Caves

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations? 

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The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations?

I hate the summer heat and to this day I lay low when summer is at its zenith.  I suspected that the small cave near the river was not just a small cave.  John Wilkie would take foolish girls there and so it began to have a reputation.  I suspect that John Wilkie, tall and good-looking as he was, really didn’t know what to do with a girl, so he took the doe-eyed ones to the small cave by the river just to get the girl to sit close to him and shudder.  There were a few fathers and elder brothers that didn’t weep at his memorial service but still, he has his name in bronze over at the courthouse square on the World War I memorial.

I digress.

John Wilkie, Salem Schultz, and Nathanial Barrow were the river rats of the town and on hot summer afternoons, they would take a raft up and down the river and spear carp and catfish.  Every once in awhile they would put a line in and pull up bluegill.  Salem’s father was a whiz at smoking fish and I even had the honor once or twice to try the delicacy as my father and Salem’s father were fairly good friends.  One such night, my hands greasy from smoked fish, my senses were deadened by the drowsy conversation between my father and his friend.  They spoke of their own fathers and their memories of the civil war, which to me, in 1914 seemed eons ago.  I was fourteen, wore wire-rimmed glasses and had grown at least two inches that year.  I stuck close to home, the library and anyplace relatively cool.

“Let’s go to the cave.”

“No, I don’t want to go to that stupid cave.”

“Why not?  It will be great at night.”

I spoke up, amongst the whispered conversation of the boys who never took any interest in a bookworm like me.  “You know, I think that cave is probably connected to a much larger cavern or cave system.”

There was a dead silence and I felt myself grow red.  The heat along my neck and face positively burned.  What had made me open my mouth?

“Who asked you worm?”  I couldn’t tell which one whispered that in my ear but all three chuckled as if the words were unique in the annals of slights and rudeness.  Perhaps that was what prompted my boldness, they were such dullards.

“Actually, I’m sure that cave is part of a larger cave.   There is even a possibility that an underground river is involved.”

I was practically drug to that cave with the words, “prove it, know-it-all, and smarty pants,” filling the air as we walked down the dirt road, and down the narrow path to the river.  The darkness was complete as the town’s lights disappeared behind the steep bank of the river.  We felt our way along the bank with the swift water just at our feet and the gleam of fast running river expanding out before us.  I was relieved when we all managed to crowd into the narrow cave opening.  To actually get into the cave we had to belly crawl.  I didn’t like it as I wasn’t fond of small places but the natural stone walls quickly gave way to a fairly large cavern.  Nathanial lit the lantern and the cave walls lit up with the spark of tiny quartz and dripping wet stone.

I had been in the cavern before and seen the impressive glitter.  There had even been some geologist down from Chicago to examine the cave.  It was from over hearing those men talk in my father’s store that they suspected the cave was part of a larger cave system.  The bought supplies from my father intent on exploring the cave in greater detail but were at the last minute called back to Chicago.

They never came back.

“It’s cold in here.”

“Hush, did you hear that?”

“Stop it, Salem, nobody wants to hear your ghost stories.”

“No, Nate, really, I think we should go.”

The cave did seem unusually cold.  I was delighted.  Perhaps this was where I could escape to occasionally from the heat.

“Hey, I think I heard it too.”

“What?”

“Like voices.”

I moved to the outer line of the light.  Nate had held up the lantern but his hand was shaking and the light shook with him.  Suddenly we were in complete darkness and what shattered me was that I heard nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no sound from the boys, no teasing or angry words and I heard nothing hit the stony ground.

I am pretty good at keeping my bearings and I felt that if I followed my left hand straight ahead I could reach the small opening that led to the river.  I knew that I had been duped but still it was terrifying to be left alone in that cave.  I moved ahead swiftly and bumped into something soft and warm.  It bounced off of me and then seemed to swing back and forth a darker shadow than the blackness about me.

