“I have a job for you,” is commonly the best phrase a person can hear. But not when it’s coming out of the mouth of my dad. In that case, “I have a job for you,” could mean any number of things. It could mean you are going to drive a flatbed truck across the Canadian border filled to the brim with used Peavey electric guitars, it could mean you are going to be a pallbearer for a guy you never met, or it could mean you are going to need to dig up a graveyard in the back woods of Washington state.
My path to that last example started with a call from my dad over Memorial Day weekend.
“I bought a piece of property down in Skagit County and I want you to help me get it fixed up this summer. It’s an old farm, up past Rupertville, and I’m going to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast for your mom and me to run for when I retire in a couple of years.”
“Does mom know about this?”
“What do you mean does mom know about this?”
“But you mean you are making like an AirBNB of the thing? Maybe you should hire a professional, or two, to ‘fix it up?’”
“I have no idea what hair BandB means, but look, I know you don’t have a summer job lined up except for that radio show you keep trying to start.”
It never sat right with my dad that I was a teacher who never took a “summer job,” despite me telling him that 99 percent of the reason I decided to become a teacher was so I didn’t have to work during the summer. The “radio show” he referred to was a podcast I had given up on after six episodes that was about an unsolved murder in my hometown of Cedar Valley, Washington. A total of four downloads per-episode wasn’t enough for me to keep chasing my dream of being an NPR rock star.
“Well, my roommate offered to sublease my room to his friend for the summer for extra cash if I had another place to go, so it might not be the worst idea in the world.”
I envisioned my dad standing on the end of his fishing boat in the river giving a fist pump with his hand that wasn’t clutching a Coors original.
“I’ll pay you twelve thousand dollars the three months you are up there and you can stay on the property. Combine that with the money your roommate gives you, and you’ll be making the salary of an actual job instead of teaching.”
I hated every bone in my body for doing it, but I agreed.
My dad’s property was an abandoned apple farm that may have been a meth lab at one point at the end of a dirt road, halfway up into the belly of the beast of the North Cascade Mountain Range, a good 20 minute drive from the nearest town of Rupertville (population 642). The property consisted of a wooden homestead with three of the smallest bedrooms I have ever seen, a leaky roof, a bathroom full of wolf spiders, a guest house cabin full of discarded porn magazines from the 90s, a couple acres of undeveloped land, and a rotting graveyard.
My dad tried to gloss over the graveyard, saving it for the end of his tour, after we had split a six-pack of tall Coors cans. My small buzz took some of the sting off of the cluster of wooden gravemarkers sticking out of the tall grass at the back of the property, but it certainly didn’t help his cause that saving it for last meant it was deep dusk when we went back there.
“Jesus Christ dad, you bought a bed and breakfast with an Indian burial ground in the back of it?”
“I believe the correct term is Native American burial ground.”
“The old owner told me it’s just from the old logging days in the 1890s.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure everyone buried in that ground died super non-horrifying deaths then.”
“If it makes you feel better, there’s a surefire way to figure out if it really is an Indian burial ground,” my dad said.
“Dig it up and if the ground is full of old Potter’s Crown whiskey bottles, then you know…”
“Oh my God dad.”
“Fine, I’ll give you eighteen thousand to stay up here and help.”
I walked back to the homestead thinking not much could have been worse than the summer I was about to embark on. My dad’s suggestion that he could bring up my old guitar and a tape recorder so I could make an album in a cabin and make it big like that “Bon Jover” hipster did help, but it in no way prepared me for the horror that was waiting for me in the gravel driveway in front of the homestead.
I stopped cold in my tracks about 10 yards from the driveway to stare at my cousin Goob’s blue and gray 1985 Chevy Blazer.
“Fuck no, dad. Goob?”
“Look, he’s the only guy who can work within my budget at short notice. The fucker is willing to do the job for basically four dollars an-hour.”
My dad and I stopped on the edge of the driveway and watched my cousin Goob sing along with some of the most-embarrassing lyrics off of Devil Without A Cause in between pulls off a Monster energy drink.
Goob was my cousin from down in Oregon. His legal name was Gabe Silver, but he couldn’t pronounce it properly until well into elementary school so everyone thought his name was Goob. Tragically stupid, he made it through high school in 4.5 years with the grace of a whiskey-drunk orangutan on roller skates before embarking on 12 years of being fully-employed sharing right wing memes on Facebook in his mom’s living room.
