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The term Indian Burial Ground is Offensive
How does one become an Indian Burial Ground expert? I don’t think I speak for all of my peers but I achieved it simply by manning the booth at my brother’s firework stand shortly before the Fourth of July.
I noticed a 30ish white man wandering around by my booth one a slow morning after we just opened and I was trying to catch up on my Instagram feed. He walked by 2.5 times before he stopped and stood sideways in front of me.
He introduced himself as Dan and the thin, tattooed hipster in the short jean cutoffs with a handful of ironic tattoos, Buddy Holly glasses, and gray beanie even though it was 80 degrees out, looked totally out of place. I figured he was a visitor up from Seattle but he quickly explained he had recently moved into a house down by the Skagit River and his family had been experiencing strange things since they moved into the place.
He had a suspicion it may have built over, or next to, an Indian burial ground and he wanted to see if we up at the local Indian reservation had any experts we could send over to check it out and possibly offer help.
He corrected himself and started referring to it as a Native American burial ground after the second time he called it an Indian one and then explained he was looking to hire someone who was a Native American burial ground expert and he wanted to know if I knew of anyone. He could pay.
I was in no means an expert but I told him I could do it. I was a 22-year-old member of the tribe working part-time answering phones at the Cultural Center during the Summer as I weighed going back to University of Washington in the Fall but I figured what the hell. I was a Native American Studies major at least, If nothing else, it would be some free, fun entertainment. I would go consult with some Seattle transplant who was trying to start an organic farm or something who probably found some dead dog bones and a kid’s arrowhead toy and make some cash.
I went to Dan’s house that afternoon. He never introduced me to the rest of his family but referenced a young daughter and a wife whom I never saw. All the blinds of the little farmhouse on the property were shut tight.
He brought me over to a patch of woods at the end of a long line of farm fields with nothing but dead crops. A small muddy path led into a scattering of trees that were close enough to the banks of the river you could hear it rushing from where he stopped.
Where Dan stopped was a muddy little clearing next to a cabin. The earth had clearly just been upended and there was some rotted wood and bits of what did appear to be white bones sticking up out of the ground.
I may have been in over my head.
“The construction guys dug them up yesterday. We’re trying to turn this place into an AirBNB and want to put in plumbing,” Dan explained as I stared down at what I was realizing was about 5 percent of a skull jutting out of the dirt.
Dan pulled what looked like a legitimate arrowhead I had seen in the Cultural Center before out of his pocket and showed it to me as I kept an eye on the skull in the ground. This hipster may have actually stumbled upon an Indian burial ground. The stakes had changed.
He wanted someone real and local to examine the place and see what they thought. He didn’t want some academic from Seattle from the state of U.W. coming up and taking a clinical approach to the whole thing. He wanted something organic. Someone with roots where the roots of those trees wrapped around those bones in the dirt who could experience the place.
Dan’s instructions were strangely simple. He just wanted me to stay on the property in the little cabin next to the bones for the next two months of summer while he and his little family were back in Seattle tying up loose ends. He wanted me to write each night about what happened there. He figured it would give the best reading for what the place was and if it was okay for him to follow through with setting up his farm there.
Then, after I gave him my assessment, and he paid me $3,500, he might approach a more traditional route. The only question was, was I in?
Wait, wait, wait. Not that easy. Clarify please Dan? What did he want exactly again?
I’ll give you his indulgently verbose and introspective answer unedited and you do your best to make what you think he wanted out of it.
To feel and experience the land. Soak it in and see how it feels. See if it tells you anything. Feel free to look around and see if you can find anything that seems like it might give you an answer. Feel free to consult anyone else you want. Feel free to let him know if there’s anything he should know before the two months are over. Basically, feel free and report back.
My translation. I was going to live in this guy’s cabin for free for two months, collect his cash, and write a two-page write up that I half-assed ever harder than most of my gen ed class papers in college. So here that is.
I was shocked by the inside of the cabin on Dan’s land when I came back a few days later after he and his family had already left. It was nice - clean, new, modern furniture and fixtures. Some well-curated Native American art.
Dan also said he rushed some alternate plumbing so I could live there on short notice with his construction guys. The bathroom was impeccable. It had that tile in the shower that could take on water and not get the least bit slippery that’s at fancy hotels. It had a big soaking tub next to a huge window that looked out at the woods where you could hear the river from if you cracked the window.
