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To my brother, David… I’ve always wondered if the quarry that was across the street from us growing up scared you, too.
From all initial appearances, it looked like she had only been gone a couple of days… but it felt like an eternity in a blink, a whole lifetime ago. And yet, even if it had been from another lifetime, that familiar cold chasm yawned open at the pit of her being again and anew. Maybe it was the sounds that opened it. Maybe it was being just outside the forbidding fence line with her old friends. It might have even been the shadows that crept up on them, elongating as the sun started to set. They always swore they would do this, but as children they’d never possessed the means, the guts, or a seemingly foolproof plan. Now, as adults, they were all drawn oddly back here, barely remembering the day before as they were consumed with standing on the threshold. Melanie had grown up right across the street from the quarry, a once working quarry that had been abandoned long before she’d ever been born. And all throughout her childhood, she’d been both fascinated and repelled by it. The emotions were something she’d shared with her friends, neighbor kids who longed to explore its unknown spaces and its possibly unknowable secrets as much as she did. But, the adults in their community then naturally forbade it. It was a place off limits in their midst. ‘No Trespassing’ signs were posted everywhere, and the adults all said they were posted for good reason. The building that had once been the processing plant, the nexus point, had all but fallen down, coming apart from the inside out until only a withered husk remained. It was a shell, a ghost of steel and wood; it was dangerous to be around, let alone in. The offices that had once been hubs for management and geologists sat like eyeless sentinels all about the place. It looked like a little city, a ghost town. It looked enchanted and ensnaring. It loomed and beckoned. It both warned and called out, mostly on windy nights when the gusts would whip across and through the large pit that had once been mined for limestone. With each new and forceful breeze came the sound of crying, of moaning and weeping and wailing. The noises were soft but significant. And, even the adults warned that those sounds could have come from lost souls abandoned at the bottom of the quarry or stuffed in the stockpiles that had endured so much weathering with years gone by. There were even theories whispered that the pit itself moaned in agony at being left so open and exposed, that it was hungry to be filled by something and by anything. Melanie wasn’t so sure about either of those theories as a child and as an adult about to commit what seemed to her to be a childish act. There were more practical grown-ups around her during her formative years who simply said the wind acted much like it did when you blew across the top of a glass bottle. It made sounds because it was natural for it to do so above a hollow. Melanie found comfort in that. She took solace in that. She regurgitated that. But still, on a windy night and all alone with her bedroom window open, her insides grew cold with a fear and a longing. And now she stood outside the quarry fence as a woman in her twenties, in her prime, surrounded by good friends from long ago. All of them were home for the summer from college and planning to break in. Her oldest and dearest friend, Mark, had brought bolt cutters to undo the chains, which they planned to wrap back around once they’d gone through the gate so that it still appeared sealed to any onlookers. 2
“Nobody will be the wiser,” Mark had half-heartedly assured her when she voiced a worry. He spoke in his signature carefree caress that made her and every other woman feel like agreeing to anything. The effect of his words was magnified by the brilliance of his boyish good looks. Nature and genetics had been kind to Mark. He’d always had that and always used it to his advantage. And, oddly enough, it was something Melanie never minded. So, there she stood beside Mark and Tony and June… going through with it. Her flashlight was in hand and at the ready to be turned on once they disappeared behind the fence and subsequent tree line. She would soon be in the space she’d always longed for in some strange way. Tony only looked a fraction as confident as Mark, but he had always been the cautious one, not to mention the smart one. The very fact that he was engaging in their insane act could only mean one thing, that he was there to see to it that they didn’t get into any real trouble. Tall and lanky with a tinge of very early gray about the temples, Tony also constantly wore a pinched expression. It was as if college and working in the real world had made him sharp and stark and raw. He was angular and uncomfortable. And, he needed both her and Mark to add the few sparks of spontaneity to their shared summer. He also needed June to soften him. Melanie had always thought Tony should take up