Wow, I kinda left this story to rot, which is pretty ridiculous because I've had it totally planned out from the beginning *kicks self* Anyway, there's going to be two more chapters after this one (yeah, I know, I keep elongating it) before I'm done with this story completely. Thanks for the reviews, guys! They're probably the most helpful feedback I've gotten on any story, and you have no idea how much I appreciate it. Don't forget to tell me what you thought of this chapter!
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The fence, of course, had been a joke. You don't grow up in Hemingford without learning how to jump a barbed wire fence. So here they were, past the point of no return, in the belly of the beast, out of the frying pan and into the oven, pick your cliché. Gatlin was theirs for the night.
The last thing Micheal ever thought he'd feel towards Gatlin was nostalgia, but here it was, crashing over him in waves. He felt removed from his friends as they swaggered through the ghost town. With each building they passed, Micheal's memory kicked higher into overdrive, and his belly lurched uncomfortably, threatening to spill the ethanol burning its way through his stomach lining.
There was the church where he and his friends hung outside after services and slip worms down the backs of the girls' pretty dresses, and there was Hansen's, where he and Malachi used to play the game machine in back and look up the waitresses' skirts. Christ, this was weird, and getting weirder with every step Micheal took. The police hadn't done such a hot job cleaning the place up, as evidenced by the deranged axioms and arcane insignias smeared across the glass storefronts.
Damn, how can anything be so different and so the same? It's not right. It's wrong. It's—Micheal took a final swig of beer. He held the can tightly like a teddy bear, as if the metal cylinder could protect him from God-knows-what. The alcohol numbed Micheal out, insulated him from anything that would be too much to handle sober. He was loving liquor right now Ha, lovin' liquor. Love and liquor. Lovely liquor. Micheal giggled wildly to himself. Reality swelled in and out around him, swirling together with colors, sounds, and images supplied by his own subconscious. Ah hell, he was trashed.
Is this shit laced with something? Micheal wondered, looking down at the offending can as if it had the answer. How many beers had he had? Not enough to mess him up this bad. Now that he thought of it, the others were acting strange too, almost manically goofy. There was something wrong, something in the air, in the land, an electricity that hummed and pulsed around them. This was ridiculous, of course, but Micheal couldn't help but feel that there was something alive here, something intertwined with the town Micheal remembered.
"This isn't Gatlin," Micheal blurted suddenly, not really sure what the hell he meant by that.
"What're ya talkin about, man?" Jase slurred slightly as he tried to focus on Micheal's swimming image and the removal of Jess's bra at the same time.
"I just—shit!" Thunder burst around them in a roar.
"Great. Thunder. So B-horror movie," Jess rolled her eyes, and whatever had taken hold of the teens was gone. It was just Gatlin again. Micheal didn't realize he was shaking until the beer can fell from his hand and clanged on the ground.
"I hate these summer storms," Taylor complained, not quite concealing the tremor in her voice, "Loud, freaky noises with no rain."
"Aw, still scared of thunder? I'll protect ya," Bobby poked her before growing serious, "the thunder doesn't do crap for the crops. My Old Man's gonna freak if we don't get some real rain soon." Bobby still lived with his parents, so this was a legitimate concern for him.
"Here's where we wanna be," Micheal muttered when they reached the church, "if we're looking for ghosts or whatever."
The message board outside the building was devoid of its usual white plastic letters, and Micheal was just a little disappointed. What, none of the devil-demon-whatever-worshipers had bothered to spell something creepy?
The inside of the church was really something, though. What looked like blood was smeared on the walls in some sick parody of graffiti, extolling—huh, looks like Jess was right—the mysterious entity known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Micheal couldn't help but think that this was a small improvement on the boring building he'd once been forced to waste Sunday mornings in as a child.
Before getting down to "business," Bobby and Taylor and Jase and Jess decided do some less-than-holy things on the pews...and in the confessionals...and on the alter. Micheal tried not to be to jealous that his friends were actually getting some while he skulked around the dusty building.
A soundtrack of thumps, giggles, and groans assaulted Micheal's ears in irregular beats. He kicked a pew and coughed as dust exploded into his face. The stain-glassed windows were destroyed, and little bits of dully sparkling color littered the ground like confetti after New Year's Eve. Not to tidy, these demon-worshipers, Micheal noted.
The couples slowly emerged, faces red and hair mussed, from their respective nooks and crannies.
"Check what we found," Jase swirled his index finger around the rim of a dusty chalice. Micheal caught sight of the sludgy, reddish-black dregs of something unspeakable at the bottom. Taylor looked like she might hurl.
"You'd think they'd take this crap for evidence, or...something," Jess breathed, seeming truly unsettled for the first time, "it's like everyone just wants to forget about the whole deal, like Gatlin never existed or something."
"Tell that to the news papers. They can't get enough of our little world of shit," Taylor said tartly. She glanced at the cup again, "I think I'm gonna have a Roman Incident..."
"It's probably just...wine or something," Everybody gave Bobby a look.
Yeah, it's just wine. Right. Sure.
And damn, it stank.
"Whatever," Jase looked like he might toss the chalice over his shoulder but instead set it down on one of the pews. It just sat there, since no one had any better idea of what to do with it.
They almost left right then, when presented with physical evidence of what had been happening right under their noses, but they didn't. They stayed and lit some candles with a book of matches Taylor found in her pocket. The somber mood quickly lifted, greatly helped by the booze, as the Ouija board was set up, until one of them would catch a glimpse of that damned chalice.