Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Douglas County Halloween Story

The wind was whipping playfully through the rusty colored leaves, as well as Jimmy’s hair. It made him look like an over-dramatic 1980s rock star. Tossing his head back for full affect, Jimmy smiled as he meandered up the trail, his hands lazily thrust in his pockets. Our friend was hiking along the shores of the Brule River, one of northern Wisconsin’s most breath taking treats – especially at this time of year.

He had been up this well-worn trail at least several times recently. In fact he’d been exploring just about every nook and cranny that you could find along the Douglas/Bayfield County line. One could say that our friend had literally fallen in love with the region. Its winding rivers and creeks, threading through alternating patches of forest and farms, had captured his heart, as well as his imagination.

Most of the farms in this little pocket of the world were small ones, old Finnish-American homesteads. Some were abandoned, some were still farmed, and some had been turned into country homes for folks that commute to work in the city. You could always tell which were the latter, because they let the fields revert back to shrub forest. Better for deer hunting that way I reckon.

It was a place with a pretty unique history. The Finns had settled up here over a century ago. I guess the northern woods of Wisconsin reminded them of where they had come from. Most of the other folks in the region didn’t take to them at first, so Finns headed away from the main settlements, and carved out their own separate rural communities. They’d built their own little churches, community halls and cooperative stores. And they gave their communities names like the ones they’d come from back in Finland, names like Lulu and Waino.

They were a close-knit bunch of folks, those Inlanders, though that didn’t keep them from fighting amongst themselves once they got settled in. Some, the “White Finns,” sided with their conservative government and church back home. Others, the “Red Finns,” didn’t like how they got treated in the Robber Barron ruled U.S. of A. These Finns took up the cause of socialism and flocked to the early American Communist Party in droves. Jimmy was a history buff, and finding a place with a history like this was a rare, and oh so delicious treat for him!

During the last couple of months Jimmy had spent just about every bit of his free time out there, plunking around in “Lizard,” his affectionately named old pick-up truck. “Lizard” was a beat up, rusted-out antique of a Chevrolet that had a working tape player, but not much else going for it. Thank goodness for that tape player though! For on days like this – cloudy, overcast, windy Autumn days – you could actually get away with playing corny bands like Kenya and Enigma.  One could get away playing ANY kind of music while they ambled down these beautiful, rarely traveled back roads!

So anyway, there was Jimmy, on yet another one of his many excursions. Coming to the end of the riverside trail, our friend got back into his truck and set off for rural roads yet unraveled.

Looking at his trusty map though he couldn’t help but notice there weren’t too many unraveled roads left, not in the townships of Lulu and Waino at least. A little tinge of sad remorse welled up in his heart. There was something so unique and special about Lulu and Waino. This area was so different from the rest of Wisconsin. Everything about this place - the small log houses and barns, the stoic little churches, the empty cooperative stores, even the lonely, over grown cemeteries filled with Finnish names that he couldn’t pronounce - simply fascinated Jimmy.

He took delight in the quirky things that all of these old Finn farms had.  For example, every one of them had at least one cluster of apple trees.  And then there was the birdhouses!  Each farm had not one, but always two, wooden birdhouses places several feet apart.  Maybe it was so that the boy birds and girl birds didn't have to sleep in the same birdhouse?  Some Finns could be quite prudish, after all!

Rolling down County Road H, Jimmy saw the Waino Rock come into view. The Waino Rock was a big, rough stone, something about the size of living room couch. It had the name of the town painted on it in the Finnish colors of white and blue. The township of Lulu had a painted rock with its name on it too. Must be another one of those quirky Finnish things!

Reaching the rock, Jimmy turned west onto Tour Road, a short stretch of road that went by the old Waino Pioneer Chappell, and then the Waino cemetery.

At the end the paved part of the road it split in two. One was just a driveway to the Tour family farm, the other was a little gravel path called Simi Road.

Simi Road went by a couple of old abandoned apple orchards and hay fields, and ended in the yard of one of the all too common abandoned houses that dot this neck of the woods.

Abandoned houses were like candy to Jimmy. Rare was the abandoned homestead in the Waino or Lulu area that Jimmy’s feet hadn't stepped foot on.

Pulling up to the end of the road, Jimmy parked his truck Lizard, and got out for a bit of good, old-fashioned snooping around. The house was a tiny one.  There were two small rooms on the ground level, and one upstairs that you could only get to via a rickety old wooden set of stairs that looked about as trustworthy as a politician. There were some old remnants of furniture here and there, and what was probably once a rug.

He ran his hand over the rough window ledge and looked out through the cracked window panes over the yard. It was getting more than a little overgrown. Off to the side you could see an old dilapidated outhouse. There was also a shack that maybe once housed a sauna. And then there was an old tiny metal swing set. Hard to believe that a family with kids once lived in such a tiny house. Not much room inside for the youngness, but least the little rug rats had plenty of room to run about outside, and a swing from which to joust with the clouds.

