Estimated reading time — 18 minutes
(The following was found in an envelope on a bus bound for Chicago)
My name is Jason Grimes and I am writing this so that when the room is eventually opened people will perhaps understand the things they find within it. And so that I will not be thought of as the madman that part of me already fears I am.
It all began with the reading of the will. My mother (My only living parent left) had passed away due to a heart attack in her New England home. Her body had been found by one of the women who came to clean every few days and the news had not come as a shock to any of the family. She’d had two previous heart attacks, and with her smoking and drinking, she wasn’t exactly in the best of health.
It had been a surprise that she wanted me to have the old family home though. I’d never exactly had much love for the place and had moved out the first chance I got. Honestly, I hadn’t been expecting to get anything in the will, given how long it had been since we’d even spoken, I was surprised that she hadn’t written me out, the way she’d tried to write me out of the family’s history by removing any pictures of me from the house.
I certainly didn’t plan to keep that creepy, rundown old place. But at the same time, I knew that there was a chance it could fetch a bit of cash on the market if someone put a little work into fixing it up and as I was currently between jobs it might be a worthwhile use of my time. I got my brother and our cousin to come over and help with fixing it up, which they happily agreed to do.
There actually wasn’t as much work to do as I had first thought as the house seemed to be in better repair than I remembered it being. I guessed that my mother, cheap as she was, had still finally been forced to actually get someone in to fix up some of the bigger problems the house had. There was still stuff that needed repair and a new coat of paint but it only ended up taking about a week or so in the end.
It was during this time that I first found it.
Now I didn’t have the best memories of the old place, given how long it had been since I had stayed there. But one of the first things I noticed while I was walking along the ground floor hallway was that there was a door that hadn’t been there before. I stared at it for a few moments, more out of confusion than anything else before trying to push it open. It wouldn’t budge an inch.
I asked my brother if he knew what might be down there and he shook his head, saying that he’d not even noticed it before now. My cousin said that she’d noticed a big, old fashioned looking key in the keyhole of the door the last time she’d come round to visit but she had no clue where it might be right now. I shrugged, not really thinking much of it at the time, just figuring that I’d had to get someone to bust the door down at some point before I got the house sold.
The room none of us WANTED to go in was Emerson’s. It was weird, seeing all his old toys and coloring books still there, as if our mother had been trying to bring her son back by clinging on to the past. Emerson had always been our mother’s favorite, the one who she’d lavished all of her attention on and I saw that she had stuck his drawings up all over the place. Drawings of pirate ships and odd, comical-looking figures with strange designs.
My brother told me that when he’d stayed for dinner, our mother would still set a place for Emerson as if she expected him to just show up out of the blue. Missing for all these years and she was still expecting him to come wandering through the door…
That first night I spent alone in the house I didn’t sleep very well. Crazy as it sounds I kept thinking that I heard noises in the house, people talking to each other. I must have checked each and every one of the rooms a good dozen times only to find each and every one of them empty. I even checked to see if I’d left the TV on but it was still unplugged.
I would go back to bed and then, after a little while, the noises would start up again. Sometimes I was sure that I could hear music as well. It was around four in the morning that a thought occurred to me and I went to the locked door in the hallway, pressing my ear against it and listening closely. I was sure I heard what sounded like a muffled tune coming from within.
The next day I went into town to buy some food, and after the events of last night, I also bought a hammer to knock that old door down. It was while chatting with the cashier that I learned something unsettling about the neighborhood that I had temporarily moved into.
I had casually brought up where I was staying after he commented on me being new around here and told him that I was planning to try and sell up. He’d let out a short burst of laughter before looking embarrassed about it and when I’d asked him to explain had said the following:
“No one with sense is gonna buy that dump. No one with half a brain would buy ANY house within ten miles of that place” he said, not looking up from the groceries he was packing away.
“Why not? It seems like a nice enough neighborhood,” I had replied.
“Because of all them kids going missing, of course.”
He’d gone on to explain that for the past few years there had been a sudden and disturbing rise in the number of children vanishing from their homes in the area. There had been search parties formed, the police and the FBI had gotten involved but nothing had turned up. The kids had vanished from their homes with no signs of forced entry or struggle and no evidence left behind as to who might have been responsible.
