How many times have you been frightened out of a deep sleep?
From the bedroom window of a small cabin somewhere in the South, I observed a shade of light blue in the Eastern sky. I eased the window open, and within a few short minutes, I heard what I had come for - a Tom turkey gobbling in the thin line of pines behind the cabin. Another Tom responded just down the tree line, then another. This hunt might be easier than I imagined. And I might have slipped on camouflage clothes right then and eased into the tree line, but my permit didn’t allow me to hunt until the next day. So, I watched until the birds came down from the perch. They landed in forty acres of short grassy field behind the thin line of trees where I could barely make them out.
Later that morning, my hunting partner, I and our guide walked to where I had seen the turkeys. We followed turkey tracks until they disappeared in a thick swamp behind the field. As I scanned the field one more time, I noticed several little dust devils close to the ground. They looked like puffs of dust kicked up by someone walking by. Strangely, they were in a fairly even line, extending out thirty feet, and they seemed to be moving towards the swamp. As I watched, my eyes began to see more than dust. I began to see boots. I could almost see through them, but they were there.
Then I saw shackles. All of the boots were shackled together in a line. I yelled to my hunting partner and the guide who were standing behind me. “Look at that. Do you see it?” And as I spoke, the boots became legs, joined to bodies and some now had heads.
The first ones to materialize were black men. They were in the lead, shuffling along, leading the pack. There were two white men in the bunch. Then I noticed one which I thought was a man, then thought might actually be a short-haired, rough-looking woman. I immediately associated them with a prison chain gang.
The black men in the lead moved along without notice of anything around them, but several men in the center appeared to glance my way as they passed. I ran up to them and waved my hand in front of the eyes of one and thought I caught a smirk. Then one reached out his hand as if to give me a high five, but my hand passed right through it.
I turned around to get my partner and guide’s reaction, and they just stood there, mouths open. I knew they were ghosts; there was no question about it. They obviously were not real. But, what were they doing there? And why were they headed for the swamp?
Then one of them, one of the last to pass, whispered something, like “Come get us.” The words had been muffled by the shuffling of feet, but I know I heard them.
And then, as fast as they appeared, the ones in the lead began to disappear to only legs. Then the middle of the group began to disappear, all now facing forward and headed towards the swamp. And soon they were gone. And with it, my breath. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. It was incredible. And I wanted to know more. Where were they headed? Had they been marched into the swamp and murdered many years before? Did he really ask for me to come get them?
I hunted the rest of the weekend without seeing anything else, although you better believe I tried. I never went back again, but I dream about it. I dream about walking into the dark swamp and finding them laying there dead, the shackles still on their boots.
Grandma & the Baby
Once again, his wife volunteered him to video record the annual family weekend get-together. Do it one year, and you become the family expert; that’s how it goes. And until today, it had never been an issue to Jim. He had actually enjoyed it.
He sat at the picnic table and recorded his nephew (in-law), Larry. He had an accident at work so he was out of the games this year, but he did a good job of egging on the rivalry from the stands. Then he turned and zoomed in on the upstairs window. Grandma sat in a chair bouncing a baby in her lap. She saw Jim recording and leaned over to say something out the open window. He couldn’t hear her over the noise, so he just smiled and nodded. She nodded back, then continued bouncing the baby.
He noticed the screen was not in the window, probably had not been put back on after the storm windows had been removed this past spring. He wondered if the screen had been broken.
Then he heard Larry yell at someone in the game. He swung the recorder around and focused on Larry, then he paused for a second on his wife, Cindy. Then he decided to go from face to face to get each family member in a close-up. Later that evening, he could poke fun at them when they watched it on the television after supper, another tradition. When he zoomed in on his sister-in-law, she looked back at him with a warm grin. And since she was looking that direction, she naturally glanced up toward the window where her baby had been playing on grandma’s lap. Jim watched as the expression on her face changed from a smile to one of curiosity, then to a look of horror.
He whipped around, the recorder following with him. It happened so fast, he wasn’t sure what he had seen. It didn’t register in his mind as something that could happen. It couldn’t be. But clearly it had. The baby had fallen from the second-floor window. What he wasn’t sure about, is how. What happened in the seconds before the baby had fallen? Had he caught something on film?
