A SUNLESS PLACE

by anita marie moscoso

Inspired by the Soul Food Cafe Writing Prompt:

“Divining Rods”

102930177fpdvoi_fs.jpg  I know very well that many scientists consider dowsing as a type of ancient superstition. According to my conviction this is, however, unjustified. The dowsing rod is a simple instrument which shows the reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time.

– Albert Einstein

Simon Ledbetter is driving towards a town that’s not suppose to exist, and next to him in a canvas bag is a book that shouldn’t exist, and ahead of him is a single road cut into a hillside that leads to a town called Fallen.

If you grew up Killham, like Simon did, and you misbehaved in School or at home someone would threaten to take you up to Fallen where they would ‘lock you up and throw away the key’.

Fallen was infamous for one thing; it’s prison.

Fallen’s prison was always full and the lights from the barred windows burned night and day and no matter where you stood in the woods that surrounded Fallen Penitentiary you could hear the prisoners yelling and shouting, sometimes you could hear shots and sometimes you’d see the black hearse that came up from Leaning Birches to collect the executed prisoners driving slow and easy down the Main Street in Killham.

The windows of the Black Hearse weren’t tinted so you could see the driver if you wanted and you could see the pine coffin in the back of the hearse too.

Only nobody in Killham ever looked- which was funny because Killham was full of people who’d slow down traffic on a freeway just to openly gawk at the mangled wreckage of a car at the side of the road after an accident, and there was a lot of people in Killham who watched hockey just to see if blood really bounced on the ice.

But none of them would look at the Black Car as it crawled down Main Street and up towards Fallen.

What if it saw you, the Residents of Killham ondered, what would happen then?

It was better to look away and they did…they all did.

All except for Simon.

When he was eight he got his Grandfather to talk about Fallen, and his Grandfather told long involved stories like the one about the tongue-less men who brought the building supplies up on the train that came by Killham every night at Midnight and he told Simon about the dark women with the giant gray Mastiffs who stood at the side of the road with shot guns at their shoulders and how you never saw those women or their dogs leave or arrive Fallen.

” It got easier to see them the darker it got. And when the Sun came up, it was like they just faded away like Shadows. Those Women scared me more then anything else up there…it was the way they looked at you. “

” How’s that Grandpa? ” Simon asked.

” They could see you, even when their eyes were closed…no matter where you hid or how dark it was, they could see you.”

Mr Barker, the town’s Librarian once told Simon that the man who drove the Hearse looked a lot like a man who use to live in Killham and that his name was Undercroft.

” He use to own the Pharmacy and one day all of these kids who use to buy penny candies from his Soda Fountain died. Sixteen kids in all. They said Undercroft candied black nightshade berries himself out in his lab and sold them over the next two or three days. “

” The town’s been dieing since then you know.”

Simon knew no such thing, Simon thought Killham was small and boring and why would anyone live here on purpose just nodded.

Over the years Simon saved up stories about Fallen for no reason other then he was afraid of it and it seemed best to always know where it was and what it was doing.

Simon knew Fallen better then the floor plans for his own house, he understood it’s construction, he knew the names of the people who worked there and even some of the names of the people who were buried there.

He could close his eyes and see the bricks and bars and hear the echoes of the prisoner’s footsteps and even hear the hallow thump of the gallows doors falling open as the hanged man (sometimes woman) dropped to their deaths.

So it came as a surprise to him when he was in Seattle over the summer, that was just after he turned 20 he learned from a woman in a bookstore that Fallen was a legend.

Not legendary…a legend.

As in Fallen didn’t exist.

That kind of legend.

Simon Ledbetter was dumbstruck.” I grew up in Killham, ” he told her ” it’s real.”

The bookseller smiled patiently and said ” I’ve met lots of people from Killham…or that said they were from Killham so I’ve heard the stories. The work crews who had their tongues cut out, the women with no eyes that guard the roads, the man who takes away the executed was suppose to have poisoned a bunch of children. Those stories are famous. But they’re just stories. Fallen isn’t real. It’s a boogeyman.”

Simon almost left without his book, he went back to the counter and told the woman with the smile, ” You’re right about one thing Ma’am, it is a boogeyman.”

Over that Summer in Seattle the more Simon thought about Fallen, the more he realized how frightened of it he really was.

He realized he had no idea where the Prisoners were from, where the guards were from, why was it that the Hearse drove through town almost every single day.

When he went home in the Fall Simon decided it would be best if he did what his friends and family had been doing for years and years.

He ignored Fallen.

And that worked for a little while.

It worked for almost two dozen years.

Then one day Simon had to drive into Seattle and on a whim decided to stop in at the little bookstore where his own tongue had been cut out (in a way) over 20 years before.

It was gone and in its place was a post office.

He stopped at the doorway and read the little bronze plaque to the left of the door and shook his head. Then he went inside and up to the counter and asked for a book of stamps.

” Wasn’t there a bookstore on this street awhile back? “

The Clerk shook her head, “Nope.”

” It would have been about twenty years ago…”

” I’ve been here for over that, ” she told Simon ” this Station has been in this building since 1904, and we’ve never had a bookstore down here. “

Simon nodded and took his stamps and then he went back to Killham and the next day he decided to drive up to Fallen.

He’s not sure what he’ll find, or who he’ll find.

He’s not sure if it’s a building or a devil or a woman with a shotgun at her shoulder just waiting for someone to cross that line she’s drawn in the dust.

But he’s not afraid of them as much as he was afraid of himself.

How could he have let a strange woman in a strange town convince him that his own world didn’t exist?

How easy it was for him to give up, to give in but today he’s changing that.

Next to Simon in a canvas bag is the book he bought in that shop all those years ago, “ Strange Tales From The Olympic Mountains “ it’s called.

He had chosen that book all of those years ago because there was a nice pen and ink drawing of a town that reminded him of Killham on the cover.

He’s never read it though; all of the pages between the covers are blank.

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