As much as it killed to know that I was going to be spending the summer with my cousin who may have still thought professional wrestling was real, I was relieved I wouldn’t be staying by myself. Even if it meant my nightly lullaby might literally be the Creed song “Lullaby.”
My dad left a bottle of what he called “hipster whiskey” (Bulleit Rye) and a six pack of “hipster root beer” (ginger beer) to take the edge of the first couple of nights. I let Goob borrow my iPad and it subdued him in his bedroom for most of the night while I read my Kindle and sipped stiff drinks until I wasn’t scared to lie down on the twin-sized bed my dad had set up in the master bedroom.
The days were strangely comforting. I’m sure my dad had his doubts of his 6’2, 155-pound sophomore English teacher son softened on nine years of Seattle citizenship would make a fine ranch hand, but I managed. It was almost comforting to replace the messy complication of working in the city at a private school full of urbane young adults with digging dirt and filling holes with a 2010’s version of Lennie from Of Mice and Men.
I was able to repeat my drinking process for a few nights to much success until I ran out of whiskey and ice and Goob seemed to run out of free Internet porn. I had Goob make a run into town late at night to replenish our supplies. I was thoroughly disappointed when he came back with bottle of Fireball (“It was all they had”) and jugs of Hawaiian Punch that were blue for some reason.
I had just decided that blue Hawaiian Punch and cinnamon whiskey might not be the worst thing in the world when I noticed something was amiss. Goob had gone outside to smoke a “fat one,” at least an hour before and hadn’t come back. My buzz and lack of interest in his well being kept me from investigating for about 60 minutes, but my conscience eventually got the best of me.
A cool chill greeted me when I walked out onto the pitch black front porch and I felt a mosquito buzz by my ear. Goob’s Blazer was in the driveway, but there was no sign of him. The only sign of any kind of life was the sound and scent of a distant crackling fire.
I walked around the side of the homestead and saw the source of the smoky smell and cracks in the night. Off in the distance, at the edge of the property, right smack dab in the middle of the graveyard, was a campfire with a handful of people sitting around it. I was pretty sure I could hear Goob’s signature slack-jawed laugh when I started off into the field which led out there.
Reaching the fire revealed the smell of skunky weed and the juvenile faces of three 16-year-old boys sitting around the fire with Goob laughing about some story he was telling which involved punching a guy in the face a lot of times. I walked into the scene and yanked the 30-year-old Goob off to the side without acknowledging the high school kids.
“Goob, you can’t be smoking with fucking teenagers out here!”
“They were already out here when I went out to smoke. You gotta hear their story about this place man,” Goob rebutted.
“I’m not going to listen to the fairy tales of some fucking high school kid. Get em outta here.”
Goob shook his head and looked back at the fire where each of the teenagers was giving us the look you give your friend’s mom when your friend would ask if you could stay the night as a kid.
“I swear to God you’re worse than someone from Beaverton.”
For some reason, Goob’s biggest insult was to tell you that you were someone from the next town over from his hometown of Tigard, Oregon.
Goob threw his joint into the grass at his feet and stomped it out with disappointed shakes of the head.
“This place has secrets man…you should know,” Goob muttered.
Goob’s cryptic muttering was enough to draw me to the fire and hear the kids out.
The kid with the saddest excuse for a chin strap beard I have ever seen, Braden, told the tale.
“Every kid in town knows about this place. I can’t believe your dad bought it. I mean, we were all laughing like…some dude bought the Witch’s Graveyard,” Braden interrupted his story by breaking out into laughter.
“Witch’s graveyard?” I asked.
“Dude, this place was a witch’s convent until like the nineties when they all got old and died. This is where they buried them because no witch is gonna wanna get buried in a Christian cemetery. Some of these graves are even for the kids that lived up here who died because they didn’t believe in western medicine. Kids at school are always talking about how if you come up here and burn sage and then go hide in the bushes, you can see the dead witches come out of the woods and take the sage. We figured we would get high and come up and try it out.”
I would have been thoroughly embarrassed if the kids could have been able to tell how genuinely scared I was at that moment. The chill of the night soaked me in cold through just the thin t-shirt I was wearing.
