Estimated reading time — 201 minutes
My father spent 14 years locked behind the thick steel doors of the Barry Telford State Penitentiary located right outside Texarkana, Texas. Recently I took an interest in the darker events that have happened to various family members and sat down to ask him if he had any chilling stories or experiences he could share about his time he spent incarcerated, anything that he hadn’t shared with me before.
I was both pleased and horrified as for the next two hours he divulged some truly chilling and grotesque tales. I will just let you know now that some of these stories are graphic and if you have a weak stomach I’d advise you not to read further. For the rest of you, I won’t sparse details and I’ll lay them out exactly as he laid them out to me.
My dad was sent to the Telford unit a few months after his 21st birthday, sentenced to 20 years for armed robbery. It is a maximum security prison designed to mostly hold suspected gang members and violent criminals.
“The first day is a total shock to your system. You are stripped and cavity searched coming in and out of every room, you have a bed time, you are timed at meals, and thrown into a cell with 3 other inmates telling you the house rules and which bunk is yours. Then laying in bed that first night… that’s when it hits you that this is home, that this is your life now. Out of anything I can recall, that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, that loss of freedom, that’s the scariest part of prison.”
He told me that as the months pass you get used to your routine, you start to need the structure, even crave it. He said he decided to make the best of it, learn as many skills as he could, and stay as busy as possible. One of his vocational skills he picked up was plumbing, and soon became the in house plumber for ‘A’ building.
Now the way the prison is set up is that there is an A-Building and a B-Building. Inside each building there are 10 cell houses, each cell house contains 12 cells that can hold anywhere from 1 to 4 inmates each. In the middle of each cell house is the Rec Room where the cells all open up to and this is where the inmates spend most of their free time.
In addition to the cell houses each building also contains several solitary wings, labeled from ‘A-Seg’ to ‘Z-Seg’.
“When I first got there, everyone kept joking that if I stepped out of line the guards would send me to ‘M-Seg.’ One day I asked a buddy, who had been locked up for 15 years already when I got there, why people kept talking about ‘M-Seg’ and not any of the other seg wings.”
“Look,” his buddy told him, “people who have extended stays in M just don’t come back the same, some don’t come back at all. The guards know it, that’s why they always fill M last, or put new guys there who they think might be troublemakers. A night in M and you’ll straighten your act up real quick. I’ve never been there myself, but I talked to a couple inmates who have and they both told me the same thing, something evil lives in that place.”
So like I said, my dad had become the on call plumber for A-Building. He said it was about 6 months into the job when he had his first encounter with M-Seg.
“Whenever a toilet was stopped up or something was leaking the guards would just knock on my door and lead me to the problem. It was an around the clock type of thing, I didn’t mind though, any excuse to get out of the cell was fine by me. Plus you get your own cell since you’d be coming in and out at all hours of the night and day so that was a nice perk as well. Anyway, one night there is a knock on my door and the guard tell me to, ‘get dressed Rashell, we need you in seg.’ I get up, the guard opens my door and we start heading down to seg.”
“It’s a real mess down there, I’ve seen a lot of shit in my day but this is crazy…” the guard told my dad as he led him down the connecting corridors, “just make sure you wear your gloves and booties, Rashell.”
My dad was curious and asked the guard what had happened.
“Looney-toon on suicide watch, I guess somehow must’ve snuck in a piece of metal. Look, I shouldn’t tell you this but I don’t want you to be surprised when you get in there. ‘Crazy’ cut off his own genitals. He threw his testicles out on the run, but we can’t find his penis, and that’s where you come in.”
When they reached their destination there was another guard standing outside with an inmate holding a mop waiting to clean up after my dad was finished. My dad said when they opened the door to M-Seg it was almost hauntingly dark, four or five dim overhead lights ran down the hallway but seemed to act more like spotlights and gave off practically no ambient light. He said there was a trail of blood leading towards the back of the corridor. Each seg block had 14 cells with solid steel doors. Each door had a small window that could be opened and closed from the outside and a tray slit which the guy must’ve used to toss his testicles out. As he got closer he could see that blood was running out from a cell towards the end of the block through a small gap under the door.
“Open 13,” the guard yelled to another guard behind a glass window controlling the electronic locks.
“When I went in to that cell I couldn’t believe how much blood there was. It was on the walls and the ceiling, the entire mattress pad was doused in it… The toilet was flooded up to the brim and it looked like it was filled with blood. I used a cup to transfer the bloody water into buckets until I could start to see the silhouette of something under the water. I could see a big wad of toilet paper so I pulled it out and sat it on the floor. I could tell something was inside it. As I started to slowly unravel the wad, all of a sudden I started hearing this noise coming from the air vents, ‘tunk tunk tunk,’ it sounded like someone crawling or trying to sneak through them almost, I didn’t think much of it at the time but I’ll get back to that later. Anyway, I unroll the paper and sure enough the guy’s pecker was right there.”
The guard took it and dropped it in a bag of ice and after making sure the toilet flushed he started leading my dad back to the entrance of M Seg.
“When we got down the hall waiting for the exit door to open all the lights went out.”
“Shit,” muttered the guard, “against the wall inmate.”
“I stood back against the wall,” my dad continued, “and as the guards tried to figure out what was going on I heard that noise in the vents again. It was coming from the cell I had just come out of,
“‘tunk tunk tunk…’
“I didn’t know what it was but it gave me this awful feeling, and as I was standing there I realized it was getting louder and faster and closer to me.
“‘tunk… tunk…. tunk, tunk, TUNK, TUNK, TUNK.’
“It sounded like whatever was in that vent was now in a dead sprint right at us, the guard was trying to ignore it but I could tell he heard it too because he kept looking back over his shoulder and started yelling at the guard behind the glass.
“‘Hey! Hey!’ -TUNK, TUNK, TUNK- ‘Hurry up and get this fucking door open!’ -TUNK, TUNK, TUNK-
“Just as the noise in the vent got up to us, the lights came back on and it went silent. The door opened up and the guard got us out of there as fast as he could. A few days later I saw the inmate who was waiting on janitor duty that night and asked him if he had seen anything. He told me he saw them wheel a guy covered in blood out on a stretcher and that he was screaming about a ‘man in the vents’ and that the man had told him to do it.”
My dad also asked him if he had heard anything in the vents while he was mopping up, but he told my dad he didn’t hear anything, but that he found the metal the man from 13 had used to cut himself.
“It was buried in a pool of blood,” the guy said, “damnedest thing too, looked like a piece of shrapnel cut out from air duct metal.”
The next story my dad shared with me is more graphic and scary in the sense of what human beings are capable of.
“We get new guys that think they are going to be bad asses all the time. Sometimes it works out for them and other times it doesn’t. There were lots of serious gangs in BTU, and sometimes you get a guy who comes in from a local street gang that doesn’t really comprehend how violent some of these big gangs are. It’s like they are ‘playing’ gang to look cool, like kids play cops and robbers, the problem is that they think other people are just ‘playing’ gang too or something.
“Anyway we had this one guy, Ricky, come in and everyone but him knew it was going to end badly for him. He was this young Hispanic guy, and he thought his small town gang was a direct rival to another Hispanic gang, MS-13. He would curse out and disrespect them in front of everyone at chow time and in the halls, and scream at their members who’d pass his cell.
“He’d only been there a week, some of the elders tried telling him he needed to calm down before he got hurt but Ricky was hard headed and just wouldn’t hear it.
“Well one day during dinner the chow hall was quiet and Ricky was nowhere to be seen. My table was dismissed first and as we made our way back to our cell house we turned the corner to see Ricky covered in blood stumbling towards us, arms wrapped around his stomach.
“He was completely naked, big patches of his skin cut from his body where his tattoos had been. Both of his eyes were popped out from their sockets and were just dangling towards the ground. The side of his head was caved in where they had stomped his skull until his eyes came out. As he came closer I could see he was holding his intestines in his hands.
“The worst part to me is that he hadn’t died during it, that he was conscious for every blow and every cut… He just hobbled up the hall in our directions crying and asking,
“‘Why can’t I look up? Why can’t I look up?’
“He collapsed and passed out a few seconds later, and died right there at our feet. They never found out who did it…”
Alright I’ll share one more story my dad shared with me I found kind of creepy, as this is getting pretty long.
About seven years into his stint in prison my dad said through a series of circumstances he ended up having to stay the night in M-Seg. The A-Building was being renovated and repaired and as a result they were sending the inmates to stay in seg in waves.
Well it had been years since my dad had been to the rarely used M-seg and he had convinced himself that he was just hearing things that night. They were leading prisoners out one cell at a time and transferring them to the various seg blocks. My dad’s cell was on the end and he had his cell to himself so when they transferred him he wasn’t accompanied by any other inmates. To his dismay all the seg blocks had been filled, except for M, that is.
They led him down to the end of M and opened the door to 14, which was right next to the cell the man had cut himself in all those years ago.
“Everything was fine until lights out. It was really dark in there, each cell has a little night light thing above the toilet but it’s not enough to see anything or read or write. Anyway it was so dark I figured the only thing I could do was go to sleep. But all night I kept hearing the guy in the cell next to me talking to himself. The way the cells are set up the vents carry any little noise to the adjoining cells. The vent themselves are located right at the foot of the little cots in each cell. People would sit next to them to communicate and pass time during stints in solitary but this guy wasn’t talking to me he was like he was talking to himself and it was starting to really wear on my nerves. I banged on the vent and told him to keep it down but he just kept talking in this whispery voice, and it sounded like he was chanting the same thing over and over but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I put my ear up to the vent to try and see what he was saying and my hairs stood up on the back of my head when I swear god I felt his breath in my ear as clear as day I heard him whispering,
“‘I remember you, I remember you, I remember you.’ in this frantic melodic tune.
“‘Well you won’t remember anything when I bash your head in if you don’t keep it down in there,’ I told him.
“All of a sudden his voice got a little louder and angrier in tone,
“‘I’ll slit your throat, I’ll slit your throat, I’ll slit your throat.’
“I was a little unnerved but I’ve heard a lot worse after so many years in prison so I just told him to fuck off and decided I’d let the guards deal with it in the morning. Well morning came and when the guard brought me my breakfast I told him if he didn’t do something about the guy keeping me up all night in 13 that I would.
“‘What are you talking about Rashell? You are the only person in M seg,’ the guard told me as chills ran down my spine.
“That night as soon as the light went out the whispers started again, and this time I was petrified.
“‘I’ll slit your throat. I’ll slit your throat. I’ll slit your throat…’
“The whispers were more aggressive this time, clearer too. Then all of a sudden they went from whispers to deep guttural screams,
“‘I’LL SLIT YOUR THROAT! I’LL SLIT YOUR THROAT! I’LL SLIT YOUR FUCKING THROAT!’
It scared me so bad I fell out of my cot and scooted on the floor until I felt my back hit the wall opposing the air vent. As my eyes came into focus in absolute horror I saw the silhouette of a head directly inside the vent. I couldn’t make out it’s features but I see it’s eyes. They were full of hatred and rage and they were locked right into me. Fast and louder he just continued screaming that he’d slit my throat, as the vent casing started to shake. Now the vents go straight up in a duct to a main duct then back down to the next cell through another duct, so you can’t see into your neighbor’s cell from your cell. That meant whatever this… thing… was, it was right inside my vent… I jumped up and banged on the steel door as hard as I could telling for a guard.
“‘Help! Help! Somebody!’
“A guard came running down the hall and as soon as he slid the door window open the vent went silent.
“‘You gotta get me out of here, something is in the vents,’ I pleaded.
“To my surprise the guard didn’t protest my request. Instead he just told me to hang tight for a second and then clicked his radio and said,
“‘Need an open cell for a transfer from M seg,’ he paused for a second then leaned back into his radio and simply said, ‘he’s back.’
“He opened the door and led me down the corridor and as they did the whole time we were followed by that familiar sound in the vents,
“‘Tunk… tunk… tunk…’
“I’ve seen and heard a lot in my years, not a lot gets under my skin, but I was shaking like a leaf the whole way out of M-seg… I don’t think I took a breath until I walked out the block doors and heard them shut behind me. I finally worked up the nerve to ask that guard what the hell was in those vents.
“‘I don’t know, Rashell. Warden’ll tell you there’s nothing in those vents. All I can tell you is that whatever it is, it’s evil.’”
My dad said he had three main jobs during his time at Telford, the first of which was as the on-call plumber, the second was maintaining the boilers down in the boiler room, and the last thing he did before being released was to take care of and train the bloodhounds. This first story takes place during his time with the bloodhounds.
“I had gotten in pretty good with the guards. After so many years with the same old faces you develop a friendship almost. The guys with good behavior anyway, a lot of people see the guards as enemies and just really like to make it hard on themselves.
“I myself tried to look at the prison as my workplace and the guards as my coworkers and supervisors. It helped me to think about like that, distracted me from the fact that I was in cage, plus you were allowed more freedoms when the guards liked you.
“It wasn’t uncommon for the guards that had been there a while to treat us guys doing serious time more like equals than they’d treat a lot of the rookie guards. In prison respect is earned by years not titles and badges.
“As I was saying, I had made friends with the senior officer over at the kennels and when the job opened up after one of the tenured hounds had puppies he let me fill the position.
“I would feed and train the dogs early every morning and again late every evening. They just attached a leg monitor to my leg and let me run the dogs through a big fenced in wooded area. I would set up obstacles with dummies, going out and hiding them in a tree or in a hole, marking their scent in various places along the way.
“At first they had a lot of trouble and would get distracted by any kind of noise or animal smell, but after a while they were so good I couldn’t trick them no matter what I tried.
“Sometimes the guards would have me hide myself. I’d climb a tree, jump to another, take a piss on some leaves, double back and double back again, anything to break the scent trail. But damned if they didn’t find me. There’s not a lot I have done in my life outside of having you boys that I’m proud of, but man was I proud of those dogs.
“So one night we were doing a run in the dark, which we practiced from time to time. I went out first and I hid several dummies, four or five of them, and then I hid myself. The object of the game was for them to find me and not go after the dummies which I would rub dog food or pheromones on, stuff a domestic dog would head right for.
“After I hid the last one I circled back using all of my usual tricks and found a nice climbing tree where I decided to camp out at. From there I just waited to hear their booming barks blast through the trees.
“Sure enough not ten minutes had passed and I could already hear their barks closing in on me. At this point I’m looking around to see if I could spot them yet. Then off a little ways in the distance, probably thirty yards from me, I could see them circling a tree through the fog and darkness.
“I figured it would be any minute now that they’d be at the base of my tree letting the guards running along behind them know where I was. But… to my surprise they just stayed where they were barking up the wrong tree.
“That’s when I saw it, the shape of a man about twenty feet up in the branches of the tree the hounds were circling.
“‘I didn’t put a dummy in that tree, did I?’ I asked myself.
“It was dark when I hid them, so it was possible I guessed, but how high it was… I hadn’t put a dummy more than ten feet off the ground and this thing was up twice as high. I could only make out it’s silhouette against the moonlight. I noticed it was shaped similar to a man but not exactly like a man. It’s limbs seemed too long, and they just dangled lifelessly and limp as it straddled a branch legs hang off either side.
“Right then I just about fell off my perch when it’s head moved and now seemed to be staring straight at me. It started tilting it’s head slowly from left to right over and over. Then all at once it stopped moving completely before raising one of it’s lengthy arms, and with a hand full of fingers that had to be at least a foot long, it began waving at me…
“My heart was pounding, I clicked my ankle bracelet 3 times indicating to the guards there was trouble. A few tense moments later, with me staring at this thing and it staring at me, I heard the guards yelling out to me and calling the dogs off coming from the direction I was staring in, directly behind the thing in the tree. It must’ve heard them too, because I swear to you it twisted it’s head completely backwards and stared in the direction of the oncoming guards simultaneously waving at me the entire time.
“‘Here! Here! I’m over here!,’ I yelled out taking my eyes off the creature for two maybe three seconds. I could see a slew of flashlights beaming out from the woods ahead bathing the leaf carpet below in a yellow gleam. I looked back up to the tree where it was, but it was gone.
“When I told the guards what I saw, they thought I was joking or just seeing things but the senior officer on duty, S.O. Chaney, said he had seen something too. They radio in to H.Q. thinking an inmate might be on the loose and the entire prison goes on immediate lockdown to do a count only to find that nobody was missing.
“While they were doing the count inside me and the five guards out at the kennels just stood there waiting for the okay to return me to my cell.
“‘Maybe it was a civilian,’ I remember one of them suggesting.
“‘I’ve heard of a lot of people trying to break out of prison, but who on earth would want to break in?’ one of the guards asked rhetorically.
“‘Any reports of orangutans escaping from the zoo?’ joked another as the rest started laughing.
“‘Orangutans don’t fly,’ interjected S.O. Chaney in a clearly shaken but at the same time serious voice. He had been quiet ever since we’d left the woods and he had this nervous, concerning look on his face.
“‘What do you mean?’ replied a puzzled guard as the laughter abruptly stopped.
“‘Look,’ Chaney sighed, ‘orangutans don’t fly, and whatever the fuck was in that tree… it… it flew out of there, and it wasn’t a fucking bird, either…’
“Everyone got quiet and the atmosphere became uneasy as we stood outside the kennels. Nobody had any reasonable answers as to what it could have been. We stopped doing night runs for a while after that, and when we started back I never went that deep into the woods again. Still gives me shivers to think about.”
So this next bit are some things my dad was told by a lifer, and range from more creepy crawly to spooky but I thought it was all interesting and bizarre enough to share.
“One of the guys who used to preach a lot in the chapel was a guy named Terry who was serving life for homicide. Before checking in to the slammer he was a dentist, but looking at him now you’d never guess this tattooed, hardened criminal used to be this little white collar, upper class man rinsing teeth and filling cavities.
“Somehow he finds out one of his buddies had been fooling around with his wife. But his buddy didn’t know he knew, see? Well one day Terry invites him down to the dentist office for some free dental work.
“When he gets his buddy in the chair he starts pumping him full of that laughing gas dentists like use and to hear Terry tell it he gave him nearly the whole damn bottle. Anyway, after about twenty minutes of breathing in this gas, Terry’s buddy is out of it. He is basically paralyzed, for all intents and purposes. Terry proceeds to start pulling out the guy’s teeth one by one and dropping them into the guy’s throat.
“Terry said his buddy was awake the whole time just laughing uncontrollably while tears streamed down his cheeks, his eyes letting Terry know he was completely aware of what’s happening. Before long he starts choking on his own teeth and he suffocates to death. After everyone found out about Terry’s case they started calling him, Dr. Giggles.
“After chapel me, Terry, and a couple of other guys would swap stories and shoot the shit from time to time. One Sunday we got to talking about some of the weirdest things we’d seen and heard since coming to prison.
“Now, Terry worked in the infirmary doing everything from admitting and discharging inmates, to assisting the doctor during surgery, to applying bandages and helping them to the restroom, things like that. He’d seen pretty much every injury you can think of, from rapes, to stabbings, to overdoses, there wasn’t a whole lot that surprised him as far as that stuff goes.
“Anyway, he told me about one guy who had managed to off himself in a way that shocked even Ol’ Dr. Giggles himself.
“‘This skinny little white guy gets carried in on a stretcher one day after collapsing and seizing up coming in from yard,’ Terry told me, ‘he’s foaming from the mouth and convulsing something awful. I’d seen him around before, quiet guy, kept to himself, never got in any trouble, an ideal inmate.
“‘Well, Doc has me strip him down and we start looking for track marks or anywhere he might’ve stuck a needle, thinking this was probably an overdose or some kind of reaction to an illegal substance. But we search him head to toe and don’t find any marks so immediately we start thinking he must’ve ingested something.
“‘One of the nurses pulls out a syringe and starts drawing blood to run a quick chem test and that’s when we hear it, this noise, like a baby rattle, except it’s coming from this guy on the table. We all just looked at each other trying to make sure we weren’t just hearing things and that everyone else could hear it too.
“‘So anyway we lean in close and start listening for where it’s coming from, the guy still shaking as hard as a 10.0 earthquake. That’s when we realize the noise is coming from beneath him. Two nurses flip him over and the rattling, sure enough, gets louder.
“‘Doc, I think that’s coming from his ass’ I said not believing what I was saying. Doc has the nurses split his cheeks and right there poking about an inch out of his asshole, I shit you not, was a rattlesnake tail.
“‘We had to call in animal control to remove the snake and the local vet for an anti-venom but by the time they got there the guy died right there on that stretcher.
“‘Animal control gets there and pulls a foot long rattler out of his ass, and hand to God, the damn thing was still alive! But it’s mouth was tied shut with a piece of twine, so we knew it couldn’t have bitten him like that.
“‘Doc does an x-ray on the guy’s corpse and none of us could believe what we saw. There was a second snake, and it had made it’s way all the way up into his lower intestine. X-ray shows a second piece of twine too, that had unwrapped from the snakes mouth somehow and I guess the snake just went to town and started biting at this guy’s insides. Doc said it looked like upwards of 30 different injection marks, and that he was a dead man even if we’d gotten the anti-venom in time.
“‘Best we could figure is he saw a snake’s nest out in the yard and either he was trying to sneak them inside to keep them as pets or maybe he was gonna use them on someone who was causing him problems but in the end all we could do was speculate.”
My dad told me he told Terry about his experiences in M-Seg, and that Terry just nodded along completely unphased and then told him about his own experiences with the man in the vents.
“Look,” Terry began, “I’ve been working the infirmary for nearly 16 years… There’s a reason the guys in the ‘firm call it, Seg De Morte. I’ve seen more people wheeled in here on stretchers from M-Seg than all the other seg blocks combined, and it ain’t exactly like they’re packing the house over there, you know?
“And every time, I mean every time, the air blowing from the vents in the operating room starts to smell like death, old death… Like… something that died a long time ago, like decay.
“It got to the point that anytime we heard someone was being admitted in from M-seg we would tape off all the vents. We tried just closing them off at first, but they always open back up if you didn’t seal them shut. I think it likes to watch it’s victims die, the thing in the ducts, I mean. You can hear it moving around in there, going from vent looking for an opening, for a hole in the tape, trying to see…
“We just try to ignore it. The number one rule with oncoming from M-Seg is never look at the vents, never acknowledge it when it speaks, and never get too close to it.
“One time we had a new inmate start working in the infirmary and it wasn’t three days before we had incoming from M. We tell him to go tape off all the vent but I guess he missed one.
“He’d heard the stories about Seg De Morte but, you know, it sounds like an urban legend or something, so he didn’t take it too seriously. Well, guy is wheeled in from Morte, he had tried to off himself by biting huge chunks out of both of his wrists. We are trying to hold him down to get a needle in him to sedate him and he ends up knocking the new guy back a little in the struggle and his glasses fall on the floor.
“New guy leans over to pick his glasses up and just starts screaming and pointing at the vent he had forgotten to tape off. Out of instinct I looked over to see what was wrong. And there he was, right inside the vent staring up at the new guy screaming back at him. I’m not really sure how it works but I know when he talks sometimes he only talks to the person that noticed him first. Like they are the only ones who can hear what he’s saying I mean.
“The new guy runs out of the room, I just look away before it sees me looking. I know better than to acknowledge him. The vent started shaking and the lights flickered until the inmate dies from massive blood loss. After they die he always leaves, and you can hear him crawling through the vents back to Seg.
“After we dealt with the corpse I found the new guy and told him never ever look at the vents, and make sure you always tape them ALL up.
“‘He’s always watching,’ I said, ‘and if you look down at an open vent you can bet your ass he’ll be looking up from it. What did he say to you, anyway?’
“‘He just,’ said the new guy as he trembled, ‘he just kept telling me to open the vent, he… he told me to open the vent so he could rip out my tongue and eyes…’
“New guy quit the next day, I can’t say I blame him though…”
My dad followed up his story by asking if Terry knew anything about the origin of the man in the vents or if he’d heard anyone talking about it around the Rec Room.
“Well I’ve been here for 32 years now, I started hearing about the man in the wall maybe 25 years ago? I can’t say for sure but word among the old heads is that this guy gets sent here to the Telford unit sentenced to life for killing his 80 year old mom in her sleep. Well first night he’s here he tries to sneak a shank into his cell and gets caught.
“Anyway, he gets sent to M-Seg, this is back before M-Seg was avoided like the plague so it was filled a lot more regularly. Now people were in and out of Seg all the time back then, and they’d always come back and tell their stories about the crazy guy in Cell 13 screaming through the air ducts. They said he’d shout in different languages and sounded like he was speaking in tongues or something. Every time his time in Seg was up and the guards go to release him back into Gen Pop he’d attack one of them and so they eventually stopped trying to return him to population at all.
“People coming back from M-Seg would say that he would chant incantations and proclaim that he had given his soul to Satan and he’d brag that be feeding on their flesh in hell, eventually everyone just took to calling him, VooDoo Bob.
“He was something of an urban legend around the yard cooler. See, by this time he would’ve been in Seg for going on 10 years, so most of the inmates had never actually seen him, and since there are so many Seg units only a small percentage wind up in M. But that didn’t stop people from trying. Guys used to get in trouble on purpose in hopes of being transferred to M just to see if the myths were true. And without fail anytime someone managed to find themselves down there they’d always come back with a new story about something crazy VooDoo had said or done.
“Now this next part was told to me by a guy who said a guard had told it to him, so take it with a grain of salt if you want…
“Guy tells me, one night the power goes out in M-Seg and the control board malfunctions causing all the cell doors to unlock, but the main block door stuck shut and the guards can’t get it open. It was late so most of the inmates were sleeping and didn’t even notice, but VooDoo Bob never slept. The guards just watched from behind the stuck bulk doors as for the first time in 10 years he came out of his cell.
“In horror they shine their flashlights through the block door window and watch as the door to 13 creeps open and VooDoo Bob who is down on all fours, but reversed so that his stomach is facing the ceiling, makes his way out onto the run in these slow and exaggerated tip-toed strides. He stops in the middle of the run, halfway between his cell and the one across from him and just turns his head to guards and smiles, then continues across the run and proceeds to open the opposing cell door and slithers his way inside.
“After a minute or two he crawls out of that cell and sneaks into the next, and then the next, until he had visited every inmate unlucky enough to be in M-Seg that night. He finishes up and calmly heads back to his cell, legs moving like a swimmer’s arms during a backstroke, and closes the door behind him.
“The guards are frantic at this point, alarms are going off, practically the full staff is there trying to pry the door back. But as soon as VooDoo locks himself inside his cell, just like nothing ever happened, the lights come back on and the block door slides open.
“They rush to Cell 13 to detain VooDoo Bob, but when they open the cell he isn’t there. They then start checking on the other cells and inmates, and what they find are nine bodies and the new benchmark for the word massacre. He’d sliced up every inmate in Seg, gut to gullet. Left ’em absolutely mutilated beyond recognition. Word is it looked more like a slaughter house than a crime scene.
“The whole prison goes on lockdown while they try to find him. Two weeks pass and they still have no idea where he went, but cameras along the doors and fences show no ones escaped so they know he’s in the prison somewhere. That’s when inmates start complaining about a rotting smell coming from the air vents…
“The guards realize where old VooDoo must have gone. They start pulling down the ducts over M-Seg and sure enough there were scrapes and claw mark in the ventilation as if someone had been maneuvering through them. Never found a body though, and how he got in there no one knows since the vent cover in his cell was still on and screwed in from the outside and the ducts going up to the connecting ducts are too small for even a child to fit through. It wasn’t long after that, that people started saying the ducts in M-Seg were haunted, and all the spooky stuff started happening.
“That’s the legend anyway, I never met VooDoo myself, and he was already supposedly in Seg when I got here, but a lot of people I trust say he existed so I tend to believe it. But other people have other theories and say it was already haunted when VooDoo got there, that the thing in the vent is what made him do it in the first place.
“I heard from a friend of a friend who helped out in the cleric’s office that the warden had letters sent out to the families of all the inmates vent boy had butchered. He was apparently already under a lot of heat from the higher ups and didn’t want this making headlines.
“My friend’s source in the cleric’s office said all the letters painted the guys who got slaughtered that night as monsters. Saying things like they got killed when some inmates caught them trying to rape a female guard, or they were offed when gang members found out they were muling dope up their ass, you know, stuff no parent would want the world to find out their kid was apart of. So he had all the families sign NDAs in exchange for a settlement that was next to nothing. Now if you look ‘em up in the prison records it’s like they never even existed.
“You remember that big revival that outreach ministry put on a few years back? What was it called… Oh! That uh, that Mike Barber guy? Well, I was talking to Brother Baskins and he said that he saw the warden talking with Mike and a few of the other preachers that came in after service one night, and that they grabbed their bibles and headed back towards the Seg blocks.
“He said he was about ten minutes shy of starting his shift on janitor duty, so he went ahead and grabbed his mop bucket and told one of the guards he was going to start over in Seg.
“He gets there right? At first everything seems normal, and there’s no sign of the warden or the preachers on the run down between the Seg blocks. But as he gets closer to the end of the run, he starts hearing shouting and a ruckus coming from inside M-Seg.
“‘In Jesus’ name I rebuke you demon! I compel you to leave this world and return to hell from wince you came!’
“Baskins said he heard awful screams coming from the vents too, violent angry screams. He said it sounded like it was speaking in some kind of dead language, mixed with English, and he said it sounded like seven voices coming out of one mouth, from high pitched to low and all at once.
“As the preachers got louder so did the screams coming from the ducts, and it sounded like it was moving, and banging on the metal, like it was trying to get out.
“‘We do not fear you demon,’ he heard one of the preachers yell, ‘we are protected by the blood of the Lamb! The ONLY true God! Tell us your name, demon, so we can return you to Hell!’
“He said his blood ran cold when booming out of every vent in the entire Seg wing all at once and all around him he heard,
“‘Ego, Sabnok! Quod gustum tuo carnes meas dentibus meis!’
“‘Now I don’t speak Latin,’ Baskins tells me, ‘but the way it spoke, the evil in its voice, I’ll never forget those words…’
“Me and Baskins and some of the other guys in chapel spent some time looking up different languages before we even knew it was Latin. After figuring out what it meant I haven’t been able to forget it either.
“So like I was saying, this thing sounds like it’s everywhere all at once and it’s screaming Latin and snarling, the walls are rattling, the lights fading in and out, Brother Baskins said it was like tectonic plates were shifting right there under the floor. He said the room was spinning and he became dizzy and disoriented and his ears started ringing so loud he couldn’t even hear himself think as he stood there alone outside there in the Seg wing run.
“‘I heard the priest start yelling out it’s name, ‘Begone, Sabnok! In the name of the lord our God, and of the Holy Spirit and of the Son, Jesus Christ, Sabnok you are condemned back to Hell!’ And then the demon let out this terrible loud cry and loud bangs shot all the way down the Seg wing ducts whizzing past him -doot, doOT, DOOT, DOot, doot – and then all the way back up again – doot, doOT, DOOT, DOot, doot – then something slammed into the other side of the M-Seg door… and then… absolute silence.’
“Baskins told me that for few seconds there was just this calm in the aftermath like emerging from the rubble after a Tornado, and he just stood there and tried to process what had just happened and whether or not it was finally over. But then the M-Seg doors opened and out rushed the Warden, Mike Barber and gang, doused in sweat and breathing heavy, dragging out a preacher who looked unconscious. Baskins said he realized the loud thud on the door must have been that preacher being thrust against it.
“He said, ‘They’re all coming out like they’d just gone twelve rounds with Tyson, I’m just standing there on the run with my mop. Finally, in the middle of all the commotion, Warden notices me looking as pale as a ghost and just tells me to go back to my cell and not to say a word to anyone.’
“For a good while there after that we didn’t have anymore problems out of M-Seg in the infirmary. Then one day it just started up again, and we’d get a patient in from M, and the man in the vents was back staring up at us from vents, watching and appreciating his handy work.”
After my dad told me what Terry had to say we just sat back and sipped on some Jack and Coke for a little while. I caught myself feeling uneasy not wanting to look at the vents in his house. Well I guess he started thinking about the guys VooDoo Bob had killed in Seg and the way the warden was able to just cover it up like that.
“You know a lot of guys in there don’t have any family at all. No visitors, no letters, nothing to look forward to on the other side, no one to protect you from an asshole guard deciding to punish you in their own way.
“Seg is pretty bad if you’re staying any amount of time, but it’s not the worst place in the prison to be locked up. That dishonor belongs to the Depravation Pods.
“It’s a room with no windows, no clocks, no lights, no sound. The dark can really plays tricks on your mind when you’re in it for too long. For some people six days can feels like six hours, for others, six hours can feel like two weeks. You lose all sense of time, you can’t tell day from night, it’s like you just go into this state of suspended reality. I guess that’s why everyone calls it the Black Hole.
“I used to hear this story about a guard who got killed way back before I got there. The elders say he was real tight with the warden, and when the local police came to do an investigation all the tapes in hall where he was killed had suspiciously gone missing from the surveillance room. Just the essential two hour block of footage, poof, gone.
