Benji Howden took the worn trail down to old mother creek, just as he did most evenings after school. People rarely went down there, said it was haunted. Well the kids at school did. They said that a young girl was killed down there, by old mother creek. They said that she had been down there one day after school. She went down there to cry and be alone because all the other kids were picking on her. Picking on her clothes, picking on her hair, hell they’d pick on anything just to be mean to her. She could have gone in to school in the most dazzling frock with her hair professionally done and her face made up all pretty, but we know, no matter which group we were in growing up, no matter what the unpopular kids did, they were always going to be the unpopular kids.
Benji ran down the overgrown trail, the remnants of tears glinting in the late afternoon sun. He jumped the rocks across the stream where it enters the forest on the north side, below North Ridge mountain and dove in to the hollow. It was a quiet and secluded patch where he could be out of sight, even if anyone did decide to go for an afternoon stroll by the river. He jolted to a stop, the rage still fresh in his head, he kicked a few loose rocks breathing loudly and letting the full force of the emotion run free like a horse set wild on the open range. Then he slumped against a large boulder, exhausted.
The rock, probably once part of the mountain which had long since been ripped free and tossed through the foothills like unwanted trash sat proudly in the hollow. Benji had often gone down there and sat atop it, looking across the open space like it was his own private hideaway.
He had never seen anyone else down there and he had frequented the hollow by old mothers creek for many months. Mainly since his father started to get physical with him. First it was a few slaps here and there when he was drunk and Benji hadn’t gotten up to get him another beer quickly enough. But soon after it became something else. If his mother was out of the house – though it was actually a trailer, not a house – he would become a little less aggressively touchy, and a bit more affectionately touchy. The first time it happened, Benji thought his father was just having a change of heart and that he had realised what an unequivocal asshole he had been, but as his father hugged him closer and stroked his hair, he thought he could feel something hard pressing in to his back.
That night Benji spent on the living room floor of the trailer. He had pushed his father away and told him to go to hell. His father then proceeded to sucker punch his son up the side of the head. The room went fuzzy and the boy hit the deck, the TV shaking in its frame and the picture going snowy momentarily. He finally awoke around 4am the next morning with a pounding head and slumped to his room silently weeping to himself, hoping not to wake his parents to get a repeat performance.
Benji Howden sat in the dirt propped against his boulder and wept once again, wept to the trees or the sound of the stream babbling serenely a few metres away, the tears of his previous outburst still tacky on his cheeks. He wept to anything that would listen, just as long as it wasn’t another person. Benji had come to realise over the last few months that he wasn’t a people person anymore. He was broken emotionally and probably depressed, a word he had heard on the tv a few times and from his mother on occasion too. He thought that she might be depressed. He thought about the life he and his mother led, in reflection with the lives of some of the other richer kids. The kids who lived in the new houses over on the east side of the river. Benji had been to the new estate over on the east side of town and marvelled at how big some of the houses where. He thought some of them must have had at least four or five bedrooms and each one with its own bathroom. He wished his parents could afford a home like that, but then remembered that a woman who works part time in the laundrette and a worker from the lumber mill were lucky to have trailer. At least they owned it and didn’t rent. He had a friend who rented one of the trailers in their park and remembered how he had told him about the mould and the leaking roof and the landlord that only showed up on collection day and didn’t give a flying fuck what condition the trailer was in. He was at least grateful that his fucked up little family didn’t have to deal with that.
Benji raised his head from in between his knees and wiped the fresh tears from his face using the sleeve of his worn out sweater. He recalled his adventure around the new houses – well they were two decades old now, but the newest houses in town – and suddenly caught a shiver as the sight of the old Stone house which lay razed and forgotten creeped in to his head.
The Stone’s had lived there when the houses really where brand new and there had been some weird occurrence that left the Stone woman a widow. Benji didn’t know what it was but he had heard some people at school talking about it a while back. Then not long after, the Stone’s house was obliterated by a gas explosion. Only one body was found but it was not the Stone widow or her child and the police never actually said who it was. Some of the kids at Benji’s school liked to tell the tale to the young kids like it was some ghost tale. Some said that the Stone widow blew up the house herself and left with her child, some said she was vaporised and some said she was the survivor that the rescue teams found. Broken and distraught after the loss of her newborn in the tragedy, she left town and was never heard from again. Benji didn’t know if any of these were true and thought that probably he would never find out. People never talked about what happened and the land itself where the house stood was never redeveloped. The pile of rubble just sits, overcome with weeds and surrounded by a rusty chain link fence. A forgotten mystery locked away.