When I walked into the Cherry Brooke Gazette on Tuesday morning, I believed it was going to be a normal day. One filled with mundane tasks like going through dozens of replies to my ad in the paper, or Mr. Fisher would have me write up articles about some local events, like the fire that took place at the Moore Mansion the night before, or the car chase that ended with the culprit t-boning himself into a pole. But I was wrong … very wrong.
Entering my office, I saw there was a manila envelope laying on my desk. I picked it up and noticed how heavy it was, then sunk into my chair. Looking at it, I realized there wasn’t a return address, which was odd, but my wonderment of what was inside was far greater than the missing address.
Slicing open the top and sliding out its contents onto the desk, two large clumps of hundred dollar bills toppled out, then a thin sheet of text ridden paper.
My hands started to tingle, and my fingers grew numb, while I stared at the pile of cash. Springing out of my chair, huddling over the desk, I wrapped my hands over the money. Counting them as fast as my fingers would move, I calculated this stranger sent nearly three thousand dollars.
With a body that wouldn’t stop shaking, I placed the money into my waist bag, and picked up the letter. My eyes glanced across the paper like a knife cutting through butter as I read it aloud.
I found your ad and your name in the paper, and I’m inquiring about your services. Through the grapevine, I’ve found that you refuse to work with people that have boring stories. So, I sent some money with this letter, to incentivize you to write my story, no matter how boring you might find it.
Not to give too much information away, and make certain unsuspecting readers know nothing, my story is much more… interesting, I believe, than the ones you’re used to.
My address is 1325 Chestnut Street. I trust you’ll be able to find it on your own.
I didn’t think twice when I took his application. Even if the story was doubly as boring as the others, it would be well worth the money. Sliding the letter back into the envelope, I put it into my bag and went about my regular workday.
When work ended, I scurried home, then placed the cash in a safe I had stashed underneath the floorboards near the bed, and packed my waist bag with writing supplies and a map. Leaving everything near the front door, I went to bed, and as I laid there, staring up at the chipping plastic, I said to myself. “I’ll find my way tomorrow, shouldn’t be too hard. This city isn’t too difficult to navigate.”
The next morning, while the sky was painted soft blue, I took a shower, ate breakfast, double-checked if I had everything, and before six o’clock, I was out the door and walking down the street.
The brisk air kept me alert while I moved through the empty streets, looking at the map every few minutes to see where my next direction was. I didn’t know how I missed it before, but immediately it dawned on me that the address given was on the opposite side of the city, in the older, and poorer, side of town. Not wanting to waste more time, I hailed a cab.
Sitting in the taxi, looking beyond the smudged glass, the driver mumbled to me in a strange accent.
“Eh… where you wanna go?”
“1325 Chestnut Street, please.”
“I can’t drive yew there, but I can drive yew close.”
“Why can’t you bring me to that address?”
“Too many carjackings there, not safe, can bring yew close.” He said this with his hand moving in the air.
“Fine, fine, whatever. Just bring me as close as you can. Thank you.”
“Will do, yew’re welcome.”
In about fifteen minutes, I exited the vehicle. I paid the driver through the window, turned, and could see that this part of Cheery Brooke was worse off than I ever imagined. Aged brownstones crumbling underneath their own weight lined the streets. The sidewalks weren’t level with the pavement, and the cement they were built from had cracks shooting every which way. The patches of grass beyond the walkway were mostly dirt, and in some odd way, it appeared that it was much darker, as if the sun avoided shining brightly there.
With the map held out in front of me, I pushed through the growing crowd up the street. It was now seven-thirty, and everyone was trudging towards their workplace. To avoid the sea of people, I acted fast, and took to a short alleyway, which lead me to a vacant parking lot.
Passed the field of tar was grass, then a street, and glancing to the map again, I realized the address was only a block away. Racing across the lot, through the dew covered grass, and down the street, then through another short alleyway, I came to a sidewalk that was adjacent to 1325 Chestnut Street.
The house was abysmal, the roof was caved in, leaving a giant hole where debris flew in, and the windows were either missing panes or were broken. The wooden door with cracking paint appeared to have no knob, nor was attached to any hinges. There was a weed covered small stone stairway up to the house, and I started up it, while still in awe of how horrible the building truly was.
Before I reached the door, someone shouted my name from behind, and when I turned, I saw an old man, holding a cane and peering up at me.
“So you came” he said, “as you might guess, this house is abandoned and barely standing. I gave you a decoy address. Come, follow me.” He waved his hand. “I’ll take you to my home.”
