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The Kids Next Door

August 28, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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“But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.”

After a job-related relocation to Indianapolis, my family and I were given an allowance to rent a home in the city in order to give us some time to look for our “forever home.” That rental – a hundred-year-old house that was considered historic, and couldn’t be gentrified – was charming in its own way, but it gave us a pretty good idea of what we did NOT want. It had some… er, quirks, but we got used to them. Ah, but that’s another story for another time.

To sum it up, though, that rented house was cold, damp, and dark throughout. It got to be pretty depressing at times.

Indianapolis is like a gemstone in the middle of Indiana; albeit one whose clarity, cut and color would never pass a jeweler’s quality control measures. What I mean is that it’s a bright, glaring, concrete and glass island in the middle of what some consider “flyover country.” Pretty much all farmland. Indy doesn’t have much to offer in the way of suburbs. Its central business district is surrounded by a pretty ugly industrial zone littered with slums and trailer parks which gives way almost immediately to open fields.

Having lived in big cities all of our lives, my wife and I were ready for a change. Plus, we wanted somewhere safe and with lots of space where our kids could grow up. We wanted them to have a swing set, a place to ride their bikes – not crowded sidewalks and busy streets right outside the door. We weren’t having much luck, though.

Then we struck gold. We found a plot of land about twenty miles outside of downtown – agricultural land that had been rezoned for residential – that was smack dab in the middle of wide open fields, with a nice stand of trees at the rear of the property as a bonus. The nearest neighbor was a horse farm about a half mile down the road. It was a place that we could build our dream home, so we put down the money, found an architect and contractor, and commenced construction.

The first snag during construction would become an omen of what was to come, but at the time we thought it was just an inconvenience. Being an engineer myself, I was keeping a close eye on construction. I paid daily visits to the site and planned to watch everything from the groundbreaking until the final tack installed in the carpeting. The contractor had broken ground and was beginning excavation for the basement and footings. They were making good time until one fateful day. I showed up at the site after work to find that the contractor’s men had left, the equipment was gone, and there was a large (and obviously ancient) metal tank sitting on the ground at the edge of the hole. Uh oh.

I immediately called the foreman and he told me that, while digging, they had broken through a brick cistern about fifteen feet under the grade. He almost lost a piece of equipment down the thirty-foot-deep hole underneath. They had found the metal tank near the well and pulled it out. It would have to be inspected by the EPA to test for environmental hazards, and that would set them back about a week. He was more concerned, however, about how he was going to work around the deep hole. Filling it in with soil would cause settling problems later, and he certainly couldn’t fill it in with concrete. It would have raised the construction cost by tens of thousands of dollars.

When I told my friends about the obstacle my contractor had stumbled upon, almost all of them joked. “What’s next? An ancient Indian burial ground.” I laughed. I had a sense of humor about it back then.

After the EPA cleared us, the contractor proceeded with construction. He had come up with a plan to cast a reinforced concrete beam across the top of the old cistern and cast the house’s footing across it. So I got the bonus of having the north wall of my home supported by a very deep footing. Not a bad deal but even after moving in and living there for years, the thought of that big, dark, empty space lying beneath my basement floor sort of gave me the willies. There were no other hitches throughout the rest of the home’s construction, save for the usual deviations from plans and wrong materials being delivered. No more big surprises, although they did pull up the occasional interesting brick or antique tool when doing earthwork around the yard.

When complete, our new forever home was the complete antithesis of the rental we were moving out of. The floor plan was open and airy, with plenty of light streaming in from windows in every wall. A particular favorite spot for the whole family was a large all-glass sunroom at the back of the home. It was a beloved place to curl up on the couch and read during the winter, or sit and watch the children play during the summer. During the fall, we had a beautiful view of the woods and the changing colors of the leaves. It was perfect. For a while, anyway.

It was a few weeks after building a huge swing set/playhouse for our two boys that I first noticed the four children playing in our back yard. Two boys and two girls. The oldest of the girls seemed to be in her early teens, and the youngest – her brother, I assumed – perhaps five or so. The age of my youngest son. The boys were outfitted in coveralls and the girls were dressed in simple shifts. Their clothes reminded me of the Amish, and since the nearest neighbor was the horse farm, I naturally assumed that the children belonged to the couple owning the place. Odd. We had met them briefly when moving into the new house, and they never mentioned having kids. Some people are funny that way, though.

I was happy to see the children. I had been thinking that my own kids were not going to have anyone to play with. No friends. And here were four children who obviously lived quite close. I opened the back door and stepped out onto the deck.

“Hey there, guys!” I no sooner got out the words, then the kids reacted. They looked up at me, seemingly startled, then took off running. “Wait! It’s okay. You’re welcome to…” I trailed off. I hoped that I didn’t scare them. I found myself wishing that they would come back. Perhaps I would take a walk down to their parents’ farm when I had the time and let them know that the children were allowed to play in our yard; that we didn’t mind.

After a couple of days, I realized that it had slipped my mind, but it didn’t matter because the children were back. Playing on the swing set again. I figured that I should approach them more carefully this time. I put together a tray with a pitcher of Kool-Aid and some cookies – an international sign of goodwill among kids – and started out the back door once again.

“Anyone up for some cookies?” I called out. It didn’t work, though. They caught a glimpse of me and took off through the trees again. Dang! I felt really bad for scaring them. I really needed to get over to that farm and talk to them. Once again, though, I got busy with other things and the task went on the back burner.

I came up with a plan. Sure enough, the kids came back. This time, though, instead of going outside myself, I sent my own two boys (then five and seven) out as ambassadors. My strategy worked! The children were a bit wary at first, but soon warmed up to my boys. After a while, I called the boys in and sent some drinks and snacks out with them. Once I had seen that all of the kids had taken something, I went outside. This time, the children didn’t run away.

The older girl spoke up. “Please forgive us, sir. We did not mean to play here without your permission.”

“Nonsense,” I replied, “You all can come over whenever you feel like it, whether my boys are out or not. We’re neighbors.”

I received a chorus of thank-you’s from the children. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. Once again, I’m happy that you kids are around. I’m sure that my boys will enjoy your company.”

My boys did enjoy their company. Over the following weeks, they had all become the best of friends. My boys began asking if they could go to the children’s farm to play, and I hesitated at first because of their ages, but soon relented. The children seemed so nice and polite, after all. And the oldest girl was what my wife and I thought of as “babysitting age,” so I figured that they were safe with her.

One day, my boys arrived home with dirty clothes – dirtier than usual – and I asked them what they had been up to. “Nuthin’” was the usual reply, but this time my older son, by then eight years old, seemed really excited.

“We were checking out the cemetery, Dad!”

Boy. That came as a shock to me. It was my impression that there was nothing around us. “What cemetery?”

“The one in the woods,” said my boy, “The other kids showed us.”

Well, this I had to see for myself. I had been a kid once, too, though I barely remembered it. I did recall making up places. An old boathouse became a fort for my younger self; a fishing pond seemed like an ocean. The kids had probably found some interesting looking rocks and imagined that they were tombstones. Still, I asked if they could show me. My younger son was tired, and went directly upstairs to take a bath, but my older one – still full of energy – was eager to go.

