THE WAY TO STONEY HAVEN
By Paul Finnigan
“Remember, it only plays the one night!”
Andy Wakelin’s voice sounded almost bitter as he and Gil Brebner, still sporting the wet look, emerged from the men's locker room following basketball practice. Besides being close teammates the two athletic teenagers had been best buddies since grade school.
Forever Dead, the biggest horror movie of the year was being featured Saturday night at The By-Way Drive-In which was located in the countryside just outside Folton, about fifteen miles from their hometown of Treymore.
“C’mon Andy,” Gil lamented, “I’d really love to see it but you know I couldn’t drag Julie to a movie like that!”
“I know, I know,” Andy conceded. “Besides I’m pretty certain that Cassie has to babysit this Saturday night.”
The boys continued down the hall and into the front foyer of Treymore High School before bidding their farewells. As Gil left the main entrance he was greeted on the front steps by his girlfriend, Julie Measures, a cute, freckled, blue-eyed teen with long strawberry blonde hair.
“How did basketball practice go?”
“Well, Coach Newsome is already pretty wound up. You know with opening game coming up next week.”
Julie lived nearby the school and Gil would usually meet up with her and carry her books while walking her home at the end of the school day.
“Look Jules, don't wait for me after school tomorrow.”
“Why, is there anything wrong?”
“I have to stay for a detention after classes,” Gil confessed, shaking his head.
“A detention! Gil, it’s only two weeks into the school year and you have a detention. What happened?”
“It’s a bit of a story,” Gil replied.
“Well, it’s a ten minute walk home,” sighed Julie. “Why don’t you fill me in on the way?”
The couple slowly made their way along the sidewalk and by the numerous white picket fences on Maple Street while Gil explained the circumstances.
“Blaine Denoudin painted the calf green,” Gil began.
“We were sitting in Lab C while Mr. Leaman was chatting up Ms. Starnes out in the hallway just before biology class started.”
“And?” Julie pressed.
“Denoudin sneaked into the Prep Room and there was a stillborn calf lying in a stainless steel tray. You know, for the day’s lesson. To be disected. He grabbed a can of spray paint off a nearby shelf and painted it green.”
“Oh my god!” gasped Julie. “What happened then?”
“Denoudin got back to his seat just before Leaman returned. Leaman flipped out when he discovered the calf and was determined to find out who did it. He kept us sitting there for the whole fifty-four minute class since no one would squeal and Denoudin wouldn’t come clean.”
“Maybe somebody could approach Mr. Leaman and inform him in confidence,” Julie suggested.
“Everybody knows Denoudin’s a jerk, but he’s also the best player on the basketball team and the school can’t afford to see him suspended like last year.”
“He was suspended last season. For what?” Julie asked curiously.
“Well, you know where the goldfish are in the aquarium at the back of the science lab. He stabbed one of them with an old fountain pen he’d found in his desk. I can still see it floating belly up. Mrs. Mahaison wrapped it in a tissue and flushed it down the toilet. Yeah, Karen Webley cried about it all afternoon,” Gil added in a low voice.
“That’s sickening!” Julie commented in total disgust.
The couple eventually reached the front gate of the Measures’ nicely appointed yellow brick bungalow which was surrounded by a manicured lawn and an abundance of beautiful mature maple trees.
“Well, Jules, think you can handle them from here?” Gil grinned as he handed over Julie’s books.
Julie managed the books and gave Gil a quick kiss before passing through her gate. Before reaching the front porch she turned to extend Gil a wave goodbye. At that point she detected the familiar ring of his cell phone.
“Hello,” answered Gil. “Yeah, I’m here with her right now. All right, I’ll give you a call later when I know. Okay, ciao.”
“What was that about?” Julie inquired.
“That was Andy,” said Gil with a smirk. “He’s really bent on seeing Forever Dead this Saturday night. Cassie has to babysit at the Bodgers and he knows that you can’t stand horror movies so he’s hoping that the two of us can take it in.”
