The Dutchman's Grimoire
Chapter One: School Spirit
By J. F. Marshall
What are you afraid of? What makes you want to curl up and hide? What causes nightmares that make you wake up screaming in the middle of the night? What makes your heart stop beating, makes cold sweat drip down your back, steals your breath and pins you to the ground with complete, mind-numbing terror?
My name is Patrick MacLane. And this is my story. The year was 1985. I was sixteen years old, a junior at Conant J. Armstrong High School in the western half of Fox City. And my friends and I woke up a monster. It almost killed us before we found a way to stop it, and even though we survived, it still left plenty of scars... on the soul, on the mind, and in the flesh. But maybe I should start this from the beginning.
Fox City is at the heart of the Fox Valley, a collection of cities along the Fox River, mostly contained in Fox County. Named for the Fox Indian tribe that used to live here. It's on the eastern side of Wisconsin, at the north end of Lake Winnebago, only forty minutes from the better known Lake Michigan - and for you football fans, it's about the same distance from Green Bay. Go Packers. It's always been a nice city to live in. Sixty thousand people all agree on that. Clean sidewalks, no potholes in the roads, plenty of public parks, and none of what other cities call 'urban decay'. But even a place like Fox City has it's dark side. And our dark side was one of the local high schools.
Conant J. Armstrong High School had some of the creepiest architecture in the Midwest. Parts of the school were over a hundred years old, and rumors persist to this day that the east wing used to be a mental hospital. Even the modern extensions had a serious lack of natural lighting, and somebody went out of their way to make the main entrance look like the gatehouse of a castle, stopping just short of a moat and drawbridge. It always felt more like a prison than a school.
For eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, the building was host to three hundred miserable, unhappy souls - and about ten times as many students and teachers were crammed in there. There were some people who enjoyed it, of course. There's always someone who gets through their teenage years unscathed. But for me, it was just one of those places where joy and happiness go to die.
My biggest problem was with the football team. The Armstrong Rockets. Thirty-three pugilistic, bloodthirsty Particularly one of their star players, Michael Anderson. Also known as "Big Mike" because he was a six foot tall, three hundred pound block of solid muscle. And he liked to use me as a punching bag. Of course, he had plenty of friends to help hold me down.
Even if his goons didn't outnumber me, he still outweighed me. I was barely five feet tall, and weighed just under a hundred pounds. I knew a little about boxing and wrestling, but I was just too small to be able to put up any meaningful resistance. So my options were to run away from danger, or just suffer a beating. And that is basically where the story begins.
It was late September. Wednesday afternoon. And I was just another student who'd made it through another gruelling day of biology, math, and American Literature. I've never liked big crowds, so my usual routine was to hide out in the library until most of the other kids had left before I went home. It had always worked, but this time Big Mike and some of his goons were there. Waiting for me.
Last time Big Mike caught me, he'd given me a black eye (which had barely healed by now), a nasty kick to the ribs (I still had a bruise from that), and tried to stuff me into a locker (because I was short and skinny enough to fit inside). The only reason I escaped that time is because my cousins Tom and Kelly Greene showed up. But they were already gone that day. As far as I knew, there were only four of us inside the building. Me, and three violent psychos.
I ran down the hall as fast as I could, even though most of the lights were out. But those goons were close enough to see me even in the dim light. The only chance was to get far enough ahead that I could lose them around a corner without being seen. Not a good chance against people whose best skill was running. And as we kept running, they kept getting closer.
The good news is that the library is on the second floor, and the stairwell had enough twists and turns to throw them off my scent. The bad news is, stairwells are terrible places to jump down, especially when you've got a twenty-five pound backpack strapped around your shoulders. And when I took a whole fifteen-foot flight of stairs in one bound, the landing almost jammed my knees out of their sockets. It didn't stop me from doing the same thing on the next flight, or from running flat out the second I got to the ground level. But it hurt. A lot. Not as much as what Big Mike would probably do if he caught me again, so I kept running.
A door was open on the right. I ran inside, shut the door, and hid behind the teachers' desk at the back of the room. And not a second too soon - I heard the door open, then footsteps as somebody else entered the room. I tried not to breathe too loudly, hoping that whoever it was wouldn't hear me.
"You're in big trouble, I see."
My heart leapt up into my throat. They'd found me! I crawled out from behind the desk, vainly wondering if I could escape through the window before remembering that it was an interior room that did not have any windows. But, despite the lack of windows, and the lights being turned off, the room was brightly lit. Something was glowing bright blue. Someone was glowing bright blue. Somebody transparent and hovering a foot off the ground. Quite unmistakably, there was a ghost in the room.
Let me tell you, it is very unsettling to stand face-to-face with a ghost, especially when it's for the first time. Of course, I already knew ghosts existed. Every time a major scientific investigation dug up new evidence, it would be on all the major news outlets. When I was 10, I'd stayed up all night watching the news coverage of the big investigation at Alcatraz. A year after that, it was the Gettysburg expedition. Then the Halifax footage. Tower of London. Paris catacombs. By the time I was 14, I'd almost stopped paying attention. The supernatural had become boring. But now, a real, authentic ghost was staring me in the face. He looked how I imagined an Oxford professor would look - pince-nez glasses, an ugly wool sweater, and one of those flat golfer's caps.
