The wild-eyed groundskeeper
Living at the end of the village
With his barred windows
And eyes like searchlights
Will forever tell you
To avoid the chief saloon
With its many tapestries
The rain does fall,
Your skin white bones
And death’s head teeth
Or body’s veil replete
For when he died
You were his bride
Slick blood on rock and turpentine
And when the task had been complete
You hid his corpse sat tight and neat
His brains inside
Your smile wide
A knitting needle in each his feet
“When The Bleeding Man Walks Through Town”
The kids on the street stop dead when they meet
When the bleeding man walks through town
The wives in the house stow knives in their blouse
When the bleeding man walks through town
And the men with their guns should know when to run
When the bleeding man walks through town
Hide the babes, hide the kids
Pray for rain, screw the lids
When the bleeding man walks through town
Lock the door, kill the lights
Pray no more, it’s alright
When the bleeding man walks through town
The hole in the wall by the stairs at the door
Opens once in the night for the darks that seek more
In the night, the Bites come
Without light, without thumbs
Without sight, without gums
And it’s your legs that they seek
All of the meat in your feet
All of the teeth in your head
And the hands in your bed
And the lids of your eyes
Which are just right size
By late October of 1975, the old half farm house at the far end of Sink Street began its term of total isolation. Town officials for Cedar Hill pointedly did away with incidental foot and car traffic in 1974 with the emergency construction of a new highway that stunted the entrance of the street, making it an island of reality. In 1976, a wall built to retain sound lined the fast lane of route 67 for the quarter of a mile where hints of the broken road could be spotted by commuters in traffic. Large trees beyond that were planted to edge its top, pretty red cedars the grew a peculiar sooty color. In 1977, traffic in the left two lanes of the route passing the street was disallowed outright overnight, a move later described in newspapers as one needed for the prolonged integrity of the overpass during months of high traffic.
On October 2nd, 1991, decades out from the isolation laws being passed and decades more still from the murders of the children, unknown to the rest of the world and uninterrupted deep in the basement of 19 Sink Street, a small, black rotary telephone began to ring abruptly, muffled by the walls of the buried, bricked up lockbox that investigators had, years earlier, tragically neglected to find.
“The Soul Stealer”
You know my name. I told you in the lobby last Friday when I came out west here to get away from the shit. I did a good job of it, too. Or maybe I didn’t, not alone, but I thumb my way out. You saw me do it. Not too proud to say that I had to rob a few of ‘em at the end of a knife to keep me going. Most of the cash went toward beer and a roof on colder nights in the cities just like you taught me. That’s where I found you, remember? I would’ve been face down without the coffee. Or was it pills? I found you on the bad night and you dealt me a good card. Take this, you said. Take the card and tell me what you see.
And what did I see? We’d both laugh our asses off with the things you’d show me and I’d tell you to shove that hocus pocus. You with your little voice and me with my past, we’re pals. And what did I do? Do you remember? That’s right. Scooped you up. Saw your devils’ magic and raised you a one-two. That card, the future, you held it out with your awful hand and thought I’d turn Yellow. Said you’d make me a deal. Sonofabitch, you even smiled at me. One hand dealt is a devil trying to trick you, and the other is a hand that feeds you a black bottle. You’re in there, aren’t you? You can hear this.
And what did you think when you saw me? You saw what everyone else sees. Who gives a shit, right? The bartender took seventeen minutes to take a drink order for beers I’d have for myself anyway. The blonde and the cheap date next to me, probably. Want to look at them? You saw me and found a mark. Can I blame you?
No, now, it’s just us. I’m out here and you’re in there and I can’t thank you enough for your help. It’s the quiet times like these when I have all the beer a man could ask for that I wonder about what you know and how you know it. Did you know about me? One could say that you were looking for weak food – prey – but I’m starting to get smart to it. You showed me my card and thought that I’d buck and piss and shit myself and do whatever it is that every other dark soul runs up against when their number is up, but I didn’t flinch. Was that what you were expecting? I didn’t move or blink or call out for my mother. No, I grabbed this here beer bottle and brought it down on your head. All of the crooked wisdom and tricks of Hell, but you lose a bar fight? I don’t buy it.