“So the investigation goes nowhere, Case is dropped. But some people say the warden had taken those tapes and that he knew which inmate had killed the guard. They say warden didn’t want the PD figuring out who did it and prosecuting them in court, where he’d probably get the death penalty. The warden didn’t want him getting off that easily.
“Now old heads that remember the guy say he was one of those inmates that never got visitors or anything at mail call. No family or friends on the outside. No one to protect him.
“One day he gets transferred from his cell and doesn’t come back. Years pass, then decades, everyone’s forgotten about him, most of inmates there now weren’t even inmates when he was roaming the prison halls.
“So a couple years into my sentence a pressure valve snaps in the wing where the Dep Pods are. The whole wing is flooded and they have to bring in an outside company to fix it because of where it broke behind the walls. Well to do that they have to transfer everyone from the pods to cells.
“Anyway, we are sitting in the rec room playing cards and the guards are leading this shaggy, disheveled looking guy into a holding cell. His hair goes past his knees, and his beard down to his waist, which is already odd because there are strict dress codes when it comes to grooming. This guy is pale too, he has the complexion of printer paper, and across his forehead he has this big tattoo that says, ‘Ricky.’
“One of the elders I’m playing cards with looks up and with a confused look on his face says, ‘What the fuck? Is that… Ricky?’
“‘You know him?’ I asked.
“‘I… I think so, but it can’t be the same person, can it?’
“Ricky goes into his cell, and he just starts screaming, but he was talking almost like a toddler, like someone that was just learning how to talk, or like a deaf person might.
“‘Who’s that old man? Who’s that old man?’
“We jumped up from the table and went over to see what was wrong and he was weeping looking in the mirror asking who that old man was.
“‘Ricky! Ricky! It’s me, Tommy Keen, do you remember me?’
“‘No, no no! Tommy Keen was young, you’re too old to be Tommy.’
“He was crying inconsolably but finally we calmed him down enough to speak and Tommy asked him where he’d been. He told us he’d been in the dark, floating through space with a nice gray man and that’s all he could remember.
“I asked Tommy when was the last time he’d seen, Ricky. Tommy told me it had to have been at least thirty years. We started to piece together what had happened to Ricky, and taking into account the work being done in the Dep Pods, and his long hair and disheveled appearance we had a pretty good idea.
“Ricky had been locked up in the Black Hole, in the quiet, in the dark, alone for the three decades. Seeing himself in the mirror for the first time in thirty years he didn’t recognize himself, he didn’t realize how long he’d been gone. His speech was out of practice with only himself to talk to, and everyone he used to know was either all of sudden old or dead.
“All day he kept pleading with us to take him back to space, that he just wanted to go back to space, back to the gray man… Ricky hung himself with his bed sheets that night, it was all just too much for the guy.”
We got on the subject of prison escapes and I asked him if any one had ever escaped while he was there.
“A few guys wrapped themselves in cardboard and made it over the razor wire fence one time. They get caught after a couple of weeks, but not before they broke into a house in a nearby town killing the husband, and raping the wife and daughter before killing them too. I mean there are at least fifteen to twenty serious escape attempts a year, most of them don’t make it past the prison doors and even if they do they always get caught eventually.
“I remember one night though when I was out with the guards at the kennels the alarms started going off. When that happens the protocol for inmates is to drop to the ground immediately wherever they are and lay on their stomachs until the sirens stop.
“So there I am laying outside on the dirt looking ahead to the tree line in the distance where I would run the dogs. Then this cracking noise starts moving across the trees, I see branches popping, and it’s going from one tree to the next and I can see the tree tops swaying like something big was moving through them.
“It does that a good five minutes and then from the woods I hear this guy start screaming bloody murder, sounded like he was in pain, and a lot of it at that. And I could’ve swore I heard someone else start screaming too along with him in this high pitched screech, but I’ve heard people making some horrible noises when they’re injured bad enough so I thought maybe it was all the same guy.
While this guy is screaming out there in the woods, all the guards and dogs take off into the trees except for two that stayed behind to watch me. Eventually I hear the dogs barking the way they bark when they tree something.
“Then I hear one of the guard’s radios go off and from the other end it’s one of the officers that ran into the woods,
“‘I need a medic and a the tallest bucket lift we got out to the kennel area. And maybe a chainsaw…’
“‘Bucket lift?’ a baffled voice responded.
“Affirmative, we’ve located the fugitive. He’s impaled on a tree about 40 feet up, gonna need something tall to get him down.’”
“I got escorted back to my cell right after that, so I didn’t see what happened next, but I asked Dr. Giggles if he was working when they’d brought the guy in to the infirmary that night.
“He told that he was on shift when they’d brought him in and that he had a large branch impaled all the way through both sides of his thigh where they’d had had to use the chainsaw to cut him free. He said the guy was still alive, still awake even. And after the doctor removed the limb and had him stable enough to talk sensibly he asked him how it happened and the guy said,
“‘I was running to the fence when all of the trees just started snapping, and something picked me up and carried me off into the sky. It all happened so fast and before I knew what hit me I was looking down to tree tops and we were going even higher. Fuck man, I thought it was going to carry me clear up into the clouds… But then I heard the alarms start going off and it let me go. I must’ve passed out when I hit trees… At some point I woke up the thing… the thing was just floating there staring at my leg and picking at it, I started screaming and then it screamed too but when it heard the dogs coming it flew off snapping back through the trees…’
“Terry thought the guy was just making it all up but I believe him. I think it was the same thing me and S.O. Chaney saw that night we were running the hounds.”
I’ll finish up this post with a story from within the dark corridor of M-Seg. This one is from a fellow inmate who my dad called, Seven, that had found himself there a couple weeks into his sentence. I’ll tell it to you as if I’m Seven telling my dad.
“When I first got to the Telford unit I was a disrespectful young prick. I had a bold hatred towards authority and like an idiot I assaulted a guard. Well to teach me a lesson they tossed me in M. ‘Whatever, no big deal,’ I thought.
“Well night time hits and I start feeling antsy all of sudden, like something’s off but I can’t quite place it. Anyway, I think fuck it and try to get some sleep. It must’ve been two maybe three am when I first noticed the smell. It was this thick god awful stench, like burnt hair mixed with spoiled meat, and I’m freezing. Now I’m talking middle of June in Texas and I’m so cold I can see my breath.
“All I can figure is that it must be coming from the vent, so I pull the pillow case off my pillow and drape it over the vent cover. Lay back down and after a minute it’s cold again. I look and the pillow case isn’t on the vent any more, not only that but it wasn’t even near the vent, it was all the way across the room by the toilet.
“I was a little unnerved but figured it was probably a rat or something dragging it off, so I get up, drape it back on and as soon as I turn around – ‘phoop’ – and I hear it hit the wall across from me.
“I look down at the vent and I see this guy looking up at me, and as soon as I see him he ducks his head out of sight and I hear him shimmy up the vent and it sounds like he stops in the next cell over. I was a little startled for minute but then I just started getting pissed.
“This was before I’d heard anything about M-Seg and man in the vents so I’m thinking the guy next door is fucking with me. Disrespecting me.
“‘I got you, bitch,’ I shout at him through the vent.
“For the next 30 minutes I’m down there using my thumb nail to try and unscrew the screws on the vent cover. I get two of them off and this mother fucker pops his head down from the ducts and is staring at me hanging upside down then pops his head out of sight again. It was too dark to make out his features but his eyes seemed so clear and visible almost like they were glowing or something, and the outline of his face was all sunken in.
“So I thought this is just little guy, and that I could take him easily.
“‘Next time he sticks his head down I’ll grab him by the hair and pull him down,’ I thought.
“Couple minutes go by, I have the vent pulled back and where I took out the two screws, and I’m just waiting for my opportunity. Then I hear something moving my way from the cell beside me in these short, quick, sporadic bursts.
“‘Tink, tink, tink……..tink, tink, tink……..tink, tink, tink……..’
“It moved from the duct above the neighboring cell and then straight down the duct right inside my wall and stopped right before the vent opening. Then as fast as a snake strike he popped his head down into view and I reflexively launch for his hair as he opened his mouth as wide as he could and let out this deep and constant scream.
“I tried to pull back but my momentum carried me forward, my arm now fully inside the vent. His eyes quickly changed from this look of curiosity to absolute rage as he raised his head back up and quickly shot his arm down grabbing mine.
“He pulled so hard I felt my shoulder leave it’s socket. I twisted around until I was laying flat on my back, my left arm now being pulled all the way inside the duct up to my arm pit.
“He’s yelling things at me now,
“‘You fuck! YOU STUPID FUCK! I’ll rip you limb to limb! I’ll eat your fucking eyes! YOU STUPID FUCK!’
“He’s screaming with such anger and yanking my arm so violently, I start to think he’s gonna pull it right off, I’m just bouncing off the ground and against the wall like a rag doll as he tugs.
“The guards must’ve heard me slamming against the wall because they come stampeding down the run as I don’t think I had said a word up to this point, I was in shock I suppose. But as soon as I see the guards open the door I start yelling.
“‘Help! Help! Get it off me! Get it off me!’
“Then I hear this thing in wall start fucking mocking me in this whiny voice before going back to angry again,
“‘Get it off me! Get it off me!’ it mocked, then began screaming again, ’You fuck! You stupid fucking bitch!’
“‘Don’t talk back to it,’ one of the guards warned me.
“I feel this sharp pain shoot up my arm, and when the thing goes quiet for minute I realize it’s chewing on my fingers and I feel this hard crunch and the sound of bones shattering to dust in it’s teeth.
“The 3 guards are down on the ground trying to pry me out of it’s grip but it’s no use, it’s has me and it’s not letting go. Right before I pass out I see one of the on call ministers run in, he puts a crucifix against the wall and the thing releases my arm. I see the preacher man slide the crucifix up along the wall where the vent runs and hear the thing scooting upwards and back away from it. The guards pull me out and I lose consciousness. Next day I wake up in the infirmary missing three fingers and had a dislocated shoulder.
“I remember feeling like the vent was too small for a person to fit in when my arm was inside it, except for where he was… Wherever he was it felt bigger, like the vent expanded around him. I.. I don’t know how to explain it… Anyway, long story short, I’ve learned to mind my p’s and q’s since then.”
Suffice to say my dad’s fellow inmate had some interesting tales of events that took place after my dad was paroled. Like I said he’s the guy that took over training the bloodhounds after my dad, and a lot of his stories dealt with the creature inhabiting the woods by the kennels.
I’ll start this off with a story, Mark, my dad’s friend, was told by one of his friends after having his own run in with the creature one night. This is what Mark was told:
“A new guard tower was being built at the edge of the property where the warden figured security was a bit vulnerable. It was right outside the woods where they trained the search dogs, and a crude path just wide enough for a van carrying a work convoy was cut right through the trees.
“Well, they started bringing us out there in a chain gang every night about three to four am to dig a ditch for the plumbing and electrical from the tower to the main campus. They’d have me and about nine more inmates digging out there until around noon when it started to get too hot in the Texas sun.
“Anyway one night we load up in the convoy and start headed that way and outta nowhere it starts pouring cats and dogs. We try digging for about thirty minutes but the ground had turned to mush and we’re just making a mess so the S.O. tells us to load back up on the van.
“There were two chain gangs out there that night, Chain One and Chain Two, five inmates on each chain shackled up at the ankle. Well the guys on Chain One get in the van and me and the guys on Chain Two are standing there in this torrential downpour waiting for the signal to board when the treetops directly beside us start shaking and branches start snapping and cracking.
“We all hear it and start looking up at the trees trying to figure out what the hell is up there but before we see anything the guards usher us inside the van.
“Get inside, take our seats, and the driver starts the engine. But by now the whole trail we came in on is nothing but mud and we ain’t moving. A guard steps out, walks around the vehicle, and step back in. He tells the driver the tires are all down in the ground halfway up the rims in muck and we’d need a tow truck to get out. But until the path dried up there wasn’t anyway to get a tow out there so they radio inside and we’re told to just hang tight.
“About that time one of the guys in the seat behind mine starts spouting off and pointing out the window up at one of the trees.
“‘What the fuck is in that tree? Over there! Look!’
“The whole van looks to see what this guy is pointing at, and in the thick gnarled branches of a tree about twenty yards off, are these glowing yellow eyes just watching us.
“Now the van is in an uproar, yelling at the guards to get us the fuck outta there. You know you get hardened to violence and stop fearing the physical, but most of the guys that are locked up for a good chunk are petrified of the dark, of the things that lurk there. Even if you didn’t believe in ghoulies and goblins when you come prison, you get left alone to face your inner demons long enough and you realize they must have come from somewhere.
“So everyone is in a panic, acting like a lady that’s seen a mouse, but the guards yell at us to sit down and shut up. We’re in a staring contest with the eyes in the tree when they slowly pull back into the void and disappear.
“Not a second later on the roof of the van -DOOF- a loud thud hits us as the van quakes from the impact. Everybody hits the ground and there is absolute silence. Then we hear -cree, cree, cree – as whatever was on the roof started walking back and forth from the front of the van to back.
“‘What the fuck is up there?’ sheepishly whispers the guy shackled next to me. The S.O. just looks at him and slowly puts his finger to his lips silently shushing him never taking his eyes off the van ceiling.
“Everyone is looking around at each other in this thick, tense atmosphere, too afraid to hardly breathe. Then the thing on the roof lets out this ear piercing screech and and starts rocking the van so violently I thought it was going to tip us over.
“The guys on Chain One start looking frantically at each other,
“‘Fuck this,’ one of them shouts.
“They all jump up and bolt for the exit, guards in a half- whisper half-yell telling them to get back on the floor, but before they can do anything about it the guys on Chain One force the door open and dart outside. The van stops shaking immediately and we get up and look out the window to see what’s going on.
“All I saw was this dark blur swooping down at the guys on Chain One who were running back towards the prison. And I watched as in a flash the whole fucking chain gang gets yanked sideways fifteen feet into the trees. It was like something just sucked em up, one second they were there and the next they were gone.
“‘Shit! Shit! Shit! God damn it!’ the S.O. starts ranting.
“Everything goes quiet again. S.O. is trying to figure out if he should call in to report the incident and missing inmates yet or not, probably thinking they’d make him get off the van and go after them if he did. Finally he clicks in his radio.
“‘This is S.O. Davis, we gotta problem out here at Tower Eight.’
“‘Roger, S.O. Davis, this is HQ, go ahead with your issue. Over.’
“Right about that time the guys on Chain One come running out from trees, as white as ghosts, screaming for the driver to open the van doors. As they get closer we can see that there were only four men on the chain, and that the lead man, Barnes, was missing. And when they got right up to the van we could see that still shackled and dangling from where Barnes was cuffed, was his leg all the way up to the knee.
“‘S.O. Davis, go ahead with your issue. Over… S.O. Davis?’ repeated the voice in the radio.
“Hesitantly he clicked the button on the radio, ‘S.O. Davis here… Gonna need a search party for an injured inmate missing in the woods by Eight. Over.’
“‘Roger that, S.O. Davis. Over.”
“A second later the sirens start going off as the driver opens the door and the four inmates still on the chain run inside. One of the guards unlocks the Barnes’ leg from the shackles and just tosses it outside the door.
“None of them spoke a word as we just sat there nervously locked inside the van. We could hear the hounds start barking from within the woods and officers shouting to one another as flashlight beams danced in and out of sight.
“A couple hours pass and then S.O. Davis’s walkie goes off and the voice of a distraught guard comes through.
“‘Uh… This is… uh… Officer Martinez, I have located the missing inmate… well some of him…’
“Just like that the sirens stop ringing and the prison comes off lock down. We were instructed to wait on board the van until sunrise and then were escorted back to our housing units when it was light enough to safely walk the mile or so to main campus.
“One of the inmates on Chain One lived in the same unit as me and when I saw him in Rec later that day I asked what the hell had happened out there.
“‘I… I’m not really sure…’ he began, ‘this thing… this fucking thing it… it just dragged us through the brush like we were nothing and started pulling us up into the air so fast I started blacking out. It had a hold of Barnes and it yanked him so hard through the branches that he hit a limb and it ripped his leg right from his body.
“‘The rest of us just start falling back to ground and I can see it carrying him off into the canopy of leaves and just vanish. I don’t think it even noticed it wasn’t holding us anymore…’
“‘Jesus Christ,’ I said horrified, ‘did you catch a good look at it?’
“‘I wish to God I hadn’t. It was nine, maybe ten feet tall, and thin, anorexic almost. I didn’t see it’s face but from the back of it’s head I saw it’s long wiry gray hair whipping through the wind. It’s arms hung down all the way past it’s knees and it had these spiny fingers, each one the length of my forearm. And on it’s back, it’s wings… it’s fucking wings… Imagine you flip one of those daddy long legs spiders upside down, now make it a hundred times bigger and tape it to your back… They were these skinny, long, maybe ten feet each, articulating tendrils, and they didn’t flap or whatever like a bird’s wings. They would just randomly and ever so slightly twitch at the end, one at time and randomly, not like in sync or anything. Fuck man, I don’t know what that thing is, but I know God didn’t make it…’
“Try as I might I couldn’t get any of the other guys to talk about what they saw out there. They’d just as soon forget, I figured…
“Anyway, they never did find all of Barnes, but hear-tell they found pieces of him scattered across all sixty acres in the treetops. A hand here, some intestines there, never found more than a chunk in any one place. I heard too, that warden sent Barnes’ family one of his famous NDAs. Worst part is he was set to be released in a month.
“After that we didn’t work on Tower Eight in the dark anymore. We agreed we would rather sweat in the summer heat than come face to face with whatever that thing living in those woods was ever again.”
Mark then went on to tell my dad his about his own run in with the creature from woods. It takes place where else but the kennels. I asked my dad if he could describe the kennels so you guys and myself could picture them better. He said the building looks like a horse stable almost. There is a dirt hall down the middle, probably fifteen feet across, that splits two walls lined with metal dog pens, and it’s open all the way through with no doors on the ends. He said that at one end past the kennels there are a couple storage closets for dog food and dummies, and between the pens and the closets there are haystacks that they used as cushion for the dogs to lay on. It’s an all wood building with a steep tin roof. Hopefully that provides a good enough image, and with that out of the way here is what Mark told my dad:
“One night – why is it always at night? – anyway, one night I’m out at the kennels getting the dogs and equipment put away. There was only one guard on dog duty that night and he felt comfortable enough with me that he left me there alone when he had to head back to the main building to use the restroom.
“I cage the dogs, put the dummies away and pull out the feed when all the hounds just start whining and whimpering. I feel the hair on back of my neck stand up and for no reason at all I’m just frozen. I get this awful feeling in my gut that somethings watching me.
“I work up enough nerve to take a look around and my eyes are drawn like magnets to the pitch black tree line in the distance. I can’t see anything but I just know somethings there, lurking, observing me, studying me…
“I stand there in a trance for the longest time then just snap out of it and start filling the bowls with feed so I can get out of there as fast as possible. I’m about four bowls in and -DUNT DUNT- I hear something hit the roof. I don’t mind telling you I wasted no time jumping behind the haystacks and hiding myself as best I could.
“I hear whatever it is up there on the roof start walking around, this is after the whole ordeal with the convoy at Eight so I have a pretty good idea as to what it might be and I’m practically pissing my pants.
“And then – dunt, DUNT, boof – it leaps off the roof and I hear it land right outside the kennel breezeway. I am just praying to God it doesn’t see me. Through a crack between the haystacks I see it’s shadow cast across the dirt from the moonlight behind it. The dogs have all gone quiet.
“I can hear my own heart beating as I see it’s shadow start walking into the kennel. I see these long snake like things, six on each side, fold up and retract into it’s back as it moves further inside. With one arm it’s dragging it’s hand along the closet walls and then across the metal closet door. It’s so loud my ears start ringing and it sounds like nails on a chalkboard.
“As it starts to pass me it stops right in front of the haystacks. I am absolutely losing it inside. It’s right in front me and I can see it’s skin is this leathery grayish brown color, and it’s feet are almost like a… like a raptor’s feet. It had three black claw like toes and it walked upright on the balls of it’s feet.
“I hear it sniffing the air and I’m thinking it’s gonna smell me, it’s gonna find me and do only God knows what with me. It’s leaning into the haystack sniffing closer and harder, about that time one the hounds start barking at it.
“It lets out this terrible screeching noise and just goes ballistic. It’s screeching and slamming into the walls and swiping at the steel pen doors. It unfolds the things from it’s back and flies up smashing against the roof. It’s flying around hitting everything like a June Bug or something…
“In my head I’m just praying, ‘please God, please God, please God…’
“Then I see the on-duty guard’s headlights shining in the breeze way headed my way. The thing swoops down snatches up the hundred pound bag of feed and flies off towards the trees…
“The guard rushes in gun drawn and finds me hiding in the hay. He said as he was driving up he saw it too, and watched it fly away. I just sat there not knowing if I should be glad he’d seen it or not… Makes it harder to tell yourself it was all in your head when someone else sees it happen too, you know?
“I used to like being left alone out there, but now anytime he goes to the restroom I just wait in the squad car.”
Mark goes on to tell my dad that every now and again he’d come out to the kennels and find the dog food or a haystack missing, the steel pen doors dented in, or everything pulled out from the closets like something had been rummaging through them. Sometimes at night he’d hear the treetops crackling and watch them sway back forth when there wasn’t so much as a gust. He said he never came face to face with the creature again, but did have one more terrifying interaction with it by proxy.
Mark relays that a few months after his harrowing encounter he is out at the kennels again, putting away the hounds and dummies. This time the on-duty guard is with him though and a voice comes through on the guards walkie and for the next few minutes Mark and guard just listen as the calls coming in get increasingly more distressed. Here is what Mark heard over the radio that night:
“Uh… HQ this C.O. Green out at Tower Eight. Over…”
A female voice responds, “this HQ, go ahead Tower Eight. Over.”
“HQ, something big just crashed into the Tower Eight roof, were your cameras able to catch what it was? Over.”
“That’s a negative Tower Eight, my security cameras do not provide a visual of the tower roof. Over.”
Another voice comes through, “Tower Eight, this is Tower Six. I currently have eyes on you. It appears someone is standing on top of Tower Eight. Over.”
“Tower Six this is HQ. Did you say someone is currently on top of Tower Eight? Over.”
“This is Tower Six, and that’s affirmative HQ. I have clear visual of someone atop Tower Eight. Over.”
“Tower Six this is Tower Eight. You sure you haven’t been pulled any of them funny cigarettes out of Confiscation? Over.”
“That’s a negative Tower Eight, the person in question is now crouching on your tower roof. Over.”
“HQ, this is Tower Eight, I’m going to go out on the walk and see if I can take a look. Over.”
“Tower Eight this Tower Six and I do not recommend that you leave the tower bay. Over.”
“Tower Six this is Tower Eig – fffftiink – what the fuu…”
“Tower Eight this is Tower Six, whoever is on your roof has just jumped down onto the tower walk. I have lost visual. Repeat, I have lost visual…”
C.O. Green comes back through the walkie, the terror in his voice apparent, “It… it’s looking right me… Oh god… it’s… its teeth… Jesus Christ…”
“Tower Eight this is Tower Six, do not attempt to exit the tower bay! I repeat, do not attempt to exit the tower bay!”
“HQ this is Tower Eight – boofff, boofff, boofff – it, it, it is smashing against the glass – boofff, booffff – it’s trying to get inside. Jesus! Jesus! What the fuck is it?!”
“Tower Eight this HQ exit through the stairwell lock yourself inside, we have officers in route! Officers are in route! Over!”
“Oh god! Oh god it broke the glass! – pop, pop, pop – Aaaaaaah! Aaaaah! Aaaaaaaaahhh!”
“Tower Eight this is HQ please respond. Over… Repeat. Tower Eight this is HQ please respond…”
“HQ this is Tower Six, something just flew out of the Tower Eight bay and down into the trees… and I… Jesus Christ… I think it had C.O. Green…”
Mark then told my dad,
“A week later a couple of hikers find a skeleton on some trails about fifteen miles out. It was picked clean to the bone, they do a DNA test on the marrow and lo and behold it turns out to be C.O. Green…”
Eventually my dad and Mark switch gears from the creature in the woods to M-Seg, and my dad asks him if anything new had happened since he’s been gone. Well, as it just so happened, Mark had in fact heard a few stories and rumors and he shared them with my dad.
“I had buddy who used to work down in the boilers. Anyway he said sometimes when the evidence locker would get too full they’d send the old closed cases down to be burned.
“Well one day he’s purging records and he comes across this box that is absolutely crammed full. He starts wondering how one person could have a file this long so he sets it aside and decides he’d go through it before he tosses it in the incinerator.
“He starts rifling through it reading some of the most awful stuff and it dawns on him that this file belongs to none other than VooDoo Bob. Now he’s really curious but there is too much to read through and no way he can sneak it all back to his cell so he just starts scanning for the good stuff.
“That’s when he sees it, VooDoo Bob’s diary. He shoves it in his pants tosses the rest in fire. When he gets back to his cell after his shift he pops it open and reads it cover to cover.
“Said the whole thing gave him the willies, said he wished he’d have just burned it. Anyway this is what I remember about the diary from what he told me.
“It was black, one of those spiral 5 subject notebooks except the metal spiral had been replaced with twine. The margins of every page were filled with little doodles of pentagrams and devils, and Latin phrases he couldn’t make out.
“The first few entries was VooDoo talking about how remorseful he was for killing his mom, about the voices in his head that told him to do it, and how he was glad he was finally alone and the voices couldn’t talk him anymore.
“But as the days went on the entries started getting darker. He started talking about how the voices had followed him to his cell in Seg. How every night from the shadows in the corner of his room something would speakk to him from the void, tell him to do things, terrible things.
“He said sometimes the thing would float down out of the darkness and hover over him while he slept. VooDoo came to believe that it wanted to use him as a host, and as months passed he was getting tired of fighting it, of trying to keep it out.
“He writes this entry one day saying that he planned to give his soul to the demon that night. After that every page was inked in his own blood and seemed to just be nonsense and incantations and sketches of demonic beings. Every once in while though, in the corner of a page there would be, written in pen, the words: ‘help me.’
“My friend in the boilers figures that VooDoo was still in there somewhere, trapped inside himself begging to be set free as this demonic force took control. Now whether that thing followed VooDoo to M or if it had been lurking there the whole time waiting for someone vulnerable enough to feed on I don’t know. But I think whatever is in those walls, at least a part of it is VooDoo…”
“Anyway, a few years ago they shut down M-Seg indefinitely. Now if you walk down the Seg wing you’ll see it taped off with caution tape and crucifixes hanging all over the door.
“People say a guy wound up in M and somehow the thing tricked him into completely removing the vent cover. The thing crawls out from the wall and eats him alive and the guy just… he just let’s it do it, doesn’t yell or anything. A guard come the next day to bring him chow and sees him all chewed up laying lifeless on the cell room floor. And when he looks up he sees the thing from the vent crawling upside down across the ceiling.
“Priests rush down the run and try and coheres it back to the vent from outside the cell but it’s too strong now, it’s been fed, it’s full. All they can do is bless every square inch of M outside 13’s door and pray it can’t get out.
“My buddy who cleans down in Seg says if you look through the block window you can see it’s shadow from under the cell door pacing back and forth on the M run.”
After hearing what Mark had to say I asked my dad if he had ever had to purge evidence himself when he worked in the boilers.
“Oh yeah,” he said, “about every six months or so they’d wheel a cart full of boxes of papers and files and have us burn them.”
I followed up by asking if he had ever found anything interesting like VooDoo’s diary.
“You’d see things inmates had used to off someone with, a shank, a piece of wire, a razor. We’d get pictures too, of the crime scenes, or of contraband that they’d confiscated and where they’d found it. I guess the craziest thing I ever saw were the voodoo dolls probably.”
“VooDoo Bob’s?” I asked.
“No… VooDoo Bob wasn’t the only one in Telford practicing witchcraft, you know? In fact there was a whole cult of warlocks or Wiccans or whatever you want to call them. The voodoo doll was one of theirs, they used it as weapon during the Holy Wars.”
I then asked him to back up a little and explain to me what he meant by Holy Wars.
“Alright well when I was working in the boilers the prison was going through what we just started calling the Holy Wars. There was this group of fanatical Christians and they had taken it upon themselves to start a crusade against this cult of people who liked to dabble in witchcraft.
“It started with just verbal altercations but escalated into this violent struggle that must’ve lasted a good two months. The first real bad incident happened when guards check the showers one day and find one of the cultists hanging from the shower head with his throat slit and a piece of cardboard staples to his chest with some bible verse about blasphemy written on it.
“Few days later another guard opens a cell next to an inmate who says he heard his neighbor shouting and they find him in there arms, legs, and head all severed and his torso split right up the middle. But it doesn’t make any sense because he bunked alone and his cell door had been locked whole time.
“Well the false prophets are certain it was done using some sort of witchcraft, so they even the score by baptizing three of the warlocks indefinitely in the toilets inside their cells.
“The inmate who usually wheeled down the evidence to the boilers happened to be one of the cultists. He wheels us in a fresh load not long after the drownings and sitting on top of the boxes are these three rope dolls.
“Me and my coworker don’t think anything about it other than they looked kind of creepy, so we start tossing the contents of the cart into the blaze. Not minute later all the fire alarms start going off.
“The guard supervising us leads us out onto the yard where all the other inmates are lined up. We start asking around trying to figure out if anybody knows what’s going on and someone tells us that a few of those fanatics were standing around preaching to the mice and out of nowhere they just burst into flames.
“After they do an investigation they say one of the guys just spontaneously combusted and wound up setting the other two on fire. But I know it had to be those dolls and some kind black magic was responsible. But I don’t want the same thing happening to me so I decide to just keep my mouth shut and mind my own business.”
I asked him if he ever talked about it later with his coworker in the boiler room and he got quiet and this somber look washed over him.
“With, Boogie? No, I don’t think that man even comprehended that kind of evil existed in the world. He was always happy, always dancing, that’s why I used to call him the Boogieman.
“Boogie was a black guy. And when I first got to prison I hated black people, My old gang was a bunch of red necks and skin heads and I think I just started hating them to show off or something and eventually I convinced that I actually did.
“When I came prison my hatred just got worse, everyone is separated, segregated, every one sees color first. Except for Boogie, he just saw people. He was sent there on drug charges, got addicted to crack and couldn’t kick habit. But he was a good guy, super friendly, and upbeat, the type of person that wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“I start in the boilers and realize my coworker is this cheery black man and I ask for a job transfer immediately but it gets denied. At first I just ignored him as he keeps talking to me every day like he thinks we are friends or something. He’d get some coal on his shovel do a little twist and toss it in the boiler. It was like he didn’t see I hated him, or maybe he did, maybe that’s why he was so persistent.
“‘Ay, boss why you so down today, don’t you know God made the stars?’
“Everybody was boss, everybody was good. Eventually I started talking back to him, out of boredom or loneliness, or curiosity maybe. And the more we talked the more I realized that this was one of the most genuine people I’d ever met and I had hated him solely because he was different color than me. That night I get to my cell and just pray to God for God to make me colorblind, to take the hatred I’d been carrying all these years out of me.
“Next day I go to the boilers and I see Boogie but now he’s just a person. I see him like he sees me for the first time, like a human being with a soul and dreams.
“I start thinking about this swastika tattooed on my arm that Boogie has to look at everyday I and try to apologize for it and for the way I used to be and he looks at me and says:
“‘Ay boss don’t sweat it, man, we all make mistakes. I ain’t know I like macaroni til I ate macaroni, ya dig? That tattoo don’t make you who you are anymore than my skin makes me who I am.’”
At this point tears start falling from my dad’s eyes and it’s the first time I have ever him cry so I tell him we can talk about something else, but he just continues.
“The worst thing, the absolute worst thing you can do to someone that hates you is let them see you happy. Well there is a lot of hate in prison and it’s always looking at the worst thing.
“One day I come down into boiler and Boogies’ not there. I start thinking maybe he’s sick or something and figure I’d check on him after my shift was through.
“Well I start smelling this awful burning smell coming from the other side of the boiler and I tell the guard I’m gonna have a look and see if something had fell against the casing.
“I walk around and leaning against the searing casing of the boiler is Boogie. He’s tied up at the wrists and ankles and covering his eyes and mouth are three little paper cups affixed to his face. I yell for the guard and we pry Boogie free, his shirt and skin already melting to the metal.
“His face was so swollen that his head was as big as a basketball. I pull the paper cups from his eyes and out pour about two dozen spiders. Black widows, brown recluses, just this buffet of spiders…
“His eyes are taped open and they’d been bitten so many times he just had two balls of puss oozing from his sockets where his pupils should’ve been. His nose was clamped shut forcing him to breathe through his mouth and sure enough when I removed the cup over his lips even more spiders crawled out from his open mouth.
