So, this was a weird week for me. You may recall how I mentioned in my story about the murderous marionette puppet known as Dankest May-May that I live near a public grade school. And when I said “near” I wasn’t underselling it either. The only thing between the school’s rear perimeter and my backyard is a narrow field that’s maybe twenty feet across. A few nights ago, I was awoken at 3 AM by a horrific noise coming from this school.
What I was hearing sounded like a cross between a wailing infant and a howling coyote. Still half-asleep, I forced myself from the warmth of my covers with the intention of tracking down and subsequently stabbing out the brain of whatever the source of this incessant howl-wailing (wail-howling? …howl-wailing) was and found myself on the back patio a moment later, staring at the neighboring grade school.
Apparently, someone had left a light on over there. No, that wasn’t right. The school had been inactive since summer break started. Someone had TURNED a light on over there. And as far as I could tell, this section of the school was where the sound was coming from.
I kept my eyes fixed on the glowing window looking into what appeared to be the cafeteria as I took out my phone and dialed 9-1-1. I told the operator about the school’s lights being on and then held up my phone for her to hear the sounds emanating from the building.
I was out waiting on the sidewalk in front of my place when the squad car rolled up a few minutes later. The two responding officers took one look at my disheveled hair and Golden Girls t-shirt and both of them narrowed their eyes at me in unison and because I know you’re not going to stop wondering about it if I don’t show it to you, THIS Golden Girls t-shirt…
Then they heard the howl-wailing for themselves and the mood quickly changed. One of the cops radioed that they were on-scene and leaving their vehicle to investigate “a possible ‘62’,” which the internet informs me is police radio code for a breaking-and-entering that is still in progress. The officers approached the school’s front entrance, which they seemed more than a little surprised to find unlocked.
The cops exchanged an uneasy glance and then started inside the building and because I was fairly certain they wouldn’t have been cool with me tagging along beyond this point, I returned to the back patio at my place so I could resume watching through the cafeteria window.
And that’s when I just about shat myself.
It took me a full three seconds of looking at that window before I spotted the thing now staring back at me. Though, in my defense, the section of the cafeteria’s lights that were on were also far enough from the window that all I could make out was a backlit silhouette leaning into view.
It looked too large to be a person and the shape of it didn’t make any sense. What I was seeing looked like the outline of a bear standing on its hind legs IF you replaced its head with the balloon part of a very tiny hot-air balloon…I told you it didn’t make any sense.
The wail-howling had ceased the moment it appeared to spot me and this ungodly silhouette began to pound on the window, using two malformed appendages with what looked like oven mitts on the end of them. The resulting commotion must have drawn the officers directly to the cafeteria. Just before they barged in a moment later, the silhouette crouched down out of sight of the window.
The cops didn’t appear to detect anything strange as they started across the cafeteria. I waved my arms at them, trying to get either officer’s attention, but they didn’t notice and I realized that, with the lights on in there, they wouldn’t be able to see me unless they were standing a lot closer to the window. One of the officers shrugged at the other and they continued to clear the room, their eyes nervously darting about as the two cops moved out of sight.
My whole body tensed up as I unconsciously braced myself for the sound of screaming and gunfire. But then, after a full ten minutes of only silence and no sign of the cops, I began to wonder if maybe they had simply left the cafeteria through a different exit. I made my way back out front to check if their squad car was still there. It was.
After another twenty minutes of me just standing there, chain-smoking cigarettes while I waited for the officers to emerge from the school, I decided to return to my back patio and check to see if the cafeteria light was still on. It was and it stayed that way for the rest of the night.
I know because I spent that whole time watching the illuminated window and hoping for some clue as to what was going on over there. The squad car was still parked out front at dawn when I last checked on it before finally heading inside and passing out. When I woke later that afternoon, the police vehicle was gone and the cafeteria window was dark.
In the cold light of what was left of that day, I started to feel like maybe I was just being paranoid. That I was exaggerating the previous night’s events in my memory and currently scaring the shit out of myself over nothing. And as it turned out, that’s exactly what I was doing, which is why I then wrote this story about the time that nothing happened.
…If you’re still here, congratulations. That was a test. You passed and we are now friends. Such good friends in fact that I feel I should level with you because I don’t want us to have any secrets. So, you know how I said I was scaring the shit out of myself over nothing just a second ago?
Well, I WASN’T.
That was a lie and I am sorry. The truth is I was scaring the shit out of myself over something that turned out to be, objectively speaking, completely worthy of shitting oneself over as you will soon see.
It was around 2 AM that next night when I tried to force myself to go to sleep but the all-day nap I took earlier had thrown my internal clock out of whack. I was laying there in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling above me as I ran through the events of the previous night in my head once more.
