I hit the gas, threw the car into reverse and shot off down the dirt track. At the end, I spun the small car around and roared back onto the side road. Nervously, I stared into all my mirrors then out of the side window. I could see nothing but the road ahead and behind me, at the sides old pine trees clawing at a darkening sky blocked my view. The house was nowhere to be seen. Fighting down the panic and clutching the steering wheel as if I had just fallen off a cliff, I sped away.
Taking in deep breaths and trying to concentrate on the road, I started up the radio and found the connection to my IPod. Snatching up the IPod, I skipped through the new music I had download for my trip to America. I had an odd mix of heavy metal and classic rock, though nothing at the minute would soothe me.
No one was going to believe me. I should have taken a photo of that thing in the window. I shook my head and told myself there had been nothing there and it was only matrixing. I had seen it tons of times in photos of ‘ghosts’ on the internet. People claiming to see a face or figure in a carpet, wall or mirror when it was only a reflection of light creating shapes. That’s all it had been.
Looking down at my IPod screen, I scanned through some more music and finally decided on Barenaked Ladies. As I went to put it on, one of my front tyres bounced over a large rock and I scrambled to gain control as my car went into a spin. I floored the brake and yanked up the hand one as tall tree trunks filled my vision. Branches whipped past me, scratching against the car and shooting out of view. Somehow, I avoid the line of trees and the car came to a spluttering stop facing into the forest.
I let go of the handbrake and the steering wheel. Pins and needles pricked my hands and arms. I opened the door and got out. Breathing deeply, I took in the scent of pine trees, dirt, burnt rubber and warm oil. I looked around and saw the road half a mile behind me. Shaking, I leant over and put my hands on my knees. How had I not hit a tree? Thanking God or whoever as I wasn’t religious and didn’t believe in ‘higher powers,’ I sorted myself.
Getting back in the car, I left the door open and tried starting up the engine. It turned over, but didn’t fully start. I took the key out and lent back in the seat, the shock sinking in. I shut my eyes and listened to the crows screaming around me. Dark patterns danced before me and head ached.
‘Don’t sleep!’ I shouted, snapping open my eyes and jumping up.
I moved to get out and something flickered passed me. I stopped, put my hands on the wheel and lent over to look out. It was probably just a bird or something. Still, I held my breath and waited. A tentacle like shape appeared out the forest gloom and wrapped itself around the trunk of a tree. I dived for my camera, switched it on and began snapping photos.
The images came back blurry, so I got out the car and did two full circles shoots, before collapsing back into the driver’s seat and locking the door closed. It’s crazy, I’m crazy! I shoved the camera down and tried my car again. This time the engine roared into life and slowly, I reversed back on to the road. Shaking, I turned the car around and carried on driving down the road. The radio sorted itself and music drifted from the speakers.
By the time I got into the small town I was staying in, it had begun to rain and the sky was inky black. I parked up outside my motel room, grabbed my stuff and hurried into the room. I hit the harsh lights, dumped the stuff on the bed and stripped to my boxers. I went into the bathroom and showered. When I got out, holding a towel around my hips and water dripping off my hair, the realisation of the situation hit me.
I sink onto the bed and laughed. In the safety of the room, I felt so stupid. I turned on the TV, just to have some noise in the too quiet background and picked up my camera. The battery was low, so I put it on charge and took the memory card out. I turned on my laptop and left the memory card on the mouse pad as I put on a soft pair of pants. I towel dried my hair, then as the laptop loaded, put the memory card in and opened the files.
Putting them on full screen, I tapped through the photos and looked closely into the backgrounds. There was nothing in the first handful and a small voice in my head started up that I was being silly and trying to find something that wasn’t going to be there. However, in the first photo of the hallway there seemed to be a blotch of pure blackness in the centre. Frowning, I went through the next few and found the last one in the hall. Clearly, before my eyes was a long stickman shadow. The breath caught in my throat and my inner voice screamed, matrixing! I zoomed in, my fingers twitching, but there was no deigning the image before me. I clicked off it and cycled through the other photos, until I reached the attic room.
