Vanishing Jumper: Part 3

Hey, it’s Claire. I’ve been here all week, waiting for the mysterious bridge jumper. Yesterday I met him.

Recap: Mystery man appears on an abandoned train trestle several times a month, leaps two-hundred feet into a rocky gorge, and promptly vanishes until his next jump. Locals don’t recognize him. I saw him make the jump myself last week.

There’s no road that leads directly to the trestle, so I’ve had to leave my car behind and wait on the trestle itself, with coffee and smokes and egg croissandwiches, huddled with a book and a lawnchair in this godawful neverending cold mist that’s apparently the only weather Depressingly-Nowhere, PA ever gets. Seriously, is spring even happening this year?

Here’s the big scene. Four days into my wait, I’m about to shiver-swear back to my hotel for a loooong hot shower when the guy appears.

Same as before, walking from the woods on the eastern end of the trestle. I’m on the western end. He’s wearing the same gray sweatsuit and blue sneaks, and I start walking out to meet him in the middle at the spot he always jumps from.

My legs are numb and I’m walking off-balance. I stumble once and my arm goes right through a gap between the crossties, and this chunk of something rusty tumbles down into the gorge, and it’s like something out of an old jungle movie with an ancient bridge suspended over Certain Death, etc.

But I’ve got to meet this guy before he swan dives again, and so I’m up and almost jogging to meet him in time. He sees me coming but doesn’t break stride. He reaches his jumping spot before I do, takes his hood off, and shakes out his curly hair, and even thirty feet away I can tell he’s hot as ffffff.

I have this vision of tackling him and rolling on the tracks in order to save his life. Not even kidding. The entire scene comes to me in seconds. How he’d struggle but then surrender, and he’d be so amazed by this sexy Samaritan who finally saved his life, he’d just stare at my face until I kissed him on the mouth, and then we’d make out on the trestle for a while, and I’d take him back to my hotel for that warm-up shower and we’d eat each other up like near-death survivors. And then instead of appearing at the trestle, he’d be this mysterious phantom guy who kept appearing at the local hotel for months, pining for me after I was gone.

So I envision all that and then I’m suddenly at his side, close enough to tackle him for real. He’s turned away from me and faced north, gazing into the distance like he’s totally alone. I’m panting from adrenaline and my vapory breath goes right in his face.

“Thanks for trying to help,” he says. “I don’t mean to freak anyone out.”

“Who are you?” I ask.

He says, “I wanted to kill myself and did, right here, just like this. And it’s exactly like people say—at the last second, you regret it. You wish you hadn’t jumped. I don’t remember hitting the rocks. I jumped, and fell, and then I was home again. I was positive I’d dreamt it all. I’d never been more relieved.”

The whole time he’s telling me this, he’s inching closer to the trestle’s edge.

“Then what are you doing here again?” I ask.

“I get this feeling in my body like I’m already dead,” he says. “It goes away for a while but it always comes back.”

I still can’t tell if I’m talking to a person or a phantom. But I worry if I touch him and he’s real, he’ll take his header into the gorge before we finish talking.

“Everybody feels dead sometimes,” I say.

“Not like this.”

“So you come here every week to kill yourself?”

“I come here every week to resurrect myself,” he says.

Which is either corny as hell or a pretty good line. I decide it’s corny as hell, but what am I supposed to do? Snort and roll my eyes at someone about to kill himself for the umpteenth time?

I get what he’s talking about—a jump that makes him feel immortal, or super-awesomely mortal, or whatever you call the rush he’s desperately pursuing. I’ve heard about it with crash survivors, PTSD soldiers, addicts. They get a death-defying high and everything’s so alive, but then their regular lives are horrifyingly dull.

I want to tell him to come back to my hotel so we can tie one on and roll around like good old-fashioned debaucherous escape artists.

Instead I say, “Well you are freaking people out. You’ve got teens watching sometimes. You’ll give them bad ideas, like they should jump, too.”

Then I get this sense that I’ve been talking to myself to whole time. Other people have seen him, but maybe he’s a mass delusion, like when those Belgian schoolkids all got sick after drinking ordinary Coke because one of the kids thought the Coke smelled funny.