I looked over at Goob to see if he looked scared. He just looked annoyed.
“It’s a cool story, but you guys gotta go man. We can’t have you getting high up here,” Goob told the kids, sounding like the world’s least-responsible camp counselor.
The kids didn’t seem that bummed to pack up their stuff and go.
“I left a piece of sage roasting on the biggest grave out there,” Braden announced before the three of them piled into a minivan with two car seats in it.
“Yeah, thanks man,” I said.
The minivan tore away down the dirt road. Goob and I walked back into the house.
My fading buzz and the exhaust of another hard day’s work led me back to my bed, but a scan of the pockets of my shorts which turned up no cell phone got me right back on my feet. It must have fallen out of my shorts at some point when I was around the fire.
The fear which lingered in my blood told me I should just wait till the morning to retrieve the phone, but the moisture that hung in the air when I was out in the driveway told me I needed to go out and get the thing before it rained. The fear of having to buck up another $500 and not have a phone for at least a few days, beat out the fear of anything which may have been lurking out in those woods around the property.
I grabbed a flashlight and headed back out to the dead fire and the log I sat on where I hoped my phone would be. I tried to stare straight ahead and move at a swift pace to try and not think about what could be watching me in the darkness of the forest, but it didn’t work. I felt my hands sweat as I kept them in readied fists at my sides. I should have brought a gun up to this place, I thought, even though I hadn’t shot a gun since I was 12 years old.
I reached the fire the kids had built in an old metal trash bin which rested in the middle of the cemetery and felt the smell of the last burning amber smoke in my nostrils. I took a look at the bin and noticed a scalded bundle of sage rested on the top of a grave next to its rusted lips. I shook my head and turned my attention to the grass at my feet where I had been sitting.
My phone rested in the moist grass right next to the log where I sat. I squated down to pick it up, but stopped when I felt something whisk past my back. I sat frozen for a few seconds with my eyes on the phone. I listened to the sound of brisk footsteps continue past me and through the other side of the graveyard.
I was finally able to work my neck enough to look to my left where the footsteps went. I could see a dark shadow walking through the thin trees of the forest in the moonlight. I heard the figure trampling over brush as it disappeared deeper and deeper into the woods. I looked to the grave marker where the burnt sage had rested. It was gone.
I grabbed my phone and ran back to the homestead as fast as I could.
My dad showed up the next day to help for the first time in my stay. He watched as Goob and I cut down a thick patch of sticker bushes on the edge of the property.
“You ever hear anything about this place being a witch convent or something like that?” I asked my dad in between hacks at sticker bushes with a machete.
“I heard some bullshit when I was a kid about there being witches up here, but I doubt any of it is true. The owners for a long time were these long-haired ladies who I’m pretty sure were lesbians who probably got all these hillbillies freaked out thinking they were witches just because they were women who lived together who weren’t interested in shaving their armpits,” my dad explained.
“What happened, some old warty bitch come into your room last night and try to blow you?” Goob asked.
Goob’s laughter changed to a scream of pain.
I looked over and saw that my dad had thrown a thorny sticker branch at Goob. It stuck to the fabric of his shirt and he cringed as he tried to pluck it off his body.
Night fell again and I hit the whiskey even harder than I had been the nights before. It felt as if the entire dark world around the homestead was going to cave in on me. I thought about firing up my car and driving to my parents’ house almost an hour away.
I fought through it. I went out into the living room to be closer to Goob’s (somewhat) human presence as he played some kind of zombie game on my iPad and smeared boogers and chili cheese Frito seasoning all over the screen.
I was about to start a conversation with Goob, but was distracted by my phone receiving a text for the first time in almost a week. The number was a local 360 area code number, but it wasn’t saved in my phone.
I tried to figure out if I recognized the number at all off the top of my head, but couldn’t. The only thing I could think to do was check my call logs where I did notice something a bit strange. The number was in my outgoing call logs from the night before, around midnight. About the time everything that took place around the fire in the graveyard.
I replied: Who is this?
I waited for minutes upon minutes with my teeth gritted, but got nothing.
I followed up: ?
No answer. I fell asleep on the couch, spilled my blue Hawaiian Punch cocktail all over the faded flannel couch and woke up the next morning with my glass stuck to the bare skin of my leg.
