Here is a great book on story writing that I’m currently reading.
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
Here is a great book on story writing that I’m currently reading.
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby
This is a new album I just completed:
It is said that fear feeds on itself. I don’t doubt this to be true, but being equipped with such wisdom doesn’t diminish in the least any amount of fear once it has begun to feed. Even though the rational part of the mind understands the unwarranted reason for such trifling feelings of uneasiness, it is the subconscious portion that whispers that such justifications are mere Potemkin villages erected by the mind in an effort to preserve all sanity.
You will think me mad, no doubt, to hear me confess that the doll was alive. That is your right, but I advise such rash criticisms to be checked before hearing my testimony. For no man is above such horrors when they grow so imperceptibly slow. Yes, I would advise my story to be a warning of such slow gnawings of fear that eventually escalates into irrational outbursts of horror.
Not only did I suspect the doll to have a life of its own, but I also knew it plotted against me. It was all very mental, you see. Whether it was an evil force working through the guise of a doll or my own convoluted paranoia, the effect was still the same; and, of these two choices, I cannot honestly say which is more horrifying if proven to be the truth.
The first time I toured my elderly aunt’s house the doll had no effect on me at all. I didn’t even notice the damn thing, to be honest. My dear aunt was ill, you see, and I made arrangements to assist her in her convalescence. The poor dear couldn’t manage by herself.
It was my first time to behold her exquisite manor. I never had the opportunity to visit her on any happier occasion. My aunt showed me around, but even this wore her out to the extreme. I helped her return to her chambers and she drifted to sleep almost immediately. So, I quietly closed her door and went downstairs to unpack and rest.
On the tour of the house she showed me to the spare bedroom, which I would be occupying during my stay. The room had once belonged to my cousin, and my aunt had preserved it for all these years. It appeared just as it had when Clara was a child. The doll sat on a small child’s chair in the corner of the room closest to the foot of the bed. It was a porcelain doll with brown hair in pigtails, tied with blue bows. The bows matched the dress, which was frilly and lace adorned. It wore white stockings and shiny black shoes. It was about two-foot tall and sat on the chair slumped down to one side with its big glass eyes staring straight at the bed. The effect wouldn’t have been so unsettling if it weren’t for the sinister, little smile upon its rosy-cheeked face. It was truly an evil expression.
I didn’t notice it until I had been busy unpacking my suitcase for many minutes – hanging my clothes in the closet and placing them in the bureau. It was then that, all of the sudden, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched. I instinctively turned to the door but there was no one there. Then my eyes came to rest upon the doll. I regarded it with little more than a cursory glance and resumed my unpacking. I next went around the bed and retrieved my alarm clock and a couple of books in order to place them on the nightstand. Again I chanced a look at the doll. I placed no importance or second thought into these glances, but each time I moved to a different part of the room I stole a glance at the doll. Its eyes followed me wherever I happened to be in the room. It was really not such a fantastic thing. Portraits are notorious for this quality if the artist captures the angle right. And they are mere two-dimensional objects. A fully three-dimensional doll should, theoretically, possess this quality in even greater range. But it still gave me the creepiest feeling that I was being watched.
The remainder of the evening was spent with dear Aunt Sophie. She awoke after her nap and came downstairs whereupon I prepared dinner for the two of us. After dinner we adjourned to the living room to talk and catch up on family affairs. The night was chilly so I stoked a healthy fire so that Aunt Sophie would be comfortable while we reminisced about my childhood escapades. It was about this time that Aunt Sophie began talking about Clara’s death. Poor Aunt Sophie broke down in tears talking about how much she still missed Clara, even after all these many years. Clara and I were close in age until Clara passed away at the tender age of eleven.
I let her sorrow run its course while offering an occasional consoling word or phrase, but the cheeriness of our reunion was thoroughly quelled by the gloominess of the atmosphere that hung in the house after evoking the memory of Clara.
The subject changed to other things in an effort to lift the sadness but it wasn’t long lived. I helped Aunt Sophie to her chambers once again. She smiled at me and thanked me for taking time out of my busy schedule to help her through her lingering illness. I assured her that it was the least I could do to assist my favorite aunt and then we said goodnight. I returned to the living room and sat reading for a short time, waiting for the fire to burn low. I was tired from my travels so I decided to retire to the bed and resume my reading.
I washed, donned my nightclothes, retrieved my book, and crawled into bed. And there sat the doll – glaring at me. I attempted to read but my concentration was destroyed. I barely got through a paragraph before I was compelled to peer over the top of my book right into the face of that little fiendish expression. I was being irrational, I told myself. It was just a doll for God’s sake. Just a child’s doll! But its eyes tore right into me. Its eyes would not stop imploring something of me. Accusing me of something I could not name or know. I became irritated and closed my book with a snap, extinguished the light, and rolled over to go to sleep.
Sleep didn’t come, as it should to a person who has been traveling all day. I refused to look at the doll. But I knew it was there. It was still there watching me. Knowing that I only pretended to sleep. Knowing that I only pretended it didn’t bother me; but it knew all right. It knew because it witnessed my annoyance. It had the satisfaction of seeing my display of annoyance by slamming my book closed.
I awoke three times that night. Each time I tried to resist looking at the doll but it was futile. I couldn’t fight it and I looked to see the eyes staring right at me – the face smirking at my misery. I wanted more than anything to just get up and reposition the doll where its face was turned away from me; but I kept telling myself that a grown man of sound mind wouldn’t bother with such inane actions. Those were the acts of a child or a superstitious fool, not a grown man of mental soundness such as myself. But, somehow, I endured the night. When I awoke the next morning I expected the sunlight to have a calming effect. The morning light is notorious for converting strange night thoughts into laughable embarrassments. This wasn’t the case, however. The doll’s expression was still there in the corner gazing at me in accusation. So, I busied myself with changing clothes and grooming and such, trying my best to ignore the doll. It was a useless attempt.
Finally, I couldn’t take any more of the eyes upon me and decided to reposition the doll. Once I decided this course of action I immediately felt in control of the situation. I promptly marched over to the chair and reached down to grasp the doll, but my hands stopped short. I felt repulsion at the thought of touching it, like a person might feel at touching a maggot-ridden corpse of an animal. I didn’t stop to analyze why this might be so. Instead, I reached down and grabbed the leg of the chair and turned the entire chair, doll and all. The doll, which was already leaning over, fell from the chair and I instinctively reached out and caught it by the arm. I was so repulsed by its touch that I quickly flung it back onto the chair. So quick and sporadic were my actions that its arm nearly ripped completely off. I felt ashamed of how ridiculous I was acting. It was just a stupid doll!
At breakfast I decided to tell Aunt Sophie about the doll’s arm. Of course I didn’t tell her how it really happened. She would have thought me a lunatic. I told her I accidentally bumped the chair on passing and tried to catch the doll. She immediately got up and rushed into Clara’s room to see the doll. I followed, a bit confused at her overreaction.
She picked the doll up and cradled it like an infant while investigating the damage. I found this to be so repulsive that I had to restrain myself from slapping the nasty little thing out of her arms. The doll knew I felt this way. It stared at me the whole time with its smug little grin. I knew that it was already plotting its revenge.
Then my aunt revealed to me the reason why the doll had caused her to react in such haste. The doll was very dear to Clara’s heart and it was her closest companion all the way up till the moment of her death, which was in the very bed where I had slept last night. I was completely unaware of the fact that Clara died in her bed. I just assumed she passed away while in the hospital. This knowledge laid upon me a new uneasiness, which only served to compound the sinister atmosphere of the doll. Aunt Sophie said that Clara had named the doll Tiffy, which was a children’s pronunciation of Tiffany. And now, suddenly, the object of my derision had a name – Tiffy.
Aunt Sophie took the doll away to her sewing room and commented that she would have to repair the damage later. She assured me there was no harm done since the rip had occurred along the seam and could be mended without any indication that it had ever occurred. I apologized and conveyed my relief that no permanent damage was done. Of course these were bald-faced lies and I merely acted like I was concerned for Tiffy’s well-being when, in reality, I was rather sorry I hadn’t done worse.