While I treaded behind, I inspected the stranger. He was short, not nearly five-four, balding, wearing a black suit, like something you’d wear to a funeral, and the cane he was using was made from a sleek dark wood, maybe mahogany.
It was like he was slowly collapsing as he walked, his back arched, and his head hung low. His feet slid across the cement, and the only thing, I believed, that was keeping this old man from crashing to the ground was his cane.
When we turned a corner, we came to a small house smushed between two giant apartment buildings. I gazed at it with my head turned, to see a house squished between two massive blocks of cement was not something I saw every day. My trance was broken by the old man saying, “Come on, hurry up. We don’t have all day.”
I followed him up the old porch stairs, that moaned with every step, through a door that cried on its hinges when opened, and into his weirdly placed home.
He closed the door, moved passed me, then walked down the hall that lead to what looked like a kitchen. Standing aimlessly, I looked around the room. Paintings and pictures lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and the floral wallpaper was cracking, some of its corners peeling near the ground.
The floor was made from an old type of wood and had many holes. In an attempt to cover the holes, I believe, the old man laid out several different shades of carpet: red, yellow, brown, green, and some were even blue, and they all seemed to be thrown across the ground the same way a child finger-paints — carelessly.
To my left was a stairwell that was missing stairs, and peering up into it, I could see the second story was pitch black. He probably doesn’t go up there, and if he somehow did manage to get up there, I couldn’t imagine how he would get back down. As I leaned over, looking up, he came back into the room.
“I’ve made you some tea,” he said holding out a small white cup filled with green liquid. “I thought you might be thirsty from your long journey.”
I took the cup and thanked him. Following him into the living room, I sat on an uncomfortable couch, and he sunk into an aging cushioned chair nearby. Setting the tea onto the coffee table before me, I placed my bag to my side, opened it, and pulled out a notebook and a pencil. Placing it onto my lap, I looked to him, signaling with a nod it was time to start.
“Oh? Time already? Well, okay.” He said, a smile forming over his wrinkled face.
“Where should I begin? I’m no good at speaking about myself” he continued, “how about this? You talk a little bit about yourself, to get the balling rolling. Then by the time you’re done, I should be good to start.”
“Okay, what would you like me to talk about?”
“Well! Hmmm… How did you start doing all this? The writing stuff?”
“Yes, I can talk about that, but be prepared, it’s quite a long story.
“In my ninth grade English class, is when I really started to fall in love with writing. The words, the stories, the way a pencil moved over paper, the sound it made; all of it. I wrote short stories at
first, not good ones, they were mostly about things teenagers like: monsters, girls, and music. But when I really knew I wanted to write was on a walk home after visiting my grandparents’ home for a school writing assignment.
“I remember sitting in their living room, on top of a faded maroon hard carpet, looking up at my grandfather’s face. He had a cigarette in one hand, and the armrest gripped with the other. The smoke that arose from the cigarette gradually filled the room with a faint veil of mist.
“He spoke about his history fondly but with distaste. Growing up in a small apartment, a place with only one bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom; it was hardly a place for a family of four. Then he went on about his father who was a steel mill worker, but was never home, and his mother, who slaved over her children and always tried to keep the house as clean as possible. She always made sure supper was served before her husband returned from work, my grandfather said.
“When he became old enough, he started to work with his father at the mill, sliding sheets of steel from the cooling area to the shipping area. This took up most of his time, but when he got the chance he would play in the streets with the other kids until the moon came up.
“He also had a brother, that he seldom spoke about. All he remembered, or told me, was that he died in a war in the early forties.
“That ignited him on the war, and he ranted about it. He remembered it was like yesterday; how gruesome, horrifying, and nonsensical it all was. He hated our government for putting thousand of innocent souls into something they shouldn’t have been apart of in the first place.
“As he spoke about the bloody battle between countries, he realized I was getting bored, so he steered the conversation toward his dreams. But, he said, “‘I’m warning you, these aren’t the things you can use for any school paper.’” So I put my papers and pen down and listened.
“He moved to the edge of his red, cushioned, chair; with his arms moving through the air as if he was a conducting an orchestra, and his eyes wide and bright with insatiable yearning, he spoke about his dreams.
“Ones filled with vast landscapes with lush bright colors, it was as if, he said, the grass was made from rainbows. The sky was the softest blue and purple he ever seen, and when it turned night, the moon’s glow was so strong that the fields were completely white. The stars, oh the stars, he said were so close that he could nearly reach out and grab them.
