Old Misser Duck

February 18, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I’ve never liked taking my son, Ben, along on business trips, especially now he’s at that tireless, inquisitive age where everything is either utterly boring or fascinating. Any parent will know just what I mean. But Ben’s father, who’s a handyman, was working long hours all weekend, and the regional office had a creche I could use, so I decided to turn the trip into a weekend break. The hotel in Atlanta, Georgia was pretty, but well past it’s best, the sort of place with lots of empty rooms. Cheap, in other words, which was everything to me. The polite elderly guy on reception took a real shine to Ben and myself, and insisted on giving us the penthouse suite at the regular room-rate, since no-one else was using it.

The suite was huge: two adjoining bedrooms and a spacious lounge; plenty of space for Ben to play whilst I sat on my bed and worked on my presentation which nobody would care about.

“Old Misser Duck’s in here, mommy!” Ben ran out of the bathroom, looking delighted.

I barely looked up from my ancient laptop, plugged in as the battery went three years previously. “Do you mean ‘Old Mr. Duck’, sweetie?” He couldn’t yet pronounce his ‘T’s.

“Old Misser Duck, Old Misser Duck!” he was bouncing with glee. “He’s in baffroom, sayin’ fings! Come see, mommy!”

I said I’d go look later, pleased he’d made an animal friend to amuse himself, even if it was imaginary. “But ducks don’t ‘say’ things, honey. They quack! So why don’t you go quack back?”

I was so engrossed in my stupid project that I didn’t notice that it was growing dark outside. Ben’s giggles from the lounge spurred me to shut my laptop and call him in.

“I’ll order us some food, buddy. Sorry mommy’s not been a whole bunch of fun today!”

“S’ OK, mommy. Old Misser duck been quack-quack-quacking how he loves you!”

This made me smile, though I wondered what had brought a duck to Ben’s mind, as we were about as far from any pond as possible. That night, Ben insisted he be allowed to sleep alone in the other bedroom; I agreed as he’d been so well-behaved all evening. I heard him whispering softly until late, and figured he was excited about being away from home and making a new, make-believe friend. I imagined hearing faint, raspy “quacks” echoing as I drifted off to sleep, and heard tiny duck footsteps somewhere above me.

The next morning I found Ben curled up under his bed in a grumpy mood.

“Whatever’s the matter, sweetheart? Doesn’t Old Mister Duck want to play, today?”

“Old Misser duck lef’ me all alone las’ nigh’. He liked seein’ you sleep more’n me.”

I felt an icy draft tingle the gooseflesh on the back of my neck, and looked up to see that the ancient ventilation shaft above the head of Ben’s bed was missing its grill cover, which I was sure hadn’t been the case the previous evening. I rushed back into my room to find an identical set-up above my own bed. As I stood still and peered into the black metal passageway, just big enough to fit a person, It dawned on me that Ben’s dad would have taught him the word “duct”, as he was forever fixing them in our ancient apartment block. I’d noticed similar shafts in the suite’s bathroom and lounge, too.

“You lookin’ for Old Misser Duck? S’ OK, Mommy. He quacked me where we lived, so I quacked him our address!”

