The Road of Dreams

by Geron Kees

Chapter 10

They spent most of Friday trying to set up the party. Ed and the girls were up for it, immediately giving enthusiastic nods to the idea. They all loaded into the Bee, and Brian and Jeff played friendly follow-the-leader as they drove about looking for others to invite.

But they struck out, every place they went. All the local hangouts seemed empty. They managed to locate Dave Routh, Mike Zurka, and Wade Tomlinson at the shopping center, but all three had already made other plans.

"Party at Pete Brigg's place tonight," Wade explained. "We already told him we'd be there to help out. You know they got that big old farm out in Tilden Hills? Pete's having a band he knows come and play in the field. Supposed to be a big-ass party. You guys aren't going?"

"First we heard of it," Brian said, looking about at the others with him.

Ed nodded. "Yeah. Nobody fuckin' invited us."

Dave laughed. "You don't invite people to a party like this - you just make it known, and then let everyone show up." He sighed. "Man, I wish you guys would come. We'd do both parties, but that place in Komus is pretty far to split the night up like that. Can't you guys have your party tomorrow night? You need to be at Pete's tonight with us."

"Well, we didn't know about Pete's party, and now we've made plans," Brian said. They discussed it a little more, but decided not to change what they were doing. The idea of going back to Komus was firmly in place now, and the haunted house seemed to draw them. It would still be fun, even if it was just the few of them.

"Where the hell is everybody?" Brian asked Wade. "We've been all around, and can't find anyone."

Wade just shrugged. "Lot of people went out of town for the weekend. School starts week after next. I guess they're getting their family vacations in before then." He nodded. "That's why we need you at Pete's tonight. A lot of people aren't around."

"Yeah. You guys need to come up," Mike tossed in. He looked unusually sober and straight, and painfully aware of it. "Lot of people are missin' in action."

That made sense. Brian already knew that Colin was gone for two weeks, and that Jim Van Pelt had gone with his family to Maine. Probably, a lot of the others were doing the same kind of thing.

"If we change our minds, we'll be there," Brian said at last. "Not promising anything, though."

They huddled in a group after that, trying to figure out what to do next.

"I was hoping to get my car washed sometime today," Jeff said then. "I like it clean for Friday night cruising."

Brian grinned. "There's an idea. I like my car clean, too. We can do that at your place. Wash both cars. How about it?"

"I'm up for it," Jeff said.

Annabelle laughed. "Miss and I will help, won't we?"

Missy nodded. "Sure. Ed will help, too."

Ed grinned at having his services offered for him, but simply nodded. "Two eyes, two hands, one heart; all yours, Missy."

They climbed into their cars and headed for Jeff's. Brian smoked a green Pantera that messed with them on the way, leaving the Ford-powered car in the dust. Rumor had it that car's owner was a cop; but off duty was off duty, and a win was a win.

"Car's got a three-fifty-one Cleveland, I heard," Ed said, grinning as the beaten car made a left turn and zoomed away, tires screeching, looking a little bit as if the driver was upset. "Good runner, but had to be stock the way you jumped away from him."

"Yeah. There's some nice Fords around, but they all seem to be stock. So unless it's a 427 Cobra, I'm not much worried about them."

"I heard some guy over in Rome is runnin' around in a blue Boss 429 Mustang," Ed offered, grinning at Brian in the rear view mirror. "You know those things are supposed to be screamin'."

Brian laughed. "Well, you see it coming, you let me know."

Ed nodded, his smile slowly retreating until it was replaced by a look of almost-disappointment. "Weird the way everybody seems to be gone. You really think they're all on vacation?"

"Probably. It's the end of summer, man. Last chance to go see the sights. My family used to do it, too, when I was a kid."

"Yeah, but - I guess. Maybe if we went up to the quarry there would be some people there?"

Brian shook his head. "Nah. The more I think about it, the more I want to keep the haunted house as just a place for us. I'm thinking we need to be more careful about this whole thing, for real. I don't want everyone to know it's empty now. The more people that know about the house, the more the chance someone will do something stupid to it. Trash it, or burn it down."

Ed laughed. "Little late to hide it. Shit, we took a hundred fuckers up there with us for the party."

"Yeah, but they weren't all standing there on the porch with us when Jed said that he and his wife were leaving. Most of the people we took are not going to drop in on that place thinking Jed might be there with his shotgun."

"Fuck. I didn't think of that." Ed grinned. "Us longhairs are intimidating, huh?"

Brian suppressed a grin of his own. "Well, the ones that don't look like smoked out guitar players, anyway."

Ed rolled his eyes at the poke to his image. "So - we keep it close then, right? Our secret - just the four of us?" He grinned.

"And Jeff," Brian added, his eyes flicking to the rear view mirror, where his boyfriend's Camaro was visible beyond Ed's grinning face.

Ed's grin expanded, and he gently smacked himself in the side of his head with his palm. "Man. What the fuck was I thinking?"

Brian shrugged, playing along. "I don't know. Just don't do it again."

Annabelle snickered, and Brian looked over at her. "Not you, too?"

She shook her head. "Nope. I know better. I was just laughing at how you two pretend all the time."

Ed laughed. He held a forefinger up to his lips. "Shhh. It's supposed to be a secret, girl. It's supposed to be fun."

Brian caught Ed's eyes in the rear view mirror, and he smiled. "It is. It always is."

Ed nodded. "Yeah." He settled back and circled his arm around Missy again, and looked satisfied. "Onward, driver. Mind the detours. There's a good fellow."

They drove over to Jeff's, and split into two groups in the driveway and washed both cars. Brian grinned nearly the whole time, delighted at the nervous expression on Jeff's face as he split his time between rinsing the Camaro and watching the girls go over it gently with soft sponges full of soap. Brian had Jeff imagining scratches and dents resulting from each careful swipe.

Finally, Brian took pity on his boyfriend, and tossed his own sponge into the bucket next to Ed. "Back in a sec, Ed-O."

He walked over behind Jeff, and gently wrapped his arms around the other boy and laid his chin on his shoulder. "Your baby is going to be fine."

Brian could feel Jeff smile, and then the other boy placed a hand on one of Brian's and turned his head to kiss him. "So is yours."

Brian nuzzled Jeff's neck with his nose. "You're my baby. That's just my car."

Jeff sighed, pushed the side of his head against Brian's. "I ever tell you you say the sweetest shit?"

"Uh huh. I think a coupla times now." He gave Jeff a squeeze. "Do you know why I do?"

"Yeah. You love me, right?"

"Right. Any other questions?"

"No." Jeff turned his head, and they exchanged another kiss, and then Brian gave his boyfriend a last squeeze before heading back to the Bee.

