Classics, horror

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published January 1892 in The New England Magazine. Translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

It is rare for ordinary people like John and myself to secure a colonial mansion. A haunted house would pure, romantic bliss — but that is asking too much of fate!

Still, I’m proud to say there is something strange about it. Why else would it be so cheap? Why has it been empty so long? John laughs at me, but one expects that in marriage. John is extremely practical. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and openly scoffs at talk of the paranormal.

John is a doctor, and perhaps — (I would not say it to a living soul, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) — perhaps that is one reason I do not recover faster.

He does not believe I am sick! What can I do if a respected physician and my own husband assures everyone there is nothing wrong except a temporary anxiety — a slight hysterical tendency?

My brother is also a respected doctor and says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, tonics, walks, air and exercise, and I am forbidden from “work” until I have recovered.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I believe enjoyable work combined with excitement and change would do me good, but what am I to do? I wrote for a while in spite of them; but it does greatly exhaust me. I have to be so sneaky, or I am met with heavy opposition.

Sometimes, I think if I had less restrictions and more socializing, my condition would — but John says the worst thing I can do is to think about my condition… and I admit it always makes me feel bad. So I will leave it alone and talk about the house.

It is the most beautiful place! It stands all alone, far back from the road, a full three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places you read about, because there are hedges, walls, gates that lock, and many separate little houses for gardeners and staff.

There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden — large, shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long, grape-covered pergolas with benches beneath them. There were also greenhouses, but they are all broken now.

I believe there was some legal trouble about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years. I’m afraid that spoils my haunted theory, but I don’t care. There is something strange about the house — I can feel it.

I told John one moonlit evening, but he said what I felt was a draft and closed the window. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is because of this anxiety, but John says if I feel that way, I will neglect proper self-control. I take pains to control myself — in front of him, at least, and it makes me very tired.

I don’t like our room at all. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the veranda, with roses all over the window and the old-fashioned, colorful hangings! But John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window, not enough room for two beds, and no room close by in case he wanted to use another. He is very careful and loving, hardly letting me move without special instruction.

I have a schedule that accounts for each hour in the day. He takes care of everything for me, so I feel deeply ungrateful not to value it more. He said we only came here for me, because I was to have perfect rest and air. “My dear, your exercise depends on strength, and your food depends on appetite; but you can breathe air all the time.” So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

It is a big, airy room, nearly the whole floor, with windows all around, and air and sunshine galore. I think it was a nursery first, then playroom and gymnasium; the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings in the walls. The paint and wallpaper look as if a boys’ school used it. The paper is stripped off in big, wide patches all around my headboard, and in a place lower down, on the other side of the room. I never saw worse wallpaper in my life. One of those long, flamboyant patterns committed every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to make it difficult to follow, yet noticeable enough to constantly annoy and draw attention. When you follow the lame, uncertain curves for a little ways, they suddenly commit suicide — plunging off at outrageous angles, destroying themselves in impossible contradictions.

The color is horrid, almost revolting; a smoldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull, yet vivid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I would hate it too if I had to live in this room long.

Here comes John, I must put this away, — he hates for me to write a word.

We have been here two weeks, and I haven’t felt like writing since that first day. I am in the hideous nursery now, sitting by the window, and there is nothing to stop me from writing as much as I want – except lack of strength.

John is away all day, and some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious, but these anxiety troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Of course it is only anxiety. I feel guilty for not performing wifely duties! I meant to be a big help to John, providing real rest and comfort, but instead I am a burden! Nobody would believe how hard it is to do what little I can — to dress, socialize, and clean. It is fortunate Mary is good with the baby. Such a dear baby! Yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so anxious. I suppose John was never nervous in his life.

He laughs at me so much about this wallpaper! At first he agreed to re-paper the room. Later he said I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for an anxiety patient than enabling such whims. He said after the wallpaper it would be the heavy bed frame, then the barred windows, then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

“You know the place is doing you good, and really, dear, I don’t want to renovate the house just for a three month rental.” He said.

“Then let’s go downstairs, there are such pretty rooms there.” I said.

Then he took me in his arms, called me a blessed little goose, and said if I wished, he would go down to the cellar and white-wash it as well. Though, he is right about the beds, windows, and things.

It is an airy and comfortable room, and I will not be silly enough to make him uncomfortable just for a whim. I’m growing quite fond of the big room, except for that horrid paper. Out of one window, I can see the garden, the mysterious, deep-shaded pergolas, the wild, old-fashioned flowers, bushes and gnarly trees.

Out of another, I get a lovely view of the bay and a private wharf belonging to the estate. A beautiful, shaded lane leads there from the house. I always think I see people walking on these many paths, but John cautioned me not to indulge fantasy. He says with my imagination, an anxious disposition is sure to cause excited fantasies, and that I should control myself to keep them in check. So I try.

Sometimes, I think if I were well enough to write, it would relieve the flow of ideas and allow me to rest – but I get pretty tired when I try. It is so discouraging not to have any understanding about my work. When I really recover, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia over for a long visit; but he says he would rather put fireworks in my pillowcase than let me have those stimulating people around now.

I wish I could recover faster, but I must not think about it. This wallpaper looks as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurring spot where the pattern sags like a broken neck, and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry with the disrespect of it. Up, down, and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two sections don’t line up, and the eyes are a little uneven.

I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! As a child, I used to lie awake getting more entertainment and terror from blank walls and furniture than most children found in a toy store. I remember the kindly wink of the knobs on our old bureau, and one chair that always seemed like a strong friend. I used to think if any of the other things looked mean, I could hop into that chair and be safe.

The furniture in this room is only a little unpleasant, we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom, they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such messes as the children made here. As I said before, the wallpaper is torn off in spots, and it’s incredibly sticky — they must have had determination as well as hatred. Then the floor is scratched, gouged and splintered, and the plaster is dug out here and there. This great heavy bed looks as if it has been through the wars, but I don’t mind a bit — only the paper.

Here comes John’s sister. She is such a dear girl, so considerate of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect, enthusiastic housekeeper and wants no better profession. I truly believe she thinks it’s the writing that made me sick! When she is out, I can write next to the window and see her coming from a long way off. One overlooks the shaded, winding road and country. A lovely country, too, full of large elms and velvet meadows.

This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade; a particularly irritating one that can only be seen in certain lights, and not clearly even then. In places where it isn’t faded, when the sun is just so — I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and obvious front design.

There’s sister on the stairs!

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am exhausted. John thought it might do me good to have company, so we had mother, Nellie, and the children down for a week. Of course, I didn’t do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now, but it tired me all the same. John says if I don’t recover faster, he will send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.

I don’t want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his care, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only worse! Besides, it is such a hassle to go so far. I don’t think it would be worth going for anything, and I’m getting dreadfully anxious and upset. I cry most of the time and at nothing. Of course, I don’t when anyone is here, only when I am alone. I am alone a good deal now. John is very often kept in town by serious cases, and Jennie is good to leave me alone when I want her to.

I walk in the garden or down the lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down a good deal. I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. I think about it so much! I lie here on this great immovable bed —it is nailed down — and follow that pattern around by the hour. It is good as exercise, I assure you.

I start at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion. I know a little about the principle of design, and know this was not arranged by any laws of radiation, alternation, repetition, symmetry, or anything else I ever heard of. It is repeated by sections, but not otherwise.

Looked at one way, each strip stands alone, the fat curves and flourishes waddling up and down in isolated columns of foolishness. But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of visual horror, like seaweeds caught in the waves.

The whole thing seems to go horizontally too, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish where its going in that direction. They have used a horizontal strip for decoration that adds to the confusion wonderfully. There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and when the candlelights dim, and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost see the pattern — the endless horrors seem to form around a common center and rush off to steep plunges of equal distraction.

It makes me tired to follow it. I guess I will take a nap. I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to. I don’t feel able. I know John would think it absurd, but I must somehow say what I think and feel — it is such a relief! Though, the effort is getting to be greater than the relief. Half the time I am awfully lazy and lie down a lot. John says I must not lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil, lots of tonics, ale, wine, and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me dearly and hates to have me sick. I tried to have an earnest, reasonable talk with him, telling him how I wished to visit Cousin Henry and Julia, but he said I wasn’t able to go. I did not make a very good case for myself, I was crying before I finished.

It is getting very hard to think straight. Just this anxious weakness I suppose. Dear John gathered me in his arms, carried me to bed, and sat reading to me until it tired my head. He said I was his darling, his comfort, all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and stay well.

He says only I can help myself out of it, that I must use willpower and self-control, and not let silly fantasies run away with me. There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to stay in this nursery with the horrid wallpaper. If we had not used it, that blessed child would! What a fortunate escape! I wouldn’t have an impressionable, little child of mine live in such a room for all the world.

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all. I can stand it so much easier than a baby could. Of course, I am too smart to mention it to them anymore, but I keep watch of it all the same. There are things in that paper that nobody else knows or ever will. Behind that outside pattern, the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very many.

It is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I began wishing John would take me away from here! It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so smart and loves me so much. I tried last night. The moon was out, shining all around just as the sun does. I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, always coming in one window or another.

John was asleep and I hated to wake him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that wavy wallpaper until I felt creepy. The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, as if she wanted to get out. I got up softly, wanting to feel it, to see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.

“What is it, little girl? Don’t go walking about like that, you’ll get cold.” He said.

I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him I was not really improving here, and that I wished he would take me away.

“Why darling?! Our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can’t see how to leave before. The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town yet. If you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, and I know. You are gaining weight and color, your appetite is better. I feel much better about you, dear.”

“I don’t weigh a bit more; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!” I said.

“Bless her little heart! She will be sick as she pleases! Now let’s improve the daytime hours by going to sleep and talk about it in the morning!” He said with a big hug.

“And you won’t leave?” I asked gloomily.

“Why, how can I, dear? It is only three more weeks, then we will take a nice trip for a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!”

“Better in body perhaps —” I began, and stopped short. He sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

“My darling, I beg of you, for my sake, our child’s, and your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish notion. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”

Of course I said no more on the subject, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t. I laid there for hours trying to decide whether the front and back patterns moved together or separately.

Viewing a pattern like this by day makes it appear disorderly and law-defying, a constant annoyance to a normal mind. The color is hideous, unreliable, and infuriating, but the pattern is torture. You think you have mastered it, but just as you start following it well, it turns a back-flip and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples you. It is like a bad dream.

The outside pattern is an elaborate, flowing design, reminding me of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an endless string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless complexities. That’s only sometimes!

There is one defining oddity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself – that it changes with the light. When the sun shoots in through the east window — I always watch for that first long, straight ray — it changes so quickly I can never quite believe it. That is why I always watch.

By moonlight, I wouldn’t know it was the same paper. At night, in any kind of light – twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all, by moonlight – the outside pattern becomes bars! The woman behind it is real as can be. For a long time, I didn’t realize what the thing behind that dim sub-pattern was, but now I am quite sure it’s a woman. By day she is subdued, quiet. I believe it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is puzzling, it keeps me quiet for hours.

I lie down so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can. Indeed, he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal. I am convinced it is a very bad habit. I don’t sleep, and that breeds dishonesty because I don’t tell him I’m awake — Oh, no!

The fact is, I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very odd sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look. Occasionally, it strikes me, just as a theory, — that perhaps it is the paper! I’ve watched John when he didn’t know I was looking, and suddenly entered the room on innocent excuses. I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.

She didn’t know I was in the room. I asked her in the most restrained manner possible, in a very quiet voice, what she was doing. She turned around looking quite angry, as if she had been caught stealing, and asked me why I would frighten her so! Then she said the paper stained everything it touched, that she found yellow smooches on all our clothes, and wished we would be more careful! Did that not sound innocent? I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody will figure it out but myself!

