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We've sent Jason to stay with Maria's family. He'll be baptized, and confirmed, and if ever this curse returns for him, he'll have the iconography of Catholicism to draw on. All the saints.

I tried to get my wife to go, but she refused. I choose to believe on some level she understands, although she will not talk about it.

Yesterday The Blues Brothers came on cable and she smashed our television.

I think I made a mistake.

Orion was a guardian. The Lone Ranger was a guardian. They protect the weak, and the innocent.

What do the men in black protect?

What have I invoked?

I don't really know. Perhaps my father did.

I don't think it will stay away.

I know, even, how it's going to happen. A flash, just as I knew the awful power of the wendigo all those years ago. I know.

One famous story is the first colony in the free world; Roanoke. Every man, woman and child vanished. No graves were found, and as in every disaster of this type, animals were left behind to starve, and projects were left unfinished.

My wife is making our lunch.

In an Inuit village in Antartica, an extra twist--a burial mound outside the village was found dug up. The stones were piled neatly to either side.

No one has ever found out what becomes of these people; where they go. There's no reason to fear the unknown, I think. It may not be terrible. It may, in fact, be very beautiful.

The whipporwhills are singing, all around the house, and someone's knocking at the door.

hi ho silve
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The men who burst into our home were dressed like FBI men, like CIA agents, like G-men. Black suits and narrow ties.

The uproar woke my wife, who stumbled muzzily out to complete the tableau.

One of them was tall, and one was short, and one was normal-sized. The tallest two seized the wendigo and simply dragged him away. As if he were made of nothing but paper and shadows.

The short glared up at me. His features were strange; bronzed and slightly Asiatic. He looked, perhaps the way my son will someday. "You saw nothing," he said in a thick accent. "There never was a wendigo."

And you know, there never was.
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That was one month ago. Over the course of several days, Jason became increasingly terrified and paranoid at night. His mother gave him a time-out for throwing rocks at a bird; he became hysterical when he was forced to sit in the corner, unable to see behind himself.

He's only six. God help me.

After three days, things reached a climax, and like my grandfather, I confronted the wendigo.

I will admit this freely: I drugged my wife, so she wouldn't notice my absence, and I hid in my son's closet, stealing a trick from the wendigo. I had already contrived an entrance into from the kitchen.

Waiting there in the darkness, between the walls, I had felt a godawful loneliness and fear. If the wendigo had come for me there--and it could have, in that shadow place--I would've been easy prey. But that's not what it wanted. It wanted to get my son, and it wanted to do worse than kill him.

I know. I know its awful mind.

When it came for him, I burst out, and I protected him. I protected him the only way I knew how.

I am a professor of comparative religion, but I have no faith. And I tried my grandfather's trick.

"Return with us now," I said to his awful razor blade grin, "to the thrilling days of yesteryear. You motherfuck."

But I never did learn to like The Lone Ranger. Tonto is a Tom. I will insist this to my--

I never learned to like the show, despite my miracle.

I had no choice.

I said to the wendigo, clutching my son to me, "The truth is out there."

And there came a thunderous knocking at the door.

Many people who have experienced UFO sightings or other paranormal phenomenon report a secondary event--the arrival of strange men, dressed in black.
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My wife's name is Maria Rondenelli; she was adopted from Sha'anxi Province in China by an Italian-American family as a baby. Her parents would've liked it very much if our son was baptized as a Catholic, but he never was.

I wish that he had been. But time is running short for wishes.

Here, simply, is what happened. We live in Indiana, in a medium-sized town called South Bend. My wife is an architect. I'm a professor of comparative religion at Notre Dame.

We live in a suburban house with a neat yard. No trees. Our neighbors on the right had a birdfeeder. I will confess now that I poisoned it. I do not care for birds; I especially do not want them near my son.

Jason is six.

Without asking me, while I was out of town--not for any long time like my father! for only a day--Maria allowed Jason to go to a playdate with a friend from kindergarten. I had not inspected their home, as I try to anywhere I take my son, and when I returned I found out the worst.

Jason's friend's backyard adjoins on a medium-sized wood. Maria told me when I got home that Jason had had, "a little scare." Jason told me, "a deble come." I am not sure if that was devil or double. His English was very clear, but this has been a setback.

It doesn't matter. The facts, I say again, are simple.

My son got lost in the woods. And something followed him home.
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My parents never knew, or understood, what happened in those days, and it came between them. For many years I blamed myself for their divorce, in the late eighties, but the truth of the matter was that my father's behavior had become increasingly erratic.