What he thought he saw was the baby floating just outside the open window, the window slamming shut and the baby being flung by invisible hands to the ground. He caught the terror in his mother-in-law’s eyes, and the image of her clawing at the window in an attempt to open it as if she could somehow retrieve the baby from its fall by grasping an invisible string.
Instinctively, he followed the path that the baby had gone with the camera lens. He heard his sister-in-law screaming. People were yelling: “What happened? What’s going on?” For the next two minutes it was complete chaos.
He heard footsteps rush up behind him. He hadn’t realized he had moved, but he was standing near the house with the camera, using the lens to look for the baby. He heard someone cuss, and figured it was at him because he was still filming, and that’s when he dropped the video camera to the ground. He didn’t remember turning it off.
When he next saw the baby, it was in her mother’s arms, and it was doing that “I am going to cry like crazy if I ever get the breath.” Meanwhile, his sister-in-law screamed for her husband to do something. Somebody yelled for someone to call 911. Somebody said someone had already run in the house to make the call. The baby continued its silent scream. Give it mouth to mouth, somebody called from behind Jim.
“Give it a second,” he yelled out. “Everyone just try to calm down. We’re scaring her even more.” And then, for one long second, everyone was completely silent. And just like that, the baby sounded off. It was as if the baby had been crying the entire time, but everyone had been too loud to hear her.
The baby was rushed to the emergency room. Everyone packed in cars and followed except grandmother, and her one son, Peter, who stayed with her. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor came to the waiting room to tell them the baby was okay and there wasn’t any brain damage. But the baby had broken a collar bone in the fall, and had several scratches on its little face from the branches of the arborvitae she had landed in and lucky for her, it probably saved her life. And by the next day, the baby turned out to be the least of the family’s worries. It was Jim’s mother-in-law. She hadn’t spoken a single word since the incident.
“We ought to bring her to the hospital, too” Jim suggested the next morning.
“Maybe she just needs some time,” Cindy replied, applying makeup by the big mirror over the dresser, the same one she had used growing up.
“Well she doesn’t seem like herself. I’m just saying.”
Then off Cindy went, downstairs to where the rest of the family had gathered at the big wood table in the dining room. Jim followed.
There was a lot of talk, but the one thing he noticed as he sat back listening, was that no one wanted to talk about what really happened. Cindy hadn’t even mentioned it. Maybe no one else knew. Maybe it was just him and Cindy sister’s who actually saw what happened. But wasn’t anyone else curious.
His sister-in-law had stayed at the hospital with the baby. If he was the only other one who saw what happened, did he have an obligation to bring it up? But since the subject never came up, Jim decided he wasn’t going to either. Not without evidence or confirmation from someone else that they had seen it too. The image of his mother-in-law popped in his head. But she wasn’t talking. Maybe she would later. The proof should be on the video recorder, he thought, but he hadn’t seen it since the incident. He thought he saw Peter pick it up, and he hadn’t seen it since.
That night, it took Jim quite a while to fall asleep. Partly because he thought he heard talking downstairs. It would be a strange occurrence because usually when one went to bed, everyone did. Maybe his other sister-in-law's kid was sick or something. By the time he had a chance to decipher who it was or any of the conversation, all was quiet.
The next day, he and Cindy went back to the hospital. He had suggested at breakfast that the family take turns so someone was always with grandma. But when they got back, the house appeared empty, except for grandma who stood in the living room in her nightgown.
“The baby looked fine,” he told her. And after no reply, and almost in conjunction with Cindy, he asked, “Are you here all alone?”
“Oh, I chased them out to get groceries.”
Both their mouths dropped. She talked.
Then it was silent for a long time. He waited for her to say more, because it would be a bit unusual not to say anything for several days, then just mention groceries. She was ready to talk about something. And she did, a little. “I don’t know what happened,” she explained, and Jim watched as her hands came up as if she were holding an invisible baby. Then suddenly her hands dropped to her sides, and she was silent again.
Jim thought he knew what haunted her, but he didn’t know how to bring it up. She had obviously not thrown the baby out the window. Something else happened that cannot be explained. And he could see in her vacant look, that she didn’t believe it was a one-time incident. Either she had experienced other strange activity around this place, or she was expecting more.
