“The further I go, the darker it seems to get. If that’s even possible. Just when I feel like I can’t stay here any longer, trapped in this car, the headlights illuminate a little wooden house. It looks…somewhat inviting.”
The road is dark. But the bright headlights light up the road. Or, you know, the part of the road I can see. There are patches of crumbling asphalt, and parts of rocky gravel, and strips of dusty sand. All I can see are tumbling rocks to my left. All I can see are crumbling rocks to my right. The open window lets in the cool night air. The headlights light up the pear cactus, and as I pass them, the shadows follow in the opposite direction. The scraggly landscape of the Texas hill country goes on for miles and miles until it goes so far into the dark that I can see no more.
I drive into a patch of fog. This is what the people warned me about. The fog blocks my view, as if it was out to get me. It’s staring at me, using the light of my headlight to see. But maybe the fog is too thick. At least I can hope so. I’m not scared, I tell myself. I keep repeating it until it’s finally true. But the seed of the fear just keeps coming back, growing stronger as that fog gets thicker.
The windy road continues uphill. The gravel under the firm wheels of my car make a rumbling sound. The crickets chirp and the katydids trill. The chorus of the night time swells and then lingers, but soon the sounds swell again.
The further I go, the darker it seems to get. If that’s even possible. Just when I feel like I can’t stay here any longer, trapped in this car, the headlights illuminate a little wooden house. It looks…somewhat inviting. I guess? I had expected something more supportive for an actual visitor.
I park the car a couple feet away from the front porch. There are two deck chairs with beaten down cushions, and an old rocking chair that is falling apart. It’s missing a couple of bars in the back and a patch in the seat. I sling on my backpack and walk around to the back of the car. I pop the trunk and heave out my old suitcase. I drag it up to the front porch. I stick my hand into the biggest pocket of my green cargo pants, and I find an envelope that reads To David, Love Mom and Dad. I rip it open and grab the little key. I jam it into the lock on the door, but the force of the my arm into the door makes it open anyway.
I step inside, and a storm of dust immediately hits my face. I brush it off and continue into the room. I flip the switch on the wall to the right of me, but the light doesn’t turn on. There is a fireplace on the wall of the main room. I step onto the porch and grab the loose pieces of the rocking chair. Once I’m inside again, I toss them into the little fireplace. But I need some dry kindling. There is a pile of newspapers next to the fireplace dated as old as 1984. I strike a match and coax out the flames from the dry paper. A flame bursts into light and illuminates the room. Now I can see.
There is a closed window on the far wall, and I walk over and open it for some fresh air. There is a couch that has moth-eaten cushions, and a little armchair with a sunken seat cushion. I sit down in it, and it collapses below me. The wind is knocked out of me, but when I regain my breath I sit up and wander around the room. It’s small and maybe it used to be quaint but it seems like now the inviting element of it is drowning in a tangle of cobwebs and dust. The mantle is empty except for a lonely, bent nail. There’s a beat up gas stove in the corner of the room, next to a porcelain sink that’s in desperate need of a wash down. I reread the letter from my parents. It says:
Dearest Darling David,
So sorry to kick you out. We hope you enjoy this little getaway! Give us a call! Love you.
Love, Mom and Dad
So this is a getaway. I had achieved a getaway from my mom and dad, thankfully. But now I would like to get away from this getaway that I had used to get away. It wasn’t always this bad. I used to be optimistic and cheerful. But after New York, that all went downhill.
I had just moved into a little apartment in New York. It was a nice little place, small rooms, small furniture, a small bed, but the rent was small too. I had always dreamed of being an author, and I got an amazing publishing offer from New York. So I packed up my home in Houston, Texas, and moved to the Big Apple. But then the publisher dropped me because I was writing memoirs and that’s not what they were looking for. I couldn’t pay the bills for the apartment. I booked the next flight back to Houston, and drove down to Galveston, where my parents had a little beach house. But then they had just decided to take off to Paris for a vacation, and they started renting out their beach house. Which meant that I had to leave. At least they left me with a week in this house. So I left Galveston and drove into the night. And here I am. I had anticipated some nice, peaceful cabin that I could stay in. And now I am left with just a little shack that will collapse with the push of a finger.
I sit up. A yawn escapes my mouth, and I realize how tired I am after driving all night. I wander through the door closest to me, right next to the fireplace, and it’s a little bedroom. There is small iron cot with a thin mattress and tattered sheets. Moth-eaten curtains billow in the soft night air. The moon and a million stars wink at me through the window. Maybe this is a peaceful getaway after all.