“The guard shines a light down his throat to see if his airway had closed up and reflected back from the beam are the tiny eyes of a funnel web that had made a nest in his esophagus.
“Boogie was dead. This beacon of hope and joy just gone. And for what reason?
“Security cameras showed three members of one of the white supremacy gangs had jumped him in the hall when he was headed in to work and they get sent to Seg then off to Huntsville to join the boys on death row.
“Every now and again when I’d start feeling low I swear I would hear Boogie’s feet dancing down the metal staircase that lead to the boilers.
“I’d just look over and whisper to him, ‘I know, I know Boogie, God made the stars…’”
I think I’m going to wrap this post up on that note. I want to get this up and edited so you have something to read sooner rather than later. I still have so much to expound on from my dad’s days in the boilers to a female apparition the inmates call the ‘Black Widow’ to a corrupt guard turned serial killer taking and murdering inmates, the amount of material left is astounding. As long as you guys are still interested I’ll post updates as often as I can. But for now I’ll leave you with this:
I asked my dad why he thought so much evil was trapped in those prison walls and this is what he told me:
“Residue. It’s what’s leftover when you die. Everybody leaves something, be good or bad, and out in the real world there’s kind of a balance, but in a place like prison, a place packed full of the worst kind of people, what gets left behind is a concentration of evil. It pools together, stagnates and permeates everything, even the very air you breathe.
“The dark is darker and inhabited by things that are even darker still, and the silence is louder and more silent all at once. You spend your life locked up, and then your death to. I guess that’s the thing about good cages, nothing ever gets out.”
A former correctional officer my dad keeps correspondence with wrote my dad back a letter divulging one of his more horrifying and unexplainable experiences after my dad told him he was collecting stories of the sort. My dad said his name is, C.O. Johnson, and that his tale takes place during the same period of religious uprising during which he’d found the rope dolls on his evidence cart. Quickly, before I get into C.O. Johnson’s letter, let me set the scene for you as it was set for me:
It’s mid December of ‘98 and the prison’s Holy Wars are in full swing. The gang of righteous crusaders are getting bolder, with sects in every housing unit preaching hellfire and brimstone in the Rec Rooms. As the weeks pass they start amassing more and more followers and before long they are the largest single group inside the anguished walls of the Telford Unit.
Inmates just start calling the religious fanatics The Penitentiary Prophets. At chow time everyday Prophet leaders are up on the tables shouting and preaching all the while followers are falling out on the floor speaking in tongues and dancing like possessed men in the spirit.
When the guards try shut it all down riots start breaking out in the halls. Members start refusing to eat or drink citing a breach of religious freedom and by the end of the week two Prophet members have managed to starve and dehydrate themselves to death. More threaten to do the same so the guards are forced to let them continue on as they were, preaching condemnation to anyone not wise enough to turn from their wicked wiles and follow the Lord.
In direct opposition to The Prophets is a group of practicing satanists, who came to be known as The Order. While The Prophets would preach in the chow hall, The Order starts holding seances and preforming rituals, calling out to and inviting the devil inside. This is when things really start to escalate, and The Prophets take it upon themselves to purge the prison’s population of the blasphemers. The Order’s numbers start to dwindle down after several violent killings and beatings on their known practicers scare off some of the more fringe members. The cultists that remained, however, were steadfast and never failed to retaliate in the most gruesome, and brutal ways. Inmates are found dead in their cells, bodies and limbs crumpled up like old practice letters. Six are found wearing a crown of nails that had been hammered into their skull, each having one leg severed and tied to their arms forming a grisly flesh crucifix before being hung upside down decorating the rails along the second floor walkway. After seeing and hearing some of gory details, inmates started to suspect that witchcraft and black magic was involved.
During this battle over God and the occult something to the tune of 42 inmates are slaughtered from early September all the way up to Christmas by the time the smoke had finally settled.
It’s in the thralls of this chaos that C.O. Johnson’s letter takes place. Paraphrasing and skipping personal parts, this is what it said:
You know Dave I try not not think about this stuff. I spent enough time around evil and violence during my forty-three years in the penal system that I decided to leave all behind in those cells when I retired. But since you’re asking I suppose one more nervous walk down memory lane won’t kill me.
It was December of 98, when all of those religious zealots were making a ruckus. I remember because it was snowing outside. It’s funny… Maybe I’m just calloused to it all, but while we’re in the middle of finding inmates sliced to bits and nailed to the walls, the only thing unusual in my mind is the fact that it’s snowing in Texas.
I get up that day same as any other, have my coffee, kiss my wife, and head in to work. By the time I get there the white stuff is coming down like what I’d imagine a blizzard looks like up north. I scan through security and find out the prison is on lockdown and the guards are all on watch.
I ask my buddy what’s going and he tells me they found eight of those fanatics dead in the halls. He said they had been completely skinned and the strangest part is that the skin and hearts were missing. I ask him if they know who did it and he tells me that all the cameras just show them walking into the hall and then they go blank.
What’s odd about that is none of the bodies were found in the same place, which means that simultaneously eight cameras just malfunctioned when murders took place and started working again right after.
Any who, everybody is locked in their cells, and the guards are on edge, but the count comes back good minus the eight deceased so we start our normal duties. With everyone locked up half the guards head to chow hall to start the meal prep since we’d be delivering trays that day. There is always a shuffling of responsibilities when that happens and when it all shakes out I end up on fence patrol.
I go out into the snow which is halfway up to my knees at this point, and I start walking along the fence line. It’s usually a rather uneventful way to spend a day, and what I’d consider a short-straw job, but that day especially. It was excruciatingly cold and I expected to be working inside so all I had on was this little windbreaker that worked about as well as wet toilet paper.
Anyway I turn down the stretch of fence that heads off through the trees and right there at the edge of the woods is this guy standing stark naked staring out the chain link. I instinctively draw my weapon and tell him to get down on the ground and I remember my voice not reflecting how scared I was. You do this job long enough and you get good at that I suppose, sounding confident when you aren’t, at being brave when you’re afraid.
I’m yelling at this guy to get down and he doesn’t even acknowledge me, just keeps staring out the fence. Now he’s covered in tattoos, inked in prison green, so I know this is an inmate and I’m thinking someone must’ve messed up on the count. I try to radio in for backup but the blizzard is too thick for me to get out any kind of communication from where I am.
I approach him with my gun drawn, still pleading with him to get down and that’s when I notice that running up from the back of his feet all the way to the tip of his head were these stitches, all sutured up out of this black string about as thick as a shoe lace.
Thus far he’d been a still as a board, standing almost like a mannequin in one of those fancy department stores. From my vantage point he’s standing at an angle and I can only see the side and back of him, but I can’t shake this feeling that he looks familiar. That’s when it hits me, this is one of the inmates found dead in the halls that morning, or his skin at least…
Against every ounce of sanity telling me not to, I know I’ve gotta get around to his front to confirm his identity. I get right up behind him and my trembling hand starts making it’s way through the falling snow reaching out for his shoulder.
Then, just as my fingers touch his flesh, in this fast swooping spin he twists his body completely around and is now standing face to face with me. I jump back and fall down into the snow and he just stares for a second more before swinging around towards the woods beside us and runs in this robotic motion and disappears into the trees.
I don’t know what made me do what I did next, maybe adrenaline, maybe stupidity, maybe both, but I climb up out of the snow, grab my gun, and take off after him.
The trees are so thick out there I can hear him moving through the brush but I can’t see him so all I can do is follow the noise of the rustling ahead and the foot prints through the snow. He’s leading me deeper and deeper inside, the whole time this voice in my head is screaming to just go back, just go back.
Finally I hear him stop moving on the other side of a heavy thicket of branches. I double check my pistol and make sure the safety is off, then cautiously make my way through the bush to confront it.
I work my way between the leaves and tree and the trail opens up to a small clearing. I am bathed in dread as I see the lifeless skins of all eight deceased inmates, lying in a perfect circle, head to head and face up in the snow. They are all stitched closed and filled with hay that I can see sticking out of their open mouths and empty eyes sockets, like some kind demented flesh scarecrow. And I see the footprints l had been following and they were leading to the man by the fence now laying in the circle joining the others, as if he’d never gotten up and walked away.
I’m panicking, clicking in my radio, praying someone responds. Then this choppy staticky voice comes through but I can’t hear what it’s saying so I start scrambling and pacing around trying to get some signal when I see something move in my peripheral.
I stand frozen for minute, not wanting to know, not wanting to see. I take a deep breath and swing around gun drawn and to my utter horror three of flesh men are gone, and what’s worse I can hear something circling around me. More than one something from the sound of it.
The others were now up on their knees, bowing and kneeling around the circle like worshipers at an idol, and I start to feel the ground vibrating under my feet. My head is telling me to run but whatever part of the your brain it is that works your legs wasn’t working for me as unable to move I just watched.
I watched as the earth between them started to open up and from below I could see this glowing like from the embers of a flame, and these long spider like appendages started to reach up from the depths. The tremors got so bad they buckled my knees and as soon as I hit the snow I snapped into survival mode.
I darted out of the clearing back into the trees and I ran fast as I could and I could see two of the missing fleshcrows were running through forest beside me in that same robotic stride. I must’ve gotten lost and turned around because I had been running for ten minutes and I could see directly in front of me I was coming back up on the glowing pit.
Whatever was coming up from the hole was screeching and growling in these deep haunting howls that echoed through the trees. I turn around and as fast as I can sprint aimlessly back the other way, praying I find my way out. But no matter how long or far I ran I could hear those bellowing moans right there in my ear, right behind me.
It was maybe, noon, at the latest but the sky was pitch black and it became apparent that I was getting nowhere. I look around and I don’t see the reanimated cadavers trailing me anymore so I do the only thing I can think to do and dig a ditch in the snow and bury myself in powder.
Not thirty second later I hear footsteps crunching the snow around me, then feel something walk right across my shallow snowy grave. Back and forth over my freezing body they go, searching for me, for what purpose I didn’t want to know.
Pacing around in their search, one of them kicks up some of the snow covering my eyes and it must’ve felt my face on it’s foot because it just stops and slowly turns around. This thing… this… this living carcass looks straight down at me, and it has no eyes but somehow I know it sees me…
Just as it starts to take a step towards me I hear a loud screech and see one of those spidery from the pit bolt out from the branches above pierce the fleshcrow straight through the chest then snatch it up into the limbs and I hear it whip through the tree tops and off into distance.
I wait there a good five minutes and finally start working myself out of my trench. I get up and take a look around to see if the coast is clear, but when I turn around there is fleshcrow standing twenty feet away, and it’s headed straight for me. I stumble backwards, pull out my pistol and fire three shots -pop, pop, pop – but it doesn’t even flinch as the bullets seem to go right through it.
I scramble backwards until I hit a tree and right when it is no more than an arms length out, it legs go to jello and it falls to the snow in a crumpled heap. The sky lightens up and all of a sudden I know where I am. I don’t hear the creature from pit anymore either, for moment watching the sunlight breach the leaves and reflect golden rays up from the blanket of white covering the earth, everything is serene.
The moment is quickly replaced with a realization that the serenity I felt could be fleeting so I jump up and hightail it out of those woods and don’t look back until I hit the prison doors.
When I start to tell the others what I saw I just stop myself. Who’d believe me? Instead I just tell them that I found the missing skins and warden has a search party sent out to retrieve them. I relayed the general vicinity of where they were but insisted I was too shaken up to go back into those woods anytime soon.
A couple guards told me that they’d broken up some cultists in cell preforming some kind ritual when they were delivering trays just before my return. It got me to thinking maybe they were summoning something out in those woods using the fleshcrows somehow and must have gotten interrupted right about when that one turned to mush at my feet.
They only ever found two of the fleshcrows, holes in the chest as if something had been ripped out. The warden sent them down to the boilers to be burned. I used to hear the guys from the kennels complaining about missing haystacks from time to time though. I always wondered if it was one of those things… refilling itself… Right up until I retired five years ago, every once in a blue moon we’d get in a call from a concerned civilian driving down I-30 that would say they saw a naked prisoner out standing by the fences. So I always figured they were still out there somewhere… wandering through the woods…
Right before I retired I decided to get it all out and I finally tell a buddy about what went down that day. You know what he tells me? He says, “you really had me going until you said it was snowing in Texas…”
After reading me C.O. Johnson’s letter my dad goes over to a junk drawer, opens it up, and pulls out a pack of Pall Malls’ and a box of matches and lights up a cigarette. He rarely ever smokes and when he does it’s usually because he’s mulling something over, so I break the silence by asking him what’s on his mind.
“It’s just something C.O. Johnson wrote in his letter, about the missing haystacks,” he tells me.
“Oh? What about them?” I inquired.
“Well first of all I remember going into the kennels and finding a missing stack every now and then, never really put much thought to it. But now it has me wondering…
“I wonder because sometimes when I’d run the dogs they’d get off the scent and lead me to this little tunnel going down between some big rocks. Now they didn’t stray off course often but when they did it was always to that same little tunnel.
“I could tell it went down a good ways but I never knew how deep it actually was or if it opened up at the bottom. And sometimes I’d hear something moving around inside it but just chalked it up to a wild animal.
“One time, though, the dogs lead me out there and one of them starts sniffing at something sticking up from a rock about ten yards away and when I go over and inspect it I recognize it right away. It’s a piece of bailing wire used to hold the haystacks together. At the time, again, I don’t give it a second thought.
“After reading the C.O.’s letter I’m starting to suspect that maybe one his fleshcrows drug it out there, if maybe they were what was moving around down in the tunnel.
“It makes sense when you think about it. I ran the dogs all over those woods, if they were really out there wandering around I would’ve seen them at some point. It’s almost like they were hiding from something, maybe that’s why anyone only ever spotted them at the fence, maybe… maybe they were trying to get out.
“Whatever it was that came out of the ground that day, what if it’s hunting them? Feeding on them? Maybe it needs them to complete the ritual the cultists were preforming? Maybe it’s the same creature I saw in the tree that night, the same one Mark saw? Eh… I’m probably just jumping to conclusions. Still… it kinda gives you pause though, no?”
He was right on both accounts, he was in fact jumping to conclusions, and it did in fact give me pause. I couldn’t come up with a better theory based off everything I have heard thus far. Maybe one of you has some insight as to what the fleshcrows are and what the purpose of the cultists creating them would be?
From there we got on a bit of a lighter subject when I asked him why everyone in prison had a nickname for seemingly everyone and everything.
“Not everyone, just the people who do something memorable, be it good or bad. As to why, I don’t know, inmates like to pass down stories and Antoine from C-Block just doesn’t doesn’t have the same ring to it as Ol Two-Step”
“Two-Step?” I replied, “He get that name when Boogieman was taken?”
My dad just laughed and told me, “Two-Step never danced, no.”
“Then why’d y’all call him Two-Step?”
“This one of those things you think you want to know but really don’t,” he laughed, “But you’ll swear you do until I tell you so hear it goes.
“A guard hears this hooting and hollering from inside the C-Block showers, so he runs inside. He goes in an see’s, Antoine, this big black man going to town on this skinhead’s backside.
“The skinhead keeps yelling ‘I changed my mind get it out me, get it out me.’ Guard breaks up their love session, they put their clothes back on and he walks ‘em out of the showers to find the whole block, guards and all, are crowded around the shower exits.
“He’s got this look of astonishment on his face and he’s just as wide eyed as he can be shaking his head.
“One of the inmates yells out to him from the crowd, ‘What’s the matter C.O.? You ain’t never seen a man put his dick in another man’s ass before?’
“Without missing a beat C.O. looks up at him and yells back, ‘Yeah but this first time I’ve ever seen one have to take two steps back to get it all the way out…’
“Whole cell block starts rolling to tears, and ever since then the legend of Ol Two-Step has been passed around the yard from inmate to inmate.”
He was wrong this time, I was glad to have been told the legend of Two-Step, and for the next twenty minutes we just laughed as he divulged some of the more comical nicknames and origins there of. But the mood quickly took a turn for the dour as he goes on to tell me:
“Not all the monikers spin these funny little yarns though. Some of them are born from the sinister, from the malevolent actions of nefarious hands. You know you got VooDoo, and the Rec Room Ripper, you have the Black Widow, and the Christmas Creeper, I could go on for hours.”
“Black Widow?” I replied as hearing about a woman behind the prison bars had piqued my interest.
“Well most of the time when the warden has to deal with a dead body he’f manage to find a way to just ‘make it go away.’ A lot of the times he’d have the remains boxed up and buried somewhere in the fields in an unmarked grave and would tell the families that because they’d died in prison that they were state property and convince them they were holding them as evidence until they figured out who did it.
“The honest truth is that more often than not the corpses were torn up so bad he knew he could never let the families see them like that. Now I don’t know if this was to protect himself or the families but I do know it didn’t provide a whole lot of closure.
“Anyway, one day this lady in a long black dress, like a wedding dress you’d wear to a funeral or something, shows up at the prison gates demanding to see her deceased husband’s remains.
“Warden comes out to the fence and tells her he’s already in the ground but that he’d escort her to his grave site, figuring telling her no was more trouble than it was worth. So he leads her out to a plot of ground with three or four fresh graves.
“‘Your husband is in one of these,’ he tells her.
“‘You… you don’t even know which one?’ she sobs, heartbroken.
“‘I’m sorry, we can’t afford to mark every grave in a state run prison.’
“‘But I told you to send him home! I told you just send him home!’
“‘Yes ma’am you did, and like I said, he’s state property now and…’
“‘Property?! Property?!’ she screamed in disgust before finally snapping and launching herself at the warden. Reflexively one of the guards accompanying them out to the burial site, pulls his pistol from the holster and shoots her twice in the stomach. She lurches backwards and lands on what may or may not have been her husband’s tomb, bleeding out on the freshly turned soil. The guard and warden are just standing there watching her squirm, neither one believing what just happened.
“‘Now what the hell did you do that for C.O.? She was unarmed, god dammit! Jesus Christ, now how the hell am I gonna explain this? Get her to the infirmary now! Now god dammit!’
“The guard in trembling nervous voice starts apologizing to the lady as he is carrying her in his arms as fast as he can to medical, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking, it was instinct, it’s this damn place. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.’
“As he nears the infirmary he hears her whispering in this weak lethargic gargle and he stops running to try and make out what she’s saying.
“‘I don’t remember. I don’t remember.’ she weeps.
“‘You… you don’t remember what ma’am?’
“‘I don’t remember his face… For the life me I can’t remember my husband’s face.’ tears streaming down her cheeks past the black veil covering her eyes.
“That’s the last thing she said before dying on a cold steel infirmary table an hour later.
“A few months after that an inmate on janitor duty comes back from his shift and he tells us what he see’s when he’s sweeping up one of the long corridors of an empty block wing.
“‘I’m all alone and it’s dead quiet save for the buzzing of the fluorescent lights above. I always get this eerie feeling when I’m working the halls over there as it is, but last night it was… thicker, and I couldn’t shake it.
“‘Well right when I get to the end of the run I start hearing what sounds like soft whimpering coming from behind me. Like a… like a woman’s whimper. I turn around and down at the other end I see this lady turn the corner and start coming towards me. She’s in this long black dress, and her face is covered, and her hands are holding her stomach like she has a stomachache. I yell out and ask her if she’s okay but she just keeps sobbing and moving towards me.
“‘Then notice the way she’s moving… Her dress is dragging the floor so I can’t see her feet but it’s almost like she’s floating… like… like she’s gliding down the hall a few inches off the ground.’
“‘ I start backing up but I’m at the wall and there’s nowhere to go. I can’t speak, I want to yell for a guard but I’m too afraid to make a noise. She’s not more than me to you when I see her hands are purple and rotting like if you cut off the circulation around your wrists for too long, and where she’s holding her stomach I can see that she’s bleeding something awful…
“‘I shut my eyes as she closes the distance and now I can hear her hovering right in front of me. Then it’s goes quiet, she’s stopped sobbing and I open my eyes hoping she’s gone but when I do, looking back at me through her dark lace veil I see two eyes as black as coal peering back at me. I see the part of her face peaking out below the veil is that same suffocated color as her hands…
“‘With one of her arms she reaches up and puts one of her lifeless, cold hands under my chin and pulls my face up to hers. She stares me, like she’s studying me, like she’s trying to see if she recognizes me…
“‘After what seems like an eternity she lets me go and floats backwards a few feet before turning around and starts sobbing again as she slowly flies down the run and turns the corner…’”
I asked my dad if anyone else had ever seen the Black Widow and he told me that just about every inmate had seen her wandering the halls at some point.
“Sometimes at night you’ll hear cries coming from outside your cell door. And if you look to the window you’ll see her there looking back through it. She never leaves until she see’s the faces of everyone inside and she knows it’s not yours she’s looking for. When she’s sure, she floats to the next window, always searching for what she doesn’t remember, for the husband she didn’t get to mourn…”
My dad then shared a few more tales of the Black Widow, and some of other specters purportedly haunting the halls of Telford. We then slipped down the rabbit hole of conversation and found ourselves on the topic of killings committed by guards.
“It really doesn’t happen that often, usually it’s the other way around. Some of them though, like C.O. Johnson for instance, by the time it’s all said and done they’ve spent more time inside the prison than the majority of the inmates. You gotta imagine that out of all these free men choosing to spend their lives behind bars at least a few of them have a screw loose somewhere.
“Well we this new guard in the unit, friendly guy, one of those buddy-buddy types with the inmates. His last name is Mangle, and naturally everyone just start calling him Mr. Mangle.
“Well Mr. Mangle had this morbid curiosity with what brought everybody to prison, especially the inmates with more violent crimes. He’d ask us stuff like: ‘Did they scream? How much blood was there? Did the knife go in easy?’
“He’s working in the unit about six months when he winds up shooting and killing a guy trying to hop the fence. Now this guy was coming up for parole with good behavior so the entire population is suspicious of his story, but it’s a guards word against a dead inmates’ so what can you do?
“I don’t know if he had a taste for killing before that happened but I know he was certainly hungry for it afterwards.
“Mr. Mangle is forced to go on a mandatory leave of absence as is protocol following incidents like that, and when returns it isn’t long before inmates start going missing. Nobody knows where they’ve gone but cameras along the perimeter show no ones escaped so it’s assumed they must hiding inside the facility.
“Over the course of five months, seven prisoners mysteriously vanish without a trace and no one has any answers. Eventually after reviewing security footage investigating officers notice two things, the inmates all disappeared going around the same corner to an unmonitored corridor, and shortly after, Mr. Mangle always appears coming back from the same place.
“They go in and do a sweep over the hall where the inmates were last seen. They’d done them before and come up empty but they go back thinking they must have missed something somewhere. Well they get down there and who should appear walking out from inside the custodian’s closet but a bewildered Mr. Mangle.
“Warden sees him and tells Mangle to follow him back to his office to answer a few questions. I guess it dawns on Mangle that the jig is up and he runs back into the closet slamming the door shut behind him.
“Officers pull the door open and Mangle is gone. They pull everything out at start searching it top to bottom when they notice a couple loose tiles in the floor. They pull up the tiles and sure enough it opens up to big shaft below.
“The shaft was part of defunct subterranean wing of the prison that had originally been intended to be a third level that was never finished due to several mishaps during construction. It had lied dormant for decades until Mr. Mangle decided to promote himself to warden over the decrepit labyrinth of rusted cells.
“The guards scoured the dark maze for hours but never did find Mangle. They did, however, find the missing inmates. Six of them were locked inside the long abandoned cells, emaciated, having been starved to death. The seventh inmate was located in the kitchen area, chopped up, rotted, and stuffed in coolers. Parts of him were found on trays with bite marks and missing chunks of flesh. He’d been attempting to feed number seven to the other six, and I guess they had in fact been eating him until the meat spoiled.
“Several sweeps over the next few days yielded no answers as to Mangle’s whereabouts. But then one morning he just emerges from the closet, sliced all over with broken ribs and a shattered leg. The guards rush over and detain him and he doesn’t even fight them.
“While being interrogated he confessed to the killings, and when they asked why he ultimately decided to give himself up he told the questioning officers that he hadn’t been alone down there. That something evil, more evil than Mangle even, crept through those halls at night.
“Word gets around the population of this secret underground prison wing and some inmates scheme up a plan to escape down there themselves. Three men sneak their way down the shaft and a day later one comes tumbling out of the closet looking about as beat up as Mangle.
“He says Mangle was right, that something else inhabited those cells, something inhuman. He reveals that the remaining two fugitives were never found, that the guards refused to even look for them.”
“So the guards just believed his story like that? What if he was lying?” I postulated.
“Most of those guards have been working there long enough to have seen some unbelievable things themselves, so it’s not as outlandish as you might think. And hell, didn’t you read C.O. Johnson’s letter? As crazy as it may be, some of those guys have even seen it snow in Texas.”
My dad and I were sitting on his couch finishing off some letters to be sent off to several inmates in an effort to appease my inquiries into the prison’s darker chapters. It was in the midst of this that a local news report playing in the background caught our ears. The anchors relayed to the listening public that a woman had jumped off a nearby bridge into oncoming traffic after having lost her child in an accident in the patch of asphalt a few months prior.
It occurred to me then that sometimes the world outside the prison’s walls can be just as bleak as the ones inside it. The same thought must have gone through my dad’s mind as he look at me and said:
“The saudade was too much for her.”
“Saudade?” I asked.
“It’s a Portuguese word. When someone you cherish is missing, saudade is the love that’s left behind. Inmates used to use it to reference the angst and limerence you’d feel after being stripped of all the little joys in life once being locked up. People on the outside don’t know what to do with that kind of longing and helplessness, they don’t know how to let it lead them.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’ve always been free you can’t appreciate what that truly means. Every step you take is just another step, it’s not taking you anywhere other than a stride past the one before it. Sometimes, I see people like this lady on the bridge and I pity them, they never learned to coddiwomple, never learned to grit their teeth and push on. They will never get to look forward to anything the same way an inmate gets to looks forward to his freedom.
“The best way I can explain it is if you have two people walking towards the same destination. One them through a field of lilac and daisies under the bluest of blue skies. The other is traveling through a long dark tunnel. Well the person going through the field is going to enjoy the whole walk, sure, but when they finally get where they’ve been going, it’s just another part of the field to them, pleasant but not special and ultimately just more of the same.
“The person down in the tunnel though, well they are nervous, afraid, claustrophobic even, but they can see that light and it gives them hope, something to aim for, to look forward to. When they finally emerge from end of tunnel they are stricken with the luminosity of it, smitten by the lilacs, this isn’t just another part of the field for them, it’s salvation, it’s elation in knowing that worst is behind you. But you can’t know the significance of where stand are until you realize where you stood.
“I think that’s why so many inmates wind up going back. You chase this radiant, brilliant light ahead for so long and all of a sudden you’re looking back at it and there’s nothing guiding your path anymore.”
I contemplated my father’s profound metaphor and then asked him, “what about people doing life? For them, their tunnel is a closed circuit or the light must seem so far away that they know they’ll never make it there in time. What guides them?”
“You just gotta realize that it can always be worse. For every dark tunnel there’s a darker one below it. And whatever tunnel you happen to find yourself in, if you walk it long enough, preserve hard enough, you’ll find your light. Like those guys who escaped down the shaft in the custodian’s closet, for example. They thought it couldn’t possibly be worse than life in prison, but they were wrong.”
He went on to tell me that those guys, Tully, Adams, and Hallston, had managed to sneak out from chow hall and ransack Commissary before making their way down into vacant bowels beneath the prison. The entire unit was on lockdown until the next day when Adams finally reappeared running back from the closet, bruised and battered, before collapsing at the feet of the first guard he saw.
After an extended stay in Seg, Adams was returned to population, greeted by a slew of curious inmates and this is what he told them:
“I guess it was Tully that first approached me with a scheme he and Hallston had been working up. They had this elaborate plan to set a fire down in the chow hall to distract the guards then bust ass to commissary for supplies before making their way down below to Mangle’s fabled stomping grounds.
“He tells me Hallston had already done a scope of the custodian’s closet and had ensured him there was some truth to the myths of the abandoned prison wing under the linoleum. Says too, that he knows the guards down in Laundry where I worked were all chainsmokers and don’t mind sharing a cig with an inmate who kept their mouth shut when one of the guards would sneak a puff.
“So Tully asks me if I can smuggle back a match or two for their little distraction and if I want in on the getting out. I’m thinking, ‘man I’m serving forty to life in here, I won’t see the other side of these walls until I’m nearly seventy and that’s if I’m lucky.’ So I just look at him and say, ‘hell, why not?’
“Next day I’m folding clothes and the C.O. lights one up. I ask him if he minds if I bummed one, so he hands me a cigarette, pulls out a box of matches and tosses it to me. I open the matches pull out four or five while he’s looking the other way then toss the box back. I get to Rec, give Tully the contraband, and he tells me the next day it’s all going down.
“Tomorrow comes and the guards make the call for dinner. I look over at Tully and he gives me the nod, so we join the mass exodus down to chow. Me and Tully are hanging around at the end of the line near the exits when I see Hallston walk over to the trashcans up front and toss something inside. He starts walking our way and when he gets just about up to us the can behind him blazes up.
“The guards by the exit rush over to the fire and we burst out onto the run and sprint down to commissary. Tully picks the lock with a bobby-pin and we start filling garbage bags with candy bars, ramen noodles, bottled water, and anything we can get our hands on. In the back of the room on the storage shelves we find two flashlights, a little portable AM-FM radio and toss them into the bags as well.
“Whole time we are running from commissary to the custodian’s closet, looking like some backwards version of Santa Clause, the sirens are going off. I’m thinking we ain’t gonna make it there before getting caught, but I guess fate was on our side because we didn’t see a single guard the whole way there. Thank God for the Texas Board Of Corrections and their chronic understaffing, I suppose.
“We squeeze into the closet and sure enough Hallston wasn’t lying, there on ground with a stack of pocket bibles working as paperweights, was the distinct outline of a cut out in the tile.
“Hall’ pushes the bibles to the side, pulls up the hidden door, and starts tossing our bags down the chute.
“‘Pheeeeew-tunk. Pheeeeew-tunk. Pheeeeew-tunk.’
“When they hit the ground echoes shot back up the shaft and I could tell it must open up to something large underneath. That was the first time I think it really hit me what we were doing, that this was happening, that it was real. After the last bag lands, Hallston looks up with his legs already dangling halfway inside the chute and says, ‘Welp, I guess that means it’s my turn.’ He starts making his way down and just before his head is out of sight he gives one more smirking glance, ‘see you boys on the other side.’
“After about fifteen seconds of downward maneuvering he shouts back up and tells us we are clear to join him. Tully leans over picks up one of the little orange bibles now scattered across the tile and tosses it to me.
“‘What’s this for?’ I ask him, confused.
“‘Hey,’ he responds, ‘you never know…’
“He grins and winks at me then joins Hallston on the other side. I look at the Bible for second and almost toss it back in the pile with it’s brethren on the floor, but think, ‘ah, what the hell,’ and instead I slide it into my pocket. With that, I take a deep breath and enter the chute.
“The chute itself is about a wide as the main air ducts running along the ceilings up here. Maybe eighteen by eighteen? A man can fit, but it’s tight. Anyway, I shimmy down all the way to the bottom until I feel my feet start to dangle free in the air. I can’t see below me, and I’m terrified of heights so I start panic a little.
“‘Just let go,’ Hallston shouts to me, ‘you ain’t gonna get hurt. Tell you what, you be a big boy jump down here I’ll give you some extra time outside your cell today. Sound good?’
“‘Fuck you, Hall,’ I roared back not appreciating his sarcasm.
“‘Come on, Adams,’ Tully intervened, ‘it’s a ten foot drop at most, you’ll be alright, man.’
“‘I… I can’t man… I don’t think I can do this…”
“‘So what you gonna do then? Go back up? Here I’ll open my arms and you can jump right in, come on princess I’ll catch you, just jump. Better yet I’ll lay on the ground and unzip my pants and send a pole up for you to slide down,” Hallston mocked.
“‘Here, hang tight Adams, I have an idea,’ Tully assured me.
“I’m just hanging there, half in-half out of this shaft praying I don’t lose my grip. I can hear the floor scraping below me like something heavy is being dragged across it, then what sounds like something else being placed atop it.
“‘Alright Adams, just lower down a little more,’ Tully instructs.
“I do as he says and am relieved to feel something solid under my feet. I complete the descent and see through the dim light shining down from the closet above that they’d drug an old desk over and stacked a chair on top of it. I see too that what my head was telling me was an endless abyss was really just an eight foot drop from the chute to the floor.
“‘You good now princess?’ Hallston jokingly asked.
“‘Yeah I’m good now, asshole. No thanks to that little pole of yours.’
