Authors: Michael Richan
The Graves of Plague Canyon
By Michael Richan
By the author:
The Dark River series:
All three series are part of
and there is crossover of some characters and plots. For a
suggested reading order, see the
Copyright 2015 by Michael Richan
All Rights Reserved.
characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Published by Dantull (1490
Deem climbed the dark staircase, checking each step to make
sure it would hold her weight. With the extreme age of the building, and the
fact that half of it was demolished, she didn’t trust the rickety staircase under
her feet. She was afraid of falling through it to god knows what below.
Why would someone go into a building like this?
The entire place is
about to fall down!
Just a half hour ago she received a desperate call from Erin,
a friend who lived in Kingman. She asked Deem to check on her friend David, who
had called her from the building Deem was now walking through, trapped somewhere
on the upper level.
She pulled a flask from her jacket pocket and let a couple
mouthfuls of protection slide down her throat, wincing as it stung. A window in
the stairwell appeared on her right, and she glanced out over the zoned-off
construction area outside, a chain-link fence in the distance where she’d
entered through the opening David made earlier. The lights in the parking lot
beyond were bright enough to cast light into the stairwell, and Deem was
grateful. Using a flashlight in this place would surely alert security or the
When she turned the corner at the top, she saw a large, open
floor, half gone. The floor was shiny and looked like small strips of wood,
especially at the point where the demolition had stopped.
This place used to be a skating rink. A
very old one, with a beautiful wooden floor. It’s been closed for ages. Why
would someone sneak in here, especially in this state?
She walked out onto the floor. It appeared to be stable. The
demolition was about halfway complete, and she could see through the open end
of the building to the rooftop of a business next door. Small particles of dust
blew through the air as the wind raced freely into the space.
and this will all be gone.
Across the skating floor in another direction was a door that
had an “Employees Only” sign, with windows that opened onto the rink. She walked
silently and carefully over the floor toward it, expecting to feel the wood
move under her. With half the floor gone, disappearing into nothing twenty feet
to her right, she felt the need to tread very lightly.
The door to the office was open, and as soon as she walked in
she could hear rustling. It was darker, and since she couldn’t see any exterior
windows, she felt using her flashlight might be safe. She turned it on, and
walked past a desk. The rustling was coming from a room in the back.
When she reached it, she was greeted with an unusual sight: a
young man, crouched on the floor inside an alcove lined with shelves. Above
him, in the ceiling, was an opening that led to the attic. The man seemed stuck,
his left arm immobile, his right arm extended, holding a phone.
Deem walked toward him, and he looked up at her. “What are
you doing?” she asked.
“Get down!” he replied, looking up at the hole overhead. It
“There’s nothing there,” Deem said.
“There is!” he said. “It keeps popping out!”
Deem dropped into the River and saw movement in the opening
overhead. Something was shifting up there, drifting around just outside of
She took another step forward, and the image descended
rapidly from the opening, face and arms first, reaching for the kid. It was
ghostly white and moved very quickly, stretching to touch him but coming up
short. Its fingers swiped through the air six inches from his head, moving back
and forth in frustration, unable to descend farther. After a while it retreated
back into the opening.
Deem dropped from the River and moved toward the young man.
“Don’t come closer!” he said, extending his hand with the
phone toward her to stop her. “It’ll come out again. It pops out every few
“I take it you’re David?” Deem asked.
“And you’re Erin’s friend?” he asked in return.
“Slide out from there!” Deem said.
“I can’t!” David replied. “My left arm won’t move. It’s stuck
against the wall, some kind of trap.” He illustrated by trying to pull himself
free, but it didn’t work.
Deem dropped into the River once again, and saw a faint
luminescent glow on the wall where David’s arm was stuck. She dropped back out.
“Some kind of glue. I’m guessing it was put there to try and stop whoever is
dropping from the ceiling. Like flypaper.”
“Then why has it trapped me?” David asked, tugging at his
arm, trying to pull free.
The white figure dropped from the ceiling once again, a faint
image that filled the alcove with a fog, partially obscuring the shelves. Deem
dropped into the River, and it came into view — a long, thin man, his hair
tumbled over his head, his face contorted into an angry snarl. His torso was
mostly bones, but his face still contained flesh. Deem rose slowly through the
roof and into the attic, where she saw that the man’s feet were attached to a
similar luminescent substance that had been painted on the floor surrounding
the opening. He was trapped, just like David. She returned to her body on the
floor below and dropped out of the flow.
“You entered the River when you were touching it?” Deem
asked. “Of course you did.”
“I guess so,” David replied.
“It’s not holding your physical body,” Deem said. “It’s
attached to the part of you that enters the River. The zombighost’s feet are
stuck to a similar substance up there.” She nodded toward the opening. “That’s
why it hasn’t sliced your face off yet.”
“Zombighost?” he asked.
“That’s what we call ghosts that transform, due to the
radiation,” Deem said. “You’ve never heard the term?”
“No,” David said. “All I want is to get away from it. I’ve
been trapped here for an hour!”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Deem asked.
“I came to get something,” David replied. “I think it’s on a
shelf up there.” He pointed to one of the shelves lining the alcove underneath
the opening. “Do you know how I can get free of this stuff?” He tugged at his arm
again, but it didn’t budge.
The ghost let out a snarl and descended through the hole
again, straining to reach him.