Life is much more exciting now than it used to be. You see, I have something more to expect, to look forward to. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. John is so happy to see me improve! He laughed the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.

I shrugged it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper — he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away. I don’t want to leave until I have figured it out. There is one more week, and I think that will be enough. I’m feeling so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, it is too interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal during the day.

Daytime it is tiresome and confusing. There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried. That wallpaper is the strangest yellow! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old, foul, bad yellow things.

There is something else about that wallpaper — the smell! I noticed it the moment we came in the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we’ve had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, and lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair. Even when I ride, if I turn my head suddenly — there is that smell!

Such a strange odor! I have spent hours trying to analyze it to find what it smelled like. It is not bad at first, very gentle, but quite subtle and the most enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me. It used to disturb me at first. I seriously considered burning the house down to reach the smell, but now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that is similar, is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.

There is a funny mark on this wall, low down, near the baseboard. A streak that runs around the room. The long, straight, even smooch goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, as if it was rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done, who did it, and why. Round and round and round — round and round and round — it makes me dizzy! I really have finally discovered something. Through watching so much when it changes at night, I have finally figured it out. The front pattern does move — and no wonder! The woman shakes it! Sometimes, I think there are a great many women behind it, and sometimes only one. She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

In the bright spots she keeps still, and in the shady spots she takes hold of the bars, shaking them hard. She is always trying to climb through, but nobody could climb through that suffocating pattern. I think that’s why it has so many heads. They get through, then the pattern shuts them off, turning them upside down, and making their eyes white! If those heads were covered or removed, it would not be half as bad. I think that woman gets out in the daytime! Privately — I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen her!

I can see her out of every window! I know it is the same woman because she is always creeping, and most women do not creep during the day. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and she hides under the blackberry vines when a carriage comes.

I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping in daylight! I always lock the door when I creep in daylight. I can’t do it at night, I know John would suspect something immediately. John is so strange now, I don’t want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don’t want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself. I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once, but turn as fast as I can, I only see out of one at a time.

Though I always see her, she might be able to creep faster than I can turn! I have watched her sometimes way off in the open country, creeping fast as a cloud’s shadow in high wind. If only that top pattern could be gotten off the other one! I mean to try it, little by little. I have found out another funny thing, but I won’t say it this time! It is not good to trust people too much.

There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don’t like the look in his eyes. I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give. She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.

John knows I don’t sleep well at night, but I’m so quiet! He also asked me all sorts of questions, pretending to be loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him! Still, it’s no wonder he acts that way after sleeping under this wallpaper for three months. It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.

Hurray! This is the last day, but it is enough. John is staying in town overnight, and won’t be out until this evening. Jennie wanted to sleep with me — the sly thing! I told her I would definitely rest better alone. That was clever, when really I wasn’t alone at all! As soon as it was moonlight, that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern. I got up and ran to help her.

I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we peeled off yards of that paper. A strip about as high as my head and half around the room. Then, when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it today!

We leave tomorrow, and they are moving the furniture back where it came from. Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I happily told her I did it out of pure spite of the vicious thing. She laughed and said she wouldn’t mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired. How she betrayed herself that time, but no one touches this paper but me — not alive!

She tried to get me out of the room — it was too obvious! I said it was so quiet, empty, and clean now that I would lie down and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner. I would call when I woke. Now she, the servants, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that nailed down bedstead. We shall sleep downstairs tonight, and take the boat home tomorrow. I quite enjoy the room, now that it is empty again.

How those children destroyed this room! This bedstead is fairly gnawed, but I must get to work. I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want anybody to come in until John. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find.

If that woman does get out and tries to escape, I can tie her, but I forgot I cannot reach far without anything to stand on! This bed will not move! I tried to lift and push it until I was exhausted, then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner — but it hurt my teeth. Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly, and the pattern enjoys it! All those strangled heads, bulbous eyes, and waddling fungi scream with mockery!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be a deserving exercise, but the bars are too strong to try. Besides, I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know that would be improper and possibly misunderstood. I don’t even like to look out the windows — there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all came out of the wallpaper like I did, but now I’m securely tied by my well-hidden rope — you won’t get me out there in the road!

I suppose I will have to get back behind the pattern when night comes, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this big room and creep around as I please! I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to. Outside, you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. Here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot get lost. Why there’s John at the door! It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!

How he yells and pounds! Now he’s crying for an axe. It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door! “John dear! The key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!” I said in the gentlest voice,

That silenced him for a few moments. Then he said — very quietly, “Open the door, my darling!”

“I can’t. The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!” Then I said it again, several times, very gently, slowly, so often that he had to go and see. He found it of course, and came in, stopping short by the door.

“What is the matter? For God’s sake, what are you doing?!” He cried.

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jennie. I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” I said.

Now, why would that man have fainted? He did, right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

humor, life

JustNoMil (Pt. 2)

I hope this final installment of the JustNoMil duology finds you well. The week is flying by, so with your permission I would like to dive right in today. We’re going to start with the first Valentines Crook and I were able to spend together. We were two years into the relationship, but he was on a rig for the first one. The second year, he returned from a two week hitch February 13th. Normally I don’t buy into Valentine’s Day unless it precedes the word ‘massacre,’ but we were excited for this one.

Upon arriving, Crook was unable to keep his special plans secret any longer. The fact he planned anything while at work was impressive. “I was trying to surprise you, but it’s harder keeping the secret now that I’m home. I made reservations at Haunted Hotel.” His voice was filled with pride. Securing a reservation anywhere on Valentines was difficult, but he succeeded with one of the best.

If you read Calling All Ghosts, yes. That’s the place. He knew I’m not big on romance, but wanted to show the effort. Hoping (correctly) a spooky theme would make the holiday more enjoyable, he called in a favor to reserve the best haunt-themed food in town.

As if her spidey-sense detected our happiness, Effie called intent to ruin it. “Hey Sweetie, I just wanted to make sure you got home safe.” Her sobs sounded more genuine than usual. I suppose practice makes perfect.

“Yea, I’m fine. What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Crook shifted into worried son mode seamlessly.

I assumed she was trying to force him to feed her animals, but that was only a secondary reason for calling. “Oh… I’m fine… you don’t want to hear me cry about my pitiful life. I’m just so depressed about Valentines Day. I’d rather kill myself than spend another one alone…”

You could tell she was desperate by how quickly she brought out the big guns. With Crook’s blindness to the manipulation tactics I memorized in a month, Effie successfully invited herself to our dinner in under 5 minutes. Was I so angry I nearly blacked out? Obviously. Did I make a scene? No. I knew he would get defensive if I tried to explain what Effie was doing. Instead, I took deep breaths. Reminding myself, you hate this crap anyway. It’s only for dinner, just a couple hours. The rest of the day is ours. We’re going to watch anime, smoke weed, and eat Chinese takeout because that’s what gives life meaning.

That mantra got me through the night and next morning. At noon, my happy place was burned to the ground when Effie arrived, unannounced. I stared at her through the window, willing her to disappear, but eventually I was forced to open the door. I motioned for her to have a seat, explaining Crook was still catching up on his sleep.

Effie was having none of that. She walked straight down the hallway, into our bedroom, and shrieked “Wake up Sweetie! Mommy is heeeeeeeere!”

I remained on the living room floor, struggling to breath as a panic attack consumed me. I became deaf to all but my own thoughts. She went in our room. There’s someone in our room, what’s wrong with you? Get in there and kill it! She’s going to sit on your bed! Move!

Faintly, distant noises began filtering through the static. I heard sounds that were either dresser drawers or blunt force trauma. Realizing the moans of pain were coming from myself, I assumed it was the former.

Eventually, I see them exit the bedroom, arm-in-arm. Crook disheveled and confused; Effie grinning ear to ear, still talking. “I’m so excited we’re spending the day together. This is the best Valentines ever!”

I physically bit my tongue, terrified to speak. I could already feel the angry tears forming. I knew if I tried to talk, only unintelligible squalls would emerge. The one thing preventing a full meltdown was my invisibility. Effie was only interested in feeding her delusion, and I didn’t fit into her script. I tuned her out, pouring all my focus into tv for the next several hours.

We were 20 minutes away from leaving for dinner when another knock sounded at the door. I opened it to be greeted by a dozen red roses; Crook’s last surprise. Before I could react, Effie pushed past me, squealing like Miss Piggy, and took my flowers.

Smelling the roses, she met my gaze. I’m not sure what emotion she mistook fury for, but I still get angry thinking about how she said “Oh Crook, you shouldn’t have! But it’s not fair to buy me all these beautiful roses!” Looking at me as if I were a homeless person begging for spare change, she gave me the card and one rose. “Here, don’t feel left out.”

(This always bothered me, think about it. Since she handed me the card… she knew, right? Deep down on a subconscious level she can never admit to… she had to know, right? I think she knew.)

I looked to Crook, (still naive enough to think he might correct her) but he stared at his feet, tail tucked between his legs. I threw the card (open for all to read) on the table next to Effie, and finished preparing for dinner.

Seated at the only 3-top in the restaurant, Effie ordered for all of us. When I told the waiter to change my order, she glared at me as if slapped. I held my tongue as she requested a vase for her roses, but I finally understood why she insisted on bringing them. It wasn’t enough to claim them, she needed other people to see; they made it feel real. When I didn’t react to her prompts clearly fishing for a compliment, she became sullen.

From that point forward, she complained about the food and service nonstop. The only complaint I had toward dinner was Effie’s company, but I digress. It was the longest dinner of my life, and we still weren’t free of her. Having refused to drive herself “to a date” we were stuck with her until she sobered enough to drive herself home. After the first pot of coffee, I thought she was faking. It wasn’t the first time she tried to spend the night, but it was thankfully the last.

Thus ended the worst Valentines of my life. For the next and last story regarding Effie, I will discuss her arm/shoulder surgery. Do you know what’s worse than a paranoid, codependent hypochondriac? A hypochondriac who actually has something wrong. I don’t have kids, I’ve never cared for one under 7 in my life, but I would take on five toddlers before going near Effie again.

At this stage, we were years into our relationship, and I was savvy to all Effie’s tricks. When we learned she was genuinely in need, I had no problem visiting her in the hospital or caring for her animals. When she was able to finish recovery at home, I was a fantastic sport. I even walked her to the bathroom a few times (it’s not like I had to go in with her).

What I did have issues with, was how she treated us while we were helping. Each day we did our usual chores, and before leaving we asked, “Is there anything else you need? You’re sure? Because we’re about to go home.”

Every single day she said, “No, I’m fine thanks.” Without fail, 10 minutes after being home, she called Crook, begging him to return.

If I had to guess, I think she preferred him to visit without me (I sure did) knowing he would be easier to manipulate. Let me be clear, after the first week, she was fully functional for everything except lifting or certain movements with her arm. We knew she would use us as long as possible, but even if she didn’t have a walker, there was absolutely no reason she could not walk unattended.

With that understood, here’s what happened three weeks into her recovery. As with every other day, we performed our morning chores, asked if she needed anything else, and went home. We only had time to sit down with a fresh bowl before the phone rang.

“Can’t we just ignore her this once? Just until we finish smoking?” I begged.

“I’m sorry, I just need to make sure she hasn’t hurt herself. I’m not going back today, I’m sick of it too.” Crook answered the phone. It was one thing to lie to me, I could understand that, but it was infuriating when he lied to himself. Let me break their conversation down the easy way as we near our conclusion.