“We pull the flashlights we’d lifted from commissary out of the bags and shined them around the room. Everything was unfinished, wires were pulled out and hanging from cut outs for outlets and places intended to be light fixtures. The floor was solid concrete, the builders having never gotten around to tiling it. There were cobwebs in every corner and dust permeated the air protesting our arrival for disturbing it’s slumber. Unfinished walls stood as interior windows into what were meant to be private rooms.
“‘Well she ain’t pretty but she’s home,’ Hallston said after our inspection.
“‘Let’s hope not,’ Tully answered, ‘there’s gotta be a way out of here to the outside…’
“‘Well let’s fuckin’ find it then,’ Hallston enthusiastically quipped.
“We grabbed our bags and started exploring the decrepit ruins. As we moved from corridor to corridor this looming feeling of uneasiness overtook me. The darkness seemed to almost fester, like it wasn’t a result of the lack of lighting but rather bled out from some place darker still. Like it was an open wound, an infection almost.
“The air was damp and musty, like a wet towel that had begun to mildew after being lost behind the hamper. The sounds of scurrying mice avoiding the oncoming strangers could be heard scampering down the halls. And as we worked our way through the ominous shadowy passages, this dreadful Deja Vu hit me as it became apparent that we were walking through an exact, albeit, unfinished replica of the level directly above.
“We spend the next few hours wandering the unlocked cells and crumbling walls along the perimeter of the complex, looking for any breaches to the outside. Whole time we do I’m looking back over my shoulder and in the back of my mind I’m thinking the guards are going to come running up on us at any moment. Hallston must’ve been thinking the same thing telling us in his thick southern drawl,
“‘I don’t think they’re coming down here boys. God damn it feels good to be a free man!’
“‘We ain’t free men yet you dumb shit,’ Tully snaps back, ‘hell we’re deeper in prison than we’ve ever been. I’ll tell you one thing though, if nothing else I’m gonna enjoy the vacation while it lasts.’
“Not long after that we decided to call the quits on our search for the night and get some food and sleep then start again in the morning. We made our way to the kitchen, opened the doors and were greeted by what must’ve been a hundred fleeing rats running away from us in every direction.
“‘Jesus Christ, this must be where the snitches go to be reincarnated,’ Hallston jested.
“We looked around and grabbed a couple big pots and exited the kitchen to the chow hall. Hallston starts a fire in one of the pots, the other we fill up with some of the bottled water and use fire from the first to heat it up. Once it got to boiling you already know what went down.
“We tear into our bags and let the feast begin. Imagine this: best of the 80s playing on the little radio in the background while Tully stirs up eight full packs of ramen. Hallston is slicing the Vienna sausage, and jalapeños, and I’m crunching up the Fritos and Cheetos. Men, it was a hell of a spread.
“Shit, we even melted down some Snickers and Moon Pies and made s’mores for dessert. Best I’ve eaten in nine years… Tully might not‘ve thunk we were free men yet, but hell if I didn’t feel like one. We just sat there around the stew pot fire, swapping stories and dreaming about what we were gonna do when we got out. Tully was going to the beaches of Mexico, to ‘taste the tequila and the señoritas.’ Hallston had plans to make his way up to West Virginia where his cousin had miles and miles of untamed farmland. Me? I just wanted to hug my best girl, my mama, one more time on the outside, and if they caught me again after that, well so be it.
“For the first time in a long time I forgot that I was in prison, I forgot that we were fugitives, and all of a sudden I was ten years old again, camping with my dad, oblivious to the sinister turns my life would take. For a minute there I wasn’t serving life… for a minute there… I was living it.
“Anyway, stomachs nearly bursting, the full toll of the days events started to take hold. We made use of the grime covered chow hall tables as bed to keep us up off the rat infested floors.
“The other guys were conked out already, but a combination of anxious energy that the guards still may crash our sleepover and Hallston’s incessant snoring had me wide awake. I sit up on the edge of the table and lean over the stew pot warming my hands over the flames. The temperature felt like it had dropped a good thirty degrees since we’d first shimmied our way down into depths.
“I’m rubbing my hands together trying to warm up when from behind me just outside the chow hall doors, I swear I can hear this raspy breathing, asthmatic almost.
“I turn around and inspect the darkness filling the door frame and the breathing stops as soon I do. That same uneasy feeling I’d felt when we’d just arrived crept it’s way back up my spine. I could feel this negative force afflicting the darkness just beyond the border of my vision.
“‘Get it together, Adams,’ I whispered to myself.
“I shake it off and pivot back around to the fire but just as I take my eyes off the door a loud crash echos down the hallway behind me. Startled, I whip back around, heart racing and again timorously scour out into the abyss.
“Tully must’ve heard it too because he groggily sat up rubbing his eyes and said, ‘these fucking rats are driving me crazy.’
“I just let out this nervous chuckle wanting to believe him, ‘yeah these fucking rats man…’
“‘Hey man hand me your flashlight will ya? I gotta take a piss,’ he informed me.
“‘Uh, yeah, here you go. Catch.’
“I toss him the flashlight and he gets up walks out of chow and I watch the yellow beam move down the run and then turn the corner towards the restrooms. About half an hour passes and he still ain’t back so I’m thinking he’s either trying to find something to wipe with or he got lost.
“Another thirty minutes pass and I figure I should go check on him, so I wake up Hallston and tell him that Tullys’ been gone a while. He hands me the other flashlight and I start to get up when I hear someone coming down the run.
“I focus my eyes through the shadows and see it’s Tully making his way back to the Camp Chow. It’s too dark to make him out well though, and his flashlight is off so I turn mine on and shine it at him. The beam hits his legs first and I just remember not really comprehending at the moment why or how his feet were dragging the ground behind him.
“I slowly lifted my light up across his body and see his white uniform now had this large dark stain running down it. His arms were dangling lifelessly at his sides and when my light got up to his shoulders I see his head was drooping over like his neck had gone limp. He’s just… hanging there, suspended in the air, but somehow still coming forward.
“That’s when I notice this black figure, almost trying to concealing itself behind him. It must’ve realized I saw it too because as soon I did it stopped moving. With one arm completely out stretched it opens it’s hand and Tully hits the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“Hallston hears his body crash to floor and jumps up to see what’s going on. Now, my light is right on this thing, but the light doesn’t pierce it, nothing illuminates around it, it’s like it is just absorbing the beam somehow. All we see is the black silhouette of a man standing there staring back at us.
“Time stopped as we exchanged glances for what seemed like an eon before the thing once again started creeping towards us and broke the silence in this gravely lamprophic whisper,
“‘Fe…. fi…. fo…. fum…., who’s down creeping ‘round in my slums?’
“Hallston yelled back trying to sound confident but the fear in his voice was apparent, ‘who- who the fucks there? And what the fuck did you do to Tully?’
The thing replied in these calm, long, drawn out words , ‘I… broke… his… fucking… neck…’
“‘What the fuck did you just say?’ Hallston screamed as he grabbed a frying pan lying on the ground near his feet.
“‘I said… I broke his fucking neck, and I ripped out his fucking tongue, and I’m going to do the exact… same… thing… to… you.’
“‘You just fucked up, you big black bitch!’
“Hallston takes off in this dead sprint right at it, frying pan cocked back. The thing doesn’t even flinch as he slams the pan right across it’s face. I guess Hall’ must’ve realized he’d made a mistake because he drops the pan and starts to back up.
“But it just… it… it pounces on him like a wild animal and starts clawing and biting at his flesh, chunks of him tearing off and flying through the air. I… well I’m ashamed to say I just ran, I ran right out the side door with Hallston’s agonizing screams ringing out from the darkness behind me.
“I wanted to curl up in ball on the floor but I knew I had to get as far away from it as possible, I knew I had to hide. It’s pitch black and I’m making as many turns as I can down the winding corridors, stricken with panic and looking over my shoulder praying I don’t see it trailing me. I eventually end up in a more finished part of the level and realize I’m in the Seg wings, that I’ve reached a dead end. I go to turn back but I hear it’s voice reverberating off the walls from the halls I’d just ran from.
“‘Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he began in that same growling whisper before his voice morphed into this deep, unnatural, demented yell as he spoke, “SO I CAN RIP YOU GUT TO GULLET.’
“I sprinted into the first open door I saw and ran nearly to the end of the run before diving under the bed frame of an empty cell.
“‘Where arrrrre youuuu…’ he whispered almost playfully then ending his sentence in that same ungodly baritone howl, ‘I’M HUNGRY!’
“‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! What do I do?’ I’m thinking frantically. I scoot back as far as I can beneath the steel cot and I just hope it doesn’t find me.
“Then… ‘creeeeeeee’ I hear it push open the block doors I’d just come through. It starts walking down the run and again I hear, ‘creeeeeeee… creeeeeee… creeeeeee….’
“It’s opening every cell door as it slowly makes it’s way to mine. I don’t know wether to shut my eyes or force myself not to blink as the cell directly adjacent to me creaks open.
“I’m holding my breath, afraid it will hear me breathe as I hear it’s footsteps come to a stop just outside my door.
“Through a dim light illuminating from somewhere above I see his legs now standing in the door frame. His feet are charred black, and burnt, and he gives off this rotten odor of decay. Petrified I watch as it walks a few steps further into the room and stops again. Then it just… it just turns around and walks out before going to the other side of the run and opening the cell doors all along the opposite wall until I finally hear it’s footsteps exit the block and head back down the Seg wing.
“I had yet to move at this point. I was just sitting there paralyzed and praying I didnt’t hear it’s heavy steps come lumbering back my way. Eventually I calm myself enough to look around and inspect my surroundings.
“In horror I noticed what I hadn’t noticed in my scramble to hide. The floor around me was littered in bones, human bones. In large piles and strewn all across the cell. Then I looked up to see that the source of the dim light was an unfinished air duct that appeared to go up to level above.
“I became all too aware of where I was. I had hidden directly below M-Seg, directly below Cell 13. The thing hunting was the man from the vents, it was VooDoo Bob, and I was currently nested right inside his lair.
“I knew I had to get out of there, that I had to make my way to chute we’d come in on. With every bit of courage I could muster I crawled out from the bed frame and silently exited the room, then moved cautiously into the adjoining cell where I’d pause and wait before going to next and so on until I had made my way onto main Seg run.
“Timidly I hugged the walls inching my way through the catacombs, ducking under cover where I could, to listen, to catch my breath. I moved at this languished pace for hours it seems like. Occasionally hearing VooDoo prowling a hall or two over, hunting me.
“I’d stop and hide and wait for him to creep in the opposing direction then begin again. Not a moment too soon I see the dull yellow hue from the chute above shining down onto the concrete a hundred feet off.
“I start working myself up to take off to it when, right outside the room I desperately need to get to, I hear his ominous steps. My heart sinks as I see VooDoo come into view crawling upside down on the ceiling, circling back and forth in front of my exit.
“He must’ve known that that was my only way out. He was waiting for me, toying with me. I was trapped, I realized. Even if I managed to hide from him indefinitely, how long before I starved?
“I knew somehow I had to get him away from that shaft. I would need time to scale it even if I somehow managed to make it there before he caught me. I needed as much space between him and me as humanly possible.
“About then I feel something nipping at my pant leg and just about jump out of my skin. I instinctively twist around and look down and in utter relief I see it’s just a mouse. Right then, a light bulb goes off in my head. The rats in the kitchen, maybe I could use them to create a distraction.
“I slink back from the corner I’d been peering out from deeper into the run, then take the long way around the corridors back to the chow hall. I get there and our little fire has all but turned to embers, mercilessly providing just enough light to see Hallston’s mutilated remains being fed upon by an army of rodents.
“I averted my eyes. I had no time to grieve, no time to be repulsed, I knew I had to act quickly. I crept to the kitchen and carefully yet haphazardly stacked up as many pot and pans as I could. I then made my way over to Hallston’s corpse, whispered, ‘God forgive me,’ then turned my head away as I reached my hand deep inside his rent stomach and grabbed a handful of the first solid thing I felt and pulled from his body.
“I returned to my pile of pots and draped his forcibly exhumed intestines across it. From there I snuck back to my roosting spot perpendicular to the chute and waited. It wasn’t long after that, that the rats took the bait.
“Not a second later I see VooDoo dashing sideways along the wall on all fours, sprinting to the source of the crash, stomping so hard that behind him was a trail of indentions in the brick not unlike fresh footprints in the snow.
“‘I HEAR YOU,’ he roars.
As soon as he passed I dart out to chute as fast as my legs will take me, scaling the desk and chair in a single bound and start to struggle my way up the shaft. I’m moving like I’d never moved, all my focus directed at the light from the floor above. About halfway up though, my pants snag on a piece of metal protruding from the shaft wall and I hear VooDoo screech from the kitchen in rage as he realized he’d been duped.
“I’m vigorously yanking my leg but it’s no use, and VooDoo is pounding down the hall back my way. I am frantic, shouting up the chute, praying someone hears me. And then from below I see VooDoo’s white eyes pop into view looking up at me.
“‘Peek-a-boo’ he snarls.
He climbs inside and starts clawing at my legs, and pulling me towards him.
“‘I’ll slit your throat you fucking bitch! YOU STUPID FUCK, I’m gonna rip you in half! You bitch! YOU FUCKING BITCH!’
“I feel his nails shredding my legs as blood gushes from the wounds. He starts to scale my body, I’m thinking that this it for me, that this is how I die, but when he gets up to about my waist his hand touches my pocket and he shrieks and slides down the shaft a ways.
“‘YOU BITCH! YOU FUCKING BITCH! I’LL GET FOR THAT YOU STUPID CUNT!’
“It takes me a second to process what had happened and that’s when I remember, Tully, the Bible he’d given me, it was still in my pocket. I reach my hand in my down feeling for it’s leathery binding and pull it out as fast as I can, as VooDoo starts climbing back towards me.
“His mouth is now wide open, filled with rows of tiny, jagged teeth, and as he goes to sink them into my flesh I thrust the Bible straight into his throat. He falls back out of the chute and hits the ground below. With all my might I yank my leg free and scuttle up the remaining distance, exploding out of the opening and spilling out into the closet.
“I grab the tile cut-out and toss it back over the opening as I see VooDoo is now in a mad dash up the chute. I swing my arms over to the loose stack of bibles and sweep over as many as I can atop the now sealed shaft.
“I lurch back against the wall as the hidden door rattles and rocks, VooDoo screaming the most heinous and insidious things from beneath it.
“Finally… it just… stops…. I can hear him start descending back into the catacombs below. I take a moment to collect myself, then hobble out of the closet and onto the run where I just collapse and start kissing the floor. After that I hobbled my way to the guards and turned myself in. I used hate this place you know? But now, well now I don’t think it’s all that bad in comparison…”
After hearing Adams‘ chilling account, the poetry and symmetry of my dad’s metaphor became apparent. Adams had found his light at the end of the tunnel, he had learned to appreciate where he was because of where he’d been. There was something beautiful about that I thought.
I couldn’t help though, feeling bad for Tully and Hallston as I looked at my dad and said, “that sucks for those guys, they get their first taste of freedom in years just to have it torn away so violently…”
“You have to remember,” he tells me, “those guys were criminals, they weren’t meant to be free. They were locked up for a reason, and if you knew what they’d done I bet you wouldn’t feel so bad for them.”
“ What did they do?”
“Well, those two were always hanging around each other. They liked to bully some of the newer, weaker inmates. There was one inmate in particular that they’d taken an interest in.
“They made him their pet. They’d steal his commissary, beat him, rape him. Emasculate him in any way they could. Started to make him take his visits with his wife and son dressed up as a house bitch. Imagine seeing your dad like that as little boy?
“Well the guy decides he’s had enough of it one day and tells them he won’t dress up like that in front of his kid anymore. To his surprise they tell him okay, and they leave him be.
“Well the guy’s wife always shows up at the start of visiting hours like clockwork and Hallston and Tully know it. So they have a couple of friends on the outside come visit them during the same time as the guy is having his visit.
“About an hour in Hallston rushes the guard, and Tully runs over to this poor guy and just starts shanking him in the stomach over and over and over again while his son and wife watch in horror through the glass. Kill him in the most brutal way right in front of his little boy.“
“But what about Adams? He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. All he wanted was to see his mother one more time.”
My dad took a deep breath and continued, “That’s the weird thing about Adams. He was always talking about fishing with his dad again, having one of his mama’s home cooked meals. But you’d think for someone so attached to his parents, they’d visit him once or twice, right? But they never did, not once since I’d been there had he’d gotten a single visitor aside from legal counsel.
“Well, no one knew what his charges were, only that they must be serious seeing as he was serving life. One day though, his file is pulled for review up in the office and one of the inmates that worked there snuck a curious peek inside it.
“After that word gets out that Adams’ mysterious charge was double homicide, the victims of which being the parents he so desperately longed to see. Apparently he’d taken some hallucinogens and become so agitated and disoriented that he’d pulled hollow end of a shotgun on them. Now I don’t know if he is just lying to himself about it all because he can live with the guilt, or if he truly believes they are still out there waiting for him to come home. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.”
“That’s so sad, for him and his parents,” I said, contemplating and reevaluating my previous feelings of sympathy.
“I know you feel bad for these people, but they didn’t get to prison by acting like saints, despite what they will tell you. The empathy you feel inside isn’t an emotion that they’re familiar with. For all that luminous light at the end of the tunnel, they are thing in the dark that’s chasing you towards it.”
In the mail were three unassuming white envelopes addressed to my father having come in from the prison. He brought them inside, tossed one over and I carefully peeled back the seal to reveal its precious cargo.
The first letter I eagerly opened was from an inmate by the name of Walter Ramirez, who is currently serving a twenty year sentence for drug possession and parole violations. My dad told me that Ramirez is what was referred to inside the prison as a boomerang.
“A boomerang is an inmate who keeps winding back up behind the prison’s barbed wire fences no matter how many times the guards walk them out through the gates. Ramirez would come in on a six month, or a two year sentence, the charges always drug related, serve his time, say his goodbyes for what he’d swear would be the last time, just to be reintroduced to population a few months later.”
“I really can’t understand why someone would keep doing that to themselves…” I commented.
“Just like that God forsaken prison, everyone is haunted by something. Be it ghosts, the past, the future, or in Ramirez case, drugs. It’s not as easy to exorcise those demons as Hollywood portrays,” he posited.
“I suppose,” I conceded, “but I just think given the options… knowing what I know about the prison… I don’t know, I think I’d make it my mission to stay as far away from that place as possible.”
“You would. You have a good head on your shoulders, a strong moral compass. Must’ve got it from your mother’s side because you sure didn’t get it from me. But not everybody is that strong, and to tell you the truth a lot of the stuff that happens in there… well… you kind of just bury it deep inside, you forget about it.”
“Forget about it? How?”
“I… I’m not really sure about that myself. But before you’d brought all this up, I never thought about any of it. It was like it hadn’t happened, like I’d had amnesia over the whole thing. I… I can’t explain it.
“But as soon as you asked me, all these memories came flooding back, all at once and in vivid detail… It’s like when I would reflect on my time there, I only remembered the good parts…
“Sometimes I have these dreams where I get out of bed and I find myself walking through the twisted pines beneath the moonlight to the prison. When I get there the gates are always open, welcoming me, and I… I don’t know why but… I always walk inside. Once there I find myself drawn to a light at the end of long hallway, like a moth to a flame. When I arrive I see the light is coming from a cell, and it feels like it’s my cell. Instinctively I step through the door and lock it behind me, the lights go out and I feel… free almost, as strange as that sounds.”
“You have nightmares, you must mean?”
He hesitated for a moment as he assessed my question, “No… no, not nightmares. It’s like that’s where I’m supposed to be, where I want to be. Like the prison itself is calling to me, beckoning me home. When I wake up I’m relieved to see I’m still in my bedroom, of course, but… at the same time… somewhere deep inside me is this vague sense of disappointment… of dislocation…”
Perhaps Ramirez had experienced this same ominous beckoning home I thought. Maybe all inmates are lured by it and find themselves sleepwalking in the night and through the pines, back into the belly of the beast. Maybe it wasn’t the long passed tunnel’s light that kept them returning to a cell as my dad had presumed. But then maybe it was, maybe it’s all the same thing, maybe the light is the beckoning. Maybe…
Regardless, though, of whatever it was that kept bringing Ramirez back to Telford, this time it had decided to keep him for a while. Long enough to perfect his penmanship I noticed, as the top page of his letter’s contents were inked in these immaculate, precise pen strokes.
As the pages went on however, the pristine chirography devolved into quivering, tremulous lines, as if halfway through he’d suddenly developed a severe case of Parkinson’s disease. As I inspected his missive further, I registered that the shift in his longhand had not been the result of some spontaneous illness, but rather the fear infused scribblings of a trembling man. And this is what he wrote:
“Popeye! It has been a while since I’d last heard from you, I was starting to think you’d forgotten about me! Just pulling your chain, man! Or do you even wear chains anymore now that you’re on the outside? I was delighted to receive an invitation to your wedding a few months back, unfortunately I was not not able to save the date, regretfully I had already committed myself to a prior engagement… Asshole! Seriously though, Dave, congrats on the wife. Me and the guys all got a kick out of your invites.
“How are your boys? Did your youngest finally graduate? My oldest will be a senior this upcoming year, as you can imagine it’s wearing on me that I won’t be there. I used to hope she would understand, but hell, I don’t understand it myself. Now I just hope she can forgive me some day. Have you written Terry lately? He’s my celly now, how about that? He and some of the other inmates from Chapel are going to do some kind of holy cleansing thing with Father Thomas. I told them they ain’t no damn priests, but they’ve got their minds all made up, so we will see how that goes…
“Big John, and Pete Hobbs, finally made parole. They’d been denied a combined thirty-four times, but got approved in the same week, can you believe it? The boys down here in L House threw them a little going away party. Going to miss those guys, won’t be the same without them. We miss you too, Dave. Can you imagine how many pickle jars have gone unopened around here since Ol’ Popeye flew the coup? All the same, and no offense, but I hope I don’t see you again any time soon this side of the bars if you know what I mean.
“In all honesty, Pop, that’s right about where I feel comfortable leaving this letter. I thought at first maybe I’d just pretend I didn’t notice your questions about my experiences with the occult. But you know as well as I do not a damn inmate in this place reads their mail less than a dozen times before putting it down. I guess I could have lied, said I didn’t have any to speak of, but something don’t feel right about lying like that. Hell, maybe if your son is posting these things online like you say, someone will finally take notice and do something about it.
“So attached to this, I’ve sent you a couple pages detailing my worst encounters, I hope they help you with whatever it is you’re doing.
“Your friend, W. R. Ramirez”
Just as promised, Ramirez had included a few pages recounting his more… bizarre observations. I imagine he took a long drawn breath of reluctance before begrudgingly confessing the oddities to which he’d bore witness:
“I guess I’ll start this with some of the stranger but not necessarily evil things I’ve seen in here. This first little bit takes place over in the Dep Pods. Like I said, it isn’t inherently scary or anything, just kind of… peculiar…
“Well, my first job when I came back this last time, was as a hard scrub. You know, not like a janitor or anything, but someone that does the really deep cleaning. Scrape the grime from the tiles, polish the metal, get under and behind things, etcetera, etcetera…
“One day, I guess the Depravation Wing was finally free of inmates, so I got sent down to do a hard scrub on them. Anyway, when I get there all of the doors are open, all of the lights are on, which I found strange in and of itself just to see it lit up like that, but the strangest thing was… was what was inside some of the pods.
“The first few were rather tame, a little graffiti crudely decorating the walls, tally marks etched in marking their meals to count the days, but otherwise nothing more than a typical house-cell minus the window.
“But then I walk into maybe the fourth or fifth cell down the line and adorning the brick is this… Michelangelo of a portrait. The mural itself is this beautiful depiction of space, of the planets and stars, all inside this impeccable swirling galaxy. And as I look closer, inspecting what I think is a smudge across one of the planets, I see that it’s actually a featureless gray man-like being, and he’s leading another man by the hand holding as they just float across the universe.
“I call the guard in and ask him about it. You know, who did, how did they do it, why they did it. He tells me he thinks it was once Ricky’s cell, but that he has no clue how he did it. There are absolutely no lights when you’re in deprivation, just constant, stark, darkness. And they aren’t allowed pens, or pencils, couldn’t see to do anything with them any how. But I’m telling you the thing on this wall would put the Sistine Chapel to shame. It was bright and vibrant, every line deliberate and exacting. It was breathtaking.
“Needless to say, when I go into the next pod, I am once again taken aback when an exact replica of the mural in the pod before also spans this wall. Except it’s zoomed in some, the planets and stars now larger in foreground. And the gray man has now moved, from the furthermost planet and over one planet closer to Earth, and with him are two men instead of one.
“I call the guard in again, I am perplexed as he tells me the inmate in this pod had never been into the previous one, and that his time had been served after the carver of the first was no longer with us. He assured me, this wasn’t something the prison staff themselves had done, either.
“The story was the same as I moved in and out of the different pods. In each one was the same image just projected larger, the gray man moving another planet closer, finally stopping in the orbit of a massively scaled Earth, carrying with her more and more men as he did.
“But in the penultimate cell, well, the tone or aura of it just completely morphed. In this pod was the gray man again, but instead of the planets he was in front a prison, this prison. Floating above it, staring down at it with his back to the audience of admirers that may have happened upon the mural.
“Then in the last cell, his true insidious agenda was revealed. He was inside the prison now, and he had transformed from this kind of benevolent being guiding the seemingly lost men, into a… a monster. His eyes were now black holes, and several of the men were being sucked into them, and his mouth was wide open, as her razor sharp teeth appeared to be feasting on the rest.
“The last couple of pods really made me uneasy, it was like I was seeing something I wasn’t meant to. I just scrubbed the remainder of the Dep wing as quickly as I could and got out of there. Make of it all what you will, chalk it up to the resourcefulness of caged men, if you’d like. But… after seeing it… I can’t help but feel there is something more to it than that…
“The other incident or what have you, took place just a few weeks after that. It happened in H House so I wasn’t there for it personally, but everyone living in H all said the same thing. And this is what I heard:
“One morning an inmate wakes up to his cell mate shouting, these panicked, bewildered shouts of,
“‘Where am I? Where am I? Open this door? Get me out of here?’
“Well he turns over to tell his cellmate to shut the hell up and all of sudden he too finds himself bewildered. His cellmate, is still across from him laying in his bunk and looking over at a third guy, who is just ranting and raving for the guards.
“The other guy in their cell is dressed to the nines, full three piece suit, fine leather loafers, and a briefcase which he his slamming with both hands over his head on the door.
“Guards come rushing down the run, peer through the glass and then look at each other, just as baffled as the three men inside. They open the door pull him out and bring him to a room for interrogation. He tells them his name is Johnathan Adler, and that he’s a criminal defense attorney from the Dallas area.
“He says the last thing he remembers, he was filling out paperwork in his office for a murder case he’d just lost. Next thing he knows he wakes up and he was in that cell.
“C.O.’s make a few calls and his story, oddly enough, checks out so, with a lack of other recourse they let him go. Wife picks him up and carries him off down the interstate. Now, after word of Mr. Adler gets out and around the population it turns out he had represented a few of the inmates that were locked up at the time.
“They said he was a public defender, and a shitty one at that. They seemed to think he was working with the D.A. to put as many people behind bars as possible, irregardless of guilt. But then… everyone in here will tell you the same thing about their own lawyer so take that with a grain of salt.
“Anyway the last guy he’d defended ends up hanging himself in his cell after being convicted of murder, and sentenced to life. Everyone on the jury for the trial says Adler really dropped the ball, that he’d left so many claims and accusations un-rebutted, unattempted even, that the jury had no choice but to convict him. Two days after his suicide new DNA evidence is discovered completely exonerating him. Big help to the guy now, right?
“So, like I said, the guards let Adler go and watch him disappear down the highway. A week later, in C House this time, another inmate is awakened to those same panicked screams.
“The guards don’t believe what they see when they get to the cell. Once again, but in pajamas instead of a suit, Adler is back, banging on the cell door. They let him out, watch him drive off again and that’s the last the Telford Unit sees of him.
“Now a handful people here keep in contact with inmates from various prisons littered across Texas. They all start getting letters back from their pen pals that this screaming lawyer has just been appearing in their pods and houses too.
“Apparently, everyday for three weeks straight, Adler would be doing paperwork or having dinner, then just blackout and wake up in prison. After a while I guess he just gave up, because one morning an inmate wakes up to Adler once more in their cell. This time though he isn’t screaming, he’s hanging from the ceiling with his necktie wrapped his throat.
“Craziest part of the whole thing though? The last inmate he defended, his name was George Carmichael, but all of his friend’s said that they called him, Carma…
“Alright… now on to the portion I’ve been dreading. This one is related to what you said in your letter, about C.O. Johnson, how he’d mentioned something that he called fleshcrows. Well, even without the full context of his story, I knew immediately what he was talking about. See, I… I’ve seen one too.
“About eight months ago now I guess, I was working out in the crops with my coworker Charlie Crest. We were tiling up the soil, getting it ready for the seed, when Charlie tells the C.O. he has to take a piss.
“C.O. doesn’t want to walk us both all the way back inside so he tells him to go piss in the bushes a little ways off.
“So Charlie heads to the trees and disappears behind the trunk of a massive pine. About three minutes pass and C.O. starts yelling at him that times up.
“‘Alright inmate wrap it up… Let’s go inmate! What the hell are you doing over there, draining a lake?’
“The C.O.’s commands are met with silence, however.
“‘God dammit, Credt, not today…’ he groans.
“He clicks in the button at the side of his walkie but before he can relay that there is a possible escapee, the leaves in the brush beside the tree where Charlie was relieving himself start shaking violently. We both just stood there watching as for the next thirty seconds the bushes rattled and rocked. A moment later and Charlie stands up from the thicket.
“‘Inmate, you got ten seconds to get your ass back over here! I thought you said you had to piss, not take a shit!’
“Charlie remained still for another five maybe six seconds, without uttering a word, before finally starting the trek back over to the crops.
“‘Get a move on, inmate!’ the C.O. ordered.
“But Charlie didn’t seem to grasp the urgency in the C.O.’s voice, as he maintained his sluggish, measured pace. That’s when I first started to notice something was… off. He’d been walking at us with the sun directly behind him, almost concealed in the glare of it. But as he got closer, it became apparent that this man slowly approaching was not the same man that had departed just a few minutes before.
“His features were… drooping, almost. It was as if you had put a king sized sheet on a queen sized mattress. His skin just didn’t quite… fit… It was loose over the bones of his nose with his nostrils hanging down an inch passed the tip. His eyes were halfway covered by his sagging brows, and his lips and cheek were bunched up and to the left side of his face.
“His fingers looked like a child had haphazardly stuck his hand in a latex glove, with some fingers twice as wide as they should’ve been, and others flapping freely where he’d missed the hole. The most disturbing part of it all, was that whoever this on-comer was he was wearing Charlie’s uniform.
“Then it hit me,, that even in this disfigured form… I recognized this man. Not as Charlie Crest, but as one of the fanatics who’s skin had gone missing all those years ago.
“‘But how is that possible,’ I thought…
“Before I could contemplate the matter further the C.O. drew his pistol and started shouting, ‘On the ground inmate! On the ground! Now!’
“He… or it… acted as if nothing was happening, as if a loaded weapon wasn’t locked directly on to him. As he continued ignoring the C.O.’s commands and inching onward, it started making these muffled groans, like someone trying to scream with duct tape covering their mouth.
“‘Right now, inmate! DOWN! RIGHT NOW GOD DAMMIT!’
“By now it was just a few yards away, as it slightly shifted and directed it’s path right at the C.O.
“‘STOP, INMATE! I will be forced to fire if you do not comply, and get on the FUCKING GROUND!’
“Then… ‘POP! POP! POP! POP!’
“Four shots were discharged from the C.O.’s weapon directly into it’s chest. It stumbled backwards then crumpled to a heap on the ground. I watched in appall as it started to twitch and wriggle and writhe as it’s blood spewed out onto the dirt and fused with the earth until the entire area around it had turned to mud.
“As the C.O. started to rush over, he was stopped in his tracks when it started retching and lurching wildly where it lay. Then, again, in disgust we just watched as the skin around it’s mouth opened up and stretched like the jowls of a python as it began making these awful heaving noises and it started to regurgitate out what appeared to be a ball of hair.
“‘Huuurgehh, huuurgehh, huuurgehh…’
“Disgust turned to horror, as the hair was forced further out. I could see that it was not in fact a ball of hair, but rather a head of hair, Charlie’s hair, and still attached to Charlie’s head.
“Before long Charlie’s entire lifeless face had been expelled, as the thing opened its mouth wider still and made its way slithering down past his shoulders, and then his waist, until Charlie had been completely vomited up.
“He was naked, covered in bile and blood and strands of loose hay. His chest was an open cavity where the C.O.’s bullets had pierced through his fleshy constrictor and into him.
