The Following is the transcript of an interview held by the Collier Police Department.
Police: This interview is being tape recorded. I am Officer [Redacted] of the Collier Police Department. Ma’am, would you please state your full name for the record?
SG: My name? I just told you-
Police: This is for the record, Ma’am. Please just state your full name.
SG: (Sighs) My name is Sarah Lindsay Gamble. What is the point of this? I told you, he’s dead! I just want to make sure his parents know, I don’t- I don’t want-
Police: Ma’am? Ma’am? Please, we just need a complete statement for the record. All you have told us so far is that he is dead, we need to know who he is, and what is your connection to him? Can you do that for me, ma’am?
SG: Please stop calling me Ma’am! You sound like one of my students. I’m an elementary school teacher. Fourth grade. Call me Sarah.
Police: OK, Sarah. Now, will you tell us the name of the deceased and explain your relationship to him?
SG: I- Yes. Yes. His name is- Is- His name was James Wagner. I’m his girlfriend. Well Fiance. We Live together. [Expletive deleted] It’s hard, you know? I guess I’m going to have to get used to referring to James in the past tense.
Police: It’s OK. Please, go on.
SG: We shared an apartment in Breckinridge. The address is [redacted]. For the record. It’s about two-hundred miles from here.
Police: And how long have you two been cohabiting? That is to say, how long-
SG: I know what cohabiting means, I’m a school teacher! Sorry. Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you, I’m just- Two years. We had been living together for two years. In August.
Police: OK, and what was the purpose of your visit to the town of Collier, Sarah?
SG: Look, I’m just- I really- Could I maybe have a cigarette? I quit last year but- I just really need a cigarette right now.
Police: I’m afraid this station is smoke free, Ms. Gamble.
SG: [Expletive deleted]. Sorry. It’s fine. It’s a bad habit anyway. Look, I’ll tell you everything, but I want to make something clear, all right?
SG: This statement, it’s not a confession, all right? I didn’t kill my boyfriend. This isn’t my fault. If I have any responsibility for his death it’s because I didn’t believe his story, I didn’t take him seriously. I shouldn’t have let him return to that- that [expletive deleted] terrible house in the woods, but how could I have known? How could anyone believe something like that?
Police: Ms. Gamble, Sarah? Would you prefer to make your statement in the presence of your attorney? You have that right, and any time you want to stop this interview for that purpose, it stops.
SG: I don’t have a- No, no sir. I don’t need a lawyer. There’s no point.
Police: Very well. Now, could you tell us what happened, starting from the beginning?
SG: OK. (Sighs) The story, or at least my part of the story, began two days ago at about… three-thirty in the morning. I awoke in the bed I shared with him feeling the need to urinate, and I got up, taking care not to wake him in the process. He had always been a light sleeper. Lately his insomnia had been acting up, so any sleep he could get, well, I wouldn’t want to interrupt that.
Police: Apart from insomnia, had you noticed any other changes in Mr. Wagner’s behavior or mental state?
SG: I’m his girlfriend. I’m closer to him than anyone else on Earth. Was. Was closer. Whatever. He’d always suffered from depression, or at least he had as long as I had known him. But like a lot of people who suffer from depression, he learned ways to cope with it. Sometimes, like if you didn’t know him like I knew him, you couldn’t even tell. He could be a fun guy, people liked him.
Police: If we could get back to the events in question…
SG: Hold on, dammit, I’m getting to it, I… I’m sorry. I know you’re just doing your job. I keep blowing up on you. That’s [expletive deleted].
Police: It’s OK Sarah. Go on. In your own words.
SG: All right. Can I get a glass of water? Throat’s dry.
Police: Sure. (intercom) Can I get a glass of water in here?
Voice: Sure [redacted], one sec.
SG: Thanks. (pause)(door opens) Thank you. (sips)(door closes)
Police: You were talking about Mr. Wagner’s mental state.
SG: Yeah. I was going to say, he had always been depressed, but over the past few weeks I had noticed a steep increase in his- in his symptoms.
Police: Do you believe he was suicidal in this time?
SG: No. Maybe. I’m not sure. But he was in a bad way. He couldn’t work, could barely leave the house. I had to force him to, sometimes. Most of the time he just sat there with a faraway look in his eyes. Like he was thinking about something, I guess.