He became convinced the CIA and the Mafia had killed President Kennedy; further, and more unwholesomely, that the Holocaust was a fraud, and most television controlled by a cabal of Jewish moneylenders. This I only found out when I was an adult, but my mother knew by 1990, and it led directly to their divorce. She didn't want me to hate my father, who she saw as deranged by grief and by superstitions inculcated in his childhood.

My father was increasingly lonely, and increasingly erratic. He became fixated on a series of television shows, beginning with one called Twin Peaks. He tried to get me to watch it on our weekends together; in the second episode, the mother of a murdered girl sees a grinning spirit peeking between the bars of the footboard of her bed.

After that I refused to watch it. From Twin Peaks he moved on to the X-Files, Millennium, the Lone Gunman. Shows that hinted at a bizarre and terrifying reality hidden behind our own. From my grandfather he had inherited several old books of unexplained phenomenon, to which he added many new volumes.

I kept up, as best I could, for my father's sake. I knew that he had had a glimpse of the real nightmare streets that can sometimes overlay the straight paths, and it had left him shaken. I was--or I felt myself--saner; perhaps because I had not gotten just a glimpse but had seen the entire drama play out, and seen good affirmed or evil.

For my father's sake, I read about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and mysterious group known as A (three dots) A (three dots), and the snake people from Orion, and the dragon path in Europe, aligning many dragon-slaying saints and demi-gods. I read not only about the Mary Celeste but a score of similar cases, with common hallmarks--no sign of struggles, and materials left as if the worker vanished in the middle of their task; food half-eaten. Pets left behind; clothing not worn, left in the drawer.

Some of what I read I found compelling; some I found drivel. In none of it did I find anything to change my lifestyle. Most of the time the bubble of sanity and light holds. I believe that.

I believe that, Jason. Please let us go. Move on.

My father never learned to, and six months before my wedding, he took his life.
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You have to understand that I had no idea I'd said anything ironic, or funny, or in anyway linked to the mythos my grandfather had invoked. At that time I knew nothing of the Lone Ranger, although I became, I assure you, something of an expert, and look back on my one good line with bitter humor.

My grandfather did not tell me who the masked man was; he never got to. His bronze face was a muddy grey.

The next day my parents were in Pheonix; in the space of a few days, my grandfather was in the ground. A heart attack, medically speaking. He had spent the last of his youth to save me, to see it another way; the last magic he had, the magic of the glowing circle in the dark room, not from a television screen, but drawn by his imagination, showing him heroes and demons in a neat box, self-contained and bound by a formula where good always wins out over evil, and the one who draws first always goes home in a box.

He saved me, and for twenty years I was free.
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My grandfather reached out and snapped on the old radio on the table. It must not have worked in twenty years, but now it came to life in an instant, and a peice of classical music began to play.

I did not know it then, but now I know: it was the William Tell Overture.

My grandfather began to speak, his voice young and strong and clear. He spoke an invocation. "A cloud of dust," he shouted, "a galloping horse with the speed of light, and hearty--"

The next voice was not his; it came both from the radio and from outside the door (still standing open). "HI-YO SILVER!"

I had never seen anything move so fast; not even the wendigo. There was a clatter of hooves and a jingle of harness; even the creak of leather saddles, all so fast and coming, as the voice, from two places. The horse landed on the porch in a clatter of sparks, as big and white and holy as the moon, and the man who swung down was grim as death.

He, too, wore a mask. Not the cheap domino held on by string, but a true bandit's mask, knotted in the back, beneath a white cowboy hat. He dressed all in white buckskin, and a silver star glimmered on his breast.

He carried guns, but it was without even touching them that he said to the shadowy figure stooping over me:

"Put up your hands." A voice precise and hard; the voice of a trail-bitten guardian angel.

The music that came over the radio was not classical, now; it was written, I know now, by a man Enrico Morricone.

There was a high lonesome flute, and the solemn, bitter descant of brass.

Ahhh ahhaahhhhhhh

wah wah wahhhhhhhh

The wendigo made his move--and the gunman reacted, far faster. The speed of light, of hope, of silver, and a single silver bullet shattered the wendigo's chest. Chunks of ice pattered down.

The rest of his folded up into shadows and blew away, and so did the cowboy in the door, falling into the sky like silver rain going the wrong way.

"Abuelo," I said numbly. "Who was that masked man?"
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The next day I did something stupid.

My grandfather was making his preparation in the kitchen, and come the afternoon, he ran out of tobacco. I volunteered to get more. He told me no.

