Mt. Disparue | Teen Ink

Mt. Disparue

May 12, 2022
By Anonymous

He had 15 miles worth of gas left and, he thought, about 20 miles to go until he got there. He’d passed the last gas station about 2 hours ago and didn’t much care if he had enough gas to get there, he would walk if that’s what it took. 

The snow was coming down faster than the wipers could brush it off. His truck's tires were dependable though, and he wasn’t worried about slipping into the ditches on either side of the one lane country road. He only had one thing on his mind through the whole trip, get to Mt. Disparue. His wife hadn’t told him much about the town she grew up in except for where it was and that they would under no condition go there. This refusal was what confused him when she made it her last request, laying there in that bed she didn’t even have the strength to get out of, to spread her ashes over the lake at the center of the town. When she finally passed, the words of that last request rang in his head on repeat.

 The words were still going through his head when the truck started slowing and the no fuel light lit up the steering wheel. He was out of gas and about a mile away from the town. A single sigh was the only sound made as he grabbed his gear from the back seat, placed the jar with her ashes in the side pocket, and started hiking through the deep snow. Time passed slowly over the calm, snowy landscape but it didn’t take long for the burly, six foot five tall man to reach the sign that read “Welcome to Mt. Disparue! Be ready for so much fun you won’t want to leave!” After reading the sign he saw a steeple poking out above the trees in the distance and made that his next destination. His first few steps were normal, deep and exuded a soft crunch as he put his foot down, but he soon felt his steps getting lighter and the sound of the crunch disappeared. Breaking his gaze with the steeple, he looked down to find that there was barely a light dusting of snow on the ground around him. He saw that the white covered trees he was surrounded by just moments ago were now fully green and the clouds above were beginning to make room for the sun. He looked behind him, not because he cared what the weather was, but because he needed to make sure he wasn’t going crazy. In a burst of confusion his eyebrows furrowed and he had to rub his eyes to make sure he was really seeing what was before him. He looked at his boots which still contained the evidence of his trek through the snow, but when he looked around the forest, the snow was gone. He could even see the road he had been driving on.  He rationalized the situation, accounting the sudden 180 in the surrounding environment, to a more extreme version of the sudden change from rainy to dry he saw back home. He turned around again to look for the steeple and amazingly, it was still poking above the trees in the same place as before.

Shaking of the weirdness and hearing her dying wish in his head again, the hike continued. Not for long though, as a rustling came from the left side of the forest. Without time to hide from whatever was making the sound, a messy head of wavy red hair came trodding onto the road, locking eyes with Michael. 

“Oi! What brings you to this ‘ole pile o’ dirt?” Her heavy midwestern accent was almost as startling as the bright purple overalls she wore with her thumbs going up and down the straps when she stopped talking. 

Stiffening his stance, and ready to grab the knife he had sheathed to his back belt buckle, he replied, “Who are you?”

The wiley woman began slowly walking toward Michael and looking over her shoulder as if to make sure no one else was around to hear her ask, “Who’s asking?”

He didn’t see the harm in telling her his name, his first name. “I’m Michael.” He kept his answer short and probably wouldn’t have been able to finish his thought if he said anything else because the woman’s mood immediately shifted from suspicion to excitement and she shouted out, “Michael! Well I’ll be darned, they said you’s on your way but I said no sir, big ole Michael’s too smart to come visit us ‘ins. But here you are.” She scratched her chin, tapped her foot and asked again, “Why are you here?” Her thumbs went back to their place on the overall straps.

This weird back and forth happened for a while but Michael thought it was best not to tell the stranger, who he learned was named Jean, about his real plans for visiting and instead said he was on a vacation to the ‘lovely’ town. Jean had gladly escorted him to the only vacant cabin in the town and taken him to eat breakfast at the local coffee shop: Finders Keep Cafe. 

“Are you a waffles or pancake kinda guy Mikey?” Jean had donned him with the nickname and showed him the “best table” which was closest to the kitchen and, he thought, her favorite spot because she could easily reach behind and grab the syrups and utensils.  She’d already stuffed two sporks down her overalls. 

“I don’t have a preference.” It was the honest answer. He really loved any and all breakfast foods. He didn’t want to stay here long though, because of the influx of customers. When they’d first walked in no one was there except for the guy behind the counter but now he's disappeared in the back and it seemed like the whole town was coming to see who the new guy was. “I’m not really hungry though. It was a long trip out here and I’d really just like to head back to the cabin and get to sleep.”