"There's another way out. Follow me."
He drifted over to the back of the room, and left through a second door that I hadn't seen. Cautiously, I stepped out into the hallway, listening for Mike and his gang. I must have shaken them off, because even though I could hear footsteps down the hallway, they never came close to where I was hiding. They moved around for a minute or so, but I finally heard them leave.
"I guess he got away," one of them said.
"Too bad," Mike answered, "I wanted to see if we could snap him in half..." and then they were gone.
I leaned against the wall and slid to the ground, giving my sprained knees a rest. At least this time, I'd avoided anything worse.
The ghost was still there, hovering in midair right next to me.
As the ghost began drifting away down, the hall, I started crawling along after it. I suspected it might be a bad idea, but I also didn't know when Big Mike might come back. And I was curious, too - this was quite unlike the ghosts I'd seen on TV.
He never so much as looked at me, but just turned to the right and walked straight through a door. It was closed. I turned the doorknob and opened it up, finding myself in the janitor's closet.
"To the back."
Without really thinking about it, I walked in to the back of the closet, and pushed against the wall. It gave way, revealing a narrow hallway. The ghost was standing there, glowing brightly in the dark.
I started to say something, but before I could so much as ask for a name, he floated backwards down the hall. I was more curious than anything, so I followed along. I noticed that, despite being in one of the "newer" wings of the school, the walls were made of the same red brick as the original parts from 1890. But as I continued, we came to a flight of stairs. Even though my knees still ached something terrible, I kept going forward. It must have been a good forty feet down - definitely underneath the foundation of the school. Even though it was a warm September day outside, this strange pit felt like it was nearly freezing.
At the bottom of the stairs was a T-shaped hallway. One branch led towards the original wing of the school, the second continued straight on from the staircase, and another led towards the offices. The ghost was drifting down the center hall, which led to the science wing. I kept following him, scarcely realizing how dangerous this adventure might turn out to be.
Fifty feet down the hall, there was a heavy wooden door with a brass doorknob. The ghost drifted through as if nothing was there, and the door swung open by itself. He hadn't said anything for quite awhile now, but I got the overwhelming feeling of being... welcome. I couldn't explain it, but it just felt completely fine to stroll casually through the door like a long-expected guest.
The room on the other side was small, about twenty by twenty feet. A chandelier with five candles hung from the ceiling. Against the wall to my left was a desk with several sheets of paper scattered over the top. Surprisingly, there were very few spider webs on anything - as if somebody still came down here and used this room from time to time.
The center of the room was taken up by a series of strange machines resting on a table. I walked up to the one closest to the door. It looked like a car engine, with tubes and pipes hooked up to a series of glass jars and beakers. It appeared to have a heating lamp bolted to the side, and a couple of Bunsen burners sticking up from the top. I'd never seen anything like it. No indication of a power source, if it even had one, and no clear way to operate it.
The next machine looked like an antique radio set bolted on top of a microwave, with a panel of brass knobs and levers on the side. No telling what this was meant for, either, but at least the controls seemed obvious enough - though I decided against trying to turn it on.
The third machine looked like an old TV set. A faint, blue glow was coming from the screen, and it was making a muffled whirring sound, as though it had just been used. But by who? The ghost I'd followed into this mysterious dungeon? I looked around, hoping to ask for an answer, but he was nowhere to be seen.
I walked over to the desk, wondering if one of the papers scattered on top might offer some sort of clue. They were yellowed and brittle with age, so I was very careful not to touch any of them as I looked over the contents of the desk. It looked fairly well organized, with the papers in neat little stacks, but all the writing was in French. I kept searching through the piles, hoping for anything I could understand. And there it was, almost hidden in the shadows: a small, leather-bound book that didn't appear to have aged a bit.
With great caution, I slowly picked it up and held it to the light. It was slightly worn, but it felt sturdy - not at all on the verge of disintegrating, as I'd feared. I blew the dust off the cover, and opened it up. There, on the front page, written in plain English, it said, 'Cryptozoologic Field Research Notes VOL IV; Property of W. H. Timms, 1950'. That, at least, was something to go on.
The second page seemed to be a table of contents, but without offering any page numbers. I scanned through the list of topics, none of which made a whole lot of sense to me. "Enigmas of Manitouac"... "Lupine sightings in Winnebago County"... "Metamorphic Rumors"... "Highlights of Loup-Garous Interview"... What all that meant, I could only guess at. But I was extremely curious now. How could I just leave this sitting in a crypt under the school? I took my empty lunchbox out of my backpack, and put the book inside for safekeeping. This was something I had to bring home.
I looked up to see that the ghost had returned.
"Were these your notes?" I asked.
"Follow," he said, ignoring me, and floated on towards the wall opposite the door I had entered through. He passed through the wall, and the stones faded away, revealing another hallway. Throwing my backpack over my shoulders, I ran down the hall, following the glowing blue light.
The new tunnel seemed to be even longer than the one behind the janitor's closet. I kept walking for almost twenty minutes, with no change of direction either left or right, up or down. It was even darker and colder than the first passage. But finally, I came to another staircase, leading up. I began to climb as fast as I could, and within five minutes, I found myself below a wooden trapdoor. The ghost passed through, and the trapdoor sprang open of it's own accord.