I was, nevertheless, glad of the fact that the doll was removed from Clara’s room. As long as the doll wasn’t around, my rest would be much better.
That evening after dinner Aunt Sophie and I once again adjourned to the living room before the fire. I was enjoying an after dinner drink as we talked. Then Aunt Sophie remembered the doll and retrieved it from her sewing room along with a needle and thread. When she entered the room and I saw what she intended to do, my spirits plummeted. The evening I thought would be relaxing and free of the presence of the doll, now turned out to be doubly stressful. For, I not only had to endure its presence in Clara’s room, but also its presence in the living room as well.
As she worked on mending the arm of the beast it stared at me relentlessly. Aunt Sophie talked as she concentrated on her sewing and was oblivious to my anger. Conversation was strained because I was so furious. I longed to snatch the doll from her hands and hurl it into the fire. Its stare was so reprehensible. As the needle went in and out of its arm it just looked at me and smiled as if to point out the fact that it was impervious to physical pain. No, I knew what it meant even though there were no words. That was the point see? Its power was mental in nature. It projected its grotesque and evil aura through the eyes straight into the mind. And though you might think that the little beast was but an inanimate object and my hatred was misplaced, I tell you, there was most assuredly life there. It may not have possessed life like you or I possess but there was a life present, an unnamable and unwholesome life that resided behind that atrocious smile and those accusing eyes.
I just prayed that Aunt Sophie wouldn’t finish the job. But my hopes were soon dashed as Aunt Sophie announced her completion of the job, even going so far as to rise and offer the doll for my inspection. I attempted a smile and commented on her handiwork but made no move to touch the creature. The doll obviously thought this was befitting because it mocked me with its nasty little smile of triumph. Then, to my horror, Aunt Sophie proceeded to take the thing back into Clara’s room and deposit it right back upon the chair.
I prolonged the inevitable all that I could, but I eventually resolved to go to bed. Aunt Sophie had dismissed herself some hours prior and I passed the time reading. I dreaded the thought of being in the same room with the doll again. No matter how much I tried to convince myself of the absurdity of such fears, it still gnawed at my brain. Finally, I decided to exert my true courage and go in the room without looking at the doll and go straight to bed. And this is what I did.
I couldn’t go to sleep though. I lay there knowing her big, glassy eyes were locked on me. What manner of vile being could she be, I wondered? A child’s toy! Oh No! There was something much too sinister in it to be a mere child’s plaything. She wanted something of me and that was certain, but what? Why was she conducting the undoing of my sanity? It couldn’t be the rending of her arm. That came after it all began. But I swear that as I flung her into the chair, she grabbed back! I felt it and there is nothing that can remove that certainty from my head.
I could take no more. My thoughts were swarming in intensity. I couldn’t resist! Knowing that her eyes were piercing me like knives! I peeked out from beneath the covers and the sight was so horrible that I sat bolt upright in bed! The horrid little beast had moved! By God it had moved! I sat staring at it, my breathing fast and hard, and my heart thumping so fast I thought I would pass out.
It occurred to me then that the doll hadn’t actually moved, but that Aunt Sophie had replaced it in a different position more erect in its sitting posture upon the chair. I wiped my brow and tried to gain control of myself. What a fool I had become. I took a long, deep breath and regarded the doll. “Tiffy.” I said the name out loud, almost spitting the name from my mouth in disgust.
It may not have actually moved but its expression had changed. I tried to convince myself that it was just because the doll was sitting more upright than before, but this, of course, was not true. Its mouth was more twisted than the angle could account for. For whatever reason why it plotted against my sanity, it was getting angrier the longer it took to accomplish my undoing.
I tried one more time to ignore the thing and go to sleep but it was useless. I couldn’t bear the test of wills any longer and rose from the bed with a rush, growled at the little monster, and went into the living room to sleep on the couch. I immediately fell into the most relaxing and comfortable sleep.
Then I was being awakened! The doll’s hands were upon me and its eyes were no farther away than a foot! I was had! The beast had me! I moaned in distress and came to my senses. And there, replacing the doll’s devilish face, was Aunt Sophie. She had risen in the middle of the night to find me asleep on the couch. Thinking I had dozed off unintentionally, she awoke me and told me to go to Clara’s room and get into bed. I couldn’t tell her the truth so I played along with her assumption and went to the room.
I was so tired that all I wanted to do was return to the world of sleep from which Aunt Sophie had snatched me from to deposit me once again in this tormented hell. I could hear Aunt Sophie go in the kitchen to get something to drink. I crawled under the covers and turned to my nemesis. She mocked me like never before and I became furious.
“What – do – you – want – from – me?” I said each word forcefully but quietly. I thought to myself that eventually I would grow so tired that not even the doll could keep me from sleep. But sleep did not come. Only thoughts of those eyes ripping into my mind! I prayed for sleep. Even the sleep of death would be better than this agonizing torture upon my senses.
Thoughts of death made me think of Clara and her deathbed. That is when it hit me – the realization of the doll’s motive. Aunt Sophie said that Tiffy was Clara’s companion until the last moment of her life. Obviously she saw me as an intruder on her mistress’ property. The connection to the deathbed was such a strong psychical bond that an interloper would only breed ill will. But my anger only grew. Even with this realization I continued to stew in my hatred.
Exhaustion, fear, anger, and repulsion all mixed together in a maddening blend of psychotic rage that erupted from me uncontrollably. The smirk on the damned thing had changed again and the eyes finally succeeded in affecting my mental breakdown! I rose from the bed with a scream and threw the covers off. I grabbed the little demon up and began shaking it back and forth as I screamed, “Stop staring at me you damn little beast! Stop staring at me!” I shook and cursed and ranted as all of the pent up rage boiled out of me. I couldn’t shake it hard enough I tell you! I continued cursing and screaming until finally I caused Aunt Sophie to come running. And just as she arrived in the doorway I took the doll by the feet and swung it round. As I screamed, “Go be with your precious Clara!” I dashed the doll to the floor and raised my foot to stomp in its hideous, porcelain head. But before I could deliver the fatal blow I noticed Aunt Sophie staring in horror at the scene before her. Before I could do anything further she fainted to the floor, crumpling in a heap.
I regained my senses and rushed to her side. The poor dear must have thought me a lunatic! For that is exactly what I had become! My condition was only a temporary malady, but how was she to know this? She didn’t know the tortures I had endured from the demonic little imp.
I picked her up and placed her on the bed. I checked for breathing signs. Although faint, she was, thankfully, still alive. The strain had been too much for her feeble condition. My outburst must have appeared like shear madness to her! But it wasn’t really me who caused this, no! It was the doll! The damn doll!
“It was the doll!” I cried. I turned to finish the deed I had started, but I froze at what I beheld. Tiffy’s eyes no longer watched me! The eyes were now looking at the swooning form on Clara’s bed. The eyes now looked at Aunt Sophie.
It was in the fall that I moved into the house on Quail Drive after entering into a rental agreement. You may think me crazy for saying this; but I burned the house down. I have no regrets about it, either. I am just relieved to be rid of that horrible house. I couldn’t bear the thought of others living in the accursed place and having to hear the hideous scratching and witness the thing that creeps within its walls. I know you are thinking I am ascribing supernatural phenomena to an inanimate object like a house. The house wasn’t inanimate, though. It was very much alive. Things happened there that should have never happened – horrible, twisted things. Of course, I wasn’t aware of those things when I moved in. Even if I would have known, I probably would have been skeptical about such hauntings. But now, I believe when horrible things happen there can remain a trace. The psychological residue from horrible acts of evil taint the world and when certain conditions are right, there occurs a pathway for their manifestation. Maybe I acted as an antenna – a conduit for what lies beyond. Whatever the cause, I must tell the tale. If there is a more plausible explanation, I challenge anyone to come forward. It is my only hope to save my fleeing sanity.
