LEATHER BOUND MYSTERY (PG)
The book had come with the house. In fact, when the elderly gentleman moved out, he left an entire library. But this one particular book, with its dark leather binding, raised copper borders and print in the old style fonts, really stood out. Its look and its title, Fields and Forests, complemented the woodsy theme of our sitting room beautifully. And without question, it became a permanent fixture on the coffee table.
The book contained an accumulation of short stories about the outdoors, from newspaper and magazine articles to scientific studies. I had read a few stories. Sarah maybe had read one. But for the most part, it was a display. A great conversation piece when guests came over.
I had not noticed anything strange about the old book or this house until after the night of the big storm. A loud crack woke me in the night.
It was so loud, I feared lightning had struck our new home. I got up and headed downstairs. I slipped on galoshes and stepped out into the rain. The storm had moved quickly and now it only dripped. But lightning still lit up the sky, and the rumble of thunder continued. I circled the house, while scanning the roof for smoke or flame. Seeing none, I headed to the door. But as I crossed the front lawn, I heard what sounded like a growl come from beyond the black iron gate across our driveway. It was part of an eight-foot wrought iron fence that surrounded the entire yard. Then I saw something dart across the driveway just beyond the gate.
It was too dark to see. I watched the darkness for a while longer... Nothing else appeared. And at that point, I had convinced myself that it was just a dog.
I headed back in the house, kicked off my galoshes, and made my way to the stairs. As I passed the sitting room, I noticed the old book lying open on the end table. That book has never been left open, I thought, stopping with one foot on the stairs. Well, it could be that Sarah left it open to something she had been reading. But now that I had seen it, I couldn’t just leave it sitting open. It didn’t allow the room to look organized.
I walked over and grabbed up the book to check the page number in case Sarah had been reading something. There was a picture of a small gremlin or troll-looking critter in the upper right corner. Reading only the short first paragraph, I learned the story was about things people see that can’t be true, but their minds play tricks on them as they sit or walk in the woods. It explained how quick eye movements or strange shadows at dusk or dawn can turn ordinary tree branches and dark stumps into faces, arms, then forest trolls or even Bigfoot, for example. I glanced at the page number, ninety-four, then closed the heavy book and placed it back on the table. Then I went back to bed.
I lay in bed, wide awake for a while. I was still worried about where the lightning had struck, but I reassured myself over and over that I had thoroughly looked and found nothing. It was at that stage where you are just about to fall asleep, when I heard a loud knock from somewhere in the house, like something wooden had dropped to the floor. I listened for a long time without hearing anything else, and decided it was nothing to get back out of bed for.
The next morning, I woke later than usual due to my nocturnal activities, and ended up heading downstairs at the same time as Sarah. Usually I would have breakfast down and the news on before I heard her in the kitchen going after her coffee.
I was three steps shy of the main floor when I knew something wasn’t right. There was a couch cushion lying on the floor near the front door. Three steps later, I saw things strewn all over the first floor of the house. Pictures lay on the floor. Cushions were off couches in the sitting room. The clock that hung over the kitchen sink, now lay in the sink. It looked like the mess kids would make. And because nothing was broken or viciously cut open with knives or anything like that, we didn’t really connect it with any danger. So we did what came naturally, what we had done many years when we had children in the house, we cleaned up.
As we swiftly moved about, we completed a brief inventory of our belongings. Nothing seemed to be missing. Then we discussed over a light breakfast of cinnamon toast why we hadn’t called the cops. I hadn’t even checked to see if the front door was locked. Maybe I had left it open after my late night tromp around the yard.
If it hadn’t been a burglary, than what was it? I knew what I was thinking. I leaned back in the wooden chair, one of a dozen at our long dining table. I looked down the long room and wondered, had I just bought a haunted house? I looked at Sarah sitting in the chair across the corner from me. She looked at me, and in her eyes I could almost read the same thoughts.
Just then, I remembered the book and asked if she’d left it open. She said she hadn’t. I nodded, then stood up. She followed me to the sitting room. I picked up the book and opened it to page ninety-four. She said, gremlins, huh? I nodded my head in un-amused acknowledgement. Then set the book back down on the end table. Perhaps I will have to read more about them, I finally said.
