Paul pulled the envelope out of his leather attaché case and settled into an uncomfortable chair behind a large writing desk. Late afternoon sun filtered in through the bay window but couldn’t defeat the dankness of the old house, nor the dreariness of his mood. Luckily, he had had the mind to pack a few battery-powered lanterns, and one of them now provided enough illumination to examine his mother’s ornate handwriting on the back of the envelope.
“For Paul” it read. He traced the letters with his fingers, each one written with care and love. Pensively, he squeezed the bridge of his nose and released an exhausted breath. He had admittedly taken the loss of his mother very hard, as she was a kind, bright, thoughtful woman taken way before her time – but he was a lucky man, and had married a woman who exuded those same qualities and had been blessed with a daughter whose genes seemingly came from the women in his family.
He had received the envelope several weeks before at the allocation of mother’s will. Its content undoubtedly was a letter, most likely full of sage advice and love. He had agonized over opening it, though, as he was unable to come to terms with reading his mother’s final words, but his wife, Lauren, had finally convinced him that they might provide comfort rather than sadness.
With final resolve, he retrieved a dusty letter opener from the desk and began to read the handwritten letter.
* * * * * *
To my dearest Paul,
There are not enough words in the dictionary to express my love for you, Lauren, and your sweet baby Emily. I only hope that I have shown you that love over your twenty five years of life. My health may be fading, but know that I will always be with you, and that I’m sorry for what I’m about to reveal to you. I fear though that there isn’t enough forgiveness on God’s green Earth for what I’ve done.
If you are reading this, that means that my final will and testament have been executed and you are probably surprised to find that you are now the owner of a small farmhouse in Creekside, Pennsylvania. It is the house that I grew up in. Heed my words, Paul – Do not go to that house. Put the deed in the back of your safe, claim it as an asset, but otherwise forget that it exists. You may be curious to see the childhood home of your mother, but please – do not go to that house.
I’m going to tell you why, Paul, and you may not have the same respect for me afterwards, but it is imperative that you understand the gravity of the situation.
My parents and I had moved from that house when I was around fifteen to live with Aunt June. However, when I was a few years younger than you are now, fresh out of college, I was offered a teaching position at a school a few towns over from that childhood home. You know my parents both passed away shortly after we had moved to California, and now I’m telling you that they too had left me that house in their will – but they never provided me with the knowledge I’m about to bestow upon you, my poor, sweet Paul.
Out of convenience, I moved into the house several weeks before summer ended. The town hadn’t changed much; it was still secluded, surrounded by forest, and its residents were still fairly strange and private. They did remember who I was, though, and they definitely remembered the accident that caused my family to leave.
As I was buying some groceries, the woman behind the counter recognized me and told me that I shouldn’t have come back and strongly suggested that I should turn around and leave right then and there. She grabbed me by the hand forcefully to express her urgency. There was a scar on her arm, just like the one I bear – the one I told you I got from falling off of my bike as a little girl. I was admittedly a little freaked out, but not enough to take her advice. That whole town is a little kooky, and at the time I thought I was being shunned for what happened when I was a teenager, but there was a fearfulness in her tone that has sat with me all these years.
The house had remained untouched for 8 years, and I spent that first day cleaning a thin film of dust off of everything. I was exhausted by nightfall, and, feeling that it was awkward to sleep in my parents’ old bedroom, I opted for my old one on the first floor. Because my room was small, my bed was flush against the wall, partially covering the only window in its length. A dresser and vanity were against the parallel wall. I remember collapsing into that bed that night, my body aching from moving boxes and cleaning.
I’m not sure what initially woke me up that night, Paul. I don’t recall a noise that pulled me from slumber, but I was overwhelmed by a feeling that I was not alone. Moonlight through the window cast shadows, but after a quick scan I knew the room was devoid of life save for me.
And then I saw it. In the vanity mirror. A reflection of the window. And looking in through the window was a creature that should not exist. That cannot be from this world. Too horrible for words. Just know, Paul, that this thing was evil. Even in the pale light, you could see the vile intentions in its inky eyes and snarling, fanged mouth. It looked excited. And hungry. Its grey hands pressed against the glass, each elongated, alien finger leaving a filmy residue behind as it dragged its claw-like nails down the window.
My back was turned to it, my feet only a few inches away from its face – separated by a thin plane of glass. I watched it feverishly watch me through the mirror. Unable to tell if it was aware that I knew it was there, I nonetheless felt like it was waiting for me to move. I, however, was frozen with fear. Honestly, if something by the grace of God hadn’t stirred me from my sleep, the sound of its screeching nails would have woken me. I was able to quell a surprised reaction and remained still.
Maybe it was minutes, maybe it was hours, but the thing finally left.
I’d be lying to you if I told you that was the first time I ever saw it, though. I’m so sorry, Paul.