I told him his pipe smoke made me feel safe, and we should have some, and I convinced him. But, he made me promise, I would go only to the corner store. I knew they did not sell his brand there, but the supermarket was too far and I did not know the way. That was the agreement.

I did not keep it. Maybe my grandfather was wrong to make it, but I played on his addiction. I wanted to show him I was brave, when he was so brave for me.

There had been a conversation earlier that day:

"Abuelo," I asked him, "What is the thing worse than death that the wendigo can do?"

But he wouldn't tell me. "It doesn't matter," he said, "because I won't let it happen."

I thought he thought I was too much of a coward. I wish I could say I think the wendigo clouded my mind, but I have never seen it act much by daylight at all. I was just young, and stupid, and wanted to impress him.

Of course I got lost. The shadows were drawing long, and one of the thing my grandfather had told me: the wendigo can maze even the best tracker. And this small suburb of Pheonix I did not know very well at all. I got lost.

And then I was found.

It seems to the rational mind that walking down a suburban street is not like walking through the woods, even at night. Even in the flat desert country in the autumn, when night falls like a curtain, it seems like our homes are firmly entrenched and safe.

But the rational mind doesn't understand some things, and by then the wendigo had drawn a tight net around me. After night fell I didn't see a single person, not setting out trash or walking their dogs, and not a single light came on, do you understand? There was a flickering light around the windows like maybe television, and distant sounds, but I do not ever want to watch the programs that were broadcasting that night. The voices coming from inside those house, cheery pueblo buildings and ranch-style wood frame, spoke of ruin, and I began to run down the middle of the street, panting.

At one house I stopped and did a terrible thing; I picked up a rock and hurled it through a window.

Blackness was on the other side. I knew then if I had run to any door and pounded to be let in, I would've been. And it would've been worse than what was following me.

And always behind me came the steps of my enemy. It was, again, not like the woods, were he rustled stealthily over leaf and stone. He stomped down the asphalt, hard shoes clacking. Yet the sound resounded from the walls and the leaden sky, and I couldn't be sure where it came from. And I still never saw him.

There were hedges, and fences, and posts, and whenever I turned, there was nothing behind me. Only the ringing echoes of his footsteps, far louder than my own sneakered feet.

Once he hid behind an electrical pole; I saw the waving glimmer of his claws, and then some insanity gripped me. I charged him.

When I reached the pole, there was no one; I circled and circled and there was no one. I leaned back against it, short of breath, and from the opposite side his hand reached out.

His icy claws ripped open the plastic bag I was carrying, and the soda and my grandfather's tobacco spilled out in the street, and there was a laugh like water gurgling in an old plugged up drain, and then I panicked, and I ran, and he herded me like a sheep, back towards my grandfather's.

I knew then what was going to happen, when I saw him, when he touched me. My abuelo would not tell me, but I just knew, in the extremity of terror.

If he touched me, as I had always known, I would lose my mind. And I would become a wendigo myself, and I would hunger for human flesh. I would start with my grandfather, and the wendigo people would have their revenge.

Mad with fear but still whole, with the ice tendrils of the wendigo's aura tickling my neck, I ran like a cow into the chute up my grandfather's walk and burst through the door, and the wendigo followed me in.
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My grandfather had lied about his age and joined the army not just to kill Nazis, he told me, and not just to make something of himself. He had attracted the attention of a wendigo, and fled his people and his lands. He did not expect that the wendigo could follow him to Europe.

"And maybe back then it didn't know so much about airplanes. And I had heard it did not like to cross big water. Anyway, I was over there a long time before it came for me again, but I was in a terrible spot when it did. I was in a trench, with my best friend. He was older than me, but soft; he'd dropped out of college to fight. Yale."

I was not interested in this friend of my abuelo, sadly, and must have made that clear, because he lit his pipe and shook his head. "Tom told me things he'd learned, many useful things and other things I could see very little use for. Greek mythology, for instance. I thought he was a fool and didn't know it, because it was our myths, the Indian myths, that were the truth. I knew that, because a wendigo was hunting me."

"But there were still good stories. He told me about the bull, and the crab, and the boy who drove the chariot of the sun and made all the deserts of the world, driving too close. And about the great hunter Orion, who you could always find, and who would always point you straight and look after you."

Abuelo puffed smoke thoughtfully. It wasn't a peace pipe or anything like that; it was a meerschaum. "I told him about the wendigo. Maybe not such a good trade. And maybe that's how he found us, in the middle of all those dead people in a hole in France."

"How did you kill it?" I asked. "Did you have a silver knife?" I had thought of that--in old war movies they called looting 'liberating,' and I thought maybe my grandfather had liberated some old French silver.

