Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
In my restless dreams, I see it: Milford, Georgia. Oh, Milford: it was a small community home to numerous auto industries. But in 1963, this small, peaceful town was also home to two fearsome gangs. I should know: I was part of one of them. My name is Jack L. Camino. My buddies, Johnny Edsel, Gary Olds, and I were members of the Thunderbirds; we controlled the South-side of town closest to the industrial park. Our rivals were the Firebirds; they took the North-side of town near the woods. Our gangs met often, especially at the malt shop in town, and we always got into fights. Most of the time, the Thunderbirds came out victorious. I think that was because of Johnny. Johnny always had our backs and was the toughest S.O.B. I ever knew and no one ever got seriously hurt aside from the usual scrapes and bruises. So when we got into a scrap, I knew that things would always turn out alright…that was until the day we took things too far.
It was late October. Firebirds leader, Ricky Desoto, decided it was time to put an end to our little rivalry. So he called for the mother of all fights: an all-out rumble at the old drainage tunnel in the woods. Personally, I wasn’t too hot on the idea, but Johnny had already agreed to Desoto’s terms. So, I knew it was too late to back out now. On the night before Halloween, we met at the tunnel.
God, I still remember that awful smell. The waste of everyone in Milford all ended up there. Johnny, Gary, and I didn’t know what to expect. We slowly crept through the tunnel; it was nearly pitch-black, illuminated only by the bright moonlight from the night sky. After about five minutes, we saw a bright light in the distance. It was a burning steel barrel…and standing next to it were the Firebirds. Along with Desoto were Eddie Camaro and Jimmy Studebaker. It was our immediate realization that something wasn’t right. Desoto and Johnny had agreed to no weapons. But Studebaker had a length of chain and Camaro had a lead pipe. Desoto appeared unarmed, but we knew he always carried a switchblade in his denim jacket. After a short cordial greeting, the Firebirds charged at us. With nothing to defend ourselves, I quickly scanned around and found an empty beer bottle. I busted the end off against the wall of the tunnel. Then Gary remembered his slingshot he’d been carrying in his back pocket; he used it to plink squirrels with for kicks. He found some rocks and began pelting the Firebirds. Camaro took a rock to the head and fell to the ground unconscious, his head bleeding from the impact. Johnny picked up his pipe just as Desoto rushed him. Suddenly, in the midst of the struggle, Desoto whipped out his switchblade and flicked open the blade; it was a spine-chilling sound you never wanted to hear, especially in a fight because you knew what would come next. The next thing Johnny knew, Desoto had stabbed him in the side. I immediately rushed to his side. He was hurting, but alive. In a fit of rage, I grabbed the bloody blade out of Johnny and charged at Studebaker. I was like a wild predator, with the single desire for blood. I slashed him across his chest and then stabbed him in the stomach. Studebaker slumped to his knees, weak from the blood loss. Before I fully realized what I had just done, Studebaker was dead. As I stood over his body, breathing heavily, I soon realized the fighting had stopped. Johnny, Gary, and Desoto seemed just as shocked as me. I was shaking, my face white as a ghost. But before anyone could say anything, we heard the distinct sound of a police siren.
It was the fuzz; someone in the area must have reported the noise coming from the tunnel. Immediately, Gary and I grabbed Johnny and we started towards the other end of the tunnel. We turned at and saw Desoto kneeling beside his fallen comrade. We started to holler out to him to split, but before we could, we saw a bright light coming towards us along with shouting; the sheriff’s deputies were closing in. We decided to bail out and leave our rivals out to dry. Somehow we escaped unseen. Once we got back into town, we took Johnny to the nearby hospital. We lied and told them we were mugged. The doctors didn’t seem too suspicious, so they took Johnny into the emergency room. The doctor said that Johnny would be fine, but he needed to stay overnight. So Gary and I left. Once we got back to our neighborhood, Gary and I parted ways and returned to our homes.
When I got back, my folks were watching the news. My heart froze as I saw the image of Jimmy Studebaker. The sheriff had Desoto and Camaro in custody, charged with the murder of Studebaker. When they found Desoto’s knife in Studebaker’s body, I knew Desoto was up the creek. I didn’t say much to my folks about what I did that night and went to bed haunted about what happened. I had never killed anyone before; but on the other hand, no one knew it was me besides Gary, Johnny, and Desoto. Camaro couldn’t remember anything thanks to that bump to his head; and Desoto was catatonic about what happened. So, it seemed my secret was safe…or so i thought.
The next morning, I was jolted awake by the phone. I dashed to answer it before my folks could. I picked it up and Gary was on the other end. He said that he wouldn’t say anything to anyone about the night before and neither would Johnny. Gary then told me to go meet him at the hospital to pick up Johnny. When we got to the hospital there were sheriff cars all around. Nervously, we continued inside and were greeted with a gruesome sight. There was blood all around the ER and a coroner was bringing out a body covered with a blanket to take to the morgue. When Gary asked who the victim was, our hearts sank like a pile of stones when we heard the coroner say: “Johnny Edsel”. The sheriff at the scene said that someone had snuck into the ER the night before and murdered Johnny in his hospital bed. The deputies said that they couldn’t find who did this. No one saw the killer come in or out and no evidence was found at the scene. They said it was if a ghost had killed Johnny. The only clue they had was a message written in blood on the wall in Johnny’s room that read: “IT’S NOT OVER YET.” Realizing who we were, the sheriff questioned Gary and I briefly but soon let us go on our way. As we left the hospital, we knew something was wrong. Desoto was still incarcerated so he couldn’t be the killer.
