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

Melancholy Rain

cove-man

By: J.J. Cheesman

 

May 16th, 2016 will be a tragic memory forever etched into my brain. It’s a stain on my life that I will never be able to wash out. There are many things about the night Alice died that I won’t forget. The sound of the busting glass, the screams she’d made, the crimson that poured from her beautiful light-brown hair as she sat lifeless in the seat next to me. The sound of rain drops hitting pavement used to be a calming sound to me, but now it only brings the memory of her screams back to my ears. Tomorrow will be nearly twelve months to the day that my wife was taken away from me, and the horror that has followed me since is not limited to the guilt of being in the driver’s seat when I lost her. God I wish it was.

Alice and I were married in the spring, her favorite time of year. The spring was the season for rain in Illinois, and Alice loved the rain, an irony that isn’t lost on me now. Whenever there was a downpour, she would sit out on the porch reading and listening to the sound the water made as it assaulted the roof.

“There is nothing more calming than the sound of rain”, she’d say.

Fate has a cruel sense of humor.

We were driving home after having a couple of drinks with her brother Barry, and his wife Patricia. They had a little gathering of friends at their house, nothing special, just a little get-together they were hosting. We weren’t out late, by the time we left their house it was 8:30 P.M., and it was pouring rain.

I know what you’re probably thinking, I wasn’t drunk driving. It was Alice’s car that we had taken, and when she realized I’d only been sipping on one beer the whole night because I simply wasn’t in the drinking mood, she handed me the keys. The rainfall was hard and heavy, I remember distinctly the sound of both of our phones going off as we got in the car, warning us of the Flash-Flood Advisory.

“Thank god they told us now, I’d hate to get caught in nasty weather!” Alice exclaimed after looking at the screen of her cell. I laughed as I turned the key in the ignition. She always made me laugh.

Flooding on the roads hadn’t happened yet, but I knew it would soon, so I was eager to get home. I backed out of Barry and Patricia’s driveway and drove as quickly as the speed limit would allow to our house. It was only a five-minute drive, that’s all. We should have been home safely, regardless of the rain. I was going too fast, that’s all there is to it. I have no excuse or good reason for my wife’s death, Alice died all because I wanted to be home as quick as possible. Three minutes into the drive, we made it to the bridge that connected our neighborhood to the rest of town. Alice took off her seatbelt and leaned over. She rested her head on my shoulder and I looked down at her. She had her eyes closed, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail to keep it off her neck, she always did that when she drank. She hated being over-heated. With her hair out of the way, I could see every feature on her face. The way her nose crooked just slightly at its tip, her wonderfully-round cheeks, and her absolutely perfect dimples.

I admired her for a moment, just a moment. A habit I exercised often, and one that Alice always hated.

“What are you looking at?” She would ask if she caught me staring.

“Just you.” I’d say.

“Well stop, it’s weird.” She’d reply.

Even with her eyes closed and being a bit tipsy, Alice knew I was looking.

“You should be looking at the road.” She said without opening her eyes.

I smiled, and looked back up at the bridge. Just up ahead, a truck was stalled with its hazard lights on. If I had simply pressed down on the brake calmly instead of slamming my foot down, if I had just remained calm and turned the steering wheel to pass it, Alice would still be alive, but this isn’t a story about ‘what if’s’. The sudden appearance of the truck startled me, and my foot came down hard on the brake. The car hydroplaned, and I lost control of the vehicle as the tires squealed the entire way, slamming the front of the car into the metal guard rail of the bridge. Alice’s screaming came before the crash, and my ears were pierced by her cry of fear and surprise before her body was thrown away from me, and her head slammed into the passenger-side window. When the car made impact, my own head hit the steering wheel hard as the windshield busted out from the sheer force of the crash, and glass showered over me. The air bags released late, and I was thrown back in my seat.

Everything after the moment I hit my head is a blur. Two days after that night, I woke up in the hospital, the doctor told me I had what was known as a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, but given the state of the vehicle, I should consider myself lucky, I disagreed. The last moments in that car that I could recall were brief. I sat with my head laid against my head-rest, trying to keep my eyes open. I was blinking slowly, I was unable to move my arms, and blood was pooling around my eyes making it difficult to see, but I did see. Alice laid unmoving with her head on the dash. She had blood on her as well, but god there was so much of it. I could see it running from her head and down her back, staining her pearl-white blouse. The blood ran down her cheeks, dripping off of her perfect dimples. By some odd chance, blood had not run into her eyes.

Her beautiful, stunning green eyes. They were wide open, and staring into mine, full of pain and anguish. They seemed to be accusatory, demanding an answer for why I let this happen, and I could only sob in answer. The last thing I remember is the sound of the rain hitting pavement before I blacked out.

There is nothing more calming than the sound of rain.

 

My life was never the same after the accident, not in anyway. Along with waking up with the worst headache I’d ever had, the doctor said I might experience the loss of memory or motor function. At first it seemed like I suffered none of those symptoms, as I could move my hands and arms fine and there wasn’t anything I felt I couldn’t recall clearly, aside from the obvious exception of the moments after the crash. It wasn’t until they pulled out the catheter and I got out of bed to walk for the first time that I realized what the incident had done to me. Walking was difficult at first, the few days I had spent lying in that bed had caused me to be unable to do it unassisted, and I had to use the walker they provided, it wasn’t until I tried walking without it that I realized what was wrong, and what would be wrong for the rest of my life.