Jimmy smiled at the thought of how as a kid, a good old-fashioned legs vs. clouds jousting match might just make up for not having your own room. Heck, it’d make up for a lot of rotten things in life!

Walking back outside, our friend sat down on an old stump and took in the sights. While once this farmhouse probably commanded the surrounding hay fields and pastures, now it looked like a tiny, beleaguered outpost of man, abandoned against the onslaught of bush and tree. The place still had charm though – a sort of rugged testimonial to the determination of calloused handed farmers to make it in this far northern region, where fewer and fewer are fool hardy enough to try to earn a living from this cold, sandy soil today. The thought of it all fills one heart with sadness, but also with a bit of pride.

Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, Jimmy pulled out his map and patiently scanned the crumpled paper for one more road to explore. Tracing routes with his finger, up and down the Waino and Lulu area, our friend finally looked up and gave out a defeated sigh. None left. Folding the map back up, and re-depositing it in his back pocket, Jimmy walked around the perimeter of the old farm.  Coming to the obligatory cluster of apple trees, he reached up and checked some of the tiny apples hanging from the knurled, old branches.

Then, with more than a little disappointment in his heart, he climbed up into Lizard and backed the truck out onto the road. It was back to town for Jimmy. He had to be at work soon, and besides, there was nowhere left to go.

For the next couple of days Jimmy went about his business in town as best he could. He faithfully went to work each day at St. Mary’s hospital, where he was a janitor. And when he got home he went about his daily routine of cleaning up after his roommates – washing the dishes, sweeping the floors, and doing the best he could to keep the constant mess in the bathroom at a manageable level.

But every night before he went to bed, he looked over that crumpled map and thought of the places he had explored. Some day, maybe in just a few years if he played his cards right, he hoped to be able to save up enough money to buy some old abandoned farm out there. Then, he would fix it up and see what he could do to save at least one of those old abandoned outposts of man from that onslaught of bush and tree.

About a week into this return to hum drum, Jimmy had a bad day – a very bad day. It was one of those days where just about everything that could went wrong. You know the kind – where you bump your head, spill your soup, drop your keys, trip on a step – you name it, if it can go wrong, big or small, it does.

Well, a day like that can really tax one’s nerves, as well as the soul, as it did for our friend Jimmy. By the end of it he had about all he could do not to run into the front yard and yell obscenities up at the cloudy sky. Lucky for us, not to mention Jimmy’s neighbors, it didn’t come to that though. For as he was reaching for the doorknob, about to spring into noisy action, he decided instead to head out into the countryside for a relaxing drive.

Climbing into his beat-up old pick-up, and popping in a cassette of over-dramatic music, Jimmy decided that the world was at least a bit bigger than Waino and Lulu. While they may not be as rustic, or as unique, or endowed with quite as fascinating a history, there were plenty of old rural roads, plenty of winding creeks, and probably an abandoned house or two elsewhere in the County. Reaching for his worn map, Jimmy picked out an area that he hadn’t explored much before, a spot on the map just north of Waino named Clover land.

To date about all Jimmy knew of Clover land was what you could see while driving on Hwy. 13 when taking the scenic route from Superior, WI to the Bayfield Peninsula – that is, not much.

From the highway it looked like little more than woods, a couple of houses, and just a scattering of farms. The northern part of the Brule River flowed through Clover land, this was true, but it didn’t have much else going for it. There weren’t the cool old Finnish homesteads, just your run of the mill Wisconsin farms, though perhaps a bit more sickly and run down than you’d find further south in the state, due in no small part to the harshness of the weather and soil. But hey, in a pinch, you make sacrifices, and that’s exactly what Jimmy was thinking as he gunned the truck along Hwy. 13 in the direction of this new township. Anything would be better than the rotten day he was leaving behind!

About 45 minutes later, and well into his tasteless selection of music, our friend spotted an old faded sign along the side of the road. “Welcome to Clover land!” it said. Easing his foot from the gas, Jimmy started looking for gravel roads to turn off onto. He resolved to go down each and every one that went off in the direction of Lake Superior.

It didn’t take long to come to one. It didn’t turn out to be much, just a poorly kept track that wound its way though the woods.  Every so often there was a driveway with a chain up that menacingly said “No Trespassing!” “Damn rich hunters from the big city,” Jimmy muttered aloud.  After trying three other gravel roads it was becoming apparent that this was pretty much all that Clover land had to offer – lots of woods and lot of “No Trespassing!” signs.

Eventually, towards the northern part of the township, Jimmy came upon “Hoe fling Road”. Sporting a crinkled nose, the kind that often accompanies displeased, bored facial expressions, our friend turned onto the road and gazed out the window of his bastion of 1980s musical caterwauling.