"No," he said. "It was Tom who killed it, the white man from Yale. He knew more about spirits than me, because I'd never cared about those things. And he was studying them. Comparative religion. I told your father he should study that, but he chose history instead. White man's history." He shook his head.

"Tom told that if there are bad spirits, there must be good spirits. And he told me that as a Christian, he believed strongly in his own spirits, saints and angels, yet this wendigo, also, was real, so all spirits must be real."

"He believed you?" I asked.

"By then it was stalking us both," he said.

"When the wendigo finally struck, it had reduced me to absolute terror, as it will before it strikes. Tom was also afraid, but not so very afraid, because the wendigo was not going to eat him. The wendigo wanted me--well." My grandfather shook his head again, stirring clouds of smoke. "When he was a very small boy, he told me later, he had been afraid of something like a wendigo. A something that hid behind hedges on his road home. This thing had never come for him--it was only a fear, like some children fear a monster under their bed."

I nodded. I understood that.

"He was a strange little boy, I think. He told himself that if he could allow a hedgemonster in his world, he must be fair. There must be good spirits too. And he chose for his good spirit Orion, the great hunter, with his belt of stars."

"He knew about Orion, even when he was little?" I asked.

"His father was a professor of Greek," abuelo said.

"In that trench, I saw Orion come down," my grandfather said. He said it as simply as he might've said anything; that he had indigestion, or that he wanted to watch Johnny Carson before bed. "His sword was starfire, and he killed the wendigo."

I didn't know what to say about that.

"What about my father?" I said eventually.

"For your father, I had time to prepare. I knew a wendigo might come for him, to have revenge, and I got a dreamcatcher for him to protect his Indian half. Your abuela knew what to do to protect his islands half. The wendigo came for him every day for a week, but it could not pass the protections, and it went away. And it never came back."

"Until now," I said, suddenly sure it was the same evil spirit.

"Until now," he agreed. "I did not finish my preperations today because I had to drive to Tucson, and tonight I will guard you closely. Tomorrow--we will see." He looked at the clock. "And now you should sleep."

He dimmed the lights, but did not shut them off, and I tried. But I was worried. The things happening to me were incredible, but I was only a boy; and my conception of how the world worked was both incredibly flexible and fixed by certain pillars I couldn't see clearly because they defined everything. The things I had seen were warring with my mother's hardheadedness, passed on at least in part to me.

What an old man had seen, or said he had seen, in a trench forty years ago. And superstitious magic circles drawn around my father. It didn't seem enough, paradoxically, to protect me from the very real horrors the wendigo had shown me. One should've implied the other, as in my abuelo's friend's story. But I half-full of doubt, the most dangerous way to be, and I was afraid.

Under the bed something chuckled.

"Did you hear that?" I said.


"Maybe it was just water in the pipes," I said hopefully. Water gurgled in the pipes again.

"Maybe," my grandfather said impassively. "Or maybe the wendigo has learned to imitate pipes."
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The flight set down in Tucson because of a hysterical passenger. I'm afraid I had to be restrained by flight attendants, weeping and screaming. It was humiliating, but there was a single saving grace; one of them was the girl I was certain I had seen dead, and I had not vomited on myself, or seen a standard issue blanket slither away, like water down a drain. Not really.

Like the end of a old horror story, it had all been a dream. I woke up in my seat, still cozily tucked up by my blonde friend, and began to scream and couldn't stop. If we had been on the ground, where the creature--what my grandfather would soon tell me was a wendigo--could reach me, I'm certain I would've died, or worse. My emotions were in the perfect fever pitch. But I was not; I was in the air, and the best it could do was a nightmare.

Not that there was an especially hard reality around the things it had done before; there was no more explanation for its sudden vanishment from the stairwell than the disappearance of my blanket. But at home, on the ground, the nightmare world had been continous with the waking one. I found that leaf on the floor the next day. The door had shut. On earth, as its prey, I walked waking in nightmares. In the air it could only frighten me, as it did all too well. It could not touch me, thank God.

Right now Jason is in the air. Thank God.

My grandfather drove the extra miles to Tucson to get me, and it was in the parking lot of the Tucson Airport as he check my seatbelt that he told me I was being hunted by a wendigo.

The wendigo, he told me, was an ancient spirit that the Indians believed in, particularly the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. It stalked people in the forest, and sometimes it would follow them out.

"Why?" I asked him.

And he told me, "Because the wendigo is a cannibal. He wants his prey in a perfect state of terror, and then he eats them. Or he does something worse."