People were trying to move away as fast as possible but there were few who would buy a house in the area once they heard about what was going on. No one wanted to move to a place where a child kidnapper/killer was active.
I have to admit the story kind of creeped me out. Knowing that something so strange was going on near where I was staying made the odd goings-on of the previous night seem even more unsettling to me and so as soon as I got home I decided to bust that door down. My neighbor, a fairly nice young woman named Charley who I’d gotten to know, was working on her home’s front lawn when I got back and noticed the hammer in my hand as I headed towards the front door of my home. Not really wanting to be alone when I broke the door down I gave her an abridged version of events (Leaving out the odd noises of last night) and asked if she’d like to join me in finding out what was in the room.
“Mysterious locked door? Very Scooby-Doo,” she said as I grinned.
“Sure. I’ll be Fred, you be Daphne” I replied, happy to have someone with me, her presence making the nervousness I had felt while listening to the cashier’s story start to fade a little.
“Trust me; I’m more Velma than Daphne”
Once inside the house, I packed away the various groceries, pouring drinks for myself and Charley before we went to the white door. It only took a few swings from the hammer to smash it open, the lock breaking beneath the assault and the door swinging open. Behind it was a staircase, leading down into a darkened basement below. I stared in confusion at the stairs, not believing what I was seeing. Our house didn’t have a basement, I was sure of that.
And yet suddenly I seemed to recall seeing this before. I could remember playing with Emerson one day, daring each other. Emerson had always been afraid of pretty much everything and I, in the way of older brothers everywhere, had taken far too much pleasure in tormenting him. I seemed to remember the two of us stood at the top of this staircase, me daring him to go down into the dark while calling him a chicken.
‘C’mon Emerson,’ I had been saying to him. ‘You have to go inside…’
Charley and I began to descend the old, creaking steps towards the basement, the hammer still clutched tight in my hands. I didn’t know what we would find but I knew that I felt better being armed with something that could do some damage. As we reached the bottom of the stairs Charley began feeling around for a light switch, finding one after a few moments and flicking it on. The room was instantly illuminated, revealing what was within.
“Oh my god! Look at all this cool stuff!” Charley cried out.
The basement was full of puppets.
There were dozens of them, all lined up on various shelves all in very good repair as if they were brand new. There were puppets of all shapes and sizes, some of them being very human-looking while others were Muppet-like animal creatures and others were more monstrous. There were props from what looked like the set of a kids show I guess. None of it had any dust on it, as if someone had been down to tidy up just moments before.
I could guess what all of this was from but what it was doing down here I had no idea.
“What IS all of this?” Charley asked as she picked up one of the puppets, a guy with a massive mustache and a monocle over one eye. She grinned, playing around with him, moving his limbs up and down.
“My brother used to work on a kids show, years ago. ‘Pirate Place’, I think it was called. Only ran for a couple of years before it got canceled. I guess this stuff is all the old puppets and sets from the show” I said as we looked around at the room. My eyes fell on a creepy-looking skeleton puppet with a really weird mouth and a top hat upon its head. Ugly looking thing, I thought to myself at that moment.
“No way! Do you have any idea how much some of this stuff might be worth? Collectors pay a FORTUNE for things like this on eBay” Charley said, setting the puppet down gently on one of the shelves.
I glanced around at the rest of the contents of the room. Apart from the puppets and the set pieces, there was an old sewing machine set on a desk that was otherwise completely bare. There was no sign of anything that could have been the source of the tune that I’d heard before. Deciding that I must have imagined it, probably due to lack of sleep and being back in the old place, I did my best to forget about my fears and concentrate on the opportunity before me now.
There was just one thing that troubled me as I looked around. On the desk the sewing machine was set on there were several odd red stains spattered over it. As I stared at them I was sure, out of the corner of my eye that the odd-looking skeleton puppets head had twitched in my direction.
The next few days went by without anything odd happening really. I put the puppets up on eBay and had a few people come to view the house. The only thing that was strange was when one couple viewed the basement. All of the color drained out of the husband’s face when his eyes fell on the skeleton puppet and he just turned, left the basement and then the house. He went to the car, started it up and sat there until his wife joined him (after apologizing for his rudeness) and the two drove away.
