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Hinnom maissue 002, p.11

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 11

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  The train continued on through the abyss for what seemed like hours before beginning to slow its pace. Passengers looked around with apprehension sensing the change in the train’s speed and realizing we were coming to a halt in the very heart of the forest. There were still another thirty miles until the next noted town. A glance out the window revealed a small, solitary, moss-covered platform built upon rock and brick—on it sat a single stone bench. The platform appeared ancient and completely isolated.

  As I gathered my things I met the gaze of an older woman. A look of motherly concern flickered across her face as she watched a slender young man proceed to the door with a look of great resignation. I kept my head bowed as I exited the train to avoid the stares of the puzzled and curious passengers. I heard whispers of “haunted woods” behind me so I pulled my coat up around my neck as if to shield myself from their words. The train began to move and the passengers got their last look of the mysterious dark-haired man in the black winter coat.

  I made my way down the platform steps and onto the pine needles that carpeted the forest floor. The whole scene was just as hauntingly beautiful as I remembered it. Majestic snowcapped mountains towered in the distance. Light from above fought its way through the high canopy creating an eerie effect upon the forest below. There was no sound, just the rise and fall of my own breath. I followed the path to the mountain hollow purely by memory. The forest was preparing for the arrival of winter but the map in my mind was of the forest in spring. I followed the cheery watercolor that revealed itself out of the rolling clouds of my memory. I imagined walking dirt paths dotted by quilts of little purple, pink, and yellow flowers. It was a cheerful distraction from reality and the blanket of dead, sodden leaves I presently trudged through. I felt the rays of sun warming my body and the frost-nipped tips of my fingers and could almost taste spring in the air but my reverie was interrupted by a break in the trees. I had reached the road to town which lay under a layer of sleet.

  My jacket and belongings were quickly soaked since emerging from the forest’s canopy of cedar and pine. The houses that occupied the area were in disrepair. Most were dilapidated—a few were now ruins conquered by Mother Nature. The door to one of the houses creaked open and a decrepit man with a few greasy strands of hair scratched himself, watching me as I passed. The man looked unhealthy and pale. Although his appearance did not reveal old age, his stance was unsteadied and he had a crook in his back. Dirt and ferns grew on the roof of his rotting house which bowed under its weight. He flashed me a crooked scowl and I glimpsed his yellowing teeth. He turned and disappeared back into his house closing the door behind him. I did not recognize him.

  Each adjunct dirt road cut into the mountain’s hollows and surrounding pine forest. Aside from tales and rumors of the diabolical, it was easy to see why many souls went missing here. Even though the hollows were once my childhood home, I still had difficulty distinguishing one road from the other. I managed to find my way as I made out the knot midway up a gnarled black tree that resembled a grotesque wailing woman. This was my road, Manigault Lane. A flutter of anxiety overcame me while gazing down the lane. Sodden trees were hunched over a dismal and dark road riddled with puddles and a wispy fog. Tall grass grew high on either side. Had my Ramona remained here on this hopeless road?

  I hung my head with this sad realization and continued down the road staring at the ground. I had almost passed Mrs. Pettigrew’s yellow house. I admired the ornate white trim around it as a child. It was the prettiest house in the spring. The old woman toiled tirelessly over her garden. Bunches of flowers would line the cobblestone path to her home. Edible violas and nasturtiums decorated the pastries and cakes she baked for my family. It was difficult to distinguish the shell of the once elegant folk home against the black backdrop of the dense pine forest. The house was rotting away. Its once shuttered windows had been smashed out. Trees now grew out of them like a parasitic foe tearing through the flesh of a conquered host. Amidst the overgrown yard, the bushes and shrubs that she had planted now seemed offensive. I hoped their doting caretaker Mrs. Pettigrew had met a better fate than her home now ravaged by the wild.