I fell to the ground.  The ground was wet and smelled of urine.  I scrambled forward and bumped into a soft lump that shuddered and cried softly.

“John?”

“Worm?”

I crawled over him and he grasped my foot following me forward.  I heard a soft scratching and some whispering overhead.  I moved faster and John Wilkie nearly crawled over me.  I felt the fresh air and so did John because he pushed me aside and pulled himself out.  As I crawled out I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot and I shouted out in agony.  I made it to the small cave at the river and found John standing at the edge weeping.

My foot and leg were never the same.  I wasn’t fit for active duty when the war came.  My parents spoke in whispers near my sick bed and to me, they were always a little distant from that time on.  I was ill for a very long time.  I even had to complete my first few weeks of school at home.

I was never a popular boy so I can’t say I was bothered by the solitude.  The whispers were what bothered me the most.

“He’s poisoned.  What got Salem and Nate got a piece of him too.  He can see in the dark and his eyes flash red.”

You see, it’s important now that I stay incognito, I’m not so changed I need a cave to hunt in.

She Rattles, She Doesn’t Knock

After my wife left me I felt a terrible loss because she took the dog and the cat with her.  She left angry.

Don’t blame me.  We both agreed we didn’t want children.  A friend of mine told me that would change.  He told me so sitting slumped over on a barstool with a begging look at the bartender who kept telling us the place was closed.  He wasn’t drunk, well not stupid, pie-eyed drunk, he just didn’t want to go home to the wife and kiddos – all four of them.  No, five total, if you counted the wife.  He has a sweet wife, really, just a little, well a little…she’s a little dumb.  She’s a great mother, though, but they had agreed that they would not bring any children into this awful, dying world.  Like I said they had four.

I held my ground on the whole pregnancy thing.  Now my wife is someone else to someone, with a little girl that “means the world,” to her.  I know my wife, she’s sorry she let her biological clock get the best of her.  I know she misses the long weekends listening to Lake Michigan pound the coastline and reading by the fire.  Yeah, I kept the cabin because there was no way she could afford it, not with a kid.   Sure, we sold the two-story house but I’m fine with a small apartment downtown.  Little has changed for me – except for the damned door knobs.

She showed up when I was moving in, my wife that is.  She showed up about three months pregnant to make sure I was “okay.”  I told her in no uncertain terms not to show her face at my apartment again and that this was not some “adult,” type of divorce where we were going to be friends and concerned about each other.

Actually, I said no such thing, I just told her I was fine and got back to rearranging my apartment.  She had no business being there.  The friend who didn’t want to leave his bar stool spoke loud and fast at her for about fifteen minutes.  I didn’t see her leave.

That night while I was on the toilet reading Jaws, the door knob rattled.  I shouted at Ralf, my big dumb golden lab to knock it off and go to bed.  Then I remembered that Ralf, the big dumb lab went with mommy.  I sat there, book in hand and stared at the door knob.  Why had I shut the door to go to the toilet?  I was the only one living in the apartment.  I didn’t have to worry about offending anyone.

The door knob softly rattled.

“Who’s there?”

The door knob shook and turned as if someone was going to wrench it out of the door and then suddenly went silent.  I felt cold to the bone.  I sat there until I felt my feet go numb.  When I stood up my knees were wobbly.  I made lots of noise, flushed the toilet twice and open the door suddenly with a wide sweep.  The apartment was completely quiet and gray-dark.  I heard the noise of after hours downtown, a comforting sound and noticed the dim glow of street lights.  I walked about turning on all the apartment lights and the TV.  I slept on the couch and was to work early.

Yeah, that’s nice by the way.  I can walk to work and do.  I’ve lost five pounds already and some envious people are looking at me and saying I need to take it easy.

