What Happened To Elisa Lam? A Documentary Kickstarter PSA

March 20, 2017 at 6:20 AM

Note from Derpbutt: What Happened To Elisa Lam? is a project being worked on by a community member – I thought that the community at large might find it extremely relevant to our interests. As of this writing, it looks like the Kickstarter is only a little over half-funded with an “all or nothing” setting (meaning that should they not reach their goal, they receive no funds at all) – I’d really love to see this project come to fruition for selfish reasons (I love creepy documentaries!), so I wanted to do my part to signal boost. I’m going to embed the most concise text excerpts from their Kickstarter and their pitch video in this post, but you guys should visit the actual Kickstarter page to see their vision in full detail as well as more detail about the people behind the project, pledge rewards, etc.

What Happened to Elisa Lam?

This feature-length documentary will explore the mysterious case of a young woman who was found dead on the roof of an infamous hotel in 2013. The film will trace three competing narratives that seek to explain what happened: the police and those who believe Elisa died from a tragic accident resulting from bipolar disorder; web sleuths, friends, and conspiracists who believe Elisa was murdered; and paranormal experts who suggest Elisa was possessed by a dark force from the Cecil Hotel’s past. At the heart of the film remains the pulse of a creative but deeply troubled young woman whose online writings and struggle against depression continue to resonate with thousands of people across the world.

The case defies conventional categorization. Is it a true crime mystery? A profile of mental illness? A paranormal investigation? Or all three… The Elisa Lam case transcends all labels and becomes a Rorschach test for the 21st-century mind – everyone who looks at it sees something different.

What Happened to Elisa Lam? will showcase characters from all spectrums of the case — detectives, psychologists, friends of Elisa’s, journalists and filmmakers who became obsessed with the case, Reddit moderators and website owners who saw the case grow into a viral phenomenon, even short-stay and long-term Cecil residents who were accused of killing her.

Over the last year, we have cultivated relationships with several people intimately connected with Elisa Lam and the case. The narrative will focus on these subjects while detouring to explore other aspects.

The biggest challenge in making this film is telling the story in a way that does not further stigmatize the case and Elisa. There are many (thousands) sensationalized accounts on YouTube and other films on the subject are sure to come — ours will go beyond just murder conspiracies and paranormal speculation and assess the sociological and psychological impact of the case. The film will honor Elisa while exposing the full story of how the case has resonated with so many people around the world.

We’ve already invested 3 years of our lives researching every nook and cranny of the case and we’ve invested considerable personal funds — with your help, we can take it to the next level.

**Out of respect for Elisa’s life and those still grieving her loss, WE ARE GOING TO DONATE A PERCENTAGE OF OUR FUNDS TO HER FAMILY.

Abgar’s Story

March 6, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I’m unsure of what to say. All I can say is that I’m scared. Very scared. My hands shake violently as I hastily scribble down a few words onto the coarse wooden tablet. This is my only hope. “In the month of Tammuz, day 25 of the year 569, I, Abgar, son of Abbshamay, ‘navigator,’ have come here, to the country of Nysy; bless the god who has brought us here, and you, the man who reads this tablet, bless me as well and leave the tablet in this place where you find it.” That is what it reads. That’s all I’m able to write. I am so tired. I am so weary. I set the tablet against a mound, careful that it will not fall down, and go on my way, through the pitch blackness of this grand cave. I have been trapped here for days. It started when I left Palmyra, that great oasis city in the Levantine desert. I was to travel to the city of Aksum in Ethiopia to deliver silk textiles. Then I was to sail the vast sea to the lands of Persia and sell similar textiles at the cities of Istakhr, Ekbatana, and Ctesiphon, the Persian capital on the Tigris. From there, I was supposed to return to my homeland by caravan and receive payment. However, once I had left Aksum, the storm god, Baalshamin, wrought a great monsoon wind upon my vessel and ran us aground at the island of Nysy. It is almost uninhabited, but my friends, Elkud and Zabdibel, had decided to seek out locals for shelter. I was to explore the nearby coastal cave to find food. I was not ten cubits inside when I tumbled down a shaft and into the deep bowels of this cave. I was unable to climb back up, and so I was forced to go further into the tunnels. There were no signs of humanity save for inscriptions of a foreign tongue that I could not read. My hopes of returning to the surface quickly vanished into the moist air around me. I tearfully accepted this futility, crawled into a corner, and let sleep embrace me.

