By Lee Rotem
I shouldn’t really be telling this story. It’s been years and I’ve grown old and the memory has grown moldy and vague. Some stories should be stuck in a drawer or in a small compartment of your brain, where it will lie sleepy, crumble, disintegrate and then just die. I really shouldn’t be telling anyone this, just because people might think I’m crazy. Justin used to say that I was crazy, but it was more of a nickname, perhaps a tease. But that’s not the kind of crazy I’m talking about here. It’s the kind of crazy that you read about in the smut magazines where they have articles about UFO’s and Elvis seen in some dusty roadside gas station restroom.
But I have to tell this story because it’s screaming to me at night. My memory never went to sleep, it just lay there, dormant, waiting for the right moment to strike. And lately, since the letter, my life has been filled with nothing but this memory, or was it a dream? It surely could not have been reality. It’s just a ghost of a story now. And I am pretty much just a ghost of me.
Dirt Rd, USA
We were on a road trip to the east coast when James and Meg invited us to their home in Gorham, Maine. At first we made a few jokes about how gory Gorham must be. Sean, who was four then, was teasing Corey in the back seat by calling her Gory Corey for a while. It was around 5 pm on a late September eve and if I remember correctly the leaves were all colorful around us, mesmerizing in their serene and natural way. It’s been a long day on the road from New York city, and the 95 became the 25 and the 25 became smaller and smaller until it just had a name, something like River Rd or Beaver Rd or Hill Rd. They should all have been called Dirt Road, I thought.
I know it’s hind sight now and all, but there was something that felt weird about this detour to begin with. Everything was off when we drove down these dreary lanes, watching the gloomy timber around us, slowly losing color to the setting sun. Even the air quality changed somewhat: it was clearer, cleaner, a bit intoxicating. I was hypnotized by the asphalt roads becoming dirt roads and the dirt roads turning into no more than a path in the woods.
“Who lives here,” I said aloud. Not really asking.
“Well, James and Meg Van-Meek do.” Justin was a practical man.
The idea was alien to me. “Could you imagine living here? Not just for a night or two, but for life?”
“If we lived here we’d be home now,” He hummed to himself, making a good point. We’ve been on the road for hours now, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and get a bite to eat. Man, was I hungry.
The small road we were driving on became narrower and muddier and the sky became darker and more ominous. I remember thinking that back then, that the sky was ominous. I don’t know why. Something about Gorham, Maine just didn’t sit right with me. Or perhaps it sat just perfect.
I was very much into my own train of thought, taking in the wet weeds on the side of the path, looking into the dark gaps between trees, Oh, and there was this buzzing in the air, like the buzzing of an old horror flick, a buzzing that one of the characters would cut through with a scary observation that will later become vital to their survival.
“It looks deserted.” He said, and I shivered.
“It’s right up here.” I pointed to the right, to an even shadier passage way. I know now that I knew exactly where to go, even without a map. Justin didn’t question me, assuming I had the directions memorized. It looked like woods ahead of us. Muddy dark woods. Nowhere sane to have a house.
“Well, you said it’s the third house on this road,” he said, and adjusted his grip on the wheel so he can see the outside better. Did I say that? I wondered how I knew. It became quite misty all of a sudden and I was thinking how glad I was that he did the driving and I could relax my eyes in this twilight light and think about dinner. The misty twilight was elusive and I could see a monochromatic old film of tall trees and a fence and a tractor and the vaguely framed face of a person staring directly at me.
A blueish-grey dead-like face staring at me from between two trees. I gasped.
Justin hit the brakes in a screeching halt and I was thrown into the glove compartment. Corey started to cry and Sean woke up from his nap.
“What the hell?” I asked.
He pointed at the path. Three huge dogs as black as midnight were lying in the mud in our way. It looked like they were guarding the path. Justin tried to honk and flick his headlights but they just lay there, calm and collected, and one of them even wagged his tail back and forth like a lion in the safari, chasing away flies. This was very strange. I looked back for the face. It was no longer there.
“Drive over them, daddy!” Sean was creative. Justin just sat there. Oh, how I wished they had moved, these dogs, how I wanted to proceed on this weird drive to nowhere land.
“Darn it to tomorrow,” Justin said, “They’re not budging a whisker.”
“Daddy, go out there and fight them!” Sean was excited.