“Well, I guess it’s all right with me if it’s okay with Cassie. Maybe she could use a hand babysitting Saturday. The Bodgers have four kids and they can be a real handful.”
“Okay, Jules, thanks. I’ll let Andy know that it’s a go. Give you a call later.”
It was around seven thirty Saturday evening when Gil pulled the family sedan into the driveway of the Wakelin’s modest townhome. Andy was waiting just outside the front door wearing a smile like a wave in a piss pot. The weatherman on ZZWK had predicted beautiful clear skies and it appeared that he was bang on.
“You ready to roll?” Gil teased as Andy bound into the front seat.
“You kidding! It’s definitely our night to howl!” Andy chuckled in anticipation. “By the way, we have to stop in at Stewy Kirkham’s place. Stewy just turned legal age and I asked him to pick up a pee wee for us.”
“Are you out of your mind? I’m driving, remember!” Gil cried out.
“Hey, a little six pack isn’t drinkin’,” begged Andy.
“Yeah, well if the old man finds out I had even a sniff, my ass is grass and he’s the lawnmower.”
“Well...I guess Stewy won’t let the beer go to waste,” said Andy, looking dejected.
After a quick glance around Gil backed out of the driveway and the boys were soon on their way down Highway 15 and towards the By-Way Drive-In. Along the way they anxiously discussed the opening game to take place the following week at Treymore High between the hometown Trojans and The Brockton Warriors. Within about twenty minutes they were sitting behind just a few cars lined up at the admission booth. Once they paid, the boys proceeded inside and joined a few dozen cars already parked. Gil eventually pulled the sedan over towards several clumps of trees at the edge of the drive- in. As the boys got settled, they noticed a slim attractive brunette pushing a toddler in a stroller just a few cars away.
“Wasn’t that Cheryl Dennison?” asked Andy, optimistically.
“Yeah, for sure,” Gil replied. “She was the hottest cheerleader at Treymore up until a couple of years ago when she got pregnant and had to leave school. She still looks great even after having a kid.”
“You can say that again!” Andy chimed in. “I wonder if she’d like to go halves on another one?”
The two boys looked at one another for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. Dusk had just fallen and the drive-in screen began to illuminate, displaying the standard introduction and credits followed by a classic cartoon. Soon afterward Andy offered to make a trip to the concession to pick up some popcorn and cola before the start of the main feature. It was dark when he returned and the cartoon was just finishing. He handed off the refreshments to Gil before collapsing into his seat.
“Jesus H. Christ!” he complained. “You should have seen the lineup.”
“I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it back in time. It’s about to start any minute,” Gil said promptly.
“Well, I bumped into Kelen Wylie on the way back. Apparently they’re going to make him captain of The Trojans hockey team this season. Matt Dellke really messed himself up in the dirt bike accident. They say he’ll probably never be able to skate at the competitive level again.”
Within a few minutes the movie was underway and the boys followed the first scene eagerly, which involved a young, attractive mixed group partying on a white sand beach. Suddenly, without any warning some sort of pale, emaciated being, dressed in an old, tattered confederate uniform washed up onto the beach. The creature grabbed hold of a bikini clad beauty and quickly made his way back towards the ocean. The girl screamed in terror and pain as the zombie chomped down on one of her exquisitely shaped gams. Some brawny handsome-looking guy with big hair made a valiant attempt to save her but the zombie and the lovely swiftly disappeared beneath the surface. Andy and Gil were still sitting wide-eyed and chowing down on their popcorn when they began to notice that the drive-in screen was becoming hazy. As things became even more cloudy they soon realized that it wasn’t the screen but that a thick fog had abruptly moved into the vicinity. It was almost like a ton of dry ice had been dropped off and before long the drive-in screen had become totally obscured. People began honking their horns and flashing their headlights in discontent. Eventually the drive-in manager made an announcement over the speaker system informing viewers that the movie was being cancelled and that everyone should keep their receipts for admittance to a future showing. Both boys shook their heads in dismay.