Credit: Hack Shuck

The Old Masters Place

February 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM

“There it is. The old orphanage!” Bryce shouted eagerly, pointing haphazardly in front of us. He leaned up from his place in the back seat, and the smell of whiskey oozed from his lips and seemingly saturated the air.
Using my elbow, I attempted to push him back. “Calm the hell down, dude. We see it.” I flicked my cigarette ash out the open window as Collin slowly steered his truck to the side of the road, coming to a stop just at the end of the yard. The orphanage loomed about 100 yards in front of us, hidden by trees and dark shadows. A tall chain-link fence enclosed the area, with large ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs serving as a last warning against what we were about to do. The building went by many names: the Masters place, the homeless shelter, the old hotel, and, obviously, the orphanage. Built in the mid to late 1800s, the building had served many different purposes throughout the years. Before being closed and ultimately condemned in 1979, it last functioned as a small orphanage, housing maybe fifty or sixty kids. While it had ultimately been closed due to lack of funding and the alarming state of disrepair it had fallen into, it was the stories of what had happened there that were normally attributed to its closure.
The Masters had been the ones to build the property, just on the outskirts of town. It was an old, Victorian style home that stood two stories tall with now fading white pillars in the front and a rickety looking porch. Broken shutters decorated the home, if they were even still there at all. It was one of those buildings that didn’t look like much, but you could tell that it had once been something spectacular. The Masters had been a large family; they had five kids, but it was rumored that there had been at least two more that didn’t survive infancy due to illnesses. They were a relatively prominent family that had been well known and respected in the small community, as Mr. Masters served as a local doctor and Mrs. Masters taught small sewing classes once a week. By all accounts, they were a happy and warm family. The children were well behaved and polite, and the Masters were seen as loving and doting parents.
So when their oldest daughter died, it was heartbreaking. When their six year old son died, it was a tragedy. When their seven and four year old daughters died, it was suspicious. Ultimately, four out of their five children died, all due to an ‘unknown illness’.
The story went that the only child who survived, a twelve year old boy named Benji, awoke his neighbors early one muggy, summer morning. He was barefoot and in his pajamas, hysterical, and told them that his father had gone mad and was killing his mother. The neighbors rushed the home only to find Mrs. Masters lying in her bed, adorned with numerous stab wounds and slashes, her eyes fixed in a terrified gaze. Mr. Masters was nowhere to be found, having fled the property before anyone else arrived. He did not leave behind a note, and Mr. Masters was never seen again. Benji was taken in by a local couple who raised him as their own. The boy, who seemed to have been gifted with a second chance, died less than a year later after losing his footing and falling into a nearby creek. His body was never recovered.
The widely accepted theory of the time, and even to present day, was that Mrs. Masters had been poisoning her children and that Mr. Masters had figured out what was going on and, in a fit of fury, murdered his wife and fled town. The motive behind Mrs. Master’s actions was never clear. There was no life insurance policy on the children, and she had never been known to show any sort of ill-will towards the children.
There was another theory; one that was only told behind closed doors and through hushed whispers. It stated that there had been a poor family whose only child had fallen ill, and so they rushed their daughter to Dr. Masters, who refused treatment for the girl due to her family’s lack of ability to pay. The little girl soon died, as Dr. Masters was the only physician in town and the parents’ desperate home remedies didn’t work. Heartbroken and furious at the doctor for essentially condemning their daughter to death, the family, known through stories only as the Carpenters, decided to seek out revenge on the Masters family.
It was rumored that they had visited a local witch, ultimately trading some of their livestock for her services. The witch is believed to have placed a curse on the Masters and their property, killing off the children as retribution for the Carpenters lost child, as well as preventing them from being able to grow or care for any kind of vegetation or livestock. Less than a week later was when the first Masters child died. Not long after, the second child fell ill and was rumored to have died in his father’s arms. Once the third child died, the townspeople started taking notice, and that was when the rumors started. Mr. Masters was not one to believe in this type of talk, and shook off the rumors ultimately deciding his wife was behind the children’s demise.
After Benji’s unexpected death, the townspeople decided they’d had enough and sought out the Carpenters and the witch, lynching them all in the front yard of the Masters property. The Masters and their home never shook the image of being cursed. Most people in the present day accept that it was a murderous mother and a grief driven father, but the alternative story is always a fun one to bring up over campfires and on stormy nights.
The land’s inability to successfully house any type of business did nothing to dispel rumors of its lingering, dangerous vibes. The Masters house sat vacant for a few years, until the town turned it into a hotel. Technically, it was more a brothel, but they called it a hotel. The house experienced many violent altercations, assaults and murders, and was open for a little over thirty years before it was closed down after a poker game turned deadly and eight men died inside its walls. Next it became a shelter for the transient, providing a space for the down on their luck to find reprieve. One night, one of the mentally ill occupants set fire to the place, killing three and destroying the back of the home. He reportedly joined the crowd of onlookers as the building burned, and was quoted as telling them that ‘The Devil reclaimed his home’. The house again sat abandoned for nineteen years, until it was bought, renovated and turned into an orphanage.
The atrocities that happened in the orphanage were shocking. Children were routinely starved and beaten as punishment. Some mysteriously ‘ran away’, while others were ‘adopted’ in the middle of the night, leaving all their belongings behind. Some died due to their neglect and abuse, though staff argued that those deaths were accidents caused by other children or through the fault of the child themselves. Budget cuts affected the orphanage, causing even more dire situations for the children as food dwindled, staff was overworked and underpaid causing the hostility to surge, and the building started to decay and crumble, leading to its ultimate closure.
The building had sat abandoned ever since, haunted by its history. For years, its lore was passed from generation to generation, telling stories of its ghosts that walked the halls, the children supposedly buried just feet from its doors, and the many, many stories of stupid people who broke into the building. There were tales that the basement housed a portal to hell, that people who had stolen items from the residence were cursed and doomed to die, and that satanic rituals took place there regularly.
I had actually grown up the next town over, but supernatural legends aren’t contained by county lines. I’d always wanted to go into the house, but never could find anyone to go with me. I didn’t believe in ghosts or the stories, but seemingly everyone else did. I wasn’t about to go in there by myself; not because I was scared, but considering the dilapidated state of the house and the fact that it was out in the middle of nowhere, I wanted to be careful. I’d given up on the idea of ever going in, but then my second year of college I met Bryce and Collin who were all too eager to venture inside with me. What started out as a study session for our Philosophy class turned into a discussion about Gods and spirituality and the supernatural. When Collin suggested we visit the infamous Masters house, I thought he was kidding. Then Bryce said he would go and our study session went downhill from there. A five minute discussion had led us from the quiet college library to Collin’s parent’s shed where we borrowed some tools we thought we might need, to the three of us preparing to break into a hundred year old building that had a supposed portal to Hell. We took a few shots of Bryce’s whiskey, building up some courage, and then made our way down the dirt road towards the house just as the sun started to set.
Using his bolt cutters, Collin expertly cut the fence then stashed his cutters by the large tree not too far off. We crawled through the fence, slowly making our way up to the front porch. The paint was peeling off the wood pillars in the front, and two by fours were nailed over a few of the windows. The grass and shrubs were seriously overgrown and the stairs groaned under our weight as we stepped onto the porch. A large, old sheet of plywood was nailed to the front of the door, and someone had spray painted a large, unfamiliar symbol on the wood. We were in a pretty rural area, so it wasn’t likely to be a gang or anything; probably just bored high school kids.
“How do we get in?” I asked, surveying the building. Everything seemed to be boarded up pretty well. I had been hoping for an easy way in, not something that would be loud and time consuming.
“I’ll take a look around,” Bryce offered. “I’m sure there’s a busted window somewhere we can get through. If not, I’ll make one.” He smiled cheekily before jumping off the porch and making his way to the west, slowly rounding the house and disappearing into the dark.
Collin scratched his head. “We could pull off the two by fours if we needed to, but I’d prefer we do that in the back. I don’t want to risk anyone driving by and seeing us pulling these things off.” The Masters place was patrolled pretty frequently due to all the break-ins over the years.
“But we didn’t bring anything to pull the wood off,” I reminded him. “Unless you have something in your truck.”
“Yeah, I grabbed a hammer when we stopped by my house but I left it in the truck. I didn’t think to grab it. But that should pry the nails out so we can get the wood off.”
I pulled my box of cigarettes out of my pocket and pulled one out. “Yeah, I guess go get it. We didn’t come all the way out here so we could just look at the house.” Collin said nothing, simply nodded, then wandered back towards the truck. I sat down on the steps of the porch, the wood once again creaking under my weight. I pulled out my phone, attempting to scroll through Facebook even though we were in the middle of nowhere. I was not going to find any WIFI out here. After discovering that 95% of my newsfeed wasn’t going to load, I turned my phone off and shoved it back in my pocket. I inhaled my cigarette deeply, impatiently waiting for one of the guys to return.
Finally, I saw the silhouette of Collin slowly climb back through the fence and head my way. He softly hit the head of the hammer against his palm, shouting nonsense into his phone that was pinched between his shoulder and face. “No… I said that I would be there later. After I study. I didn’t say immediately after studying,” he clarified. He shot me a smug look as he handed me the hammer. “Listen, babe… I can’t hear you. Service sucks where I’m at. I’ll call you later, okay? Okay?”
“Guys, come here!” Bryce commanded. He stood in the shadows, motioning wildly for us to follow him. “You have to see this!”
“Is it a way in?” I asked slowly, rising from the steps. He ignored my question, prompting Collin and I to blindly trail him with no idea what we were in for.
Collin, after hanging up on his girl of the week, shoved his phone in his pocket and shrugged nonchalantly. “Women,” he simply said, as if I understood or cared.
We followed Bryce, further away from the house and towards a small gathering of trees. Using his phone, Bryce lit up the area and a group of headstones became clear. There were six of them, all sharing the name ‘MASTERS’.
“This must be where all the kids were buried,” Collin suggested. “Plus Mrs. Masters, I guess.”
“Why six? Didn’t the last kid drown? They didn’t find his body,” I mused.
Collin shrugged. “Maybe it was just a respect thing. At least somewhat put him to rest with his family.”
“You know,” I started, an idea hitting me, “this is probably what those stupid legends are talking about. The dead kids buried by the house? It has to be these graves,” I reasoned.
“No, I’ve always heard these graves were here. There’s supposed to be another set of graves. Those of the orphans,” Bryce corrected. “They aren’t marked, though, so I’m not sure where they would be.”
“If they aren’t marked then how can anyone say they even exist? It sounds like some made up story to scare people from coming here.”
Bryce narrowed his eyes at me. “You know, your negativity and skepticism is starting to piss me off.”
“Guys,” Collin interrupted, staring at the house. “I think I just saw something in the window.”
“Bull shit,” Bryce crowed. “Stop trying to scare us, Collin.”
“I swear it. It was like someone was in that window up there.” He pointed with his flashlight at a window on the second floor, towards the back of the house. The window stood dark and motionless.
“No one lives here,” I reminded him. “Except maybe a vagrant or something.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go in,” Collin started. It was then that I noticed his hand was shaking slightly. “I mean, what if it is a homeless person or a drug den or something?”
Bryce slapped Collin on the back. “What’s the matter? You a chicken?”
“No,” Collin argued. “I just… are we sure going into this falling apart house that is supposedly haunted and could potentially have dangerous people in it is a good idea?”
“This was your idea,” I chimed in. “You were all up for it until you imagined seeing someone in the window.”
“There’s no shame in being a wuss, man,” Bryce added. “Just go sit in the truck and wait for us.”
Collin shook his head. “Shut up. I’m fine. I’m going in. But if I get stabbed by a meth head or something I’m beating both of your asses.”
“We may not be going in.” I motioned to the house. “We haven’t found a way to get in, remember?”
“Oh, there’s a window back here,” Bryce announced. “We’ll have to pull some siding off but it shouldn’t be too hard.” I wiggled the hammer in his direction. Bryce grinned. “That’ll speed things up.” We followed Bryce to the back of the house, and there in front of the back door was a small, cement porch that extended down the back of the house about three feet before turning into a set of steps. The window sat not too far off from the door, covered only by some stained, white siding, and if we stood on the porch we could probably crawl in through it. I had a fleeting thought that it was weird that everything else was properly boarded up except this window, which was going to be a breeze to get into. I figured this was just the popular way for people to break in, so the people who managed the property just used cheap siding instead of spending more money on wood that was just going to be destroyed. I watched as Bryce and Collin collectively pulled the plastic siding off the window, revealing a whole pane of broken glass. Bryce carefully reached in and twisted the lock, then forcefully shoved the window up. “Alright, who’s first?”
I stood silently. As much as I didn’t really believe the house was haunted, it was still a dark and creepy house. I glanced at Collin, who feigned interest in looking at his cell phone. Bryce sighed. “Alright, chickens. I’ll go first. But you guys better not run off and leave me here or else.”
“We’re coming in,” Collin assured him. “Just go.”
Bryce carefully stuck his leg through the window, and then ducked into the dark room. I saw the beam of the flash light on his phone slowly moving around the room, bravely exploring while Collin and I stared at one another, trying to mentally force the other into going next. “Guys. You gotta see this,” he stated breathily. “This is so freaking weird.”
Collin motioned towards the window with his head. “You go ahead. I’ll follow you in.” Not wanting to waste any more time, and trying to not let unfounded fear take over, I quickly crawled in behind Bryce, followed closely by Collin. Bryce and I both had to rely on our phones for light, while Collin had the only flash light. We all lit up the room, taking it in. The walls had a stale, light green paint on them, still full of children’s messy scribbles and a few laminated signs demanding that toys be picked up and that breakfast wouldn’t be served until all beds were made. There was no furniture in the room; just the ugly walls and mildew-smelling carpet that was riddled with unsavory stains and holes. A few broken toys were thrown around in the floor, and someone had stabbed a small pocket knife through the head of a doll, hanging it from the wall.
“Is this… is this blood?” Collin asked hesitantly, as if merely suggesting it made it horribly true. I spun to find him and saw that he had opened the closet door. Using the flashlight on the phone, I saw that the walls inside were littered with dozens of handprints, all a deep shade of red, almost brown, and varying in size. Some of the handprints smeared downwards, creating elongated trails which just gave it an even creepier feel.
“It’s probably just paint,” I rationalized, peering into the small closet. Why anyone would decorate a closet in such a way, I wasn’t sure, but that made more sense than it being blood.
“Maybe they locked kids in there and those are their handprints as they tried to get out,” Bryce suggested coolly.
“Why would you say that?” Collin snapped. His normally cool demeanor was now a bit more frazzled. He was definitely on edge.
“This is the Masters place. You’ve heard what happened here.” Bryce motioned at the inside of the door. “I mean, look. There are scratches in the wood.”
Collin shook his head. “The house has been abandoned for years. That’s probably just normal deterioration.” He quickly shut the door, ignoring the fact that there actually were what appeared to be fingernail scratches deep into the wooden door. “Where to now?”
Bryce had already forgotten about the closet, opening the bedroom door and peering down the hall. He stepped into the hallway, but a loud crunching noise stopped him in his tracks. He shone the light of his phone down onto the floor. “Guys, the hallway is completely full of broken glass. Like, just broken pieces of glass down the entire length of the hall. I’m not sure where it came from. There are no windows in the hall or anything.” He glanced down the hall, surveying it slowly.
Collin peered through the doorway. “Huh. It literally looks like a carpet made entirely of glass. This has to be at least an inch thick.” I stood by myself in the room, the small pit in my stomach pulsating, as if trying to expand and take over my body.
“Alright,” Collin said slowly, still glancing around the hall, “where do we want to start?”
I saw Bryce shrug. “We could split up,” he suggested.
“That’s a terrible idea,” I argued quickly. “What if we get hurt in here or something?”
Collin nodded in agreement. “That’s how scary movies happen, man.”
“Fine,” Bryce agreed. “You guys stay together down here. I’m going to explore the second floor.” He motioned up towards the ceiling then quickly turned on his heels and disappeared into the dark, the light from his phone becoming more and more faint.
“Bryce!” Collin hissed. “We need to stay together!” Bryce ignored him as he treaded down the hall, the sound of crunching glass bouncing off the walls. Bryce stopped towards the end of the hall, glanced at us for a second, smiled broadly then took a step forward. We watched as he disappeared, his heavy footsteps echoing as he creaked up the stairs.
Bryce looked at me. “What do you want to do? You want to go up?”
I shook my head. “We can just look around down here.”
He motioned down the hall, in the opposite direction of which Bryce just disappeared. “After you.”
I slowly willed myself to come out of the room. Even though it was smelly and ugly and creepy, I strangely felt safe in there. A deep fear of what I would find leaving that room permeated in my brain. I stepped into the hall, my body weight crushing glass, causing it to send loud crunches into the still air. My phone lit up the hall in front of me as I slowly made my way down. I came upon the first room and peered inside the open doorway that was missing its door. I could feel Collin ease up beside me; his breathing came out in bursts, and I swear I could hear his heart pounding a hundred miles per hour.
The room was not anything special; it housed two sets of bunk beds that had been stripped of all bedding. The blinds were broken, and a dirty, stained recliner sat in the corner next to a lamp that was missing its bulb and shade. Empty drawers hung out of the dressers, threatening to let gravity take over at any time. The walls were a light blue, with no artwork or any kind of personalization to it. The only part of the room that stood out was on the floor, just beside one of the bunk beds. We stared at the large, brown stain on the old carpet. It could’ve been anything. Paint. Food. Rust. But those weren’t the first thoughts that came into my mind, and I had a feeling that wasn’t Collin’s first thought either.
His hand slowly rose up and pointed towards the bed and I noticed what had caught his eye. The bottom mattress of the bunk had a stain that looked similar to the one on the floor, and it seemed to be centered in the middle of the mattress, just towards the top; just about the area where a person would lay their head to sleep.
“That looks like what was in the first room,” I noted. “The handprints on the wall? So maybe it is just paint that got knocked over.”
Collin nodded, but I could tell he didn’t buy it. Hell, I didn’t buy it. Why would paint be on the bed? Maybe an accident, but in this house I wasn’t sure there was such a thing as accidents. “Let’s keep going,” he urged. We came to the second door sat on the left hand side of the hall, and it was Collin who peered in first. I heard him gasp as his flashlight bounced around the room, and I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself for what I was about to see, but it was the smell that immediately overwhelmed me. “What is that?” I questioned, stuffing my nose into the collar of my shirt.
