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Estimated reading time — 112 minutes
In a past life I was a psychiatrist. Well, let me rephrase that. Before my life fell to pieces I was a psychiatrist, and a damned good one too. It’s tough to really say what makes a psychiatrist “good” at what they do, but I started in my field early, got great experience my first few years in the business and not before long I almost had more clients than I could handle. I’m not saying someone would walk into my office suicidal and do a complete 180 in one day, but my clients trusted me and felt that I genuinely helped them, so I came very highly recommended, and my rate was admittedly steep. That being said, I was used to a “higher tier” of patient.
I’m not sure how the Jennings family found me but I assume they were pointed in my direction from their previous psychiatrist, as that’s sometimes the case. Someone walks through your door that you’re incapable of helping for whatever reason so you make some recommendations. One day I got a call from Mrs. Gloria Jennings, a very wealthy real estate owner who wanted me to work with her son, Andrew. Apparently Andrew had just about worn out every psychiatrist in the state and I was essentially their last option. Andrew was your typical drug abuser, his poison of choice being heroin, and as anyone in my field can tell you these people are just a headache to deal with. If they’re not clean and scatter-brained then they’re high and not making any sense. I wouldn’t have taken him as a patient but Mrs. Jennings offered me almost double my usual rate so I couldn’t say no. It was the worst decision I’ve ever made.
I met Andrew early on a Monday morning. From experience it’s easier to catch these types before they’ve had a chance to use. Best case scenario they don’t even show up and you get a free hour, but Andrew was fifteen minutes early. He certainly looked like a heroin addict. Dark bags under his green eyes, hair disheveled, a scraggly beard growing on his face. He looked to be in his early 20’s. He was tall and inexplicably thin, and wore baggy, plain clothes that only accentuated his sharp figure. I welcomed him into my office and offered him a seat. He sat down and began rubbing his hands together and exploring my office with his eyes with darting rapidity.
For my own privacy I will refer to myself as “Doctor A.”
“So, Andrew.” I began. “I’m Doctor A. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”
For the first time he made eye contact. He hesitated for a moment and then spoke.
“Look, this is about the eight or ninth time I’ve started from scratch so I’m just going to cut to the chase. My Mom probably told you I was a drug user and I am. I use heroin and cocaine if I can get my hands on it.”
I opened my mouth to ask if he ever uses both at the same time, to explain the danger of the combination but he beat me to it.
“No, I always do them separately. I’m not an idiot.” He said.
“I don’t think you’re an idiot.” I lied. “I’ve seen a lot of users in my day. Trust me.” Andrew hadn’t stopped staring at me. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and asked the obvious next question. “Why do you use?”
“Well, on the nights I don’t want to go to sleep I use the cocaine, and on the nights I don’t want to dream, I use the heroin.” As he said this he dropped his gaze to the floor, still rubbing his hands.
“I’m sorry, the nights you don’t want to sleep you use cocaine?” I asked, just to make sure he said it right.
“That’s correct Doctor.” He said, still not looking at the ground.
“And why don’t you want to sleep Andrew?”
“Because, I don’t want to see Ubloo.” He answered, shifting his gaze back up at me, and registering my reaction to that word.
“I’m sorry, who’s Ubloo?” (Pronounced “Oo-blue”) I asked curiously.
Andrew sighed. “Ubloo is a monster I see sometimes in my dreams, who controls them.”
“And how does this, “Ubloo” control your dreams Andrew?”
“Well I don’t know if his name is actually Ubloo or if that’s what it’s fucking called but that’s all it ever says. And I know he controls them because the shit that happens in my dreams when he’s there no one would ever dream of.” He said to me, his hands finally unclasped and balled into fists at his sides.
This was starting to get interesting, and I decided to go just a little deeper down the rabbit hole and asked the gnawing question; “And what sort of things have you dreamed of?”
“Look I’m not crazy. It’s not like I just go on these huge benders and dream of this fucked up thing. I used to be a star athlete and I was on pace to graduate valedictorian before this thing started fucking with me.” He was getting visibly angry.
“I don’t think you’re crazy.” I lied again. “If I did I’d have given up and told you to just go, I’m a psychiatrist, Andrew. I know crazy when I see it.” This seemed to calm him down just a little. “But you need to understand that I need to know everything before I can make a diagnosis of how to help you, so I’ll ask again; what sort of things have you dreamed of?”
I saw him unwind, and I knew I had broken through. “Terrible things.” He said. “People and things that I love, and just the worst imaginable things happening to them.” He was staring at the floor again.
“What sort of things, Andrew?”
“One time…” He swallowed hard. “One time I dreamt that I was stuck in a cage, in a basement I had never seen before, and there were three men in masks raping and beating my mother.”
This startled me, and I flinched a bit and he noticed. I was losing him. “Go on Andrew.” I said comfortingly, masking my shock as intrigue.
“She was calling out to me, and I was crying, and every time she would cry out to me or cry for help a man would hit her, and no matter how bad she bled she kept calling out, and they kept hitting her and violating her.”
Now I’ll interject here and say that normal people do not dream these things. Dreams like these are rare even among the most severe of psychopaths, and now I was starting to understand how Andrew had gone through so many psychiatrists in just a few years. Either he was a time bomb of the most criminal psychopath in history, or he had a new sleep disorder not yet seen in my field. The pros of diagnosing a new disorder were hugely outweighed by the cons of fostering a kid who could potentially make Ted Bundy look like purse snatcher.
I was shaken up but I managed to keep it together. In these situations it’s important not to get lost in the details and just nail down all your facts first. “How do you know that Ubloo was behind this dream?” I ask him.
“Because at the end of the dream, I always hear him make that horrible noise; ‘oo-blue!'” He mimicked, high pitched like the sound a small animal would make.
“And you always hear this noise? That’s how you know he ‘controlled’ your dream?”
“I always hear him, but sometimes I see him too, but only for a second, and then I wake up.”
“I see. Could you draw Ubloo for me Andrew?” I slid him a notepad and a pen. He looked confused at first, probably because I was (to him) believing every word, but he grabbed the pad of paper and began scribbling. I looked down at my watch, twenty minutes have passed, not bad, and then out the window at the sky, which was a clear shade of blue. I heard the pen hit the table and the notepad slide back over to me. I looked down at the pad and choked my leaping heart back down into my chest.
The thing had a long, dangling snout, almost like an elephants trunk with a tongue poking out. Its face was devoid of features aside from two large upright oval eyes that were completely black. It had six limbs and a long slender torso. It was hunched down, the back and middle knees were just a little above its body, it could obviously make itself very tall if need be. The feet were circular with six appendages sticking out, in all directions, all equidistant from the others. The front two legs were considerably longer, and had just two extremely long fingers on each hand, both at the top of its hand and in the same direction. It was eerie to look at. It had no clearly dangerous features; no claws no teeth, but still I couldn’t help but feel a chill on my spine when I examined it.
I snapped out of my state and looked back up at Andrew, who was staring at me and waiting apprehensively. I think I had my diagnosis. “Well Andrew, I think I know what’s going on.”
He didn’t look at all relieved. “Oh?” He said monotonously.
“Yes, I think what’s going on here is that you’ve been lu-”
“Lucid dreaming, yeah I thought that too.” He interrupted. I sat there shocked. “You think that I had some traumatic nightmare of this thing and now whenever I lucid dream I subconsciously insert it into my mind, which triggers a traumatic scenario to play out before me.”
Rarely in my ten years of practice I have been speechless, and I sat there mouth agape. Andrew stared back at me and I watched him smirk.
“I told you Doctor A, I’m not an idiot. I looked into all of this when it first started happening. That’s why I started using. I learned that opioids can suppress lucid dreaming and in the beginning they did, but eventually he kept worming his way in, and the more I used the harder he fought to keep coming back, so I tried the cocaine to keep me awake, but I found that made things worse. I stayed up too long, and I started experiencing microsleep. I didn’t know if I was awake or dreaming, and he must have learned this. You see, when it first started I could tell faintly that it was a dream. They all had this haziness effect on my comprehension, but when I would microsleep, the dreams were incredibly vivid. He learned, Doctor A, he learned that I was more afraid of the microsleep dreams and he somehow made every dream just as clear since.”
I honestly didn’t know what to say. Either Andrew was completely and utterly crazy, or so intelligent he was incubating his own insanity. I asked the only question I had left.
“When did you first dream of Ubloo?”
“It was right after my Father died.” He said, gaze shifting back to the floor. He killed himself, put a bullet in his head when I was seventeen. The night after the funeral I dreamt that I was standing over his grave, looking down at the grass. It was normal for a bit but then I heard him, I heard him screaming from in the ground, screaming for help, asking me to dig him out, but I couldn’t move. I was frozen. I stood there and listened to him banging on his coffin lid so hard the ground was pulsing and I heard him screaming in fear but I just couldn’t move, and then I heard it, ‘Ubloo’, and I woke up.”
I sat there staring at him for a long time. While his dismissal of lucid dreaming being a possibility is impressive, it’s not uncommon for children to link a traumatic event to something imaginary to better comprehend what’s happening. I was starting to gain some traction back.
“When was the first time you saw Ubloo?” He hesitated for a half second but then he began talking.
“One time I dreamt of my dog, Buster. I was standing behind this great big fence, and I was just a kid so I couldn’t climb it. Buster was on the other side of a busy freeway, just sitting there looking at me, and I knew–somehow I knew–he was going to try to cross and come see me, and I knew he wouldn’t make it. He ran into the freeway and got hit by a car instantly. I screamed and I cried but the car didn’t stop, it just kept going. Buster was laying there broken and bleeding. I saw him try to get up, and he tried to crawl forward, and another car came speeding by and hit him again. It kept happening, I kept watching him get hit and torn to shreds by these cars, they just never stopped. That was the first time I saw him. I heard him right in my ear, ‘Ubloo!’ and then I turned and his face was an inch from mine, his huge black eyes staring right at me, and then I woke up.”
He was shaking now, and I could tell he was close to breaking down. I had to stop pushing him.
“Alright Andrew, I think this is a good place to stop today.” I stood up and walked over to my desk and got a prescription pad.
Andrew sat there and blinked at me. “You’re gonna… You’re gonna give me something to stop it?”
“For now I’m going to give you something to suppress your dreaming. Until I can diagnose where these dreams have been coming from, it’s important that you get a good night of sleep, help you clear your thoughts. I’m helping you to help me help you, get it?”
He blinked again. “Yes, I get it, thank you. They have drugs to suppress dreaming?”
“Well technically no. There’s a new drug called cyproheptadine that is used in treatment of hay fever, but one of the side effects is a suppression of dreaming–nightmares specifically–especially those induced by post-traumatic stress disorder.”
I kept writing the prescription in silence, and I could feel Andrew’s eyes on me. “But it’s not from PTSD, it’s from Ubloo.”
“I know that Andrew” I lied to him for the final time. “But it’ll work just as well at keeping Ubloo out of your dreams as well.”
This got to him. He was overjoyed and sprung up from the couch. He kept thanking me and telling me that I was the best Doctor he’s ever seen. That he finally felt like he had a fighting chance. I couldn’t help but smile at this, I guess it’s the reason I stuck with this practice after so long. I walked him to the door and shook his hand. He looked me straight in the eyes, smiling for the first time since I met him, and left my office.
That was the last time I would see Andrew Jennings alive.
A week went by and the next Monday, Andrew didn’t come in. Now normally I’d breathe a sigh of relief, tell my secretary I was heading out and grab a coffee down the street, but I couldn’t help but wonder about Andrew. I had thought about these dreams he had ever since he left, and truth be told I was almost looking forward to getting an update from him. I left my office and told my secretary I was heading out and to cancel my next appointment. In my hand I had the bill for Andrew Jennings for our last session, which had his address on it.
He was staying in an apartment building his Mother owned just outside of town. It was about a 15 minute drive from my office. I managed to slip in through the front door of the building as someone was leaving and found his name on the directory. His name was just written down on paper so I could tell he hasn’t been here long, in fact his Mother probably set him up here just so he’d be closer to my office, to ease his commute.
He was the last unit on the first floor. I made the long, arduous walk down the hall until I finally stopped at his door. I paused for a second and thought about what I was doing, but my curiosity got the better of me and I knocked loudly three times.
No answer. No sound of movement inside. After I had listened for a good while I knocked again, louder.
“Andrew, this is Doctor A. Can you come to the door please?”
Still nothing. I tried the door knob and surprisingly it twisted all the way. I felt the weight of the door lift and I could tell it was open.
I can’t tell you how long I stood there, hand on the door knob, just thinking. Thinking about how this would look; Doctor allows himself entry into Patient’s apartment. Doctor potentially finds Patient loaded on heroin, or potentially overdosed. Overdosed on heroin, but possibly the new drug he prescribed to him–a known user–just a week ago. But what was worse, was thinking about those horrible dreams he told me about, as just a piece of wood separated himself and I.
I took a deep breath and opened the door.
The first thing I noticed was that the shades were drawn, and there was no light save for a low wattage lamp in the corner. The air was stale and musky, and laid out on the table were needles and spoons and empty baggies.
I walked through the living room and saw no signs of Andrew. There was a hallway just off the wall that the couch was against. I took out my phone and turned the flashlight on. I walked down the hall slowly, my breath short and my hands shaking. There was a door immediately to my left that was agape. Carefully, I peered around the corner and shined my flashlight inside. It was the bathroom. Moderately dirty but not the worst I had seen. There were no signs of struggle, no vomit in the toilet, nothing that would indicate a potential overdose.
I let out a minor sigh of relief and turned back into the hall. There was only one door left, straight ahead. It was shut completely, all white with a silver knob. I stood there in the dark with my flashlight and looked for a light switch. These apartments were old. The switch must be in Andrew’s room, behind this door.
Realizing it wasn’t getting any easier, and swallowing my nerves I began to creep forward toward the door. Every step felt like a mile. My feet felt clumsy and my legs heavy. By the time I reached the door it felt like an hour had passed. I sat there and just stared into the bare white door, raised my hand and lightly rapped my knuckles against the wood.
“Andrew?” I asked as I knocked, the door creaking and gently swaying inward. Through the crack I could make out the faint outline of a person, and pushed the door open fully.
Andrew was on the ground, propped up and sitting in the corner, his skin pale and white, his bright green eyes staring wide at the door that I had just came through.
I stood there and stared at him in complete shock. It was the first time I had ever seen a dead body outside of a casket. It just looked so void and lifeless. I noticed blood on the carpet, and that his fingernails were split and bleeding, pried back from his finger in some places. I somehow managed to find the light switch and flick it on, that’s when I saw it.
“THE END IS THE BEGINNING”
It was carved deeply into the wood next to him. I stared at it just long enough to see what it said when the smell hit me. The most foul thing I had ever smelled, and in that moment it all set in and I felt more nauseous than I ever have in my life.
I sprinted out into the hallway and vomited immediately. I stood there bent over vomiting when an elderly woman a few doors down opened her door and gasped when she saw me.
“CALL 911!” I yelled to her, vomiting again. I heard her door slam shut and I tried to make my way down the hallway to the lobby, stopping every 20 or so feet to gag.
When the emergency responders came they pronounced him dead at the scene. They must have been used to this sort of thing because they didn’t seem too phased by it.
I gave a statement to the police and told them he was a patient of mine, and that I was checking in. They didn’t seem too suspicious and told me that if they needed anything else they would call. I left my business card with them and walked back to my car. As I started to pull out a car came screeching into the parking lot and I saw a woman get out. It was Mrs. Jennings. She was bawling and screaming and a few officers had to restrain her.
“THAT’S MY BABY! NO PLEASE GOD NO!” She yelled as she tried to fight through the policemen. I watched as much as I could bear and drove out of the parking lot. I called my secretary and told her to cancel all my meetings for the day, stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of whiskey and drove myself home. I sat there and drank in silence for a long time. Eventually I turned the ball game on and ordered some food, but when it came I couldn’t bring myself to eat.
By the time I had finished the bottle it was getting late. I stood up and stumbled down the hall to my bedroom, kicked off my shoes and fell face first into my mattress. I laid there thinking about Andrew, about his pale lifeless body propped up in the corner staring at me with those big green eyes, about his last message “the end is the beginning” echoing through my brain trying to find a rhyme or reason to it. My thoughts were growing slower and my eyelids growing heavy. “the end is the beginning” playing over and over in my head. I felt myself just listing off to sleep when I heard it. From no where and everywhere all at once.
“THAT’S MY BABY! NO, PLEASE GOD, NO!”
“I said BACK UP you fucking CUNT!” The policeman bludgeoned Mrs. Jennings across the mouth with his billy club with a sickening thwack.
I heard her cry out from the hit, and watched as her teeth flew from her mouth to the pavement, clattering at the feet of the armed police officers. They were all striking her now. They beat her down to her hands and knees and were all taking turns hammering at her back with their clubs. She was still begging them not to take her son away but they couldn’t hear, they were laughing. Laughing in a sick and maniacal tone that made my stomach turn.
Now the emergency medical responders emerged from the apartment building, wheeling Andrew out on a gurney. They pushed him clumsily down the stairs, his arm emerged from beneath the white sheet as he bounced down the first step. I watched his lifeless body bounce on the gurney until he landed awkwardly and fell off it completely, the white sheet blowing away in the wind and revealing his corpse.
“Oh, well, by all means, you dumb fucking junkie, just help yourself to a nap while we’re trying to do our fucking JOBS!” With the last word, the EMT kicked Andrew’s body in his stomach.
I watched his body jerk and fold from the impact. The other EMT was joining in now too, both of them kicking and stomping at Andrew’s lifeless corpse. I tried to yell, I tried to scream at them to stop, but while I felt my vocal cords vibrating in my chest, not a sound came out. I watch as one EMT picked up a heavy rock from a nearby flowerbed and carried it over to where Andrew’s body lay. The other EMT rolled him onto his back and I let out the loudest scream no one would ever hear as I watched the rock slam down into Andrew’s face. I heard a deep crunch and knew his skull had cracked. His head rolled to the side and faced right at me, bleeding and crushed.
Then I saw his eyes open, those big green eyes surround by a bloodshot white.
“THE END IS THE BEGINNING DOCTOR.” He said to me with his jaw half attached. “THE END IS THE BEGINNING.”
And then I heard him say it. Soft yet loud, small yet commanding, sharp as a knife yet smooth as water.