I was first relieved when I woke up on the couch. 1) I was okay 2) I had been able to get some sleep.
There was just one problem. The phone which I left on the couch was nowhere to be found. I searched for the thing for 30 minutes, but never found it. I asked Goob if he knew where it was, but he was clueless. It vanished in the night, just inches away from me.
I tried to work off the fear by focusing on finishing up the sticker bush patches with Goob, but it didn’t work, I just kept thinking about the person who walked by me the night I went back to get my phone, the text I got from the unknown number, and my phone disappearing. It was time to go to my parents’ house and at least tell my dad what happened.
I was about the turn the keys in the ignition of my car to head out, just after four in the afternoon when I saw a Jeep rumbling up the driveway in the rear-view mirror. I had to wait and talk to whoever the hell it was showing up. Hopefully it wasn’t more high school kids invited up by Goob.
The Jeep parked behind me and off to the side. A sandy-haired woman who looked to be somewhere in her 20s in short jean shorts which showed off her equally tanned and toned legs jumped out of the vehicle and into the cloud of dust it created. I couldn’t help but think of a scene in a country music or 80s rock video when the small town vixen is first introduced as the woman walked in slow motion (in my head) towards me in a white tank top with her long, bright hair falling over her shoulders.
I jumped out of my car and caught her before she reached the homestead where I worried Goob was getting ready to jump out and destroy anything good which could have come from seeing the most-striking woman I had seen outside of Seattle in many, many years.
I cut off the woman at the start of the front porch. She jumped back a little bit and I blushed. I was overzealous and jumped into her line of sight with the greeting before she even saw me.
“Nathan?” The woman asked.
The woman closed her eyes and extended a thin hand my way.
“Hi, my name is Nicky,” the woman said as we exchanged a quick shake. “This is going to sound weird, but your dad hired me to work on this place as an interior designer.”
“My dad didn’t tell me that, but that sounds like something he would do.”
“Okay, even weirder thing…he said it would be cool if I stayed in one of these cabins up here. He said his son and nephew were staying in the main house, but there was a personal cabin I could stay in if I like. I live all the way up in Bellingham, so I would probably take him up on that offer during the week.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s cool. We’re in the main house, but the guest house cabin is open. I’m not sure how much interior designing you can do in the main house, the place is pretty run down,” I said, extremely glad that I cleaned out the old faded porn in that cabin a few days before.
“I think that’s the point. Do you know what interior design is?” Nicky answered back in a tone which walked the line between serious and sarcasm.
“I get your point.”
I ushered Nicky into the homestead, showed her around and hoped she wouldn’t be scared off by the looks Goob gave her the entire time she was in there. I also showed her the guest house, which was basically a small rustic cabin with an inflatable bed, a rusty stove, a mini-fridge, a bathroom the size of an airplane bathroom and a couch which faced a TV/VCR. It was actually a dead ringer for the cabin in The Ring. I was shocked Nicky said she would be cool to stay there when I showed it to her. I myself would have rather shared Goob’s jizz-stained twin bed with him than sleep in there.
Nicky went back to Bellingham to pick up her stuff and was going to come back that night. I spent most of the night slugging cocktails and wondered what was wrong with her to where she wanted to do the job. I figured my dad must have been paying her $30,000 or something and/or she had a drug problem and/or needed to hide out from a psychotic boyfriend.
I was deep in those thoughts and a hypocritical (because I made fun of Goob so much for something I was doing myself) porn session on my laptop when more sinister thoughts shot into my brain. A quiet moment on my screen revealed a sound out my window I was more than familiar with. It was the digital tone of my cell phone ringing.
I was quickly disgusted with myself for not covering the lone window in my room. I jumped up on my bed and looked out the square window and peered out into the dark line of trees between my room and the guest house cabin.
A yellow light shined out from the inside of the guest cabin. I was a little saddened that Nicky hadn’t stopped by the homestead when she got back to say hi and shocked with how fast she made it back from Bellingham (It was about 90 minutes away), but maybe I lucked out with her not knocking on our door during my porn watching?
The continued ringing of my cell phone pulled my eyes away from the light of the cabin. I scanned the dark scenery, wondering if I would see the blue tone of my phone screen flickering on and off somewhere near, but didn’t.
