(From the title story of the book Dripping Blood Cave and Other Ghostly Stories by Raymond Bial.)
“So you’re curious about Dripping Blood Cave?” Mr. Satterly asked, sighing deeply, as he eased his old bones onto the liars’ bench one evening in June.
“Well, that’s a long and sorrowful story.” . . .
“Fact is, best I can recollect, nobody has ever gone anywhere near that cave and come back alive,” Mr. Satterly went on. “Leastways, not anyone who ventured there at night.” . . .
Turning to Mr. Satterly, Hank asked, “Do you suppose it would be safe to go back there as long as we kept our distance from the cave?”
“You’d be taking a mighty big risk,” Mr. Satterly told him. “But I’ve never heard of anyone disappearing outside the cave, in the hollow that the creek flows through. Just don’t venture too close.”
“Don’t worry, Hank,” Clifford said, reaching up to clap him on his broad shoulder. “I’m a natural-born Indian fighter. I’ll protect you.”
Hank snorted. “Like on all our other adventures?”
“Why sure!” Clifford said, gazing back at him with a straight face.
Hank just shook his head again. There was no point in arguing with Clifford.
Clutching Hank’s arm, Rosie said, “I’m going with you.”
“Me too,” Mary Ethel added. “I have to look after my sweet baby Cliffie.”
“Who you calling a baby?” Clifford sputtered in disbelief. “I’m more of a hunter and scout than most of the frontiersmen who ever wandered those woods. I’m like my great-great-great Uncle Silas Philpot. It runs in the blood.”
“Maybe you ought to go home and get your coonskin cap,” Hank suggested.
Hank was joking, but Clifford nodded thoughtfully.
“You think I should?”
“Let’s just go,” Hank sighed. “Before it’s baby Cliffie’s beddy-bye time.”
“I am not a baby,” Clifford pouted, his squeaky voice going up another notch. “We’ll see who’s the trailblazer when we get back in those woods.”
As the four young people climbed into Hank’s old Chevy pickup truck with its bulgy fenders, the little guy was still seething, muttering to himself, “Call me a baby, will you? I’ll show you. I’ll show all of you.”
“You be careful,” Mr. Satterly called after them. “Careful and then some.”
Nodding soberly, Hank said, “We will.”
It had been dark in Myrtleville, but the deepest black of night pressed around the four young people as they drove out of town and into the countryside. As they crossed the rolling landscape, occasional clumps of trees were barely silhouetted in the nearly moonless sky. Twin cones of yellow light from the truck’s headlamps bored through the gloom, leading them from open farmland of pasture and cornfields into even more shadowy hills and hollows, blanketed with thick woods.
Hank knew the general location of the cave, which was good, since it was at least twelve miles from Myrtleville, beyond even the most remote roads that twisted through some of the thickest stands of woods in their part of Indiana. He had actually explored these woods, even had once glimpsed the cave Mr. Satterly had described, but from a distance—and that had been in broad daylight. He knew that the rolling hills thereabouts were laced with streams, deep ravines, and a good number of caves.
But none of the caves was as terrifying in local legend as the one to which they were now headed. Dripping Blood Cave was hidden away, far from any trail, let alone the faintest trickle of a road. And, as Hank himself had read in old issues of the Myrtleville Weekly Gazette, more than a few poor souls were reported to have mysteriously died in or near that cave.
Slowly making his way deeper and deeper into the woods, Hank wound the pickup down one narrow gravel road, then another, as stands of trees closed in closer and closer on both sides, leafy branches occasionally swishing onto the windshield. Finally, Clifford whined, “You’re lost, Hank.”
“No, I’m not,” Hank answered as he came to a stop at yet another crossroads. Just for the fun of it, he asked, “I suppose you know which way to turn, Clifford.”
The pipsqueak swallowed. “Why sure.”
“Then which way?”
Clifford glanced this way and that, then he declared with an air of authority, “Right!”
Hank promptly turned left.
“Hey, I thought you didn’t think you knew which way to turn?” Mary Ethel asked.
Hank confessed, “I wasn’t certain—until wrong-way Clifford said to turn right.”
“I’m a trail blazer!” Clifford insisted. “I go right through the woods. I don’t know anything about roads. They’re too civilized for me. You’re just lost, Hank—and trying to blame me.”
Hank slowed the truck.
“We’re almost there,” he sighed, his words frighteningly true. A chill swept through him—from the base of his spine to the back of his neck—as they eased down a skinny dirt road near the haunted ground around Dripping Blood Cave. We shouldn’t go back there, Hank kept telling himself, his hands kneading the steering wheel. There wasn’t a house for miles around in this stretch of thick woods.
Overhead, the dark trunks of hardwood trees with a canopy of leaves swished ominously. Their leaves blotted out most of the dim light of the stars and a sliver of moon.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Maybe we should just get the heck out of here,” Hank said softly. He was fairly breathless, his hands shaking a little.
“Now who’s being the baby?” Clifford sniffed. “You’re just lost and don’t want to admit it, baby.”
“But we could get swallowed up in these woods,” Hank said. “If something happens to us, they might never find us.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll lead the way. I know all about the wilderness,” Clifford crowed. But Hank noted that his friend was already trembling like a puppy left out in the cold.
Having come this far, Hank supposed that they could at least creep up to the cave, but not too close, and listen for the cries of the dancing warriors. Then skedaddle out of there.
