Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
My mom died and I could not accept it for nine years afterward. Declared a suicide. Went mad looking for what happened, until one day I resigned to it and decided what happened happened. I let my mind rest in this house, away from all the possibilities that I could’ve done something. Or that I could even understand what did it. But now I write this to tell you what did. Maybe it will prevent something. Maybe not.
I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for a story I found one night in the house alone, my children grown and my wife divorced. I was scrolling through one of those websites filled with little horror stories, though, in my middle age, I had outgrown an excitement for goosebumps. I searched for those that could still find a drop of something sad inside me, and that’s all it was, until I read this:
My Sister’s Death
Something is killing the lonely people in Lake W. It killed my sister. I tried to tell people, but the more I spoke up, the more they dismissed me. I don’t know what else to do other than to write this and post it, hoping that someone might believe the words.
I would publish this under my name or a pen name, if all previous efforts hadn’t given rise to further doxxing, harassment, and creative death threats. None of which I hadn’t received before, but now these threats are sometimes realized. That being said, I think the trolls have nothing to do with my sister’s death. It is simply too good of a cut for them not to push – but they’ve only ever wanted me.
I want this as a record.
She was in her thirties, black hair, big glasses, six feet high, and underweight. A creative person who made a meager living on murals and portraits. One day she became conflicted after volunteering for a school’s art workshop and realizing she wanted a family of her own, yet had only a small pool of friends and an introverted character. We tried to set her up but found her tastes unpredictable and ambiguous. She never had a relationship or sex from what I know. All she decided was that whoever the mate would be, they would be ”too mysterious”.
She bought a dress she saw in the movie Monocultures & Lemonade, a film featuring a beautiful ecologist – a thing of silk and green leaf patterns like a modern flapper’s gown. She was seen every weekend in one bar and one club, a nouveau muse visiting Lake W’s land of particle board dance floors and dusty bars. Though the town started wanting her wallflower gaze, she didn’t want the town back, and so her dress was next seen in photos on dating apps and online ads – searching for mates beyond the town’s border. She created a system. A lightning rod for serendipitous romance. Every post and profile was an open invitation to the world: anyone was invited to Friday lunch, any and every Friday, with her at the Cafe Suze. Indefinitely.
And so she dined every Friday afternoon, whether expecting or not. I could sense she was lonelier than she let on, so I sometimes accompanied her, which would often end up with her and I dining with a waiter or a cook. They told me accounts of negligence and fraud and one day I published an article about it. Despite my sister’s pleading, this resulted in a common tactic at the time, to ban me from the place. My sister was lectured by the owners not to discuss with me anything that went on there, though she was used to this and we discussed anyway.
Shortly after this event, she would not find a date for three months, and the staff were prohibited from dining with her. She became an expert observer, understanding every story line in the cafe and keeping a record of it to pass the time. And then one day she called to let me know, after so many months of sitting alone, that she had once again found a date. She sounded nervous. He was too mysterious, I suppose.
The next day I got a phone call from the police, which is not out of the ordinary for me. I was familiar with the officer who called, and she asked if I knew the whereabouts of my sister. I told her not since yesterday afternoon. She hung up.
A day after that I checked my e-mail accounts, where an e-mail titled HELLO FROM YOUR AUNT turned out to be a piece of disguised hate mail making the usual threats to myself, my friends, my family, and mentioning the current drama with the cafe. My spam filter had about three hundred or so e-mails like this at the time.
The next day I received a phone call from my officer friend, who asked me again where my sister was. I asked her if something was wrong. She went quiet.
This is how I found my sister’s body: left to rot for three days in the women’s room of the Cafe Suze. They sealed the door before I arrived, bored of keeping it a secret from me and wanting the smell to go away. Her wrists were slit.
It’s complicated to sue your own town, and so I set some friends to the work of the trial, while I buried my sister. The death and the trial ignited a new scale of fervor that kept me inside. I was not allowed in stores, police would not answer my calls, and I was often stopped in the street by an angry stranger who would do everything but hit me.
For the record, I don’t believe the town killed her. Nor do I think she committed suicide. She was lonely, yes, but she told me everything. She would’ve talked to me first.
Those in the cafe wouldn’t tell me who she saw that afternoon, but messages on her phone revealed him. I wanted to seek him out, but journeying outside my home was unimaginable. So I sat. And waited. And mourned. And missed her.
