26 October 2006
Dad had been admitted into the hospital, and we were fairly sure he wasn’t going to come out alive. I tried to stay with him, but he insisted that I needed to get out sometimes, give him a little space and take some time to myself. I fought, at first, but once he made his wishes known to the nurses there wasn’t much of a choice left for me.
Rick decided that I needed something interesting to occupy my time, and managed to convince Charles and Jackie to join us on a little adventure. I told him I wasn’t up for it, but he already had everyone ready, and I had little strength to fight him on it, so I quickly found myself riding shotgun in my own car as Rick took us to his surprise.
Charles realized where we were going before I did, as my mind had started to wander somewhere along 18. I snapped out of it after he told Jackie and she demanded to know if he was right.
“What exactly is this Devil’s Church, anyway?” she asked after Rick sighed and confirmed that as our destination.
“It’s a local legend, is all,” he answered, waving it off as he took the left turn off the freeway.
“About an evil site that was consumed by the earth itself and now curses anyone who approaches!” Charles was getting frantic, and Jackie reached over to calm him.
“I don’t know if ‘curses’ is the right word,” I said, sitting up and looking around, “but the stories do not describe it as a particularly safe or friendly place.”
“This is your idea of getting Matteson’s mind off of things?!” Jackie demanded. Rick winced.
“Well, I mean, he did, you know, want to visit it, right?” Rick muddled through the question, and I sighed and leaned my head back against the seat.
“I did express some interest in seeing if there was anything really here, yes.” I turned to look at Jackie. “We tried to go, once. It didn’t work out.”
“Karen backed out,” Charles said. “Violently. I bet Rick’s balls still ache at the memory of it. It’s surprising he wanted to do this at all.” Rick pulled into the graveyard and parked, then turned and looked around at all of us.
“Look,” he said, “this is one of the greatest mysteries around here, and if anything is gonna shake things up, it’s gonna be the Devil’s Church. It feels…” he turned and looked out the windshield at the trees illuminated by Alpha’s headlights, “important.” Jackie sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
“Fine,” she said, firmly. “Just don’t pull something like this again, okay?” He nodded and turned the engine off, tossing the keys into my lap before he climbed out into the night. By the time I emerged, Rick had turned on a flashlight and Charles was hanging close to him, probably to avoid getting too far from the light, and they had begun looking at headstones. I felt a hand on my arm, and turned to find Jackie trying to offer a comforting smile. “Do you want to talk about it?” I took a deep breath and looked back to the guys.
“Not here,” I said, softly. “Not now.” She nodded and pulled her jacket tight around herself.
“Do you feel it?”
“No.” I opened my mouth to answer, then closed it again and nodded. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I sensed it last time, too. Karen picked up on it, somehow, and that’s why she refused to go any further.”
“Is Karen a witch or something?” I shrugged.
“She’s never mentioned it to me.”
“Interesting. Did anyone else sense it?”
“They didn’t seem to.”
“You guys coming?” Rick called, turning the flashlight on us. We each shielded our eyes.
“Not with that light in our faces!” I answered. Jackie chuckled as Rick lowered the light. I closed the door and we started to move forward. Rick was telling Charles a story, probably about the site, but I wasn’t really listening. The forest seemed to be calling me. I found myself drawn forward, just like I had last time. Something in there wanted me, personally, to go deeper. I was pretty sure I didn’t trust whatever that was, but I couldn’t shake the desire to at least find out what it wanted. Jackie wrapped her arm around mine, a move that at first seemed to be an attempt to offer emotional support; but soon, I could feel her begin to tense and hold tighter as we approached the woods. We were maybe five feet from the tree line when she stopped dead in her tracks. I stopped, and when I turned I saw her face was going pale.
“Rick,” she hissed. He stopped and looked to us again. He and Charles were right at the edge of the field. “I think we should go.”
“Oh, come on! Not you, too!” he whined, his shoulders dropping before he threw his arms out wide. “This is your thing!”