Inside the room, like the first, there was no furniture. The closet door was missing and the one window in the room had a piece of plywood nailed over it. The once cream colored walls were now moldy and peeling, and had a few unidentified signs spray-painted on them. I didn’t recognize any of the symbols; they looked like a bunch of made up letters or something. Strange shapes were littered about as well; I saw circles and stars and squares and an upside down cross. I instantly felt my radar going off. I’d been creeped out the entire time I’d been in this building, but this wasn’t right.
This room didn’t have carpet and instead had old, weathered wood. In the middle of the floor, in messy black spray paint, I stared at a large symbol that was identical to the one on the front door. I still didn’t know what it meant, but seeing the symbol now, in this room, felt so much more ominous than seeing it on the front porch. Even worse than the unknown drawings, scattered around the symbol were the decapitated heads of various squirrels and birds, and their bodies from which they had been forcefully removed were carelessly tossed in a pile in the otherwise empty closet. I suddenly understood what the horrific smell was: the decaying carcasses of at least a dozen animals.
“I don’t like this,” I murmured slowly, glancing at Collin. He looked terrified and like he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing.
“This… this looks like some kind of… altar or something,” he spat out. I’d had the thought myself, but didn’t dare say it. “Something that’s used for killing and sacrificing things.”
I noticed him staring at the rotting head of a small, brown bird. I nudged his shoulder. “Let’s get out of here. Let’s just find Bryce and go.”
He ignored me and took a few steps over to the corner, which held a few half melted candles and some spray paint cans. He reached down and touched the candle, then picked some up and studied them. “Yeah, there’s no dust on these things, so they’ve been used recently,” he observed. He motioned towards the closet. “Plus those carcasses haven’t decayed much, so those are fresh, too.”
“Which is why we should go,” I reiterated. “What if those weirdos are on their way back here now? If that’s what they do to those tiny animals, imagine what they’ll do to trespassers who discovered their Satan room.”
He set the candle down and finally looked at me. “Yeah, let’s go find Bryce.” I turned and headed down the hall, purposely having a slow pace so Collin would catch up. Our footsteps crunched loudly on the glass covered floor, and then creaked as we ascended the stairs. “Bryce? Where are you at?” Collin called loudly as we approached the second floor landing. His voice seemingly bounced off every surface. There was no answer, and we rounded the corner and headed down the dark hallway. Knowing that Bryce was on the second floor and hearing no sound whatsoever was unnerving. Collin shone his light down the hall and I saw that every single door was closed. I didn’t know why, but that weirded me out.
We came across the first door, and I motioned for Collin to open it. He eyed me wearily but said nothing as he stepped forward and slowly opened the door. The room was small; it looked like it should’ve housed linens and cleaning supplies. Instead, I saw a small, dirty, infant sized mattress on the floor. There were no blankets or pillows, but there was a small portrait of an old man, poised in such a position that it stared directly the door. His beard was long and full, and he was dressed in old, but nice, attire. His eyes, even in the dark of the room, were easy to see and seemingly stared at us angrily.
“Do you think they made someone sleep in here?” I asked incredulously.
“Maybe. They did some messed up stuff here. All that’s in here is that bed, so maybe this was a punishment type room or something.”
I nodded towards the painting. “I don’t like that thing. It feels like, I don’t know, he’s actually looking at me. I expect him to blink or move at any minute.”
“It’s just a painting,” he scoffed. “Don’t be silly.” He closed the door quickly, and I fought the urge to point out that he saw imaginary people in windows and was freaked out by handprints on a wall. We came to the second door, and Collin didn’t wait for me to tell him to open it. We peered in slowly, afraid of what we were about to see. I honestly don’t know what I expected – maybe more suspicious blood stains, or the ghostly silhouette of a dead child, or some kind of demon summoning ceremony. Instead, I saw white. Lots and lots of white.
“What the hell…” I trailed off, my eyes breezing over the room and trying to decipher what I was looking at.
“It’s paper. Just a shit ton of paper,” Collin muttered sourly, waving his flashlight around the room. The room was so covered in white paper that it looked like the white padded cells you see in movies where they commit people who are a risk to themselves. The walls, the ceiling, the floor, the doors, were all covered in paper. The paper was taped, stapled, nailed, all around the room leaving not a speck of surface uncovered. The room hosted a few pieces of furniture – a desk, a broken computer chair, and a twin size bed – and these items were all covered in paper. Sheets of the paper were sprinkled over every surface, covering the tops, fronts and sides.
Some of the paper was old and yellowed, some were fresh and crisp, but all of the paper was blank. It was almost like what one would expect to see some psycho serial killer or obsessed stalker to have tacked up around his house, except this was an entire room and the guy was looking at blank paper. Each room just seemed to make less and less sense. At least with the demon room we knew what they were doing in there, but with this room… what was the point?
Suddenly, and without any movement from us, a single sheet of paper quickly shot off the top of the desk, into the air, and then slowly began its decent to the floor. Collin’s eyes widened. “Why did it do that?”
I shrugged slowly, unable to take my eyes off the paper as it carelessly floated to the ground. “Maybe the window created a draft or something?”
Collin wordlessly pushed the door open further and stepped inside. I instantly wanted to chide him and get him out of there, but I couldn’t speak. He made his way over towards the other side of the room, and then started gently lifting the paper, trying to find the window. He studied the wall intently, running his hand along the paper and trying to find some sort of differentiation in the flat surface. He grunted. “Huh. It’s flat. There’s no windowpane or anything.” He kept feeling around, and then started to lift the sheets up. He did this for several seconds before looking at me quizzically. “I’m not finding… I mean, I don’t think there are any windows in here.”
I felt a cold chill travel up my spine even though it had to be at least 90 degrees in the house. The wall he was feeling on was the only wall in the room that looked outside; the other walls were shared with other rooms, so they wouldn’t have windows. If there weren’t windows on that wall, then there weren’t windows in there at all, and I was pretty sure the house didn’t have any type of ventilation or anything to cause a breeze. “This house is old,” I reasoned. “It’s probably just a crack somewhere. Or maybe you just overlooked the window. Why would the room not have a window?”
“Even if there is a window and it caused a breeze, I don’t think any other paper moved when this happened,” he argued. “I mean, it was completely still in here except for that paper. A draft would have caused more than one piece of paper to move, right?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s just find Bryce. I want to go.” I quickly turned and headed down the hall, not because I wanted to find Bryce, but because I didn’t want to be in that room anymore. I didn’t want to be in the house anymore. The whole place felt off. I couldn’t explain it, but something was wrong. “Bryce!” I hissed loudly. “Bryce! Let’s go!” I didn’t bother opening the door to look into the rooms as I passed them; probably because I was too chicken to go in there by myself. Collin was still in the paper room, presumably trying to find the window which was not important whatsoever.
I reached the end of the hallway and as I turned to go back I glanced outside the small window that overlooked the graveyard. I had the realization that it was the window that Collin said he saw someone in, and I felt my heart start racing again. I hadn’t even known it was possible for a heart to beat as fast as it was in that moment. As I spun to go back down the hall, I saw a quick movement among the headstones. Maybe it was just my fear getting the best of me, causing me to think I saw something that wasn’t there. Maybe it was just the reflection of the light from my phone off the window. Whatever it was, it caught my eye. I stared out the window, just barely able to make out the seven headstones below, searching furiously for another glance at what I saw. It looked like a person. It looked like a person was walking around in that family graveyard before darting further into the trees. I tried to rationalize what was going through my mind. Maybe I didn’t see anything. Maybe it was a weird reflection. Maybe it was Bryce. He was still unaccounted for. Maybe he booked it outside and was trying to scare us. Maybe it was… some kind of spiritual energy? That sounded stupid, and I cussed myself for even considering that. As I played with that thought in my head, I heard a door behind me slowly creak open.
I wanted to spin around at record pace, but I was scared. Every horror movie I had ever seen was flashing through my mind. What if I turned around and saw a ghost, or some sort of evil being? In movies this was where the person turned around, the entity lunged at them and they fell out a window or down the stairs and died, and everyone just assumes it’s an accident. This thought was corroborated by the fact that I was standing in front of a window. But maybe it was Bryce. Maybe he was hiding in a room trying to scare us. Maybe it was Collin just coming out of the paper room. I told myself that those were the more reasonable answers and that I needed to get myself together. Just because the house was creepy didn’t mean that ghosts or the paranormal was there. I slowly spun around, barely peeking out of my eye, only to see nothing. Just blackness. I breathed a sigh of relief and used my phone to make my way through the dark, trying to figure out which door I had heard.
Where was Collin? Was he still trying to find that stupid window? Why? It literally did not matter. What mattered was finding Bryce and getting the hell out of here. A quick sweep from my light came upon a door to my left that was barely cracked open. Was this the door I heard? I glanced around and all the other doors, with the exception of the paper room door, were closed. Maybe I just heard Collin leaving that room. But the hallway was completely empty, just the way I remembered it, so if it was Collin then were did he go? If it wasn’t Collin, then it had to be this door I heard. I was usually a pretty logical person. I could usually make decisions quickly and not overthink, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to do that in this house. My brain was whirring around, coming up with different theories as if I was subconsciously trying to convince myself to not think the first thoughts that came into my mind.
“Collin?” I called out slowly. “Collin? Are you in there?” I shone my light directly through the crack into the room, trying to gain the courage to open the door. I gently pushed my foot onto the door and slowly opened it up. While all the other rooms were pretty bare, this room was jam packed. Suitcases, toys, discarded clothes, and furniture were all stacked upon each other, almost reaching the ceiling. Who did all this belong to? The orphans? The homeless people? I felt another chill travel through my body just at the thought.
I took a few steps forward and stared into the room, seeing all the layers of dust that had accumulated and remained untouched. No one had been in here in years. The room smelt musty and stale, like there was a leak in the roof that had been saturating and destroying everything it touched. My eye caught a small toy just to the right of my feet. I bent down and carefully picked it up. I knew I couldn’t take anything from here, but could I touch it without angering something? Was there anything to even anger? I wasn’t sure. The toy was an old, plastic ballerina. She was in fifth position, her arms extended beyond her tiny, blonde head and she stood on a small, light pink base that was cracked and faded. As I held the small toy in my hands, I tried to envision the person that held it before. It was most likely a small child. Was this her favorite toy? Did she want to be a ballerina herself? Did this even belong to a girl at all? Was this just some random, discarded toy that never saw any attention? Why did I even care about this?
I set the ballerina on top of a small table and was wondering where the hell the guys were when I suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone. I became aware of a presence behind me, seemingly staring into my body. Was it one of the guys? Why weren’t they saying anything? I spun around quickly, only to see nothing. My level of unease just grew stronger. I stared into the empty hallway, unsure of what was happening. Was my mind just playing tricks on me? Was I totally breaking down? Even though the house was warm, I felt a rush of cold air sweep past me. It was a brief event, maybe all of two seconds. It felt like a burst had been shot past me, which again didn’t make sense. It could’ve been a draft, but the air outside wasn’t that cold.
A loud clattering rang out from behind me, inside the room. I jerked my attention back towards the source of the sound, but found nothing. The room looked the same as it had before. Except for the small ballerina toy that now was back in the floor. I glanced at the table, knowing full well it had been in the center of it and wouldn’t have just fallen off. The table was off to the right of the door, so that weird breeze wouldn’t have knocked it off. Nothing else in the room looked disturbed.
I slowly backed out of the room, back into the hallway. I turned and briskly walked back towards the paper room. “Collin!” I rounded the corner quickly only to stop in my tracks. Collin was nowhere to be found. The room stood vacant, silent. The far wall, the one that should’ve housed the window, was now bare. Collin, I assume Collin, had somehow removed every single sheet of paper from that wall, proving him right: there was no window. There was, though, something on the wall that shouldn’t have been there. Hanging on a nail, presumably left over from the paper, was a painting. The same painting that had just been in the closet sized, punishment room moments before. “Collin?” I commanded myself to stay cool. Okay, so Collin had removed all the paper from the wall, gone into the other room, gotten the painting, hung it on the wall, then left and hid all in a span of two minutes. And all without me seeing or hearing him. Totally doable, right?
I stood in the doorway, my breath heavy, my pulse pounding in my head, my thoughts all over the place. Why did nothing make sense? Where were my friends? Other than my labored breathing, the house was silent. No crunching glass, no creaking floors. That is, until I heard my name cut through the silence. I slowly spun around and looked down the dark staircase. It was definitely coming from downstairs, and it was definitely Bryce. When did he get downstairs? Holding my trusty phone in front of me, I slowly went down the stairs, my eyes darting furiously trying to piece together my surroundings. My name called out again as I reached the landing, and I followed the noise to a closed door, hidden in the darkness. I wasn’t exactly sure what was the behind the door, but I didn’t have a good feeling about it.
I slowly reached out and turned the knob, pulling the door open. I saw nothing but pitch blackness and a staircase leading down into the unknown. I had found the basement. Had Bryce gone into the basement? Was he hurt? Where was Collin? “Bryce?” I called down hesitantly. “Bryce, are you down there?”
There was silence for a few moments before I heard a muffled response. “Help!”
Maybe he’d fallen down the stairs. Maybe something had collapsed on him. Maybe someone, or something, had attacked him. I carefully took a step onto the staircase. While I wanted to dart down the stairs to help my friend, something in my body was screaming at me not to. The stairs creaked and groaned underneath my weight as I took another step down. The light on my phone only went so far, leaving me staring into an unending sea of black. “Bryce, where are you? Are you okay?”
Silence. No response. Was he dead? My God, what was happening? I had taken several steps down the stairs when there was a loud crash from behind me, and as I spun around to see what it was, I saw that the door had somehow closed itself. I darted back up and twisted on the doorknob, but it was locked. How was it locked? Why would my friends lock me in the basement knowing that I was freaked out and that there was a supposed portal to Hell down here? I knew I heard Bryce down here, so that left Collin, but this seemed out of character for him.
I pounded on the wooden door. “Collin! Please let me out of here! Let me out!” I carefully held onto my phone because it was the only source of light I had. I alternated my free hand between rattling the doorknob and banging on the wood. “Somebody help me!”
It happened slowly, and it started off as just a feeling. I sensed someone behind me, just a few steps down but a quick glance revealed nothing. I returned my energy to the door, continuing to pound and shout loudly. The presence grew stronger as a cold air enveloped me and I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping, wishing, praying that I was imagining it all. It started at my waist and within a matter of seconds my entire body felt cold. I had stopped yelling or hitting the door; I felt paralyzed. It was difficult to breathe or even process a thought. I just felt cold and alone. Even though my body was cold, I thought I felt something warm brush against my arm.
“Please,” I muttered out softly. “Please just let me go.” As quickly as I felt it, it was gone. The cold patch of air was just gone; no slow tapering off or moving on. It was just gone. The muggy summer air returned as I pounded on the door again. “Guys, this isn’t funny!” I reached down and twisted the doorknob, and to my surprise, the door opened up. I burst through the doorway into the dark hall, expecting to see Collin standing by, laughing hysterically. I expected to hear Bryce bound up the stairs, condemning me for being so scared. But instead, there was nothing but darkness and silence.
I’m usually a pretty laidback and logical person. I’m all about having your friend’s backs and, growing up with a retired military father, the slogan ‘No man left behind’ was something that had always stuck with me. But at this point, in this moment, it meant nothing to me. I crunched on the glass covered hallway and back into the first room we had been in. The entire time, I screamed the guy’s names over and over but there was no response. I practically jumped out of the window, down the cement stairs and rounded the corner of the house. As I passed the graveyard, I again thought I saw some sort of dark movement among the tree line, but this time I didn’t stop to think about it. I couldn’t think about it. I darted around the corner of the house and saw, to my amazement, both Collin and Bryce, sitting on the front porch.
“Finally!” Bryce shouted. “We’ve been waiting out here on you forever. I thought you were coming out?”
I came to a halt, struggling to catch my breath. I shook my head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Collin stood up. “I was the room of paper and you walked past the door and down the stairs. I asked where you were going and you said ‘outside’. I was pissed you were trying to leave me alone up there so I tried to follow you down but when I got to the first floor, I didn’t see you.”
I felt my brows furrow. “What are you talking about? I didn’t do that. You remodeled the paper room and he’s the one who lured me into the basement so you could slam the door and lock me down there. Good job, guys. Way to be mature.”
It was Bryce’s turn to jump up. “I didn’t go down in that basement! And I didn’t try to lure you anywhere.”
“Remodeled the paper room? What are you talking about?” Collin asked.
“You pulled all the paper off the stupid walls and then hung up that painting to freak me out. Did you guys plan this together? Was this just to mess with me?”
Collin looked genuinely confused. “I swear, I didn’t do that.”
“You were there when we decided to come out here,” Bryce reminded me. “How could we have planned this? You’ve been with us this whole time.”
Different thoughts flooded my brain. “How did you get out here so fast?” I asked incredulously. “Did you find another entrance?”
“No. We used the window in the back. And like I said, we’ve been out here at least five minutes waiting on you.”
I heard their words, I processed them, but I didn’t know what to do with them. They seemed sincere. They had been out here waiting on me. I didn’t want to believe them, though, because if I did, then that meant that I had to accept that something unexplainable really happened in that house. “Let’s just go,” I murmured, spinning on my heels and heading back towards the fence. I didn’t wait for them. I crawled back through the hole we had made and briskly walked back to the truck, climbing in before they even retrieved their bolt cutters from earlier.
They wordlessly slid into Collin’s truck and we all avoided eye contact with one another. Collin navigated the turns and back roads, expertly guiding us back to the highway. The ride was silent as we all tried to process and make sense of our time in the house. It definitely wasn’t me who talked to Collin and told him I was going ‘outside’. Collin swears he didn’t do anything to the paper room, Bryce wasn’t in the basement, so what was all that? Was my mind just playing tricks on me? Had my fear taken over and caused me to panic and see things that weren’t there? Was I crazy? I had taken a few shots of whiskey before going in; was I drunk? I like to think my tolerance level is more than two shots and I’d never hallucinated before while drinking.
I felt Bryce grab onto the back of my seat, using it as leverage to pull himself forward. Wordlessly, he held out an elongated object to me and I grabbed it, trying to get a better look at it. As I flipped it around in my hands, a sinking realization hit me and my stomach plummeted. I knew what it was. I had seen it earlier, stabbed into the head of a long forgotten doll, holding it in place on that gross, green wall.
I looked at Bryce in disbelief and he shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s a really nice pocket knife.”

