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📅 Published on February 4, 2020

"Messages"

Written by Seth Paul

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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

It was a cold, rainy afternoon when I pulled up to the old cottage next to the beach in South Haven.  It was as run down as might be expected; after all, the family hadn’t been up there in years, not since I was a teenager at least.

A lot of kids our age had gotten Nintendos and Segas and Sonys when they were little.  My Dad got us a little dinky cabin instead, told us it was better for our minds to be out and see the world.

He may have been right, but it didn’t stop me from buying a Playstation with my own money when I had the chance.

That aside, we still loved coming out to the place, even if all it had was a few rooms barely bigger than the refrigerator that dominated the kitchen.  Two bedrooms (one of which I shared with my older brother… there were a lot of stories I could tell about how we survived each other there), the previously mentioned kitchen, bathroom, and front area that we pretty much considered the family room.  There was also the little hall that connected it all, with its super creaky floorboards that made it impossible to sneak out for snacks without waking everyone.

The reason we stopped going was twofold.  The first was that during one particular winter there, there was a bad storm, and ever since the roof leaked.  There was enough water damage that my Dad couldn’t afford to get it all fixed.  The other is that when he finally did get the money, that’s when he had his stroke, and we didn’t go on many vacations after that.

We never sold it, though, and it’s been sitting for a couple of years now, waiting for somebody to come back.  After Dad’s stroke, we were able to have a caretaker come up and make sure the place wasn’t being looted or rotting out from under us, but now that I had my social media job, I felt like the best thing to do would be to spruce the place up and make it my own.

As I walked up to the front and pushed the door open, I began to regret my decision.  The place still looked about the same, but the water and time hadn’t been as kind as I had hoped, and there was a mildewy smell that definitely needed to be taken care of quickly.

Still, it was more the memories that made me want to fight to keep it together.  This was our place, after all; part of me was etched in these walls, and I wanted to keep it that way.

But before I could move in, I definitely needed to get some Mr. Clean.

I walked back to the car, but before I got in, I felt like walking on the beach for a little bit.  It was a gray, drizzly day and the water was choppy, but even rainy days are good for remembering.  I walked out to the water’s edge and looked out, hearing the crash of the waves and of the gulls crying, the gulls always looking for somebody with a french fry or twelve to bother.

I kicked the sand, expecting to make a little scuff on the surface.

Instead, I heard a clink.

I looked down to see what looked like a bottle, buried under the sand.  Bottles aren’t exactly a rare sight along the shore of Lake Michigan (or on any of the Great Lakes, to be honest), but what was strange about this one is that it seemed to have something in it.  It had also been sealed, with a cork and a bunch of wax over the top.

I dug it out, and smiled.  A piece of paper was rolled up inside, with a ribbon around it, still dry.

A message in a bottle.  A genuine message in a bottle.

The bottle itself had to have been old; even with no label, the embossed glass read “Grape Nehi.”  I knew that was some sort of drink, but had only heard about it because someone on a TV show used to love the stuff.  I didn’t know if they still made it, but if they did, the logo wouldn’t have looked quite like that.

I went back into my car and dug out a bottle opener from my stuff in the back seat.  After a little bit of wrenching, I was able to scrape off the wax and yank the cork loose, retrieving the paper within.

To Whoever Finds This Note,

My name is Mary Hanson.  It’s the summer, 1955, and I’m 12 years old.  I’m sending out this note because… well, because I just want to see if anyone will ever find it.  I’ve been reading a lot of pirate stories lately and thought it would be cool to see what happens if I throw it in.

Whoever finds this, please know this is what was happening that summer…

The note went on.  It was a wonderful, sweet thing to read, about a summer of new beginnings; a new house, first love, puppies.  It was almost too perfect.

But it was also interesting in that the bottle washed up here, because, by all accounts, our little cottage that my Dad bought all those years ago was built by Mary’s father… or, at least, he was having it built with some help.  It sounded a lot like my own family, except that she was the older child, with a younger brother who drove her as insane as my older brother did me.  It made me wonder just how insane I was to him, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

It was the end of the note, though, that was the most interesting.  It was written with a slightly different color of ink, as if it were an afterthought…

Oh!  Remember how I said I was reading lots of pirate stuff?  There are a few more bottles hidden in places along the shoreline.  If you read this and you aren’t in China, try to find one!  I’ll give you a clue… look for a beach with a big rock, like a turtle shell.  There’s a surprise inside!

I looked up and down the shoreline… even for a 12-year-old girl, it was unlikely she would have gone more than a mile away from her house.  But who knows how much the shoreline would have changed in over 60 years?  I certainly didn’t see a turtle shell rock.

I walked northwards for a bit, keeping an eye out.  Trees grew pretty close to the beach here, so maybe the forest could have overtaken any kind of…

There.  Just at the edge of the treeline.  Something lumpy rose into the woods, but just faintly before disappearing out of sight.  Could that be the rock?

I ran up towards it.  Yes, it was, a large, round rock, pebbly on the top, just like a turtle shell.

I looked it over, up and down, trying to see if I could find a crack or indent.  I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to dig; I brought a lot of stuff with me, but a shovel wasn’t one of them.

But I didn’t; there, in a hole near the top of the turtle’s back, was another sealed bottle.  Untouched after all these years.  Excited, I grabbed it, popping it open.

If you are reading this, I hope you found the first bottle.  This one may not make a lot of sense.

I read on.  This one talked more about her parents, and how great it was that her father was making the house, but also how frustrated he was getting with how long it was taking to finish.  He had a view in his mind of a grand house, a real house with a basement and a second floor, but all he had the skill to do was make a single floor.  Because of this, he hired a handyman named Roy.  He was a younger guy, but was out of work and was grateful to be doing anything.  By the way it read, it was easy to see Mary had a crush on him, though he barely seemed to notice any of the family while he worked.