“It’s getting dark, Dad. We’d better get there while we can still see.”

He led me off into the woods at the back of our property. Needless to say that I was shocked by what I saw.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I mumbled to myself.

There was a farm back there in the woods. A small one, yes, but a farm nonetheless. It was in decrepit condition and no longer inhabited. No house left, but there was a small barn, half falling down; a corral that looked like it once held sheep or goats; and a large, low structure – another barn – but perhaps for the small animals or chickens. There was an old truck back there. Not a “truck” like you’d normally picture, but a panel truck on wagon wheels. The type that would have been drawn by a horse.

And right there in the center of it… a cemetery. “I’ll be damned,” I repeated. There were five tombstones visible: two large ones and three smaller ones, the smallest measuring about one-foot square. In the center of these, and toppled over by a tree that had grown practically around it, was a large, prism-shaped monument with a roughly chiseled sphere on top that had some names chiseled in it. “Baden” was in the largest letters. Probably the family name. Still in a state of surprise, I quickly looked over the smaller stones. They were dated from the early 1900s, and doing some quick math I deduced that the inhabitants of the graves ranged in age from less than a year old to thirty-eight.

I don’t know how I had never see it before. I had hiked a short way into the woods before, but somehow missed this farm. Granted, the barn (the tallest structure) was weathered and its planks had turned gray to match the surrounding cedars, but still… it only sat about twenty-five yards from the edge of the woods. Once I knew it was there, it became obvious. I looked out at it from my bedroom window every morning. This definitely deserved looking into.

I dug into everything I could find on the internet and at the local library. It seemed that these “pioneer cemeteries” dotted central Indiana. A quick search turned up at least three more within a couple of miles from my house. The Baden cemetery – MY cemetery – however, was not listed among them.

The long and short of it was this. During the late 19th century, pioneers were crossing the Midwest on their way to America’s west coast. Many of them found sufficient places along the way and decided to settle in those spots. They would build their tiny homesteads and usually live out their lives there. Many of the older families still remain. The reason for the concentration of these homesteads (and cemeteries) around our area was the proximity to what would become Route 40, one of the first major travel ways across the United States.

Unfortunately for many of the budding families, the great Influenza epidemic of 1918 struck. Dense populations fell quickly because of communal wells and sanitary facilities. Even the outlying farms fell victim because of shared groundwater or a family member that picked up the bug on a visit to town. Most of these smaller homesteads fell into disrepair and their farms and deceased were absorbed back into the wilderness. As the old family cemeteries were discovered, they were usually cleaned up out of respect for the dead, and there were vast movements and societies dedicated to restoring the tombstones and their gravesites, as well as compiling records of those who were buried there.

On one of my almost-daily visits to the cemetery I verified that the residents had indeed all died in or about 1918 – victims of the flu, sure enough.

Once all of my sources of information were exhausted, I contacted the local historical society. I told the representative about the cemetery, and expressed my interest in helping to clean it up and get it recorded in the historical register. They were excited and sent someone out, literally within hours, to take a look. Her name was Jodi, I believe.

Jodi and I walked out into the woods. She asked all types of questions and told me a little about the history of the area, most of which I had already discovered on my own. She did point out a couple of interesting things, though. She had brought a long piece of rebar and began walking around poking it into the ground.

“Yep, just as I suspected,” she said. “There are more.”

“More?”

“Yes, more. More graves.” She explained that – because the grave markers were small and not supported on concrete pads, as they typically are now – they tended to sink into the ground. She estimated that there may have been up to twenty-five people buried out there.

The other tidbit she let me in on was a little disconcerting. “If you find any bones, let me know immediately.”

What? Bones? She went on to explain that, although most of the wooden coffins tended to rot away over time, foxes would sometimes pull up metal hinges, jewelry, bits of clothing, and even bones. After everything that I had been through in my life, I was not squeamish. Still, this revelation sat ill with me.

Throughout all of this, the thought of the neighbor’s children had taken a back burner. They were the ones who were really responsible for the discovery. Perhaps they knew more. I would definitely need to talk with them. I told Jodi about them and she expressed an interest in meeting them also. While she had me on the phone, she asked if she could email some documents that she had found regarding “my neighbors,” as she had taken to calling them – the family who were most likely occupying the graves out there behind me. I remember joking that they were the perfect neighbors: always quiet and never asking to borrow my lawn mower.

While the Baden family were the final owners of the farm, Jodi found out that they had married into the family of the original owners: The Bucksath (pronounced Buckshot) family. Turned out that the Bucksath boys were grave-robbers by trade. The not-so-nice kind, who opened recently filled graves to steal jewelry and valuables. They had gotten into trouble for it a number of times. Ironic, since we would most likely now be digging up some of their graves. Only we wouldn’t be stealing anything, just restoring and preserving them for history and out of respect.

The neighbor kids hadn’t been around in a while, so Jodi never got the chance to talk to them. After a bit of research on her part, she found an heir to the sliver of property (one who didn’t even realize that his family had owned land in the area) and they had made arrangements for him to begin clearing the area with the assistance of volunteers from the local pioneer cemetery restoration society. They did find quite a number of bones at the back of the farm, but determined that was the location where the farmers had slaughtered hogs and dumped their carcasses. The workers had not come across any human remains yet.

My interest in the project did not wane. In fact, it intensified. I began visiting other cemeteries and museums. The Indiana State Museum had a large exhibit dedicated to relics of the early twentieth century, with a section devoted to burial practices, which were a fact of life. A big part of life, given the harsh conditions that the early settlers had to face.

That’s when it started to become creepy for me. I was fascinated by some of the vestiges of the time that the museum curators had on display: fancy burial clothes, photos of the dead in their coffins (a common practice, apparently), ringlets woven of hair from the deceased as remembrances, and – most disconcerting – small caskets. Child-size coffins. That really hit home. Being a father of two young boys, I was disturbed by the thought of a parent having to bury their fledgling child. Then I saw IT. The thing that would haunt my dreams. A child-sized casket with a window set into it. A window that would display the child’s face and upper body. There were photos of such coffins with their occupants displayed next to it. All that went through my mind was “Why the hell would someone ever do that? That is so freaking disturbing!” People back in the old days were certainly a different breed. I left the museum immediately and literally could not even eat the rest of the day.

From that point on, I lost interest in the work going on in the woods behind my house. Honestly, I didn’t lose interest, so much as avoided it. I dreaded the thought of the workers unearthing one of the small caskets – caskets that were undoubtedly out there, given the ages showed on the grave markers. Worse still, what if one of them had that glass pane in it. I couldn’t handle seeing that. No way.

I did my best to forget about the whole mess. After avoiding a few of Jodi’s calls, she must have finally gotten the message and stopped bothering me. I warned my boys not to go near the cemetery, even if the neighbor kids urged them to play out there. Not wanting to scare them, I explained it away with the excuse that the barn was old and dangerous – ready to collapse at any moment – and that the volunteers working out there did not want to be disturbed.