We continued to walk along and decided to grab a bite to eat at the local diner while we gathered our thoughts. As we were finishing up our lunch, Gary and I saw about four sheriff cars zoom past the diner. Leaving money on table for the bill, we immediately ran out to see what the commotion was about. The cars were heading to the North-side of town; Gary and I decided to see what the commotion was about. We got on our bikes and followed the cars to the other side of town near the woods. The area was mostly farmland that ran near a creek. We found several cars parked around the old mill near the creek. We quietly crept closer to get a better look, making sure to keep ourselves hidden. There were a bunch of sheriff’s deputies carrying out a dead body. We soon realized that it was Camaro. Apparently, Camaro was traumatized by the whole ordeal and hung himself from the rafters of the mill. There was another bloody message scribbled on the side of the mill that read: “YOU’RE NEXT!” Gary and I soon fled the scene unnoticed. We decided to go home, so I let Gary go on his way.
Later that night was Halloween. The little kids were out trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. I was at home listening to The Wanderer by Dion on the radio. Suddenly, my rock n’ roll was interrupted by an urgent bulletin: Ricky Desoto had escaped from prison! I immediately called up Gary and told him what happened. We soon realize that Desoto must’ve been behind the killings, a bloody act of revenge. We decided to put a stop to the horror at the source: the old tunnel.
Gary and I armed ourselves and met up outside the woods. Gary had a lug wrench and I had my baseball bat. We slowly approached the tunnel, stepping lightly with the chilling prospect of coming back so soon. As we walked into the tunnel we heard a voice call out: “That’s far enough, boys!” We stopped dead in our tracks and slowly turned around to see Desoto holding a .45 Colt in his hand pointed right at us. We braced ourselves and told Desoto that we knew it was him who killed Johnny and wrote the messages. With a snicker, Desoto replied: “Very clever, boys. But there’s more to the story than you think. We’ve been waiting for this moment for some time now.” “We?”, Gary replied.
Before we could say anything, Desoto was stabbed in the back. He fell to the ground, and standing behind him was none other than Jimmy Studebaker! Studebaker looked absolutely horrifying. His face was putrid and decaying. His shirt and jeans were tattered, and he just looked bloody and ghoulish. Writhing in agony, Desoto struggled to speak: “J-jimmy…w-why?” With a toothy grin and bloody switchblade in hand, the zombified Studebaker replied: “Sorry, Ricky. But you’ve outlived your usefulness.” He then proceeded to stab Desoto in the head, killing him instantly. Suddenly, it all became clear to Gary and me: the killings, the messages, the death of Camaro, the words the sheriff said at the hospital; the killer was Studebaker the whole time!
He had helped Desoto escape from prison to help him get revenge on us. After disposing of Desoto, he quickly turned his attention on us. Gary and I ran at him with our melee weapons, but Studebaker grabbed them out of our hands. He broke my bat and bent Gary’s lug wrench. The ghoulish Studebaker then lunged at me and I closed my eyes in horror. But then I was jolted awake by six gunshots. I looked to see that Gary had grabbed Desoto’s gun and shot Studebaker. Studebaker fell over in front of me. Gary knelt down to see if Studebaker was dead. Suddenly, Studebaker jolted up and stabbed Gary in the neck with his knife. I ran to Gary’s side; I’ll never forget the words he said with dying last breath: “Run Jack, r-run…” Gary breathed his last and Studebaker trudged towards me like a B-movie monster.
I ran for dear life out the other end of the tunnel. Studebaker chased me all the way out of the woods to the gas tankers in a nearby field. Suddenly, Studebaker appeared in front of me, causing me to fall to the ground. He slowly approached; it seemed like curtains for me. Suddenly, I spotted an abandoned kerosene lantern sitting on a tree stump. Thinking quickly, I grabbed it and hurled it at Studebaker. The next thing I knew, Studebaker was a writhing ball of fire. He shambled towards the gas tankers in agony as I darted away like a bat outta hell. I took cover behind an embankment just as the tankers exploded; I swear it was like a front-row seat to an A-bomb test. When the smoke and fire cleared, I peeked out from the embankment to see the entire field charred black and no sign of Studebaker or the tankers anywhere! It seemed that Studebaker had finally been taken to another place in a puff of smoke. Slightly singed but triumphant, I quietly staggered back into town. I never told anyone about what happened…well, until now, of course.
It’s been about twenty years now. To this day, I am still haunted by that night in ’63. I have since moved away from Milford and got a foreman job at the General Motors factory in Canton. As far as I know, the woods are long gone, replaced by reasonably-affordable suburban housing. Yet despite the changes made, the old drain tunnel still remains, sealed off separated from the subdivision by a chain-link fence and a KEEP OUT sign (yeah, like that’ll ever stop someone). No one ever went near that tunnel again. It stands as a crypt, filled with dead memories from the past best left forgotten. Yet as I learned with Studebaker…
Some Memories Never Truly Die…
Credit : J. Nilmot
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