Johnny Kreps watched his Uncle Todd put the final coat of wax on his vintage Dodge Charger. He bent over the hood, giving it a once over from side. Todd wasn’t young anymore, but he still embraced motors and mayhem. Grandma Gloria said Todd never would grow up. They had sat around that little round table in the kitchen talking about sports, cars and how to catch a good size catfish. Grandma and Uncle Todd were all the family that Johnny had left since his parents died in a car crash years ago when he was little. He always liked to hear of Todd’s daredevil days as a teenager, and how Grandma Gloria put him in place. Then they would have a bowl of popcorn, the smell of melted butter wafting through the halls as the evening sun settled outside the window falling softly over grandma’s rose bushes and the bed of stark blue larkspurs on the west side of the house. Home was a special thing to Johnny, it kept him grounded, made him happy. He could never understand his friends that hated their families, the ones that wanted to run off, the ones that never wanted to go back. Home was more than that; it was the sum of the three of them, and Johnny was glad he had it.
“Do you really think Pinky’s Cave is haunted?”
“Naw, it’s a bunch of silly stuff. It’s dangerous though, even without spirits. Don’t you be thinking about headin’ out there.”
“Oh, I’m not, but I know you hung out there some, you know, back when…”
“That’s how I know it ain’t haunted, but people can get hurt out there. You don’t need to see no ghost to get hurt. That’s why you make sure you stay away….”
Johnny stuck his cap on his head nonchalantly. He never like disobeying, and he was a bit uneasy. He stared straight ahead, he could see the concrete entrance beckon to blackness.
“Why are you taking so long?” asked Trent.
“Yeah, you scared of somethin?” said Kyle.
“No, I’m not scared. It’s just an old concrete cave. A long time ago, it might have been something, but it ain’t nothing now,” said Johnny.
A brisk fall wind blew a gray tumbleweed over the street above the boys as they walked through the ditch heading for the entrance to Pinky’s Cave. There was a light mellow feeling on the street level, but as Johnny and his friends descended into the ditch, he felt a heaviness that seemed to swallow the souls of his feet as small beads of sweat gathered on his upper lip in spite of the coolness in the air.
His uncle Todd had told him stories of the cave when he was a teenager and used to skip school. They would go down and have parties through the afternoon back in the day when he was easier to walk out of class than it is now. Todd had told him of the time his girlfriend had driven his Trans Am down there and gotten stuck. The gold paint had been scraped in long scratches on the side of the car trying to get it free. Todd was talking about the cave one time, then he stopped, and said simply, it was okay to hang out then, but not anymore. He said it had been taken over by gangs, drunks and druggers. It just wasn’t a place to be.
“You are dragging your feet, man!” Kyle looked at him harshly.
“We gonna film this cave or not?” asked Trent.
“We are,” Johnny said.
The boys headed into it. Kyle flashed the light on the wall, and there among the obscenities and a long log of who had been there and when, was a warning:
Stop Now! OR Pinky’ll Get You
“Who was he, that Pinky dude?” asked Kyle.
“I don’t know. Some kid who drowned down here like in the 1950s or something before they built this, when the streets used to run up and down.” said Johnny.
“I heard if he follows you, you don’t look back. Or you’re doomed,” said Kyle.
“And I heard the water used to run like the Colorado River down here. Good thing it ain’t rained in a year,” said Johnny.
“Ya’ll stop gawking…full speed ahead,” said Kyle.
The boys walked past the ominous sign. Everything was dark and silent like a cruel brand of death melted over with concrete. They were going into the depths of Pinky’s Cave to dispel rumors of a restless youth, expose the comedy of a haunted hideout, gather evidence of cowards and collusion. Drainage pipes jetted from the sides of the walls like paths to unseen catacombs. Johnny felt a bit of nausea in the pit of his stomach. They inched on, but seemed to be swallowed up. In no time, the deep clutches of the cave seem to embrace them, stroking their hair, pulling them forward. That’s when they heard it. A faint moaning that started low and began rising like the wail of a lost soul, like a creature too wayward to care. Kyle’s fingers trembled on the flashlight causing small beams of light to dance on the walls. There was no turning back now, there was nowhere to run….
“Do you think… it is him???” asked Todd.
“It wasn’t anything, just vibrations probably,” said Kyle steadying his flashlight.
Johnny was quite for a moment. “Pinky didn’t just drown here. His friends were scared and hid him. They didn’t want to accept it, so they tried something.”
“What do you mean? When you are dead, you are dead. You don’t have a choice,” said Todd.
“His friends. His friends tried to bring him back!”