So, when my wife had this guy’s daughter she plastered her ugly little face all over Facebook.  Friends who didn’t know what to do with either one of us put their little thumbs up under the kid’s picture so I closed my account and I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  I even bought the audio book and have it playing while I cook.  It’ s a little galley kitchen in the apartment.  I miss the big old kitchen in the two-story house we sold but I don’t cook like I used to; I can still cut a great salad.

One night I woke up to a door slamming and thought that one of my neighbors was having a loud fight.  My bedroom was dark and I was aware, in a groggy sort of way, that the room was too dark.  Where was the night light that I kept in the hallway?  I didn’t become fully awake until I heard the rattle of a doorknob.  My bedroom door was closed.  I had lived in the apartment almost 10 months and I made it a point not to shut any of the doors leading into rooms (the closet door knobs never protested up to that point).

I have no idea what made me brave, I simply got out of bed while the door knob jiggled in the door.  I grabbed the thing and felt an electric shock go through me.  The only thing I remember is my teeth chattering and trying not to urinate and feeling…I don’t know…terrified.  Absolutely terrified.

“Janet, I think my apartment is haunted.”

“Janet, are you still there?”

“Yes.  What makes you think it is haunted?”

“The doorknobs rattle in the door and last night I tried to open the door while the doorknob was moving and something…something happened.”

“I know a good priest.”

“I’m not joking.”

“Neither am I.”

“You never went to church a day in your life.”

“I know I started after I left you.  Jeffery goes.”

“Yeah, well never mind.  I wouldn’t want you to miscarry.”

“I’ve already had the baby.”

“Yeah, right never mind.”

I hung up before she could say another word, disgusted with myself that I had called her but I couldn’t shake that feeling of apprehension.  I spent the weekend up at the cabin.  I left instructions with the apartment’s handyman to change every damned doorknob in the place.  When I came back every doorknob on every door, including the closets, were changed.  I deliberately closed the bathroom door Monday night and continued reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  When I had finished, hands washed and reaching for the doorknob the damned thing began to rattle.  I stood in the bathroom for an hour.  When I opened the door – nothing.

At Wednesday’s board meeting I lost track of the conversation, thinking about what my apartment would look like with no doors.  I could use beads or heavy damask material for doors.  My boss pulled me aside later and asked if I was okay.  The job had actually been great, sales were up and my department was top of the line, so I was a little impatient that he pulled me aside.

“Listen, you’ve lost weight and you are here early and you leave late.  I know things have been tough but I want you to take a few days off.”  The boss walked away before I could protest.  I wanted to shout after him to come on over and use my toilet but I didn’t.

I can survive my wife leaving and becoming instantaneously pregnant with a younger guy named Jeffery instead of Jeff (who actually goes to church) but it’s the doorknobs that will unhinge me.  Is there a pun in that?

I take the week off and spend it at the cabin.  It’s on the Wisconsin coastline, due north of Chicago and a place of refuge.  I thought I’d miss her but oddly enough I miss the dog.  Ralf and I would walk the coast while my wife and the cat would read by the fire.  For the first few days I looked at any door knob before I turn it or pull it but by Wednesday morning I forget all about doorknobs and thought about grilling steaks, putting together quiches with sweet potato crusts and mixing together egg custards.  Salads didn’t cross my mind and I finished The Count of Monte Cristo.

I returned mid-afternoon on Saturday thanking my boss mentally for the good advice.  The apartment seemed small and cramped to me so I opened a few windows and thought about maybe buying some plants to help freshen the air.  I stood in the middle of the living room and said, “I like it here, it’s close to work and I don’t have to park on the street.  This will work.”

For the first time, the door knob on the closet rattled.  It rattled violently.  I stood and looked at it for a moment.  It rattled again and then settled down into a tapping and then stopped.  I strode with determination toward the closet door and swung it open wide.

I stayed in a hotel that night and had movers take my stuff to a really cool loft apartment in an old Victorian.  It’s a little further to work if I drive but I don’t mind the walk to the L even on cold days; it clears my mind.  I started going to Mass and I talk to the priest every Saturday now, he’s a good guy.