At first there was nothing again but trees, lots and lots of trees. The land was flat, the trees were skinny and already mostly leafless. But then, about a mile and a half down the road, Jimmy came upon a clearing. On both sides of the road were what looked like old hay fields – still mostly clover, but with a sprinkling of weeds, seedling trees and brush. Also, a little ways off, alongside the tree line, you could make out an abandoned old pick-up truck, along with some rusty, antique farm implements.

“Jack pot!” our friend thought, as he parked Lizard and scampered out into yesteryear’s fields.  He had found another abandoned farm to explore after all!

Now, why was our friend so enamored with old, abandoned farms? Who knows, we all have a bit of eccentric weirdo in us I guess, and for whatever reason this was just the particular variety that Jimmy was endowed with.

The old abandoned pick-up truck was cool enough. With no wheels, not even a steering wheel, it had obviously been sitting here since long before Jimmy started treading upon the earth. And the farm machinery looked even older – ancient horse drawn rakes and wagons. But there was no sign of a farmhouse. Nor was there a barn or a sauna.  There was no outhouse, and certainly no apple trees or birdhouses.

With plenty of time on his hands, and a heart that yearned for more than the skeleton of an old hay rake, Jimmy decided to walk along the border of the old fields to see if he could find where the homestead had originally been. Surrounded by more than a few birds that had put off their southward migration, and a couple of grazing deer off in the distance, it was bound to be a scenic walk, if nothing else.

After going on for a ways, Jimmy chanced upon another stretch of Hoe fling Road. “It must just wind around the fields, so lets see where this takes us,” our friend absent-mindedly said out loud, as if he had someone to convince.

Five minutes later, Jimmy did indeed come upon a house. But It wasn’t an old rustic farmhouse. This was a modern style, fancy-swanky looking summer house that some rich chap from the big city must have had built for himself so that he could come out here and hunt pheasant, or bear, or whatever rich people hunted. These wealthy, woods loving types inevitably seemed to be hunters of some kind.

The front door to the house opened, and a heavyset, middle-aged man who carried an air of cocky authority about him, stepped out onto the porch. Jimmy jumped into the woods to avoid being seen. It’s one thing to poke around abandoned old farms where there is nobody else around, but what do you tell a rich bloke about why your nosing around his private property?

Making his way cautiously and quietly through the woods, our friend slowly trekked back towards where he had parked Lizard. With any luck, this rich jerk wouldn’t be the type who liked to run hunting dogs on his land – you know the kind, those dogs with snobbish sounding names, and that cost more than a slightly used car! Those kind of dogs are always the meanest it seems.  The don't seem to be able to detect the difference in taste between the hide of a simple working man and that fancy dog food they’re fed that cost $20 a can!

Nearing the stretch of the road where his truck was, Jimmy started to breathe easier, especially since by now he had come up with a couple of at least semi-plausible stories to tell in the event of being caught.
“I was just driving down this road to see where it went, when I got out to take a leak . . .”

Hearing something like that still might make a rich land owner angry, but so what?  After all, it’s not like there’s any cops in a place like Cloverland that the guy can call.

In the midst of spinning cover stories though, Jimmy came upon a scene that stopped him dead in tracks. His eyes flared wide, his mouth dropped open, and his heart stopped so abruptly, that, well, it has quite been the same since!

There, spread out amidst the underbrush of a small clearing was a circle of jack-o-lanterns. In the middle of the circle was the most gruesome array of body bits, pieces and innards that you could imagine! What the hell was it?!?!  Animal?  Man?

The Autumn chill meant that there weren’t any flies buzzing around, and for some reason there weren’t any buzzards circling about either, but there sure was a stench! It was so putrid and nose curling that it was a wonder that our friend hadn’t gotten a whiff of it sooner!

Jimmy turned away and began dry heaving.  Bent over with his hands resting on his knees, it took him several minutes to catch his breath.  As soon as he had it though, he hurried away towards his truck, giving the jack-o-lantern circle as wide a berth as he could!

Jumping into the vehicle, Jimmy popped it into reverse, turned around, and made for the highway.  He was moving like the last chicken in a coop that’d been compromised by a pack of hungry weasels!

With his mind racing, and his heart pounding, our friend didn’t know what to make of what he had just seen. His hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, Jimmy looked down to see his arms trembling. They were covered with hundreds of rigid little goose bumps.

Turning off onto County Rd. H, and then County Rd. B, Jimmy and Lizard flew south through Waino and Oulu.  About 20 minutes later, though it had felt like hours, our friend pulled onto Hwy. 2, and sped into the n town of Maple.  At least now he was surrounded by other people, which made him feel at least a little bit safer.

Pulling into the parking lot of the Sunset gas station and cafe, Jimmy initially just sat in the truck, with the engine idling. Finally, after composing himself a bit, Jimmy got out of the truck and walked into the gas station. His chest was still noticeably heaving up and down.

Stepping inside, he walked right past the cute girl at the counter with the nice smile, the one that he otherwise always stopped to chat with.  But today Jimmy made a fast B line for the bathroom.

