Last Sunset in Tarke

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
An unexpected adventure in hiking.

Submitted: June 12, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 12, 2019




Another cigarette.

I can’t sleep again.

Just realized you can’t smoke in absolute darkness. It’s impossible.

I’m so tired.

JB still won’t take my calls.

It’s been fun adventuring on the weekends since my cousin’s return from France, or at least it had been up until two weeks ago.


The pictures came back today.


That Saturday we started out early. I picked JB up at my uncle's house around six thirty. We stopped at a roadside and refilled our thermos somewhere around the small town of Meridian. I remember mentioning an old ghost town, or rather ghost community because there had only been one civic building and roughly five houses. This piqued JB’s interest and suggested we do a bit of exploring on our way back from the hike.


That face.


The cigarette smoke is irritating my eyes but I just lit another one anyway.

I wish I could clear my mind and just sleep. I would sleep for days. I’m almost certain that’s what my cousin is doing.


My God, that face. I can’t get it out of my mind.


Now that was a hike to remember or...forget. I can still feel a slight burn in my thighs. We left the car at the trailhead around eight a.m. and spent the first hour in a constant climb. The chit chat was light as we saved our breath for the ascent. When we had crested the ridge and took in the multiple valleys out until the horizon, we chose the farthest one, about seven miles away. We headed down after a short rest and a few swiggs of water.


JB came back to us scarred. Nothing visible but still noticeable, nonetheless. I didn’t serve, and so I don’t feel like I can ask about certain things. But the look in my cousin’s eyes; they had seen many terrible things.


We made fairly good time. After crossing a five arroyos, boulder patched hillsides and four valleys, we finally made it to our target meadow and ate our lunch under a beautiful Live Oak tree.


“What did you say the name of that ghost town was, Ronny?”


“Tarke.” I said, swallowing the last of my soggy taco.


“That’s right.” JB said, looking out over the tiny valley, entertained by her private thoughts.


We sat there in silence for a bit longer, resting up for the long climb out. Four hours later and a continuous conversation about everything that wasn’t about the war, we made it back to the car. We threw our packs in the trunk and hit the road again. My back was screaming and JB’s knee had swollen to an appalling size.

After awhile my cousin noticed I was staring at the enlarged knee. It had been damaged by shrapnel only a year ago. JB got the Purple Heart for it.


“I’ll be fine. Honestly. I’m sure that by the time we make it to your ghost town the swelling will be down.”


I looked out the window incredulously. JB playfully punched my shoulder, laughed and said




“Jelly Bean!” I yell back and then grinned


“You know I hate that name.”


“Yep” I replied, and then laughed


We hadn’t laughed together in a long time and it felt good. It seemed like we were picking up our friendship where we had left off before JB shipped out for boot camp, nurses training and then to the front, in France.


An hour on the road brought us to our first turn. North Tarke road. We drove passed almond orchards and safflower fields, abandoned boats and rusted tractors. The sun was well into the west now and the Butte mountain range that towered in front of us was now half golden and half shadow. We turned right on to South Butte road and the remnants of the old settlement came into view.


“Oh my, look at that old school house, Ronny.”


“I think that’s a church.” I countered. We had to disagree. It’s what we did.


“Well thank God stupid doesn’t stain, or you’d be out of clothes more than you’re in them.” JB said, and grinned back at me.


“Oh! Look at that!” JB be said, startled as we both watched the backside of a half a dozen children running around to the rear of the old school/church.


“I didn’t think there was anybody living here anymore.” JB said


“I didn’t think so either. The few houses that are still standing aren’t livable.”


Early June isn’t normally sticky, but a sudden heatwave and our proximity to the Sacramento River and Butte Slough made everything tacky. You could almost drink the air. We rolled slowly down the un-maintained avenue and gawked at the ruins with overgrown fruit trees and giant Golden Thorn as high as ten feet, blocking the view from the road in many places. We came to the last standing house and stopped. A good stretch was needed, so we got out of the car and walked down the old fence line until there was a break in the giant thorny weeds, allowing us a better view of an ancient two story farmhouse. We stopped and looked at the old building.


A thousand crickets started up at once.

We jumped, startled.


“I’m gonna go back and get my camera.” I said to JB, after an uneasy laugh.


“I won't be a minute.

But when I got back, JB wasn’t there.


“Hey! Jelly Bean!” I yelled to get a reaction.




I found the path my cousin had made and followed it to the door yard in front of the house, stopping to take pictures with my Brownie, if I found the right angle and right lighting. When I did reach the path to the front door, she wasn’t there.


“Jelly Bean!”

“Come on!” I shouted.

“I am NOT going in that fucking house!”


‘Fine.’ I thought, and decided to walk through the waist high yard and make my way around to the back of the creepy place.

The house didn’t have a pane of glass in any of it’s windows. The front door was wide open and I could see into the living room. Even in the dying light I could make out faint images in frames still hanging on mildew stained walls.

I made my way to the back of the house, cutting my own path, zig-zagging between rusted farm implements and what seemed to be discarded furniture.

The crickets were deafening.


I never thought I would, or could smoke.

I’m staring at a full ashtray on my desk and it’s not even three in the morning.

There are two packs of Lucky Strikes in the top drawer of my bureau, an empty in front of me and a half of a pack on my front porch.

What is happening to me?




I had just rounded the house and was thinking about the lighting on the back of the structure. Bright orange tinting on the flat surfaces and deep shadows around the corners. The western sky was on fire over Colusa County at that moment and I was gonna get it on film.




I looked up and saw JB posing audaciously in a doorway on the second floor, right above a collapsed back porch. I aimed my Kodak Brownie at my crazy cousin and started snapping pictures.


“Smile.” I said in a sing-song voice


“What?” I heard from beside me


The cacophony of cricket stopped.


I turned and looked right into JB’s bemused face.


The two of us then looked up into the face of horror, and stuff of nightmares looked back at us from the upstairs doorway.



On my ash dusted desk are four photos of the house and one of my cousin and I. The ones I took of the back of the house did not develop. I can still hear the crickets and see the silent children playing in my mind.

I think we lost JB for good this time.


I’m going back to Tarke in the morning.


...This was the last entry in Rhonda Berry’s diary. Dated 6 June 1945...

It was her very last.


© Copyright 2019 R.Guy Behringer. All rights reserved.

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