Within the Den

-By J.J. Cheesman
I honestly don’t remember every detail about Aunt Rosie’s house. The sky-blue of the siding on her house sticks out in my mind, as well as the white lattice above the front door that was wreathed in ivy. The inside of the home has even fewer spots in my memory. I know there was a second floor, but I was never allowed to go up there. The living area is pretty much a blank to me as well, even though I had to pass through it to get to the playroom, all I can recall is its nautical theme.

Aunt Rosie must have had a thing for boats, because the only other room I can get a grip on in my mind besides the den, is the kitchen, and the kitchen was crawling with all kinds of nautical-themed décor. There were ropes, and porthole windows, and an old ship wheel, all placed carefully across the walls. When I think of the kitchen in that house, my mind takes my senses to a place of momentary bliss. I can hear Aunt Rosie humming as she puts a kettle on to boil. There’s a small *clang* as she fiddles inside one of the cabinets to get a baking tin. Then comes the sweet smell of peanut butter cookies, something she always made when I came to visit because they were my favorite. Maybe they were only my favorite because I only got them when Aunt Rosie made them, I’m not sure. In any case, the kitchen holds warm and fond memories for me.

The playroom was filled with all manner of toy castles and stuffed animals. That was where I spent a majority of time during my visits. Like most of the house I don’t remember many specifics about it, but I can recall the various bins of toys Aunt Rosie had collected over the years. The toys ranged from the very toddler-friendly spelling blocks, to stuffed animals, to dolls and toy castles, they were more than enough to occupy eight-year-old me for hours and hours. Just beyond the playroom, separated by a single white door, was what Aunt Rosie called, the den. The door to the den was always closed, though I could see inside from my play area thanks to the large ornate glass that sat in the center of the white door. Even with the sun up, it was a dark room thanks to the large red dimming curtains that covered the windows. The little light that did filter in through the heavy fabric bathed the room in a sickly-red color.

I remember becoming bored with my play one lazy afternoon, and I decided to get closer to the door of the den to get a better look inside. Décor inside the Den seemed to be the same nautical theme that the rest of the house had. I could see a portrait of a lighthouse, hanging above a yellow easy chair with a very high back. The yellow material on the chair looked luxurious, but if I had to guess at it now it was likely imitation velvet. The portrait held my attention for a moment when I laid eyes on it. At the time, and up until the few moments after looking away from the portrait to what stood beside the chair, it was the most curious thing that I had seen in my life.

Inside the world of the painting, it was mid-day and overcast. The lighthouse stood on the edge of a high and precarious cliff. There was a woman standing on the catwalk and looking out over the briny sea. She seemed to be frightened, though most of her face was covered in the shadowy strands of her wet blonde hair. Just behind her, the great eye of the light house lens was illuminated and shining out onto the ocean. The scene was clearly painted by some expert hand. It was easy to get lost in the picture, I could almost see the calm waters below the cliff changing violent under the impending storm above. I must have stood staring at that painting for several minutes before the sound of Aunt Rosie traveling throughout the house broke me from the spell it had placed on my senses. I quickly ran over to the spot where I was playing just moments before, and I pretended to be enthralled with the toy castle and several little plastic villagers that I was playing with.

Seconds later Rosie walked into the playroom wiping here hands in her apron.

“Ellie, do you like strawberry tarts?” She asked.

I smiled, relieved that she didn’t see me running over from the den.

“Of course!” I said.

“Good! We’ll have some to try after supper tonight.”

Aunt Rosie walked over to me, bent over, and kissed me on the head.

“Are you doing okay in here?” She asked.

“I’m fine.” I said.

“I’ll leave you to it then.” She gave me another kiss, and left the room. I watched her walk through the living room. As soon as I saw her turn the corner and head into the kitchen, I got up and walked back over to the den.

I meant to examine at the painting again, but something far more interesting caught my eye. Beside the yellow chair, was a small table with a lamp. In front of the lamp was a clear glass bottle placed sideways. Inside the bottle, was a small model of a grand and ornate ship. The wooden hull was trimmed in gold, and the sails were black, accented with white stripes. I had never seen anything so intriguing. The first time I laid eyes on that, my childish imagination ran wild. I didn’t understand how something was possible, I was confused on how exactly such a large model fit inside such a small space.

Aunt Rosie warned me to stay out of the den, it was one of the few rules at her house, but it was a rule I knew I was going to have to break. I didn’t know why, I just knew that I had to get a closer look so I could inspect the bottle up close. Before trying the door, I turned my head and listened hard for Rosie. I could hear pots and pans in the kitchen. I hoped that meant she would be occupied for a while. Silently I made a deal with myself to only go into the den for a moment. One quick look was all I needed, then I would be right out.

I took a deep breath, and tried the door knob. To my surprise, the door was already un-latched. When I pressed on the knob, the door simply swung slowly outward, creaking slightly and then stopping. I paused only briefly to listen, wondering if the noise was loud enough to alert my Aunt. I could no longer hear her in the kitchen, but I didn’t hear approaching footsteps, so I continued. The door was open only a sliver, but it was enough for me to squeeze through without the risk of making anymore sound. I slid quietly in, and moved as quickly yet as quietly as I could, concentrating hard on the glass bottle beside the chair.

Finally, I was standing directly in front of the table and the model ship, and I inched my face so close to the glass that my breath began to fog the bottle. I drew back only slightly, and marveled at the tiny ship inside the ocean of glass. It was even more beautiful up close. The white stripes on the black sails were drawn in intricate patterns by some expert hand. The gold trim around its hull gleamed even in the poor light of the den. Several minutes must have gone by while I stood staring, yet never daring to lay a finger on the glass for fear of doing more damage than I could fix. I was so enthralled, so focused on the beauty of what I was examining, that I hadn’t noticed until that very moment that something had changed in the room.

There was a distinct sound of a mower outside worked on their lawn when I entered the room, but all at once the sound became muted, I could still hear it, but it sounded very far away all of a sudden. The absence of sound broke my concentration, but I didn’t have long to think about what happened before something else grabbed my attention. The light filtering in from outside through the thick red curtains became dimmer, and the harsh red hue it created somehow, impossibly, became a cool blue. Slowly, I began to walk through the dark light to the window to see what was going on. The sudden shift in light and sound made me recall the feeling of being in a dream. It was a surreal and uncanny feeling, one that I’ve never again experienced anything similar to. Then, just before I made it to the curtains, I heard the creaking.

It was a long and ghastly sound that seemed to come from all around the den. It was unlike the creak of an old floorboard or door; this sound was strangely heavier. It was then that I made up my mind to leave and find my Aunt Rosie. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I didn’t want to be alone any longer. I was thoroughly creeped out but I kept my wits about me and begin to walk calmly toward the door. I took no more than a single step however, before my foot hit something. I backed away instinctively, looking down as I did so. It was the model ship inside its glass bottle. Somehow it had rolled off of the table and made its way through the coarse carpet and ended up in front of me. For a moment I forgot myself, and the odd transformation of the room around me. Once again, the little boat had distracted my child mind. I didn’t remember touching the table, but I must have bumped it when I turned around for it to end up so far from its resting spot. Luckily it looked like the ship inside was completely intact and unscathed from the fall. As soon as my hand touched the bottle, my peripheral vision spotted something familiar beyond the space between my legs. It was in that moment that the surreal, dream-like sensation from before had begun to twist. Now, I wasn’t in a dream at all, this was a full-fledged nightmare.

It is difficult to put into words the terror I felt, the absolutely petrifying fear that came in noticing the pair of bare and pallid feet directly behind me. They were wet and grimy, the toes were gnarled and broken in places, and what nails were left were shriveled yellow and black specks.

I remained in that bent position with my hand still on the bottle, not daring to move. Whoever was standing there made no move either, and I couldn’t even hear breathing. I don’t know how long I stood there like that in that awkward pose, but it was long enough that the strain on my back was causing pain. Even though I felt cold, sweat beaded down my forehead and fell from my chin in large drops onto the carpet. Then there was thick, broken, gurgling sound, almost like water spiraling down a drain, but more guttural. This sound was followed by three broken words.

“Turn around Ellie”

That was the last straw, I closed my eyes and bolted. I reached my hands out, remembering the door wasn’t fully open, and prayed to god that I could find the handle and dash out before my stalker grabbed me. I found the door and threw it open, only opening my eyes when I knew I was in the playroom, I was too afraid to catch a glimpse of the intruder in the reflection of the glass. I didn’t stop running through the house until I made it into the kitchen and found my Aunt Rosie. She’d been sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea, when she saw me on the verge of tears she shoved her cup aside.

“Ellie what on earth is wrong?” she said, holding out her arms.

I ran to her, and I blubbered out incoherent words as she embraced me.

“Ellie calm down, I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.” She said, but I couldn’t calm down, I was hysterical.

“There’s someone in the den!” I finally said

“What do you mean there’s someone in the den?” she asked frantically

“There’s someone in the den!” I repeated.

Aunt Rosie stood and walked over to the knife block on the counter, pulling a large butcher’s knife.

“Wait here.” She said, and left the kitchen. Rosie was gone only a moment or two while I waited in the kitchen shaking uncontrollably. When Aunt Rosie came back she looked me over holding on odd expression on a face that was ghost white. Then she went to the phone on the wall by the table and called my mom at work. A short while later, my mother walked in through the door, finding Aunt Rosie and I at the kitchen table, with two untouched cups of tea in front of each of us.