Locking the door behind him, he splashed some cold water on his face and stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Something about looking into his own scared eyes soothed him somehow.  Time slowed to a crawl as he stood there staring at his pale reflection.

Eventually though, Jimmy stepped back out into the store.  Awkwardly clearing his throat, Jimmy walked over to the cooler and picked out a can of pop.  Walking back to the front of the store, he set the can on the counter, and made some clumsy small talk with the cashier. For once his thoughts were too preoccupied to appreciate that pretty smile of hers.

On his way out of the store he thoughtlessly picked up a copy of “The Connection” – a little fluffy newspaper that covered the Oulu/Waino/Cloverland/Iron River/Port Wing areas.

Sitting in his pick-up again, Jimmy nervously gulped the pop, dribbling more than a little bit of it onto his chin and shirt.

Opening up “The Connection”, our friend thumbed through the pages, looking for something to take his mind off of what he had seen. So and so was getting married – surprise, surprise. When isn’t someone getting married?  So and so died, and their funeral will be on such and such date at this or that funeral home. The annual Oulu corn maze is open for the season, and invites kids who want to wander around a cornfield looking for treats, or some such hoo-hah. Oh, and it looks like there’s going to be a mega yard sale at so and so’s next weekend. My, oh my, what hard-hitting journalism!

But then, just as Jimmy’s thoughts were finally settling in on the mundane goings on so proudly listed in the paper, his eyes locked onto a bold headline on the top of page 7. “Carcasses Found Strewn Amongst Pumpkins in Cloverland!” Holy moley ba-goley! Our friend wasn’t loosing his marbles after all!

By the end of the article, all frustratingly short four paragraphs of it, our friend came to know that several folks had recently found scenes similar to the one he had just chanced upon out on Hoefling Road. And every time what was found was basically the same – a circle of pumpkins, sometimes carved, sometimes not – with carcasses strewn about in the middle of the circle.

Local folks had found these in the middle of the woods, at the end of gravel roads, and even out along the side of the state road that led to the Brule River State Park.

The reporter, who you just knew was probably some old gossip-addicted lady who got all of her tips while sipping coffee at the Sunset Cafe, seemed to chalk it up to unruly young whipper-snappers playing pranks.

“This is what happens when we let a whole generation grow up listening to that rap music and letting their mid-rifts hang out!” she ended her hard hitting investigative article with.

Jimmy snorted and rolled his eyes, more so at his own over-reaction to what he had seen than to the reporter’s profound analysis of today’s youth.

The nonchalant manner in which the paper had covered the matter helped put Jimmy’s mind at ease. If it’s on page 7, it can’t be a big deal, right? While he had thought that he had maybe seen fingers in that grisly pile, our friend was no expert on the shape and size of animal innards, so he decided that he must have been mistaken. Putting Lizard into gear, Jimmy headed for home, having had enough adventure for one day.

Perhaps it was the excitement of that day, or maybe our friend was just busy with the misc. hoo-hah of modern life, but it was probably a good week and a half before Jimmy had the time, or the hankering, for another country drive.

It was a Saturday, right around Halloween, and Jimmy was sitting restlessly in his living room looking at that crumpled map again. He had zeroed in on the northern stretch of the Brule River as the possible site of his next drive.

On the east side of the river, there was a tourist-frequented road that led to the mouth of the river – a breath taking place where it met the lapping waves of Lake Superior. Jimmy had been down that road once in the distant past, and while there was a pretty park there, he had been put off by the screeching of little kids and their over dressed parents, piling out of their SUVS.

Uncomfortably, Jimmy’s eyes noticed that Hoefling Road was just south of the Brule River State Park Road. In fact that land that he had poked around on earlier was just half a mile from the Brule.

Not pausing long enough to really think much about his previous encounter there though, Jimmy’s map tracing finger jumped to the west side of the Brule, where he saw that there was a long gravel road called Clevedon that meandered along the west bank of the river. It too ended on the shores of Lake Superior, not far from the other side of the mouth of the Brule. Maybe this stretch would have less of those over-dressed big city types, Jimmy thought. They tend to prefer the path more traveled, after all, being that those paths are the ones more likely to have modern rest rooms and cell phone coverage. Clevedon looked more like the intrepid janitor kind of path!

Forty five minutes later Lizard and Jimmy were bumping along Clevedon Road, dodging falling leaves and bopping to the modernized Gregorian chants and blush inspiring moans of an Enigma album. It was a surprisingly pretty drive, the stuff poems were made of – amateurishly cheesy nature poems at least, but after all, those are the best kind!

A couple of brief hikes and a bathroom stop later, Jimmy turned off onto an even smaller road called McNeil’s Landing that headed in the direction of the river, instead of the lake. After going around a bend, and then down an incredibly steep hill, where the road was all rutted up from rainwater run-off, Jimmy came upon an awesome sight. There, right along the shore of the river, right smack in the middle of the Brule River State Park, was an old farm!