Ed watched him come, a small grin on his face.

"What?" Brian asked, retrieving his sponge and squatting down to go at the Bee's wheels. "I dare you to say something."

Ed sighed, came over and squatted next to Brian. "Bry - you know how I feel. I'm not making fun of you guys."

Brian looked over at his friend. "I know. I'm still a little touchy about it, I guess."

"Dude - when you love somebody, you love 'em. Fuck what anybody else says about it." Ed gave him a small nudge. "But it's cute as shit, dude. You can't blame me for smilin' when I see it."

Brian looked at Ed, saw the truth of what his friend was saying in his eyes. "Sorry."

Ed smiled. "No sorry needed, bud." He straightened and danced back a couple of steps. "Talk to me like that again and I'll just have to knock some sense into you - no, don't get up!" Ed laughed as Brian started to rise, and ran around to the other side of the car.

Brian resumed cleaning the Bee's wheels. But now he was smiling at himself.

The evening came quickly enough.

Jeff parked his Camaro in Brian's driveway and climbed into the Dodge. They had decided to take one car, and as the Camaro was too small to really manage five people, it had to be the Bee.

"I'd much rather use up your gas, anyway," Jeff said, grinning. Still, he gave the Chevy a wistful look as they pulled out of the driveway, and Brian was not fooled. Jeff still saw his car as part of who he was - something that Brian understood quite clearly. He had been 'that dude with the purple Super Bee' long enough now that he knew how inseparable a car could become from the persona of the guy that sat behind the wheel. It didn't matter that his car was burgundy and not purple, nor that it was steel and rubber and plastic, and not alive.

...that purple Super Bee...

The Bee was like a face he wore in public, and one which people had come to recognize. A little bit of the magic that was the look of the Dodge, and its performance and image, had transferred over to Brian and become part of him. People had a tendency to give life to so many inanimate things - to befriend them, to admire them - even to be a little in awe of them.

And, certainly, to love them.

Brian reached over and found Jeff's hand, gave it a squeeze. "Your baby will be okay in my driveway."

Jeff squeezed back, and smiled. "You're my baby, Brian. The Camaro is - just a car."

Jeff said it as though the idea shocked him a little, and Brian laughed. "It's safe, no shit. My dad has a big stick he keeps in the closet near the front door, which he uses to chase off unwelcome visitors with religious tracts. Anyone looks cross-eyed at your car, my dad will go on the freakin' warpath."

Jeff nodded, and plainly wanted to change the subject. "Think the others are ready?"

Brian had dropped off Ed and the girls after coming back from Jeff's earlier, and they had all agreed to be ready by six-thirty. It was just that time now. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "Ed said he'd be at Missy's, and Annie said she'd be sitting on her front porch."

Everyone was exactly where they said they would be, too. Ed and Missy claimed the back seat, as usual now, and Jeff got out and let Annie slide into the middle of the Bee's bench seat. They turned up the radio, found Distant Early Warning, by RUSH playing.

"This station's been bangin' lately!" Ed exclaimed, grinning. "That new dee-jay they got is crankin' out the tunes."

Missy gave him a squeeze, laughing. "Settle down, Ed. It's just music."

"It's rock, honey - ain't no music about it!" Ed started wagging his head to the beat, grinning, and Missy laughed, snuggling closer to him.

Brian smiled, watching Ed play an invisible guitar in the rear view mirror. "Someone's wound up."

Ed nodded, and then his hand came up, and he waved a joint of epic proportions about the back seat. "I do believe this doobie do be ready."

Missy laughed, and both Annie and Jeff turned and looked over the seat.

Brian snorted, his eyes flicking between the road and the mirror, checking out the joint Ed was holding. It was thumb-thick and looked to be two rolling papers in length, and was definitely the largest joint that Brian had ever seen. "You trim the branches off that thing when you cut it down?"

Ed grinned, obviously proud of his creation. "Like it? I call it the joint with a point - that point being, to stone-out all of us, and anyone else that happens to be downwind of us."

Brian nodded his head. "I think you may have something there, buddy."

Ed smiled, put the joint between his lips, and pulled out his Bic lighter. He must have had the flame height adjusted all the way up, because when he thumbed the lighter to life, a four-inch flame leaped upwards and licked about the end of the doobie. Ed took a deep toke, and the joint turned to ash an inch back from the tip.

Brian and Jeff and Annie all started laughing, amazed at Ed's ability to endure smoke. Ed grinned, taking the joint and handing it to Missy, who took it like one might a small but deadly snake. "Ohmigod," she breathed, holding the joint up to her lips. "I feel like I'm in a Cheech and Chong movie."

Ed's face turned red as he struggled to hold onto the hit; and then it came out with a roar, filling the entire car with smoke, which churned momentarily in the airstream from the windows before dissipating.

"Holy crap!" Jeff said, laughing, and following it with a whistle of astonishment. "Cheech and Chong is fuckin' right!"

Ed gasped, looking dazed. "You're just jealous you can't take a stupid-big hit like I can."

Everyone laughed. The joint was passed around, and everyone was careful with it, treating it like a lit torch in a dynamite storehouse. Ed watched, shaking his head, until the joint came back to him, not even halfway expended. "Buncha pussies. You do it like this."

Again he took a giant toke, and another inch of the joint vanished into embers. Ed's eyes rolled upwards, and his face reddened again, and he handed the joint to Missy, who blinked at it a little dazedly. "I got a buzz already, Ed."

Brian felt the same way, and both Annie and Jeff nodded. One good toke off of Ed's pot-log had been enough for now. Ed sighed, squeezed out the lit end of the joint, and stashed the remaining half of it in a shirt pocket. "Always later."

Brian refocused on the road, feeling the familiar tingle behind his eyes, only this time it felt like Bigfoot stomping through the woods of his mind. Geez. Whatever Jed had used for fertilizer on his crop had resulted in some potent-ass shit. The seeds had probably been from Portuguese Man-O-War, or some other powerful variant. Brian couldn't help grinning. No - Hawaiian Gold, that was it. Rumored to be the most potent pot on the planet. Well, in Hawaii, anyway.

He concentrated on his driving, feeling each explosion of air-fuel mixture in each cylinder, it seemed. He was aware of the others talking around him, but wasn't really paying that much attention.

One thing he had learned about the pot crop from the haunted house party, it came on suddenly and strongly after the first hit, rampaged through the system like fireworks on the Fourth of July for about fifteen minutes, and then receded to a nice, thoughtful, mellow buzz. By the time they turned into the shopping center in Alna, Brian was past the stage where he was counting the seams in the road pavement, and had once again rejoined the rest of the world.

