A couple of months ago, my friend’s cousin (a single mother) bought a new cell phone. After a long day of work, she came home, placed her phone on the counter, and went watch to TV; her son came to her and asked if he could play with her new phone. She told him not to call anyone or mess with text messages, and he agreed.
At around 11:20, she was drowsy, so she decided to tuck her son in and go to bed. She walked to his room and saw that he wasn’t there. She then ran over to her room to find him sleeping on her bed with the phone in his hand.
Relieved, she picked her phone back up from his hand to inspect it. Browsing through it, she noticed only minor changes such as a new background, banner, etc., but then she opened up her saved pictures. She began deleting the pictures he had taken, until only one new picture remained.
When she first saw it, she was in disbelief. It was her son sleeping on her bed, but the picture was taken by someone else above him… and it showed the left half of an elderly woman’s face.
Caution:This is a true story. Read at your own risk.
My nightmare started like this.
I was driving my car on a deserted street in some little beach town. It was the middle of the night. A storm was blowing. Wind and rain ripped at the palm trees along the sidewalk. Pink and Yellow stucco buildings lined the street, their windows boarded up. A block away, past a line of hibiscus bushes, the ocean churned.
Seeing a strange deserted house made me obsessed to explore it. My senses told me not to enter,but I overcame my fears and drove to its drive-way not knowing what the house comprised of, there was a haunting atmosphere. I was curious to know what’s inside the house so I got out of my car. The gravel path crunched under my boots, I went up the stair case and through the portal like doorway, It felt like I was in another but horrifying dimension. As I proceeded, I heared strange noises. I saw writings on the walls and even heard childrens laughter and footsteps through out the living room. Doors were slamming shut by themselves and even the music player which I thought hadn’t been played for years was playing a strange horrifying music.The house was haunted as I deduced; I saw webs all over the place and even saw shadows moving.
The wall’s natural colour was grey, I deduced, but now It was red, covered with blood. The house was very dark and gloomy. The furniture was covered with white cloth but now the white colour had become yellow with age. The carpets had dirt and blood stains on, The curtains were drawn and had gaps in them, the moonlight had managed to peek through the ratty curtains. As I saw a shadow come near me, I tried to swallow, but my mouth seemed drier than the Nevada desert. The shadow came even closer, as I saw it touch me, I closed my eyes with dread and fright, as I managed to open my eyes, I saw the worst sight of my life, The shadow was so close I could feel and hear it breathing, it breath was stinking, I held my breath as long i could, as a dog barked outside the house, The shadow rippled and vanished, as it went it touched my forehead and I fainted, the last thing I saw was, DIE, written on the wall. When I woke up I was on the floor and had blood on my face.
I heard screams and saw monsters, after a while a moster came running towards me.I sat bolt upright shivering in my bed. There was NO STORM, NO MONSTERS. Morning sunlight filtered through my bedroom window.
I thought I saw a shadow a flicker across the glass – a humanlike shape. But then there was a knock on my bedroom door. A fifth-storey window with a rickety old fire escape… there couldn’t have been anyone out there.
My door knocked again and the familliar rippling of a shadow startled me…..
The Knock became a bang and suddenly my bedroom door was crushed into pieces and I could see the same monster infront of me. It rushed towards me and he looked at me for a while and then held me up. In no time he squezed me and I was no longer alive.
What if you were there? What if you saw a strange deserted house? What would you do? Because I Think Your Next.
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The Veldt, a short story by Ray Bradbury
“George, I wish you’d look at the nursery.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just want you to look at it, is all, or call a psychologist in to
look at it.”
“What would a psychologist want with a nursery?”
“You know very well what he’d want.” His wife paused in the middle of
the kitchen and watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for
“It’s just that the nursery is different now than it was.”
“All right, let’s have a look.”
They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which
had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed
and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
Their approach sensitized a switch somewhere and the nursery light flicked
on when they came within ten feet of it. Similarly, behind them, in the
halls, lights went on and off as they left them behind, with a soft
“Well,” said George Hadley.
They stood on the thatched floor of the nursery. It was forty feet
across by forty feet long and thirty feet high; it had cost half again as
much as the rest of the house. “But nothing’s too good for our children,”
George had said.
The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high
noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia
Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede
into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt
appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the
final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with
a hot yellow sun.
George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.
“Let’s get out of this sun,” he said. “This is a little too real. But I
don’t see anything wrong.”
“Wait a moment, you’ll see,” said his wife.
Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at
the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of
lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty
smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And
now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery
rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky. The shadow flickered
on George Hadley’s upturned, sweating face.
“Filthy creatures,” he heard his wife say.
If you liked this, you might want to try…
“You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they’re on their
way to the water hole. They’ve just been eating,” said Lydia. “I don’t know
“Some animal.” George Hadley put his hand up to shield off the burning
light from his squinted eyes. “A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe.”
“Are you sure?” His wife sounded peculiarly tense.
“No, it’s a little late to be sure,” be said, amused. “Nothing over
there I can see but cleaned bone, and the vultures dropping for what’s
“Did you bear that scream?” she asked.
“About a minute ago?”
The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with
admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle
of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one.
Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they
startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone,
not only your own son and daughter, but for yourself when you felt like a
quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery. Well, here it was!
And here were the lions now, fifteen feet away, so real, so feverishly
and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and
your mouth was stuffed with the dusty upholstery smell of their heated
pelts, and the yellow of them was in your eyes like the yellow of an
exquisite French tapestry, the yellows of lions and summer grass, and the
sound of the matted lion lungs exhaling on the silent noontide, and the
smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.
The lions stood looking at George and Lydia Hadley with terrible
“Watch out!” screamed Lydia.
The lions came running at them.
Lydia bolted and ran. Instinctively, George sprang after her. Outside,
in the hall, with the door slammed he was laughing and she was crying, and
they both stood appalled at the other’s reaction.
“Lydia! Oh, my dear poor sweet Lydia!”
“They almost got us!”
“Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal walls, that’s all they are. Oh, they
look real, I must admit – Africa in your parlor – but it’s all dimensional,
superreactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind
glass screens. It’s all odorophonics and sonics, Lydia. Here’s my
“I’m afraid.” She came to him and put her body against him and cried
steadily. “Did you see? Did you feel? It’s too real.”
“You’ve got to tell Wendy and Peter not to read any more on Africa.”
“Of course – of course.” He patted her.
“And lock the nursery for a few days until I get my nerves settled.”
“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a
month ago by locking the nursery for even a few hours – the tantrum be
threw! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery.”
“It’s got to be locked, that’s all there is to it.”
“All right.” Reluctantly he locked the huge door. “You’ve been working
too hard. You need a rest.”