It had a big old barn, a couple of wooden sheds, and a gorgeous, huge farmhouse. It was all nicely painted, and the lawn was neatly mowed, so someone probably still lived there.  In fact, chances are it was probably the summer house of some rich big city bloke – they’re the only kind that can afford property like this, right in the middle of a state park no less!

But that didn’t take away from the beauty of the sight – the dramatic, deep valley, the foaming Brule River, a seemingly out of place, but oh-so-quaint farmhouse, and an even quainter old style bridge spanning the river.

Stopping halfway across the bridge, Jimmy took in the scene some more. Man and nature, beautifully interwoven. “What a lucky bastard, whomever it was who gets to hang his hat at this place,” Jimmy thought to himself.

On the other side of the bridge there was a turn off to a gravel parking lot for fisherman to leave their SUVs and station wagons. Apparently the north side of the road was public parkland, while the south side, the side the old farm was on, was private property.

Past the parking lot the road went on a bit, but it was up a steep bank and it was no longer gravel, but rather a simple dirt track. The ruts on it looked more like small canyons, and even without the ruts, it was of a grade so steep that our friend didn’t think Lizard had much of a chance of scaling it. It’d be one heck of an embarrassment to get half way up and then clumsily slide back down to the jeers of some SUV driving fisherman! Jimmy lived in town himself, but he still took a bit of pride in not being one of those over-dressed, gear-laddened, namby-pamby types.

Anyway, parking the truck, our friend decided to head up the dirt road on foot, or more accurately, to head up the woods along the road, since there was more to grab onto for support there. This was one of those roads made for Jeep commercials – you know the kind, where some guy with a six o’clock shadow of a beard goes off-roading. By the end of the commercial his Jeep is covered with mud and is on top of some impossible to climb rock pinnacle. Apparently if you’ve got the money, and a small package in the genital department, these commercials really get the blood flowing. They didn’t do much for Jimmy.

Out of breath, but feeling probably more satisfied than the stubble faced Jeep drivers that had come before him, our friend made it to the top of the hill. Sitting along the lip of the ridge, he looked down on the river below. There truly is not a prettier time of year than fall! All of the leaves colored red, orange or yellow – in the trees, on the ground, and slowly drifting down in between – it’s quite a sight to behold. And with the white water of the Brule and an old red barn just visible between the trees, Jimmy couldn’t help but smile. Sometimes life isn’t so bad for janitors!

After a bit, our friend stood back up, and carrying a perfectly proportioned maple leave that he had found, he set off along the road.

Here on top of the hill it was still just a dirt track, and it certainly didn’t look like it was used that often. Twirling the stem of the maple leaf between his fingers as he walked, Jimmy kept on walking, the wind still whipping in his hair, as the wispy, ominous clouds of Autumn sailed by up above.

Up yonder our friend spied what looked like an old wooden shack. Walking closer he saw a whole cluster of buildings – a couple of sheds, an outhouse and a beat up, slightly leaning, wooden barn that looked like it had definitely seen better days. All of them were paintless, and their boards had that old, weathered, dusty grayness about them – a color scheme straight out of an Ansel Adams photograph.

Pausing to look for any sign of other people around, Jimmy slowly studied the scene around him. How the heck did a farm get up here? “That’s one heck of a driveway back there to get up,” he muttered to himself.

Cautiously walking towards the buildings, Jimmy breathed in a big breath of satisfaction – this is the sort of thing that he lived for. Some folks collect stamps, some folks party hearty at the local bar every night, but Jimmy, as we’ve seen, loved, I mean just loved, exploring old abandoned farms!

Reaching the first shed of the cluster, Jimmy, with a bit of difficulty, pried open the old door. Its rusty hinges seemed more than a little hesitant to welcome any visitors. With a little coaxing though, Jimmy managed to get it open wide enough to peek inside. Nothing. Just some faint beams of light peaking through the poorly fitted wall boards, illuminating bare patches of the earthen floor.

Moving on to the next building, which looked to be an old outhouse, Jimmy paused briefly, but then choose to keep going. Old buildings hold more than a fair amount of charm, but old poop, not so much.

The next building was another shed of some kind. Long and rectangular, it was one story high and had big, sliding doors on the side of it. Jimmy thought to himself that maybe it had been a shed for farm machinery once upon a time. The door though was padlocked; not an old rusted relic either, but a shiny, modern key lock.

Intrigued, our friend tugged fruitlessly at the door for a bit – nothing ever comes of such gestures, but honestly, who isn’t driven to give a padlocked door at least one good tug?

Walking around the shed, Jimmy tried to peer in between the boards, but it was too dark to see anything inside. Here and there were holes dug under the wall, probably the work of an equally snoopy critter, but one, which unlike Jimmy, was better equipped by evolution for getting around, or rather under, padlocked doors.