I remember waiting at the door while my mother and her sister shouted at each other in the kitchen.

“I don’t understand, what happened Rose?!” I heard Mom say.

“I can’t explain in Holly, I just can’t watch her for a while, I just can’t” Rosie said.

“Well thanks a lot for all your help!” Mom screamed, and stormed out of the front door with me in tow.

I didn’t see Rosie for a long time after that. My mother was furious that she’d have to start paying for a babysitter while her and my father were at work. Eventually though, I was old enough to look after myself, and Mom and Aunt Rosie patched things up. Rosie would even come over for visits every now and again, which was a relief. I had begun to blame myself for their spat. After going over the events in the den, and how dream-like it all seemed, I was convinced it was just a nightmare. I must have fallen asleep in the playroom, and dreamed everything that happened in the den. I rarely ever went to Rosie’s, she moved into a small apartment sometime when I was younger.

When I was seventeen, Aunt Rosie and I were talking amongst ourselves during my family’s New Year’s Eve party. We were in the kitchen, Aunt Rosie had been drinking, she was on her fourth cranberry juice and vodka, and we were laughing about how she always thought my father’s nose was just a bit too long. Then all of a sudden, she stopped. Her expression became serious, and she looked around to be sure we were alone.

“Ellie, do you remember the last time you stayed at my house when you were younger?” She asked.

I nodded.

“Can’t forget it.” I said. “But it was just a bad dream is all.”

Her face twisted, as if she was straining to hold back something.

“Can you tell me what happened then? In your dream?”

I agreed, and recounted the story about the den.

Aunt Rosie nodded,

“So, you saw the painting then? With the woman?” She asked.

I smiled.

“Of course, why?”

Before answering, she picked up her drink, which was more than half full, and finished it in two gulps. She sat her drink on the table, and said,

“I had that painting for years. It was your grandfather’s. It was one of the many things your mother and I got in his will after he passed away. But I burned it and moved out after I saw it that day.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Why?”

“The painting of the lighthouse hung in dad’s study for years, and it hung in my den for years more.  I loved that painting. And that’s all it was. A painting of a lighthouse. There was never, ever any woman.”

Within the Den

The Ride, A Poem

-By: J.J. Cheesman

You are lost for words, and I can’t blame you at all.

You’ve taken all you can again, and you let me take the fall.

But you don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel that way.

This blue curacao whiskey ride gets me through the day.

I’m sorry I’m sensitive, I’m sorry I always change my mind.

I’m sorry that my center is something I never ever find.

Everything I loved left when all I wanted was to stay.

But this blue curacao whiskey ride helps to make it all okay.

Every single word you speak, cuts me to the bone.

I wish I knew how to tell you that I always feel alone.

But silence is all I can come up with at the end of the day.

So, the blue curacao whiskey ride is the price that I must pay.

When I was just a boy I dreamed that I’d be great.

But time is an awful monster that doesn’t like to wait.

From then my memory is just a hazy muddled grey.

I think the blue curacao whiskey ride took them all away.

Tonight, I stare up at the sky, losing my belief,

That anything but this old drink will bring me my relief.

I don’t need your pity, your money, or for you to pray.

This blue curacao whiskey ride will set me on my way.

The Ride, A Poem

Always Here

By: J.J. Cheesman

“I was always there for you.” She said with a look so harsh it made me look away.

“I know.” I replied.

The conversation we had was strange. Absurd even, there in such a public place. I felt vulnerable and a little ashamed. The mall was alive with throngs of people rushing this way and that, any one of them could have been listening.

“Every time your heart was broken, I was your shoulder to cry on.” She continued.

“I know.” I whispered, fighting back the well of tears that threatened to spill over from my eyes.

“When you had your accident and ended up in the hospital for months, did she comfort you? Was she there by your bed every single night?” A voice like nettles asked.

“No.” I choked.

“Who was?” She demanded.

“You were.” I said, my voice as unsteady as waves on an ocean under an encroaching storm.

“That’s right. I was. I was always there. Even when you were young. Without question I’ve stood beside you all this time. So, when I ask you to do one thing for me, and you ignore me, can you understand how that makes me feel?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t look at her I was so ashamed. I just stood in front of the department store on the second floor of the mall, staring at my shoes and repeating that I was sorry. For a long time, there was only silence.

“Well, are you ready to go?” My girlfriend, Jessica, said.

I nodded, and without looking up or speaking, I turned and walked with her toward the escalator that would take us down from the second floor.

“Hey, are you okay?” Jessica asked.

I looked up at her and smiled.

“Yeah I’m fine. Sorry.”

She seemed satisfied and smiled back before stepping onto the escalator. I took one moment to look back at the department store. The mannequin was standing there, but she no longer wore a harsh expression. Now her face was warm and smiling.

“Just do this one thing for me Allan.” She says, her voice like honey.

I nodded, and turned back to Jessica, placing my hand on the small back of her denim jacket. With a gentle push, she tumbled all the way to the bottom floor, her neck snapping as her head made contact with the white tile below.

“Remember Allan,” A voice from behind me called, “I’ll always be here.”

Always Here

There’s Nothing in Forest Glen National Park

-By: J.J. Cheesman

-Contributions by: Marcus Damanda

cove-man

 

God damn, where to begin?

Here are the facts: I have a friend named James. And he’s a true friend, although we’ve yet to meet in person. He lives in Illinois, and I hail from the scenic and relatively toothless state of Virginia. We know each other via Facebook and by mutual interest. We share our work, vent our shared frustrations—help each other out as we can.

Not long ago, he got in touch with me, emailed me a detailed account of his encounter with something that he claimed took on the shape of another friend of his, some guy by the name of Robert. He said it came from a park called ‘Forest Glen’, and that it hounded him at all hours of the night. Then, about a week later, he followed up the first email with another:

‘Marcus, I’m sending this to you in sections from a password-protected Email. That way it can’t be edited, it cannot be changed. Only the facts will remain. The police have been no help, as I’ve explained. No one believes me, but I know the truth. There’s something out there.’

As he promised, James sent three others, day by day, so that his personal thoughts could not be tampered with. I thought he had lost it, truth be told. And I was worried about him. That being said, coward that I am, I remained silent about it. James had been my friend for a long time. I wasn’t about to tell him that his paranoid delusions had gotten out of control. With every email James sent, however, my opinion of his mental state began to shift. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to dismiss his rantings as mere fabrications from a broken mind.

To make it more coherent, I’ve consolidated every email James sent to me into one transcript. The following is his complete account of everything that happened to him on the days after his first encounter with that terrible monster. Take heed and fair warning, I expect you won’t like what you find within his words. I certainly didn’t.


Today was bad. It was worse than bad. It was a NIGHTMARE.

I’d expected him to be there last night, ya know? Like he’d been for the past two weeks. I was ready.

Every time I called someone, every time I tried to get help, he would disappear. But he would always return. I was scared, Marcus. I was so god damned scared. I knew it couldn’t last though. Day in and day out I was forced to barricade myself in my house, listening to that thing beg for me to let him in.

“PLEASE!” It would howl.

“I just want to be friends, I PROMISE!!”

I hadn’t even been to work in two weeks. In fact, I hadn’t had any human contact in that time. Robert, the real Robert, had called me several times. I’m sure he was worried about me, but I didn’t answer. What could I say, how could I explain what was going on?

Thanks to the month of vacation time I’d saved, I wasn’t worried about leaving my home. I just called my boss and told him that I had an emergency with family from out of town. He told me to take as much time as I needed.

Last night, I finally got the courage to face him. I decided I would not be a victim. Instead of hiding inside with a knife clutched to my chest, I waited on my front porch. A stiff drink in my hand, I sat down in a lawn chair on the deck. My other hand was placed above the blade that sat in my lap. I waited and I drank. The scotch went down more smoothly as the hours ticked past, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s funny, I’m not a straight liquor sort of person, not under regular circumstances… but I’m getting way off topic.

So, I was waiting, right? Drunk as all hell by the end of it. My street is not a busy street. There’s no outlet at the end, and I’m the very last house on the left, so there’s no reason for cars to come all the way down to my home. That being said, nothing came by to keep my inebriated-self occupied. It wasn’t long before I just simply fell asleep.

I awoke with a start and stood quickly. Both the knife in my lap and the glass tumbler that was in my hand fell to the wood of the deck. I looked around my front yard and all around the deck, but there was no sign of that Robert imposter. Call me crazy, but I walked all around my house and then went inside to search every room. My head was splitting from a hangover, but I pressed on, searching every corner of the house. He wasn’t there.

To my surprise, he hadn’t come to terrorize me the night before, but why? I sat in my living room considering that very thing. Was it because I stood my ground? Because I simply got fed up and decided I wouldn’t be afraid anymore? That was the only conclusion I came to.

My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of my phone elsewhere in the house, and I’d realized I left it in the kitchen. When I found it, I already knew whose name would be on the screen.

Robert. I had to go see Robert. I had to try to explain to him everything that had happened. He was going to think I was crazy, but he and his family wouldn’t be safe unless they knew.

“Hey man, where have you been!?” He said when I picked up the phone.

“I thought something had happened, I’ve been call…”

I cut him off.