I found myself in said bath my first night staying in the cabin. I turned the lights low and lit candles. This place beat the hell out of my damp and stuffy apartment up on the reservation I was given for the summer.
The magic stopped when I reached to grab my glass of wine and knocked my candles into the bath, extinguishing them immediately. I was suddenly in the pitch black of the deep woods and there wasn’t a dry candle or lighter anywhere near the tub.
I would have to get out of the tub naked and move across the cabin to flick on a lightswitch in the complete dark, soaking wet, on the tile floor of the place. It wasn’t going to be easy.
I was gameplanning my route to the lightswitch when I stood up and heard the splash of someone walking through a mud puddle out the big window next to the tub. I froze, cold and naked in the tub, the sound of footsteps moving away from the window and around toward the front door of the cabin where I thought I may have left the door unlocked.
I jumped out of the tub, still soaking wet, and sprinted across the hard floor toward the door. I slipped just before I got there and slammed hard into the wooden door, smashing my head then rolling onto my back on the floor.
The only positive was my vista from the floor allowed me to see I had turned the lock on the door and I was safe in that regard. A heavy breath pushed out of my lungs.
A hard knock on the door interrupted that relieving breath and pushed it back into my lungs. I froze there, wet, cold, and naked on the floor. I resigned to just stay there and ignore it. If it was some sort of spirit or creep, they would just leave, they would just leave, I repeated in my head.
Another stiff knock. It was clear being passive might not be an option.
Then I heard a throat clear. It sounded familiar. Deep, stoney, followed by some quick wheezing.
I popped up, unlocked the door and threw it wide open without fear.
I was face-to-face with my older brother Nick, the flame of a lighter between us as he tried to light a cigarette that dangled from his mouth that was below a waterfall of cascading tears and thin snot. I had seen this face before. I ushered it in.
Nick was troubled, even before we lost our parents at a young age. His fingerprints were probably still all over the principal’s office at the local elementary, middle and high schools. The problem was no one ever tried to help or listened, they just punished, but that’s another story for another time.
The police were after Nick. He ran out of the stash house where he was living in Eastern Washington during a raid and he needed a place to hide out for a little while. He talked to some people up on the reservation and they let him know where I was staying and he thought it was perfect for him.
I let him stay even though I knew it wasn’t a good idea. He slept on the couch. I slept in the adjacent tiny bedroom that could barely fit a full-size bed in it.
Slept isn’t the proper word to use in this point of the journal though to talk about that. I closed my eyes through most of the night but sleep would not come. I was too worried about the footsteps I kept hearing out in the woods.
I think the craziness and blur that was working at the fireworks stand up until the night of July Fourth blacked me out through the rest of time leading up the holiday that I never celebrate. Instead, I follow my usual tradition of shutting down the stand, grabbing something to drink or smoke and heading home to go to sleep early. I hate fireworks.
I was actually really excited to spend the Fourth in the woods at the house, far away from town and the reservation where I knew I’d have to hear the teenage boys and grown men who behave like teenage boys light off fireworks all night and it started like that, quiet bliss, other than for the sound of the unease inside my head about the note I found from Nick when I came in that said he was fishing down at the river for the night. Be back later.
I smoked and went to bed before 10 p.m. I was worried about Nick leaving the cabin. Someone easily could see him down by the river or maybe he was running away again? Either way it wasn’t good...but oh well...sleep…
I screamed when an explosion rocked outside my window and shook the glass. I popped up out of bed out of breath and coated with sweat.
I looked to the window above the bed which I had foolishly left open and saw the cascading colorful shower of a gold artillery shell falling to the ground outside the cabin like snow. Then another explosion ripped out and lit up the woods outside the window. Because of the faint second of light the popping explosion created, I saw the silhouette of someone standing just inside the treeline.
The sound of a key twisting in the door back in the entrance of the cabin distracted me from the image of what seemed to be a tall man for a moment before another pop explosion in the sky lit up the world outside. The silhouette of the man was now closer, about halfway through the 10 yard clearing of brush outside my window in the cabin.
I could see him much better now even though I only got another one-second glimpse in the light of the firework. He looked a lot like my older male family members - about 40, tall, lean, long black hair, except he wore clothes no one in my family would ever wear. He wore a white button up shirt with a black vest over it and beige trousers. It reminded me of pictures I had seen of my ancestors from the 1890s in the Cultural Center on the reservation.