I shot up from my bed, panting and covered in sweat. I reached frantically in the dark at the bedding next to me until my hand gripped my flashlight. I turned it on and shined it around the room, darting from one corner to the other, looking for something, anything, but there was nothing there, nothing there except for the stacks of boxes that littered my hotel room.
I turned my nightstand light on and checked the time. 4:12 AM. Three hours of sleep would have to do.
I pulled open the nightstand drawer and grabbed the pill bottle from inside. It was half full, I would need to write myself a new prescription soon, which couldn’t have come at a better time because it was looking like it was just about time to move again. I opened the bottle and threw two Adderall into my mouth. I grabbed the glass of water I left out for myself and drank half of it.
I was going to have to start packing now if I wanted to make good time finding a new hotel. I stood up and stretched my legs and back. Now that I’m practically running on drugs and minimum sleep I can feel my body falling apart. I walked over to the dresser and twisted the cap off the bottle of gin from the night before. I took a long swig and cringed at the taste. I was never really a big fan of gin but it’s the easiest to conceal on your breath. When I turned to get started packing I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and froze.
My eyes sat above two dark heavy bags and were so bloodshot they almost looked red. My hair stuck up every which way in dark scraggly tufts. I had a dark shadow of hair on my cheekbones and neck that made my once tidy-kept beard look unattended.
“Jesus…” I said with a pause. “How the fuck did I get to this?”
SIX WEEKS PRIOR:
The funeral of Andrew Jennings came and went and I didn’t attend it. Part of me says it’s because I just couldn’t bear to face Mrs. Jennings, part of me says it’s because I’m terrified of Andrew himself. The week leading up to the funeral I could hardly focus on my work, I just kept thinking of what I heard that night before I fell asleep.
After another week, I chalked it up to just the booze and my imagination getting the best of me. Besides, I wasn’t even asleep when it happened, so I couldn’t have dreamed it.
I decided that I was going to go see Mrs. Jennings to give myself closure. Her office wasn’t far from mine for someone who owns half the apartment complexes in Middlesex County, and I decided that I deserved a day off after what I went through.
When I went to see Mrs. Jennings it was a cool spring day. I was nervous, very nervous. In med-school before I had to give a big presentation I would ease my tension with a shot or two, to loosen up. I did the same that morning, but I guess I should have eaten a bigger breakfast because by the time I got out of my car at her office building my head was swimming.
Inside the lobby was a cute young receptionist. I asked her where I could find Mrs. Jennings and she told me floor three, suite one, very politely. I got in the elevator with another man and we rode up together. While we stood there I heard him sniff the air twice, then look sideways at me from the corner of his eye. Fuck, he must be able to smell the booze.
When I got off at the third floor I found a water fountain and drank a few gulps. I pulled another piece of gum from my pocket and chewed it for a minute before I knocked on Mrs. Jennings’ door.
The door swung open and her eyes met mine, and almost instantly I saw them start to well up.
“Oh, Doctor A.” She said, sounding unsurprised. “Please, come in.”
She stepped to the side and let me walk into her office. Immediately I noticed that she was in the process of packing her things, and the office was practically bare save for a few papers and her computer.
“Moving out eh?” I said to her with a half-smile, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yes.” She said, shifting her eyes from me to look around the room as she spoke. “I found someone who’s going to buy all my property. Normally it would be too much but I gave them a great price. I’m going to travel and see Europe like myself and Robert always wanted to.”
“Well, that sounds exciting!” I said, a little too enthusiastically. I saw the sadness creeping up on Mrs. Jennings and continued on, changing the subject. “Mrs. Jennings, I’m terribly sorry to hear about Andrew. He was a very bright young man.”
This brought on the waterworks.
“He was.” She sobbed. “And I want to thank you, Doctor, that day when he left your office he called me and told me he felt better than he had in years. Thank you for giving me that one moment of having my son back before I lost him for good.”
She started to cry. I looked around her office nervously, and my eyes found a photograph of a young Mrs. Jennings, standing next to a tall broad-shouldered man with a big smile, and a young, handsome Andrew. At his side sat a golden retriever, who must have been Buster. I remembered the dream Andrew told me about him and shuddered. I walked over to the photograph and picked it up out of its box.
“This must be Robert, no?” I asked. She looked up from sobbing and saw the photograph in my hands.
“Oh yes.” She answered as she walked over. “That’s my Robert there, Lord he was handsome. And of course, there’s Andrew and his dog, Buster.”
A chill ran up my spine as she said his name. Something told me Mrs. Jennings knew very little if not nothing about the dreams her son was having. I looked down at the box I took the photograph from and saw a proposal to buy a property. I was about to look away when something caught my eye.
“Mrs. Jennings?” I said, not lifting my eyes from the paper
“Please dear, call me Gloria. I don’t feel like much of a Mrs. anymore.”
“Gloria, I thought all the property you owned was in Massachusetts?” She blinked at me for asking such an out-of-the-moment question.
“Well, yes dear it is.” She answered, studying my face.
“Sorry it’s just, I couldn’t help but notice this proposal here, for a property in Louisiana?” She looked lost for a second and then I saw the memory hit her.
“Oh yes, that was a property Robert was looking into. He simply adored that Louisiana house. I’m not too sure how he even found the place quite honestly. In fact, when he first started flying down there every other weekend I was all but sure he was having an affair, but when I asked if I could come with him he didn’t put up a struggle at all.” She picked up the proposal and thumbed through the pages until she found a picture and handed it to me.
The house was huge and old, with big columns that framed the front of it, and a black gated fence surrounding the yard. The windows were too dark to see through but it looked to be two stories, only wide enough barely to fit in the picture. It looked a little run down but I could see why Robert was interested in this house, it had the potential to be absolutely gorgeous.
After looking over the picture for some time I finally spoke.
“And this house…” I began. “Are you selling this as well?”
“Why, no, we don’t own it, Doctor.” She said, looking hurt by those words. “Robert passed before we could finish up the paperwork. Such a shame too because the place was lovely.”
I don’t know why but my heart sank a little bit with this.
“But Robert visited there often, right before his death?” I asked.
“Yes. Yes he did.” Gloria responded. “The funny thing is, Robert was known for closing on properties quickly, sometimes too quickly.” She said with a chuckle. “It was like he was afraid to finally go through with it.”
She watched me scrutinize the photograph of the house. “You look, interested Doctor.” She said, the chuckle returning as well. “Are you looking to make a move as well? Or get into the real estate biz?”
“Maybe…” I said trailing off.
“Well tell you what. That whole box is full of information Robert kept on that house, separated a bit amongst some other paperwork. I’m just gonna shred all this stuff so if you’re interested, help yourself.”
It took me a bit to register what she just said.
“Sure, yeah.” I finally managed to push out. “That sounds great Gloria, thank you.”
I picked up the box and slowly started walking to the door.
“Say, just for curiosity’s sake…” I started. “Who was the previous owner of the house?”
“Oh well it didn’t have an owner, it wasn’t in use when we viewed it.” She said. “Technically it’s owned by the Bank of Louisiana. Before that, it was a school.”
“A school huh?” I ask.
“Yep. If what the woman who showed us the property told us was true, it was the first all-black school in the whole state.”
I stood there for a minute. Thinking about how bizarre this whole thing was. Why was Robert looking to buy an old run-down school in Louisiana? Why this one specifically? And why wouldn’t he close on the property?
As I turned to leave I heard Mrs. Jennings call out from behind me.
“Oh, Doctor.” She said. “One last thing.”
“I won’t ask why–although I think I know–but if you’re gonna walk around on the liquor, drink gin.”
I was startled.
“Gin, honey.” She said. “It’s tougher to smell on someone. That’s what Robert used to do.”
I left that office feeling out of place. As if everything that just happened was a dream. I drove straight home and immediately started rifling through Robert’s paperwork. It was tough business at first. I wasn’t too adept at identifying real estate documents so I didn’t quite know what I was looking at at first, but about an hour in I got the hang of it.
I separated the paper work out on my dining room table. In one pile I had all the information about the house. Turns out the thing was owned by some incredibly wealthy family back in the early 1800’s. In fact, they were one of the first families to move down to Louisiana once we got it from the French. The date when they fully converted the place to a school I couldn’t find but it looked like the Bank didn’t get ahold of it until the 1960’s.
I sat back and scratched my head. I looked at the other two piles I had made. One was anything Robert had written on or used not pertaining to this house and the other was just junk. I walked over to the junk pile and started putting the papers back into the box, one by one. Halfway through the pile I got to a beat-up looking manila folder. I undid the clasp and pulled the papers out from inside it.
I thumbed through the first few pages, more rental agreements for Massachusetts properties. I was about to throw them in the box when I noticed a series of numbers on the corner of a page.
I pulled this paper out and studied it. It was a rental agreement for a studio apartment in Cambridge. As I looked over the paper more I realized that there was a check stub stapled to the back of it. The check read for $180,000.00, made payable to the Cambridge Realty Trust Company. He had paid for this property is his name for ten years. I found this odd. Why would one of the biggest apartment owners in the state rent an apartment from someone else? I dropped the envelope to the table and heard a clink. I picked the envelope back up and turned it upside down. I felt something slide down the envelope and into my hand, and when I looked, I found a key, with “Unit E335” etched into it. I looked back over to the rental agreement and sure enough, the address of the property read:
375 Broadway St. Unit E335 Cambridge MA
I froze for a half second, then frantically searched for my coat. I couldn’t tell you why I felt the urge to go see this place now, but it all just felt too abnormal to ignore. My instincts were telling me to go to there and I was going to trust them.
I got to the apartment fairly quick and bounded up the stairs. The front door was locked and I tried the key. The key fit snuggly into the lock and turned with ease. I felt my nerves leap. I entered the lobby and found the staircase. I ran up the stairs two at a time until I reached the third floor. I opened the door and sure enough, right in front of me was Unit E335. It felt like time froze, and I was just standing there staring at this door. This morning I was drunk, trying to find closure, and now here I am rifling through a dead man’s things and walking his footsteps. Who am I doing this for? Me? Robert? Andrew? I shook the thoughts from my head. It’s my day off—I rationalized—I’m just killing time playing detective.
I walked up to the door and slid the key into the lock, and turned the doorknob.
The door swung inward and I was staring into one big room. I found a light switch and flicked it on. The room was your typical studio apartment. Kitchenette and bathroom all in one big spacious area.
But there was no furniture.
The entire room was completely empty, walls bare, except for the middle of the room, where sitting there on the floor, facing me, was a safe.
I walked slowly up to the safe and put my hand against it. The metal was cool. I tried to move it and it was incredibly heavy, it must be thick.
I stood there and looked at it, pondering the peculiarity of the whole thing. Then I knelt down, and expecting it not to work, entered in three numbers.
I heard the mechanism inside click and my heart skipped a beat.
Slowly, I swung the door open and peered inside. Sitting at the bottom of the safe were two books. I picked the first one up and read the cover:
“The Personal Journal of Robert A. Jennings”
My hands were shaking. I took the book out from behind Robert’s journal and studied it. The writing was in some weird language I had never seen before. I flicked open the cover and found a folded up piece of paper. I took the paper and unfolded it and my stomach dropped.
It was almost an exact copy of the picture Andrew drew for me that day in my office. Black and white, sitting there staring into my very existence, was that terrible monster, Ubloo.
I don’t know what happened first, shutting the book or getting up to leave. I don’t know why but I couldn’t be in this room anymore. I wasn’t supposed to find these things. With the books in my arms I ran out the apartment door without even shutting it behind me. I ran straight to my car, threw the books on the passenger seat and drove straight home. When I got there I grabbed the books again and sprinted inside, looking over my shoulders the whole way. I got inside and slammed the door, ran over to my dining room table and threw the books down.
I immediately started going through the pages of this weird-languaged book. It was incredibly old and full of pictures. I got hallway through when I stopped on a page with a drawing that looked like a crudely drawn Ubloo. I frantically searched through the rest of the book but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the language so I cast it aside. I then grabbed Robert’s journal and opened it to the first page.
“My name is Robert A. Jennings, and for the past year I have been afflicted with paranormal encounters in my dreams by a monster I call Ubloo. I know how this must sound, but everything I write in here must be taken with the utmost gravity, as I fear I will not be around much longer.”
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This had to be a dream. Some sort of fucked up dream. I flicked through the next few pages and saw recordings of dreams Robert had that were absolutely horrible. Dreams of standing on the ground and watching his son jump off a six-story building, only to splatter on the pavement right in front of him over and over again. Dreams of walking in on his wife cheating on him with their neighbors, his son video-taping it and them turning on Robert and beating him senseless while his wife laughed. Dreams of his parents being burned alive while the fire department laughed and molested his wife. Terrible things. How this man lived so long with such a burden I will never know.
I quickly flipped through the pages until they were nothing but white. I stopped when I reached the end and I knew Robert had died before he could fill this journal. Slowly, I flipped backwards until I reached the last page he had written on. When I read the words I dropped the book as if it were flaming hot and recoiled a few steps back, staring at it on the floor.
The damage was done. Those horrible words etched into my mind’s eye.
“The end is the beginning”
I paced around the room for a long time and thought hard about everything that happened. Just then, I heard a noise in my kitchen. I walked in to investigate and then felt a blinding pain across the back of my skull. I dropped to the ground face first and my head felt like it had split.
“Look baby he IS home!” I heard an unfamiliar face say. I watched as a pair of black boots walked up next to my face, and lightly kicked me in the forehead. “Wakey wakey Doc!”
From the ground I could see a pair of boots. At the other end of my kitchen I saw another man, dressed all in black with a ski mask, holding a gun up to a girl’s head.
“Please Doctor A! Help me please!”
I recognized that voice from somewhere, but where?
“Shut the fuck up bitch he can’t help you!” I heard the other man say as he pistol whipped the girl in the side of the head. She began to cry.
My vision came into focus and then I realized who she was. She was Andrea, my receptionist.
“ANDREA!” I yelled, but I was then kicked in the stomach by my attacker.
“Didn’t you hear my buddy?” He said as he stood over me writhing in pain. “You can’t fucking help her.”
He took a step back and stomped, and I felt his heavy boot come down on my knee cap and felt an exploding pain in my leg. I screamed loudly and clutched at my leg, but when I did the man only kicked me again, which hurt even worse the second time.
“Please Doctor A! Please help! They said they’re going to kill me!” Andrea pleaded from the back of the kitchen.
“Bitch, I said shut the FUCK up!” I heard the thwack of the pistol hitting Andrea again and heard her sob.
“That’s right baby doll.” The first man said. “We’re gonna kill ya. But first, we’re gonna hurt ya, and then, we’re gonna have a little fun.”
“No please, stop!” I looked up just in time to see the muzzle flash, hear Andrea scream, and then almost like it surfaced from all the noise of screaming and gunfire, I heard it in the back of my head.
I woke up in pitch darkness and realized I had been screaming. My throat was sore and my shirt was soaked in sweat. I began to panic. I realized I was sitting at my dining room table and ran to the light switch. I flicked it on but nothing was there. No noise, no one in the kitchen, nothing. All at once it came back to me. How could I forget falling asleep? After I saw those words in Robert’s journal I sat down and decided to go through the rental agreements again, which were all laid out in front of me. I must have fallen asleep doing that, but how did I not remember sitting down to do this?
Then I remembered my conversation with Andrew. How Ubloo realized the he could scare him more with a microsleep dream than a normal one. How the ability to catch him off guard was more effective. I got so caught up in this theory that I didn’t even realize what was happening, but when I did, I got sick to my stomach. It couldn’t happen, it couldn’t. It wasn’t even real this isn’t real. I tried to force the thought from my head but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
Ubloo is controlling my dreams now.
I vomited on my dining room floor. This was all happening too fast.
I looked around the room frantically. I have to pack. I need to get out of here. Maybe if I run he’ll have to chase me. It’s worth a shot.
I ran back to my bedroom and began gathering my things. I ran over to my brief case and pulled out a prescription pad. I was definitely going to need this. I began packing in a frenzy before I even realized I didn’t know where I was going. But then it hit me.
I’m going to fly to Louisiana. I packed most of my things with this being the idea but I began to feel queasy thinking about it. I couldn’t bring myself to admit I was going to this place to continue Robert’s work. I couldn’t yet, I didn’t know enough.
I’ll stay in hotels along the way and do research. Read Robert’s Journal, figure out what this other book says, research that house Robert wanted to buy. I had too much work to just fly to Louisiana. I had to learn. I had to study everything Robert wrote down and knew if I was going to have a chance at getting rid of Ubloo.
6 WEEKS LATER
I pulled my bag behind me as I approached the checkout counter.
“Leaving us so soon Mr. Abian?” The girl behind the counter said to me.
“Yes, sorry but I need to get back on the road now.” I said with a smile.
“Well it was a pleasure having you. I always feel safer working here when a Doctor stays with us.” She smiled back.
I said my good-byes and headed for the door. I checked my watch. 7:01 AM. Perfect. I’ll be in Mississippi by the evening. Then I’ll be able to find a place and hopefully meet up with Eli, if he’s willing to be up that late.
I began to look up from my watch.
It will be great to finally know what that book sa-
In an instant it was gone, but I knew what I saw. I saw it. I fucking saw it right before it disappeared behind the corner of the building.
Staring at me from around a corner was a grey head with shiny skin, and two deep black empty eyes. At the bottom of that head was a long snout that dangled and whipped with his head as he pulled it back.
I stood there frozen with my bag in my hand. I stood there and I waited. I waited to wake up.
But I didn’t.
I watched the white lines in the middle of the highway disappear one by one under the hood of my car as I sped down the interstate. If I watched them long enough they would eventually just bleed into one long hazy line of white in a sea of asphalt, and then I would snap out my stare, and they would be separate again.
I reached over to the passenger side seat and grabbed my pint of gin. It’s sad how good I’ve gotten at twisting the cap off with one hand, while the other is on the wheel. I took a big swig and finished the bottle, then tossed it out my driver’s side window and heard the glass shatter in a satisfying splash.
“It had to have been microsleep.” I kept telling myself. I don’t know if I was finally starting to lose it or if I’d already drunk too much by noon and was just rambling, but I had to somehow rationalize the fact that I’d seen Ubloo, and not heard him afterwards.
In the end I chalked it up to hallucinations brought on by the lack of sleep, and told myself that I would try to get at least 5 hours tonight. For the past few weeks I’ve been running on just about 4 hours a night, or however long I can stomach those terrifying nightmares.