Jean had been hidden behind the giant menu she picked up when they sat down and only looked over it now to reply, “You know breakfast is the most important meal of the day don’t you?” She looked almost offended that Michael might not like breakfast or know its importance.

“I’ve heard as much and I do agree,” he wanted to try and calm her down so he could leave, “but my car ran out of gas and I had to walk a bit and I might get sick if I eat anything,” this answer didn’t seem to satisfy, “But I’ll come back for lunch for sure. 12 sharp I swear.” This answer seemed to work as Jean relaxed her face, sat the menu down, and shouted out, 

“Hey Jimmy gimme the usual,” she stretched over and grabbed three bottles of syrup, sitting them on the table, “and Joel” a guy who had taken a seat by the door looked over, “try and pick up this guys truck of the road up by the sign,” Joel nodded his head and walked out the door and Jean turned back to face Michael, “Well I reckon you should head on back then. You know the way to the cabin. Oh, and your truck should be ready to pick up by tomorra,” She turned to yell back towards the kitchen, “And don’t burn them will yuh,” she relaxed in her chair and informed Michael, “he has a bad habit of getting them all perfect except for the last one. It always ends up lookin like a pile ‘o coal.”

Back at the cabin Michael felt he could relax for the first time since first getting in his truck back in North Carolina. The old wood smell in the cabin made his mind wander to the trip he took with his wife a few years ago. He walked over to the fireplace and lit it, standing there for a moment recalling them getting snowed into their cabin and being perfectly content with that. There was a dark brown couch on the opposite side of the room and he laid down on it, letting his mind wander through the memories over that short November week; their honeymoon. 

A sharp knock on the door jerked him from his dreams. He stared at his watch and realized it was 9 pm, way past the time he’d promised Jean he’d meet her for lunch. He rubbed his eyes and stood up, ready to apologize to the strange women for his absence but when he opened the door it wasn’t Jean on the other side. This man was slender, and taller than Michael was. He had his arms placed in front of him, wrapped around a white cane and, despite the late hour, the man's yellow eyes could be made out from his silhouetted face.

“Are you Michael?” His voice was like silver but his tone let Michael know he expected an answer.

“I am,” Michael replied as he tried to straighten up so as to appear less slight.

“Great.” The silver voice said again, this time followed by a grin that sent a chill down Michael's spine. He had a feeling this man was not someone he wanted to hang around much longer. “If you’ll just come with me I’m sure we could figure this whole mess out.” What mess was he talking about? Jean swore that no one else used this cabin and assured him his truck wouldn’t be a problem for the towing man.

“What problem?”

The man's expression didn’t change when he answered, “It seems you ate lunch at the Cafe and did not pay the check. I will need you to come with me. Now.” The man gave Michael no time to grab his things and the way he held that cane told Michael it was a good idea to not get too close. This wasn’t the plan though. He just needed to find the lake, and spread her ashes. But he’d seen a big part of the town and there wasn’t a lake anywhere, and even if there was he had to leave the backpack in the cabin. 

“There were also three spoons and a knife taken.” Jean. Apparently his absence didn’t stop her from eating lunch, and giving him the bill.  The man didn’t respond to any of Michaels attempts for more information, he wouldn’t even give his name. Looking up in defeat, Michael noticed there was no moon out tonight, nor were there any stars. Michael felt unsettled at the sight and looked around searching for something normal. However, the town around him was as weird as the sky, it seemed completely changed since his walk back to the cabin. The buildings were in shambles, every window had boards nailed over them, and there were shadows barely visible in the alleyways. Michaels body told him to run. But his mind told him that one movement in the wrong direction would turn the mystery man on him. At this moment it was safer to keep doing what he was told. 

“Where exactly are we going?” He was being led down a different part of town than Jean took him through.

“We’re going to the church. It is where all legal matters and disputes are resolved.” The man didn’t look back at Michael to answer but instead up at the steeple that was now visible over the ramshackled buildings and trees. As they were walking up the steps into the church Michael took one last look around for any signs of help. He saw no one but he did see a sign by the right edge of the church that read “Lake Léa 0.5 miles” with an arrow pointing behind the church. Léa. That was help he needed. The lake was named after her. That’s why she wanted her ashes buried there. In his fear he’d forgotten why he was in this town to begin with. He forgot her last request. The words had stopped replaying in his head. The sign refocused him. He has to get back to the cabin and out of this uncanny village. 

