Here is a good article about what this blog is all about!
Here is a good article about what this blog is all about!
The cover of the first book I wrote (Intertwined in Limbo) had absolutely nothing to do with any story in the book. The firm that created the cover just used a picture that was “ghostly”. So I decided to write a poem that told her story.
The White Lady
Little Mason Morbid was a melancholy lad
While the other kids were playing, he sat brooding, looking sad
His cloths were black and gray and his heart was a hole
And the only thing ‘twas darker than his mind was his soul
On the thirteenth of the month he would adjourn unto a tomb
In an old forgotten graveyard under darkness of the gloom
He’d commence to crank the handle of a tiny music player
And then the strains of Moonlight Sonata would drift upon the air
Somewhere from the blackness an apparition would appear
A radiant diaphanous figure who was draped in gossamer
She would float about the graves as little Mason Morbid crooned
“White Lady, white lady, tell me of your doom.”
“It was in the dead of winter and the snow was falling down
Like little drops of clouds to form a blanket on the ground.
The people of the village were all huddled with each other
And the young Reverend Smithe had stopped by to pray for Mother.”
“He sat and read his Bible and then he joined us in our meal
Then he told my worried Father how his faith would help her heal.
He was smitten by my beauty and I was taken by his charm
Before I knew what happened, he had lured me to the barn.”
“The passions of the flesh overcame the strictures of the mind
The reverend’s Puritan values gave way to pleasures for a time.
I was left defiled and the guilt would take its toll
Darkness and depression were like weights upon my soul.”
“Consumed by misery and ashamed for being so beguiled
But the real scandal was when I found that I was with child.
And all about the gossip started that descended upon me
The Reverend Smithe could not be charged, it must be sorcery.”
“They drug me through the village with curses that were vile,
Accused me of witchcraft and held a mockery of a trial.
And so it was, betrayed, abused and blighted in the soul,
I was made to pay the reverend’s sin on the rope of the gallows’ pole.”
Little Mason Morbid heaved a heavy sigh of grief
The White Lady’s tragedy was sad beyond belief
He watched her go back to her grave then he mused aloud,
“Life is futile and so unfair, and we are wrapped within her shroud.”
“Where have you been, Shaler?”
“Garrett, My God! You scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t sleep and -”
“Don’t lie, Shaler. I know you’ve been to the cave.”
“What are you talking about?” He said trying to feign that my insinuation was hurtful.
“I followed you to the motor pool. I know you went to the cave,” I lied trying to make him confess.
Suddenly, he grabbed my shirt and pulled me close saying, “What did you see? Did you go into the cave? Did you see them?”
His eyes were wild and his behavior was scaring me, but I pushed him back and said, “See who? No, I didn’t go in the cave.”
Then, Shaler’s face changed. I know no other way to describe it other than to say that a transformation spread across his face. “I saw them in the pool, Garrett. They were calling me to join them.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said horrified.
“I know you think I’m mad. What else would you think? But, I tell you it’s true. That day we all went to the cave, I saw them in the dark depths of the pool. I don’t know who or what they are but they came to me in my nightmares. They showed me what eternity looks like, Garrett. I’ve been down there for hours just gazing into the pool; watching them.”
I was stunned. I tried to make some sort of reply to his gibberish, but could think of absolutely nothing to say. He watched me with that same wild look on his face and then it completely drained out of his face and he began to chuckle.
“I’m just kidding, Garrett,” he said trying to play it off. “I was just messing with you, dude. I did go down there to the cave, but I took some other guys down there to swim. You know, like a tour guide.”
“What?” I said bewildered. In my sleep-starved state I didn’t know whether he was kidding or serious or just plain lying.
“Yeah, there were these Army guys who wanted to go down there and the only time they could go was at nighttime. I mean, it is a pitch-black cave after all, right?”
I was so tired that I didn’t bother to try and make any sense out of what Shaler had said nor his erratic behavior. I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. The next day I didn’t see Shaler at all. I went to work at the clinic and he went with one of our Flight Surgeons on a flight. The flight they went on lasted well into the night and I was so exhausted after work, I went to bed early.
I awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of Shaler’s nightmare fits. I went to his doorway and listened to him. He was mumbling and thrashing about in the bed and I stood and listened for several moments. I could only make out a word here and there but I gathered he was dreaming of the pool and was telling someone that he was coming to meet them. I stood there horrified as chills spread through my body. What madness was afflicting him? I gathered my nerves and decided to wake him.
I entered his room and beheld him in the throws of his nightmare ranting and writhing. I cautiously touched his leg and called his name, “Shaler!”
He awoke with a start and stared wide-eyed into empty space before his eyes focused on me. Then he startled me by grabbing my wrists.
“Garrett, my God! I’ve seen them again. I must go back to the cave.”
“It was only a nightmare, Shaler. You were just dreaming.” He merely brushed off what I said and rose from the bed and began searching around for his clothes.
“They’ve shown me eternity. You can’t imagine the mysteries they’ve revealed to me.”
“Snap out of it! You’re talking crazy.”
“Am I? Have you seen them, Garrett?” He continued to dress and I grabbed his arm. He jerked violently away and then shoved me. Then a horrible look leapt into his eyes and he growled, “Get your filthy hands off of me.”
I was stunned. This wasn’t the Shaler I knew. He was mad. “What the hell is your problem?” I countered.
I tried to reason with him but we just argued. He dressed and I followed him out of the villa. It was in the street out front that I tried to grab him again. This time, however, he wheeled on me and landed a hard punch right on my chin that knocked me out cold.
I awoke still lying on the pavement of the street. Shaler was nowhere to be seen. I pushed myself up and rubbed my chin trying to gather my wits. The cave; Shaler had gone to the cave. I had to go after him.