As I hurried up the last few steps, I caught one last glimpse of the ghost before he faded away completely. The glowing blue light was gone, replaced with sunlight filtering in from... somewhere. I looked around, curious where the tunnel had brought me to. It appeared to be the inside of a small cottage, stale and musty with age, as though nobody had been inside for many years. The wooden floor was covered with dust, thick cobwebs clung to the rafters, and the glass in the only window was stained with something dark and greasy. There was almost no furniture - just a rickety wooden chair, a small table, and an empty bookshelf.
I made my way to the door, wondering exactly where I was. There were thick trees in almost every direction, but as I made my way around to the back, I could just make out the roof of Armstrong High in the distance, half a mile away. As I stood there, I finally began to wonder, who had made those tunnels? When? And why? There was nothing at the cottage that could provide an answer, and the sun was beginning to set, so I began walking home.
I made my way home as fast as I could, taking whatever shortcuts I could find. My street was on the northwest edge of town, just a stone's throw from open country and farmland. The sun was very low, painting the sky bright red and making the cornfields glow with a hazy yellow light. And there, halfway down the street, surrounded by tall maple trees and thick shrubs, was what passed for home. It was a gray mill house. Eight hundred square feet. Four rooms on the ground, two in the upper level - just enough space for me and Dad. Not exactly the most comfortable place, but we'd been there for years, pretty much since he came home from Vietnam.
I've never liked talking about my family history. There's a lot of bad memories attached, and I'm not comfortable with sharing the details. But, since some of the details are relevant to what happened... My parents met in high school, or, rather, behind the school. The unsupervised areas behind the gymnasium had been a favorite hangout for teenage miscreants for decades before I ever showed up. Willem MacLane and Jane Bellamy were just two more teens caught up in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And they definitely seemed to prefer one of those things over the other two.
Dad skipped his last year of high school to enlist in the army. After qualifying for the Rangers, but before being sent overseas, he came home for a few weeks. I was born eight months after that, and by then he was already in Vietnam. I didn't meet him for the first time until I was six.
My mother apparently didn't care much for being a single parent. So when I was barely a year old, she left me with Dad's sister and her family, then moved out of the state. And I say 'left', as in 'left on the back porch with a letter in the middle of the night'. That is actually the earliest thing I can remember, sitting alone with a thin blanket, staring up at the stars and wondering where Mom was, then crying when stray cats came over to investigate. All these decades later, I've never forgiven her for putting me through that ordeal. And I will say no more about it.
My aunt and uncle took care of me after that, along with their own kids. The Greene Family: Norville, Elizabeth, Tom, Kelly, and me. Uncle Norv was a detective for Fox City police, and Aunt Liz was a dispatcher for Fox County emergency services. They'd met and married in college, at the same time Dad was cutting classes in high school.
Dad. At least he came home eventually and tried to make up for his mistakes. Aunt Liz said that Dad was a lot different when he came back - less impulsive, much quieter, and more willing to accept help from people. All that was kind of lost on me, though. I hated him for a long time after he showed up, and even well into high school I had trouble getting along with him. In fact, in the interest of being honest, I spent several years guilt-tripping him, especially when I was a teenager. It wasn't hard to do. He'd already developed a seriously guilty conscience without my help, and usually wouldn't say anything if an occasional can of Budweiser was missing, or a pack of cigarettes turned up where it wasn't supposed to. When he did comment on it, it was usually to say that it was nothing compared to the trouble he'd gotten into as a teenager.
After leaving the army, Dad had started working as a cook for a local restaurant. By now, he'd worked his way up to becoming one of the managers - and with an eye towards buying the place himself, once he'd saved up just a little bit more. My first job had been washing dishes a few days a week during the summer, and both of my cousins had worked there as well. Tom hadn't been any more enthusiastic about it than I had, but Kelly had almost turned it into a full-time job, even during the school year.
Dad was still at work, so I let myself in with a spare key to the back door. The first thing I did was turn on the old record player in the living room, and set an album on the turnstile. I sat down at the kitchen table, and, with "Moving Pictures" playing at half-volume, retrieved the journal from my backpack.
I opened up to the section titled "Enigmas of Manitouac", and began to read. It was... interesting, to say the least. Seventeen pages of hastily scribbled notes, about ghosts and gremlins plaguing machine shops and factories between Lake Michigan and the Fox River.
The next section consisted of short segments about eyewitness sightings of some sort of monster.
"C. Clarke, Oshkosh, 17 Aug. '38. Bipedal humanoid seen rummaging through trash bins on neighbors' property;
"H. Klausen, Fond du Lac, July '36. Man-Wolf attempted to claw through back door of farm house, driven away by repeated shotgun blasts;
"K. Bauer, Fond du Lac, 19 Nov. '40. Hairy bipedal creature attacked and maimed cattle as witness observed from 700 yds."
And on it went, almost forty incidents along the west side of Lake Winnebago in the late 1930s.
Part three was another long list of witness reports about monsters, this time centered around Fox County. Neenah, Menasha, Fox City, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Combined Locks. It was surreal to be reading about Bigfoots and wolfmen and things like that, and then realize some of these sightings were in neighborhoods I walked through on the way back from school every day.
