When my grandfather passed away during an early winter, my family scrambled to rid the house of his belongings before the first major storm. The asphalt-shingle roof of his one-story home was collapsing inward after years of neglect and most of the windows were boarded up with cheap plywood. Instead of paying for the repairs, my parents decided to leave the fate of the quaint brick abode up to mother nature. It was the first time we had visited since they relocated my grandfather to a nursing home, but the place somehow looked the same as when he lived there. We found the house stocked with canned goods, furniture, machine parts and magazines that he had accumulated over the years along with manila folders filled with receipts and tax returns. After a week of boxing and disposing, only the floorboards remained.
“I don’t get why you’re filming this,” my girlfriend Sasha said as we entered what was the living room, carrying two cardboard boxes. “I mean there’s nothing left, not even that stray tabby that he used to feed.”
“Groucho,” I replied with a slight laugh. I held my smartphone horizontal to the plaster wall and zoomed in on the floral wallpaper. “I doubt he’s alive anymore and I don’t know, it’s kind of nice to imagine the way things looked when my grandparents first moved in.”
“I guess so but are you really going to put it on your channel?”
“Maybe. It is abandoned and we haven’t uploaded anything in a while.”
“Yeah, okay, ‘we.”’ Sasha exhaled and bit her lower lip, placing the boxes by the doorway to the kitchen area. “He bought this place with the money he received from the GI Bill, right?”
“He sure did. Hey, do you think we can do a segment on the Nike missile site? It’s only about a mile away from here. The military built it back in the ‘50s and-”
“Jordan,” she said, placing a firm hand on my waist. “I hate to burst your bubble but I don’t really care. Not today. I’m sorry. I have class early tomorrow and your parents just want us to pick up the stuff that’s lying around.”
“Grad school is taking over your life lately. Do you even want to make another video?”
She shrugged and sauntered into the adjacent room. Apart from the vinyl floor tiles and storage closet, the kitchen looked unrecognizable. Not even an imprint of the stove, furniture or cupboard remained. As Sasha opened the closet door, she signaled me toward a crumpled newspaper clipping that lay on the middle shelf next to a dusty can of spam. Sasha carefully unraveled the paper, revealing three black and white images of hunters with captions sprawled underneath. In one of the images, a group of men wearing wool pants and red checkered jackets posed against a forest backdrop. The image underneath depicted a man aiming his rifle at a cat-like creature that stood on a dirt mound with pointed triangular ears and an arched back.
“‘Don Wakefield takes aim at the dreaded gla-wackus.’ I didn’t know your grandfather was a hunter. Look at that thing. It’s so hideous that it’s sort of adorable. I don’t know about those eyes though. I’ve…never heard of a-”
“I think it’s pronounced glaua-kis. At least that’s how I read the name on an urban legend website once. I had no idea that it was actually a thing though.”
Sasha adjusted her braided brown hair and flipped the paper over. The words “local hunters search for a livestock killing beast” preceded a brief blurb about my grandfather and fellow hunters chasing after a creature they called the glawackus. The author dismissed the idea as “hogwash” and suggested that the so-called “dreaded glawackus” was a fisher cat, marten or another animal of a similar stature. The locals apparently dismissed the men too but were concerned about their livestock and pets being attacked.
“Well, at least the story is somewhat legit, unlike that insane asylum you dragged me to. Are you actually disappointed by this?”
“Maybe a little,” I said, scratching my elbow. “I always saw him as a cranky old man who thought the government was going to take his guns. Now, he’s a cranky old man who didn’t know the difference between a monster and a common fisher cat. Then again… it doesn’t really look like one.”
I placed the article and my phone in the pocket of my bomber jacket and continued to search the remaining rooms. I found it odd that my grandfather believed in this creature considering his attitude toward other paranormal entities. When my cousins and I told ghost stories around the campfire, he grumbled at us to
“stop being twits” and stomped out the fire with his work boots. He also thought Halloween was a pointless holiday and turned the lights off when trick-or-treaters roamed the neighborhood. Unlike many men and women of his generation, he wasn’t religious either. He preferred the idea of “rotting in the ground” to
“spending an eternity with his wife.”