“I don’t believe it!” Andy protested. “I’ve been waiting to see Forever Dead since early summer, and now this shit!”
“It’s a real piss off!” Gil echoed.
The boys weren’t long figuring out that trying to exit a foggy, jammed up parking area wasn’t going to be easy and that just reaching the highway alone could be bedlam.
“We could be hours getting back home,” Gil grumbled.
“Just hang on a minute,” Andy suggested. “Blair Hildebrand told me about a shortcut that he always takes home from the drive-in. Apparently there’s a secluded lane through a grove of trees that leads to a country road. If you follow it and head due south it will end up taking you right back to Treymore.”
“Well, I guess it’s worth a try if we can find the lane,” Gil shrugged.
Both boys agreed as they set off. As Gil swung the car around, they soon observed a narrow gravel lane bordered by some woods. Fortunately the surrounding bush seemed to attenuate the fog as they followed the route out and onto a wider rural road. For the next while they made their way cautiously. Visibility was sporadic but the boys eventually drove into a clear patch. Just as they began to pick up speed and make some headway a skunk darted across in front of them. Gil jammed on the brakes and steered hard right avoiding the varmint while taking out a fencepost and mailbox before the sedan came to rest, right fender first, in a shallow ditch. The momentum impelled Gil’s head forward into the steering wheel with a solid thud. Stunned momentarily, he then whirled with a look of concern on his face.
“You okay, Andy!”
“Yeah yeah,” Andy nodded, reassuringly.
For a moment all was confusion. It wasn’t until the boys had clambered out of the car and assessed the situation that Andy noticed a sizeable, discolored lump protruding from Gil’s forehead. Gil appeared much more concerned about the sedan which had sustained a broken headlight and minor damages to the front fender.
“The old man’s going to kill me!” Gil howled.
The fog had moved back in and covered the area like a wet blanket.
Andy shouted out indignantly. “Where the hell are we anyway!”
Gil picked up the damaged mailbox which displayed the surname Clifford. Straining his eyes he just managed to discern a worn and faded wooden sign that exhibited the designation Stoney Haven Road. A towering, shadowy, three-storey dwelling sat unnaturally still adjacent to where the boys stood. Both decided that the next step was to try their cell phones but neither could raise a signal. Each tried several more times without success. The boys exchanged bleak looks before turning their attention towards the dark and gloomy residence that loomed large.
Andy gulped. “You think anybody lives in that haunted mansion?”
Gil hesitated before answering. “Maybe a vagrant.”
Just then a figure made its way out onto the creaky porch of the house. Carrying a dim light, the individual trudged down the narrow gravel driveway towards the two boys. As a precaution Gil picked up a hefty chunk of wood that had splintered from the fencepost. As the figure moved closer the boys could see that it was an older man wearing a straw hat and dressed in a white shirt and baggy pants with suspenders. He came to a stop about six feet from them.
“You fellas all right?” he asked softly.
Although a bit shaken the boys replied yes, almost in unison.
“My name is Cedric Clifford. Welcome to Stoney Haven.”
“I’m Gil Brebner and this is Andy Wakelin,” replied Gil.
“We’re sorry about your mailbox and fencepost, Mr. Clifford. You see this skunk ran out in front of us and...”
“No need to apologize son,” Cedric politely interrupted. “A thick fog always tends to bring out plenty of critters. That’s a mean lookin’ bump on your forehead,” he added. “Better come inside where it’s more comfortable. Ellen’ll tend to that lump for yuh.”