He looked over at Jeff as they drew to a stop just inside the parking lot. "Back on Earth yet?"

Jeff laughed. "Man! That was something else, Brian. Whew!"

Ed made a noise in the back seat. Having smoked more than the rest of them, he was still looking like he was somewhere west of the planet Mars. "You guys are just amateurs," he commented, not sounding at all as stoned as he looked. "I'm feelin' okay right now."

"I'll bet." Brian looked around the parking lot, checking out the cars. None of the regular car crowd was here, but --

A gold Cutlass was parked up in one corner.

Brian grinned. "Hey. That looks like Brad and Casey."

He turned the Bee and drove over to the other car, pulling up so that his window was opposite Brad's. The two in the Cutlass looked pleased to see them, grinning and waving as the Dodge drew to a stop.

"Hey, people," Brad said, his eyes moving about the Bee's interior. "See the whole crowd is there."

Casey waved. "We just came to see what you guys were doing."

Brian grinned. "Been here long?"

Brad looked at his dash a moment, then shook his head. "About ten minutes. I was starting to think no one was going to show. I got the impression from what you said that there would be a lot of hot cars here on Friday night."

"Usually, there is. There's a big party out in Tilden tonight, and pretty much everyone that's around is probably heading that way."

Brad and Casey both grinned. "Cool," Brad said. "You guys headin' over?"

Brian shook his head. "No. We have a little thing of our own going on. " He looked over at Annie and Jeff, and made a small motion with his head towards the other car. Annie grinned and nodded, and Jeff just shrugged. "Okay with me."

Brian's eyes went to the rear view mirror. "What do you guys think?"

"Sure," Missy said.

Ed grinned. "The more, the merrier, dude."

Brian laughed, and turned his gaze back to Brad. "You guys are welcome to come along."

Brad grinned. "Yeah? Where we going?"

Brian let a serious expression come onto his face. "Haunted house up in the sticks. Great place to party, though."

Brad blinked in surprise; but Casey looked delighted. "Oh, Brad, can we go?"

Brad's expression turned quizzical. "A real haunted house?" he asked Brian.

"Well - all the ghosts we saw were people in costumes," Brian admitted smiling. "But it's a cool-as-shit house, two hundred years old, got a cemetery out front, and everything."

"No one lives there?'

"Nope. Should be totally empty. Well, except for the ghosts."

Brad stared at him a moment longer, then suddenly grinned. "Sounds like a blast. Yeah, we'll come - thanks."

Brian was about to add more when he saw a familiar figure crossing the parking lot, carrying a case of beer. "Hold on a second, Brad."

Brian honked the horn, stuck his arm out of the window and waved. Bailey looked their way, and grinned at them.

"Who's that?" Brad asked, squinting at Bailey.

"Beer guy," Brian explained. "He gets our brew for us. Anything you want, when he gets here?"

Brad looked over at Casey, then back again. "We don't really drink much. I guess we could do one each." Brad dug in his pocket and produced a few bills. "Can we just get a couple of whatever you get?"

"Sure," Brian said, waving off the money. "Only if it's on me, though."

Brad nodded, looking a little embarrassed, and stuffed the bills back into his pocket.

"We got some smoke, too," Brian added. "There's plenty, and you guys are welcome to partake."

Brad laughed. "Same stuff you had at he quarry the other day?"

"Uh huh."

They watched as Bailey drew up at an older yellow Impala, and stuffed the case in the driver's window, followed by a handful of bills. A six pack was thrust back at Bailey, and as he made to remove four beers from it, Brian could see the driver waving him off. Brian had seen the car before, in the Proctor parking lot. It belonged to a guy he knew from classes, Brady something. Nice guy, but not a car guy, and into different things than was Brian. The car was stock, untouched; just transportation, albeit clean.

Bailey stepped back, and the yellow Impala pulled out and drove past the Bee, and several arms stuck out of windows and waved, and the driver tooted the horn.

Brian returned the wave, and tapped the Dodge's horn.

"Brady Conley and his bunch," Ed said from the back seat.

Brian nodded. That's right - Conley. "You know him?"

Ed stared back at him. "Sure. I know everybody. You know him, too. He was in our math class."

Brian nodded. "I know who he is, I just don't really know him well."

"Cool dude," Ed returned. "Fuckin' science whiz." He shrugged. "Probably headin' for Pete's party." Ed blinked, looking slightly hyper now. "Man, am I stoned."

Brian smiled at him in the mirror. "Calm down, Cochise."

Ed grinned. "What? I'm just sayin'."

Bailey was heading their way, toting his six of beer. He arrived at the Bee and carefully inserted himself between the two cars, mindful not to knock his six pack against either of them. "Hey Brian. Gang. What's happenin'?"

Brian shrugged. "Not much. Kinda scarce pickings here for you tonight, huh?"

Bailey grinned. "I ain't complainin'. There was about twelve carloads of people here earlier. I got mine then. They all headed out to a party at Pete Brigg's farm."

"Yeah, we know about it. Can you do a run for us?"

Brady set his six down on the pavement. "Absolutely. The usual?"

Brian dug in his pocket for his money. "Yeah - Molson. The beer, not the ale. Three sixes should do us."

Bailey laughed. "Three? You gettin' a little bold, aint'cha?"

Brian looked around at the others. "Seven of us. Three for you leaves us about two a piece."

Bailey leaned closer. "I have beer. I'd rather smoke, if you have any."

Ed snickered, reached into a pocket and produced the other half of the monster joint. "This do you?"

Bailey stared, then grinned. "I'd say. Back in flash, gents and ladies."

"I gave you enough for a bag of ice, too." Brian added, as Bailey turned to go.

"Gotcha covered, Brian. Just don't either of you move your cars and run over my six there." Bailey headed off.

"Don't know any normal people, do you, Brian?" Brad said then.

Brian grinned at him. "I know you. What's that saying?"

Casey laughed and pushed his brother. "It means you don't know any normal people."

Brad turned and grabbed his brother, wrestled with him a moment, while they both laughed. The look of joy on Casey's face made Brian grin. The closeness of the two brothers was obvious, and also the lack of pretense about it. Brian could easily see that they loved each other, and also that they were best friends. Briefly, he wondered if Casey went everywhere with his big brother - that would make dating a bit of a problem. Then again - Friday night, and Brad was out with his little brother. No girlfriend?

That seemed unusual. Brad was a nice looking guy - Brian even thought him a little cute. He'd be even cuter if he lost the scraggily beard - but what the hell. It wasn't Brian's face.

But no girl?