“Sean, we don’t fight dogs,” Justin said sternly. And under his breath he added, “Even if we did I couldn’t take these beasts.”
“Oh, they’re just dogs.” I opened the door quickly, acting braver than I felt. I absolutely did not want to lose a limb to these three black-panther-looking animals, but for some reason, I remember feeling that I could reason with a female better than a male. And for some stranger reason, I knew which one was the lady of the house.
I caught the gaze of one of the dogs, and she looked right back at me. I opened my mouth to shoo her away, but there was no need for that. Once her eyes linked with mine, she stood up, stretched, and walked away. The two heavyset dogs followed her calmly. I shrugged and went back into the car, where Sean was yelling “Yay mommy!” and when we passed them I looked back. It was pretty dark but I think I saw them lying back down in the exact same spot.
We drove onto the driveway of a two story farm house that looked rather familiar. I probably looked just like any other driveway and any other garage in any old town. James and Meg and his old mother (I never caught her name) came out to greet us, and I took a peek at their huge back yard, bordered by tall evergreens all around. I remember thinking this must be a beautiful place to hang around in the summer months, breeze going through your hair and a little hammock hanging from these two trees at the edge of the yard. I don’t know what made me think of a hammock, but in my head it was there, pink and green stripes, swinging in the breeze. I knew it all too well, as if I’d been there before.
About what went on in the next few hours my memory is a little corrupted. I recall entering their house, which used to belong to James’s parents, and now to his mom, who still lived with them. I remember discussing dinner arrangements and since we were all tired and hungry, we took turns taking showers and Sean and Corey ate and went up to bed. Justin went up to make sure that they are comfortable. I joined our hosts at the table, all set beautifully for a magnificent dinner.
“Shall we say grace?” James asked and they all nodded. I was not any kind of religious then and now even less than before, so I just kept my hands in my lap while they took each other’s palms and lowered their heads.
And then I remember this: There was a silence around the table and then the humming began. James and Meg and the mother held hands and hummed like a beehive. At first I thought it was neat. It was like a little warm-up hum before you sing “For he’s a jolly good fellow.” But then the humming gradually grew louder, and it became an irritating buzzing, like a vibration almost, and then their heads started vibrating with the humming, a bit too fast, like in a fast forward movie. The heads were shaking and the buzzing got louder and I said nothing and did nothing at all. Looking back I think it was a combination of amazement and not wanting to interrupt their family ritual, which I obviously wasn’t a part of.
I knew they were strict Catholics. The mom used to work at the local church before she went blind and our friends, Meg and James met at a Christian mixer in the exact same church. For me, being an Atheist and all, that was exotic as it gets. I didn’t know Catholics vibrated.
So their mouths (at least I think it was their mouths) were a-buzzing and their heads were a-shaking and a new smell entered my nostrils, sweet maple. At this point, I must confess, I was feeling very uncomfortable. I knew I was a guest, and had no intention of embarrassing Justin in the face of his friends, but felt a need to leave this circus.
Ah, but the smell was sweet yet smoky, like caramel pipe tobacco, and it made me sleepy and hungry at the same time. There was no smoke in the room, but it was coming over me, and I felt happy and cloudy. This somehow did not seem like a standard Grace.
The buzzing grew louder and in the haze I felt something brush against my arm. It was the mother’s hand. She was trying to reach for the palm of my hand, trying to get me to join their circle of craze. Her skin felt like paper, cold and flaky and I moved my hand away slowly, but just a few inches, so it didn’t come off as rude. I most definitely did not want to touch that: The hand, the person, the buzzing. I didn’t want to participate. But I was overpowered. Yet something made me let go and I stopped struggling. The old lady’s paper hand was now just a wisp away from mine.
And then, a creak coming from the stairs. All heads were raised at once, opening three pairs of blue eyes at the same exact time. The smell of maple syrup dissipated instantly. I pulled my hand swiftly and cradled it in my lap. I was saved by the creak.
The noise was Justin, of course, coming down the stairs and I felt safe again. The stairs were old and wooden, I knew it, that’s why they were creaking. But I also knew the major creak came from the third stair from the bottom, although I haven’t even gone upstairs yet. James smiled a sudden smile and stood up from his chair.
“So who’s in for some dead lobster?” he said and waved the tongs.
“Oh, man, am I hungry,” Justin crashed into a chair. “These kids just wouldn’t go to sleep.”