After a quick look around Gil and Andy cautiously followed Cedric who led the way back and up onto the rickety porch. As they entered the boys couldn’t believe their eyes. As eerie and unwelcoming as the old house appeared on the outside, the interior was absolutely alluring. Bright and spotless in its entirety the place was adorned with charming antique furniture which surrounded a magnificent stone hearth and fireplace. The delightful aroma of baked goods, ginger and cinnamon filled the room. Cedric introduced the boys to his wife Ellen, a pleasant looking woman with a captivating smile. She was dressed in a long pink frock and wore silver granny-style glasses and a white bonnet. Within minutes she’d prepared a blend of baking soda and apple cider vinegar which she applied to the wound on Gil’s forehead. Gil politely asked if the Cliffords had a telephone that he could use, but Cedric proudly replied that they had never possessed one. Furthermore, he informed the boys that he and his wife had never owned a motor vehicle and that they managed their transportation and labor needs with a team of Clydesdales named Doll and Dan. A short time later he suggested that it would be best for the boys to spend the night with them at Stoney Haven.
“Even if we had a vehicle only a fool would venture out on a night like tonight. The fog seems to be getting thicker by the minute,” Cedric noted, as he peered through the curtains and out into the darkness.
“You boys must be hungry,” Ellen surmised. “Bet you’d each like a piece of deep apple pie? Cedric, go get some of that fresh vanilla ice cream you made this morning.”
“I just keep thinking about the car,” uttered Gil with a look of concern on his face.
“You just enjoy that apple pie and ice cream and don’t fret another second about that. I’ll be up at sunrise and Doll and Dan’ll have that vehicle out of the ditch lickety split. You’ll be on your way in no time,” Cedric boasted.
For the next hour or so Gil, Andy and the Cliffords relaxed and sipped tea in front of a roaring fire while Cedric regaled the boys with some amusing stories from the past as well as a history of Stoney Haven itself. A short time later he suggested that it might be a good time to consider turning in. At that point, Ellen offered her goodnights but not before promising the boys a wholesome breakfast in the morning. Andy asked for directions to the bathroom. Cedric, with a wrinkled brow, hesitated for a second before smiling broadly. He then led Andy and Gil to the backdoor and pointed to an outhouse that was situated a couple of hundred feet away. He supplied them each with a coal oil lamp and upon their return showed them upstairs to small separate rooms located just at the top of the stairwell. Before bidding the boys goodnight Cedric made a particular point of asking them to be extra careful with their lamps. He informed them that pails of water had been set out in all rooms and in the hallways as a precautionary measure against fire. As the boys retired to their respective rooms Gil glanced over at Andy with an uneasy expression on his face.
“I’m bagged but I don’t want to sleep in. Be sure to come and get me as soon as you’re up,” urged Gil.
“Don’t worry,” Andy articulated. “I probably won’t sleep a wink.”
The rooms were small but neat and tidy with a single bed, chair and mirrored dressing table that held a simple wash bowl with matching jug and a clean facecloth and towel. Gil set down his lamp, splashed some water onto his face and quickly dried off. He then stripped down to his underwear, hanging his clothing over the chair. He pulled back the covers, but just as he was about to hop into bed he noticed a tiny glimmer from the floor boards a few feet away. He pulled a small pocket knife from his pants and gently pried a coin from between the planks. As he held it to the lamp he immediately distiguished it as a copper penny but it glittered like gold. The date sparkled prominently – “1918”.
“Wow! I don't believe it! A 1918 penny and in mint condition. It must have been lodged in that crevice for years.”
Gil placed the penny in his pants pocket before tumbling into bed. Just before nodding off he reflected on the whereabouts and surroundings that he and Andy found themselves in. Although the Cliffords had treated them like royalty it seemed very strange how the older couple seemed so out of place and time. After a few hours of uneasy sleep he was abruptly awakened by a knock at the door. As Gil sat bolt upright in his bed Andy slowly emerged wearing a look of bewilderment.
“You’d...better get your clothes on. I think we...should get a move on,” Andy stuttered.
As Gil reached for his clothes he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
“It’s gone! The lump on my forehead has completely disappeared!” Gil declared.
