June 19th 2012
It Had Already Begun
Tom’s good mood dissolved. The angel, nearly hidden under the apple tree, didn’t look like a harmless garden statue. Mossy and crooked, it resembled a tombstone.
Slowly, he walked closer to the marble statue. The overcast sky brightened, and instead of providing comfort, it deepened the shadows, and gave him the feeling of walking through a dreary, abandoned graveyard.
Not that he spent his time in abandoned graveyards. Aside from scary movies, he never gave them a second thought. In real life they weren’t in his ‘top 10 places to visit’ nor were they in his top 100 for that matter. The lone exception was a few months ago when an overly-optimistic cemetery rehab group had contracted for security. The rehab group had visions of restoring a bleak graveyard to its former grandeur, but before they could do that they wanted to get rid of the teenagers that were ‘necking and wrecking the place’.
Tom’s company had put him on the job. For three months he’d guarded the desolate site. He found no teenagers necking or wrecking- and that didn’t really surprise him. What did surprise him was how spooked he got. On moonlit nights, the shadows played tricks on his eyes and dark figures crept through the sunken graves. Figures that evaporated under the glare of his trusty Maglite.
One night, he heard whispering. He followed the sound around the rusty iron fence until he found himself back at his truck. For a split second he considered calling it in. But he could already hear the guys laughing and giving him crap about chasing ghosts. They were already having a heyday about the place being haunted by the legendary Rumilures- black-eyed people that supposedly haunt caves and mines. A year ago, Old Pete claimed he came face-to-face with a Rumilure while guarding the mine out on Kratzkill Road. He’d called it in as a Code 1 emergency. When help arrived, Pete was shaking and rambling about how a man with pitch black eyes had tried to pull him into the mine, but had laughed and disappeared when the first squad car pulled up. The guys teased Pete mercilessly. With a shaky voice and forced smile, Pete himself had even joined in poking fun at himself. Two weeks later, he’d retired, claiming he’d devote his time to woodworking and daylight activities.
Tom walked over and peered closely at the angel. Up close she didn’t look menacing. Above him, lightning flashed and ruined the last hope of a bright sunny day. Tom looked back at the house and hoped he’d see Bridgette- her migraine magically dissolved. But his wife was nowhere in sight and the dark windows stared back at him coldly. A chill ran through him and he shook it off.
“I gotta get more sleep”, he thought to himself.
He picked up the shovel, poised it near the angel and at that instant thunder cracked overhead.
Earlier That Day
Bridgette’s day started like any other Tuesday. Tom had rambled on about yard work and blah, blah, blah. His security guard hours meant he worked more nights and weekends than not. His enthusiasm about spending the morning doing yard work was not catching. Bridgette herself had been secretly planning a getaway to the mall. She’d found the cutest manicurist and wanted to try the latest Hollywood polish. She sat in front of the laptop gazing at the dazzling array of choices and decided on one called ‘galleria rose’.
“So, we’ll dig it up, move it and see if it’s worth anything”, Tom said excitedly.
“Huh?” asked Bridgette, bored already.
“The angel! That’s solid marble and we already know it’s old. Earl says it’s been here as long as the house, and you know Earl’s lived here forever.”
Earl- as in Ellen and Earl- were their nearest neighbors. Nice enough folks. But they were old and almost as boring as living on this little 10 acre farm out in the middle of nowhere.
Tom had inherited the land through a long lost uncle. Well, not really long lost, but a family black sheep. Tom’s parents were dead, Tom’s brother, Joe, lived an exciting bachelor’s life in Chicago. At first, Bridgette thought they would sell the land, divide the profits with Joe and maybe buy a new house. A house like the ones she saw in all the magazines; soaring cathedral ceilings, white trim, and French doors that led to a cute flower garden. She’d hire a gardener. Worms and slugs grossed her out and there was no way she was sticking her hands in that muck. But flowers would be so pretty right outside some nice, white French doors.
By the time Bridgette realized that Tom planned on actually living on the farm, it was too late. They’d given notice to their landlord, loaded up a moving truck and driven 300 miles into the boondocks of Southern IL.
