Since around 1999, I’ve lived across the street from an old sawmill. It’s sort of assumed that the family who still own and operate the mill have owned the hundred or so acres it sits on since the beginning of time. The owner’s sons, now into their 30’s, have always sort of been “wild” boys. They like old muscle cars, dirt bikes, fireworks, things like that. They even built part of the largely-unused land behind the sawmill proper into a motocross track, just building up the dirt to make ramps, etc. The parties were endless when my family first moved across the street, and while this was bizarre to us, coming from a mundane Southern Ohio background, I totally dove right in. Chris was the youngest of three brothers born to their old-fashioned, religious parents who had been part of the town, once again, since the beginning of time as far as most were concerned, and who didn’t necessarily approve of the craziness, but didn’t have it in them to put a stop to it, or so we thought. Chris was fresh out of the hospital after breaking his back jumping an ATV, and this is when I learned just how far back their family went.
The parties would normally involve a lot of riding during the day, and then hanging at an old wooden hut called the “Love Shack” at night. I was around 14, I didn’t ask. After the hospital visit, Chris became a little different. More subdued and withdrawn, and much less social. He got in trouble with the law a few times after this, things no one could imagine him doing even months earlier. Yet, no one scolded him, I heard nothing from his parents (he was around 24, but still living at home.) When he would come around, everyone would act like we hadn’t just seen his mugshot on the news. His parents weren’t rich, but the family have been fixtures in this small town seemingly forever. To my knowledge, none of them had made it through college, and worked off the land just as their ancestors had. Of course, they had cars, cell phones; they were your normal rural
family in the early 2000’s.
When I was in 9th grade or so, I only had a few friends. One of them was David, the typical fat kid whose parents wanted him to wrestle and play football at school, though he didn’t want to. His family moved a lot, financial trouble, I guess, but he was always cheerful. We liked to ride my little quad across the street, and every now and then, go explore the woods. Portions of their massive plot of land, I’m convinced, are still untouched by humans, so the woods were always exciting.
One day, I told him about the Love Shack. He wanted to go check it out. More than anything, our teenage minds were expecting to find some debauched orgy house. Not quite what we found. We went in, it was a small one-room shack with a ramshackle loft accessible by a rickety ladder, and christened with an old mattress on top. Of course, we lifted the mattress and found early 90’s issues of FHM, Playboy, typical mid-20’s guy stuff. We even found a discarded bra, which we laughed about for a few minutes while imagining the sex parties that totally must go on there.
The floor of the shack was all boards, which seemed to sit on the ground, though no mud came up through the floorboards. The entire structure was a dark-greyish brown, a far cry from the crisp white pine it was probably built with decades before. As we looked around, I noticed David on his knees messing with the floor in the corner. “Don’t fuck anything up,” I told him. “No, dude, there’s something under the floor. It’s like a door.” Sure enough, there were two holes in the floor, about a quarter meter apart. We each stuck two fingers in one of the holes, and lifted. The door lifted out of the floor, and we set it aside. What we saw appeared to be a flight of stairs, which were no more than wooden slats shoved into the mud and clay. The walkway went down at probably a 55-60 degree angle, uncomfortably steep, but it was big enough for a person to fit through. We looked at each other, and I led the way in. I had to crouch pretty low to descend, and David, with 100 or so more pounds than me, found a way to keep his feet on the stairs and slowly descend on his back. There was no light whatsoever, though we could tell we were moving by the bluish patterns of clay in the earth. I didn’t have a cell phone yet, but I had an outdated Zen MP3 player, which I pulled out of my pocket to try and use as a light. No good, the darkness, “cave darkness” as the call it, was too dense. I did, however, check the time, and notice that we’d been moving downward for almost 20 minutes, and didn’t appear to be reaching an end. I mentioned that we should probably turn back, though we were both bummed that we wouldn’t see where this stairway led. After an exhaustive hike back up, we climbed out of the hole in the earth and did our best to reposition the door into the floorboards so it wouldn’t look out of place. We closed up the shack as we’d found it and headed home.
David stayed at my place that night, and after video games and around 4 liters of Mountain Dew, we sat and revisited the odd stairway. “Maybe they’re killing people and leaving them down there!” he suggested. I knew the family better than that, though Chris had been acting odd, I just could never see that happening. “I think maybe the family has some kind of old treasure that they’re keeping there until it’s worth millions” I replied. We chucked about impossible scenarios, like the shack being the home of the monster from the Jeepers Creepers movies, and then went to sleep with the TV on.
Shortly after this, several things happened. First was that Chris passed away. His family has always been tight-lipped about what really happened, even to their closest friends, but it is accepted that, after his wreck, he became addicted to pain pills and fell in with some bad people who fed him too much of the stuff, possibly at his own insistence. Aha, drugs, that would explain why he was always acting so weird. Story solved. The next was that me and David stopped hanging out. He moved towards the jocks, I moved towards the art kids. We just didn’t cross paths once the cliques became a thing.