“I need to go get something I forgot in the cabin. I’ll be right back.” Michael prayed the man would let him go and you could hear the discomfort in his voice.  He started heading down the church steps but before he could reach the bottom step a cane was wrapped around his neck, pulling him into the church.  The man made no words as he dragged Michael down the middle aisle towards the altar. Michael struggled against the cane, trying to grab anything around him to throw at the man but he couldn’t get away. His neck was burning where the cane touched his skin and he could smell his flesh burning. He experienced a small moment of clarity as he blinked away his tears and looked at the crowded pews around the church.  Everyone he had seen from the Cafe was here plus a few faces he’d never seen. They weren’t moving though and didn’t even look when Michael let out a cry of pain as the cane was removed from his neck. All of their eyes were staring at the tall man who’d repositioned himself behind the pulpit. Michael wrapped his hands around his neck to try and stop the bleeding but when he removed his hands they were perfectly clean. No blood. His neck wasn’t burning now that the cane was removed. He rushed to his feet and ran for the door without a second thought. He was a few steps away from escape when the doors slammed shut and the onlookers gathered around him. They were swarming Michael, silently, grabbing every inch of him and pulling him back to the altar. He was a strong man but these strangers had an otherworldly grip on him. Four of them remained latched on while the rest went back to their spot in the crowd. They were still silent and glaring at the tall man as he leaned his cane on the side of the pulpit and began, 

“We come here today to punish this outsider for his crimes against our community. He was not invited here and took it upon himself to steal from us, “ The audience seemed energized by his every word but Michael could only focus on escape. The church was like the other rundown buildings in town and he thought if he could make it to the window on his right it'd be frail enough for him to smash through. There was still the problem of getting free from the clutches of the four zombie-like people holding him in place. The tall man started preaching again, “He claims a lack of knowledge of these crimes and expects us to believe him. We are no fools though and this criminal will be punished!” All at once every face in the crowd started smiling and the floor beneath Michaels feet shook. Tall man looked pleased and began again, “There is only one way for this man to learn the consequences of such actions,” the floor stopped shaking, “he must die.” This wasn’t how Michael was going to go out, letting a bunch of creeps kill him for stuff he didn’t do. No. He made a promise and still intended to keep it. He got his chance to do so as all the crowd chanted, “Death. Death. Death,” and even the ones holding his arms let go to pound their fists in the air. Michael was fast, he knew this would be the best chance he had, and he made a dash for the window. The people were too focused on the tall man to catch him before he jumped and slammed through the window. Michael landed on a patch of dirt outside and as quickly as he could got to his feet and ran for the cabin. No one followed him out the window but when he passed the front of the church he saw out of the corner of his eye the doors opening and the townsfolk gunning for him.  He knew he wasn’t fast enough to outrun them for their speed was as inhuman as their strength but he was motivated, and way too determined to just stop running. After he passed the cafe he turned right down an alley, hoping to lose the people. He didn’t, and two seconds after him the whole crowd began jamming into the alley. It was only about two feet wide and with no way out he felt panic sit in. He searched for anything to use as a weapon but there was nothing around him but two dark cold walls, and a dirt floor. Michael closed his eyes and thought of his wife. He let her down. He was going to break his promise. Only inches away, the hoard began clawing at Michael, making gashes on his face and arms, but before they could wrap their hands around him he began to fall. The floor under him was pulled away and he was plummeting down. His stomach was in his throat and he landed with a thunk. Before he could get up he could see the people above looking down on him as confused as to what just happened as he was.  A silver voice was shouting above and when it stopped the hoard began jumping down the hole. Michael moved fast getting up but a sharp pain in his chest stopped him. The fall broke a rib. 

He didn’t have time to worry about that though as the thud of a body hit the ground beside him. He didn’t know which way to go, it was too dark to see. 

“Oi! Over here Mikey!” There was no mistaking Jean's voice and earlier she wasn’t in the church when he was being swarmed. She lit a lantern in her right hand and motioned for him to come on. He started running towards her, hearing the sounds of more bodies dropping down onto the ground behind him. 