The second time it happened, the noises woke me from a deep sleep. I jumped out of bed and headed for the stairs. Sarah followed directly behind me. I was quite unprepared for what I would see once I got to the bottom of the stairs.
I glanced to my left first, into the sitting room, and in that quick motion—just like they talked about in the book when people sometimes see unexplainable things when turning a head or from out of their peripheral vision—I caught a glimpse of a small hairy figure. Maybe thirty inches tall. More animal than human. But it stood upright. It appeared more as a blink on a movie screen than a full three dimensioned being.
Sarah didn’t see it, but she believed me when I told her. She asked if we should call someone. I replied that I would if I had any idea who. And I don’t know why I did what I did next. I think I wanted to verify that no one was outside messing with us. It seemed like a practical joke that could be pulled with the right equipment.
I swung the door open to the darkness. And at first, everything looked quiet. But in the light from a sliver of moon, I saw movement behind the driveway entrance gate.
I told Sarah to stay inside, but she clung to the back of me like a bat. I went out in bare feet, and as I cut across the yard to get a better look, I felt the dampness in the grass lick at my toes. It was cool outside. I walked only as far as I had to.
I heard them before I saw them.
Their low growls sounded like rumbles of thunder in the far-off distance. There were at least four of them and they paced back and forth at the gate. These were not puppy dogs from the neighborhood. These were wolves, real wolves, mind you. And they looked like they wanted in. So much for practical jokes. We turned and ran back to the house.
We got back inside and cleaned up the mess. It hadn’t been near as bad as the other night, perhaps because we had interrupted the little mischievous beast. Maybe there would be more in the morning. I hoped not.
When we got back into bed, I felt like asking Sarah if she thought we should move. I recalled the look she had on her face while we were downstairs. It wasn’t as much fear as it was a serious concern. But I reminded myself, she hadn’t seen the angry expression on the little troll’s face as I had.
The next day after dinner, I went to the sitting room, as we both often did. Usually we talked for a while before we would get involved in something else. I would read the paper, read from a book or write. Sarah would read her book or write letters. I picked up the old book and turned to page ninety-four. It was an interesting article, and mentioned several cases where people had seen small human-like but hairy creatures in the wilds of the world. The stories reminded me of a Bigfoot sighting I’d read about in the newspaper some time ago. But those who saw the little creatures usually only had quick glimpses of them darting into the shadows. Much like I had experienced the night before.
It was several weeks before we had another incident. I had high hopes that our little gremlins had left. But this time, they came back with a vengeance.
We woke up simultaneously. Sarah gave a short scream at the sound of glass being broke. It sounded like dishes. The same sound occurred several times, and then the sound of a different type of breaking glass. And to my surprise, Sarah ran out of the room before me. I even thought I heard a cuss word come from her mouth. I will be the first to admit, you don’t mess with her kitchen. If she caught anyone down there, she was liable to frighten them more than they would frighten her.
I followed her down the stairs. She flipped the light switches on as we went. She swung right, through the dining room, and into a dark kitchen. I was halted momentarily by something I seen in the sitting room.
The old book on the coffee table was lying open, and its pages were being flipped chaotically by invisible hands.
Then I heard Sarah scream.
I ran for the kitchen as fast as I could. She had the light on. I thought she had screamed at the sight of the mess, but this scream had more terror in it than surprise or anger. She pointed to the far end of the kitchen and said there was a man standing there, just as she had turned on the lights. I was about to ask, was he real. Meaning was the man alive or a ghost. She replied before I could ask by telling me how the man had disappeared after she turned the lights on. And it wasn’t the sight of the man that scared her, as much as it was the look that he gave her. Pure evil, she said. Murderous-looking.
I glanced around the room at the mess as I held her in my arms. Everything was quiet now. I walked Sarah to the breakfast nook and had her sit down. I grabbed a broom from the pantry and started to clean up. Sarah called out an inventory of the broken plates and glasses as I dropped them into a paper bag.
And then, as I stood there, I could clearly hear yelping. I knew without question it was the wolves at the gate. With each additional incident, the wolves got more irritated. I couldn’t help but wonder what their purpose was in all this.