Well, in itself that was no big deal. There were a lot of guys their age who didn't have a steady girl. Brian had only recently started hanging with Annie on more than a friendly basis, and half the car crowd were too shy, or too wrapped up in their cars, to have a girlfriend. But Brian had friends, and he had the car crowd. And the car crowd all had friends, and they all hung together. But each time they had seen Brad, he was with his brother. Didn't he have friends, too? Maybe - but, no. Brian squeezed his eyes closed a moment and shook the feeling off. He barely knew these guys, and there was too much he didn't know about them, to be making any judgments just yet.

But watching the two in the Cutlass grab and play touched a button somewhere - one that made Brian wonder. It was like he had seen this type of closeness before.

And he thought he knew where.

Brian stuck his head out the window, looked down to ascertain the placement of Bailey's beer, then started the Bee. "Let me back up and get a little farther away so I can open the door," he told Brad. "I'm gonna need to get in the trunk, okay?"

Brad nodded, watched as Brian backed up and then pulled back in next to the Olds, but a whole parking space further away. Brian shut off the engine and got out. He heard the passenger door open, and then Jeff and Annie got out.

"I need to move around a little, "Jeff said. "Shake off some of this buzz. Man. That stuff of Jed's is potent, ain't it?"

Brian nodded, opening the trunk. "For about a half hour. After that it mellows out a lot." He grinned at his boyfriend. "I actually feel pretty good now."

Jeff came around and stood by him at the trunk. "Yeah. I'm okay now that I'm out in the air. Fuckin' Ed - I've never seen anyone suck down smoke like he does."

Brian grinned. "The ideal job for him would be as bong tester. If Ed could suck a whole oh-zee through it in one hit, you know you got a winner."

Jeff tossed his head back and laughed, and Brian's grin expanded. Jeff had been doing that a lot lately, and it was so cute that Brian just loved it. It was further proof that Jeff had come out of his shell, and that he had been hiding a truly sweet and loving spirit underneath his fears.

Jeff saw him looking and wound down to a cute grin, his eyes sparkling in the setting sun. "What?"

Brian leaned closer, made sure they were covered from Brad's view by the open trunk lid, and mouthed I love you to Jeff.

Jeff sighed, canting his head to one side. "You know how I feel."

Brian nodded, wishing that they could have a private moment, but knowing it was impossible just then. Instead, he opened the cooler lashed in place with bungee cords in one corner of the trunk, intending to dump the water it contained, and was surprised to find a full six-pack of Molsons floating about inside.

Jeff gave him a little push. "Forgot about them huh? They're from the other day, remember?'

"Yeah, I did forget. Well, that's even better, just in case we get a little crazy and want to get drunk off our asses, on top of being stoned."

"Yeah - right," Jeff said, rolling his eyes. "The day I see you drunk will be the same day I sprout wings and fly to the moon."

Brian laughed, taking the bottles out of the cooler and laying them on the doubled-over U-Haul furniture pad that served as the trunk's liner. Then he disconnected the cords, hefted out the cooler, and poured the water on the pavement. "You can't fly to the moon with wings. You need air for that."

Jeff shook his head. "You know what I mean, smart ass. You don't like to be drunk. It ain't happenin'."

Brian grinned at his boyfriend, but nodded. "You know me too well, huh?"

"Yes, I do."

Brian put the cooler back into the trunk, strapped it in place, and put the bottles of beer inside.

"Here comes your beer guy," Jeff said then.

Bailey returned, a cardboard beer case bottom in his hands. Three sixes of Molson and a bag of ice occupied the interior. Brian took the load, set it into the trunk of the car. Bailey handed over Brian's change, then grinned expectantly.

"Go see Ed," Brian told him. "He'll fix you right up."

Bailey clapped his hands together, rubbed them a couple of times, and smiled. "Pleasure doing business with you, Brian. As always." He nodded at Jeff, and circled around the car towards the passenger window.

Brian started loading beers into the cooler, then paused. "Wait a sec," he told Jeff. He walked back around to the driver's door and looked inside the Bee.

Bailey was crouched down inside the open passenger door, while Annie was holding a light to Ed's mini bong.

"Anyone want a cold one?" Brian asked.

Everyone did. Brian went back around the car, and he and Jeff separated out seven of the cold beers. They gave two to Brad and Casey, and then one to everyone inside the Bee, and kept one each for themselves.

That still left a lot of beer. They somehow manged to get all the bottles inside the cooler, dumped the ice over it, and pushed the cubes down into every vacant space possible. That still left a fairly sizable mound of ice on top. Brian flipped the lid closed, and he and Jeff laughed at the five inch gap between lid and cooler.

"It'll go down as the ice melts," Brian said, closing the trunk lid.

They circled back to their respective doors and found Bailey just finishing his second hit.

He had his eyes squeezed shut, and looked like he was having an asthma attack. He struggled heroically a moment longer, and then gasped out a huge cloud of smoke and went into a fit of coughing.

"Man!" he finally gave out, shaking his head. "That is some killer shit, Ed. Damn, I can feel all my toenails moving in my shoes!"

Everyone laughed

Bailey staggered to his feet, squinted at the sun where it was already going down into the trees to the west. "Damn, it's bright out here!"

Brian grinned at him. "Can you make it where you're going? We can cram you in the car long enough to run you home, if you want."

The other boy laughed. "Are you fucking kidding? I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now. I hope a thousand motherfuckers come in here now, and that they all want beer. I feel like running to the beer store for at least the next few hours."

A few other cars had come in while they were all busy, and parked in a little group near the pizza place. Bailey squinted at the cars, and grinned. "And I see some customers now." He nodded, and waved. "Brian, Ed - all you nice people. Have a good one."

He grabbed his six-pack, sighed, fixed his bleary red eyes on the parked cars, and started off.

Brian stepped over to the Olds, keeping his beer bottle pressed close. It was a habit, just in case cops were around. "I guess we can be movin' on now," he said to Brad. "You wanna just follow us?"

"Where we going? Just in case we get split up."

Brian leaned down to the Cutlass's window. "If that happens I'll just stop and wait for you. But we're going to Komus. You know how to get there?"

Brad gave a little laugh. "Damn, that's the middle of nowhere, Brian. But, yeah, I know where that is."

Brian shrugged. "I'll pull over and wait if we get separated. You might not find the place on your own."

Brad nodded and started his car, and Brian went back to the Bee.

He was just climbing into the front seat when he heard the roar of a big block and the squeal of tires from the intersection, and a moment later a bright blue car entered the parking lot. Brian craned his neck to peer over the Olds to see it, and then started laughing.

"Who is it?" Annabelle said, unable to see past Brian.

A blue El Camino coasted across the parking lot towards them. Brian turned to look at his passengers. "Ladies and gentleman, JohnyG has arrived."