  I examined the rest of the road and observed that the houses of our former neighbors were also abandoned. Judging by the state of their decay they had been evacuated long ago. Wooden frames of houses dampened by the hollow’s ceaseless mists had succumbed to their own weight and fallen into the tall grass. Heaps of mossy lumber and crumbling brick remained proof that Manigault Lane had once seen more cheerful days. It was now an isolated and alien place reclaimed by the fauna of the ominous hollow. The whispers of “haunted woods” and “godforsaken” from the train made their way back into my thoughts and I began to feel vulnerable once again. The feeling I had worked so hard to overcome was creeping up my spine. I felt I was being watched. I did my best not to acknowledge the dreadful paranoia but my surroundings fueled my fear. Half expecting a demon to be following me, I snapped my head around like a feral dog and snarled “NO!” My lip curled and my teeth were exposed. But the road behind me showed no signs of life. It was silent and the fog began to thicken as it did when darkness began its descent over the woods.

  I continued down the road. Icy splashes of water began soaking the bottoms of my trousers so I hastened my pace. As I got closer I could make out the ridge of the roof belonging to the Farmhouse where I had spent my childhood days. My heart sank at the sight of the house which was badly in need of repair. Its roof was riddled with loose shingles and forest debris. The once manicured lawn was a bed of pine needles and leaves the same as the woodland floor. The windows of the attic and the entire second floor were boarded up. A part of the front porch had caved in. The scene caused me to panic and I hurried past the ruins of what once was a white picket fence calling out for my sister.

  “Go away!” A female let out a wild wail from inside. “Let me be! Please!” She began to sob. I tore open the door to find a frail and malnourished woman in a nightgown struggling to brandish the hot poker she had been using to tend to the hearth. She was wrapped in an old knitted quilt that I remembered covered my older sister and I as children in the bed that we shared. She was sallow, skin and bone, and her eyes were already sinking into the darkened hollows above her cheek bones. Her long raven hair pinned up into a wild knot on the top of her head. Despite her decline in health, her dark features remained as striking and mysterious as ever.

  “Ramona.” I gasped horrified by what had become of my beloved sister. I placed my hand on my chest as if gesturing to a savage encountered in the wild. “It’s me, Jude.” Her dark eyes widened and the poker went crashing to the floor as her strength gave out.

  “Jude!” She cried and fell. I snatched up the hot poker, placing it back on the hearth, and picked Ramona up off of the floor. She was feeble and tiny. I was able to carry her in my chest like a small child. She clung to my jacket sobbing in my arms. I sat on a wooden chair next to the hearth and rocked her gently. “What have they done to you?” I held back my tears as I rocked her. I had to remain steadfast for her as she had done for me long ago. “I’m so tired, Jude.” She sighed and fell fast asleep still clinging to my coat. I sat grief-stricken for hours hoping that Ramona’s state was due to her health and nothing else. The darkness of night had almost completely swallowed the purple twilight above the tree tops and I grew anxious. Ramona had kept up the kitchen and hearth. The rest of the house was covered in dust and cobwebs. Strangely, the only windows that remained intact were downstairs.

  I wondered what became of our parents. Ramona had stayed behind to care for them and convince them to flee, to her own detriment. I was the youngest child and only son. Needless to say, I possessed a sense of entitlement which turned me into a selfish and rebellious individual. I tried to convince her to run away with me, claiming it would be our great escape. We could run from the fiends that robbed us of our sleep and sanity. Ramona refused, saying she could never dream of being so reckless. Instead, she did for our moth
er and father what they could not do for us—she stayed to watch over them. As I neared middle age, the regard in which I held my parents grew complicated. I bore resentment towards their inadequacies as parents and protectors. They were cowards for succumbing to the tormentors by which their children suffered so long. In the course of judging my own parents, I was forced to acknowledge my own faults. I had deserted my family, a guilt I had borne for many years. I turned my back on my sister who had sacrificed her own happiness to carry a weight so great it had now broken her physically, maybe mentally as well. My way of coping with anything that tested my resolve or courage was to avoid it. My intentional absence robbed me of being able to save my family from whatever was afflicting them. Perhaps discovering my sister like this was my divine punishment.