My right leg had become bum, and I walked with a terrible limp. The hospital provided me with a cane, and they offered to schedule my first physical therapy appointment, but I refused to go. Of course, the doctor insisted. He said that it was very likely that with treatment I could achieve full control over my right leg, but I stood steadfast in my refusal. I didn’t want any god damned therapy. The most wonderful thing in my life had been ripped away from me, and it was my fault. It might make you think ill of me, but sometimes people can’t help but let tragedy color them bitter, and I was as bitter as they come. To me, the bum leg was punishment for what happened to Alice, a sort of atonement for the hand I had in taking her life. As I wrote that out it actually made me laugh. My punishment hadn’t even begun.

The first rain came about a month after the crash. I’d lived in a little town called Browning, and in all my time there I’d never seen us go without rain for that long. For anyone who’s lived in the Midwest, they know that weather can act up in every way imaginable. It can be calm on Monday, have tornadoes and snow on Tuesday, and then be clear skies again on Wednesday, and that’s no exaggeration. Still, I had never known Browning to go without rain for longer than a week, especially in the Spring season. It wasn’t until that first rain that I realized something about my bum leg. It could feel the rain coming in.

I was taking a nap on Monday afternoon, sleeping off some heavy day-drinking I’d done earlier, which was something I was prone to after Alice’s death. The crash had caused injury to my head most certainly, and the pain I’d felt in my skull days afterward was almost unbearable, but that was the first time since the crash that I’d experienced pain in my right leg. I woke up from my nap with a terrible pain that felt like daggers in my thigh. I sat up in bed and massaged my leg for a moment, but the pain only seemed to increase. I thought maybe walking on it would help, so I grabbed the cane that was leaning near my bedside, and using it for support I stood up. I walked to the other end of the house, near the front door, and the pain seemed to subside a little. Then I turned around and walked down the hall and into the kitchen, and then back to the front door once more. Repeating this several times, the pain was almost completely gone, and only a faint twinge of discomfort remained in my right thigh.

I sighed and leaned against the hall by my front door. My heart was thudding in my chest, and I was out of breath. Maybe get a little more exercise, I thought. The heavily depressed state I was in since the accident had left me all but a shut-in. I still went to work, but a desk job at the court house didn’t offer much physical exercise, and I never had to talk to anyone. After work I’d come straight home and either drink or sleep. Leaning there on that wall and thinking about how out of shape I had gotten, I had an image of me running on a treadmill with my messed-up leg, bouncing and swaying with the limp as the treadmill belt moved at high speeds, and I actually laughed. It was the first time I’d laughed in a month.  A brief and silly moment of pleasure I’d allowed myself. Then, in an instant, my smile faded from my face with the arrival of the sound. Rainfall.

I hadn’t realized it until then, for some reason it hadn’t even crossed my mind, but that was the first time I’d heard rain since the night I was in that car, staring into Alice’s lifeless, accusatory eyes. The near-constant drunken stupor I’d put myself in hadn’t given me much time for such thought. But there in that hall the revelation came like an orchestra of stones on my head that kept in time with the raindrops on my roof. My cane fell from my hand, and clattered to the floor as I used the wall for support, and cried in my hands. Whatever little comfort or healing the alcohol had brought to me had been undone with the simple sound of water falling, and it was like I’d never left that car. I don’t know how long I cried in that hallway, but eventually I stooped down to pick up my cane, and resolved to go back to bed.

Before I took a step however, I was stopped by a sudden and sharp knocking at the front door. Four knocks to be precise, one right after the other. I stopped in my tracks, and turned slowly toward the jarring sound. For some reason, a terrible dread had washed over me. No one ever knocked at that door. In the five years that I’ve lived in my home, anyone who visited only ever used the doorbell. I was a little surprised, so it took me a moment to find my voice.

“Jus… Just a minute!” I croaked, as I shambled over to see who was knocking. I opened the front door, and for a moment, as I looked out into the open space of my large covered front porch, I saw nothing but the dark rainy street beyond. It was when I looked down on the floor, that I saw her. Laying there on the porch she at one time sat on rainy days such as that, was Alice.

I cried out in surprise and fell back, hitting the floor of my home hard as I stared out at the body of my dead wife. Her body shouldn’t have been there, I was at the front of the crowd of mourners when they lowered Alice’s casket into the ground, and I watched as they piled dirt on the lid of her coffin. It was impossible for her to be there now, but there she was, just as I remembered. Not like she looked after the mortician had worked his magic and made her body presentable for the open-casket visitation, but like she looked in the car the night of the accident. Blood stained the back of her pearl-white blouse, and ran from her head down her cheeks. She was facing the door way, the blood somehow staying out of her eyes, those accusatory eyes. Wide eyes that stared straight into mine, demanding that I give some sort of explanation for her death.

“No… No… You aren’t real.” I spoke in a shaky whisper,

“There’s no way you’re real, you’re dead.”

I began to sob and I closed my eyes, praying that this was some sort of dream, convincing myself that when I opened them, Alice would be gone. I kept my eyes shut for a long while, listening to the awful sound of rain hitting the pavement, when I heard something else. It was a kind of low gurgling sound that was just loud enough to hear above the rain, and it made my blood run cold. Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw that Alice was still there, eyes still wide and anguished, but there was something else. Movement.