Ed started laughing, and so did Jeff. Annie looked at Brian, her eyes bright. "This is turning out to be a weird night already. I love it!"

Missy gave Ed a poke. "The entertainment is here."

Brian nodded, smiling, and got back out of the car, and was standing by the taillights when the Chevy pulled up and stopped with a small squeak from its brakes. Brian peered through the windshield, could see JohnyG and Gary inside. JohnyG shut the Chevy down, and the car's doors popped open.

"Brian! How's it going?"

JohnyG came right over and gave Brian a hug, clapping him gently on the back. Gary lifted a beer at him, and grinned, and then gave Brian a quick hug after JohnyG was through.

"Fuckin' great timing, you guys," Brian said. "We were just gonna roll out."

JohnyG looked around the parking lot. "Where's the crowd? I was hoping to see some nice iron here."

"Party," Jeff said, coming around the car. JohnyG burst into a smile and repeated the back-clapping hug with Jeff, and then Gary took a turn.

JohnyG grinned knowingly at Brian. "I was just going to ask where a certain Camaro and driver were, but now I see he's a rider tonight."

Brian nodded, and he and Jeff grinned at each other.

JohnyG rolled his eyes at Gary before returning his grin to the others. "I see that love is still in the air."

Brian remembered Brad and Casey then, and leaned forward quickly. "We have a couple of dudes with us who don't know, okay?"

JohnyG squeezed his smile off and nodded. "I'll be good."

Brian took JohnyG and Gary around the car and introduced them to Brad and Casey, who both smiled and nodded.

"Pretty car," Brad said, pointing his beer bottle at the El Camino. "Sounds like it runs, too."

"It gets by." JohnyG stepped back, noted the 455 emblem on the Oldsmobile's front fender, and laughed. "Bet you can shit and git, yourself."

Brad looked pleased, but then nodded at the Dodge. "Couldn't beat Brian, though."

JohnyG eyed Brian, who managed not to grin. "So - where you guys off to?"

Brian was relieved at the change of subject. "We were just going to run out to the haunted house and check the place out. Wanna come?"

JohnyG looked over at Gary, who nodded. "Yeah, that sounds pretty cool, actually," Gary said. "I'd love to see that place without all the people around."

JohnyG grinned. "I guess we're going, then."

Brian was pleased at the turn of events, and couldn't suppress that from his expression. "Great. You guys need to get some beer or anything? We've got smoke, if you don't."

Gary laughed at that. "We won't be out of stuff to smoke for another month, at least."

Jeff gave Brian a look. "Ain't that the truth. Neither will we."

JohnyG shook his head. "Got some cold ones behind the seat. We're good."

"Let's hit the road, then."

Brian led the way, heading back out to route five. Because there were only three of them, they played a little on the journey up, buzzing by each other, jockeying for position, and turning a little tire coming off the stop lights. And they didn't stick to the speed limit, hitting sixty and sixty five along the way.

The road narrowed from three lanes to two, and soon they were at the turn off to Route 38.

"We're making good time," Jeff said. "Not like the other night, when there was thirty carloads of people."

"That was kind of fun, though," Annie said, taking a sip of her beer. "It was like being part of a wagon train or something like that." She looked at Brian, all smiles. "It was an adventure."

Brian grinned at her. "Really? Oh, now it's coming out! Our Annie here's got some Indiana Jones in her heart."

"Indy's a guy," Annie said, rolling her eyes. "Do I look like a guy?"

Brian and Jeff both laughed. "Not by a long way, little girl," Brian admitted. "Okay, not Indy - um, his girl then - the Karen Allen part."

"Marion," Annie said, unable to disguise the distaste in her voice. "What an awful name. Sounds like a fat old aunt with big, floppy tits, and green streaks in her gray hair."

Brian laughed, making a face at the image. "Ew. Yeah, you're a long way from there. Just the spirit, then, okay?"

Annie nodded. "I can live with that, I guess."

They reached Ridge Road and made the turn. Brad was behind him, and JohnyG bringing up the rear. Brian started watching for the driveway, expecting now that the big plywood sign would be gone.

But it wasn't gone at all; it was standing just where it had been the night of the party, proclaiming 80 Acres, in big red letters.

Brian slowed and turned into the driveway, not sure what that might mean. Behind him, Brad turned in even more slowly, his hesitation seeming to say that this was not what he had expected to find at their journey's end. A friggin' cornfield!

But he followed the Bee, and JohnyG's El Camino was right behind him.

"The fuckin' sign's still up," Ed observed from the back seat. "Do you think Jed and his old lady are still here?"

Brian scratched an ear as the Bee rolled slowly up the worn ruts of the drive. It was earlier than their arrival time the night of the party; the sun was low in the trees behind them, but the sky was still well-lit, causing the sliver of moon just coming into view in the cornstalks ahead to seem half-hearted, at best, in its attempt to light the coming dusk.

Something was different about the lane. The rows of corn to either side of it were bent down or back, many broken off and laying on the ground.

"Looks like a tornado went through here," Annie said. "What's up with that?"

Brian shrugged. Could Jed and Carrie still be here? Maybe their plans had somehow changed...?

"I don't know," Brian finally said, realizing that both Ed and Annie were awaiting replies. "Guess we'll see in a minute."

They came to where the drive turned and ran along the top of the hill; and then the house came into view below, sitting atop its little rise.

The difference from their last visit was immediately plain to see. "Not a light anywhere," Jeff said, leaning forward.

At that observation, Brian grimaced. "Shit. We should have brought some lights. I have a flashlight in the trunk, but that's just one."

Jeff winced. "Yeah, I have one in my car. I'd have brought it along if we had thought about it."

Brian felt Annie shrug next to him. "I'll bet the other guys have one in their cars, too. It'll be enough. We can start a fire in the fireplace in that front room with all the beer bottles, and sit on the car seats. It'll be fun."

It was a good observation, and Brian nodded and relaxed. But he made a mental note to dig out his big Coleman lantern for their next visit here.

Brian drove slowly down the hill, something about the scene below nagging at him - something different. Then he had it.

"Oh - hey. The trailer is gone. The one Jed and Carrie lived in. I'll bet that means the place is empty, all right."

"Woo," Jeff said, shaking his head. "I'd hate to be the trucker that hauled that thing outta here."

No lie about that. Just getting a car up the steep hill before the house was enough of a job. Dragging a trailer out of here would be a chore...

Brian snapped his fingers. "That's what happened to the corn," he said then, getting it. "They dragged that fat-assed trailer out over the driveway."

The Bee reached the bottom of the hill, and Brian drove the car right up to the front porch and shut off the engine. For a moment they could hear the other two cars pulling up behind them, and then silence.