But he would not tell me what something worse was, and he would not tell me what he knew as we drove the long miles from Tucson to Phoenix. There were questions he would not answer, and also there were questions he could not answer. My grandfather, according his own testimony, was not a very good Indian. He had left his people to go to World War Two, and with the money and friends he had made there, he managed to start his own business. He never went back to the reservation, and he married a Dominican woman, and had children and grandchildren that could not actually say with certainty what tribe they belonged to.

My grandfather had kept that history from my father. He thought it could only hold him back. And yet he clearly believed in the wendigo, not as a myth or an idea, as my mother might have studied it, or even in the way that my Catholic friends believed in Mary in the saints. He believed in it as something real and terrible, and from the way he kept looking in his rearview mirror, something that was hunting his only grandson.

The wendigo, he told me, was hard to kill. Its heart was made of ice, and its claws. It could be melted by fire, or shattered by special silver weapons. "Like a werewolf," I said. And then, thinking my grandfather could not possibly know about werewolves, I began to explain them, and he laughed.

My grandfather had lied about his age to join the army, and he'd been an avid consumer of the old-time radio shows both as a little boy before the war and a very young man after. Werewolves, he told me, were a staple of horror shows he listened to, just like the ones I watched. "Of course, with radio, you could never see the monsters," he told me. "They were always as bad as you could imagine."

And that, too, was like the wendigo. I looked up then, into the mirror on my side of the car, and far off in the distance behind us, I saw a black smudge following. Keeping pace.

It will never stop following me, I thought. Not if I run forever.

Perhaps sensing that I was near some breaking point--and I was--my abuelo steered the conversation away from horror, keeping the topic on the old radio shows, but gently bringing up some his favorite serials. At first I was only confused and irritated that he could talk about anything but my enemy, but it really was a comfort. It was not my pop culture, but it was pop culture; the continuity of American experience. And many of his favorite old shows--the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix, Dick Tracy--were still around in some form or another. I did not watch the Lone Ranger, but I could've if I wished.

My grandfather had, in this conversation, become remote from me. Not slowly, but with a simple word in a language I did not speak: wendigo. Now I saw him as a boy like me, stapled to the radio to hear the new adventures of Captain Midnight or Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy.

Now, twenty years later, and having seen my share of Lone Ranger television episodes and movies, I would like to have that conversation again; I would like to have any conversation with my grandfather, of course, but if I were--if I am--reunited with him, whether Tonto was a friend or an enemy to the American Indian would make a fine topic.

Tonto, he pointed out, was just as good as the Lone Ranger at most things, and better at plenty. He saved the Ranger's life--twice. But Tonto's problem was twofold. First, as an Indian roaming white lands, he needed a white 'sponser.' And secondarily, he needed a purpose. The Lone Ranger gave him that; the Lone Ranger's vengeance, turned to higher ideals of justice and protection of the innocent, gave both men something to live for in dangerous and lawless times.

And so on. He contrasted the Lone Ranger with Tom Mix, the cowboy hero who lived in a modern fantasy of the West, a parallel 1940 when bloodthirsty Apaches still rode, and the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

In time we came to his house, a low ranch-style building. "I only have one bedroom," he told me. "You can have the bed, and I will sleep on the couch. At my age, I mostly just lay down to shake out the wrinkles anyway." So that was settled, without breathing a word of my fear, and I saw that the couch was directly under the light switch for the bedroom. There was also a powerful flashlight resting on the table near the couch, along with an old radio of just the style we had been discussing and my grandfather's tobacco.

My father did not smoke, nor do I, and like many children of my generation I had a complicated relationship with it. All of our grandparents smoked; they handed them out with the K-rations and on the factory lines. So for me, and many like me, the harsh but fragrent smoke is something foreign, dangerous... yet comforting. The tobacco fug around my grandfather was part of his armor, and as he lit his pipe I drew my legs up from the gap beneath the bed and asked him the question that had been in back of my mind all those miles.

"Abuelo, do you know how to save me from the wendigo?"

"Of course I do," he said. "Because I saved myself, and I saved your father, and I swear you also will be saved."

"How?" I said, and he told me how it had happened, and how it was done.
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How my father won that argument is something I have never understood. He's tried to explain it to me, but--and I realize it sounds funny, me saying this, after what I've written--my father has trouble seperating fact and fantasy. The years when my parents were still together are, to him, part of the Good Years, before everything went wrong. He claims my mother was not as horrible as I remember; that the ossification of her imaginative faculties only set in much later.

