Authors: Tamara Thorne
The sun shot hot needles of light through John's closed
eyelids. Groaning, he turned his face away, felt something moist
and cold against his hot cheek. He lay still, eyes closed, head
pounding, unable to think, unable to move, not knowing or
caring where he was.
Slowly, his senses began to awaken. First, there was the
smell of the moss pillowing his cheek, the rich odor of damp
earth, the tang of the pine forest. Wood
smoke wafted on a
gentle breeze, and on that same breeze, a fine spray of cool
mist washed over his face. All-encompassing thunder filled his
ears; the roar of water.
He groaned softly, clearing his throat, tasting
bile and dust. His stomach rose into his throat, then subsided.
What am I doing here?
The thought came sluggishly, as if his
brain had been turned off and rusty gears were struggling to
again. It felt a little like the time he'd taken one of the
Valiums that Beano had pinched from his father's pharmacy,
but much, much worse.
Memories surfaced of riding along Apple Hill Road,
he and the guys. Leaving toilet paper at the statue, then riding
in the dark and wondering if spirits might really walk on Halloween
"Beano?" he croaked, slitting his eyes against the bright
His eyes registered Witch Falls twenty yards away, but his
brain took forever to process the information.
What am I doing
Birds sang in the trees.
The whippoorwill call!
"Greg!" Suddenly remembering his brother, he pushed himself
up on his elbows. "Greg!" he cried again, now seeing
other boys sleeping nearby. Beano's husky body was curled
into a ball; Paul lay on his stomach, his glasses gone. Farther
away, he recognized
by his red windbreaker and Doug
by his army jacket and his godawful snore, audible even above
the crash of the Falls.
"Greg!" Head pounding, John pushed himself to his feet,
his legs as shaky as a newborn fawn's. After a moment, he
over to Beano. "Franklin! Wake
up." He poked him in the ribs with the toe of his sneaker and
John walked unsteadily around the clearing, checking the
others, poking them, calling for Greg at the same time. The
meadow was small and serene, with wildflowers and grasses
growing around old pine s
ps, trees cut down for some cabin
that was probably long gone by now. John and the others came
here often in the summer, just as their parents had before them.
His dad called the area "the Mezzanine" because it edged the
Falls, which rose another twenty feet above them and dropped
nearly as far down into a deep, clear pool that eventually fed
Apple and Moonfall Creeks. The Mezzanine was a natural
diving board, a place John loved.
He walked away from the Falls now, though, calling Greg's
name, his mind clearing as the headache began to let up. Last
night, they'd ... they'd what? Planned to t.p. the statue, and
what else? To come here?
That seemed right.
Approaching the path that led out of the clearing, he saw a
flash of red among the trees. ''Greg?" He trotted into the
shadows. ''Greg?" The bikes were parked under one of the
trees, just like they'd left them last night.
Greg stayed with the bikes.
"Come on. Greg, this isn't
''God, my head's killing me."
John jumped at the sound of Beano's voice behind him. "It'll
clear," he said, turning to his friend. "Listen, have you seen
"Shit, no. What happened?"
''Yeah. What happened?" Doug Buckman joined them.
his temples. "Christ, my mouth tastes like I was sucking
on dog turds."
"I can't find Greg. He was supposed to stay here with the
He saw momentary confusion in both boys' eyes. Then Beano
nodded hesitantly. "Maybe the little booger ran off."
"No, his bike's here." John squinted into the forest, then
turned to his friends. "Do you remember coming here last
"Yeah." Beano scratched his lank hair, dislodging a yellow
oak leaf. "I mean, I guess so."
''The bikes are where we left 'em," Doug said.
''We came to camp out, remember?" Beano said slowly.
"So what'd you do, Franklin?" Doug asked. "Drug the
food? I can't remember shit."
"Guys," said John, putting his hands up. "Knock it off. We
gotta find Greg."
"Probably, he went home," Doug said. "Remember, you
told him to go home if we didn't come back?"
"Come back?" Beano asked. "We were camping out. Why
would we tell him that?"
"He was supposed to guard the bikes," John said slowly.
He could barely see into the fog blotting his memory. "I guess
we didn't want him to bug us, so we left him here for a while.
Maybe we fell asleep and he left. I remember ... I remember
I asked him if he'd left his window open so he could sneak
back in the house, and he said yes."
Doug's brown eyes lit up. "St. Gruesome's! Shit, guys, we
were going to go to St. Gruesome's and see the girls. Like your
brother used to, Beano."
," Beano said. "He made all that stuff up."
Addams asked, as he s
bled into the
Beano actually blushed. "He wrote me from college and
said it was all a fake. He said we shouldn't go out there, that
there was nothing to see."
Doug grabbed Beano's sleeve and yanked him closer. "You
"Hell, no. Brian did. He said so in his letter."
"You didn't tell us!" Doug growled. "You let us go out
and ... " Looking lost, he let go of Beano.
"I think maybe we
about going to St. G's," John said
slowly. "But we decided to camp out instead."
agreed. "Man, I feel like shit."
Behind Beano, Winky, and Doug, Paul Pricket got to his fee
and paused, feeling for his missing glasses. Seeing John, Paul
raised his hand in a just-a-minute gesture, then walked cautiously
toward the cliffside-Paul couldn't even read the big
E on the eye chart without his specs. John watched curiously,
then realized by Paul's arm movements that he was unzipping
his fly. He turned his attention back to the other three, who
were still arguing.
"Guys," he began, "we gotta find Greg-" As he spoke,
he glanced up at Paul again, and even from this distance, he
could see the boy's back stiffen. Elbows moved slightly
the weasel away
and then Pricket just stood there,
"Paul!" John yelled.
