My doorbell rings. It hasn’t done that in months. I disconnected the phone about 2 months ago, and if I didn’t have the mail slot, the postmaster probably would have sent some cops over to do a “wellness check” and make sure I hadn’t kicked. After what happened in the mountains, I was put on a ‘voluntary’ unpaid leave of absence from the DNR. I had started to show up late, finish my projects well behind schedule, and take several more days to get somewhere than usual. My boss likes me, so I figure this was the chance to fix myself up before I get shit-canned.
I bolt awake and feel the weight of the heavy black shotgun pressing into my chest. After I lost the rifle, I needed something with a bit more kick than the .45, but also cheap. The salesman showed me a pump-action shotgun. It had a short barrel, enlarged magazine, and a smaller than normal stock for self-defense in the tight spaces of a home. I bought it on the spot and picked it up the next day. I had taken it out behind my house a few times and test fired it. The steel and polymer gun shouldered differently than my now lost rifle but was easy to pick up nonetheless. I wouldn’t be winning any skeet shooting competitions, but I know how to at least clear a jam and roughly where to point the end of it.
The doorbell rings again and I slink off the couch, carrying the shotgun by the receiver. I try to knock the plates and empty pizza boxes out of my was as quietly as possible.
Then comes the knocking. Knock knock knock, right on my front door. Don’t they know how rude it is to knock on a man’s door at 3pm?
I crawl up against the wall next to the door and point the barrel of the shotgun at the sheet rock. I was never good with geometry, but I figure at this angle it would hit whoever it was out there.
“Who is it?” I ask. My voice surprises me. The words come out raspy and dry. I try to remember the last time I had a glass of water and I really can’t. Most days are a blur now anyways.
“John? It’s Gabrielle, are you ok?” I lower the shotgun slightly.
“Say something else, so I know it’s you,” I say. My voice quivers and I picture the long neck of the Bandersnatch trying to peer through the window, trying to trick me again.
“How about you’re being a goddamn weirdo? Seriously, you okay?” the voice asks. Yeah, that’s Gaby.
“I’m great,” sometimes I can be a halfway convincing liar. The strain in my voice blew my carefully planned excuse.
“Your SUV hasn’t moved since like, Jesus, was it the middle of August?” She was talking about the used crossover SUV I bought after my truck was totaled.
Satisfied that it really is Gaby, I lean the shotgun against the wall and open the door.
The door creaks open and Gaby’s eyes widen as she stares at my face. She lets go of the railing and backs up a few steps.
“John, what the hell happened to you?” It’s weird hearing her talk like this. She lives next door, a ways down the road, and keeps an eye on my house for me when I’m gone. I’m glad she didn’t use the key to let herself in.
Leaving the door open I run to the bathroom and peer into the mirror. I can barely recognize the face staring back at me. My hair is shaggy and dirty, cheeks are sunken in, and thanks to the lack of sleep, I look like I have two black eyes. Damnit, I’ve grown an uneven beard. I must have given up halfway through the last time I tried shaving. I look around and the complete disarray of my house hits me like a sledgehammer. Clothes and food littering the floor, sticky notes covering one wall while printed news articles cover the other. With the exception of my computer monitor, my desk is barely recognizable under all the garbage.
“Holy shit. Did you decide to take up serial killing or something?” Gaby has stepped inside the door and placed herself between me and the shotgun.
I open my mouth to explain. To tell someone else about the months I’ve spent researching shape shifters and Skinwalkers and one-off sightings of strange beings.
My knees give out and I can only start weeping.
We’re sitting on my back patio, the sun warming my face. It’s the first time I’ve been outside in weeks. I had compromised with Gaby, I would come outside and explain, but I had to leave the shotgun inside. She let me keep the .45 though. It sat on the weathered bench with us, a third-party to the conversation.
I spent hours telling her what I’ve seen and experienced. What nearly killed me and the horrible things I saw that made me wish I hadn’t made it out so many times.
She just listened, jumping in only for clarification or if there was a contradiction in my story. I finished with the warnings of the Burning Man, and the person who’s proportions kept changing while I was pinned in the wreckage of my car.
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do. I want you to pack a bag with your important research, clothes, and any stuff you want to bring. Put it in your car, and bring it to my house. Your house is filthy, and you need to clean yourself up. Then we’ll talk more once you’ve cleaned up and eaten. Sound good?” I know Gaby wasn’t asking a question, she was giving an order, and I followed it to the letter.
As soon as I reached her house she took my bag from me, dumped the clothes in her washer, and practically shoved me into the guest bathroom. Twenty minutes later and I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror. The shaving foam slowly draining down the sink as I rinse off the razor. I still look like shit, but at least I no longer look like a feral man living in the woods.
On the guest bed are an old pair of men’s jeans and a stretched out charity 5k shirt. My head was pounding as I poured myself a cup of coffee and joined Gaby in the back yard. I figured the clothes were some left over from her ex-husband. They smelled a bit musty, probably long since forgotten in a box until today. Gaby’s at her grill cooking some steaks. She’s was having family over the next day, but called them and canceled as soon as she took me in as a charity case.
“It sounds crazy as hell, but I kind of believe you,” she says, never turning from the grill. “You have that fear in your eyes, real fear, that you don’t see too often.”
“So what do you think?” I ask. Hearing someone else even somewhat take my stories as true is more than enough to make me count them as on my side.
“I think you’ve been looking in the wrong place.”
“But I searched the Internet and the library and ordered every damn weird occult book I found online, what the hell do you think I missed?” My cheeks flush and I feel my jaw clench. She’s enjoying holding this over me.
