Stiff Skin Syndrome

melancholy-finishedBy: J.J. Cheesman

 

I miss Anna so very much. My memories of her are few, but they have stayed with me. Just as the guilt of what happened to her has haunted me all these years.

Anna was my world; she was a world as big as any seven-year-old who was in desperate need of a friend could have. I was a very shy boy when I started Kindergarten. On my first day during a small recess period, I looked around my classroom as all the other kids talked and laughed with each other. I sat alone, not having the courage to speak to anyone. My world was very small then.

It seemed to me that everyone in my class had someone they knew from either preschool, or someone they had in class who lived near them that they had already gotten acquainted with. My parents elected to keep me out of preschool. They didn’t think that it was necessary. It also didn’t help that my home was a couple miles into the country, and I had no neighbors close enough to associate with at that age. I remember so vividly, a feeling that I had watching every kid in my class smiling and so happy to be there. That feeling, was loneliness.

 

I put my head down on my desk and waited for Mrs. Grandon to tell us to quiet down. I just knew I was going to hate school from then on, I wished I wasn’t in that stupid room with all of those smiling children. Then came the feeling of a soft hand touching one of my arms, and the soft, sweet voice of a girl.

“Are you okay?”

I looked up quickly, slightly startled at the sudden disturbance. I was met by the sight of a pretty brunette girl with her hair done up in curls. I blushed a bit, embarrassed that she felt so sorry for me that she felt she had to come ask if I was okay.

“Yeah I’m fine, why?”, I sputtered out with all of the confidence I could muster.

“Sorry, it just looked like you were sick.” I smiled at her politely,

“No, I’m okay, just tired”, I lied.

“Oh, okay, wanna’ play Tic tac toe? No one else will play with me.” She returned my smile with teeth that shown pure white, and I fell in love. Well, the kind of emotion that a boy that age could call love. I nodded excitedly, and she pulled up a chair next to me and I pulled out a pen and paper from my desk. We spent a long time passing the pen back and forth, playing our games of Tic tac toe. Anna was always X’s, and I was always O’s. We played while she asked me things like what my name was or my favorite color. I told her of course, that my name was Bobby. I also told her my favorite color was green. My favorite color was actually blue, but when I saw her emerald eyes green became my new favorite.

From that day on, every time we had a break period in class, Anna and I would sit and talk at my desk while we played Tic tac toe. After lunch, during our outside recess period, we would play pretend on the modular play-set on the school grounds. We pretended we were knights defending a castle or that the rocks below the modular were instead a lake of molten lava that we could not touch.

Both of my parents were over-joyed that I had made friend. They were glad to see that going to school was something that I looked forward to, and I was beside myself with glee. That happiness never waned either. Anna and I never fought no matter how much time we spent together. In fact, our friendship only grew stronger day by day, and my feelings for her grew as well. By the time the month of October rolled around, Anna had been over to my house many times for play dates. We spent hours out in the field behind my house playing tag or hide-and-seek. I usually let Anna catch me, or hide in a spot that was obvious. I never wanted her to get bored of spending time with me. I never wanted to lose our little world of ignorant bliss. I was truly and irrevocably happy. But time passes and with it, go all things. Our little world of imaginary dreams crumbled all too fast.

 

Anna and I were both seven years old when my world collapsed. We were playing on the modular at school during recess once again. We must have been playing one of our silly games of being in a castle, the events of that day are so blurry in my mind I find it hard to recall many details. I know that for some reason Anna was guarding my entrance to the main slide at the very top of the modular. That slide was the best one we had available on our little playground, and it went the whole fifteen feet down to the gravel below.

Our little game was interrupted however by a boy whose name I will never forget. Mitchell Donahue. Mitchell was the class bully in my grade, and he was as intimidating a bully as any seven-year-old can be. He came lumbering up the tall steps with his broad shoulders swinging in tandem with his footsteps. Mitchell pushed me aside and demanded that Anna move. Anna crossed her arms and stood defiant in Mitchell’s way.

“Say please, it’s polite.” She said.

“No way.” Mitchell yelled, and shoved Anna aside sending her falling on her behind. A fire lit in me then, and I stormed over to Mitchell, shoving him hard against the metal railing that acted as a barrier from children toppling over the tall modular. Quick to recover, and very angry Mitchell ran at me, tackling me hard as we went sprawling to the ground. Anna was trying to lift herself up from her sitting position, and as she was standing, Mitchell tried to stand as quickly as he could as well. But he moved too fast, and he lost his balance. I know he didn’t mean it, but it doesn’t stop me from hating him to this day.

When Mitchell lost his balance, he stumbled into Anna. Mitchell’s fall was hard, and it sent tumbling back over the railing. I watched in horror, helpless to stop what was happening. The fall was only fifteen feet, to any adult it could have been survivable. But to a seven-year-old child’s neck, the gravel was unforgiving.

When Anna’s head made contact with the ground, the loud *SNAP* that came with it resonated throughout the playground. The sound of children excitedly playing was silenced as everyone around turned and quietly looked at Anna’s little lifeless body. There was no blood, but when I remember that day, the color that comes to mind is red.

The dress she or her mother picked out for her that day, was a crimson color that laid in contrast to the grey stone of the gravel. I stared down from the top of the modular on my hands and knees as tears began to form in my eyes. Then I heard Mitchell behind me. He was sitting with his hands wrapped around his knees. He just kept whimpering and saying,

“I didn’t mean to, I didn’t mean to.” Over and over again. For some reason his stupid blubbering made my blood run hot.

“Shut up!” I yelled at him. But he just kept right on repeating those same words over and over again. I saw red, and I crawled over to him and grabbed his shirt. He stopped then, looking into me with truly sorrowful eyes. This stupid little scarred bully was the reason I lost my world. I didn’t want him to be sorry, I just wanted to hurt him. I drew back my fist and pounded him square in his nose. He cried out, and I heard something snap in his nasal cavity, but I didn’t care. He killed Anna, he was the reason I lost my only real friend. I drew my fist back once more, but before I could bring my fist back down on his blubbering face my arm was caught by a recess monitor.

“That’s enough Bobby!” She cried, and pulled me away down into the school building, she led me to the principal’s office to call my parents.

 

The recess monitors on duty that day saw what happened, and as soon as Anna fell they called an ambulance. Anna was pronounced dead on arrival. I of course, was heartbroken. My parents let me stay home from school for the remainder of that week. I didn’t get in trouble for what I did to Mitchell. I guess everyone figured I’d had enough grief, or they thought he deserved what happened.

I mostly spent all of my time that week in bed and I hardly ever came out of my room. When, I did come out of my room, it was because my mom forced me to try to eat dinner. I did eat, but not much. I didn’t have any will to eat, I didn’t have any will to speak. I could only lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling with tears welling in my eyes. Once again, my world was small and within it, I was alone.

My parents obviously were very worried about my state of mind, but I soon realized that putting on a smiling face and telling them that I was fine was the easiest way to deal with their constant badgering. School was a different story, I spent most of my days ignoring mostly everyone who wasn’t an adult. I just did my work and stayed quiet. The only thing I had to be thankful for is that Mitchell never spoke to me again, and even went out of his way to completely avoid me.

Then about two weeks later, I woke up one morning with an intense pain in my chest. When I told my mom about it, she lifted up my shirt to look at where I said the pain was. There were no marks visible, but when she touched the spot on the right side of my chest that I was complaining about she drew back her finger in surprise. When she pressed her finger against the afflicted area, her fingernail made a grating sound when it made contact. Going into full on mom mode she immediately grabbed her cellphone and called me off from school, then called my pediatrician and said that I needed to be seen right away.

When we got there the doctor examined my chest and did some x-rays. We then had to sit in the waiting room for results. After an hour or so the nurse came out to talk to my mom and they whispered quietly while I sat watching them from my seat unable to hear the conversation, then my mom told me to wait there while she went to talk to the doctor.