We explored the other rooms of the house but discovered nothing more than a few loose envelopes, a stale bag of M&Ms and an empty tool kit in the garage. By the time we made our way out to the backyard patio, the surrounding neighbors had dimmed their lights to a dull glow. Snow seemed to engulf the forest beyond us and obscure the path my cousins and I took to our tree fort. Sasha put her hand on my shoulder as I inhaled deeply and stared into the smoky clouds that filled the sky. As Sasha turned in the direction of the house, I was unable to move. Even though we had thoroughly rummaged through the interior, there was still so much more that I wanted to find. My grandfather lived his life in predictable, clockwork fashion. His hunt for the glawackus was far removed from the man I knew and the stories he told.
“I know this is not easy for you.”
“It’s not just that. The whole glawackus story doesn’t make any sense. It’s not him at all. My mom said he never believed in anything supernatural. Even after he lost a son, she said he didn’t want to hear anything about him being in a better place and he’s just dead.”
“I don’t think he’s necessarily but damn…”
“I know. So this whole glawackus thing doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t have to make sense right now. When my uncle died, we learned that he had a whole family we never knew about and paid money to keep them quiet about it.”
“My grandpa wasn’t like that though,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a gray striped cat limping underneath a towering evergreen. As it moved through the snow, its left hind leg trembled violently. “Hey Sash, I think that’s Groucho.”
“Did Groucho have one yellow eye and one blue eye?”
I nodded and bent down to tighten my shoelaces. Sasha whispered the words “don’t” with a slight raspiness to her voice. Groucho’s eyes shined in the dead of the night but the lingering shadows prevented me from seeing if he had any noticeable cuts or scars. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Left alone, Groucho would likely freeze or succumb to his injuries.
“He can’t survive out here. If we leave him like this, he’s easy prey. We need to take him to the animal hospital.”
I hadn’t a clue where the nearest animal hospital was but I remembered how to approach and hold him by crouching down low and gently grabbing the underside of his belly. The closer I walked near Groucho, the more his eyes widened and tail stiffened. When I came within a few feet of the cat, he began to scamper, propelling himself forward with his three abled legs. It was still too dark to see his injuries. Knee deep in snow, I extended my arms toward the cat. Just as my fingertips grazed his fur, Groucho flexed his claws and began to whimper. I stroked his fur slowly and moved fingers toward the markings in his hind leg. There were several of them, each about a quarter inch deep.
“Something mauled him,” I called out. “Can you help me calm him? He’s shaking.”
Sasha shook as well upon approaching Groucho, her face turning white like the snow beneath us. She stroked his chin as I attempted to blot the wounds with the sleeve of my jacket. This only caused the cat to whimper in a higher pitch, taking quick breaths. As I continued to blot, Sasha carefully lifted Groucho from the ground. He squirmed for a few moments before settling into her arms. She carried him around the house and into the driveway, which was illuminated by the headlights of my chevy. I could see the markings more clearly now and the thick gray clumps of fur that scattered about the area.
“There’s an animal hospital on Grove Street. It’s like five minutes away,” Sasha said, trying her best to hold the cat against her chest. He squirmed and howled despite her soft strokes around his chin. “Can you take him? He’s really squirmy and you probably know how to hold him better than I do.”
I nodded but before I could grab the underside of his belly, Groucho fell loose from her hands and scampered through the snow. He had learned to run with a limp, his three abled legs carrying him swiftly back toward the evergreens. The moment I started chasing him, the cat picked up speed and darted between two trees, letting out another howl, which was longer and more painful sounding this time. Sasha looked at me and motioned for me to run after him. I ran full sprint into the opening of the forest but found nothing but his paw prints embedded in snow. I wanted to follow the paw prints but without a flashlight or suitable battery life on my phone, there was no use.
“Maybe we could call animal control or something,” Sasha said when she caught up to me.
I shook my head. I was panting fairly heavily. “I… don’t think… they’ll do anything. I…called animal control…. to get him before. They…. said they would come…. out and take a look. They never did.”
“He’s injured though. It’s not safe out here.”
“Trust me, Sash. I know. But I also know they won’t come. If we want to find Groucho, we have to do it ourselves.”
Sasha gave me a long vacant stare, wrapping her arms tightly to her chest. She started to open her mouth to say something and then paused. Sasha was too tired and cold to argue with me about making brash decisions as we had this discussion one too many times. Whether it was breaking into abandoned buildings or sneaking into supposedly haunted locations, Sasha always argued first but reluctantly followed.
“You don’t have to come along, you know.”
“Don’t even start with that. Let’s just go.”