“You can’t be real,” I say.

He doesn’t answer so I poke his arm. His sweatshirt’s damp, his shoulder’s solid, and I’m about to say, “Huh,” when he steps off the trestle. My “huh” comes out like “ho!”—kinda like a breathy “huh-no!” combo.

I watch him drop, feet-first but slowly tipping forward as he falls. It’s like my heart falls with him. I don’t mean that sentimentally—I mean my shock and vertigo are so intense, I have a physical sensation that my heart’s dropped out of my chest and I’m going to collapse and die the second he hits the rocks.

And I guess I flutter out. I blink or almost faint. Because he’s falling, falling, falling… then he’s gone. Not a trace. I can still feel the moisture from his sweatshirt on my fingertip, and I remember what his voice was like, and I can even smell a hint of something he was wearing. His body wash, maybe, or a sport-scent deodorant.

I stare a while at the rocks below, and then I back away and sit on the crossties until my breathing calms down and I have balance when I stand again. There’s nothing else to do at that point but walk back, grab my lawnchair and thermos, and drive back to the hotel.

I get back to my room and belt a five-finger gin. I turn the TV on so there’s background noise. Then I take a thirty-minute shower, and as much as I’m dying for a ____ or at least some ordinary conversation to get the cold, lonely week entirely behind me, the gin and hot water bring me back to life just fine.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

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Vanishing Jumper: Part 2

Hey, it’s Claire. I’m in Depressingly-Nowhere County, PA investigating that mysterious bridge jumper Hank emailed me about.

The bridge is a train trestle, built in 1911, that runs a nauseating two hundred feet over a weedy, rocky gorge that’s impossible to easily access unless you’re one of those weirdoes who loves hiking into weedy, rocky gorges full ancient Genesee Cream Ale cans. The trestle’s been closed to all traffic for over a decade. It’s basically the kind of rusty old death structure you’d associate with dangerous teenage dares and mid-Pennsylvania industrial decay.

A massive graffiti tag on the northern side reads—I kid you not—“HEAVY METAL HEART”. Which is my favorite Sky Ferreira song. But the tag is 80s-old and must date back to some boombox-carrying Dio fan. I’m filled with dreadlove-nostalgia by how much this entire place reminds me of my childhood hometown.

I spent three mornings and afternoons sitting in my car with a thermos of coffee, smokes, and protein bars, watching the trestle from the muddy P.O.S. road on the west side of the gorge. Locals told me the mystery jumper appears about once a month, falls to his death, leaves no trace in the gorge, and reappears weeks later. Assuming the sightings are only once a month, I hoped his actual appearance was a lot more frequent—that sometimes he appeared and jumped and there was simply nobody there to see him.

I got lucky. The man came jogging out of the woods on the far side of the trestle at 1:21 P.M. on the third day of my watch. I followed him with binoculars and he was exactly like the description in Hank’s report. Thirtysomething years old, six feet tall, and fit. Gray sweatsuit with the hood up, bright blue sneakers. Dark Irish handsome. And yeah, when he stopped in the middle of the trestle and pulled back his hood, his curly black hair was marvelous. It’s hair I can imagine grabbing onto, hard.

He looked physical. Not a ghost, in other words. He expelled vapor when he breathed like a real warm body. If his hair was a wig, as Hank suggested, it was a damn good wig. There was light, cold rain and I watched his hair dampen and sag as he was standing on the trestle’s edge, staring off to the north.

My heart was pounding for the guy. He looked confident and calm, but there was something sad and spacey about him. Not hypnotized or drugged. Just resigned to what he was doing, as if he had, in fact, made his death jump dozens of times before and there he was again. That there was meaning in the act, or some necessity that drove it, but it would never be a thing he wanted or enjoyed.

I got out of my car and yelled, “Hey!” as loud as I could. It took a few seconds for my voice to reach his ears. Incredible timing—he heard me the instant he started to jump and looked in my direction. I met his eyes through my binoculars for one quick second, and let me tell you, it was like a thousand volts: connecting with someone who’s just about to fall two hundred feet to his death.