In my rear-view mirror I checked on the box that housed Robert Jennings’ things. Today was finally the day I would learn what that book meant. I can’t tell you how long I compared this writing to samples on my laptop for, and it wasn’t until a very blind stroke of luck that I figured out what it actually was.
I was sitting at a hotel bar in Pennsylvania when a man came and sat next to me. We made some small talk at first but I think he was scared off a bit by my disheveled appearance. We drank in silence for a few minutes and then he broke it abruptly.
“You can read that shit?” He said, all but gracefully.
“Unfortunately no.” I sighed. “In fact I’m just trying to figure out what language it is to be completely honest.”
“Oh.” He looked down at his beer and started picking at the label. “Mind if I take a look?”
“Sure, just be very careful with it.” I slid the book over to him carefully. He opened the front cover and flipped through the first couple pages.
“Well I tell you.” He began. “It’s some sort of African writing.”
My ears perked up at this.
“African?” I asked hopefully.
“Yeah I used to be a security guard at the National History Museum over in New York City. I swear I saw some shit just like this in there.”
I didn’t even bother thanking the man. I grabbed the book from him and sprinted up to my hotel room to begin working. I must have wrote damn near 500 e-mails that night, with a small sample of the writing attached, to every African history professor, museum curator and African language translator I could find an address for.
That’s how I met Eli.
Eli was a retired African history professor living in Natchez, Mississippi. The e-mail he sent back seemed a little surprised and excited all at once. He told me that this writing was an almost extinct language that he learned translating documents for a professor while studying for his doctorate. I told him that I would pay any sum of money should he help me translate this book, as long as I hand deliver it to him and he reads it directly to me. I couldn’t risk losing this book in the mail, and besides, Natchez was right on my route to the Louisiana house.
I had finished reading Robert’s Journal about two weeks ago. He wrote about the dreams, how hard the burden was to bear and how it was affecting his family life. Robert went knocking on one of his tenant’s doors, after not hearing from him (or receiving the rent) for weeks. He let himself in and found him there, wrists slit in the bathtub. Apparently a pair of his old jeans were laying on the bathroom floor, and in a pocket Robert found a picture of the Louisiana house, with the address “hastily” scribbled on the back of it. I found it curious that he made no mention of where he found the other book though.
Robert also theorized about what exactly Ubloo was trying to do. He seemed to believe it was some vengeful spirit, feeding on our nightmares or fear. Truth be told his Journal wasn’t too useful, it was simply a recording of everything he’d been through in the three years he dealt with this curse.
I snapped out of my thoughts just in time to hear her scream.
And then a big crash as my windshield spider-webbed inward. I swerved out of instinct and lost control of the car. It veered off the highway and down the embankment, throwing the woman from my hood and sending her rag-dolling across the landscape until she was stopped by a tree, and I heard her spine snap from the whiplash with a sharp pop.
My car finally slid to a stop and then I heard him.
“OH MY GOD! MARY!”
An old man was running down the embankment now over to where the woman lay.
“MARY! SWEETHEART PLEASE!”
He knelt down and cradled her head in his arms, her legs twisted into sickening shapes. He turned and looked at me, still in shock, knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel. It wasn’t until I had a half moment to collect myself that I realized the gravity of what just happened.
“BACK UP! I’M A DOCTOR!” I yelled, opening the door and running halfway over to the man.
“She’s DEAD you idiot! You KILLED her!” The old man sobbed into the hair on the top of his wife’s head.
I stopped halfway between my car and the tree. The two of them couldn’t have been younger than 70. A little up the road I noticed a car pulled off to the side. They must have broken down or gotten a flat, she was probably trying to flag me down, or maybe just standing too far into the lane.
“I’m sorry, I…” I stammered out, choking up. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“You were fucking drunk you idiot!” He snapped back at me. “A drunk just like your old man! That’s what killed him and what killed your Mother too!”
I was taken aback by this.
“No, that’s not true!”
“It is!” The old man reached behind his back and pulled out a revolver. “Look what you’ve done boy! It’s all your fault!”
And with that, he cocked the revolver, put it in his mouth, and I watched his brains splatter out the back of his head in a burst of color.
I stood there in shock, listening to the still silence of the aftermath. I scratched the back of my head and stared at the man and woman. How the fuck am I going to get out of this? I scratched the back of my head again, what an odd moment for it to be tickling like this.
Then I felt my hair ruffle. I spun on my heel surprised and scared and there he was. His long trunk recoiling back towards his head and the long black pointed tongue hanging lazily out of the end of it. He stared at me with those deep black horrible eyes. So black I could see my reflection in them, the reflection of me standing there frozen in fear. He bobbed slowly up on his legs and back down almost gracefully. His head cocked to the side just a fraction of an inch and without any movement I heard it.
I woke up to a gasp of hot stale air. The world came back to me slowly as I drank in my surroundings, and then everything flooded back at once. I had pulled over at a rest stop just outside of Natchez to take a leak and grab a coffee. I must have fallen asleep in the car.
“FUCK.” I slammed my hand onto the steering wheel.
I must have had at least 50 dreams with that thing and yet he still somehow managed to catch me off guard. I reached into my center console and pulled out the pill bottle of adderall. I threw two in my mouth and forced them down with a swig of gin.
For a second I sat there, head against the steering wheel fighting off my thoughts, and then I turned the key and started the car, and left the rest stop parking lot.
It took me about another half hour to get to where Eli lived. His house was large and old from the looks of it. His driveway was much longer than I was used to. The land surrounding his house stretched on for what seemed like forever. I guess city-living has made a place like this seem unnatural to me.
I drove my car to the front of his house and he came outside and waved. He had been expecting me, I called him when I was just about two minutes out. He was about my height but much older, in his late sixties. He had a full head of white hair and a white goatee to match it. His skin was wrinkled and he had a pair of half-framed glasses resting on his nose.
He lit up a cigarette as I got out of the car and stretched my legs.
“Afternoon Doctor.” He called from his front steps. “I must say I been mighty lookin’ forward to this book a’yours. Can’t find much that hasn’t been found a’ready, and if I have me the chance to translate some new discovery well, I guess we could call us even.”
He spoke with a thick Mississippi accent but he was understandable. He looked me over for a few seconds and then spoke again.
“My you look turrble Doctor. Long drive?” He asked me, with a tone of sincerity.
“Just a rough night.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. I opened the back door of my car and pulled the book out of its box. I shut the door and then studied the cover one last time in mystery as I walked over to Eli.
“Here she is.” I said handing over the book.
Eli took the book in his hands and pushed his glasses up to get a better look. He squinted at the cover in the sunlight for about three seconds before I saw his eyes widen and his mouth open slightly.
“Doctor.” He said gravely. “Where did you find this?”
“It was given to me by a friend.” I lied, but only half. “Why, what’s it called?”
Eli turned and stared at me for a long time, and I could almost see the gears in his head turning as he was starting to realize just why I looked so haggard.
“It’s a religious text.” He started, his voice wavering. “Written by a witch doctor from the Binuma Tribe.”
“Witch doctor?” I asked curiously. “Like voodoo?”
“Yes Doctor.” Eli turned to look at me as he spoke. “But not just any voodoo. The Binuma Tribe, and most specifically this witch doctor, are referred to in African folklore as one of the most ruthless in history.”
We stood there for a moment together on his front steps. With only the sound of the wind to keep us company.
“Well Doctor.” Eli began. “Let’s go inside, and make sure this ain’t a fake before we jump to such rash conclusions.”
We went inside together and Eli brought me to his study. He began examining the book, the text, the paper, everything. While he did this he had me running about doing various tasks for him. Pulling samples from his filing cabinets, looking up texts that he didn’t have on the internet, fetching sweet tea from the fridge. After about two hours he finally sat back in his chair and turned to look at me.
“Gosh a’mighty Doctor, this is the real deal.”
I was overjoyed to hear this. Truth be told I hadn’t even considered the possibility that this text was fake, and now that I was just minutes from answers about Ubloo, about how to stop or kill him, I finally felt a weight lift a little from my shoulders.
“So I tell you what.” Eli began. “I got a guest bed upstairs. If you have nowhere else to be you can shack up with me here and we can translate this book in—oh I don’t know—three days?”
My stomach dropped.
“I’m sorry Eli but that’s too much time.” He looked back up at me again. “I need to be back on the road by sundown.”
He looked surprised, and rightfully so.
“Hell, boy you look like you haven’t slept in days! Surely you can take one night off from the road?”
“I’m sorry but I’m running out of time.” I got up and walked over to where Eli had the book. “May I?”
“Well of course Doctor, it is yours after all.”
I flipped through the pages to the chapter I needed.
“Not anymore Eli.” I said as I got closer to the text I had to hear. “Once I leave this is yours, do whatever you like with it.”
I stopped finally on the page I needed. A crude picture of Ubloo stared up at me surrounded by text.
“Please, this is the text I need.” I said before he could ask anything.
Eli turned down to the page and read in silence for a few minutes, and as he did, I could see him understand. When he was finally done he turned and looked at me with big sad eyes.
“How long?” He asked.
“About two months.” I said back, my heart breaking with finally being able to tell someone who would understand.
“Jesus…” He said trailing off, and then; “one moment Doctor.”
He got up and walked to the kitchen, and came back with a tray. On it, two glasses full with ice, and a bottle of what looked like whiskey. I laughed, and for just a second I felt human again. Eli poured me a glass, then him, and we drank together in silence.
“So now you understand why I can’t stay.” I finally said.
“I do Doctor. Now, you might want to sit down for this, because it’s quite a long story.”
I took a seat next to Eli and braced myself, heart racing for what was coming next.
“This creature, this… thing, is called ‘Daiala Bu Umba.’”
“Daiala Bu Umba?” I asked curiously, feeling odd that these people didn’t come up with the same name both Robert and Andrew had.
“Yes, Daiala Bu Umba, this translates to ‘The One Who Shows.’”
A shiver ran down my spine as Eli continued on.
“It says here that this witch doctor was very powerful, and that his people—the Binuma Tribe—were being chased across the dessert by a rival clan. Rather than the clan hunt them down in battle, they sent their best warriors into the Binuma camp at night, and slaughtered them in their sleep.
The witch doctor was away, praying to the gods for his people to escape, but the gods had abandoned him for using voodoo to defeat his enemies, and his prayers were not answered. When he returned to camp, he found all of his tribe slaughtered in their beds, including his wife who was with child. The witch doctor was overcome with grief and hatred, and turned to his most powerful voodoo to exact vengeance on the rival clan, and abandon the gods that turned their backs on him.
He gathered everything of use he could find left behind by the raid; elephant tusks, snake skins, animal bones and anything that held any significant properties. He piled them together with the bodies of his fallen tribe and burned them all, chanting a voodoo curse all the while, a curse to be place on the rival clan, to summon a spirit that would haunt their sleep the way they haunted his Tribe’s.”
Eli stopped and looked up at me.
“Do you want me to keep going, Doctor?”
I took a sip of my whiskey and solemnly nodded.
“In a matter of days, the rival clan were all having horrific nightmares and could not sleep. They dreamt of being raided by other tribes and seeing their women and children raped and enslaved, of crops burning and dry seasons that never ended. Before long, the clan turned on each other, or took their own lives, until none remained.
But something was wrong. When the witch doctor heard the clan was destroyed he celebrated, but he continued to hear of people being afflicted by The One Who Shows. He realized that the beast he made could not be stopped, for it had an appetite for despair that could not be satisfied. One by one, people would be afflicted by the spirit, and when they died, it would pass on to another, and so on and so on.”
He stopped and looked back up at me and stared.
“Well? Could they stop it?” I asked
“It doesn’t say.” Eli said through his sadness. “It says that tribes began to exile anyone who contracted the deadly spirit, for it was impossible to fight. Leaving the spirit to be contracted by a different tribe.”
My stomach dropped entirely. Well that’s it. There’s no escape for me. I’m going to have to deal with Ubloo for as long as I live… Or as short as I live. I see now why Andrew and Robert took their lives.
My eyes began to well up and Eli poured me another glass of whiskey.
“I’ll understand if you want to get back on the road Doctor. I’ll keep translating and I’ll call you if I find anything that helps.”
I gulped down the whiskey in one shot and wiped my eyes on my sleeve.
“Thanks Eli.” I forced out. “Let me know, I’ll show myself out.”
I got up before he could stop me and headed for the front door. Before I could get down to my car Eli was in the doorway and called out to me.
“Doctor! Just where is it you’re going? If you don’t mind me asking.” He said, the sadness on his voice made the question hang in the evening air.
“To follow a dead man’s footsteps.” I answered. “That lead to somewhere in Louisiana.”
Eli stared back at me and his eyes began to well up with tears.
“Well I wish you the best Doctor. I can’t imagine the things you’ve seen and I won’t pretend to, but God bless you for fightin’.”
I nodded and opened my car door, but stopped and looked up at Eli.
“Daiala Bu Umba.” I said with a half laugh. “That’s a lot better than what I’ve been calling it.”
“What have you been calling it, Doctor?”
I stopped for a second and thought about just how silly the name I had for him was.
“Ubloo.” I said with a half-smile.
“Ubloo?” Eli looked at me confused.
“Yeah, that’s what it always says to me right at the end of a dream.” I hesitated. “Does it mean anything?”
Eli looked down at me with a stare I will never forget, a look in his eyes that I know he will never give to another man in his life, and he said:
“Yes Doctor. Ubloo is short for ‘Ubua Loo.’”
The wind blew gently between us and the grass swayed in the waning sunlight as I awaited what would most likely be the last thing I’d ever hear from him.
“It means wake up.”
I paced across my hotel room swirling a glass of gin, lost in thought. Tomorrow I had a meeting with the Louisiana Bank to view the old school that Robert Jennings had looked into. When I told them I was interested in buying the place they were a little surprised, and when I heard there was next to no interest in the place, I was surprised as well. The house, albeit dilapidated and in need of repair, was beautiful. The woman I spoke with on the phone informed me that the school had become somewhat of a local spook story for the townspeople. It was shut down when the funding ran out, and a lot of the students and their families were really upset with how the local government had chosen to send them elsewhere rather than provide additional funds. After that it went on the market, but I guess no one felt quite right about taking something that had done such good for those children. Fast forward a few bad storms and no maintenance later and the place had become a paranormal attraction, although no real activity had ever been documented there.
I took a long sip of gin and gulped it down. I couldn’t believe how accustomed to this shit I’ve become. While I wasn’t much of a drinker before, I had always had a taste for whiskey. Now this is all I can drink.
The hotel room I was staying in was dark and musty. My bank account was starting to run low now that I’ve been living without income for more than two months, and I couldn’t afford to spend lavishly. I thought about writing some prescriptions and selling them but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. While the money would be great to have, I refused to turn my back on who I used to be. Who knows? Maybe this school will offer some new information I could use to possibly kill Ubloo. Kill? I shook my head. It’s a fucking voodoo curse, how do you even kill something like that?
I put my hands against my dresser and leaned forward over my glass of gin, watching the ice cubes bobble and clink against the sides.
It came from behind me. I spun around so fast I nearly fell, and my eyes had to adjust to the rapid movement. Before me, someone was beginning to come into view.
It was Andrew.
We stood there and stared at each other. He had on a plain black shirt and jeans. His hair was messy and tangled, and his once familiar bright green eyes were replaced by balls of pure white.
“Doctor, why are you here?” He spoke again.
My words caught in my throat, but finally I managed to push them out.
“I’m trying to find a way out, Andrew. I’m trying to beat it. I’m trying to beat Ubloo.”
Andrew slowly shook his head at this.
“You can’t beat Ubloo, Doctor. You can’t.” He said. “Ubloo is always there, always waiting, always watching.”
We stood in silence, my stomach churning in depression and nervousness.
“Well I have to try Andrew.” I finally spoke. “I have to try, because I can’t let this happen to someone else, I just can’t.”
And then I saw it. It slunk out of the shadows behind Andrew with slow, almost clumsy movements. Its skin was slick and gray, pulled taut against his body, and I saw every bone and muscle twitch and move as it hobbled over on its six long legs. It had to be at least six feet tall, probably more, and this was hunched down on its knees. Its big round head and those deep black eyes stared right into me. While it had no pupils I could tell it was watching my every move, examining me. The long trunk that dangled from its head swayed back and forth as it walked, as if it hung limp. It stopped just behind Andrew as he began to speak again.
“It will happen to someone else Doctor.” His white eyes staring right at me. “There is only one way out now.”
Ubloo’s trunk reached up and pressed itself to Andrew’s ear. I then saw its long, thin black tongue emerge from Andrew’s nose and he let out a shrill scream.
I covered my ears with my hands and slumped down against the dresser.
“NO! STOP IT!” I screamed, but to no avail.
Andrew’s flesh began sloughing off his bones in sloppy chunks, dripping like candlewax and exposing his skeleton and muscle tissue. He continued screaming as his body turned to a soupy pile at his feet. I watched as his face melted and revealed his jaw bone, and then I heard a sharp twang and saw his jaw muscle snap, and the bone fall crooked at an angle, all the while screaming in agony.
“PLEASE! I CAN’T! I JUST CAN’T ANYMORE! END THIS PLEASE!”
And with that Andrew stopped, his jaw still hung open. He was nothing but a half-skeleton now, with bits of meat and entrails caught between his bones that hadn’t made it to the floor. He was frozen, and then his head snapped and turned to look at me, and the balls of white rolled from the back of his head to reveal those bright green horrible eyes. Behind him Ubloo watched all the while.
“The end is the beginning Doctor.”
And then his skeleton shattered and his remains fell to the floor in the mound of flesh and bile he left behind, and Ubloo’s trunk fell and dangled below his head, and I heard him say it.
My legs were tangled in my bedsheets like knotted wood. I laid in a pool of cold sweat, panting, staring up at the dark ceiling as the outline of a cold light fixture came into focus.
I laid there panting for a while. Once I had caught my breath I stood up and walked over to my dresser and opened one of the drawers. Inside lay a pill bottle, and beside that lay a revolver.
While I still held on hope of finding a way to rid myself of this curse, a small rational part of me remained that there might truly only be one way out of this whole thing.
I pulled out a full bottle of adderall and popped three into my mouth. I grabbed an almost-empty bottle of gin and downed the rest of it. I turned and looked around the room, nothing. I flicked the light on and checked my watch. 4:37 AM.