Effie: Hey Baby, can you bring Mama something to eat? I finally have an appetite and I’m craving my favorite pizza place.

Crook: But… they’re right across the street. The doctor said you should be trying to get out now. It might be good for you to go.

Effie: I don’t care what that quack said! He can’t feel my pain! I’ll never make it!

Crook: Okay, fine. If you aren’t ready to drive, just have it delivered.

Effie: Ugh, I can’t get out of my chair to make it to the door! Why are you arguing with me? I’m starving!

Crook: Fine! When did they say it would be ready?

Effie: I haven’t ordered it. Tell them to make sure all these very picky details are correct or you’ll send it back. I absolutely can’t eat it if it’s not right.

Crook: I’ll never get all that straight. Could you at least call the order in? Then I’ll just pick it up and bring it to you.

Effie: No, they don’t like me, they always do it wrong on purpose. See if they’ll get it right for you.

Crook: Fine, I’ll be there soon to get the money, then I’ll go grab your food.

Effie: You can’t even buy your mother one meal while I’m starving to death?!

Crook: Yea, sorry.

People, my blood boiled. I could almost see the bubbles under my skin as the heat simmered throughout my body. I stared at Crook in disbelief, speechless, wondering if his balls would ever drop.

When Crook delivered her food, it was indeed wrong. He insisted she asked for olives, Effie insists she said no olives. I don’t know who was correct, I didn’t hear it firsthand, but I have two equally plausible theories.

  1. Crook subconsciously got it wrong on purpose, sick of Effie’s shit.
  2. Effie didn’t have anything else to complain about, and olives were the first thing she thought to use.

As an adult possibly speaking to impressionable teens, I won’t say what I would have done to the food, but if you’re familiar with the movie Waiting, you have a pretty good idea. The important thing is, these stories are home where they belong. There’s still the matter of my notebooks, but as far as online publications go, I think these were the only ones. Now I can spend the week fully submerged in all the glorious horror of Halloween. I think I’ll go listen to some CreepyPastas while I decide what to write next. Maybe I should start taking requests.

Oh yea, can’t forget the sign-off. You all be safe out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.

Here is Hannibal pretending to be a flower. For cat tax.
Halloween, scary

The Deadlands

Now a CreepyPasta 

Telling ghost stories around a campfire is a time honored tradition for those of us who love a scare. With each telling they spread further and evolve to fit their audiences. Eventually, they gain a life of their own, often becoming unrecognizable to the original author. Not knowing where the truth ends and fantasy begins pulls us farther from reality than we would otherwise tread. Succumbing to the desire to believe, if only for a moment… what if it is true?

In a town kept alive by retirees and tourists looking for a cheap scare, we knew a place hidden from their money was bad news. Plebes are paraded around in horse drawn carriages through the dead of night. If there’s a storm, all the better. In the dim glow of our gas street-lamps, we tell them stories, grinning each time a passenger shakes with fright. As long as they stay on the safe, paved streets of downtown, they’ve nothing to fear. If they knew what was really out there, beyond those city limits, they would jump in their fancy cars and never look back.

It’s when you drive past the city limits things become less… rehearsed. What use to be cotton fields far as the eye could see were now dried-up wastelands, unusable to the living. Over the years, our ancestors built further and further away, desperate for distance, but unable to leave entirely. A forest grew around the 300 acre area known as the Deadlands, but not even an insect crossed Mother Nature’s well drawn line.

The Deadlands were born in the Civil War aftermath. Losing did nothing to sway the opinions of ignorant Southerners who believed slaves were their God-given rights. In a world where tractors were not yet invented, farming seemed daunting. Cotton, ironically prickly, is painful to harvest. Days turned to weeks, and the sight of freed slaves settling into new lives taunted the rednecks relentlessly. In their world, White Supremacy and religion were one in the same, it was fact, unquestioned.

Five families, owned the majority of our state’s cotton supply. On their wealth, the town of Cotton Hills was founded, and on their heinous actions was it doomed. Where their property lines merged, each man donated 60 forested acres to the relocation of freed slaves. Thus the 300 acre plot of death was created.

The town formed a posse to deliver every black man, woman, and child. Guard towers were built, each connected by fences of barbed wire, and any who attempted escape were killed on sight. Eventually, some tried to carve out a life for their families. Primitive shelters were erected, men hunted, women homesteaded. They did okay at first, but as more people were thrown into what whispers already called the Deadlands, resources exhausted quickly. Friends who once worked side by side killed each other to feed their children.

After 20 years, the few who remained were so malnourished, so barbaric, they no longer appeared human. Few original guards remained, most replaced with younger, stronger sons. Sons with ambitions, and the desire to make their own names. One fateful night, while the old guards slept, those sons entered the Deadlands, intent to win their freedom with blood and fire. They set out to burn every acre, and kill any who crossed their path along the way. Fifteen men entered, but only one returned, smoke and flame billowing in his wake. He was spotted from a guard tower as he crawled from the tree-line, one leg missing below the knee. The remaining guards gathered, waiting to see how far the young man would make it.

When he was finally within ear-shot, David Grayson called to the man, who he now saw was the eldest son of the late Jake Abernathy. “What happened boy, tell us quickly.”

Abernathy moaned in pain but continued crawling until he was only a few feet away. A few men aimed their guns, ready to fire should he attempt to cross the boundary. With a knowing look of defeat, Abernathy dropped his elbows, and with his loudest cry yet, rolled to lie flat on his back. Coughing blood with each strained word, he managed to say, “We just… wanted out. To… to live normal lives… why… stay? We killed them… all. But the huts… there was crying… like a baby.” The old guards sat still and quiet through a longer coughing fit, too frightened to turn away, but all sharing the same thought. No way they could be having babies in there.

They all jumped when Abernathy resumed talking. “We killed… all of them… every… one… dead. So many… barely human… all dead. We were… leaving. All of us… they came from above… but we killed all… nothing left… what… what killed us?”

For several minutes, the only sound to be heard over the crackling flames were Abernathy’s wet, dying breaths, until finally, he fell silent. The old guards’ trance was soon broken by something large rustling through the flaming treetops, coming their way. They ran, hid until morning, and left the Deadlands forever. Whether a cowardly excuse to leave or the good of humanity, the men returned to their families, warning all to stay away. None doubted their words.

Now, we future generations are warned as children, raised with proper fear and respect. Maybe we hate our ancestors for their crimes against humanity more than we fear a legend, but the result is the same. It’s not a place kids dare each other to go, no clubs enter for initiation, no ghost hunters investigate, no Christians pray for it. No one has tried to enter for over 100 years now, but occasionally, something tries to escape. The evil merely resides within, sleeping, hungry, always waiting. Unfortunately for Todd and Linda, they knew none of this.

“I think this vacation is exactly what you need while you’re getting better. I checked this place out, and we couldn’t have found a quieter town. It has one of the lowest populations in the country and only old people and ghost hunters go there.” Linda sat in the passenger seat, reading from her phone as she and Todd entered the last stretch of a long drive.

“Yea, sounds great.” Todd knew Linda was trying to be supportive, but he hated how she said getting better. He couldn’t stand being coddled, why couldn’t she just say addiction? Was that so hard? It wasn’t his fault he got hurt at work, he didn’t know what the pain pills were doing to him until it was too late. He went to rehab, horrible as that was, and he was still consumed by the siren’s call every waking moment of his miserable existence. That’s not the point. He learned to live with that, he can resist the urges now, but what he can’t live with, is Linda’s desire to talk about it incessantly.

“I don’t think we’ll do the ghost tours, there’s no reason to put you through unnecessary stress, but they have tons of hiking trails. It says one leads to abandoned train tracks with a real antique caboose! Now, doesn’t that sound quaint! Oh Honey, do you think we could do that one first?” Linda turned her phone to Todd, showing him the pictures.

With a short glance Todd turned back to the road, trying to force a smile lest Linda notice his annoyance. What 30 year old says ‘quaint’ anyway? “I’ll look when we get to the hotel, sounds great though.” Using all his willpower, he forced a smirk on his face, and Linda sat back, placated.

Shortly after 6pm they reached their Holiday Inn, exhausted from a 12 hour drive. “How about we order some pizza and watch a movie tonight? I want you well rested for another early start!” Linda cooed, already googling the local pizza options.

Todd knew with sickening certainty the moment where he snapped on Linda would come, but he was beginning to worry he would enjoy it. “I think I’ll be just fine tomorrow regardless,” he replied through gritted teeth, forcing himself to add cheerfully, “but you read my mind, movie and pizza sound great.”

Linda’s hurt look faded as quickly as it appeared, leaving Todd to wonder if he’d really seen it in the first place. Most of Todd’s patience was born from guilt. He put Linda through hell with his mood swings and temper tantrums. He never hit her, and he thanked the god he pretended to believe in for that mercy, but he had wanted to. At his worst, he wanted to grab her head, force her mouth shut, and keep it that way, but he didn’t. That’s what mattered. He still got the shakes when he thought of that all-consuming rage. In the end, it was the reason he agreed to rehab.

Logically, Todd knew he and Linda had a happy marriage. They never fought before the accident. The addiction was to blame, they were its victims, both trying to cope however they could, grasping at straws to find the way back to their old lives. Linda was only trying to help. Keeping that thought firmly at the forefront of his mind, he sat next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist.

“Let’s see what we got.” Todd leaned over the screen Linda was currently studying. “Oh, you want to get P’zones? We’ll find an old movie and pretend we’re back in college.”

When Linda met his gaze, her eyes gleamed. “That sounds like the best idea ever! A zillion times, yes! Please!”

Todd felt his first genuine smile in longer than he could remember. Linda’s silly use of her old catch phrase, once used to accept his marriage proposal, and now specially reserved only for him, made him feel, a zillion times, yes, like things might be okay one day. After a magical evening that truly had felt like old times, they lay in each other’s arms and slept soundly through the night.

The alarm rang at 7:00, and they pried theirselves apart to prepare for the day ahead. Both walking on eggshells to preserve the previous night’s magic, they spoke in soothing tones through breakfast. As they exited the elevator in full hiking gear at 8:30, they bumped into an older gentleman who resembled Yosemite Sam. His name tag identified him as Richard Davenport, Manager. “Ah, G’morning folks.” He greeted them, also sounding like Sam, with a tip of his cowboy hat. “I say, lovely weather for a hike! Which trail have you chosen? Might I suggest Buffalo Bill’s Bluff? You begin just east of the river, but it takes you to a clearing on the bluff that makes a beautiful place to picnic.” Mr. Davenport waved a chubby hand over his head, as if painting the scene.

“That sounds lovely!” Linda replied, turning to Todd, “Let’s do that one tomorrow, Hun! Can we?” Without waiting for his answer she faced Mr. Davenport once more. “But today, we’re going on this one. With the train caboose.” Linda showed him her phone, the trail’s website loaded to her favorite pictures. She watched the manager’s face turn from bright pink to deathly pale.

“You okay, sir?” Todd asked, concerned how quickly the man drained of color. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. We didn’t end up in one of them haunted hotels did we?”

“Ha. No, my goodness, no. I chose a Holiday Inn to separate myself from that part of the town.” Mr. Davenport stammered, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to mop the sweat from his brow. “No, you’ll find no ghosts here, folks. But that trail is a different story, people get lost, it’s not safe. Please, choose anywhere else. They’re a dime a dozen here, all safe, public property maintained by the city. All except that one.” He pointed to Linda’s phone, pictures still displayed. “It’s privately owned by a family that moved here last year. They set that train to attract tourists, but they don’t know what they’re doing!”

“Really? But it doesn’t say anything about being haunted on the…” Linda began pressing buttons on her phone, ready to enter a full blown debate, but Todd cut her off.