I was awoken at some odd hour of the night. The cave was eerily silent, but there was a pungent odor emanating from the depths of the tunnels. It smelled as if someone had boiled a rotten carcass in blood. I rubbed my eyes and stood up. Then, the sound started. A clicking sound, like somebody picking at their nails. I progressed into the darkness. I held my hands in front of me, the darkness concealing whatever lay ahead of me. The sound was louder now, but it seemed to be coming from two different directions. That’s when I reached a fork in the tunnel. The smell had gone away, but the sound had not. In fact, there were two of them now. The same sound was emitted from each side of the fork. I ventured into the one on my right. As I walked, the tunnel seemed to shrink ever so slightly with each step I took. All the while, the sound was getting louder and louder, until I reached a dead end. The sound was clear as day; it was coming from all around. Then, it abruptly stopped. The smell returned, so overbearing I almost fainted. Slowly, I turned around. Immediately, my heart stopped. This thing stood before me. I can’t explain what it was. It was a hunched down, twisted human-like thing. It had grey skin, and piercing yellow eyes. Its hands and feet were contorted and bore sharp white claws, which were curved like scythes. There were no eyes. Its mouth grinned wider than possible, and this grimace revealed scores of small, sharp teeth in rows. The thing opened its mouth even wider and let out an ear-splitting shriek, leaping towards me like a lion.

I awoke in a sweat. Nothing. There were no sounds, nor any ripe-smelling air. Once again, I stood up and looked around. The cave was still dark, but the air had become thicker, like the mist hanging over the Efqa spring on a hot summer day. I took one step, and almost collapsed. The floor of the cave had become… soft. It was like mud, but more dense. It still felt like rock when I touched it with my hands, and yet, it squelched underfoot. The walls of the cave shuddered. Was I dreaming? It simply couldn’t be. The walls were pulsating like veins. I kept walking. Then, the clicking started again. The smell returned as well. I was mortified, too scared to move on for fear of death. I pulled a tablet from beneath my robe, and wrote that note to whoever, or whatever, will find me. It’s too much. I leave the tablet beneath that mound, and as soon as I do, the floor of the cave becomes softer. My feet sink into it and leave deep impressions. The clicking sound stops. Light comes from a side tunnel of the cave, and I move towards it. Suddenly, the floor gives way again and I find myself falling for a second time. I hit the ground hard and the tunnels start spinning. I’m so dazed, I only have the energy to stare upwards at the ceiling. A face appears. The thing is back. It is reaching for me. I start to drift off and it smiles. The world becomes black, my eyelids close, and a thousand tiny pins push into my skin.

Author’s note: Abgar was a real person who lived and died almost 2,000 years ago. He was a native of Palmyra, Syria, who became lost in the Hoq cave on Socotra, a secluded island near Somalia. The tablet and its inscription were found by archaeologists exploring the cave. They followed Abgar’s wishes, and left the tablet where it was found. You can read more about Abgar and Socotra here.

