Ricky stood under the light, biting his lip. “Maybe this ain’t such a good idea, after all.”
“What are you saying?”
“Well, whoever owns this place might not like us helping ourselves to his gasoline.”
“Do you see anyone around to ask?” Eli ground his teeth for a moment. Then he strode over to his cousin and got up in his face. “Tell you what. While I’m working on this, why don’t you go on up to the house, and see if you can find someone?”
Ricky paled under his freckles. “B–but, what’ll I do if they come to the door with a gun?”
“If that happens, you better talk real quick.” Eli bent down to dig through an old wooden crate underneath the tractor, ignoring Ricky while he slowly shuffled toward the house. He knew his cousin was scared. But it serves him right. I don’t like this place, either, but it’s his fault we’re here. We should have stayed in the truck. He rubbed his sweaty hands down his jeans.
At the bottom of the crate, Eli’s fingers closed around a length of rubber tubing. If it wasn’t rotten, it might work. Next to it, he found a gallon jug. After shoving one end of the tubing inside the tank and priming it, he waited as long as he could before he jerked it out of his mouth, allowing the gas to spill into the container.
While he was praying there’d be enough gas in the tractor to get them home, Ricky had reached the bottom of the tilting porch. He ran a hand over the top of his head, and back again, before he climbed steps and tapped on the door.
“Hello? Is anybody home?” He sounded like a nervous door to door salesman, reluctant to give up his last chance of the day to make a sale. Silence. He cleared his throat and knocked again, a little louder.
“My cousin and I ran out of gas down the road.” He waited for an answer, but none came. “We just wanted to see if we could get some from your tractor.” Ricky looked back towards Eli and shrugged before he reached for the handle on the tattered screen door and edged inside. “We’ll pay for it, honest. We just need enough to get back to the highway. We–” Ricky’s voice stopped mid-sentence. It went up an octave, ending in a squeak that sounded like a rusty hinge.
What’s he up to now? Eli could barely make out the other boy on the porch, standing as still as a statue. “I’ve had just about enough of you. If you’re trying to be funny, you’re not even close.”
The stream of gas had slowed to a trickle, so Eli yanked the tubing loose. When he held the jug up to the light, he could see it was half full. He capped it and stomped over to the porch with serious thoughts of wringing Ricky’s neck, but when he got close enough to see his cousin’s fear, he forgot his anger and threw open the door with such force it almost came off its hinges, and crossed the threshold. “What’s the matter with you?”
The smell of decay was even more intense than it had been by the barn. Ricky raised his hand and pointed, his gaze riveted on something on the other side of the porch. Eli blinked. His eyes slowly adjusted, and he realized they weren’t alone. A figure sat motionless in the dark. Eli saw a small, glowing dot hovering in the air. Whoever it is must have been sitting here all along, watching everything we’ve been doing since we walked up.
Without speaking, the figure raised the cigarette to invisible lips, inhaled and exhaled acrid smoke. Eli’s eyes watered.
Why doesn’t he say something? His heart hammered in his chest, but everything else was silent. Even the wind had stopped. In the back of his mind, he pictured himself running in place, like some cartoon character. He wanted to move, but he couldn’t make his legs work.
Beside him, the other boy made a strangled noise and grabbed his arm in a vise-like grip. “Eli, I-is someone sitting over there in a rocking chair? Tell me I’m just seeing things. Please.”
The figure began to move wildly back and forth. The rocker slammed against the floor with loud, explosive thuds and so violently, Eli was sure it would overturn. Then, it stopped.
Ricky’s grip tightened and pain shot up Eli’s arm. The cigarette flew off the porch in a shower of sparks. The figure turned to look at them with glowing eyes and stood until it towered over both the boys.
It was the catalyst both boys needed. They burst through the door at the same time, leapt off the steps and fled down the road over the cattle guard and past the mailbox. They ran until they were out of breath and stumbling, not stopping until they reached the truck.
Once there, they leaned against the tailgate, gasping for breath. Eli looked down at the container he still carried. With shaking hands, he took it over to the gas tank, and emptied nearly all its contents.
“Get in the truck,” he ordered. He raised the hood, and poured the rest in the carburetor, just like Grandpa had taught him. Then he slid behind the wheel, pumped the gas pedal to prime it, and turned the ignition. Nothing happened.
“Please, God,” he prayed. He tried again. The old truck coughed and spluttered, but the engine turned over. He put the truck in gear, made a u-turn and headed the other way as fast as he could.
When they passed the dirt road leading to the farmhouse, he half-expected to see a mad man standing in the middle of the road with a gun, but no one was there. In fact, he almost missed it, because it was so dark. No security light burned through the trees to beckon them.
“Eli,” Ricky finally managed to croak. “What was that?” Not bothering to answer, he ground the gears, shifted, and sped up. They made it back to the highway before the truck ran out of gas again, and before long someone happened by with enough extra gas to get them home.
Grandpa met them at the door.
“It’s my fault, Uncle Sam,” Ricky blurted before Eli had a chance to speak. “It was my idea to go see Lost Souls. Eli didn’t want to go. I talked him into it, and we ran out of gas.”
“You boys are lucky you aren’t still sitting out there. There’s nothing out that road. How’d you get back?”
“I made Eli leave the truck and walk down to the farmhouse just off the road to see if we could use their phone.”
“That can’t be,” Sam Jenkins said. “No one lives in that house, not since…”
“We saw someone, Grandpa,” Eli interrupted. “He was sitting on the porch, smoking.”
“Impossible. No one’s lived there for a long time. People say it’s haunted, but people talk like that because of what happened.”
“What did happen, Uncle Sam?”
“Years ago, a family by the name of Cain lived at the farm. They didn’t have much to do with anyone, just kept to themselves. Mr. Cain came to town for supplies one day, and when someone asked about his family, he said they were all bad sick.”
“So, some of the ladies from town took a notion to help. They carried food out to the farm, only Mr. Cain would have nothing to do with them. Not willing to accept defeat, they came back with the sheriff to persuade him to accept their Christian charity.” Grandpa shook his head. “He finally gave in.”
“When the ladies stepped inside the door, they smelled something dreadful. They all came back outside with their lace handkerchiefs covering their noses, and told the sheriff something must be terribly wrong. When he searched the house, he found Mr. Cain’s wife and children in their beds, and they’d been dead for a long time.
Mr. Cain was a preacher at Lost Souls church, and he believed in faith healing. He had let his family suffer, certain he could pray over them and make them well. Didn’t really matter what he believed. In the end, he killed them just the same. Not long after, a passerby found him sitting on the porch in his rocking chair, dead. No telling how long he’d been there.”
Later Eli lay in bed, thinking about what happened. No matter what Grandpa said, they’d seen someone, and Eli knew it was the preacher. It could be he lingered, hoping his family would join him. Or, maybe he wanted their forgiveness for what he’d done. But, Eli was sure of one thing. After all these years, Mr. Cain was still sitting in his rocking chair on the porch, waiting.
Everyone have a scary, spooky, creepy Halloween and above all, make sure it’s perfectly safe!