“It’s okay Hun, we can check into it some other time. We better get going or we won’t have time for breakfast.” Having already eaten, he hoped Linda took the hint to play along. She did.

Once safely in the parking lot where they couldn’t be overheard, Todd explained. “That’s how these small towns operate, by sticking together. They probably hate the idea of outsiders horning in on their local legends. Look around, these people don’t have much else. I haven’t even seen a Walmart since we crossed the state line.”

Linda noticeably relaxed. “You really think so? I didn’t want to admit it, but he kinda creeped me out.”

“I promise. Think of it this way. In a town known for hauntings, don’t you think these people would plaster their website with ghost stories if it was part of their gimmick? But they didn’t, did they? In fact, that old man didn’t say anything about haunted until I made it clear we weren’t here for that.” Todd, seeing Linda’s perk completely restored, was pleased with himself.

“Hey! You’re right! They don’t, and he didn’t!” For only a second did Linda allow herself to think but what if it’s not be a gimmick. Then imagining the photos she would post on Facebook after the hike banished the thoughts completely. “Wow, we’re never telling anyone I almost fell for a redneck ghost story.” The young couple shared a laugh as they passed a sign informing they were now leaving the city limits.

As they drove, the GPS instructed Todd to turn left off the highway. The road they followed turned from a black top, to gravel, to dirt in the span of 20 miles. “Wow, we must really be out in the sticks now.” Todd noted, driving slower to appreciate the scenery around them. “We don’t have anything like this in the city, I don’t think I’ve seen so many trees in my life, not in one stretch.”

“I know, it’s so beautiful! I think I could live here.” Linda said, rolling her window down to breathe the fresh air. “You smell that, Hun? That’s clean air!”

The road ended in a large clearing with a parking sign in the center. Beyond that loomed a small, wooden shack with “Welcome” painted above a glass window. To the right, a brightly painted post marked the trail entrance, and a matching post to the left marked where they would exit. After gathering their equipment, the couple headed to the shack first.

“Huh, it looks empty.” Todd announced, face pressed to the glass as he peered inside.

“I’m sure it is, there’s no other cars here and look, they have a donation box. Do we have any cash?” Linda asked, knowing they didn’t but feeling guilty.

“Uhh, not in the last 5 years.” Todd laughed, shaking his head. “Oh well, I’m glad we have the place to ourselves. Does the website say how long the trail is?”

“It’s supposed to be four hours. No tricky terrain, just watch for snakes. Hey, we might have time for the bluff today after all.” Linda answered excitedly, skipping toward the entrance.

“Wait for me!” Todd called, running to catch up.

In the first hour, they walked without a break. Linda took pictures by the dozen, but having no signal for Facebook, resigned to save that pleasure for later. Todd walked slowly, enjoying the scenery and not thinking about pills for a change. As he felt his throat going dry, he noticed a fallen tree that looked perfect for a quick rest.

“Hey Lin, you wanna stop for a water break? This looks like a good place to sit for a few minutes.” Todd was already digging through his pack.

“Sure, I could go for a power bar.” Linda settled next to Todd, laying her head on his shoulder as he drank deeply. “I just love it here, we should go to places like this more often. Just listen to all those birds, it’s like nature’s music.”

“Definitely! I guess being raised in a city, I never gave this kinda stuff much thought, but yea. I dig this, we should make hiking our new thing. I wouldn’t want…” Todd’s words were cut off as they heard a shrill cry to their right.

“What the hell was that?! Was that a person?!” Linda’s nails dug into his arm, her eyes frantically searching for the scream’s source.

“No. No, it wasn’t a person.” Todd cleared his throat and tried to sound less terrified. “I think it was a deer. The doe are suppose to sound like humans or something. Danny told me that after one of his hunting trips. Whatever it was, I think it’s finished now. Come on, let’s go see that train.”

They hiked another hour before coming to the caboose, strange cry nearly forgotten. “I should have known they’d put it in the middle, those crafty devils, that’s one way to make sure people do the whole trail!” Linda took pictures from every angle. The selfies took 15 minutes followed by another 20 posing Todd every way she could think of. “Ok, that should do! I cannot wait to go through these tonight!”

“You sure you got enough, Hun? You only took a few hundred.” Todd teased, slightly flinching at Linda’s playful punches. The woman wore rings, if she caught you just right, those puppies could sting.

“You’re just a mean old bully.” Linda joked in a mocking child’s voice, but their flirting came to an abrupt end with the sound of a large animal barreling through the trees.

Both stood frozen, holding each other tightly as the sound drew closer, louder. The trees, thick around them, blocked their view. Mentally tracking its location by sound alone, they flinched when the animal should have burst through the clearing, but nothing came. The noise stopped as suddenly as it began. Only silence followed.

“I’m starting to think Mr. Davenport wasn’t so crazy after all.” Linda whined, voice thick with fear.

“No, that’s silly, there’s no such thing. He got in our heads is all.” Despite the hammering of his own heart, Todd tried to be brave. At least one of them needed to keep a cool head. “Everything is fine, I promise. Look, we’re at the halfway point. We’ll walk to the exit without any more breaks, and this will all make a great story for Facebook, whaddya say?”

“I say yes, a zillion times, hell yes!” Quickly, they once again donned their packs, and continued on their way.

Only minutes after resuming the trail, trees grew denser than ever. The path appeared to shrink, becoming darker, twisting and turning to restrict their lines of sight. The couple clasped hands, neither willing to admit the feeling of being watched, but they felt it intensely. They progressed from a steady pace to almost jogging without noticing until Linda fell to the ground, screaming.

Todd, unsure if her high-pitched wails resulted from agony or terror, kneeled next to her. “What was it? Are you okay? Talk to me, please! What happened?!”

Linda sat up, pulled her legs to her chest, and scanned the ground around her. “Where’d it go? What was it? Did you see? Did you see? Someone grabbed my ankle. Where’d it go!?”

Her words struck new fear into his heart. Someone… grabbed? “Hold on, grabbed you? Like a hand? You’re sure you didn’t just trip, I mean we were moving pretty fast?”

“Yes! A hand grabbed me!” She quickly shot her hand out and grasped Todd’s ankle in a vice-like grip. “See! Do you think you could mistake this feeling?”

“I believe you, I was just… hoping… that’s all. Do you need a second? We shouldn’t have let ourselves get so worked up, we need to be more careful.” Todd stood, offering his arm to Linda.

Taking hold, she pulled herself up, but collapsed once more upon standing. “I think it’s broken, I… I can’t walk on it. Why is this happening to us.” Linda sobbed, dropping her face into her hands.

“It’s going to be fine, here, let’s take a look.” Linda winced as he removed her shoe, but it had to be done. “It’s dark under these trees, can you shine your light? The shadows are playing tricks with my eyes.” He stared, unable to accept what he was seeing, but when the flashlight illuminated the purple bruise on his wife’s ankle, he gasped in shock.”

Terrified, Linda sat forward and instantly regretted it. Wrapped around her now swollen ankle was a perfect handprint. Well… perfect if your fingers were skinny as knife blades and your thumb was twice as long. She inhaled deeply, preparing for another scream, but Todd clamped one hand over her mouth, and the other over the light. “Eeem! Mmm! Grmm!” She hummed, staring daggers into her husband.

“Shhh! Please! I know, but if something is out here, maybe we shouldn’t draw more attention with loud noises.” He whispered close to her ear, relieved to remove his hand when he felt her struggles cease.

Carefully, Linda turned the light off, and returned  the otherwise useless phone to her pocket. “What are we gonna do?” Her voice was barely audible.

“We’re going to get back to our car, drive to our hotel, lock ourselves in, and order take out. Because I am starving. You’re going to lean on me, and we’ll hop out of here if we have to, but we are getting out.”

Linda collected herself, dried her tears, and prepared to stand. After a dozen attempts, they conceded it was a poor plan. “I’m sorry, I just can’t! What are we going to do?”

Still catching his breath, Todd was lost deeply in thought. He knew he couldn’t carry Linda the rest of the way, he would never lift more than 100 pounds again thanks to his accident and that idiot forklift operator. That only left one other option. Not brave enough to suggest it, he stalled. “I left my phone in the car, let me see yours.”

Linda glared again, hurt and impatient. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that?! There’s no service out here!”

“We have to try something, we can’t just sit here and hope someone comes along to help. I’ll climb a tree, maybe I can text 911 or something.” She didn’t budge. Todd took a deep breath, “Look… it’s either that or I have to leave you here while I go for help. Neither of us want that, can I please see your phone?” Todd held his hand out, waiting. 

Tears filled Linda’s eyes anew as she handed him the phone. “Please not that, I can’t be here alone, anything but that.”

Todd shook his head in agreement, and began searching for a signal. Linda dragged herself to the center of the path, propping her pack up as a back rest, staying alert for any movement in the dark forest. When Todd returned, it wasn’t with good news. “Ok, there’s no signal right here, but I know if I can get out from under all these trees I can at least get a text out. I saw a tall one I could climb easily just before we got to the train…”

Linda stopped him there. “No way, that’s back where that noise was! It’s too dangerous! And too far away, what if something happens?”

“Hun, we don’t have a choice, it’s this or walk ahead with no idea how far I’ll have to go. At least this way we know where I’m going.” He tried to sound confident, hoping to ease her worry.

Linda didn’t like it, but knew it was their only option. “Promise you’ll be careful and come back fast.”

“I promise. I love you.” Todd kissed her forehead, loaded his gear, and walked away. As he reached the curve that would hide Linda from his sight forever, he stopped for one final wave and kiss goodbye.

Todd jogged at a steady pace and returned to the train clearing in good time. Stopping at the tree-line to catch his breath, he felt his stomach lurch. Something seemed different, but what. Making his way across the clearing slowly, cautiously, he scanned the area for any sign of movement. It wasn’t until he passed the caboose, the spot with the little step ladder Linda made him pose on, that he understood what was wrong. His heart leapt into his throat, almost choking him as he remembered how the sun had glinted off the caboose, into his eyes. There was no sun.

It was gloomy under the thick tree tops where forest closed over the path, but this was wide, open skies. It was dark, nighttime without stars. If they were storm clouds, they were the blackest he’s ever seen. His mind raced, a storm like that would be on the news everywhere, and Linda checked the forecast at least 50x the night before. It should be a clear, sunny day. But, it can’t be dark already…

“No, it can’t be, we’ve only been here a few hours, this should be the brightest part of the day.” Todd muttered to himself, digging through his pockets. He dropped the phone between the tracks twice without managing to see the time, but even as he stared, mouth agape, at the brightly lit phone, he couldn’t believe it. The screen was technicolor and shattered.

Todd’s stomach lurched again and he thought about pills for the first time that day. So overwhelming was the craving, he momentarily forgot Linda. It wasn’t until the phone rang, that he realized the full extent of this new dilemma. He repeatedly swiped his finger across the bottom, hoping the phone’s other functions remained intact, but screamed in anguish when the ringing stopped. He sat on the ground, rocking, muttering. “What have I done, how long have I been gone? I’d do anything for a few pills. What will I say? How do I explain.”

A loud, piercing scream from Linda’s direction penetrated his skull. Phone forgotten, Todd leapt to his feet. “Linda?! Linda!” He screamed her name, not knowing if she could hear him, just wanting to stop his thoughts.

It was another deer, it wasn’t her. Is what he was trying to think.

It was her, and you know it. For that matter, you knew the first wasn’t a deer either, but you can’t ignore it this time. Don’t panic, after all, she’s going to scream every time a cricket chirps. Especially now that it’s dark… oh no. It’s dark! If I had pills, I’d crush some up right now and snort one big line. How long have I been gone? What must she think?! How can I explain this… or her phone? Is what he knew.