All the same, I did what The Others said I could do. Lit candles very much like the ones you see here and zapped you. Pink smoke and all that jazz. You shot up in a scream I didn’t much like and tried to kill me. The very same Bud I smacked you around with sat up on its ass and pulled you in crying like a mad cat. Even now, I can remember the squeezed look on your face. Totally insane. You wanted me dead. I think you were scared of Hell.
We have work to do.
Maura came in from the rain with lightning at her back. The wind from the porch spit inward as it came through the doorway, its sticky, dark leaves, with it, whipped and stuck to the cupboards like frogs. The rug was a mess. She was wet mess. Her arms were wet. Her boots were wet. Mud and spots of soggy wood streaked her forearms. She had cuts. Her palms stung. The storm door crying on its hinges made her anxious as she ruined newspapers on the table with wet logs.
Weathermen from surrounding counties stuck pretty close in the days leading up to the storm to telling similar stories on the radio about its quick passing. Everything anyone had forecasted for the storm explained nothing like this. The picture people had in their minds was something basic. Unheard by most listeners in the broadcasts were intermittent cracks of distant lightning translated by their set speakers with small, interrupting clicks. The sun still showed, and there was nothing about how dark it would be.
Eyewitness testimony days into the happening started in on amateur, emergency bands and broke through no louder than a far-off whisper in static. People explained highways lifting away in front of their stopped cars and did so moments before disappearing forever. A truck driver out in Penobscot got on in his marooned truck and hollered a while for a tow before going quiet. An old man north of the highway updated every hour with things he could see from his front parlor window. His details became simple before giving way to an airy sound that cut out like something turning off. A couple and two children screamed once and were gone. From the kitchen, all of these and more sounded like radio voices out of time, little, tinny ghosts that offered messages helping no one.
The weather reports were small to start in the beginning. Over time, they became broader in the way they captured what was actually happening to everyone. Major cities without lights or repair loomed in front of string lightning like trees when there was lightning, small towns cut off and darkened in the distance of places with better visibility looked hollowed and sunk like ships or hills; these were the first unnerving signs that something was wrong. The state was covered in it.
And Maura got to work the first day with the eerie sense that something in the world was broken. Look up into the rain, she thought, and you can’t see the sky. No moonlight. All around you, the constant sound of full rain blocked the world. Loud patters of mud mixed in tone to play tricks on your ears. The woods were full of laughing goblins and devils and beasts that never became complete expressions of evil. You could be close to total sentences screamed without actually understanding them. Dogs could bark. In the rain, the night could step to your side with a knife and all you would hear would be water.
Full, solid bullets fell so close in front of your face without any light to mark its passing. Leaving the candlelight of your home, you could feel the wet like a pool. The woods felt nearer. The clouds above, even, felt as close as a ceiling. In the dark loomed a danger of unexplained terror.
All she could do was hide, too; she knew that much. Stay inside. It had been days since the radios, and it had also been enough time to know that the sun wasn’t coming back. She hadn’t slept more than an hour at a time. She slept in the kitchen. The rain had come during the night on Saturday, and the screams may have been Monday. Everything about the noise in the dark took time and stretched it into a single, maniacal evening near the refrigerator. She slumped in a metal chair and kept her eyes on the lantern. The candle flickered against the glass of a nearby window in a double reflection. Inexplicably, Maura felt horrified, as if watched!
At once, the rain stopped, snuffing her lantern. Maura’s eyes grew dead white and a scream was lost to her. Her mouth hung open as she shook uncontrollably in her chair. Her radio slammed on at full volume. All of the logs and the newspaper on the table ran off to the floor in a mess unseen in the darkness. In a quick, horrible succession behind her, the doors of her house flung open violently in the pitch black, their sound blacked out by the radio and made hellish. She was grabbed up with a horrible, invisible quickness, pulled in half like a doll through the window by the sink, and was never seen again.
By the time he had come to, the charring was complete.
The wrecked skeleton of the house leaned in on its foundation on the hill against the fading light of the surrounding, remaining bits of inferno in the backyard. Chokes of smoke puked up brown from the flooded basement, becoming an intense, blood red in the sky that hung for a while like a thick ceiling.
He sat up and leaned on one elbow. At last, it was over, and there were only a few points of horror left to remind him of what had almost gone terribly wrong – the rusty 1986 F150 in the driveway with its windows sprayed in gore; flicked, gold casings from the shootout; the damned, dead dog, that loud, yipping bastard. What once looked like a calm house nestled in a hill by Rt. 12 now looked unbelievably like the cratered battlefield of some far-off military nightmare.