Under her breath she muttered something along the lines of “I’m not doing this for you.” Using the flashlights on our dying phones, we followed a narrow path into the forest lined with jagged stones and twigs that stabbed our shoes as we trudged through. Many moons ago, my grandfather told me that the path led to the town square. Overtime, the path was overgrown and naturally sealed off from civilization. On occasion, my cousins and I attempted to find out where the path led to. We found only a few farm houses but felt oddly disoriented the whole time, not knowing which way we came from on the way back. We spent hours in those woods but not by our choosing.
The further we walked, the fainter Groucho’s footprints became before they disappeared altogether. The last set of footprints gave no indication of direction. They simply vanished. Through the treeline, we could see acres of farmland. We figured Groucho might have darted toward the farmland for refuge. Many of my grandfather’s neighbors, including the dairy farmers that lived behind him, knew of Groucho as he had stumbled onto their property for sustenance and shelter. They would feed Groucho and let him rest on their front steps before he went on his way. Groucho must have been in his teens as I remembered encountering him sometime in early high school. As we pushed through the evergreens onto the property, Sasha froze and pointed to a figure a few yards in front of us.
“Oh my god. That-that.”
In the middle of the pasture lay the mangled body of a brown cow. The cow was torn at its abdomen, blood filtering into its coat, trickling up to its neck and down to its tail. The hole was about the size of a medium watermelon. Sasha screamed and shivered. I bent forward and vomited into the snow, shivering too.
“The cow, Jordan. Oh my god,” she said, still pointing, ugly tears drenching her face.
Sasha started walking toward the cow and I grabbed her by the waist. “Don’t approach it. We don’t know if what attacked it was around here. Don’t get any closer.”
“Then what do we do, Jordan?”
We stood there for the next few minutes not knowing what to do. We just held each other like we hadn’t in a long time. Sasha sobbed. I pulled her in close and struggled to think of something to say. By now, I hoped Groucho retreated far away from whatever was out there. In the distance, the single-story white farmhouse still had its front porch lights on.
“We should probably let them know,” I said. “I… really don’t know what else we can do.”
“Yeah,” she said softly, still clinging tightly to me.
We made our way up a tall hill to the farmhouse. We couldn’t help but to look back at the mangled cow a few times just to confirm what we had seen. I wondered why the cow was outdoors in the dead of winter. I wondered what got it. The description of the “livestock killing beast” from the newspaper clipping crossed my mind but it seemed too coincidental. I wanted badly to say out loud what I was thinking but looking at Sasha’s pale complexion, I knew it wasn’t the time or place. Once my roommate and best friend Zack told me that I let what I read about influence my thinking too much. Sasha made the same observation. They weren’t wrong. I once thought my apartment was haunted after watching several hours of a ghost hunting show. I wanted to believe in the supernatural more than I ever had evidence for it. Still, I couldn’t help but think of that cat-like creature with the pointed ears tearing at the cow’s flesh and Groucho’s leg. If my grandfather, a lifelong skeptic, went after the creature with an entire squad, there had to be something to it.
When we reached the farmhouse, Sasha was still pale and shaking. I was too. On the front steps of the house, I hesitated to press the doorbell, scanning the area for any sight of Groucho or another cow. When I finally pressed it, a few moments passed before a meaty arm opened the door. The man who opened it towered over the two of us, wearing blue jeans and a white tee shirt that barely fit his massive figure. The man stood there, arms folded and blinked a few times.
“I’m-sorry to bother you, sir.” I knew by the tone of my own voice that I would fumble over my words. “We were looking for our cat…and…well, it’s not our cat but a cat we used to know and we saw one of your cows through the woods and…”
“What the hell were you doing on my property?” he said coldly, still blinking as if he was trying to wake up.
“Wait… aren’t you Don’s grandson?”
I stared blankly at him and nodded. Sasha clung tightly to my arm. “How..did you know?”
“My name’s Nick. I used to bring eggs and meat to him. He had pictures of you and your mom and used to talk about you all the time. But… what the hell are you doing here and what are you doing out this late?”
“We were following Groucho.”
“What the hell’s a Groucho?”
“Do you remember that stray cat that used to visit him?”
“He used to come around and my grandpa used to feed him. He came around tonight and he was injured. His leg was mauled or something. We tried to help him and ended up chasing him here.”
