The Forgotten

December 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM

When hiking alone in my twenty-fifth year in the southwestern barrens of the Newfoundland interior highlands, I found myself lost for three days in which events took place that disturbed me in ways I thought not possible. In those seventy-two hours I wandered aimlessly but not without purpose into what I can only describe as some sort of grand hallucination or a waking fever dream, and the thought of those days in that lost wilderness brings me to tears now as I type these long-repressed words which have plagued me for a lifetime. Forgive my ramblings and my endlessly meandering mind and my thoughts which run too long and too wildly and remember, please, that those same unending images plague me in a way that you could never begin to imagine. Forgive me, reader, as I try to describe the agony that I endured in those days and throughout the sleepless nights since those steps I took into a world best left undisturbed.

A long weekend on holiday from the teaching college seemed to me the perfect opportunity to rediscover places I had visited in my youth with an uncle – my mother’s brother – who had trapped foxes and beavers and mink and the elusive arctic hares which used to run like lightning through those lands. He had taken me on camping trips into the barrens where we walked and talked and fished for trout in cold little pools and sat around small fires brewing tea in apple juice cans. He would tell me stories of his people, the Mi’kmaq, and of how they would hunt the herds of woodland caribou that ran thick as sheep through the unending country in the days before the white man and the moose and the coyote came. He would tell me of the Beothuk, who are now all dead and gone to the last, and whose paths his elders had once shown to him. The same paths they used to tread on their annual migrations from the country to the shores of the sea and beyond. And he told me, if my memory is worth trusting after all these years, of the people that had lived there even before those native folk, whose language and paths and territories and legends and gods were witnessed only by the dead ancestors of our dead ancestors, and of whom there was no living memory other than the rumor that they had once lived in that land. He shared with me the subtle and minimalistic clues of their heritage that he had gathered from his elders, but much of it was unknown to him even in those days because he had been forced into learning by missionaries under the name of the Catholic church at a young age and they had schooled him in English and forbade the uttering of his mother tongue.

From what I was able to gather from him before he passed away in his forties is not enough to fully describe the culture of those people. None of their language or customs were known to him, and of their origins he would simply state that they were of that place – not that they had originated there, but that they had always been there. He did not know what had happened to them, and nor did anyone that he had ever spoken to. It seems to me now that the truest explanation of those people is that they once were there, but now they are not, and any pondering as to why this is the case is so far removed from the time of those folk that it becomes an irrelevant question. Of their territory he was very specific, and from this I gather that they were not a people of great number – possibly existing in one large community or tribe due to a reliance on a localized resource which was in great supply in the region, or perhaps it was the locale of their last stand against some greater outside threat that was beyond their understanding or comprehension and against which they resisted desperately until the speakers of legends forgot that they had ever occupied a place that was not this one. According to my uncle, it was within the barrens that they lived, and it is this area which remains in its state of undeveloped wilderness as I write this sentence.

It was because of this mystery that I was drawn to that region as a child, and I would daydream endlessly about hiking across the expanse in search of some evidence of those people – perhaps the remains of a settlement or burial site. I wanted desperately to know what had happened to them, who they were, and what their relationship with the land was. However, my uncle would always follow the same few paths on our hikes into that country, and if I were ever to implore about some far off location beyond the regular areas explored he would sternly redirect my attention to the current path and express a sometimes extreme anger towards my tendency to stray. Despite his urging and constant arguments about the dangers of being lost in the barrens, my eyes and my thoughts always wandered toward the horizon and the turns not taken.

Finally, this inherent curiosity led me to set foot again into that vast and lonesome place, taking with me a small pack of provisions and a tent to set up in case of rain. It was my plan to set course from the stretch of highway near the Middle Ridge Wilderness Reserve near Bay d’Espoir and trek due west – I would end my hike on the highway near the Annieopsquotch Mountains and hitch a ride to the nearest bus terminal. I set out on the eleventh of October at dawn with the sun at my back and the retreating night ahead of me and grinning to myself as each step brought me farther and farther down the inevitable route that would lead to the rest of my life.

That first day was difficult, as it took time for my body to adjust to the task at hand. Two years of studying at a desk were not the best preparation for my chosen route – which would take at least four days to traverse – but I forced myself onward, draining my water canteen every few hours. At last, I had reached the point of no return, where the last visible signs of human civilization would dip below the horizon. I stopped there and filled my canteen at a small stream, and looked around at the vast and deeply blue sky and felt for the first time in years a sense of just how small I was within this wide and ancient land. I turned for a last look toward the highway in the east, then continued to walk. In the middle of the afternoon I crossed through the remains of a forest that had burned long ago, where bleach-white bones of limbless tree husks stood in stark contrast against the rusty berry bushes that covered the high ground in that time of year. Later, I stumbled on the remains of a campsite – the occupants of which had left dozens of shattered beer bottles strewn across the ground in a wide arc around their fire, as though they had been betting who could throw the farthest. That night I slept beneath the stars in a dry hollow between dwarf fir trees and watched the stars flickering overhead in the inky blackness. I had never felt so alive.

The second day I woke with a start as the little stunted trees around me shook with a thundering of footsteps and I stood up to find my camp surrounded by a small herd of migrating caribou. There were about fifty, and they moved steadily eastward, chewing at the ground and puffing steam from their long muzzles and they had soon passed me by heading into the sunrise. That day I walked slowly, because of the muscles cramping in my legs, but in a few hours I had found my pace again and moved steadily westward into that place, opposite to the journey of the caribou. The land began to change as I carried on, with the springy semi-tundra hardening into a dry and unforgiving soil that resisted any pressure, and if I closed my eyes I could almost convince myself I was walking on asphalt. By noon I came to the edge of a wide valley, carved by glaciers and millennia of erosion into a sloping bowl that stretched nearly to the horizon on the other side. There was a river flowing through it, and I decided that I would rest there. It took until late afternoon for me to come to the river and when I did I was more tired than I could ever remember being. My feet were blistered, my shoulders aching from my pack, and the smell of sweat in my clothes was so strong that I stripped naked and wrung them out in the cold, clear water.

I began to think, then, that my trip was not as well planned as I had thought. I had only just enough food for three days – although I was sure I had packed more – and I hadn’t brought a change of clothes because I thought it would save space. My mood turned sour and I stared angrily at the valley wall before me and made the hasty choice to climb it before setting camp. It would be dark by seven, but I didn’t care – I was so fed up with myself that I just wanted to get the hike over with as fast as possible. I didn’t dare turn back, because if my friends at the college got word that I’d forfeited my great adventure they would never let me hear it out, and despite my bad temper and my sudden impatience, I still longed to see the expanse in it’s entirety. I marched up the hillside, faster than was wise, through the thinning trees and over rocks and under arm-like, scooping branches and around another, larger herd of caribou that flowed toward the river in a flood of fur and antlers. The hours flew by and still I climbed on in my stupidity and it was well after sunset when I stumbled blindly onto the crest of a small hill at the valleys edge and set camp for the night. I ate ravenously and laughed at my own stubbornness and lay in my sleeping roll watching the flames before quickly falling into and deep and exhausted sleep.