I pulled up my pants and headed outside.
From inside, it sounded like the ring of my cell phone had come from right outside the bedroom window, but a search of the area proved fruitless.
My attention steered towards the light in the guest house cabin. I had yet to confront Nicky on if she had sent me the text the night before. Her appearance the day after the mysterious chain of events with my phone made me suspicious.
I sadly probably would have not trusted Nicky in the least if she wasn’t attractive. I probably would have been outright afraid of her. Instead, I was totally comfortable with knocking on the door of her moss-covered cabin at 10 p.m. Her face was symmetrical and her body was tight. There was no way she could have been dangerous.
I couldn’t help but look through the small window in the door of the cabin when I walked up. I spotted Nicky in the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror. It took me a second to confirm it was her because her long, blonde hair was absent, replaced by just under shoulder-length jet black locks.
I took in the sight of Nicky for a few seconds and knocked. I looked down to my feet to make it seem like I wasn’t some kind of peeping tom when she opened the door.
Nicky had her long blonde hair when she opened the door.
“Hey,” Nicky answered.
“Wow, you uh, moved in fast. I have a question for you. Did you get my number from my dad and text me last night?”
Nicky’s mostly-friendly look melted away.
“I, um, just got a text from a three-six-o number last night that just said ‘Nathan?’ and I was wondering if it might have been you?”
“No. I don’t have your number.”
Nicky started to laugh a little bit.
“What?” I asked, starting to panic.
“Why are your lips all blue?” Nicky asked.
That damned blue Hawaiian Punch. I probably looked like a nine-year-old fresh off guzzling a blue raspberry Slurpee.
“Ah, I’ve been using this blue juice as a mixer. It’s all we have up here right now.”
“Well have fun with that, but no, I didn’t text you, sorry.”
Nicky’s hand slipped onto the door. I assumed that meant she wanted to close it and bid me adieu.
“Thanks and sorry. Have a good night,” I said.
“You too,” Nicky said as she shut the door.
I may have took Nicky’s shortness more personal had I not heard my cell phone start to ring again just after she shut the door on me. I tracked the sound to over by the graveyard.
I looked over to the graveyard and saw the same low-flame fire that had been there the night the 16-year-olds showed up. Fucking Goob. He probably invited them up again or something.
My growing anger washed some of the fear out of my blood. I stomped over to the graveyard.
“Hey,” I called out when I was about 10 yards away from the fire and grave markers.
I could only see one figure around the fire. A medium-sized body cased in a dark hoodie which faced the fire. It didn’t acknowledge my holler.
“Hey man,” I walked around to the front of the figure and stopped dead in my tracks. Sucked in my breath.
The face of the figure sitting in front the fire was rotted out. A mangled mess of bloody viscera cased in ripped red skin, it looked like a giant blood orange which had been half eaten and thrown into the hood of a sweater. The face let out a filthy smell, like that of rotten milk.
The scent knocked me onto my knees and I retched, lowering my face to the grave marker closest to the meager fire. Face-to-face with the splintered wood, I saw my name, Nathan McIntosh carved into the thing.
I heard the sound of footsteps running through the tall grass at my back and felt every muscle in my body tense up.
“Please, please,” I screamed out from the ground.
The footsteps stopped just behind me. I felt a foot come down hard on my ankle and I rolled over to get a look at my attacker.
Standing above me wearing a cut-off shirt and shit-eating grin with a glass pipe in his hand was Goob. I looked next to him where the dead figure in the hoodie had been sitting and saw nothing.
“What the hell you doing out here?” Goob asked. “You tweaking bro? I told you, don’t get on that shit.”
I shook my head to try and get my brain back. What the hell had just happened?
“You must be going crazy because I found your phone out on the front porch. You must have dropped it,” Goob said.
Goob threw my phone at me, stuck his pipe in his mouth and took a hit. He exhaled and looked all around the graveyard.
I made my way to my feet and dusted myself off.
“Why did you start a fire?” Goob asked.
“I didn’t start that.”
“You didn’t? Well fuck me? Maybe this place is haunted,” Goob exclaimed. “I’m gonna go back to the house and get .44.”
My lips ached for the pipe Goob smoked when we got back to the house as we sat at the kitchen table, both trying to act less rattled than we were. Goob ran the soft side of his thumb up and down the sharp side of a Bowie knife. I assumed it was the closest thing he had to a .44.