The darkness returned outside and he was gone again. The sound of the door opening replaced the twisting of the key back by the entrance to the cabin.
I rushed back to the front door. I didn’t get there in time but found relief in Nick standing there with his fishing pole, looking at me like I was crazy.
I told Nick about the man I saw outside. I told him about how he looked like he was from the 1890s. The old pictures of our ancestors. He laughed. He said I was too high.
I’ll start by noting that days where I didn’t write in the journal were simply days where nothing to write home about happened.
July 12th was not one of those days. Well the day was normal. It was the night that wasn’t. The middle of it, to be exact.
I was sleeping soundly when I woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As I left the bathroom I noticed something out of the corner of my eye through the curtains of the window in the living room - a dark silhouette of a person standing outside.
I froze in the drafty hallway and took a longer look. I couldn’t make out features but the outline sure looked like the ancestor from the 1890s I saw on the night of the Fourth.
Nick wasn’t on the couch where he was usually sleeping. No idea why. He didn’t say he was going anywhere.
The silhouette moved. Left-to-right. Almost out of sight. Then it stopped.
“Nick?” I asked quietly.
No answer. The silhouette just disappeared from sight and I let out a deep breath.
Then there was a knock on the door and my panic came right back. The sound of a baby crying and a mother trying to soothe said baby drowned out my internal worry. I now felt comfortable enough to just walk up to the door and throw it open.
I was greeted by a cherubic face I had never seen before, half-concealed by a beanie and a literal babyface also half-covered by a beanie. Both faces looked desperate.
The cherub started in immediately…
“Is Nick here?” She asked.
I was so stunned it took me a while to answer, especially because the baby now had it’s dark little eyes stuck on me as if it was demanding an answer just as much as the scowl of its mother was. Also, my answer was not going to be simple for a few reasons, one of which being my gut knew that Nick would want me to say no in this situation but my heart and head told me that was not the right thing to do.
“He’s supposed to be but I don’t know where he is right now. Maybe fishing by the river? I can check with you,” I explained, heart and head taking the victory in the first round of my internal struggle.
The cherubic woman looked down at the ground, no longer confrontational, just disappointed. The baby began to cry again, fat, wet tears filling its little doll eyes.
We exchanged numbers. Her name was Mary. I promised to tell Nick to text her and text her as soon as I saw him again and I meant it.
I begged her to come down to the river with me or at least wait while I went to check and come back. She refused and seemed to want to get out of there rather suddenly after she looked off to the woods we would have to walk through to check for Nick by the river.
She left quickly. I took to the woods in an angry stomp, ready to chew out Nick. He had a child and did not tell me?
I was drunk with late night rage and it blinded my fear when I should have been scared to stomp through those woods only to find Nick wasn’t down by the river. It wasn’t until I heard a sound from the brush to my side on my way back to the cabin that I sobered up and stopped in my muddy tracks. I also felt what caused my fear this time as I felt the splash of cold water hit my ankles from behind and get inside my shoes and into my socks.
I whipped around and the brief image of the tall man with the long hair standing right behind me. I only saw it long enough to lose my breath and fall to the ground and into a mud puddle.
My body was stuck in the cold, muddy water as I looked up at the man breathless for a few moments. He stared down at me with an expressionless cold face. I blinked and watched as his features started to fade. Another blink and his mouth was entirely gone as I was frozen in the puddle.
It was almost like my fear subsided for a moment as I looked up at his face. He wasn’t a monster. He was a ghost. He was dead, probably for more than 100 years and I doubted he had much interest in doing something sinister to the 22-year-old Native girl staying in the cabin next to some old bones.
I think he felt my sentiment because he started to fade and the world of the night started to come back to me. I was alone again, the sound of a lone owl my only soundtrack on the warm summer night.
It had been more than a week since I had seen Nick.
I will share something now I did not want to admit in this journal because what do you care and it’s an overshare, but I had started to go to therapy as soon as I came home from school in early-June because of depression. I was considering not going back to Seattle to finish my final year of school in September but also didn’t know what I really wanted to do. Plus, throw in the trauma of losing my parents at an early age.
I told my therapist about the ghosts I was seeing at the cabin and I think what she said was interesting and valuable to put in here to understand and answer the question of if this was a “Indian/Native American burial ground,” and if it was haunted, which I had decided early on, given the visions of the man I had seen.
