SHADES OF DEATH
by ELIZABETH-AMBER LOVE
The disappearance of 11-year-old Jessica devastated the Ghost Lake community in northwestern New Jersey. Strangers came together in search parties to cover every inch of the lush green countryside around Shades of Death Road. For the first time, people were not questing for Lenape arrowheads or pottery. They were hunting for evidence, hoping with every step that the girl would be found alive.
Maybelline Chesterton wasn’t particularly well thought of by her neighbors though the children were always more open-minded. That’s the way it was when magick met mundane. Children and often the mentally ill didn’t fight the connections the way those considered “responsible” would. The search for young Jessica inevitably brought strangers to Maybelline’s property surrounded by woods.
A middle-aged white man politely knocked on the door and asked if she had any information about the girl. There was another man with a woman behind him on the porch. Both of them held up flyers with the photo released to the newspapers. It was the image of cute blonde Jessica wearing her soccer uniform and bearing a smile that showed her braces.
“Yes,” Maybelline said, “I have seen her but not the way you wish. I have seen her in my mind’s eye.”
“Oh great, a crackpot,” the first man muttered not so quietly.
“Please come in.”
The strangers followed the woman in the purple dress to her dining room. There on the formidable oak table was a black five-sided cloth. A single silver star, apparently hand painted, went from peak to peak on the cloth. There were different color candles at each corner. In the center was a copy of Jessica’s photo that Maybelline printed from the news website. Over the girl’s visage was a black pentagram. Underneath the photo was a map of the county. The strangers were confused by all the items and the woman became particularly frightened.
“With this emerald pendulum, I have narrowed the scope of where you should be looking to here.” She pointed to blue shapes unnamed on the map that locals called Ghost Lake. It was actually three separate ponds.
“Oh yeah,” the first man quibbled, “Did Satan tell you this?”
“No, he didn’t,” Maybelline said firmly. Her eyebrows crinkled together and she squinted in displeasure. “You don’t have time for me explain my entire belief system. Jessica doesn’t have that kind of time.”
“Let’s get out of here, Jerry,” the woman said while pulling on the man’s arm.
The three strangers turned and headed towards the front door.
“I’m telling you,” Maybelline said following them to the door. “Between these mountains is danger. The Lenape knew it. For hundreds of years people living here have spoken of it. It corrupts mankind. There a sick and dangerous soul between the hills, near the water.”
“Look, lady, you’re nuts. People call that place Haunted Hollow because of folklore. Nothing else to it,” Jerry, the leader of the group said.
“You won’t think I’m nuts when you’re too late and you find Jessica’s body there.”
The hesitation in the man showed Maybelline that she hit a nerve.
After his pause and slight head jolt he ended their discussion quickly. “We’re heading that direction anyway and it ain’t because of anything your Voodoo has to say about it. It just hasn’t been searched yet.”
The three curt neighbors quickly escaped off Maybelline’s porch and down her front stairs.
She could smell the moss and the evergreens when she closed her eyes. She stood there as they left and prayed in her way for them to be successful. Behind her eyelids she noticed the sunlight changing. She opened them to see dark clouds coming overhead fast. Maybelline went back to her altar setting in the wood cabin’s dining room. She removed a short brown candle from the shelf and used her ceremonial athame to carve into it. The symbol looked like a stylized capital “M” but it was two adjoining peaks to represent the Earth Mother spirit of these mountains. She prepared it with a pokeweed oil and lit the wick. Her gaze focused on the flame until it began to dance with black curls of smoke. She saw Jessica in the flame. The girl was being hurt by a man who was once tall but hunched over from age.
“Please find her,” the witch whispered to no one present.
Rain started to pour down. The smell of frankincense twirled through the air of the cabin with the aroma of summer’s warm fresh scent. Flashlights could be spotted bouncing through the pitch black woods by 9 p.m. The search parties continued their quest. Maybelline was struck by a sudden urge to leave the house and drive to the local police station. She arrived at the other end of Allamuchy Township to find chaos in the municipal parking lot. It was packed with cars and people holding flashlights. Most didn’t seem to mind the rain enough to use umbrellas. A man came out of the crowd and marched up to Maybelline. She recognized him as the silent man who visited her earlier. The street light was barely enough to illuminate his face under the brim of his cap.
“Did your witchcraft do this? Did you do something to make him take that poor girl?” he shouted. Luckily, he could barely be heard over the cacophony. His hand reached out like he was going to grab Maybelline by the arm and drag her but something stopped him, presumably his fear of what touching a witch could do to him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! What happened? Did you find her?”
“Of course we found her! We found her barely alive. Beaten. Raped. And police dogs found the bodies of three others! You knew. How did you know?” he yelled.
“I showed you how I knew. I didn’t hide anything from you!”
Then Jerry the leader was at her other side. The men exchanged glances and grabbed Maybelline by the upper arms. They dragged her through the crowded parking lot up to the police chief who was trying to answer questions to reporters and neighbors.
The alpha male gave her a good shove to the feet of the chief.
“Here she is. This is the crazy witch that knew where Jessica was when Bob and Suzanne and I were at her place! She must be in on it!”
Cowering behind the chief and flanked by other officers was a distressed woman. She came forward first looking down at Maybelline then up into the eyes of the accusers.
“I’m Jessica’s Aunt Vera. Her parents are with her at the hospital. What is this about her being involved?”
The Independence Chief abruptly interrupted. “If anyone else has information, you had better get inside right now!” His left hand grabbed at his leather gun belt while the right hand jerked a hitchhiker’s thumb towards the direction of the door.
“All I did was help!” Maybelline said. “All I did was tell them where to look! I would never, NEVER harm that girl!”
Once again the neighborhood leader ignored the authority of the police present and grabbed Maybelline, pulling her up to standing.
“This witch was in on it, I tell ya!”
“I am not!” she pleaded.
Vera stood closely in front of Maybelline.
“Let her go. Right now. Enough evil has been done tonight.” She looked into Maybelline’s eyes for a few seconds before continuing. “Did you have any part in this?”
“And you showed them where to find her?”
“With magick. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I don’t care if you or anyone thinks I’m evil. All I care about is that she was found.”
The women looked into each other’s eyes longer. Maybelline’s brow was slightly wrinkled with worry but her eyes were soft. The corners of her mouth were pulled outward ever so slightly from the tension and fear coursing through her. The Chief and a high ranking State Park Ranger came in close as a barrier between the townspeople and Maybelline. Everyone was soaked to the bone from the rain adding to their irritation and anxieties. Vera looked at the officers and around at the other people.
“I believe her.” She addressed Maybelline. “You should come inside. It’ll be safer for you.”
Maybelline went inside the station followed by Vera and the officers. They took her statement without judgment or arguments. The energy in the air inside the station was still, practically motionless. People were exhausted. The adrenaline was subsiding. Limbs were shaking as the bodies’ hormones wore off from the frantic fight against time. The Chief ordered his patrolmen to clear the parking lot and send everyone home.
The search for Jessica was over. The man who took her was in custody and would never again come near a child. The infamous Shades of Death between the mountains of Haunted Hollow continue to be a mystery. Did they protect Jessica that night or were they responsible for corrupting the man’s human soul into a monster? Maybelline Chesterton believes it is not up to you to decide.
SHADES OF DEATH is a work of fiction but the geographic locations mentioned are real. You can find them nestled in the hills of northwestern New Jersey. © Elizabeth-Amber Love Delaney 2012