Estimated reading time — 33 minutes
Excerpt from a letter received by Governor Irvish Jackson and sent by Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp on December 17th, 1985:
I have seen that despite my personal attendance in the past few months to each and all inquiries in the investigation of Orin Harley that not a single report has been as thorough as needed. Ribbons county police department was adamant enough to give a list of questions to the board, and I was also interviewed on the days after. Yet, I feel that the work done was not satisfactory. Public records dictate very little besides the bare facts, as I’m sure they felt was all that was necessary. However, I should preface the papers attached with the suggestion that perhaps the real details that have fallen off are just as necessary. Enclosed with this letter you will find an envelope with the papers of which I refer. Please, carefully consider these. My attempts to bring them to the board’s attention were ignored, and for what reason I cannot guess.
Understand that I was not overly acquainted with Mr. Harley. My superiors noted that I may have been too close to his case for my notes to be truly considered, and while their accusation may hold water, their concerns do not. I was partial to Mr. Harley, that much I admit. But I’m not so far gone that my duty and testimony would suffer because of it. Taking this into account, you should free your conception of the papers included of any thoughts infected by the reports previously published.
My second suggestion, as it were, is to truly give Orin the benefit of the doubt. In the short time I had known him I could not call him a liar. There were few times when even the thoughts he’d share with me during our sessions even hinted at any falsehood. This being said, as you finish these papers you will arrive at the same point that several other authorities have had to consider, and failed.
It is true that he was, in a sense, deranged. Orin suffered from his own vices, and by his own hand, suffered a fate that no man should have to meet. But these were but consequences, dominoes falling in a chain. Orin Harley was traumatized as a child, the true cause and all of it’s mystery could not be deciphered, and he took it with him on that last day. I ask of you to see this, and to take his situation into account. He was not a criminal, he was a human being.
Your position gives you power, and more importantly, immense sway with the local authorities. It is for this reason that I’ve written to you, and the same reason that I ask for your help. There is talk to deny this man a proper gravestone behind the gates of Weinwick Memorial cemetery. A marker is a right, not a toy to be taken away. On principle as a physician, a confidante, and his friend, I cannot stand by to see memory just shrink away, where his own Aunt and I cannot pay our respects.
No, a body was not found. As for that matter, I don’t think it ever will be. The water was deep, and what was left of the structure had fallen away, deeper into the ground as the sinkhole gave way. Authorities cannot exhume the sinkhole because of the lack of structural integrity, and this cannot be helped. Mr. Harley is buried, but I demand the respect that a headstone would imbue him.
You may reach me by the number and address printed upon the envelope, and in god’s name, weigh his character and history thoroughly where others would not.
Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp
Ribbons County Rehabilitation Center
My Name is Orin Harley. I am Eighteen years old, and I pop pills to make the pain go away. I’m a junkie that’s livin’ it up on my dear Aunties dime. Boy, I sure wish that I could just get my act together!
Is that what you want? A little sob story to wet your whistle? Come on and take a sip, Doc! I’ve got tears to spare!
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that you shrinks get off on all the wet, juicy details these other freaks jot down in these little notebooks.
This is stupid. You’ve kept me here three days, and you and I both know the fine little print on those papers said I’d be able to leave after seventy-two hours. It’s been a while since middle-school Doc, but my math adds up pretty well. There’s a calendar on the wall here, but my god, it’s ancient. It’s sunbaked and very, VERY sixties. Couldn’t cough up a few bucks to decorate the walls better? They have playboy ones you know. Is that something I might be able to request?
I promise I would dial back my complaining a bit. Three days. Jeez, what a drag. You know, it’s been the only thing I can focus on lately. If I stare at a clock, the sores on my arm pulse like mad. I can feel my heart beat once every second I’m stuck in this room. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. When I’m not eyeing the little hands jog around the circle, I take a look out this luxurious window you’ve given me. Wow, a twelve inch by twelve inch view, what a sight! I could see better out of a glass of motor oil than this damn thing.
I’m due for another methadone dose within the hour, it’s nice that you guys care so much as to deliver my daily allowance. It’d be something if I could really feel it, but you don’t give a millilitre more than you need to, do you? I suppose I’ll pay for that comment later. Pretty soon I’ll be getting my fix from a pen cap, and I’m sure you’ll see to it. But I have to give credit where it’s due, I don’t mind sharing a couple minutes with that nurse when she comes by to pour my milkshake into the I.V. I haven’t caught her tag, but I’m sure her name starts with an S.
You’ll get no dark fantasy’s out of me, Doc. I’m not trying to be like that, she’s just pretty is all. If I could get a word out of her, I think I’d feel a little better about my extended stay. She’s got this proper kind of vibe about her, I think she’s good. In a weird way, it almost reminds me of Nick.
Dr. B, I don’t feel like this is going to do anything. You should know how I feel about it going in. I’ve never really been a writer. I’ve always had pretty bad grades, my brother was better. Mom was pretty fine about it, I guess, I don’t remember.
But that’s giving too much away, isn’t it Mister?
None of you have to remember this shit, and I think that’s something you should keep in mind. You wouldn’t believe half of the stuff floating in up here, and I don’t think any of you white coats could handle it if you did. Your job is to just keep me off the mix, remember? You and what you’re trying to do weren’t part of the equation. But if this is what you folks want, and if this is what Nizhoni wants, then I can put pen to paper. But watch yourself, Doc. Keep your nose to the ground and out of my attic. I’ll play along, but you need to just keep to the essentials of our agreement. After all, my aunt is paying you actual money for my treatment, and she deserves her cash’s worth.