It was one of those time-warp moments. He fell in slow motion, it was over in a blink, etc. If I watched him do it fifty times, I don’t think I’d ever NOT have the gut-punch feeling that his body just watermeloned open on the rocks.

From my vantage point, I couldn’t see the spot where he must have landed in the gorge, so I drove a ways along the road, got out of my car, and climbed a wooded hill to the western end of the trestle. Then I walked across the trestle itself. The structure was semi-frozen and exposed, and there were gaps and breaks and “holy hell I’m not the daredevil I used to be” sections every few steps, and I reached the middle of the trestle and got down on my hands and knees to look over the edge.

No body. No trace. I couldn’t find a single scuff mark on the trestle itself. If I hadn’t been trembling and trying not to lose my s____ from vertigo, I’d have been as relieved and amazed as anybody who’d just witnessed a resurrection-grade magic trick.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to wait on the trestle itself. I’ve got to meet this guy.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

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Vanishing Jumper

I’ve received word of a man who leaps to his death from a train trestle in rural New Jersey at least once a month.

The man has been seen taking his suicide dive—a two-hundred-foot drop into a rocky gorge—by more than a dozen witnesses in the last year.

He is currently unidentified. Witnesses describe him as approximately thirty years old and six feet tall. He’s Caucasian with curly black hair that three people have independently referred to as “marvelous”. He wears a gray sweatsuit and blue sneakers.

He’s been seen at different times of the day—never at night—running east from a heavily wooded section of the tracks. He stops, facing north, in the middle of the trestle. He stands for several minutes, staring into the distance, before removing his sweatshirt’s hood and shaking out his curly hair. He then hops off the trestle, without drama or panache, and falls two hundred feet to his death.

Depending on the witness’s vantage point, his body can sometimes be seen on the rocks below, but by the time anyone is able to descend into the gorge, no trace of him remains. Search teams combed the area after the first few sightings but no one in town bothers anymore.

Every witness has seen him from a distance, usually from a narrow road that runs along the western side of the gorge. The site has become a popular macabre attraction, and local high-schoolers frequent the site to drink and wait for the spectacle to reoccur, but the jumper has yet to appear when anyone was in a position to approach or speak to him. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones, he has not yet been photographed.

The most recent incident happened last Thursday, at 9:45 A.M., during a cold drizzle. The woman who saw him jump had seen him once before, last May, and became the first person to witness his suicide twice.

She noticed an additional detail the second time. When the man removed his hood, his curly hair appeared to slide backward on his skull. He mussed it up, as people often do after removing a hood, and his hair looked normal again. A wig, perhaps? Might the jumper be different people wearing identical costumes? But how do they survive and vanish, and what is the purpose?

I understand Claire Maple is currently in New Jersey. I’ve sent her the details and the location of the trestle and hope she’s able to investigate. This is right up her alley.

— Report filed by Hank Ridley

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Hovering Body, Part 3

An update about the two ethereal bodies floating in my house, dear strangers.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

The first body’s face, looking upward, could be seen through the hole I’d cut in the hallway floor. The second body, looking downward, was mostly hidden directly overhead in the ceiling. Only its ghostly nose protruded.

I Sawzalled a new hole, cutting a wide oval and revealing the second face. It was a woman this time. Like the man below, she was bald and lacked both eyebrows and eyelashes, and even if they hadn’t shared their strange hairlessness, they resembled each other enough to be relatives.

Once the plaster dust settled and my eyes felt clear, I stood on my stepladder, craned back so I could look straight up, and examined the woman’s face.

Her expression was neutral. She stared without blinking and seemed not to notice me, as if she were waiting for something else and wouldn’t react until she saw it. I realized I was blocking her view of the man’s face below and so I climbed down, moved the ladder, and let the two mysterious faces see each other at last.