Before the Revelation

February 15, 2017 at 12:00 AM

December 15th, 1985
Joram Bernstein

Well, time surely does fly. It’s already been forty years since my wonderful stay in Auschwitz. To my surprise, I’m not horribly tormented by the memories of that putrid hellhole of a prison like most people I have come to know during the time; well, at least not anymore. Probably because in my perspective, it’s best to forget. Well… not exactly forget so to say but rather to just make the best of everything with the life I still have. It will never be the same again but at the very least, I still have one. I mean, for Christ’s sake, I stared right into the malevolent eyes of death itself with calm but cherishing smiles. When you’re faced with an army of Nazi soldiers guarding the camp, pointing MP40s at you with bullets with your name on it, you tend to try to remain calm, do as you are told and hope for the best. To my surprise, it worked. Although, I don’t know what worked more – the fact that I always remained calm or whatever monstrosity that intervened that some claim to be a rogue angel.
After the war ended, I moved to the US hoping to get my mind off of this whole experience. A typical man’s life story short – I was happily married, had two kids, Ellie and Jonathan and then a divorce, lost custody, and now have a whole house to myself while I drown in alcohol. Hell, if you thought what happened during the war traumatized me, well, allow me to be straightforward – it didn’t. Why? Well, it’s quite simple. I never had any attachment to any of my fellow prisoners. I always kept to myself, followed the guard’s instructions and never allowed any emotional connection with anyone. I know that sounds really callous but during the time, you had to keep yourself numb and pray to God that you would survive. As cold as this sounds, I had nothing to lose. Every man for himself I guess.
As I drank a glass of scotch that I have longed for since the time of day, I received a call from someone I wasn’t familiar with. As I finished the last bit of my drink, I answered.
“Hello, Mr. Bernstein?” asked the unknown caller.
“Who is this?”
“My name is Daniel. I just need to ask you something.”
I did not have the energy to ask how he got my number or how he knew my name so I complied. “Alright,” I said in a tired, irritated voice.
“Listen, I am working on a book about survivors like you and I was wondering…” I vaguely interrupted him as I knew what this was about. “Let me guess. You want an interview with me about my story during the Holocaust, am I correct?”
“Why, yes, sir… if that’s okay for me to ask.”
I sighed heavily, rubbing my eyes from bitter annoyance and told him my address. “Go ahead and come in tonight.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“I have nothing else to do. Go ahead.” I hung up.
I could tell he was an anxious young man who aspired to get my story out there. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked for an interview and it’s certainly not going to be the last. Over the years, I never complied with anyone, not that I was uncomfortable but there was just nothing to tell. I learned to burn those memories away and to simply move on from whatever hells I have witnessed. Besides, whatever I have to say, he probably has heard it before so why not just get this interview over with?
About two hours later, he arrived on my doorstep. I let him in without him knocking. He took his hat off and politely said, “Hello, Mr. Bernstein. I’m Daniel Adams. Pleased to meet you.” He held his hand out for a handshake. “Likewise,” I replied. I welcomed him into my home and led him into my office. He was dressed quite nicely I should add. He had an obvious smile on his face as if this was his first interview for his new book. His smile faded away instantly when he noticed my personal library. He began to shake a little when he hesitantly asked me, “So, you’re studying demonology? The Occult?” I turned around and embarrassingly chuckled. “Yes, just personal research.” Behind my dusty desk sat a massive crimson shelf filled with books, journals and documents about the Occult and the nature of the paranormal. On the wall beside the shelf was pinned a little old sketch of a blurry monster I made several years ago.
He nervously smiled as he pulled out his pen and paper. “I apologize if this makes you uncomfortable,” I said. “We can go in another room if you like.”
“Oh, no judgement here,” he replied as he scratched his head nervously smiling. “It’s just a little unexpected to see that many books about demonology in one room.”
Before I could speak, he stared down to the ground like he was ashamed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
I leaned towards him and said, “I’m normally not a patient man but you’re young and have a lot to learn so I’ll let that slide.” He looked up at me and revealed that nervous smile once more, ready to write. I asked, “So, what do you want to know?”
“How did you feel during the time?” Again, his eyes lingered upon the ground ashamed of his question. I gently placed my hand on his shoulder. “Son, it’s okay. What happened was a long time ago. Feel free to ask me any question you like, okay?” He looked upwards with a distant smile regaining focus.
