I just took another dose of painkillers so I hope this will be somewhat coherent by the time I’m done. The doctor said that once they popped my shoulder back into place most of the pain would disappear, but I think she was just trying to make me feel better. Tonight I’m going to destroy the map. I’m backing up my files and digital copies on a flash drive, but plan on locking it in my safe deposit box at the bank. The physical evidence though, I’m going to burn.
I figure reformatting my hard drive will be enough for the electronic copies.
The voicemail hit my phone yesterday in the late afternoon, catching me as I was in the shower. Not recognizing the number, I waited until after I had redressed and made some dinner before listening. The static crackling that burst through the line when my mail box connected almost made me drop the phone, but besides the sudden shock, it was a regular message.
Who it was from though, that was the weird part. I could hear Kylie’s voice breaking through the static periodically, asking for my help. She didn’t sound panicked or anything, but there was urgency in her tone. In between bits of distortion came a request: ‘please help me move out of here before he comes home.’
The last time I had seen Kylie was at a campus party during our freshmen year of college. We had dated in high school, but gradually drifted apart. Kylie was smart, driven, and energetic. Always jumping in to new sports or clubs only slowing down to read the adventure and fantasy stories she would get drawn into. She ended up transferring to pursue a medical degree, and I was comfortable where I was, drifting and trying to make sense of my life. The campus party was basically the last dying breath in our relationship, as both of us were trying to make it work even though it was clearly over. We went through the motions, and just gradually broke contact. It was neither a good or bad breakup, it just kind of happened slowly. It was like riding the subway; you know that no matter what happens they’re going to call your stop and there’s no point in staying on board past that.
Through Facebook, I would randomly follow her updates, seeing her graduate from medical school, start her residency, and get married. I never much paid any attention to her husband, but once the cryptic call came through I looked him up as well. He was an anesthesiologist in the same hospital she worked in, and seemed to be an extremely thin, mousey guy in a pair of expensive designer glasses. I have no idea why she’d call me, but if she was trying to get away from him he wouldn’t be too hard to fend off. I’m by no means built like a football player, but the man looked like he would struggle against a strong breeze. His name was Charles, and he seemed like the kind of guy that only liked it that way. No Chuck or Charlie, I prefer just Charles, thanks.
I called the number back but received no response and no voicemail. She had left her address with the message, so I cleared out the bed of my truck, grabbed a flashlight and some packing equipment, and set off for her house.
A thousand scenarios marched through my head as I tried to decide why she had reached out to me of all people. Maybe because she knew I still lived close by? It could be that she was trying to get out quick and didn’t want a mutual friend to tip Chuck off.
Charles, I reminded myself, the guy’s name is Charles.
I had no illusion that this was going to be the start of some romantic adventure, where I would ride in on my white horse and rescue her from the crazed king and his dungeon. All I knew is that she needed my help with something, and that I owed it to her to show up.
The drive was about forty minutes, and the radio mentioned the severe thunderstorms and potential for tornadoes that would be rolling in overnight. Charles could have been out-of-town and stuck at an airport, which may be why tonight was her window for escape.
I pulled up to the long, well-lit driveway just as the first fat raindrops burst over my windshield. The young trees in the well-manicured yard began to sway and bend with each gust of wind. The house was a newly built mansion and for some reason I didn’t expect that, even though they were both doctors. It was in an isolated clearing, distanced from the road by the long driveway and surrounded on the other three sides by thick forest.
The low rumble of thunder shook my seat as I backed my truck up towards the garage. I figured if there was anything big to take it would be easiest to get it out through there, sheltered from the rain and wind. The carriageway lights dimmed for a moment with the most recent burst of thunder, reminding me to slip the flashlight into my jacket.
Marble sized pieces of hail began pelting me as I jogged up the walkway to the front door. The lights were on in the house, and I opened the storm door and used the door knocker. The heavy brass lion’s head thudded against the door, and I waited.
“I’ll be down in a minute!” called Kylie from inside. Her voice was distant and muted, as she was most likely scurrying around to get the last of her belongings. I gave it another moment or two, and tried the door knob. The heavy oak door swung inwards as I stepped into the foyer.
I felt instantly out of place. The heavy surplus army jacket I had used as protection from the elements, complimented by my soaked through work boots, began to drip water onto the marble floor. A twin grand staircase swept in front of me up to the second floor, and the entire space was lit by a giant chandelier. I hated places like this, it felt less like a house and more like a museum. Everything was perfect, from the spotless floors (well, almost spotless,) to the family portraits neatly hung with surgical precision.
“Sorry! I let myself in; it’s getting kind of crazy out there.” My voice echoed through the house, and I peeked down the hallways branching off from the entryway.
“I’ll be down in a minute!” she called.
I stood for another moment and then absent-mindedly strolled down one of the hallways. The marble gave way to an off white marble carpet, and more modern furnishings. The hallway was bordered on the left wall by windows looking to the front yard, and to the right by random doors. I passed by a billiard’s room with a well-stocked bar, a workout room, and finally the hallway ended in a two story, wood paneled library.