The phone rang, interrupting my concentration. I set the journal down, and picked up the phone.
"Hey, Patrick. It's Tom."
Tom Greene, my older cousin, and one of the only people at school I actually liked.
"Listen, Kelly and I are heading out for pizza tonight. Care to join us?"
"Alright. Hey, while we're out, there's something I want to show you guys. Something weird I found at school tonight."
"Something weird? Like what?"
"Some sort of journal that's been hidden out of sight for the last forty years."
"Really? And they just let you take it home?"
"Not exactly. I'll explain everything when you guys show up."
"Alright then. See you soon."
Ten minutes later, Tom's rusty green '65 Impala pulled into the driveway. I hopped into the back before realizing that the front passenger seat was wide open.
"Where's Kelly?" I asked, crawling up to the front.
"She's still at work, so we'll meet up at the Pizza Palace. Now, what was that you were telling me about on the phone?"
I was raised by my aunt and uncle for six years, so naturally my cousins and I were pretty close - after they finally warmed up to me. It took quite some time before they were happy with the idea of a little brother. But maybe that's because they're twins. When they were kids, they were inseparable. Even in their senior year of high school, they were in most of the same classes.
I'd say that Tom Greene was the cool big brother I never had, but not everybody thought he was "cool". He was a hopeless science-fiction geek who'd taped every single episode of Star Trek. He had almost two hundred Batman comic books, with a small stash of Superman and Doctor Strange comics mixed in on his bookshelf. When he wasn't reading comics, playing arcade games, or watching reruns of Star Trek, he was drawing his own comic book. For two years now, he'd been printing up copies of his book and selling them after school. His dream was to get it professionally published and work full-time as a comic book artist. He was about average size - a bit taller and heavier than me, not that it took much to accomplish that - with short, light brown hair and icy blue eyes.
Kelly Greene is the cool big sister I never had. She liked spending her free time outdoors - hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, boating, and so on. She was also a decent runner, and had been the star player for the girl's soccer team in middle school. Kelly had given up on sports in high school, though. Partly because of a scarcity of openings in the sports she liked (baseball and soccer), and partly because she'd started spending so much time working. Trying to save up for college. Ever since we went to see "Raiders of the Lost Ark", she'd wanted to study archaeology. She was two inches taller than Tom, and very tan from all the time she spent outside. She never let her dark-yellow hair grow past shoulder length. Her eyes were bright green.
Tom and Kelly. Pretty much the only people I could trust with a secret.
As Tom drove, I told him my story, leaving out the parts about being chased through the school. No need to worry him over another near-beating at the hands of the football team that he couldn't help me with. Besides, I'd managed to escape this time, right?
"You know, I'm not really surprised about Armstrong being haunted," he said, as he finally pulled into the parking lot behind the restaurant.
"Well, look at the place. It's like the architect was trying to build a set for a Universal horror movie. I mean, I halfway expect to meet Bela Lugosi or Lon Chaney Jr. in the main hallway."
"Bela Lugosi? Really?"
"Yeah," he said, as he parked the car, "What, you don't get that feeling?"
"No. Looks more like a place I'd expect to see Edgar Allan Poe getting into a fistfight with Mary Shelley."
"You ever wonder why so many people think you're crazy? It's because you say weird things like that," he told me as he climbed out of the car.
"Who? Who thinks I'm crazy?"
"Never mind. Let's go eat."
Pat's Pizza Palace on College Avenue hadn't changed much in the last few years. Fake Roman columns decorated with Christmas lights year-round, tables that always had a sticky residue no matter how thoroughly they were cleaned, and chairs that always, always leaned to the side unless you balanced yourself just right. The only thing that ever changed was the video arcade in the back corner, with the games being rotated out every few months.
Tom led the way to a table up against the front window.
"All right, let me take a look at that book."
I handed the book to Tom, and he flipped it open to the first page. He stared at the page for a long time before speaking.
"Pat, do you realize who this guy is?"
"This - if this journal is real, it belonged to Wilfried Timms. Do you pay attention to any of your classes?"
"Tom, you're the one who's in all the Advanced Placement classes, not me."
Tom tried to speak, but he was so agitated he could barely put two words together. Finally, he calmed down and took a deep breath.
"All right, all right. Uh, this is still something they should have covered even in the regular Current Events class. You did take that class last year, right?"
"Everybody did, but that was months ago. I've had all of summer vacation to forget everything."
Tom was so flustered, he actually stopped breathing for a moment. When he finally spoke again, he seemed to be quite upset.
"Oh my god you're an idiot... Wilfried Timms the researcher from Holland who got himself killed trying to prove that Bigfoot is real back in '55? The one they found pieces of in two different counties in Michigan?"
"Oh, that guy. So did he prove Bigfoot then?"
"Seriously? The biggest zoological discovery of the last fifty years and you don't remember anything about who discovered what? I can't believe... I need to blow something up."
And with that, Tom got up from the table and stalked over to the arcade, furiously jamming money into the coin slot for Polybius.
"What was that all about?"
The chair squeaked as Kelly sat down. She still had her work uniform on - a black T-shirt with "Sullivan's Bar & Grill" printed in gold on both sides, and a blue Milwaukee Brewers cap.
"Hey, Kelly. Sullivan's finally let their favorite waitress leave for the day?"