“Now, fully divorced from Charlie, the thing… the fleshcrow, lay on the ground not unlike a deflated balloon. It lifted it’s flattened head and peered at me, gazing placidly up with it’s empty sockets. It then… it started to flail itself through the mud and towards me. Hurling one limp arm over the other, scraping itself forward.
“It was moving so slowly, I just stared in disbelief, nothing pressing me to move. It was no more than a shovel’s length away when in a movement too fast for me to react to, it unexpectedly launched itself through the air landing right at my feet.
“It tried to no effect to jump back out of its reach, but clumsily managed to trip over my own laces. I feel this tremendous pressure on my thighs as its rubbery arms took one in each hand. It pushed my legs together and positioned itself right between the bottoms of my soles.
“Its mouth opened and protracted and through its gaping hole in a single gulp it devoured my feet up to the ankles. Its hand worked their way up to the outside of my hips pulling me towards downwards as it swallowed me further.
“It had managed to submerge me all the way up the knee within its bowels when the C.O. screamed out,
“‘Back up! Back out of it Ramirez!’
“But its strength was incredible. I tried prying its taught leathery hands off me but they didn’t budge.
“‘I… fuck I can’t! It’s too strong. Fuck! Fuck!’
“The C.O. ran up behind me and started yanking me from the pits of my arms. I’m now waist deep in its fleshy carcass, and yank as he might I was only slipping further inside.
“‘Shit! Fuck! Uhhh… Hold Ramirez,’ the C.O. told me as he sprinted off and disappeared into the farm shed. A moment later he re-emerges carrying something with him I couldn’t be bothered to notice as the thing was currently working its way up and past my chest.
“‘Hurry! Please! Get it off me!’ I begged.
“I see the C.O. appear at the base of its feet, now nearly encompassing my own. Over his head the C.O. thrusts back the object he’d retrieved from the farm shed, which I now make out to be a pitchfork.. The last thing I see before its lips fully envelope my eyes is the C.O. slamming the pitchfork back down towards the ground.
“I find myself completely engulfed in darkness, all sound is muted and muddled, I can’t speak or move. I am buried alive atop the dirt. The pressure by which it’s wrapping me is tremendous and restricting my breathing. Just as I start to fade from consciousness, once again it starts to twitch, rattling my bones from within. The next thing I feel is a hard, steady, tugging at the tufts of my hair. And then there is a release of sorts, the constricting force squeezing down on my lightens.
“I feel its lips sliding down from my forehead, and suddenly… I can see again. And I see that it is the C.O. who was yanking at my hair, pulling me from the only part of me left to grip. I feel the fleshcrow, as it were, expelling this slimy liquid all over my body and it starts retching just as it had done with Charlie’s corpse.
“Soon I can hear again… then speak again… until finally the C.O. is able to grip me from behind and wrap his arms around my chest and wrench me completely free in one final tug.
“We take a moment to collect ourselves as the heap of deflated skin at our feet persistently squirms in place towards us. I see the pitch fork piercing through its feet and into clay below affixing him to the ground.
“‘Eventually C.O. mutters somberly,
“‘There’s a… there’s a gas can and a spare cage in the kennels. We can’t do it here but… there’s a blind spot out near the back of the yard.’
“I just nodded without saying a word and walked to the kennels, grabbed the gas, and the cage, and walked back. We carefully used the pitch fork to drag it along the ground and into the cage. Luckily, for as strong as it was it didn’t weigh much.
“We carried it, as it silently tried to worm its arms through the thin slits between the bars of the cage, cautiously out to the blind spot. Next we drug Charlie’s fresh cadaver out to join his writhing captor. We made sure no one else was around us, then proceeded to douse the cage and its contents head to toe in gasoline. Doused Charlie too. Struck a match, watched them burn, and then buried their ashes under a nearby Sycamore.
“We told the other guards that Charlie had escaped into the woods, and that the discharges they may have heard were merely an attempt to stop him. After that I just went back to my cell, and… that was… that. I hadn’t breathed nary a word of any of this until now, and… God willing… I won’t ever have to again…”
It was from about this point on that the beautifully penned script began to change into barely legible offhand. It appeared to have been written some time after the previous parts, an urgent addition to the otherwise meticulously planned message. It seemed hurried, frantic, even. With straining eyes I deciphered its contents aloud.
“Not sure how to begin. It’s about Terry. He went down into that damn prison cellar and ever since he got back he just… his… the way he’s been acting… well it’s worrisome to say the least. I told him not to go down into that fucking basement. He’s not an ordained minister, or a priest, he’s not trained for that shit. I told him he was susceptible to that kind of thing.
“The last three days he’s been agitated, and paranoid, schizophrenic even. He hasn’t slept since he returned to population, I don’t think he’s eaten either… He just paces the room all night, whispering to himself, the nonsensical murmurings of a madman… At least… at least I thought he was talking to himself. But last night I swear to god, we are the only ones in this cell, and I… I heard someone talking to him, in this angry, hateful, whisper…
“And it’s not just Terry… It’s Briggs too… hell half the guys that went down there are acting different now, disconnected from themselves… One of the inmates that saw them crawling out of that shaft says they didn’t come out there alone neither… Says they pulled out this old man, and he was dazed and completely out of it. He was covered in dirt and soot, and well he thinks… he thinks it was VooDoo Bob, or the Bob part of him anyway…
“Honestly Dave… I’m afraid that Terry brought back more than just a disoriented old man from that fucking tomb… I… Shit… I gotta go… they’re calling for mail haul… If you don’t hear back from me by this time next mail call, well… I’m not sure what that means, but I can’t imagine it’s anything good…
I put down the letter and looked up at my dad who was now staring down at the remaining envelopes in his hands with this concerning and gaunt expression.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
His eyes rolled up to meet my gaze as he passed me the second of the three letters. I realized then the source of the solemnness that had overtaken him. The second letter… was from Terry.
“Heya Popeye, how’s life been treatin’ ya? Me? I’m doing well. Baptized six inmates last service! God is good, brotha! We miss your testimonies though, Dave, you always had that tinge of poetry when you spoke. Cellin’ up with that old boomeranging rascal, Ramirez now.
“As for your question about wether or not I can send you back some dark and creepy crawly tales, well you might just be in store for a whopper of one! Father Thomas petitioned the warden to let us exorcise the abandoned prison wing. Gonna give VooDoo a big fat lip and a black eye! It’ll be me, Briggs, father Thomas, a couple guys that got here after you left, and a few C.O.s. Boy, you should hear Ramirez work himself up over the whole thing. Like he’s my wife or something, you’d think he was the one going down there and not me.
“Anyway, I’ll have finish this up after we get back. I’ll fill you in on the good stuff then! God bless you, Dave!
A change from black to red ink on the page represented Terry’s return from the prison’s underbelly:
“Hello, Dave. We just got back from our fight with the devil. I was right in assuming I’d haves doozie of a new tale to tell you. At the moment though, the whole ordeal is taking it’s toll on me. My head is pounding and I have this terrible cough. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to all the gritty details before mail call if I don’t get to feeling better. But I’m sure Father Thomas can fill you in if I wind up taking too long to respond. I just hope this cough is the only thing I brought back. I’ll try and write you some more tomorrow. I’ve gotta get some rest…
Just like in Ramirez’ letter the wording started to become frantic, and carelessly scribbled from that point on. The lines ran through the margins and outside of their prescribed boxes. The paper was deeply indented from the force of the pens tip and even tore through in some places. This is what the last part of Terry’s letter said:
“Dave I… I think something’s wrong. I’m having these thoughts, loud thoughts, dark thoughts. I can’t even go near the chapel anymore without my stomach churning to knots. You fuck. I feel like I’m losing control…
“Whatever happened down there, well I… you stupid fuck… I don’t even remember it anymore. It’s only a couple days but the whole… you bitch… thing is just this blank in my now. But somehow I… I remember you… I remember you, Dave… I remember you screaming in the Seg halls. You fuck. You stupid fuck. I’ll slit your throat. I’LL SLIT YOUR FUCKING THROAT YOU FUCK…”
The remainder of the letter went on like this, sprawled across every inch of available space. I glanced up at my dad who appeared to be even more solemn than before. I wasn’t sure what to say, how to comfort him.
“Maybe its a joke… to scare you, to get you back for those wedding invitations,” I offered.
He just sighed and said, “No… It’s not possible. The words he chose. I had told Terry about what happened that night to me in M-Seg, but you were the first person I ever told what the thing was actually screaming at me…”
“Well… what about the other letter? Maybe there’s some answers in it?”
Defeated, but desperately hopeful, he passed me the third envelope. My search for answers, however, was off to a rough start as the return address merely showed that it had been sent from Telford, but not by whom. The sender had not included a name. It was heavier than the last two letters as well, and thick, as if someone had folded over a magazine and crammed it inside.
Trepidatiously, I opened the letter and to my dismay, was greeted by even more questions, as solely contained within its numerous pages addressing my father, was the same two word phrase, multiplied and repeated to infinity:
“Come home, Dave. Come home. Come home, Dave. Come home, Dave. Come home. Come home. Come home. Come home…”
“What does it say?” he asked me like a cancer patient asking their doctor about the their X-rays, trying their best to be optimistic.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him, “N-nothing, I think Ramirez must’ve accidentally sent you a letter meant for his daughter by mistake. I’ll take care of it.”
He nodded at me and I could tell he knew I was lying but he let it go. He trusted my judgement on the matter.
“Well…” he said breaking the uneasy stillness, “I guess I’ve got no choice.”
“I have to know what happened down there. I have to make sure Terry is okay, to check on Ramirez. I have to talk to Father Thomas, and sooner than the mailman allows. I have to… I have to go back to Telford…”
My heart sank. I couldn’t help but question the good that would come from my father making the long drive back to the prison. What could he do that someone else already there hasn’t? I could tell that by the look in his eye there would be no changing his mind however. But… why? Could it really just be that he was worried about his friends? Or… was it something else? Was he lying to himself, convincing himself his motives were justified? Had he mistakenly just answered Telford’s relentless beckoning home to all the former residents it never meant to relinquish?
I couldn’t be sure. But I did know one thing. If my dad was going to go back through those hungry gates, he wasn’t going without me…
The impending drive to Telford weighed heavy on my mind as I meticulously folded the garments I’d need for the trip into a small duffle. It loomed ominously before me, a fast approaching execution date, as I warily waited for my father’s call to say he’d changed his mind and that I’d been pardoned of the charge.
I had driven the six hours of winding asphalt before, but somehow it felt different this time. It felt like I was meeting with an old friend for the first time after discovering their darkest secrets. It felt daunting and… dangerous.
Regardless of my trepidation, however, I knew tomorrow’s arrival would come whether I willed it to or not, and I would be better served to face it well rested. I tossed my now readied duffle from my mattress to the floor, pulled back the blankets, and uneasily though I lay, offered my eyes to the sandman.
Sleep did not come easily, however, as the night’s muted stillness emerged as an unexpected antagonist to my slumber. The erstwhile faint dripping from the bathroom sink congealed with the erratic kisses from an overgrown branch outside against the siding to produce a cacophony of deafening distractions. With my eyelids, now defiantly ajar, I became audience to the banded shadows cast through the open blinds whom now danced carelessly across my walls, shamelessly drunk off moonshine.
Between the relentless silence and the now all too luminous dark, I decided to put a few more miles on my long since rickety box fan. It’s creaks and rattles were a welcome beverage pouring into the empty cup of a thirsty man. The constant whipping of air did well to quench much of my anxiety, and though I know in all actuality the volume in the room had noticeably increased, it felt hushed somehow.
But, as quickly as it arrived, the tranquil ambiance was cut short still in its infancy, as the gusts of wind spilling forth from my fan had begun to rustle up a stack of loose paper on my dresser. The fluttering stationary, I realized, were the letters to my father that I had been transcribing earlier in the night. Their nap had been abruptly interrupted and now cried out to me as a toddler needing to be rocked back to sleep.
Begrudgingly, I stumbled out from my bed to readjust their position and remove them from the wind stream. As I neared the dresser, though, they took flight into the air as might a flock of pigeons being assailed by a child in the park.
I stood, frantically reaching in the flurry, trying to wrangle up the rectangular snowflakes as they fell. More than irritated, I leaned over, blaming them for misbehaving as I angrily corralled them up. I opened a junk drawer and crammed them haphazardly inside, to let them know they were being punished. As I turned back for bed, to my great displeasure, I spotted another sheet being blown flat against the corner of the wall. I stomped over to it and yanked it from the ground. I gave it a scornful scowl and when I did I caught a glimpse of what was written on the page.
“Come home. Come home. Come home. Come home…”
My breathing was immediately hastened. I felt the blood run from my face as this seemingly innocuous message felt more like a foreboding omen than a coincidence of chance. I quickly shoved it in the drawer with its fellow inmates, and tucked myself back beneath the blankets. I cleared my mind, averting myself of all incoming thoughts, and resolved not to open my eyes again until morning.
The dawn hit me like an inebriated driver careening through a stop sign, foot still on the accelerator as I felt the impact. Groggily I put on a pot of coffee before stepping into a cold shower. Lather though I might, the unclean feelings I had about what lay ahead would not rinse from my skin.
As well, the coffee and icy water did little to wake me. It was as a zombie that I answered my father’s jarring knocks on the door.
“Ready?” he asked as would a soldier to a comrade as they prepared to engage in a firefight.
“As much as I can be,” I replied.
“Alright,” he said with a deep inhale, “let’s go.”
I grabbed my bag and placed it in his trunk, as he tossed me the keys and informed me that I’d be driving. I didn’t mind thinking that watching the road may keep my mind off of where it was leading me.
“You get any sleep? You look tired,” my father asked.
“Not a wink. I think I’ll put in a complaint with the sandman department. You?”
“Like a baby,” he assured me.
I wonder how it was that he was able to sleep so soundly knowing he’d be returning to the cage in which he’d spent so much of his life. I wondered, too, if perhaps it had something to do with his dreams, the prison’s beckoning, if perhaps he was, in fact, looking forward to being back within the thick walls of Telford once again. I wondered, but I did not ask.
We hit the road at half past six that morning, and barring traffic or car trouble, had planned to see the familiar razor-wire fences filling the dashboard window by two.
The asphalt was damp with dew and a light fog permeated the horizon. The sun seemed reluctant to climb and I felt as though it, too, was dreading our journey.
“So what exactly is the plan? When we get there I mean,” I asked my father who’s gaze was held steadfast down into the floorboards.
Without looking up he informed me, “Well, the plan is to make it up there during visiting hours and have a visit with Ramirez. And then wait in the parking lot until we see Father Thomas come out and have a little chat with him as well. It’s Sunday though so we will have to catch him between services.”
“What if we don’t see him? Or if he doesn’t want to talk?”
“I’ve spent fourteen years behind bars, I’m good at waiting. We’ll see him eventually, and when we do he’ll talk.”
The next hour or so of the drive was rather quiet. My father had always been a pauciloquent man, rarely speaking unprompted, and I had inherited disdain for frivolous conversation and small talk. As we hit our first bit of traffic on the freeway, however, he uncharacteristically broke the silence.
“Weathers kind of gloomy out, huh?” he asked
“Uh… yeah. I could definitely go for some clear skies right about now…”
“Mmhmm, yeah me too. And this traffic is crazy. Why are so many people up this early on a Sunday morning?”
His sudden interest in idle chitchat was a poor facade to disguise the concerning undertones in voice.
“Church, I suppose… Is there something on your mind?” I prodded.
“No, not really… Well actually…” he confessed, “it’s just, well, you don’t do have to do this. I know you’re worried about me, after everything I’ve told you about the prison. I don’t blame you, but I’ll be fine. If you want to wait in the parking lot or in the hotel room, I won’t blame you and I’ll tell you everything that happened when I get back. I’ve already spent enough of your time inside those walls when you were growing up coming to see that you shouldn’t have to return there ever again. And if you just want to turn the car around and go home and let me make the drive by myself that’s okay too.”
“No,” I insisted, “there is no way you are going through those doors without me. I’m a grown man now, and I can handle myself if I need to. But I’ve come too far, heard too much, I have to see it for myself. If something other than inmates and guards are living inside those cells, I have to know.”
“Well, if you are half as stubborn as I am I guess there is no changing your mind. Just… the offer stands, alright?”
“Alright. But don’t try to pressure me to stay behind if I still want to go ahead. Deal?”
“Deal,” he nodded.
Eventually the traffic fanned thin and the tires quickened their mastication of the advancing asphalt before us. The sun too, had now loathing risen, but it’s rays were still hampered by thick storm clouds, whom had to this point, still held their tears.
Inevitably, their wounds became to much to conceal as they let out a thunderous roar and the rain began to fall. Thick and heavy droplets vigorously tested the highest settings of my father’s windshield wipers as we drove.
My field of vision became so compromised that I was having trouble seeing the lines marking the lanes so I put on the hazards and pulled over to the shoulder.
“Man, this rain is bad…” I said merely stating the obvious, “I’ll hit the road again as soon as it lets up.”
My father who was now looking up from the floorboards and out the passenger side window seemed to have not heard me.
“H-hey, I said ill start again when the rain eases, is that alright with you?”
“H-huh? Oh yeah t-that’s… uh that’s fine,” he responded snapping free of his trance all while maintaining his gawking gaze out the leaking glass.
“You see something out there?” I asked, befuddled.
“Hmm, oh no, it’s nothing. Just… do you see someone standing over there in those trees? A lady?”
“Uh… I can’t really see through the rain all that well but… no, I don’t think so. Why do you?”
“Eh… I think I’m just seeing things…” he turned to me than jested, “probably just these old man eyes of mine.”
I felt like there was something he was hiding but didn’t press him for any details as he shifted is eyes back to his feet. As we sat parked, waiting for a break in the storm, I kept peeing back over to where he’d asked if I’d seen a lady, and while I could only make out the silhouette of the pines in the distance, I couldn’t shake this feeling that someone or something was there. I began to feel unnerved by the shrouded tree line and decided I would chance traversing the road once more.
I eased my way back onto the interstate and slowly crept onward. About fifty yards from where we’d just been I looked up into the rear view mirror, and in shock on the road behind me, I saw the dark figure of a woman through the mist. She appeared to standing almost tangled up by her own limbs, each wrenched in an angle that seemed conflict with her joints. Before I could bring it to the attention of my father, the ravenous headlights of an oncoming vehicle behind me bounced into my eyes and the gleam of them caused me to momentarily flinch away. When I returned my view back to the mirror, the woman was gone and the headlights were now all but tailgating me. The speed of the car would not have given the woman time to remove herself from its path, though, and what’s more, the driver never even slowed. It was as if he didn’t see her, as if she was never there.
The driver quickly changed lanes and accelerated past me. I scanned behind me one last time before we descend a drop in the road and out of view of where she’d been and… as I had suspected… the lady was gone…
“What’s wrong?” my dad asked taking notice of my paranoid fidgeting.
“I… I thought saw that lady you mentioned…”
“Oh, good,” he said a subtle hint of relief in his voice, “I thought I was going crazy…”
“That’s the thing,though, I think I might be crazy too… I mean I saw her, I swear I did… She was standing right in the middle of highway, all bent and twisted, and then… she just… she just vanished… Maybe I have old man eyes too…”
“You probably just saw a deer,” he said, the subtle relief replaced by obvious alarm, “don’t… um… don’t worry about it… Just concentrate on the road and let’s make it to the other side of this rain.”
“Y-yeah… sounds like a plan…”
His suggestion that what I’d just told him I saw was a deer struck me as odd. He was the one who’d asked me if I’d seen the lady in the first place, and now that I told him I had, he was telling me I hadn’t. It was as if he was pleased by my sighting of her until I described her… Now he just seemed… disconcerted by it all.
For the time being I just filed the incident away into the ever growing list of things to be answered later and concentrated on navigating safely through the downpour.
Eventually, the precipitous curtains parted and gave way to reveal a still parched stretch of earth. We had reached the midway point, and once we’d put a substantial distance between us and the cloudburst, we pulled into an unassuming rest stop to stretch our legs.
I worked the pump as my dad went inside to fill a prescription of drinks and snacks. I watched him walk to the counter hauling two arms full of goodies and then look back through the window towards me. I did the traditional Texas nod to let him know that I saw him too but he didn’t reciprocate the gesture. In fact he did seem to notice me at all, he was looking towards me but his concentration beyond me. His expression now grave and worrisome.
Confused, I peered back over my shoulder to see what he could possibly be staring so intently at, but there was nothing… Just the road and a vast empty field beyond it. I eased my attention back to my father and watched as he handed the cashier a bill then hurried out the door without receipt or change.
“H-hey, let’s take off. W-we need to make it to the prison before visiting hours are up,” he shouted, almost nervously, as he quickly closed the distance between us.
“Yeah, one sec, let me just finish filling the tank.”
“Just close it up, we have enough gas to make it.”
I did as he’d asked and closed up the gas cap, looking back to the vacant field one more time before returning to the vehicle.
Once our tires were spinning again I asked my father about his behavior at the rest stop.
“You alright? You were acting strange back there? Did you see something again?”
“It… well… I don’t want to get into it right now, but sometimes I see that lady… she’s harmless… I think… but I don’t like to stay where she is for too long.”
“The lady? From the trees? How is that possible? We’ve traveled a hundred miles since I pulled over.”
“I’m not sure…” he said, “sometimes she’s just there, outside my window. I don’t know what she wants and I don’t want to find out. So it’s best to keep moving.”
“Is she going to find us again? Catch up to us?” I asked now slightly disturbed.
“No, no… and besides it’s just me that she’s after I think. To be honest I was a little surprised that you could see her, no one else ever has, I thought you had to play the game for her to appear so I’m not really sure what that means. But as long as you don’t look out the window she can’t get any closer. Look, I’d kind of like to drop it. My mind is on other things, we can talk about it after alright?”
The atmosphere was melancholy as began the half of our trip. To lighten the mood, I suppose, my dad turned on the radio, which truthfully I don’t know we hadn’t before, and started flipping through the stations.
“They are headed straight into a slaughter. The Cowboys have no idea——WELCOME! Window watchers and——we’re on the highway to Hell——“
The last station must’ve been a little too on the nose and apropos for my dad’s liking as he abruptly turned the radio back off. I wasn’t if I was reading into it all too much, or if even the mass media had begun to foreshadow what was to come.
As the road wore on the sparse spattering of Douglas Furs that had decorated our peripheries began to thicken in density. It wasn’t long that they formed a solid wall of piney bristles and sticky bark. The sight and smell of them was dreadfully nostalgic and sent me back in time to the days I would make the journey to see my dad instead of with him.
It was familiar but at the same time oddly skewed. My pensive still down memory lane was interrupted however as my father pointed up to a sign fast approaching.
“That’s our exit,” he said motioning with hand.
I anxiously slowed the vehicle and took the ramp as he instructed. I guess I’d been so lost in thought that I hadn’t realized how close we’d gotten. Apprehension started to pulse through me and I began to consider my father’s offer not to wait outside. Before I had time to process my plans, however, we were fast approaching the last turn of our curious jaunt.
As we careened around the final bend I almost expect to see a black, gnarling tower of hammered steel wrought iron beams. Instead what now appeared before us was a humble building of concrete and brick. One that, if not for the fences and guard towers, could be just as easily mistaken for a large schoolhouse. I found it… disappointing almost… anti-climatic even. It was as if the monster scraping at the walls of my closet for so long had run out into the light revealing himself to be no more than a mouse..
I put my blinker on indicating my intention to make the concluding right, and my put his arm across my chest in a gesture for me to halt.
“Pull over here for a second,” he directed.
“Sure. Why what’s up?”
“When we get in there,” he said matter of factly, “let me do the talking alright? Just… if anyone asks you anything I’ll answer for you. Okay?”
“Uh… yeah, that’s fine,” I said in compliance, having not had much desire to do the talking myself in the first place.
I pulled back onto the road and made my turn into to prison’s long driveway before coming to yet another stop at the first check point. As I did a young guard adorned with thick, dark sunglasses stepped out from his perch inside his booth and approached my window. He twirled his finger in the air signaling for me to roll down my window and as I did he leaned down and peered through into the car.
“Who we here to see toda—— oh, hey Dave!” he said pulling his shades down from his eyes and onto the tip of his nose. “I haven’t seen you here in a while. Stayin’ out of trouble I see.”
My dad remained tight lipped but nodded in agreement. The guard spoke in a heavy Texan drawl, so heavy in fact that it seemed like a caricature or a cartoon version of an accent, it was as if was rehearsed almost, like he was acting.
After seeing my dad in the passenger’s seat he seemed to relax a little bit, and leaned further down on the open window into a more comfortable position. He continued:
“So what brings you here today, Dave? You coming for a visit or you planning to stay a while?”
“Just a visit,” my dad replied shortly.
“Well that’s a shame, Dave. That’s a damn shame. We miss you around here, Dave, like to have you back more often.”
“Mmhm,” my dad grunted.
The young guard them shifted his attention from my father to me, “and who do we got here? One of yours, Dave? What’s your name son?”
“I——“ my dad grabbed my arm firmly and interrupted me by addressing the guard himself.
“This is just my driver. He’s not staying.”
The guard, eyes still on me, spoke again to my father, “alright, alright, Dave. Well let the boy and girls up front know who you’re here to see and they’ll get you all taken care of.”
The guard stepped back from the car and as I took my foot off the brake he shouted out to us one more time,
“Oh, and Dave… welcome home…”
As we left the check in station and navigated our way through the parking lot to find an empty spot I said:
“That’s guy a character, huh? Weird but at least he’s friendly. Seems to really like you, though. Were you guys close?”
“Yeah I’ve uh… I’ve never seen that guard before.”
That’s when it dawned on me. That guard so enthusiastic about seeing my father again, well… he was my age. My dad had been free man now for more than a decade, he would’ve been a teenager during his release. My father, recognizing the confusion on my face, looked up at me as we parked the car and explained:
“Look, I told you a lot weird stuff happens here. I don’t know that guard, and as you’ve put together, there is no way he knows me either. That’s why, if you’re going to do this, it’s extremely important that you let me do all the talking. Just do your best to be a fly on the wall and hopefully go unnoticed. Understood?”
“Yeah, I… I think so.”
“Good. Now are you sure you still want to go through with this?”
I thought for a second then answered against my intuition, “yes. I’m sure…”
“Alright then. Let’s go.”
We exited the vehicle and cautiously made our way up to the steel double doors of the lobby the symbolic threshold between one world and the next. I took a deep breath as my father pulled the handle, and with trembling knees, I stepped inside.
The walls were a facade of painted white cinderblocks, trimmed in a dark green plastic border. Plastic palm tree sat in clay vases in each corner of the room and there were worn chairs arranged strategically around the room. It smelled of Pine-Sol and lemon, and felt very much reminiscent of a hospital waiting area or the DMV perhaps.
Once inside, though, everything slowed down. We stood at the rear of a long line of visiting families as they emptied their pockets and were waved down by a metal detecting paddle. From there they’d make their way up to the front counter where a female guard would send word to ready the inmate they had come to see.
For each person in front of us you could add ten minutes to our wait. But persistence paid off and before long the guard behind the thick bullet proof glass was calling us up to the counter.
“Hey, guys. Who we here to see today?” she asked us.
“Walter Dean Ramirez,” my dad answered back.
“Suuure, let me just pull him up,” she said turning to her monitor as she began to type away at her keyboard. After a moment with a look indicating she was having trouble with our request she asked again who we were there to see as she continued searching her screen. “Walter Dean Ramirez you said?”
“Yes ma’am, that’s correct,” my dad confirmed.
“Oh… oh my…” she began, “I’m so sorry I don’t know how to tell you this, but it looks like Mr. Ramirez is deceased…”
“Deceased? What? How? When?” my dad responded in disbelief.
“It doesn’t tell me how but… oh goodness, darlin’ I’m really sorry… it looks like he passed on yesterday…”
“Yesterday? Well what about Terry Lee Guines?”
“One second, hon, let me check on that… it looks like Mr. Guines is currently in solitary confinement so he can’t visitors today. Boy, I’m just the bearer of bad news today ain’t I? Was there anybody else?”
“Uh no… no that’s… that’s alright. Thank you, anyway.”
My dad looked and motioned his head back towards parking lot. When we got to the car I asked him,
“That’s crazy about Ramirez. What do you think happened.”
“I don’t know but I bet Terry had something to do with it. Father Thomas will probably have some answers for us. Let’s just wait here and watch for him to come out.”
“Okay,” I nodded.
As the hours passed waiting for Father Thomas the storm we’d long since outrun had caught back up to us. The sound of the rain bouncing off the metal roof of the car was a welcome addition to the lackluster soundtrack of the day. The storm roll completely over us and open up to clear though setting skies before the father would finally exit the prison doors.
My dad hoped out from the vehicle and shouted from the open doorway, “Father Thomas! Hey Father Thomas!”
A man with thick gray hair adorned in full catholic priest’s attire looked confusedly around the parking for source of his caller. He put his hand cuffed over his eyelids and leaned as if straining to see my dad in the distance.
“Brother David? Is that you?” he asked, a tinge of glee in his voice.
“Well how about that? How in the world are ya, Dave? What has you back in this neck of the woods?”
“I’m good, father, thank you. And actually, I came here to speak to you…”
“To me?” said Father Thomas slightly taken aback.
“Yes sir, to you. I wanted to ask you about Brother Terry, and Walter Ramirez, and well about what happened down in the abandoned prison wing.”
“Uh-huh… I see…” Father Thomas replied with a bit of reservation as he made the last few strides up to our vehicle. “Well, Dave… I won’t lie to you nothing good came from going down there. Look…” he said peering in a paranoid manner over his shoulders and behind himself, “I’ll talk to you about it. I know you were close to those boys, and the whole thing breaks my heart, but not here. Not at the prison.”
“Just tell me where to meet you Father…”
“Well, shoot… I’m preaching again in an hour… Can you meet me tomorrow? Say around noon, at the Millie’s Dimer just up the road?”
“Yeah we weren’t planning on headed back before tomorrow anyway.”
“We?” said Father Thomas as he curiously looked into the car spotting me, “oh this must be your oldest boy huh, Dave? Don’t tell… Nate?”
My dad gave me look letting me know that it was safe to respond and I said, “close… I’m Nick. It’s nice to meet you sir, I’ve heard a lot of good things.”
“Ah! Nick! That’s right! You’ll have to forgive me son, I ain’t seen your dad in -what’s it been now ten years?- and well my memory ain’t what it used to be.”
“No sir not at all, my mom still forgets my name sometimes, so I’m impressed you even got the first letter right.”
“Good, man,” he told me, “well Nick, Dave, I’m gonna go get me a bite to eat before next service. This prison food is free but between you and I’d pay somebody not to have to eat it.”
“Well you go ahead get you some food, we’re going to check the Holdiay Inn off l-30 if you need us but otherwise I guess we’ll see you tomorrow.”
After the parting greetings had all been exchanged, I put the car in reverse and headed back down the prison’s winding drive. A different guard stopped us again the check point and did a mandatory check of the trunk to ensure we had t smuggled out any inmates. As we started to pull away, from the rear view I saw the previous guard step out from the booth and with our windows still rolled down his shouts were met without resistance as they chillingly found their way into my ears.
“Bye Dave, see you real soon, bud…” he yelled with a playfully dramatic wink, “We want it back Dave, we want it back… oh… and tell your son that we love his stories… ”
My heart started racing as nervous adrenaline flushed through my system. Maybe… maybe someone at Telford had stumbled across my little posts on the internet and spread them around to the other guards? That seemed like the most logical explanation but somehow it didn’t like the correct one. And he wanted what back? Had my father taken something that didn’t belong to him?
“Listen, just ignore him…” offered my dad in an attempt to quell my fearful demeanor. I could tell though that he was uncomfortable as well. It didn’t sit well with him that the guard knew who I was, what I’d been doing. And whatever it was that he wanted, for some reason, I knew that concerned my father most of all.
I sped down the rest of the drive and made a sharp right without even slowing. I was more than elated when our tires were back on the interstate and we were putting miles between us and that damned prison. The gps led us to a Holiday Inn just up the road in Texarkana and I was glad to have further walls separating us.
My dad went to the counter asked the receptionist for a room.
“Smoking or non smoking?” she asked.
“One smoking, one non.”
“King, queen, double beds?”
“Two rooms with king beds if you got’em,” he replied.
“Okay, and would you like a room with a view?”
“Uh no, that’s okay, I’m not big on views.”
“Okay, sir, you’re all set, here are your room keys. You’ll be on the fourth floor all the way down the hall to your left.”
My dad handed me a room key and we went up the elevator to fourth floor as directed. Once there we put our bags into our respective rooms and immediately left the hotel altogether to do as Father Thomas had done and grab a bite.
Over diner we discussed in great detail who the lady in the rain was and something my dad called, The Window Game. As well, we tossed out theories over Ramirez’ unexpected passing and why Terry was currently being held in Seg. With full stomachs we returned to what would be our roosts for the night and as soon as I entered my room I felt what little energy I had left drain from my being.
