They had come back early from camping at Lake Clinton but it was now dark outside. It was late October and the autumn breeze was cool on her face as they drove the Jeep Wrangler down the highway. She held her brown hair back as the curls whipped here and there wildly in the wind. They were listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The volume was turned up quite a bit so they failed to notice anything out of the ordinary when they stopped at the little town named Stull. No one lived there anymore. It was just old buildings, forgotten and faded with time.
They had heard the rumors about this place but they didn’t care. They were young. Why should they care? As they pulled into the little gravel parking lot behind the abandoned old grocery store, she looked hesitantly, however, around in the dark. He turned down the music. She looked off to the north past the road to the crest of the hill where the ruins of the old church sat solitary and still in the dim moonlight. She looked again at the dark around them and she shivered a little.
“We might want to hurry.” she said with a twinge of uncertainty. With the music turned off, she listened for any small noises around the vehicle. It was hard to see much past 30 or 40 feet to her right. Everything was so dark over there, pitch black almost. The beams of the headlights shone on the exterior back of the old store. Once again, she looked at the church. It was the 7th gateway to hell…that’s what the locals said it was. It was a secret portal according to the rumors. Supposedly, if you threw a bottle against the wall of the church, it would not break. The devil’s portal…Just an urban legend she thought to herself.
He got out of the jeep and rummaged among their bags in the back looking for his cell phone.
“I know I left it in here,” he said as he dug through a camo green backpack. He found it and returned to the driver seat.
“Maybe we should put the hard top up,” he said to her.
She just shrugged, hugging herself a little. “I’d rather not do it here.” She smiled feebly. “Perhaps down the road a bit.”
He smiled at her then and nodded towards the old church. “Nervous?” he asked with a slight smile.
She didn’t say anything. Just shrugged.
“Relax, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a dumb story. Nobody even goes up there anymore. It is fenced off.” He grabbed her chin and tugged her head slightly to the left. He grinned at her. “Calm down.”
She smiled bigger this time and leaned in to kiss him. She closed her eyes as she felt his warm lips on hers. He cupped her face in his gentle hands. She placed her hand on his waist and he pulled her in deeper. They pulled away for just a moment, enough for her to lean her forehead against his and say softly, “I had fun last night.”
He grinned. “I did too.”
They embraced again. This time with more youthful urgency and passion. Eventually, he pulled reluctantly away and grinned. He licked his lip slightly and took her hand in his. He said, “We need to get back.”
She just watched him in the darkness. She loved him. She knew it.
He turned to start the ignition of the Jeep. She looked forward to the hill once more. She shuddered. As the engine started up and her boyfriend shifted gears, she looked casually to the right.
That’s when she saw it…in the darkness beyond. It was there maybe not twenty feet from the car. In the darkness she saw the slight red light. It was very small. Silently, it was there…suspended in air. She blinked. She looked closer. It was still there. She knew instantly what it was. She watched it more intently. She kept watching. She was staring now without blinking and she felt a sudden fear. And then… it moved. The light moved with intention, as if making its presence known only to her. It was just a slight movement but just enough to let her know, they were not alone.
A cigarette. It was the light from a cigarette. Someone was watching, had been watching them silently in the dark distance as they kissed. Someone was standing right there.
Her eyes flickered swiftly to the church and then back to that same spot. The cigarette light was now gone.
Her boyfriend pulled the jeep out of the gravel parking lot and back onto the main road. She watched that spot, the spot where the cigarette light emanated briefly. She watched for it as long as she could until Stull and its eerie presence faded into the dark distance behind them.
As the jeep disappeared into the east, the stranger stepped out of the shadows and onto the moonlit road. He watched the jeep curiously, studied the license plate numbers, and dropped the dead cigarette butt onto the concrete beside him. The others were nearby too. He could sense them behind him. They could not be seen but they could be felt.
He continued to watch the vehicle. His eyes gleamed ever so slightly.
He had wanted her to see him there in the dark. There was something different about this one. Perhaps it was her scent as he stood invisible and next to her door when they first entered the parking lot. She didn’t notice him there. They never did….until, it was too late of course. And yet, she turned her head suddenly towards him as if she sensed him. He looked right into her light brown eyes as she spanned the darkness with caution. She looked through him but she seemed aware of him oddly. She looked frightened…vulnerable. He watched her eyes. He smirked and he pulled back, motioned to the others to wait, and they watched deliberately.
When she saw the cigarette, he had expected her to show fright. He would have delighted in a scream, in fact, as he cued the others to pounce, to rip her apart. But she didn’t react…not at all. She silently studied him even when he moved the cigarette intentionally.
Smart girl he thought to himself.
The others were waiting behind him in the shadows. The jeep was now gone. No one traveled the dark road. No one at all. All was silent in the moonlight. He remembered the license plate numbers and he figured he would pay them a visit perhaps very soon. Then, he walked back into the shadows whistling.
J. Speer grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and is familiar with the Stull Church legend. She was later stationed at Germany and Virginia while working for the military. She now resides in Pittsburg, Kansas and works in photography/art framing. She has 4 books on Amazon and writes a blog at www.jspeerwritings.com.