Along with the horrific gurgling sound, came a new and terrifying sight as well. Alice’s blood stained pearl-white blouse was moving steadily. There was definite visible rise and fall of the fabric, as if she was breathing. Then, all of a sudden, the blouse jerked violently, and I screamed. I turned and crawled on all fours into the hall, and kicked the door shut with my foot. Falling back against the door, I reached up with my hand and turned the deadbolt, locking out the apparition of my memory. For a long time, I simply sat in front of my door and listened to the rain while I waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but I thought if I left the door unguarded, Alice’s ghost would burst through it and come for me.

It was only after the rain stopped that I found the courage to stand with the aid of my cane. I cursed my luck for having a front door with no window or peep hole as I slowly cracked it open. I peered out and scanned the front porch, expecting to see Alice still there, watching me. She was nowhere to be seen, only the first rays of sunlight peeking out from behind the clouds. Shutting and locking the door, I turned and made my way back to my bedroom, and opened the drawer on the nightstand beside my bed. After Alice died, her mother and father, along with her brother, asked if they could take some things of hers. Some pictures, a couple pieces of jewelry, and an old sweater her mother had knitted for her. I obliged, in fact, I asked them if they would remove everything from the house that belonged to her. They did so, with some hesitation, knowing that I would regret the decision, which I did. At the time, though, I thought it might help with the grieving process. What a fool I was.

Within the nightstand, I found Alice’s wedding ring, the only possession I had left of her. I scooped it in my hand and felt the weight of it as I squeezed it into my palm. Then, I fell into my bed, and cried myself to sleep, still holding onto that ring.

Two weeks went by before our next rain in Browning, and like before I felt it coming like fire in my right leg. I was at home sitting on the sofa after work, one of the few times I’d opted not to drink after coming home. The T.V. was on an old episode of “Roseanne” that was nearly finished, when that pain flared up in my leg again.  This time I didn’t move to try to walk it off, I knew what was coming. A minute later, the pain in my leg dulled, and heralded by the distant sounds of thunder, the rain came. I closed my eyes, hoping to god that what I thought would be coming next didn’t come. But of course, it did. Four sharp knocks echoed out through my home, and that terrible dread fell over me like a veil. I shook my head and spoke to myself.

“No. Don’t you dare go to that door. You didn’t hear anything.”

I turned my attention to the T.V., now on some show I’d never seen before. Surely, if I just didn’t go to check, if I just pretended that I didn’t hear anything, everything would be okay. Then my heart sank at the next sound that rang out through the house. It was the gurgle. That damned gurgling sound I’d heard before, only this time it was loud enough that I could hear it while I sat in my living room. In an effort to drown out the noise, I grabbed the remote beside me and turned up the volume on the television set. With the volume as loud as I could make it, I sat as quiet as I could be, waiting.

The gurgling was still there. Only this time it was louder as the sound rose above the noise of the television and the ever-increasing intensity of the rain. Shaking, I grabbed my cane and hobbled into the kitchen, where I poured myself a tumbler of cheap whiskey and sucked it down like my life depended on it. The amber liquid warmed my insides, but it did nothing to still my shaking hands as I could hear that gurgle increase in volume. With tears in my eyes I made my way to the bedroom and found Alice’s ring in the nightstand, and I laid in bed, sobbing and clutching the ring like a totem to ward of her haunting spirit. I don’t know how long I laid there listening to that awful gurgle and the pounding rain, but eventually, the rain ceased. As I suspected it would, the gurgling sound followed the rain.

That’s when I knew for sure. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but for some reason, the rain brought my wife to my front door. There was a lot about what was happening to me that didn’t make sense, but I knew one thing for certain. I wasn’t going to go through that nightmare again.

I watched weather reports, and googled when the next predicted rains would come. As good as a meteorologist my bum leg was, I needed to know a little sooner than right before a rain would come. When rain was scheduled for a day, I would make sure I was at a bar, or if it was coming at night I spent my time at the twenty-four-hour diner in town. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

The next rain came three days after the second time I was visited by my wife. As soon as I was off work I made my way to a little hole-in-the-wall bar I knew to wait for the coming rain. It wasn’t like I didn’t spend most of my time drinking anyway. I sat down at the counter of the mostly-empty bar, and I ordered a Manhattan, (I was always partial to whiskey) and I waited for the pain in my leg to come. After an hour of sitting in the bar, the fire in my leg began, and ended, as it had before. Just like before, the rain followed almost immediately after the pain ended, and I smiled in triumph after I heard no knocking.

I raised my glass to toast with myself to my genius, the few occupants in the bar didn’t pay me any mind though. Bringing the glass to my lips, I began to drink, but I was stopped abruptly by that damn sound. Four knocks came, the same four sharp knocks that always seemed to begin the arrival of Alice. I shivered.

“No.” I whispered aloud to myself.

“What’s that? did you need another order son?” The older gentleman behind the bar asked. I looked up at him, my mouth slightly agape, and I lowered my drink.

“Didn’t you hear that? Someone knocked at the door.” I told him.

“I didn’t hear anything.” The old man replied. The color drained from my face, and I could feel a cold sweat form on my forehead. The man’s brow furrowed, and he asked,

“You alright bud?”

After he spoke those words, that terrible gurgling sound began to fill my ears. I watched the man’s face, waiting for him to hear what I was hearing and react, but he didn’t. His expression remained stern and concerned.

“Uh… Yeah.” I said finally, the gurgling now growing in volume.

“Just uh… just a headache is all.”