And just as before, I kept returning to the image of that strange backlit shape banging on the cafeteria window. I tossed the covers aside with a defeated groan and slowly pulled myself out of bed so I could start gearing up for the B&E I was about to commit. This would be a stealth mission and that called for full infiltration attire, which was essentially:
▪1 LED flashlight
▪1 hooded sweatshirt, color: black
▪1 pair of denim jeans, color: black
▪1 t-shirt tied around the face like a ninja mask, color: optional (I prefer black)
*to be consumed beforehand in case of arrest because the food in holding is terrible
I gave my outfit a cursory scan in the mirror and then started outside and quietly hopped the fence bordering my backyard. I crouched down as I landed on the other side and took a few moments to scan the narrow field between me and the school. The coast looked clear and I started to slowly crouch-walk toward the building.
The front entrance was still unlocked and I was careful not to let its hinges squeak as I slowly pulled the heavy double-door open just wide enough for me to slip inside. I proceeded down a wide moonlit hallway covered in Crayola self-portraits and bulletin-boards overflowing with ominous looking flyers for the school’s upcoming stage production of Charlotte’s Web.
Wanting to keep quiet, I maintained my cautious pace as I headed toward the set of red doors at the other end of the hall, correctly assuming that they led to the cafeteria. By the time I finally reached these doors and stepped inside, I was sure I had gone completely crazy. There was absolutely nothing about the school’s cafeteria that seemed out of the ordinary. I didn’t see a thing in there that shouldn’t have been.
I decided to risk it and switched on one of the banks of fluorescent lights lining the ceiling so I could get a better look around. I started across the room, just as I had watch the police do the previous night, and it wasn’t until I reached the kitchen at the far end of the cafeteria that I finally spotted something odd.
One corner of the kitchen had been sectioned off by yellow caution tape and as I got closer, I saw the reason why: a large misshapen (yet very familiar) silhouette had been seared into the tiled floor here, as if someone had taken a giant branding iron to it. I started toward this charred section of the floor, intending on examining it more thoroughly, when I noticed the faint glow emanating from an ajar doorway at the back of the kitchen.
I slowly approached the doorway and peeked my head inside what appeared to be a large storage area for dry goods. There was a table against one wall that had an open laptop sitting on it. This laptop was the source of the glow which had led me in here. A muted episode of Family Guy was playing on the screen.
There was something inherently creepy about a silent cartoon playing out in a dark pantry and my stomach began to churn from a wave of dread that almost sent me sprinting out of there, but then I noticed the folder beside the laptop.
I found the light-switch for the pantry on the wall just outside the door, which helped to alleviate some of my mounting dread. Then I started flipping through the folder, which was filled with an assortment of at-first-seemingly disconnected documents that eventually ended up telling a singular story once you had all of the pieces…
The first document was a Missing Person’s Report for a local man named Arthur “Arty” Douglas who had gone missing during a fishing trip 48 hours earlier. Arty and two friends had been out in the Gulf of Mexico, anchored about a mile from the coast.
According to the attached eye-witness statement, both of the men onboard with Arty claimed that a bright light seemingly appeared overhead and the next thing either of them could remember, 5 hours had passed and Arty was gone.
The next document was dated only two days prior and appeared to be a transcript of radio transmissions between a pilot and air-traffic control. In the transcript, the pilot is freaking out and claims to see a large wingless craft hovering roughly two hundred feet above the ground. The craft appears to be emitting a glowing beam light from its underside.
After this was a page describing orders to “confine and chaperon the package until agents of an appropriate clearance can arrive to assist with…”
And that was where the sound of footsteps crossing the kitchen’s tiled floor forced me to abruptly stop reading.
I shut the folder and quickly crouched down, sliding beneath the table just as the door to the dry goods pantry was yanked open. The footsteps started to grow closer and I had to clamp a hand over my mouth to keep myself quiet as a pair of legs clad in gray camo fatigues appeared in front of me.
The guy’s voice sounded surprisingly young and for a single terrifying moment, I thought he had spotted me hiding under the table and I was the fucking dumbass he was referring to but then he said,
“You left the vitals folder right next to the laptop, you retarded man-baby. You also left the door unlocked…AGAIN.”
The guy abruptly ceased speaking and I realized that he was talking to someone on the phone and had paused to listen to the man-baby’s response. After another beat, the guy shouted, “Because if they emailed it, any hacker with half a brain could gain access to the files. That’s the WHOLE point of us caring around the hard-copy.”
The guy’s legs disappeared from view as he started back across the pantry, his voice fading in volume as he said,
“What, you think brass hasn’t heard of the fuckin’ Internet?”
Until that moment, I had been too distracted by the laptop and then the folder and then my camo-clad mystery guest to pay much attention to the floor-to-ceiling mesh cage that took up one whole corner of the pantry. On first glance, I had simply assumed that was were the school stored their especially valuable dry goods. But now that I was beneath the table and at an angle where I could see through the mesh more clearly, I was able to glimpse the mangled abomination inside.
It had started out as a man; that much was clear just by looking at what remained of the poor bastard’s bloated face. It appeared as if someone had inflated large sections of his head and body until the skin stretched like a party balloon, becoming partially transparent in the process and revealing the cluster of fleshy tumors pulsating beneath. Basically, he looked like a radioactive version of the elephant man.