The house was actually a very attractive country home. It was a small ranch-style home with a large porch and airy rooms. Mr. Ferris, the landlord, said he had purchased the land for his horses. The house was in shambles when he bought the land. He decided to renovate the old, dilapidated house into a guest house. Upon completing the renovation project, he was forced to rent out the house due to financial strains. It seemed to be the perfect rental home I could’ve ever found for the price. The house sat on the edge of a pasture; I did mention his affinity for horses. There are several people who breed and train horses living all along Quail Drive. The neighbors were interspersed along the road so that there was no one living too close to another and privacy was respected and preserved. Behind the house were woods typical of the Greenwood area, being mostly pines with a fair share of oaks, maples, and dogwoods. The first week I was in the house I quickly settled into a comfortable routine that included sitting on the porch in the early evenings to read and watch the horses graze out in the pasture.
The only place in the house that initially gave me any sense of uneasiness was a darkened corner of the basement. Don’t get me wrong, though. It wasn’t an overt feeling at all. It was virtually imperceptible at first; but it soon became the spot where the scratching began. The only time I ventured to the basement was because that is where the laundry machines were located.
It was after the first week I heard the scratching in the corner of the basement. Of course, I figured I had myself a mouse problem. What else could I think? Even though mice typically scurry and their scratching is usually faint and this scratching was slow and loud, like nails being raked across wood, I still chalked the sound up to a mouse. That was when I first got a really sour feeling about the corner in the basement and deep down I felt something wasn’t quite right about it.
I heard the scratching again a couple of nights later. That is when I decided I had better invest in some mouse traps or rat poison, which is exactly what I did the next time I was at the grocery store. I placed several traps in the basement but the scratching continued. Not one trap was ever sprung.
Then one night the scratching spread. I was walking up the stairs from the basement and about halfway up I was surprised by the scraping so close at hand. I nearly fell down the stairs I was so startled. It was just within the wall no more than a few inches away from my right arm. A long slow scraping seemed to be moving up the wall. I wasted no time in investigating and lurched up the stairs to escape the horrible scraping noise. For a brief moment I swore it followed me.
That night I had the nightmare that would transform the scratching from a weird curiosity into a thing of sheer horror. The dream began with me in a long, pitch black hallway. About 100 feet down this dark corridor was a light. I started walking towards this light as I felt along the walls, but there were no openings or doorways. Then, I heard a noise behind me. I turned to look behind me but there was nothing but darkness and my eyes couldn’t penetrate the black depths to where the source of the sound was coming from. The noise was a clicking sound that made me think of a clawed animal walking down the corridor behind me. I turned and ran and the sound behind me sped up so I knew the creature was running also. Ahead of me the light grew closer and I realized it was a door with a window in the upper portion. I couldn’t make out what was on the other side of the door other than light pouring through the window. The beast was gaining on me as I approached the haven of the lighted door. But just as I reached the glow of the light a pig-faced monstrosity reared up behind the window. Then I felt claws dig into my back and I woke up drenched in sweat and breathing heavy – my heart thundering in my chest.
For many days following my nightmare the scratching didn’t occur; but the nightmare retained a vividness I found to be a completely unusual characteristic for a dream. My mind kept conjuring the nightmare and I felt as if I were staring into the face of doom. I also found myself behaving in the most skittish manner. I would leave on multiple lights so as not to be in too much darkness at night, I had to keep the constant companionship of the television or stereo on so as not to feel alone in the house, and I would spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on the porch. I also found myself venturing into the basement as if I were preparing for a horrible journey. I simply dreaded the basement and avoided it as much as possible. My laundry had become quite a heap.
Finally, the day arrived when I knew I had to clean some clothes. The dread was palpable as I stood at the top of the stairs holding the hamper full of dirty clothes. I told myself I was being childish and there was nothing to be afraid of. Slowly I worked up my nerve and descended the stairs. I tried to sing just to push away the silent tension hanging in the air. I loaded the washer and got the cycle started. The hum of the washing machine helped to transform the gloomy atmosphere a little.
I was bending over sorting clothes and then I froze in terror as the unmistakable sound of the scratching started along the wall behind me. A panic struck me and I could not bear the thought of looking behind me. The scratching grew to a horrible scraping and I bolted for the stairs. As I ran, the scraping followed me and just as I reached the top of the stairs I felt a clutch across my calf which caused me to cry out in pain. I kicked in reaction to the grasp and felt no resistance. I cannot describe the terror that flooded my body as I realized whatever had been making the noise had made a physical attack upon me! I fled from the house not daring to look behind me until I had reached the pasture. Finally, I stopped and collapsed to the ground to inspect the slashes inflicted upon my leg. I was rattled from the episode and sat shaking and breathing heavy pondering the meaning of what had just occurred. There were four long, bloody scrapes down my calf. Never one for the sight of blood, I fainted right where I sat.
I awoke to a monstrous head breathing heatedly upon my face through cavernous nostrils. I instinctively recoiled with a cry only to hear someone yell, “Jubilee, get away from him, girl.”
As I regained my senses my focus upon the head cleared enough to see it was a tan horse sniffing at me. The voice had come from an old farmer who was walking up to take charge of the horse. He wore denim coveralls and a straw hat. From the looks of his grizzled features, I surmised he was at least seventy years old. He continued to bark commands at the horse, Jubilee, until finally the horse retreated and the old man bent over me.
“You all right, son?” he probed.
“I believe so,” I croaked.
“Well, what in tarnation you doin’ lyin’ out here in this pasture for? You hurt?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I mumbled. I quickly tried to concoct some sort of story to cover up the real reason I had fled the house. “Actually,” I said as I sat up to show him my leg, “I scraped my leg pretty bad and the sight of the blood made me feel a little light-headed.”
“Hmmm,” he said rubbing his chin and inspecting the claw marks, “looks like some animal swiped your leg. What caused that scratch?” He began to help me up and before I could answer he said, “So, you’re the feller rentin’ Ferris’s place here, huh?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. He helped me up and I introduced myself. He told me his name was Jessup Hellard.
“Now, what did that to your leg?”
“It wasn’t an animal. I accidentally scraped my calf on a tree while hiking in the woods.”
“Well, it looks pretty bad anyhow,” he said seeming rather skeptical of my story. “We should clean the wound and see just how bad it really is.”
My heart accelerated at the thought of returning to the house. The last thing I wanted to do was re-enter the house and encounter whatever it was that crawled behind its walls; but I didn’t want to let on to Mr. Hellard the reason why. I tried to think of a quick excuse as we started to walk in order to avoid returning to the house. Unfortunately, I would have no chance to concoct an excuse because a wave of dizziness swept over me as I tried to walk and I fainted again.
I awoke in my bed with Mr. Hellard watching another elderly gentleman apply a dressing to my leg. I recognized my surroundings and instinctively panicked at the thought of being back in the house.
“Calm down, son,” said Mr. Hellard. “This here’s Dr. Horner. He’s a horse doc but he was the closest person who knew anything about medicine I could think of to call.”
The doctor looked over the top of his glasses at me and said, “How you feeling?”
“Better.” And then, after a pause, “I have a phobia of blood,” I said trying to explain my overreaction to the seemingly superficial scratches.
“Well, that’s not uncommon,” Dr. Horner said reassuringly. “I cleaned the wound and put some antibacterial ointment on it. It doesn’t look too nasty and should be all right if you keep it clean. If it gets real red that means it’s getting infected and you need to have it looked at.”
He finished his bandaging job and then he offered me a couple of pills. I recoiled from them distrustfully. The last thing I wanted was to take a sedative that would cause me to fall asleep in the accursed house.
“It’s O.K., son,” he said. “These are for nausea. They’ll settle your stomach.”
“Will they make me groggy?”
“No, they’re pretty mild. They’ll get rid of the dizziness, though.” I remained skeptical; but finally, I decided to take the pills. I wanted the dizziness to go away so I would be able to escape the house without risk of another fainting spell.
Small talk was exchanged while Dr. Horner gathered his things together and departed. I was left alone with Jessup Hellard and decided now was my best chance to prod him for information on the house. “Mr. Hellard, what do you know about this place?”