I stood aside and waited, standing as close to the floor and ceiling holes as possible without obstructing the way. Since the man’s head was recessed a foot below me in the floor, only part of his face was visible to me, but I saw that he immediately stopped mouthing his silent words, and that his expression grew pregnant with emotion. Was it amazement, fear, or hope? His opportunity had come to tell the woman something critical—a secret he had kept and needed to convey.

The woman’s face remained neutral as she stared at the man below. Eventually he mouthed new words, and while I couldn’t interpret his speech from my vantage point, he seemed to talk with urgency and passion. I was glad to have brought the two of them together in their afterlives, and I looked up at the woman, anticipating an expression of peace, epiphany, or marvelous relief from whatever the man was telling her.

I have never seen a more harrowing scream. The woman’s eyes widened and seemed to vibrate. Her nose crinkled at the bridge, and her entire head lengthened as her mouth stretched open. She bared her upper and lower teeth, all the way to her canines and gums. She made no sound. Her mouth was cavernous and grim, like the drain of an old metal slop sink, and her scream had the indrawn intensity of suction.

I felt my own breath being drawn from my body, and I forced myself to look down at the man’s face below. He had stopped mouthing words. His expression was aghast, as if he’d expected a different reaction from the woman he’d addressed. I was reminded of violent offenders apologizing in court, with carefully phrased remorse, and finding not forgiveness but the bloodthirsty, outraged fury of the victims.

I glanced up at the woman’s face in time to see her disappear in a bright scarlet flare. The light warmed my face and left behind a stench of burned insulation. It was glorious to see—a flash of power she had saved and finally unleashed.

I stood above the hole in the floor and looked down. The man’s stricken face stared a while longer, and then he flickered out and vanished like a pitiful illusion.

Look Beyond,
William Rook

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

 

 

 

 

Look Beyond,
William Rook

Hovering Body, Part 2

An update about the hovering body in my hallway, dear strangers.

(Read Part 1)

As I described in my earlier report, the body is nonphysical—I was able to reach my hand through his torso—and is pressed face-first against the ceiling, the way an ordinary body would lie facedown on a floor. Because he’s so close to the ceiling, I was initially unable to see his features.

My solution was to Sawzall a hole in the ceiling, cutting a circle around his head, so I could see him through the floor of the hallway above. This was messier and more challenging than expected, but after I cut a crude hole in the ceiling, I walked upstairs, coated in plaster dust, and finished the hole from the upper hallway.

It was psychologically difficult using a Sawzall in close proximity to what appeared to be a live human head. I was relieved to see that throughout the process, the man’s expression remained unperturbed. The sawdust and plaster drifted through his head to the hallway below, and I was left with a rough but sufficient portal.

The hovering man’s head was then visible eighteen inches below in the hole, separated from me by the joisted gap between the house’s two levels. The gap was dark. A flashlight would have been useless because he was non-corporeal; light would have simply passed through his head. Fortunately, he was faintly self-illuminating, and his pinkish-gray face glowed up at me with excellent clarity.

His eyes were open. They didn’t blink. He was bald and lacked stubble, eyebrows, and eyelashes, which gave his head and face an embryonic smoothness I found both repulsive and fascinatingly generic. I wondered why his hair had vanished in the afterlife.

As I had earlier suspected, he was silently mouthing words, and because he didn’t move his eyes left or right, his mysterious soliloquy seemed directed at me with unsettling intensity.

I have little experience with lip-reading, but by emptying my mind and allowing instinct to guide me, I started to interpret some of what he said. After many minutes of watching, I recognized the pattern of his mouth’s movements and determined that he was speaking a single repeated sentence:

“I never told you what happened that night.”

I sat away from the hole, with my back against the wall, and pondered his words. To whom was he attempting to speak? What had happened on the night in question? Such answers were impossible to guess, but I imagined the man speaking to his lover, or his child, about an incident in darkness—a night of so much meaning in the story of their lives that he’d persisted after death in order to express it.

As I daydreamed various scenarios—a fatal accident, murder, betrayal, maybe a missed opportunity of necessary love—I began to absentmindedly stare upward. My eyes zeroed in on a strange protrusion in the ceiling.