It didn’t take long to clean up. Then we headed upstairs. But before I flicked the downstairs light off, I stepped into the sitting room. I noted the page the book had been left open to, one hundred fifty-seven. Then I closed it, and set the large ash tray that also was on the end table, on top of it. Maybe it would help. It couldn’t hurt.
The next morning was Saturday. I had several things on my mind. One, I intended to try and make contact with the previous owner. And two, I wanted to see what was on page one hundred fifty-seven. I called up our realtor, and she politely said she would try to track him down. I told her it was very important and concerned maintenance issues we were having with the house. She asked what, but I told her I had to get going and would explain another time. A few minutes later, I was sitting at my favorite spot on the couch with the old book in my hands. As I paged through the old book, it donned on me that perhaps I should fear the book. That maybe I shouldn’t even be handling it. But the daylight blanked away the fear. I felt nothing. Nothing but curiosity. My first question had to do with answering whether the stories we had already read from it had anything to do with what was going on.
I paged through the book and found the two stories I had read. One had been on Whitetail Deer. The other had to do with the activities of a Pine Martin in a northern coniferous woods. I found both of them in the book. Glancing at them, I made no connection between them and the paranormal experiences we were having. I asked Sarah what she had read. She had read a short story about chickadees. That surely didn’t relate.
But the story on one fifty-seven sure did.
I read the article slowly. It looked like a clipping from a newspaper and read as such. It was about a man who had committed murder as a young teen. He escaped from prison and made his way to Canada where he lived deep in the woods, off the land, for four years before someone reported seeing a suspicious man running down a logging road. The reports led to a police search, and after less than a week, they found his shack and him sleeping inside of it. They also found his prison clothes and the article said they were striped coveralls. Someone had interviewed him extensively about how he’d survived in the woods all that time. The story ended with a crushing blow as the reporter explained that the prisoner had hung himself while being temporarily housed in the county jail.
I got up from the couch and went to find Sarah. She was in the kitchen re-inventorying what was broken or missing and that she’d need to replace. I asked why she never mentioned what the man had been wearing. Her eyes widened. She said she guessed the look on his face had scared her so much that nothing else seemed important. But now that I mentioned it, yeah, she said, he was wearing some rather peculiar clothing. Dirty coveralls. Dirty striped coveralls, like a convict, she said. Why do you ask? I nodded my head, turned and headed back to the sitting room. I grabbed the book off the table and headed out to the garage.
In the garage, there was a tin pail. There also were matches, and lighter fluid for the grill. I walked halfway down the cement drive, set the pail down with the book in it, soaked the book in lighter fluid, then tossed a match in. As old as it was, I figured the book would burn like crazy. I could smell it burning as I walked around the front yard checking the shrubbery. I kept an eye on my little fire from a distance.
After I noticed it going out, I walked back over. And to my surprise, the book looked untouched. Maybe a few slightly darker stains in the leather. I went back to the garage and came out with a sack of charcoal and a road flair. I piled the charcoal around the book, soaked them with fluid, then lit the flair and jammed it into the coals. The flames shot up four feet out of the pail. At one point, I couldn’t even see the book through the smoke and the flames. That ought to do it, I thought.
Sarah saw me out there, and she knew what I was up to. When I came inside, she laughed. Thought it was funny that I was trying to burn it up. I told her it had crossed my mind that it was ridiculous, but I told her I wasn’t laughing anymore because the book refused to be destroyed.
I didn’t go back outside to check on it until dusk. I was hopeful there would be very little remains and I could just dump it in the flower garden. But as I got closer, I could tell I was going to be disappointed. I could not believe my eyes. There was a layer of white ash at the bottom of the pail. But the book still sat there, leaning against the side of the pail… untouched.
I poured the ashes in a corner of the garden, washed out the pail. I threw the book on a shelf in the garage. Before I closed the garage door, I took one more glance around the yard. I caught a glimpse of something scooting across the driveway. The wolves, I was sure. I wondered if we weren’t about to be visited two nights in a row. It would be a first.
I decided to sleep on the couch downstairs in the sitting room. I wanted to be able to react quicker. Sarah showed up moments later with her blanket and pillow. This time I laughed. She said, I’m not staying up there alone. Then she laid her stuff out on the couch across from me and snuggled in. I was ready for the convict. I wanted to catch him in the act. I wanted to scream at him, tell him he was not welcome here in my home. I heard you can talk to these spirits and they might even listen. Or they might get angrier. But I didn’t care. Right now I was angry. And tired. I wasn’t getting much sleep these days with all this commotion going on.