“Okay,” he sighed, “as long as we don’t get anywhere near that cave or the creek. We’ll stay way back on the high bank overlooking the creek and cave. You hear me?”
“And he says I’m a baby,” Clifford grumbled under his breath, but he didn’t object to Hank’s plan to keep their distance from Dripping Blood Cave.
Hank turned down one more dirt road, then slowly turned the pickup into a hunter’s lane. It was faint and narrow—barely two tire faint tracks winding through the floor of the woods. Leafy branches slapped against the windshield. They bumped along as Hank eased the pickup through the dense undergrowth. They continued deeper and deeper into the woods. Then Hank swung the pickup around until they were facing the way they had just come.
“What are you doing?” Clifford demanded.
“We want to be headed in the right direction—in case we need to make a quick escape.”
“You’ll be hightailing it out of here, but not me,” Clifford snorted. “I’m not scared of—”
Dried leaves rustled just outside the pickup.
Clifford nearly choked on his words. “Lock the doors!” he squealed.
“What was that?” Rosie gasped.
Probably just a raccoon, Hank thought, but he said, “I’m not sure. Why don’t you get out and investigate, Clifford?”
“Me?” Clifford squeaked.
“Yes,” Rosie scolded. “Didn’t you say you were a man of the wilderness?”
“Uh, yeah,” Clifford muttered. “But you know me, I don’t want to show off.”
Hank cut the headlights, plunging them in utter darkness. Clifford squealed, “Eeeek!”
Then everyone went quiet, stunned by the night, which seemed to swallow the four of them in its depths.
Hank grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment. Ever so cautiously, he climbed out of the pickup.
“Uh, maybe the girls and me should stay here and wait for you, Hank,” Clifford mumbled. “That way I can, uh, protect them.”
Rosie got out of the pickup. “I’m going with Hank.”
“Me too,” Ethel said, joining her friend.
“Don’t leave me!” Clifford cried as he scrambled from the pickup and rushed over to Mary Ethel.
Drawing a deep sigh, Hank whispered to the girls, “Keep an eye on Cliffie.”
Clifford didn’t offer even a whimper of protest.
“I’m holding Cliffie’s hand,” Mary Ethel assured Hank.
“The cave is over this way,” Hank whispered as he flicked on the flashlight. “A couple hundred yards from here. But I don’t see a deer path leading to the water. Looks like even wild animals steer clear of Dripping Blood Cave.”
“How come you know so much about this place?” Rosie asked in a hushed tone as she grasped Hank’s hand tightly.
“I’ve heard about it like everybody else,” Hank whispered. “And then I came out here once—in broad daylight. But I got a creepy feeling and didn’t like being here alone, so I left before I got close enough to really see inside the cave.
“I’m curious about the place, but I’m not so sure what we’re doing right now is a good idea. If we get ambushed way back here, nobody will be able to help us.”
As they crept ahead, following the narrow cone of light, the black leaves of the underbrush fluttered about their faces. Clifford held onto Mary Ethel’s hand for dear life, and was silent, which was quite uncommon for him. As the four young people crept near the creek and cave, Hank glanced at his sidekick, who stumbled along, mouth open, in wide-eyed terror.
Wings flashed silently overhead and Hank glimpsed an owl descending on its prey, perhaps a mouse skittering through the leaves. Clifford lurched again as the faint shadow of the bird swept over them.
“When we get closer, I’ll turn off the flashlight, so the ghosts hopefully won’t see us,” Hank suggested. “Then Clifford the frontiersman can lead us the rest of the way.”
However, Clifford seemed have been struck dumb. His eyes wide open, as if in a trance, he stared ahead as Mary Ethel guided him through the woods.
As the four of them approached the creek, Hank gradually heard the music—the faint rhythmic pulse of the drums and the high, ringing voices.
Was it a chant? A song? The mingled voices were as mournful, wild, and dangerous sounding as howling wolves. Hank did not understand a single word, yet he sensed both grief and outrage in the tone.
Switching off the flashlight, he led his three friends toward the faint, wild singing. They crept up to the high bank and hid behind the rocks, bushes, and pale trunk of a sycamore tree that overhung the creek.
Hank kept everyone well back from the ledge, where the bank dropped sharply, falling about ten feet to the floor of the steep hollow through which the creek ran, with a branch of it coming right out from the cave.
Leaning forward through the thick brush, Hank glimpsed a band of Indians—men, women, and children—singing and dancing around a campfire on a sandbar in the middle of the creek waters below, just outside the yawning black mouth of Dripping Blood Cave to their far left.
Vividly painted, wielding war clubs, the men shuffled and stomped, tracing a circle around the fire. Occasionally, they shook their war clubs and raised their heads upward into the night sky. Orange light from the campfire flickered on their faces and reflected in the ripples of the water flowing on either side of the sandbar. Gathered around the dancing men, at the perimeter of the light, the women and children joined them in song.
Their bodies glistening in the light of the campfires, the Indians appeared tangible, yet hazy, like the bluish smoke rising around them. They seemed to have shape and form, but somehow not the substance and weight of living bodies.
“They’re ghosts,” Mary Ethel whispered, short of breath.
“Dripping Blood Cave” (excerpt)
A Story by Raymond Bial
from the book, Dripping Blood Cave and Other Ghostly Stories
copyright 2010, Raymond Bial. All rights reserved.
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