After I talked about the man outside the cabin, my therapist told me about studies done on ghosts and paranormal activity over the last 200 years. She noted it’s been learned that about 80 percent of paranormal sightings have actually been of known family members, not the kind of spooky random ghosts commonly seen in movies and long discussed in folklore.
Ghosts and paranormal visions likely have much more to do with personal processing and the concept of death than hauntings and scorned spirits who may have died somewhere. Ghosts it turned out may have much more to do with the person seeing them than the ghost itself.
I took this to heart. Was the man I was seeing on the property by the cabin some long distant relative who was buried in that plot next to the cabin? So was it an Indian burial ground or was he just a manifestation of someone I was trying to remember but forgot? I’m doing my best to try and figure it out.
I woke up at 3 a.m. on a weird, warm windy night. It sounded like something had fallen on the ceiling above my head. My first assessment told me it was just a branch off of a tree.
I was initially going to ignore it. Then I thought I heard it rolling around on the roof in the wind. I was worried it would reach the sky light in the living room and break through so I got out of bed and hurried outside.
A quick look up on the roof showed I was correct but it also reminded me there was no way I was climbing up there and getting the branch off there or anything so I was pretty helpless. I headed back to the door from the side of the cabin next to the unearthed burial ground.
I went right back into the cabin.
But I had to stop once I stepped into the living room. The door was ajar when I came back in when I definitely closed it when I stepped out to check the roof.
I locked the door, retreated to the bedroom and went to sleep. I slept through the night.
You might be wondering why there is such a long break between entries. The truth is I wasn’t capable of writing about what happened on the night of the 2nd until now and even know there are portions I have to leave out.
The call came in the middle of the night from an unknown 509 area code phone number. I recognized the voice on the other end of the line as definitely being a police officer as soon as I heard it.
My entire body came to life in a flash. I sat up on the side of the bed and felt the tears and sobs start to warm up in my body before the officer even started talking.
I knew what he was going to say before he said it. Nick had been found dead of a drug overdose. What I didn’t anticipate was the next detail. He had been dead for months and they only just now found him because he was squatting in a remote cabin in the northeast corner of Washington.
Thankfully the officer didn’t give me any more information over the phone. I could meet with the police in Skagit County and they could give me the rest of the details and what to do next.
Sure, sure, I agreed, almost laughing when he asked if I had any questions and wondering if I told him that my brother showed up at the cabin I was staying at in the woods well after when they said he died.
I laid back onto the bed once the call was over and cried my eyes out.
I didn’t leave the cabin for more than a week. The local police department kept calling me and leaving voicemails but I never answered. I worried they would show up and want to talk to me but they never did, which actually made me more sad because it told me that was how little they cared about my brother.
I just laid around in Dan’s cabin. I would have probably done that for the rest of my life had I not had to go back to college. I had to get myself together and the cold and weirdness that was my time up at home convinced me I should go back to Seattle.
My things were packed. I had one more night to get through in the cabin. It may have made sense to go to a hotel or down to Seattle immediately but I felt a connection to the land now and actually hoped by some impossible magic Nick would come back.
Everything was packed up into my little car, ready to make the trek down to Seattle. I was ready to go but went back inside the cabin to go to the bathroom before I hit the road.
Mary and the baby were waiting for me when I stepped out of the cabin, standing next to some piece of shit car. The baby cried once she laid her eyes on me.
“I’m sorry to bum rush you like this but you haven’t been answering my calls,” Mary said as I stood frozen in front of the cabin. “We know what happened to Nick and I don’t want anything from you. Well, not true. Just like, no money, but I want to ask you something.”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t capable and I was pretty sure my soft posture probably made it clear Mary was free to go on.
“I just want Yolanda to be able to know some about her dad’s family and her dad, when the time is right...is that okay?”
Again, I was unable to form a verbal answer. I could tell my quivering jaw and flat face was hurting Mary, and possibly the baby whose name I just learned. Was I going to say no?
No. I gave her the strongest answer I thought I could and something I wish I would have done to Nick or that spirit in the woods who looked over me the entire time I was at the cabin. I walked up and gave her a huge hug. I held it tight. She was there. She was alive.
Yolanda stopped crying.
I apologize for taking so long to write. It took me some time to process what happened this summer. Case in point, I actually destroyed my original journal as soon as I got back to Seattle. I didn’t want anyone else to ever read about what happened, myself included.