“I don’t know – I don’t know,” she said, blowing her nose, sitting down
in a chair that immediately began to rock and comfort her. “Maybe I don’t
have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much. Why don’t we shut
the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?”
“You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“And dam my socks?”
“Yes.” A frantic, watery-eyed nodding.
“And sweep the house?”
“Yes, yes – oh, yes!”
“But I thought that’s why we bought this house, so we wouldn’t have to
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and
mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a
bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub
bath can? I cannot. And it isn’t just me. It’s you. You’ve been awfully
“I suppose I have been smoking too much.”
“You look as if you didn’t know what to do with yourself in this house,
either. You smoke a little more every morning and drink a little more every
afternoon and need a little more sedative every night. You’re beginning to
feel unnecessary too.”
“Am I?” He paused and tried to feel into himself to see what was really
“Oh, George!” She looked beyond him, at the nursery door. “Those lions
can’t get out of there, can they?”
He looked at the door and saw it tremble as if something had jumped
against it from the other side.
“Of course not,” he said.
At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic
carnival across town and bad televised home to say they’d be late, to go
ahead eating. So George Hadley, bemused, sat watching the dining-room table
produce warm dishes of food from its mechanical interior.
“We forgot the ketchup,” he said.
“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.
As for the nursery, thought George Hadley, it won’t hurt for the
children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything isn’t good for
anyone. And it was clearly indicated that the children had been spending a
little too much time on Africa. That sun. He could feel it on his neck,
still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how
the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and
created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and
there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun –
sun. Giraffes – giraffes. Death and death.
That last. He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table bad cut for
him. Death thoughts. They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death
thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew
what death was you were wishing it on someone else. When you were two years
old you were shooting people with cap pistols.
But this – the long, hot African veldt-the awful death in the jaws of a
lion. And repeated again and again.
“Where are you going?”
He didn’t answer Lydia. Preoccupied, be let the lights glow softly on
ahead of him, extinguish behind him as he padded to the nursery door. He
listened against it. Far away, a lion roared.
He unlocked the door and opened it. Just before he stepped inside, he
heard a faraway scream. And then another roar from the lions, which subsided
He stepped into Africa. How many times in the last year had he opened
this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock Turtle, or Aladdin and his
Magical Lamp, or Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, or Dr. Doolittle, or the cow
jumping over a very real-appearing moon-all the delightful contraptions of a
make-believe world. How often had he seen Pegasus flying in the sky ceiling,
or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now,
is yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia
was right. Perhaps they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was
growing a bit too real for ten-year-old children. It was all right to
exercise one’s mind with gymnastic fantasies, but when the lively child mind
settled on one pattern… ? It seemed that, at a distance, for the past
month, he had heard lions roaring, and smelled their strong odor seeping as
far away as his study door. But, being busy, he had paid it no attention.
George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up
from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open
door through which he could see his wife, far down the dark hall, like a
framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.
“Go away,” he said to the lions.
They did not go.
He knew the principle of the room exactly. You sent out your thoughts.
Whatever you thought would appear. “Let’s have Aladdin and his lamp,” he
snapped. The veldtland remained; the lions remained.
“Come on, room! I demand Aladin!” he said.
Nothing happened. The lions mumbled in their baked pelts.
He went back to dinner. “The fool room’s out of order,” he said. “It
“Or it can’t respond,” said Lydia, “because the children have thought
about Africa and lions and killing so many days that the room’s in a rut.”
“Or Peter’s set it to remain that way.”
“He may have got into the machinery and fixed something.”
“Peter doesn’t know machinery.”
“He’s a wise one for ten. That I.Q. of his -“
“Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad.”
The Hadleys turned. Wendy and Peter were coming in the front door,
cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles, a smell
of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.
“You’re just in time for supper,” said both parents.
“We’re full of strawberry ice cream and hot dogs,” said the children,
holding hands. “But we’ll sit and watch.”
“Yes, come tell us about the nursery,” said George Hadley.
The brother and sister blinked at him and then at each other.
“All about Africa and everything,” said the father with false
“I don’t understand,” said Peter.
“Your mother and I were just traveling through Africa with rod and
reel; Tom Swift and his Electric Lion,” said George Hadley.
“There’s no Africa in the nursery,” said Peter simply.
“Oh, come now, Peter. We know better.”
“I don’t remember any Africa,” said Peter to Wendy. “Do you?”
“Run see and come tell.”
“Wendy, come back here!” said George Hadley, but she was gone. The
house lights followed her like a flock of fireflies. Too late, he realized
he had forgotten to lock the nursery door after his last inspection.
“Wendy’ll look and come tell us,” said Peter.
“She doesn’t have to tell me. I’ve seen it.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken, Father.”
“I’m not, Peter. Come along now.”
But Wendy was back. “It’s not Africa,” she said breathlessly.
“We’ll see about this,” said George Hadley, and they all walked down
the hall together and opened the nursery door.
There was a green, lovely forest, a lovely river, a purple mountain,
high voices singing, and Rima, lovely and mysterious, lurking in the trees
with colorful flights of butterflies, like animated bouquets, lingering in
her long hair. The African veldtland was gone. The lions were gone. Only
Rima was here now, singing a song so beautiful that it brought tears to your
George Hadley looked in at the changed scene. “Go to bed,” he said to
They opened their mouths.
“You heard me,” he said.
They went off to the air closet, where a wind sucked them like brown
leaves up the flue to their slumber rooms.
George Hadley walked through the singing glade and picked up something
that lay in the comer near where the lions had been. He walked slowly back
to his wife.
“What is that?” she asked.
“An old wallet of mine,” he said.
He showed it to her. The smell of hot grass was on it and the smell of
a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it bad been chewed, and there were
blood smears on both sides.
He closed the nursery door and locked it, tight.
In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew his wife was
awake. “Do you think Wendy changed it?” she said at last, in the dark room.
“Made it from a veldt into a forest and put Rima there instead of
“I don’t know. But it’s staying locked until I find out.”
“How did your wallet get there?”
“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be
sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all,
a room like that -“
“It’s supposed to help them work off their neuroses in a healthful
“I’m starting to wonder.” He stared at the ceiling.
“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our
“Who was it said, ‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on
occasionally’? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable – let’s admit
it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring.
They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.”
“They’ve been acting funny ever since you forbade them to take the
rocket to New York a few months ago.”
“They’re not old enough to do that alone, I explained.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve noticed they’ve been decidedly cool toward us
“I think I’ll have David McClean come tomorrow morning to have a look
“But it’s not Africa now, it’s Green Mansions country and Rima.”
“I have a feeling it’ll be Africa again before then.”
A moment later they heard the screams.
Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs. And then a roar of
“Wendy and Peter aren’t in their rooms,” said his wife.