What I can’t understand is why I bothered mentioning this to Aunt Nizhoni in the first place. I’ve been dealing with these things for years, ever since they gave me to her. She is a wonderful woman for trying to help me, but I think it would have been better if I had kept my mouth shut. I guess there had been a lot of dreams before I finally coughed up. Not even smack could get them out, they’d just wait till it’d left my system I’d have to get some sleep. It’d gotten so bad, I’d wake up just soaking with sweat, right down to my underwear.
Remembering is one thing, but dreams are a whole different ball game. Dreams like to make things bigger, make them darker. The faces get all messed up and it’s like you’re watching a movie after the film cells have been left out in the rain and mud. After just a few nights screaming into my pillow for hours and hours, shed had enough. I can’t lie to her, not when she looked so worried and scared. That lady is something else.
Oh dear, I can hear the squeaking wheels of the medicine cart coming down the hall. My fellow inmates are having a fit out there, we just LOVE our narcotics. I’ve gotta go, Doc. I’ve gotta date with a needle and a pretty face. Here’s to hoping I get a shot with the mysterious Ms. S!
Wish me luck.
Concerns and Suggestions
I was not present when our new friend, Mr. Orin Harley arrived but I have caught a glance or two over the following days. I cannot gauge any impression from our staff as they seem to just see another new face in a sea of other familiar ones. I will suggest again that the entire purpose of this institution is to give the care and respect that these people deserve and that the faculty’s interaction with patients should reflect this. A possible conference may be in order.
Regardless, I have not met with him just yet. Despite this, he has built a very strong wall to keep away from me and my work. It appears the second he found that he would be asked to relate his experiences and try to work them out, he shut down and locked the mental door. This is desperation, and desperation is a sign of weakness. He’s hurt, and he does not want someone to go trying to fix what he himself could not and leave him worse for it.
I have a scheduled meeting with Mr Harley tonight after visiting hours and I’m hoping this first session will break the ice, so to speak. I would like to explore a more friendly avenue with this patient and I would request Ms. Nizhoni Begay’s contact information so that I may grow more familiar with my subject here. The information available is less than usable. I recommend that the methadone dose stay regular and at the measured levels.
Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp
I found your little gift for me sitting here next to this notebook. I can’t say that I wasn’t surprised, you really got me.
That being said, don’t think you can bribe me with a bottle of coke, Mister. I won’t go spilling my guts for even a gallon of this stuff. But, it was still nice of you.
I gotta say, I didn’t expect you to be so young, Doc. I mean, I had a pretty clean cut picture in my head. I figured you have a mustache and a shiny chrome dome. But you can’t be but what, six years older than me? I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a nice surprise. Usually, you college types have a few more years under your belt. Guess I should be honored to be so early in your career.
Listen, I like you, bud. At least, you seem alright from the other night. After all, how bad can a fellow Cardinals fan be? Us St. Louis boys gotta stick together. (By the way no, I don’t think we’ll hit the series this year, but I have hopes for next season) But you just don’t seem to understand. I wish I could help you to get it, but you seem awfully pigheaded. Takes one to know one, huh? I don’t have but a week before my option to leave this place is up for review. I like you doc, but I’m going to wait it out until I can pack my bags and catch a bus.
Maybe a lighter subject to end with here, huh? You’ll be happy to hear that after my admittedly childish tactics, I’ve gotten that nurses attention after all. Nearly cost me an arm and a leg, believe me. I might have badgered her a bit too much, I almost got a stiff slap in the jaw. But I could tell that she wasn’t too put off. I got a peep out of her, and it was like music, doc. She told me to Shut up. A bit anticlimactic but boy did I live to hear those words.
On her way out, pushing that cart down the hall, I saw her turn back and gimme a smile. It might be just a smile, but I think my heart did a backflip. I caught her tag this time around, and her name is like flowers after rain. “Sherry”, what a perfect name. Somehow, I just think it fits her very well.
I guess it’s in poor taste to go and ask out one of the people caring for me, but if you keep your lip buttoned, I think I’d like to take her out for coffee sometime. It’s gotta be better than the stuff the nurses brew in the cafeteria. That stuff will melt your stomach like battery acid in a shopping bag. Yessir, that coke was like heaven in a bottle after drinking nothing but tap water and bad coffee all week.
See you tomorrow night, Doc.
Concerns and Suggestions
Mr. Harley is a nice boy. His manners are there, but it doesn’t take long for the bedside manner to set in. His Aunt was sure to give me a list of subjects she knew Orin was interested in and it proved to be of great use. Conversation began light, but by the end of our time together there was a comraditive sense about the room. However, I have failed to make headway in his therapy beyond baseball and casual talk.
I’ve spoken to the nurse that he refers to, Ms. Sherry Duvae. She seemed reluctant to talk about Mr. Harley, and I suppose that her involvement with a patient would be frowned upon by management. I think I’ve eased her away from that notion, or that I at least have no intention to penalize her. After some coaxing she admitted that she thought he was, and I quote, “cute.” I may use her ties to him after a bit more time, try to ease him into his rehabilitation. After all, it’s no good treating the symptom of I cannot treat the source.