I don't even have the slightest clue, because my father never told me what he thought about my story. He simply listened, and then he said, "You need to see your abuelo." My father was Dominican on one side and Indian on the other; his father was the Indian side, but my late grandmother Maria had been abuela and so my grandfather Howard Redmann was abuelo; this contrasted to Nana and Popsi on my mother's side. I was truly a splended mutt, although not so much as my own son. More so than my father. Perhaps Jason will marry a Martian.

Somehow or another, my father convinced my mother to let me fly, during the middle of the school year, alone from Vermont to Arizona, where my grandfather had retired. He was not from Arizona; he was from the Washington. He'd just moved into the desert after my abuela died. The only explanation I can offer--and it is a weak one--is that my father is and was capable of remarkable charm and persuasion, which is why no one noticed what was going wrong with him for so long.

As for myself, I was not sure what my grandfather could do to save me from the horror, but my father had absolute faith in his plan; and in those days, I had absolute faith in my father. It was only much later that I realized, with all that would happen, there was still no reason at all he and my mother could not have been there; that he had sent me alone for their sake, and not for my own. I imagined, anyway, that the transcontinental flight would be enough to shake off the predator, at least for a while. The airport was certainly a fortress of light and civilization, with its tall towers and bright corridors and magical magnetic gates. I waved goodbye to my parents and took the hand of a kind blonde flight attendant and flew away from the awful haunted forests of Vermont with a song in my heart.

I slept on the flight, and when I woke up someone was standing next to my seat.

I tried to convince myself that this was surely the kind blonde flight attendant, checking in on me or delivering my meal. She couldn't tell I was awake, because in the past four days I had mastered the art of appearing asleep. At any moment, she would touch my shoulder to wake me up for dinner.

I found I didn't want that to happen.

I opened my eyes, and no one was there. The cabin lights had been dimmed, and most of the plane was watching a movie projected on the far screen, wearing head phone. The movie was a Clint Eastwood film, one of my father's favorites, and the Man With No Name was squaring off with the terrible and smiling Lee Van Cleef. I let out a single breath in relief, and something brushed past my ankle. It did not touch me, but it nearly touched me, and it seized the fuzzy blue blanket by the hem, and dragged it under the seat.

I vomited into the airsickness bag until it was full and I felt empty, but when my seatmate, an elderly business traveller, pried off his headphone and laid a concerned hand on my shoulder, I found I wasn't.

The bag I dropped like a bomb, and soiled now on my feet and hands, and I ran for the bathroom in a blind panic. My mother and the thing beneath my seat (BENEATH my SEAT) had an equal hand in this, I suppose.

I slammed the bathroom door behind me, and the lights flickered on, then off, then on, then off. In the sinkbowl was the head of the kind blonde flight attendant, and her eyes were gone.
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I had wet my bed as a small child, even smaller than I was then, and I had a horror of it. And--you have to understand--all of this was happening to me, but it was so fantastic that I believed, somehow, in my mother's shrill anger at a wet bed and pyjamas a lot more than I did in something could stand outside my window and tap on the glass.

I got up, and went towards the bathroom. The winds were strong, and the house was swaying just a little. Boards creaked all over, and it would be very easy to convince myself that the sounds I heard were not necessarily the steps on the flight of stairs the seperated me from the downstairs.

We had a VCR, an enormous machine that I'm surprised never gave anyone cancer, and it was in the living room at the base of the stair. In the fine tradition it had a little green clock that flashed 12:00 12:00 12:00, and the pallid green witchlight from that clock should've been shining on the wall of the stairwell. Something was blocking that light.

My mother was always cold; my father was always hot. In his absence, the house had been a furnace for a week.

Cold air was coming up the stairs, and I heard a gentle scraping susurrus. Autumn leaves on a hardwood floor.

The cold air wrapped around my ankles, and I twitched; my shoulderblades pressed back against the door behind me, that led into the attic crawl space. The stairs were directly in front of me, my room to the left, bathroom to the right.

When the air had touched me, for a moment it felt like clammy fingers, and I had nearly fainted. If something had touched me in that moment, I knew and I know I would've lost my mind.

I thought I had left the bathroom light on, but it was off. And now my door, yielding to some unevenness in its hinges or some blind hatred of humanity, swung shut, and blocked the light of the moon through my bedroom window; the hallway was now absolutely dark, and the stairs were creaking. It was now very clear it was the stairs and no other part of the house.

I wondered why my mother was not reacting to the cold, the noise, any of it, and a voice answered my thought from the stairwell. It said: "Your mother is dead, Andrew. I ate her heart."