That explains why I wrote everything in the past tense in the pages before this. I wrote these from memory of what happened on the nights I think they happened on, with the help of my therapist. I apologize if they are shoddy and not what you wanted but this is what happened to me during the time on your property, which is definitely not an Indian burial ground. I hope that trope and idea can die a horrible, horrible death soon.
The only actual Indian burial ground I am familiar with in the area is the standard county graveyard in the middle of town. That’s where Nick is buried. That’s where my parents are buried, surrounded by plenty of other non-Indian folk who have passed over the years. There’s nothing sacred about their dead bodies or the ground.
Now I guess this journal is just for me. My package with my journal that I mailed to Dan’s address up in Sedro-Woolley was returned to sender with a note from a realtor which said the property was unoccupied and no one named Dan had ever owned it and the property had actually been for sale for four years with no one living there.
The realtor did have some questions for me though. He heard rumors that there had been a squatter in the cabin they renovated on the property a few years before and people had dug up some of the ground around it but then refilled it.
He was not going to get me or anyone else in trouble. He just wanted to talk to me.
I threw away his letter and left it at that.
My favorite radio station suddenly disappeared, and something weird has replaced it.
At least, that’s what all the self-help books preach to Ed. And trust me, he’s read plenty. All of them say the same thing in slightly different wording.
That routine is very, very important.
Ed came back from the war and could barely look his 20-year-old son in the eyes without seeing bodies and artillery. One of his comrades was 20 years old. The boy’s blood gushed out of the knife wound in his chest like a powerful riptide, dousing Ed down to the bone. He couldn’t stop seeing that boy in his son, so he decided to take that routine advice to heart.
He moved from his comfy suburban house in New Hampshire and traveled to Maine, where he found a cabin in the middle of the forest to call his own. The cabin was a small one, with only five rooms in the entire house. The living room housed a stone-age fireplace that barely stood on its own. The kitchen was more of a closet with a stove and table, but it did the job. There wasn’t a place you’d step where you wouldn’t hear the creak of old age in the fiber of the wood. The bedroom contained a sagging wardrobe and a double XL matress infested with bedbugs. The toilet in the bathroom smelled like mold, but it was still functional. The office was the best part, as it came with its own large desk with drawers. There was a coffee ring stain mural on the left hand side engraved into the wood. Ed bought that cabin as soon as he laid his eyes on it.
Ed abandoned his only family, but he felt like he had no choice. Ed was a PTSD, trauma-ridden mess. He consoled himself with the fact that he was doing them a favor by going away, even if they couldn’t see that themselves. His wife didn’t let him see their son again, and Ed heard later on that they moved from New Hampshire to Texas to be even further away from the man who abandoned them.
So in Maine, far away from anyone who had ever heard of him, Ed made his life. His cozy little cabin in the middle of the forest was a half hour to the nearest town in the best of driving conditions. Most of the time, the conditions were not in humanity’s favor. He established a rock-solid routine, which went as follows:
6:00 AM was when he woke up and made himself coffee. Two sugars, no more, no less. His favorite brand was Folgers because he could buy a giant tub of it cheap in town and it would last for weeks. It wasn’t the highest quality, but thats what he preferred. So Folgers it was.
After that he turned on the radio to his favorite classical music station and cracked open a mystery novel. The novels ranged from romance mysteries to horrors. As long as it had a plotline to keep Ed’s attention, he would read it. His favorite mystery novel so far had been Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Ed enjoyed that one so much that he owned a copy both in paperback and in hardcover. The hardcover had a permanent place next to his bed. The paperback squeezed in between The Maltese Falcon and Gone Girl, and only those two books. It had never touched In The Woods, which was situated next to Gone Girl, and it never would.
About an hour later, Ed would turn off the radio and set down his book at the time to go and chop some firewood outside. He always chopped the wood in a very particular way. First he’d split it in half, then one of the halves in half again, and then he’d do the same thing to the other piece. At the end of it he would have exactly 12 pieces of wood per chopping session.
After that, he’d go about his business depending on the day. During that time he’d do his chores, such as clean up the kitchen, empty the ashes from the last nights fire, unclog the sink drain, other tasks such as those. This was the only time out of his day where what he did varied. On Tuesdays he emptied the ashes. On Thursdays he cleaned the bathroom. On Sundays he made the bed, and so on and so forth every day.
At 7:00 PM Ed finished up whatever daily task he had set for himself and headed to the kitchen for dinner. Every night he would have the same meal, and somehow never got tired of it. It consisted of a steak cooked to a medium rare with a side of 5 green beans and a scoop of parmesan. He would always sit at the second chair to the right at the dining table, where he would continue reading his chosen book until it was time to go to bed at 10:00 PM sharp.