I rose to my feet and thought through how I should proceed. I didn’t have a vehicle and I really couldn’t remember the route to the cave even if I did have one. The day we went Jubinski had driven. I decided to go to the Life Support villa and wake Jubinski.
I checked my watch and it was after 1 o’clock in the morning. Eskan Village was dead silent. When I arrived at Jubinski’s villa, I could tell that no one was awake. I didn’t care, though. I pounded on the door until Clay finally opened the door rubbing his eyes. I explained to him I needed to talk to Jubinski and he let me in then went back to bed. I woke Jubinski and pleaded my case to him. He groggily listened to my story and saw I was obviously distressed by Shaler’s bizarre behavior. Finally, he consented to go with me to the cave.
Once he was committed to the journey we had to acquire a vehicle. We discussed sneaking a truck from the motor pool but this seemed a bit risky.
“What about an ambulance?” He said.
“What do you mean?”
“The clinic is on 24-hour shifts so let’s get an ambulance.”
“I can’t just go get one.”
“No, but you know the people working there. Talk them into letting you take one.”
It was worth a shot. We headed over to the clinic and I talked to the two technicians on duty. After about ten minutes of haggling and bribing they let us take the spare ambulance and agreed that if anything came up they would cover for us.
As we drove through the hot Arabian night I told him the entire tale of what had been going on with Shaler. He agreed that it sounded like Shaler had lost his mind. We discussed several possibilities and I finally told him about the episode with the bus wreck. When I told Jubinski about the ambulance run we had made the day before we went on our cave expedition he agreed that was probably the catalyst for Shaler’s mental malady.
When we finally arrived at the cave, it was disconcerting to see the desert-camouflaged Bronco sitting there empty, dwarfed by the ominous cave-mouth. As we made the long journey into the depths of the cave, I experienced a growing sense of dread. It was comforting to have Jubinski as a companion and I tried to drive out of my mind the hideous thought of making the descent alone.
We made it to the wall of boulders and located the crack. I volunteered to go through first. My heart was thundering in my chest as I squirmed through the narrow opening. I didn’t know what to expect or why I had such a profound sense of dread. I felt as if I were entering a vast, ancient sepulcher. I emerged on the other side and played my flashlight beam over the immediate area. Nothing but rock and silent space met my eyes. I waited nervously while Jubinski wormed his way through the crack. When he emerged beside me I felt a bit better, but there was still an oppressive aura of unnatural remoteness that pervaded the cave. I felt as if we were aliens intruding into a forbidden crypt.
I wondered what Shaler was doing. Was he completely out of his mind? Would we find him swimming? What if we found him raving mad? Or even worse, what if we found him dead?
We trudged on and suddenly Jubinski grabbed my shoulder pulling me to a halt.
“Turn off your light,” he whispered.
“Are you crazy?” I retorted.
“Shhhh,” he hissed snapping his light off. I reluctantly complied and we were suddenly plunged into utter blackness. After a couple of seconds the sickly green glow of the pool emerged from the darkness.
“Look, it’s the pool glowing,” I heard myself whispering.
“Impossible. Those glow-sticks would’ve burnt out days ago.”
“Maybe Shaler brought more.”
“Maybe,” Jubinski said in disbelief. Then Jubinski shouted, “Shaler!” and I jerked in a spasmodic wave of fear shot through my body.
“Jesus Christ, Jubinski! You scared the shit out of me,” I said with a mix of anger and fear.
“Sorry,” he said and turned his flashlight back on. He called several more times as we continued picking our way down toward the pool but his cries just echoed through the cavern with no reply coming back in return.
Finally, we made it to the pool. There was no sign of Shaler anywhere. The pool’s weird, green glow was simply eerie. We apprehensively scanned the water of the pool fearing what we might find there. The water was as still as glass, though.
“If he were swimming, the water wouldn’t be this calm,” Jubinski offered.
“Do you think -” But my question was cut off by a sudden, primal scream. I fell backwards in stark terror and whipped my light in the direction of the scream. There, framed by the light, stood Shaler with a flashlight in his hand and the inert form of Jubinski lying beside him. Shaler had attacked Jubinski. I couldn’t tell if Jubinski were alive or dead. Shaler had a maniacal stare on his face and was breathing heavily.
“Garrett, thank God you came. It’s all clear to me now. I know what I must do.”
I was terrified. I tried to speak, but the words stuck in my throat. I began to stumble backwards.
“It’s not just me they want,” he said icily. “They want you too.”
He lunged at me then. I recoiled and tried to put distance between us but the rocks were too cumbersome to navigate in the dark. He swung at me with the flashlight and I was able to duck the blow. I got a punch off at his stomach and felt my fist bury into his abdomen. He let out a woosh of air but managed to wrap an arm around my neck. I tried to pull free but his arm was locked around my head. I didn’t think; I just reacted. I tried to push into him and drive him to the ground but instead, he fell backwards into the pool. He still had me in a headlock as we splashed into the cool, green water. I pried at his arm and struggled to break free but it was no use. I was running out of air and panicking. Just then I felt a strong sense of being pulled deeper into the water. Then I felt my head pop free from his hold and I pushed away from Shaler. I clawed at the water in an effort to find the surface; to find the air I so desperately needed. I managed to open my eyes and I saw Shaler being pulled down by a throng of shapes. Their hands were wrapped about his body and I could see Shaler’s face calm and serene as he smiled back at me. Just before I broke the surface of the water I saw them disappear into the green-tinted darkness and one of the figures looked at me! It was the most hideous thing I’ve ever beheld in my life. I’ve tried to convince myself that it was just an illusion; just a trick of the mind caused by the lack of oxygen or my rattled nerves. But sometimes, when I let my guard down, the realness of it overtakes me. Deep inside I know the truth. I know what I saw. It was the face of the dead Arab from the bus wreck.
