As I work on getting Dominion and my trunk novel The Hero Factor ready for publication, I’ll be exercising my writing muscles by working on my short story skills. This story, started a week or so before I started that job that didn’t work out and tentatively titled Blackwood Park, isn’t really that short — I think it’s going to come out to around 15,000 words when all is said and done, so more of a novellette, really. This is why I need to practice the short part of short stories. But it’s appropriate for Halloween season, and hopefully by committing to updating it each week I’ll be motivated to write new scenes on the weekends. And so, I give you Story Time Tuesdays, wherein subsequent parts of this story will appear each Tuesday until it’s done, and hopefully after that, newer, shorter stories will get written and posted.
NO NEW LEADS IN MISSING TEENS CASE
TULSA, Oklahoma – One year after two Tulsa teenagers went missing, state and local investigators say there are no new leads in the case. Scott Fisher, 18, and James Lee, 17, had told friends and family that they were going to spend the weekend of August 20th hiking and camping in the woods near Lake Eucha. They were last seen the morning of the 20th in a convenience store just outside of Locust Grove. Witnesses, including the store clerk, say that nothing appeared odd or unusual about the boys.
A team of police and rescuers were dispatched to search the lake and surrounding areas after the boys failed to return home or check in on the following Monday. Fisher’s car was found abandoned and burned on the side of a dead-end road just off of Highway 10, near the site of the abandoned Blackwood Park amusement park. Despite the apparent car fire, Police found no evidence of either a car accident or foul play, and the search and rescue team found no trace of either boy.
“All we have is speculation at this point,” said rescue team leader Jeff Tatum on day three of the search. “The most likely scenario is that the boys’ car over heated and caught fire, leaving them stranded, so they went in search of help. It’s easy to get turned around in these woods, even for experienced hikers, and unfortunately nature can be a very dangerous thing. But if those boys are in these woods or in this lake, we’ll find them.”
Both the Delaware County Sheriff’s office and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation say they have not ruled out the possibility of criminal activity in this case. However, with no new leads and no witnesses coming forward, hope of solving this case, and of providing closure to the missing boys’ families, remains slim.
“The article doesn’t mention the name of the road where the car was found?”
“No.” Melanie Fisher tucked the newspaper article back into the folder she held in her lap, and pulled out a computer print-out. “But according to this old map that shows the amusement park, we should be close.”
“Yeah, assuming the roads haven’t been changed or moved since that thing was made.” Her boyfriend, Shane Campbell, punched some icons on the dashboard GPS. “When did you say this place was shut down?”
“Early seventies. I compared it with Google Maps. The major roads haven’t changed.”
A moment passed in silence, as the wind whipped Melanie’s auburn hair out of her ponytail and into her face. She was debating whether to roll up the window when he said, “Tell me again why we’re doing this.”
She looked over at him, not bothering to hide her frustration. “You read the article. They’re giving up.”
“That’s not what it said.”
“That’s what they meant. They don’t have anything to go on. Why would they keep looking?”
“And you think we’ll find something? They had, like, a hundred people out here combing the woods for your brother. The police inspected every inch of every square mile in a fifty-mile radius. What do you think we’re going to find that they didn’t?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned down at the folder in her lap, stuffed full of every news clipping and Internet article she had ever come across that was even remotely related to her brother’s disappearance. “But I have to try. Wouldn’t you, if it was your little brother?”
Shane sighed. “Yeah, I guess so.” He looked over at her, and the look he gave her was full of patience and compassion.
Melanie’s heart swelled a little. Shane was a good guy. He had been her rock throughout every step of this tragedy, and put up with her irritable moods all along the way. She softened, and smiled. “Thanks,” she told him.
“For bringing me out here, despite your reservations. And for being so sweet.”
He grinned a bashful grin, revealing a single dimple in his left cheek, and looked back at the road. “Hey,” he said, sitting up a little straighter and turning serious. “I think this might be it.”