a bit more with their friend, June. June who was lithe and lilting and maternal. She made her entire encompassing sphere supple and everyone gravitated towards that. Bright blue eyes and flowing blonde curls finding their way to her waist made her seem like some sort of fairy thing come forth from out of a fog or a mist or from beyond a dewy hillside. She also had just enough of a wild streak to draw Tony out of his shell, whether he wanted to come or not, and it had been that way for years, every time they’d gotten together. Every time Melanie had seen them together, she couldn’t help but note in her own mind how right it would be. But, her and Mark were another story entirely. Great friends but an unstable combination if brought too close, like fuel and an open flame. There were no natural boundaries; there was no field of containment for safety’s sake, and no hope of an undoing if the doing ever got started with him. The snap of the padlock and the rattling of chains coming undone brought Melanie out of her musings. She shoved her dark brown bangs away from her eyes and took in the sight of the gate opening. It opened as she figured it would, dreamed it would, with a creak and then a moan. It moaned; the quarry moaned; her inner chasm moaned. “Ok, remember, keep the flashlights off until we get behind the trees,” Mark ordered and was the first one to go inside the perilous gates. “Stay close,” Tony said and took June’s hand, as the two of them passed by Melanie. The winds were picking up. Would they soon hear the weeping and wailing? They’d heard it so many times before. And, Melanie knew they would hear it tonight. It all seemed so familiar. Had it been a dream from very long ago?... Or a nightmare?... “Come on,” Mark called to her a notch above a whisper, and then gave a wave of his hand and the flash of a strong, toothy smile. 3
There was hesitation as the next breeze beat against her back, nudging her in Mark’s direction, pressing her to go with her friends, urging her to take her place among them, among the lands of the limestone pit that was anxious for company. She pushed back against it a little and held her ground, gazing out to the few houses in the distance that had a light on. Were they beacons of hope or curious eyes watching her with disproval? “Melanie?” June called her into question and stepped forward to the edge of the gate. Melanie turned to take in her friends. She belonged with them on the other side of the gate. After all, this was her hair-brained idea… even if the last time it had been suggested was three years ago. Or was it four? She had wanted to do this. She had been the initiator. Mark was the merely instigator. “Come on,” Mark said again, getting louder, becoming bolder. “Don’t force her. If she’s scared then maybe we should reconsider…” Tony let his pragmatic suggestion trail off as Mark reached out, grabbed Melanie by the hand, and brought her to the other side of the gate, where he felt she belonged. Mark’s hand was as cold as her own, even in the steamy summer night. He was as nervous as she. And, with her by his side, he and Tony set to work rewrapping the chains and then taking Melanie and June behind the tree line where they all dutifully clicked on their lights. Melanie laughed at the thought — they were dutiful trespassers. They were carefully breaking the law, barely having an adventure. They were daring to go but not too far. It was just enough to possibly prove a point for Melanie… and only to herself. She felt more alive if she could fool herself into thinking she actually had a life. Mark flicked his beam here, there, and then everywhere. He brought to light the abandoned office buildings, the main trailer station, the stockpiles, the pulleys, the conveyors, and the processing plant at the heart of the operation. All of them shells made of steel and wood and concrete and mortar. All of them abandoned and disheveled and barely alive with the energies that once worked them, with the memories of the people who had made good use, who had once built their lives around this place. Tony’s beam was held low to the ground and revealed a subtle indicator of the lives that had once gone on with hard work behind the fence. Old and well-worn tire tracks. Grass was trying to grow into the patterns; weeds, too. Nature was attempting to consume the place but was having difficulty for some reason. As Tony carefully raised the beam inch by inch, Melanie could see that the tracks led off and around the side of the processing plant, past the stockpiles, and towards the opening. The hole. The quarry. The winds picked up. They whipped around the side of the plant, bringing the watery smell of the limestone pit with them. They rustled the leaves in the trees and brushed Melanie’s hair up over her ears and against her face. The gusts obscured her vision but perked her ears, as an indecipherable whispering seemed to happen in a cool breath. “What?” she called out to her friends suddenly. “What?” Mark answered her back with a question of his own.