"Yep. Free at last.
Tom walked back to the table.
"Last time I play that game," he grumbled, "Five dollars in quarters down the drain. Again."
"Did you order the pizza yet?" Kelly asked.
"No... Patrick and I were talking about - Hey, Pat, fill her in while I go order the pizza."
As Tom ran over to the front desk, I handed the journal over to Kelly.
"So," I asked, "You ever heard of Wilfred Timms?"
"Wasn't he that guy who went looking for the Michigan Dogmen back in the sixties?"
"I guess so."
"The one who disappeared for a month and then turned up dead in the woods outside Escanaba?"
"Probably. Tom was kind of upset that I couldn't remember anything else from my Current Events classes."
"Why would they talk about Timms? He's not the one who got indisputable video evidence of Bigfoot."
Tom came back, setting a large pepperoni pizza on the table in front of us.
"Good grief, do I have to fill in the details for both of you now?" he asked.
"That's probably a good idea," Kelly answered, "Let's make sure we're all on the same page."
"So... let's start with the painfully obvious. October 3rd, 1967, a US Geological Survey team in southern Oregon managed to capture about thirty-five minutes high-quality footage of a large, hairy, humanoid... thing. Around five minutes of film was taken at extremely close range, say ten to twenty yards. Despite the most intense scrutiny, experts finally concluded that the film was real - and, by extension, Bigfoot."
"All right, I understand that part," I said, "So where does this Timms guy fit into it?"
"He was Dutch zoologist back in the thirties. Helped create the field of Cryptozoology, studying creatures not recognized by mainstream science."
"And the Loch Ness Monster, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, stuff like that. Well, his ideas were so out-there wild and crazy he got kicked out of three universities in France, Belgium and Holland in just a few years. So he came to the United States to keep his research going. Mostly travelled around the North Woods here in Wisconsin and upper Michigan. Supposedly he filmed a wolfman up in the Nicolet Forest, but the video was really grainy and out-of-focus. In the summer of '55, he was found dead in the woods outside Escanaba, Michigan. The police investigation determined he was the victim of a bear attack."
"Hmm. Spent his life searching for monsters, then he got eaten by a bear. And now we're sitting at a dirty table in a cheap restaurant, smearing cheese sauce all over his life's work," Kelly said, holding the journal in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. I took the journal back and set it in my backpack.
"All right. He's been dead for twenty years. So what's his ghost doing in the basement of our school?" I asked.
"I have no idea. Let's go find out!"
After school the next day, we met up behind the gymnasium. There were too many people inside yet to try for the hidden door in the closet without being noticed, so we agreed to go in through the mysterious shed out in the woods. It took longer than I'd thought, but we finally managed to spot the clearing. I was the first one inside the cottage. Looking at the ground, I saw a single line of footprints in the dust - the ones I had left. Nothing had followed me in or out since the day before.
Tom opened his backpack and took out three flashlights, handing one each to me and Kelly.
"Dad let me borrow these," he said, "They have plenty of spare flashlights at the police station. Just don't lose them, okay?"
"These have fresh batteries?" I asked.
"No, but I've got extras in my backpack. We should be fine down there."
I grabbed the handle on the trap door and tried to lift it open. It didn't move far before I lost my grip and dropped the door. Kelly pushed me aside to try her luck. With one arm, she casually moved the door to the side as easily as if it was made of paper.
"Too heavy for you?" she said, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
"All right, Muscles, stop showing off!"
"Fine. You lead the way, scarecrow!"
The staircase was pitch black, with the steps practically vanishing about ten feet in. I turned on my flashlight and aimed it down. We could still only see about forty feet. Carefully, I began climbing down the stairs. Tom was next, and then Kelly, who shut the door behind us. It closed with a heavy thud, sending shivers up and down my spine. The only light was the pale beams from our flashlights.
"Well, everyone keep an eye out for a white rabbit," I said, "Because I think we're pretty much going down the Rabbit Hole at this point."
Tom started to laugh, but stopped quickly.
"Now that we're down here, I'm starting to feel a little claustrophobic. Can we keep moving?"
Carefully, step by step, we made our way down. And it wasn't long before that unnatural chill returned. Of course, it was late September, and none of us had thought to bring a jacket along. So we shivered our way along until we reached the bottom of the stairs. Somehow, it seemed to take longer than when I'd climbed up just the day before. How far underground were we? But the stairs were behind us, and the long tunnel lay ahead. So we kept going.
Something I hadn't realized before was exactly how wide the passage was. There was just enough room for all three of us to walk side by side. I took the lead, with Tom on the left and Kelly on the right. And we walked, through the cold and darkness, for what felt like an impossibly long time. But finally, we reached the end of the hallway, marked with a heavy wooden door.
"Wait... something's not right," I said.
"That door wasn't here yesterday. The room just opened up straight into this hallway."
"What exactly did you see yesterday?"
"Well... I came in through the tunnel behind the janitor's closet, and there was a door at the end of that one. I went inside, and there was just the one door... until I wanted to leave, and then the ghost drifted right through the wall... when he did that, part of the wall vanished and opened up right into... I guess it must be this tunnel?"
Kelly took a few steps forward, and shined her flashlight on the door.