The old man nodded, and turned away as two patrons opened the door to the entrance of the bar. I looked up, but not at the two young men with their elbows locked with one another, but behind them. In the space between their legs, through the open door, I saw her eyes. Alice’s ghost followed me, even there to that bar, waiting for me. Before the door shut, I saw her body rock slightly, and I shuddered. While the new customers placed their drink orders, I held my head in my hands. The gurgling grew in volume in my ears, and of course, no one seemed to hear it. Why was that? How come no one could hear what was happening? Why didn’t the men see Alice when they walked in? Was I going crazy?

That day I stayed at the bar until the rain stopped, walking home hours later, drunk and crying. For months, I went on like that, I went anywhere public when I was sure it would rain. It didn’t stop the visions of Alice, but being around people made the ordeal easier. It was five months after the first haunting, that a new sound joined the gurgling. Crying.

It was low, and small, but it was there, just behind the gurgling. It was supposed to rain early one Tuesday morning, so I made my way to the diner. I sat drinking coffee, waiting for the whole process to start again. First the pain, then the rain, then the gurgle. It was always the same. Not that time though.

When the rain did come, I made sure I was staring down into my coffee. If I looked up through the glass of the diner, I would surely see Alice. The gurgling came next, loud as ever, god it was a sound that was enough to drive a man mad. Then, all at once, I heard it. It was a soft and low, crying. It was definitely not something I’d expected. The sound was so startling I looked around the diner to see where it was coming from. When the few people in the diner hadn’t looked up with me, when no one seemed to even acknowledge the sound, I knew where it was coming from. The sound broke my heart. Alice was crying now, and it was all my fault. Jesus fucking Christ, it was all my fault. All her pain and suffering, it was because of me.

That was when I broke. I waited out the rain like always before I made my way home. I no longer cared if my wife was at my door anymore. I no longer cared about the haunting’s I would endure, what more would come after the crying. This was my hell, and I deserved every single second of it. Hell, I hoped that one day, Alice would come and pull me out of my bed, and pull me into the dirt with her.

Three more months passed, whenever the rain and the knocks came, I laid in bed, holding onto my wife’s ring, and cried along with her. The crying only got louder and louder, and that was the worst part. It seemed to get closer, as if Alice was just finding her voice. Those days became a blur. My work had long been suffering, and I was sure I’d be fire any day. I wasn’t getting much sleep for obvious reasons, not to mention I’d come in still half-drunk more often than not. My daily routine was always the same. Work, drink, sleep, repeat.

Then came the dream.

I dreamt of the night we went to Barry and Patricia’s to have those drinks on that fateful night. I didn’t dream of the accident though. I dreamt of the hour before we left our home. In our bed, locked in embrace, we had made passionate love. My hands lost in her beautiful light-brown hair, and hers in mine, as we kissed. She opened her beautiful green eyes, and stared into mine. She was just so god damned beautiful, and she didn’t even realize it.

“I have a good feeling about this time.” She’d told me.

“Oh, really?” I laughed.

“Yeah, this is the one.” She smiled, but her look was serious.

Suddenly, and the sound of four knocks rang out from the front of the house. It was Barry, who had dropped by to let us know about the get together he was having that night. I looked back at our bedroom door, wondering who was at the front door, and turned to look at Alice. Her eyes went vacant. Then her smile faded along with the light in her eyes, and blood began to pool on the pillow she laid on, and I heard crying.

With a jolt, I woke up. It was night, and I could hear that crying, as clearly as I could hear the rain pattering on my roof. Tears rolled down my face, and I opened up my palm to reveal my wife’s ring in my hand. The revelation the dream brought was horrifying, but now everything made sense. I stood, grabbing my cane and hobbling toward the front door, almost not in control of my own body. All the pieces had come together. The way Alice’s blouse moved when the hauntings first began, the gurgling sound that was almost like someone struggling to breath (which I had assumed was Alice’s breathing), and then the crying. Crying that with a sober mind I had realized couldn’t possibly be Alice. Somehow, she was right though. Somehow, Alice knew just hours before she’d died, that we had conceived a child.

I wasn’t being haunted by Alice, of course I wasn’t. Alice knew I loved her, she knew I never meant for the crash to happen. But how could an existence, that hadn’t even gotten the chance to breathe yet, understand that I loved it? How could it know why I never held it in my arms?

Before I knew it, I stood in front of the front door of my home. The crying grew louder and louder as the rain outside pounded heavier and heavier. I hesitated a moment before doing anything. I didn’t know what I’d find at the other end of the door, but I decided that nothing would ever change if I didn’t find out. I would face what lay out there, and I would make amends. It was time I’d forgiven myself for what happened. It was time I apologized to my unborn child. Filled with new hope and vigor, I took a deep breath and put my hand on the doorknob, and slowly opened the door.

Blood turned to ice in my veins as I stared down at the horrific sight. Alice was nowhere to be found. Instead, swaddled in her blood-stained pearl-white blouse, was a baby. At least, what would have been a baby had it been allowed a natural birth. Instead, what I stared at was a gruesome and malformed entity that had never been given the chance to breath. Its flesh was gray and covered in varicose veins, its eyes were sunken and all-white. The child’s head was misshapen and missing bits of flesh. It cried, and wailed as it flung it’s claws up at me. Its scream was loud and angry, and hateful.

I was such a fool. I thought that I could make amends, I thought that I could put things right, but that was impossible. The thing that laid out there, crying on my doorstep, that wasn’t a baby. It was a shell. It’s what’s left when something innocent is just beginning to take life, and has it stripped away in an instant. Defeated and more heart-broken than I’d ever been, I shut the door and once again, I found myself falling against it. I sat with a stone face and listened. I listened to the wailing angry cries of my unborn child. Cries full of nothing but disdain for the father that took its life.