“Robert, listen. Something’s happened and I need to talk in person, can I come over?”

Robert waited a moment before replying.

“Err… yeah, but what’s going on man?”

“I’ll explain when I get there. I’ll be at your house in ten.”

I quickly hung up without another word.

Robert’s two girls, who are 7 and 9, were playing out on the front lawn when I pulled up to the house. They both waved at me and ran over to give me a hug when I got out of my car.

“Uncle James is here, Daddy!” Katie, the youngest of the two called back to the house.

Robert stepped out of the front door and waved, and I nodded back.

“All right girls, I have to go talk to your father, you play safe, okay?”

“We will!” Katie and Alexa said in unison, bounding back to the trampoline they’d been jumping on.

When I approached the front stoop of the house where Robert stood the first thing he did was embrace me. I didn’t want to let go. It was the first time I’d spoken to another living human being in weeks. It was a good, warm feeling. Christ, I wanted to cry.

Robert stepped away and looked me over.

“God damn man, you look like hell.” I couldn’t help but smile at that.

“Come inside.”

We made our way into the kitchen, where the smell of fresh coffee hung in the air.

“Where’s Cheree?” I asked while we walked. Cheree is Robert’s wife.

“Ah, she left for the store, should be back any moment now.”

At the table, I sat down, while Robert stayed standing.

“So, what’s been going on?” he asked. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you forever.” He crossed his arms.

I took a deep breath, and I began to explain.

“Okay, this is going to sound completely nuts. You know how you told me they shut down Forest Glen because of the bodies they found?”

Robert raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah?” He said with an air of concern.

“I know what did it.” I said.

Robert unfolded his arms and places his hands on the table.

“What do you mean, what did it?”

That’s when I went into my story. I told him everything I’ve told you. How I went out into the woods, following someone who couldn’t be him, someone who was watching us in the forest ever since we were younger. Then I described how I ran and made it home, how the police were no help in keeping that thing away. Finally, I ended with how I’d decided to stand up to the creature, but he was nowhere to be found the night before.

I expected Robert to stop me during my tale, to call me insane and tell me I needed to get out before I scared the kids, but he didn’t. Instead, he simply nodded as I spoke, listening to every word of my story. His face never changed, his expression never wavered. Never once did he give me an indication that he didn’t believe what I was saying. The same concerned expression he wore at the beginning of the story, he still had by the end. He was a good friend. “Holy shit, James, what are you going to do?” he asked.

I was a bit taken aback by that question. I hadn’t expected that sort of reaction.

“Well, I don’t know exactly. I just knew I had to come here and warn you before anything happened. These few weeks have been a nightmare. Honestly, it just feels good to be with someone and tell them, you know?”

Robert nodded solemnly and said, “I bet, I really wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, but I’ll do whatever I can. The girls love you, wouldn’t want anything to happen to their uncle.”

I smiled. I wasn’t their real uncle, of course. Robert and I had been friends for so long, that’s just what they knew me as. In that moment, I turned to look out into the back yard, where I expected the drive to be empty, but it wasn’t.

“Nothing will happen to my brother, I promise.” Robert said.

Shivers like spiders crawled frantically up and down my back as I stared out at Cheree’s car.

“Well, listen man, come out to the garage with me. We’ll crack a couple of beers and put together a plan.”

I stood from my seat at the table and turned to look him dead in the eye. For the second time I found myself in that terrifying situation. Only this time I didn’t run in panic and instead, took a moment to examine the beast wearing my friend’s skin. Studying Robert’s expression, the way he held himself, the way he spoke. Holy shit.

You really couldn’t tell he was a monster.

Thinking quickly, I said, “No, I think I better head out, it just occurred to me that I might be putting you in danger by being here.”

His face became hard, and I kept my eyes locked onto his. For the briefest of seconds, I saw a hot flash of anger in those eyes. It Knew I knew.

Then, his expression softened.

“Well, if you feel the need, don’t hesitate to come back and let me know.” He smiled a devious smile and nodded.

“No judgment he brother, I promise,” He added.

I nodded and backed slowly out of the kitchen. Once I was out I strode out the front door and made my way to my car.

“Uncle James! Are you leaving?!” Alexa said, her bright blonde curls bouncing as she ran to me. I looked down at her and stared at her bright blue eyes. Right then and there I wanted to take her and her sister. Stow them in my car and simply drive away, but I didn’t. Looking up at the front door of the house, I saw Robert standing there, as I knew he would be. His arms were crossed, and his eyes were narrowed, watching me closely.

Instead, I knelt and embraced her tightly. When Katie ran over I pulled her close as well. Then I leaned back and looked sincerely at both of them.

“I love you girls very much.” I told them, holding them by the shoulders.

“I’m coming back to see you very soon, okay?”

“Okay!” They said.

They both said goodbye and bounded back to their play.

I am ashamed to say, I did nothing. Of course, I worried about them. I worried about Cheree too. My heart ached at the thought of what has or might happen to her. Not to mention, I had no idea what happened to Robert. I was so, so scared Marcus. What could I do? What would you have done?

I slid into my car, and I cried the whole way home as I drove. I feel so alone. What is that thing’s plan? Why is it doing this?

I’ve resolved to go back there, to that place. I believe that’s where I’ll find my answers. I need to move quickly, I don’t know what will happen to Alexa and Katie if I don’t. Maybe I can find proof, maybe I can find something the police haven’t.


Marcus I’ve been such a fool. Everything has come crashing down on me. I’ve failed Katie, I’ve failed Alexa, I’ve failed Cheree, and I’ve failed Robert. I was such a fucking coward before. I should have done something much sooner.

I made it out to Forest Glen about a quarter after four. I parked on the side of the road about a mile from the park and hit the hazard lights. That way if anyone drove by I could just say the car had broken down and I’d been looking for help. I’d expected to run into some resistance. Police tape or maybe a patrol or something, hell I didn’t know. All I knew is that I didn’t want to get caught before I’d made it to the trail. The trail I’d told you about before, the one that thing tried to lead me down.

I jogged from the road to the park entrance. Before I’d left the house, I’d made sure to bring a good-sized pocket knife, and as I jogged I kept touching my back-right jean-pocket where I could feel its shape. It made me feel a little more secure about going into those woods.

Surprisingly, I saw no police tape when I’d made it to the park entrance. There was no patrolman posted either, at least, none that I could see. From then on, I walked slowly toward the trail. I stayed close to the tree line, ready to duck into the woods if anyone drove by, and if need be I could run out into the road if anything came out of the woods. It felt like I was walking for hours, stopping often to listen for anything that might indicate someone’s approach. I heard nothing at all, and I mean nothing.

I remember distinctly the sounds of wildlife the last time I had visited the park. Now, as I crept along the road, all was silent. Not even the buzzing of insects could be heard as I went.

At last, I reached the entrance of the trail that had been the cause of my nightmares for past several days. I pulled the knife from my pocket and flicked it open, holding it low. I walked throughout the trail as slowly as I had when I walked the road. The fear I felt was great, but the urgency I felt was greater, so I pressed on. At any moment, I was ready to lash out with my weapon, and holding it tightly gave me the strength to keep going.

Even that far into the wooded area of the park, I heard no sounds. Robert had told me they closed Forest Glen, but I saw no sign of that. Other than the absolute quiet, there was nothing to indicate the park had been closed. No keep out signs, no police tape, nothing. Soon I reached the stream and still I pressed on. As I reached the point of the trail where I’d first realized something was wrong and ran from Robert, I wavered.

When we were out there, the Robert imposter told me that he had wanted to show me a bridge that I’d remembered from when we were kids. Below, the water was crystal clear, I remembered that, but that wasn’t what frightened me. When we were on the phone, the real Robert told me that people had died from drowning. My suspicion was that they had found the bodies under the very bridge the Robert imposter had wanted to show me so badly. I shivered and, not for the first time on that trail, I tightened the grip on my knife and pressed on.

Finally, the rotted wood of the bridge was in sight, and I froze. My eyes narrowed, and I strained them hard as I scanned the woods around me, looking for Robert to be waiting behind one of the trees, ready to pounce at any moment. After a couple minutes of waiting and seeing nothing, I took a deep breath and walked toward the sound of running water.

The smell hit me hard. I reached the high bank of the stream down below, and before I could even look over it, I gagged a vomited as the rotten stench of decaying flesh hit my nostrils. I wiped my face with my sleeve and covered my mouth and nose as I looked over the side, placing one foot on the bridge for balance. The wood was wet, and my foot slipped, and I fell to the grass on my hands and knees. My knife fell over the side, and I watched as it tumbled down and landed on a corpse.

Robert told me there had been four hikers found dead out there in those woods by drowning.

It’s so strange how in moments of absolute shock, a person can do irrational things. When I looked down into that water, the shock I felt along with the memory of Robert’s claim, made me laugh, and I laughed loudly. The stream was deep for a stream, but for a person it was shallow, and a body could not easily be carried by its water. Let alone dozens.

In absolute horror, I looked up and down the stream as my mind tried to process exactly how many there were. I couldn’t even venture a guess, but there were too many to count. In the throng of bloated and decaying corpses, there were many I could make out and recognize.

