Detective Martinez dragged on his filter-tipped cigarette, watching the fiery cherry rapidly descend to the orange paper. He heaved a deep sigh on the exhale, regretting having to work into the wee hours. The spent cigarette tumbled from his hand, landing on the wet Tarmac with a fizz.
He reached inside his raincoat and withdrew a fresh pair of surgical gloves. Snapping them onto his hands, the odour of latex billowed up.
“1.45am,” the detective said into his dictaphone, “Pinevale Road rail crossing, vehicle discovered, south side of the tracks.”
* * * * * *
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” the two brothers chanted into the bathroom mirror.
They held their breath, a pregnant pause, before finishing off the ritual, “Bloody Mary.”
The room was very dark, the only light coming from a plug’s safety bulb, just enough for the brothers to make out their faces reflected back to them. Josh, Ben’s younger brother by a clear six years, strained his eyes as he searched the mirror for Bloody Mary.
He stared at his Doppelgänger, with a morbid hope his face would change to that of a haggard crone or a bloody ghost; his heart raced.
“I thought you said something was going to happen?” Josh said pouting, turning to look at his brother.
Ben kept his eyes locked on the mirror, “It will, it will! Trust me, just keep looking.”
He gasped, Josh watched as his brother’s face contorted with terror.
Josh returned his gaze to the mirror, frantically scanning their reflections for something that would freak his brother out, then he saw it. There it was, a third face, pupil-less eyes hopelessly gazed into the abyss, wrinkled skin that appeared leathery to the touch, a mouth open in a silent moan, the scraggly straw-like black hair, the crone, Bloody Mary.
Josh drew his hands to his face in utter horror and screamed, a scream so piercing, it would have fitted the apparition more than a 13-year-old boy. The low moans of the monstrous hag cut through his shrieks, scaring him further. He felt his body numb as he panicked, tears beginning to gather in his eyes as his fright peaked.
With a click, the lights when on.
“Happy Halloween little bro!” Ben said bursting out laughing, shaking the rubber Halloween mask in his brother’s face. Josh lowered his head, his lip quivering, his reddened eyes appeared lost, his young mind trying to come to terms with the act of deception.
Ben caught the devastated look on Josh’s face and his smile disappeared, “Oh Josh, I’m sorry, I thought it was going to be a bit of fun,” he said before hugging his still shivering brother.
The door opened wide as Andy, Ben’s friend, swung into the room, holding onto the frame, “So he fell for it then?” he said grinning.
Fuck off, Ben mouthed over Josh’s shoulder.
Andy rolled his eyes and exited the room.
* * * * * *
“So they are asking me to believe that the guy just lies still for the whole movie? Doesn’t fart, cough or sneeze?” Ben said, remonstrating with the TV.
“It would have been quite a different film if he had farted!”
“Shush, this is my favorite part!”
The two of them watched intensely as Cary Elwes’ character steeled himself before savagely sawing through his own ankle.
Ben beamed, “I like this because he feels so helpless, he makes the horrifying decision to amputate his own foot, which in the end is futile. Look at the hope in his eyes,” he pointed, sitting on the edge of his chair, “Hope makes people do insane things, do you think he would do that if there was no obvious route of escape? That’s what makes it so good, and when the hope is finally taken from him, all the more enjoyable.”
He continued to smile, leaning back in his chair.
“Sometimes mate, you scare the shit out of me!” Andy replied, clearly disturbed by the conversation.
“Oh relax. Oh hey!” Ben said, seeing his brother at the bottom of the stairs looking sheepish, “Are you feeling any better now, buddy?”
He nodded slowly, that slow nod kids do when trying to recover from humiliation, any wrong words would send him running back up the stairs.
“Do you want to come and watch the rest of the film with us?”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Ben?”
“Sure it is, it’s Halloween, the parents are away, what better thing than to show an impressionable teenager some of Jigsaw’s twisted games.”
Andy shook his head, Josh sat on the floor, just feet from the TV.