Moving fast as he dared in the dark and soaked in cold sweat, Todd focused every ounce of his willpower on returning to his wife. The longer he walked, the more anxious he became, and his junky monkey clawed his back furiously. He called to Linda, expecting to see her around each new curve. Unable to judge the passage of time, only when he reached a clearing with blackened remnants of tall wooden structures did he stop to assess his location. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he visualized his every step when leaving the train area.

“Was there more than one path? I didn’t walk toward the entrance, but I didn’t see Linda either. I’ve never seen this clearing, or I would have remembered these… what are these? Burned down deer stands? I want some pills so bad. Well if people hunted here, maybe a cabin with a phone is nearby. Maybe Linda fell asleep… I coulda passed right by her if she did.”

It felt strange hearing his voice break the silence, as if he were in a library, offending the other patrons. “Stop being stupid, there’s no one out here. You’re alone in Hicksville USA. You need to man up right now, find a phone, and get your woman to safety. Linda is out there, in a strange place, alone in the dark, depending on you. This is not the time to bitch out, son. Forget the damn pills!” Todd’s inner voice, became that of his father’s. A few slaps to the face helped him regain the illusion of control.

With his second wind coursing through him, Todd steeled himself, marching forward as if he could see farther than five feet ahead. He passed the ruined guard towers he mistook for deer stands and hair stood on the back of his neck. Continuing beyond the line of burned and rotted tree stumps from which an Abernathy once emerged, legless and dying, he began to shiver from a sudden temperature drop. Afraid to acknowledge the feeling of being watched had returned, stronger than ever, he desperately called for Linda until his legs shook and throat ached.

“Oh man, what am I doing? I’d sell my soul for a few pills. There’s nothing out here, everything’s dead, there’s not even grass.” He whimpered, teeth chattering as much with fear as cold. Todd tried desperately not to think of ghosts. If there’s one thing all ghost stories universally agree upon, it’s that cold inevitably precedes every encounter. “Nope, screw this. I’m going back the way I came, no way I’m finding a phone out here. There had to be another path, that hotel guy said people got lost here. I was so scared I ran off without the phone. I ran down the wrong path, hell, the paths are probably marked, this is for beginners! Yea, that’s it! I just have to get to the train, and then I’ll find Linda in no time.”

So relieved was he at the prospect of turning back, all fear of Linda’s anger evaporated. He would spend the rest of his life making it up to her. The moment he turned around, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, momentarily allowing Todd to see his surroundings clearly. His knees almost gave out, but somehow, he managed to stay up right. Due to their long feet and snout like mouths, his mind wanted to believe a pack of rabid coyotes were blocking his retreat, but couldn’t reconcile, how are they hairless…standing on two legs… and, were those… wings? Or really long arms bent the wrong way at the elbow? They were thin as these dead trees, what the hell are they? At the moment it didn’t matter. Neither did the rain that now soaked him to the bone. What mattered, was running.

He could only go forward. Running as he hadn’t since high school track, he couldn’t get their image out of his mind. Those eyes, they were red. If I looked back now, I would still see their eyes, glowing in the dark. I wish I could die high. Oh Lin, I’m so sorry. Another bolt of lightning lit the sky, and Todd saw a small hut only 15 feet ahead. Ignoring the stitch in his side, he ran with renewed vigor. Please be unlocked, please be unlocked, I don’t want to die. Lunging the last few feet, he collided with the door, and scrambled for the knob. Tears of joy spilled over when it turned easily under his grip.

He threw himself inside, risking a short glance into the darkness before slamming the door shut. “Holy…” he pressed his back to the door, slid to the ground, and dug his feet in for leverage as several creatures collided with the door. He almost lost his hold when the lights came on and the old man spoke.

“Here, move aside.” A deep, rattled voice of a lifetime smoker instructed, placing a thick, wooden beam across the door. “Don’t worry, that‘ll hold ‘em. Come sit and have some coffee, keep a lonely old man company won’tcha?”

Todd stared, stammering but unable to speak. The tall, old man shook his bald head as if disappointed, but not surprised. He poured two cups of coffee, and placed them at the table, waiting patiently. When no more creatures tried to break in, Todd found his voice. “What are they? My wife is out there, on the trail. I have to get to her.” He rose on trembling legs, body aching for the warm coffee despite everything else.

“On the trail you say? Ahh, she’ll be fine for now. It’s you who wandered away. Took a wrong turn at that train is my guess.” The old man let a hint of disappointment out when he said Linda would be okay, but Todd was too rattled to notice.

“How do you know that, who are you? Is this your trail, Mister?” Anger raced through him at the prospect.

“Oh my heavens, no! I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive. No, I have nothing to do with it, but it’s brought me some visitors since it opened, so I can’t complain.” The old man mused, clearly enjoying himself.

“Then who are you? What the hell are those things out there?” Todd tried to keep his voice even, but couldn’t.

“I’m nobody anymore, I just stay in my cabin. Sleeping mostly, waiting. It’s them you gotta worry about.” The old man pointed his cane toward the door, indicating the creatures outside. “They’re hungry, it seems you’ve riled them up. They are Vetti. They’re normally solitary creatures, extremely rare, but special circumstances culminated to create this hoard.”

“You’re crazy!” Todd interjected.

Making no effort to hide his amusement, the old man smiled wide, exposing his yellow, rotted teeth. “My dear boy! If I’m crazy, you’re absolutely mad! Those Vetti were humans once you know. Are you familiar with Harpies at all? No? Shame. You see, when humans suffer terrible anguish, when they’re tortured for years, and there’s no end in sight, most develop a seething hatred. An overwhelming desire for revenge, for inflicting their pain upon others. In the most extreme cases, after they die, their souls reek of that hatred and pain, it’s like catnip to the Harpies… and when they come for it… well, you get the point.

“No, I don’t, what happened here? You’re not making sense!” Todd rose to his feet quickly, getting a head rush and feeling dizzy. His hand pressed to his forehead as he fell to his seat. “I don’t feel so good. Please old man, just speak plainly, I’m begging you.”

“I’d love to sit around shooting the shit, I really would, but it looks like that coffee is kicking in. I’m afraid we’re out of time.”

The last thing Todd saw, was the old man rising from his chair, eyes glowing red. With a snap of his fingers, the brightly lit room returned to darkness. He unlocked the door, opening it wide, “Come brothers, it is time!” He announced, arms held high in victory. “Tell me, which of you will take this vessel and venture forth?”

From the darkness, one Vetti came to stand before the others, snout pointed high, wings stretched open, strutting. The two entered the cabin alone. Several bloody hours and ear-splitting screams later, Todd emerged from the cabin, eyes glowing red. The other Vetti, not yet possessing their own vocal cords to communicate with, were still able to speak to their brother telepathically. What will you do first? They eagerly inquired.

“Find Linda, of course.”

humor, life

Rain Showers

Hubby and I lived in our first apartment for 18 hellish months. By that time, I had a work bestie, Phoebe. I suggest imagining her as Phoebe from Friends, but if she drank heavily and popped pills. She was my age but dating a 45 year old creeper. It wasn’t a fling, last I heard they were still together. Phoebe stayed with Mike through several beatings and trips to rehab, but that all came later. At the time we’re discussing, they were 6 months into their relationship and living together.

Mike owned a double-wide 45 minutes outside of town. There was one gas station 15 minutes away, otherwise they were alone with a few scattered neighbors. His home sat between his grandmother’s and aunt’s, but Aunt (Dee) moved in with the granny when her husband died. He committed suicide five years prior after being fired, and his affairs were made public knowledge. He drove to a secluded area to shoot himself, but Dee never went into their house again. I can’t blame her there, but personally I wouldn’t have left my diary behind for anyone to find.

During a particularly bad rant to Phoebe, she told me about Dee’s situation. Apparently the 4 bed, 3 bath house needed cosmetic repairs, and was available for rent to anyone capable. Due to the work required, rent (water included) was only $300. Life in the country is cheaper in general, but to give you an idea of living costs in my hometown, the rent for our tiny crap-hole was considered cheap at $550.

Hubby and I were ecstatic, it was exactly the kind of work he does. We followed Phoebe and Mike there that evening. The money saved on rent would be more than enough to justify the extra gas cost. “Is… Is that a house or a trailer?” I asked Hubby as we pulled into the driveway.

“That would be a trailer with extra rooms built on each end.” He explained, slightly unsure. After a full walk around, he corrected, “It’s actually two trailers with two additions, none of which match.”

I know my maps aren’t fancy, but I swear this is completely accurate. The problem this time is the location and trashy owner, not my lack of art skills.

“They don’t expect you to do anything on the outside. There’s no leaks; structure, electrical, and plumbing are solid, but the rooms need to be cleaned and painted. They had pets inside, so they want to rip out the carpet and install linoleum, but that’s the worst of it” Mike reassured as he struggled to open the front door. If his assessment had been accurate, everything would have worked out fine.

“Are the utilities already on?” I asked, too entranced at the prospect of living far from Rob and Amy to be suspicious.

“No not yet, but she already started the process, they should be on by the end of the week.” Mike answered and lead us through the house.

The stench of carpet repeatedly soaked in urine and left to dry assaulted our senses upon entry. The woman was clearly a hoarder, it quickly became apparent why the extensions were done haphazardly. They built where they could when they needed more space. The living room, kitchen, one bedroom, and bath were free of clutter stacks, but the remaining rooms were so full you couldn’t enter. Look, I know this has more red flags than a date who casually mentions living with his mother, but that’s why I wrote Breakfast of Champions first. If you haven’t read it, you can’t follow the thought process through this decision.

Sure, the place looked and smelled bad, but at the time, I was working from home and Hubby did these kinds of repairs for a living. We figured we could be cozy in a week and clean the spare rooms at our leisure. The living room and kitchen alone were bigger than our entire apartment. Honestly, we already had our eyes on a few things. There were all sorts of buried treasures, including a loaded gun hidden in a curio cabinet, but that’s for another day.

We moved the following weekend when utilities were restored. The house was so filthy we asked friends and family for help, but we only got Amy. My parents came, but stressed me out so badly we let them leave. Amy was excited to come, she was fighting with Rob and packed for the weekend. It was better than no help at all, we were grateful.

After checking each appliance and faucet, we learned the fridge was broken, the kitchen had the only functioning sink, the washer didn’t spin, most outlets didn’t work, nor did the guest shower, and a dead rat floated in the toilet. Every second I suffered from Amy’s Xanax delusions were justified when she reached in, grabbed the rat’s tail, and dropped it into a trash bag. “Huh, that was gross.” She shrugged it off as if she were discussing inconvenient weather.

Mike delivered a new fridge, otherwise nothing else was repaired for the 6 months we stayed there. Hubby wears 4-5 outfits daily, we can’t go long without washing clothes. Desperate, I tried to clean them without spin cycle assistance. I rung out each item before throwing it into the dryer, but the best way to describe the resulting pain in my hands is wet-burn. Plus, drying heavily soaked clothing broke the dryer inside two weeks.

We learn fast, it didn’t take long to understand our landlady had no intentions of making the home livable. We delivered our first rent payment in person, believing we would make fast introductions, hand them money, and retreat. Standard procedure. Not for these ladies. Dee and her mother were lonely, chatty women. They insisted we come in to “set a spell.” Thats hillbilly for “we want you to sit and listen to us talk a few hours.”