“Might as well be in Kentucky”, thought Bridgette as she moped and watched the scenery go by.
She had to admit, that once they pulled into the driveway, the house was better than she thought it would be. No soaring ceilings or French doors, but there were trees and a pretty flower meadow that separated them from the Hartman’s. As in Ellen and Earl. The peace and quiet appealed to her for a few weeks. Then she got bored and restless. Tom implored her to try her hand at raising vegetables and selling them at the Farmer’s markets. There was a handsome profit margin, he’d explained. She promised she would, but knew she wouldn’t. Instead she found cute little shops. Tom gave up and they’d spent the next five years squeaking by on his paycheck.
“Bridgey, I’m going to need your help.”
Bridgette rolled her eyes. Did he really think she was going to dig around in the yard today? Her make-up was perfect and she’d gotten her hair to lay just right.
“You don’t have to touch anything, just hold the angel up while I dig her up.”
Tom looked at her with his big, brown teddy bear eyes. His long dark lashes were thick and perfect. She would have killed to have those eyelashes.
“Fine.” She said, “But that’s it. I’ve got plans that don’t involve dirt and lugging things around the yard.”
Tom broke into a smile that warmed her up and down. She loved the big goofball, even if he had moved her out into the middle of nowhere.
Minutes later, Tom had gotten every garden tool they owned and laid them out in the yard. Bridgette had just changed into comfy jeans and a t-shirt when a knife felt like it stabbed her temple.
She held her hands up to her eyes and whispered, “No, no, no, please no! Not another one!”
The pain ignored her pleadings and dug in further.
She shaded her eyes and glanced out the window. The day was beautiful and bright. There was no sign of clouds or impending doom.
She kept her hands over her eyes and shuffled towards the kitchen.
A gentle arm stopped her. Tom hugged her and said, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“It’s a migraine,” whispered Bridgette, each sound throbbing and stabbing through her head.
Tom kissed the top of her forehead and said, “Go. Take your medicine. Lay down. Maybe we can stop it before it takes hold.”
Bridgette cautiously looked up at Tom. The pain tore through her forehead and roiled her stomach. She swallowed and hoped she wouldn’t throw up. Tom’s concerned face peered at her gently through angry black blotches of migraine.
“But you needed my help….” Said Bridgette
“Yes, but I got this. You need to take your medicine and sleep it off. I’ll take care of the angel, and if it’s too heavy I can get Earl to help. Go. Lay down and get better.” Tom kissed the top of her forehead again.
Bridgette turned and shuffled back into the bedroom.
“Love you Bridgey,” called Tom from the kitchen.
“Love you too”, whispered Bridgette knowing he wouldn’t hear her.
She closed the shades and took her medicine. She grimaced thinking about how it would knock her out for a while, but Tom was right; maybe she could sleep it off.
And that was the beginning of Bridgette’s typical Tuesday. It was typical for Tom to be enthusiastic about some house project. It was typical for Bridgette to want to go shopping. It was less typical for Bridgette to get a migraine. But it wasn’t typical at all for Bridgette to lay down in her bedroom- on her bed- and wake up in a rocking chair. In a strange room. Facing a fireplace and staring at a half-eaten apple on the floor. No, that wasn’t typical at all.
Bridgette’s typical Tuesday was going horribly, horribly wrong. And things were getting worse.
June 19th, 1912
She Found the Red Book
It was a red book wedged between smoldering logs in a stone fireplace. As Bridgette tried to put the strange sight into a familiar context, another glimpse of red drew her attention to a half-eaten apple laying on the floor.
Illogically, she reached for the book and froze when a bony dirt-grimed hand lifted itself towards the fireplace. Bridgette drew her hand away and nearly screamed when the bony hand dropped itself into her lap. She grabbed at the white apron- that she was apparently wearing- and gasped when the horrific hand grabbed the material. The bony hand kneaded at the stiff, coarse fabric until her numb mind ordered it to stop.