It was time to pack.
I made it to the bank just after 7 AM. It wouldn’t be open for another hour or so, so I pulled out one of the many pints of gin I now kept in my car and emptied some of its contents into my coffee. The first sip burnt my tongue but I just didn’t fucking care anymore. There are worse things than a burnt mouth.
I kept thinking about what Andrew said, if it was Andrew. Could it have been the Ubloo speaking to me? It made no sense. If it can tell me to wake up every damn time why would it want to fabricate a vision of Andrew to talk to me? Hearing that thing talk would be much more freaky, in my opinion.
I met the woman who was to show me the school at the door. Her name was Linda. She was middle aged with brown hair and freckles, and had a brilliantly white smile. I took the time to really clean up my appearance for this meeting. If I was going to look like someone buying this house and squeeze information out of her, I’d have to play the part. My hair was neatly combed and I trimmed down and cleaned up my haggard looking beard. I put on some of my old work clothes that I ironed the night before and even put a spritz of cologne on. Truth be told, it felt good to dress myself up a bit.
We took her car to the school, which was only a few blocks from the bank. When we pulled up I got an eerie feeling in stomach, the way you feel when you see someone you’ve only seen in pictures before. I felt like I knew this place already with the amount of studying I had done on it.
“Now it may not look like much now but this used to be a real beauty I tell ya.” She said as she walked up to the big iron gate.
She pulled a key ring from her purse with three keys on it and fumbled through them. I watched her carefully. There were two gold keys and one silver one. She settled on the silver one and slipped it into the gate’s lock. I looked up at the fence and inspected the sharp pikes at the top. It wouldn’t be ideal to climb over, but if done carefully it was certainly doable.
“The yard is a little overgrown right now, we usually send someone out to mow it once every few months, and to check in on the place, make sure no one has been messing with it.
We walked up the walkway and ascended the front steps. They creaked under our feet as we made our way to the door. From the same key ring she gripped one of the golden keys and slipped it into the lock. The door opened inward and she began heading in.
“So, here we have the foyer and as you can see there’s an old open floor with high ceilings, which is all the rage nowadays.” She said as she shut the door behind me.
The house truly was beautiful and I can understand why it was easy for Robert to play the acquisition off as a good investment. Linda showed me the rest of the house, which was bleak and dusty. The floor boards creaked where we walked, and evidence of water damage littered the walls and ceilings. Most of the first floor was classrooms, with the exception of a small kitchen that the teachers must have used as a break room. Upstairs was the dean’s office and more classrooms.
I kept walking through the house, only half listening to what Linda was telling me, the other half just waiting for something to jump out, but nothing did. I was hitting a dead end. I had followed clues all the way up to this point, and now I couldn’t help but feel lost and alone.
When we were done viewing the house I went back to the bank with Linda to go over some of the documents and talk numbers. I took a seat in her office opposite her desk. She put her purse down and went to get us some coffee. When she got back, she sat down and pulled out the paperwork.
“We’re asking a minimum of $685,000, with all fees in the exchange of the deed covered on your end. There’s also a broker’s fee of $10,000 but to be honest I can see the bank waiving that if you can commit, they’re pretty adamant about getting rid of this property.” When she finished speaking she slid the paperwork over for me to look at.
I pretended to read it and then sat back in my chair.
“$685,000 sounds doable.” I said. “Although a similar home would go for almost double that on the market right now, especially one with this square footage and architecture.”
Linda knew what I was saying before I even said it.
“It’s just that,” I continued “I had heard some rumors about the property while I was in the area, and while I’m certainly skeptical, I’m also understandably curious.”
Linda sighed despite my generous wording of the inquiry.
“Well I can assure you there’s nothing to be worried about with this property. When the school was shut down they sent the students to public schools, which a lot of the parents weren’t happy about because there was still a lot of racial tension. The parents begged us for funding but it was just too expensive to keep it going. They chased off some of the first potential buyers, the house stayed vacant for a long time and then the stories started. After that, it’s pretty difficult to sell a house, especially one that had sustained damage and had bad blood behind it.”
I nodded. Made sense. Part of me was hoping there would be a story to go off of but all I ever found was the usual, run-of-the-mill tall tales; people seen in the windows, people going in and never coming out, etc.
“Well, I’ll have to speak with my wife about this and see what she thinks.” Saying that felt weird. I took a sip of my coffee. It had cooled down to a drinkable temperature, which made me feel a little better about what I was about to do.
“Of course, I understand.” Linda answered with a smile.
“In the meantime do you mind if I take a copy of-“ I reached my hand across the desk to grab the papers and dropped my cup of coffee so that it spilled onto Linda’s shirt and lap. “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry.”
“Oh!” She stood up and looked around the room for something to wipe herself off with. “I just-umm-one moment please.”
She rushed from the room and I heard her heels pacing down the hallway.
“I’m so sorry!” I called after her as my hands dug through her purse and found the key ring. “I’m so clumsy I should have warned you!” I slipped the keys into my pocket, and then pulled out the box of tissues I had hidden under my chair and placed them back on her desk.
“Oh it’s quite alright!” She said as she came back in with a roll of paper towels. “Happens all the time dear. Let me just get one of the interns to print you another copy of those agreements.”
Linda walked me out and I apologized to her again for spilling the coffee. She said she hoped to hear from me soon. I waved to her from my car and couldn’t help but chuckle as I pulled away at the sight of her standing there with a big coffee stain on her blouse.
Once I had gotten back to my hotel room I poured myself a glass of gin and sat on my bed. I threw two more adderall in my mouth and swallowed.
I’ll go to the house around 2AM. I’ll have to remember to bring the flashlight and some tools, just in case I grabbed the wrong keys. While highly unlikely, it was unlike me to ever leave myself room for error. I started packing a duffle bag. Flashlight, hammer, wrench, screw driver, crowbar. I walked over to my dresser and pulled out a ski mask. I felt something heavy underneath it move and looked down at my revolver. I stood there staring at it, and was jolted back to reality when my phone rang.
I pulled it out and read the caller ID.
It was Eli. I hesitated a moment and then answered the call.
“Eli, how are you?”
“I’m fine Doctor, yisself?” He said with that charming Southern twang.
“Been better, y’know.” I trailed off. “How can I help you?”
“Well Doctor, I’ve done some researching on that… y’know.”
“And?” I said back. Ubloo was nothing new to me, so I was less inclined to tip-toe around the issue than he was.
“Well I couldn’t find anything else about ‘Daiala Bu Umba’ specifically, but I did find something similar. It was in some other tribe’s history.”
My ears perked up and I felt my stomach flutter.
“Well it says here, a member of this tribe was afflicted with terrible nightmares. They found him dead one morning in his hut, and the person that found him started getting the nightmares.
“Sounds promising.” I said, trying to hide the excitement from my voice.
“Well this went on a few times before the tribe caught on, but unlike other tribes, they didn’t banish the one with the dreams, instead they assigned him an ‘Ubuala.’”
“Yes Doctor, that’s old Khoe for ‘The Waker.’ The Ubuala would sit with the person afflicted and wake him if he started to have nightmares by shaking them and yelling ‘Ubloo!’”
My stomach dropped. This was getting eerie, and started to hit me a little too close to home.
“Did it help?”
“Well it says it did, for a little, but then the tribe member started reporting that he was seeing the monster while he was awake. No one believed him, and then one day they found him off when he was supposed to be gathering water with his wrists slit.”
Somehow this didn’t surprise me.
“Well, then what?”
“The tribe’s elder commissioned that he would be the Ubuala for the man who found the previous cursed tribe member, and never left his side. Until one night, when the man was woke from his nightmare, he wrestled a knife away from the elder and killed himself before him.”
“Are you sitting down Doctor?”
“Because you’re not going to like this next part. It’s says that the elder wanted to rid his tribe of the curse, and that anyone who finds him dead will inherit it from him, so…”
My heart was racing.
“So he asked that his tribe bring him somewhere that no one would ever find his body.”
Silence from both of us.
“They buried him, Doctor… Alive.”
I felt sick to my stomach instantly.
“I know, Doctor. Now this is where the trail runs cold. I had found minor reports of nightmares elsewhere in history texts but nothing after this. So I read into the art of voodoo. I learned that once a curse has been placed, the spirit will hunt until it has claimed everything it was promised. This is the only way to rid a curse, so I haven’t figured out how burying the elder alive could stop it.”
I choked back nausea and tears.
“Well is there any way to summon it again once it hits a dead end like that? I mean there has to be some reason it’s back.”
“Yes, well a curse can always be revitalized if it’s summoned again, but even still, it will only hunger for what it was promised, and whoever summoned it would need to know the exact ritual performed. You see, certain components are required for voodoo. The witch doctor who summoned Daiala Bu Umba cited using elephant tusks, snakes and many other things, as well as the remains of his whole tribe, and the book you gave me was all I ever found from the Binuma Tribe. Before that, everyone assumed they never even existed.”
My head was spinning from all this new information.
“Alright well, I don’t plan on calling it quits yet Eli. And if burying me alive won’t even kill this thing for good I’d hope to exhaust all my possibilities before even considering that.”
“I understand Doctor. I’m sorry I had to tell you this.”
“It’s alright, Eli, any information is good information.” I hesitated, and then asked the question that hung between the both of us. “Would you bury me if we had to, Eli?”
The pause was long, but finally, I heard that old Southern voice speak again, smooth as water.
“If we had to Doctor, I would.”
I reached the school at almost exactly 2AM.
I pulled the duffle bag from the back seat and put it in my lap. I exhaled deeply, and then opened the car door.
The night air was still and damp. I had parked a considerable distance from the school so I slung the bag over my shoulder and started the long walk to the gate.
As I walked I couldn’t help but think about what Eli had told me. About the elder, the Ubuala’s, everything. How is it that Daiala Bu Umba says Ubloo? Why would it tell me to wake up in the absence of someone else? I walked a bit further and then it hit me. I stopped dead in my tracks.
What if it isn’t the one saying Ubloo? What if it’s something else? Some other spirit trying to help me? Trying to stop the worst from happening? It made sense. It made just enough sense. That’s why I wake up from the dream, why I always hear it just before.
I felt butterflies grow in my stomach as I walk again. If the beast feeds on despair then it would make sense for some benevolent spirit to wake me up before it can have its fill. My mind was racing with this new information, and for the first time in a long while, I finally felt a tiny spark of hope.
By the time I reached the gate my shoulder was beginning to ache from carrying the duffle bag. I reached into my pocket and found the bottle of adderall. I took another one, just to be safe. I put it back in my pocket and pulled out the keys. I held my breath, stuck the silver key in the lock.
Finally things were starting to go my way again. I opened the gate softly and slipped inside. I ducked down and silently ran up the walkway to the door. I slipped the gold key in, opened it, and slipped inside without making a sound.
I shut the door behind me and was surrounded by pitch black. I unzipped the duffle bag and fumbled around blindly until my hand found the flashlight. I pulled it out and turned it on. I shined it around the first room, half expecting to see something there. Too many horror movies as a kid I guess. I chuckled, and then began making my way through the house.
Again, I didn’t know what I was looking for when I was searching the house, but somehow I felt I would know when I saw it. I started upstairs and went through the office and classrooms. I knocked on the walls, trying to hear if there were any false passages or things behind them. I scanned the rooms and then moved back downstairs. I went through the classrooms and then the kitchen and then the classrooms again. After an hour or two of searching the house, I squatted down on my heels and let out a sigh.
I was going to have to come back another night and try again. Fuck.
The funny thing was this building wasn’t too much unlike the one I lived in back in Stoneham, Massachusetts. I got up and walked over to the walls and rubbed some of the grime off. Same color paint, or was it looked like. Same set up. Same hardwood floors. There was just something about carpets that I couldn’t stand. Probably because I hated to vacuu-
Then I saw it.
One floor board, a slight shade lighter than the rest.
I walked over and shined my light down onto it. While it was the same wood it looked lighter, the finish a little more pronounced. It looked… newer.
I dropped the duffle bag and pulled out the hammer and crowbar. I pried up the nails on one end and then pried the whole board back until it snapped in half. I had about three inches to see through. I tried shining my light into the whole it left but I couldn’t see enough. I went mad with excitement, ripping the boards up using the open space as leverage. I pulled another two back and then shined my light through again. What I saw almost made me sick.
There were bones on the ground beneath the floor. It’s not uncommon for Louisiana houses to be built a few feet off the ground, as to avoid flooding, although this one was considerably far from any bodies of water. There was about a foot or two of space and then dirt, which was absolutely littered with charred bones and ash. I searched around that patch of the floor frantically with my flashlight, and then I saw it.
Faded, but still there, was a large circle around the pile of bones and ash, with symbols that I recognized almost instantly.
It was ancient Khoe.
I sat there frozen, staring at the horrific inscriptions when I saw a piece of paper off to the side. I reached down through the floor boards and just with the tip of my fingers grasped it and pulled it up.
I opened the note and read it:
“I asked you how you sleep at night, now I’ve got my answer.”
Signed at the bottom:
I sat back on my heels bewildered.
“Monaya Guthrie.” I said to myself as I welled up with anger. She must have somehow summoned Ubloo back with this ritual and sent him after someone responsible for closing the school. My eyes welled up with tears of anger and frustration. But why? Why is the monster still searching? If it killed the tribe then why would it still be out there?
And then it hit me.
The witch doctor wrote that his wife was pregnant when she was murdered, and that he burned his entire tribe to summon the monster. But what if it wasn’t his entire tribe, what if what the monster wanted once it had killed off who the doctor sent it after, it still searched for this child? What if the witch doctor had somehow managed to save his child?!
My mind was racing frantically. While primitive it wasn’t uncommon for ancient medicines to be able to perform such a procedure. I mean, it’s just a premature c-section after all.
I stuffed my tools and the note back in the bag and stood up.
Monaya Guthrie, I have to find her. Or at least someone who knew her. She has to know what to do next. For fuck’s sake she might even be the descendant of-
The floor board behind me creaked and I froze in horror at the sound.
I spun around and shined my light and screamed.
There in the darkness, illuminated by just a beam of light, stood Ubloo.
It watched me with those cold black eyes and stared as I shook in fear.
I need to wake up. Fuck fuck fuck I need to wake up.
I watched as it slowly began to crawl towards me, the bones of its body visible with every movement under that smooth gray skin.
And then I realized. Never in a dream had I known I was asleep.
The panic set in like a fever. The tribesmen who saw Ubloo when they were awake, the way Andrew died propped against the wall facing the door. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
It wasn’t some benevolent spirit trying to wake me up. How could I be so fucking stupid?
It was Ubloo. All along it was Ubloo. Telling me to wake up every time. Making me feel safe at the last moment so that this time, this time I would realize there is no waking up. There is no escape anymore.
Ubloo stopped, tilted its head ever so slightly, and then galloped hard towards me. I screamed and turned and ran. I ran out the classroom door and into the hall. Halfway down the hall I saw a door and heard Ubloo crash into a wall behind me, chasing me. It was gaining on me and fast. I spilled out of the door and found myself in another classroom. I ran and searched frantically, finding another doorway. I turned a few feet before it and pulled the revolver from the back of my waistband. I shined my flashlight at where I had just came in and saw the door frame crash inwards as Ubloo came barreling through it. I fired three shots and saw its body flinch. Where the bullets had hit it there appeared small holes of black. It didn’t bleed, and I watched in horror as the holes simply closed up.
I ran through the doorway near me into the middle of the room and searched around with my light. No way out. I felt my heart pound harder as I realized this. I flashed the light around more and then I realized in horror that there were no windows either.
“No. No no no no no. Fuck fuck FUCK!”
I heard Ubloo approaching the door from the other room. I ran to the corner and turned to face it.
Slowly I saw the trunk reach around the door frame, and then its head poked in, those big black horrible eyes staring at me, trapped in the corner like a rat.
I clutched the handle of the revolver tightly and slumped down against the wall into the corner. This is the end. This is the end of Thomas Abian. The genius Doctor Abian who was entrusted with saving Andrew Jennings all those days ago.
I began to cry.
“The end is the beginning.” I said to myself as I cried.
Ubloo entered and was slowly crawling his way across the room to where I sat.
The end is the beginning. What a stupid fucking way to say it. I shook my head and tears fell into my lap.
I could hear Ubloo getting closer now.
I’m just going to become another fucking clue. I thought to myself as I sat there, crying like a baby. And to think I actually hoped to-
And then I realized it all, the dark horrible twisted sickness of it all.
The monster doesn’t feed on our despair, our sadness, it feeds on our hope.
It keeps us alive just long enough to think we can make it, and then it takes us.
The floorboards around me creaked from Ubloo’s weight as it got closer.
The hope Robert felt when he found the book, Andrew’s hope when I gave him the cyproheptadine, my hope when I found the ritual and note beneath the floor, and thought there may be a benevolent spirit.
But most of all, the hope that when he finally came for us, we’d wake up.
I began to cry harder as it all made sense.
It’s the perfect curse. One that gets stronger the more you think you can beat it. The end is the beginning after all. The end of my life is the beginning of its hunger for someone new to curse.
I opened my eyes and stared up at Ubloo. His head was just over a foot from where I sat. It knew, somehow it knew it was about to take what it came for.
“I should have let him bury me.” I cried as I raised the revolver.
I placed the cold heavy metal in my mouth and felt my teeth hit the barrel as I sobbed.
I opened my eyes just long enough to see its trunk reaching forward, to see my pitiful reflection in those dark empty eyes, to feel the trigger move beneath my finger, and a burst of light to fill that dark and lonely room. The last echo of a thought that some poor soul would find me here.
I read somewhere that police lights were designed to flash in a manner that made the human eye incapable to adjust to them, so they would be constantly noticeable. I’ve been testing this theory for the four years I’ve been on the force and to be honest with you, I think it’s true.
Having the lights run without the sound has always been strange to me, but at this hour I don’t want to wake anyone up pointlessly. Besides, there are no other cars on the road at this hour and if I’m being honest the lights themselves might not even be a necessity.
I got a report of loud noises and possibly gunshots at the old school. Probably just a bunch of teenagers lighting off fireworks and pretending they see ghosts and shit again.
I shook my head.
Hopefully, it’s not those two stupid kids again, claiming they need to get in there to “investigate.” Those two were the worst. The Westchester brothers? Winchendon? Who the fuck knows.
