The Stevrim Caverns were like many in the area, intrinsically Emery knew that. The karst topography in the area made caverns and caves common as water bored into the limestone bedrock. The Stevrim Caverns were reputed to be the home of the Stevrim Ghost, however, making it stand out in the landscape.

If asked, Emery would fiercely deny any belief in ghosts or spirits. The only things he claimed to believe in that could not be seen or measured were covered by the religion that his mother had so strongly believed in.

God wasn’t a ghost, however, and a belief in something stronger than himself, something or someone who had a plan even when times were dark, gave him hope. Hope was an important thing for an orphan to have so Emery didn’t turn his back on the slender hope that religion brought him, even if some things were difficult to understand.

A belief in ghosts and spirits did not give him hope. Frankly, it scared him. If he heard or read a ghost story after dark, he found that he would turn up all the lights in the room. The flickering lanterns did little to drive away such fears, however.

Now, he was alone and darkness was closing in as he walked passed the caverns that the locals swore were home to an unfriendly ghost. His brother, Miles, had even seen a pair of glowing eyes one night, not long ago – or so he claimed. The eyes, he’d said, were not like those of any animals Miles had ever seen. They’d seemed angry and threatening.

Knowing all this, Emery could perhaps be forgiven if his steps hurried past the caverns. By the time he was on their family property, he was jogging. His breath came in short pants. He broke into a run as he reached the hay field. By the time he hit the front gate, Emery’s vision had narrowed to a small pin-point. He burst through the door with enough force to startle his brother into a soft outcry. Without meaning to, he replied with a soft cry of his own.

“Emery,” Miles said in a scolding tone. “You scared me.”

“That cave gives me the heebie-jeebies,” Emery said by way of explanation.

“Well, yeah, but still,” Miles said, his tone becoming milder. “Althea’s visiting.”

“Hello, Al,” he greeted their neighbor and oldest friend.

“Hey, Em,” she replied. “Did you hear that old man Abrams said he saw a dark figure in the caverns?”

“I don’t need to hear that, Al. The place is spooky enough without that kind of thing,” Emery complained. He sighed, anticipating that Althea would remind him of the story of the Stevrim Ghost. He settled into an armchair as she began to speak in a soft, almost eirie voice.

“Long ago, before the town was settled, a man and his son came out to start a homestead. They were one group of many homesteaders in those days. The ground was fertile and the water clear away from the cities of the coast. The pair settled down that first year in the caverns, because wood was scarce so they couldn’t afford to build a house. The cavern was damp in places but it kept out the rain, snow and chill. It was even cool in the heat of summer. They lived quietly; farming rye grain and tending a few sheep and goats.”

“All seemed well for the pair until late one winter. Maybe he went mad with the isolation that the heavy snows brought. Maybe the dense rye bread was contaminated by fungus. Maybe the food ran out in that cold, snowy winter weather. No one truly knows the reasons. But that day, the caverns that bore the name Stevrim became a place of massacre and blood. The father, claiming that he was going out for firewood, took up his ax and walked through the snow to the neighboring homestead. It’s said he offered the family shelter that their drafty house didn’t afford. For whatever reason the small family followed him back to the caverns. There they met their doom.”

“Althea,” Miles moaned. “You know I hate this story. It’s creepy.”

Althea ignored him and continued, “First he took up the ax and cleaved the neighbor man in half like a young sapling. Then he took the ax to his own son. He saved the woman for last. Her screams echoed through the cavern. When he was finished, all lay dead. The murders weren’t discovered until the spring thaws. A new settler found the bodies – bones by then, except for the man who’d killed them. His body had been mummified, his skin turned to leather by the cold dry air of the winter. His empty eyes bored into the hapless traveler, driving him mad. He ran until his feet bled and still ran on. After that, no one came near the caverns. Thus neither family was ever buried properly. Their ghosts – or the ghost of the killer haunt the cavern to this day.”

“Okay, you’ve had your fun,” Emery said softly. “I can’t sleep after that tale. I’m going to find a book to read and stay up… probably for the rest of the night.”

“See you in the morning,” Althea said cheerfully as she headed to the guest room.

Shaking his head, Emery stood and waved for Miles to precede him out of the room. “Can I stay in your room tonight, brother?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Absolutely,” Emery agreed.