The other three turned to look.
Paul didn't answer, didn't move.
"Paul!" John was running, running, and the little meadow
seemed to go on forever before he reached him. "Paul?''
Paul turned then, his face pale and strange. He stared at John
with fathomless eyes.
"What's wrong?" John asked, as the other three arrived, and
suddenly he knew. As the pit of his stomach filled with cold
sludge, he stepped closer to the edge of the cliff.
"No." Paul grabbed his arm, tried to pull him back. "No,
John, don't look."
He barely heard him. Shaking Paul off, he took the final step
and looked over the edge. Below, Greg floated, face down, just
below the surface of the pool, his red windbreaker puffing out
of the water. "No," John whispered, as he felt the others
gathering around him, staring down.
he screamed. Without thinking, he bent and dived.
The fall went on forever, then he broke the water. Ice cold,
impossibly cold, it seized his body, crushed his chest.
He pushed to the surface, saw Greg floating three feet away.
"Greg!" he gasped, and with one powerful kick, moved
close enough to grab his brother.
He turned the boy
in his arms, saw the open eyes, dull with death, the raw flesh
and mashed cheek and jaw bones, and wanted to die himself.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Is he okay?" Doug called from above.
John looked up at the four pale faces lining the cliff. His
voice deserted him, but he was dimly aware of the heat of the
tears coursing down his cheeks. He looked at his brother again.
The water's so cold, sometimes people come back to life after
being in cold water
''Is he alive?" Beano called.
John didn't answer, just held onto Greg and swam for the
water's edge, to where a steep trail led to the top of the ridge.
The air felt warm as he climbed out of the chill water. Turning,
he grabbed his brother under the arms and pulled him out.
Greg was stiff and John knew then he wouldn't be coming
back; all the CPR in the world wouldn't do it. Dimly he felt
tears coursing down his cheeks, but his emotions were dead as
he grimly pulled the little body-so much heavier in death
than in life-up the path.
''Here, John." He looked around, saw Paul squatting on a
rock just above him. Beyond, the others were strung out up
the trail, waiting to help. "Here," Paul said quietly. "Hand
him to me."
"No, it's okay. I can do it."
"It's too steep," Paul insisted. "You can't do it by yourself.
Hand him up."
"He's dead." John's emotions, so ordinary a moment ago,
nearly choked him now.
"I know. Let us help you."
With that, Paul reached down, and somehow, with those
skinny little arms, pulled Greg up to the rock, then turned
toward Doug, who reached down from his perch and took the
body. John watched it all, until, waiting on the cliff's edge,
Beano Franklin pulled the body up and out of sight
"John?" Paul Pricket, his eyes dark, agonized, watched him.
''Take my hand, John."
Dumbly he stared at Paul's fingers. Greg was dead, and it
was all his fault.
Unthinking, be grabbed Paul's hand and hoisted himself up,
then waited while Paul climbed the rest of the way. He stood
on the rock, unwilling or unable to move, and after a moment,
he looked toward the waterfall.
Far above, on the bridge over the top of the Falls, he saw
the old witch, Minerva Payne, looking down at him, her gaze
inscrutable. He looked away and began climbing. When he
reached the ridge, she was gone.
"Who found her?"
Sheriff John Lawson swallowed hard and forced himself to
look over the edge of the cliff. "Anonymous caller. Female.
Scotty didn't recognize the voice. So, do you think it's a suicide?"
"Can't say yet." Frank Cutter, Moonfall's physician and
coroner, scratched his round jowls thoughtfully. ''But I
wouldn't be surprised. Wouldn't be surprised if it's foul play,
either. You okay?"
John could feel the doctor's eyes on him. "Yeah." Standing
on the cliff at the rim of the Mezzanine at Witch Falls, staring
down at the pond, at his deputy taking photos of the woman's
body floating just below the water's surface, was almost more
than he could bear. It reminded him too much of that terrible
day over twenty years ago, when Greg . . .
God I hate this
Until now, he'd returned only three times since the accident:
once on the one-year anniversary of Greg's death, again after
Doug Buckman committed suicide here at age sixteen, and
finally, six years ago, as a deputy investigating the death of a
John Doe. Each time, it was more difficult and he wondered
what he had ever seen in this place. "I'm fine," he said at last,
not looking at Cutter, noticing instead the early morning dew,
already drying under the rising August sun.
At the sound of his deputy's voice, John glanced down.
Scotty Carroll was putting the lens
cap on his camera as two
EMTs waded into the red-tinged pool and began maneuvering
the body into a stretcher basket they would use to haul up the
corpse. As he watched, Scotty began climbing back up the same
trail John had traveled so long ago. A moment later he arrived
topside, wet to the waist and shivering despite the fact that it
was already warm out. The water was always chill.
"Her wrists are slit." Scotty's face was pale. This was his
first dead body.
John nodded. ''Go on back and get changed, then take care
of the film."
The young man nodded gratefully and walked off, keeping
to the edges of the clearing to try to avoid damaging any
evidence that might still be waiting.
"Suicide, then," John said to Cutter.
"I'll tell you after the autopsy." He eyed the sheriff. "It's
not like you to make snap judgments, John."
Morning sunlight streamed through the pines, highlighted
the flowers, and glinted off the waterfall. The air smelled fresh
and warm, fragrant with the forest and the cold scent of water.
The Mezzanine was a beautiful meadow, but he hated it with
all his heart. He feared it. "I'm not judging, Frank. I'm hoping."
"John, you've got to let it go someday."
His eyes burned. He couldn't look at Cutter. "I know." He
shielded his eyes against the sun and stared up at the top of
Witch Falls, half-expecting to see Minerva Payne, the old witch,