He adjusted himself and ran the side of his hand up his arm, blading some stinking mud off his soaked shirt. He winced and bit down hard as the ball of his palm bounced out and on past a bad bullet graze. He grabbed at it hard, surprised at the warmth that spread over his hand as fresh blood poured through the gaps in his grip. His eyes closed hard on themselves as his mouth formed an unnatural grimace that almost resembled an insane smile. He jumped to his feet and starting punching his head and chest while bringing his body into a tight clench. Beads of sweat and mud and blood ran down his forehead and into his eyes and he was furious.
“They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me!…”
At once, he froze in a snap, silent, hunched over, impossibly solid. His eyed popped open somewhere in the dark and widened into something terribly calm. His grimace seemed to melt downward in slow motion to form something horrible and insanely dangerous.
In a voice that almost resembled that of a raspy little girl, he whispered something demonic into the black treeline and sprinted quietly into the night.
“Dave Andrews, abduction escapee”
“You look up into the night sky and you see…what? What do you see?
People do that, right? They look up into the sky and they watch for their favorite shapes, right? Look, there’s the Big Dipper or that lion shit-for-brains, whatever his name is. Yeah, they do that. They do it, because they don’t know what’s gliding between those dots, the horribly silent minds that travel in straight lines to do horrible things with their sick lights. Hell, I used to do it, too. Won’t catch me doing that anymore, though, not without a gun and a bullet.
Won’t take me alive, again. Can’t. They just can’t.
Hit me again?”
“I…I don’t know what you’re asking, here…”
Mark adjusted his tie and gulped hard on the dry air of the train car. He was sweating. Looking around, he realized that no one else appeared to notice the small, chattering man to his right. Heads down. Earbuds pressed firmly into place. Heavy bestsellers resting pages-up in laps of people looking blandly across the cab into the windows at the attractive people sitting next to them.
Moments ago, the old woman in the seat had gotten up to wander out into the night, leaving this odd being with its strange fade and calm, ancient, red eyes.
Later, Mark would recall that it wasn’t the insanity of the situation but the odd way the thing’s lips seemed to jump around into crazy smiles and grins that had disquieted him the most. That odd way, of course, and the rows of horrible, horrible teeth.
“The Back Room”
After closing, the small shop, in the city of life, in the by-day-busy market now darkened and slicked with dew, swirled with hot twirls of the multicolored smokes of things that had been dried centuries ago and brought to burn in front of the future pictured in the orb. Nimble hands sliced quiet through the air around the radiant thing as entranced eyes stared into the humming red of the back room’s decoration.
“Oh yes, I see it now. I seeeeeeeeee.”
Outside in the sky, the moon, full and bright, seemed to intensify as it rose slowly into the night.
The hands of the wild soothsayer continued for much time before stopping abruptly. All light ran quickly from the room through the front door, and a room that had once been organic and alive with magic exhaled in the dark, empty and whistling with dust.
October 22nd, 1981
Dictated by Sandra D. Appleby
Transcribed by Michael C. Appleby
I revel in autumn. Months removed from the blistering heat of midsummer days, our world here turns on its side and gives us beautiful days kept warm past noon by a low-hanging sunset that lingers above our backyard’s treeline. I often try to describe the effect as the world becoming thoughtful in the weeks before the blanch of winter. It’s a swan song, right? And it’s not like it can be ignored. The sun comes in from the south window differently, you know. It tilts differently, as if mourning something.
Michael continues his work in the garden, too. I love the man for it, and he rewards me with the spoils of his work. Massive gourds and pumpkins. Late tomatoes more full and ripe than anything purchased in town. He should win awards for his cucumbers – full vegetables that you know never stop drinking from the ground until the moment you pull them from the earth, and you know that they continue to grow afterward. My cutting board regularly features the fresh and water snaps of great produce. You should see!
He finds me to massage his palms and work the knots from his knuckles, too. His hands are always worn and dirty, his nails always needing to be clipped and the dirt brushed away. “‘Green Thumb’? More like, ‘BLACK and BLUE Thumb’,” he’ll say. You should hear him!