There are three creeks that run parallel in the woods that surround the town, a few miles apart from one another. Of all the rules given to us children of Creekside, the most important one was that we were not allowed to pass the second creek and we were strongly urged not to venture too far past the first one. My parents told me there were old foundations and wells that made it dangerous for us kids to play there and that several children had gone missing in the woods, but it was apparent that the adults of town never crossed the second creek either. A few people who had risked getting close to the second creek claimed they had seen ghosts amongst the trees, and that lore alone was enough to convince us kids to stay close to town.
My best friends growing up were Jimmy and Andy. Jimmy, you know, would later become your father, but Andy was always a bit of daredevil and troublemaker, and I was an impressionable young girl. One day, Andy has stolen a few of his dad’s cigarettes and the three of us went into the woods like a bunch of stupid hardasses to smoke them. Andy got the crazy idea that we needed to rebel even more and explore the woods past the second creek. Jimmy and I were scared, for it had been so ingrained in us to never do it, but Andy was persuasive.
Andy crossed the ancient looking bridge over the second creek first, cigarette in mouth. Jimmy and I delayed across from him. It became clear that Jimmy wasn’t going to do it. He threw a rock at Andy, called him an idiot and started walking up the path towards town.
I begged Andy to come back with us, and I must have thrown my head back in frustration when he teased me. That’s when I saw it. The grey, gargoyle-like creature. It was perched in a tree, not too far away from where Andy was standing. It looked like a vulture eyeing its prey. I had barely started to scream when it leapt from the tree and tackled Andy to the ground.
Jimmy ran back to my side, but neither of us had any idea what to do, let alone how to comprehend the fear. I could hear Andy screaming and fighting, and I swear, Paul, that sound has never left my ears. I grabbed a rock and ran across the bridge. I hit the thing over the head, but it swiftly knocked me back into the water. I struggled but Jimmy pulled me out on the other side just in time to see the creature make off with Andy’s limp body through the trees.
I don’t know how long Jimmy and I sat there in shock, but the stars were out when we reached my house. We told our worried parents and the other adults who had gathered there our story. All of them seemed more shocked that Andy and I had crossed the creek than by descriptions of the creature. Jimmy’s mom let out a cry of relief when she realized her boy had not crossed – but my parents – my parents started packing up loose belongings and clothing hastily. We left town that night, and drove the whole way Aunt June’s, only stopping once, outside of Chicago. My parents died only sixth months later from a disease that doctors couldn’t identify.
I was young, and didn’t understand. Everything was a blur and I couldn’t discern one emotion and memory from another. At some point, I started believing that Andy had fallen in the creek and hit his head on a rock, and that my parents’ passing was an awful coincidence. It was easier to cope that way.
And then I saw that hideous face in the window like it had claimed me nearly a decade before and had been waiting for me ever since. I was relieved when it left, but fearful for I did not know where it had gone. I remained frozen the rest of the night.
Early the next morning, a knock came from the front door. I hesitated, gripped again by fear, but it was Jimmy. A nostalgic reunion was halted by his urgency to discuss something with me. I knew what it was before he even sat at the kitchen table. I wasn’t prepared for what he was about to tell me, though, Paul. I’ll spare you the details, and tell you only what you need to know.
This thing that lives in the woods has been there for a really long time, Jimmy says, far before the original settlement of Creekside. Nobody knows exactly where it came from, or much else about it, only that it was responsible for the vicious deaths of many of the town’s children. It likes young blood, Jimmy told me. Nobody could figure out a way to kill it either.
But the thing was conniving, and sentient, and realized that if the people left, its food would too. On the other hand, the townspeople feared that wherever they went, the creature would follow. So a deal had been made in blood. Anything that moved between the oval the second and third creek created belonged to the creature, and in turn, the creature would never harm anything that didn’t cross that boundary.
Jimmy told me I belonged to the creature because I had crossed the bridge, and my parents had been killed because they betrayed the pact. You see, Paul, it’s a curse. I know it’s hard to believe.
It didn’t take me long to make the decision to leave Creekside again. Jimmy didn’t know definitively what geographically bound the creature, but had done enough research to estimate that it only traveled within the confines of Creekside and nearby townships. He had also discovered similar tales of creatures around the world. These things are all over the place, and – I’m sorry, Paul. This is not important now. Check the files within your father’s study, they’ll tell you more than you need to know. Don’t delve too deep, though. It was his obsession with it that cost him his life – not the car accident I lied to you about. I’m so, so sorry.
Jimmy helped me throw a few boxes into my car, and promised to meet me again soon. I turned around one last time to share a moment of silent solitude with him before I got in my car. As I turned back, I could see terror transform his face. He called my name, but I didn’t have appropriate time to react. The creature bounded from the woods and leapt to the roof of my car.