The hairs rose on the back of my neck and I broke into a cold sweat. The child drawn pictures on the walls burned before my eyes and the words I’d not given any focus on before popped out at me.
DON’T LOOK AT HIM
I shook my head and went through the next lot which were all in the forest. The first few were confusing blurs of trees and shadowy patches and the rest showed only old pine trees, tracks my car had made and the edges of the road. I saved all the photos and removed the memory card. Putting that back in my camera, I took out my external hard drive and saved the photos on to there as well. Closing my laptop, I went back to the bed and sat down. The box Brownie rolled into my hip.
Picking it up, I wondered if there was anything on it and how to get it off. I placed it next to my camera then cleaned the bed of my rucksack and other stuff. I sprawled out on the starched sheets and shut my eyes.
‘It’s not real. Just light tricks,’ I muttered, ‘There was nothing there. Just a creepy abandoned house. The photos? Tricks of shadows and lights. My mind making shapes. Nothing more…nothing…’
My alarm cut through my dreamless sleep and I woke with a start. Shaking sleep out of my limbs, I got up and straight in the shower. The hot water helped me wake further and after dressing, I ate some breakfast fruit bars and finished off a carton of milk. I emptied and repacked my rucksack, grabbed my camera and the box Brownie and opened the door.
A gloomy, wet morning greeted me. Stepping out and rubbing at a tension headache, I went to my car. Unlocking it, I got in, put my stuff to the side and closed the door. Yesterday’s memories that I had been trying to keep back like vomit, surfaced and I pressed my head to the steering wheel. I mumbled that it wasn’t real then started the car.
I drove into the town and focused on something else. At some point, I had seen a one hour photo and camera store. The problem was I couldn’t remember where it was. With my head feeling foggy, I parked in a superstore lot and got out. Gathering my stuff, I walked in and asked for directions. It was right around the corner. Leaving my car, I walked over and found myself outside a very old and run down looking store.
The sign on the door welcomed me in and I went straight to the counter. An old man with puffy white hair, large glasses and wrinkled hands stared at me. I placed the Brownie on the glass top next to an antique looking till.
‘I…erm…brought this at a junk store. I think there might be something on the film inside. Can you develop it for me?’ I asked.
A gnarled hand reached out and picked up the Brownie. The old man looked at it, rising his glasses up and down. He smacked his cracked lips and in an thick American accent I was becoming use to, said, ‘Shouldn’t be a problem. Come back in an hour.’
Nodding, I left not bothering to look around. I felt better outside and wondered back to the superstore to get some supplies. However, my mind was districted by questions; mainly, what images were on the Brownie? I went back well before the hour was up. The old man wasn’t at the counter, so I had a look around. The two walls were lined with thin wooden shelves that had a range of cameras, equipment, other supplies, magazines and books upon them.
I had just found a box Brownie that looked like mine, when he appeared.
‘Ah, I’ve managed to do it. The film was pretty old, but some of the photos came out OK…I fixed the camera too and put in a new roll. Seems to be OK…’
I hurried over and took the pile of black and white prints from him. The first three were too blurry to make out and they looked almost water stained. The fourth one though showed the abandoned house as it used to be with the Ford parked out front. I looked at the tiny attic window, but couldn’t make everything out. Something was there in the next one though; the outline of what looked like someone wearing a pillowcase on their head. My breath struck in my throat and had to turn to the next one. This time the mud room door was open and there was the shadow of the stickman standing there.
The old man cleared his throat and tearing my eyes away, I looked up at him.
‘Sorry, how much do I owe?’ I forced out.
He named his price, I handed him the money then looked at the other six photos. They worked in succession; the dirt track with the house in the background and the stickman just visible in the trees before the house. The next three were deeper in the woods and trying to hide in the background was the stickman. No matter how hard I stared, I couldn’t make out any features other than a round white head, long body and limbs.
I turned to the second to last one and saw the attic. The door was half open and the long figure was standing there as clear as anything. He was wearing a black suit, dark shirt and tie, his face was completely whited out. His arm reached down and out of shot. I scrambled for the last one and others fluttered to the floor. He was in full view this time, taking up all the space on the photograph.
