern over his head. The liquid wasn’t quite the right color or texture – a little too dark and thick.
“It’s not blood. What is it?”
He stuck his finger in it and then brought it close to his nose. It smelled metallic. He rubbed his thumb and finger together. It was gritty and cold.
“Rust? Cece, I think this is rust.”
“I don’t know. These plugs are new. But look at it. Rust is running out of it. And I snapped the da- darn thing in two. I’ll never get it out now!”
“We’ll bring Jim over tomorrow. Come on, Eddy, the sun’s set. Let’s walk back to the house and get those cuts cleaned up.”
Edward picked up the wrench, collected his other tools, and put them all in the toolbox. He never left his tools outside overnight. The new moon was rising, just a sliver in the sky, and didn’t cast enough light for the two to make their way back to the house unaided. Cece walked beside him with the lantern high.
“It’s a nice night.”
“Yeah,” Edward agreed. “Warm one. Good for a pipe and drink on the porch.”
“Oh, Eddy.” He couldn’t see, but he knew she was rolling her eyes. “I hate the way you smell after that pipe. Not tonight, okay?”
Edward didn’t respond. His eyes were on a star above the mountain.
“Look at how bright that star is.”
Cece looked up. “On the mountain? Are you sure it’s a star?”
“Well, what else could it be?”
“I don’t know. Is it getting brighter?”
“I think it is.”
“Edward…is it getting closer?”
“I don’t know, Cece. Let’s get back to the house.”
Neither of them moved. The light grew brighter, or closer, Edward wasn’t sure which. He felt his stomach tighten up.
“Edward,” Cecelia’s voice was a whisper. “What is it?”
He felt goosebumps tiptoe down his arms. The light brightened, blotting out everything else. A voice in the back of his head told him to grab Cece’s hand and run for the house. He tried, or thought about trying, but his arms were too heavy to lift and his feet stuck to the ground. His tongue grew thick and syrupy in his mouth. The light was closer – it was definitely moving towards them, not just getting brighter. The hairs on his arm and neck stood on end. Static crackles filled the air.
The light became too painful to look at. He closed his eyes.
– – – – –
Nothing happened. Edward opened his eyes and blinked against the bright light. It was warm and yellow – different from the cold, white light before.
He was on his back in the field. The sun was up and dew glistened on the grass.
He sat up quickly and looked around. She was laying next to him, on her back, with her arms folded over across her chest. A sudden fear gripped his heart and he lunged for her.
She opened her eyes.
“Oh, thank God. I thought…are you alright?”
Cece shook her head to clear the cobwebs.
“Eddy, why are we in the field? Did we fall asleep out here?”
“I don’t know. I thought we were going back to the house. Then there was that light.”
Cece sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“You don’t remember?”
She looked at the mountain.
“From the mountain? Yes, I remember. We were walking back to the house so I could clean your cuts…Eddy! Your cuts! They’re gone!”
Edward looked down at his hand and it looked fine. He reached up and felt his forehead. Nothing.
“Eddy, what happened last night?”
Edward didn’t have an answer. He shook his head.
“Come on. We still need to get Jim out here.”
Edward and Cecelia drove into town in silence. They went straight to Smith and Sons, Jim’s garage. James Smith only had one son. The gossip around town was he named it “Smith and Sons” in hopes he would have more.
“What can I do for you today, Edward?” Jim greeted.
“Jim, the Ford isn’t starting. I checked everything yesterday – spent all darned day on it – and found a bum spark plug last night.”
“Are those the plugs I just sold you back in May?”
“Yes, they are. Strange thing about it, Jim, is the one I broke free is rusted.”
“Edward, spark plugs don’t rust.”
“This one did.”
“That’s just damned weird – pardon me, Cecelia. How about I send the boy back with you to look at it? I think I have some plugs he can take with him.”
“That’ll do. I don’t know how to get that plug out, though. Broke it clean in half.”
“We can drill it out. I’ll make sure the boy brings his tools.” He looked over his shoulder. “Donald! Get out here. Mr. Ambrose needs some work done on his tractor. Grab some new plugs for it and the toolkit.” He looked back at Edward. “Can he ride with you?”
“Donald! Did you hear me?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m getting them now.”
“Good. Mr. Ambrose will give you a ride out there. You can walk back if he doesn’t want to bring you.”
Jim grinned at Edward.
“Thanks for doing this, Jim. We’ll feed the boy and get him back here before nightfall.”
After a quick stop at the Copperside General Store, the three drove back to the farm. Donald spent several hours puzzling over the tractor before finally drilling out the plugs and replacing them. The old Ford started up and ran fine.
“Honestly, Mr. Ambrose, I don’t know what caused that. My dad and I are very sorry we sold you those plugs. You don’t owe us nothing for this.”
“How about a beer and lunch, at least?” Edward asked.
“Sounds good to me, sir. Let me go wash up.”
Cecelia made spam, eggs, and buttered bread for lunch. The men ate slowly and complimented her cooking before adjourning to the porch for a beer and the pipe. By mid-afternoon, Edward returned Donald and was out in the field, milking the sunlight for all it was worth on the back of the tractor.
The shadows lengthened and a sense of dread came over him – a feeling he hadn’t experienced since the war. Despite his usual tendency to work until it was too dark to see, Edward instead found himself parking the tractor in the barn with the setting sun still visible on the horizon. He walked from the barn to the house, throwing more than one glance over his shoulder at the mountain.
The next day passed uneventfully, with the exception of Edward retiring early again. He couldn’t shake the feeling of dread as the sun began to set.
After another excellent meal prepared by his loving wife, Edward sat down next to the radio and listened to the news reports of the day. One in particular caught his interest: a story about a pilot flying past the mountain who claimed he saw strange flying saucers on the twenty-fourth of June. That was the day after the light.
The sound of Cece coming down the hallway prompted Edward to jump up and turn off the radio.
“Eddy, you’re jumpy tonight. Did I scare you?”
“No. Just didn’t want to listen any more.”
“Edward,” Cece stared at his face. “Why are you crying?”
“What are you talking about, woman? I’m not…”
He brought his hand to his cheeks and brushed away the tears.
“I…must have got something in my eye, that’s all. I didn’t even notice until you said something.”
A shudder ran down his body. He excused himself and went to bed earlier than usual, but didn’t sleep.
Life returned to normal on the Ambrose farm until early August, when Cece announced she was with child. After two previous miscarriages, Edward and Cecelia were worried, but Doc Emerson assured them everything was normal. True to his word, Emerson attended the delivery of Mary Anne Ambrose that winter. She was their only child – Cecelia called her “My Little Miracle” – and she was the world to her parents until the day they died.