Ironically, the big discovery came on Halloween day, 2012. Jodi thought that it was a big enough event that she skipped calling and just came knocking at my door. They had begun working near the graves, raising sunken markers, and had inadvertently pulled up an entire child’s casket. One of those sort with the glass window. The glass had been shattered, of course, but Jodi said that the remains were in remarkable condition. She asked if I wanted to come out and take a look. I told her that I was simply not interested anymore and slammed the door before she had another chance to speak. I warned the boys again that they were not to play in the woods, especially after the discovery. My worry was doubled because of the holiday. As I said, it was Halloween. What better way for kids to celebrate than by visiting a spooky graveyard and telling ghost stories?

The afternoon faded, dusk came, and darkness soon followed. Even moonlight could not filter through the overcast night sky. Around nine o’clock, I heard banging on the back door. Trick-or-treaters? Not in our neighborhood. It was too far out of the way, not enough houses, didn’t make “economic sense” for true candy-hunting aficionados. I went to the door and looked out. It was the neighbor kids – only three of them. They seemed to have left the youngest boy at home. Relieved, I opened the door and apologized.

“Sorry kids, I didn’t think that we’d be getting trick-or-treaters tonight. Guess I didn’t plan ahead,” I chuckled. “But I’ll catch you next time, ‘kay?”

One by one, their faces changed to outrage – pure hatred – and the politeness they had always exhibited disappeared entirely. “Blast you, you cussed old boat-licker,” said the older of the two brothers. “Fuck off, you Nancy boy prick,” said the younger girl. Explicitly appalling given her age.

The oldest girl finally said “Let’s leave this blue-nosed twat to the devil!” and the children ran off into the woods.

Damn it all. What the hell had gotten into them. Just because I didn’t have candy? I was so angry that I paced for half an hour. My boys, still awake, had come down to see what was going on.

“You’re NEVER playing with those damn kids again!” I threatened. But in reality, I thought “at least not until I get an apology and an explanation.”

I gave my boys a lecture on politeness, and sent them off to bed. I sat down in my favorite chair and flicked on the television. Due to the complete blackness outside, I didn’t see them approach the house, but I was startled when all three children slammed their hands against the great windows along the back of the house. Sticking their tongues out at me, they chanted in unison.

“Tell me you been gone all day, that you may make whoopee all night;
I’m gonna take my razor and cut your late hours;
You wouldn’t think I’d be servin’ you right.

I said, Undertaker been here and gone, I gave him your height and size;
You be makin’ whoopee with the Devil in Hell tomorrow night.”

Then they ran off. It wasn’t long before they returned, banging on the windows all together. Scared the crap out of me. Again, they were chanting, this time a more detailed and descriptive song:

“We’m gonna cut your head four different ways;
A, B, C, D, that’s long, short, deep and wide.

I’m gonna cut E, F, G right across your face;
H, I, J, K, that’s where runnin’ bound to take place;
Cut L, M, N cross both your arms;
You’ll sell an’ peddle gal your whole life long.”

And so on. You get the gist. At least these kids knew their alphabet. This continued most of the night – long after normal kids should be asleep in their beds. I would definitely be visiting their parents the next day. First thing in the morning.

We were already in bed when I heard the glass break. One of them had thrown a rock at a window downstairs and it had shattered the pane. I ran down the steps and threw open the back door.

“A man of words and not of deeds
Is like a garden full of weeds

And when the weeds begin to grow
It’s like a garden full of snow

And when the snow begins to fall
It’s like a bird upon the wall

And when the bird away does fly
It’s like an eagle in the sky

And when the sky begins to roar
It’s like a lion at the door

And when the door begins to crack
It’s like a stick across your back

And when your back begins to smart
It’s like a penknife in your heart

And when your heart begins to bleed
YOU’RE DEAD, YOU’RE DEAD, YOU’RE DEAD INDEED.”

Again, they ran off. I decided that I wasn’t going to play around anymore. I knew that they were only children, but I grabbed a baseball bat from a bin in my garage and took up a post on the steps of my deck in the back yard. “Let’s just see them come back again,” I thought.

The next time, it was only the teenage girl who came out of the woods. She approached me cautiously, her head lowered, not looking me in the eyes.

“We’re sorry, sir,” she said softly. “We’re just so angry. They took our brother.”

“What?” I wrinkled my brow. “Who took your brother? Why?”

“The bad people. They came to our farm and took our brother away.”

An anxious feeling began creeping into me. I felt a shiver up my spine. “Where are your parents?”

“Dead, sir,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“Hold on!” Now I was in an outright panic. Was this a prank? What if it wasn’t? Not to be made a fool of, I wasn’t about to call the police just yet. I told the girl to wait at the house while I jumped into my car and sped down the road to the neighbors’ farm. The lights were on in the house, and I could see someone moving inside, so I approached the front door. After I felt sure that it was safe, I screwed up my courage and knocked. The owner of the farm answered.

“Oh, thank God you’re okay,” I breathed a sigh of relief. Then my anger returned ten-fold. “Do you know what your damn kids have been up to?”

He looked at me as if I was a lunatic. “What are you going on about? We don’t have any kids.”

Credit: Kenneth Kohl

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The Pit

August 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Rating: 8.9/10 (551 votes cast)

I

My town is one of those back country middle-of-nowhere places in which word-of-mouth folklore and wild superstition defines its population. It’s the kind of place a visitor might hear ethereal music in the woods, or catch a glimpse of an out-of-place animal roaming the empty fields. If your senses are attuned to such things, then you might even notice strange graves carved into the slopes of gullies, or old ropes tied to the limbs of withered trees; their trunks riddled with bullet holes.

But we know of something else, ineffable horrors dwelling in the depths of an abandoned, isolated coal mine.

Local legend tells of a pit: a dark place in which some three hundred miners lost their lives in a colliery disaster over a century ago.

So the story goes, a number of miners had complained about the perilous conditions in the mine on several occasions, many citing bad omens, including the presence of carrion crows in the subterranean depths, and some even claiming to hear the unlikely neighing of startled horses in the ghastly, myriad passageways.

But the miners’ pleas went unheard, resulting in the catastrophic explosion that led directly to their deaths.

Whispers exchanged over an ale at the Painter’s Greyhound tell of survivors: starving miners entombed in the labyrinthine tunnels honeycombing the cold earth beneath our town. Occasionally, the ground opens up and swallows things: dilapidated sheds and the corners of houses… sometimes people. Fodder for the ravenous miners?

And pets abandon their owners: dogs disappearing into shadowy recesses and cats straying deep into the wilderness; never to be seen again. As the saying goes here in my town, “All victims o’th pit.”

II

The location of the pit-over the course of a century-was mostly forgotten; knowledge of the disaster itself conveniently buried by those with more pressing political and financial interests. The ‘owdies’ though-as they’re known in these parts-are still in possession of memories, and often recount unsettling tales passed down through the generations.

If it hadn’t been for my grandfather, I, at the tender age of fourteen, might never have set out to find the pit that day. The route related to me was both protracted and disorienting:
“Seekers of the pit must first descend into the old ravine,” my grandfather muttered through false teeth, “a route at one time commonly frequented by my sort. Follow the oaks and the silver birches along the old trail marked by the red bricks of Scoothe’s cottage and you’ll reach the bald ‘ills. You know the Bonnies don’t you boy?”

