Where are the ruins? asks Andrea.
She and Sarah sit in back. Josh drives, face lit by the dash, with Karl in the passenger seat. Heading down 127 after getting Burger King in Vandercook Lake.
Andrea holds her veggie burger in her right hand and checks her phone. 12:37. No messages. One bar. Billboards and occasional houses, roads, off the freeway.
Josh points left, east. You can see the factory over there.
Sarah blocking her view out the window. I don’t see it.
It’s the dark building, before the lights.
The lights are Cement City, adds Karl.
Andrea finally sees them. It’s not really a city is it?
Karl looks back at her. No. Not at all. I think it used to be bigger when the cement factory was actually running.
Sarah keeps looking. I still can’t see the factory.
You can’t now.
The lights of Cement City vanish in dark trees. Briefly, a lit billboard proclaims in big black letters JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS!!!
Sarah looks back at it. Holy shit, are we like in the south or something?
Josh chews on a fry. Actually, the Klan was big here. Like, a hundred years ago or something. I think maybe they were founded here.
He nods. Yeah. I think I read it on Wikipedia.
Karl points across the northbound lane again. That’s the road.
Josh pulls his car left into the turnout and drives straight across without stopping onto a dirt road. More dark trees, most still with their leaves.
Sarah leans over to Andrea. Andrea, is anything due in Spanish tomorrow?
Andrea nods, taking her last bite. Sí. Los ejercicios de por y para.
Sarah slumps back in her seat. Shit. I hate por y para. Can I copy yours?
She wipes her mouth. Sarah!
Sarah leans back over, holding Andrea’s arm, looking up at her and smiling. Please please please?
Sarah lets go of her arm and sirs back. You’re so awesome.
Andrea smiles. I know.
Josh looks at her in the rear view mirror. Andrea, will you do my algebra homework for me?
Karl turns around to look are her too. Yeah Andrea, can you write my argument paper for me?
Andrea looks out the window. No. Fuck off.
Are you guys like secret lesbian lovers or something?
Sarah’s jaw drops. She leans forward and punches him in the arm. Karl! Fuck off! We are not!
Ok, jeez. I’m just saying.
Andrea hits the back of his seat. Saying what?
He raises his hands up near his face, palms out. Ok! Sorry!
When he turns back around, Andrea checks her phone again. No service.
Josh turns left again on another dirt road, heading back north. The house lights from Cement City visible a couple miles away. Does anyone want the rest of my fries?
Karl looks at them. Are they still warm?
He rolls down his window and tosses them out.
Karl yells, Dude, what the fuck? Don’t do that!
Josh looks at him. What? I didn’t throw out the packaging. I’m just feeding the crows.
You’re affecting the environment unnaturally!
Andrea and Sarah look at each other, laughing.
Josh slows down the car, pointing left to a two track going off diagonally into the dark, with two metal posts with a chain between them. Here’s where we used to go in. It was better this way cause we didn’t have to go through town, or village, or whatever it is.
Andrea cranes her neck to look. Why’d they chain it off?
Josh looks at her in the rearview mirror. So people wouldn’t sneak in and hurt themselves.
Like we’re doing?
Karl gestured forward. Come on!
Josh speeds up. Sarah looks out the window. There’s like chunks of cement all over. Like, old buildings or something.
Karl nods. The whole area’s like that.
Josh points again. There. See it?
Andrea looks: A tall block of black rising out of the tree line, framed by the stars and the distant lights of downtown Jackson to the north. Wow. We’re going to climb up that?
Karl grins back at her. Yeah. Isn’t it cool looking?
Sarah stares as they pass the building to the west. Aren’t there stairs?
The two boys snicker. Josh looks back at her. It’s not full of rooms. It’s like a big storage tank or something.
Sarah looks quickly at Andrea, rolling her eyes. Oh.
They pass houses. Small, old, one-story squares. Overgrown lawns. Dirt driveways. Old cars and trucks. The road widens at the only stoplight, all four directions flashing red. Josh turns left. Most of the houses dark, some with porch or garage lights. Sometimes a soft light inside, or the blue light of television.
Karl turns sideways, facing into the car. Wouldn’t it suck if there was a cop sitting right there?
Josh checks his rearview. Dude, shut the fuck up.
A half mile, maybe less, Josh turns left yet again, on a smaller dirt road with only three or four houses on each side. He drives slowly. The last house on the left with all its lights on. Shit, I hope they don’t hear us.
Karl looks at it. How can they not hear us?