When finally, the rain stopped and the crying subsided, I made plans to move to somewhere where it hardly ever rained. I’ve been living in Nevada for about three months now on what little savings I had. I’ve been lucky so far, I’ve not had to deal with any rain yet, but I don’t intend on ever dealing with it. It took this long to work up the courage to do what needs done, I have my dad’s .45 that I’ve only ever shot once when I was very young, but I don’t really need to be a good shot to do what I’m about to do. This is the last thing I will ever write, my account to explain why exactly I’m doing this. I can’t bear to hear that crying again. Even if I could, what happens then? The second casualty of my reckless driving has been growing little-by-little, what happens when it grows up?

No… I don’t intend to find out. I still have Alice’s ring, and believe it or not, it does still provide some comfort. At least in some way, I won’t feel completely alone when I go.

I’m so sorry Alice, things should have ended much better for you, for me, for our child. I wish I could face what I’ve done, but I’m a coward. A scared child in the face of something I don’t understand. You told me once that there’s nothing more calming than the sound of rain, but I know now there’s nothing more terrifying.

Melancholy Rain

Grandmother’s Keyboard

 

cove-man

-By: J.J. Cheesman 

 

I was twelve years old when my grandmother began teaching me to play piano. She was in a band when she younger, and she was extremely good. Although, I only got to hear her play once. I never even knew that she played piano for the longest time. I think it reminded her too much of when she was younger, or maybe she just didn’t like it like she used to. In truth, I don’t know. But I do wish I heard her play more often, or had a recording of her music. Whenever she played I was completely entranced. The beautiful music that woman’s fingers could produce was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  I remember the feeling of hearing her music, closing my eyes, and wanting to fall back into the soothing melody that came from those old keys.

 

I wasn’t the happiest kid when I was younger. I wasn’t what some may call a ‘problem child’, but I had my fair share of issues. My doctor diagnosed me with ADHD, and I always felt down, sad even. Maybe I should have talked to someone about that, the depression that is. But I was already taking medication for something, and I didn’t want to add something to that list. I still don’t in fact. I, for the most part, ignore my depression and anxiety. That sounds insane, right? Can you even have anxiety if you can claim that it’s something that is able to be ignored? Well, I wouldn’t have thought so, not before that piano.

 

It was the summer, and my grandmother was watching over me one night while my mother was at work. I wasn’t the type to go outside and play, I was always inside, watching T.V. or reading. Nothing bothered me more than social interaction. To this day, I hate it. People expect too much out of you, you’re expected to give into social norms and act according to other people’s standards. So, I always opted to stay in, and that day was no different. I was watching some silly show, when my grandmother came in from the kitchen.

 

“Ronnie, you’re watching T.V. again huh?” She said. I didn’t speak or even turn to look at her, I just nodded. Through the corner of my eye, I could see her place her hands on her hips.

 

“Well, do you want to come help me in the garden?”  Again, no eye contact, I just simply shook my head. She waited for a moment, and I could feel her eyes on me, searching me. Then she simply walked into her bedroom, and didn’t return. After about twenty minutes, I heard it. Piano keys, played in an arranged tune that was hauntingly beautiful. It was sad and somber, but it was also hopeful and innocent. It stirred emotions in me that I wasn’t aware I’d had, it was entrancing. My feet picked me up and carried me to my grandmother’s bedroom almost on their own accord. My grandmother sat there on a stool in the corner of the room. She was playing on a keyboard she must have pulled out of storage in the open closet, because I had never seen it before then. Her fingers danced and played among the keys with such speed and grace that it was just as hypnotizing to watch her play as it was to listen.

 

It is hard to tell how much time passed while I sat on the bed listening to my grandmother play. If I had to guess, it was only a couple of minutes, but as the music filled my eardrums and wrapped me in its embrace I became lost in it. Time didn’t have meaning then, nor did I or the room I was sitting in. The only thing that existed, was Grandma and her piano. Something was calling out to me from the arrangement of notes, a meaning, a message. A message that I almost very nearly understood. Then, all at once, it stopped. The magic spell that the music had cast over me was over, and I opened my eyes. I didn’t even realize they were closed.

 

My grandmother sat turned in her seat smiling at me.

 

“Did you like it?” She asked.

 

“It was beautiful!”

 

She nodded to the chair she kept at her writing desk and said,

 

“Good, I’m going to teach you how to play. You need an outlet. I think you’re a lot like me Ronnie. When I was a girl, I didn’t like to talk to friends or play outside. Your great grandmother found that frustrating. She hated that I didn’t like to talk, but you know what I figured out?” I stood up and moved the chair by the writing desk and place it beside my grandmother’s stool, and took a seat.

 

“What’s that?” I asked.  She leaned in real close and said,

 

“There are many different ways of speaking.”, then began to play.

 

So, that’s how it started. For hours and hours my grandmother sat at that keyboard. That first day she taught me the keys, and the second day, and then the next. Two weeks went by, and I visited my grandmother every single day, eager to learn more. It took the entirety of that two weeks to know every key by heart though. The house was filled with the intermittent tones of notes as I struggled to get down the basics. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was the first tune I ever played, then I moved on to “We Three Kings”, which at the time I was quite fond of. I learned to play progressively more difficult music, my grandmother always the willing and masterful teacher. I started slow, but under her tutelage I became increasingly more adept at the keys.

 

“Your skill will grow with your soul.” My grandmother would say.