In the summer between my graduation and start at a junior college, I got to thinking about the stairway. We never did go back and see what was up. Several years earlier, the Love Shack had been burned to the ground. It was said that it was just local kids, but I feel more like it might have been someone close to the family. Regardless, I had helped them put out the fire, and all that remained was a charred floor. I wondered if everything was still there. I mean, of course, it was there somewhere, but was it still accessible? I decided to get together a sort of survival bag, take a night my parents were out of town, and go looking for answers. I had my cell phone, several flashlights, pocket tools, all stored in water-tight boxes in my backpack in case of the worst. I chose a bad night. It wasn’t storming, but it was cloudy enough that it got dark about an hour early, and it rained on and off all night. I decided to walk, which wasn’t the bright idea, but when you’re doing something sketchy, you try and avoid alerting other people. Nobody would have asked questions if I went riding that day, but walking is what I did.
It took about 45 minutes to make it from my place through the mill, across the motocross field, and through the woods to the remains of the shack. The remaining planks were mostly charred and broken on the edges, except for the very middle, which seemed to survive intact. I went to the corner where the door had been, brushed some coal dust off, and found what I was looking for. The door was mostly charred, but I saw the telltale hole drilled into one of the planks, big enough for two fingers. I went to lift…the remains of the door crumbled to pieces. Underneath was a hole in the ground a little bigger than my fist. I put my hand in and pulled outwards, which removed the dirt and opened the hole once again. The stairs were much more weathered than they had been the first time, and some were missing altogether. I clicked on my flashlight and began my descent.
The temperature kept dropping as I moved farther away from air, and, keeping time on my phone, it took close to a half hour of claustrophobia-inducing steps before I reached flat ground. I saw a tunnel, about six feet high, with no light at the end. I shone the flashlight in…the light dead-ended about three feet in front of me. Still, I started to move forward. Slowly, at first, until I walked directly into the cavern wall. It was dark enough that the tunnel turned, but I did not. Regaining composure, I turned. I saw light at the end. I figured it was going to come out at an old sewer drain in the woods, or maybe on a street. I moved forward. As I made the turn in the tunnel, the cold vanished, replaced instead by heat. A very humid heat, no doubt from the moisture in the earth, which got hotter as I neared the light until it was difficult to breathe. I reached the end. I was 10 or so feet up, overlooking an earthen room. The room was a large, rough circle with what appeared to be a door or hallway to the left from where I was. In the center of the room, facing forward was a desk. The room was once lit by oil lamps suspended on the walls in the dirt, but all of them had gone out except for two large ones on either side of the desk, which appeared to sit on large, ornate vases which must have held a lot of oil. The vases were a charcoal grey with weathered gold designs on them, and the metal towards the top of the lamps which held the wicks was turning sea-green with corrosion. The room was otherwise empty. A desk, a chair, the two large lamps, the non-working lamps on the walls, and a few pictures near the wall lamps. The pictures looked ancient, though they had been well-preserved in their frames. I didn’t see a way down, but looking at the pictures, none of them appeared to be photos taken with a camera. Rather, they were painted. Old men with English features in large, powdered wigs. They reminded me of old pictures of American presidents. Looking as close as I could, I heard something behind me. I could have sworn, of all people, I heard Chris say, “hey bud,” like he always did when he came over. I turned around and looked down the dark tunnel. Nobody was there. I turned back around to study the pictures some more, when the whole room filled with the scream of a woman yelling, “HE DOESN’T NEED TO KNOW!” I feel down and closed my eyes from the shock, and when I opened my eyes, something much different was in front of me.
The entire room had taken on a sepia-colored tone, everything was bathed in a tan/brown hue. I was sitting on the ledge overlooking the room, but I looked down, and I didn’t….have a body. It was as if my eyes were floating in mid air, taking in this odd scene. All of the lamps were glowing brightly, and the room was not different except for a book sitting on the table. The book appeared to be leather bound, but I couldn’t tell what color it was over the tan hue of my vision. I heard something behind me. I felt the need to move, but…couldn’t. I could only stay in one place and watch whatever was about to unfold. I wasn’t sure if whatever it was could see me or not, but I saw a person walking through the tunnel towards the room. The person was obviously wearing some kind of robe. It was Chris. He wore a large white robe. I was so confused. Chris’s family had typical rural American religious values, but none of them were majorly involved in church or anything, especially none of the children. Chris looked like a priest, or a pope, in front of me. He moved slowly. He looked scared.
He seemed to not notice me there, and he climbed down a ladder below me into the main part of the room, where he took a seat at the desk. This is where things became insane.
