by Brian Harmon
There was a strange stillness in the air as the dusty pickup crept onto the empty beach and rumbled to a stop. Was it the calm that followed in the wake of the storm, wondered Everett, or was this merely the way the world appeared when dragged down by a heart too often battered and broken?
He sat behind the wheel for a long moment, staring through the dusty windshield at the wreckage and debris that surrounded him. It was all that was left of the cabin that had stood in this very spot only a week before.
The storm had moved through quickly, and it came very close to missing the little structure. A few short miles up the beach, the only damage had been a few fallen limbs and some washed-out driveways. “Bad luck,” his friends had called it, but his luck was beyond bad.
Everything had seemed to be going great. Just a year ago, he’d had all that he ever needed: a beautiful wife, a great job that put him rubbing elbows with some of the wealthiest people in the world, exotic cars, luxurious vacations, penthouse views. Plenty of the things that made him feel like he was worth something.
Like his private cabin on the beach, for example.
He couldn’t help but wonder where it all went wrong. How did he lose everything so completely? It just didn’t seem possible. One day he was making love to his wife in the shower, and then talking about the trip to Paris they’d been planning for months as they dried each other off. The next thing he knew, he was sitting on his couch staring at the letter she left him—the only goodbye she’d allowed him—and trying his damnedest not to cry.
Then, to make matters worse, he lost a promotion during his struggle to get over her. And the man who took that job wasted no time in letting him go. It wasn’t anything personal, he’d assured Everett. It was simply that his office would look a lot more appealing with the redhead from downstairs sitting at the desk instead of him. After all, he wasn’t qualified to do any of the extra errands for the boss that she supposedly was.
Everett could hardly blame him, he supposed. He had the power, after all. He’d won the position. It was his decision. That was what being on top was all about. You couldn’t be on top and not step on the people beneath you. He might’ve done the exact same thing.
One never knew.
With a heavy sigh, he opened the door and stepped out into the warm sunlight. Debris was scattered as far as he could see across the rocky beach. There would be a lot of work to do before this mess was cleaned up. He didn’t think he could afford to have it rebuilt now. He’d probably be forced to sell it and eat the loss.
He kicked some trash from his path and uncovered a broken and muddy picture. He picked it up, letting the water run from the broken frame. It was the picture of his ex-wife that had hung upon the wall in his bedroom. Her face was distorted and scarred upon the paper…not so unlike the way he had every right to view her now. He thought about dropping the picture back into the mud, even grinding his heel into her washed-out face, but he didn’t. As bitter as he should have been, as he had every right to be, he simply didn’t have it in his heart to be angry with her. He still missed her far too much. He still loved her.
He knew that he was a sentimental fool. But he didn’t care. She’d meant everything to him.
He placed the picture gently atop a heap of dry debris and walked on through the disaster area of his life.
He wasn’t a stupid man. He knew that it was his own, nice-boy attitude that got him into these predicaments. Nice guys finished last. Everything in his life had always ended up this way. He’d rise to the top of the world, only to be tossed aside by the next guy to arrive.
He was too soft.
But such was his nature. He simply couldn’t see how anything would justify being bitter and mean about things. He wished he could be bitter about things. At least bitterness hurt less than heartache.
He shook his head wearily. He remembered the fight he put up in court to keep the cabin. It was the only thing he’d actually cared about at the time. It was just something to hold onto, a lifeboat for his drowning sanity.
“Should’ve kept the Corvette,” he muttered as he stepped through the rubble.
He turned and walked away from the ruins. The past few days—not to mention the past few months—had been so exhausting. Right now his head was pounding and he felt like he needed to take a walk. Perhaps the beach could offer some serenity.
The scent of the ocean drifted across the sand and the rocks as he made his way slowly to the shoreline. He stepped over an old tire and kicked aside what might once have been a suitcase. It was surprising what could sometimes wash up onto the shore, especially after a storm.
He lifted his face toward the sky. “Why me?” he asked loudly. “What did I do?”
