Bryce hates hiking. His legs hurt from going uphill, and he is terrified of heights. He would do anything to get out of climbing a mountain, which is why he sat staring at a wall of pamphlets in a gas station, trying to find a way out of climbing his first 4,000 footer with his family. He didn’t have much time before his dad finished filling up the tank, so he read the names of the tiny papers on the wall, quickly trying to find anything that his parents would love more than hiking and that he would hate less. It was mostly different ski resorts, nothing that could help him in the beginning of September. Finally, he settled on a map, the only map of the area left on the whole wall. He started to unfold it, but began to notice that something about it wasn’t normal. He wasn’t the first owner. It was covered in markings and notes from a previous owner. The roads highlighted, places circled, and a final destination of a little place called Livermore Village, with ghosts doodled around the name. He began typing the town name into his phone, but when he clicked Go, his dad started to pull out from the pump. He watched the car move into a parking spot, when suddenly there was a loud pop. He stepped outside to his parents and older sister, Olivia, standing in front of their car with the hood up.
“Sorry, Bryce, the hike is gonna have to wait.” His father rested his chin in his hand, like a philosopher trying to solve the universe’s biggest problems. Bryce couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
“Oh, darn it!” he replied, and despite how bad his acting was, his father still believed it. His mother paced back and forth on the phone with someone, trying to get whoever it was to come out to the middle of nowhere to rescue them. Bryce looked back at his phone and read, Step Inside The Creepy, Abandoned Town Of Livermore In New Hampshire and knew he had to go.
“Hey, Dad, can I go for a little hike of my own behind the gas station while we wait for the car to get fixed? I have a map.” Bryan’s father looked at him as though he had just told him he’d won the lottery.
“Well, of course you can! As long as your big sister can come with ya!” Bryan began to answer, but Olivia replied before he could,
“OMG, I would love that! Get some one-on-one time with the little bro!” She popped up from the curb where she sat, beaming with enthusiasm. Bryce almost protested, not wanting Olivia to get in the way of his travels, but ultimately decided that arguing with his parents would be an even bigger hurdle.
“Sounds good, call us when the car is finished.” He turned away from his parents before he had even finished his sentence. His mom put a hand to the screen of her phone,
“If you lose cell service and we can’t reach you, be back by noon. I think that’s the earliest I can get a mechanic here who’s worked on any car but his own. Ridiculous.” She rolled her eyes and went back to arguing with the man on the phone.
“Kk, Mom! Love you both!” Olivia waved to her parents and jogged away to catch up with Bryce. “You know, Bryce, this is great! Two hours of just the two of us and nature!”
“Mhm.” He didn’t really know what he was replying to. His head wasn’t there walking with Olivia; it was on the map.
“Can I look at that map? Two heads are better than one!” She glared over his shoulder, making him jump away to the side.
“Nope, I’ve got the map covered. You can just make sure we keep going Southwest, and we should be fine.”
“So you want me to make sure we walk in a straight line?”
“Pretty much!” His voice cracked, throwing Olivia into a fit of laughter. He hated his voice cracking, maybe even more than he hated climbing mountains. But what he most certainly hated more than anything was not being taken seriously just because he was thirteen.
“Ok, big guy, I’ll just mark our path as we go so we know where we’ve been.” Olivia picked up a rock and began scraping a ring around the trunk of a tree. For a while, they didn’t speak. Bryce kept his head on the map while Olivia carved into trees and then ran to catch up with him. After nearly a mile of this, Olivia finally spoke up.
“You know, it would be nice if you waited for me to mark our spot before you kept going. Or maybe even if you talked to me.”
“You know, I’m slowing down for you when you stop,” he finally stopped and looked up at her, “and I haven’t said anything about how I think you marking the trail is a stupid waste of time that just slows us down.” Olivia was a few steps ahead when she suddenly turned violently to respond.
“Sorry I don’t want to get lost and I’m too nice to say that will probably happen with you manning the map!”
“Really? Because I can see our destination right under your feet!”
Olivia turned back around and towards the ground. Right in front of her toes was a line of stone covered by leaves.
“Woah, Brycey, what is this?”