“During the day, the fields were filled with unworldly creatures. Ones like cheetahs and tigers that sprinted across the grassy plains, and others were small critters, kind of like deer, hopping and playing in the brush with aimless joy. Then, when my grandfather finished painting this fantastic dreamscape, with a raspy chuckle and grin, briefly he spoke about other dreams, ones that weren’t appropriate for children.”
I stopped, and looked to the old man sitting across the room. I asked if he wanted me to continue, and he urged me to. After taking a sip of tea, I went on.
“The atmosphere, the stories, and the sound his voice filling the room with worlds conjured up from his sleeping mind filled me with an overwhelming sensation, a feeling similar, I think, some receive through meditation, that serene clarity.
“But it suddenly came to a halt, when my grandmother caught us by surprise when she walked in from the kitchen. The smell of oatmeal raisin, pumpkin chocolate chip, and other cookies I couldn’t name, poured into the stale room when she entered.
“It was getting late, she said, and it was time for me to go. Grandpa had to lay down and get his rest for tomorrow. Night! Hours had passed without me noticing, I thought. When I looked to the window, I could see dozens of flickering fireflies in the night air beyond the glass pane.
“You’re right, I gotta’ go, have school tomorrow, I said. Really, I just wanted to get home and write down everything about my grandfather’s dreams. When I went to the front door, my grandmother handed me a steel tin, a Christmas one with Santa and his elves making toys in Santa’s workshop on the front, filled with an assortment of cookies and brownies. She then kissed and hugged me, and watched me stroll down the walkway before closing the door.
“Walking home down that empty street that night, nibbling on a brownie, I kept peering up into the cloudy night sky, thinking about my grandfather’s tales. Like I couldn’t think and walk at the same time, I stopped, and stood under one of the street lamps, then said to myself, “’Dreams are interesting, much more interesting than real life. I guess, I’m going to try to write more about them.’””
“And that’s the moment you knew you wanted to start this whole writing thing?” Nathan asked.
“Yeah, that’s when I knew. It was a kid then, so it sounds kind of dumb now… But, enough about me, let’s start talking about you.” I laughed, then asked bluntly, “So, I was wondering, why did you give me a fake address in your letter?”
He chuckled, then said, “Well, about that… I did that just in case anyone but you read it. They wouldn’t be able to find me or my home.”
Fidgeting with his hands, he continued, “You see, there is someone — or something, you could say — looking for me. Oh, uh, why? I don’t know, I guess I know a thing or two about some things that people shouldn’t know about.”
A silence fell over the room, and neither of us uttered a word. Curiosity swelled up inside me and continued to grow with every passing moment. What could he possibly know that someone would be out looking for him, I had to ask, “Like what?”
“The stories, more like a story, that I’m going to tell you. I want it written down, physically on paper, so if anything happens to me, it’ll still be there. And, I want it written by a stranger, like yourself, someone with no emotional connection to me, because it’s likely once we’re done here. I’ll no longer be able to tell the tale…”
He stared vacantly out the window and I looked down at the wood floor, again sitting in silence. I asked an obvious question: why couldn’t he write the story himself? His answer was simple. His hands shook, so much so he couldn’t hold a pencil or pen still enough to write.
The rising sun shined through the window next to him, its rays nearly blinding me, but he was quick to notice and closed the curtains. After drinking some of his tea, he started again.
“Where to begin, where to begin… Hmmmm, okay, that’ll do. It was the early sixties, I was young then, twenty or so, and college was coming to a close. A few of my friends I went out for a night on the town, moving from one bar to the next until it was the early hours of the morning, and all the doors were shut on us.
“Drunk and hazy, I walked down the street alone. My friends either had gone home or went home with a lady or two,” he chuckled. “I stumbled upon a shop with purple neon lights in its window, and for whatever intoxicated reason, I felt drawn to the appearance of the shop’s display. And so I did, standing there, peering down through the glass, looking at a black ring. It must have been made of obsidian or some other material I didn’t know about, I thought to myself.
“With my face pressed against the window, I examined it. It seemed to have black lines weaving around a silver base, and where a diamond would go, was a small circle, filled with tiny diamond eyes. It was an odd thing, but either I or the pints of beer inside me urged me to purchase it. So I staggered into the shop, covering my eyes from the blinding red sign in the front door, and met an older gentlemen, probably my age now, behind the glass counter. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what he looked like, but I do recall him having some type of lisp.