Credit: Ashley B.

Red Lights

February 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Every family has its stories, those events that have passed on into almost legend, and my extended family is no different. Some families have stories which they laugh about, which are brought up with regularity at gatherings, stories that they share with others.

Ours is not one of these stories. If it’s discussed at all, it’s spoken about in hushed tones, with sideways glances at me in particular. I never bring it up myself unless directly asked, and I’m lucky enough that I can get away with telling people that I was too young, that I don’t remember any details, that it’s just a blur in a distant memory from my youth.

But that’s a lie.

I remember almost everything. I remember every time I have to look at myself in the mirror; and the nightmares still make me sit bolt upright in bed at night, gasping for breath and terrified. The event that became family legend took place two decades ago now, when I was about eight years old. We were heading for a short family getaway to our family’s cabin. To be honest, it was more of a holiday home than a ‘cabin’, my grandparents had bought it when my father was still young and it had been in the family for years. My brother and I called it the ‘cabin by the woods’; it made it sound more exotic. My grandfather used to take my Dad and his siblings up there when they were young, hiking through the woods, fishing & swimming in the nearby lake – and my Dad & his brothers & sisters now did the same with their own families.

We started the trips when I was about six – Mum, Dad, me and my little brother Peter heading up to the cabin for the odd weekend getaway. I vaguely remember a few of those earlier trips, I recall swimming in the lake with Pete one time and both of us being scared to go too far out because that was where the lake-weed started growing and you couldn’t see the bottom.

The cabin was right on the edge of the woods, right along the boundary of the treeline; fields and farmland on one side and heavy woodland on the other. The farm next to the site was owned by the Johnson family, old friends of my grandparents. We’d always stop in and say hi to Mr & Mrs Johnson on the way up to stay, occasionally we’d have dinner there. My Dad and his siblings had played with the Johnson kids when they were younger, but their children had grown up and moved away and it was just the parents left at the time. Mr Johnson kept an eye on the cabin when our family wasn’t using it.