Brian opened the door, got out, and stretched. The sun was even further down now, and shadows were creeping quickly up the little valley where the house stood. It was quiet - almost unbelievably so - with just the faintest of sounds; unidentifiable, but likely the barest of evening breezes moving among the rows of corn.

Down the little depression from them, across a long stretch of fallow fields, maybe a mile in the distance, lay the bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain, its peak still gloriously alight in sun. Brian could almost see the dusk line moving up its flanks; sunset was only minutes away. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw the wink of a flashlight at the mountain's base - if it was hikers trying for the summit to see the sunset, they were surely too late. It would be dark long before they finished their climb. But they would then be in a good position to see the moon and the stars - one of the best features of a party on the peak.

Brad and Casey came up, with JohnyG and Gary right behind them. JohnyG had a flashlight in one hand, and Casey had one in his.

"This place is excellent," Casey breathed, moving his light about the front of the house.

Brad nodded. "I does look like it could be haunted."

Brian grinned at them. "We were just saying we hoped you guys had lights."

Casey nodded, bringing his beam back to focus on the ground between them. JohnyG laughed, waggling his. "You don't? And I had you pegged as a guy who was ready for anything."

Brian laughed. "No, I have one. It's in the trunk."

He circled the Bee, opened the trunk, and pulled forward the small box of tools he always carried, so that he could see inside. The flash was there, right where it should be. It was a three-cell torch, bright and long-lasting, just too lengthy to fit in the car's admittedly tiny glove box. Brian grabbed it, closed the trunk lid, and thumbed the flashlight's switch. A bright beam lanced out into the corn, and Brian waved it around a moment before shutting it off.

JohnyG frowned at him. "Nice. But don't you think it's smarter to carry it in the car?"

Brian shrugged. "No. It won't fit in the glove box, and it rolled out from under the seat once and got stuck under the brake pedal. Once was enough for me."

"How about under the seat on the passenger side?" JohnyG pointed out.

Admittedly, Brian hadn't thought of that. He laughed now, but wasn't going to admit it. He thumbed the flashlight on again."How about we go look in the house? Once we know we're cool, we can come back and get the beer and shit."

"Okay, let's." JohnyG thumbed his own flashlight on, and made for the steps, and Gary followed him.

Brian looked over at Jeff and Annie, and smiled. "Shall we?"

Annie came over and took Brian by one arm, and Jeff came over and bumped against his other arm. They followed JohnyG and Gary.

Ed extended an arm to Missy, who sighed and took it, and they followed.

Brad and Casey brought up the rear.

The interior of the house looked pretty much like the last time they had seen it. The car seats were still in the front room, and in several other rooms they looked into. The kitchen had been cleared out, but the tubs the quarter-kegs of beer had been iced in were stacked out on the rear porch like a big tube of Dixie Cups. They went upstairs through the secret door and stairway, and found the guillotine still standing in the upper bedroom, though all the spotlights had been removed.

The electricity was off. There might be a switch someplace, but more than likely the service had been pulled when the property was vacated. The three flashlights were enough to see by, and Brian ceased worrying about having enough light.

They went back down to the front room with the fireplace. The two bookcases full of empty bottles glittered in the dancing beams of their flashlights.

"Holy shit!" Casey exclaimed, as he understood what he was seeing. "Are all those beer bottles?"

Brad gaped with him.

Jeff laughed. "The guy that lived here was a little bit of a drinker."

Ed laughed at that. "A lot a little bit."

Brad looked at Brian. "What kind of guy was this?"

Missy gave Ed a small but fond push. "Like my guy here - all hair, but twice the size - and maybe a little meaner."

"What do you mean, a little meaner?" Ed said, sounding hurt. "I'm a pussycat."

Missy laughed and pulled him close. "Okay. He was a lot meaner."

"She's kidding," Brian said, shaking his head. "Jed seemed like a cool dude. Just older. You know how that can be."

Everyone nodded, including JohnyG and Gary, who both had the rest of the group by at least five years. Fortunately, they hadn't let it go to their heads.

"I saw a pile of wood out front," Gary offered, pointing back at the front door with his bottle. "Wanna get some?"

"We'll help you," Annie said, waving at Missy. "Come on, Miss."

Missy went to pull away from Ed; he held onto her for a second, grinning. "Come on back, you hear?"

She grinned, and he released her. JohnyG tossed his flashlight to Gary, and he and the girls left the room.

"Brian, you wanna shine that wicked light you got up this chimney a second to see if there's a damper? Might be too old, might not. Needs to be open if it's there."

"Sure." Brian came forward and squatted, and peered up inside the chimney, shining the light so he could see. "Yeah. There's an iron-looking door, but it's pushed up." He looked back at JohnyG. "It's already open."

Brian got up and gave the wrought iron grate a little kick. The ashes in it from the last fire it had contained sifted through to the floor of the fireplace.

"We're going to need some tinder."

JohnyG nodded. "I've got some newspaper behind the seat in the Chevy." He walked over to the front window, which was missing a few small panes of glass. "Hey, Gary?"


"Can you bring some of the newspaper we got in the car? Just leave me the sports section." He grinned at Brian. "I haven't read it yet."

"Will do."

Soon, they had a nice fire going. The room filled with light, and the rows of bottles on the shelves winked and danced with the flames. They went back outside and brought in the beer, and Ed rolled another joint and passed it around. Beers were handed out, and everyone took a seat

Brian took only a small hit when the joint arrived at him. He wanted to be able to walk around and check out the house without killing himself. He noted that Jeff mimicked his reticence; Annie took a moderate hit, Missy declined altogether, and JohnyG and Gary each took fairly good hits. When the joint got to Brad and Casey, they finished it off, grinning.

"This is really cool," Annie said, looking around the room. "I can almost imagine what this place was like with furniture in it."

"Yeah," Brian agreed. "It was probably nice once."

They talked about what it might have been like to live in a place like the house, back in the days before modern conveniences. Wood stoves and fireplaces for heat; oil lamps for nighttime illumination; no refrigeration for food; no TV, no radio, no after-dark entertainment, save for talking or reading.

"And sex," Casey pointed out, grinning. He took a swig off his beer as if to accentuate his fondness for the idea, and looked at Brad, who grinned back at him almost conspiratorially.

Brian had to roll his eyes at the play between the two - they really did seem oblivious to the fact that they were broadcasting their fondness for each other. Fondness, and maybe a little more.

Brian took a long draw off his beer, looking away. He felt like he was intruding by watching the brothers.

JohnyG and Gary looked at each other and smiled.