I could tell the question caught him off guard by the way he looked at me in surprise. “Didn’t Ferris tell you nothin’ ‘bout this house before you moved in it?”
“Not much,” I said. “He just said he bought the property with an old house on it and decided to remodel the place.”
His brows furrowed as he groped for what to say. Finally, he began to explain, “Before Ferris remodeled this house there was the original house here. It hadn’t been lived in for a long, long time.”
“Well, I ain’t gonna lie to you. The man who lived here went crazy and did some real terrible things to some people in the old house.”
“What kind of things?” I said sitting up. My suspicions were confirmed that there was a dark secret associated with the house. The house oozed a palpable morbidity that stung the nerves and oppressed my mood like a dreaded pall. A sense of impending doom enveloped the place.
“It’s been over twenty years since that happened. His name was Mayhew. Charlie Mayhew. He mostly kept to himself but didn’t avoid anyone around here. When you’d talk to him he was pleasant to talk to. But it was just pretendin’. He was really a sick and twisted sombitch. Apparently, he would abduct women – mostly young women – from different places. He never kidnapped no one close to here, though. He’d lock ‘em up in the basement and torture and rape the poor souls. Dirty bastard!” Mr. Hellard spat as if a nasty taste had entered his mouth.
“How’d they catch him?” I asked.
“One of his victims killed him and escaped.”
“Killed him? How?”
“Her name was Mary. I don’t recall her last name but I’ll never forget her first name. The papers had a time with it. Bloody Mary, they called her. Like that lady they say you’ll see if you stand in front of a mirror in the dark and say her name thirteen times. Boy, she did a number on ol’ Mayhew before she died.”
“What happened?” I suspected the house had a dark past; but I never imagined it was such a chilling and horrifying past. I thought of all the things Mayhew must have done in the basement and about all the times I had been down there by myself. My flesh crawled as I remembered the grating sound of the scratching along the walls. But the thing Mr. Hellard told me next hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest.
“She clawed her way out,” he said shaking his head. “Apparently, she clawed the flesh right off of her leg where Mayhew had shackled her. Once she was free of the leg iron, she proceeded to claw her way right through the basement door. They found Mayhew’s body clawed to shreds, too. It was all they could do to identify him because he was torn up so bad.”
“You said she died too?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Yea, they found her too. Poor girl went through all that pain to escape only to die in the yard. They found her…well, I reckon they found her just about where I found you out in the pasture,” he said gesticulating. If the similarity struck him as it did me, he sure didn’t show it. Mr. Hellard continued the story without any pause. “She was covered from head to toe in blood – that’s why they give her that nickname. They said all of her fingernails and fingertips were gone. Nothin’ but bone sticking out. I can’t say if that’s the truth or not. Sounds kind of like an exaggeration to me; but no one who did see it ever fessed up and said any different.”
After Mr. Hellard told me all of this the conversation shifted to other topics. The only thing on my mind was to get away from the house at the first opportunity that presented itself. Looking back on the entire ordeal, I should have left right then. No matter how rude it would have been, I should have barged out and fled. But you must understand that one thing prevented it.
The pills Dr. Horner gave me did make me groggy. I don’t think Dr. Horner lied about their effects. My constitution has never been very good at handling traumas and medications have a way of affecting me worse than the average person.
The effects didn’t exactly hit me all at once, either. For whatever reason, I wanted to be polite to Mr. Hellard and he just happened to be a very loquacious individual. As I said, the topic changed to less grotesque things. Before long – and I can’t say if it was the drug’s effect – my mind wandered after Mr. Hellard’s conversation and I temporarily forgot about Mayhew and Bloody Mary and the foul scratching that haunted the house. By the time I realized my faculties were waning, it was too late. I faded away in a cloudy haze not even realizing I was drifting away to the Land of Nod; nor did the thought of being asleep in the house register as being the worst nightmare I should have been fighting with all my will to avoid.
I awoke to a dark and empty room, my leg throbbing in pain. The lingering effects of the drug left my thinking foggy as I tried to regain my bearings. Jessup Hellard was nowhere to be seen. I sat up in the bed, wincing at the pain in me leg. “Mr. Hellard,” I croaked. My mouth was parched and the call was feeble. I licked my lips, swallowed, and called again. “Mr. Hellard!” This time it was louder; however, no answer met my cries. Apparently he had left after I fell asleep.
I looked outside and saw night had fallen. The darkness of the room was overpowering. I rose to go turn on the light and yelped at the searing pain in my calf. I had to take a moment to test the strength of my leg. Just as I was about to make the trek across the bedroom to the light switch, I heard the undeniable sound which sent a chill cascading down my spine. The scratching floated through the darkness from somewhere outside of the bedroom. It sounded like it was coming up the stairs.
I froze in terror thinking about my escape up the basement stairs; the pain of the nails biting into my calf. Then I thought about the story Mr. Hellard had told me. It was Bloody Mary.
She clawed her way out.
She had somehow returned from the grave.
They found Mayhew’s body clawed to shreds.
She was coming up the stairs!
They said all of her fingernails and fingertips were gone.
She was coming down the hall!
Nothin’ but bone sticking out.
She was coming for ME!
My only chance of escape was through the window in the room. I tried my best to avert my gaze from the darkened hallway. If I saw her blood-drenched form I would surely faint. And if I fainted, I would surely wind up dead. A death just like the one suffered by Charlie Mayhew. Whether it was the darkness or my Hemataphobia which saved me from beholding her, I can’t say for sure. I do know there was a pitch black form stalking down the hallway with both of its arms thrown wide against the walls. The hands grinding into the walls produced the blasphemous scratching which shook me from my fear-induced paralysis. My only chance at salvation resided in my will to overcome beholding the appearance of Bloody Mary in the faint light that crept through the bedroom window.
Ignoring the pain in my calf, I lurched to the window and began to fumble with the lock.
The scratching sped up!
I struggled to lift the window.
I knew she was in the room with me!
As I dove through the window I expected to feel her bony fingers digging into my flesh. Instead I landed roughly upon the awning, rolled a couple of times, and fell to the ground. I landed on my side and a jarring pain fired through my body as the air was ripped from my lungs. I rolled around in agony fighting to catch my breath. For some reason I knew she wouldn’t pursue me out of the house. I didn’t dare look back at the window from which I had just escaped for fear of seeing her watching me.
I half walked, half crawled to my car while holding my side. I knew I had broken several ribs in the fall. My labored breathing caused a sharp pain in my abdomen with every inhalation. I made my way to my car and opened the trunk. I found the emergency roadside kit and retrieved a flare. Then, I returned to the house and made my way to the front door. As I stood there about to open the door, images of her grabbing me before I could throw the flare in went through my head. Somehow, I gathered enough willpower to light the flare and throw the door wide open. I tossed the flare in and ran as best as I could.
I collapsed in the pasture and lay on the ground panting and watching the house. It seemed to take forever for the fire to catch and I began to wonder if the flare had gone out before anything in the house had caught fire. Maybe Bloody Mary had prevented the fire from burning. Maybe there was no way to stop the house’s evil.
Just as I thought the flare had been squelched, flames became visible through the living room windows. And then, the next thing I knew, the house was engulfed in flames. I sat and watched the roaring conflagration in rapt fascination. At one point the flames licked high into the air and currents of heat lifted debris far into the night sky. As I watched there arose a cry that sent me running despite the pain filling my torso. It was the unmistakable scream of a woman in distress. The sound of the scream flooded me with terror. I ran and ran and ran.
Dr. Panichelli finished reading and removed her glasses.
“Well?” Detective Shockley asked. “Do you think he’s really crazy?”
“It’s tough to say without further tests and more interviews. He doesn’t even acknowledge that the body of Jessup Hellard was found in the house. I think he has either carefully calculated the details of his story, or he is in denial of the incident and has concocted this tale as a coping mechanism for what he did.”
“Or he’s telling the truth,” Detective Shockley said sarcastically, his obese frame jiggling as he chuckled.
Dr. Panichelli smiled and continued, “There was no forensic evidence that can prove Jolly killed Hellard?”