I woke in the night to my little fire dying into feeble smoldering coals and struggled out of my sleeping roll, fighting to keep from shuddering in the unbelievably cold air. The temperature had dropped unexpectedly and frost was gathering in the tips of the surrounding vegetation, glowing in the soft blue light cast down by the moon which was waning but as of yet bright enough to illuminate my campsite. My hands were numb, and after struggling to get the fire going again I gave up and fumbled in my pack for the tent. In the minutes it took to set it up, I found myself jumping at small sounds and turning quickly to look over my shoulder. The silence of that hill in the night was staggering, and each movement I made to adjust the tent straps or stamp down a peg or throw my belongings inside it brought an unbearable sensation down upon me, as though I would give myself away – but to whom? At last, I had erected the tiny shelter and pulled myself inside it, head first, and wrapped myself in my sleeping roll to settle once again into a peaceful sleep. It was at this point I realized I had forgotten to tie the tent flap shut. Being as tired as I was, I decided that a small draft would be tolerable, and I tucked myself in doubly against the cold with only my head protruding. I lay there for a while, listening to the sounds of the barrens outside, of the persistent fall breeze rustling against the canvas, of the last few coals sputtering out in the cold, of the movement of caribou in the valley below grunting in the dark.

And the night drew on and I lay there, breathing quietly and watching my breath turn into a moist fog that hung in the tent like the smoke of a doused candle. I listened with increasing intensity to the minute sounds of the world outside, which seemed to be growing more and more sparse as the moments passed. The winds became gentler and less chaotic and after a time they ceased completely and the air hung heavily over the world. In that stillness and absolute silence came the suspicion that there was something moving nearby, outside my little canvas tent. I did not see a shadow cast by the moon against the thin and tightly bound fabric, nor did I hear a noise that would give away the approach of an entity into my small camp. I felt – in that void of sound and light which surrounded me entirely – a change in the air of which I cannot accurately explain.

The very night itself seemed to be drawing in on me, pressing itself into my skin and brushing obscenely against the space near the back of my neck and shoulders, as if to suggest the presence of some invisible form that had wandered unwelcomed into that place and passed through it without noticing my huddled form laying crumpled in fear across its path. I held myself still, reducing my breaths to shallow murmurs, and fought against the hollow pain raising in my stomach, and when the sound of my own low gasps for air became unbearably distracting, I took in a lungful and held it, waiting against hope as cold, stinging sweat oozed into my eyes. I used the last of my faltering willpower to resist the urge to blink, and focused the entirety of my attention on the narrow window left by the unfastened flap of canvas hanging above my feet. I waited.

In all of that vast and empty nothingness out there, I could plainly see some pale thing run past the open end of my tent.

I gasped for air, unable to stop my body from emitting a small shriek of fear, and I lurched forward, plunging my head out through the tent flap and into the night. I stared all around, scanning the hillside for as far as I could see, but there was nothing there. Slowly, quietly, I backed into the tent and tied the flap tightly shut, and buried myself in my sleeping roll, curling into a shaking ball with my knees at my chest and covered myself entirely. I was still laying in that position, still shivering, still drenched in a sticky, waxy sweat when I lifted my face from under the blanket to realize the sun was starting to rise. I exited the tent, slowly at first and then springing wildly around, darting left and right, hoping to confuse any intruder that may be watching and waiting for a chance for surprise attack, but there was only me alone on that hill. I stuffed my tent hastily into my bag and gathered my few possessions and noticed with a sideways glance that my fire coals were still smoking hot as I turned to leave camp, despite the fire having gone out hours ago.

With the morning sun warming my back I started to regain some of my nerve, and within an hour I was convincing myself that what I had seen could be nothing more than a lone animal passing by. Perhaps it was a straggler caribou from the herd in the valley, and perhaps my heightened senses during that moment were a symptom of my being alone for nearly three days. I told myself – out loud, as though to an audience – that there was nothing to be afraid of. Now, I figured, I ought to be at about the halfway point of my hike, but as I examined my small and tattered map, I realized that I must have walked slightly off course, either to the north or south. None of the landmarks that I had expected to see from the map were visible, and the wide valley that I had crossed the previous day didn’t seem to show up at all on paper. I was lost, but what kept me from panicking was that I knew if I kept walking westward I would eventually reach the highway, as long as I kept my head straight and didn’t start going in circles. It would have been possible for me to turn back the way I had come, but something kept me going onward, deeper into those barrens and away from the valley I had crossed.

Here, the landscape had undergone another transition, and where before there were long stretches of rolling hills, now the rises lay low against the earth, and I felt as though I could see an impossible distance in each direction. The graceful topography of the valley had given way to an endless stony plain scattered with enormous erratic boulders that rose as high as houses and rested uneasily on points that suggested they might topple given the slightest amount of pressure. Upon their surfaces were carved crude forms like the dashes of some lost runic language or perhaps the shapes of animals worn away beyond recognition. Upon closer inspection, I decided they must be the weathered markings of windblown sand, nothing more. It made the most sense. The vegetation was reduced to scattered wiry bushes the reddish brown of clotted blood and the lichen grew thick upon the ground. I walked on and shuddered at the bizarre echoing of my own footsteps off those stone giants and did not stop to rest until the moon overtook the sun in the evening sky.

I wasted no time with fires that night. Immediately I set my tent on a growth of green lichen and climbed inside, fastening myself and my few belongings securely within the confines of those canvas walls and wrapped myself tightly in my blanket. Reaching into my pack, I found my rations gone, lost through a rip in the fabric. Only my water canteen and a few curious stones remained. I shut my eyes and prayed for sleep, as I had only gotten a few hours since my first camp. I wanted desperately to feel the embrace of unconsciousness and for the aching in my muscles and stomach to subside. Even a nightmare would be better than this. But sleep did not come, and in the minutes that followed I fell again into that deep sense of dread that I had experienced the night before on the hilltop. A deathly quiet had formed around me, and the sounds of my own body seemed immeasurably loud. I struggled to keep my entire body hidden inside the sleeping roll – it was slightly too small, and my feet or the top of my head or my back kept protruding into the cold air of the tent and in those moments I shuddered and frantically worked to conceal myself again. I knew that nothing could see me inside the tent, but it didn’t matter. I started to wonder if I had left the flap open again, and – too frightened to check and see – I remained in my blanket cocoon, awaiting morning or some terrible end to the silence.

From outside the tent there came a faint rustling noise. I held my breath again, focusing entirely on remaining still and listening, but there was no need. The sound grew louder. It became clear to me that there was somebody or something nearby, and that they were not alone. The rustling grew louder still, and there was a shifting and a scraping of something soft against the stony floor of the night and then a grinding noise, like the crunching of dry gravel beneath a wheel. I grabbed my forearm and pinched hard, hoping to wake myself from the dream, digging in my fingernails and drawing blood, and I did not wake – I was not asleep. Slowly, with a movement I was sure wouldn’t make a sound, I pulled the blanket down from over my face and forced open my eyes.

Outside there was the unmistakable flickering light of a fire, and it flashed and cast silhouettes of grotesque forms which licked and rippled across the canvas and I could not bring myself to look away. They were like naked shapes of men or women, with their unclothed bodies bared against the night and prancing fluidly by the movement of the flame and their own otherworldly dance. And their long, distorted forms wound themselves around me in my tiny cold bed and sucked the breath from my body as they lifted their arms to the night and sang in a tongue that seemed not to come from their mouths but from the very earth itself, and sounded to me nothing like speech at all. And they were not like men or women. From their bodies there came impossible shapes like antlers or tails or branches of trees or the billowing of clouds or the glistening forms of some rotting thing that had once been alive. They swayed with the fire and chanted and transformed and they heard the screams of terror bursting from my own shapeless mouth and approached the tent and then I knew that there was no hope and my eyes filled with sweat and tears and blinded me so I did not see their faces when they came and dragged me away into the horror that waited out there in that cruel and loathsome night.