Stiff Skin Syndrome, is what they called it. The disease is genetic, though it is extremely rare. Basically, your body forms lesions on the skin that become hard as stone. Eventually the disease makes it very difficult to move or even breathe. They told my parents and I that I was very lucky since it was spreading so slowly through my body.

Because the disease is so rare and unheard of there is no real proven treatment yet. So, I spent a lot of time going to physical therapists and exercising my limbs in preparation for what the disease was doing to me. The first night home from the doctor’s office my mother began her own preparation by covering every mirror in the house with thick, black sheets. At first the covers on the mirrors were frustrating, but I knew she meant well.

When I was ten, the disease had spread down to my stomach, when I was thirteen, it covered a large portion of my neck. By the time I was seventeen, I was no longer going to school. I was mostly bed ridden and on oxygen because the disease had started to spread to most of the top half of my legs and it was hard to walk. It was rough, but I always just considered myself somewhat lucky that the disease hasn’t spread to my arms, at the very least didn’t have to be fed through a tube.

 

I am nineteen now, living with parents who are doing their best to stay positive even though their son is becoming a living golem. They look at me with sad yet hopeful eyes whenever they speak to me. They still believe a cure will be found, I know that even if one IS found, it will be too late for me.

 

Last night, I was lying in bed with my oxygen mask on my face staring at the ceiling. After all these years, I still haven’t adjusted to a life of being disabled. My little world has only gotten smaller with time as my childhood and teenage years were torn from me by my illness. I had to pee, and mom always hated when I got out of bed to do things on my own without my wheel chair, but I was tired of living my life like a helpless child. I tore my mask off and slowly swung my legs over the edge of my bed, limping through my open bedroom door toward the bathroom.

Once in, I firmly shut the bathroom door and locked it. I knelt down; an act which cause me a bit of pain, and began to lift the toilet seat. I lost my balance though, and began to fall back as my hand reached out and grabbed the first thing it could of instinct in an attempt for my body to right itself. I grabbed the thick black sheet that covered the mirror on the wall, and ripped it off as I tumbled backwards on my behind. I cursed out in pain as my bare back hit the cold tile wall of my bathroom. I sat there silently for a moment listening for my parents, hoping to god I didn’t wake them up.

After a few moments of silence, I was satisfied that they were still asleep and I stood up, putting my hands on the wall behind me for support as I did so. I alone turned around in that bathroom and gazed into the mirror, but I was not the only one reflected in its image.

I began to find it hard to breathe. My lungs were not cooperating and I felt dizzy. For There in the mirror, with her back to reflection, stood Anna. I knew it was Anna, her brown curly hair was unmistakable, and she was still wearing that same crimson dress. She stood in front of me, blocking my view of my own chest. I didn’t know what to do or say, my mind drew a blank all that came was out was an audible whimper. I made a silent prayer in that moment that she did not turn around, but as if in answer, her broken neck slowly craned around in an unnatural motion.

“No” I whispered, “No, I don’t want to see, please.”

Either Anna could not hear me in her other-worldly form, or she didn’t care. Her neck was still turning and was about to complete its one-hundred-eighty-degree rotation. I shut my eyes tight before I could see her face. I didn’t want to see her, the face of her angry spirit that had hate filled eyes for what I allowed to happen to her. I didn’t want to bear it.

Then I heard a sound that god help me made me open my eyes. I looked into the mirror, into Anna’s eyes. Eyes that were bloodshot but still retained a glimmer of emerald-green. Eyes that, instead held hate within, held nothing but tears that slowly ran down her cheeks. She was looking at me pleadingly.

“What?” I whispered, “What can I do?”

She moved aside, revealing my chest in the mirror. I saw what, if it were any other ghostly thing there in that bathroom with me, would have made me angry. Instead, I too began to cry because I realized in that moment why my disease never spread to my arms or hands. Stiff Skin Syndrome is indeed a very real affliction, but I don’t have it. To the naked eye, my skin formed hard lesions that bulged the skin. But in that moment within the mirror, I could see my affliction as it truly was. There, scratched into my chest and neck, were several parallel lines. Lines that formed boxes. Only one box from each group of line was filled in and they were filled in with only one x.

Since the day Anna died, for some reason, she could not pass on. She stayed here with me, and she was so lonely that she tried to reach out to me, but I wasn’t listening. All she wanted, was to play our favorite game with her only friend. In all my own loneliness, I was foolish. How could I not feel Anna here with me? I spent so long crying and complaining about my own small world, but Anna’s world had become much, much smaller.

If you can somehow read this Anna, I am so very sorry for what happened to you. I am not angry with what you have done; I deserve this for what I let happen to you. I love you, Anna, you are still my world and I cannot wait until we can finally be together once more, in our own little world.

 

See you soon.

 

 

 

Authors Note

Bobby, as you’ve now figured out if you read this story, didn’t actually have Stiff Skin Syndrome. But it IS a very real disease and it IS one that, as of right now, has no proven treatment and no cure.

This story was written with the purpose of not only entertainment, but as a way to do my part in spreading awareness of the disease. If you would like to know more about it, and maybe get some information on how to help find a cure, visit https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/5025/stiff-skin-syndrome.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Stiff Skin Syndrome

Shattering Faith

By: J.J. Cheesman

So, here is the deal right up front. I was born with a disease called Cystic Fibrosis, also known as CF. CF is a disease that prevents the pancreas from doing exactly what it needs to do, create enzymes for digestion. Patients with CF have to take enzymes in capsule form with every meal; myself included, to make sure they don’t shit out their intestines. Now I won’t bore you with everything that my life with CF entails, except for one relevant detail. Ninety-five percent of all males born with CF are sterile, and I was not lucky enough to be part of the five percent.

My wife Emilia and I have been married for five long years, and we have stuck with each other through the best, and the very worst of every five of those years. Ever since I first met her, Emilia and I were completely inseparable. We were that couple that grossed you out while you waited in line behind us at the grocery store because we couldn’t keep off of each other. We sat on the same side of a booth at a restaurant, and before ending every phone call we would make sure to say “I love you”, because you never knew what could happen.

Not too long ago, I could tell something was bothering Emilia. She seemed disinterested in anything we ever did, and she was much quieter than usual. Then one night while we were getting ready for bed, I confronted her about it. When I did, she told me she was ready for a baby. Now, I have no problem at all with children. I was ready myself.

After months of trial and error and many trips to the doctor, we failed. Emilia became depressed, and the whole ordeal took its toll on her body as day by day she became thinner because she just wasn’t eating. I even suggested adoption, but she wouldn’t have it. There was nothing I could do. The woman I loved was torn apart because I was born broken. I was beside myself in my helplessness.

One night I was standing outside on my porch smoking while Emilia slept in our bedroom. I was horribly depressed, and all I could do was smoke and stare blankly up at the night sky lost in my own thoughts. Then, a booming voice made me jump and interrupted my train of thought. “You look like someone shot your dog, son”. A man, illuminated by a street lamp was standing out on the road at the edge of my yard with a concerned look. “Hey, yeah sorry I was just lost in thought”. The man was sharply dressed, wearing a crisp grey suit with a red tie and a matching kerchief in the suit pocket. He was just standing with his hands in his pockets out there as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Anything I can do to help?”, the man asked with a sound of genuine concern in his voice. Though the man seemed pleasant enough something about him seemed unpleasant. I decided then that it was best to blow him off and go inside, then hope that he would get the hint and leave. “No thanks, but I got to get off to bed now I’ll see you around!” I gave a short wave and turned around walking back to my door.

My hand was just over the door knob when I was halted by a whisper just behind my ear. “Are you sure about that son?”. I spun around quickly to find the man standing right in front of me. Up close, I could see the man had deep amber eyes seemed to flicker in the light. He had a plain but handsome face, and his suit was pristinely clean. I was about to yell at him but he put up a palm that told me to stop, and a force that I cannot explain held my mouth shut. “Now I am going to cut to the chase boy, no need spending time playing in the garden when you got flowers needin’ tended to.” He reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette from the pack inside and then he placed it in his mouth and when the butt touched his lips, the tobacco ignited.