A week passed and one night something began slamming on my door. I peered out a crack in the blinds and saw her boney fists hitting the wood. A man sat in a truck in my driveway.
I opened the door, and she was shorter than I. She looked back at the man in the truck and without word opened her fist and handed me a crumpled letter.
I said, what’s wrong?
Just take it, she said.
I did and this upset her more. She cried softly, saying nothing. I offered her a tissue. Seconds later her hands were around my throat, squeezing life out of me. The man ran from the truck towards us. My fist found the woman’s jaw as she screamed about my sister being a murdering slut, a whore, a homewrecker, and us in a conspiracy, wanting to kill the town one by one.
I kicked her in the chest, and she would’ve fallen down the porch stairs and broken her neck, if the man hadn’t caught her. He looked at me with disgust, before turning away with the woman.
Let’s go home, mom, he said. And then they drove away.
I read her letter. She was the wife of the man my sister met a few hours before her death. Now he was dead too, just a week later – some kind of suicide. The letter claimed that his death was actually staged by my sister and I, as revenge against the town. Though I didn’t quite understand how she thought this, that didn’t prevent her from filing a restraining order and placing her husband’s death on the allegations against me. For the next week I received many official documents pronouncing that I was a person of interest in various local deaths that had happened for up to ten years ago. The town created a murder case against me, and I was their murderer.
I could not ignore the strangeness of the husband’s death. I examined my sister’s journal, and with some research, found out what happened to the date before this man. A woman, from a town over, died of a suicide within hours of seeing my sister.
I can’t rely on the police, don’t currently have the money to hire a private investigator, and I don’t know how much longer I can live here. From what I can tell, these three deaths are only connected in that they all look like suicides and, weirdly, they all swiped right.
If you know who I am and you know something that can help, please find me.
I went to bed after reading this. My hands shook nervously. I didn’t sleep.
In the morning I knew that everything was reversed. I accepted long ago my mother’s death, but the story of these three deaths perfectly matched the circumstances surrounding her’s. The nine years of searching and thinking and trying to understand that day, all of that, I had put to rest in boxes in one of the kids’ rooms. I found rest without the anger that built those boxes, before I read that story, when I had figured out a space to be in my empty house. But after reading the words, I opened those boxes again.
With a few guesses and a call to a few friends I found the woman’s address and pulled my truck up to her house the next day. It was a tiny two room covered in shade by tall magnolia trees. I knocked and no one answered, so I went around to the backyard and knocked there too, and while no one answered there either, I heard the muted sounds of a dish being washed under running water and a woman’s voice singing a low song. I walked back and took a piece of paper from my truck and sat on her front porch while I wrote her a letter. Writing with my shaking hands left my penmanship much to be desired, and as I approached the description of my mother’s death, my entire body began to shake until the pen fell from my fingers. When I walked over to retrieve it, I could not force myself to bend down and pick it up. If I finished the letter, it would set in motion everything again. If I did not, maybe I could get back in the truck, drive home, close the boxes, exit the page I had read the story on, turn off the computer, put it in my truck, and then drive the whole thing into the lake.
Then the front door opened, and a woman stepped out with a rifle and pointed it at me.
“If you’re thinking about doing something weird, this thing in my hands is called a gun.”
My heart raced, and I went to raise my hands but found them stuck to my sides. I wanted to push her back in the door. It was some kind of shock. – the odd thing of stepping back into an old way of thinking. One that drove my wife away and made me an angrier person.
She loaded the gun.
“Get back in your truck and leave. I’m not going to tell you again.”
I looked down at the pen and willed my hands to raise in a show of surrender, but I could not move them besides their nervous shake.
The gun went off and I fell to the ground. My heart pumped slow. Then I opened my eyes to see the rifle had shot into the air, and the sound had brought movement back to me. I raised my hands, but then she abandoned notice of me entirely, autumn blowing my half-written letter to her door, where her eyes ran across the words.
“Hm,” she lowered the gun. ”Come in.”
After picking myself up from her yard, I stepped into the house, where she asked me to empty my pockets into a bowl. The room I stepped into was furnished on two sides with desks, one side by a small stove and fridge, and the last a wall with a door that must’ve lead to her room. Across the desks were dozens of battered cell phones flickering with new alerts. I dropped my things into the bowl.