The man grunted and took a few steps out onto his porch. Then, staring into the distance, his eyes widened. I could see the color drain from his large forehead. With his fists clenched and veins pulsating in his neck, he started down the hill. We looked at each other, trembling too, and followed. When he reached the carcass, he bent over it and glared for what seemed like an eternity. The longer he stared, the more color drained from his forehead. We stood a careful distance away from him and the cow.
“This is not the first time.” He spoke in a gruff, almost whispery voice. “My cows were attacked a year ago but… not like this.”
“What did it?” When Sasha asked this in the same tone, the man turned to look at her, gave her a half-smile and sighed. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
“There are coyotes and wolves out here, sometimes bears. It could have been anything, really. It’s my fault though…for not letting all the cows in.”
“What about the glawackus?” These words escaped my mouth without much forethought. They were on the tip of my tongue. Sasha nudged me in the rib cage when I said this. “I’m…I’m sorry.”
The man contorted his lips and then let out a hearty laugh to our surprise. “I haven’t heard that one in years. I’m surprised your grandpa told you that old tale, he wasn’t too proud of it.”
“He didn’t. We found an old article about him. How did you-?”
“My… father was part of the squad that hunted that creature sometime in the thirties. It was just a marmot or something but it scared the hell out of the whole town.”
“But how do you know for sure?”
Sasha nudged me again. “I’m sorry. My boyfriend believes in all this supernatural crap.”
The man shook his head and then smiled. “I don’t but that’s okay. A lot of people around here believe in it.”
“Why…was my grandpa not proud of it?”
The man shrugged. “It’s hard to say. I don’t remember much. But I think a lot of people were upset with them for starting trouble. Also, sometime in the seventies, a friend of your grandpa’s led another expedition and a couple kids got lost.”
“Look. Like I said, I don’t remember much. There was a man in the group, Arthur Hines, he took a couple of kids to search for the glawackus and all but one returned. Arthur said they went off without him, your grandfather defended him and a lot of people in town weren’t happy, especially when he got off. Your grandpa didn’t even speak much about it. My dad didn’t say much about it either.”
“Does any part of you…believe?”
The man clasped his hands together and bowed his head. I couldn’t tell whether he was sobbing or deep in thought but he stayed this way for a moment before speaking. “I wanted to. My father definitely believed and your grandfather did too. After what happened with Arthur though, they were quiet about it.”
“My grandfather didn’t believe in anything paranormal,” I felt myself shaking as I said this. “It doesn’t make any sense but if he believed in it, I think I should take that as a sign.”
Even though Sasha was behind me, I could sense her shake her head and quietly
“Go ahead.” The man knelt down and tended to his cow. “I have to take care of this. It’s getting cold. You should get yourselves home”
“We understand,” Sasha said, grabbing me by my jacket.
As we made our way back to the woods, the large man gave us a wave. Sasha was still shaking her head.
“What? What is it? What is your problem?”
“Nothing,” she grumbled. “You were just kind of selfish.”
“Really, Jordan? This poor farmer’s cow gets attacked and you make it about you and that stupid Glawackus. I know you just lost your grandfather and you are going through a really tough time right now but you can’t see what’s in front of you. We could have offered to help him.This is his livelihood. You don’t seem to care, do you?”
“You don’t get it, Sasha. I do care and I care enough to realize that what happened to that poor man’s cow is a result of what my grandfather was looking for all those years ago. What happened to Groucho was too. Do
I know for sure? No. But I know that the marks on Groucho and the mauling on that cow isn’t the work of some coyote or bear.”
“I’m done with your stupid urban legend crap for the day. Let’s just get back to the car.”
“What about Groucho? You saw what happened to that cow?”
She sighed and kicked up some of the snow on her shoes.
“Groucho is the only happy thing I have left to remember my grandfather by.”
“That can’t be true.”
“It is true. If he dies, I feel like I am losing that last memory of my grandfather.”
We stood in silence together and struggled to find our words. A miserable breeze passed through us. We shivered and stared ahead at the long path ahead of us. Further down the path, we couldn’t see any lingering lights from nearby houses. The path ahead was consumed by darkness. I stared into Sasha’s honey brown eyes for a long while before she whispered the words “okay” and started down the path. I grabbed the back of her shoulder. She stopped, looked up at me and smiled. Then, she placed a cold, trembling hand in mine.
“You know I don’t want to take anything away from you, right?”