He lay in his bed with his beating heart. “No,” he said. “They’ve
broken into the nursery.”
“Those screams – they sound familiar.”
And although their beds tried very bard, the two adults couldn’t be
rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.
“Father?” said Peter.
Peter looked at his shoes. He never looked at his father any more, nor
at his mother. “You aren’t going to lock up the nursery for good, are you?”
“That all depends.”
“On what?” snapped Peter.
“On you and your sister. If you intersperse this Africa with a little
variety – oh, Sweden perhaps, or Denmark or China -“
“I thought we were free to play as we wished.”
“You are, within reasonable bounds.”
“What’s wrong with Africa, Father?”
“Oh, so now you admit you have been conjuring up Africa, do you?”
“I wouldn’t want the nursery locked up,” said Peter coldly. “Ever.”
“Matter of fact, we’re thinking of turning the whole house off for
about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence.”
“That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of
letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and comb my hair and
give myself a bath?”
“It would be fun for a change, don’t you think?”
“No, it would be horrid. I didn’t like it when you took out the picture
painter last month.”
“That’s because I wanted you to learn to paint all by yourself, son.”
“I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else
is there to do?”
“All right, go play in Africa.”
“Will you shut off the house sometime soon?”
“We’re considering it.”
“I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father.”
“I won’t have any threats from my son!”
“Very well.” And Peter strolled off to the nursery.
“Am I on time?” said David McClean.
“Breakfast?” asked George Hadley.
“Thanks, had some. What’s the trouble?”
“David, you’re a psychologist.”
“I should hope so.”
“Well, then, have a look at our nursery. You saw it a year ago when you
dropped by; did you notice anything peculiar about it then?”
“Can’t say I did; the usual violences, a tendency toward a slight
paranoia here or there, usual in children because they feel persecuted by
parents constantly, but, oh, really nothing.”
They walked down the ball. “I locked the nursery up,” explained the
father, “and the children broke back into it during the night. I let them
stay so they could form the patterns for you to see.”
There was a terrible screaming from the nursery.
“There it is,” said George Hadley. “See what you make of it.”
They walked in on the children without rapping.
The screams had faded. The lions were feeding.
“Run outside a moment, children,” said George Hadley. “No, don’t change
the mental combination. Leave the walls as they are. Get!”
With the children gone, the two men stood studying the lions clustered
at a distance, eating with great relish whatever it was they had caught.
“I wish I knew what it was,” said George Hadley. “Sometimes I can
almost see. Do you think if I brought high-powered binoculars here and -“
David McClean laughed dryly. “Hardly.” He turned to study all four
walls. “How long has this been going on?”
“A little over a month.”
“It certainly doesn’t feel good.”
“I want facts, not feelings.”
“My dear George, a psychologist never saw a fact in his life. He only
hears about feelings; vague things. This doesn’t feel good, I tell you.
Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad. This is
very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your
children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment.”
“Is it that bad?”
“I’m afraid so. One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that
we could study the patterns left on the walls by the child’s mind, study at
our leisure, and help the child. In this case, however, the room has become
a channel toward-destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them.”
“Didn’t you sense this before?”
“I sensed only that you bad spoiled your children more than most. And
now you’re letting them down in some way. What way?”
“I wouldn’t let them go to New York.”
“I’ve taken a few machines from the house and threatened them, a month
ago, with closing up the nursery unless they did their homework. I did close
it for a few days to show I meant business.”
“Does that mean anything?”
“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a
Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You’ve let this room and this house replace
you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother
and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And
now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.
You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to
change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature
comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your
kitchen. You wouldn’t know bow to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything
off. Start new. It’ll take time. But we’ll make good children out of bad in
a year, wait and see.”
“But won’t the shock be too much for the children, shutting the room up
abruptly, for good?”
“I don’t want them going any deeper into this, that’s all.”
The lions were finished with their red feast.
The lions were standing on the edge of the clearing watching the two
“Now I’m feeling persecuted,” said McClean. “Let’s get out of here. I
never have cared for these damned rooms. Make me nervous.”
“The lions look real, don’t they?” said George Hadley. I don’t suppose
there’s any way -“
“- that they could become real?”
“Not that I know.”
“Some flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?”
They went to the door.
“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die – even a room.”
“I wonder if it hates me for wanting to switch it off?”
“Paranoia is thick around here today,” said David McClean. “You can
follow it like a spoor. Hello.” He bent and picked up a bloody scarf. “This
“No.” George Hadley’s face was rigid. “It belongs to Lydia.”
They went to the fuse box together and threw the switch that killed the
The two children were in hysterics. They screamed and pranced and threw
things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.
“You can’t do that to the nursery, you can’t!”
The children flung themselves onto a couch, weeping.
“George,” said Lydia Hadley, “turn on the nursery, just for a few
moments. You can’t be so abrupt.”
“You can’t be so cruel…”
“Lydia, it’s off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of
here and now. The more I see of the mess we’ve put ourselves in, the more it
sickens me. We’ve been contemplating our mechanical, electronic navels for
too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!”
And he marched about the house turning off the voice clocks, the
stoves, the heaters, the shoe shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers
and swabbers and massagers, and every other machine be could put his hand
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical
cemetery. So silent. None of the humming hidden energy of machines waiting
to function at the tap of a button.
“Don’t let them do it!” wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was
talking to the house, the nursery. “Don’t let Father kill everything.” He
turned to his father. “Oh, I hate you!”
“Insults won’t get you anywhere.”
“I wish you were dead!”
“We were, for a long while. Now we’re going to really start living.
Instead of being handled and massaged, we’re going to live.”
Wendy was still crying and Peter joined her again. “Just a moment, just
one moment, just another moment of nursery,” they wailed.
“Oh, George,” said the wife, “it can’t hurt.”
“All right – all right, if they’ll just shut up. One minute, mind you,
and then off forever.”
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” sang the children, smiling with wet faces.
“And then we’re going on a vacation. David McClean is coming back in
half an hour to help us move out and get to the airport. I’m going to dress.
You turn the nursery on for a minute, Lydia, just a minute, mind you.”
And the three of them went babbling off while he let himself be
vacuumed upstairs through the air flue and set about dressing himself. A
minute later Lydia appeared.
“I’ll be glad when we get away,” she sighed.
“Did you leave them in the nursery?”
“I wanted to dress too. Oh, that horrid Africa. What can they see in
“Well, in five minutes we’ll be on our way to Iowa. Lord, how did we
ever get in this house? What prompted us to buy a nightmare?”
“Pride, money, foolishness.”
“I think we’d better get downstairs before those kids get engrossed
with those damned beasts again.”