That voice did not belong to anything human, and it was much, much closer than I had thought it was.

I think, looking back, that speaking was a mistake for the thing that was stalking me. It brought the conflict too far into the world of the real, and I was--in all modesty--a bright and resourceful child. That voice--that awful, clotted voice--made me understand that I was about to die like (it said) my mother had, and only I could stop that from happening. It was an awful thing to face, but I was old enough to face it.

Look, said a part of my mind. You're supposed to stay out of the attic, because there's no floor in there, only rafters and insulation, and if you try to walk on the insulation, you'll drop right through into living room.

It was just possible I would land on the couch and not the floor. I might not break my leg if I did hit the floor; how often had my father said that little boys are springy? Anyway, whatever injury awaited me in the living room, it would not smell like the thing on the stairs. A broken ankle would not tell me it ate my mother's heart. And if I were less lucky but still a little lucky, I could break my neck and be beyond its reach.

It was a plan. My hand closed on the doorknob, and my ears cranked up to their maximum. If it moved a single step closer--

The light in the bathroom came back on, and the furnace came back to life with a hollow cough. The dim light of 12:00 12:00 12:00 came back on the stairwell.

I must have grayed out then, because I've lost the time between then and my mother shaking me awake, still laying on the floor. If the creature had wanted to eat me then, it surely could have, but my plan had chased it away. I did not know why, but it was gone, and my mother was alive, and she was far too concerned about my unconsciousness to worry about my soiled pyjamas.

I wish to God that my plan--my moment of inspired bravery and adult thinking--had chased it off for good, but it hadn't. That wasn't the last night; it was the first of four nights until my father came back, and every night was worse than the last. Every night the horros began earlier, until as I sat doing my homework at the kitchen table, I would jerk my head from left to right every few moments, checking for shadows that capered on the edges of my blind spots.

I never beat it by bravery again; instead I relied on cowardice. I stuck close to my mother, and when I felt its presence in my bedroom, I closed my eyes tight, and I held very still, and I trembled. Sooner or later sleep would take me, and in the morning it would be gone, for a little while.

I'd hoped that it would learned something from my bravery; that it would learn to find weaker prey. Instead I had learned that uncertainty was better. I could stand beind uncertain. Absolute certainty--certainty of hearting, of smell, of touch--would destroy my mind.

My mother saw something was wrong, but when I tried to tell her what it was, she was not able to help me. She was, in fact, disappointed in me, as disappointed as if I'd wet my bed. Her father was an athiest Jew, and her mother was a lapsed Episcopalian; they'd horrified their parents with their marriage, of course, and they ingrained my mother with a hard-headed agnostic realism. All this I deduced as an adult; as a child I just knew we didn't have Santa Claus or Tooth Fairies or Easter Bunnies--or monsters under the bed, as my mother put it. She didn't listen when I said that the thing from the woods had never actually gotten under my bed. (It couldn't have--my bed was flat on the ground.) She just told me I was a big boy and I had to get over it. And she was furious when my father returned, because he decided to send me to my grandfather.
campkilkare: (Default)
First things first:

To my son Jason, I love you very much. Your mother and I both love you very much, and you are more precious to us than anything. I'm so very sorry.

I don't have any regrets.

When I was a small boy, eleven years old, my family lived in Burlington, Vermont. My father was a college professor of American History, and my mother was a music teacher. I went on a class trip along what was known, I believe, as the Robert Frost trail.

A much large proportion of Vermont is forest than most people would expect; the Vermont State Park stretches from one end of the state to another, and edges on New Hampshire and New York State. The Robert Frost trail is a trail where Robert Frost, one of the great poets of Vermont, often walked and took inspiration, and it wanders along the outer edge of the enormous and dense hardwood forests of the State Park.

You could lose an entire army regiment in those woods, and while not that many people are lost there every year, some still are. I was.

At that time I did not have the abiding aversion to birds of all kinds that I have now, and I think it was the song and glimpsed flashes of a strange bird that drew me away from the group. Our class was following Robert Frost's trail, and I, having been along it with my mother, was not interested. It may have been a bird that drew me away. I think it was.

There were also many interesting things in those woods for an eleven year old; interesting stones in dry creekbeds, and squirrel nests, and opossums. I managed to seperate myself pretty effectively from my classmates, but I was not actually frightened at that point. I had a compass, and a certain amount of woodcraft. I was pretty sure that I knew the right direction back to my group, and as a matter of fact I did. It did, however, get darker faster than I expected. It was autumn.

And something began to follow me.