“It just always seems to get like this with you, every trip we go on, every abandoned place we enter, every moment you interpret as a ghost or an orb on your phone-you’re so invested and I wish I could be. I wish I could be as emotionally invested as you are.”
“This is different.”
“If you say so.”
I shrugged and we continued down the path. I called out Groucho’s name a few times but I only heard the echo of my own voice carry into the night. Sasha and I came to a point where a large metal fence blocked off the end of the path. The metal sign on the fence read “private property.” On the other side of the fence, I saw the cat in a small bank of snow. Groucho was pawing at the fence now with his abled paw, his mangled one was buried a few inches in.
“Jordan, he looks really bad. Can you get him?”
“I’m…going to try. I…don’t want to startle him.” I knelt down in the snow. He stared at me with his large green eyes. He was purring loudly. I didn’t know if he was purring because he was happy to see me, hurt or a little bit of both. I poked my fingers through a small hole in the fence and touched the pink beans on his paws. He didn’t move. He rubbed his cheeks against the fence.
“I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Okay, boy?” It was a promise I didn’t know if I could keep but at that moment, I didn’t care. “Sasha, come to where I am and pet him. I’m going to try and climb the fence.”
Sasha nodded. She knelt down to where I was and poked two fingers through the fence. With my eyes on the small cat, I stuck my fingers through the rings in the fence and began to climb. Though it stood only four feet from the ground, I made sure to climb slowly as Groucho started to rub his cheeks against Sasha’s fingers, tilting his head and closing his eyes. As I launched myself over the fence, I heard something howl in the distance, only it was more like a screech than a howl. Groucho, eyes widened, tail puffy and enlarged, darted to the right of the fence into the woods.
“You have to climb the fence, Sasha. We have to find him.”
“Jordan…it sounds like a coyote. We could get hurt.”
I was convinced it wasn’t. I knew arguing with Sasha would be pointless though, so I gestured for her to climb over. From the pocket of my jeans, I pulled out a black switchblade. I turned the knob on the handle, revealing the blade. Sasha groaned and shook her head.
“Oh god. Why do you have a switchblade on you?”
“You’ve been dating me for how many years? I’ve had it since I was an Eagle Scout.”
“Too many, apparently,” she mumbled. “Do you think you’re going to defend yourself against a coyote with a switchblade? Groucho’s clearly fast and good at hiding. We can go tomorrow. ”
“He might be dead tomorrow. And that’s not a…forget it. Just climb over the fence.”
Reluctantly, Sasha climbed the fence. As she jumped, she tore part of the jacket on the jagged fence rings. I managed to grab a hold of her waist but her weight combined with the force by which she fell forced us into a snowbank. The snow engulfed us. Before I could ask Sasha if she was okay, we heard the awful screeching reverberate through the forest.
“It’s a coyote, Jordan,” she said, standing up and brushing snow from her body. “Haven’t you heard a coyote cry before?”
“Yes. But this is worse, much worse.”
We heard the screech again, a screech so awful it sliced my ear drums and churned my stomach. The screech, wherever it came from, whatever it came from, sounded like the screams of someone being tortured over and over again. This screech put the cries of a coyote on the same level as a kitten’s meow. What followed the screech was a combination of howling and hissing.
With my knife still wielded, I darted into the forest, not knowing or caring at that moment if Sasha was following me. As I ran, I forced myself through razor pine leaves, over serrated stones that stabbed my sneakers. When my body hit a branch, I felt myself fall into the darkness and tumble down a long hill. I tried to tuck my body, but the stones and fallen branches penetrated every inch of me on the way down. Halfway through my fall, I heard what sounded like Sasha’s screams or maybe the creature’s screams. Then, my body came to a hard stop against something solid.
My whole body aching, I looked up at a stone, cracked bird bath that marked the property of a small brick house covered in moss. The house looked like it had been unoccupied for years. The windows had no blinds and reflected the total blackness from within. I brushed myself off and looked up toward the hill where I could see only rows of trees. I patted both pockets, realizing I had dropped my phone somewhere on the hill. I could no longer hear anything beyond a cool breeze and some rummaging in the woods above.
I had to find a way to call Sasha. I had no idea how far I had fallen or in which direction. I scanned the area to see if there were any other houses nearby. The brick house, however, was only surrounded by woods. As I ran toward the front of the house, the snow drenched my feet up to my ankles, which throbbed and felt like metal weights dragging me down with every step. To the right of the house, I saw a small figure standing with its back against the wall, looming in the shadows. Reluctantly, I stepped closer to see a dark-skinned boy wrapped in a wool coat wearing a red ski cap. He looked no more than eight or nine.