"Hey, that's weird. There aren't any hinges. It's like the door is just set right into the stonework."
Tom walked up, and knocked on the door.
"Well, there's something on the other side," he said, "I can hear an echo."
He turned the doorknob and pulled. Instead of swinging open, the door simply vanished, leaving nothing but a hole in the wall,and Tom jumped back in surprise. I walked past him, and shined my flashlight into the hole.
"Well, the room is there," I said, "Let's go in and take a look."
It was exactly the way it had been the day before. One medium sized room, about 400 square feet. All the furniture was still there - the chairs, the bookshelves, the chandelier, the desk covered with loose paper. And in the middle was the table with the three strange machines: a car engine, the TV, and the radio. No apparent source of power for anything, and no clue as to why these things were down here.
Tom walked up to the machine that resembled a TV set. Just like the day before, the screen was still glowing a pale blue. Slowly and carefully, he held his hand out to the screen. All his hair stood on end.
"Whoa. It, ah... it's kind of tingly."
An image began to appear on the screen. Letters and numbers spread out in an arc, flanked by the words 'yes' and 'no'.
"It's a Ouija board,"
"Well, ask it something," Kelly suggested, "Let's see if it works or not."
"Wait a second... it's missing something," I said, "Where's the pointer?"
"That's how these things are supposed to work, isn't it? Everybody puts a hand on the pointer, then the spirits guide the pointer onto the right letters. At least, I think that's how it goes. It's not like I've ever done this before."
"Yeah... it's called a 'planchet', and they're supposed to be made of wood."
Tom set his backpack on the floor, and began digging through it. He pulled out a notebook, tore a few sheets of paper loose, and began folding them into a diamond shape.
"That should do it," he said, holding the planchet against the screen, "Paper is made out of wood anyway, isn't it?"
Kelly and I each grabbed a corner on the planchet, while Tom asked his question.
"Ah... hello? Is anybody here?"
The planchet began gliding across the screen, dragging our hands along with it, landing on 'YES'.
"Who are you?"
W - E - H - A - V - E - B - E - E - N - W - A - I - T - I - N - G.
Not exactly an answer, but still a response. Tom asked another question.
"What were you waiting for?"
Y - O - U.
Before Tom could ask again, the planchet jumped around the board.
W - E - A - R - E - T - R - A - P - P - E - D - Y - O - U - C - A - N - F - R - E - E - U - S.
Then the screen turned red, and the planchet spelled out a different message:
D - O - N - T - T - R - U - S - T - H - I - M - I - T - S - A - T - R - I - C - K.
The screen turned purple, flickered back to red for a moment, then settled on blue, and spelled out a sixth message.
W - E - A - R - E - T - R - A - P - P - E - D - S - E - T - U - S - F - R - E - E.
One by one, we backed away from the screen.
"This is getting really creepy," Kelly said. "I'm not so sure we should be down here anymore."
"I think you're right," I agreed, "This is alright for Scooby-Doo, but I don't think I actually want to get mixed up with -"
"Guys, look at the screen," Tom shouted, "Look at it!"
The paper planchet was still resting on the screen. There, before our eyes, it jumped around, spelling a new message:
P - L - E - A - S - E - D - O - N - T - G - O - W - E - N - E - E - D - Y - O - U - T - O - H - E - L - P.
"Well, we don't know how to turn it off," Tom mused, as he walked back up to the screen, "But I think I can make it stop talking."
He grabbed the planchet, and pulled it away. The screen flickered, and the Ouija board faded away. But as Tom turned his back, black letters began etching themselves onto the screen.
"NOT THAT EASY", it read, "YOU'RE NOT LEAVING UNTIL WE GET WHAT WE WANT".
We ran for the door, but it slammed shut on its own. Then it just faded away, leaving behind a stone wall.
"It's got to be an optical illusion," Kelly said, pushing against the wall, "Like, the door's painted to match the wall, or it's a fake wall that drops out of the ceiling or something."
She started pounding on the wall, trying to force the door to come back. All the while, the screen was still flashing the same message at us.
"LET US OUT".
Slowly, reluctantly, Tom walked back up to the screen.
"How do we let you out?" he asked, "What do we need to do?"
The screen flickered again, then showed an arrow pointing to the left. We had been so focused on the Ouija screen, we'd forgotten about the other machines sitting on the table next to it. And there, immediately to the left, was what I assumed to be a car engine. We walked up to it, then glanced at the Ouija screen.
"REMOVE THE MAGNETS".
Then it flashed red once again.
"STAY AWAY LEAVE IT ALONE DONT TRUST HIM".
We all took a few steps backward after that. We all looked at each other, each waiting for somebody else to take the lead and say something. Finally, I spoke up.
"Well, we've got two... people? Or whatever it is, two of them talking to us through the Ouija board. One's asking for help, the other says we're walking into a trap."
"I'd say we're already trapped," Tom said, "Or did you forget about the goddamn doors vanishing? We don't have a way out!"
"So you want to just do whatever a random disembodied voice coming through a Ouija board tells you?" Kelly asked, "Can we even trust it's going to let us out of here?"
"You got a better idea?" Tom snapped back, "Did anybody think to bring a pick and shovel we can use to start digging our way out?"