“Welcome to Livermore Village, Liv. It’s a ghost town.” He walked past Liv, towards a brick pillar that only had one side still standing. Olivia knelt down, uncovering the Earth below her that once used to be a wall.
“Bryce, I don’t like this. It’s giving me the creeps.” Olivia wasn’t superstitious and never put much thought into the question of ghosts’ realness, but her stomach twisted at the thought of going any further. Bryce turned his head back without missing a step,
“Chill, it’s just a bunch of abandoned buildings, it’s not like ghosts actually live here!” He laughed and turned the corner around the pillar, out of Olivia’s view. She stepped over the stone to go find him, and the moment her foot hit the ground, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and a sharp chill ran through her entire body. She was telling herself to get out of there so much she thought she could hear someone else saying it. Her bones shivered as she made her way toward Bryce. Her mind was telling her to run. She was sixteen and didn’t know if she needed to protect him or he needed to protect her. Either way, her head was screaming at her to sprint towards the half broken pillar. But her body couldn’t. It was almost as though she was moving in slow motion, dragging her feet, paralyzed in fear. A stack of rotting trees a few hundred feet to her left tumbled down, with the reminisce of the once lively logging town rolling rapidly towards her. Her mouth was now incapable of moving as well, with her screams and cries for help now trapped inside her own head. It was like her once lost speed finally caught up to her: she ran to the pillar Bryce was standing behind at a pace which only adrenaline could cause. She made her way around the brick to find no one there. Her flight response turned into hide, collapsing behind the pillar, screaming Bryce’s name.
When Bryce went behind the pillar, he did not stop walking. He saw what looked to be the remains of a mansion and knew he had to go see it. Although only the foundation remained, it was one of the biggest houses he had ever seen. He began to take photos, but when he went to post them he realized that he had lost all service. He wasn’t surprised he had no connection, but the realization that he was separated from Olivia without a way to text her made him instantly uneasy. He was about to return to the pillar when he tripped over something with a clank. There was something metal in this field of brick and stone. He looked down to see a mailbox, with the name “Saunder” painted on it in cursive. He reached into his pocket for his phone to take a picture when the mailbox opened on its own. He jumped back, nearly dropping his phone as a stream of water started pouring out of it. He backed away slowly, but the water only grew stronger. His walking pace turned into a jog, then a run, and then nearly a sprint, as the water seemed to chase him. He suddenly heard a voice yelling his name.
“Bryce!” It was Olivia. “Bryce, where are you?” He could see the pillar where she sat more clearly now, and the stack of logs hurtling towards it.
“Olivia, run!” he screamed back. He was not going to trust one hundred year old bricks to keep her safe.
“Bryce, it’s you!” Tears started to stream down her face. She cried so heavily she could barely see Bryce grab her arm and pull her away from the water and the logs. But a change of directions didn’t save them. The water continued to follow their trail, nearing the aggression of a flood. Bryce clutched the map, trying to find a way out, when the water seemed to grab it from him. Levitating in the air, Bryce could have sworn it whispered to him,
“You should not have had this. You should not have come here.” He stared at his now empty hand.
“Liv, it’s gone. Where do we go?” And for the first time all day, he felt like there was a problem he couldn’t solve. A situation he couldn’t get out of. Olivia wiped her face and looked up.
“That tree! I marked that tree!” She started racing to the tree with a ring around the trunk, engraved into the bark, Bryce still holding onto her arm. They jumped over the short stone line they had walked over not long ago, and the water crashed into it like it was an impenetrable wall. The siblings turned at the sound of waves crashing, and saw the water began sinking back into the ground, and in a matter of seconds, the village looked untouched by man, as if the two had never been there. They stood, panting, and when they finally caught their breath, Bryce spoke.
“It wants to be a ghost town. It didn’t want to kill us, just for us to leave it alone.”
“Yeah, thank God I marked those trees to get us out of there!”
Bryce laughed for a brief moment, and then laughed so hard he had to stop and catch his breath again. “Yeah, thank God you came with, Liv.”
She grinned, tearing up with joy. “Thanks Brycey, we better make our way back to Mom and Dad.”
They followed the carvings back to the gas station, talking the entire way. They made it back before noon, and when Bryce told his parents he loved the hike, he wasn’t acting.