“Say squirt, are you still up for going to the magic road tonight?”
He nodded again, not turning, not taking his eyes off the TV. Ben checked his watch, it was 11:15 pm, if they were to get there for midnight, they’d need to leave soon.
* * * * * *
The detective scribbled in his small notebook, raindrops painted the paper infrequently as the last of the storm clouds left the area.
“Were there any signs the driver was under the influence?”
“It was raining heavily when I got to the scene. Any possible tire tracks were already gone,” Sheriff Jones responded, standing on the side of the road, well away from the train tracks and the car.
“Any sign of a struggle?”
“No sir, it appears the car stopped with some composure.”
Martinez approached the car and reached for the handle, “It’s locked,” Jones said.
* * * * * *
The car jostled, the suspension doing its best to keep the vehicle steady on the uneven, dirt roads that led to their destination. Ben dipped the headlights as he saw lights approach from the opposite direction.
“So you looking forward to this Josh?” Andy asked, turning his head.
Josh nodded again slowly, but his mind seemed elsewhere, he stared out of the side of the car, into the darkness beyond.
“Is this really how we are going to spend our Halloween?” Andy asked Ben in a hushed tone.
“I’m sorry I have to babysit tonight, but you knew the deal before you came over. Who knows, this could be fun!”
Andy scoffed, “You know it’s an optical illusion right?”
“What? The magic road?”
“I guess some of them are, but this one is different.”
“I guarantee you, if we stop the vehicle and it moves on its own, it’s going downhill, it’s basic physics.”
“Basic physics for a real road… Not a magic road!” Ben said smiling and winking.
Taken aback, Andy enquired, “Are you winding me up? You can’t possibly believe that there’s such thing as a magic road?”
“Haven’t you heard the local legend? The one where ethereal children push a stalled car off the tracks, just in time, as an approaching train thunders past?”
“That’s what they all say; etherial children? Do you know how stupid you sound?”
“I’m just saying, them’s the stories.”
“Well then, how do you explain the number of people whose cars were not whisked away by fairy children, and get hit?”
“Whatever, what happened to them?”
“Maybe they just wanted to die, so the children didn’t save them?”
“You have clearly lost it,” Andy said while shaking his head.
“Come on, ” Ben conceded, “It’s just a bit of fun, where’s your sense of adventure? Ah! We’re almost here.”
The car came to a halt at the stop sign of the T-junction. The roads had been dead, only one car had passed them on the whole journey. The car pulled onto the tarmac of the main road, it almost sighed with relief at the smooth surface.
A railway crossing sign lit up brightly, reflecting the light from the headlamps.
“We’re here,” Ben said, slowing the car, parking directly on the tracks. He got out, the cool October air chilling his face, the beginnings of a rainstorm dotted his face, he pulled up his hood and plunged his hands into his pockets.
“Looks like it’s starting to rain,” Andy said, poking his head out of the window, “D’you mind if I stay in the car?”
“Do what you want, mate.”
Ben checked his watch, he made it five minutes before a train could arrive.
* * * * * *
The detective grunted reaching for his wallet. He rifled through the credit cards and store cards, looking for the most useless one among them; he pulled out his gym membership card, still as pristine as the day he was issued it.
“I knew this would come in handy someday, ” he joked as he poked the card through the gap of the door, fishing for the unlock mechanism.
He winced, visualizing his movements with a mental picture of the internal system.
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed. “And my wife said, ‘Why join a gym, you’ll never use it.’”
The detective opened the door, leaned in and paused, “Uh, Sheriff?”
“Did you look inside the car?”
“No, sir. Like I said, it was locked.”
“Did you shine a flashlight around it at least?”
“No?” Jones said confused.
Martinez stood upright silently shaking his head; he punched in some digits to his phone, “Fucking rural mother fuckers.”
“Excuse me?” the Sherrif said defensively.
“Hi, yes, Detective Martinez. I need a forensic team now. Yes, I know it was for an abandoned car. Twenty minutes? Thank you.”