A giggle rose from the water just ahead of him and he froze, startled. He gazed out into the warm sea. There, a woman sat up to her neck in the surf, staring back at him. Only her tanned face and sandy hair were visible above the soft waves.
“Do you always talk to yourself?” she asked as she grinned up at him.
He could say nothing. He was shocked that there was anyone out here at all, much less the lovely vision he was seeing now.
The woman giggled again. “What? You’ll talk to yourself, but you won’t talk to me?”
“I…I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I…”
“I’m just out for a swim.” She stood up and began walking toward him. He’d been shocked to find her there at all, and was astonished to see that she wore no bathing suit. “Want to join me?”
He stared at her as she stepped out of the water, stark naked, and crossed the open beach. The sunlight glistened upon her wet skin as she walked right up to him and placed her hands against his chest. He felt the warm seawater soaking into his shirt.
She was like something from a movie. Her every movement, every gesture, was a masterpiece of beauty, grace and sexuality.
He could say nothing. He stood frozen as the woman slowly unbuttoned his shirt and slid her wet fingers down his bare chest.
“Come on,” she pleaded. “Live a little. Have fun.”
He looked down at her, studying her. She had a gorgeous body, lean and fit, a work of art. Her skin was soft and flawless. Her round breasts, still glistening from the surf, shimmered in the gleaming sunlight. Her eyes were brilliant and green. They stared directly into his, bold and unafraid. She was unbelievably beautiful, easily the most perfect woman he’d ever laid eyes on.
She backed away from him, beckoning him with her finger. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
He shook away his astonishment and began to remove the rest of his clothes as she dived back into the waves and slowly swam away from him.
This was exactly what he needed: a little good luck to ease his bad. And this was good luck. How many guys, he asked himself, go for a walk on a beach and find a beautiful, sex-crazed woman swimming naked in the water? Had it ever happened to anyone before? He was willing to bet it had never happened to that cocky jerk who took his job. Oh, if only he could see this!
He cast his clothes aside and followed after her. He didn’t want to waste time wondering who she was or why she was here. This was his chance to have a little fun, like she said. This was his chance to live, to do something he’d never done before.
This was just what he needed!
He swam out into the water, his heart pounding with excitement, following the gorgeous, teasing woman until long after he could no longer touch bottom. Then he stopped and looked around.
The woman was gone.
He turned in a circle, looking, searching every rock and every wave. Where was she? She couldn’t have simply disappeared.
He heard a soft splash behind him and turned, startled to find her right before his eyes. “Were you under water that whole time?” he asked. It seemed to him that she’d been under for quite a while, but perhaps it had only been a moment. After all, he was busy trying to swim out to her. He wasn’t in the best of shape these days. He couldn’t even remember the last time he swam.
She giggled and moved closer to him. “My friends say I have gills,” she replied.
“You know,” she said as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed her naked body against his, “I didn’t expect to see anyone out here.”
“You didn’t?” To his own ears, it sounded like a pathetic reply, childish even, but her eyes only brightened at his obvious exhilaration. She seemed amused by him and his fascination with her.
“Must be our lucky day.”
He nodded, excited. He could no longer hold his excitement. He felt like a child on Christmas Morning.
She thrust herself forward and kissed him hard. He could feel himself being pushed under the water, and had to struggle to keep his head above the waves.
She smiled and tugged at his wrist. “Come on. I want to show you something.” Holding onto his hand, she began to descend beneath the surface.
He took a deep breath and followed her into the depths below.
She led him deeper and deeper into the murky darkness. He could feel the pressure growing at his ears and in his chest, and wondered if he’d be able to descend as deep as she wanted him to go. But then his fingertips dipped into the soft sand and the woman turned to face him again. She pulled him close and pressed her lips to his.
He reached out and grasped her breasts, kneading them with his hungry fingers as she thrust herself eagerly toward him.
This was beyond anything he’d ever imagined. He was making love to a gorgeous woman on the ocean floor. This was the sort of thing other men lied about while drinking with their friends. This was the stuff of movies, not of true life…especially not of his life.
