20 Sep I Can’t Say That I’m Proud
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"I Can't Say That I'm Proud"Written by
Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Sometimes decisions in life aren’t easy to make, and rather than being driven by morals or logic, they’re driven by emotion and sheer necessity to survive. From time to time, everyone is forced to make a decision like this, and I am no different. That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m proud of what I do. In fact, I feel downright miserable about it, but there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that this is the choice I made to get by. Not now. Now it’s too late and I’m too far in.
I just graduated college with a degree in business. I was completely broke, dirt poor, having paid my entire tuition at a community college as I went along while breaking my back just to get the bills paid so that when I got out I’d be free of debt. I’d found myself stuck in a restaurant job with a business degree and no idea where to go from there. My sister Calliope offered to let me stay with her. To most people, that probably would sound like a no-brainer decision. Why, they would ask, didn’t you think of that sooner? I did. I lived in Texas and she lived in Vermont. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to move so far from what I was used to. Calliope did offer though, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. She agreed to come pick me so that we could have a little “sisterly bonding time” over a road trip. We’re twins…I didn’t think bonding time was necessary, but I was excited to spend time with her again.
A little over a year ago now, I had packed up my belongings, climbed into my sister’s car and left Texas behind. I didn’t know what the future had in store then, and if I’d known what I do now, I can’t say for sure if I’d do it again or not. Well…I guess it’s either this or struggling in the service industry for God knows how long.
For the start of the ride, she was very quiet. I felt as though I did all of the talking, even though nothing I said was of any importance. When I stopped talking, that’s when I could feel the silence. It was heavy.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked her. For a moment, she remained silent, staring at the road ahead of her. Her eyes had a look that told me her mind was far away. Finally, she answered me.
“They never found him, and I think they stopped looking. The trail’s cold. It wasn’t ever ‘hot’ to begin with.” She sounded as though she were numb to the whole ordeal by now.
Calliope was a teen mom. At sixteen she’d had her son, Calvin, and I’d always admired her willpower. She didn’t quit school, although trying to get through with a child wasn’t ever easy, but she knew college wasn’t for her. I respected her for the decisions she made for that child. Two years prior, just a month after Calvin’s fourth birthday, he’d been kidnapped. It was all over the news for about two months, and after no new evidence was turned up, the commotion died down and the community seemed to forget. My family didn’t forget. Certainly Calliope hadn’t forgotten. We wouldn’t forget. The story was so big because of the mystery surrounding the entire situation. Calvin was outside playing, in his own back yard mind you, fenced in, and he seemed to just vanish. There were no signs of forced entry, no signs that indicated anything was askew…just a missing child.
I turned to her now. “Cal, listen…they didn’t give up, and please don’t you dare give up hope. They’ll find him—“
“No they won’t Astra! They’ll never find him! No one will find him!” She cut me off.
I stared at her, a bit taken aback by the outburst.
“I know it’s taking awhile—“
“No. You don’t understand. There was never a trail for them to follow, absolutely nothing. I know something they don’t know, not that they’d believe me if I did open my mouth. I’ve known for a few months now.” I stared at my sister, unsure how to react to what she was saying. She pointed to the backseat. “Read that. I brought it so you’d know too.” I stared at her for a second before reaching back and picking up the thick packet she’d prepared for me. Some pages had been photocopied from books, others printed from the internet. I flipped through the pages, looking over at her after getting a few pages in, enough to understand what was happening.
“You think this…slenderman took Calvin?”
She reached across and grabbed the packet, flipping to the very back. She shoved it back at me. Staring at her, I took it back once more and looked at what I was now holding. It was a series of drawings, done by Calvin according to the note at the bottom that said sloppily in children’s writing “Calvin, 4”. The pictures weren’t anything remarkable, even for what a child was capable of, but it wasn’t the skill level that was interesting. All of the pictures had one thing in common: a tall figure, in some pictures with what looked to be eight extra arms jutting out from his back; in all pictures it was clad in a black suit. It never had a face and was always surrounded by trees…except for the last one. In the last one, it was in what looked like a rough sketch of Calliope’s back yard. I looked over at her again, waiting for an explanation.
“He was drawing these in the few weeks before…before he went.”
I shook my head slowly. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted more than anything to understand, but I felt more confused than I’d ever been.
“I need to do something. I need to.” It sounded as though she said this more to herself than to me.
Just as she said this, we pulled onto a fairly deserted road in West Virginia and I noticed a sign that said “Welcome to Grassy Meadows”. We drove on in silence. Not even five minutes later, I felt the car come to a complete and abrupt stop.