The first thing I noticed was his nightmares. He denied ever having them, but you know, it wasn’t the sort of thing you could hide from the person who slept in the same bed with you night after night. He would thrash, he would moan, he would kind of talk in his sleep. Nothing I could make out. Usually he would wake up gasping.
Police: Did the two of you ever discuss his troubles?
SG: No. I tried to sit down with him and talk about things, but I never could get him to own up to anything. I guess he thought he could hide it from me, that I wouldn’t know. That it would pass and he would eventually return to his old self again. I guess I thought that too, for a while.
Police: What changed that?
SG: The uh- the night in question changed that. I guess. It was only by chance that I gained the insight I now have into his troubles. His plan was to just sort of… disappear from my life. That’s what I figured, when I found what he had left for me.
Police: What did he leave you?
SG: A note. Or a confession, maybe you would call it. I found it on the way back to bed. I had decided to grab a drink of water first, so I detoured into the kitchen. That’s where I noticed the stack of paper which had not been there when I had gone to bed. On the counter.
I might have gone to bed without giving it a second look, and perhaps that would have been better. I guess you never know how things might have turned out differently. You could drive yourself crazy thinking about the possibilities, you know? Would it have been better or worse being left to wonder what had become of him? (long pause)
It’s irrelevant, I suppose. What happened happened. Nothing is going to change that. I just wish I had stopped him, that’s all.
Police: What did the note say?
SG: He never spoke of his brother, really. He told me once that Joel had died, but he wouldn’t say anything else about it. In fact, he seldom spoke of his childhood at all. The story he detailed in that stack of papers provided the clearest glimpse I had ever had into his past.
In the story he talked about the woods he would explore as a child. He said he sort of coerced his brother into following him deeper into the woods. Deeper than he had gone before, I mean. He said they found a house in the woods and that while inside, a demon came up from the cellar and took poor Joel away. Said Joel… stared at him while the awful thing’s poisons ate away at him. As the thing carried him away. He said something about how the guilt was eating him alive, that he had to go back to that place and… I don’t know. Set things right? Or maybe he didn’t know why.
Police: Did you believe his story?
SG: No. Of course not. But I didn’t think he was making it up, either. Not exactly. Not intentionally, I guess is what I mean. It was clear, the way he had been acting, and the pain, the agony that shone through every line of that story it- it would have been… inconceivable that he would channel that sort of grief into a- a campfire story, you know?
Police: So what did you think?
SG: At first I didn’t know what to think. It scared the hell out of me, I can tell you that. But I couldn’t make sense of it. I sat there in the kitchen reading the story over and over again, until finally I thought I had it figured out. I played armchair psychiatrist and it… cost James his life. That’s what I believe. That’s what I know, now.
Joel, I decided, had simply gotten lost somewhere in those woods. Maybe he fled from the house, if indeed there even ever was a house, and fallen victim to a nasty fall or a wild animal. Something like that. James would have felt responsible for Joel’s death and over the span of twenty years or so, he externalized that guilt into a scapegoat, this demon. It’s the only thing that made sense to me.
Police: So what did you do?
SG: Well, I thought that if I somehow prevented him or forbade him from returning to the woods, that wouldn’t fix anything. You have to understand, he was a mess. I could see he was well on his way to a breakdown, and a bad one. I figured if he went to the house and confronted his fears, like he planned, he would see what really happened that day and he could move on from it. Like I said, armchair psychiatrist.
The only change I intended to make was that I would accompany him on this journey. I had to be there to catch him when he fell. So to speak.
Police: And how did you convince him to bring you along?
SG: (laughs, clears throat) I’m his girlfriend. I’m a woman. That’s what we do, we win arguments. I crept back in bed and waited, wide awake, for him to try to sneak out. I passed the time preparing all my gambits for the fight to come. In another hour James rose without the aid of an alarm and began the process of surreptitiously preparing for his departure. I confronted him, having never fallen back asleep, already dressed and ready to present my case.
Predictably, he was resistant to the idea of my tagging along, but his battle was lost before it began. He was doomed by his failure to creep out while I slumbered, really. I dug my heels in and budged not an inch. Finally he agreed to let me come along- under three conditions.
Police: And what were these conditions?