But the pressure was growing rapidly in his chest and though he wanted nothing more than to stay with her, he couldn’t. He wasn’t in good enough shape. He couldn’t hold his breath for this long. Reluctantly, he let go of her and began to rise toward the surface.
But she grabbed him by his wrist and pulled him down again. She kissed his neck and his chest, her lips venturing lower and lower as she held him with surprising strength.
He struggled to rise to the surface again, but like before, she wouldn’t let him leave.
My friends say I have gills, she’d said.
His heart began to thump painfully in his chest. His lungs ached. And yet she hadn’t even begun to look as though she needed to surface. He pulled at her, trying to wrench his hand free from her unyielding grip, but she wouldn’t let him go.
She floated just beneath him, gazing up into his eyes, and for the first time, even through the blurry murkiness of the water, he noticed how brilliantly green her eyes were. They seemed almost to glow in the murky depth of the ocean water.
As he stared down at her, she opened her mouth, revealing rows of long and jagged teeth. Terror swallowed him, paralyzing him. In his panic, he wondered absurdly how he’d failed to notice them while kissing her. He struggled to pull his hand away from her, but she was so very strong. Valuable breath belched from his mouth and nose as he fought to free himself.
He was certain that he was about to feel those razor-edged teeth in his flesh, but he was wrong about that. She didn’t snap at him. She didn’t even move toward him. Instead, something appeared from her throat. A long, tongue-like thing snaked from between her lips and rose toward him, gray and dark, like an eel. It hovered before him for a just a moment and then lashed out in the murky depths with the speed of a frog snatching a fly from the air. There was a piercing pain in his stomach, and then something awful was squirming deep inside his belly.
He tried to scream.
On the surface of the water, not far from the beach, the still waves were shattered by the quiet fury of escaping bubbles. Far below, the water became clouded with blood, the blue murkiness filling with the dark red tint of gore as predator and prey struggled in the shallow depths of the sea.
An hour later, the man awoke upon the sand, naked and wet. Slowly, he stood up and staggered back toward his truck. There was a fleshy wound on his stomach, just below his belly button, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was. It was healing fast.
He stopped once to pick up the clothes he’d left strewn upon the sand, but didn’t bother to put them on. He had things to do. His flesh tingled, and he yearned to go back into the sea, but he couldn’t. Not yet. He knew somehow that he only had perhaps a week before he’d have to return to the ocean and remain there, but in the meantime he had some people to visit. First was his lying, ungrateful bitch of an ex-wife. Second was that high-on-his-horse bastard that had stolen his promotion and then fired him for his efforts. Then there were others. Maybe that whore redhead who slept her way into his old office. And plenty more. He would make them all pay. He would make them all hurt. Then he would return to his princess of the deep.
As he walked, a long, snaky thing emerged from his throat and nimbly brushed the sand from his ear.
The seventh Rushed book is now available for preorder!
Eric’s past comes back to haunt him when he arrives home to find old friends waiting for him. Now he’s in for a rough night of magic, mayhem and terror as he races the clock against a murderous coven of dark witches with incredible and gruesome powers. Failure means he and his friends won’t survive the night. But their only chance of seeing the sunrise might mean a fate even worse than death…
Rushed: Something Wickeder will be available on August 15, but keep scrolling for a sneak peek at the first chapter!
Eric sat down behind the wheel of his silver PT Cruiser and started the engine. It’d been a long day, one of the longest he’d had in a long time, and he was happy to finally be at the end of it. He didn’t even stick around to finish up his grading. He just wanted to go home. He was tired. He was irritable. And he was positively done with teenagers.
At least he had dinner to look forward to. Karen promised she’d make him fried chicken. It was one of his all-time favorites, and she didn’t make it very often. She preferred to take a healthier approach to cooking, and rarely fried anything. He didn’t mind, of course. Healthy was good. And she was a fantastic cook, so anything she put on the table was virtually guaranteed to be delicious. But it was an old favorite, his mother’s specialty when he was growing up, so every now and then, just to show him some extra love, she’d indulge him.
(And Karen’s fried chicken was way better than his mother’s…though no one alive was scary enough to make him admit that to Mom.)