Jim and Cindy hadn’t planned on leaving until Monday, although part of him would have been glad to leave right then. He wouldn’t mind getting back to his house in the country where the chickens and the dogs did things that were predictable, where the house was quiet at night accept for Cindy’s light snore, where normalcy stuck to you like wet grass clippings after mowing the yard too early in the morning. But Cindy confirmed they were going to stay. She didn’t intend to leave her mother in this condition. She might have even been thinking of staying longer, but he didn’t want to seed the idea. Did he want Cindy staying here? Was it safe? Maybe if his mother-in-law came to stay with them. He didn’t put a lot of thought into that idea.
That night, he fell asleep, but this time he was woke up by something. He eased out of bed to avoid waking Cindy. He opened the bedroom door only enough to squeeze through, then he headed down the short hall to the banister overlooking the downstairs. He arrived just in time to catch the black silhouette of a person making their way through the dining room and quickly disappearing beneath the stairs, which was the hallway going to the back rooms. It happened so fast, it took his heart a few seconds to catch up with his mind, and suddenly it started pumping blood like there was a fire to put out. Who the fuck was that? And what had the figure been carrying in its hands. He glanced around for a weapon. He couldn’t think of anything, so he just stood there, listening to see if he heard a door close. Maybe they were just getting some air. Maybe they had a new secret smoker in the family, and his mind went through the faces. Nothing. He went halfway down the steps. Then he heard a door. Another strange sound. Then voices. Perhaps Jim, and maybe his other brother-in-law. He decided to find out.
He rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs, and through the dim light of a half moon shining in the large dining room windows, he could see that all the doors were closed. He took a couple steps down the hallway hoping he could hear if someone were awake. Then someone screamed.
It took Jim by surprise. His first thought was guilt; his first reaction to run, and he did all the way back to the foot of the stairs. But he wanted to keep an eye on the hallway to see if anyone came running out. And people did, from just about every bedroom accept his mother-in-laws. Her door remained closed, but the screams had subsided. Cindy was already down the stairs and standing behind him.
Joe turned around. “It’s your mom. Bad dream maybe?”
Cindy gave him one of those ‘no shit’ looks. She knew it was her mother. Then she gave him another look, like how the hell did you get down here so fast. Then she rushed to her mother’s room. He followed.
Everyone was in grandma’s bedroom now. The lights were on. She was sitting up in bed, “He hit me,” she said as she rubbed at her side.
Cindy sat next to her on the bed. “Who hit you?”
Her mother kept looking around the room as if looking for someone.
“Mom, listen to me. Who hit you?”
“I woke up and there was a man at the foot of my bed. At first I thought it was one of you checking up on me. It was too dark to see. And then he hit me, and when I screamed, he disappeared.”
Jim’s mind leaped back to the black silhouette that had passed through the house only moments earlier. He jumped up. “We need to check all the rooms. Check everywhere in the house.”
And before they were done, they had searched closets, underneath beds. They looked all over the house, but found no one.
When he got back to his mother-in-law’s room, he saw that she had lain back down. And Cindy was sitting at the other side of the bed. When his eyes finally met Cindy’s, he could tell she had been waiting for him to look her way. “What is going on?”
“I don’t know. I thought I heard something. I walked to the top of the stairs, and saw someone pass through the dining room. I thought it was one of you guys,” he said, glancing about the faces in the room. Then I thought I might get a glass of water, so I started downstairs (a little white lie he felt would fit in better), and that is when she started screaming,” he said with a nod toward his mother-in-law. “I was standing here by the hallway, and I didn’t see anyone come out of her room.” He stopped talking and glanced at the window. And without a second thought, he walked over and checked the latch. It was locked from the inside.
“We didn’t find any marks on her,” Cindy finally said. Her sister-in-law, Shelly nodded in agreement.
Jim looked over at his mother-in-law. “Are you going to be all right?”
Cindy quickly chimed in. “I’m going to stay with her the rest of the night.”
Jim headed out of the room, and a thought crossed his mind. They never did call the police. He wasn’t certain why not. Maybe it had been a nightmare. That was the consensus once everyone was out of her room and in the confines of the living room. But who had come through the dining room. No one had confessed to that, or even seemed concerned about it. Had it been one of his brother’s-in-laws, and why hadn’t they said anything?