Dad had pulled us out of school a few days before the weekend; we packed up the car and left early on the Thursday morning. It was late summer, the leaves were just starting to change colour and the air was becoming crisp and cool in the evenings. I remember being excited for the trip, I was looking forward to adventuring in the woods and Pete wanted to go swimming. Mom had warned us that it might still be too cold to get in the lake but we insisted on packing our swimsuits anyway, just in case.

“Marty! Pete!” My Mom was calling to us to head out, but Pete and I were in the car and ready early, eager to set off. Pete had decided he was going to put on his swimming trunks underneath his pants so that he’d be ready to go at a moment’s notice once we were there. The drive was uneventful; we napped in the back of the car. I remember waking up as we pulled up the gravel driveway to the cabin. Dad must have picked up the keys from the Johnsons on the drive in while I was still asleep. We bumped our way up the long, twisting driveway that ran along the treeline. We slowed to a halt outside the cabin, Pete and I looking excitedly out of the car windows. It looked just like I remembered it, framed by big trees, with a clear area in front of it which attached to the field that bordered the woods. The Johnsons’ fenceline ran along the edge of the woods, and normally there would be stock roaming around in in the field, (They had sheep and some cattle) but today it was empty.

Pete was bouncing excitedly in his seat. “I wanna go swimming!” he yelled.
“We need to unpack the car and set everything up first, bud”, Dad replied, opening his door and getting out.
Mom got out as well and unbuckled Pete. I got out on my own and looked around. Everything was as I remembered it. Looking off to the side of the cabin, I could see the gaps in the trees where twin paths forked off, one leading into the woods and one leading the other way, down towards the lake. There was a white blaze painted on one of the trees, marking the start of the path.
“You know, I could take them,” Mom said to Dad. “We can always unpack later, we’ve got plenty of time.”
Dad opened the trunk and grabbed his and Mom’s bags out. “Ok. Let’s just quickly dump our bags inside, and we’ll get changed and go down to the lake.”
“YAAAAAY!” Pete deafened us all, and began to run around the car until Mom snagged him in a hug. Dad grinned, and hefted the bags across the covered porch to the cabin’s door. Dropping them to one side, he fumbled with his keys and opened the door, then froze in the doorway.

“Dad?” I asked, unable to see past him into the shadowy inside
“Get your brother and get back in the car” Dad said, without looking at me.
“Right now, Marty.” Dad cut me off, using his ‘serious voice’.
“Dear…?” Mom sounded concerned as I grabbed Pete and pulled him towards the car while he protested loudly.
“Where’s the axe kept? Where did we find it last time?”
“Oh God, what’s wrong?” My Mom’s voice rose slightly, as Dad came back towards the car and hefted the tire iron out of the trunk, striding quickly back towards the open door.
“The place is all messed up. I think there might have been a break-in”
“The axe was in the laundry last time I think… Be careful…” she trailed off, sounding worried.
“I’ll be fine. Stay here.” Dad quickly kissed her on the cheek before stepping through the open door, tire iron half-raised in his right hand. Mom paced back and forth by the car, clearly concerned, and we sat in the back looking towards the cabin. We sat there for what seemed like an age, becoming more and more worried as the seconds went on.
“What’s happening, Marty? Is Dad OK?”
I tried to reassure Pete. “Everything’s fine. Dad’s tough, there’s nothing that he can’t deal with.”

I remember Dad once telling me that I had an over-active imagination, and this was one of those situations where it was free to run wild. Even as I spoke, I found myself imagining all of the horrific things that surely lurked inside the cabin just waiting for Dad to stumble upon them, and I could feel my fear levels rising. In my mind I saw dark shapes moving about in the gloom, silently stalking my father – and how they would come for us once they’d gotten him. I looked back towards the cabin, and suddenly the curtains in the front window were flung open, Dad looking out the window. We saw him walk around to the door and come back outside holding an axe, which he propped up against the front of the cabin.

“Looks like everything’s fine, guys; you can come out of the car now.” He went and talked to Mom. “How about you take the kids down to the lake while I get everything straightened up?” He explained to Mom that the place was a bit messed up, but not too badly. A fallen branch had smashed in a window at the back of the place, and he thought that a raccoon or something had gotten in and turned over some things while hunting for food. He’d found the axe in the laundry, where it was meant to be. Dad thought that it must have happened in the last day or so, after Mr Johnson had come to turn the power & water on. The scary things I’d imagined quickly receded in my thoughts, but I remember still feeling vaguely uneasy. Pete was still excited to go swimming, so Mom got our swimming stuff and the three of us headed down to the lake while Dad went back inside.
“We’ll be about a half-hour, dear!” Mom shouted to Dad as we headed around the cabin and down towards the woodland path that would take us to the lake.

Swimming was fun; I remember splashing around in the water with Pete while the sun shone brightly down on us. We were lucky that it wasn’t starting to get really cold yet, since we were just getting into the start of autumn. Mom read her book on the shore while Pete and I swam around in the shallows, once again avoiding the lake-weed. Eventually Mom called us back in and we got dried off and headed back up the track to the cabin. Dad had cleaned the place up, and nailed an old board over the broken window at the back. He told us to grab our bags and go set up in our bedroom.

We grabbed our gear and ran through the lounge area down the hall to the bedroom. Pete immediately claimed the top bunk, struggled up the ladder, decided it was too high and that he’d fall out in the night, and then claimed the bottom bunk. We unpacked our sleeping bags and then ran back down the hallway into the lounge. Mom and Dad had finished unpacking the rest of the car, they’d stowed the food in the kitchen and Dad was setting up the portable grill out on the porch.
“Can we go exploring!?” I asked excitedly. I liked the woods; I remembered playing games in them last time with Pete, pretending we were mighty heroes defending a fortress from an invading barbarian horde. There was a spot I had in mind where the narrow, winding path opened up, leading into an area where the trees widened out and there was space to run around and play. I recalled a bank on one side of the clearing, which we’d climbed to make our ‘fortress’.
“Sure,” Dad smiled. “But,” and he was using his serious voice again, “I want you to look after your brother. Don’t let him out of your sight. Don’t be away too long, stay on the path, and don’t go any deeper than that clearing we went to last time.”
“Don’t worry Dad!” I yelled, grabbing Pete and running off together while Dad was still talking.

We sprinted towards the path that would take us into the woods, and were suddenly plunged into darkness when we hit the treeline. I realised that we’d been standing out in the bright sun and it was just taking our eyes a second to adjust. Pete stooped to pick up a hefty stick.
“This is my sword!” he yelled. To be honest, it was much more of a mace than a sword, the ‘pointy’ end was a bit bigger than the end he was holding, and quite knobbly. He had to hold it with both hands to easily control it.
“Nice.” I grinned. “I’ll find one of my own.”
We headed down the path together, going deeper into the woods. The path snaked around between trees, over rises and down through small gullies, and the occasional tree had a white blaze painted on it as a path marker. It was cool, with the bright sun being blocked above by the tree canopy. A few minutes later, the path opened up and we stepped into the clearing. The tree canopy still blocked out most of the sky, but was thin enough so that the clearing was fairly well-lit.

We ran around and played for a while, taking turns to guard and assault the ‘fortress’ and then both guarding it while we repelled the invading forces. After a while we were breathing heavily from all the running around, and we sat down for a break.
“Where does that path go?” Pete was looking around, pointing towards the far side of the clearing.
I looked in the direction he was pointing, and spotted a tree with another white blaze painted on it on the far side of the clearing. The path was hard to spot next to the tree, it seemed to be quite overgrown and the tree that was marked was gnarled and twisted, with only a few leaves still attached. It was covered in moss or lichen, which made the blaze a lot harder to see than normal.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Let’s find out!” I stood, picking up my ‘sword’ stick, and Pete picked his up too.
“Didn’t Dad say not to go any further?” Pete sounded worried that we’d get in trouble.
“Come on, we’ll be fine…” I was using my ‘big brother’ powers of persuasion, knowing that Pete would cave in and come with me if I headed that way. I was soon proven right, as we headed towards the path together.

We were less than a minute past the gnarled marker tree when a sense of unease settled in. The woods felt different, there was less light and the trees were closer together – they seemed to be fighting each other, clawing their way up towards the light. I no longer felt the confidence that I had before, and I gripped my stick a little tighter, taking some comfort from its weight.
“Marty, did you hear that?” Pete asked, clutching at my arm.
“Hear what?”
“I… I don’t know. Like, something moving around? Something big, I think…” He trailed of as we slowed our pace to a near-crawl, and I listened hard. I hadn’t heard anything, but at that moment I realized I couldn’t hear much of anything at all. The woods were normally full of sounds, the rustling of wind through the trees, birdsong and the like; but it seemed eerily quiet all of a sudden. We heard the snap of a twig behind us and froze in place; the hair on the back of my neck prickling and standing on end.

Pete slowly turned his head to look at me, and I slowly turned to look at him. His eyes were wide and I could see he was breathing fast, and I realised that my own heart rate had risen as well. The woods seemed even darker than they had been moments ago, the shadows deepening and pressing in almost menacingly. We turned fully around at the same time; and were confronted suddenly by a tall figure looming over us.

“BLARGHBLARGHBLARGH!!!” It was Dad. We both screamed as Dad yelled and waved his arms in the air, and then he started to laugh at us.
“Heh heh heh, you should have seen the looks on your faces! He chuckled to himself.
“Daaaaaaaaad!” we exclaimed, breathing hard in fright.
“I thought I told you not to go any further than the clearing?” He didn’t sound too impressed. “Come on, your mother’s got lunch ready. Let’s not tell her how far into the woods we’ve come, OK?”
Pete and I nodded our agreement, and we followed Dad as he turned to head back down the path. As we walked back towards the clearing, I heard rustling behind us. It was like Pete had described, something big moving through the brush. Pete and Dad were laughing about Dad scaring us; I don’t think they heard anything. I kept walking, looking back over my shoulder as I went; but couldn’t see anything in the shadowy undergrowth. I quickened my pace to catch up.

The rest of the day was fun; we headed back to the cabin, had a late lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon down by the lake. Later that night Pete & I had been sent to bed, and as we lay in our sleeping bags, I heard something outside.
“Pete, can you hear that?” I asked. I got a snore in response, he was already asleep. I slid down from the top bunk and rummaged around in my backpack, grabbing my flashlight from the bottom of it. I flicked the switch and nothing happened, so I shook it around and the light flickered on, casting a weak cone of light across the room. I opened the curtains and looked out of the window.