“You’ll get this back when you leave,” she said and took the bowl into the other room. Then she came back and pulled a seat out for me, while she and her rifle sat atop one of the desks. “Sorry about that. Necessary evil.” One of the phones vibrated and she took momentary notice. “So, you know about my sister. And something happened to your mother. Tell me.”
“Actually, there’s a file – in my truck.”
“I’ll get it. You stay.”
She left and came back a moment later with the files, then sat down and scanned through the pages until she found the photo.
“Okay. So. This is really from her time of death?” she asked.
“And you’re not crazy, right?”
“I’m sane. The other file has the death certificate, if you want some proof.”
As she examined the rest of the documents, I saw the photo for the first time in a year. A greyscale image from a timed security camera on my mother’s porch. She stands alone at night with one hand smoking a cigarette and the other braced against the porch railing. And then a third hand resting on her neck, but connected to nobody. The fingers are long and the nails trimmed to sharp points, and it holds her as if it were pulling her back.
The woman finished reading and closed the files. She took a long stare at me, sighed, looked at the phones, then back at me.
And with that knowing utterance out of the way, she explained her research. Using suicide records, her sister’s correspondences, and software I didn’t understand, she was doing some kind of pattern prediction. Plugging in information about my mother and the two connected suicides, the program displayed three possible paths connecting her death with the sister’s. The phones laid across the desks, she said, were all installed with a hacked version of the dating app they had used and were constantly searching for the thing. I asked her what she thought it was.
“I’ve researched all the logical answers to that and whatever it is, it’s not in our current understanding.”
She got off the desk and walked into the kitchen to get something, when I saw her slightly limping. She noticed, smiled, and hitched the leg up on a chair and rolled up her pants. A long bandage was taped to her calf, a streak of dark red in the gauze.
“People in masks came here Friday, held me down and did this to me. Told me, if I don’t leave town, the knife goes in my throat next.”
I went quiet.
“If you’re another one of these Lake W morons who wants me dead, you should let me know.”
“You’ve hurt a lot of people I know. But I’m not violent.”
“Stay here. Work with me. Keep an eye out for them. I barely sleep anymore, because I’m always expecting some new shit to happen.”
I agreed and became her guard while she continued her work. During the day we said little, and at night we said nothing at all. I wouldn’t say we were friends, but something awful found both of us and we were united in our search to stop it, though she did most of the work. Her mood improved with sleep, now that I kept watch, until a few weeks passed and one night, while sitting on the porch, three people in masks walked up the driveway. I stood.
“Don’t come any closer,” I said.
One coughed. Another sneezed. And the last was fine.
The fine one said, “I know and you know she doesn’t deserve to be protected. So move aside white knight.”
“No,” I said.
“Aren’t you that man who went mad?”
I stayed quiet and the window behind me squeaked open a crack, the barrel of her rifle extending out.
“There aren’t just three of us anymore. You’ll die by our hands or by the town’s. And what do you think would be a kinder way to go? Mad man, do you even like her? I know for a fact she’s spat a bit in your direction too.”
She shot at their feet. The two others ran away, but the fine one stayed.
“You think about the choice you’re making. There’s not much time to change your mind.” And with that, the fine one walked away.
It took another month, but one day she said that we had it. She turned a monitor to me, showing a trail of white nodes, deaths, leading to one red one. She picked up a phone and showed me the profile. It was inside a teenage boy. We argued for a day, not sure what to do, and by that time, the boy had died and passed it on to a woman in her mid-20s. We tracked down this one’s phone number and tried to explain the situation. She didn’t listen and she died the next weekend, passing it on to a fifty-year-old man.
“This is useless. We can see where it is, but we still have no clue how to stop it,” the woman said. “Maybe this is as far as it goes. What else could we do other than try and kill whoever is holding it? And I’m not doing that.”
For a long time it rested in the fifty-year-old man. One night we snuck outside his bedroom window, and in a desperate move, performed a ritual we’d found in a book about tribal death cultures. Nothing happened.
We argued. I wanted to kill him, though we thought this would just transfer it to me. But I was getting impatient and angry. She claimed that my head was not always right and the tremors were getting worse. I criticized her work in destroying the people of the town and teased that I would leave her alone to get attacked again. She told me this was over, and it was time for me to leave. And so I stepped out her front door.
As chance would have it, in the driveway stood five people in masks. This time I walked right up to them.