I stood for a closer look and discovered it was a nose and upper lip. They were the same pinkish gray as the man’s spectral form below, and I realized I was looking at parts of a second hovering body, nearly all of which was hidden in the space between the ceiling and the crawl-space attic above…

Look Beyond,
William Rook

(Read Part 1 and Part 3)

Hovering Body

A disembodied man is hovering in my brownstone’s second-floor hallway.

The hallway is narrow and long, with a grimy plaster ceiling and a hardwood floor covered by a lichenous carpet runner. Two wall sconces provide a modicum of light in the hall, but the man’s form floats in the gap between the sconces and is somewhat difficult to see.

I’m mostly certain he’s a man. He floats face-up against the ceiling, straight as a plank. From below I can see the back of his head, which is bald, but none of his distinguishing characteristics. He is nude, as many ghosts are—an essential, lingering self without ornament or clothes.

He’s motionless. He isn’t translucent but his form is an otherworldly pinkish gray, like neon light submerged in dirty slush.

I determined he isn’t a solid body by pushing a broom handle through his torso, and then by climbing onto a step-ladder and reaching my hand through his back. My palm met no resistance until it touched the ceiling. He felt neither warm nor cold. I perceived no electric charge.

He doesn’t make sound, and yet although I can’t directly see his face, I’m convinced (for reasons I can’t explain) that he’s constantly mouthing words. Since I have no way of turning his ethereal body, I’ve resorted to other approaches.

I slid a mirror between his head and the ceiling and tried to view his face obliquely, but all I could see was his right eye. The eye was open. I may have imagined it, but I think his pupil dilated when the mirror slid in front of it and he suddenly found himself staring at his own reflection for the first time since his death.

Viewed through the mirror, his jaw did appear to be moving, but his ghostly mouth was pressed an inch or two into the ceiling and was therefore completely hidden.

I’m going to saw around his head, through the ceiling, and open a viewing portal through which to see his face from the third-floor hallway above. I’ll report back once I find my Sawzall.

Look Beyond,
William Rook

(Read Part 2 and Part 3)

Seven-Year-Old Fetus: The Interview

[Read previous report here]

Hey, it’s Claire. Here are the highlights of my interview with Melissa _________, the woman who’s been pregnant with a male fetus for twenty-six trimesters.

ME: Congratulations, I guess!

HER: Thank you. I feel very blessed.

ME: What’s your son’s name?

HER: Timothy.

ME: Most mothers I’ve known start to feel very “get this baby out of me” by the end of the third trimester. How’re you feeling after seven years of pregnancy?

HER: I worried a lot in the first year, but once I understood he was healthy and safe, I made peace with him staying inside. My hormones reached a wonderful balance. I have a permanent pregnancy glow. I’m not in any discomfort. I think a lot of mothers would love this experience. I’m always with my baby. He doesn’t get sick, he’s never alone. He’s growing up in a perfect environment.

ME: He’s not really growing up, though, is he?

HER: He isn’t physically growing but he’s happy and alive. He’s always growing closer to me.

ME: I want to ask some challenging questions if that’s OK.

HER: Go ahead.

ME: Have you considered a C-section?

HER: God, no! It’d be extremely dangerous for him at his stage of development.

ME: You’ll never get to see him or hold him. You’ll never talk to him.

HER: I talk to him all the time. I’m holding him all the time.

ME: Are you concerned he’s missing out? Totally arrested development? He’ll never ride a bike, or see the ocean, or make out with a prom date. He’ll never have a life of his own.

HER: He’ll never get hooked on drugs or have his heart broken, either. He’ll never have to worry about the news or feel alone.

ME: This takes helicopter parenting to a new level, though. You’ve locked him in the cockpit.

HER: I didn’t ask for this. If I suddenly went into labor, I wouldn’t try to fight that. I’m making the best of a unique situation, which is what every good parent does with every individual child.

ME: Why do you think this is happening to you and Timothy?

HER: I have no idea. Why can some woman get pregnant while others can’t no matter what? Why do some babies have disabilities and others have amazing natural gifts?