 

“Music is written into the very essence of our being. It is every bit alive as you and I are.”

 

 After six months, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” was child’s play to me. My skills at the keyboard were rapidly improving, and soon I felt as if there was nothing I couldn’t play. I don’t mean to sound full of myself, on the contrary. I would be nothing without the lessons I received. All of my talent, great or miniscule, is owed to that wonderful woman. However, as much time as I spent with my grandmother in those days, I never again heard her play that haunting melody. Sure, she played all the famous pieces for the sake of teaching me, but never again did she play her own music. Then one day, I realized I would never hear that song again.

 

My grandmother passed away in her sleep at seventy-two years old. She had a brain tumor, something she knew about but never mentioned anything to any of her family members. My mother said that she was surprised it hadn’t affected her memory or brain function near the end of her life. It all of a sudden made sense to me why my grandmother never playing that song again. The tumor had affected her memory. I was heart-broken and devastated. My teacher, my best friend, and my grandmother were all taken from me in the night. What was I going to do? The only person who understood me, and really knew how I felt, was gone.

 

“There is more than one way of speaking”, my grandmother told me, and the service held for her spoke volumes. All sorts of people I had never seen before, or haven’t since, for that matter, showed up for her funeral. Distant family members from out of state, old friends that grandma had when she was younger, and believe it or not, even her mailman was there. It still amazes me that my grandmother touched so many people’s lives. Everyone I over-heard speaking talked about how wonderful of a woman she was and that she seemed to give life to any room she was in. I couldn’t agree more.

 

In my grandmother’s will, she left me her piano. I was both not surprised, and a little offended when the will was read. Of course, the piano was going to me, I was the one who spent hours and hours speaking through it with melodies. In my mind, it belonged rightfully to me. When I arrived at home the night of the funeral, the first thing I did was set it up in my room and begin to play. I started with some Beethoven, and I moved on to Bach, and then I freestyled a bit. Music poured out from my finger tips and out from the keys. There was an ache in my heart, and a burning in my soul. A melody had escaped me, grandma’s melody, but I was determined to catch it. I thought by learning how to play the song, I would understand it’s meaning, the message within the melody that I nearly had a grasp on.

 

 The first bit of music I ever wrote myself came out that night. I got a piece of paper and a pen and began jotting down the music as I played. It was the early hours of the morning before my mother came into my room and asked me to stop playing. I did, but as soon as I awoke I was right back to that keyboard. Something pushed me forward, egged me on. I was writing and playing like a man possessed. There wouldn’t be rest for me until I found that tune that my grandmother played all that time ago. Musical score after musical score was written, but what I was searching for still eluded me. Every time I tried to recall exactly how it went, I drew a blank. There came a time when my pursuit of that tune had to be put on hold.  We all have to grow up sometime, and I couldn’t expect my mother to keep me housed forever.

 

I didn’t go to college, we couldn’t afford it. When I was seventeen I got a job as a bank teller, and soon after I moved into the second floor of an apartment complex outside of town. The money at the bank wasn’t spectacular, but it paid the bills and kept food on the table. But I never stopped working on my music. Being in an apartment meant that I had to do it in the middle of the day if I wanted to play my music loudly, so as not to wake anyone or make them angry, which made it difficult, because my job was a 9-5. The weekends were unfortunately the only time I ever got to play at full volume. It was a hindrance, but I made do by keeping the music low.

 

 The apartment life suited me well. My place was small, but cozy. The best part that it was extraordinarily cheap, even for the state of the neighborhood it was in. The only annoyance was my neighbor across the hall. He was a middle-aged balding man with a green sweater that always had grease stains on it, and a ratty brown beanie that he always wore on top of his head. He always seemed to catch me while I was coming home from work too.

 

“I noticed you play piano.” The voice came from just behind me as I was putting my key into my door late one evening. I turned, a bit startled to see my neighbor, standing outside his door and wringing his hands together slowly. He was hunched over, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. With his ratty clothing and pathetic demeanor, I couldn’t help but think he looked like some sort of crony for a comic book villain.

 

“Err… Yeah. Does it disturb you when I play?” I asked. He stood, staring at me with large brown eyes.

 

“I like piano.” He said, smiling. His voice sounded as greasy as his sweater.

 

“Uh, great. Listen if it ever bothers you, just let me know, okay?” I said, turning around to finish unlocking my door. The guy didn’t say another word, and as I slipped into my apartment and closed the door, I looked through the peep hole. For a long while, the man simply stood watching my door. After several moments, he opened his own door and went inside. I’ve made sure that I deadbolt my door every time I come home since then.

 

That was also around the time I started having a vivid and recurring dream. I was back in my grandmother’s house, sitting on her bed while she played that melody that I’ve been craving so badly to hear again. In the dream, I was an outside observer, watching myself and my grandmother. The other-me sat on the bed, swaying slightly with his eyes close. My grandmother’s fingers danced on the keys as effortlessly and with as much expert precision as that day when I first witnessed her work at the keyboard. My heart ached as I watched the memory play before my eyes. It was torture seeing it all unfold in front of me, not being able to talk to her, or feel her touch once more. I was stuck in the dream state of unmoving. My lips tried to move and call out, but I had no lips in the first place. Only eyes to watch it all. But the damning hell of it, the absolute worst part of that terrible dream, is I could not hear what she was playing. Night after night I endured this awful torment, and night after night, I awoke with tears in my eyes.