Later that night I was sure I heard the old sewing machine in the basement. I wanted to go down and check and yet at the same time looking at that darkened doorway I suddenly felt very frightened. And when there was a knock at the door the sudden noise almost made me jump out of my skin, my head jerking to the side towards the source of the noise. Taking a moment to steady my nerves I walked to the door, opening it cautiously to see Charley standing there.
“We need to talk,” she said.
She explained that she’d mentioned to a friend of hers about the find in the basement a few days ago. When she’d brought up the name ‘Pirate Place’ he’d gone quiet and asked for her to describe the puppets. He looked afraid, she said, as if he’d just seen a ghost. He had told her to move house, to get away from me and from those ‘Damn things’ as he referred to the puppets, growing increasingly hysterical as the conversation had gone on. He’d repeated over and over that it wasn’t safe to be around them that ‘They could see you through them’. He’d rambled at length about ‘Physical avatars’ and ‘The signal’ none of which had made any sense to her.
Apparently he’d used to work in television and had known my brother. He said that he’d sat down with Emerson in what he called ‘The Script Room’ and then started raving about ‘Knowing where the stories came from’. Charley said that she had never seen him like this before, that he seemed to be almost psychotic. His eyes bugging out of his head, his face glistening with sweat. She had been worried that he was about to have some kind of attack.
“Was your brother involved in anything… weird?” she asked me and I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that. Emerson had always been an odd kid, no doubt about that, but I couldn’t imagine him ever provoking such a frightened reaction in anyone let alone a grown man. I asked her if he’d said why the puppets were so awful and she shrugged.
“All the stuff he was saying wasn’t making much sense. He just said ‘It’s not the puppets. It’s what made them’ and then he just got up and said he couldn’t be in my house anymore. Just ran out to his car and drove off”
I decided that as she’d shared her weirdness with me, maybe I could open up about some of the weirdness in my life right now. I explained about the odd noises, the music and the sewing machine seeming to turn itself on. And against my better judgment, we decided to descend into that pitch-black basement once again.
I’m not sure what I expected to find but I was sure that something would be wrong. So when we saw that nothing seemed to have changed or been moved I felt an odd sense of almost disappointment. I kind of wanted for there to be something strange down there, just to prove that I wasn’t imagining all of this, to prove to myself that I wasn’t going crazy.
And that’s when Charley spotted the door.
It was when she flicked off the light as we began to go up, casting one last look back into the darkness and noticed that there was light coming from somewhere. Not very bright but nonetheless a light source. Moving swiftly we shoved aside one of the shelves of puppets and felt along the ‘wall’ behind it, to confirm what Charley had believed to be the case: there was a door behind it.
“Told you this was all kinds of Scooby-Doo,” Charley said with a grin on her face, clearly enjoying herself. I smiled, which was something I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do if she wasn’t here. It was nice to have someone to share this insanity with.
We felt along the wall trying to find some way to open the door, some handle or switch to make it open. From behind it, I was sure that I could hear something. It sounded almost like music. Circus music, a cheerful, upbeat tune but also off somehow, as if there was something not quite right about it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I was sure that the puppet with the ridiculous mustache and monocle had moved. And I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I was certain of it. It was just the tiniest movement, a twitch of its head toward the skeleton puppet. ‘As if waiting for orders’ I thought to myself, and then wondered why that had popped into my head.
With a bit of work, we managed to strip away the wallpaper that was covering most of the door, revealing that it was a bright red in color, the paint chipped and flaking in places, with a small keyhole and no handle. I assumed that it just pushed inwards once unlocked or perhaps slid to the side as there was no place for a handle to have once been either.
It was then that I noticed that Charley had stopped smiling. In fact, she was staring at the door with what looked like a mix of confusion and fear, taking a few steps back from it. When I asked her what was wrong she just shook her head and made excuses to leave. I asked her if she was alright and she just told me she was tired and promised to help me try and find the key to the door in the morning. It was getting late so it was plausible enough but I knew that something was wrong here.
For the rest of the evening, I looked through Emerson’s old things in his room, looking for some clue perhaps as to what it was that had inspired such fear in Charley’s friend. For the most part it was old toys and childhood drawings, nothing of much use. There were a few things that were odd though.
It was a picture that I guess Emerson had done when he was little. There was a crude drawing of a boy sat in his bed that I think was meant to be Emerson himself. Around him were stood several figures. One was just a stick figure with a hat upon its head. Another was a portly man with a cartoonish mustache and teeth. And there was a third that was…very odd.