Sometime during the night, I woke up to the noise of a struggle. I glanced across the room to see if Sarah was still on the couch. She was, and I breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t been awakened by the disturbance, yet. I snuck down the back hall toward the noise. It was coming from the back entryway.
I had turned the hallway light on, but the switch to turn on the entryway light was near the door—one thing I would have changed if I had designed the house. It needed to be on a double switch, with one switch in the hallway as you entered the room. I pictured in my head what would all be in the open entryway. There were two chairs, usually several pairs of shoes on the floor, and lots of doors. There was a door to the garage, to the basement, to the closet and to the washroom. And everything was usually tidy and in its proper place.
But not this time.
There was barely enough light to see the far back of the room. But I could see that the shoes were out of place. One chair was in the middle of the room, the other I couldn’t see. The basement door was open part way. And there was movement near the door. The quarter seconds passed as my eyes adjusted and I realized I was looking at a man.
Then I realized it was a man with a gun. A rifle.
My heart just about catapulted out my chest. I couldn’t breathe. My mind raced. There was nowhere to run from a man with a gun. The distance too short, my reaction time would be way too slow. I had to protect my wife, my home and myself, in that order. Instinctively, I lowered a shoulder like a defensive lineman, and ran forward with all my might.
The gun was pointed at me now. I waited for the burst of flames to come out the end of the barrel. I thought of God. I thought of Sarah. I thought about how long it seemed to be taking to cross the floor of a ten-by-twelve-foot room.
We collided. Chairs went flying. The next thing I knew, I smashed into the closet doors. They were cheaper doors, wooden, the kind that fold open. They gave way, and I fell into the closet, fell to the floor.
I turned and scanned the room. I expected to see the man standing over me, with his gun pointed at my head. I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t recall actually hitting him, the feeling of body against body. I just remember flying through the air. Had he backed down the stairs at the last second?
Then I heard Sarah scream.
She sounded closer than the sitting room, and she sounded terrified. He was after her. I was sure of it.
I got to my feet as quick as I could and bolted for the square of light on the other side of the room. I didn’t see the tipped over chair until it was too late. I stumbled through the door at a run and smashed into the wall of the hallway as if someone had thrown me with incredible strength.
I can imagine what it might have looked like to Sarah, who stood at the end of the hallway in the light, watching her husband slam into the wall and then fall to the floor. She screamed my name, and then kept asking me what was going on, but she wouldn’t come near me because she had no idea what had thrown me out of the breezeway and into the hallway with such force. It had been nothing. I was happy to see she was okay. I finally told her I was okay, too.
We went to the kitchen and she made me hot chocolate. That’s when I explained what had happened. She said she hadn’t seen anyone come down the hall. She hadn’t seen anyone or anything for that matter. I told her it wasn’t the convict this time. This man wore darker clothing. And he had a gun.
When we finished our drink, we both walked toward the sitting room. It had become a trend that once a paranormal event was broken up, it seemed to be over for the night.
That almost made it seem bearable.
I intended to grab my pillow and head back upstairs. Sarah was leading the way. But then she stopped so fast that I ran into the back of her. I heard her say, Oh my God.
My heart started beating hard all over again. What? I asked, and pushed my way past her. And then I saw it. The book. It was back on the coffee table. Its cover flipped open. I walked over and looked down at the book. It was open to a story about a man who had met his fate against a grizzly bear. His partner had watched the whole thing from a rock one hundred yards away. Had taken some shots at the bear, but after it was much too late. It wasn’t a long story. There was a drawing of man standing with his gun up, a look of panic on his face, a grizzly bear facing him from less than twenty paces. The image reminded me a lot of the man in the entryway. The way I imagined he would hold the gun if he thought something was about to attack him; much like I had attacked the shadow man.
An absurd twist of coincidence. I slapped the book closed, and set the ash tray back on top of it. Then said, let’s go to bed. As we made our way up to our bedroom, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In some strange way, the pieces were starting to come together.