Melanie pushed back her thick, chocolate locks that were in direct contrast to June’s spiraling, sunshine tresses. “Didn’t one of you say something?” Her friends just shook their heads at her and began to walk forward, naturally following the grooves trucks had once made in their routine passes round and about. Every so often as they drew closer to the plant, they would hear it. The moaning. The wind swooping through and over the gigantic hole they could not see yet, the open and waiting earth filled only by massive or meager amounts of water. It had been a dry summer, so who knew what waited down there in the depths and the dark… other than the crying and weeping and wailing. It unnerved Melanie and continued to bring on that peculiar feeling of cold from the yawning chasm within. It seemed to affect her friends, too. A slight change in body posture or a sudden stop in the flow of movement, to a glimmer of concern caught in the beam of a flashlight. As they all drew near the rickety doorway to the processing plant, Tony stopped. He halted quick and hard, and they all heard the crunch of gravel beneath his feet. “I don’t think so.” “What the hell are you saying?” Mark turned to challenge. “This is why we came here in the first place.” “It’s not why I came here,” Tony said with less force but equal resolve. “Oh, really,” Mark kept on. “Yes, really, so don’t start with me,” Tony said in a tone firmer than Melanie could ever remember hearing. “Don’t start with you?” Mark echoed his friend’s words and took a determined step forward. “Guys, come on…” June interceded and came between them. She shot Mark a glance. Even in the pale moonlight and the low glimmer of stars, Melanie could see it beginning. The tension that had been there over the years mounting quicker with each pass the two men made, quicker each time they were together and in June’s presence. There was always something to fight about… eventually. “No, June,” Mark continued to press. “It’s not my fault that I brought you all out here only to find that Tony’s a big pile of chicken shit.” A push led to a shove, which quickly led to grappling in the dirt. Dust clouds rose into the hot and dry summer night as Melanie launched herself into the fray. “Stop it!” she said in shrill demand and as loud as she dared. “Stop it! We’re going to get caught!” June helped her pull the two apart… not that they weren’t done for the moment anyway. “Fine. Stay out here if you want, but I’m going in there. Gonna check things out. That’s why we came here,” Mark reminded him. “That’s why you came here, maybe. I’m here to make sure everyone stays safe,” Tony revealed, not that it was any big surprise. June’s hands remained pressed into his shoulder, as if there might be another throw-down any minute. “Is that so?” Mark mocked in a way that obviously conveyed he didn’t believe in his friend and rival’s noble gesture.
And, it was in that moment that Melanie wished she could be June. She may not have cared for Tony as anything more than a friend, but she would’ve given her back teeth to be of the right temperament for Mark. “You know it is,” was all the more Tony had to say. “Why don’t you and Melanie take a peek in there and I’ll hang back with Tony,” June suggested and looked to her female companion. “You really wanted to do this, and I don’t mind.” And, that was all the prodding it took to get Melanie to follow Mark inside the darkened doorway to the base of the plant. The floor was earthen now, but had it always been? And, everything seemed to be covered over in a fine layer of dust. The shafts of light from her and Mark danced about the room, intermingling every now and then. “How long do you think it’s been since anyone was here?” Melanie asked to no one in particular, not even to Mark. Everything seemed ancient. Rusty, old, and forgotten. There was an undeniable scent of decay about the building, and it mingled with the smell of gritty water. He replied anyway. “Not that long I’d say,” he said oddly. Melanie shone her flashlight at him in response to see him holding up what appeared to be a fine and frilly woman’s scarf. It looked like something that would’ve been worn in the late spring or early summer, and it was beautiful. As she approached, Mark held it out for her to take. She gripped the thin fabric in one hand and let it play about her fingers. “Wow. You’re right. This isn’t that old, and there’s very little dust on it.” Mark simply nodded. “It looks like something June would wear, actually,” she said as she contemplated it further. Loose and flowing and sumptuous as the lush hillsides. “You really think so?” Mark said and took it back. Melanie shrugged, even though she felt like doing and saying more. “Sure.” “Hmmm…” There was a pain in her chest, a pang really. She would never be with Mark. She would never have him vying for her affections. It wouldn’t be right and nothing could make it