 

The days would come and go, I would play and play. I built up quite the collection of personal written works, but none of them sounded like the song my grandmother wrote. Call me a quitter, but I had finally given up on hearing that melody ever again. That dream could haunt me until the day I died, but I had come to terms with never finding out what that beautiful arrangement of notes was. I had decided that I had to stop chasing that childish dream, and focus on my own work. I didn’t plan on being a bank teller forever after all. For all the things making music has brought me, the thing I’m most grateful for is what it has done to my peace of mind. My depression, my anxiety, none of that seemed to matter as long as I could still play.

 

One Friday evening, while I was arriving home from work late, I came through my front door, deadbolted it to keep out the strange man across the hall, and went straight to work on my music. Around nine o’ clock there was a knock on my door. I got up from my seat and looked through the peephole. There was no one there. I unlatched the deadbolt and opened the door, and looked right out into the hall. There was no one there either, but when I turned to go back inside I noticed a small, white piece of paper on the ground just in front of the doorway. I bent down, and turned it over.

 

Got you, it read. I heard the door across the hallway creak and I looked up just long enough to see the baseball bat come down on my head.

 

“Wake up, it’s no fun if you aren’t awake you piece of shit.”  I stirred, and the words echoed around in my head, causing pain. My eyes flicked open to the bright kitchen light. I was in my own apartment, lying on my back on my kitchen floor.  I couldn’t move my hands, they were bound behind me with some rope, and my legs were tied together as well. Duct tape wrapped tightly around my mouth prevented me from calling for help. Struggling as hard as I could against my binds, I found it was no use, they were so tight that they were cutting into my skin.

 

“That ain’t gonna help kid. I’ve been doing this a long time, I know how to tie a fuckin’ knot.”

 

My assailant walked into view. It was certainly my neighbor from across the hall, but his voice was no longer greasy, it was cold, and cruel. Gone was his slouched posture and pathetic demeanor. He stood before me now a completely different person than when I first saw him. He stood straight, caressing a large hunting knife with a gutting hook at the end. His eyes, once large and brown, were now small and black, and as cold as ice. His breath was steady, and calm. He smiled a cruel smile at me, and I tried to move and shake, to somehow break free. In my movement, I heard the sound of plastic, and my hands rubbed against a thin layer of the material underneath me, and I gave up fighting. I turned my head and glanced around only to confirm what I already knew.

 

I didn’t know who this man was, or how long he had been staying at this apartment complex, but the plastic that covered my floor and walls told me he wasn’t lying when he said he’d been doing this a long time. I knew my time was up.

 

“Oh, come on now. Don’t be like that.” The cruel voice spoke.

 

“I know I said it’s no use but your breaking my god damn heart with that look of yours. A little fight is always appreciated, I just can’t go and leave any mess behind, ya know? That’s how you get caught. I’ve spent a long time learning how not to get caught. This neighborhood is perfect see, because seedy characters are just the norm, right? So, when someone like me comes along and says hi to someone like you, you don’t even think twice do you? You’ll just keep your door locked, watch your peephole, do whatever it takes to avoid the creepy guy. But you know what people never expect from seedy characters? Smarts.”

 

I didn’t look at him while he spoke, I stared straight up at the ceiling, trying to come to terms with my own death. It’s strange, isn’t it? Not bothering to try and fight for your life. I knew it was strange even then. I just knew I didn’t want to die crying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

 

“They just assume it’s some weirdo. Serial killers are everyday people, they say. Your friend from work, or the delivery guy, or the repair man. They never say ‘look out for the creepy guy’, because that should be common goddamned sense. But you were just grateful you never saw me after that first night. Thankful that I never pestered you again.”

 

He was right. When I saw him I never would have suspected. He was just the creepy guy across the hall. I was grateful he didn’t bother me again.

 

“So, you let your guard down for a moment, but a moment is all it takes.”

 

He knelt down beside me, and put a hand on my stomach. I winced, trying as hard as I could to keep calm.

 

“But victims are few and far between in this neck of the woods. Killing the unfortunate gets rid of the blood lust for a minute, sure. But that’s easy, and hardly entertaining. No, I wait for your kind. The poor young souls who need a cheap place to stay, and have so much left to live for.”

 

He lifted up my shirt, placing the tip of the cold steel on my bare skin. I shivered, and not because of the cold. I was scared, and he knew it. He laughed.

 

“The great thing about it, is when I take all of your crap out of this dump, they’re just gonna think you skipped town, and I…”

 

There was a sizzle and a crack, as the bulb above us shone brightly, and then went out. The pressure of the blade on my stomach released, and I heard the man stand up.

 

“God dammit, my luck eh? Why don’t you hold tight for a second kid.”

 

I heard his weight shift on the floor as he turned and walked into the living room, and then he stopped.

 

“Who’s there!?” He called out. There was no answer. In the silent dark I laid there listening intently, wondering what the hell he was talking about. I stilled my breathing, and waited. Then I thought I heard something. I could hear the breathing of my attacker, somewhere in the dark, but I could also hear something else. Someone else’s breath could be heard, low and raspy. Another sound came from the dark, one that I recognized as music. It was quiet, but it was there. A song that I hadn’t heard in a very long time. The moment I realized what it was, there was sudden movement. Heavy footsteps ran through the darkness, toward my assailant. There was a loud *crack* and the man screamed. His cry was followed by the sound of glass shattering, and I could hear him yell as he fell all the way to the pavement outside.  I heard someone hollering out beyond the window, and it wasn’t long before I could hear police sirens. In the dark of my apartment I lay on the floor laughing with tears streaming down my face. Not because I finally heard grandmother’s melody after all this time, but because I finally knew the message within the notes. It was simple, but it was as powerful as the force that protected me that night.