Those self-help books would be proud of Ed. He had followed their instructions to a T.
Even his neighbors, who lived ten minutes down the road in another cabin, could sense his obsession with routine. Every Friday, Sylvia Rockman would knock on Ed’s door with a blueberry pie and invite him over to dinner with her husband, Ron. Every Friday, Ed would take the pie and politely decline, saying, “Maybe next time.” Sylvia would pout, push him a little bit, then be on her way.
Ed definitely didn’t mind the blueberry pies. He liked blueberry.
Every day would go by with Ed’s simple, pleasant routine. He was quite happy.
This is why it was so perturbing to Ed to find that his classical music station suddenly no longer existed. Or at least, it seemed that way.
It was a Friday at 6:32 AM. Ed sat down in his cushioned loveseat right on time and stretched out like a contented cat that was ready to sit in the sun for hours on end. His copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was right where he had left it on the table perfectly stationed next to his head. Next to it was the radio, an old antique thing, clearly worn out from use and abuse. But it worked, and it had a strange rustic coziness that Ed liked, so it stayed loyally at its post. Before he opened his novel to the bookmark, Ed reached over and turned on the radio, fully expecting the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to flow out of its small, slightly crackly speaker.
That was not what happened.
Instead, at 6:32 AM on that Friday morning, the crackle of static filled his head. It was like a blow to Ed’s face, a sudden dagger in his tranquil and routine life. Immediately the man sat back up and studied the radio.
The frequency was precisely where it was before, 93.7 FM. The antennae were exactly as they were before as well, the right one at a 45 degree angle and the left one at a 30 degree angle. Ed frowned. How peculiar. Ed reached over and flicked the radio on and off again. Static still permeated the air. So then he tried fiddling with the knob, and that was when everything went wrong.
Ed heard a voice coming from the speaker. Odd, since all the frequencies he was testing only had stations for music. He had never heard this young, calm, almost monotone voice before. It reminded Ed of molasses. It had a sweet feeling to it, but at the same time there was some kind of darkness layered in between. The voice made Ed’s mouth feel sticky.
Tuning to that radio frequency would be against his routine. Every cell in his body was screaming at him to just turn off the radio and go back to his novel. Pretend none of this had ever happened and go back to blissfully going about his routine until he goes back to dust. But Ed did not do this. Instead, he went after that signal. Finally, it was clear enough to hear what the radio was saying.
“Hello, listeners. Today is the beginning of poetry week. The week that happens every year, where all of our town’s citizens come together to write beautiful poetry together.”
Ed almost turned it off right there. He might like narratives, but he didn’t like poetry. It was just too stuffy for his taste. He reached for the knob, but he hesitated when he listened more to the radio.
“Now, it may be poetry week, but our station would like to remind you,” the tone dramatically shifted to one of desperate warning. “Don’t go near the public library. And be sure not to feed the librarians, no matter what deep desires they offer to you. They get awfully antsy this time of year.”
“Don’t feed the librarians?” Ed murmured out loud in disbelief. He leaned closer, turning the volume up.
“And now on to today’s news.” The announcer cleared his throat, “The new dog park in between Old Woman Josie’s farm and the apartment complex is nearly finished. The city council would like to remind you not to bring your dogs anywhere near the dog park. Those who do so will be tracked down by one of the many government agencies and punished. So be warned. The dog park is only for the mysterious hooded figures that showed up a couple months ago, and no one else.”
“The city council has also released a notice that mountains are not real. It has become against the law to write about, talk about, or think about these so-called ‘mountains.’ During a recent press conference regarding the new laws, Mayor Pamela Wintchell told the press that ‘any citizen who mentions hypothetical mountains will be found by the mysterious government agencies and taken in for re-education.’ Thank you for always telling us the truth, Mayor. It is always appreciated, even if the truth doesn’t actually exist.”
The news continued on similarly, talking about the recent ban on extrinsically-motivated breathing and the winners of the town raffle. All Ed heard, meanwhile, was a buzzing in his ears. Had he finally lost it? Had the forest, the forest with the dense trees and so many places to hide within its shadows and foliage, really gotten to him that much, and he had ceased to notice?