I change into pajamas and slip into bed. It’s a good thing that it’s summertime, otherwise the thin sheets wouldn’t be enough. The drowsiness washes over me the second my head hits the pillow. But sleep does not come.
15 minutes, and sleep does not come. 30 minutes and sleep does not come. 1 hour and sleep does not come. No matter what, I can’t sleep.
So I surrender to the only thing I can: reading. I stand up and hobble over to my backpack. I rummage around for my book, but I can’t find it anywhere. I look in my suitcase too, and finally I give up and assume that I left it at Mom and Dad’s. Maybe there’s a book somewhere in the house that I can read.
I scurry up to the main room, and search for a book. The first one I see is sitting alone on the mantle above the fireplace. I pick it up. The dusty, red leather cover is faded and worn, and I read the title. But it is so faded that I can’t make out any words.
My desperation to end the boredom overpowers me, and I lift up the book and carry it to my room. I lay down on my couch, and the rusty springs sigh below me as I settle in. I crack the spine of the book and flip to the first page.
The road is dark. But the bright headlights light it up. That is, the parts of the road that David can see. The broken up road guides David through the hill country.
David drives into a patch of fog. His breath becomes fast, his heart skips a beat. I’m not scared, David tells himself. He keeps repeating this. And finally he believes it’s true. But he could not be more wrong.
I must be imagining this. It’s just my mind playing tricks on me. This can’t be about me. It’s just another David, another person driving at night…in the same place…with the same name. It’s not probable. Not possible. Right?
David arrives at the little cabin his parents had rented for him. It is small, and he begins to feel disappointed. He starts a fire in the living room. That holds it off. For now.
My heart stops beating in my chest. My short breaths come through loud and wheezing, and the sound pierces the silence of the night. This story is about me. But I have to keep reading. I flip to the next page.
David looks over the house, and becomes tired. So he lies down in bed. But the spirit is keeping him awake. Of course, he can’t see it. And David has no idea that it is the one keeping him up. But it plants itself in his subconscious until he is unable to fall asleep. David tosses and turns until he decides to read a book.
What spirit is this book talking about? A feeling of fear creeps through my body, speeding my heart beat, making me shake all over. This simply cannot be happening. It’s not possible.
David creeps up to the large room and picks up the closest book. He opens it up. And after the first sentence, his face drains of color. He realizes that this book is about him.
I start shaking wildly. Maybe this is just a dream. I flip the page.
David turns the page. He feels a chill creep up his spine, and shivers until it is gone.
I instantly feel goosebumps popping up on my back and arms. My blue flannel pajamas are thin, and they can’t protect me from the cold. I close the window and grab my jacket. I stoke the fire, and start to feel a little warmer. I can’t read anymore. Because whatever happens in the book actually happens in real life. If anything bad happens in the book but I don’t read it, maybe it won’t come true. But what if that’s not the case? What if it will happen anyway? I finally decide to keep reading, because if it will happen anyway, it’s best to know.
David sits up. He had closed the window, but that doesn’t stop him. No, the spirit will always come back to haunt this house anyway.
What? What spirit? Is it the same spirit that supposedly kept me awake?
David has no idea of what he shares this house with. It is something that has been here in this house for years, rooted in the dirt beneath it, howling in the wind around it, shining in the moon above it, part of the very bones of the house itself.
David reads on, unaware of what his future holds. David–
No. I can’t read anymore. I don’t know what this is, or if it’s even real. I just don’t know anymore. My brain is tired, my stomach is growling, my head is throbbing, my heart is pounding. I never should have opened that book.
I stand up and stretch my arms. I need to do something to get my mind off of the book. So I grab my backpack from the corner of the living room and lift it onto the table. I unzip it and search through it, past my red composition notebook, laptop, wallet, water bottle, and finally locate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was in a ziplock bag. I devour it in a second. But I’m still hungry. I search my bag for anything else I might be able to eat. But there is nothing.
There are so many things I can do to pass the time. Maybe I can write, plan out what I would do when I left this house, even just look out the window at the stars. And yet everything feels useless, everything, that is, except reading the book. It seems to be pulling me in, dragging me by an invisible rope that I can’t seem to sever. So I just give in to reading it.
David tries to keep his mind off of the book. It scares him. It is everything that he fears. He values being alone, and the idea that something has been watching him just scares him to death. The book draws him in by a force that can be explained by nothing else except the close relation that he has to it. And it is closer than it seems.