I was asleep before I even hit the mattress. It had been exhausting and puzzling day and I found solace in the fact that tomorrow would bring answers. Or… hoped so anyway.
I don’t know how long I was out but I know that it was in the deep throes of the night that I was awakened to a frantic banging and the muffled yet panicked shouting on my father’s door just outside of my own.
“David!? David!? David, wake up it’s Father Thomas! Quickly! I need to speak to you immediately. It’s.. it’s about Brother Terry…”
I was jarred from my sleep by an alarmed fracas on the door adjacent to mine in the hallway, my father’s door, as it were. As I listened with perked ears I deciphered the cause of the frenzied commotion to be an unnervingly panicked, Father Thomas.
“David, wake up, it’s Father Thomas! I need to speak with you about Brother Terry… it’s urgent!”
I heard my dad’s door creep open and his weary voice engage his unexpected visitor. The early throes of the conversation were too muffled to make out clearly, and my curiosity was stronger than my will to sleep by this point, so I hobbled bleary-eyed to join the unexpected reunion outside.
When I arrived in the hallway I saw my father’s door was left agape and that he and Father Thomas were already inside. The disheveled reverend was sitting anxiously at the edge of the bed. His appearance, to me, was… troubling…
No longer was he the neatly kempt, antiseptic man we’d seen coming out of the prison just hours earlier. Gone was his chummy, amiable demeanor, replaced instead with by one denoting unrest and fear induced paranoia… His head would turn sharply and abruptly, to and fro, to address the smallest disturbance in the room, meeting them trepidation and ultimately relief. It was as if he was expecting something to be there, hiding in the corner, waiting to catch his glance…
His once immaculate black robes had been exchanged for pajamas, tackily decorated with seemingly fresh smears of mud and dirt. There was a small cut below his left eye, and a swab of dried blood now painted his cheek. His hair was awry and tangled up with dried out, crumbling leaves. He was agitated and fidgety, seemingly unable to remain still, as he sat with one leg crossed over the other, rocking his foot in vigorous anxiety.
His eyes met mine as I entered the room but he did not otherwise acknowledge my presence. My dad was leaning against a small stationary table on the wall adjacent the open door with arms crossed, sporting a gaunt worrisome expression, presumably processing the manic information he’d just been relayed.
Father Thomas looked up at my dad, “smoking room?”
“Um, y-yeah… you need one?” my dad asked.
“If you don’t mind, David…” responded the reverend, with the vulnerability and humility of a starving beggar on the street.
“No… not at all. Here,” my dad reached into the pocket of his coat strewn over the chair next to him and handed Father Thomas a cigarette. The Father then parsed the unlit smoke in his lips and held it there with trembling finger as my dad stretched forth a lighter and sparked it for him. He took a long deep inhale, caging it in his lungs as he closed his eyes. After a moment he exhaled and a plume of smoke filled the air around him.
“That’s better,” he said, his nerves noticeably calmer, “forgive me, come in son, close the door behind you.”
I did as he asked and then addressed the room for clarity’s sake and asked them to recap what I’d missed, “so what’s going on? I heard you mention something about Brother Terry?”
“He escaped,” my father replied, his succinct response doing little to help my confusion.
“Escaped? How? When? Did they catch him? Do they know where he might be?”
“He—,” my dad began before Father Thomas coolly interrupted him.
“He’s in my trunk…” the reverend delivered in an almost nonchalant manner before taking another long drag from his cigarette.
“Wait… he’s… he’s in your trunk?” my dad gasped, in a tone revealing that their conversation hadn’t made it quite to that point.
“Yes,” the reverend’s pithily replied in irritating vagueness.
“In your trunk? The trunk of the car you drove here?Wha-?” my father’s astounded disbelief not relenting, as I found myself internally echoing his sentiments.
“We should have never gone down into those haunted halls…” Father Thomas sighed as a wave of mournful regret washed over him. “Whatever was down there, what demon lurked those dark corridors… well I… I have no doubt it has Terry now…”
“Hold on, Father…” I interjected, “with all due respect it sounds like you’re the one who has, Terry…”
“Yes, son, indeed I do. And truth be told, this whole thing is my fault… I should have fought the beast alone, I knew that the others, as well intentioned as they may have been, were not prepared to face that kind of unadulterated evil…
“We cornered the creature with the Spoken Word and Holy artifacts and I successfully cast him from his earthly host. But… I fear he did not return to Hell from wince he came but instead sent forth his legions into the vessels nearest him. With Terry being the closest, and I suspect, most infested by the scampering spirits… I prayed that I was wrong but tonight I could deny no longer that Terry, was in fact, horribly possessed…
“I was laying in bed not two hours ago, reading scripture and preparing next week’s sermon, not different than any other Sunday evening. As I sat my Bible and notes aside for the night I felt a quickly manifesting sense of looming darkness permeate the room. Instinctively I clutched my rosary and began to cleanse the room through prayer.
“I was interrupted, however, when I heard a fir rapping on my bedroom window. I nervously looked through yawning blinds and peering back at me… well it… it was Brother Terry, piercing me through the panes with hateful intent…”
“But,” I chimed in, “just because he escaped and found out where you live well… I don’t see how that means he’s possessed by a demon…”
“No, no, you’re right,” the reverend agreed in a gruff whispery voice, “normally I would say it’s a disgruntled inmate, a scary prospect of course, but not one of spiritual origin. However… my bedroom window is on the second floor, and below it is a sheer wall to the ground. So to see him staring at me through that window in particular… well you get the picture…
“When I saw him, doing what can only be described as floating there, I… I immediately darted for the bedroom door as I heard the glass shatter behind me. I reached for the knob only to feel myself be jolted backwards through the empty frame and see the outside of my home now quickly shrinking in the growing distance before me.
“As he carried me hastily through the whipping wind of the night sky, he was shouting the most awful things. Things that my oath to the priesthood will not allow me to utter. Aside from the insidious threats he kept repeating,
“‘The book priest. Give me the book.’
“My mind was reeling and all I could think was that he must’ve been asking for the Bible still resting on my bedside table. So I old him it was back at home and that I’d retrieve for him if he only returned me unharmed to solid footing.
“As I did he sharply and abruptly stopped in midair as we hovered meters above the treetops below. I felt his grip shift as his arms wrapped my chest and then he suddenly screeched in pain, as if he’d mistakenly touched the searing end of a hot poker. I could see a fresh and immediately festering burn on his arm in what looked to me to hold the shape of a crucifix. That’s when I remembered the rosary still adorning my neck.
“I yanked the chain free, snapping the clasp in the process, and grabbed the cross dangling from its end tightly in my hand. I then said a prayer, as with all my might, I wrenched it downward and punctured the flesh of his thigh.
“He dropped me from his arms with a howling cry as we both came hurdling back down to the harsh cushion of trees below. I crashed through the leaves violently, leaving a wake of snapped branches marking the path of my descent from the heavens. Eventually, a large set of twin limbs finally wedge me mercifully between them. God must have guided my fall as I emerged from the impact relatively unharmed, only minor scrapes and bruises to tell the tale. As I untangled myself and climbed the rest of the way to solid footing, however, I saw that Terry had not been so fortunate…
“He was impaled on the trunk of small fallen oak, splintered straight through the chest. A most disturbing sight I can assure you… Most disturbing of all though, was that… he was… still alive… still cursing me with same spiteful vigor… it appeared he was more concerned about being stuck there than his, by all accounts, fatal injury…
“I wasted no time pondering the whys and how’s of the scene, however, and quickly made haste back to my house. Once there I gathered together every rope, roll of tape, and chain that I could find, as well as every holy object my arms could carry. I threw it all in the back seat my car and started the engine. But then, as I started to drive back to were Terry lay spiked, I remembered something…
“The book he’d been asking for, in my frantic struggle I’d thought maybe he was speaking of my Bible but… then it hit me. I had obtained a diary, some years ago now, that a guard had confiscated from an inmate that smuggled it back from the boilers. The diary belonged originally to a man named, Abner Haney, or as he is colloquially known amongst the prisoners, VooDoo Bob.
“I’d taken the confiscated diary to translate its foreign text, and after months of varying degrees of success among its passages it now rested in a locked filing cabinet in my office. I had, had several of the inmates, whom frequented chapel at the time, helping me to dissect its pages, Brother Terry among them. It dawned on me that this must have been the book that he was after.
“I ran back into the house and shuffled around the contents of the cabinet where I retrieved the diary then drove the half miles or so back to the location from which Terry’s scornful screams could still be heard echoing through the forest.
“When I arrived I was relieved to see he had not been able to free himself, and with him still impaired, I took the opportunity to bind his arms and legs. I then pried him up and off the piercing splinter protruding through his rib cage, to reveal a gory circular window wide enough to see the open trunk of my parked car behind him. I further bound him with chains and the remaining rope then drug him through the dirt as he continued his onslaught of obscenities. I worked I’m up along the rear bumper and rolled him over into the empty hull where I proceeded to seal his mouth shut with an exuberant amount of duct tape. Lastly, I taped several crucifixes to the underside the trunk lid, in an effort to keep him from attempting to force it open.
“Once I felt sure that he was sufficiently bound, I retrieved the diary from the passenger’s seat and brought it before him to confirm my hunch.
“‘Is this what you’re after demon?’
“The tape ensured that he couldn’t speak but his eyes lit up as he rocked and struggled against the ropes restraining him. His reaction told me what I needed to know and I knew that it was, in fact, what he had come for.
“With my question answered, I sealed shut the lid and resolved myself to drive him back to Telford. I suppose I had made it halfway there when the idea that returning him to his cell inside the prison was not perhaps the best course of action.
“After all, he was locked in Seg and had managed to escape. The only way I could imagine that happening was if he had help… was if an inmate or guard had let him out… Who’s to say they wouldn’t just do it again? And that of course was ignoring the fact that there was now a hole eight inches in diameter straight through his chest. How could that possibly be explained by forces outside of anything but the supernatural? I feared that returning Terry to Telford would cause panic among its residents…
“And… then I thought about the book… about the passages I couldn’t read, the ones we could never decipher… and well… then I remembered you, David. The thought struck that perhaps you could read them. I know it sounds crazy but I don’t think the fact that you appeared before me today of all days was a mere coincidence, it was, I believe, God’s divine plan.”
My dad looked baffled to say the least. His thoughts obviously reflecting my own. I could tell that he, too, wondered how Father Thomas could have the smallest expectation that he could read what the Father and other inmates had not been able to after months of dedicated research.
“But…” my dad perplexedly replied, “how can I help? I don’t know a second language…”
“I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a stretch, but well… it’s the only hope we’ve got at the moment. You see, most of the diary is written in Latin, Aramaic, and Hebrew, and while challenging to understand, I can use existing resources to decipher those pages. Some of the passages, though, are written in an even more primitive and primal language.. A language described in some the the other passages to be the original language… the language… of the dead. And well… from information I can gather from the decipherable sections, it can only be read by the dead.
“Sometimes I gathered that Abner’s trapped soul would manage break free and leak ink on to diary’s worn pages. He would reveal himself in the form of desperate cries for release and sometimes… rather interesting information.
“Among his desperate passages, he wrote an entry describing the demon who now held him captive. It appeared to be a transference spell, roughly instructing the reader how to control the spirit and possibly how it can returned to the burning depths of Hell from wince it rose. However, the incantation itself, is written in the dead language and I, not any living man, can translate it… I am ashamed to say it was arrogance that led me to disregard instructions outlined in the book as I led those men down into the abandoned prison labyrinth. My training as priest had falsely convinced me that I was prepared to dispatch of the evil. I see now the importance of the cursed books unheeded warnings… May God forgive me…”
“Okay,” I interrupted in unabashed confusion, “but if it can only be read by the dead then… well… how could my dad hope to read it?”
“You never told him, did you David?” the reverend somberly addressed my father.
“Told me… what?”
“I…” my father remorsefully sighed, “I didn’t want to worry you boys…” He reached into his draping coat pulled out and pulled out a cigarette before he continued. “I guess it was a few months into my incarceration… I… well… I collapsed coming in from the yard. Just one second I was fine and the next everything went dark… I don’t know what happened to cause it, and I don’t remember anything after that either… but… I awoke in a wooden box to the sound of dirt skidding across its surface… It was the unmistakable sound of being buried alive…
“I started screaming that I was awake and for them to let me out, not a moment later I heard a panicked muffled conversation and then saw the sharp end of a shovel prying up the nailed shut lid. I was greeted by two guards, and the Father here, white faced and breathless, as if emerging from the shallow grave at their feet… was a ghost… And I learned soon after that well… maybe that was what they were seeing…
“I was, through no mincing of words, that I had been declared dead a full eighteen hours earlier. That… I hadn’t taken a breath or held a pulse in nearly a day. But now, all of a sudden, I was alive and remarkably healthy. The next few days I became a lab rat of sorts as the doctors and nurses in the infirmary fruitlessly examines me for answers to what had I had just experienced… Ultimately the cause was never discovered and well… I wish I knew more about it all but… honestly, it’s just a blank. Surmising from what I think Father Thomas is getting at, I’m assuming he is hopping that my time on the other side will work as a technicality of sorts and allow to read the still untranslated sections of the diary.”
“Yes, David, you are right in your assumptions. If you don’t mind… I’d like you to try and read Abner’s instructions…”
“I mean… I’ll give it a shot but I don’t think it’s gonna do much good. I feel like I’d know if I had magically become fluent in a second language…”
“All I ask is that you try,” said Father Thomas as he reached behind him and pulled out a leather bound book that he had tucked into the waist band of his pajamas. “I’ve learned as much as is possible for me to learn from the book’s cryptic texts,” he professed as he tentatively relinquished it to my dad, “I… I hope you’ll have more luck.”
“Sure but… what exactly am I looking for?” inquired my father as he took the diary and began to tepidly scan through its pages.
“Abner writes that the spirit haunting him has been displaced. He tells that the spirit once inhabited a powerful demon… a demon that, too, is familiar with the inmates of Telford. A demon that I believe you may have encountered as well, David.”
“I… have?” my dad responded puzzled by the reverend’s assertion.
“I believe he waved at you once…”
“The creature from the woods?” I postulated.
“Precisely,” the Father confirmed. “The creature is the spirit’s former body, for lack of better description. Now the beast is just a soulless husk, acting out of nothing more than instinct and muscle memory. I do not know how the spirit has come to be dislodged, perhaps by choice, but I suspect that to destroy him, he must be returned to his original form. I believe that Abner’s incantation details how it may be possible for us to do that.”
“Okay, well here’s to hopping you’re right…Page?” my father inquired.
“The very last,” replied the reverend with bated breath.
My dad ruffled through the diary and arrived just shy of the back cover. His eyes searched it intensely, desperately attempting to make sense of its hieroglyphic markings.
“I… I’m sorry I—“ a defeated exhale left from Father Thomas with the sound of my dad’s regretful apology, but then… “No… wait… the words they… it took me a minute but I… I can read them…”
Father Thomas, suddenly reinvigorated, swiftly hopped up from his bedside perch hustled to my father, peering over his shoulder at the pages of the diary.
“What does it say David? Quickly, we’ve not a moment to spare!”
“It says… well I don’t think I can translate it to English… but essentially it’s a list of words to be read off in order, giving the speaker of the words control of the spirit, or demon… well control of where it goes rather. I can read it but it’s still very confusing…
“I think, if I understand correctly, the body and the spirit need to be next to each other for it to work But well… it… it doesn’t say what will happen once they are reunited, only that this will reunite them.”
“What if reuniting them only makes the demon stronger? What it wants to be rejoined,” I asserted.
“It is very possible…” Father Thomas admitted, “in truth I worry the same. But I do know that when casting the spirit from a human vessel it lingers until it finds another. That’s what happened to Terry, to Briggs and that young guard, Oates. It dispersed itself between them, sending its legion of demons fleeing to the first vulnerable soul they saw.”
“Oates? That was the young guard from the check in station, I remember reading his name on his uniform. That’s why he knew you isn’t? He has seen you before, from the M-Seg vents…” I asked my dad.
“Yes,” Father Thomas answered, “and the more I think about it… well it makes sense that the demon may have used Oates to free Terry from his cell tonight. I mean who else could, or would have released him?”
“So, you believe the the fragmented spirit is controlling all three men simultaneously? What about Briggs? Why not just release him too?” I questioned.
“Well, as I said, Terry was the closest man to the demon when it was dispelled, and as a result, I think the most of the demon’s power now resides in him. And as for Briggs… well he… he’s dead… His body was discovered shriveled up and mummified, the life seemingly sucked straight from his being. And though I can’t prove it, I think that was Terry’s handiwork, consuming and reassembling his scattered ghosts. For all I know, Oates is dead now too, a victim to the same malicious fate.”
“Alright… well fuck…” I muttered, “sorry Father, forgive my language. But let me try to summarize this… So we have to somehow lure the beast from the trees into the same place as Terry, and then my dad needs to read the magic words and then we can kill it… er… hopefully? Any ideas on how to do that? Can we funnel it into a cage with holy objects? They seem to work on the spirit…”
“I’m afraid the holy objects are of no use on the creature. Remember, he isn’t evil, more like an animal, a crucifix won’t cause the same lethargic reaction as it would on its former host. We do need to drive it into a confined area somehow, but the logistics of that elude me…”
My father, who had been thumbing through the diary, seemed to have found something interesting on one of the pages, without even glancing up he enlightened us of his discovery.
“I think I have an idea… VooDoo, er, Abner, he wrote something about a ritual involving the beating hearts of eight dead men. Human sacrifices, that when all consumed, will create a new soul within their consumer…”
“The fleshcrows!” I shouted excitedly after piecing together what he was eluding to, “but weren’t there eight of those? Maybe a spare?”
“No… not a spare… The eighth was to be used as a doppelgänger of sorts. The beast only needs seven to create a new soul, and after it has devoured them, it transfers the new, infant soul into the remaining empty vessel. After transferring its soul, it becomes a hull again, returning to a state of catatonic hibernation, waiting for the next time it’s summoned. I think maybe that’s how the spirit haunting the vents became separated in the first place. The creature is making copies…
“Ramirez and the guard burned the eighth, if I recall correctly, so if the creature consumes the seventh fleshcrow, he will be full and there will be nowhere to transfer the spirit possessing Terry… By my math only a handful of the fleshcrows have been accounted for… and… I think I know where the others may be hiding.”
“Forgive me but… fleshcrows?” Father Thomas asked.
“It’s a long story,” my dad answered, “but back during the Holy Wars there were eight men found skinned alive in the prison halls with the skins and hearts missing. C.O. Johnson later told me that he saw the skins in the woods, stuffed with hay and walking around aimlessly through the trees. Anyway, as you’ve gathered, I think the creature in the woods is hunting them. And well it’s risky, but I think if we can capture one, well maybe we can use it as bait to lead the creature and trap it in a somewhere…”
“Alright, well how do we find these reanimated carcasses?” the curious Father inquired.
“When I worked with hounds in the kennels,” my dad began, “they used to lead me to a small opening leading down between some large rocks. I used to hear something moving down there and there was always hay in the direct vicinity… I think that’s where they hide from it…
“If we could get on to the prison property and somehow coerce a fleshcrow from the cave, I have a feeling that after that it won’t take long for the creature to find us…”
“But how do we get inside the gates? It’s not exactly a convincing pitch to tell the guards to let a priest, an ex-convict, and his son in to roam freely on the grounds to hunt demons… Not to mention the possessed fugitive in the trunk…” I said expressing my skepticism of the chaotically evolving plan.
“Leave that to me,” Father Thomas offered, “I can make a few calls, and depending on who’s on duty, bargain for a lot to a little unmonitored time at the gates…”
With that, Father Thomas pulled his decade old flip phone from his pocket and stepped out into the hallway. A moment later I heard his faint voice petitioning our entry with an unknown person on the other end of the line. I took the alone time with my father to ask him a few burning questions.
“So… you died? And you didn’t tell us?”
“I didn’t want to worry you, and besides… once it was over and I was okay, what good would it do to bring it up?”
“I suppose,” I begrudgingly conceded, “but you really don’t remember anything? Nothing at all?”
He hesitated for a moment then spoke in a considered and grave manner, “well… I remember running… I remember running through an endless dark… Everything was pitch black and the floor was scolding hot, burning my bare feet. I ran aimlessly for days and I never hit a wall and the texture of the floor never changed.
“I remember feeling so thirsty and tired but I knew I couldn’t stop or they would catch me…”
“Who would catch you?”
“I… I’m not sure… it was too dark to see but from behind I heard someone or something following me. It sounded like a pack of wolves but it felt more sinister than that… and when it called out it spoke several voices at once, all saying the same thing in unison,
“‘Your soul belongs to us now…’
“I don’t know what it was but I knew I had to out run it…
“After what felt like weeks of constant pursuit, I saw a vague yellow hue in the distance and… well… when I reached it I woke up in shoddy box, in a shallow grave, my grave…
“But, like I said, I don’t remember passing out or dying. I just remember the nightmare that ensued and running and eventually… waking up.”
“That’s why VooDoo remembers you isn’t it? It must have been him and his legions who were chasing you… And the guard, Oates… the thing he wanted back… it’s your soul isn’t it?”
My dad sighed a grievous sigh and in his typical poetic fashion said, “that’s the thing about prison… the judge gave me twenty and I’m that time I learned that even if you’re sentence doesn’t reflect it… in prison everybody gets life. There are no pardons, no paroles… And well… at Telford… I think everybody gets death too…”
Just as my dad finished relaying his haunting anecdote, Father Thomas reentered the room, with an aura of urgency about him.
“We can get in but we have to leave now. There’s a shift change in an hour and after that our window of opportunity will be gone.”
My dad shot me a glance as if to gauge what I was thinking. I knew what he wanted me to say. He wanted me to tell him to go ahead without me, that I’d wait for his return from the safety of my hotel room. Instead, my response left a bitterly remorseful taste on his tongue, when instead, I said,
“Well what are waiting for? Let’s go.”
We hurried out into the hallway and then anxiously down the elevator. I resigned myself to not think beyond the current moment, to not consider what all the culminating snap shots in time were leading to.
Stepping through the sliding glass doors of the hotel and out onto the parking lot beyond, we were greeted by the emotionless chill of a deep autumn night. The world outside seemed to be more peaceful than it should have been. Caught up in an ignorant doldrum, blissfully unaware of the chaos that it held within its waning hours.
As we made our way to my dad’s vehicle, Father Thomas left us with some parting instruction.
“Just follow close, when we exit for the prison, pull off to shoulder and join me in my car. Once we lure the creature there will be a back entrance to to the underground wing left unlocked. The new shift will make their rounds to check all doors within an hour or so of clocking in so we won’t have much time. Are there any questions?”
The instructions were clear enough and we shook our heads indicating we needed no further clarification.
“Good,” the Father nodded, “now let’s be on our way… and may God be with us…”
With that, Father Thomas departed our vehicle for his own which he’d parked off and away from the others in the corner of the lot. We backed into the empty lane between the spaces and waited for the reverend to pass us and take his place at the front of our small convoy.
As we got in line behind him, I could see his trunk was abundantly wrapped in rope and links of bungee cord. It served as a grim and constant reminder of the priest’s insidious cargo and the bleak task ahead.
As we traversed the winding black ribbon dividing the thick, uncompromising walls of towering pine zooming past us on either side, I too, was reminded of my father’s dreams. His long journeys home through the twisting trees, beneath the shining moonlight above. I wondered if perhaps the familiarity of it all had dawned on him as well.
The highway was desolate and completely bereft of passing motorists, and for the first time in my driving career, I found myself longing to be caught up in a traffic jam. My eyes were transfixed on the reverend’s blaring red taillights, and I distracted myself by blurring in and out of focus.
The distraction did not last long, however, as the Father’s car swerved violently to the right as his brakes screamed out painfully, the awful screech reverberating through the crisp night air. I watched, horrified, as he abruptly careened off the road bouncing turbulently into a shallow ditch and plowing onward until finally slamming to a stop against the trunk of a massive fur tree.
I quickly pulled off to the shoulder as my dad reached into the glove compartment to retrieve a flashlight. We hastily, yet nervously, exited the car and began sprinting our way to the crash site.
As we neared the Father’s vehicle there was a thick, smoky fog forming around it from beneath the tire wells, and up from the radiator. Pine needles still falling like rain from the rattled branches above. My heart sank as the flashlights beam penetrated the rear view window.
I saw the reverend’s head drooped over, seemingly unconscious from the impact and graciously, oblivious to what was encroaching upon him. In the back seat was a second figure… and although I had never met him it… well it didn’t take me long to understand that I was looking at Terry Guines.
What happened next is beyond my capacity or desire to accurately articulate. Terry looked back at us through the glass and shot us a devious, almost playful smile before climbing between the Father and the steering wheel, straddling him as he maintained eye contact with his horrified audience.
Up to this point I had not truly allowed myself to believe in any of my dad’s stories, not fully given up on my skeptical viewpoints, on my remaining thread of sanity. And though I had spent the last few weeks listen to and recording the most vile and atrocious acts that I could fathom, I could have gone the rest of my life without bearing witness to one.
But as Terry impossibly gripped the priest’s wilted head between his pressing hands, and then effortlessly pulled it from his limp neck stretching it to unbelievably gruesome lengths, the devastating reality that my father had not been weaving a yarn of fiction shook me to the core. I watched as the Father’s head was ripped from his shoulders, the connecting tendons popping like tightly wound guitar strings one after the other.
I felt my stomach boiling as vomit threatened to evacuate my mouth while we started silently backing back towards our own vehicle. A moment later, Terry opened the driver’s side door and stepped out palming the late reverend’s decapitated skull, as blood drained out the dangling tendons and formed a thick pool on the yellow grass below.
“Head’s up,” he shouted in an unnaturally deep voice before tossing the severed head at our feet, “aww… what’s wrong Dave? Don’t feel like playing catch?”
There was no reply as we continued reversing away until the hood of the parked car kissed the back of our thighs.
“Come on Dave… it’s your old pal, Dr. Giggles? Aren’t you even going to say hello?”
“Nick…” my father whispered, “get in the car and start the engine.”
“Now!” he ordered.
I skirted my way along the hood and still open door and then into the slowly into the driver’s seat. I turned the key and as the headlights blasted the darkness ahead, Terry’s haunting visage was seared into my mind.
His white prison garbs were stained in multiple shades of red indicating that they were soaked in more than just the Father’s blood. His eyes were glossy black spheres encased in horribly vascular sockets. His expression told a story of pure hatred mingled with wicked amusement. Through his chest, just as the Father had said, was an aperture through which I could see the illuminated trees behind. And his feet… well… they weren’t touching the earth below him as he glided the air towards us.
As he approached ever closer, my building anxiety was palpable.
“Get in… get in the car…” I urged my dad.
“Just put it in drive,” he yelled back.
“Going so soon, Dave?” Terry sarcastically probed.
“Wouldn’t dream of it Terry,” my dad quipped back, with an air of confidence I was surprised to hear.
My father started moving across the car and out onto the highway, with Terry steadily closing the gap.
“Nick, toss me the diary,” my dad ordered still backing up with his eyes locked on the encroaching inmate.
I reached over to the driver’s seat and grabbed the book then threw it through the open window to my father.
“This what you looking for, Terry?” He said as he held it up over his head.
The sight of it seemed to spark immediate rage in Terry who was just a few meters away from crossing the car’s beaming headlights himself.
“Give me that fucking book!” he snarled, “you insignificant cunt! Give me that book before I slit your fucking throat!”
My dad casually tossed the book a maybe twenty or thirty feet ahead of me, centered with the hood of vehicle.
“You want it? Then take it…”
Everything from point that sped up considerably. Terry bolted for the diary which was now lying facedown on the asphalt. As he bent to retrieve it my dad shouted,
“Now! Now, Nick! Hit the gas!”
Without even thinking, I floored the gas pedal and sent the car barreling full speed at the unsuspecting Terry. I hit him going upwards of forty miles an hour sending him up over the hood, smashing against the windshield. I continued accelerating down the road blindly before I harshly threw on the brakes and launched him several meters forward, scraping along the road before me.
I then sat in an adrenaline fueled haze as from the side mirror I saw my father retrieve the book and start sprinting my way. I threw the car in reverse and lurched forward so violently that my head nearly slammed against the steering wheel. I stopped just shy of my father and he quickly jumped in the passenger’s side seat.
“We have to go, he isn’t dead,” my dad warned as all too soon Terry began to stagger himself back up off the ground.
“Daaaaavid!” said the beast, “give… me… that… fucking… BOOOOOK!”
My dad rolled down his window and antagonized the demon further, “You want it? Then come get it, bitch.”
He rolled up his window and turned to me, “we go through with the plan. Just drive, he won’t be far behind.”
I let off the brake and floored it past the reeling Terry, speeding down the interstate until he was out of view. I felt numb, unable to process what had just transpired, unwilling to even try. I opted to focus on the road, instead. Before long we were on the last stretch of highway and the task at hand began to feel more daunting with every mile.
To this point we had been lone travelers on the interstate but as I took the exit for Telford, a shiver ran down my spine as headlights filled the rear view mirror. When we passed under a stretch of dim street lights, to my utter dread, I recognized the car behind me. It… it was the Father’s.
“Just drive, the turn-in is straight ahead,” my dad informed me.
As I rounded the last corner and the prison came into view, the overwhelming realization that I was now fully wedge between a rock and a hard place became painfully apparent. With a demon behind me, and countless more before me, I knew that as I came up to the prison’s long driveway there was no turning back. As it were, there was only one option remaining, and that option, as much I didn’t want to… was to finish the fucking job…
With the Telford building now firmly framed within the dashboard window, a long mental checklist of things we’d need to do in order to survive the night ran through my mind. Things like: not be captured, shot, possessed, or otherwise killed in some unfathomably horrific manner.
To be honest our prospects for survival against the plethora of mounting threats seemed just a little more than daunting. My already bleak outlook was further hampered as the ravenous fugitive now dead set on tasting our blood, made a dangerously sharp turn onto the final stretch of road behind us in the late reverend’s car.
Using a contrarily ignored speed limit sign as a time stamp, I began counting the seconds between us and the fast gaining Terry.
“Twenty-six…twenty-seven…” I mumbled under my breath as the Father’s gray Lincoln passed the marker.
“S-Slow down! We’re going to miss the turn!” my dad shrieked, his panicked voice pulling me from my arbitrary calculations.
I slammed on the brakes, leaving thick black skid marks on the asphalt, as I harshly drifted the car in a chaotic shift of gravity onto the prison’s concrete drive. I quickly corrected the tires and floored the gas out from the tailspin and up to the check-in station. An antsy guard was already standing outside the booth, frantically waving us down with both arms.
I pulled the car to a screeching halt just beside him, and as I started to roll down my window, his fretfully anxious questions were carried in with the breeze.
“Are you with the Father? Where is he? Do you have Terry?”
“I—,” my dad began, as the emergence of the reverend’s car casting an ominous spotlight on our already uneasy gathering, immediately answered all of the guard’s inquiries in one devastatingly succinct visage.
Without saying a word he backed up apprehensively into his booth and pressed a button opening the sealed gate before us. He then grabbed a spare walkie off of the counter and tossed it through the open window.
“If you need me, I’ll be on channel three, it’s private. My name is Hobbs. Now go! Go!” the guard’s voice denoting the pressing urgency currently bearing down on us.
As I put the car back into drive and slowly let off the gas, my dad shouted one final parting directive to the wary Hobbs, who’s trembling hand was hovering just above the button controlling the the widening gates.
“Leave it open…”
With that, we blasted forward and found ourselves on the jagged side of the razor wire, Terry swift to join us. About halfway up the driveway my dad pointed to a rough dirt pathway protruding from the left side of the concrete and cutting its way through a large empty field.
“Take that trail ahead,” he instructed.
I whipped the car violently onto the path sending dust and gravel into a large plume behind me, tossed up from the rapidly revolving tires below. I could see that the trail was leading into a thick line of pines in the distance, the tops of which appeared to be precariously balancing the full moon above.
We bounced forcefully in our seats as the wheels challenged the uneven ground for dominance. I swerved around several deep potholes, still muddy from the days early rain, that threatened to halt our entrance into the canopy of hanging branches ahead.
Soon, however, and though the speedometer did not reflect it, I apprehensively pressed on as the wide open field gave way to the hungry mouth of a dark and narrow leafy tunnel.
“Where do I go?” I frantically shouted.
“Uh… I’m not sure… just keep going straight. This road wasn’t here when I was locked up… but it has to lead somewhere. Just keep your eyes peeled,” my dad replied, echoing back vague hints of the nervous energy I’d just sent him.
“Wait… so you don’t know where this road goes? What if it dead ends?”
“What choice do we have? We’re in a cage, everything is a dead end,” my father reminded me in a sobering shot of reality.