“Jesus!” I said, looking around in alarm and annoyance. “What’s the problem?” I asked my sister.
“That.” She said simply, staring out the window on my side. I looked and saw a good sized building, in decent shape, sitting beside me with a “for sale” sign out front on one side and on the other, a readerboard sign that read simply “Grassy Meadows Motel”. Before I could ask what was so miraculous about it, my sister was dialing the number on the for sale sign. I sighed heavily, waiting for her to end the call and explain to me what was going on.
“We’re buying that.” She said.
“Excuse me?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“I said we’re buying that. You have a degree in business. We’re going to put it to use.”
“What are you talking about? It’s hardly going to be put to use if there’s nothing around here besides a post office that isn’t even open anymore and a few houses. Besides, this town is like…seven miles in its entirety. I don’t have money, especially not enough to buy a motel!” I said, voice raised in pitch.
“I have money. I sold my house.”
“You what?! You spent what you’d saved up for college your entire life on that house.” I shouted, staring at her. She put the car in park, climbing out and walking up the steps.
“We just have to wait for Gary.”
“Gary. Who the hell is Gary?” I asked, exasperated, but seriously beginning to worry about my sister. I got out and walked quickly over to her. Before she could answer me, a car pulled up behind ours. A short, chubby man with mucky brown eyes and no hair waddled over to us, shaking first my hand then my sisters.
“I’m Gary! Which one did I speak on the phone with?” He seemed overly excited, having the enthusiasm of a salesman on cocaine.
“Me. I’m Calliope, this is my sister Astra.”
“Wonderful! Such beautiful names. Can I interest you girls in a tour of the old place?”
“That won’t be necessary,” my sister said “we just want to buy the property.”
I stood back in disbelief as my sister and Gary closed the deal and felt numb when his blue Audi pulled away and drove into the distance. All my sister said on the matter was, “you needed money anyway.”
That was a year ago. Tonight I sat on the stool out front, the little radio in the corner playing some pop song I’m not familiar with as I stared out the window. My sister was making dinner. The sign out front that once read “Grassy Meadows Motel” now said “Just Like Family Motel” with the words “kid friendly” underneath. I watched as a small pick up truck pulls into our drive, the engine loud and quite frankly sounding as though it needed to be replaced. Turning the radio down, I watched as a man climbed out of the front seat, going around to the passenger side and knocking on the window.
“Yo Cal, we have company,” I called to my sister. A moment later, the kitchen door opened and she stood beside me, peering out the window.
“Did you see them?” she asked, rubbernecking to get a better look.
“I saw a man get out and I think someone’s with him but I don’t know.” I heard the front door open and looked in its direction. Sure enough, the man walked in carrying a little girl in his arms. The girl was awake, but clearly drowsy. No wonder. It was roughly ten at night, if I had to guess.
“It’s terribly late and I’d like to get a room,” the man said with a deep southern drawl.
“Of course!” My sister said, explaining the whole spiel about how pay is up front and by the day, 35 dollars per. I was hardly paying attention to her. I was watching the little girl, who was looking around the room with sleepy eyes. She looked about five, maybe six with brown hair and big blue eyes. My sister handed the key over to her father and as they walked off to find their room, I shot a glance over at Calliope. I imagine the look on my face was the same as hers—somber.
“Is dinner ready yet?” I asked, gesturing with my head in the direction of the kitchen.
“Yeah, can you set the table?” She asked me, eyes clouded with worry. I nodded and set out a plate for each of us, pouring some milk into two cups and putting those out as well, along with some silverware and napkins. I heard a soft knocking on the door and turned my head. I slowly approached the door and peered out the peep hole. It was the man we’d given the room three key to. I opened the door.
“How can I help you, sir?” I asked.
“Oh…pardon me miss, I know it’s awful late, but when I came in I could smell food…I hate to ask but I’m mighty hungry and I gave the last sandwich to my daughter…could I join you ladies?”
I glanced behind him quickly. The girl wasn’t with him, meaning she was probably alone in the room. I nodded and stepped aside.
“Of course, there’s plenty.” I went to the kitchen quickly and looked at my sister. It didn’t always go so smoothly. I didn’t say a word, just grabbed a third plate and cup and walked to the dining room. She followed me out quickly.
“I hope you like lasagna because there’s plenty of it!” She said in her most welcoming voice. I felt like crying. This has been going on for a year, but I still didn’t like it. I knew we had to do it for reasons, but I felt sick.