“Good,” said the mother with an electric voice. “Pass the salad.”
“I'll have the gluten free burger bun," Meg said and pointed at the basket of buns at the end of the table. Funny, I didn’t remember it being there a few minutes earlier, but I was too hungry to question anything and the dinner came along naturally, just like any other dinner, in any other house, in any other part of the world. The corn bread was tasty and the sweet potatoes divine, the burgers (who made burgers? We were all at the table for quite some time) were juicy and meaty. Everything was so good, and I became very cozy, almost sleepy in my chair, with the fireplace warming my back, and the good food and wine warming my insides. It felt so good, that I practically forgot everything that happened earlier that evening.
That was a bad judgment call on my end. If I were a little less tipsy and the food was a little less tasty we might have just ran out of there with some crazy excuse. I would have made something up and have schlepped the kids into the car, driving away to the nearest airport and the hell outta Dodge.
But I didn’t do that and the rest of the evening was vague again. I remember being pulled up by Justin and carried up the stairs to the bedroom, where a huge skylight window was fixed right above the bed. I crashed into the bed, not thinking, not remembering, not even feeling Justin getting under the covers next to me. Just blackness.
But then I woke up.
A face was staring at me. It was blue and scarred, like tiny acne marks. Huge eyes, black and deep. I sat down, gasping. I blinked again and again and realized I was looking at my own reflection in the window above me. The window was foggy and smudgy, the rain was falling down on it. The light from the moon made everything blue in the room, so I just assumed I was imagining. What else could it have been, right? I dragged myself out of bed for a quick visit to the bathroom. Everyone’s got to pee sometime.
The door creaked. Of course it did. Every spooky house has to have a creaking door and creaking stairs and the darkest closets available in stores. But my family didn’t budge to the sound of the door so I kept on walking, leaving it ajar.
The hall was dark and I guessed where the bathroom was. I turned the handle to discover that I made a good guess. I should have guessed back then, that we would be better off at a hotel.
I closed the door behind me and felt for the lights. My finger was on the switch when I heard a rustle outside the small window. I walked closer to see what it was.
God, was I happy that I didn’t turn the lights on.
Outside, in the dark yard (it seemed like acres and acres of yard surrounded by black tall trees) was a group of moving beings, who seemed to be dancing, or pulling each other, shaking hand in hand in a circle of frenzy. Lightning struck and suddenly I could see what was truly happening outside, for a single second. I closed my eyes quickly but it was too late. The terrible image was burned into my brain forever.
It’s been years and I can still remember their faces in the dim moonlight, something so horrible that even many years of suppression can’t erase. I remember vividly: the three people were in frenzy, shoving each other, mouths open like that Edvard Munch painting, eyes torn wide. Their faces were, for lack of a better description, melted. Like the rain had washed off expressions and the eyes were runny and their noses were oozy and their cheeks were like candle wax that has seen better days. There was nothing human in the way they moved.
The faces were dead/alive and the dancing was a violent, aggressive, forcible pushing and pulling of hands and bodies. It was painful to watch, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The pain was fiery. But I had to look.
A wave of terror washed over me. Frozen, I just stood there, wondering what to do next. These people were clearly not practicing the same human behavior as we were, and I didn’t know if they were crazy worshipers, demons, aliens or just loonies. I wasn’t about to stay around and find out, was I?
About to head out of the bathroom, my need to urinate was getting incontrollable and I allowed myself a quick sit down, just to take a load off. While peeing, I couldn’t help but peek out again, to see if the trio was coming back in any time now. I couldn’t identify a single face because they were all melted down, and it was too dark to work out their figures and their clothes. But these were James, Meg, and the electric mother, that was for sure, and I wasn’t sticking around long enough to ask them for their ID’s.
I have to admit, my first thought was about Justin. How could he possible bring us here to this shady place with crazy people? After all, these were his loony friends. I knew I had to wake him up quickly.
While reaching for the toilet paper, something came out from between the tall trees, big and black and unidentified. Was it a bear? Was it a horse? I couldn’t tell from the bathroom. The rain was coming down hard now and the three figures running around grabbed both sides of the thing. I finished my business but did not flush the toilet, hoping to make as little noise as possible. Another lightning struck, this time followed by a thunderous rumbling, and then a loud bearlike roar. Another figure came running out of the woods and grabbed one side of the bearlike creature, helping to contain it.