He is welcome for the coke, as I’ll be sure to tell him before we start the next session. His dose is to remain stable for the next forty-eight hours and then to be decreased for the foreseeable week. I will speak to the resident pharmacist.
Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp
You play chess, Doc? You gimme the impression of someone who would. You know, I used to read those Sherlock stories when I was in school. He liked chess, and he played it a few times in the books. I figure that I’ve got time, more than enough to spare. Why not learn? If you play, I’d take a few lessons. Maybe we could have it out after the therapy thing you like so much. What do you think?
Oh, someone’s coming. Sounds like heels by the echo, I wonder who it could be? I’ve already gotten my “medicine”, don’t suppose you guys are giving me a little extra for my good behavior?
There’s knocking on my door. Bye, Doc.
So you do play, don’t you? I can tell by that feverish intent to get at my grey matter. It’s Hell or high water with you, isn’t it? You take those delicate little college fingers and slide your pieces around the board like pawns and rooks and whatever else. Well I may not know the rules too well, Doc, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize when I’m getting played.
When did you talk to her? Yesterday, after my journal? Guess I should’ve known better than to lay my cards out where you could see them. I really should have gotten a hint when she came by last night. I hope you paid for the take out, I’m sure this place doesn’t pay enough to let Nurses bring their patients fresh diner coffee and a burger with fries. See, I thought I might have just charmed her so well that she gave into my devilish good looks.
I know you asked her to do it. I’m trying to keep myself from getting angry but it’s hard when the fill meter on my I.V keeps shrinking and my brain is screaming for more mix to get my fix. You play well Doc, real well.
I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear that I did fall for it, hook, line and sinker. I guess I was too focused on her voice, and how smokey and warm the coffee was. She’s in school, did you know that? Shooting for her doctorate. She’s having trouble studying with the graveyard shifts but she’s skating by pretty well. I think we must have been an hour in before she came clean and told me that you’d put her up to it. But she ALSO said that she’d been happy to take the chance. So I guess I can’t let the blame rest solely on you, huh, doc?
My first reaction to all of it was to be pissed off, to run her out of the room and get the pity-party started up when she left. But she cut me off long before I could get a foot in. Quite the lady, here. She told me that she liked me, even if it was just a little- for now. She then said that she could make her visits pretty regular if I wanted, as long as I dropped the tough guy act and spilled the beans in therapy. I wonder who could have asked her to do something like that?
She denies it, so I’m not sure if you had anything to do with her insistence. But those damn eyes, they really got me.
You used her to get to me, that’s the rub here, Doc. Before I go on saying anything, I want you to know that that’s a strike against you in my book. No matter who you might be cheering for at a ball game, you still did a real sneaky, shitty thing. Yeah, I still got a date with the prettiest lady I’ve ever set eyes on, but it only happened because you’re too thick-skulled to take a hint.
That being wrapped up in a nice little bow, I tell you what: I want help. I don’t want to be the way I am anymore, it’s just digging into Nizhoni’s pockets and wearing my body a bit too thin. I can’t keep up with things well enough to even hold a job, and that’s why I’m here. You say this will stomp the problems out, so I’ll give you a shot. Come on and strap in, Doc. But don’t you dare question me or what I say passed this point. There is no rolling of the eyes, no queer faces, you just listen and wade through the waters. I know what I’m going to say is true. I don’t need corroboration, least of all the patronizing kind. Keep your thoughts just where they are and I’ll do the rest, got it?
Yeah, I bet you do, Doc.
For all the trouble you’re going through, you don’t seem to realize what you’re digging up. I want you to know that it’s going to hurt me to write this out. So count your damn blessings that you get to hide behind locked doors, Doc.
I hope you get as much sleep as I do tonight.
Concerns and Suggestions
I do not deny my request of Ms. Devae. To the untrained eye, this may look to be a very unprofessional act. However, Mr. Harley, at any rate, seems to agree that my method did, for all intents and purposes, succeed.
It has been forty-eight hours to this date that I have seen Mr. Harley for our scheduled session.
Nurse Devae has passed two pieces of scratch paper to me, both written by Mr. Harley to excuse himself. He says that he is writing out his memories rather than offering it verbally. He says that this avenue would be far too strenuous to attempt.
Progress is slow, but promising.
Doses are to remain at current levels until the first of November. Observation leads me to believe that he needs to ease into his sudden change.
Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp
Notice to WRC Security Manager requesting assisted entry into room 473
at the behest of Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp and Head Physician Donald O’Darren.
Patient in question has refused meals and appointments for over seventy-two hours. Further action is now required. Please act immediately to enforce the request.
It’s taken me this long to get it down. Three whole days. How many hours have I just sat with this thing folded open on the table? I can’t tell you how many times I cursed the second I spoke up to Auntie while looking down to the lines on this paper. I’m really reapin’ now, getting what I earned. I left just a bit of space to jot this down before you get to the meat of the story, what you really want to get at.
Now that it’s all finished, I don’t think I regret it. If you asked me if it felt lighter now, if I was alright, I’d have to say no. But I think in a day or two, that foggy bit of my brain will blow away and I’ll wake up a bit better.