“What do good universities have that are stocked with books,” she asks.
“A library? Stacks?”
“Good, and what do those have that public libraries around here don’t?” She pulls the steaks off the grill and puts them on a plate to rest.
“Research books?” I guess.
“Close, they sometimes happen to have a restricted book section. That’s where they keep either extremely rare manuscripts or titles that need to be preserved for special research. They don’t put them into open circulation or even the reference section, because either they’d fall apart in days, or there would probably be a book burning.”
“And you’re a goddamn librarian,” I say, rubbing my temples.
“You forgot the ‘for a good university’ part,” she laughs. Embarrassment washes over me. I hadn’t even considered university libraries, much less any secret stacks hidden from the public.
“I’ve only been in there once, and most of the books in there are either about the occult or ancient religion,” she continues.
“Can you get me in there?” I ask, the spark reignited in my chest.
“Not officially, but I can call in a couple of favors from one of the head librarians.”
We finish the dinner and she orders me to sleep in the guest room. I protest. Lately, I had been sleeping during the day, and watching out for things at night. It didn’t used to be that way, until I woke up one night to pounding on my back door, then soon it spread to all the windows, the din drowning out my yelled out threats. Suddenly it had stopped, and someone put a crumpled up drawing through the mail slot. It was a crude drawing of a house on fire, and a dead stick figure next to it while dozens of other stick figures smile. I didn’t know what to do so I tore it up and shoved it down the garbage disposal.
I sleep as soon as my head touches the pillow. I do not dream, but this is the first night in months I haven’t had a nightmare.
“See, now you look like a real academic,” she says, handing me the freshly brewed cup of coffee. We’re standing in the café inside the library. I have cleaned up a bit; we had bought me a pair of khaki’s and a button down shirt on the way over.
It’s 8am and the library is buzzing. Students darted back and forth, trying to check out the same reference material before the others in their class could. Some were studying for tests, slouched in some of the more private corners of the building. A group of students fought at one of the discussion tables before a librarian went over there to yell at them for yelling. I wait for another librarian to yell at her, but unfortunately no one shows up.
Around my neck is a key card visitor’s badge which allows access to most of the building, except the restricted collection. Gaby leads the way and nods at an older gentleman sitting at a table. He nods back and walks over.
“So this is him, eh?” he asks, looking me over. “You didn’t tell me he looked like a damn crack addict.”
“Shut up Don, it’s clearly meth,” Gaby replies. They smile at each other and quickly walk through an ‘Employees Only’ door. I stick close behind, trying not to look out-of-place.
The friendly, inviting colors of the main library disappear instantly, replaced with a drab utility hallway. We pass by rooms for restoration and storage, and Don hands me a pair of white gloves and what I think is a painter’s mask.
“Okay young man, here are the rules. You must wear the gloves at all times when in the restricted room, you must wear the mask while in the restricted room, and if you tell anyone that I let you in here, I get to haunt you after the administration kills me,” he says, one corner of his mouth slightly turned upwards.
I push open the heavy door and in the subdued lighting see dozens of drawers surrounding the room, each with a different book and reference number. Gaby shows me that typing in the reference number to the computer on the desk will pull up all known information about the book, author, and context in which it was written.
We spend hours typing the reference numbers of strange books into the computer. Most of them are not in English, sporting titles like De Vermis Mysteriis and Liber Ivonis. I finally stumble upon a book, Rites and Rituals of the North Americas, by a Gregor Mott. Setting the dusty book on the table, as Gaby gently turns each page, we find references to blessings and items said to ward off the attacks and possession by ‘spirits and demons, both of the old world and the new.’ The book is scattered with crude descriptions and sketches of some of the things I’ve heard about and seen, but outside of some questionable rituals, there is no more useful information.
As I place the book back on the shelf, Gaby calls me to the computer.
“Hey, check this out. Looks like Gregor spent his last years in the ‘Ridgemoor Insane Asylum.’ And I quote ‘he spent his last days working on what he called his magnum opus, a classification guide of the supernatural beings of the Americas.’”
“That’s only about an hour from here,” I say. “But it closed years ago.”
“I’m not done, it says his final wish was to be buried with his manuscript so that he could complete it in the afterlife. Creepy huh? Oh! They list his burial plot on the site! #141 in the Potter’s Field.”
My heart sinks, “The Potter’s Field at Ridgemoor had large numbered plots, with up to a dozen people buried in each one.”
“Well then we find the gravestone or something, wouldn’t hurt to look right?” Gaby’s eyes shine. She thinks this is an adventure, but she hasn’t seen the things I’ve seen.
“The only reason we know the lot number is because one of the town archivists found the burial ledger while searching through the building. Problem is, no one knows where on the property the lots are,” I say.
“And maybe we’ll find a map in there. We have to at least try, unless you want to stay locked in your house for the rest of your life” she says.
I know we need to go since it’s the only new lead that’s come up in the last few months, but it’s going to be rough.
“Wait, Gaby, what made you decide to come to my house yesterday?” I ask.
She looks away and takes in a deep breath before proceeding. “It’s because when I looked outside the night before and there was a man standing in your yard. I thought it was you. I kept looking and he was out there for hours. I was about to go ask if you needed anything, but then I saw one if your lights switch on in the house, and he walked away.”
I hurriedly start packing my notes. I hope whoever he is didn’t see her.
“We have to get some flashlights, weapons, food, water, and tools for digging. We need to go now.”
She smiles, “Good to see you’re back on board.”
I smile weakly back.
I can’t bring myself to tell her that Ridgemoor sits on 80 acres of land.
Or that about 65,000 people lie buried there.