There was the guy who owned the laundromat in town, and a woman that I knew was a cashier at the gas station, and there were so many more that I knew. I had been cooped up in the house for days sure, but I hadn’t seen any of these people go missing on the news, and Robert made no mention of any of them. These bodies had been there for weeks judging by the state of their corpses. It didn’t make sense. Then, I saw the two bodies that made me finally understand.

They were lying on top of a few other bodies, almost directly next to the corpse that my knife had landed on. Their hands were joined together, as if they had been put on display for me to see. They stared back up and my red and crying face through milky-white eyes. They had not died recently, the pale-white shroud of death had been long set into their cheeks. Even if they had begun to decay, they were sisters. There was no way I could mistake that curly blonde hair.

I fell to my knees and I screamed down at them in anguish. I cried and bawled and begged for it not to be real. I screamed their names to the sky and I howled for their forgiveness, but I knew forgiveness would not come. I knew this was real. Alexa and Katie were not there when I promised them both I would be back to see them, they looked like them, sure, but it wasn’t them.

Defeated, I walked all the way out of the park and to my car. I was slow and deliberate. Nothing was coming for me, I knew that too. They wanted me to see it, what they had done. The state of the girl’s bodies, the way they were presented, it sent a clear message. I was truly alone.

I drove all the way back here, and I’m telling you all this now Marcus, because you have to know. Do not come to Illinois. Stay away and stay safe.

When I first began, I told you there was something in Forest Glen, but Marcus, I was dead wrong. There wasn’t just something. No, not at all.


That should have been the end of it, the final part of James’s story. And that would have been bad enough. For three days, I’ve been trying to reach him. For three days, I’ve been paralyzed by indecision, crippled by dread and doubt. What would a normal person do? What would a friend do? Call the cops? Get my friend incarcerated while people who won’t understand the background try to dig up the “truth,” whatever that is? Drive out there?

If it’s true—and the more I think about it, the more that possibility grows in my mind—then how the hell does the whole world not already know about this? And then my rational half reasserts itself, and I think, has my friend lost his god-damned mind? That’s got to be it. By now, someone’s clued in on his issues and he’s already getting help. Seems reasonable, right?

And then, this. Another email. God help me. I don’t know what to think anymore. And I sure as hell don’t know what to do.


Dear Marcus. Please disregard my previous correspondence. I was simply out of my mind. I hadn’t been taking any of my medication and I concocted a story to gain attention. As I said, I was wrong when I said there was something in that place.

There’s nothing in Forest Glen, I promise. There’s nothing in Forest Glen, I promise. There’s nothing in Forest Glen, I promise. THERE’S NOTHING IN FOREST GLEN, I PROMISE.

 

There’s Nothing in Forest Glen National Park

Ocean of Blue

melancholy-finished

-By J.J. Cheesman

 

 

I heavily protested going to stay with my Aunt Rita for seven days while Mom and Dad went to Vegas. It was the summer, and as a thirteen-year-old girl I could think of a million better things to do out in the country where we lived, than being stuck in town in an apartment building with my boring Aunt. It didn’t help that I was home-schooled, so I didn’t have many friends in town.

“It’s only for the week Jamie, your father and I have been saving for a long time to have some time to ourselves. Besides, you never get to see your Aunt Rita.” Mom said over breakfast a few days before she was sending me away so she didn’t have to deal with me. I know that’s not really how she felt. My parents worked hard, they deserved their vacation, but teenagers tend to not think of anyone but themselves.

“It just isn’t fair. I don’t see why she can’t come stay here.”

“Your Aunt works in town, it’d be awfully inconvenient for her to drive back and forth all the way from here to there every day.” Mom said.

“Not to mention that Rita works third shift. You’d be out here all alone, and what if something happened?” At least in town, help would be just moments away.” My Dad chimed in.

I thought about reminding him that the criminals were moments away too, but I kept quiet.

When finally, the day came to ship me off at my Aunt’s, I was in extremely low spirits. I sulked the entire twenty-five-minute drive into town. My demeanor didn’t change when we walked up to the apartment complex and Aunt Rita was standing outside waving excitedly. She gushed about how big I’d gotten since she last seen me, and chatted with my parents a bit before they gave me hugs and kisses and left in the family car.

“My place isn’t as big as yours is,” Aunt Rita said as I followed her with my bag in tow to her second-story apartment, “But I hope you’re comfortable enough here.”

As she said, Rita’s apartment was small. The entrance opened up into the living-room, which was furnished with a leather couch and matching recliner. A pristine coffee table sat in front of the couch, and just a few feet away a wide screen T.V. hung on the far wall. There was a sliding-glass door with its curtain drawn on the west wall of the room that led out onto a small terrace, and to the right of the door sat a good-sized fish tank with a multitude of colorful fish inside.

Immediately to the right of the entrance, was an open kitchen and small dining area complete with a table and chairs, and beyond that was a door to Rita’s bedroom.

“If you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, it’s a pull-out, but if you’d like you can take my bedroom and I can sleep out here. It’s up to you.” Rita said.

I was unhappy with staying there, that’s for sure, but that didn’t change that my parents raised me to be respectful. Like it or not, I was Rita’s guest, and it would have been rude of me to take her bed.

“The couch is perfectly fine.” I said. I didn’t lie either. I wasn’t a spoiled kid, I didn’t mind sleeping on a pull-out. What I minded was being stuck in an apartment building.

“Alright dear, well I didn’t get much sleep and I have to leave here at twelve for work, so I’m going to get some rest. There’s snacks in the cabinets, have whatever you’d like from the fridge as well, I stocked up when I found out you’d be staying with me. I don’t watch much T.V. any more so I don’t really remember what all I have but feel free to watch it whenever, I sleep like a rock, it won’t bother me at all.”

With that, Rita smiled and made her way into the bedroom, and shut the door. I dropped my bag on the floor next to the couch and made my way over to the sliding glass door. I tried to slide it open, but it caught before it moved an inch and wouldn’t move any further. I looked down and saw that a piece of wood was wedged between the door and the frame that prevented anyone from outside getting the door open too far. I now know this is a common thing for most sliding glass doors, but it was new to me then. I removed the wood, opened the door, and stepped out onto the terrace. I looked down at the street below and watched cars pass lazily by. The township of Paris wasn’t a ‘happening’ town back then, and it still isn’t today. It’s a pretty quiet place as far as towns go.

I happened to glance to the right at two boys riding their bicycles a couple of blocks away, heading in the direction of the complex, when I saw her. She was standing at the end of one of the streets nearest the apartment building. Holding a blue balloon, wearing yellow polka dotted-clothes, she stood out like a sore thumb on the street. There was no mistake. by looking at her giant shoes and tie-dye wig, it was clear she was a clown. I hate clowns.

She stood there on the street corner, not moving an inch as cars passed by. The boys on the bikes were coming near her location, and I watched to see what would happen. When they got to her though, they just went around her, as if she wasn’t there. Minutes went by and she still stood like a statue on the sidewalk. It was such an odd scene. I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly she was doing there. Then it happened.

The clown’s head snapped around, turning and staring in the direction of the apartment complex. It was sudden and immediate. I was entranced, wondering what would happen next. I could hear the sounds of lawns being mowed and the pounding of hammers from workers somewhere nearby as I waited. My heart began to thud rapidly, as a realization slowly came over me like a tired wave washing over a shore. She wasn’t just staring in my direction, she was staring right at me.

I couldn’t see her clearly given the distance between us, but there was no doubt. She was looking right up at me. There was sudden movement, as the woman dressed in full clown attire began walking toward the complex. My face grew hot and I turned away. Making my way back inside quickly, I replaced the block of wood that kept the door from opening too far, and then hurried over to the couch. I scooped up the remote from the coffee table and turned on the T.V., simply trying to ignore what had happened. I was more than a little scared. After a moment or two passed I became a little brave, and I walked back to the sliding glass door to peek out down onto the street. The clown was nowhere to be found.

There was a sudden knocking at the door and I jumped. I spun around and began to call out, but I stopped. That wasn’t my home, I had no idea how often Aunt Rita received guests, so I decided to walk over and stare through the peep-hole first. It occurred to me as I was nearly to the door, the awful thought that I’m sure would have crossed any child’s mind after what I had seen. It’s the clown.

But that wasn’t possible.

You needed a key to get into the building. Unless the clown-lady was a tenant in the same building, there was no way she could have been knocking at that door. I was a rational kid, and I knew that my fears were silly and most likely, unfounded. The lady on the street was probably just planning on going in the direction of the complex anyway, seeing me was just a coincidence. Most likely, she was a performer that did children’s parties or something and one of her clients was on this street. I reached the door, and I put my eye against the keyhole. On the other side, staring back at me, was an empty hallway.

I breathed a sigh of relief and turned around, walking over to the couch, forgetting for a moment that someone must have knocked on the door. There was a shift of movement, and my head snapped toward the sliding glass door. Sudden chills crawled up and down my spine like spiders. There, tied to the railing of the terrace, was a blue balloon with a large red ‘M’ drawn on it. It bobbed and weaved in the breeze, an unassuming object of most children’s adoration, but the result of my own horrified and gaping expression.

I was terrified and I didn’t know what to do. If I called out and woke up Rita, I would have to explain the series of events that led to me being scared of a balloon. I JUST got there, and I hadn’t seen Rita in years. I was uncertain by how she would react. I didn’t call out.