“No. The fire destroyed all physical evidence that would conclusively show he did it. But he doesn’t stand a chance because all signs point to him. His injuries could have been from a fall or, more likely, from an altercation. His lawyer’s only defense will probably be an insanity plea. Hell, he’ll probably stick to this cockamamie story he’s fabricated here,” Detective Shockley said jabbing his pudgy finger into the paper Dr. Panichelli still held.
“How about the vet – Horner, and the owner – Ferris?”
“Ferris didn’t know a thing about any of it. He saw the house burning from across the pasture and called the fire department. Horner confirmed dressing the wound and leaving Jolly and Hellard alone.”
Dr. Panichelli rolled the earpiece of her glasses in her mouth and thought a moment. “How about Mayhew? Is all that stuff true?”
“Yep. That was the house where Charlie Mayhew tortured, raped, and killed five women before Mary Terrapin escaped from the basement and killed him in his bed where he slept. She clawed out his throat and eyes and left him a shredded lump of meat.”
“How did Jolly kill Hellard? Was it the fire?”
“No, it wasn’t the fire; at least I don’t think so. The results of the autopsy haven’t come back yet; but it appears Jessup Hellard was clawed to death – just like Charlie Mayhew.”
“You said Jolly showed injuries that point him to the crime, Detective Shockley. Is it his hands that show the signs?”
Detective Shockley looked uneasy for a moment then said, “No. Apparently he didn’t use his hands. We’re still looking for whatever weapon he used.”
Dr. Panichelli looked at Detective Shockley as she processed what he had told her. She handed him the testimony written by Patrick Jolly and turned to go. After a couple of steps she turned back to the portly detective and said, “Yes, Detective Shockley, I think Patrick Jolly is really crazy. You’ll have my report tomorrow.”
Detective Shockley watched in irritation as she sauntered down the hall. He looked at the testimony in his hand and shook his head in frustration. Dammit! That son of a bitch Jolly will probably get off with an insanity plea if we don’t find the murder weapon.
Through the haziness of sleep, Robert groped for orientation upon a distant sound somewhere in the omnipresent darkness. It was the chuckling and somewhat haunting sound of Jangles. In the confusion of that borderland between consciousness and unconsciousness Robert struggled to understand the meaning of that sound. And it was just as he stumbled out of the dark lands of sleep that a false hope flooded his bewildered mind.
Dear, sweet, glorious Heaven! It must have all been a hideous and cruel nightmare! That sound was the harbinger of salvaged life! Those guffaws were the unmaskers of the wicked and twisted dealings of that blasphemous world called the “unconscious mind”! The accursed sham had been revealed and all was just in the world!
But, alas, it was not to be. Robert’s hopes were soon ripped violently asunder and sucked down as the last dark oozings of unconsciousness drained away and were replaced with the considerably bleaker and monolithically gloomier facts of cold reality – right along side those sinister laughs of Jangles. Justin was indeed dead.
Robert had watched the terrible disease slowly destroy his beloved son’s life in helpless horror. The physicians, unsure of how to effectively approach with a cure, had used the only methods they knew. Methods that will one day seem just as barbaric as how we view the atrocious approaches of medicine used in the Civil War. The doctors amassed radiation, poisons, and surgical invasion that caused so much pain and suffering to a mere child in the years of innocence. Robert and his wife, Mandy, watched the slow deterioration of the object of a lifetime of love. It was hard to conceive of anything more unjust in this carnival of life.
Through it all there was one companion to Justin who was a product of the real and joyous carnival. Probably its most magical spawn, the clown with his infectious buffoonery became the defiant symbol of Justin’s assaulted will. And this symbol was embodied in Jangles. He was but a doll but to Justin he was like an appendage – the two were never separated, even during the numerous surgeries. He wore a motley and multihued outfit, sported outlandishly red hair, and his smile was enormously wide spreading across his contorted white face. The toy manufacturers had seen fit to equip Jangles with a repertoire of five vocalizations that were randomly expressed by pushing Jangles’ bulbous, red nose. Four of these were silly expressions and the fifth was his goofy chuckle that Robert now heard in the darkness of the house.
Robert had grown to harbor a bizarre loathing of the little doll and its obnoxious laugh. All throughout Justin’s battle with the disease, the ever-present Jangles was there smiling and chuckling. Its giggly, happy countenance was an emotional blasphemy that stood in stark juxtaposition to the sheer horror and pain of reality. The annoyance grew into loathing; but the thought of ever depriving poor Justin of his prized companion was simply not entertained.
Then, the tragic culmination of Justin’s futile battle with his disease ended. He passed away in the hospital after a valiant fight and a heroic show of emotion. Jangles was there till the end. Mandy was reduced to a medicated specter of her former self. As for Robert, he mechanically went through the necessary arrangements that follow such things. Life droned on in a blackened, melancholic funk.
It had been nearly a month since Justin’s death on the night that Robert awoke to the spooky laughs of Jangles. Mandy lay, still deeply sleeping, next to him in the bed. It would take more than the sounds of a child’s toy in an adjacent room to rouse her from her drug-induced escape.
Robert then remembered that he had brought a box full of Justin’s belongings home from the hospital. Robert took Jangles and stuffed him right at the bottom of the box – buried him away just as they had buried away his dear, sweet son.
Now that Robert had regained his senses he heard once again the chuckle of Jangles drift through the darkened house. It was rather disconcerting and somehow eerie. Finally, Robert concluded that the batteries in the clown were in their last stages of life.
Robert got up and fumbled his way into Justin’s room. It was an area of the house that had become a taboo realm to visit – too many memories to deal with. There sat the box, in the same spot where Robert had deposited it on the day he brought it home. As he approached the box his heart raced in surprise at the sight of Jangles lying on the top of the pile of clothes, cards, and other assorted collection of nick-knacks. The moonlight filtering through the window illuminated Jangles smiling his sinister grin and staring right at Robert. He had made sure that Jangles was at the very bottom of the box. He knew beyond any doubt that that was where the detestable little creature should be. Once again the gears of rationalization churned, hummed, and spit out the conclusion that Mandy had obviously climbed out of her drugs long enough to visit the thing she felt was her closest connection to the child she no longer had.
Robert picked up Jangles, turned him face down, and began to open the battery compartment to remove the batteries. He was seized with a sudden outré that caused him to freeze. There was the definite aura of a presence within the room. Then, another disdainful laugh erupted forth from Jangles and Robert had no time to analyze the bizarre feeling of a presence any further. The laugh startled Robert and he dropped Jangles in surprise. He was so unnerved that a wave of anger urged him to rapidly complete the job of battery extraction.
Robert grabbed the doll, flipped it over, and shook the batteries onto the floor. He jammed Jangles back to the bottom of the box and adjourned back to his bedroom. With the task completed Robert crawled into bed next to Mandy and buried himself in the covers. He was annoyed with himself for becoming so rattled. It was obviously the enormous emotional strain of Justin’s death that was responsible.
And as Robert lay awake, grappling with the haunted memories of his lost child, the unmistakably unique laugh of Jangles once again assaulted his ears. But this time the sound didn’t come floating through the dark from Justin’s room. This time the sound came from Mandy.
The entire nightmare culminated on an unusually cool night in August. That was the night the scarecrow got his revenge on Uncle Nash. I didn’t understand what was going on until after that night. You see, I thought the scarecrow was after me. Aunt Leda caught me one day after Uncle Nash’s death standing in the burnt spot where the scarecrow used to stand just gazing at the house. It freaked her out pretty bad because she knew my preoccupation with the scarecrow. She didn’t believe that it was the scarecrow that killed Uncle Nash and thought I was crazy for talking about such things. I guess she thought that I was really crazy standing there after the scarecrow was gone. I can’t blame her, but I wasn’t crazy. I was just on the verge of figuring the whole thing out. All I was doing was trying to see the house from the scarecrow’s vantage in order to determine whether or not he could see inside the house. When I realized that he couldn’t see inside the house that’s when I knew that he hadn’t been after me. I was scared for my life and didn’t even think that it was Uncle Nash he was after all along.