I nodded, for I did know the Bonnies, and still do: unnatural rucks carved out by the long-perished miners; barren and unwelcoming; suggestive of untold mysteries and the forbidden knowledge they serve to protect.

My grandfather continued:
“That awkward terrain boy, coupled with those dark ponds can lead one to Dog Wood, a forested area intersected by confusing, abandoned lanes leading deep into what we call the sterile heart of the backcountry. You’ll know Dog Wood by the density of the underbrush, though you’ll have to look closely if you want to find the accursed entrance.”

To this day I still don’t fully understand why my grandfather encouraged me to seek it out. His warning as I left that day often returns to me on dark, foreboding, autumn afternoons:
“Boy, ‘tis nothing to look, ‘tis everything to see. See yourself and know thee escaped the darkness.”

But I was just a fourteen-year-old lad.

How was I to know what he meant?

III

My best friend, Key, knocked on my door at 7:15 a.m. that fateful October morning. We walked the length of Park Road, and plunged headlong into the old ravine. The thing we sought, somehow, was already with us, and was working to discourage us, descending upon the golden brown foliage in the form of mist.

We pressed on.

The discovery of the silver birches was fortuitous, for beyond them we soon observed the red bricks of Scoothe’s derelict cottage. Moss and creeping ivy caressed the old stones joylessly, consuming what had once been the jewel of the ravine. Just like Scoothe, its time had passed.

The cool, morning air met us as we climbed the slopes and stepped out onto Bonnies (also known as the bald ‘ills). It’s quite a thing to experience both the absence and evidence of man, simultaneously. But that was just how it was, standing there on the old rucks, a manmade landscape, abandoned, nature working to reclaim what it once possessed. The gravelly mounds hissed at us, exposed to the brisk, autumnal wind.

Key and I traversed the hills hastily, avoiding the ponds: motionless bodies of water concealing horrible depths; depths rumoured to connect directly to the old tunnels; flooded passageways where the ‘survivors’ were said to roam. In a moment of hesitation, we shuddered.

We saw the treeline on the horizon: dense foliage forming a seemingly impenetrable wall. A cloud of mist hovered above the forest threateningly.

It whispered, “Turn back.”

But we didn’t turn back. We happened upon that most sought-after location, Dog Wood.

IV

Brushing the nettles and brambles aside, we discovered an old pathway; the tiniest amount of gravel still visible beneath the grass and weeds. Mist shielded much of what lay beyond, so we stepped onto the path and made the conscious decision to keep to it.

Deeper and deeper we drove into the underbrush, working hard to clear the path of shrubbery and other hindrances, blind to the inherent dangers one should be aware of in the proximity of a disused coal mine. A capped shaft presented itself as such a danger; several rotten timber planks straddling its hideous mouth. Luck was to thank for preventing an unfortunate tumble into the blackness beneath.

The remains of an old railway line brushed against our boots as we closed in on our destination; the innumerable limbs of large trees clawing at the rusty tracks zealously.

Key was the first to note the change in the air: a staleness; a rancidity that had visibly affected the flora of the wood. As we neared its source, we saw fewer and fewer nettles, brambles and ferns; vegetation in general seemingly afraid to flourish in what my grandfather had referred to as ‘the sterile heart of the backcountry’.

Withered trees stood defiantly, though the souls the roots might once have harboured had long since departed. Even the soil-gelatinous mud-had been affected by the otherworldly blight.

And then we saw it, the great arch, marking the entrance to the site of the pit. The arch-an iron monstrosity-once beheld the name of the mine, though upon our observations, the bold lettering had mostly eroded. Three rust-nibbled letters remained: P, I, T.

Trepidation begged us to flee, to return to the familiar comforts of home: the quiet town centre host to Marge’s Sandwich Shop and Gilbert’s Newsagents; the ancient, sprawling cemetery on Church Street; and Pollack’s School for the deaf under the willows on Grundy Street. Even the lone silhouette of Lightning Tree standing atop Broomhead’s Hill was an image I would’ve happily traded for that of the dark, deathly visage of deepest Dog Wood.

We trudged onwards, until we came upon the mere.

It filled us with dread.

My father, a regular up at the Painter’s Greyhound, said the seniors often spoke of an ‘old mere’, a pond but a stone’s throw from the pit. Allegedly, the old miners used to wash their hands and faces in it, steadily darkening the water with coal. Other kids, in times gone by, who had set out in search of the mine, had happened upon the mere.

Alarmed by the shade of the water, most had turned back, though some strayed too near and were never seen again. One lad-the owdies would say-caught a glimpse of something strange in the still water, and in the grip of some inexplicable mania, fled and threw himself into the pit. Witnesses-two of them-returned from the wood in a near catatonic state, claiming the lad was pulled into the mouth by dark, ashen hands. The lad-like the others-was never seen again, and there was no investigation into his disappearance.

The owdies say the lad was cursed:
“That there mere’s a ‘flection er that there pit! That lad shoulda kept ‘is eyes off both! Thee’s got firt see theeself if thee wants firt live!”

Braver than most, Key and I approached the old mere and glared into the murky water. I swear to this day I’ve never seen water as dark. The face that looked back at me, a strange, warped version of my own, haunts me to this day. As for Key, he offered no description of what he saw in there.

Stepping away from the mere, we scanned our immediate surroundings. Beyond a smattering of withered silver birches, a trail marked by a rusty chain-linked fence led to our destination.

Tentatively we approached, mindful of the eroded metal fencing poking up out of the gelatinous earth; sharp and menacing.

Some fifteen paces further and we were upon it.

The pit!

Blackened, charcoal-like trees loomed eerily above it, their poisoned limbs hanging limply, pointing towards the untold depths below.

I still have difficulty describing it. Not in terms of its outward appearance, as, quite simply, it was nothing more than a hole in the ground, some fifteen feet in diameter.

No, it was the inexplicable sensation that gnawed at my nerve-endings and tugged at my faculties. That’s what I have difficulty describing.

To say the urge to flee was overwhelming, would be an understatement. Staring into that black abyss, evoked an emotional response unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was as though Key and I had discovered the eye of Mother Earth herself, and to look directly into it was a sin, a sin punishable by a fate worse than death. And we had been warned: the folk who fell into sinkholes; the curious kids who mysteriously disappeared; the pets that strayed too far from their owners; all victims of whatever it was that roamed those unfathomable passageways at the bottom of that accursed pit.

As the eye glared up at us, my thoughts returned to that peculiar reflection I’d gazed upon in the mere.

And then there was movement below.

I looked to Key and shivered. There was no conceivable way down into the pit, and as such no conceivable way up out of it… Was there?

The movement came in the form of a sound: a shuffling, laboured progression; the sound of frail, ashen hands clutching blindly at the roots of dead trees.

As the unsettling imagery sketched itself in my mind’s eye with an incredible urgency, the all-consuming, rancid foetor grew in its potency, so much so that I could almost taste it, my senses utterly assaulted by it.