My engine purred beneath the hood of my car as I sped up to where the school was. I flicked off the lights as I rounded the final corner and parked outside. I opened the door to my cruiser and got out, inspecting the gate with my flashlight. It looked like it was open. Someone must have forgotten to lock it. I shook my head again. It’s like they’re asking people to break in here.
I walked up to the gate and pushed it open. I tell you, I’ve never been one to believe in the paranormal but this place did give me the creeps. I walked up the front steps quietly and listened. It didn’t sound like there were kids in there. I stood listening for another two or three minutes just to be sure, and then decided they must have left. I walked over to one of the windows and shined my light in. Everything seemed to be normal.
“Car 4 to Dispatch,” I said into my shoulder-radio.
“Go ahead Car 4.” The voice answered.
I started walking the perimeter of the building looking for signs of entry, shining my flashlight here and there.
“Looks like whoever was at the school is gone now. I can’t hear anything going on inside.”
“Roger that Car 4.”
“I’m gonna do a quick sweep to see if there’s anything here. I’ll let you know. Over.”
I walked around the perimeter of the building, which took quite a while since the place is pretty damn big. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to do it either. This place drew a lot of attention, especially around Halloween when the local myth would circulate again that this place was haunted. Kids. Mine’s never gonna turn out like that, I fucking tell you.
I had started walking around the school clockwise from the front door. I was just about ready to call it when I saw something through the window. Something just looked… odd. Like I said, I’d done this many times before so I knew it was out of place. I walked up to the window and shined my light in.
What I saw puzzled me. One of the door frames was all busted in and broken. It looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the sides of it.
“Fuck,” I said to myself aloud. “Car 4 to Dispatch,” I said spitefully into my radio.
“Go ahead Car 4.”
“It looks like whoever was here did some damage to the building. I’m gonna see if I can get inside and check it out. Requesting backup.”
“Roger that Car 4. Car 2 please proceed to Car 4’s position and assist.”
“Roger,” Bill said through the radio. “I’m about five minutes out Car 4. Proceeding now.”
“Roger that. Over.” I said back.
I jogged back to the front steps and un-holstered my gun. I’m not sure if it was the instincts I gained from two tours in Iraq or just the strange way that door frame was busted but something just wasn’t right here. I slowly made my way up to the front door and tried the knob. Much (but not really) to my surprise, it turned.
The door swung open gently and silently. I raised my flashlight under my pistol and scanned the foyer. Nothing really amiss here. I started walking down the hall to the right, towards the back corner of the building where the door frame was busted in.
I got halfway down the hall when I realized it was impossible to walk without creaking on the floor boards. I got anxious and sped my pace up a little.
The door frame was busted in pretty bad. It looked like whoever did it was in the room and busting it in towards the hallway. I moved into the room and didn’t have to look long before I saw the hole in the floor. It looked like four or five boards had been ripped right up, and not gracefully at that.
Slowly I walked over to the hole and shined my light through it. There was something down there, I just couldn’t make out what. I squatted down on my heels and stared for a few seconds before I realized it.
They were bones.
I shined my light around a little more. There was fucking tons of them. Admittedly though, I wasn’t that scared… until I noticed the painting.
The bones sat in somewhat of a pile, but all around that were these weird drawings. It looked like a cross between Arabic and Mandarin.
I got the chills and then pressed the button to talk into my radio.
“Car 4 to Car 2, what’s your status?”
“About two minutes out Car 4.”
“Roger. Try to speed it up. Over.”
I got up off my heels and inspected the room a little more closely. The floorboards look like the nails were pried up somewhat. Whoever did this knew where to look. Some of them were broken though, so the person must have been in a hurry, doing this frantically, almost as if—
“Fuck me, man,” I said under my breath.
I traced what I saw across the floor with my flashlight.
All across the floor were deep gouges and scratches. I inspected the ones closest. It looked like whatever it was, it was on two feet, but only left two scratches with each stride.
Chills ran down my spine. This definitely doesn’t feel right. Something is not right here.
I got up and followed the scratch marks out the door and down the hall. They took a right turn where it looked like something had smashed into the corner. They led down the hall and into a room on the left. I slowed my approach as I noticed that this door frame had been busted in as well, but this time it was busted from the hallway into the room.
As I stood there inspecting the frame I heard something. A faint drip, like a leaky faucet dripping onto a wet plate.
There might be someone in here after all.
I swallowed hard and then turned the corner, shining my flashlight wherever I pointed my gun. Then I saw it.
There, slumped against the wall, was what was left of a human being.
I shined my light onto his hands and saw the revolver. Suicide.
Slowly I approached the body. It looked like whoever it was had a huge bag with him, with what looked like tools inside it. I guess I know now who dug up the floorboards.
I heard the door of Bill’s cruiser slam shut outside.
It was strange. I had found suicide victims before, seen a lot of dead bodies, but I just felt some sort of connection to this one. Something I just couldn’t put my finger on.
I heard Bill’s heavy footsteps as he bounded into the foyer.
“… Jeff?” I heard him call out nervously.
“Back here, Bill,” I yelled back.
I heard his heavy waddling footsteps make their way back to where I was, and heard him panting before he was even in the room. Poor Bill. Guy couldn’t run a bar tab without getting winded.
“Oh, Fuck Jeff.” He said when he saw the body.
“Yeah, fuck is right, Bill, old buddy,” I said, looking the body over. “Guy ripped up the floorboards in the other room for whatever reason and then came in here and blew his brains out.”
Bill stood there in silence for a moment. Some cops just get it quicker than others. In terms of Bill and I, let’s just say that I was playing chess and he was playing checkers.
“Well, I’ll call it in to Dispatch. They need to get a forensics team in here ASA—“
A noise cut Bill off.
It was a phone. It was his phone. The dead man’s phone.
Now they tell you never to contaminate a crime scene, never to touch anything until forensics has gotten there. I had never broken any of the rules before on the job. Hell, I never even wore the fucking uniform without making sure it was ironed every morning, but something inside me, something in the back of my mind told me that I had to answer that phone.
I squatted back down and reached into his pocket where it was ringing.
“Jeff! What are you doing we can’t!—“
“Oh fuck off Bill you big pussy,” I said as I finally got the phone loose.
I looked at the front screen. There was only a first name for whoever was calling. “Eli.”
I pressed answer and held the phone up to my ear, but didn’t say anything.
There was a short pause, and then:
“This is Officer Jeff Danvers of the Tawson police force.”
There was a pause again, this time a little longer.
“Where did you find this phone?”
Whoever this Eli was, he wasn’t stupid.
“I found it in the pocket of a body at a crime scene. I’m sorry, but I think this Doctor you’re trying to reach has passed away.”
There was another pause, and I began to feel uneasy. Fuck, what was I thinking answering this call?
“I’m sorry, sir,” I said again.
“Were you the one who found him?” He asked.
I was slightly taken aback by this question.
“Found him?” I responded.
“Yes. Were you the one who first found the body??” He asked again, sounding a little more worried this time.
“Yes, sir. I found the body only about five minutes ag—“
What I heard next, though I didn’t know it then, would change my life forever.
“Sweet Jesus… You poor boy.” Is all I heard the man say before the line cut out.
My bangs stuck to the small bit of forehead above my blindfold in matted clumps. Mostly from sweat, but also from the dirt and grime of living in this dirty shit hole for the last month and a half.
I lifted my butt off my heels from where I was kneeling to avoid getting cramps in my thighs, and swayed slightly from side to side as I got light headed from the sudden movement and blood rush. If they don’t feed us before we move again I don’t think I’ll survive the trip.
My knees gave a small pop as they cracked when I sat back down again. Through the cracked wooden door I could hear the screaming among the rhythmic thwacks. What was it today? Broom stick? Cricket bat? Whatever it was it sounded relatively light. I always thought it strange that lighter things tended to hurt more when you were hit with them.
The noises of beating subsided and I heard some hushed words exchanged angrily. There was some rustling, a creak, and then the sounds of dragging feet.
The door flew upon with a bang, and I heard the ground thud in the middle of the room where they had thrown Mitch.
The guards exchanged some words in Arabic, and then I felt my blindfold rip back, the light of the world despite being in this dingy mud hut blinding. They yanked me up to my feet as the room came into focus. This wasn’t a face I was used to. This one was new. He stood in front of me in clean clothes, his beard well shaped and tended to.
We held each other’s stare for a while, and then he smiled. Showing a few missing teeth.
“We will saving best for you.” He said in a heavy Arab accent.
With this, they dragged me out into the other room and I heard the door slam shut behind me. They threw me down in the center of the room.
I rolled over onto my side and looked around the room. The translator stared down at me from the corner, looking frustrated. The two who dragged me in and the new guy stood there near the doorway, just looking at me.
The new guy said some words in Arabic which I had come to know quite well. They walked over, each put a hand under my arm pit and lifted me up into the chair. The first one walked behind it and steadied it, the second slowly maneuvered in front of me. A dance I was all too familiar with.
I looked up into his face, never dropping my gaze. He looked especially angry today.
The new guy shouted a quick word in Arabic that might as well have been a bell in a boxing ring, and the angry guy went to town.
He put two hard punches right into my gut that kncoked the wind out of me and sent me hunching over.
“How do the Americans plan to take the city? When will they attack?” The translator asked.
I answered him with solemn silence.
The left side of my head exploded as I was slapped hard with the meaty flesh of an open palm on my ear. The ringing came immediately.
“Which hideouts do they know about? Where do they think we are hiding?”
Silence again, and then a hard shot to my rib cage, followed by another quick punch to my temple that blew me into tunnel vision.
This continued on for a few minutes. The incessant and repetitive questioning, the beating, the panting for breath and the fight to remain conscious. Yet somehow, I was still worried about the new guy.
Once the angry guy was out of breath, I heard a few words in Arabic come from the side of the room. My head hung on my chest, throbbing uncontrollably.
I heard the door open. Good, it was over.
But then I heard footsteps from behind my chair, as the one holding me in place walked into the other room.
Without him to hold me up I slumped to the floor in a pile of breathlessness. I opened my eyes just in time to see them dragging Danny in. They untied his hands and pushed him down into an arm chair where the translator usually sat. They then tied his hands down to the arms of the chair, and then his ankles to the legs.
When they were done, they walked into the living room and out of sight. I looked up at Danny who was staring around the room, at everyone in it, and then down at me. All the while the new guy stood silently against the wall, twisting the very end of his beard.
The footsteps returned from the living room along with clanking of glass. First came the guy who usually held my chair, as he put a small table down next to me, and then the beater, who put down a large bottle of water so cold that it had already begun to condensate, and a plate of bread and lamb. The lamb was cold as well but I could already smell it wafting over to where I lay on the ground helpless.
Next, the two men walked over to a closet and opened the door. I heard them dragging something out but couldn’t see it from where I was laying. I heard them shuffling around and tinkering with it, then some more movement I couldn’t see, the sound of them dropping something down on the ground that seemed heavy, and then finally they walked over to where I was laying and lifted me back up into the chair.
I lifted my head from my shoulder and forced my eyes open. There, looking straight at me was Danny. His eyes then dropped to the table next to me as did mine, the carafe of water and the plate of bread and meat close enough I could practically taste it. I knew he could as well. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw what the two guards had been constructing that whole time.
Against the wall of the room sat a generator. A cord ran from this over to a big black machine, with a long hose and what looked like a garden wand attached to the end of it. I stared at it puzzled. Then, one of the guards walked over to the generator and pulled the cord. It revved into life, spitting and choking on the first bits of fuel. I saw the hose leading from the black machine away and out of the room and horrified, it dawned on me.
It was a pressure washer.
The new guy slowly walked over and picked up the black end of the hose that shot the water. He carried it over in his hands with him as he leaned down to look straight into my eyes.
“’Imma ‘an tashrab, ‘aw yafeal.” He said with a smirk.
I looked worriedly at the translator, who even himself looked scared.
“He says, ‘either you drink, or he does.’”
The new man slowly walked back over to where Danny sat, turned and looked at me with that same smirk, raised the end of the pressure washer an inch away from Danny’s exposed calf, and pulled the trigger.
The smell of warm water and the explosion of screaming filled the room. I sat and stared in horror as the rushing force of the water ripped the meat from his leg little by little, a puddle of muck and blood accumulating under his foot and splattering against his other leg.
After five or so seconds of this the water stopped, and Danny’s screaming rebounded off the walls unencumbered, sinking into my bones.
The new guy nodded at the guards, who bent down behind me and cut the ties on my wrists. I pulled my hands in front of me and rubbed where the ropes had gnawed at my skin and turned it bare.
The new guy stared at me with a toothy smile.
The translator turned to me.
“He says ‘drink.’”
I looked down at the water and then back up at him. He smiled.
Slowly, I reached my hand out towards the water.
He then shouted something in Arabic that startled me and caused my hand to recoil.
“He says for every sip, you must answer one of my questions.”
I stared back up at the translator who was now smiling as well.
Now I understood the game.
“And if I drink, and don’t answer?” I asked him.
There was a quick exchange in Arabic, and then a prompt response.
“Then so does he.” The translator said as he nodded over at Danny, whose screaming had subsided into whimpers, his head hung staring at what was left of his leg.
My stomach dropped, and I felt my chest tighten up like a coiling snake.
I looked back up at the man holding the pressure washer, begging with my eyes not to make me do this. He smiled back, and then the smile slowly faded into an angry scowl.
He took the end of the pressure washer and lifted it up against one of Danny’ hands where it was tied down, and pulled the trigger.
The room was instantly filled again with humidity and screams and the smell of fresh wounds. I attempted to sit up but the two guards behind me shoved me back down and held me by my shoulders. Danny was jerking his upper body wildly trying to pull away from the pain. His fingers twitching and spasming like the legs of a wounded spider.
After what seemed like an eternity the water stopped, and I saw what remained of his hand. A mass of torn flesh and pale white bone. Danny was crying now, his body limp.
“SHURB.” The man yelled at me.
I began to cry as well.
“Danny, they’re going to kill you.” I sobbed.
He panted and hiccupped, but couldn’t force any words out. We both sat there together in the room and cried. Only a few feet away but worlds apart.
“I can’t do it. I can’t just sit here while they kill you.”
The new guy was smiling again. He was slowly leaning down to get on eye level with us, soaking it all in.
“We made a deal, Jeff.” He said between sobs. “We knew it was going to come to this. We weren’t scared.”
“But I’m scared now Danny.” I sobbed back, realizing what he was saying. “I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Danny raised his head just enough to look me in the eye for one split moment.
I squeezed my eyes shut and tears ran down my face, sobbing uncontrollably. I raised my left arm and swatted the top of the table with the back of my hand, sending the plate of food and glass bottle careening against the wall and floor where it shattered.
We both sat there and sobbed.
There was shouting in Arabic but I couldn’t hear it. I looked up and took one last look at my best friend, one of the guards producing from his belt a gleaming machete. I’m not sure which one gave it to him, I didn’t care.
The pressure washer clamored to the ground as he threw it in anger, taking up instead the machete in both hands. He continued to point at me and yell in Arabic but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy drinking in every last moment I had with my friend.
One of the guards walked over and grabbed Danny by the hair, pulling his head down so he was bent over. The new guy wasn’t smiling anymore. He was furious. Screaming at me in Arabic and swinging the machete up and down like a madman.
He positioned himself to the side of Danny so he had a clear cut. He turned and looked me in the eyes and yelled again. Raising the machete above his head.
“NO! PLEASE STOP!” I shouted into that dimly lit and hellish room.
The machete came flying down in a bright glare of metal and reflecting light, it hit the back of Danny’s neck and then everything blew up at once.
I felt myself screaming before I woke up. As everything was making itself real again I felt my chest vibrating and shaking while I thrashed upwards until I was sitting.
My scream was replaced by the lazy hum of the air conditioner as I sat there sucking in the cold dark air. I was sweaty and panting. A shiver ran down my spine as the nightmare’s muggy air was replaced with the cool dry reality.
The light on the other side of the room clicked on as shapes in the dark became recognizable.
“Are you alright?” Mary said timidly. “You were thrashing.”
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” I pushed out between breaths. “Just a nightmare.”
There was a long silence between us as I continued to catch my breath.
“The box?” She asked, scared.
I collapsed backwards onto my pillow and put my arms over my head.
“The box.” I answered.
She laid back down and cuddled up against me, putting her head on my chest. I brought down one of my sweaty arms and put it around her, scratching the back of her head. She started to cry quietly.
“Hey, hey now. I’m alright, I’m here.” I assured her, lifting my head so I could look her in the eye. “It was just a bad dream.”
We laid there for a short while in silence. She was beginning to stop crying, I was going over the dream in my head. What was it that he said right as it ended? “Ubloo?”
I picked up a little bit of Arabic but I don’t ever remember hearing this. I shook the thought from my head. Just then the door whined on its hinges as it was gently pushed open just a crack.
My wife rolled over back onto her pillow as I sat up and swung my feet onto the ground. I pushed myself onto them and walked slowly over to the door, where I squatted down.
“Sorry buddy, did I wake you up?”
He nodded at me from the hallway, half his face buried in the stuffed black lab that he was almost surely too old to still be attached to.
“I’m sorry to wake you up pal, Daddy just had a bad dream that’s it.”
He nodded again and stared down at the floor, worried and embarrassed.
“Say, why don’t you come in and keep me company? I don’t want Mommy to know that I was scared. I’m not brave like you.” I said though the crack in the door.
His eyes lit up.
I opened the door and he trotted in slowly and sleepily. I shut the door behind him and then picked him up and carried him to the bed, where I lay him down between myself and Mary.
She smiled at me as I handed him a pillow and rolled over to turn off the light.
In the dark my son rolled over and draped his hand over mine.
“I love you Daddy.” He said dreamily through the fake fur of his stuffed toy.
“I love you too Danny.”
. . .
Phones rang as people bustled half-awake around the station. I took my first sip of black coffee and frowned when I tasted the stale burnt liquid.
“Hey Bill, great job on the coffee today bud!” I said sarcastically as I passed his desk.
“Thanks Jeff!” He responded excitedly, not knowing what I meant.
I threw the binder down onto my desk and wiggled the mouse until the computer screen returned to life.
There staring back at me was the face of Thomas Abian.
I took a long drink of coffee and ran through the file one more time.