Instead, I walked over to the glass and pulled the curtain closed, concealing my vision from that awful sight. I hurried away from the door quickly and I stepped into the dining area of the small apartment. My breathing was heavy and shallow as I tried to think of what to do. Being young in a scary situation can be a cruel prison. Sometimes simply being unsure of the consequences of your actions can cripple your resolve. I rested my hands on the dining table and I tried to calm myself, but my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the sliding glass door being opened.

I turned, shocked and fearful as the tell-tale sound of the wood sliding in its frame caused me to whimper. Then, I heard the door get caught on the block of wood I’d put back in its place on the inside of the frame. Relief washed over me.

There was no way anyone could get in through the small space provided by the sliding glass with the wooden block in the way.

“Oh Jamie, don’t you want to come out here a moment?”

The sickeningly silken female voice floated into the apartment from just feet away. The voice made me cringe and wince and I felt sick to my stomach the moment I heard it. It was the lady clown’s, of that, I had no doubt.

“I have a blue balloon for you Jamie, it’s my favorite color, I’m sure you’ll love it too. Just come here, and let me give it to you.”

To my horror, a white hand attached to a yellow polka-dotted sleeve reached in from behind the curtain. The image was a ghastly sight to behold, so surreal that I thought I surely had to be dreaming as the hand beckoned for me to come outside with its index finger.

“Please go away!” I sobbed.

“Oh Jamie, I know you’re scared, but it will only hurt at first, I promise.”

The white hand began to feel around the curtain for a moment and then, to my horror, it began to stretch. Stunned, I listened as the sound of bones being split filled my ears, and I watched as the hand stretched to an impossible length as it crawled to the other side of the glass, where the block of wood kept it from opening all the way.

“No!” I yelled, and ran toward the hand without thinking.

Suddenly, it jerked, and sprang towards me. It caught me off guard and I fell back in surprise, hitting my head against the dining table, and losing consciousness.

 

 

I awoke to my aunt Rita, shaking me fiercely and crying.

“Rita…?” I said

“Oh my god Jamie, are you alright!? What happened baby!?”

She was still shaking me. I pushed her away gently and got slowly to my feet, rubbing the back of my head. There was a bump, but luckily it wasn’t bleeding. It hurt like hell though.

“There was… a clown” The words just came. I didn’t know exactly what to tell her and my head was throbbing too hard to think of anything else.

“She came…”

“A clown? You said a she!? Are you sure!?” Rita asked, cutting me off and sounding hysterical.

“Err… yeah. She tried to get in through the…” I stopped as I saw the wide-open curtain and glass door of the terrace.

“Jesus Christ in heaven…” Aunt Rita said as she grabbed her phone and began dialing rapidly.

What happened next was a series of blurred events in my mind. When Rita finished talking on the phone in her bedroom and out of earshot, she came out and asked me if I was okay, and if I needed anything. I told her I was fine, and made no mention of my bumped head. She already seemed like she was in a panic, I didn’t want to give her a heart attack.
Moments later, two police officers showed up at the apartment. They asked me all kinds of questions about the clown I’d mentioned. What did she look like, what was she wearing, where did she go, all of the typical stuff. I hadn’t really expected to talk to the police, Rita remained silent with watery eyes as if she might burst out bawling at any moment, so It was even more of a surprise when my parents showed up not long after the police did. After the two officers left, my parents and I left Rita’s. My mother said thank you to my aunt before we headed out the door.

It was a relatively quiet car ride home aside from some snippy comments from my father.

“Your sister is bat-shit insane. Martha Flannigan…” Mom cut him off.

“Joseph! Watch your mouth!” she hissed.

“She got the Police involved for Christ’s sake. Jamie probably just got scared, and now our trip is shot in the ass!” Dad complained.

At that, Mom gave Dad a hard-stern look, and he kept quiet for the remainder of the ride as he drove. I didn’t fully understand what was going on. I was scared and confused, and just before we left Aunt Rita’s, I took a look back at the apartment and saw something that disturbed me so badly I didn’t say anything once we got home either.

At home, I didn’t speak, I just went straight to the bathroom. My period had started, which made the drive all the more uncomfortable. After putting in a tampon, I got changed into pajamas and went out into the living room where my mother and father were talking quietly. Dad seemed to be in a better mood than before as both of my parents offered warm smiles once I entered the room.

“Hey sweetie, I’m sorry I yelled in the car, are you feeling better?”

Tears welled in my eyes, and both of my parents rushed to my side, pulling me in a tight embrace.

“It’s okay sweetie,’ Dad said,

“We don’t have to talk about it ever again.”

It the morning, I found to my surprise that my tampon was dry, and the bleeding had stopped. Walking downstairs into the kitchen, I found my mom cooking breakfast and my dad was sitting down, reading something on his phone.

“Hey!” My dad said when I entered the kitchen.

“Feeling better baby?”

“Yeah.” I said, taking a seat at the table across from him at the table.

“I’m making blueberry pancakes!” Mom chimed in,

“And there’s juice in the fridge!”

I didn’t get up to get juice, and I didn’t feel hungry. The day before had been weird, and even though Dad said I didn’t have to talk about it, I needed to know what happened.

“Who’s Martha Flannigan?” I asked

Dad looked up from his phone, and Mom stopped what she was doing.

“You said her name in the car dad, who is she? Was she at the apartment?”

Mom and Dad looked at each other, exchanging hesitant glances.

“I can just look it up if you don’t tell me.” I said flatly.

Dad sighed heavily and Mom turned back to the stove.

“Martha Flannigan is dead. Your aunt just got a little spooked when you mentioned a woman dressed as a clown. She used to work in Paris and she lived just down the street from your Aunt. She just got spooked is all.” Dad said matter-of-factly.

There was a clown though, I thought. A clown with a blue balloon.

“’M’ for Martha” I whispered.

Dad had a quizzical expression on his face, but before he could as what I meant by that, I asked another question.

“How’d she die?”

Once again, hesitant nervous glances were exchanged by my parents, and it was my Mother’s turn to sigh.

“She died in prison dear, can we stop talking about this now?”

“Why was she in prison Mom? Why did Aunt Rita freak out?”

My dad interjected.

“She was locked up for molesting children.” Dad said solemnly.

“She was a filthy and disgusting woman, and I’m glad she’s gone, but she IS gone. There’s no way she can hurt you or anyone else baby. I think your Aunt is crazy, but I understand both her fear and your own.”

Dad looked at me right in the eyes.

“I promise Jamie, no one will ever hurt you.”

I nodded, and I excused myself from the table to go wash up in the bathroom, leaving my parents in the kitchen. Once the door was shut and locked behind me, I put my hands on the sink and cried. I cried there for a very long time, because my parents didn’t know the truth, but I did.

I knew that Martha Flannigan still, somehow, remained in that neighborhood. I knew that she hadn’t stopped the awful things she hadn’t been doing to kids. She hadn’t stopped, I knew that for sure, because I knew why I had been bleeding on that car ride home, and it wasn’t my period.

What haunts me isn’t the awful thing that Martha Flannigan did to me, however. It isn’t the terrible image of her ghostly hand crawling towards the other side of that door to allow herself inside. It was the image I saw as we drove away from Aunt Rita’s apartment complex. Every single apartment building had a small porch or terrace attached to it with a guard rail.

Tied to each one of those railings, was a blue balloon that bobbed and weaved in the breeze, like a macabre ocean of blue.

 

Ocean of Blue

Coldwell Inn

cove-girl-003

-By: J.J. Cheesman

Have you heard of the Banff Hotel in Canada? If you haven’t, all you need to know is that it’s a hotel famous for its ghostly hauntings. Since explaining the following account to Shelly, she’s mentioned it often. Indeed, the Banff hotel came up in my browser a number of times while trying to research Coldwell Inn. I’ve looked everywhere for SOME scrap of information about that hellish place, but I haven’t found any. This may be due, at least in part, that I’m actually not entirely sure if what happened to me just last month can be classified as ‘a haunting’. It also may have something to do with Coldwell Inn being just a little run-down shack with rooms for rent on the side of the road just outside of Brant County.

I was passing through Brant on my way to Toronto to visit an old friend. I live in the U.S., in a suburb of Chicago. My plan was to drive the entire seven hours in one day. The long but manageable drive was one I made several times to see Shelly. Some people might say that having to make a drive like that would be out of the question. I say it’s preferable to the $300 plane ticket.

Shelly and I have been friends a very long time. We met online through some mutual friends. We’re both aspiring artists, although Shelly is a much better painter than I am if we’re being honest. When it comes to Shelly, her and I just click, ya know? We get each other’s sense of humor, we feel the same way when it comes to creating art, and we both suffer from ADHD which often times keeps us up at all hours of the night, talking to each other on skype. We got along like guns and bullets, and it was eventual that we’d kicked around the idea of meeting in person.

One summer day, Shelly showed up at my house, just like that, out of the blue. It was a welcome surprise of course. Shelly ended up staying the entire week and we had an absolute blast together. It was at the end of that week, that we had resolved to make it a tradition every year to visit one another so that the other wasn’t having to make the trip every time. Once a year turned into once every six months. That is, more or less, how I ended up on the side of Ontario Highway 403 with a flat tire yesterday.