“Maybe that chick in the cabin started the fire?” Goob said.
“She was in the cabin when I stopped by a few minutes ago,” I dismissed.
“Look at you, you old cunt hound,” Goob said.
Goob’s cackle which followed halted as soon as a loud pounding sounded out on the front door.
“Did you lock that shit?” Goob screamed out.
I did not lock that shit. The door flew open and the two of us jumped up in our seats. Goob pointed the Bowie knife at the door and screamed.
“Come on motherfucker.”
Goob screamed to no one. I could see there was no one in the door once my adrenaline went from a 10 to a 9.99. There wasn’t a sign of a single soul in the doorway, just the open, wooden door, flapping in the night wind.
I can proudly say neither of us said something like “maybe it was just the wind?” We both just stood there staring at the open door, hearts racing.
I probably would have stood there for infinite had I not heard the familiar sound of my cell phone ringing again.
“Fuck this. I’m out of here,” Goob announced.
I didn’t say a word. I just went back to my bedroom to pack up my valuables. It took only a few seconds and I was out the door with my overstuffed backpack thrown over one shoulder.
I saw Goob’s tail lights burn down the driveway when I walked out to the car. I don’t think he even packed up his stuff.
The inside of my 2008 Ford Escape had never felt so comfortable. I sat down in the driver’s seat and snapped the locks shut. I started to turn the ignition, but stopped. I saw the lights on in the cabin where Nicky was staying.
I jumped out of the car and sprinted across a clearing until I was back at the doorstep of the cabin. I looked through the door window and didn’t see a sign of Nicky, but could hear crying coming from inside.
I knocked in a furious fury. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I felt as if something was running at me from behind. It reminded me of being a child swimming in a lake when you suddenly feel like some horrible creature is zeroing in on you in the dark cover of the water and you swim back to the dock as fast as you can. I shot a quick look over my shoulder and thought I saw a white figure coming from over by my car, but looked back ahead when the cabin door opened.
Nicky looked to me with tears in her eyes. I barged into the cabin without a word and slammed the door behind me. I turned the two locks on the door.
“What the hell is going on? I heard someone burn out in a car?” Nicky asked as I stared at the door with my breath held.
I looked over at Nicky again. Unable to get another word out, my jaw aching like I had just had oral surgery. I was on the verge of tears myself. Not tears of sadness, but the kind you got when you were a little kid and just got too worked up.
Nicky might have actually looked worse than me. Long lines of tears ran from her eyes and all the way down to her bare chest which was barely concealed by a thin tank top. Her strong posture had been reduced to a tired slump and her blonde wig sat crooked on her head.
“Some scary shit has just been happening up here. So Goob and me were thinking about splitting for the night,” I explained, eyes still on the door. “I can give you a ride into town if you like.”
Fresh tears started to stream out of Nicky’s eyes.
“I can’t leave,” she said with a string of mucus running from her nose to her lips. “I’m hiding out,” Nicky choked out the second flourish of words.
Nicky and I sat down on the deflated couch in the room. She wiped her eyes and I suddenly started to care a little less about the monster that might be at the door.
“I applied to your dad’s job on Craigslist because I need somewhere to hide out for a little while. I was driving drunk up in Bellingham, crashed my car into a telephone pole and ran off so I wouldn’t get a DUI. The problem was, I didn’t think that the car was registered to my dealer boyfriend and the trunk was full of heroin. So now, I can go back to town and face either getting arrested by the cops and going to jail for years or face my boyfriend and probably getting the shit beat out of me. Either way I’m screwed. I figured if I hide out here for a while, at least I can prolong the inevitable.”
“You can come with me to my parents’ house.”
“He told me on the phone they live in Bellingham, so no.”
Nicky was right. She reached over and put a soft hand on my shoulder.
“Just stay here one night and we can figure it out in the morning. It’s probably just some townie high school kids messing with you.”
I looked out the living room window and saw nothing but darkness. Nicky’s grasp on my shoulder felt like a cool, damp towel on my shoulder, soothing my worries and putting me to sleep.
I eased back on the couch and looked over to Nicky. Her tears had stopped. I seemed to have the same affect on her that she had on me.