Sarah reaches over and takes Andrea’s hand, looking at her, eyes wide. Andrea squeezes her hand once and holds it with both of hers.
The road leading into tall weeds, mounds of dirt, and chunks of concrete. Broken walls. Rusty metal poles. The old factory rising above them, not a shadow anymore but a huge grey block. Next to it, on the east side, a thinner tower of the same color with some kind of girders connecting them. They pass it on the right, and Josh slows and turns around when the road forks, parking the car so it faces back out the way they came, turning the engine and lights off and they sit there a minute, looking up at the buildings.
Karl smiles at the girls. Isn’t it cool?
Andrea looks at Sarah. Sarah looks at Andrea. Um, yeah.
Sarah nods. Kinda.
Karl reaches down between his legs and lifts up the huge black cop Maglight he brought, his father’s, a foot long and metal. Let’s go.
They get out. Josh freezes. Listen.
A dog barking nearby.
Goddammit, it’s from that fucking house. Close the doors quick!
They do and the overhead lights inside go out. The dog keeps barking. Josh puts a finger to his lips. Shh! Maybe it’ll shut up.
Sarah hugs herself, her hands deep in her black denim jacket, whispering. I have to pee!
Andrea grabs her arm, smiling and whispering too. Come on! Let’s go!
They walk down the road, holding each other up as they stumbled over rocks, giggling. When far enough away, they stop, facing back toward the boys to make sure Karl can’t hit them with the flashlight. They unzip their jeans, pulling them down and squatting, letting go.
Sarah sighs. Fuck I thought I was going to pee my pants!
Andrea laughs. Yeah, dirt roads are hard on the kidneys!
She looks up at the stars. Wow, it’s gorgeous out.
Sarah looks up. Yeah. So do you think they’re going to rape us or something?
Andrea laughs again, harder, almost falling over, reaching out to Sarah to steady herself.
Andrea! Careful! You almost made me fall in your pee!
This makes them laugh even more, neither able to talk, leaning awkwardly on their hands.
When they recover and finish, they stand and pull up their jeans. Karl waves his flashlight in the distance. Sarah leans over and whispers again. Seriously though, do you think they want to?
Sarah, they’re too nerdy to rape us. Josh would never do that.
What about Karl?
He’s just weird. I think they like us though.
Really? Which one do you want?
Sarah! I don’t know! Which one to you want?
I don’t know either.
Josh whisper-yells. Ladies! Come on!
They both cover their mouths, their laughter, and walk back.
The boys waiting in front of the car. The dog has stopped barking. Karl waves them forward with the Maglight. Come on!
The boys go first, walking fast. The girls falling behind, Andrea walking a little ahead of Sarah, helping her along.
An old decaying cement slab runs around the buildings. Karl turns on the flashlight and points at the wall. That’s the ladder.
Steel, bolted to the wall, the lowest rung about five feet above the ground. Old chunks of concrete piled under it for better access. Over the ladder, running up with it, a metal grated cover-tube.
Karl turns off the light and faces them. You guys want to go up now, or check out the rest of the place?
Sarah hugging herself again. Um, the rest of the place? Please?
Josh nods. Yeah, I haven’t seen that part.
Ok, come on.
They follow Karl around to the west corner. He turns the light back on and points to a hole in the ground, leading down to a hole in the wall. That’s how you get in the basement.
Andrea crouches down, trying to look, but can only see the jagged hole in the uncovered wall. What’s in the basement?
Just cool stuff. You’ll see.
He crouches, guiding himself down the concrete debris and through the hole, vanishing for a second, just his light filtering up, until he leans back out, smiling. Come on. I’ll keep the light on.
Josh holds out his hand to Sarah. Come on, it’s ok.
Sarah leans on him at first, then crab-legs down on all fours into the hole, squealing at the end.
Josh looks at Andrea. She nods. Ok ok....
She skitters down like Sarah, her hands scraping on rocks, ducking in and letting Karl guide her through.
Except for Karl’s Maglight, everything almost completely dark. The two girls reach out and hold each other. Sarah whispers, I’m a little scared now.
I’m not sure.
Josh comes in with a clutter of rocks and Karl aims the light inside: A long tunnel, the ceiling just above their heads. The floor dirt, with rocks and cement chunks. Square openings spaced down the left wall, no doors, maybe four foot tall. Sarah points at the right wall. What’s that?
Karl points the light, revealing red spray-painted graffiti: SATAN!!!
Oh fuck. Sarah hugs Andrea again.
Karl shines the light on the opposite wall, on a huge upside down pentagram. I heard there used to be devil worshippers that would perform rites out here.