I assumed this was Arty from the Missing Person’s Report. There was a modified ball-gag covering the small oval port that used to be his mouth. I suddenly recalled the howl-wailing from last night and realized that sound had been him.
His eyes were still visible between the lumpy mass of tumors that his face had been reduced to and I could see that Arty was very clearly staring back at me. I waited until long after I could no longer hear footsteps outside the pantry before emerging from my hiding-spot beneath the table. I slowly stood and Arty, who was seated on a narrow cot, stood along with me.
I began to approach the cage, taking small cautious steps as I said, “I read that file. I’m assuming all of this is the result of what happened to you after you were taken off that boat.”
Arty slowly nodded and then lifted what was passing for his arms these days to show me that his wrists had been zip-tied together. He then nodded his malformed head at the cage door, which was padlocked shut but I noted that the key had also been left inside it.
“I’d like to help you. It’s just that I don’t know when that guy’s coming back or like…” I began to mutter before Arty cut me off by smacking his oven-mitt hands against the cage and emitting a muffled grunt.
His sudden movement had startled me and I pointed a chastising finger at Arty as I said, “Hey! …That is NOT helping.”
Arty grunted again but this time, the sound was a lot more pleading. I threw up my own hands and said, “Fine… But just so you know, as soon as I turn this key, I’m out of here.”
I was a man of my word, too. As soon as the padlock fell open, I turned and took off running until I was all the way across the cafeteria and began to prop open the large panel window facing my backyard. I vaulted through the opening and crash-landed in the overgrown field below and was scrambling to my feet when I heard movement behind me.
Arty was snaking his elongated form through the open window and dropped down beside me with a gelatinous wobble. Apparently, he was a bit more dexterous in his current state than he looked. We exchanged a desperate glance and I decided that I couldn’t lead this mutated stray back to my place.
I let out a sigh and waved for Arty to follow as I started toward the school’s rear parking lot, which was currently empty and crossing it would mean leaving us both exposed to anyone who happened to drive past, though we really didn’t have another choice. Arty and I actually managed to make it all the way across the lot and were heading toward the overpass for the London Ave Canal when I heard a familiar voice shout…
“The fuck is this shit?!”
I started sprinting toward the overpass, which was only a half a block from the school, just as two sets of footsteps began to chase after us. We had a good 30-foot lead on them, though, and managed to reach the overpass and drop down onto the small dirt shore lining the inside of the canal’s flood-wall perimeter while still out of sight of our pursuers.
We waited to hear them cross the overpass and then Arty and I started toward the next nearest bridge with me leading the way. I nodded toward the canal as we began and quietly muttered, “Careful. There’s gators in this mu’fucker.”
Arty glanced at the murky stretch of water to our left and something seemed to catch his eye, halting him in place. Realizing my escort was lagging behind, I stopped as well and turned to find Arty staring at his reflection in the water. And judging from his reaction, I assumed this had been the first time since his transformation that he had actually seen himself.
There was a jagged length of metal pipe jutting out from the canal. Arty entered the water and started wading over to it and before I realized what was happening, he head-butted the pipe, which punched through his tumor-ravaged face with a sickening wet hiss. His mangled body tensed for a beat and then went limp as the life finally drained from him.
For a long while after, I just stood there watching as Arty’s black fetid-smelling blood was pulled down stream by the current. The sound of approaching footsteps finally pulled me out of my daze and I glanced back to see two figures appear on the overpass behind me. They began to scan the canal with their flashlights and their beams soon found Arty’s limp body protruding from the water.
At this point, I started running, though it appeared that no one had bothered to chase me and I managed to make it back to my place “safe-and-sound” as the cliché goes. Though, despite how utterly drained I felt by then, I won’t pretend like I managed to get much sleep that night either.
A few days later at around 2 AM, I woke up feeling really thirsty. I headed into the kitchen, still only half-awake, which was why I didn’t even bother to turn the light on. I checked the fridge but was out of bottled water, so I grabbed a glass and started over to the sink.
That’s when I spotted the man standing outside my kitchen window. I froze in place, every muscle in my body locking up at the same time. The man nodded at me and in that moment, I suddenly became aware of two things:
1.) Even though I could only see his top half at the moment, this was in fact the guy I was hiding from in the pantry last night.
2.) Though part of this man’s job was to track down and eliminate potential security threats like myself, he was going to let me off with a warning this time because the man had pitied Arty and was secretly grateful I helped him end his suffering.
The image of Family Guy playing on the laptop in the pantry flashed through my mind’s eye and suddenly that whole situation made a lot more sense. The man had felt bad about leaving Arty locked away in a dark room and wanted to at least give him something to watch. As this occurred to me, the man at the window nodded and I realized that he was reading my mind, so I thought to myself…
Did you know I was hiding under that table last night?
The man replied with a slow grin and I very clearly heard the words…
He turned away from the window and nodded at another man in a parked car, who reached out to tap something on the seat beside him and then just like that, they were both gone and I was no longer even the least bit scared or thirsty. Just really tired. I shuffled back to my bedroom in an exhausted daze and for the first time that week, I actually managed to get a decent night’s sleep.