Old Lystra

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Local legend has it that there's something sinister lurking about the ruins of Old Lystra Church. A youth named Porter has been challenged to conjure it as a rite of passage to prove his maturity to his older brother and friends. But some legends should remain fiction...

There were five of them that went that night; four longtime school friends and one very naïve younger brother of the quartet.  Porter, or “Porker” as he was more or less affectionately known by his older sibling’s entourage, was riding in the back seat of the car being carefully fed suggestive information.  Porter had heard of this place before, and the legends, but he didn’t know quite as many intimate details as his older friends seemed to know, and the gloom that passed outside the car windows made it all the easier for those particulars to nestle into his subconscious and clutch a cold hand around his heart.


“My dad said it was doomed from the start.  Y’know they built that place on the spot of some kind of Indian massacre…he said the first preacher they had got possessed with the spirits of the killed Indians. They found him down in the creek one Sunday morning, cold and dead, with weird symbols cut into his arms and on his face…”


“I heard that in the ‘20s another pastor went crazy and became some kind of animal sacrificing devil-worshipper.  In a church no less…”


“They said that there was a Bible in the pulpit that couldn’t be removed from the building.  If you tried carrying it out the door, it would get heavier and heavier until you had no choice but to drop it…”


 “But one of the worst things,” interjected Rick, Porter’s brother, “happened ‘bout 30 years ago…” Rick let his words trail off methodically as he slowed the car and made a left-hand turn off the asphalt and onto a Georgia red clay back road.  It was county road 145, better known as Old Lystra Church Road.  The car’s headlights passed over those white words on the reflective green sign and made Porter swallow hard. Rick continued.


“This church was where the Ku Klux Klan in this area used to meet. They’d do their rituals, y’know, cross burning n’ shit…but one night they crossed the line. They kidnapped six people from a black church across the county and brought them here.  They whipped ‘em and took ‘em out to the hanging oak and strung ‘em up.  Left ‘em for the buzzards…”


“But, wait a minute…didn’t the people tell the police? When they saw the bodies?” Porter asked in a shuddering tone.  Rick slowed the vehicle enough to where he could spare a quick turnaround to look at Porter.


“Lystra’s members WERE the police…AND the Klan that killed them…”  Porter gulped hard once again. 


The only reason he was here in this car traveling down this godforsaken stretch of rural road was because he didn’t want his brother and friends thinking he was some kind of coward.  He wanted them to know he was fully mature enough to hang around with them even if they were a few years older. They claimed that if he was brave enough to do what was asked of him this evening then he would be.


 But the oppressive darkness had his heart pounding with thoughts of the unknown it contained, and suddenly he was very sure that he wasn’t all that interested in belonging or fitting in anymore-


 -when the trees that lined the dirt road seemed to part like opening doors, unfolding and allowing the car’s occupants to see an open cattle pasture guarded by gnarled, ancient barbed wire to the right. And to the left, standing like sentries before a forbidden path, the rounded concrete posts that marked the beginning of Old Lystra’s property line.  Between the eight posts ran a short driveway flanked on its right by the church’s cemetery.  The dilapidated, crumbling building of Old Lystra itself couldn’t be seen from the road.  Rick pulled the car to the shoulder and continued the story.


“The feds found out, though, and ended up cornering the Klansmen in the church.  They had a standoff.  No one’s really sure who shot first, but the feds let loose.  Shot over five hundred rounds into the old church…gave the bastards just what they deserved…”


Rick paused his tale here and opened the car door.  He and the other boys quietly exited.  It took Porter a moment longer as the knot of anxiety in his stomach kept him partially glued to the seat.  When he found his feet and climbed from the vehicle, the other boys were standing in a line before the car’s headlights.  Swirling trails of dust kicked up by their arrival danced around them like dirty flames.


“So much evil in one place.  All that blood just soaked the ground here.  Hell, the grass barely grows now.” Rick stated, stooping to pluck some seasonally dead stems from the earth for effect.


“Tonight, little brother, you know why you’re here and what you must do.  Right?”  Porter nodded nervously.  His so-called “initiation” was to test one of the more famous of the Lystra myths.  According to teenage gossip legend, if one circled the hanging tree three times with a lit candle and looked up, you could see the ghostly remains of the Ku Klux Klan’s victims.  Why anyone would want to see that was beyond him, but if he could do this silly little thing then he could prove he was mature and cool enough to hang out with the guys. At the very least, the other boys had agreed that if he did this they’d stop calling him “Porker”.  It would be worth a quick walk through the woods solely to end that indignity.


“Then go…and good luck…” Rick said flatly.  The boys parted, and stood waiting for Porter to walk between them.  The youth took a ragged breath, trying desperately not to look overly terrified, even though that was precisely how he felt at this moment.  He could feel cold sweat trickling down his back as Rick handed him a fat white candle and a small disposable lighter.


“Don’t light that ‘til you get to the tree…” Rick explained, and Porter acknowledged the instructions with a quick nod.  He moved to start his midnight mission and Rick stopped him with a touch to the arm.