This looked to be the most used room I had seen so far. Books were spread out on side tables and the remnants of an old fire were still in the fireplace. The one wall that wasn’t covered by bookshelves and wood panels had quotes I recognized from Kylie’s favorite stories. Lines from Grimm’s fairytales and Lewis Carroll were laid out in an intricate, hand painted font. A small can of paint and a brush sat on the table below the words, as it appeared to be a work in progress. The clearest one was from her favorite story, Jabberwocky.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious !”
I stopped to admire them and a roar of thunder shook the house. The building plunged into darkness.
Stumbling backwards and catching my thigh on the corner of an end table, I yelped as I fell over in surprise and pain. Frantically I searched my jacket for my flashlight, catching my watch on the edge of the pocket and nearly dropping the light before steadying myself.
The storm blocked all ambient light from coming in the windows, save for the occasional flash of lightning. The beam from my flashlight pierced the darkness, and I began to backtrack my way towards the main hall.
“Hey is there a circuit box or something I can check?” I was used to the circuits in my house popping anytime there was bad weather or even if I just plugged in the damn vacuum.
I waited for a response, the only noise being the hail and rain slamming against the side of the house.
“Ok… I’m going to come upstairs then.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up as my rain-soaked boot padded onto the soft carpet of the staircase. Each step felt like eternity as I slid my back along the wall, illuminating every shadowed section of the large room. Finally, I reached the landing at the top of the second floor.
I stepped forward through one of the branching halls, finding one of the wooden doors ajar.
I took a moment and steadied myself. I’ve been through worse storms in a tent on the side of a damn mountain. I’m letting all the weird stories I’ve recorded lately get to me. With my newly found sense of courage, I pushed the door the rest of the way in, revealing a cluttered office.
Papers had been spread out on the desk in front of the dark and silent computer, and I barely caught a glimpse of the logo on one of the papers before leaving the room.
I spun back around and grabbed the papers. It was a printed ticket confirmation and itinerary for this week.
Kylie and Charles Wellman. Non-stop flight from Chicago O’Hare to Frankfurt, Germany.
The flight left two days ago.
I dropped the packet of papers and sprinted towards the main hall landing. My flashlight bounced in the darkness, giving me a strobe light effect as I hit the stairs and began to stumble down them.
“I’ll be down in a minute!”
I tripped and rolled down the last few steps, flashlight clattering against the marble. My shoulder wrenched with pain and I screamed louder than I ever had before as my left arm was caught in the decorative wrought iron banister when I hit the base of the stairs.
I tried to pull my arm free but it wasn’t cooperating. I grabbed it with my other hand and yanked, freeing it but sending more jolts of pain shooting into my body.
“I’ll be down in a minute!”
I froze. The voice wasn’t behind me, or in front of me. It was coming from the tall ceiling above me.
Fight or flight kicked in and I dug my boot into the floor, propelling myself to the entryway. I reached for the door knob as I collided with the sturdy oak door. I grasped at empty air. Lightning flashed and I found the door knob, it had been ripped from the door, the heavy brass crumpled and twisted beyond recognition. Something had lodged it between the door and the frame, effectively sealing the door.
Without thinking I sprinted down the side hall towards the library while I heard the drywall and wooden studs on the ceiling crumble and tear as whatever was above me closed in. Running down the hall at full sprint, I heard the thing drop from the ceiling, hitting the marble tile with a thud. Instinctively, I looked back for a split second.
Peering from around the corner was a thick, muscular neck. It was at least four feet long from what I could see, and ended in a round head the size of a basketball. It stared at me through sunken eye sockets with a curved, motionless grin. Thinking back, I don’t even know if it had eyes or just the empty void where they should be.
The thing’s mouth opened from its fixed smile and without moving its lips echoed “I’ll be down in a minute!” from its shark toothed maw.
My sprint carried me full speed into the library and I slammed the heavy door behind me. I grabbed one of the plush chairs and wedged it underneath the doorknob. The sound of the bulky thing outside came thundering from the hallway.
As I looked for an exit, lightning flashed, brightening the room through the sealed windows high up on the wall.
“I’ll be down in a minute! I’ll be down in a minute!” The door shuddered as the creature slammed its weight against it. The sound of splintering and cracking wood broke through the storm.
In the dim flash from the lightning I saw the fireplace poker. Even though it felt hefty and strong in my hands, it felt like going up against a bear with a letter opener. I turned to face the door and the light flashed again illuminating the script on the wall. I barely registered it before the room plunged again into darkness.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious !”
The word filled my mind as Kylie’s favorite lines from Lewis Carroll came back to me. I didn’t notice it before.
The door splintered and the neck shot through the doorway, head wildly snapping in my direction. I swung the iron poker and connected with its throat causing a bellow of fury to erupt from the creature. As the hit connected, I could see the word “Bandersnatch” faintly glow in the empty space of the verse. It glowed with the color smoldering embers, and then faded from view. The long neck whipped wildly and slammed me into the wall, pain coursing again up my dislocated shoulder. I held on to the poker, and stabbed blindly, catching the thing somewhere in the face as “Bandersnatch” flared again into view, brighter and giving off small flames.