I clambered from the pool in an outrageous panic. Jubinski wasn’t dead, thank God. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he were. I probably would have lost it. I shook him until he came to and then I told him that Shaler was gone. I told him that he had dove in the pool and never come up. I couldn’t tell him what I really saw. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
We made our way back out in a complete daze. When we got back to Eskan Village we sought out our commander and told him the entire story. Of course, I left out the part about me seeing the things in the pool.
They sent a team back into the cave to try and find the body of Michael Shaler but he was never found. After that it was forbidden for any serviceman to go to the cave.
Before I left Saudi Arabia I managed to talk to one of the men who went into the cave to search for Shaler. I just wanted to know one thing.
“When you went into the cave did you see anything unusual in the pool?”
“There was nothing in the pool,” he said thinking about it. “But the pool did give off this really creepy green glow.”
We procured a desert-camouflaged, four-wheel drive Bronco from the motor pool, loaded our gear, and headed out into the ancient Arabian Desert. The excitement was high and we had the feeling that we were embarking on an exploration of uncharted territory. Jubinski drove and Shaler rode shotgun as the navigator. He had a map spread across his lap and he and Jubinski debated routes and locations while the other three of us joked and talked as we bumped along ever more rugged terrain.
We turned onto a sandy road and in the distance could be seen a long chain of cliffs. The cliffs seemed utterly out of place lying in the midst of endless miles of flat desert. As we approached, the cliffs continued to recede and it soon grew apparent that these cliffs were quite large. The road finally turned to run parallel to the cliffs and we could see they were approximately three-hundred feet high and held flat plateaus across their tops. These flat tops grew to be several hundred feet across at some points.
We drove along this road, occasionally turning toward the cliffs as other roads appeared, as Shaler and Jubinski tried to find the location of the cave mouth. It was slow going and nearly an hour elapsed before we found what we were looking for – and there was no mistaking that this was the cave mouth we sought.
My only experience at cave exploration was when I went as a child on a school fieldtrip to Rickwood Caverns in Warrior, Alabama. Those caves were an extensive network of stalactite and stalagmite-ridden, limestone caverns. They were irregular and filled with mineral formations and the omnipresent dripping of water. The cave we were approaching was a gigantic mouth yawning from the depths of the desert.
The cave-mouth kept growing and growing until our Bronco was a mere period following a vast oval zero laid on its side. I estimated the mouth of the cave to be larger than a football field and it continued at that size to descend at a 45-degree angle into the base of the cliff wall and down into the bowels of the desert.
We piled out of the truck and stood staring in awe at the vast behemoth that confronted our eyes. The only other time I felt so insignificant before the size of Mother Nature’s handiwork was when I stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon stunned and silent.
Several minutes elapsed before the spell was broken and we donned our gear to begin the trek down into the cave. We whooped and talked in excitement as we set off. The path was a boulder-littered and sandy rock field that we scrambled over and around with the thrill of adventure coursing through our blood.
We hiked like this for several minutes until we finally entered the vast shadow of the cave’s ceiling and the temperature immediately dropped to a more tolerable level as the baking desert sun was blocked; however, the air was still as dry as the caress of a mummy’s hand. The cave ceiling loomed high above us and I felt as though we had entered the mouth of a giant, fossilized behemoth.
We picked our way slowly down the rock field for another 45-minutes as the light slowly dimmed and the cave mouth began to close. Every so often I looked back at the cave-mouth and noted its size – first, as wide as my arm span; next, the size of a football (at which point we turned on our flashlights); and finally, no bigger than an egg. And then we came upon a wall of boulders and our progress was abruptly halted.
“Well, Shaler?” Jubinski said. “I thought there was supposed to be a pool down here.”
“There is,” Shaler said, scanning the boulders with his flashlight beam. “There is supposed to be a crack in the rocks that we can climb through to get on the other side.”
“How do you know this, Shaler?” I exclaimed.
“I told you. I have my sources.”
“Seriously, man,” Juarez began, but his comment was cut short by Clay.
“Hey, guys, over here! I think I found it!”
Sure enough, Clay had found a slim crack between the boulders through which we all managed to worm our way through to the other side. When I emerged on the other side the first thing I noticed was we had entered a totally new kind of darkness. A darkness so profound it was palpable. At one point someone made the suggestion to turn out all flashlights and I couldn’t even see my hand right before my eyes.
The wall of boulders ended as abruptly as it had emerged and the cave continued on in its previous manner. I suspected the blockage was the result of a cave-in but kept this observation to myself. We went on for another ten or fifteen minutes and then the humidity assaulted us. It was like walking into a sauna and there was little doubt we were approaching some type of water source.
It wasn’t long before we reached the pool. Shaler, whatever his source of knowledge, had been right. The pool was magnificent. Shaler broke into an animated dance while yelling and laughing in triumph.
“I told you, boys! Didn’t I tell you there was pool? It’s gorgeous!”
The water was so clear it looked only a few feet deep. Someone announced they were throwing a rock in and there followed a loud “bloosh” and my flashlight caught the location. The water rippled and the rock was seen descending to the bottom. It was apparent that the water was very deep.
The three guys from Life Support removed the lights they had brought and soon we had illumination well enough to see most of the pool. It was the size of a small swimming pool and got deeper as the cave continued to descend. At the far side, the roof of the cave eventually met the water’s surface and it looked to me that this was the very bottom of the cave; however, there very well could have been more to the cave system.