Just then they heard the children calling, “Daddy, Mommy, come quick –
They went downstairs in the air flue and ran down the hall. The
children were nowhere in sight. “Wendy? Peter!”
They ran into the nursery. The veldtland was empty save for the lions
waiting, looking at them. “Peter, Wendy?”
The door slammed.
George Hadley and his wife whirled and ran back to the door.
“Open the door!” cried George Hadley, trying the knob. “Why, they’ve
locked it from the outside! Peter!” He beat at the door. “Open up!”
He heard Peter’s voice outside, against the door.
“Don’t let them switch off the nursery and the house,” he was saying.
Mr. and Mrs. George Hadley beat at the door. “Now, don’t be ridiculous,
children. It’s time to go. Mr. McClean’ll be here in a minute and…”
And then they heard the sounds.
The lions on three sides of them, in the yellow veldt grass, padding
through the dry straw, rumbling and roaring in their throats.
Mr. Hadley looked at his wife and they turned and looked back at the
beasts edging slowly forward crouching, tails stiff.
Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.
And suddenly they realized why those other screams bad sounded
“Well, here I am,” said David McClean in the nursery doorway, “Oh,
hello.” He stared at the two children seated in the center of the open glade
eating a little picnic lunch. Beyond them was the water hole and the yellow
veldtland; above was the hot sun. He began to perspire. “Where are your
father and mother?”
The children looked up and smiled. “Oh, they’ll be here directly.”
“Good, we must get going.” At a distance Mr. McClean saw the lions
fighting and clawing and then quieting down to feed in silence under the
He squinted at the lions with his hand tip to his eyes.
Now the lions were done feeding. They moved to the water hole to drink.
A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean’s hot face. Many shadows flickered.
The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.
“A cup of tea?” asked Wendy in the silence.
On August 3, 2000 one of my friends from high asked me to ride along with him to meet a girl who he found online. I’m always up for an adventure, so I agreed. I knew that it was quite a drive, about 10 hours, but I didn’t mind at all. We left in the evening and drove all night, got there in the morning, and left that evening. Neither one of us slept a wink. On the way back we were about 15 miles west of a small town when I was asleep. He was going well over the speed limit when he decided to pull over to switch driving. Right when we got onto the shoulder we went over the top of a small hill which was blocking sight to the road ahead. Right when we got over the top of the hill he saw a truck parked on the shoulder. He tried to get back on the interstate, but there was a semi there, so he instinctively jerked the wheel to get off of the road. We hit the end of the guardrail, that was when I woke up, took out 70 feet of it, and rolled onto the top. I looked at him and said “dude, that was f****** awesome,” we both laughed hysterically for a few minutes and unbuckled and fell on our heads. I found one shoe and the flashlight. I had to kick a window out to get out. I had no idea that the truck was there before us, so I started looking for the driver. When I looked into the driver’s window, I saw that the keys were still in the ignition. I knew that he was definitely somewhere around, so I kept looking. When I looked around the front of the truck I saw a blue rope that was tied around the tow hook and went over the top of a short wall. I assumed that he hit us and knocked something off of his truck and climbed down the rope to get it. When I looked over the wall, I got the shock of a lifetime. There was a dead body at the end of the rope, looking up at me. He looked like a demon. I’m not a person to freakout, but I definitely did. I jumped backwards into traffic. I almost got hit by a passing semi. He swerved around me, pulled over, jumped out, and asked me “what the f*** are you doing?” I was still in a panic and said “there’s a dead guy over there.” He said “f*** this, I’m out of here.” Then he jumped in his truck and left. We looked at each other and said, that sucks. He called 911 and told them that we needed help, then called his parents and told them where we were and that we needed help. Then I called my mom and said, mom were ok. Then the phone dropped the call and wouldn’t call back. We were really out in the middle of nowhere. We sat there for an hour and a half waiting for the cops when a security guard pulled up, got out, and very calmly asked if we were ok. I assumed that she knew what happened, so I said he’s over there and pointed to the front of the truck. She looked over the wall and had a bigger panic attack than I did. She ran back to her car, grabbed the radio, and yelled, “we need everyone out here now!” Fifteen minutes later when the first cop showed up he looked around and said “you guys are under arrest.” I was shocked and said “woah woah woah, wake up dumbass, if we would have killed him then why would his truck be upside down over there and these tire marks show that he intentionally jerked the truck off of the road to miss hitting that truck?” He thought for a second and said “huh, you make a good point, you guys are ok.” They flipped the truck back over and cut the guy down. Then he asked if we were ready to go. I said that we had to stay there because he told his parents that we were going to be there waiting for them. He said “ok, have it your way.” Then everyone left. I had nightmares about it for years.
How to Get Back to the Forest
“You have to puke it up,” said Cee. “You have to get down there and puke it up. I mean down past where you can feel it, you know?”
She gestured earnestly at her chest. She had this old-fashioned cotton nightgown on, lace collar brilliant under the bathroom lights. Above the collar, her skin looked gray. Cee had bones like a bird. She was so beautiful. She was completely beautiful and fucked. I mean everybody at camp was sort of a mess, we were even supposed to be that way, at a difficult stage, but Cee took it to another level. Herding us into the bathroom at night and asking us to puke. “It’s right here,” she said, tapping the nightgown over her hollow chest. “Where you’ve got less nerves in your esophagus. It’s like wired into the side, into the muscle. You have to puke really hard to get it.”
“Did you ever get it out?” asked Max. She was sitting on one of the sinks. She’d believe anything.
Cee nodded, solemn as a counselor. “Two years ago. They caught me and gave me a new one. But it was beautiful while it was gone. I’m telling you it was the best.”
“Like how?” I said.
Cee stretched out her arms. “Like bliss. Like everything. Everything all at once. You’re raw, just a big raw nerve.”
“That doesn’t sound so great,” said Elle.
“I know,” said Cee, not annoyed but really agreeing, turning things around. That was one of her talents.
“It sounds stupid,” she nodded, “but that’s because it’s something we can’t imagine. We don’t have the tools. Our bodies don’t know how to calculate what we’re missing. You can’t know till you get there. And at the same time, it’s where you came from. It’s where you started.”
She raised her toothbrush. “So. Who’s with me?”
• • •
Definitely not me. God, Cee. You were such an idiot.
• • •
Apparently, a girl named Puss had told her about the bug. And Cee, being Cee, was totally open to learning new things from a person who called herself Puss. Puss had puked out her own bug and was living on the streets. I guess she’d run away from camp, I don’t really know. She was six feet tall, Cee said, with long red hair. The hair was dyed, which was weird, because if you’re living on the streets, do you care about stuff like that? This kind of thing can keep me awake at night. I lie in bed, or rather I sit in the living room because Pete hates me tossing and turning, and I leave the room dark and open all the curtains, and I watch the lights of the city and think about this girl Puss getting red hair dye at the grocery store and doing her hair in the bathroom at the train station. Did she put newspapers down? And what if somebody came in and saw her?