so. And all of a sudden, Melanie found herself wishing for the summer to be over and for all of them to go their separate ways once more. If she could just have tonight as one last good memory of all of them and get out emotionally unscathed, that would be enough. Melanie and Mark looked up at the rafters and around at the walls. They walked about in small circles of the main and only room. And, they heard and felt the pressure of the winds outside. There was movement. Something was changing. Melanie could feel it. Her eyes met Mark’s as he came in close to her. “We should go back now,” she whispered, breathing in the determined and earthy essence of him. He nodded, looking just as uncomfortable as she felt, and took her out of the processing plant to the open night sky, to the arid breezes, and to the smell of waiting waters. It all appeared as it had before they’d entered. They were shielded from the outside world of the small community by a thick tree line and behind the trees lay 6
the fence. They were shrouded under the cover of a heavy nighttime dark, with only a half moon and shimmering stars above. It was quiet and the golden glow from their flashlights disturbed very little. Everything seemed perfect for one pristine moment as Mark placed a hand on Melanie’s arm and gave it a tight squeeze. Melanie turned her head to take him in, and she’d envisioned Mark looking at her soulfully or wistfully or, even better, wantonly. But, he wasn’t doing any of that. He was looking straight ahead and then suddenly all around. “Where are Tony and June?” he asked. His question came with a tinge of worry and a lapping of anger. Melanie glanced all around, too. No sign. She couldn’t even make out what should’ve been the easy giveaway of flashlight beams. The winds picked up again and then they bore down, slapping Melanie in the face with her own thick, stickstraight hair. It obscured her vision and left her ears well exposed. And, that was when she heard it distinctly. That was when the whispers made sense, calling to her from some place distant and yet, in a contradiction, very close. Over here. “What?” she asked. “Melanie?” Mark inquired as to her state. She pushed her hair away from her face and the night went still. “Where did you want me to go?” she asked Mark, glancing about as if he might have seen something that escaped her. “What are you talking about? We need to find Tony and June,” Mark reminded her… not that she needed it. “Tony! June!” Melanie called into the dark without thinking. Mark grabbed her arm again. “And, we need to be quiet about it.” They began to walk forward, along the old tire ruts, Mark only slightly ahead of her as he scanned the tree line and the stockpiles for signs of movement and clues to their whereabouts. “Where do you think they are?” Melanie finally asked. “I don’t know.” “It’s odd because Tony was so concerned about safety and – “ Over here. The whispers came again, in a cool rush and from a source hard to pinpoint. Melanie swirled around, thinking Tony and June might want to get her attention. But, why hers alone? “I swear, if they’re off screwin’ around…” Mark fumed and let the fire of his rage then turn inward, not speaking again. Melanie turned all about in a perfect circle, hoping her tiny fragment of light might catch something. Back and forth, over and over, she turned trying to be thorough as Mark slowly pressed on. And, finally she saw something in the loose dirt. Footprints. She saw footprints leading off behind one of the stockpiles to her left. Melanie let out a sigh and knelt down to examine them closer. She saw that there were several prints that could have belonged to two or more people. She stood up. “Tony? June?” she called out softer than before, more aware of her surroundings, the implications, and the ever-widening chasm within her chest. 7
No answer. “Come on you two…” she said and approached the mound of loose rock. “Guys, I’m coming around this pile. You better have clothes on…” But, Melanie was only half hoping for fully clothed, because if Tony made a successful move on June it meant she was off limits to Mark, for the time being. But, there was no one. Melanie let go of a severely frustrated huff and came back around the pile to the tire rut trail. She looked off in the distance for Mark and his light but saw only darkness. “Oh, come on!” she said, loudly, not caring. “There’s no way!” She felt certain he wouldn’t go off and leave her, risk losing her, too. “Mark! Mark!” There was nothing. There was no one. It was her and the moon and the stars and the winds and the vacant earth. She couldn’t even see beyond the trees to the town. She could’ve been on an alien world for as alone as she felt. Melanie continued to wander forward, following those tire tracks. After all, Mark had been heading that way. She tilted her flashlight down, following not only the tracks but also the