The whole first night I didn’t even try to sleep. I guess inna weird way, I didn’t think I’d earned the right to get any. When the sun was shining out the window the next morning, I just glued my eyes to the green outside and stayed turned to the wall. If I didn’t see this stupid little book then I didn’t have to think about all of it.
I kept my door locked, I didn’t want anybody in here. Not for food, not for my fix, nothing. I don’t need anyone seeing me like this, especially not Sherry.
I guess I’m killing two birds with one stone, huh, doc? Quitting cold turkey and pouring out my stomach on a page, all for you. Now I guess it’ll be an hour or two before you guys come barging in. I’ve got the sleeping cot shoved under the door handle, tight enough that a key won’t unlock shit. I needed space and time, and I bought myself just enough.
Oh, god, my skin hurts. It feels like I’ve got sludge in my veins. I’ve been debating just slitting that big blue line underneath my wrist and just letting it out. Just for a moment without the pain, I can almost decide that it would be worth it.
We’ll see, I guess.
It was July, 1977. It was Summer. A big, rainy summer. Tons of flooding down in the lower valley. It was the morning, and my brother and I had been talking all week about faking a sick day. Passing notes during class, plotting our big scheme during recess. It was really something out of a Bond flick, diagrams and careful thinking. Cutting class, staying home. That was the jist of it, but to two little boys hankering for a short school week, it was really something heavy to plan.
Finally, after all week, the clouds had started to come around and now was the time, today was the day. I can remember the excitement squeezing my guts and being too uppity to stay in bed. Looking out the window, the sun was beating down on our yard with a big smile of yellow light and Barrie was laying in the doorway of his brick red doghouse. Inside my head, Nicks words kept running around and around. He was the brains of the whole operation, my own human computer. He said to keep your voice down and to speak really light, like it hurt to. He told me to fake the sniffles and to just do it after every few seconds, to really seal the deal. He also said that if we held our breath till our chests were fit to burst, we’d breathe real heavy and look red enough to pass for a fever.
I heard the steps on the stairs, and I knew mom was coming to wake us up and get us ready for school. I’d flown back into bed as quick as I could, pulling the covers up to my neck and praying she hadn’t heard me walking around.
She came in with her work uniform already on, and her hair was done up in a bun. She looked tired, and I don’t remember a hint of make-up on her face. She looked like an angel in that sunlight, like a museum statue.
Before she could see me, I had my eyes shut tight and slacked my jaw to give the best impression of sleep I could. I’d sniffle, let her take notice, and then be quiet for a few seconds before sniffling again. I could hear Nick doing the same, and her footsteps hurried over to our bed. I could feel her looming over our bundle of blankets. She shook us awake, and I caught her glancing down at her watch. She was going to be late, and that worked very well in our favor.
Between the heavy breathing and the puffy red cheeks, she didn’t let it slip if she knew we were faking. Her soft hand was pressed against our foreheads before we could get a word in, and I almost burst with anticipation. I don’t remember what he said, but whatever Nick was whispering to her really seemed to seal the deal. She huffed and checked her watch again, then bent back down to kiss both of us on the forehead. She smiled down at me like I was a puppy, sweetly and with care. She high-tailed it down the stairs, and we guessed it was to call the school.
Nick tried to grab me as I leapt up, probably afraid that I’d tip her off to our little game. But I didn’t stop, and pulled my steps after her so she wouldn’t hear. I just had to see her do it, you know? To really set my nerves I needed to know we’d gotten away with it all. Sure enough, I watched her from behind the stair rail as she pulled our homephone from the hook and clicked away at the number pad. She did it, apologizing to the nasally voice on the other end, and then the receiver clicked again.
This is a hard part. At least, one of them. It just comes back cleaner then a lot of that day. She was just so damn pretty, my mom.
I swear, she looked at me and smiled. The clock seemed to stop as I stared into her big, knowing eyes. I guess we weren’t as slick as we thought, huh? With that, she tucked her pocketbook under her arm and closed the mesh door behind her. I couldn’t say anything, nothing at all. I remember standing there for a while, Barrie having come back inside and licking my hand. She knew all the time. What a lady, you know?
Anyway, we faked that fever till she pulled out of the driveway, and even then we kept it up in case she came back around. But our dingy little Volkswagen buggy was long gone, off dumping blue smoke somewhere around the block.
We must have played for hours. We’d go out and sit with Barrie, eating some Peanut butter sandwiches we’d made and flipping him over for belly rubs. There was nothing much around the house, so the food left a lot to be desired. Not to Barrie, though, he’d grabbed mine when I wasn’t looking and ran into his hideout to wolf it down. After a while of pretending to be wizards fighting off goblins and stuff, we tuckered out a bit. It’d been a few hours at that point, I think. I know that the sky was mixing weird between blue and orange, like a big paint brush was mudding up the colors in the sky. We tried to walk him, you know? We knew he would like that, going out to the woods to sniff around. Barrie wasn’t too used to the woods, and neither were we. That was the exciting thing about it, doc. Two kids are harder to stop than a freight train when they set their minds to something. So we leashed him up, and pulled up our rain-boots. Nick unlatched the gate and I hauled Barrie through it. I remember the smell of leaves and dirt got stronger the closer we got to the treeline. It was thick and almost intoxicating. We let Barrie down and Nick took the leash, and then those big cottonwood trees just swallowed us up.