Ed stood up on shaky legs, but couldn’t bring himself to turn off the radio. It like if he touched it, a bolt of lightning would come from the heavens and obliterate him completely.
Ed ran to the bathroom and splashed water on his face, staring at himself in the mirror. There was no way what that man was saying was actual news. It was probably some joke station with a bit on ridiculous news. Ed gripped the pristine porcelain of the sink, staring at himself in the mirror. That wasn’t the face of an insane mental patient, was it? Maybe the forest had gotten to him. It’s been awhile since Ed has been to therapy, hasn’t it? He was never able to find a good therapist once he moved to Maine. Maybe all the stress from moving had finally come out and he was imagining all of it. That was it, right?
But the way the man spoke made him think otherwise. This was real.
So instead of going through his daily routine, at 6:41 AM, Ed sat by the radio. He absorbed every word it said in an almost religious way. He needed to know everything about this town, every last detail. He wanted to find out where it was, who lived there, what was happening, and why it suddenly started happening now. Did they know that he was listening? Did they know that he wasn’t a part of their community? Nothing was out of the question anymore.
After hours of listening to the same station, paranoia wracked Ed’s body. It was well into the evening at this point, and Ed hadn’t moved from his spot since 6:41 am. Suddenly, after the constant chittering of the announcer, the radio went completely silent. Ed looked up from his perch on the loveseat.
“Excuse me, listeners, but I do believe that we have an outsider joining us this evening.”
Ed felt his stomach churn.
“A man from Maine,” there was a pause, “No, he’s from New Hampshire. That’s very far away, isn’t it listeners? He shouldn’t be able to listen to me, should he?”
Ed didn’t listen to any more of it. He ran to the bathroom and threw up his guts. Everything suddenly seemed very, very wrong, and overwhelming. He was acutely aware of everything around him. Every window and door and entrance felt larger than life. He felt like the entire world could see him at that very moment, and that his location was broadcast across the planet. Ed most likely would have curled up into a ball and wept if the doorbell hadn’t rung just then.
Ed opened the door to a smiling Sylvia.
“Hey, Eddie! I brought a pie. Blueberry-- your favorite!” Sylvia held out the pie, it’s sweet aroma wafting to Ed’s nose. Ed took an instinctive step back without even realizing it. His nerves were on high alert, any interaction with anyone seemed was life or death after what the radio had said to him.
“It’s… It’s just Ed-” He mumbled, avoiding eye contact. Sylvia lowered her pie from his face, a her joyful expression replaced by a worried one.
“Did something happen? You seem… excitable.” Sylvia raised an eyebrow.
“N-Nothing, no, nothing happened. Just... just reading a scary novel. Nothing serious.” Ed chuckled half-heartedly. Not much of an actor, judging by Sylvia’s deepening frown. She forced the blueberry pie into his hands.
“You’re coming to have dinner with Ron and I.”
No. No, I can’t.
The sides of his sight got fuzzy. All he could focus on was Sylvia’s now alarmed face.
I can’t leave that radio. Something might happen. It might tell me something. If I had that last bit of information my mates would have lived. They would have been alive today. What if I had listened to that radio? What if I didn’t rush out that door? What if I didn’t set off that-
Sylvia watched Ed’s face morph into a cacophony of emotions, all while his eyes were watching something 100 yards away. She reached out and touched his arm.
All at once, Ed came back from the faraway land he had run to. He jerked his arm away as if Sylvia’s touch was red-hot, and nearly tripped over his own feet, trying to get away from her. His eyes darted around the room like those of a cornered animal. His eyes finally focused on Sylvia, who was still standing dumbly, holding the blueberry pie.
“Get the hell outta here!” Ed roared, charging towards her. He slapped the pie out of her trembling hands and shoved her down off of the porch. The pie splattered on the wooden boards with a sad thunk. Ed stood heaving in the doorway, his eyes wild with panic and fear. His knuckles were white from squeezing them so tightly. Sylvia felt something jump up into her throat when she looked closer and blood was dripping from his palm. He was squeezing so hard his nails were drawing blood from his palm. If Ed noticed, he didn’t let on.
“I-I’m sorry if I did something to upset you-” Sylvia mangled out of her mouth. It felt impossible to speak with the raging bear of a man so near. If he wanted to kill her, there was nothing stopping him. Ed wouldn’t do that, would he? Sylvia had her doubts once she looked back at him. His jaw was clenched so hard Sylvia wouldn’t be surprised if his teeth were cracking from the force.