The woods loomed out of the darkness, the beam of the torch just making across the clear area to the first trunks of the treeline. I shone the light back and forth, playing the light across the treeline, and something flashed in the darkness. It was only for a second, but in that instant there were twin red spots pointing straight at me out of the darkness, like cats-eye reflectors on the road. They would have been a couple of feet off of the ground level, and then as soon as they appeared they were gone. I heard rustling, which rapidly faded away. Whatever it was had gone, heading away from the cabin and into the woods. I turned off the flashlight; slowly closed the curtains and backed away, climbing back up onto my bunk and into my sleeping bag. I stared at the ceiling in the dark, clutching the flashlight and listening hard, trying to hear anything outside over the noise of Pete snoring softly.
“Just the raccoon, looking for more food…” I whispered to myself. It was a long time before I fell asleep.

I woke up during the night. I lay in bed, trying to decide if I could go back to sleep or if I needed to pee, and decided on the latter. I slid down out of my bunk, being careful not to wake Pete. Still slightly groggy from sleep, I stumbled down the hallway and into the bathroom, where I relieved myself. I was heading back down the hall to the bedroom, when I heard something from the lounge, further down the hall. I froze in place, listening hard. There was something in there! I crept ever so slowly down the hallway, passing the door to our bedroom, and peered through the doorway into the lounge. I relaxed when I realized what the noise must have been.

The front door was open, creaking slowly back and forth in the cool night breeze. It must have not shut it properly and it had opened in the wind. There were no lights on, but the lounge was half-illuminated by moonlight coming through the windows and through the cracked-open doorway. I stepped into the room, intent on heading to the door to shut it, and then once again froze a few steps in when I perceived I wasn’t alone.

Parts of the room were lit from outside, and this made it hard to see into the gloom of the other parts that the light didn’t hit, but there was something in one corner of the room. I couldn’t make out anything as I peered towards the shadows, but as the door creaked slightly more ajar once more in the wind, I saw the red lights staring out at me from the dark. With a thrill of horror that sent the hair on my neck standing on end, I realized that they weren’t lights at all, they were eyes! I took a step backwards, and as I did, the red-eyed creature in the shadows glared out at me. I could see a faint outline, a shape in the darkness, but nothing clear. Whatever it was, it was a lot bigger than a raccoon.

I opened my mouth to yell, but all that came out was a whimper. The breeze stopped and the door creaked once more, slowly closing this time. As the door closed, the beam of light that was coming through the gap slowly narrowed, and then disappeared as the door came to rest against the jamb, just short of clicking completely shut. As the light disappeared, the red reflection in the creature’s eyes faded from view, and I realized to my horror that I could no longer make out its shape in the darkness! I took another step backwards, and the thing growled at me from the shadows; a low, throaty rumble that filled me with dread. I heard the clack of nails or claws on the hardwood floor as it took a step towards me, and I finally found my voice, screaming at the top of my lungs as I closed my eyes and covered my head with my arms, turning away from whatever the thing was and trying to cover up, to protect myself.

As I screamed my lungs out, I heard my parents yelling in alarm from the bedroom down the hall, and scrambling sounds of them and my other relatives trying to get up quickly to come and see what was wrong. I heard the door open again in the wind, and opened my eyes to see the end of whatever the thing was disappearing outside. It was big, at least dog-sized, but apart from a split-second glimpse of dark fur or hair I couldn’t see anything that would tell me for sure what it had been. My parents burst into the room, Dad running to grab me and Mom turning on the lights. They held me close, asking what was wrong, Dad was saying something about how I must have been sleepwalking and had a nightmare. Pete came in as well, and as the family gathered in the lounge, everything seemed much less scary in the light. Maybe it had just been my imagination?

Despite my protests, my parents eventually decided I’d just had a nightmare, and everyone eventually went back to bed. Mom stood by my bunk and whispered soothing things to me as I dropped back into slumber. I awoke the next morning to sun streaming through the windows, immediately feeling much better in the daylight. The events of the previous night seemed far away, like they had been a dream, and I wondered if that’s all that it had been. Everyone else seemed to already be up and about; it was just me in the room. I got up and got dressed; and headed out into the lounge, where everyone was gathered having breakfast.
“Good morning honey,” my Mom called to me. “Did you sleep all right?” I replied that I was fine, and set about getting some breakfast.

The rest of the day (and the next couple of days as well) were fairly uneventful. We swam in the lake while our parents read their books, and then Dad came in to throw us around in the water. We walked through the woods several times, taking different trails. Pete & I ran around like madmen out front of the cabin, playing tag and every other game we could come up with while Mom & Dad relaxed on the front porch. The nights though… I had bad dreams, dreams about a dark shape scrabbling around outside. I’d wake up and listen hard in the gloom, trying to figure out if the noise was just the trees or something else.

Saturday came, which would be our last night at the cabin. We’d be packing up and leaving in the morning. In the afternoon, Pete & I had gone back to the clearing in the woods, playing Star Wars this time – we were taking turns using the torch as a lightsaber. We must have played for hours, as I noticed the daylight was just beginning to turn to dusk; the woods growing dimmer as the light fled. For the life of me, I’ve never been able to explain what came next. I wish that we had just walked out of those woods, back to the cabin. But we didn’t.

You see after that first night, I’d been afraid. Whatever the thing had been, it had shaken me badly; but I was one of those kids who had to know everything. And I had an idea about where I’d find out for sure – deeper into the woods, where I’d heard something that first day.

I stared across the clearing at the gnarled tree with the faded white blaze, and decided that I was going to look before Mom & Dad came for us. Pete had piped up, saying it was getting dark and we should start heading back, dinner would be ready soon. I told him my plan and he shook his head vigorously. He didn’t want to go deeper into the woods. Once again, using my big brother powers of persuasion, I convinced Pete that he’d get in trouble if he headed back alone, as our parents had told him that he had to stay with me at all times.

I turned on the torch again, Pete hefted his ‘sword’ stick and we set off together, heading past the gnarled, twisted tree that marked the path deeper into the woods. We walked in silence, carefully picking our way along the path in the dark, my crappy torch lighting the way for us. Every now and again it would flicker, so I’d give it a whack and the light would come back. I found myself wishing I’d packed spare batteries for the trip; we must have drained the power while we were playing with it. The evening was getting rapidly darker, the moon coming out and casting some dim light through the gaps in the trees.
“Marty, I don’t like this,” Pete said apprehensively after about a minute on the path less travelled.
“Neither do I, but we can’t turn back now” I replied. Looking back, I just can’t understand why it meant so much to the 8-year old me. By this point I was starting to doubt the intelligence of the plan, but I was too headstrong to admit it and turn back.

We continued along the path, my torch’s light picking out the roots and branches that we needed to avoid. I felt apprehensive, and I’m sure Pete felt the same. This part of the woods had been bad enough in the daylight for the brief period we’d spent in it, but it was a hundred times worse at dusk. I was jumping slightly at every shadow, every branch that reached out of the darkness at us. Eventually, the path turned sharply and I lit up a gap between two trees that opened up into a second clearing. We stepped into it, and I noted with some relief that there didn’t seem to be a path out the other side – I couldn’t see a white trail blaze on any of them. I breathed a sigh of relief, deciding that we’d gone far enough and we could turn back now. I started to turn, and Pete grabbed my arm.
“What?” I looked down at him. “Don’t be scared! We’re leaving now”.
“Th-th-th-there’s something over there,’

He raised a shaky hand, pointing across the clearing. I looked across to where he was pointing, freezing in place when I realized he was right. There was something over there, lurking in the shadows. There was a little bit of light from the rising moon, but it wasn’t a full moon yet and the trees were a lot thicker here than in the other clearing, so it wasn’t much help. The thing growled, sending the hair on my neck standing on end. As Pete & I both took an involuntary step backwards, I managed to lift my arm to shine the torch in the direction of the growl. Red eyes reflected the light brightly back at me.
“Oh, shit…” I whispered to myself, as the full nature of my stupidity hit me. In my efforts to prove to myself that I was brave, I’d taken myself straight into harm’s way. And what was worse was that I’d taken my little brother; who I was meant to protect, along for the ride.

The thing stayed just out of the weak range of the torchlight, the dim cone of light just enough to make out it’s outline against the trees behind it as it padded back and forth, a low warning growl rumbling continuously in its throat. I could see it only a little better than I had been able to in the house, just an outline, and the red reflection of the light in its eyes. It was powerfully built through the shoulders and forelegs, a small head on a large frame that tapered down towards its back legs. Maybe it had a tail? I couldn’t tell in the dark, all I could really see was those damn eyes. It just seemed… wrong somehow, twisted like the tree that marked the entrance to the part of the woods it seemed to live in. Pete was beginning to hyperventilate and my heart was hammering at a million miles an hour, but I knew I needed to try and stay calm to try and get us out of this mess.
“Pete?” I asked, not taking my eyes off of the red eyes being reflected in front of me.
“What?” He stammered.
“We’re going to back away slowly, OK? Just stick with me, we’ll be fine. It doesn’t like the light”. I was praying that I was right; the thing seemed reluctant to come into the torchlight.

We backed slowly out of the clearing and back down the path that we’d come in on. We rounded the first corner and kept backing away, I kept the torch pointed in front of us as we slowly edged down the path, hoping that maybe the thing wouldn’t follow us. My hopes were dashed when a shape appeared, and the reflection bounced red off its eyes again. It was following us, stalking along the path after us, staying just out of the reach of my torch and making its way around the odd patch of moonlight that made it through the tree canopy above. And of course, it was at that moment that the torch started to flicker and die again.
“Shit. Shit shit shit,” I cursed, whacking the side of the torch to try and hit the light back into existence, but it continued to flicker, and then it died completely as the batteries finally gave up.
“Marty…?” Pete sounded as terrified as I felt, suddenly enveloped in the dark. I heard the thing growl again, so I flung the torch in its direction and screamed at Pete to run, as I turned to do the same.

Whatever the thing was, it was now chasing us and I could hear it gaining, getting a little closer with every step. Outstretched branches tore at our clothes, one whipping into my face and cutting my cheek. I barely felt the sting, the fear I was feeling at that moment was almost immeasurable. Pete was sprinting as fast as he could, but with my longer legs I was beginning to outstrip him.
“Come on!” I urged, reaching for and grabbing his hand to pull him alongside me. “You can do it! Just! Keep! Running!” I spat the words out between frantic breaths.