I’d pulled him away for something, to see a puddle or a frog maybe. There were critters on the ground, a little stream cutting through the mud like a knife through butter. It was dirty and brown, and there were dragonflies clinging to the grass that grew along it. I guess I’d found something in there, something really worth seeing at the time. If we’d been smart, then maybe Nick would’ve seen the mudslick in front of him.
I think that he heard some thunder from far off, and somehow placed his foot wrong. He went face first into the muck, and he’d let go of the harness. Barrie took the opportunity before I could even help Nick up. When we’d got him to his feet, the last noise from Barrie was his wet gallop into the woods.
Anyway, Barrie bolted away from us. Nick noticed first, he was very observant. Without saying a word he just raced into the trees after the dog. I followed, but I must’ve tripped fifty times or more. Nick disappeared into those trees, and I was left on the ground, crying over a skinned knee. I hit it on a huge tree stump trying to catch up to them, and it was bleeding right through my blue jeans. Blood makes me queasy, and I still get chills when I see it.
I tried to brave through it, and I limped along really slowly to where I saw Nick last. But the treeline was thick in this part of the forest, and the clouds were rolling in above making everything a bit darker. The tears had pulled a frog into my throat, and I screamed for him. His voice came out of there softly, and He urged me to follow, so I did. He sounded so far away, and I remember feeling very strongly that I should call him back to me. Like, that wherever he was, he was too far for comfort. We were maybe, I dunno, an hour out into the woods? This itch starting up in my head just told me to back up and head out. But I didn’t. I didn’t know what a gut feeling was, and looking back on it now maybe it was more than that. But it’s history, pure and simple.
He must have gone far, because I remember there being what felt like half an hour before I spotted him. The trees broke away eventually, after a sea of bushes and brambles. And after that I walked up on him, seeing that bright yellow raincoat slick with condensation and fresh streaks of mud. He had the dog held in his arms against his chest, and he was panting heavily. Barrie was splattered with dirt and dead leaves and he looked scared as hell. Those big blue eyes were rolling around, as if he was trying to spy a way outta here. I think I must have run up to Nick, I remember I wrapped around him so hard that I thought it’d break a rib. I was just so happy to see him, I even forgot about my knee.
He broke me off of him and I went flying back. I heard my foot hit water, and a torrent of cold liquid soaked into my pant leg. I looked back at him, almost about to cry. He was bug eyed, just staring out over my shoulder like a deer in the headlights. So I turned, and looked out at a pond that was waiting behind me. It was huge, about the size of a basketball court. The shore line was beaded with huge rocks, standing like dominoes in the mud. The water was murky, but settled.
Nothing moved, no tadpoles or water bugs, nothing.
Rising from the middle, tilted and tall, was the giant finger of a church steeple.
No question about it, I know what I saw. At the base, where it touched the water, were the beginnings of the roof. You could see an island of shingles sprouting from under the water. The paint was molded so bad that you couldn’t tell if it had been white or blue. Swaths of green, waterlogged wood shown out from the places where the paint had long fallen away.
Just before the peak, was a window opening. Inside you could see a red brown chunk of steel, rusted into oblivion. It was a bell, now just growing into the wood like ice cream melting on a stove. Then, a heavy old cross stood at the top, coated with decades worth of bird shit.
I was speechless. Nick didn’t let out a single peep, not that either of us wanted to have a chat about it. We stood staring at it for forever, and I just let this horrible wave of dread wash over me. It had a vibe around it, like a force field. If I had stepped any closer, I might have puked. It felt demented, wrong in every sense of the word. I was terrified, right to the bone. But at the same time, it was also the coolest thing I had ever seen. Kids will be kids, I guess. Something so old to someone so young has a deep effect, and for me there was a definite urge to explore.
How could we pass something like that up, you know?
We’d tied Barrie to a tree, so tight that we’d have trouble getting him off. The dog was not patient, freaking out as soon as we walked away. He was barking madly, nearly choking himself on the leash. Again, I remember those big blue puppy eyes flying from tree to tree, searching for a way out of this place.
At first, we scoured the treeline for something long and flat, something to bridge across the water or to paddle over to it with. But our luck seemed to dry up, and I didn’t like how fast the sun was dropping over the sky.
Bare with me here, doc.
There was this feverish kind of obsession with getting in this old relic, and I weighed the pros and cons in the way a kid does. So, I rolled up my pant legs and yanked my boots off. I charged into that water like I had dinner waiting on the other side, not even thinking about broken glass or rusty nails. It wasn’t so bad, the water was actually warmer than you’d think. The sun probably cooked it a bit that morning, and now I was wading through a big brown soup. I was careful to reach for the island of shingles and wood, planting my hands firmly before lifting myself up.
When I turned back to Nick with a smile, he was standing against a tree, about as far from the beach as he could be without losing sight of me. He didn’t talk, just stared at me like I was crazy. He was shaky, and the clouds were really rolling in now. I guess I didn’t take the hint. Something that I haven’t learned to do in the years after, either.
Along the side of the wall facing me, a large section of wood had been torn away. It reminded me of pictures you’d see in Pirate books, the ones where the cannonball rips through a ship’s hull like a pen through paper. Black mold crawled out from inside, grabbing along the edges of the hole. Swinging limply in the breeze were strips of cobwebs, strung across the gape in curtains. Hollow bug bodies were curled up in them, looking bleached by the sunlight.