Anyway, eventually Cee met Puss in the park, and Puss was clearly down-and-out and a hooker, but she looked cool and friendly, and Cee sat down beside her on the swings.
• • •
“You have to puke it up.”
• • •
We’d only been at camp for about six weeks. It seemed like a long time, long enough to know everybody. Everything felt stretched out at camp, the days and the nights, and yet in the end it was over so fast, as soon as you could blink. Camp was on its own calendar—a special time of life.That was Jodi’s phrase. She was our favorite counselor. She was greasy and enthusiastic, with a skinny little ponytail, only a year or two older than the seniors.Camp is so special! The thing with Jodi was, she believed every word she said. It made it really hard to make fun of her. That night, the night in the bathroom, she was asleep down the hall underneath her Mother Figure, which was a little stuffed dog withFlorida on its chest.
• • •
“Come on!” said Cee. And she stuck her toothbrush down her throat, just like that. I think Max screamed. Cee didn’t start puking right away. She had to give herself a few really good shoves with that toothbrush, while people said “Oh my God” and backed away and clutched one another and stared. Somebody said “Are you nuts?” Somebody else said something else, I might have said something, I don’t know, everything was so white and bright in that moment, mirrors and fluorescent lights and Cee in that goddamn Victorian nightgown jabbing away with her toothbrush and sort of gagging. Every time I looked up I could see all of us in the mirror. And then it came. A splatter of puke all over the sink. Cee leaned over and braced herself. Blam. Elle said, “Oh my God, that is disgusting.” Cee gasped. She was just getting started.
• • •
Elle was next. All of a sudden she spun around with her hands over her mouth and let go in the sink right next to Cee. Splat. I started laughing, but I already felt sort of dizzy and sick myself, and also scared, because I didn’t want to throw up. Cee looked up from her own sink and nodded at Elle, encouraging her. She looked completely bizarre, her wide cheekbones, her big crown of natural hair, sort of a retro supermodel with a glistening mouth, her eyes full of excitement. I think she even said “Good job, Elle!”
Then she went to it with the toothbrush again. “We have to stop her!” said Katie, taking charge. “Max, go get Jodi!” But Max didn’t make it. She jumped down from the third sink, but when she got halfway to the door she turned around and ran back to the sink and puked. Meanwhile Katie was dragging Cee away from the sink and trying to get the toothbrush, but also not wanting to touch it, and she kept going “Ew ew ew” and “Help me, you guys,” and it was all so hilarious I sank down on the floor, absolutely crying with laughter. Five or six other girls, too. We just sort of looked at each other and screamed. It was mayhem. Katie dragged Cee into one of the stalls, I don’t know why. Then Katie started groaning and let go of Cee and staggered into the stall beside her, and sploosh, there she went.
• • •
It’s such a camp rumor. Camp is full of stories like that. People say the ice cream makes you sterile, the bathrooms are full of hidden cameras, there’s fanged, flesh-eating kids in the lake, if you break into the office you can call your parents. Lots of kids break into the office. It’s the most common camp offense. I never tried it, because I’m not stupid—of course you can’t call your parents. How would you even get their number? And bugs—the idea of a bug planted under your skin, to track you or feed you drugs—that’s another dumb story.
Except it’s not, because I saw one.
The smell in the bathroom was terrible now—an animal smell, hot; it thrashed around and it had fur.
I knew I was going to be sick. I crawled to the closest place—the stall where Cee knelt—and grabbed hold of the toilet seat. Cee moved aside for me. Would you believe she was still hanging onto her toothbrush? I think we both threw up a couple of times. Then she made this awful sound, beyond anything, her whole body taut and straining, and something flew into the toilet with a splash.
I looked at her and there was blood all over her chin. I said, “Jesus, Cee.” I thought she was dying. She sat there coughing and shaking, her eyes full of tears and triumph. She was on top of the world. “Look!” she breathed. And I looked, and there in the bowl, half-hidden by puke and blood, lay an object made of metal.
It actually looked like a bug. Sharp blood-smeared legs.
“Shit!” I said. I flushed the toilet.
“Now you,” said Cee, wiping her mouth on the back of her wrist.
“Tisha. Come on.”
Cee, I couldn’t, I really couldn’t. I could be sick—in fact I felt sicker than ever—but I couldn’t do it that hard. I remember the look in your eyes; you were so disappointed. You leaned and spat some blood into the toilet.
I whispered: “Don’t tell anyone. Not even the other girls.”
“Why not? We should all—”
“No. Just trust me.”
I was already scared, so scared. I couldn’t bear the idea of camp without you.
• • •
We barely slept that night. We had to take showers and clean the bathroom. Max cried the whole time, but for at least part of the night, I was laughing. Me and Katie flinging disinfectant powder everywhere. Katie was cool, always in sweatpants, didn’t give a shit about anything.
“You know your friend is a headcase, right?” she said.
It was the first time anybody’d called Cee my friend. We got out the mop and lathered up the floor. Everyone slipped and swore at us, coming out of the showers. Cee went skidding by in a towel. “Whee!” she shrieked.
• • •
You cannot feel your bug. I’ve pressed so hard on my chest. I know.
“I could feel it,” said Cee. “After they put it back in.” It wasn’t exactly a physical thing. She couldn’t trace the shape of the bug inside her, but she could feel it working.
“Bug juice,” she said, making a sour face. She could feel bug juice seeping into her body. Every time she was going to be angry or afraid, there’d be this warmth in her chest, a feeling of calm spreading deep inside.
“I only noticed it after I’d had the bug out for a couple of weeks.”
“How did your parents know you needed a new one?”
“I didn’t need one.”
“How did they know it was gone?”
“Well, I kind of had this fit. I got mad at them and started throwing food.”
We were sitting on my bed, under my Mother Figure, a lamp with a blue shade. The blue light brought out the stains on Cee’s Victorian nightgown. We were both painting our toenails Cherry Pink, balancing the polish on my Life Skills textbook, taking turns with the brush.
“You should do it,” Cee said. “I feel better. I’m so much better.”
I thought how in a minute we’d have to study for our Life Skills quiz. I didn’t think there was bug juice in my body. I couldn’t feel anything.
“I’m so much better,” Cee said again. Her hand was shaking.