 

I will protect you.’

 

The night I was attacked was about three years ago now. When the police arrived, they found me lying on the floor in the kitchen, of course. In the living room, however, they found my keyboard, broke in two pieces in front of the window the killer was thrown out of. After examining the body, it was concluded that blunt force trauma to the back of his head caused him to go careening out of the building and onto the ground below where he broke his neck. I was asked over and over again about who was in my apartment that night, because someone had to have attacked him with the keyboard. I simply told them the truth about what I heard that night, because I really had nothing else to say.

 

 I’m doing well composing sound design for various podcasts and audio dramas. It’s actually really neat. I’m glad I finally get to make a living doing what I love. I had to buy a new keyboard of course, but I kept Grandma’s. Both of its pieces are in a shadowbox above my bed now. I’ve never played her melody though, I don’t want to. It was my grandmother’s song, it’s her message, and hers alone. Besides, I still have that dream. Except now, I can hear that melody, plain as day in my dreams. Sometimes even as I’m waking up I swear I can hear the low notes of it off in the distance.

 

No, I’ve been working on a new piece of music. It isn’t perfected yet but I hope to finish it one day. It’s a score that I have simply titled,

 

“Thank you.”

 

Grandmother’s Keyboard

Beast in the Billows

 cove-man

-By: J.J. Cheesman

When Laura Morgan was young, she would often sit in at the dining room table, placed in front of the sliding-glass door that led into the backyard. She did this after school working on homework, or while coloring or doodling pictures, as she so often liked to do. Usually around this time, Laura’s mother; Betty, would be cooking dinner, and so she had the sliding glass door open, as to make sure it did not get too warm in the kitchen. Often, Laura would watch the curtains billowing in the breeze, and she could not help but imagine some immense beast beyond the door, standing just behind the curtains that hid its form. She imagined, that the beast was so big and powerful, that its lungs were such that it merely breathing caused them to billow about, rather than the changes in weather causing them to move.

Yes, Laura was quite the imaginative little girl. Often, she would dream up a reason for the beast to be waiting beyond the curtain.

Perhaps it stalked from the woods beyond her house, and it was waiting to turn one of the members of her household into a delicious meal? Or maybe it was just lonely, and wanted to make friends with Laura? Whatever the case, it was a fantasy that Laura soon grew out of once she reached her teens, but never forgot. Even when she moved out on her own, she would often recall how she dreamt up what she dubbed, ‘The Beast in the Billows’.

But that was years ago, now. Laura hadn’t the time for such childish imagination. Her mother first received her diagnosis of the cancer ravaging her lungs when Laura was eighteen. From that moment forward, she was her mother’s caregiver. Making sure she was receiving her chemo, making sure she was eating, and most of all, make sure she was staying away from those god damn cigarettes. Betty was a smoker since the day she turned sixteen, a habit which she had regrettably passed on to her daughter. Ten long years Betty fought the damned disease, and Laura watched every bit of horrible pain that it put her through. All the vomiting, all the crying, all of the soiled sheets, it was a living nightmare.

Laura was now twenty-eight. She sat down in her dining room, in the house that she had inherited from her mother. Tears streamed down her face as she lit her eleventh cigarette of the day, a habit which she not only felt guilty for having, but also took solace in. It was the last thing she had.

For ten long years, she watched over her sweet mother, and for ten long years she knew that the day would come when she would pass, but she still was not prepared. How could anyone be prepared for the heavy toll that comes with the loss of someone you love so dearly?

The cherry on her cigarette burned bright as Laura took a long drag, watching the light billowing of the curtain in the breeze beyond the open glass door. She recalled her beast, the one she imagined came from the woods. At the same time, she wondered at her own fate. Was she doomed to suffer like her mother? Damned to die in her own piss and shit, crying for the pain to end? She wished that her beast would come, tear her from her wretched life without her mother. Tears fell like streams down her face, and she put her head in her hands. She was going to die alone. She had spent all her time supporting her mother. She hadn’t built any savings, the only education she had was her diploma, and her dead-end job was going nowhere. It was too late.

But they say, in the darkness, way down deep where no light can ever be seen, that’s where rock-bottom is. They say that, from there, there is nowhere to go but up. A voice within Laura’s mind called to her in this moment. One that she had not paid any attention to since childhood. The voice was loud and defiant, and with indignation whispered,

No.”

Laura wiped away her tears, and stared at the cigarette smoldering in her hand. The voice came again.

It’s never too late.”

With defiance, she stamped out the cigarette in the ashtray. Then she crumpled up the pack beside it, picked them both up, and walked over to the trash can, chucking them both inside. She then walked over to the drawer where she kept the rest of her smokes. She pulled out the carton and threw that away as well.

Today is a new day, she thought. From this moment on, I live for myself.

Just then, there was a knock on the door, which startled Laura and shook her from her thoughts. She walked over quickly, bustling passed the billowing curtains and over to the front door, newfound strength and energy coursing within her, and she tore the door open.

No one was there, just an empty front yard. Puzzled, Laura slowly began closing the door, but then realized something peculiar.

There was no breeze. Not even the slightest hint that there was even a little bit of wind. In fact, the air was humid, and still.

Before she had time to process what this meant, a gnarled, putrid hand covered Laura’s mouth, and tore her bottom jaw from her head.

 

 

Beast in the Billows