“Alright, to answer your question – I didn’t know what to feel,” I cleared my throat. “To tell you the truth, I was numb the entire time I was there.”
“The horrible things the Germans did didn’t affect you?” He asked in a voice more concerned than confused.
“At first, they did. Mostly when I was in the departure train on the way there.”
“What was that like?”
“It was treacherous. There were at least thirty of us in one car for five days. Very little rations and water, no bathroom, not even a little porthole sized window to look through. Almost complete darkness every day and night. It was during the winter as well and with the little clothing I had on, I hardly slept at night. During the day, I say I got an hour total because the rest of the hopeless prisoners moaned in disbelief that we were here. I heard a few choke out as their lives slowly faded away from dehydration. I always hid in the corner with my knees tucked against my chest. Hearing all these haunting wails screaming for death to come and take us all, I remained silent as I drifted into the corner. I think that was the first time I cried as well.”
I took a deep breath after I spoke. Mistaking my tone for discomfort, Daniel asked me, “Are you okay, Mr. Bernstein?”
“Yeah, I’m okay, I just need a drink.” I cleared my throat again. “Anyways, it was horrifying but the only reason why I’m still alive is because I always kept to myself. If a guard gave me an order, well, if you were smart, you did what he said or you would be shot or worse.”
Daniel was puzzled. “What do you mean worse?”
I poured another glass of scotch before I spoke. “You see, the Nazis were ruthless. When you’re in the camp as a prisoner, they could not give two shits about you. To them, you’re a waste of skin, God’s mistake, made for disposal. They completely disregard the fact that you were a human being. It didn’t matter who you are. Whether you’re white, black or any other color in the rainbow, male or female or even a child, unless you are proven to be a good use for manual labor, they would kill you in any way they pleased.”
As Daniel wrote everything I stated, he began to shake. “Wait, even children?” He said in a really faint tone.
I took another drink from my glass. “Yes. I’ve seen toddlers and even newborns thrown into pits of fire. Oh, my God, their screams… See, this is where I started to become numb from the whole thing. Even after the mothers witnessed their children burning into a crisp, they would shoot them and burn their corpses in the same pits just because they could.” I can still hear their screams in my sleep. As I filled another glass, I said, “I’m sorry. It’s one of those few things that really haunt me even to this day.”
Daniel puts down his pen and paper anxiously. “Oh, my God, I’m sorry. We can stop now if you want.”
“No, it’s okay. I needed to talk about that. I just need a moment.” I took a deep breath and regained my train of thought. “Alright, where was I? Oh, yes. That was only the beginning. It was like the first circle of Hell itself. Worse was yet to come and even after being emotionally numb, I still wasn’t ready. During my whole experience, for my four years of imprisonment, I’d say I spoke maybe a total of ten words. When they gave me orders, I did exactly that. Most of the time, it was a struggle but I did what I could to stay alive. With the very little rations and water we were given, I nearly strained myself until dawn but I was still alive. They specifically chose me to handle certain tasks as they did with anyone else they saw fit. I wasn’t holding my breath however. They could shoot you for target practice at any time even while you were working at any time. In most cases, they would gather a large group only to be placed in gas chambers. Oh, my God, the screams again. Even behind closed doors, you could still hear their screams as they suffocated to death.”
Daniel began to get angry. “Those sick bastards. How could they do that?” He gripped his pen tightly.
“Because they could. And because they could, I almost died. I was selected for execution because my time was up. I was against a wall with rotting corpses surrounding me. I thought their reeking flesh was the last thing I’d ever smell, the terrified faces of my fellow prisoners, the sinister smiles on the guards faces – I thought that would be the last thing I’d see. They fired killing everyone except me. Somehow, I was still alive. Not a single bullet hit me. I kept my eyes closed and held my breath and pretended I was dead. As awful as this sounds, I could feel blood smothering me and I used it to my advantage. Oh, God, this was when I almost truly died. I would much rather have been shot but since they thought I was dead, they were about to dispose of my body in the pit of fire…”
Daniel suddenly stopped writing and looked at me confused. “Wait. You said you were still alive because you kept to yourself, right?”
“And you’re saying they almost executed you and burned you alive, right? Well, if that was the case, how did you escape? You’re giving me two different stories.”
Ah, shit, I thought to myself. This kid pays attention. “I guess I gave myself away on that one, huh?”
He got his pen and paper ready once again. “What really happened? How are you still alive?”