Resident of Stoneham, Massachusetts. Practicing psychiatrist and if what the receptionist told me is true, a damn expensive one to boot. One day he just up and leaves everything, goes completely dark and winds up in Tawson, Louisiana with a car packed to the brim with shit, pills and empty booze bottles and a gun in his mouth at the local haunted house.
I shook my head. Local news is going to have a fucking field day with this. The vans are already beginning to circle the place like vultures. I’m just glad we were able to get the body out before any of them had got there.
“Hey, Jeff.” I heard just before the folder slapped onto the desk next to me. I looked up to see Reg, our Chief. “Autopsy is in on your body.”
“Nice, thanks boss.” I said as he walked away, sipping his coffee.
I liked Reg. He was a no-nonsense, old military guy like myself. Though admittedly, he had plenty of years on me.
I opened the autopsy report and began reviewing the information. Death by fatal gunshot wound, that much was obvious. Angle reflects self-infliction, no foul play suspected…
The file went on and on, and then one bit of information caught my eye:
“Cadaver showed rapid signs of cardiovascular distress associated with extreme sleep deprivation, along with intermittent premature liver damage that suggests sudden abuse of alcohol.”
This was curious. Sleeplessness I can explain because of the Adderall. Hell, the guy had somewhere between ten and fifteen empty bottles in his car alone, and drinking I could have guessed given it looked like the guy drank a whole gin distillery on his way down here, but sudden?
I sat back in my chair and rubbed the stubble on my chin.
Why would a wealthy, well off Doctor up and leave everything, turn to the bottle and pills and high tail it down to Louisiana? It just made no sense. I continued to rub my chin, and then leaned over to my desk phone.
I pulled up google and ran a search for hotels in the area, starting with the closest to the old school and moving outward. On the fourth one, just outside of Tawson, I got what I was looking for.
The drive over was short and enjoyable. It was relatively early in the morning so there was no traffic, and I just managed to catch the end of the sports radio segment I usually played while on patrol.
I parked my car right in front of the hotel lobby and walked in. One of the perks of being a cop; you never have to walk too far across parking lots.
The hotel lobby met me with a blast of cool air conditioning. I approached the mousy receptionist who was just sending off an elderly couple with a bellhop to their rooms. When she saw me approaching she smiled and her eyes flashed in a brilliant shade of blue.
“Hello Ma’am.” I began. “Office Jeff Danvers with Tawson Police, I believe we spoke on the phone?”
“Yes Officer.” She responded with another flirting smile. “We’ve been expecting you.”
She rattled away on her keyboard for a few seconds and then pulled a key card from the drawer next to her. She looked up at the screen and then punched in the numbers from the back of the card into the computer.
“Here you go.” She said sliding the card across the hotel desk. “Room 359, on the corner of the building.”
I returned the smile and took the card off the desk. I had begun to turn but then stopped.
“359, is that a corner room?” I asked.
“Well, yes in fact it is Officer.”
I stood and thought for a few seconds.
“The room right on the fire escape, yeah?”
She was a little surprised, as anyone would be.
“Yes, that’s correct.”
That was interesting. As I was walking away I heard her pipe up from behind me.
“Officer!” She called out. I turned around and saw her staring at me. “Is it true that… That he…”
She brought her finger up to her throat and made a slashing motion across it. My mind jumped to hazy images of machetes.
“That’s classified sweetheart.” I said in as calming a tone as I could, and entered the open elevator.
There was a ding as the doors opened. Red patterned carpet that matched the lobby’s lined the floors of the hall. There were two signs directly opposite the open elevator.
“301-325” and an arrow pointing left. “325-360” and an arrow pointing right.
I poked my head out and looked both ways. No one was around. I began the long walk down the hallway towards room 359.
Hallways creeped me out. That fact is something I just can’t seem to deny anymore. I’m not sure if it’s from watching ‘The Shining’ with my mother as a kid on winter vacation but if I were a betting man I’d say that sealed the deal. I think above all else it’s the feeling that you only have one direction to go if you’re being chased down one. One choice, no other options.
Before I knew it I was in front of room 359. I took a deep breath, slid the card in the door mechanism, saw the green light illuminate and pushed it open.
The smell of stale gin was immediate and overwhelming. The shades were drawn despite the bed looking perfectly made.
I flicked on the light and saw that the room was littered with empty gin bottles. Among them were a few boxes of paperwork. Cases he took with him on the road? Shrugging to myself, I walked around the room as I put on a pair of white rubber gloves.
Aside from the bottles it was relatively well kept. There was a short stack of laundry neatly folded next to the window and a spare set of car keys, along with a new pair of shoes. I opened the blinds to see that it led directly to the fire escape and my suspicions were confirmed. Someone was after this guy. He had his getaway route planned in advance and had the presence of mind to leave it there when he left, just in case he forgot to set it out again when he got back. You’ve gotta admire the preparation there. He earned every cent of those paychecks with that mind of his, I can imagine.
I opened the dresser and saw that it was empty. The coat hangers in the closet were bare and there was nothing on the carpet aside from empty gin bottles and a bare pill container.
I walked over to the desk and began opening drawers. The first was empty. I felt something rolling as I pulled on the second and found it to be full of loose bullets and Adderall. I picked one up and examined it. Magnum, .357, matching the weapon used. I placed the bullet back down and opened the top drawer. The contents of this made my eyes widen.
Slowly and carefully, I pulled the notebook out from the desk drawer. I held it in my hands and examined it for a few seconds just to be sure it was real. It was a blue, spiral-bound notebook with something scribbled hastily on the front.
I heard the floorboards outside the room creak. I turned suddenly to see something standing in the doorway. As I snapped from the trance I was in I could see that it was a man. He wore brown slacks with shined brown shoes. There were suspenders over a white button down shirt that matched his hair and goatee. I could see the glasses halfway down his nose over his dark brown skin, and saw that he was a much older black man with deep crow’s feet.
We stood there and stared at each other, and then he looked down at what was in my hands, and so did I. The notebook I held read across the cover:
“The Diary of Thomas Abian”
I’ve escorted a few criminals in my time on the force, ranging from petty thefts to drunks and all the way to an attempted murder suspect. What I learned is there are really only two types of people. The ones who are quiet in the back of the car, and the ones who make noise.
If you make noise in the back of the cop car you may as well just sign a confession. We have a saying for this on the force; “only guilty dogs bark,” and it holds truer than you’d imagine. But the ones who are quiet are a completely different story. More often than not they’re innocent, but sometimes—just sometimes—they’re the most dangerous people of all.
I snuck a glance into the rear view mirror and saw the old man sitting there, hands folded on his lap, looking out the side window at the houses as we made our way to the station. He had come peacefully and almost willingly—not that I expected a struggle—yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off with that first interaction.
After the initial uncomfortable silence between the two of us, he asked if I was the one investigating the death of the Abian fellow. I told him I was, and asked if he knew the man. He told me he only met him briefly but they have been in contact since. After that, I asked him if he’d like to come to the station to answer some questions—he obliged—and here we are.
But the way he looked at that journal, and the way his eyes widened when he saw my name plate… I shook my head. I know I must be imagining things. Maybe it’s the shitty night of sleep I got, but it felt like my instincts weren’t as sharp as they usually are.
Eventually we reached the police station, and I walked him past reception, through the cubicles smelling faintly of Bill’s burnt coffee, and into an interrogation room, where we’d be able to speak in private.
“If you could just take a seat here—“ I pulled a chair back for him from one side of the table as I maneuvered over to the other.
“Much obliged sir.” He said as he sat down, letting out a small sigh as he sort of plopped the last few inches into the seat. He must be older than he looks.
I took my seat at the other side of the table and set the journal down off to my right. I took out a pen and my notepad and flipped to a clean page.
“Alright, let’s start with your name—and something to corroborate it of course—driver’s license if you have one.”
“Sure thing.” He said as he reached into his back pocket to pry out his wallet. “The name’s Eli Jacobs.”
He slipped his driver’s license out and slid it across the table to me. I began copying the information down onto my notepad.
“Great, thanks. And is this still your current address?”
“Yessir, yes it is.”
I looked back up at him as I was scribbling down the address.
“Natchez, Mississippi eh? You’re a long way from home partner.”
“Yessir, got me a nice little farmhouse there. I’m retired now but I used to be the African History professor at Northwestern. After all those long cold winters and noisy city summers I decided I wanted to be somewhere warm and quiet and well—Natchez it was.”
“So.” I said while tapping the butt of my pen onto the pad of paper, and sliding his license back over to him. “Can’t shoot the shit like this forever, huh?”
“That we can’t.” He said, shifting so he could put away his wallet, his face showing no emotion.
I felt the chills run up my neck.
“Let’s start from the beginning. How did you know Thomas Abian?”
The old man took his hat off and set on the table, and ran his hand over his white goatee. Then he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, folded his hands on the table and leaned in. I did as well.
“One day I get an email completely out of the blue. Came from this guy who said he had an ancient book—written in a near dead language that he needed translated. Well, as one who’s always curious, I responded and asked him to send over a sample of the text.”
“Were you able to translate it?” I asked.
“Hell, it was his lucky day because I’m maybe one of four or five people left on this earth I know of who can. See, ancient African writing was close to hieroglyphics—not entirely like it—but similar. See, it used a combination of symbols for nouns, but written out words for dialogue and pretty much all else. To the untrained eye it’s near impossible to distinguish what’s a noun versus a character in a word, and this also makes writing out a dictionary a huge bother, that frankly four or five people—the second youngest of which you’re talking to now I may add—simply don’t have the time and resources to finish.”
“That’s pretty impressive.” I finally responded after his long winded reply. “I learned Spanish in high school but I’ve damn near forgot it all now. Picked up some Arabic while I was overseas, but even that’s beginning to rust.”
“Time and practice, that’s the key to getting it fluent.” He said. “The first of which I’ve clearly got you outnumbered with.”
I chuckled a bit and leaned back, tapping my pen again.
“So let’s fast forward. This Abian fellow, you tell him you can translate it. Then what?”
Eli went on to tell me all about how Abian was driving down from Massachusetts to Tawson, and could stop over in Mississippi. That he looked like shit when he finally got to Eli’s house. He said the book that he brought with him was incredibly old and valuable—but Abian wouldn’t elaborate on how he came into possession of it. Apparently he only wanted one small portion of text translated—and when he was done—he abruptly left, leaving the book with Eli. So I asked the obvious question.
“What did the text say? The part he wanted translated?”
Eli looked back at me and let out a deep sigh as he leaned back in his chair. He gripped his hat on the table and spun it gently on the smooth aluminum tabletop.
“Before I tell you this, I need you to promise me that you’re not going to hold what I say against me.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Well that’s hard to say” I returned. “I can’t promise you I won’t hold it against you, but then again, we haven’t been recording this little chat.”
Eli cracked a smile at the corners of his lips.
“Trust me officer. No one is going to believe you anyway.”
I hate the expression “my blood ran cold” but damn if it isn’t the only way to describe how what he said made me feel. I gathered my composure back and put my pen down.
“Spill it.” I said.
“Thomas Abian wanted to know about a very old and very powerful witch doctor. One who lived thousands of years ago.” He said, never dropping his gaze, never even blinking. “This witch doctor performed a ritual and summoned an incredibly angry and vengeful spirit, one that infects the victim’s dreams, renders him unable to sleep—and eventually—to take his own life.”
I frowned a little.
“Abian believed all this?”
Eli looked me square in the eye. “Yes.”
“And do you?”
He paused, closed his eyes and let out a small sigh.
I leaned back in my chair.
“And let me guess, the reason this Abian guy looked like shit is because he hasn’t been sleeping—because he’s being attacked by this sleep monster.”
“Well, shit.” I said, closing my notepad. “Could have been down at forensics checking out this guy’s possessions yet here I am wasting my fucking time talking to a loon.”
I pushed myself back from the table and stood up. I turned around and checked the clock on the wall. Half past four. Perfect. No way I’ll be able to go through all this guy’s shit before it’s time to—
My thoughts came to a crashing halt.
I turned around and saw Eli, still sitting in the chair, hands folded on the table.
“What did you just say?”
Eli pushed his glasses back up his nose.
“You were the one who found him, weren’t you? The first? The one I spoke to on the phone?”
I swallowed, hard, and nodded.
“You’ve heard that word before, haven’t you?”
My voice was gone. The crashing halt of my thoughts spun through my brain like a tornado—the box, Danny, the interrogators, that word.
“Arab, right? Guy said it in my dream last night, couldn’t remember what it meant.” I finally managed to push it out. “But how did y—“
“Not Arab.” He said, standing up. “African—Khoe specifically.”
He slowly walked around the table over to where I stood. I knew I should ask him to stop but I was frozen in fear.
“It is short for ‘Ubua Loo’ which is a common phrase in that tongue. It roughly translates to ‘wake up.’”
I shook my head.
“You’re fucking with me.”
“I’m sorry you had to find out like this officer.”
“Back the fuck up.” I said, my grip on my notepad tightening.
“The monster jumps from person to person by infecting whoever finds the previous victim’s dead body first.”
“I’m warning you, stop.”
“Doctor Abian’s patient was infected and he found him dead in his apartment, who found his Father shortly after he had died, who found a dead tenant in the apartment he owned that hadn’t been paying rent for a few months.”
I realized I was back peddling, my heel hit the wall of the interrogation room.
“You found Doctor Abian in that old house—the house he came here to investigate that he learned of from one of the previous victims. You’ve heard that word only in your dreams, there’s no way I could have known you’d understand it. I’m truly so very sorry for this, Jeff, but the monster, it’s telling you to wake up.”
“But…” I stammered, trying to process so much at once. “But why tell me to wake up?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know.” He said, eyes shifting to the floor. “Thomas had a theory. You see, back in ancient Africa whoever was afflicted would be assigned someone to wake them up if they began thrashing in their sleep. These people would shake the victim and yell ‘Ubloo’ to wake them, let them know they’re only dreaming. This, Thomas believed, the spirit picked up on, and still says to this day.”
“But why? If it only has power in our dreams why wake us up?”
“That’s the part he could never figure out.” Eli sighed.
There was a long pause between us, as Eli let everything sink in.
“So what now?” I finally said.
“Well, I brought that book with me. If you’ll allow it, I’d like to leave and run through it a few more times. Maybe there’s something I’ve missed. In the meantime you should flip through Abian’s diary—it’s likely that he’s kept detailed notes on the whole ordeal and—“
“No.” I interrupted. Eli stopped speaking abruptly. “I mean what happens to me?”
Eli reached down and pick up his hat. Returned it to his head, shifted the brim a little and then pushed his glasses back up his nose.
“Try not to fall asleep.”
It was now close to eight o’clock at night—or maybe it was nine—I’d lost track to be honest.
I begrudgingly let Eli return to his hotel. After all I had nothing to charge him with and couldn’t really keep him here if I wanted to. We exchanged numbers and he told me he’d call if he learned anything, and that I should do the same, or if I had any questions.
The pages of Thomas’ diary were stiff from the ink that had settled into them. Page after page I turned carefully, reading slowly to be sure I took everything in. The man may have lost it at the end but he was thorough, I’ll give him that.
His diary corroborated everything Eli had told me, in deeper detail. He even noted down his sleep schedule—how long he slept and how much time he feels he spent dreaming—trying to find a connection between the two to see if he could optimize his time spent asleep to dream the least. It was all very impressive—but it looks like he kept getting trouble from “microsleep,” instances where he wouldn’t know he was sleeping until he woke up.
“Ubloo has learned a way to weave dreams into my life, seamlessly, so as to no longer rouse my suspicions. It understand that my fear is far greater when I can’t tell I’ve fallen asleep. The Adderall may be able to keep me up for prolonged periods of time but without REM sleep I’ll continue experiencing microsleep. I feel like a dog chasing my tail. Either I give in and sleep for what by now will probably be over 24 hours or continue pressing on, getting what little bit I can safely.”
It was all so horribly depressing. There were long paragraphs of theories that had been crossed off—notes in the margins explaining why he’d disproved them.
I finally reached the end, and got the shivers as I read it.
“Arrived at the school. 2:31 AM. No sign of activity in it from the outside. Can probably give myself no more than a half hour to search—will report my findings later.”
I shut the notebook, put it down on my desk and took a sip of coffee, digesting everything.
My heart almost exploded.
“Fucking hell, Bill. I almost spilled this coffee all over my shirt. You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.”
“I thought you always said I was too fat to be sneaky.” He said smirking.
I frowned and looked at him. Fuck, he was right, he got me this time.
“Evidence has come back on your guy. It’s downstairs in the locker if you wanna go through it.”
My eyes widened.
“I’m gonna do that right now, who’s got the keys?”
Bill tossed them to me and started a slow victorious waddle back to his desk.
I got up and practically ran to the evidence room. I fumbled with the keys a little, but eventually got the door open.
The Abian box was on a bottom shelf. I squatted down and picked it up and brought it over to the table. There was a heavy duffle bag filled with burglary tools, a wallet, half empty pill bottle, the bloody revolver. I started going through everything trying to make sense of it all.
The pills he used to stay awake, wrote about those in his diary. Burglary tools were used to get into the church—that much made sense. Revolver must have been for protection, though it doesn’t look like it did him much good.
I continued to rummage around his bag until my hand brushed something that felt brittle. I stopped, gently grasped it and pulled it from the bag.
It was a piece of paper, folded, ages old from the look of it. I unfolded the paper and read it aloud.
“I asked you how you sleep at night. Now I’ve got my answer.
My head started to spin. Abian mentioned in his diary that Eli had told him that the monster had been stalled. Long periods of time where there were no recorded deaths due to it, but somehow it always managed to return, without explanation.
I read the note again one more time.
“Monaya Guthrie.” I said shaking my head. Who the hell is this, and why did Abian have this note?
Just then my phone rang.
I pulled it from my pocket to see the picture of my wife staring back at me that I used for her caller ID. I answered.
“Hey baby what’s up?”
“JEFF! JEFF YOU NEED TO GET HOME.” She yelled frantically.
“What? Is everything alright?”
“IT’S DANNY. HE WAS IN THE TUB AND—AND—AND THE SHOWER CURTAIN FELL ON HIM AND HE GOT TANGLED UP. HE WAS STUCK UNDERWATER AND HE’S NOT BREATHING!”
My heart was beating so hard that my whole body was shaking.
“Baby call 911. I’m coming home right now. Start CPR.”