“Wait til tomorrow afternoon, so I can join you,” I said.
“Really?” the fine one said.
“Mhmm. Not much use to me anymore.”
I went back home and shook uncontrollably in my bed, full body seizures that would last half an hour. I would burst into fits of anger about it still being alive. About her obstructing its end. It would’ve been easier to let the town do what they were going to do. But I couldn’t be sure it’d die with her. I picked up my phone, logged into one of her dumbie profiles, and matched with the fifty-year-old-man. I told him to meet at her house tomorrow morning. Just knock on the door. It was a date.
The next morning I parked my truck across the road from her driveway and saw him drive in. Maybe ten minutes later there was the sound of her gun shooting multiple times, and I saw him run back and drive away.
I drove up to her house and the front door was open. The bowl was knocked over, a chair on its side, and her door locked, the sound of her crying muffled.
“I’m sorry,” I said through the door. “This way we can control what happens to it.”
“There’s an awful thing inside me,” she said. “Because of you.”
“It will die with you. This is what we wanted.”
“This is what you want. I want it out of me, you idiot.” She shot her rifle through the door, and a bullet went through my shoulder.
I clutched the wound.
She stayed in her room, not knowing what to do. I wrapped my shoulder in gauze. A few hours later ten people in masks arrived in the driveway. I took a deep breath.
“She’s gone,” I told the fine one.
“Then who did that?” he asked, looking at my shoulder.
“She did. Didn’t like me trying to stop her leaving.”
The fine one paused a moment. “Okay.” And miraculously they left.
Weeks passed and she wouldn’t come out of her room, knowing there was the possibility that just seeing me could transfer it and make her dead minutes later. Over the next few weeks we tried many things to exorcise the thing inside of her. She cried. She hated me. She would not eat. At one point she would not drink water. And yet she was fine. A week without water, and she kept shrieking and hating me.
“I want to die. I want to die,” she would moan. I don’t understand how she stayed alive, other than that the thing kept her that way. During this time I was wracked with guilt, shame, and anger. Though my body shook with seizures, I did not feel punished enough, and I could not justify what I had done. Only the death of this thing would make it make any sense.
One night I stood on the porch, debating on what to do. She was suffering. But then again maybe there was something we hadn’t tried yet. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something moving in the dark. The fine one stood in the driveway alone, now knowing the truth.
“Tomorrow,” they said and then walked away.
“I’ll take care of it,” I told her through the door quietly. I won’t lie. Even then I considered letting them do it. It would be easier than killing her myself. But she had suffered enough.
She left her door open now, knowing what was to come. Still I waited until the next day, unable to summon the macabre force needed, falling asleep in a chair.
I woke up. It was the first day of winter, and a cold draft swam across the floor. Around noon, soft pats could be heard as the last leaves fell to the ground. I sat a long while listening. The sound grew, as if a hundred trees were losing their leaves in a torrent, and when I looked out the window I saw over a hundred people in masks collecting in her yard. I locked the front door and hurried, knowing there wasn’t much time left.
I entered her door and saw her for the first time in months. She rested on a small bed. Her face gaunt and her muscles melted and her sister’s dress on her like a wire hanger.
The front door exploded in a loud bang, and the small yard erupted in the shouting of a murderous people.
“I’ll close my eyes,“ she said. And it took little time with my hands. She was very weak.
I slipped out the back door.
When I got home I was unsure of what had happened. My tremors died away, and for a while I was sure it was over. That we had killed it.
A newspaper article came out announcing her death, a picture of her body tied to the flagpole outside townhall, a cloud of masks surrounding it.
A month passed, and I would not leave my house, a last thread of doubt surviving in me. I had to know. One day I decided to do it, so I starved myself of water and food for a week and found I was still alive.
And so was it.
It brings me peace to know it’s trapped inside me. I feel the third hand on my neck, but it will not leave this house. And nor will I.
Maybe I will live forever. I don’t know. What is living exactly when you can’t meet someone else in the flesh? And your town is hell and you deserve it. I have taken to talking to the squirrels in my yard. And running the program the woman created.
I’m uncertain. She always understood this thing more than I did, but I think there’s a chance this is not the only one. I’ve found other nodes leading to other things. So, like she had, I write this record. Please learn from this.
And please, do not find me.
Credit: David Tiegen
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