Cautiously she lifted both hands and watched in horrified fascination as two bony, white, dirt-grimed hands held themselves in front of her face. She wiggled her fingers and they fluttered like a macabre sign language. She stared at the jagged, dirt encrusted fingernails and weakly wondered what happened to her clean, poppy pink manicure.
An insistent knocking jolted her and she bolted into fight or flight. Flight won, but she barely took a step before a deep cough rumbled from the very bottom of her lungs. It exploded and doubled her over with its power. Black spots danced past her eyes. She took a deep breath and another spasm wracked itself out of her lungs.
“Hellooo, are you all right in there? Sylvie, I’m here with that chicken stew I promised! Hellooo!” Called a woman’s gentle sing-songy voice.
The insistent knocking became more urgent.
“Sylvie? I know you want to be alone, but you need to eat, dear. Hello? Sylvie?” The gentle voice was raised in concern.
Doubled over, Bridgette took a staggered step away from the voice. She gasped for breath through the wracking coughs.
“Forgive me, dear, but I’m coming in,” said the worried voice. The screen door creaked as it opened. A slam as the spring pulled it closed. Footsteps. Something clattered and then clunked. More footsteps getting closer.
“Sylvie, I…” A plump older lady rounded the corner and stopped. Her cheerful face drained and her eyes widened.
“Oh, my dear, Sylvie are you ill? I mean more ill than before? Honey, you look as white as a sheet! Here sit down and let me bundle you up. There now.”
The pleasant woman gently sat Bridgette down and produced a quilt from somewhere. Bridgette gasped for breath. Gentle rocking told her she was in a rocking chair. Cautiously, she looked up at the woman peering gently down at her.
A black lump of hair fell down Bridgette’s face. She jumped and tried to gasp but it was choked off by another coughing spasm. Her head bent towards the creepy, foreign hands. Repulsed, she jerked away and watched in horrified fascination as another clump of black hair uncoiled down her shoulder.
The lady bent down and gently pushed both locks of hair away from Bridgette’s face. She felt Bridgette’s forehead, looked relieved and said, “At least the fever hasn’t come back.”
She stood up and peered over her glasses. “Sylvie, we got worried. I’m over there tending the chickens and Floyd is out back hammering around and we hear this big whoosh, like a cold wind tearing around in the dead of winter. Well, then we hear a loud crack and I look over here and your screen door is wide open!”
She paused and mulled something over. “I know you want to be alone and I says Floyd we have to go check. Sylvie would not bang her door open and leave it hanging like that and Floyd says ‘Nettie go on and check or you’ll worry yourself to death’- and I would. Besides, that the chicken stew is done and I know you are still adjusting.”
Rubbing her hands on her apron, Nettie started to say something and then stopped.
Bridgette watched her carefully and dully wondered who Sylvie was.
Nettie tilted her head as she made a decision. “I don’t want to anger you… But Floyd is bringing Ole Duke up right now. Now I know, I know you say you feel safe and you have your Richard’s rifle, but Ole Duke will be here just in case. He’s the best hound we have. He’ll bay till the cows come home if he sees anyone on your property. Now, don’t tell me ‘no’ because it’s already been decided. I can’t help but worry. Floyd says that bad man is long gone. In fact, he’s probably all the way to California after what he did here.”
Looking mortified, Nettie’s eyes filled with tears and she said, “Oh, I don’t mean to bring that up.”
“Nettie you in there? Hello?” A man’s voice called out.
“Yes, Floyd, come on in. But make it quick! Sylvie’s not feeling well today.” Nettie called back.
Creak. Slam. Footsteps. A large man in overalls stepped into view. “I brought Ole Duke around. He’s set up in the back. I told him to stay and he knows what to do.” Floyd pulled his handkerchief out and mopped his face.
“I told Sylvie that Ole Duke’ll keep an eye on things for her. She can work on feeling better and he can keep the place safe”, said Nettie.
“Sherriff says they got leads. They’re roundin’ em up left and right. Folks are all up in arms. Got the law worried about a lynching.” Floyd announced while he stuffed the handkerchief in his back pocket.