ME: But this isn’t like, “Geez, my baby has a harelip.” This is one in a billion. Unprecedented, far as we know. You’ve got to have some theory.

HER: I’ve had lots. Proof that God has a plan. Proof there isn’t any God. Mutation. A leap in evolution. Somebody slipped me an experimental drug. Alien pregnancy. But I don’t believe in most of those crazy ideas. I’m a very normal woman, very grounded. I think theorizing is less important than simply enjoying what I’ve got. We’re happy. We have a good life.

ME: That’s super zen. I don’t personally roll that way, but I appreciate how you’re just like, “I love my permanently unborn baby Tim and I’m awesome at my payroll job.”

HER: Thanks.

ME: May I ask you one more question? It’s a tough one.

HER: OK.

ME: He’s snug as a bug in there. Not really aging. There’s no indication that’ll change. What if this goes on for decades and he finally outlives you?

HER: I guess they’ll cut him out. Maybe that’ll be his time.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

Seven-Year-Old Fetus

Hey, it’s Claire. Here’s a weird one. By “weird” I mean creepy AF and just the kind of thing that makes me dread-love my job.

I met a woman named Melissa who’s been pregnant for seven years. Twenty-six trimesters to be exact. I heard about her from an anonymous tip on The Blackboard and drove out to meet her in an office park where she works payroll.

She’s unmarried and wouldn’t talk about the father except to say he was a full-time fantasy footballer and no love lost on either side. She’s 49% pretty and looks right at the tipping point of “don’t ask about her due date in case she isn’t actually pregnant”. Picture a mousy thirty-year-old woman with a shopping-mall haircut and the beer belly of a middle-age man.

Little backstory here. Her coworkers like her OK and she’s a payroll whiz, no professional complaints whatsoever, but everybody thinks she’s crackers. Not dangerous crackers but sad crackers. Because she announced her pregnancy to everybody twenty-five trimesters ago, and there was an office baby shower and everything, and then no baby. She grew a paunch and then nada.

People assume she miscarried and traumatically fooled herself into believing she’s still pregnant, because she’s been talking about her unborn baby ever since. Not excessively, just casual references like, “I can’t drink alcohol because…,” or, “He kept me up all night with his kicks.”

So yeah, chances were good that she was very sad crackers. Except I felt the kicks. She let me put my hand on her womb and let me tell you, that was one real kick. I felt the little thing’s heel.

And then Melissa tells me her cousin is an obstetrician who gives her regular checkups and even ultrasounds, and there’s a fetus all right. She (the cousin, I talked to her in person) keeps it hush because she’s afraid Melissa’ll get boxed into a lab somewhere and experimented on, etc., and while I’m not a big gov’t-science-conspiracy theorist, I’d err on the side of hush-hush, too.

The fetus doesn’t grow or develop anymore. It just floats around in there, kicking and sucking up nutrients and dreaming whatever bizarro stuff fetuses dream. It’s like her amniotic fluid’s the fountain of youth, and there’s a human fetus bathing in the goo and never aging and man oh man, if she could bottle it she’d be a trillionaire.

I interviewed her. I’ll send you the highlights soon. Just give me a trimester to type it up j/k.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

Super Weird Thing Outside My Bed Tent

Dennis!!

I thought I had a bat in my apartment last night, which was weird and exciting because I thought bats vanished during winter (do they hibernate or what?), but anyway here’s what really happened and it’s totally more exciting than a winter bat.

I’m in my bed tent, and it’s late, and I’m playing Carly Rae on my earbuds and reading Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft for the godzillionth time. And suddenly this thing lands on the outside of the tent and it’s all like, “Fluttery, flappity, look at my wings I’m super awkward.”

I unzip the tent and jump out of bed and it’s GONE. My apartment’s small. My roommate Katey’s room is up the hall and her door is shut (she had that boy over again) so whatever landed on my tent’s got to be in my room, the hallway, the bathroom, or the kitchen. I checked them all with a flashlight. Nothing! No sign of the thing.

So now I’m 101% awake and disappointed and way too distracted to read, so I get back into bed and lay there, staring up at the tent’s ceiling with my earbuds on.

