With only two hundred people, Fieldstone wasn’t much a town. But Cassandra, Kyle, Blake, and Bella, and I never cared. This place was our kingdom, where we could do whatever the hell we wanted.
It was the middle of summer, and we’d been out of school for a while. We no longer felt the itch to be free and had settled into the rhythm of the lazy days.
It was Thursday night, and we lounged on the steps outside the general store, watching cars kick up dust as they headed to the bar. We were bored and struggled to come up with things to do, and that’s when Cassandra got her big-brain idea.
“If we take the tracks out of town now, I bet we’ll see the Umbrella Man.”
She was older than half of us by a year, which made her the leader among us, but I wondered if she seriously believed that bullshit story.
“You don’t seriously believe that bullshit story, do you?” Kyle asked.
He was only five months younger than her and probably the strongest out of our group.
“No. But I also have never done it, and we sure as shit don't have anything better to do, so why don’t we go try it?”
The Umbrella Man was a story passed around for a while. I don’t know who started it, but it was always told by someone who was a grade above us, who, of course, had heard it from someone a grade above them.
Either way, the story was that you go out on the tracks just as the sun sets, and if you look up the hill, you’d see some dude standing at the top with an umbrella. No one knew who he was, and some said he was a ghost, but if he ever pointed his umbrella at you, you’d die first.
I’d never gone down the tracks and looked for him either, but I gotta say it sure intrigued me—especially if Bella said she’d go too. She was my age and came to town at the start of the year, so to me, spending time around her was a win-win.
“It’s bullshit,” Blake said. He was the same age as me. “I tried it last year and saw shit.”
And if he said he did it, we all believed him because he was the bravest out of all of us.
“Still, it feels dumb to have lived here all my life and never tried,” Cassandra said.
“Fine. It’s better than sitting on the sidewalk all day.”
Blake jumped up and offered Cassandra a hand. I was pretty sure he was trying to hook up with her, and I’m pretty sure she was going to let it happen.
As we headed for the tracks, the only cars left in town were around the bar. As we walked past, we heard the jukebox thudding out a beat, and the place was really rocking.
“Man, we should go in the back and see if we can sneak a few beers,” Blake suggested.
He and Kyle claimed they'd done it a couple of times, but I never felt right about stealing from Mr. Maynard. If I ever got caught, he’d tell my folks, and I’d immediately catch hell.
“Leave it,” Cassandra said, and no one argued. She had a way of never having to explain herself.
We stepped along the tracks, and I moved up beside Bella.
“You really think the Umbrella Man is bullshit?” she asked. I could tell she was nervous.
“You sound pretty sure of yourself.”
I leaned in and caught a whiff of her deep flowery perfume, and I had to really focus on the conversation. “This town isn’t really known for its high death count of people being killed by a ghost man with an umbrella.”
We all fell quiet as we left the outskirts of town, and Cassandra, Blake, and Kyle slipped into a single file in front of us, keeping their eyes peeled up the hill.
“Where are we actually supposed to see him,” Cassandra whispered. I could barely hear her.
Kyle answered, “Lots of people say that if the sun is touching the hill, you should see him right in front of it.”
Blake, who was our foremost expert, was strangely silent.
As soon as I glanced up, I knew why anyone would think they saw a man with an umbrella. My eyes were blinded by the sun, and my retinas burned with spots. I struggled to not trip on the path in front of me.
“I see nothing,” Kyle complained.
“Me neither,” Bella said. I could hear the relief in her voice.
I tried looking again, and the sun was just as bad—but wait? Did I see something?
I shaded my eyes and squinted to see better through the glare. “What’s that?” I struggled to say.
I focused really hard, and just past the sun, sure enough, there was a man up on that hill, holding an umbrella.
“You see it too?” Cassandra asked.
Kyle and Bella were next. “Yeah, I see him,” they said, nearly in unison.
The only one who wasn’t talking was Blake.
I looked over at him, and his face had gone white. “A trick…I, no…I never…” he mumbled and started to back-pedal.
Cassandra glared at him. “Where are you going?”
“I can’t…I promised….” He was now rushing back towards town, occasionally looking back at the Umbrella Man.
That’s when he tripped on the railway ties, falling to the ground, and turned to look up the hill.
I turned too and saw the man level his umbrella towards Blake, and Blake screamed and tried to get up and run, but a lightning bolt shot down from the cloudless sky and struck him.
Blake stumbled sideways, tumbled off the tracks' side, and rolled into the grass below. I rushed towards him but knew he was dead before I even got to him. A dark scorch mark ran across his face, and every vein had burst and sketched red lines under his skin.
I heard Bella scream first and looked towards the others. They stared at me in shock, and I knew why: the man with the umbrella was beside me.
Instinctually, I turned to look, but I never saw him. He was always in the blind spot of my peripheral vision.
But I could feel him lean in, and the air smelled like sulphur, and the taste of copper pennies blossomed in my mouth. He whispered in my ear before disappearing into thin air.
Bella, Cassandra, and Kyle approached me slowly, staring at Blake’s body before turning to me and asking what the Umbrella Man said.
But I never answered and slowly stumbled back to town, half in terror and half in a trance.
And for the next thirty years, I never told anyone what he whispered. But so you never have such a curse hanging over you, I will share what the Umbrella Man said: “This will be your fate if you walk these tracks again.”
And because of that, I have never ever returned.