Busy taking in the whole picture, a rotted piece of wood gave out under my bare feet.
I didn’t have time to scream. My mouth flew open and the cobwebs stuck to my tongue as I fell through. My arms and legs were swinging blindly for only a second before meeting the freezing sludge below. I felt my clothes soak to the touch and stick to my skin like duct tape. I kept my eyes closed in this new water, shoving my head up to get a nice helping of air.
The shivers came first, before fear could charge up and take me over. I took in the area, not seeing as well with the slime still coating my eyes. I remember tasting the liquid and spraying it out Into the dark. It was like a sour apple had been left in a barrel of toxic waste, and I can picture it in my head as clear as day. I could see the wood above and around, the seams between each board showing a thin ray of the light outside, but not enough to kill the shadow. Mold and mildew coated the walls like cave paintings, and it looked perfectly ancient there in the wood.
Focusing back to my situation, I was paddling in place madly, trying for my life to keep a float. I could feel my hands smack against things floating under the surface, like wet chunks of cork and paper. When my eyes could clear up, I saw them drift up into the light before riding the splashing waves into some other part of the church. I couldn’t read the print on them, the ink was blotched to hell, save for maybe one or two words on the old paper. The only words I can remember making out were “Jesus saves”. It was printed on the drenched sheets of bible paper in old english, in big letters. “Jesus saves, Jesus saves, Jesus Saves”.
Coming into the light from the dark corners, I could see a hat. It was wide brimmed, black suede. It looked like it’d been stomped on a thousand times, the color in it fading to a dark grey. It floated on the water before stopping against a long, thick glass string rising from the water. There was a mass of them, thick white cords spun from corner to corner. They turned and bent, spinning into a large hole, which led far into the other side of the room.
I didn’t question these things at the time, seeing it as maybe a growth of fungus or thick wires. But they were thick, and taut like a bungee cord stretched end to end. I saw some of the papers were glued to them, swaying limp in the foul breeze coming from the dark. My wet splashing sounds echoed back to me and I thought about the rest of the building under the water, in the dark just below me. A whole space down there, just hidden in the mud and the water. Were there pews down there? Maybe crosses and old bibles? In the way a kid would do when scared, I guess I did think about there being skeletons there too.
A smell came from the dark across from me, and I remember I had to keep myself from gagging. A dollop of hot bile came up from my throat, and I choked it back to keep breathing. It was rot, like a whole truckload of roadkill. It reminded me of vomit, but had a terrible sweet kind of after-smell. It came suddenly, and it’s warmth gave me goosebumps.
I swear there was this small, almost unbearable buzz sound. It started, and wouldn’t stop. Constant pulsing in the walls. The wires strung around the spiral were vibrating and singing in one low note. Then, I heard a large ripping sound. It was soft, like peeling masking tape from your palm. But it was heavier than that, much heavier. Like something that had been down there for so long, it’d begun sticking to the ground. Like it’s body was peeling off of it’s bed as it stood up.
Before I could hear anymore, I was scratching at the wall where I’d come in, tearing at the rotted wood in chunks. I got so many splinters under my nails that I still feel somedays like I might have missed some. When I’d found a grip along the edge of the hole, I grabbed on and pulled myself out with everything I had. I remember collapsing onto the roof outside, but being too exhausted to stop myself from rolling into the pond. I tumbled into the warmer water and half heartedly paddled toward the rocky shore.
Nick had already started to run when I’d first stepped foot outside of the steeple. Crawling onto the beach, he was nowhere in sight. Barrie was faced forward at me like he was waiting for me to get the fuck out of there. He was barking and growling and tearing at the leash with lashing teeth. I broke the branch off of that tree and pulled Barrie away, and we went home.
I’m sorry. I know this has to be an honest account. I know it needs to be everything.
I miss that dog so much. For all those years I’ve thought and thought about what I could have done to save him. But we tied him on too tight. I couldn’t fit my fingers in the knot to unloosen him, and I was too worn and small to break the tree branch. In that moment of absolute fear, all I could do was kiss him on the head a few times, and then try to catch up to Nick. I thought that maybe there was nothing wrong, that we could come back in a few minutes and get Barrie back. But my head was on fire with this horrible feeling, and I can only call it dread.
There was something coming, something I could not fight.
I tripped and fell so many times and I cried what seemed like gallons, but the pain of hitting my head or skinning a knee was nothing to leaving little Barrie behind. The running was all a blur, I wasn’t paying attention. The next thing I can remember is coming up to our white picket gate, and Nick standing there to wait for me. He was smiling, relieved and laughing. I guess I didn’t share his reaction, thinking about what I’d just done. He looked at me strange, and then he realized that Barrie was nowhere to be seen.
He stepped toward me, and I stood still. He was screaming at me, and when I didn’t answer, he started crying too. He shouted, shoved me back. I fell on my ass, just staring up at him with big puffy red cheeks. Nick said some things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I know in my heart, that kids don’t always know what they’re saying. But when Nick told me that he wished that that dog had come home instead of me, I can’t help but believe him. Call me dramatic, but I don’t expect you to understand anyway.
The sun had all but gone now, and we knew that night time was coming and mom was gonna be home soon. Nick went inside, slamming the door behind him. I didn’t move for a while. I stayed there on the ground, just hoping Barrie would come running up to me.
But he didn’t.