Uttering a barely audible frustrated “humph,” our friend headed over to the leaning barn.

Glancing up at the darkening evening sky, Jimmy realized that he didn’t have much daylight left before it’d be time for him to head for home.

The main door on the front of the barn was all boarded up, as was the side door to the milk house.

Walking around to the back door of the barn, Jimmy found more of the same – someone had nailed boards over the doors, creating a pretty tough nut to crack.

Our friend though was not easily deterred. Looking up, he saw an open door to the hayloft. The problem was there was no way to get to it. No elevator, no ladder, no whatever that had once given access to that opening. But an open door is an open door, and after snooping about a bit, Jimmy found a long, old wooden post. Maybe it had once been a fence post; whatever it was, Jimmy decided to put it to good use. Propping it against the back wall of the barn, right under the hayloft door, Jimmy climbed on top of it. His foot precariously resting on top of the post, Jimmy was able to just barely get his fingers around the bottom lip of the open hayloft door.

Luckily for Jimmy, those push-ups he’d been doing of late came in handy now. While it wasn’t effortless, and it certainly wasn’t graceful, our friend was able to jerkingly pull himself up through the opening.

It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the hayloft. Once they did, they were met with the sight of just what you’d expect to see in such a place – piles of straw, a broken pitchfork and a sea of rickety old rafters holding up the rotting shingles that made up the roof of this antique building.

Walking to the middle of the floor, Jimmy looked down through a sizable hole in the floorboards. “I think I can fit down that,” he thought to himself. Before he had even thought about how he would get back up, there he was, jumping down into the barn below.

The interior of the barn was even darker than the hayloft. Jimmy walked over to the wall and felt along the rough boards for a light switch. No luck. A place like this no longer had electricity anyway, if in fact it ever did. Patience ended up doing the trick though. After another minute or two Jimmy’s eyes gradually adjusted, at least enough to make out the rough outline of the place.

Straight ahead of him, on the west side of the barn, our friend saw a big pile of orange balls. Moving closer he saw that they were in fact pumpkins, dozens and dozens of them.

A couple of sniffs of the air convinced Jimmy that some of them must be rotten, really rotten. Something sure stunk to high heaven in that place!

He kicked a few of the pumpkins closest to him. He found them to be rock hard. The first couple of frosts of the year had apparently already partially frozen them.

“Frozen pumpkins shouldn’t stink this bad though . . .” our hero thought to himself.

Turning around to explore the other half of the barn Jimmy stopped in mid-step. He stopped in part because of the much stronger, violently pungent aroma that met his nose, and in part for the grisly scene that met his eyes. Barely visible in the ever darkening barn, stretched out before him upon the cement floor was a putrid pile of, well, Jimmy wasn’t sure of exactly what, but it turned his stomach, whatever it was! Slowly putting down his left foot, which had been suspended in mid-air, he took two ever so cautious steps forward. There, before him, was a pile of rotting and revolting remains.  There were chunks of skin, bits of bone, the tattered remains of a blue shirt with a bloody collar, and something with matted hair on it!

Trembling with a fierceness that literally snapped him out of his stupor, Jimmy turned and ran in the other direction. Seeing the pile of pumpkins again, he spun around to his right, then to his left. Painfully it dawned on him that he was trapped!

His heart was now pounding so hard that you could literally hear it.   Jimmy jumped up to try and reach the lip of the hole in the hayloft floor that he had climbed down from. No luck. It was too high. Panic set in, and before you know it Jimmy was crawling over the pile of pumpkins trying to get to the front door of the barn. Yelling incoherent shrieks and pleas, he pounded on the boarded up door. Trying to get a footing on the uneven pile of pumpkins, he threw his shoulder into the door – once, twice, three times!

It gave a little, but just a little. His shoulder though, stinging with pain, caused Jimmy to drop down to his knees. If you were listening at the other side of that barn door, at first you might have thought you were hearing a raccoon wheezing with pneumonia, but in fact, it was our friend, whimpering.

By now darkness enveloped Jimmy like a wet blanket. The air seemed so thick, so heavy, not to mention foul smelling. The chill of evening reached inside his jacket; it felt like an army of angry thumbtacks repeatedly pricking the surface of his skin. Clenching his eyes so tight it gave him a headache, Jimmy could see swirling patches of white, framed with bright yellow, on the inside of his eyelids. Jimmy had never felt so frightened, or so helpless, in all of his life!

Taking a deep breath, he stood up once more, and heaved with everything that he had against that damned door. Again and again, first with one shoulder, then switching to the other. With each  impact a sharp pain shot through along his nerves that was so intense he couldn't help but to bite his lower lip. He repeatedly bit it so hard, that soon a trickle of blood dribbled down his chin.

Finally, on the seventh heave, the door gave, or at least one corner of it. Pushing hard, he was able to force that corner of the door a couple of feet away from the frame. Jimmy dived so quickly for the opening that he nicked his forehead on one of the nails. It left a nasty diagonal gash, but at least now he was free of that barn!