I couldn’t breathe. Something very weird was going on out there. The bear was struggling outside and I was struggling inside, and I quickly went back into the bedroom and packed all of our things.
“Justin?” I came up to his ear and whispered. Justin harrumphed and turned to the other side. I tried again but it was no use. The man was knocked out by the invisible culinary paradise, but I couldn’t sit around waiting for him to wake up. There were bigger things at stake.
“Mommy?” It was my wide eyed boy, standing up, with two hands in his crotch area.
“I need to go peepee”.
Crap. What do I do now?
“Come on, baby.” I said to him and he tip toed after me in to the bathroom. The door creaked, of course, but this time I wasn’t too worried. Obviously everyone was having fun melting outside.
“Come in sweetie, but let’s play a game,” I said. “You will close your eyes tight and I will help you pee.”
“But why, mommy?” He asked in his tiny unaware voice.
I had no good reason. “sssssshhhhh, baby. Because it’s fun, that’s why.” I put one hand over his eyes just to make sure he can’t see a thing.
Sean peed quietly and asked no more questions. I believe he was too tired to be inquisitive and I was hoping that he was also too tired to hear anything that was going on outside. The bear thing roared again.
“What was that noise, mommy?”
“Just some thunder. The rain is really falling down out there.”
I peeked out as I was saying that. Something else was falling down out there. The bear creature. It seemed to have stumbled (or been pushed) down and was now lying on the muddy wet grass. Sean finished his deed and I helped him off the toilet and started leading him to the door. When I peeked out of the window again, lightning struck once more. This time I saw what they were doing more clearly. I saw the blood and the pieces of flesh. I saw the crazy in their melted faces.
They were eating the bear.
My mind was racing. We need to get out of here and fast. Now I had to wake Justin up. How was I going to convince him to leave? He would freak out.
We walked quietly into the bedroom and I whispered to Sean, in a business-as-usual tone:
“Pack up your things, sweetie, we’re leaving.”
Surprisingly, Sean didn’t argue. He went to collect his few things and I started the intricate task of waking my guy.
“Babe, can you wake up?”
“Babe, can you please wake up?”
“What’s going on?”
I could hear the bear thing roaring again. Or was it thunder? Or did it matter?
“Babe, we need to leave, please don’t ask for explanations.”
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know. We need to go.”
“What happened?” Justin sat up in the bed. I knew he wasn’t going to take this lying down. But I needed this to be quick. How could I make it happen?
“Just trust me. Collect what you can and let’s get ready to leave. The bags are all set.”
“Wait.” He grabbed my arm as I was preparing to get off the bed. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“Shhhhh! I will! Please just get up and get ready!” I guess the desperation in my voice was intense enough, but I knew that it was temporary. I just hoped we would be able to make it before the happy family and their guest decided to come back inside for desert.
I slipped out of the room to peek through the bathroom window again. The rain was falling down stronger now and the yard was dark and frightening. I stood at the window, as close as I could, and tried to make out exactly what they were doing now.
A small lightning flicked in the sky and I caught a glimpse of a half eaten bear, bloody limbs and wet fur, lying on the grass, motionless, perhaps no longer alive. I was hoping so, for the poor creature’s sake, because the rest of the Manson family were sitting around it and chewing on his meat, sucking on his bones. We might just be able to get away while they were eating, I remember thinking, we might really have a good chance. They looked very invested in their thing, the rain and cold weather didn’t matter, and why would it, they were a bunch of crazy fruitcakes who feed on live beasts.
“What’s going on here?” I heard Justin behind me, and I turned around at once, just to see him do the worst thing he could possibly do.
He turned on the light.
“No!” I shouted a whisper. But it was too late. I turned my head back toward the window to see that we were spotted like a beacon calling out for a ship. All four heads turned upward to the bathroom window and looked straight at me.
“Turn it off!” I said hysterically and he did. But it was useless. We had already been exposed and now it was only a matter of time. I didn’t think I had the time to look back out the window so I just pushed Justin out of the bathroom and collected the children, hurrying them down the stairs.
“Go!” I said to Justin. “Let’s go go go!”
I led my family down the stairs, Justin holding Sean and the two bags, me with baby Corey in my hands. She was dazed and silent, but I sensed the crying climbing up her throat. I could relate. I really wanted to cry as well. Instead I kept whispering “It’s ok baby, Mommy’s here, everything is ok,” as if it really made it ok.