He took a drag off of the cigarette and inhaled deeply, exhaling the smoke after he held it in his lungs a moment. When he exhaled the smoke, it blew right in my face and I felt my head become cloudy, my vision blurred slightly and I was launched into a somewhat euphoric state. “She wants a child, and you can’t give her one right?”, he said nodding toward my house. I tried to say ‘yes’ followed by ‘how did you know?’ but I still found myself unable to speak, So I just lazily nodded my head ‘yes’. “Well, I can” he said. After he said it the man must have realized how that sounded to me and he chuckled. “Well I mean to say, YOU can, with my help of course”. The man took the cigarette out of his mouth with his middle finger and forefinger then spoke on. “I can give you and your wife happiness, for just a little something in return”. Finding myself able to speak again I laughed. “My soul?”, the man raised the hand that wasn’t the cigarette and gave me the finger gun. I couldn’t help but laugh again, “I thought The Devil had horns”. The man didn’t look amused, “Times a wasting Johnny-boy”. The cloud in my head was still making me slightly dizzy, I kept thinking that meeting that man who I now thought to be The Devil, was all part of some dream. I smiled up at his amber eyes then and said, “So do we sign in blood or something”. The Devil let out a hearty resonating laugh that was all together pleasant, but hid a small tinny growl that was barely audible. “No my friend, this will be all that is required” The Devil extended out his hand, holding his cigarette by the butt and offering it to me.

Now if you want me to say I did the smart thing and said no, I’m sorry. I took that cigarette and I took a long, deep, satisfying drag from it. Emilia was my entire world, and I couldn’t bear to see her in such pain. To be completely honest though, that night was so surreal that at the time, I could have sworn it was a dream. The Devil then shook my hand and gave me a wicked smile. Before he vanished he said to me “On the day you die, you and I will exchange words once more”, he bowed and disappeared as quickly as he appeared.

I took the whole experience as just a silly nightmare due to my guilt over being not a good enough man for my wife. Then one week later, Emilia excitedly announced to me she was pregnant. The dream had all but left my memory by then and there was no way I could have prepared myself for what awaited me at the end of the path that I had chosen to take.

I could not have been happier from then on. The tone in my house shifted from a somber chill to an excited warmth. Emilia was in constant high spirits, finally getting what she so desperately dreamed of for so long. My doctor called it a miracle. “You are one lucky man Robert”, he told me, “Having a child naturally is very rare in cases like yours”. Finally, it was time for the baby to come, Emilia gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that we named Heather.

After she was born, Heather became my entire world. Sure, I loved my wife but as anyone with kids will tell you, your children come first. My happiness was insurmountable, it didn’t matter to me that The Devil took my soul away, because my heart and family was finally complete.

Then, a year and a half after heather was born, I was visited by the man in the grey suite once again. Emilia had gone to work that morning and I had the day off to be with Heather. I often had the extreme pleasure of watching over our daughter, a job which I would have taken any hour of any day of the week. Heather’s beautiful green eyes that were just like her mother’s, warmed my heart every time she looked up at me and smiled. Heather and I were in the living room and I was trying to teach her how to walk, when I noticed the man sitting in the recliner in the corner of the room. I scooped Heather up in my arms and held her tight. I glared at The Devil with hate-filled eyes. “What the hell are you doing here!?” I yelled.

“It’s time to collect son”, he said, taking a long drag off of a cigarette. A fear rose in me then as I shook my head slowly and Heather turned and outstretched her arms toward the man in the chair. “I’m not dead” I whispered. The Devil laughed. “Do you really believe that’s how things work?” He stood up in his chair and walked over me taking Heather from my arms, I tried to resist, but once again, my head became cloudy and I could barely move. The Devil rocked my daughter in his arms as he spoke once more. “Forget what you learned about in church boy, when you get to the bottom of the barrel there’s really only one thing that counts, and that’s faith”. Heather giggled at him as he spoke on. “Now I know that’s an old concept but faith comes in many forms you see. You can have faith in god, you can have faith in your future, and of course, you can have faith in your family.” He smiled a smile full of perfect white teeth as he just kept right on rocking my beautiful daughter. “Faith is the only thing that stops me from taking a soul, and it is very hard work shaking someone’s faith without revealing who I am. That’s one of the rules you see, I can’t really let out I am The Devil unless I am making a deal for a soul. Once I make the deal, if someone still has their faith in something they love, the deal is irrelevant and I get nothing for my hard work”. The Devils face melted and contorted then, becoming a mess of twisted flesh and hair. While his face was morphing, The Devil continued speaking, although his voice now sounded like two instead of one. “Of course, I have been doing this a very long time, I have learned of ways to get what I desire”. At the last few words he spoke The Devil’s voice returned to one, except this time it was more feminine as his features reset in his face. His hair grew long and his eyes went from brown to a beautiful shade of green. I cried out in horror as my daughter uttered her first word.

“Mama!” Heather said, and The Devil wearing the face of my wife turned to her and smiled. Heathers beautiful smiling face turned into one of twisted agony then as she began crying, letting out a painful wailing scream. Her entire little body became engulfed in flames, she burned quickly, and she soon became just a pile of ash at The Devil’s feet, and I fell to my knees and cried. “NOOOOO!!!” I wailed. “NOOOO!!!” I said through tears of sorrow as The Devil just stood there smiling my wife’s smile. I was broken and crying, my world had been ripped out from under me, and I was a blubbering mess. “You bastard! What did you do to my wife, what did you do to my little Heather, it was my soul you wanted! She isn’t yours to take!” The Devil threw his head back and laughed Emilia’s laugh. “You don’t get it? There was never any Emilia Johnny-boy, never will be. I was able to take your daughter’s soul because, after all, she IS half mine”.

My blubbering and crying ceased as I felt all feeling and emotion leave me, I became as cold as stone. In that moment I realized not only had my life and my marriage had been a complete sham, but I would never get to hold sweet Heather in my arms ever again. The Devil approached laughed once more as his body began melting again, and his appearance returned to the man in the grey suit. “Don’t feel bad son it will all be over soon. Look at it this way, you never had any wife to mourn AND you got to be with a celebrity, you should feel honored” The man then produced a hand gun and threw it down beside me in my kneeling position. “Why not just take me now?” I asked. “It’s another one of the rules sonny, I can’t kill anyone for a soul”. I looked down at the gun by my knees and planned on grabbing it and using it as The Devil wanted me to, putting it in my mouth, and pulling the trigger. I knew there was no way out, The Devil had succeeded in taking away my very reason for living and it didn’t matter if I did it then or ten years from now. I was still going to burn. ‘But at least’ I thought ‘You’ll be with heather’. I went for the gun until something occurred to me that lit a small ember of hope within my spirit.

“But there was a Heather” I said. The Devil stopped in raised an eyebrow, looking down at me with intrigue. “What?”. “There was a heather, she was yours, but she still had a soul right?” The Devil nodded with a smile. “Well of course, every life has a soul son”. I thought of Heather’s beautiful smile that she gave every time I went to fetch her from her crib and my heart warmed inside. “I want to make a deal” I said.

Laying Heather down in her crib earlier was a bit of a task. She didn’t want to go to sleep tonight for some reason. But, she finally drifted off after many hours of sitting by her crib and reading stories. I normally didn’t mind but I have work to do tonight if I want to keep my quota. One soul a month was what I promised The Devil, and in hindsight I think this might be what The Devil planned all along. It’s awful work, I hate doing it, but I would do anything for my sweet Heather. How do I get these souls you ask? Well, my faith was returned to me when I got back Heather, and my friend Bill from work just brought home his beautiful little baby boy.