“Oh, and if you do see them, make sure that candle doesn’t blow out.  You’ll have to keep it lit and make it back beyond these posts. That’s the only way to get away from ‘em, got it?”


Porter had never heard THAT part of the myth before, and that new knowledge had him practically shivering with the goose bumps it induced. Somewhere in the back of his rational mind he knew this was all bunk.  It was nothing more than ghost story ridiculousness, but unfortunately for Porter that part of his brain was being held hostage by the boyish fear he felt.  Finally, slowly, reluctantly, he stepped past the gathered teens and briefly paused at the line of posts before he took a small step onto Old Lystra’s grounds.


So far so good, he thought to himself.  After a few more careful sliding steps he was moving at a better pace, but when the headlights that had been illuminating his path suddenly snapped off, he immediately whirled around.


“Hey!  Turn that back on!” he hollered.  The moon was obscured this night by a thin layer of clouds, but it gave just enough murky light for Porter to make out the silhouettes of Rick and the other boys moving to the posts, lighting candles and placing them on top.


“Can’t do that, man. It’s the rules.” Rick called back. “Get going.”  Porter’s teeth clenched as his blood turned to ice pellets and ran down his neck.


“What are those for?” He shouted, pointing towards the flickering wicks.


“Just in case you do wake the dead, we don’t want ‘em out here.  This’ll keep ‘em in there with you.”


“Very funny, jerk…” Porter said, but not loud enough to be heard.

 
“Go on!” Rick yelled once again.  Porter took another deep breath as his eyes adjusted to the blackness.  It wasn’t too late, his fear told him. You could sprint back to the car and demand to be taken home immediately, his fear also helpfully suggested.


Yeah, and be labeled a sissy for the rest of my life…Porker the ol’ scaredy cat, he thought to himself.  Nope, he wouldn’t do that.  He mustered himself together, and with a bit more confidence, albeit cautious, he turned and began back down the path that would lead him to the church.


As he passed the cemetery and began down the hill, that confidence he’d been able to rally up was shattered by the sight of the crumbling wreckage that had been Old Lystra Church, backlit by the pale, misty moonlight shining through the scraggly, bare trees.  The building was set low on the hill and seemed to be leering back up at Porter, like a monster in a storm drain waiting for his leg to come within reach.  He approached it now with as soft and silent of steps he could, surveying the ruin as he did.  There were no windows anymore and the ceiling seemed to have collapsed in some places.  All along the base of the church Porter could make out spray-painted names and graffiti tags.  The doors had either rotted away or been removed at some point, but there was nothing Porter needed to do in there.  And he damn sure wasn’t going in there for the hell of it.  He crept past, trying to peer inside-


-the screech of an unknown animal sent a thousand volts of terror up his spine.  He spun around-


-and behind him, he saw it, or what was left of it.  Ringed by an old chain barrier that was threaded through rusted aluminum posts, the massively round trunk indicated that the plant was obviously very old.  The fact that it was separated from the surrounding wood and protected by the fence must have meant that this was the infamous lynching tree of Old Lystra Church.

 
But looking up from the base it was clear the old oak had suffered some sort of serious manicuring relatively recently.  Where there should be thick limbs supporting a sprawling canopy there was only evidence of limbs hastily lopped off.  Scattered about the lacerated trunk were smaller sawn logs and cluttered piles of thin branches. There remained virtually nothing of the top half of the longstanding oak. 


So if there are no branches, what’s there going to be to see, Porter asked himself.  Suddenly, he was struck with an idea and a smile came to his face.


There won’t be anything to see.  No limbs, nothing to see, right?  I mean, they just said I had to walk around the tree three times with the candle, Porter thought to himself.  It wasn’t his fault that someone had come along and hacked the thing to pieces.  He could still do what he came to do, and there was now nothing to fear.  A relieved sigh escaped his lips, and his feet felt much lighter as he approached the tree, little more than a tall stump now.  He kicked some of the branches out of the way and stood at the base.  Porter cupped his hands around the wick of the candle and put flame to it.  As it flickered to life it helped to brighten his surroundings, but curtailed the illumination provided by the weak moonlight.  With sure steps he began circling the stump, watching at his feet so he didn’t trip over any of the cut logs.

 
As he reached his third revolution, he found himself smiling even brighter.  He’d done it.  He had proven that, even though he was a few months from turning 13, he was definitely mature enough, decidedly brave enough, and without a doubt cool enough to be accepted and respected by his older friends.  He stopped where he had started, not even bothering to look up as he knew there was nothing to see.  As an added bonus, perhaps an act of fearless defiance, he intentionally blew out the candle and began walking back towards the path.