Scared and nervous we entered the witch’s lair, and again, were immediately assaulted by the pungent oder of urine, but fresh this time. Imagine you’re in a movie theater wearing flip-flops. You know what it feels and sounds like walking on those floors? That’s exactly what their carpet was like. Yes, I said carpet. Let that sink in a moment. If I was going to be trapped anyway, I wanted the conversation to be beneficial. I gave her a list of our major issues, most importantly the plumbing.

“I think we need to address these items before we begin cosmetics. The house isn’t livable.” I wanted to be polite, we wanted this to work.

“Oh my, I don’t know what could have happened, everything worked perfectly when I lived there.” Dee reviewed my list. “But there’s no reason to wait, my son is a plumber and I’m sure he can find a washer real quick.”

It was hard to resist pointing out the last time she entered the home was seven years go, but I managed. “That sounds great, but we can’t wash clothes until then. If he can get it quickly, it shouldn’t hurt to wait. We (Hubby) go through clothes too fast to dirty more with house work. My parents live outside the opposite end of town, it’s almost an hour from here. That’s too far to take clothes every other day.” I made a conscious effort to maintain a smile.

“Ah, I see! Well that’s no problem at all. You can was clothes here while we wait on the new one.” Dee beamed proudly.

I would have worn each pair of underwear for a week before I did laundry in that house. They would smell worse leaving than going. As it is, we burned the clothes we wore inside this first day. I’m not joking. I would like to take a moment to apologize for the sins we committed against the environment, but I was raised in a place that doesn’t believe in science. I didn’t know better, I am truly sorry. They were old clothes anyway, so when the smell clung to us we threw them in the burn pile.

By Sunday afternoon, we filled five 42 gallon trash bags but had no clue what to do with them. We hadn’t made a dent in our closet, where we were surprised to find clothes piled floor to ceiling. No hangers or baskets, nothing folded, just clothes thrown in until it was full. “But wait! Can’t you donate the clothes to charity?” You ask. That was also my initial response. Unfortunately, it was soon apparent we found the rat queen’s nest.

The smell was our first warning sign, but tolerable by our new, lowered standards. Armed with rubber gloves and face masks, we initiated contact with the pile. Rat feces fell from each item we picked up. Some things were chewed and matted together, some were stiff as a board. When the first live rat fled from the pile, we changed tactics. Newly armed with shovels and rakes, we scooped clothes into heavy duty trash bags. Hopefully you now understand why I would be averse to have them in my car, especially for multiple trips. Burning them honestly seemed like our only choice.

When Amy left Monday, we considered our living spaces almost as good as it would get. We obviously couldn’t waste money fixing the house, but we ripped out the carpets for our health and sanity. Once the living room and bedroom were clear, we saw there were very few places not permanently piss-stained. The thought of walking on it everyday was unsettling to say the least. Are you familiar with the felt paper used underneath shingles?

This stuff, it’s like thick construction paper.

Far from glamorous, but we had tons of the stuff and it put something clean under our feet. After the first two months, we adjusted to our new routines. We learned to brush our teeth in the kitchen, took five minute showers, and never left the safety of our living areas. It was around this time, the complaints about plumbing got serious. We accepted we would never have faucets or the other bathrooms functioning, but Hubby found a leak under our good bathroom. That scared us. If it stopped working, we were beyond screwed. I do not ‘pop squats’ no ma’am.

Every day for weeks I sent messages to Dee and Phoebe, “We have a leak, I’m really worried about it.” I understood they weren’t capable of concern for our general well-being, so I decided to appeal to their needs adding, “I’m mainly concerned because of your water bill. I’ve seen leaks cost several hundred to the water company alone.” That one always earned me a response, but not one I wanted.

“Oh goodness me! My son is a plumber, I can ask him to fix it. Can you maybe just fill up a couple buckets to flush and wash with, then you can cut the water off?” Dee suggested this as if it weren’t the same son who was supposed to provide a new washer. I was skeptical.

We tried it for a few days, but the shutoff valve was ridiculously hard to access, and when days turned to weeks we were beyond our limits with Dee. Each time I spoke to her she behaved as if it were the first time. At the end of the first week she let slip, “My son is a plumber, I can call him to come fix it!”

“You said that last week, have you still not called anyone?!” My calm facade fell momentarily, but I struggled to regain it in her awkward silence.

Finally, she said “I did. I did… but he was busy, maybe he forgot. I’ll call again right now.” It was the first time she ended a conversation voluntarily.

As I’m sure you can all guess, this continued until they received a $400 water bill. Dee called crying, sucking snot back every few words. “What… what happened?!” I thought… but you said you could keep the water off. You… you said… you didn’t mind!”

I never cared for her poor me act to begin with and now she pushed me far past caring about etiquette. “Never once did I say we didn’t mind, I said it was doable for a few days! That was over two weeks ago!”

“I… I’ll call my son… he’s… a plumber.” Dee hung up, but she didn’t call her son, she called Mike.

A few minutes later, Mike knocked on our door, a sheepish Phoebe standing behind him. I knew what was coming. “Ah, let me guess, you heard about the water.”

“Yea, look. We really need to work something out. You have to see it’s unfair to tell her about a major leak and decide to turn the water back on when she can’t get it done the next day.” Mike tried to hand me the water bill, but too many things pushed my rage past the limit of control. I’ll leave out my curses, they’re unbecoming.

He was use to commanding fear and respect from Phoebe and the two old biddies he cared for, he forgot you can’t treat other people that way. I was already in defense mode before he tried to bow up in my front door to push that cray on me. I ignored his outstretched hand completely, and looked past him to Phoebe. “Do I need to show him the texts and calls from the last several weeks or do you want to explain it to him? Because the way we’ve been living it’s not going to be pretty if I have to relive a play-by-play.”

Phoebe tugged his shirt sleeve, “She really has. Non-stop. I told you.”

The look on Mike’s face said it all. Dee called him crying her pity story, he wanted her to leave him alone, so he believed her hogwash without an ounce of thought. Caveman then decided he would bully his way through like he did with everything else. It was only a few weeks until the water was shut off completely. Dee claimed she couldn’t afford a plumber or water bills. She invited us to use her facilities, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know that wasn’t a valid option. Instead we drove to mooch water from family.

Life wasn’t too terrible. It was genuinely better than dealing with Rob and Amy until Hubby had a wreck. We were less than a week into living without water when a car came into his lane. I’m thankful he wasn’t seriously injured, but our only car was totaled. I don’t want to go on a tangent about the wreck, but it took almost 3 months to receive our insurance money, and we were too young for a rental. Once a week, my parents drove us for groceries, otherwise we were stranded. It was kind of fun at first. Hubby couldn’t take jobs, and winter was an incredibly slow time of year for a porch building company. I took a few short phone calls a day, but the rest of our time was spent popping Adderall, smoking weed, and watching tv.

We could cook and brush our teeth with store bought water, that was never a problem when we had so many larger challenges to face. Washing clothes had us stumped, but we worked out a routine of washing at Phoebe’s every Friday while they bar hopped. We grew to look forward to those nights. We were able to have a real shower and toilet. Some of you may be wondering why we didn’t visit regularly, but we just aren’t those people. Maybe if it were only Phoebe, but we hated Mike and I have a super weird thing about potty etiquette.

The first two days without water, we became desperate enough to use each toilet regardless of flush capabilities. Unfortunately, that put us over the max waste limit one can tolerate in their home, and we were forced to find alternatives. Hubby peed outside freely, but to my great despair, I too was forced to pop the squats. Alas, this did nothing to help with pooping. How campers and hunters use bushes I’ll never understand, but Hubby tried walking into the woods on Day 3. He returned covered in poison ivy and red-bug bites. So, what do do?

Well, it turns out, if you take a 40qt pot, and hook a few Walmart bag handles over the pot handles, you’re off to a good start. No matter what, don’t forget to hook those handles. Learn from our mistake, you don’t want to clean your own. Then you need four 4×4 cut offs taller than your pot, 6 inches is ideal. This requires a flat, even surface, and it helps if your willing to put a few screws in the floor. We were. Again, not something you want to learn the hard way. Once you have your base, you need to two more (preferably decking size) boards to lay across the top. Now you have a redneck toilet. It doesn’t flush, and you have to change the bag after each use, but it kept us pooping indoors.

The sad part is, once that’s resolved you have to figure out what to do with the bags. Obviously we couldn’t burn them as we had other trash, no one picked up garbage this far out of town, we were baffled. Then we noticed the shed in our backyard. We were use to ignoring it after our first look, when we moved in we saw it was full of garbage and smelled of mold. “You think that would work?” I asked Hubby as we shared a knowing glance.

“I think it’ll have to, let’s check it out.” He carefully approached the shed with a shovel, using the spade to swing the broken door ajar. It couldn’t latch, but it closed far enough to get the job done. The shed appeared to be Dee’s first hoarding victim. We honestly believed if (big if) anyone ever discovered our shame, it would be years away with no reason to suspect it wasn’t Dee herself. Hoarders save all sorts of weird stuff after-all.

Pooping quickly became the worst part of each day, but when the shed could hold no more, we were forced to hike into the woods. We found a deep gully to throw our bags into, but ignoring the fact we had to add a lengthy walk to our waste disposal routine, it felt deeply wrong. It’s the one routine I couldn’t adjust to. As the weeks progressed, with no end in sight, we sank deeper into depression. While we only had to suffer the poo routine in the morning, other challenges faced us through each day.

We may have showered every Friday, but we couldn’t go more than a day without feeling gross. Bird baths with store water were a waste of time and resources, but it’s what we did most often. The first time it rained was on Day 5. “It’s raining hard enough to shower outside, do you want to try?” Hubby suggested, already collecting soap and shampoo.

“Yea, I think I do.” I was excited at the idea. I enjoyed playing in the rain, and this gave me a valid reason.

We don’t have snow here, our winters rarely have truly cold days, but apparently standing in the rain will make all the difference. As soon as we stepped into the open, rain hit us hard and cold, it felt like someone knocked the air out of me. Hubby was able to last almost five minutes for a complete scrub down, but I only managed to wash my hair. We felt better than we had in days regardless. We showered every time it rained for the entire 8 weeks.

The first time rent was due after losing water, I refused to pay. Dee was furious, but I wouldn’t budge. “No! We’ve been living without water for over three weeks, and no, we are not comfortable using yours. Even if we were that wouldn’t make this ok.” I was no longer trying to be polite. Those days were long gone.

“But I need rent money to pay for the water. You can’t have water until you pay rent!” She demanded as if she cut the water off as leverage.

“If I thought there was any truth to that at all, I would pay it just because that’s how desperate we are, but I know full well that’s not where the money will go. You had our money and several weeks before the first water bill, but you did nothing.” I was shaking with fury.

When Dee resorted to calling us con-artists and refused to discuss water further, I hung up mid rant. A few minutes later she realized I was no longer on the phone and tried to call back. I ignored the calls, well out of patience for the day. The biggest surprise of all came the following day. With no forewarning, a man resembling a dirty, redneck Santa knocked on our door.

He introduced himself as Dee’s son-in-law, and was not a plumber but explained, “She won’t leave me alone about it. I done told her over and over this place needs to be tore down, but she just don’t wanna hear it. I came by today just to shut her up. You all need to get outta here ASAP, she ain’t got no money, and if she did she’d just spend it on stupid shit from the tv.”

I thanked the man for his honesty and blocked Dee’s numbers. We already planned to run for it when the insurance money came, but I decided there was no point to suffer through any further contact with her. There was no fear of her coming in person, she wouldn’t even pull into the driveway. After having her blocked several days, she sent Mike in her stead.