He slowed the car and turned onto a gravel road marked with a Dead End sign. Melanie compared the old map to the GPS. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Tires crunched on the gravel as the car rolled carefully down the road. Melanie watched the GPS tick off their progress as they drove one mile. Then two. At about three miles, the gravel thinned and the road became eaten up by grass. The car stopped at the road’s edge. Melanie got out of the car.
“Mel, wait!” Shane called as he got out behind her, but she kept walking, approaching a steep embankment that led down to a rocky creek, an offshoot of the nearby lake.
“I think we can cross this,” she shouted back at him. He was getting their packs out of the trunk. He slung his over his broad shoulders before slamming the trunk shut and coming over to join her.
He peered down the embankment as she shrugged into her backpack. “Yeah,” he said, “but do we want to?”
“Yep. Look.” She pointed to the woods that lay beyond the creek. On the other side, the road appeared to pick up again, but it was more of a dirt trail than an actual road. It disappeared into the woods, passing under a metal archway covered in vines and growth. A faded red light-up sign was barely visible at the top, but under all of the greenery that had claimed it, she could make out a B, a W and an O.
“That’s kind of creepy,” said Shane.
“That’s where we’re going.” She started to head down the slope, but he grabbed her arm and held her back.
“Hang on. We need to go over the ground rules.”
Melanie sighed. “Shane—”
“Hey. Scott was an experienced hiker, and look what happened to him. If we do this, we’re going to do it safely. Okay?” Impatient to get going, she forced herself to nod and waited for him to give his safety spiel. “Now, stay close to me. It could be dangerous for us to get separated. If you do get separated, there’s a whistle in your pack, and a signal mirror. Do you need me to show you how to use it?”
“No, you already showed me.”
“Okay. Just stay close, okay? No more taking off without me.” With that, he started down the embankment.
It was steep, and the grass gave way to mud and gravel about halfway down. They had to hold onto each other to steady themselves. The creek itself was shallow enough that they didn’t even need to take their shoes off, and the climb up the embankment on the other side was a lot easier.
As they drew closer to the sign, Melanie could see where part of the red glass covering the O had been broken, exposing empty light sockets. A bird had built its nest inside the hole.
Shane paused beneath the old sign that marked the entrance to the abandoned park. “So we’re going in there, huh?”
She nodded. “Scottie was always fascinated with this place. I remember when we were little he used to always badger Mom and Dad to take us back here.”
“Wait. You mean your parents brought you here when you were kids? I thought this place shut down in the seventies.”
“It did. We’ve never been here. I think he must have had a dream about it or something. For a long time he was absolutely convinced that we’d been here. He even said he had his favorite ride. He called it the Pistol Whip.”
Melanie let out a small laugh. “Anyway, I just have a feeling that this is where he and Jeff were headed.” She stared up at the sign. As she did, a strange feeling of familiarity came over her, and the sign flashed in her mind’s eye in all it’s bright red, lit up glory.
“Mel? You coming?” She blinked at Shane, who had moved ahead of her on the trail. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I just had a weird flash of dejavu or something.” She shook her head to shake it off. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
They both looked around as they walked along the path. “Blackwood Park,” Shane mused. “Why does that sound so familiar?”
“Other than the fact that we’ve been talking about it?” He just gave her a look that said, “Get serious.” Melanie smiled. “Maybe because it always comes up whenever the local news does a nostalgia piece about all the old amusement parks that we used to have.”
“Yeah, but it’s something else. I mean, I’ve heard that name in relation to something else. I just can’t remember what. So what happened here, anyway? Why’d it close?”
“It got shut down. There was some kind of tragedy. I think one of the rides caught fire, and some kids got killed.”
“Yikes.” Shane stopped walking. Melanie stopped beside him. They had reached a clearing that had once been the midway. Broken up pavement was still visible in patches, but it was mostly overgrown with thick grass and weeds. Pylons that she guessed had once held up a skyway ride jutted out of the ground, rusted and overgrown with vines. Those were the only traces that remained of the old park. “What’d they do with all the rides?”