We quickly stripped down to our swimming shorts and raced to enter the water. Of course, Shaler was the first to plunge into the pool, but we all followed immediately after. The water was exquisite. It was cool, clear, deep, and big enough for us all to enjoy. We soon discovered a boulder that jutted out of the water enough to provide a platform for jumping from and we all took turns climbing it and leaping in funny gyrations into the water.
With no one watching, Juarez slipped from the pool and shut off our lights. We were thrown into pitch blackness and everyone began to yell with a tinge of fear in their voices until Juarez laughed at us and told us to hold on. Then, little green lights began to appear from where he sat as he broke the chemical sticks. Each time he broke one he tossed it into the pool. We tread water and watched each green stick glide through the air and plop in the pool. Soon, they were floating all around us and the pool began to emanate an eerie, green glow – it is that same fluorescent green glow that haunts my dreams now and, when I see it in my waking state, I cringe from it like an arachnophobe from a spider.
Jubinski was the one who came up with the idea to tie the glow-sticks to rocks and submerge them. This was done and soon the entire pool glowed a sickly, luminous green even more profound than when they were floating on the pool’s surface. I can’t remember how long we swam this way before Shaler announced he was going to try and dive as deep as he could in the back of the pool to see if it continued into another chamber.
Several times he disappeared and we waited for his return with news of his discoveries. Shaler was a good swimmer, having grown up on the west coast beaches of California, and we were a little worried at how long he was gone beneath the dark waters each time he went under. He went three times and returned with nothing to report but the fact that there was just rock as far as he could determine. The fourth time he went down he returned quickly in a mad haste to get out of the pool spluttering and splashing all the while yelling, “I saw something! Get out! I saw something down there!”
We all rushed to get out of the pool before questioning Shaler.
“What was it?”
“What did you see?”
“Was it a fish?”
“Are you sure you saw something?”
Shaler was visibly shaken and he tried to explain, but it came in fragments and I was sure he was trying to hide something.
“I don’t know…it was moving…but it wasn’t a fish. No, it definitely wasn’t a fish. It was moving… C’mon, guys, let’s get the hell out of here!” Shaler found the rescue beacons and turned on the lights so that the bright, white light drove the green glow away and our visibility was drastically improved. We all retrieved our flashlights and searched the pool, but there was no sign of anything in the water moving.
We were all suddenly aware of the alien remoteness of our location and even though we all thought Shaler had just imagined seeing something, no one wanted to be the first to venture back into the pool.
Jubinski said, “I think you were seeing things, Shaler.”
Shaler commenced to drying off and merely said, “I saw something. Don’t get back in.”
“You’re freaking me out, man,” Clay replied.
Jubinski broke the tension by saying, “Let’s go, guys. I want to explore the cliffs anyway.”
We all hastily dried off and dressed while keeping a wary eye on the pool. We returned up the slope and hurried to squeeze through the crack in the boulders without saying very much. At one point, before crawling through, I looked back one more time at the pool and a chill slithered down my spine as I beheld the glowing, green pool far below in the remote depths of the cave.
Once we emerged on the other side of the boulder obstruction, the darkness returned to a normal darkness and our moods were immediately altered for the better – all, that is, except for Shaler. He remained silent and consumed in his own thoughts. As we began the arduous trek back up the long tunnel Juarez came up to me and whispered, “Hey, man. I bet Shaler is just messing with us. I bet it’s just another one of his pranks.”
“Yeah, I bet you’re right.” But I still didn’t believe it. Something about the look in Shaler’s eyes when he came out of the water told me he was genuinely terrified. He kept looking over his shoulder as if he were afraid that something was pursuing him.
By the time we struggled up the rugged path out of the cave we were so exhausted we didn’t have the energy to do any further exploring. We all, except for Shaler who was unusually quiet, agreed that we could return to do further exploring at a later time. And so, fatigued and hungry, we climbed inside the Bronco and headed back to Eskan Village.
Shaler never recovered from that trip into the cave. On the contrary, his condition spiraled into madness at an alarming rate. In the days immediately following our excursion he seemed withdrawn and said very little. I tried to engage him in conversations and frequently asked him if he was feeling all right. He made vague comments and refused to elaborate on anything.
Several nights later, I heard him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep. I went to check on him and he awoke with a violent start. Whatever nightmare had haunted him it must have been a very vivid one because he was very shaken.
About a week later, I awoke in the middle of the night after hearing a noise. When I rose to investigate what had caused the noise I found Shaler’s bed empty. Assuming he had risen because he couldn’t sleep and had probably gone for a walk, I returned to bed. He was back the next morning and I didn’t think much more about the episode.
Several nights later, I heard Shaler leaving again and this time I watched him through the window and saw he was carrying a flashlight and a large water bottle. Evidently, he wasn’t going out just to get fresh air, but was headed somewhere in particular. It crossed my mind that it might be the cave, but I just couldn’t bring myself to accept this because of how much the episode in the cave had scared him. I was confused and decided to try and follow him.
He kept to the shadows as he wound his way through Eskan Village. I stayed back and made sure I wasn’t seen. We finally arrived at the tent that was used as the motor pool. But Shaler didn’t enter the tent. Instead, he pulled a set of keys from his pocket and got into one of the Broncos. I remained hidden as I watched him drive off. I couldn’t believe that he would go back to the cave. That’s where he had to be going, but why? And especially by himself! The thought of it made me shudder.
I returned to my villa and tried to sleep, but it was useless. I lay awake wondering just what Shaler was up to. It just didn’t make any sense. Why would a person who was so scared return alone to such a dark and desolate place? Maybe he wasn’t even going to the cave. Or maybe he was meeting someone else at the cave and going in with them. Maybe Juarez was right in his assessment that Shaler was just playing a joke on us. Perhaps Shaler was returning there to build on his joke. It just didn’t fit, though. Shaler’s nightmares and the way his behavior had changed were all wrong. Unless his practical joke was far more elaborate than I expected.