  I did not speak ill of our parents in front of Ramona as filling her head with regret and sadness might prove counterproductive. I was determined to get her out of here. This meant that Ramona needed to be fed, rested, and in better spirits before making the trek back up Manigault Lane and out of the hollow. I would sprint the length of the lane with her on my back if I had to but she would still need to be well enough to hold on.

  Then quickly, in the window, I witnessed the outline of a person’s head, neck, and shoulders. It flickered and then faded against the moonlit forest in the background. It had been watching me. Fear melted over me, gluing me to my seat. “This is not happening,” I thought. I decided that the most adult thing I could do was appear stoic in the face of the startling phenomenon. I had denied it for years but the phantom I had just seen and its counterparts shaped me into the eremitic and paranoid man that I am today. With age, you expect to be able to reason your childhood phobias away with your newfound understanding of the physical world. Here I sit, cradling Ramona in my arms, still struggling to come up with an explanation.

  This first sighting of the shadowy specter had confirmed the one and only longtime truth I held. It confirmed my belief that Earth remains an unknown, unpredictable, and unsafe place. I had lost faith in the abilities of modern scientists and academics after spending hours perusing university libraries. In their research, I discovered a discreetly prejudiced language required to maintain well-defined and self-created laws of science. They had lost the creative and exploratory essence required to identify the incomprehensible, from which all scientific exploits are inadvertently born. These professionals, who consider themselves progressives, had created their own boxed thinking. My attempts to appeal to various researchers to reconsider of my requests for assistance with scientific study were met with contempt. My paranoia as an adult had become debilitating without the reassurance that my phenomenal experiences could be policed by science at least. After being haunted by shadows that are not cast by any explainable person or object for many years, I am now afraid of my own. I believe, developmentally, I will remain a trembling little boy without the answers I so desperately seek.

  Time wore on and the midnight hour came and went as I kept silent vigil over Ramona. I watched what I could only describe as black figures materializing before my eyes. Each shadow that appeared exposed itself to me intentionally and then, for reasons unknown, would fade away. I had seen this behavior before. Although the phenomenon was brief, these visual incidents were burned into my memory. It became a compulsion to fixate on them and play them over and over again in my mind, frightening myself more than necessary. They were the cause of many sleepless nights. What I saw now felt calculated and as if these entities had amassed power during my long absence.

  As a child, I remember being startled out of a deep sleep to the terror-filled sensation of being watched. I would strain my eyes to identify the cause for alarm. In the dark I could make out the familiar shapes and shadows of my bedroom. “There’s mother’s rocking chair and that’s a table,” I whispered the way a frightened child does when trying its best to be brave. But then I would see something in the corner of the room and remark that it was independent of both the floor and the ceiling. There would be no visible flutter of wings or sound ruling out animals. The dark form remained still, suspended in air, and it was always too high to be a shadow casted by any object in the room. It would grow larger and larger and I would watch in horror as it extended itself downward and outward in a pulsating movement. A creature of shadows struggling to manifest in front of the child it craved to torture, to possess, to consume. The figure was never successful, exhausting itself into a wisp and vanishing into the night, its purpose still a mystery.

  Ramona stirred, bringing me back to the present. Her purple-veined eyelids fluttered, exposing the whites of her eyes. The bottoms of her irises rolled toward the back of her head. She was fighting her sleep and she groaned in an attempt to speak but succumbed to her exhaustion. In the window to my left, a tall dark figure stalked in an apelike manner across the edge of the property. Its appendages would separate and realign with the dark form of its body, indicating a swing of arms and stride of legs reminiscent of ancient Neanderthals. The dark oval shape which I took for his head was fixated in our direction throughout the time it remained in view through the window. I spotted movement in the corner of my eye. A shadow figure was descending the staircase. I lost sight of the ape man in the window. How many surrounded us? The stair case was cloaked in darkness, allowing the figure to get alarmingly close. Even in involuntary sleep, Ramona could sense the danger as her eyes fluttered wildly in an attempt to open them. The shadow on the stairs appeared unnaturally thin and moved in the creeping, rhythmic manner of a bobbing stick insect. The movements of its stilt-like limbs were slow and deliberate. It stopped on the lowest step that darkness would allow, seeming to avoid the reach of the lamps’ illumination and began, what I could only describe as, a vile song. A string of breathy whispers whose end notes possessed a throaty base, “sphih sphah, sphih sphah,” filled the kitchen. From outside, voices joined in at different intervals, speeds, and pitches, “sphih sphah, sphih sphah,” growing louder and louder until whispers were coming from all around us. The noise had reached such a dizzying crescendo that I wanted to cover my ears. Soon, the echoing was unrelenting and I could no longer discern whether the sound came from all around me or from inside my own head. I wanted to claw at my face or viciously jam my fingers into my ears.