I woke in the morning with frost in my hair. My tent and my pack were gone, and around me in a perfect circle lay the remains of burnt wood and coals and bones blackened from roasting. I rose and stared around me, my eyes darting from one boulder to the next, expecting to see one of my attackers out there watching me, but there was nothing. I walked in a circle, jumping and clapping hard in an attempt to bring life back to my numb feet and hands – my boots had been taken as well – and all the while staring around in the dim early light. On the ground there was a chunk of burned meat, and with a full day and night’s worth of hunger gnawing at me I picked it up and sunk my teeth into it, hardly chewing before swallowing and tearing off another bite. On the outside the meat was black and hard, but inside the crust it was still red-raw and warm blood dripped down my chin and soaked my clothes and it seemed to tense up when I sunk in my teeth as though the muscle were still alive. I couldn’t stop. I gorged on the strange flesh and when it was gone I licked off my hands and sat on the ground staring up at the orange and violet sky and broke into sobs of joy or relief or despair – I cannot say what it was, for sure.

And I started to walk again, with my back to the sun. After a time there came the sounds of claws or hooves on the ground but I did not turn back to look. I kept walking westward, even when the great stones on either side began to creak and groan as though they would fall and crush my body into nothingness. I did not stop when the chant began again in my wake, and the sky became choked with clouds and the air grew hot and moist like the cavity of a freshly-dead corpse. The smell of meat was in my throat, and I gagged and fell to my knees, but my retching brought up only ash and bile so I got to my feet again. The sounds of the dancing, chanting things followed me in my hysteria throughout that day and the night that followed, out of the hard plain and over fields of yellow grass and through the stinking bog where my bleeding soles turned the water red.

I dared not turn to face them until the next day after I had passed between two toppled mounds of stone that perhaps once had been placed by hand, and it was in that moment when I finally looked behind me and saw that there was nothing there. Sometimes I think that was worse than everything that had happened before.

By noon I had given up and toppled face down onto the ground and lay there waiting to die. I wanted to die. I did not shudder when I heard footsteps approaching or when the shouting started or when the hands closed tightly around my shoulders, turning me onto my back so all I could see was the blinding white light of the sun in my eyes. It was a hunter, staring down at me, shaking me with a look on his face that told me he had thought I was dead. He half-dragged, half-carried me to the roadside, just over a kilometre away, and helped me into the back of his truck where I lost myself in a fit of tears and screaming and insisted that it couldn’t be real. He drove me to the hospital, urging that I have the food and water he pushed in my face, and I thanked him even though I was too tired to eat.

I never told the doctors what I’d seen, because I know they would have surely had me locked away, and perhaps they would have been right to. Perhaps the medication they would have prescribed me might have helped with the nightmares and the hallucinations I’ve had since then, but I’ve always been too afraid to let them examine me. Maybe they’d make the horrors go away, and make me see the nonsense of my fears. Maybe they’d prove my memories to be false. Imaginings. But if they didn’t?

I tell myself that those visions I experienced were figments of my fevered mind brought up by some long-past trauma in my own youth, and that whatever had occurred in those barrens years ago is lost in time. The dead are gone, and the past is past. But is that the truth? In those spaces, uninhabited for countless years, is there not something lingering of the place it once had been, or of the ones who lived there? Could there, perhaps, in some long-forgotten corner of those endless barrens, remain the memory of what had existed there before our time? Like the decay of a shout or cry or laughter that rings on and on but grows increasingly distant and distorted, could it be that a shadow remains hidden away of the life that had been? Those voices that had spoken in tongues unknown may still be ringing, echoing faintly the response of the land to the human voice, or some other voice that had made a sound. Some wisp of thought may still linger in the roots of grasses or the hollows of ancient trees or the dusty, hard spaces between the ground and flattened stones which wait with inconceivable patience to be kicked aside by the toes of some restless intruder who knows not where he walks. And if he stops abruptly and listens – with a sudden vivid sense of his loneliness and the pulsing in his chest and the breath of hot wind against the back of his ragged scalp, and twists around in his sweaty clothes and holds his breath in his throat in a moment of painful and terrible anticipation – does he hear it?

I’d rather believe I’m insane.

Credit: Keith Daniels

Loon Harbour

December 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM

I got called out to Seal Cove on the coast about a year ago for duty. Small town on the coast, you know how it is. Maybe 700 people, tops. That’s including the ones who aren’t on paper. They told me I’d have a quiet eight months. Not much happens around there usually, besides the odd poacher or pissed-up drunk who needs a night in the tank to sober up. Never any real crime. Never any murders or nothing.

It’s a bit of an odd spot, but nice enough. Folks are pretty friendly. Made me feel at home. Lots of old folks – old fishermen and trappers and such – and they tend to keep to themselves more often. Not a lot of young people around. I guess most of ’em head off to college and then they don’t come back much.

Things were going pretty good until about two weeks in. I walked into the station that morning – Wednesday, I think – and I hear Sheriff Thompson and Deputy Colby talking in the lunch room, real hushed, like something’s wrong. I figured I should pop my head in and say good morning. And grab some coffee, too. So I stroll on in and nod and give ’em a “good morning” and I’m about to grab a cuppa joe to head back out to the office when Sheriff tells me to sit down.

You can always tell in somebody’s voice when there’s something truly wrong. They always stumble, like they forgot how to explain things, or that the words they use don’t make sense at all any more. I could hear it in Sheriff’s voice that morning – he didn’t sound right.

Turns out, Sheriff Thompson’s father-in-law passed away the summer before at the age of 75, and he and his wife were real pioneer-type folks. Mr and Mrs Dossit lived up the coast a ways in a little inlet called Loon Harbour. They had the place all to themselves – not a single other cabin around. They were totally off the grid: no power, telephone, roads – you get the picture. Only connection they had to the outside world was their wooden outboard motorboat and little CV radio. Mr Dossit was an old school trapper, and his missus worked with him, side by side, curing and tanning hides and prepping them up to ship off to the city where they’d get sold at auction. The Dossits made their living from the land, and got their supplies from Seal Cove, without ever having to step foot in the city. That was the way they liked it – a quiet, simple life. Not a lot of people do that kind of thing anymore. I have to say, I admired it.

Since old Mr Dossit died, Sheriff said that his mother-in-law hadn’t ever been quite the same. Old Mr Dossit had been having trouble with his knees the last few years and so him and Mrs Dossit would stay with the Sheriff’s family during the winter, before heading back to Loon Harbour in the spring. The Thompsons didn’t mind – they all thought that Mr and Mrs Dossit were getting too old for their rough-and-tumble lifestyle anyways.

In the months following Mr Dossit’s death, Mrs Dossit started talking about spending the winter in Loon Harbour again – something that deeply concerned the Sheriff’s family. They tried to persuade her otherwise; that alone in the wilderness was no place for a woman at her age. In the end, though, Mrs Dossit got her way. Her undying reasoning being “It’s what he would have wanted.”

Sheriff got real quiet then, and said that up until Monday, his wife and Mrs Dossit had been in touch every day, and Mrs Thompson made sure to get every detail about how she was doing on her own. The last two mornings, though, Mrs Dossit hadn’t been answering her radio. It wasn’t like her, Sheriff said, to just leave people hanging like that. Something was definitely wrong, either with Mrs Dossit or her radio, and we were going to have to send a team to make sure things were alright.

We’d take Colby’s personal speedboat and head up to the Harbour and check in on Mrs Dossit, taking a specially prepared medical kit from Donna, the town’s resident doctor. The thaw was just starting so we’d have to take our time and watch out for ice, but it should be easy to do in a few hours so long as we all keep our eyes open. Sheriff told us the plan was to leave as soon as possible and be back before dark. I thought we’d easily be back by noon, but I hadn’t realized at the time what we might find at the cabin in Loon Harbour. None of us could have.