“Floyd!” said Nettie, “Stop that talk! Sylvie’s ill and doesn’t need to get all stirred up again!”
Floyd shuffled his feet and looked uncomfortable. “Sorry, I got ahead of myself.” He looked towards the window. “Looks like the boys are back. We’re gonna till up the south field after lunch.”
He turned to go and then looked at Bridgette, “Hollar if you see anything and we’ll come running.”
He walked away. The door creaked. Pause. Floyd called out, “And don’t forget about Ole Duke! He’ll bay till kingdom come if he sniffs danger!” Slam.
“I’m sorry, dear, I hope we haven’t upset you. We can’t help but worry about you after what happened to your Richard and…” Nettie sniffled, “sweet Molly.”
She dabbed at her eyes with her apron and glanced towards the window. “Goodness me, its past lunchtime. I’ve got another kettle of chicken stew to dish out. You rest, dear, that will get you better faster than anything else. I’ll be back after supper to check on you, now no arguments, once things are put up I can set Beth to the sewing and come visit with you. I can’t rest knowing you’re over here all by yourself. And I want to make sure you’re feeling better. Rest now, dear.”
Nettie turned and walked out. Creak. “And eat some chicken stew! You need to eat, dear!” Slam.
And the Red Apple
Sylvie. They called her Sylvie. She willed her mind to make sense of it. Dreadful suspicions bubbled up. She pushed them back again and again unwilling and unable to let them materialize into thoughts. Thoughts that, if created, had monstrous implications and unimaginable scenarios. She felt like she was on the brink of a grotesque cliff with nowhere to go and she was too afraid to jump but more afraid to turn and face the corrupt creature that had chased her there.
Time stopped. Her mind was numb. She could have been sitting for hours or days or weeks or years. But it was probably minutes. Slowly, Bridgette took a shallow breath and held it. When no coughing erupted, she let it out in a whistling sigh. Her throat burned and her eyes watered and her chest ached. But she didn’t cough. She gripped the arms of the rocker and stared down at the stranger’s hands. She lifted her legs straight out in front of her and watched as two pale bony feet poked out from under a blue dress. They matched the hands. Bridgette clenched her eyes shut and wished the four of them away. But they all stayed and were as boney and creepy as ever. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at the red book.
Where am I and what happened?” She whispered to the fireplace. Despite her earlier call to flight, she felt stuck and frozen in indecision. Her thoughts clumsily clumped around looking for answers. Solutions were struck down before they even came to light. No, it wasn’t a dream. No, she didn’t sleepwalk somewhere. No, this wasn’t Tom’s idea of a joke. Each negative thought paralyzed her further. She didn’t know what to do so she did nothing but sit and rock and refuse to look at her hands.
A small voice told her to look for a mirror. “Real quick”, it whispered, “because you know it’s more than your hands and feet, you know you’re in a different body… A body with dirty hands and black hair and wearing a dre- .”
She slammed a door on the voice. Quieting it before it could become more insistent, before it could make what she knew was real more real than she could deal with at that moment.
Pure, unfiltered terror filled the void left by the voice. Monsters and evil shadows capered about. Suddenly, she was her 5 year old self in a long forgotten memory. Sleeping in a dark room. Waking in the middle of the night. Her closet door, which she so carefully closed, was standing wide open. A monster stood there, just far enough in back to be blacker than the shadows. Its white eyes narrowed into evil slits watching her. Little Bridgette laid there frozen in terror while her lamp stood inches away on her nightstand. All she had to do was reach up and turn it on. Slowly she stretched her hand out, keeping an eye on the closet monster the whole time. His eyes never left hers. She reached and felt the base of the lamp- a cold, smooth curve. Her hand followed it up and up. Inch by inch. She knew she was almost there. Just a little more and… then a cold, clammy hand grabbed her hand and pushed it away. She’d screamed and screamed and screamed….
Bridgette forced the memory away. Focus. She needed to focus. And she needed action. A plan. Something that didn’t involve nightmares. The red splotch in the fireplace caught her attention.