SG: One: If he told me to run, I must run immediately and without argument. Two: When it came time to enter the cellar, he would do so alone. Three: If he did not emerge from the cellar in the space of a half hour, I was to leave and presume him dead. I agreed to his terms but intended to follow my own instincts in the moment. Naturally.
Shortly thereafter we were on the road. James said little. He seemed lost in thought and deeply troubled. At first I took his expression to be one of sorrow or of introspection, but as the miles unrolled beneath us I realized the truth:
He was terrified.
I cannot imagine the will it would take a person to confront the source of decades of horror and grief, and to do so knowing no way to overcome that terrible thing. I couldn’t imagine it then, that strength of will, and less so now that I know the truth.
Police: Which is what, exactly?
SG: Please, officer, let me get there in my own way. This is- I know it’s important that you know what happened, all the details. But I want to forget, and this is hard for me. Telling the story again, reliving… (sob)
Police: Do you need to take a break?
SG: No. (sniffs) No thank you. I just need to- just need to tell it. Have it done with. Then you’re going to tell his mother, right?
Police: Right. In your own time, Sarah, please.
SG: (sniffs) We arrived at our destination just short of eleven-thirty in the morning. Collier. Here. He grew up here. That’s what he said. His family, they left somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago. Probably closer to twenty. They didn’t want to stick around after- after Joel. You know? We stopped at that gas station, Cathy’s, when we got into town. Ate a slice of pizza, had a bottle of water. Just a bite before heading into the woods. I figured at that point the woods would be leveled. They weren’t.
Police: Where are these woods located?
SG: I didn’t get a really good idea of the geography coming through. We came in on the north side, by way of- I think it’s highway 75?
Police: That’s right.
SG: Right so we crossed through town until we got to… 11th Lane. That’s the street he lived on. The house he grew up in wasn’t there any more. Just an empty, weedy lot. Maybe it burned down, or maybe got torn down. There was a bit of foundation there, that was it. The driveway was sort of overgrown, but it was still there. That’s where we parked. There’s some other houses on the street, but they were sort of far away. The lot was bordered on every side by fields. Farmland. I guess you would know, you live here.
Police: Right, and the woods?
SG: Still there. I could see them from the lot, a long field away. We stood there for a minute, staring across the way. He told me he used to call that forest The Field because of the field you had to cross to reach it. He didn’t say much else. After a while he started walking, and I had to follow him. But I’ll tell you something, something that made no sense to me at the time.
Police: What is that?
SG: I hated those woods. I never felt that way about a place before in my entire life. They were a quarter mile away and I felt at that moment I had no business taking one step closer. But I did. I promised I would help James through this thing, and I meant to keep my promise.
James’ story spoke of a sort of turning point, a place where he and Joel could have fled and maybe everything still could have been OK. I think that moment was my turning point. If I would have listened to my instinct and just- just dragged James kicking and screaming back home, done the thing I should have done in the first place and gotten him to therapy, I guess he would still be here. That’s what I believe.
Instead I followed him. We walked across the field in silence, under the blazing sun. It’s funny. Well, not funny, but- well you know. I told myself that nothing that bad could happen in the middle of the day. Even in James’ story, nothing bad happened until after the sun went down. That wouldn’t happen for hours. I was still scared, but in some sort of superstitious and utterly unspoken way, I felt like I was safe under the sun. Isn’t that stupid?
Police: It isn’t stupid at all. We- mankind has felt that way since the beginning of time. It’s not stupid.
SG: Thanks. So eventually we reached the end of the field and sort of followed the treeline for a ways. He stopped at a spot that looked at first more or less like any other spot to me, but he said it was the entrance. It had just grown over a bit. So we trudged through the thick weeds and I prayed I wouldn’t step on a rattlesnake or something. Some kind of snake. I didn’t though, and it wasn’t long before we reached the edge of the creek.
The weeds were thinner the shade of the trees. It was a sort of steep drop, and being the later part of summer, that creek was bone dry. Standing on the edge, James pointed off to the left, where I saw the rusted remains of a car. The grime was so thick on the windows you couldn’t see inside at all.
He told me that in all the times he had explored these woods, he never had the courage to look inside. He was sure he would find a dead body. He figured, much as I did, that the car had just broken down for the last time at some point and its owner had simply abandoned it there.