It crouched, dropping its face to be even with mine. Sneering, its rancid breath smelled of dried blood. My knees weakened and buckled as Jimmy swooped in to tackle the thing off of the roof. Jimmy fought with all his might, but wasn’t a match and ended up crumpled a few feet away from me. In hysterics, I tried to flee but quickly found I had nowhere to run. The thing caught me promptly and dragged me into the woods with little effort. Jimmy composed himself enough to start running after us, screaming for me to make a deal. I lost consciousness before I could make sense of what Jimmy was telling me, a fleeting memory of Andy whispering in my mind.
Paul, please remember how much I love you as you struggle to manage the final parts of my story.
A small fire blinded me as I awoke on cold, damp ground, surrounded by trinkets of times gone by. An old wind up children’s toy. A few dog collars. Andy’s engraved lighter. Bones were littered everywhere.
The creature sat squat across from me, watching me zealously. It was muttering anxiously and rocking on its wolfish feet. I was surprised, as ancient as Jimmy told me this thing was, to find that it spoke English. “Spoiled,” it said, gravelly. “You spoiled.” I remember its coal eyes following me as I nervously brought myself to a sitting position. “I knew it was you. Too old now. Spoiled.”
I seemed to be in a cavern of some sort with two tunnels that faded to blackness, neither discernable as the exit. I haven’t forgotten its words, nor the look in its eyes when it stopped rocking. “You can’t leave. You are mine. You belong to me. You crossed the water. But you are too old to eat. You spoiled.”
Realizing the thing was contemplating over whether to kill me or not, Jimmy’s screams strained through my head, and I understand that he had meant for me to make a deal with the creature for my life. The creature liked to bargain. So I asked it, Paul, what it wanted in exchange for letting me go.
It thought awhile, before it smiled maliciously. It wanted one of my children, and one of my children’s children. I wondered if this thing had been around long enough to inspire Rumpelstiltskin. I don’t know, Paul, but I took that deal. I nodded my head, and agreed that when I had children, I would bring one of them to the creature, and if I had grandchildren – I would sacrifice one of them as well. It might seem like a rough bargain, but it would get two for letting one go.
You might be sickened now, Paul, but realize that after considering the offer thoughtfully, I simply intended to just never have children. I resolved to give up becoming a mother. I thought I had tricked it.
The creature took my hand, cutting its claw deep into my forearm creating a brand that would bond me for life. Then, it simply let me go. Jimmy, and several others he had gathered, waited at the bridge. None of them asked me how I survived, for they all knew by the scarlet letter on my arm.
As you know, Jimmy would leave Creekside and settle with me near Aunt June in California. On good conscience, I couldn’t sell the house and put another family in the vicinity of that evil thing. I had become resigned to the fact that I had to abandon the opportunity of motherhood, but could never bring myself to permanently and medically destroy the chance of pregnancy. I just couldn’t do it, Paul.
And Jimmy and I were careful, even after we married. But, several years later, I became pregnant with you. And your twin brother, Andrew.
I know that’s a shock. I’m not proud of what I did, Paul, and I regret never telling you about your brother. I knew, though, that the creature would take me, as it did my parents, if I betrayed our deal. The scar on my arm burned long before I gave birth to you. I took that baby, Paul, that infant, only a few days old. I took him back to Creekside and left him on the other side of the bridge on the second creek. I am unworthy of forgiveness, and to this day, the memory induces nausea and unbearable heartbreak. It was an evil thing for me to do, but it let me watch you grow up into the man you are. I’ve given you every ounce of goodness I could.
And that’s why I’m dying, Paul. I knew Lauren was with child a month before you announced it because the scar on my arm was on fire – reminding me of my dues. I can’t pay them this time. I can’t do that to you, or sweet Emily. I have lived my life, and only hope that I can be reunited with your father and Andrew on the other side. I fear that my actions have provided for more insidious consequences, however.
I will repeat my initial warning, Paul. Do not go to that house in Creekside. Only evil waits there. I can’t bear to imagine if the creature is able to reach Emily. Our sweet, sweet Emily.
I love you, Paul, with my whole heart.
I am so sorry, but do not deserve your forgiveness.
* * * * * *
Paul put the letter down on the writing desk. He could distinguish disturbed and disgusted emotions amongst a primal fear and sadness. He couldn’t categorize and understand his thoughts.
He was unable to tell if these emotions were targeted towards his mother or himself.
His mother had made some awful and anguishing decisions, sure, but he probably should have read the letter before he brought his wife and daughter to this place.
Suddenly, his mother’s childhood house seemed a little darker. Dazed, he tried desperately to grasp the connotations of his mother’s letter.
The sound of glass smashing broke his stupor – the sounds of glass shattering, the ferocity of his wife’s screams, and the fading wail of his daughter’s cries.
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