I’ve got holiday lights strung around my room, and they’re glowing through the tent, and it’s crazy magic pretty and you ought to try it. Anyway anyway, I listen to two songs and the thing comes back.

It’s straight above me outside the tent, flippity flappity, and I can see its wings like silhouettes because of the glow. Except they aren’t really wings.

They’re hands!!! Two adult-sized hands pattering on the tent, not violently but nervously? Shakily? I don’t mean anything disrespectful because you know I looooove old people but they were like a mega-old person’s jittery helpless hands.

I say, “Who’s that’s, who’s there?” and I’m kinda freaked because they’re definitely hands, and there’s either a stranger in my room, or it’s Katey or Katey’s boyfriend messing around, and I say, “Knock it off or I’ll hex you soooo bad.” Katie, at least, knows that’s true.

The hands disappear. My earbuds are out and I wait a bit, listening for footsteps or creepy breathing, but I don’t hear a sound and I can’t see any shapes moving in the glow. So I unzip the tent again and jump back out.

There’s nobody there. No one under the bed or in the closet. Katey’s door was still closed up the hall. And there’s absolutely no way it was a bat. I saw the hands’ fingers, clear as a shadow puppet’s shadow.

Phantom hands! Total mystery. They didn’t come back that night but maybe tonight I’ll get lucky. Reeeally hoping it’s Red Maggie, who I told you about a while back. How wild would that be??

xoxo
Amanda

P.S. Give William a hug for me. Extra tight!

Read more by Amanda Cress

Baby in a Beehive

I received the following letter via paper mail. I don’t know the sender, who identifies herself merely as “An Old Woman”. I’m giving the message special attention for reasons I can’t discuss in detail. Suffice it to say the envelope was marked with certain runes that very few people outside of the society would know and understand.

—————

Dear Mr. Mahoney,

I’m an old woman now. At least 94. My exact age is unknown because my birth parents abandoned me in infancy, and because I have no trustworthy memories of my childhood. I believe much of what I remember about pre-adolescence is imaginary. I have no memory of willfully imagining it all—only a deep-seated instinct that most of it is lies.

This morning my granddaughter, who is seven, asked me where I was born. This is what I told her.

I was found inside a hive hanging from a tree branch: a newborn baby covered in live bees. A hunter heard me crying inside the hive and broke it open with his rifle. I fell seven feet without sustaining an injury. The hunter suffered dozens of stings picking me up and carried me home to his wife.

When he told her the story, he realized how ludicrous his own account sounded and thought he must have imagined it all. Maybe the stings had somehow caused him to hallucinate and misremember. Yet there I was, wailing on the kitchen table with bees still wriggling out of my ears and nostrils.

His wife believed the story and thought I must be evil.

She boiled water in a pot, intending to cleanse me, but her husband’s throat kept swelling from the stings and he died, right there in the kitchen. The wife blamed me for his death, and after confirming he was gone and keening over his body, she lunged for the boiling water.

Her lunge was awkward. She stumbled to her knees next to the stove, cried, “Oh!” from the pain, and—instinctively grabbing the pot handle to steady herself—managed to dump most of the boiling water directly down her open throat. She choked and thrashed on the floor for a while, and then she was dead, too.

I was found a day later, by a visiting neighbor, still on the table but no longer crying. No one ever pieced together exactly what had happened to the hunter and his wife. My origin remained a mystery. I was placed with adoptive parents and ran away from home at the age of eleven.

After finishing this story, my granddaughter asked me who else had been in the farmhouse that day. I told her no one. The couple had lived alone, miles from the nearest town. She asked me how I—only a baby at the time—knew any of what had happened.

“I remember it,” I said. “Every word. Every gesture. Which is impossible, of course, for an ordinary baby. But it’s the one thing about my early youth I know I didn’t imagine.”

“Maybe the wife was right,” my granddaughter said. “Maybe you were evil.”

I smiled when she said it. She’s a bright little girl. I wonder if she remembers how her mother found *her*.

Sincerely,
An Old Woman

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