I can’t read this anymore. I just can’t. I slam the book shut, and throw it into the smoky embers of the dying fire. I am too tired to do anything else. At least the book accomplished that. I walk into the bedroom and the most ghastly thing meets my eyes.
There’s a creature. It’s sitting in the chair, hunched over the desk, it’s head resting on a notebook, open to a page of messy writing. His hand is holding a pencil, whittled down to no more than a piece of lead. I can’t explain it. It looks…human. But it is like a human that’s been sitting at that desk for years, hunched over so much that it’s spine had stayed that way, and it had never stopped to eat anything or to even stretch since the moment it sat down. Its skin is grey and covered in wrinkles, as if it’s a shirt that was carelessly shoved into the back of a drawer. He has a tangled mess of white hair sitting atop his almost bald head. He is wearing blue flannel pajamas with various holes in them, and covered in spots. But the back of the pajama shirt is almost white as if the sun has been beating down on it for years.
My heart beats. Why is it wearing my pajamas? I must be imagining this. This whole night, the book, the creature, has all just been a dream? And yet…it feels so real, so vivid, that I can’t imagine it being something created by my mind.
I turn on my heel and the floorboard creaks below me. The man-creature-thing hears it and looks up. His sagging, long head turns and he faces me. His face is the scariest of it all. He has milky blue eyes, like beads. His eye sockets are deep, and the shadow makes them feel like an endless black hole. The bags under his eyes are dark and droopy, as if he hasn’t slept in days or longer. He stares at me for a while and then groans. It’s loud and deep. The sound gets louder and louder, and then it stops. And the only thing that I feel I can do is walk over to him…it…whatever it is.
I walk over to it, slowly, treading carefully so that I don’t startle it more. I hold it’s gaze, milky blue eyes locked in mine, a staring contest for the record book. I am closer to it now, an arms length away. I could touch it. And now I see the details in his face, wrinkles on his forehead from years of worry, a hairline so far back that it disappears behind his head, white, chapped lips that haven’t seen a bite of food in ages. And I hold his gaze, steady, personally, as if I’m looking at myself in a mirror.
Questions race through my mind. What is it? How did it get here? Why does it look as if it hasn’t moved in years, but it wasn’t here when I arrived? And what is it writing?
The only thing I can do is just move closer, and closer, until finally I am near enough that there is no more than an inch between us. I grab the closest thing I can to me, which happens to be the key to the house. It is sitting on the desk, and I can reach it if I stretch. I lengthen my fingers and flick the key into my hand, never breaking the gaze of the creature. I toss the key to the other side of the room, and the creature’s head whips around to find the source of the noise. And I use that fraction of a second to grab the notebook from below it’s head. It starts moaning again when it sees that the book is gone, and I dart out of the room and close the door. I sit on the couch and look over the notebook. It’s a red composition notebook, and on the cover it says Property of David Lancaster.
No. Not again. I can’t have more of this. I have no idea of how it all got here, the book, the creature, now this, and I’m not willing to take on any more. But I know that there’s no way I can just look over this book and then set it down. I have to open it up. I have to. So I open it and begin to read.
“The road is dark. But the bright headlights light up the road. Or, you know, what part of the road I can see. There are patches of crumbling asphalt, and parts of rocky gravel, and strips dusty sand. All I can see are tumbling rocks to my left. All I can see are crumbling rocks to my right.”
Somehow, for some reason, I knew it was going to say this. So I skip ahead to the part that I know I will find.
“I lay down on my bed, and the rusty springs sigh below me as I settle in. I crack the spine of the book and flip to the first page. The road is dark. But the bright headlights light up the road. That is, the parts of the road that David can see. The broken up road guides David through the hill country. David drives into a patch of fog. His breath becomes fast, his heart skips a beat. He tells himself that everything is okay. I’m not scared David tells himself. He keeps repeating this. And finally he believes it’s true. but he could not be more wrong.”
I know who this creature is. He was just someone who had had a terrible experience in a new city. He stumbled upon an old home, just trying to take some time where there would be no stress, where there would be no trouble. He stayed at the house, but trouble was the only thing that came. A book began to mimic his life, and he was left in fear, never leaving the house. And this notebook…it’s…it’s the man reciting his story. It’s David revealing the details of what happened that one night in that little house.
I grip the notebook as I slide back to my room. But the creature is gone. I sit at the desk with nothing to do. But an idea pops into my mind. I could…write my story. So everyone would hear. I could even publish it in New York! So I heave a sigh, grab a pencil, and start writing in my little red composition notebook. I had a strange feeling that I wouldn’t stop to stretch for a while.