Police: Can you identify the make and model of the car?
SG: No. I think it was a Chrysler, but I wouldn’t swear to that. I guess you’ll see it when you guys go down there. It’s the only dumped car I saw along the way.
So as I was saying, we stood there at the edge for a second, looking down and thinking about the drop. I was going to suggest we find an easier way down, but James just sort of scrambled down the slope, stumbled over a rock, and jumped back to his feet no worse for wear. I was scared, but he just sort of helped me down holding onto my feet and I made it without breaking my neck or even busting my ass.
Police: And did you find the house?
SG: Eventually. I don’t think it was very far as the crow flies, but the riverbed was full of twists and turns, and seemed to be made up entirely of huge, slick, moss-covered rocks; and deep, shoe-stealing mud pits. And mosquitoes. God there were so many mosquitoes. I must be covered in bites. My own fault, I guess, for not bringing any bug spray.
I guess all in all it took two hours or so to reach the house. Still only mid-afternoon, so that was OK. Another grueling scramble up the riverbank, and we were standing in the yard. It might have been three o’clock.
Police: Could you describe the house?
SG: Sure. It was two stories tall, sort of a grayish no-color that may have decades ago been white. It was ugly, blocky, one step above clapboard, really. Kind of big, not too big. Bigger than you would think, I guess you might say. It had a front porch that was saggy but not collapsed, and the windows still had glass in them, which I considered to be a minor miracle. It looked old, but it wasn’t falling apart. Not really.
You could tell no one was taking care of it. The door was hanging off its hinges, which I remembered from James’ story. It fell off the hinges when they tried to open it. We stood there for several minutes, I guess waiting for James to summon the courage to step inside. Staring up at the house, I believed irrationally though wholeheartedly, that the house was the source of my fear of those tainted woods. That it sort of… radiated some kind of malice. I thought it was irrational then. I don’t now.
Police: Did you go into the house?
SG: Yeah. Finally James said something like it’s still here. I think that’s what he said. He was sort of saying it to himself. I got the impression he forgot I was there. He didn’t look OK. His skin looked sort of gray, like the house. He was sweating, but it didn’t seem like it was from the heat. He sort of… jerked forward. Like he had to force himself to start moving. I followed him.
Police: Did it seem like the house was occupied?
SG: No. Not at all. It was exactly as he described in his story. There was some nasty old furniture, a stove, stuff like that. Other than that, it was empty. In fact, and this to me was the damnedest thing: It didn’t even seem like animals had been in there. I didn’t even see any spider webs. Can you believe that?
Police: Old abandoned house, open to the elements? Not hardly. I’d expect spider webs, mud dauber nests, mice, you name it.
SG: There was nothing like that, nothing at all! Oh it was old, yeah. It was dirty. The ceiling sagged and the couch was rotting, but as for signs of life? Me and James. That’s it, and I would have staked my life on it. And I think I knew why, because I felt it ringing out in every nerve in my body: We shouldn’t have been there. Nothing should have. Animals felt it and they stayed far the [expletive deleted] away. I think I was crying the entire time we were in there. An empty house, middle of the day, no one there but me and my boyfriend, and I was terrified.
James walked straight into the kitchen and crouched down, looking at something. I followed him in there so I could see.
Police: What was it?
SG: The cellar door. That was where he said the demon took his brother. I thought of him going down there, leaving me alone… I begged him not to do it. I begged him to take me home, forget about all of this. I wasn’t playing armchair psychiatrist any more. I didn’t care a bit about confronting fears or anything like that. I wanted to run away. But I couldn’t leave him behind, I- I wouldn’t.
He didn’t listen, of course. He wouldn’t even answer me. He just told me to stand back, and he repeated his command to leave if he was gone for more than half an hour. He had his hands on the knotted bit of rope that served for a handle and he glared at me until I stepped far back into the living room.
When I was finally far enough away for him, he took a deep breath, lifted the door, and descended. He closed the door behind him and it slammed shut. It sounded so… final. For the next several minutes, I just sat there, sobbing and staring into the kitchen. I guess I was still holding out hope that the only thing he’d find down there was some old dusty mason jars or some firewood from fifty years ago. Maybe then he would understand that his brother’s death wasn’t his fault and we could go home.