footprints. “Mark!” she called again and then kept on. It was when she noticed that one set of footprints joined another set and then another that she started to get pissed. “Mark! Mark, you asshole!” They were Tony and June’s prints… had to be. “You all are really starting to tick me off!” she warned nervously. But, there was no response… until there was. Over here. A wispy, windy, warbled, and watery voice called to her on a sudden breeze that rustled only the leaves of the tree right before her. It sounded feminine and not that far out in front. It was as if it resided at the edge of the blackness just beyond what her eyes could see. “June?” Melanie continued her slow and methodical march forward, following the voice that would occasionally whisper until it no longer needed to, until she was practically reeled in. “Over here,” it called to her without the slightest bit of pretense, even though it remained just beyond her line of sight. “Come on, June,” she said, though the voice refused to identify itself. It was feminine. It was familiar. It had to be who she thought it was. “Over here. Over here. Over here.” The voice continued to call, becoming more insistent the further along she got, the more open the hole within her became. Melanie had to wonder if she’d always been this barren and vacant a person. And, was the quarry the only entity that could drag that out into the light, especially in the dark? The trail started to slope downward and Melanie paused as she smelled something damp, something muddy. She poured her source of light straight out in front of her to see the gradual slant of the ground and a slick and shiny surface not that far ahead. She was headed to the watery edge of the quarry. “Over here,” the voice demanded. “Ok. I’m not going another step until I see you guys. This is just ridiculous,” she had a bit of insistence of her own. Her friends may not have realized just how 8
much the quarry creeped her out, but they should’ve been aware of how out of line all of this was becoming. Melanie was especially surprised at Tony, for being this near the watery edge was beyond dangerous. Who knew how far down the bottom was? If she wandered in, she could drown. Anything could be in there. Anything could happen to her, to them. “Melanie,” came the call of her name from right alongside her. “It’s ok. It’s me.” It was June’s voice. And as Melanie looked to her right from where it came, she saw the silhouette of her friend in the dark. She saw her flowing clothes and billowy blonde hair. And, she must’ve met up with Mark, for she wore the scarf that they’d discovered in the plant. And, it appeared without flaw on her, as if it had forever been there. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Why did you wander off that way?” Melanie chastised lightly, a bit too relieved in finding her friend to do more than that. “Over here. I want to show you something,” June said and wrapped an arm through hers. Melanie dug her heels in. “I really think we should leave.” June tugged at her anyway and brought her carefully to the water’s edge. But, the winds picked up as she did so, causing the weeping and wailing to echo all about the open hole only partially filled with water. It was barren and vacant and hungry, too. And, as the sounds bounced all about them, as they stood at the still edge, it was then that she heard the clarity. She took in the lucidity at the center of it all. Melanie heard it. Yes, it was the wind making those ghastly noises, just as she’d been told so very long ago. But, something else was crying, too. It enchanted and ensnared. It loomed and beckoned. “What the hell is that?” Melanie said and glanced nervously to her companion. June took the flashlight from her hand as Mark and Tony joined them along the banks. Over here. There came a warbled whisper that was not June. There was no pretense. Had there ever really been? “Is there someone else here?” Melanie looked to the guys and then to June once more. June knelt down and let the stream of light hit the pooling surface of shimmering black waters. “Come see for yourself,” June instructed. Melanie bent down to join June, who seemed far too calm under the circumstances and far too knowledgeable for having been gone only a matter of minutes. “Is there something in the water?” Melanie asked as she squinted to make out the rising shape in the beam. Something was surfacing. “Yes,” June answered and placed a reassuring albeit trembling and cold hand on Melanie’s shoulder. “It brought you here. I believe it brought us all here.” Melanie looked harder until the shape breached the surface. A face, a face that was surrounded by long, dark, stick-straight hair. A face with cold, blue, dead lips. And, it spoke with a familiar voice, her own voice. “Over here.” 9
© Copyright 2012, Jennifer Adele. All rights reserved.
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