My hands shook, I gasped for breath and dropped it alongside the others. I looked at the old man and saw the fear on his face. I wanted to say something, but my mind was scrambled. My eyes dropped to the scattered photos. It wasn’t possible! It was just a joke! A Halloween costume or someone messing around.
‘Ya need to leave now,’ the old man muttered.
‘No,’ I shouted and reaching across the counter grab the old man by his shirt, ‘tell me it’s not true! It’s a joke, a trick! It’s not real!’
He pressed his hands to mine and surprisingly shoved me off. Gasping, I swept up the photos and the Brownie. Clutching them to my chest, I stepped backwards and fled the store. I ran back to my car, threw everything in and peeled out of there. Like a mad man, I drove back into the forest and to the abandoned house.
‘It’s not real! It’s not real!’ I screamed.
I shot passed the very missable dirt track and had to spin the car around. I tumbled along the track, my whole body shaking and not just because of the vibrations. I skidded the car to a halt next to the house and snatching everything up stormed inside. Ignoring the darkness, I made my way to the attic. Kicking open the door, I stomped in and dumped everything on a small table against the window.
‘Where are you? Come out! You’re not real!’ I yelled.
I scanned the room, deep breaths bursting out of me and saw nothing but drifting dust clouds. Fat tears blurred my vision and I rubbed them away. I kicked a soft toy dog over and it thump across the floor.
‘It’s all fake!’ I added and took up the box Brownie.
I snapped some photos with it focusing on the open door and the walls. Then I took my digital camera and did the same. I looked closely at the screen after every photo, but saw nothing. I screamed and heard the echo of sirens in my ears. I hurried to the dirty window and looked out, two county sheriff cars were pulling up and blocking my car in. I collected my things and rushed outside.
I erupted through the mud room door, slightly tripping over my feet and would have flown at the three officers if I hadn’t seen their drawn guns.
‘Show your hands and get down!’ the oldest of them yelled.
Fear flashed through me and through I was still panicked, I put my stuff on the floor and dropped down after it onto the porch. The tears I had been fighting back overwhelmed me and I sobbed hard. Dimly, I was aware of the officers talking as they came over to me. I felt cuffs going around my wrists then I was dragged to my feet and patted down. I saw the younger female officer bagging my stuff up. I tried to tell her to be careful, but it just came out as blubber.
I was walked to the car and pushed into the back seat. I dropped on to my side then eased myself up and looked at the window. The sheriff and his deputies had moved away and I could see the pine trees retreating deeper into the forest. I drew in a shaky breath, shook my head to clear away the tears and really looked amongst the trees.
He was there, staring back at me.
To be Continued…?
Arriving at the bus stop, I give a wary eye to the two African men who were sitting on the metal bench. I went to the other side of the shelter and scolded myself for not having noticed my IPod battery was dead. Now, I had to make the return journey home being unable to block everything out. I shot a look at the two men and noticed one of them had stood up.
‘You sit here,’ he called over and waved his hand at the bench. In his other hand he held a small black-green book.
‘No. Thanks. I’m good,’ I replied.
I went to shake my head, but the slight desperation in his voice made me paused. I went and sat down. The cold metal sank straight though my jeans and I felt uncomfortable. Too districted myself, I turned to the man next to me and noticed his clean suit and small briefcase. There was also a name badge pinned to his breast pocket. I couldn’t read it.
‘You from around here?’ he asked in a heavy accent that struggled around the English words.
‘Yes. Just down the road. Middleton,’ I answered whilst wishing my IPod had power.
‘So you work? Where do you work?’
‘The youth centre. Just there,’ I added and pointed at the yellow and grey stripy building a few meters down from us.
‘A what?’ he questioned.
‘Where?’ the first man joined in, coming to fill the space at my other side.
‘The youth centre. It’s a place young people can go to hang out and take part in actives,’ I explained.
I looked at the first man then the second and decided that they were a little hard to tell apart. The first had longer hair, whilst the second was bald. Their suits were both light brown, caramel coloured and for a few moments they did give off the impression of being business men looking for a sale. However, they were religious men. The book of God give it away.