I hesitated for a brief moment. “I’m going to need another drink for this.” As I poured my last glass, I could feel his anxiety. He knows there’s something I left out on purpose. He knows there is a truth that I didn’t intend to tell. Well, he will know why my truth was hidden. “Look, what I’m about to tell you is completely true and I do not plan on going to a mental institution.”
He looked me as if I was delusional. “What do you mean by that?”
“So, obviously, you see all these Occult books here, right? You will soon come to the realization as to why I do but you have to swear to me that you’ll believe every word I say, okay? I am not crazy.”
Daniel appeared afraid. “This is the part of my story that really fucked me up and I have a good reason why I never talked about it with anyone. You’re the only one I’ll ever tell this to.” I sighed. “Ask any survivor of Auschwitz and they will all give you the same reaction, same expression and same fear. They are all too terrified to tell the tale. So, Daniel, I know how this sounds but you have to believe me, alright?”
He nodded yes while he began to shake. I could see a speck of sweat on his forehead. “So… what happened?”
“Alright, here goes,” I took a deep breath. “So, there was this one prisoner who we all talked about during our time. We didn’t know his name or his number for sure but I believe it was Bruce. He was a really… vengeful character. Rumor had it that he was somehow possessed or something. He occasionally attacked the guards but… the funny thing was that they wouldn’t kill him on the spot. I saw him rip out someone’s throat in front of an officer and all they did was pin him down. I saw him rip out a piece of someone’s ribcage and shoved it down his throat with brute force. I saw him take a man’s gun and empty a clip into his face. Man, he was one strong, angry bastard.”
Daniel stopped me, “Wait, he killed a few guards?”
“That would be an understatement. He brutally mutilated them.”
“Well, if that was the case, why didn’t they kill him, especially if he was a threat to them?”
“I don’t know. It’s like they were expecting it, testing him somehow. I heard one officer say, ‘Perfect.’ Even to this day, I wish they had somehow killed him.” I finished my drink. Daniel grew even more anxious. “One day, he charged up to a guard, tackled him to the ground and brutally beaten him until his head was battered. That’s when they finally decided to execute him. After four murders, they finally decided enough was enough – which was quite odd. I know it sounds strange and abnormal but there was something about him they found… fascinating. It took five guards to restrain him. An officer smiled and shot him in the heart. Even after that, he was still somehow alive. They dragged him to a flaming pit and tossed him in…”
I hesitated to tell him the rest. “And…? What happened after that?” he asked. I stared at him for at least a minute before speaking. “Look, I really don’t like talking about this.”
I took another deep breath. “So before they almost threw my body into the pit, I heard shouting and women’s screams. It was so grotesque; they dropped everything they were doing, including me. As I lay there pretending to be dead with my eyes barely open, I could see five guards restraining the violent prisoner. His face was covered in blood and he had an eager smile as the officer approached him. I could hear what they were saying. The officer said, ‘What a waste. You were so perfect. But it looks like you’re no different. False hope for a flawless creation only to fail like all the rest. No matter, there will always be others of your kind.’ The prisoner gave a sinister laugh and replied, ‘When I get out of here, I will find you, dismember your flesh piece by piece and feed it to your battered face while your family watches.’ He then spat blood in his face. The officer punched him and shot him point blank in the heart. ‘Toss him into the pit,’ he said.” I took a deep breath yet again. Daniel was nervous but very intrigued.
“So, what else happened?”
I sat there for a moment before I finished my story. “They completely forgot I was lying there so I stood up and hid behind a building. I know, that was very reckless and would’ve gotten me killed for sure but what happened next… Oh, dear God…” I paused before continuing on. “As they threw his body into the pit, I could hear him screaming. Such agonizing pain… But there was something peculiar about him… the more he screamed, the more distorted it became. Each scream was an octave lower than the last and the volume progressed until it came to the point where it was monstrous and unbearable to hear. And suddenly, it stopped. It was like he absorbed the flames and he let out a demonic screech gushing blood which looked like a fountain of crimson. Oh, my God… He didn’t appear human anymore. His eyes illuminated pure white, his arms were covered in… scales to best describe it. They were as black as night with fang-like spikes that glowed blood red with claws that took on the same color and shape. He had large angelic wings that looked… mystic. The wings were there but it’s like they made the illusion of mist; black fire. I can’t even describe it. The next thing