Jimmy took off running, but his adrenaline was flowing so profusely that he had all he could do to coordinate putting one foot ahead of the other. He tripped and fell twice during the first several steps, and nearly did a third time too, having to prop his falling body up with outstretched arms, before regaining his balance.

Jimmy ran with all that he had back down the dirt road. Heading for the river, and his waiting pick-up, he didn’t even bother to look back. Not even once. Reaching the top of the hill, the sight of Lizard below filled Jimmy with enough gumption to try running down the steep slope without even slowing down his stride one bit. He only made it halfway down before the inevitable happened. Falling head over feet, then rolling shoulder over already bruised shoulder, Jimmy bounced and slid down the rest of the hill.

By the time his body reached the bottom he had more than a few nasty new bruises, as well as having the wind knocked out of him. But not even that stopped him from crawling over to his faithful truck. Opening the passenger side door, which was the door nearest to him, Jimmy pulled himself into the cab.

Fumbling to get the key into the ignition, he cranked that little piece of metal for all that is was worth. Lizard’s engine roared to life as our friend slammed on the gas and hauled ass out of the parking lot, out onto McNeil’s Landing, and then onto Clevedon Road. The truck bounced and jarred over the rutted stretch of gravel as he sped towards the highway.

He was halfway back to Superior before he pulled over to the side of the road. Shaking like a kitten drenched in ice water, he opened the door of the truck and fell onto the cold, hard ground. Heaving violently, though this time far from dryly, our friend vomited onto the asphalt. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he pulled himself back up, leaned against the truck and let his head fall back.

Looking straight up at the clouded night sky, the “wheezing raccoon” could be heard again, as Jimmy sobbed. A few deep breaths later, Jimmy wiped his tears on his other sleeve, and started pacing back and forth in front of his pick-up. He tried to process what he had just seen. It all seemed so surreal, so unbelievable. How could this be? What could this be? What was that stuff in the barn? What the hell is going on around here?

Jimmy was an atheist you see, a man of science. He believed that there was an explanation for everything – even if at the time he didn’t know what it was. He was a big fan of those shows on the National Geographic channel that debunk popular ghost stories and other paranormal hoo-hah. So while it took a while for Jimmy to slow down his racing thoughts, not to mention his over-worked, pounding heart, eventually his mind started to grapple for an explanation.

He hadn’t seen anything paranormal, like a ghost. In fact, there was nothing at all that was paranormal here. Pumpkins are very much of this world. And, well, so is matted hair, bits of bones and chunks of intestines for that matter. It was just weird, not to mention sickeningly gross and scary. Who would collect that kind of stuff, and arrange it in such a manner? And where was this stuff coming from? Was this the leftovers of some overzealous hunters?  The dabblings of some prank prone sicko teenagers? Maybe the barn was the warehouse for their, um, props? This is Halloween, after all.

Climbing back into his truck, Jimmy looked at himself in the rear view mirror. The color was starting to return to his face, and he was able to finally stop panting. He still looked quite the sight though. Dried blood from the gash on his forehead, as well as the self-inflicted bites on his lower lip, made for quite a bedraggled look. But since it was Halloween; if need be, maybe Jimmy’s face could pass for one heck of a scary costume mask!

Pondering his situation, he realized that what he had seen wasn’t something that he could forget about. And while he was trying very, very hard to convince himself that there had to be a less than horrid explanation for it, he just didn’t have all of the puzzle pieces that he needed to put his confused mind to rest. And he knew what that meant. It was no good going back home in this state of mind – laying in bed with this unsolved mystery racing through his thoughts, causing him to jump in panic at every creek of the apartment. A man of science can’t just accept a horrid mystery like this in their backyard and be content to simply avoid it, to try and put it out of their mind. These images, this encounter, it had to be put to rest. It had to be conquered for it to loose its frightening power.

That left our friend with only one option that he could think of. And it wasn’t an option that Jimmy reveled in. He sat a good hour in that pick-up – his brow rumpled up in heavy thought as he tried to convince himself to do what he knew he needed to do. Finally, with a heave of determination, he turned the engine back on. As if as hesitant as Jimmy himself, Lizard’s engine meekly came to life, and then grudgingly set the wheels to motion upon the black asphalt.

Turning around on the highway, our friend headed back from whence he came. Puttering along at a mere 5 miles per hour, Lizard slowly made its way down Clevedon Road. Then Jimmy turned onto McNeil’s Landing. He hesitated, but eventually his foot gently pressed against the gas pedal and he headed down the rutted gravel road.

Coming to the river valley, our friend slowed Lizard down even more as he drove by the farmhouse along the river, crossed the bridge and parked in the fishermen’s parking lot.

He noticed that the lights were on in the farmhouse, but nobody stirred as Jimmy got out of the truck.