I glanced at the windows above the boy. They were filled with even more blackness than the others. The boy titled his head in the opposite direction of me. His back was stiff. His hands were stiffer. His large brown eyes fixed on that spot in the distance and never wavered. He must have heard me because he put a finger to his lips.
“Shh. You’ll scare it,” he whispered, his voice small and trilly.
“Scare what?” I knelt down to his level and lowered my voice. “What…am I going to scare?”
“I… forgot the name of it,” he murmured, eyes still fixed on that spot in the distance.
“Who told you about it?”
“The man I am here with.”
“What’s his name?” I didn’t have time to process what was happening in front of me. My first instinct was to protect the boy. I didn’t know what I was protecting the boy from or from whom, but something told me he wasn’t supposed to be there and he wasn’t safe.
“What’s his name?” I whispered.
“I forgot that, too.”
“Are you…are you okay?”
The boy looked down. I put an arm on his tiny shoulder. After a long time he shook his head. Forgetting that I didn’t have my phone on me, I tapped my pocket and swore under my breath. The boy smirked.
“What’s…your name?” I asked again. “Did he take you here?”
Silence. I gripped the switchblade from inside my pocket and looked over his shoulder at whatever he expected to come toward us. I couldn’t leave him alone but I didn’t know what I could say to make him move. So, I stared at the boy and continued making conversation.
“Did he tell you about the… glawackus?”
“Yes,” he said softly.
The boy was breathing very heavily now. I was too. With two hands on his shoulders, I guided his body toward me. He didn’t resist. He didn’t look at me though. His eyes fixed on the snow. As interested as I was in what the boy would have to say about the glawackus, the words “he shouldn’t be here” played over and over again in my mind. The reality of the eight-year-old boy alone in the dead of the night and an old kidnapper made me absolutely nauseous and spiked my adrenaline. I was not going to leave his side.
“I…know you don’t know me,” I whispered. With these words, he looked up. “But you are not safe here. My name is Jordan. My…girlfriend and I were looking for a cat tonight. I got lost and…I found you. We can bring you-”
He shushed me again and crouched low to the ground as the window to the house slammed open. I crouched low with him too and held onto him tightly. Clutching the blade in my pocket, I whispered for the boy to stay “low” as I rose to my feet. When I sprang up, the window slammed shut again.
“He knows you are here,” the boy whispered from his crouched position. “He said…I got to look for it alone or it will get me.”
“Listen to me,” I said softly but firmly. “We are going to run as fast as we can toward those woods.”
“That’s where it comes from,” the boy said. “He told me not to move.”
I swore again under my breath. This time he did not smirk. He did not move. At that moment, the house lights flickered on.
“We are going to run, okay?”
He nodded and bit his lip.
I grabbed his tiny hand, which was frigid. At that moment, I thought about running to the road but wasn’t certain where the road would lead to. I also wasn’t certain that I could handle running full speed with an eight-year-old in the snow, up a hill. When we started running, he tripped into the snow.
“Where do you think you are going with my friend?” said a voice that carried from the house. The voice belonged to that of an elderly man but seemed otherworldly the way it croaked and echoed. “Peter, don’t go with that man. It’s not safe in the woods.”
Mortified, I reared my head to see an elderly man standing on the brick patio in front of the home. He was too far away to discern any facial features other than a round, bald head, but close enough to see the frail outline of his skeletal figure draped in an oversized plaid shirt and black dockers. His body was so tiny that the wind could blow it away at any moment. Yet, he stood there menacingly, his sagging lips curling into a smile.
“My name is not Peter!” the boy suddenly screamed, bouncing up from the snow. He grabbed tightly onto his arm, squinting.
I pulled out the switchblade from my pocket and flicked the blade upward.
“There is no need to do that,” his voice cried. Then, his cry morphed into a menacing whisper that carried just as clearly. “Now, let my friend Peter go.”
“My name is not Peter!” he shouted again. “It is Jonah and you know it.”
“This is what is going to happen…” I felt my words and entire body tremble as I spoke. “Jonah is going to come with me and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.”
My words didn’t phase the old man. He stood in the same stance, sagging lips in a mutated smile. “Don’t go into the woods, Peter.”
“My name is Jonah!” he shouted again.