It was my turn to visit Shelly, and I had made three mistakes before I left that day. The first mistake, was not making sure I had adequate sleep the night before. My second mistake, was not leaving earlier than I did. So, by the time I’d passed the city Woodstock, it was already well after Four P.M. I was able to Google the number for a tow back into Woodstock and have the tire replaced at a shop. Once the tire was fixed it was already Seven, and the sun began its descent over the horizon. I may be used to staying up at all hours, but that was the very thing that came back to bite me in the ass.

As I drove from Woodstock on Highway 403, my car swayed just a little as my eyes drooped intermittently, and I knew it was unsafe to stay on the road for long, and I would have to find a place to stay for the night. Seemingly in answer to my thoughts, I spotted a billboard as I passed it that read,

 

Coldwell Inn!

A place to hang your hat!

 Take a right onto Highway 55!

Only being an hour away from Shelly’s house, I REALLY didn’t want to have to pay for a room to stay for the night, but I also didn’t want both me and my car to end up all over the side of the highway if I fell asleep at the wheel.

When I reached Highway 55, I hit the turn signal and got off of ON-403. I was a little worried at first, I had not seen a sign for Coldwell Inn aside from the billboard, but it soon became apparent why. In just a few moments of drive time I spotted the neon sign raised high on the side of the road outside the motel. The words ‘Coldwell Inn’ were displayed in bright blue on the sign, along with the words under them that read, Vacancy.

The motel rooms were single-tiered and were arranged in a ‘U’ shape around the parking lot, with the manager’s office located off to the side. I pulled into the lot and parked in front of the office. When I walked in, there was an older gentleman behind the counter who immediately looked up from whatever he was reading at the sound of the chiming bell that heralded my entrance.

“Hello Miss!” He said sweetly.

“What can I do for you?”

The man’s attitude and voice was so welcoming, I couldn’t help but smile despite my exhaustion.

“I’m looking for a room.” I said.

“Of course you are! After all who comes to a motel if they aren’t looking to stay!” He chuckled at his own joke, and I feigned laughter. I was too tired to find much of anything funny.

“It’s fifty dollars a night, if that is acceptable.”

It certainly was acceptable. I was expecting at least a hundred bucks. I really wasn’t too ecstatic about the price though. I had to wonder about how a motel was able to survive with such low prices when, if the mostly-empty parking lot was any indication, they didn’t get much business.

“Uh… yeah. That’s alright.” I told him. Briefly, I considered trying to find somewhere else, but I was already there, and I was so tired.

I handed the old man my credit card and filled out an information slip he handed me to put my name and number down on. Once he ran my card and I gave him my info, he handed me a key with a metal tag that had an outline of the number ‘1’ cut into both sides.

“You’ll be in room one, it’s the quiet season so you should find your stay to be a peaceful one. There is only one other guest staying with us tonight.”

I thanked him and headed back out to my car. I pulled over to one end of the ‘U’ shaped building, and parked in front of the door with the number ‘1’ on the front. I was dreading what I would find in the room, but I tried to keep my spirits high. Each room had one bay window to the left of the door, but all of the blinds were drawn, so I couldn’t see inside any of them. As I got out of my car, I took note of the room directly across the parking lot from my own. In front of the door labeled ‘24’, a red Taurus was parked. It was a nice-looking car and in pretty good shape, which helped assuage any fears that I might have to guard my belongings. I didn’t want to lug any of my bags into the motel, only to bring them right back out again in the morning. Still, I made sure my car alarm was functional and pressed the lock button on my key-remote three times before I entered my room.

I was pleasantly surprised immediately upon opening the door and flicking the light switch on the wall. A standing lamp by the bed-side lit up and I could see the room was actually… nice. It wasn’t extravagant by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t the run-down piece of shit I was expecting. The bed was a queen, and someone took care to make sure it was neatly made. A couple reading chairs accompanied by a small table, sat in the corner. No T.V. to speak of, but that didn’t bother me any. The only unpleasantness I found was that it was a little stuffy inside. I cracked the screened-in bay window just a hair before turning in. Hitting the light switch again, I fell flat onto the bed flat on my stomach without even taking my shoes or coat off. Before I feel asleep, I pulled my phone out and set an alarm for 5 A.M. As soon as I put the phone down beside my head, I was unconscious.

Remember when I said I’d made three mistakes before leaving Chicago? Well, the third mistake was the big one. I don’t know how long I was asleep for exactly. It couldn’t have been longer than a couple hours, but because I forgot to charge my phone before leaving, there’s no way for me to know. All I know is at some point in the night I was awoken with a start by a knock on the door.

“Hello dear, can you come out here a moment?” A woman’s voice drifted in from outside.

I was confused and groggy, and the words spoken by the mysterious voice only half registered in the fog of my mind as I rubbed my eyes. Picking up my phone on instinct, I pressed the ‘home’ button, steeling myself for the blinding light, but it didn’t come.

“Wha…?” I said, slowly moving off the bed and putting my unresponsive phone in my pocket absent-mindedly.

“There’s been an issue dear, I’m going to have to talk to you.” The woman’s sweet voice drifted musically through the air.

Slowly, my legs began moving toward the door. My heartbeat thumped in my ears as the early pain of a headache just settling in gnawed at the back of my skull.

“Hold on.” I grumbled. Before I reached the door, I began to regain some of my sense in the dark. As the drunken spell of sleep left, another feeling began to replace it. Something was off about that voice outside my room. I realized that I’d recognized it, from somewhere.

“Hurry up dear, It’s chilly out here.”

I did recognize the voice. It couldn’t be who it sounded like though. There’s no way, not here.

Now moving with caution, as silently as I could, I crept to the side of the door to look out the window. I’d open the window earlier, but I left the blinds shut. I lifted a hand and moved up one of the blind slats just enough so that I could get a peek out onto the parking lot. I could feel the color from my face leak out from my pores.

Basked in the light of the hanging lamp outside the room, dressed in a yellow sun dress, was my mother. She stood smiling, as if it wasn’t strange at all she was in a different country in the earlier hours of the morning outside motel. I could feel myself shaking in my shoes. This wasn’t right, that just couldn’t be Mom. Not here of all places, not now.

“Hello dear?” Came my mother’s voice once again, and she NEVER ceased her smile.

It was then I noticed the sound of knocking coming from the other side of the parking lot as well. In front of the red Taurus stood a man wearing a green parka, and he had a large bald spot on the back of his head. He had his left hand behind his back, and he was holding something, though I couldn’t tell what it was from that distance.

“Hello?” I could hear him call.

“Billy, open up man!”

Moments later, the door opened, and a young-looking man in plaid pajamas was standing in the doorway looking astonished.

“Carl?” The young man said. Thanks to the open window, I could hear them both clearly.

“What are you doing here?”

The balding man in the green parka laughed.

“What do you mean what am I doing here? Are you going to let your brother stand out here in the cold?”

“Oh, shit man I’m sorry! Come on in!”

Mr. Green Parka stepped into the room. He shut the door behind him, obscuring my view from what was going on inside, but not before light from the hanging lamp outside room 24 bounced off the object in his hand, and I saw it clearly. It was a knife.

I jumped as the face of my mother appeared directly in front of my vision. For a moment, I was paralyzed with fear while her piercing blue eyes were like daggers that stabbed into my own.

“Carolyn, honey, you really shouldn’t be snooping in other people’s business,” My mother’s smiling face cooed out that sickeningly sweet voice.

“It just isn’t polite. Open the door for me honey, it’s so cold out here.”

I slowly backed away from the window.

“You’re not my mother!” I screamed hysterically at the closed blinds.

“I don’t know who the FUCK you are, but you aren’t her!”

I pulled my phone back out of my pocket, holding the power button in a desperate attempt to get help, but there was no use. The phone would not turn on.

“Oh honey, I just hate it when you swear.” The door handle rattled and jiggled as whatever was standing outside began to try to come in by force.

“FUCK YOU!” I screamed with tears in my eyes.

“Go away! Leave me alone!” My mind was breaking, I didn’t understand what was happening.

There is a fear beyond what most people know, a primal terror that breaks down logical thought and reason, I know because it began to ravage my mind in that very moment. I was shaking so bad that steadying my hands were impossible, and I wasn’t able to think clearly. For a single, awful second, I’d believed I’d lost my mind.

“I just don’t know why you make everything so difficult on me Carolyn, you never treat your father this way.” My mother’s voice was mocking me.

Then, a ripping sound through the air silenced every screaming thought in my head. I knew immediately what the sound was. She was tearing the screen off of the window. She was going to get inside. She was going to kill me.

My survival instinct kicked in, and I knew I only had one shot. I walked as quietly as I could over to the door, and I twisted the deadbolt as slowly as I could so it wouldn’t make a sound. Then I pulled out my car keys from my coat pocket, waiting with my finger above the unlock button. Those few seconds were hell as I waited, listening to the screen in the window tear. Finally, I could hear the window begin to rise, and the blinds slowly moved as a hand began to emerge from behind the bottom of the blinds. That was when I acted.

I tore the door open and sprinted the few feet to my car while rapidly tapping the button on the key ring to unlock it. As I had hoped, the woman pretending to be my mother was caught off guard, and by the time she’d realized what was happening and started to pull herself from the window, I already started my car and shifted into reverse. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Mr. Green Parka walking at a quick pace toward the car from room 24. Without a second thought, I slammed on the gas pedal, backing into him and crushing him under the weight of both my rear and front passenger-tires. I then quickly shifted into drive, and my tires squealed as I tore out of the parking lot and back onto Highway 55.