And never deny the passes of a gardener, dear. Seek them out and marry them quick. They reward you with true dedication. Mother Earth’s vanguards – don’t you know it?? I’ve told every neighbor we’ve had over years. Don’t let him go, they’d say. Let him go and you’re a fool, Sandra. Good people. It’s a shame to have had good advisors move out as they have, you know?
Michael and I were married in the fall of ’72. He’s been forever grateful to me for my love and I to him for his accepting of my condition with that same love. Never once has he harmed my sense of self for my lack of sight. My Silent Guardian, I call him. He comes in from the backyard. The smell of caked garden muck lingers by the door where his boots come off. I count his steps as he ascends to the bathroom to rinse. He samples the smells of my baking (I’m careful, I admit!), and at this point all I can hear is the unmistakable sounds of a man done and satisfied with his work. The garden tools and ground stone are replaced by a silence that is just wonderful.
I present my work to him – a casserole with fresh potatoes and peas large enough to be grapes! He quietly handpicked most of what ended up in my steamer before his shower. I kept having to slap his hands away from the cooking pot as it built up. The smells! The flavors! You could just die, M. You could just die! Don’t you know it? Don’t you?
Sandra D. Appleby
Of all of the things incumbent to a fully concerned madman, it is his cunning - his ingenuity that identifies him as remarkable. My name is Phil Driscoll, and to avoid being confused with persons of identical naming, I shall say this to separate myself: my art is accidental. Better to be said would be something like this: I help accidents occur and help to fulfill a universal need for things that could and can, should occur to happen in a fashion as fluid as water, as complete as a joke at the delivered punchline.
I liken my preoccupation – and we shall call it that, as to offer this termed as an “occupation” would indicate that I had some choice in my fascinations, that I had somehow the ability to pick and choose and arrange my true loves like simple, blatant hobbies. My monomania, as some would term it, occupies my thoughts at all times like the constant whir of a fan, the neverending buzz of office fluorescents, the scent of gas. I dedicate entire days to dreams of catastrophe. I dream of awful danger. Cars with slipped breaks. A mug of hot tea with a handle that breaks off unexpectedly, cold glass splitting outward in a noisy explosion with water lava that splashes everywhere. The fleshy red of liquid burns. I dream of silverware. Dishwashers left open above mopped floors without a sign. Knives that face up. The sirens in my dreams sing songs that include bare sections of live wires. Electronics that teeter on the edges of the sinks of busy people. Gas stoves. Locking mechanisms that work untimely. Things that trap. Things that horrify. Things that fail – these are what occupy me in quiet hours.
The planning is little. A snip here, some fresh floor wax there. Loosen the valve of a faucet to cause plumping to rupture violently. The word “rupture”. Puncture. Piece. Tickle. Tangle. Very few occasions call for open fire. I hide where I can to see the playing out, the dismayed looks of the victims of the world and its terrible circumstance. A woman slips on a banana peel and bumps her rear. This is comedy. A man trips on a dog leash and breaks his leg in three places on his way to the floor of a set of stairs. His dog is yanked off the stairs and into the street where the wheels are waiting. Is this high art? I beg no one for the answers to these questions, as the answers, with regard to my own proclivities, are purely irrelevant…
“Brinkley’s Last Discovery!”
It was a dark and stormy night as Brinkley sat at the messy desk in his basement laboratory. Quite the Thing, INDEED, he shouted to a stack of papers just moments before he grabbed his overcoat and headed out into the rainy pitch black. The way would be long and the work hard, but it was his discovery now, his find. The world would know now as it had not in the past. They would know! They would look upon The Thing and they would understand. They would see it and tremble at the thought of it, for the thought of it was a terrible kind of horror, its implications dry and clear and an unforgiving kind of certain. Their amazement would be total, and they would know what Brinkley had sought to know for some time. They would see The Thing and they would see Brinkley there too, his image embedded firmly in the discovery of the horrible Thing’s awful existence.
Some time later, huddled behind the gravestone of someone long since past and gone from the world, Brinkley would fear his own demise in the blanketing light. He would tremble and see The Thing and would, in a sense that he couldn’t fully comprehend from that basement laboratory, genuinely discover the horror he had only – and only could have guessed at.
The pain was immense and quick and then gone along with Brinkley.
“Yo te protejo de los dientes.”