It was just a scribble in the outline of a person, a black, shadowy scribble. There was a circle drawn above the three figures and the boy and lines were shown coming down from it leading to the boy’s head. For some reason, looking at those lines, the word ‘Tendrils’ came into my head.
There was a picture of a red door. The words ‘WHERE THEY TAKE THEM’ were scrawled in large letters beneath it.
And the final picture was of the stick man and the man with the mustache leading several smaller figures towards a third. This one was a woman, a rather well-drawn one in comparison to the crude, basic nature of the others except for the face. The face was just two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth.
The words ‘WHERE THEY TAKE THEM’ were written here as well.
There was a message on my answering machine from Charley the next day. She said that she’d gone to stay with her girlfriend for a few days ‘Just to clear her head’ and apologized for leaving so suddenly the previous night. Her voice sounded odd, kind of shaky really, and she said not to bother with the door. She tried to sound calm and casual when she said it but there was fear in her voice. She said it was probably best to forget all about the whole thing and just cover up the basement, not even mention it to potential buyers for the house. She said it would be a good idea to take the puppets off of eBay as well.
I should have just done as she asked.
Instead I spent the rest of the day ransacking the house, searching for the key to that door. I looked everywhere with little success until, almost on a whim, I decided to search Emerson’s room more thoroughly. And there, hidden in one of his old pillowcases, was a key.
I poured myself a drink to steady my nerves, sitting down to watch the TV. I remembered the old thing never picking up much when we were little, the channels always being full of static. It seemed to be working better now at least and the news came on, talking about another disappearance in the area. A girl of twelve this time, vanished from her home in the middle of the night. I flipped through the channels looking for something a little less grim while I finished my drink
Getting up, I headed down the steps into the basement, striding toward the door, ready to open it.
The skeleton puppet was sat at the sewing machine now. I knew I hadn’t moved it and neither had Charley. And the other puppets…their heads seemed to be turned towards it, as if they were waiting for it to do something, to say something. God, it was a hideous thing, that awful misshapen mouth looking so awful. God knows why the prop designer had made it look that way.
At that moment, the words ‘To grind your skin’ popped into my head.
I put the key into the door and sure enough, it unlocked it, the door pushing inward with ease, revealing the room that lay beyond it. It was illuminated by a single dirty bulb, making the contents of the room easy to see. Dear lord the smell…the only thing worse was the sight of what was littered around the room.
Children’s shoes and clothes, some spattered with old, dried blood were piled in a heap in one corner of the room. The floor was stained with large patches of red, one of which, as I stepped into it, I realized was still somewhat fresh, fresh and sticky like soda spilled on a movie theatre floor. The room smelt of spoiling meat and burnt hair and it took all I had not to throw up as I entered it, wondering how the smell hadn’t traveled from this room to the basement.
There was a pile of old video cassettes in one corner of the room, all labelled with things like ‘Emerson’s first bike ride’ and ‘Emerson’s first spelling bee’ all old home movies I guess. But mixed in with them were tapes labeled ‘Candle Cove: Episode Four’ and ‘Season Three: Pilot Episode’. I picked up a few and noticed that there were bloody fingerprints on several.
There was a series of steps leading down further into the blackness at the rear of the room and I felt oddly compelled to go down there. How far down did this go? How was this even here, beneath my family home, without me ever knowing of it? And yet…and yet I felt like I DID know about it. Looking at those steps I felt like I remembered being in this room before. I was a child and it had been empty then and there I stood with Emerson, at the foot of these stairs.
“Emerson… you have… to go… inside,” I had whispered to him, taking delight in how terrified he looked. He had gone down into the dark and…
My head throbbed with pain. It actually physically hurt to try and remember, as if something was willing me not to. Had there been someone down there with us? I was sure I remembered there being someone in the room besides the two of us, the more I thought about it. Our mother? No not our mother but another woman. Why couldn’t I remember her face?
I began to take unsteady steps down the stairs; the more I walked the closer I got to another door, another red door. The key fit the lock of this one as well and it opened with ease. There was music coming from within now and the sound of waves crashing against the shore. I felt it pulling me towards it, calling to me like a siren song.
I had to go inside, I thought to myself. I HAD to go inside.