But although he was eager to get home, he didn’t shift the Cruiser into gear. Instead, he leaned back in the seat and withdrew his cell phone from the front pocket of his khaki pants.
He’d never really liked cell phones. He was annoyed by all the people in the world who constantly seemed to have them glued to their faces. He found it rude, obnoxious and utterly unnecessary. Especially when it came to high schoolers. He was notorious among students and faculty alike for confiscating cell phones in his classroom. He never would’ve owned one in the first place if Karen hadn’t insisted. She believed it wasn’t safe to be without one. (And she liked for him to never be more than a phone call away, of course.) He absolutely despised them. But in recent years his cell phone had become far more of a necessity than he ever expected it to. Begrudgingly, he was forced to admit to himself that he actually needed the stupid thing.
But he was far too stubborn to admit it to anyone else.
It rang as soon as it was in his hand, as he knew it would. He accepted the call and put it on speaker, just the way Karen had shown him to do. Then, as he looked out at the parking lot, at the last few straggling students making their way home for the day, he said, “How’re you doing?”
“I’m okay,” replied Isabelle. There was no pause. No hesitation. She knew everything he was going to say well before he said it, after all.
“Really?” he pressed.
This time, there was a pause. “Yeah. I mean, I think so.”
He didn’t push the subject. He merely stared out at the sunny afternoon around him and waited for her to go on in her own time.
It was a beautiful day for mid-November. People were out enjoying the weather. There was a small group of boys walking down the sidewalk, goofing off. On the other side of the street, an old man was walking his dog. A very pretty girl with long, black hair walked past his parking spot. She saw him sitting there and gave him a small, friendly smile and a wave. He didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t one of his students. But he waved anyway.
“I don’t really know if it’s possible for me to not be okay, you know?”
He nodded. He did know. Or at least, he thought he did. Isabelle wasn’t like anyone else in the world. She was different. She was special.
“I’m not sure if I can even feel anything for myself,” she went on. “Sometimes I think all my emotions belong to someone else. They’re stolen. I just feel whatever you’re feeling. You and…” She paused again. “And them,” she finished quietly.
“I don’t believe that,” said Eric.
Isabelle wasn’t a part of this world anymore. She was trapped somewhere outside of the normal flow of time. For her, the passing of days was meaningless. She never grew hungry or thirsty. She never tired or grew bored or felt impatient. She never yearned for anything because she was frozen in place both physically and mentally. The only concept she retained of the passage of time was the three psychic connections she shared. One with Eric, one with her mother and one with her father.
Except that two nights ago, Isabelle’s father suffered a stroke.
Eric could scarcely imagine what she must have already endured. She had a terrifyingly personal perspective of the moment, a back-stage view as the clot began starving his brain of blood. She’d described it to him as something like a strange and disorienting cloud rolling in over his consciousness, leaving him confused and helpless.
Jerrell Albin might have died that night if the phone hadn’t rung so late, waking his wife, Reta. Isabelle hung up without speaking, leaving her mother to wonder whether the call was an exceptionally well-timed wrong number or a sign from heaven. (The truth, of course, would never in a million lifetimes occur to her.)
But although her father was still alive, the true extent of the damage still wasn’t known, and Isabelle had since been overwhelmed by the almost constant deluge of raw emotions gushing from her terrified mother’s tormented mind.
Eric felt awful for the poor woman. She’d already suffered more than any parent ever should. She’d been waiting thirty-eight years for the truth about what really happened to her thirteen-year-old daughter that awful July day. And she had no one left in this world but her husband. If she lost him, too, she’d be all alone. For the rest of her life…
“Don’t worry about me,” she insisted, forcing herself to perk up. “You need to get home and take a load off. You’ve had a rough day.”
The psychic connection only worked one way. She could read his thoughts, feel his emotions and even sense certain things about his surroundings, but he couldn’t do any of those things. If not for this trick with the phone, he, like her parents, might never have even known she was there. But the two of them had shared a lot of conversations since the day she rescued him from the deranged Altrusk House. They’d grown close. And he knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t entirely okay. She was only pretending to be brave because she didn’t want him to worry about her. “I’ll be fine,” he said.