Police: What happened?
SG: At first? Nothing. He didn’t run out of there, I didn’t hear any screams, no- no bat out of hell came flying out of there. Nothing. I just sat there with my sobs slowly tapering off. I could hear the cicadas outside, making that weird call of theirs. I guess after a while I decided I was just letting my imagination run wild with me, that James was just sitting down there in the dirt coming to terms with things, and he’d be out any moment.
Well, he didn’t. I guess I sat there for about thirty minutes, just sort of chewing my fingernails and waiting for something to happen. When nothing kept happening I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to stretch my legs and have a look around. That’s what I told myself I was doing, but it wasn’t true.
Police: (Chair shifts) So what were you doing?
SG: I was looking for the book. That was a detail from James’ story that my mind just kept… coming back to. I guess I didn’t mention it before.
Police: How does a book tie into this?
SG: James found it in the upstairs bedroom. It was the only thing in the house that stood out to him. He was going to take it for a souvenir, but he had no more than laid his hand on it when he heard the cellar door open. The story made no more mention of it, so I assumed it was still there. I guess I was just curious, I wanted to know what it had to say. Assuming it said anything.
Police: Did you find it?
SG: (long silence) Yeah. Yeah I found it. Listen, Officer, Officer?
SG: Officer [Redacted], sure. You’ve been, well I’m not sure kind is the right word, but you’ve been decent enough to listen to what I have to say. I know when I got here I was kind of a mess, screaming and… well I don’t really remember too well. I’m sure you have to think that I went nuts, that I killed James, and you’re just waiting for me to tell you how I did it. I know there’s no way you’ll be able to believe what I’m about to tell you, and I just want you to know that’s OK. I’ve got to tell someone.
Police: I tell you what, Sarah. Just tell your story and I’ll figure out what I think from there.
SG: (ragged breath) OK. Right. So I started climbing up the stairs, and that’s when I saw them. The footprints, I mean. James said that wherever the demon stepped, he would leave charred footprints on the wood. The dust on the floor was so thick, I almost couldn’t see them, but they were there. Black marks. Shaped- shaped like some kind of foot. Not a human foot. And they were big.
The top floor was nothing more than a landing and the bedroom, and I could see it was just as James had said. There was a closet next to the doorway, that must have been where James had hidden. Straight across from the doorway was the wardrobe. It’s door had been ripped off and thrown to the side. That’s where Joel was hiding when the thing found him. The book was on a table next to the bed, and I noticed it was the only thing in the house that wasn’t coated with an inch-thick layer of dust.
I reached out to the book, but I hesitated. James didn’t come right out and say so, but it seemed like touching the book had sort of… triggered the thing’s arrival. I could be doing the same thing. I agonized over it for a couple of minutes, but in the end I just wasn’t far enough over the deep end to really believe that could be true. So I picked up the book.
SG: Well, I didn’t hear anything. No trapdoor slamming open, no unearthly scream, no… clap of thunder, like in a cheap horror film. Nothing. Still, I almost dropped the book straight away. It felt- disgusting. It felt like I was holding a dead animal or something. It made me feel unclean. I set it back on the table, but I didn’t leave it alone. I started looking through it.
Police: What did it say?
SG: At first? It was just a journal. I guess it belonged to the original owner. He and his family lived here in the mid-sixties. Not exactly pioneer days, but they were living rough. Small farm patch, they raised chickens, couple of goats. He said he used to work at a factory in town, but he had a dream. He dreamed he was supposed to build this house in this spot and live there with his family. Said an angel showed him the place.
The next several pages, I just sort of skimmed over. It was all a lot of day to day descriptions of their life in the old house. The farming, raising the kids, that sort of thing. They were very religious, and I got the impression he was waiting for another sign from God. Well, he got it, or at least he thought he did.
Police: How so?
SG: His wife wanted a root cellar so they could keep preserves, you know, so he set about digging her one. Well, he got it just about as deep as he wanted it, when he struck stone. Masonry. There was a stone floor under the house, you see? A man-made structure. That night he had another dream.