The next day, I finally received a call from the realtor. She had tracked the old man down at an elderly housing arrangement down south. Around four p.m. on Sunday I was able to get him on the phone. The old fellow was hard at hearing and ran out of breath after a few words. After explaining our experiences, I asked if he had ever experienced anything like it.
There was a long silence on the other end. Finally he spoke. He said he thought it was all over. He thought it would never come back. (I knew he was talking about the book.) The old man coughed a few times then wheezed the words, read it. You’ve got to read it. I told him I understood what he was trying to tell me, but in a nice way I wanted to say that it can’t be that easy. And then he added one last thing in short broken-up phrases. He said if it was no good, then it was time to let the wolves loose. But only let the wolves loose if nothing else worked. And then you must leave right away, he said. The wolves will chase the evil spirits away, but they will chase away your spirit, too. And after a short pause, he added, we did not leave soon enough. Then the line went dead on the other end.
I hung up the phone and walked over to my favorite spot on the couch. I had some serious reading to do if I understood what he meant to say. If you read the story, the spirit loses its connection to the house.
And as the weeks had passed, I had started to see that. Every time I read a story, that spirit’s opening to our world had collapsed. But unfortunately, it only allowed a clear path for another spirit to come in. And the part that scared me the most was how with each new one, the danger to us seemed to escalate.
What would be next?
When Sarah got home from shopping, I told her about it. It wasn’t easy to believe that we could end our troubles just by reading a few stories in an old book. But we had to have hope. We took turns reading that night until neither of us could read another word. Of course, we started with the stories that had the most dangerous characters.
It has been several weeks since we finished reading every story in the old book. So far things have been pretty quiet around here. Until tonight. I was watching the ten p.m. news. A bad storm is rolling in. I turned the television off, and was headed up to bed when I heard a strange sound. It was long and drawn out.
It only took me a few seconds to figure out what it was. It was the wolves howling. I had never heard them howl before. I stood and listened for a few moments. It was beautiful, yet it brought pains to my chest.
It was returning.
When the wolves are back, it usually means a visit. But from whom? What spirit had been waiting in the wings to pass through? How evil of a spirit would it take to make the wolves howl? I made my way up the stairs and down the hallway toward our room. Perhaps this is the night I must release the wolves. Maybe Sarah and I should pack and leave tonight.
The sound of the wolves howling got louder. I stepped into our bedroom. A small lamp was lit on Sarah’s side of the room. Past it, rain drops accumulated on the window. Sarah was in bed. The blankets covered her. Sarah, I called out, but yet still in a whisper. I didn’t want to frighten her. Sarah, the wolves are howling. I think we have to get out of here. Sarah?
Sarah wasn’t responding.
I screamed her name. I screamed it three, four, probably several more times as I rushed to her side of the bed, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her thin frame. All the while continuing to call her name. It finally came to me to check for her pulse, but as I reached for her wrist, something in the house changed.
The door to our bedroom slammed closed with such force that I felt the percussion across the room where I stood. My eyes were stuck on the door, and I watched as it popped back open, leisurely, as if someone had quietly stepped in. Then I heard glass shattering on the floors somewhere downstairs.
I pulled Sarah out of bed. I was able to tow her along in both arms, untidy, like one might drag a large branch across the yard. Maybe I could have carried her for a short ways, but not down the stairs and not all the way to the garage. As I left the room, the door slammed shut behind me with a sentiment of good riddance. I didn’t look back.
I hurried to the top of the stairs, and from there, heard heavy furniture pieces being roughly drug across the floor. Cupboard doors slamming open and shut. More items hitting the floor and braking. The images of our ceramic plates exploding with force on the kitchen floor came to mind, so clearly that I could picture the blue and the beige on the tiny pieces as they shot across the floor like cheap fireworks. And all the while, I continued down the stairs with Sarah in my arms. With all the commotion, I had no way of knowing whether she was alive or dead.
My ragged breathing demanded some respite, but a break at the bottom of the stairs wasn’t an option, only keeping moving… But I did happen to see one item fly through the air from the kitchen and into the sitting room. It was dark, though, and too much work to stop and turn each light on. The flying object could have been a species of bird from in the book. Perhaps a raven, and I had accidently nodded off during the reading of that story and now it had come to life. But whatever it was landed with a heavy clunk, and for some reason my mind deduced it to be a cook book.