The pitter patter of rain began to fall on the small living room window in front of us. I felt Nicky’s hand slide down my shoulder just a little bit. Or maybe I just imagined it? Either way. I was staying in that cabin for as long as Nicky wanted.
Nicky instructed that I could sleep with her on the inflatable bed in the tiny bedroom in the back of the cabin. I tried to keep a polite distance as I laid there wide awake wondering if someone was staring at us through the window of the room, but failed as she seemed to slide her way backwards through the night until she was pressed up against me with my abs flexing as I tried to keep myself on the mattress without exposing the level of excitement she had instilled in my body.
It is very hard to gauge the passing of time when you are lying wide awake in a bed. Sometimes it seems like you blink and the clock goes from 2 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. It’s even harder when you don’t have a clock, or a phone to worry about.
The thought of my lost phone had been pushed out of my head by Nicky’s nearby body and the terror of what happened in the graveyard and the homestead with Goob, but it wouldn’t be gone for long.
I heard the muffled sound of my cell phone ring out from over in the corner of the room. It sounded like the speaker of the ringer was stuck up against something, giving it a bit of a silenced sound, but I could still hear it. I hoped it would not wake Nicky. I could still hear her lightly snoring next to me.
I slipped off of the mattress as stealthily as I could. I looked back at the bed once on my feet and Nicky didn’t stir. I tiptoed over to the corner where a buzz and soft chime came out of Nicky’s purse which rested on a wooden chair.
I dropped my hand into the purse, felt the familiar chalky smoothness of my cell phone case and pulled it out. I recognized my phone once it was out of the purse and walked into the kitchen at the far end of the cabin from the bedroom.
I answered the call without looking who it was and stared out the kitchen window at the woods outside.
“Son of a bitch Nathan,” I recognized my dad’s voice. “I’ve been trying to call you all day. I took off for Hawaii yesterday, but I gotta give you a heads up about something.”
“I got tangled up with this crazy woman yesterday on the phone. I put this ad out on Craigslist looking for an interior designer to design that place, but some insane woman called saying that she owned the place. Apparently this sea hag thinks the place is hers and the old owner I bought it from took it from her unfairly. I think she might be full of shit, but she said she was going to go up there. I just wanted to give you a head’s up in case she showed up. Just call the cops.”
“What did she say her name was?”
“Nicky, or something like that.”
I turned around and saw Nicky standing in the doorway which connected the kitchen and living room. She looked like an almost completely different woman. The blonde wig fully gone, her short black hair a matted mess, her skin no longer tanned and golden in the sun was a putrid shade of yellow.
My phone suddenly grew red hot in my hand and my ear. I dropped it and screamed in pain. I saw it sizzle and smoke on the floor.
“You don’t belong here,” Nicky screamed at me.
The entire cabin shook when Nicky ended her statement. I turned back to the window and saw three pale naked female figures standing in the clearing in front of the trees, their bodies shining in the moonlight.
Nicky started walking towards me. I put my hands up in surrender.
“Look, I don’t know what you think or what you want, but I don’t care about this place. It’s just some stupid place my dad bought and I’m only here because he paid me. I’ll leave right now.”
“Too late,” Nicky said with a smile.
I heard the glass of the window shatter behind me. I couldn’t even think of which way to run before I felt a rope slide around my neck. The rope pulled me backwards up over the sink of the kitchen and through the window with sharp shards of broken glass digging into my back.
I tried to fight, but it was no use. I struggled like a hooked fish on a line, helplessly flopping on their way up to the surface. I slapped and pulled at the noose around my neck, but I couldn’t get the thing to budge either, just felt it cinch tighter and tighter and tear at the skin of my neck.
My painful ride came to an end after about 30 seconds when I felt my back squish into the soft mud I recognized as the foundation of the graveyard.
“What the fuck?” I squeaked out.
I looked up and saw the three pale naked women stand over me. I felt a hot fire roaring behind my head. I tried to crane backwards and look at the fire, but couldn’t.
That dead stench which came off the face in the hoodie earlier was back. A thin broth of vomit tickled the back of my throat.
One of the women knelt down to my face. She took a pricked finger, dripping blood and drew a symbol on my forehead. A cross? A bull’s eye? An X? I wasn’t sure. I tried to reason with her but I was out of breath. I felt I would pass out very soon.
