Starlight Spectre • Part 5: The Dare


This is Part 5 of a serial horror novella. Learn more about it here.

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Part 5: The Dare

Once they were outside again and moving, Barton felt more and more foolish about the shadow-man. The little kid in him was scolded away with the combined power of another beer and the warmth of Gabby’s company.

She had found some curious obituaries that seemed to indicate a surge of vague miner deaths during the same period as the train burning. They’d also gotten precise locations of the two stations, which she’d put into her map app. Overall, nothing that painted a certainty to the dark conclusion of Rudy’s tale, but evidence enough to make it semi-plausible.

They walked north out of town, the lights of houses to their backs. Most of the road up to the camping area was unlit, spotted with the occasional lonely streetlight. Along the way, she told him what she knew of cremation, which was grisly and fascinating and morbid. How pacemakers could explode. How it was a myth that you had to drill a hole in the skull, lest it explode too. Explosions and burning and bodies—he was transported in a delicious kind of way back to the creepy campfire tales of youth.

A dirt logging road branched off from the main drag, losing its structure as it passed the various entrances to the public camping grounds. They followed it as it bore deeper into the woods and over a canted vehicle barrier, until it dissolved into a reedy path. The lush symphony of the summer forest croaked and creaked and chirruped around them, as a cooling breeze rustled a million leaves and dried their sweat. The stars and moon were alive enough to see the way, and they walked hand in hand, stealing through the night and towards the dare as countless teens had done before them.

“How does the spook story go?” she asked, after a long stretch of comfy silence.

“You mean, the one they tell kids?” he asked.

“Yeah. What’s the legend?”

“I don’t know if I’d call it legend, more like a Bloody Mary sort of thing, ya know?”

She squeezed his hand. “Tell it.”

He took a gulp of beer, which had long since warmed. It was still good though. “Well, the one I remember best goes like this: you come to the old, haunted tracks, so you know you’ve come too far and need to turn back. Else you can get lost or eaten by bears or whatever. But the dare is always to walk the tracks, and if you do it at midnight, and put your ear to the ground, you can still hear the old rumble of the ghost train. If you’re lucky… or unlucky I guess, you’ll see it. A thin white streak. Like smoke, moving fast along the tracks, coming from the east. If you do see it, get off the tracks as fast as you can.”

“And if you don’t…?”

He stopped and tossed the beer aside so he could grab her other hand. Standing there, palms intertwined, he stepped a little closer and said, “If you don’t, you die.”

She began to grin and he kissed her, hard, and they stayed that way for a while, soaring.


Barton was still rushing with her magic when they reached the tracks. He was convinced that they’d last past the summer now. There was no way to break the depth of the connection they felt for one another, and the cementing of the moment was all thanks to this ghost hunt. A train disaster from a hundred and three years ago brings two hearts together: history was always radiating out, it seemed.

It was a lovely thought, profound and meaningful, haze of alcohol be damned—he knew how to interpret the song in his heart when he needed to.

“I present, the haunted tracks,” he said with a loopy laugh. The cut along the forest was easy to spot, even at night. Their path ran perpendicular to the old railway. They stood at the obvious intersection, eyes following the long twin stretch of sunken and rusted steel. Between the tracks, the rotted remains of planks lay overrun with grass and moss. If it weren’t for the rails, the two trails would have looked quite similar. Plant life and small trees snugged in close; if a real train were to roar down the tracks now, there’d be a lot of clipped and shredded foliage.

Gabby knelt and took some tools out of her backpack. He watched, testing how much he was swaying (not much) as she scraped at the steel and dug up some dirt. She put the samples into little bags, sat cross legged on the ground and consulted her phone.

“Twenty-minute walk west to ground zero," she said. "We missed midnight by six whole minutes though, shame.”

“Dare you to walk to the tracks,” he said.


Continued in Part 6: Pay Attention

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