I rushed out the door of the evidence locker and sprinted down the hall to the main entrance, phone still to my ear. She was crying hysterically.
“I-I DON’T KNOW HOW!”
“Two breaths thirty compressions! You hear me?! Tilt his head back when you breathe. I’m hanging up right now to call 911 so you can do this, you have to.”
She was still sobbing.
I hung up the phone and immediately dialed 911. By this time I was at my car and jumped into the driver’s seat. I turned the key and the car roared to life as if it sensed my urgency. I flipped the switches for the lights and the sirens and peeled out of the parking lot, gunning it towards home.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
I shouted my address into the phone, or at least I think I did I don’t know, I was weaving through traffic.
“—NOT BREATHING. SEVEN YEARS OLD. BRING AN AED, CPR BEING PERFORMED. CAN YOU CONFIRM?”
“Yes sir, I’ll dispatch an ambulance right away.”
I tossed my phone into the passenger seat without bothering to hang up. The engine growled as my speed crept up to almost 100 miles per hour on the stretch of open road my street was off of. I rounded the corner and felt the car barely keep its grip on the road. I came to a screeching halt outside my house and sprinted to the door, bursting into the living room.
“MARY!” I called out.
“JEFF! JEFF IN HERE!”
I sprinted down the hall to our bedroom. Mary was sitting with her back against our bed, eyes bloodshot and make-up streaming down her face. She was a wreck, gripping a bottle of liquor so tight her knuckles were turning white.
“Mary… What? Where’s Danny?!” I asked, confused and panicked.
“He…” She sobbed. “I couldn’t Jeff, I couldn’t.” She lifted her arm and pointed to the room across the hall.
I turned and dashed into the room. Mary hadn’t touched a drop of booze since Danny was born. Was she drunk or did this start because she couldn’t handle doing the—
I dropped to my knees.
There laying on his back on the floor was my son Danny, his lips a pale shade of blue, the color draining from his body.
“NO NO NO NO!” I crawled up next to him listened for breathing.
I tilted his head back and breathed two deep breaths into his mouth, then began doing compressions, counting them in my head against Mary’s sobs from the other room.
I did this for what felt like an eternity.
I finally heard someone say from down the hall.
“IN HERE! QUICK!” I screamed.
Two young men who couldn’t have been older than 30 came in the room. One carrying an oxygen mask and the other what looked like a large plastic brief case—what must have been the AED.
I stood up and stepped back as they got to work, the first man putting on the mask and the other attaching the AED.
“SHOCK ADVISED. CHARGING.” The machine called out.
The first man kept pumping oxygen, the second setting the dial on the AED.
“READY TO SHOCK.”
“CLEAR!” the man yelled.
There was a whizz and a thump as Danny’s body jolted up and back down onto the floor. Nothing,
“SHOCK ADVISED. READY TO SHOCK.”
Another whizz and a thump, but nothing.
Just then I heard someone else clamoring down the hall. “Jeff?”
“IN HERE!” I yelled.
Bill ran into the room, breathing heavily.
“Jeff oh my god I’m so sorry, I came just as fast I could when I heard it on the scanner.”
I wasn’t listening, my eyes were on Danny.
“SHOCK ADVISED. READY TO SHOCK.”
The whizz and a thump and then nothing, or what looked like nothing. Then I noticed the heart beat was registering on the AED.
“OH MY GOD!” I pointed down to it.
Why wasn’t it saying anything? They need to get him up and into the back of the—
“SHOCK ADVISED. READY TO SHOCK.”
“NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”
I lunged at the man with the AED but I was held back. I looked down in a panic and saw Bill’s arms around my waist.
“NO! YOU CAN’T! LET ME GO!”
I looked down in horror as Danny’s eyes fluttered open briefly. They looked around the room in a panic and then locked with mine.
The sound of the shock filled the room, and Danny’s eyes rolled back into his head revealing only the white undersides before they shut again.
“NO WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” I struggled against Bill’s grasp to break free but I couldn’t break from it.
I looked in horror as the heart beat monitor ran back to zero.
“SHOCK ADVISED. READY TO SHOCK,”
There was smoke rising now from where the panels of the AED were stuck to Danny’s skin.
“STOP IT! YOU’RE BURNING HIM!”
They didn’t even bother yelling clear this time.
The smoke was rising thicker now.
“PLEASE! STOP! I’M BEGGING YOU!”
Just then Danny’s eyes fluttered open again. They found mine through the smoke and the chaos that filled the room. I could smell the skin burning now, and it sickened me to the point where I was almost gagging. The smoke was rising dark and thick, clouding along the ceiling of the room. Beneath the oxygen mask I saw his lips move but couldn’t hear him, although I didn’t have to to know what he’d said.
“Daddy?” He mouthed to me.
Danny’s body exploded. The room was filled with blood and bits of bone and skin. It coated the floor and splashed against the walls and ceilings.
I stood there in shock and horror, unable to move or speak. I was covered in his blood, bits of guts clinging to my hair and shredded skin on my cheek. I looked down in horror as the two EMT’s were completely clean, and were preparing to shock what little remained on the floor of Danny’s corpse.
“SHOCK ADVISED. READY TO SHOCK.”
My head snapped up from the table and the light reflecting off the white walls almost blinded me. My phone was ringing. I stared around the room in a daze of cold sweat and panic, my heart pumping a mile a minute.
Eventually the phone ceased ringing and I got my bearings. I looked down at the table.
I had fallen asleep in the evidence locker.
My head dropped into my hands and I let out a long sigh, then realized what had happened and frantically looked for my phone.
I turned and pulled it from my jacket pocket on the back of my chair.
“One Missed Call: Mary”
My stomach dropped. I opened the phone and immediately called her back.
“Mary? Is everything alright?”
“…Yes?” She sounded confused.
I slumped back against my chair relieved.
“Okay, okay…” I managed.
“Jeff it’s almost one in the morning, I thought you were only working until ten?”
I stared down at my watch, she was right. How long had I been asleep for?
“Yeah sorry, I fell asleep at my desk.” I laughed.
“Real nice Jeff.” I could hear her smile through the phone. “Glad you’re putting my tax dollars to good work.”
I laughed again.
“You know what this job is.” I said, now smiling too.
“I know, I know.” She responded, then did a hyperbolic impression of my voice. “In a way your tax dollars are paying me to leave the house every day.”
We both laughed at that. It’s true, I loved saying that to her and she loved hearing it.
“I’ll be home soon baby, don’t wait up.”
“Alright, love you.”
“Love you too.”
I hung up the phone and put it back in my pocket. I neatly packed away the Abian evidence and put it back on the shelf.
There was a small skeleton crew still in the office. Some other poor SOB working late and the dispatch, who was currently telling off the janitor for vacuuming while he was trying to write down a plate number. Just before I reached the door to the main entrance I stopped.
I stood there for a short while and then turned and walked back to my desk. I sat down and wiggled the computer mouse and the screen glowed softly as it woke up.
I pulled up our database and punched in the name.
There was a hit, and I opened her file.
I scanned through it, stopped, and then took out my phone one last time and dialed a number.
It rang twice before someone answered.
“It’s Jeff. I’ve got a lead on where Abian was headed next. He was going after a woman named Monaya Guthrie. I’m headed there tomorrow, if you’d like to come.”
There was a pause.
“Sure. I’ll be ready at seven.” Eli responded.
“Sounds good.” I said, and then paused. “Have a good night.”
“You too.” He said, and then my phone went silent.
My second car ride with Eli was nothing like the first. We took my personal vehicle this time, though I took my badge and gun with me just to be safe. I knew it wasn’t my first afflicted dream but this one hit closer to home, and knowing something was out there doing this scared the shit out of me.
When in the first instance I rode with Eli he was completely silent, this time I couldn’t shut him up. He rambled about his farm back home in Natchez, how the crops were just about ready to be harvested and that he planned to donate a lot of it to the local homeless shelter. He talked about his accomplishments at Northwestern and notable alums he had either taught or seen around campus, and how he completely distrusted dogs (much to my dislike) because as a kid he saw a pack of them surround and kill a rabbit.
“I’m telling ya, they didn’t even eat the damn thing, just took turns biting and shaking it. It was horrible.”
I didn’t mention to him that all he probably had to do was wave a stick at them and they’d run, but then again letting him talk endlessly allowed me to zone out and think about what laid ahead.
Well, not really.
I learned from the police database that she had passed away in 2010. She was a resident of Tawson for a while but she later moved to South Lewiston, Louisiana—about a two hour car ride down into the heart of the bayou. “Go somewhere more black” Eli had said was probably her motive, and who could blame her. From what I understand, a lot of kids faced racial taunting and malicious environments after that pre-school was shut down. Monaya must have taken it extra hard as well, given that her daughter passed away a few years later. Drowned one night when she had snuck off to go for a swim. If you ask me, that’s what drove her to move.
She was survived by a daughter she had later in life—whose name I learned was Kyla—and shared her mother’s last known address, which I figured might be the best place to start looking.
“Come on pull over!” Eli said breaking into my thoughts.
“Huh? What?” I said slowing the car down.
“Hell boy you haven’t even been listening to me have you?” He said, sounding annoyed. “I said pull over here and let me take a piss, Christ.”
I threw my blinker on and we turned into the parking lot of a diner. When we finally came to a stop in a space Eli opened the car door and hopped out.
“Now I’ll just be five minutes, don’t you go running off on me you hear?”
I grunted as he shut the door and proceeded to hustle strenuously up the ramp to the door.
It didn’t make much sense to me, to be honest. I understand this Monaya woman was pissed about what happened at the school, that I got, but how did she know how to perform that ritual? Eli had said—Abian too—that it was likely the ritual could have been performed in the past. People had realized that they could stave off the curse by burying the victim alive, and sometimes against their will, but bodies could always be unearthed by mistake, the curse reawakened, or if their theory is correct, re-summoned.
I shifted in my seat and looked down at my watch. It had been almost ten minutes. This is some long piss.
The engine was still humming and hung in the thick Louisiana air like the sound of a far off cicada. Something about it made me uneasy. I turned the keys in the ignition and shut the car off and realized it was completely quiet, eerily quiet.
I got out of the car and stretched. I paced a little around the parking lot and stopped at the end of it, watching a small stream babble lazily. I shifted on my feet and tugged at my crotch. Fuck, now I gotta piss too.
I walked up to the diner, the bright sun making the dark windows impossible to see through, and pushed the door open easily.
There were a few locals sitting at the bar top, they looked like truckers. Behind the counter a middle-aged waitress with blonde hair was pouring coffee into an older man’s mug.
“Can I help yah hun?” She said putting a hand on her hip, the coffee pot still in her other hand.
“No ma’am. Just waiting for my friend, came in to take a leak.”
“Ahh, older fellow yeah? White goatee?”
“That’s the one.” I smiled.
“Bathroom’s back there.” She motioned over to the end of the diner. “Feel free to wait or if you need anythin’ just holler.”
“Thank you ma’am.” I said as I made my way over to where she said the bathrooms were.
I passed by a jukebox that looked like it was on its last leg. The record inside was spinning, though it was warbling a little.”
“Hey, hey hey baby!” The jukebox sang, playing a scratchy rendition of “Hey Baby” by Bruce Chanel. “I want to know if you’ll be my girl.”
I stopped outside the men’s room door and noted the “occupied” over the door handle. I let out a sigh and leaned back against the wall.
“Sayyap!” I heard called in my direction in a grizzly weathered voice.
I looked up and saw an old man with long gray hair and a matching long beard, both of which looked scraggily enough to not have been washed in days. He was wearing a beat-up olive colored field jacket and a matching hat that read “Korean War Veteran” across the front. When we made eye contact he spoke again.
“That thur.” He rasped in a thick Louisiana accent, pointing towards my leg.
I looked down and saw the United States Marine Corps logo tattooed on the side of my calf.
“That’un match mine.” He said pulling back the sleeve of his coat and revealing a matching—albeit faded—version of mine.
“You served yeah?” I said nodding to his hat. “Korea?”
“Yahp, yahp.” He answered reaching back to grab his cup of coffee. He took a long audible sip.
“So did my granddad.” I said, stepping forward off the wall I was leaning on.
“Tiputhaspear.” The man garbled through his facial hair.
“Jeff Danvers.” I said walking towards him with my hand out. “Lance Corporal.”
He gripped my hand tight with his dirty palm and gave me a toothless smile.
“Robert Jennings.” He was gripping my hand tighter now and shaking it vigorously. “Private, first class.”
I frowned at him.
“I’m sorry, did you say your name wa—“
Just then he pulled a gun from his other hand and shot me in the thigh.
“ARGHH” I screamed falling to the ground and clutching my leg.
I heard the waitress gasp and the clamor of dining ware hit the floor as a few of the other patrons tried to run. This was followed by two more gun shots and a loud thud.
“NUBUDY MOVE!” the man said as I watched him pacing across the diner from the floor.
“Now Robert,” The waitress began in a shaken voice. “Let’s just talk about this yeah?”
“SHADDAHP!” He yelled, waving the gun. I watched as the other patrons ducked and held their heads.
He was pacing slowly now past the bar.
“Yeh dunno, dunno…” The gun was shaking now in his hand as he spoke.
I rolled over to get a better view and saw two bodies near the door. He must have caught them as they tried to flee. They had fallen in a way where you’d have to move them to get the door open, which explains why no one else has tried what they did.
“Out-un patrol and yeh find yer buddy’s body layin’ inna dirt.” He said choking back tears. “And when-yer other buddy roll’em over the body splode KA-BOOM!”
With that he fired the gun into the ceiling and staggered. He was practically sobbing at this point. His arm dropped to his side and he swayed a bit, and I heard him snort back his tears. Slowly, he walked alongside the bar top past a cowering patron, raise the gun to his head, and pull the trigger.
His brains splatted back against the side of the bar and the waitress screamed again. Just then I saw as the last patron stood up from where he was crouched down and ran at him.
“Rrrraghhhh!” he yelled as he ran.
He fell just a few feet in front the grizzly old man with two shots to the chest, his blood slowly leaking out onto the floor.
By this point I had managed to begin pulling myself up. I was sitting upright against the bottom of a booth, and wrenched at the table to pull myself up into the chair. When I finally managed to get myself up I panted, and saw that he was making his way behind the bar to the waitress.
“STOP THAT!” I yelled. “LEAVE HER ALONE!”
He began moving oddly side to side, a sort of side-step with a sway. Then he began shaking the gun in rhythm with his footsteps.
“Heyyyyyy hey hey babay!” he grumbled as he moved.
I looked over my shoulder and saw the jukebox, still playing the Bruce Chanel song.
“Hey, hey hey baby!” The jukebox churned out, but skipping and repeating just these lines.
The waitress was sobbing audibly now as he made his way over to her.
“Heyyyyyy hey hey babay!” he said whipping the gun forward so it was pointed into her stomach.
“No please…” She began as he grabbed her hand and kept dancing.
“Heyyyyyy hey hey babay!”
She was sobbing hysterically, him just rocking her arm back and forth.
“Heyyyyyy hey hey babay!” He said again, and I heard the record needle finally catch and play the second half of the chorus. “I wanna knooooo-o-o-o-o-ow, if you’ll be my girl!”
With the last word he had stuck the muzzle of his gun under her chin and pulled the trigger. The ceiling now coated in a deep red with bits of blonde stuck and strewn to the splatter.
I winced as the gun went off and recoiled, unready for the sound. He stood there for a moment staring at the ceiling with that toothless smile, then his eyes slowly fell to the woman on the ground, laying there lifeless and cold. His smile faded.
Slowly, he turned around and walked back around the diner, headed towards my booth.
“NO! NO STOP THIS!” I said, falling down to the floor and crawling on my elbows and one good leg towards the end of the diner.
The record was skipping completely now, the song had ended. It seemed to sync with his footsteps as he slowly paced after me.
“I’m a police officer! I can help you! Come on, put the gun down and we can discuss this, please!”
He wasn’t listening, and kept getting closer. By now I had reached the end of the diner and turned to prop myself up against the wall, watching him slowly creepy forward.
“Hmmmmm, hmm hmm hmm-hmm!” I heard him humming, and realized he was still mimicking the jukebox.
His toe hit my foot and he stopped, standing by my feet, the gun hanging at his side like a weight.
“Please, please I have a wife and son.” I pleaded.
He smiled down at me again, then threw back his head and let out a long almost cackling laugh.
His head snapped down and I saw the clean shaven face of Thomas Abian.
“Boo.” He said in a voice so dark and deep it sounded almost fake, then shoved the muzzle of the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
There was just enough time to see his head burst.
I snapped awake to the sound of knuckles on the windshield.
I looked over to the sound and saw Eli peering in through the passenger side window.
“Open up it’s hot as hell in hand basket out here!”
“Umm, yeah.” I said fumbling for the electronic locks. I snapped them locked at first and then unlocked them fast. “Sorry, must have dozed off.”
Eli opened the door and then stopped halfway into the truck as he heard what I said.
“Oh…” He started. Then turned to look at me. “You alright?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” I said turning the key in the ignition and blasting the air conditioning. Christ it had gotten hot in here.
“Well, I’m ready to hit the road. Unless you gotta run in for a quick leak as well?”
I paused for a moment and then looked up at the diner over the steering wheel. I caught the eye of a brunette waitress, a little younger than her made-up counterpart. She noticed me staring then smiled and waved, although I couldn’t manage to move a muscle.
“No, no.” I said buckling my seatbelt and checking to make sure no one was behind me in the lot. “Let’s hit the road.”
The rest of the car ride went about the same. Well, minus the little part where I passed out in a parking lot and dreamt about Robert Jennings going on a killing spree.
Eli picked up right where he left off, talking about his career and whatnot. I think he knew I wasn’t listening, but just liked having someone to talk to all the same. Life on a farm can’t be too social.
Eventually we passed a sign on the interstate that read “Now Entering South Lewiston,” and the cab of my car fell silent. The purr of the engine and the steady rush of the air conditioning the only noise.
I looked up at the GPS on my dash and saw we were just ten minutes out.
“Say, Jeff.” Eli finally piped up.
“I know we’re here to talk to Kyla but, have you given any thought to what you’re gonna ask her?”
I thought about this for a second or two.
“Yeah.” I finally responded.
“And?” Eli asked.
“I still don’t know.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence, off the interstate and through a rundown town center, a left and a right here and there, until we reached a small winding road with houses spaced far, far apart.