“Didn’t you hear the radio!? There are claymores everywhere! Evacuate!” Ed started to come forward, seemingly to make Sylvia retreat further away from the cabin. The tension in his shoulders screamed hostility, so Sylvia didn’t take any second chances. She booked it into the woods, not looking back. Ed huffed, returning to his cabin and slamming the door. It shook on its hinges.
Ed’s hands were shaking violently. He needed to start writing what the radio was saying. Before it was too late.
Ed tripped over the rug, stumbling into his barely-used office. Practically tearing the printer apart, he grabbed the stack of plain white paper and ran back to the living room. The radio was still chattering lowly, the distinctive announcer’s voice digging into Ed’s skull like a chisel.
“We know where you are, Ed,” the voice ground out from the radio, “I hope you’re excited to join our community.”
His head pounded as he sat on the floor, placing the radio in front of him haphazardly. He knocked over his beloved side table, sending his beloved copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo flying across the room. Ed grabbed the pen that fell from the table and started writing everything he had heard in desperate scrawls.
At 7:00 AM, the radio announcer had declared that they would talk about the weather, but instead, strange gurgling noises came from the speakers. At 8:00 AM, the announcer returned and began talking about the angels that live with Old Woman Josie and how they prevented a meteor from hitting their town. At 1:00 PM, the radio discussed the likelihood of the existence of ducks. At 3:30 PM, the announcer ranted about the cat floating four feet above the ground in the men’s restroom that wouldn’t let him use the urinal. At 4:30 PM, Ed learned that their local PTA meeting ended with 9 deceased, 3 injured, and 27 missing. The announcer considered this to be good news.
Ed was so focused on writing everything. It felt like that was his only purpose on this godforsaken earth. He couldn’t stop, even as his pen started running out of ink and his hand started bleeding. He was so committed that he didn’t hear the front door slowly open behind him.
Sylvia couldn’t sleep that night.
Her mind kept drifting back toward Ed. The way his eyes couldn’t seem to focus on anything they looked at haunted her dreams when she did fall asleep, making her wake up anyway. The moment dawn broke, Sylvia was on her feet.
The first thing she did that morning was walk down the road to Ed’s cabin. She had to know what was going on. Sylvia knew that he had been in the war and had some PTSD, but not much else. Nothing to indicate that this man was clearly not in a sane frame of mind, judging from yesterday’s encounter.
As she saw Ed’s cabin come up in the distance, the hair started standing up on the back of her neck. Sylvia’s pace hesitated, slowing down for a moment. She almost turned around right there.
But something pulled Sylvia towards that cabin.
Something wanted to be found, and Sylvia could feel it in her bones.
On the outside, everything looked normal. The windows were lit up, and the door was closed. The cabin had a warm, homely feeling. Then, Sylvia frowned, checking her watch.
It’s 5:30 AM. Ed is never up at this time of day.
The cabin suddenly didn’t feel so warm and cozy anymore as Sylvia’s heart sunk to her shoes. Her mind told her to run as fast as she could, but her legs had other plans, taking her up to the cabin door.
Upon closer inspection, the door was unlocked. The pie that she left on the porch after yesterday’s events was still there, smelling sour. Flies were making a meal out of the pastry. Sylvia felt bile rise up in her throat, and she was quick to push it back down.
She warily pushed the door open, pulling her hand away as soon as the door creaked open.
The room was destroyed. Ed’s typically quietly organized cabin was in shambles. The couch was overturned, the pillows leaking their innards out onto the floor. The light on the ceiling had been broken, leaving shards of glass to sprinkle the kicked up rug below. His copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was lying abandoned near the toppled side table. His entire bookshelf was toppled over, hundreds of books piling up on the floor. The Murder on the Orient Express paperback laid ruined in a pool of water from the overflowing kitchen sink.
Sylvia took in all of this in only a moment. The most striking thing about the sight was the severe lack of sound. There were no footsteps, no grunts of pain, no signs that there was a living presence anywhere in a ten-mile radius. Only Sylvia’s panicked breathing.
Ed was nowhere to be found.
The only sign of Ed’s presence were the few drops of blood that were scattered on a piece of paper in front of the radio. That was all.
The radio played Ed’s favorite classical radio station, Piano Sonata No. 14 filling the room to accompany Sylvia’s shaking breath.
She ran, leaving behind the humming radio, still in pristine condition, in the middle of the living room.