“That’s not the only thing that disappeared,” countered Andy. “I was up real early and the Cliffords are nowhere to be seen. And I’ll tell you something else. The sedan is sitting in front of the driveway and it looks like new. The headlight is repaired and there’s not a scratch on the front fender. Even the mailbox and fencepost look like they were never damaged.”
The boys hurried downstairs. They were determined to locate Mr. and Mrs. Clifford but after a thorough search they looked at each other in frustration.
“They must have taken the team of horses into town after pulling the car out,” Gil speculated.
“That doesn’t explain the repairs. Besides I went to use the outhouse earlier and except for a few small sheds there’s nothing back there. Certainly no stable.”
“I think we’d better get back home,” Gil asserted.
The boys hastened outside making their way to the sedan.
“Look, Andy, I don’t think that either of us should tell our parents or anyone else that we stayed the night here. Just let on that we spent the night in the car.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s a good idea. But what about the Cliffords?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll pay a visit to Chief Faulkner just to fill him in on things. I’m sure he’s familiar with the Cliffords. The chief knows everybody in the county.”
Gil jumped into the driver’s seat and Andy took his place next to him. Both boys checked their cell phones which were fully operational now.
“You going to give your mom a call?” asked Gil.
“No no,” Andy replied. “She worked late last night, probably still asleep. Besides I think I told her that it was an all night drive-in we were going to.”
“Wish I’d told mine the same,” Gil mumbled as he dialed home.
“Where are you? Is everything all right?” queried Mrs. Brebner with a definite note of concern. “We were worried sick!”
“Yeah, everything is fine mom. We got caught up in a dense fog on our way back from the drive-in and had to hold-up for the night. Is dad there?”
“Your father just went out to start up the truck. The mine manager called early this morning to ask if he could go in for a double shift. I’m just packing his lunch box now,” Mrs. Brebner replied.
“Just let him know that everything is okay, Mom. I should be home in about half an hour or so. Love you.”
The boys didn’t waste any time making their way back to Treymore. After dropping Andy off, Gil checked in at home then decided to pay a visit to the local police station which was located just a few blocks from the Brebners’ home. Chief Faulkner was just pouring himself a cup of coffee when Gil entered. The chief was portly and prematurely gray with a walrus style moustache and dark horn-rimmed glasses.
“Well well, look what the wind blew in,” the chief quipped. “How’s things with you and your mom and dad, Gil?”
“Fine sir, just fine. Chief Faulkner, could I talk to you for a few minutes about something?”
“Sure, sure Gil,” the chief replied.”C’mon back into my office.”
“Chief, I don’t really want to file a missing persons report but...well...last night an older couple out on Stoney Haven Road took us in for the night. You see, it was real foggy and we were coming back from the drive-in and we knocked down their mailbox and ended up in the ditch and...”
“Wait, wait, just slow down a minute, Gil,” Chief Faulkner interrupted. “You say you were taken in by a couple on Stoney Haven Road?”
“That’s right, sir.”
Gil began to provide all details regarding the incident and how the older couple had fed and put him and Andy up for the night. He continued to elaborate on how the sedan was meticulously repaired by Cedric Clifford and how Cedric’s wife, Ellen, had comfortably remedied a wound on his forehead.
“Just what were you boys smokin’ at that drive-in anyhow?” the chief asked wryly.
“Chief Faulkner, I’m just telling you what happened,” Gil countered.
The chief cleared away some paperwork from his desk and set his coffee down.
“First of all, there’s no such place as Stoney Haven Road, at least not anymore, Chief Faulkner began, looking up.
With a deep sigh the chief began to explain that the name Stoney Haven Road had been renamed decades ago to Albert Hadfield Road all because a young farm boy by that name who had lived on Stoney Haven Road lied about his age and went off to fight in The Great War.
“Yeah, they say he took out a couple of heavy machines guns and brought back near a dozen German prisoners all on his own with just his rifle and bayonet,” the chief continued, shaking his head. “Yeah, he was a feisty one all right. All five foot four and 125 lbs. of him.”