“But to save yourself some time Chase, I’ll skip spending all the money I possessed, and I’ll move ahead to when I arrived home, ring in hand. I declined having it gift wrapped or packaged, simply wanting to hold it, to feel its cold metal in my palms. Sitting there on the edge of the bed, hunched over, the ring pinched between my pointer finger and thumb, I stared at it, inspecting the diamond eyes and its weaving ebony lines.
“I was so entranced by those crystal eyes that I didn’t realize it was dawn until my alarm clock went off. It was six o’clock and I had class at nine. I needed to sleep off the booze, and quick, so I placed the ring in my pants pocket, laid back, and sunk into a slumber.”
“Then it began, the dream that is. Before that, I hardly every dreamed, and if I did, it was about those girls with those short skirts,” he laughed. “But that night, tossing and turning in my bed, my mind was filled with the wildest dream. I quickly realized it wasn’t a regular dream but a horrifying nightmare.
“At first it was a calm oceanic atmosphere. I was standing in crystal clear waters, staring up into a sky bluer than the ocean, the moon hung overheard, and in some queer way its light shined down through the bright sky and blanketed the scenery. Then, looking to the moon, a black outline formed around it, and before I knew it, like missiles shooting, dozens of thin shadow-like arms shot out from behind the moon. They weaved and crisscrossed haphazardly across the blue sky until they collided with the horizon behind me.
“The black arms blocked out the sky, only the soft glow of the moon provided any light to see, but soon, the white orb was gone too. It turned into, I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but it changed into a liquid and started to melt into the water, like some type of milk waterfall. Slowly it drained into the clear water, filling it with whiteness, and as it left the sky, the sea I stood in became the color of porcelain.”
He drank some of his tea, I sharpened my pencil, and he continued, “There I stood, aimlessly looking out into the checkered abyss, the white below me contrasting harshly against the black above, and as I looked up, the strongest urge to run came over me. It was like my body was shouting, ‘Run away! Run away as fast as you can!’ I didn’t ask questions, I just listened. Straight ahead I sprinted, the white water foamed against my legs, and the vista in the distance never coming any closer.
“It felt like I ran at least five miles when I stopped. I was still in the same place I began, like the sea floor was one big treadmill. From above, the black hands from before started to plunge down from the sky, crashing into the water behind me. Quickly I turned to watch every hand fall, but soon there were so many I couldn’t keep up.
“Suddenly the hands started to pursue me, piercing the air like bullets as they hunted me. I dodged them the best I could, weaving past and through their shadowy arms, but like most nightmares Chase, you usually don’t get away from the monster. In mid-sprint, two colorless claws shot down from above and gripped my wrists, yanking me into the air. Then another two hands surged out from below and coiled around my ankles.
“Like I was preparing to make a snow angel, I hung high in the air, wondering why this was happening, especially something in my own mind. The water started to bubble and boil, and something began to ascend out, emanating a smell similar to rotten eggs and sour milk. Nearly puking through my helpless screams, it continued to emerge from the sea until it was standing before me, looking through me — not at me Chase — through me.
“What did it look like? That’s hard to say. I was looking through a wall of tears and sweat, and my body was slowly shutting down from shock. Trembling, nauseous, and nearly soiling myself, I couldn’t focus on what was in front of me. All I really saw was a silhouette of its body. Enormous, it was, with a bulky build. Wide shoulders, muscular arms, at least what I think were arms, and it was vertical from the waist up.
“The bottom half was the strange part. It was like an octopus. Dozens, if not thousands, of wiggling colorless tentacles moving through the ivory water. For all I know, they might not have been its legs. Maybe the legs were underneath the dress of tentacles, I don’t know, because as it pulled me closer, as it continued to peer beyond my flesh and into my soul, I was thankfully ripped from the dream and thrown back into the waking world, covered in sweat, tears, and urine.
“My bed was soaked. So were my pants. I stumbled out from the wet sheets, my legs so weak I nearly collapsed onto the floor, and walked to the shower. I cleaned myself, changed into a new pair of clothes, went back into my room, took a seat at the desk, and began writing down everything I could remember from the nightmare. All the while, the ring I bought was sitting on the corner of my desk. It might have been the way the hanging lamp flickered against its white crystals, but I swear, sometimes when I think back, that those eyes were following my pen.”
Nothing too crazy so far, I thought, but I’ll sit here for the whole day and write the crazy dreams of an old man for the amount he paid me. Looking to my watch it was only around eleven, and with a stretch and another drink of tea, I pushed him to continue. He obliged.
Read the next installment right here tomorrow!
I like things and black coffee.