"So," JohnyG said, pointedly not watching Brad and Casey, "what shall we do now? I do know I want to look around this place and see anything we might have missed the other night."

Jeff leaned forward. "I want to look in the basement." He grinned. "Jed said there were a lot of stolen car parts down there."

Brian stood up. "No time like the present."

"Not me," Missy said, shaking her head. "I'm not crawling around any dirty old basement. Probably snakes and mice down there."

Annie made a face, and looked up at Brian. "I'll come. Just - no crawling."

Brian laughed. "Deal."

Ed decided to stay with Missy, of course, but everyone else was up for a little exploration. "Just let us know if you find any Superbee parts," Ed said, grinning. "A build-it-yourself kit would be fun as shit."

Brian chugged the rest of his beer, and walked to the bookcase to one side of the fireplace and gently pushed the empty Molson bottle in among the Millers. Jeff finished his bottle in a series of hefty gulps, and added his empty to the collection. Then everyone except Ed and Missy were horsing down the contents of their bottles, and finding spots for them on the shelves.

JohnyG wiped his mouth with the back of his hands. "Good idea, Brian. We'll probably need our hands free to fight off the rats."

Annie laughed, and took a fake swing at him. JohnyG stepped back, grinning. "Just wanted to see if you were awake."

Annie nodded. "Keep saying shit like that, and you'll find out."

It actually took them a while to find the stairway to the basement. Despite Jed having warned them about avoiding it, they hadn't found it on previous tours of the house, and it wasn't where they expected it to be. They covered the bottom floor, looking in all the doors in the hallways, where a staircase might be likely to be found in a more modern house.


It turned out to be in a small room off the kitchen, that was set up like a pantry, with shelves all around - now empty.

At the back of the room was a narrow door, which looked to have been added later. There were clear marks on the walls that showed where shelf mounts had once allowed for shelves to extend across the end of the room. The door had a hasp on it for a padlock, and the way it was worn and shiny made it obvious that a lock had hung there for some time.

"Probably took it with them," JohnyG pointed out. "Locks cost money."

The door opened with a screech when Jeff pulled on the knob, and they were presented with a sudden drop to a packed-dirt floor ten feet below.

"Shit," Brian said immediately. "It's a cellar, not a basement."

"Hey," Gary said, pointing his flashlight beam downwards. "I get it now. This place is like my grandmom's house out in Illinois. A lot of really old houses had cellars, but you had to go outside to get into them. There's probably an entry in the back of the house or something. They added this later."

It was obvious that stairs had once existed - the stringers were still in place; only the treads had been removed.

Gary moved his light around slowly, and several car doors came into view, leaning against a wall made up of large stones with gray mortar between them.

JohnyG made a noise. "Geez. I don't know what kind of cars they're from, but I can tell just by looking at them that they were early fifties, at the newest. Maybe even late forties. They're huge, and smooth, and they're all painted black or white."

Gary grunted, stooped, and pointed the light further back. The shiny, toothy grins of auto grilles came into view, some quite ornate in appearance.

JohnyG nodded. "Well, those are early fifties, at least." He looked more closely at the staircase stringers, noted that a few inches of tread still stuck out on either side. "Shit. Someone cut the treads out with a chainsaw or something. But I'll bet there's enough left to walk down on, if we're careful."

Brian pointed his own light at the remains of the treads, and had to agree. At least a shoe's width or more remained on either side, and the stairs themselves couldn't have been more than about three and a half feet in width to begin with. The handrails were still in place. A careful descent would be possible, definitely.

"It's a good drop, though, so anyone that doesn't want to try it - don't."

Brian decided to go first. He handed his flash to Jeff, who held it steady to light the way. Brian bent, grasped the handrails, and carefully placed a foot on the right-side remains of the first tread. It felt solid underfoot, and so he placed his weight on it, and then carefully extended his left foot and put it on the stub of the tread on the left, one tread lower. It, too, felt sturdy.

And then he simply walked on down, his legs spread a bit more than was comfortable, but really with no trouble at all.

He stepped off the remains of the last tread, and grinned up at the crowd of faces looking downward. "Piece of cake."

Jeff tossed him the flashlight, and Brian pointed it at the stairs while Gary held his light on them from above. Jeff came down, having no more trouble than did Brian. The others followed, one by one, until the whole group stood on the packed dirt floor.

"Even easier going up, I'll bet," JohnyG said, now holding the flashlight that Gary had been using. He looked back at the way they had come. "I wonder why they even bothered removing the steps? It didn't keep us from getting down here."

Brian shrugged. "I can see why. All those stoned and drunk people at the party - if they had been able to just walk down here, there would have been a hundred of them wandering about, getting into trouble. Jed knew he and Carrie were leaving. He just cut the steps out, figuring that would deter people. I'm sure the lock was still on the door then, too. Probably, no one even knew the stairs were here. Jed was just being really careful, I think."

Jeff nodded. "Yeah. They just wanted people to keep from getting hurt."

JohnyG pointed the beam of his light around the cellar, which was quite large. Thick, unfinished support beams ran beneath the floors above them, and the debarked boles of some sizable trees acted as supports, set into the packed dirt floor and rising to thick, square collars attached to the underside of the rough-hewn joists.

The basement had been filled with shelving - cases of them - some of which had collapsed and strewn the floor with a myriad of parts. Brian vaguely recognized the shapes of old distributors, capacitors, one-barrel carburetors; dashboard assemblies, instrument clusters, suspension and drivetrain parts - primitive stuff, even by the Bee's standards, which were sixteen years out-of-date. The guts of a hundred cars, the workings of which had once been stored in orderly fashion, but which now covered the floor like the aftermath of a fierce explosion in a parts warehouse.

"Man, look at this stuff," Brad said softly, turning his head about in wonder. "These guys meant business."

Certainly, that seemed true. The lights revealed every manner of auto body parts - hoods, fenders, doors, bumpers, grilles - all still neatly stacked or leaning against shelving or walls, for the most part, and covered in decades worth of dust and grime. It was a sobering account of a shattering incident in the lives of uncounted numbers of people - the loss of a car, stolen in the dark of night, or even vanished in broad daylight. A careless moment, a key left in an ignition switch - or maybe a more bold approach, a car hotwired by moonlight. Whatever the case had been, the mountain of parts here represented a significant loss to a great many people.

"Cops must never have found this place," JohnyG decided. "This stuff would all be gone - evidence."

They had to be careful where they walked. It was possible to make their way around the cellar - some rows of shelving were blocked, but others were still clear. Signs of the passage of time were everywhere. Some of the shelving looked rotted; some had simply bowed to the point of breaking under the weight of their contents.

"I don't think there's anything here from even the sixties," JohnyG decided at last. "This is all fifties stuff - some of it might even be older."