In this dream, the angel told him God had for him a test of faith. First he would have to completely uncover the slab, clear it of dirt. After that the angel instructed him to make a sacrifice of all his livestock. He was to take the blood of the goats and the chickens, and with it draw on the stone floor a certain symbol, which the angel would reveal unto him. The angel told him that if his faith was true and if he followed God’s commandment, then the lord would bless his family forevermore with good health, love, and plenty. I’m quoting a lot here.
Police: Did he do it?
SG: Yes, he did. But if the Lord blessed him, he made no mention of it in his journals. The next entry was his final entry. It seems that after he painted the symbol on the floor he was visited by the angel one last time, in a vision more powerful than any that came before it. The angel told him to gather his family together at dusk and lead them into the cellar, where the Lord would shine down his countenance and bestow upon them his blessing. That’s more or less what it said.
Police: And there was nothing else in the journal after that?
SG: Not quite. On the last page was- I think it was the symbol. It was a circle with a circle within it. The inner circle was crisscrossed with lines and bordered with little runes or letters or something. I stared at it and all of a sudden my vision went red. I passed out.
Police: You fainted? How long were you out?
SG: A while. A long while. When I came to… the sun was setting. It must have been hours. Immediately I went into a panic. Because of James, you know? He was still down there. I left the book behind and scrambled down the stairs, fishing the flashlight out of my bag as I went. I was lucky I didn’t bust through the stairs, break my neck. I guess I was lucky for that.
I ran straight for the trap door and threw it open before my brain could catch up and try to stop me. I hit the bottom of the stairs and finally I took a breath. That’s when the smell hit me. Nothing could have prepared me for it. That reek, that unclean, open grave, maggot writhing, feculent stench. It was the stench of The Pit, and at the bottom of those steps I reeled, retching, at the gates of hell.
Police: Did you find James?
SG: (long pause) Yes. And he was still alive then. They wanted me to watch, you see?
Police: Who did?
SG: There were so many of them. Dozens. Huge, emaciated, ragged, corpse-like things. They weren’t all just like the one James described, but they all swarmed with that dreadful black miasma, that swirling caustic vapor that ate Joel alive. And they weren’t human, were never human. The room was illuminated by this terrible swamp light, it came from them somehow. They were staring, staring at me. Waiting.
Police: You’re saying… you’re telling me the basement was full of-
SG: Demons. Or if they weren’t demons exactly, they were something so close as to make the distinction irrelevant. And James, he was in the center of them all, pegged to the floor and stripped naked. It looked like some kind of sick parody of Christ. Pierced through the hands and feet, you know? Stakes. Right in the center of that symbol. His face, his skin was burned all over, he was bleeding from a dozen places, but- but- (sobs)
Police: It’s OK, Sarah, you don’t have to-
SG: He was aware! He could see me! He- he- knew what was happening. I think he was trying to scream at me, tell me to run away, but- but they had taken his tongue. Pulled out his teeth. They must have spent hours tormenting him while I… just sat up there. Waiting for him to come out. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t run away. I was just like a frightened animal, it was all to big to- to process.
Finally, as if by some unheard signal those damned things, they converged on James. I listened to him scream and scream until- I guess my mind finally sort of snapped. I don’t remember anything until yesterday, when you found me wandering the streets. That’s the whole story, I guess.
Police: (long pause) Sarah. Let’s say these… demons were real. Assuming that is possible. Have you considered the question of why they would let you leave? Why didn’t they take you too?
SG: At first, I couldn’t figure that out either. It didn’t make sense to me. Until I found this in my pocket. (sound of paper unfolding)
Police: Is that the-
SG: Symbol. Yes. I must have taken it from the journal before I left. When I looked at it, I knew. The understanding, it just sort of… came into me. Those things down there, they were still tethered to the stone, to the house. So they needed me to bring this to you, you had to witness the symbol. Not you exactly, just someone away from the house. Someone in a populated area. They needed a witness, and- (Cries out)(sobs)
You have to understand, officer, I didn’t want this! I just wanted to- he- I- I’ve got to do this! They needed a witness, and- and a sacrifice! I’ve got to-
Police: What do you mean a sac- What is that you- She has a razor! She hid a razor in her hair- Sarah! No! Don’t! (sound of a struggle)(recording device hits the floor) [Redacted]! Call an ambulance she just slit her own-
(Loud rumbling, unidentified sounds, shouts, screams)