Chief Faulkner leaned back in his chair and breathed a deep sigh before continuing.
“You know, my grand-daddy use to talk about Stoney Haven and the compassionate couple that ran that rooming house. It was a Mr. and Mrs. Clifford. But that old dwelling burned down in the late 1930’s. I read all the old newspaper clippings about it years ago.
“But Chief Faulkner, Andy Wakelin and I spent last night there! You’ve got to believe me! Maybe if we took a drive out to the house?”
“That would be a waste of your time and mine, Gil,” the chief said firmly. “I think what likely happened is that you and your buddy pulled over because of the fog and then fell asleep. It was just a dream, Gil. You were just dreamin’.”
“The both of us had the exact same dream?”
“Maybe you boys read those old newspaper clippings too. Maybe back in the school library and just didn’t remember,” the chief suggested.
“No, I’d never seen, read about or even heard of Mr. and Mrs. Clifford until last night. Now that I think about it, I’m getting anxious regarding their whereabouts.”
“Don’t worry about that Gil. I know exactly where they are,” Chief Faulkner said hesitantly. “They're buried out at Fairlawn Cemetery.”
“Their charred remains were found in the burned out ruins of Stoney Haven. The investigator back then figured the fire was caused by a coal oil lamp that fell or was knocked over accidentally. The place was virtually constructed of wood and went up like tinder,” the chief said grimly.
For one sickening moment Gil sat completely silent.
“Maybe it would be a good idea for you to take a tour back out that way, Gil. You know... just to convince yourself. Mr. and Mrs. Clifford are buried at the far end of the cemetery. It’s sort of pitiful. Just two tiny, marked wooden crosses sittin’ on a narrow plot overgrown with burdocks and crabgrass. Noticed it my last visit. Uncle Emery’s at rest just a few graves down,” Chief Faulkner concluded.
Gil finally nodded in agreement with the chief’s suggestion and expressed his gratitude before leaving. As he started home a sudden thought flashed through his mind.
Was it conceivable that he and Andy had just been dreaming as Chief Faulkner had insinuated? After pausing for a moment he continued on. As Gil neared home he reached into his pocket to retrieve his house keys. As he removed them something rolled out and bounced onto the sidewalk with a jingle. Gil stopped in his tracks before reaching down and placing the shiny coin in the palm of his hand. The copper penny glittered like gold and the date twinkled prominently – “1918”.
It was shortly after 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning when Gil entered Treymore High. A short time later he spotted Andy just outside the gymnasium entering the change room. He struggled to attract Andy’s attention without any luck.
“Andy!” Gil ultimately called out.
“Hey,” Andy replied. “You’re late. I was sitting outside on the front steps for the last twenty minutes waiting for you. Ready for practice?”
“No, I want you to let Coach Newsome know that I won’t be making it to practice this morning.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t sleep a wink last night after talking to Chief Faulkner yesterday,” Gil responded.
“Was the chief successful in locating the Cliffords?” Andy inquired anxiously.
“Well...let’s just say...he knows exactly where they are.”
“Coach Newsome is going to be some pissed that you’re not going to make practice on game day. You’re going to have to come up with a real good excuse that I can pass along.”
“Yeah...just tell him that I’ll be here at game time but that I can’t make it to practice because...because something critical came up,” Gil stammered.
“Okay,” acknowledged Andy, with a puzzled frown.
“Tell coach that I had an urgent project to complete,” Gil said finally. “An unusual undertaking...out at Fairlawn Cemetery.”
Paul Finnigan’s short fiction has appeared in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Some former publishers of his work include Boston Literary Magazine, Feathertale, The Short Humour Site, and Every Writer the Magazine.
His short story “Heading for Dillabough” appeared in omdb! in August, 2018.
Copyright © 2020 Paul Finnigan. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!