When I reached the third stair from the bottom I stepped on it extra hard. It creaked to high heavens. I don’t know why I did it. When we reached the bottom I led them to the back door, the closest door to our car. It took me a second to get it open, all the while looking behind my shoulder. The door finally opened, when it dawned on me that the keys were in my purse and my purse was in the room and the room was in the house where I was going to be eaten alive.
We were standing in a covered garage. The garage door was closed but I knew the switch was right next to me. I placed Corey in Justin’s hands and looked him in the eye, panting.
“Don’t ask any questions,” I said, “Please. The keys are upstairs, I’ll be right back.” And I pushed the garage door button and ran upstairs before he could stop me, hoping that I would be quicker than our hosts.
I walked up the stairs, winded. The third step from the bottom creaked again. I knew it would. I quickly looked through the room and found my purse, the car keys in it. I heard nothing coming from outside but the rain and the wind, and I had no idea where the Van-Meek’s were presently. The unknown was scarier than anything else I could imagine and instead of running down the stairs again I ran down the hall onto the other bedroom on the floor, the one right above the garage.
I looked down the window, where my family was crouching near the car, in the rain. I was happy to see that Justin was not questioning my actions. I opened the window and called out to him, as quietly as I could, then threw down the keys. I stayed there long enough to see him reach for the keys and when I turned around, I peed my pants just a little.
I was not alone in the room.
“Hey, what’s up? What’s going on?” James was standing at the door to the room, in a darker area. It was hard to make out his face at first. But then he stepped inside and I could tell that his face was mostly back to normal, except for the half melted mouth. It looked like a very unnatural creepy smile, with stains of blood on both sides of his mouth and on his chin. My heart was pounding like crazy. I was looking around for something, anything, to protect myself with. My eyes located a shoe on the floor. A single shoe, a pump, really, with a stiletto heal and red and purple feathers at the toe area. I remember wondering who wore such a thing. Meg sure didn’t look like the type. But then again, she didn’t look like the crazy bear-eating type either.
“Yo, where are you going at this hour?” it seemed like James was trying to make his voice sound casual and matter of fact like. Did he really think that I was going to fall for that? But I played the game. I figured it would hurt me less.
“Oh, yeah,” my voice tried to be calm, my breath a little shaky, “We just got an urgent phone call. We have to head back.” I said, all the while moving towards the door, wondering how I would get past him.
“Oh no,” James kept the game face on, or the molten game face on I should say. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Oh yeah, I bet he was.
“Umm, and so, we didn’t want to wake you guys up in the middle of the night, so we just figured we’d call you in the morning.” This was surreal as it gets. I was standing in a bedroom, the grisly rain coming down outside and the end of the world inside. I was talking about a casual happenstance with a guy who has a melted face and just ate a bear in the rain. Yeah. Surreal doesn’t even cut it.
“You don’t have to leave, you know.” This was Meg, right behind him. My heart sunk a bit when I saw that my way out of the room was blocked by her and behind her the mother.
“Oh, well, you know I would love to stay,“ I lied, “But really, I have no choice. We need to head home.”
“But this IS home,” Meg continued as she came closer, and I saw that her smile was picture perfect, plump lips and straight whites, but her eyes were droopy and she looked like a basset hound, a bit sad, a lot freaky. Her voice was also off. She was definitely trying too hard to sound friendly. Standing much closer to them I could actually smell them. It was a putrid smell, rotten, fetid and rusty. Blood.
I could feel myself trembling. “Well, we have to go to our OTHER home,” I said a weird thing, just to pacify them. This was no use, I thought, and a warm wave of anxiety washed over me when I kept on taking tiny steps toward the door, in a circle, and the loony Toons trio was doing the same toward me. For every step I took, they took one as well. It was like a little dance. The loony dance.
As they came closer I could see the mother’s face. It was still completely molten and she looked like a black and white 40’s horror flick creature, and about 150 years old. For some reason it made me think about something that Justin says after a night of drinking, about how the older you get the harder it is to bounce back. Perhaps it was the same with melting your face.
I might not be able to exit through the door, I thought, but there were two other doors in the room and it was worth a shot. I had to work quickly – as soon as I lay off this business-as-usual façade, they might be on to me in a jiffy, and I better know exactly where I’m going and know how I’m going to use this pink stiletto in my hand.