The clamour neared the surface, threatening to make eye contact with us in a matter of moments.

Key and I stood, frozen to the spot, lips cracked, throats dry, inhaling the foul odour as it crept towards us. Seekers of the pit, the two of us, sincerely regretting our inquisitiveness and impudence.
As the nameless thing neared the surface, I turned and fled.

Moments later, Key was at my rear.

Heedless we were, of the metal fragments strewn across the trail. Ignorant we were, of the shadowy mere, and the boggy underfoot as we raced out of Dog Wood. Oblivious we were, of the strange absence of fauna throughout the bald ‘ills. Unconcerned we were, as once again we plunged into the old ravine, passing Scoothe’s cottage and the silver birches. Thrilled we were, as we made it to the safety of Park Road, gasping and collapsing to the merciful tarmac of a familiar thoroughfare.

As Key and I walked home, not a single word was exchanged.

V

Key and I attended school together the following day, but neither of us discussed the pit. That was our unspoken agreement, both secretly terrified, afraid that spoken acknowledgment of the thing we both knew was out there would confirm it; invite it back into our lives.

But our pact didn’t last. It should’ve lasted till the end of our days.

We bumped into each other, some five years later, at the bar in the Painter’s Greyhound, on a dreary, autumn evening. The memories spilled out of us, and though several owdies were eavesdropping, none of them had a word to say.

Like the church steeple at the heart of our town, one memory stood out above the rest: a memory the both of us had attributed to the sordid weaving of a nightmare, or folie à deux. There in the quiet pub, we described the strange sounds and the hideous foetor we sensed in that instant before we took flight.

But as I spoke of the moment I turned and fled, Key spoke of something else. Something deplorable.

From out of the pit had emerged the ashen hands and charcoal face of a long dead miner. He claimed the very same face had replaced his reflection in the mere. Its empty eyes studied him, and as it pointed a pallid finger in his direction, it whispered, “We are coming.”

It was with those fateful words Key had turned and fled.

At the bar, his face fell, the colour running out of it completely.

He looked up at me.

“They’re coming for me,” he muttered. “I know it.”

VI

The next day, I received a telephone call. I recognised the caller as Daniel Tately, Key’s younger brother. Daniel was morose, his voice but a whisper at the end of the line.

There had been an incident at the Tately bungalow, one involving a sinkhole.

I shuddered at the implications.

The family had awoken in the early hours of the morning to a series of tremendous crashing sounds. Daniel and his parents-the latter of whom still refuse to discuss the incident-rushed to Key’s bedroom, flung the door open and stood aghast, as their son, brother and my friend was dragged, kicking and screaming, into a gaping hole; malnourished, ashen hands clutching his head and arms.

All this Daniel muttered in hushed tones. He spoke of Key’s paranoia in the weeks leading up to the incident: an apparent preoccupation with the subterranean mines beneath our town; fears relating to the distant, muffled sound of pickaxes; and the latent idea that a nameless thing from the heart of the mines had spent five long years searching for him.

In his mind’s eye he had watched as it traversed the flooded depths, clearing collapsed corridors, looking for the precise location in which to dig hundreds of feet upwards.

And he had listened as the encroaching clamour fuelled his imagination, coupled with what Daniel referred to as an odour, an overpowering foetor that even the family had noticed in the days leading up to the incident.

“It got him,” Daniel said.

And it had.

The pit.

The occupants of the pit.

Life in my town carries on. The few of us who remember such horrors exchange our tales in whispers over quiet ales in the Painter’s Greyhound on chilly, autumnal nights.

Occasionally, I revisit that fateful moment Key and I gazed into that old mere.

I saw myself.

Key saw something else.

As my grandfather once said, “Boy, ‘tis nothing to look, ‘tis everything to see. See yourself and know thee escaped the darkness.”

Now, finally, I know what he meant.

Credit To: Muted Vocal

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44 Ashbrooke Lane

August 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I was seven when I moved into that house at Ashbrooke Lane. At least that’s what my parents tell me. My recollection of that time is vague. I have memories of the big tree on our lawn, running round the garden with the boy next door, and I remember sitting on the living room floor playing with my He-Man figures. But my most vivid memories are of the recurring nightmares.

To the best of my knowledge, they happened every night I stayed in that house. The first time, I woke during in the early hours with a feeling that I was being watched. I lay there in the dark, listening intently, scared to move in case it drew the prowler’s attention. I could hear or see nothing, but that feeling wouldn’t go away. There was somebody or something in the room with me. I screwed up my eyes tightly, hoping it would just pass me by. I felt the bed shake and I stiffened up like a statue, afraid to make even the slightest movement. And then I heard the sound of raspy breathing from the foot of the bed. It moved round the side of me then stopped. Moments passed silently. Then I felt the breath on my face.

Instinctively, I opened my eyes. I saw an emaciated man in a lab coat looming over me, an expression of horror etched into his pale gaunt face, veins bulging from his forehead. I tried to scream, but he grasped me around the throat with his skeleton-like fingers and dragged me out of bed. Jerking and contorting, I tried to grab onto something to stop him from taking me. He pulled me out of my room onto the landing where I gripped the stair rail. He pulled at my arms and then at my feet and I kicked and screamed in a furious fight for my freedom.

The next thing I knew, it was morning and I was waking up in my parents’ bed. They had found me sleepwalking across the landing in the middle of the night. I had a lot of nightmares as a kid, which was put down to my active imagination, but sleepwalking…that was a first.

I saw him again the following night. He yanked me from my bed with no warning and this time he managed to pull me down the stairs. Once again I woke in my parents’ bed. My dad had woken in the night and found me lying at the foot of the stairs.

I worked myself into such a panic over these dreams that my parents allowed me to stay up late with them one night. We watched TV and I strained to stay awake. I don’t remember going to bed that night; I just found myself sitting on the stairs observing the hallway, waiting for him to arrive. A grandfather clock stood in the hallway, ticking away the minutes until part of the wall opened up to reveal a concealed doorway from which he emerged. He was wearing the same lab coat I’d seen him wear before, only this time it was smeared with blood. Whatever he’d been doing inside that room I didn’t want to find out.

I watched with dread as he slowly and methodically slipped a pair of rubber surgical gloves into his hands. He tented his fingers together then turned and looked directly at me with his intense, deep set eyes. A pained grimace stretched across his chalky face. I rushed upstairs calling out for help as he crawled behind me, swiping at my heels. I ran into my parents’ bedroom. They were asleep and unaware of the commotion. Before I could reach their bed and shake them awake my pursuer snatched me up in his bony arms and started pulling me away. I managed to grab onto the door frame and despite his efforts, he could not prise me from it. He relented for a moment, his breath heavy and laboured against my neck. Slowly, he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a scalpel, before slicing deep into my hands. I released my grip on the doorframe as blood dripped between my fingers. I shrieked out, but there was no sound. I could see mom and dad lying there fast asleep, oblivious, as this withered spectre hauled me out of their room and all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.