By nine we were kicking off from the pier and making our way out of Seal Cove, northeast along the shoreline. Wind was like ice in our faces, but Colby’s boat had a windbreak on it which made the trip bearable. The whole way, Sheriff had an uneasy look about him, which was understandable, given the thoughts that were probably going through his mind. It was his wife’s mother, after all. If something bad had happened to her… hell, I wouldn’t want to have to take that news home to Mrs Thompson.

The trip took about forty minutes, and by the time we turned around the point into Loon Harbour, we were feeling pretty anxious to get in out of the wind and onto land. The harbour was something else – bordered on either side by hills littered with remnants of the winter’s heavy snow, and with a low valley that reached for miles inland, curving left and right and filled with old, evergreen trees. It was truly a hermit’s paradise.

The Dossit cabin stood a short walk from the water’s edge, in a small clearing specked here and there by birch trees. Colby tied the boat on to the end of the little dock where Mrs Dossit had hauled up her boat for the winter. She had a winch, sure, but still – not bad for a 67 year old.

Despite all the beauty of that place, something seemed off about the whole picture. The harbour was ice-free, so why hadn’t the old girl put her boat back in the water? And why wasn’t there smoke coming from the chimney? Strangest of all, where was she? Now, I know Mrs Dossit liked to keep to herself these days, and I’m sure she had work to take care of inside the cabin or out back, but after two full days of no human contact surely she would notice the racket of an outboard motor less than a hundred yards from her front door.

“Claire,” Sheriff shouted out, “you around?” Silence. “Here with some o’ the boys to check up on yah.” Still, no answer.

“Probably busy inside,” Colby offered. He meant to comfort the sheriff but the shakiness in his voice gave him away. He must have had that same feeling of discomfort that I did. We started up the path, walking slow and looking around for… well anything, really. And when we got a little closer I could tell the curtains were all closed. It looked like nobody was home.

“Something ain’t right boys,” Sheriff said. We knew.

Up on the front porch things got even more strange. It hadn’t snowed for the last week or so, and anything lying on the ground was leftover for a while, hard and crusty on the top from melting and freezing over and over. The whole front porch was covered with a layer of crusty snow. No footprints anywhere, and I started feeling mighty apprehensive when Sheriff pointed out the front door. It was open… just a little bit.

“Claire,” Sheriff called again, “we’re coming inside.”

I tensed up, preparing myself for what we’d find inside. I’d never found a cadaver before – never seen one besides at funerals. Sheriff opened the door.

In the dim light of the cabin, there was dark shape. It was hanging in the middle of the room… swinging slightly from the breeze that we let in. At first I took it for a blanket, or coat… but as my eyes adjusted I saw the familiar texture of raw meat.

“Dear God,” I let out. Colby swore. Sheriff ran to the porch rail and got sick, over and over. The shape was a body, a woman’s shape… hanging by one ankle from a rafter and spinning round, slow. Beside, on the floor, a knife with a long, curved blade lay in a pool of blood. A skinning knife.

The cabin was cold, so cold. Colder than the air outside. There was no smell – no scent of decay – and I knew at once it was because the body was frozen.

We all stepped down onto the snow-patched grass and took a breath. We couldn’t have imagined this. How could anyone have imagined this? The sheer horror of that poor woman’s body was unfathomable. We stood there, staring out at the water and slowly the reality of the situation settled itself in. This was a crime scene. A murder scene. We were police. We had a job to do.

Colby and I insisted again and again that the Sheriff ought to sit it out – that he shouldn’t get too involved because it was family we were dealing with. He would have none of it. I think in his mind, making sure the investigation went as smoothly as possible was a sort of farewell to the old woman. So the three of us got started.

There were photos to be taken, so many photos… every surface in the cabin, from every angle. The body. The knife. We dusted for prints, took samples of hair, blood, all the usual stuff. All the while we were collecting evidence, Mrs Dossit kept spinning round to take us in with those lidless eyes. Before long we cut her down and got her in the body bag. I’d like to say we did it out of respect but that way we didn’t have to feel her eyes on us anymore.

If things weren’t already terrible enough, other aspects of the crime scene were starting to stand out as being peculiar. First off, the lack of footprints outside the front door meant that nobody had entered or exited the cabin for at least a week. The radio was in prime working condition – something we discovered when Mrs Thompson called in to ask if we had fixed the radio yet. We didn’t respond.

The cupboards were stocked nearly full, and upon closer inspection it seemed as though Mrs Dossit hadn’t touched her winter supply. In the garbage, only a few empty cans were found. It was starting to look as though the murder had occurred much earlier, at the beginning of Mrs Dossit’s trip. This was backed up by the fact that the woodpile, which was stacked against the leeward side of the cabin, had hardly been diminished. Inside, a small pile of sticks sat neatly by the woodstove. Stranger still, was that there was only a small amount of ash in the stove – the remnants of one, maybe two fires. From the looks of things, she had been killed just a few days after returning to Loon Harbour.

“Sheriff, when was it you said Lucy and her last talked?” I asked, wearily.

“Day before yesterday,” he said, “I heard her voice myself on the radio.”

Clearly things weren’t adding up. We were reading the scene wrong, somehow. Maybe Mrs Dossit had extra wood and food stocked for the winter. Maybe she had gotten rid of the garbage somehow. Simple enough explanation. Only explanation, really. It was just hard to keep my mind thinking logically after seeing something so… disturbing.

Of course, the next thing that came to mind was the murderer. Where did they go? How did they get in the cabin and sneak off, seemingly without a trace? And how did they get there in the first place? It was frightful to think that the horror of a man who had committed this crime might be a mere two days walk from here. Perhaps closer. Where was he? And, more worryingly, where was the-

“Jesus Christ!” Colby shrieked from a few feet behind me, deafening my ear. I spun around as quick as possible, nearly choking with shock as he fired two rounds through the glass of the living room window.

“The hell, Colby?” I shouted, grabbing for my gun. Sheriff came running out of the bedroom, revolver at the ready.

“What’s happening?” he demanded of us, but by that point Colby was darting out through the door.

“Son of a bitch!” we heard him yell as he disappeared into the bright spring sun outside. He had seen something. He had seen them.

“Follow me, Porter. Now!” Sheriff said, and we made out way out onto the porch. Colby’s footsteps lead away from the shore, towards the Dossits’ trapline. Straight into the woods.

“Colby!” Sheriff yelled, but no reply came. Then, another shot.

We ran as fast as we could, Sheriff in the lead, watching the right, while I brought up the rear, watching the left. We could hear Colby shouting again, swearing. He sounded far off, not quite straight ahead. We were sprinting when two more shots rang off to our sharp left. Colby had left the main path. In patches of dirty snow there were footprints, spaced far apart. Another shout. Another shot. And then… silence.

“Colby, talk to us!” I shouted, praying that it was him who had fired that last shot. There was no sound for a good ten seconds and then…

“Here,” came a weak reply. Off to our left again this time. He had started to turn back towards the cabin, full circle. When we found him, he was standing with his back to a tree, gun gripped tight in both hands. Eyes wide open. The poor boy was shaking like a leaf of grass in the wind.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Sheriff boomed at him. Colby just shuddered at the noise, looked wildly around, and ran to us. The look on his face when he got near was indescribable. I’d never seen somebody look so relieved to see me.