• • •
• • •
The weird thing is, I started writing this after Max came to visit me, and I thought I was going to write about Max. But then I started writing in your book. Why? This book you left me, your Mother Figure. You practically threw it at me: “Take it!” It was the worst thing you could do, to take somebody else’s Parent Figure, especially the mom. Or maybe it was only us girls who cared so much about the moms. Maybe for the boys it was the dads. But anyway, taking one was the worst; you could basically expect the other kids to kill you. A kid got put in the hospital that way at a different camp—the one on the east side—but we all knew about it at our camp. They strung him up with electric wires. Whenever we told the story we ended by saying what we would have done to that kid, and it was always much worse.
But you threw this book at me, Cee, and what could I do? Jodi and Duncan were trying to grab your arms, and the ambulance was waiting for you downstairs. I caught the book clumsily, crumpling it. I looked at it later, and it was about half full of your writing. I think they’re poems.
dank smells underground want to get back
no pill for it
i need you
I don’t know, are they poems? If they are, I don’t think they’re very good. A nap could be a door an abandoned car. Does that even mean anything? Eat my teeth. I know them all by heart.
I picked up this book when Max left. I wrote: “You have to puke it up.” All of a sudden I was writing about you. Surprising myself. I just kept going. Remembering camp, the weird sort of humid excitement there, the cafeteria louder than the sea. The shops—remember the shops? Lulu’s was the best. We’d save up our allowance to go there. Down in the basement you could get used stuff for cheap. You got your leather jacket there. I got these red shoes with flowers on the toes. I loved those shoes so much! I wonder where they went? I wore them to every mixer, I was wearing them when I met Pete, probably with my white dress—another Lulu’s purchase I don’t have now.
It was summer, and the mixer had an island theme. The counselors had constructed this sort of deck overlooking the lake. God, they were so proud of it. They gave us green drinks with little umbrellas in them and played lazy, sighing music, and everyone danced, and Pete saw a shooting star, and we were holding hands, and you were gone forever and I forgot you.
• • •
I forgot you. Forgetting isn’t so wrong. It’s a Life Skill.
• • •
I don’t remember what my parents looked like. A Parent Figure cannot be a photograph. It has to be a more neutral object. It’s supposed to stand in for someone, but not too much. When we got to camp we were all supposed to bring our Parent Figures to dinner the first night. Everyone squeezed in at the cafeteria tables, trying to find space beside their dinner trays for their Figures, those calendars and catcher’s mitts and scarves. I felt so stupid because my Mother Figure was a lamp and there was no place to plug it in. My Father Figure is a plaque that saysAlways be yourself.
Jodi came by, as the counselors were all going around “meeting the Parents,” and she said, “Wow, Tisha, that’s a good one.”
• • •
I don’t even know if I picked it out.
• • •
“We want you to have a fabulous time at camp!” Jodi cried. She was standing at the front with the other counselors: Paige and Veronica and Duncan—who we’d later call “Hunky Duncan”—and Eric and Carla and the others.
Of course they’d chosen Jodi to speak. Jodi was so perky.
She told us that we were beginning a special relationship with our Parent Figures. It was very important not to fixate.We shouldn’t fixate on the Parent Figures, and we definitely shouldn’t fixate on the counselors.
My stupid lamp. It was so fucking blue. Why would you bring something blue? “The most important people in your life are the other campers!” Jodi burbled. “These are the people you’ll know for the rest of your life! Now, I want you to turn to the person next to you and say, Hi, Neighbor!”
• • •
Hi, Neighbor! And later, in the forest, Cee sang to the sky: Fuck you, Neighbor!
• • •
Camp was special. We were told that it was special. At camp you connected with people and with nature. There was no personal tech. That freaked a lot of people out at first. We were told that later we’d all be able to get online again, but we’d be adults, and our relationships would be in place, and we would have learned our Life Skills, and we’d be ready. But now was special: Now was the time of friends and of the earth.
Cee raised her hand: “What about earthquakes?”
“What?” said Veronica, who taught The Natural World. Veronica was from an older group of counselors; she had gray hair and leathery skin from taking kids on nature hikes and she was always stretching to show that you could be flexible when you were old.
“What about earthquakes?” Cee asked. “What about fires? Those are natural. What about hurricanes?”
Veronica smiled at us with her awesome white teeth, because you could have awesome white teeth when you were old, it was all a matter of taking care of yourself with the right Life Skills.
“What an interesting question, Celia!”
We were told that all of our questions were interesting. There’s no such thing as a stupid question! The important thing was always toparticipate. We were told to participate in classes and hikes and shopping sprees and mixers. In History we learned that there used to be prejudice, but now there wasn’t: It didn’t matter where you came from or who you loved, just join in! That’s why even the queer girls had to go to the mixers; you could take your girlfriend, but you had to go. Katie used to go in a tie and Elle would wear flowers. They rolled their eyes but they went anyway and danced and it was fun. Camp was so fun.
Cee raised her hand: “Why is it a compliment to tell somebody it doesn’t matter who they are?”
We were told to find a hobby. There were a million choices and we tried them all: sports and crafts and art and music. There was so much to do. Every day there was some kind of program and then there were chores and then we had to study for class. No wonder we forgot stuff. We were told that forgetting was natural. Forgetting helped us survive, Jodi told us in Life Skills class, tears in her eyes. She cried as easily as Max. She was more like a kid sister than a counselor. Everybody wanted Jodi to be okay. “You’ll always be reminded,” she said in her hoarse, heroic voice. “You’ll always have your Parent Figures. It’s okay to be sad! But remember, you have each other now. It’s the most special bond in the world.”
Cee raised her hand: “What if we don’t want us?”
Cee raised her hand, but of course she raised her hand. She was Cee. She was Cee, she’d always been Cee, do you see what I mean? I mean she was like that right from the day we arrived; she was brash, messy Cee before the night in the bathroom, before she supposedly puked out her bug. I couldn’t see any difference. I could not see any difference. So of course I had second thoughts. I wished so bad I hadn’t flushed the toilet. What if there wasn’t anything in it? What if somebody’d dropped a piece of jewelry in there, some necklace or brooch and I thought it was a bug? That could have happened. Camp was so fun. Shaving my legs for the mixer. Wearing red shoes. We were all so lucky. Camp was the best thing ever. Every Child at Camp! That was the government slogan: ECAC. Cee used to make this gag face whenever she said it.ECAC. Ick. Sick.
• • •
She took me into the forest. It was a mixer. Everybody else was crowded around the picnic tables. The lake was flat and scummy and the sun was just going down, clouds of biting insects golden in the haze.
“Come on,” Cee said, “let’s get out of here.”
We walked over the sodden sand into the weeds. A couple of the counselors watched us go: I saw Hunky Duncan look at us with his binoculars, but because we were just two girls they didn’t care. It only mattered if you left the mixer with a boy. Then you had to stop at the Self-Care Stand for condoms and an injection, because becoming a parent is a serious decision! Duncan lowered his binoculars, and we stepped across the rocks and into the trees.