Looking up at the hill that he had to scale, it now seemed so much more formidable, not to mention menacing, then it had just a few hours before. But scale that hill he did, although he took his time, thinking that he might need to conserve his energy for what lay ahead.

Reaching the top, he turned to face the river valley below, and in a classic gesture of machismo, he opened his fly and took a leak. That hill was Jimmy’s hill now!

Trudging through the low brush that grew along the side of the dirt road, our friend made his way back towards the cluster of old wooden buildings he had been at earlier.

Nearing the first shed, he stopped, catching a glimpse of a light. Creeping ever so carefully up to the side of the shed, Jimmy peered around the corner. The light was coming from a lantern hung on the front of the leaning barn. Another light shone through the barn window. Boards lay strewn about in front of building. Since he had left, someone had come and pried them off of the front door!

Just as Jimmy was about to creep around the back of the shed he caught glimpse of a shadow moving across the floor of the barn. Our friend froze, his eyes riveted on the open barn door. But after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, nothing more stirred.

Like a starving cat determined to break its fast, Jimmy stealthily made his way around the back of the first shed. Next, he ducked behind the outhouse, and then the second shed. Finally, there was nothing between him and the barn but two-dozen yards of open ground.

With the Autumn clouds obscuring moon and stars, our hero thought he had a good chance of being able to simply walk slowly across that space without anyone being the wiser.

It turned out to be a good assumption. While at times he wondered if others could hear the loud thumping of his pounding heart, eventually Jimmy made it to the side of the barn. His back flat against the wall, he craned his neck to peek around the corner. All he could see was the hanging lantern. Taking a deep breath, our friend slid around the corner and inched towards the door.

About two feet from the entrance though, Jimmy froze. Something in him just couldn’t finish it. It was as if the physical hand of fear had grabbed the back of his neck, and now was holding him so tightly he just couldn’t go forward.

Inching back along wall, Jimmy shimmied around the corner, and took in a gulp of fresh air.

Gripping the sides of his head with both hands, he tried to pull himself together. He put his ear to the wall to see if he could hear anything. He thought he may have heard something briefly being dragged, but it was so faint it was hard to tell for sure.

There wasn’t any space between the boards so as to be able to peer through them either. Then an idea popped into our friend’s head. Looking up, he saw that there was a window up above him, just about a foot and half above his head. It wasn’t a big window, but it looked like it had a sturdy ledge. Reaching up, Jimmy wrapped his fingers around the windowsill and, taking a deep breath, he slowly pulled himself up. This was the second time in just one day that Jimmy thanked his lucky stars that he’d been doing those push-ups!

Trying not to inhale the dust and debris that lay on top of the sill, Jimmy pulled himself up just high enough so that he could peek through the bottom windowpane. Unfortunately, he had pulled himself up so slowly, in an effort to be quiet, and all James Bond like, that he had tired out his arms. Just as soon as he got up to the window, he had to drop back down again before he could see anything. After resting a few minutes, he pulled himself up again. Eagerly, but carefully, Jimmy peered through the dusty window.

His eyes grew wide with terror at the sight that he beheld.  Quickly dropping back to the ground, for the second time Jimmy made off like a bat out of hell away from those old buildings and down that dirt road.  Yet again he tripped and stumbled threw the dark until he got to the top of the hill, where he slid and fell down the steep incline.  This time he hear a snap, as a shearing pain shot up his right arm.  It was broken, but there was no time to sit there and fuss with it.  He had to get out of there!

He jumped into the cab of his truck, and without even closing the door, slammed on the gas and sped off over the bridge and past the farmhouse.  He drove so fast, that it was hard to keep the swerving truck on the road, especially with only one good arm.

Once he got back onto the highway, he really opened up the throttle.  That truck practically flew! 

Jimmy gasped for breath, and tried to get this jack hammer like heart to calm down.  Shivers kept pulsating up and down his body, and there was an awful pounding sensation, inside his head.

Several miles up the road a group of teenagers were having a bonfire party in a pasture on the south side of the highway.  He had to work the brakes hard, but when Jimmy saw this he slowed down the truck and turned onto the side of the road.  He came to a jarring stop and turned off the engine. 

He was still having difficulty catching his breath, and his heart felt like it was going to explode.  It had never beaten so hard and so fast in all of his life.  But he had to tell somebody what he had seen.  Drunken teenagers weren't exactly the cavalry, but they would have to do. 

Taking in several gasps of air, Jimmy got out of the truck and stumbled onto the middle of the highway.  He hollered out for help, hoping to get the kids attention.  They blaring rock music and chorus of juvenile laughter prevented anyone from hearing him.  But they were all able to hear what came next - the waling screech of brakes and the deafening truck horn as a semi came around and plowed into a hunched over figure in the middle of the road.  Jimmy's shattered body was thrown several feet up the road.  And in that quick moment, his pounding heart finally found relief.  THE END!

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