“Yeah, why don’t you stay a while longer? We’ll have a nice, long, American weekend.” He said American with a U, Amurican. Who were these people?
“We love having you here,” Meg kept talking in an unearthly voice, “your family was just scrumptious.” I was hoping the family was in the car, doors locked, safe and ready to take off. No alarms and no surprises.
I jumped for the door knob and pulled the door open at once. I was disappointed to see it was not an exit. It was a closet. A very dark one with a dead person in it, perhaps a woman, most likely last night’s dinner, probably the owner of the shoe I was holding.
I screamed and ran. I crashed right into them, don’t know what I was thinking. For a moment they held their position, stunned by my actions, but Meg was Amazonian and James was like a football player and I was quickly caught in their web of hands and massive bodies, pathetically waving my shoe as protection. I fought with my knuckles and my fingernails, screaming and panting, but I seemed to be getting more and more entangled in their hold. Up close and personal these people were wetter than it seemed in the shadows, and they smelled much more rancid then I thought, slippery slimy kind of red rancid on their clothes. I heard the mother chanting and cackling and my feet were lifted off the ground and I lost all hope.
And then I used the only weapon I had.
The stiletto went straight into Meg’s left eye. It was quite a big target at this point, being half melted and all. She shrieked. Bull’s eye.
For a single second I was let go of, and I used my tiny opening to escape the scene. The mother was standing in my way to the door, trying to grab me again, but she was no doubt the weakest. I pushed her away. She was wet paper.
I ran with all my might, I knew they were going to be right behind me, but I couldn’t look back. But while running down the stairs I started hearing what they were saying and it became weirder and weirder.
“Just stay home,” James said.
“We had this conversation last time,” Meg uttered with a painful tone, her hand placed over her eye and the mother just laughed a crooked laugh that sent shivers down my spine.
The narrow stairs creaked as they did the other times I went up and down them, but this time I put as much force as I could into every step. The third stair from the bottom creaked something wicked, but I knew that, of course, and I just kept going, aiming for the car, my family, out of here.
As I took the right turn toward the back door, I heard a loud ruckus coming from behind me, from the stairs. I knew what it was without having to go back there. The third stair from the bottom caved in. The third stair from the bottom and I had a connection, the stair was my friend. It caved in exactly when I needed it to. It trapped James’ leg and allowed me a few seconds to reach my destination. I could hear his groaning and the hurried pleas for him to get up coming from Meg, while the mother was cackling in the back.
I reached the door and opened it wide. The garage door was open and the flood of light came in from outside as I quickly skipped toward the car, ready to see this house in the rear view mirror.
But there was something standing between me and the car. Someone. And the someone was holding my four year old boy in his hand. And my four year old boy was crying. I came closer without even walking. I flew.
I was squinting like mad but I couldn’t see this person’s face, the lights were behind him. The rain on my head. I took a few big breaths.
“Mommy!” My son was trying to get away when he saw me.
“Why are you leaving so soon?” A languid female voice asked.
“Can I have my son now?” I asked with a shaky voice. The rain was falling on my head with spiky drops. I was fed up. I wanted to hold Sean and I wanted to hold him NOW.
“I want to go, please. Let us go home.” I couldn’t bear it anymore.
“But this is your home. You’ve always lived here.”
I’ve already heard that before. I was done with this. I couldn’t see into the car. Why wasn’t Justin helping?
“Why are you leaving?” the person whispered next to me. It was chilling. The voice was like melted chocolate, like honey. Like maple syrup.
“I need to be with my family.”
“This is your home. You can come and go as you please.”
The person put Sean down. I ran to him and picked him up, running to the car door. I looked back to see the face of his captor and the smell of maple hit me again. The smokiness came back.
“Wait.” It said again. “You will have to come back.”
I felt a dreaminess, a sleepiness, a smell of maple syrup washing over me, embracing my all. I could hear the crazies getting closer in the house, especially the mother’s cackling. James must have gotten free of the wayward stair and is now back, possibly with a vengeance. I knew all of this. I knew it in my head. But the maple smell was comforting and strong.
But then it spoke again, with a honey voice, asking and stating at the same time.
“Please stay.” He/she/it said and snapped me out of my daze.