The woman who marked me placed her hand on the symbol she had drawn. I looked up and watched her cold, gray pupils roll back in her head.
I closed my eyes and felt the weight of the world rush to my head. It felt like the time I took a hard hit in junior football practice and woke up in the locker room with my pants full of ice.
I didn’t open my eyes in a chlorine-drenched locker room. I instead stood in that graveyard, watching a handful of women who resembled my captors, fully-clothed in gray housedresses, watching a bear of a man drop a wooden coffin covered in white roses, into the ground.
My head took another rush and I closed my eyes.
I awoke to the same setting, but a different cast this time. The conservative women in their drab colors were now clad in earthy tones and dangling jewelry. They formed a circle around a tiny coffin, not much larger than a shoebox. They chanted together in prayer in a language I had never heard.
The rush came back again.
This time, the graveyard was on fire. Those women, old, gray and long-haired stood at a distance, screaming at the fire.
Standing in the middle of the grave markers with a torch was a hard-looking man. Every inch of the man’s tall, but stout body seemed to be covered in rich stubble. Standing behind him with a pointed rifle was a sheriff.
“You have no right to be here. This property has not been paid for,” the hard man yelled at the women.
“You are to be off of the property within the hour,” the sheriff barked out. “If you comply, we will gladly extinguish these flames.”
I watched as the women started to walk away and then felt the head rush come back, but only halfway this time. It was like a sneeze which comes on, but then never comes out.
The smell of burning wood tickled my nose. I woke up again in the graveyard, but I was on my back, looking up at a plume of smoke dancing in front of the starry sky.
The noose was still around my neck. I sat up and saw the nearest grave marker, a sloppy cross, crackling with flames. At its base laid a pile of broken glass.
A bottle whipped by my head, grazed my ear. I watched it crash hard against a cement grave marker and light the grass around it afire.
Only one person called me “Nate.” Good old Goob.
I turned around to see Goob standing at the edge of the graveyard with his Bowie knife poised. The cluster of women circled him like a pack of hyenas.
I wriggled the noose around my neck. It loosened enough for me to pull it up and off.
“Help!” Goob cried out to me.
I spotted a dry branch the size of a baseball bat at my feet and grabbed it. I dipped its bristly end in the fire around the nearby gravestone until it grew into a usable torch.
I ran straight into the group of women with the torch in front of me. I felt it brush against a naked body. I heard a painful yelp ring out.
Goob and I met in a half sideways embrace in the grass before running for his Blazer which sat idling in the driveaway. We dove in, Goob saddled up in the driver’s seat and he put the pedal to the metal before he even shut the door.
It wasn’t easy, but I was able to get upright in my seat just before the driveway curved and the trees blocked the view of the property. I had just enough time to catch a glimpse of four female silhouettes standing in the yard in the light of the burning graveyard.
I tried to write down a description of exactly what happened to share with my dad, but I couldn’t come up with anything less than 5,000 words, or believable. Thankfully, Goob was able to inform my dad of what happened in an easier manner, and it seemed to be okay with my dad.
“All these crazy old bitches showed up and started fucking with us.”
Goob told my dad this at my dad’s kitchen table over whiskey and waters and a lot of deep breaths.
“What a bunch of rat fucks,” my dad said after another long exhale.
The situation really got to my dad. “Rat fucks.” was his harshest adjective, reserved for only his least favorite people (high school football players from the state of Washington with offers to play at the University of Washington, who chose to play elsewhere).
The drinks poured for hours and eventually Goob had to leave to go to a The Fabulous Thunderbirds concert, or a casino, or a combination of the two, leaving me and dad alone at his kitchen table, whiskey drunk and nostalgically angry.
I eventually loosened up to where I told my dad the entire story I just told you. He seemed to believe it, at least as far as I could tell, but maybe he was just really drunk.
“Son of a bitch. I can’t say they didn’t warn me,” my dad lamented the thing for about the fiftieth time that day.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
My dad just shook his head.
“Some men just can’t be warned,” my dad said and then kicked back in his wooden chair. “But I gotta confirm one thing with you about that story.”
“You were really saved by Goob?”
I bit my lip. Shook the ice in my glass.
“I know? Isn’t that the most unbelievable part?”