Shattering Faith

The House on the Water

 

By: J.J. Cheesman

 

 

 

I am a writer, always have been and always will be. But I wasn’t always any good at it. To be honest I was once really quite terrible. When I was younger, my free time was spent writing stories and I even started work on a novel once. But eventually all of my work found its way straight into the garbage because it was deplorable, and I knew it. I never became discouraged though, I kept pursuing my dream of being a writer by trade. Every day I would come home from school and begin writing until it was very late.

 

Then the time came one day when I wasn’t a child anymore and I had to choose a career. I was graduating high school and I realized that I couldn’t just hope for the ability to write well and make a living off of it. I had been living with my brother and his wife by the time I was ready to graduate. My parents died when I was fifteen after being struck by a drunk driver.

 

I had no money saved up but I didn’t want to be a burden on my brother’s life anymore, He and his wife had been just so good to me and I felt morally obligated to stop mooching off of them as quickly as possible. They were very kind people and still are of course, and I’m sure they didn’t mind having me in the house but I felt as if I was taking advantage of them and I simply needed to stop, especially since I was paying them nothing what so ever to live there and their living room space was being taken up by me.

 

So I chose a job in restaurant management, glamorous I know. The pay was good though, and I found an apartment about a block away from the place I would be working at; the name of which I won’t disclose, so everything just sort of fell into place. The hours I spent at work were long and stressful, as anyone who works in management can tell you. But like I said, the pay wasn’t bad and I lived alone. So I was able to save up quite a bit of money. The only expenses I paid for outside of the basics was an occasional bottle of scotch and cigarettes. I also picked up writing supplies every now and then of course.

 

Not even a stressful and demanding job, one that I would often be called in at on my days off for various reasons, could keep me from wanting to write.  That of course didn’t mean the routine ever changed. I would write and write and then write some more. Though, now that I was older I would keep most of the hundreds of pages I had written and would pore over them when I became too tired to write.

 

 I would read every single word, every phrase, and every line. Fantasy stories about great heroes and the legends they became. Conspiracy dramas about corrupt governments and societies. Horror stories about ghastly figures that came from the shadows and stalked the night. All of these things I had written hundreds of short stories about and every word I had written down, in my eyes, was utter horse shit. As time went on I became exponentially more frustrated until one particularly bad day.

 

It was my day off, and I sat at my kitchen table in my little shack of and apartment drinking scotch and reading a piece I had written earlier that morning about a man who acquires the powers of teleportation from radioactive sludge. The exposition was weak, the grammar was terrible, and there was no ending to a story that I personally have ever read that was as tasteless and uninspired as the one I had written. I starred at the pages of that story after reading it for a second time. It definitely was a terrible story and I was dismayed.  I then picked up some other pages of stories that I had set to the side on the table to revise and read them over again as well. As I read, only one thought pounded my head like a jack hammer to concrete. Garbage. It was all unintelligible childish garbage. I picked up my half empty glass off of the table and downed it in one gulp as it warmed and then burned my throat. The brown liquid began heating my gut, where a myriad of emotional self-hatred and disgust was already brewing.  I sat the glass back down on the table and calmly stood as I stared down at all of those stories.

Then all at once the emotional brew in my gut bubbled to the surface and I threw my hands on the table grasping in blind fury at the pages. I grabbed as many papers I could; as quickly as I could, ripping them all apart one by one. Blind anger made me see red as I felt the dream I had been working for slip away due to my own inability to produce anything at all worthwhile. When I was through with the pages I grabbed the edge of my kitchen table with both hands and flipped it over as hard as I could, sending the stories flying and my empty glass to the floor. The glass shattered, the pieces of it laying in shards across neatly penned but torn paper. I wanted to grab the gas can from my trunk and cover it all with gasoline, then light a match and watch it all burn as hot as the frustration inside of me. I thought better of that however, and I stormed out of my apartment and got in my car. I had been drinking a bit, but I knew It wouldn’t bother my driving. If I would have been drunk enough for my driving to be impaired though, I don’t think I would have cared. I started the car without knowing my destination and drove off.

 

Driving always through the country always soothes me, and at that moment I needed some soothing. This wasn’t my first silly tantrum but it was definitely the biggest one. After driving for a minute or two though, I had already begun to calm down. I found myself about a mile or two outside of town when for better or for worse, my life changed forever. I was already deciding on turning my car around and heading back to town when something caught my eye. I slammed on the brakes and my car swerved just a bit, if there was anyone behind me I surely would have been the cause of an accident, but I didn’t care. My car was stopped directly in front of a driveway that was filled with white rock.

 

There, at the end of the driveway, stood a grey and grimy looking house. The house was modest, and it had just a touch of a dilapidated appearance. It was easy to tell though, that when the house was in new and pristine condition, it would have been quite cozy.  Beyond the house were the still waters of a serene lake. Mist rolled across the grey water of the lake from the grove of trees just beyond its edge, and me? Well, I fell in love. I know it sounds crazy, but looking out onto the surface of that water I felt myself being pulled and drawn to that place. I felt as though it was calling me. So, I pulled into the driveway.

 

By some miracle of luck, a sign was sticking of the grass in the front yard that claimed the house was for rent. I called the number posted on the sign and got in touch with the landlord. The first thing I asked was how much rent was a month. “Ah” He said, “I was actually meaning to take that sign down, I recently decided I want to sell it but I can’t find a realtor that wants to help me”. “Oh, I’m sorry for bothering you” I told him, feeling pretty disappointed. “Now hold on son”, he said. “The previous tenants went missing or left in a hurry and never got in touch with me. I will be honest, the inside of the house is sort of junk, but if you’re still interested I could rent it to you for two-hundred”. A big smile spread across my face, “Perfect”.

 

I was moved in to that house within the week, and as you can probably guess I was elated. This was the absolute perfect place to develop my writing. I went straight to work, sitting at my desk that I had pushed up against one of the windows in a room that over looked the lake. With a glass of scotch and a pen and looking out at the water through the window, I began thinking of a story about the house I was in, and ghastly nightmares that lie within the water of the lake. The people rose from the surface of the water as ghastly apparitions. They stalked the woods beyond the lake searching for victims to drag into the depths. I was up drinking and writing very late that night, trying to conjure up the perfect ending to my tale. I soon realized I was very tired, and thought that most likely I couldn’t come up with anything due to my exhaustion. Before going to bed I re-read what I had written and excitement filled my body. For once in my life, I actually approved of the work that was written down on those pages. The story, if I do say so myself, was a masterpiece. Now if only I could find that elusive ending. I finished my scotch and retired to my bedroom hoping that an ending would come to me in the morning.

That night; as I slept, I dreamt of the people in the lake that I wrote my story about. I lay at the bottom of the lake starring up at the house through the water. My view of the house was as surreal as the dream I was having. It was as if the surface of the water was a wall. In the middle of the wall was a portal, and through the portal, was my house. There laying on the lake bed I was surrounded by men and women of all ages and races. They whispered words to me that echoed through the water. They spoke of the lake, and the incredible power it held. They told me that if I wanted to be successful, I would listen to them, and listen I did.

 

That morning I woke up with new determination. I jumped out of bed and immediately began writing what the people in my dream had told me. I have heard that when people dream, it is their subconscious mind telling them things they already knew. Man was I grateful to my subconscious mind. Usually dreams I had, were cloudy and disjointed making them hard to recall, but not this one. I finished my story quickly, with the ending exactly how the people in the water described it. The tale was absolutely perfect. I then spent some time transcribing the story digitally to my computer.

 

When I was finished, I sent the story by email to a horror fiction magazine that I had a subscription to. Horror, it seemed that horror was my specialty. After sending the story off, I didn’t sit on my ass and wait anxiously for a response. I wrote all day and all night, coming up with several pieces of fiction at once. All of the stories I wrote then, were good. But like my first story I couldn’t come up with an ending to any of them. This was frustrating, but once again it was late and I hoped that lightning would strike twice and I would be able to think of endings in the morning to at least one of my stories. As it turns out, lightning struck many times.