“What is happening Jean,” He shouted, holding back nothing. He had been lied to, framed as a thief, bullied, and almost killed. He wanted answers. The burst of energy and the running pulled on his rib more but he didn’t show the wave of pain.

“I’ll tell ya man but I ain’t too good at runnin for my life and talkin at the same time,” She yelled as Michael reached where she was standing and they both headed up a corridor on the right. There was a steep incline but the dirt floor had surprisingly great traction. Jean was in the front, running like a bat out of hell and Michaels rib was giving him a disadvantage. His adrenaline wasn’t enough to completely block out the pain. He really wished it was though because all of the hoard made it down and were now catching up to him at an uncomfortably fast pace. There was a faint light emitting from the top of the hill and Michael hoped that meant daylight. He would feel much safer running in the forest than this tiny hall where his head almost touched the ceiling. When Jean reached the top she blew out the lantern and he could see the light wasn’t from outside but from the fluorescents inside the cafe. There was a tiny space between the adjoining back wall of the cafe that he was apparently going to have to slip through. The space was too small for him and seemed even too small for Jean. It was this or the angry mob very close behind him. He inhaled sharply and tried not to breathe as he squeezed between but the boards weren’t smooth and they pricked into his broken rib. He wanted to move faster and get out but then Jean stopped. The people behind him couldn’t seem to get in the gap but he didn’t see why that made this the prime opportunity to take a break.

“Jean keep going,” He gritted through his teeth. She couldn’t turn her head back at him but she raised her left arm and pointed a finger at him quietly whispering, “shh. Look,” She pointed from him into the cafe in front of them. He could barely see through the gaps, passed the kitchen, and into the dining area where the tall man was standing,furiously tapping his white cane.  He seemed to be talking to someone but they were blocked by an area of wall. The Tall Man's clear voice had turned raspy and sharp as he yelled at the unknown person, “You let him escape! You intolerant scum! Find him and bring him to the lake. I will be waiting.”

Jean waited for them to leave before she started moving again.  It was all Michael could do to not scream out in agony. They finally made it to the other side and he found himself in a storage room with supplies piled around everywhere. 

“We should be good now. Time to fill you in,” she turned to face him, “a few year- Mikey you’re bleeding!” He hadn’t even noticed his shirt and jacket stained red. When he saw it he was hit with a faintness that overtook him. His need for answers couldn’t stop his legs from buckling and his vision going dark. “Oh now ya done passed out.”

He dazed back to consciousness and felt something tight around him. Someone had bandaged his chest and he looked around for who but all he saw was a folded shirt sitting on a box to his right. He picked it up and slid it on suddenly remembering where he was and what had happened over the past two days. As the memories were flooding back the door handle started rattling. He felt a renewed sense of strength and took a stance ready to attack whoever came through the door.  His fists were held tight and the door was swinging open. He let his right fist fly but it missed, they dodged it. He was ready to swing again but then stopped. 

“Jean?” He thought that was her frizzy hair. 

“Uh yeah. Ain’t nobody else got the key to this place. Listen I think if we go now we could have a straight shot to the pool. So here’s your knife and I grabbed Léa, “she started, handing him the knife he’d packed and the jar of his wife's ashes, “let’s go.” She started heading back out the door. 

“Jean, stop,” She shut the door and he started again, “Tell me what’s going on and how the hell you know, knew, my wife or I’m not going anywhere.” He made sure to leave no room for question about his seriousness. Jean sighed and took a seat on a pile of boxes.

“Okay. You gotta promise not to freak out though, “she looked up at him for confirmation and he shook his head. “You know she was born here,” he nodded his head again, “I was too. Everyone here was born here. We were a small, content, normal town. I’m not even sure when it went wrong but it was too late come the election. We’s up for a new mayor cause the old one croaked and out of nowhere comes this tall, white haired, cane carrying stranger. Léa told me he was bad news. She tried to tell everyone but they wouldn’t listen. He was only here for a week and he’d taken over. He changed the election day, moving it up so he could be elected faster. Me and Léa did what we could to stop him but before we knew it he was coming after her. He had a vendetta to get her and kill her. I still don’t completely understand why, but one day she told me she had to leave. Said she’s going to find someone away from here to help. Said she’s gonna bring an army and take back our town. 20 years. It’s been 20 years since she left but she kept ‘er promise. She came back with you.” Jean's last words were meant to be hopeful but Michael felt overwhelmed instead. He wasn’t an army; and the last time he went up against the tall man he almost died. 