“I know you will. But I also know you’re tired.”
He was. It wasn’t the worst day he’d ever had by any means, but it certainly wasn’t the best. It’d been exhausting. The students had seemed unusually wound up for some reason. And not just his. Chad Whelt kept blaming it on the full moon. And poor Charlene Tonnes, the new science teacher, was nearly in tears by the end of the day. Even the best and brightest students had all seemed unfocused and restless. The rest were moody, disruptive and even downright disrespectful. Overall, it was a pretty lousy Monday.
“I can’t relax much when I’m worried about you.”
“You’re sweet,” she told him.
“I mean it.”
“I know you do. But there’s nothing you can do. Just go home. Relax. Enjoy your dinner. We can talk more later.”
Without disconnecting the call, he placed the phone into the cup holder and shifted the Cruiser into gear. “We can talk while I drive,” he said. “I don’t want you to be alone right now.”
Isabelle gave a quiet little huff of a laugh. “Always my hero,” she said, almost too soft for him to hear.
“You were mine first,” he reminded her.
He left the parking lot and set off across town toward home. For the first couple minutes, they were quiet. Then, just when Eric was beginning to wonder if she’d disconnected the call on him, she said, “I know how I should feel.”
He glanced down at the phone, surprised.
“I should feel scared. Scared of losing my dad. Scared I won’t be able to find my way home before he dies… Scared of never seeing him or my mom ever again… Scared…” She fell silent for another moment. He waited. Finally, she said, “Scared I’ll never even be able to see them in heaven because I don’t know if I can even die…”
Eric wasn’t sure what to say to that. He couldn’t tell her that would never happen. He didn’t know that for sure. And it wasn’t like he could lie to her.
“I do feel scared,” said Isabelle. “But I just don’t know if I feel scared because I’m scared, or if I only feel scared because I can feel how scared my mom is.”
Most days, she could easily tune everybody out. She wasn’t always in their heads. She let them have their privacy. But strong, negative emotions, like anger, sadness and fear, were impossible for her to ignore. They dragged her into their consciousness and wouldn’t let her go. For as long as this crisis with her father lasted, regardless of the outcome, she was going to be forced to experience every moment of it with them.
“What if I don’t ever find my way out of here?” she continued. “Everybody dies. Nothing I can do will stop that. My parents will die. You’ll die. And when you’re all gone, when you all go silent… What then? What’s going to happen to me? Will I stop feeling anything? Will I be anything when all the voices are gone?”
Eric felt a profound sadness deep in his heart. He wished he had the answers for her. Any answer. But he was just an unremarkable high school English teacher with an odd habit of finding weird and fantastic things. Things like Isabelle. He couldn’t tell her who she was or why these things had happened to her.
Maybe it was just that God was cruel.
He didn’t know.
He pulled into his driveway and killed the engine. For a moment, he just sat there, staring through the windshield, feeling helpless.
“I’m sorry,” said Isabelle. “I shouldn’t have dumped all that on you.”
“It’s fine,” he insisted, taking the phone out of the cup holder. “I want you to talk to me.”
“I keep thinking I should call them. Talk to them. Tell them the truth. I know they’d want to know. But… I also know they’ve worked so hard to move on. I just… I’m just not sure knowing the truth would make things better. They want to believe that I’m alive and well out there somewhere, but deep down they’re sure I’m in a better place. The truth might bring them some joy…but it would also bring them fresh pain and worry…because I still can’t go home. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go home.”
His heart ached at the thought, but she was right. After all these years, all their hope had almost certainly shriveled and died. Their thirteen-year-old girl would be fifty. They knew by now, no matter how much they might deny it to themselves, that they’d never see her again in this world. Telling them the truth, even if they’d believe such an outlandish story, would only bring all the pain that’s gone numb over the years flooding back.
“I’m sorry,” said Isabelle.
“Don’t be. I mean it. I’m here for you if you need to talk. Always.”