On my second night of writing, I went to sleep and once again dreamt of the people in the water. Whispering enveloped me from all around in the water and told me how I should go about ending every one of my stories. For a while, this became a pattern. I would write stories, go to sleep, and get advice from other-worldly spirits that resided just outside my home in the water. I would wake up and get to work finishing the stories they told me to revise or complete. It sounds completely silly but I assure you this is how I came up with my writing. Then a week later the magazine I sent my first story to replied back. They were going to publish my story! What’s more, that wanted to read more of my writing and publish it as well and would compensate me for my work! I was absolutely elated. Finally, years of throwing away my work and waiting for the perfect story paid off.

My success only spurred my passion for writing and I wrote story after story, nearly four a day. I waiting for ending after ending to come to me in my dreams of the lake. Always from whispers, and always laying on the bed of that lake staring up at the house. I of course submitted more and more stories to the magazine, and every piece I wrote, they published. Soon I was able to quit my job at the restaurant and focus exclusively on writing for the magazine. Eventually, my dreams of the people in the lake faded and was replaced with a dreamless sleep, but I still woke up with new endings and sometimes whole new ideas to write. My dreams however, slowly faded from my memory completely.

 

Then, a year later, I lay in the bed of my unlit room unable to fall asleep. So much success had come to me so quickly and my dream of being a writer, at least in a small sense, had come true. Now I had enough money and enough experience to have the confidence to work on a novel. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness and I looked out through my window into the darkness. I could see the grove of trees that lay beyond the window and watched as the wind made their leaves and limbs dance in a moonlight that was very bright that night. The figures of the trees resembled people standing out there in the light that were waving their arms and it brought back a memory, the memory of the people in the lake. Real or not, the people in my dreams still helped me become as successful as I was. “Thank you, you made my dream come true”, I said aloud and felt a bit silly as I did, but I began to grow tired and I slowly began to drift off to sleep.

 

As my eyes started to close, through the slits of my eyelids I noticed movement, and forced my eyelids open. I tried to yell, but my voice was silenced as I suddenly found myself unable to breathe. There, standing all around my bed were men and women. Men and women that I recognized, they were the people from the lake, the people in my dreams from so long ago. They were all standing silent and still. Their faces were a twisted and puffy bloated mess with bright blue veins running all along their cheeks and foreheads. Some of them weren’t breathing, but some of them were, and the rise and fall of their bodies came with the sound of a wheezing death rattle. From their mouth’s came inconsistent amounts of water, falling at random moments from their mouths. They stared down at me with cold eyes that had pupils and iris’s that had long since lost their color and were now ivory white.

Once again I tried to scream and yell out in fear, but all that came of it was a soft gurgling sound in my chest along with a pain like none I had ever felt before. “Don’t try to speak Jimmy, it is far too painful”. The people from the lake spoke in unison, but their mouths were unmoving and produced no sound. Instead their words came as a cacophony of whispers in my brain. Ignoring their warning, I tried like mad to scream at them and tell them to get the hell out of my house, but all that came out were fits of coughs as I choked on cold water. “We cannot leave Jimmy, not without you, your time is up we’re afraid”, The whispers came out in ghastly rattles that were almost painful to hear, “When you first came to us in your wretched state, you were broken and in shambles, what we’ve done to make you whole once more will not last”. I wanted to ask what they meant by that but I was interrupted by a deep cut they began to form on my forehead. The cut started gushing blood badly and I reached up to touch it, and I touched bone. As my hand ran over my face I felt that it was cold and puffy, bloated almost. It was then I realized that the pain in my chest had gone away, in fact, I felt no pain anymore at all.

 

One of the deformities grabbed me by the foot as a screenshot from a memory that I had lost came to mind, busted glass. Realization slowly set in, and I didn’t even fight them off when they began dragging me off of my bed and out of my room. The whispers then came once more. “You pleaded with us and told us of your sadness, you told of us of your poor parents and your broken dreams, we felt so very sorry for you that our hearts ached”. (my eyes shut as they dragged me out of the house and onto the lawn walking in the direction of the lake) “We returned life to you, and we gave you a second chance that you should not have needed in the first place” (We reached the water’s edge, and my feet began to be submerged) “Of course, you know how this story ends, and we shouldn’t have to tell you, but.” (My chest then head is submerged in the cold water, and I shut out what the whispers were going to say, I simply just waited for them to take me to wherever they were going to leave me as every feeling of joy and sorrow left my soul until I felt nothing but empty).

 

I knew the ending line of the story, and I did not need for those water filled bags of rot to tell me how it went. The irony of this situation isn’t lost on me as I lay here looking up through the water at my house that is cast now in moonlight. I don’t know how long I have been down here now, but it feels like years. Years that I have spent sitting at the bottom of this lake, unable to move, only able to stare up through my windshield and the house that was the last thing I saw when I lost control of my car and went careening into the lake. In my drunken state I couldn’t correct the car in time, and I couldn’t unbuckle this god damned seatbelt. I deserve this fate, especially after what happened to my parents. I was the one who decided to get into the car after drinking, I am not complaining about that, but the ending to my story will torture me till the end of time.

 

Oh, I suppose the curious type what to know how it ends? Of course you do.

‘The writer never really believed or realized that his talent came from within, he always somewhere inside thought that it came from that place. The place that because of his own self-doubt, he was doomed to watch over until eternity. That place, The House on the Water’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House on the Water

My Silly Cat

 

By J.J. Cheesman

 

My cat Cocoa, was a silly little thing. She always liked to sleep in my closet on a pile of blankets that I kept underneath my hanging shirts. Don’t ask me why she did that, I supposed she liked having the space all to herself. If she wasn’t sleeping in the closet she was sleeping on my chest while I petted her. Sometimes she would spend the night going from me to the closet unable to make up her mind on where she wanted to sleep. Cocoa was also always very independent. She would paw on my front door whenever she wanted to be let out until I went and opened the door for her. Then, usually very late at night, she would come back and meow at the door until I let her back in, sometimes bringing in dead mice which I would have to dispose of once I was able to catch her and take it from her mouth. This was a constant routine in my house and one I didn’t really mind putting up with sense I lived alone and Cocoa really was my only family.

One night, as I lay in bed about to drift off to sleep I heard Cocoa get up from her spot in the closet and go out into my foyer. Then I heard her begin her usual pawing at the door. I got up grumbling a little angry that she’d wanted to go outside at such an unusually late hour, and I made my way to the front door. As soon as I opened the door Cocoa darted out like a rocket in the night, eager to go out and do whatever it was she did in the night. I shut the door, and walked through the unlit foyer back to my bedroom, hoping that Cocoa wouldn’t come back until later in the morning. I fell asleep quickly listening to the sound of the wind outside my window that was blowing particularly hard that night.

Then I was awoken sometime later by the sound of soft mewing. It was hard to hear over the sound of the wind blowing so fiercely but it was there. I got up in a groggy half-asleep haze and stumbled to the foyer. On my way to my front door I nearly broke my neck on my shoes that I couldn’t see because I my eyes were only half open. I opened my front door rubbing my eyes and hearing Cocoa mew once before quickly running into my bedroom to find her spot in my closet and I shut the front door turning the dead bolt in place. That night I didn’t even bother going after her to check for rodents in her maw, I had to work in the morning and I was just too tired to care. I went straight to my bed and when my head hit the pillow, I heard Cocoa run out of my closet in the dark and she jumped up on my chest. Normally I would pet her as I drifted off to sleep but I was just SO tired I fell asleep almost as soon as she landed on me.