I swung to my right and rushed down the hallway. The entire time, I couldn’t help but wonder why everything had gone south. What in the hell had I failed to do? I’d read almost the entire book myself. I rounded the corner to the mud room and came face-to-face, once again, with the man holding the rifle. He wasn’t fully materialized, but I could still see his mean sneer.
I paused at the sight of him. It was only for two or three seconds, but long enough to realize my ribcage was expanding so much with each inhale that it hurt. I started to cough uncontrollably. There wasn’t enough oxygen. My heart was pushing against the inside of my chest. I could literally feel it, and I could hear the corresponding rhythmic pumping of blood in my ears. I needed to get the hell out of this house or it might . . . take me, too.
The thought hit me like a blast from the rifle pointed directly at my chest. I felt a sudden swell of tears: Did I really think Sarah was . . . dead? An oak-framed glass mirror a foot from my head shot straight out from the wall, then slammed to the floor at my feet. I made up my mind quickly. I pulled Sarah’s deadweight up higher into my arms, and cradled her head with one hand. Then I shoved my way straight through the foggy apparition.
I didn’t experience a thing as we passed through, and was glad of that. There was no attempt to stop me. The door to the garage not mysteriously stuck shut. Nothing.
I slammed the door behind me, and it was then I realized how absurdly quiet it was in the garage. I could still hear rumblings from inside, but out here it was utterly silent.
Until I hit my elbow against the garage door opener.
The short howls, sharp barks, and eager moans suddenly filled the entire inlet of my concentration. Their presence overwhelmed me. It brought forth visuals of woolly, long, gray faces and buttery fangs leaping at my face from all angles as I loaded Sarah into the passenger side of the Jeep. They’re on the good side this time, I kept repeating to myself. And I truly believed it. It’s not old fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s us against them. It’s good against evil. And as these thoughts rolled about my mind, the Jeep was already rolling backwards down the driveway.
Then I slammed on the breaks. Just being twenty feet out the driveway made me feel better. My breathing, at least. I quickly reached over and grabbed Sarah’s hand. I felt all over her lower wrist with my fingers. She felt warm, but where was it? I couldn’t find her damn pulse. I yelled her name two or three more times. I was going to try the other hand, but decided getting her to the emergency room would be a better idea. But, there was one thing that still had to be done.
I jumped out and ran toward the front of the house. Rain drops hit my hands, and one large one splattered off the side of my nose. I reached the front door and shoved the key into the lock. As soon as I felt it release, I raised my foot and kicked it wide open. Then I turned and ran.
When I got back into the Jeep, I pulled it closer to the gate. Still calling out to Sarah.
The wolves were gathered at the gate entrance. There was no hiding and no mystery to them now. They paced two or three feet either way of the gate opening. They felt their time was coming. It was going to be in their hands soon.
It’s all going to be better now, I pleaded with Sarah.
I reached over and hit the remote button for the gate. The large, black iron gate hesitated at first, and I felt myself suck in a gulp of air. Come on! Come on! Then, finally, it swung open.
The wolves were inside the yard in a second. Three ran for the front door and passed straight through to the inside. Several headed for the garage door which I had forgotten to close. I didn’t care as long as some went into the house. As long as they took care of business like I reckoned they would. I sped out the gate and headed for the hospital which sat dead center of town, maybe ten minutes away.
I don’t remember much of the trip to the hospital… The howl of the tires on the wet pavement. The windshield wipers smoothly pushing the light rain away. I had just put on new blades. But, still, everything was a blur . . . through the tears. I can still hear myself begging Sarah to hang in there. We’re almost there, I said several times as if talking to a child. But I watched her through one eye the entire trip. She never moved except for when her limp body slumped further down in the seat at one of the turns. And before I even got there, I knew.
I might have considering moving back into the old house after the wolves cleaned the spirits out. I am still sure that was their purpose. But as I sat at the edge of the driveway watching the movers load up our belongings, I knew there was no way. Absolutely no way I would go back inside that house without Sarah.
And as for the movers: They only received one instruction from me. Don’t pack any of the books.
Not a single one.
Leather Bound Mystery
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