Summer Solstice, 1977

June 21, 2017
excerpt from Chapter Three

Tuesday, June 21, 1977 

TWELVE OF THEM WALKED along the old railroad, leaves blanketing the retired ties and crunching beneath their sneakers. The moon was just a sliver, a little hook of a fingernail hanging in the sky like it had been forgotten there. It offered no real light.

A ‘No Trespassing’ sign hung prominently across the gate by the main road but they all slipped beneath it to disappear into the darkness beyond. Words were not going to stop them.

Since the tragedy, the strange circle in the trees had been raised to local legend, offering a site for ghost stories and a place where town kids deemed worthy were brought to hear the tale of Paisley Carver’s chilling death.

The older boys led the way. Neal and Cam Darvey had planned the whole thing and they chose the path, along with their cousin Isaac, while the others followed. Grace stayed right at Sherwin’s side and held a flashlight in her hand.

She glanced down at Sherwin’s feet as he navigated the treacherous trail. Her light cast enough of a glow that she could see a hole in the end of his running shoe. His laces were so frayed they looked like doll’s hair.

“Your feet cold?” she asked him. The early summer air was slightly cool and damp, and from the chill she felt through her own well-built soles she guessed his socks were already wet.

“No,” he said. “Why? Are yours?”

“I’m okay.”

Sherwin never complained about the low means of his family, about how they had to shop at The Salvation Army Thrift Store on Douglas Street or how they were on the church list for the Feed-A-Family Turkey Drive every Christmas. He always seemed content.

Grace studied him out of the corner of her eye—the strong line of his jaw and the thick wave of his dark hair. She smiled softly to herself and slipped her hand into his.

“You guys coming to the movies Friday?” Cam called back to them.

“Farrah Fawcett,” Neal added. “They’re finally showing Logan’s Run.”

“Not sure,” Sherwin said.

“Oh, Farrah,” Cam hooted and the other boys joined him like wolves howling at the moon.

They were walking farther and farther from the main road.

“I’m not sure we should be doing this,” Grace whispered.

“Come on, Gracie,” Sherwin said, bumping her playfully with his shoulder. “It’ll be fun.”

Jackson ran up from behind and grabbed Grace at the waist.

She screamed and jumped forward.

The boys in front spun around and as a trio hissed, “Shhhhhhhh.”

Grace shoved Jackson. “Not funny!”

“But you’re so cute when you’re mad,” Jackson teased, hopping out of the way of her hand as she reached to shove him again.

“Take it easy, Jackson,” Sherwin said. “It was hard enough getting her to come with us. Don’t make her change her mind now.”

“Whatever, lame-o!” Jackson said and he ran to catch up with Neal.

“Why tonight?” Grace asked. “Of all the nights? Why summer solstice?”

Jackson turned and kept walking backwards, his flashlight up at his chin, “Because it’s spooooooky,” he said, laughing. “It’s when the witches like to play.”

“It’s stupid,” Grace said, kicking at a dead leaf.

“Better than hanging out with your mom, isn’t it?” Sherwin asked.

“She had a shift at the hospital tonight. She thinks I’m at an end of school party.”

“You are!” Sherwin winked. “Or you will be soon, anyway.”

Up ahead the boys had stopped and were pointing their flashlights into the trees. “It’s this way,” Cam said and he stepped off the path.


THE WOODS WERE DENSE and the darkness felt heavy as the town-kids left the railway path and descended into the full cover of trees. Flashlight beams cut through in an eerie bouncing rhythm that was oddly comforting. Twelve different sets of footsteps broke the forest stillness.

Grace was relieved when they came out of the trees into a clearing. “What is this?” she asked, waving her flashlight over the circle of black stones in the centre of the glade.

“This is where it happened,” Cam said, coming up beside her with an armload of small branches. “There be blood on this soil.” He laughed and dropped the twigs in the middle of the stones. Some of the other boys did the same until they had a pile large enough to keep them warm and lend some light.

“I thought you already had wood gathered,” Jenna commented.

Cam shrugged. “We did, but someone moved it. Maybe they're watching us now."

“Shut it!” Jenna said, pushing him and laughing, though she did pause to take a quick look around for prying eyes.