I awoke the next morning with a sharp pain in my chest that burned like fire. I got up and went to the mirror and lifted up my shirt. Directly in the center of my chest was a small pin-prick sized whole with a three- inch dark ring around it. With a finger I poked the wound, and the touch immediately sent a sensation of sharp daggers all through my body. I went to my bedroom and grabbed my phone off of the nightstand and could hear Cocoa messing around under my bed. I grabbed a cigarette from the pack on the nightstand along with the lighter that sat beside it. I dialed my doctor’s office and let it ring as I went to my front door to go outside to smoke on the porch. I unlocked the door, and swung it open stepping out onto the porch lighting my cigarette as I hugged my phone to my shoulder with the right side of my face. There was a loud squishing sound as my foot touched down on something sticky and soft. I looked down jumping back from whatever I stepped on and screamed. Cocoa lay there on her side, a gaping hole in her chest from something that had come from the inside out.

I sit here now in my doctor’s office. When I gathered up my senses after seeing Cocoa in that awful state, I shut my door and locked it and drove straight here demanding I see the doctor. Shivers are still running up and down my spine at the thought of whatever ghastly nightmare slept on top of me all night and then hid under my bed when I awoke. I am awaiting X-ray results and I am praying that I found out something soon. Judging from that hole in Cocoa’s chest, I don’t think I have much time to wait.

 

My Silly Cat

There IS Fire in the Sky

By: J.J. Cheesman

 

It’s so funny how we live our lives, bouncing from one moment to the next without ever really paying attention to the big picture. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna’ sit here and drone on about all that ‘live your life to the fullest crap’. Even after what happened to me, I’m sure as hell not.

It was a Friday like any other at my boring job as a clerk at a convenience store I worked at in my crappy little town. I was twenty, fresh out of college with a degree in Liberal Arts that I have yet to do anything with.

I was still living at home with my parents. I was still trying to figure out life. I was waiting for my big epiphany I guess, something to strike me like a bolt of lightning and tell me what I needed to be doing with my life. Well, my epiphany came. The only thing was; instead of striking like lightning, it came in a form more akin fire.

That Friday night I was alone as per usual. We were open twenty-four hours, and I was stuck with most of the A.M. part of those hours. So it was pretty slow that night, with the occasional patron walking in to get a late night supply of grocery items. It was a small town, so I knew pretty much everyone who came in. There was not one reason why I should have been afraid to be at that store so late, none at all. But there was about to be.

It was around one in the morning, and I was on the opposite end of the store from the entrance where we kept the dairy products. I was restocking the milk when I heard the chime of the bell that heralded someone entering the building. I turned around to look, though I couldn’t see who it was passed the aisles of candy and chips between me and the door. “Hello, I’ll be right there with you” I called out.

I walked around the aisles leaving my milk unattended fully intending to come back for it after I was through helping the customer. When I reached the counter I saw the man standing in front of a rack of cheap Easter-themed candy and stuffed rabbits that we set out for the month of April. He was very tall, at least 6”2’, and he wore a large black over-coat that concealed most of his body. When I saw what the man looked like, I moved as naturally yet as quickly as I could behind the counter. We kept a baseball bat under the cash register in a cubby for protection, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew if this man was up to no good I had little chance fending him off. I don’t go to the gym and I’m only 5”4’, and this guy? He was a monster.

 

No, I went directly for my phone in my pocket. I unlocked my phone, and held it under the counter and out of view. I had 911 already pulled up on the screen and ready to go in case things went bad. You might think I was being silly, but I’ve seen enough horror movies in my day to feel like it was wise to be cautious. I double checked my phone while the man’s attention was still on the rack of Easter junk and made sure that my thumb was held just above the send button. Finally, I felt a little more confident to speak up.

 

“Can I help you?” I asked the man, trying to sound and look as casual as possible. The man didn’t move, not one damn bit. Hell from where I was standing I couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. I cleared my throat before speaking once more. “Excuse me sir, is there anything I can get for you? Did you have Fuel?” The man finally turned to me very slowly. When he turned I could see that the rest of his attire was as dark as his overcoat. Now that I think about it, I don’t think black is the right word for what color it was. It was darker than black. His short cropped hair matched his clothing, but the skin on his face was a shade of white that contrasted so much with his clothing that it actually was almost dizzying to look at. Then I saw his eyes. The man’s eyes were the most beautiful striking shade of blue I have ever seen.

The man turned back to the rack he had been examining and picked out a stuffed rabbit from the shelf. He turned to the counter and walked over to me with the rabbit in hand and as he approached, I felt a fear in my heart that wrapped a heavy stone around it and pulled it down to my stomach and paralyzed me to my spot. The man sat down the rabbit on the counter, and looked at me with a smile that was just a little too big for his face. I realized in that moment why fear had immobilized me; though I cannot tell you why I didn’t notice before, that the man had no teeth.

That’s not even right to say, he didn’t just have any teeth. From what I could see, there was nothing in his gaping maw whatsoever. If he had gums, they were too small for me to see. I couldn’t see a tongue, I couldn’t see the roof of his mouth, nothing at all. There was nothing there I swear it on my life! Nothing but empty black. I let out a small shuddering cry then, as my phone fell from my hand and shattered on the tiled floor.

The man shot his right hand out and grabbed the back of my head, with the other hand he slowly ran the tips of his fingers across my face. I was unable to move what so ever, I could only stare into the gaping void inside the man’s mouth as I realized it’s hypnotic dark was covering my vision.

 

Blackness over took me then, and I could not see a thing. But I was still there in that store, with that man. I could feel his hands on my face, gently caressing my cheeks and forehead as if he had never felt a face before. Then I heard other bodies around me. I heard the whispers of voices in a language I didn’t understand, and I could feel more hands on me, touching my back and my legs and my chest. There were so many hands. But then came the pain. The hands stopped their caressing, and in their place came sharp instruments stabbing into my skin. Blades of various sizes and shapes entered my chest and sides, and I could feel what I thought were needles digging into my scalp. I prayed and prayed for the pain to stop. I prayed that I would wake up from a terrible nightmare that it was all just a dream. Then when an hour went by I just prayed to die, the fires of hell would have been preferable to the hot searing pain of whatever was happening to me. The worst of it was that I didn’t even know what was going on. I couldn’t see and all I could hear were those damned whispers. Then all at once, it stopped.

 

I woke up in a hospital bed, with my parents sitting beside me in chairs. They stood up assaulted me with hugs and kisses and told me they loved me and asked me if I was okay. I told them I was fine, which I was. A doctor whose name I can’t recall walked in and explained to me that I had been attacked. I was in recovery for about a week in a nearly catatonic state that the doctors couldn’t explain. I had no marks, or cuts on my body, aside from one minor bump on the back of my head. He said I was found that morning by my manager who was coming in early for his 5 o’clock shift to do inventory. When he found me laying down face-up outside the store on the sidewalk he immediately called 911.

I sit here now with a pad of paper and a pen along with a tumbler of bourbon trying to decide what to do. I am in my own bed, the doctor agreed to let me go home earlier as long as I came back in a week for a check-up. I think I will probably skip that.

You see, about an hour ago I was awoken by the familiar sound of whispering at my bedroom window. When I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes sitting there on the window sill, was a stuffed rabbit. I don’t think I have to tell you it was the same one from my store. Then I heard a sound like thunder, as I looked up into the night sky that for one brief moment; a moment so short that if you blinked you would miss it, was completely set ablaze. Then, it was quiet, and the night sky was black again. A black so dark, it was like there was nothing in it, at all.

There IS Fire in the Sky

The Man in The Brass Fedora

By: J.J. Cheesman

 

Ever since I can remember, my mother always collected antiques. Growing up, my entire house was in a constant state of disarray due to the amount of junk my mother collected. Old cuckoo clocks hung by the dozens on the walls of the living room and the kitchen. Jars of archaic buttons and glass beads sat on nearly every surface. Old china dolls sat on the mantle, and inside glass cases in our hallways so that they sat looking through the glass at passersby. Those dolls were the reason that as a young girl I refused to drink any liquid before bed time, because I didn’t want to get up in the middle of the night to pee and have to pass by the dolls and their lifeless gaze. I could go on and on about the many other odd knickknacks that occupied my childhood home, but there are none more interesting than the man in the brass fedora.