It was hard to argue with logic like that, and we immediately set to examining the car engine. The first thing we noticed was that the pistons had been replaced with magnets. I grabbed hold of one, and pulled it loose. Almost immediately, the air in the room grew extremely cold - even colder than it had been the whole time we'd been exploring the tunnel. But now, it felt like I'd been dumped out in the snow in the middle of winter. The Ouija board flared to life again, the screen bright red:
"PUT IT BACK DONT LET THEM ESCAPE".
We were all thoroughly creeped out at this point, but couldn't think of anything to do except to keep removing the magnets from the car engine. There were six, including the one I'd already taken out, and we didn't waste any time. In a matter of seconds, six bright red magnets were laying on the ground. The Ouija board lit up again.
"VERY GOOD NEXT STE-"
The screen went dark for a few seconds, then turned red.
"YOU DIDNT LISTEN IM SORRY BUT I CANT LET YOU DO THIS".
Then the screen went completely dark. The only illumination was from our flashlights. Tom ran up to the Ouija board and started hammering on it with his fists.
"No! Don't do this to us!" he screamed, "Let us go! Let us-"
The screen flickered back to life for a moment, then shot out a beam of intense white light - so bright, Tom practically disappeared for a few seconds. Then the light faded away. At first, we couldn't see Tom, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw him laying on the floor, crumpled up and groaning with pain.
Kelly ran over to check on him. But the moment she touched his arm, it was like a bolt of lightning hit her. There was another flash of bright light, and suddenly she flew through the air, crashing against the wall. I hesitated for a moment before going over to her, not sure if the same thing would happen to me. Slowly, cautiously, I held out a hand, afraid of being thrown around by the same unseen force. I tapped her on the head.
"Kelly? Are you alright?"
She blinked her eyes, and tried talk.
"Oww... that hurt."
"Can you move your fingers?"
"Yeah. Go check on Tom."
As Kelly climbed back to her feet, I ran over to Tom. He was laying on his side, eyes fixed on the screen, mumbling incoherently.
"Tom? Can you hear me?"
He rolled over slightly, sat up, and looked me in the eye.
"Patrick. They showed me something. I... I can't make sense of it all, but..."
Tom stopped talking, and started shivering uncontrollably. Kelly sat down next to him, and hugged him tight.
"Help me out, Pat. He's gonna freeze if we don't try to warm him up."
I sat down next to Tom, and wrapped my arms around him. His skin was so cold and clammy, it felt like I was trying to hug an ice cube. But slowly, he started to warm up just enough that he could move without too much trouble.
We'd forgotten about the antique radio until it crackled to life. At first, it was just a hiss of static, but eventually a voice came through, as crisp and clear as if somebody was standing there talking to us.
"I can't stay long," the voice said, "So listen very carefully. There are three steps remaining. Now that the magnets are gone, you can pull the engine in half. Inside, there is a small box. You must find a way to undo the latch. Finally, inside the box is a small crystal. You must-"
The voice cut out, and was replaced with another - one that wasn't as clear and easy to understand. It spoke to us, I guess, but it wasn't in any language I recognized. Still, it was a fair bet that it was the same entity that had been threatening us through the Ouija board.
We all stood up at once, and rushed over to the table. Sure enough, the car engine split in half lengthwise. We grabbed hold and pulled until the two halves were separated, revealing a hollow space within, occupied by a wooden box. It was six inches long, two wide, and one deep. I picked it up.
"I think it's locked," I said, after trying to pull it open.
"Let me see it," Kelly said, taking the box from my hand, "No... it's not locked. Just rusted shut. That should be easy enough."
She set the box on the table, and swung her flashlight at it. The wood splintered, and the latch was torn away. Tom picked it up, and, after a few seconds of struggling with the rusty hinges, managed to force the box open.
The inside of the box glowed bright green. We gathered around to take a closer look. The glow came from a small diamond-shaped crystal resting on a velvet pillow.
"Spirits of the dead are trapped in there," Tom said.
Kelly and I both looked at him, waiting for an explanation.
"That flash of light that knocked me over. They sent me a message. That's what the car engine was - it's some kind of energy pump. It makes some sort of electric current, draws in spiritual energy - guides it right into this crystal. Then the magnets trap them in place. I don't understand why, or what's going on down here, but that's what the engine does."
"So how did that one manage to get loose and find me yesterday?" I asked.
"Look, I don't know what's going on," Tom said, as he stared into the crystal, "But I'm pretty sure if we set them free, they'll let us leave again."
"Great! Wonderful!" Kelly shouted. "So how do we do it, then?"
"There's one more thing," Tom interrupted, "The spirits trapped in here... some of them are... sort of... rotten. Evil. Like, bad things could happen if we set them loose."
"Bad things are gonna happen to us if we can't escape!" I shouted, grabbing Tom by the shoulders. "How much air do you think we're getting down here? How much longer until we freeze to death? I mean, look at the Ouija board!"
We looked. A thin veil of ice was beginning to form over the screen.
"Well... I guess we just try to smash it apart?" Tom suggested.