“I saw… I… I mean… I saw… I saw…” he kept muttering, over and over. He looked scared, but almost like he was embarrassed to show it. “I mean… I saw… I think…” was all he said.

We made our walk back to the cabin, slow and cautious. Whoever it was that had been watching us was surely still nearby. We figured it best to get out as soon as possible. Grab our things and take the body back to town. Those woods seemed like the worst possible place to be at that point.

By six o’clock that evening we were pulling back into town. Nobody’d said a word since we left Loon Harbour, and the ride seemed to go on for hours. Colby was too stirred up from his encounter in the woods, and I figured it best if Sheriff avoid as much stress as possible so I’d offered to steer us back to Seal Cove. The whole ways, though, I kept glancing over to the shore, expecting to see… somebody watching us, I guess.

The funeral was held three days later. No casket for poor Mrs Dossit – the family had her cremated. Poor Mrs Thompson looked like she’d had all the blood drained from her body. Still, she held it together. For the kids, I suppose. Colby didn’t show up for the funeral. After I offered my condolences to Sheriff and his family, he told me that nobody’d seen Colby at the station since the day we got back from Loon Harbour, and I should keep an eye out for him.

That night I found myself back at my desk, sorting through photo after photo from the cabin. The woman had been dead for quite some time – likely for most of the winter. Whoever had done this to her was still nearby when we arrived at the harbour, but they couldn’t have possibly spent the winter there. There was no food missing, and no sign that the place had been occupied. Nothing was adding up.

I started putting the folders away when a terrible thought entered my head. What if the murderer was never outside that window? What if deputy Colby had fooled us all? He claimed to have seen somebody outside that cabin and certainly convinced the Sheriff and I that it was true, but who else had seen it? Only Colby.

What if he had killed Mrs Dossit?

It would explain the condition of the cabin, his mysterious encounter, everything. Colby had a boat and could have easily taken a detour to Loon Harbour during one of his hunting trips. But why on earth would he have done such a thing? What grudge could he possibly hold against the Sheriff’s poor mother-in-law, or against Sheriff Thompson himself?

My mind was racing, my hands shaky. Hell, it was past midnight and I hadn’t slept more than an hour each night since that wretched day. I needed to head home and try to get some rest. It would be best to have a clear head when I confronted Sheriff about this in the morning.

I left the station and started walking to my rented house but decided to stop in at the pub for a quick drink. A little something to unwind. I took a seat and ordered up a double rum, just as somebody slid into the stool at my left.

“How’d the funeral go?” Colby asked, clutching an empty glass and stinking of whisky. My heart nearly stopped when I heard his voice, but I had to play dumb.

“Very sad,” I said, taking a gulp of rum. I had to get out of there as fast as possible. “You didn’t come.”

“I was, ahh… busy,” he slurred, tapping his empty glass.

“I see.”

“Been spending some, ahh… quality time with dear Craig here,” he said, pointing at the bartender. “How ’bout one more, bud?” Craig filled up the glass, shaking his head but saying nothing. Clearly Colby had been here for the last few days. I hoped it was the guilt getting to him, the sick bastard.

“You haven’t been at the station,” I said.

“Nooo, no no,” he muttered. “I cant be lookin’ at those pictures. Memory’s bad enough ain’t it?”

“It’s our job,” I said through gritted teeth. How could he sit here and talk about her like that? I was disgusted with him. I turned to look him straight in the face. “The son of a bitch is still out there, somewhere.”

“You got me there, Porter,” he said, staring into his whisky. Drunk as he was, it would be so easy to cuff him then and there.

“Well, you saw him with your own eyes, didn’t you?” I pressed.


“So it was a woman you saw?” I was getting impatient.

“It was her.” Colby twisted in his seat and looked me dead in the eyes. “Her, Porter.”

I didn’t know what to make of it. He didn’t look like he was guilty, or grieving, or lying. He looked afraid.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Colby drained his whisky in one go.

“Claire Dossit,” he said. “I saw her face watching us through the window. Or maybe I’m just crazy.” With that, he got up and walked out, leaving me staring at the bottles behind the bar.

“Another?” Craig asked me.


I’m not sure why – it must have been something in Colby’s voice – but I decided to hold off on telling the Sheriff about my suspicions. I’d have to have a chat with Donna, the doctor. I was curious to hear what she’d have to say about Mr Dossit’s death.

The night crept by with agonizing patience. Stars sliding in and out of view behind the bank of fog that hung over the harbour. Each time I closed my eyes I would see Mrs Dossit’s lidless gaze. The last few hours of darkness I spent at the kitchen table, staring at the front door with a hand on my revolver.

The clinic was quiet that morning, and when I first spoke to Donna I could tell she was looking at me in a peculiar sort of way. She offered my a cup of coffee which I gladly accepted. I must have looked like shit.

“I have a few questions for you about Mr Dossit,” I said. The coffee seemed to warm me straight away when I took a sip. “About his health before his death.”

“Right,” she said. “Where would you like me to start?”

“Sheriff Thompson told me about his decline in health during his last year. Said that his father-in-law was unable to stay at the cabin like they had been doing all along. What sort of problems was he having? Sheriff mentioned arthritis or something like that.”

Donna took a sip of coffee, with a puzzled look on her face. “Mr Dossit had been having joint trouble for some years before his death. I had told him that he should start easing off, retire. He’d have none of it. I gave him information about other, less strenuous activities he might try, to keep active, which he dismissed as ‘yoga for hippies’. I wouldn’t blame his arthritis for slowing him down so much as his more general well-being.”

“In what way?”

“Well, mentally. More or less. He suddenly seemed paranoid of those around him. He seemed to think that he was being watched.”

“Interesting.” It was cold in the office. “Can you remember when exactly this… behavior started?”

“I could find the folder with my notes from Mr Dossit’s appointment.”

“You have notes?”

“Scribblings, more like. I’m not a psychiatrist, officer, but I know enough to tell when somebody’s mind is in a troubled state.”

“And this was?”

“About six months before his disappearance.”

“His…?” Apparently Sheriff had left that part out. He’d never mentioned anything about any missing person case.

“You didn’t know?” Donna took a deep breath. “That poor family has been through so much. Lucy was depressed for a long time. Sheriff Thompson took her into the city for therapy for a few months, I remember. Mr Dossit just got up one morning, went out for a walk and never came home. It was a sad time for the whole town.”

“I can imagine. There was a search, yes? Did they ever find the body?”

She shook her head. “No body. They couldn’t even give the man a proper burial.” Donna gave me a look. “The sheriff would know a lot more about the case than I do, officer. Have you spoken to him?”

“Not about this. Not now. I don’t want to give him or his family any more grief. Sorry to bother you, Donna, but I’ve just got a few more questions.”


“You said that Mr Dossit’s behavior changed quickly about six months before he went missing. Given your medical knowledge, what do you think could have led to this change?”

“Well there are many possibilities, too many to guess. Again, I’m not a psychiatrist, Officer Porter, but it seemed to me that his personality changed due to some sort of experience, not a medical issue. Some trauma that he alone had gone through. Whatever it was that he saw or imagined, I can’t say, but it certainly left him…”


“Broken.” Donna looked very sad. “I’d never seen somebody so full of fear. Claire used to come with him to his appointments. He seemed afraid of being alone, even for a moment.”

“But the day he went missing, Mr Dossit left home alone.” It seemed very strange.


“Thank you, Doctor, this has been very helpful.” I got up to leave.

“I’m glad to help, Officer. I admit, I was expecting you ask me about Lucy’s mother, not her father. Have you found some sort of connection between them?”

Yes, I thought, but instead I said “I’d rather not say right now.”