“This is cool!” Cee whispered.
I didn’t really think it was cool—it was weird and sticky in there, and sort of dark, and the weeds kept tickling my legs—but I went farther because of Cee. It’s hard to explain this thing she had: She was like an event just about to happen and you didn’t want to miss it. I didn’t want to, anyway. It was so dark we had to hold hands after a while. Cee walked in front of me, pushing branches out of the way, making loud crackling sounds, sometimes kicking to break through the bushes. Her laugh sounded close, like we were trapped in the basement at Lulu’s. That’s what it was like, like being trapped in this amazing place where everything was magically half-price. I was so excited and then horrified because suddenly I had to take a dump, there was no way I could hold it in.
“Wait a sec,” I told Cee, too embarrassed to even tell her to go away. I crouched down and went and wiped myself on the leaves, and I’m sure Cee knew what was up but she took my hand again right after I was done. She took my disgusting hand. I felt like I wanted to die, and at the same time, I was floating. We kept going until we stumbled into a clearing in the woods. Stars above us in a perfect circle.
“Woo-hooooo!” Cee hollered. “Fuck you, Neighbor!”
She gave the stars the finger. The silhouette of her hand stood out against the bright. I gave the stars the finger, too. I was this shitty, disgusting kid with a lamp and a plaque for parents but I was there with Cee and the time was exactly now. It was like there was a beautiful starry place we’d never get into— didn’t deserve to get into—but at the same time we were better than any brightness. Two sick girls underneath the stars.
Fuck you, Neighbor! It felt so great. If I could go anywhere I’d want to go there.
• • •
The counselors came for us after a while. A circle of them with big flashlights, talking in handsets. Jodi told us they’d been looking everywhere for us. “We were pretty worried about you girls!”
For the first time I didn’t feel sorry for her; I felt like I wanted to kick her in the shins. Shit, I forgot about that until right now. I forget so much. I’m like a sieve. Sometimes I tell Pete I think I’m going senile. Like premature senile dementia. Last month I suggested we go to Clearview for our next vacation and he said, “Tish, you hate Clearview, don’t you remember?”
It’s true, I hated Clearview: The beach was okay, but at night there was nothing to do but drink. So we’re going to go to the Palace Suites instead. At least you can gamble there.
Cee, I wonder about you still, so much—I wonder what happened to you and where you are. I wonder if you’ve ever tried to find me. It wouldn’t be hard. If you linked to the register you’d know our graduating class ended up in Food Services. I’m in charge of inventory for a chain of grocery stores, Pete drives delivery, Katie stocks the shelves. The year before us, the graduates of our camp went into the army; the year after us they also went into the army; the year after that they went into communications technologies; the year after that I stopped paying attention. I stopped wondering what life would have been like if I’d graduated in a different year. We’re okay. Me and Pete—we make it work, you know? He’s sad because I don’t want to have kids, but he hasn’t brought it up for a couple of years. We do the usual stuff, hobbies and vacations. Work. Pete’s into gardening. Once a week we have dinner with some of the gang. We keep our Parent Figures on the hall table, like everyone else. Sometimes I think about how if you’d graduated with us, you’d be doing some kind of job in Food Services too. That’s weird, right?
• • •
But you didn’t graduate with us. I guess you never graduated at all.
• • •
I’ve looked for you on the buses and in the streets. Wondering if I’d suddenly see you. God, I’d jump off the bus so quick, I wouldn’t even wait for it to stop moving. I wouldn’t care if I fell in the gutter. I remember your tense face, your nervous look, when you found out that we were going to have a check-up.
“I can’t have a check-up,” you said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because,” you said, “because they’ll see my bug is gone.”
And I just—I don’t know. I felt sort of embarrassed for you. I’d convinced myself the whole bug thing was a mistake, a hallucination. I looked down at my book, and when I looked up you were standing in the same place, with an alert look on your face, as if you were listening.
You looked at me and said: “I have to run.”
It was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. The whole camp was monitored practically up to the moon. There was no way to get outside.
But you tried. You left my room, and you went straight out your window and broke your ankle.
A week later, you were back. You were on crutches and you looked . . . wrecked. Destroyed. Somebody’d cut your hair, shaved it close to the scalp. Your eyes stood out, huge and shining.
“They put in a bug in me,” you whispered.
And I just knew. I knew what you were going to do.
• • •
Max came to see me a few days ago. I’ve felt sick ever since. Max is the same, hunched and timid; you’d know her if you saw her. She sat in my living room and I gave her coffee and lemon cookies and she took one bite of a cookie and started crying.
Cee, we miss you, we really do.
Max told me she’s pregnant. I said congratulations. I knew she and Evan have been wanting one for a while. She covered her eyes with her hands—she still bites her nails, one of them was bleeding—and she just cried.
“Hey, Max,” I said, “it’s okay.”
I figured she was extra-emotional from hormones or whatever, or maybe she was thinking what a short time she’d have with her kid, now that kids start camp at eight years old.
“It’s okay,” I told her, even though I’d never have kids—I couldn’t stand it.
They say it’s easier on the kids, going to camp earlier. We—me and you and Max—we were the tail end of Generation Teen. Max’s kid will belong to Generation Eight. It’s supposed to be a happier generation, but I’m guessing it will be sort of like us. Like us, the kids of Generation Eight will be told they’re sad, that they need their parents and that’s why they have Parent Figures, so that they can always be reminded of what they’ve lost, so that they can remember they need what they have now.
I sat across the coffee table from Max, and she was crying and I wasn’t hugging her because I don’t really hug people anymore, not even Pete really, I’m sort of mean that way, it’s just how I turned out, and Max said “Do you remember that night in the bathroom with Cee?”
Do I remember?
Her eyes were all swollen. She hiccupped. “I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m scared.” She said she had to send a report to her doctor every day on her phone. How was she feeling, had she vomited? Her morning sickness wasn’t too bad, but she’d thrown up twice, and both times she had to go in for a check-up.
“So?” I said.
“So—they always put you to sleep, you know . . .”