There was a bigger thought in his head and so he asked, “How did you stay sane and not like whatever happened to those other people? And why didn’t you all just leave when Léa did?”

“We couldn’t leave. Léa tried to take me with her but every time I went past the town sign I got sick. As for the sanity thing, I'm a bit offended by the accusation. Insanity just looks better on me than the rest of the townsfolk.” She slapped her legs and stood up with, “Welp we better get going.” Michael didn’t have the answers to all his questions but knowing that Léa picked him to save this town was enough. He followed Jean out the door with the jar in his left hand and the knife holstered on his back waistline. Michael thought he must’ve been out for hours because the sun was up now. He noticed the town had changed too. It was no longer in shambles but looked how it did when Jean first took him to the cafe. He didn’t want to say anything about it so he could focus on how he’d deal with the tall man.

“Hey, Jean.” Michael walked faster to get right beside Jean.

“Yeah?” She responded without looking up at him but instead hooking her thumbs in her overalls. 

“How are we going to get to the middle of the lake without the Tall Man stopping us?” So long as he had the cane, and the townsfolk under his command, Michael thought there’d be no way to defeat him. 

“Ha,” she let out a laugh at Michael, “who in the world is Tall Man?”

Michael felt confusion and fury saying, “The guy who was trying to kill me!”

“Oh. You’re talkin’ ‘bout Mr. Whitmore.” She laughed again at the thought of anyone calling him Tall Man. “I’m not going near him Mikey, that's your job. I didn’t make it this far by getting close to the guy.”

“Well then what are you going to do while I’m fighting with Mr. Whitmore?” He wondered why she was walking with him to the lake if she wasn’t going to help. 

Jean smiled as she answered, “It’s mornin’ Mikey. I’m gonna be eatin breakfast. I’m only not going there now to make sure you don’t get lost finding the lake.” They reached a clearing in the woods and Jean pointed ahead. “There. Go keep your promise to her Mikey. Good luck.” Before he could turn to ask her more she was gone.

Michael felt uncomfortable walking out into the clearing. He felt eyes watching him and his hunch was confirmed as Mr. Whitmore came into view. He was standing where the grass met the dock and had his back turned to where he was overlooking the water. Michael eased closer to him, expecting him to turn around but he didn’t. Michael stopped five feet away from Mr. Whitmore and got his knife ready. 

“Move,” Michael demanded as he raised his knife.

Mr. Whitmore acknowledged the demand by slowly turning around to face Michael. His cold eyes looked wild and his mouth was twitching. Michael wanted to take a few steps back but knew now wasn’t the time to act scared. Mr. Whitmore moved his attention from Michaels eyes to the jar in his hand saying, “I will move when you hand me that jar.” Michael tightened his grip and said, “You’re not getting it.”

Mr. Whitmore lunged forward grabbing for the jar and Michael reacted by slashing his right arm. Whitmore seemed unfazed and used his cane to sweep out Michaels legs. Michael fell and dropped the knife but he was still clutching to the jar. He felt off balance but he didn’t have time to get reset before he had to dodge another swing of the cane. He was behind Whitmore now and threw his whole body at the man before he could turn around. The cane went flying into the lake and Michael landed on top of Whitmore. With one hand still holding the jar Michael used his legs to keep his opponent down and his free hand to start punching. Whitmore smiled as the blood started rising out of his wounds but with his cane gone the man seemed to be shrinking under Michaels weight. When he thought he’d inflicted enough damage, Michael got up and ran for the dock. He looked behind him and thankfully Whitmore was still on his back. Michel had to dodge a few holes in the wood but made it to the edge with virtually no problems. He unscrewed the lid on the jar, said a goodbye to his wife, and poured her ashes in the lake. As soon as they hit the water a bright white light emitted so strongly from the lake Michael had to close his eyes. When he opened them he saw the lake was frozen over now. Confused, he looked around and saw there was snow everywhere and the sun was in the middle of the sky. The town's landscape now matched what the area outside of it looked like. Suddenly remembering Mr. Whitmore, Michael ran over to the spot he’d left the man. He wasn’t there anymore but instead a white urn with a cane carved into the top was nestled into the snow. Michael was done with this town now that he’d kept his promise and despite the mystery that still surrounded everything that he’d experienced while there, Michael went home. 

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