“We’re going to run now,” I said, quietly. When my eyes met his, I could tell by the way that they widened that he knew the graveness of the situation. “I will be right behind you. ”
As Jonah ran toward the opening in the woods, I stared back toward the house, my knife still drawn. The man was gone now. The house was completely dark. I hesitated for a moment before I caught up with Jonah who was standing at the foot of the hill, staring at the endless snow above us. Placing my switchblade back in my pocket, I knelt down toward him, asking if he wanted help getting up the hill. He nodded. Then he climbed on top of my shoulders. Without hesitation I began to climb, holding tightly to his sneakers. The weight of the boy and the incline of the hill tired me quickly, but I pushed on and with every passing sound, I held on tighter.
When we were far enough up the hill and away from the house, I started to ask the boy some questions about how he was feeling and if he was doing okay. He either said nothing at all or spoke with a brief “yes” or a “no” to my questions. When I could see the top of the hill, I asked Jonah how he got there.
“I don’t know. I was sleeping. Then I was in the house.”
I swallowed deeply and struggled to find my words for the next question. “When did you get there?”
“Today, I think.”
“Did… he bring you there…”
“I…don’t know. It was really dark and…he was really old and scary.”
“Can you think of anything about his name?” I asked again.
“He said to call him Mr. Eyes I think or Mr. Heyes or something.”
“Mr…Wait. Did he hurt you, Jonah?”
“No.He was weird. He wanted me to look for the glawckythingy.”
“The glawackus?” I murmured. “Why?”
“I don’t know. He said it was really cool and all the kids were looking for it.”
“Yeah. Other kids! He said there were other kids that were looking for the glawckythingy. Then he started calling me Peter. But name’s not Peter. It’s Jonah.”
“Did… you see the other kids?”
“No. He said they got lost looking for the glawckythingy and that I could find them. I was scared of the glawckythingy though. I didn’t want to look for it but I didn’t say nothing.”
Although the hill was no longer in sight, the old man’s voice carried from the bottom of the hill.
“Peter! Come back here Peter!”
“Don’t say anything,” I put a finger to my lips and motioned for him to kneel next to me.
“Peter! Where are you Peter?” the voice called again.
I could tell Jonah was suppressing his instincts to shout “my name’s not Peter!” again at the voice. He clenched his small fists by his sides. A cold breeze blew over us. Underneath my leg, I felt something solid poking from beneath the leaves. It was my smartphone. Its screen was cracked. Its battery drained to two percent. Ten missed calls flashed across the screen from Sasha. When I was sure that the voice was not in our range, I called Sasha.
“Sasha,” I said, lowering my voice immediately after. “I need you to call the police and. I-I have a little boy with me. His name is Jonah. He’s been…send them to my…”
Before I could finish my sentence, my phone’s screen drained to black. I reached my arm out to where Jonah would be but he was gone. I sprang up and immediately screamed his name, turning around in dizzying circles, not thinking that the old man would hear his name too.
“Jonah! Jonah!” I screamed once more, breathing heavily. “Oh my god. Oh no. Jonah, can you hear me?!”
Only the deafening silence of the wind answered the sounds of my wailing and terrified sobs. In that panicked moment, a memory came to me of the time I got lost in the woods behind my grandfather’s house when I was Jonah’s age. I remembered my grandfather telling me to look for any light in the distance that looked like a house light. I wondered if Jonah had been told the same thing. With nothing left to lose, I started running toward a faint light that glimmered in the distance. I forced my aching body far enough up the hill until I actually saw the boy chasing a small, shadowy figure with a swooping tail.
“Jonah. What are you doing?” I called. “Stay right where you are.”
“It’s the glawckythingy. It’s the glawckythingy!”
I felt my heart sink in my chest as the boy swooped down to grab the dark figure that stood no more than a couple feet tall with its pointed ears and arched back. “Jonah. Don’t touch that! Jonah.”
As I sprinted the rest of the way toward him, I saw the boy leaning by Groucho who was now even more scratched up than before, missing several patches of fur. He purred as the boy knelt down to pet him.
“Oh, Jonah. That’s…that’s a kitty. He’s very nice. His name is Groucho.”
“Are you sure? He’s kind of ugly.”
“He’s hurt. He’s…never mind. This path. We’re on the path that will lead us back.”