I wasn't sure of that at first, because even the emptiest woods are full of noises, and I was making plenty of noise myself. My footsteps seemed noiser than they ought to be, is all, and the back of my neck itched, the way it will when you're being stared at.

The woods got quieter as I walked, but I walked faster, and my feet made more noise. I heard birdcalls, the same strange birdcalls I had followed into the deep woods, from behind me. I didn't want to follow them this time. I walked faster, and the volume of my footsteps increased. Maybe too much.

I turned around, and nothing was there.

When I crossed the dry creekbed again, my feet rattled over the large, water-smoothed stone, and other feet crunched dry leaves and brush. A few moments later, I heard the stone rattle behind me, and I turned around.

Nothing was there.

There was one large boulder that would've been in the center of the stream when it ran with snowmelt in the spring. Something man-sized, even larger could've hidden behind it, and I stared at it a long time before I turned back around.

When I did, there was a sound like something being scraped over stone. This was in the early nineteen-eighties, and my father did not shave with a straight razor or sharpen it on a stone, but my mother's father did. That was exactly how my mother's father maintained the razor he used to shave people in his barbershop in New York City, where I had visited him that summer. He scraped it over a smooth stone.

The noise that came behind me was of something very sharp being deliberately dragged over a stone. A moment later there was the sound of several sharp things. I think I whimpered then, and I began to walk much faster.

It was getting dark very quickly, the way it can in the mountains in autumn, and whatever behind me was making no pretense anymore. Its feet fell out of cadence with mine, but whenever I turned around it wasn't there. There were lots of trees.

Finally I could see the yellow school bus in the distance, and my teacher, who was shouting at me. They were waiting, I realized, and in desperate gratitude that they had waited (part of my had thought maybe they had left me), I ran for the bus.

Nothing followed me forward, into the light and safety of the headlights.

On the ride home I sat trembling in a seat by myself, leaning my fevered head against the window, which was cold. It was dark, and the lines on the road nearly glowed against the asphalt. They flicked by, and with them the sign posts. Every fourth post marked a tenth of a mile, and I counted them, trying to get my breathing under control.

On the shoulder of one of the many twists in the road back to Burlington, the bus passed a runner by the side of the road, which was pretty common; there are a lot of joggers along the trails and even highways in Vermont.

After sixteen or seventeen of the post-markers, I realized the runner was still there. He was pacing the bus. He loped easily alongside, in fact. It looked like he was holding back so we wouldn't fall behind him. When the road narrowed he dropped behind, and when he had space he ran beside, parallel to my window.

I expected, in my melodramatic child's heart, that sooner or later he was going to look up, and he wasn't going to have a face, and then I would lose my mind. Maybe my hair would all turn white, or fall out. But it would be several months until I saw his face.

I lost him somewhere in the shadows, and when we got back to the school and our anxious parents, I didn't see anyone waiting around the parking lot, or clinging beneath the bus, or God forbid in the back seat of my mother's car like in the urban legends. But somehow or another he must have followed me home.

Our house was a two-story converted barn, set well back from the road. In high winds, the second floor swayed like a crow's nest, and that was an autumn of high winds. My room was on the second floor, and I had, up to that point, enjoyed that. But there was a flight of stairs between my parents and myself.

On that particular night, it was a flight of stairs between my mother and me, because my father was on the other side of the country at a conference. (We did not, at the time, know it was a conference for people who had their own theories about how President Kennedy died; how, in fact, a lot of American History had unfolded, contrary to the official positions. All that came out later.) There was also, in a sense, a flight of stairs between me and the bathroom, because I had to walk past the stairwell to reach the toilet from my room.

My bed was at that time next to a window.

Jason's room doesn't have any windows at all. I did my best.

In the middle of the night I woke up, with the dreadful sense of a presence looming over me. I didn't want to open my eyes, because there was a problem; if someone or something really was standing over my bed, did I want to see it? Would it be better to be killed or seized or whatever unexpectedly, or to look up and see, say, glowing red eyes eight feet above the floor? And a minority position held out that whatever was out there, it couldn't be worse than what I imagined.

Another opinion asked what I would do if that was wrong. An eleven year old mind can be very complex.

Finally, still feeling that mocking, near presence, I opened my eyes, rolling towards the door to face it head on.

Nothing stood beside my bed.

From behind me came the noise that had awoken me in the first place; a tap on the window pane directly to my back. When I rolled to face that, nothing was looming over me on that side, either, hovering twenty feet above the ground.


And now my back was to the door.

I needed very badly to urinate.


campkilkare: (Default)
T. Oso

March 2016

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