The haze of kicked up debris on the path behind us was soon illuminated by Terry’s headlights crossing the threshold into the forest.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed, “what now?”
“Just… just let me think,” my dad tensely blurted. He began to fumble around in the floorboard and retrieved a flashlight rolling around at his feet. He flipped it on and off again to make sure it was still working after its turbulent and unharnessed ride. He then looked to me and said, “pull over just over that hill and let me out. Then just keep driving until you find a place to turn around, when you do, turn off your headlights and circle back. When you see me again, I want you to park the car back a little ways, and try not to bring attention to yourself. I’m gonna try and lure Terry out on to the road. When he gets out, I need you to take my keys and sneak over into the Father’s car. Listen to me, as soon as I turn on this flashlight, you hit the alarm button on my car, and then the gas pedal on the Father’s. Hey, this is very important and we only have one shot at it, so I need you to be clear on what we are doing and stay focused. You go all that?”
“Wait you— you’re getting out?”
“Nick! We don’t have time for this! Just tell me you understand!”
“Y-yeah I… I understand…” I stammered, still unsure of what all of the components of his quickly contrived plan were ultimately leading to.
“Alright, good,” my dad replied, my confirmation allaying his worry as we came up to the top of the hill, “on your way back go slow and do your best not to be seen… Here, pull over…”
“Y-yeah I will…” I exhaled somberly as I threw the car into a hard stop.
My father jumped from the passenger’s side then leaned back in and in a gravely serious tone he said, “remember, lights off. Be careful and watch out for the matterdaddies…”
“What? W-what’s a matterdaddie?” I nervously implored.
A smug and victorious grin spread across his face as he looked at me and cooly replied, “nothin’ son.”
With his oddly timed and self-satisfying pun expertly delivered, he stepped away from the car and slammed the door shut before sprinting back up the patch of road we’d just descended. As he reached the summit of the mound, I could see his shadow being cast across the treetops by the oncoming lights of our pursuant’s vehicle, which of yet, was still hidden from my view by the path’s steep curvature. A moment later my father, too, disappeared on the opposite side of the sloping earth, in a prey’s desperate bid to outwit its stalking predator. Somehow, though, I got the feeling I was more concerned about his looming encounter than he was.
“Fuck! Fuck! What the fuck!” I muttered aloud to myself in a cathartic release of my inward emotions. “Okay, okay… calm down Nick… he’ll be okay, you’ll be okay. Just find a place to turn around. It’ll all work out,” I nervously comforted myself.
As I further increased the gap between myself and the obtrusive incline, I was both relieved and distressed to see that Terry’s rampaging bumper had not yet breached its peak. My mind was racing with the devastating consequences that might occur as a result of the showdown taking place just beyond my line of sight.
My eyes alternated, with palpable apprehension, between the rear view mirror and the fast winding trail ahead. As I veered diffidently onward, I could see a solus structure shyly poking out through the pines in the distance. It’s full frame was segmented by an organic tapestry of gnarling trunks and twisting branches. As I rounded a long arching crook in the road, the trees parted, as I found myself staring down the barrel of an uninterrupted straightaway. From my now clear vantage point, I could fully see the structure’s massive base.
I soon recognized the shape held by the imposing edifice to be that of a guard tower. However, unlike the brightly lit towers we’d passed in our mad dash to the prison gates, this one was noticeably aphotic, and seemingly uninhabited by watchful eyes. The lawn and garden surrounding its grimy walls were poorly manicured and infested with unbecoming weeds. Then, painted on its dingy white facade in large faded black and weather worn letters, the reason for the apparent abandonment of the building became abundantly clear, as I read the words:
The significance of the now seemingly defunct tower was lost on me in the moment, however. My concentration was undivided and my resolve to circle back had not wavered. My mission was made slightly easier as I noticed the trail looped around the building and back in on itself.
As instructed, I killed the headlights and made my way around to the back of the building with just the faint illumination of a pale silver moon to guide me. As I gently careened around the looping path and navigated my way to the back of the structure, I glanced up and noticed a shattered window on the tower-bay above. It served as a grisly reminder that Terry wasn’t the only evil currently residing in those woods. I couldn’t preoccupy myself with that at the moment, however. After all, we wouldn’t have to worry about the other monsters lurking in the trees if we didn’t first dispatch of the one that chased us into them.
I stealthily crept along the road, as silently as the engine would allow, and soon found that I had once again arrived at the bottom of the brae. As I began my cautious climb, I made the decision about halfway up the face, to depart from the carved path and finish the last leg of my drive through the bushy overgrowth on my right.
I strained my eyes against the opaque blanket of wilderness that I had chosen to make a route of, looking for any gaps wide enough for me to squeeze between. The untended terrain quickly proved more difficult to traverse than I had anticipated, however, as at my sluggish pace, every fallen limb and misplaced boulder formed themselves into worthy adversaries for my inching tires.
Regardless of the tumultuous passage, and through no small amount of perseverance, I successfully managed to snake myself up to the top of the summit. From my elevated position, through narrow slots between the tree trunks, I could see my father casually standing directly in the beaming headlights of the reverend’s Lincoln.
I parked the car just behind a thick area of thorny brush, grabbing the keys from the ignition as I made my way out into the open. I realized that up until that moment I had taken for granted the minuscule sense of safety the locked doors of my father’s Dodge Charger had provided me. Now, with nothing but the cool night air to guard me, I felt utterly vulnerable and exceedingly exposed.
I tiptoed lightly through the thicket, overly wary of snapping twigs and crumbling leaves, so as not to give away the element of surprise behind my covert encroachment. As I reach the fringe of the towering timbers I cowered behind the protective cover, graciously afforded to me, by a large pine and proceeded to wait for my opportunity to further advance.
As I eavesdropped, unbeknownst to the possessed fugitive still inside the Lincoln, I heard the motor roar threateningly in my father’s direction as the wheels remained idle. My dad quickly assessing the situation, rendered any attempt to run him down futile as he moved further back into the woods, shielding himself between two sturdy firs.
A second later, with his masterplan thwarted, the Lincoln’s beat up door swung open and a noticeably livid Terry stepped out onto the sparsely graveled trail. My dad, too, took a step forward into the margin of the road to greet him, though, he remained close enough to the trees that a hasty retreat was still an option.
Terry was almost… salivating, as his scornful eyes hatefully pierced the shrinking space between he and my father. His hands twitched with morbid anticipation for the moment they finally grasp my dad’s neck and squeeze the air from his lungs. His skin was writhing as he stalked slowly on, as if he was infested by an armada of restless worms just beneath the surface.
“Daaaaavid,” snarled the possessed man as he halted his advance, “where… is… my… fucking… BOOK!”
“Really, Terry? All this way for your little diary? Just tell me why?” my father implored getting an instant rise out of the demon.
“YOU DON’T BE COY WITH ME YOU FUCK. YOU STUPID FUCK! I’M GONNA TAKE THAT BOOK AND THEN I’LL RIP OUT YOUR FUCKING SPINE.”
“Hey, man I know a great therapist if you need to talk to someone about those anger issues…” my dad calmly jested.
“YOU SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH! YOU CUNT! YOU STUPID CUNT! WHERE IS THE FUCKING BOOK! I’M GETTING TIRED OF YOUR FUCKING GAMES…” Terry roared in a deeply unsettling growl filling the air and forest around us.
With his attention aggressively transfixed on my father who seemed to be enjoying his role antagonizing the enraged man, I crawled out from my leafy perch and managed to plant myself between the Lincoln’s still glowing taillights unseen.
“NOOOOOOOW! GIVE ME THE FUCKING BOOK,” belted the demon in a hideously low and bone rattling octave.
I took the opportunity to slink out from behind the vehicle and surf its side panels, making brief eye contact with my father, before lunging through into the driver’s seat.
As I did so, an unbearable stench of rot penetrated my revolted nostrils, instantly churning my stomach. At the same time, I felt the back of my shirt and bottom of jeans, begin to moisten in a warm bath of an unknown liquid. And… as I turned to see what I was currently being baptized by, prying the uncovered portion of my arms from the sticky leather, I found myself gawking at a horrifically gruesome scene in the passenger’s seat.
There, leaning haphazardly against the dash, was Father Thomas, or his body rather. I had to cover my mouth and force the vomit attempting to spew out back down with the sight of him. His neck, what was left of it, well it… it wasn’t a clean separation. The skin was unevenly torn and mangled as flaps of flesh fluttered in the constant wind expelling out of the vents. Veins and tendons exploded from the wound, holding their form, not unlike a snapshot of a firework mid-burst. I could tell by the way his limbs still in their awkwardly contorted positions, that rigor mortis had already begun to set. And I realized that the liquid dampening my clothes, the fluid currently baptizing me… well it… it was the priest’s blood. Almost gratefully, I was snapped out of my trance by Terry’s howling voice.
“DAVID! WHERE IS THE BOOK!”
“This old thing?” my dad knowingly asked as he pulled the folded-over diary from his coat pocket and teasingly held it in the air.
“GIVE IT TO ME YOU STUPID FUCK!” the appearance of the book sending Terry a few steps forward before once again stopping in his tracks as my father pulled his zippo from the other pocket, flipping it open and igniting in one fluid motion.
“Ah ah ah…” he mockingly scolded, “now you be a good boy and tell me why you want this book so bad and just maybe I won’t burn it.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” snarked Terry seemingly testing my dad’s resolve, “have you any idea what I could do to you?”
“Look, Terry, bud… I’ve learned it’s not a great idea to reward negative behavior, but quite frankly your bad attitude is really starting to bum me out… And well a dares a dare…”
With that he took the flaming lighter in his left hand and swiftly pressed it against the parched parcel in his right. The book’s dry pages were immediately engulfed in a burning orange hue as my dad tossed it at Terry’s feet.
The sight of of his beloved diary now charring to ashes before him did not illicit the angered response that I anticipated, however. Instead, standing there in the midst of the whirlwind of twirling embers that drifted up into pines and through the gaping cavity in his chest, he let forth a mumbling whimper that would grow into a deafening and sinister cackle.
“ha…haha…HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YOU FOOL! YOU STUPID FOOL! YOU FUCK! Y—“
My dad reached behind and from his waist band retrieved his flashlight, interrupting the demon during his berating elation. He reflexively thumbed the switch, sending blinding beams directly into the beast’s eyes.
Recognizing that this was my cue, I shifted the gearstick into drive while simultaneously pressing the panic button on my father’s key ring. I lurched forward as the erstwhile concealed Dodge was sent into a cacophony of blinking lights and jarring sirens.
As my dad leapt from the path of the barreling Lincoln, the dazed Terry turned to meet me, as we locked eyes in a shared moment of Deja Vu. I kept plowing forward even as the bumper hit his inversely buckling knees and backwards momentum forced his chest down onto the hood.
My foot lay heavy on the gas even as we slammed into the unforgiving and rigid bark lining the thick trunk of an imposing pine. The impact caused a brutally jolting reverse in the flow of kinetic energy carrying us across the trail. As the front of the vehicle wrapped and twisted around the base of the tree, pinning Terry within the mangled shrapnel, the unharnessed reverend was launched from his seat.
His decapitated remains slammed, shoulder first, into the dashboard window. The collision sent a seemingly infinite amount of tiny shards, shimmering in the moonlight, to follow him as he flew towards a barren plot of earth in the distance.
I did not see him land, however, as my head smacked against the steering wheeling and I became immediately disoriented. My dad’s muffled voice rang out to me from somewhere in my peripheral, as I felt a thick warm liquid running down my face. I lifted my head weakly and saw, Terry, still trapped furiously yelling something at me that I couldn’t quite make out. My neck went limp and my head once more fell to the steering wheel. Then, as my eyes drifted shut and the world went silent… my fight left me and I slipped from consciousness.
Everything was black as the world spun in a nauseating twirl around my listless and catatonic body. Noises congealed and merged, reaching me in a vague, faint echo as though they’d traveled through a winding and funneling chamber.
I floated in and out of awareness, taking in the events that followed as fleeting and scattered static images. In one instance, my eyes opened briefly to see my dad opening my door and dragging me out of the car before I fade out again. The next thing I recall was the rough texture of soil and gravel scratching uncomfortably against my back. I glance up to see a raving Terry, hanging upside down from the smoking wreckage, impossibly affixed to a dirt ceiling. I returned and then re-emerged from my fog once more to a blurry vision of my father, running towards me from the direction of the Charger, carrying with him a small white box. He kneeled beside me and seeing the whites of my glossy eyes, he tried speaking to me to gauge my awareness, but I was unable to make out his words and he quickly disappeared as I fell back into oblivion.
I can’t say for sure how long my intermittent haze lasted, only that when I eventually began to regain some steady semblance of alertness, I was met with a pounding headache that sent shockwaves of pain through my entire body. When I awoke, I saw that my dad had propped me up against a stump just off to the side of the trail, and was now gathering and unknotting the links rope and chain that the Father had attempted to bind Terry with.
Terry, was just beyond my father, rendered completely immobile, but nevertheless, shouting furiously at my dad who just ignored him.
“I’ll slit your throat you fucking bitch. You stupid fuck. You let go fucking cunt,” the demon angrily ranted affixed gruesomely at the waist by the whistling radiator.
“How about you be quiet before I grab one of the Father’s crucifixes and let you play with it again, bud,” my dad casually replied as his concentration remained on untangling a large heap of rope. Terry quickly quieted at the mention of the Holy object.
“That’s one way to shut him up,” I groggily managed, as even in my current state I was astounded by my father’s laissez faire demeanor in the face of lashing evil.
“Oh, hey, you’re up,” my dad said as he looked back towards me over his shoulder, still fiddling with the twisted twine, “you look like shit. I told you not to be messing around with those matterdaddies.”
“Errgh…” I groaned as a hot throbbing pain shot through me during a staggered attempt to rise to my feet, “fuck you man… After everything that’s happened tonight your little dad joke just might be the worst.”
“You’re just mad I got you so good. You should’ve seen your face…”
“Maybe,” I conceded, “or maybe I was worried about the demon that was trying to kill us?”
“Nah, couldn’t be.”
“Anyway, speaking of the demon, how are we supposed to kill it —sorry Terry— now that you’ve burned the book?”
“You didn’t think I’d burn the book without a back up plan did you?” he asked, slightly disappointed by my lack of faith.
“No, I… I suppose not…” I said as I strained to speak with a hot ache causing me to wince and my furling brow revealing a large bandage on my forehead.
“Of course not, you aren’t as easily fooled as our stupid friend here…”
My father’s sarcastic jab did not sit well with the demented convict as he launched himself back into a nasty tirade.
“YOU LET ME GO YOU STUPID FUCK! I’LL SLIT YOUR THROAT! I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS YOU USELESS FUCK!”
My dad reached into the popped trunk, pried off a crucifix still taped to the underside of the lid, and flashed it to the raging Terry. The sight of it calmed him instantly.
“Come on, Ter, it’s not my fault you fell for the same trick twice. How many times can one demon get hit by a car in one night? Didn’t you ever learn to look both ways or do they not teach defensive driving in Hell?”
He just grunted and looked away, almost as if he were embarrassed or ashamed.
“So what’s next? What’s the plan?” I asked as I hobbled over to a pile of knotted ropes and joined my father in his efforts to unravel them. “How are we going to do this without the book?”
My father reached a free hand into his coat pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, waving it before me before putting it back.
“I kept the important part. I just wanted to see Terry’s reaction. You know, figure out if he wanted to use the book or if he just didn’t want someone else to use.”
“Smart,” I mumbled as I sat on back on the ground, my legs beginning to waver beneath me. “What’s next on the agenda?”
“Well… Right now I’m just trying to get this mess untangled. Then, I’m not sure, maybe we should start scouting for that open door to the underground level that Father Thomas mentioned. After that, I guess we can work on capturing a fleshcrow and luring the tree beast down there, and finally send our old pal Terry on a one way trip back to Hell.”
“About the underground level… what if there was something closer…” I offered.
“What do you mean?” he replied slightly intrigued.
“Well just up the trail there’s an old guard tower. I think it’s out of commission, its windows are busted and it looks like it hasn’t been very well maintained. I don’t know if the doors are unlocked or not but maybe we can use the walkie and see if Hobbs has a key?”
“Alright… well, it’s definitely a lot closer. Let’s get the rest of this rope sorted out and we’ll have a look.”
After a few minutes of meticulous unwinding, my dad carefully laid the straighten lengths in the back seat of the Charger.
“Can you walk okay or do you need me to help?” he asked motioning to the car.
“Y-yeah. I’m alright, I can walk,” I assured.
“Okay then, I guess… let’s go. I’ll drive.”
I hobbled up to the passenger’s side door, leaning gingerly on trees for support as I went. Once inside my father joined me behind the wheel and navigated the car through the brush and back onto the main trail. He stopped in front of Terry to relay one last antagonizing barb before making a three-point turn to orient us back towards the hump in the road.
“Hey, Terry, you hang tight alright, bud? Don’t you go wandering off on us…”
Terry’s enraged screams were followed us up and over mound where they dissipated into night sky.
“It’s just straight ahead,” I informed my dad redundantly, as the tower was the only destination our current road afforded us.
A moment later, the tall white structure came into view and my dad caught a glimpse of the worn text painted across its exterior walls, as he turned to me and said,
“Tower Eight, huh? I don’t think you mentioned that part…”
“Yeah well… does it really matter at this point?”
“No…” he agreed, “I guess not…”
He parked just shy of its entrance and walked up to the thick metal door at its base. I joined him a moment later, after awkwardly working my way out of the vehicle and slowly limping behind.
“Is it locked?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he sighed, “it figures…”
“I can grab the walkie and we can see if Hobbs can help us out…”
“No, no, I’ll grab it. You just lean against the wall and try to take some of the weight off of your legs.”
I nodded as he briskly paced back to the car and retrieved the walkie then rejoined me near the locked door. He flipped it on and turned the dial until to channel three as we’d been instructed.
“Hobbs? Hobbs you there? It’s David?”
There was an almost reluctant radio silence before a hushed, whispery voice responded to our call.
“Y-yeah… I’m here. Is it done? Is the demon gone?”
“We uh… we’re still working on that. But I need a favor…”
“Oh… uh… alright, what do you need? I’ll see if I can help…” Hobbs apprehensively replied.
“The doors on the guard towers… are they remotely controlled or do we need a key to get in?”
“HQ controls the doors. Which tower do you need opened? I can radio in and get try and get it unlocked…”
“Tower Eight?! Fuck man, nobody uses that tower anymore. Haven’t you heard the stories about that place? Can’t you try a different Tower? Nobody’s in Four tonight.”
“Look, Hobbs… I appreciate the concern, I really do, but as it stands I currently have a possessed fugitive pinned to a tree by a dead reverend’s car and I’ll need to transport him to the nearest confined space pretty soon. Four sounds like a lovely tower, it really does, but unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of being choosy right now…”
“Okay… okay, I understand. Let me get in touch with HQ… give me a minute…”
“Thanks, Hobbs,” my dad replied as we once again went into a brief period of radio silence. A moment later there was a loud buzz emanating from the tower door as Hobbs’ voice penetrated the walkie.
“It should be open now,” he said, relaying what my father had already discovered by turning the handle.
“Got it, thanks again.”
My dad held the door for me as I used his shoulder as crutch and wobbled inside. The door’s hydraulic compression caused it to close rather slowly behind us as we stepped further into the tower. Then just as it had almost pulled shut, Hobbs voice once again transmitted from the radio.
“Oh and just remember, once the door closes it will automatically lock again,” Hobbs lackadaisically informed us. My dad lunged backwards, and just in time, wedged his fingers in the dwindling gap between the door’s edge and its frame. “Did you hear me David? I said the door will lock—“
“Yeah, yeah we heard you, thanks,” he breathlessly retorted as he leaned his back against the door opening it further while shaking his crushed fingers. He dropped the walkie to his side and then looked at me, “can you grab something to keep this propped open.”
“Uh, yeah…” I said as I searched the floor around me, “here…” I offered as I sluggishly drudged over his outstretched legs and grabbed a rock from the garden just outside the doorway.
Once the door was secured, and after a couple test tugs on the handle, we shifted our focus to the winding wrought iron staircase inside. The room itself was tall and rectangular, the stairs leading upwards as they hugged its perimeter on either side of us. At the top of each flight they leveled into a flat walkway that connected one side of the room to the other. Dim sconces were placed ankle high and closely followed the steps up as they rose. From the perfect square portal formed by the angular architecture, I could see that there was a single, large, industrial light, still without power, hanging from the ceiling above.
As my father flipped on his flashlight, the beam invaded by thick and restless dust. Scanning it around us, we managed to locate the switch that controlled the large light above.
“That’s better,” my dad said, unknowingly expressing my exact sentiments. I hadn’t ever fully appreciated the soothing effect of a lit room and thick walls as much as I did in that moment. “Let’s get up to the bay and have a look around. You gonna be able to climb these stairs?”
“Yeah, I’ll uh, I’ll just use the rails. I’m fine, really,” I assured him.
As we climbed up the seemingly infinite and unbearably steep flights, however, my lower extremities were consumed by a crippling burning sensation. It was a constant struggle to keep myself upright as my knees threatened to buckle with every agonizing step.
By the time the ascent finally relented and we arrived at the still buzzing bay door, I felt as though I’d just run a marathon through the Rockies and found myself wheezing and gasping for air.
“Moment of truth,” my dad said through panted breaths, “let’s just hope that creature hasn’t made a home of the place…”
He slowly turned the handle and with great trepidation pushed the door open. Luckily, though, there was no sign of the creature through the cascading moonlight spilling into the room through the wall of windows before us. Glass littered the floor from the shattered pane through which the beast had once forcefully arrived. There was a long desk, spanning the length of the room just beneath the sills, with a retired control panel resting in the middle. I grabbed a flipped over chair lying just outside of its former nook, and wedged it beneath the handle of the door we’d just entered through.
As we took inventory of the rooms contents, I took note of several small punctures in the glass and adjoining frames, they had the distinctive cylindrical shape of bullet holes. On one end of the desk, sat a large black toolbox, and a half empty bottle of Coke. I also noticed that, adjacent to my father still standing in the doorway, was a tall metal cabinet secured by a padlock through a hinged latch.
“Think we can find something to break that lock?” I asked my dad pointing to the locker.
“Here, let me give it a shot.”
As I limped over to the toolbox and ruffled though it for an object we could leverage with, my dad approached the lock and grasped it firmly between both hands.
He proceeded to apply a constant, and massive, twisting pressure, wrenching the lock against the latch. A moment later I heard a loud pop as the metal of the latch split affording him enough room to slide off the lock. I was reminded of just how strong he truly was, his typically docile nature, not being an accurate reflection of his ability to accomplish incredibly violent feats of strength when required.
“Jesus…” I said as the tossed the padlock to the floor.
“Hey, they don’t call me Popeye for nothing,” he quipped while opening the now unfastened door. “Well, well, well… what do we have here…”
As he slid to the side of the cabinet, revealing to me what it held, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t merely an empty hull. Along one side, hanging from a descending column of small hooks, were several pairs of handcuffs. On the other side, leaning comfortably against the corner, was a scoped rifle and a box of complimentary ammunition at resting near its stock. Between the rifle and the handcuffs, hung two black pistols, complete with adorning laser sights and an additional box of munition.
“Holy shit,” I exclaimed as I beheld the beautiful haul of weaponry, “I mean sucks for you that felons can’t carry guns, but I’m all set,” I joked as the sight the locker’s contents had managed to improve my spirits.
“Too bad you don’t know how to use them,” he jabbed back as he pulled one of the pistols from its perch and examined it in his hands. He then gave me a summarized explanation on how to properly handled it. “This little button is the safety, make sure that’s on until you need to fire,” he said as he shot me a sarcastic wink, “this switch turns on the laser sight, just put the red dot on what you’re aiming at and pull the trigger…”
“That sounds easy enough. I think can remember that.”
“Sit tight for a sec, I’m gonna go get a bag from the car so we can load all this up…”
“Yeah no problem… they should really invest in an elevator…”
As my dad left the room I took the opportunity to further explore the locker. Along with the firearms and cuffs, there were a couple cans of what appeared to be mace, a combat knife tucked inside a woven sheath, and what looked like a oddly shaped grenade that I discovered to a flashbang when text printed on the side told me as much. There was also a heavy black Maglite, and a couple of walkies that I was unable to turn on.
Taking the backs off of the walkies I saw that they were missing the rectangular batteries that would’ve powered them. Tossing them back into the locker, I reached for one the pistols and mimed the steps my father had given me, in an attempt to become familiar with the mechanic and hopefully avoid fumbling around with the components if, God forbid, I had actually had to use it.
After fiddling with the unloaded gun for a bit, I hobbled over to the toolbox to further examine what it contained. It held what you’d expect, some sockets and screwdrivers, pliers and crescents, and a rather large claw hammer among other things.
My attention was drawn from the box to a door that separated the inside of the bay to an exterior walkway running the circumference of the building. To my chagrin, it was locked. But still curious about the walkway, I staggered my way to the shattered window and leaned over and through its frame.
I could see that, from where I stood to the ground below, was a solid forty foot drop. I shifted my gaze upwards, my chin parallel to the floor, and I was met by a sea of swaying pine needles as a light breeze ran through the tree tops. I looked to my right taking in much of the same, and then to my left, where lying pitifully on the perforated metal walkway, was a threadbare and frayed officer’s cap. I was unsettled by the sight of it and a vivid recollection of how the hole through which I was leaning had come to be.
As I backed away uneasily into the relative safety of the tower bay, I was startled by the sound of footsteps behind caused by my father’s reemergence through the propped open doorway.
“Jesus Christ,” I gasped, “you trying to give me a heart attack? I didn’t even hear you coming up the stairs. Fuck…”
“No… I’d prefer if you didn’t have a heart attack right now actually,” he said passively as his mind remained preoccupied with the mission at hand. He dropped a wound bundle of rope from one shoulder and a large duffle from the other. He began quickly filling the duffle with the contents of the locker, examining each item briefly as he did so.
“You have the other gun?” he asked when he noticed only one pistol hanging in the cabinet.
“Yeah, here…” I replied as I pulled it from my waist band and offered it to him.
“No that’s okay, you keep it… well actually here, let me see it…”
He took the from my outstretched hand and then began to load it with with live rounds. He slid the full magazine back into the handle then passed it back to me.
He tossed the Maglite and mace into the bag, then curiously inspected the flashbang before tossing it in too. He attached the combat knife to his belt by a clip on its sheath after sliding his thumb along the blade to test its sharpness. As he grabbed the walkies I told him,
“Leave them, they don’t have batteries.”
“I have batteries in the console down in the Charger.”
“No, they’re those weird rectangle batteries.”
“Yeah, I’ve got some in the car.”
“W-why do you have rectangle batteries in your car?”
“You never know,” he said slyly.
“Okay, but why do we need three walkies?”
“You never know,” he reiterated.
“Hmm… I suppose. Well… what’s the rope for.”
“You never know,” he barbed one last time.
“Seriously, why the rope?” the frustration of his vague responses becoming apparent in my voice.
“Well, I’ll need some way to get down, right? I figure if we can lure the creature into the stairwell and close the doors locking him inside, well I can use the rope to shimmy down from the rails on the balcony.”
“That’s a long way down, you sure you want to do that?”
“Believe me, once that thing is trapped, the rope will look a lot better than the stairs.”
“But… don’t you have to preform the ritual or whatever? How are you going to do that without getting eaten in the process.”
“It’s not really a ritual, exactly. It’s just a series of words, and well I figure I can multitask well enough to run up the stairs while I read them off. I’ve just gotta distract it somehow to keep it from interrupting me.”
“And what about Terry? Doesn’t he have to be here too?” I asked becoming annoyed by my own ignorant line of questioning.
“Mhm, we will go get Terry in a second, tie him up and hang the bastard from the rafters. I’m not worried about Terry…”
“Yeah… okay, but… Father Thomas tied him up and he managed to get out. What happens if he escapes again?”
“First off, I’m betting I can tie a better knot than Father Thomas. Besides…” he said as he tapped the blade clipped to his leg, “it’s gonna be hard to untangle himself without any hands…”
“Oh… I see…” I said as an image of the grisly act my dad intended to commit ran through my unprepared mind. “Well if and when we get the dislocated spirit back into the creature, any ideas as to how to kill it?”
“I’ve got a couple,” he assured me, “over at the kennels, in the storage closet, there are some gas cans. Or at least there used to be, hopefully they still keep them there. We’ll grab those and douse this damned place before we lure the, thing…this way. I’ll spout out the incantation and after we transfer the demon back to its rightfully body, we’ll spark the gas and blow him back to Hell. That’s the rough plan anyway, it’s a work in progress at the moment,” he admitted.
He swung the strap of the rifle over his shoulder before moving across the room and plopping the open duffle on the desk beside the toolbox. He flipped the case over emptying the entirety of its contents into the bag. I saw that something caught his eye as he reached into the unzipped flap and retrieved the large hammer.
“Awww yeah,” he excitedly relayed as he bounced its weight in his hand and then proceeded to give it a few test swings through the air, claw side first. He slid the hammer’s shaft in the loop of his belt and then turned his attention to me.
“You ready?” he said as he zipped up the stuffed duffle.
“As I’ll ever be,” I begrudgingly sighed.
The descent back down to ground level was a slightly less awkward wobble than had been the trip up. I made the trek over to the Charger and collapsed into waiting the passenger’s seat as my dad loaded the duffle and the rifle into the trunk. Out of a combination of skepticism and mild curiosity, I nosily opened the center console, and almost humorously, inside was a vast array of batteries of all different shapes and sizes. I quickly latched the lid up as my father appeared through the driver’s window.
“Let’s get this over with,” he relented.
We made the short drive up the path and over the hill, parking just shy of the totaled Lincoln. As we exited the Charger, and… even through the dissipating fog, I could tell that something was off. The first hint being the obvious lack of ambient slurs filling the the air around us as we arrived. In fact, Terry seemed uncharacteristically calm, and abnormally still.
As I got closer, too, I noticed what I hadn’t noticed before as I emerged from my trauma induced daze, the final resting place of the priest’s headless body. He had maintained his stiffened and seated position, even after being launched through the dashboard window, in a heinous portrayal of defenestration and Newton’s First Law. He now lay, for lack of a better word, face down in the dirt with his rear end up in the air. Just above the right elbow a broken bone pierced his arm, and his left foot was twisted completely contrary to its natural orientation. I couldn’t look for more than a moment, the sight him being both heartbreak and repulsive.
I stepped out of direct path of the Charger and allowed the beams of the its headlights to pass me. As it illuminated Terry’s shadowy figure, instant confusion overtook me. He appeared… emaciated. It was as if, within the half out of so that we’d ransacked the tower, he had starved to death. His cheeks were severely sunken, and his skin had taken on a sickly grayish hue. While I could definitively say that his appearance was an altogether fresh entry into the catalogue of horrific visions I had yet been unfortunate enough to behold, something about it seemed… familiar…
That’s when I remembered what Father Thomas had passively mentioned back in the hotel room. Briggs… the third inmate he suspected to have been possessed by the demon, this… well this was exactly how he died. However, as I attempted to process the scene, I was snapped back into reality as my father’s voice engaged the walkie.
“H-hey, Hobbs… when Terry escaped… did you guys happen to recover a body? A guard’s body to be specific…”
A chill ran through down my spine, as back through the speaker, rang forth the distinctively thick southern drawl of a man I had hoped to forget.
“Hey, Daaaave… I was wondering when you were gonna give me a ring.”
“Hobbs?” my dad somberly implored, knowing the answer to his question even as he asked it.
“Naw, naw. I, uh, well, let’s just say I relieved Hobbs from his shift. This is, Oates…”
“Oates? But I th—“ my dad began before Oates interrupted.
“Hey listen, Dave, how about you be a good boy and bring me my book. Hell, you do that and I might just let your boy live, that sound good to you Dave?”
I could tell my dad was considering the offer so I firmly shook my head to inform that I was not on board with the plan.
“How about you come out here to meet me and take it…” my dad provoked instead.
“Naw. I don’t think I like that idea, Dave. You know, hear-tell there’s monsters in those woods, and well I’m sure you’ve seen my little errand boy by now and well as you can see I already got what I came for. But I’ll tell you what, how about you man up, bring me that page you got hidin’ in your pocket, you little sneaky Pete you, and you can bring it to me down in the old prison wing.”
“Why don’t you ju—“
“Look, Dave,” Oates responded, becoming noticeably irritated, “I’d love to sit here and chat, but well, I don’t want you to be late for our little appointment. I’ll see you boys down below.”
“Oates? … Oates? …” my father called out only to be met with static and silence. “Damn it!” He exhaled a frustrated sigh then glanced over to me, “look… you heard him… he just wants me, there’s no reason for both of us to go down there… You take the car and get out of here.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“You’re hurt, it’s for the best.”
“I’m fine, and I’m going, one way or the other…” I emphatically insisted.