I just said “Yeah.” Just sat there in front of her and said “Yeah.” Like I was a rock. After a while I could tell she was feeling uncertain, and then she felt stupid. She picked up her stuff and blew her nose and went home. She left the tissues on the table, one of them spotted with blood from her bitten nail. I haven’t really been sleeping since she left. I mean, I’ve always had trouble sleeping, but now it’s a lot worse, especially since I started writing in your book. I just feel sick, Cee, I feel really sick. All those check-ups, so regular, everyone gets them, but you’re definitely supposed to go in if you’re feeling nauseous, if you’ve vomited, it might be a superflu! The world is full of viruses, good health is everybody’s business! And yeah, they put you to sleep every time. Yeah. “They put a bug in me,” you said. Camp was so fun. Jodi came to us, wringing her hands. “Cee has been having some problems, and it’s up to all of us to look after her, girls!Campers stick together!” But we didn’t stick together, did we? I woke up and you were shouting in the hall, and I ran out there and you were hopping on your good foot, your toothbrush in one hand, your Mother Figure notebook in the other, and I knew exactly what they’d caught you doing. How did they catch you? Were there really cameras in the bathroom? Jodi’d called Duncan, and that was how I knew how bad it was: Hunky Duncan in the girls’ hallway, just outside the bathroom, wearing white shorts and a seriously pissed-off expression. He and Jodi were grabbing you and you were fighting them off. “Tisha,” called Jodi, “it’s okay, Cee’s just sick, she’s going to the hospital.” You threw the notebook. “Take it!” you snarled. Those were your last words. Your last words to me. I never saw you again except in dreams. Yeah, I see you in dreams. I see you in your white lacy nightgown. Cee, I feel sick. At night I feel so sick, I walk around in circles. There’s waves of sickness and waves of something else, something that calms me, something that’s trying to make the sickness go away. Up and down it goes, and I’m just in it, just trying to stand it, and then I sleep again, and I dream you’re beside me, we’re leaning over the toilet, and down at the very bottom there’s something like a clump of trees and two tiny girls are standing there giving us the finger. It’s not where I came from, but it’s where I started. I think of how bright it was in the bathroom that night, how some kind of loss swept through all of us, electric, and you’d started it, you’d started it by yourself, and we were with you in that hilarious and total rage of loss. Let’s lose it. Let’s lose everything. Camp wasn’t fun. Camp was a fucking factory. I go out to the factory on Fridays to check my lists over coffee with Elle. The bus passes shattered buildings, stick people rooting around in the garbage. Three out of five graduating classes join the army. Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change! How did I even get here? I’d ask my mom if she wasn’t a fucking lamp. Cee, I feel sick. I should just grab my keys, get some money, and run to Max’s house, we should both be sick, everybody should lose it together. I shouldn’t have told you not to tell the others. We all should have gone together. My fault. I dream I find you and Puss in a bathroom in the train station. There’s blood everywhere, and you laugh and tell me it’s hair dye. Cee, it’s so bright it makes me sick. I have to go now. It’s got to come out.
We bought an old house, my boyfriend and I. He’s in charge of the “new” construction – converting the kitchen in to the master bedroom for instance, while I’m on wallpaper removal duty. The previous owner papered EVERY wall and CEILING! Removing it is brutal, but oddly satisfying. The best feeling is getting a long peel, similar to your skin when you’re peeling from a sunburn. I don’t know about you but I kinda make a game of peeling, on the hunt for the longest piece before it rips.Under a corner section of paper in every room is a person’s name and a date. Curiosity got the best of me one night when I Googled one of the names and discovered the person was actually a missing person, the missing date matching the date under the wallpaper! The next day, I made a list of all the names and dates. Sure enough each name was for a missing person with dates to match. We notified the police who naturally sent out the crime scene team. I overhead one tech say “yup, it’s human.” Human? What’s human? “Ma’am, where is the material you removed from the walls already? This isn’t wallpaper you were removing.”
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“Where did you say you’ve been?” My mother’s voice expressed fear, concern, anger and disbelief in just about equal proportions. The question was being addressed to my 10-year-old sister who, being older than me by a little more than three years, was (I figured) better able to withstand the rigors of such an inquisition.
With the benefit of hindsight, I have come to believe that the local abattoir was a preposterous place for anyone to be, let alone for a couple of impressionable children. However, as a seven-year-old boy, hindsight was not my strong suit, so I was probably as open to experience then as at any time before or since.
The car stopped and our neighbour – the man whose baby son my doting sister regularly took for walks in his buggy – got out to do some business. My sister and I followed him out of the car, neither of us knowing what sort of business it might be. We may have suspected that there would be animals involved, but I am quite sure that neither of us could have imagined just how involved the animals would be.
We went to where our businessman-neighbour stood talking with another man who also seemed to be quite busy and important. He was probably the foreman of the abattoir. Whatever a foreman might be, it was becoming more apparent by the second what an abattoir was.
I absorbed the scene as any innocent and perceptive child might, my senses bombarded by the sights, sounds and smells. Animals – or what was left of them – were hanging from almost every available hanging-place. However these poor creatures had managed to sustain such horrific injuries, it became clear to me that help was not at hand. This was a chilling place of no return – utterly devoid of compassion.
A sinking and terrifying feeling accompanied the realisation that (like myself) these animals had arrived at this awful place in a state of perfect health. They had managed to fall into such a wretched state of disrepair at some point during their visit and I very much hoped that I might not succumb to a similar fate.
The floor was awash with blood, guts and everything else which might normally be considered to be the contents of an animal. The air was thick with distress and saturated with the unforgettable, God-awful stench of slaughter.
I gathered that the hanging animals were expected to be dead at this stage, but here and there, a cow’s ear still twitched as the poor creature hung upside-down with its throat cut, belly ripped open and guts spilling out.
This was unimaginable suffering on an industrial scale. Never before nor since have I witnessed a scene of such carnage.
The foreman felt obliged to demonstrate for us just how the animals were killed. He fired a bullet into the skull of the sheep he had been in the process of dis-embowelling on our arrival. I am pretty sure I wasn’t thinking ‘Well thank you Mr. Foreman for that helpful and illuminating demonstration; it will doubtless prove to be an invaluable experience from which I can hope to derive incalculable benefit in the years to come.’ No, I probably wondered if I was really standing no more than three feet away from an agent of the devil himself. Shouldn’t there be a law against this sort of thing?
Those poor, dumb, pathetic creatures – they hadn’t stood a chance – on some level, they had even trusted humans and the result was unimaginably cruel. How could human beings participate in such an unspeakable act of betrayal? Yes, that was it. Amongst all of the other smells ravaging my sensibilities that day was the stench of treachery.
Whoever I might previously have been, it is fair to say that, from that day forward, my sense of how life was had changed forever.
My consciousness had been violently stretched to encompass the grotesque reality of the unfathomable cruelty and suffering of sentient creatures. Scenes of horror such as might not have been witnessed on a battlefield were indelibly etched on my 7-year-old psyche. What next?
Soon afterwards, I began to write horror stories at school. My teacher was profoundly impressed by the graphic descriptions of horror emanating from what he must have assumed to be an extremely vivid and fertile imagination.
Would that it were just a figment of some bad dream.
Many years later, I would revisit those same memories to acknowledge that perhaps I had been affected much more by the experience than I had understood or would have cared to admit.
‘What an evolutionary abomination us human beings are’ I have often pondered.
God, help us all.