Sarah whispers, Shit.
Andrea squeezes her hand. Karl, shut up.
No, it’s true.
He points the light down the tunnel. Come on.
Josh follows right behind him. Andrea holds her left arm around Sarah and grabs the back of Josh’s jacket. They stop once to look in another of the side openings, opening into a small room, or storage area, still with a dirt floor, though free of any rocks. More graffiti, but they don’t go in to read it.
Karl talking quietly. When convicts escaped from the prison they used to hide out in here.
The hall opens into a room. He makes a slow sweep, revealing sections,. The ceiling higher, and chunks of it have fallen down. Karl points to the floor. Watch out for that shit.
A larger section of the ceiling has fallen, leaving a large hole letting in a column of dark light from outside. Underneath, a pile of huge concrete slabs. Ten feet away, a five by five square hole leading down. Josh walks closer to it. How deep is that?
Not sure. Karl walks right over to the edge, leading the rest of them, and looks down. I don’t see bottom.
Andrea pulls herself and Sarah closer to Josh. Karl, don’t! Don’t get so close!
Don’t worry Andrea.
He comes back and points the light over to one wall and a ladder bolted onto it, leading down into another hole, with water up to the edge. I guess there’s a whole bunch of tunnels underneath here and the town finally just filled them all with water to stop people from going down.
Andrea whispers in Sarah’s ear. Are you ok?
Sarah nods, but in the faint light her eyes are watery.
Karl, let’s go back, ok?
Sure, come on.
He walks them over to the hole in the ceiling and stands on one of the slabs. We can get out this way. I’ll pull you up.
He hands Josh the Maglight and jumps, catching the ledge, pulling himself up and out. Leaning back down, holding out his hand. Come on Sarah.
Andrea helps her up on the slab, holding her by the waist and lifting as Karl pulls. Sarah squeaks, legs swinging. Ow! Fuck!
Andrea calls up, Sarah, are you ok?
She swings first one, then the other leg up and out. Karl reachs down again. Your turn Andrea.
She gets up on the slab and reaches for his hand. Josh comes up behind and boosts her by the waist. Karl pulls until she can hook her elbows and waist over the edge, the jagged concrete digging into her stomach. Ow!
She rolls sideways and pulls her legs out, rolling over again, away from edge. Breathing heavy, standing up. They stand between the big building and long tower next to it, right under the girders running far above.
Josh tosses up the Maglight and pulls himself up and out, swearing. Andrea helps Sarah stand up. We made it.
Sarah undoes her hair tie, brushes back her hair, and tied it back up. Yeah. Almost without injury.
They all stare up at the girders: Four, in square formation, with smaller lengths running perpendicularly across, connecting them. Karl shines the light up, but it doesn’t reveal any more than what they could already see.
I heard one time they found a dog hanging from there. Someone had cut its throat and the blood splattered all over here.
Sarah sucks in her breath and looked at Andrea. Andrea shakes her head. Karl, that’s not true.
Yeah it is.
He turns off his light. Whatever. Want to go up?
Andrea looks at Sarah. Sarah, do you want to go home?
Sarah shakes her head. No, I’m ok, really.
Cool. Come on. Karl walks away, swinging his Maglight.
They follow around the corner back to the ladder. Karl turns around to face them. I think I should go first, then Sarah and Andrea, like we did over at the hole. Don’t worry. It’s scary, but it’s safe. The ladder isn’t loose or anything. It’s bolted into the cement.
He tries putting the Maglight in one of his jacket pockets but it didn’t even come close to fitting. Shit. Does anyone have like deep pockets?
They check. Andrea swings open her leather jacket. I’ve got an inner one that’s deep.
Here. He hands it to her and it goes in two-thirds of the way. When she zips her jacket up, the Maglight stayed upright, without moving too much. I guess it’ll work
Be careful with it Andrea. My dad’ll kill me if it breaks.
Josh laughs. Yeah, and don’t drop it on my head!
She smiles. I promise.
Karl reaches up to the bottom rung of the ladder and pulls himself up, grabbing the second, then the third, until he can hook his right foot onto the bottom one. He grins down briefly, then starts to climb.
Josh looks at Sarah. Ready?
She stares up after Karl. I guess so.
She stands on the pile of rocks, reaching up, and Josh steps next to her, putting his hands together for her to step into, raising her up while she walks her hands up the wall.
Grab the rung!
She does and he raises her up more until she gets her other foot on the bottom rung. When he pulls his hands away, she hangs there a second, her free leg swinging. I can’t!