I guess I should start from the beginning in order to give you the whole story. You probably agree with Aunt Leda and think I’m talking a bunch of nonsense. The first thing I need to tell you is how I came to live with my aunt and uncle way out here in the middle of Indiana. My mother died when I was just a little baby so I never even knew her. She got real sick when I was about to turn a year old and the illness killed her. My dad tried to raise me the best he could but he had a hard time. He traveled a lot with his job and was always leaving me with this or that person. I didn’t have a very stable parental figure in my life those first several years. Finally, my mom’s oldest sister Leda offered to take me in. Dad used to come by and visit pretty regular but as the years went by I saw less and less of him. Sometimes it makes me mad but he and I never really saw eye to eye on much anyway.
I remember the day Uncle Nash built the scarecrow. I watched in fascination as he fabricated the creature right in front of my very eyes. I helped where I could but he did most of the work. He started with an old pair of coveralls and an old flannel shirt. We stuffed the hay and patted, bent, and kneaded the straw until the body was the shape he wanted. Then he took a ratty pair of boots and attached the feet. Next he gave his creation hands in the form of old gardening gloves. He took an old burlap bag and made the head. The first thing he did was cut out two eyeholes, then he drew on the nose and mouth, and finally, he stuffed more hay into the bag. The first time I beheld the face I thought it looked odd. Not odd in a scary way because the expression looked like a happy expression. It was weird in a lot of ways. It didn’t look real, yet it didn’t look fake, either – almost like it was both alive and dead at the same time. I can’t really describe it any other way. But it did look happy at first.
Uncle Nash attached the scarecrow to a cross with its arms outstretched and then we hauled it out of the barn and stood it up in the spot I told you about earlier. My bedroom was on the first floor of the house and I could look right out of my bedroom window at the scarecrow. It was about 50 or 60 yards across the lawn and just inside the cornfield but that was plenty close enough for me to see it staring in my window. At least I thought it could see in my window.
Uncle Nash and I stood back from the newly erected scarecrow and admired his creation. “Billy, it needs one more thing to make it complete,” he said to me after a moment.
“What’s that, Uncle Nash?”
“A hat. Run to the barn and fetch me that old straw hat hanging by Trixie’s stall,” he instructed. Trixie was one of our milk cows. I hurried off and returned with the straw hat in a matter of seconds and he hoisted me up so that I could place the hat on its head. While I was up there my face was just a few inches from the scarecrow’s face and that’s when I saw something strange in the scarecrow’s eyes. Something I can only describe as sadness. When Uncle Nash lowered me down and I was able to behold the final product I noticed the entire expression had changed. It no longer looked like the smiling, happy face in the barn. Now it had drooped a bit and taken on a horrible look of anger. It made me feel very uncomfortable.
I had drapes on my window, thank God. I never used to close them until after Uncle Nash put the scarecrow up. The first few nights weren’t too bad and I didn’t really even pay much attention to the scarecrow. There were a couple of times that I happened to look out the window and see him there at the edge of the corn. I didn’t look long because I felt my skin crawl. It was like he was staring at me.
It was probably on the fourth or fifth night that I looked out the window and thought I saw him move. At least, that was my first impression; and you know what they say about first impressions. But, then I just told myself it was the wind that did it. Well, the next night I couldn’t resist watching him again. I hid behind the drapes and peeked out because I felt for sure he wouldn’t move if he knew I was watching him. It wasn’t long before I saw him moving his arms; and there was no mistaking that it wasn’t the wind because the corn was as still as a rock. Boy, did I ever have a tough time trying to go to sleep that night.
It was the next day that we found the first dead crow. I was following Uncle Nash and he happened to walk right near the scarecrow. I didn’t like walking that close to the thing but as long as Uncle Nash was with me I did it. He would’ve thought me a pansy if he new I was scared of his scarecrow. Anyway, we were walking by it and I was making an effort to keep my eyes away from its face. That’s when I saw the mutilated crow. I pointed it out to Uncle Nash and he knelt down to take a closer look. Its wings and head had been ripped clean off of its body. Uncle Nash grunted in confusion and mumbled something about a wildcat in the cornfield then we left. But the strange thing is that I saw Uncle Nash glance back at the scarecrow.
That wasn’t the only crow we found torn apart like that. After that we started finding them all over the place. At first they were always close to the scarecrow but one day I walked upon one a good hundred yards or so from the scarecrow. I froze stiff as a board and stared at it thinking of the implications of what I was seeing.
Then one night I peeked out the window and saw the scarecrow’s cross was empty. It took a second for my brain to register what I was seeing but then I saw a boot disappearing into the corn and I screamed. It scared me so bad I went running to Uncle Nash and Aunt Leda and told them about how scared I was of the scarecrow and how I thought he was alive. Of course they thought I was a certified loon. Uncle Nash was a stern man and he wouldn’t entertain any non-sense at all. He was going to make me go back to bed but thankfully Aunt Leda intervened. After that I was allowed to sleep in their room on the floor whenever I got too scared, which was pretty much every night.
I should mention that I never went to church until I moved in with Aunt Leda and Uncle Nash. Since living with them I had started going with them to Sunday School like clockwork. It was a ritual that I enjoyed quite a bit because I love good stories and we always came home to the best meal of the week. I mean, I loved Aunt Leda’s cooking all the time, but on Sunday she put a little extra effort into her cooking. Anyway, it was the stories I had heard at Sunday School that affected me most about the making of the scarecrow.
While we were making the scarecrow I kept thinking about God making Adam. I know that the Bible says God blew into a bunch of dust but seeing Uncle Nash building a straw man made me think about it all the same. It was like Uncle Nash was creating new life. That’s why the scarecrow looked happy. But then, when we built the wood cross and mounted the scarecrow on it I began to think of Jesus and how he was crucified. And that’s why the scarecrow looked sad.
Now I’ve finally figured it all out and I realize that the reason he was angry and wanted revenge on his creator was because he was crucified so soon after being born. It’s like he was enslaved the moment he was born. Stuck up on that pole unable to do anything but watch and plot.
Keep in mind that I hadn’t figured all this out at the time. I was just plain scared of the thing without really being able to explain why.
Aunt Leda’s sister, my Aunt Peggy, lived in Cincinnati and she came down with a real bad illness. Aunt Leda volunteered to go and help her out for several days. I begged her to take me but she wouldn’t let me. I had to go to school and help Uncle Nash with chores. Well, as I said, Uncle Nash wouldn’t put up with any craziness like being scared of scarecrows and sleeping on the floor at the foot of their bed so I had to return to my room.
The next few nights I didn’t sleep very well at all. It was all I could do to keep from running upstairs to Uncle Nash. Then, on the third night after Aunt Leda left was when everything came to a head. That’s the night the scarecrow killed Uncle Nash. I was lying in bed with the light on trying my best to keep my mind off of the scarecrow. I remember I was reading a comic book. It was probably about 11:30 or so when I suddenly heard a noise outside. I’m telling you my heart sunk and a chill spread over my whole body.
I figured that I could either sit and be scared or I could peek out the window just to be sure that there was nothing there. Slowly I crept to the side of the window and peeked around the edge of the drape. And there was the scarecrow with his face pressed right up to the glass searching the room with his vacant eyes. I jumped back and screamed as loud as I could. My mind was yelling at me to run but I was frozen solid. The scarecrow disappeared from the window just moments before Uncle Nash burst into the room. I was crying a flood and trying to explain to him what had happened but he would have none of it. He took a look out of the window, closed the drapes, and said, “The scarecrow is right where he’s always been out in the cornfield. Now I want you to quit talking this childish nonsense about that darn scarecrow and go to bed. It’s late and you gotta get up and go to school tomorrow.”
He turned and left and I thought to myself that he had been lying. The only way to see the cornfield was to turn my bedroom light off so I knew that he didn’t see the scarecrow when he looked outside. After Uncle Nash left my room I shut the door and locked it. Then I climbed in the corner of my closet and hid trying the best I could not to cry too loud. It was about ten or fifteen minutes later when I heard Uncle Nash scream. I didn’t move, though. I was in too big of a shock to do anything but sit and rock and try to keep my whimpering as quiet as possible as I waited for the scarecrow to arrive.