I tried to claw my way back, leaving streaks of blood on the carpets and walls in my wake. He pressed his fingers against my throat. I whimpered and choked, and my limbs thrashed around in frenzy. At that moment the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime and he suddenly abandoned his fight. I looked up to see the emaciated figure creeping back through the door from where it came. The door sealed shut, disappearing into the wall as though it never existed.

A point came where I starting to confuse my dreams with reality. I couldn’t tell if this was all in my mind or actually happening to me in the middle of the night. During the daylight hours, I examined the wall in the hallway, looking to see if there was some indication of a secret door. I told my parents and my Nan about the dreams and though I never doubted their concern, there was not a lot they could do except reassure me. I stayed with my parents when I got particularly distressed, either in their bed or we’d bring the blankets and pillows downstairs and have a sleep over in the living room.

Nothing helped. My tormentor found me night after night, waiting until mom and dad were asleep before hauling me away. I tried to call out, but my screams were always silent as he gripped his hand round my throat. He grew increasingly violent as he tried in vain to drag me into his secret room. Sometimes he would use his scalpel across my hands or under my fingernails, other times he would inject me with a syringe, and it wasn’t unusual for him to bite my fingers. As I prepared for the dreams, I rehearsed how I would try to fight him off, what I could grab onto as he dragged me downstairs. I knew if I could just hold out until the clock chimed, then I would survive another night because that’s when his door sealed shut.

What terrified me most was the realisation that if he got me into his secret room before the chime of the clock, the door would seal behind us and nobody would ever see or hear from me again.

I don’t remember much else about that house, but we didn’t stay long. We moved in with my Nan for a while and even though there wasn’t much room for all of us, at least those nightmares stopped. And so did the sleepwalking.

Of course, I never forgot about those dreams. How could I? But I figured I was just a kid with an overactive imagination and I never considered them particularly abnormal. That is until my teens when I started to suspect something more sinister was at play. I was looking through old photo albums with my parents when we came across some from our old house at Ashbrooke Lane.

“Something wasn’t right about that house,” I heard my mom say to my dad.

This roused my curiosity. “What do you mean, mom?”

“Well, I used to have bad feelings and nightmares when we were living there,” she added.

My dad tried to change the subject, but I persisted. “What sort of nightmares?” I enquired.

“I don’t want to go into it. Just violent and disturbing dreams.”

“I had recurring nightmares in that house too,” I said.

“You were too young to remember your dreams,” my dad interrupted. “You probably just picked up on something you heard us talking about.”

I felt insulted, like they were dismissing me, but you don’t forget dreams like those. I tried pushing for more information. They weren’t forthcoming.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that we were able to talk about it again. I was in the living room with my parents and my dad was reading the paper. He casually told my mom, “Our old house in Ashbrooke Lane is up for sale again.”

“Nobody stays there long,” she replied. “It makes you wonder.”

My dad nodded in agreement.

“So what exactly happened at that house?” I interjected.

Maybe it was because so much time had passed or perhaps it’s because I was older, but they were more open with me this time. My mom explained how she’d had visions of a violent murder – dead bodies lying on the floor, blood all over the walls, and she claimed she had felt a “presence”. When she was alone, she would often hear crying and it sounded like it was coming from inside the house. She also revealed that my aunt and uncle had come down from Manchester to stay one weekend and woke in the middle of the night to see a figure of a tall man at the bottom of the bed.

My aunt and uncle had passed away by this point, so I was unable to ask them about their experiences, but mom explained that they were so distressed by the incident they returned home the next day.

I asked my dad, “Did you have anything weird happen?”

My dad has always been a very grounded sceptic, but I knew something had affected him too, though he wouldn’t admit it. “There was just an uncomfortable feeling,” he said, and volunteered nothing more.

Ever since learning of my mom, aunt and uncle’s experiences in that house, I’ve been overwhelmed with curiosity. Like my dad, I’m quite the sceptic and I was convinced there’s a rational explanation for all this. Even so, I wanted to know more about that house.

From time to time I would check the newspaper, and just as my parents had said, the house was rarely occupied for more than six months before going up for sale. There wasn’t much more I could find out at this time. I’m sure the information and history is available in some archives somewhere, but I wouldn’t know where to start. However, I was passing by that area one day and got the idea to drive by the house. It was unoccupied, but I saw nothing out of the ordinary, and felt no chills or foreboding. It was just an old house. But still, I wanted to know more. I noted down the phone number on the “For Sale” sign and later that day I called the estate agents and requested a viewing.

The lady who met me for the viewing introduced herself as Andrea. We went inside and immediately I felt a shiver run over my body. It was probably my mind running away with me, but I got this eerie feeling. I can only describe it as being like the tension that lingers in the air after a big argument.

If I’m honest, I barely recognised the interior of the house. My memory was vague, but there was one area that brought to mind those recurring nightmares I had as a child, and that was the hallway.

I tried not to draw attention to myself and continued the tour as Andrea gave me her sales pitch. As we walked round, I was convinced that the wall in the hallway was hiding something.

“What’s behind this wall?” I asked.

The look on her face at that moment could disguise none of the lies she proceeded to tell me. First she told me there was “nothing there”.

It wasn’t my intention to make her uncomfortable, but I’d come this far and I wanted some answers. “There’s at least fifteen foot between here and the external wall,” I pointed out.

I heard her mumbling on about an old boiler room that had been bricked over, but she stopped mid-sentence when I started knocking against the wall. This was not my usual kind of behaviour. It was as though I’d been consumed by an obsession.

“You know something, don’t you?” Andrea asked me, a tone of surrender in her voice.

“I used to live here as a kid. Something isn’t right about this house, is it?”

Although still apprehensive, it was as if I’d freed her from an eternal silence. “It could cost me my job if I told you.”

“It can’t be much worse than I already suspect,” I said. “Was somebody murdered here?”

She hesitated and took a cautious glance over her shoulder, “Do you mind if we talk about this somewhere else? I’m really not comfortable talking about it here.”

We decided to go for a coffee and this is what I learned…

[…]

In 1953, Doctor Henry Fenton moved into Ashbrooke Lane with his wife, Mary and their teenage son, Raymond. The upper floor would serve as their living quarters and he had the lower part of the house converted into a Doctor’s practice. His office was set just off the hallway opposite his prized grandfather clock.

Things were going well for the Fentons and business was thriving. And then, one day Mary fell down the stairs in their home and broke her neck. She died instantly.

Henry reacted to the tragedy by immersing himself in his work, using the practice as a distraction from the heartache. Raymond, on the other hand, was struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death. With his father too busy to offer the emotional support he needed, he started to drift. He fell in with a bad crowd, started skipping school and there were a couple of times he’d been caught drinking or brawling and was escorted home by police.

Henry barely noticed nor cared during this time. Once he closed his practice for the day he would collapse into his armchair and attempt to repress his grief with liquor. Some nights he’d drink himself into a coma, other nights he would fly into a rage, smashing furniture and throwing things around the room, and sometimes it was his son who bore the brunt of his temper. Raymond was taken in by his grandparents soon after, leaving Henry Fenton all alone in that house on Ashbrooke Lane.