Wind-chimes played a haunting soundtrack in the background as the boys set up the branches in the centre of the stones.

Neal pulled a plastic bag from his coat and, one by one, lifted out twelve white taper candles. When they each held one, he took a lighter and lit his own, passing his flame until all twelve wicks were fluttering against the night breeze. “Youngest lights the fire,” he said. “Grace, you’re up.”

Grace looked to Sherwin. He winked and nodded his head in encouragement. She knelt by the pile of sticks and held her candle against a flyer for Ernie’s Hardware Store until it caught, the flickering light bouncing off the strange glass wind-chimes that seemed to hang from every tree. “Why are there twelve stones?” she asked as she moved back into the circle.

Jenna pulled a card from her back pocket and placed it in Grace’s hand. “Because of The Hanged Man,” she said.

In the light of the fire Grace could see the image of a blond man, hung upside down by a foot that was lashed to a tree branch. The roman numeral for twelve was at the top of the card. “What is this?” Grace asked, uncomfortable.

“It’s a Tarot card,” Jenna shrugged. “I got them at the discount store. I thought it was funny.”

“Hilarious,” Grace said.

“Who has the cups?” Cam asked.

Isaac pulled out a sleeve of small paper cups. “Got ‘em!” He separated the stack and passed them out.

Neal fished a small bottle of schnapps from his jacket. “It was all I could find at home,” he said sheepishly as he poured a swallow into each cup.

“Say the thing,” Morgan begged, practically giddy as she sniffed at the liquid in her cup.

Neal grinned, tossing aside the empty bottle and raising his cup. They all matched his motion and he gestured wide with his candle as he spoke. “Oh come to the church in the wildwood, to the trees where the wildflowers bloom, where the parting hymn will be chanted, we will weep by the side of the tomb.”

“Amen,” the kids called out in chorus.

“Amen,” said Neal, tipping back his drink and taking it in one swallow.

Grace took a little taste and made a face.

“Don’t be a baby,” Cam said, putting his finger on the bottom of her cup and tipping it back so she would drink the rest.

Grace swallowed, sputtering a little and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

Neal held his candle so it cast heavy shadows on his face. “Twelve stones for the twelve apostles of the truth,” he said in a low whisper. “Take your seat and hear the tale.” He threw his head back and laughed wickedly.

Morgan and Jenna giggled and ran to a stone while Grace grabbed hold of Sherwin and leaned in to his ear. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home.”

“Gracie, it’s all just in fun. Come on.” He swung an arm around her shoulder and pulled her against him. “Loosen up a bit. You’re way too serious.” He kissed her temple and she smiled in spite of herself.

“Okay,” she said. “But only for a little while.”

“Deal,” Sherwin said, winking at her and pulling her back to a stone, taking the one right beside her.


JOSEPH SMELLED THE FIRE BEFORE HE SAW IT. The trespassers were doing a poor job of keeping quiet and he would have found his way to them even if he hadn’t known the path so well. Laughter and silly noises floated on the air. It all made him very sad.

Friends would only bring him trouble, that’s what Momma always said. And girls? Girls would turn his world on its end.

He never told her that was exactly what he wanted—that for once he wanted to feel his world flip upside down. He wanted to know what it meant to be truly alive. To live for something beyond himself. To have adventure and chaos. To feel the ecstasy of love and the pain of a broken heart. Ever since that moment in the library when he watched the boy put his mouth over the girl’s, he thought about wanting it. He pined for a life beyond the calm control of his mother. He wanted a life of his own.

He eased up beside the big oak tree and peered out at the scene before him. He knew his mother would be furious if she saw the desecration they were making of her land, but he felt a warm stirring of joy in his belly at the sight of it all.

The old shovel leaned against the tree like it always did. Momma said it was a tool for goodbyes and so it should remain at the place of the farewell. The rusted head cut into the dirt at the roots of the oak and the wooden handle was cracked and grey. He felt its age as he wrapped his fingers around the old shaft.

When the story began he slid down the back of the tree until his bottom landed on the ground, the shovel resting across his lap. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and listened, feeling more alive in the stillness of the moment than he had in all of his fifteen years.

Unlike the teenagers in the clearing, he had never heard this tale before. At least not like this.


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