I remember the exact moment everything went wrong. It was when Delbert looked me square in the eye and said, “No one can know.”
He shook his head back and forth to show that he meant it. Delbert’s what we used to call retarded when we were kids and before we knew any better. Everything is a big deal to him, whether he’s warning you about a wasp’s nest or showing you a bag of candy he got at Red’s.
Delbert also got a real imagination, which is why I didn’t take him seriously at first. I remember when he used to go on about a World War Two tank he thought was buried under Mason’s old field. He said he even found some shell casings and a set of dog tags. That was back when I was with the department, and I asked him to show me the dog tags, but turns out they were just a pair of soda can tabs.
So I didn’t think much of it when Delbert told me about his Indian girlfriend. He was sitting on one of the railroad ties in Red’s lot and looking kinda low. That wasn’t like him since just about nothing ever got Delbert down.
“What’s the matter, buddy?” I said. “Something bothering you?”
“It’s my Indian girlfriend, Bill,” he said. “I think she’s lonely and misses her family.”
So I decided to sit and talk with him to see what was really going one. But he stuck to his story. He said a few weeks ago he woke up in the middle of the night and heard a girl singing. He went and followed the sound all the way to Waller’s Hollow, which is a dry creek bed we used to run around in when we were kids.
Delbert said he followed the singing all the way into the woods. That’s when he said he saw a young lady sitting on a log by a campfire. She was skinny with dark hair and dark eyes, but not Mexican, he was sure. He said she smiled the moment she saw him like she had been expecting him.
Since then he’d been visiting her just about every night. He’d bring her sweets but she never ate them. She also didn’t talk, but somehow he found out that she had been there for a long time and used to have a family, but where they were now, he didn’t know.
After Delbert talked himself out, I said something like, “Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll all work out,” and told him to be careful of coyotes if he’s going to be wandering around at night since this is when they usually have their pups. Then I went home.
Over the next couple of days, though, something about my talk with Delbert started bothering me. Even though it sounded like another one of his imaginings, I had this bad feeling I couldn’t shake. I guess it was my old police training, but I just told myself that if there really was some girl living out in the woods, she could be in real trouble.
When I went to see Delbert the next day he was happy as could be. And before I could even say hi, he started running off about how he was going to meet his Indian girlfriend’s family that very night. Somehow she had explained to him that it was a special night with the moon and stars just right so that she could be with them again. He was so excited he could barely wait for the sunset.
That’s when I asked him if he’d take me down to meet her before it got dark. But he shook his head serious like he always does and told me you can’t visit her in the day time. “Why not?” I asked. “Because that’s just how it is,” he said. So I asked if I could come down with him that night. He thought about it for a while and then looked me square in the eye and said those words I’ll never forget. “Alright, Bill. But just you. No one can know.”
I came back to Delbert’s just before sundown but he was already halfway down to the Hollow. I offered to drive us down but he said his Indian girlfriend wouldn’t like having a car so close, so I parked my truck and we walked.
I’ll never forget the sky that night. The moon was full and looked like it was about to fall out of the sky and there were stars just everywhere. It felt like something was itching to happen, even though there was no weather coming or any kinda meteor shower or eclipse or anything else like that.
I hadn’t been down to the Hollow since me and my friends got drunk after graduation but I still remembered the way. That moon was so bright that we could see every rock, bush, and hole in the ground like it was daylight. We crossed the Hollow and came to the woods at the other end. I remember the hair stood up at the back of my neck like it did when I was a kid. Not Delbert, though. He just kept right on going like this was something he did all the time. So I followed him.
I remember thinking how it was strange that I could still see pretty well even though the trees were blocking out most of the moonlight. The trees were getting thicker and closer together, but Delbert just led us through down some path that only he could see.
I was just about to ask Delbert how much further when all of a sudden the woods just stopped. We were standing in a small clearing with a bunch of big round rocks all broken up and covered in moss. And right there in front of us was Delbert’s Indian girlfriend just sitting by her fire just like he said she’d be.
I remember just standing there and staring, not saying a word or moving a muscle. There were a bunch of things that weren’t right, but I didn’t notice them at the time. Like how the fire was big but kinda dim and didn’t really make anything brighter or warmer. And how the girl was wearing some kind of costume like those prehistoric people on the TV documentaries. And just like Delbert said, she had dark hair and dark eyes, but she wasn’t any kind of Mexican or Indian or anything I’ve ever seen before. It was almost like the color of her skin was the same as the color of everything around us, all dark and grey and faded, if that makes any sense.
None of what I just described comes close to what happened next, though. The girl stood up slowly and looked at me and Delbert and smiled. Then she pointed to the other side of the clearing and turned to face some old dead trees that were standing there. Only they weren’t trees. They were stones, each as tall as me and all with some kind of strange writing and pictures all over them only all smoothed out and faded.
But what I saw next I wouldn’t have believed even if my own mother told me. Right between those stones walked out four or five people, right out of thin air. They were dressed like the girl, only some were older and some were younger. There was something kinda faint about them too, like they were standing both in front of me and far away at the same time. But then, oh God, then they started singing.
I can’t say what it sounded like, but it wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before. It was like some other songs came down out of the sky and up out of the earth too and all mixed together into, well, I just can’t say what.
And that’s when I ran. I’m not proud of it. I just bolted and by some miracle made it back to my truck. I didn’t even give a damn about Delbert then. I just tore home, finished that half-bottle of tequila until I stopped shaking, and passed out.
I still see Delbert around town every now and then, but we don’t really talk anymore. He looks happy enough, though, I’d say even peaceful. Sometimes I wake up suddenly in the middle of the night and I swear I catch just the end of that song far off in the Hollow. It makes me want to just grab someone and drag them down to the woods so they can see what’s really down there. That way I’d know for sure it was all real and not just something I wrote down in these pages. But then I’ll see Delbert and he’ll give me a look like he’s saying with his eyes what he said to me that night.
No one can know. No one can ever know.