The cemetery went quiet as the undertaker stopped speaking. He allowed the silence to settled for a few moments before posing a question to his audience.
“Now. Is anyone curious what became of the mining party that had gone up into the mountains the previous day?
As if snapping out of a trance, several listeners in the cemetery spoke quickly about wanting to know.
The undertaker glanced quickly around the cemetery to see if the Clockwinder was present. Not seeing him, Mr. Gedge harumphed. He would have to tell this part without implying to the man now running New Babbage that the city had sinister underpinnings.
“Well, here is where we learn some rather…unsavory things about the institutions of New Babbage. It seems that no one gave any consideration to the mining company that had ascended into the hills the previous day. Perhaps all present can appreciate the expediency with which Terra Foscans wished to leave their horror behind them.
“Some months later, however, a small party of New Babbagers appointed by the Academy of Industry did make the journey to investigate. It seems that the special device that had been taken into the mountains was an experimental piece of equipment that had been commissioned by the Academy for the purpose of scientific investigation. The scientist that had accompanied the mining party had been working on a grant from the Academy to create the thing. In addition, there were at least two board members of the Academy who had gone to observe.
“Considering the intellectual power that had gone up that mountain and not returned to New Babbage, it is understandable that the Academy would want to know what had become of its men, as well as the device.
“The small party, it is said, steered clear of Terra Fosca and chose to approach the mining camp via a different route from the east. When they arrived, they found nothing. Well, they found nothing living, and nothing dead. All that remained was the mining equipment, still and cold and rusted from exposure to the elements on the mountain for so many months. The camp itself was in a state of disarray, not well-kept or neat at all, but more as if it had been abandoned in a rush. In the main office they found maps, schematics, plans, scribbled calculations and overturned chairs.
“Interestingly, there was a small amount of tinned food still on the shelves. There was, however, no indication of why the drilling operation had been halted or where the men had gone.
“For some time the investigators argued about whether to descend into Terra Fosca. Being men of science and reason, they determined that it would be a…shall we say…’career-limiting decision’ to not execute their assignment to the best of their abilities. The next day they began to hike down the mountain into the deserted town.
“What the investigators found has never been revealed. There are not, in fact, even many rumors around it, save for a general agreement that the Academy suppressed information about what was discovered. Some suppose that deep within the archives of the Academy there is evidence of the Terra Fosca ghost story, but no one has ever found anything to support that.”
Sky Melnik interrupted with a curt sound of skepticism.
“As for the device,” Mr. Gedge continued, “the Academy announced openly that it had been lost, because they posted an astonishing reward for anyone who could produce information of its whereabouts. It is not known whether anyone came forward, or whether the thing was eventually found.
“And that, New Babbagers, is the story of the hungry ghosts of Terra Fosca.”
Being the end of a story, those present applauded politely and began to talk among themselves. The undertaker thanked them all for coming, but being unacquainted with most, kept quiet and simply listened. It didn’t take long for them to shake off whatever tension they felt from the story, returning to their neighborly ribbing and chatter.
Amid this friendly din, Mrs. Melnik raised her voice.
“Hang on….and what of this box you have, Junie?”
Everyone paused, suddenly curious, and looked at Sky.
“Is it empty?” she asked.
The undertaker raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Ms. Ginsburg, who looked uncomfortable.
“It hasn’t been opened yet, Sky,” she answered somberly.
Sky nodded. “Can’t blame you there…”
Scottie chuckled at his wife as Junie continued. “Not that I believe any of this, mind you!”
“Oh…of course not,” said Sky, smirking.
The undertaker snorted in laughter, and the mood broke.
Conversation turned to a light-hearted survey of the bad things that inevitably occur when mysterious boxes are opened, particularly by woman (or New Babbagers), and strategies for discovering the contents of Junie’s Terra Fosca box. The snowy cemetery was filled once again with the laughter and joviality of friends while the effect of Percival Gedge’s dark tale gradually faded into the night.
((Thank you to everyone who came out to the cemetery for this last night. You all helped to bring this to life as a real New Babbage story.))