 

 

I didn’t stop driving until I reached Shelly’s house. When I got there, I explained to her what happened, and she listened to every word. I told her everything that happened down to the smallest detail, as I’ve described here, and though she looked concerned, she did not interrupt or question any of it. When I’d finished my story, the water in her eyes suggested to me that maybe she thought I’d gone crazy. After all, Shelly knew me very well.

Shelly offered to call the police for me, but we haven’t yet. I don’t know what to say. My dead mother rose from the grave and tried to kill me? They would laugh me all the way back home with a shiny new white jacket. Still, I had to call someone and report something. I was still shaking hours later in Shelly’s home while she made us coffee and I plugged my phone into a charger she let me use.

When my phone booted up, and I saw that I had a voice mail message, and I let it play on speaker without looking at who it was from. I assumed it was from my brother, he’d gotten into the habit of checking up on me a lot lately, but it wasn’t my brother’s voice on the message.

“Hello Carolyn!” The familiarly sweet voice of the old man from the Inn rang out from my phone.

“Hey, couldn’t help but notice you left in a rush, I was just calling to remind you that you still have the key to one of our rooms. You must have forgotten to drop it off in your hurry to leave. I don’t mind though, drop it off at your earliest convenience, and don’t forget…”

The old man’s voice suddenly changed into the soft cooing voice of my mother.

“Mommy misses you.”

The voice mail ended, and the two mugs of coffee that Shelly was holding fell from her hands and onto the floor.

I’ve said it before, but I can’t stress it enough. Shelly and I were very good friends. She’d met my mother on numerous occasions. Mom was easy to talk to, and she never made you feel wrong or different in anyway. As such, she left quite the positive impression on Shelly, as she did a lot of people.

So much of an impression in fact, that she even made a special trip to the U.S. to make sure she was there for her funeral last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coldwell Inn

Mr. Cracks

cove-man

-By: J.J. Cheesman

My first big move into a new house happened when I was twelve years old. It was still in Illinois, and it was still in Danville, so I didn’t have to change schools, but man that didn’t stop me from hating it at first. The idea of moving out of my childhood home seemed wrong to me. 129 Elm Street was the home where I’d spent twelve Christmas’s and twelve birthdays, and I was trading it in for 44 High Street, a home in which I held no emotional connection. The house on Elm Street was an old home with a lot of, what I would describe now, as ‘Character’. As an only child, I spent a lot of time in that big old house playing pretend in the attic and basement, where I was free to do as I’d pleased without much adult supervision. I suppose that was another reason I initially hated the move.

Our new home on High Street was exactly that, new. It was in a recently established neighborhood on the north side, what a lot of people referred to as the ‘rich’ part of town. Maybe I should have been excited that we were getting an upgrade. Dad got a promotion to line manager at the factory he worked at. So, after a bit of saving, we were able to sell the house and move into a better part of town. I didn’t care about any of that though. As far as I was concerned it most certainly wasn’t a better house.

The house had more rooms, sure. With our small family, my twelve-year-old self didn’t see the point in a bigger home. I had no idea at the time that my parents were planning on having another baby. More rooms didn’t mean more fun. It was a one-story home. It had no real attic, and no basement. Only crawl-spaces to access the air ducts as well as the lines that provided electricity throughout the rooms. To me the house was dull and boring.

The week after unpacking, I sat in the living room, absent-mindedly flipping through channels on the television. My dad was walking through the living room on his way into the kitchen when he stopped to look at me.

“Justin, you can’t just sit in here all day. It’s beautiful outside. Don’t you want to go out and play?” He asked. I simply shrugged. He walked over and took the remote from my hand.

“You’ve done nothing but watch T.V. and play video games since we got here, and I don’t like it. There are some kids playing ball outside, why don’t you see if you can play with them?”

I sighed obnoxiously in protest. The last thing I wanted to do was go hang out with a bunch of snobby rich kids.

“But I don…” He cut me off.

“No buts. You aren’t going to waste all summer inside. Now go.” My father was a kind and loving man, and it wasn’t often he ever got upset. When he used his serious tone of voice, I knew better than to cross him. I slumped my head and defeat and made my way outside.

Like Dad had said, it was a beautiful summer day. The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly. It was hot and it may have been unbearably so, if it weren’t for the cooling breeze. Somewhere, I could hear the sounds of kids laughing and shouting. It took me a moment to gather the courage to go searching. Most of my childhood had been spent playing inside. There weren’t any kids I knew from school that lived near my old home. Finally, I walked out and stood on the front lawn, looking to my left toward the end of the street and the sound of the kids.

High Street was a Cul-de-sac connected to several others, that all ended in a circle. When I stared down the street, I saw a group of kids gathered around a basketball hoop that someone had wheeled out into the middle of the circle. I immediately considered turning back around and going into the house. There wasn’t anyone in the crowd I recognized, and I’d lost all the nerve I’d gathered before I walked onto the yard. Before I could turn around, a voice called after me.

“Justin!”

A boy in the group of kids was waving me over. It was Taylor Redman, a boy who I often sat with at lunch in school along with a few other kids, though I’d never been to his house. He broke off from the other kids and jogged over to me.

“Hey man, you live here now?” He asked, nodded to my house.

“Uh… yeah, just moved.”

He nodded.

“I knew you were moving, I just didn’t know it was here. I live in the house across the street.”

He gestured to the blue, two-story home behind him. I looked up to one of the windows on the second floor. I was green with envy.

“Why don’t you come play with us. If we have you, we can do six-on-six.” I looked over to the four boys down the road while they stared back at me, patiently waiting for Taylor to return.

“Yeah, I’ll play. I’m not very good though.”

“Neither are they, trust me.”

We made our way to the end of the circled-street, and Taylor introduced me to the kids. In near-unison they all gave their names back, none of which I really understood or remembered, and in moments we were playing. Taylor called out that I would be on his team along with a tall, lanky kid with red hair and freckles. We played three games, two of which we won, before the group started thinning out. First the red-haired kid left, saying that he had to go help his dad with something. Then a pudgy boy with glasses said he’d promised his mom he’d be home before four. Until, finally, it was just me and Taylor.

With just the two of us, we’d settled on playing a game of horse. I don’t remember which one of us it was that over-shot the hoop and landed the ball in the yard at the end of the street. What I do remember is the look on Taylor’s face when it happened. He stood still as a stone while the ball rolled through the grass. I stared at him with a puzzled look.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him, taking a step toward the house.

“Justin don’t.” Taylor spoke softly, as if he didn’t want someone to hear him.

“Don’t what? Get the ball?”

“Yeah, just leave it. I’ll have my dad buy me another one.”

I would have ignored him, just kept walking and retrieved the ball, but the look on Taylor’s solemn face gave me pause. There was a stillness in the air, a stifling quiet that had fallen over High Street in that moment. Despite the warm summer air, I shivered. I turned my gaze from Taylor to the house. It was a nice house, the nicest on the street, but it was also old. It was set a bit further back that the rest of the homes, so I hadn’t really noticed before, but seeing it then made me realize how much it contrasted to the other houses on the street. The style was similar to an American Colonial house. It had white-washed wooden siding, a large wrap-around porch complete with a bench swing, and a tall stone chimney that smoke was steadily pouring out of.

The basketball must have been thrown pretty hard, because it rested against the gate of the wooden privacy fence that prevented any clear view of the yard. The fence had been painted to match the house, and covered a large area as far as I could tell. If I had to guess, the back yard went was about two-hundred feet across, before ending at a small thicket of woods whose trees I could see stretching out over the other side of the fence. When I turned my attention back to the ball, I could see movement through the gaps in the fence.

“Why don’t we just go get it?” I called back to Taylor. In that same solemn voice, he said.

“That’s Mr. Cracks’ house.”

I turned to look at him.

“Who’s Mr. Cracks?”

Taylor simply shook his head, and in a low voice he asked me to follow him. He turned around and began walking down the street. Reluctantly, I followed, turning back to steal another glance at the fence. I thought I could see someone standing still beyond it, but I couldn’t be sure. The two of us made our way down the sidewalk until we were in front of my house. Once there, Taylor looked up and down the street until he was sure no one was around, then he spoke.

“No one ever goes into Mr. Cracks’ yard,” He said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because if you do, you disappear, and you’re never found again.”

I laughed.

“It’s not a joke,” He said angrily, and I shut up, “You remember Jimmy Edleton right?”

The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it, so I shook my head. Taylor rolled his eyes.

“Come on, Jimmy Edleton. He disappeared three years ago.”

That certainly rang a bell. I thought for a moment, and then it clicked. I never knew Jimmy, we weren’t in the same grade. I did remember the assembly we had after he disappeared though. Everyone thought he was kidnapped, so the whole school got one big lecture about how we should be on the lookout for strangers, and if anyone we didn’t know tried talking to us, we should find an adult.

“Okay… yeah, I sort of remember. He was younger than us, right?” Taylor nodded.

“By two years.”

“Okay,” I said, “So what does that have to do with anything, and why do you keep calling him ‘Mr. Cracks’, that can’t be his real name.”

He shrugged.