She mentioned the next bottle being located where the north ridge met the road.  Now, this I thought I could locate.  There was a sandbar that drew itself across the land, almost like a short fence, and even accounting for time, I knew there was a dirt road that wound along near the official highway.  That road was likely around in 1955, so a short hike later, and there, right where the and gave way to the hard earth of solid land, there was an old, rusty sign, a mile marker that no one probably even noticed anymore.  This time, it looked like I would have to dig, but here the earth was moist and the location more obvious, so a few scoops with my hand and there, under the sign, was the third bottle.

Excitedly, I popped this one open, too, and read…

Sad news.  Our puppy ran away.  Daddy was working on the front door when it took off down the beach.  I hope he is with a good family now, because he certainly didn’t come back to us.  To be honest, I wouldn’t blame him for not coming back.

Roy was a bit of a drinker, by the sound of it, and he wouldn’t show up to do construction until late.  Her father was getting angry, getting fed up with Roy, but there was no one else he could hire who was willing for the amount of pay he could give.  Roy barely spoke, accepting all the abuse quite willingly, but Mary saw his eyes were sad, and tired, and angry.

She then mentioned she had put the last bottle someplace special, where it would hopefully make everyone happy.

It had to be back at the house, but I had no idea where.

Walking back, I looked at it, and its homey but weatherworn appearance.  I looked it over, carefully, from the outside, trying to see what Mary might have been thinking about.

I then looked closer at the front porch.

There was a wooden lattice that covered up underneath the front stoop, which was maybe about two feet above the ground.  When we lived here, it was still in good shape, but it was now really weather-beaten and missing slats in places.  That meant it would be possible to fit under there, if I didn’t mind there potentially being all kinds of daddy long-legs and centipedes crawling on me.

I took the risk.

It was very cramped, and there were a lot of cobwebs and creepy-crawlies to avoid putting my hands on, but on the underside of the steps, I saw something interesting.  Even in the gloomy light, there was writing on the underside of the wooden step, gouged with a penknife.

Abandon all mope, ye who dig for treasure here!

I smiled at the “mope.” I dug down in the Sandy earth and pulled out what was likely the last bottle.

The last note was not what I expected.  For one, it wasn’t Mary’s writing.  Not even close.  This was an adult hand, blocky and harsh.

Know I didn’t mean to.  I came to the house too drunk.  He got so mad at me, and I just lashed out.  I forgot I was holding the hammer when I tried to brush him away.  I was so surprised when he hit the floor.  And his wife screamed.  I had to make the noise stop.  And then, the children, the children hid… I couldn’t let them tell everyone what I did…

I hid them, and months went by.  But then people started to talk, started to wonder where they vanished to.  They asked me.  I said I didn’t know, but they didn’t believe me.

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for what I did.  But I can’t take it back.

Let this be the last anyone here knows about me.  I’m using Mary’s bottle and sealing it up again.  I want to confess, but I don’t want anyone to know.  Not yet.  Let me rebury them, and then I will be on my way.

Roy Castle

I crawled back out of the crawlspace, breathing heavily.  Rebury them?  What was he talking about?

I went back into the house, the mildew stench still heavy in the air.

I looked around the house, into the kitchen, the bathroom, the back bedroom.

On my way to the bedroom, the floorboards creaked under my feet in the hallway, dipping even more than than they ever had, with water damage and age.

I stopped.

I went back to the car and got a hammer from my things.  I didn’t bring a shovel, but I brought some other tools to fix things up.

I dug the claw of the hammer under the wood and pulled.  It came out easily.

I looked down into the earth floor below.

I ran from the house and called the police.

The house was investigated, then taped up, then inspected, then condemned.  I guess the caretaker didn’t do as well with it as I had hoped he would.

My Mom was disappointed, but she was able to sell the land, which should help with my Dad’s continuing medical bills.  It’s just as well… my memories of the place are tainted, but he certainly doesn’t need what nostalgia he has left to be destroyed.

But that day is burned in my mind for more than one reason.  Having read the bottle, I had a horrible feeling of what I might find before I actually saw it.  But it still didn’t prepare me.

For one, I remember keeping all of those bottles on me, and was ready to turn them over to the police.  But only the one I found on the beach and the note under the porch were there.

I looked far and wide for the others, but they were gone.  Vanished.

I would have assumed they just fell somewhere while I was busy, but I don’t think so.  It’s because of what I saw under the floorboards.

I know Roy didn’t run away.  He was there, under the house.

I could tell which of the five skeletons down there was his.  His was the one whose arm was reaching upwards, his jaw hanging open, with three of the other skeletons wrapping their arms around him. And I could tell which one was Mary’s.

She was the one whose skeleton sat away from the others.  At peace.  A small, ratty pen still in one hand.  In the other, a hammer.

And the nails.  Nails that covered the earth.  Some which had been driven into the wood.

Driven into it from the underside.


Credit: Seth Paul (Chilling Tales for Dark NightsFacebookTwitter • Amazon)
Edited by Craig Groshek

This story is a CTFDN Original, produced in collaboration with audio horror group Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, which has been making quality horror since 2012. For more original stories and audio horror tales, visit their official YouTube channel or their Simply Scary Podcasts network today.

Publisher’s Note: The authors request that anyone who desires to narrate, perform, or adapt this story to any other format, or feature it on a YouTube channel, podcast, or other platform, contact them for permission before doing so. Use of the author’s work without this permission is strictly prohibited. You may reach the authors here. Thank you!

 

🔔 More stories from author: Seth Paul


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