What did come, were the steps. I turned to hear heavy thuds on the leafy ground of the woods. Random, rhythm-less steps. Then, almost to the second that I turned to them, they stopped.
It wasn’t just them either, there were no birds or squirrels, nothing. Instead, just the sound of the trees, the branches swaying and creaking. Scared, I did get up and start toward the house. It was something in the way the trees sounded, like they were carrying some very heavy weight, bounding tree to tree.
Maybe it smelled me in that sunken old church, or maybe it smelled my kisses on poor old Barrie. But it followed me all the way back to my house, and I know now that it was my fault.
When my mom opened the door, I was sitting on the stairs, clutching the railing as tight as I could. Nick was in our room, laying on the bed with the covers up to his eyes. He was crying.
I heard the jingle of her keys, and the crumpling of a paper grocery bag. The familiar smell of her perfume wafted into the house and the kitchen light switch flicked on. My mother’s tennis shoes smacked against the tile floor and she gave a relaxed sigh, shutting the door behind her. Then, I could hear the buzzing. It was in the floors, vibrating in the stairs and the walls. Then I could hear the thuds, hitting the walls outside like a hollow baseball-bat. They started from the crest of our ceiling, and you could hear them travel rapidly to the first floor, knocking now against the glass screen doors. My mother gasped when they started, and I heard her blood-curdling scream when the glass gave way, and shattered into the kitchen floor.
I remember I jumped up, and flew down the stairs to see what had happened. I came to the screen door, now window-less, the glass spread around everywhere. The summer night blew in a warm breeze, throwing the curtains around up in a dance. I turned, the sweat coming down from my forehead, looking around the kitchen for my mother. Instead of seeing her, I could only hear a disgusting gargle of something wet. The light in the next room was flickering, and I went to see it. I stepped quickly, not thinking about bravery at all. I just wanted to see my mom.
When I came to the doorway of the living room, I stopped cold.
A warm, dark spot grew in my jeans immediately, and thick streams of tears sputtered from my eyes. I remember the urine puddling around the bottom of my sneakers, and not even thinking to scream.
My mom was hanging from the top of the doorway, her legs swaying under her white skirt. I saw the red first. Her blue shirt collar was soaked purple, and the closer the blood got to the white trim, the more red it became. Her mouth was moving, her jaw just quivering without making a sound at all.
Her pretty red lipstick shone brightly against her face now, which was growing more and more pale. Her hair was still puffy, and under the curls, her eyes stared down at me. They were fogged up, one of them now filled with blood, pooling in the bottom of the retina.
I stared then at the solid black pincers gouged into my mother’s neck. They gave way to big, furry mandibles and above them were four, solid black eyes. They looked like molten plastic, blank and empty. It was it’s head, and it’s fat brown body was massive, with four giant legs on each side latching to the wall with super strength. The drywall crumpled where the end of it’s legs had stabbed inside. It was covered in patchy brown fur that let some of it’s black, pimply skin show underneath. From its gaping, toothed maw came that smell from the church. Bile and rot and hot stomach acid. It was splotched with the black mold I’d seen in that dark place, and smelt like the biggest, meanest, nastiest thing in the whole world.
Before I lost myself, I shifted from its body, and back to the eyes. They were all pointed dead at me, as if it was calculating how I would taste, or whether or not I’d do something stupid and attack it. A slow, rubbing sound came from it’s smaller front legs, closest to the mouth. They shook and grazed each other over and over again, like when a cat bathes itself.
Finally drained of the ability to move, I fell to my knees, smacked into the floor face-first, and spilled my stomach onto the ground. The buzzing sound was blocking up my ears, and is the last thing I remember hearing. Then, I was gone.
The police didn’t let up on me until the next morning. A neighbor had apparently heard my mom scream, and called them over to check us out. They found me, pissing myself on the floor, out like a light. When they took me in, they said that they had no idea where Nick was. He wasn’t upstairs, he wasn’t in the house. They did say that they noticed a large kitchen-knife missing from the knife block, as well as a flashlight from our tool box. I didn’t know what to say, and they thought about as much.
They were small-town boys, you know? They didn’t have a lead to save their lives, and they sure as shit didn’t know what to tell little ole me. My mom, they said, was found off the property.
She was dangling from a tree, obviously deceased. She’d been coated in this fine strong wire and left there. Autopsy report says that she’d been drained, not a drop of fluids left sloshing around in there.
I haven’t found anything documenting my brother Nick’s body at all, but I have a decent idea of where it might be. I’d bet two bucks and a weeks worth of smack that he’s lying in that sunken old place. He’s probably been there now eight years.
Eight years, and I still have to remember that it was all my fault.
Letter to Head Physician Donald O’Darren
from Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp –
I understand the board’s decision in light of recent events regarding my care for Mr. Orin Harley. To the representatives in these seats I offer my sincerest apologies, and I swear to the oath that I was doing what I saw fit for my patients well-being. It has come to my attention that Ms. Sherry Devae has been terminated and is expected to relinquish her set of keys and uniform immediately. I would also offer my apologies, as I am to blame for her misconduct.
Make no mistake, it is entirely due to my influence that she did break the established rules. You can find evidence to corroborate my story within my patient notes regarding Orin Harley, included with this formal letter. I would ask you to reconsider her termination, and reassign her to her position.
