By Paul Strickland
to avoid on spring break
Early on April 4, 1971, Don in his Prussian blue ‘66 Mustang,
his friend Phil as passenger, drove out to pick up Leif at his apartment on B Street in
Sparks. They’d planned a day of driving back roads in Nevada and northeastern California
to Gerlach, Cedarville, and then the Oregon border south of Lakeview before turning back
They talked about a number of things on the way, such as an art class
held in the Getchell Library that spring at the University of Nevada-Reno campus and the
approaching visit of Tim and Anna from Santa Cruz the next weekend.
sharing ghost stories about the area. Phil acted like he was too rational to be influenced.
And Leif was so bored, he fell asleep in the back seat. But when Don interrupted Phil’s
tall tale with a tap on the shoulder to point out the sleeping Leif, Phil jumped. They
both laughed, which woke Leif, who asked about lunch.
They stopped for Italian
food at Bruno’s in Gerlach. Then they
proceeded up a narrow paved road that sometimes turned to gravel for short distances toward
Eagleville and Cedarville. Patches of snow still dotted the higher slopes of sagebrush-covered
ridges. At one curve they saw an abandoned wooden shack and “JESUS SAVES”
painted, probably long ago, on a cliff just behind it.
Recalling the ghost stories, Don said he’d
always felt uneasy about the area when going north on a hunting trip to the Sheldon
Antelope Range in Washoe County close to the Oregon border. Particularly unsettling was
a spot called Hog Ranch Springs. He asked if they wanted to stop and investigate the place.
With some misgivings but not wanting to appear faint of heart, the other two agreed.
left onto a dirt track that, after a half mile, ran out ten feet shy of the spring. The
spring was mostly mud with just a trickle of water down the middle. Crows cawed in the
aspens about a hundred feet away. In front of the trees sat an abandoned easy chair from
the art deco era and a late-1940s model Kelvinator refrigerator.
out-of-place there. Phil talked about news stories describing how small children had suffocated
when a refrigerator door had closed on them, they couldn’t kick their way out, and
no one could hear them.
Don dared Leif to open the refrigerator door. Leif
took the dare, then wished he hadn’t.
To their horror, out fell the mummified
remains of a child probably six years old at time of death.
Terrified, the three
fled back to the Mustang. They didn’t even have time to lock their seat belts as
Don started driving in panic mode back toward Gerlach to report the grisly find to the
Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
Suddenly Don saw, right in front of him, a child that cast no shadow.
He slammed on the brakes.
The car slewed, hit a patch of deep gravel, and, sliding off the road,
struck a large boulder. The men screamed as the car rolled over and over downhill. All
three must have died of their injuries before the vehicle came to rest in the desert gulch
below because, the next thing they knew, all found themselves standing beside the child,
mid-road. And they, too, cast no shadow.
Paul Strickland, email@example.com, of Prince George, BC, wrote BP #73’s
“Cold Surprise” (+ BP #71’s “Lust” and “Washed Away,”
BP #70’s “Stuck in the Past,” BP #69’s “Ghostly Good-Bye,” BP #68’s
“Rocking-Chair Ride,” BP #65’s “The Latter-Day Knight,” and was
featured in BP #56 with “Boxes”
and the reprint of “No Free Lunch”). He
is a 60ish freelance writer in Prince George, BC, who was a newspaper reporter
for 32 years, 28 of them for Canadian dailies. Born in Los Angeles, Strickland lived in
Reno, Nevada for 20 years before moving permanently to Canada in 1981 in connection with
his journalistic career. He turned to freelance writing and creative work in the spring
of ‘09, and has since published chapbooks of poetry, essays, stories, and columns.