I realized that Pete was still carrying his ‘sword’ stick, and without breaking stride I stretched over and tore it from his grip, flinging it behind us as we ran. I heard a meaty thud as it landed, and then growls that sounded of pain and anger. I must have hit the thing, I just hoped that it would slow or distract it enough for us to get away.

We kept sprinting down the track in the now near-dark forest, which had been difficult enough when my torch was working. As we ran, I silently prayed that we wouldn’t snag on a branch or trip on a root, as that would surely be the end of us. I silently wished I still had my torch; it would have made our flight easier. There! I saw the twisted tree, the outline just able to be made out against the dark sky thanks to the dim moonlight. By this point we were both nearly out of our minds with fear, all that was keeping me going was the adrenaline, and I knew Pete would be much the same. We were both sobbing as we ran, taking in deep, ragged breaths as we ran.

We burst into the clearing, and were about halfway across it when Pete fell, tripping over a branch laying on the ground. He landed heavily, and my momentum from running carried me well past where he lay. I skidded to a halt, turning to head back to get him; and as the thing bounded out from the path behind us I caught my first real glimpse of it, eyes widening in horror as it came into view. It was a twisted thing, like a huge dog or a wolf but… wrong, somehow. Its proportions were all off; forelegs were much longer and muscular than the hind. It didn’t run like a canine either, moving more like a gorilla charging on all fours, its long dark fur shaking back and forth as it lolloped forward towards my brother – long tongue spilling out from behind jagged white teeth in a snapping, slavering maw; and those horrible red eyes, glowing brightly with hunger in the dim moonlight.

Pete was struggling to get up; he saw the thing come from the path and then turned his head to look at me; pleading, petrified eyes locking with my own. I’ll never forget that glance. In that second I saw exhaustion, confusion and an all-encompassing fear, bordering on the brink of madness. But worst of all was the unbelieving, horrified betrayal that came into his eyes as I did the only thing that my terrified eight-year-old brain could think of – I turned away and fled, Pete’s screams echoing after me as I went, rising in pitch and seeming to go on forever, then cutting off suddenly.

I charged down the path, sobbing and shrieking as I fled, in disbelief at what I’d done and sure that the thing would come for me next. Suddenly, two tall figures burst out of the dark in front of me and grabbed me – I thrashed about and screamed, before realizing it was my parents! I could see Dad had the axe, they must have heard our screams. They frantically asked me where Pete was, but I was well past the point of being able to speak, and just flailed my arms back down the path, pointing desperately back the way I’d come. Dad sprinted past us, raising the axe as he went and Mom held me close before scooping me up into her arms and following him.

As Mom & I rounded the corner into the clearing, I could see my Dad kneeling in the centre of it. I’ll never forget the way that the moonlight glinted off the axe head as it lay on the ground next to him. I’ll never forget my mother’s screams as she saw what was left of her son. I’ll never forget my father crying on his knees; great, deep sobs wracking his heaving chest as he tried to shield us from seeing the worst of it. I’ll never forget seeing past my father and spotting Pete’s hand, skin stark white in the rising moonlight, but spattered with dark red gore. I think I passed out then.

From what I was able to gather later on, Dad stayed with Pete while Mom took me in the car to the Johnson house to call the police, and left me there as she returned with the State Troopers and the ambulance. I’d gone into shock by that point.

I never told my parents what really happened, that we’d gone past the first clearing and deeper into the woods. I’d spent weeks in a near-catatonic state of fear and guilt by the time I was actually able to talk about what had happened. I told them that we’d lost track of time and were about to head back to the cabin, when the thing had come from the path and gotten Pete before I could do anything. I already hated myself enough; I couldn’t have dealt with them knowing it was all my fault. I told them that I didn’t get a good look at it. My Dad had seen a dark shape looming above the fallen figure of his son, but it had turned and ran as he came at it, and he hadn’t seen more than a flash of indistinct fur and red eyes. The police decided it had been a wolf or a feral dog, but despite a search of the woods they couldn’t catch it.

We never went back to the Cabin, and neither did any of the rest of the extended family. Dad made a brief trip up at one point to clear it out, but as far as I know, it’s sitting empty right now. Our family sold the land to the Johnsons a few years later, but I heard a while back that they’d sold up and moved away to retire, so I’m not sure who owns it at this point.

Our lives went on, forever changed. None of us was ever really the same. One side-effect is that I can’t be in a dark room with a red electrical light in it, or I start having panic attacks. There’s a lot of electrical tape covering lights on my appliances. The guilt gnaws at me constantly – it was my fault entirely, even if nobody else knows. It’s been decades but I still see Pete’s face every time I look at myself, and I hear the anguished screams of my parents echo through my head when I try to sleep. And I’m terrified that someday it’ll come for me too, that I’ll be walking through my house at night and it’ll be there like I deserve it to be – that dark, twisted thing with the glowing red eyes.

Credit: Abtrogdor

Coal Dust

January 15, 2017 at 12:00 AM

So, here I am. Laying down on my stomach helpless, darkness stifling both my thoughts and cries for help. I was too deep underground now, all sound drowned out by the earth, with my last moments ahead of me I began to reflect on how the hell I ended up in this position.

I had recently received a tip-off to investigate a small town in northern England. It was a minute, silent town that hardly manifested on any map I could get my hands on, the history of this place was as obscure as itself; the only background information I had received about the location was the construction of the power plant that was finalised in the early 80’s, before then the town had heavily relied on coal from its coal mines in order to keep residents warm during hard gruelling winters.

However, the most striking news that seemed to plague the town was the various reports of missing people and the supposed continued operation of the coal mines despite its long ago shut-down. Accounts of thick, black smoke slithering from behind the grey ridges that tore along the horizon from across the fields that surrounded the town. Although, I could not fathom a connection between the missing persons and these reports of the redundant coal mines operations.

I needed the money, desperately, so I ventured into this town with the intent to investigate these suspicions of missing people thoroughly. I started with the most appropriate place my mind could conjure up; the fields. These fields stretched for miles, scarred with snaking paths that cut straight through the tall grass and marshland, all extended towards the ridges. I had also been warned beforehand of the marshes that were highly prevalent in the fields, with this in mind I set off on my investigation on one of the paths that had been mulched into a slick mud by various people, probably hikers.

This seems like it would be an idyllic, scenic place. With the right weather of course. At this moment in time, the skies were overcast and grey, a miserable blanket draped over the sun that had seemed to have disappeared. The majority of my journey was uneventful. The same images of tall grass, gangly trees and rising hills crossed my vision for hours. That was until, through random chance, I had somehow wandered onto a path that seemed to be untouched, only a subtle one -meter wide line that I considered to be a path. I had probably wandered onto this trail whilst my mind was also wandering. With a heavy sigh, I scolded myself for not being attentive reminding myself of the warning of the marshes the locals had given me. With a new-found caution, I prepared to turn back, which was when something very…odd struck my peripheral vision. It was a splash of colour that prominently stood out from the generic green grass. It was…sky blue?

Whipping my head around to focus on the out of place object I saw it was a long sleeved shirt, the colour hadn’t been as vibrant as I first thought, the blue was darkened and made dull from what I predicted as years of exposure to the elements. Why was this here? It looked like it belonged to an adult and had also looked like it had been here for a while with streaks of grime soiling the wool material it was made out of.

I didn’t touch it, I just stared with curiosity slowly building inside my mind. I simply lifted the lens of my camera and snapped a quick photo. The faded trail beckoned me onwards; perhaps there were more items of interest further down this path? I continued onwards and discovered more carelessly strewn about clothing, but they did not seem to belong to the same person. All were of different sizes some seeming to belong to younger children and others to larger individuals. I took a photo of all I came across.

I suddenly became aware of the rapidly setting sun around me. It was getting late and I needed to turn back. I found nothing else and began to return to my starting point. Speaking of which, where was I? I was perplexed as I glanced behind me only to notice that there was no longer a path behind me, only tall grass and line of trees appeared. Perplexed I began to walk aimlessly, attempting to find some noticeable feature that would allow me to make my way back but there was nothing. Around me appeared the same mundane pattern of trees, grass and hill. Panic began to swell as the encroaching darkness crept in, with the sun dipping below the evening clouds I decided to climb upwards to try and gain an idea of where I was. I reached the top of a grassy knoll and searched around me, scanning for a route out of these fields. I did find something. It wasn’t a route.

My eyes fell upon dark columns of smoke rising towards the murky heavens. With disbelief infesting my mind I began to ponder; was it really true? It couldn’t be. I dismissed the thought, I had to focus on getting back. Then again, the columns seemed to intrigue me, and like I said. I REALLY needed the money. My feet began to stagger towards the columns, sluggish with fatigue. Now I was no more than a fish caught on a fishing hook; I had taken the bait.

I began to draw closer to the smoke as they loomed larger in the sky as I gradually made my way towards them.

Just a little closer, not long now.

That was when I just noticed the noise that had been hiding amongst the background chorus of chirping birds and rustling autumn leaves. It was subtle yet it grew louder and louder as my weary steps came ever closer to the smoke. It was a low rumble, my mind immediately jumped to the idea that this was the mines in operation, yet I knew this was impossible for they had been shut down for a long time. Tucking this thought in the back of my head I continued going towards the black smoke.

I had been traversing the fields for hours, with no change of scenery to bless my eyes. It was the same grass everywhere. That was until I clicked onto an abrupt change in the land, the green terrain withered away into an asphalt coloured landscape. I had reached my destination; the former coal pits. A flat land stretched out in front of me, I jogged to the edge of this flat wasteland only to observe a large crater with openings in the side. It was obvious what this was. I had also just realised that the smoke had ceased as did the rumble.

Bizarrely I had the idea of searching one of the mine shafts. Looking back on it now, it was a foolish idea, yet I still followed through with my idiotic plan.

Cautiously I made my way down the side of this crater, towards one of the openings. It was obscured by thorns and vegetation and barely visible. I decided to crawl through a barely noticeable gap in this wall of vegetation. With great effort, I pushed my body through and came out the other side in pitch blackness covered in scratches and dirt. Tapping into my resourceful side I illuminated the place with my camera flash. At the very least it would give me a concept of where I was.

Raising my camera I clicked the button and the bright flash covered every inch of the shaft it was now in. It revealed to me ashen grey walls, supported by wooden beams that had, surprisingly for their age, not been rotted. In fact, they appeared…new.
As if somebody was still maintaining them.
But how could this be possible?

Searching the walls with my hands I clawed my way around the tunnel, clumsily finding my way deeper and deeper.

