Cheryl Casey Ramirez
She knew it would be dark by the time she got to the last cache but she had her flashlight and was going to give it a shot.
She had found a Geocache near the cemetery at Taylor Chapel. It was a small ammo box that another geocacher had hidden and then published the coordinates online. It had been there for a few years and several other geocachers had tracked it with their handheld GPS devices. They all logged their find in the little journal inside the box. It was like a treasure hunt but without any objects of value. Just the challenge of the hunt and an "I was here". Geocaching was a little-known past time that had quickly spread all over the world for those who knew about it.
She left Taylor Chapel and took a back road toward Sipe Springs. The road deteriorated until she thought she had accidentally wound up on someone's pasture road. There were just two tire trails in the sand with grass growing between, a fence to the left, and large trees stretching over the passage to form a dark tunnel. Her GPS device still showed that she was on a marked road. She kept driving but had her doubts.
The sky was completely dark now and what would have been a lovely country drive in the day began to seem more like a mistake.
There was a thumbnail moon low in the West. She had already decided to skip a particular cache because of the creep factor of finding it alone in the dark. She thought she was headed for the one at Sipe Springs but when she rounded a corner, she knew she had come upon the one she had intended to avoid.
The cache was called "Pains of the Wagon Train". It was near a grave from 1870, right next to the road. It was where a wagon train had passed through and a three year old girl had died on the journey. They had buried the little girl and had moved on.
She imagined what it must have been like for the family to leave their little girl behind. To drive off in the wagon toward their destination and leave her body buried alone in the woods. She could picture the mother staring at nothing with empty eyes from the wagon seat.
There was no cemetery and she had been expecting just an old grave marker near the road like the one she had seen on the way to Moran. Neither grave had ever been moved. They both remained in their original locations as part of history.
When she rounded the corner and the jeep lights panned across the darkness, she saw more than just a grave marker. Several stones outlined the tiny grave and over the many decades people had left things, tokens of memorial, that now covered the grave. There were Virgin Mary statues, tilted or fallen completely, weathered and dark. Old dolls in various stages of decay, a small chipped cherub statue, silk flowers faded and torn, and rosaries draped over everything. These things seemed to burst from the road in black and white, illuminated by the stark headlights, shadows thrown deep into the darkness beyond.
This would have been an interesting stop in the daytime with other geocachers. They would have looked over all the things that had been left. Taken the time to make out the dates on the lichen covered stone. But alone at night in the back-country, gooseflesh slipped down her spine.
Part of her wanted to say "Forget the geocache, I'm not getting out of this jeep." But she didn't; she would have felt silly. There was nothing out here but trees and dust covered toys.
She dug out her flashlight, left the jeep running and found the cache across the road under a fallen fence post. The night was still and quiet as she retrieved the little log book from the metal box. She took it to the hood of the jeep to note her geocacher's handle and the date. She turned to replace the log book but was halted by a glance at the grave. The hair raised on the back of her neck. The Virgin Marys were upright and all facing her.
She felt a strong urge to drop the log book and get in her jeep. She thought the statues had been toppled over and disheveled when she pulled up. She wasn't sure now. She forced herself to walk back to the cache and replace the log book. Her hands trembled and she fumbled with the latch. She just wanted to be done and gone. She shoved the box back under the fence post and stood up, patting her pocket for the reassurance of her cell phone. It wasn't there. She had left it on the hood of the jeep. Panic quickened her heartbeat and shaking legs nearly betrayed her as she stumbled back across the road.
She didn't want to look at the grave again. She tried to focus on the jeep. But something had changed. She clenched her jaw and turned her eyes to the grave. The dolls were sitting up, their arms outstretched toward her.
Her heart pounded. This was a sick joke. Who would do this? Who could do this so quickly and silently? She slapped the hood of the jeep with both hands. No cell phone. She was so out of breath that she was getting dizzy. She searched the ground but could barely see anything now. Inside, she must have left it in the seat. She yanked open the jeep door. A small cry thrust from her mouth and the heat drained from her body. A dirt-covered doll lay in the seat.
She stumbled back a step. She was losing her senses and felt like she was no longer completely there, as if in a dream. She spun around off balance, arms out, her breath jerking in and out in gasps. Something else had changed. She felt faint. A dark shape lay in the ditch by the fence post. She had just come from there. She stared until realization settled over her. She was looking at her own body, her own blond hair soaked in blood, draped over a rock.
Her heart stilled. The cold night air stole through her soul. She felt thin as a wisp of wind. A hand slipped inside hers. She looked down and the solemn girl looked up. Her mouth did not move but her words crawled into the woman's mind. Don't ever leave me again.
(End note: It is Geocache #GCTM7K. Stop by if you're ever in Texas. Any time. Day or night.)