He put away his phone and sparked another cigarette, “Fucking amateurs.”
* * * * * *
On the horizon a light flickered, a bright white light, becoming more steady as the train that it was attached to approached.
“Here we go,” Ben said, getting back in the car.
He put the key in the ignition and closed the electric windows, after withdrawing the key, he opened the door and threw the keys into the bushes behind them.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Got to make it realistic, don’t I?”
Ben released the parking brake.
“Are you fucking crazy?! Go get the keys!”
“Calm down, the train is miles away yet.”
“Train?! What fucking train?!”
“That one,” Ben said, pointing out of Andy’s window.
His jaw dropped at the sight of the bright glowing object drawing nearer, “This isn’t fucking funny man! Open the fucking doors,” he said frantically pulling on the handle that just flapped in his hands.
“No, you said it was all physics, nothing else.”
“Open the fucking door!!”
Josh began to cry, “Make them stop, make them stop!”
“Andy, calm down, you’re upsetting Josh!”
“Make them stop,” he bawled, clutching his hands to his ears.
“Make who stop?”
“Open the fucking doors!” Andy interrupted, leaning over Ben to get to the central locking. The button impotently depressed, lacking the power to activate the mechanisms.
The rain began to lash down, the storm that had been brewing had erupted.
“The voices, they sound scared.”
“What voices, I don’t hear anything?”
“You win, Ben, you fucking win. This is a magic road! Now unlock the damn doors!”
“Shut up. Josh is trying to tell me something,” he responded.
“The children’s voices.”
Ben turned around in his seat to look at his brother.
“Ha! I fucking told you, didn’t I fucking tell you!” he cried out, pushing Andy on the shoulder.
The beacon of the approaching train began to brighten the interior of the car.
“If you have a punchline to this joke, now would be a good fucking time.”
Ben laughed cupping his hands on the rain covered window, “It’s working, it’s working!”
“Make them stop!” Josh continued to lament, lying down on the seat in clear agony.
“What the hell is happening?” Andy said shocked, watching as the car began to roll off the tracks, “It’s too late, we’re not going to make it,” he said pinching his eyes shut.
The locomotive’s horn blared out, warning the car of its impending collision. Andy braced himself, imagining the car’s integrity giving up instantly on impact; at least it would be quick, he thought, before a certain calm washed over him.
“Woohoo!” Ben said with delight, “What a fucking rush.”
With trepidation Andy opened his eyes, one by one, ducking as if he was worried the sky would fall.
“You’re a fucking asshole! A fucking asshole, you realize that?”
The rain continued to lash the car.
But Ben didn’t reply, his face was that of shock, he was looking at his brother.
Andy turned to look at the subject of his friend’s terror, “Oh shit.”
* * * * * *
When the forensic team arrived, one sleep-deprived, angry man got out of the car. He retrieved his kit from the back seat. “Where do you want it, boss?”
“Look for prints on the back of the car,” Martinez replied.
“I’m not sure how successful we’ll be, it’s rained a lot,” he replied, wishing he was still in bed.
“Just do it, Dan,” the detective replied, taking out another cigarette.
“Hey, boss?” the forensic guy shouted.
“Did you find something?” he replied, walking over to the crime scene with the unlit cigarette protruding out of the side of his mouth.
“Nothing? You did say you might not see anything.”
“Some partials around the handle, but they’re too degraded. Otherwise, completely clean, no-one’s touched this tonight.”
“What’s the inside of the car look like?”
“Three bodies, all male, two in their late teens, early twenties. One around twelve, thirteen.”
They approached different sides of the car, each slipping on new latex gloves.
“Lacerations on the neck, on both bodies, looks like the main cause of death,” Dan said out loud, examining the body closest to him, while comparing identical wounds on the other.
“Bruising on the shoulders suggests they were held back, probably before their necks were sliced,” he stopped, confusion took over his face. “What the hell?”
He unclipped a small torch from his belt and shone it on the bruises, “The contusions are too small for adult hands, they appear child-like.”