The Bandersnatch howled and bucked as I grabbed one of the small end tables and sprinted past it. I could hear it attempting to chase me down the hall, fireplace poker getting caught in the doorway and against the ceiling as I threw the table into the hall window, shattering it. Rain and glass pelted and cut my face as I jumped over the window ledge into the mud. I could see the window of the library glowing and flaring with the color of fire each time the Bandersnatch let out a howl of pain.
Reaching my truck I flung the door open and saw it.
The rifle. I had forgotten to take it out of the back seat.
My right hand gripped the waxed wooden stock and I pulled it to my right shoulder. My left shoulder protested when I tried to steady the rifle with my arm. The lightning was growing in intensity now, disorienting flashes revealing the broken window.
I steadied my aim and checked the safety. The glowing stopped in the library.
Holding my breath, I waited next to my truck for what felt like minutes, each strike of lightning revealing the empty window.
The storm let loose again, and I saw it for a split second.
The Bandersnatch was leaping through the window, its long neck and eyeless head were connected to a squat, powerful body. The only other details I noticed were the six-inch long claws outstretched towards me.
The blue flash of the lightning was overtaken by the fireball emitted from the end of the gun. Every noise was drowned out as the powerful rifle crack overpowered every sound from the storm.
My left arm shuddered in pain and the rifle nearly flew from my grip as the bulk of the Bandersnatch slammed into me. I was pinned between my truck and its body as I waited for the final frenzied tearing from the thing’s claws. Nothing happened.
The window from the library erupted with the roiling, burning light of a bonfire and the Bandersnatch began to shudder. Desperately, I dug my boots as hard as I could against the asphalt and pushed the corpse off of me as its body began to smoke and burn from within.
Throwing the rifle in my truck and jumping in, I could see the library burning as the creature burned with it, outside in the rain. I floored it down the driveway and onto the empty streets as the house, now in flames, disappeared into the curtain of rain behind me.
I took the back roads as the wind whipped my truck back and forth. I made it nearly home before I finally experienced hydroplane and control was wrenched from my grip. I could feel the truck tip and begin to roll. I was thrown against the ceiling and into the backseat, having forgotten to put my seatbelt on during my escape.
My head slammed into the center console as the truck slid to a stop. Dazed, and with what I would learn later was a concussion; I tried to crawl from the wreck. My body wouldn’t respond and I kept falling each time I attempted to move.
The blurriness of my vision made it hard to see, but I could see the dark shape of a person approaching the car from the darkness. At first I was overjoyed that I was going to be rescued, but that quickly turned to panic. I still don’t know if I actually saw something, or if my brain was going haywire because of shock and the crash, but the stranger walked slowly to the car, with a stumbling, jerky gait. My mind instantly made the comparison to a nature documentary I had seen, where a baby deer stands up and tries to move for the first time.
Then I realized that it wasn’t the stranger just stumbling, his limbs were rapidly shrinking and growing out of concert with one another. Each step would land on a leg that would either drop four inches or grow a foot. His arms, initially normal, would grow and drag across the ground before retracting up to chest height. One of the arms reached out to me, covering the distance of seven feet with ease, before I could hear the sound of squealing tires and a horn. I blacked out as the truck was struck by something, but before I faded into unconsciousness, I noticed the stranger had disappeared.
Waking up in the hospital, I was told that I was lucky I was alive. Considering the wreck, I had relatively minor injuries, and from what I gathered most were actually from escaping that thing in Kylie’s house. I left my fight in the mansion out of my statement. My truck was struck from behind by a teenager driving home from his night shift at the local gas station. He initially thought he killed me and called 911 in a panic, but actually ended up stemming some of the bleeding when he saw my chest rise and fall.
When I spoke with him he was in shock. I thanked him and said there was no way he could have seen my truck in that storm. He nodded, but I could tell he wasn’t really listening.
I turned to leave the hospital, arm in a brace, head bandaged, and a stitched leg that had been sliced by the twisted wreckage of my truck when he broke the silence.
“I thought I hit the guy in the road.”
As I walked out the door he began to sob.
The next day one of the State Troopers who pulled me out of the wreck rang my doorbell. After being chastised for having a loaded hunting rifle in my car, and after I told a couple of lies that I had just recently got it and didn’t realize it was loaded, he handed the lever-action over.
I’m damned lucky I left the .45 at home.
So, sitting here, I’m putting this as the last file on my backup drive before I burn my research to the ground. I don’t know what I’ve done, but whatever I did something is after me. The fucking thing laid a trap and I wandered right into it. I heard that the mansion did burn down, so not only did I put myself in danger, but also someone important to me from my past. Luckily she was in Germany at the time.
I once was on federal land bordering a Native American reservation, and while my boss argued with one of the tribal policemen I shot the shit with the other officer. I asked him the weirdest thing he had ever seen on the job.
He hesitated, and whispered that he couldn’t talk about it. The most he would say is that some of the older guys told him about things that know when you’re thinking about them. When you know about them, that’s the way they find you.
It’ll take me awhile to stop dwelling on this, but getting rid of the evidence should help.