I decided to attempt to follow Shaler all the way into the cave if he made another trip. I remained awake until Shaler returned several hours later. I couldn’t stand not knowing what he was up to and I confronted him when he entered our villa.
“In dark places we shall banish
To the deepest recesses of strife
But their kind shall never vanish
For even in death, there is still life”
I could chalk the entire episode up to Shaler’s madness if not for one thing; and while most would dismiss it as an error in my perceptions, I have no doubt that what I saw deep in the bowels of the Arabian desert has left my entire belief system in ruins and my entire psyche on the verge of collapse.
The year was 1991 and it was a time when an American was unafraid to roam the Middle East; a time when words like “suicide bomber” and “IED” were unknown to the world. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and the United States was actually welcome in the Middle East because they were coming to stop a power-mad dictator from continuing his invasive spread across the desert like a corrosive cancer.
I was a medic in the U.S. Air Force assigned to a refueling squadron in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mostly, this entailed performing sick call a couple of times a day and issuing medicine to stop attacks of diarrhea rather than any real attacks by Iraqis. The Saudi Arabian government had allowed us to inhabit a fairly nice community they had originally built for the Bedouin nomads who roamed the desert and periodically migrated into Riyadh. But, the Bedouins, being fond of their nomadic lifestyle, had refused to occupy the permanent buildings. This village was called Eskan Village and it lay on the eastern border of Riyadh.
I first met Michael Shaler at the clinic we had established at Eskan Village when we were scheduled to work “sick call” together. We immediately hit it off. Shaler was a very outspoken guy and his looks were stereotypical of his California origins. He was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and spoke with the slang of a surfer at times. He was constantly bubbling with energy and was always looking for some type of adventure; and when there was no adventure to be found, he would settle for mischief. What was not to like about Shaler? His cheerfulness and playfulness were infectious and no matter what you were doing with him, you would be guaranteed an entertaining time.
All of the medical personnel were billeted in the same area of Eskan Village and Shaler and I managed to be placed in the same villa. We were, in turn, billeted adjacent to the troops who worked in Life Support. This job refers to the men and women who maintain and equip the planes with life saving devices such as parachutes, oxygen masks, flares, life rafts, survival rations, and such equipment. We had made friends with some of these enlisted men and would routinely hang out with them along with a couple of other medics from our unit.
The roofs of the villas were designed as a type of deck and had a four-foot high wall completely enclosing it. We frequently would go over to the villa occupied by the Life Support guys and hang out on their rooftop while off duty. I remember one day when Shaler got the idea of talking the Life Support guys into bringing home a life raft from work and inflating it on the rooftop so we could fill it with water in order to have a small pool for cooling off in.
Another time Shaler talked us all into filling surgical gloves with water to make water balloons. We then would throw them at people passing by the villa and duck behind the wall of the roof laughing and giggling while the unsuspecting victim would be left soaking wet wondering where the projectile had come from.
I mention these specific examples for two reasons. The first is that they illustrate Shaler’s attempts to liven up our drab existence in the desert – his sense of adventure and mischief in an otherwise dull situation. The second, and in retrospect, more disturbing, is that they stick out in my mind as involving water. This may sound rather trivial, but you must hear the entire story to see that maybe these ominous portents were signs of the horrible fate that eventually befell Shaler. But signs like these are easily overlooked when they occur and only stand out in stark relief when viewed in retrospect.
I’m not really sure how Shaler heard about the cave, but he came to our group with the plan to visit it already formulated. The others in our group were Billy Jubinski, Jose Juarez, and Timothy Clay. These last three were all Life Support guys. We were all on our way to dinner at the compound’s chow tent when Shaler joined us smiling from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat.
“I found out about a cave that isn’t more than 25 klicks from here. This weekend we’re gonna check out a truck from the motor pool and go do a little exploring.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Shaler?” Jubinski asked.
“It’s supposed to be a really big cave with a pool in it,” Shaler said excitedly. “The pool is huge and we can go swimming in it.”
“Who did you hear this from?” Clay said.
“I have my sources,” Shaler replied obtusely.
“Your sources, huh?” I said echoing Clay’s skepticism.
“Yeah, listen, the pool is deep in the cave so it’ll be pitch black in there. We’ll need flashlights, but I was wondering if you guys have any really big light sources?”
Jubinski gave Shaler a reproving look for a moment, but Shaler just stared at him with that big, shit-eating grin locked on his face. Finally, Jubinski shook his head and said, “We have beacons for signaling which are pretty bright.” With those words it was decided that we were going on Shaler’s little spelunking expedition.
It was later in the week that Juarez announced his idea for taking a handful of chemical glow-sticks that we could use to float in the pool of water in order to light the pool while we swam. Our excitement grew as the weekend approached and Shaler was nearly beside himself with anticipation. On Friday our excitement was interrupted by an event that drove the exhilaration of the weekend’s expedition from our thoughts.
Shaler and I were on duty when a call came in from the guard on duty at the entry control gate of the compound. He said there had been a bad wreck just outside of the compound on the freeway and he didn’t know if any American soldiers were involved or not. Shaler, Dr. Fleming, who was the Flight Surgeon on duty, and I got in the ambulance and responded to the accident scene.
Apparently, a bus full of Arabic workers had driven off of the overpass and nose-dived onto the freeway below. There was no Saudi Arabian transit system, or any real traffic laws for that matter, to speak of. The workers pushed the carrying capacity of the busses to the limit and they rode the busses to and from work like sardines packed into a can.
