Lost Souls is the story of two boys stranded out on a lonely stretch of road in the Texas hill country on a dark October night. I wanted to write something reminiscent of the tales my sisters and cousins used to share. We’d sit under the trees in their yard at night without a light and see which of us could make up the creepiest story. It won 2nd place in the 2009 short story contest of the Northeast Texas Writers’ Organization.
Eli’s truck coughed three times, before it sputtered and died. He turned and glared at his cousin. “Damn it, Ricky. I knew we should’ve gone by the gas station before we left on this wild goose chase of yours.” He steered the truck toward the shoulder of the oil top road, letting it coast to a stop.
The chubby-faced teenager in the passenger seat screwed up his face in protest. “We can’t be out of gas. Before we left town I checked, and it showed we had more than half a tank.”
“Yeah, and when I said the gas gauge didn’t always work, you said, ‘that’s ok. It ain’t far.’ Remember?” Eli pounded the steering wheel in frustration. He should have known. With Ricky, something like this always happened.
Out past curfew, out of gas, and stuck on a deserted road. Eli didn’t even want to think about what his grandpa was going to say. He’d handed over to keys to the farm truck less than a week ago. At the time, Eli couldn’t believe his luck. Now, he couldn’t believe he’d let himself be talked into doing something so dumb.
Ricky peered out at dense woods crowding both sides of the narrow road. “I always forget how dark it gets on these back roads after the sun goes down.” Spanish moss hanging from gnarled mesquite tree branches danced in the wind, while inky, black darkness pooled beneath the trees. Thin threads of clouds moved to cover the October moon, casting eerie shadows below. “Not to mention creepy.”
“Get used to it. If someone doesn’t drive by, we could be sitting here until the sun comes up.”
“Jeez Louise, don’t blame me. I just wanted to see it for myself.”
A girl in their Senior English class had told Ricky about an abandoned church she called Lost Souls, located in an old pecan grove off an old farm to market road. Inside, inverted crosses covered the walls, animal bones littered the floor and dried blood stained the sides of the pulpit. Or, so she claimed. Ricky had talked about nothing else, until Eli finally gave in.
“Are you sure Kim wasn’t pulling your leg?” Eli asked for the third time.
“She swore it was true.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Sure she did.”
Ricky knew his cousin meant he was being gullible again. But, instead of arguing, he changed the subject. “We passed a house less than a mile back. We can use their telephone to call for help.”
“If they even have one.”
“Well, maybe they can spare some gas.”
Eli drew his eyebrows together in a frown. “Wait a minute. I don’t remember passing any house.”
“I saw a light. There’s got to be a house. C’mon. We can’t sit here all night.” The door creaked open as Ricky exited the truck.
Eli shivered even though his hands were jammed down in the pockets of his jean jacket. It’s getting cold. He listened to the wind sigh, and watched dry leaves blow across the road like an army of advancing spiders. Everything does look creepy.
The two boys headed down the road toward the light. Ricky had to jog to keep up with the taller boy, his mouth moving as fast as his legs.
“I asked Grandma about Lost Souls, and she said it’s been boarded up as long as she can remember. She told me about a crazy, old preacher who used rattlesnakes to put the fear of God into the brethren. He was a faith healer, so he thought he couldn’t be hurt. Something happened, and after a while, the congregation died out until no one was left.”
Around them, the wind made a low, keening sound even less appealing than his Ricky’s voice. His cousin grabbed his arm and pointed. “See, I told you. Look up there.”
A bright light shone through the tops of tall, ancient trees. Below, a dented mailbox marked “Cain” leaned tiredly against a fence post. A rusty cattle guard stretched between two gateposts.
Ricky finally stopped yapping, so now all Eli heard was the whine of the wind. They followed the road that curved back into the trees, walking so close their elbows almost touched.
Ahead, a frame house perched crookedly on pier and beam. Held together by little more than peeling paint and scraggly vines, it sagged beyond repair from years of neglect. Not far away, a barn listed to one side. No light burned in the house, and no animals sheltered in the barn.
“Everything looks deserted. That’s weird. Why would anyone pay to have a security light if they–”
Eli didn’t wait to hear the end of his sentence. He sprinted toward the rusty tractor parked next to the barn to see if it had any gas.
“Gawd almighty, what’s that awful smell?” His cousin’s voice ended in a high pitched whine.
Eli jumped like he was stung. “Stop bellowing, will you? I can hear you just fine.”
Ricky pulled the neck of his tee shirt up over his nose and started making gagging noises.
“I can’t breathe. It’s downright rank. Worse than the possum that crawled under Grandma’s house and croaked.”
Eli thought he was exaggerating until he took a deep breath that made his stomach roil. “Something smells like it’s been dead a long, long time.”
A sudden noise vibrated the night air. This time both boys jumped.
“What was that?” Ricky’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.
“Maybe something blew off the house.” The wind gusted and the rickety old structure creaked and groaned. “It looks like it’s about to fall down any minute.”
Ricky swallowed. “Maybe we should start walking back to town.”
“Are you crazy?” Eli had only agreed to come this far because his cousin had begged. He would much rather have stayed with the truck. Sooner or later someone was bound to drive by. He fumbled around in the dark for the gas cap and worked it loose. He caught the pungent whiff of fumes. “If we’re lucky enough we might find a hose and a container lying around, we might be able to siphon some gas out of the tractor. Don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open. Help me look.”
~to be continued~