They gazed at each other before turning in unison to the child in the back seat, he sat there motionless; he had bled from the ears, his eyes were shut.
“Hey kid, you there?” Martinez asked, “Yo kid? Do you think he did that?”
Inspecting the boy’s hands Dan replied, “His hands are a match, but I can’t see him overpowering both of them on his own.”
“This is fucked up,” the detective announced, standing up again to light his cigarette.
“Hang on boss… I think he’s breathing.”
“The kid, the kid!”
“Sheriff, get him out of there!” Martinez demanded, “You’ve left him in there with dead bodies, if you don’t get fired for this…” he trailed off.
The embarrassed Sheriff scuttled over to the car, opening the unlocked door.
“Hey buddy, I’m a police officer, I am here to help you. Do you know the names of your mommy and daddy?”
The child did not respond.
He spotted the blood from the little boy’s ears, “Can you hear me at all, son?”
The boy said nothing.
“Ok,” the Sheriff said, raising his voice, but trying hard not to sound threatening, “I’m going to lift you out of the car; is that alright?”
The boy remained silent.
As carefully as he could, Jones put his hands under the boy’s legs and back and gradually slid him out of the car, “It’s going to be ok, boy. What’s your name?”
But there was no response.
“I’m going to take him back to the station,” he said to Martinez, holding the child on his arms.
“First thing you’ve done right all night, Sheriff.”
The detective watched the small town Sheriff put the boy in the back of his patrol car; he turned back to Dan, who was back in the car looking over the bodies.
The rain had receded, replaced by clearing skies and ice-cold wind. He looked up at the stars, as if looking for some reason why this had happened. When he looked back down, the patrol car was disappearing into the distance.
A dance music beat erupted from Martinez’ pocket, he pulled out his phone, “What is it?”
“The boy, he’s speaking, ” the Sheriff said, “I’ll put you on speakerphone.”
“Say it again boy.”
“It was the children,” the boy said, almost in a trance, quite and faint, but loud enough for the detective to hear it over the phone.
“What was the children?” Jones asked.
“They did it.”
“Did what, kill your friends?”
The boy nodded.
“What children, son? We didn’t see any.”
“The ones that pushed the car.”
“Pushed the car off the track, were you stuck?”
The boy nodded.
He went silent.
“What did they say?” the detective pushed, consciously turning away from the road to look him in the eye.
Martinez was fixated on his phone, mouth slack with alarm.
“They said they shouldn’t have tested them. They said they needed to be punished.”
The boy began to cry.
“They told me to get out of the car, but I couldn’t, their voices hurt too much. That’s why they gave me this.”
He took a blood-stained knife from his coat.
“Boy, that’s a b-big knife, can you put it somewhere s-safe, ” the Sheriff asked, his voice breaking, “The voices, are they still there?”
The boy nodded.
Sweat gathered on the Sheriff’s brow, a cold sweat that numbed his skin.
“What are they saying?”
Tears rolled down his cheeks, “I don’t want to tell you.”
“You’re safe now, son, you can tell me.”
The boy looked away timidly, “They are talking about you.”
Jones gripped the steering wheel tightly, looked dead ahead, only taking his eyes off the road to look at the child in his rear-view mirror, nervously he asked, “Wha-at are they saying about m-m-me?”
“They say you should have taken me out of the car earlier, they say that no child should see that, they say you need to be punished.”
Martinez couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “Sheriff Jones, stop the car, stop the fucking car!”
But he did not listen, “Don’t say things like that, son, that’s not nice.”
The detective listened to the phone, watching the tail-lights of the police car almost disappear out of view.
“They have a message for you,” the boy said.
“Wha-at’s the m-m-message?” the Sheriff said with a wobble in his voice.
The sounds of gurgling and spluttering were sent through the phone-line as the detective watched the patrol car swerve off the road.
The line went silent, “Sheriff? Sheriff?” Martinez shouted down the phone.
But he could hear were the sounds of children laughing.
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