The quickest way for us to get to the accident was to drive down the exit ramp on the wrong side of the road. As we turned onto the exit ramp a truck stopped us and the Arab driver jumped out yelling in Arabic. We got out and I immediately saw he and his passenger had thrown whatever survivors they could grab into the bed of the truck. There were at least eight bloody and moaning people in the back. We couldn’t understand a word the driver was saying and Dr. Fleming finally convinced the man to take the poor, wounded passengers to the nearest hospital. They were badly injured but alive. Our services would be needed for all of the victims still entangled in the wreckage.
When we arrived at the wreckage it was a chaotic mess. There were numerous injured and dead strewn across the freeway. People who were driving but not involved in the accident were crowded around and trying to assist in whatever way they could. We began to go through the task of triaging the patients and looking for the ones who needed the most immediate medical treatment. Just after we arrived the Saudi Arabian emergency medical services arrived and began to take control of the scene. It was a blur of activity, but eventually we were able to remove ourselves from the scene. Just before we left I caught Shaler staring at the dead bodies. One particular body was lying with his head at an unnaturally sick angle and his eyes wide and glassy. He appeared to be looking right at Shaler and Shaler just stood and stared back at the dead man. I clapped Shaler on the back and caused him to stir from his dazed look. “C’mon, Man,” I said. “We can go now.”
The rest of the day Shaler wasn’t his usual, jovial self. The carnage of the accident really affected him and I too felt sobered by the event. That night, back at our villa, he awoke in the middle of the night with a yell. I didn’t say anything to him, but I somehow knew he had had a nightmare about the wreck and the dead bodies. The next morning, however, Shaler was back to normal and the excitement of the day’s trip had shoved the bus wreck from our minds.
I knew that Heather couldn’t take it forever and that it was just a matter of time before she finally grew tired of me suffocating her.
Did I tell her about the thing? God no! She would’ve thought me a kook and sent me packing.
Heather had become suspicious of my behavior. Her friends had finally got the nerve to say something about how I never let her out of the apartment without being tied to her hip. Girls night out, I suppose was the thing that started it. Her friends had been hounding her for several months.
I knew that I would eventually have to cave in or else it would be over with us. So I finally gathered my resolve and decided to endure an evening alone while Heather enjoyed a night out with her girls.
I tried to pretend I wasn’t alone. I put on the television and turned up the sound so that it filled the empty space. But the feeling crawled into my awareness. Just a strange little gnawing that someone was with me. Somewhere hovering out of sight. Like a presence in my periphery.
At first I tried to ignore it and tell myself that it was silly. That I was being paranoid and over thinking the sensation. But it was impossible to push it away. And then it just grew! My heart started racing and I felt those awful eyes boring into me. I kept looking around trying to figure out just where it was located but there was nothing there. Nothing I could see, anyway. But I tell you, it was there! It was there in the room with me!
I fled the apartment. I knew where Heather and her friends would be and I went there. A part of me knew it was a terrible idea to crash her and her friend’s night out, but the irrational portion of my brain drove me to find my companion who I knew would help me to drive the thing away as she’d done for so many months.
Well, you can guess the disaster that ensued when I came barging into the club, frantic and unnerved. The joyous mood of their night out was immediately spoiled. Heather was embarrassed and flew into a mad rage. She berated me and I could do nothing but take it. I really don’t blame her for her reaction.
She told me that when she came home she didn’t want to find me still there.
I walked the city streets in a stupor, ashamed of my behavior and my juvenile actions. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault. It was the damn thing that haunted me. It had haunted me ever since that night I gazed into that grotesque painting of Kesner’s while those tittering witches chanted over that Ouija board!
Then, suddenly, I was stirred from my reverie and realized that while I was still walking through the city, I was completely alone. There were no pedestrians, no cars going by, no people to be seen anywhere around me. And like a raging tsunami, the feeling of the thing’s presence slammed into me! My gaze darted here and there. There were just so many places that it could be. It was overwhelming! I was fraught with terror! I began to hurry and then jog and then I was running, desperately searching for someone. Anyone at all!
Then I passed the alley and had to stop, frozen in terror. It was exactly as Kesner had depicted it in the painting! The buildings framed the alley like some strange, alien structure. The shadows were deep and I knew it was in there. Buried in the shadows watching me. And as I stared, I beheld those hate-filled eyes emerge from the shadows. And then the rest of its head emerged from the shadows! It was horrible and inhuman! What kind of ghoulish, nightmare creature I cannot say, but I ran!
I don’t recall what happened next. I was a raving maniac, though. I blacked it all out. Somehow, I’m told, the authorities intervened and I was brought in. That led to my current arrangement. As I said, at first it was against my will, but after I settled down and took stock of my situation, I found I rather enjoyed the fact that there is always someone around me. And that was the state of affairs for the last couple of months.
Then, last night, things took an even more sinister turn. It happened while Albert and I were playing chess in the game room. Of course the thing was there too. As I said, it’s always there but it doesn’t exert as much of an influence when other people are present. Then, the game was interrupted by the shrieks of Gladys. She had been sitting across the room engaged in some other activity. She was pointing and screaming as she tried to back out of the room. I turned to look at what she was pointing at and realized that she was pointing at where I felt the presence to be. She saw it!
Several members of the staff rushed into the room to try and discern the source of her distress and I heard her say, “Can’t you see it? Can’t you see the creature? Its eyes! My God, its eyes!” Gladys was quickly removed from the room and, no doubt, sedated.
This served to unnerve me to such a degree that I could hardly function. I left the game and went into the T.V. room, which held many more people. I paced the room and tried to focus on the show playing on the T.V. Eventually, I calmed down enough to sit down and watch the movie.
It wasn’t long, however, before Big John, who has quite lost his faculties, patted me on the leg and said, “Why is that thing looking at you so hard?”