She regained consciousness by the front wheel of the rental. Smears of blood and sweat and hair ran along her forehead in pawed smudges. A layer of fine sand dulled the half of her face that had been resting in the dust. It was hard to breathe. Her ribs were loose and painful in places that let her know she must have broken a few. Two of her fingers were missing. All around her was the smell of gas, and her back didn’t feel right. Her hair had been shaggy, tied into a ponytail with a flowery elastic. The sides of her scalp now throbbed mercilessly by her temples where mottled patches of bald skin refused hair.
Headlights and the cold chrome of the front end made her wince and turn. She brushed bits of glass out of her palms on her jeans. Doctors would call this shock. Swirls of laden mist swayed in front of the car and made way for the light to cast deceiving shadows on the alien terrain in front of her. Bright light faded in the distance to a dull, desaturated shade similar to dry earth. In center of her view at a distance sat a plain stone well backed by a barrier of darkness.
They had been driving along a coastal stretch of 23 for most of the day hours and had stopped in La Joya for supplies before dusk. For years, their travels had involved these kinds of detours. Ghostly roads. Old hotels. Highways that stop with a gate and a sign to bar passage. Years ago, they booked a trip to Alaska to explore old coastal hospitals. Coasts were the best for this. The edges of the world. Outer space.
She recalled the man in the consignment shop, the withered, Mexican man. He was sitting on the sill of the front window. They understood little of what he told them as they stood there and, from the wreck, she couldn’t remember much of their actual meeting. Most of what scratched from his throat they had to later reference in a travel-sized Spanish guide. He had been a dentist. He had served the town’s basic health needs, or had since his retirement some years ago. He seemed kind but had the sharp eye of a younger man, and he spoke with a peculiar urgency. “No vaya,” he told them. That much they made out. No vaya. No go. Michelle had to turn from grabbing coins in the front pouch of her backpack to laugh a bit. Neither of them understood. The shopkeeper looked plainly. David paid for the gas and a bag of trail mix and the two of them left with a nod.
Much of what had happened seemed impossible. She remembered trying the radio a few times for chatter. She quit on the idea after an hour. She had her feet up on the dash and was resting a hand behind David’s head on the seat. There were periods of complete silence in the car with the night fully realized in front of them. The moon was full. As they edged further out of town, the headlights seemed in an illusory struggle with the dark. The passing road underneath them pulled slowly into a small circle of visible ground in front of them. The stars. The headlights. The occasional and bare-worn signs. The rythym was hypnotic.
It came from nowhere. Whatever it was looked like a deer. It looked to be the size of a deer. It jumped quickly into the road and was gone before they could hit it. Nothing moves that fast. Nothing jumps up in a blink that passes too quickly for anyone to react, to even get a word or a sound out, but this did, and whatever it was jumped up and over the headlights and David was gone. The driver seat was empty, the driver’s side window smashed out and flecked with gore. The form of a man or an animal flew through the air on the side into the night and was gone. Without its driver, the car’s wheel strayed left, hit a snag, jerked violently to one side, and the rental lurched far in the air. Michelle’s last memory of the crash was the sound of keys flying across the dash and glass being turned to sand under the weight of the roof. Darkness.
The old well was deep.
The well was old and deep and surrounded on all sides by footprints. From a distance, Michelle had figured the marks as a sign of struggle, but everything was too clean – one line out, the other in. Small feet in small rows, a column of indescribably awful feet. The footprints were traffic leading to a hole at the end of the world. Besides the well, there was nothing to mark the landscape. No sounds. No mess. No David.
The stones of the well were heavy and impossibly smooth. Some of the stones seemed glassy in the light of the sedan. The wood of the bucket pull was pitch and smooth like boatwood. Beyond the well, there was nothing. No light. No sky beyond the horizon. Michelle looked down into the hole at the end of the earth and began to cry. Insane evil.
Guard? Did he say Guard? She reeled in delirious thought and nearly feel forward. He was talking about helping. Or was it Defending? The Spanish word for Defense is easy enough to understand – “defensa”. No vaya. He talked about things like Teeth. Teeth and the old town he was from. Dentistry. Teeth. Retired. He was a retiree from an older town where he worked with teeth. I protect teeth – wasn’t that it? Wasn’t that what he was talking about before he said “no go”? And why was he so adamant? Why would a retired dentist be so worried and abrupt? Did the shopkeeper see? Did anyone see us leave town? Did they? We didn’t hear him right, did we? Oh God, I’m bleeding. Oh, David. We…