“You have arrived at your destination.” The GPS chimed as I slowly crept to a halt over to the side of the road.
I shifted the car into park and looked down a long dirt driveway at a small brown house. It looked like it needed a fresh coat of paint and some shingle-work on the sides. A windchime hung over the porch with three yellow birds dangling amongst the thin metal pipes.
I looked at Eli and he looked at me. He nodded, and we both got out of the car.
As I walked down the driveway I looked around. The yard was mowed—to a point—weeds and tall sawgrass had snuck in from the side of the road, and must have been slowly inching their march into the manicured patches of grass and dust for years now. There were a pair of lawn chairs up on the porch with a table between them, a glass of what looked like sweet tea sitting on it, sweating in the hot Louisiana air.
Eli and I walked up the front steps onto the porch, exchanged a quiet sideways glance, and then I reached up and knocked on the screen door.
The sound of footsteps echoed from inside, and then a woman came to the door, opening it a little over a foot and then stepped halfway out. She looked like she was in her late thirties or early forties, but was still very pretty.
“Can I help you?” She asked suspiciously.
“Yes ma’am, we’re looking for a Miss Kyla Guthrie, is she available?” I said, trying to sound as polite as possible.
“She is…” She answered, “Speaking actually.”
Eli and I shifted uncomfortably in unison, him letting out a short cough.
“Ma’am, my name is Jeff Danvers. I’m a police officer with Tawson, Louisiana and this is my associate Eli Jacobs.”
“Ma’am.” Eli said tipping his hat.
“We were wondering if we could ask you a couple of questions?”
Kyla looked from me to Eli, and then back to me.
“And what does an officer in Tawson need with me?” She asked.
“Well ma’am, we were wondering if… ahh…” I said trailing off.
“We were wondering if you wouldn’t mind us asking you a few questions about your late mother, God rest her soul.” Eli chimed in. “She used to live in Tawson correct?”
“My mother?” Kyla said turning back towards Eli. “She did yes, both of us did. But what could you possibly need in regards to her?”
“Ma’am, this has nothing to do with any investigation. We just…”
Now it was Eli’s turn to trail off.
“We found a note.” I blurted out.
“A note?” Kyla asked. Her stare gave me chills.
“Yes, we found a note from your mother.”
Kyla eyed us both, now very suspicious.
“What kind of note?”
“It was discovered at a crime scene at the old pre-school in town.” I blurted again. Eli giving me a glaring look.
Kyla gasped, a little, confirming my very sure yet skeptical suspicion that she was just as human as I was.
“Well, come in then, come in.”
She opened the screen door and I followed her inside, Eli doing the same after me. Her house was surprisingly cool, which must have been due to the natural shade she got from the surrounding trees. The furniture was a bit dated but somehow it worked, and the whole place just felt… surprisingly wholesome.
We followed her to the living room and she motioned over towards the couch.
“You can sit there, if you’d like. Can I get you anything? A cup of sweet tea? Ice water?” She asked.
“Water would be lovely ma’am thank you.” Eli said as he took his hat off and sat down.
“Nothing for me, thanks.” I said, following his lead and taking the other side of the couch.
Kyla walked through an open doorway into the kitchen as I watched her pull a glass from the shelf, open the fridge and produce a pitcher of water. She poured it into the glass and then place it back where she had got it. She shut the fridge and I squeezed my hands together dropping my gaze, not letting her know I had followed her every move.
“Here you go.” She said handing it to Eli.
She sat down in a lounge chair across from us.
“Thank you ma’am.” He said as he took a long sip, then placed it on the side table, being sure to use a coaster.
We all sat awkward for a second or two before we all remembered what we had sat down to discuss.
“So, this note.” Kyla started. “May I see it?”
I turned towards a small pack I had carried in with me and unzipped the top. From inside I pulled out the note, held in a small plastic bag, and handed it to over to her.
She took it and stared down at it, narrowed her eyes at it, then read it again.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand?” She finally said looking back at us.
I let out a small sigh. Patience has never been a strength of mine. Luckily, however, there was an interrogation tactic for this. Come out with the fastball off the bat, and hope you catch them off guard.
“Ma’am, do you have any reason to suspect your Mother would have been involved with voodoo?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Eli slowly turn towards me, and felt his eyes practically boring a hole through the side of my head. Kyla on the other hand stared at me, mouth slightly agape.
After a few seconds she started laughing, almost hysterically.
I looked over at Eli who was scowling, and I answered with a shrug. Kyla continued to laugh for a few more seconds.
“Wooo!” She finally said, fanning herself with her hand. She looked back up at me for a brief moment and then laughed again.
When she was finished she wiped the beginnings of a tear from the corner of her eye.
“I’m sorry.” She said. “It’s just—“
Another short laugh.
“You see, my mother was a God-fearing woman.” She said finally composing herself. “Church every Sunday, prayers when you were bad, prayers for you when you were sick… If she even heard the word ‘voodoo’ she would have set to giving both of y’all a good whooping.”
She laughed a short bit again, and then sat back.
“That’s good to hear.” I said smiling. “It’s just—this note—we think it may have been left at the site of what looks like a voodoo ritual, hidden beneath the floorboards of the old pre-school.”
Kyla looked at me and her smile faded slightly.
“Oh, you’re serious?” She asked.
I nodded, solemnly.
“Well, since I took you through the ringer with that laughing fit, I may as well tell you.”
Eli and I both leaned in, attentively.
“My mother, you see, she was pretty upset when they shut that school down.” She said, reaching for a pack of cigarettes, taking one out and lighting it. She took a long drag and then exhaled. “Now, she may have loved herself some Jesus, but she was fierce, like a lioness.”
Eli handed her an ashtray and she nodded back in thanks, placing it beside herself and knocking her cigarette on it.
“See, when it came to me and my sis she did anything for us. I mean, arguing with the teachers over our grades, making sure other kids were never bullying us, everything. She always wanted us to be treated with nothing but respect and for us to treat everyone else the same.”
She ashed her cigarette again and then continued.
“But when they closed that school down—well—that was the angriest my mother had ever been. Hell, she went off on me and my sis a few times even, just because she had so much… so much rage from it.”
I edged closer, leaning over the small coffee table.
“Now, bless her soul, my mother was definitely a saint.” Kyla said taking another drag. “But would she fake some voodoo mumbo-jumbo to scare people out of that school? Well, I have to say, I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Eli and I slouched a bit, our tense stature wearing out on an instant.
“I’m sorry, faked?” Eli said.
“Yeah well, last I heard that school still ain’t sold.” Kyla answered, snuffing out her cigarette. “Not sure what she did had anything to do with it if it’s just now being found but, sounds like whatever it was worked, no?”
I sat back against the couch in disbelief. Kyla sensed this and gave me a peculiar stare.
“What part of Africa is your family from, Kyla, if you know?” Eli asked through the silence.
Kyla shifted her stare to him, looking suspicious again.
“And what does that have to do with this?” She shot back.
“I was a professor of African History at Northwestern for—well—maybe twenty years.” He smiled, and then got up, walking over to the wall and pointing to a painted wooden mask. “But I can’t seem to place what art style this is. Hell, been bugging me since I came in.”
Kyla cracked a smile.
“My mother loved that thing, I—on the other hand—always thought it was hideous.” She said getting up and walking over to stand with him, taking it off the wall. “Mali.”
She offered it to Eli, who took it with a smile and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Mali! Ahh, beautiful architecture there.” He said, turning the mask in his hands and inspecting it. “And would that be East or West?”
“Well East I believe.” She said, putting her hands into her back pockets, beginning to get uncomfortable.
“Near the border of Algeria?” Eli asked, staring directly into her eyes.
“Yeah… Actually that’s pretty much all I know.” She said. I could tell she was starting to get uncomfortable.
“And the tribe, specifically, it wouldn’t be the Binuma, would it?”
Kyla glanced over at me for just a second and then back to Eli.
“I… I’m sorry but that’s really all I know.”
Eli stared at her for a few more seconds and then smiled, looking back down at the mask in his hands.
“Well it’s lovely all the same, thank you.” He said handing it back.
She took it giving Eli a skeptical look, and then placed it back on the wall.
“Well, Jeff.” Eli started. “I think that about does it, yeah?”
“Yeah, sorts it nicely I think.” I say, standing up. “Thank you for your hospitality and cooperation ma’am.”
“Of course.” Kyla answered gaining her composure. “Let me show you out.”
She walked us to the door and we exchanged another thank you, then Eli and I walked back up the driveway, the feel of her stare on our backs the whole way. We eventually reached the car, got in, and drove off for a minute or so in silence. Eli finally broke it when we got back onto the main roads.
“That mask was ancient.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t fake?” I responded.
“Couldn’t have been, I’d have known it.” He said, cracking a smile.
We drove for a bit longer in silence again, this time it was my turn to break it.
“So what now?”
“Why don’t we stop somewhere for lunch, compare thoughts?”
“Sure.” I said, pulling into a deli that happened to be on the route.
We ordered a sandwich and some chips and ate outside on a picnic table. Eli went over how he managed to determine the mask was authentic due to some sort of carving method the tribe was known for, and how the Binuma wandered around between the border of modern-day Algeria and Mali. We agreed that Kyla probably had no knowledge of her mother practicing voodoo, and if she did she was a damn good actress, but by the time we had finished Eli was firing on all cylinders.
“What do you say we grab a room somewhere so I can run through that book? I know it’s a long shot but they may have mentioned a mask in there somewhere, and I may have not known to look.”
I was getting a little frustrated. I don’t know what I expected to gain today but my lack of patience wasn’t helping me find it.
We left the deli and stopped at a hotel in the center of town. It was a bit seedy but—hey—we’re in the bayou. Eli set down immediately and started flipping through the pages of the book, all the while writing what I think were translations or notes in a notebook to the side of it. I was starting to get really tired, and the decrepit mattress in the room was looking better and better. I shook the sleep from my eyes and finally managed to speak.
“I’m gonna go grab some coffee, you want some?”
Eli stopped and looked at me as if he forgot I was there.
“Yeah sounds alright. Milk two sugars if you can.”
I left the room and walked down to the lobby, where I couldn’t find coffee. At this point I was tired, and needed to get out of that room, so I just kept walking. Eventually I came upon a convenience store that had some. I opted for iced, as it was hot out and it was a long walk and hell, I was the one paying. It took me another ten minutes or so to get back and by the time I got there and opened the door, Eli was pacing around the room.
“JEFF!” He yelled as soon as the door opened. Fuck I wasn’t ready for that.
“Here’s your coffee.” I said handing it over.
He took a sip.
“Iced? Good man.” He set it down and started talking rapidly immediately. “I found in the book, Jeff, I found… You’re never gonna believe it.”
Exciting as it was I was too tired for this.
“Slow down, man. Let me actually hear it.”
He gave me a sheepish look.
“Sorry. It’s just, I read that the witch doctor—the one who cast the curse—see he always wore a mask just like the one Kyla had on her wall.”
“No shit.” I said stopping mid-sip. Eli nodded excitedly.
“Now, chances are slim it’s the real deal, but it’s mentioned in this book and elsewhere mind you that with voodoo, it’s not total accuracy that validates relics, it’s the intent.”
I digested this for a bit.
“Yeah, see, if someone made this—hoping to make a replica of what the witch doctor wore for whatever reason—and the original was destroyed…”
“Even though it’s not a perfect copy, it would be honored as such…” I said, thinking about the words as I said them.
“Exactly.” Eli smiled.
“So someone, at some point in Kyla’s family, made that mask?”
“And her mother loved it.”
I sat there, digesting it all.
“So, what, she’s a descendant of the witch doctor?”
“I think she might be.” Eli answered, sounding even more excited.
I paused for a second.
“But I thought you said they were all killed?”
Eli stopped and thought for a second.
“Well who’s to say he didn’t go on to father more children? Hell, his own wife was with child when she died, and voodoo priests were allowed to have lovers—more than one for that matter.”
This was a lot to take in. I sat back and thought it over as I drank my coffee.
“Okay, so she’s a descendant. How does that help us? To me it seems like she has no idea what her mother did—if she even did anything—so what help is she?”
“You’re not going to like this.” He said.
He came over and sat down on the bed next to me.
“There’s a pretty rigid rule, with voodoo.” He started, fiddling his hands together. “To reverse any curse, you simply reverse the ritual.”
I frowned at him, and then thought about it.
“Wait… are you suggesting we…?”
“Yes, Jeff, I’m saying we need to burn Kyla, the same way the witch doctor originally burnt the sacrificial totems.”
I gave Eli a burning scowl for a long time.
“Eli we can’t kill anybody.”
He looked back at me, confused.
“Jeff her people summoned a spirit that’s been killing other innocent people for thousands of years…”
“Let’s say—and this is a stretch mind you—that, this mask you found is legit, okay? Still, Kyla is innocent. I can’t just kill someone who’s innocent.”
Eli stared down into his lap.
“Yeah, yeah.” He began. “Look I… I saw this coming with Abian. That crazy son of a bitch… See he was logical. He was a great guy, smart as all hell, but cold and calculated. Hell, he asked me if I’d bury him alive if it came to it, just to stop the curse.”
“Fuck…” Was all I could manage.
“Yeah, see, I knew how long of a shot it was to find a living relative to that tribe, but if he managed to and I told him what I just told you…”
I thought about this, for a long while.
“There’s no other way?”
Eli shook his head in solitude.
“Well.” I started. “You’ll help me, right? I don’t have to do this alone?”
He sighed, and I knew I wasn’t going to like what I heard next.
“My wife is sick, Jeff.”
My heart sank, but Eli kept talking.
“She needs tending to, you see. I really shouldn’t have been gone even this long and I’m sure the nurse I hired out is right sick of her by now.”
I thought about my own wife and son, back at home. Wondered how they’d get along without me, when they knew I’d eventually succumbed to this… this thing.
“Go, go on.” I said. “Do you need a ride?”
“No, no it’s alright.” He said. “Truth be told I don’t live too far, we’re close enough to the Mississippi border. A cab should do just fine.”
He got up from the bed and began collecting his things, the ancient text among them. When he finally reached door he stopped, and looked back at me.
“I’ll be thinking of you, Jeff.” He said.
And with that he was gone.
I waited until nightfall. My car was parked a ways down the road where Kyla lived, between her and her neighbors house which were conveniently almost a half mile apart. I took a deep swig of the bottle of bourbon I had in my hand and winced off the strength of the liquor. Was I really going to do this? Was I going to burn an innocent woman just to save myself?
I shook my head and tried not to think about it, then reached over and opened the glove box, and produced a few adderall that I borrowed from Abian’s evidence locker. Compared to the bourbon they were easy to swallow.
The car door was shut silently enough, and I made off down the street carrying the equipment I’d need. Eventually, I reached Kyla’s driveway, took a deep breath, and started down it slowly.
I set the gas tank down in her front yard and then crept up the stairs to her front door. I took one of the lengths of two inch by six inch planks I’d picked up, then slowly and painstakingly—trying to be as silent as possible—screwed it over the door. I circled around the house and did the same to the backdoor I found, checked for no bulkhead, and realized it was time.
I picked up the can of gasoline and walked around the outside of her house, pouring it on the base and walls as quietly as possible. Eventually, I came back to where I started and stopped.
This was it, there’s no coming back from this.
I lit a match from the book I had, and tossed it into the gasoline. It took immediately and spread around the house in a circle, too hot for me to even stand near. I walked back out into the yard and picked up the bottle of bourbon. The fire was beginning to catch on the walls now. I took one last swig of it, stuck a rag down its spout, soaked it a little, lit the end, paused for one last moment, then threw it through a window of the front of the house.
It exploded inside, and coated the room it landed in with flames. I stood there for a second, taking it all in.
Then I heard the screams.
Kyla had finally woke up.
The door before me barked as she rammed into it, trying to get it open. I jumped back in a moment of brief shock. The doorknob shook and turned and there were bangs, cries for help, then nothing. There was nothing for a few moments, and then the glass shattered on one of the windows.
Kyla’s arm came through, slicing on one of the shards of glass left.
“HELP! HELP ME PLEASE CALL 911!”
I stood in silence. The windows were old. I’d noticed them on my first trip here earlier today. So old, in fact, that they were four panes of glass separated by a thick wooden cross, which would need a good deal of force to break. Attempting this, however, would smash the glass surely, causing the escaping smoke near the window to be choking and unbearable.
She was trapped.
I stood long enough to hear the screaming stop, the house still ablaze, tossed in the cordless drill and empty gas can, then left.
When I reached my car I got in and sat down. I turned the key in the ignition and drove off.
I’ve never known silence like I have in that moment.
When I was a few miles away, what I considered a safe distance, I stopped on the side of the road, parked, and turned the car off.
I sat there for a while. Minutes, hours… I don’t know how long. Then I realized I didn’t know why I was even waiting. What was I waiting for? Should there be a sign? Some sort of signal? How do I know what I did worked?
I frowned, and looked around the car.
I didn’t feel different. I was still tired but I’d be damned if I was going to sleep right now.
“Is this it?” I said aloud, not expecting an answer, and not getting one.
Frustrated, I ran my fingers through my hair, took out my phone, and called Eli.
It rang twice and he picked up, sounding dozy.
“Eli. Hey it’s ahh, it’s Jeff.”
“Jeff…” He sighed. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I said. “I did it, it’s done.”
There was a long silence between us.
“You did what you had to do, Jeff.”
Again, I didn’t know what to say. I picked up Abian’s diary from my passenger seat and began flipping through the pages mindlessly.
“I just wish there was some other way.” I finally said.
“Well, I could have buried you alive.” Eli said, managing a small fake laugh.
“Ha, yeah, thankfully we didn’t have to—“
I stared down at Abian’s diary in disbelief.
“Jeff?” Eli said.
I didn’t understand. The lines of his journal reading in my brain over and over.
“June 4th, 2016.
I met today with Eli, an African history professor who lives in Natchez Mississippi. He lives alone in a small farmhouse on a large plot of land…”
“Jeff? Are you there?”
“Y-Yeah.” I choked out. “Say Eli, how’s your wife?”
“She’s doing fine.” He chuckled. “Happy to have me home, that’s for sure.”
My heart was going a mile a minute, this can’t be happening, it can’t be.
“Eli…” I began.
“You don’t have a wife.”
There was a long silence, and then I heard him smile through the phone.
“No, Jeff, I don’t.”
And he hung up.