Lucky for him, he arrived with a vastly different attitude. He apologized profusely, told us to continue ignoring Dee, and reminded us we could use their facilities anytime. It was all very amicable in their regard, but I’m sure he used a different act when reporting back to Dee. I didn’t care in the least as long as we had no contact with her. When the insurance money finally came through, we bought an Avenger and moved to a nice 2 bed 2 bath apartment in town. It was a wonderful, glorious home.

A few weeks after the move, Phoebe informed me Dee hired a lawyer and intended to sue us. She and Mike were present during the lawyer’s visit, and the conversation was phenomenal.

“Not only did they refuse to pay rent, they stole from me! I want all my rent money, my stuff, and then something for all the emotional distress they put me through. They lived there for 6 months!” Dee ranted at the lawyer.

“Well we can probably get the rent money, but pending what they did with the stolen items… what all did they take? Do you have a copy of your renters contract?” The lawyer asked, pausing to look up from his notes.

“We didn’t do no contract, but they robbed me blind! I’ll have to make you a list, we gotta get in there and look, but my beautiful glass cabinet is gone!”

“You didn’t have any contract? That’s going to make recovering rent very difficult if not impossible. What other big items were taken? Did any of you see them take it? What’s our proof?” The lawyer put his notes away, already suspicious of his “easy paycheck” Dee described over the phone.

“I told you, I gotta get in there and see, I don’t know what else yet! Of course they didn’t take it when we was looking! They ain’t gonna admit to it, they saying they never took nothing! Liars! Liars and thieves!”

With a deep sigh, the lawyer asked, “Well why wouldn’t they pay rent? Did they give a reason? They just didn’t have it, or what?”

“They said they wasn’t gonna pay till I fixed the water, but that’s bullshit! They wasn’t supposed to be using it!” Now fully exasperated, the lawyer asked, “Wait. Are you saying that house doesn’t have water?!”

“Course it did. They had water till they ran up a $400 bill and got it turned off.” Dee snapped.

Mike, tired of the conversation, sped things over the finish line. “Look, they paid rent on time every month until the water was cut off. Aunt Dee did the water in her own name, it was suppose to be included in the rent.”

Dee looked at Mike with black hatred, but the lawyer spoke first. “I think I’ve heard enough. Ma’am , if they decide sue you, give me a call. Otherwise you need to thank your lucky stars and leave those folks alone.

And that friends, was how Dee left our lives for good. You have to be very careful when house shopping. Whether it’s to rent or own, always do your homework. I’m glad I finally got to write this one. We didn’t have time to cover all the good stories from living there, but the water incident was easily the most difficult. Next up, I’ve decided to make my 50th post the Halloween Special! I hope to post it in the next few days, until then stay safe and suspicious. Remember, the paranoid ones survive horror movies longest.

humor

Please, Join my Cult

While yes, I did begin writing a Halloween special, I need to take a small detour. As YouTube carried us through our morning news, it played an older Jimmy Kimmel with a televangelist clip. As I reflect on the scene, I find myself questioning reality. Seriously, I need you to get on my level for a second. Step into my shoes, let me guide you through this properly.

You’re coming out of a deep sleep, but you aren’t ready to look at the clock, fearing what you’ll see. Your back hurts, you’ve been pinned in place by three cats all night. You have to pee, but doing so would disturb Hubby and you’ve both slept terribly this week. Finally, back screaming, you slowly unfold your legs, delicately rolling to the nightstand. As cats leap from bed, you freeze, hoping the Hubby Huff doesn’t come. When your heart resumes beating, you finally see it’s 4:38AM.

The alarm will sound at 5:00. You know using the bathroom will wake him. You know you’ll hear the Huff while you pee. Yet you really have to pee. 22 minutes. You try to close your eyes, try to drift off, but your bladder is infuriated. It calls for reinforcements. You feel a hot bubble of sludge slide down your intestines, coming to rest in your bottom. You clinch against the flames, but your asshole is essentially the only barrier between the bed and molten lava. You ever so gently crawl to the toilet. The moment you release your bowls, you see the light of Hubby’s phone, simultaneous with the Huff.

Huff protocol dictates a reset alarm for 5:30. Always erring to the side of caution, you begin your morning. You let the first round of cats out, take Bandit’s (raccoon) food to the edge of the woods because his presence bothers them, feed cats, release second round, grab a water and sit. Sounds of Hubby’s dresser emanate from the bedroom, telling you to prepare the tv. After a short, irrelevant monologue from Seth Meyers, YouTube selects Jimmy Kimmel.

Great choice, he’s second only to John Oliver, but you’re not sure why it felt the need to show one from election time. It’s called Trump Melts Down Over “Stolen” Election, and still worth watching so you don’t complain. Then they showed this guy:

🤢🤮

This man stands in front of you, and says “they’re trying to say Joe Biden is president,” and fake laughs horribly. Then he continues, and here’s what really gets you. After a few fake laughs, well past when he should have stopped, he does it again. But this time, he walks around while he laughs. The crowd eats it up! They stand, cheering louder than ever! How does a man like that have a cult? How do people follow and give him money? How are there enough people to support all the ones like him? They have some cush-ass lifestyles! How do they even start? How do you brainwash enough people to confidently stand before the masses to convince them they benefit by giving you money?

As you sit on your cat-hair covered couch, still naked beneath a raggedy bathrobe in desperate need of washing, you realize that disgusting old man has fans. Lots of them. Sure, for every fan there’s 100 enemies wishing him dead. Sure, he spouts nonsensical hate rhetoric for a living. Sure, you’d think he could afford a dentist, but apparently teeth aren’t everything in the cult game. But you know what? He probably never had to choose between food or a rent payment. Never had to live 8 weeks in the country with no water or transportation. (Oh! Note to self, write about that 2 months without indoor plumbing.) Hell, I bet that crazy old fart has more than 2 Twitter followers too!

So, after reading all these well thought out points, do you see how it might be worth imitating his behavior? Damn, me either. I really wanted to, but frankly I’d rather puncture my own ear drums than listen to him speak again. I figure there has to be a middle ground. I’ve decided to start my own cult. I’m not married to the name yet, but I was toying with LGFNW, Losers, Geeks, Freaks, Nerds, and Weirdos, all welcome and equal. Violence and bullying strictly prohibited.

I may not have much to offer, but I can make you a few promises that clearly put me ahead of the packs.

  • I will never lie to you
  • I will never hold you hostage
  • I will never forbid you from contact with family
  • I will never enforce Droit du seigneur (right of first night, fancy word for rape)
  • I will never drug you (against your will)
  • Most importantly, I will always support your right to believe whatever the hell you want.

There’s something deeply wrong in a world where my cult fails while those others flourish. Anyway, thank you for your indulgence in this matter. If you would like to join LGFNW, there are no fees or deadlines. Currently all positions are open. No background or credit checks necessary. We have no swag, or any material possessions whatsoever, but we do have, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of gusto.

Admittedly the logo needs work.
humor, mental health, spooky

Down the Rabbit Hole

** Before I begin, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. I’ll keep it short; if I think about it too hard, I may have a panic attack. When I started this blog I didn’t expect to find such an amazing community. Seriously, you guys have been so welcoming, I appreciate you more than I can express. This has been a wonderful experience, and I hope I can continue to grow here. **

Since I put my foot in my mouth and told you guys about Cutty’s cellar, I wanted to do it next. If I put it off, I’ll chicken out or procrastinate until last minute. I’m not a fan of talking about this one, but I stayed with Cutty a few days during our 8th grade spring break. The week before, our history class learned about secret escape tunnels built during the Civil War. Several antebellum homes had them, but now most are caved-in, closed off, or converted to storage.

For the first time, Google images was worthless. I tried to find a picture of another home’s tunnel, but none look close to the real thing. It’s exactly what it sounds like, I promise. They didn’t have time for anything fancy, the walls and ceiling were braced with wooden beams. They kept lanterns and what were essentially bug-out bags at the entrance. If you were being forced to use a tunnel, chances are you didn’t have time to gather supplies first. The other end exited behind a tree-line, or any place out of view.

Cutty’s cellar was caved in 6ft from the entrance. Wherever it came out was lost in history, but the previous owners concreted the steps. Crone Club had a fit, but you can’t un-concrete something, at least not how they wanted. It was deep enough to stay cool year round, and safe enough for Cutty’s mom to store her preserves. That’s all you need for now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

“So… what haunts the escape tunnel?” I asked Cutty.

“Nothing.”

“Oh, don’t be like that, come on. I promise I won’t try to sleep there.”

“Seriously. It’s not haunted. If it is, no one has told me about it.” She shrugged with just enough indifference to make me believe her.

I was disappointed to say the least, but I still wanted to be one of the kids who got to say they’ve been in one. “Let’s go look at it, I just wanna see it. Please?”

“I’ll take you if you swear not to do any ghost crap for the whole week.”

“Deal!” One week wasn’t a bad trade-off. I could always entertain myself with the swimming pool or golf cart.

“Fine, but no changing your mind when you only see jars of fruit, it collapsed before we moved here.” She lead me through the house, to the basement.

Before we progress further, there is one more thing I forgot to mention. It’s weirdly important to me you understand this, thank you for the indulgence.

Shortly before this took place, Dad gave me a camping kit. Among other items, it contained a canteen. I hate camping, there’s no electricity or bathrooms, but I love pretending to camp. It’s best to accept it as one of my quirks and move on, there’s a whole thing unto itself there; but what matters is, I had the canteen. I packed it partly because packing and unpacking are among my favorite activities, but mostly because I had a feeling. Don’t let the packing comment hold you up, it’s not why we’re here either. Nor am I leading you into a rant about premonitions or foresight, this goes straight back to my paranoia issue.

If you don’t suffer from paranoia, you may not understand how many ‘feelings’ we have daily. It’s more than one could feasibly indulge. At the tender age of 13, I was already in the habit of ignoring them. One’s gut can only cry wolf so many times before one hopes a real wolf comes along to devour it.

That’s why, when Gut screamed, “grab the canteen, we’re going on an adventure!” as we left Cutty’s room, I rolled my eyes. Sick of it.

Last time I listened to you, I dove behind a tree to avoid a dangerous spy at school. Everyone saw! How did you think I would explain that?” I admonished.

Ok, back to the basement again. On the far wall, a small, wooden door hid the entrance to the cellar. It didn’t look old enough to be the original, but I imagine it had something less noticeable back then. We opened the door, and I could see the skinny concrete steps descending into darkness. It was deep enough for me to stand upright, but most men would need to hunch. The preserves were next to the entrance, most could be reached without leaving the steps. It was much smaller than I imagined.

Cutty reached in to pull a light cord, and a single, dim bulb lit up. “Here, this is the only light. Look so we can leave. Maybe we can get you a tan this week.”

I was so pleased, I didn’t remind her I can’t tan. I’m the kind of Irish that burns instantly, but returns to pasty white once the skin peels. Honestly, I’m not sure why we’re called white. The color is closer to peach if anything. Sorry, tangent.

I looked at the jarred fruit, dull as promised, and walked the few feet to the cave-in. It wasn’t a wall of earth as I pictured, dirt partially fell in, but the rotten timber blocked most of the path. “Do you have a flashlight?”

“No, you don’t need one. Let’s go.” Cutty was already out of patience. So difficult.

“I just want to see what’s past the cave-in. Come on, there has to be one in here.” I whined.

“No! There’s nothing but more dirt! I showed it to you, now let’s go swimming or something.”

“Fine. You win this round.” But I didn’t tell her she would lose the next. It occurred to me, I never promised not to revisit the cellar.