Focus. Why is the book in the fireplace? Someone tried to burn it. But why would someone try to burn it? Because…. And she had no answer for that. It was weird. Not as weird as waking up with boney hands and black hair. Indeed. But it registered on the scale of weirdness. “So, I’ll pull it out”, thought Bridgette. But she didn’t move.
Action. A plan. Pull the book out of the fireplace. It was a start and it might give her a clue. She reached and was frozen by her childhood memory of the clammy lamp hand. Shoving the memory away, she forced her hand out and grimaced at the sight of the grimy, jagged nails. The rocker leaned forward and she reached, reached and grasped the book. Triumph surged through her and she yanked the book out sending the rocker backwards and toppling a small table.
Bridgette jumped up holding the book in her hand. She looked behind the rocker to find a square table laying on its side. She took a few small steps and was rewarded with no coughing fit. She righted the table and saw something underneath it. Carefully reaching down- and still no coughing fit- she found a portrait that was apparently on the table before she knocked it over.
It was one of those old fashioned black and white pictures of grim, unsmiling people. The man was standing and looked friendly enough. He looked like he was holding back a smile. Next to him, and holding his hand, was a small girl. She was a cutie, with her curly hair and frilly dress. A loving father and daughter. But seated, front and center, was a lady with dark hair and eyes so light they look white. Bridgette’s hand shook as she brought the portrait closer. The seated lady was dressed in an elaborate dress with matching gloves, hat and umbrella. Nausea roiled through Bridgette as she forced the portrait closer. The man and girl stood off to the side while the lady commanded full attention to herself. She radiated evil. Her face was a split second away from leer.
Shakily Bridgette set the portrait back on the table. She sat in the rocker and scrutinized the red book. One corner was charred, but it was otherwise unharmed. She turned it around in her hands and flipped it open.
Slanted script filled the front and back of every page. There were no margins, the words went from edge to edge. It was that old hard-to-read spiked script that was almost as alien as the ancient words.
She scanned through the pages. ‘…the knife…ignorant fools… the shack… Lester will not guess… I deserve more… ’ Hate emanated from the pages. Jagged down strokes emphasized each letter, each letter seized on the next to form vile words. The script was harsh, ugly, black slashes.
Suddenly, the portrait loomed large in her mind and zoomed in on the black haired lady with her grim mouth ready to twist into a leer- or a snarl.
Bridgette forced the troubling image away and opened the front cover.
Her Joyful Life
Written By and Starring The Most Beautiful Woman in the World: Sylvie
Sylvie. It was her book. What would you call this? Life Story? Journal? Bridgette opened the back flap. Unlike the rest of the book, here there was only one paragraph:
‘And so, now, I will end this writing. I will burn this book and eat the apple. I will succeed. I deserve to succeed. I will leave this disease ridden, useless, ill body behind for another to fill. The time is done. The flames are high. Goodbye sweet story you have given me great satisfaction. How I long to bring you with me for my viewing pleasure, but alas we must separate. I deserve to live. I deserve to live forever. Locum Tenens.’
Horrified, Bridgette re-read the page. The apple. Sylvie ate the apple and left her disease ridden useless ill body behind for another to fill. The enormity of the thought overwhelmed her. She had ‘filled’ Sylvie’s body? How did that… how would that… how could that work? That’s like a fairytale where poison apples become magic and wicked witches brew potions and wreak havoc. Things like that don’t really happen.
The apple was still lying on the floor. Bridgette peered down at it. Earlier, it had been bright red, fresh, and new. Now, the edges were curled and blackened. A putrid odor wafted into her face. It smelled like a dead animal.
Bridgette closed the journal and set it on the table. Was the apple the way home? Was it the answer to this Sylvie-created nightmare?
She reached down and grabbed the apple. It was warm, slimy, and throbbed in her hand. She stared at it. Should I? Dare I? What if it doesn’t work? She paused. What if it does?