“I don’t know. I think some of them might got moved to other parks. I remember them saying that the Round-Up ride at Bell’s came from here.”
“Huh. That was a cool ride.” He shifted the weight of his backpack and looked around. “Well, where do you want to start?”
“I don’t know. I guess, just keep your eyes open for anything out of place.” She really didn’t know what she hoped to find. Shane was right — so many people, both professional investigators and volunteers, had already gone over this whole region with a fine tooth comb. But it was still possible that they missed something. Unlikely, but possible. And she owed it to her brother to try.
They started making their way around the edge of the former midway, sifting through the plant growth and scanning the trees for anything out of place. Any sign that her brother and his friend had been there.
As they reached the far side, Melanie heard a faint but unmistakable strain of organ music. She stopped in her tracks and seized Shane by the wrist. “Do you hear that?”
He gave her a quizzical look as he cocked his ear to listen, but the music was already gone. “What, the cicadas?”
“I could swear I heard music. It seemed to come from over there.” She pointed toward the center of the midway.
“We’re probably not the only hikers out here. Maybe you heard someone’s phone going off.”
“Do we even get reception out here?”
Shane pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the screen. “Well, I don’t, but my carrier’s not the most reliable. Anyway, maybe it was an mp3 player.”
She gave him a skeptical look. “Coming from over there?” Again, she pointed at the center of the midway.
He shrugged. “Sound bounces off of trees and stuff. It can play tricks on you out here.”
“Still,” she said as her eyes scanned the area, “there was something weird about it. It sounded kind of like…” Her voice trailed off as she noticed light glinting off of something on the ground in the center of the clearing.
“Carnival music. What’s that?” She started walking toward the object. Whatever it was, it was small. They had to cover several yards before she could make out what it was.
“Is that a camera?” Shane asked.
“A digital video camera,” she said as she knelt in front of it. “Scottie had one just like it.” It looked as though someone had placed it there, carefully, pointing at them as though to film them. But the recording light was off. “Where the hell did it come from?”
“Maybe whoever had the phone or mp3 player that you heard dropped it.” He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Hello! Hey out there! You dropped your camera!”
“It doesn’t looked like it was dropped. It looks like somebody deliberately placed it here.”
“Huh. Hope we’re not screwing up somebody’s film project.”
“It’s not recording anything.” Melanie picked up the camera and turned it on. “Battery’s still good.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m seeing what’s on it. If somebody lost it maybe we can find out who they are and get it back to them.” She hit the playback button. A moment later, she gasped, and sprang to her feet.
“What is it?” Shane peered over shoulder at the screen. “Oh, my God. Is that Scott?”
They watched the tiny screen in stunned amazement as her brother traipsed across the same grounds they were standing on. He appeared to be talking to his friend, Jeff, who apparently held the camera. “How the hell did they miss this?” asked Shane.
“Because it wasn’t here before,” said Melanie. “Look at it. It’s in too good a shape to have been lying here this whole time.” She looked up at him. “Somebody put it here for us to find.”
He stared down at her as the implications of that dawned on him. Then he started to frantically scan the tree line. “Hey!” he shouted. “Who’s out there? Where did you get this?”
“Hello?” Melanie also shouted. “We just want to ask you some questions!”
“No, forget it. I don’t like this. We need to get out of here.”
“No! We just found this huge clue. We need to keep looking!”
“Mel, think about it. What if somebody did something to Scott and Jeff? What if that same somebody is the one who left this camera here?” A chill went down Melanie’s spine. Her gaze darted around at the tree line as she drew closer to Shane. “We need to go,” he said. “Let’s just get back to the car, and then we’ll take this to the sheriff.”
“No, I want to watch this first.”
“You can watch it on the way to the sheriff’s office.”
“I want to take it home and make a backup copy. I don’t trust the sheriff’s office or the state police not to screw it up.”
“Fine. Let’s just go.”