We all sat down at the table and began eating. The man looked to be only a few years older than us, maybe twenty six at most. He told us the story about how the girl’s mom had left and the entire sob story around that. Apparently his name was Seth. After about ten minutes, my sister gave me a look from across the table and I rose.
“Excuse me, I need to use the ladies room.” I disappeared into a doorway and made my way down the hall leading to the back door. I felt around for the key ring in my pocket for a good minute before finally pulling it out. I searched for the correct one and made my way to room three. Making as little sound as I could, I unlocked the door and stepped inside. The girl was lying on the bed, chest moving up and down rhythmically. I took a deep breath and stepped further into the room, getting up the courage to walk over to the bed. When I finally did, I reached out and shook her shoulder gently. “Sweetheart…your daddy’s outside and he told me to come get you…will you please come with me?” She looked at me for a minute and then nodded slowly, tiny fists going to her eyes and rubbing. I walked over to the door and turned back to look at her, watching as she climbed out of bed. Still rubbing her eyes, she came over to me. I looked ahead again and took a deep breath. I felt her small hand grab mine and I could nearly feel my heart breaking. “Alright little one, follow me to daddy…”
“Stacie,” she said quietly as we started to walk.
“What?” I asked, glancing at her briefly. She was looking up at me with those big eyes.
“My name is Stacie,” she said with the innocence only a child could have. “What’s your name?”
“Astra,” I choked out quietly, quickly moving my eyes back to the path.
“That’s a pretty name.”
We walked on down the heavily wooded path and I listened to her talk the entire way. The more I listened to her, the more I began to regret what I was doing. However, the more I listened to her talk, the closer we got. I fought off tears.
“This won’t take very long, will it Astra?” she asked with the sweet voice of a young child, like she was. “I left my doll and I don’t want anyone to take her.”
“I’m sure no one will take your doll, Stacie” I said, voice thick as I continued to struggle with tears.
“That’s good because my mom gave her to me a long time ago. Her name is Lucy. Do you have any dolls?”
“I used to…”I said, remembering what it was like to be a little girl, when a toy meant the world to you and nothing mattered much because everything was simple.
“What were their names?” She asked, swinging our arms a little bit as we walked.
“I had one named Angel…she was my favorite. I used to take her everywhere with me…” I stopped and looked up at the large tree before us. Stacie looked around.
“Astra, where’s my daddy?”
“I’ll…I’ll check to see if he’s coming! Just stay right by this tree…right in front of it…just like that! Stay there…I’ll be right back.” I backed away quickly before turning and walking stiffly up the path. I knew he wasn’t on his way, at least not the way she expected him to be. I turned my head to look back for a moment and saw the moonlight flickering on the polluted pond behind Stacie. When I turned my head, I also saw a tall figure standing behind her, many limbs stretching out into the darkness surrounding, and grab the little girl. I turned back ahead quickly and began to run up the path toward the motel, no longer able to hold back the tears as I heard her begin to scream. I fell against a tree close to the beginning of the trail and let my tears fall. I felt sick. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t really think that bringing Him these children would bring Calvin back, but Calliope did. She thought that if she brought enough, He would return Calvin with no questions asked, but I wasn’t so sure. I heard the choking and rattling motor of the small pick up truck Seth and Stacie had rode in with and saw Calliope driving it, like usual, to the large pond at the end of the path. I saw Seth knocked out in the passenger’s seat, weighted down by a large concrete block on his lap. I watched silently, tears staining my face, as Calliope rolled out from the vehicle quickly before it hit the hill and gained speed. I turned away and walked back to room three, not caring to see anymore. I heard the loud splash, and even that was too much for me.
I could hear the words of Stacie in my head as I walked and knew that, even though it was foolish, it might make me feel better. I went back to room three and I took her doll. Lucy, she’d said. Don’t worry, Stacie…I’m sure no one will take your doll…
Now, I’m standing at the tree, right in front of the spot where He had taken her and I’m holding Lucy in my hands. Calliope is back up at the motel, probably sitting on the porch and waiting for something that will never happen. I look at the tiny rag doll in my hands and place it in front of the tree. I run up the path and don’t glance back.
Sometimes decisions in life aren’t easy to make, and rather than being driven by morals or logic, they’re driven by emotion and sheer necessity to survive. From time to time, everyone is forced to make a decision like this, and I am no different.
Credit To – Ashleigh Margaret