I knew, he attacked the surrounding guards swiftly. In quick moves, he butchered right through their flesh and… I know this sounds crazy but I saw him… forge a giant scythe out of their blood. It was like he defied the laws of physics and somehow made a solid, sharp weapon. Demonic magic to best describe it. More guards came after him and he took incredibly long and fast steps towards and slashed right through them. At one point when a guard was in a pool of blood trying to run from the creature, the prisoner somehow created a thick spike that rose from the ground impaling him from his anus out of his mouth. I don’t know what he was doing but it was like he could manipulate blood in any way he wanted; like he could control it at will. Clearly, their weapons were useless against him as he forged the scythe into a spiraling longsword. Can you just imagine the dread they felt as the last thing they saw were those glowing malevolent eyes with that demonic laugh mocking their pain as he slaughtered them like helpless animals? It was literally a bloodbath. He brutally mutilated at least fifteen guards before flying away. The oddest thing… he specially targeted the Nazi guards. No prisoner was hurt. Not even a scratch on those who were nearby. It was like he unleashed all of his personal Hell only to hunt down and murder those that caused his pain.”
Daniel was baffled and shook with fear. “So… he just turned into some kind of monster and… killed all those people?” He stared at me like I was a madman.
“I know how it sounds but it’s the truth. What he did to those guards truly traumatized me.”
“I see,” Daniel said softly. He closed his book as he asked me one last question. “So, how did you escape?”
“After the creature fled, the rest of the guards panicked and ran away as well. They burned all evidence of our documents, their whereabouts and left us for dead. It was the Americans that discovered the camp and of course, they came to our aid.” I signed.
Daniel continued to look at me in disbelief. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bernstein… I don’t know… Are you sure you know what you saw?”
I became furious with his question. In anger, I replied, “Listen, kid. You don’t what it was like down there. You don’t know what it was like to watch little children burn right in front of your eyes. I’ve seen the Nazis pile bodies in a truck only to bury them in a trench,” I raised my tone. “I know what I saw! I’ve devoted my life to find out what that creature was. That’s why my family left me. That’s why my kids were scared shitless. They thought I was mad. They thought I was as crazy as my stories when I got all these books trying to find out what the fuck this thing is. Ask any other survivor or any other Bernstein that could tell the same story – they are too fucking terrified to tell the truth. So before you start calling me crazy, you might want to be little more understanding on what I have fucking witnessed! Do you understand me?!”
“Okay! Okay! I understand!”
I got the chance to calm down as I sat on my chair. I poured myself another glass and softly said, “Look, I’m sorry I screamed at you. I know this doesn’t make any logical sense but I know what I saw and it was real. It really screwed me up but I’m not crazy.”
Daniel calmed down as well. “It’s okay, I understand.” He politely asked, “Did you ever find out what this creature was?”
“No. I couldn’t find anything that even closely resembled what I witnessed. Whatever it is however, I have no doubt that it’s still out there and it’s hungry.”
Daniel grew nervous once more. “Mr. Bernstein… I have a confession to make. My grandfather was a Nazi soldier but I strongly disagree with his actions and his views and that’s why I’m writing this book. But… this monster, you said he specially targeted men like him. If I’m related, does that mean I’m next?”
“Well, I highly doubt he’ll try to hunt you down for that reason but just in case he confronts you, just don’t tell him about your grandfather. From what I have seen, he doesn’t kill innocent people. Just don’t piss him off. And above all, whatever happens, do not bleed.”
Daniel had enough and gathered his gear and walked out the door. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Bernstein. I must be going now. Have a good night.” All I did in response was lift my glass and softly said, “Cheers.” I knew he was terrified but at least he listened to my story. I know what you’re thinking: “How could this be real? The textbooks would’ve described this.” Oh, please. Those damn history books never reveal secrets that weren’t meant to be told to the world. However, that’s the problem. Nobody knows who this creature was, where did he come from or why he was there. All I know is that he’s angry, inexplicably powerful and kills any Nazi that crosses his path. With that motivation, I still remain unsure whether he was a brute vigilante or just a beast lusting for blood.
As a storm approached, it began to rain unnaturally hard. Seeing my old sketch of the figure I have made a long time ago hoping I would find anything like it, I approached it with a smile while finishing my drink. As I stared right into those hypnotic white eyes, I asked myself…
“What the fuck are you?”