Later that year, on a cold autumn night, Henry was woken by a disturbance from downstairs. Emboldened by the liquor, he decided to go and confront the intruder. His practice was the only thing he had going for him and he refused to let some thug take that away.

Henry tiptoed downstairs in the darkness. He saw the light of a torch in the far room and heard the intruder rummaging through cupboards and shelves. Probably some junkie after the drugs and syringes he kept on the premises. Henry snuck into his office, withdrew a scalpel from a drawer and tucked into a corner and waited.

The intruder entered the room, a rucksack over his shoulder and his face covered by a black mask. Henry sprung out of the darkness brandishing the scalpel and ordered him to drop his bag.

The masked man panicked and lunged towards him, attempting to push past and make his escape. Henry swiped out blindly as he fell backwards against the wall. The intruder staggered along the hallway and opened the front door before collapsing on the doorstep.

Henry got to his feet and approached the fallen man. Blood gushed from a deep incision across his throat from where the scalpel had made contact. Henry pulled the mask from the man’s head to clear his airways.

Staring back at him in the moonlight, eyes wide with terror, Henry saw the face of his son, Raymond. His heart wrenched at the sight before him. What had he done? How could he have known?

His professional instincts kicked in and he sprung to action. Raymond thrashed about, choking and gurgling on his own blood as his father gripped his throat, pressing his bony fingers firmly against the wound in an attempt to contain the bleeding. He proceeded to drag him towards his office where he could clamp and stitch the laceration. By the time he got him there, however, it was too late.

At that moment, the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a single chime.

Patients turned up to the practice the following day to find Raymond cradled in Dr Fenton’s arms. Unable to come to terms with killing his own son, Henry had turned the scalpel upon himself, slashing his own wrists before bleeding to death on the floor of his office.

Credit: Dan Hammonds

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The Barrow Woman

August 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Call it sleep paralysis. I don’t care. At this point, I’m used to people throwing explanations and diagnoses at me. Everybody wants to be the one to make sense of what I’m saying. I can tell you now-it does not make sense. It does not make sense and I could not care less about your analysis of my psyche.
The first night was like any other night. I brushed my teeth, changed into my pyjamas and sank into bed. Like everybody else. Although I live in a town, there is seldom any sound from outside between six o clock in the evening and eight o clock in the morning. The most you’re likely to get is the wind singing through the trees or the low hum of engines from far off cars. As you can imagine, this made the transition from conscious thought to dream rather seamless.
Honestly, I don’t remember whatever I had dreamt about that night-which is unusual for me. My dreams are usually so vivid. Vibrant colours or dark greys and blacks. Always memorable. Not that night though. I awoke in a sweat from the heat of my room. Assuming I had left the radiator on, I willed myself out of bed. Nothing. Panic gripped me, causing my muscles to tense. I tried to move again but to absolutely no avail. The sweat was soaking through my blue pyjama shirt by now and my eyes darted around the room in desperation. I tried to call out in the hope that my mother would hear me but I was mute. It was at this moment that my eyes focused directly above me. My guts churned as if to force a wail and my muscles went into spasm as my natural reaction was to thrash. Descending slowly, almost mirroring my pose, was a figure. The only detail I absorbed before passing out from shock was how pale its visage was; almost glowing as it reflected the moonlight from my window.
I kept the night’s events to myself. It had been a dream. A vile dream which had left me with a day of grogginess and headaches. I put it to the back of my mind and went about my day as usual. Just as with the night before and every night prior to that; I went about my routine. Teeth, pyjamas, bed. As usual, I drifted away with incident. Then the sweat.
I woke up drenched. Head to toe. The sheets stuck to my legs and my hair clinging to my scalp. The heat of the room made it impossible to take a full breath. I was not concerned with breathing. I knew what was coming which meant my focus had to be on getting out of that bed. I drew everybody ounce of energy I had and attempted to hurl my body from the mattress. No success. I was a cadaver waiting to be incised and drained. Eyes on the ceiling, I braced myself against whatever this roommate had in store for me.
On time, the glaring mask came into view and began its descent. As the gap between us narrowed, the femininity of my visitor became apparent. Her eyes were so sympathetic. Her hair acted as a skull cap. My stomach threatened to expel my dinner. It took about five minutes for her to reach her destination. About half a foot from my face, she halted. I could feel my eyes bulging. Her face unchanging, she removed a hand from her garment and set about reaching for my face. I must have lost consciousness because suddenly I was awakened by her freezing cold touch. In contrast to the heat of the room and my skin, it felt as though she jammed a blade into my cheek. She ran her fingers from my temple to my chin like a mother comforting a frightened child. My breath caught in my chest and I lost control of my bladder. There were no thoughts. My jaw was clenched and my eyes were fixed on hers. My body was ceasing all basic function out of sheer horror. As my oxygen starved brain was about to put me to sleep, she withdrew her digits and hid them away in the folds of her clothing. My lungs frantically pumped air in an attempt to restore normal function.
I thought she would leave. She remained stationary for a moment before drawing her hand again. I was high from the lack of oxygen so her actions were all somewhat blurry but I will forever remember with clarity what happened next.
She had a silver comb. Tarnished and battered, presumably from a lifetime of use. It was so intrusive. So much more terrifying than a blade or a hook. She ran the comb through my hair and I could feel the bile rising. The violation. I mind was in frenzy. Even if I had regained control of my limbs at this moment, I don’t think I could have moved. Her image became blurry and I slipped away.
I slept through most of the next day. I was woken by the heaving of my stomach as I vomited over myself. I did not immediately remember my uninvited guest as I grasped at consciousness. The dread I felt when she flooded my mind caused me to slump. What was happening? The room was at a normal temperature and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I almost convinced myself that it was a dream. No. It wasn’t. Have more faith in your own mind. You were there and you felt her touch and you saw her face. Her face. Every time I blinked. No blemishes or wrinkles. Nothing of note but those eyes. So sad. Caressing my cheek, combing my hair. Why me?
Sleep did not come easily to me that night. I had avoided my family for the day. I wouldn’t have known what to say. Where is the balance between “Hello” and “Check my wardrobe for monsters”? I tried to stay awake. I drank. I attempted to read. I walked. I walked for hours. Around the town, down to the sea. The sea was tempting me. I felt as though sirens were calling me to walk away from all I had seen and join them in the tide. I went home.
I stayed awake by lamplight for as long as my eyes would allow before falling into a deep sleep in the armchair. My exhaustion promised to force me to sleep through anything that was to occur before daybreak. I dreamt that night. I saw my family at breakfast. It was probably the most uneventful dream of my life. No extreme colours of darkness. We were all together, eating pastries and drinking juice. A pleasant dream that I was sure to relive the next morning.
When I was woken, I felt relief. It was bright. I had made it through the night. I remained in the chair dosing for a while, regretting my decision to sleep downstairs. I eventually decided to relocate to my bedroom where I would be met by clean linens and a more comfortable rest before breakfast. Before I could move, I realised how hot the room was. I was frozen. I shot my eyes around the room, only to discover that I had mistaken the light from the lamp for dawn. I didn’t have to wait for her this time. She was there. Crouched my legs. Her whole being in heaves of sorrow. Silent convulsions of absolute dismay. This was the most awake my mind had been. The most present she had been. I did not attempt to throw myself from the chair. I watched her as she rose and leaned over me. As she had the night before, she kept her face half a foot from mine. She continued to silently sob and stare into my eyes. Why was she so distressed? What did she need me to do to make this all go away?
I filled with sorrow as her display of grief became more and more intense. Her lips began to part and so did mine. Where cries should have come from her, they came from me. In my voice. She began to keen and wail through me. I was repulsed. I had no control. The moaning grew loader. I was almost screaming. The sound of concerned footsteps could barely be heard over my cries. Suddenly it stopped. My muscles relaxed, my vocal cords loosened and she was gone. The silence was bliss one moment. Half a moment. The running footsteps from upstairs ended with a yelp and a series of thuds. I ran to the hallway to find my mother at the foot of the stairs; broken and silent. I was frozen.