I heard a woman scream, the same woman whom I heard before I entered this…world. The owner of this awful voice stormed in from the hallway on the left side. Before me was possibly the most terrifying woman I’d ever seen. She appeared to be around 40, wore a somewhat form-fitting black dress with arms that barely exposed the ends of her fingers, tall black women’s leather boots with sharply-pointed heels, and some sort of fur hat with a thin black veil that did nothing to cover her face. Her appearance cut through the tan shade of my vision, and I saw her ghastly white face…I had no body where it was that I was, it appeared, but seeing this face made me sick. Her face was absolutely ghost white, her eyes massive and bulging with rage, with extremely heavy black eye makeup around them, and matching black lipstick. I thought I was seeing a monstrous ghost, an almost comically-horrifying vampire of sorts.
I hadn’t caught what she had screamed as she entered the room, but it seemed to be directed towards Chris, waiting quietly at the desk with his head facing into his lap. She approached the desk and slammed a fist down on it. Her fingernails had to be around 3-4 inches long, beginning to curl under, and were also painted jet black. She began screaming at Chris, who sat quietly, almost as if he didn’t notice her, which would have been impossible for any human dealing with this beast in front of them. I finally got used to the screams enough to try and pick up what she was saying. This is when I realized that she wasn’t speaking any sort of language I had ever heard. She continued to slam her fist on the desk and scream at Chris in this language. It was obvious that she was extremely angry. From what I heard, the language was an odd mix of German-sounding words, but with Arabic accents. I noticed the phlegm-laced “kh” sounds of Arabic, and “s” sounds were punctuated with a sharp and drawn-out hiss, as if she were channeling a large snake as she spoke.
It became weirder when he replied to her. In this language. Now, Chris certainly wasn’t a dumb guy, though he made some bad decisions, but he wasn’t one to learn a foreign language to the fluency that was apparent here. She continued to scream, and he would quietly answer her, which seemed to only enrage her more.
She outstretched her index finger and requisite long, curled nail towards the book in front of Chris. He opened it to somewhere about a fourth of the way in. The pages were charcoal black, with shiny lettering. The letters were some sort of symbols, which were similar later when I studied linguistics and saw words in Ethiopian Amharic. Somehow, I don’t think this was an Ethiopian text book. He put his hands on the sides of the book and began to read. She let him read what sounded like a few sentences, and with one more scream, grasped her withered hands on his own hands, and he jumped back with a scream of pain. I saw blood begin dripping from his hands where the sides of her long nails had slashed him. During this exchange, Chris fell to his knees in front of her, almost as if he were praying, and began to quickly and tearfully ramble in this odd language. She looked down at him, her hard gaze not changing, and quickly turned and walked into the side door she had entered from. She returned with a large…something. It was on a wooden handle around three feet long, and the end was a wire formation similar to a butterfly, with small barbs randomly protruding from the wire formation. Chris closed his eyes, and she began to beat him. She didn’t strike his face, but it was clear that he was in morbid pain, and blood spots appeared all over the robe. This lasted several non-stop minutes, until he fell to the floor on his side.
At this point, the ghastly woman kneeled down towards him, and spoke softly, almost comfortingly, though still nothing that I could understand. With that, the woman stood up and immediately looked directly at me. Her hate-filled gaze once again shot pain and nausea through me, though this time, it was much more intense. Her eyes fixed on mine for around five seconds before she appeared to fall to ash where she stood. Nothing remained of her, while Chris still lay on the floor. Slowly, he climbed to his feet and turned to the desk. He took a stone sitting on the desk and began to carve something. Next to this, I noticed other carve marks that I hadn’t caught before. He turned around and began towards the ladder below me. He climbed to the top and walked past my point of view. I turned to see where he went, and he turned and stared at me, as if he knew I had seen what I had. He managed to crack a small smile before turning and disappearing into the dark tunnel.
As Chris walked away, I felt like I hadn’t moved in days. I turned back to the room, and my vision had returned to normal. I looked down and saw the remains of a ladder, which I carefully climbed down. All of the lamps had burnt out, so I turned my flashlight back on. There was no book anywhere in the room, though neither had taken it with them, but on the desk was a picture. As I got closer, I saw that the picture was a black and white painting of the frightening woman. She was seating, in the exact same outfit, everything, as I had seen. Her face was painted with an unfeeling glare. At the bottom right corner of the painting was written in script, “Mary Tavis Maynard Wight. 1606.” 1606? How is this possible? There is no way this woman and Chris could have known each other. Wait, the carvings! I wiped years of dust from the corner of the desk and found the carvings. They were dates. The dates led back to 1595, and the very last date, which I’d seen Chris carve, was 11/01/2002, three months before he died.