  Ramona whimpered in her sleep so I cradled her tight as they continued to breathe their wretchedness onto us. All the while dark figures appeared and disappeared out of thin air outside. A horde of shadows, some flitting and others lumbering like unknown beasts, could be seen out of every window. Despite my fearful trembling, I did my best to keep my voice from reflecting the fear I felt as I spoke into my sister’s ear. “I’m here. Jude is here. We’re going to make it to the morning.” It was the same chant we recited as children huddled together in bed. This was before our mother and father had encountered the phantasms which had eroded their physical and mental health.

  I sat transfixed by the movement and sound all around me. The lack of sleep and the siege upon my senses felt violent and exhausting. I felt cornered, naked, and exposed as the silhouettes taking contorted human forms exposed themselves to me. My panic became paralyzing as the floor boards above creaked with the weightbearing of footsteps upstairs. I tried in vain to assure myself that there was no other physical being in the house despite not having visited the second floor and being sure. I now witnessed dust, disturbed by the creaking floor boards, swirling over my head. There was someone up there! I had never seen the shadow figures manifest into a physical form. But then again, I remembered a time when these ghostly beings were simple forms that could not emit sound, take any identifiable form, nor multiply.

  I could not gauge the extent of their paranormal abilities. The ebb and flow of activity felt planned and the shadow man’s eerie whispered ballad seemed to tear down all physical divides. Under the song’s influence, all perception of my surroundings felt dangerously limitless. It was the kind of perception of the world that provoked grandiose thoughts unique
to psychopaths or persons with a predisposition towards deviant behavior. It made me feel as if I was invincible or, at least, it wanted me to believe I was. Their voices penetrated my thoughts and with that my sound judgment. I felt my defenses tumbling down with every throaty note. My mind had become vulnerable.

  The waves of terror I was forced to endure, like the relentless waves of the ocean crashing over me and receding, had left me weak and breathless. I wanted to come up for air. Was their intent to incite madness? Were there others, imprisoned or in asylums, who had gone through this? Did these creatures wish to weaken the minds of men and for what purpose? Once inside the mind, what becomes of the body or of the soul? The black specters moved in closer, some in abrupt jerking movements like insects and others with a labored step as if maimed. I pulled Ramona in tight, ready to embrace the wrath of a foe I did not know how to fight and wanted desperately to become a part of, for mercy’s sake.

  I looked up towards the heavens and released a crazed laugh. Mankind is a naïve race of beings. How could a civilization, knowing next to nothing of the great universe they live in, feel so arrogant and secure with their position in it? I now understood how the certainty of death, or our struggles to cope with the mysteries of the world we live in, drive people into a state of outright denial and fantasy. The need for security compels an entire alleged rational species of beings to dream up a fantastical tale of an all-knowing and powerful man in the sky who controls our destiny and could gift us everlasting life. We choose ignorance in defiance of truths we refuse to accept. What of the scientists or the authorities? Why not torment those who disregard the extraordinary? Why torment us? “Maybe we all deserve to be obliterated. We’re fools,” I whispered, admiring the changing colors of the sky. The soft glows of purple, pink, and orange now smeared across the cosmos. “Morning!” I roared and reality came crashing over me.

 
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