“My thing,” she said, sternly, “involves a lot of recognizing what is and is not okay to dabble in. And this,” she said, waving her free hand at the trees, “is not something to dabble in!”
“Why not? What’s going on?”
“There’s something in there,” I said. “Something powerful.”
“Okay, but we’ve faced a crazy cult summoning some kind of god! We’ve seen powerful things, man!”
“Not like this.”
“And more importantly,” Jackie said, “we had taken some precautions before, which we haven’t taken tonight because you didn’t tell us what we were dealing with.”
“Well, okay, but-” Rick began. Jackie interrupted him.
“AND, it bears noting, that Matteson is probably our best defense if we get into real trouble, and I suspect his power is at least a little bit tied to emotion, and he is not emotionally prepared for this right now!”
“Well-” I started.
“We’re right here!” Rick was getting frustrated. “I could literally turn around and put my hand into the woods, and now we’re backing off again? Because of some…thing you guys say you’re sensing?”
“It’s a pretty good reason!” Jackie answered.
“And what, you’re just assuming Matteson’s broke or something? Because of his dad? We already knew his dad was dying, Jackie, that’s why we’re fucking here!” Charles took in a sharp breath at that, and I shrugged Jackie off and walked back to Alpha. I sat down in the driver’s seat and lit a cigarette, ashing out the open door as I stared blankly at the instrument panel. I was about halfway through it when the other doors opened. Jackie slipped into the passenger seat, followed by Rick and Charles climbing into the back.
“Sorry,” Rick muttered. I nodded, closed my door, and started the engine.
“Denny’s?” I asked. I got a round of soft agreements, decided that was good enough, and we left.
20 December 2004
I groaned as I reached over to the ringing phone, only barely turning my head from my pillow to be able to see the screen. It was Rick. I let out a low growl as I answered.
"Were you asleep, John?"
"It's two in the afternoon!" I grumbled and rolled onto my back.
"I had a long night," I said, pushing myself up to sit with my back against the headboard. "Were you calling for any specific reason?"
"We're on for the Devil's Church! Tony is getting some people together, they're going to meet us at the D'Onofrio's parking lot in about an hour. You coming?" Mandy groaned and rolled over, laying her arm across my waist.
"Uh, let me check. I may have to do something real quick first."
"But you'll be there? Charles and I need a ride, he's here at my place."
"Yeah. I'll come get you." I hung up and leaned my head back against the wall for a moment, before putting the phone down and grabbing my smokes and a lighter.
"Who was that?" she asked, her voice soft and still half asleep.
"Your cousin." I lit my cigarette and breathed deep, blowing the smoke toward the ceiling. "We're gonna go investigate the Devil's Church."
"Oooo, that cursed place up past Headliner's?"
"The same." She began to trace her finger around my belly button as she scooted up to lean her head on my side.
"Can I come?"
"I think we've established you can." She lightly slapped my stomach and sat up, placing herself on my lap and facing me.
"Are you in a hurry?"
"We have an hour to get dressed, pick up Rick and Charles, and be up to D'Onofrio's." She hummed, running her hands down my sides and sliding herself down to slowly ease the blanket off me.
"I think we can make that work."
When Rick and Charles came out the door on hearing my horn, they were bickering about who would ride shotgun. I had my window down in case I'd need to yell to them, and was lighting another Newport. Mandy leaned over.
"Chicks get shotgun in Alpha, you know that!" she yelled out my window. Rick jogged down and leaned against my door to peer in as Charles grumbled and moved around to climb in the seat behind her.
"Mandy! John picked you up on the way?"
"No," I said. She laughed and winked, then sat back up in her seat. He looked puzzled for a moment, then concern washed over his face. "Get in or we're gonna be late." With that, I began rolling up my window and turned my attention forward. Rick stood upright, paused, then got in the back behind me. He tried to bum a smoke off Mandy but she reminded him we were going to a store and he could get his own, and he was quiet the rest of the trip.