I bet they didn’t think I could do it.  I bet they thought for sure I’d chicken out, Porter thought as he approached the chain that wrapped around the hanging tree.  He was almost beyond it when it started to rain.  At first, he didn’t pay much attention to the wetness spackling his arms and falling on his head, until a fat drop hit him smack in the forehead.  He reached up to absently wipe the precipitation away-


-when he got an inclination that he wasn’t being struck by water.  Porter frowned as he squinted in the darkness, his eyes still trying to reacclimatize to the lower light after he’d been holding the candle.  The specks that dotted his arm were definitely not clear, but darker, thicker-


-more of the drops hit him.  Porter reached into his pocket, taking the lighter back out and relighting the candle.  He held the flame close to his arm-


-and his eyes went wide.  He stared in numb horror as more drops pelted his extended arm.


Oh my god…is that…


The wet specks were red; dark red blotches that began running thickly down his body in trickles. Blood.  There was blood falling from the sky.  Porter tried backing away from the fluid on his own arm, finally bumping into the trunk of the hanging tree-


-a soft sound came from above him, like a gurgling, choking gasp for air…his eyes slowly tilted upwards towards the sky-


-and the candle illuminated a pair of shoes, dangling above his head.  Porter jumped away from the tree’s trunk, shocked, seeing but not believing that the canopy appeared restored, as though it had regrown all of its lost limbs in the few seconds it took him to look-


-and he screamed as he saw them.  Six bodies, eyes bloodshot and rolling, dark faces distorted by the death throes they were reliving from their ghastly hanging graves, arms were out, hands grasping-


-and as one they silenced; their collective dead eyes locking onto Porter.  He shrieked again, dropping the candle, killing the flame, and he ran.  He ran back up the path as fast as he could-


-there, ahead of him, four foggy, ghostly figures standing in his way.  It was clear they were garbed in some sort of white robes, the eyes and mouths appearing as empty holes of torn fabric in the darkness.  They shrieked like banshees and flew forward, coming after him-


-Porter turned.  He ran the other direction in a panic.  He didn’t look at the tree as he bolted past it.  He could hear the wraithlike Klansmen still snarling behind him and he ran even faster.  He had no idea where he was going to go.  Hot tears poured down his face as he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape-


-suddenly, cold wet consumed him.  He’d tripped and fallen into the creek, it seemed, but as he tried to push himself up and keep running he could feel he was being restrained-


-and he yelled in trepidation again as he saw spindly, skeletal hands clawing at his legs, working to seize him, to pin him down in the water.  He scrambled against the powerful grip, but it was no use.  Porter cried in fear and pain as the hands reached up, scratching his face, his arms, holding him down-


-and out of the gloom beside the creek, a shadowy void began to approach.  Porter couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t do anything but stare wide-eyed and mouth agape as the figure came closer.  As it did, the shadow began to take form, looking more like a man…a man with strange runes carved into his pale, misty form.  The eyes were solid black blobs that pulsated and throbbed over the mouth that seemed to smile as it approached Porter.  It reached out its hand, the symbols cut into its arms dripping-


-and it placed its cold palm over Porter’s face.  It dug its ragged nails into Porter’s flesh, gripping him with hellish ferocity.  Porter was in shock, and unable to scream his protests as the hand pulled his head up, off the rock-


-before smashing it back down against the frigid stone, blurring Porter’s sight, causing the shadows of the night to rush in and carry him away into the dark…

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rick was screaming into his cell phone, trying to get through the terrible, rural connection and tell the 911 operator that his brother was dying.  He still wore the makeshift Klan costume he’d thrown on scarcely 5 minutes earlier for what was meant to be a prank, only now the sheet was streaked with red and none of this was funny.  The chase meant to be part of a meaningless joke, replete with an old ghost story and some candles, ended when his younger brother tripped over some woodland debris and struck his skull against a large granite rock as he fell into the creek.  Rick and all of his friends had tried to carry Porter’s body out of the water and back to the car, but the four youths found the struggle too great as the boy’s body mysteriously grew heavier and heavier with every step, forcing them to place him down just outside the short concrete pillars. Illuminated by still burning candles on the posts, Rick noticed how badly the sticks scratched the poor youth's arms and face, leaving patterns that appeared frighteningly calculated, almost intentional in their angles and shapes, lending life to a ghost story...again...

word count: 2941


Submitted: September 21, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Casey King. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Smithy

Great story, with a genuinely creepy tone to it. Liked the imagery, and, stylistically, the writing was spot on. I also enjoyed the ending, and the idea of the story coming to life all over again.
Good job!

Mon, September 21st, 2015 2:59pm

Author
Reply

Thanks so much! I enjoyed your story as well!

Mon, September 21st, 2015 8:58am

H. Adams

Wow... I thought the ending was going to be that the other kids (also known as the assholes who put him through this just to not be called a wimp) were part of the religious group who had previously died and who the legend was based on. I was very, very wrong. Actually, looking back, that thinking was very cliche. I'm glad you didn't take the cliche route. Really good story, I enjoyed it. The start was a little clunky, but I think that's because I haven't read anything by you yet. Gotta get used to the styles of the plethora of writers on here.

Sun, October 4th, 2015 2:15am

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for the read. I definitely invite you to read the other stories I have posted here! If you liked this one the Undead Joe novellas would probably be right up your alley.

Mon, October 5th, 2015 5:32am

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