I picked up the wounded Groucho and held him over my shoulder with my left hand and held Jonah with my other with his tiny grip. The three of us walked cautiously down the path until we saw Sasha looming in the distance. As soon as Sasha saw the three of us, she ran toward us. Standing behind her was the farmer with his rifle in hand. Sasha threw her arms around me and Groucho while Nick knelt down to check on Jonah. Sasha told me that the police were on their way and that they thought they knew the name of the missing boy. Jonah was shaking now, so was Groucho. John took off his jacket and put it on the boy and then gave her a scarf to tend to Groucho’s wounds. The cat was purring on my shoulder but still visibly shaken.
“Is your name Jonah Williams?” Nick asked the boy softly. The boy nodded and turned to us. “There was an amber alert out for him about a month ago. I don’t know how he got all the way from Windsor. Jonah. Do you know who took you?”
The boy shook his head. “His name is Mr. Eyes.”
Nick’s face drained to a ghostly white. “Do you… mean Mr. Hines?”
The boy nodded.
“I thought he was…” I said.
“Oh my god,” Sasha whispered.
“He called me Peter but my name’s not Peter. It’s Jonah!”
“Is there anyone in your family named Peter?” Nick asked.
The boy shook his head.
“How about Pete…” Nick said after a moment.
“I think I got a grandpa Pete.”
The three of us exchanged the same wide-eyed look.
“Does your grandpa have the last name?”
“Pete was the only one who made it back from Arthur Hines trip. He looked just like his grandson. He…never said anything about what happened. The police couldn’t get anything out of him so Arthur got off.”
Nick couldn’t say anything more before a swarm of police officers stormed our way with flickering flashlights. There were well over a dozen of them and a few armed SWAT team members as well. A redheaded female officer escorted Jonah down the path. A male police officer asked the three of us to come with him. In no time, the path behind my grandfather’s house was full of police activity and German shepherds barking in the distance. As we came within eyesight of the house, we saw squad cars line the street as well as several news crew trucks. Time moved in images too rapidly for me to process and by the looks of Sasha and Nick, it seemed the same for them as well.
The three of us waited for the officer by my grandfather’s house but he hurried back into the woods at the call of his name. In the driveway, the female officer let go of Jonah as he rushed into the arms of a man with long dreadlocks and a woman in a puffy brown coat. The family hugged and cried as a wintry mix fell over them. I stroked Groucho gently while Sasha wrapped an arm around my waist. We watched the police futile attempt to keep the news crew at bay by drawing caution tape over the end of the driveway. We stood in silence while the crew pushed their way toward the family. Shouts and barks echoed increasingly louder.
“So Pete never said anything?” I asked after a very long time.
“Not a thing,” Nick said. “Who knows what that old creep did to him. Who knows what he saw.”
For the rest of night, one moment blurred into another, from the hour worth of questioning back at the station to the hour after waiting at the animal hospital for Groucho to be stitched up. For most of those moments, we were silent. For the moments that we weren’t, we listened to Nick’s stories of my grandfather and what little he knew about Arthur Hines. Arthur was the one who led my grandfather on the expedition all those years ago to find the dreaded glawackus. Arthur was one the one to convince him what they saw was really it. He was my grandfather’s right hand man and my grandfather trusted him to a fault. What happened to the children was a shame too great for my grandfather to carry, a shame he never spoke of again.
After our fifteen minutes of local news fame, we barely spoke about it either. The officers never found Arthur Hines that night or the house he lived in, despite the pleas from us and the Williams family to keep looking in the area. After a couple more months, they stopped looking altogether. The news coverage of the investigation died with the case file. We ended up giving Groucho to the family once he had fully healed. It provided them with a brief happiness seeing their son happy but eventually, that happiness had turned to bitterness when the public and authorities forgot about the case altogether. Eventually, they stopped returning our phone calls and social media messages. Sasha and I didn’t blame them for it. We were just sad there was nothing more that we could do.
Our shared sadness carried through the spring until one day we received a phone call from Nick that he had found something on his farm.
“I woke up to screaming last night. These were awful coyote-like screams, even worse followed by chewing noises. They came from the path.”
“Did you…find anything?”
“Yeah…” he said slowly. “When I got there, I found a pair of bloody dentures just lying in a fist-sized paw print surrounded by a bunch of half foot prints from a boot or something. It was the weirdest thing. It was like someone fell there. But… there was nothing else or no one there except a few loose strands of white hair.”
Credit: Tristan Mason
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