As for me, I am as of now signing my resignation from the Weinwick Rehabilitation Center. I am happy to see that Mr. Harley has made a speedy recovery at the Weinwick Memorial Hospital and is eating better. This will be a strong final note to end on with my tenure as a physician in this institution. I’m sorry that I won’t be staying long enough to see his return, despite his distaste for me. I imagine his methadone levels are now in question, seeing as he did withstand a hefty 72 hour withdrawal. It’s fortunate that he was able to curb himself, no matter the circumstances. I’m looking forward to seeing his therapy journals before my departure, as it will better help to translate his situation to his new Doctor.
Dr. Wilford Bellenshamp
Excerpt from the “Portland Herald” Dated November 1st, 1985, Headline report “FIRE IN THE BOONIES” by James T. Merkin:
“Police Officials in the local border town of Weinwick were called to attention last night, and Fire Department vehicles were deployed to tangle an out of control forest fire at approximately 1 AM. Our resident reporter James Merkin was up and attem’ at the crack of dawn to get the scoop, first setting his eyes on County Sheriff Grant Wilkes, who was less than cooperative. Following the smoke, it was a long drive to nowhere. It was only after seeing the red firetrucks that I knew I’d found the right place.
See photo of flames, smoldering under the torrent from firehoses.
Without help from law enforcement this investigator used clever action to get the word in from concerned citizens, one of these being a Firearms clerk at “Callahan’s Gun Emporium”. Billy Hensley (47) told a strange story, one in which he was called to the counter before closing on Halloween night by a ragged looking young man who demanded service at the hour in question.
Quote, “A real wiry-fella, got hair like he didn’t look twice in the mirror. Didn’t give the ghost, just stuck to his order. Yeah, he was real keen on the big ones. Ledger gives receipt, sold him a twelve gauge and two heavy hand guns. Got the I.D, but my eyes are old. Name was Harley, you know, like them big bikes the long hairs like to roar around on? Yep, I’d stake a fiver on it. Name was Harley. Told him to settle down, but it didn’t do him no good.”
“For all the grief he must have been in, didn’t forget a “Thank you” or a “sir”. Nice boy, but that was the impression before this here hullabaloo. He seemed to be the unfamiliar type, maybe a tourist looking to try his hand at huntin’, even asked me just where the nearest gas station could be hidin’. I gave him the best directions I could, noticed a set of plastic nozzle canisters in his pick-up before he drove off. Seein’ all this now, I figured he gone and filled em up to set a fire.” End quote.
The suspect is described as being of Native american decent, black hair and wearing a black coat over his scrubs. Last seen driving a red 1974 Chevy Pick-up truck. It is this reporter’s professional opinion that the dust has not settled yet on this situation. A connection could be drawn between these events, and when I smell smoke, there’s usually a fire. Our phones have been ringing off the hook for hours just this afternoon with callers dialing in from the Weinwick Memorial Hospital, recalling a patient that matches descriptions of this mysterious “Harley”. Stay tuned and keep your noses to the ground, more on this story is yet to come, of that I’m sure.
Weather predictions for the coming fall week have shown an incoming…
To Nizhoni Begay, letter sent post from WM Hospital (October 30th, 1985)
How are you now, nani? I hope the cold has been good about your bones. I don’t know why I ask, as I don’t know if I’ll get to see a letter back. Guess it’s just a way to start the thing, huh? My stay with your Doctor’s didn’t go so bad, in fact, I feel better than ever. I’m telling you this because what you might hear soon after you get this letter might suggest something else. There ain’t no harm that came to me there that I didn’t cause myself. I’ve been clean for a few days now, and while there’s still an itch knocking at my door, I feel good enough to leave it alone. Not bad for a two-bit junkie, huh? You’ll be asking a lot of questions when this all is done and over and I can only answer what I think is right.
I’ve gone and done this of my own will. There’s nobody tugging my shirt collar or nothing. I have business in town, business that is long, long overdue. You’ll remember that whopper I told you a couple of weeks ago, about my mom and Nicolas. That is why I’m gone. You may not believe a word of it, and that’s alright. I wouldn’t neither. If you need to hear it again, I have this fella at the center called Dr. Bellenshamp. He can give you the short of it.
There’s a library here in the hospital, and I’ve been getting some reading done. There’s a lot of it to do, since they’ve got almost every paper between 1929 and the end of ‘nam. Did you know that more pets go missing in Ribbons county than any other in the surrounding states? Weird, huh?
That ain’t all, though. Nani, there’s a lot of kids that have just up and gone from Weinwick. I have gone through what I can, but the number hasn’t changed a bit. Almost sixteen kids have just up and vanished from their own backyards. They thought, a couple of years back, that it was a psycho just wandering the woods. But no bodies turned up, not once. The papers only started getting this kind of thing after the summer of ’77. That was the year you took me in, wasn’t it, Auntie?
Ain’t that something? You may not understand, and I may even be wrong about what I think is going on. But it can’t hurt to drop by and pay a visit, huh?
Nani, please don’t blame yourself. Staying in that place has helped me more than the heroin ever did. I’m much, much better. YOU helped me, and I love you so much. I’m hoping that I come home. At least, that If I’m not caught or worse, I can come home and hold you close and thank you in person. My mom and Nick are up there somewhere just watching and loving you for all you’ve done for me. I love you so much, Nani. I miss you so much.
Credit : Samuel Giest
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