The next morning I was roused from my torpor by a policeman breaking down my door. Everything was a flurry of faces and questions. I remember telling the authorities about the scarecrow and asking about Uncle Nash. Of course they thought I was delusional and that I was making up the story to compensate somehow from the shock of discovering my Uncle Nash’s lifeless body in his bed and having to spend the night alone with his corpse. Then, the next thing I remember was being in Uncle Nash’s room with a whole bunch of people. Uncle Nash was lying on the bed with a physician over him. I could see his eyes staring dead and vacant at the ceiling. His old, wrinkled face was frozen into an openmouthed look of horror.
The doctor announced to no one in particular that it appeared he had died of a heart attack but I knew that he had really died of fright. That’s when my eyes came to rest on the straw on the floor and I knew that it was the scarecrow. I retreated from the room unbeknownst to all of the officials. There was only one thing for me to do – destroy the scarecrow.
I went directly to the barn and retrieved a can of gasoline and matches then proceeded to march out to the cornfield. I had to work fast because if the police discovered that I was missing from the house they would stop me. I half expected the scarecrow to be gone never to return, but as I crossed the yard I could see him upon his cross. My steps slowed and a wave of apprehension spread through me. The fear rose in me making my hands shake so bad that I nearly dropped the gas can. I thought about Uncle Nash’s face frozen in that final scream I had heard echoing in my mind all night and his eyes now vacuous like a dead fish’s eyes.
Tears began to stream down my face but thinking of the scarecrow killing Uncle Nash succeeded in replacing the fear with anger. I unscrewed the cap and as soon as I arrived before the scarecrow I began splashing the gas onto him. I looked into his face and I saw that now his expression was one of evil satisfaction. A devilish and hateful grin mockingly jeered at me, for he had finally completed his hell-spawned mission of killing Uncle Nash.
As I circled him splashing as much gasoline onto the ratty coveralls as I could his head turned to watch me. Then his arms began to move as he worked at disengaging himself from the cross. I made a trail of gasoline from him across the dirt and once the can was empty I dropped it and stepped back. He had nearly freed himself by the time I pulled the box of matches from my pocket. I kept glancing from the matches to the scarecrow trying to hurry and get a match out of the box. He was freeing his legs. I struck a match and dropped it but nothing happened. The match had gone out. The scarecrow dropped from the cross. I struck a second match cupping my hands around it as I lowered it to the ground. Then there was a resounding whoof as the gas erupted in flames and raced across the dirt. The scarecrow was advancing towards me. He looked at the fire not comprehending what it meant until it was too late.
The scarecrow burst into a roaring conflagration. The flames caught on the dry hay that was his body and threw up great licking flames along the cross. I stood and watched in amazement, oblivious to anything else. I took great pleasure in seeing the scarecrow thrash about in pain. It was screaming a high-pitched whine that didn’t belong to any creature I had ever heard.
Finally, it fell to all fours and tried to crawl towards me. I just stared at its blackened face and backed away slowly. Then it fell to the ground and tried to make one last effort to reach out a hand towards me. Then, it died.
I kept staring at the burning remains of the scarecrow until a voice of one of the policemen broke my attention. I looked up to behold a sight stranger than anything I dared imagine. In a circle about the scarecrow, the cross, and myself – filling every available inch of the cornstalks – were thousands of crows watching the scarecrow burn in perfect silence.
It was a bright Saturday morning in Greenwood, Alabama and Mike Gambrelle decided to use this morning to repair a hole in his roof. The previous week he had noticed a small wet spot on the ceiling of his bathroom while a rainstorm beat down outside. He made the decision to wait till Saturday, his day off, to track down the leak and repair it. And now, he scaled the ladder with a hammer and a bucket of roofing tar in tow.
Mike scoured the roof until he finally found the root of the problem. A nail had punctured one of the shingles and had finally rusted out leaving a tiny hole which had allowed water to make its way through the wood underneath. He got the hammer and removed what remained of the rusty nail. It was while he was in the middle of daubing the thick tar into the hole that he first heard the little voice. It came quite unexpectedly into his head. There were two very strange things about the voice. The first thing was that the voice sounded like a coarse, raspy voice. It was completely separate from his own inner voice. The second and far more bizarre thing about the voice was what it said – “Peavine Falls”.
This was not totally mystical to Mike, however. He knew quite well what Peavine Falls was; it was just that Peavine Falls wasn’t a place he thought about very often. Matter of fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had thought of it, much less visited it.
Peavine Falls was the name given to a waterfall located in the woods at Oak Mountain State Park. It was a popular place with a lake for swimming or boating, a park for grilling out and picnics, trails for hiking or horseback riding, and the long road that lead to the top of the mountain where the trail to Peavine Falls began. It was a winding gravel road that seemed to go on forever. Eventually, after passing some gorgeous glimpses from high atop the mountain, it ended in a small gravel parking lot. Just under the stretching trees was the beginning of the mile long trail that descended gradually to the top of Peavine Falls. It was really just a creek that cascaded down the mountainside to fall the sixty or seventy feet to the pool below the rock shelf. It was still a beautiful, serene place to go and wade through the cool pool or just sit on the rocks and enjoy the peaceful sound of Peavine Falls.
Where the name came from, Mike didn’t know. He had visited Peavine Falls probably a dozen times during his life, mostly during his childhood. He remembered that there was a small wooden bridge that had been built over the creek right near the mouth of the falls. Mike thought briefly about his memories of the place and the strange manner in which the little voice had come into his head. Then the thoughts were forgotten as he resumed his hole-patching job.
That night Mike sat watching T.V. Mike was not a very handsome man, had never been married, and worked in the computer business. By most accounts, he was the stereotypical nerd. He did have a girlfriend for a while, but he hadn’t dated anyone for several months. All in all, his social life was in a rut. After repairing his roof he had gone to his parent’s house to watch football with his mom and dad. Now, he was back at home and bored. While he sat watching T.V. he heard the little voice again. It was the same raspy voice he had heard earlier in the day. The voice said, “Go to Peavine Falls”.
Mike was caught so unexpectedly that he actually looked around the room for the source of the voice. But there was no mistaking; it had originated within his mind. He sat wondering if it had originated out of his own mind or if it were only manifesting itself in his mind. Either way, it sure was a peculiar thing to say. He could only assume that it was some aberration of his own subconscious mind. But why would he be suggesting to himself to go to Peavine Falls? Of all places to go to that was one of the last places he longed to visit. Not that it was a bad place but because he just never really was that big a fan of hiking through the woods.
These things crossed his mind as he sat trying to understand the nature of such a strange phenomenon. Eventually, his mind returned to the T.V. program he was watching and he completely forgot about the voice and Peavine Falls.
The next day Mike awoke to a beautiful Sunday morning. He rose and showered and then went out for breakfast. His plans for the day included very little. He did, however, plan on going to the mall to do a little shopping. Mostly, he just needed to kill part of his boring day.
He ate at a local restaurant called Mamie J’s Café,which served a very fine country breakfast on Sundays. He took his time eating, drinking coffee, and reading the Sunday paper. After about an hour he decided it was a good time to head out to the Galleria. Just as he got into his car the voice spoke again. But this time the voice was more pronounced and lasted longer.
“Go to Peavine Falls, Mike,” It said. Mike froze upon hearing the return of the little voice. He began to wonder if some malady was affecting his brain. The thought also crossed his mind that he was going crazy. He began to sweat profusely and warily looked around. Then he decided to try and “talk” to the voice.
“Who are you and why do you keep telling me to go to Peavine Falls?” Mike thought.
“Why, Mike, I’m just a little voice in your head. Rather like your conscience, you might say,” the little voice said.
“My conscience, huh? Well, why do I need to go to Peavine Falls? What’s there?”
“It’s not what’s there. It’s who’s there?” the little voice corrected.