Andrea moves under, holding her arms out. Sarah, it’s ok! Just stand up!
Sarah took a deep breath, straightens her leg, quickly putting the other foot on the rung. She laughs. Oh. Duh. That was easy.
Are you ok?
Yeah. She looks up. Shit. Wow. Ok.
She starts climbing slowly.
Josh looks at Andrea. Ready?
She nods and he lifts her up. She grabs the first rung, the second, pulling herself up to the third, banging her knee on the bottom rung. Ow! Shit!
Yeah. She pulls herself up to the next rung, swinging her other leg up to the bottom one. Ok.
She rests a second, the cold metal ladder vibrating from Karl and Sarah above her. She looks up at the small white dots of Sarah’s Converse High-Tops moving.
Climbing, slowly, making sure at last three of her appendages touch the ladder at all times. She hears and feels Josh jump up onto the ladder below her, feet scrambling on the wall. She looks down: he looks small. She looked up: Sarah looks small too. Shit. She keeps climbing and hears Karl yell down something to them muffles by a breeze. Out to her left, freeway carlights.
Hey Andrea, are you alright?
Josh already just below her.
Yeah. Just slow. Sorry.
She climbs faster, making a rhythm, one arm with the opposite leg. The flashlight banging softly against her left breast. She catches up to Sarah, with Josh still right behind her. Sarah breathing heavy, moving slowly. She stops and looks down at them. Sorry!
Sarah, it’s ok. I’m not rushing you.
I know, but it’s a little scary.
When they get to the top, Andrea pauses while Sarah disappears over the edge. Karl leans over smiling. Come on Andrea. Almost there.
The last rung of the ladder actually above the ledge. She grips it with both hands and swings her right leg up and over, sitting briefly on her building edge, then hopping up and over, where Sarah and Karl catch and steady her. Sarah hugs her. We did it! Yay!
Andrea smiles. You’re awesome Sarah.
So are you!
Josh comes up and over, grinning. Woo hoo! He lifts his arms up and turns around, looking out. Fuck yeah!
The top of the building flat, with the three foot ledge running around the circumference. And not actually the top: thick square columns support a tin roof. On the floor, powdery dirt. The breeze stronger, but not too cold.
Karl already walking around. He points to some one by one foot square holes in the floor. Careful of these. There’s more of them. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to fall into them, but you could fuck yourself up.
How far down do they go?
Basically all the way down I think. I think this whole place is empty inside. Come on!
He runs off to the other side of the building. Josh smiles at the girls and follows. Sarah turns at Andrea. Are we going?
She unzips her jacket and takes out the Maglight, turning it on and off real quick. I think I’m going to have a bruise on my boob from this thing.
Sarah laughs. But now you have the rod of power!
Are you envious?
Yes! I want one too!
The boys laughing over on the other side. Andrea turns and looks out. The highway off to the right. Houses and lights sprinkled in the darkness. Some city lights way off to the south. Maybe Hudson. Wow.
Sarah stands next to her. Yeah. It’s cool up here. I’m glad we did this.
Andrea looks at her and Sarah looks up smiling. Andrea leans down and kisses her.
Sarah’s eyes go wide and she pulls away. Andrea, no. I don’t—
Andrea takes a step back. I’m sorry. I thought you would like it. I’m sorry.
No, it’s ok, it’s just....I don’t....
I mean, thank you, but....
No, I understand. It’s ok.
Sarah smiles. Ok. Let’s go see what they’re doing.
I’ll come over in a sec.
Sarah hesitates. Are you sure?
Andrea nods. Yeah.
Sarah walks away and Andrea looks after her. Shit. Shit shit shit.
She holds the Maglight horizontal, waist high, and flips it, catching the handle as it rotates.
Sarah’s voice: Karl don’t!
Andrea walks quickly over, on the east side of the building, where the girders go out to the smaller tower.
He has climbed out onto them, weaving through the crossbeams. Sarah and Josh standing at the ledge, Sarah with her hands half-covering her face. Karl, please don’t!
Andrea leans out on the ledge. Karl, don’t be an asshole. Come back.
He grins back at them. I’m ok. Really.
Karl, don’t. It’s fucking dangerous and you’re scaring us.
He swings around. A chunk of cement breaks off and he slips, left leg shooting out horizontal. He twists, reaching for the ledge, his body hitting the girder. Sarah screams. Andrea lunges halfway over the ledge, dropping the Maglight. Karl grips the girder but slides off sideways, hanging by one arm, reaching for Andrea, and falls, following the spinning light down.
Dogs barking again in the distance.