I wasn’t alone in this room.
I burned all the puppets later that night. Not that I imagine it matters.
They’ve been destroyed before and it hasn’t stopped them from coming back. They’re just wood and paint and cloth, nothing but a conduit. They allow them to come through, allow them to walk through the door and come here. Oh god, the door…I know where they go now…I know where they go, oh Christ, oh Jesus please help me I know where they go…
I saw it. They took me there, the way they took my brother when he was a child. They need us. I don’t know why they need us but they need us, that’s what he said. Through that horrible, misshapen mouth, those eyes rolling in his sockets wildly. They needed my brother and they need me. My family is not safe. The signal needs us. The story needs us.
The ship came to that cave. Emerson was laughing and crying at the same time as he spoke the words I knew were coming. As he told me what I had to do.
It was waiting for me.
I saw the–
(The following portion of the letter has been heavily crossed out, making it almost impossible to read. A word that may or may not be ‘Mannequin’ appears at one point in the letter and the words ‘skin’ is visible at several points in the following two paragraphs. What could be ‘Faker’ or ‘Taker’ can also be made out in the second paragraph, and ‘ship’ in the final sentence. The letter resumes…)
I ran. You may think me a coward for not helping them, not even trying to save them. But I know where the ship is taking them now. I know where the voyage leads and I know who is waiting at the end. I would pray to god but know that will do no good. I know now. I know things that no one should ever know.
I know what Emerson learned, that day the signal found him. I know the things he learned in the dark places, where the music comes from. Music played on instruments crafted of bone and organs, wrapped in flesh. It’s always there now in my head, playing on an endless loop. The signal has found me like it found Emerson that day I made him go down those stairs. Like it found our mother. I know why she did what she did. I know what she knew and I know where Emerson is. I saw him on the ship.
My god the ship…
The laughing was the worst. I wish it would stop laughing.
I have sealed up the basement but know that one day someone will go down there again. I write this so that when they discover the things I know they will find down there they will know neither I nor my mother were responsible. And perhaps so they will have the courage to do what I do not and destroy this terrible place, burn it to the ground. The only thing that holds me back is the fear that perhaps this place is not merely the door to their cage but the cage itself. If the house were to be destroyed perhaps they would be able to spread.
I wish to apologize to my family. I hope they will forgive me for what I am about to do. I hope they will understand. My brother, if this reaches you please do not go into that house. And don’t sell it. Board it up and let it stand forgotten, a creepy old building for people to stare and wonder at. Maybe that will hold them back at least.
The sewing machine is going at all hours of the day now. I know that it’s him, sewing himself new additions to that terrible cape. She lets him keep the skin, you see. He gets to keep the skin.
I am so sorry Emerson. I don’t hate you for the things you did. I wish I could help you or at least put you out of your misery. I know they won’t let you rest. I know you cannot be free of them now.
I see them out of the corner of my eye sometimes. They’re going to take me to the ship. I won’t let them. I will die the way I choose. The sea will carry my body away, hopefully far from where they can ever find it.
(This letter was found lying beside a cassette tape. The tape proved to be nothing but static although those who watched it reportedly felt a sense of ‘unease’ and ‘nausea’ when they tried to view it.
The Grimes home was searched and the belongings of over twenty-three children who had gone missing in the local area were discovered within. No trace of the children themselves was found within the house or near it, however.
The basement and the secret room were both as the letter described them. However no stairs leading down to a further sub-basement were found anywhere on the property. The puppets all also appeared to be completely undamaged, despite the claim that they had been burnt. The tapes mentioned in the letter were missing however.
Two families have since lived in the Grimes home. Neither has stayed for more than a few months, reporting strange smells, odd noises around the house and things going missing. One reported sensing something ‘Terrible’ in the basement and her children spoke of horrible dreams about ‘The ship taking them away’ and ‘The bony man from the TV’ watching them at night.
The house is now abandoned, having been purchased and then left empty by one Adrian Grimes in early 2011.
The puppets and set pieces from ‘Candle Cove’ (Mistakenly named ‘Pirate Place’ by Grimes in the letter, an early working title for the show that Emerson Grimes later abandoned) supposedly vanished shortly before Adrian Grimes made the purchase.
The whereabouts of Jason Grimes remain unknown.
Credit: Alice Thompson
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