As I got deeper a smell began to intestate the area, becoming more pungent as I descended. It became so strong that I began to gag. Heavily. Almost vomiting I realised that it smelled like…something dead. My feet reached a level ground and the descent had abruptly come to an end. Raising my camera once more I activated the flash.

I could’ve turned back then, and now I dearly wished I did.

I had discovered where the missing people went. I saw piles of corpses, stacked on top of one another, their clothes were torn and shredded. They were dragged down here, this was made evident by the scratches and cuts visible on their skin. An incinerator was next to this horrifying sight. Reaching out with reluctant hands I touched its surface. I immediately leapt backwards as I discovered it was hot. The source of the smell had also been discovered along with the bodies. Tears welled up in my eyes and stung as the smell intensified; the smell of rot.

The coal dust my fingers made contact with countless times…it wasn’t coal dust. Glaring at my shaking hands I found that they were covered in not coal, but ashes from burnt bodies.

I always found it odd how I discovered not a single lump of coal. Sure it was abandoned long ago but surely that doesn’t mean the coal source had run dry, there should be at least some trace of coal here, but no there was nothing, only “coal dust” lay here. That was when the realisation struck me like a hammer to anvil sending sparks of horror in my mind.

There was never any coal.

I now knew how the town was kept warm during the winter and the thought sickened me, the locals were all deceived and given power meanwhile their own kind burned down here.
Now I moved onto the next thought that occupied my head; it was still in operation. It was too late when I came to this revelation and blinded by my shock I had not heard the creeping footsteps behind me, however, I did hear the words that froze the blood in my veins.

“More fuel for the fire, eh?”

The Bog

January 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

From the window I can see the wide green and gold of the bogland stretching as far as the horizon. Between scattered rocks and narrow channels of peaty water some dark shape moves, or is it only shifting clouds and a trick of the dying light? I can never tell.

Gabby plays on the rug, weaving another story from drift wood and clothespin dolls. We’d been on the beach every summer day, early, before the waves washed the good stuff out to sea again. I’d spent hours in Gran’s thread box choosing colors for wrapping the little clothespins while Gabby changed her favorite color from blue to purple to lime green.

One last breath from the old sun sends a long streak of light shooting out over the marsh, turning it all to mirrors, and then it’s gray. Nothing moves. It’s dead.

“Gran?” I say, not sure she’ll be there. But I can smell cooking, lamb and potatoes in a big pot on the stove, and there she is. “Gran,” I say, again.

She looks at me with blue eyes, watery and hidden behind round glasses shining in the lamplight. Smiling, she says, “Get yourself to the basin, Jamie, and wash for supper.”

I run cold well water over my hands and think how to ask her my question. I haven’t decided yet when she’s set the table or when we’ve sat down and Gabby’s dug her spoon into the broth and come up with lumps of carrot. I haven’t decided when we’re lying on the rag rug in front of the fire, Gran in her chair, rocking and knitting long skeins of gray lambs wool.

“Tell us about the bog-men,” Gabby says.

I shiver. I hate the story of the bog-men, but Gabby loves it. I hope Gran decides she’s too tired to tell it. But she only smiles gently, clicking her needles together like a song, and says:

“On a grand soft day, your Grandfather was cutting peat out in the marshes.”

This is how she always begins.

“And as he cut, the wind began whining down and a fret rolled in from the sea, covering all the grass and red lichen on the rocks until he couldn’t see more than a step in front and behind.”

I lived in fear of those sea frets once. The sudden, wooly mists that cover the whole world in seconds used to keep me close by the weathered garden fence and well away from that trackless mire.

“But your Grandfather had lived on this island his whole life and he knew the way of it better than anyone, so he hefted his spade across his shoulders and turned once to the left and started walking. Sooner or later he’d come to the sea, if he could keep out of a bog.”

“But he couldn’t!” Gabby chimes in.

“No, not he. The bog-men couldn’t let him go. They came from their beds, long fingers in the mud, pulling themselves along with their dead hands.”

Gran makes scratchings on the arm of her rocking chair. I want to put my hands over my ears, but I don’t, because Gabby might laugh.

“And who are the bog-men?” Gran asks.

Gabby bounces on her knees. “Travelers!” she says. “Wanderers and the unwary. Lost people who sank in the mud at night.”

Gran nods, picking up her knitting again and rocking. “That’s it. They come back up in the frets and on moonless nights. The bog-men gripped your Grandfather’s ankles with both hands and dragged him down.”

“Why?” I ask.

Gran doesn’t answer. She just rocks and finally she shrugs. “Nobody knows the why of it. The marsh takes what it takes and how it takes it is none of our business.”

I say nothing. Gabby crosses the wooden floor on her little bare feet, climbs into the window and presses her face against the glass.

“You won’t see anything,” I say. “It’s too dark.”

“I can see the bog-men’s lights.”

I don’t want to see them. I turn my face away as my feet take me to the window. Gabby puts her hand in mine, taps the glass, pointing. “See?” she says.

I see little green flames, round, glowing lanterns in the dark. Blowing in the salt wind off the sea they dance and bob along the ground, close to the mires. A dozen or more.

I don’t like it. Gabby won’t let go, so I jerk my hand free. She pouts. She’s too cute to be so ghoulish. Gran puts her knitting in the cradle-shaped sewing box beside her chair and stands. “Time for bed,” she says.

So I climb the corkscrew stairs to bed, and take off my shoes and put on my pajamas and climb into the big bed that’s all mine. I wait for the creak of the floorboards that say Gran has gone to her bed. I wait for my eyes to see in the dark, wait for the wind to rise and moan around the gables.

I hear the soft pad of bare feet and the faint sigh of her breathing, standing near the bed. Most nights I would try to ignore her, but tonight she climbs in next to me, snuggling down where it’s warm, without asking.

“Gabby,” I say.

She wiggles round so we’re face to face in the dark. I shut my eyes to shut out thoughts, but memory doesn’t work like that.

“What was it like?” I ask.

“When?” She says, her high pitched whisper close to my ear.

“When they dragged you.”

“Oh.” She pauses, thinking. “It was scary. And cold. Their hands were hard and pinching. I didn’t like it when I couldn’t breathe, but then it was quiet.”

“Oh,” I say. I finally decide to ask my question to Gabby, not to Gran.

“Why don’t you leave?”

She snuggles closer, small arms around my neck. “We’re lonely outside,” She says.”You left us out there. You ran, and Gran and me couldn’t.”


In the morning, a man comes from the mainland. Tall and thin, wrapped up in a brown wool coat against the autumn wind, he looks like a scarecrow. He has a case in one hand, shakes my hand with the other.

“I’m so sorry,” he says.

I nod. He’s here to take me away from this place, so I’m glad of him coming. We walk up the grassy hill, along the gravel path, through the dying garden to the house.

The man comes up the steps, stops, points to our door. I painted it this summer in deep green, and I was proud of it, so I look too.

“Do you have a dog?” the man asks. “We can take him back with us on the ferry.”

I see it, then, the long marks on the new paint. Deep scratches in the wood itself.

“No,” I say. “We never had a dog.”

I know what they are, though. They come from their beds, long fingers in the mud, pulling themselves along with their dead hands.

The marsh still wants what it wants. Even when you run.

Credit: Rosemary Hamend


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  • [do_widget_area footer_2]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-3"]
  • [do_widget_area footer_3]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-3"]
  • [do_widget_area footer_4]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-4"]
  • [do_widget_area morph-main-widgets]
    • [do_widget id="wprp-3"]
    • [do_widget id="text-49"]
    • [do_widget id="text-50"]
    • [do_widget id="categories-7"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-7"]
    • [do_widget id="text-51"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_1]
    • [do_widget id="wpfp-users_favorites"]
    • [do_widget id="wpfp-most_favorited_posts"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_2]
    • [do_widget id="text-47"]
    • [do_widget id="text-48"]
    • [do_widget id="rss-3"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_3]
    • [do_widget id="text-52"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_4]
    • [do_widget id="categories-6"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-5"]
  • [do_widget_area sidebar]
    • [do_widget id="wprp-2"]
    • [do_widget id="text-24"]
    • [do_widget id="text-22"]
    • [do_widget id="text-9"]
    • [do_widget id="text-43"]
    • [do_widget id="categories-2"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-6"]
    • [do_widget id="text-44"]
    • [do_widget id="text-38"]
    • [do_widget id="recent-posts-3"]
    • [do_widget id="text-53"]
    • [do_widget id="links-5"]
    • [do_widget id="archives-4"]
  • [do_widget_area widgets_for_shortcodes]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-5"]
    • [do_widget id="text-46"]
  • [do_widget_area wp_inactive_widgets]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-9"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-7"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-6"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-5"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-4"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-8"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-10"]

Error: Your Requested widget " gdrts_stars_rating_list-3" is not in the widget list.

  • [do_widget_area footer_1]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-2"]
  • [do_widget_area footer_2]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-3"]
  • [do_widget_area footer_3]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-3"]
  • [do_widget_area footer_4]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-4"]
  • [do_widget_area morph-main-widgets]
    • [do_widget id="wprp-3"]
    • [do_widget id="text-49"]
    • [do_widget id="text-50"]
    • [do_widget id="categories-7"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-7"]
    • [do_widget id="text-51"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_1]
    • [do_widget id="wpfp-users_favorites"]
    • [do_widget id="wpfp-most_favorited_posts"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_2]
    • [do_widget id="text-47"]
    • [do_widget id="text-48"]
    • [do_widget id="rss-3"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_3]
    • [do_widget id="text-52"]
  • [do_widget_area orphaned_widgets_4]
    • [do_widget id="categories-6"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-5"]
  • [do_widget_area sidebar]
    • [do_widget id="wprp-2"]
    • [do_widget id="text-24"]
    • [do_widget id="text-22"]
    • [do_widget id="text-9"]
    • [do_widget id="text-43"]
    • [do_widget id="categories-2"]
    • [do_widget id="taxonomy_dropdown_widget-6"]
    • [do_widget id="text-44"]
    • [do_widget id="text-38"]
    • [do_widget id="recent-posts-3"]
    • [do_widget id="text-53"]
    • [do_widget id="links-5"]
    • [do_widget id="archives-4"]
  • [do_widget_area widgets_for_shortcodes]
    • [do_widget id="wpp-5"]
    • [do_widget id="text-46"]
  • [do_widget_area wp_inactive_widgets]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-9"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-7"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-6"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-5"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-4"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-8"]
    • [do_widget id="gdrts_stars_rating_list-10"]