For a moment, the dark air cleared, and the boys walked easier.
“I don’t believe in that,” said Kyle.
Up ahead the main tunnel forked into three sections.
“Which way?” asked Kyle.
“Right. It’s all the same. It comes back together towards the end,” answered Johnny.
“How do you know all this stuff, Johnny?” asked Todd.
“I went down to the history museum, they have that microfiche room.”
“I thought you said your uncle Todd told you?” asked Kyle.
“No, I don’t really think he knows. He doesn’t like this place much.”
They turned the corner, more darkness greeted them. The quiet of the damp, dark air was extreme. Johnny could feel the heaviness hit him square in the chest as though a large, iron anchor was threatening to sink them. Then they heard a growl. Unmistakable. Low and deep, slow and surely. A noise that penetrated skin and sunk into bones.
“What the?? There is something here!”
“Maybe….it’s…a raccoon….or something.”
“My phone, my recording, it’s not working,” said Kyle, his hands shaking.
The boys stood still. Johnny could actually feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. About that time something swished by them in the darkness, and they were off running.
“Don’t look! Don’t look back!” Johnny screamed. Eyes forward. Hearts pounding. Cave walls bouncing, the air still heavy and toxic. As they ran, Johnny felt his leg cramping, pain shot through it, feeling like his nerves were ablaze. Kyle and Trent took the lead, fear firing their muscles. Johnny stumbled, hitting the side of the wall, then he fell down, down, down into more blackness into some sort of cavern underneath the main one.
“Hey! Kyle! Trent!” No answer. He grabbed his phone and hit the flashlight. Water pooled around his ankles. He had fallen, alright, into a small space. He looked around for something to stand on. There was nothing. He checked his phone. There was no signal. Something brushed his arm, he startled.
“Who….is here?” Johnny’s eyes strained in the darkness and his heart was in his throat.
S C R E E E C H ——– the sound of something scratching the wall. Johnny’s head jerked left when an apparition manifested . At first, he thought it was Kyle if it hadn’t been for the eerie light outline. As the figure came toward him, it looked something like a teenage boy in tight cuffed jeans with a rolled sleeve t-shirt and hair tousled high on the top.
As it came closer Johnny could see that it had no face. The smell of whiskey filled the air. A low laugh reverberated off the walls. Johnny shut his eyes. The water was coming up a bit. Where was it coming from? Where could it possibly be coming from? Was he imagining all of this? Why hadn’t he listened to his uncle? He forced himself to take deep breaths. Think….think….think!
“Trent! Kyle! Come Back! Hey! I’m here!”
Laughter exploded around him in all directions. A pair of red eyes launched forward.
“Pinky….If that’s you, I mean you no harm…. I’ll leave here…I won’t come back….”
“YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE,” the echoing voice spoke around him. Johnny shut his eyes. The water was coming up over his knees. He thought of his mom and dad. The last time he saw them. So long ago. He could see them now, clearly as ever. His mother standing, bending to kiss him softly on the head. Like things were going to be fine, everything felt alright for a moment. His fear stilled, his father was smiling at him. That’s when a hand shot through the darkness from above. A strong arm. Johnny’s eyes flew open. The water was beginning to rush. Red eyes and low growls surrounded him.
“Johnny! Take my hand! Take my hand now!!”
“I can’t reach…”
“Yes you can! You take my hand! Now!”
He stretched every muscle in his body, reaching up, willing himself up. The water was coming faster. He grabbed the hand. With all his might, Uncle Todd pulled, pulled him from the depths of purgatory powered by the ties of blood, the bond of family, the depths of sheer will, lifting him from one world into another. Just like that. They were face to face. Todd hugged him.
“Let’s go!” Together they walked as the shadows danced on the cave walls. Little noises rushed after them like strangled dark sonnets, the light showing, the end in sight.
Outside, Kyle and Trent were waiting.
“Dude! You freaked us out!” said Trent.
“Guys, get in the car!” said Todd.
“You, you alright?” asked Uncle Todd
Johnny shook his head.
“What did I tell you about Pinky’s cave?”
“It was…. the ghost…”
“There ain’t no ghosts. It don’t even have to be haunted,” said Uncle Todd.
Johnny gave his uncle a side glance. There was something in his eyes, call it fear, but there was also that pride that wouldn’t admit to such things as terror and the supernatural. No matter how close it was. Not even if he had just saved you from it.
Grandma Gloria’s kitchen never looked so cheerful. Johnny stood there for a minute just looking out the window. A cloud caught his eye, light and fluffy. Like it had wings or something. Like it might be a beautiful bird or even an angel of sorts.