D'Onofrio's is a standalone grocery store on the northern edge of the business district in Hermitage, and the last real stop before 18 becomes a freeway the whole way to Greenville, or at least the last one we acknowledge. For those of us who grew up in Sharon, it was an unstated fact that our home region ended at the store, and everything north was country. When we arrived, Tony's car wasn't there. Rick and I went in to get drinks and smokes while we waited.
"John," he finally said, softly, once we were out of earshot of the car and the store, "did you fuck my cousin?"
"Yes." He clenched his fists and took a deep breath.
"It was her idea. I didn't induce her to anything."
"Fine. But, please, did you at least-"
"I'm not answering any questions about how I had sex with your cousin." We were silent the whole time we were inside, and when we returned Tony's car was parked next to Alpha and Olivia was talking to Mandy through their open windows. As we got closer we saw that he also brought Karen, Mitch, and Rob. Mitch suggested we stop by Headliner's while we were up that way, citing his belief that strippers are always more friendly to a group that includes other women. He was soundly voted down. Rick and Olivia switched cars. After Tony and I confirmed we both knew where we were going, we set out.
We joked and carried on the whole way, and judging by the way they were laughing as they got out of the car I suspected the rest of them did roughly the same. Even Rick seemed to be in a better mood. Karen went straight for Olivia and Mandy and they began talking among themselves near Alpha as the rest of us gathered next to a headstone with letters faded beyond recognition in the dying winter light.
"What's the deal with this place, anyway?" Tony asked.
"Wait, they didn't tell you?" I asked, looking to the group.
"I thought he knew," Rick said with a shrug.
"I thought everyone knew," Rob said.
"Yeah, it's haunted, right?" Mitch offered.
"More than that." Rick was nearly jumping when he cut back in. "It's called the Devil's Church because there's a real church in there, somewhere in the haunted woods! They went dark, started worshiping the Devil, hosting orgies, human sacrifices, the whole thing. They got so corrupt that the Earth opened up and swallowed them whole; and now, the souls of the people who died wander the woods, tempting and tormenting people that enter!"
"And...why are we entering?" Tony asked, his brow furrowing.
"Because! We're gonna find the church!"
"No one has ever found the church itself," Rob said. "Everyone who tries falls to the spirits, and those who die there join the ghostly army."
"They're gonna try to kill us?!" Charles blurted out.
"Only if we don't join them willingly."
"That's not better!"
"They get people to do all kinds of things," Mandy said as the girls approached us. "They say groups who go in there can be best friends, but somewhere in the woods they start killing each other, or going mad. Sometimes eating each other!"
"Some stories include rape," Rob offered. I raised my brow.
"There...some very compelling reason you guys wanted to come along?" I asked the girls.
"Oh come on, you don't really believe the stories, do you?" Olivia asked.
"Besides," Mandy said, walking over to me. "If we were gonna start believing the stories, we should also believe you can just," she started fake punching the air in front of me, "break the curse and keep us safe, right?" The others laughed.
"John's our ringer, guys," Rick said. "We're gonna be the first ones to find that church cause nothing gets by him." I sighed and pointed my cigarette toward the trees.
"Fine. Lead the way."
"I will!" With that, Rick started walking toward the woods, and we all fell into groups following him. As we got closer and closer to the trees, Karen was growing visibly more hesitant. Finally, when Rick was just past the tree line, she stopped dead in her tracks and started to shake. We all stopped and turned to face her, as Rob and Olivia tried to calm her down. She started to protest going any further, and when Rob put his hands on her shoulders and told her it'd be okay she kicked him square in the balls. He stumbled backwards and she fell to her knees, crying. Olivia and Mandy swooped down to her. I looked around.
"You know, guys," I said, "it uh, it looks like no one brought a flashlight and it's getting dark. Maybe another time?"
"Yeah," Tony said, weakly, "Another time."
"Headliner's?" Mitch offered.
"How about Denny's." We all agreed to Tony's suggestion, and started heading back to the cars.
The blog of John Matteson.