“Of course,” said Donna, and she walked me out.

It was still early, too early for lunch. I wasn’t hungry anyways. I headed to the station to find a folder on my desk. Sheriff’s office door was shut, and I didn’t want to bother him. I opened the folder.

Coroner’s report was on top. I flipped through the pages but most of it was old news. Time of death was undetermined, but certainly more than a month ago. Notes about stomach contents, minor cuts and defence wounds. I poured over it all, obsessing over every line, but the one thing that grabbed my attention was the cause of death – hypothermia – and the side note that read “minimal blood loss, no cutting of major arteries.” She had actually survived being skinned alive. God, the thought of it was enough to drive somebody over the edge. Lucy would probably be needing some more therapy after all that had happened.

Lucy… I thought. She was the one aspect of the murder that complicated everything else. All of the evidence, all of the details about the crime scene, they all were shifted into the unreal by Lucy saying she had been in contact with her mother throughout the winter. It was the her testimony that made the whole thing so damn complicated… so what if it wasn’t true?

The Sheriff’s wife had a history of mental distress, I knew now. Extended periods of depression. She was obviously worried about her mother’s well-being, and under a large amount of stress. Hell, being married to a police officer was probably enough stress on its own. What if her conversations hadn’t really happened? What if it was just a delusion of hers?

But no, I realized. That wasn’t it. Sheriff had told me that day at Loon Harbour that he had heard Mrs Dossit’s voice over the radio himself. Another explanation shot down. Another reason to feel very much at unease. There was only one logical next step. I’d have to talk to her myself.

If anybody would know an important detail about Mrs Dossit’s situation, surely it would be her own daughter. The woman had spoken with her every day, she claimed. She must have noticed something, some small detail that would explain everything. Sheriff wouldn’t be happy but, damn it, I had to do something.

Sheriff’s office light was still on. It would have to be now, before he got home. I could use a walk anyways. I grabbed my jacket and walked out into the street. I was shocked to see that night had just begun to fall. Christ, I had been so wrapped up in things that the hours had melted away. I suddenly realized the churning hunger in my stomach and the tired ache in my eyes, but it would have to wait until later.

The Thompson house was located on a new side road that hadn’t been paved yet. Theirs was one of the first houses built in that area, and it was a short walk through the woods to get there. It was cold out, so I zipped up and walked fast. The hard packed gravel crunched lightly under my feet, echoing off the bare tree trunks that carried on out of sight to either side of the road.

But was that an echo? I didn’t quite sound like an echo… The footsteps sounded faster than my own.

I stopped, and they got faster, louder.

I spun around, reaching for my revolver and realizing too late that I’d left it own my desk at the station. The figure flew at me from the shadows and rammed straight into my chest. It knocked the breath out of me, and as I struggled to get it off of me the stench of sweat and whiskey filled my nose.

Colby’s face was mere inches from my own, his bloodshot eyes staring into mine and darting wildly off to one side or the other, scanning the woods around us before looking back at me. Tears were wet on his cheeks and spit flew in my face as he screamed.


“Let me go!” I yelled back, struggling to free my hands, but he had pinned them to the ground. “Get off of me, now!”


“Fuck, Colby, snap out of it!” I yelled, but he was beyond reason. There was madness in his eyes.


I’d managed to free my hand, and slammed a fist into the side of Colby’s head. He rolled off, screaming and swearing and crying. “What in god’s name-”

I didn’t get a chance to finish before he lunged at me again. I had barely gotten to my feet, but in his crazed, drunken state I managed to get out of the way. I had just grabbed for my handcuffs when he pulled the gun on me.

“NO!” he screamed, scrambling to his feet. “DON’T DO THIS TO ME!”

“Colby,” my throat was dry. “Colby let’s talk about-”

“NO!” He was sobbing now. The hand holding the gun was shaking. He was pointing it at me, but his eyes kept darting off to the trees. “NO PLEASE! IT-”

There was a loud “crack,” like the breaking of a branch, off to one side and he swung the gun around, firing three shots into the woods.

That was my chance.

I slammed a boot into the back of Colby’s leg as hard as I could. He went down like a wounded animal, screaming and shaking. Gunshots were ringing out as he fired wildly around.

I ran. I ran faster than I’d ever before. I scrambled over the gravel road, nearly falling head over heels while Colby’s screams and gunshots filled the night among other, stranger sounds.

My memory after that is fuzzy. Bits and pieces are all that remain. I know I got to the Thompson house. I remember the look of shock on Lucy and the kids faces when I stormed in, slamming the door behind me. I remember the Sheriff arriving, and an ambulance showing up. Colby was nowhere to be seen. All that remained on the road was a handful of empty bullet casings and some blood.

I remember handing over my badge, and leaving the house key in my landlord’s mailbox, along with a short letter saying I was moving out.

My last memory of Seal Cove is the bus ride back to the city. Four hours of dead radio and nothing to look at but trees. I looked at the floor instead. I got a new job, new apartment, and tried never to think about it again.

Until now.

News station tonight aired a story on the growing number of missing persons in rural towns. The count now stands at eleven – nine being residents of Seal Cove, including the town’s Deputy Sheriff. They showed a quick clip of Sheriff Thompson, who looked more gaunt than ever. Only three bodies have been found, exhibiting what the reporter referred to as “heavy mutilation.” It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out exactly what that means.

People have to know that it’s not safe anymore. That thing – whatever it is – has gotten bolder. It had to have started with Mr Dossit. He had awoken it at Loon Harbour, it seems. After that, it had lured him off somehow, made him follow it into the trees. Then it descended on his wife when she was alone and miles away from help, probably in Mr Dossit’s form. And Colby… poor innocent Colby… the thing had followed us back to Seal Cove in pursuit of him after he’d seen it at Loon Harbour. We had lured it straight to humanity. How many of these new cases are victims of the same evil? Is this all our fault?

I don’t know if it will leave the woods long enough to come enter the city, but how will we know when it does? Each stranger you pass on the streets could be it in disguise. Each voice you hear on the phone could be a lie. The only safety, it seems, is to never be alone. Mr and Mrs Dossit, Colby… they had all been alone when it came for them. Maybe if I hadn’t abandoned Colby in the road that night, he’d still be alive.

Tomorrow I board the bus and head back to Seal Cove for questioning by the Sheriff. Being the last person to see Colby alive, I always knew it was just a matter of time. God knows if I’ll make it back, or if that thing will take me and make a new mask of my face.

The Skinner, I’ve come to call it. It haunts my dreams every night, though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes. In my dreams it’s always Colby, though, always watching silently from behind the trees.

It won’t stop. It’s on the move and picking up speed. I wish I could say I know more about what to do but I don’t. For now, all I can say is stay close, stay safe, and stay out of the woods.

-Kevin Porter, 2015

Credit: Keith Daniels

The Balcony

July 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM

I sat, staring blankly at the screen, for how long I can’t be quite sure. Desperate for something to watch, read, listen to… In search of some stimulation that might exhaust my mind to the point where going to bed seemed like a good idea. I closed my eyes and strained hard – pressing for some idea of what to type in the search bar but nothing came.

It wasn’t apparent to me how long I’d been sitting there, postponing sleep, gazing with glazed eyes at the monitor and refreshing the same social network feeds over and over again, waiting for some fuckwit I didn’t know or care about to update the world on their life happenings. Nothing changed, though – it was well past 2 am and most people were rolling over, ripping up the sheets and drooling on their pretty pillowcases.