“You… you’re a stubborn, asshole, you know that?”
“Wonder where I get that from,” I coyly replied.
We slank away from the wreckage and got back into the still running Charger. As my father shifted the gear into drive, I knew our next stop would be at the mouth of the beast. I knew too, that its hunger would not be satiated until we where firmly within its belly. I was bathed in imminent and looming dread, a feeling that had become an all too frequent visitor to my frazzled psyche.
The road back through the forest seemed, both incredibly short and overwhelmingly long. Eventually though, the pines disappeared from my view, replaced by a vast and empty field. The Telford building was once again taunting me through the dashboard window as we traversed the expanse and turned onto the concrete driveway.
We made a sharp right onto the prison lawn as we reached the rear of the building. As my eyes scanned the walls for the door that would lead us into the labyrinth, their attention was quickly drawn to an ominous figure in the distance.
There, near the approaching corner, was Oates, his arms casually crossed as he leaned against the brick beside an open doorway. He shot us a sinister smile and a slow wave and then pried himself from the wall and vanished through its shadowy frame.
As my dad pulled the Charger to a stop, perpendicular to the door, I peered into the abyss that was the prison’s forgotten halls. I could almost taste the chaos that awaited us inside the chasm. And in unnerving anticipation I realized all too clearly what was coming next… I knew that, as much as I didn’t want to, all that was left for us to do… was… enter…
As we prepared to meet the rogue officer down in the prison’s dark and winding corridors, a wry smile came over my dad’s face as he placed our duffle of scavenged loot on the trunk.
“You know,” he said eagerly, “as shitty as this whole situation is, it gave me a great idea for a cover band…”
“Oh,” I implored, knowingly taking the bait, “and what’s that?”
“Halls and Oates,” he flatly delivered as I half expected to hear a rimshot sound-off behind him.
“Jesus, man… that one was worse than the matterdaddies…”
“Hey, what point is there in being a dad if you can’t tell a dad joke every once in a while?” he asked rhetorically.
“Yeah, well, maybe Oates will appreciate your humor more than me…”
He declined to respond, and instead started to softly hum the chorus of, ‘Maneater’ as he unzipped the stuffed bag, with the aforementioned lyrics almost cruelly playing in my head.
“Honestly, though…” I asked earnestly, “are you not scared at all?”
In a moment of complete candor he admitted, “terrified. But… there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just trying to distract myself, distract you too…”
I found his honesty almost reassuring in an odd way. It was good to know that I wasn’t the only one afraid, the only one that felt vulnerable and encumbered by the weight of the seemingly insurmountable task before us.
“You do have a choice though,” I offered, “we both do. We can just turn around and leave. We don’t have to do this…”
“You have a choice, and truth be told I wish you’d take your own advice and get out of here before it’s too late. But me? Well… I have to see this through. Don’t forget, Terry had my address, he wrote me letters just like he did Father Thomas. And I think the demon that was inside him, the one still in Oates, must be able to pull from its host’s memories. If I leave now what would stop him from just showing up a week from now and killing me in my sleep?”
“Dammit,” I sighed, “I forgot about that. Well, I’m not letting you do this alone, so you can get that out of your head.”
My dad handed me a flashlight and then went to the car to retrieve some batteries for the spare walkies. He tested them all to make sure they work and turned them to a new private channel so that Oates couldn’t listen in on any conversations we might end up having. The last thing he pulled from the bag before sealing it up was a couple crucifixes he’d pilfered from the reverend’s Lincoln.
Affixed to his belt was a humorous amount of gadgetry. He had three walkies, a combat knife, a hammer, a pistol, and a crucifix all awkwardly lining his waist. Over his shoulder was draped the now loaded rifle, with spare rounds in his coat pocket. The other coat pocket contained a handheld flashlight and presumably the salvaged diary page. In addition, fastened tightly to his scalp, was an LED headlamp that he otherwise used for work.
“You got enough stuff?” I quipped.
“Well I sure hope so, I can’t carry much more…”
“You’re ridiculous. You look like Batma—“
I was interrupted by the deer-in-headlights look of a perplexed guard as he rounded the corner of the prison building. As he spotted us, and we spotted him, there was a brief moment of hesitant reticence as we each searched the other for what they intended to do next.
I shifted my eyes towards the direction of the open doorway into the prison labyrinth, then back to the guard, the slight tilting of my head relaying to him that I meant to run. As the guard’s hand slid slowly down to his holstered weapon, without thinking or conferring in words, my father and I instinctively made a mad dash across the forty feet of earth that separated us from the door.
“Hey you! Stop! Get down, now!” screamed the guard in vain as we refused his desperate heeding. In the midst of our frenzied effort to close the gap, several loud pops rang out from our left. I could almost feel the whizzing and splitting of the air passing just behind me.
I ignored the shearing pain caused by the night’s earlier collision currently coursing through my body as I leapt with all my might and flung myself through the open frame before us. My dad quickly dove in behind me as we darted for the nearest cover. He unclipped one of the walkies threw it out the entrance doorway as we hunkered inside a small closet just inside the prison.
“Stop shooting! Stop shooting!” he repeated into one of his remaining radios until finally a panting voice on the other end responded as a yellow beam lit up the hall outside the closet.
“Look, put your weapons down and come out, and I’ll take my finger off the trigger.” the guard wheezed.
“Alright,” my dad obliged, “I’m gonna slide my rifle into the hall and come out. Just don’t fire. We are here to help.”
My dad unstrapped the rifle from his shoulder then slid it out into the spotlight illuminating the floor.
“Come on,” he told me, “go slow and keep your hands up.” I nodded and then he shouted out the door to the guard, “we’re coming out, don’t shoot!”
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” the guard yelled back.
We exited the closet as instructed, our hands up over our heads. The officer stood just inside the doorway, his weapon drawn and locked firmly in our direction.
“W-who the fuck are you two? What do you mean you’re here to help?”
“We are with Father Thomas, he sent us here to—“
It was my father’s turn to be interrupted, as the guard’s face took on yet another horrified expression of utter shock. But, this time, it was not because of what he saw, but because of what he didn’t see, because of what I, unfortunately… didsee…
Pierced suddenly through his abdomen was a spiny, fleshy barb. As he shifted his gaze slowly downward to inspect what had just afflicted him, a second barb pierced his throat. This caused him to let out a sickening gargle as he immediately began to choke on his own blood.
And then, as if powered by some pneumatic machine, the organic spikes perforated his entire body with an ungodly speed. A moment later, the robotic piercing stopped, as the thoroughly punctured guard somehow still remained upright, retaining a wavering balance on his feet. I could see the fleeting moonlight, shining in through the gap that was once his nose, be overpowered by the emerging shadow of something large stepping behind him.
“What the fu…” he managed, as before he could finish his sentence, he began to wobble and his knees gave way as he toppled over, face first, through the doorway and fell full force onto the unforgiving concrete floor below.
I watched, unflinchingly, as several spindly tendrils gripped the inside of the door’s frame, attached to a tall thin creature on the other side. It used its calloused limbs to pull itself into the hallway, arriving to meet us as might a spider surfacing from its snug nest in the soil.
Once inside, it unfurled its gangly body, its head and shoulder rising well above the doorway. Its skin was a rotted, brown, leathery affair, and pulled tightly against its pronounced skeleton. Its mouth was filled with sharp, constantly clattering teeth, as if reacting in response to frigid weather. They remained unnervingly exposed due to its apparent inability to close its lips, if it even had them.
I could see that the barbs, that had so violently spiked the guard, attached somewhere to its back, with several fanning out on either side of the creature. Its extremities were terribly stretched and elongated, with its needly fingers hanging low enough to almost drag the ground.
Standing stricken by the sight of the creature, the gravity of the situation slowly sank in, and I realized we could be next. It did not immediately attack us however, and in fact did not seem to even mind or notice our presence, as it leaned over and curiously sniffed the air above the guard’s perforated corpse.
I nervously scanned the room for a way out. Behind me, I spotted that there was a second open doorway, and the ambient light allowed me to make out the first few steps of a staircase descending just beyond it.
I looked at my dad and silently motioned to the stairs, his eyes sending back a confirmation that he recognized the passage, too. We slowly started to back away from the harrowing scene ahead. As we did though, my father’s foot dragged against the ground and kicked the rifle he’d previously slid into the hallway.
Upon hearing the clanking noise, the beast whipped its head up and angrily gazed upon its fleeing prey with burning yellow eyes. It let out a blood curdling screech as it lurched itself forward, stabbing at the air aimlessly with its long articulating skewers.
Before we could react, it was scrambling on all fours towards us, struggling in place against the slick floor for a moment as its talon like nails left deep scratches in the concrete. It quickly found its momentum, however, and began to cover incredible distances with each stride.
Wasting no more time, we bolted in the opposite direction for the stairway leading down to the lower level. The beast proved too fast, though, as my dad was ripped violently backwards through the air.
“Aarghhh! It has my leg,” he screamed as his voice drifted quickly down the hallway.
I pivoted around to see the creature pulling my dad towards him along the ground, with one of its barb pierced straight through the side of his calf.
“Fuck! What do I do?” I yelled back.
The creature lifted my dad into the air, hanging him upside down from the leg, effortlessly raising him up until they were staring face to face. It deeply inhaled, sniffing him as it moved in closer with its chattering teeth.
For lack of other recourse, I pulled the pistol tucked into my jeans, flipped off the safety aiming it at the beast. Knowing there was no use in bargaining, I fired two shots in its direction doing my best to avoid hitting my father in the process.
The bullets penetrated the beast, sending it into an enraged tantrum as it howled in agony. It started forcefully shaking my dad, turning him from the stoically strong man I’d come to see him as, into nothing more than a helpless rag doll. The creature’s jagged appendage began sliding and slicing upwards through my dad’s leg, easily separating muscle from bone. It lifted its tendrils shifting my dad to the side, clearing its vision as it released a rumbling growl and walked purposefully forward with deadly intent.
The turbulence of the beast’s rattling spines and onward marching, sent the contents of my father’s pockets and belt hurdling down towards the ground. As they fell, my dad managed to catch the handle of the large claw hammer he’d taken from the tower.
I fired two more shots into the creature, not even slowing its pace as it stomped up the hall. Then, as it let out one last screech and entered a final lunge that would close the distance, I saw my father’s arm swing through the air as he planted the claws of the hammer deep into the creature’s eye socket.
It instantaneously retracted its barb from my father’s leg, sending him head first onto the concrete floor. It brought its hands to its face as it silently staggered backwards. Then all at once it let out a pained cry and started lurching itself into the walls and ceiling in manic, chaotic bursts, the hammer still lodged in its eye.
I took the opportunity to corral my father off the ground, balancing his weight on my shoulder as he hopped on one leg to the open door behind us. We reached the staircase and descended it in a controlled tumble. I sat my dad at the base, before I quickly ascended the steps once more and pulled the door closed, sealing the beast lashing out wildly, on the other side.
I continued to watch it, anxiously, through the window of the door. Eventually it settled down enough to pry the lodged hammer free, taking its eye with it, and dropped it to the floor. The creature then blindly scuttled backwards through the frame it had come in through, where it leapt, or flew out of my view. I couldn’t tell where it had gone from my vantage point, or whether or not it would come right back. I wanted to make a run for our supplies, for the rifle, but fearing its return, I decided to drop it for the time being. I, instead, shifted my attention to my ailing father.
“Are you okay?! Can you walk?! How bad is it bleeding?!” I spewed out as I ran back down the stairs to my dad.
“Y-yeah… urrgh… I’ll be alright but I gotta wrap it, it’s bleeding pretty good. I don’t think he hit anything vital though,” he winced.
Removing his jacket, he cut the sleeves with the knife that had miraculously managed to stay clipped to his belt. He cut them into long strips then knotted them together at the ends before tightly winding the fabric around his leg.
“That’ll slow it, but I’m still losing a steady stream of blood.”
“So… what do we do?”
“Hurry,” he replied flatly.
We paused to take stock of what supplies remained. There was the knife, his headlamp, one of the walkies, and thankfully the crumbled incantation in his pocket. Everything else he’d had, including his pistol, were for the moment, casualties to the creature.
I managed to retain all I’d smuggled into the prison: a walkie, a Maglite, the second pistol, as well as a crucifix and a couple pairs of cuffs. Knowing our adversary, and unsure of just how debilitating my father’s injury was, it didn’t seem like nearly enough.
Nevertheless, it would have to do we decided as my dad struggled to his feet and flipped on his headlamp, illuminating the path ahead.
Before us stretched a long, seemingly endless, hallway. Several doors helmed the walls on either side between multiple intersections fading into an impenetrable congregation of shadows beyond. The corridor was pumped full of a thick and musty, almost compressed air. The entire lair seemed to radiate in an abundant darkness, more so than suffer from a lack of light. I knew finding our way through the maze would be difficult even if we weren’t struggling to see, my only hope that my father still knew his way around after all the years since his release.
“This is supposed to be the same layout as upstairs right? Do you recognize anything?” I asked.
“Errgh…” he groaned, “y-yeah I… I know where we are. But that’s not going to do us much good if we don’t know where Oates is…”
“Shit… that’s true. Well, in the mean time, maybe we can find medical supplies in the infirmary to fix you up a little better?”
“I don’t know… they barely stock the one they use, so I doubt it. But I guess it’s worth a shot.”
“Okay, well which way? Would it be better for you to wait here?”
“It’s the second hall on the right, and then the third hall on the right, big swinging double doors at the end, you can’t miss it. But, I can put some weight on it, I think it looks worse than it feels, either that or adrenaline is kicking in.”
My father took a few test paces in the form of gingerly bouncing steps, then nodded that he was okay to walk. Reassured of his ability to navigate and lead the way, we headed cautiously onward through the wing.
As we reached the first corner, we quietly hugged the wall and nervously peered around the turn. With no sign of a lurking, Oates, we continued on, meticulously repeating the ritual at every open door and break in the walls. By God’s grace or perhaps sheer luck, me made our way to the infirmary without spotting, or being spotted by, VooDoo’s new host.
Pushing open the doors revealed a single metal stretcher sitting directly in the middle of the room. On one wall was a large industrial sink, splitting two pairs of cabinets both above and below it. There were a few larger piece of medical equipment that would be of no use to us, as well as a couple chair which my father did make use of.
I inspected the cabinets further, finding that they were sparsely stocked and mostly bare, as my father had expected they would be, save for a package of small bandaids and a few bottles of rubbing alcohol.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed feeling rather dejected. I rested my hands on my waist, and sighed in disappointment as I hung my head. When I did so I noticed that, on the floor, leading out of the room and presumably down the halls, was a trail of blood droplets that had leaked from my father’s leg.
It dawned on me that, until the wound was sealed, anywhere we’d gone or might go, our path would be unmistakably marked for Oates to follow. We’d lose all ability to hide, and all potential for the element of surprise.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said hating myself for what I knew I’d have to say next, “your blood is gonna lead him right to us… I think… ugh, Jesus… I think we need to split up…”
“Split up? What do you mean?”
“I mean, even if your leg wasn’t bleeding, it’s not practical to catch Oates, and then get the gas from the kennels, and then capture a fleshcrow, and then lure the creature with it. Etcetera, etcetera, you get the idea… Whatever we do, we need to do it as fast as possible, and… well, multitask.”
“So what exactly are you suggesting?”
“Well… you know where the kennels are, you also think you have an idea of where the fleshcrows hide. I think… fuck… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you should worry about that, and I’ll stay here and worry about Oates…”
His eyes conveyed to me that he was mulling over my proposal. As he sat in silence, contemplating my impulsive new strategy, I expected for him to adamantly shut it down. Truth be told I was almost hopeful that he would. But when he finally looked up at me, and to my dismay, he begrudgingly agreed.
“Yeah, I hate to admit but… you’re right. Dammit… are you sure about this?”
I regretfully implored, “what choice do we have? The way I see it, with you injured and our lack of resources, having two of us to keep safe is a liability at this point…”
“Well once I’m out there, if something happens you’re on your own. I won’t be able to make it here in time.”
“I know, I know. But, like I said, what choice do we have?”
He just looked at me with concern and inevitable acceptance in his eyes. Each hoping to dissuade the other from what he new we’d have to do. Finally, he sighed in hesitation and then said,
“Alright, let’s do this. Walk me back to the stairs and we’ll go from there.”
He reached out his hand and I helped from his seat as without further delay we began following the bloody breadcrumbs back to their origin. The return trip included the same precautionary checks as before, and just as our first trip through the halls, did not result in an encounter with the demon.
When we reached the base of the staircase, my dad took off his headlamp and tossed it to me.
“Here, this will be more useful to you than me I imagine.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I responded as I caught it and began sorting out the straps.
“And make sure your radio is on in case of an emergency. Just keep in mind, I won’t be buzzing you unless I absolutely have to. I don’t want to put you in danger. But, if you need me, for anything, don’t hesitate to press that button. I may not be able to make it in time, but I’ll do everything in my power to try.”
“Yeah… I… I understand.”
Before departing, he briefed me on the labyrinth’s basic layout, pointing out the directions to key rooms such as the room containing the chute to the upper level and where the chapel was, just in case. He then swapped my handheld flashlight for his combat knife telling me he had another blade back in the Charger.
“Okay… I guess that’s it,” he said, “unless you can think of anything else?”
“No, I think that’s all I need.”
“Well… in that case… good luck and stay safe. I’ll see you in a little while, yes?”
“Yes. And you too, dad…”
He began scaling the stairs but hesitated halfway up, turn to me he said, “hey, Nick, if for whatever reason we don’t get to talk again. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for not being there for you boys. If something happens you tell your brothers that okay?”
“I will, but I won’t have to, alright?”
“Yeah, of course. And I know I never say it, I’m not really the mushy type, but I… uh… I…”
“Love you too, pops…” I replied sensing the sentiment he couldn’t quite articulate.
“Good. Well, see you soon, then.”
He climbed the remainder of the steps and disappeared behind their crowning doorway. As it closed behind him, I slowly turned to face the darkness before me, and this time… I faced it alone.
With my father now gone, I took moment to collect myself, and ultimately work out a plan of action then muster the courage I’d need to carry it out. I sat on the bottom step, deciding my first order of business would be to sharpen the end of the hefty wooden crucifix into a spike. As I did my hands trembled involuntarily, reminding me of how utterly afraid I was.
Once the cross had a good point on it, I holstered it into my waist band just beside the pistol. Then, with a deep inhale and nothing more to stall me, I finally turned my attention to the looming corridor ahead.
My immediate priority was to familiarize myself with the location of the chute room, which from where I stood and as I understood, was the third left, second right, third right, first left. I knew if things went south it would be wise to have more than one exit to flee towards.
I shook the wood shavings from my pants, and with an unhealthy amount of reservation, nervously put one foot in front of the other. The further away from the staircase I stepped, the more antsy I became. The walls seemed to be narrowing and the path behind me seemed to stretch twice the distance I had traveled. I felt claustrophobic, and wracked with separation anxiety. From my dad, from the outside, from home. The prospects of ever returning to which, felt unbearably daunting. It was as if I was staring up at Mount Everest from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless, I pressed on further into the maze.
“Third left, second right, third right, first left,” I repeated to myself in a whispering redundancy, a feeble attempt to distract me from the pounding silence piercing my ear drums. Every creak, every small rumble, sent me into a panicked pause as I’d tepidly inspect the void.
The prolonged period of undisturbed solitude came as both a relief and disconcerting worry. While I didn’t know whereOates was exactly, I knew he was somewhere in those halls with me. Lurking, searching, possibly even toying with me. For all I knew he could’ve been watching or following me the whole time.
Unfortunately, the extended alone time had neither put me at ease, nor inspired any bright ideas as to what to do when I finally did encounter him. I just prayed that I’d know what to do when the moment came.
My mind was wiped of these thoughts, however, as I made the final, first left. I could see the filtered light from the floor above spilling out from an open shaft in the ceiling. Below it was a desk, and toppled on the ground beside that, was a chair.
I entered the room to explore it further, shining my headlamp into the sleeping shadows. I stared up the chute, seeing that running down along its inner walls, were thick streams of dried blood. In addition to the blood, I saw a small piece of ripped cloth stuck to a metal rod jutting out from one side of the shaft about halfway up.
I was, unwillingly, reminded of the three inmates who had once fled to these forsaken hallways. I remembered, all too well, what the beast had managed to do to them, what it may yet do to me. I asked myself, genuinely, how I expected to fare better than three hardened criminals? Truth be told told, I didn’t.
I looked away from the chute, almost in a wince, and as I turned my head I spied a little orange book on the ground. I recognized it too, as the Holy artifact that once held the demon at bay, it was Adams’ Bible.
I picked it up, dusted it off and stuffed it in my pocket. I wasn’t sure if it would be as useful to me as it was to Adams, but thought, in the words of Tully and my father, “you never know.”
I stacked the chair back on top of the desk, preparing it for a hasty retreat should I need. Then, with the chute room located and thoroughly inspected, I turned my attention back to finding Oates.
I thought back to the story of the three fugitives and Adams’ distraction in the chow hall. I remembered in the story that he was perpendicular to VooDoo Bob when the pots and pans fell sending the demon to the source of the crash.
If the details of the story were to be believed, I figured the chow area should be directly opposite the chute room, and that would be as good a place as any to search for the demon. I found that just having a landmark to move towards rather than wandering aimlessly helped me to remain calm and keep my mind on task.
As I made my way down the hall, sure enough I saw the indented tracks along the walls where VooDoo had defied gravity to scale along them. I followed the hieroglyphic prints to their inevitable destination, until a gory oversight in my recollection stopped me where I stood.
As I rounded the final turn, and the open doorway revealing the cafeteria came into view, so did the skeletal remains of a fallen Tully just before it. And beyond him, shrouded in torn and bloody prison garbs, was the picked clean marrow of a man once called Hallston.
I swiftly pivoted back in the opposite direction, my inclinations to archive the past further dissipating with the sight of the grisly scene.
Needing a break from my magnified sense of trepidation and solitude, I grabbed the walkie to see if my dad was having better luck in his endeavors than I was in mine.
“H-hey, how’s it going out there?”
There was a brief pause before he answered back, slightly short of breath as if in the midst of a mildly strenuous activity.
“Goin’ okay on my end. I just got the gas cans from the kennels, no gas though.”
“Well that sucks… What’s plan B?”
“It’s alright. I’m going to take a garden hose and use it to siphon gas from the Father’s car. Just a small set back, but doesn’t change the plan. I found some extra rope in the closet too, that might come in handy. How are things on your end?”
“So far I just feel like the world’s most unfortunate archeologist to tell you the truth. No sign of Oates yet though.”
“Archeologist? What do you—“
As my dad spoke, from behind me I heard something move, “h-hey, I gotta go,” I told him, “talk to you soon.”
I clicked off the radio and fastened it back to my belt. The sound behind me was getting closer, and as it neared it took on the distinct rhythmic pattern of footsteps. I dared not look as it approached me from the dark, before stopping mere meters away.
I didn’t want to know, but I knew, that Oates finally caught up to me. I could hear, almost feel, his breath on my neck as he let the moment linger on in horrifying silence.
I gritted my teeth as I slowly turned to meet my stalker. Tremors ran through me and my stomach wound into knots as my body twisted with my shifting gaze. I took in the twirling scenery in modest increments before ripping the agonizing bandaid and whipping myself completely around to face the beast.
“Boo,” he cooly toyed as I staggered backwards to increase the gap between us.
“Get back! Get back!” I yelled as I drew the pistol and locked its barrel in his chest.
“Aww, come on now,” he said taking a step forward as a sly grin came across his face, “I thought we were friends. Besides, you know as well as I do that little old gun ain’t gonna stop me from ripping your throat out. Hell, you can even have mine.”
He unholstered the gun on his side and tossed it at my feet. “I like to use my hands,” he informed me as he shot me a wink.
I knew he was right. Terry had a hole in his chest the size of a mortar round and that hadn’t stopped him. Thinking I shifted the red dot from his chest to his knee.
“I may not be able to kill, but you’re going to have a hard time keeping up if you can’t walk.”
This stopped his advance as he considered my threat.
“Oh, you wouldn’t do that. You want me out of this body after all, and if I go what happens to the poor officer inside when he wakes up? Can you live with the death of an innocent man in your conscious?”
The implications of his words caught me off guard. I hadn’t considered what would become of the real Oates after all was said and done. I knew though, that now was not the time to show any sign of weakness, so instead with every bit a bravado I could muster, I falsely threatened:
“You take another step and we’ll find out what I’m comfortable living with after the fact.”
“Hmm…” he pondered aloud, “I don’t believe you,” he said as he started walking confidently towards me.
I began backing away as I shouted once more in utter futility for him to stop.
“S-stop,” I stammered as he marched onward un-phased as I reaffirmed the aim of my gun.
“I don’t think I will, and I don’t think you’ll shoot me. Want to know what I think? I think you’re scared, just like that pussy daddy of yours. And I think I’m gonna enjoy ripping you apart, limb by limb.”
I had managed to maintain the space between us as I backed away into a four-way intersection. He must’ve read my body language as I stood contemplating my next move, as he stopped encroaching and allowed me to stay planted in the crossing.
“You’re gonna run aren’t you? Can’t say I blame you, Hell I’d run too if I were you. Question now is, left or right? Now before you make any rash decisions I should let you know one of these halls is a dead end. Emphasis on that dead part. Take a minute, we’ve got time,” he relayed smugly.
I remained silent, unsure of whether or not he was telling the truth, but knowing that the rest of my life hung in the balance if he was. My entire existence could now be boiled down to left or right, life or death.
Regardless, I knew I couldn’t waste the chance to at least try. In a spontaneous mental coin flip, I fired two shots into the floor at his feet and made an irreversible, potentially fatal choice to go left. I recruited every fiber of my being in a dead sprint down the corridor.
I did not look back to see whether or not he was following, as I prayed for an opportunity to make a second turn. Finally I saw before me that my prayers were being answered as I neared another four-way. My relief was short lived, however, as stepping into the hall behind and sending his voice echoing down its chamber was Oates. A dreadful chill ran down my spine as he casually and with a tone of amusement yelled out:
“Hey, bud! Wrong way!”
“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath as I rounded the corner. It didn’t take long to realize Oates was being earnest, as I found myself running through an empty cell block.
I swiftly turned and ran back across the intersection, taking note of Oates’ advancing placement in the perpendicular hall. I felt sick as I was once again surrounded by cell doors.
I could hear his footsteps make the turn in the cross-way and with a lack of other options I darted into an open cell. I ran to the back wall and stood with my pistol pointed out through the doorway.
“Hey buddy, where’d ya go?” he playfully called out as he entered the block.
I frantically searched the cell for any place to hide or escape. I could see that the ceiling was still unfinished and there was a small gap beside the air duct leading into the cell next to me. On the ground was a tarp and sitting atop it were several gallons of paint.
If I had more time, perhaps I could concoct some kind of escape plan, but unfortunately, time was not a luxury I now possessed.
“Buuuuuddy,” he taunted as I heard a cell door down the hallway slam open and bang violently against the wall.
I knew I was only delaying the inevitable and so I called out to him, “I’m down here you twisted fuck!”
“Now that’s a good boy, make my job easier.”
A moment later I watched as his shadow began to creep into the frame before me. I checked the safety on the pistol, fully aware my hesitation to fire was about to be tested.
As his footsteps grew louder and he was on the verge of breaching my sightline, all of a sudden they stopped. I stood in a confused state of suspense but was quickly snapped from it as the cell door swung open into the hallway was forced shut, followed by the sound of the turning of gears and automatic latching of locks.
“Betcha didn’t see that coming,” he quipped as he stepped in front of the door and peered through its small window.
“W-what are you doing? Just get it over with you coward!”
“Now, you don’t worry about what I’m doin. We’ll have our fun later, don’t you worry. First though, I’m gonna go see how you’re daddy is feeling after that little dust up y’all had earlier.”
“Y-you… you saw that?”
“Course I did you dim witted fuck. I was just waiting to get you two idiots alone. Luckily, you did that for me.”
“But… why didn’t come after me earlier? I’ve been alone for a while now?”
“What and have you run back outside to your papa again? No sir. I knew it was only a matter of time before you cornered yourself, and well,” he chuckled as he mockingly looked around the cell, “here we are.”
“NO!” he snapped before instantly regaining his composure. “No more questions. You sit here and think about what you’ve done. I’ll be back in a bit, and you can atone.”
“Wait! Wa—“ I shouted as he disappeared from the frame. I knew I had to do something, and whatever it was I had to do it fast.
I searched the room again with my eyes and patted my body down for some kind of clear epiphany as to how to halt his leave. As I did, I felt the little bible in my pocket, I pulled it out and in a desperate, half-brained effort, started to rip out pages and crumpled them in my hand.
I then grabbed the walkie and turned it to channel three, hoping Oates still had his. Reaching my arm out of the tray slot in the door and waving the Bible’s pages in the air I pressed in the radio’s button.
“You still looking for this?”
There was no silence following this call, as I could hear his feet quickly and heavily stomping back towards my cell. I was barely able to retract my arm before his furious eye appeared in the slot.
“YOU FUCK! Trying to trick me? YOU TRICKY FUCKS!” he snarled. I thought at first he saw through my facade until he continued, “GIVE ME THAT PAGE YOU STUPID CUNT!”
He reached his arm through the opening, swiping at me wildly. “GIVE ME MY FUCKING PAGE!”
“Alright! Alright!” I yelled as I stood up and held out the Holy text, slowly inching towards his waiting palm.
“NOOOOOW!” he growled impatiently.
I turned my palm down above his, preparing to drop it, as simultaneously in my mind I began a count down.
“Three… two… ONE!” I dropped the pages as I gripped the sharpened crucifix with my other hand. As the falling text hit his palm, so too did the tip of my cross, my downward momentum piercing straight through.
He screamed in unfiltered agony, as I threw my entire weight down on his arm forcing his elbow to buckle backwards against the steel he was reaching through. There was a horrendous crunch as everything below the joint hung limp.
He tried pulling out his arm but the cross stretched too far in either direction to remove without angling it., something his dangling arm would not allow. In an injury induced panic he reached in his other hand to maneuver himself free, but as he did I yanked it upwards with all my might, successfully snapping his other elbow.
For a moment he just screamed, as the skin around the crucifix smoked and sizzled. The screaming soon died down, though, as convulsions set in. He shook harshly at first, rattling against the door, but eventually the tremors slowed and finally stopped as he became completely still and catatonic.
“Take it out… take it out…” he weakly pleaded.
I ignored him, though, and instead set about exiting the cell. I climbed up onto the metal cot affixed to the wall and reached up for the top of the brick where there was a small gap to the ceiling. My reach was a little shy of the mark, however, so I hopped to the ground and carefully stacked the paint buckets on the jutting platform.
Before I made the climb I reached for the tarp and brought it with me, shoving it into the crevice before me. Then I once again tried for the ledge of the brick, this time managing to grasp it and pull myself up and in.
I pushed the heap of tarp forward as I crawled further in, causing it and myself to come tumbling down into the cell on the other side of the wall as I placed my weight and hand down on what turned out to be just air. I fell hard onto the opposing cot, smashing my shoulder and involuntarily grunting in pain.
“Errgh… ffffuck,” I moaned as I rolled off the bunk onto the concrete floor. I took a moment to collect myself, then hobbled through the door holding my shoulder as I went to deal with the subdued demon in the hallway.
“H-hey, bud…” he bargained in a lethargic whisper his right arm still trapped in the door, “why don’t you take this thing outta me and we’ll call it even?”
“Yeah, don’t think that’s gonna happen, bud,” I snarled as I pulled both pairs of cuffs from my pocket.
“”You fucking…” he meekly began as he tried lunging forward before ultimately falling back against the wall and being overcome by a fit of raspy coughs.
I, still cautious, stepped over to the door and worked the cross through the slot. His arms fell limp to his side as he hunched over lifelessly. I pushed down onto his stomach and pulled his broken limbs behind him, cuffing his wrists tightly. I grabbed a third pair of cuffs, that he himself had on his side, and fastened them around his ankles. He made no attempt to fight me as I did so, and I was extremely grateful for that.
With Oates shackled, I leaned back against the brick and let myself slide down its surface. I breathed deeply in and out as I cleared my mind of everything around me. When I was sufficiently calm, I switched the dial on the walkie back to my dad’s station and pressed the talk button.
“I… I have Oates…” I said sounding more exasperated than I intended.
“You got him? I knew you would… you need any help getting him outside?”
“No, I’ll figure something out. How are things going for you?”
“Alright, well if you’re sure you got it… I uh, well I got the gas and doused the tower stairs. But…”
“But?” I asked.
“There uh… there weren’t any fleshcrows in the cave. And… well when I got back to the Lincoln… Father Thomas…” his voice trailed off in unwilling apprehension to deliver the news.
“Yeah? What about Father Thomas?”
“Well… his body… it was gone…”