 

My mother received the man in the brass fedora when I was around eleven years old. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember sitting in the living room playing my N64 when there was a loud knock at the door. My mother was doing dishes in the kitchen and didn’t seem like she heard the knock, so I got up to go see who it was and through the glass window set in our front door I could see it was uncle Robbie. Uncle Robbie was my dad’s best friend; he wasn’t really my uncle but that’s what I always knew him as. Uncle Robbie was carrying something large that was wrapped in a white sheet that was nearly as tall as him; and when I opened the door to let him in, his huffing and puffing as he walked through the doorway told me it was pretty heavy as well. I shut the door as Uncle Robbie walked passed me; saying thanks, and huffing into the living room with beads of sweat dripping from his forehead. Mom heard the commotion and walked into the living room from the kitchen to see what was going on. Uncle Robbie set down the heavy object he was carrying and wiped the sweat pooling above his eyebrows with his arm. “Oh, Robbie, you didn’t!”; my mother said, wiping her hands with a dish towel. “Yeah I did Martha; it’s been sitting down at the shop for six months now I couldn’t get anyone to take it”. My mother clapped her hands together and let out a small squeal of excitement, I; however, sighed and went back to lay on my stomach in front of the T.V. to play my game. I was definitely NOT interested in whatever was under that sheet. You see, ol’ Uncle Robbie owned an antique store, which is most likely where my mother’s pentient for collecting things came from. Whatever was under that sheet was just another piece of old junk that my eleven-year-old self just didn’t want any part of.

Uncle Robbie and Mom stood there talking a bit longer; but I couldn’t tell you what they said as I was too engrossed in my game, but I did hear the sound of the sheet being quickly pulled off of whatever it was Uncle Robbie brought in. My neck snapped over to Mom and Uncle Robbie were standing, and as the sheet fell to the floor revealing what it hid. The eyes of the ugliest statue I have ever seen were staring straight into mine making my breath catch in my throat.

“It’s even better than I remember!”, my mother exclaimed. The statue stood to be about five and a half feet tall. It was a wooden statue that was dressed like a 1950’s gangster or detective. It wore brown slacks with a brown suit and over coat. It wore brown shoes of course to go with the rest of its outfit; but in contrast to its wooden material, the statue wore a brass fedora atop its head. But the statue’s eyes were truly the most peculiar part of it. For whatever reason, whoever crafted the statue decided to paint its right eye green and the left eye brown.

“That is so ugly Uncle Robbie!”, I yelled. Uncle Robbie laughed.

“I agree with you Jan, but your mother wanted it!”

“Yes I did” my mother said touching the statue’s shoulder and feeling the wood.

“But we couldn’t afford it”.

“How much was it?”, I asked, still from my position on the floor. My Mother shot me a look that told me I should mind my business, and invited Uncle Robbie into the kitchen for a glass of tea, which he accepted and followed her into the next room. I stood up and walked over to the statue once I was alone. I stood there, a few feet from the statue, with its eyes staring straight into mine. It was as if the statue moved its gaze to stare straight at me, so I leaned from the left to the right just to make sure it wouldn’t follow me. Of course; it didn’t, and I reached out to touch the statue. I took care not to knock it over as I reached out to touch the polished wood of the statue’s brown coat. As expected, the wood was smooth, and as I ran my hand across the statue it rocked slightly. I quickly pulled my hand away afraid that it would tumble backwards, and I saw that the fedora rocked slightly. I had assumed that the fedora was glued on or something; but it was clear now that it was simply placed loosely on its head, as it now sat slightly but noticeably askew. The man in the brass fedora stared at me almost accusingly with its two differently colored eyes. Its hands were resting on its waist as if to say ‘You shouldn’t be playing with me’.

“You creep me out”; I said aloud, as if the statue could actually hear me. I didn’t like being alone in the room with the statue, so I turned around to join my Mother and Uncle Robbie in the kitchen. As I reached the threshold of the entrance to the kitchen though, I heard the sound of metal rubbing against wood. I spun around to look at the man in the brass fedora who was just as still as ever. He stared off in the direction of our T.V. as he had been, hands still resting on his waist. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in and I was about to turn back around, but something caught my eye. The fedora that sat on top of the statue’s head was now righted again and back in its original position. I bolted from the living room into the kitchen as quickly as my feet could carry me.

I didn’t mention anything to Mom or Uncle Robbie about that experience, though they did ask why I was breathing so hard. I brushed it off and gave them some silly excuse. I knew they would just laugh it off if I told them. I even wrote it off myself some time later as the fedora simply shifting back into place due to its weight or whatever. Even so, I never was alone with that statue if I could help it. I even asked Mom and Dad if I could move my game system into my room because the statue freaked me out so much. Mom protested, but Dad let me have my way as he always did back then. So most of my days were spent away in my room playing my games and completely avoiding the side of the house with the statue in it. At night, I would have awful nightmares of the statue coming into my room and grabbing me in the night. I would wake up screaming in the night with my sheets soaked in sweat. That was also the time in my life when my monthly friend came to visit me for the first time. The first night it happened I had a dream of the statue standing over my bed and when I woke up screaming, I found my pajama bottoms were soaked with red. I of course freaked the hell out, but Mom consoled me and explained that this was a huge pain in the ass that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life. Somehow though, I found a way to blame it on that damned statue. It brought the nightmares; and I was sure it started the periods, even though I knew it was silly to think such a thing. Children think in funny ways sometimes.

 

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Eventually the man in the brass fedora finally did become just a part of the scenery in our house and I got used to him. The statue was just another piece of junk that Mom collected and was obsessed with. I still avoided its gaze, but more out of instinct than anything. Finally, it was the week after my twelfth birthday. I remember it well for two reasons. The first; is that my best friend to this day, Angela was staying that weekend and I was very excited. She missed my birthday party the week before because her family took a vacation to Florida. I didn’t have a whole lot of friends growing up because I was a shy girl, so my party was sort of bland that year. Not that I wasn’t grateful for what I got. Mom and Dad still made sure I got plenty of gifts like I always do, and Mom made me an awesome cake like every year. Uncle Robbie even showed up to give me a gift too, a gold heart shaped necklace. I remember hugging Uncle Robbie and telling him it was the best thing I had ever gotten, and I wasn’t lying. The second reason I won’t forget that week is what happened on that Friday when Angela came to stay the night. 

 

Angela and I spent the day playing the new games I’d gotten for my birthday on my 64, and talking about all of the things Angela did on her vacation. As day turned into night we, could hear downstairs the raucous laughter of my parents and Uncle Robbie as they drank and played cards. Every so often Mom would pop her head in to make sure we didn’t need anything, and at one point she brought us up some chocolate chip cookies she decided to bake. It was nearly one in the morning before Angela and I decided to lay down to sleep, we lay up talking about the girls at our school for about fifteen minutes before we fell asleep. I dreamt once again of the man in the brass fedora; as he stood looming over Angela and I, watching us sleep. All at once, a sudden cacophony of crashing sounds woke me up. I shot up in my bed and turned to Angela who was still somehow still sleeping. I got up out of my bed and tore open my bedroom door to look outside. I heard stirring in my parents’ bedroom across the hall, and I could hear Angela waking up in my room as well. I glanced down the stairs, and all at once I began hyperventilating. There at the bottom of the stairs, was my Uncle Robbie. His neck was twisted one-hundred and eighty degrees so that he faced upward even though he was lying on his stomach. His arms and legs twisted at unnatural angles. But what really turned me into a heaving mess was the man in the brass fedora, who stood next to Uncle Robbie’s body staring straight up at me with its differently painted eyes. Then; I swear on my life, just before I passed out I saw it move. I hadn’t even noticed it, but the statues hands and arms were not where they should have been. The statue lifted its hands to rest them on his waste once more; where they should have been the entire time, but weren’t. After that, there is blackness.