“There’s nothing either of us can do anyway,” she said. And she was right. The doctors said it could be days before they knew anything more. Jerrell Albin was still alive. For now, there was nothing to do but wait and see what the future held. “We’ll talk later. Go inside. Go to Karen. I like when you’re with Karen. She makes you happy. I could use some happy.”
Eric smiled. “I’ll try my best,” he promised.
Isabelle disconnected the call and the phone went dark. He slipped it back into his pocket and made his way inside, his thoughts swirling like a thunderstorm inside his head.
She was right, of course. Worrying about Isabelle wasn’t going to help her. She was already getting far too much worry from her mother. What she needed was something warmer, more comforting. He tried to focus on Karen. He tried to focus on how happy he was to be home after the day he’d had. He tried to focus on the delicious dinner he’d been looking forward to all day.
But as soon as he stepped into the kitchen, he knew immediately that the fried chicken was canceled and his bad day had only just begun.
“Oh good,” said Karen. “You’re home.” She was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee clasped between her hands. She looked a little frazzled, and understandably so. Right next to her, with her own cup in front of her, sat Delphinium Thorngood.
“Hello, Eric,” said the beautiful witch. “It’s good to see you again.”
Rushed: Something Wickeder
by Brian Harmon
August 15, 2017
From the pages of the Southeast Missouri Post
“Who Was Wendell Gilbert?”
By Carlton Hurldon
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Briar Hills, Missouri, like any American city, has its share of dark history. The local police have entire boxes of unresolved cases dating back over a hundred years. But the most intriguing of all these is arguably the disappearance of Wendell Gilbert.
Gilbert was born March 11, 1865 in Chicago. The son of Ruben Gilbert, a tremendously successful investment broker, Wendell spent much of his youth traveling the world with his parents and, at an early age, became fascinated with world architecture. He had a gift for aesthetic design and quickly made a name for himself on the west coast with a number of ambitious projects, including the erection of the Grasby Center in San Diego, perhaps his most famous landmark.
In 1897, Gilbert traveled abroad and spent the next twelve years in Europe, working on increasingly elaborate structures like the Allwardt Building in Great Britain, the Holgado Tower in France and the Winderbaum Center in Germany, as well as other less notable projects in Spain, Sweden and Italy. Many of these projects he oversaw simultaneously, traveling frequently between building sites and leaving his foremen to oversee the daily work.
Upon returning to the states in 1909, Gilbert spent a few short years on the east coast before moving to the upper Midwest, then back to his birthplace of Chicago. A few years later, he moved again to St. Louis and finally found his way to Briar Hills, where he spent the final ten years of what is known of his life.
His most notable work in Briar Hills included the extensive renovations to the city’s police station and hospital, and he designed and built the new courthouse and public library. But although the quality of his work was indisputable, Gilbert was met with harsh criticism for his insistence on using cheap immigrant labor instead of the skilled local tradesmen.
Then, in early 1927, he was contracted by Briar Hills University to design and build a new and much needed men’s dormitory to handle its rapidly growing student body. Unfortunately, the project proved to be doomed from the start.
Gilbert made a number of changes to the project during the planning stage that directly contradicted the university’s requests, not the least of which was that Gilbert moved the structure more than a hundred yards from the university’s intended location. He also changed the building’s materials from brick to a much pricier stone and significantly redesigned the electric and plumbing layouts in such a way that they would have been almost ten times as expensive as in the original plans. The university protested these changes, but was met with resistance at every turn as Gilbert manipulated them through a veritable maze of legal and bureaucratic diversions, which kept them distracted and disassociated from his work for many months.
Eventually, the university’s lawyers stepped in to seize the reigns of the project, but by then it was too late. Gilbert was gone, as were all of his workers, apparently deported back to their own countries. The money was lost and all that was ever completed of the university’s new dormitory was an empty set of useless concrete walls.
It would be another two years before Briar Hills University finally opened the doors of its new men’s dormitory, now Daney Hall, located on Carey Street. Built mostly on funds donated by sympathetic parties and through vigorous fundraising, this new building was considerably smaller than the one Gilbert was contracted to build, but would prove to serve the institution’s needs for several years.