Credit: J. B. Prunty

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The Other Side Of The Door

July 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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When I was little I always had an overactive imagination, had frequent nightmares, and always thought I saw things going on during the night.

I told my mum that every night, as I was trying to get to sleep, my bedroom door would shake. Not very obviously, but just slightly. I always slept with my door slightly ajar, and outside of my door I had my own staircase because my bedroom was in the attic. I would lay in my bed and just watch the door kind of vibrate and shake really quickly. I’d go and tell her and she would come up to my room and have a look for herself, only every time she did, the door would have stopped shaking. It irritated the hell out of me, and I was determined to prove to her that I wasn’t lying.

Each night, as soon as it started to shake, I would sprint down the stairs and tell my mum to come quick. It didn’t matter how quickly I did it, the door would always stop by the time she had got there, as if it was trying to anger me.

In the end I gave up. If the door wanted to shake then it could go ahead. I tried my best to block it out, but I couldn’t. It got to the point where I would dread going to bed because of the stupid door. I would examine it during the day to see if there was something causing the shaking, but I could see nothing that stood out. It was a complete mystery.

One night, after many weeks of hellishly annoying shaking, the door began to shake more vigorously. I was laid in bed with my covers pulled up almost over my eyes, scared stiff. Through the slight gap in the door where the hinges were, I could see something moving on the other side. I told myself it was my dog, but I knew that was ridiculous. My dog was white, whereas this thing seemed to resemble smoke. I would have run downstairs for my mum, but that would mean I would have to pass whatever was on the other side of the door.

The next day I told her about it and she just put it down to my imagination or me being tired. I was tired, that was true. I was tired because of the stupid door.

The next night I watched the door again, and sure enough I could see the smoke through the gap. I decided to take action into my own hands, and I bought a scarecrow to put at the other side of my door. The scarecrow would scare away whatever was messing around outside of my bedroom. Scare was in the name. It was fool proof.

I felt more relaxed knowing the scarecrow was outside, and for once I thought I was going to get a goodnight’s sleep. No such luck. I was just dozing off when I heard a weird shuffling noise and then a gentle thud. I jerked wide awake, feeling my heart drop when I saw that the door was shaking again. I could no longer see the reassuring shape of the scarecrow on the other side of the door, and I realised that it must have been moved. The thud had been the scarecrow hitting the floor outside of my room, and now the smoke was back. I was in complete despair. If the scarecrow didn’t work then nothing would.

I tried explaining this to my mum, and she actually seemed to believe me for the first time. She must have seen how concerned I was. Also, I was almost falling asleep at school due to lack of sleep. The whole thing had spiralled out of control.

We didn’t own a camera back then, but I did have a karaoke machine. Mum came up with the idea that we should put the machine outside of my room and set it to record, so even if we couldn’t see whatever it was that was outside of my room, at least we would possibly be able to hear it. It was better than nothing. This plan had to be fool proof.

Of course not. The next day when we checked the recording we found that it was completely blank. We had definitely set it to record, so whatever it was behind the door had obviously turned off the machine. I felt like I was going mad. At first the thing had just been annoying, an inconvenience. Now, I was beginning to feel threatened. How long would it be until the thing opened the door and entered my room? If it was capable of knocking over the scarecrow, turning off the machine, and shaking the door, then surely it was capable of opening it. And when it did open the door, what would it do to me? What did it want?

Every day from then on, all I could think about was the fact that I didn’t want to go to bed. I was sleep deprived and felt like the energy was being sucked out of me more and more each day. Or each night.

My mum expressed her concern to my nanna who, being religious, gave me a rosary to hold as I slept. My mum usually rejected religion point blank, but in this case, she agreed and said that it was worth a try. That scared me more than ever. My own family thought I was in danger.

Mum had said numerous times that I could sleep in her room with her in order to try and get a goodnight’s sleep, but I refused; I was almost twelve years old, and sleeping in her room would mean that I had let this thing win. As scared as I was, I wasn’t going to let whatever it was take over my life any more than it already had.
The rosary didn’t work. Nothing worked. My mum, the biggest sceptic in the world, even began burning sage around the house to try and cleanse it. My nanna encouraged me to pray every night, and I did, despite never having quite believed in God. I prayed that whatever was on the other side of the door would go away. Or that if it wouldn’t go away, that it would at least stay out of my room and not hurt me.

Things got worse and worse. My school had called my mum several times expressing their concern. I had lost weight, I had dark circles under my eyes, and I barely ever participated in class. They wondered if I was having problems at home. They had called me into the office to ask if everything was ok, and each time I would say that it was. I could hardly tell my teachers that my bedroom door was shaking and the smoke behind it was driving me mad.
One day, I completely broke down. I told my mum that we had to move out. I couldn’t keep living like this. She actually looked like she was considering it. I wasn’t the happy, bubbly girl that I had been just a few short months ago anymore. I was miserable, nervous and was struggling just to eat a meal without wanting to throw it all back up.

Then, one night, it all stopped. Just like that. The door didn’t shake. The smoke wasn’t there. That almost scared me more, because that meant it was somewhere else. In my room? I didn’t sleep for that whole night, and when I told my mum and nanna about it the next day my nanna suggested that we get a priest in to look at the house and possibly bless it. My mum suggested that we wait a few nights, and I agreed.

The next night, nothing. The night after that, nothing. Three weeks later, nothing. The thing on the other side of the door had disappeared without a trace. I slowly but surely began to sleep again. I began to enjoy school again, and finally I was eating normally. I became the girl that I used to be again.

My nanna swears it was the rosary and my prayers that drove the thing away, but I disagree. I think that it left because it had taken what it had needed from me. It had pushed me to breaking point and couldn’t possibly take anything else from me. So it simply moved on. I have no idea where it went, or why it came to me in the first place. This all happened around ten years ago, and I no longer live at home. I haven’t seen anything of a sort since I broke down and the thing left. I still keep my nanna’s rosary hung in my room, and my scarecrow still sits outside of my door. My mum regularly burns sage, and my nanna still prays. Even though none of those things had worked, they keep us reassured.

We don’t know why that thing chose me, or if it will ever come back. All we can do is hope with all of our might that it doesn’t.

Credit: J

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