The good news was that I was able to keep my deposit and I was reimbursed for all the new doorknobs.  They put the old ones back.  The handyman figures that she showed herself because of the new door handles.  He told me she was usually pretty quiet with women tenants and she hadn’t shown herself in several decades.  No one knows why she hung herself in the closet.

“One lady told me she thinks she did it for love.  Of course, the manager and owner think everyone’s crazy but hey, they gave you your deposit back.”  The handyman was a nice guy but I wish he would have told me she had hanged herself in there, I’m pretty sure I would have known we wouldn’t have been compatible.

Her Perfect Green Eyes

“You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“You know, I used to date a boy in high-school just like him.”

Cara had perfect green eyes.  I suppose those eyes were the physical feature to which I was drawn. When we first met, and just now, with her comment regarding a high-school sweetheart, her eyes narrowed and when narrowed they glowed.  The atmosphere around us didn’t matter.  We could be sitting at our favorite sidewalk café on a quiet street or in the gloom of a club dancing our hearts out; when she narrowed her eyes, her eyes shimmered in a jeweled tone green.

“I thought you too old for high-school remembrances, ” I said not really focused on her comment but on her emerald features.

“What sort of remark is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”  I shrugged and looked away.  I was always nervous around Cara but not like most people.  She chose me, you see, so when her narrowed eyes and lowered voice were directed at me I just looked away and focused on some other salient point of interest and confronted her with my voice or line of logic.  “You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“I endured like all the rest.”

I glanced back at her and she was looking toward the bar where most men leaned, gazing out at the dance floor; their faces dimly reflecting the flashing lights that glared from the ceiling, floor and walls of the club.  Her pristine skin and darkly painted lips now seemed to be the only thing that existed, her eyes now in deep shadow.

“Of course, no one really survives,” I said.

She faced me again, a wicked smile on her face, “Oh I survived.”  She seemed about to say something more but laughed instead, as if realizing she was about to say too much.  Whenever she laughed I felt that I was only her sounding board, the sidekick that made her extraordinary beauty and perfect look a little more normal in a less than perfect world.

“So what was this boy in high school like?”  I asked.

“Oh, you know.  After we kissed for the first time and I found him wanting he went about with any girl who would have him.  He didn’t want any of them except me but he was determined to show me how happy he was; how very much happier he was than say…me.”

It was my turn to laugh and I looked again at the man I had just danced with and who was now walking another girl out to the dance floor.  “I suppose we don’t really grow up.”

“Did he hurt you?” she asked me, “that man, did he hurt you just now?”

I had known her long enough not to lie.  I watched as he gyrated and swirled the new girl around and looked oh so handsome on the crowded floor and in the flashing lights.  I examined myself and searched for that pang of regret.  Was I sorry I had not been asked a second time?

“No, honestly no.  Which makes me wonder if I’ve not grown too old for clubs, dancing and searching for…I don’t know what.”

“I was hoping you were not going to say ‘meaningful relationships,’” And we both laughed at her tone of voice.

I listened to the music for a time and felt my companion shift and fidget next to me.  She got up without a word and began to dance without a partner.  She often did – she was rarely asked to dance and I noticed she was only asked by men who seemed to be as beautiful as she.  She danced close to the man that had asked me to dance earlier.  I knew what was coming and sure enough, he did abandon his partner on the dance floor.

I felt suddenly tired.  Suddenly weary of the noise and sway of humanity.  I found myself suddenly hungry.

She was like that, my green eyed beauty.  She knew when I was hungry and she knew the type of men who would follow her to her car.  She knew too I’d be waiting.  I suppose I had learned just a little more about her tonight, this slighted beauty with a low self-esteem.

“You won’t ever feed on me will you?”  She asked after a rather tedious fight I had with one of her stronger, more determined dance partners.

“Not until you are ready,” I promised.

Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.