Meanwhile, the site of the original failed project remained untouched. In 1952, a large plot of neighboring farmland was purchased, providing cheaper and more convenient locations on which to build. As a result, the university has never bothered to tear down Gilbert’s useless concrete walls and today the location is little more than an overgrown eyesore, known by many of the locals as “Gilbert House.”
Wendell Gilbert, the famed architect, in spite of his accomplishments, was now considered a fraud and a thief. Local authorities assumed that he took the money and deposited it in an unknown offshore account. His strange behavior (the changes to the university’s plans and the bureaucratic runaround) was assumed to be a smokescreen to keep the university distracted while he committed his crime. And once the money was safe, he obviously left the country. But several details about his crime did not add up. The most glaring of these details was the amount of money Gilbert supposedly stole. It was significantly less than what he left unclaimed in his bank accounts after his disappearance.
What really became of Wendell Gilbert? No evidence has ever been uncovered to shed light on what was really going on. Some historians believe that the brilliant architect must have gone mad. Others insist that his odd behavior indicated that he might have been being blackmailed and was likely murdered by an unknown enemy. A few creative locals have even suggested that Gilbert was caught up in something supernatural. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that he left clues hidden throughout his life’s work around the world, clues that, if correctly deciphered from the many buildings he designed and renovated, would reveal the secret location of the stolen money or perhaps something even more valuable.
[Carlton Hurldon is a local historian and an enthusiastic collector of regional legends and mysteries. He has lived his entire life in the Briar Hills area and is the author of four books and numerous guest articles for the Southeast Missouri Post.]
From the pages of the Southeast Missouri Post
By Carlton Hurldon
Monday, October 22, 2007
The city of Briar Hills is a compact metropolis and an urban oasis amid hundreds of miles of rural farmland in southeast Missouri. Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, it is home to Briar Hills University and a very mysterious history.
Officially founded as a city in 1769, it is believed to have been settled much earlier, with some historians suggesting that the city might be among the oldest modern settlements west of the Mississippi River. But the city’s real origin might be even older than imagined. Archeological findings have revealed the presence of an unknown Native American village that occupied the area sometime before the arrival of these modern settlers. It remains unclear what became of these original residents, but it is generally accepted that they were either killed off by the invading European settlers or, more likely, by a rival tribe some time before their arrival.
Even in modern times, the history of Briar Hills has remained mostly murky. Surviving records predating the 1880s are rare and remarkably vague even when they are found. Little is known about the early years of the city and its government. Even several of the city’s prominent structures have mysterious origins. For example, although it is well known that the elaborate building currently housing the Heritage Museum used to be the courthouse before the construction of the new one in 1919, there are no records revealing what it might have been before it was the courthouse. The game warden’s office and the First Baptist Church have similar forgotten origins, though their beautiful architecture defied the rustic setting of the early city, and historians are unsure why such buildings would ever have been built here. Most peculiar of all, however, is the city’s complex subterranean underworld. Miles of tunnels exist beneath the streets and buildings of the city, a great many of which with no discernable purpose.
In recent decades, the tunnels have been augmented with modern sewers, but these remain entangled with a confusing labyrinth of passageways that have become the basis for countless superstitious and supernatural rumors. Everything from witchcraft to government conspiracies have been cited as the motives for the creation of the tunnels, which are said to intertwine with a vast natural cavern system, but no evidence exists to support any such claims. However, a surprising number of the city’s residents insist that the tunnels are haunted.
City officials deny the existence of any supernatural activity and warn curious residents not to enter the tunnels. “Those tunnels are city property and trespassers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” warns David Dodd, Briar Hills’ chief of police. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt down there.” Most of the tunnel system’s entry points are gated off for public safety, but determined explorers have been known to find their way in, creating public hazard concerns for Dodd and the city police.
The original purpose of Briar Hills’ subterranean mystery may never be revealed, but there will definitely be no shortage of theories by those who call this city home. And who can blame them for letting their imaginations get away from them? One can only wonder what secrets might be hidden down there somewhere.