“Yeah, yeah.” I said without thinking, and opened the door to discover Justin and Corey sleeping. Sleeping or maple syrup unconscious? Whatever. I shook him hard and he started driving, mumbling something about how long it took me to get down to the car. It was as if he hadn’t witnessed anything, as if he didn’t know what happened at all.
When we drove backwards the flood lights poured all over Sean’s captor standing in the driveway. In the flood light it was obvious. The dark circled eyes, the blue and scarred acne-like marked face. This was the face staring at me from the skylight window in the room. But more alarming, I was staring at myself. Some twisted, crooked, evil version of myself, anyway. And I knew that it wanted me to stay.
As we were backing up I saw the rest of the crew come out of the house into the garage, James was dragging his leg, Meg behind him, hand on eye, and then the garage door closed. I couldn’t see any more. Justin used all of his driving skills and drove back as quickly as possible. In the dark I could see the remnants of the massive half eaten bear in the back yard. Justin hit the gas pedal and we were out of there, driving through the rain and the pitch blackness and the woods, hoping, at least I was, that nobody is following us.
“Why did you bring us here?” I spit the words out between pants.
“What are you talking about?” Justin tried focusing on the bumpy road. “They are your friends.”
Let sleeping dogs lie
My friends? I’ve never seen these people before in my life. They were Justin’s friends from… where, indeed? I couldn’t remember. I only remember driving down to see them, and Justin saying it was a great idea to see the backyard of America or something, and none of us thought of thinking, or asking, or even wondering, who these people were. If they were people at all.
Justin hit the brakes.
“This is bananas.” he said pointing at something blocking the way. The three dogs from hell, Black, Blackie and Pitch Black, lying on the wet ground on the pouring rain, exactly as we had left them many hours ago.
It was. It was bananas. The whole thing was. But now it was clear that these devil’s spawns had a designated task. They were the gate keepers, but instead of keeping people out, they were supposed to keep us in.
They were not moving. Like statues of devil dogs, these black creatures just lay there, defiant, ignoring us altogether. We needed to get out of there, out, and never to come back.
“What are we going to do now?”
I looked at Sean, sitting in my arms. I was done with this shit.
“Run over the fuckers,” I said. Justin looked at me with disbelief, but sensed I wasn’t joking. I couldn’t have cared less.
The car bumped twice and the squeals were evident but I didn’t even hear them. I didn’t care if the car had blood stains now or if Sean will grow up traumatized. At least he’ll grow up.
I nestled Sean in my wet arms, while Justin drove off. In the dark outside I thought I saw the face in the mist. It was the blue face, the deep black eyes, the scars. I looked back, exhausted.
Sean leaned closed to me and wrinkled his nose.
“Mommy,” he said. “You smell like peepee.”
If you lived here you’d be home now
We didn’t speak of this that night, or ever again. As I said before, I didn’t want to sound like I was crazy, and Justin didn’t want to THINK I was crazy. He never really got to see what I saw that day. I told the kids that we found bed bugs in the bed that night, and they, for some reason, bought it. Maybe they didn’t want to think I was crazy either.
But the years went by, and the kids grew up, and nobody talks about that road trip anymore. Justin and I were thinking about getting an RV and touring the country a bit, maybe going back to the places that we loved on our past road trips. Gorham, Maine, was not on that list, and it would not have come up ever again, and I believe that I did a reasonably good job at denying it ever happened, until last Saturday, when the kids came for dinner.
See, this is why it came back to me with a burst of memory. This is why I have been dreaming about this nightly ever since last week. I can’t stop thinking about it and occasionally I shiver uncontrollably, no reason whatsoever. It’s the envelope that Corey brought with her, the sparkly eyes and the nostalgic smile that she was wearing like an accessory. She handed it to me matter of factly, while looking for her baby daughter’s milk bottle in the diaper bag. She handed it to me without thinking, but some excitement still passed through the by-the-way demeanor.
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you.” She said. “Wanna go?”
The plain white envelope was addressed to the family, Sean and Corey and all. It came from Gorham, Maine, and it included a small invitation to the home of James and Meg Van-Meek, and mother.
I was sure it was a practical joke at first but then I opened the envelope to find a card with the photo of the Van-Meek’s yard, complete with the hammock, the pink and green striped hammock at the far end of the yard, near the woods. It was a very short message, inviting us over on our upcoming road trip, the one that they couldn’t possibly know about. It simply stated: “We would love to have you and your family for dinner.”