“You can see it?” I asked incredulously.
“Well, of course. He’s right there,” he said pointing.
I didn’t sleep at all last night. The implications of these events were too horrible. Obviously, the fragile minds in this place lack some crucial filter that allows them sight beyond the normal person’s perceptions. I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time before I descend to their ranks.
Today there were several more incidents. Darryl, Emily, and Calvin all claimed to witness the beast’s presence. I cannot tolerate this existence. It seems the one place where I could reside surrounded by companions who would help save me from my plight has become a prison, a hell too excruciating to endure.
Even now, the beast sits beside me, staring at me with the hatred of a legion of demons. Cruel, vile, and maddening! And now I will place this statement in the box upon your door and I will stroll off into peace of oblivion – all for the simple fact that I can never be truly alone.
Dear Dr. Harris,
By the time you read this you will have, no doubt, heard of the details of my suicide. It was no small feat to arrange the necessary method in this institution, the security measures being what they are. But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. It is my final wish that you read this explanation of my condition and share it with my family so they understand as well. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to express what is presented here to you and your staff, but I am received with skepticism and patronizing dismissals.
Just so you know, up until last night, I was happy in my confinement here at the Castle Rock Sanitarium. The events that led to my institutionalization I will recount here. While I was initially placed here in a state of great emotional anguish, I grew quite happy with the arrangement. Why? Well, that’s because I am literally never alone here. But something changed last night and in order to understand that, you must hear the whole tale.
Everything came to a head when my girlfriend Heather finally had enough. She said I was smothering her. She’s right, you know. That’s exactly what I was doing. Hell, I meant to do it. It was my plan all along. I don’t mean that I literally tried to smother her. I wasn’t trying to choke her or anything. I meant that I needed to be with her constantly. And not out of some driving passion or exceeding love. I mean, I did love her. I suppose it would have never evolved into anything serious, though. I don’t know, but the reason I smothered her was because I needed her companionship.
I went so far as to take a job that had a schedule that was as close to hers as possible. And if she left the apartment I had to go too. While we were at home I had to be wherever she was. I couldn’t help it. I knew she would tire of it sooner or later. I can’t blame her.
Again, the whole reason is because I can’t tolerate being alone.
Why? Because I’m being haunted by something. I know it sounds absurd and I know it’s probably all in my mind. But a part of me knows it’s out there and not in here. And I feel it’s always watching. As long as I’m with someone else, it’s not so bad – like it’s watching from a distance – but when I’m alone! God, when I’m alone, it’s right beside me! Leering at me!
I can’t see it. It’s just a presence I feel. Surely you’ve experienced the feeling before? Maybe you’ve been alone in your room and you have a sudden feeling that something is watching from the darkness of the closet, or you’re in the bathroom and you have a sudden sensation that when you look up into the mirror that there will be something behind you in your reflection, or maybe you’re walking alone at night and as the realization of your isolation dawns on you, it’s quickly followed by the feeling that something, somewhere around you is watching you. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Now imagine that feeling turning into a palpable, ever present, and hideously chronic feeling! A horrible feeling of being stared at. An overwhelming feeling of alien eyes probing you. A gnawing at your brain! Good God, don’t you see? There’s no difference in whether it’s a real haunting or a fabrication of my mind! Because either way, it’s driving me mad!”
I can pinpoint when it started. It was one night back in September of last year. Have you ever heard of the artist Shaun Kesner? He enjoyed a temporary fame among the eccentric artists. Kesner was a talented enough artist but had too much of a bent toward the dark and melancholy for most people’s tastes. I hear he eventually went loony himself.
Anyway, George Degnan, an acquaintance of mine, acquired one of Kesner’s pieces. So back in September, George has this house party and I go. The party was fine enough. Not much to speak of really. In the wee hours, after the party had thinned out a bit, this girl – I seem to recall her name was Daphne or Diane or something like that – pulls out a Ouija board.
Now, I didn’t sit and mess with the silly thing, but I do believe that it is somehow part of the cause. Things began to get really weird. Very surreal, you know. These people are gathered around the Ouija board in almost like a trance and there’s music blaring almost hypnotically, I’m drunk, and then I feel this wave of nausea just hit me like a huge wave at the beach. So I race to the bathroom but there’s someone in there. I have to go into George’s room. He has another bathroom in there.
I barely make it to the bathroom before losing it. It was horrible but I felt a little better. At least well enough to attempt to get home. So I’m walking through George’s bedroom when the feeling hits me. Something is watching me from his closet. Just a little fleeting feeling, but enough to make me go investigate the closet. I open it and turn on the light and my attention is drawn to Kesner’s painting. It was on the floor propped against the wall and covered with a cloth. I mean, I didn’t know it was Kesner’s painting under there. I was just compelled to uncover it and see it.
It was a horrible, suggestive thing. It was a dark figure buried in the shadows of some strange structure. The only light cast upon it revealed a portion of its hate-filled eyes. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it while the music throbbed and the people chanted over that damn Ouija board; but I finally broke the gaze and proceeded to destroy the painting!
Yes, I ripped it to shreds. George doesn’t know it was me. Hell, he may not even know that the painting has been destroyed because I covered the frame back up and placed it back in the closet. Even if he did discover it, there were so many people in and out of the place all night long that it would be impossible for him to know it was me.
What happened next? I fled the party. I went home and was so drunk and felt so awful that I fell into a deep sleep. But when I woke up the thing was there.
Not physically there. I mean its presence was there. I felt it watching me again. Just as if I were looking at that awful painting all over again.