Everyone headed back to their rooms. This time, Jim actually did get a drink before heading up. That’s when he noticed the video camera on the phone table at the foot of the stairs. Where in the hell had that come from? He nabbed it up, and hustled up the stairs. Once inside his wife’s room, he sat on the bed and looked at the recorder as if searching for fingerprints. He thought about back tracking to the start of the day in question. Maybe there was something he hadn’t noticed from early on. A change in how people were acting, a misplaced item. He pushed the rewind button and waited as the little machine hummed, first faster, then slower, then he stopped it. On second thought, he was mainly interested in what he had recorded at the time of the fall. He took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure he wanted to relive that day, but he had to see if the camera had picked up anything that his eyes had not. He had to know.
It started where he had focused on Larry. He fast forwarded to where the camera was on his sister-in-law’s face. He still framed it and caught the look of horror on her face, then the turn toward the window. Then he saw it.
The baby had already left Grandma’s arms and it looked like someone had shoved the baby out the window, only Grandma’s hands were nowhere near it. The baby sat suspended in mid air for a second as the window slammed down, then it was flung to the ground.
My God, what in the hell is going on around here. He dropped the camera to his lap, and thought about running back down stairs to get his wife, and maybe the mother-in-law, too, and getting the hell out of there. And suddenly, the hair stood on the back of his neck and on his arms. He glanced around as if someone was in the room with him right now. He might have left the room, but he heard the video camera still playing. What else had been recorded?
There was an image on the recorder of the spare bedroom downstairs, the bunk beds. They were both full beds, hand-crafted by his long deceased father-in-law. It showed people sleeping on the lower bunk. It looked like Larry and his wife. But then something odd occurred. They began to come up off the bed, to levitate until their hands and knees hung down. And at that point, they clawed at the sheets as if they were trying to get away from something in their sleep. He wondered who in the hell would have been filming this? Or had the video camera been left on the nightstand? And why the fuck would someone not mention this shit if it was going on in the house?
The screen jumped to another image. Someone was filming a shadow at the edge of their bed. It was merely a dark silhouette once again. But in this scene, there were people talking. One was Peter. He/they didn’t sound afraid, but more . . . There was a knock at the door. Jim bolted to his feet.
He took a look around the room, then quickly tossed the camera under his pillow. But as he headed for the bedroom door, he could still hear the camera running. The bathroom light was always left on, and he could see the shadow of someone’s feet under the door. If it were Cindy, she would just walk in. The knock came again, this time harder. Jim felt an odd coolness creep into his body. He opened the door.
It was Peter. “Jim, we got to talk.”
Just those words, and he didn’t even know what was to follow, but he thought he might, and those words caused a heavy exhale from his body. “I know, Peter. I know what you been seeing.”
Peter walked over and sat on the bed. Jim followed and sat down as well. Peter looked at his hands for a second before starting, as if he had jotted a few cheater notes down. “At first I thought it was father, but I don’t think so anymore.”
An image of his dead father-in-law popped into his head. Jim leaned in and put a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Does your mother know, I mean, does she know what’s going on?”
“If she does, she isn’t saying anything.”
Then Jim reached over and grabbed the recorder from under the pillow. “So you must have seen what actually happened.” He finally hit the stop button.
“Yea, I did. And I had no idea either; until after I watched it a couple times. Then I started filming some of the other strange shit going on. I needed to talk to someone about it; that’s why I left the recorder laying there. I knew you’d pick it up and watch it.”
Jim laughed. “Yea, you know me.”
Peter kind of laughed to. And almost as a part of his laugh and extension of it one could say-there was a deep growl that came from within the frame of the entire house. Then they heard screams downstairs.
Jim ran for the bedroom door, but when he first pulled, it didn’t open. What the hell? There isn't a lock on the damn thing. He twisted at the handle again, and pulled. Nothing. “Cindy,” he yelled as loud as he could. “Are you alright?” He heard nothing. Peter came up behind him. “Let me try.” And when he grabbed the door handle, the door popped open immediately. He looked at Jim, and Jim just nodded towards the hall. They ran out into complete darkness.
OK, I know. This one deserves an ending, but this is where the dream-master yelled “Cut.”
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Grandma & the Baby
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