No one travelled that tunnel for over 100 years! I was consumed by the idea of being the person who discovered the tunnel’s exit. It was about history, not ghosts. If I had a conscience then, it would have been clear. Strangers would learn my name on the tour! I could hear it already, “And thanks to our adopted daughter’s efforts, we can now show you where the tunnel leads.” Cutty’s parents would say, beaming with pride.

If that weren’t delusional enough, I also convinced myself other homeowners would invite me to explore their tunnels. I saw myself being labeled the real-life Lara Croft. Yes, that was definitely worse. You see how the simplest things carried me away? I looked at a cellar for 30 seconds and it only took 30 more to believe it would make me famous. Ok, I’m starting to think I’ve had the god complex longer than I realized.

The rest of the day went slowly as I waited for nightfall, but I was able to locate a flashlight. When midnight came around, I heard the reassuring sound of Cutty’s snores. Quietly, I crawled out of her room, the embodiment of Lara Croft, professional, afraid of nothing. I set about my task with a rare seriousness, calm and confident.

Don’t forget the canteen, you never know when you’ll need it!” Gut reminded.

Screw you, I’m sick of it! Do you remember what happened when you convinced me to do stand up at the talent show?!” Not this time, Satan!

It’s Brain’s fault you can’t say words correctly, I was only trying to help. Besides, this is different. I really think you should take the canteen this time.” It changed my fun butterflies to painful cramps with a side of nausea to prove it’s point.

No way, you aren’t fooling me with that trick. I don’t care what you say, I’m not wasting my time crawling all the way back. You just want me to wake her up!” I accused.

“No… look, I know we’ve had our differences, but this time I’m…

La la la la la la la I can’t hear you, la la la.” That always shuts it up.

After I made it to ground level, I remained at the bottom step, making sure no one woke during my Grinch walk. One of those extra considerations that so often encouraged my false sense of grandeur.

You know, Grinch walk? To sneak.

The fantasy lasted until I was in the basement. Shining the flashlight on the cellar door felt like a hypnotist snapping his fingers to release me from a trance. My bravery evaporated instantly, but not my curiosity. In the end, Curiosity defeated Cowardice and Cramps. I had gone all that way, I didn’t see the harm in taking a quick look. I only wanted to know if I could see past the cave-in… but then I could see past it. A little, at the very top, I could see open space inside. The image reignited my fantasy, and my thoughts spiraled out of control.

Holy shit it’s really open back there. Holy shit ok, be cool, for once in your miserable life, slow down, take a breath, and think first.

Hey, can I say something now? Because I would really like you to go back for more supplies, you have time to think about what you might need.” Gut warned.

“That’s a hard pass, I have to do this now, I only have 4 hours at most.

Isn’t that kind of a long time though? Could we at least talk about this?”

No! 4 hours is nothing! Shut up, already!” Seriously, you cannot trust that thing.

But we could…

La la la la la la la la.”

Alright, can’t waste time. Need to get through that pile without making a stupid mistake. That means getting in and out without loud noises, getting hurt, or breaking anything. Better make sure to close the basement door, that’ll help with sound. Wonder if I can endure closing the cellar door… yes… you damn well will either way because this is serious. We don’t have time for you to be a cry baby about claustrophobia. Don’t take anything from the pile unless it’s definitely safe to move. If anything could break, it would be the glass jars. There aren’t too many… smart! That’s totally what was going to screw us. “Great job, Brain! See, Gut? Why can’t you be more like Brain?”

I carried the jars carefully, one in each hand, to a table on the far side of the basement. I worried I might forget them later if I was excited about making history, but it seemed forgivable under the circumstance. When I closed myself into the cellar it took a few minutes of intense concentration to pretend a vast, open space was behind me, but then I got to work.

Start at the top, you don’t want anything falling on your head.” Brain smartly recommended.

The wood was old and rotten, had I been smart enough to understand what termites were and how many were likely in that pile, the story would probably end here. But I was a moron, so let’s continue.

I worked slow and steady, genuinely terrified, but soon I had a hole big enough. All in all I was pretty proud of the work. I’d barely made a sound with none the wiser and all signs pointed to the hard parts being behind me; only fame and glory lay ahead.

Oh that poor fool, how I shake my head in derision.

I put the flashlight in my back pocket and crawled in, using my hands to lower myself to the ground on the other side. Excitedly, I retrieved the light and looked around, but I stirred too much dirt to see well. The space felt smaller than ever, and the idea of having a panic attack down there gave me a panic attack. I tried to use my shirt as a face mask, but it too, was covered in dirt. I inhaled more, causing me to fall, gagging and thrashing about. When finally able to stand and breathe again, my watch read 1:37AM, but I couldn’t have been on the ground more than 5-10 minutes. I tried to look around again, but the flashlight only showed a wall of dust. I walked forward cautiously, hand held out, wishing I had a walking stick.

You mean like you might have, had you thought about supplies for 5 minutes like I asked?” Gut chimed in.

Refusing to be sucked into mind games, I marched onward. I’m terrible at judging distances, but I would guess the real cave-in was less than 20ft from the first. A right and proper one, no question. The disappointment washed over me with another loud snap of a hypnotist’s fingers. Except this time, it wasn’t in my imagination, it was a real snap. Well, technically it was a crack. As in the crack of an old wood beam breaking. Because that’s what it was.

Shining the light toward the entrance, I looked for the source of sound. For the first time, I noticed part of the ceiling beam was still in place, not just part of the debris. Or it had been until that moment. As I debated whether I should stay put or rush through, it collapsed, effectively closing my hole. I didn’t panic at first, it didn’t seem realistic. There was no part of me that believed getting stuck down there was a possible outcome. I waited until I was confident the pile was settled before further inspection.

I worked at it same as before, from the top. I moved a few small pieces of wood and scooped away dirt, but the newly fallen beam was too heavy to move. I shoved with all my strength, tried breaking pieces off, but it was hopeless. I stayed calm long enough to make the same assessment for the rest of the pile, but panic ensued when I had to accept reality. I was stuck, no matter what I used for leverage, or where, I wasn’t strong enough to move the pieces that mattered. Even if I had managed to make a hole near the bottom, I’m not sure I could have forced myself through. As unreal as being trapped seemed, being crushed by debris seemed very plausible. Another glance at my watch told me it was 2:16, it’s weird the details you remember in a crisis.

I sat against a wall to rest. Body began noticing how sore and tired it was, but Brain was determined to escape without getting caught. Had I been desperate enough to call Cutty, I couldn’t have anyway. Texting didn’t exist, Cutty didn’t own a cellphone, and mine was upstairs because they were useless in 2002.

See, useless. Not even a flashlight. Wait… except for Snake, I miss that game.
OMFG! Do you guys see what I just found in the App Store?! 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻 You’re welcome!

Desperation makes normal people do crazy things. So yea, my thoughts started to get away from me again, sue me.

Ok, ok, ok, this is fine, you’re fine. What’s the worst that can happen? They clear the mess in the morning and give you a good lecture? So what? There’s worse things, not like they’re going to eat you. Calm down, take the yelling with dignity and move on. Maybe they’ll think it’s funny! That be great, wouldn’t it? Yea, I bet they’ll think it’s funny. No one got hurt, nothing is broken, they even know what’s back here now. Nothing but aces.

Hey, now that you mention it, how early do you think they’re going to find us? Because we didn’t tell anyone what we were doing, and we closed both doors.” Brain acknowledged

Well, her dad wakes up early. It could be 6 or maybe even sooner if we’re lucky. It’s after 2 now… that’s only 4 hours. That’s cake, it’s nothing. We can hang out in this tiny space for 4 hours. We have light, everything’s fine. We’re going to face the dust cloud and pretend it’s all wide open spaces out there. It’s fine, we’re fine.” I soothed, holding legs to my chest, rocking gently.

Right, but… why would he come down here when he wakes up? Wouldn’t he just… get up and go about his day? I mean, he’s only going to see a closed door if he sees it at all. He’s going to assume you and Cutty are still asleep, just like her mom will. Won’t this depend on what time Cutty wakes? What time was it yesterday? 10-10:30?” Brain corrected.

Fuckballs, you’re right. That’s nearly 8 hours. But… but… we can’t. We can’t do that, we can’t.” The rocking became less gentle.

I can’t help but notice this is the perfect situation for a canteen and candy bar” Gut joined the conversation. A bit too smug if you ask me.

If you say one. More. Word. I will tear my stomach open just to rip you out.” Gut was blessedly silent for the remainder of this story, but for the rest of my life it will use this instance to force obedience. That’s called emotional manipulation, and it’s barbaric.

So… do you want to like… maybe try digging again?” Brain broke the awkward silence.

Might as well.”

Wouldn’t it be funny if this was when we saw a ghost?” Brain whispered.

I hate you so much.”

What if we have to use the bathroom?” Brain asked hesitantly.

Shut up, don’t think I won’t rip you out too.”

I alternated between trying to dig, and rocking on the ground for the first hour, but when the flashlight batteries died, my morale plummeted to a new low. I only had two more panic attacks in the total 6 hours I waited. If someone had presented it to me as a ‘what if’ scenario, I would have guessed a complete system shut down. Noises you hear in the dark, while trapped inside the bowels of a home with that history are… well, they’re fucking terrifying. When your eyes have nothing to see, they create something to see. It’s a thing, super interesting, you should Google it, but it’s also heart attack fuel. If I closed my eyes, I felt like something was reaching out to grab me. The illusion was complete with the dust and bugs crawling on me. Even now, I don’t understand how I only had two panic attacks. Maybe they lasted longer than I thought. Needless to say, it felt longer than 6 hours, but Cutty got up when she realized I was gone.

“Where are you, dumbass?” She called out.

“Dude! Thank goodness! Dude over here come to the back of the cellar!” I leapt with joy, I never knew how literal the phrase was until I experienced it for myself. Simply exhilarating, I hope to feel it again some day.

“What the actual fuck have you done? Do you have any idea how lucky you are my parents went to work without noticing this? Mom’s fruit is going to be ruined, what the hell is wrong with you?” I could hear her replacing the jars as she spoke.

“Alright, I know I’m an asshole, I completely agree with every bad thing you want to say. I swear I will sit quietly and listen to every word, and we can do whatever you want for the rest of the week. I don’t care just please, please, help me get out. I have to pee so bad, you don’t understand, and I’m so thirsty, please get me out.” My heart sank as I said it. If she wasn’t strong enough, and her parents were at work, I was screwed. I explained how I became trapped and forced myself to wait quietly while she tried to dig me out.

“You are such a bitch for this! This stuff is disgusting, I’m getting filthy. Do you understand how screwed we are if we can’t get you out? Do you know what Crone Club would do if they found out? Mom wasn’t even suppose to keep the fruit there!”

“Yes, I know, I assure you the fear within me is bubbling over, much like the urine within my bladder. Please, I’m begging you, tell me you can move that thing. If you can move it just a little I can squeeze through the hole I made.

“Yea, yea. I think I can get it, calm down. You’re lucky I even got out of bed this early.” She griped.

“I know, I’m incredibly lucky because you’re the best person in the entire world, all hail Queen Cutty.”

“I think we can move it now. The bottom was wedged, but if you can push on it from your side I think we can get it.”

“Yes! Yes I can! Just say when, I’m ready!” This time, it moved easily. We pushed the beam away, and I leapt through the opening. I could have kissed Cutty, had I not been required to immediately run for the bathroom. I drank a gallon of water, ate several pop tarts, and told Cutty the whole story. She wasn’t a good sport, but she wasn’t a bad sport either. She didn’t tell her parents so I can’t complain too much.

Well, there you have it. The cellar story. Before I go, I want to say thank you once more. I don’t think I had 150 followers if you combined the life time totals of all my social media accounts. Thank you all, this has been truly incredible.