Credit: Gage Garza

The House in The Shade

February 10, 2017 at 12:00 AM

These events took place when I was five years old, in the rural south. You see, back then, my family was always moving from town to town because of my stepfather’s work. Among the memories I have of this time include some family secrets that we still don’t really talk about. What I’m about to relate to you is one such untold secret we would rather forget.
The modest white house we had recently moved into was surrounded by two large willow trees that blocked out the sun, leaving our backyard shadowed and apart from the rest of the world. My two older sisters and I would often swing from their branches and climb their thick trunks while our mother and stepfather would sit on the porch and contentedly watch us play in the late afternoon.
We would ride bikes, swim in the inflatable pool, fly kites and run on the slip and slide, you name it. We were very active children and never left a beautiful day unfulfilled. Across the street were a few other homes, and the sweet old couple directly across from us would often sit on their own porch and wave and smile at us as they drank lemonade from a large pitched and sat in old wooden rocking chairs. Our mother often waved cheerfully to them when we were brought outside, and their smiles and sweetness always made the day more pleasant.
Until, that is, a few months after moving into the old white home our mother got the three of us together, telling us there was something we needed to talk about as a family. She told us sternly that we were no longer to wave at the sweet, elderly couple across the street. She went so far as to tell us not to even look at them, and if we saw them waving at us we were to come inside and tell her.
This was an odd request to us. Nothing about the elderly couple seemed threatening or off in any way. Hell, our mother was the one who was always talking about how sweet they were to be so friendly. So this request baffled us and continued to baffle us for the rest of our stay in this particular home, but we minded, and no longer responded to the couple across the street. Soon they had been easily forgotten as we got on with our lives in other homes in other towns.
That is, until I was sixteen years old, having a pleasant dinner out with my sisters and mothers, a rare occurrence for sure during this time of our lives. For whatever reason, over our evening meal the conversation turned to that quiet old white house and the elderly couple across the street.
As soon as the subject had been brought up, my mother’s joyful face had darkened. Her eyes fell to her lap and it took her a moment before actually addressing us. She told us that she had been afraid to talk about the subject all these years, especially while we were still living in the home, afraid of needlessly making us afraid of staying in the quiet house in the shade of the willow trees.
At that time, our stepfather had been working at the local Pepsi Company, a well paying job that allowed my mother to stay at home with the three of us while still making a modest living for our family. Apparently, one of his coworkers had actually lived in the house beside the willow home for nearly six years and had only moved out the year before.
My stepfather and the man were talking about the neighborhood and the house, when at some point my stepfather mentioned the sweet, elderly couple across the street that liked to sit on their porch in the evening and watch us kids laugh and play. The man looked genuinely puzzled. He said that my stepfather must be joking, just pulling his leg. My stepfather replied just as perplexed.
With a sober face, the coworker told my stepfather that there was no elderly couple living across the street. Sure, there had once been such occupants in the small home, but they had both died horribly nearly three years before from carbon monoxide poisoning. The couple’s stove had leaked gas for days before they finally succumbed to the poisoning, and it took longer than that for anyone to find the dead couple. The man knew because he was the one who crossed the street to check on them, only to find the ghastly scene.
He recommended we leave the house in the shade.

Credit: Frank Wagers

The Well

February 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM

My grandfather grew up on a chicken farm outside of Krakow, Poland. He passed away a few years ago at the age of 82. A few days before his passing on, due to an aggressive form of stomach cancer, he sat me down next to him in his old rocking chair and said in his familiar polish accent “After I took the boat to New York, I promised to leave this story behind”.

He didn’t look up as he spoke to me, simply staring into his cup of black coffee. “It’s been 70 years….and I must tell someone before I meet God”

“I was born in a small, quaint, empty town, which despite the Nazi occupation, still functioned. We lived in this two-bedroom farmhouse, my father, mother, and my brothers Michal and Igor. I’m sorry, you never got to meet any of them. Anyway, Michal and Igor were twins, identical twins actually, and we had heard rumors of the Nazi fascination with identical twins. This forced us, and we already lived in a secluded part of the countryside, in the last occupied house in the town, to be even more reserved. In order to not go into the occupied towns, we basically ate only chicken, and eggs for every meal, and whatever Mama could gather from the garden. It was lonely, but we survived. “

“The only two things which were really hard on me were the fact I had to sleep in the basement, due to Michel and Igor being toddlers, they required my father and mother’s attention. The basement was cold, with only a small window and moonlight was the only light I got. Because of this, I always delayed going down there until I was absolutely exhausted, so I wouldn’t have to lie there awake. On the nights that I couldn’t manage to sleep, I would look out of the window, which gave me a small view of the garden and the large abandoned water well. This was my daily activity throughout those lonely war-torn nights. In general, it was boring and uneventful, but occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a family, or even just a man, or two lovers, sneaking their way through our garden up to our front door. They always looked rushed and frightened, and sometimes wore tattered uniforms. What would follow were horrible sounds of banging and pleadings for whoever lived here to open up, followed by an argument between my Father and Mother over whether we should let them in.”