Kelly grabbed the crystal from his hand, and threw it as hard as she could. It sailed through the air, and crashed against the wall. As it hit the stone, I could hear it shatter. There was a bright flash of green, accompanied by a loud, inhuman shriek. And suddenly, the room was filled with ghosts. Dozens of shadowy figures began to appear and take shape. Eventually, some of them became recognizably human. Almost all of them looked like they belonged to the previous century, based on the style of clothes. At least one had a Civil War uniform. Two or three appeared to be French fur-traders from the 1600s. And another group looked like they might have been Fox or Menomonee Indians.
One of the spirits charged at the wall, and vanished in a puff of smoke. One by one, the other spirits left in the same way - running straight through the wall, or floating up through the ceiling. A couple of them just sank through the floor. And each time one of them departed, it left a crack on whatever surface they had passed through. As they left, the room warmed up, and the air felt less heavy around us. Finally, there was only one of them remaining. He stood by the desk where I'd found the journal. The one who'd led me down there in the first place.
With my mind clouded by anger and fury, I ran over to the ghost. I don't know what I meant to accomplish, but after swinging several punches, I realized there was nothing physically there.
"You should have read these," the ghost said, pointing at the papers on the desk, "You would have been better prepared."
"Just let us out of here!" Tom shouted.
"Take my research notes with you," the ghost said, "They will prepare you for what happens next."
"If take these, will you let us leave?" I asked.
As I gathered the papers into a neat stack, my flashlight went out.
"Tom, can you bring me a spare battery?"
"Sure, just give me a moment to find them."
As Tom began searching through his backpack, his flashlight went dead as well.
"Kelly, bring your light over here."
But Kelly's light went out as well, plunging the room into complete darkness.
"It's all right," Tom said, "I think I've found them anyway."
I heard the drained batteries fall to the floor, and the crunch of plastic as Tom opened a new package. There was a click as he turned his flashlight back on, but no light came forth.
"No! That's a fresh pack! We haven't used any of them yet!"
It was pitch black, but I could still feel the stack of papers on the desk. Carefully, I picked them up and set them inside my backpack, then began feeling around for anything I'd missed.
The middle of the room began to glow red.
"Tom, got those batteries sorted out?" I asked.
"No. That's not me," he said, nervously, "Take a look."
I turned around. A dark red light was hovering a few feet above the ground. And a shape began to emerge from the light. There were two legs, two arms, and a head. But any resemblance to humanity ended there. Something about this entity just felt... wrong. Like it was something not meant to exist. The air grew cold again. And then the thing spoke, in a dark, raspy growl.
"I told you not to let them go," it said, "And you didn't listen."
There was a loud creak. We turned around to see that the door had reappeared, and was slowly swinging open. The ghost was standing next to the door, waving at us. We didn't need any more encouragement, and began running at once. The monster behind us let out a roar of anger, and began chasing after us. Kelly was the first through the door, followed very closely by Tom. But before I could get out, I felt a hand grabbing at my arm and trying to drag me back into the room.
I don't remember calling for help, but Tom and Kelly doubled back to grab hold of my other arm and start pulling me back out. I could feel the monster's claws digging into my flesh, and I realized I would be very lucky to escape with my arm in one piece.
"Let me go," I screamed, "Let me go!"
But it didn't let go. Instead, it began to lift me up and off the ground, leaving my legs dangling in midair. Tom and Kelly were still refusing to give up, though, and they grabbed hold of whatever they could - arm, shirt, leg - whatever they could hold onto to stop me being dragged away. And slowly, they began to pull me loose. The monster was forced to take a few steps out into the hallway.
Suddenly, the door slammed shut, and I was dropped to the ground. The creature let loose an inhuman scream of fury, which cut out as the door faded away once again, leaving nothing but a solid stone wall. Tom helped me get back onto my feet, and pointed me down the hallway. His flashlight had started working again.
"Let's get out of here before that thing breaks through the wall," he said.
We didn't answer him, but just started running as fast as we could.
We all ran, but I ran fastest, and in no time at all I'd left Tom and Kelly behind. It was the fastest I'd ever run, and it felt like my legs had caught on fire. I didn't stop until I tripped over the stairs at the far end of the tunnel. I stuck out my arm to try and brace myself against the wall. The arm that was dripping with blood from where the monster had grabbed me. My hand slipped right off the wall, and I pitched forward, landing face first on the staircase.
I lay there in the cold dark, wondering what had just happened until Tom and Kelly finally caught up. I saw the beam from Tom's flashlight, realized they were coming, and managed to get up onto my knees and start crawling up the staircase. Kelly paused just long enough to grab the straps of my backpack and began pulling me up after her. And I was so tired and drained, time seemed to vanish as we climbed. It could have been one minute, or it could have been five years. But eventually, we reached the top.
We climbed up through the trap door. The sun was setting outside, but there was still just enough light to see. We tumbled out through the door, and I sat down on the ground, leaning against the cottage. The sunlight filtered through the trees, lighting up the side of the cottage for a moment, and I realized I was sitting in a bed of small blue flowers I hadn't noticed the day before or when we'd come back that afternoon. I picked one of them up for a closer look.
"Never thought I'd be happy to see a plant," I thought out loud.
Tom sat down next to me.
"I feel so... drained from everything that happened down there," he said, still trying to catch his breath, "You want to sit here and rest for a while?"
Kelly sat down next to Tom and threw her arm over his shoulder.
"Yeah. This is a nice spot to watch the sunset."