Somewhere between the ears a sharp pain fired off and I realized I had a headache. Oh great… again. I reached for the bottle of ibuprofen sitting conveniently by my computer mouse and washed two of them down with the last mouthful of my warm beer. Refresh. Nothing happening. Couldn’t think of a song to listen to. Refresh. Same thing. No ideas for articles to read. Refresh. Nothing. They’re all sleeping, dammit. I snapped the laptop lid shut. Went to look out the window.

There was a streetlamp directly across the street from my little apartment, which I suppose was the reason I hated going to bed so much. One of the reasons, anyways. There wasn’t much to look at outside, either. Thin blanket of snow on the ground. Still cars in the neighbor’s driveway. Couldn’t see the stars… must have been cloudy. The apartment was even less interesting. A pile of half-read novels lined up on the shelf, arranged by size from biggest to smallest (dimensions, not pages). Drying rack full of dishes that were probably dry by now, but that could wait until tomorrow. Old flower-patterned couch made even more garish by the bright, blue and yellow striped blanket hanging over the back. And the walls…

The walls were the thing I hated most. Painted in that inoffensive, bland, mind-numbingly expressionless light beige that seemed to be omnipresent in every fucking apartment I’d ever been in. What I wouldn’t have given to paint those fucking walls. It would have been worth it, even if the damned landlord kept my damage deposit.

Leaving the window, I paced along the wall, dragging my hand as I had done over and over again, in moments of boredom. Around the kitchen/living room – divided by a half wall and made distinct by a clumsy architectural divider that reached off from the main wall by a couple feet – and around the corner to the short and narrow hallway that lead to my bedroom on the left and bathroom at the end. Strolled lazily into the bedroom, flicked on the light, looked around, flicked it off, and walked out again. Stopped for a quick piss in the bathroom. Frowned in the mirror. Then made my way back to the chair. I started flicking through the books on the shelf, but I couldn’t decide which one to read, so I gave up and sat down on the horrendous couch, staring out the sliding glass balcony door.

And that’s when I saw it.

At first, I thought my glasses were skewed, and I took them off, gave them a ritual wiping in my t-shirt, and put them back on again. No, it was still there. Hmph… that’s weird… It wasn’t anything shocking, nor was it one of those things that causes you to jump up in outrage – it just seemed a little bit… odd.

I had been looking at the picture frame sitting on the half wall that stretched partway across the floor between the kitchen and living room, which was perpendicular to the couch I was sitting on – and something about it didn’t look quite right. The picture frame was alright. The half wall looked right – as much as any half wall can – but there was something funny about were it joined to the outer wall of the apartment. I couldn’t be quite sure what it was, exactly, but it seemed like the outer wall was a good foot or more farther from me on the kitchen side than it was on the living room side.

I gave it a frown, then a giggle. Obviously, the landlord had done a bad job with the renovations and had done some miscalculations, and the inner paneling on the kitchen side was curved on one end. I didn’t know much about carpentry, but I had a basic understanding. Yeah, that’s it.

I got up, walked to the fridge for another beer and glanced at the wall again. My explanation didn’t convince me, as the wall looked flat as a wall could be. It was the damnedest thing, because from the kitchen side, the wall looked perfectly normal. Maybe it was the other side that was off. But I strolled back to the living room, and the wall on that side looked normal too. It didn’t make sense. I decided to forget about it, and set myself back on the couch and opened my beer – but there it was again. The wall in the kitchen looked farther than it should be, or the living room wall looked too close… it was hard to tell which was the case, but something was off, that much was certain.

I took a gulp of beer and got up again. I walked over to the corner in the kitchen and ran my hand along the wall near the floor. It certainly looked like things were joining up at right angles. I did the same on the living room side – it looked perfectly normal. I even grabbed a book and stuck it between the floor and the wall, and slid it across on both sides, and in both rooms the book fit snugly where the floor and wall met. Then I did the same, between the wall and the room divider. Perfect right angles. I sat back on the couch again, and now it seemed even more apparent.

It was as if the kitchen was longer than the living room, and impossibly so, as they both shared the same square space and outer wall of the building. It didn’t make sense. The wall to the left was definitely farther than it was on the right side of the half wall, but how could that be so? I shuffled my way around the rooms, observing the dimensions with squinting discretion, from every conceivable angle. No curve, no obvious deviations. If I could believe what my eyes were seeing – and I had no reason to doubt them before now – the kitchen should be protruding from the side of the building by about 12-15 inches.

I was flabbergasted. It just shouldn’t be. Even the thickness of the walls, which I guessed at about six inches, wouldn’t account for such an error. It wasn’t the way that geometry worked, but when I looked again from the couch the difference between the distances on the two sides was impossible to ignore. What the hell…

Surely, I thought, that there was some mistake, and the wall was joined awkwardly and I just hadn’t noticed it before. I’d have to go out on the balcony to reassure myself, and take a look at the outside wall of the building. My balcony ran the entire length of the kitchen/living room wall, placing the discontinuity about halfway down its length. Surely the exterior of the wall would reveal an outward jump. Now it made sense. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I slid open the glass door and tip toed out into the winter air, the thin snow layer crunching and squeaking under my socks.

But to my surprise, the wall was entirely flat. I flicked on the balcony light to be sure. Perfectly flat. Straight, with no visible joins or angles anywhere. I pressed my hands hard against the cold vinyl siding and ran them from the sliding glass door all the way to the railing at the end. Defeated, I made my way back inside, and slid the door shut. I peeled off my wet socks and hung them over the edge of the bathtub to dry, and retreated to the couch once more, rubbing my cold feet.

It was at this point I started to feel uncomfortable, in a way that was almost indescribable. The very image of what I was seeing didn’t make sense. It was such a departure from simple logic that my brain couldn’t concoct any sort of explanation at all. The sensation that trickled over me was something that I can only describe as the opposite of deja vu. The sheer unfamiliar and nonsensical nature of the wall was all I could think about. I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t real.

I stomped down the hall to my bedroom, bare feet slapping on the floor, snatched my belt off the dresser and brought it out. I moved the chair, slid the kitchen table out of the way, so I had a quick, clear path around the half wall. I even took the picture frames off the half wall, and laid them on the table. Nothing to get in the way.

I started on the right side. I let the belt buckle touch the outer wall, and pulled it tight. The distance from the the wall to the end of the divider was about half the length of the belt. I pinched my fingers hard on the belt, marking the length I had measured. Now… I marched around, to the kitchen, put the belt buckle against the wall and pulled the belt tight.

Impossible, I thought. It was truly impossible. The belt wouldn’t even reach from the wall the the end of the divider. I leaned against the wall, my mind whirring with thoughts, questions. The one thought that dominated my being was that the space I was standing in, leaning against that wall, should not exist! If common sense were any sense at all, I should be on the balcony right now, staring at the vinyl siding on the outside of the building. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me – I felt hot and sick and shaky. I started to wonder what might happen If i were to close my closes, but at that thought, the fear become so intense that I jumped away from the wall and ran to the bathroom where I promptly retched up my beer and what undigested remains there were of my supper.

What was happening to me? I had to sleep. Yes, that’s it. I was exhausted, and it had been a long week. Maybe it was the headache pills, I thought – I had downed them with alcohol, after all. And mixing drugs with booze can do crazy stuff, right? I closed my eyes hard, nodding my head and trying to convince myself that I had to be hallucinating. I was sleep depraved. I needed sleep.

I flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face, and turned to look down the hall. I realized then that I had left the balcony door ajar, and the cold winter air was putting a chill in the apartment. I started, but stopped again, when my peripheral vision revealed to me something which unnerved me in a way I had never known. It was at that point which I began to think I was losing my mind.