“You realize its fingers aren’t really fingers anymore, not
when it’s transformed, don’t you?” Deem asked. “They’re more like claws, with
sharp blades. If it reaches you, those fingers will slash into you.”
“I figured it was dangerous,” David said. “But no, I didn’t know
Deem looked at him. He was young, about her age. He had blond
curly hair and was wearing his inexperience like the letterman jacket wrapped
around his chest.
“Did you drink protection before you came in here?” she
“What?” he replied. “Protection?”
“You don’t know what protection is?”
“Of course I do,” he said. “Protection is when something is
protected. Covered. Uh, sheltered from harm, that kind of thing.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Deem said. “Did you
“Drink protection?” David replied, cowering down as the
zombighost launched from the hole again, swinging its arms at him for a moment,
then retracting back into the opening. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Deem removed her flask and slid it along the floor toward
David. “Put down your phone and pick up the flask,” Deem said. “Take two large
David did as she instructed, and he sputtered after the
gulps. “What’s in this? Booze?”
“A little bit,” Deem said. “Make sure you drink enough.”
David capped the flask. “What now?”
“Just wait,” Deem said. “It’ll take a moment to sink into
“You think this will break me free?” David asked.
“It’s a good bet,” she replied. “I see from your jacket you
went to Dixie. What’d you letter in?”
“Football,” he replied. “Are you from around here?”
“Grew up in Mesquite,” she replied. “Been staying in Leeds.”
“You know Erin?” David asked.
“She and I used to be best friends. I guess we still are.
Since she lives in Kingman now, I don’t see her much. How do you know Erin?”
“We’ve been chatting online,” David replied. “There’s a forum
for people who are…” he paused.
“Gifted?” Deem offered.
“Yeah, gifted. We met there. She’s been helping me deal with
The ghost descended once again, mindlessly swiping at David,
still missing him by a few inches. David ducked lower.
“Try pulling your arm free,” Deem suggested.
David tugged on his arm. “There’s some give. I think it’s
“So you’ve never heard the term zombighost before?” Deem
asked, trying to take his mind off their predicament until he could detach from
“No, I’ve never even seen one before today,” he said. “To be
honest with you, I didn’t know they could claw you with their fingers.”
“Is it your father or your mother who’s gifted?” Deem asked.
“They didn’t teach you about it?”
“They’re both gifted,” David replied. “They had only started
to teach me some things. They didn’t think I was gifted until recently.”
“Well, ask them about zombighosts when you get home,” Deem
said. “Anyone who works in the River around here has to know about them, or
you’ll find yourself ripped to shreds.”
David didn’t reply, and she noticed he’d turned his face away
“What’s wrong?” Deem asked.
“I can’t ask them,” he replied. “They’re gone.”
“Gone?” Deem asked. “What do you mean?”
David pulled his arm free from the wall and he fell to the
floor in front of Deem. She pulled him a few feet from the alcove, far enough
that the ghost in the attic couldn’t reach them. David got to his feet.
“Let’s get out of here,” Deem said, turning to leave. Instead,
David walked back to the alcove, directly under the opening, and grabbed
something from the shelves. He examined it, and threw it on the floor. Then he
grabbed another item from the shelf.
“What are you doing?!” Deem cried. “Get out from under
“I have to find it,” he said, grabbing another. He looked it
over, and said, “This is it!”
The zombighost descended from the opening again, and Deem
rushed forward to grab David’s jacket, tugging him backward and away from the
creature’s claws. One of them grazed David’s cheek.
“That was stupid!” Deem said.
“I had to get this!” David replied. “It’s what I came here
“What?” she asked.
He turned a small wooden plaque toward her. It held little
engraved plates, and had a brass emblem of a roller skate at the top.
“A trophy?” she asked. “You can’t be serious.”
David turned the plaque back around. “Kenneth Hopkins, 1985,
First Place,” he read. “My father won that year.”
Deem rolled her eyes. “Come on.” She led him back through the
building, down the stairwell, and through the hole in the chain link fence. She
rearranged the fence as best she could to hide the damage, then they walked to
the parking lot.
“Come to my truck,” Deem said. “You’ve got blood on your
face. I’ve got a first aid kit.”
Deem got in the driver’s side and David got into the
passenger side. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out the kit, then
opened it and removed antiseptic and bandages.
“That was stupid, you know,” she said as she dabbed at the
wound on his cheek. In the light of the parking lot, and without the terror of
a zombighost popping out at them, she had more time to look at him. He was
clean shaven, and his face was classically handsome, but still had a healthy
dose of boy-next-door. His frame filled out the letterman jacket nicely. She
was startled when he looked up at her and she saw that his eyes were green.
“I didn’t think it was stupid,” David said. “I had to get
that trophy. That’s why I went in.”
“You didn’t know what you were doing,” Deem said. “What if
you’d gotten stuck a foot higher? I’d have found a corpse with a shredded
He lowered his face, making it impossible for Deem to treat
“What?” she asked.
“I had to get it.”
Deem paused. “Is that your dad’s name on the plaque?”
“He’s missing,” David said. “They’re both missing. They’ve
been gone for two weeks. I came home from class one day, and they weren’t
there. Their cars were still in the driveway, everything in the house still
there — nothing stolen. But they were gone. Haven’t seen them since.”
“What do the cops think?” Deem asked.
“They’ve been looking,” he replied. “So far, nothing.”
“Do you have brothers? Sisters?”