Brian hadn't really been expecting a goldmine. It would have been cool to find parts from cars he recognized - but he wasn't disappointed to find that everything here was older. Some of it might still be of value to a collector, somewhere; but to deal with it would be more than they could manage.

They arrived at the back wall, and there they found a revelation: a section of outer wall filled with concrete, maybe five feet wide, floor to ceiling. Brian recognized it for what it was immediately. "Wow. This must have been the way in from outside. They filled it in, so that the only way to get in here was through the house."

"Makes sense," Jeff said, nodding. "If you're running an operation like this, you don't want someone walking in from the backyard and seeing it."

Annie shook her head. "No - it doesn't make sense."

Brian looked at her. "How do you mean?"

Annie stared at him. "Well - look at the size of some of this stuff. Are you saying they brought all those hoods and fenders down that little staircase we came down? That seems crazy."

It did. Brian immediately saw the contradiction. He looked at Jeff, who nodded. "Yeah, that does seem weird. I mean - it could be done, but it would really be hard. They would have had to carry all this stuff in through the kitchen and then down those little steps. That would have been some work. What'd they have - ten guys doing this?'

They all stared about at the mountains of parts, and the more they looked, the less it seemed believable that someone could bring all this stuff in through the little doorway at the back of the kitchen pantry. Maybe over years worth of time --

"Maybe the back door was sealed up after the car ring was done," Casey suggested.

"Wouldn't they want to get rid of this stuff first?" Brian asked. "I mean, if they sealed it all in here, they risked getting caught with it later."

"Maybe there's another door we don't see," Jeff suggested. "Let's look around some more."

They split into three groups, each based around one of the flashlights, and spread out around the back of the cellar. Brian and Jeff and Annie walked along the back wall, stepping carefully around stacked fenders and other body parts. The stone walls looked solid and untouched.

JohnyG and Gary were doing the same on one side of the cellar, inspecting the outer wall, and Brad and Casey were checking the other. It was Casey that made the first call.

"Hey you guys - come here!"

They all made their way towards the sound of Casey's voice. Brian felt a stir of excitement - this was almost like a treasure hunt.

Brad and Casey were standing by a row of shelving built along the side wall. Each section was about seven feet across, hung from stout uprights at each end and with braces in the middle attached to the back wall of the cabinet. Brad and Casey were standing before an end section that was a mess. A crib on wheels across from that section of shelving had held auto bumpers in an upright position, and the outer rib of the crib had collapsed, allowing the collection of bumpers to fall over. Several had impacted the shelving section across the aisle, knocking out several shelves and strewing their contents about the floor.

They all arrived to see Brad and Casey looking excited.

"What did you find?" JohnyG said immediately.

Casey had the flashlight, which he pointed into the mass of bumper ends laying against the shelving. "Look here!'

Everyone pressed closer to stare.

The weight of the bumpers had collapsed a shelf at about mid-chest height, and impacted the back wall of the section. A piece of planking in the back had also been knocked out, revealing a dark hole. Brian bent and pointed his light at the hole - the beam vanished into a void behind.

He straightened in surprise, looking at the outer wall next to the section. It looked just as solid as the rest of the cellar - only behind this section of shelving was an open space of some kind.

JohnyG grinned. "Lets start moving this shit out of the way." He patted Casey on the shoulder. "Good catch, man." Casey beamed, looking at his brother, who reached out and gave his wrist a fond squeeze. The look on Brad's face conveyed a lot of things; but the most powerful and the most discernable was love.

Brian noticed it, and once again was struck by the familiarity of the way these two acted towards each other. Not like brothers. Like lovers. It might all be in his mind - Brian's outlook on things had been stretched a little since meeting Jeff, and even more since meeting JohnyG and Gary. Brothers could certainly love each other a great deal, especially brothers who had been through what Brad and Casey had experienced. But the way they looked at each other sometimes held something extra - something that Brian had only recently realized that he could see. It was a special quality, shared by two guys who were sharing more than just life. It was a kind of love that had nothing to do with familial caring.

It was the love that two people shared when they were intimate with each other.

In this case, it was the kind of love that two guys shared when they were gay. Brian had seen it between JohnyG and Gary, and he had seen it again between the two guys at the pizza place on Route 5. And, he had recognized that he and Jeff displayed it, too.

It made the fact of Brad and Casey being brothers a much more complicated thing. Briefly, his thoughts swirled in a mix of powerful curiosity about the two teens - but then just as quickly the cold hand of not my business clamped down on him. Short of asking them outright, there was no way to know.

And he didn't feel he could do that. Not yet, anyway.

He dismissed the thought as they all began wrestling the bumpers to one side, and it settled to the back of his mind as they cleared the area before the shelving.

"Anybody notice that the floor here is cement?" Gary asked, slapping a shoe against it and raising a little cloud of dust.

They all looked down. The floor of the cellar along the front of the shelving was smooth - concrete or cement, old, but still solid.

JohnyG grinned and took the flashlight from Gary, and went to look at the outer upright of the shelving. It touched the wall of the cellar and looked perfectly normal. But the irregularity of the stone outer wall left plenty of room for fingers, and JohnyG stuck his in and gave the upright a solid tug.

There was a groan, and a kind of grating sound, and the entire shelving section on that side moved out from the wall.

Everyone gaped in silence.

"Fuck!" JohnyG said then. "It's a goddamned door!"

Brian and Jeff were at his side then, both wedging fingers in behind the upright. JohnyG grinned. "On three, okay?" They braced themselves, nodding. "One, two, pull!"

The three of them leaned back hard, their arms going taut. The shelving pulled out and swung away from the wall, a sound coming from underneath like little wheels grinding against the cement floor. Brian and Jeff had to let go and move out of the way as the section swung outward, with JohnyG being the last one to let go and dance back.

They all stepped around the now open section of shelving. Three flashlights pointed into the dark void now revealed. Everyone stared in silence.

Brian let out a breath of air, breaking the stillness. "What do you think of that?"

It was a tunnel, leading into the earth behind the back wall. The flashlight beams revealed a dusty cement floor, and thick side beams supporting a roof that looked to be made of railroad ties. The tunnel stretched away from them, beyond even the ability of the beam of light from Brian's three-cell flash to penetrate.

After that, lay only darkness.

Jeff nudged Brian with his elbow. "Is this where the pirates come out and chase us?"

Brian grinned. "Only in the movies."

JohnyG laughed. "Yeah, I doubt we'll see pirates. But - maybe there's something else cool back there."

Casey stepped up, his eyes shining with excitement "Let's go and see."

Brian nodded, sighed, and stepped into the tunnel.

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