“His real name is Harold Martin. He lives all alone in the big old house, and he hardly ever comes out, but we call him Mr. Cracks.” Taylor said, stooping down to sit in the grass. I followed suit and sat beside him.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because that’s how he watches us. Before Jimmy disappeared, kids would walk into his yard all the time. It was no big deal, everyone on this street knows each other, so all the kids use the yards as a sort of big playground. My mom said everyone likes it that way, it makes everyone feel a little safer, I’m sure you noticed. Kids just go wherever.”

I hadn’t noticed, but I nodded anyway.

“Well, Mr. Cracks’ yard wasn’t any different, except for one thing. We’d only go if we lost something over there, like we did with my basketball. Frisbees or baseballs, or whatever got accidently thrown onto his lawn, we’d go get. I went over there myself a couple times, but I hated it every time.”

I sat in rapt attention, waiting for Taylor to continue.

“If any of us kids went into that yard, and got anywhere near that fence, he was always there. He would wait behind the fence, and watch us through the cracks. That’s why we called him that.”

Taylor waited a moment, and got a far off look in his eyes as he spoke.

“The last time I was ever over there, I went to get my soccer ball. I’d kicked it a little too hard, and it landed right up against the side of his house. I jogged over as quick as I could, not really planning to look up, ya know? I didn’t want to see that old man watching me. As soon as I grabbed the ball though, I heard breathing. It was really raspy and loud, like he was trying to catch his breath. I didn’t want to look, but I did. I looked up right at that fence, and I saw his eyes. The meanest, ugliest eyes I had ever seen.”

Taylor closed his eyes and shook his head, like he was trying to wipe the memory from his mind. I was a bit unnerved, sure, but I’ve heard about peeping old men before.

“So, he’s a creepy dude, it doesn’t mean he did anything to Jimmy.” I said. Taylor turned and looked at me as if I was the biggest idiot in the world. He took a deep breath, and went on speaking.

“Jimmy’s big sister Lily was watching him the day he disappeared. Jimmy’s family lived in the gray house that’s closest to the fence.”

Taylor nodded over to the ranch-style home that, as he said, stood about fifty feet from Mr. Cracks’ fence.

“Lily said she was talking on the phone while Jimmy was running around that day, chasing bubbles that he was blowing around. One minute, she turned her back and the next, he was gone. She ran around the yard calling his name and searching like crazy. when she noticed the bubble wand in Mr. Cracks’ yard, she called the police. The cops showed up and they asked Lily a few questions before going over to talk to Mr. Cracks. At this point, everyone on the street knew what was going on. All the adults, including my parents were standing on the street, waiting to see what would happen, but nothing happened. They questioned Mr. Cracks, who let them search the house, but they didn’t find anything.”

At that moment, a woman’s voice called from the direction of Taylor’s home.

“Taylor! Time for dinner!”

Taylor jerked his head up.

“Be right there Mom!” Taylor’s mom was standing on the front stoop of her home. She waved once, before heading back inside. Taylor stood and brushed dirt and grass of the butt of his jeans. I did the same, and was about to say my goodbyes when he looked at me with a serious expression.

“My dad said Mr. Martin is too old and frail anyway, there’s no way he could have any part in taking Jimmy, but I know better. All the grown-ups think we made that up. None of them ever say they’ve seen him on waiting on the other side of that fence. I think he’s too chicken. He knows that if they catch him staring he’ll be in trouble. All they would have to do is see those eyes, and they’d know. He’s a bad man.”

With that, Taylor turned and strode off toward his home, leaving me to stand there and think about his story. Harold Martin, a man that the adults on High Street thought was old and frail. A man that also seemed to watch the children wherever they went, granting him a nickname. Was Mr. Cracks really the cause of Jimmy Edleton’s disappearance? It was a question I pondered as I stared at the old Colonial-style house.

Dusk had fallen over High Street, casting a purplish hue over the house as the sun began to fall over the horizon. In that light, the house seemed more menacing, and before I even realized it, I was standing in the yard of the man the kids called Mr. Cracks. I don’t know why I did it. Some part of me imagined the look on Taylor’s face when I showed up at his door with the basketball in hand. Then there was the part of me that wanted to see those eyes that Taylor mentioned. Eyes that were so ugly and full of anger that it had left no doubt in his mind that the old man was responsible for a missing boy.

Slowly, step by step, I made my way toward the basketball that still rested against the gate of the privacy fence. I kept looking back at the front of the house and then to the fence for any sign of movement, but I saw none. I couldn’t help but pretend I was some sort of spy on a secret mission. I was a little scared, but I felt more excited than anything. Soon, I was right in front of the gate.

I didn’t pick up the ball at first, I waited for any sound that would indicate someone was waiting to jump out and attack me. Then, when I was sure I was still alone, I stooped down to grab the ball. Before my hands touched it however, I heard the sound of something tapping rapidly on glass. Startled, I jerked up, and looked in the direction of the noise. Standing at a window on the side of the house placed near the fence, was an old man.

It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if someone told me the man was one-hundred. His face was gaunt and covered in liver spots. He was bald, with only a few white wisps of hair left on his shiny head. His eyes were sunken in and tired, yellowed with age, not at all like Taylor had said. He looked panicked, and was waving his hands frantically at me.

“Get out!” he tried to yell, but his call was meek and feeble.

I raised up my own hands.

“I’m leaving, I’m just grabbing my ball!” I yelled back at him.

That’s when I heard it. It was heavy, raspy breathing, and it was coming from the other side of the fence. My head turned back to the fence, and I knew I had made an awful mistake. There, in the gaps of the fence, I saw eyes. The outer white of them were red and bloodshot, but both the iris and pupil were black as coal. They were angry eyes, full of malice. These were the eyes Taylor had described. What he didn’t say, or more likely just didn’t notice, was whoever those eyes belonged to could not have been an adult. The eye-line was too low, just a bit shorter than I was.

He got the breathing wrong too, it wasn’t the sound of someone trying to catch their breath. It was the sound of something that’d didn’t even know what breathing was. It was broken up, and intermittent. It was like whoever was doing it kept forgetting they were supposed to be breathing.

I was rooted to the spot, mystified by what I was seeing and hearing. My breath seemed to stop completely as I was my gaze was transfixed with the eyes of the person on the other side of the fence. The person who’d watched the kids of High Street for so long. The person who couldn’t possibly be Mr. Martin.

There was movement in my peripheral vision, and I slowly turned my head to see what was causing the disturbance. My mind screamed at what I saw. There were more eyes.

Dozens of pairs of angry eyes stared out at me from behind the fence. In horror, I watched as several pallid-gray hands began to rise high above the fence and grasp the top of it, as if whoever the hands belonged to planned to climb over. That nightmarish sight finally allowed me to find the will to move. I turned and sprinted home without looking back.

When I burst into the front door, my parents were both sitting at the kitchen table. They saw the look on my face and rushed over, asking me what was wrong. I broke down and began crying, spouting nonsense about Mr. Cracks and eyes behind a fence. I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad was already all-too-familiar with the nickname the kids game to Mr. Martin. So, while my mother stayed by my side and tried to console me, my father called the police.

I don’t know what he said to the cops. I heard him scream something like,

“Something better be done about this!” but I can’t be too sure. I was in complete hysterics.

I was in the living room wrapped in a blanket when the police came, but I was told what happened later. My father waited outside as a squad car pulled up to our house and the police spoke to him before moving to Mr. Cracks’. The two officers knocked on the front door a few times, and when no one answered, they checked around the house. After seeing Mr. Martin laying on the floor unconscious through the same window I had seen him at, they forced their way inside. Moments later, they came back outside and waited for an ambulance to arrive. My dad’s brother; Jeff, works as a paramedic for Danville, and he happened to be on call that night. He talked to my dad before they took the body away, letting him know that Mr. Martin had passed away due to cardiac arrest.

 

***

 

“He was old.” I heard my dad tell my mom the next morning over breakfast in the kitchen. I was sitting in on the couch in the living room, watching T.V. After bearing witness to what my parents assumed was a man keeling over dead from a heart attack, my dad didn’t bother me about going outside for a while.

“Poor guy, he was such a freakin’ recluse, no one on this street even realized he was famous. What happens to someone to make them live their lives like that when their sitting on so much money?” My dad went on rambling to my mom who was clearly uninterested.

“I have no idea dear.” She replied, in a monotone voice that didn’t even attempt to hide her lack of enthusiasm. I, however, was listening intently. Not only was the man known as Mr. Cracks completely innocent and undeserving of the nickname the kids gave him as far as I was concerned, but he was also famous?

Whether Mom was listening or not, Dad seemed to be wondering out loud to himself more than speaking directly to her.

“No one’s even seen his art in years. People assumed he just got tired of it. If what Jeff said is true though, there’s at least a hundred of those things in his back yard. It’s insane, but I bet they’re worth a lot of money. I wish I’d known, I would have grabbed one before they carted that crazy bastard away!”

My dad laughed, and I heard him take a loud sip of coffee before he went on.

“I don’t know who the hell would want one though, I guess that shows how much I know about art, it’s what made him famous I guess.”

Dad went on his tirade for a while, but I didn’t hear anything beyond his very next words. Even wrapped in that blanket, my body became as cold as ice.

“He never did anything different. He only sculpted women with their heads carved into the center of their stomachs…”

Mr. Cracks