He moved in the chair to adjust himself

“You see son, we didn’t know it, well I at least didn’t, that we lived fairly close to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and those people were escapees”

“Well did your father let them in?!” I asked impatiently.

“No” he said “It would have been a death sentence for them as well as for us. The Nazis didn’t like Poles, but they tolerated us, and it was easier to hide Michal or Igor than an entire family. My father did what he had to do in order to keep his family alive. As the war went on, less and less people began showing up in the middle of the night. Only our chicken and vegetables began to disappear. Losing our only supply of food would not have been possible, and at this point my father knew it was probably the escapees, so he built a fence around our property. Despite this, the chickens continued to disappear. They weren’t killed, they were simply, gone. Just vanished from their cages and pens.”

“One night I decided to stay up myself in order to see if I could find out the answer. I battled my tiredness until the wee hours of the morning, and despite the poor lighting and rain, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a human figure run across the garden. I rushed upstairs to tell my father and he ran outside with a knife, the best home-defense weapon we could afford, but we found nothing. No one.”

“The next day we did find something though, footprints, leading from the chicken cages, to the water well. They were made in the wet mud from the rain, and they were of bare feet. No shoes. No socks. Just feet. My father had mercy on the man who was trying to find refuge and left him a note, indicating that he had 2 days to leave and then he would begin to seal the well”

I waited impatiently for my grandfather to tell me the fate of the man.

“The following night, I conjured up the idea to take a blanket down the well to the man since winter was creeping in. I waited until my parents were asleep and I snuck outside. I shouted down the well something friendly, indicating to the poor man my intentions were benign, and I began my descent, hands and feet clinging to the pegs which were attached to stones. As I was approached the bottom, I smelled something absolutely horrific, and I pulled my father’s flashlight from my pocket and tried to shine it on the man, coming to the realization of just how large this well was, since it used to supply water for the entire town and its families. Families which no longer remained.”

“But I found no man, only…..a hole. A hole in the stone, where the wall of the well had collapsed, opening up to some type of crevice. Only 2 meters wide, and 3 meters deep and tall, inside sat not a man. Inside was a family, with only a skeleton like creature as the only survivor. The light reflected off of his sunken eyes, and grayish skin. Face covered in blood, with chicken carcasses scattered around. A pile of decomposing chickens, next to a woman, a son, and a daughter, the children who must have been barely 5 years old. And they seemed to have been dead for weeks. The man, if he even could be called that, just stared at the light, and I stared back, incapable of breaking his stare. I did not feel threatened by him for he lacked any sense aggression. He simply sat there crouched over, without a sound, next to the putrefying body of his loved ones, and chickens he could have only been using as his source of water, as their meat was not eaten.”

“He was empty, devoid of whatever in us makes us human. He should have realized his family was dead long ago, but he was still bringing food for their corpses. He couldn’t accept it. He did finally turn his head though, when I shined the light back onto the corpse of his daughter. He stared at her, and sat down closer to her, and continued to stare”

“You can leave now, I’ll open the gate so you can escape. My father will seal the well in the morning ” I said to him. “Please leave now” My young voice and advice didn’t seem to have any effect on him.”

“At this moment I decided it would be better for me to just climb back up the well and leave, hopefully the man would follow and escape. As I began my climb I shined the light on him one final time……”

“What did you see Grandpa?” I shuttered

“A tear fall from his eye, he had become a man once again. He broke free from the delusion, only when he saw the body of his dead daughter, which had been hidden by the darkness. He realized he had been bringing food, not to his family, but to corpses”

“That night it rained again, but I found no footprints leaving the well in the morning when my father sealed it”


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