That’s when the nightmare began. Since that time I haven’t had a single moment of solitude. The first few weeks were the worst because that was before Heather. I was living alone and, God, it’s so much worse when I’m alone. It’s oppressive. It watches, constantly glaring at me from some indeterminate place. I went without sleep for days until I literally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. I couldn’t go on like that! I had to get out of there!
I sought out places where there were people so I wouldn’t be alone with it. I still feel its presence even around people, but it’s not as palpable as when I’m alone.
I feel it now! Of course I do. It never leaves me alone. Never for a moment. It’s here with me right now. The damned beast!
I began going to stores, the mall, restaurants, clubs, anywhere that people would be. I eventually began to spend a lot of time at the library. It became my haven. A place where I felt unbothered, yet still around a crowd. That’s when I began to research just what I could be dealing with.
Of course I had to determine if it was just my imagination. I admitted to myself that I could be off my rocker. A loose nut in the head, a crossed wire in the circuits, some hypnotic suggestion from the Ouija group, or subliminal message planted into my subconscious. But I finally thought that it could be one of a handful of irrational phobias spun out of control in my head.
I can name all the pertinent ones. Fear of being alone: Autophobia, Isolophobia, and Monophobia. Fear of eyes or being stared at: Ommetaphobia, Ophthalmophobia, Scopophobia. Oh, Psychiatrists have names for all sorts of fears. But, in the end, there was more to my predicament.
I wasn’t truly afraid of being alone. I want to enjoy the peace of being alone, for God’s sake! It’s just that when I’m alone, it’s always there too. So I’m never truly alone. And I don’t mind eyes or being stared at. I don’t feel like I’m being stared at by anyone else. You see my point? I just don’t enjoy being leered at by him. It’s like he’s studying me, taunting me, tormenting as he bides his time for some final blow!
I finally found a case, though. A case similar to mine. It was such a comfort to know that I wasn’t crazy!
The case was about one Mr. Raymon. He began to be haunted by a presence one night when he returned home to find a visitor sitting in front of his fireplace. Upon going to greet the visitor he discovered that the chair which held the form was empty. From that night onward his experiences were quite similar to mine.
What happened to him? How did he overcome it?
Well, that’s the strategy I was pursuing up until Heather and I broke up. Mr. Raymon married for the only reason of having a constant companion to minimize the opportunities of being alone. After I fell upon this simple, yet effective strategy, I began searching for someone in eagerness.
I was down the hall when the commotion broke out in the Activities Room. I heard people screaming and yelling and as I ran towards the sounds, people were already running away from the room. I reached the door and saw that Branner man with the knife. Now, I didn’t see the attack on Johnny, the orderly who was monitoring Branner, but apparently Branner had somehow gotten a hold of a big kitchen knife and used it to slice Johnny’s throat. Anyway, I reached the door and saw Johnny’s body laying on the floor. There was blood everywhere. Everyone had pretty much ran out of the room except for Old Charlie who was still sitting at one of the tables. He’s pretty much checked out and was oblivious to what was happeneing. Old Charlie and that girl Shelly. She was back against the window looking scared as a deer caught in headlights. Branner was advancing on the girl with the knife in his hands and I saw that there was no way for me to stop him before he reached her. I tried anyway, though. I sprinted across the room dodging tables and chairs and just before I reached him I saw him take her hands, wrap them around the knife’s handle and then he grabbed her hands and stabbed himself right in the heart. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. As he did he said something to her that I couldn’t hear and then he just fell down and died. That poor girl was beside herself with shock. I reached her and pulled her away trying to shield her from the sight of Branner lying there with the knife sticking out of his chest. And just as we got about halfway across the room, I heard this loud noise at the window. I looked back and there was all these crows flying right into the window. Then, all of the sudden, the window pain cracked and shatterd inward. All of them crows flew into the room and landed right there by Branner – like they were inspecting the body or something. It was damn crazy. And then they just took off back out of the window.
Conflicted in my emotions, I approached my interactions with Shelly with great caution. The greater part of me was drawn to her allure and refused to believe that she could be an interloper sent by the vile Silent Redding. But the small part that whispered in my mind to remain vigilant for any sign, any slip, or so much as a hint of her complicity in his twisted machinations would prevail.
It happened one day when she was trying to make small talk. The stooge was monitoring us, of course. Shelly said, “What are you writing in your little black book?” And that was it. My heart plummeted down a bottomless pit. I excused myself as waves of conflicting emotions slammed into me.
My last night in Nod was both immeasurably sad and breathtakingly exhilarating. It began on the path to the hill overlooking the ruined city. The Plague Doctor emerged like a proud bird from the shadow of the trees and greeted me.
“I heard the unfortunate news and I pity your plight, but I think that you are prepared. Your soul has been tempered in the crucible of this land. You know what you must do and all it will take is an unshakable will and the City on the Hill will welcome you.”
It was hard to hear these words. Tears welled in my eyes because I knew what he said to be true.
“I want to give you something before you go. My psychopomps Raven, Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Blackbird, and Magpie shall see you off. Goodbye, Jimmy Branner.”
And then I felt the familiar tug as I began to be drawn away, but this time the crows pursued me like a flurry of black smoke. I sped up and the crows managed to keep pace. When I got to the point when I could sense that the City on the Hill was behind me I tried one last time to glimpse it just as I had struggled every time before. But this time the crows rushed towards my face and I despaired that I had been tricked by the Plague Doctor.
The crows crowded upon the left side of my face and I then realized that they were not trying to occlude my vision, but trying to assist my efforts. I grit my teeth and strained and the crows flapped and fluttered, pushing me ever so much more than I could on my own accord. It was just enough for me to catch a glimpse before I entered the Waking World.
Words can’t describe that momentary vision. It was the most incredible sight I had ever beheld. I awoke drained both physically and emotionally. All that I could do was smile and cry tears of rapturous joy.