“Alright then, who’s there?”
“Well, that I can’t tell you. It’s not because I am being vague or mean or anything. It’s that I can’t see the answer just yet. Maybe I never will; but I do know that there is someone there you must meet.”
Mike was really sweating a storm now. He looked around hoping that no one saw him sitting in the car acting in a somewhat jittery manner. He decided to crank the car up and get on the road. He didn’t want the conversation to end so he kept thinking to the little voice. “Why is it so important I meet this person?” But this time the little voice didn’t respond. It had apparently left. Mike tried several more times to conjure a response, but it wouldn’t answer him.
Mike pulled the car over at a gas station and went in to wash his hands and face. He returned to his car and slowly managed to regain his composure. After thinking about it for several minutes he decided that it was just a weird manifestation akin to daydreaming. “Maybe my life has become so boring that my fantasies are attempting to compensate in some way,” he thought to himself. He finally departed the gas station and headed for the mall.
The Galleria was in Hoover. It wasn’t a far drive but it was far enough to allow Mike’s thoughts to wander to other things. He drove for a while and then it struck him; it wouldn’t be much further down the road to go to Peavine Falls now. But just as he thought this, the little voice returned. “No, Mike, you don’t need to go to Peavine Falls today,” it said.
“Why not today?” Mike thought.
“Because the person you need to meet is not there now. But don’t worry, they will be there real soon.”
“How soon? And why do I need to meet this person?” Mike began to sweat again.
“Calm down, Mike. You’re not going crazy. There’s the little voice that tells you when something is right or wrong and then there is the little voice that tells you when something feels right or wrong. I’m the second type of little voice.”
“What do mean?” Mike thought as he wiped the sweat from his face.
“You know, you’ve heard of people hearing an inexplicable little voice just before they get on an airplane that’s about to crash. And they listen to the voice and don’t get on the plane. Or they play the lottery and win all because there was a little voice telling them the winning numbers. It’s like the voice ensures that you meet your destiny.”
“How soon will I meet this person and why is it so important that I meet them?” Mike asked.
“I can’t say exactly. These things haven’t been revealed to me yet. But as soon as I know I will let you know.” And with that the voice was gone.
Several days passed without Mike hearing the voice. He pondered a great deal about the strange little voice and his conversations with it. He was really at a loss to explain what exactly was going on. Finally, he thought he understood the nature of the meeting that would take place. The best explanation he could come up with was that he would finally meet the perfect woman and that they would fall head over heels in love with each other. This was the person that he was destined to meet at Peavine Falls for sure. This only served to fuel his imagination with all manner of romantic fantasies over the next several days.
And then, late Wednesday night while he slept, the voice returned to rouse him. “Mike, it’s time to go to Peavine Falls,” the little voice said. It took Mike a few minutes to get his bearings but he realized what the voice had said and he looked at the clock – it read 12:26.
“What?” Mike said confused. “It’s after midnight. Surely I can’t get in the park at this hour.”
“Oh, but you must, Mike. And you must hurry. The time to meet your destiny is at hand.”
“This is insane!” Mike said more to himself than to the little voice. “There is no way I am gonna get up and drive out to Oak Mountain State Park at this hour.”
“You simply have to Mike,” the little voice countered. “It’s your destiny Mike and your destiny can’t be ignored! Besides, if you don’t get up right now and go, I will not leave you alone. I will become so annoying that you will wind up going just to be free of my voice.”
“What about after I meet this person?” Mike said. “Will I be rid of you then?”
“Most assuredly so.”
So Mike got up and got dressed and left to go to Peavine Falls. He knew that it was crazy but it really wasn’t any crazier than the events of the previous week. Once he was in his car and driving down the road he asked the voice about the person. But the voice didn’t respond. So Mike stopped the car and made like he was going to turn around and go back home. It worked. The voice appeared almost immediately.
“What are you doing, Mike?” it said.
“I thought that would get you to come back,” Mike said smiling at his victory. “Now, you either stay with me and keep talking or else I go back home. Got It?”
“Fine! Just as long as you hurry up and get there.”
“You said that it hadn’t been revealed to you yet about the person. What about now?”
“I still can’t see the person but I know that the time is here.”
“You may not know but I bet you it’s a woman! And not just any woman, but the woman!” Mike said excited at the proposition of meeting the right woman.
“Maybe so, Mike. You never can tell with these kind of things,” the little voice said.
“Oh, I’m sure of it!” Mike said.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the entrance to Oak Mountain State Park. The ticket booth was empty and a metal pole blocked the entrance. “Now what?” Mike said.
“Go around it,” the little voice said matter-of-factly.
“I’m not gonna go around it,” Mike protested. “What if the rangers catch me?” Mike got out of his car and began to call. “Hello! Anybody around?” But there was no reply.
“Oh well, I guess you’re right. But if I get caught what do I do?”
“Mike, you won’t get caught,” the little voice reassured. “Remember, it’s your destiny to get to Peavine Falls!”
So Mike pulled through the grass around the pole and drove on through the park. No one was around and no one saw him. Soon he arrived at the gravel road that wound its way up Oak Mountain to the trailhead that lead to Peavine Falls. As he got close to the top of the mountain the voice began to grow agitated.
“Oh my God! Mike, you gotta hurry! I see something bad. There’s blood! I see blood! Someone’s hurt very badly!” the voice screamed and wailed.
Mike got out of the car and began running down the trail. “Somebody’s in trouble! That’s what this is about, isn’t it? I’m supposed to be the one to save them!” Mike said to the little voice as he ran. But the voice wasn’t listening to Mike. It just kept on shouting for Mike to hurry because of the blood.
The trail was about a mile long but it was all downhill. Mike ran on thinking that someone was obviously injured and in need of assistance. Maybe they had fallen from the top of the falls. It all made sense to him now. His destined encounter wasn’t with the right woman. Peavine Falls would be a rather silly place for such a thing. But this made sense now. The location was preordained all along. His destiny was to save someone who had somehow suffered an injury at Peavine Falls.
Mike ran on and the voice kept on spurring him to run faster. And then he knew he was close to the falls. He could hear the sound of water as it fell from the top of Peavine Falls to the pool below. The little voice was saying, “I see the person who is bleeding! I see the person now! I see who it is, Mike!”
Mike crossed a small wooden bridge that heralded that the end of the trail was indeed near.
“Who is it? Where are they? What is wrong with them?” But just as Mike thought this he arrived at the big bridge that crossed over the top of Peavine Falls. And there, standing in the middle of the bridge, was the figure of a person. Mike stopped running and called to the person, “Hey! Are you alright?” No answer came. Mike stepped out onto the bridge. He suddenly realized that the little voice in his head had quit talking to him. The figure on the bridge made no move or sound. Mike walked cautiously forward.
“Hey buddy, are you hurt?” Mike was now only a few feet from the figure and he could now see that it was a middle-aged man. The man was looking down over the falls. Upon hearing Mike’s footfalls on the wooden bridge he looked up. Suddenly, Mike felt like something was wrong. That is when the man pulled a gun out from beneath his jacket and pointed it at Mike.
“Wait a minute!” Mike said as the realization of what was about to happen dawned upon him. “Please, don’t do it! Please, God, no!” Mike screamed and pleaded but the man just looked at him completely expressionless.
“I’m real sorry, mister,” was all the man said before he pulled the trigger.
The next day the top story on the front page of The Birmingham News read:
MAN KILLED AT PEAVINE FALLS
Authorities are scratching their heads at the events that lead to a shooting shortly after midnight last night at Oak Mountain State Park’s Peavine Falls. Thomas Miller, 34, of Hueytown shot and killed Mike Gambrelle, 31, of Greenwood at the top of the waterfall. The connection between these two men and the reason they were at Peavine Falls remains a mystery. Sources so far are saying that the two men were strangers to each other. Thomas Miller turned himself in at the Hoover Police Station at about 2:20 this morning. He was reported to have been calm and cooperative with police officials. When asked why he shot Mr. Gambrelle, his only reply was that a little voice had told him to do it…