On the left side of the half wall, the kitchen stretched on, far beyond the physical limitations of my building, and filling that impossible space was – and It frightens me say it – a perfect mirror image of my own. The table, chairs, cupboards, and even the overflowing drying rack lay in perfect reverse imitation of my own, real kitchen. It was as though the wall of the kitchen had been replaced by a reflective surface, but as far as I could tell, this was not the case.

I breathed deep, shaking uncontrollably as I made my way slowly down the hall to the kitchen. I stopped halfway, at the linen closet which sat opposite my bedroom door, and grabbed the broom. I unscrewed the broom handle and clutched it tightly as I would a spear. It did nothing to make me feel safer.

I moved slowly – one foot at a time – holding the broom handle out in front of me and breathing heavily. As I got nearer, though, I could see that the discontinuity did not only mirror the kitchen – it was the entire apartment.

When I reached the point where the wall had been, I stopped and stretched out my hand. Nothing but empty air. This couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? No – something else was at work here. Something frighteningly real.

There was a draft moving through the air, flowing like a soft wind, and I realized that the sliding door to the balcony must also be ajar over there. I should close it. That seemed to make sense, at least.

I prepared myself to enter the space that should not be. Something about it still made me afraid to close my eyes, so I decided to try my best not to blink before walking over. Come on, you got this. I had a goal now. Simple enough, but still, that small purpose helped quiet the thoughts in my head a little. I swallowed, breathed deep, and walked into the impossible room. Made my way past the chairs, the books – even the fucking picture frames were there, but something about the pictures wasn’t right, and I averted my eyes as I passed. I turned right around the half wall and came to face the balcony door. I was right. It was open. However, what I saw beyond the door was not what I had expected. I had prepared myself – by taking into account the twisted anti-logic of the discontinuity – to encounter a second balcony. This was a whole new deviation. Nonetheless, I made my way through, back into the real living room, and slide the balcony door shut.

I sat on the couch again, picked up the half-drunk beer, and took a gulp. Spilled some on my shirt. I didn’t know what else to do but try and understand the situation as best I could. There was no balcony anymore. From where I sat, I could see the second kitchen to my left, beyond the real one, and through the sliding glass door I could see the opposing living room, couch and all – even the bloody half-drunk beer sitting on the coffee table. If I told myself that the kitchen wall and the balcony door were mirrors, I could nearly believe I was still sane. Yeah, I thought, it’s just a mirror. Just a big fucking illusion. Reflection. There’s the coffee table… my couch… my beer… all that’s missing is…

I heard a noise behind me, coming from what sounded like the bedroom. A faint “thwump”, like the sound of something soft clumsily hitting the floor. I froze. I could feel my eyes tighten. My pulse throbbed sickeningly in my neck. I could feel the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. I had to escape.

I clutched the broom handle as tightly as I could and ran for the front door. I grabbed the knob, whipped open the chain lock, and twisted it open in a frenzy. Tears filled my eyes and the scream my body had tried to produce had stopped at the dry lump on my throat. I slammed it shut again, as hard as I could have, and locked it. I pressed my back against the door and let myself slide limply down, down, down onto the floor. There was no exit. Outside the door had been just another entrance way like my own. An exact reflection.

And then I heard the noise again… thwump… coming from the bedroom. And again… thwump… louder this time. Thwump. The bedroom door opened slowly. Thwump. They were footsteps. Thwump… thwump… They were coming down the hall.

I do not know what gave me the strength to move in that instant. Some primal instinct, some basic will to survive kicked in. I would not sit sobbing in a corner, waiting for whatever cruel and impossible fate awaited me. I would not.

I launched myself from the entrance way, and made for the balcony door. I flew across the kitchen. Grappled the half wall and swung my weight as best as I could across the living room floor. I snatched the sliding door handle, heaved it open, and burst into the room that should not be. I drove it shut behind me, flicked the lock, and ran left, around the half wall to face whatever it was that had come from this impossible place – not daring to blink until I passed the boundary back into the real kitchen. I stopped short. The wall had returned. Solid. Real. I would have to go back through the balcony door again, but at least I had the upper hand – the door was locked from this side.

I clenched my fists so tightly around the broom handle that my fingernails must be drawing blood from my palms. My eyes were stinging now, but I still dared not blink. I could not let the perverse logic of the space get a chance to warp itself again. Not while I was still inside it.

Then, there was another noise. Not the muffled footsteps from before, but a clear, sharp “tick.” The sound of metal and springs and intricate precision.

The sound of the balcony door being locked from the other side.

No… I rushed to the sliding door and unlocked it, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see the lock switch on the other side – the real side – and it was engaged. I screamed. I swore. I cried. I yanked and tore and heaved and kicked and pounded the door, over and over and over. There was no use. No matter how much force I put on the damned door, it wasn’t going to move. It didn’t even shake. As long as it was locked from the other side, I would never be able to open it. I was defeated. My eyes were still open – I refused to let myself blink, and my vision had gone horribly blurry. They burned like fire from the air and my hysteria, but I couldn’t blink. I could not let that happen. I had to keep the real world in sight.

And then I saw the figure.. I watched with horror through the glass as the figure reclined on my couch. They picked up my half-drunk beer and took a long swig. They were looking in my direction. Staring out the glass of the sliding door right at me. By now my eyes were aching so badly and my vision so impaired that I could scarcely pick out any details, but I knew what it was. The realization of it was the end for me. I have not felt true, unhindered hope, or joy, or contentment since that moment, and I fear that I never shall. The figure on the other side was me.

It might have been an hour, maybe two, maybe three that I knelt there with my forehead against the glass. I never did let my eyes shut that night. I held the lids open for so long that my sight left me entirely. I do not know when it was that I finally slipped into unconsciousness, but it was not of my own free will.

When I awoke in the morning I found myself staring out onto the balcony. The sun was glowing through the trees and I could see crows flying in the distance. I slid the door open and fell out onto the snow-covered wood and stayed there for a very long time, watching the ice crystals melt in my breath. By the time the cold drove me inside, the sun was well up and cars were moving on the roads.

In the weeks and months that followed I paced in and out of that balcony door so many times a day I would lose count by noon. I didn’t want to stay in that apartment one moment longer, but the madness of the discontinuity wouldn’t let me leave. I was obsessed with finding a way back to the world from which I had come. The breaking point came sometime in March – I can’t remember when, exactly – when the landlord came pounding on my door, responding to multiple noise complaints. I had been attempting to tear down the kitchen wall with a framing hammer. There was a commotion, and I had a few very long talks with police, but eventually the landlord agreed not to press charges so long as I moved out immediately and paid an extra three months rent to cover the damages. I took the offer. I convinced the cops that I didn’t know much about renovating, but I was sick to death of that fucking paint and had to do something about it.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve distanced myself from that place. I’ve since gotten a new job, made disastrous attempts at love. I’ve made things work as best I can, going from one day to the next. I’ve come to think of this world as real – I have no other choice. I will never return to the other side. Not now. As time goes on it becomes ever harder to remember that it ever existed in the first place. To this day, I can’t bear looking in the mirror. I seems to me that behind the eyes of my reflection there is some hint of malevolence… though at times it looks to me more like gloating.

I remind myself every morning that I am real. I am here. Wherever here is. Impossible or no, this world is mine now. I’ve come to see the obscure beauty in it. There is one thing that reminds me of the world I thought I knew, though – it happens every day when I watch the sun rising. I always expect it to come up in the west, but it never does.

It never does.

Credit To – Keith Daniels


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