 

After that night, I was hysterical for a long time. So much so, that I couldn’t even explain to my parents what was wrong with me. The dreams of the statue were gone, replaced with visions of my sweet Uncle Robbie twisted and mangled at the bottom of a flight of stairs. I had nothing to remember him by, I even somehow lost the necklace he gave me on my birthday that night. My parents were forced to put me in therapy, and though I have repressed much of my teenage life, I ironically never forgot that god damned statue and what I knew it had done to my Uncle Robbie. I would go into hysterics any time I saw the wretched thing. My mother was forced to stash away the statue, though I had thought she had gotten rid of it and I would never see it again. I was wrong.

 

I am twenty-three now, and it was last week that I’d face my childhood fears for the last time. Last week I was visiting my mother at her house helping her clean out some of the old junk she kept at the house. Dad died two years ago of cancer and I think a lot of Mom’s old stuff reminds her of Dad. I was in the hallway closet, picking out some old shirts Mom didn’t need anymore, when I slid aside a bunch of old sweaters and was met with a pair of eyes; one green, one brown. I lost consciousness right then and there, and I woke up on my mother’s couch minutes later. She was above me holding a glass of water with a worried expression. I jumped up quickly from the couch and grabbed her shoulders. “Mom, that statue, you have to get rid of it, it killed Uncle Robbie!”, I most likely sounded like a madwoman, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe my own mother could keep such a thing when she knew what it was to me. A complete nightmare. I was surprised to find my mother’s expression didn’t change, she merely sighed and sat down on the couch.

“Honey, I’m going to need you to sit down, this isn’t going to be easy for me to say but you have to know”. My mother spoke flatly, trying to not let emotion enter her voice. I stood there in mild shock as my eyes were slowly drawn to the hallway closet where I knew the statue was hidden behind a closed door.

“Never mind that, sit down on the damn couch Jan!” she snapped. I sat down on the couch beside her, shaking slightly in my seat.

“I am about to tell you something that is going to upset you but you have to know, your father and I swore we would never say a word, but I can’t let you go on without knowing the truth.”, Mom took a deep breath then continued.

“The night after Robbie died they searched his house, and they found… things…” Her voice cracked a little and she cleared her throat, and tears began to well up in her eyes.

“They found drugs, opium they said”. I was about to say something but she held out a hand to stop me.

“They found pictures Jan, bad pictures, awful pictures.” The tears fell freely onto her cheeks now as she continued.

“Pictures of little boys and girls, all of them without clothes on, most of them asleep in their beds.” My eyes widened as she spoke, I couldn’t believe what she was saying. How could any of this be true, why didn’t I know about this. I wanted to stop her; tell her not to tell me anymore because I was afraid of what she might say next, but I had to know.

“But the worst thing they found….” She couldn’t finish, she just kept on sobbing, choking and hiccupping as she was unable to control her own breathing.

“What else did they find Mom?!” I stood up and grabbed her by the shoulders. For a moment, Mom stopped crying then. She looked up at me with a pained expression, her eyes stared into mine as the world as I knew it cracked and broke away. Mom looked away from me then, crying into her hands unable to finish telling me what she set out to tell me. But she didn’t have to. I knew.

Robbie; a man once so near and dear to my family that I once called him Uncle, molested children. He would come into their rooms in the middle of the night, and he would take pictures of his vile acts while he did it. But the worst thing about it is I now know that while that bastard would sit at our dinner table, and eat and laugh and carry on like he was part of the god damned family. He would come into my room at night and take pictures while he did god knows what to me. Through her sobs, my mother spoke once more.

“You don’t have to hide it from me Jan, I know you pushed Robbie down those stairs, I know somehow you found out”.  I looked at my mother then. I saw the sincerity in her eyes. I knew she thought I killed Robbie, but as any mother would, she knew he deserved what he got. But I told you, up until that me blacking out, I remember everything from that night. I recalled all at once the statue at the bottom of the stairs. I recalled how; although very much impossible and defying the very nature of the wood it was carved into; it’s flat expression was twisted into one of remorse when it saw me appear at the top of the stairs. I hugged my mother then, and I told her it was okay. I told her that I loved her, and I was sorry for scaring her. She stood up from the couch to make us tea in the kitchen and I waited till she was out of sight. I went to the closet in the hallway and I opened the door. The statue stood there, it’s flat expression the same as it always was. There was a change in the statue however, it’s brass fedora that stood out so oddly from the rest of it was missing from its head. Instead, the statues hands were once again no longer on its hips but instead outstretched with its palms facing upwards. In his hands were his trademark brass fedora and within the fedora, lay a gold heart-shaped necklace. I took the necklace and grabbed the heavy brass hat, placing it atop the statue’s head. Then, without being able to help myself, I wrapped my arms around the statue in a tight embrace. And, without feeling the least bit silly I whispered.

“Thank you.”

I now, lay in bed at home. I asked Mom if I could take the statue home with me, which she hesitantly agreed to. I told her it would help me face my fear. The man in the brass fedora now stands guard in my foyer, awaiting any would-be burglars in the night to choose the wrong house.

 

 

Author’s Note: This story was very hard for me to write, as it deals with a very serious issue that I am not comfortable with in the least bit. I do however believe that there are things in the real world more awful than I could ever conjure with my writing, and I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be great if the supernatural could lend us a hand?”.

This story is dedicated to my two wonderful nieces, may each of you have your own man in a brass fedora.

The Man in The Brass Fedora

My Best Nightmare

By J.J. Cheesman

Last night, I had the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. I dreamt of my wife’s beautiful face, the sunlight dancing in her golden blonde hair. I saw how her deep blue eyes shined like sapphires in the light. I saw her smile at me in a way that said ‘I love you’, and it filled me with joy.

Then I dreamt of my son, I sat by my wife as we watched our son play in the baseball game that he won last week. I watched as he walked up to bat at home plate. Then I cheered as my son; my pride and joy, hit the winning homerun and my heart was filled with pride. He ran to me after the game, and hugged me tight asking, “Did you see Daddy, did you see what I did?”

 

Then, finally, the dream transitioned into last year on the day of my daughter’s wedding. I waited next to my wife and son, as my daughter Andria was walking down the aisle. She had her mother’s beautiful blonde hair, and my brown eyes. She looked so radiant in her white dress, walking down that aisle as music played on. Her soon to be husband; Dan, waved at me from his spot next to the alter and I gave him the thumbs up and the biggest smile I could muster. I turned to look at my daughter, and she stopped at the pew I was sitting at. Andria smiled at me a smile that she also received from her mother, and she said to me “Don’t I look beautiful Daddy?”.
I woke up screaming in the dark of my bedroom and I heard my wife stir in her sleep. “What’s wrong dear?”, came her voice next to me. “Nothing dear”, I said as sweat dripped from my forehead, “Just a silly nightmare”. I sat up in bed and covered my face and eyes with my hands as I heard my wife move to turn on the bedside lamp. “Honey don’t bother, really” I said as I outstretched my right hand to pat her back and reassure her, “it was just a silly nightmare just go back to sleep I’m sorry I woke you.” She moved over to me in the bed, and kissed my cheek. “Okay honey, but you’re worrying me, this isn’t the first time you’ve had a bad night, can you at least tell me what the dream is about?” I shook my head, “It’s nothing babe, promise, just a silly dream”. I didn’t tell my wife what’d I’d been having nightmares about because I didn’t want to worry her. She’s always worried about me; I don’t want to add to her stress. She gave me another kiss on my cheek and told me good night and I told her sweet dreams. I am so lucky to have her in my life, and I am so glad she didn’t leave me when it happened. I know it sounds silly, but that was my biggest worry five years ago, when  diabetes took my sight.

My Best Nightmare