Bridgette bit the apple and its skin gave like a pus filled membrane. There was a bit of resistance and then a gush as thick fluid filled her mouth. She gagged and almost threw up. She grimaced and forced herself to swallow the vile mess. Rot filled her nose and she gagged again.
The floor vibrated and groaned. A wind picked up and swirled around the room. The temperature plummeted and Bridgette shivered. Her breath came out in light puffs that were immediately swept away. A screeching groan filled the air and voices, thousands of voices, chanted and screamed in the background. A cacophony of sound surrounded her, the vibrating floor bucked violently and a hole opened up. Inky darkness reached up, swirling eddies around her feet. Dark tendrils wrapped around her. She tried to push away the pulsating blackness. But she couldn’t move. Panicked, she tried to kick her legs, but the blackness held them tight. Frozen and bound by the abominable force, Bridgette felt the iciness ooze up her back. It snaked around her throat, her mouth, her nose and finally her eyes. The wind screamed and the voices screamed reaching a fever pitch. The black mass enclosed her like a malignant cocoon. The tendrils joined together and formed a black band that stretched from the inky hole to the mass that confined Bridgette. The wind heaved a mighty WHOOSH blowing out the fire and pushing the screen door onto a startled Ole Duke. The black band swelled and pulled the Bridgette cocoon towards the yawning hole. It yanked her in. The hole blinked closed, the wind stopped, and the room grew silent. Bridgette was gone.
Blinded and bound, she was helplessly freefalling. Suddenly, she was launched up and flying. Then she was slowing and dropping and slowing and dropping. She landed with a thud. Glimmers of light appeared, out of focus and disjointed. Slowly, her eyes adjusted and she was looking through some sort of mask. The eyeholes partially blocked her view, but she could see. Tom’s face popped into view. Oh, Tom! She tried to speak but there was no sound.
Tom looked horrified, his eyes riveted above her head. Bridgette wanted to fling her arms around him but couldn’t. She tried to speak but made no sound. With a mighty effort she heaved herself forward, trying to free herself from the invisible bonds. Suddenly the eyeholes were bigger and she could see more of the room and more of Tom. “Tom! Tom!” she called her voice muffled.
Tom’s eyes widened, recognition replacing the horrified look of before. “Bridgey?” he said cautiously, “Is it really you? Bridgey?” He leaned closer, looking into her eyes, his face tense.
She willed herself to step forward. Her right foot moved a tiny bit. She wiggled her arms and found that they weren’t at her sides, but above her head. They were heavy and her shoulders ached at the unnatural position. She flexed her hands and heard a loud thud as something dropped behind her. She tried to bring her arms forward, to hug Tom, to reassure him, to tell him how much she loved him. But her arms were dead weight and wouldn’t move.
Without warning, she felt the bonds tightening, curling their way up her nearly paralyzed body. “NO! NO! LET ME GO!” she shouted, but it was no use.
Cold tentacles snaked their way up her legs and around her waist. She struggled to reach out, to embrace Tom or even just touch his face, but her arms wouldn’t budge. Now, the tentacles coiled around her arms and slithered up her back.
“Tom! Tom!” She screamed but her voice was faint. The mask eyeholes grew smaller and Tom was fading into the distance.
“I love you, Tom! I LOVE YOU!” She screamed with all her might. Her voice echoed, the eyeholes became pinpoints and disappeared.
Wind swirled around her in the blackness, she felt a tugging like a great rubber band stretched to its limit. A pause, silence, and then a violent wrench as she was shoved backwards into oblivion.
Slowly, she came into awareness. She felt the hard floor under her. Opening her eyes, she stared at the fireplace. Wisps of smoke fluttered up the chimney. She saw the remnants of the apple. It was ink black. As she watched, pieces of it curled, broke, and dropped to the ground, turning to dust on impact.
She pushed herself up and was hit with a wave of nausea. She took a deep breath and a violent coughing fit wracked her body. She tried to take another breath and couldn’t. Her nausea increased and she threw up. Black spots danced across her vision. There was a rush of dizziness and everything tilted. Her arms weakened and gave way. She passed out before she hit the floor.