‘I see. Children’s centre,’ the first stated.
I glanced at the second man and saw him still looking confused.
‘We’ve been in UK only six months,’ the first stated.
‘Oh? And where you before that?’ I asked out of politeness.
He uttered a name. I had never heard the place nor could repeat it.
‘We on mission. Stay in UK two years. Before I come here, I spoke no English,’ he continued, happily.
He stepped away and held out his hand for the coming bus.
I peered around the bus shelter and saw it was the one I had been waiting for too. I got up and walked over as the bus came to a halt in front of us. He let me get on first and I flashed my ticket and looked for an empty seat. For half past eight on a Tuesday evening, the bus was busy. I sat down next to someone and watched the two men take the empty front seat which was only two seats in front and opposite me.
As I slightly hoped he didn’t turn to me and pick up the conversation again, he did so and speaking in a quieter voice asked, ‘have you lived here long?’
‘All my life,’ I replied.
‘You sound a little…American,’ he pointed out.
I laughed, so use to this, ‘no. I’ve never been to America. But I spent three years at uni with American exchange students. Then four months in New Zealand with some of them.’
‘Ah. Do you believe in God?’
The ultimate question.
‘Yes. I was brought up Church of England and I still believe.’
The small smile on his face grew huge as if I had made his day. I glanced down and finally made out the word Elder on his name badge. Mormons. Okay, now I knew what I was dealing with.
‘I’m happy as I am thanks,’ I also added, though I knew it was too late now.
‘We are all Brothers and Sisters,’ he declared as if he hadn’t heard me, ‘It’s our job to spread the Word about our Lord.’
‘Well, if that’s your calling. I bet it’s hard though…’ I said a loud instead of keeping it inside.
In the seconds it took for him to reply, I wondered what the other passengers were thinking about this. The person I was sat next to was fully engrossed in looking out of the window. The two people in front of me both were on their phones and the person opposite me had their face buried in a dirty copy of the Metro newspaper. The second man was staring silently ahead, almost as if he was ignoring the conversation like everyone else.
‘Yes. It is hard. But we must try. It’s what we are here for. We work in rain or sun, which ever. To spread the Word,’ Elder replied.
I nodded and felt a wave of sympathy for him. How many front doors had been slammed in his face today alone? How many people had shunned him for just trying to talk to them? I shook my head slightly. I couldn’t be Mormon, the lifestyle didn’t suit me. My new belief was that maybe God wasn’t that interested in what religion you were and what you believed in as long as you tried to be good. If you were kind, helpful and tried to do your best for yourself and those around you, God shouldn’t mind.
‘Do you live around here?’ Elder asked, being my attention back.
I glanced out the window and tried to see where we were, ‘No. I live just before Middleton town centre. A few more stops. Where do you live?’
‘Perhaps we can come to your house or another meeting place and talk some more?’
‘Ah. No. I’m good, thanks. I’m happy as I am.’
His huge smile dropped and he turned his head. I saw him glance at his friend then turn back to me.
‘It was nice talking to you,’ Elder said with a hint of sadness in his voice.
‘Same,’ I responded.
He held his hand and I shook it. His friend rang the bell and they both got up.
The bus stopped and watched them get off. It was only four bus stops away from mine. They must be house sharing or someone helped them to rent one, I thought. The bus pulled away and I finally settled back in my seat. The chance that I’d see them again popped into my mind and I was torn between things. I made my thoughts turned and wondered what the world would be like if people just took more time to listen to each other. I needed to give that a try. Perhaps it was a good thing my IPod hadn’t been charged.
(Inspired by a true event and the music of Disciple)
As Harry entered the abandoned church, he readied his camera to take some more photos. He did a quick walk through before he started clicking away. The church, like the rest of the buildings in the deserted town, was still in okay condition. Though, if it hadn’t have been for the sign above the door he never would have guessed that this empty oblong shape was a church.
Harry examined the photos and noticed a door far to his left. Going over and thinking nothing about it, he opened the door. He shone his torch inside and raised the camera in his other hand. Getting ready to take a photo, what he saw before him sunk in fully.
There was a sleeping bag on the floor with a scattered pile of adult magazines on top of it. All four walls were covered in graffiti scrawled words that wrapped around torn out pages and women’s underwear.
The breath caught in his throat and his finger slipped of the shutter button. In all his years of urban exploring Harry had never seen anything like this before. With a quick glance behind him, he shuffled further into the room and inspected the walls more closely.
It seemed everything had been written in the same hand and recorded the story of each piece of underwear. Some were declared to have been found or stolen, with a place and date added in. Other items though… He couldn’t help but read the story of the pink thong. Though he tried hard not to let his eyes drift to the next line, but he was too drawn in.
Not sure what else to do, he took a few different photos of the room and then some closer shots of the wall. I’ll have to phone the police, Harry thought, I don’t know what I’ll tell them though.
A soft whistling caught his attention. Harry hurried from the room as quietly as he could and shut the door behind him. Moving away, he walked into the middle of the room and took a photo of the doorway. He could hear footsteps too now and he was strongly aware that he was no longer alone.
Keeping his eyes on the door, he watched a very tall and skinny man step into the church. The man stopped, spotting Harry instantly.
‘I’m sorry,’ Harry said politely, ‘I’m just taking a few photos. Abandon buildings fascinate me. I didn’t mean to intrude. I didn’t know anyone was here.’
‘Have you been here long?’ the man asked with a slight edge to his words.
‘No, no. Just a few minutes. Do you…are you staying here?’ Harry enquired as he eyed up the man’s hiking rucksack.
The man nodded.
‘Ah, okay. I’ll leave then. So sorry,’ Harry gushed out and made to leave.
‘You didn’t…?’ the man began.
Harry stopped his eyes from shooting over to the door and fixed a frown on his face.
‘Touch anything?’ came the conclusion.
‘No. I try to avoid doing so. I like things just as they were left or has nature made it,’ Harry explained, ‘I’ll go then.’
Harry moved forward, clicking off his torch and letting his camera settle around his neck. He came a few steps away from the man and stopped as he was blocking the doorway. Harry felt small sweat drops on his head and the tension rising. He wet his lips and thought of something to say.
‘You got any smokes?’ the man asked.
Harry shook his head fast, ‘No. I don’t smoke. Sorry. I’ve not got much money on me either. I just came down for the afternoon,’ Harry added as he began to rummage in his pockets.
The man eyed him up and Harry tried to put his face and clothes into his memory bank. The man was a lot younger then he seemed, late twenties. He had feather black hair and a long sad looking face. He was wearing dirty leather boots, jeans and a grey t-shirt.
Harry pulled out his wallet and offered the man five dollars.
‘Where are you from?’ the man asked.
‘England,’ Harry responded, ‘but I have American cousins. I’m over here visiting them and doing some…sightseeing and this.’
The man took the note and tucked it away.
‘It was nice to meet you. Sorry to intrude, again.’
This time the man stepped to the side and Harry was able to walk through the door. Out in the fresh air again, he hurried back to his car. Getting in and locking the doors, he was about to look though his photos once again, when he felt eyes upon him. Glancing up he saw the man watching him from the church’s doorway.
Placing the camera down, Harry smiled and waved before starting the engine up. Driving away from Cuervo, Harry pondered what to do. He was still wondering as he entered Santa Rosa and found a restaurant to stop in. I’ll have to report it, he officially decided. He got out, used the rest room and ordered some food.
He sipped some black coffee as he waited and looked out of the window. He had brought his camera in with him and he decided that he would look through the photos again. Ignoring the noise of the bar ‘n’ grill, he looked though the last few photos he had taken and the need to do something grew stronger.
When the waitress came back around with his food, he asked her if there was a phone he could use. Luckily, there was a public one oddly located next to an old jukebox. After he had finished, he phoned and tried not to make a big deal out of it. He met the police in the carpark and showed them the photos.
Interested, they got him to drive them back to Cuervo. He parked up and stayed in the car as they went in. Minutes later, they came to get him and he went into the building with them. The room at the back was empty, but for a few loose photos of pinup girls.